Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Hope, Peace & Joy

The week before last I missed peace. I mean how can you write about peace when thoughts jab about inside poking holes and the peace keeps leaking out everywhere? I really don't remember when the holes were repaired with promise and hope, but they were and a peace washed over me. And now for joy. Joy seems to be a stabilizer in the midst of difficult days; it rounds up promises to hold onto when we think life just might be giving us too much to handle. There were a couple of days last week when joy ran dry. I was tired, “all given out” and couldn't find a thread to grab hold of to untangle my emotional mess and find joy.

Proverbs 12:20 tells us there is “joy for those who promote peace.” How can I promote peace when it drains out of me like flour through a sifter? When I came across this verse in Proverbs I was encouraged by the strong link between joy and peace. This is no paper chain counting days in hopes of an event or waiting in survival to get past something. Romans 15:13 (NASB) supports the strong link of peace to joy and more. “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” It is through the power of His Spirit I can promote peace. What will this look like today? In my home? With my clients? In my family? In my heart?

When “the God of hope fills you with all peace and joy” then we “abound in hope.” How can this be? Again, through the power of the Holy Spirit I can experience peace and joy no matter what this day looks like on the outside. Now while I am busy wrapping up stuff to give to people who have no need for more stuff, here are three incredible, necessary gifts I struggle to wrap my mind around. Aren't these the gifts we all long for and need: Hope, Peace and Joy? And yet He graciously holds out His hand and says, “Take this. I am filling you with peace and joy, therefore you will abound in hope.” He gives. Am I receiving?

Now again I am looking in Proverbs and in Romans how joy comes after peace. Maybe there is no real correlation, but in my life I can see how I miss the joy if I am not first peaceful. Peace comes when we trust Him and let Him take control. He gives peace when we give it all to Him and stop trying to control things. Then I am free to embrace joy.

Several years ago in in the midst of heart wrenching pain my mother reminded me over and over, “Don't let this steal your joy.” I was arm wrestling with the enemy and he was winning until I was reminded I get to keep joy. Why? Joy is a gift. But first I had to give up the fight, the anger and the desire to make things fair. Then I rested in the truth that joy isn't dependent on fair, or on perfect or on me; joy is a gift from the Father and comes to me when I believe in Him and trust Him. “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with inexpressible and glorious joy . . .” (1 Peter 1:8, NASB)

Hebrews 12:2 puts it this way, “Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (NASB)

Charles Stanley writes in response to this verse: “Jesus endured the pain, scorn, sorrow, rejection, and betrayal of the Cross for the joy set before Him. . . . What was this overcoming joy? Us. Jesus looked forward to fulfilling the purpose for which He came, which was to restore our relationship with Himself.”

I am stunned! He experienced joy in the suffering for a bunch of ungrateful sinners. How can this be? If Jesus can experience joy in paying the excruciating cost for our sins, then He can fill me with joy amidst the unfair frustrations of my little life. And joy is linked to peace and hope. “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we exult in our tribulation . . .” (Romans 5:1-3a, NASB). James tell us: “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” (James 1:2-3, NASB) No, joy is not a paper chain link but an eternally strong link to the hope and faith we have in God the Father, His perfect eternal plan and His Son Jesus.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

The Living Hope

In her book The Circle of Seasons: Meeting God in the Church Year, Kimberlee Conway Ireton writes this about Advent:

Hope_Ellie_IG3In Hebrew, the word for wait is also the word for hope. (Thus translators can render 'Wait for the Lord' as 'Hope in the Lord' with equal accuracy.) The linguistic equation of wait with hope means that, for Jesus, immersed as he was in the language of the Hebrew Bible, there is no conceptual differentiation between waiting and hoping. They are one and the same activity. This melding is especially apropos during Advent, when we wait in hopeful expectation for the return of Christ.”

One of my favorite hope-filled verses follows Paul's list of produce: suffering produces perseverance, then perseverance produces character and character hope. Paul bookends suffering and its produce with hope. “And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” (Romans 5:2b, NIV) “And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” (Romans 5:5, NIV)

I love these words: “And hope does not disappoint us.” I wrap my heart around them and squeeze so tightly hope goes flying everywhere. At least I want to be that person who believes so strongly in this unremitting hope it bursts forth from me and rains all over everyone like confetti at a parade. My hope is increased the more time I spend with the Father and in His Word; and the more my hope increases, the greater the desire grows to helps others look up and believe in the “hope [that] does not disappoint us.”

How can such a hope exist in a day and age when we have no idea when or where the next terrorist attack will be? How can it be that hope will not disappoint us when all over the news there is nothing but suffering, tragedy and narcissism? Daily trust is being undermined by leaders of countries and corporations. I know people who marinate in the media's dark and slanted version of what is going on in the world, and it scares them. Lots of frightening things are happening, but “hope does not disappoint us” because, “In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead . . .” (1 Peter 1:3b, NIV)

Morris A. Weigelt & E. Dee Freeborn writers of Living The Lord's Prayer put it this way:

Jesus taught us that Kingdom people are not destroyed by the terrors of the end time. These will not control the person who prays for the Kingdom. The new long-range perspective enables us to deal with the chaos without being overwhelmed. . . . People who pray with the Kingdom in view know that evil does not have the last word – and that knowledge profoundly shapes their lives. Praying for the breakthrough of God's kingdom frees us from the fatalism that sucks the hope and life out of us. We recognize that God can use life's crushing experiences to shape us into redemptive vessels He can use. We know beyond a shadow of doubt that God is in charge.”

Why? Because we have a “living hope through the resurrection of Jesus.” Living! This hope is active and alive. In the midst of a world full of dark deeds, deeds darker than some of us care to ever know or imagine, we have a living hope. And in this broken, sinful world followers of Jesus have every reason to live suspended in a place of hopeful waiting, suspended above despair – waiting for the return of Jesus. I want to believe in the living hope so completely I can rise above the despair of this world's tragedy. I do not want to look away or be void of compassion, but to be able to know and help others see that this is not the end of the story. We will not be disappointed, this story has the best sort of ending ever. This is our eternal hope.

P.S. My husband took the photo of the yellow gladiolas; he says yellow is the color of hope.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Rushed and Resisting

Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday has come and gone already. We had a wonderful Thanksgiving with my girls and Isaac, Emile's boyfriend. Everyone contributed a dish or two. My how things have changed! There were games and Christmas movies stacked on the coffee table in case there was any interest, but like grown-ups often do, we sat around the table and talked all evening – serious, challenging conversations seasoned with laughter. And now there is nothing to keep us from sliding right smack into Christmas.

I love Christmas, but I dislike how in so many ways it encroaches upon the other holidays. Our way of ushering in Christmas is to crowd out autumn, this brief and glorious season. Before children have donned their Halloween costumes, autumn decorations are on clearance and sharing the isle with Christmas. Thanksgiving is insignificant in the world of commerce, but it is my favorite holiday for that very reason. There is no gift buying expectations; Thanksgiving is a tribute to food and good old fashioned fellowship. It is meant to be a thankful holiday – full of thanks for blessings, grace, overcoming and surviving the odds.

I have such great memories of celebrating Thanksgiving in Ohio when I was a child. We all got together at some relative's house and ate and visited all day. The men watched football and talked of farming and weather (another favorite topic of mine). I loved sampling foods brought by my aunts, cousins and grandma. There isn't a sale worthy enough to leave behind such a glorious feast with family. I don't appreciate being rushed into the next holiday.

Being present and not pressing forward is a challenge even for me. The first Christmas card arrived in the mail on November 17 from a good planner. And now I am thinking about when we should get the tree. We've started Christmas shopping. I am so conflicted. Our whole world is conflicted. As a counselor I often bump into articles about being present, living in the moment with awareness and gratitude. But all around me there is pushing and shoving to some “significant” place we never reach.

Today I want to enjoy this day. I want to be attentive to the people I am with in the moment. I am not too sure how well I will do holding my own against the powerful undertow of commerce, but it is my goal. I am no Ebeneezer Scrooge, but I dislike being rushed!

I am hoping you and I can find a way to enjoy the moments presented today. As we plan and shop, may we be present to the people around us, even the cashier. May we find ourselves longing to give well wishes and blessings more so. People are in greater need of hope than anything else. I for one want to take time to sprinkle about more hope and less money. I want to give those around me a reason to smile and not so much another perishable item. I am no Ebeneezer Scrooge, but I want to give more than the same store-bought gift given to hundreds, thousands or millions of others.

Here's to making meaningful moments all year long and not letting them get lost during Christmas. How are you keeping your head and heart above the powerful current to “buy” Christmas? How do you experience meaningful moments in the midst of the holidays?

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Tiny and Safe or Uncontainable?

We don't have cable; we don't watch a lot of television. But when we stay in a hotel or condo, like we were blessed to do so recently, we watch HGTV and cooking channels. Our most recent mini vacation found us captured by a show about tiny houses. I am both drawn to and repelled by the idea of living in a tiny house. After watching a few episodes of people deciding between tiny, tinier or tiniest, I turned to my husband and asked if he could live in a tiny house.

He said yes. Now if we ever truly considered a tinier house than the small house we live in, my books would be right up near the top of the list of the hardest possessions to let go. Tiny houses don't have room for books. My husband says I would have to go to the library, which I do. He doesn't understand; a writer needs her books. I have lived in my books, studied them and marked them just for me. I return to them for encouragement, comfort and to know I am not alone. It would be a great test for me to leave behind my books. Just writing that sentence makes me want to cry, imagining the grief I would experience saying goodbye to these dear friends.

Granted, my attachment to books may be a bit over the top, but we all have something we would find terribly difficult to leave behind. If your house went up in flames, I am sure most of you have considered what you would want to save most of all, after saving your family of course. Besides people and pets, what would you feel lost without? It may seem silly to ponder, but it does challenge one to consider the things we have become attached to in this life.

Considering what would be hard to give up in a downsize or what I would be desperate to save from a fire, makes me wonder what I hold too tightly limiting what God wants to do in and through me. You see when people are getting rid of things and living in tiny houses they want to minimize the time given to maintenance and to be debt free. This is a commendable motive for sacrifice. Whereas leaving behind everything to follow Jesus costs everything; we are forever in debt to Him. And in this case it is a glorious thing. Letting go of the value we place on ourselves and valuing Him above all increases our lives in ways we cannot imagine. What a contrast to how we live in this world!

I appreciate Eugene Peterson's paraphrase of Romans 5:1-5:

By entering through faith into what God has always wanted to do for us—set us right with him, make us fit for him—we have it all together with God because of our Master Jesus. And that’s not all: We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that he has already thrown open his door to us. We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand—out in the wide open spaces of God’s grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise.
There’s more to come: We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!” (TM)

This new trend of downsizing and squeezing into a tiny, affordable, mobile house is quite the opposite of giving it all up and moving into the grandest space of all: the heart of the Creator of the universe and His perfect will. Do you ever find yourself downsizing God's expectations and desires for you? Do you ever customize your faith to fit in with the life you want to live? I have. I have to ask myself: Am I downsizing and living little as a follower of Jesus because I want to customize what this faith journey should look like? Am I making sure it fits my needs and squeezing myself into a faith too small to amount to anything? I guess I have to challenge myself here because I often want the cozy, comfortable, take it where I want to go, designed by Julie way. Don't you? Sometimes I want God to make this serving Him thing painless and customized to my liking.

There are also times when I live a tiny house walk by trying to squeeze into “Christian” trends or emulating others' heroics. God's grand design for another life becomes a tiny version of the life He has for me. Oh, but He has customized His call and He has given you and me everything we need to follow Him without deviating. And when you and I live the life He has for each of us, the immensely important little we leave behind will be like dust in the wind (even the books) compared to “the more than we can contain” gift He promises in His Word: His Spirit poured into us and overflowing.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Busy Presence

It is a gray November day, and it rained last night. I wonder what happened to October; it seems a blur. I try to remember October. Women's Bible study ended, but made its mark on how I pray. October held meaningful visits with daughters and coffee with friends. All in one day we moved a friend in the morning and sat with Jim's mom and dad in the emergency room that evening. We have checked, via calls and text, on folks who fill our hearts with concern. We've been doing home projects; putting in new flooring opened up an array of other projects. At night we crash into bed and wonder what happened to all the hours in our day, a day scarfed up and swallowed whole with little awareness of all the delicious moments. Does this describe a time in your life, or most of your days? In the midst of the blur I was spinning a cozy web about our home, creating inviting corners for rest and renewal. Scattering bits of autumn into nooks and crannies was therapy for me. Have I told you, I love autumn?

One day in October I wrote these words:

An Adirondack chair is snuggled up next to the pedestal flower pot crowned with a bumpy, bright orange pumpkin on our little porch. The sky is gray and a cool breeze blows through the trees while the sparrows cheep noisily. Then all at once they go silent for a few seconds leaving me to wonder if there is something they know that I do not. I sit, listening. I am tired, dirty and unmotivated. The morning was spent creating an invitation to rest on the porch and planting succulents. My mind is nearly as gray as the sky. The accomplishments should please me, but the tired, foggy thinking wins out.

The cool air helps me to press on with the writing. All I have to do is propel thoughts through my sluggish brain and type when in actuality it is a perfect day for napping or reading. My mind seems to be stuck these days thinking a lot about ways to escape the disciplines of daily life while all the while pushing myself to do them. Ever go through such a time? It is as if I am burning rubbing, moving and resisting all at the same time. Deciding what to make for dinner or wear to church seem like big chores. Retreat time!

Some time ago I decided one Friday a month I would declare a personal retreat day. It would include doing any creative activity I wanted, reading, resting and no cooking. It would be a day for disappearing into a place of renewal where no one would find me. Not totally true. My husband would be nearby. But I would sort of wrap my time in a bubble and take a break from all I do and restore my enthusiasm for serving. I haven't scheduled one yet, but it seems the time has come.

I did make time for a retreat day during the October blur. It wasn't, perfect, but it was a start. I worked on a folded collage repesenting areas of my life in which I want to grow. It was rewarding, restful and satisfying. There was time for reading as well as a nap. If I had prepared a little bit I would not have had to cook, but still the day restored a calm within me and renewed joy.

No matter how full the days and how fast they fly, I do not want to miss the treasures big and small we are to delight in through God-given senses. I want to be more present and grateful for the ways He ministers to me. One day when I took a few minutes to pay attention I noticed:

  • how the sunlight shined on the plants by the window and skipped over to brush across the corner of our bed
  • the worn, brushed softness of the flannel robe wrapped warm about me on a glorious chilly morning
  • over the top of all the morning sounds of our neighborhood I still heard the birds chirping wildly about their business
  • the almost minty scent of an eraser I use to refine my attempts at drawing
  • the light scent of coffee diluted by creamer
  • the sweet, nutty flavor of nutmeg I added to the coffee grounds

What are some ways you slow down and really notice the people around you; the room you in which you sit; the way nature responds to the seasons and weather; to all you can taste, touch, smell, see and hear? I am highly sensitive to my environment. At times the negative things wear on me without my noticing. When I pay attention to those things, I can make adjustments.

We Christians get so busy doing things we feel we should do and we have no time for beauty: creating or appreciating beauty. I believe it is part of being present to His presence. Years ago I read a book by Edith Schaeffer called The Hidden Art of Homemaking. She was a mentor and teacher I never met, but loved and appreciated. She inspired me to think about the environment I create.

In her own words:
It is true that all men are created in the image of God, but Christians are supposed to be conscious of that fact, and being conscious of it should recognize the importance of living artistically, aesthetically, and creatively, as creative creatures of the Creator. If we have been created in the image of an Artist, then we should look for expressions of artistry, and be sensitive to beauty, responsive to what has been created for us” (p. 32).”
Edith Schaeffer
, The Hidden Art of Homemaking

When life gets crazy I feel I have no time for dipping into something creative or drinking in some refreshing beauty, but this would be the time I most need to create and admire His creation. The fog lifts, the blur clears, my body relaxes and joy returns when I have spent time responding to the image stamped upon my soul, the image of the Creator, Imago Dei. I understand the challenges; I face them daily, but I know without some time soaked in beauty we find ourselves living mechanical lives and feeling disconnected from ourselves and our Savior. Those you serve will be grateful for when you've been softened by time spent being present. You are more apt to see them through the eyes of their Creator.

It rained off and on all night, and now the sky glows bright blue with puffy, gray clouds float about casting shadows making it seem as if the light is playing hide and seek. I've a to-do list to write, but first I want to pay attention.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Autumn Glory or Gloom?

Five years ago today my brother flew into Kansas City to drive my moving truck with me and all my stuff in it to the Southwest. It was my desire to live closer to family and to leave behind bitterly cold, gray winters. I haven't missed the winters at all, but I have missed my autumn loving friends (the other friends too) and autumn. I had been living in my new hometown for about a month when a box arrived in the mail. My thoughtful friends and coworkers (sorry I do not remember all who were involved): Kimberly, Melissa, Danielle, and Virginia sent me a box full of autumn leaves. Among the leaves they included a handmade card by Virginia, a Starbucks gift card and a bag of orange and purple Skittles, handpicked especially for me. It was such a lovely treat!

Having spent most of my life in the Midwest, I get an incredible yearning for autumn every year; it has always been my favorite season. There are those who find autumn depressing as summer's beauty tarnishes, turning brittle and letting go of its hold on life. From his book, Let Your Life Speak, Parker Palmer wrestles past his own dark thoughts of autumn.

“In my own experience of autumn, I am rarely aware that seeds are being planted. . . . But as I explore autumn's paradox of dying and seeding, I feel the power of metaphor. In the autumnal events of my own life experience, I am easily fixated on surface appearances—on the decline of meaning, the decay of relationships, the death of a work. And yet if I look more deeply, I may see the myriad possibilities being planted to bear fruit in some season yet to come. . . . This hopeful notion that living is hidden within dying is surely enhanced by the visual glories of autumn. . . . Autumn constantly reminds me that my daily dyings are necessary precursors to new life.”

How does the letting go, the “daily dyings” of your life effect you? Jesus taught in order to have life, we must lose our lives. It is a beautiful mess this dying, letting go and losing the self in order to have life and be whole. Not so unlike autumn. The leaves glow in glorious red, orange and yellow. Sometime after the color begins to fade and the leaves start to get crackly, a big, blustery wind tears the last of them from the branches leaving the trees standing stark naked against the gray sky. The leaves eventually turn into compost for the soil making it rich and healthy, all the while seeds fall from dead blossoms to reseed and multiply in preparation for glorious new life to burst forth come spring. Can the letting go in our lives create a rich purpose and beauty? I think so.

There are times in our lives when the letting go, the dying to something in our lives, plunges us into a dark place for awhile. Have you been there? I have. I am amazed when I look back and remember some of the darkest seasons of change for me, at the treasures buried among the decay and hurt. Those surprising nuggets show their true colors on the bright side of grieving. Those were times God used to release me to become more truly who I am, freeing me from fears and dysfunctional thinking and doing, and from myself. I am transformed and made new. It is hard to admit, but in the dying, life is released. Death is not all doom and gloom, autumn is one proof of it.

Here are some of the highlights of my childhood autumn days:

  • After a storm shaking branches from the trees, grandma would bribe us to help clean up the wooded pasture with a promised bonfire. We stacked all the branches against a large tree stump that stood in a small clearing. Later we invited neighborhood friends and cousins to roast hot dogs and marshmallows. All provided by grandma. It was such fun.
  • Burning leaves. Oh what a haunting smell.
  • Trick or treat in the small village nearby. Everyone knew us and we knew them. Mable made popcorn balls and always saved one for my mom.
  • Homecoming, football and the school bonfire.
  • Going back to school. I loved it!
  • Burning candles and the first fire in the fireplace.
  • Walking in the woods and the crunching of leaves beneath my feet.
  • The cool crisp air carrying with it the scent of autumn. Can't explain it and no candle scent is a true copy.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Things Aren't Quite As They Seem

Sometimes things are just not what they seem. Recently I held the hand of a small child as we walked across a parking lot. The sun was bright and the day hot and our shadows short. I pointed out to my little friend his shadow and showed him how to step on it. Shadows are intriguing, but not quite like the real thing; my shadow is either tall and thin or short and chunky. My shadow doesn't represent my exact build, it is a caricature of me. Of course if it duplicated me exactly, I would choose the tall thin shadow laid out before me in the evening light.

Our Stapelia plant is blooming now. Up close this blossom might make you think you are looking at a starfish, but it is a succulent in full bloom. This unique blossom smells like rotting meat and attracts flies. It isn't quite what it seems at first glance or sniff.

Even a name doesn't always represent to whom we belong. Three generations in a family I know share the same last name of Rutherford*. A long time ago an unwed divorcee discovered she was pregnant. Being more concerned with her image than the truth, her parent's insisted she give the child the last name of her ex-husband. In a moment of curious questioning generations later the truth was revealed. Imagine how misconstrued the genealogy search would be without this little known fact: the family bloodline isn't tied to the current last name.

Wednesday was the first day of Autumn. Wikipedia states, “Before the 16th century, harvest was the term usually used to refer to the season, as it is common in other West Germanic languages to this day (cf. Dutch herfst, German Herbst and Scots hairst).” But as the towns became more populated and farming began to diminish “harvest” became Fall. Harvesting isn't obsolete; fewer people are farming in order to raise the vast amounts of produce we consume without a thought from whence it came.

I digress. Here we are in the first days of Autumn; the calendar says so. We are in between the hot days of summer and the cooler, or much colder depending on where you live, days of winter. As often is the case, nothing about the weather indicates it is Autumn. It is hot and muggy; people grumble and are wearing down from the long summer filled over the top with steamy weather. It may say Autumn on our calendars and Starbucks' may boast the return of the Pumpkin Spiced Latte to their menu, but the sweaters are still packed away and the thought of a scarf around my neck makes me sweat. This is what I mean when I say, “Things are not as they seem.”

The first cool days of fall I feel more alive; I love the crisp air. So what do I do in the meantime? I join others in frustrated conversations about the hot days; I collect fall photos on Pinterest to fuel my hope, even though I do live in an area where Autumn is quite subtle; and I read poems and verses trumpeting the glorious beauty and cozy delights of Autumn. Though I believe there is beauty in all the seasons God created these lines best represent how I feel about the fall of the year:

Delicious autumn!

My very soul is wedded to it,

and if I were a bird

I would fly about the earth

seeking successive autumns.”

– George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans)

Next time I might just write about the gloriously infused Autumn days of my childhood. Until then I would love to hear what you love about Autumn.

P. S. Did you catch my big hint at something else that is not quite as it seems?

*Name has been changed to protect the family whose story I have taken the liberty to tell.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Sweet in Bittersweet

You can endure change by pondering His permanence.” --Max Lucado

A mom recently said to me, “No one tells us when it will be the last time she will want to wear her Disney princess dress.” While we run about trying to do all we can with the time we have, lives are changing and it seems as if it happens overnight. The bitter sweetness of the way things are meant to evolve still leaves us with a longing to go back and relive, to pay closer attention in case this is to be the last time.

For a number of years I carried remnants of my girls' childhoods in a trunk and a few plastic tubs. I still have a few bits and pieces but they have taken the treasures they want as reminders. Many of us don't truly want to go back and relive it all, but we certainly would like to pick and choose the best of our younger years, slow them down and memorize each detail.

When we look back over photos longings can push in on our emotions, longings to see someone again and to relive the joy with total awareness. Several weeks ago I looked through the alumni magazine of the university I attended. An article featured in the magazine included photos of my college pastor and his wife receiving an award. They have clearly grown older. It made me both sad and reminiscent of the ways they influenced and encouraged me. I can't say I wish nothing had ever changed because a lot of wonderful experiences were lived after leaving that college community, but I certainly carry sweet memories of these two people and many others who were significant to that particular season in life.

A longing to hang on, to never let go creeps over me when I sense a change is ahead but so many changes can take us by surprise. Even though we know our kids are going to grow up like every other kid, it still surprises us. And the longing, the ache to hold tight grabs us and nearly squeezes the breath from our lungs. Our hearts ache with an indescribable pain. And yet I can say I enjoyed watching my girls grow up.

Here is the catch-22. We can miss today's moments by longing for what has passed. And we can miss the rich growth change stirs into the mix of who we are becoming by pressing our heels into the ground and resisting change and the possibility it may bring great good in our lives. God means for us to be our better selves and we were made to come out on top, not be destroyed by change.

Kristen Strong, writer of Chasing Blue Skies http://chasingblueskies.net/change-scares-even-little/ has written her first book and it comes out today. (It can be purchased on Amazon at Chasing Blues Skies.) In her usual down to earth style Kristen shares how the difficult changes in life have taught her to see change through the eyes of the Father. Heartfelt stories shared from her life and from the lives of others give roots to the truth of how even the most difficult changes can be the very thing God uses to transform us into His likeness and a truer likeness of ourselves. In Kristen's words, “I don't want to just survive change; I want to thrive through it. . . . to thrive means to grow well. And a big part of growing well is seeing change with the eyes of heaven and knowing that God will always, always use it for us.” She does not deny letting go means grieving, but in the end we must embrace the new thing God is doing in our lives in order to thrive. For me, that is the sweet center of the bittersweet in change.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Going Great Heights One Step at a Time

Butterscotch bars filled with toasted walnuts bake in the oven while the sparrows squawk at one another in the background fighting over the food I put out for them. I bake and plan supper while waiting for my husband's return from his Mt Whitney trip. Backpacking to the pinnacle of Mt Whitney with a few friends has been on the horizon since January. Months of preparation: training hikes, making lists of needs, being fitted for and purchasing new hiking shoes, ordering supplies and packing and repacking the backpack until everything fit just right.

And now the week has come and gone. They all made it to the top and back and now he is on his way home. It was a grueling adventure to mark the end of his 60th year in this life. It is a joy to celebrate his accomplishment and a real blessing to celebrate the man whose shoes I cannot fill.

The breeze tosses the palm leaves about and rustles through the tangerine tree as daylight begins to slink lower in the sky. I wait. I hurried about earlier to water the plants outside and feed the birds, all jobs Jim does when he is home. I kept forgetting plants and having to backtrack, and while writing I looked out the patio door and noticed I forgot to put bird food in the gourd feeder. He has such a fine tuned system and I fall short. But the plants are still living and the birds are still fighting over what I gave them and the butterscotch bars smell great.

It seems as if a lot of time has passed since the morning hours, the time I had begun to worry a little. I knew I might not hear from Jim once they started the hike upward, but I had expected to hear from him last night. Finally late this morning I got the call they were about an hour from the Mt Whitney trailhead; they didn't make it down before dark the day before and had to camp on the mountain another night. He said, “We are a little beat up, but we made it to the top and that is all that matters.”

I am thinking about the difficulties in life I allow to keep me from making it to the top. Sometimes the things holding me back aren't really so tough, but with a little negative thought to blow things out of proportion I am soon overwhelmed and doubting I can reach my goal. A friend and I had a heart-to-heart chat this week about the ways we get overwhelmed and brew up a good dose of doubt as to whether or not we are truly cut out to be the counselors God has called us to be. We were able to talk one another back to a place of truth; we just have to get back to the basics and believe God will make us able to do what He has created us to do.

Brussels Sprouts roast in the oven filling the house with their nutty, bitter scent, and I get a message saying they've gotten caught in traffic and will arrive later. So, I slow down the process and watch the light in the sky soften into a dusky glow and listen as the bamboo wind chimes make their woodwind music. I love this time of evening. No matter how long the delay, my husband will arrive home this night, piling camping gear by the door and throwing a big bear hug around me. The timing will be just right. He will have reached his goal.


And as you can see he made it home.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Sacrificed Hours Sent in a Box

It came in a box delivered by the postman. It was heavy and required my full embrace to carry it. I love getting things in the mail, don't you? My friend, Terri, had told me several months prior to its arrival she was working on something special for me. Nothing I had imagined could have prepared me for the tremendous, sacrificial gift of love she had created for me. I opened the box. On top was a lovely embroidered drawstring bag and two cute cloth purses. Terri had made all of them. But these items weren't the heavy weight present inside the box. When I saw the cover of the prayer journal I was dumbstruck. Gently I lifted it out and laid it in my lap. I read the letter she had written of how she had prayed for me and my family everyday as she created the 30 beautifully themed pages full of colorful and beautiful details. I slowly turned each page of this interactive artistic prayer journal and found a page dedicated to my husband and one to each of my girls. Terri had learned things about each person and added personalized touched to their pages.

Tears came into my eyes. I could not remember a time when anyone had gone to so much trouble for me. Me, the girl who had spent too many years fearing I was too much for people. This dear friend had been prompted by the Holy Spirit to put hours into creating a beautiful gift for me. Every detail in this love soaked book tells me my friend has taken the time to truly know me. I still can't fully find the words to express how deeply this expression of love has moved me. It is as if I had thought for so long I was just a ragtag girl and found out I am a princess. This wasn't a gift from Terri, though she poured over it with her heart and all the creativity in her fingertips released an imaginative vision in hard copy, but it was a gift from God. He validated my worth in whispered words of grace through this exquisite and dazzling gift. I have added photos to give you tantalizing little glimpses of this precious labor of love.

I am reminded of another friend who received a large box labored over with love. My friend Caity and I follow blogger Kristen Strong, http://chasingblueskies.net, and for her 40th birthday Kristen sent 40 boxes full of thoughtful gifts for military wives. Caity was blessed to have gotten one of these boxes delivered to her front porch. When she shared with me I was so blessed and thankful someone out there who doesn't know Caity personally blessed her in such a personal way. It was a God-gift processed through a lovely lady full of heart for women making sacrifices while husbands sacrifice and labor long hours here and there for our freedom.

Sometimes the mail delivery brings us heavy things, often the kinds of things to weigh down the heart and drain the bank account. And so much in the mailbox these days is just plain junk. Sometimes I have to order some little fun thing just to get a pleasant surprise in the mail. We don't write letters much anymore and so many of us miss mail: cards, letters and packages. What is the best thing you have had delivered to your home via mail? I would love to hear about it.

FYI: Kristen Strong has a book coming out in September. I am privileged to be promoting it on my blog. Be on the look out for more information.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Mercy Deeds for the Vulnerable

An old-fashioned letter arrived in our mail box; it included an introduction of the author and a polite request to attend our home fellowship. She informed us she lived on our street and thought it would be convenient to attend; she no longer drives. As it turned out we don't meet in our home, but we offered to take her with us each week. The following Friday as we backed the car out of the drive heading west on our street to pick up our neighbor, we noticed her quickly making her way up the sidewalk in our direction pushing her walking ahead of her. She seemed excited to be going with us.

For several months our elderly neighbor joined us on Friday nights, sharing the frustrations of living in a residential home. She wasn't happy. With some encouragement she found another residential home, and though she finds living in small quarters with strangers difficult this has proved to be a better situation. And she still lives close by so we can still pick her up on Friday nights when she is able to go to Bible study. She is enjoying our group; they opened their heart to her and take her concerns and difficulties seriously. It helps her to know we pray for her.

We soon found out our friend has no family living in the area. Her brother who lived a few hours away would come and visit on occasion, but now he is moving to another state. When she asked her brother what she was going to do when he is so far away, as her health is failing, he said, “You are smart, you will figure it out.” She has been weak and unable to come to Bible study for several weeks now. There is no senior ministry at her church. What happens to the elderly who are alone, in a strange house with strangers and losing strength, feeling vulnerable and stuck both mentally and physically? I ask myself this and similar questions several times a week.

I am bothered by all this. We live in a world where people are living longer leaving us with a much larger population of seniors. I am challenged to begin searching for resources and wondering if this is a forgotten group. Does anyone out there care about the elderly the way they did when I was growing up next door to my grandparents.

My grandma worked a full-time job and grandpa worked long hours farming. When my grandpa's mother had one stroke after another it became evident she was going to need someone to care for her. My grandparents took her in and she lived with them for a number of years. While grandma worked during the day, Gail Middleton, who was older than my great grandma, would come and take care of her. While she was living and active, my grandma visited the sick, regularly called shut-ins to check on them, and visited friends and family in the nursing home. She often would take my brother and I along. These were often odd and uncomfortable experiences, but they helped us to value the elderly—full of experience and knowledge—and to see their great need to be remembered. Years later my grandma cared for my grandpa until he passed away, and then her kids hired help and cared for her in her home until her death. I grew up in a family where the elderly were not forgotten and left to figure things out on their own.

When our elderly friend needs our help I often think about what my grandma would do; I feel I have such limited resources for helping her, but I am challenged to consider folks like her as the neighbor Jesus tells us to love as ourselves in Luke 10. Tony Merida writes in his book titled, Ordinary, “Therefore, I would define love something like this: Love involves compassion that leads to action. Jesus' compassion drove Him to wash His disciples feet, to serve others, to weep over the city of Jerusalem, and to die as a substitute for sinners. . . . Again, Jesus' life and death exemplifies such love . . . He loved His neighbors; He loved the least of these; and He loved His enemies. In Jesus, we know what love is; it's the ordinary expression of one neighbor to another.”

Merida writes in another chapter, “Christianity is personal, but it's not individualistic. It's corporate. . . . It is easy to get excited about a cause, but never actually [be] doing anything for a real person. . . . Whose needs are you meeting with deeds of mercy?”

So I am challenged to do what I can to show compassion to a woman, not related to me, but alone and in need of care. Though I do not always know what this looks like, it isn't always convenient and at times I am certain there must be more I can do. It keeps me on my toes and my “knees.” I am not a hero here, it is my call as a believer to attempt to live the way Jesus lived and this is just one way. Also, I am reminded one day I may be an elderly person and there are no promises of the condition I will be in or the circumstances in which I will live. Both my husband and I find ourselves in relationship with elders who are suffering, vulnerable and sometimes afraid. We pray, we visit, we pick up supplies and we give rides. The elderly are only one vulnerable group in our culture in need of deeds of mercy. We all need to ask ourselves, “Whose needs [am I] meeting with deeds of mercy?”

Do you find the elderly being cared for in your community? Who do you know who is caring for an aging parent or frail spouse in their own home? Can you lighten their load in any way? What have you found to be some of the greatest needs of the elderly you befriend? I want to say a big thanks to my maternal grandparents and to my mom for teaching to respect and value the older people who cross my path.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Encouragement, A Gift to be Received

In a world when there is so much hate directed towards Christ followers can any encouragement be found? In a time when many behaviors and choices once considered shameful have morphed into platforms for pride and boasting, can any encouragement be found? In an age of longer lifespans and more conveniences we find life more stressful and more of us feel lost and alone. Can there be any encouragement? In the midst of this storm of darkness brewing around us everyday, I was challenged by the women at http://www.incourage.me/ to write about what encourages me. I am often around folks who spend more time focusing on the doom of our day than the eternal hope. Today I want to share a bit of what encourages me even when all around seems to be falling apart.

Encouragement comes in the mail. It is a big box filled full of a beautifully made prayer journal. My dear friend, Terri, spent weeks pouring her creativity and prayers into this lovely gift. I believe the prayer journal deserves a complete blog post. More on this later.

Encouragement comes as an unexpected benefit from encouraging someone else. I am greatly encouraged when I have been able to lift someone's spirit. My husband calls this a boomerang blessing.

Encouragement is coming home worn thin and finding my husband has prepared a tall glass of ice water for me. I cannot explain it, and he doesn't understand why, but this small, nurturing act is a big encouragement to me.

I am encouraged by nature; all of God's beautiful creation I have ever had the privilege of immersing myself into has always been an encouragement to me. I am calmed by nature and I find myself feeling pulled in closer to the Father while standing in the woods or on the peak of a mountain with a panoramic view below.

Encouragement comes in arms around me. Hugs from those I love is the sweetest kind of encouragement. There are so many hugs of encouragement:
  • the tight hug of my husband with his scratchy beard nestled against my neck
  • being greeted by hugs from my grownup daughters
  • the hug of a friend I haven't seen in a long time, a hug filled with assurance the connection has stayed warm between us
  • the trusting hug of a small child

Remembering encourages me. You may wonder how this can be when our thinking can be overwhelmed with the kind of remembering that drives anxiety to unbearably high levels. I do not know how many times the Word of God tells us to remember, and when I take time to journal about how His presence worked through the difficulty of a day or a week, and brought me to a place I could not have imagined, I am encouraged. Listing blessings, the gifts I've been given outweigh what I think is missing, encourages me.

Encouragement surrounds me, but being encouraged is dependent on me opening my heart to the possibility something good is happening in all of this and I am loved. Encouragement happens when I allow my heart to be open to more than the obvious. And when I pay attention, I am encouraged at how well every single detail of this life is carefully planned out and held together personally by the Father who is greater than creation and yet He lives inside such a small and insignificant being such as myself.
Encouragement comes to me everyday when others break open their lives and tell me how God has orchestrated their stories and helped them face and overcome things I am not sure I could handle. I am glad for the many blogs written by courageous women who have made themselves vulnerable to remind the rest of us we are not alone. Encouraging and inspiring! Just before the disciples would be jolted from their worldly view of the kingdom of heaven by the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Son of Man said to them, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) Take heart! Be encouraged! What encourages you? How are you keeping your eyes focusing on eternal hope in this wounded world?

Sunday, July 19, 2015

A Rainy Day Shift

Three times in the past few weeks I have started writing a post and now I have three different unfinished posts. I can't seem to get enough focused time, at least that it is my excuse. Today the plan was to finish one of the partially written posts, but it started raining. Now you may wonder what raining has to do with completion of a post. Oh but it does; it changed the course of my day.

It doesn't rain a lot in southern California and it almost never rains in the summer, but today we had a downpour. It's great writing weather! I could hear the kids across the street laughing and playing in the rain; I went to the window to watch one of them riding a board down the street in rushing water. My husband asked, “Do you want to take a walk in the rain with me?” That was when everything changed. I don't see my husband as especially spontaneous so I sure wasn't going to pass up his offer.

We both donned sandals and shorts, him bare-headed and me tucked under the umbrella. We waded up the street splashing and feeling a bit like two kids in a world absent of grown-ups out of doors. It was a joyous little jaunt around 3 blocks. It reminded me of warm, summer rains in Ohio. My brother and I would race outside in the rain to splash in every puddle we could find; sometimes we splashed bare footed and other times we sprayed water riding our bikes through the pooled water. I love rainy days.

To think we were supposed to be camping this weekend with my husband's family. I have camped in the rain and I, for one, can say I am so relieved we decided not to go. Unless you are camping in a trailer it is the worst kind of stuck feeling. At least in my opinion.

Several summers back my family spent a rainy week camping in the Colorado Rockies. I had just finished a challenging master's program and we were planning on celebrating. Fortunately the trip wasn't a total wash out; my mom, step-dad and sister's family had rented a small house with a large porch. So while tents sat dreary and unwelcoming in pools of water, we spent hours huddled together playing games, eating, laughing, talking and reading. We spent more close moments together on that trip than on any other. Rain has a way of huddling everyone together in a relaxed sort of way. I love the rain! What do you like to do on rainy days?