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?

 

 

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he prayed…He answered

“Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” –Matthew 7:11

he prayed

About his dreams, his prosperity, his family

he prayed

he prayed and asked,

“Why? Why? Why?”

Why no answers to his prayers and why take her so soon?

he kept asking

And he quit praying

Until IT happened

On his knees, bewildered, scared, confused, in pain

he cried for the  future being taken from him, for the pain in his body and for the overwhelming fear

he cried out to God…

man prayingpassion-jesus-in-gethsemane

He went away to be by Himself

He prayed

“Father can I save him?”

You know not what you ask of me, my one and only Son

“Your will, not my own…”

He answered Him with–a future being taken from Him, with pain in His body and an overwhelming fear

He cried out to God,

“Why have you forsaken me?”

And then the Peace came

he knew not what to ask for anymore

he prayed and cried out to God again

He answered with His Peace

And saved all who came to Him.

He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed.”

1 Peter 2:24

Magic Wrinkle Remover!

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

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

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

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

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

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3) It’s too old and outdated

So I dug in.

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

iron stuff

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

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

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

Until today.

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

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

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

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

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

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

iron

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

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

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

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

The only thing constant in life is change.

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

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

I GIVE UP!

 

I GIVE UP

(Lead Me Part 3)

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

 

What do you do when things go wrong?

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

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

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

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

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

But I know myself better than that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hold fast

Help is on the way

Hold fast

He’s come to save the day

And what I’ve learned in my life,

The One thing greater than my stride is Your grasp

So hold fast”

—Mercy Me “Hold Fast”

 

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

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

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

 

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

Gift from dad

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

I’m a follower.

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

Quotable Kelly on far right

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

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

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

And then the questioning begins.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I tend to be an “over-trainer.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

running ahead

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

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

I give up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

footsteps on journey

And I remember the enduring faith of Job.

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

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

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

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

I stand up and re-affix my eyes.

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

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

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

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

He takes off again.

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

 

 

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

I press on.

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

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

He has **BONKED**

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

But he has given up on this run.

I run on.

I reach our destination before he does.

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

 

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

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

—Sanctus Real’s “Lead Me”

 

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

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

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

crossing a practice finish line

My Wish

I WISH…

 

genie

genie

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Drops of water seep into my already fogging goggles.

Can’t wish for more wishes

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

Wish I didn’t commit to this triathlon

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

Any wish I wanted—anything??

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

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

I wish I had more time in the day.

I wish I had the bank account of Oprah.

I wish I could diet like Christina Aguilera.

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

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

 

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

Be careful what you wish for...

Be careful what you wish for…

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm 139:14 The Message Bible

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

Now, tell me your wish.

 

“Mister T” and the Peaches

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

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

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

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

Colorado Peaches

Colorado Peaches

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

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

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

Year after year—nada, nothing, zilch.

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

Why?

The question that is never far away

The healing doesn’t come from being explained

Jesus please don’t let this go in vain

You’re all I have All that remains

-Mercy Me “The Hurt and the Healer”

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

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

Neighbors began calling.

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

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

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

WTH?

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

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

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

 

Peaches at last!

Peaches at last!

Our silence turned to awe.

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

Abundance

Abundance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s my turn to feel sad.

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

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

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

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

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

Breathe

Sometimes I feel it’s all that I can do

Pain so deep that I can hardly move

Just keep my eyes completely fixed on You

Lord take hold and pull me through

-Mercy Me “The Hurt and the Healer”

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

But I trust I will be given answers some day.

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dad wanted those peaches so bad.

“Mister T” wants answers so bad.

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

It’s the moment when humanity

Is overcome by majesty

When grace is ushered in for good

And all our scars are understood

When mercy takes its rightful place

And all these questions fade away

I fall into your arms open wide

When The hurt and the healer collide

-Mercy Me “The Hurt and the Healer”

 

 

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

The moment

The moment

SALT

SALTSalt from seedtofeedme.blogspot.com

Salt – sôlt/noun a white crystalline substance that gives sea water its characteristic taste and is used for seasoning or preserving food. (from google definitions)

On popcorn at the movies, on the soft pretzel at the ball game, in my mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving, sprinkled across lunch-time salads and balanced delicately at the rim of my margarita glass–

Salt, salt, SALT–

I LOVE SALT!

The majority of salt on the earth is found in the sea. China and the US are the top producers of it.

Salt, made up chemically of Na (sodium) and Cl (chloride), in its pure form, works in our bodies in conjunction with potassium to keep our muscles, nerves and hearts beating in balance.

Heidi, my friend and culinary mastermind, while teaching us how to create the perfect, most juicy and tastiest pork loin explains, “Salt works as a wonderful tenderizer to the toughest of meats.”

We discover this truth as we feast on the mouth-watering, fork-tender creation. As she sprinkles it across her other dishes, she explains how it works in partnership with the flavors of the meal to enhance it.

Back before refrigeration was common, salt preserved meats, keeping them from spoiling and averting countless families from starving through some tough times.

Not only used to enhance and preserve food, but also as a cleansing agent, in baths and mouthwashes, salt has also commonly been used as a healing solvent.

Salt, in its most natural form… brings things to life.

And yet, like we humans can do, we tend to make things un-natural.

Table Salt– we whiten it to make it more appealing. We add things to it (iodine) to make up for things we lack. We overuse it in processed foods and soups lacking flavor. And in doing this, a beautiful, pure and balanced compound becomes unhealthy.

We’ve bleached it, we’ve changed it, we’ve bloated ourselves on it and made it unnatural.

Jesus teaching his followers in the Sermon on the Mount states–

“You are the salt of the earth,”

Of the earth. Natural. Un-tainted or changed by the world. In the original form. Back to the basic, life-giving, life-preserving, life-saving balanced purity.

Jesus also says, “…but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.” Matthew 5:13

I believe many of us Christians have lost our saltiness. We dilute God’s message of repentance and salvation. In general, we add things unnecessarily to enhance the basic Truth. We become complacent and allow un-natural elements (like sin) to bloat the message of the cross. We try to “whiten” ourselves to a point of “purity” that creates hypocrites.  Man-made religion, with it’s rigidity and pious practices, has developed followers who forget to love.  Actions, deeds and lives of those who wear the title of “Christian” have become unnatural, unflavorful, and no longer good for anything—except to be crushed under man’s feet.

Like table salt, man-made religion has trampled the pure, life-giving message of Jesus.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.” John 13:34

salt of the earth/noun/an individual or group considered as representative of the best or noblest elements of society.

(dictionary.com)

Again, the message of Jesus to his followers is that, “You are the salt of the earth.”

How do we restore our saltiness?

It is painful—like swabbing salt across an open wound, but it can also be healing– we must find restoration in the one place that will never disappoint—The message and life of Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ–God made human, who took on flesh and walked among us.

Jesus Christ–the Prophet, the Priest, the King.

Jesus Christ–who lived an innocent life and offered up himself as payment once and for all and FOR ALL.

Jesus Christ– the Way, the Truth the Life.

Jesus Christ–who did all things moved by an unfathomable, immeasurable depth of LOVE.

Holding fast to the teachings of Jesus, you are called to be true to who God made you. There is no one else like you.– You, as your redeemed self; you, in your sphere of influence; you, doing what you do best every day of your life; just be you. Be pure –unadulterated by the world. Be the best or noblest element in where God has placed you, keeping your motives focused on Jesus.

Acting out of love.

And, like all of Jesus’s followers in that day who heard his message, they ran to tell others, not wanting anyone to miss out on the life-saving and life-preserving message.

So, whether you are munching on your popcorn at the movies, or crunching your way through the whole bag of Lay’s potato chips (I can never eat just one!), or as you are sipping from that salt-rimmed margarita, remember to BE SALTY!