Tuesday, December 22, 2015

My Favorite Christmas Carol

I've been quiet in this space for a while. This has been a challenging season for me, and I've had difficulty putting the struggle into words. I feel I've found my voice again. Thanks for your patience. 

Y’all, I grew up in church. As in, I can’t remember when I wasn’t familiar with the layout, the smells, and the people at the brown brick building with white trim at the corner of South Wayne Ave and Rudisill Blvd in Fort Wayne, IN.


So when I say I know a bit about Christmas carols, trust me. I’ve sung them since I was old enough to perform in the Christmas program. I’ve harmonized with my family--two altos, one soprano, and a tenor--in the second pew on the right every Sunday for 20 of my 49 years. I heard my parents sing them in Christmas cantatas, including the long version of Handel’s Messiah.


For a few years now, “O Holy Night” has been my favorite Christmas carol. Remember when I said that I needed a tangible expression of God’s love but was having trouble finding it? Well, this carol has played on the radio, in my Pandora mix, and been sung at my husband’s staff Christmas party in the past few weeks. It has made a difference. Why? The words.


It is a well established fact that I’m a words person. And “O Holy Night” has powerful words that speak to my soul’s most challenged places.


O Holy Night, the stars are brightly shining
It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth.


I love how this sets the scene. I’m intrigued by stars and love a studded sky on a clear night.


Long lay the world in sin and error pining
‘til He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!


If ever I have been forced to stare at sin, it is this year. It has felt as though the entire world is pining to be delivered from its devastating effects. I sense humanity is choking on its depravity and longing. They just don’t know that they’re waiting for the appearing of the Savior.


I sing this stanza with deep conviction. These aren’t just words to me. I agree with the author: until Jesus appeared, my soul didn’t know its worth. What a thrill of hope to know that there is deliverance at hand for my weariness--a new and glorious morn!


Fall on your knees, O hear the angel voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born.
O night divine, O night, O night divine.


This chorus contains both an imperative and an invitation. Falling on my knees is the a response of worship when in the presence of Divinity, and Christ was both God and human at His birth. The invitation to stop and quiet myself to hear the angel voices, declaring, “Unto you, Jenn, is born this day, in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord,” is so welcome right now. Fourteen years in retail can create a very jaded spirit, and it’s easy to be cynical about the “most wonderful time of the year.”


The angels beckoned those going about their normal lives to stop what they were doing and “go see this thing that has happened!” Instead of focusing on the “sleigh bells jingling, ring ting tingle-ing too,” the season can be put in its proper perspective when I accept the invitation.


Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother,
and in His Name all oppression shall cease.


For a long time (most of my adult life, really), the practice of my Christianity was all about laws and little about love. I have come to know that His love is what enables me to love all others, and that acting from this experience is the only way peace will be found in this world.


Thanks be to God that He will break every chain and I think the world has come a long way in realizing that the slave is our brother. There are so many ways to aid organizations confronting human trafficking and sex slavery. I can’t wait for the day when, in His Name, ALL oppression shall cease!


Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we
let all within us praise His holy Name!
Christ is the Lord! O praise His Name forever!
His power and glory evermore proclaim!
His power and glory evermore proclaim!


Here is the second invitation to action. Raise a grateful chorus. Praise His Name forever. Evermore proclaim His power and glory. Would you help me remember to practice these the other 11 months of each year?

Now it’s your turn. What’s your favorite Christmas carol and why?

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Slippers

I've been quiet in this space for a while. I was surprised by the challenges this Advent season brought, and I've had difficulty putting the struggle into words. I feel I've found my voice again. Thanks for your patience. 

I think it was Christmas 1992. The joy of the season had been tempered by the Gulf War and soaring gas prices, and we were still trying to pay off school loans and make the monthly mortgage payment. Bob and I agreed to spend only twenty dollars on each other for Christmas.


He bought me a practical gift. They weren’t fancy but they were well made slippers of felted cotton with leather soles. I’d never had slippers before, except for the knitted pairs my grandma made for me when I was a child. Moment of confession: I never liked those. They hurt my feet when I walked. (Sorry, Grandma.)


This pair was soft and warm and protected my feet from the chill of the hardwood floors of our turn of the century, sparsely insulated home. The only thing I didn’t like was the color: reddish pink. Despite that, I wore them.


And wore them.


And wore them.


As the years turned into decades, I became more attached to them. And that perplexed me because I’m not sentimental. I don’t attach feelings to things. Besides the fact that they're still functional, I’ve often wondered why I can’t bear to part with them.


Deep down, I know the reason: they’re a tangible representation of my husband’s love.


Today, the leather soles are slick, the seams are pulling away from the uppers, and if I washed them, I’m sure they’d fall apart.


The world seems to be falling apart and the depravity of man is tempering the joy I’m trying to find this season. I’ve experienced a heaviness I can’t shake. I feel a deep need for a physical reminder that Love will overcome the deepening darkness.


I know that Love came to this world in the form of a Person, Jesus, the One who came to be physically present with those He created in the midst of darkness that was deep then too.


Why does this physical representation of Love seem so hard to grasp? Maybe grasp isn’t the right word. I'm wrestling with the reality that I don’t have the feelings to go along with that knowledge this year. It’s hard to be in this place when the season seems to demand I be happy and joyful.


What I’m coming to realize is that God’s Advent message for me this year is that I’m not going to get the “feels” to go along with what I know. But that doesn’t mean His Love isn’t real, tangible, the best physical reminder ever given.

After all, He is Emmanuel--God WITH us. If that’s not Love, I don’t know what is.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Christmasy Angstyness

This is what Dakota did to her bed under the blue table this morning. I'm not upset; it's a re-purposed 15-year-old sleeping bag of Michael's. Still, I was confused. Why would she want to rip up her bed? What's going through her doggie brain today?

As I took this picture, suddenly I saw that God might have been wondering the same thing about me as He observed my behavior this past week.

It has been a hard shift from Thanksgiving to Advent this week--slammed seems more like it. My heart was so heavy when I traipsed through Target last Sunday, gathering a few things Bob needed for his business trip this week. I could not, did not want to enter in to any of the festiveness, the Christmasy-ness--(yes, it's a word)--that filled my vision every time I turned into another aisle. I couldn't get out of there fast enough. All week my angst about the condition of the world has invaded my private faith experience and dominated my attempts to fully enter into this season.

When I saw evidence of Dakota's restlessness and thought, "Why did she do that? I was right there the whole time," I sensed God whispering to me, "I've been here too."

I realize that I've been flailing, desperate to see evidence that God is in control in the world so that the weight pressing on my soul would lift, so that I could choose to trust that He is in also in control of my life in all that I cannot see.

I believe that Peace can only be found in Emmanuel. I believe that He is with me, just as He was with the people of Israel when they were feeling oppressed and despaired that their Messiah would ever come for them.

Just as they did not know how close He was, neither have I.

How have the events of this week impacted your ability to engage Advent? Does it help at all to know that God is Emmanuel, that He is in control? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Arrears

If you don't know this about me, you should: I'm a word nerd. I love interesting words and enjoy incorporating them into my everyday vernacular. This past week, I used one I haven't used in a while: ARREARS. It means being in a state of being behind or late, especially in the fulfillment of a duty, promise, or obligation. Basically it's an unpaid and overdue debt.

I had occasion to use this word when I made a phone call to Starbucks' partner resources department. I thought I was in arrears for the deductible portion of the health insurance I carry for my family. I've cut back my hours since June and I was concerned my debt was going to come due and I wanted to be prepared.

As my husband and I get on a plane today to head to snowy Chicago for Thanksgiving, I feel as though I'm in arrears in another category: eucharisteo. This Greek word means seeing something as grace and giving thanks for it.

It's hard to do that right now.

When I checked my Google news feed today, the top five stories all involved death. Not just people dying, but individuals being murdered. It feels like mayhem is beginning to abound, like darkness was loosed after the trifecta of terror last Friday. Now pain and sorrow seem to be everywhere I turn.

This afternoon when I texted a friend who's on the road to visit family, she shared her heart and what's grieving the hearts of friends she knows. I learned about a granddaughter whose heartbeat can't be heard in her mama's womb any more, and a college-aged niece who died in her sleep. More seemingly unnecessary grief.

That's when I realized where I needed to turn.

The Word. I had to remind myself that God wants to hear my words--not only my grief and anxiety and frustration and disbelief--but especially what I'm thankful for.

He doesn't deny this is going to be hard.

He who sacrifices thank offerings to Me honors Me and makes it possible for Me to show him that I am the God Who saves. Psalm 50:23

When I sacrifice my inclination to wring my hands, embrace anxiety, or pull my hair out in frustration and offer thanks instead, I put myself in a position to let God show me how He will save what looks lost beyond repair.

And that's the reality. This world was lost beyond repair the minute Adam and Eve bit that apple. The entire human race is in arrears with God. How do we repay that kind of debt?

I don't. You can't.

That's why God is the only One Who saves. He's the only One Who can clear our account so that we're not in arrears with the God Who made us. So He did that when He, God, inhabited flesh. Emmanuel means God with us.

I think I can begin being thankful for that.

Thank You, God, that You have not left us alone in this world. Even though I do not understand the depravity that exists within us that would allow us to be deceived to the point of immense evil and untold cruelty and inexplicable grief, and even though I do not understand why You do not intervene to keep such tragedies from invading our lives, I can see it as grace that You didn't leave us to our deviant devices and thank You for coming to save us from ourselves.

What is your hard eucharisteo today?




Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Sunrise and Twilight and Terror, Part 2

My peaceful day was shattered when I heard about the Paris attacks, but I felt nothing.

I was detached and unmoved, and that realization unnerved me.

As I scrolled through Facebook Saturday and saw profile picture after profile picture striped in the French flag and a redrawn peace symbol with the Eiffel Tower as its centerpiece, I still felt numb.

I texted my son Michael. I wanted someone else's take on this. I told him that I felt nothing about this latest atrocity--a word I realized I was unacquainted with and unaccustomed to hearing until 9/11--and that this disturbed me.

His response? It's become common to be numb to violence.

Scary thought.

When I heard the media "reporting" that the refugees were to blame for the attacks, I felt my hackles rise. I couldn't believe that these people could conspire to harm the very people providing them shelter. Soon, ISIS would take responsibility, and the media is now reporting that evidence had been found that one of the terrorists infiltrated France by masquerading as a refugee.

But I still felt more emotion over the implications this has for the refugees than I did for the victims. I still can't understand why. Perhaps I'm worked up about the fact that a group of people already in peril are becoming embroiled in an incident they didn't create.

I can't do anything to bring back the dead but I'd like to do something to influence the refugees' future.

Michael and I talked about how easy it is to vilify people we do not know personally. I don't know any Muslims--do you? Without any frame of reference, it's easy to be duped into believing what is said about them because I don't have a name and a face and a relationship through which to filter the blanket statements.

One author I read stated that the refugees are "indifferent" to the deaths in Paris because the victims represent societies and systems of government that they don't agree with. He was implying that just because they're Muslims, they agreed with the actions of ISIS.

It almost made sense. I was almost deceived.

Not all Muslims are terrorists but all terrorists are Muslims. Is that a true statement? Some are acting as if this one is: All refugees are Muslims and all Muslims are dangerous. The actions of some radical Muslims are turning once open-hearted people against the refugees as if they too are radicals.

How deeply do I believe that these refugees are people first, not the embodiment of a stereotype? Would I be willing to welcome a refugee family into my home? Even if I wanted to, Georgia's governor has issued an executive order directing state agencies to prevent the resettlement of Syrian refugees.

I think it all boils down to whether or not I believe that Light conquers darkness. Always. Ultimately. Eternally.

And I do have some feelings about that. The question remains: what am I going to do with them?






Saturday, November 14, 2015

Sunrise and Twilight and Terror, Part 1

I’ve been keeping my own company much of the past few weeks. Bob worked out of state for eight days and while he was gone, Dakota and I established our own routine.

The days start later and end earlier now. I’m secretly glad because the time change creates morning opportunities like today.

One of the secret joys of working the opening shift at Starbucks is that I get to see the night sky, particularly the constellations and some planets. The mornings I don’t work, I’m almost sad to miss the show. This morning, however, Dakota noted my first stirrings, her nudge of my outstretched hand a request. I dressed as she stood by the laundry room door where we keep her leash.

Orion had almost finished his march across the navy expanse, and the Big Dipper was emptying its contents on the dark houses we passed. As we strolled the way we always go, the clouds in the sky began to take on a dusty pink cast, hinting at the not-yet-risen sun. I craned my neck, trying to take it all in. It’s hard to walk like this without falling. A lone planet blazed on the eastern horizon--solitary, unmoving, unblinking.

All too quickly light overcame the darkness and the stars faded to invisible. The quiet was broken by cars beginning their commutes down our road, a winding asphalt ribbon without stoplights to the highway. The last memory of dawn presented itself as a soft yellow light across the blue table as I prepared breakfast. A glorious telling of the heavens welcomed a quiet day.

Twelve hours later, as I waited for Bob to come home from work, Dakota nudged me again to venture outside. Like the morning stargazing walk, we make a twilight trip. I never want to go but I’m always glad I did. Tonight the breeze was crisp but not biting. The horizon glowed like the embers of a dying fire and the most elegant sliver of a rising moon rose in what was left of the faded blue jean firmament. Again my eyes were trained on the horizon as silhouetted trees arranged themselves on an orange and amber backdrop. I cannot take in enough of this scene and no camera could ever do it justice. A perfect bookend to the day.

Or so it seemed. Soon after we got home, I heard the news about Paris.

I felt nothing.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

November

It’s November.

In just a few short weeks, we’ll be sitting in the car for 13 hours--just like many of you, I suppose--in order to sit with family at tables in Wisconsin and Illinois to give thanks.

But already I’m teetering between excitement and anxiety. Why does the holiday designed to feed thankfulness seem to leave me starving for peace?

We make it “home” once or twice a year. Yes, in between those times we Georgians talk on the phone and email and text with the northerners, but that just doesn’t substitute for face time and “breathing the same air,” to quote a dear friend. Because I'm a planner, I begin to anticipate the time long before it’s on anyone else’s radar: reservations need to be made, schedules coordinated. And, consequently, happy hope quarrels with disquieting self-talk as I play out possible anticipated scenarios of time together in my head.

The difficulty with anticipation is that it can morph into expectation when you’re not looking. When families don’t see each other often, there’s an unsaid but very real desire for everything to be GOOD. I so want to find everyone doing well. I hope for meaningful conversations because I want to come away from the time knowing more about those I love. That puts a lot of pressure on the limited hours.

But I know the truth. No one’s life is all well and good! Everyone struggles on some level. So let me tell you what GOOD looks like to me: cutting the crap and just telling it like it is. If we could, I believe we’d discover a sympathetic ear or a shoulder to lean on, and a moment of shared strength to help us know we’re not as far apart as the distance makes us think we are.

Yet who wants to go first? No one. So the opportunity is lost, the time hasn’t lived up to what I’ve anticipated or expected, and I’m faced with how to deal with what is.

Soren Kierkegaard said, “Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced.”

This year I’m going to try to anticipate Thanksgiving realistically. I want to embrace the anticipation, reject the anxiety, and release myself of the burden that any of it is my problem to solve. I want to wait for the moment and, in that moment, risk being authentic, even if it’s awkward. I want to experience the day--the good, the bad, and the possible ugly--because in everything there is something to be thankful for.

I’m willing to go first.

What do you want your Thanksgiving to be this year?

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Liver & Onions

One of my fondest memories from my teenage years is eating liver and onions at my grandma’s house. Yes, liver and onions! My grandma lived by herself near our house, and every now and then she would get a hankering for the dish but didn’t want to eat another meal alone. So, she’d call and invite us over for dinner.
Initially my sister and I didn’t like liver and onions, and grandma knew that. So, she would serve homemade macaroni and cheese with buttered toasted bread crumbs on top as a side dish to the liver and onions. We could have just the macaroni or we could have it with the liver.
The reason she never made us eat the liver was because having our company for the meal was more important than seeing us choke down something we didn’t like just to appease her. Instead of making an issue between us about the liver and onions, she wouldn’t really even mention it.
Do you like liver and onions? Find out whether or not my grandma's strategy worked. I'm blogging about it today over at On Q...

Monday, October 26, 2015

The Faithful Farmer

My Great Uncle Paul was a farmer. He grew corn and soybeans. But instead of driving a tractor down long rows, planting seeds until he grew old, he traded farm machinery for a car and wore a path between the homestead and the assisted living and nursing care facility in his small hometown. His wife Donna Lou, diagnosed with Huntington's Disease, went to live there when she was 62.

I remember Donna Lou as a happy, friendly lady with curly salt and pepper hair and cheeks that made her eyes disappear when she smiled. She used to organize extended family gatherings at the farm, where the tables groaned with fabulous food.

I also remember the woman Uncle Paul would sit with, wheel around the halls, and feed. Her head would loll to one side, she needed a bib, and she could not communicate. Uncle Paul's commitment to cultivating a life with her never wavered.

She lived with Huntington's for 17 years.

Paul and Donna Lou had three daughters, Barb, Jackie, and Teresa. Jackie and Teresa inherited the neurodegenerative genetic disorder from their mom. Jackie died in 2007, two years before her mom, at 56, and Barb and her husband Rick took Teresa into their home and cared for her until she died last week at 58.

Imagine burying three members of your immediate family. It would challenge the strongest seed sower to find good in the soil of that situation.

But not Uncle Paul. Now in his eighties, through it all he has always maintained that God is good. All the time. And the faith he modeled for his family planted deep roots of trust and hope in each of them. At the funeral Saturday, someone shared how Teresa, Barb, and Rick chose to start each day. They recited Philippians 4:13 together: I can do all things through Christ Who gives me strength. That seed of faith was sown years before the difficult times came, and sustained them when they had a difficult row to hoe.

I have been blessed to have many seed sowers in my family--persevering people, like my Uncle Paul, who quietly lived out their faith before me.

Thanks, Uncle Paul.

What seeds are you sowing in this season for the difficult times ahead? 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Sunshine

I tried not to think as I walked in the afternoon shade. Re-entry had been intense after our weekend away and Dakota's disappearance, and all I wanted was to be present, unplugged, in the cool of the woods.

It caught my eye because I was looking down, watching my step among the pinecones and dead branches.

Its beauty wasn't what drew me to it. It was the holes.

The leaf bore the scars of its diseased host. Tiny holes freckled its surface, and the grey brown gave no hint of its original color.

I picked it up and turned it over to see if any of its original beauty remained. Yellow tinges of what once was were muted by a deeper brown, and the tiny holes looked like dark specks.

Disease is hard to live with. I want to present my whole self--not my holey self--to the world. I want people to see my beautiful colors, not my grey-brown underside.

As I stared at it, I remembered the words of the apostle Paul:

But this beautiful treasure is contained in us
cracked pots made of earth and clay—
so that the transcendent character of this power will be clearly seen 
as coming from God and not from us. 
(II Corinthians 4:7)

The beautiful treasure, the transcendent power Paul is talking about is the presence of God. God wants to make Himself known through my life. "Cracked" is what I'm supposed to be, so that others will be attracted to His presence, His power they see at work in me.

I find that so challenging. How can the authentic display of my brokenness help others see God? Won't they just see the holes, not the Light shining through them?

That leaf was literally eaten alive. Any who passed by while it was hanging on its branch would've pitied its condition, but its existence brought greater understanding of its Creator to me on my casual walk. While that leaf was still green and holey, no one would've suspected that would its purpose. 

Yet, when I held it up to the light, it became a thing of beauty. 

So here's the question I'm asking myself: do others see my dark specks or pinholes of Light when they look at me?


Friday, October 16, 2015

Running Scared vs Running Free

As I watched Dakota chase the ball in the backyard, I marveled she ran with abandon. I could tell that she felt free and safe, very different emotions than the one that sparked her 42-hour adventure this past weekend.


Six days ago, Dakota ran out of extreme fear. She had been enjoying all that our friends' farm had to offer: another dog to play with and several cats to chase, chickens, a rabbit, and kids to interact with. The loud crack of a falling tree spooked her, and she took off, trying to get away from whatever horrible thing she perceived was happening.


She was surrounded by the same loving people who had been taking care of her and playing with her for two days, and she was completely safe. But all rational thought left her pretty head in that moment, and all she could focus on was fleeing fear.


I see myself in Dakota.


I’d like to think I possess greater reasoning skills when faced with sudden, unforeseen, perceived danger, but often my reaction is similar to hers. RUN! FLEE! TAKE CONTROL! I can jump to a conclusion, determine a course of action, and set the wheels in motion before someone can get my attention, slow me down, and correct my perception.


This happens most often when I believe it’s all up to me. When I think that I must protect myself, that I must discern the best way through, that I must avoid failing at all costs, I forget Who I’ve trusted my life to, Who is truly in control and loves me.


Just like Dakota, I’ve bolted.


In complete hysterics, I’ve gone off on a crazy tear down some unknown country road, not knowing where I was and not knowing that until I finally stopped to catch my breath.


But it has always been the quiet Voice of the Lord that has guided me back to what I knew to be true, back to reality, back to belief.


When my dear Girlie came back from her adventure, she sniffed out the yard and rested. During this week I’ve sensed that she has become increasingly more aware that she is Home, that we are the people who deeply love her. She knows she’s safe, so she can play fetch and run. Freely.


Today, watching Dakota, I remember, too.


I can run because the Lord deeply loves me and has set my heart free.

How do you typically respond to fear? What has helped you find your way back?

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Lost

I thought that today’s blog would be about something I observed while Bob and I were in Montreal on our anniversary trip this past weekend.

I also thought it would be more my “normal” length. (I just thought it fair to warn you.)

But all that changed when Bob got a text Sunday as we were preparing for our flight. It was from our friends who were taking care of our dog Dakota:

Dakota was being brought back in from playing in the field
and a Bradford pear tree fell and spooked her.
She ran around the house and up the driveway.
Paula hit the shock collar button but she didn't stop.
We have looked and looked and cannot find her. 
We have alerted our county shelter and all our neighbors. 
I know Jenn will be devastated.
I am sorry.

Suddenly Bob and I knew firsthand how anyone who has ever lost someone or something very important feels. Disbelief, shock, fear, anxiety, numbness...

The place we had fully enjoyed was now the last place we wanted to be. We just wanted to get back home.

Facing the fact that we were utterly helpless, we joined hands and Bob prayed. "God, You care when things are lost. A lost sheep, a lost coin, a lost boy. We ask that you bring our lost Dakota back to us."

After we prayed, a verse came to mind:
"Look at the birds in the sky. They do not store food for winter. They don't plant gardens.
They do not sow or reap--and yet, they are always fed because your heavenly Father feeds them.
And you are even more precious to Him than a beautiful bird.
If He looks after them, of course He will look after you." (Matthew 6:26)

I'd read that so many times, even memorized it a few years ago. But never before had Jesus' words about how my heavenly Father cares for His creatures meant so much to me.

We headed to the airport where our attempt at a standby flight failed. While we waited, Bob channeled his emotions into composing "missing dog" posts on Facebook. We were each fighting for faith in our own way, but I couldn't get involved in Bob's efforts. I knew all it would do was increase my anxiety. I had to physically turn my back so that I wouldn't get drawn in.

Finally on board, we each began to rehearse the misgivings we'd had about leaving Dakota at the farm. Both of us had thought something like this could happen--it was one of the few times we had left her since we found her by the side of the road 18 months ago. But we couldn’t go back and change any of it. We accepted that it was a freak accident and waited.

We landed, hustled to our car, and headed home. We hardly arrived in the vicinity before we lost daylight. Bob pulled out flashlights and we drove slowly with the headlights on high, breathing prayers and straining into the darkness for her.

We didn’t find her.

As we drove, I asked Bob what strategy we should implement the next day. I needed to do something to ward off the helplessness. Bob was pretty sure Dakota wouldn't be found by driving the roads and calling her name. We'd just have to trust that someone would find her and call us.  

We sat in silence for the rest of the 45-minute drive home.

Back in our kitchen, Bob looked at me and said, "I don't know how to do this." I told him that he didn't have to know how, that he didn't have to be strong. All I knew was that we needed to hold onto hope until there was reason not to.

Now it was my turn to put out the word. I texted friends and asked them to pray against coyotes.

Sleep didn't come easily.

But early yesterday, in the middle of the morning rush at Starbucks, my boss handed me the phone. It was Bob.

"Jesus answered your prayers."

Somehow, Dakota had made her way back to our friends' farm and was found curled up asleep on their back porch.

We both cried happy tears.

Bob went on to share what God had told him when he woke up in the middle of the night and asked what he was supposed to learn from this situation. He said, "It seemed like God said to me, 'If Dakota comes back, it's because I love you. If Dakota doesn't come back, I still love you.’"

I am still processing what God wants me to learn and what parallels this experience has to my own walk of faith. But here’s where I am so far: just like Dakota found her way home, God has put within each of us the need to find Home, to know peace and safety in His Arms. I believe He allows us to come to the realization that we are far from Him before He shows us how to get Home, so that we will know what He saved us from.

Dakota is still sleeping off her little adventure. Meanwhile, Bob and I are hugely relieved and utterly grateful and completely amazed...and a little more aware of what it means to be...Home.



Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Getting a Grip

This past weekend, I received an unusual gift. My dear friend Molly and her husband Mark had just spent the entire rainy weekend (thank you, Hurricane Joaquin) moving all their worldly possessions into their new house.

When we visited them Sunday night, I noticed a bunch of glassware in the kitchen being staged for their new places within the cabinets. I hadn't remembered packing sets of camouflage gloves, though.

While we were eating dinner, she said, "Oh hey, I have something for you." She handed me one of the pairs I'd just seen on the counter.

As I examined them, I noticed the palms were completely coated with silicone.

"They're for when you need to get a better grip on something," she said. While we'd packed her belongings over the summer, we'd struggled to lift awkward-shaped cardboard boxes and other gangly items; she knew I'd appreciate them. Molly also has rheumatoid arthritis, and one of the side effects is the inability to get a firm grip on things like jars.

When I glimpsed these in my utensil drawer today, I was touched by her kindness. She knows me and my desire to have a firm hold, not only on boxes, but life. I'm thankful every single day for her presence in my life. She is so generous--not only in gifting me with those glove. She shows me how to let go of daily parenting as an empty nester and a reminds me Whose Hand to reach for when life seems to be giving me the slip. Love you, Molly!

Has someone ever helped you get a grip? I'd love to hear your story today.

Monday, October 5, 2015

The Oval Track vs The Open Road

Yesterday in church, our pastor said, "You cannot passively achieve what you do not actively pursue." When I heard this, my mental engine revved: "Gentlemen, start your engines!"

But I couldn't put the car in gear.

It feels like I've been sitting in neutral at the starting line since June. I thought I'd rack up all kinds of productive miles with the extra time I have after cutting back my hours at Starbucks. Instead, I've found that I'm reluctant to press the accelerator.

I grew up in Indiana, home to the Indy 500.  If you're not familiar with The Greatest Spectacle in Racing, let me bring you up to speed: professional drivers maneuver high performance cars at speeds in excess of 200 mph around a 2.5 mile oval track for 200 laps on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend for a prize of $2.5 million before 250,000 fans. Interesting job, if you can get it.

I consider myself skilled; not race car driver skilled, but still. Lately, as I've had more time to examine those and consider how I might use them in some way other than serving people and coffee, I feel like I'm a circling a track than a tearing up the strip.

I don't think God intended my life to be defined by how I fast I can steer through turns one through four, or how fast I can maneuver through traffic on the straightaways. But I'm used to the pressure of the race's pace, the roar of approval from the fans, and the thrill of seeing the checkered flag waving as I finish the final lap. God is showing me He wants me to exit the track and drive.

There's open road before me and I don't know what to do with it.

Where am I going? 
How long will it take to get there? 
Are you saying I should go NOW? 
Do you want me to go by myself? 
Who has the directions?

He's just saying, "Drive."


Friday, October 2, 2015

Truth or Consequences

It’s either truth or consequences, there’s no other way;
Put truth aside, the other takes its place.
Well, you can close your eyes but that won’t make it go away;
The truth or consequences must be faced.
--Steven Curtis Chapman

It was a cold cold night in Michigan at a winter retreat when I decided to retaliate against a friend’s meanness by freezing her underwear to the hood of the church bus and standing it up outside her cabin door. It wasn’t until I saw the tears shimmering in her eyes from my hiding place and heard the humiliating laughter that I realized the enormous implications of my actions. The shame and regret I felt haunted me for decades.

I learned a very painful, yet important lesson that night: when I don’t think through my decisions or deny the reality of the choice before me, what I’m really doing is ignoring Truth. And when I do that, there are always consequences.

I learned this from my ancestors, Adam and Eve.

Imagine having perfect clarity about every situation you encounter. Adam and Eve were the only two people ever to have had that luxury. For reasons we’ll never comprehend, they didn’t fully understand evil or its consequences. Did God really say? was all the enemy had to suggest to call into question the truth of their reality. Their decision not to see the truth of their situation for what it was had consequences that affected them and all of humanity forever.

Like Eve and Adam, I have trouble discerning the far-reaching impact of my decisions in the heat of the moment, even when the truth is obvious. It’s not any easier to connect the dots with the long-term implications of good decisions either. Sometimes an upside I won’t experience for months is enough to motivate me for awhile, but often I can’t maintain the discipline even when I see the results.

It’s truly crazy.

I eat poorly after consistently making good choices, just because I feel I’ve made enough good choices that I can “afford” a bad after all, there won’t be consequences for just one. And when I don’t feel the impact immediately, I choose the delusion again. I’m sure you have your own example, but here’s mine.

In 2011, I decided I wanted to look good in a bathing suit during my family’s Christmas vacation in Captiva, Fla. I worked out diligently the six months before and had a nice six pack by the time we arrived. I continued my exercise routine until the fall of 2013, when I decided I could rest on my laurels. Today, I have a soft belly.

So, what’s the solution? I’ve concluded that I can’t discern truth on my own well. The only way I know to successfully defeat my own willful ignorance and stubborn denial is to admit my need for divine help--help to see truth in the midst of intense emotion, help to see consequences before I choose poorly, and help to believe that God’s forgiveness and grace can redeem anything.

Even spitefully frozen underwear.