“Now this is what the Lord Almighty says, “Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much, but have harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough. You drink, but you never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it. This is what the Lord Almighty says, “Give careful thought to your ways. Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build the house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored,” says the Lord. “You expected much, but it turns out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?” declares the Lord Almighty. “Because of my house, which remains a ruin while each of you is busy with his own house.” ~Haggai 1:5-9
I read the above passage this morning, as I was drinking my coffee. I wish I could say this is a daily ritual of mine, reading Scripture while drinking coffee, alone and quiet in my kitchen. It used to be, but somehow Life has become very busy, and my morning visit with my Father has often been left by the wayside.
This passage was a part of the message that the prophet Haggai had for God’s people in Jerusalem. God had rescued them from exile in Babylon and brought them home. Eventually, as time went on, the Jewish people let themselves forget what God had done, and that He was their reason for living. They became apathetic and confused. The prophet Haggai was sent to remind them that they needed to re-examine their priorities.
I can relate to what happened to the Israelites in this period of history. My “busyness” and my attention to only myself, has led to the apathy I feel. It pains me to say this out loud, but it is the truth. I feel as if God’s house around me is in ruins. In my last post, I wrote about the vulnerability I felt regarding worship with my church community. It has been three months, and I have to admit, I have not been to services. I know that lack of support in my life contributes to the sense of hopelessness that threatens to overwhelm sometimes. I am not taking care of “God’s house” in my life, and it is reflecting on me in other ways. I am being robbed of my Joy. This is leading to other unwelcome feelings of anger, resentment and bitterness , and quite frankly, I have had enough. This morning’s time reading my Bible helped me realize that I have not been myself, and now I know why. Forgiveness and change are mine for the asking, and I can go forward, unafraid.
“So do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we wear?” For the pagans run after all these things and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”~Matthew 6:31-34
This is work; it is not easy. It can even be frightening. “Entering into the joy of the Lord” (Matthew 25:23), and rejoicing in His forgiveness, is a choice; a decision.
My son made the teapot in the picture on this page above, and the angel is a friend’s gift to me. She told me it was called “The Angel of Hope.” She had her reasons for choosing this particular gift for me, and I remember our friendship fondly whenever I look at it. My angel and my precious teapot take up valuable real estate on my kitchen counter. In my turmoil and angst this morning, as I looked at these lovely gifts, I was reminded of the love I have for my family and friends, and of the love they have for me. God wants us to take joy in Him, and in the community around us. This is how He whispers Hope and Joy into our souls.
“The joy of the Lord is your strength”~Nehemiah 8:10
“You’re no longer wandering exiles. This kingdom of faith is now your home country. You’re no longer strangers or outsiders. You belong here, with as much right to the name Christian as anyone. God is building a home. He’s using us all–irrespective of how we got here–in what he is building. He used the apostles and prophets for the foundation. Now he’s using you, fitting you brick by brick, stone by stone, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone that holds all the parts together. We see it taking shape day after day–a holy temple built by God, all of us built into it, a temple in which God is quite at home.”~Ephesians 2:19-22; The Message
My husband and I have been on a much anticipated vacation this past week, and in many ways, it has exceeded expectations. We took a road trip from our home in Georgia, to Minnesota to visit our children, and then to Canada to visit friends and family. We then drove around Lake Superior, to Chicago, and then back down to our newly beloved South. It was a lot of driving, and I know some people shudder at that prospect, but we love it. It’s a great way to view the countryside and for me, I love it because I have my husband’s undivided attention for hours. No phone or computer to distract us, at least not really. We have a lovely relationship, we are very comfortable with each other. A trip like this gives us time to explore the country and its beauty, and we have ample opportunity to talk, or just enjoy each other’s company.
The photo depicted above is a snapshot of my husband’s feet, taken in Chicago during our vacation. He was standing on the glass floor of the The Sky Deck of the Willis Tower, 412 meters above street level. He loves that kind of stuff. He is fascinated by the engineering and technology required to build such a structure, and of course the view is breathtaking. I am also fascinated by all of that, but it was a little harder for me to just step out onto the glass floor of the deck, as I am afraid of heights. It is difficult for me to trust that if I step out onto that glass floor, it will not shatter and I will not plummet all the way down to Franklin Street in downtown Chicago. I mean, I did step out onto the glass floor and with my husband’s protective arm around me, I felt safe enough to pose for a picture. I realize of course, that he wasn’t really protecting me from anything, because it was an extremely safe situation. I wasn’t in harm’s way really, but having his arm around me helped, and I felt good that I had taken the plunge. We now have this cool memory of something we did together.
This week I also had time to think, and I found myself wondering about relationships, specifically those I’ve had with people in the various churches we’ve attended over the years. Taking that proverbial plunge onto The Sky Deck, made me think of other circumstances in life where it has taken some encouraging for me to take the plunge and join in on the life God is whispering to me about. I’ve written in my previous posts about our move, and starting a new chapter in our lives here in Georgia. I’ve also eluded to some discontent and discomfort in finding a church community.
It’s inevitable that at this age, I would have come across a negative experience or two regarding the church, and because of that , I find I am more protective and guarded about showing any vulnerability, especially to those in a church community. I realize that this is a very sad statement, but true none the less. I imagine I am not alone in feeling this way; I have experienced feelings of judgement and self-righteousness from others that I would not wish on anyone else. However, feelings such as these are inevitable when we develop relationships with others, because we are all flawed and our stuff and emotional baggage gets in the way. It has become increasingly difficult for me to try to enter into new relationships every time I’ve moved on to a different community. It is easy to believe, instead, that new relationships are unnecessary, and it’s nicer to stay at home, sleep in, or walk the dogs, rather than worshiping with others on Sundays.
My daughter once said she misses the feeling of community in church. She has not attended church for several years, for reasons of her own, but she shared this tidbit with me once when we were talking, and I agreed with her. Also, when my husband was discussing church attendance with our son last weekend, he (our son) mentioned that he wants to find a church that he can attend regularly, but he is shy to take the first step and just go. It is a difficult thing. I understand exactly how my kids feel. Sometimes I feel as if I am standing on the edge of a precipice looking out, and I feel paralyzed, not able to move off the edge. Just like I did on the edge of the glass floor of The Sky Deck in the Willis Tower. I don’t like that feeling, and I don’t like the fact that I’ve become such an emotional mess, that attending church can be so traumatic for me.
The thing is , I have found a wonderful, closely knit group of people in a small church close to our home. The pastor is wonderful and has gone out of his way to communicate with my husband, and with me, to let us know that someone cares about us. God is using him to draw us near to Him; I know that. When I have attended services over the past few weeks, I have sensed love and a genuine warmth radiating from the people in the congregation, yet I have left immediately after the service is over, unable to stay and make myself converse with those around me. I have left in tears, not understanding what is going on with me.
This week, while we were on vacation, I found myself missing church. To top that off, we received another warm text from our pastor, wishing us a good holiday, and a brief outline of what he was teaching about while we were away. He was initiating a conversation about “church” and all that it entails, as outlined in Ephesians 2:19-22.
Friends, community and relationships. I understand now. The pull of God whispers while I am hiding from church, and finally, I am going to listen. I know it’s time for me to step off the precipice, and let His arms comfort me while I enjoy the view.
“God is a safe place to hide, ready to help when we need him. We stand fearless at the cliff-edge of doom..”~Psalms 46:1 The Message
“As for you, my flock, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will judge between one sheep and another, and between rams and goats. Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of your pasture with your feet? Is it not enough for you to drink clear water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet? Must my flock feed on what you have trampled and drink what you have muddied with your feet?
Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says to them: See, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you shove with flank and shoulder, butting all the weak sheep with your horns until you have driven them away, I will save my flock, and they will no longer be plundered. I will judge between one sheep and another. ” ~ Ezekiel 34:17-22
Last Sunday, I read a funny status on a friend’s Facebook wall. She mentioned that her pastor had related a story about one of the first international missions conferences, where missionaries from around the world had gathered: “Apparently, at this conference, the Dutch missionaries were so shocked and offended by the heavy make-up worn by the female American missionaries that their cigarettes fell right out of their mouths…” Of course, I liked that status, as did many others, because it was chuckle- worthy. I even went so far as to comment on it, quite radically, I thought, because my comment was something along the lines of ” I have often wondered who decided smoking was a sin.”
I meant my comment to be funny, but I admit I was trying to be a bit of rabble-rouser. I think in the “family of God” as we so often like to call ourselves, we are very quick to judge and point out the mistakes of others. I was not present for the sermon my friend listened to last Sunday, but I suspect it may have embraced the lack of grace we often exhibit towards those we meet daily.
Literally, seconds after posting my comment on my friend’s wall, I received a private message from someone who was very concerned about me. He wanted to make sure that I knew for sure that smoking was indeed a sin, along with other things that would “desecrate our bodies which are God’s temple.” I was exasperated by this private admonition because I felt misunderstood, but I care for this person, and because I did not wish to offend anyone else, I quickly deleted my comment from my friends wall. And so…the musing of these thoughts in my own head began…
I know smoking will lead to an early grave. So can gluttony and slothfulness, so, rest assured, my rather careless commentary did not mean that I am on my way out to the nearest gas station to buy a pack of smokes. I might add, that some “sins” like gluttony, slothfulness, and slander, are not given equal time in today’s church as some other “unpardonable” offenses.
When I read “The Cost of Discipleship,” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was a German Lutheran pastor, theologian, and an upstanding Christian leader during the Nazi-era, I learned that he was a chain-smoker. I guess this was a time in history before smoking was considered sinful. The Bible doesn’t mention smoking either. So, as an aside, since reading this book, I have wondered who decided smoking was a sin, and when it “became” a sin, and why we as a church love to condemn people if they engage in what we think is sinful or inappropriate behavior. My intention is not to spend too much time on the debates of the particular sins or offenses; I only wish to remind all of us that we need less judgement and more love and grace.
Reading this passage from Ezekiel this morning made me weep, because it so perfectly put into words how I often feel when I think about the church today. I see many people who are hurting, and tired, and they may be pushed aside or ignored by the self-righteous. We as a church, are quick to drink all that Christ offers us, and then we muddy the waters with our own pious rules and regulations. When someone we might find disreputable is in our midst, we trample them with our words and over bearing ways, and before you know it, they will not ever cross the thresholds of our churches again. We forget that judgement is reserved for God; our only mandate is to love as He loves us; to offer to others the same grace that we received from Him. That’s all. It’s so simple that it escapes us.
“When I lose my way, And I forget my name, Remind me who I am. In the mirror all I see, Is who I don’t wanna be, Remind me who I am. In the loneliest places, When I can’t remember what grace is.”
~ “Remind Me Who I Am” Jason Gray
“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will but yours be done.” ~ Luke 22:42
A childhood friend passed away a few days ago from a particularly difficult bout with cancer. She and I were not terribly close, but we knew each other because our parents were friends and we grew up in the same small town. She and I both moved far from our families in our adult years, and over the course of time in this modern world, we kept in touch through Facebook. I last saw her a few years ago at my brother’s wedding. She was too young, in my mind, to have suffered from this horrible disease. She had so much to live for, and I think her family would agree, she had so many more things to experience. Why was she taken from this life so soon?
I was at work when I received the news that she passed away in hospice care. Of course, I cried when I heard the news, and then I went on with my day, thinking about how strange it was , that one minute, someone who was loved and cherished by so many could be here among us, and then the next minute, she is not. Still, time goes on, not stopping for any of us.
When Tuula and I were kids, our families would visit each others’ houses, and we and our sisters had such fun, giggling and spying on our older brothers, while they annoyingly chased us away and locked us out of their territory. At that time, none of us had any idea of the journey that Life would take us on; where it would lead us. I didn’t stay in close touch with Tuula, but I know she lived in various cities across Canada with her husband, and served others as a pastor’s wife, and as a daycare provider. Her Facebook profile showed a very cheerful, smiley woman, who loved children. When she received her cancer diagnosis, she seemed very brave, and trusted God for strength and comfort. I wonder if she ever wished that He would take “that cup of suffering” away from her? I know she and her loved ones prayed for healing for her cancer. Instead, God chose to whisper to her by name, and call her home.
I have often cried out in my own journey in life, and have asked God to “take my cup of suffering”from me, yet here I am, still muddling through various trials from day to day. I wonder why we as humans have to go through the things we do. I do not mean to be misunderstood; I know I am blessed in many ways, but life is not easy at times. I cannot pretend to understand why. I do realize my story is entwined in the story of others, and the telling of it is not complete. I only know that it is my story; it is unique to me. My children, my husband, and the people I meet from day to day are in my path for a reason. He may not take my cup from me, but He will give me strength and hope for the next day. I have only to stand up, straighten my shoulders, and look up, so I can hear Him whispering my name.
“When you don’t move the mountains I’m needing You to move, When You don’t part the waters I wish I could walk through, When You don’t give the answers as I cry out to You, I will trust , I will trust, I will trust in You!” ~”I Will Trust In You”-Lauren Daigle
“but I trust in You, O Lord; I say, “You are my God.” ~Psalm 31:14
“Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen thine heart”`Ps.27:14
I love this photo that I snapped of our trusty lab, Musta, staring out the window, waiting for her daily walk. She looks like she thinks she’s never going to get one. It was a rainy day, and the weather was horrible, so instead of taking her first thing in the morning the way she had been accustomed to, I chose to wait out the rain instead. It was better for her, and for me, and, it was better for our little dog, Oliver who is terrified of the rain. Musta didn’t understand why she had to wait for her walk that day, but in my head I had a perfectly good reason, and the reason was best for all involved.
Sometimes I realize I am just like my puppy Musta, towards my Father God.
How many times in life have I found myself impatiently waiting for something, and wondering when the big thing would happen? I’ve been praying and praying and praying, and it seems as if nothing is happening and my prayers are falling on God’s deaf ears, and I hear nothing in response. Nothing. Not even a hopeful maybe. Several weeks, even years can go by, and after the prayer is answered, I realize how silly I am; and if I hadn’t waited so long, the prayer could not have been answered so perfectly. I would have had to settle for something much less perfect for me, something that in hindsight, I would have been much less satisfied with.
This past fall, I couldn’t understand why it was taking so long to get my license to practice my profession in the State of Georgia. I had filled out the appropriate paperwork, and instead of the three or four weeks I thought it would take, the process dragged out to more than three months. I was beyond frustrated. I felt very inadequate, and I was taking it all very personally. However, almost as soon as the State of Georgia granted me my license, I found a job that was beyond my expectations, and was more wonderful than I could imagine. Oh the joy, (the joy!) when that prayer was answered! My coworkers are awesome, and my job challenges me in new ways every day. I am excited to go to work and I don’t have to drag my feet when I get out of bed every morning. It is a blessing I would have missed out on if I hadn’t had to wait until this particular job was available to me.
There is a story in the book of Daniel, where Daniel has a vision regarding his prayer life. (Chapter 10, verse1-13, ) He had fasted and prayed for 3 weeks and heard nothing, and then finally an angel broke through and let him know that his prayer had been heard “as soon as he set his mind to gain understanding , and to humble himself before God.” Daniel had to wait three weeks to realize his prayer had been answered, because the angel had to fight powers in the unseen world in order to get to Daniel and help him.
I have been thinking a lot about waiting lately; it is so easy to tell others to trust God and to wait for the right thing to come along…in actual fact, I know waiting is the hardest thing I have ever had to do. It is a lesson that I have to relearn daily, even though I live with the blessings of answered prayer in my life daily. Now, my life is not nearly as complicated as Daniel’s. I am not being thrown into prison, into a fiery furnace, or a lion’s den because of my faith in God. My life is not as complicated, to say the least. However, I am trying to navigate this difficult modern world that we all live in, and to do that, I have discovered that my only real defense is to pray continually , and this old story from the book of Daniel helps me. I believe God hears my prayers, even when I don’t see the evidence of that right away. As I write this, I am waiting for another prayer to be answered. I wonder how long it will take, and how many tears I will shed as I kneel and speak to my Lord about this one? I know He hears me. He might answer other prayers in the meantime, before He answers. I trust that He knows best. I think that is why this photo of my puppy whining in the window touches me. She is waiting, and so am I…
“For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.”~Isaiah 41:13
“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”~1 Peter 5:7
“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot… a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance… a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend.”~Ecclesiastes 3:1-7
I have spent an inordinate amount of time on the phone with my daughter over the last few weeks. I speak with her almost daily about anything under the sun. My conversations with her remind me of conversations I had with my own mother when I was younger, and had moved away from home. Whenever I was missing her , or wanted to share my day, or ask about a recipe, she was only a phone call away, and always willing to spend a few minutes with me. Now my conversations with my daughter are very similar. They can consist of only a few words, or they can be quite lengthy.
I have had much time over the last few months to think and contemplate in a way that I have not had time to do in the past, and for this I am grateful. It has been a rare gift for me, and one that I have treasured. This time has allowed me to settle in to our new home, to rest, to reflect, and to grieve.
I have always been busy studying, working, or being a wife and mother. Not since the carefree days of my youth, have I had this much time at my disposal. After my husband and I moved to the state of Georgia, and after I finished unpacking our boxes, I would have loved to dive in and look for a job, but I couldn’t. I was not licensed to work as a dental hygienist in this state, until last week. I was waiting for the board of dentistry to grant me my state licensure, and I’m relieved to say that finally, they did. Now I have started applying for jobs, so although I have enjoyed this time , I need to get back to work.
In the last three and a half months, I have joined a book club, attended church, become friendly with our neighbors, and socialized with my husband’s coworkers, all with the intent to establish roots and nurture new relationships. People in the South are welcoming and friendly. It’s impossible to walk our dogs without having someone walk by, or drive by without a neighborly “stop-and-chat”. I love that about our new neighborhood. I wish I could pick up the phone and call my mom to tell her all about it.
Just a couple of weeks ago I had one of those moments; I was baking some Finnish coffee bread because I wanted to send a care package to my kids. The yeast-based dough grew exponentially, and spilled over onto my counter top. I vaguely remember having a conversation with my mom about baking bread in warmer climates, and how the humidity and warmth can make the yeast work double time. How I wished I could call her up and tell her she had been right about that. Why is it that these simple things cause me to tear up on such a regular basis? My daughter loves to cook and bake and she will often call me for quick cooking advice, or to discuss recipes. It reminds me of how my mom and I used to be. I loved being able to call her at the drop of a hat, and tell her the most mundane things; it didn’t matter that we rarely saw each other or that so many miles separated us.
Our move to from Minnesota didn’t go swimmingly; the moving company was terrible. So many things were broken , furniture was scratched or dented, my husband’s dumbbells and toolbox are missing; lost forever. These things are insured and replaceable, but the whole ordeal is annoying, and I would have loved to call my mom and complain to her about it, but fortunately for me, my daughter is willing to listen to my woes, and for that I am grateful.
I was unpacking a crate of my mother’s China, which she had gifted to me several years ago. She had been downsizing her things; she had no use for it and wanted me to have it. My mother passed away just one short month prior to our move, and with that wound still fresh, I was unprepared for the onslaught of emotion that I was hit with when I unraveled her China from amongst the brown paper packing. So many memories of my mother’s Sunday roast dinners and Christmas turkeys with all of us gathered around the dining room table sharing a meal. Unwrapping her China was a grim reminder of how unavailable she was to me now; how I could not call her to share my experiences in this new land that I find myself navigating. I couldn’t handle it anymore; I had to wrap up her China again and put it away where I couldn’t see it, where I could deal with it another day. Procrastination, in the guise of another project, was in order.
I had some decorative wall hangings that needed a coat of paint, and as little effort as I could muster. Painting is not my forte, and I remembered a friend telling me about a product called chalk paint, which sounded wonderful. No primer was necessary; just a coat or two, and a light sanding, and you’re done. Exactly what I was after. I googled where I could buy this wonderful product, and it turns out, a retailer was very close to me, so off I went. An antique dealer sold this paint, and google maps pointed the way. I walked into the store, and on the display case right near the front door, what did I see? Chalk paint? Certainly not. It was an entire set of “The Friendly Village ” by Johnson Brothers, my mother’s China pattern! As soon as I recognized it on the display case, I walked up to it and started bawling my eyes out. As I was standing there, wiping the tears and mascara out of my eyes, a very worried looking antiques proprietor came scurrying over to me asking, “Ma’am, ya’ll doin’ ok?” I responded, “Yes, I’m fine. I’m just here to buy chalk paint!’ My goodness gracious…..I am not one to usually cause such a scene….
My daughter called me that day and I was able to tell her all about it. I love that I can talk to her about these things. I love my baby girl. I can’t be sure but I suspect that she was crying too, on her end of the phone, as I told her my story.
In the end, when my mom got very sick, I felt very guilty for being so very far away from her, because I was unable to help her in the way that I wanted to. When I called her, I would apologize profusely. She would tell me, over and over again, that she understood, and not to worry, but that did not alleviate how I was feeling. After I moved from Minnesota to Georgia, I also felt guilty for leaving my children behind. The fact that they are young adults should have assuaged my guilt, but at the time it didn’t. Now I see that they are thriving and doing well; perhaps they are doing even better than they would have if we had stayed and helicoptered them their entire young adult lives.
It wasn’t until recently, after my mom passed, that I realized- life circumstances happen and sometimes we cannot control them, no matter how much we would like to. This is just the way it is, and my mom understood. I am sure she would not have wanted me to suffer the guilt I felt inside my own head. I was the one who felt guilty for reasons that were out of my control, and I needed to let it go. My mom immigrated from Finland to Canada and was far from her own mother; of course she of all people understood how things were. I know she may have liked it if we lived close by, but we didn’t. She enjoyed our telephone visits, and she loved it when we had a chance to visit in person even more. I now get it that she understood me in more ways than I ever gave her credit for. I wish I could have shared this epiphany with her before she passed. Our conversations would have been that much more peaceful, at least for me.
“I will refresh the weary and satisfy the faint.”~Jeremiah 31:25