Birthdays on earth

happybirthday

This past week we celebrated … cake, ice cream, presents hidden inside bags overflowing with bright tissue paper. It was our foster son’s 2nd birthday and we delighted in singing the birthday song with him all week long.

Lil’ Man was mostly confused by all the birthday commotion. The morning of his birthday, I tried to put pin a little birthday ribbon on his shirt so that the rest of the world would know it was his birthday, too. He promptly ripped it off. I attempted to reattach the ribbon several more times, only to get the same result. In the end, I was just glad he didn’t tear up his shirt.

Later in the day, I baked a simple cake and put a couple of matchbox cars on the top along with his #2 candle. As soon as he saw the cake on the counter, he demanded that I give him the cars. When I refused, he threw a royal tantrum.

And after dinner, when we lit the candle and sang the birthday song with lots of gusto, our favorite toddler looked around at us with this expression that seemed to say, “You people have lost your minds! Just cut the cake and let’s eat!”

Even the presents seemed to cause Lil’ Man some confusion. We gave him the first gift and he sat there looking at us, unsure of what he should do next. Even after we showed him how to tear the paper, he seemed a bit unsure about ripping something up. I suppose we have made it clear that most things are not meant to be torn apart! Thankfully, once the gifts were revealed, our sweet boy was elated with them … so much so that he wasn’t sure if he wanted to play with the toys or eat his cake and ice cream.

 He ended up choosing cake over playing. What a smart boy!

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I’ve always enjoyed birthdays, whether it was my own or someone’s that I love. Even before I became a mother, I enjoyed birthday parties for little people. Once I had children of my own, nothing brought me more pleasure than to plan a party, mostly simple ones but some more elaborate.

In fact, I loved birthday celebrations so much that in years gone by I used to even allow celebrations of halfie-birthdays, complete with half a cake, Blue Bell ice cream in half chocolate and half vanilla, and a special rendition of the Halfie Birthday song (sung to the same tune as the regular birthday song, the only difference being that  each “happy”  is replaced with the word “halfie.”

However, now that I have seven children, it’s much too complicated to try to keep up with regular birthdays and halfie-birthdays. So, for simplification purposes, I had put that tradition to rest. It has been two years since I made that decision, and I’m not sure all of my children have forgiven me yet.

Of all the reasons I love having a big family, perhaps my favorite is getting to celebrate birthdays more often. Nine times each year we get to sing the birthday song and eat cake and ice cream after dinner. In fact, in the month of November alone, our family celebrates three birthdays! I already mentioned Lil’ Man’s birthday this past week. Our foster daughter will be turning one the day before Thanksgiving and our son Nathan will celebrate his 13th birthday on Thanksgiving Day.

 Can you imagine the sugar rush of eating birthday cake and pumpkin pie on the same day … oh my!

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Today is my dad’s birthday. Well, it would have been his birthday today. I think, if I have done the math correctly, he would have turned 67 years old.

Sometimes, after a loved one has passed on, people will (in an effort to comfort you) say something like, “Just think .. this year they are having the best birthday celebration up in heaven!”

While it’s a nice thought … honestly, I’m just not sure about the accuracy of that at all.

I don’t think my dad is in heaven celebrating in some private party with Jesus or even blowing out candles on some sort of heavenly cake as departed loved ones stand around and watch. And I certainly don’t think he has even once contemplated how those of us still on earth are remembering him today.

 In fact, I don’t suppose birthdays matter all that much up in heaven anyway.

Seeing as we will be completely focused on worshipping God, I don’t see how anyone’s birthday (our own included) will even enter into our thoughts. (Well, maybe we will think about Jesus’ birthday. That might be appropriate … besides, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we got to celebrate that in heaven? Talk about a party to remember!)

But right now, I’m not in heaven. I’m here on planet earth … where birthdays do matter, and for the most part people who live in my culture choose to celebrate birthdays with cake and ice cream, parties and presents.

All day I have thought about my dad, missing him so much that tears have fallen several times. It saddens me that I can’t be with him on his special day, buy him a silly card, or wrap up some tiny trinket of a gift. And it’s not just this year that my kids can’t call him and sing the birthday song, as they listen to his laughter in the background. Never again will I be able to enjoy a piece of cake with him, or tell him how much he blessed me.

It’s been a hard day. Truthfully, most days during the past two months have been hard. I suppose that was to be expected. Grief isn’t an easy or quick process, and as these holidays approach I know deep down there are going to be many more hard days yet to come before the tears don’t fall as easily and the sting of the pain begins to ebb away.

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My blog has been quiet these past two months. Part of that was just busyness. I’ve been adjusting to adding those two sweet foster babies to my home, adjusting to sleepless nights again. I had forgotten so much about little ones. Everything seems to take longer these days. I haven’t had nearly as much time to sit and write.

But more than that, I didn’t want my blog to become a grief blog. And yet, this is where I am in life at this time. It’s a season of grief. Just like the fall leaves are beginning to color the landscape of Cajun Country, the dull gray of grief seems to cloud over all my days, both the good and the bad. So like the black armbands worn a hundred years ago or more, I shut down my blog and entered into a time of mourning.

Over the past week, as I’ve celebrated the first birthday since my dad died on my 42nd birthday, I’ve thought over and over that the time to end my silence was over. My grief isn’t over. Far from it! But my heart is ready to process and share, and the only way I’ve ever known to do that is to write it all down.

Before my foster babies came to live in my home and before my dad died, I had a goal of publishing blog posts 3 times a week. I doubt I can make that happen with my current schedule. So I am setting a new goal of one new blog post a week, and more as God lays them on my heart and gives me time to write.

Meanwhile, please know I have missed my writing and blogging community so very much. I am eager to try to catch up, and I am thankful for the promises of God who has said He will be near to the brokenhearted (Ps. 34:18) and will turn my mourning into dancing (Ps. 30:11)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Of Printers and Sons … a Day of Arguments

My printer and I are having a bit of an argument.

photo credit: www.freeimages.co.uk
photo credit: http://www.freeimages.co.uk

I want my printer to print out about 3 pages worth of documents, a recipe and a page for my 14 year old son’s school work. My printer, however,  has decided this job is too hard for a Thursday.

 

My printer will not print because for some reason it believes there is no paper in the paper tray. The light blinks indicating for me to add paper. The printer icon on my computer jumps up and down to grab my attention.  Click on it and a message appears: Refill paper tray.

However, the paper tray has been refilled … several times actually. Originally, the tray was empty. I inserted a nice stack of paper into the tray, but the printer still refused to print.

So, I removed the paper from the tray, straighten the stack, and reinserted it back into the proper location. Nope. No luck.

I removed the paper again, added more paper, refilled the tray, pushed print. Nothing.

 

Next, I removed about half the stack of paper. I figured maybe in this case less would be more. There remained nothing but silence from my printer.

I am frustrated and angry. It’s such a silly little argument. Neither of these things I want to have printed are urgent, life and death matters. But honestly … I’ve had it up to here with my printer! (If you could see me, my finger would be at about eye level. Not much longer and this printer will have pushed me over the top … which, of course, is why I am writing about it instead of continuing to try to fix a problem that doesn’t seem to want to be fixed.)

Unfortunately, the printer is not the only thing arguing with me today.

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My morning began with an argument.

Accusations. Pointing fingers. Raised voices (unfortunately, my own).

Photo Credit: www.morguefile.com
Photo Credit: http://www.morguefile.com

What’s a mom to do when a preteen boy plays the laundry blame game at 6:45 am?

Yes, 6:45 in the morning and we are arguing over who was supposed to do yesterday’s laundry. It’s too early for discussions like that. I just need to drink my coffee and breath in peace and quiet, not discuss with frustrated boys the dilemma of who’s job it was to put the laundry on to wash.

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It’s like a snowball rolling down hill. (Not that I would really know about that. I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve actually seen snow and none of it was ever enough to make a smallish snowball. Even if I did have enough snow to make a snowball, 

Regardless of what I know about snowballs, I do know that arguing tends to breed arguing. Round two followed round one before breakfast was hardly over.

Silence, blank stares, and stubborn glares. It’s a different boy with a different problem.  It really doesn’t matter whether it is schoolwork or laundry at the center of the argument. The result is still the same.

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The argument with my printer isn’t easily solved. I don’t have a mechanical or technical mind. I’m challenged in this areas. And until my printer decides to communicate with me in a way I can understand or I find someone who speaks the language of printers, this argument will only continue.  And truthfully, if my printer and I can’t come to a point of resolution soon, this argument may end with a kick to the curb!

The arguments with each of my sons, however, are very simple to end. It starts with “I’m sorry” and it ends with “Please forgive me. I was wrong.” In the middle, there is taking time to listen and reflect and work together to find a solution. Spending time looking each directly, instead of staring or glaring or rolling eyes. Seeking to understand and resolve instead of point fingers and accuse.

After all, I don’t want to argue with my boys …  just as I know they don’t want to argue with me either. Oh sure, I might jest and say I’m going to kick them to the curb or sell them to the next band of traveling gypsies that wanders through the neighborhood. Not that I would … even if I could!

I’d rather end with a hug (or the very least a smile), and know that things between us are okay once again. So I’m going to swallow my pride and be the first to offer the olive branch of peace.

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Arguments with printers and other material things might be frustrating. But they are typically an easy-to-fix sort of problem. Troubleshoot and repair it. Or throw out the old and get a replacement.

Arguments with people aren’t as easily remedied. Feelings get crushed. Hearts get hurt. And deep down we feel justified in our actions, believing we were right, desiring for the other person to make the first move.

Even so, it is always better to make the first move toward forgiveness.

Because people can never be replaced.

Photo Credit: www.morguefile.com
Photo Credit: http://www.morguefile.com

Do not let the sun go down on your anger. ~Ephesians 4:26

Blogger’s Guilt

It’s hard not to feel guilty.

Following the A-to-Z Blog Challenge I took during the month of April, my new goal for this blog was to publish a post two or three times each week.  But I’ve failed … miserably.

Truthfully, I think about writing on my blog every single day. In fact, it’s never that far from my mind.  Writing is a cathartic hobby for me, a pleasure which never feels much like work. Because of this, I am always eager to find a few moments in which to sit down and write.

It’s actually finding those few moments that is so very hard.

Image from Pixabay
Image from Pixabay

Ten days ago, three of my five children returned home from Germany. I’ve loved having a loud, chaotic house again.  Cooking for a tribe, tackling Mt. Laundry each morning, sorting out disputes, being the chauffeur to five people who apparently have busier schedules and more places to go than myself … it’s all part of the fun and games and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Two weeks ago, the baby I keep each weekday decided to begin to use her walking skills on a regular basis. Suddenly, everything has changed! “Miss E”  is able to quickly get into a lot of things she is not supposed to get into … and I’m remembering things about toddlerhood I had long forgotten. Whew! There really is no sitting down with a toddler in the house! These little people are work, and nap times are just as much for moms as they are for the sweet child.

Most days I am trying to figure out how to fit in time to read my Bible and exercise, much less have time for personal hobbies. My daily schedule isn’t filled with vast amounts of free time. Just like everyone else on the planet, I’ve only got 24 hours a day. The hours are limited, and I’ve got to use them wisely.

It’s during seasons like this I must remember there will be days when writing, even if it is writing for God, must take a backseat on my priority list.

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Last week, I came across this lovely blog post:  Seven Reasons Bloggers Don’t Blog.

I can relate to all seven reasons given by the author of that freeing blog post.  (1) I do not want to post fluffy content on my blog. (2) My biggest desire is to  write encouraging and helpful words for my audience.  (3) Writing is tiring, and time consuming.  (4) The 40% of me that is somewhat introverted needs time to quietly process life before I can write about it publicly.  (5) I’m writing a book …  but I’m only about halfway through the first two chapters. I am discovering it is a painfully slow process to write a book.  (6) Big and wonderful things are happening in life.  My family is preparing to become a foster family. I’m excited and scared and very busy with getting my home ready to take on another child. (7) Finally the biggest reason of all … blogging is not living.

I love my blog. I love to write. But my biggest responsibility is to be the godly wife and mom God has called me to be.

I realize that according to the experts, if I am to ever have a “real” career as a writer, I need to have a platform, build an audience of 5000 or more readers,  and post three or four times a week on my blog. But I’m not there. I admit that many days I wish I was because I think I’d love nothing more than a fantastic contract with some big name Christian publishing house and a couple of books on the shelves  down at the nearest Lifeway Book Store.

Yes, God called me to write … but He simply asked me to write for Him, not for a publishing house or for a set of standards that He didn’t give to me. So that’s what I am going to do … write for God.

And He also asked me to be a wife and helpmeet to my husband Jon.  God called me to be a mother to five wonderful teens and tweens, who are growing up so quickly. They won’t be home with me for very much longer before they leave to start their own lives. God asked me and my family to open our home and share His love and our lives with children I don’t yet know through fostering.  He asked me to be a good neighbor to the lady next door who is dying, and to be a listening friend in real life, not just on the computer screen.

I’ve got just one life to live. While writing and blogging is very much a part of my life, it’s not all that I do. And so today, I’m setting down the guilt I put upon myself for not blogging on some made-up schedule. I’m laying aside the burden I’ve carried around for the past two and a half months for not keeping up with an insane blogging schedule, as well as tending to the realities of my life.

Instead, I’m asking the Lord to help me be faithful to do all He requires of me for today, and nothing more. I pray a lot of those days include writing for God.  I think they will.

But whether they do or whether they don’t, I’m done with “Blogger’s Guilt.”

So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.  ~John 8:36

Lost and Found

This is part of the Writing 101 Series.  I am combing two days of assignments: Day 4 assignment which is to write about something lost but never found, and Day 13 assignment which is to write about something found. Enjoy.

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Normally I love having five children.

Not so during Christmas shopping season. If there is one thing our family sacrifices by having a large number of children and only one working parent it is a typical American materialistic Christmas.

Fortunately, I am not a materialistic person in general, or else I might truly struggle with this far more than just during the holidays. I suppose the vast majority of lower middle class families must shop on a budget, but our regular budget is stretched even thinner during Christmas. And while in my heart I know there is far, far more to Christmas than presents under the tree, a part of me still struggles with not being able to give my children the same sorts of gifts their friends are receiving.

Jon and I were both relatively frugal prior to our marriage, including the way we approached Christmas and birthday gifts for our children. My children were used to the 3-present rule … if three gifts were enough for the Baby Jesus, then three presents are more then enough for you. Additionally, I’m a bargain shopper, on the hunt year-round, stockpiling gifts to go under our tree. Our kids have never gone without gifts, even if they aren’t expensive iPhones or iPads or other fancy high-end gadgets.

Still, imagine my delight last fall when Jon and I realized we had accrued enough points through our bank to receive two Amazon gift cards worth $100 each. My mind raced with happy delight over all I could purchase my children. Divide $200 by five and it was still only $40 per kid, but still it was $40 more than I would normally have spent. And when added to the rest of the money I had saved it nearly doubled my tiny Christmas budget.

For a couple of weeks, I carried those cards protectively in my purse. Late at night, when all the kids were in bed, I worked diligently to fill my Amazon cart with the perfect gifts, bargain shopping online. By early November, I was nearly ready to make the final purchase.

That’s when I realized the cards were gone.

Carefully, I looked through my purse a second time. No cards.

I dumped the entire thing out on my bed. Still no cards.

I sorted through papers on my desk and around my bedside table. Nothing.

I ripped open bags of trash, picking my way through dirty napkins, banana peels and empty milk cartons. The only thing of interest that I found was incomplete piece of homework a sneaky child decided to throw away. Definitely no gift cards accidentally tossed out with the garbage.

I asked the kids if they had seen my Amazon gift cards. They gave me long blank stares, slowly blinking their eyes at me as if I were speaking a foreign language. No one claimed to know anything about my lost cards. Using my mothering powers of detecting deceitful children, I concluded no one was lying. These children were without a doubt innocent, at least of the crime of stealing or misplacing my Amazon gift cards.

After a harrowing 48 hours, I came to the disappointing realization that a significant portion of my Christmas budget was completely missing. Gone. Vanished into thin air.

With trepidation, I approached Jon to confess that I had lost our Amazon gift cards. Jon is easy-going, as gentle as any man I’ve ever known, but to tell him how I had lost those cards felt like admitting to a federal crime. True to his nature, Jon listened, gave me a hug and offered to help look again for the cards. I felt intense relief that he wasn’t frustrated or angry over my careless mistake. I felt sure that together we would find the hidden cards.

But even with Jon’s help, the gift cards didn’t magically surface. A week’s worth of deep searching left us still empty-handed.

As a measure of last resort, I took a chance and called my bank to see if unspent, lost cards could be replaced. The unfortunate answer was no.

It was then I realized those Amazon gift cards were not going to be found or replaced, at least not in time for Christmas shopping to be done. They were gone … and with it $200 worth of Christmas surprises for my children.

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I’ve lost a lot of things in my nearly 42 years on this planet. While some of my lost treasures are gone for eternity, I’m glad that most of them are eventually found again.

During my high school years, I lost close to $500 I had collected for a school fundraiser. Thankfully I found every last penny of that money, hidden in an manila envelope which was stashed inside a shoebox at the top of my closet. I had obviously taken precautions to keep the money safe.  But the trauma of the desperate search was too much, and is the reason that to this day you will never ever find me volunteering to be the treasurer for any organization.

Another time I lost an important piece of jewelry.  I searched high and low, emptied trash cans, moved furniture, cried and prayed. The beautiful ring was lost for nearly 6 months before it surfaced again, well-hidden between a large desk and a wall.

Sometimes I even lose things and I’m not aware of it. When these lost treasures surface, it always brings a delighted smile to my face.

For example, I recall the long overdue library book found years later stuffed back in a box of old purses and shoes. How it got there I will never know. Furthermore, why I never realized I lost it still remains a mystery. But I was glad to have found it, and still recall how thrilling it was to be able to return it to the small library I frequented as a child. (To add to my delight, all the years of accrued fines were forgiven! Certainly, this was a win-win situation all around!)

Another time I found a $5 bill stuck between the pages of a college textbook I was about to resell at the end of the semester. I couldn’t even recall where the money had come from or when I had placed it there. But to this day I remember being excited enough to grab a friend to celebrate my discovery with me. As I recall, we relished chocolate ice cream cones as we lounged in the warm spring sun and talked about the special sort of happiness that comes with an unexpected surprise such as finding money you never knew had been misplaced.

No matter what I’ve lost, once it has been found there is reason to celebrate. Sometimes with a high five or a fist bump or a jubilant shout for joy . Other times with a chocolate ice cream cone or an excited phone call to share the news with someone who will listen to my lost and found tale.

Almost always, finding what was lost ends with a prayer of thanks to the Lord.

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Perhaps you are familiar with the parable Jesus told about the woman who lost a coin. It’s found in Luke chapter 15, verses 8-10.

“Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it?  And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

As a child, I always imagined the woman to have lost a penny or nickel or a dime. These coins weren’t worth much to me, and so I couldn’t understand why this lady was so distraught over a little lost coin. Later on, I learned the coins were worth an entire day’s wages. Suddenly I understood why finding the coin was a really big deal. No wonder she wanted to celebrate with her friends!

What is the most valuable thing in the world? Is it money? Health? Family?

None of those. The most valuable thing each of us has is our life, the very fact that we exist.

It’s often said that there are only two certainties on this earth … taxes and death. I may not be able to do anything about having to pay taxes, but I don’t have to fear death. I don’t just have to hope there is something good on the other side, or pray I’ve done enough good during my time on earth to assure me a place in heaven.

Because of the love of Jesus Christ and the sacrifice of His perfect life in payment for all my sins, I have a deep, unshakable hope and a very real assurance of heaven, knowing that when I close my eyes in death I will open them in the glory of God’s presence.  And the day I submitted to the authority of Christ over me and sought a relationship with the Creator of the world, the angels celebrated around the Throne of God … because what was lost had been found.

I may never find those lost Amazon gift cards. But if I do, rest assured there will be much celebrating in my home.

But even that will not compare to the celebration in heaven over a single lost life found again through a relationship with Jesus Christ.

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Have the angels in heaven celebrated over you?

A Room With a View (Writing 101, Day 2)

I’ve never had a room with a view. 

Photo by Sarah McKellen of McKellen-Messiniaki Properties
Photo by Sarah McKellen of McKellen-Messiniaki Properties

My childhood bedroom looked out over our front yard, which faced the main highway running through the rural town where my family lived.  I recall there used to be a large pine tree close to the road, but at some point it was cut down. My brother and sister and I loved playing around the pieces of wood for several weeks afterward.

Across the highway were the houses of our neighbors. Occasionally we would get permission to walk across the road to pay a visit, but generally my parents expected us to keep to our side of the highway.

I don’t think my parents cared whether or not my bedroom had a lovely view. My parents were far more concerned with teaching me right from wrong, who God was, and how to live a life pleasing to Him.

My childhood wasn’t about having a room with a view. It was about getting a God-view.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths. ~Proverbs 3: 5-6

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College dorms do not generally offer much of a view either.

Once, I lived in a dorm in which my room came with a balcony. It looked over a large parking lot. In the end, the balcony was rather pointless. I could have used the extra space inside my room instead of on the outside.

I suppose college was never about the scenery anyway. After all, most college towns are fairly typical with their clusters of fast food restaurants and coffee shops, campus book stores, large brick classroom buildings, and of course dormitories.

The eye-opening experience for me was not the physical view of my world, but rather beginning to understand exactly how many different world views (or mindsets) there are in the world. Growing up in a tiny village (population 600) in the Bible Belt had certainly given me a strong understanding of my own worldview, which was then (and still is) decidedly Christian. When I left for college, for the first time I was interacting with people on a regular basis who did not look at the world through the same lens as me.

Looking back on those days, I can see how my own Biblical worldview was challenged, which forced me for the first time in my life to dig down into the beliefs my parents had passed on to me and decide for myself whether or not I wasn’t to continue to accept them as truths.

College wasn’t at all about having a room with a view. It was more deciding on my personal life-view.

You are my hiding place and my shield; I hope in your word. ~Psalm 119: 114

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I’ve lived in so many homes as an adult, I’ve lost count of where they all were and how long I lived in each place.  Most of those were nondescript brick homes in little subdivisions, but I’ve also spent my fair share of time living in apartments, duplexes and even for a short while in a tiny rental mobile home in a trailer park.

Once I lived in a home far out in the country, with fifteen large pine trees in the front yard. Other than the pine trees, there wasn’t much to see except for the occasional squirrel.

Another time I lived in a very old duplex on an army base in Seaside, California (close to Monterey). If it wasn’t too foggy, which most of the time it was, I could catch a small glimpse of the Monterey Bay out of the corner of my living room window. But mostly, I could just see all of the other drab military houses farther down the hill from where my home was located.

Even the home I live in now isn’t one in a particularly beautiful place. Not to say I dislike where I live. Quite the opposite. I have great neighbors.  And the location of my home couldn’t be better. It’s within a five or ten minute drive of nearly every place I go on a regular basis. It’s not perfect … but then, is any home?

I’ve decided I like living here.  Some days I have to decide it more than others.

 

After moving some 17 times in 20 years and calling five different states home, I’ve learned the location of my home has very little to do with my personal happiness.

In adulthood I have learned to be content with where God has placed me  … even if I don’t particularly like the view.

I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. ~Philippians 4:11

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But one day I will have a room with a view … a fabulous, marvelous, completely unimaginable view. It will be my forever view.

Already, I anticipate that day. God says the streets will be of gold, the waters like crystal, and the city gates made of pearl. Jesus has gone there to prepare my home.  Once my time on earth is done, I will live for eternity in the presence of God.

What a view that shall be!

But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.”  ~1 Corinthians 2:9

Becoming a Goodbye Girl

This post has been a long time coming. All week, I’ve been trying to write it … just trying to write something, anything actually. I didn’t have the emotional energy to do it, much less the time to sit down and focus on turning mixed-up emotions into coherent words.

I suppose this was because all week I was busy saying goodbye. Goodbye to my three children who headed out to Germany for a six week adventure with their dad. Goodbye to my neighbor who passed away suddenly. Goodbye to the sounds and scenes I’ve come to know and love … the chaotic house will now be quieter without three of my beloved noise-makers; the neighborhood will seem a little lonelier without the familiar sight of my neighbor sitting under his driveway in the afternoons.

Goodbyes have never been easy for me. I’m much more of a hello sort of person.

I’d be willing to bet if you were sitting here with me and we were discussing my thoughts over a cup of coffee, this would be the point at which my husband Jon would interject his opinion that this tendency of mine is due to the fact I am an extrovert.

I have never been convinced I am a truly committed extrovert at heart. Big groups, loud parties, introducing myself to complete strangers. These are not things I do well.

Yet, I don’t do alone well either. I like having people around me all the time, especially people I love. Small gatherings, happy dinners for a couple of friends, just hanging out with a special friend or two. These calmer sort of situations leave me feeling energized about life. I dread to see them come to an end.

The more I think about it, the more I suppose Jon has a point. Introverts never really mind goodbyes because at last they are alone, but for an extroverted person goodbyes can be quite painful as the goodbye signals letting go. Maybe, just maybe, my husband has pegged me correctly after all, for I am not a goodbye sort of girl at heart. I don’t even like saying goodbye to my family as I head out to go grocery shopping for an hour!

Jon, on the other hand, has always billed himself as an introvert. When he says this, I typically roll my eyes. You see, Jon loves a big party. He likes to be on stage, and does not have a problem with striking up a conversation with a complete stranger. But as he also is quick to point out, after a couple of hours, Jon is ready for the party to be over so he can come home and chill out.

One day this past week, Jon and I were talking about our neighbor’s death. I mentioned that already I missed seeing Mr. Prejean sitting outside. Many afternoons, I would walk over to speak with him as I went to check our mailbox.  Jon said, “I am sad he passed away, and I’m sure there will be moments I actually miss him. But I doubt I ever will think about it much. I mostly try to avoid our neighbors. Anything more than a quick hello means I have to actually engage for a moment.  The truth is I really would just rather be left alone.”

This was Jon talking. Jon, the introvert, who prefers goodbyes and alone time, because saying hello means letting someone into his little world and opening up himself to another person.

In that moment, I suddenly saw so clearly. Jon and I were two sides of the same coin. I didn’t mind letting people into my life, but I was unwilling to let them go.  On the other hand, Jon had a harder time with letting new people gain access to him, unwilling to open himself up to another person. One of us needing to learn the language of goodbye; the other to speak the language of hello.

Hello is the opportunity to reach out to someone else. Goodbye is the time to look inward and reflect. And in this world, we need to be able to do both. God uses each one for His purposes. One to spread His love to a world in need of a Savior. One to give His peace and love to our own souls.

Hellos and goodbyes are both a part of this life. Though I have a preference, one is not better than the other. Saying goodbye might not be something I enjoy, but I am learning there is a time for speaking the language of letting go.

To everything there is a season … ~ Ecclesiastes 3:1

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Hello or goodbye? Which one do you prefer?

Leaving on a Jet Plane … Soon and Very Soon

“It’s 10 am, Mom.  You know what that means … it’s officially just a week left! Dad said he would pick us up at 10 am next Friday, and then we are off  on our trip! Do you think I should start packing today?”

germany

 

Three of my children are preparing to leave. In just 168 hours (according to Nathan’s latest update), they will walk out the door, suitcases in hand, to board a jet plane headed for Germany where they will spend the first half of the summer visiting their dad.

Eager. Enthusiastic. Wired with excitement. These words describe the mood of my three first-time world travelers.

Each day now is spent with an attitude of preparation and expectation for this highly anticipated trip. My kids are impatient for their father’s return, even though he will be taking them to a place they have never seen. None of them doubt their dad will do as he said, and come for them.  Moreover, they are eager for his return, filled with anticipation for the journey ahead, and trust implicitly everything will be just as their father has told them it will be.

And as sad as I am to see them go away for six long weeks, I can’t blame them. If I were in their shoes, I would also be excited to embark on the adventure of a lifetime! I just wish I had plane tickets to join them. I wish I could pack my bags and experience the excitement of going to a new country for the very first time.

Unfortunately, I’m not invited. All I can do is prepare myself to say goodbye, and pray they bring me back some German chocolate as a souvenir.

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As a Christian, I too am preparing for a trip. I also have a Father who has promised to return for me, to take me to a place I’ve never seen.

In John chapter 14, Jesus said these words:

“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me.  In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.”  

~John 14:1-3

As I watch my children excitedly prepare for their earthly father’s anticipated arrival, I wonder if the way I live my life here on this earth reflects that one day (possibly soon) my Heavenly Father will come for me, and take me to a new place,  a home which I have never seen.

The difference is my children know the exact time their trip will begin. So they are able to count down the days, hours and even minutes. They have also seen pictures of Germany. The list of sites they hope to see grows longer each day, as they peruse the internet and scour travel guides from the library. The Ann Frank House, Neuschwanstein Castle, a hike in the Alps, a visit to Europa Park (a large amusement park in Germany) … so many interesting places to go and new things to experience! And even though they haven’t yet embarked on their travels, this trip feels as real as a trip to the grocery store.

Yet, the reality of heaven quite often feels to me like a dream or a made-up fantasy. Perhaps if I had a specific date or a few  photos to view, the journey would seem more of a certainty.  But I don’t have a date to circle on the calendar.  And other than the Bible, there are no travel books to tell me more about heaven’s glory. I can’t look at pictures or talk to someone who has visited there.

But I do know heaven is just as real as any place on earth, more wonderful and perfect than I can begin to imagine, and my Jesus will come to take me there Himself. I don’t need expensive tickets, just faith and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ are all I need to be invited to travel there.

I’m eager to go check out heaven … just as soon as Jesus comes to take me home!

kingdom-of-heaven-jesus

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What about you? Do you believe heaven is real? Are you ready to travel when the Savior returns? 

If not, I hope you will ask me how you can get your “free ticket” today.

V is for …

copyright Kathryn Finter
image copyright Kathryn Finter

 

The first time I ever played the piano in public was during the offertory at a Sunday night church service.  I am completely convinced the church pianist must have greased those keys with butter just before I took the bench.  My fingers slipped up one way and slid down the other. Despite all the weeks of practice, I am not sure if I correctly played a single note of my solo.  To this day, I wonder if anyone in that sanctuary recognized I was playing the old spiritual Brethren We Have Met To Worship.

Believe it or not, my parents paid for a decade’s worth of piano lessons.  The result? I can play most of the songs out of the Baptist Hymnal, but only as the notes are written and without any embellishments whatsoever. Though I am not a talented musician, I can play the piano decently.

Correction: I can play well just as long as no one but the Lord is listening.

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The summer I was in the 7th grade, our church got a new youth pastor. I think he must have volunteered to take the youth to the local nursing home to lead a worship service. To this day, I am not sure how he knew I played the piano, but he asked me if I would play the piano for the service. Ever the people pleaser, I was unable to say no.

There were three hymns for me to play:  Victory in Jesus, Onward Christian Soldiers, and Just As I Am. I don’t remember particularly enjoying being a part of the service, or feeling as if I had done anything to share God with those lonely, hurting people in the nursing home. I do remember being somewhat astonished people could sing to the music coming out of the piano as I played the hymns. And I remember the deep sigh of relief that came out of my mouth as the last note was played.

Not long after that, Mrs. Ellen, a lady from our church, approached me about playing piano on a regular basis for her Tuesday afternoon nursing home devotional.  Still a profound people pleaser, I found myself agreeing to join her even though it was the last thing on earth that I wanted to do.

That’s how I came to be the nursing home pianist.

The “congregation” was about ten or twelve patients, most of whom were suffering from some sort of dementia or Alzheimer’s, though a blind man who played trumpet often came to the services and joined me in making music for others as they sang along. It was a rather odd sound, I’m sure. I continued to fumble my way around the keyboard on that old, out-of-tune piano. No one had a very good singing voice. And the motley crew of worshipers had about 5 songs on the regular playlist … the favorite of which was Victory in Jesus.

downloaded from fotosearch.com
downloaded from fotosearch.com

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For four years, my entire high school career, I faithfully showed up at the nursing home every Tuesday afternoon at 3:30 pm. I never once wanted to go. I would have quit in a heartbeat if I could have found the courage to just tell someone I wasn’t coming. But I didn’t. Instead, I continued to come and play. I didn’t feel called to the job or talented enough to be the one sitting before the piano bringing forth music. But, you know, I did feel wanted, and somehow I felt needed because I was doing something no one else was willing to do.

To this day, I can play Victory In Jesus without the hymnal to guide my fingers. Every time I hear those notes, I think back to the old nursing home in my tiny hometown and to the Tuesday afternoons I spent there playing the piano. My attitude wasn’t great. My piano skills weren’t any better than my attitude. And yet, God took that experience and blessed me for it.

I believe God loves it when His children voluntarily serve others. There are plenty of scriptures to back this point, beginning with “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Matthew) and “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). But there are so many other places in the Bible with words encouraging the followers of Christ to be first in service to others.

 

This saying is trustworthy. I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed God might be careful to devote themselves to good works. These are good and profitable for everyone.   ~Titus 3:8

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.  ~Galations 5:13

 Let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.  ~1 John 3:18

V is for Victory in Jesus …

which reminds me to volunteer in service to others, even if I don’t feel talented, called, or have a desire to do the job which needs to be done.

U is for …

“You know what I think is over-rated? Bacon. Bacon is really over-rated.”

Nathan stared at his older brother. “Joel!  Are you serious? Dude, bacon is not over-rated.”

Joel shook his head vigorously. “No,” he said emphatically. “Go buy a hamburger at any restaurant and they will charge you an extra $2 to put on one little piece of rubbery bacon and it doesn’t improve the taste at all. That’s why bacon is over-rated. It’s good, but definitely not everything people make it out to be.”

“I don’t think you understand the meaning of over-rated, Joel. Now cupcakes … that’s something that is over-rated. People act like cupcakes are a really big deal. It’s just a little cake! Nobody would make such a big of a deal over a piece of cake, and it’s essentially the same thing as a cupcake. Completely over-rated!”

Megan broke into the conversation. “What are you talking about?”

“Cake and cupcakes. Cake is an under-rated food. Cupcakes are over-rated.” Nathan seemed slightly annoyed at her question.

“CUPCAKES? Are we having cupcakes?!” Julia suddenly came to life over her bowl of cereal.

“No!” Joel and Nathan at practically the same time.

“Oh.”  Julia was obviously disappointed.

“I still don’t get it,” said Megan, who was obviously confused.

“You wouldn’t.” Joel stated calmly. “You’re a girl.”

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My boys love to rate things. Movies. Books. Sports mascots. Foods.

When they rate foods, it drives me insane. In fact, I have a rule that anyone rating food actually being served with anything less than a “delicious” rating will have to eat that food (and only that food) for the next three days.  So far, it’s worked. My cooking is rated as only delicious. I’m happy with that.

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Daily Drop Cap project by Jessica Hische
Daily Drop Cap project by Jessica Hische

If there is one thing in this life I believe is under-rated, it is the realities of heaven and hell. No one can give us first-hand information about it. There are no photographs or pictures. We have no way to visit until our own death.  One place no one wants to go; the other most think they will get a back row seat based on their efforts at living a moral life.

But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.”  ~1 Corinthians 2:9

No doubt about it, heaven is for real. It’s not just real; it is unfathomable. Many descriptions of heaven can be found in the Bible, including the following:

~ a city wall made of jasper, a entire city of gold adorned with every sort of precious stone (sapphires, emeralds, and amethyst), gates of pearls, streets of gold, a river sparkling like crystal  (Revelation 21-22)

~ no night, no death, no mourning or crying or pain of any sort (Revelation 21)

~ no hunger or thirst, no scorching heat, we will drink from springs of living water (Revelation 7)

~ there will be a wedding feast (Revelation 19)

But the Bible also tells us not everyone can enter heaven.

But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life. ~Revelation 21:27

So what happens to those who are not found in the Lamb’s Book of Life?

They will spend eternity separated from God in a place we call hell. Just as real as heaven; just as unfathomable.

~ lake that burns with fire and sulfur (Revelation 21)

~it will be a place of eternal punishment, separated from God  (2 Thessalonians 1)

~ there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 13)

~ torment goes on forever, with no rest day or night (Revelation 14)

Hell is a terrible place to wind up. It’s a place where those who have not paid the price for living a less than holy life will be sentenced to stay for eternity.

You see, heaven is the home of God. He is so holy and pure that only holy and pure people can be there with Him. Can you imagine the grandeur of heaven from the descriptions above? Now imagine it filled with people who lie, steal, and cheat regularly? Even our good moments do not begin to compare with the goodness of God. The prophet Isaiah wrote that even our most righteous deeds are like filthy rags when compared to the holiness of God. (Isaiah 64:6).

God is merciful and loving. He does not want anyone to go to hell. And yet, sin, which is the breaking of God’s laws, must be punished. As a parent, I know that in order for my children to learn to behave, I must discipline them. Even in society, we recognize that lawbreakers must pay a penalty. It’s just and right.

God is a just and right judge. He gets the authority to be the judge because He is the Creator. In our society, we would call a judge corrupt if he let a convicted felon go free on the basis of previous moral acts. If God is a perfect judge, then He certainly cannot be corrupt. He must punish sinners, and all of us are convicts. (Who among us hasn’t told even just one lie? And, according to the Bible, if you are guilty of breaking one part of the law, then you are guilty of breaking the whole law.)

God made a way for our penalty to be paid. God humbled Himself to become a man, walk this earth and not commit a single sin. Not one wrong thought. Not one white lie. Not one curse word. Nothing. And then He died a convict’s death on the cross. He took our place. He cried, “It is finished!” for He had done what needed to be done to pay for the sin’s of all mankind.

All we have to do to spend eternity in heaven is allow Him the privilege of paying our penalty and, through His power, are able submit to living our lives under His authority.

U is for Under-Rated …

We may have under-rated views of the realities of heaven and hell,

but we can be assured of our place in eternity.

R is for …

 

image credit: Valerie Drake Lesiak (picture-book-studio.com)
image credit: Valerie Drake Lesiak (picture-book-studio.com)

 

“We need to talk. Our relationship is not sustainable as it is.”

As Jon said those words, an immediate lump formed in my throat. I figured he must be about to dump me. I was not expecting those words to be the opening lines of his marriage proposal.

Getting engaged to Jon could be described in many ways. However, romantic is not one of them, not by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, it was more like closing an important business deal than a traditional marriage proposal.

But I still said, “Yes!”  I accepted because I knew Jon’s heart. His love for me was true and strong. Besides, there had been plenty of evidence while we were dating which lead me to believe Jon definitely knew how to be romantic. Bouquets of flowers, hand-written poems, surprise gifts of jewelry, sweet compliments; romance wasn’t missing in our relationship. And while Jon’s marriage proposal certainly lacked a touch of romance that most women are expecting, he more than made up for it on our wedding day when he sang a love song he wrote just for me.

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I’ve heard a lot of engagement stories during my life. Some are romantic. Some are funny. But none are as sweet as Robert’s second proposal to Kim.

Robert’s not new to our church, as he often attended services with his wife Kim. However, Robert is a new believer in Jesus Christ. After several years of praying alongside his wife Kim for his salvation, our church was elated when Robert finally accepted Christ as his Savior late last year. In a short time, the transformation of Robert’s life has become evident. He’s a new man. Not even six weeks ago, Robert followed his decision with baptism at the first service in our new church building. As a church, we are becoming somewhat used to Robert creating a stir of excitement among us.

Still, we were not expecting Robert’s surprise at our Easter Morning service. With permission from our pastor, Robert stood to address our congregation. He talked about how grateful he was for the clean slate he had in Christ, and yet there were so many things he wished he could go back and do over. Robert continued by stating he desired to go back and start over in his marriage, to become a better husband to his wife Kim, loving her as Christ loved the church.

And then, in front of a packed sanctuary, Robert knelt on one knee as he tearfully asked Kim if she would marry him all over again.

Of course, she said yes … and an hour later, following the sermon, our church was privileged to witness Robert and Kim renew their marriage vows. If the proposal and vow renewal wasn’t enough to convince us of Robert’s love for Kim, he had taken the time to see to several special details, like a beautiful bouquet for his bride, a photographer to take a few pictures, and a small cake and punch reception to celebrate. Sweet. Sincere. Romantic. Robert lovingly wooed his bride, and those of us who witnessed it were blessed.

But even Robert’s second proposal to Kim cannot begin to compare with the greatest love story of all. It is the ultimate romance story. I am talking about the romance between the Lord of All Creation and His bride.

copyright Jane Sullivan
copyright Jane Sullivan

 

Humans as a whole are pretty rotten creatures. Think about it. You don’t have to teach a young child to be bad. As cute as they are, young children figure out things like lying, disobeying parents, and selfish attitudes fairly quickly and without assistance from anyone. From a very young age, all people learn to use our free will to our own advantage.

It’s important we humans have a free will. If we didn’t, then we couldn’t make choices. One of those choices would be the decision to love God. Any love that is forced or demanded is not a meaningful love. So God gave humans a privilege not given to other parts of His creation … the privilege of being made in His image. That privilege includes being about to choose for ourselves whether or not we will obey and love the Lord.

So long ago in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve ushered in the fall of man. They chose to disobey the one rule God had given to them. (Don’t think that you and I would have done any better! If we can’t follow speed limits or keep from telling little white lies, we would have certainly broken His rule about eating from the Tree of Life as well.)

Sin came in and broke the relationship between God and man. We were helpless to repair it. In order to be restored back into a right relationship, we had to be perfect and blameless, just as God is perfect and blameless,  for we are made in His image. And yet, by ourselves, we are destined to break every good law God has given us. The only way was for someone with no sin to take our punishment for us.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

~John 3:16-17

The most romantic love story is this: God Almighty loves you so much that He chose to take the punishments for every wrong thing you ever did … every lie, every curse, every ugly judgmental thought. And He did it because He does not want you to live apart from Him.

Now that’s an incredible love!

R is for the Romance of God, who woos me to Himself and loves me like no other ever has or ever will.

What is the most romantic story you know? Have you felt God romancing your heart? If not, then I urge you to ask Him (with an open heart) to woo you with His perfect love.