Thursday, August 26, 2010

An Empty Nest

(Photo found online)
School is back in session. College students have descended on our small town crowding the aisles at Walmart as they stock up on toilet paper and other necessities of life…like Mountain Dew and Doritos. The parents of these same students are touring the town, stopping in at the local shops, exploring what is now their child’s home for the next several months. The students act excited and the parents…not so much. I’m not sure if that’s due to the fact that they are paying for these same students to attend college or the prospect of leaving town to go back home without their child…probably both.

My brother and sister-in-law just dropped their youngest off at a school of higher learning. Their student was excited and ready to move on to the next phase of his life. My sister-in-law on the other hand has struggled for weeks at the prospect of his leaving.

When our first born left home I saw him off at the airport and then went to our Wednesday evening activities at church. My emotions were under control but right at the surface. I was doing fine talking about our son until a friend asked me how I was doing. Tears welled up in my eyes and I told her I couldn’t go there or I’d be sobbing that ugly cry. She nodded and changed the subject. Our son went into the military so he left his room just as it was. We would go in and just sit on his bed, it made us feel closer to him.

Our youngest spent the next 7 years wishing there were other children in the family so she wouldn’t be our only source of interest. While she would be the first to admit that being the youngest has its perks; seeing the two of us standing in her doorway just watching her do her homework those first few weeks her brother was gone wasn’t one of them.

The day we moved our daughter into her apartment I returned home to her nearly empty room and sat down in the middle of the floor where her bed had been and cried. The things she had left behind were things she had outgrown or didn’t have room for. Those things are now boxed up and in our basement.

Once both children had flown the coop and we were left with the empty nest, life went on but it didn’t feel right. If we as parents do our job correctly we have prepared our children to leave home but…it feels very much like being fired from a job that you love.  I think the grief surprised me more than anything.  I was happy they were out on their own, living their dreams but I was overwhelmingly sad as well.

Now life with my husband brings back memories of when we were first married- just the two of us. We have less stuff to pack into the car when we take a trip and only two opinions on where to eat or what to do. I miss being able to share the things with my daughter that I know she would find interesting or funny. It has gotten easier. After three years I can look at our home as being spacious instead of empty. I like that when I clean, things will stay clean. I don’t miss the staying up until they come home, or the falling asleep and waking up when they come home late.

I miss the laughter and the togetherness. The everyday familiarity of my children living at home. The spontaneous hugs, the notes left for each other, the shared meals, just hanging out together. Those times we are able to be together now are all the more precious, they seem to be over sooner than I would like.

As with every new circumstance in life there are adjustments to be made. I spent a lot of time in prayer asking God “What now?” God must have been waiting for me to ask that very question because He has given me plenty to keep me busy.

To my sister-in-law I would say...keep breathing.  Put one foot in front of the other and move forward.  Cry if you need to, talk it out with someone who has been there, we understand.  Just because we are not part of the everydayness of our childrens lives doesn't mean God isn't.  When our children move on to the next thing in life they don't go alone...God goes with them.

I’m thankful for snail mail, phones, texting, email and Facebook, all options for staying connected. God entrusted two children into my care for a season. I pray I didn’t let Him or them down. Though they are no longer living in my home, they remain in my heart. I look forward to someday beginning a new season in life…grand parenting. I think I might enjoy it…there’s room in my heart and home that’s for sure.

Walking in love,

Monday, August 23, 2010

Counting Graces this week

holy experience

91. Sharing the road with Amish folks and their horse pulled wagons and buggies.
92. The face of an Amish boy peering from the back of a buggy.
93. Dew so thick it looks like it rained.
94. Cool morning breeze as the sun comes up.
95. A weekend spent with family.
96. Long distance chat, laughing, scheming, and planning, with my friend in VA.
97. My family gathered around a prayer bench together at church, heads bowed.
98. Driving through the countryside enjoying the green...a result of so much rain!
99. Vegetable soup with sour dough bread.
100. Peanut butter cookies fresh from the oven...thanks to Pillsbury.
101. My husbands fresh shaved face...smooooth.
102. Plans for a busy September.
103. Washing dishes and seeing the full moon climb the night sky.
104. Watching the meadow larks swooping and diving to catch bugs as the tall grasses were being mowed down.
105. Getting lost in a Bible study...finding my way in Him.
106. Receiving 2 items in the mail with my name written in familier handwriting.
107. Finding cards to encourage people in my life and dropping them in the mail.
108. Listening to the heart of a mom just entering the empty nest phase of life and understanding.
109. Pink flip flops.
110. Pouring "Joy" dish soap into my soap bottle and enJOYing the lemony scent.

Take time to count your blessings and enjoy the simple things.

Walking in love,

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The War Room

He is a warrior. He was trained to handle a weapon, march in formation, and obey orders. He is a Marine. Years have gone by since he wore the uniform and served our country but he is still a Marine…he has the haircut to prove it. He lives by the Marine Corps motto: Semper Fidelis; Always Faithful or just Semper Fi. He has a scrapbook with photographs and memories that he pulls out and shares if you are interested. He shared it with our daughter last fall and she recently told me her favorite moment with her grandpa was his showing her his scrapbook and describing everything. A life story shared, one generation with the other.
He is getting older. He has new teeth now. His body has been sending him signals for several years that it’s not as strong or as fast and agile as it used to be. He isn’t the warrior he was with the strength and vigor he had as a young man wielding a weapon but he is still a warrior and stronger now in other ways.

Every day he goes into what he refers to as “The War Room” and wages war, through prayer and intercession. His weapon now is the Sword of the Spirit…the Word. He studies and reads from the Bible as he prepares the lesson for Sunday school each week. He has read through the Bible several times over the years by reading several chapters every day.

He writes himself notes and hangs them on the hutch over his desk so he doesn’t forget who to pray for and what their needs are. He reads the promises in the well worn Bible and claims them, prays them for the people he has a burden to pray for. His faith runs deep because he has experience with the One who hears the prayers of His children. They have a long history together him and his Lord. He received his marching orders from God many years ago to trust, obey, and follow Him. He hasn’t stopped following Him.

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”  Ephesians 6:12

He stands in the gap, praying for the lost, the sick, the dying, the prodigal child, his children and grandchildren, marriages that are in crisis, and the hurting. He prays for the soldiers in Iraq, Afghanistan and through out the world. He prays for our nation and our leaders. He prays for the church and for fellow believers. He prays for himself, asking for forgiveness, seeking guidance as well as asking for discernment.
He is a prayer warrior waging war against the enemy using the weapons of prayer and God’s Word. He is a righteous man who has a reputation for being a man of prayer. He doesn’t back down and he doesn’t give up.

“The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.”  James 5:16

In this battle I’m glad he’s got my back, and I’m certain many others feel the same way.

Walking in love,

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

In the hands of the Potter

We lived in Germany for three years in the early eighties. It was the one and only overseas assignment that we were able to go together as a family.

One of the neat things about living in the military is that the people you meet and make friends with while on different assignments become your family. We learned early on in our time in the Air Force that every place we moved we needed to find a church and I needed friends. In Germany I met some friends through my husband’s job and it turned out that they were involved in the women’s ministry at the base chapel where I made more friends. One of those friends is Pam; we have been friends now for 27 years. I recently found two other ladies I met all those years ago, one through Facebook.

The Protestant Women of the Chapel or PWOC, is a program that helps women find Christian fellowship. During my time in Germany the PWOC kept me sane which allowed my husband to stay sane. This was before cell phones, home computers and the internet. Our only communication with family back home was letters and an occasional phone call.  It was expensive so we wrote down the important stuff we wanted to share when we talked to family in the United States and we kept it short.

One of the things the PWOC did was go on outings in our local area and on one of those outings we went to a potters shop. The potter showed us how he created his pottery, using the clay, the potter’s wheel and water. As I stood watching the process I remembered the verse from Isaiah 64:8.

"Yet, O LORD, you are our Father.
We are the clay, you are the potter;
we are all the work of your hand."

In the hands of this craftsman a block of clay was molded and shaped using the water and the spinning motion of the potter’s wheel. If he didn’t like how something was turning out he could squish the clay back into a lump and start over. He would begin again to reshape and make it into what he wanted it to be. I remember at one point he was attaching the handle to the candle holder he was making and he didn’t like how it looked so he refashioned it and attached it again to the jar. The whole process was a visual lesson that I have never forgotten.

God is the Master Potter and I am the clay. Everything about my life is used by Him to mold me and make me into the vessel that He can use for His glory. Just as that day, the potter made a candle holder that is used to shine a light in a room; God uses my life to shine His light in a dark world. Sometimes the process of being molded and shaped isn’t fun; it can be painful depending on what I’m going through at any given time but while I’m going through it and when I come out on the other side, God’s purpose is to let people see Him shining through me.

I looked at my candle holder and couldn’t find any evidence of that potter’s finger prints; he had smoothed it with his sponge and water. But God the Master Potter has left His prints all over my life. At times I may not enjoy the process but I am clay in the Potters hands. The clay doesn’t tell the Potter how she wants to be formed.

Every time I look at my candle holder I’m reminded of that day in the potters shop, my friend Pam who has one just like mine, and God- the Master Craftsman and Potter. I am safe in His hands.  Click on the clip on Youtube's one of my favorites.

Walking in love,

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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

“What is the normal Christian life?”

Those are the first words from the book “A Normal Christian Life” by Watchman Nee. The book is one I borrowed from a wonderful elderly couple in my church. It was published in 1959, a couple of years before I was born. It’s been read and reread and has underlined passages as well as some handwritten notes on some of its pages.  It's what I call a "loved" book. After reading just the first four paragraphs I know this is not going to be your regular “feel good” book on the Christian life.

“God’s normal for a Christian…I live no longer, but Christ lives His life in me.”

Just that quote has given me hours of meditating and contemplating as I roll it over in my mind. I’m not a theologian but that statement written simply and straight forward has my attention. Normally, I want to rush on to the next thing on the next page but not with this book.

I can’t count how many times I have thought: I just want a normal Christian life. Well if I’m really looking for “normal” then every thing that comes; every cranky customer at work, every less than helpful sales person, every ding in my car door, every garage door malfunction, every twisted ankle…is an opportunity for me to respond as Christ would. Every complaint that rolls off my lips is one more example of how un-Christ like I can be. Every unkind thought is a reminder of how alive and well my sinful nature is.

If nothing happens in my life that is not first sifted through the loving hands of my Lord then everything that happens to me, around me, and through me is His “normal” for me.

It’s a daily struggle to choose to set aside my own desires and my own agenda. It is only by denying myself that Christ is able to live through me. How can I respond with kindness if I’m totally focused on my irritation with any given person or circumstance? How can I respond with love if I’m so wrapped up in my own life that I don’t see hurting people around me? How can I be an encouragement to someone if I haven’t taken the time to fill my heart and mind with His encouraging Word?

Life would be normal if the weather wasn’t too hot or too cold, our bills were all paid and we had a few dollars left over, both cars were running well and filled with gas, the pantry was full and there was a plan for supper, everyone who needed a job had one and the people that I know and love would all be healthy and happy. But that’s not the real world. It’s stinkin’ hot outside today, we are paying off debt, my daughter-in-law needs a job and people I know and love are dealing with cancer, learning how to do life now that the kids are grown and leaving the nest, facing decisions about their elderly parents or grieving the loss of their parents.

I read somewhere that normal is just a setting on your dryer. I might be wise to begin to make that my new definition for the word. God isn’t interested in how I define normal for my life. Would I need to seek the Lord in prayer if everything were normal? Would I need to search for answers in His Word? Would I be dependent on Him for anything if everything was going great for me and everyone I care about? I doubt it. I’m fairly certain I would be a very shallow, self absorbed person too.

Trusting God with what is normal for my life is a day to day choice. I choose to surrender to Him everything about the life I’m living and He shows me that He has it all under control, working it all together for good, for His glory. I don’t always understand what He is doing, how it’s going to be worked out but I never doubt He is with me and loves me. The normal process of life with my Lord is different than anyone else. He tailors it specific to me and what He wants to see happen in my relationship with Him.

There are times I am completely surrendered and following Him closely, other times I’m digging in my heels and doubting Him at every turn. He knows these things about me and He continues to love me through them…just like normal.

Walking in love,

Monday, August 9, 2010

Fruit Inspection

When I was a teenager I picked peaches one summer. Picking peaches in July/August in Southeast Missouri will give you a new appreciation for air-conditioning. I worked alongside several of my friends from school and church so it was fun. We all were friends with Don, the son of the farmer who owned the peach orchard.

Peach trees are not very tall so climbing the trees to reach the peaches was not a challenge. We were each given a bag to strap on that we would drop the peaches into. When it was full we would swing the bag over the edge of a trailer, unhook the fold up flap on the bottom of the bag and pour out our peaches.

Picking peaches is hot and sweaty work and you spend the whole day looking up while reaching for the fruit. At some point in the afternoon on my first day I made the mistake of rubbing my face. Back then I don’t remember ever using sun block so I was sunburned and the peach fuzz mixed with sweat clung to my face making it itch. It was uncomfortable to say the least. But those peaches were the juiciest and sweetest I ever tasted. The smell of fresh peaches will start my mouth to watering.

This is the time of year when fresh fruit of all kinds is plentiful in the grocery store and road side stands. Peaches, nectarines, cantaloupe, watermelon are just a few of the choices as summer is drawing to a close, but there is other fruit available to us as believers.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Galatians 5:22-23

This fruit is evidence of the Holy Spirit living and working in our lives. If we are living our lives so that others see this fruit growing in us then people are going to know that we are followers of Christ.

News reports of aid workers killed in Afghanistan last week because they were Christians is a strong testimony of how effective the evidence of the fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives can be. By all accounts none of them were proselytizing but they were offering medical assistance to the poor of that nation. Just by the way they lived their lives they had an impact on people who have never entered a church building.

I wonder if there is enough of that fruit growing in my life to convict me of trying to convert others to a belief in Christ. I pray that others will see evidence of the fruit of God’s Spirit in my life even if I speak no words.

“Preach the Gospel at all times; if necessary, use words.”

I’m not saying that we should not share with others the hope we have in Christ, indeed we are told that we are to do exactly that. It is by the power of the Word of God that lives are changed. But does the life we live before others reflect the fruit of the Spirit so clearly that others see Christ in us?

Pray for the families of those killed for their faith.

Walking in love,
Counting my blessings on Multitude Monday: giving thanks for this and so much more...

91.  That God's Word is powerful.
92.  That God's Word is trustworthy.
93.  That God's Word is alive.
94.  That God's Word is sufficient.
95.  That God's Word is comforting.
96.  That God's Word is eternal.
97.  That God's Word is life changing.
98.  That God's Word is convicting.
99.  That God's Word is healing.
100. That God's Word is enough.

holy experience

Monday, August 2, 2010

Caterpillar to Butterfly

I took a walk this morning around my neighborhood, the sun was hot and the humidity was thick. Just another summer morning in Missouri.  I was trying out my new walking shoes and I think they are going to work out fine.

The best thing about morning walks is that it gives me a chance to pray and plan my day before I get distracted. The details of life haven’t crowded in demanding my time and attention. My mind is still shaking off the fog of sleep, the most complicated thought in my head is do I want a cup of tea or a glass of juice before I go walking.

This morning I noticed the butterflies. Small yellow ones skipped from flower to flower. I noticed a large Monarch right next to the road. I stopped and watched as it fluttered around a cluster of tall weeds. Landing, it paused to open and close its wings. I regretted not bringing my camera along. I watched it until it moved too far for me to see it anymore. I returned home and got my camera, knowing that the moment had passed but hoping I would see the Monarch again. I took pictures of the small yellow butterflies and the little orange and brown ones but didn’t see the Monarch. I was disappointed as I neared the edge of my yard, until I saw it flying at a distance. I waited with my camera at the ready but it never got close enough to take a picture. I marveled at the beauty of the life of that butterfly.

I thought about the fat caterpillar that spends its life crawling around in the dirt and leaves. It goes into the chrysalis stage of its life and emerges transformed into a new creation with a skinny body and beautiful wings that allow it to fly from flower to flower. How crazy would it be for that beautiful butterfly not to use its wings but continue to crawl around in the dirt?

There have been times in my life that I have forgotten that I am a new creation. Because of Christ I am changed. I have a relationship with the King of kings. I am not who I used to be, I am His child. I have the ear of the God of the universe if I will just go humbly to Him in prayer. I have the power of the Holy Spirit living in me. Through Christ I can do anything He has called me to do. But there are days I forget that I am a butterfly and act like I’m still that caterpillar in the dirt when I have wings to rise above my circumstances.

“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”  2 Corinthians 5:17

I am a new creature altogether, my previous moral and spiritual condition is no longer a part of me. Today I was reminded that I am free to rise above my doubts and fears. I don’t belong down in the dirt with them. To remain in the dirt is to deny who I am now in Christ. So I’m spreading my wings, believing and not doubting. I’m trusting and not fearing. I’m living under grace and not guilt.

Continuing to count my blessings on Multitude Monday

71.  Lessons from butterflies.
72.  God's creativity in painting butterflies.
73.  Friends to share the hard things with.
74.  Taco salad.
75.  15 children who have a home going up in heaven because of VBS last week.
76.  A pillow to rest my head on at night.
77.  Sunday afternoon naps.
78.  Eyes to see and ears to hear.
79.  New walking shoes = no blisters!
80.  The sound of a dove in the cemetery.
81.  Peaches dripping from the trees.
82.  The first bite from the heart of a watermelon.
83.  Finding a new recipe to enjoy.
84.  Hugs from church family.
85.  Meeting new neighbors.
86.  Sitting on my front porch and watching the rain come down.
87.  Watching a turtle march slowly across my yard.
88.  Seeking wisdom for the hard choices in life from the source of all wisdom.
89.  All the things that are possible with God.
90.  The definition of possible: able to be done; within the power or capacity of someone or something.

holy experience