Turtles in the Sun

Every day I walk past the same pond. Every day I look at the scenery and the setting because it’s quite beautiful. There are typically geese in the grass, ducks in the water, kids throwing stones, and all sorts of other happy activity. However, Last week when I went past the pond I noticed something quite different. The sun was shining bright that day so the pond was a popular place to be. On this particular afternoon I noticed several people crowding around to look at a branch that had fallen into the pond. A portion of one of its limbs was sticking out of the water, and on that branch was quite a sight. Perched on the branch with their faces to the sun were three turtles. They had obviously swum to the branch, crawled onto it, and stuck their heads out to sit in the sunshine. Now, I don’t know how common it is to see turtles sticking their heads out, but on this day, it sure was fun to see. Because turtles are animals that like to stay close inside their shell, and they are generally shy, reserved, and keep to themselves, I don’t feel like I get to see their faces very often. And on this beautifully sunny day,  these turtles had something different in mind. It was spring, the sun had finally thawed the last bit of Minnesota snow, and the turtles were stretching their faces toward the sun. I watched them for a while. It was such a sweet picture. Three little turtles, sitting on the branch sunbathing. As I sat there watching them, I had to ask myself, “do I need a little push to crawl out of my safe space? Do I need to take a break and look towards the sun?”  

Whether the turtles know who God is or not I could not tell you. But I do know turtles understand nature, and all of its beauty. They know when it’s a good time to come out of their shell and look towards the sun. How about you? Are there times you find yourself staying safe inside your shell? Are there days or seasons that you would like to crawl back into your spot and avoid the goodness that is all around you? How good and healthy and holy is it for us to lean our heads out towards the sun. God knows when we need some spring healing. He knows when our hearts need to thaw, whether it’s from a long cold winter or whether it’s from a hardened relationship, or difficult space. God wants to shine his brilliance all over you. He wants to warm your heart with the glow of his glory. Nature is God’s masterpiece, and he shares it with us. Have you turned your face to the sun recently? Have you let the warmth and goodness of God spill all over you? I pray that you do, and that you are filled with his presence. 

“the heavens  declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the work of his hands”.

Psalm 119:1

Road Closed

It’s summer in Minnesota. That means it’s construction season. For the past several days there has been a road closure near my house. It is on my usual route that I take to most places. Each time I leave the house, without really thinking about what I’m doing, I drive myself straight into the construction. Each time I have to turn around and find another route.You would think after several days of doing this I would figure it out. You would think after several times of being waived down by construction workers, whipping U turns to avoid trucks and large holes, that I would get it. That’s what you would think, but somehow I don’t. No matter how inconvenient it has become, no matter how obvious the large orange signs might be, I continue to try my usual route, seemingly thinking I know best.

I wonder if God ever looks at me like the construction worker. I wonder if he wonders if I’ll ever get it? Despite all the signs, despite making several U-turns, and despite driving into a mess, I continue to make the same mistakes. When God re-routes my life how hard is it for me to listen? If suddenly there is a roadblock or a change lane sign, do I drive right past it without noticing? I would like to think I don’t – but I do. I would like to think I’m more observant, a better listener, more open to change. But the truth is, I am quite used to my regular route. I’m quite comfortable with the way things are so when there is a change in my plans it bothers me. So many plans have been changed the last few weeks and so many routes are different. I wonder how long it will take me to embrace the new scenery? I wonder if along the way I will meet new people, pick up a new hobby or gain new wisdom. I wonder how many times I will drive past the road closed sign before I accept the new way? I am so glad God is patient with me. I’m thankful he has unending wisdom to direct me even when I think I know best. I wonder how many signs I’ve missed and wrong turns I’ve taken? Even still, he continues to gently guide me back to the right path. Proverbs 16:9 says “ in their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps”.

I’m glad God makes the ultimate plan as I would lead myself into trouble! Maybe someday I’ll see the signs a little faster! Maybe not. Either way, thankfully God continues to bring me back to him.

Yellow Car

Several years ago my family started playing a pretty ridiculous game. It actually all started on a road trip to Green Bay Wisconsin. We were traveling for a gymnastics competition. One of the gymnasts taught us this game, it’s called Manners. I have no idea why it’s called that, it makes no sense, but that is it’s name. The game goes like this: every time someone sees a yellow car they yell “manners” as fast as they can. The person who says it first, gets a point. As you can imagine, the game caught on quickly between my husband and my son. The competition grew fierce. The yelling was loud. The game suddenly had a life of its own!

Who knew there were so many yellow cars? I had never looked for yellow cars before this. Actually, I would tell you, I have never even noticed yellow cars until I played this game. Now I see yellow cars everywhere. I cannot help but see them. My eyes have been trained because If I am first to notice the car, I get the point – even if I’m not playing the game. I’m not as fast as my son, but I’m getting better. So the game continues on, it’s been running for about four years. And you would not believe how many yellow cars we see.

This game reminds me of how I see God’s hand in my life, and how I want to encourage you to see God’s hand in your life as well. Before I was looking for yellow cars, I didn’t notice any of them. I am sure I would drive past several every day and they would not catch my eye. Now that I am looking for them, I see them everywhere. God’s presence is like that. If we do not look for it, we will not see it. If we do not train ourselves to recognize it, we will miss it. We will miss it several times a day. But when we train our eyes and our hearts to see what God is doing right around us, we will begin to see His presence everywhere. It’s not like God is just showing up for the first time, he’s been here all along. It’s that we finally have eyes to see Him. We will be trained to look for all He has done and is currently doing. So my prayer each day is that I will recognize God‘s holy presence in my life. In my daily interactions, daily routines, relationships, joys and challenges. Because when I open my eyes to see Him, I suddenly noticed that God is everywhere.

“Keep your eyes open for God, watch for his works; be alert for signs of his presence”

Psalm 105:4

Running the Hill

The morning was bright and crisp. The house was surprisingly quiet so I decided to sneak away for a run. I use the word run lightly. It’s actually more of a trot, or a light jog. I could hardly tell you I am actually running. But my feet are moving forward, and I am covering some ground so it’s a start. Even though I may be slow, the scenery is beautiful and it’s always good for my brain just to be out and moving. I took my usual route,  down past the park, by the pond filled with turtles, ducks and geese. Then I swung back up the hill to go towards home. On this particular morning I chose not to run with music so I could hear the birds and really feel the outdoors. Spring is healing for me. The sun, the fresh air; I feel most alive when I am outside. So I slowly made my way through my route, accepting that I was slow and steady, enjoying the journey not the finish line. It felt good to not worry about my time or even the distance I had run. I wasn’t trying to beat anyone else, I was simply running. And enjoying it. 

As I began to head home and started up the hill I noticed a woman from the neighborhood running towards me. Her headphones were in her ears so I chose not to engage in much conversation. She too seemed to be out enjoying the beginnings of a beautiful day. Then something funny happened, as we drew near to one another she pulled one of her AirPods out, looked at me and simply said this, “good job on the hill”, She smiled and then put her headphones back in and continued on her way. That was it. One simple phrase. It was kind, hopeful, encouraging. She wouldn’t have had to say anything, that would have been acceptable, but she did. It impacted me so much all day. Not because I was crushing that hill, I’ll be honest, I wasn’t. But I was running it, slowly, but running it nonetheless.  What’s stuck with me was that she did not have to encourage me, she chose to. She saw a moment and took it. A few words. Simple. Profound.

This made me wonder how often I take the opportunity to encourage others. It reminded me how important and life-giving it is to build others up. Especially these days. People seem scared and withdrawn. We can’t see faces and smiles behind masks. Oftentimes others will move to the other side of the street when I approach as if I am dangerous. But today, I was shown kindness and encouragement. And I know, without a doubt,  I want to be one who builds others up. Not because I should, but because I can.

It’s Monday, an easy day to feel tired and discouraged, let’s choose to share some simple words of encouragement with those around us. Not because  they accomplish something, not when they impress us. How about when they are just being themselves. Let’s encourage one another not because we should, because we can!

“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing”.

1 Thessalonians 5:11

On my Feet

Yes this is another story about the puppy. I apologize, but these days he is probably the one I spend the most time with! Due to social distancing and  my kids being busy with online school, I spend a lot of time with the dog. I have begun having full conversations with him as well. Maybe some of you feel that way too!

Over the past few weeks I have noticed a new habit he has developed . He likes to sleep on my feet. Not at my feet, ON my feet. If I stand at the sink, he walks over and sits on my feet. If I move to the table, he follows me and promptly sits on top of my feet. If I move to the dishwasher, you guessed it – he follows me and again, and sits on my feet! Each time I change locations, Cooper changes locations with me. Each time I find a new place to stand, he finds my feet. I watched him this morning and laughed a bit. Poor guy is constantly moving. Although it can initially seem a little annoying, it is quite sweet that he finds comfort just sitting on my feet. I had an image of all of those religious pictures where folks are sitting at the feet of Jesus. I looked at my puppy seeking comfort, and wondered if all those folks were seeking comfort, from Jesus. It must have been amazing,  just to sit by his feet. Then I thought to myself, who do I follow when I need comfort? Do I find myself sitting at the feet of Jesus? Even with less activities, I still find myself distracted. I still seek other things. But I want to be a person who seeks comfort in Jesus. I want to find myself at his feet. Will I move myself until I find Him?

 I love that coming to Jesus brings me comfort, so why don’t I do that more often? The puppy is persistent. Am I? Do I truly seek Him or do I let other things temporarily comfort me? Jeremiah 29:13 says “you will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart”.

Today, with all its challenges, frustrations, and joys, I will seek Him. Knowing and trusting that just being in His presence, will comfort me.

In-Step

 Every day I attempt to walk the puppy. And every day it’s a gaggle of new problems. He still pulls on the leash, he still stops and watches every person that goes by, he still nips at my heels. I would love to tell you I am training this dog well, but I’m not sure that is the case. He is so cute, and so naughty at the same time. But each day I continue to walk him. Knowing that at some point he will figure this out. 

I have noticed something over the last several weeks, there is one person in the house he walks best with. She doesn’t even hold the leash, in fact she holds the other dog and walks in front. Her step is very steady. Her pace is always the same, she is never distracted, never frustrated, never stops. She keeps a quiet, continuous pace as we walk along. Surprisingly, the puppy follows her. He actually walks right behind her and gets in step with her pace. Her steady rhythm urges him to follow. Her even pace keeps his attention yet provides enough stimulation that he diligently follows along. I watched this today. As I frustratingly tried to manage the dog, I noticed how well he followed her, how much he wanted to be right behind her and that he did not nip at her heels, instead he got in line. Was it her steady rhythm? Was it her encouraging words? Was it her steadfastness? I’m not sure but I’m guessing it’s a combination of those things. Calm, steady, constant. Adjectives I probably wouldn’t put in my top 10  that I possess. 

But I’m glad God does. I’m so glad that in my bad moments, or in times I get distracted or act naughty, that God keeps a steady, calm yet encouraging pace. He softly and consistently guides me in the right direction. Very often I lose my focus and he gently gets me back on track. He keeps me in step. Psalm 32:8 states “the Lord says, I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you.” I can’t imagine how disorganized and chaotic the path would be if I tried to be in charge. I would take a lot of wrong turns. Thankfully God promises to be my guide each step of the way. And He promises to be yours as well. 

Messy Stuff

I need to apologize as this is going to be a little gross. After working with middle school students for several years, I have become totally unphased by “poop” stories. Not a youth group hour goes by where some middle schooler doesn’t crack a joke about poop, toilets, farts, you name it. For some reason that is the universal language of middle school students, and for some reason it’s funny, really funny. Although I have not come to see the humor in it, I have found myself engaging in it a time or two. So again, I apologize. This is about to poop. Like most dog owners, I often head to the backyard to pick up after my dog. Unlike some people’s well trained fury friends, my dog does not use the same place every day. In fact, it’s a little like a scavenger hunt, I have to search the whole backyard for whatever he has left me. Sometimes it’s behind the shed, sometimes it’s in the corner by the gate, and sometimes it’s right out in the open. No matter where it is, I have to walk through the grass, scanning left to right, making sure I don’t step in it first. The joys of having a dog!

Here’s what I have learned. Years and years and years after having a dog, I have discovered that no matter how hard I search, it seems that I always step in the mess before I actually find it. No matter how diligent my eyes may be scanning and no matter how studious I feel, I seem to find myself standing right in the pile before I was able to avoid it. I’ve come to realize this may be a metaphor for my life. No matter how hard I try to avoid stepping into the mess, I often find myself having landed right in the middle of it. I try diligently, work furiously, and plan carefully so I might avoid it. But somehow, inevitably I find myself standing in it first, and then I am forced to deal with it. And you know what else I’ve discovered? Life is messy. Very messy. And unlike my backyard, we don’t have to look very hard to find the mess. But  no matter how hard we try, or how diligent our efforts are and no matter what things we’re doing to avoid it, we often find ourselves standing in it. It seems as though the mess finds us first. 

Or is it maybe that we have to step into the mess to find it after all? Could it be that actually stepping into discomfort, pain, or frustration is exactly how we identify those areas. Could that possibly be the first critical step of dealing with the messes in our life? I would really like to think I can avoid it. If it’s unavoidable, I would like to think I can work my way around it. Maybe I can clean things up before I get there. But that’s not always how life works. Oftentimes we have to get into the mess, get into that space, so that we can begin to clean things up. I am so thankful that Jesus chose to do just that. He chose to enter a messy world and stand in the middle of that mess with us. I’m so thankful He chose to step into the center of my mess too. He does not try to avoid it, He does not try to fix it, or plan around it. He just gets in the middle of it. By stepping into the middle of my stuff, he is then able to truly find me there. And no matter how broken, weary, or frustrated I may be, Jesus continues to step into that space and stand in it with me. Joshua 1:5 says “I will be with you. I will never leave you or forsake you.” So no matter how messy it gets, I’m glad to know the One who stands in it with me.

The Hill at the End

A friend texted the other day and asked if some of us wanted to join him for a bike ride. Being that biking is completely outside, we could easily be together and continue to socially distance, this seemed like a good thing to do! The sun was bright and the air was warm. We could smell a hint of summer as we biked through the paths. With no agenda and really nothing to be back for, we followed the Three Rivers Regional Trail until our legs were aching. Each neighborhood we entered we talked about who lived close. It was like a parade only opposite in that we were watching all the houses as we passed them. It felt so good. Blue sky, great sun, physical activity, friends nearby. Although I could not see my friends in their homes  as I passed, I knew they were there, and it made me smile to think of them. Occasionally we told stories of the people we rode by, and the funny moments or memories we’ve shared. It was good. It was healthy. It was healing.

After what seemed like miles, we decided to head home. Immediately my mind began to anxiously think through a route we could take to get home that did not involve going uphill. We had come a long way, my legs were tired, my shoulders were burnt, my rear end hurt from the bike seat. No matter how many routes I ran in my head, each one of them included a long steep hill that would eventually lead home. I knew there was no way around it. 

How come life is sometimes like that? Why does it seem that when we are all but finished, the hardest part is still left? I had pushed myself the entire ride to keep up with the younger crowd. But what I did not realize was the hardest part would be the very last. But once I had completed that hill, I would be home and the ride would be awesome and complete. This journey we’re on feels a bit like that. We have come a long way, but we are not finished yet. Could it possibly be that we still have at least one more big hill to go? Could it possibly be that to get to the finish line we will have to endure another challenge or two? I don’t like that idea or that feeling. But I do know when I reach the end, the journey has been one worth being on. Colossians 1:11 says “We also pray that you will be strengthened with all His glorious power, so that you will have all the endurance and patience you need. May you be filled with Joy.”

My prayer is that you will feel patience and joy as we climb a few more hills, together. And if you feel like your journey is all uphill, know that you are not alone. There is One who travels with you up each hill, around every curve, gently leading you home.

In the Zone

Tonight my husband spent a little time with our new puppy. It was the end of the day, and the pup was a little crazy. Actually he’s crazy all day, but at this particular moment he was needing some extra attention. I had spent time training him, walking him and talking to him (yep that’s what I said), and he was still needy. So my husband got down on the floor to play with the dog. Maybe more commonly referred to as he got “in the zone”. As soon as he entered “the zone” the puppy dove his face into my husbands. His tail wagged briskly, and his little body shook with excitement. My husband was definitely “in the zone”. He was about to get some serious puppy love. You see when one enters “the zone” the dog knows you have come to his place to be with him. You’re at his level and in his space. He cannot help himself but to throw his body on yours and let you know he is so glad you are there. The puppy loves it when someone is in the zone. He can barely contain himself. He feels so loved, and he wants the visitor to feel loved as well. 

In all honesty, after six weeks of the “stay at home” order I do not feel like being in the puppy zone, the kid zone, the dinner zone or truthfully in any zone at all! Like many of you I am tired, the house is a total disaster, the kids are fighting, the internet is terrible and alone time is a scarcity in our home. At the end of the day, I hardly feel like getting in the zone and giving and receiving love. In fact the only zone I feel like I’m in is the Twilight Zone. I’m stuck in this odd place and cannot seem to find the way out. Even in my ugliest hour (and tonight got ugly!) I continue to be thankful that God is always in the zone. He is always in the business of giving and receiving love, and thank goodness he never tires of my issues and my attitudes. He’s ready and waiting to meet in my place, walk with me through my garbage and celebrate with me when the time comes. Lamentations 3: 22-23 reminds us that “the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness”. So today No matter what zone you find yourself in, know that God will joyfully meet you there. And no matter how overwhelmed, exhausted or anxious you feel, he cannot wait to throw His love all over you!

Buddy and the Ball

Today, just like every day, my daughter participated in her online gymnastics practice. Although they can’t be in the gym on the equipment, they continue to diligently practice each day. They do a series of exercises that will help them return to the gym as easily as possible. Splits, leaps, running, handstands, you name it, they do it all. Part of today’s workout included squeezing a tennis ball. Apparently it builds muscle in your fingers and wrists. While I sat and ate my second lunch, she squeezed a tennis ball. I knew what she was doing, Buddy, our ten year old Labrador did not. The minute she asked me to find a tennis ball and bring it to the basement it was like he was called to duty. His attention intensely focused on the ball. With each squeeze his eyes grew as if he was going to lunge towards the ball. Each time she released her grip his eyes would relax. For thirty minutes he sat next to her and watched her squeeze and release the ball. For thirty minutes he stared without moving another muscle, waiting for the ball to eventually fly into the air. He was ready. So ready. He is a Labrador, he was born to retrieve and he was just doing what he knows how to do best. He knows when someone is holding a tennis ball, he is supposed to retrieve it. But that is not what happened today. Buddy’s expectations were not met. In fact no matter how hard he stared at that ball, it did not move. No matter how much he wanted it to, that was not the plan for the tennis ball today. 

Sometimes I feel like Buddy. I have expectations of how things are supposed to go. I may try really hard to get them to work the way I want them to, but they don’t. I wait, I watch, I hope. But especially right now, my expectations are not met. There is so much I was planning on, hoping for, looking forward to. So much I was expecting. So much that will not turn out as I had hoped. And that is hard. 

But different from Buddy, I have the privilege of knowing that no matter what my expectations are, God holds the future. I may feel disappointed, and I may wish things were different, but I will push myself to trust that God knows what he’s doing. I am reminded in Proverbs 3:5-6 to “trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not in your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths.” So as things continue to change and it feels like plans unravel, I am reminded to trust. Completely. Fully. Totally.