Upside Down Love

UPSIDE DOWN LOVE

John 3:16

You guys know this one. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

But, I wonder, do you know about John?

As I’ve studied more about the Bible, I’ve learned more about John. (I usually relate more to the disciple Peter—the one who spoke boldly, but then would waver and screw up—I totally relate to that.) But this John refers to himself as “the disciple who Jesus loved.”

Why don’t I relate to that more? Why don’t all of us relate to that more?

Love.

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Love and Marriage Engagement photo by Greenlight Photography

 

It’s the statue in Old Town Scottsdale that my fiancé and I took our engagement photos around.

It’s what we promised to do “until death do us part.”

It’s on the coffee mug that I bought for him on our three year anniversary.

And he loved that coffee mug.

So much so, that he uses it every day.

Little did I know that it couldn’t go in the dishwasher…and my husband is really busy in the morning: up at 4 am, out the door by 6 am, back home at 6 pm to grade papers. He’s a teacher, so he often doesn’t have time to wash the dishes in the sink.

And that irritates me. Every day.

I mean, how much effort does it take to wash that mug? Obviously, too much for him.

So, every day, that LOVE cup sits there and talks to me from the sink, “Remember that fight where you were wrong? And he forgave you even before you admitted you were wrong?” It urges, “WASH ME.”

Then there’s this other voice that speaks up, “JEEZ— it’s your day off—didn’t he even think you might want to do nothing today?”

Back and forth. Two opposing voices. One on each shoulder battling it out over LOVE inside me

But something is happening.

—-

“In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind.” Job 12:10

I was walking and talking with a friend about an exquisite (and very expensive!) piece of art that she and her husband had both admired and then decided to “splurge” and to purchase. Having this piece for their very own would allow them to be enchanted by it on a daily basis. But it was like she had to justify it to me.

“It’s really spectacular. But beyond that, the artist is a genuinely nice guy. He has helped me when I was hurting, encouraged me when I was struggling, and he’s been there for me in so many ways,” she explained. “I love this piece we bought. It represents so much. I already loved it and because I know the creator of it, it makes me love it even more!”

—-

I have been struggling with some defensive, gossip-y, and often down-right mean individuals with whom I share an office building. There are times when I walk in the room and suddenly they hush up.  Hmm…

Other times, I’ve overheard the complaining and back-talking about others in the workplace and, yes, there are times when I get sucked into the talk.

It’s a slippery slope.

And once I get sucked in to the “conversation,” it is quite difficult to get out. Then I feel awful. I feel worse than I did when I believed it was me that was being talked about.  This back and forth struggle of opposing forces in the world…Where’s the LOVE?

But something is happening.

“In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land.” Psalm 95: 4-5

I’ve been reading my Bible; studying the stories about the Creator of the universe.

“By the word of the LORD were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth.” NIV Psalm 33:6. “The LORD merely spoke, and the heavens were created. He breathed, and all the stars were born.”

It’s something to wrap your brain around—a Creator who can just exhale and out comes the Milky Way! And what’s cool is that the very same “star breathing” Creator also made you and me; breathing His breath into us as we are born.

And, as told to us beautifully by John, that same Creator loves us so much that he sent his one and only son, Jesus, to earth to show us what Love is.

The more I study, the more I read about this unconditional, faithful, immeasurable LOVE, the more I want of it!

John, the one who Jesus loved, tells us :

“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”-John 15:13

And it gets even more crazy. This LOVE that Jesus teaches throughout the Bible in Luke 6:29 says, “If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them.”

Hmmm…

And, ultimately, even more remarkable is the type of love discussed in Romans 5:8:

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

A true representation at the Cross: A love that died for the sinner that repented AND died for the one who didn’t.

The more I read, study, discover, ponder… something is happening to me

I think my friend hit on this when she so wisely observed, because I know the creator, it makes me love even more.

LOVE

On those days when I am exhausted and just want to do NOTHING, it urges me to not only wash the LOVE mug, but to do ALL the laundry, get to the grocery store, make lunches for the week and send him a text that I’m thinking of him and praying for his day…

But that’s my husband.

I can grasp the brotherly love; the parental type of love that would sacrifice one self for those you love. But to die for the ones who are asking for your shirt? Slapping your face? Betraying you? Disappointing you?

I’ve heard it said, “Those least deserving of our love, are the ones most needing of it.”

That’s upside down.

And yet, I am suddenly reminded of those times I listened to the “other voice.” The times I slid down the slippery slope and got involved in the gossip, and played a part in things that were UN-loving— No wonder I don’t associate myself as one who Jesus loved—do I deserve it?

“I am the thorn in your crown, but you love me anyway”-Sidewalk Prophets

And then I read about Jesus explaining why he took on flesh and came to the earth in Mathew, Mark and Luke–He said, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick.” 

Those, like me, who struggle with those two opposing forces. Those, like me and Peter, those who keep screwing up.

A Savior was sent because we need saving!

I read about Jesus’s last moments on earth- nestled between those two thieves, listening to their voices. Two souls in opposition fighting it out.

He reconciled it for the repentant sinner who listened to the voice of LOVE.

AND He reconciled it for the one who rejected Him.

Jesus did it for the Johns and for the Peters.

For those who are well and for the sick.

For the you’s and the me’s.

Willing to die for every last one of us.

As he exhaled his last breath on earth, He loved.

Oh how I wish I could love like that.

But something is happening to me—The more I experience my Creator’s mercy toward me, the more I am moved to extend it to those I’m struggling with. But not on my own. Without my Helper, that kind of forgiveness or tolerance is much too difficult. But with Him, I don’t have to do it alone—He who is in me is  much greater than me. He can do the things that I cannot.

I recall over my life, how my Creator has been there when I was hurting, I sense His LOVE and encouragement when I’m struggling, and I see His artwork all around me uplifting me and speaking to me in so many ways. I see it in my husband as he bears with me when I don’t wash his LOVE mug every day. And, as I allow my life to be turned upside down, He allows me to see the pain in those that have hurt me instead of myself.

As I learn more and more about the power of His LOVE, the more I Listen to the voice that says  “WASH ME.”

The more of Him (and less of me!), the more His Upside down kind of LOVE is available in me—To be poured out to a hurting world from my own Love cup.

I want to know Him more.

And then I found out about Peter. That disciple that I relate to the most.

“According to Christian tradition, Peter was crucified in Rome under Emperor Nero Augustus Caesar. It is traditionally held that he was crucified upside down at his own request, since he saw himself unworthy to be crucified in the same way as Jesus.”-Wikipedia

A love so impactful it cannot help but completely turn everything upside down.

I see how this Upside down Love, proven at the Cross, is poured out on the World from The Creator’s Love cup.

And this love, His work of art accomplished at the Cross, although very expensive, (priceless really,) is available for us all to have for FREE, to be enchanted by it every day.

That’s upside down.

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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.

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.

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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

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IT IS FINISHED

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

I need a break.

Hiatus-a gap or a break (Webster’s)

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

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

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

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

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

I am taking a hiatus from blogging.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

It’s a biggie.

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

I’ve seen health be devastated by it.

I’ve seen marriages destroyed by it.

I’ve seen co-workers estranged by it.

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

It’s touched my life in very deep ways.

So many great musicians sing about it–

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

FORGIVENESS

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

Harboring un-forgiveness is deadly.

 

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

I can almost see the smug smile on his face.

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

This enemy knows the arrows that pierce the worst.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All was still.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When I looked I saw–

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Never?”

“NEVER.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Forgive yourself.

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

I say it again–

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

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

It is, indeed, FINISHED.

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

The Unseen

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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?