THE Coach

 

 

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I feel like quitting. I’m exhausted. It’s already triple digits outside, so today’s workout is on the treadmill.  I’m bored with the running, so I go for the “hills.”

As I adjusted the incline button on my treadmill to 8.0, the words of my high school cross country coach, coach Olson, bounced around in my head.

“When approaching a hill or any obstacle on the course, do not stop.

I envision him in his standard navy colored dolphin short shorts and long sleeved cotton top, pacing back and forth in front of the forty or so of us teens awaiting the goal of this day’s training. It was 1980-something and probably around 60 degrees this afternoon in beautiful Arvada, Colorado.

 “If you must…slow down. But stopping will eliminate your momentum and you will lose all those seconds you worked so hard to get up to that point.” He would go on, his toothy grin hidden behind his bushy mustache, “In fact, if you can actually speed up on a hill, this will mentally exhaust your competitors who are stopping and slowing down.”

Seems counterintuitive. When you are exhausted, facing an uphill struggle, push harder.

I push the buttons on my treadmill up to 9.0

Coach would tell us, “The reward will be at the finish line.”

And as his words bounce around in my head, I am zapped. How do I find the endurance to keep going when all I want to do is jump off this machine and straight into a pint of Ben & Jerry’s while tuning into whatever Netflix has recommended for me next?

I realize I can’t do this without Coach.

Coach Olson would also remind us, “After every up hill, there’s a down hill. That’s where you can rest and recover after you’ve pushed through the pain of the uphill.” 

🎵 “What goes up must come down”🎵

Peaks and Valleys of this work out and in this world. When will it be over? 

And where is the finish line?

And then, like the invisible sound waves traveling from the starting horn to my ears at the beginning of each cross country race, the words from my struggling mind are replaced by the Word bound in my heart.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

Philippians 3:12

Don’t stop…slow down

 I press the buttons down to 5.0

Before we ran our races, as a team we would walk the course beforehand, so we knew what we would be facing. We could envision and plan.

But on this treadmill of mandates, stay at home orders, political spin and unprecedented numbers, there is no perceptible finish line. 

How to plan and envision when I can’t even comprehend what I am facing? And yesterday was the same struggle, and tomorrow will be the same, and the next day, and the next day…

Any why? 

Why even do this workout? Not like there will be a 5K or a marathon to compete in anytime soon. The inability to fixate on a goal; the elusively of a finish line; the invisibility of what we all are facing…

What is the goal? What is that prize?  

Knowledge? Clinical trials? A vaccination? An election? Toilet paper?

Whatever it is, we are clearly not there yet. 

As I slow it down and breathe, I think, “Maybe, just maybe, it’s the ability to be face to face with my Coach and tell Him I didn’t give up?”

Maybe it’s just making it through this day without the mistakes of yesterday’s choices (Ben and Jerry’s 🙄) keeping me from pressing onward.

Only Coach knows.

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

Hebrews 11:1

Not seen: Like this enemy we are all facing; Like the buttons on my treadmill as I throw the towel over them.

Unseen: Like Pushing through the temptation to give in; Fighting against discouragement taking root in the soil of my heart; Not allowing my determination & the struggle to breed anger. 

Like the Word that breathes life back into these dry bones.

I don’t know if the  finish line will be the top of the hill, if it falls mercifully at the bottom of a hill or smack dab in the middle of the fight. 

Only Coach knows.

As I meditate on His Word, in my minds eye, I envision the party at the end of all this.

I envision the tearful, exhausted embrace as I fall into my Coach’s arms as I cross the finish line. 

Truly finding rest as He rewards we with the words, “Well done, Julie, good and faithful one.”

But I am not yet there. 

Pressing the upward buttons on my treadmill and reminding myself of Coach’s Words, an invisible spirit/force encourages me into this day:

 “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

Philippians 4:13

And I re-focus on the Prize awaiting me at the finish line.

Running IS a Team Sport

And pain is temporary, but regret can last a lifetime.

Coach Simmons taught me these things

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Giving “your all” individually is important, but Coach Simmons was all about the team. 

He was all about encouraging one another.

“Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing.”

1 Thessalonians 5:11

I was “knee deep” into my run today and, nearly every time I run, I think about the words of the coaches I’ve had along the way.

I could’ve used a teammate’s motivation on my run today.

My apologies, Coach Simmons. Today I gave it up only 2 1/2 miles into my solo run. “But I got a late start and it’s already almost 100° in Arizona, AND it’s a bad air day due to all the fires.” I know, excuses excuses-He wouldn’t listen to excuses. Plan better. I should’ve hydrated better yesterday – my responsibility, not the failure of a teammate. 

Again, my apologies to Coach Simmons. 

Coach Simmons wouldn’t have wanted me to stop. 

A few brief words about Coach Simmons first. 

He was worn thin to say the least.

Not only was he our head high school track coach, he was also A-West’s football coach. He was also my typing teacher and, in addition, he taught the electives of law and society. Pretty sure he had a few more classes, I just didn’t know him that well. In retrospect, I have no idea how he did all this. Because he also was the father to two of my classmates. His daughter was on the cheerleading squad and his son was on the football team. Both were on the honor roll. (Wonder where they got their drive from?)

With all this on his plate, Coach Simmons was one of the most mild mannered, kind, encouraging coaches I’ve ever had. I never once heard him raise his voice. Now some might say this type of coaching won’t get you high performing athletes. Yet, this coach’s manner still sticks with me today. Coach Simmons taught us to encourage each other, especially when we want to stop or give up.

He would tell us, “If you see one of your teammates stopping or giving up, use every bit of your breath to encourage them and pull them along with you.

You see, Coach Simmons believed that it wasn’t about having the highest performing athlete; it was about building a team. He instilled in us healthy competition; but not at the expense of your teammates, your humanity, or your common sense when achieving these goals. He wanted athletes who gave it all, but also pulled each other along. Compete without regrets. 

And I was witness to the fact that this strategy worked. 

There were times when I was having a great day, and as I rounded that last corner of the quarter mile, when typically your legs feel like two by fours and your lungs are about to burst, I felt like I could fly; and I was able encourage a struggling teammate to “dig deep” that last 50 yards. Afterwards, they would tell me how that was the only thing that kept them going. 

More often times, I was that person needing the encouragement.

Is it laws of physics? Is it like “drafting?” Is it something deep in our cells’ structure or a brain synapse that is ignited with the right amount of positivity to push beyond the other voices in your head telling you that you can’t make it?

I can’t explain it, but I’m pretty sure Coach Simmons studied about it. 

Because it worked.

He built several relay teams that made it all the way to state. The Wildcat football team was always one of the top in the state, and often referred to as “the team to beat.” More importantly, Coach Simmons poured into the lives of so many athletes and his words and lessons live on, more than 30 years later.

Sitting in the cool of my house with a tall glass of ice water, I regret stopping. I could’ve finished. Next time…

Coach Simmons, you were right.

Another deep regret:  in my senior year after the track banquet, the team got together and TP’d (toilet papered) his house.

Wow—who knew we’d totally live to regret that??!! 

Again, Coach Simmons, my deepest apologies. 

But more importantly Coach Simmons, my extreme gratitude for being who you are and building our team. A team that looked out for those struggling. Individuals who used what they had left in their tank to build up one another. 

“He comforts me in all my trouble, so that I can comfort people who are in any trouble with the comfort with which I myself am comforted by God.”

2 Corinthians 1:4

To all the coaches, teachers, parents and individuals who take the extra time to speak into the lives of our youth; to those who are living examples of humility and kindness; to the ones who speak truth in love; to those who live the example without raising your voice or often, without using words—THANK YOU.

We’re all on the same team.

Pig Latin, Yoda and Jesus

 

I am out of breath and dripping with sweat as I write this. 

I just wanted to get home.

I was out running. Summer in AZ, even at 7 am-burning up.

I had to get home to write.

Writer I am

I was at the farthest point from home when He spoke to me.

That’s just how it goes.

When we are farthest away from Him, He reminds us—we’re really not.

Wondering what I heard?  “Yoda, Pig Latin and Jesus.”

I will admit, this pandemic has not brought out the very best in me. My prayer life has been spotty. My time spent with Him, not-so-much. My delight in earthly pleasures-right on track—Eating, drinking and watching movies as the days turn to weeks. 

“It’s easy to get lost when you’ve found freedom.”—Johnny Rzeznik

Things that are backwards, start to make sense.

Pig latin. 

A code way of speaking; another language, if you will.  Created by taking the first letter or consonants of a word, moving it to the back, and adding an -“ay”

So the words:

Writer = Iter-wray.

Sound = Ound-say

Pig Latin = Ig-pay  atin-lay

You get it.

Yoda also spoke in what seemed to be another language.

“Do or do not. There is no try.”

“The greatest teacher, failure is.” 

“Named must be your fear before banish it you can.” -Yoda

Listen intently, and sense can be made of it all.

A King, becoming Servant. 

The first, shall be last.

Retuning love, when someone insults you.

Offering a thief your watch, when they’ve just stolen your wallet.

Dying for a sinful and unrepentant soul.

An Innocent, being punished by death.

Jesus’ love for us.

You’ve got it.

He loves you, even if you don’t love Him back. He offers the Gift of forever with Him, even if you refuse it.

The more you hear Him, the more you study His word, the more you focus on Him, the more it makes sense.

Here am I.

A once lost soul who He ran after. 

Jesus loves you. He will be there for you, even when it seems you’re the farthest away from Him. He will help make sense of a backwards life. He will never stop pursuing you.

 

“For if you want to save your own life, you will lose it; but if you lose your life for my sake, you will find it.”

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He wants you to make it home.

Working Harder

Working Hard

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I am so saddened to hear about the tremendous increase in unemployment claims. However, there are also many, many people right now who are working harder than they ever have. I’d like to give a shout out to all the healthcare workers, grocery store clerks, first responders, custodians, truck drivers, food service and anyone else I’ve forgotten to mention that is working hard right now 8)

—-

When I was in second or third grade, (I can’t remember exactly which grade— it has been a minute!), I remember being in a reading group called GINN. This group was for the more advanced readers and writers in English. I didn’t really have to do much to be in the group, but teachers had noticed my comprehension was more than the “average.” One day after the GINN class, the teacher took me aside and told me she saw me struggling with the reading and thought I should think about stepping down from GINN and joining the regular class. 

She gave me some time to think about it. 

The other kids had already left for gym class. I tried to catch up to them. I remember putting on my yellow shirt and grey shorts (gym uniform) and lacing up my tennis shoes when the tears started. I tried fighting back the tears, knowing if they started, I couldn’t stop them.  I didn’t know how I was going to make it through the rest of the day. I had taken pride in being a member of GINN, but had really taken it for granted. I had quit working for it and it was showing.  Shame, pride and emotion were taking me over.

As I started to run to catch up to my classmates, (not wanting to be left behind and have any more rejection to face in this day!),  I realized I couldn’t do both- cry and run hard to catch up. So I ran harder. Believe it or not, running harder helped me get through those tears. By the end of the day I’d made it without crying in front of everybody. 

The next day I gave my teacher my answer: I was going to work even harder to stay in the group, if she could just give me another chance. (It worked!)

To this day, I use the same tactics. 

When I am struggling with some thing, I lace up my shoes and I run hard— after all these years of practice, I have learned how to cry and run at the same time; however, that quickly turns into praying and running. It’s been 99.9% effective for me for whatever it is I’m struggling with.

Like now.

The last two days at work in my “essential position,” I have been struggling.

I got home Wednesday after a 10 1/2 hour shift, and I could hardly breathe. The anxiety of trying to hold a sneeze or a cough, especially during allergy season, while you’re working in a room with coworkers is hard! By the time I got home, my heart was racing, my face was flush, and I was struggling to breathe. No, I don’t have COVID-19, but yes I have been extremely anxious through this time.

I bet many of you can relate.

So I laced up my shoes and took to running hard. What I realized is, in this time, I need to work harder with what I’m struggling with right now. And I know exactly how to do it – but it is so difficult...

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I need to work harder at being still and knowing that God is in control. 

(Psalm 46:10)

I need to work harder at laying all of my troubles and burdens at the feet of the Prince of Peace.

I need to work harder at finding compassion instead of anger when those around me aren’t washing their hands or staying 6 feet back.

I need to work harder at remembering how very, very, very scared the older lady is, who yelled at the fire fighter at Costco for going in before her (which Costco had offered as a service to first responders). And I need to work harder appreciating all the first responders putting their lives and the lives of their families at stake for choosing a job in public service.

I need to work harder at remembering all the things that Jesus has walked with me through before this. I need to remember the way He got me through was different/better and to trust in His ways.

(Isaiah 55:8)

I need to work harder at remembering this is all temporary.

(Hebrews 13:14)

I need to work harder at remembering there are so many people out there suffering not only with this pandemic; but they are moving, looking for a job, trying to make ends meet, arresting someone with Covid 19, battling cancer, filing for divorce, burying a loved one to an empty church… 8(

 

I need to work harder at keeping my eyes fixed on the One who holds me in His hands and remember I can find shelter beneath His wings. (Psalm 91)

And I need to work harder at remembering I have a Counselor, a Helper, a Healer and a Savior who is never gonna leave me during this time.

(Joshua 1:9)

I also want to work harder on asking how people are doing through this.

So, please tell me-

How are you working harder during this time?

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Grace Period

who-killed-jesus.jpg.crop_disp from www.ucg.org

“This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again.”  (John 3:16 -Message Bible)

Wouldn’t it be great if things in the world were “right again?”

I’ve heard stories of atrocious behaviors in this crisis: hoarding toilet paper, hatred boiling over from one’s heart if someone sneezes, fighting over a clean grocery cart… 

However, in spite of the terrible ways we’ve been behaving, not just in our life times, but through ALL time, God’s GRACE has been there. Waiting for you. And out of His great mercy, we’ve been given a grace period.

When we come out of this COVID 19 crisis, and we will come out of it, things will never be the same. And some of that is good news – Never again underestimating the value of a hug, a gathering of people to dine, laugh and be together; Esteeming and caring for our elderly, looking out for neighbors, honoring store clerks, first responders, truck drivers, janitors; donating blood, staying home when you are sick, valuing having a job to go to, paying your debts, taking time to examine the condition of your heart, praying like your life depended on it… 

Right now, we’re in the in between. A moment in time when we should be taking stock of what’s really important. A grace period where we must choose what’s important. 

Do you accept the gift Jesus already pre-paid for you? A gift far exceeding any amount of Clorox wipes, respirators or doomsday preppers stash – A gift offered as payment of our ultimate debt and lasting beyond this crisis -lasting through eternity.

This current grace period is the time to choose. 

Choose to hear Him

Choose to accept Him

To believe

That’s Grace

PERIOD

 

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Romans 10:9-10 “That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.”

The TRUTH

Trust no one.

The truth is out there.

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I’m a big X-Files fan. If you know the show, you know those two phrases were the tag lines. Growing up, every Friday when I got home from working at the bank, my dad and I would make margaritas and popcorn and watch the latest episode. We’d watch Scully and Mulder, two FBI Agents from very different backgrounds, relying on very different things, searching for answers as partners. One led by science and her medical training; the other led by a love for his sister who he witnessed be abducted. The truth was out there at the end of every episode. And it was a different truth for each of them.

It has never been more important than now to know the truth.

Just turn on the t.v. Between the Kavanaugh hearings and every single ad you hear with the political campaign going on right now– Who do we believe? What is the truth? And if we count on our TV’s for the truth, we’re in serious trouble.

But we’re all searching for it.

I often wonder how many times Judas, the one who betrayed Jesus, talked about Jesus Christ and all that he witnessed as one of His disciples? Did he ever point someone to His saving grace?

Then I remember, Jesus knew him.

And Jesus knew Judas’s heart.

Jesus answered, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with Me will betray Me. 2The Son of Man will go just as it is written about Him, but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed. It would be better for him if he had not been born.” Then Judas, who would betray Him, said, “Surely not I, Rabbi?” Jesus answered, “You have said it yourself.” Matthew 26: 24

I kinda feel bad for Judas– Did his heart feel bad for what he did?

Jesus Knows.

It had to happen.

Isaiah the prophet spoke of Jesus long ago, “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is on Me, because the LORD has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent Me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release from darkness to the prisoners,”  Isaiah 61

I also sometimes wonder how many times the Jewish leaders of their day spoke of the One who came to set the captives free, and yet led the way for Jesus Christ to be crucified. And now, how many new believers, or even “seasoned believers,” are missing the whole story when told about being a good person, and many ways leading to heaven? How often are we led astray into dangerous behaviors and beliefs and by this world’s desire for comfort, for money, for status, or for a desire to be so politically correct that we give a trophy to everyone and we miss the truth that, although it is available to ALL, the road is indeed narrow.

The truth is, in fact, out there.

If you’re in a hotel room- it’s right next to your bed. Maybe it’s in your closet. Maybe it’s left behind in the pew in that beautiful building down the street. Or maybe it’s in your hand right now.

God’s Word: “He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in Him all things were created, things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities. All things were created through Him and for Him.” Colossians 1:13

Sometimes I’ve got it right, and more often times than that, I’ve gone so wrong. My intentions could be good, but where was my heart in my behaviors? What were my intentions?

How many times did I intend to eat a salad and ended up eating a whole bag of Tostitos thin and crispy Cantina tortilla chips (seriously amazing chips!)? (I confess, more than once).

How many times in college did swear I was going to stay in and make it to my 8 am class, but  then stayed out too late drinking too much and miss my 10 am classes?

How many times did I get sucked in to gossip, to doing the wrong thing- the very things I hate… I confess–more often than not.

But I know the truth.

I know the cost that God paid by sending his son Jesus to be betrayed and crucified, but to open the door wide for all who believe him. For all who know He rose again, and that he’ll be returning.

Jesus tells us: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. If you had known Me, you would know My Father as well. From now on you do know Him and have seen Him.”

There is only 1 way. His name is Jesus Christ.

Truth.

And God knows your heart.

“The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.” Psalm 51:17

We’re told that God desires a repentant heart. And that what’s most important is to Love God and to Love one another. We will go wrong. We can be let astray. But there is hope for those who turn their hearts and their minds back to the truth.

And at the end of this episode there is the TRUTH.

Truth.jpgTrust Him.

 

“Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”Philippians 2:9-11 ESV

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.

Are you ready?

 

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

“Are you ready?”

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

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

ANTICIPATION

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

SURPRISE-What did Santa bring you?

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

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

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

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

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

Surprise!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are you ready for Him?

 

 

“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