Letting Go

 

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Is there something you are gripping tightly to in your life?  Fingers clenched, nails pressing into palms.   I do this with all kinds of little things in my life.  I am angry at something my husband said or did,  so I will choose to hold on to that anger.  I continue to replay the words or actions (or lack of ), tasting the bitter over and over.  Or, I cling to feelings of want, unsatisfied desires, choosing not to look at all the incredible blessings that are already present in my life.  Sometimes it’s as small not finishing my To Do list (since that’s such a rare occasion–not!) and instead of looking forward to the new day ahead which provides me with many more hours God has given me,  I sit in the guilt and pressure of what I didn’t get done the day before.

But Lot’s wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.  Genesis 19:26

What in your life are you holding on to?  What is it that keeps you imprisoned in thoughts, behaviors, sadness.  Or put another way, what are you choosing to look back on that prevents you from experiencing today’s fullest, today’s grace, today’s blessings and peace?

Lot and his wife were directly told by an angel to flee their home and city, for destruction was imminent.  But the angel told them not to look back as they fled.  Lot’s wife wasn’t able to do that–and as a wife who has built a home and raised children in it, living in the same city for many years, I also may have turned my head for a glimpse of it going up in flames.  It is difficult to let go of the old, trusting God for the new.

Like a heavy backpack that is done serving its purpose, let’s choose to take off whatever is weighing on us.  Angry at a spouse?  Let it go–own your part and forgive. Wanting different circumstances in your life? Open your eyes, look at what God has given you right now.  Needing to walk away from something harmful in your life, but frightening to do so?  God will give you courage.

While we may not become a pillar of salt for continuing to look behind us, we miss out on the blessings God has before us.  And because he is a wise and patient parent, he let’s us work that out when we are ready.  Let’s just not take too long to squint into the horizon and kick up the dust on a new path ahead.

 

 

Lunch With A Homeless Man

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We sat in the parking lot of a gas station on the phone with National Car Rental.  My husband and I were hoping to return our rental car to San Francisco airport instead of Los Angeles where we had picked it up at the start of our 3 day get-away to Yosemite National Park.  Jonathan, spoke with the customer representative and had a disappointed look on his face.  “It’s going to cost us more money than we want to spend to drop it off in San Fran.”  We had left a few hours earlier in hopes that this plan would work out, but since we did not have reception to make phone calls the whole time were on vacation, we had waited until we were down out of the mountains to make the call–and ultimately much closer to San Fran than Los Angeles.

“We should probably drive to LA.”  “Yes,” I replied, agreeing.  We would get home much later than expected, but it was worth saving hundreds of dollars.

We drove for another hour or so and planned out a stop at our favorite California fast food place, In and Out Burger.   There were two in the town of Fresno, and we decided to push to the south end of town before stopping.

We pulled in, grabbed our phones and IPad to work on new flight reservations going out of LA (we fly standby so this is normal faire for us).  As we approached the entrance, a man in his 40’s (maybe 50’s? We couldn’t tell), shyly approached us.  He was clearly homeless and haltingly asked us for help.   Holding out two one dollar bills, he offered this, all he had, and a veterans flashlight if we would be able to buy him the basic meal at In and Out. He struggled to ask this, seemingly embarrassed. Before he could finish his request we immediately said, “Yes, of course, come on in with us.”

In the bustling restaurant, we stood in line. My husband ordered the man a meal, along with ours, and we asked if he would want to sit with us while we ate.  Jon held out his hand, “I’m Jonathan.”  “I’m David,” David replied.  “And I’m Amy.” We shook hands, and I could feel his rough, weary worn skin.  He stood back from us,  uncomfortable. “This is so embarrassing for me,” he quietly said, not making eye contact.  “I will visit with you until the food is ready, but if it’s ok, I will go outside and eat by myself to spare you the sight of me wolfing down my meal.” (Ugh, that’s quite the statement–how hungry he must have been!) I noticed then how skinny he was.  He wore a tan army-looking jacket and old pants, and his fingertips were dark with dirt.  We filled our drinks and sat down.

David told us that he was a war veteran, had been in the army for 16 years and 6 tours of duty.  He had been medically discharged and had fallen on hard times.  Somehow, he had slipped through the cracks, and now injured and homeless he was in a difficult situation.  I asked what he did all day.  He said he was trying to meet with an attorney to help him get some more help from the military, but it was so difficult to get to his appointments because he didn’t have a car.  He had been at the In and Out location hoping to use some of his skills to help a lady start her car, maybe make a few dollars.  But she never showed up.  “It’s ok, though, because I got to meet the two of you,” David said with a smile.  He was well spoken, and then proceeded to share,” I don’t know what faith background you come from, but I am a believer in Jesus and I don’t have much at all, but I am so thankful for what he has given me.   I have my health and I am alive, and I know I will get through this.  I carry in my pocket the verse:

“I can do all things who strengthen me” and I believe in my heart it is true and I will be ok”.

It was difficult for me to believe that this man, who seemingly had nothing–no home, no car, no food, no friends, would have such a faith and a hope.

Yet, here he was in the flesh, at a table in In and Out Burger, sharing his story with us.

Our food arrived, and Jonathan prayed for the food, and for David, that he would find more help in the next few weeks, and that God would watch over him.  I rested my hand on his back as we prayed, sure many eyes in the busy restaurant were on us, yet not caring one bit.

It was a surreal moment for me, one of those that puts absolutely everything in perspective in an instant.  We had so much, and this man had nothing.  All social boundaries would say we shouldn’t be sitting here with him.  While Jonathan and I slept warm and safe the night before in a 4 (maybe 5?) star lodge in the mountains of Yosemite, and woke up to a hot breakfast that we paid for without pause, David slept outside, probably under some old cardboard boxes, on the streets of Fresno.  Who knows when he had eaten last, and what.  We had IPads and IPhones out, planning our trip to Los Angeles to board a plane home to our family, David–well, he wasn’t sure what the next hour would bring, survival was the only goal.  Yet here we were, three humans brought together with elbows rested on an In And Out Burger table.

David took his Double Double, fries and a drink and nodded his head speaking thank you (always SO much gratitude with the homeless–a whole other blog post), and walked outside to eat alone.  This man had no expectation, was truly ashamed to be desperate enough for help, had served our country for sixteen years (acquiring a bullet to the stomach and hand during his service), and was a good communicator.  It didn’t seem fair or right.

Jonathan and I sat there, deep in thought for a few minutes while we chewed.  What else can we do for him?  Surely a meal is not enough.  While my dear navigator and travel plan organizer husband worked out our rental car details and flight status, I ate, processing our time with this dear man.  I went back to the counter to order shakes for David and myself, and then as he walked back in to refill his soda offered one to him.  “Oh, no thank you,” he said, “you already have done so much.” “Well, I got this just for you if you want it,” I replied. “In that case, I would be grateful,” David replied as he reached out his hand for the cup.

He left then again, and I watched him out the window as he crossed the parking lot.  I didn’t want to lose sight of him–we wanted to give him more, but it was all in our car, so I wanted to find him again as soon as we were finished with our travel logistic planning.

Finally, we headed to the parking lot.  David was no where in sight, but I knew where I had seen him heading.  We dove around for about five minutes hoping to see him.  We didn’t know what we were going to offer him, we only knew that we wanted to see him again, see what he needed–a ride somewhere? More food for later?  Some cash for a hotel for the night?  Sadly, we couldn’t find him–we even drove by some places where we thought he might be resting– under some bushes,  corners of some buildings, but nothing.  We headed out towards the Interstate.

Then we came back.  Jonathan and I could spare a few more minutes to try and find David.  We drove in wider circles but it was like he had just disappeared into thin air.

Disappointed and quiet, we left Fresno.  Our encounter with this man, and how we could possibly find him again once we got home were the topics of our conversation–off and on for the next three hours in the car.

I still think about this unexpected meeting.  All the pieces that fit for us to walk into this restaurant at the right time–changing airports, choosing to stop at the second, not first In And Out, and a myriad of other unseen circumstances.  I am so thankful that the timing was right. I hope David is doing better, or at least the same, not worse.  I hope that he has met some other people who could possibly give him a ride to a meeting or a doctor’s appointment.  Maybe the attorney he mentioned is helping him.

He left his mark on me.  And all the daily annoyances and stresses of my life seem much less important than they did before.  A dollar bill seems to have more value now.  I am more grateful, and incredibly humbled.  My faith, well, it is solid as long as I am comfortable, fed, and have loving people all around me–it hasn’t been tested anywhere close to David’s.  If he can have it in his circumstances, then I can certainly have it in mine.

I pray that God will watch over David, and if you think of it, please pray for him too.

 

 

Almost There! A New Beginning…

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Happy New Year’s Eve!  We are on the cusp of something great–a new beginning.  A new year, a fresh start, a time to take one glance back and then turn our heads forward, peering into the blank canvas of a new year.

This past year may have been harder than others, with unexpected disappointments that still sting.  Or maybe for you it was the climbing out of the valley, a mountain-top year full of ease and peace.

Either way, hopefully we have grown a little, learned from our mistakes and difficulties, found wells of gratitude to dip from, found rest in the joyful, and can now walk through 2015 with whatever it brings, stronger, wiser, and more confident in God’s purpose for our days.

When we walk through life with God, open to his calling of our time and our talents, we can live to our fullest, our happiest.  We can weather the trials because we know God has much to teach us through them.  They are a pruning for a flourishing that would never exist without the cutting back.

Where will we flourish this year?

How will we use our time and talents for God?

Lisa Terkeurst expresses beautifully a framework to enter this year:

“In God’s plan you have a part to play. If you know it and believe it, you’ll live it.  You’ll live your life making decisions with the Best Yes as your best filter.  You’ll be a grand display of God’s Word lived out.  Your undistracted love will make your faith ring true.  Your wisdom will help you make decisions that will still be good tomorrow.  And you’ll be alive and present for all of it.” (The Best Yes, p. 6)

To be present in our life–what a great gift for ourselves and those around us–letting go of the past, not fearing the future.  Just living for today, in the moment with all God has for us!  Today we say goodbye to 2014, and hello to a new year~let us rejoice and be glad in it.

 

 

 

Stations of the Christmas Story–A Family Activity

 

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Yesterday our family braved the mall–the Saturday before Christmas.  Our annual tradition of shopping as a family and purchasing gifts for each other was a great day. After a quick pow wow to share ideas (small ones for the siblings to get each other) we split off into pairs to shop, texting each other with updates and location status throughout the afternoon.   There were tremendous crowds, long lines, returns as we realized we duplicated gifts, and more lines.  There was Christmas music, food, and beautiful decorations everywhere.  The air was filled with a buzzing of excitement.  We came home tired but successful on our mission–and as a mom, happy to see the kids scheme and strategize to get the perfect gift for each other.

Yet, it is not the full picture of Christmas.  There is a deeper river of meaning that flows through the season–one that easily might be missed as the 25th quickly approaches.  Which is why tonight, our family once again gathered to do something together this season, but something a little more serious, a little more, holy.

With the lights turned down, and candles lit, we invited our children and our oldest daughter’s boyfriend, Isaac, to join us in The Stations of The Christmas Story.  This is similar to “Stations of the Cross” but with a Christmas theme.  We moved throughout 7 stations, reading the Christmas Story in Luke and Matthew, and the kids writing responses in a journal we gave them.  At a couple of stations  a song was played, at some, just discussion and not writing.  My hope was to bring the story of Jesus’s birth into a more tangible form, something our family could take with us going forward, hoping to silence just a bit the wants and wishes and commercialism of the season.

We had a great discussion about angels (a theme that runs through the story) and tried to put ourselves in Mary and Joseph’s shoes as they traveled this journey together.  We listened and shared and did a little bribing with ice cream if everyone hung in there for the duration!

Here are the documents I created for the night.  Please feel free to print out and use, or tweak for your own taste if you want to try this with your family.  (When you click on link, it will take you to another page that you will need to click the link a second time).

Stations of The Christmas Story–leader guide

Stations Journal–Journal Cover

Stations–inside of Journal

The inside of the journal is not quite lined up right–you’ll see if you print it out.  Just cut down the middle and line up inside the journal cover.

 

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PLEASE don’t feel like you need to squeeze this in in the next few days before Christmas in order to complete the Christmas experience for your kids!  Maybe file it away for next year, and just read the Christmas story together.

Tips for the experience:

Dim the lights to create a nighttime scene–the candles are a great effect.

Set up 7 candle lit stations around the house, ending in a manger scene if you have one.

Move from station to station as a group.  The leader guide (first document) is helpful for the adult leading the group.  The group members carry their journals around with them.

Ask each child to have a bible with them–they can take turns reading the scripture.

For younger children:

Take out 2-3 of the stations for attention span.  You can re word the questions for age-appropriateness.

3 Ways to Be Intentional About Christmas With Your Family This Year

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I truly desire to be intentional about teaching our children the true meaning of Christmas, and revisiting it every year in familiar and new ways.  As a believer in Jesus Christ, this time of year is incredibly significant to my faith, and the faith of our family.  The history, the amazing gift of God in his Son delivered to us in the tiniest of human form cannot be missed.   Yet, each year the task of bringing this holy remembrance into our home becomes more difficult.  The messages of materialism speak so loudly and come from every angle, while the busy-ness of the season distracts the five of us from being still and truly contemplating the gift of the baby in the manger.  I can always look forward to a still, holy moment on Christmas Eve at our church’s service, but even that gets challenged while I sit in my seat, recovering from the blurred day of finding tights without holes, realizing dress shoes from last year don’t fit our growing kids, last minute gifts, and goals of a delicious steaming dinner ready for our family when we get home.

With the cookies, parties, shopping, decorating, thoughtful gifts, and all the other “expectations” of Christmas, we can often run out of time for what’s most important–remembering and celebrating the incredible gift and significance of the birth of Jesus.  In an attempt to fight back at this blurred month that gets us off track of the true meaning of Christmas, I have found a few ways to be intentional with our family the last several years:

1. Start the season in the right frame of mind.

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Each year we take the first weekend in December (this weekend!) to reflect on the true meaning of Christmas.  For many years our family would go to the mountains with other families and stay in a remote cabin, unplugged from the world.  We would read the story of Christmas in the bible and an adult would give a short talk to the children about the story of Christmas.  We would cook together, and do crafts when our children were young.  The adults would share a glass of wine together over meals,  we would all play games, go for a hike, or just sit and talk.   We all took a deep breath and walked into the busiest, most commercial time of year on the right foot.

If a weekend away is not a reality, a day or an evening together to talk about Christ-mas together can be plenty. Unplug from everything, share thoughts and teach your children about giving over receiving, and about Jesus’s incredible gift to us.

2. Weave in Christian tradition throughout the season.

My mother in law made us a “Jessie Tree” JESSE TREE LINK.  Each December we would spend time walking through the biblical stories and generations leading up to the birth of Christ.

Side note:  Don’t picture this time with three wide-eyed fully engaged kids smiling dreamily as their mom teaches them about Abraham! I actually had to create quizzes one year (my poor kids with their teacher-mom) to encourage engagement!

We also read The Advent Book together.  Written by Jack and Kathy Stockman, this is the Story of Christmas, as told in the bible, with captivating illustrations and fun doors to open throughout the pages, and little Christmas animals to find. This is a favorite tradition for our family–even with our teenagers.

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3. Serve.

Serving over the holidays is one of the best ways to keep ourselves and our children grounded.  One year we delivered Christmas gifts to a needy local family, another year we worked at the Operation Christmas Child distribution center.  Every year we buy gifts for the Operation Christmas Child shoebox collection.  Here are the women from our bible study and their families having a pizza and shoebox wrapping party at our house a few weeks ago:

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Another idea would be to go on the World Vision website with your children and pick out some Christmas gifts to send to an impoverished family–like a cow for a village, or some chickens for a mother.

These are some of the ways to bring the true spirit of Christmas into your home.  I am sure you could fill up pages of replies with the meaningful, special activities you do with your family–I would love it if you would share below!

The reality for me is that as our kids grow older it is becoming more difficult to herd the cats for quality time and activities.  With jobs, cars, sports, homework, and busy social lives, we don’t have the nightly routines with all of us home like we used to. I am having to let go. I am trusting that the seeds we planted over the many years when they were younger will grow into a spirit of continued wonder and joy in the gift Jesus gave us through his birth.  So don’t be discouraged if your children, whatever their age, aren’t as excited about about this effort as you are!  Know that any and all attempts for balance and focus this season are worth it and will make a difference in their hearts.

I wish you a December filled with the things that you love about Christmas, and with a true focus on the reason for the season!

 

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