Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Worth the Labor ...

When I was a little girl, there was a step stool that sat right beside the counter in my mom's kitchen. I would sit there, swinging my little legs, asking lots of questions, telling lots of stories ... While Mom moved back and forth between the sink, counter and stove. I loved watching my mom cook. Most of the time, she didn't have a recipe book ... it just came .. natural. At the time, I thought it was all in her head ... memorized. Now that I'm a mom, I know the recipe was in her heart ... she knew exactly what each of her family members loved and needed ... that's what she put in each thing she cooked.

Of all the things I watched my mom do in that kitchen, I loved watching her can the most. My parents spent months tending their garden. Taking care of each plant ... knowing the end result would be worth their labor. Each year, just before canning, Mom would sterilize the jars and set them out to dry. Each day, for weeks, she would can something new ... green beans, tomato sauce, pickles, jams, jellies and (my favorite) peaches. It was a long process. Mom's kitchen smelled so good. I wanted to be in there ... be a part of it. There was something special about the way the fruit or vegetables looked in the Ball glass jars.

There was something about the process of canning that brought out the most brilliant colors in each fruit or vegetable. The jars were clear and shiny. Set out side by side all across the counter. Mom filled each one, sealed them and then she carefully set each jar into the canner and waited ... just the right amount of heat, pressure and time. Then, she would take them out and, again, set the jars across the counter ... side by side. Waiting ... waiting for the 'ping'. That sound meant the lid had sealed and the produce inside would remain ... unspoiled. If it didn't 'ping' ... you had to put it back in the canner, more heat and then wait again. Sometimes, one of the jars just wouldn't 'ping' and she would empty the jar and start over. There was nothing wrong with the jar, it was still good. It just needed ... another try.

Last week, Mom gave me a jar of her sweet peaches. I had two empty jars sitting on my window sill ... empty from the week before when I used jars of her green beans to add a finishing touch on the meal I made for my family. The sun shining through those clear, empty jars ... contrasting against the jar filled with peaches ...
We're like those empty glass jars. We may be beautiful but we are nothing without Him. Jesus tends the garden of our lives. He takes special care in filling us with beauty ... a beauty only He can provide. Like my mom preparing meals, He doesn't need a recipe ... We are etched on His heart, he knows exactly what we need. It's not a short process. Inner beauty ... beauty that shines through ... it takes time. But, it's worth it. And, He doesn't give up. He will stick with us as long as it takes. The pressure in my mom's canner is kind of like the trials in our lives. They are painful and weigh us down. Heavy burdens. But, those trials bring us closer to Him ... in a way ... they make the bond between us and Him stronger. So that nothing can spoil what He has given us inside ... Him.
1st Peter 3:3-4 "Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel— rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God."

Matthew 5:14-15 “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lamp stand, and it gives light to all who are in the house."

Monday, March 25, 2013

I'll Carry You ...

My sister and I had just finished taking pictures of all five of our kids. My three boys and her two girls. A Mother's day gift for our mom. We wanted the pictures to be out in nature ... our mom loves anything nature and loves our kids. Five grand kids plus nature equals perfect for our Mom. So we headed to a spot along the Mississinewa reservoir. The kids pulled off their shoes and socks ... I was snapping pictures of them being ... them ... They skipped rocks in the murky water and chased each other back and forth along the waters edge. The rocks were slippery and cool under their bare feet. As is the norm with our kids, the boys tormented the girls. After they were worn out, we had the kids pose for several pictures and then it was time to head home.

"NO! I'm not leaving this spot!" Nine year old Hope was profound with her words. She stood perched on a flat rock near the reservoir shore. Her bare feet barely fit the surface of the rock she had chosen to stand on. She stood, hands on her hips.

"Hope, come get your shoes and get in the car." My sister was encouraging. She and I were an easy twenty feet away, standing by the pile of shoes and socks the kids had tossed aside.

An hour earlier, bare feet in the cool sand, playing in the water. Skipping rocks. All that sounded fun. But, now ... now her feet hurt. Hope had found a larger rock, just big enough for her to stand on. It was flat, smooth and cool and felt good on her feet.

It was time to head home. But, the path between that flat rock and my car was filled with sharp, rough rocks. The other four kids were picking their way through the rocks ... for them, this was an adventure. For Hope, this was ... scary.

"NO! My feet hurt! Again, profound. Hope was not budging. My sister grabbed Hope's shoes and started toward her.

"No, Mom. It's ok, I'll carry her." We watched Alex as she scooped Hope up in her arms and slowly picked her way through the sharp rocks. She kept her eyes down, looking for safe places to put her own bare feet. The weight of her sister made it more difficult but ... she made it. I'm sure it hurt Alex' feet to carry not only herself but her sister across those rocks. But she did it, with no complaints. Once she reached a clear area, Alex sat Hope on the ground and helped her put on her shoes.

The seven of us trekked back to my car. The kids wrestled into their seats. Sweaty bodies. Wet clothes. The smell of the Mississinewa water mingled with the summer breeze coming through the open windows.

I drove away thinking ... It would have been easy to just grab Hope's shoes and take them to her. But, Alex carried her. In a sense, she carried her sister's burden.

As Christians we are called to bear one anothers burdens. It shouldn't matter how big or small those burdens are ... we should come along side and ... carry them. Carry them across until we both reach safe ground. The peaceful place where Jesus waits for us.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Making Room ...

This is my dining room table. It's where I sort, fold and stack my laundry. I scrapbook here ... recount my children's lives through pages filled with photos, I'm a 'scrapbook junkie'. I share meals with family and friends at this table. My sister and I have spent countless hours sitting at this table ... drinking coffee and soaking up our friendship. This table was a gift from my parents. It sat in my great aunts house for years. After my aunts passing, Dad stripped it down, refinished it and gave it to me and my husband. This table has been, and is, used for so many purposes, but the most important for me ... this is where I read my bible. I spend my quiet time with God. In the early morning hours, just before sunrise ... this is my place. Our place ... God and me.

Last night, I was working on laundry. Using this table for one of the many purposes. I generally start laundry on Saturdays and finish before nightfall. But, I thought I would get a jump start on it because I knew our Saturday was going to be busy and I didn't want the laundry spilling into my Sunday. But, I didn't finish before going to bed last night. I was tired, so I let it go.

This morning, I headed to the kitchen. The house was dark and quiet. I got my cup of coffee, bible and devotional. Heading for the dining room table ...  and ... there it sat ... unfinished laundry. Stacks of it. Covering the table. My quiet place. There wasn't a free inch of space. Sure, I could move it all. Pile it up and then later 'unstack' it. But, that would mean more work for me. Because once you stack up laundry from three boys ... all different sizes ... fishing through it to make sure each boy has their own clothes. Well, that's a chore. Not one I really wanted to tackle. Plus, all of the boys were still in bed. Putting their laundry away to make room for me at the table would mean waking them up. And, in my house, you do not wake sleeping giants.

I stood there. Cup of coffee in one hand, bible in the other and thought ... my life is like that table. My life's purpose is to serve God in whatever way He has planned. In this world filled with so many distractions, sometimes my life gets out of order. Too busy. It's piled up with all kinds of things and then ... there's no room for God or anything else that I'm called to do or be.

I need to make room for my time with God. I need to carve out time, space and quiet ... to just be with Him. I need to protect that time. Because, in doing so, I let Him know ... He's important to me and my time with Him is important to me. It's worth letting the laundry go undone for a few more days. It's worth letting other distractions stack up in other places but not in a way that it takes over my quiet time ... like the laundry I left undone took over today.

Matthew 6:6 "But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you."

Friday, March 22, 2013

Walking It Out ...

It's hot. The early summer evening sun is making itself known on the field and the bleachers. Fans sit under umbrellas. It's the bottom of the second inning. Players are already worn out from the heat. Our team is up to bat.

Runners on first and second base. They're counting on their teammate to bring them around the bases. The batter steps to the plate, smacks the plate with his bat and focuses on the pitcher. One pitch, strike one. 
"That's ok, now you know what the pitch looks like ... now hit it." The coach calls from beside third base. 

Second pitch, the batter sent the ball sailing over infield and out ... out ... way out to center field. He took off from home plate.

Coach signaled to the second base runner. The runner stepped off second, ran and rounded third base. Fans jumped from their seats ... they could see the outfield play ... the ball that had just sailed over infield was being thrown right back to the infield. The runner couldn't see it, she was just running for home. Fast. If any player could make it home ... it was her. She was ... quick. Eyes on home plate, she slid. The ball was thrown from second base to home. Dust billowed around the runner, catcher and .... the fans couldn't see ... was the runner ...  Safe? Out? The umpire gave a thumbs up. Safe!

Then, everyone saw it. The quick footed girl was still down. Holding one leg. Trying not to cry. She's tough. Not much keeps her down. Coach called time and walked to his player. He knelt beside her along with the assistant coach. This little gal doesn't cry, so we all knew it wasn't good.

Quiet in the stands. Teammates stood in a circle at the pitcher's mound. No words, just stillness. Fear that something might seriously be wrong with their teammate ... their friend.

Both coaches lifted the runner to her feet. Through the stillness we all heard .... "Walk it out." The coach walked beside his player ... slowly, they walked together. One step at a time, walking out the pain in her leg.

Fans took their seats, sigh of relief. She was hurt but looked like she would be ok.

I took my seat near the fence. And, I thought ... about the coach's comment ... "Walk it out." He meant walk out the pain.
In our walk with Jesus, we aren't guaranteed a pain free life. In fact, God's word tells us that we will face trials and tribulations. Even when we are doing what God has called us to do ... there are times when ... it hurts. Sometimes we might feel just like that player running bases. We can't always see everything going on around us, we're just focused on getting ... Home. Safe. On the way Home, things can trip us up ... stumbling blocks. And, it hurts. When the hurt comes, Jesus calls a time out ... He knows when we've reached our limits. And, He comes to us, picks us up and ... helps us walk out the pain.

James 1:2-4 "My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.  But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing."
Psalm 91:4 "He shall cover you with His feathers, And under His wings you shall take refuge; His truth shall be your shield and buckler."

Thursday, March 21, 2013

When You Need Acceptance ...

It's evening, the sun is slowly sinking behind storm clouds.I'm at the kitchen sink, washing potatoes and preparing supper for my family. Water is boiling on the stove. The rest of the house is unusually quiet.

Kregg hits at the kitchen table, head bent over a white sheet of paper. One side is colored with sunshine and flowers. Crayons scattered across the table. Now, he's working on the other side ... the side with a special note to a special person in his life.

"Mama, how do you spell valtine?" Kregg runs his tongue over small lips. This is his determined face. Brows knit in concentration.

"V.A.L.E.N.T.I.N.E", I keep smooth motion, peeling potatoes and spell it slowly so that his small fingers can keep up with my reciting.

"What? Are you sure?" A look of shock and something close to frustration.

"Yes, Kregg, I'm sure." I turn from the sink, cold water running over my hands as I look back toward the kitchen table where he's been working on this project.

Kregg puts down the blue pen and walks away. I leave the sink, drying my hands on a dishtowel. I pick up the picture and read it. Kregg wrote the words before asking me how to spell them. And ... he made a mistake. The problem, it's in ink. He can't erase it or correct it. I turn the page over and look at the picture he spent so much time planning, coloring. It's beautiful, straight from his imagination. For him, all things are big and bright.

"Kregg, come sit with me." I call to him. He's somewhere hiding disappointment.

He comes slowly and sits. Tears sitting just at the edge of his eyes. Bites his lip. "It's ruined. I can't give her that!"

We talk about the person he planned to give this special picture. The front is beautiful, the back is a special message ... spelling mistakes or not. I know she would love it and probably wouldn't even mention the misspelled word. She would hang it proudly for everyone to see and brag about the special 8 year old boy who gave it to her. But, for Kregg, he's afraid of ... acceptance. This is his weakness. He wants to know he's loved, accepted ... just the way he is.

We clear the table together and eat supper as a family. Pajamas are pulled on over freshly showered little boys. And, I'm in my room putting away laundry.

"Mama?" Kregg calls from the threshold of my room.

"Yes, baby." I look up from my dresser drawers. Kregg is at my door with the picture, tears streaming down his little cheeks. I go to him and hold him.

"Mama, will you take this?" He holds it up to me.

"Yes, but you can still give it to the person you made it for."

"No, I want you to have it. I know you don't care if I spelled stuff wrong."

"Yes, Kregg, I will take it and hang it in my office. It's beautiful and when I see it, I will think of my beautiful boy."

He runs off to bed. I lean against my bed and the tears he cried before are now in my eyes. Kregg trusts me. He feels ... safe with me. Regardless of any mistakes he might make, he knows in his heart that I will see the beauty and good in him. In each of my boys.

That is exactly  how Jesus loves me. Sometimes, I feel like I have to hide my flaws from people. Like somehow those flaws will keep people from wanting to know me ... the real me. Flaws and all. I want acceptance as much as my little boy.

I'm thankful ... regardless of the world's acceptance ... Jesus accepts me.

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, And whose hope is the Lord. For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, Which spreads out its roots by the river, And will not fear when heat comes; But its leaf will be green, And will not be anxious in the year of drought, Nor will cease from yielding fruit. Jeremiah 17:7-8

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Laptops, Book Bags and Burdens

His face is tired. Flush from playing and learning all day. I lean over to kiss his forehead ... the smell of crayons and construction paper on his skin. His black Carhartt unbuttoned and drooping off one shoulder.

"Here Mama, carry this. And, this too." Kregg hands me his laptop bag and book bag. He keeps a library book in one hand.

I'm tired. I've been at work for over half the day. My feet hurt from high heels - the ones I just had to wear even though I know my feet will be sore by the end of the day. My head hurts. Kregg doesn't know I've been yelled at more times than I can count today. He doesn't know I've been pulled in what feels like 20 different directions. All he knows is ... he's tired and those bags are heavy. I nearly tell him, "no". But, then ... I take them and we wait for his older brother.

"I didn't have fun at recess today." Kregg hides one hand in mine.

"Why? You always like recess." I'm half listening and half watching for James.

"I got left out. I just sat on the sidewalk." Kregg buries his face in my coat and starts to cry. Not loud cries. The soft cries that most people wouldn't notice, but a mom can feel in her heart.

I wrap my arm around his shoulders. I let him cry because sometimes you just need to cry. James finds us in the school hallway. I can tell by the look on his face ... he knows Kregg is upset too. James hands me another book bag but carries his own laptop bag. We walk the short distance out the side door and to our car. My arms are worn out by the time I pile the load on my front seat and remind the boys to buckle their seat belts. I listen to Kregg as he tells me how his day was and why recess was 'not fun' today. I drive home as James recounts interesting details about history and how he finally got an 'A' on his spelling test.

Halfway home, the boys are in their own little world listening to the Disney radio station and arguing over who has the most homework.

I'm left in my own thoughts ... How many times do I come to Jesus with heavy bags? He waits for me and I come to Him. I hand Him the burdens I've carried all day. They're heavy and I'm tired. I know He's probably heard a thousand prayers and people have cried out to Him all day. But, He never tells me 'no' ... 'they're too heavy and I'm too tired'. Sometimes I cry. Not the loud kind of crying that others can hear but the quiet, soft crying that only He hears. He lets me. Because, He knows sometimes you just need to cry.

Matthew 11:28 "Come to Me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest."