To the Moon and Back?

Psalm 19:1 “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands”

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“Love you to the moon and back”—I’ve wondered about this phrase; seen it on necklaces; spoken to children from their parents; pretty sure there’s a book about it somewhere.
The moon. It is beautiful. We gaze upon it’s stunning light when it’s full; we marvel at it as our earth sometimes eclipses it—It revolves around us—we REALLY love the moon. And since we have landed on it, it is discoverable. It is 238,855 miles from the earth and back.

That’s pretty far. But then I reflect on the sun—

I just returned from a run in the desert of Arizona. In April. I underestimated the power of the SUN. There’s talk that this week we might hit our first 100 degree day.
93 million miles away from the earth and still that sun is something to reckon with.

Mercifully, it’s April 9th. I have time to prepare for the scorching days to come. But I had forgotten: forgot to take enough water, forgot to wear sunscreen, forgot about those extra “pizza-pounds” I am carrying along for the ride. I forgot how awful it feels to be THIRSTY…The cotton that fills your mouth, the salty sweat dripping into your eyes and mouth, making the journey even just a little more challenging. The whole time I kept reminding myself bout the gloriously tall glass of ice water awaiting my return.
Just gotta make it home…

Obviously, I didn’t perish. (I am writing this 😉
But-
“Summer is coming”
And it’s going to be BRUTAL.

Why don’t we say, “Love you to the Sun and back?”
At those roughly 93,000,000 miles away, it is 400 times farther away than the moon.
One way.
The suns’s diameter is 400 times greater than the moon’s.
This majestic sun is the source of the light that reflects off the moon that we love to gaze upon. It is so darn formidable, that we cannot even gaze upon it without damaging our eyes.
When it gets eclipsed, it’s a national phenomenon. And we revolve around it.

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—-
I like routine. I am comforted by things that repeat—things I can count on; even if the things are tedious; like getting up every morning at 5:30 am to go to work, flossing, church on Sundays.

There are also my favorite repeating things—things that bring intense joy; like dining on three meals a day (sometimes all pizza!), kissing my husband every time we say “cheers,” and church on Sundays. ;0

I have this friend who will point out things in nature that blow your mind. Things like seasons telling of the cycles of life, sunsets creating colors that no Costco size of crayons could ever capture and even the intricacies of the human eyes displaying the grandeur of His attention to detail. Things that she believes reflect a God who is so creative!

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“And as You speak
A hundred billion galaxies are born
In the vapor of Your breath the planets form

And as You speak
A hundred billion creatures catch Your breath
Evolving in pursuit of what You said
If it all reveals Your nature so will I
I can see Your heart in everything You say
Every painted sky
A canvas of Your grace”—HillSong United

If it’s true, that all things in nature are a whisper of who God is; then …

The sun is ALL MIGHTY-The source of our light: intense, powerful, all-consuming, and lighting us through our days—all across the earth and beyond into the universe. God placed the earth at the exact distance from the sun so that it would heat to just the right temperatures for human life and animal life to be sustained and multiplied (except for the summer in Arizona when we must hibernate;) On earth, the sun brings plants its source and ability to create food… After a chilly night, the sun greets us in it’s magnificence, warms us throughout the day and even as it sets, like my friend points out, it reminds us of His marvelous and colorful creativity!

And when the dark of night comes, we are reminded that the sun has not really left us. The moon, who’s light comes from the sun, becomes our guide in the darkness. It can illuminate the areas where our enemies can snare us. And it’s not a wimpy moon. This mere reflection along with the help of the sun has the power to move the masses of oceans and seas, and creates the tides that, as they ebb and flow, also remind us of His provision.

And the moon, on its waxing and waning journey can be hidden from the shadows cast by our world, but as it continues on faithfully, cycle after cycle, the light returns. Repetitious: sliver by sliver, it is born again, full and new.

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There have been many a time when I felt that God was more than a universe away from me. Times when I felt darkness pressing against my soul—divorce, death of a loved one, watching a friend suffer…

Yet, in His constant faithfulness during those chaotic times, I would be reminded of His nearness. When my dad died in the spring of 2008, A peach tree in his backyard that had not produced a single piece of fruit, overflowed with peaches the very summer after his passing. This spoke to me of a God who not only takes away but also One who GIVES. It was enough.

Maybe the Sun is telling us about God, our Source and Creator, and the Moon, as a Reflector of His light is a representation of Jesus, who’s light illuminated the earth.
And it was on the earth, that Jesus’s light was blotted out by those who did not understand this light; just to be reborn to shine again brightly.
Faithful and constant, through the cycles of our lives, as the tides ebb and flow away the days, we can get lost in the tedium. Yet, Jesus continues to make us His focus; still caring about every hair on our head. The moon and the sun, daily serve as reminders reflecting His constant presence— that He will never leave us, He will never give up on us. He is always there to shine into the deepest parts of our hearts, to bring nourishment to the seeds of faith planted in the human heart from the beginning of time and to sustain us as we walk through the days and nights, together with Him.

“If the stars were made to worship so will I
If the mountains bow in reverence so will I
If the oceans roar Your greatness so will I
For if everything exists to lift You high so will I
If the wind goes where You send it so will I
If the rocks cry out in silence so will I”
Hillsong United

And as I return HOME from my journey with the scorching reminder of the formidable sun, and I take a long drink out of the tall, ice-cold water cup, I am reminded that I have available to me the living water that will allow me to never thirst again. I’m reminded of the One who has been chasing me on my journey, One that will leave the 99. And I’m reminded of the All Powerful One who is the source of it all, continually awing me with beauty and power reflected in a nature that is beyond my understanding. A love that blows my mind …a hundred billion times

“God of salvation
You chased down my heart
Through all of my failure and pride
On a hill You created
The light of the world
Abandoned in darkness to die” —Hillsong United

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And, God who created all this and every one of us; who, through His Son, Jesus, and His sacrifice for us, testifies to all the earth that His light can never be extinguished. And this All Powerful, mighty Creator— He loves us to the SON and back.

Christmas Cookies

“My sugar cookie tastes like peanut butter!” my hubs proclaimed as he chomped on the first tastes of the new year.

We had compiled a tin of all of our favorites Christmas cookies to enjoy on our return trip from spending the holiday in Colorado. Mom made all our favorites: sugar cookies, peanut butter marble whorls, peanut bars, lemon bars…

Christmas Cookies

Christmas Cookies

Yet, once thrown all into the same container and left to sit for a day or two, all of them tasted like peanut butter!

I tested for myself 8)

I’m always amazed at how God speaks to us; through His creation, His church, the magnificence of a sunset, the brilliance of poetry, and…Christmas cookies.

I’m amazed at how my resolution to quit cussing is quickly washed away when I spend an hour or two in a traffic jam.

I’m appalled at my nightmares and thoughts after I watch a few horror movies and listen to some “angry music.”

When I watch enough late night tv, I simply want to eat burgers and go shopping for the latest …whatever!—This world has its temptations and can permeate into us so easily…

Yet,when we throw ourselves in with the love of family, time with friends, more enjoyment, laughter, memory making, joy, kindness, hope and– peanut butter; we tend to be more hopeful, enjoyable, and filled with the fragrance of love and laughter—it permeates and emanates.

“O be careful little eyes what you see…

O be careful little ears what you hear…

O be careful little hands what you do…

O be careful little feet where you go…

O be careful little mouth what you say…”

Recently, a good friend of mine stated, “I’m done wasting my time on people who aren’t okay with who they are. I want to spend more time with people who are at ease and know who they are!”

I get it. Those people can permeate into us and make us feel … well, we can feel less, feel guilt, and not feel okay.

Yet, sometimes these people are our co-workers, our friends, our family. So…what then?

I think God asks us to be the fragrance of change. Be the fragrance of forgiveness. Be the hope of things being okay.

He asks us to be the peanut butter.

May your 2016 be filled with the fragrances of gentleness, gratitude, hope, kindness and Christmas cookies.

Are you ready?

 

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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

Kids these days…

Frank A Clark from quoteswave.com

Frank A Clark from quoteswave.com

 

What if you had someone in your life who said to you, “You are the only thing that matters to me. I love you fiercely. I will never, never, never, NEVER give up on you. Ever.”

“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins”–1 Peter 4:8

Parenthood–

“That heart-swelling, earth-shattering, all-consuming love for your kids is what creates the challenges of parenting, yet make them all worthwhile. It’s the cause of your woes, yet also the cure. It’s the force that drives you to near-madness, yet the balm that soothes your battered heart. Love makes parenting tougher, but it also makes it easier.”—Annie Reneau from her blog “9 Reasons Why Parenting is the World’s Hardest Job” (For some encouragement and perspective, check out Annie at: www.facebook.com/motherhoodandmore and www.motherhoodandmore.com)

 

“I see their faces, look in their innocent eyes

They’re just children from the outside

I’m working hard, I tell myself they’ll be fine

They’re in independent But on the inside, I can hear them saying…”

–Sanctus Real lyrics to “Lead Me”

 

In a world where the names of Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight bring to life every parent’s nightmare, where “Sandy Hook and Columbine” conjure up images of terror instead of learning and when “Century 21” is no longer a night at the movies; I cannot imagine how much more difficult, terrifying and crucial the job of a parent is these days.

It is 2 a.m. on a snowy, cold Colorado night…um…morning–

ME: Breathing heavy through my sniffles, “Mom, come pick me up.”

MOM: “Where are you? Are you okay?”

ME: “Come get me.” Sniffles turn to sobs, “It’s too–I can’t–I can’t do this anymore.”

Mom: “Calm down, honey. Deep breaths. Are you okay?”

ME: through sobs, “Yes..yes..I’m okay.”

MOM: “I’ll come get you, but why don’t you get a good night’s rest? If you feel the same in the morning, I will come get you.”

ME: Breathing a little calmer, “Promise?”

MOM: “Promise.”

–I was twenty and living away from home for the first time at the university located 30 long minutes away from home.;) The terrible visions I had branded in my mind as I walked in on “the situation” that night did not seem as devastating by the morning light.

Sometimes you must shake the dust off your shoes and move on. I learned this that night.

All the unsolicited advice, the tumbles I took as I learned to walk, the countless band-aids and “mom spit” rubbed on wounds and that heartbroken night I made the phone call, I needed to know I had someone who wouldn’t give up on me.

mother-daughter[1]

Even at age 20, I still needed my mom to “pick me up.”–And she still does.

I told her I hated her and never wanted to talk with her EVER again when she grounded me for my junior year of high school (which, in hindsight, I totally earned!) ;)—And yet, she loves me anyway.

Just last week, I received a care package from her.

 

These days parents are working in a culture counter to effective families, working in homes that are divided in divorce and preparing kids for schools that have a common procedures for “lock downs.”

Kids these days are making decisions in a world cluttered with collisions of faith and strewn with newer and more addictive drugs. Our youth are facing temptations in a society laced with violence, bullying and media outlets where it is all thrust before them 24/7.

I watch as friends and family who joyously embarked on the path of parenthood, begin to struggle, wrestle and battle with things as their children discover this big, awful, terrible, beautiful, tragic, magnificent world we live in.

I don’t believe I have the resilient heart required for that of a successful parent these days. – I stand at the sidelines of this nail-biting adventure and cheer you all on…

Because of these life threatening hazards in raising kids these days, there ought to be a warning label affixed to those darling newborn babies. I think it would read like this–

Surgeon General’s Warning to Parents:

May cause: sleepless nights, headaches, heartaches, nervousness, extreme worry, depression, discouragement, disappointment, anger, sudden bursts of uncontrollable rage; May interfere with: your work life, your social life, your home life, your relationships to all, your ability to get up in the morning, your immunity to all illnesses…

 

“They step on your toes when they are young…”

-Good thing babies are so cute and innocent, because…

“… they step on your heart when they get older.”

-And then one can so easily forget their innocence.

But love them anyway.

 

I can name several parents who’re wishing they had the warning label.

—I wonder, would they make a different choice??

If you are one of those brave souls on the path of a parent, warning label or not, your heart must be strong, your skin must be thick and you MUST lead them through the hazards of this life.

No matter the age, in spite who your child decides to hang out with, regardless of those hormones changing their personality, and no matter how much they say they hate you, your child will ALWAYS need you by their side and to be willing to “pick them up.”

lead me5-Sanctus Real “Lead Me”

 

They need you to be their advocate in a world that is overcrowded with newer, more dangerous, more lethal avenues of life. As they journey, their paths can lead into more harrowing repercussions; they know NOT where they may tread.

They need you to set boundaries. Let them know that there are choices that take them too far.

They need you to forgive them when they say they hate you; they know NOT what they say.

They need you to lead them; to go before them and show them the way.

“I will go before you… and level the mountains and smash down the city gates of brass and iron bars.”—Isaiah 45:2

And they will always need you to pick them up; for when they fall these days, they fall hard.

And parents, I pray you would be encouraged. For all who have chosen the pitfall-laden path of parenthood, may you always remember that there is One who has gone before you. The Sidewalk Prophets sing “Love Me Anyway” which is a song that paints a picture of God’s love for you:

“I am the thorn in Your crown

But You love me anyway

I am the sweat from Your brow

But You love me anyway

I am the nail in Your wrist

But You love me anyway

I am Judas’ kiss

But You love me anyway”

 

—May God strengthen you for this journey—for He goes before you and He is with you.

 

He loves us anyway.

He is the One who shows us how to forgive when it is counter culture.

He is the one who shines light into the dark places.

And He is the one who helps us to love when it seems much easier to give up.

And He will never, never, never, NEVER give up on you. Ever.

“And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:20

il_570xN.391168237_40n4[1]

My Wish

I WISH…

 

genie

genie

 

 

 

 

Besides MORE WISHES—if you could wish for anything, what would you wish for?

My new husband and I are training for our first triathlon together. We have our “we-enjoyed-way-too-much-on-our-honeymoon-bodies” and yet we squished into our swimwear and headed to the community pool for a lap swim/workout. It didn’t take long for our discontent to float to the surface:

 

ME, nodding toward the woman my age with golden brown skin and a Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition physique: “I wish I had arms like her.”

HIM, nodding toward the spandex laden Michael Phelps look-a-like: “Wow, he doesn’t need to be here. I wish I was in swim shape like that.”

If I could wish for anything, would I really wish for her arms?

And, besides more wishes, what would I really wish for?

We dip into our lanes and begin the work out. Trying not to drown in the monotony of swimming laps, I ponder my wish list–

Drops of water seep into my already fogging goggles.

Can’t wish for more wishes

I inhale chloriney pool water kicked up at me by my lap swimming partner.

Wish I didn’t commit to this triathlon

Despite the “foggles” and the splashes, I breathe deep and press on. I fall into the rhythm of the breath, the plunge, the strokes, the kicks, the breath and I withdraw into my wishes–

Any wish I wanted—anything??

I wish I could fly like a bird–especially when I am running, in the AZ heat, and my legs feel like bricks and my lungs are working like a black mule hiking up the Grand Canyon.–I wish I could take off and soar effortlessly through a trade wind with a light body, the sunshine on my shoulders, and the spectacular Kauai coastline stretched out before me, captivating me with the beauty of the sea in an eternal embrace of the pearly white sand shore.

And If I did get more wishes–I wish I had moves like Mick Jaggar—(Actually, I wish I had any moves at all.) To be able to dance so effortlessly that it looks like liquid beauty in motion; pure joy!

I wish I had more time in the day.

I wish I had the bank account of Oprah.

I wish I could diet like Christina Aguilera.

I wish I had one more day with my beloved grandparents and one more day with my dad.

I wish… I wish… I wish my pool workout was already done.

 

I think a lot of us spend a lot of time wishing for things that just aren’t going to happen.

Be careful what you wish for...

Be careful what you wish for…

 

Or, wishing for things that they should really think twice about asking for!

-I have this friend who spends much of her time wishing for more time. She is miserable—what would more time do? More time to be miserable?

-I have this other friend who wishes she looked as beautiful as the friend who wishes for more time. But the “beautiful friend” doesn’t believe she is beautiful, so would the wish not work?

-I have another friend plagued with worries about money. Yet, she is more financially secure than the “beautiful friend” and “time wishing friend” and, really—more than 90% of the people I know. Yet, she wishes she could be more financially secure.

All this time spent wishing, I lose focus on what I have right in front of me (and in this pool workout, I might get kicked if I am not careful!).

 

A friend recently shared this poignant quote with me, “If I only had today, what I was grateful for yesterday, what would I have?”

 

All this wishing for impossible things is a thief that steals the moment, steals one’s ability to feel gratitude and steals away the appreciation of the everyday gifts that God provides faithfully.

 

Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out; you formed me in my mother’s womb.

I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking!

Body and soul, I am marvelously made! I worship in adoration—what a creation!

You know me inside and out, you know every bone in my body;

You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit, how I was sculpted from nothing into something.

Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth; all the stages of my life were spread out before you,

The days of my life all prepared before I’d even lived one day.

Psalm 139:14 The Message Bible

I conclude my pool workout and dry off my 40-something body as I watch all the wonderfully different shapes, sizes and ages enjoying this glorious refreshing pool. As my training has progressed and my age continues, I am coming to terms with the reality that, no matter how many laps I swim or “downward facing dog” poses I hold, I am going to battle the “40-something” underarm dance. And, maybe this is the only dance that I will be good at! 😉

 

I close my eyes and feel the Arizona heat warming me all around while I think back on that sea and that shore that I love in Hawaii; created by explosions throughout time and by a Creator who placed it all in motion–

Each of us is created uniquely beautiful by the ultimate Creator of all marvelous things-Isn’t it time we start believing this?

 

And we all have the same amount of time in the day. Wouldn’t it be better to appreciate every single minute we still have, so we soak up those minutes with the ones we love that we still have with us?

 

And each of us has the “financial security” that God will provide.

Jesus reminds us in Matthew 6:25, “That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are?”

 

And now that I think about it; I don’t need to fly like a bird. I am far more valuable than that!

And, I don’t need a magic lamp or a genie to provide me with more wishes; I have just one wish:

I wish: Each and every one of you finds joy in living in the moment, peace with who you are, friendships lasting through hardships, love so deep you get lost in it, security in knowing Jesus and where you are headed, hope enough to get you through the tough stuff, kindness of strangers at just the right moment, faith in knowing there is purpose to it all, beauty of the simple things, and an appreciation of it all when it is everywhere around you, within you and right in front of you.

 

Now, tell me your wish.

 

“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

Is it finished?

Question: How do you eat an elephant?

 

 

How do you eat an elephant?

How do you eat an elephant?

Answer: One bite at a time.

I love this! Whenever I have a task, project, event or any challenging, time consuming, and effort-exhausting item on my “Things TO DO” list, I remember this.
Just start with a bite (and it usually is a pizza) ;)…but it begins.
When I set out to pursue writing and took on the idea of a weekly blog – it felt like a herd of elephants; trampling on my every plan of how I want to spend my time. And yet, here I am again. Let me explain…

We ascended the path uphill on one of our favorite walks in southern Oregon. The subdivision houses packed in side by side turn into countryside. The wildlife sightings increase and the open air, farms and landscaped beauty explode across the senses. Scents of earthy manure, wildflowers and the occasional whiff of a skunk assault the olfactory nerves.

Our walk

Our walk

It’s July 4th and even the back country roads are more quiet than usual.

Wildlife!

Wildlife!

As we plugged along uphill, we felt the temperatures of our bodies and the heat of the black asphalt warming; perspiration beads across our foreheads and trickles down our bodies. We approached the awe inspiring work of a new vineyard. Row after perfectly aligned row greeted us. We both smiled as we saw the bright green leaves popping their heads out of the cream colored encasements at the base of the planting; evidence of success.

Baby vines peeking out

Baby vines peeking out

As we walked, we reminisced about the progress; remembering when the hillside contained rocks, majestic oaks, brambles, thistles, grasses and probably innumerable amounts of other surprises.
The oaks were transported, one by one.
The rocks relocated, load by load.
And the grasses and other ground cover all removed.—That alone took several seasons.
Then came the rows and rows, upon rows and rows– of lines, of plantings, of piping, of draining systems, of watering systems…
Years later (and minutes later in our walk,) we neared the far end of this newest vineyard.

 The far end

The far end

We were a bit surprised to find another soul out here. An older gentleman, possibly in his 50’s or 60’s was hunched over and at work in what captured our attention. He was pulling weeds amidst the last few rows. As our journey neared him, he stood up and walked closer to us:

“Beautiful morning,huh?” he said to us looking up.

“You bet!” we replied, “Got your holiday plans set for you, huh?” We said as our eyes scanned row after row of the baby vineyard with the acres upon acres of vines that he was working his way through.

“Yep! All by hand; no pesticides! Trying to get rid of the poison oak and hand pulling everything else.”
Our jaws dropped. We were speechless.

“You watched the progress of this?” He asked.
“We have.” We nodded our heads, “Totally amazing how a field has been turned into…all of this.”
“Quite a project…” he looked back at the row he had just left.
“Really does a number on the back …and the hamstrings…but it’s cool to see the progress…”
Our conversation continued for a bit, and then we turned and continued up the hill and let him get back to his work.

“Wow! And we thought our weed pulling was a pain?!”

As we got to the top of the hill we stopped, looked out and, in awed silence, we admired his “project.”

 

His work

His work

 

“All by hand?” I thought.
I pondered what the rest of his holiday would entail- still so much work to do.
And so much more each and every season. Did he have help?
Not to mention the utter dependence on the sun, the soil, the climates; the uncertainty of what the wind might blow his way.
Will his work ever be finished?

The next day at Table Rock Fellowship, a church in the neighboring town, the Pastor spoke to those who listened of the beauty and privilege he feels when he gets to share his testimony and spread the love and message of Jesus. I listened in humility as he shared his story, then looked out at the hundreds of people, rows upon rows of seekers that he was reaching.
– He even mentioned a story of an elephant.

I am convicted of my own “work” once again.

“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5

I believe there is work to be done; in the landscape of my heart and in the fields where I have been planted. I know there are people listening, watching, (and hopefully!) reading who need to hear a little love—people who need to hear the Truth.
All that God ever asks of us is to Trust in Him, rely on Him, believe in Him and be willing to be open ourselves up to how He can use each and every one of us.

Keeping my eyes on the Master Gardener, I know that I am not alone in this task (for He is ALWAYS with me) and I know that I am not the only one He has working for him.
I seek, connect and open my ears and eyes as the fields before me expand.

I climb the stairs to my office and type in the password to my computer.

I close my eyes and reminisce on God’s faithfulness over these last months while so much took place: the planning, the marrying, the moving, the honeymooning…

I open my eyes to my bible and study God’s word and the vines.
I listen; I trust; I rely on Him and prepare my heart and soul to be weeded.
I believe.
As I return to the blog and the task written in my heart, I type the first sentence—“Is it finished?”

And I take yet another bite.