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Fresh Starts -- Second Chances

November 2015

Going (a little) Dark for the Holidays

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.
Back 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 basement.
One night, friends came over with an acoustic guitar. We sat by the fire and listened and let the busy world outside slip away.
On 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.

There 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.
We 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.”
Conversation 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.
With electricity fueling ideas, would we have ever gotten to that point? I wonder.

What would 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?

Just Sit

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.

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?"

Beautiful Feet

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. 

As My Mom Thinketh

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.
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