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.

1000 Piece Puzzle

I stopped by my mom’s house the other day. My son has been baking for her, and we had some treats to deliver. With all this extra time on his hands he has taken to baking. He had made popovers for his grandmother. If you have ever eaten popovers you know they are best right out of the oven, so as soon as they finished cooking we raced over there. On her kitchen table was a 1000 piece puzzle. She has been dutifully working on it and asked us to give her a little help. The picture was of a 1950’s dinner. The diner was filled with teenagers with high ponytails and poodle skirts. Some were dancing to the jukebox in the corner while others were enjoying malts at the red and white checkered tables. The colors were bright and vivid. The feeling was happy and fun. My daughter looked at the puzzle and said “that looks so fun, I wish that’s what we did.” I found it interesting she did not comment on the clothes or the food in the picture, but the feeling. She was right, it did look fun. What caught my attention the most was that everyone’s heads were up and they were looking at each other, eye to eye. I quickly realized that was because there were no phones, no personal distraction devices. They were engaging with one another. For a moment I wondered what life would be like if I did not have a phone pulling me in several directions at once. I wondered what it would be like if my kids didn’t have one. We would not have to compete for attention with whatever is on the screen. I’ll be the first to admit I could put my phone away more often, like really away. And just be present in the present. Maybe this week I will challenge myself to do just that. Maybe this week I’ll work hard to keep my eyes up, to see all the goodness and beauty right in front of me..

I’m so thankful our God does not get distracted or give us only part of his attention. I’m so thankful He sees me and knows me. I’m so glad God never tells me to “hold on” when I come to Him. Our God is an ever present God. Isaiah 65:24 says, “Before they call I will answer.” God is ready and waiting to talk to us, to be with us because He loves us, and He will never take his eyes off us.

Running Together

The other day I went out to run stairs. It has been over a month of baking treats, eating sweets and  takeout. I have so enjoyed all those good things but now it’s definitely time to get back out! I knew I would be slow, I knew it would hurt a bit, I knew it might be ugly. But I went out. I like to run stairs because there’s a beginning and an end. I can count how many times I go up and down them. It makes me feel very accomplished even if I don’t get that many done. Well this particular time I was slow. And I mean slow. It has been weeks since I actually physically pushed myself due to all the adjustments in the house. So I was seriously lacking endurance! As I finished stair number five I received a text from my daughter. “I’ll meet you there soon” was all it said. Right away I noticed my pace began to quicken and my steps began to feel lighter. Each time I came to the top of the staircase I would look down the street to see if she was on her way. Each time I did not see her I would race back down the steps only to climb them once again. I knew she would get there, she always does. She’s reliable, consistent, and true to her word. When she says she will do something, she does. So I kept running stairs. I didn’t want to. But I did it anyway, because I knew she would be joining me soon. After what seemed like an eternity I saw her ponytail bouncing behind her as she ran towards me. My pace quickened even more as I finished that last round of stairs faster than I began. I did not realize how comforting it is to have someone you can depend on. I knew she would show up. She said she would. That knowledge kept me going. It made me try harder, run faster, do better. 

And although my dependable child won’t always be near me, God will. God promises us in his word that He will never leave us nor forsake us. He promises us he will be with us always. Hebrews 13:5 says “never will I leave you, never will I forsake you”. During times of uncertainty like the ones we are in now, it is so good to know I have a God I can depend on. It is so good to know that he will run every stair with me, be in every challenge with me, be in every joy with me as well. Because we have a God we can depend on. And that makes it all worth it!

May you know today that God is dependable, constant, and true. He promises to be with us. We can be comforted today knowing that through all the hills we climb and challenges we face, God is with us. 

Who decided this was a good idea?

That was the statement my daughter made last night. She’s in college now and obviously so mature. Her younger sister asked me to pierce her ears. Let me clarify, she has her ears pierced. Actually she has a double piercing already. So what I would be doing is putting in a triple pierce. We did a Google search as any good mother would do when she was poking a pin into her child’s ear and it seemed easy. We got the potato, sterilized the pin, iced her earlobe and even found the studs from her last piercing. After pop thoroughly numbing her ear we decided it was time. We put the potato behind her earlobe, and I raised the pin to her ear. That is when her sister looked at us and said “who decided this was a good idea?” The thought did cross my mind, “what if I make a mistake? What if I do something wrong?” My college student was right, who did think this was a good idea? 

I’m so thankful that when God created you and that He did so with confidence. I’m so thankful He looked at His creation and thought this is good. I’m extra thankful that God doesn’t make mistakes. Although oftentimes this world might trick us into believing less about ourselves, we are created beautifully, perfectly. And no matter what you may hear from voices around you, remember God doesn’t make mistakes. Psalm 66:5 says “take a good look at God’s wonders, they will take your breath away(the Message).” Not only are the mountains and oceans, sunrises and sunsets God’s magnificent creation, but you and I are God’s wonders as well. My prayer for you today is that you would know deep in your heart that you were created perfectly, exactly the way you were meant to be. That’s no mistake!

And yes, I did pop the pin through her earlobe! And yes, I did make one mistake, luckily one that was easy to fix!

Write down Psalm 66:5 and put it in a place you will see it often such as your mirror, the fridge door or on the coffee machine. Be reminded today that you were made perfect!

It’s a Circus

Our family had one of those “have to get out of the house” moments yesterday. We have really been social distancing well and the cooler weather last week in Minnesota really does make it easier. But the sun is now shining and the weather is nicer, which, unfortunately, makes staying at home a lot harder. Anyway, this past weekend we decided we needed a family outing. The kids have been diligently researching which ice cream shops are open and we have tried to go to one each week. I know that’s not the healthiest family activity, but it sure is fun. This weekend we were able to confirm that Adele’s frozen custard shop in Minnetonka was indeed open for business, drive through only of course! So after a long day of housework and homework, we decided to throw the whole family (and I mean whole) into the minivan and head out for ice cream. Four kids, 1 puppy, a 10 year old dog and two parents all stuffed into the car. (The cat wouldn’t come, he was glad to see us leave!) We were literally like a circus on wheels. The puppy crawled all over the car looking for crumbs on the floor, which often led him to get stuck in precarious places. The old dog sat diligently in between the two front seats as though the space was made especially for him. The kids sit two and two in the middle and back rows and somehow the older college kids always end up crawling into the way back. As we pulled into the drive through line the puppy tried to hang his whole body out of the window while my son blasted music from his phone (remember he has BRIGHT PINK hair!). I wondered how many people were talking about us. We were “those” people. The ones you look at and wonder what is going on in their minds. Yep, that was us. After waiting 20 minutes we ordered our ice cream and happily drove away to find a parking spot. As we pulled into the spot I could just feel the eyes in the car next to us look over. Without hesitation the woman in the front seat said “oh look at the puppy!” And her whole family rolled down their windows to take a look. It was at that moment I realized we were not the only circus in town. Sitting in the back seat of her car were two kids, a dog and a cat! Somehow they had managed to get their whole crew in the car as well. They too, were out for a snack and a drive. They laughed as they told us about their animals and asked about ours. We counted who had more living things in their car and we laughed at each other’s stories. It was a moment to remember! We could have been our own parade! 

Eventually we needed to head home so we said goodbye to our new friends and drove away. It felt good to be together. It felt good to be in this whole crazy situation – together. It felt good to be reminded of all the good around me. Sometimes the news can make me forget, and I think the whole world is sad and negative. But tonight, in a quiet parking lot in Minnetonka, two families shared stories, they shared smiles, and they shared a few laughs, none of which social distancing can take away.

The world can be pretty dark these days, and the media is fueling the fear. People are scared, and fear makes people do irrational things. It’s at times like these that it’s especially important that we show kindness to others. A smile, a hello, a wave from across the street. You have no idea how important one of these simple gestures might be for someone. Ephesians 4:32 tell us, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

May you have a blessed weekend and have eyes to see the good that is right in front you!

Church in the Living Room

We failed again. Last week our family attempted to watch an online church service. With high hopes, and feeling a little proud of ourselves, we all gathered around the television, turned on the service, and waited to feel like churchgoers! I imagined a Holy moment would take place. It was not very long before things began to unravel. One child needed to go to the bathroom, one started doing sit ups, one pulled out some coloring, and the other actually sat and listened. That was only the beginning! As the service went on the antics increased. Sit ups led to a complete cardio routine. That looked like so much fun that a few others joined in. As the sermon began I could hear preaching in one ear and counting in the other. I looked around and wondered what I had done wrong. It seemed ironic and obnoxious at the same time. I work in a church, and my own kids don’t sit for a service. But as I looked at each one of them, I realized they were engaging in church exactly as who they are. They did not dress up, be quiet, sit nicely or any of those churchy things. But they did show up. I wondered what the folks were like who came to hear Jesus. Something tells me they were a motley crew, maybe a bit like mine. But they were there, mess and all. They showed up. Do you think that’s exactly what God wants from us? To show up? My bet is he doesn’t care how we look, what we wear, how nicely we sit or if we even sit at all. My guess is he just wants us to show up, to be there. My guess is he engages with us, exactly as we are. Broken, hurting, tired, anxious, fidgety, bored you name it. He’s just glad we are there. Don’t get me wrong, I do believe church is important. I think it is important that we worship, serve and grow as a community, but I do believe we should be able to “come as we are”. So maybe church in the living room isn’t so bad after all. Maybe it doesn’t matter where church is at all, maybe it’s wherever we encounter God. Now that’s Holy.

James 4:8 says “come near to God and he will come near to you”.

Where have you encountered God this month? How can we honestly bring ourselves before Him each day?