A Re-Creating Life
Time warp . . . to Thanksgiving 1977. We had only two little boys at the time. Scott was three
and Jeff was four months old.
If the term "going dark" even existed in the seventies, it was only in the business realm--referring to a company closing up shop. Or maybe in the world of espionage.
then, we didn’t have internet, email, cell phones or
social media. Yet there were plenty of distractions. We wanted to see if we could handle, and enjoy, a taste of a simpler life--without modern conveniences and the word "hurry."
So for four days, we covered the clocks, turned
off the heat, and didn’t use electricity. (We did, however, take advantage of
modern plumbing.) We heated with, and cooked on, the wood stove in our
night, friends came over with an acoustic guitar. We sat by the
fire and listened and let the busy world outside slip away.
Thanksgiving Day, we walked the half mile to my mother’s house with the baby in
an old-fashioned buggy. On our way home, it started to snow. Huge flakes
falling straight down muffled the sound of footsteps and laughter.
was something holy in that night. The experience made us more thankful for what
we had, but also made us long for a slower, less complicated life.
A few years ago I was in Door County, Wisconsin on a research trip for A Door County Christmas with writer friends Rachael Phillips, Eileen Key, and Cynthia Ruchti. One night, we sat beside a gas fireplace in a suite at the Eagle Harbor Inn in Ephraim. We
laughed and talked over each other as we plotted and brainstormed, each one of us typing
away on a laptop. And then, without warning, the lights went out. The
manager came to the door and explained that the power had gone out in
the whole town. He gave us each a glow stick.
shut off our computers to save battery power and curled up in our wing-back
chairs by the fireplace. We lifted out neon green sticks and sang “This Little
Light of Mine.”
hushed and slowed. Before long, we veered from talk of writing and started
sharing the things on our hearts. Not long after that, we began to pray.
fueling ideas, would we have ever gotten to that point? I wonder.
this holiday season look like for each of us if we even took an hour a day to “go
dark”? A time to turn off the electronics, silence the noise in our heads, set aside the to-do lists, and
just be still. Is it possible we’d be drawn back to the thankfulness of
Thanksgiving . . . the joy of Christ’s birth? Would we find ourselves calm
instead of frazzled and impatient?
Sometime before Christmas I'm claiming a whole day to "go dark." This time, I'll probably leave the lights on and cook on the electric stove, but I want a screen-free 24-hours. No texting, email, checking Facebook, listening to the radio in the car, watching TV, or even writing.(My heart rate about doubled at the thought—a sure sign of addiction.)
What will I do in that screen-free day? Maybe I'll linger over tea and watch the sun rise . . . and set. Maybe I'll snuggle under a down quilt and read a cozy Christmas novella, or go for a walk and wish I had, like the Alaskan Inuits, more than 50 words for snow. I might have a sit-down conversation across the kitchen table with my husband--without the backdrop of Fox News--or, like I did this past weekend, go sledding in the front yard with one of the grandkids. I could just sit in front of the fire and look at the stockings waiting to be filled and thank God for the family he's blessed us with.
I need this quiet, reconnecting time.
Care to join me?
There was a time in my life when fear was a way of life. A time when leaving home caused panic attacks and I always chose the back pew at church. Consider this a teaser--I'll write more about this in a future post. I just want you to know where I've come from and that I'm not one of those over-confident adrenaline junkies who stare fear in the face and laugh.
We were in Belize to conduct a Bible conference, so most of our ministering took place in the evenings, leaving some time for fun. On one 90+ degree day, we had a choice--soak in a cool river near a beautiful waterfall . . . or risk your life 100 feet above the jungle floor on a zipline.
I chose the water.
But, as He so often does, God had other plans. I'd felt the tug when a canopy tour was first suggested. My hubby was in, and so was one of the other guys. In spite of apprehension, I actually considered it for about three seconds. But I wasn't going to be the only woman on an "adventure" that might prove too much for this weaker vessel. So I donned bathing suit and sundress and packed my beach towel.
When we arrived at the spot where the river people would go one way and the crazies the other, I saw the faces of the zipline guides. Only two customers? This is how these men earn a living. And we'd come to bless the Belizean people, right? They began talking about helmets and harnesses and safety. I mean, what could possibly go wrong while you're flying along a cable suspended 100 feet above the jungle floor?
I looked at my new buddy Erica. She looked at me. Not sure which one of us was nuts enough to say it first--"I will if you will." I found courage in her fear. We had that in common. If I froze on a platform and couldn't take that first step into oblivion, I knew I'd have an understanding sister by my side.
One small problem: We'd both dressed for playing in the water--swimsuits and cover-ups. Can you say awkward? The guides brushed aside our concerns of modesty and in moments we'd signed consent forms and were helmeted and strapped with about twelve pounds of harness, lanyards, and carabiners. We rattled down the trail--the noise probably worsened by shaking nerves--until we came to the first platform.
I'm not fond of heights, but I've climbed my share of observation towers and lighthouses--as long as they have solid railings and not a lot of space for slipping through between stairs. And we were carabinered to the cable the whole time. So the climb didn't scare me . . . too much. It was the zipping I feared. I assumed it would feel like that first dip on a roller coaster. My face would contort with the g-force pull and I'd leave my stomach on the platform and hope it caught up with me before lunch. But as terrifying as that was, it was the step-off moment that froze me. I knew I wouldn't have the courage to do it. Would they push if I asked? I wished I'd read the fine print on the consent form. Maybe Bill would shove me. A loving husband has to give a nudge once in awhile, right?
So there I was, on the platform behind the husband I was hoping would push me, when the guides began demonstrating. "Put your gloves on. Hold onto the cable. Now lift up on your toes and we'll attach your harness to the cable. Now hold these straps with your left hand and rest your right on the cable above and behind your head." Easy enough. I waited for the creepy part. "Now sit."
What? As it turned out, that's all you have to do. Hang on. Trust the cables and harnesses. And sit. The moment I did, I was off, zipping over indescribable jungle beauty with ZERO FEAR. It was nothing but a fun, adrenaline-charged rush!
We climbed higher at each station until we reached 100 feet. I was sure this would be the scary one. (Okay, the climb was a little nerve-rattling when steps with railings became ladders without.) But the zipping? Just more fun. And then there was the run when I didn't have enough momentum to get all the way across. Pull yourself hand-over-hand to the platform, they'd instructed. Uh-huh. I didn't have the hand strength or size to squeeze the thick leather gloves and cable beneath them. But they'd told us what to do. Just stop. And wait. We'll come after you. I stopped. I waited, dangling above the abyss. And I looked down. Well, Lord, here we are. Amazingly, I wasn't afraid. I drank in the beauty of a waterfall below. Those poor folks who zipped right past didn't have this opportunity. One of the guides came after me, hooked my harness to his, and hauled me to safety . . . hand over hand.
And then there was the suspension bridge. A little freaky, yes, but we were still connected to a cable.
We'd been promised ice cream at the end . . . though there was something in the guide's tone that was not to be trusted. Sure enough, the way down is a sudden drop. I SCREAM! But I didn't. At least not in fear. It was a tad bit stomach-lurching, but by that point I knew I was secure. In good hands. (Out of respect for my readers, I'm only including a small picture of my backside in a striped dress as I was being lowered to the ground. Though I'm sure the "secretary spread" is an optical illusion. ;) )
I won't belabor the faith lessons of this experience. I'm sure you've already caught them. But I couldn't ignore the parallels to one of the lessons our kids' team was teaching the children in the villages we visited--put on the full armor of God before you do anything.
I face fear daily--relationship problems, health concerns in our family--and when I do, I want to remind myself: "Just sit." God's got this. He put his helmet of salvation on your head. The belt of his truth is the harness that will catch you if you start to fall. Even if it's scary, focus on the beauty around you. And if you get stuck . . . know beyond the shadow of a doubt he's coming after you and he'll pull you back. Hand over nail-scarred hand.
How do you handle fear? Is there an area of your life where God's saying, "Just sit?"
How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news . . . Isaiah 52:7
I arrived in Belize with naked toenails. Until Lisa, a new friend, a woman I'd met only a couple of times before this trip, offered to paint them for me. On a bus with poor shocks. On a rutted dirt road.
Amidst the laughter during this crazy-bumpy pedicure, I was humbled by this person I barely knew touching my feet. Little did I know, this was just the beginning of feet-thoughts.
One night, sitting in a group of beautiful but life-worn women, I stared at the bare foot propped on a bench in front of me. I was just beginning to learn about the lives of these women who live in dirt-floored, thatched-roof homes with no doors. These mothers and grandmothers who wash clothes in the river, grind corn and kill the chickens they raise to feed their families, who bear many children, carry them on their backs as they work, who give so much--yet find little or no respect in the eyes of their men. I looked at the feet of these women and wondered what we, people of so much privilege, had to offer them. How did God want us to serve them?
We'd come to Belize to teach, to conduct a Bible conference in several villages. We'd come to bring the Good News.
Funny how God so often bypasses our scripted words.
Kelli, one of the team members, had come armed with every color of nail polish known to woman. This was Kelli's second trip and one of her intentions was to bless Miss Bridget, the woman who cooked for us at the Belize Training Center. She did. And then she and others began to bless the women and girls who came to the Center to sell their crafts. I watched Kelli, Lisa, and Erica as they held feet that walked dirt roads. The parallel to Jesus washing his disciples' feet, was inescapable. I watched as they ministered with paint-on color, coaxing shy smiles with a touch of love. A gift of beauty. As the week went on, we had the joy of meeting several Belizean women with hearts surrendered to Christ. Mothers who, like me, lie awake praying for their children. So many of them come to church alone because their husbands want nothing to do with God. But they pray for their men, they do what they can to share their faith and show Jesus-love in their homes. As I listened to their stories, I glanced down. As our team met for prayer and planning, I looked down. At the dirt-dusted sandals in our circle of twelve. Lord, how beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news. I'm grateful for these pictures that won't let me forget, that remind and challenge me to serve in unexpected ways that bring a touch of joy in otherwise difficult lives. I'm grateful for the examples, in my sisters here, and those 3,000 miles away, of Jesus-love. And beautiful feet.
This week I'm honoring my mom, who would have been 98 today, at Putting on the New. If you ever struggle with negative thinking, stop by and share your thoughts with a trying-to-reform pessimist!
Later this week, I'll be posting about my trip to Belize. Still processing all of the amazing experiences.
Fall smells fill the house. Spiced cider simmers on the
stove. I taste it and feel deliciously warmed. On the counter next to
the mulling cider sits an apple. The apple makes me think.
I have a mental list of things I want to change about me. I
want to be more loving. I want to be less self-focused and more generous and caring
of others. I want healed relationships. And joy. I want my life to count, my words to matter.
But I sit here with these wants—like an apple longing to be
warm, sweet cider. Powerless to effect change.
Not that I don’t try. I read verses on
loving. I try to be nice. I attempt “fake it ’til you make it.” But nothing seems to last.
that apple, I need to surrender to an outside force. I need to admit my
inability to change myself or others, and let God do the work. Let him press me into his “wants” for my situation.
It never ceases to amaze me what God can do with a
surrendered heart. I think back on two relationships on the verge of ruin—people
who irritated me because they were too something. Too controlling, too critical, too self-centered. I tried the fake smile, I
tried avoidance, I tried whining to my husband or a friend. I thought of simply
walking away. And then I thought of surrender.
I told God I couldn’t fix it. I admitted
I’d walled off my heart and confessed my critical spirit. (Funny how the things
that bug us about other people are often our own eye-logs.)
And then I waited.
And he acted.
Once, he changed my heart. He helped me see where that
person had come from and what she had gone through. And he gave me a tiny glimpse of what he sees, a small dose
of his compassion. This human vessel couldn’t have handled too much of his
white-hot holiness and unfathomable mercy. But it was enough to
change a friendship.
Once, he changed the other person’s heart toward me. I had
surrendered—just that morning—and by mid-afternoon she stood at my door. We
hugged. We cried. We said we were sorry. Not long after that, God took her. It’s
made me wonder, over and over since then, why I wait. Why I try to do it on my
own. And fail. And maybe miss a chance at reconciliation.
I want to be an apple in the hands of God. I want to let Him
squish me into cider, sweeten and spice me into something that warms and
The process can be painful. And we avoid pain. But it’s
So here I am again, admitting I can’t do it. Tomorrow morning at 3 a.m. my husband and I leave for a nine-day mission trip to Belize. I've never been to a third world country. Never seen poverty up close. Never come face-to-face with things that crawl out of the jungle. Never had to speak before fifty or more women whose culture I don't yet understand.
Nevous? Yes. Excited? Absolutely. Totally inadequate? For sure.
So I surrender.
And I wait . . . for God to bring
something sweet out of this pressing time.
Is God squishing you right now, or has he in the past? I'd love to hear about it. If I don't reply right away, it's because I'm on my way to Belize--and probably being squished.
Earlier this year we
had the bittersweet task of emptying my father-in-law’s house after he passed
away. Sad, of course, but sweet because he’d lived 90 productive years and
loved the Lord. and his house was filled with testimonies to both. Hard as it was
to divide up the physical treasures of a lifetime, it was also a bonding time
of sharing family memories.
One of the keepsakes
we brought home was this scarred and battered table. It had originally belonged
to my husband’s grandfather, so it could easily be well over a century old. The table sat at his grandpa’s bedside when he lived in a one-room house on his
farm in Osseo, Wisconsin. (More on this house in a future post.)
When I first brought
the table home, I planned on painting it, then sanding a few spots to give it
that homey, shabby chic look. But the more I stare at it, the more I want to
leave it just as it is—scuff marks, paint spots, ugly nails and all. I love that my grandchildren can touch the grooves and dents—and maybe add their own—to a piece that
belonged to their great-great-grandfather.
Friends and family seem
to agree that it would be a shame to cover up evidence of a long and useful
life. So I’m ignoring the chic and keeping the shabby.
So why can’t I do the
same when I look in the mirror? Why do we (speaking for all of western
womankind here) look at the lines that give proof to years of love and tears and laughter as something
we need to cover up?
My husband and I went to see The Intern last week. How refreshing to watch a movie that respects and honors the life experience of senior citizens! If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend it. I did some research on cultures that venerate age. Did you know that in Greece, the word for "old man" is a term of endearment? Their culture identifies old age with wisdom and closeness to God.
I also looked up the definition of shabby chic: A form of interior design where furniture and furnishings are either chosen for their appearance of age and signs of wear and tear or where new items are distressed to achieve the appearance of an antique.
The older I get, the more I wish I lived in a society that CHOSE people for their signs of wear and tear! Even better would be a culture where younger people copied our appearance rather than the other way around. This isn't likely to happen, but I think we should be telling ourselves and each other how valued we are.
I’m trying to learn a
lesson from the life-worn table that greets guests by my front door. When a
chubby, smooth little hand touches my face, I want to celebrate the life that
has left telltale signs on my skin and be grateful it has given me treasures of
experience and wisdom to pass on to future generations. As the Velveteen Rabbit says, “Once you
are real, you can’t be ugly.”
How are you doing at embracing your shabby?
For the past few weeks, my son and daughter-in-law and
their four children and puppy have been living with us while they’re between
houses. A houseful of homeschooling kids has given me the opportunity to search
out new writing places . . . and led to some fun discoveries.
I’ve created a comfy little nest on the floor of our
bedroom with massive pillows, laptop, place for tea, and a stack of
books—Bible, devotional, study books, journal.
There’s something earthy about floor-sitting. Makes
you feel like a kid again. Okay, it makes you feel like you wish you had that
kid body back again! When I realized how much my hip joints rebelled against
sitting cross-legged, I started doing some stretches . . . which led to some
actual stair-step-therapy-ball-Shake-Weight-toe-touching exercise. And then I
found myself sitting on the floor (somewhat comfortably cross-legged) to read
to the grandkids. If I do this every day, I can keep it up for another 30 years, right?
A little research brought me to some of the other health benefits
that come from occasionally rejecting furniture . . . and also showed me I
might not actually have those next 30 years if I don't shape up! Try the Sitting and Rising Test for yourself!
Another sweet thing I discovered in this cozy new
writing place was the view. After 11 years in this house, I’ve never seen the
trees in my backyard from quite this angle. As gray squirrels chase each other
up tree trunks and across branches, as hickory nuts fall and oak leaves turn
the color and sheen of rich, tanned leather, I have a front row seat. It is a
view both inspiring and serene. When I close the blinds to the afternoon sun, bars of light transform my neutral carpeting to a work of art.
Even though my kids will be in their own house
by the time the snow flies, I’ll still be spending hours in my corner on the
floor, watching snow pile on the balcony, frost crystallize on the window, and icicles shimmer in
All I wanted was an out-of-the way writing spot, but I
ended up with a beautiful view and a healthier body. These are small things,
but this experience seems symbolic of all the times we start out in search of
one thing and God surprises us with so much more than we dreamed of looking
I’d love to hear about some surprise discoveries—Divine
or ordinary—in your life!