Gifting Time

“The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.” Psalm 121:8

To celebrate my husband’s birthday we met my son and his girlfriend at my husband’s favorite Italian  food place. We were all together for an hour and a half sitting around the table sharing stories and laughing. We have been going and going lately with end of school year obligations. Evening meals  have taken a hit with the three of us at home, so it was a real treat to be together; plus, add in the two college students.

College exams at my son and his girlfriend’s college begin in a few days. Stress is high. Exhausted eyes looked at us from both student’s faces. My daughter, a high school student sported the same look. My husband sat at the end of the table a bit droopy, too after putting in extra time for work projects. Something about sitting around a table though, revived our spirits and brought us all together. We needed that time.

We heard the adventures on both campuses, and discussed plans for the next few weeks. Then my husband opened his birthday gifts. My daughter gave him a cooking challenge. A bag filled with random ingredients and the challenge to pull a family meal together from them. (He loves to cook for his family.) My son gave him a couple of father/son dates to watch movies. I gave him a pocket watch and a card listing some dates for us to go out this summer with plans for those evenings. Everything was simple, but just what my husband needed. Time. He enjoys time with his family. So we gave him time with each of us.

None of us consulted each other on what we were giving, but we all had similar ideas. The truth is we want time with him, as well. He is fun to be around; plus, with life moving quickly and we don’t want to miss out on opportunities to be together.  We booked in some of that time so life wouldn’t take over.

At the end of the meal we enjoyed ice cream cupcakes, before saying good-bye. Feeling full and refreshed we all climbed into our cars to head out in two different directions. Three to our home and two back to college. Knowing that in a couple of weeks we’d see each other again. Plans were set. We made time.

I Don’t Know

“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine: you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” Jesus’ worlds from John 15:4-5 ESV

Her eyes were stern as she looked at me across the dinner table. “I wash clothes by hand,” she said in a slow and determined to be understood tone. I could see so much more meaning behind her words than just laundry.

Our house guest visiting from Uganda, a beautiful young pastor’s wife, was expressing through practical housework the unfairness she saw between her life and mine. She knew she lived a more cumbersome and difficult life than what I live. She wanted me to know she worked hard. She saw Americans with their shopping malls and washing machines, water for long showers and well fed pets in the back yard. She saw the abundance of grocery stores and restaurants everywhere. My world looked easy, cushy, soft, and lazy to her. The reality of unequal lives had hit her.

I got what she was expressing and all I could do to respond was say, “I know you do.”

I know you wash your clothes by hand. I know you sweep your floors constantly to clear the red dirt. I know you want a closet filled with nice clothes and a variety of shoes. I know you want food that is easy to prepare, even already prepared, water that pours already hot from a faucet, and pretty dishes. I know you want to be able to make appointments with doctors and not have to wait days, to be reassured that medicines will be available should you need them, and that your children will attend good schools and have even the possibility to attend college.

I know you work hard – very hard. I know you do your best. I know the world doesn’t look fair, because life isn’t equal. The thing is – even though I know it is unfair and unequal, I don’t know what it is like… and I don’t know what to do about it.

It is so easy to struggle with inequality. It is so hard to see the reality of how unequal the world really is. My eyes don’t even want to open to it sometimes because it is painful. Somewhere lost in the comparison is the unfortunate realization that instead of justice being sought to try to help those who struggle each day, prejudices are born with excuses made for why I don’t have to. Like as a follower of Christ I somehow wasn’t called to it. I buy into that lie for comfort’s sake. And then to make it worse there is this lingering argument that even if it were possible for me to make everything fair for all people, prejudice and attitudes alone could block the love I’m trying to share.

How do I say, “I love you” even though I can’t fix your struggle? Why would you believe me when you know I don’t get the world you come from?

Is that even what God is asking me to do for you? “Fix” your struggle? Paul writes in Romans 12:10 to “Love each other with genuine affection and take delight in honoring each other.” In Matthew 25 Jesus tells us to feed the hungry, quench the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked and visit the sick and imprisoned. In 2 Timothy 2, Paul encourages Timothy to share in the suffering. Scripture goes on and on with different calls to help others. It seems like I’m being asked to “fix” struggles.

Then there is this:
“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine: you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” Jesus’ worlds from John 15:4-5 ESV

Christ is my vine. Apart from him I can do nothing.  I am to tap into Him to bear my fruit. He “fixes”.

There were so many differences and perceptions between the young pastor’s wife and me as we looked at each other across that table. So many things we couldn’t fix or make equal.

Then with our husbands we took each other’s hands and asked for blessing over the food we were about to eat. We both prayed to the one we had in common – Jesus.

We were the same as we gave thanks for the blessings. We were the same as we talked about our children, sharing their talents and skills. We were the same as we laughed at funny stories, and as we fellowshipped together.

We both loved our families. We both were doing the best we could to love our husbands and raise our children. We valued encouragement. We valued God’s provision. We both desired to be valued and appreciated. We both hurt when we saw injustice. We both needed common ground from the vine, our Lord and Savior Christ Jesus.

We were women from two different worlds, but we were sisters in Christ.

I don’t know how to make things equal or show my love for you, but Christ in me will show me the way.

“Let not you hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.” – John 14:1

“Therefore encourage one another and build on another up, just as you are doing.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

“Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good work.” Hebrews 10:24

 

 

A Space to Dream

 

“Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.” –Romans 12:10 NLT

When we moved into our house we quickly learned the room where we hang out the most (other than the kitchen) needed to be very versatile. Christened “Thornton Lounge” we threw down a rug on top of the wood floors and purchased comfy couches with felt tabs on their feet for easy rearranging for games and sleep overs. We needed a practical and multifunctional space for our together time. The kids grew hosting many friends for movie nights, birthday parties and Christmas teas. Some nights the sofa’s faced the TV while others they were pushed to the walls to make room for cloth covered tables and chairs as table settings and/or craft projects adorned the room. The Lounge became a precious space to us. Even more precious now.

During our season of chaos (the last few months), my husband and I felt discombobulated. I kept dreaming of sitting on the porch swing outside. Swaying the busy away. However, the weather kept sending miserably cold days. Remembering when I was a kid the times my family would sit in lawn chairs underneath the pine trees of East Texas at my grandparents, I kept feeling like there has got to be some way to accomplish a similar environment within our home. A sit and dream space.

One day when exercising on the stationary bike in the Lounge, I realized looking out the window at our view, even though there stood a big brown fence, trees and open sky were still to be enjoyed. Shoving the bike out of the way I slid the loveseat to face right in front of that window and cracked the window for a little fresh air. Nice affect. Very nice.

That evening after dinner clean up, my husband asked me what was on the agenda for the evening. I smiled and told him we were going to sit and dream. “Sit and dream?” he asked puzzled. “Yep,” I said. Pouring some hot tea we went and sat on the love seat looking out into the sky at dusk. We talked about our days, shared some childhood memories, drank our tea and then dreamed about what we’d like to see in the future. After a kiss (or two), we left the loveseat, both agreeing we felt a sense of peace and calmness.

So calming…the next night after dinner clean-up he asked if I’d mind going to move the loveseat back to the window again.

Sometimes I think we run ourselves crazy. Then we think the only way to calmness is a radical change or expensive get away. The truth is what we often need most is a chance to slow down, reconnect and dream a bit.

Unpredictable

 “But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord and has made the Lord his hope and confidence. He is like a tree planted along a riverbank, with its roots reaching deep into the water- a tree not bothered by the heat nor worried by long months of drought. Its leaves stay green, and it goes right on producing all its luscious fruit.” (TLB) -Jeremiah 17: 7-8

“This is messy,” I cried into my husband’s shoulder coming face to face with a trial I didn’t want and tried to ignore.  I knew it was going to be painful and bring “yuck” and “gross” off of Memory Lane and place it right in the center of my life’s Main Street. I didn’t have a chance to prepare for this bit of unpredictable and unforeseen mess.

Already exhausted from January and February that were over filled (with good stuff), I wasn’t prepared for what rolled in with March. With added responsibility and an emotionally provoking issue my world slammed to a halt with confusion and fear quickly staking their territory. Nothing like confusion and fear to muddy vision.

Clarity. I need clarity. Focus. Rest.

Dang! I just need to stop and breathe.

This is messy. Caring for others is messy. People are messy and unpredictable.

Life can be is messy, especially if it is in constant motion.

Thankfully it’s Spring Break.  Much of the motion has stopped.  Praise God.  We planned a fishing trip for later in the week. The unpredictability of March weather has struck though. Windy and rainy conditions are forecasted for the next few days. That may mean fishing is off the agenda, leaving three rest-filled days in a cabin along a river.

Deep breath.  Unpredictably delightful.

Life is messy and unpredictable. But sometimes…the unpredictable is welcomed.

“Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.” – Psalm 34:19

Wrestling

“Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations. I will be exalted in all the earth.” Psalms 46:10

I’ve been struggling lately with God. At war in the fight between service and rest. Wondering if I even make a difference at all. Trying to figure out what is the point to some of the things I do. Back and forth. Wrestling.

What is it that God wants of me? I’ve heard He just wants me, but how does that fit into planet earth life. I wonder if Abraham ever asked these questions as he gazed into the night time stars thinking of the promise God made him. In Peter and John’s struggles to understand Christ, did they ever ponder such things?

Is my belief just about church life or am I impacting beyond the safety of brick and mortar cross?  Is church a place, people or just a symbol?  I am supposed to go out into the world right?

My insecurities cast doubt on my effectiveness at loving my neighbors. Knock, knock at the door, I’m exhausted and don’t want to answer. Will I have the strength to say “yes” to what they ask? Or the courage to say “no”?

All along, Christ calls to me to sit at His feet and choose what is better.

“What is better, God?” I ask.

When Jacob wrestled with God in the night was he able to see past his own selfishness and see God’s bigger picture?

Does it matter where I serve as long as I serve?

Why do I even worry about it if believing is all that counts?

All along I hear a whisper asking me to stop. To rest in Him. To trust.  I want to curl up next to Him like I do my husband at night and have him tell me, it is all going to work itself out.

Faith. Believing it will work itself out.

“Breathe, Kysia. Just breathe. I know you long for more, but be still for this moment,” is what I get.

Faith. Believing it will work itself out.

Will I limp, like Jacob when this fight is done or have a thorn like Paul’s?

“Maybe, Kysia. Just rest.”

God, Is it ever enough? This work that I do?

“No. But… I am.”

Friday Night

“And there was evening, and there was morning—the fifth day.” Genesis 1:23

Friday night. The weekend. There is just something so refreshing about those words. The promise of schedules relaxing, the potential for rest and refreshment added with the excitement of weekend adventure.

My husband walked in the door from work with the smell of red beans and rice wafting through our house. The crock pot meal created the fast but hearty food option we needed for a small adventure out for the evening. Changing into weekend clothes, we ate our meal and climbed into the “Golden Chariot” – our gold colored 2005 Chevy Trailblazer to head over to our son’s college town. His band was playing in a local venue and we were so excited to hear and see him.

Pretty clouds of pink brushed across the setting sun as we drove westward. We were all tired from the busy week we had just wrapped up so the ride over was quiet, except for Drew Holcomb on the car stereo.

We arrived to a crowded parking lot, paid the cover charge and entered the crowded space. My son played in the opening band as back up and then a couple of bands later his band had a slot. It was loud and I showed my age by pulling out my earplugs to help soften the sound a bit. Guitars, drums and a bass created rhythms I felt, let alone heard.

We ran into other friends who had made the drive over and talked. We also visited with many of my son’s friends. Then it was his turn. Stepping up the mic, came a confident crowd pleasing sound. The audience took motion as the songs played out to them. I couldn’t see my son, so I moved places, then through the crowd there he was, guitar in hands, mouth to the mic. I’ve seen him perform most of his life, but this was different. He was in his element. It made my momma heart soar.

I’m not sure of all his lyrics, but I was completely sure of his sound because the crowd cheered and sang along. Friday nights never sounded so good.

My Birthday

“Yes, you should rejoice, and I will share your joy.” Philippians 2:18 NLT

my-birthday

This morning I woke to hearing my husband turn off the alarm then reset it for forty-five minutes later. As he climbed back into bed he kissed my cheek and said, “Happy Birthday, Beautiful,” before collapsing back onto his pillow.

Next thing I remember was the smell of cinnamon pecan pancakes and bacon. My daughter had heated the griddle and was preparing breakfast. Her hair in a bun, Ugandan beads around her neck, dressed in her simple black dress and sweater, she held a spatula as she faced the stove; she turned to look at me as I entered the kitchen. “Happy Birthday, Mom! Want some coffee?”

This morning I feel blessed.

Birthdays to me bring moments of reflection.  It’s been a great year, but I just want a moment to reflect on the last two weeks.

The last two weeks have been a roller coaster of emotion with our Ugandan friends in town from Jija to join in our church’s mission’s IMPACT Celebration. We’ve heard stories, shared stories, visited, and talked about future plans for their school. We’ve toured schools, discussed American programs and attended many church activities. The visit was a whirlwind of activity.

I fasted before their visit giving up sugar for forty days praying for God to heal me from social anxiety so I wouldn’t be nervous to host them in my home.  However, I was nervous. I stepped forward anyway taking a deep breath praying each morning God would deliver joy and peace.  He did.  It was a good visit and much was accomplished.

Yesterday, we said goodbye to them at the airport knowing they were going back to very difficult lives. Lives served daily helping the marginalized around the Jinja area. Teaching, feeding, serving, and loving. They work very hard to give the future generations of their country an opportunity for a better life.

This morning I feel blessed, but I also feel emotional.

I’ve faced a few realities in these two weeks.  Realities like: God doesn’t expect me to be perfect. God is challenging me to make a difference where I am. God is asking me to use my gifts for him. God is with me each step he is asking me to take.  Each step I need to take isn’t easy.

My social anxiety didn’t just vanish after my fast. I hoped it would. I was much calmer, though than I have ever been hosting. I felt the prayers from friends I had asked to pray for me. God definitely stretched me.  I made lots of mistakes as I served these last weeks, but I was able to let many go without worrying relentlessly. God taught me much through the process.

Yesterday morning I woke, ate breakfast with our friends, prayed for them; then my husband and I drove them to the airport. After an hour of luggage issues we said our goodbyes and watched them head through security. Later, my husband and I climbed in our car to head home discussing all that had happened over the last two weeks.

This morning as I woke to hearing my husband turn off the alarm, I thought about it being a new day – my birthday. I thought about the previous weeks filled with nerves and emotions, with challenges and victories, with attempts to help and failures. I knew this morning marked a new day, even a new year for me. I rejoiced for making it through the opportunities of the last.  As I reflect and move forward, I don’t want to forget this moment.  I want to remember my daughter making breakfast, the smell of pancakes and bacon.  I also don’t want to forget the struggles of my friends.  It is within the joys and trials I wrestle with God’s will for each moment.  This wrestle keeps me focused on my purpose to make a difference to others around me regardless of how small or how vast.

So… my birthday… a new year ahead.  My tummy is full with yummy pancakes and bacon, plus, my heart and mind are challenged.