In Memoriam

Once upon a time there was a small gray striped kitten with random orange patches. She was surrendered to the local Humane Society as a tiny baby and found herself one day in a cage outside a pet store with three of her furry siblings. A little girl with blond hair came along and stuck her fingers into the cage to get the kittens’ attention. The girl turned to her father and begged to be allowed to take a kitten home, and her Daddy said yes. The blond girl chose the striped kitten, who was so small she could fit into the palm of the Daddy’s hand! She rode to her new home in a box perched on the little girl’s lap.

At home, the parents told the little girl that she should give the kitten a name, so she did: Sally Hannah Juliana. The girl liked the way the last two names rhymed, and besides, Juliana was her own middle name. Over the years Sally Hannah grew and grew. She never tired of chasing laser pointers and she had a stuffed mousie that squeaked and she loved to carry the mousie around in her mouth. Sometimes she liked to run outside when the door was opened so she could roll around in the grass. She was always willing to bat around a little ball with a bell inside.

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During the day she followed the sun around as it shone through the windows so she could lay in its warmth. At night she would curl up on the bed with one of her people and keep their feet warm as they slept. It wasn’t always the same bed or the same person because she liked to keep things fair.

As Sally Hannah got older she got bigger and bigger. Her people said she weighed twenty pounds! Sally Hannah didn’t know what a pound was but if it was anything like food, she wanted as many as she could get. Sometimes she would lay on her back in the floor with all four paws in the air. For some reason this made her people giggle and take pictures. She didn’t care because it made them happy and it felt good. She also liked to look out the window and watch the birds and squirrels, who seemed to be teasing her. That was okay, though, because she had a comfortable house and nice people who took good care of her.

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Then one day Sally Hannah Juliana started feeling sick. Something inside her body didn’t feel right. All she wanted to do was sleep, and it seemed like too much trouble to walk to her food dish to eat, so she didn’t bother. Her people were worried so they took her to a doctor and the doctor put her in the hospital for a couple of nights. Once when she woke up in the hospital she had a tube sticking out of her neck and it felt weird. The people at the hospital kept doing things to her and wouldn’t leave her alone to sleep, which was what she wanted to do. Finally one of her people came to take her home and Sally Hannah was hopeful that maybe everything was going to be okay.

But it wasn’t. She came home with the tube-thing in her neck and it made her drool all the time, which was messy and caused her to lick her lips a lot. She still didn’t want to eat and she wanted to rest but it was hard to find a good position with the tube there. And now instead of doctors it was her people who kept coming in and doing things to her with that uncomfortable tube, and while she loved the people, she wished they would just go away and let her sleep.

Then one morning Sally Hannah’s people came to feed her and they could see that she was feeling worse than ever. They were worried and sad. All of them petted her gently and told her how much they loved her and what a good kitty she was, with tears in their eyes. Even through her pain she could tell they really cared. And then they showed her how much they loved her because they finally, finally, let her go to sleep, which was what she had been wanting all along.

Yesterday we had to say goodbye to our Sally Hannah Juliana. She was a part of our family for nine years and was full of personality. She was never any trouble, unless you count sharpening her claws on the sofa and harking up the occasional hairball. All she desired in life was a full food dish and a soft place to sleep. She was a good kitty right up until the end, even though I know we must have made things more difficult for her by trying so hard to hang on when she was ready to go. RIP, Sally Hannah Juliana. We will miss you.

Small Things Matter: Fair Trade Friday Club

With the 24-hour news cycle nowadays it’s hard to turn a blind eye to the fact that people all over the world are suffering. I see the news stories about a famine here, and a flood there, and poverty everywhere. And I think, what can I do? 

I don’t have a lot of money to make grand gestures or give to charity. I wish I did because there are many, many worthy organizations out there doing all they can to help people and they could use support. I mean, I do what I can when I can. I just don’t always know if it’s truly helpful – know what I mean?

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A few months ago I started seeing posts about something called Fair Trade Friday Club popping up on my social media. I didn’t know what it was. I thought maybe people made a point of purchasing fair trade goods and wearing them on Fridays. But it was (and is) so much more than that. The Fair Trade Friday Club is all about empowering women who live in extreme poverty by enabling them to work as artisans and earn a fair wage.

But the artisans aren’t the only ones who benefit. Fair Trade Friday Club was born in order to help support Mercy House Kenya, an organization established to help young women who have become pregnant as a result of rape or forced prostitution. Mercy House provides a safe place to live in addition to education and health care for these mothers. As the mother of three daughters myself, I have a soft spot for Mercy House and the good work they do there.

And let’s just talk about how much fun it is to open the box and examine the lovely items, all of which are well made and carry a story.

Take this beautiful pouch, for instance. On the tag are the names of three women who contributed to its creation. Three women I can now pray for by name used their skills to make this bag and were paid fairly for their work, which enables them to support their families.

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Or these beaded bracelets. Oh my word! My box came with two of these lovelies and although I don’t normally wear a lot of jewelry I can already tell I’m going to be wearing these with everything. These were made by someone in Nepal and they are simply exquisite. The photo does not do them justice. I can’t decide whether to wear them both or to keep one and give one away.

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And this journal. Y’all, it’s so pretty I’m not sure I can bring myself to write in it.  The pages are creamy, unlined, and textured, and the cover is a sunset orange/gold with a silver print and somewhere in India are the hands that made it. Every time I use it I will be reminded to pray for the artisans who produced this beauty.

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If you love these items and you want to be a part of the great work being done by Fair Trade Friday Club and Mercy House Kenya, it’s easy to get involved. Go to Fair Trade Friday Club and sign up to receive your very own box of awesome every month. (If you sign up and find that next month’s boxes are all claimed, please sign up for the waiting list.) If your budget won’t support the cost of an entire box every month, consider signing up for the Earring of the Month club. Or if you’d like to try it out to see if it’s for you, you can order a one-time box. You can also go to the Mercy House Shop and order some of the individual items that tickle your fancy. To me (and maybe to you too) the cost of a box, or a pair of earrings, or a scarf might be a small thing. But to someone on the other side of the world that small thing matters.

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It also turns out that we can tackle poverty, one month at a time, one box at a time, and look good while doing it. I call that a win-win.

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Award Season

It happens every year around this time. Social media lights up with the happy news of  college acceptances, dances, parties, and school awards. Smiling faces beam as parents share the accomplishments of their children. And of course they should celebrate these things. When hard work pays off there should be recognition and celebration, right?

 

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While I am not an advocate of giving awards for just continuing to breathe (that’s its own reward, eh?),  I admit I sometimes get weary of watching some awesome kids get overlooked again and again while other equally awesome kids get rewarded over and over. The overlooked ones endure the season of ceremonies, parties, and graduations, never once hearing their name announced and yet they have so much to offer the world. The world just doesn’t know it yet.

So here’s to the brave ones, the kids who sit alone in the cafeteria day after day and still show up.

The kids who don’t get invited to the parties and proms, who are left at home to see on social media all the fun they missed.

The kids who work extra hard and study for hours for that big test, only to receive a disappointing grade yet again.

The kids who get pushed around in the school hallways or on the playground by bullies and get back up time after time.

I see you trying. You matter. You’re a winner in my eyes.

Here’s to the ones who have a less-than-ideal home life, who worry about what’s going to happen next.

The ones who don’t live in a house, who live in a shelter or with family, or even in a car.

The ones who hate for school to end because with the school year ends the hot meals they can rely on at least five days of the week.

The ones who see violence and abuse in the home, sometimes against themselves, for whom school represents safety.

You deserve a medal. And a safe home, and a hot meal, and relief from worry. You’re a winner because you persevere.

The kids for whom simply sitting still in class and paying attention require monumental effort.

The ones who struggle at reading or writing or math because they have a condition like dyslexia or dysgraphia or dyscalculia, and it’s invisible so it either goes undetected or unassisted. (yes, those are all real things)

The kids who fly so far under the radar that they fade into the background and are forgotten by both classmates and teachers.

You are special, intricately crafted in the image of your Creator. You are made to do big things. Don’t ever forget that. You’re a winner to me.

The ones who don’t make the sports team or the Honor Roll or the class play, but still keep trying.

The kids who feel like they are not good at anything because they don’t fit the world’s mold.

The ones who are talented and gifted, but not in the ways that a school or the world normally recognizes.

Keep trying, dear ones. People are noticing and applauding you, even if you don’t see it. You are uniquely gifted by the One who made you.

One day these children will grow up and it’s quite likely that none of them will remember who won what award in 3rd grade, or 6th grade, or 11th grade, unless perhaps they were one of the award winners.

For all the kids out there who are feeling left out, not worthy, and unseen in this season: I stand and applaud you. The world needs you and your uniqueness. I wish I could hang a medal around your neck just so you could have a tangible reminder of how special you are.

For everyone who loves one of those kids, keep loving them wholeheartedly and without reservation or condition. They need to know someone’s in their corner and that they have a safe place to land so they can become all that God created them to be.

And for all you teachers out there going beyond the call of duty, I honor you for the way you love “your” kids. You share your heart, your wallet, your talents, your time, and sometimes your lunch to give them the best school experience possible. I see you, and God sees your sacrifices for these precious ones. They are jewels in your crown, treasure being laid up in Heaven.

Hang in there, sweet ones. Your time is coming.

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. – Romans 5:3-4

Hope is a Dare

Recently I took my four-year-old granddaughter to a new-to-us playground and had a fantastic time. She was absolutely enchanted with all the play equipment and cried when we had to leave. The next day I decided to take her back and as we were driving, out of the blue she started telling me why she wouldn’t be able to play there again. Basically she told me that “they” had probably taken the whole thing down so she couldn’t play there.

At first I thought it was just pessimistic thinking and I tried to cheer her up. After all, I was driving her TO that very playground and I was pretty sure that nobody had plans to disassemble it any time soon.

She continued to insist that the playground would be gone.

Somebody took it apart in the night and she could never play there again, she said.

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It was right about then I realized what she was doing: she was insulating herself against disappointment. She was afraid to hope.

My little one wanted to enjoy that park so much that she was scared to look forward to it. She was preparing to have the rug jerked out from under herself. I felt my heart break a little for this baby who already felt the need to protect herself from hurt.

Now, in fairness, we all have to deal with disappointment, and I don’t believe my grandgirl has had any more disappointment than other kids her age.

But I sure have caught myself in the same line of thinking. Afraid to hope for the best. Scared to believe that God has anything good for me. Thinking that if something seems too good to be true then it probably is.

I’ve been a settler most of my life. Not the kind that explores new territory, but the kind that “settles” for less than the best. “Good enough” has usually been my “best”. I don’t think I’ve done myself any favors with that attitude.

I don’t set my sights very high because somewhere down deep inside I don’t feel like I deserve anything better than “good enough”.

I don’t dare to hope for more because what if I don’t get it? Who wants to set themselves up for that kind of disappointment?

Ultimately I lay that failure to hope squarely at the feet of my shaky faith.

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. Hebrews 11:11

I don’t dare to hope because sometimes I have trouble believing that God is good, and that He is on my side. I try to pretend it’s humility but it’s really a weak confidence in myself and in Him.

If I can believe Him then it’s safe to hope in Him because even if things don’t go the way I hoped, He will be there to help me pick up the pieces. One of my favorite passages in scripture is in Daniel, when Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are brought before the King to answer for their refusal to worship the golden statue. Right before they are thrown into the fiery furnace, they lay it all out:

 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand.  But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” Daniel 3:17-18

Paraphrase by Kim: We know that He can, but we accept that He may not save us for reasons of His own that we cannot understand. Either way, no thanks. We will not worship your man-made god.

That is faith, friends.

We know that He can, but we accept that He might choose not to. (This truth is especially wrenching when I think about my history of miscarriage and infertility.)

In the end, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were indeed thrown into the furnace, but just as they predicted God delivered them and the fire did not touch them.

He can be trusted. He has proven Himself over and over, even though He doesn’t have to.

Even when the situation seems impossible, He can see the ending.

I don’t have to be afraid to put my hope in a God who can protect three men in a fiery furnace. And that same God is for me and has good things planned for me. Why is that so hard to believe?

Hope feels like a dare to me. Hope is standing on the end of a diving board not knowing if the pool below is full of water to catch me, or an empty hole promising only a hard fall.

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The truth is that either way He will be there to catch me.

Emily Dickinson said:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.

I don’t pretend to understand all of it, but it sounds like hope is hard to squelch. I can pretend I don’t care and expect the worst, yet hope can still be quietly singing the tune without the words.

My sweet girl was thrilled to see that the playground was still there, just as she left it the day before. We’ve been back since then and she has never again mentioned the possibility that it would be gone.

So maybe it takes realizing how my hopes have been fulfilled over and over to keep hoping even during those times they’re not.

And just a little bit of faith.

No More Waiting: What Happened and What I Learned

One day I know I will laugh about the whole house situation and it will be even clearer then than it is now that God just moved.

Because He did.

You remember that we were looking for a bigger house, one that would accommodate our family of now-seven. We found one that we all loved and made an offer, which was accepted. But there was a hiccup, and we didn’t know if we would actually be able to complete the contract. And I was a little wigged out by all the waiting. (Okay, a lot wigged out)

That hiccup dragged on and on, and we decided to look at some other houses (around 15 of them) just in case this one fell through. We did find another one that suited us and we felt that we would be happy in either house. And then we waited some more. A deadline was set for our original dream home and last Sunday was the day of reckoning. Just as the clock ticked down and we began to prepare an offer for the “backup home” we received word that our original contract was going to go through. Right when we were ready to give it up and move on, God moved.

I wasn’t sure how to feel. I had spent an entire weekend imagining myself in one or the other of those two homes and then telling myself to stop thinking about it until we knew something for sure. Now we did know for sure and I admit to feeling a little regret over the home we didn’t buy.

Our prayer had been for God to put us in the home He wanted us to have, and we believe that’s what He has done.

At any rate, we are moving again, almost exactly a year to the date we moved to Virginia. God has a sense of humor.

He also has an exquisite sense of timing. Even when we thought He’d dropped the ball and forgot about us, He still had a plan. His timing is just different from ours, that’s all.

So what did I learn from all this worrying and scurrying?

First of all, I learned that worrying does absolutely nothing to move things along. It tricks you into feeling like you’re doing something, yet nothing changes. All worry does is fray nerves, steal sleep and breed impatience. It preoccupies your mind and takes your eyes off God. In Matthew 6:27 Jesus says, “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” Of course not! There comes a time when you have to admit you are helpless, then you lay it down and you let it go.

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Secondly, I discovered that it’s possible to have peace in the midst of the storm. Now, I know buying a new house is not exactly on par with a life-threatening illness or natural disaster so please forgive my first world problems. But when the Bible talks about peace that passes understanding, I know what that means. It means peace that is out of your control, peace that has no logical reason for existing. It means when you have every right to be falling apart, God sends a supernatural peace your way.

Thirdly, there is overwhelming relief in laying down my burden at His feet. I had to do that over and over again. Every time it came to my mind, every time my squirrelly brain started up with the “what if?” chorus again, I closed my eyes and pictured myself opening my hands and laying my concerns at the foot of His throne. Simplistic? Maybe, but it worked for this girl.

And lastly, I found that waiting won’t kill me. I am terrible at it and I make so secret about that, but I survived. I’d go so far as to say that I came out better than I started. You have no idea how much it pains me to say that.

God once again proved Himself to be faithful, although He didn’t need to prove anything to me.

It’s about to get all crazy up in here again as we box up seven people’s worth of stuff and move it to the new place in June, but I’m confident that God is going before us to prepare the way. At least this time we’re moving seven miles away instead of 400.

If anyone needs me, you can find me behind a wall of cardboard boxes.

Walking Through Uncertainty, Part 2

My cat is doing just fine now, thanks for asking. :-)

As this post goes to press, my family is playing a waiting game concerning a very vital aspect of our lives: where we’re going to live.

See, a few weeks ago our little family of four expanded to seven when my grown daughter, son-in-law, and small granddaughter moved in with us. The plan is for them to stay with us until my son-in-law finishes college, which should take a couple of years. And we are glad to have them, because up til now they’ve lived about eight hours away from us and it’s hard to be the best Nana of them all when you’re that far away.

So my husband and I decided that for the sanity of all concerned it would be best to sell this house and find something roomier so we wouldn’t be all up in each other’s business all the time. We put our house on the market in early March and it sold in six days. That’s right, six days. One day I’ll get around to writing a blog post about the sheer madness of that time but it’s still a little too fresh right now for me to find it funny just yet.

Our new hobby was looking at houses for sale, and there were surprisingly few that met our size and school zone criteria. After one false start with a house that had safety issues, we found it. It was (is) beautiful. It had plenty of space, a nice yard, and (wait for it…) a pool! I could totally see myself living in that house for a long time. So we negotiated and agreed on a price.

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But.

There’s a contingency. Without going into too much detail, it appears that a lot of pieces will need to fall into place for us to purchase this house. It could easily go either way. And so we wait to hear, not knowing if we are moving and if we are, where exactly we will land. It’s hard to plan when you just don’t know what’s coming.

Meanwhile, there’s a buyer out there with a contract on the home we now live in who is proceeding in good faith.

And we are doing lots of waiting. Waiting. Waiting…

I detest the uncertainty, yet it’s at those times of vulnerability and waiting that I can grow by learning to lean on God for peace of mind.

My default setting is to worry the situation to death, imagining all possible outcomes to ensure that I’m not surprised by any of them. I try on all the resolutions for size, testing the fit and feel of each one so that whatever result I get, it feels at least little familiar. Or so I think.

I don’t think that’s what God means when He tells us we can trust Him.

Trusting Him means believing that He is for me and He has my best interests in mind. That’s not always easy for me.

I try to insulate myself from disappointment by anticipating it. If it’s a new job, I tell myself that someone else is more qualified than I am and will certainly be offered the position.

If it’s a dream, I hear my inner Doubting Thomas saying that I’ll never really be able to do it. After all, how many other dreams have I had in the past that I’ve had to abandon? And the old chestnut, “You’re just not good enough.”

If it’s a thing (like this house), somehow it seems too good for me, like I shouldn’t aspire to such nice things. I should stick with something small and humble. (and there’s nothing wrong with small and humble, by the way) So I tell myself it won’t happen, that way I won’t be disappointed.

I’m stifling any flicker of Hope, basically – not even giving it a chance. And I don’t want to be that person walking around without Hope.

Apparently there’s a part of me that feels undeserving, believing that I am unworthy of whatever it is I’m reaching out for.

Yet I don’t believe God sees me that way, so I’m working hard to see myself through His eyes.

He loves me enough to send His Son to die for my sins.

He calls me His Beloved.

He has a plan for me.

He works all things out for my good.

He is for me.

   For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. – Jeremiah 29:11

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. – Romans 8:28

I’m holding tight to those promises in the uncertainty.

 

 

Walking Through Uncertainty, Part 1

As I’ve written before, I’m a girl who likes to know what’s coming next. I don’t like waiting and I don’t like uncertainty. Honestly, I don’t know anyone who does. Impatience is pretty much a universal human condition, wouldn’t you say?

Lately things around my house have been uncertain to the extreme.

We have a dearly loved cat who has chronic health problems. We recently learned that he will be on medication and prescription food for the rest of his life. He was already high-maintenance even without the addition of meds and special food. But our middle daughter LOVES that cat, and he’s a sweet boy (for the most part) so we’re committed to dealing with the medication and food for the next few years.

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A few days ago I noticed that Elvis (yes, that’s his name) was looking a little scruffy. His food was going untouched. He was not grooming himself and he was “leaving his mark” in the house in places other than his litter box. This is not good for many reasons, one of which is that we just sold this house (which I will cover in the next post) and also because hello, the smell. And I don’t think I can take the sadness of my teenager if something happens to this cat.

I did some research (what did we do before Google??) and started taking some steps to help him recover. I already knew from what the vet told us a couple of weeks ago that a recurrence could be the end for Elvis because there was nothing else they could do. I also started preparing my teen for the possibility that Elvis might not make it. The whole house went into Cat Watch status.

And I prayed. Listen, if you don’t think God cares about the details, you are dead wrong. Nothing escapes Him. If we care, then He cares, because He loves us.

Then I walked through the uncertainty. Or more accurately, I wallowed, crawled, and moaned through the uncertainty. I did what I could do and I prayed for God to do what only He could do, and I waited. Have I already mentioned how bad I am at waiting? Because I am.

It seems like such a petty thing, to pray for a cat’s health, yet I believe God cares because we do. My middle girl has been through a lot of changes in the past year: moving to a new state and trying to adjust to a new school (and struggling), along with normal teenaged hormonal changes. I cannot imagine the blow to her fragile and still developing sense of stability if she lost her furry companion. But I also knew that if God allowed it to happen, He would get us through it somehow.

So for the last few days I’ve been walking the tightrope of okay/not okay and trying to prepare for every eventuality, although there’s no way to really do that. I’ve been a bundle of nerves, all over a cat! And I think that while I’ve prayed for God to intervene, I haven’t allowed myself to actually believe that He would.

I watched IF:Gathering online in February and near the end, the speaker asked everyone to take a rock and write on it a word God had impressed upon them. Ever since then I (along with some sweet IF:Voxer sisters – you guys know who you are, and I love you) have been challenging myself to really believe God.

Believe that He is good.

Believe that He is for me and my good.

Believe that He is who He says He is, and His word is true.

Believe that He answers prayer.

Because I go to Him in prayer with all my concerns and then I’m surprised when He answers. Why is that? Am I missing something critical in my spiritual development? A sense of expectancy, perhaps?

Ultimately, I think there is a part of me that feels undeserving. If I was truly deserving then it would be some kind of earned justice and not grace (unmerited favor) when God sends blessings my way. I also have a hard time sometimes seeing God as a loving Father who wants the best for me. These are things I’m working on, and like the father of the possessed boy in Mark 9,  I say, “I do believe, help me overcome my unbelief!”

I want to be the kind of person who prays about a problem or concern and waits expectantly, knowing God will answer and that His answer will be for her good, whether the answer is “yes”, “no”, or “not now”. But I’ve also been so disappointed by people in the past that it blurs my view of my Father, and that’s not fair to Him. And in the end, even though what I was walking through was painful at the time, all those experiences have formed me into the person I am now and I can honestly look you in the eye and tell you God worked things out for my good (Romans 8:28).

And speaking of good things, I’m happy to report that Elvis the kitty is showing positive signs of improvement. I think he’s going to be just fine. Now if we could just find a house to live in…. (to be continued)