Friday, August 11, 2017

Ode to the Lonely Swingset




Ode to the Lonely Swing Set…

That sits in the yard forlorn
Wondering why the children won’t come out to play.
Weathered and in disrepair,
It remembers the golden years
When, strong and vibrant, it provided happiness and freedom
To little legs that reached for sky
And little hands holding on tight to childhood.

Now, splintered, ignored, abandoned
It longs to love again.
But instead, sits quietly remembering; waiting.
Dreaming of summer and sun
And barefooted children
Who have loosened their grip on the swing
And jumped into the future.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Freedom Walk

                           


Nearly two years ago, I got a new puppy and named him Jet. This energetic little ball of fur soon became a big black dog with a bad attitude.  I tried to train him to be nice and respectful and follow rules, but he wanted to do what he wanted to do…and with great gusto.  My dreams of an obedient and devoted pup were vanishing as fast as the expensive grain-free dog food that I fed him each day. Since his low-carb meals weren’t reducing his boundless energy, I decided that a nice long walk would be good for both of us.  So, every morning, I took him out into the fields behind our house and let him run.  At first he was cautious and would stay nearby; but then he became braver and started to venture further.  When I would call him back, he would triumphantly trot even faster and farther. Occasionally, he would come running back to me, but when he got just out of reach, he would sprint away, tail wagging victoriously. Because of his deviant behavior, I finally resorted to leash walking so that I could protect him from harm and teach him about acceptable boundaries. These leashed walks weren’t nearly as fun for Jet; he was closely tethered and often choked himself trying to pull ahead of me.

Enter the miracle collar.  After numerous attempts to reward (non-existent) obedient behavior and to give Jet a little more freedom, I finally purchased a “training collar” (or in less PC language, a “shock collar”).  When we first buckled this mighty miracle on Jet and he figured out what it could do (don’t report me to the Humane Society...we only used the “tone” function except in times of extreme disobedience or imminent danger), he was terrified of the control we possessed.  Mostly he just stayed in his kennel sulking because of his loss of perceived freedom; he hated the idea of submission to our rules. As he became accustomed to wearing it, though, he discovered that if he came when we called, he could actually gain freedom, not lose it; he could run faster and farther and free-er. Because he finally understood his boundaries, he was able to enjoy his un-tethered walks once again. By putting some parameters on his life (that were painful when he exceeded them), Jet gained freedom from his errant, and possibly harmful, desires.  He was able to run and play without fear of being “in trouble” because he knew how far he could go.

There was a time early on in history when God gave us the run of this earth, but because we thought we knew better than He, we did what we wanted to do…and we ventured outside the boundaries.  As a result of our deviant behavior, and because God wanted to keep us safe, He established some rules for us.  For a time, He put us on a leash called The Law; this law showed us the boundaries God had drawn.  But, because it kept us tethered to our sinful selves, we could never experience true freedom.  This kind of walking—according to the law—wasn’t nearly as fun and it almost choked the life out of us.

Enter the Miracle Maker. When Jesus came to live on Earth, he abolished this law by fulfilling it.  And He showed us a new way to live.  Some people scoffed at this new way, angered by its Leader’s claims. Some wandered outside of these parameters and suffered ‘shocks” that made their lives miserable. And still some chose to surrender their wills and follow this “higher law." These people, the ones who recognized the Miracle Maker and respected His Lordship, found this new way of walking beautiful and right; and when they, out of reverent obedience, stayed within God’s field of blessing, they experienced unleashed liberty like never before! They had abundant life!

A God-focused mindset is like that; like a fence (or a shock collar!) for us.  It reminds us of His design for our happiness and tells us how far we can go. We would be wise to listen for His call.

Nowadays my daily walk with Jet brings me joy.  He runs and romps and comes when he is called.  Tail wagging and no longer leashed, he knows his limits and respects them.  He also respects me.  And obeys me without question.  And that, my friend, is a true miracle from the wonderful Miracle Maker.

Amen and amen.


 "Therefore I will keep on obeying you forever and forever, free within the limits of your laws." 
Psalm 119:45 (TLB)

Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Ultimate Reconciler




I had a thought when I was walking today.  I was missing Brent (who is gone on a weekend away) and God used this momentary feeling to give me a picture of an eternal truth.  Here it is: 

When Brent and I argue fiercely and finally come to a place of unity, the reconciliation is so true and right and satisfying to my soul that I yearn for him in a way that I don’t experience when all is right between us.  I think it is that way with God too…except that we don’t always understand the life-altering reconciliation that is offered us. If we truly sensed our brokenness and saw the great chasm that Jesus closed for us, our hearts would thirst desperately for the Father’s love and we would drink it in deeply.  We would be satisfied in Him alone.  We would long to stay close.
And our hearts would sing for joy.

The Psalmist says it well in Psalm 63:1-8:

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;

    my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
    as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
 So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
    beholding your power and glory.
 Because your steadfast love is better than life,
    my lips will praise you.
So I will bless you as long as I live;
    in your name I will lift up my hands.

My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,

    and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,
when I remember you upon my bed,
    and meditate on you in the watches of the night;

 for you have been my help,

    and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.
My soul clings to you;
    your right hand upholds me.


May it be so for me, and for you, as we seek the Ultimate Reconciler, Jesus Christ.

How deep the Father’s love for us,
How vast beyond all measure,
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure.
How great the pain of searing loss -
The Father turns His face away,
As wounds which mar the Chosen One
Bring many sons to glory.

“How Deep the Father’s Love for Us” by Stuart Townend



Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Enchantment

I have an oft-repeated goal of writing at least 500 words daily this summer, so, hopefully, I will become a frequent contributor on my blog once again.  To motivate myself, I have been perusing some of my old posts.  Here is one I wrote when I was trying to capture a “sense of place”.  When writers create a “sense of place,” the reader feels like he/she is present in the story.  See what you think…


Enchantment
(Originally posted on Sunday, February 6, 2011)

There they sat, waiting to board the next flight out.  She, dark skinned, island born, wild hair, flirty sundress, high-heeled flip-flops.  He, lined face, gray head, young body, awkward, red European boy-capris.  Strange combination, these two.

I watched them as they sat across from me in the busy, open- air gate in this balmy Caribbean airport --where the breeze smelled of jet fuel and fresh mangoes. The masses rushed by or slept sprawled out on several vinyl cushions; the French woman chided her husband in a disrespectful tone; and the Spanish baby cried in the universal language of infants. But still, I watched them.

He laid his head on her lap, a sea of bright red flowers around his ears, as she twirled his gray hair absentmindedly. His small hand held her other arm as he struggled to stay awake, becoming so relaxed in her adoration. She continued to adore and twirl, adore and twirl.  His eyes became heavier and heavier until he fell asleep, secure.

As I watched this woman-child treasure her unlikely lover, and as I saw him become completely subdued by her enchantment, I understood a great truth.  And it is this, everyone wants someone to love them—really truly love them and adore them.

In my mind, I thought of all of the cruel people, the heartless people, people who have done evil things throughout history. I wondered it these people had ever felt adored—truly loved by another.  If they were to lie down and let someone smooth their hair…adore and twirl, adore and twirl…would their hearts become soft?  Could their hardness drain out through tears; their evil intent dissolve with each soft caress?  I don’t know, but I like to think that even a lion could be tamed with authentic adoration.

God wishes we would understand that you know.  
He adores us.
As His children, we have His Spirit; He is closer than our very breath.  
He desires us to know how much He loves us.  
We are of infinite value to Him.  
He created us to love us.  
He created us to commune with Him.  
He created us to be His own.

YOU ARE ADORED.  YOU ARE LOVED BEYOND MEASURE.  YOU ARE GOD’S MASTERPIECE.  HE IS SO PROUD OF YOU.  BELIEVE IT.
And fall asleep in His enchantment, precious one.

But now, this is what the LORD says— 
   he who created you, O Jacob, 
   he who formed you, O Israel: 
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; 
   I have summoned you by name; you are mine. 
When you pass through the waters, 
   I will be with you; 
and when you pass through the rivers, 
   they will not sweep over you. 
When you walk through the fire, 
   you will not be burned; 
   the flames will not set you ablaze. 
For I am the LORD, your God, 
   the Holy One of Israel, your Savior; 
I give Egypt for your ransom, 
   Cush and Seba in your stead. 
Since you are precious and honored in my sight, 
   and because I love you, 
I will give men in exchange for you, 
   and people in exchange for your life. 
Do not be afraid, for I am with you; 
   I will bring your children from the east 
   and gather you from the west. 
I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ 
   and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’ 
Bring my sons from afar 
   and my daughters from the ends of the earth— 
everyone who is called by my name, 
   whom I created for my glory, 
   whom I formed and made.”

Isaiah 43:1-7




Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Gospel in 300 Words


Happy Resurrection Sunday!  Sometimes, on holy days such as this, we go through the motions of tradition without thoughtfully evaluating the meaning.  The gospel is only powerful to us if we truly understand what we have lost through sin and what we have gained through Christ.  So, to help us do that, here is...

The Gospel in 300 Words

God created the world perfectly. He also created people—his children! Though in communion with God, they didn’t trust he was good. When they disobeyed, sin entered the world.  This sin became part of man and permeated humanity with brokenness.  But God, truly good, was also just; he couldn’t tolerate sin. He sent these children away (though he spoke of a future Savior!).  Banned from their Eden home, and living in a world of brokeness, they were separated from their Father. It was as if God regretfully said, “I love you, but don’t come near.” These people, now sentenced to death, spent generations trying to mend the rift they had created: following laws God had given, making sacrifices to cover their sin, trying to be good enough. God required they be perfect to pay the price for sin; they knew they couldn’t succeed.  Then the unexpected appeared!  The promised Savior!  Jesus was born a baby but still fully God.  And because he was God, he was able to live the perfect life that God required…of us.  He fulfilled all the laws and became the One Perfect Sacrifice…for us.  He did this in our place…instead of us. Just as sin had come through one man, “so by the one man’s obedience…many will be made righteous.” He died on a cross…in our place.  At the moment of his death, the curtain of the temple was torn apart; as if God was saying, “Now, finally, come close.” When he rose from the dead, he defeated all sin for all time. But he didn’t just leave us sinless; he imputed his righteousness in us! Now this is the heart of the gospel: By his life, his death, and resurrection, he reconciled us back to God!

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
Ephesians 2:13



Sunday, February 19, 2017

12 Things I Learned from Watching Downton Abbey

Normally, I am not a TV watcher.  Partly because we don’t have cable and partly because I have never found any series that truly captivated me.  I enjoy reading and prided myself in my ability not to get sucked in to any of that mind-numbing entertainment. 

Enter Downton Abbey. 

I get it, guys! I get it! 

I realize I am late in the game on the British Drama (I watched it via Amazon Prime for free!), but I have never been so fascinated with a television show ever.  I sometimes watched in batches (also known as binge-watching to the younger set), so willing was I to waste time sit in my chair by the fireplace and relax with the 1920’s aristocratic Crawley family.  I was obsessed with the goings on upstairs AND downstairs in the impressive mansion.  And now that I am done (and good thing, since I was clearly ADDICTED), I actually miss the characters, some of them more than others.  Actually, the ones I didn’t like began to grow on me by the end.   

I also made my dog watch it with me.  He was the most fascinated with Isis (did Robert and Cora actually sleep with the dog between them when the pup was dying??? I like dogs, but really).


And lest you think my mind has turned completely mushy by ingesting so much at Downton at once, I have written a blog recording observations I made whilst watching:

1.  Sitting down for tea and cake several times a day is a very good idea.  I don’t know about y’all, but the reason that this show appealed to me was because my life was so busy and I was craving some relax time.  The British folks in Downton weren’t burning the candle at both ends (in fact, they weren’t burning candles at any ends near the completion of the series when they had all those new-fangled light bulbs), if you know what I mean, but they were certainly open to stop whatever they were doing to sit down for tea and yummy-looking cake.  If we adopted this habit, I think we would all feel less frantic and happier—especially if we used cute little teacups with saucers. And if we never had to bake the cake.

2.  Breakfast in bed after you are married also seems like a very good idea.  Come on now; who doesn’t like breakfast in bed?  Especially if it happens EVERY DAY.  I did notice, though, that after the Downton folks got a toaster downstairs, breakfast seemed very toast-centric (which seemed reminiscent of my children’s offerings when they sweetly brought me breakfast in bed for Mother’s Day) for both the family and the servants.  But, hey, Cora seemed to like it.

3.  Speaking of Cora; I’m glad she’s not my mom.  Cora seemed so completely aloof at all times (except of course with the hospital fiasco when she actually showed some preferences.  Oh, and that time that Mary had that dead guy in her bed; she seemed pretty perturbed then too) and so completely out of touch with reality that she didn’t even question the fact that her middle daughter went to Switzerland for almost a year to learn French…really.  Did Edith seem especially fluent when she returned, Cora? Did you even ask her about her trip?  EDITH WENT TO SWITZERLAND TO HAVE A BABY!! A BABY!! And Cora had no clue.  Even when the child became “their ward,” Cora thought everything was just dandy. Lady Cora did have a few redeeming qualities but let’s just forget those right now and pretend she was a bad mom, K?

4.  Babies. Can we talk about birth for a second?  I have personally had four babies and each and every one of those births was a huge messy affair.  Both Sybil (I’m sorry no one but your husband Tom talks about you Sybil.  I really liked you and I’m sorry you died because they didn’t take you to the hospital) and Mary birth children on the show and are seen lying in perfectly crisp, very white sheets minutes after the birth.  Maybe if you are a British aristocrat, even birthing a baby is a very neat and tidy affair.

5.  Babies turn into children. Funny how that happens.  It is also funny that none of the parents on the show seem to really care about being part of their children’s lives.  What do these children do when they aren’t all sleeping in one room together in their little beds being creepily watched by their sometimes very mean nannies?  Does the Downton crew actually interview their nannies before they turn over their children’s lives to them? Do the children actually know who their parents are?  Do the grandparents know who the children's parents are?

6.  When you don’t have a job and you live with your parents, you have plenty of time to change clothes.  Did anyone else notice that the people of upstairs Downton seemed to be changing their clothes a lot?  Was this fun for them to have someone dressing and undressing them multiple times a day?  And, on a side note, did anyone else notice that Dickie (Lord Merton) who is supposedly in bed dying from a blood disease descends the stairs in a shirt and tie (with a robe over them, of course) in one episode when Isobel Crawley comes to visit him?  Weird.  If someone is supposedly dying, remove their necktie so they can breathe, even if they are British.

 6.5  When you don’t have a job and you have a ladies maid, your hair ALWAYS looks good.  Seriously, I need one of these.  Or maybe I just need new hair.

7.  Now that we are talking about clothes, why was Baxter sewing ALL THE TIME?  I mean, these people didn’t look like they were being especially rough on their garments with all their sitting up straight and drinking tea.  I don’t think they even wore any of them long enough to wrinkle the fabric.  But Baxter keeps sewing and sewing and sewing—both with the new “sewing machine” and by hand in the candlelight.  Was she just really slow at mending?  Or were the Crawleys more active in their off-screen time?

8.  Shining shoes seemed to be a full time job as well.  Is it just me?  Or did you also think that the servants spent a HUGE amount of time shining shoes?  Maybe shoe shining needs to become more of a priority in my life.  Or maybe I need to hire someone full time to shine my shoes so I, too, can have nice footwear to go with my nice hair (see point 6.5 for clarity).

9.  While we are on the subject, can we talk accessories?  Specifically gloves.  I want to talk about elbow length gloves.  As my hands and I get older, I notice that they are very blotchy and leopard-like.  Maybe I should start wearing elbow-length gloves all the time so that people assume I am much younger than my chronological age and so that they know that I am a human and not a feline because we all know felines never wear gloves.  For more insight into my aging woes, check out this post.

10.  Downton had an abundance of guests but that’s okay because guests aren’t a problem when you have a cook and servants.  The Downton folks must be extremely popular, or maybe they are just the right distance between all the other towns around because they have an abundance of guests.  Cora is always okay with this, though, because it causes her no extra hardship and she still gets to eat breakfast in bed.  Also, I am wondering how old one had to be a kitchen maid in the aristocratic era because Daisy looks right around 10. 

11.  We all need to write more letters.  After I finished watching the Downton series, I wrote a bunch of people actual paper and pen letters.  I was motivated by all the letter reading, writing, posting, and expecting that was part of the Downton day.  The letters I sent, however, were normal size and not the mini letters that everyone opened at the Abbey.

12.  Sometimes mean and conniving people are just really unhappy.  And by this, I am referring to Barrow, who has numerous problems that we shall not mention here.  His biggest problem is that he is not very nice.  And nobody is very nice to him.  And when his partner-in-meanness, Ms. O’Brien, leaves, he gets extra nasty.  But at the end, when they pull him out of the bathtub almost dead, I felt a little bit sorry for him and I tried to remember all the times that he had been a little bit kind.  It was difficult. I have other keen observations about Mary and Edith’s meanness to each other and Mary’s general meanness overall, but I will stop here so as not to sully their characters.  Also, I’m glad I don’t have to ride horses side-saddle in a dress because that would make me mean as well.  And probably the horse too.                                                        

That's all I got folks.  Let me know if you want to have a Downton reunion of sorts where we all get together and relive our favorite shows and commiserate about the psychological health of little Marigold; or even if you just want to come over and have tea and bring me some yummy cake.  

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Grace Year


The year 2016 was a bit of a roller coaster for me with my oldest child moving to the other side of the globe and my youngest leaving home, but I prepared for it and gave myself extra grace.  For me, this grace looked like coffee with lots of half and half, salted almonds, and massively huge bags of tortilla chips.  It also looked like me being a little nicer to myself. 

At one point (actually, most of my existence previous to this year) in my life, I forced myself to do lots of things and I was very disciplined—mostly because I thought that was how I was supposed to be.  It seemed to be the mode of operation for all the women I admired. So I chose to work hard at working out, eating right, and being diligent with a mostly-regular quiet time.  I got up early, made lots of food from scratch, and kept a clean house. 

Now, however, as I am nearing the half-century mark (and am a novice empty-nester), I am starting to find out who I really am…and that I don’t enjoy all that structure so much and that I really prefer slowness to speed.  I have discovered I am a nicer person if I don’t try to be someone that YOU want me to be, but, instead, tap into the person that God made ME to be; He’s the only One that needs to approve anyway, amiright? 

And you know what?  I’m not really the tough girl I used to strive to be, nor am I very brave; I only look that way sometimes because I hang out with my adventurous family.  I’m actually the one that cries like a baby when the hiking gets hard and hyperventilates when I have to climb mountains.   I’m just a normal, sometimes fragile, middle-aged (wow, I have never used that adjective to describe myself) gal who resists change like the plague and who happens to like cute things that look like animals (you know, like the cow-shaped cream pitcher that allows you to dispense milk while simultaneously pretending the animal is vomiting) and flannel sheets with rabbits on them (not actual rabbits, though that would be cozy). 

I have taken to walking in the sunrise with my exuberant pup most days rather than performing exercises that make me want a four-hour nap by 9 a.m.  I let myself eat a cookie with my coffee and have no guilt about it; I even bought a cookie jar shaped like a fox to put them in.  Brent and I have been doing a Bible read-through in the mornings where we read a passage and then talk about it, and I haven’t been as rigid about spending my own time in the Word, nor have I been journaling regularly. But I am gaining a depth of knowledge from listening to Scripture being read to me.  In fact, each night when I go to bed, I am anxious for morning to come so we can have our coffee/Bible time all over again.

Since my kids are out of the house and my morning schedule is much more lenient, I am allowing myself to sleep in occasionally (but not if it makes me miss my coffee date) and enjoying the coziness of my flannel sheets and the deliciousness of slumber. I occasionally purchase convenience products as part of my meals and have chosen to not look at the labels but instead, to enjoy my reduced stress level.  Also, I often just consume tortilla chips from a giant bag for an entire meal, and I’m okay with that. 

My house is easier to keep clean now, with less people inhabiting it, but it still gathers dust and pet hair and cobwebs.  Uncharacteristically, or maybe not really (who am I anyway?), lately those things haven’t really bothered me.  Occasionally, if someone is coming over, I will pull my sweater sleeve over my hand and do a quick dusting of the china cabinet.

And, instead of feeling a loss of control by giving some of these former “necessary things” up and loosening my grip on some of the others, I have felt a new freedom and a deep-seated joy in my paradigm shift. I am not suggesting that these changes are all positive, nor necessarily permanent, but switching things up a bit has helped me successfully navigate formerly unchartered territory.  I am also learning that spending more time on what I enjoy actually fuels my mind and body to complete the drudgery  important things that all card-carrying adults must do (ie: laundry, unloading the dishwasher, and buying actual food).

Lately, though, I am hankering for a bit more structure and will likely pick up some of the dropped balls; others, however, will continue to sit on a lower shelf; they don’t need nearly as much attention as I formerly gave them.  And like the “chips for supper” decision, I’m okay with that. 

In this year, the grace year of 2016, the year I lowered my expectations for who I am and what I should accomplish, I am much more content with who God made me to be.  In conclusion, I guess I write all of these to convince myself that even in a time of great transition, I’m still okay.  Life is still good.  And the liberties I have given myself to “grieve” and adjust—to be more childlike and less hardcore--have made me feel less frantic and frazzled.  That’s what we all want, isn’t it?  Just a little sanity mixed in with our craziness?  We always think we are in control; we really never have been.  However, being nice to myself in my year of transition has leveled out the bumps of this wild ride and made the bruises not nearly so bad.  At least nothing a Hello Kitty band-aid and a few tortilla chips can’t fix.

This is real life folks, not dress-rehearsal.  I am planning on enjoying it fully. 
How about you?

Happy 2017!


“In my anguish I cried to the LORD, and He answered by setting me free.”
~ Psalm 118:5