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Fresh Starts -- Second Chances

October 2015

Pressing Time

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. 

Like 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 somethingToo 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 comforts.

The process can be painful. And we avoid pain. But it’s worth it.

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.


Embrace Your Shabby

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?

A Place of Discovery

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 the sunlight.  

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 for.

I’d love to hear about some surprise discoveries—Divine or ordinary—in your life!

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