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

sleeping-dog-on-a-park-bench-in-the-central-square-or-plaza-governer-BAF7Y3

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.

 

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

Pretty Weeds…..

May is winding down, which means we have spent countless hours in the yard. Trimming shrubs, bagging leaves (we are blessed to do this year round), planting things and spreading mulch. Mostly, after winter, we spend our time pulling weeds. TJ and I both deny the fact we wanted a big yard but we bought this house knowing the yard was a monster so we can’t blame anyone but ourselves.

The first year in our house we pretty much maintained what was there. Some shrubs, a few perennials popped up once in a while, we bagged leaves.  The second year a few unruly vines crept in – we trimmed those.  We also bagged more leaves and discovered we had raspberry bushes – HOORAY! The birds are the most appreciative of the raspberries.  Recently though, our flower beds were screaming for some TLC. Despite the jungle, several Irises popped up, 2 tulips (the deer appreciated them), 2 giant hostas (the deer REALLY appreciated them) but mostly grass mixed with weeds tried to overtake them.  They nearly succeeded – so I (with the help from the kids) set out to pull weeds from our front beds. I wish I could tell you we are done, but there are portions still neglected.

In the digging and pulling I found a few small perennial buds trying to rise above the dandelions.  I showed Ellie the tiny pink petals that were trying to beat the odds – she says, “Oh Mom, let’s put them somewhere safe.” There were actually a few of these same flowers scattered in odd places, so I relocated them together.  A few weeks has gone by and they are doing surprisingly well.

Those scattered plants are us, dear Christian. Fragile petals in a world constantly being swallowed by weeds, vines, dead leaves and sometimes animals. On our own we can’t stand…..we get lost….we get buried…. But together, with others, under the watchful eye of the Gardener we are cared for. How often (and easy) we neglect prayer, reading the Bible, spending time with Christians, attending worship….and the weeds come. Sometimes the weeds appear pretty (just ask Ellie) but their roots grow beneath the surface and multiply, stealing life from fragile petals.  What are the weeds in our lives? What pretty weeds keep you from prayer, attending church, reading the Bible, spending time with other Christians? What pretty weeds have told you to let God go….that he’s not a priority. Don’t be deluded….pretty weeds are still weeds. Don’t let them tear you away from the love, care and goodness of God. Our Gardener.

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.  – Hebrews 10:23-25