Birthdays and Deathbeds

I am by nature, an introvert. I really enjoy people, but my social tank gets filled up rather quickly, and I tend to get more energized with solitude. This introversion has progressed especially since becoming a mama, and I find that my word quota is maxed out by about 5:30 every evening. I end up with nothing left to give socially, and no desire to receive much, either. There are days that I’d like to hide away (there are days that I do hide away) instead of interacting with others. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with feeding my introvert on occasion – to re-energize – but there is danger in over-indulging, and believing that I can do this life thing on my own. (In the same way there is danger in extroverts depending completely on the company of others for survival.)

Years ago, a favorite professor gave me a book of poems as a graduation gift. I enjoyed reading the book partly because I appreciate poetry, but mostly because reading it gave me a sense of belonging in the midst of post-college obscurity. I had just completed a (worthwhile, but not monetarily valuable) degree in writing. Shockingly enough, I didn’t have mobs of publishers clawing at my door, begging for my work; I just had a lot of…time.

In the quiet of a coffee shop, I sat reading each poem, feeling rather sophisticated as I sipped on my cappuccino (pinky extended, I’m sure) pretending to understand the deeper meaning behind each verse. But there was one poem in particular (that I really did understand) that spoke to me, and through the years has shaped my life in some way. It’s challenged my introverted tendencies (like sitting in a coffee shop all by myself with my nose in a book). It has often floated into my mind on occasions when I’ve felt tempted to retreat inward rather than reaching out to others and embracing what feels exceedingly uncomfortable. There have been many times that I’ve wanted to share this poem with friends, but didn’t know how to do that without ostensibly sticking my nose in the air. (Poetry has a way of doing that, you know.)

But today is my birthday. And birthdays (deathbeds, too, I suppose) give platform to a good commemorating speech, without the interruption of opposing opinions from the audience, and maybe even receiving a few humoring nods of agreement.

So for my birthday, I’d like to (virtually) recite this poem. Not to try and teach a lesson, or to convince the world that because I’ve read it that I have somehow managed to become what it says (any more than watching a YouTube video on self-defense makes me a black belt). I want to share it because it’s shaped me. I still struggle. There are days when I close all my blinds and lock the door. Days that I want to run fast and far because relationships are hard and messy and hermit life sounds a lot safer. I just want to share it because it’s been so impactful on my life, and today I celebrate life.

Chances are, I’ll probably recite it on my deathbed, too.

house by the road

The House by the Side of the Road

Sam Walter Foss (1858-1911)

There are hermit souls that live withdrawn

In the place of their self-content;

There are souls like stars, that dwell apart,

In fellowless firmament;

There are pioneer souls that blaze their paths

Where highways never ran –

But let me live by the side of the road

And be a friend to man.

 

Let me live in a house by the side of the road,

Where the race of men go by –

The men who are good and the men who are bad,

As good and as bad as I.

I would not sit in the scorner’s seat,

Or hurl the cynic’s ban –

Let me live in a house by the side of the road

And be a friend to man.

 

I see from my house by the side of the road,

By the side of the highway of life,

The men who press with the ardor of hope,

The men who are faint with the strife.

But I turn not away from their smiles nor their tears

Both parts of an infinite plan –

Let me live in a house by the side of the road

And be a friend to man.

 

I know there are brook-gladdened meadows ahead

And mountains of wearisome height;

That the road passes on through the long afternoon

And stretches away to the night.

But still I rejoice when the travelers rejoice.

And weep with the strangers that moan,

Nor live in my house by the side of the road

Like a man who dwells alone.

 

Let me live in my house by the side of the road –

It’s here the race of men go by.

They are good, they are bad, they are weak, they are strong,

Wise, foolish – so am I;

Then why should I sit in the scorner’s seat,

Or hurl the cynic’s ban?

Let me live in my house by the side of the road

And be a friend to man.

 

Christmas 1 and Christmas 2, Too.

I read this excerpt by Dale Kiefer last Christmas, and when I finished, that little proverbial light bulb over my head flickered on. It was an aha moment that set me flying free in truth.

At the time, all I had known about the author was that he was my friend’s dad. But this Thanksgiving, Dale and his wife Pat opened their home to us and our relationship with them shifted quickly from distant acquaintances to something like family.

This little article has offered much clarity, especially during this season.

A Tale of Two Christmases

By, Dale Kiefer

A couple years ago when I was going through my annual Christmas depression, I finally figured out how this Christmas thing is supposed to work. I had always thought that the Christmas we celebrate in America was somehow connected to the birth of Jesus Christ. It isn’t.

It dawned on me one day that there are two holidays, both called “Christmas,” happening simultaneously. The first one is celebrated by just about everybody in the United States where it is basically nothing more than a winter holiday, which is what most people call it anyway. I’ll call it Christmas-1. The second one is celebrated by Christians, as they contemplate the reality that God visited this planet in the form of a baby born in a small barn in Israel. I’ll call it Christmas-2.

Occasionally Christmas-2 intrudes into the first, like when Christ-focused Christmas carols are played on the radio. Sometimes Christmas-1 intrudes into the second, like when churches put up Christmas trees in their sanctuaries. By-and-large, however, the two are quite separate, but hardly anybody seems to notice. Most people go through life confused, thinking that there is only one Christmas, and Christians especially get all worked up every year because the holiday is so commercial. It would help if they would understand what I finally realized about the two Christmases.

For instance, ever since I was a small child I have heard plaintive calls to “put Christ back into Christmas.” Frankly, I don’t think He was ever part of Christmas-1, so there is no point in trying to put Him back into it. We should not be duped into thinking Christmas-1 has ever been a Christian holiday merely because the Lord’s name is the primary part of the word “Christmas.” Somewhere back in history, people decided to Christianize a secular celebration on December 25, but it remained essentially a secular holiday with an increasingly commercial emphasis. It’s the name “Christmas” that confuses so many people. It actually has nothing to do with Christ.

I know all about the well-intentioned but strained metaphors that people attempt to attach to Christmas-1. They see Christian imagery in candy canes, Christmas trees, gift-giving, Santa Claus, etc. We put angels and stars on top of our trees, apparently trying to convince ourselves that it is all about Jesus. It’s not. It’s humanistic and commercial. Besides, it’s not even Jesus’ birthday anyway. Based on biblical and archaeological evidence, He was born sometime in the spring or summer of the year.

Don’t get me wrong. I like Christmas-1. I like our Christmas tree, the special foods, the gatherings of family and friends, the TV shows and movies, and the gift exchanges. I have pleasant memories of past Christmas-1s. I am not surprised that people are shying away from calling it Christmas, and using terms like “Winter Holidays” and “Company Designated,” as my employer does. Yet, I think it’s kind of goofy to avoid calling it Christmas, for the obvious reason that that is what December 25 is. Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored or relabeled. Nonetheless, if people someday cease to refer to December 25 as Christmas, it will be disappointing, but it should not bother Christians all that much.

Now, concerning “putting Christ back into Christmas,” He has never been out of Christmas-2, so we don’t need to put Him back. He always was and always will be in it. He is the central and only message about it. The secular world can do whatever they want with Christmas-1, but they are unable to touch Christmas-2. We can celebrate Jesus’ birth anytime, and we don’t need the stuff associated with Christmas-1. If I could influence things, I would change the day to sometime in the middle of the year to help reduce the confusion, but no one is asking for my opinion about that.

Our problem is that we have hopelessly co-mingled Christmas-1 and Christmas-2, so we are confused and conflicted. We try to create the “Christmas spirit,” which has a lot more to do with Christmas-1 than with Christmas-2. If we are depressed at this time of year, it almost certainly is not because of the birth of Christ, but because of painful memories or the sadness of lost relationships and longings for irretrievable places and events from past Christmas-1s. If we are happy, partying, decorating and running up our Visa bills, that, too, probably has nothing to do with Jesus’ birth, and everything to do with Christmas-1.

Our family celebrates both Christmases. We do many of the same things that everyone else in America does at Christmas-1 time. We enjoy that. I thank God that we can do those things.

We also celebrate Christmas-2.  We do that throughout the year by constantly pursuing Christ, the God-man, the only One who has the wisdom and power to enable us to deal with the issues of life. Only He can reconcile us to God, forgive us and transform our lives. Our goal is to know Him, worship Him and make Him known.

I hope you enjoy Christmas-1. I hope you are changed by Christmas-2.

 

 

When Grace Looks Green

The trees are dying. The soil has dried up to sand. The earth is literally sinking beneath our feet. We are on our fourth year of drought and feeling an anxious weight press in as we read in the headlines, words like, “severe,” “crisis,” “emergency”.

Up here in the mountains, we typically see more natural growth and vegetation than our friends in the city, but it also brings a more palpable reality to the relentless lacking water. Looking down into the canyon and up on the ridge, Brown is fingering its way through the forest. We mourn the death; we fear fire, and we question: what on earth is happening?

Our family went camping last week. We found a spot only twenty minutes from our home, but a new set of trees brought with them a fresh perspective and a kind of quiet that lets you breathe again. After we set up camp, a trail was found, which inevitably led our feet wandering. Hiking with our two littles is much different than what we used to experience, sans kids; thus, one of those new perspectives: learning to enjoy the trail rather than making it to the end in record time. We’d take a few steps, and crouch down to look at some ants carrying sticks in their tiny jaws. Take a few more steps and poke at some holes in the ground, extending our greetings to [whatever] lived in there. A few more steps and find an even better walking stick.

It was in this slow process that I noticed something: there were along the way, hundreds of wildflowers poking up through the sandy trail. How had they managed to grow in that water-robbed dirt? There were also, all around us, just as many lifeless trees. Due to the shock of drought, unable to produce sap to trap and kill the bark beetle, these trees have been dying at an alarming rate.

So here we were, surrounded by new life in delicate petals, and the stark reality of death in the trees, which looked more like old bones than they did Pine. It was a sobering reminder that the ground has been cursed. Instantly, I was struck by my long-winded faulty thinking. All this time – these four long years – I had been waiting for rain because it’s what I need, and so (I thought) it must also be my right. I deserve to grow a flower garden and keep a green lawn. I deserve to take more than a two-minute shower. I deserve to lather up my pollen-covered car and wash it clean. It’s my right! But in that moment, staring up at those ribcage remnants of trees, I felt as though I was walking out of the Garden of Eden, faced with the reality of my sin: Death has come, and it is what I deserve.

But grace bloomed from the tiny flowers under my shoe. These – the pink of the petals, the soft green leaves, the tender blossoms opening – are gifts, not rights. There is grace in every new bud blinking into its first light, every green shoot springing out of a healthy branch; from every drip that falls from the sky, there is grace. It is not what I deserve, and even in the midst of the drought, it is more than I deserve. And I didn’t even see it until death made it’s way here.

The Girl With Green Hair and God’s Abounding Grace

I had seen her – the girl with the green dreadlocks – sitting on the creek’s edge next to an old, rundown van. I parked my truck a few yards away from her, hopped out, we made eye-contact, and smiled a quick “hello”. I went around the corner where the mailboxes stood to check my unit. I felt two things simultaneously: “Hurry up and get the mail before she steals our running truck with the kids inside.” And, “She needs help. Find out whatever she needs and do something about it.”

I came back around the corner and approached her, asking if everything was okay. She said that the van ran out of gas, but, “The man filled it up and then gave us tickets to get meals at the Dining Hall.” I asked if she had a place to stay. She said they didn’t. And then as if I were standing outside my body watching it all play out, I heard myself offer for her (and her boyfriend and two dogs) to stay in our guest room that night.

I gave her some quick directions and hopped back in the truck; I was elated about the possibility of having people in our house that we could share Jesus with. In the half-mile drive from the mailboxes to the house I conjured up a dreamy plan: They would come in and sit down over a cup of tea. We’d share our stories of sin and rebellion and of being rescued by the Savior; they’d be overwhelmed with love and grace and repent of their sin and give their lives to Christ-can-I-get-a-hallelujah!

Pretty great story, right?

When I got home, I called Lucas: “Hey Honey! Just wanted to let you know we might have some guests tonight. I don’t know who they are.”

Lucas: *Little pause* “Oh?”

Lucas (thank the Lord) is my voice of reason. And in hearing his voice, I was suddenly reminded that I have given birth to two darling children who live in this very same house that I just invited strangers into. Suddenly all of my excitement and joy turned into sheer terror. I caught a glimpse in my minds-eye of clips from a 60 Minutes episode – forensic photos of our bodies slaughtered by serial killers. (See why I need my Voice-Of-Reason? I’m a mess.)

Around 6:00, Nicole, Ronnie, and their two dogs came to the door. We invited them in and got them settled. We sat with them over tea and chatted about where they had come from, where they were going. Ronnie had been in the foster care system and as soon as he turned 18, he took off – a traveling gypsy ever since then. Nicole was homeschooled and wanted some adventure. She’s only 17. They both had “been raised in Christian homes” but especially Ronnie had a bad experience with Christianity that left a sour taste in his mouth. We apologized on behalf of those “Christians” who had treated him with such unkindness. “This is not Jesus,” we said. We talked about our great need for the Lord, not just in salvation, but in life after salvation because we’re ruined by sin. The conversation wasn’t long. They didn’t repent and put their trust in Jesus. The subject was soon shifted to their dogs. (They were pretty cute dogs.)

A few hours later, they went to bed. The night was uneventful and in the morning, we woke up – alive. We had breakfast with them, packed them a bag of snacks and off they went.

As I’ve processed through all this, I’ve come to realize some things. Even though I have come to discern the spiritual gifts that God has given me (in helping and giving), I must be discerning with them. Walking in the Spirit doesn’t just apply to running from sin, it also applies to walking in righteousness. I need Him to help me walk away from sin, and I need Him to help me walk in truth – I can’t do either on my own. I must listen to His voice through God’s Word as He guides me in my gifts. When I had simultaneous thoughts of “get back in the truck before she steals it” AND “invite her into your home” I should have stopped for a moment to ask God to help me discern those two opposing thoughts. If I had done that, I think I would have heard, “Honor your husband.” THAT is God’s truth, and nothing will ever oppose it. Inviting strangers into our home without talking to Lucas first, was not honoring him. I don’t regret extending love to strangers, but I do regret not first loving my husband. If I would have first gone to him, I could have told him of the situation, then we could have sat down with them, chatted and let Lucas lead me with discernment.

BUT…in everything that happened, God’s grace abounds. God’s grace abounded through Lucas. He was so gracious with me. Not once did he make me feel foolish (even though he had every right). He corrected me in gentleness and promised to protect me. God’s grace abounded in His protection over us. It abounded over us that we did get to have strangers in our house and love on people that don’t know Him. It abounded in the fact that I have nothing to boast in. Let’s face it – I was pretty thoughtless. But, imagine if my dreamy story came true. I really would have struggled with pride. But now, there is nothing for me to chalk up for myself, but only (and once again) to boast in God’s sweet grace.

Not As Ugly.

I shouldn’t have even looked. But it was wooing me with its enticing pictures. I had overcome the temptation many times before, resisting its powerful allurement. But I confess, this time I became entangled by its unyielding grip, and with just a few easy clicks of PayPal, I made a purchase from the LTD Commodities catalogue. Yes…that catalogue that offers personalized bobble heads, tacky beer steins on one page and “Smile, Jesus Loves You” plaques on the next. The subject of my downfall? A sweatshirt.

It just looked so cozy. The pretty model was standing inside a log cabin, coffee mug in hand, fire crackling in the background, and not a care in the world. I looked, I longed, I coveted, and I purchased.

I’m so ashamed.

The day it came in the mail, I ripped open the package and tried it on. To my great disappointment, I felt not even a sense of comfort or carefree. I didn’t even want to go sit and have a cup of coffee in a cozy log cabin, because it was so incredibly uncomfortable (not to mention highly unflattering). Though it was roomy in the middle, it cinched up at the bottom around my hips (not something I want to accentuate). Have a look for yourself:

before

It just wasn’t going to work. In public, or behind closed doors. So I decided to take a pair of scissors to it.

I purchased some jersey-knit chevron fabric. I’d never sewn with jersey-knit material before; it had always made me a little nervous, so I thought now was a great time to try since it wouldn’t have been a big deal if it didn’t turn out (after all, it couldn’t get much worse at this point.)

I started by cutting the seems on each side of the sweatshirt.

1 cut

Ahhhh…it’s starting to feel better already. After I cut it, I measured out where I wanted the chevron to show, made the marks, and cut the triangle shape.

3 trace 4 traced shirt 5 shirt cut

From here I laid the chevron underneath to make sure the pattern would be centered.

6 laying out chevron under shirt

I marked a half inch in for my seam allowance at the bottom on both sides and at the top.

7 marking cut

Then I used my ruler to mark the triangle shape to cut out. (Be sure to allow enough room at the bottom for a nice hem.)

8 traced chevron

Once I cut the triangle out, I laid it on the fabric next to the “hole” I had just cut and used that as a pattern to cut the next piece

9 laying chevron on chevron 10 cut chevron

After this, I pinned it, sewed the seams and the hem…

11 pin 12 pin hem 13 sewing 1 14 sewing hem

…and I was all done!

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YAY! Cozy. 🙂

…………………………………………….

Sinking Down Deep

It’s not uncommon for me to make a rash decision or a foolish choice. Sometimes, I just get swept up in the moment. But as I was working to make this silly sweatshirt into something not only usable, but also with hopes that it’d be a little less ugly, I couldn’t help but think of God’s patient work in me. That in all of my foolishness, or deceitfulness, or hypocrisy, He will never deny me when I come to him in repentance and longing for change. His desire is to make me into what I was intended to be: His image bearer.