When God Shows Up {and near tragedy becomes blessing}

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I had gone for a brisk walk that stunning fall afternoon.  It was a Sunday.  We had arrived home from church, with nothing more on our agenda than soaking up the sun’s enchanting rays.  We were all outside; Avery on the swing set and the boys in the secret garden with Daddy, building our tree fort.  Usually Avery would want to come along for a walk, but she’d decided to stay.  I’d be gone only 30 minutes, one time around the neighborhood loop.  Kisses and smiles were abundant as I left.  I returned refreshed, but surprised to find things were not as peaceful as I’d left them.  There was worry, pacing, and tears as I approached my kids, still outside.  They were watching our duck, Puddles, intently while spewing out details of what had just unfolded.  Almost immediately after I left, Puddles had started losing his balance, turning in circles, falling all over himself, and going limp in the neck.  It was laughable at first.  That is, until they discerned that he was suffering.  Laughter quickly turned to fright and helplessness as they watched, unable to appease him.  These intermittent bouts of dizziness had gone on the entire time I was gone, and continued well into the night.  What does one do when their duck is going bonkers?  We turned to Google, of course.  Immediately, several consistent blurbs of information appeared.  Most likely, Puddles had come down with botulism.  Thankfully, this type of botulism does not effect humans (whew, I was about to demand everyone scrub up in the shower instantly!).  We read on, to find that 1 lb. of Epsom salt with 5 lb. of water could flush our duck’s system of the fatal bacteria.  Also suggested, a mixture of water with molasses.  This has a laxative effect.  Get the duck some protein as well! 

Four of us hopeful, we set out for the local Walmart.  The fifth and most realistic one, my husband, the one who’d read everything…he whispers to me in the car that even with these remedies, other people’s ducks…they still died within 3 days.  We returned home, anxious to check on Puddles and ready to perform our duties as animal rescuers.  I stayed in and mixed the solutions, while the rest of the crew went down to see the ducks.  One returned quickly, completely in tears again, distraught.  “His neck was paralyzed again, mom!  He couldn’t move.”   “Well, let’s try and see if this works, son,” I reply.  It took all 5 of us, it seemed…one to hold the duck tight, one to plunge the syringe into the solution and down his throat, one to wash the water dish, one to give fresh food, and one to hold the flashlight (as now it was 9:00pm and pitch dark outside).  We did all we could do, tucked them in and returned inside for the night.  Well, there was one more thing to do: PRAY.

We huddled together tight, hand in hand, minds focused.  We prayed for a miracle.  We prayed that Puddles would wake feeling better, and that he got enough of the salt solution to help flush his system, despite most of it somehow ending up all over our clothes and the ground.  We prayed that the dizziness would subside and that the bacteria would leave his body.  We know, God, you hear our prayers, for your word tells us so in Psalm 34:17: “The Lord hears his people when they call to him for help.  He rescues them from all their troubles.”  No matter how small the details, Lord, you care deeply…even if it’s just a measly pet duck…we know it.  “The steps of the godly are directed by the Lord.  He delights in every detail of their lives.” (Psalm 37:23)

Avery had been waiting all week for this night.  Not because she knew she’d need to lift the spirits of her heartbroken brother over a duck, but because it was her devotion night.  We each have a night during the week.  She’d been planning what she’d bring to the table, and she was excited about it.  Nobody (not even a sick duck) can take away this girl’s joy in the Lord.  So, we proceeded with family devotions, even though it was late…and a school night.  When tragedy strikes, we find ourselves not wanting to part, desiring to linger in one another’s presence.  A despairing boy curls himself up on the couch between the edge and my leg…and begins to weep.  As I rub his back, the show begins.  Behind a stack of pillows on the floor, probably every single pillow in the house, Avery and her Daddy act out a familiar scene from the Bible.  In charade like fashion, they hammer and build, then motion for something to come toward them.  They are calling forth animals, I think.  Then, they sway back and forth, as if in a storm, behind this heaping pile of pillows and we all laugh…even the sobbing one!  It feels good to laugh.  Back to the show, Avery and Daddy come out from behind the wall of pillows.  They are on land.  They bow down and look up, giving thanks, blowing kisses to the sky.  We all exclaim while giggling, “Noah’s Ark!”  Then we clap…even the one whose tears have left a puddle on the throw pillow!  Okay, time for bed.  We pray one more time, thanking the Lord for laughter amidst a night filled with uncertainty. 

We tuck the kids in bed, and stay up a while devising a plan in case we find a dead duck in the morning.  Daddy goes to check on the kids before shutting his eyes, and discovers the sweetest thing: our three kids sacked out, snuggled up together in the oldest one’s top bunk.  This, because the middle one was crying his eyes out all night.  This, because the girl couldn’t fall asleep for fear creeping in of what might become of Puddles.  This young man, still our baby, even though he was just as sad as the others, swallowed hard and manned up for his siblings.  He offered his bed, a place to lament together, band together, have hope together.  This 6th grader, who can antagonize for laughs, put others before himself.  He’s always been a great encourager, but the other two are the lovers, the affectionate ones.  My husband climbs into bed with a smile and fullness of heart.  It’s in these hard moments that the opportunity to shine bright presents itself.  “For God, who said, ‘Let there be light in the darkness,’ has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6)

The next thing shining brightly was the sun coming through the windows the following morning.  “How is it morning already?” I ask.  Kerry hurries out the door with the anticipation of finding a dead duck before one of the kids does.  Sure enough, before Kerry gets back, Owen, up earlier than normal, is racing past me on his way to see Puddles.  They open up the door to the pen.  Puddles, still looking as if he were tossed back and forth on Noah’s Ark in a storm,  waddles out.  He’s alive, at least!  All day I update my husband, via phone, that the duck hasn’t had any dizzy spells!  He calmly reminds me though, that it took a couple days for others’ ducks to die.  “Well, I suppose you have a point since he won’t eat or drink a thing,” I admit.  The kids return home from school ecstatic that Puddles is still alive!  Dad forewarns them though, of what still may come.  He desires to protect their little hearts from being broken once again. 

Another night of meds that flush.  Another morning of hopeful hearts…he’s still hanging in there!  In fact, I text Kerry as he’s right in the middle of an important pastor’s meeting…”Puddles is eating bugs!” I exclaim.  He quickly replies, “woohoo!”  The kids are delighted, once again, as they race down the driveway after school to see Puddles swimming, eating and quacking as normal.  My heart is overflowing with gratitude, not really because we still own a white farm duck, but because of how God showed up in the mundane and delivered upon His promises.  He heard the cries (literal wails) of His kids and cared enough to act.  Sure, it could have been the measly 2 oz. of fluid we flushed down the duck.  However, the advice on the internet said we needed to make sure ALL of it got down.  We weren’t even close.  It didn’t look good.  But God is good. 

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Not only did He show up, He allowed a heartbreaking experience to bond siblings even closer, as they drew closer to Him in their pleading.  I can’t explain the breadth of fulfillment I felt the night we witnessed our three children shine bright, each in their own little ways.  Owen, with his love and compassion for all living creatures, moved to tears by a struggling duck, checking, feeding, offering to stay.  Avery, with her unstoppable joy, putting her sadness aside to lift the spirits of others by bringing about laughter.  Keinan, becoming strong for the younger two, encouraging and laying down himself as he offered up his bed.  Although I’ve seen it over and over, I never tire of watching God show up.  That night, His word came alive once again, as he gave beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair; that we may be called great oaks that the Lord has planted for his own glory! (Isaiah 61:3)  What more could I ask for?  Feeling so blessed and thankful…

 

 

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Seasons of Change

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Two living things, standing side by side. One appears bare, dull, worn.  The last handful of leaves are about to tumble.  It’s glistening moment has come and gone.

The other stands tall, gleaming with color that stops you in your tracks.  It’s a marvelous sight, so lively and secure.

They are close enough to reach out and touch, yet far-off in their process during this season of change.

Seasons of change are inevitable.  This time each year, we stand in awe of the luminosity surrounding us.   Next, we prepare to bunker down as the chill sweeps in and the color fades.  Then, our spirits are lifted as sunshine returns along with new buds of life.  Lastly, the tide rolls in heat and picnic days and vacations!  Just when we start to tire of one season, we are delighted as another comes for a visit.  We are blessed by this, you know.

But what about heart seasons?  The truth is…heart seasons are inevitable, too.  Do we, like the trees, embrace our purpose through seasons of change?  Or, are seasons of change unwelcome for us?  Do we, who are stripped bare and worn, give an envious glance at our neighbor who is glowing happy?  Or, do we attempt to stretch out an understanding limb?

Two souls, standing side by side. One, ripped open and poured out as she blogs the last days of her beloved’s battle with cancer.  Now, a single mother of 4 young kids. Another, mended and filling up again, as she stands in victory over the same dreadful disease.  Life looks different now, more rose-colored.

One, walks blissfully expectant down the isle toward her husband-to-be.  If it weren’t for the heavy dress, she’d be floating in ‘forever’. The other, fades further away as she struggles in her marriage of over a decade.  Crushed by the weight of uncertainty and scarred by a lifetime of not mattering.

One, rattled and tearful as her toddler tests the waters.  She lays awake at night worrying, “How will this little human being entrusted to ME turn out?”  Just breathe, they say it’s a phase.  Another,  full of peace and accomplishment as her virtuous daughter walks upright into her new dorm room, and into the world.  All those time-outs and nights spent on her knees has paid off.  Time to breathe (at least for this moment)!

One, finally able to say good-bye to that 8-5 job that kept her from her babies.  She finds that she still contributes.   In fact, her contribution is priceless: peace within her home. The other, jumping back into the workforce, excited to conquer the world.  They’ve missed her, and she’s missed the adult conversation.   She feels a stirring up of her creativity, something she thought she’d lost in the heaps of laundry and diapers.   It’s her time to shine.

Although very content in our sweet little cottage, just two mornings ago I was feeling antsy about finding a future house.  I began to cast my cares upon the Lord, when I heard him whisper to my soul, “I am going to give you a house, and you’re going to fill it up, and it won’t be easy.  So, enjoy this season of rest with your family.”  I quickly thanked Him for his provision and His instruction, as I was reminded that someday our desire to take kids into our home might just come to fruition.  Perhaps now IS a season of rest, and we need to savor it.

Seasons of change sweep through our lives, in every place.  Out in our yards, and inside our hearts.

No matter what season of change is whirling about, we can settle down knowing that one thing remains constant.  God.  His creation.  His love.  His faithfulness.  His mercies.  These things never change!  The Lord is the everlasting God, Creator of the ends of the earth.  He will not grow tired or weary, and His understanding no one can fathom (Isaiah 40:28).  He is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8).

When the world is turning upside down and hatred, greed, and selfishness seem to be magnified, His love is there to envelop us.  Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:37-38).  For the Lord is good and His love endures forever; His faithfulness continues through all generations (Psalm 100.5).

No matter what season we are in, we can count on the sun coming up every single morning.  Our days may not be completely cloudless or without wind.  However, we can look forward to the sun’s imminent light and warmth.  We can also trust in a moon to inhabit the darkness.  If by chance the moon is just a sliver, there are a gazillion living stars hung in place as well.  If the cloud coverage is just too thick to see them, that doesn’t mean they aren’t there.  They are there.  God is there, standing connected to all He has created…even to the spinning seasons.

The Sweet Stuff

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Today I had the privilege of watching my little nephew, Kellen.  The morning was typical at first, with the half hour before school being crunch time.  Discussing outfits, gobbling down breakfast, brushing teeth, finding socks, undoing braids and re-doing pony tails, checking homework folders, packing lunches, tying shoelaces, warming the car, prayers and kisses…and we were off!  Miraculously, we were a bit ahead of schedule despite having an extra body to load and buckle.

Once we stretched our necks and waved goodbye until mine disappeared into school, I turned to Kellen, “Now, what shall we do?”  His ardent, blue eyes stared firm back into mine, professing, “donuts!”  Whether that pitch came from Kellen, or the fierce, adversarial spirit that lives within me testifying that I love sugar…I’m not sure.  Either way, we were in agreement.  Excitedly, we turned the big 9-seater toward Donutland!  Although Donutland is extremely close to the middle school, there was just enough time for a million scrutinizing thoughts about our game plan to flood my mind.  “Selena, are you going to get a donut?”  “You already had two oatmeal-banana protein cookies this morning, you’re not hungry.”  “The scale is finally going back down, after all the fun you had this summer.”  “But, what if I just get a few of those tiny donut holes?”  “It’s going to smell soooo good in there.”  “Selena, can you ever go more than just a few days without sugar?”  “Maybe I’ll just skip lunch.”  “I’ll eat veggies for dinner.”  “I’ll work out extra hard today.”  “Will my rear end ever look like it did before 3 explosive labors, 1,000 hours in a rocking chair and 12 years of mothering anyway?”  “Oh, no! We’re here!”  We parked, walked up to the door, swung it open and I had to face the moment of truth.

That moment of truth wasn’t what I expected.  Before us, sitting at several different tables, were 12 to 15 elderly people enjoying coffee and donuts with one another.  I had to ask myself what day it was, in view of them being dressed as if it were Sunday.  The old men, with their slacks and nice shoes, flannels and hats (removed of course).  The women, adorning colorful beads that lay soft on their knitted sweaters, with lipstick and their hair done up just right.  They weren’t all together, but as I glanced around I noticed that they were all enjoying each other’s company.   Moreover, they were enjoying those sweet donuts like it was their last meal!  One little lady, who had to be only 5 ft. tall and 100 lbs., was savoring every bite of a custard-filled, chocolate-frosted donut the size of her face!  As I marveled at this sight, I noticed there weren’t any electronic devices joining them.  They weren’t glancing down to check a smart phone, only up…into each others’ faces.  They were absorbed into their conversations, barely aware of the clamoring door being swung open.

Then, truth hit me in the face…or maybe the heart.  These souls aren’t worried about the fat content in their donuts.  They aren’t calorie counting or thinking about how to burn off what they just ate.  They aren’t concerned with the grams of sugar in their donuts, only the sweet fellowship taking place in their environment.  They were devouring sweet stuff alright…the kind of sweet stuff God alone can bring to the table.  Exactly the kind of sweetness my dear friend described just the other day.

While on a walk, this phenomenal mother shared with me an activity she did with her children.  She wanted to reiterate the importance of not complaining.  She had them fill each of their socks with tiny rocks.  Next, she gave each of them a mouthwatering piece of candy.  She then instructed them to put their socks on and walk around, while sucking on their candy.  Their entire family of 5 walked around the living room, with rocks in their socks, slurping on candy.  “Wow, this candy is soooo good!” she exclaimed, with a smile.  Her husband (in on the lesson) reacted differently, bemoaning, “Ouch!  These rocks hurt!  I can’t walk!”  The kids mostly laughed while slurping and wobbling around.  However, after the activity, they had an earnest discussion about focusing on the “sweet stuff” rather than the hard stuff.  Oh, how all of us need that lesson!

The elderly people in the donut shop this morning…they had that lesson down.  They were comfortable with who they were in life.  They weren’t fretting about body image, or who might be watching, or where they had to be next.  They were relaxed in their own skin and cared for in the arms of a living, loving God.  He’s given us life, so sweet, and he wants us to drink up every last drop!  We may need to remind ourselves, “everything in moderation.”  But God’s blessings are never in moderation.  They are abundant.  They act as a flood, capsizing our hearts and changing us forever.  Jesus said, “I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance to the full, till it overflows.”  (John 10;10, AMP)

While I did enjoy some of the sweet stuff Donutland had to offer today (with no shame whatsoever!), I also got to partake of something much more satisfying.  I ingested the long lasting taste of the Lord and His goodness, by witnessing souls live life to the fullest, and connecting with a special 3 year old. Definitely, sweet stuff!

“Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in Him.”  (Psalm 34:8, NIV)

Out to Sea

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I guess you could say I’ve been in La-La Land lately.  However, my vision is not blurred, but rather clear.  In fact, more crystal than ever!  God has reached down and peeled the blinders back, allowing me to recognize His beauty and purpose in everything.

Two small arms around my neck first thing in the morning.  One walk-in closet that miraculously fits clothes for 5 bodies!  It’s like the miracle of loaves and fishes, but it’s space that is multiplied beyond what seems right!

A small window, overlooking a field glistening with morning dew.  Leaves fluttering down to the green below, perfect for tossing up and capturing mid-air around smiling faces.  Our hammock in the distance, calling out memories of an epic summer.  These memories travel through the breeze and reach me at the kitchen sink, causing a smile.

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The kids’ school being only 1/2 mile down the road, because if my sputtering vehicle decides to quit on me today, we can walk.  The white 1970 Chevy we call “Old Faithful,” bought brand new by my grandpa.  Sometimes I like to just sit in it because the smell makes it feel like my grandparents are still with us.

A box of puff pastry that I forgot I’d put in the freezer for ham & cheese dinner, now thawing out just in time.  A lunch hour spent walking slow with an aging parent, and the reminder that we all need to slow down to take it all in.  These moments I will cherish forever in my heart.

Our 9 year old boy, finally embracing responsibility.  These baby steps are celebrated, because progress is good!  A certain little mini-me, who has been helping herself to my slightly more expensive shampoo, conditioner and now, face wash (organic and anti-aging).  All because she wants to be “just like Mommy.”  My oldest, who is beginning to find his “funny” side.  Being the subject of these experiments in pranking keeps me young!

The unwavering love of a husband who builds me up every single day.  An out of the blue coffee date here, the kindness of a stranger there…all gifts of grace from a good and loving father.  “Why me?” I ask myself.  How on earth do I get to be the recipient of all these wonderful gifts?  I don’t deserve any of it.  I decide, grace is a word worth exploring.

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Grace, in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, has many descriptions.  Approval.  Favor.  Mercy.  Pardon.  A virtue coming from God.  However, this one is my favorite:  Unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration or sanctification.  Unmerited divine assistance…that says it all.  While we were wasting our lives in sin, God demonstrated His powerful love for us in a tangible display- His son died for us (Romans 5:8).  The ultimate gift.  A life taken in our place.  This humbles me, brings me to my knees, causes chills, and tears of gratitude.

In light of this one moment in history…every other moment in life pales in comparison.  But, should we see it as just one moment, long ago?  Should we accept this gift, and then be on our way, seldom looking back?  Perhaps we shall consider it an embarkation of a continuous hand of grace reaching down every single day, serving up savory bites equal in grandeur?    What if we choose to see every moment in our life as a thoughtfully considered sacrifice of love?

Even the hard moments?  Yes!  You can perceive even the unfathomable moments in your life as Joseph did: intended for harm by Satan, but used for good by God to accomplish greater blessings (Genesis 50:20).  Because of Joseph’s time spent in slavery, many people were spared from death by famine.  Sanctification.  Purpose.

Eighteen months spent getting well acquainted with a disease that causes severe vertigo…a blessing. It taught me discipline (something I was praying for),  startled me closer to God, allowed me to see my husband in a whole new light (what a stud), and forever implanted the promise of 1 Peter 5:10 on my soul.  “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.  To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.”

Two dear women, cut from the same cloth as me, inflicted with breast cancer within a couple years of each other. Time stands still in the waiting room.  The future is evaluated, what’s truly important is brought to the forefront.   Joyous tears as we hug and celebrate that it’s gone, with only a 2 percent chance of returning.  Praise Him!  A blessing.

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Having to let go of our home of 9 years.  For, all the needed repairs are suffocating us and all that mold underneath is enhancing this disease.  Must get out.  A year of red tape, back and forth, demands from the buyer and the inspectors and the bank.  Large amounts of patience were required of us through this process…a gift in building character, indeed.  Also, realizing that it isn’t a set of sticks that makes a home.  A home is built on a foundation of love, no matter where it is or what it looks like.  Blessed by this lesson.

Moving into a 700 sq. ft. cottage on the back end of my mom’s 2.5 acres.  “A time to heal,” she says.  “A place where you can stay as long as you need, until you find the place you’re looking for.”  Squeezing 5 people into this 1 bedroom, 1 tiny living room, 1 bathroom (no bathtub), 1 closet dwelling has been, astonishingly, a special gift from above!  We’ve almost been here a year, and what a joyful year it has been!  A gift in learning to be content with very little, and very little seeming like so much, still.

From the day he proclaimed, “It is finished,” Jesus has been lavishing us with gifts of love and grace day and night.  We must choose to notice these gifts. But don’t stop there…go beyond noticing them.  Thank Him, then reflect his gifts of grace!  The Greek word for grace is charis. It is described as a divine influence on the heart, and it’s reflection in the life.  Am I reflecting this divine influence of grace in my life?

Oh, Lord that is my prayer…that I would be acting as a mirror, turning the light of your grace right back onto others around me.  May I never selfishly soak it all up for myself, causing a puffed up appearance.  Instead, help me release it like a flood, swiftly gathering those in my path, that they might be swept up in the light of your grace too.

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