Cheering For the Losers

In sports, everyone is a fan of something. Usually if you follow a sport much at all, you have one team that holds a special place in your heart. When they win, you rejoice. When the lose, you mourn.  I’m not talking about fair-weather, or bandwagon fans…but a fan of a team who sticks with them in playoffs and trades.  Anyone can cheer for a winning team – anyone can support the team that brings home the trophy.  It’s fun, in fact, to be at an event where everyone around you is in the same jersey as you…and you get to brag about the win on your way out of the arena.

red wing fan

What about the teams that lose? What about the teams trailing behind in the standings? What about the teams that turn out to be the the punchline to every joke on SportsCenter? What’s it like to cheer for the losers? Especially when your team was good -and popular – and well respected for years, how does it feel when suddenly you’re the only fan for miles. As a native to Michigan and a Red Wings fan, I get this. We always made the playoffs until the past couple of years….and now when people learn I’m a Wings fan I get a pitiful “Awww.”  They used to be such a dynasty.

sad fan

There are times I feel like this with my faith.  At times, and in certain circles, Christianity was welcomed, respected and sometimes loved.  And at other times, it, too becomes the punchline to jokes.  I recently was talking with a group of folks at work and they asked me what brought me to Long Island and I started to sweat as I told them quickly, “my husband’s job”. To which they replied (I dreaded it LOL) “oh, what does he do”.  “He’s a pastor of a church”.  Crickets, people….there were crickets. So I laughed and said, “Ha, you probably don’t hear that everyday,”.  Someone thankfully quickly changed the conversation.  I’ve also had people say, “He’s a WHAT?” As if I said he breeds salamanders in the attic or something.  Then there are people who are positive.  Some days it would be easier to say I’m a Red Wings fan than I’m actively involved in my church and go to church every Sunday.

where did you go

Here’s the truth, sometimes it feels we are pulling for a team that nobody likes. When an opportunity comes up for a social event and we say “sorry, we’ll be late we have church” it feels like we’re wearing a Patriots jersey at a Jets game.  Awkward! This shouldn’t be a surprise to us – Jesus says to us, in 1st century terms, “folks are going to think you’re nuts! This will not get you elected to Homecoming Court!”  He is absolutely right, but……he did promise we would experience joy and hope. He promised he would never leave us, that he would provide for us, and that there is a plan for our life that (despite not making it to the first round of the playoffs) we will experience victory in this life.

ovechikin stanley cup

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. – Jeremiah 29:11

Putting Your Dream in His Hands

sam at SBU
Dreams, we all have them.

The New Year hardly feels new anymore.  Show of hands – who made resolutions? Who kept them? Who didn’t bother altogether?  (*raises hand) I’m sure with a little digging, I could find statistics on increase in gym memberships, weight loss programs, sales of athletic apparel, etc etc. I’m sure those industries get a massive spike in January.  I wonder how many people sign up for things and never actually attend. Confession: one year I bought some workout clothes and the tags were left ON UNTIL THE NEXT DECEMBER. Eventually the guilt faded away and it just made me laugh.  Good intentions, but no delivery. Then I wonder why I’m still carrying around “baby weight” and my “baby” is now a second grader….but I digress.

I think about that a lot. I hype myself up and say “okay – here I go, I want to do this new thing!” or “okay I’m going to do better at ______” or “new year, new goal!”  Everybody does – and many of us abandon or neglect it at some point. We strive and push and achieve, and make our kids strive, push, and achieve to reach the goal. Attain the dream.  

What IS our dream anyway?  What do we dream of doing and achieving?  But do I even have a dream? What is it? As a parent, we often put our dreams aside for our kids and family.  But what….if I was honest….is my heart’s deep down desire and how can I accomplish it?

I’ve thought about this a lot.  As my kids get older, I dream about who they will become. Who will they marry? What will they do as a profession? What are their passions? Will they walk with the Lord? Will it be joyful? Will they have struggle? Even this week, I wondered how I can help Sam stay focused and attentive and how I can help Ellie navigate tough friendships – as they get bigger, their problems get bigger. Dreams seem harder to achieve.

So many hopes…dreams…worries. The truth is, God calls us to trust him. All our hopes and dreams?….He knows about them. All of them. Right now he’s working out all the details of a perfect plan…He knows the desires of our heart. He calls us to do things, to take actions – and all of the rest?…..it’s in His hands. We do not need to worry, (I know – easier said than done), we don’t need to panic, we just give it to the Lord.  And as a wise friend once very simply said, “Give it to Jesus then pray like crazy.”

1 Corinthians 3:6 –  

I planted the seed, Apollos watered it,

but God has been making it grow

 

green plant on clear cup
Photo by Ruslan Alekso on Pexels.com

Tis the Season of Contentment

Let’s all take a moment and thank the Lord for another holiday season come and gone. Maybe yours was Pinterest / Hallmark movie / Matching pajamas perfect.  Maybe yours was stressful and you delicately navigated volatile relationships of family and friends visiting. Maybe you just felt relief when you checked out of the grocery store and your card was NOT declined – but break out in sweat as to what bills await you at home.  Maybe everything was just….fine…..you had fun, got a couple nice presents, ate some good food and felt content.

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Each year on Christmas Eve I have a fear that the kids will be disappointed in Christmas. Did we get enough, is it equal, did we satisfy their little desires.  Ellie is simple. She makes her list (it’s always short) early on and sticks to it. Sam wants everything he sees and the last commercial for a fun item is the thing he really really really wants.  The one thing they have both asked for, for a long time was their own tablets or smartphone or some sort of electronic device. We’ve purposely not given them use any of those things, we fought it as long as we could – but they use them in school and it was finally time.  

Anyways. Ellie wants to play music, Sam wants to play games.  Under the tree we had a wireless speaker for Ellie and headphones for Sam. They opened them and got excited and when all the presents were opened, we said “Well, did you get what you wanted? Are you happy?” They said yes, but here they were with 2 items that really have no function unless they got an electronic device.

TJ peeked behind the couch…..wait….. What’s that?  2 boxes, 1 labeled to each of them. Surprise! Each had a tablet, preloaded with games and books they would each like. Headphones for Sam to play games, a speaker so Ellie can jam in her room. Hooray.  It was fun to pull off a surprise reminiscent of Ralphie getting his BB gun in “A Christmas Story”.

a-christmas-story-bb-gun

But I was thinking, before they opened the tablets, would they really be ok with a speaker and headphones? They said they were fine but were they just being polite (which…come on…..these are kids)  They were happy. The got things they wanted, but once the “wow” gift was revealed, it made it that much better. How often am I satisfied with mere accessories when God is revealing the “Wow” gift? This is how Christmas is. We have all these fun “accessories” – parties, cookies, pretty trees, Christmas lights, etc etc and they are GREAT.  But without the birth of Jesus, they are mere side dishes to a greater feast. We are too easily satisfied with accessories, when God’s glorious reveal in Bethlehem, in a manger, surrounded by animals, was the ultimate wow gift of Christmas.

Discover Hope Buried in Worry

There are times in life when we need to do just start over.  We start something…and we neglect it and try to periodically “make up for lost time”. We make this project a low priority and before we know it, it’s way off course and heading for disaster. If you’ve ever tried to build something from a kit, and neglected to read the directions, you get the idea. Also, if you have any type of garden or flower bed you know all too well how a tiny bit of neglect turns into a tangled mess.  Case in point: my mailbox.  I would post a before picture but it was pretty horrendous.

A couple of years ago I dug up the grass around the mailbox, put in some bricks to make a “box” and planted flowers in it. It was lovely. I put daffodil bulbs in the fall and the spring provided some lovely blooms. I have done pansies and mums…whatever was cheap, yet hardy enough to withstand being so close to 25A.  This spring I planted something pretty……but I got busy. I neglected to prune the flowers and they got long and gangly. I kept procrastinating on the simple tasks I needed to do to get everything back in shape. Grass grew up through the flower bed. It got taller and taller until it choked out the flowers and almost covered the bricks. It looked terrible, and in many ways I felt like that flower box. Good start, solid elements…but months if ignoring simple disciplines and it became so bad that I had to get the shovel and rip everything out.

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Sometimes we need a clean slate, too. We need a “digging up by the roots” after getting to the “how in the world do I get here” thought in my head.  I stood out by the road with a shovel and dug. Deep. Very deep. Cracking roots and halfway destroying the bricks. I assumed all was lost, and my once lovely job was a complete loss, including the daffodil bulbs.  Yes, some were rotten and some were dried up and hallow. But I was able to salvage about a dozen. I was surprised and silently thought to myself: Hope is not lost, Kerstin. Things may seem bleak and hope may feel gone, but God has a plan and he is at work. Give him the shovel, let him pull up the imposing roots. Step aside and watch as the master gardener works. He knows what he’s doing and he has an incredible plan. There is treasure hidden there.
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Free to Exhale

I have an announcement: School is over, we are free to exhale.  Time for flip flops, cookouts and last minute trips to the beach. No more multiple practices and games to get to, lunches to pack and forms to fill out.  For many (myself included), summer is a mental break.

Our last few weeks of school seemed to be so jammed with a ton of “final events”. Final parties, final games, final celebrations, camp deadlines, and last minute details….all to be completed in June.  I felt like I was holding my breath in a final push to the finish line. I was never a runner, but I imagine those last steps of a marathon are the peak of intensity, laser-focused, holding your breath, pushing harder onward towards that finish line.  You break through the line, legs burning and then you stop. Or in our case WHOOOOA NELLY!

So how did YOU finish? Did you end the year confidently, like this:

finish line

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; – 2 Timothy 4:7

 

Or did it feel more like the end of Lord of the Rings when Frodo (and Sam) threw the ring into Mount Doom, slowly realizing they would most likely die after this final act of bravery? Lying there on a rock after 14 months of intense travel while lava floods around them, saying: “Here we are, at the end of all things.”

sam frodo mount doom

I think for many of us, we feel like Frodo. We pushed and pushed and now here we are – at the end of all things – worn out, exhausted, feeling a little hopeless, but nevertheless thankful that the quest has been completed. Waiting on Gandalf to send the eagles.  (Sorry if you’re not a Rings fan…you’re really missing out)

I have good news – I’m pretty confident none of us had to destroy a ring of power being chased by Orcs. We’ve had some trials, but we made it. We can open our mouths and exhale.  We can rest. We can sabbath. Even if you don’t have kids in school, you can probably relate. Maybe it’s an intense doctor visit, or visiting relative, or something at work – there is quite possibly some sort of trial that you’ve gone through that you felt you would NEVER make it through. Maybe you’re in this trial now – looking for an escape, for hope. I’d suggest you stop and consider Jesus.  Look to him for hope in your trial, a place to exhale. God never promised life would be easy or simple – but he did promise hope and peace in the midst of those trials.

Do you not know?   Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.  Isaiah 40:28-31

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Not Afraid to Fail

Last month I turned 40.  I can remember as a kid that 40 seemed so far away…..it seemed so old! I can remember when my parents turned 40 and all the black and white “over the hill” decorations and gag gifts and how they laughed it off. Someone had a pin that said “40 isn’t old if you’re a tree”.  It was like this impending joke where everyone is the punchline. I don’t feel 40. I don’t act 40 and I hopefully don’t look 40.

 

I started to notice (in a new way) lots of ads and promotions for laser hair removal, wrinkle reducing creams and various voodoo concoctions intended to remove, or at least mask stretch marks. Our society is infatuated with youth – always chasing the glow of dewy, sun-kissed, smooth skin without any scars, blemishes or bumps of any kind.  My hair has gotten darker as I’ve aged, but now I’ve got….ahem…..strands of “glitter” popping up.  The funny thing about this glitter is I started earning it after Sam came along. I can remember looking in our bathroom mirror in Massachusetts and discovering this glitter….the week after he was born. Feel free to interpret that how you see fit. It seemed like such a monumental milestone, until it happened.

 

Looking in a mirror at 40, I’ve collected my share of blemishes.  Thankfully, they don’t really bother me, but rather tell a story. I’ve moved all over the Eastern US, having lived in 6 states. I’ve been married for 16 years and have 2 kids. Our closest relatives are in Michigan – so much of my (and TJ’s) adult lives have been going to new places and doing new things.  We’ve taken risks that we were criticized for – but more often than not, following God requires taking scary steps. God does not leave us there alone to fend for ourselves, he walks with us – leading and directing us. Scary? Of course. A wise friend once said: “God does not call you out on a limb to saw it off behind you”.   

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So this year I decided to try some new things. I signed up to be an intramural soccer coach for 1st and 2nd graders.  No, I did not play soccer. Ever. The first soccer game I ever really watched was when Sam was 4 and played for FJS in Wading River.  Aside from wanting the kids on the team to have fun, I am pretty unqualified. These type of organizations are always in need of parent volunteers to help coach and guide the kids.  I go to all the games and consider myself fun on most days – so I thought I’d give it a try. I asked Sam if that would be okay – he said that was fine, and it would be fun even though I don’t really know what I’m doing.  I appreciate the fact he still thinks I’m cool, I know it won’t last. Lastly, I prayed about it. Does it seem silly to pray about being a volunteer coach? Yes. But again, I did it. I was afraid of failing miserably so I prayed about it.  Guess what? We’re all having a lot of fun.

 

It felt like a huge risk – 6 and 7 year olds can be a tough crowd! I was so nervous, but excited too.  God was with me, building me up, encouraging me to try. I was not afraid to fail.

 

“…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” — Philippians 1:6
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Pay Attention

Anybody get distracted easily? Raise your hand. Everyone? Of course.

This is 5 minutes in my brain: Oh I’ll just sit down and read my book for a few minutes.….oh look, dishes….. the dog wants to play….oh look something interesting on the internet….someone texted me a funny picture…..oh my book…..I’m thirsty…..

It’s amazing how quickly I can get things done when I focus and pay attention. When I have my goal in mind I can get things accomplished. When I don’t pay attention…I miss the point. This is true with kids in activities. If you’ve ever been around little kids trying to do anything collectively, it’s much like herding cats. We have had 3 years of dance, 3 years of soccer a year and a half of hockey, some swimming lessons and a couple guitar lessons between the kids and I know this to be universally true: if you pay attention, you will learn. Every teacher or coach ALWAYS has to say: “pay attention” Whether it’s soccer, tap or guitar…..if you don’t pay attention, you miss the lesson.

Our world is full of distractions and diversions, and a metric ton of other things that we can allow to consume our minds. We do not have cable, but somehow have access to hundreds of thousands of tv shows or movies. There is the internet, a vast chasm of information and “15 pictures that prove aliens are real” types of articles. There are work demands, home demands, relationship demands that are all fighting for our attention. Who gets it? With limited time in the day, where do we focus our attention?

God is always working. He is working in my heart and I know he is working in the hearts of many of those around me. I strongly believe He is at work in our community. Our home group is doing a video study of living our faith on the “frontlines” of our lives – at home, work, in our families, etc. I have been praying for an opportunity to build relationships with those around me and to just be an encouragement them. And guess what….I got a Facebook message from a friend I haven’t seen in awhile asking us to get together because “they need some encouragement”.

Despite my tendency to be distracted, I’m trying (and I hope you will, too) to pay attention. God is at work and wants us to join Him in that work, if we just keep our head up, eyes on the goal and pay attention.

A Mediocre Altar

I would describe 2017 overall as mediocre.  It wasn’t amazing, but there were amazing moments.  It wasn’t horrible, although there were some really tough moments.  It was just…okay….and when I reflect on 2017, I can giggle and shrug and say, “Well, I tried.” And try I did. I tried to “be good” at the 328 things I think I should succeed at. No major failures, no real huge success either.  Sort of “meh”…..if you will.  It was a mediocre year for me.  Lucky for me (and you) God isn’t mediocre, yet he meets us in our mediocrity and makes those places worshipful and Holy.  It is strange and wonderful.

Where do we worship? Physically? Mentally? In a building or outside? Typically, we think of worship as what we do on Sunday mornings at 9 or 10:30. We (sometimes) dress up and make ourselves presentable. Our church building is this way, too.  We have a lovely altar, communion table, candles and flowers.  I think it’s great to have such a beautiful sanctuary to worship in on Sunday mornings.  But when we leave the building….where do we worship next? Do we worship outside of Sunday at 10am? Or can we worship anywhere else?

The answer is yes, we can and should be worshipful in all aspects of our lives. But what does that look like? Are we worshiping God when we’re at work, sitting in a dreadful meeting? What about taking a final exam? What about sitting in a doctor’s appointment, hearing bad news? What about standing in line for 15 minutes at King Kullen the day before a blizzard? Can God be worshiped then?

Again, the answer is yes, worship can happen all of those places. The Bible tells us that “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters”. –Colossians 3:23

Colossians 3:23....from my altar

Sometimes our altar is clean, sometimes it’s messy, and sometimes where we worship God – or spend time with Him – is not in the place we expect.  Where is your altar in between attending an actual church service?

My altar is the kitchen sink. I don’t know what evil goblins wander into the kitchen and create dirty dishes all day long, but they exist.  I swear I can be home alone and there be no dishes…..I can take the dog for a walk, come back and find a plate, knife and coffee mug sitting there.  The washing machine is a close second.  I can remember early in our marriage when I would do 4 loads of laundry (including towels) a week. That’s it. Somehow adding 2 small people we have at least tripled that. Is this the new common core math everyone complains about? I don’t get it. But you get my point….a lot of time goes into dishes and laundry.

I have discovered a wonderful aspect of these never-ending chores….time to myself to talk to God. To pray. To ask questions. Two very average, normal, boring, mediocre altars.  God meets us where we are, where we need him to.  We do not need to wait until Sunday morning, or until we have a lovely altar – he will meet us where we need him when we look to him.

I sought the LORD, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.This poor man called, and the LORD heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them. Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him. Psalm 34:4-8

My altar.

 

Rejoice With Me

sam celebrateIf you have known me for any time in the past year, you know Sam plays (and lives and breathes) hockey.  He loves every save, every steal, and celebrates every goal. In the scheme of his career there may be hundreds of goals, maybe even thousands….he’s already scored a couple dozen….but he celebrates each one. Each one makes him excited. (Each goal also convinces him he’s becoming more and more like Gordie Howe – but that’s another story).  Stick up, hands up in the air with a Rick Flair “wwwwooooooo”.  He celebrates – watches for the coach reactions, looks for our reactions – looking for anyone who would be willing to celebrate with him.  It’s pretty exciting to watch and honestly, I give a big “wwwoooooo”, too.

 

Ridiculous? Yes. Excessive? Probably.  Too much? Maybe.  But what should we learn? As usual, there’s a Bible lesson in there somewhere.  Yes, even in 6 year old, Dynamite hockey.  

 

Suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ — Luke 15:8-9

Every day we encounter little gifts – blessings – from God. Little things we often overlook. We get overwhelmed with the 13 other things that didn’t go the way we hoped, that when the something positive – a small victory – happens, we sometimes don’t stop to celebrate it.  I can remember when my kids said their first words – it was huge and amazing. We called the grandparents and posted it on Facebook. Now they talk so much it makes my ears ring. Hearing “Mama” sounds different today than it did a few years ago.  But the point, is, these little victories matter to God and they ought to matter to us. It’s these small “nudges” that build our faith and make it stronger.

Despite this season of busyness and traveling and excess…..don’t forget to stop and celebrate the small gifts….the small, insignificant victories…this season. Christ’s birth in a humble manger was small, seemingly insignificant, but worthy of rejoicing.

 

Milestones

It is very hard to believe we’ve been on Long Island for 5 years.  When we arrived from Massachusetts, we had a 1 year old and 2 ½ year old, both in diapers. We were in deep over our heads with Sesame Street, nap schedules and toddler battles. Since then, we have bought a home, said a tearful goodbye to our beloved dog of 16 years and adopted a new (ridiculously affectionate) dog. I went back to work after 4 years at home with the kids. We watched dear relatives walk through floods, strokes, births and deaths – all from 1000 miles away.  We have learned to celebrate everything via Skype or send family group texts of silly kid shenanigans.  These babies we brought with us are quickly turning into bookworms, musicians, animal enthusiasts, hockey & soccer players and math whizzes.  They have had so many opportunities in the past 5 years – and are continuing to amaze me with the things they do.  TJ has picked up the sax again, often practicing late at night and subjecting me to music theory and improvisation videos. (It’s okay, honey, I’m glad you love it.) It is exciting for me to see him return to jazz even just for fun.  Just a few months after moving here, I met a dear friend at the local library while we were there for a toddler story time – she actually attended a rival high school of mine in Georgia! It took about 5 seconds of hearing her southern accent to figure her out.  In many ways this friendship has made Long Island home for me.

 

I’ve been reflecting a lot lately on the past 5 years and I’m quite amazed at all that has happened, both in our lives and in the church. A lot of new things have started, older things have stopped. And a ton of on-going activity that continues to grow and get better each day/month/year.  My heart has been filled and deflated. Filled again, deflated. Filled….you get the idea.

 

5 years is pretty overwhelming. 5 years has also reminded me of God’s faithfulness and love for me.  In the beginning I was lonely, so I prayed about everything.  I prayed for a new friend, I prayed for my children to experience new things, I prayed for a family-schedule-friendly job, I prayed for my husband to be strong and to love Jesus deeper each day, I prayed for my family far away that we would not lose our connections, I prayed for the heartache after our dog died, I prayed for the church to fall in love with Jesus, I prayed that the SWR community would come to know our church as a loving place for families/singles/retirees/widows/etc.  I prayed that our sanctuary doors would open to “welcome the foreigners, as we were once foreigners”.  

 

All…..ALL…. of these requests have been clearly answered in some way. ALL OF THEM.

 

Thank you, Lord!  You are so much better to me than I deserve.  You love me so much you provided people in my life who also have been praying for these things, who are also searching for these things, who share your heart with me.  You have set people around me who love me and care for me (and my family). I am so grateful that we are home.

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First thing we saw when we got off the Ferry in Orient Point.

Look at the nations and watch– and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told.- Habakkuk 1:5