Time For a Break

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve put up any new content on the blog, or been around to visit other blog friends. Unfortunately, I strained my neck about three weeks ago, and was having good days and bad days. In the end, the bad days were winning, so I went to the doctor.

I’m now in physical therapy for about a month to help my neck muscles calm down, and strengthen them so this doesn’t happen again (yes please!). I feel a little better now, which is great, but I look forward to getting back to full strength.

In the middle of all that, my husband was involved in a car accident (not his fault). He is now dealing with some pain too, so we are quite a pair! I think between the therapy, the soreness, and the coming summer activities, it’s probably a good time for a blog break.

I wish you all a wonderful summer, with the joy and peace the good weather brings. I plan to get back to blogging in August, so I hope to see you then! I’ll keep you in my prayers, and I hope that we will be in yours.

God bless us all, and keep us in the palm of his hand.

 

 

Life’s Little Surprises

I explained to my son that he was going to be a big brother. He was 21 months at the time, so I knew the information would seem a bit abstract and hard to grasp. But my husband and I still had to try.

So we tried for three days. Then his sister, our new infant daughter arrived.

Because our children are adopted, there is precious little time to get siblings ready for a new arrival. My husband and I knew about the adoption for a few days, but you never know what can happen. We waited a bit more, to be as sure as we could be, and only then brought our son into the big surprise.

So really, we were all scrambling to absorb the joyful concept of adding another person to our heart and home. 

I think my son did as well as could be expected. He treated his new sister with alternate levels of intensity. Intense interest. Intense love. Intense lack of interest. Sometimes she was just that funny lump on the floor between him and the toy box. It would be a while until he could appreciate the true gift that she was.

Last year, the Huffington Post published an article showing how some big sisters and brothers reacted the first time they saw their newborn siblings. The photos that accompanied the article were both heartwarming and hilarious.

 

 

 

The sibling reactions ran the gamut between unimaginable tenderness and horror. Well, sometimes it takes a little while for gifts to look like…gifts.

That wait time applies to the little surprises that crop up for us as adults too. God’s sudden ‘little presents’ are often bewildering. They are all expressions of God’s great love for us, but sometimes, they don’t look much like it.

But God has a wonderful way of transforming our gifts.

“If you work hard and are a team player, you’ll go far.” That’s what you heard at work three years ago. “Oh please, give me a break,” you think. But you keep at it, doing the best you can, with little fanfare. Now you sit in the chair dumbfounded while the boss tells you about your raise and new responsibilities.

Your child bugs you for weeks to be a chaperone for the class trip. Now that’s about the last thing you’d want to do, but you finally cave and do it. Not only is it a great trip, but you meet a fellow chaperone who becomes your best friend.

Each of our life experiences are wrapped-up gifts, one after another. Some we accept with joy, most look a little sketchy at first. But if we can hang on in faith, they transform into delightful surprises.

So here’s what I’d tell all of us who give a gift the side eye. It’s going to be okay. We’ll survive the confusing, upsetting newness, and watch it change into joy.

And to all those older sibs, I want you to know that God has a wonderful plan. Someday that little squawking, confusing stranger…will be your best friend.

 

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Living in the Flowing Waters

Then he brought me back to the door of the temple, and behold, water was issuing from below the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east). The water was flowing down from below the south end of the threshold of the temple, south of the altar. Then he brought me out by way of the north gate and led me around on the outside to the outer gate that faces toward the east; and behold, the water was trickling out on the south side.”    Ezekiel 47

I don’t know about you, but every time I hear this Scripture proclaimed, I try to visualize the temple and the water flowing… But it’s pretty hard to do. All those sides of the Temple, all that water. It gets confusing.

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Yeah. Not so helpful is it. Fortunately, it’s not a must to understand the origin or flow of the water. It’s really all about the water itself.

There’s healing and life-giving water flowing out of the Temple, it can’t be contained. Well, what can contain God? We all live and splash in this water of life, flowing naturally from His throne.

And here’s some more good news: You are God’s Temple too.

Before we were born, our lives were planned and decorated, waiting for the moment we would be loved into being. At just the right time, we are born, and a new grace-filled temple comes to live on earth.

In Ezekiel’s dream, the temple didn’t just leak water. Oh no. This was rushing, life-giving water in super-abundant amounts.

We all have a share in this abundant life, roiling and sloshing in and around us. This healing grace will not be kept captive. It pushes and shoves, eager to escape and share itself in never-ending supply.

Like waters that spill over a dike after a rainstorm, grace grows and expands in us as God’s Temple. Once it fills, it can barely be held back, restless and pressing, finally cascading out of us and onto our brothers and sisters.

Have you ever met someone who needed help, and felt compelled to step in? That’s the nudge that comes from the swelling grace inside you. It’s always looking for a place flow, a situation to heal, a person to support.

I’ve seen it in action in children. I have four-year-old and two-year-old granddaughters, and those two are always tussling over something. A favorite doll, a book. “I WANT IT!”

Yeah. Well. She had it first. (I’m sure you all know the drill.)

But there are many times, I’d see one or the other sister wait about three seconds after her sibling ‘requested’ the toy she was holding, and then cheerfully hand it over. “Here you go!”, she’d say.

What can this be but grace? This little Temple spilling over with the loving power of God.

So, who cares what direction or what door the grace flows from? The most important thing is, it’s flowing.

And truly, that’s a beautiful and powerful sight.

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Linking today with Tracy at Winsome Wednesday

Sometimes, It Takes A Little More

I stood in the waist-high water of the shallow end of the pool. Not two feet away from the edge, I squinted into the sun to see my little boy standing on the edge of the pool deck.

“Jump to Mommy! You can do it – I’ll catch you. You’ll be fine!”

My little one’s face was a rainbow of emotions. Excitement. Dread. Love. Doubt. Those little feet stayed firmly planted on the deck. Nothing I said seemed to help or encourage a leap into my arms.

Well, there was all that water between us too.

I’m sure thoughts were racing through his mind. Thoughts like:

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Will she catch me?

What if I drown?

You know, this doesn’t look like a lot of fun. PASS!

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I finally had to give up. Again. “Maybe next time Buddy,” I said with a little sadness. I couldn’t help wishing my child had more trust in me. Haven’t I been worthy of that trust?

I had fed, clothed, napped, Mommy-And-Me’d and treated him to ice pops. I covered outlets, put up safety gates, and caught his flying body as it careened off the bottom of the slide.

But, sometimes it takes a little more.

Remember the story of Thomas the Apostle? How he doubted that Jesus ‘appeared’ to his friends? His doubt was so disturbing to Jesus, that He came back again just for Thomas’ benefit.

What really hit me were the words in John’s Gospel that came after the visit.

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Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book.  But these are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ.       ~John 20

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The disciples needed Jesus to perform ‘many other’ miracles and signs too, even though He appeared to them after His death. Even though He had come back after dying and rising, they still needed added assurance that He was the Savior.

Jesus, still having to prove Himself. What did He think of the situation?

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Will they get it this time?

How many signs will it take?

Why is there this river of doubt between us?

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Jesus did everything He was supposed to do. He healed, taught, fed, protected and shared His Spirit. What more could the disciples need?

If you think about it, the apostles were just like my son. They wanted to believe. They wanted to leap over that chasm of doubt, and land in the arms of Jesus. It just took a little more. A little more proof. A little more encouragement.

The good news is that the apostles did come to believe. They did make that leap to become strong, purposeful leaders in the beginning years of the Church. They were rock solid in faith, converting the people they were called to serve.

Back at the pool with my son… He jumped when he got enough encouragement too. Years later he was a member of his high school’s water polo team, winning the state championship four years running.

A little extra. Sometimes, that’s what we need…to finally come to trust.

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Try. Fail. Fall. Repeat.

I remember watching my children learn to walk. They’d stand, and then cruise the furniture. It took at while, but eventually they got up enough nerve to let go of the couch and take a wobbly step or two before they’d plop down on their backsides (if they were lucky!).

It looked painful. I think I’d be in traction for a week if I fell that hard on my derriere.

My son was more determined than my daughter. He would fall and get right back up. And fall again. He was like a bouncing Energizer Bunny. Nothing would stop him from getting right back on his feet.

My daughter was different. Every attempt to walk, followed by the inevitable fall, was a Shakespearean tragedy. She would yelp and wail like she had been electrocuted, and then wouldn’t try again for a few days.

Fade to learning to ride a bike…

Basically, it’s the same procedure. I’d hang on to the back of their bike seat while they pedaled down the sidewalk. Hopefully, they’d get up enough momentum to glide when I let go, but that was never guaranteed. There were plenty of wobbles, crashes and slow-mo tip overs. But still, they kept at it until they were sailing down the sidewalk, grins a mile wide on their faces.

In the end, they both learned to walk and ride a bike. They both had to suffer the hard bumps of failure, decide to try again, and then begin the process one more time.

There’s just something inside our children that moves them from sitting to crawling to walking. And from walking to riding a bike. I suppose they learn a lot by watching other children, but I also think that’s how they’re wired. Like the urge to eat and sleep, the call to walk and move is deep and primal. Failure doesn’t crush their spirits for very long.

As adults, we can lose sight of that primal call to courage and change. Failure hits hard, and we wonder if we’re supposed to keep trying. If someone sees us fall? Now embarrassment crawls in on top of feeling useless and unable.

Sometimes, having more worldly experience can be a negative.

Children fail, get frustrated and then try again. Adults fail, and now it’s less about the goal, and more about all the ways we tell ourselves “this might not be for me.”

I wonder why we’re so good at talking ourselves out of things when we are capable of doing more than we could ever imagine. Like our children, it’s going to take an investment of time and experience. Not to mention falling on our backsides. But we absolutely can overcome.

If God is calling you from deep inside to do something for Him, don’t let failure stop you. Let that calling lead you to rise up and try again every time you trip and fall. That strength is in you.

When you finally succeed, you’ll run and ride like the wind.

Your Father will be so proud…

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Living With Blurred Vision

Uh oh. This doesn’t look good.

I was walking on the nature path, striding along to the music from my iPOD, when I saw about two blocks ahead of me, a man standing at the beginning of the bridge. He was alone.

Because the path is so long – it passes through multiple towns – there are the occasional bridges and spans across streets and even highways. It was a cold day, in the low 40’s, so there were very few people out walking. Hmmm. I had time to turn around. I did have my phone with me, but it was on ‘airplane mode’. As I continued closer to the bridge, I noticed that the gentleman hadn’t moved since I saw him, so I concluded there wasn’t a dog involved.

Phew. That’s good. But what was he doing just standing by the overpass? I decided to keep walking in spite of my rising anxiety. “I’m sure it’s fine,” I told myself.

I got to within a half a block of the bridge and suddenly realized…there wasn’t a man there at all. Instead of a person, I saw the dark-painted railing of the guard rail (which I thought was a shirt), and the white cement of the bridge (khaki pants?). Oh man. How ridiculous.

 

I had nothing to fear at all.

I’m near sighted. I’m okay reading, sitting across from you at a restaurant or just doing housework. But I need my glasses for driving, or watching TV or movies. Two blocks away? That’s far for me. So the image of the bridge rail and wall got all mushed up in my head, creating a picture that had no basis in reality.

Crossing over the bridge, no longer nervous, (actually feeling kind of silly), I realized that this experience could teach me a lot about spiritual life.

My ability to recognize what God is doing in my life is not very consistent. Sometimes I see very clearly, like when I get that job I wanted. Or feel led to purchase the house I love so well. Those situations make it easy to see the hand of the Lord leading me.

But that doesn’t happen all the time. Sometimes I look and look and pray and pray and nothing is very clear at all. When that happens, I can get anxious, and start to see calamity where there really isn’t any cause to worry.

Of course, I want to be able to see everything just as it is. I want to recognize exactly what’s going on in my life. Who doesn’t? But God wants followers who will trust Him when their vision fails. So He doesn’t always let me see…

I’ve been through many ‘blurry vision’ times. My husband lost three jobs over our married lives, and we certainly had no ability to know the future. I tried to look ahead, but all I saw were worries and hard times. But God provided, time and time again.

I had nothing to fear at all.

 

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Dealing with the Feeling

I must confess to a little ritual I have in the winter season.

Early in the morning, I have my coffee. I carefully add boiling water to the powder. Yep. Powder. I am very fond of Cafe Vienna, an instant coffee that is out-of-this-world good. My father told me he is ‘addicted’. (Guess who introduced him to it!)

 

In the evenings, I always grab a blanket for my legs, and I make a cup of tea to warm up. I enjoy the smell and the taste as I sip and relax.

Both of these wonderful drinks require boiling water. I’ve had many tea kettles in my day. All colors, all designs. But after burning through more than my share, I don’t buy any replacements unless it whistles.

Unfortunately, I had a bad habit of starting up the gas flame and then wandering away to do…whatever called me at the moment. I can’t see the stove from any other room, so you know. Out of sight, out of mind. The water boils, the steam soundlessly pours out of the spout. And I’m still paying bills or reading my book.

Pretty soon I start to smell something bad. Oh boy. Once again, the pot is ruined, and I came very close to a dangerous situation.

So now – only whistling tea kettles. I need to be warned when the water is roiling and moving and steaming. It’s too bad I had to learn my lesson by ruining so many pots, but I’m glad the problem is solved.

I wish I had as perfect a solution to another burning problem. My reactive emotions.

Feelings, like anger, should wear bells around their necks, don’t you think? And anger’s not the only one who needs a collar. How about jealousy, embarrassment or anxiety? I realize these emotions are good, they serve a purpose. Just like my boiling water.

But unattended, they can spill over on others. Or if I hold on to them, they can hurt me, burning away in my stomach.

 

Take embarrassment as an example. If I drop my lunch on the floor in the middle of Panera, or realize my shoes don’t match, I’m going to be keenly ashamed. If I recognize that, and deal with it right then and there, I can push past it and reset. If I don’t deal with it, and push those feelings away?

It’s like ignoring my tea kettle. The heat still has to escape, and so do my feelings. If I don’t face my emotions, I’ll either overreact to a small problem later, or need to down a handful of TUMs. Neither one is a great option.

Strong emotions, like the whistle on my teapot, exist to tell me that something needs attention. Once I deal with the situation, I won’t need that emotion anymore. So instead of silently bottling my emotions up, I can face them, and forget them.

On to the more positive things in life. Like that cup of coffee…

 

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Piecing It Together

“Life is a Bowl of Cherries”

O.K., who said that, and what the heck does that mean anyway?

Spoiler alert: I’m a little cranky today. Here’s a little background to my mood: I’ve been dealing with sinus pressure, ear pain and constant ringing in my ears for about a month. Two courses of antibiotics and nasal spray got the ear pain under control, but I’m still left with occasional ear pressure (it moves from side to side), and the crickets are still chirping in my head. All the time. 24/7.

Did I say all the time?

Finally at a specialist, I got a hearing test, and was able to share all my symptoms.

Turns out my ears look great, my sinuses passed the exam with flying colors. The very nice doctor told me I have an ear-tube defect which should probably resolve in a month or so. The ear ringing is most likely unrelated, and probably permanent. It’s called ‘tinnitus’, and there is no treatment for it.

So. That didn’t go as well as I’d hoped.

All the way home from the doctor’s office, I talked to God about how cruddy this whole deal is, but if this is what I have to deal with, I’ll do my best. Could always be worse. Stiff upper lip and all that. Until I got home.

My husband came to meet me a the door and asked “How did it go?” Innocent question, and one you’d expect. My response was one I didn’t expect. I sort of fell apart and ended up weeping on his shoulder.

I know my life is a gift. Everything is given to me by God, or allowed by Him. But here’s what else I know. Life events don’t always come all pretty and sparkling and whole. For the most part, life comes to us in pieces, like a puzzle.

I can usually figure them out. Especially the easy ones, like the 25 piece beginner sets that are mostly corners and outside edges. But then there are those 500 and 1000 piece nightmares that take forever just to flip over all the shapes to reveal a little section of color. Finding a corner to anchor myself seems like an impossible task, much less getting into the whole middle section. I feel like this chapter in my life is one big and confusing mess. I don’t know how it’s going to turn out…

I’m working to get past the “1000 piece” confusion stage. I’m doing swallowing exercises to speed up the popping of my eardrums, hopefully relieving the pressure. The chances of the tinnitus going away are slim, but hey…a girl can dream.

I can honestly say that talking to the Lord and laying the whole mess at His feet has really helped. Yep. I took this whole ‘ear-puzzle box’ and dumped it out in front of Him.

I know I can’t do it on my own. But with Him?

Working together, a beautiful scene will emerge. It might not be the one I would have chosen. But it will be ours.

And right now…that’s enough.

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Holy Week

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This is the week. The holy time when we remember Christ’s incredible sacrifice to redeem, to save, to bring us back to life.

I will be taking this Holy Week off from blogging. I hope to spend more time in prayer and preparation in remembrance of the Passion, and in anticipating the joyous celebration of the Resurrection at Easter.

May God gift you and yours with His unending grace to bless you with love, joy and a peace this Holy Week, and beyond.

I will keep you in my prayers this week, as we travel together the last days of the Lenten Season.

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Taming the Monkey Mind

Do you remember the first time you left your baby with a sitter? You couldn’t wait for alone time with your spouse. Adult conversation. Maybe a movie…

You gave all your instructions to an impossibly young teenager and then wonder. “What am I thinking? Will this gum-chewing child remember everything? I’d better write it all down.” So of course, you do.

Finally out of the house, you realize you forgot your phone. Running inside to get it, you apologize to the sitter for scaring her, and remind her of the potato chips in the pantry.

At the movies, you settle into a cushy chair with a huge bucket of popcorn. Your husband begins to chatter about work and all you can think of is the baby. Oh, and did you lock the car? Your mind is just all over the place. You want to cry, it’s so frustrating. All you wanted was one lousy night out with your spouse. Why is it so hard to calm down?

Welcome to Monkey Mind.

Buddhists describe the human mind as being filled with drunken monkeys, jumping from tree to tree, branch to branch, chattering endlessly. We all have a share in that confusing, loud and distracting flight of ideas. We can usually tame it, but in times of stress, worry or just feeling tired, it’s harder to do.

I’ve also found it hard to tame those monkeys when I settle in to meditate.

When I sit in the quiet, I should duck down behind a strong wall, because as they used to say on the TV show M*A*S*H; “INCOMING!!!” Laundry lists of all I have to do today. All my fears (real and imagined) come swinging by for a visit, creating ‘what if’ catastrophes for my future. To avoid the made-up messes of my future, I start judging my present.

Oy. What a chaotic jumble of thoughts.

But all is not lost. After all, we’re talking about monkeys, not Pulitzer Prize winners. Why am I handing over my own God-given power in grace to rely on thoughts that only end up making me angry, unhappy, restless and anxious? Being tired or worried makes it harder of course, but still, it’s not an impossible situation.

Monkey Mind isn’t fatal. It’s more like a fact of life, like my allergies. I don’t enjoy them either, but they don’t keep me from living fully in the right here and now.

The key to restoring calm is recognizing that these run-away thoughts aren’t rational, or based on any real emergency. The monkeys get their power from my attention. If I keep entering into their conversation and agreeing with them, I continue to give them control.

I wish I could go back in time and tell my young-mom self that everything is okay. My son will be fine. And of course, he was. But maybe it’s enough to start right now, by telling my young-Nana self that it’s Eviction Day for the monkeys.

I can always visit them at the zoo.

 

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