Monday, June 30, 2014

When Our Freedom Costs Something

Photo by Amy Minshull

Its early morning.

Dawn rises with a misty haze that makes the place I live look enchanting. I sit in my chair, cupping my coffee and my comfort, close. This is where I come to recharge, refocus, and to fight the pull of all the world with its to-do’s and distractions.

I read from the Psalms, with my window open. Nearby, campers have swelled, forming tent-villages and mini trailer parks. They come to the lake to get away from it all and now, the smell of their camp-fires drift lightly though the screen.

This last week has been full.


A flood of things demanding my most costly resources, of time and energy.

One evening with grand kids, I needed to see. How can they change so much in a few weeks. Those little humans, are all wrapped around my heart. They ate in waves. Undress and re-dress. Drag out the boxes of toys and books and swim accessories. They stay in the hot tub until their fingers shrivel up and then move to the bath tub. Our pets have a love-hate relationship with them. In their aftermath are tasty nuggets of food which serves as a reward, for the disruption of their orderly lives. And when the little people go home I honestly dropped into bed and fall asleep in under thirty seconds.

There were two baby showers this week too.  Two in as many days. Both were full of pink, and soft animals that play lullabies and classic books like Mother Goose. Over-the-top-amazing. It humbles my heart how people went out of their way, took time out of crazy packed schedules, to be a blessing to my daughter.  What I know? It matters that they came. Their presence was the greatest gift.

There was a 60th Anniversary, which is certainly something worth celebrating. Her one lace dress stood the test of time, along with the marriage. Faithfulness and love always seem to travel together.

Longtime friends found their futures hanging in the balance as he stood before a board hearing. A man who has dedicated his one imperfect life, to raising his own family, loving his one wife, teaching and coaching.  Honestly I had other things to do, but found myself watching the process of testimony and trial, prayer walking, and just letting my presence be present in their battle. Thankfully this time, a man will be able to continue to do what he loves to do, and walk closer to the God that rescued him.

But as I drift off to sleep at 2:00 a.m., I am struck with how deeply my soul just wants to be apathetic about life. How many years I've spent in self-preservation, not wanting to rock the politically-correct boat, driving by the homeless, not having time to bend down to talk to the lonely.

It’s easier to sit at a computer all evening than chase three darling small people and repeat one-hundred little tasks only to do them over again.

How often do I send a gift to a wedding, shower or anniversary,  -instead of being a gift?

I’d much rather scroll through e-mails, than send one, to a public official stating a concern I have. I’d much rather drink coffee at my favorite place or sit down to a great meal than sit for hour upon slow-passing hour, while someone’s entire life hangs in the balance.

And I see it all around me too. People who don’t want to get involved. Afraid it might cost them something.

And indeed it may.

What we don’t get is that it will cost us something either way. 

My indifference now, will cost the generations that come behind me.

And just hours later, I’m pulling out on the highway, and I see him. Another homeless man, hunched over on the side of the road. Fortunately, I won’t go directly by him.

And then the irony hits me.

I’m going to church, and there is a man who could use someone to just be the church.

Just one person to not judge him, ignore his plight, or self-righteously determine that a gift of money should not be given, since, "he’ll probably use it on the wrong things." How about if someone, (like me) would just go be present in his hard life, to be Compassion with skin.

What if on this Sunday, one person would show a glimmer of Jesus on Sabbath.

I have no idea in the whole scheme of the universe if it will ever really matter that I took time for that one man with brokenness in his clear blue eyes. But, he was a gift to me. His wind-worn face, was a call to fight my desire to be unconcerned, in my comfortable American life. 

So, as we celebrate Independence Day, I think about the legacy of America. 

How, in 1775, a few, who were considered, “radical colonist,” stood against the status quo and what was politically correct and comfortable. How there were more people who did not want to be involved, but a few who said that taxation without representation was wrong. 

There was a cost to go against the main stream. It wasn't easy, it wasn't pretty or convenient. They weren't living comfortable, unconcerned lives as they fought, but for 238 years, people have enjoyed the fruit of what was accomplished.

Thank goodness there were brave men and women that did not let fear and comfort, keep them indifferent.

It is so right and good to celebrate in America, with flags flying and picnics planned and fireworks shooting. 

Because, to have a charming life now, a huge price was paid then, and over and over again. All for our freedoms. 

Freedom to choose how we use our freedom.

And we know that all true freedom comes at a price.

Jesus paid that ultimate price for us all. I hope you know Him. I hope you live Him.

Happy July 4th to you all.

Monday, June 23, 2014

When The Pounding Storm Is In Your Soul

Still breathless from the climb, I gulp in air laced with ocean salt. 

The crashing crescendo that a large body of water makes, as it arrives from the edge of infinity, pierces all my senses. Rhythmic pounding, repeated over and over, as it rushes up against the great barrier reef.  

Gripping the twisted handrail to steady myself, I turn slowly to take in the full impact of my surroundings.

Below me, hangs, row upon row, of wind-weathered stairs, which creak and sway slightly with the rising island wind. With my free hand I press my stomach hard, as if I can push down the upheaval I’m feeling.

There, suspended over rocky crags that formed the island point, my heart pounds from the physical exertion it took to climb, coupled with my involuntary fear of heights.

Storm clouds build, on the dusty rose-colored horizon and blinding, sparkling, gems of light, bounce off the water. It was unspeakably vast, frightening, and beautiful all at the same time.

Never in my nineteen years had I seen anything like it. Fresh out of high school, I could not wait to leave my small town America and check, “world traveler,” off my short list, of things to do.

I had things to prove.

Young, idealistic, and fiercely independent, I was sure there were bigger and better things than, my simple country roots had experienced up to now. And to show I was serious about it all, I was traveling with people I didn't know, to a place I’d never heard of, to scuba dive in this deeply wild, remote location.

The resort was stunning, just as the brochure had promised. Huge talking parrots, with brilliant plumage hung out, on the wrap-around veranda, which encircled the main lodge of this thirty acre resort. Modern open air cabins were tucked into the landscape, dotted with flowering bushes and towering tropical trees, that draped overhead to keep us cool.

We feasted on fish caught daily and fresh lobster that our dive group gathered from lobster pots. Yet, as I had pushed bare feet into warm white sand, next to crystal clear, turquoise colored water, embracing what is described as paradise, I had never felt more unsettled.  

In fact I was disturbed.  

From this lofty perch overlooking the island, I could see them. Small huts, with grass thatched roofs, paneless windows, sitting on the edge of the resort. Extending from each simple dwelling, a long narrow pier led out to the water, to an outhouse.

The girl who cleaned my cabin, the one who was my same age, earned pennies a day and cast her eyes to the ground when I would try to speak to her. When we traveled off-site, to dive a nearby shipwreck, children tried to sell us birds and the village “grocery store” consisted of a dirt floor hut. The simple structure had walls lined with planks placed on brick, to form modest shelves, which held a few items to target non-locals.

My wild dreams of adventure and selfish ambition, were met with the harsh reality of poverty and the people that it imprisoned. Seeing it first hand, broke my heart for these beautiful ones I didn't know.

This place rich in beauty, was desperately poor. And now, hanging over the edge of such vastness, I was faced with my finite reality, poorness of spirit and on my worse day, extravagant wealth and resources.

I had not met God in a personal way. 

Honestly, God sounded boring, restrictive and something only weak people need. But as the ocean stretched out to meet the edge of the blazing horizon, I had a strong sense that I was not there by chance and that I was not alone.

And the beauty that flooded this place gave me a stronger sense of the Lord. 

His power. 

His greatness. 

His breathtaking beauty.

I longed to know that my life was more than one exotic trip, fun experiences, and material things. 

I hungered to be part of a bigger purpose in the grand scheme of, well, .....the entire world. My soul stirred deeply for people and awakened to the God who paints the sky with thick brush strokes of pinks, orange and gold hues. The very same God who tells the oceans how far they can go.  

I had come to fulfill a quest to live out my daring independence and experience the world. I left with a sense of brokenness and longing to live for something bigger than my self-focus, in light of the great need I was encountering.

Indeed, I had gotten more than I signed up for. 

In my abundance I had been impacted by this place of lack. In my loneliness, I had encountered God.  And standing in the grandeur of this immense ocean, I could not wait to return to my small town and the place I called home. 

Something unexpected happened to me on that trip. Instead of encountering paradise, I encountered the One who made it. 

As the storm moved in, I began my descent, but there was a pounding tempest rising in my own soul that I could not quiet. 

Blessed to be part of Emily Wiergena's book launch this week.

Today, I am thrilled to be part of Emily Wiergena's,
book launch and blog tour of, Atlas Girl.

I met Emily last year. 

She is beautiful, sweet and deeply real.

Every penny from the sales of her memoir, 
Atlas Girl go to the lulu tree. 

You'll be blessed and also be a blessing.

 Atlas Girl by Emily Wiergena


Since it is my blog-a-versary.... 
I'm just giving her book away! 

Sign up to receive my blog posts
 and you will be automatically entered. 

Thank you for being here. 
I would love to hear about somewhere you 
have traveled and how it impacted you!

Also linking up here. Beautiful stories. I hope you will go check them out.

Monday, June 16, 2014

To All Those Who Are A Father To The Fatherless

The dress she wore was pristine white.

Long ringlets of blonde hair, interlaced with ribbons of different lengths and widths, fell across her shoulders like an enchanting, almost child-like veil.

Yards of tulle overlay the silk and satin that provide a stark backdrop to the red roses she clutched with both hands. She had clung to dreams of this day where she was the Princess and her Knight in shining armor was there, to whisk her away and they would live happily ever after.

It sounds like a fairy tale, but my little girl was living it. 

On this, her wedding day, every delicate detail was in place. She was surrounded by a literal bouquet of darling flower girls and most of the people who loved her deeply.

It was a culmination of life to this point really, for all of us.

A landmark moment when I was caught between the heart gripping emotions of deep joy and crushing pain. When a life-span of profound gratefulness for God’s grace and unwelcome agonizing grief collide.

It was a surprise surging, rolling of emotions to watch a man take her heart and hand who had only known her for a small slice of her life. 

A man who knew little of what it took to get this beautiful young woman to this point and quite honestly, knew little of the men who had invested themselves to make her the woman that he was now enthralled with.

It was on that day, I looked around and God gave me eyes to see it myself. Soul-eyes to capture a glimpse, of the men that the Lord had used to be His hands and feet, to this young woman.

It was her own father, who told me she was beautiful the moment she was born. Together we decided to give her the name, Amy, which means “beloved.” The word... beloved... it sounds as sweet as its Greek meaning: sweet, cared for, admired, prized, cherished, valued and highly esteemed. And too soon he was gone, and I wondered who would someday walk that tiny infant down the aisle.

Her Uncle Randy was one of the first to arrive at our home the day of the accident, even though he had a four hour drive to get there. In the days, weeks and months that rolled into her formative years, he would swing her high into air and shower her with unrestrained affirmation and affection. He did ten thousand other dad-like-things, none the least of which, were to assemble a huge Barbie doll house for Christmas and fix flat tires on one small pink bike.  

Great-Grandpa Steffes stepped up to fill a monumental gap. He was the one who made sure that she rode in a dependable car and lived in a home, where she would be safe and warm. Yes, he would crawled through the attic to check wiring and under spider web clad floors, to fix plumbing. He was a protector and an advocate, making sure no one took advantage of a single mom who needed a lot of help, to raise little girls. 

My own dad, her Grandpa, did everyday life with this cherished one. She would sit on the bathroom counter, while he shaved and she would scream happy screams, as she touched his prickly face, covered in foamy-white shaving cream. Uncharacteristically, my dad would crawl on the floor, bucking and snorting little whinny sounds, as they played horseback or just lay in the king-sized bed and roar while she kicked his round tummy.

There was Uncle Ben, who lived like a gentle giant in those days, and carried her with strong arms and who would kneel low to speak in his soft voice, words of life to her tender heart.

And then there was JQ. 

The one who came gently and unexpectedly. Walking into our lives and taking on the sacred duty of being a man who would stand in the gap of her life. In the deepest sense of the word, he arrived as her provider, and protector.  Indeed he is the mirror, of the love of Christ who has the name Provider and Protector.

Even though it looked more like, hanging out with Big Bird, riding on Tea Cups during his honeymoon and brushing back her tousled hair, when she ran one of her many high fevers. 

As she danced around in her princess-like dress, the men who invested in her, from her first and earliest steps and into the arms of her first love, stood unassumingly on the sidelines. 

Yes, as I looked around that crowded room I wanted to grab the microphone from the master of ceremonies, and give tribute to the real men who had given pieces of themselves to this fair-haired beauty. 

Unnoticed and unrewarded.

Men who reached out beyond their own lives, their own children and their own comfort zones. 

They were my heroes.
God brought some for a season and some to stay.  

All of them, for a deeper purpose than any Father’s Day card could communicate or capture.

It is true, that it’s easy to love those who love you, but it speaks bigger than life when you put hands and feet to love those who can give you nothing in return. 

Those are the men, who I wish I could give a collective hug. 

You are the ones I would like to deliver cupcakes to your door. 

Every single one of you. 


The brothers, the uncles, the grandfathers, the teachers and coaches and the regular guy down the street. 

The men who protects those who are vulnerable, who defend the ones who need an advocate.

On that day, all dressed in blinding white, her face shinning, the men who pushed the swings, clapped at dance recitals, kissed skinned knees and walked though emergency rooms doors, collectively delivered my daughter to the front of the church. 

And fighting back brave tears, JQ did what all valiant dads do. He gave his daughters hand in marriage, to someone who won't understand, until the day he has to give his own daughter away.

On most days, but especially when Father's Day rolls around, I am reminded what a gift it is, to know men, who are fathers to the fatherless. 

I have a special place in my heart for them.

And God does too. 

Monday, June 9, 2014

What Birds Have To Do With Faith {and my favorite cupcakes}

It was JQ’s birthday-week. 

In our family, we like to celebrate life every day and birthdays for at least a week. 

We made a double batch of his favorite cupcakes and bought him bird food for my birdfeeders. 

Remember last week I told you I wish I had chickens?  Well we may not have poultry, but we do have feathered friends. Like the word is o-u-t and every bird around these parts is hanging around on our back porch, looking for a handout.

Goodness knows, that somehow they all survived without us, but now they are practically pecking on the door in the morning wondering when we will fill the feeders. Again.

Their entertainment level is pretty high in my book, so they have me mostly trained to keep the seeds coming.

The one feeder outside my office window is for the bigger birds. It wasn't my intention to segregate birds by size, but I accidentally bought 50 pound of the wrong feed on sale. 

Who does like our happy mistake, are the two cardinals. I call them 'Mr & the Mrs.' 

They live at the neighbors, but come to dine at our place. They are having to fight for every bite they get because the big, bossy, purplish-black birds have also found our little restaurant. 

So when I’m working in my office, if I hear sharp click sounds, I know its the cardinal couple. If I hear a higher pitched whistle and the cracking of sunflower seeds, I know the whole black bird clan has arrived. 

It’s become my part time job to shoo them away. 

You are probably on to me by now, sometimes I get sidetracked.

Like today. 

I went out to get the mail, even though I’m already over my quota of getting mail this week. I usually only go out once every week or so, but this week I've retrieved the mail four times. 

On the short walk to the mailbox, I see these huge bumble bees in the flowering bush that sits on our property line. Technically it is the neighbors bush, but mostly it’s on our side. Seeing that the bees were enjoying the flowers I went back into the house, to grab my camera. 

I love trying to take pictures of bees. (If you are my neighbor this would explain a lot… but certainly not everything.)

So I am straining to capture these crazy, Engineering wonders, when there is a downright ruckus. 

I realize it’s not often you get to use that word, and I am thrilled that it fits here. 

There was squawking and screeching and a rustle and just as I leaned out to see what was going on, this fellow just comes and lands in front of me. 

Right. In. Front. Of. Me. 

Eye level on the limb that had previously had a bee that I was trying to photograph. 

The little guy was looking right at me, and continues squawking his little bird head off.

There we were, beak to nose.

And for whatever reason he felt comfortable telling me his problems and I was so excited that all I could do is snap his picture. He continued his raspy cawing, acting as if he might be dying and I was like, “...hold on little fella… just one more picture from this angle...”

Perhaps he was telling me a thing or two for not letting his parents eat freely at the bird dish. All I know is that finally he gathered his little black feathers and took flight. That’s when I became concerned that he could die, at the way he was going about his flying, which was not really flying at all. He was more like a cartoonish, winged bomber with ruffled plumage.

He would surge, dip and crash, then shake his head and take off again.

He was trying to fly. 

Something deep inside this feathered friend, was a God-given desire to spread his wings, and soar. And in the short time I watched, this little winged-wonder went from a squawking failure to spreading his pretty pinions and mounting on air.  

I think that the Lord was giving me a lesson. 

A visual answer to something I've been talking to Him about.

There I was, going about my life, finding wonder in the everyday world around me and the answer comes and sits down right in front of my face and squawks.

There really isn't that much distance between crashing and ascending. Between failing and soaring. In fact the crashing, burning, failing, and falling short could all be part of the flying. 

Is that a word that speaks to anyone else?

Much of what I do in a day doesn't takes much faith. 

I play it pretty safe.

I like to eat what I recognize, go to my favorite places and hang with people that are easy to be around.

But faith, the kind that is rooted in Jesus, often requires me to step out into the unknown. Just a small step perhaps, but large enough that there is no real turning back and no being the same.


My faith often makes me look crazier than I already am, taking risks to fall and fail. Looking, sounding and maybe even being ridiculous.

But like this crazy little bird, God has placed something deep within, that desires to do more than just exist. And if I never try, how will I ever know if I could have?

You too? 

What kind of thing is God pressing on your heart that would require you to leave the comfort of what you know?

And before I was completely sidetracked with the bees and the bird, I was going to share a family favorite recipe. 

Jim’s cupcakes.

Original recipe was published in 'Chocolate Lovers IV' by Classic Pillsbury Cookbooks. 1985
I leave out the slivered almonds and add extra chips.

The first time I made these for Jim, we were only dating. 
It was his birthday and all I really knew about him,
was that he was handsome and liked chocolate. 
So I found this recipe and decided to try it. 
While doing that, my daughter came out of her room choking. 
No one seems to remember if it was a marble or a penny, 
since she did both at some point.
All my efforts to dislodge the item from her throat failed. 
So while the first batch of these cupcakes were baking, 
I had to call 911. 
Fortunately they came quickly and in seconds
they were successful in getting the foreign object out
and her breathing was restored. 
Thankfully we have all celebrated many birthdays
together now and often with these cupcakes.


Monday, June 2, 2014

When You Want Everyday To Count

So it's Saturday. 

I know when you read this it will be Monday, but right now, trust me, it’s Saturday.

This morning started, with me wanting to make my Saturday count. 

You know how that is, right? 

You have this list of things that need to be done and at the end of the day you drop into bed and wonder what you did all day since your list never got any shorter? 

Well, bright and shiny in the morning, Lynette, my friend, and neighbor, had a garage sale going. I seized the opportunity to drag a few items across the wet grass, that needed to be mowed two days ago, over to her driveway. 

She decided that she loved them both and kept them. 

I then decided I loved three tablecloths that she was parting with.

So we swapped some stuff.

The damp morning air was sweet with the smell of late blooming lilac bushes and an early morning rain soaked the dark soil, of our freshly planted garden.

Our garden. The one that has enough tomato plants in it to feed all of us in this little suburb and you who are reading.

It started with a small four pack of some kind of tomatoes claiming to be “bigger” and to be “boys.” They seemed so small, that I bought another four pack of plants. The name indicated that they would be “early” ... and that they were “girls.”

It sounded promising. Bigger, better, boys and early girls. Like tomorrow would be fine, but I don't think they meant that soon.

Later I found two beautiful plants that had, "heirloom" and "heritage," in their names. 

I'm not sure but I think that these are plants that get back to the basics. Before everything was hybrid and modified.

And then in our small garden, there is the one super-duper giant pumpkin plant.

I just like to plant them.

If the plant survives the gopher village and the bug that eats the vine from the inside out, the huge leaves cover a large space that is normally dominated by weeds and a few stickers. The stickers and weeds seem to also be appealing to the grasshoppers. 

Which is all why I would really like to have chickens.

That is correct. I just want chickens.

Someone made it part of the neighborhood covenant that having agricultural animals on our acre is not acceptable. The only thing we are supposed to do with this acre of land is.... mow. 

This has caused me to want to enter the arena of politics and lobby for my all-American freedom, to have Rhode Island Reds who happily eat bugs, dig up stickers and produce large brown eggs.

But alas, all I have is a finch feeder that has caused quite a stir in the local bird-hood and two red Cardinals who eat outside by office window in another feeder. 

They take my breath away.

So back to the garden.  

JQ has his three varieties of peppers. There are hot, hotter and then the hottest.

Years ago, (when we had free roaming chickens) we actually had two gardens and one was called the "salsa garden." Now we just poke a few plants in small raised beds and end up shopping at the local Farmers Market later.  This is because the rabbits nibble off their leaves and that’s about the end of it.

Could I digress back to the chickens one more time?

In town, I work a few blocks from city hall. In a house across the street from the office, there are chickens in the back yard. Only a few times have I caught a glimpse of them, but I often hear them. Like when the trash truck comes. Apparently town chickens don't like large trucks and they respond with cackles and bok-bok's  like someone is trying to chop their heads off. I try to be happy for these folks that they have fresh eggs, no stickers or grasshoppers. 


After swapping stuff with my neighbor, I went and swapped stories with a friend in commemoration of her birthday. She served fresh strawberry and greek yogurt parfaits and we enjoyed great conversation. Tina is one of the most naturally witty women I know. She needs to have a blog so you can love her too. Perhaps you should comment below, to encourage her? (wink)

Then I went to another friend’s house who was also hosting a garage sale. I was actually returning some things that belonged to her and was not going to buy a thing. 

But since I was there, I did look around and ended up with, a flat feather pillow and a laser sword that needs new batteries.

I was pleased with my purchases.

As I made my way home, JQ, my husband who lives here but I often do not see, asked if I wanted to hang out with him at Menards. It’s his happy place. If they opened a Mexican Food restaurant in it, we would never have to go to town again.

On the way home from our stroll through the food isle, dog treats section and garden center, we noticed that folks in a neighboring subdivision had their garage doors open and were pretty much giving stuff away.

So he and I wandered through six different strangers stuff and mingled with the locals, coming home with two pink fuzzy blankets for the grand girls to snuggle with.

That's it.

Then the afternoon was half over and the yard still needed to be mowed. So we teamed up on our green mowers, I took the zero-turn-double-bagger and made all the lines go a certain way. In the end, we both stood back when we were done and said, "this is good." 

A longtime friend, who gets motion sick on water, stopped by with his new fishing boat.

He took JQ out on the lake, to see if it would float.

When that was over we sat down to grilled hamburgers and a salad, when another one of our favorite people pulled up. It was all unplanned and sweet to connect and share a simple meal.

There we were. 

10:30 p.m. and the day was gone.

As I sat down to write this I was thinking how it was just an ordinary day. A day when few things that were planned, got checked off the list. 

But as I type this out, I realize that it was a good day.

A day when I was able to spend time with people. A day we took the time to hang out good friends and hold hands with the man I am still wild about, even if bonding means going to look at tools, mowing yards, and grilling hamburgers. A day digging around for a little-buried treasure. 

It is too easy to rush past what is important to do what is urgent. 

So often, I get tangled up in too much stuff and wanting things that don't really matter in the whole scheme of thing. 

I forget to do simple things like spending time with friends, neighbors and walking slowly and laughing deep. 

The real treasures are people. And the interruptions are most often Divine appointments.

My lists will always be there.  

So I'm reminded that our lives are never wasted when we spend time with people.

I hope you will embrace that this week.

© Rhonda Quaney