Monday, August 24, 2015

How To Find Your Way Home

The little spring gurgled as it rambled though the deepest part of the wooded area on my parents’ property.

It was a narrow vein of artisan water, clear and cold, which found its way to the surface and grew more fierce and wide the farther east you followed it. But on the acreage where I lived, it lapped gently and spilled over rocks, etching out its path.

As children, it was impossible to ignore the shimmery reflection of light that could be seen dancing on its surface like flecks of glitter.

My brother, the one closest in age, and I would duck into the jungle-like overgrowth on our farm, to eluded Mom's constant ability to find extra chores for us to do, if we were underfoot. We would race from the sturdy white house, down the narrow lane and over the fence that kept the cows from going wherever they pleased.

Along the way, we would run and laugh and push, until we reached the edge of the water. The place where light pierced through the tops of trees and the breeze rustled thorough cedars.

In that space we were the captains of our own lives.

We crafted small boats out of whatever we could find. Dried bark always made a great hull, to which we added sticks, leaves and wild berries and ran along the tangle of brush on the shoreline to see whose boat would win the race to the barbed wire fence which marked the end of our property.

There the little rafts would wobble out of sight, as they made their way to the east and we would argue about whose boat was sure to make it all the way to open water or at least go the farthest without sinking.

Sometimes we might love our current boat too much to let it go, so we would snag it up and run upstream and do it all again.

We were wild navigators, reckless in our efforts, often causing them to slip below the surface of the water. And, almost always, we would be mud caked and soaked from head to toe.

In this place we passed hours and days and even entire seasons.

In summer the thick leaves hung like umbrellas to give us shade as we splashed in the stream catching tadpoles and turtles.

In the fall, leaves laid down a thick carpet for us to run on, as we built forts and imagined we were storing up wild grapes that stained our fingers and clothes.

In winter seasons, this same place softened the harsh winds and dipping temperatures. And the tracks along the shoreline showed us that we shared our playground with many animals.

And then, once again, spring would arrive and every blade of grass, budding tree and wild flower began a whole new season of adventures.

I never once remember dad or mom scolding us for being such a mess when we emerged from our latest adventure.

How deeply grateful I am that we had a home with great food and piles of good books.  A place where stories were told, but there was grace to be messy and creative, as we explored and lived out those early years.

Because life has its own twists and turns and seasons, now 58 years have passed and my dad’s place is kinda, officially, on the market.

It is an odd collection of feelings rippling across my heart.

That place has a certain smell. A familiar scent of family and years and memories and knee-high grass waving in the field.

If comfortable could be a location, I happen to know its address. 

I always thought we were poor. All of us living in that old farm house without a single elaborate feature. Unless the built-in cabinet framed with pine, in the center of the living room, counts. 

But every square foot of living space there is like my favorite pair of slippers. Nothing fancy….just all the uncomfortable edges worn off. 

The years, with all their trouble and trials, were softened by living in this place. 

They raised six of us there in the two bedroom, one bath home. No granite counter tops. No family room. 

And it fit us like love does.  

Home and family. The hard, the dark, the laughter and the fried chicken with real mashed potatoes, lumps and all, drenched in white gravy. Gravy that had flecks of pepper and chucks of browned crunchy pieces. 

In this place we all kind of found ourselves and lost ourselves and found ourselves again.

Home is like that. 

Mostly, I took it for granted that my parents would always be there, peering out the big double pane window in the kitchen, hoping someone would come by and interrupt their bird watching. 

And watching my dad age... it’s painful and beautiful all in the same moment. 

His hard edges are softening.

His laugh is deeper.

He is tender with babies.

He says I love you.

And I found this gift just before his 80th birthday last week. It's a promise we can all hold on to. 

As much as my heart has wandered in the years since we ran in the wooded area, what I know is that God has been carrying me home. 

He has been carrying those I love home. 

And for a time He has used this place for our family, to be a shelter, a refuge, a haven, a sanctuary. 

Not so long ago, I drove up the narrow lane and parked. From there I walked deep into the thicket of trees, maneuvering my way deeper into the overgrown places where I had ran wild and free as a kid. 

Before life choked the dreams and did its best to destroy me.

The stream no longer flows through this property. They came through and built up the highway and hit the vein that fed our little brook.

And I was sad about that for years. Until the Lord reminded me of this verse: "Rivers of living water will brim and spill out of the depths of anyone who believes in me..."

Yes. Yes. Rivers of living water will spill over and flow from those who believe in Jesus.

Jesus is the truest of artisan springs, that never runs dry. And He is in the business of drawing people home to His heart.

What I had growing up was a great home.

What I have now is a relationship with Jesus, who promises an eternal home.

And I've learned a few other things. Things like...  I'm not good at being the captain of my own life.

And how all the things I've tried to navigate alone, apart from God, came up empty and hallow in the end. 

Looking back I can see how God Himself has fiercely protected me, gently guided me, allowed me to be broken and redesigned.

How He has literally redirected the very course of my life.

And this place is just a physical address, but home is wherever there is love. 

That is what I’m learning and what I’m taking with me when someone else picks up their mail from the end of the long lane. 

But here a piece of my heart still runs wild, because this is where I began to see the beauty of God's creation spilling over and the place I learned to dream.

This place, this home, is part of my story, part of how I ultimately found my way Home.

Monday, August 17, 2015

When Change Is Hard

Change is hard isn’t it?

Sometimes it rolls in like a soft mist blowing across tranquil open water, settling into the ripples with gentle motion as it lands on the shoreline of our souls.

Or more likely, as it has often been the case in my own life, change comes like a crashing, crushing wave where you fight to shut the porthole of your soul as it rushes in.

Occasionally we choose change –we think– but more often, change chooses us.

We fight to find a rhythm and balance in life.

But change –it shakes things up. 

It messes with mornings and afternoons and keeps us awake. It strips the controls -- or at least our illusion of what we think we control -- right out of our fingers.

It jumbles up who we perceive we most deeply are.

It's as if  God uses change to remind us of who we really are and our utter dependence on who He is.

We absolutely have the freedom, ability and need to make plans.

Meal plans, education plans, marriage plans, career plans, business plans, five-year plans, and retirement plans.

These are not bad things, but the raw truth is, too often our plans are for selfish purposes and a change in plans gives us the opportunity to seek God and His plan.

I like to think I’m adaptable.

In fact, according to a certain personality test, being adaptable is one of my top five strengths. That is honestly laughable.

It seems like a conditioning thing. Something that has happened from sheer practice more than a gift or strength.

What I know about change is that it's rarely what I expect it to be, never super comfortable and always occurring. 

Change strips away the layers of self-sufficiency.

There are many people who appear to make great plans and make those plans happen, and to all of you  –salute'!

However most of us know that about the only thing we really have control over in this life is how we respond to change in our lives. This is usually the litmus test for where our faith truly lies.

Too often I've bought into the whole rah-rah thing. That I am the master of my own destiny. That––try harder, work longer, do more and go more, so you can be more.

The true Master of destiny sees the heart, not the performance and when it comes to difficulty and change? He doesn’t usually change our painful circumstances as much as He sustains us through them. 

I've read where people refer to change as a desert experience. We've certainly all known times in our lives where the heat of suffering presses down and stretches out before us, as we wander and wonder if this season will ever end.

However this has been a year where the one word that found me happens to be 'deeper'. So the water analogy seems more fitting. And when I personally find myself in over my head, I tend to reach for God because there are simply no other options to run to.

I'm not a speed swimmer. I think we may have discussed this. And the older I get, the more change happens and the less I want to be seen in a swimsuit. A little helpful information? Treading water is just complicated and exhausting when fully dressed.

Change is most often uncomfortable because we are heading into uncharted waters.... which equals no control.

This summer a few of us came together to study the book, Be Transformed, a commentary on John 18-21. Even though it doesn't sound that exciting, it was actually revolutionary in the way I read the Word. Well, one of Johns closest companions was Peter. Peter, that guy who was quick to speak and act and overtly passionate about all he did.

Following Jesus turned out to be a wild ride that looked nothing like they thought it should. 

For instance, at one point, their journey took them straight into a storm. Jesus actually told them to get in the boat and go into that open water which turned into raging waves. And for a few minutes Peter forgot that people don't just walk on water.

It's recorded for all of time that if we keep our eyes on Jesus, we can do the impossible. Perhaps you remember how the story goes? When Peter took his eyes off Jesus, only then did he sink and the waves began to overpower him.

In the last chapter of the book, Peter decided to go fishing. So he and a few of his fishing friends spent the entire night working away and caught absolutely nothing. At least for them it was only a night, right?

At dawn, Jesus shows up and asks them how it's going.

I love that. And then Jesus tell them where to cast their nets.

These men, who had nothing to show for all their hard labor, now pulled in a great harvest.

That's how this faith life is.

We need Jesus to show us where to cast our nets of energy, resources and time.

It begs a few questions. What am I doing that is just being busy? What is truly important to do right now? Have I asked God where to place my net?

And like the author Warren Wiersbe points out in his commentary, "....often we are not far from success. Maybe just the width of a boat."

In different seasons God has removed things I've built my life, my identity, and my happiness around.

The pain of those experiences continues to  motivate me to hold loosely to things and to do what I do, for His glory.

So now more change is arriving and I'm looking for His direction as to what is the next thing to do.

Change isn’t about knowing the path, it’s simply about being obedient to take the next faithful step right where our feet have landed. –Even if we haven't landed on solid ground yet.

Oh friend, may you enjoy the space between the rise of the wind and waves of change.

But if you find yourself in this place where the water is rising, remember that God is unchanging and still in the business of calming storms.

He knows the beginning from the end. He has great plans for you. And you and I can trust Him even when the waves of this life threaten to overtake us.

Sometimes change is actually a second chance. Another opportunity to come to a quiet, broken place where we can hear God’s voice. In that place, He is able to show us the path to take.

I’m not ever going to be ready for now to be over. But the now I'm currently comfortable with was once a change arriving.

The biggest change I will ever need is a change in heart. And honestly that is what change is usually all about.

May we be people who step out of what we hold as safe and familiar so we can embrace the new season arriving.

Together friends, let's keep our eyes on Jesus.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Savoring August

This picture? No. Filter. Love, love it.
I love you August with your sweet misty mornings and golden explosion of light, as the sun pushes through the early haze. Sipping coffee seems sweeter on mornings like this. 

Or maybe it’s this cinnamon creamer we are currently obsessed with. The one which has no nutritional value what-so-ever. It’s just good so we’re drinking it, no we are really savoring it and not reading the label.

There has been a great exodus from the community I live in. Many people are taking their last big hurrah get-away trips, before the new school schedule sets in. 

Did you even know that I'm a pet-sitter? 

I should make up a real name for what I do, but still I’ve been doing this funny gig for over six years. It’s especially random and that’s probably why it’s the perfect job for me. Some weekends I talk to a few cats and sometimes I feel like Noah without the ark –but– with all the animals to take care of. 

Or was it really Noah's wife that did all the scooping and feeding? 

As I’m driving to and fro with that, I often stop to talk and spend money with the entrepreneurs who are selling sweet corn and melons and fruit. The grandkids had all sorts of questions about why I would buy peaches in a parking lot instead of the store. They had a good argument really.

They were here on Wednesday, just five of the grandkids. 

One of the problems with grandchildren coming to my house is the actual getting everyone to my house. There is usually a car seat issue. As in, me remembering to load the car seats. And after we wrangle up enough of those, we have the fussing for the best seats in the car. This summer, the best seat just happens to be in front with me.

I’m embracing their zeal, while it's there. 

We haven’t all been together since May, so I think some of us forgot how crazy it is and how to function as a group. I further complicated the day by going thrift store shopping. I had this silly idea to make tepees with them and pretend we were on the prairie. At one time it seemed like a great group activity that would fit with boys and girls. 

The problem with second hand stores, is that unlike stores where everything is $1, they do not have two or six of any one item. 

And you never know what amazing, unplanned treasure will surface. So there may have been crying and fighting over the one camo truck and the glass (plastic) princess slippers which were one size too small. 

This lasted a few minutes until the slipper-less princess found three items for 10 cents each and this was the catalyst for a whole new, melt-down to take center stage.  

Explaining how a child can have three things that cost 30 cents and the other can only have the exclusive glass (plastic) princess-dance-shoe-slippers which cost $3.25 –well it wasn't possible. 

This is surely why some adult came up with the ridiculous phrase, “just because I said so.”

Do we adults really understand how young minds reason? They just know what they know, which in this case was, "She has three things and I only have two things which should only count as one thing anyway."

(Deep breath) (Heavy sigh)

And I’ll admit it, I kind of freaked me out when the two year old licked the toy rocket he found to buy in the thrift store toy bin.

In the panic, I remembered I’m a bit of a germ-a-phobe when it comes to certain things, such as babies licking the handles on grocery carts and toys out of a bin at a busy thrift store.  

So, how was I thinking that this could be fun?

We left a lasting impressing on all those fellow bargain shoppers and having located six bed sheets for a dollar each, we came home to recuperate and eat lunch. 

I’ve been wanting to tell you the number one amazing thing I learned this summer. It’s my discovery of macaroni and cheese. Honestly, in deepest sincerity, it's the newest greatest thing to take to any event and to serve to anyone. (Except perhaps those who are gluten and dairy intolerant.)

Who really knew this and didn't tell me?

This may not be amazing to you, but it was epiphany to me.

The caterer we had for the wedding, his name is Phil, and he knows what he's talking about. He is the one who took me to school on this. He insisted that his company’s version of three cheese macaroni, was one a best seller. He suggested for me to buy more, but I didn't listen, so I bought less. 

All I know is that folks were scraping the side of the pan with mac and cheese. It was the first thing to go and I'm still getting reports from guests about how much they loved it and from others, how sad they were to see it was gone. 

So, I bought a case to keep in the freezer and Wednesday we thought surviving thrifty shopping was a special occasion. 

The kids all helped themselves to firsts, seconds and thirds. 

There was not a single argument for at least 20 minutes and the boy who had a birthday last week asked if I could just pretty-please bring some to his party.  

Cheesy happiness in the freezer section. Put it on your list of things to do this month.

We finally got to the part where we made tepees and pretended to be pioneers on the prairie. 

Thank goodness for modern conveniences like bright colored sippy-cups with ice water and readily available bathrooms.

It was a fine time being had by all until the snake slithered though camp. 

The boys –who are getting so big and all too grown up and who have always been brave…. and will be in school all day in another week– they came running with their pretend rifles and asked if I could find a real gun to kill the snake. 

We told the girls to stay behind where it was safer, while the boys and I went on the hunt for the python they clearly described. When we located the guilty reptile, he or she had shrunk to the size of a small gardener snake.  

I was fine with that. 

We might have scared a few others right out of their skin, since we kept finding those everywhere. What is even up with snakes losing their skin anyway? We collected all the skins we could find here. Prairie people do that I guess.

Recently I read a quote that said something to the effect, “only children and poets take the time to notice details and embrace life.” 

That is most likely a very loose translation, which is probably why I could not find the person who actually said it. My money is still on Madeleine L'Engle.

I don’t personally know many people who claim to be poets, but these kids were writing something tender as they marveled at every bug and blade of grass. 

They savored macaroni and cheese as if I had slaved all day and done something gourmet. And they happily picked weeds that were posing as flowers, smelled the herbs and handled every tomato on the vine.

And they tugged on my heart as they grabbed my arm to stop and admire cobwebs, which they only saw as great wonders and works of art.

Children remind us how life should be lived.  

They certainly helped me slow down and appreciate the things which are unique to this day, this season, this month of August.

I have to believe there's a little bit of poet hiding in our hearts, as well as child-like wonder.

May we keep our lives a little simpler, marvel at the things close, and savor more of the season we are in.

And August, I'm soaking up every single piece of what makes you uniquely amazing. Because I know, all too soon your last apricot colored sunset, with all its silvery clouds will be gone. Don't rush off too soon.

So tell me?

What are you rushing past?

What are you noticing?

Monday, August 3, 2015

What Are You Storing Up?

Did July really just happen?

In all of its sizzling 31 days, or any of its bleary 744 hours, or at least a few of the fast fading 44,640 minutes on this one reeling planet earth –what even took place?

There was definitely the heartbreaking, the happy, and the mundane.

The one thing I do remember, is that we cleaned the garage.

It was the last day of JQ’s vacation. 

The temperature had steadily climbed into the upper 90’s without even a whisper of breeze. 

And..... we began late in the morning, to do what could have easily been a three day project.

Every part of that was just wrong.

My idea was to empty the garage and only return the things we really, really, really wanted or maybe even needed. I'd seen it on a blog post, complete with photos, and it was darling. One rake, one basketball and two boxes of Christmas decorations. Hey! We don't even have a basketball!

Maybe. Completely. Unrealistic. 

His idea was to tidy up a bit. (As in, sweep around the edges of all the stuff that was keeping us from getting the car into the garage.)

We met somewhere in the middle of our mess. 

Once we got started, we had to keep going –just because. 

Because the smell of dead mice promised us, this was way past needing to be done. 

Because it didn't take long for a decade of dust to mix in with beads of sweat and cement our clothes to our skin and we knew this was not something we wanted to repeat for days.

So we went and borrowed our trailer back and began to carefully, thoughtfully, sort things. 

After another hour had passed, we were heaving things onto the flat bed as fast as we could move.  

The last place to tackle was the attic. We were both pretty sure –at least there– we would find some treasures.

Indeed there were mementos dating back over three decades. 

As if we had planted an odd time capsule of sorts, nestled in between the rafters and insulation, we uncovered long forgotten Christmas d├ęcor with lights that only half lit up and 32 boxes of files, each representing a year of life lived. 


There were cards offering congratulations when the oldest children were born. All I can say is, "Hallmark, you've come a long way." 

There was a bag of moth-eaten items I thought one of the girls would certainly adore, a sampling of when she was an infant. She must have been our favorite since there were zero bags of half eaten clothing to offer the other two children. 

And the big find, a box of our wedding decorations. Too bad cake toppers with grey-ish fading lace and beads are no longer in style. And no, I don't want to put something mice have nested in on a cake for our anniversary.  

The elements of time, heat, and a few random mice were not kind to our stuff. They've all conspired to take a toll on much of what we had counted important enough to store.

Without a doubt the saddest find was one cardboard box which contained newspaper articles, metals and awards, all representing my husband's younger years. A single hail storm resulted in one small hole in the roof. Even though the hole was quickly found and repaired, it allowed enough moisture to cause mold and mildew. 

So we dedicate a few moments of silent remorse and then began peeling away the pieces left of a scrap book and photo album. We talked about his hair, races he had run and record breaking times that marked an impressive athletic career. 

But even that has now faded with time. 

The hair. The mustache. In high school. My guy. 

Homemade wood items, cards, photos, ribbons from horse shows....... Just no.

So many more of these....what was I thinking..... I could deduct electric bills?

I think the children will love these in their homes.

I know....Awwwww! You can't see the bad parts. Trust me.

It was such a good reminder that this world and all that's in it….well.... it's perishing. 

All the stuff. All of it.    

Every single thing we spend our money, energy and time doing and buying, dusting, and storing up –it just won’t last. 

As a result of our massive garage cleaning day, the local landfill received another trailer full of trash that we had been storing as if it were valuable enough to take up square footage instead of our car.

The thrift store employee wasn’t even smiling as we unloaded boxes and boxes of stuff that had been safely stowed in plastic tubs for years. 

My own children were too polite to refuse the few things I dropped off to their homes. Possibly one of the few real treasures that was unearthed was a broken nylon rope. Our soon to be seven-year-old grandson, was thrilled we had hung on to it all these years. He probably plans on tying up his siblings.

The serious truth is, everything around us is fading, spoiling, diminishing and aging. 

Our garage looks nothing like the blog post photos I had envisioned our project resulting in. However
it has spurred us on in the process of decluttering and letting go of things that will not serve us well in this lifetime.

So, July may be gone, but at least we were able to see it rush out the door, along with some items that we no longer needed to hang onto.

There is just something freeing about less clutter and stuff that makes me think August is going to be amazing.

What are you storing up?

© Rhonda Quaney