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