Love and Grace, Joy and Laughter

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“Remain in me, and I will remain in you.  No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine .  Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.”-John 15:4

Love and Grace, Joy and Laughter.  These are simple words to bandy about during the Christmas season. We could all use a little more love and grace,  and joy and laughter.

My husband and I have had a lovely time during our Christmas vacation.  We have recharged our batteries, and I have used some of that time for some introspection.  I am not proud of where my thoughts  lead me sometimes.  I am far too independent for my own good. I profess to let God be in control of my life, yet I struggle with relinquishing control to Him at the same time.

When I read the Old Testament of the Bible, I shake my head. The lying and cheating and war and sex and dysfunction that went on is difficult to comprehend. It’s just as twisted as our society is today, I suppose.  Sometimes I catch myself wondering how I can relinquish control to a God who lets all that stuff happen. Other times I am reminded that God loves us. He gives us gifts to help each other, despite our pride and lying and cheating and dysfunction. In our modern world, when Christians are scoffed at for various reasons, I have hope that my faith in Him,  and in those He has placed in my life, is enough for each new day.

Often, I find  it is difficult for me to break through and keep up with my blogging and writing as often as I want to.  Writing is a charge, and a gift that I take seriously.  If I write something and put it out there, I want it to be worthy of my readers’ time.  I do not want to fill space on my blog just for the sake of posting something on a regular basis.  That being said, I wish I had the inspiration or the energy to write on a regular basis. Life gets in the way, and I do as well.

Sometimes I think very highly of myself and when I do, I find I will fail every time.  I think this happened to Peter when he stepped off a boat to walk on the water’s surface. Jesus called him by name and said, “Peter, come out of the boat and walk towards me.” Peter listened to this strange request and actually walked out of the boat and towards Jesus on top of the water. After a little while, he began to sink, so Jesus reached out, grabbed him by his hand and lifted him up; he kept him from sinking into the sea and drowning.  ( Matthew 14:22-23)

I have wondered why Peter began to sink before reaching Jesus.  I am not a Biblical theologian and I have not formally studied the Bible, but I think perhaps Peter was like, “WOW!  Look at ME! I am walking ON THE WATER! How cool is THAT? NO one has ever done this before…I am SO incredibly AWESOME!” At least, that’s how I would have felt, so this rendition works for me.

I think that, as soon as Peter thought he was doing this on his own, because he was so awesome, not because Jesus was giving him the ability to do it,  he began to sink. Of course Jesus reached out and saved the day, or at least, saved Peter from drowning.

This happens to me. Every. Day. I am just like Peter. (I think I am awesome, even though I am not, at least not always.) When I let myself get in the way, I am useless at what He asks me to do.  I am unable to use my words effectively, and I am unable to demonstrate kindness, or love, or grace, to anybody.

I had a situation at work that dragged on for months.  I started a new position at work, in another clinic within the same company. I love my job and was excited because my new job was only 4 minutes from home.  Who wouldn’t love that? My excruciating commute in Atlanta traffic was over.

I was excited to meet my new coworkers, and for the most part, most of them were wonderful. Strangely enough, however, a couple of people were a little disenchanted with me and with the fact that I had been transferred over to their clinic. They had some incorrect pre-conceived notions about me, and  did not welcome me with open arms. I didn’t understand why, and tried to correct the situation, but however I tried, I could not make things right. My work environment felt hostile, and  of course, I started to feel rather ugly myself. I could not summon up any good or warm feelings towards these other staff members.  I prayed for the ability to forgive these people, and still, I could not. Again, I confronted them and explained how I felt. I thought for certain that this would rectify things.  I learned that their preconceived ideas were due to lies that were told by other individuals, but still, they refused to show me any grace.  I was at my wits’ end, and couldn’t stop ruminating about this situation.  It was causing me a great deal of stress and anxiety.

Finally, one day , after many days of praying for change, I had an epiphany.  These people had not apologized or asked for my forgiveness, so why was I so intent on doling out forgiveness?  I realized that I was only required to love these people, not forgive them, at least in this situation.  Yet, how could I feel any warmth towards these individuals, let alone LOVE, after I felt I had been wronged?

However, I felt a wonderful freedom when I let things go and stopped looking for an apology.  I concentrated on getting myself in order, in doing my job well, and treating those around me fairly. I spent some time nurturing my relationship with the One who calls me to be me. Going forward, I hoped my situation would improve and it has.  For that I am grateful. Pharisees asked Jesus what the greatest commandment was. Jesus replied, “Love God with all your heart and soul, and then love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matt. 22:34-40)

To  me, this was my miracle of the Christmas Season, this act of Blessed Release. I released something that I could never control, and it was replaced with Love and Grace. A special Love and Grace that I am incapable of conjuring up on my own. A Love and Grace towards others that can nurture Joy and Laughter in its wake.

”But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show us that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”-2 Corinthians 4:7

Leap of Faith

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 “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.

 

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“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

Mothers and Daughters

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“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

The Breath of Change

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“Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” -Isaiah 30:21

I have been thinking about the things that I have shared in the last month, in my last posts, and I am reminded that they are all connected, and each blog seems to lead into the next one.  Of course, that makes sense, as I am writing about my Life, and my musings  from day to day. I feel as if I have been trapped in the wilderness for years, and now, finally, I have heard The Breath of Change speak my name; He is speaking softly to me in the desert, and letting me know it is time…time for what? I am not sure.

This is a photo I took almost a year ago, close to my home.  When I  took this photo, my husband didn’t understand why I liked it so much. “They are just weeds; they are not even flowers, ” he said.  He is right, but still, I love this photo. The scene speaks of serenity to me.  It is along a favorite walking trail of ours; we walk here almost daily with our dogs.  However, this peaceful meadow and pond look quite different now.  If you could see beyond the pretty landscape of the pond, you would see it has been developed with new homes.  The pond is still there, and it is still home to quite a few ducks and geese.  The “weeds” and wildflowers are gone, the trail is manicured and paved, and many beautiful new homes have been constructed in the meadow where we used to see deer run freely, and where we could let our dogs run off leash. Our walking trail is not quite as peaceful and serene as it used to be, and although I selfishly think it has been ruined, the new homeowners  appreciate the change that they have paid for,  and now share with me.

The spring fragrance in the air, the baby goslings swimming in the pond, and the changes in my walking trail have caused me to reflect on how things can change rapidly, before we know what’s coming.

“God is always faithful, and it is because of His faithfulness that you are here.”

These are the words that were spoken to me, and to my husband, by our pastor in a small church in Thunder Bay, Ontario, shortly after we had moved there  from Toronto. We had left  our friends, family , and everything familiar to us behind. The future felt very uncertain, and quite honestly, at that time, I had no desire to be there, in that place, at all. I only knew, that when my husband’s job transferred him, as it did so many times, it was my place to follow, and I did.  This happened more than 15 years ago; it is difficult to fathom that time has passed so quickly. I used to pray the words in Jeremiah 29:14 over our lives constantly, thinking that God would bring me out of the place “from where he had banished me” (Thunder Bay) and “bring me back to the place from which he carried me into exile.” (Toronto).  I did not embrace change very well in my younger days.

It was difficult for me to change things that were familiar to me and to give up things that I deemed precious, because I couldn’t take them with me when we moved, or because they were not useful to me in my new environment.  Over the years, I have found myself reflecting upon those words spoken to us by our pastor, and they have become quite precious to me.

“God is always faithful, and it is because of His faithfulness that you are here.”

The smell of the lilacs blooming bring change in the air, and I wonder what is in store for me.  I am at a crossroads in Life, and I wonder what this Restlessness is within me.  My children are grown, and my work schedule is hectic.  Why do I think there is more for me to do, and why is this not enough?  It’s laughable really, to be so bored and discontent in the middle of all this busyness.

I have become quite restless for some reason, and if I am not cautious, I will worry and fret unnecessarily. I must remember that in all things, God is in control. I am not, and I do not need to preoccupy myself with what is around the corner, or with what tomorrow may bring.  He has been faithful to me over the years.  He has always taken care of me and my family, and has provided peace amidst the storms of life. It is possible that the cause of this unrest inside me, is simply the Breath of Change.

“Wait for the Lord, be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” – Psalms 27:14

“He says, “Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” – Psalms 46:10

Tomorrow Isn’t Promised. Enjoy Today.

image“I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live.  That everyone may eat and drink , and find satisfaction in all his toil–this is the gift of God.”–Ecclesiastes 3:12

It was one of the first warm days of our spring, and here I was , with my arms wrapped around my husband’s waist, perched on the back of his motorcycle, winding along the shores of Lake Minnetonka, with the warm breeze shining on my cheeks, or so I imagined.  I couldn’t really feel the breeze on my face because I had the visor down on my motorcycle helmet . I hadn’t yet  gotten enough nerve to let go with one of my arms in order to  peel the visor back , because I was that terrified.  As I started to realize how glad my husband was to simply have me along for the ride,  I started to relax, and finally enjoy myself.

Years ago, when we were first dating, my husband rode a motorcycle, and I thought that was very daring of him, and yes, I admit it, part of my initial attraction to him.  I used to ride with him on the back of his bike too,  and I don’t remember being afraid.  Youthful innocence, maybe?  When we became engaged, he sold his motorcycle.  I am always quick to point out that it was his decision to sell it , not mine, and that I had nothing to do with it.   In  hindsight, I realize that I had everything to do with it.  What a sacrifice this was for him to make; we were young and didn’t have a lot of money, so he sold his beloved motorcycle in order for us to have a little extra as we began our new life together.

In our household, over the last few years, we have been battling illness; or rather, my husband has been battling illness, so we have been there, battling right beside him.  When things seemed at their worst as far as his health went, I remember reading this verse out of the Psalms to him (147:3) and the promise in it brought us both to tears:

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”

After recovering from his illness, and other life’s circumstances that exhausted him in many ways, my husband decided he wanted to embrace life and begin enjoying it again.   Who could blame him?  Certainly not me.  Of course, he decided to buy a motorcycle, and quite frankly, I wish he hadn’t had to wait more than 25 years to start riding again.  I only had one stipulation.  I wouldn’t ever get on the back of that thing with him.  I had become comfortable in my uneventfulness; I was content to Iive in fear of all things related to motorcycles, and I adamantly refused to ride with him.

My husband has enjoyed his motorcycle for two summers now, and whenever the nice weather came, he took his bike out for a spin, and when he came home, he  very gently lamented  that  his only regret was enjoying something so much, and not being able to share it with me.

Of course, this couldn’t go on forever.  Finally, I relented.   I mustered up the courage and I went for a ride with him just a couple of days ago.    We only went for a drive around the lake, and stopped for a cup of coffee.    At some point during our cruise, I realized, it was okay to experience rough times that might cause some fear and anxiety; after all, it’s during these desert times  that God speaks softly to us.  However, it was time for me to let go of my fear and embrace more of what life has to offer.  Later that day, I read my husband’s Facebook status, and this is what he posted:

“Life is short and tomorrow is not promised.  Find something you like to  do and do it today.”

This was a good lesson for me.  I’m going to start enjoying more todays.