Are you ready?

 

img_20131109_121607_928.jpg

Here we are: December 16th. Nine days away from Christmas!

“Are you ready?”

I’ve been hearing this question asked at the bank, at my work potluck, in line at the stores…It CRACKS me up!

Christmas comes the same time and date each year. Not like Easter, that one can mess you up. Christmas has been December 25th for about 2000 years. So, it’s not like we weren’t told about it in advance. How come people aren’t ready?

ANTICIPATION

One of the most tantalizing feelings this time of year is the anticipation leading up to this special day. I remember it well as a child.–The inability to get to sleep on December 24th. My heart beating so rapidly as the agonizing wait for 6 am (this was the absolute earliest my parents would allow for us to awake them!) and we had to bring them with us when we went downstairs to find out if all that “being good” in the weeks prior had put us on Santa’s NICE list —

SURPRISE-What did Santa bring you?

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Unfortunately, one of the biggest surprises this time of year is the VOID.

Some face the VOID of celebrating their first (or second, or third…) Christmas without their loved one.

For others there’s the VOID felt in the bank account, leaving nothing for gifts.

Amidst all the beautiful lights, wreath adorned doors, the hustle and bustle and gatherings, there are those for whom this is NOT the most wonderful time of the year. 

I’ll never forget the surprise of my very first out of state Christmas working at Phoenix Police Department. I swallowed the lump in my throat after wishing “Merry Christmas” to family and friends far away as I clocked in for my overnight shift working the holiday. I fully expected the night to be filled with bookings from partying: DUI’s and noise violations from all the celebrating…

Surprise!

The most common arrests I saw that night were the domestic violence and family assaults.

Not everyone has a family they enjoy celebrating the holiday with. That Christmas felt like a “Reverse Grinch” moment happened to me as my heart cinched up and threatened to break.

My heart has these moments when I hear a parent threaten their overly rambunctious child, “Christmas is canceled this year!”

My heart breaks every Black Friday when I watch humanity crawl and punch their way to the front line for the door-busting deals.

My heart breaks when I see the VOID left in this world.

The only cure for this heart break and void is the VERY reason why I love this season and this time of the year.

No matter how dysfunctional your family may be, no matter how misbehaved your children are, no matter how empty your bank account is, you have available a reason to celebrate–the same reason the shepherds, three wise men and a young couple with nothing celebrated in a manger  2000 years ago.

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Every year, I picture Linus in the Charlie Brown Christmas Special telling Charlie the TRUE meaning of Christmas:

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them, “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
Luke 2:8-14 (KJV)

He came to heal the brokenhearted.  He fills the void. He is the very reason for the season. So, the real question is:

Are you ready for Him?

 

 

I GIVE UP!

 

I GIVE UP

(Lead Me Part 3)

“And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us…” (Hebrews 12:1)

 

What do you do when things go wrong?

Not just the—“I slept through the alarm, spilled coffee on my white shirt, heading out the door to the car with a dead battery”— kind of day. But more like the—“You stayed too late at work for a boss who is mad at you for taking too much bereavement time, so you and didn’t get home in time to change the diaper on your parent who barely knows who you are anymore, and you missed the call from your own doctors who need to see you in their office; they have the results of your biopsy”–kind of day??

When it rains, it pours. And this type of day/life happens to even the best of us. What do you do with these kinds of days?

I find comfort in the realness of the journeys of the followers of God in the Bible. Job is widely turned to as the book in the bible that demonstrates enduring faith through the very toughest these kinds of days.

As I re-read his story, I am reminded that people back then believed that when bad stuff happened, they must’ve done something wrong and God was punishing them for it. Yet, Job had done nothing wrong! His whole life, his prosperity, his family, his reputation, his health was all snatched from him and he was INNOCENT.  (Sound familiar?) Then his friends, day after day, rubbed salt in his wounds with accusations and empty words.

Job was having one of those kinds of days. And, let’s face it—we all will be faced with days like these sooner or later. And, when my day comes, I would like to think that I would have the endurance, patience and faithfulness of Job.

But I know myself better than that.

And, if you know me at all, you know that I love finding parallels of our ordinary days and relating them to our journey on this lovely planet that is our temporary home.

I was training for my first marathon; an endurance run of 26.2 miles.

At the same time, my father was battling metastatic malignant melanoma level 5; an endurance run for his very life.

The doctors told him it was untreatable, but he wasn’t willing to accept that. Experimental treatments gave him the hope and ultimately more time in the race.

Marathon training gave me hours upon hours by myself to pray, cry, feel the pain, rage against the pavement, to be numb, to pray more and to increase my endurance. Mile by mile, just moving forward was my therapy.

At times, my own thoughts and questions would drive me to the brink of giving up. So, I tried using headphones and music on runs longer than two hours. It was on a desolate, long, hot run out on the nearly deserted Salt River Indian reservation, miles from home that I was smacked in the face with the reality of hopelessness of my father’s diagnosis.

The questions were relentless–How was he handling this? He puts on a brave face and still maintains his sense of humor, but what happens in the dark of the long night? Would we ever get a father/daughter dance at my wedding? Would he make it to see my marathon? Would he survive this next treatment? What if he gives up? Why does cancer even exist?!?

As my feet traveled along the winding canal, the gravel shifted under me like quicksand, the tears began choking my breath. I doubled over as the side-stitch from lack of oxygen pricked at my side. I stopped dead in my tracks. I couldn’t go on.

I didn’t have the endurance like Job. I gave up.

I sucked in deep breaths trying to regain my composure. I bent over. How could I give up? How could I give up when my dad is fighting for his life?

And then coincidence/grace stepped in. The song that began playing was by Mercy Me. As their words traveled through the ear-buds right into the depths of my struggle, a drop of hope quenched my spirit. I stood and slowly began walking, one foot in front of the other. Before long, I had regained my stride and was running. As I pressed on my journey, these words of hope reverberated with my soul:

“Hold fast

Help is on the way

Hold fast

He’s come to save the day

And what I’ve learned in my life,

The One thing greater than my stride is Your grasp

So hold fast”

—Mercy Me “Hold Fast”

 

“It is the LORD who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” Deuteronomy 31:8

When I’m having one of those days, I remember Who travels with me. He never lets me out of His grasp.

It’s been the darkest nights and toughest stuff on this life’s path that I’ve felt my relationship with God so intimately.

 

I look back on the faithful answers God delivered throughout. I remember how He answered so many prayers. How, although my father lost the battle for his life, we did get that “father-daughter dance;” we had more time together; and he not only bought me this from my first marathon:

Gift from dad

 

 

 

 

But my father was there, cheering me on as I crossed the finish line.

 

I’ve said it before—I am not a leader.

I’m a follower.

My friend, “quotable Kelly” is a leader. She effortlessly has led a group of women (including me) these last eight years.

Quotable Kelly on far right

She’s led us not only through an increasing knowledge of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ, but has also traveled with us through the peaks and valleys of life. She shared her wisdom, experience, understanding and heart with us. Yet, her life takes her away from our group. Leaving a void in the leadership for our group and, leaving a void in our hearts for her presence and wisdom.

I’ve been asked to step up as leader. I, in no way, feel worthy or up to it—I’ve enjoyed being in the follower role.

Yet, in life, sometimes we’re asked to do things we don’t feel equipped to handle.

And then the questioning begins.

The human heart was made to love, but is it equipped to withstand the loss of loved ones?

The human brain is so imaginative and creative, but how do we comprehend cancer? Alzheimer’s? Children who go hungry? Divorce?

How do we lead in this messy life, when we are a follower?

How do we hold fast, when we don’t feel equipped?

I am a runner. I believe I’m equipped to run because I’m not coordinated enough to do anything else! (See the post on ZUMBA!) 😉

And in life and in running, you just have to put one foot in front of the other. Keep going. And I KNOW it isn’t easy.

But when it comes to “events” that can be planned for, I am overly equipped to handle this! When I can see an upcoming race on the calendar, in my self-sufficiency, I will do everything in my power to be ready and equipped!

And I tend to be an “over-trainer.”

My husband and I are full swing into our triathlon training and our event is this weekend.

Have we done enough? Have we gone far enough? Have we done the work and put in the miles?

And since I’ve been in charge of our training, the answer is: “Of course we have!”

But it didn’t come easy and it doesn’t mean that stuff won’t go wrong along the way–

“Honey, if we are going to get this run in, we need to go now!” I urged on my new husband before the Arizona heat got unbearable.

I’m not sure why I do this, however; because he hardly ever runs WITH me…

Usually, I love to run. It’s routinely become my prayer time, my return to sanity, my time to rage against the pavement when I’m having one of those days, and it’s my time to commune with God. It’s where I leave all my questions.

I believe it’s saved my spirit more than once.

But when my new husband and I “run together,” it drives me NUTTY because he runs about 15 feet in front of me. And we never use headphones when we run “together,” so no luck on finding some encouragement or distraction there!

It completely deflates my spirit as I huff and puff, trying to reach the unreachable carrot that is my new husband gliding along the pavement in front of me.

running ahead

But today, on this run that we should’ve started an hour earlier, I didn’t want to fall behind. The quicker we went, the sooner we’d be done and out of the heat. Right?! Yet, today I simply cannot keep pace with him. After getting frustrated and slightly overheated, everything about holding fast, pressing on and “just doing it” falls away…

The noise inside my head is rambling on about how we should’ve gone earlier. I should’ve gone without him. I should’ve…should’ve…should’ve…I **BONK**

I give up.

I wave him on telling him to go on without me.

I let out an exhausted breath and bend down (pretending to stretch.)

While I’m down, I look back at the upside down road I have just traveled. And in this moment, it happens to me.

At the end of my own limits, my own capabilities, my endurance and sufficiency, a new strength is found—It is here, as I give up on my own strength, that the Unseen moves in.

“My grace is sufficient for you. My power is made perfect in your weakness.”—2 Corinthians 12:9

I remember back on the other roads where I was to the breaking point.

footsteps on journey

And I remember the enduring faith of Job.

–“The account of Job’s life isn’t in the Bible so we can compare experiences; it’s there so we can rest in the knowledge that God is in control in every circumstance of our lives and that He is full of wisdom and grace…It is our journey with the Lord that is precious to us because we realize how close God is as He walks with us every step of the hard way.”-Joel Osteen THE HOPE BIBLE

Job knew who he followed and who was with him at every step. He also knew God was the prize at the end of the road he was enduring.

“And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us…” (Hebrews 12:1)

“…We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfect our faith.” (Hebrews 12:2)

I stand up and re-affix my eyes.

I run. And during this specific run, I remind myself that we all have our own race to run. By trying to do this at another’s pace, the joy was sucked out of my own journey. By accepting my capabilities and my weaknesses, I fall into my own cadence and I focus on running my own race.

I am struck by the parallel truth that each of us must be responsible for our own journey. Not anyone else’s, just our own. As the miles pass beneath my feet, my joy for this run returns. Up ahead, I see my new husband waits for me at the corner.

He needed a sip of the water (I always carry.) He drinks.

I nod at him, “Go on ahead,” I say with a genuine smile.

He takes off again.

I sigh, watch him go, and I continue at my own pace. A teensy bit of heat exhaustion creeps in and I imagine that the saguaros are a message from God-wIM000571.JPGith their arms raised in encouragement, they are cheering me on!

 

 

I remind myself that this pain and these miles prepare me for something greater down the road. I HOLD FAST in knowing this race of life requires endurance.

I press on.

About a mile later, I catch up to my overheated hubby—he is walking.

“It’s too hot,” he says. “You go on ahead.” He smiles at me.

He has **BONKED**

I give him more of the water and know that those same saguaros will cheer him on.

But he has given up on this run.

I run on.

I reach our destination before he does.

I prepare two tall, ice-cold glasses of fresh filtered water and go back out to cheer on my husband.

 

Whether you are facing something that you don’t feel adequately prepared for; running a race that you’ve done everything in your power to endure; stumbling through one of those days where your spirit is tested; or when you are entrenched in the toughest stuff of life and just want to give up, –there is still One who leads the way for us.

“So Father, give me the strength
To be everything I’m called to be
Oh, Father, show me the way
To lead them
Won’t You lead me?”

—Sanctus Real’s “Lead Me”

 

He will equip us when we are at the end of our abilities.

He is with us for every step and cheering us on.

And I can only imagine what it will be like to see Him face to face as we cross that finish line!

crossing a practice finish line

I GIVE UP!

 

I GIVE UP

(Lead Me Part 3)

“And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us…” (Hebrews 12:1)

 

What do you do when things go wrong?

Not just the—“I slept through the alarm, spilled coffee on my white shirt, heading out the door to the car with a dead battery”— kind of day. But more like the—“You stayed too late at work for a boss who is mad at you for taking too much bereavement time, so you and didn’t get home in time to change the diaper on your parent who barely knows who you are anymore, and you missed the call from your own doctors who need to see you in their office; they have the results of your biopsy”–kind of day??

When it rains, it pours. And this type of day/life happens to even the best of us. What do you do with these kinds of days?

I find comfort in the realness of the journeys of the followers of God in the Bible. Job is widely turned to as the book in the bible that demonstrates enduring faith through the very toughest these kinds of days.

As I re-read his story, I am reminded that people back then believed that when bad stuff happened, they must’ve done something wrong and God was punishing them for it. Yet, Job had done nothing wrong! His whole life, his prosperity, his family, his reputation, his health was all snatched from him and he was INNOCENT.  (Sound familiar?) Then his friends, day after day, rubbed salt in his wounds with accusations and empty words.

Job was having one of those kinds of days. And, let’s face it—we all will be faced with days like these sooner or later. And, when my day comes, I would like to think that I would have the endurance, patience and faithfulness of Job.

But I know myself better than that.

And, if you know me at all, you know that I love finding parallels of our ordinary days and relating them to our journey on this lovely planet that is our temporary home.

I was training for my first marathon; an endurance run of 26.2 miles.

At the same time, my father was battling metastatic malignant melanoma level 5; an endurance run for his very life.

The doctors told him it was untreatable, but he wasn’t willing to accept that. Experimental treatments gave him the hope and ultimately more time in the race.

Marathon training gave me hours upon hours by myself to pray, cry, feel the pain, rage against the pavement, to be numb, to pray more and to increase my endurance. Mile by mile, just moving forward was my therapy.

At times, my own thoughts and questions would drive me to the brink of giving up. So, I tried using headphones and music on runs longer than two hours. It was on a desolate, long, hot run out on the nearly deserted Salt River Indian reservation, miles from home that I was smacked in the face with the reality of hopelessness of my father’s diagnosis.

The questions were relentless–How was he handling this? He puts on a brave face and still maintains his sense of humor, but what happens in the dark of the long night? Would we ever get a father/daughter dance at my wedding? Would he make it to see my marathon? Would he survive this next treatment? What if he gives up? Why does cancer even exist?!?

As my feet traveled along the winding canal, the gravel shifted under me like quicksand, the tears began choking my breath. I doubled over as the side-stitch from lack of oxygen pricked at my side. I stopped dead in my tracks. I couldn’t go on.

I didn’t have the endurance like Job. I gave up.

I sucked in deep breaths trying to regain my composure. I bent over. How could I give up? How could I give up when my dad is fighting for his life?

And then coincidence/grace stepped in. The song that began playing was by Mercy Me. As their words traveled through the ear-buds right into the depths of my struggle, a drop of hope quenched my spirit. I stood and slowly began walking, one foot in front of the other. Before long, I had regained my stride and was running. As I pressed on my journey, these words of hope reverberated with my soul:

“Hold fast

Help is on the way

Hold fast

He’s come to save the day

And what I’ve learned in my life,

The One thing greater than my stride is Your grasp

So hold fast”

—Mercy Me “Hold Fast”

 

“It is the LORD who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” Deuteronomy 31:8

When I’m having one of those days, I remember Who travels with me. He never lets me out of His grasp.

It’s been the darkest nights and toughest stuff on this life’s path that I’ve felt my relationship with God so intimately.

 

I look back on the faithful answers God delivered throughout. I remember how He answered so many prayers. How, although my father lost the battle for his life, we did get that “father-daughter dance;” we had more time together; and he not only bought me this from my first marathon:

Gift from dad

 

 

 

 

But my father was there, cheering me on as I crossed the finish line.

 

I’ve said it before—I am not a leader.

I’m a follower.

My friend, “quotable Kelly” is a leader. She effortlessly has led a group of women (including me) these last eight years.

Quotable Kelly on far right

She’s led us not only through an increasing knowledge of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ, but has also traveled with us through the peaks and valleys of life. She shared her wisdom, experience, understanding and heart with us. Yet, her life takes her away from our group. Leaving a void in the leadership for our group and, leaving a void in our hearts for her presence and wisdom.

I’ve been asked to step up as leader. I, in no way, feel worthy or up to it—I’ve enjoyed being in the follower role.

Yet, in life, sometimes we’re asked to do things we don’t feel equipped to handle.

And then the questioning begins.

The human heart was made to love, but is it equipped to withstand the loss of loved ones?

The human brain is so imaginative and creative, but how do we comprehend cancer? Alzheimer’s? Children who go hungry? Divorce?

How do we lead in this messy life, when we are a follower?

How do we hold fast, when we don’t feel equipped?

I am a runner. I believe I’m equipped to run because I’m not coordinated enough to do anything else! (See the post on ZUMBA!) 😉

And in life and in running, you just have to put one foot in front of the other. Keep going. And I KNOW it isn’t easy.

But when it comes to “events” that can be planned for, I am overly equipped to handle this! When I can see an upcoming race on the calendar, in my self-sufficiency, I will do everything in my power to be ready and equipped!

And I tend to be an “over-trainer.”

My husband and I are full swing into our triathlon training and our event is this weekend.

Have we done enough? Have we gone far enough? Have we done the work and put in the miles?

And since I’ve been in charge of our training, the answer is: “Of course we have!”

But it didn’t come easy and it doesn’t mean that stuff won’t go wrong along the way–

“Honey, if we are going to get this run in, we need to go now!” I urged on my new husband before the Arizona heat got unbearable.

I’m not sure why I do this, however; because he hardly ever runs WITH me…

Usually, I love to run. It’s routinely become my prayer time, my return to sanity, my time to rage against the pavement when I’m having one of those days, and it’s my time to commune with God. It’s where I leave all my questions.

I believe it’s saved my spirit more than once.

But when my new husband and I “run together,” it drives me NUTTY because he runs about 15 feet in front of me. And we never use headphones when we run “together,” so no luck on finding some encouragement or distraction there!

It completely deflates my spirit as I huff and puff, trying to reach the unreachable carrot that is my new husband gliding along the pavement in front of me.

running ahead

But today, on this run that we should’ve started an hour earlier, I didn’t want to fall behind. The quicker we went, the sooner we’d be done and out of the heat. Right?! Yet, today I simply cannot keep pace with him. After getting frustrated and slightly overheated, everything about holding fast, pressing on and “just doing it” falls away…

The noise inside my head is rambling on about how we should’ve gone earlier. I should’ve gone without him. I should’ve…should’ve…should’ve…I **BONK**

I give up.

I wave him on telling him to go on without me.

I let out an exhausted breath and bend down (pretending to stretch.)

While I’m down, I look back at the upside down road I have just traveled. And in this moment, it happens to me.

At the end of my own limits, my own capabilities, my endurance and sufficiency, a new strength is found—It is here, as I give up on my own strength, that the Unseen moves in.

“My grace is sufficient for you. My power is made perfect in your weakness.”—2 Corinthians 12:9

I remember back on the other roads where I was to the breaking point.

footsteps on journey

And I remember the enduring faith of Job.

–“The account of Job’s life isn’t in the Bible so we can compare experiences; it’s there so we can rest in the knowledge that God is in control in every circumstance of our lives and that He is full of wisdom and grace…It is our journey with the Lord that is precious to us because we realize how close God is as He walks with us every step of the hard way.”-Joel Osteen THE HOPE BIBLE

Job knew who he followed and who was with him at every step. He also knew God was the prize at the end of the road he was enduring.

“And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us…” (Hebrews 12:1)

“…We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfect our faith.” (Hebrews 12:2)

I stand up and re-affix my eyes.

I run. And during this specific run, I remind myself that we all have our own race to run. By trying to do this at another’s pace, the joy was sucked out of my own journey. By accepting my capabilities and my weaknesses, I fall into my own cadence and I focus on running my own race.

I am struck by the parallel truth that each of us must be responsible for our own journey. Not anyone else’s, just our own. As the miles pass beneath my feet, my joy for this run returns. Up ahead, I see my new husband waits for me at the corner.

He needed a sip of the water (I always carry.) He drinks.

I nod at him, “Go on ahead,” I say with a genuine smile.

He takes off again.

I sigh, watch him go, and I continue at my own pace. A teensy bit of heat exhaustion creeps in and I imagine that the saguaros are a message from God-wIM000571.JPGith their arms raised in encouragement, they are cheering me on!

 

 

I remind myself that this pain and these miles prepare me for something greater down the road. I HOLD FAST in knowing this race of life requires endurance.

I press on.

About a mile later, I catch up to my overheated hubby—he is walking.

“It’s too hot,” he says. “You go on ahead.” He smiles at me.

He has **BONKED**

I give him more of the water and know that those same saguaros will cheer him on.

But he has given up on this run.

I run on.

I reach our destination before he does.

I prepare two tall, ice-cold glasses of fresh filtered water and go back out to cheer on my husband.

 

Whether you are facing something that you don’t feel adequately prepared for; running a race that you’ve done everything in your power to endure; stumbling through one of those days where your spirit is tested; or when you are entrenched in the toughest stuff of life and just want to give up, –there is still One who leads the way for us.

“So Father, give me the strength
To be everything I’m called to be
Oh, Father, show me the way
To lead them
Won’t You lead me?”

—Sanctus Real’s “Lead Me”

 

He will equip us when we are at the end of our abilities.

He is with us for every step and cheering us on.

And I can only imagine what it will be like to see Him face to face as we cross that finish line!

crossing a practice finish line

“Mister T” and the Peaches

School is back in session! Although I don’t have children, I get to reminisce and share in the excitement this year because my new husband is a teacher!

I not only love this teacher ;), but I LOVE teachers and I loved school! Looking back, even the teachers who were “mean” spent their lives making sure I learned to pay attention, to give respect, how to multi-task, and (ugh!) even how to do long division. And, (now I know) they took on this job while making “dittly squat” for an income!

Both inside and outside of the classroom, my teachers delivered lessons that still stick with me to this day.

I remain in touch with several of my junior high & high school teachers who had a profound influence on my life. This story is about one of these men; we will call him “Mister T.”

Colorado Peaches

Colorado Peaches

Colorado peaches are some of the best things on this green earth! A fresh Colorado peach is so juicy, sweet and tender, perfectly ripened by the Rocky Mountain climate and soil—they are out of this world!

My father loved peaches—only Colorado peaches, though. He loved them so much that he bought the tree and planted it in his yard so he could experience one of those beauties at his whim! Plus, as the cancer began to take over his body, his trips to the grocery store lessened.

Sadly, that tree he planted bore not a single peach.

Year after year—nada, nothing, zilch.

My father passed away March 29, 2008 and never ate a single Colorado peach from his tree.

Why?

The question that is never far away

The healing doesn’t come from being explained

Jesus please don’t let this go in vain

You’re all I have All that remains

-Mercy Me “The Hurt and the Healer”

If you’ve lost someone close to you, you know how it goes. Even though you feel your world has stopped; the world, in fact, keeps spinning. Time continues forward; people keep moving on; there is always the “TO DO” list.

As we went about the tasks of cleaning out his closets, settling accounts, paying doctor bills, we nearly missed what was happening with the tree.

Neighbors began calling.

He had one of the old voice message systems that recorded messages on a mini-tape. We heard his voice at every missed call. It was heartbreaking, like he was still here and waiting to return calls. “Just leave a message and I’ll get right back to you…”

At least four neighbors called and several family members who had been to the house; all with very similar messages –

“…Let us know if you need help. Especially with that peach tree…”

WTH?

So my sister and I went out to the yard to investigate.

What we saw stunned us into silence. With tears in our eyes, we looked up and shook our heads in disbelief.

Five years after he planted it and just two months after he passed away, that peach tree’s branches were so filled with peaches that several of the branches hung to the ground! Many had leaned over into each of the neighbors’ yards—No wonder they were calling!

 

Peaches at last!

Peaches at last!

Our silence turned to awe.

There were so many peaches that each of those neighbors and family members picked to their hearts content. We packed several baskets and took them to friends.

Abundance

Abundance

We had some ourselves and baked no fewer than 12 peach pies which we froze and enjoyed over the next two years. Those pies were absolutely heavenly! We’ve held on to one, saving it for a very special occasion…

It’s May 30, 2014 and a beautiful clear Colorado day; the day before I will to marry my “Mr. Right” in Golden, Colorado. He and I go for my favorite run to Two Ponds and then around by my Dad’s old house. As we begin our run, I always pass by one of my favorite junior high school teacher’s house. Every time we do this run I tell my fiancé— “One of these days “Mister T” will be out taking care of his yard. I can’t wait to introduce you!”

We round the corner at the exact time we see his garage door opening and guess who steps out and begins working on his fence?!?

Barely able to contain myself, I nudge my running partner, “Today’s the day.”

I continue to jog right up to my old teacher. It has been years and he has aged; I can see it in his eyes. His eyes shine with recognition and a little confusion.

“Mister T!” I say, “It is Julie…uh..Stoddard…uh.. but soon to be different.” I wink at my fiancé.

“Oh my God it is!” He says and wraps me in a big hug.

“I always remembered the Stoddard girls; that deep voice you girls have, just like your dad!”

We go through the introductions and the reason we are back in town. He is happy in sharing his congratulations and I tell him how much he meant to me as a teacher and mentor. I know he is still making a difference in young lives as he shares some of his latest endeavors. Yet, there is a sadness in him; a weariness.

“How’s your dad doing? He still up around the corner? He still doing well?” He asks.

It’s my turn to feel sad.

“He passed away just over 5 years ago.” I tell him of the death sentence he was given. I also share with him the 13 years of bonus life we had with him and the triumphs of the unconventional treatments. I hold back on sharing how tough those last months were, watching the losing battle, I don’t like to re-visit that pain.

He looks me straight in the eye, I see the sadness in him again, “I’m so sorry, Julie. He was a good man.” He looks over to my fiancé, “Not that you need to hear this right now, with your good news for tomorrow…But, my wife,” he stops and looks back at the door to his house, “Over 40 years we’ve been together…She’s in there…can’t walk; can’t take care of herself; wearing a diaper.” His shoulders sink, “I just got through prostate cancer. The next day she falls. Now she doesn’t even know who I am.”

I choke back the tears in watching my teacher struggling with this. It all just seems to flood out.

His eyes drop, then he looks up, “I used to talk to God all the time. Now I just have questions. Why? I just don’t know anymore.”

This breaks my heart. I remember those feelings; the anger, the questions, the frustration, the helplessness, the weariness, the very same struggle I see in him.

Breathe

Sometimes I feel it’s all that I can do

Pain so deep that I can hardly move

Just keep my eyes completely fixed on You

Lord take hold and pull me through

-Mercy Me “The Hurt and the Healer”

And I did just what this song said. I fixed my eyes on the Lord and laid all my questions and feelings at the foot of the cross. I handed it over to the only One who I knew could bear my questions. I trusted Him to be faithful. But the heartache is still real; cancer is still cancer; Alzheimer’s is still a thief, death still happens. I still have questions.

But I trust I will be given answers some day.

 

“Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity.” 1 Corinthians 13:12 (The Hope Bible)

OR, like one of my new favorite quotes from Sonny Kapoor who repeatedly says in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, “It all works out in the end. And, if it has not yet worked out, then it is not yet the end!”

 

I grab ahold of my teacher’s hand and tell him the truth, “I wish you didn’t have to go through this. I don’t know why. I don’t have any answers.”

I really don’t. I hate this. I wish I had something hopeful to share with him. I am at a loss. I tell him he isn’t alone. I end up sharing how hard it was at the end for us with our father; the deep pain of watching one you love wither away, mentally, physically; the utter weariness and exhaustion of one’s spirit to witness such a thing.

But, I also tell him how I wouldn’t have survived without the prayers of my friends, encouragement from family and others sharing their struggles & stories. I tell him that God hasn’t left him and can handle his questions and to never stop talking to Him. I tell him how I believe God draws very near to us when we are brokenhearted; how I truly felt that. I tell him we will pray for him.

We continue on our run and we do. As we go by my father’s house and the tears come.

We pray for the pain we witnessed in “Mister T.” We prayed for his wife. And then I remember all those peaches.

I begin to wonder. Maybe, this is like those peaches that showed up after my father passed away?

Dad wanted those peaches so bad.

“Mister T” wants answers so bad.

But we may not get those “peaches” in our timing.

It’s the moment when humanity

Is overcome by majesty

When grace is ushered in for good

And all our scars are understood

When mercy takes its rightful place

And all these questions fade away

I fall into your arms open wide

When The hurt and the healer collide

-Mercy Me “The Hurt and the Healer”

 

 

And, just like this “divine collision” Mercy Me so beautifully describes, it is at this very moment, “Mister T”, my dad and I will sit down and savor that last peach pie.

The moment

The moment

Happy Easter!–A re-visitng of an older Post–THE END?

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THE END?

I am on the last few chapters of the Hunger Games.  I have been losing sleep the last three nights due to its riveting intensity of action. I have fallen in love with the characters – Peeta with his unconditional love and the hijacking of it, Gale with his undying loyalty yet clinging to anger, Katniss with her flawed harshness and her fierce love, Prim with her innocence and finding her strength…I am drawn like a moth to the flame or an addict to the needle.  I am sucked in each night, way past my bedtime, with a need to see how it ends, yet something holds me back… I don’t want to say good-bye to Peeta. I will miss Katniss’s valor and attitude. I don’t want it finished. Even as I fly through these last pages of mounting action, I am savoring every last word like they were my last breaths.

I don’t think I am alone in this.  –Not wanting to say good-bye to something. Even if the next novel, the next trilogy, the next job, next relationship, or whatever could be even better, could exceed our wildest dreams or could be “THE ONE?” Good-byes are tough.  I believe it is part of what keeps people locked in abusive relationships and dead end jobs; missing out on what is around the corner or what could be if you just held on a little longer…

Yet, nothing and no one in this life is permanent.

Until recently, I was never a church-goer. I didn’t know that people when to church on Good Friday.  Now that I have been to church on this day, I still don’t quite understand.  How is this day “good?” The Crucifixion? The One who came to save us is hanging on a cross?

John 19:30 records Jesus:  “It is finished!” Then he bowed his head and released his spirit.

When I picture the scene, Jesus’ beaten and abused body hanging on the cross and between two thieves, I can’t help but think about what his mother Mary felt. What Peter was thinking?  The confusion of all of those who followed him to that place. If there ever was a time to think things had hit an absolute bottom, this was it.

I can barely make it through a Good Friday service. Beyond the visual and the corresponding heartache, I don’t want to say good-bye.

Emerson Hart wrote a song for a friend who described to him the conflicting emotions he was having as he faced divorcing his wife. The song’s called “I wish the best for you.”  Check out a few lines:

“How long can we wait here To say goodbye?
The words once they’re spoken Are words that we can’t take Back to where we were, before Things got in the way Life gets so confusing When you know what you’re losing
You Me
Why can’t we see that there’s More to love than we’ll ever know
Sometimes you’re closer when you’re Letting go… I wish the best for you”

 

This song gets me because of the truth of it.

I know.

I’ve walked in those shoes – The very pain of saying good-bye, the hurts of letting go are vividly right in your face, even as you are saying good-bye. Even if you know it is the right thing. It has to happen.

 

After the Resurrection, Jesus spoke to Mary Magdalene in John 20:17: “Don’t cling to me,” Jesus said, “for I haven’t yet ascended to the Father. But go find my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

I tend to forget what is around the next corner; that the story doesn’t end on Good Friday. I forget that this was part of His plan. It had to happen.

“I am leaving you with a gift; peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid. Remember what I told you; I am going away, but I will come back to you again. If you really loved me, you would be happy that I am going to the Father, who is greater than I am. I have told you these things before they happen so that when they do happen, you will believe.

I don’t have much more time to talk to you, because the ruler of this world approaches. He has no power over me, but I will do what the Father requires of me, so that the world will know that I love the Father. Come, let’s be going.” (John 14:27)

He knew what He was going to have to do. There was a purpose to the pain He was going to endure. He said His good-byes.

When I walk into the Good Friday service, I forget to believe. I forget to move my focus to the empty tomb; and the story doesn’t even end there! I get wrapped up in the pain and the stuff of this world and forget who God is—Forgetting that He knows about the pains of this world; that He overcame death; that He still lives.

As I ready myself to say good-bye to Gale, Katniss, Prim and Peeta from The Hunger Games, I remember there is always the movie.  As I dig out my waterproof mascara for the Good Friday service, I remember the Sunday Easter Service. And as we all face the pains of whatever it is we have to let go of, I pray that you hold fast to the peace that Jesus left us with. I pray that you know that there is a plan and a purpose to the pain and that purpose might just be around the next corner.

And I pray that you take heart and hold on to knowing that even though it is finished, it is not the end.

IT IS FINISHED

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IT IS FINISHED

After just recovering from pneumonia, I come back to the real world to be smacked up-side the head with many new issues: water pipes breaking, insurance issues, and an additional “to do” list that I can’t even look at right now.

I need a break.

Hiatus-a gap or a break (Webster’s)

Or- a vacation, a time to be still (Me.)

One of my new year’s resolutions was to achieve more balance.

Yet, I have a tendency to plan up my vacations, my breaks and my still time.

With stuffy nose, tired eyes, a multiplicity of “to-do” lists and my last nerve being frayed, I find myself lost in the land of “burn out.”  I own the fact that I contributed by my own inability to say “no,” my tendency to not be still and to end up un-balanced, and there it is: One more resolution down the drain!

With planning a wedding and the goals of getting two more books published, all while working at the crime lab, managing rentals and…well, life and relationships, and all of the above– I need a break!

I am taking a hiatus from blogging.

— I will continue posting, but it will be in the form of “guest posts” and re-posts. (AND, you can always find me on Twitter and my Julie Stoddard (Eddy) Facebook.)

After my mom has put her “all” into something and finds her input no longer needed or her portion completed, she throws up her hands and shouts, “DONE!”

I promised God that, as long as He provided words for each post, I would continue to honor that.–Thank you GOD! –for being a faithful provider.

I promised to spend the hours upon hours each week if He would show me at least one person was impacted by those words. –Thank you to each person that proved this in their comments or words spoken to me! And Thank God (again) for moving in people to prove this to me!

God is my constant encourager in a world that tends to beat us down.

For me, this blog has been an incredible and humbling journey of God’s provision and faithfulness.

I set out with a goal of one blog posting a week for an entire year.

–Actually OVER-DONE, but God wasn’t finished, so I continued on in the promises to honor His nudging.

 

But before I can throw my hands up, I have to cover this one thing.

It’s a biggie.

I’ve danced around this topic in the blogs for over a year, but because it’s so GI-NORMOUS. I’ve avoided it.

I’ve seen health be devastated by it.

I’ve seen marriages destroyed by it.

I’ve seen co-workers estranged by it.

I’ve seen parents and children’s lives forever damaged by it.

It’s touched my life in very deep ways.

So many great musicians sing about it–

“It’s anger’s own worst enemy”-Matthew West

10th Ave North-“Maybe there’s something I missed But how could they treat me like this? It’s wearing out my heart The way they disregard”

“’Cause we all make mistakes sometimes And we’ve all stepped across that line But nothing’s sweeter than the day we find…” (Toby Mac)

“It’s the hardest thing to give away And the last thing on your mind today It always goes to those that don’t deserve It’s the opposite of how you feel When the pain they caused is just too real It takes everything you have just to say the word…”–Matthew West

And the great Don Henley gets right to the “heart of the matter”:

“The more I know, the less I understand All the things I thought I knew, I’m learning again I’ve been tryin’ to get down to the Heart of the Matter But my will gets weak And my thoughts seem to scatter But I think it’s about…”

 

FORGIVENESS

“Un-forgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” –St. Augustine

Harboring un-forgiveness is deadly.

 

“Girl, you really did it this time.” It’s that nasty voice in my head hissing at me. “This is huge.”

I can almost see the smug smile on his face.

“How can you call yourself a Christian?” He taunts.

This enemy knows the arrows that pierce the worst.

He is now nodding with arms folded across his chest, “What will the ladies in your Bible study say?”

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Me–“Nothing. Because I’ll never tell them! This is too HUGE.  I can’t. I can’t believe I did this. This same sin that tangled me up before I was a Christian. This is huge. I would rather die than tell them this.  –I’ve been a believer for years… and I still couldn’t stop myself. I seriously want to die.”

“Yep,” he hisses his acknowledgement, “You are unforgiveable.”

And I contemplated it: deeply. Pills? Gunshot? Alcohol?  How could I get out of this? All the while, the enemy to my soul was prodding me along.

My thoughts landed on the scene from the movie “The Passion” as Judas, who betrayed Jesus with a kiss, horrified and steeped in his sin, committed suicide. That death was what I earned.

“That’s it! A noose is what I deserve. I am a betrayer of what Jesus had begun in me.”

I breathed a sigh of relief. This pain would end so easily. I was resolved.

But then something happened. The hissing words of the enemy stopped.

All was still.

Through my tears and agonized breathing, I heard a soft whisper, “But look at me.”

I looked up and around. Where was that coming from? In my mind’s eye, I saw it — the bloodied face of Jesus. His face scarred by the crown of thorns, his battered body hanging from the cross.  His sad, piercing eyes rose to mine.

They say the greatest distance traveled is from your mind to your heart—measurably about 1 foot from head to chest, but for an idea to travel from the brain and find its way into your heart—immeasurably far.

A different whisper now, “I did this for you. I paid for your sins past, present and future. It is finished. I’ve already forgiven you.”

I’d read lots about forgiveness; but to see it face to face; to feel His undeserved sacrifice after what I had done.

It was easier before I was a Christian; easier to discuss those nice ideas of grace and mercy, and then to go about your business. But as a Christian, holding yourself to a different standard, and being held by the world to a different standard, and still screwing up.

“But what about the ladies in bible study?” I asked Him.

“You’ve already experienced their unconditional love for you. They love as I do, they forgive as I do.”

“But what I’ve done is…” I hang my head. My thoughts return to nooses, to ending it, to a way out of the pain, “…it’s unforgivable.”

“I know you.” The whispered words convicted me. In a flash of a moment, I understood He saw every moment of my entire life.

“I know your heart. This is part of it all. I am not finished with you.” That gentle whisper again. “I will continue to work out this good thing in you that I have started. But you must understand that you are pre-paid. Look at me.”

When I looked I saw–

I saw hands pierced for me. I saw a mocking crown worn for me. I saw unspeakable pain and death that my sin deserved. My earned sin was redeemed by this: His crucifixion. And I saw the grace and mercy that flowed from the cross. As my eyes traveled the distance from one nail to the other nail across his outstretched arms, that idea of grace suddenly traveled the greatest distance–instantly.

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I became newly aware of the beauty flowing from the symbol I hang from my neck. Bloody, battered, betrayed love extending and enveloping me right there, crouched on my living room floor.

“I see how you forgive me. You are Jesus, you are God…But…” the hiss of my doubts began to rise.

The kind whisper again, “You must forgive yourself as I forgive you.”

“But…how?” My shame, insecurities, doubts and questions up-rise in me like lava.

Continuing on this life journey unfolded like a deep dark chasm before me, I wavered…

“You cannot do this alone. It is my example to you and my power in you that will enable you to accomplish this. And I will never leave you.”

“Never?”

“NEVER.”

Suddenly, the chasm of my circumstances was bridged with His mercy. His forgiveness and faithfulness lifted me up and across the doubts as I was flooded with a new resolve and a new freedom.

So many of us live in the belief of our salvation, but are still chained in bondage and not living in the freedom of our forgiveness.

Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”

Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”—Matthew 18:21

We are to forgive continually; even when it comes to forgiving yourself.

“Most certainly I tell you, whatever things you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever things you release on earth will have been released in heaven.” Matthew  18:18 (WEB version)

Forgiveness brings life to the forgiver. Sometimes the effects are not realized in the world, but are undoubtedly recognized for ever after.

And it’s now about how many times you fall; because we are all going to fall. And it’s not about just getting up, because I see now that is the only choice. I believe it’s what you do when you get up that makes all the difference.

So, as I arise from my knees, what to do about this forgiveness thing?

“Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future.” ~Paul Boese

I realize it isn’t easy. But if I am going to do this life thing, I want a future—and not one steeped in shame and cowering in a corner. I want a future filled with freedom and abundant life!

Remembering the image of Jesus and what he already accomplished for us gives me the visual I need to do this.–I think this is part of what it means to “take up the cross daily.”  (Luke 9:23) Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” It’s difficult and burdensome and it requires a rigorous, daily commitment to focus and carry it out. I find myself continually forgiving myself for my past mistakes, yet that effort has kept me from making the same mistakes again (most of the time!;) I live aware of my human tendencies and realize my need to depend on God for this.  I now also live free in God’s grace and try to spread that around to a world that is severely lacking in this area.

There is a fantastic self-help book out there that will help you along your journey—The Bible.

Forgive as I have forgiven you-(Matthew 6:12)

I will never leave you or forsake you-(Joshua 1:5)

Christ’s power made perfect in our weakness-(2 Corinthians 12:9)

Start with something simple—like forgiving that guy in traffic for cutting you off, or that teenager, with his pants drooping down and underwear hanging out, in the “Express Lane” of the store with 29 things.

Tuck away the knowledge that Christ’s power in you will allow this to occur. Then, when you are in the hang of it, move up to forgiving a neighbor who called the cops on your birthday party, or maybe a co-worker who took all the credit for that project you worked on tirelessly.

Continue on, keeping your eyes on Jesus,—forgive your parent or a sibling who hurt you in senseless ways. Or, find forgiveness for your child who you sacrifice so much for, for whom you would give your life for, but who endlessly hurts you with their words or ingratitude.

And, once you have daily walked this burden of taking up the cross, achieving levels and depths in knowledge and in the power of forgiveness…take the longest journey and tackle that big one—

Forgive yourself.

“I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” (Phil 3:14)

I say it again–

Forgive, Forgive, And FORGIVE. And then forgive, forgive, forgive, forgive….

Live in the freedom of forgiveness, paid by Jesus once and for all at the cross. Extend forgiveness to others, just as it was extended to you. And be gentle to your spirit; always forgiving yourself.

It is, indeed, FINISHED.

And now, I can raise my hands up to heaven and shout it out, like my mom, “I am SO DONE!”