Saturday, December 10, 2016

This Old Couch

Our new living room furniture arrived this week.

We had so innocently strolled into the local Ashley's Home Store two Sundays ago after church to "just check out" a side chair to fit alongside our fireplace.  The beautiful new arrangements called out to us with their color-coordinated crisp new fabrics, weathered wood,  and rustic charm. We were totally caught off-guard. Hadn't seen so many gorgeous pieces together in the same place, maybe ever. All of a sudden, our old, worn, and well-loved furniture couldn't compete.

To be honest, we had seriously kicked around the idea of replacing our eleven year old, well-loved set for months, so along with the Black Friday sale price, it didn't take much to put us over the top.

On Wednesday we carried our old set to the garage. Our daughter and son in law had asked for it years ago, "whenever you decide to get rid of this furniture." So even though several others fought over it online, (sort of) we had to keep our five-year-old promise.

Something strange happens when you decide to change something as innocent as a couch or love seat.  All of a sudden when you least expect it, a bunch of those sneaky memories come tiptoeing out from nowhere and hit you right in the heart.

Whatever were we thinking?

How many stories were made sitting around on that furniture?  How many jokes were told, hugs shared, movies watched, tears cried?  Our old family friend, Snickers, slept on those cushions, piling even more pillows on top for the perfect nap. Dora the dachshund, birthed two litters of puppies (no, not ON the couch) during those years, and we sat on those couches holding puppies together.

How do you put a price tag on the tapestry of memories woven deep into those cushions? No sparkle, shimmer, or color-coordinated rustic charm could ever hold a candle to the priceless value of a Christmas morning gathered together, opening heart-felt gifts bought for each other, sharing inside jokes, throwing wads of wrapping paper at the bag holder (Dad),  purposefully  accidently overshooting their target.

We celebrated Christmases, birthdays, graduations, engagements, grandbabies, new son-in-laws and new sons from China on those couches. We high-fived the most exciting achievements, and mourned the deepest hurts there. Memories that come in like a flood are no respecters of feelings. They don't care about impressing the neighbors, or making picture-perfect Pinterest posts.

So as we sit on the pristine new sofa and loveseat, it feels, well, strange.  Not comfortable.  No indentations, no worn spots. No fingerprints or crumbs.

No memories. No personality, truth be told.

Its like we went house shopping and bought what we thought was the perfect house, not realizing that it was what went on inside that made it a home.

Speaking of houses, in case you haven't noticed, our family likes to change houses about as often as some people change batteries in their smoke detectors.

Part of the reason is because the realtor in me loves houses.  You don't peruse Realtor.com or Zillow daily for too long before your imagination gets the best of you. The other part is because it can be profitable. It's a great way to pay off medical bills, dental bills, and expensive adoptions. Add to this the fact that I love to create by fixing up older homes, or starting from scratch with new ones. When it's done, it's not long before it feels like it's time to move on to another.

 Change can be exciting.  There's reward in starting fresh, conquering a new goal. But there's also a trade-off.  You trade wings for roots.  Every time you transplant your family, you uproot and it takes awhile to re-establish your home.

That is where we find ourselves again this Christmas.  We are sitting on a new sofa, contemplating the old familiar Christmas decorations hung with the new during our first Christmas here.


And our old sofa and loveseat rest innocently in the garage.  It would be so easy to go out and move the furniture back in, just as it would seemingly be so easy to pack up a moving van and move our belongings back to the place we came from this past year. It is so tempting to go back to familiar friends, familiar church, familiar schools--back to the way it was.

" And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for they say, ‘The old is better.’ 
(Luke 5:39)

And we can't.  And, more importantly, we shouldn't.  Change has a way of playing tricks on your memories. You forget about the hard, sad, hurtful ones, and remember the great ones.  The rose-colored lens of memory is not an accurate picture of what it is now. A well-respected man once said:

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man.” (Heraclitus)

A not as well-respected Facebook site gave me my un-scientific life-defining personal quote this past week.  I got:  "Don't look back. You're not going that way." --June Rairick

And yet, as bittersweet as memories are, we get to continue to create new ones. More graduations will come. More achievements, more celebrations.  More weddings, grand babies, birthdays and Christmases.



And one day, when we least expect it, we will move home for the last time to our permanent home that has been prepared for us long before we were born. And then there will be no more tears, no more good-byes.  Just endless celebrating with the One and the ones we love.  

And then we will see clearly, face to face.

 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (I Corinthians 13:12-13)













Friday, November 11, 2016

We, The Pawns...

Sorry to break it to you, but we've been played.

Politicians have been played.
The media has been played.
Policemen, college students, celebrities, talk show hosts.
Lawyers, construction workers, soldiers, teachers.
Fathers, mothers, friends, co-workers.
The black-skinned, the fair-skinned, and all shades of brown-skinned.
Those with jobs.
Those who are unemployed.
The old, the young, and all who are in-between.

 Every single one of us has been used as arsenal in a mighty war.



We are the pawns in a mighty big chess game where the stakes are high and the winner takes all.  We have been programmed to view the opposite side in a political game as the enemy.  We have mistaken the agenda of a few elite people as the agenda of all.  We are loyal soldiers fighting for a cause that has been layed out for us.  Our unquestioning loyalty has given us all the skills necessary to be effective soldiers and obliterate the other side effectively with our words and actions.

The emboldened attacks of a few radicals on the opposing team solidifies what we always thought we new about them all.  We are the good guys, wanting ultimate victory for our families, friends, and country.  Which makes "them" the bad guys. The enemy.

The huge secret?  Both sides feel the same way.

A few powerful elites, who are actually pawns themselves,  have used the passion, love of country and family to emblazen our cause and create warriors.

The Bible says that a house divided against itself will fall.  And, sorry to say, that is the ultimate agenda of the true enemy of our souls--for our nation and all of mankind to fall.

We have been brainwashed to forget the high price that has been paid by those who have fought and died to preserve the country we now love.

Can't you see it?  When we fight and attack each other, loot, destroy, and burn what is most cherished among us, there are no winners.  When we mince others with our words for a temporary serotonin rush, what have we gained?  We can fist-bump and high-five each other on our team for the temporary thrill of a battle well-fought, not seeing that we are losing the war.

The only path that leads us out of the hate and corruption that we are so entwined in is the path of love and acceptance.  Neither side needs to experience ultimate defeat for there to be victory.  Both sides must lay down their arms and seek peace for there to be healing.

On this Veterans Day, may we declare that the fighting must end.

How? We can start by focusing on what we have in common.

We all cherish our families.
We are grateful for our friends.
We value people over possessions, light over darkness, faith over fear, beauty over ashes.
We melt at the sound of a baby laughing.
We love the smell of puppies, newly cut grass, freshly ground coffee, rain, and roses.
We desire to make a difference in the lives of those we love most.
We seek for healing over sickness.
We want to be needed.
We strive to be happy.
We long to love and be loved.

When I look at you, may I first see your preciousness, the image of your Creator breathed into you from the very beginning.  May I know that inside the rough, bruised, hardened shell that is your defense is a brilliant, miraculous god-man created to bring glory to the Lord of the universe.

You are not my enemy.  You are not the bad guy.  You are my brother and sister.
May I value your god-given potential more than my being right.
May I cherish your uniqueness and not be intimidated by it.
May I lay down my arms and join arms with you as my friend.

"Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins."
-- I Peter 4:8 (NIV)

 And may this day bring forth the change in me that will quickly spread to you and to others.


Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Truth about Fence-Sitting

"The Only Thing Necessary for the Triumph of Evil is that Good Men Do Nothing."
--Edmund Burke

You cannot be against something without being for it's counterpart.

Inaction is, in fact, action.

We cannot, and do not exist in a vaccuum.  When we fail to take action, we, in effect, promote our cause's demise.  

If this sounds random and theoretical, let me give you an example.

I buy my favorite cake.  I can choose to eat it or not to eat it.  If I leave it on the counter for a week, trying to make up my mind about eating it, I have by my inaction chosen to not eat it, for at some point, it becomes inedible. If I eat it, then I cannot have it, too.  (Thus, the famous saying.)

I use this example to illustrate what I feel many of my Christian friends are doing, regarding our current election.  They slam a particular candidate because he is carnal, and in their mind does not represent their moral world view.  So they use many opportunities, whether with humor, sarcasm, or outright character assassination to put that person down.  But they offer no solution.

"Oh, whoa is me, I don't like any of my choices.  So, I will just complain about how broken the system is, and rally my friends around me and we can make jokes and slam candidates (in the most christian way, of course) and live in our bubble."  But we have, in effect, made a choice.  We have allowed evil to triumph.

I believe there is a huge chasm between the two leading candidates, in what they stand for and what they promote.  One is carnal, one is evil.

I see a lot of my friends sharing strong opinions about what they are against.  But they offer no solutions. To them, I have to keep myself from reaching for the caps lock button, and shouting, "OKAY, OKAY, I KNOW WHO YOU ARE AGAINST, BUT WHO ARE YOU FOR??? To pray and then vote according to what they feel is the prompting of the Holy Spirit is their obligation as a citizen and as a Christian. To bash a candidate or a platform without promoting something else, is in effect promoting the counterpart.

I respect people who vote according to their conscience, whether or not their vote ends up counting. There are arguments for and against voting for a third or fourth party candidate.  If you have researched, and prayed, and then voted, well amen.  You are operating in faith and in good conscience.

BUT IF YOU SLAM, MOCK, ACCUSE, AND JOKE, AND THEN DO NOT VOTE, I believe it is sin.  I believe you have played into the hands of the pharisaical mindset.  And Jesus never had anything good to say about the Pharisees.  He wasn't politically correct.  He didn't beat around the bush.  He condemned their attitudes and their actions.

But he welcomed the sinners.  He even ate with them.  He granted mercy to the woman caught in the act of adultery.  He praised a woman with a sordid past for her broken and contrite spirit.  He healed the demoniac.  He touched the unclean.

"The difference between Trump and Clinton is that Trump is a 'Sampson' (repentant)  and Clinton is a 'Jezebel' (unrepentant).  God used Sampson.  He never used Jezebel." --Lance Wallnau (paraphrased)

I truly believe God is using the present political events to humble a man to be used for Kingdom purposes.  Don't miss it, Church.  Don't shoot our soldiers when God is using the circumstance to show His glory.

You have influence.  Your opinion matters.  Don't squander it.  Pray, pray, pray.  Then speak life.

And vote.




Saturday, October 8, 2016

This is Only a Test


Well better late than never to the FMF party.  Now it's Saturday, and it's been quite a week, with a pesky demon-looking hurricane named Matthew glaring at us, horrible videos of vulgar talk and treatment of women, and the normal trials of balancing family and a business run from home.  Let's just throw in adoption, and culture, and teachers conferences, and teenage hormones. Makes for a really nice test, doesn't it?  

Test.

This is a test.  This is only a test.  If this were a true emergency you would be directed to...well, can't remember where we would be directed to, but it sounded official and important.



Yes, I remember the blood-curdling sound announcing the test of the Emergency Broadcast System.  There were always mixed reactions to that sound.  Frustration that our show was interrupted.  Back before the comfort of DVR, whatever was blocked during the test was gone forever.  But amid our frustration was a sense of awe, knowing that if it were a true emergency, someone somewhere in some official place had a plan.  And there was always a sense of relief being assured that it was only a test.  Not a true emergency.

Life lesson there, glaring at me.

Had quite a few tests this week.  Some I passed, others, well, let's just say the jury is out.  May have to retake them.  

There was the customer who rudely insisted that we pay for new kitchen hardware because her husband didn't like her selection, and now it's "only fair" that we eat the cost of her change in plans. (Other hardware is not returnable now.)  To the tune of $200.  Part of me wants to tell her where she can put the extra hardware, but that's the test-failing part of me.  The other makes me want to eat the $200, but after I, in no uncertain words, let her know that it's not her right, but the extreme kindness of my heart that makes me even consider doing this.  The voice that said, "Give it to the Lord, He will take care of the results" was weak and not at all audible.

Would have loved to have heard that blood-curdling sound and seen the colorful screen as a reminder.

Or how about just yesterday when I jumped all over my son for walking into a room scraping a large object on the floor just as I was finishing my one hundred and ninety ninth take of a promo video we  were shooting, of course with.deadline.looming.  No screech.  No colored TV screen to remind me.  

Epic fail.

Truth be told, our days are filled with all kinds of tests.  We just don't recognize most of them.  

Will we react in kindness when sarcasm is easier and much more enjoyable?

Will we go the extra mile for someone who in our minds doesn't deserve it?

Will we give when it is hard, and messy, and we are so, so tired?


Most of our days aren't filled with final exams.  Just pop quizzes.  I don't always test well.

How about you?








Friday, September 23, 2016

Just Five Minutes

I am forever losing five minutes.

When I plan my schedule so I can arrive on-time, usually I run about five minutes late. This doesn't work well when your business depends on meeting people in a timely fashion.

The doctor's office, hair stylist, and teacher don't appreciate it much either.

Too often than I care to admit, I am apologizing for being just a "little late."  I try to blame it on traffic lights, or a last-minute phone call.  But the truth was I didn't plan well.

Where do those pesky five minutes disappear to?
It's such a mystery. Or is it?

You see, I like to think I have most everything I do timed.  I know how long it takes to get ready.  My GPS has my trip planned out to the exact minute, figuring in traffic.  No excuse there.  Was it the last minute search for the keys, the water bottle filled last-minute, the extra time spent to have a good hair day?  Too much time surfing the web, checking one more status?

I guess it's probably a mixture of these and a few other things combined.
It doesn't really matter why I run late.  What matters is that I finally build the five minutes into my schedule.  A five minute buffer.  Well, while we're at it, let's just make it ten.

What would happen if I planned better and arrived five minutes early, not just once, but every time?  What would happen to my stress level?  It's not difficult to imagine. I would be a much nicer driver.  Might even take the time to smile at a stranger along the way and say hi.  I could sing in the car instead of white-knuckling the steering wheel.

Wow, five minutes early to everything!  What a refreshing thought!  Often I blame my stress level on having too much required of me, too much to do and not enough time to do it.

Is the problem really not having enough time?  Or is it spending the time unwisely.

I recently read an article about extremely successful people, a list of fourteen ways they think and act differently than the rest of us.  What jumped out at me was that they measure their days in minutes, not half-hour or hour increments. And they schedule those minutes on a calendar that they guide their day with.  Secondly, they valued time over money.  Money, they said, could be lost and gained back. But time, once gone was lost forever.

Is that it?  Is that the big secret that highly successful people have over us regular folks?  How they view time? How they don't waste it?

Because that's something most of us could attain as well.  If we valued each minute instead of squandering them away in five-minute blocks here and there, how would our lives change?

The Bible teaches us to number our days, because it is the one gift we have that can only be spent once.

Now, where did I put my keys?






Friday, September 16, 2016

What Is Your Learning Style?

I'm an auditory learner.

Years ago while homeschooling our children, we all took a “learning styles” quiz.  The purpose was to help find the way our kids learned naturally so that we could better tailor their studies.  

Very interesting.

While most of my kids learned visually or kinesthetically (by doing), I was the audio learner.


What that means is that I run things around in my mind having conversations with myself and others. When I’m upset, I will rehash the conversation over and over, playing hurtful words on repeat.

The positive thing about being "audio" is that I can listen to podcasts, sermons, or other teachings and absorb them well.  Who needs notes? Notes are things you take and then leave them lying around, never to be seen again. The greatest invention ever for me is the audiobook.  If I hear it, I remember it.

So, if I'm reading anything, there also needs to be COMPLETE SILENCE. Because any conversation, music with lyrics, or even random noise will mess with my reading.

Some fun ways you can test yourself to find your learning style.  When you are trying to remember something, do you look up and to the right? (visual learner). Or do you count things on your fingers. I look straight out or down, as if I’m trying to hear it in my mind.


If you needed to remember a list of five things to buy from the grocery store, would you: visualize where they are in the store, or do you see a mental list in your mind?  I actually make a silent rhyme out of them.  As I find each item in the store, the rhyme or song changes.  Sounds crazy,but believe it or not, it works.


Another way you can decipher your learning style is by finding out what you say when you are frustrated at someone you love.


I say:  “Listen to me!.”  “You’re not listening!”  “Why do I feel like I am constantly repeating myself?”


Pair this learning style up with a husband that is the very opposite.  He VERY kinesthetic.  Needs to keep moving to learn.  Learns by doing.


Sometimes it’s quite comical.


Him:  “Come here, I need to show you something.”
Me”  I don’t need to go there.  Just tell me.”
Him:  Just take a minute and come here.  See these weeds?  Have the boys pull them after school today as their chore.”
Me:  “Couldn’t you have just told me?”


Or another scenario:


Me:  After you are finished with your project, can you please run to the store, pick up milk and eggs and toothpaste, and then pick up C_____ from the gym?


Him:  Blank stare.  “What, what?”


Yes, just another way husbands and wives, men and women are different.


God sure has a sense of humor, doesn’t He?

Friday, July 1, 2016

A Man's Role: To Protect

It's an amazing privilege to have been married to a pastor.  That was my husband's role for the last 31 years until three weeks ago, when we said good-bye to our church of 16 years. On the day he was honored, his last Sunday, we witnessed person after person sharing beautiful stories of how he had touched their lives.  It was the best of times.  It was the worst of times.  He and I were a wreck.  It was like being a part of a memorial service without anyone having died.  Both beautiful and heart-wrenching.

We both agreed later we didn't realize our hearts could feel so broken and so full at the same time.

I have watched his pastor's heart grow over the years, until it was sometimes hard to separate the pastor, from the husband, from the father, from the friend. And this has led to some misunderstandings, and sometimes hard feelings.

How do you separate roles when you are pastor to your parents, your wife, your kids, your friends? How do you show them you love them uniquely, yet need to shepherd their souls at the same time?

My kids have taken turns through the years accusing him of not caring.  Through their eyes they could only see that he wanted to be their pastor, not their dad.  Too many rules (in their eyes).  Being asked how their walk with God was going, if they had read their Bibles and prayed.  Why did they have to go to church all the time?

And when you are husband/dad/son/friend and pastor, it makes you prime target for those who love you most to see you at your weakest moments.  Because he was never perfect, and yet never claimed to be, yet he had to stand before us week after week and proclaim from the pulpit a message he had prepared and prayed over for many hours.

And yet, he has truly loved us all with a deep love that isn't always visible at first glance.

Last year we had watched a wonderful video series on marriage, and the speaker talked about differences between husbands and wives, men and women. And even though we had heard many messages on marriage, this one was very eye-opening for us.

He said that a man was very different from a woman in that his deep instinct was to protect his family.  He would give his life for his wife and kids without thinking.

So, I asked my husband if this was true for him.  His reply?  "In a heartbeat."

It's a lot easier to forgive minor trespasses in a husband or dad when you realize that the one who can drive you to the deepest part of crazy in a given minute, would also give his life for you in a heartbeat.


Selah.












Friday, June 24, 2016

The Rest of the Story

I awake while it is yet dark and am now preparing food for all of my maidservants.  Yes, it's a tough life, but such is the load all of us Proverbs 31 women must bare.

And here is the rest of the story.

Oh, I'm up, but it's more or less facing the dirty dishes from last night, when all of us were literally too exhausted to even try.  And I already want to choke a little dog, who couldn't possibly be bothered this morning to face the 95 percent humidity and itchy grass outside to do her business, who left me a little present on my newish family room rug.  It wasn't even the rug by the door, which is somewhat excusable.  And she is now sleeping in my son's bed, all comfy and cozy.  Do I sneak in the room, choke her just a little, shove her nose in the wet spot and shame her all the way to her not as cozy and comfy crate?  Or do I just murmur about whether or not dog choking is ethical in the early morning hours and clean it up.

And then there is the highly emotional subject of coffee.  Do I drink the small pot of coffee that was all I could manage for my maid servants with the remaining coffee grounds, and brave the humidity and itchy grass and trek to the nearest grocery store for more?  Or do I just sip on my day-old, microwaved cup so as to save enough for the hubs?  And do I use the last of the half and half, or suffer through milk in my coffee and share?

These life-altering decisions are already facing me today, and it's not even light out.  Because I really do want to wake a little naughty dog and choke her just a little.  And I really do want the coffee.  And the half and half.  And I really do want to rattle the dishes while I unload and load the dishwasher, because all of the sleeping people in the house could have helped with them last night.

And then I read today's prompt word, "REST."

Darn.

My mental "To-Do" list wants to voraciously argue with that word.  Because who has time for that, really?  And yet, I know that yesterday's crazy, hard day has left us all a little weary.

Even a naughty dog. (So many bugs and lizards needed immediate attention.)
Even tired, sleeping people.
Even me.

So, I sit here, drinking yesterday's coffee, with only half of the remaining half and half in it. And I contemplate how I can do rest today.

Because we all need it.  And my Heavenly Father, not only allows it, He recommends it.

"Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls." (Matthew 11:28-29 NLT)



Friday, June 17, 2016

The Foggy Road


Have you ever had a surge of emotions so profound, your immediate reaction was to break down and cry?  You can’t really describe it to someone at the time.  They want to know if you’re sad, or lonely, or whatever. And you shake your head no, but the words aren’t there yet.  You haven’t had the time to process it enough to give the huge feelings the luxury of words.

That was me, recently.

We had just finished our church business meeting on a Sunday evening, a meeting to elect our new senior pastor, one who would step into the role my husband had held for the past sixteen years.  It was a joyous occasion. He and his family had been with us serving as youth pastors the entire time.  My husband had helped mentor him, and it was our hope that he and his family would step in and take our place leading this amazing group of people in a small town in the heart of Central Florida.  

It was the culmination of a plan we had been talking about, praying about, thinking about for over a year.  Our assignment here was finished, and we knew it was time to pass the torch and run in a new direction.  

Our friend had shared his heart and vision beautifully.  Our people were in full unity.  He had gone into the back room with his wife and five kids to wait while the ballots were cast.  We all checked yes on the small slips of paper, and within minutes the news came that indeed, he had been unanimously elected as our church’s new senior pastor.

Someone opened the door to the back room and they poured out, all grins and smiles, as they were proclaimed the new senior pastor and family for our church.  Everyone stood, applauded, and cheered.

And then I broke.  Deep, unattractive sobs.  And It looked bad.  It looked like I wasn’t part of the cheering section.  It looked like I was not rejoicing with them.

But there was something that no one had caught.  Not even me until that moment.  Because our family had poured out of that same door almost exactly sixteen years before.  We had walked into the same sanctuary and stood on the same platform as they announced us the new pastors.  But our kids weren’t all smiles and grins then.  They were shell-shocked.  My oldest daughter was standing and crying, obviously not tears of joy.  Our kids could not see ahead to the amazing years that were before them in this wonderful place.  All they knew is what they would lose.  Their friends, their beautiful new home, their cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents living nearby. Everything they were leaving was in clear view. All they would gain was still hidden.








And I think that’s where I am right now. Standing on an unfamiliar platform.  People are cheering for us, excited for our new venture.  And all I can see are the friends and the family and the home we are saying good-bye to. Yet the One who has brilliantly led us here is still the One who will lead us on the next leg of our journey.

Why wouldn’t He?  

Looking back, the road has not been smooth and straight.  There have been so many twists and turns, hardships, and hurts.  But there have been many, many hilltops as well.  These friends and loved ones had travelled the road with us, the same road that brought us to where we are today.  But the road parts now, and we will travel in one direction, and they another.  

The One who will travel with us the next leg of our journey gave me a little sign that night as we were gathered together praying for this precious new pastor family.  I had just turned on my phone, and sure enough, on cue, in the middle of the prayer it went off.  I grabbed it to quickly turn off the sound, and looked down.

It was my daughter calling.  The one who lived in the same town we were moving to in a few days.  It was a little sign, just for me.  He was still with us.  Still traveling on the new road we were beginning. A road that looks really foggy and dim now. A road that promises new joys, triumphs, ups, downs, twists and turns.  

I would like to think of Him as the Great Chauffeur.  And it’s going to be a glorious ride, because of the One who is behind the wheel.

 

Friday, May 6, 2016

The Roller Coaster of Graduation

Today's Five Minute Friday prompt word is quite appropriately, "miss."  Join us if you like at katemotaung.com


The month of May is one of my favorite times of the year.  The cold weather is behind us, the sweltering days of summer have yet to arrive.  May is the month of promise, when high school and college seniors graduate, school children are promoted, love-struck couples recite vows to each other, and summer vacation lies ahead.

There is nothing quite like the feeling of completing a chapter in your life and beginning a new one. It's kind of like riding a roller coaster.  You know it will be exciting, you understand that others have gone before you and survived, yet the inevitable twists and turns and sudden drops keep your heart racing, simultaneously feeling love, hate, excitement, and in a sense, dread.



Ironically, my husband and I are experiencing a sort of graduation ourselves right now. After much planning, praying, discussing, and waiting, he announced to our church last week that he would soon be stepping down as senior pastor of the church we have loved and led for the past sixteen years.

The time was right.  As difficult as the announcement was, knowing what we needed to do and not following through would be disobedience to the plan the Lord has for us.  What we weren't expecting was the sudden surge of emotions that the thought of saying good-bye to our church family would bring.

In order to take on a new venture, there is always a trade-off.  You cannot change and yet remain the same.  Saying hello to a new occupation, a new home, a new city, a new church, means saying good-bye to what we have known and loved and grown accustomed to. It feels like a ripping, a tearing.  Those old wine-skins are so soft and comfortable. The old feels better right now.  

All at once, center and front were the dear faces of those we would miss.  They represented years of our lives, all stacked together.  We saw faces of those whose marriages were about to fall apart, yet in His mercy were restored.  We saw children who hadn't even been born when we began.  Those we had taken into our home, who found security, found their footing, and now have careers and families of their own.  Those who have grown in their love and service to the Lord. Those who were lost, who found the Lord and are now born again and new. It was like looking at a motion picture of our lives set on fast forward.  

We are graduating, and the only clear picture we see is the one in our rear view mirror. The road ahead looks bumpy and full of twists and turns and drops, and it would be so easy to get off this roller coaster and go back to the predictable, familiar place we had known.  

"For now, we can only see a dim and blurry picture of things, as when we stare into polished metal. I realize that everything I know is only part of the big picture. But one day, when Jesus arrives, we will see clearly, face-to-face."(1 Corinthians 13:12 The Voice)

We don't know what the future holds. But we know Who holds the future.
"So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." ( 2 Cor. 4:18 NIV)




Friday, April 15, 2016

Choosing Simple Over Easy

I picked up a hitchhiker this week.

She was a tiny, petite little thing.  Overall pretty dirty, and she didn't smell very nice.  She asked if we were heading North, and, actually we were.  I had Steven, a co-worker with me, a 23 year old strong, weight-lifting type young man, so I thought it would be okay.  Besides, something about her confidence and straightforward way of asking took me off-guard.  I really couldn't think of a reason why not, so I said yes.  I had just read a blog that morning about Bob Goff, the author of Love Does, who took his friends on various "capers," adventures where they could find ways to bless people.

So I thought of this as my very first caper.

She plopped into the back seat of our very packed SUV, along with her "little" dog Venus, an over-gown sweet mutt she had picked up along the way, who rode with her, sprawled out on her back, enjoying the ride. It seemed in Venus' five short months on this earth, she had experienced a life of capers, traveling across the entire country, visiting friends, concerts, festivals, and circuses.



I had to know what motivated her to choose this lifestyle.  Steven and I took turns asking the obvious questions she'd answered many times before, yet she took great joy in sharing her story.

She had been a soccer star during high school, so talented that it had earned her a full ride scholarship.  She had played during college while finishing her degree in Special Ed, literally burning the candle at both ends between school and soccer.  People kept telling her not to ever stop playing soccer, she was so talented, so she didn't.  Eventually she realized that all of her hard work landed her in a profession that didn't pay well.  There isn't much interest in female professional soccer in our country, she said.  She was tired, burnt out, disenchanted.  She knew there was more to her than just being a soccer player or PE teacher, but she'd never had the time to discover it.

So, she hit the road, the road of self-discovery.  She chose a simple life with very few obligations, save to take care of little Venus.  And she learned the art of being direct and asking for help. Backpack and a few clothes with her, she worked wherever she landed, sometimes sleeping on floors of buildings or homes, sometimes sleeping in her hammock with Venus outside.  Florida was tough, she said with all of the bugs and insects.  She had been snowboarding in Colorado, sight-seeing in California with a friend, working festivals in North Carolina, waiting tables in tourist-laden islands. It really wasn't an easy life. It's not easy trying to plan your next meal.  It's not easy setting up a hammock in the dark of a deserted forest.  Not easy asking strangers for rides to your next destination.

But it is simple.

I asked if it was difficult to make the change, to initially drop everything and just hit the road by herself.  I couldn't imagine doing it.  I couldn't imagine not having responsibilities, not having my loved ones around me, not really having a plan for the day or week.

She said it hadn't been for her, since she now had the time to try new hobbies and crafts, perfect some kind of juggling skill that now made her money in many shows.  It involved strings and glass balls, and eventually fire.  She's asked all the time to join traveling shows and circuses with her acquired skill, but she says no.  It would put her right back into the 9 to 5 job she had just escaped.  It would tie her hands so she wouldn't be able to explore other hidden talents she had but didn't realize yet.

In my attempt to help her, to bless her, she got me thinking.  How much have I missed throughout my life by taking the predictable path that seemed easy, but became stressful, and complicated?

How do I simplify to that I can allow the Lord to mold me and change me?  What are the hidden talents I possess that I have been too busy to discover?

What about you?
Do you need to start asking new questions?
Go on a caper or two?
Choose simple over easy?










Friday, April 1, 2016

Reflections on The Road Not Taken

"Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference."

--"The Road Not Taken," by Robert Frost


It's too bad I studied this poem in grade school as a simple exercise in poetry appreciation.  I surely did not appreciate it then as I do now.  

Have you ever wondered how your life would have turned out had you taken a different path?  Maybe chosen a different profession.  Married your high school or college sweetheart?  Decided to have more children, or maybe less?  Followed your dream rather than taken the safe route?  

I do.  Lately I wonder where I would be now had I not decided at the somewhat tender age of 16 to follow Jesus.  Surely I didn't know the ramifications then.  I wonder if I really do now.  
What would it have been like to ride the roller coaster of life, not knowing that there was Someone guiding me, having my back, so to speak?  What would my temperament be,  constantly living in the guilt of really bad decisions?  Would I have bounced through  relationship after relationship, packing my bags of fear, guilt, and shame higher and higher?  Would my load have been so heavy that I may have quit?

Really not sure, but, wow, what a thought.  The Bible teaches us to pause and reflect.  To number our days.  To consider our ways, learn from past mistakes.

When I pause and reflect on the roads I have taken, it gives me a surge of gratitude.   I have been given so much.  And I really do believe that it is not so much the individual  choices made, all stacked together that have determined  my place today, as much as the One I have had guiding my steps.  

Psalm 37:23 puts it this way:
"The Lord directs the steps of the godly.
    He delights in every detail of their lives."

He truly has made all the difference.




Sunday, March 27, 2016

One Truth, One Lie--An Easter Story

If you ever want to get a group of people talking when the atmosphere is quiet and slightly uncomfortable, play a game called One Truth, One Lie.  Each person in the room has to come up with two facts about themselves, one that is unknown but completely true, the other a total lie.  Everyone else tries to determine which fact is true, and which is totally fabricated.  The result is usually a lot of laughter, and some insight into the lives of people you most likely wouldn't have had in normal conversation.  Try it, it's really fun!

Today is Easter, or better put, Resurrection Sunday.  As I do about Christmas, I struggle with the Easter holiday as it is celebrated in our culture.  I made a late-night excursion to our local Walmart last night and was so hit with the huge commercial enterprise Easter has become.

I don't know about you, but nothing screams Happy Easter louder for me than multi-colored Peeps in a Spiderman Easter bucket, along with Ninja Turtles eggs nestled in with an Avenger action figure. Sprinkle in some Jolly Rancher jelly beans and orange M&M's in a carrot-shaped wrapper, and you have a feast fit for a prince.   I need therapy.

Oh, and don't forget the huge bunny or egg-shaped pinata.  No Easter would be complete without blindfolded children hitting a rabbit with a stick so they can dive on even more candy.  How have I never thought about doing that until now?  Must be a second-rate Easter celebrator.

What the what?

There's something much bigger here.  We have settled for a lie.  We have accepted the wrapper because it's so colorful and full of promises and have tried to unwrap it and there is nothing inside. The lie boasts that it's okay that the most important christian  holiday (holy day) of the year has turned into a big charade about rabbits and eggs and candy.  That is it?  Where is the promise in that?


The HUGE promise of new life, of hope, of a Spring in our lives has been trampled on by a huge rabbit carrying a basket of eggs.  And we know it and do it anyway.

I overheard my husband talking on the phone to someone last night who wants him to perform their wedding ceremony.  He asked what they've been up to since their counseling sessions, why they had stopped coming to church.  I overheard him politely trying to convince them to bring their children to church on Easter.  Company in town?   That's okay, bring them too.  It's Easter!  Sadly, it's obvious they had no intention of celebrating the Resurrection.  It will be a day focused on  candy, the bunny, the food.

The lie shouts from the aisles of the department stores," This is it!  This is all there is, so eat chocolate! Hunt for eggs! Buy a new toy! Wear the new clothes!"  

And when it's all over, if you're not careful,  you will be right where you are right now--searching for answers for pain and struggle, hope for tomorrow, a reason to live.

There is truth, my friend. But you won't find it in the holiday aisle of your department store.  Jesus died on a cross 2,016 years ago to prove to you that this life is not the end.  There is meaning in your existence, there is purpose in your struggle, there is a future for you.  You can have all these things, but there is a catch.

The catch is that you need to come to God on His terms. You don't get to play multiple choice with His commandments.  He paid the ultimate price by giving His only Son to suffer and die on a cross as a gift to you and I.  A Son who paid with His life a penalty for sin that we could not pay.  Give your life to Him, follow Him, make Him number one in your life and you will find a miracle of truth that you didn't even know was there.

The God of the universe who created you loves you, and has a purpose for your life.  Why not start today and embrace the truth of the Resurrection!






Friday, March 25, 2016

Light From Darkness

Today's Five Minute Friday prompt word is Alive.  Join us if you like at katemotaung.com

Go!

I love the fact that the Resurrection happened in the Spring.  It's just so fitting. New Life is possible because of the Resurrection.  Today is Good Friday.  I have mixed feelings about this day.  I think about the Scriptures where Mary and the other women went to the tomb where Jesus was laid and an angel greeted them instead.  The angel's words were--

"Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; He is risen!"

He is alive!

Instead of focusing on His death, it makes more sense to concentrate on the Resurrection.
But, can you have a resurrection without death?

My 18 year old daughter literally hates sad books and sad movies.  For some reason she is okay with sad songs.  Her logic is, "why would I want to waste my time reading or watching something that has a terrible ending?"

And wouldn't it be wonderful if life was like that?  Only focus on positive things and nothing negative would happen.  Except, that's not real life, is it?

Any good artist knows that in order to paint light you need darkness to contrast it.  Otherwise you would have a very boring, bland piece of artwork.  You need darkness to see light.  A novelist knows it as well.  He needs to create conflict in order for there to be a resolution.  A tragedy so there can be a hero.

We need to pause and reflect on death in order to appreciate life.  Jesus' horrible painful death made the resurrection possible.  God became flesh and gave himself as a sacrifice because nothing else would pay the penalty for sinful mankind.

I think about friends who are hurting right now. Friends who have lost loved ones, who are suffering in their bodies, those who are facing really, really difficult life situations, and it looks really dark for them.  I wish I could just paint light in their lives and take away their hurt and pain. But this I know.  They will not always feel pain, they will not always be in darkness.  And when their miracles come, they will appreciate them so much more for having walked through the darkness.  Some will receive their miracles here on earth; others will see them on the other side of Heaven.  This I do know for sure--there will be light; there will be life; there will be joy again. All because of the Resurrection.






Monday, March 21, 2016

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Encouragement For Those Struggling to Parent Children From Hard Places

I am a runner.  Not the kind that has that lean, energetic, and toned  body. Not the kind that looks at a piece of chocolate cake and says, "No, I think I'll just have a salad.  I just crave salads, don't you?" Not the kind that says, "I'm so stressed, I just need to go for a run to feel better. "  
No, I just usually (let's be honest here--always) take the cake and leave the salad.  The farthest thing from my mind is running when I'm stressed.  Give me a quiet room, the chocolate, the laptop or a good book, and I'll see you in a couple of hours. 
Not that kind of runner.  The other kind. 
I am the kind that has looked at a difficult situation, longed for an answer, decided that it was too hard for me to tackle, and have placed it on the back burner, hoping some other runner will grab the baton and take off with it. Except it's not an easy race. It's the kind that makes you question everything. Makes you realize your flaws and shortcomings, and doesn't even look doable on some days.The kind that makes you look like this:
It's the race of parenting a child from a hard place. 
Loving a child through adoption, foster care, or step-parenting. 

The reason I have been running for the past few years is not a small one.  In fact, it is such a huge weight and mantle that I am so very sure there is no way I can handle this on my own.  I do not have all of the answers for you, my friend.  I am just a fellow soldier struggling with the weight that has been put on my back to make it the next few feet, set down my pack, rest, regroup and get back on the road for a little while longer.

Part of the reason I have waited is that I wanted answers.  How do I help other struggling women through their hardships if I haven't arrived on the other side yet?  How do I encourage the mom whose heart is broken and she is flattened with the heavy burden she is carrying, when I am hurting and struggling too?  I so wanted to arrive on the other side and give the four step approach to freedom.
This is how you love a child from a hard place.  This is how you parent with pure love a child born to another and is now yours to love and raise.  This is the secret ingredient in that soup you keep pouring methods and ideas into, and it still just tastes flat.

Three and a half years of trying to create in myself a pure enough heart that I could love a child I don't often like.  Three and a half years of beating myself up for not conjuring up loving emotions when they deserved all of that and more. Three and a half years of guilt. Frustration.  Anger. Emotional fatigue.
If you have never parented a child from a hard place, then believe me, sister (brother), what I write will make  no sense to you whatsoever. You will compare my experience with your own and throw your shoulders back, puff out your chest, and look down your nose on me and anyone else who may identify as pitiful, selfish people who should never have adopted, fostered, step-parented in the first place.

I know this because I have seen the vicious attacks that have happened on the hurting moms and dads struggling to love an unlovely child, who dare venture out into the deep waters of adoption support groups.  I have seen them stick their toes into the water, hoping, just pleading for another to reach out a hand and help them rise above the flood of hurt and anger. There were those who offered kind words of encouragement.  But I have watched as a few wolves tore apart the injured mother sheep grasping for a little bit of encouragement.  Part of me wonders if those wolves were just dressed up sheep--sheep in wolves clothing, so to speak. Maybe they couldn't admit their own flaws.  Maybe denial has worked for them. Or maybe, just maybe they were one of the lucky ones who didn't struggle as you and I do.

Picture-perfect adoption stories fill social media pages, as they should.  Adoption is still the answer to motherless, fatherless children around the world.  Fostering is the emergency rescue of children in danger.

We need to see the "Gotcha Day" videos, to cry with  new moms and dads who have worked, prayed, and waited for so long and are finally able to hold and hug the children they have loved from afar. We all need to see the miracle of a life rescued from abandonment, placed in a loving home, thriving far more than anyone ever expected. We need to see the before and after pictures. Tens of millions of children still need homes. They cannot rescue themselves.  Parents need to rise up. We and millions of others just like us are the answer.  Imperfect people are needed to imperfectly reach out to angry, hurting and abandoned children.

The pressure is there, my friend.  Pressure to fake it 'til you make it, with the idea that at some point you will make it.  Pressure to come up with the answers that nag you day in and day out.  Pressure to paint a picture-perfect adoption story so that you can inspire others to rise up and do the same.
But the answer that I had searched for these past three and half years hit me in the face today.  I guess I knew it all along, but now I'm finally going to pass it to you.  It's okay if you don't get it right away. It took me an awful long time to get it myself.

As beautiful as the gotcha day videos are.  As beautiful as the successful, picture-perfect adoption stories are.  As amazing as the before and after pictures of rescued children are, they all pale in comparison to the most beautiful expression of love of all.
The breathtaking beauty is in your struggle.  
Your tears, your doubts, your anger, your hurt paint a masterpiece far more beautiful than anything else.  You are loving the unlovely in the midst of all of the ugly.  Your broken pieces are creating a mosaic.  You can't see it because each piece looks imperfect.  Parenting in your weakness.  Helping when you are hurting.  Providing when you are angry.  Giving when you have been taken from.  The Bible puts it this way:
 “Here is a simple rule of thumb for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you; then grab the initiative and do it for them! If you only love the lovable, do you expect a pat on the back? Run-of-the-mill sinners do that. If you only help those who help you, do you expect a medal? Garden-variety sinners do that. If you only give for what you hope to get out of it, do you think that’s charity? The stingiest of pawnbrokers does that. “I tell you, love your enemies. Help and give without expecting a return. You’ll never—I promise—regret it. Live out this God-created identity the way our Father lives toward us, generously and graciously, even when we’re at our worst. Our Father is kind; you be kind.       --Luke 6:32-36The Message (MSG)
You think you have come up short because you are so engulfed in the emotions of it all, it feels like failure.  If you truly loved your child, wouldn't you know it? Wouldn't you feel loving? Wouldn't you have the endless "I would kill for this child, I would give my life for this child, I would give up everything for this child" emotions to go along with it?  Guess what?  You don't need the emotions. The fact that you don't have warm fuzzy feelings is proof that you have loved when it is hard.  It is the extra mile.  You have already walked it.  You have given when it didn't feel like giving, it just felt like a big charade.

The angry outbursts followed by an apology, or maybe not.  Yet another meeting with the school principal, the teacher, the resource worker.  The IEP. Hundreds of hours of counseling.  Nights of lost sleep.  Trips to psychiatric wings, to hospitals, to jails.  Breaking up fights. The phone calls from school.  Staying up late nights trying to figure out how the extra bills will be paid. The nagging feeling you are doing irreparable damage to your other children. The arguments with your spouse. The pit in your stomach.  The tears you have cried.  All pieces.  All imperfectly, breathtakingly beautiful.
There's a song that plays quietly in my head on some days.  It says what I feel often.  I heard it many years ago before I could apply it to my struggle.

"...People say that I'm amazingStrong beyond my years,But they don't see inside of meI'm hiding all the tears.
They don't know that I go running home when I fall down.They don't know who picks me up when no one is around.I drop my sword and cry for just a while.'Cause deep inside this armor,The warrior is a child."(From "Warrior is a Child, by Twila Paris)
"Once upon a time, my sister, you were a girl with a beautiful dream, and so was I.  We were going to be mommies.  We were going to share a lifetime of love and laughter with bright-eyed, dimpled children that would thrive under our care.  We were going to foster or adopt and give a future to a child who had no future.  Our hearts were loving, our motives were pure, we just didn't know then what we know now.  We didn't know that damaged children take more than love and security and structure to heal.  More than food on the table and a roof over their heads and clean clothes and new toys and a good education and piano lessons and band aids on skinned knee." 
(excerpt from  http://lisa-overcomingmyself.blogspot.com/2011/07/to-mothers-of-unattached-children.html?m=1)

Stand up,  chin up, shoulders back, my friend. Take a deep breath. You are doing it! You are making a difference. You are accomplishing what many wish they could, but aren't yet.  Don't worry about the finish line right now.  Your goal is the next few steps.  You have an Advocate that is with you, giving you what you need for today.  Surrender your hurts, your fears, your anger, your imperfections to the One who can fill in the gaps for you.  He promises to be the perfect Father to your child when you fall short.  He is cheering you on in your battle. 

You can do this.  You already have.