Monday, August 31, 2015

Today

After last week's milestone events and Michael's return to college, it's both welcome and kind of hard to accept the start of another week. Just another Manic Monday. 

As I was thinking about the meaning of those days, God whispered this to my soul:


You will not pass this way again.


Huh? I know I'm not going to have a 25th anniversary again and my son won't be 21 next year. But today is Monday and how in the world does this day compete with all of that? 

I don't feel any further along in my quest to figure out what's next for me. As I return to the mundane tasks of laundry and walking the dog, it’s hard to grasp that today matters as much as those do, that it is unlike any other day--so much of what I experience feels like wash, rinse, repeat, just like the numbers on the calendar repeat and the seasons cycle--all of it numbing me to the reality that this life is not all there is.


I believe that what happens today is somehow preparation for the life beyond this here and now.

If not, what’s the point?


Declaring this day to be the same as any other limits its potential to impact me--tomorrow isn’t promised and each day has its own set of challenges. I think that's why the psalmist reminded himself that “this is the day that the Lord has made; rejoice and be glad in it!”

Frederick Buechner said this in The Sacred Journey: "It seemed to me then, and seems to me still, that if God speaks to us at all in this world, if God speaks anywhere, it is into our personal lives that he speaks...We sleep and dream. We wake. We work. We remember and forget. We have fun and are depressed. And into the thick of it, or out of the thick of it, at moments of even the most humdrum of our days, God speaks."

I want to hear God speak, and I wish there was some foolproof method I could adopt that would guarantee I would see everything God wants me to see throughout this day, that I could really realize the truth in the whispering: You will not pass this way again

Instead, I'm distracted by culture, absorbed in my past and present experiences, and limited by the fact that my brain can only comprehend so much. And I can't begin to tell you how to go about seeing what God has for you, because what happens to me today isn't going to be the same as what happens to you because God relates to me completely differently than He does with you!

All I know in this moment is that I want to learn how to remember God as not just the Author of this day but my Guide and Companion through it. Every day He makes Himself known, and I will not pass this way again. I'm going to try not to blink.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Twenty-One

August 27, 1994
I feel as though I’ve been preparing for this moment since the day I first laid eyes on you. I thought I was ready, but the future is now and yesterday you turned 21. I’m not prepared.


I was not the mom who cried when you took your first steps. I was tired of carrying you!


I was not the mom who cried when you went to kindergarten. I was ready for some free time.


I was not the mom who tried to be your friend. I had enough friends of my own.


I was not the mom who cried when I left you at college. I knew you were where you were supposed to be. (Just so you don't think I'm heartless, I did cry when we pulled in the driveway at home, 600 miles later.)


I was not the mom who wanted you to stay little forever. I was always ready for the next season of life with you.


But this next season isn’t really a season, is it? You're an adult now, and things have to be different. Still, it’s awkward.


With Carly and Shadow, April 2002
When you come home for a visit, I want to do things for you, although you’re perfectly capable of washing your own clothes and making your own lunch.


When we talk, I want to advise you, but you don’t need another teacher. I feel old, out of touch, and generally uninteresting.


When I ask you if you’d like to go with me somewhere, I prepare myself for the answer to be “no.” I’ve been pleasantly surprised with how many times you’ve said “yes” this month. Thanks. I wonder, though, if you’ll choose to spend time with me once your own life begins in earnest.


When I try to relate to you as an adult, I find myself reverting to my role as mom. Although I’ll always be that, I want us to be friends. This might take a while, though.


Lego Millennium Falcon, Aug. 27, 2004
So, for now, I want you to know that--


I am the mom who wants you to share your thoughts. I’m interested in what interests you.


I am the mom who wants you to succeed. I hope you find a job that’s fulfilling.


I am the mom who wants you to find community. Friends are the family you choose. Since you don’t have any siblings, you’ll need some good people who know you, warts and all, and choose to love you. Don’t be afraid of that messiness.


Senior picture, Aug. 2013
I am the mom who will always love you--no matter what. The door will always be open.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Approval Seeker

I’ve worked for eight years as a barista at Starbucks. I’m good at it. I like being known as competent, helpful, and valuable.

I’m walking away from what I'm good at to write, something I haven’t done full-time in 20 years. You know how people say that doing something you haven’t done in a while is just like riding a bike? Once you learn you never forget and you can easily pick it up again? I’m not finding writing to be like that at all. It’s a lot harder.

As I’ve questioned what I’m looking for from my writing, I’ve realized what this new job is missing: measurable approval.

The world’s approval is addictive. I give my best, and if the world likes it, it applauds and pats me on the back. It feels good.

But the world’s approval is also fickle. One day my best is good enough, and the next it’s not. It makes me feel like I’m chasing my tail. That makes me sick to my stomach.

In Ecclesiastes, Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, said this: “All the work and skills people develop come from their desire to be better than their neighbors. Even this is fleeting, like trying to embrace the wind.”

God wants to free me from my need to perform for anyone’s approval. His unconditional love offers security that approval never can. All I have to do is accept it.

Why is that so hard?

Monday, August 24, 2015

Twenty-Five

A visit home to meet Mom and Dad. Fall 1989.
I was just using the pay phone that day. I had no idea making that call would change my life.


I’d recently left the quiet cornfields for the big city suburbs and was making my way in the world at a local newspaper as its lifestyle editor. He mistook me for someone else and, when he realized his error, decided that he would ask me out, testing the magic of his tailed tux and the twinkle in his blue eyes.


It worked.


I wasn't looking for love, but that’s what I found in the person of Robert George Nahrstadt, Jr.


What was supposed to be one date turned into daily phone calls, meals, and dates. Eleven months later, we married on a beautiful, 83 degree August 25th morning at the church I’d called home since I was carried into it 22 years before. 

The newlyweds, Aug. 25, 1990
Not many thought we’d beat the odds, but when you know, you know. And we both knew.


Bob is Jesus with skin on to me. He loves me unconditionally, personifies amazing grace, forgives quickly, and faithfully encourages and champions my gifts. He gives himself wholly and without reservation for my good and God's glory. Such consistent self-sacrifice is grace undeserved and I have struggled over the years to comprehend why he chose me. His love has buoyed me when I thought I would drown. I haven’t always been easy to live with, yet he has never wavered in his belief in me, in us, and in our Lord.


My humble, hard-working man quietly serves those around him. He doesn’t think he’s a leader because he defines leaders as those who have followers. He doesn’t see anybody lining up behind him because he hasn’t taken his eyes off the work to look for them. He stepped off the corporate ladder eleven years ago because he knew he’d heard God calling him to a different pursuit. He still wonders sometimes if that was his own voice he heard, but we both know it wasn’t, and I wouldn’t trade this life we have for anything this world has to offer.

When I told Bob that I didn’t want to have children, I thought it would be a deal breaker. It wasn't, and his unflinching love gave me the confidence to believe I could be a good parent.


Michael's high school graduation, May 28, 2013.
Bob loves our only son, Michael, with an intense fierceness. He began telling Michael as soon as he could understand that if God lined up all the boys in the whole wide world and told him he could choose any of them to be his son, he’d still choose him. He has modeled faith and love before him and believes he can do anything he sets his mind to. He has gone to great lengths to be part of his world so that a common language could give them a foundation for meaningful conversation on other topics.

His hair is more silver than blonde these days, but there's still a twinkle in his eyes when we greet each other at the end of the day. There's no one who compares to him.

Happy 25th Anniversary, Sweet Face. I’d do it all over again tomorrow.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Out of the Blue

Two days ago, Kathy's name popped into my head. I didn’t question it or overthink it--I just acted on the impulse.


The last time Kathy and I spoke, she shared with me that she had decided to go to work with her husband. The fact that her name came to mind "out of the blue" made me want to follow up with her and encourage her in that decision by letting her know I believed she'd chosen well.


Has someone come to mind this week? To me, those are prompts, quiet nudges, to call, text, send a card, or drop off a plate of brownies. What may seem like an insignificant act in the moment could be what God uses to impact someone’s day.


When Kathy texted me back, thanking me and sharing that it was just what she needed to hear.

God had used me to send her a message. 

Huh.


I find it amazing that God chose to use a middle(wo)man when He could've told her Himself. Could it be He had two messages to deliver that day?

I'd love to hear about a time when you responded to a prompting. Just click on the pencil or on the word "comments" below.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Top Rack Problem

As I was loading the top rack of the dishwasher the other night, I struggled to get everything to fit just right. The exercise (in frustration) seemed to mirror my life. While I worked at the puzzle, the following thoughts came in rapid succession:

  1. I’m tired of everything that’s unruly and jumbled within me.
  2. If I could just figure out how to get the pieces of my life to fall into place, God would get on with what He has been waiting to do and show me what’s next.
  3. The Bible says that God began a good work in me when He saved me from my sinful self, and He will be faithful to complete it.
  4. My lack of faithfulness must be derailing His efforts. He can’t do what He wants to do until I figure out what’s wrong.
  5. I wonder if what God says in the Bible about His activity in my life is true?
  6. Perhaps it’s true for others but not for me.

In less than a minute, what I thought was just a simple observation morphed into a runaway train of doubt. It only took one bit of subterfuge to set the train in motion.

It took two days before I derailed it.

As the firstborn of two firstborns who married a firstborn and became the parent of a firstborn, I’m intimately familiar with perfectionism. I’m really good at measuring my self-worth by what I’m able to do.

This is how my faith has been warped by the enemy. He has whispered over and over again that it’s up to me to get the pieces of my life in order before God will let me join Him in what He’s doing in the world.

The words of Isaiah stand in stark contrast to this lie. The prophet declares that God’s purpose will stand and He will do all that He pleases (Isaiah 46:10). That doesn’t leave room for me to get in His way by not being good enough. He will use whoever He wants whenever He wants to do whatever He wants that will bring Him pleasure.

My worth to Him isn't defined by the state of the top dishwasher rack of my life. I can choose to believe that “it is He who saved me and chose me for his holy work not because I deserved it but because that was His plan long before the world began—to show His love and kindness to me through Christ.” 2 Timothy 1:9 [personalization and emphasis mine]

Still, it's not easy to let Someone else arrange the rack.

Do you struggle with believing it's all up to you? I'd love to hear your story.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Innards

Bones the Hound.
When our son Michael came home at the beginning of the month from his summer job at school, I decided it was time to address some childhood mementos that have been stored in the downstairs closet for the past nine years.

Amidst the abandoned Legos, books, and Airsoft guns was a small collection of stuffed animals. All-but-21 (topic for another post), Michael had no interest in saving any of them. Bones was among those headed to the curb in a can.

When he was little, our dogs Carly and Shadow constantly contested Michael for ownership of the Beanies. Based on the number of times I'd rescued a slobbery (or worse) Beanie from a canine's jaws, I knew that our current dog Dakota would find Bones irresistible.

After carrying it around happily for a short while, alas, Bones succumbed to the same fate as other Beanies had in years past. Dakota did what dogs do with a stuffed animal--systematically destroyed it.

She chewed off its nose. The eyes were next, and those holes allowed her to get at the real treasure trove of this now dog toy.

STUFFING.

Bones' innards.
Dakota acted as though she had hit the mother lode when she teased the batting free. But Beanie Babies aren't like other stuffed animals. Along with the stuffing, hundreds, if not thousands, of plastic pellets rained from the cavity and scattered across the floor.

As Bones' guts were spilled--and stepped on and swept up and found later in strange places--I thought about what has been spilling from me these days.

I feel like God is using this transition to tease free my stuffing and expose unwanted plastic pellets within. Last week, a good friend took my hands in hers, looked me straight in the eye, and described them. {God bless her.} As she spoke, my first impulse was to find the hole and sew it up immediately so that no one else would be injured.

I don't think that's what God has in mind, though, because I can't locate the hole, let alone my needle and thread.

Examining what's going on inside right now is requiring courage. The Bible says that He Who began a good work in me will be faithful to complete it (Philippians 1:6). It's hard to lean in to the process, though. I didn't expect this to be part of the journey.

Bear with me, friends. I apologize in advance for any pellets you may step on as you walk behind me.





Friday, August 14, 2015

Wonder Woman, I am Not?

During the summer at Starbucks, things relax a bit. The store is less busy and even the company seems to want to celebrate the different summer rhythm by providing a fun atmosphere. So, every Friday these past months has been theme day: Hawaiian shirt day, Disney character day, sports team day, and superhero day, just to name a few.


This year, I stepped out of my comfort zone and participated in superhero day. You need to understand what a departure from the norm this was for me. This was BIG! I didn’t play dress up as a child. I hate Halloween. I’m not a costume gal. Superhero day? So.not.me.


But it is just.like.Molly.


Notice the apron and nametag I HAD to wear.
In the past two years, Molly has become a very close friend. To say she has a certain influence on me is an understatement. She's always encouraging fun and helping me be less serious. When I mentioned it was superhero day at work, she squealed with delight. Molly has thrown elaborate Halloween parties and mystery nights, so wardrobe options are abundant, to put it mildly. So I was not surprised when she produced her favorite superhero costume: Wonder Woman.


For me.


That Friday morning I surprised and delighted some customers with my outfit and disappointed others when I could not produce the Lasso of Truth. For days after, some asked me when Wonder Woman would be making a return appearance. Thank goodness superhero day is once a year!


Or is it? 

What my customers didn’t know that day (and I’m not sure Molly did either when she handed me the blue wig and red cape) is how fitting the Wonder Woman alter-ego is for me. I have long strived to be my own version of her: a super strong, invulnerable, strategic warrior with mad skills, able to fly (still working on that last one). If you have a problem, I want to be the fixer. The wind in the red cape feels so good!


In case you were wondering about the blue hair...
But the reality is I’m NOT Wonder Woman. And although I’ve all-too-often operated like her, depending on my own strength and understanding, slowly I have come to realize that I don’t have any extraordinary ability of my own to rescue, restore, heal, or help those I love.


That job belongs to One alone--my Savior, Jesus Christ, and any rescuing, helping, or healing He has allowed me to be part of is because I’ve consciously sought His strength and His wisdom.

I am so thankful for those who are superhero-like to me, the dear ones who consistently point me to Him, who help me remember that He alone is my Strength--not just on special Fridays, but every single day.

Do you think you need to hang up your red cape?

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Can't go over it, can't go under it...

Morning fog in my backyard
I was called in to Starbucks yesterday. As I drove in the early morning light, a blanket of fog shrouded the tops of the trees in the forest near our home. 

I love fog. Its ethereal presence seems to envelop the world in a cocoon of quiet, peaceful stillness. I feel as though it gives me permission to ease into the day. I never feel impeded by it unless I'm trying to get somewhere. Even then, I'm usually disappointed when it lifts.

As my thoughts wandered, a phrase from a book I used to read to our son Michael came to mind.

We're Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury tells the tale of a family hike in search of a bear. The text begins: "We're going on a bear hunt./ We're gonna catch a big one./ What a beautiful day!/ We're not scared." 

As they traipse along, they encounter different obstacles--long, wavy grass, a deep, cold river, thick, oozing mud, and a deep, dark forest, among other things. Each time, they realize, "We can't go over it./ We can't go under it./ Oh No! We have to go through it!"

My sentiments exactly--OH NO, I HAVE TO GO THROUGH IT!! Some days this transition from barista to writer feels less like a holy cocoon and more like a meandering, fog-filled walk where I can't see the forest for the trees. Yet, as I consider what I've really experienced in the past two months, these words come to mind:

"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...For I am the Lord your God...Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you...do not be afraid, for I am with you." (excerpts from Isaiah 43:1-5, emphasis mine)

God IS with me. He knows my name and has called me by it into this season. I don't need to be confused by the "fog" of this time. The reality, even in the midst of the mist, is that He is present while I wait for it to lift. 

What a beautiful day! I'm not scared.

I've included a video of Michael Rosen performing his book if you're unfamiliar with the title.



How would you describe your fog today? Is it swirling about you and confusing your mind, or is it quieting your soul and cocooning you in peace? Let me know how I can pray for you. You can leave a comment by clicking on the pencil in the blue bar below.


Monday, August 10, 2015

Learning from Frogs

Just after dawn a few mornings ago, I stepped outside with Dakota and something caught my eye. Somethings, actually. They were so small I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me. I tiptoed forward to examine the painted deck boards and discovered five teeny tiny frogs.

I wasn’t completely surprised to see them. Every night from spring through late October, the frogs in the retaining pond nearby serenade us. Still, in our nine years here, none had formed a band and taken their music on the road.

What amazed me as I observed these creatures was how completely unfazed they were by our presence. As Dakota strolled past, unaware that she held the power of life and death in her paws, not one moved.

After Dakota and I toured the backyard, I watched for the frogs. As we approached the deck, I glanced at the picket fence that surrounds it and was surprised to see that one had perched itself there and seemed to be enjoying the view!

Did this little guy have any idea how dangerous his chosen vista was? Wasn’t he worried about surviving the day?

Then I realized that these teeny tiny frogs were examples of Jesus’ words in Matthew 6. Jesus was teaching people who lived hand-to-mouth under an oppressive regime how not to worry. He told them to watch how the birds of the air live. With no way to provide for their own needs, they flit about without a care in the world.

How can they do that?

I wondered the same thing as I observed those little frogs. It had been beastly hot. I worried about how they would find shelter cool enough to survive the blistering heat of the day. Jesus reminded me in that moment, I take care of them, just like I take care of you. In fact, you are much more valuable to Me.

There have been many days in the past month when, before I’m really fully awake, my first conscious thought has been full of fretting about this new venture. It’s not a pleasant way to start the day. I’ve realized how much false security my part-time job provided and I've had to fight the temptation to try to make something happen that would provide for our needs. 

That's not how Jesus wants me to live. 

Each day He offers me this advice: “Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.” (Matt. 6:34)

How can I do that?

Perhaps I should take a lesson from the frogs.

What causes you to worry? How might your life be different if you chose to give your full attention to God’s activity instead of to worry? Let’s talk about it.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Fearing Change



Before I declared myself a writer, I didn’t fear change. For years I’ve reminded Bob that God is faithful and that we don’t need to live in fear, waiting for the “other shoe to drop.” Then I put those words to the test when I all-but-quit my job to pursue writing.

Suddenly I had more time on my hands. I could rise with the sun, like most people, instead of silencing the alarm at 3:30am. I could dedicate serious time and energy to contemplating words and their meanings and crafting stories to share.

Or I could take the Dakota to the lake to swim.

I wasn’t behaving exactly like Jonah (the guy whose name is always followed by “and the whale”) as I ran away drove to the quiet cove that’s ten minutes from our house to give our lovable lab her daily exercise. But I was growing increasingly unsure of myself and perplexed. Why wasn't this writing life working out like I thought it would? Although I believed the God Who gifted me to write, I was avoiding Him. I was afraid.

My afternoon escape also didn’t work out like I’d thought it would. As I neared my turnoff for the lake, I heard the distinct sound of squealing tires behind me. Immediately, I knew someone was trying VERY HARD not to hit me.

One glance in my rearview mirror confirmed I was about to be rear ended.

The white Dodge Ram lived up to its name and rammed the back of my Suburban, sending me about 15 feet down the empty turn lane to a stop. Yes, I was wearing my seatbelt, so I was fine. Dakota? Check. The other driver? One glance at the North Forsyth Raiders vanity plate on the front bumper told me that the young man who was trying very hard to remain calm could’ve been my son. Three gifts in a span of five minutes.

The only casualty from the incident was my 13-year-old Suburban.

Initially, it didn’t look that bad. His truck fared much worse. But last week the insurance company determined that the vehicle--that I’d vehemently denied we needed as a only family of three with just one dog, that had transported us on our home turf of Illinois and to Wisconsin for our summer weekend escapes, that had served us faithfully on the salt-free roads of our not-so-new-anymore home in Georgia, that was like an on-road La-Z-Boy--had come to the end of its road. It was hauled away on Tuesday.

Was the vehicle’s demise a stroke of bad luck, given that it was 13 years old? No. I don’t believe in luck. Was it a sign, something God allowed to shake me up? I don’t think that’s the case either. For me, the accident was a reminder that God can be trusted with each day. Psalm 139:16 says that all my days were ordained by God before one of them came to be. This experience was just one more indication that God remains the same in the midst.

Hebrews 13:8 says that Jesus is always the same: yesterday, today, and forever. God didn’t keep me from being in an accident, but He kept me safe. In the same way, God He is keeping me during this season of transition.

My parents are selling us their car. A new-to-me vehicle will be picked up at the end of the month when Michael returns to college in Indiana and I’ll adjust to riding lower to the ground. The real question that remains is how I’ll adjust when the time comes that I drift again toward fear. I’m discovering that the way to walk through change is to remember Who has authored my days and is the same, yesterday, today, and forever.


How have you handled change that has come into your life? I'd love to dialogue with you in the comments section.