Squirrels in My Life

Months ago, I stood at the window startled, but amused that a squirrel had grabbed onto a corner of my patio rug and was literally unraveling the entire edge. I opened the door to scare it away, but the little critter soon returned to complete the task. I had never witnessed anything like that after having patio rugs for years, so I took a picture to capture the moment.

For weeks, the rug looked tattered and disheveled, but I believed the squirrel(s) had lost interest and moved on to other mischief around my house or in the neighborhood. It was time to purchase a new rug, as I knew It would bring new life to my patio. Also, anyone  visiting  my home wouldn’t look upon the rug and wonder why I didn’t take pride in the appearance of my surroundings.

A couple days ago my rug arrived. The wrinkles from being rolled tightly during shipping  were still apparent throughout the rug, as the “new smell” lingered. No more shabby patio! As I opened my blinds today, I was “awe struck.” Whether it was the same squirrel or a relative, it had not only frayed the entire edge of my rug, but had chewed and decimated  some of the rug.

I whispered, Oh dear God, can’t I have anything in my life which isn’t frayed and marred? Yes, it is merely a rug, but it was a reminder to me of the many times in our lives  when we try so earnestly to start over; to replace or repair what has been damaged. We grow weary of having people see us as though we don’t care; as though we have allowed the distressed edges to be what is the most visible.

Even though the center of the rug is new, whole and lovely, the unraveled edge with the missing pieces is what my eye was drawn toward. I sat on the ground, tape and scissors in hand slowing and methodically going around the entire edge of the rug, trusting the heavy tape would deter the squirrel guest from damaging the rug even further.

Satan finds a small way to pull and tug at us, realizing he can fray us so we are unattractive to those we meet. They don’t see the body of the rug; our life and the way God blesses us.  They see only the ugly, mutilated edges of our attitude or personality. Our hearts and lives may be as lovely as the center of my new rug, but the ruined edges, can’t be hidden.

They need to be wrapped in God’s love, so Satan won’t continue to pull and tug until our entire image is destroyed.  The edges Satan chewed and tore are there, but the beauty is “in the center” of our lives. We are bound in God’s love, so the frayed edges are not as visible. We know where the destruction is, but God’s light in our lives has diminished the damage. Psalm 147:3 NIV “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”

 

 

 

Detour Again

“I caution you…you will receive swift, legal, action.” What? Why? There was no greeting or closing salutation, merely a threat. I then whispered, okay, God another slammed door, but you are in charge. No words had been written or spoken which were disparaging as I was accused of doing. Thus, no need to threaten. To me, it is one more example of God’s hand slamming the door shut.

The sender of the brusque text presented a business transaction which I chose not to accept. She had entered my home angry and departed in the same manner. What I learned years ago is we cannot control what others say or do, but we can control how we accept and deal with situations which arise. For me personally, it is of no benefit to react to negativity in a toxic manner.  If I react destructively, it only causes me physical stress and anxiety. I prayed about the business transaction before it was presented and following. This has caused another detour, but I know God’s time is perfect.

Then as I read one of my devotions today, I thought of my own situation. Xochitl Dixon wrote, “my anger percolated when a woman mistreated me, blamed me and gossiped about me. I wanted everyone to know what she’d done-wanted her to suffer as I’d suffered because of her behavior. I steamed with resentment until a headache pierced my temples. But as I began praying for my pain to go away, the Holy Spirit convicted me. How could I plot revenge while begging God for relief?”

As I read each word of Xochitl’s devotion, I thought again about what anger does to us. I recall when I learned the truth of a situation a little over two years ago. I was angry, but more wounded than angry. The hurt was so deep and devastating, I became physically ill. How could someone I had loved so deeply and genuinely do something so vindictive and dishonorable? He did and I had to decide how to endure. I cried out to God to remove the emotional sorrow, but it lingered. Even now, if I reflect on the reality of what occurred, the anguish is great, “but God.”

I’ve learned over these past couple years, that no matter how excruciating a situation may be, with God’s help I can survive and thrive. Perhaps that is another reason when situations arise now which I have no control over, I can say “God, this is your problem. Please take it from me.” The actions of the sender of today’s text are unethical, but God remains at the center of the situation.

As Xochitl continued her devotion, she reminded us of the unfair treatment of David. We all know David pulled some “stunts”, but he was also mistreated unjustly when King Saul wanted to kill him. “David suffered while God worked things out.” Sometimes we too suffer, while God’s plan for our life is being implemented.  Psalm27:14 NKJ: “Wait on the Lord, be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart.”

 

 

 

Beauty From the Loom

In addition to playing with the precious babies and toddlers and assisting Martha with chores and errands, during my summer visit, there were several special adventures.  John and Martha loaded all of us in the van with lunches, snacks, water and drinks and off we went. Like the explorers of yesteryear, we explored the native land of our first Americans. We traveled to special events in Window Rock, AZ, serving as the seat of government and capital of the Navajo Nation.

Closer to the Barre’s home, I caught a glimpse of the culture of the wonderful Navajo people. John and Martha visited the residents in their homes; hogans. Hogans were built of wooden poles, tree bark and mud. The doorway opened to the east to receive the morning sun as well as good blessings. The hogans of the 1960’s and earlier possessed no running water and seldom was there electricity.

Their homes weren’t decorated with the latest décor, floor coverings or artwork. These homes were basic protection from the elements. Parents and children all slept in one room. There was no option to “slam the door and stomp off” to their room when someone was angry. Conflicts were resolved in one room, among the family members. No one grabbed meals and sat in front of the television. These were homes with only the basic needs and necessities. These were families of meager means, dwelling in nature and by the work of their own hands.

The skills and artistry of many of these residents was reflected with the beautiful handwoven Navajo rugs or the silver and turquoise jewelry. Even as a young teen, I was smitten with the inconceivable exquisiteness of the rugs woven on roughly built looms, occupying some of the living space of their humble homes.

I realized it was those weeks of residing among people of another culture that caused me to desire to learn more about those living in a world far different than mine. I was keenly aware, my world with my own poor family , living in a small, modest rental home was not the “norm.” Yet, we did have running water and electricity. Our floors were cold, bare tile or linoleum. Yet, the Americans residing in the hogans stepped onto dirt floors when they awakened each morning.

There were no lush lawns with abundant landscaping. An occasional wild pinyon pine or juniper tree might provide a small amount of shade in the summer heat. Sagebrush and tumbleweeds were the “in vogue” shrubs of Thoreau. There were advantages to this topography in that no one in the family was “yelling at the other” to mow the lawn.

I saw John and Martha several other times after I returned home that summer. Yet the memories from those few weeks have remained decades later. I learned there is no requirement for family vacations, luxuries of life or “having what the Joneses” have in order to be happy. The Barre home was filled with love which money truly could not buy. That summer of the early 1960’s imprinted my heart and life for an eternity. John 15:12, NKJ, “this is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

 

Plenty of Toilet Water

When the hungry, children awakened, their patience was disguised. They also needed to be dressed and readied for their day ahead. Martha and I recognized to begin the chores uninterrupted, it was compulsory to begin our day before the children’s.

The chores and tasks I assisted with, were enjoyable as they were not the routine I had with my family of origin.  I also knew I was supporting Martha in her work for the Lord. She had labored assiduously for the past several years without complaints and meager assistance. Her work ethics as a German World War II bride were astonishing. She worked tirelessly all day without “breaks” or “me” time.

After the daily laundry was done, the breakfast served and the children attired for the day, there were a  few hours of playing and interacting with the children, before the afternoon naps and preparation for dinner began. Monday and Friday were our days of adventure. John was residing at the Navajo Language School in Gallup five days a week.  He was  learning the Diné language to preach the Sunday sermons to the reservation residents that attended their small chapel close to the Barre’s home.

Martha used those days for errands in Gallop, including grocery shopping and visits to the post office. There were no stops at the local convenience store for soft drinks or candy treats. There were no special outings for ice cream or hamburgers. These were luxuries, not provided to missionaries on a minimal budget with twelve mouths to feed.

With Martha’s homemade hamburger and hot dog buns, there was not a burger or hot dog in New Mexico as tasty as hers. I know if we had patronized the local sandwich shops, our paletes would have been disappointed.  Also, Martha’s homemade ice cream and fry bread outranked even the finest chef.

I learned more during those weeks as a missionary helper than I acquired over several years in my own family.  I understood poverty as a result of my biological family subsiding on government commodities. Yet, living on a meager income was never recognized in the Barre home.  I never experienced family love, devotion and dedication, for one another as I did during those few weeks with them.

From Friday night to Monday morning, John was home to participate with and enjoy his family. How I loved John as a father, for he delighted in bantering with me which my own father never did. Years later when John and Martha came to visit me as a young wife and mother, John reminded me of my “toilet water” from years earlier. When we all resided in Ohio as friends, I received a bottle of the Eau de toilette fragrance (toilet water on the label) as a gift.

As a young, naïve schoolgirl, John told me he could “refill” my bottle anytime I desired. With big eyes and belief of John’s words, I said, “you can?”  John smiled, “sure Janie, just bring it over. I have plenty.” It was Martha that brought me back to reality.  Those were heartwarming times. To be continued: Psalm 144:15 NKJ, “Happy are the people who are in such a state; Happy are the people whose God is the Lord.”

Watch Out For The Snakes

Even at age fourteen, I understood I didn’t need to pause to consider such an incredible opportunity. This experience might never be offered again. “Janie, would you like to spend the summer with us, helping me with the children?’, Martha queried.

Our family friends, John and Martha Barre, the age of my parents left their comfortable lifestyle and beautiful new home in Ohio to become missionaries to the Navajo Indians in Thoreau, New Mexico. John had been an executive with a large corporation, but they felt the calling of God in their hearts and on their lives. They left behind their family, friends, and the stability of a middle-class background, taking their two young sons to an unknown land with an unfamiliar culture to serve others.

The Barres were now rearing seven orphaned Native American children on the Navajo reservation. Martha knew how much I loved babies and babysitting.  With seven infants and toddlers, under the age of three, she welcomed my willingness to assist.

Martha’s love for children was perhaps as great as mine. However, Martha had lost several babies before their birth or shortly thereafter. The only daughter she would have had, God called home before the baby was born. Thus, Martha and I bonded that summer in the 1960’s, not only in household chores, cooking, baking and childcare, but as a “mother and daughter.”

This was perhaps one of the richest times of my life with new and stimulating occurrences, but  there were no “lazy days” of relaxing. The Barre’s austere 2 story frame house stood among the cliffs where the wild horses roamed, and the cacti flourished. There were no porch swings, lush green grass, or welcoming swimming pools. There was not a single flower or blade of grass. Hardened gypseous soil and barren terrain surrounded their house on every side.

This was a missionary home. It was basic and the needs plentiful. Martha arose each morning by 4:00 a.m. to begin her day of baking and laundry. There was no local gourmet coffee shop, florist, or bakery. The closest town was thirty-one miles away.  Grocery trips were planned. There was also not a desire to put seven children in the car to “run to town.” This calling on the lives of John and Martha looked nothing like “living the American dream” they had practiced in Ohio.

When I awakened around 6:00-6:30 a.m. daily, it appeared Martha had already fulfilled a full day’s work. There were several loads of laundry ready to hang on the clothesline behind their house. “Be careful to watch for the rattle snakes”, Martha instructed, as I seized the heavy basket.

After hanging the dozens of diapers and baby clothes outside,  Martha’s large breakfast of homemade cinnamon rolls or biscuits, homemade jams, eggs, bacon, or ham would sustain us for hours of work. TO BE Continued: Matthew 25:40 NIV “The king will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

My Life or God’s?

On those nights I read a chapter or two from inspirational Christian books, I’m able to fall asleep reminded that no matter what the day held or what is awaiting me the following day, God is with me. I recently mentioned a book I received as a gift; The Land Between by Jeff Manion. Jeff shares numerous stories of those that had their planned life or perhaps what they believed was their ideal life. Then suddenly God steps in and changes it.

What do we do when we are “between” the life we chose and believed God directed and the life God chose for us? Do we run and hide or are we like Job, Joseph and dozens of other faithful children of God? Do we stand strong and say, “here I am Lord, use me.” Jeff shared of Joseph’s trials. There is much to learn from Joseph. He was the favorite son of his father, but jealousy and anger caused his life to be totally disrupted and changed. Yet, it was not without God’s hand and plan. Ultimately Joseph received far more than he ever imagined.

As we are in “the land between” it is often difficult to see how beautiful God’s plan is for us. As I have been dragging the ten-foot ladder all over my yard, climbing high to do tasks,  I’m struggling with seeing “God’s plan” for the “between” of my life. I had a husband, a family, a home, and normalcy, but then suddenly that ended.

Countless friends and family touted I would not be alone long for God would send me a companion, a friend.  No, that wasn’t God’s plan. So here I am eight years later alone and “between.”  Jeff reminded his readers in his words, “In the land between, a remarkable phenomenon occurs. We come to possess a vital faith that allows us to be at our best when life is at its worst.  We emerge from a season of profound disappointment, unnerving chaos, or debilitating pain with a faith worth having. We learn the Land Between is about a journey of trust and that something flourishes there that could not be produced in any other soil. We discover that the place we most want to escape has produced the fruit we most desperately crave.”

We can indeed trust God to know His plans are far greater than ours. Jeff shared of one of this friends that was learning to trust while “between.” “There is an intimacy, a settled trust, a level of dependence on God in Ben’s life that is new. He has journeyed through the Land Between, has kept his heart open, and been dramatically changed.”

When my “between” ends whether in this life or with God, I may never understand the purpose, but I will know God does bring beauty from the “ugliness of life.” As I undertake tasks which are such a struggle for me, I’m constantly reminded, I’m “between” and God is standing right there with me. Psalm 27:14, NKJ, “Wait on the Lord; Be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart…”

 

Love or Lecture?

We learn a friend, family member or someone we don’t know is going through a difficult time in their life and are seeking prayer. It doesn’t matter if their need is physical or emotional, a “listening ear and heart” can be the greatest gift we can give.

Too often Christians feel this person must have done something “wrong” to seek prayer for something of such magnitude.  This is not the time to exhibit knowledge of how many bible verses we can quote or that the person seeking prayer is pursuing opinions.  If a person says, “will you pray with me or for me” unless they ask for scriptures or advice, why can’t we just pray and show some concern?

This has always been perplexing to me when the individual offering prayer for another, immediately feels it is their right to dictate what that person must do, especially when they do not personally know the one seeking prayer (routinely they received the person’s name from a church prayer list). Countless times, I have heard someone tell the one they were asked to pray for, that they “must do thus/so.”

Carey  Nieuwhof, says, “You can’t pray for someone you judge because you’re actually not for them. Sure, you can pray about them, but again, your prayer won’t be grounded in humility. It might be grounded in anger, or in arrogance, or superiority, but it won’t be grounded in love.”

I recently read a wonderful article by Benjamin and Meredith Green, “How To Pray for Someone That Is Hurting.” They possess astuteness which many twice their age do not acquire. “Pray for wisdom for them and for you. Pray that your friend will have the wisdom they need to navigate their situation and to make some hard choices. Pray for the wisdom you need to know when and how to best help and support them.”

That is a gift which no amount of expertise can provide. Over the years dozens of fellow Christians have asked me to pray for them.  It is seldom their sorrow was anything like I endured. Yet, I possessed the empathy to pray with them. They weren’t seeking judgment nor advice; just care and support.

As I read these words from Chuck Swindoll when he met a friend, I was reminded that seldom do we totally understand what another is experiencing.  “ The subject of wisdom kept sliding into our conversation. He and I were agreeing on the value of certain qualities that cannot be learned in school—things like intuition, diligence, integrity, perception, consistency, loyalty . . . and he, again, mentioned wisdom. Wisdom is hard to define because it means much more than knowledge and goes much deeper than awareness… So I asked, “How does a person get wisdom? I realize we are to be men and women of wisdom, but few people ever talk about how it’s acquired.” His answer was quick and to the point. “Pain.”

Most of us have experienced pain, so this gives us the wisdom to pray and show concern without adjudication. Colossians 1:9 NKJ, “for this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will…”

Memories, Movies and Muffins

Laxin’, laziness and lovin’, was the joy I had for a two day,  “too short” visit with my daughter, Andrea and her family this week.  It had been quite a while since I had last seen them, so the cliché of “absence makes the heart grow fonder was  valid. I was especially thrilled to see all four of her children as her two oldest were home from college. However, my gift of seeing them was a determent to my eldest grandson, a Ph.D student. He had to leave campus and his research for several days due to a medical concern with a fellow doctoral student. However, his family and I were all too happy to give him an abundance of hugs, love, and attention while he was home. Even though he didn’t wish to acknowledge it, I believe he treasured the home cooked meals and loving attention he received.

Andrea’s only daughter, her youngest child is quite the helper in the kitchen, so it was a delectable treat to have freshly baked muffins for each morning’s breakfast. My precious daughter who touted  in high school she would never prepare any meal that didn’t come from a box, bag or can is now quite an accomplished and excellent chef.

Aside from the belated birthday dinner reservations for my granddaughter, it was wonderful  to just “savor the time” of “laxin’ and laziness.” Wholesome “chick flicks” always bring smiles and laughter to any family. Our “television time” snuggled under fuzzy blankets didn’t disappoint.

As I delighted in the blessings of the two days spent with Andrea and her family, I was reminded again, I never imagined what God planned for my future.  I’ve been totally alone for over eight years and trying earnestly for over four years to sell my house and move to Texas to be closer to my family. As I have cried out to God both physically and emotionally, my prayers to move from this town with the “painful past” of when I was a wife, seem honorable to me.

Chuck Swindoll recently reminded me in his words, “We never know what a day will bring, whether good or ill. Our heavenly Father’s plan unfolds apart from our awareness. Ours is a walk of faith, not sight. Trust, not touch. Leaning long and hard, not running away. No one knows ahead of time what the Father’s plan includes. It’s best that way. It may be a treasured blessing; it could be a test that drops us to our knees. He knows ahead of time, but He is not obligated to warn us about it or to remind us it’s on the horizon. We can be certain of this: our God knows what is best.”

With each passing day, as the “for sale” sign glistens beneath the glowing sun, I have to cling to the realization that God truly does know best in all of this.  I Thessalonians 5:18 NKJ, “in everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Soaring With The Eagles

It was one of the most memorable and joyous days of my life. I had waited years for this day; to take a trip with my only daughter, Andrea. I extended other “gifts” for trips, but one year ago today, was “the day” and my heart was filled with “joy beyond measure.”

I have openly shared about my admiration of Chuck Swindoll’s teachings and this was an opportunity I desired to participate in; his Alaskan cruise in celebration of his Insight for Living Ministries 40th year anniversary. The destination was not as important to me as being with Andrea, while also enjoying Chuck’s instruction and fellowship with other Christians for the next week.

Even though I visited Alaska the previous year on a land trip, I understood the cruise would provide a different perspective in this area of our country filled with God’s beauty of vast wilderness, water, mountains, and wildlife. Because this was my first cruise, this was an adventure for both Andrea and I, as we experienced some of the amendments of cruise traveling.

This was a smaller ship than other cruise ships, as it routinely hosts Christian groups spending time together with music and teaching of the Lord. Therefore, the entertainment and shopping were more limited, but Andrea and I were not there to be entertained or shop. Our “gifts” were with the wonderful people we met during our trip.

Andrea’s “gift” has lingered as she has maintained  friendships with some of them, enjoying personal visits with one another. Andrea and I had been aboard the ship less than two hours when we met some of these “friends” we would share the week with.

Another “gift” was the opportunity to view God’s splendid creatures, whales while on an excursion. They were more than cooperative to be the center of attention, as they danced on display to all the “ooh’s and ah’s” of the spectators. Also, our country’s exquisite eagles soared toward the heavens reminding all of us of God’s magnificence.

Like the countless fellow tourists, we trekked in and out of the “look alike, money pit” villages.  Andrea and I located a few “must take home” presents for others. A blessing of each day was dining at the table with the friends where we had been assigned. As we shared with one another what adventures we had experienced or what “must have’s” we purchased, another highlight was gathering again that evening for the special events Chuck had planned for each of us.

At the end of each day, my delight was knowing I was with my beautiful daughter. On the final night of our trip, Andrea gave me a gift which has lingered for an entire year. She said “Mom, your smile has never left your face.” I cried, for the exultation of that week was a gift no amount of money could purchase. I trust this trip with Andrea, wasn’t the last or only, but it was filled with treasures which have filled my memory and heart countless times. Psalm 96:11 NKJ, Let the heavens rejoice and let the earth be glad; Let the sea roar, and all its’ fullness.”

And Then!

When I grow up, I will eat what I want when I want. When I grow up, I will not have to take naps or go to bed before I desire. When I grow up no one will tell me what to do. “And then.” You did grow up. You couldn’t always eat what you chose and sometimes you took a quick nap because you were up much of the night. Most often you craved to go to bed at the early hour you did as a child. For most adults we have more than our previous two parents telling us what to do. “And then.”

When we are out of college and find a job, when we marry and begin our family, when we make enough money to do what we desire, “then.”  It seems we move from one stage of our lives to another “and then.” Each “then” comes and goes, but do you have what you desire? Do you ever have quiet, reflective days when you say, “not then but now?” I feel certain many of us have had too many of those contemplative days over these past few months, especially those of us living alone without family or friends. I know there were will be a time in the not so distant future when we will say, “but then.”

As pastors and bible study leaders often share, many of us that prayed for “then” won’t see that transpire. As Dr. Warren noted, we may have to ask God why, realizing we won’t know until we stand before Him. As I’ve so rapidly watched the decades of my life move forward, I have wished I could have “stopped” many of those “then” days; the times my children were home and I could interact with them or the times we were a family celebrating life “as one.”

Some of my days of yesteryear were memorable and joyous, but most were challenging and difficult. God knew before I was born my life would be uphill all the way. He also knew I could manage it, for He knew I would cling to His strength and His faith to move me along.

I was most appreciative of the recent kudos I received on sharing my life; those times in my life when like Dr. Warren noted, you just don’t understand. You have prayed and been faithful, but God’s answers bring so much more sorrow than you could ever have imagined.

What has allowed me to never falter in my faith is knowing that  “then”,  when my life ends, there will be more elation than I can possibly know.  I will realize this brief life filled with so much heartache will be totally forgotten. “ Then” is what grants me the ability to keep pushing forward.  These are the days  I wait upon the Lord. Until “then” I truly do know who holds my tomorrows. Matthew 6:34 NKJ, “Therefore do no worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its’ own trouble.”