Preparing for the Downpour

They say storms expose the leaks in the roof….or hurricanes expose the cracks in the foundation….in our case, a down pour exposes how terrible our gutters are. Besides the fact they needed to be cleaned, they just could not handle a recent summer down pour.  In a matter of minutes of the rain starting, the gutters were sagging (I think they were screaming HELP, but I can’t be sure), overflowing, spilling buckets of water down the side of the house, the windows, in the garage and puddling against the house.  We love our house, but it has an old foundation…so there are a few small leaks that get exposed when it rains hard.  There is also one corner of the basement prone to floods. It happens occasionally, but typically only when the rain is heavy. On this particular day, it was heavy – so TJ and I went out there to put up a makeshift splash block to move the water away from the house, all while getting drenched ourselves.  A couple tarps, some wood pallets and a soccer goal later, it worked. With minimal flooding to the basement. It is much easier to stop the water from coming in than it is to get it out once it’s there. For the 3rd time this year, we said “if there ever was a case to get new gutters…this is it.” We’re getting new gutters in a couple weeks – ice and slush aren’t as forgiving as August rain.

pouring-rain

How should we prepare for the “storms of life”? Are our roof, foundation and gutters up to the task? How do we stop the basement flood before it starts?  What do we believe will sustain us?  How will we as Christians continue through life when huge challenges come our way. And they will…it’s not a matter of if, but when.crack foundation

One of my favorite hymns is “The Church’s One Foundation”. The first verse is how Jesus is the foundation of the church and He sacrificially gave himself up for it.  We can argue all day what we think the church should be based on or should be teaching….but in the end only Jesus as the foundation will sustain it and make it succeed. Only a church where the gospel affects our everyday lives will the people flourish and the church will grow.  We need to be rooted in God’s word, prayerful, loving one another.  We build up our foundation (prepare for the storm) when we build up our faith (study, pray, love).

And I tell you….. on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Matthew 16:18

Glorious Opals

I was talking to a friend the other day about wedding rings, gemstones, diamonds, etc.  I’m not sure why, but we eventually got around to discussing opals and how they were made. He said, “All those beautiful colors are made from cracks that occur while the stone is being formed.” I’m not sure, but I feel like a buzzer went off, or maybe a bell, at the very least some manner of ding which made me pause.

 

We are the opals.  Glorious and precious, made beautiful over time through trials. Cracks and the seeping in of water, dirt, minerals and pressure.  How often do we loathe or fight off these cracks? Build walls to keep the water out, and our hearts protected?  The very things that make us beautiful and shape our hearts and strengthen our faith are despised or avoided at all costs.  I know I am an opal pressing hard against the things that are shaping me.  So often we ask “why does God allow struggle…why would he let this happen?…..why is he so mean?….does he even care that I am cracking?!…..if he was a loving God he would STOP this!”.

 

Who hasn’t asked these questions? Some of us ask these questions on a daily basis. I know I do. I hear the word sanctification and I roll my eyes…what do you mean “the process of making me more like Jesus”…..I’m fine the way I am!  I’ve heard people jokingly say, “I’m perfectly content with who I am, I wish Jesus would leave me alone.”  I’ve also heard it said that “God loves us fully where we are, but loves us enough to not let us STAY where we are,” I can easily see a parenting parallel.  I love and adore my kids – I love Ellie’s creativity. I love’s Sam’s energy – but I love him enough to help him channel it appropriately.  It’s fun to climb the walls when you’re at a gym, but not in church. I love him enough to set up some boundaries.  God does this, too. He is fashioning his opals over time. He is sanctifying us every day. He is letting the cracks happen, and filling in the gaps with himself, to make us uniquely beautiful.

opal inletsopal mine

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 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 Corinthians 4:16-18

opal

Fruit Cup

fruit cupConfession: I despise packing lunches. I truly do.  I also hate cleaning out lunch boxes.  Yogurt smeared into a lunchbox zipper is right up there with ironing.  Ugh.  I’m glad we have an active PTO that brings in a few lunch options each week – but our school has no cafeteria so we pack 2 lunches every day.  2 lunches that started with great, wholesome intentions. Fresh fruits and vegetables and VARIETY.  Ooh! My kids will eat a salad at school.  HA! But let’s be honest, one of them gets Peanut Butter sandwich 4 out of 5 days a week. Usually there is a squeeze applesauce, maybe some other fruit or baby carrots and that. Is. It. I used Pinterest to find oodles of “non-sandwich lunch ideas for picky eaters” and tried many. But here we are: peanut butter and squeeze applesauce. At one point I got a pack of mandarin orange cups – because my kids eat mandarin oranges – but apparently not in their lunch box from a little cup. One cup in particular was packed multiple times, but always came home. I would draw a smiley face on it or use a sticker (why I thought this would help, I have no idea, I got desperate), it still came home. Sent it with the other kid, came home.  This happened enough that it got really funny for me.  Eventually I just put it back in the fridge until one day I opened it, drained the juice and put the slices in a bowl and miraculously, they were eaten…..AND ENJOYED!

Ironically, I was not happy. I was ticked off. I could feel the red lava boiling up and the steam collect in my ears. Really? Really? You could have eaten this weeks ago, but instead it became the most-traveled fruit cup on Miller Avenue.  I didn’t say this out loud. I smiled and said: “See? These are good! I’ll pack them tomorrow for you”.  The kids learned their lesson, but I really learned mine.

That was what my friend Reagan likes to call a “Bible Slap”.  Where you get “slapped” with some biblical truth, seemingly out of nowhere.  God shakes your shoulder and says “listen up, sheep! I give you fruit cups everyday and you ignore them, too”.

I do this very same thing with Jesus and my faith. I do this with the Bible and prayer. I do this with so many things I take for granted.  Things right under my nose that I need (like the traveling Vitamin C-laden cup of oranges) and that’s good for me.  Things GOD HIMSELF gives me.  I just overlook it. I don’t want it. When it’s in my lunch next to cheddar popcorn I’ll go for the popcorn.

We all overlook the obvious good things in our lives – but this one struck me in particular as it reminded me of the importance of spending time with Jesus.  A few minutes of prayer, a few minutes in the Bible, a few minutes here and there and – boom – before I know it, I’ve eaten the fruit cup and had a dose of Vitamin C.

Don’t overlook the fruit cup.

 

Mending the Discord

The church is about two-thirds of the way through Lent. 40 days leading up to Easter. To some, this marks the “end” of winter (although I’m not sure I’d use that to define our winter this year). To others, it heralds in Spring. New birth. New growth. New beginnings. There is an excitement with this season, we start to see green things grow – even the sun occasionally shows up. At this point Christmas seems distant. The birth of the savior seems “out of place” in our minds now. We’ve spent the last few months shoveling snow and now we’re warming up. Life seems to almost be coming out of hibernation.

In our house, it gets busy. Naturally it’s a busy time in the church (and therefore TJ gets busy) and it’s also a busy time for our family. Within 2 weeks, we have our wedding anniversary, Ellie’s birthday and my birthday. This also seems to be when sports (soccer) and school (hellooooo parent teacher conferences) activities start. I told someone recently that I feel like the circus act where a clown spins plates in the air….hoping to keep things going without a crash. Or at least minimal broken plates. In case you were wondering, I am that clown.Chinese+acrobats+spinning+plates

How do we walk (survive) through this busy time? How do we balance between the demands of life (see spinning plates, above) and a time (like the not too-recent Christmas) that is a celebration of hope and new life, yet often feels like drudgery. There is so much to do and be a part of, but how do we stop and be focused on what’s important? There is a discordance– a subtle discordance we live with. We know this season is hopeful, but we feel like we’re clinging to the edge. We want to meet Christ during Holy Week, but there are so many things vying for our attention – how do we stop the interference? How do we mend the discord?

This often happens between the kids at home. They are playing, but then they have different ideas about what to play, then they argue, they might start getting mean, throwing toys, throwing fits….you get the idea. In those moments I or TJ get to play referee and refocus the kids on what they are trying to do. Like us with “life”, they get wrapped up in quarreling and petty details that they lose their focus. We get wrapped up in life and we lose focus on the cross. What is this season about? Is it about fancy dresses at church and a giant bunny? Is it about chocolate (Lindt truffles, anyone?) Is it just another holiday – a day set apart as an excuse to eat a huge meal and nap all afternoon? Or is it truly something more? Can Jesus settle the discord in our hearts and lives? If he can calm a storm with a word? Can he calm our anxious hearts?

Yes he can – all we need to do is call on him. Pray. Read the Bible. Spend some time just being with him. Remind yourself of who Jesus is, what he came to do, and why He died.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. John 14:27

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. – Matthew 11:28-30

Meet in the Valley

 

sayanything_hed

The media in its various forms (especially social media) is like a room full of people all standing on mountain tops. Everyone is either yelling, holding up a TV (in the style of John Cusack in the movie Say Anything) or holding life size pictures of their kids or their dog or some other cute thing. Some march, some riot.  Some are staying “out of it” – feeling disenchanted with it all. Some people are yelling my life is perfect, some say my husband stinks! Some just toss out morbid obscure thoughts hoping someone will hear, some are in mourning, some are looking at the recent Inauguration like the apocalypse while others see it as Resurrection day.  Some people have megaphones, some have ear plugs – but most –in one way or another – have both.

I have struggled with this in recent weeks.  I have passionate opinions about many things. I have strong convictions about many things. Some of these I make known, many I do not.  As I look around at my friends, family and neighbors I see many people – with good intentions – making their convictions known – and are either celebrated or crucified.  Divisions are happening among friends…among family.  Not sure if I’d go far to say our society is in a panic….but it sure seems like it. How do I respond? How would Jesus respond? Shrink in despair? Shake a fist?

The disciples had a similar panic-freak-out-sky-is-falling moment. In the book of Mark, Jesus and his disciples were teaching a huge crowd by a lake.  At the end of the day, Jesus had them go out into boats on the lake where he fell asleep.  A raging storm popped up and the disciples freaked out, panicked and woke Jesus. The sentiment was something to the effect of: OH NO! DOOMSDAY! IMPLOSION! WE’RE GOING TO DIE – WAKE UP AND DO SOMETHING!!!  And with a word he calmed the storm.  He asked them where their faith was. stormy ocean

Where is my faith? Do I look around the mountain of burning tires and panic? Am I like the disciples, consumed with what’s AROUND me that I forget who lives IN me? Am I also shouting on the mountaintop, adding to the noise? Or am I speaking peace, trusting in the One who can calm the storm?

I want to be the lady who slides down her mountain to hug the people, play with the kids or simply love my neighbor as myself.  There are multitudes of people in our own community who need peace, and they need to be loved.  Be the person to get off the mountain and meet them in their valley.hug

You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. 1 John 4:4

Merry Consolation Christmas

“The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight….”consolation-3

Christmas is an absolutely wonderful time of year. It is a time where we get together with family and friends, give and receive gifts, host and attend parties, eat delicious food and most importantly, celebrate the birth of the gift of life in Jesus.

Sometimes, though, it feels a little like a Rockwell picture hanging on someone else’s wall. Or like we’re watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” and we look around our own lives and think, “well…it’s just alright….i guess”.  There is so much expectation and hope surrounding Christmas – we light candles each week during advent leading up to Christmas Eve….and at home we make plans to visit or have family visit and hope to have selected gifts the receiver will love. But honestly, sometimes these things turn out just okay and we feel like they are merely a consolation prize….am I right?

This holiday season was tough for my family – my parents’ house in Georgia flooded while they were out of state and they’ve been picking through wet documents and dealing with insurance….all while mourning the loss of the contents of their house.  Not a very fun way to spend Christmas. They decided to stay in Georgia this year versus driving to my brother in Michigan or to my house here in New York.  They did put up a small tree (that was not damaged in the flood) and spent the weekend with dear friends. It was nice and they had a great time, but I know they would have preferred to be with grandkids, giggling and playing….so skyping on Christmas was what we did.

My nephew works on a farm in upstate New York and it was just not feasible for him to go to his home (Atlanta) and be with his parents on Christmas – which he has done for 19 years. He came to our house instead and we all had a hilariously wonderful time – but it wasn’t what we all expected when we planned for Christmas…..we have specific ideas/hopes/dreams about what it should look like, and often it just does not measure up. While everyone (my parents included) had a great Christmas – it was like winning a years’ supply of popcorn versus the brand new yacht.  Sure, we all love popcorn…….but it was a bit of a consolation prize.

consolation-2

Christmas can feel like that sometimes.  Some of the gifts the kids received are already collecting dust….tossed aside….the thing they “longed for” just wasn’t as great once it arrived.  Ellie was dying for a Hatchimal and Sam wanted a football player action figure….which they got, but at this point these temporarily-adored toys are probably hitchhiking down William Floyd Highway looking for other forgotten toys to hang out with.

We put all our hopes for the season under the tree and not in our hearts.  We look at the tinsel and the lights, and forget the manger and the baby.  We hope in our family, but not our Father.  All these things are GREAT (trust me, I get VERY giddy when it’s time to put up a tree) and wonderful, but they are merely the “consolation prize”…..the real Hope in the season is Jesus.  If you’ve felt a little let down this season (maybe your name is Kerstin and you convinced your family to go get a tree and once you brought it home you realized you had ZERO lights….explain that travesty to a 6 year old…talk about a disappointed face!) you’re in good company.  My nephew and I jokingly dubbed this year “Consolation Christmas”….but knowing the things we think of as Christmas are mere consolation prize to the true meaning and hope in the season.

Burn Upon Reentry

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.  Trees and houses are getting adorned with lights. With bows and garland. With light up holiday creatures – angels, reindeer, santas, candy canes, sleighs.   Holly is everywhere. So is ribbon and brightly colored wrapping papers.  Hymns in 329 different variations are being sung everywhere, as are cringe-worthy gems like “Santa Baby” or “Grandma Got Run over By a Reindeer”. Everyone has a wreath, many people have Santa hats (we have 2 plus 3 pairs of reindeer antlers) and there are even decorated cars. It’s everywhere.

christmas-in-new-york-city

Contrast this seasonal frenzy with the light of the world – born in a manger, born in a last resort. A manger with no inflatable snowman, no wreath, no tree, no stockings, no egg nog, no parties or overnight guests, unless you count the livestock.  The gift was life. Not a simple gift purchased with a coupon given just to one other. The gift born that day was for you, and it was for me. It was for generations before us, and is freely given to the generations to follow.

manger

During advent we celebrate this gift….and so many others….advent has become so busy. Good things. Busy things. Meaningful things. Distracting things. So many “things” that start with good, worshipful intentions.  A depiction of the birth of Christ becomes a major production with lights, special effects and elaborate costumes. A simple Christmas tree becomes an expensive production (unless you go the “Charlie Brown Tree” route) and has to be meticulously cut, put in the stand, decorated with fragile, timeless, irreplaceable ornaments that the kids or the dog will inevitably knock off the tree.  Side note: I recommend plugging in a hot glue gun before you start decorating…you’ll need it.  Then we have parties and celebrations – a wonderful time to get together! Then we exchange gifts to family and friends near and far. There are class parties, work parties, events, on and on and on. It’s honestly so much fun!  We are celebrating Jesus’ birth…but is our focus blurry? We’re tired and stressed and arguing about which direction to face the tree topper. To regain focus, we blink and blink and blink as Christmas Eve comes barreling directly toward us.

I compare the advent season to being in a space shuttle returning from a mission, hurling back home toward Earth, burning upon reentry. The goal is Earth (Christs’ birth at Christmas) and we’ve completed our mission and are almost there…we just need to push through the atmosphere (all the ‘busy’) trying to keep our focus, our hearts, our lives together as the shuttle travels towards home. Our shuttle gets hot as we fight the burn out (who will do this, who will get that, who is in charge of the living nativity, has anybody fed the dog this week), the edges start to peel back, metal creaking, bolts start to work their way out, the shuttle shakes, glass crackling  – pointed towards that Christmas Eve candle lighting where we simply have no choice but to stop.  Our mission crashes to an abrupt halt. shuttleWe stand shoulder to shoulder with our neighbors trading fresh wicks for burning flames.  We stand, watching the small flame, re-focused on one thing. One gift….a baby…..the light.

We sing Silent Night….all is calm….Christ the Savior is born.

As I type this I know I feel my own shuttle hurting towards Earth. The calendar of events that won’t stop growing, the to-do list that has no end…..I would suspect that you feel the same. This is why Christ came, to bring peace. Not just a wishful, “world peace” sense, but true peace to us in our daily lives.  We can cast all our anxiety on Him…because he cares for us.  1 Peter 5:7

 The Lord gives strength to His people; the Lord blesses His people with peace.  Psalm 29:11

Be Known for What you Love…

Feeling divided? Raise your hand if you’re counting down the hours until this election is over. All of us? Of course – the one thing we can all agree on is that this race/battle/circus is ridiculous and simply needs to stop.  Each commercial, debate, seems to push us to either get further against the opponent, stick our head in the sand or simply check Canadian real estate. At the very least a vacation home that can be rented in 4 year increments.

A more light-hearted example would be the Coke vs. Pepsi debate. In the south, there is Coca Cola – if you asked for a soda, they would say “Sure, which Coke would you like?” Meaning: diet, regular, sprite etc.  In many places they have great disdain for Pepsi to the point where they deny it exists.  In our house, we often have the debate of what to eat for dinner or what to watch on TV.  The kids can’t stand the news, Sam wants to watch something with cars or sports, Ellie wants to watch something that goes on adventures. It is not uncommon for the “TV show protests” to end in crying or lying on the ground, yelling and complaining how terrible Blaze and the Monster Machines or Elena of Avalor is.  OR the loser getting a noisy toy or activity just to drive everyone else bonkers. We get divided and everyone makes their feelings well known.

I’m glad that we live in a country where we can speak freely….and freely argue……with those we differ from. Even amongst my Christian friends and family there is clear division about issues.  When Christians become divided by beating each other up, insulting and hurting each other, and our activism ends up hurting the church, and that is wrong. What is it that we are being “known” for? My son is known for not liking vegetables and loving race cars. Ellie is known for loving Penguins and not wanting to go to bed. What am I known for?

I have a dear friend who has said multiple times: Be known for what you love, not for what you hate.  Dear church – this is for you. Are we being known for what we love or what we hate?  What is the common foundation – that is bigger than politics – that binds us together? Recently on Sunday we sang “The Church’s One Foundation”, it reminds me of what our foundation truly is (and should be)– and it is certainly not some of the issues we might think.mlk-love

The Church’s one foundation, is Jesus Christ her Lord,

She is His new creation by water and the Word.

From heaven He came and sought her to be His holy bride;

With His own blood He bought her, and for her life He died.

 

I would challenge you (and myself) over the next few days especially to think before you speak, pray before you “share on Facebook”, and listen before you plug your ears. We are called to love each other and point each other to the ultimate love of Jesus. Be KNOWN for what you LOVE.

heart-rock

Ugly Apples and Pretty Pie

In our house, there are a couple wire baskets on the kitchen counter that hold various types of fruit. Lemons, limes, apples, bananas, peaches or whatever was on special at Foodtown.  At one point we had a coconut that the kids convinced me to get because they thought coconut water would taste good. They were wrong – we won’t be buying another coconut.  Anyone can have whatever they want to eat from the fruit baskets at any time. Even right before a meal (hey – if you ruin your dinner by eating a banana, that’s not a bad thing).  Sometimes the fruit becomes a toy and gets banged around…..which usually ends with us throwing it to the woods for the wildlife.  But occasionally the fruit gets forgotten about, or we get fresh fruit, and we don’t “rotate” the older fruit to the top of the basket. So it sits at the bottom and we forget about it.

A few weeks ago, during a few rainy days, I noticed a few apples that had been neglected. They weren’t super crispy anymore and they appeared to have been used as hockey pucks. They were a little bruised and ugly and I was told by the short members of our house that they may not taste good. By the looks of them, you would agree – so we had a “teachable moment”.  My thrifty side can’t stand wasting food so I scoured Pinterest on what to do with apples that were past their prime.  I needed to show the kids (but mostly myself!) that a couple bruises and a mushy side or two was not a hindrance to becoming something great. I had 6 misfit apples and one frozen pie crust that managed to hide out in the freezer far too long. I am not a baker by any stretch….so I figured at the very worst I might be wasting some already “yucky” ingredients. If my experiment failed, we would just be losing what I forgot I had to begin with…..not much risk.

I made an apple pie with crumb topping and toasted almonds. It was actually great. But it was also pretty. Sam even said it was pretty – and he “doesn’t like pretty things, only pretty girls”.  The forgotten, mediocre ingredients created something pretty, it just took some creativity and work.  The apples (us) had been neglected and hurt (by life).  So I found a crust (church) and went to work prepping the apples (holy spirit) by peeling off the bad parts (sanctification). Some butter, sugar, cinnamon, flour (Bible study, prayer, worship, fellowship) some heat (life) and time (patience) and we had a pie. A pretty pie created from ignored ingredients.

He has made everything beautiful in its time. – Ecclesiastes 3:11

apple-basket

#blacklivesmatter

#blacklivesmatter

blacklivesIt dawned on me today that I will never fully understand the magnitude of the shootings over the past few days. Lord, I wish nobody did. But the truth is I am ashamed that I will not need to fear for my children then way many of my friends do/will.

TJ and I are both college educated, he is currently working on his second master’s degree. I work, we have a boy and a girl and they are both active and smart and just great kids. We are white.

We have dear friends that live in the NYC, the husband and wife are both educated, both with master’s degrees. Both work (he is a Pastor like TJ). They also have 2 kids, a boy and a girl – both active and smart and also great kids. They are black.

10 years from now our kids could all be hanging out – maybe at the mall. Or the movies. Maybe they’ll all be wearing dark hoodies – they could be dressed the same way. What if they’re having lots of fun and get loud – maybe police are called in and start questioning what they’re doing. I DO NOT HAVE TO worry for the safety of my children. However, my friends do. This is wrong.

Parents worry about their kids. All the time, no matter what. I cannot imagine having those normal fears coupled with another layer of fear merely for the color of their God-given skin. I can’t. It’s disgusting. I hate this for my black brothers and sisters. I really do. I love you and your children. I (and my children) stand with you.

Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ – Galatians 6:2