Monday, April 16, 2018

In the Master's Hands

I bought a wall clock a few years ago that I really loved, but quickly learned it didn't work quite right.  It was one of those cute, decorative, big-hands, small-battery operated clocks. It fit my coastal chic décor perfectly, but was lousy at keeping time.  Occasionally it would work as expected, but more often than not we’d look up at the wall and realized that clock was seriously behind schedule.  

Over the course of time (no pun intended), we replaced the battery, tighten the screws holding the parts in place, and even bought a new set of hands to try and fix the problem.  Nothing we tried fixed the clock. At some point, the hands just dropped and stopped even trying to move. The clock was simply not functional for the intended purpose of being a keeper of time.  At a loss of what else to do, I pulled it off the wall.   

When we moved into our current home I had just the space for that cute, albeit not functional clock.  I really wanted to hang the broken thing on my wall just because it fit so perfectly.  But, it had driven us crazy before because no matter how much you tell yourself it doesn’t matter that it didn’t work, you still expected the darn thing to keep time. Our brains are funny that way.  We expect a clock to tell time, not just be wall décor.

Maybe it was time to seek some professional help to restore and reset this piece I loved. Maybe there was a master tradesman or artisan that knew exactly what we needed to make this clock function. Maybe somebody, somewhere could help us repair the time.  

There are only three clock shops in our entire community; clearly restoring beautiful and precious pieces is a by-gone tradition in our disposable world.  Walking into this shop, only open a few days per week and only a few hours on those days, was like stepping back in time. From the stately grandfather clocks to the quirky wall-hanging cuckoos, clocks of every size and style were all syncing in a similar rhythm and all dancing together in the expected tick-tock sound.  

As the shop’s aged owner walked towards the front to greet me, I was struck by one particular set of clock guts that were strewn all over the counter obviously in mid-repair.  The hands were separated from each other, laying off to one side was the face, on the other side were some gears, and on the counter nearby was the clock body.  To me, it looked like one big mess of parts.  To the master craftsman, the one with the magnification spec in one eye and a lifetime of experience, it probably made a lot more sense -  something more like a beautiful work of art in the middle of a needed restoration.  

I showed the clock repairer my simple, yet cute, wooden wall clock.  Immediately he diagnosed the problem:  the clock’s guts were too small to function through the wooden frame and too small for the big hands on the front.  The clock needed a bigger mechanism that would be better suited for the size and style of this piece.  For $35 and a few more days of patience, he would repair our coastal clock so that it could function effectively.  

In the midst of the loud tick-tocking, cuckoo-birding, step back in time moment it hit me: the master craftsman always knows what is needed to reset and restore each piece.  Sometimes the master has to get to the core to the matter, by taking the smallest inward and hidden pieces apart, to reset the function.  Other times, critical parts needs to be replaced  with parts better suited for the environment in which they must operate.  

None of the tinkering, simple-repairs by the adoring and well-intentioned clock owner could fix what needed to be repaired with this unit. There are situations when only those with a lifetime of experience and special skills can make the clock tick again.  Sometimes, you have to leave your loved and super cute, yet un-functioning pieces, in the hands of a master.  In those times, you walk away and trust that the Master will complete what he has promised and will return your clock better than it was when it first came into your hands.  

Saturday, March 31, 2018

H.O.P.E. - Hold On, Pain Ends

Nobody likes pain. Pain hurts and it is almost always something humans try to avoid. Pain has differing levels of intensity and is a telling factor in diagnosing what might be wrong.  Pain can be acute or chronic and can lead to a myriad of physical reactions. Pain is our signal – an unconscious reflex - that something is very wrong with our body. Pain is a physical experience, but we also suffer pain emotionally.  Often the emotional pain is harder to deal with in life.  You can’t put a Band-Aid over a broken heart and expect it to heal in 6-8 weeks.  Emotional pain, or soul pain, has its own timeline and healing process. 

Pain is incredibly isolating.  Nobody else can feel, share, or climb into your pain. Pain – both the physical and emotional types - makes you feel totally alone, even if people are surrounding you.  I experienced the worst physical pain of my life when I was giving birth to my twins.  My husband was supporting me on one side, my mother on the other.  There were doctors and nurses all around me and I was safe in a hospital environment.  Yet, hours of laboring and pushing without pain relief left me lost in my own head.  With two full term babies inside, and Baby A (my son) presenting the wrong direction, the delivery was difficult.  As any birthing mother knows, the contractions climb on top of each other.  With two babies inside, I couldn’t get a full breath to adequately push for the duration of each contraction.  At this point unable to speak from the pain, I was screaming inside “you are going to die with your husband on one side and your mom on the other.”  And as each contraction subsided, I would tell myself “you will not die, everyone is here to help, think positively.”  This war of the internal voices lasted for many difficult hours until my twins were birthed.  I’ve never been as lost in my own physical pain as I was on November 20, 2001.

Pain is also distorting, it creates a me-centric point of view.  That’s not a critical statement, it’s just a fact.  Pain turns us inward to deal with what’s broken whether that is a leg or a heart.  Sometimes pain shuts us down entirely leading to sleep, depression or apathy.  When in pain, it’s difficult to understand why your world has stopped rotating and how everyone keeps moving forward unaffected by the trauma that has reduced you to nothingness. While I was laboring in the worst pain of my life, family and friends were celebrating the arrival of the new babies in the waiting room. We know rationally that everyone is on different journeys and yet emotionally we want, no we need, everyone else to climb into and experience our pain so we are not alone.

For all its discomfort though, physical and mental pain both have a purpose. Pain helps to prepare us and mature us; pain helps us take on our own identity and discover our purpose; pain helps us to heal.  Pain can lead to new life, as described in my own birthing example.  We often connect pain with defeat, rejection or loss, instead of viewing it through the lens of healing, strengthening or improving.

Jesus understood these truths about pain. He experienced emotional and mental anguish prior to his trial and unfathomable physical pain during his crucifixion.  In the Garden of Gethsemane, he knew what was ahead for him and he didn’t want to be alone either.  His disciples were close, only a stone’s throw away, yet they were unable to bring him comfort.  In fact, they slept out of their own unexplainable sorrow.  Luke records that Christ’s anguish was so great that he actually sweated drops of blood.  Luke also tells us that angel came from heaven to comfort him:   

39 Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him.40 On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” 41 He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 42 Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” 43 An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him.44 And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. 45 When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow.
Luke 22:39-45 (NIV)

Pastor Paul Purvis says, “God’s presence does not equal pain’s absence.  However, because of God’s presence, pain’s potency is limited.  Difficult times may certainly lead to dark days, but dark days need not mean defeat.”[1]

HOPE!   Hold on, pain ends.

Even though Christ had to endure the pain alone, he willingly did so to accomplish a greater purpose to bring hope to mankind. Jesus knew that his pain would bring new life!  We may feel utterly alone and lost in our pain, but it should comfort us that Jesus has been there too.  He’s walked in our shoes and can identify with our suffering.  And yet, through his suffering, we can find hope that pain will end.  No matter how it may feel today, you are not alone!  Sometimes there are even angels that are sent to strengthen us in the process.  Christ has been there too and He will guide you through to newness of life.

This Easter may you find HOPE.  For all those who are hurting, HOLD ON.  Allow pain to have its good work in your life and know that PAIN ENDS. 

[1] Paul Purvis, May 29, A call to the Lord for Salvation, God’s Wisdom for Today, my daily Scripture Devotional.
2013. Thomas Nelson

Friday, March 23, 2018

Embracing a Spirit of Nevertheless

Last week I had the privilege of attended a leadership training session led by Dr. Jay Strack, President and Founder of Student Leadership University.  As a motivational leader, his Christ-focused training was filled with wisdom, humor, and practical advice.  I took notes, highlighted the material, and left the session inspired and focused. But there was this one phrase that went into my soul like a hook: always embracing a spirit of nevertheless.

Define:  nev·er·the·less
adverb: nevertheless
in spite of that; notwithstanding; all the same.

Have you ever fallen down hard, been hit by a truck, or suffered an unexpected emotional blow?  I have. In fact, I have experienced all three of these events in the past few weeks.  When the fall, hit, or blow occurs it takes your breath away and leaves you somewhat paralyzed by what just happened.  I’ve noticed it seems to take a second for your mind to catch up with what’s happened to your body or soul.  It’s like in the movies when everything goes into slow motion because it’s impossible to see or understand all that’s happening in regular time.

Nevertheless, in all 3 situations, I got back up.

This theme resonates deeply with me because I have faced many hard, dark and lonely places in my adult life. My book, that God-willing someday I will finish and share with you, is titled Called to War.  Part autobiographical and part inspirational, it's a story is about faith and transformation.  Framed metaphorically in militaristic language, I explore how the very thing you run from becomes the very thing you embrace, because a journey with God transforms your heart, your eyes, and your walk.  In the middle of the battles we all face in life, this book tells my personal story of surrender to self, while learning to sacrifice for others. 

And now I also realize another thread throughout the story and my life is learning how to embrace a spirit of nevertheless.  

I am in the middle of a new battle these days, one that often overwhelms my heart and consumes my time.  Once again, my book is back in the proverbial drawer, where it waits until today’s battle recedes so that I can resume writing.  As I'm sure you've noticed, my blog has largely been put on hold too. Sometimes I wish my life was easier, gentler, less filled with warring and battles.  Yet, I know that I’ve been transformed for the purpose of rescue and restoration.   I’m thankful that previous battles have taught me how to worship, how to overcome fear, and frankly, how to war.

In spite of the falls, hits and battles of life, we all have to get back up again.  Learning to embrace a spirit of nevertheless can become an anthem, if we focus more on the goal than the process.  Songs help this process – at least they help me! For instance, I Get Knocked Down (the real title is Tubthumping) by the British rock band, Chumbawamba.  It’s actually a drinking song, but I often hear those lyrics pumping through my head when something hits me unexpectedly:

“I get knocked down, but I get up again. 
You are never going to keep me down.” 

Another song that always helps me get back up is Rachel Platten’s Fight Song.  Whenever I hear this one it gets cranked up all the way:

“This is my fight song
Take back my life song
Prove I'm alright song
My power's turned on
Starting right now I'll be strong
I'll play my fight song
And I don't really care if nobody else believes
'Cause I've still got a lot of fight left in me.”

I don’t know what tomorrow holds for this war I’m currently fighting, but I do know I’ve still got a lot of fight left in me.  Falls might happen, trucks may hit me, emotional blows may come, but NEVERTHELESS, I’m getting back up!

Saturday, January 13, 2018

2018: My Flourishing Year

My word for 2018 is “FLOURISH”.  Several years ago I followed my sister’s lead into the #OneWord365 movement.  It’s this idea that you select one word to focus on for the whole year vs. making some sort of New Year resolution.   Well, actually, my words always seem to find me and connect together for purposeful living, which makes it kind of a God thing too.  Finding Joy[1] brought me to Illuminate, which led me to Truth, which has carried me to Flourish. 

These words have guided our family through our relocation from the Midwest to Southwest Florida that started in 2015.  When we moved here everyone told us it takes 3 years to get re-established and we are now in the middle of that 3rd year.  Well before 2018 arrived, I knew in my heart that my one word for this year would be flourish. 


(of a person, animal, or other living organism) grow or develop in a healthy or vigorous way, especially as the result of a particularly favorable environment.

Along with my word, I also select a scripture.  I didn’t have to study long before it became clear what my verse for this year would be:

Psalm 92:12 (NIV) The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like the cedar of Lebanon.  

There is beautiful, strong imagery at work in this verse, promising that the righteous will be like a palm-tree, which is long-lived and the winter does not change. What are the chances that my one word is biblically connected to a palm tree?  It didn’t take much research to be confident that flourish was indeed to be my next #OneWord365.

It also hasn’t taken much time for God to confirm this was our proper next word either! Condensing a very long story into a blog-sized bit, I’m excited to share that unexpectedly and yet delightedly our family is moving for a 3rd time in less than 3 years!   

There’s a house we’ve had our eye on that we tried to rent before moving into the home we are currently occupying.  However, the timing wasn’t right a year and a half ago.  The owner of that home was trying to sell, we were trying to rent; then, he was trying to rent and we were in a lease.  But all of this time the home has been empty.  I’ve felt for a while now it would be our next step, but our home in IL is rented and now this other home is back on the market.  We’ve prayed and asked the Lord to make a way where there didn’t seem to be a way.  Although the house is not my style per se, it has the size, features and locations we’ve desired since moving to Sarasota. 

Last Sunday, on January 6th, there was an open house at this property.  Tim and I decided, really on a whim, to walk through and take another look.   Much to our surprise, the owner was holding the open house.  Tim stuck his hand out and said to the man, “we’ve been looking for you”.  The open house we went to on a whim (or likely a holy nudging) was in fact, a divine appointment.   In the matter of an hour, we witnessed the Lord move in our favor 3 times.   

Five prayer-filled days later, we got the call that we were approved to rent the home with a move in day of February 15th!   While we are in shock – and a little denial – about moving again in 34 days, we are all equally thrilled about more space, 2 more bedrooms, another bathroom, and finally having a pool again!  

I knew that 2018 was going to be my flourishing year, but I had no idea the process would start just 6 days into the new year.  I am overcome with awe at how the pieces for this next step have come together so quickly and so sovereignly for our family.   Establishing a new life at the midpoint of life has been hard.  Our kids have all faced situations that have been hard.   As years go, 2017 was excruciatingly hard.  But, I believe hard has brought us to flourish.  One of the commentaries I read on Ps. 92 powerfully explained:

 “the palm grows slowly, but steadily, from century to century uninfluenced by those alternations of the seasons which affect other trees. It does not rejoice over much in winter's copious rain, nor does it droop under the drought and the burning sun of summer. Neither heavy weights which men place upon its head, nor the importunate urgency of the wind, can sway it aside from perfect uprightness. There it stands, looking calmly down upon the world below, and patiently yielding its large clusters of golden fruit from generation to generation. They bring forth fruit in old age.”[2]

Yes, flourish is our word for 2018 and Psalms 92 is definitely a promise to hold onto as the rains, drought, burning sun, and urgent winds sometimes come into our lives.  But, the promises are rich for those who hold on – yielding fruit that will last from generation to generation.   Lord, let it be for me and my family according to your word.

Now, it’s time to pack! 

[1] I was kind of a rebel that first year when I picked a two words instead of one.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Annual Christmas Letter 2017

December 2017

Dear Family & Friends,

Finding our joy and hope in the journey of life can often be a great challenge. Enduring the raging storms that do eventually pass, but forever alter the landscape of our existence. Anticipating the establishment of a new normal, yet processing through the debris and repairing what is fixable.  Discovering the secret of letting go, while also finding the balance of holding on. Realizing life – literally and figuratively - will never be quite the same as before.  Marveling over the freshness and peace and community that emerge from what used to be.  Worshipping for the eternal and the constants of faith that secure our joy.  Knowing we are not alone, not without hope, not without a Savior.   This is the essence of Christmas. 

One of the biggest events that impacted our year was living through our first hurricane, a super-storm named Irma. This war god (literal meaning) arrived in September and easily demanded our attention for a month; maybe longer if you consider the problems she caused before and after marching across the state in her fury. It was a scary and overwhelming experience, and yet in the middle of the storm, we found places of refuge, love and kindness. Post-storm was actually the hardest part as we were forced to live in this space between our normal and waiting for normal to return.  But even in the waiting there were answers, provision, support, and a strong spirit of gratefulness – especially when our power was restored after 8 long days!

Other significant memories of our year include vacations and milestone trips we were able to experience, some together and some separately.  During spring break, we enjoyed a family + friends trip to Disney World. There were 13 of us running the parks for 4 days.  It’s slightly embarrassing to admit that on one of the days, Tim and I found a bench and both quickly fell sound asleep. I was given the incredible opportunity to escort Dennis & Rebekah back to Guatemala for their first homeland visit in July, where Lydia was spending part of the summer on an internship.  Our littles soaked up every moment learning about their beautiful country and gaining a new perspective on their heritage.  Finally, Tim was able to take Michael on a special 16th birthday trip to California and Las Vegas in November.  They ran hard for 4 days out west, making memories together and seeing all the things important to a 16-year-old boy.

Tim has started his 4th year with ABC Supply and continues to enjoy his work securing building projects throughout Southwest Florida. He experienced staying in a shelter for the first time in his life when he and Michael decided to stay in Sarasota to prep the house and face Irma’s wrath together.  Other than sleeping on the floor, he found the whole experience of sharing close quarters with others in the community very interesting. Tim’s personal challenge is to submerge himself in the Gulf year round, even when the water temps are in the low 60s.  I can assure you, this is an activity he does all by himself!

Lydia is 20 years old and just finished her junior year in college at USF.  She is now in her social work program and on track to graduate next December.  This year she moved into her first apartment in Tampa and bought a new car. She works 2 days a week as a nanny and also works at a paint-your-own-pottery shop, both jobs are near her school and apartment. Lydia spent 5 weeks in Guatemala this summer on an internship through Orphan’s Heart, where she lost her heart. It was a good thing I brought her “babies” to visit during her last week, because we had to drag her back to the US when the program officially ended.

Michael is 16 years old and is currently a sophomore at Riverview High School.  He got his driver’s permit last February, but is not very interested in driving – very few of the 16 year olds in this community seem to drive.  He is working for Rack Room Shoes in the mall just a few miles from our house and is really enjoying earning his own money.  It’s a good thing too, cause this kid loves to spend money.  He’s very busy with his friends most of the time, always making plans to run somewhere and hang with someone. The highlight of his 16th birthday trip to Los Angeles with his Dad was exploring Hollywood.  Oh, and constantly eating out!

Isabelle is also 16 years old and is currently a sophomore at Booker High School where she is thriving in the art program.  She was recently selected to collaborate with a few other students to create a unique mural about Sarasota that will hang in the County School Board conference room.  She also joined the color guard this fall where she really found her tribe.  Izzy drives even less than her brother; in fact, she hasn’t asked for the keys once since completing her last driver’s ed lesson in the spring. Her special 16th birthday trip occurs next summer when I will take her to San Diego to attend the biggest geek fest in the country: Comic Con.

Dennis is now 11 years old and is currently in 5th grade.  He serves in the school’s safety patrol each day and is also part of the news crew for 2 semesters this year.  He was very excited to get his braces off last month. He is looking forward to middle school where he plans to play any sport that involves a ball. Dennis has never met a stranger, and that includes everyone he met in Guatemala.  It was hysterical to watch him “making friends” with all the vendors who approached us (and subsequently followed us) around Antigua as my Latino replied to every comment with: no hablo español.

Rebekah is now 10 years old and is also in 5th grade.  She is fiercely dedicated to earning perfect attendance this year, which speaks to her dedication to school.  She has become one of the top students in her class.  She works very hard and long hours to get high grades, but her years of diligence are really paying off.  She loves science and still wants to be an orthodontist one day.  On that note, her braces came off last month too! She very much enjoyed her trip to Guatemala.  She wants you to know the highlight of her trip was visiting the chocolate factory where she learned all about the harvesting and preparing of cacao.  

Dawn  - my big news is the big number I turned in August.  I still can’t believe I am 50 years old! My heart was overwhelmed with all the special moments I shared with family and friends celebrating this milestone.  My goal for this year was to finally finish my book, and though I made tremendous progress, Irma really threw off my pace. It will get finished one day, but being a mom and an advocate are my greatest priorities in this season.  Returning to Guatemala after 8 years was a huge answer to years of prayer. I’m confident it was just the beginning step of reconnecting with this country to which are hearts are intrinsically woven.

This Advent season our family gives thanks for the mysteries revealed in our lives during 2017, while we marvel with prayerful wonder at what is yet to come in this next year and beyond.   

Tim, Dawn, Lydia, Michael, Isabelle, Dennis & Rebekah