Monday, September 3, 2012

Good Gifts

"Only You are my Lord!  Every good thing I have is a gift from You."  
Psalm 16:2

It was the winter of 2010.  Only about a month before, we had firmly decided that come summer we would make the move to Virginia.  We didn't normally get much snow where we were living at the time in Maryland, but that winter we had a couple big storms, one which brought about 3 feet of snow with it.  With all the inconveniences one could imagine with that amount of snowfall, it was instead the blessing of life slowing down and coming to a halt that stood out for us as a family.

(our dog, Butterball, may have considered all the snow more of an inconvenience than we did.)

At the time, we were living in a neighborhood that these days you don't always find.  In the warmer weather, you'd find a bunch of the kids playing a rowdy game of kick-the-can at the end of the court.  Or an impromptu bonfire with whoever happened to be around on a long, lazy summer evening.  Some of our best friends lived just a few houses down from ours and our children spent hours upon hours together between our two houses.  That particular winter, having so much snow and being unable to leave the neighborhood for days, became just another reason to connect with neighbors and enjoy an unhurried pace that usually eluded our day to day busy lives.

The kids played together, sledding down hills and building snow forts.  We had hot chocolate parties in the middle of the day and spent hours playing games together instead of catching up on laundry, running the vacuum or various other mundane tasks that usually eat up so much of the day leaving little room for much else.  No school.  No work.  Just room for relationship.  We couldn't leave to buy food so we would bring what we had and meet in someone's home for dinner.  It was one of these "potlucks" that brought my Mayberry musings to a screeching halt.

Somewhere amidst the laughter around the table, a niggling thought began taking root in my mind.  "Enjoy this now.  This doesn't happen everyday.  This is a once-in-a-lifetime-neighborhood kind of'll never find this again."  Up till that point, while the idea of a move naturally caused me some anxiety, I had for the most part been able to focus on what we would gain from the new place and not what we would lose leaving the old.  In that moment I resolved to hold close those memories being made, assuming that no matter what good things came our way, we would quite possibly never have the blessing again of what our neighbors had become to us.  While I believed God had and would again richly bless us in friendship, I didn't even think to ask for friends that were just a doorway or two away.  That would just be too much to ask...

Wouldn't it?

(One of my most favorite pictures of our son and his neighborhood friend that captures the precious treasure our families felt we had in each other)

After our move I determined to not cling to the expectation that God would meet my need for friends in the ways He had before.  I wanted to let go and trust my Creator to be...well, creative. :) (If home is where the heart is...when will my heart realize my body has already moved?)  I began to look for opportunities to make myself available to the ways in which He might work.  Feeling like I had lost part of my identity in the move,  (Knickers and Knowing Who I Am)  I began to pursue things that I wouldn't mind being defined by here, in the new place.

I've always run.  I've just never been known as "The Runner".  In fact, back in high school, once my younger (and faster) sister was old enough to run on the same cross-country team that I ran on, and began beating me...soundly, I gave up cross-country for soccer.  "If you can't beat 'em, leave 'em."...Isn't that how the saying goes? ;)  Anyway, about 7 or 8 months after moving to Virginia and feeling like we had settled into most things as far as routine and daily life go, I decided "The Runner" was something I should add to my meager list of remaining identifying characteristics.  Not usually one to do something half-way once committed, I signed up and began training for a half-marathon and a 10 mile race.
On a whim, and at the suggestion of my dentist (Go figure...but hey, at that point my dentist was probably one of the few people who knew me "well" in our new town.  Ha!),  I signed up for a second half-marathon that is run each year locally just minutes from our house.  Rather than plugging my ears and blocking out the world as usual with my headphones, I decided to run with only the soundtrack of my feet on the pavement and the runners around me.  Somewhere around mile marker 4, God gave me a friend. :)  As we chatted about the mundane and found some things in common, 6 miles vanished under my feet.  Before I knew it, we were at mile 10 with only 3.1 miles to go and my body had no recollection of the miles I'd just run, only the conversation I'd enjoyed.  Thankful for the distraction, we both finished the race and exchanged last names so we could find each other on Facebook and maybe get together to run every now and then.
Last month marked a year since that race.  Amanda and I have run together most weekends since, with only a few weeks break as we both recovered from stress of the natural consequences of being "The Runner". :)  We've never chatted over a cup of coffee or met for a day of shopping, but the hundreds of miles we've run together over the last year have knit us together all the same.  With each mile, as the distance grew behind us, a friendship grew between us.  I hadn't thought to ask for a friend to run with, but God provided one just the same while showing me that His provision doesn't always come in the ways we expect or are used to.  My desires and perceived needs can change daily depending on how my life is going at any given moment and my surrounding circumstances.  I'm thankful for a Gift Giver who is always aware of my true need.

"Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows." James 1:17

(when we least expect it, God shows up, filling an empty place we may never have even thought to ask Him to fill)
Writing this blog as a journal of sorts, to chronicle my family's transition to a new place, started out as a way to be able to look back.  I had a sense that the coming months and years would provide many an opportunity for God to show Himself faithful to our family.  I didn't want the years to slip by while growing comfortable in a new place, not taking the time to acknowledge God's hand in the day to day moments that spoke of His constant grace and provision in our lives.

"Not to us, Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness."  Psalm 115:1

As it would turn out, God used the recounting of His faithfulness to us in order to give our family the very thing we never expected to experience twice...

Our kids had just completed their first year at the new school.  We were a little over a month away from the one year anniversary of our move.  I found myself in that sort of awkward and unscripted transition between feeling welcomed to a new place, and feeling like you belonged.  That period of time where you stop looking to others to welcome you and start looking for someone to welcome.  I'm sure the length of time it takes to make this transition varies for everyone.  I don't suppose there's any particular magic formula, other than just getting to a point where you remember well what it's like to be the "new girl" and desire to be a friendly face to someone else who finds herself in that place.  To be frank, I think I was in the process of relearning to focus on others instead of myself.

" humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others." Philippians 2:3-4

I was checking my email one evening and came across a message from an address I didn't recognize with the subject line, "Your Blog".  Curious, I opened the email and began reading.  "...I thought I would write to say hello and let you know that I stumbled upon your blog..."  As I continued to read I learned that the writer had just moved to Lynchburg with her family 2 weeks before... "I know with blogging, sometimes you wonder if anything you say is being heard or if you're just typing your thoughts into cyber space.  I wanted to let you know that at least for one Friday evening, a year after you typed it, your feelings of first moving here encouraged a new soul to the Lynchburg community."  Beyond just being encouraged myself by her kind words, I had no idea the Good Gift that would come as a result of that email from a complete stranger.

Fifteen months later, Christina is a dear friend...and my NEIGHBOR!!!  Long story short, after exchanging a few emails, our families got together for dinner.  It was then that we learned they had actually been considering buying a house that was just starting to be built in our neighborhood, unaware previously that we in fact lived there as well.  I began a nightly campaign that included sending them pictures of the beautiful sunsets behind the mountains, including messages like, "this could be your view every evening...". :)

I think that out of all Gods abundant provision for us surrounding this move so far, that His gift to us of the Moores has been an example to me of how God desires to bless us beyond what we could ever hope or imagine with Good Gifts tailored not just to meet our specific need for a particular moment, but even our wants at times.

"Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!  Amen."  Ephesians 3:20-21

The Moores have been such a treasured blessing to us.  I've felt spoiled many a time this past summer as I watched their kids and ours running back and forth between our houses, enjoying each others company from the moment they woke up till they were forced back home to their own beds at night.  I'm thankful for the shared burden of a million trips back and forth to school each week. :) Impromptu dinners in the middle of a full week, or the friendly, family rivalry of a quick volleyball game in the backyard as the sun is setting and another day comes to a close, give us an excuse and a reminder to not get so wrapped up in the busyness that surrounds every family these days.  God didn't have to give us dear friends, with the added convenience of having them also be our neighbors, as He had done before.  He certainly had proven up to that point that He was more than capable of providing dear friends everywhere we went, in all manner of ways.  But He chose to.  He is a giver of Good Gifts.  And sometimes I feel as if He simply blesses us for no other reason than to remind us of His tremendous love for us.

"If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him!" Matthew 7:11

When I stop to consider this, I am overwhelmed by my Savior who left heaven in order to come close to His children, extending the Good Gift of salvation to all who would accept it, so that we could be His "neighbors" one day.  May this serve as a reminder to me, when I think I know what I need, or selfishly beg for what I want, that it is my Father in heaven that sees the end from the beginning and has treasures in store that I am often too short sighted to see.

"Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all His benefits-...who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's."  Psalm 103:2,5

"For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor; no good thing does He withhold from those whose walk is blameless.  Lord Almighty, blessed is the one who trusts in You." Psalm 84:11-12

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

What keeps us from HOME?

A few weeks ago, it was quite literally an abandoned, mangy and hungry yellow lab mix that kept us from home...

It had been raining all evening and our daughter, Hannah, had just sat down to relax and watch a little TV when her eyes were drawn to the window by another pair of eyes staring back at her from out on our deck.  Nose pressed to the window, the stray dog begged her with his eyes to come rescue him.  At first glance, this story may lead one to believe that this was the beginning of a beautiful friendship between our family and this down on his luck mutt...

...I beg of you to read further... :)

While initially I had been drawn in by this dog and the way he would wait all day (sometimes by the front door facing the road) in expectation of our return, I soon began having to intricately plot both our plan of escape from our home and our hopefully, unnoticed return.  In fact, it became such an ordeal to leave or return that I soon began leaving for the day in the early morning and finding things to do that would keep me away from the house until I absolutely had to be home in the evening. 

We learned very quickly that this dog did NOT like to be left.  While trying to get in the car to leave that evening, he came bounding around the side of the house, running full force and dodging past me to leap into the car claiming my seat before I could even get a foot in the door. 

 (in reality, this was NOT as endearing as it looks!)

After finally coaxing him out and everyone else squeezing in through barely opened doors, he began to circle our car so that I couldn't even back down our driveway.  When he would pass between the front of our car and the garage, his larger than life shadow was cast on the garage door by the beams of the headlights making us feel like we were in a tense scene from a movie in which a family is held helplessly captive by some monstrosity of a beast as he circles, just waiting for the moment when human flesh will emerge.  We finally were able to escape that evening by shutting him in our garage while we safely backed down the driveway.  Our morning plan of escape began with us whispering and tiptoeing around the house as we got ready for the day in the hopes of not waking the sleeping beast out on our deck.  I was having to add an average of 10-15 minutes to our schedule in order to still leave for school on time with the intricate planning of our escape.  While the kids finished getting ready, I would sneak out to the car with their backpacks and anything else we'd need for the day and then back the car all the way down to the end of the driveway.  This usually woke the dog as the sound of our garage door opening was like an alarm to him.  I would race back into the house before the dog could come running around the side and throw open the door to the refrigerator in search of anything I could distract the dog with long enough for the kids to get into the car and for us to leave the driveway.  On one particular occasion it was the homemade chicken noodle soup from our neighbor...this mangy beast was eating as well as we were!  I would take whatever food I could find and stand at the door to the deck poised and ready while the kids assumed their positions at the door to the garage.  Simultaneously, we would open our respective doors.  I would toss out the food to the waiting beast and race back through the kitchen to join the kids in an all out sprint to the idling car.  Most mornings we would make it before the savory treat had been consumed, allowing us to not have to repeat the whole scenario with something else found in the fridge.  Upon our return, I would need to hold the dog off by swinging grocery bags or other such weapons and by angling my body in such a way across the doorway to allow for the safe passage of the kids while still keeping the dog out as he jumped and clawed all over me, desperate for a way in.  It makes me shake my head to think of the daily entertainment we were providing for our neighbors had they been looking out their curtains.  :) While we were at home the dog would circle the house, checking all the doors and windows he could reach, trying to find us.  It seemed that any window or door we passed would have his nose pressed up against it.  This became particularly unsettling at night when the last thing you'd expect to see while looking out the window would be another pair of eyes staring back at you.  I mean, not that you'd expect that during the day either, ha!  Just that something about the darkness makes one feel more skittish about such things.  One can see why, after a few days of this, I began to find every reason not to go home.

(keeping an ever watchful eye on us as we prepared for our escape)

While the memory of our stalker dog will most assuredly provide lots of laughter (and relief that he has moved on) as our family reflects on it for years to come, it has also caused me to think about the broader idea of home and what at times can keep us from it...that perfect niche carved out in life just for us by the Creator who knows us best. The place waiting for us if we'll only trust God's plan enough to sometimes follow blindly where He leads, based solely on His promise to prosper and not to harm us.  

 "'For I know the plans I have for you', declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'" Jeremiah 29:11

To me, home is not necessarily always a physical place where we eat our meals and lay our head each night.  The idea of home goes beyond the brick or stone of a foundation to the roots we put down in a community, the time invested in a circle of friends and the things that surround us in the everyday that become familiar to us, give us a sense of continuity and security.  

Before moving to our current home in Virginia, I was certain that God's plan for our family could not include pulling up the roots we had already spent years tending.  It was this misled certainty that threw me into a tailspin each time my husband brought up the idea of a change.  I recently looked back through my journals to the year that Matt first began to raise the idea of moving to Virginia.  As I read through the cries of my heart toward God back then, I can easily see now how He was beginning to faithfully prepare me for expanding my idea of home and security...


9/17/03~God, I beg of You to grant me what you want to give me.  There are so many things I want...both material and immaterial...but underneath my emotions, my anger, my selfishness and my mistrust I want what you really want to give me.  I have to admit I'm afraid to even pray this because at the moment I'm feeling as if I will need to give up my house and many other things that I hold probably too tightly.  Remind me, God, of your love and desire for what's best for me.  Prove Yourself to me, so that my trust in You will grow...Let Your truth rearrange my priorities and change the way I think.  Give me a heart filled with Your desires.  Bless me for letting go, make Your will my prayer.  Change my heart to not hold tightly to the things of this world...

9/22/03~God, I guess the one thing I desire above most is to feel settled, secure and to have a "permanent" home.  It's possible my doubts about what You desire to bless me with have limited your goodness.  Maybe my ideas of a home and security aren't exactly what Your ideas are.  Align my heart with Yours in this area and help me to find that "settled-ness"  that my heart longs for.  Make a "home" for me that You desire...

10/25/03~God, You know the fear that may be holding me back.  I fear the feeling of being unsettled and of leaving friends.  Help me to realize that my fears are based on faulty beliefs.  Don't let my fears keep me from Your best for me.  God, if that means Lynchburg...ack! be it, but please change my heart in that area if it is Your will for us to go.  Remind me each day that You are my security.  Don't let me base my conclusions on simply how I feel.  Give me the answers to Your true will for our lives as a family and then give me the strength to move forward in Your will.  Release the power that my fear of insecurity and "unsettled-ness" has over me.  Even now I'm resisting what may quite possibly be Your perfect will for me out of this particular fear.  Take it from me...

11/21/03~God, You know my fears of leaving "comfort zones", most of those fears come into play when my security of home, friends and surroundings are threatening to me to grow to a place where I will welcome discomfort as a chance to grow...

12/17/03~I was reminded this morning in Your word about how all Your plans for me are good and that they give me a hope and a future.  I must not completely trust that since I am far from willing to jump headlong into something new, especially when it involves packing up and going somewhere else...especially when I feel so strongly about where you've put us now and the blessing of friendship we have here.  God, I still hate the idea of Lynchburg and I don't know if it's my stubborn unfaithfulness or if it's really not meant to be, but my mind has not budged in the past months.  Don't allow me to let this cause anymore strife between Matt and I.  Help us both to see and hear You clearly.  Please give us both a clear answer or let it lie peacefully until Your perfect timing.


That was over 8 years ago.  In order to make what is already a lengthy story just a little longer :)...the short version is that from that period of time, God did indeed answer my prayer for a break in the strife caused between Matt and I over the differing opinions in our views for the future.  Years would go by in which I knew Matt was still thinking of what "could be" in Lynchburg, Virginia but was patiently waiting for God to speak just as clearly to me.  I have to admit I tried my stubborn best to keep my hands clamped tightly over my ears for quite some time in the hopes that I could quite possibly keep from hearing something I didn't want to hear.  But God ever so gently and lovingly removed my fingers one by one and began to teach me that He could in fact be trusted...He did in fact want what was best for me...and He did in fact know me better than I knew myself.  

"So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal."  2 Corinthians 4:18

"We declare God's wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began...What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived - the things God has prepared for those who love Him." 1 Corinthians 2:7,9

Now in the home we've found in Virginia, I look at all the ways God has blessed us here and shake my head at how I could have missed this home...I tried so hard to keep from coming here because of my fear of the unknown.  I created a false security around me built on current circumstances that blinded me to the unseen blessings waiting for me here.  I can't help but also think of home in the eternal sense.  While I love where we are today, I want to be wary of keeping my eyes only on the temporal.  It is my misguided faith placed in the temporary that makes me desperately cling to people or places in the hopes of finding security.  I went out on a limb over 8 years ago and decided to give God the opportunity to prove Himself faithful in this area.  While Matt and I can both attest to the fact that the living out of those years wasn't always smooth and comfortable in the moment, I can easily see as I flip through pages and pages of hand-written memories that God was always at work in the unseen and provided blessings in countless ways that I had never imagined with my limited vision of the future.

"And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return.  But as it is, they desire a better country, that is a heavenly one.  Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them."  Hebrews 11:15-16

What keeps you from home?  Fear...?  Pride...?  Doubt...?  Whether it's a physical place here on earth that would bring unspeakable joy and healing if we'd just surrender to the journey no matter how far, or our eternal home waiting for us in heaven...what is there to lose by surrendering to the One who sees beyond all we can see and goes before us to prepare a place with us in mind?

"Do not let your hearts be troubled.  You believe in God; believe also in Me.  My Father's house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.  You know the way to the place where I am going."  John 14:1-4

"I pray that out of His glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.  And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord's holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge-that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.  Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen."  Ephesians 3:16-21