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

Remembering My Friend Tuula

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“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

Tilma Annikki

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Tilma Annikki Halonen

March 25, 1937-August 5, 2015

My mother immigrated to Canada from Finland as a young girl, and landed in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.  She worked as a chambermaid in a small independently motel business, and eager to meet other Finnish speaking young people, she started attending the Finnish Pentecostal church in that same city. It was here where she met Jesus as her Saviour, and where she also met my father, her future husband.

My father always told the story of their courtship with a sparkle in his eye, and as young children growing up at home, we heard this story often, and never grew tired of hearing it.  He had written down his version of this whirlwind courtship with my mother, and had me read it aloud at her funeral just a few days ago, and of course I did.  It was my honor to do so.  Her health had been declining over the last couple of years; she had had multiple surgeries and had suffered a couple of strokes.  This last one she could not recover from, and she died peacefully in the hospital with my father and my sister at her bedside.

My dad remembers how, more than 55 years ago, he and a couple of his buddies had been away in Toronto, and upon their return to the Soo, they had heard that a new girl from Finland had begun attending church.  They, of course, being normal boys, decided to go to the very next service in order to check her out.  He maintains that as soon as their eyes met, it was love at first sight, and the other fellows didn’t stand a chance.  He and my mom were inseparable after that.  As a matter of fact, he made sure of it, because the very next Friday, he bought her a ring, and she accepted it.  The only thing was, he had neglected to actually ask her to marry him; it was just simply clear to him that she would be the mother of his children.

When we were growing up at home and heard this very romantic story, my mom always interjected in this part of the storytelling. When she accepted the ring, for some reason, she didn’t understand it was an engagement ring.  I suppose because she was new to the country, she thought it was a friendship ring of some sort, and it wasn’t until their friends and acquaintances started congratulating them on their engagement, that she realized what had happened.  By the time she had gathered her nerve to give the ring back, she realized she was smitten by my father’s good looks and charm, and decided to go through with the wedding, which took place on September 17, 1960.

My father  went on to say that the Lord had blessed them for 55 years with 5 children and 9 grandchildren. He added that despite some hardship, he had an abundance of wonderful memories with my mother; he loved her with all of his heart, and he would miss her. He relinquished her into the arms of her Savior where He was waiting for her with open arms. Dad was at peace with her passing. He knew she was finished with her pain and suffering.

When my brother called to tell me of my mother’s passing, I thought of many things I would have liked to have told her, or done with her one last time, and then I realized how futile those thoughts were.  One of my husband’s and my favorite Bible verses is found in Isaiah:

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.  See, I am doing a new thing!  Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?”

He  often reminds our children of this valuable lesson: there are only two things to take away from the past: lessons learned, and good memories.

With this in mind, I was reminiscing about my childhood, and the memories I had of my parents.  The years of my adolescence and the years I spent in college, before I moved away from home for the final time, seemed to be the most significant years for me, as I remembered conversations with friends and neighbors. These years were financially difficult, but I remember often we had someone, usually a friend of my older brother’s staying on our couch for one reason or another. The door in my parent’s house was always open; there was always an extra pillow or blanket; a cup of coffee, or a bowl of chili to share with anyone who needed it. We lived on the shores of a lake; my parents ran a small business with a convenience store , coffee and snack bar and dock rental for boats.  I think we gave away more cinnamon buns and coffee than we actually sold; our profit margin could not have been very large.

My father also sold firewood on the side. He cut down the trees, dragged them out of the bush, cut the logs and split them, and delivered whole cords of wood to whoever would buy them. We also heated our own home this way. It goes without saying that my mom and all of the kids helped him with this hard work.

I remember a conversation with a neighbor who marveled at how hard my mom worked alongside my dad splitting and preparing the firewood.  He told me he admired her grit and strength.  He said he did not know of another woman who could work as hard as a man, and be as devoted to her husband.  Another neighbor told me once, that as hard as he tried, he could not entice my dad to have a sip of beer or to utter a cuss word.  He had seen my dad get frustrated and lose his temper, but he had never heard him swear, and he had admired him because of it.  Hearing the admiration of my parents’ neighbors at a young age made me realize they were also worthy of my respect and admiration.  They preached love and acceptance in the community they lived in, and they did it without words.

Last weekend, my mom was in the hospital after she suffered her stroke, and it seemed as if she would recover.  I was at her bedside with my sister and brothers, and my father urged us all to go home and be with our own families, but my sister refused.  She adamantly decided to stay until the end of the week; nothing could make her go home.  It was a good thing she decided to stay because she was a wonderful support for my father when my mother passed.  I realized then, that she possessed the same resilience and determination that my mother did.  Some would say she was stubborn, I suppose, but she saw what needed to be done and she did it.

My mom was never one to raise her voice and lose her temper.  I see that quality in my brother Tim.  He is very patient and even- keeled most of the time.  I have never seen him lose his temper either.  My other brother Ray is now a dad to young children, and I love to watch him with his family; the doors of his home are always open to his neighbors and friends; and I see my parents’ gift of hospitality in him as he shares what he has with those around him.

I have spent many hours in conversation with my mother, in phone and in person.  She was never too tired to talk with me or to listen to what was on my heart.  She was kind and empathetic, and when my brother Brian calls me up on the phone, it doesn’t matter what he is going through himself, he is always quick to ask me first how I am doing.  He is very selfless that way, and I believe that is also a gift he has received from my mom.

It so true that we can’t choose our families, and no one family  is flawless, but I am so blessed to have mine.  As we laid my mom to rest this weekend, the time we had together was a sad time, but it was also a time of celebration.  We celebrated the blessing of having Tilma as our mother, and we celebrated as we knew she was at peace.

When my friend Carri found out my mom had passed, she gave me an incredible verse from the Psalms to read.  It comforted me at the time, and it comforted me again, when my dad so lovingly stated that Jesus was awaiting her at the gates of heaven, with open arms.

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“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” – Psalm 116:15

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.