Magic Wrinkle Remover!

It is 82 degrees outside in sunny Scottsdale, Arizona. Bet you can’t guess what I am doing?
Ironing. (Okay, AND writing about it!) 😉

If you know me at all, put down the phone and stop dialing 9-1-1. I have not been abducted by aliens. Yet, I am ironing. I’ve not ironed in three years. And three years ago, I picked up an iron in a gesture of utter sacrifice and ironed my husband’s shirt because he was running late.

(Note: he hasn’t asked me to iron anything again?!)

Before that, it was easily ten years since I held an iron in my hands!
I don’t buy stuff that needs ironing, even if it is on SUPER DUPER SALE. I dislike spending any of my time on this household chore. –I’d rather be at a weeklong convention about taxes! And, again, if you know me (or see me out!)-it shows that I don’t iron. I’m just not any good at it.

But this weekend I cleaned out my closet. The rules were:

DONATE THE ITEM IF IT MEETS THESE THREE FACTORS:
1) It’s not been worn in over a year
2) It’s too small (my darn dryer keeps shrinking all my clothes!) 😉
3) It’s too old and outdated

So I dug in.

Buried in the way back of the closet by the old cowboy boots, yoga bag and warm fuzzy robe, I found not only an iron but also the ironing board I bought at Good Will for $4.98 fifteen years ago! And as I went through every clothing item, subjecting them to the above Three Factors, I came across three things that put me in a quandary: a pair of Columbia khakis, a periwinkle blue pixie skirt and a cap sleeved silver blouse. All three items didn’t meet the above criteria—they were all things I truly wear, are nearly new, and that still actually fit me. I was tempted to donate them solely because they needed ironing.  But I haven’t used the iron and ironing board…Maybe those two things should go?? 😉

iron stuff

Yet, since I’ve inherited issues with discarding things of value (just read my Blog post “Are YOU a boxaholic!”)– I am spending my “sunshine time” IRONING my three salvaged items.

Do they even know how very close they came to being tossed out along with the old wool sweater and acid wash blue jeans?

I know these items don’t appreciate the magnitude of the sacrifice I am making on this glorious spring day. But, I do know the value of having freshly ironed clothes (even if I didn’t appreciate it “way back when!”) My mother sacrificed many a day for my sister and me in this household task that she is extremely skilled in. She spent days, MONTHS realistically, in the room actually designated the “Ironing Room.” She had a process she followed (still does!), all the tools at hand, and support items to transform the wrinkled, worn items. When she was done with her magic, she transformed clothes into beautiful, creases-only-in-all-the-right-places, almost BRAND NEW looking outfits. Growing up, teachers even commented on my freshly pressed clothing! (That NEVER happened in college when I was doing my own laundry–or any time after that!) Yet that truth doesn’t make me change my anti-ironing ways.

Until today.

Two weeks ago when it rained through the weekend, I could’ve done this, but I delayed it until today.

So it is.
I try to somehow channel my mother’s abilities into my hands, this iron and this squirt bottle. I say a little prayer; I breathe deep and press on. 😉

I begin with the most difficult item—the pants. They haven’t been ironed in at least four washes and have lots of pleats and pockets. The spritz, spritz, spritz of the water bottle and the hiss of the iron make me smile as the wrinkles dissipate from the fabric. What powers I yield holding this hot iron!
While I try to focus at not making more creases than I began with, I think this might be how God looks at us. Does He begin His work on us in the hardest parts of our lives?
Hasn’t it been the difficult things of life where I’ve discovered God working on me? And it’s in these very same areas that I’ve felt intense intimacy with a God who loves me just as I am, but also loves me too much to leave me that way. As He skillfully works at the creases and valleys of my life (and each of our lives), He is merciful enough to spritz us with a balm of His cooling grace and forgiveness to protect us as we adapt. Each wrinkle that is lifted away brings us closer to looking the way God already sees us.

Because, as we’re told, in the end, we will all look different.

“That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.” –Ephesians 5:27

As I iron over the fabric, a few stains appear that the wash didn’t quite get out of the pants. –I think this is also like us—the world tends to leave its mark on us from time to time: the scars of our past choices, the sins that so easily entangle, the wounds suffered from living in this fallen, broken world…But as my iron eases over these places, I believe that God knows there will be events in our lives leaving their marks on us.

iron

As I have adapted on this journey, I am equipped my own set of tools to utilize against these blemishes. I will try to remember to try to work on these stains with the aid of some “magic items” before the next wash. Again, in the end of all of these efforts, we will all look different.

Psalm 51:7 “Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.”

As I move onto the delicate fabric of the blouse, I change the temperature of the iron and I ensure a few extra squirts of the bottle to protect it. I think on the times where God’s work in me has been slow and steady, not burning and resulting in immediate change. To have gone from the cursing, partying, wild college girl, to where I am today…These changes took years. And there are still times I fall back into old behavior patterns.– I think again on how God’s work in us is not to harm us, but to make us look different in the end.

I finish my three pieces of ironing and examine them. In my eyes, they hardly look different than when I began. I chuckle a bit at this truth realized in my own journey. Bottom line, this isn’t the end. The efforts made at ironing will have to be made again and again. After the next wash, I will try again with these items, hoping for better results and a few less stains.
And God is faithful in his transformation of us.

The only thing constant in life is change.

God is continually refining each and every one of us along the way. I don’t have it all figured it out, and I probably never will. Yet, as each of us advances in our journey, may you find encouragement in God’s refreshing mercies (which are new every day!) And as He works on your “wrinkles, creases” and difficult areas,  may His grace guide you along, protecting the fabric of who you are, with the goal that, in the end, we will all look brand new!

“Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, 4and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Revelation 21:4-5

“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.

IT IS FINISHED

Image

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?”

Image

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.

Image

 

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!”

The Unseen

Image

UNBROKEN

I requested it; waited weeks for it to come off “HOLD” from Scottsdale’s Public Library and now, I finally had it in my hands; “Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand. I dove in like a ten year old at a pool party on the hottest day of the summer.

I had no idea what I was in for. The Olympics, the running, the crazy boyhood life, the spirited jokes, the military preparations, the flying, the crashing, the inhumanity, the horrors of war…

And, like a terrible car crash, I couldn’t peel my eyes from it. It was heavy. Like any great novel, you are transported there. I needed to take breaks where I could stare into my own reality and recover from the events– and I was only READING it! “Unbroken” is many things, but primarily about one man, Louis Zamperini who, along with so many others, was held as a POW by the Japanese during WWII.

Each day I awoke after a night-time reading of it and somehow I’d changed; unable to return to the daily tasks of life without my perceptions being altered.

I’m willing to bet that everyone who reads this book will take away something different from it. Depending on whether you are a WWII veteran, a Japanese student, a young American, a runner, an Olympian, a mother, a brother, an atheist, an alcoholic… your life’s experiences will determine the message. Yet, there is depth and meaning in it for all. Reading Laura Hillenbrand’s flawless, detailed tale of this amazing, passionate, heroic man’s death-defying, horrendous experience, and what he did with it, leaves you changed.

The dark night of the soul—this is a journey you take reading “Unbroken.”

The dark night of the soul; Biblical teachers write of this. I’ve heard it explained referring to King David. He experienced this darkness when he refused to repent of his sins. King David, whom the Bible refers to as “a man after God’s own heart,” had committed adultery and subsequently ordered the murder of his adulteress’s husband. He experienced this darkness when he refused to repent of his sins. This “dark night of the soul” is what’s experienced when one turns away from God. Unwilling to accept circumstances, unwilling to face one’s own sins, and in capable of doing it on your own, it’s an unfathomably deep and immeasurable darkness that suffocates the soul—it’s a place without hope.

Louis Zamperini knows about the dark night of the soul—but his hell lasted way longer than a night.

To appreciate the power of the transitional experience and the depths Louis found his soul in, you must experience the story for yourself. Yet, as I amass library fines to finish my own journey through the darkness he encountered, I remind myself that the title is: “Unbroken.”

There is survival from this dark night of the soul.

Page 175 of the hardcover is where the tumult of his life came to a pivotal juncture. Laura details an encounter Louis had at a Billy Graham revival– “What God asks of men, said Graham, is faith. His invisibility is the truest test of that faith. To know who sees him, God makes himself unseen.”

Invisible faith.

When one reads of the full on HELL that this one man endured, I can see why some might believe that there wasn’t a God looking out for these souls. And in hindsight, one can dwell in that despair or make a different choice, like Louis did when he chose to be unbroken by it and turn another direction.

It’s always a choice to search for the Unseen or to turn your face from it.

“Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” – John 20:29

 

Now that my journey through this story is concluding, if I had to sum this novel up in one word, I would say HOPE. In encountering the humiliation and depravity that Louis’s journey took him on, coupled with the intense and powerful heights of this champion’s life, it’s easy to see that hope drove him on; hope was never lost; hope was His experience.

He chose to be unbroken and he saw the Unseen.

And now, as I pass on this treasure to the next awaiting soul ready to immerse in the story, I pray, as they view every sentence and watch the events be brought to life in Laura’s words, that they too, will witness the Unseen.

What will you see?

Run 2 Remember

Run 2 Remember

“Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.” John 16:20

Every so often, God’s grace touches down in our lives at the strangest of times…

This is one of those times.

Marne and Me before R2R

Marne and Me before R2R

It was 0-dark thirty, January 6, 2011 and at 20 degrees it is one of the chilliest mornings of the running season. Me and my running partner drove in the warmth of our car down nearly deserted streets to meet up with our friends at a park in Chandler, AZ to partake in a 5K (3.1 miles) race called The Run 2 Remember.

Because of their smaller distances, 5K’s are usually quite fun and festive, with people dressed in costume and loud music blaring. This particular 5K is run in honor of police officers across Arizona who’ve lost their lives. Military, fire departments and others also join in on this race and run to honor those they’ve lost in service.

It’s an emotion-filled, somber race.

Tense with the chill of the morning and the topic of the event, my thoughts turn to those whom I’ve lost and can never forget; I think of who I run for.

My friend, Marne, with whom I was meeting up with this morning, was grudgingly convinced (by me!) that moving from Colorado to Arizona was a good idea. But, with her deep attachments to family and her intense love of the Rocky Mountains, she was only staying a year; after that I was on my own.

Yet that day in 2011, the7th anniversary of the Run 2 Remember marked our 15th year in the desert.

It also marked another unforgettable day.

Having been in track and cross country, I’ve run so many different races, I’ve lost count. But Marne, a gymnast and a brand new runner, with her husband and three kids to commemorate, was running her very first 5K race.

As they go to get donuts, Marne and I begin affixing our race numbers.

She looks at me with a quivering lip.

“Don’t be nervous. You’ll do great; just run your own pace.” I assure her.

She shakes her head and looks down, “Jules, today is the 7th anniversary of when my dad died.” Her eyes well up as she looks at me, “Can you believe it’s been seven years??”

I flash back to the memories I have of her father; rosy cheeked and always smiling, with his full shock of white hair…I remember the devastation in her voice when she called to tell me of his unexpected death those seven years ago today.

Today, already feeling overcome, I simply don’t have words. I just hug her.

Arm-in-arm, we stand at the starting line. The gun goes off and hundreds of running shoes crunch across frozen desert tundra. We wind around the sidewalks and canals that make up this course. We choke up reading the t-shirts with the photos of loved ones lost in the line of duty. Gasps are heard in the midst of frosty exhales as many are also touched.

We can barely breathe as we watch the U.S. Marines, with frozen hands bravely hoisting heavy American flags, racing along honoring their friends, their family members, their brothers who served and sacrificed.

Running is a great coping method; the forward motion of it, the ease of getting into a rhythm where your mind can wander into forgotten realms. Running forces you to breathe and to push forward when you would much rather stay paralyzed in grief and stuck in a stagnant loss.

With each step, our pace accelerates. Mile by mile, we continue passing countless others lost in their very own races against memory and sorrow.

With each foot-fall advanced and breath inhaled, the light of dawn grows stronger.

Something unexplainable happened as we pushed ourselves on this cold morning. As we changed stride and began sprinting across the last few hundred yards of the race, lost in breath and motion, something else lifted us and pushed us forward…We finished exhausted, frozen and exhilarated.

This day, this anniversary for my friend will be one she will never forget.

With her three kids whopping and hollering and her husband and us tearfully cheering, she accepted her first place medal with such a shocked smile spread across her face. (And for those of us who run 5K’s, we know this is a really, really BIG DEAL!)

First Place!

“Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” Psalm 30:5

Watching her accept her medal and pose for photos, my mind flashed back to the jovial and grinning image I have of her father. This day, the day her father died, but this new day, also her very first race and a first place finish. As if giving her permission to be something other than sad on this day, delivered straight from heaven was something to make her smile on this anniversary.

This was, indeed, a run to remember.

SOLD OUT

SOLD OUT

twinkie shelves from blogs.etruth.com

Sold out. It’s usually not a good feeling when you hear that.

You searched all over for it.

You located it.

You had to have it.

You waited for it to go on sale. Then, just as you were to retrieve your reward —

“Sorry, ma’am. We SOLD OUT.”

Nothing left.

Like the shelves of every convenience store the day after Hostess announced the end of the Twinkie.

GONE.

And such is the tendency of this world. We look for something to fill us up and realize it has the same ability to disappear as quickly as we attained it.

 

But when you leave it to God, the Master Creator, He has the power to create something from nothing.

“The Lord merely spoke and the heavens were created.” (Psalm 33:6)

“In the beginning…the earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” (Genesis1:2)

And then there was sky, and dry ground, and seeds and plants, and seasons, and day, and all the fish, birds and animals, and mankind…

“So the creation of the heavens and earth and everything in them was completed.” (Genesis 2:1)

And it was good.

Not bad for 6 days work.

And don’t we all like to think we can create some pretty terrific things in our weeks? See, I think I have things figured out in my life. I love being the master creator of my “weeks” and my own little world. How I act and dress, where I work, what I do, how I spend, what I eat and who I choose to be with. Everything I accomplish — I like to take credit for.

And, there are some really cool things that we humans can “take credit for.”

 

Like the Twinkie. What a creative invention we humans came up with! Who was the genius that said, “I am turning this cake thing upside down and inside out!” They created a cake where the frosting is protected. A moist, spongy, yellow cake infused with creamy, sweet filling giving each mouthful the perfect amount of sweetness paired with cake; all wrapped up and easily enjoyed anywhere! Plus, their shelf-life guarantees you will always have the ability to enjoy them, like, almost forever. Almost.

My mom loves these things! She always has two or three boxes on the snack shelf at home. She calls them her “fountain of youth” and believes all those preservatives help keep her young. But NOTHING in this world lasts forever. Nothing.

Poof.

Nearly overnight, my mom’s shelf was bare. The Twinkie was no more. Hostess decided it’s “shelf-life” was over. Everywhere you turned, Circle K, Wal-Mart, Safeway, Piggly Wiggly and even AMAZON, the world’s largest marketplace—SOLD OUT.

Moments of accomplishment can quickly dissipate; feelings of happiness are fleeting and temporary. Stuff of this life, is just…stuff.

And, as Dr. Phil would say, “How’s that working for you?”

Nothing in this world lasts forever.

Enter Jesus.

God not only created all things, He also took on flesh and lived among us. (Emmanuel translated means “God with us.”) God shows us the true example of how to live in this world and to not end up with that empty feeling.

Jesus–

“I am come so that they may have life and have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10)

Leave it to God to come to us, meet us where we are at and bring fullness from emptiness. He takes everything we think is right and turns it upside down and inside out.

Jesus, born in a manger.

God made human.

One innocent, murdered for all the guilty.

A King for all eternity and for all creation.

He tells us to have everything, you must lose everything about yourself. To have Jesus and life to the fullest, you must be SOLD OUT to what this world expects from you.

 

When in doubt, TRUST

When in need, GIVE

When persecuted, LOVE

When betrayed, FORGIVE

 

He says to love our enemies, even as they hate us. He asks us to extend mercy, even when we aren’t shown any. He shows us how to live in gentleness and humility even in a barbarian world. He tells us how to live everlasting when all else will fade to nothing. Give Jesus your heart, literally “selling out” to Jesus and the opposite of nothing happens.

Matthew Chapter 5 tells us:

Those who find themselves in utter desperation for Jesus will be given the Kingdom of Heaven.

The persecuted will be blessed.

The broken will be made new.

And the meek will inherit it all.

With Jesus, you will never thirst again, you will not hunger and you will have peace beyond understanding.

So, when the world has stripped your shelves bare, eaten away at every last grain you have to offer and you feel you have nothing left. That is when you experience the fullness a life with Jesus can supply.

God is our endless supply

Jesus is the Hope to fill the shelves of our hearts.

To have everything, be SOLD OUT.

And it was good.