Sunday, November 28, 2010

Not About the Presents....but the Presence

I grew up in a family of modest means in a small beach town in California. We were big fans of Santa, decorating, baking cookies, presents, and even had a small gold elf that waited on the mantle every year; the story was that he came to life when Santa came down the chimney, and he would help him unpack our presents.

Every year we hung our stockings from the mantle of our fireplace and got to open one present on Christmas Eve; ALWAYS pajamas. (Mommy wanted us to look good for pictures on Christmas morning). We always seemed to get what we wanted somehow; probably because my parents went without for a while or daddy worked extra hours….all of which, we were completely oblivious to. My grandparents always showed up for the holidays with literal garbage bags full of presents; each of us having our own… indulging us to the fullest.
Christmas growing up for us…WAS the presents.
The tradition continued with my own daughters. We didn’t have the elf but the stockings and pajamas were just as they were for me. Each year they were asked to make a list and we always told them we wouldn’t get EVERYTHING on the list, but they promised they would be thrilled with whatever they received ….which was everything. It was great when the presents were $5.00 Barbies and art supplies or clothes but as they grew older, their lists got shorter but much more expensive; including stereos, cameras, video games, computers, cell phones, and anything techie. It got entirely out of control but no matter how much I promised my husband it wouldn’t happen again next year…it did.
Christmas growing up for them…WAS the presents.
Last year was our First Christmas as a blended family; two of my daughters weren’t home to celebrate but it was a daughter for me; and a son and daughter for my husband. The house we were living in was entirely too large for us since it was just my daughter and his son living with us at the time. I decorated banisters and balconies, foyers and columns, and had a couple of different Christmas trees; even clear lights glowing in the bathrooms. Neither of us were working at the time but we wanted the kids to have a good Christmas and not realize just how dire things were beginning to get (Let’s face it….we should have started looking for somewhere smaller to live two months earlier; but didn’t). They each received one gift but it was a doozy; us maxing out our Dell credit for laptops, cameras, GPS, and even an extra Coach bag…..because the GPS didn’t have an equal dollar amount for the laptop and camera. (We are STILL paying them off….a year later).
Christmas for them…WAS not only the presents, but had to be equal on all accounts.
This year is different. Very different.
We moved. We only have my daughter at home with us; moving out on her own in the new year. I am excited that I will have two of my daughters home this year and know that God will lead the other one back in His timing and her terms when she is ready. Robbe’s son and daughter may still stop by although we don’t know specifics yet. I have a feeling that perhaps they will change their mind when they find out that NO presents will be exchanged or “left by Santa” this year.
This year…it isn’t about the PRESENTS – but the PRESENCE. Not just the presence of Jesus which is HUGE in itself, but the presence of family; the feeling of family and togetherness. My husband is working but it has been a trying year for our family: one daughter taking a ten month detour, another living very meagerly and just losing her boyfriend. His daughter in college but never checking in or connecting with us and no longer “forced” to celebrate with dad after 10am on Christmas Day. His son lived with us for nine months but decided he didn’t want the structure our household provided and wanted to go back to his mom’s; where he lives now. We have told them that we are not doing presents although I am sure that a couple may hope we are only teasing and testing them. Boy…won’t they be surprised.
I want to get back to basics. I wish I had done it years ago. But now that we are living as Christians and coincidentally not financially able…we are making it about family. We are celebrating the life that He gave to us. We are embracing hope that He promises us. We are praising ALL that He has gotten us through this year and THANKING Him for getting us under the same roof again; praying for more to join us next year.
We want the kids to feel like kids again. When they walk through the door, we want them to forget the worries of their lives they live and pretend they are 10 all over again; with their biggest worry about which friend to play with or sleeping in on Saturday morning. We are going to go sledding as a family at a local park. We are making Mom’s Homemade Soup and eating dinner at ONE dining room table. We will bake Christmas cookies, complete with frosting paint and trim. There will be cocoa and Christmas movies going non-stop. Christmas music will be sounding throughout the house and we will ALL enjoy church as a family on Christmas Eve….A Campeau Family First.
Just as new mom’s have 9 months to plan for a new baby that they have never met but are excited to share…I AM excited for THIS Christmas. I have been planning the possibility of this First Annual Christmas at the Cottage for about 5 months and am more excited to decorate my “cottage” to honor Jesus’ arrival than any new mom could be in welcoming her baby. I am not painting pastels, or wallpapering walls. I don’t have mobiles hanging from the ceiling with animals and prints. But… I WILL have a Christmas tree decked out, a Nativity placed in a prominent spot (once I buy one and find the perfect place to put it), candles that smell like gingerbread, and string popcorn and cranberries to place around our small 1800sq feet.
I am celebrating with PRESENCE; his presence; the presence of family. There won’t be a birthday cake or party hats and horns but it will be the most joyous of Christmases I have ever had. And I could not be more thankful to share this season with my family; praying for those that aren’t able to make it home this year. But maybe….just maybe… there will be a Northern Star over Plymouth and the ones that are still wayward will follow it to be home for the Second Annual ….. Christmas at the Cottage.

Friday, November 26, 2010

More than Turkey....Much to be Thankful For

It’s easy to count our blessings this time of year; everyone wants to remember what they are thankful for as they brown their bird, mash their potatoes, and cover their pies. I began making a literal list of all that I was thankful for and soon realized that the things I was “not” thankful for was a much shorter list…so I began to list those. But you know what? I soon realized that each thing I wasn’t thankful for has turned out to be a blessing in disguise; the lost job, the DUI two years ago, my daughters not speaking to me, the divorce, and my husband still not having a permanent position anywhere.
We need to count ALL of our blessings; not just the obvious ones. It is easy to be thankful for health, family, cars that run, jobs, and friendships. What about those blessings that are more disguised and harder to find? The layoff that seemed impossible to get through that sparked your entrepreneurial spirit. The break up that inevitably led to a relationship that was better for you and led to Mr. Right. The dark road travelled with detours aplenty that ended in a place you never dreamed of…like getting lost while finding your favorite restaurant, only to find a new one.
Two years ago I had A LOT going wrong in my life; more things going wrong than right. Just when I thought I was going to make it through one rough patch, two more things would pop up that seemed even worse. It got to where I couldn’t hide the stress or the anxiety that came with it. I asked my pastor… “Just how much more can I take? How many things have to go wrong before God finally gives me a break?” He told me to read Job. “I can’t… I don’t have a bible handy.” “No…but I bet your laptop is handy. Bible Gateway. Read Job.” I hadn’t heard the story of Job at this point but knew that it couldn’t be good if my pastor was telling me to read Job as I complained about my circumstance.
I read Job…..Wow.
My situations; all of them, seemed like hangnails compared to what he was put through.
Imagine that your neighbor calls you at work, telling you the terrible news that your house and vehicles have been destroyed by fire, and while that person is still speaking, you learn that you’ve been fired from your job. While those words are still coming out of your boss’ mouth, your husband calls: your kids and all their families have been killed while they were vacationing together.
These are the unimagineable circumstances Job encountered. Devastating messages assaulted him again and again – each one coming while the messenger “was still speaking.” Who can even begin to comprehend his sheer horror at learning that all ten of his children were dead?
What did Job do? What was his initial response upon hearing of the loss of all he owned and of all he held dear? First, he grieved. He physically responded in the Eastern mode of grief by tearing his robe and shaving his head to display his deep sorrow. Yet no outward sign of grief could capture the inward torture Job felt.
What Job did next showed his faithfulness toward God. He fell to the ground and worshipped. That’s right – he didn’t berate God or ask “Why me?” or “Why them?” Instead, he acknowledged that everything comes from God, and he praised the name of the Lord. Try imagining that scene. It takes my breath away. Picture this man, deep in the throes of grief, praising God. In light of the horrific blows dealt to him, how did he do that?
There could only be one answer: Job knew God – really knew him with an uncommon intimacy. His close relationship with God had taught him that God was the only one who could give him any kind of real comfort. Job’s knowledge yielded a deep trust in an infallible Lord – a trust that enabled Job’s heart to keep beating even in the face of overwhelming heartbreak. It allowed him to respond to horrible pain with worship and praise.
At the end of the story, Job’s wealth was restored and his family grew. But more than that, Job had seen God and knew God’s goodness even in suffering.
His blessings weren’t all that he owned before his devastation or even after when all was restored to him. The true blessings were in the faithfulness found and exhibited DURING the trials put before him.
Yes… I am more blessed this year than any before it. I have an amazing husband, two of my three daughters talking to me and even coming home for Christmas, amazing friends ALL put in my path by Jesus, and so much to look forward to because he got me through everything I thought was “the worst part of my life.”
But I am more thankful for getting diagnosed with breast cancer at thirty, a DUI two years ago, and a divorce. Getting through those incidences put before me are what made me the person I am today and able to appreciate ALL of the blessings He has given to me this Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Things I Have Missed

I have been apart from everything in my life for 174 days, and in that time I have missed many things.

-       Father’s Day
-       4th of July
-       Lynnette and Lisa’s birthday (Two of my fave Lylas)
-       My birthday
-       Anja’s birthday (Daughter #2)
-       Lynnette’s baptism
-       An entire 8 week series at church with church wide bible study
-       Baby’s Homecoming (….to stay)
-       Karen’s 4year old son had open heart surgery (…another fave Lyla)
-       Robbe’s birthday (my husband)
-       Our First Wedding Anniversary
-       Sobriety Court graduation
-       Thanksgiving 
13 pretty significant things that went on without me being a part of them. I couldn’t stop celebrations from happening or heartache from being felt. I wasn’t in the front row of a baptism and a First Wedding Anniversary is not something that can be recreated. Sure, I could pray for my friend as she sat in the waiting room waiting for word of her son but I couldn’t sit there holding her hand. My daughter came home after a long detour and I haven’t been there to welcome her home with open arms like I envisioned “if” she decided to return. With each date that came and went, I found myself being selfish and not wanting them to take place without me. People were going about their life as if I weren’t in it and it was quite humbling. Since finding my relationship with Jesus I am not nearly the selfish person I was but it wasn’t long for her to surface with each event. Satan had no problem reaching me through my own kids or husband or holidays. And let’s face it…. he was always the host of my pity parties that I stayed at a little too long.
I praise God for rescuing me from each “party” but I am embarrassed to admit that there were feelings of anxiety and sadness left in their wake.
I have many post its throughout my bible, along with highlighted areas. Sometimes it is something I have learned in a bible study, a verse someone wants me to put on a bible cover or scripture sleeve, or just something I am drawn to after hearing it in church. I found myself leaving one pity party and looking for guidance; hoping to have advice jump off the pages. I looked through every post it and handwritten note until I finally ended up in 1Peter chapter 5….waaaay in the back of the bible. Apparently someone had chosen 1Peter 5:7 for a scripture sleeve but I read it, liked it, sewed it to a sleeve and never read further….until very recently when sulking about all that went on without me and the anxiety of the changes I would be coming home to were rising.
“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”  1 Peter 5:7
…and it goes on.
“Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” 1Peter 5:8-10
Um….. what can you say to that? I felt small and petty. I couldn’t imagine making this scripture fit into my dilemma. The apostle Peter was talking to Jewish Christians that were scattered because of persecution and all followers of Jesus. These people were truly suffering and he wanted them to be able to accept that suffering and to let the suffering itself help them reflect the gospel. If they accepted the suffering as part of their Christian experience rather than fighting it, the world would have a chance to see that Christ offers hope.
Our attitude toward other represents Christ to them.
Even though I tried to keep my disappointment to myself; I still took it personally that each of these things went on without me. I only hope it was not as apparent or selfish to them as I am sure it was to Jesus.
The devil that was prowling around me was using my kids, my friends, my husband, my church, and my distance to put a wedge between us. One of my Lylas put it so succinctly… “Yes, we have changed since you’ve been gone, but that isn’t a bad thing. I am sure that you have changed too. We can’t wait for you to get back and fill you in and not necessarily pick up where we left off, as you hoped….but share how we have grown and begin again.” (Thank you Lynnette)
How can I twist this scripture to apply to a pity party for being apart from the life I left behind in Michigan? …. “stand firm in your faith because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” These people were truly suffering and I was just feeling forgotten, left behind, and sorry for myself.
“…..after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast.” Lynnette snapped me out of it quickly but compassionately. It isn’t about me and change isn’t a bad thing. Now… I look forward to “getting right back” and hearing from everyone; all that I missed. I am excited with anticipation to be with all of them and get filled in on everything that happened to them, laugh with them, cry with them, share with them, praise with them, and grow with them; beginning the new chapter that Jesus has already written and we finally get to live…one page at a time.
I believe I did suffer a little while and in 8 short days he is holding true to his word; restoring me and making me strong, firm, and steadfast. Look out…. I’m coming home and I can’t wait to see ALL that he has in store for all of us; just as Lynnette said… to share how we have grown and begin again. 

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Goodbye Triston

Born: June 29, 2010
Taken to heaven: November 22, 2010          
Through tear filled eyes I look at pictures of a boy just one week shy of his five month birthday. A boy I never knew but heard so much about. He was the son of a friend of my daughters; she and her husband just barely 21 and serving in our military. This son; her only son; was the joy of her life. She says she believes in God and as I sit here praying for her…I hope she does more than believe. I pray that she and her husband find strength and peace in knowing God has a plan for Triston. His father being deployed and not present when he was taken from life support at 8:30am today.
There are many unanswered questions and the biggest one escaping their lips is “Why him….why OUR baby?” It was just five days ago that he was found in a crib; not breathing. After the doctors examined him and connected him to machines, it was merely a matter of time before they told her… “It is SIDS…Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.” One minute he was there and the next his lifeless body was taken to heaven. She sat there; tears in her eyes; streaming down her cheeks; her hair sweating and clinging to her forehead. She looked at his face, refusing to let go of her son as he lied in her lap one last time. She is truly alone now, her husband halfway around the world and her son taken to heaven.
I pray for her and her family. I wish I had answers when they say things like “If there is a God, how could he do this? He was so little and never sinned. Why my son?” I struggle as I think to myself, “God has a plan for Triston and he needed him more than we did right now”….but it sounds contrite and I can’t even find the nerve to send that message in an email.
I tell everyone that I talk to Jesus every morning over coffee. Sure…we talk much more than that but that is our wake up time. I love to pray and talk with him before my day gets going because I promise to give it all to him and take whatever comes my way with faith that He will get me through it. I woke up this morning and prayed for Triston and his family; still uncertain as to what miracle would come through. But….what will I say to Jesus tomorrow over coffee? I am sure I will cry. I imagine he will hug me and tell me it will be okay. He will tell me how happy Triston is now and his parents will be just fine it if they have faith in him. I imagine sobbing into his robe as he holds me. He tells me to be strong and be there for them if they need me; and they will. He doesn’t make me stop crying but instead holds me tighter with each wave of sobs that escapes me. I look up at him and say nothing but he already knows my heart and smiles as only he can.
I want this conversation…not for me, but for Triston’s family. I want to share Jesus the way I know him and hope that they don’t blame him for taking their son from them so soon and so suddenly. I am very protective of Jesus and want to say something profound so they will know that it is for some greater good but I find myself drawing a blank; saying simply “You are in my thoughts and prayers. I pray for strength, peace, and understanding for your family through this very difficult time.” People always say “I will pray for you” or “You are in my prayers.” Do they mean it or is that just what you say when you don’t know what to say? I felt as if they may not believe me but lump me in with other well-wishers. I want to say “No… really. I WILL PRAY for you.” “I will have a personal conversation with Jesus over coffee tomorrow and I will ask him “WHY?”
My heart is overflowing with sorrow for a boy and his family I never met but only heard of from my daughter or befriended with one line conversations over facebook. And in that very moment, I am grateful. My family and I have gone through a lot over this past year and YET we are all still alive. My oldest that isn’t talking to me is alive and there is hope that we can reconcile our relationship. My middle daughter has just experienced the death of a loved one a month ago and has come to the realization that life is too short to not say “I love you” or “I miss you” and now she does nearly every day and is coming home for two weeks at Christmas. My youngest is thankful for the opportunities she has and is grateful for the same rules and structure now…that she stormed away from just eleven months ago. I STILL have my daughters and the hope that God is working in them and doing amazing things. I feel for this family and all that lies before them; in the coming days, weeks, and months. But I know, that just as God used all of the things in my past that I NEVER thought I could get through…for his glory; he will find a way to have this tragic event work in this family. It is IMPOSSIBLE to understand as we are put to these tests but He reminds us that we don’t have to figure it out, we just can’t “check out.” It will not be easy but he promises he is there every step of the way; even if we don’t seek him out. Even if we don’t think he could possibly want anything to do with us. Even if we blame him for everything we are going through because there couldn’t possibly be a God that would let this happen.
He never leaves us. He NEVER leaves us.
Goodbye Triston. You are loved and will be missed. Maybe one day Jesus will bring you by for coffee and you can tell your mom just how happy you are.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Hello World

I didn’t know what to write today. I have had lots of things cross my path but wasn’t sure what Jesus had in mind to include in my blog. I have a few half finished entries that start off strong but then I just feel I am writing to write and forcing the finish because I am not quite sure what he wants me to say. This blog is my journal. It is personal and it what I feel. When I write it is purely to show how he works in my life in hopes that someone else will be inspired, feel hopeful, or just realize they are not alone and they can leave their pity party whenever they want to.

When someone says “Hello World” I immediately envision something a baby would say; inquisitive, excited, anxious to get things started, they are a new creation with the world at their fingertips….a clean slate. But didn’t God tell us that we can be born again through Him? We don’t have to be physically born again to have that new beginning.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.” 2Corinthians 5:17  
We are born perfect but it doesn’t last. So what happens when we make a mistake? “Oh well, it’s all over now. No chance of being perfect so I guess I will just continue to walk down the path I have chosen.”  NO…. I know that for a fact because I lived that way for a while. I pretended it didn’t bother me when people didn’t like me. I acted as if it were no big deal when passed over for a promotion; assuming I just wasn’t good enough. Before my relationship with Jesus I didn’t believe in second chances; either giving them to people or asking them from anyone. Forgiveness was not something I practiced and “Do Overs” were just opportunities given in golf; no mulligans for life.
But…it isn’t that way at all. Each day is a new day and “just as Christ was raised from the dead through glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” Romans 6:4
How many of us have judged people based on their appearance or where they have been? How many times they have been married or what color their skin is? If they have tattoos or just have “that” look? Everyone has the opportunity to receive the gift of grace. I can say that because I know many that wouldn’t have given me a second chance; even though I felt I deserved one; He did. I didn’t offer forgiveness to people but then found myself wanting nothing more from those I harmed.
While we can never earn our salvation, it does come with responsibilities. We have a calling to live up to…almost as if we are paying it forward. What we do or don’t do is a reflection on Jesus, good or bad. “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” 2Corinthians 5:20
God didn’t only love the ones that were rich, healthy, law abiding, and religious. He sought out the lost. He gave us his son to die for our sins so that we could not only receive second chances but give them…freely.
 I didn’t know what I would write about today but then I received an email from a Lyla that has become very dear to me. I don’t even remember meeting her but there she sat in a room full of other women…hearing my testimony. I wasn’t even sure I could do it; even days before I was scheduled to share; but women of my bible study encouraged me and lifted me up…confirming it was the right thing to do and I couldn’t share how great he was without telling them everything. I wasn’t there to talk about how terrible my life was but to share with them what my life was before Jesus, how I became a Christian, and what my life is like now…after accepting that personal relationship. Janet has become more than a woman that just happened to be at my testimony that day. I feel like we are virtual pen pals and I am thrilled that she found me online. I love that just when I think I couldn’t have more friends than the ones He has already given me… he finds a way to weave them into my life.
I didn’t know what I would write about today and then there it was. An email with a song attached; a video. “Hello World.” A reminder of looking past what you see on the outside and wonder who people are; What’s their story? Who waits for them? Who are they waiting for? What has Jesus done in their lives? What is he waiting to do? How do we fit into the plan….maybe not even realizing it?
On October 11, 2009…I said “Hello World,” accepting Jesus as my personal savior. (And boy did I need saving). It was a new world, unlike any I had ever seen. There were dark spots but I soon learned that those weren’t going away because I was a Christian; but I would no longer be going through them alone. He has made sure that I know He is always with me but just in case that weren’t enough…he continues to bring me these amazing women who have come to mean so much. New beginnings. Second Chances. Forgiveness, Grace, and Mercy.
“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” Ecclesiastes 4:9-12
Look past the tattoos and brokenness. Don’t judge people based on what they have or haven’t done. Make them feel welcome and be ambassadors for Jesus. See into the heart of the person He put in your life and enjoy finding out what His plan is for you. I don’t know where I would be today if I didn’t accept his love for me. I can’t imagine how different the last six months would have been if he did not put me in a room full of “Ambassadors for Jesus.” They have been beside me from the beginning because Jesus opened their hearts and asked them to care for me….and they did.
            Well,Hello World
How you been
Good see you, my old friend
Sometimes I feel, cold as steel
Broken like I’m never gonna heal
I see a light
Little grace, little faith
Hello world

Sometimes I forget what living’s for
And I hear my life through my front door
And I’ll breathe it in
Oh I’m home again

All the empty disappears
I remember why I’m here
Just surrender and believe
I fall down on my knees
Oh hello world
Hello world
Hello world

Friday, November 19, 2010

Six Degrees of Separation

Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon is a trivia game based on the concept of the small world phenomenon and rests on the assumption that any individual can be linked through his or her film roles to actor Keven Bacon within six steps. The name of the game is a paraphrase of the “six degrees of separation” concept. The game requires a group of players to try to connect any individual to Kevin Bacon as quickly as possible in as few links as possible.

You may have heard that every person in the world is connected to anyone else by no more than six degrees of separation – six friends of friends of friends. The point is that we are all more connected than we realize.

When it comes to mentoring and encouraging others, it’s all about discovering connections. When you begin to look intentionally for connections with others (not necessarily friends of friends, but universal experiences you may share with another person, such as dealing with depression or addiction, making choices about a career, or striving for personal fulfillment), you’ll realize you have much in common. In any given conversation, relationship, or scenario, you are only a few degrees away from an opportunity to influence another person. If you’ll only be intentional.

I have recently experienced a couple of situations that are just too close in degrees not to mention and I know that, unlike  a cast of characters being connected to Kevin Bacon in six steps; the most direct way to be connected to ANYONE is Jesus. He brings us all together with no middle man required. BUT….it is fun to see just how he connects us, as if moving pieces around on a game board and then waiting for us to discover the reason.

Facebook is the ultimate application to the six degrees theory. Even if you aren’t completely sold on the idea, it is hard to ignore the “Suggested Friends” in the margin being handpicked for you, based on similar connections found. I go to Northridge church, as do 24,000 others. My name popped up in the margin for Victor who happens to also be a member of the same church and have two mutual friends and then we became “friends.” In looking at Victor’s profile, I also noticed that there was another connection completely unrelated to church. He and his wife Vanessa run a florist in Plymouth, where I live AND they also donate flowers and breast cancer ribbons and are active in the 3Day for a Cure, 60Mile breast cancer walk…I am an eleven year survivor and walked in 2009; and am walking again with Lylas in 2011. But it gets even crazier.

My daughter’s friend that came to stay with us until they get an apartment has a friend in Monica from a city an hour away. I chatted and added her and then learned that her mom is also a breast cancer survivor… so I proceeded to “add her as a friend” on facebook also; chatting about the walk and making plans to meet at church one weekend. It was only in opening her profile that I noticed, in the left margin where mutual friends are displayed….that she is ALSO friends with Victor. Accident? Coincidence? I don't think so.

God has a way of putting people in our lives before we even realize we need them. Maybe they are the ones that need us and he goes to extra lengths to connect us in a way that is not necessary until you realize it couldn’t have happened any other way.

For instance… when we moved to Plymouth last year with no jobs, family, or friends; I wanted to do something to meet people and interact with my neighbors. I decided I wanted to sell Avon. I called a representative and she was going to come to my house before we moved but I was out of her region so I needed to all another. I made contact with someone but it fell through and we never connected. After phone tag for a bit, we agreed that it would have to wait until I got back from California; hoping to be back before the end of summer. She called me in late July and I told her that I wouldn’t be back until December but was still VERY interested, please call me then. I was excited to share Avon with my neighbors and said I was excited to offer makeup and skin care solutions to my Lylas small group and women in ministry with me at my church. You guessed it…after five minutes we learned we went to the same church. But… so do 24,000 other people.

I hadn’t expected to chat with her again until I get home in a couple of weeks, but God had a better idea. In talking with one of my Lylas from bible study, she told me of a Homecoming Lunch with the women from that study and another, as well as friends from church. She was talking about those that would be there and then mentioned “Susan….she knows you too.” I couldn’t remember knowing a Susan from church but she assured me that she knew me and said she felt an interesting connection the first time we spoke….over the phone to sell Avon. Can you believe it?? In a church of 25,000 members; a woman I spoke to when moving to Plymouth in March told me she went to my church AND she just so happens to be the co-leader of a bible study filled with women I am blessed to call friends.

I shouldn’t be surprised in all that He does; especially lately. Everything just falls into place when he is involved. Even things that aren’t going perfectly work themselves out in the end and you know it had to happen that way.

I love figuring out some of the things he has in store for me; people he puts into my life and scenarios he allows me to be a part of. He knows exactly what he is doing and even though I don’t feel worthy a lot of the time and say “Why Me?” he looks at me and smiles.... “Why not you?” People ask me how I can be so hopeful with all I have been through this past year and I smile in response. I just know he is going to be there with me no matter what. There are no accidents and I am not getting through anything alone, but with Jesus and ALL of the people that he puts in my path.
“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” 1Peter 3:15..........                 I AM!!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

For Nothing is Impossible with God

This title is found in Luke 1:37. Mary was visited and told that she was going to give birth to a son, named Jesus. She doubted as anyone would; being a virgin but responded in 1:38: “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.”
I think this could be the “Because I said so” of ALL comebacks. “But mom, how can I be an NBA player at 5’4”?” ….For nothing is impossible with God. “How can I go on the missions trip with the high school class when I have to raise so much money?”….For nothing is impossible with God. Or… my personal favorite; “Why should they talk to me after I messed up their teen and adult lives?” And  the angel says…. For nothing is impossible with God. (And the angel would be right).
I have mentioned our strained relationships in previous entries but could not be more dumbfounded by this scripture today. Let me begin by sharing the string of text messages I received just last night…setting the stage. I am sitting on the couch watching TV with mom and redesigning my website when, out of nowhere, the chorus to Chris Tomlin’s “Indescribable” rings through my cell phone.

Daughter #2: I love you. =)
Me: Awww…. I love you too. Are you okay?
Daughter #2: Yeah…I’m fine. Just thinking about coming home to visit and missing you. I haven’t said that enough lately. So… I love you. =P
Me: Thank you. That means a lot to me. I am looking forward to a family holiday too. Not a lot of presents but lots of love and family time. Fireplace, movies, baked goodies, and sledding.
Daughter #2: Sounds awesome.  I hang out with (Daughter #1) and work with Dad, but that’s it. I miss family time. =)
Me: Definite back to basics and spending quality time together. It will be great.
Daughter #2: That’s all I want. I need a break from Wisconsin anyway.
Me: Great. Everyone can just be kids again. We all had to grow up too fast this year. It will be nice to go back in time for a bit. A time out from real life will be just what we ALL need.
Daughter #2: I’m really looking forward to it. There’s nowhere else I’d rather be for Christmas doing exactly that.
Me: Awesome. Me too. I love you. Thank you for letting me back in your life. It means more than you know.
Daughter #2: Thanks for being there for me. I’m sorry I ever made you feel like you weren’t part of my life. =/
Me: It’s okay. I know I pushed you girls away. Just praying that I can make it up to you in some way but I know it will come in God’s time. I never could have imagined all that has happened this past year. Some good…some bad, but all for His purpose. I am grateful for it all.
Daughter #2: Well, I’m glad you’re coming home soon. I feel like I haven’t seen you in a long long time.
Me: It has been too long. I saw you a year ago for just ten minutes.
Daughter #2: I’m sorry I didn’t visit more often. That will change now that I know how quickly life can be taken away. You have to take advantage of the time you have with loved ones while you still can.
Me: I couldn’t agree with you more. =D
Where this would be a somewhat typical texting dialogue for many; it is truly a miracle for me…and I don’t say that lightly. Two years ago we weren’t speaking and up until a month ago, we barely texted or interacted. God is working in amazing ways. Just like my mom had to have faith that He was with me even when she wasn’t…I prayed for my daughters that weren’t interested in having a relationship with me.
People that mean a lot to me told me that my daughters would want to see me again. I had one out of three and was thankful for her every day; trying not to think about all the wrong I did with the other two but always hopeful. I could not be happier to tell my friends the news of another homecoming for Christmas this year. I am elated to have them tell me “I told you so” and was never more thrilled to be wrong, in my life. It is no coincidence that one of the friends that was so confident it would come true has a favorite scripture in Matthew 19:26 “Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
I have said it before and will say it again…Faith is not believing God can but knowing He will.
I wish I could say I was patient and had faith in him that this was possible for me, but even though I am truly the President of the Jesus Fan Club; a part of me still felt that the reason two of my girls weren’t reaching out to me was because of things I had done in my past. I still felt I was being punished for decisions I made. But, in having this turn of events happen for our family…I realize that it was never about me but in them.
The ball really was in their court and I still have one daughter left to return the serve.

Monday, November 15, 2010

I Wanna Be Like My Mom When I Grow Up

Cheerleader – Motivator – Encourager – Raiser Upper – Praiser – Mentor
Mom and Dad - 1978(ish)
Guess Cheerleader for Jesus is in my genes  =D

I had an opportunity this weekend to work a booth at a local church craft show with my mom. She does amazing things with photography in various mediums with art; and then incorporates scripture to each of her pictures, calendars, greeting cards, or bookmarks that are truly “Inspired by God”….the name of her ministry. It was her way of getting God’s message to those that were excited to see it or came to the show not knowing what they would find but looking for inspiration; mostly to copy and make something of their own. But my mom; Inspired by God….inspired many that crossed her path. She was an example of what I want to aspire to be in my life as a Woman of Faith and it immediately “inspired” me to read Titus as we waited on those that Christ led to Booth #14.
Titus is more than the 58th book of the bible, and at just three chapters long should be read as a daily reminder…before work, before breakfast, before a day of shopping with the girls, before school, or before your “regular” daily devotions and prayer time with Jesus. Titus was a Greek Christian left behind in Crete where sin was more than a little problem. So, when Paul decided it was time to move on and continue his mission, he knew his work wasn’t done but trusted Titus to continue the good work he had started. The book of Titus is a letter of encouragement from Paul to Titus to encourage him and to give him guidance in instructing the new believers of Crete. This book contains sound advice for anyone involved in the work of encouraging others, whether within our own families or within a larger circle of ministry. Paul reminds Titus and us that we, too, were once like the Cretans, ignorantly wallowing in our sin. It is only through Christ’s mercy that we have the hope of eternal life. It’s a perspective that reminds us that Paul’s words apply to us as much as they do to those we are discipling.
Maybe it was the name of my mom’s booth complete with purple banners and her logo “Inspired by God” abounding but other vendors welcomed us. We have never participated in a show before yet everyone thought we knew what we were doing. Conversations were started over one picture or another and always ended with a smile even if they didn’t purchase for their own. An older woman beside us sold things she knitted by hand and loom…only selling one thing the entire weekend BUT she was soooo encouraging. She was as elated to be next to us as we were to her. She was a Christian and excited to talk about church and family in between waves of patrons over the two days.
I loved reading Titus 2 and being encouraged and instructed exactly what to do. Sure; the advice was give to Titus thousands of years ago as guidance for new Christians but with the bible in my lap, watching my mom interact with our new neighbor, I couldn’t help but smile as I read Titus 2:3-5 “Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.”
No…she wasn’t married and offering marriage advice or telling mom how to live as a Christian or be even busier at home…but her heart was open and sincere; even offering to teach me to knit. She was a fellow vendor but so excited and joyful to be treated with respect; a true friendship was formed. My mom didn’t know it but she was being watched and leading by example. (Note to self: People could be watching (or reading) me without my knowledge. What kind of example am I setting?)
God never intended for us to figure things out on our own – to simply “get by.” Just as he gave Ruth to Naomi and Mary to Elizabeth, God gives us each other to help, encourage and provide one another with companionship, to share ideas and wisdom and humor. To be a mentor doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be older in years. One can be more mature as a Christian, or a mom, or a teacher, or leader of the community without having age as a factor.
As mom’s we lead by example and are role models to our children. Are they good examples? I know that mine weren’t but Jesus tells me it isn’t too late. I was a great mom when my girls were little but then, somewhere along the way, I became selfish and forgot what my role was as a parent. I was pretty hard on my mom for the way I was raised and blamed her for whatever wrongs I could…even on my way out the door for the last time. But…she continued to let me run my own life even though it was spiraling out of control; at its worst I just stopped calling so she never knew the details of just how bad it was. But she continued to pray and have faith that even though she didn’t know what I was going through…Jesus did. She had faith that even in my rough spots I wasn’t alone. And even though I didn’t “see” her…she set an example for me. She set an example that I must now try to emulate with my own daughter; just like me…the oldest and doing her own thing. So now, like my mom, I pray and wait by the phone or computer; hoping that she will reach out to me when she is ready. I know that Jesus is with her even though she has no interest in either one of us . I didn’t… and I turned out all right.  =)

I’m a cheerleader and a raiser upper. I am a fan and encourage any that cross my path. I didn’t think Jesus could use me because of my sketchy past and yet he uses it ALL. I was a cheerleader, motivational speaker (breast cancer), writer, and fashion designer. Only Jesus could use them all for one purpose…HIS. I had issues with alcohol and over indulgence. I used to feel entitled to all that was given to me and now I appreciate ALL that is given to me.  
Psalm 40:1-3 “I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to God. Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in him.”
I had to capitalize the last part because in reading it today I actually giggled at just how true it was. This could be the Mission Statement for us Cheerleaders for Jesus (Ahem… Janet and her pom poms knows what I’m talkin’ about ).
It’s never too late to lead by example. Even if you mess up today…start over tomorrow. THAT, in itself is showing that anyone can hit the reset button and try again.

I never wanted to be like my mom growing up and I did everything opposite of her just to prove my point. If you would have told me that I would be President of the Paul Fan Club a year ago…I would have asked “Paul who?” I know we are all to have Christ as our example but we can easily say that there is no way we can do that. After all… He IS the word. We can’t attain that level of perfect. But….Paul was a guy. A regular guy that had some serious flaws and God used him in amazing ways. He was the epitome of encouragement and didn’t just tell people “Good job.” He continued to praise them and raise them up. He told them to continue doing good work. “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just in fact you are doing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11 He wasn’t just an encourager but trained others to encourage as he was doing. It is not enough to be the cheerleader but to “encourage” others to cheer beside you.
You never know who is watching (or reading) you. What message are you sending? Is it enough for me to be transparent? I know it is risky to put myself out there and expose myself to those that may want to use my words against me but this is my journal of my journey with Jesus every day. The world as I see it…the way He sees it through me.
“Then I said, “Here I am, I have come – I desire to do your will, my God; your law is within my heart.” Psalm 40:7-8

Saturday, November 13, 2010

I Wish I Would Have Tried Harder

How many conversations have started with “If only I had done…….”  or “I should have, could have or would have had......” or “Next time it will be better because…….”
Being a Christian doesn’t eliminate doubt although it should because acting more like Christ eliminates doubt and replaces it with faith. I do practice faith as best I can but, let’s face it…it is nowhere near “Christ-like.” I have selective faith just like I try to have a relationship with God in an advisory capacity; it doesn’t work. God did just fine before I came along and He doesn’t need me to pray to him with tips… “Dear God… it would be really great if my oldest daughter would talk with me; it’s nearly been two years. (He knows exactly how long it’s been). I know it is in your time BUT if you could make it sometime before May when I hear she is getting married, that would be pretty great….Amen.” Having faith that He will get her to come around does not mean following it up with “….but you’re probably busy and since my other daughter has come around; that should be good enough for now. Sorry to bother you.”
I was watching a TV show this week and it was pretty non-descript through the entire show. I recorded it and zipped through commercials to watch an hour long program in 40minutes. It was your regular “Whodunnit” series, trying to catch a bad guy but within the storyline there was an underlying relationship similar to mine. A father was not around much and his son resented him. He was in the military and left him and his mother to fend for themselves much of the time until his mother died of breast cancer. The son blamed him for not being there and sending the token birthday card when he remembered. But…the part that hit me was when the father died. Federal Agents were to find the killer of his father and in doing so, questioned the son. He received a birthday card which went unopened until the agents found it in the trash and looked inside; of course to unlock the missing piece of the puzzle to find the elusive killer. Inside was a photograph of the father and son taken probably ten years earlier with nine very impacting words written across the back:
I Wish I Would Have Tried Harder
Love, Dad
I was barely paying attention to the show or much of the story but that last scene took me by surprise; so much so that I rewound the recording and paused on the back of this picture. How many times have I thought those words with regards to my daughters? How many different ways did I wish I could say the same things to each of them? I’m sorry never seemed to cut it and anything else seemed just as contrite and meaningless. At what point did I think it was too late to try and turn back the clock and figure it was better to chalk it up to “It is what it is” and leave the ball in their court? Hoping?
(Then:  9, 10, 11      -      Now:  19, 20, 21)
I know that God is doing amazing things in my life and that all of those things that are happening are a direct result of the relationship I have with Him. He is an amazing God and still considers me a “Work in Progress.” (whew) I do live with regret for many of the things I have done in my life and work at mending those relationships and righting those wrongs with strength that he gives me. I hold fast to my fave apostle, Paul’s words to the people of Philippi and know that, even though I slip and doubt and question and wonder…He will be there to get me through it just like a first grader asking “Why is the sky blue?”
“Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.” Philippians 3:13-15
My eyes are on the prize. I do not run from my past but He assures me it is the past and I no longer need to worry about it. What’s done is done and it is up to me to move forward for the reward he has for those who love Him. I know to follow him means that I will be able to write something different on the back of a picture one day:

I feel I failed you when it mattered most.
I left but I tried to come back for you.
When Jesus hugged me and didn’t let go…. 
you were the first things I looked for to share it with.    
I love you and will spend the rest of my life showing you
how hard I tried to get you to love me back.
Love, Mom.

Friday, November 12, 2010

More Than Words on a Page

I have a thing for books. I always have; reading, writing, touching, smelling, and holding them. I can remember a picture taken of me in our backyard when I was about ten. I am sitting on an orange plastic chair with a blue one in front of me for my feet; red, white and blue dress, big knee socks, hair in disarray in front of my face and a book resting on my knees that are pulled up to my chest. A moment captured in time as I barely glanced up at the camera as my mom snapped the picture through our sliding glass door from our dining room. Whatever my mom saw in that moment meant enough to her that she wanted to capture it and put with other pictures that had gone through her heart.

I love used books. I love to flip through the worn pages and see where people have written in the margins or highlighted a particular sentence…or paragraph; to get into the mind of the person that held the book before me and see what they were touched by enough to highlight for future reference or simply to put pen to paper as a reminder of something that touched them in some way, like the picture mom took over thirty years ago.
I moved a lot in my early years as an adult. That meant packing up boxes of books to move from one set of bookshelves in one house, to another… in one case just moving up the road on the same block. I couldn’t get rid of Brides’ magazines or textbooks, but instead moved them with others that had already been read. In the midst of these books was also a bible. I don’t even remember where the bible came from but it was a soft cover Women’s Devotional Bible that had some great stories written by women interspersed between the scriptures. I never opened the bridal magazines that went back to 1993 or the textbooks that were probably out of date. I never opened the bible either but it always found its way to a spot on my bookshelf.
A lot of things have changed for me in the past two years; A LOT. But my love for books has not faded. In fact I have more now than I ever had. I moved last February and I hope it will be the last move for a while. I am happy to report that I finally got tired of lugging the heavy bridal magazines and even offloaded some of the textbooks that I was sure wouldn’t provide insight in the near future. But when I moved this time, the bible had a place of prominence and wasn’t just another book to fill a hole on a shelf.
I have tried to read the bible before and always thought I had to start at the beginning. THAT is not the case. I have been a Christian for just over a year and still have MUCH to learn, but now, I am open to learning it. I was happy to discover that the bible is a book; a very important history book; MY history book. Each time I open it, I have 66 different books all rolled into one that I can go to for guidance, wisdom, proof, stories, lessons, and history. It amazes me that a book that was written by so many different authors so long ago can have the relevance it does today. Much like reading a book or watching a movie now and seeing ourselves in the characters…we can do the same while reading it. I saw myself in Luke 15 “The Prodigal Son” and again in Matthew 18 “The Lost Sheep.” Did you know that God welcomes you back with open arms despite the path we chose or how long we chose it? Did you know that He cares more about the one sheep that came back than the ninety-nine that had never left?
I have been led by many in my 42 years and am not proud to say that for many of them, I was led in the wrong direction by people that aren’t even in my life anymore. In the past two years I have been blessed beyond measure by God, my family, my husband, my friends and my church. I still follow but now I know I am on the right path because it is Jesus that leads me. And I feel right at home with the one book that matters; my bible. 
Billy Graham once said that “The Bible is God’s “love letter” to us, telling us not only that He loves us, but showing us what He has done to demonstrate His love. It also tells us how we should live because God knows what is best for us and He wants us to experience it. Never forget: The Bible is God’s Word, given to us so we can know and follow Him. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” (2 Timothy 3:16)”
Wow….and to think that I just schlepped that bible from one shelf to another for a decade of moves from state to state and house to house; not realizing what waited for me on the pages between.
I am not only led by Jesus; I am inspired by Him and all those that He puts into my path. I have an amazing husband, renewed relationships with my parents and daughters, newfound friendships with Christian women, and a great church that wasn’t in my path until He moved us across the street from it….an hour from home and everything we knew.

Yes…. I have a thing for books and even though I continue to look for old books with handwriting in the margins and highlighting on the pages, I do a bit of highlighting of my own throughout the 66 books that have become my favorites.