Which Way?

Each year my husband and I take a couple of days before Christmas and head to the beach. We take a walk along the shore and quiet our minds. Christmas can be hectic in the church world so we are determined to slow everything down for a bit.

This year on one of our walks, I was fascinated with the footprints. They were moving in every direction. With dunes leading to more dunes on one side and the waves of the Pacific Ocean on the other, I thought about what we do when going left or right isn’t an option while choosing to move forward or go back is our only choice. As you can see the footprints in the sand are all over the place forward, backward, sideways.

When faced a decision do you look at the patterns of those that have gone before you or do you begin to forge your own path? Do you look far enough down the path to see if the prints turn back or do you just take it step by step? If others met obstacles does it deter you or motivate you?

And about those obstacles, are they enough to have you turn back and decide it is too hard or do you plow forward unaware of what is coming up or unaware of what is ahead and get caught in entanglements, sure you can overcome but instead find yourself drifting from the original purpose or saying precious time rerouting? Do you sit along the path to catch your breath using what was supposed to be an obstacle as a stepping stone?

Choices are hard. You are strong enough you were created to overcome you have to dig deep for it sometimes.

As the waves get closer and the tide begins to come in do you walk in your potential, run in fear of failure, or freeze in indecision waiting for someone to come and rescue you?

The questions came to mind quickly as we walked and turned towards my faith as a Christian. Do I walk in potential following the steps of the Messiah, purposeful, steady, determined, and focused or do I drift here and there? Which set of footprints am I following? Did I bring a map? Is it written on my heart? Can I pull it up in an emergency? Or do I, like these footprints, scatter with every wind of doctrine?

While all of these questions about footprints went through my mind, the man of God made a fire, pulled up a chair, and took a nap.

There is something to be said about the peace of God that surpasses understanding.

Things Dreams Are Made Of

Biblical Narrative reveals that some of the greatest miracles happen on the other side of a long wait. ~ Lisa Harper

December has been a time of retrospection. As I decorated for Christmas I kept it semi-low key. When I began decorating my Christmas Eve dining table I opened the cupboard to my tablecloth collection and at the bottom of the stack was the one my mom crocheted for my first table. It seated four. I decided to use it as a memorial.

A memorial at Christmas? Yes, a perfect time to remember when friends and family have gathered around my table since I was 18. Back then I dreamed of one day having a big open space for guests to gather and not a small apartment where we all hunkered down nice and cozy.

Things happen in small incremental processes for most of us and we take for granted the things we used to dream about. As I laid that beautiful tablecloth on my table which now seats 10 I have to wonder how I got here?

I have made monumental mistakes in my life. Ones that cost me time, resources, and finances. Ones in which you can’t so easily recover. When I give my testimony to the women at TLC Bible study it is often humiliating until I get to the part about Jesus.

So often, people take full credit for their position in life but I know better. While I was given talents, I squandered them, recouped, squandered, and finally overcame. It was in the Romans 12:2 be transformed by the renewing of your mind scripture that I began to do different.

I humbly asked for help from those who were smarter than I was. I was always a hard worker so I applied that to mindset and kingdom concepts and application. I cannot tell you it was easy, those old thoughts float back up but I will tell you to keep moving forward. Things take time.

Wow, so it sounds like everything is perfect. Not at all! There is still so much work to be done. There are still areas where dust has settled and it’s time to get out the broom and mop and do the cleaning. There are junk drawers of the mind that need to be gone through and tossed out because maybe I was holding onto that mini ketchup pack in case of the apocalypse but it didn’t come and now it’s just a dark pile of goo that needs to go.

So a memorial of small beginnings, in the shape of a tablecloth, has lead me to see the blessings that surround me. To some it may be a small life but to me it is huge. It is not hard to do but it takes effort.

Pray! Pray for direction, pray for discernment, pray for knowledge and then apply it for wisdom.

Keep dreaming, keep the dream in front of you by putting it in writing.

The people who become successful are not afraid of failure so if you fail, get back up! It means you tried something and learned what didn’t work. It means you are pursuing something worthwhile.

Keep people in your life that motivate you and inspire your thinking. If you haven’t had a stimulating conversation you aren’t growing. It’s fun to laugh and cut up with friends but it’s much needed time to be with great thinkers who challenge your view.

Quit thinking you know it all. This mindset comes from not being challenged.

Winners focus, losers spray so stay committed.

Quit putting people down and work on yourself. Blaming others for your position is lazy and takes the pressure off you but leaves you nowhere to grow. Life is easier when you learn forgiveness and move on. People are not our problem, we are.

Then take the time to look around you! You have way more than you think. You didn’t get here on your own. There were a lot of people who helped you.

Volunteer! Give back to others. It give perspective, fights off depression and gives you an overall sense of well-being.

That tablecloth is what dreams are made of for me. What is for you? What do you have in your life that you can point to and say, that is the motivation that keeps you going?

Still A Player

NFL Network photo

There is a weird competition in the workplace of a church where the clamoring of helmets is for that coveted Senior Pastor position. If they could only catch a bird’s eye view of that world they might take a pass but like me, before I married a pastor, I didn’t know all it entailed either.

It is no surprise that Thanksgiving weekend the attendance tends to be lower. Typically the Senior Pastor passes the ball to a Youth Pastor or an Assistant Pastor and they preach. Sometimes the Pastor goes away for a long weekend or he takes a break from speaking. The memes and jokes on social media begin. Fortunately when the comment passed my way I smiled as competition isn’t within the team. I could see how people could get hurt or offended by the comments though.

My husband had a bucket list item come up Thanksgiving week. I stayed behind and hosted my family and friends and preached the weekend. I shook hands and prayed with the visitors and invited them back to hear our Senior Pastor.

The last couple of weeks we’ve watched Brock Purdy lead the San Francisco 49ers in two wins to clinch the NFC Championship. In his role as third string quarterback he got a chance at the ball to help his team make a win and advance to the playoffs. So we, as associates, get a chance at the sermon to make a win and advance the Kingdom of Heaven.

Let them say what they want to say. You aren’t in competition for anything. You are making advances for the Kingdom. The Kingdom of Heaven needs you in your place at your appointed time. You are part of the team. Essential to the mission. You may be sidelined with an injury, you’re still essential. You may be on a mission, you’re still essential.

It is a great honor to be the one the Pastor calls on to preach when he is out of town. It is saying he trusts you, believes in you, and knows you can get the job done. You can! Keep pressing forward. Maybe you never get the pulpit. You are still important in your role. You are still making a difference. Despite the naysayers you are upholding the Kingdom and that is no small feat.

“Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray you?”) When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.””
‭‭John‬ ‭21‬:‭20‬-‭22‬ ‭NIV‬‬

What is all of this to you? Follow Jesus Anyway.

Hello Tulsa!

Casey was 3 the first time.

“I’m going to school like my Bubba.”

I walked her to her class and signed her in.

“Bye Mommy I am going to play with my friends.”

“Wait! Give me a hug!”

She did. Some children were crying. Some didn’t want their Mommy’s to leave. Mine? She was enthralled with the prospect of friends.

I stood for a moment watching her little fearless being. Then, I turned and walked toward the door. Tears welling up. “Oh Susan”, I told myself, “pull it together it’s only 3 hours.”

It was the second week of school when she was invited to a playdate. She had made her friends.

She grew and became a little spitfire. Friendly, fun, adventurous. So when she was Senior in high school and announced that she was going to ORU in Tulsa, OK, I was not surprised. I steeled myself and tried to steel her.

“You know, Tulsa is not a drive where I can go to you if you get sick. It’s a plane ride and expensive. Are you sure you are ready for that?”

She was. She did. We flew into Tulsa, my daughter and I and her best friend. We rented a car and went to Sam’s Club to get a membership. Then to Target to get dorm supplies. Then we went to the dorms and decorated her room. We went back the next day and we found the cafeteria, and the medical office in case she needed a nurse. We looked for a church to attend. Tulsa, I had to trust you with my precious creation and I didn’t even know you.

When it was time to say goodbye. My heart pounded just like before.

“Mom, it’s going to be fine.”

“I know.” I hug her tight.

I fly home with her best friend, tears spilling over.

“Oh Susan, pull it together. It’s just 3 months.”

Hello Tucson!

Flying into Tucson for our daughter’s wedding, I can’t help think of the fun memories I have of this place. A wild child abandon was had here. As we landed I am reminded that here is where my father is from and where he seemed the most free and himself. Here is where we rode horses in the wash and didn’t comb our hair. Here is where we walked in the desert finding horned toads, tarantulas, and lizards. Here is where I broke my arm, got stitches, and kissed a boy named Paul at the Planetarium in sixth grade. Where Mr. Thurber challenged me to keep informed of current events and to speak proper English. “O’s are not 0’s, don’t confuse the two.” There was also tension here.

This was not where my mom was from. She was from the Central Valley of California and that is where she felt the most comfortable in her skin. Surrounded by her brothers and sisters and her parents, her life was not one of abandon but of responsibility and deep connectedness. It is where I learned about family, where I was deeply loved, where my baptism, first holy communion, birthday parties, Christmas celebrations and sense of well being came from. It was where my Nana and Tata lived and we created a life around them. I missed them terribly when I was away from them.

As we rented the car and headed to the hotel to change and get ready for the wedding it was there that I realized the tension in the middle of parents who wanted such different lives. As children we didn’t know about any of this. We were comfortable in both spaces perhaps because we had a sense that we belonged in both or maybe because children adapt.

Now as an adult I realize how hard it must have been for the two of them to each want such completely different things in life in what basically seemed like two different worlds.

It was in the drive to the hotel that it became clearer than ever that love is just one part of a relationship. That there are goals, dreams, lives created, and in blended families, mine was not as a child but is as an adult, children’s well being to consider. Love really isn’t enough. Oh it sounds romantic and our hearts want to make it work but the reality is that love cannot sustain the full lives of what we are called to live and how we choose to live this one life we have.

….two worlds can collide and yet not coincide…

I write today as a warning, as a sign, as a person who didn’t understand the tension we lived in until yesterday, and the realization that two worlds can collide and yet not coincide. My parents eventually divorced. My dad lived out the rest of his days here in Arizona, my mom remarried and is content to stay in the Central Valley, she and Joe do not travel far from home, a half hour drive often seems too far to go. It worked out for both of them just not in the way they would have thought or imagined. Life has a way of doing that.

Hello Tucson!

Flying into Tucson for our daughter’s wedding, I can’t help think of the fun memories I have of this place. A wild child abandon was had here. As we landed I am reminded that here is where my father is from and where he seemed the most free and himself. Here is where we rode horses in the wash and didn’t comb our hair. Here is where we walked in the desert finding horned toads, tarantulas, and lizards. Here is where I broke my arm, got stitches, and kissed a boy named Paul at the Planetarium in sixth grade. There was also tension here.

This was not where my mom was from. She was from the Central Valley of California and where she felt the most comfort. Surrounded by her brothers and sisters and her parents her life was not one of abandon but of responsibility and deep connectedness. It is where I learned about family, where I was deeply loved, where my baptism, first holy communion, birthday parties, Christmas celebrations and sense of well being came from. It was where my Nana and Tata lived and we created a life around them. I missed them terribly when I was away from them.

As we rented the car and headed to the hotel to change and get ready for the wedding it was there that I realized the tension in the middle of parents who wanted such different lives. As children we didn’t know about any of this. We were comfortable in both spaces perhaps because we had a sense that we belonged in both or maybe because children adapt.

Now as an adult I realize how hard it must have been for the two of them to each want such completely different things in life in what basically seemed like two different worlds.

It was in the drive to the hotel that it became clearer than ever that love is just one part of a relationship. That there are goals, dreams, lives created, and in blended families, mine was not as a child but is as an adult, children’s well being to consider. Love really isn’t enough. Oh it sounds romantic and our hearts want to make it work but the reality is that love cannot sustain the full lives of what we are called to live and how we choose to live this one life we have.

…two worlds can collide yet not coincide…

I write today as a warning, as a sign, as a person who didn’t understand the tension we lived in until yesterday, and the realization that two worlds can collide and yet not coincide. My parents eventually divorced. My dad lived out the rest of his days here in Arizona, my mom remarried and is content to stay in the Central Valley, they do not travel. It worked out for both of them just not in the way they would have thought. Life has a way of doing that.

Jerusalem’s Tunnels

Egypt, its root word in Hebrew is narrow mind or narrow place.

We were warned. If you struggle with claustrophobia or aren’t in shape think twice about going through the tunnels. I knew physically I could do it. I don’t have claustrophobia but I still didn’t like the idea of going through the tunnels of Jerusalem but I didn’t want to regret not going either. What’s the saying? When in Rome do as the Romans do.

The tunnels started out fairly wide and tall and I was able to walk through just fine. Ok, not so bad. I continued forward, it was damp, musty, the floor was uneven and it was hot and humid. It had its narrow parts but it wasn’t so bad. Yes, I am glad I decided not to sit this one out.

As we moved forward it got narrow and low and we began to bend as our shoulders almost touched the walls on both ends. Still not what I thought we moved through fairly quickly. It wasn’t that bad at all.

Then it got narrow and low ceilings where we were bending and walking, water dripping from the ceiling, and I began to think ok, this is hard but not impossible, surely we’re almost through.

Not so. It went on and on uphill, downhill, gaps in the floor, lower and lower we bent and more narrow. Some tripped, :I wished I had worn something other than sandals. We moved together shouting warnings to one another, “big dip on the floor”, “slippery rocks”, “narrow passage”, “watch your head” “watch the steps”. Team work felt safe as we moved through. A sign read 200 meters. We didn’t know if that meant we’d gone 200 meters, or there was 200 meters left to go. How much is 200 meters anyway? We’re Americans, 200 meters means nothing.

Then we saw light up some rocky steps. Yes! There is light at the end of the tunnel only it turned out to be a reflection and the tunnels continued. Ok, I wasn’t having fun anymore. I was sweating, I was done, I got the point, the pilgrims suffered to reach the temple. It was hard. Voices got quiet, grumbling began, and still we walked. There were no emergency exits. We were in this to the end whether we liked it or not. We didn’t know where we were and we didn’t know how much longer we would be trapped in these tunnels. The worship leaders began to sing. We joined in but my mind was trying to be on the lookout. I have to admit though the singing began to soothe me and I began to relax a little. I was going to have to bend and walk in places, I was going to slip on some rocks in my sandals so I had to watch where I stepped. I looked ahead of me and still saw no end in sight and I turned back and saw the line of people behind me and realized there was no time to stop or reorient, I had to put one foot in front of the other.

It was then that the Lord spoke to me. “Do you remember what Beni said? It is said that you cannot serve the God of Abraham,Isaac, and Jacob with an Egyptian mindset, or to put it another way, the narrow mindedness must be put out of you. Today we walk through a narrow passage because a time is coming when your American theology will not serve you. The wide expanse of the door of your upbringing will become a narrow gate. Many will fall away but you will embed this walk in your heart and you will know when to bow low and how live in the passage from one realm to another. Do not be afraid. Use your faith to overcome.”

We finally reached the end and went up the stairs in the hot late morning sun. Panting, hot and grateful we were out of the tunnel. What? We have one more tunnel about 10% of the length of the last one yet to go? Oh man! Okay, let’s go. I’m skeptical but I’m ready for what comes my way.

The Bible talks a lot of narrow paths. Are you ready? Have you been on what seems like a narrow path? Take heart. You will come out of it.

When the World Blows Up

It was our day off and we were running errands. My husband held my hand and said with a smile, “I am the happiest I have ever been in my life.”

I smiled at him, and told him I was glad to hear that, but deep down a pit formed in my stomach. You see, I had been stressing, and I honestly can’t say I’ve been in the moment with him for over a week. Self-absorbed, lost in my own thoughts, small groups starting at church, school starting, and general overload at work with decisions that had to be made and personalities to consider but time wasn’t allowing me to wait anymore. Even my dreams had been chaotic, one being forgetting to put deodorant on for a very important meeting, another forgetting to take notes for class and being clueless for a test.

Later that evening as we were night swimming, I said, “It truly makes me happy that you are the happiest you’ve been in your life. I have to apologize that I’ve been a brat this week.” He looked intently, “On purpose?” “No”, I replied, “just stressed about work. I’m checked out in many ways. You’ve had a lot of extra to do around here.”

He looked at me earnestly and said, “Listen, I get why you’re stressed but it changes nothing. You made some tough calls this week and you did what needed to happen. In the end though you have to remember that today is all that you have. You pray for tomorrow but it’s not a given. This moment, right here, is all you have and when the whole world blows up what do you want to be doing? That’s the question. Me? I settled it a long time ago. I want to be with you, swimming, making memories, traveling, playing with the grandkids, having a life. I love the work I do but at the end of the day? At the end of the day I leave whoever is mad, whatever department needs coverage, whatever nonsense is happening at the office and I come home to relax and be with you. Time goes by really fast and I refuse to allow work to consume me. Hey, we dance really well in the water.” And suddenly I am aware of the country song on the radio playing in the background and that it is perfect for this moment.

Sometimes God speaks through a moment. The sage advice of one who has lived a little, lost someone, and come back from it all to build it better and stronger. The one who has seen people come and go, programs work and fail, and through it all has seen the faithful hand of God upon his life. The song, which I will link at the bottom, that just happened to be playing during the conversation, even that, is no coincidence.

He’s right. We can be consumed by all of the work put before us. We can get so caught up in all of the things that try to capture our attention but what is the most important thing at the end of the day for any human being? The relationships we are building with one another. The lives we are building for ourselves, the memories we are making. There can only be but one priority. It was an illusion to think there were 16 priorities. It nullifies the word. At work, my priority is to do the very best I can. I give 100%. I work more hours than I get paid to. I must learn the secret of leaving work. The art of stepping out of the office and into my role as friend and wife and mother and Nana and mentor.

Where will you be when the world blows up? Stressed and worried or living in the happiest time of your life? I learned a very important lesson last night. I hope I conveyed it well and you begin to live it better than I have!

May you be blessed to find the precious important things in your life.

https://youtu.be/ilnm5vID8M8

Joy in Simplicity

Mondays are long days for me. I arrive at my trainer’s studio at 9 am, co-lead a staff meeting at 10 am and I leave the office around 9-10 pm. Most Monday evenings I take a quick dinner break and my husband usually prepares something to eat or has take-out for me. By the time I get home for the final time he typically has a fire in the outdoor fire pit and the jacuzzi going. We sit for about an hour while I download my day and he listens.

How often do I take those little acts of kindness and love for granted? How often do I not notice the effort that was made in making a relaxing resting place for my body, mind, and spirit? When was the last time I said thank you or let him know I appreciate what he does for me?

There is a story in the Bible that was the topic of the sermon in church recently.

“David again assembled all the fit young men in Israel: thirty thousand. He and all his troops set out to bring the ark of God from Baale-judah. The ark bears the Name, the name of the Lord of Armies who is enthroned between the cherubim. They set the ark of God on a new cart and transported it from Abinadab’s house, which was on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio, sons of Abinadab, were guiding the cart and brought it with the ark of God from Abinadab’s house on the hill. Ahio walked in front of the ark. David and the whole house of Israel were dancing before the Lord with all kinds of fir wood instruments, lyres, harps, tambourines, sistrums, and cymbals. When they came to Nacon’s threshing floor, Uzzah reached out to the ark of God and took hold of it because the oxen had stumbled. Then the Lord’s anger burned against Uzzah, and God struck him dead on the spot for his irreverence, and he died there next to the ark of God. David was angry because of the Lord’s outburst against Uzzah, so he named that place Outburst Against Uzzah, as it is today. David feared the Lord that day and said, “How can the ark of the Lord ever come to me?” So he was not willing to bring the ark of the Lord to the city of David; instead, he diverted it to the house of Obed-edom of Gath. The ark of the Lord remained in his house three months, and the Lord blessed Obed-edom and his whole family. It was reported to King David, “The Lord has blessed Obed-edom’s family and all that belongs to him because of the ark of God.” So David went and had the ark of God brought up from Obed-edom’s house to the city of David with rejoicing.”
‭‭2 Samuel‬ ‭6:1-12‬ ‭CSB‬‬

Uzzah grew up in the house where the ark has resided. He was so accustomed to the presence of God that it was common. Reaching out to steady it was of no second thought. It had lost the sacredness to him.

I have been meditating on this passage this week as I go about my work. What do I take for granted in the presence of God? What do I take for granted in the presence of God’s sons and daughters? What has become such a casual matter that I no longer even notice?

Take the journey with me and ask yourself if you find blessing in the simplicity of joy? Can you see the abundant blessings in the midst of problems? What do you focus on? Could I go on? I could, but for now, let’s just take a little walk, a deep steady breath, and contemplate.

The Hospital

In the same week the pastor was summoned to the hospital to pray for Amy and Andrew . Andrew was about to have a life-altering operation. Due to the severity of the illness and neglect of the body the operation was necessary in order to save his life. Andrew would continue to have quality of life but there would be the need for physical therapy, modifications at home, a new diet and an awareness of signs that things were either progressing or deteriorating. With proper medical attention Andrew was going to be ok after a bit of time. He didn’t want to do it. It would be a hard adjustment only he knew that this was the only way to keep him alive. He called the pastor to pray for a miracle.

Amy was in the final stages of her life. There was nothing more modern medicine was able to do. The only thing left for the doctors to do was to send Amy home, make her comfortable for the time she had left. They were setting her up with hospice care. She was scared, angry and wondering why this had to happen?

The hospital is a place where you go to determine the course of treatment for your ailment. No one goes to the hospital without business to do there. You are either there to work, visit a loved one, or attend to your illness. No one goes to the hospital on a date night or to watch a movie.

So it is with the church. She is a spiritual hospital. I came to church when my life was upside down and my way wasn’t working. I came to her in hopes of finding a cure. There are some who have way more brains than I do and they come to church because they have developed a lifestyle of regular check ups and health is their way of life. Some of us just learn the hard way that life has a way of taking you off course.

It would be a waste of time to go to a hospital with a gaping oozing infected wound and be told that you’ve come to the right place without being attended to. To sit in a waiting room for days, weeks, months, and no one addresses the illness that is now taking complete hold of your life, and yet that is what we want from the church.

We want to be welcomed and told we are fine. We want the church to ignore the blood on the carpet and to pat us on the hand and give us a cookie. We want the church to be a hospice. We want the church to make us comfortable in our sin until we die as the great Pastor Tony Evans says. We do not want attendees who will tell us about the operation and diet and lifestyle changes that could save our lives. You see, that isn’t what we came for. We came to be told that we can be fixed and nothing has to change.

Of course the church must have time assess the situation. Of course we must get the choice of the course of treatment we’d like if at all. Of course nothing can be forced and just as in the hospital we have the right to check ourselves out and refuse treatment we also have that right in the church.

Only never let it be said that the church didn’t try. Above all, never let it be on the church record that the church only provided hospice care because she was too polite to tell us that our illness was leading to our death and it was totally preventable.