The Gift Of Presence

 

She was in and out. Less than 48 hours. We had company during that time, so there was little chance to talk.

My daughter, Melody, has done her share of traveling this past year. Her job requires on-site meetings that take her away from home for short periods of time.

Short spurts are what her two kids can handle right now.

After picking her up from the airport, we were on FaceTime with her family in DC. Her daughter, Sloane, a savvy three-year-old, was quite expressive of her feelings.

“I miss you, Mommy. Come home.”

Melody’s presence mattered. She’d only been gone three hours at that point, and she was already missed.

Her presence mattered here as well. She’s part of a team designing the parts for a large conference we’re holding in a year and a half. Her input is valued. Face time with people she’s working with is valuable. Being in the room together is more efficient and effective.

Wanting to take advantage of opportunities together, the rest of the family that’s local came by for dinner.

Being with one another was important. Talking, laughing, sharing what’s going on, being vulnerable with one another–so much easier in person than over text or phone.

Presence matters.

When my kids were all playing soccer, one of the biggest encouragements to each of them was that one of us would show up at their games. With six kids on six different teams, it was a challenge. John and I were rarely at games together, and sometimes we’d have to leave early to fit another game in. But we often managed to see some of every game.

Presence matters.

When each of my kids has become parents, I’ve managed to be present to help out with the new transitions, if only for a short time. Doing laundry, shopping, making a few meals isn’t something that can be accomplished long-distance.

Presence matters.

I coach people for my job, something I thoroughly enjoy. I have the opportunity to sit with them as they process thoughts, ask the tough questions, work with them through assessments, and often just hug them to remind them they have value.

Presence matters.

God enjoys my presence. He loves when I choose to sit with Him, pour out my heart to Him. He’s the best listener and doesn’t judge me for my bad attitudes or worse ideas. He works with me through them. I never have to wonder if He is with me for He’s promised never to leave me.

I wander from HimĀ as if it was my job.

He never wanders from me.

My presence matters.

To Him.

I’m not that attentive. I get busy. Life overwhelms. I work hard at fixing myself. I act like I’ve got it all together.

I don’t.

Because I am His, God is present with me no matter how I feel about Him. No matter how much time I do or don’t spend with Him.

I imagine Melody’s return home was amazing. She’s loved well.

We all are if we give God a chance to love us.

Giving Him the freedom to love me, even in my mess, matters.

It’s the only thing that matters eternally.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s Just Not My Thing

 

When the first big snow hit Pennsylvania this winter, my son sent pictures of his three boys playing in piles of the white stuff. Huck, Landry, and little Mack couldn’t have been more delighted. If you’re going to live up north, snow activities should be a part of the winter adventures.

I noticed the bright red noses and the layers of clothes covering those little guys.

I was freezing just looking at the pictures.

I’ve now lived in Florida longer than I’ve lived anywhere else. Though I was raised in the Chicago area, where snow days were common and ice skating and sledding were integral parts of my life, warm is now my happy place.

Cold is just not my thing anymore.

Case in point. We were at a soccer game the other night, watching one of our grands play her heart out. It was damp, and the wind had picked up enough to cause it to go right through everything I wore right to my bones.

This is no exaggeration–I had on a sweater, three jackets, and was holding a blanket around me.

It was 55 degrees.

Granted I was coming down with a bit of a cold. The bleachers were metal, so if I’d chosen to sit, I’d have been cold on all fronts. And bottoms. So I stood.

Growing up, I skated on the pond across from our home for hours at a time. I taught myself turns and little jumps and never once considered the cold.

Spending extended time in the cold now gives me the chills.

I do heat and humidity really well.

I will still get cold. This may be Florida, the Sunshine State, but we have a very brief time in January where the cold and damp combine to make temperatures feel cooler than they are. If I intend to be outside, I need to deal with the weather.

No excuses.

Our pastor this past weekend made a powerful statement. “To be motivated to change anything in my life, the pain of not changing has to be greater than the pain of changing.”

I find myself in situations where I’ll choose to shirk responsibility with an excuse. Not wanting to do something, not feeling qualified to do it, or fearing failure are mere excuses. Often because I don’t want to go through the pain of changing me. Rather than try or trust God to do something new, I’ll come back with, “That’s not something I’m good at.”

We live in a world culture of excuses. People explaining away unmet responsibilities, not following through because something was harder than expected, not even trying because there’s a conviction that failure is inevitable.

Change doesn’t come easily. Truth is, we can’t completely change ourselves. We can improve, educate, challenge, and grow ourselves to a certain degree. The tough changes–developing better attitudes, ceasing from hurtful actions, caring more about others than ourselves–happens with the power of God.

Pain and growth come from admitting I can’t make those changes alone. Excuses shouldn’t excuse my behavior.

Growth is worth the pain and effort.

The cold?

I just need another coat. Not another excuse.

 

 

 

Just Grab My Hand

We’ve had lumber stacked on our driveway for weeks. For the unending porch project.

It’s a huge draw for a little guy who has no fear and believes climbing to the highest point available is his daily goal.

Mason doesn’t hesitate. He climbs, jumps, and balances the best he can. He walks the planks with incredible speed.

Until they’re too narrow and he starts to tip. Then his dimpled cheeks change to shock, his arms flail, and he yells for me.

I grab him before he falls, never straying too far from his side because I know what he can do.

And can’t do.

He reminds me a lot of my daughter Melody. She was–and is–fearless. When she was little, she climbed everything, a feat which gave her a dimple in her cheek at the age of three.

John was in charge of the programming for a conference, and we needed to be there early for final details, a soundcheck for the emcee and the band that was playing, all the particulars that went into putting on a conference. I turned my back for just a moment–all my other kids were hanging around the band. Melody chose that moment to climb the sound equipment, which was stacked rather high. When I caught sight of her, I screamed her name. She looked up, surprised she’d been caught, and fell from the stack. She landed with her cheek on the edge of a speaker, hitting hard enough to break the skin and tear the muscle.

Giving her a new dimple.

I was grateful that was the only new thing she got. And that it was on her cheek and not her forehead.

I loved her adventuresome spirit and her willingness to push the limits of what she thought she could do. I did worry about her lack of judgment and her inability to assess her circumstances accurately.

I can be the adult version of my daughter. Pushing limits, not thinking through consequences, never being aware of the danger.

I need a hand to hold.

So many times in a day, my mantra becomes, “I’ve got this.” It’s not just confidence in the things I know I can do. It’s pride in that I can do some things well.

And I want to be recognized for those things.

Society demands we establish our value based on output and productivity. Those who push boundaries and have an entrepreneurial spirit are lauded for their wisdom, courage, and insight.

Those values don’t define the majority of people. We move through life purposefully, seeking to do our best, wanting to make a positive impact. Not something always seen or affirmed.

So I go overboard, extending myself beyond sanity, like too little peanut butter over too much bread–no flavor, just beige and blah.

God holds my hand, moving with me along those narrow boards where my balance isn’t what it should be. I often go where I shouldn’t; He sticks with me even in my bad choices. Not condoning, but never condemning.

I can count on Him being present for me.

That’s what unconditional love is all about.

A hand reach away.

 

 

 

 

 

Do I Have To Put Christmas Away?

 

It lasted longer than we thought it would. There were so many days we forgot to check the water; I could hear the needles drying out.

Our Christmas tree was up days longer than usual. I didn’t want it to come down at all. Every morning, since I’m up really early, I’d turn the lights on and have my space and time, journaling and reading my Bible, backlit by the twinkle of Christmas awe.

I didn’t want it to end.

Early morning is quiet, time for contemplation and reflection. No one needs me immediately. I make a cup of coffee and relax. Reading God’s Word focuses me on truth, His peace and presence, helping me filter life through a reality I need.

And those lights.

The needles, however, told another story. There was a cascade of tinkling needles hitting the floor, and in the quiet, it took away from the twinkle.

The tree needed to be pitched.

John has been after me for years to buy an artificial tree. His logic is solid–it lasts longer, no fire hazard, needles don’t fly off when you brush by it. Best of all, it pays for itself in a few years.

I can’t do it.

John and I undecorated our tree. The more ornaments we took off, the more needles fell to the floor.

It felt like we were shaming the tree.

The worst part was the stinky water.

Our lack of watering toward the end didn’t mean the water was gone. It had sat there, becoming smelly with the old trunk submerged in it. And when John dragged the tree to the backyard, he dumped the foul fluid all over the floor.

Insult on top of injury. The residual effect of keeping something too long. Like molded food in my refrigerator.

Christmas is being stored. Blow-up characters and waving snowmen are being put away. Lights are coming down–not everywhere. Tree carcasses line the street.

We’re back to same old, same old. No more Christmas kindness. No random interactions with folks when you wish them a Merry Christmas–that’s done. Finished. Let’s get back to life.

Is that really the best plan?

Wouldn’t it be amazing for people to maintain a joyful, anticipatory spirit every day of life? Where kindness comes naturally, where folks interact with generous spirits, where Good News to all men is our daily reality and not just a season?

We’ve entered a new decade, where world circumstances are precarious at best, where our country is in an election year that won’t be pretty, where factions are the norm rather than unity.

And yet we desperately need true companionship. Honest relationships with others that can support us in hard times, laugh with us in good times, love us no matter what we do or how we show up.

Only God can do that. Only He can offer us the hope we need that He gifted us with at Christmas. Only He can be our Enough in a world lost in darkness, selfishness, and pride.

I don’t want to be a Christmas carcass.

I choose His Light and Life.

He makes it happen.

 

 

To Dream Is The Next Big Adventure

photo courtesy of Kazuend on Unsplash

Anticipation is a glorious word. It speaks of dreams and hopes and the wonder of expectations not yet known.

Recollection is just as significant–remembering what has been. It connotes a willingness to learn from what was, recognizing our stories are real pieces of us that we shouldn’t ignore or deny.

A new decade has begun, another turning of the calendar page to day one.

New Year’s Eve was more reflective this year. We gathered with some friends and asked each other questions I often prefer to avoid.

What were the toughest challenges this past year?

Being high on the positivity side, I don’t always like looking back. Dad used to say, “Don’t worry about the past; it’s water over the dam.” I took that to heart and tend to move past hard things; I don’t deal well with personal pain and disappointment.

I’ve had a lot of disappointments and pain this past year, with family, friends, and job situations. Voicing some of those things out loud made me realize I’ve got a need to own what has happened, forgive some people, and ask forgiveness of others.

What am I grateful for?

That was easier. I’m grateful for family, friends, and a job I feel is significant, a place where I can make a difference. We have a home big enough for folks to stay when there’s a need, a true haven for us and others. Aware of the conditions around the world, I have the freedom to worship God and share His truth with others without fear of punishment.

All that was looking at what I can see and evaluate.

The last question was harder.

What do you hope for in the new year?

This has nothing to do with resolutions, which are our attempts at self-improvement without significant help or motivation. Too often they end in frustration, failure, and more shame for not following through.

This was all about dreaming. Pressing on to the hope that lies ahead.

Dreams are those things that are bigger than we can imagine. Greater than what our circumstances indicate could happen. Thinking past what we see to what we hope for.

Culturally we’ve learned to live by what we know and see. If you have a question, google the answer. If you have a dilemma, there are YouTube videos that can help you figure out solutions. Pinterest gives ideas when imagination lags. Strategies, spreadsheets, self-help books move us past our stuck places.

Dreaming? Imagining the impossible?

That’s harder.

I dream of more margin in my life, spaces to do what I long to do–finish my novel, spend time with people I haven’t made time to see, time to just think. No amount of resolution can make those things happen.

God can.

He sees my flaws, my brokenness, and loves me through the process of growth. He’s not frustrated with my failure. He embraces me in it and encourages me to move forward. Growth isn’t something forced; it’s the result of an increased relationship with the One who made me special. More than I can imagine.

Give yourself the freedom to dream.

It’s where God releases newfound hope.