The One That Didn’t Get Away

Dad loved to fish.

He also loved to tell a great story.

Fishing was Dad’s method of getting away and decompressing. Having learned as a boy on a small farm in Texas, he’d find time and a place when needed.

We’d accompany him on occasion. None of us were ever true fisherman, but watching him was a chance to be with him, knowing his awareness of us, basking in his enjoyment.

His kids and fishing. Dad’s favorites.

We were on vacation in Canada, and Dad was on the dock at dusk, fishing. The four of us kids sat behind him, talking quietly, with the occasional look from Dad when the volume escalated.

He hooked a big one.

A quiet “wow” was all we heard. His rod bent in half as the fish on the line fought for freedom. Dad reeled in and relaxed. It was a dance of opponents, neither of whom wanted to give up. When he finally brought it up to the dock, it was monstrous.

A northern pike. It had teeth that looked like small razors as it snapped and flopped. It upended on its tail, close enough to my brother to cause him to leap and run screaming back to the cabin.

We talked about that trip forever.

When Dad told the story, his description of my brother’s race to safety was way more dramatic. And fun.

Dad’s stories always had an element of fun. He’d tell us of the escapades on the farm, which for us suburban kids was an adventure book waiting to be written. The time he was pushed from his perch in a tree by an older brother and broke his arm. The permanent tooth mark in the wood floor where he risked balancing on the too-high bannister and fell.

How did he live through childhood?

Going to college as a football player, we heard stories of how the team got a cow to the top of their dormitory building–and then couldn’t get her down. Or how they threw bags of water on professors walking beneath their windows.

The stories made him real and fun. More approachable. We knew Dad was someone who not only got into trouble but had to pay consequences for what he’d done. Like cleaning all the cow pies from the top floor. He got it when we pushed the envelope and got into trouble. We’d be disciplined, but always with a hug and a grin.

I know I’m fortunate. I’ve got friends who didn’t see their dads after a divorce or a huge family fight. Kids whose memories of their dads aren’t fun but frightening. Horrible men who knew how to hurt instead of hold gently.

Men who just didn’t care.

My Dad loved Jesus, and because of his compassion toward us, it wasn’t hard for me to understand a loving heavenly Father who cared for me no matter what I did. No matter how much I blew it. If God is God, He’d have to be perfect, a Dad who not only understood and allowed consequences, but also comforted and cared for me perfectly. Always there. Never abandoning. Never accusing.

That’s as real as it gets.

No fish story there.

 

 

Happily Ever–When?

I’m a great expecter–with massive expectations of what my life should look like.

I fully expected to get through college, find a job and get married. Did that. The fact that I’m still married to that guy I dated all those years ago is a testimony to the grace of God.

I fully expected to have children. We did. Six of them. Again, blessings from the Lord.

I expected to raise them as decent human beings. I like and love my kids. They’ve all turned out well. Not a one has committed a heinous crime.

I’ve prayed they’d all marry well. With spouses who love the Lord and love them. Kind people with generous and forgiving hearts.

I’ve been richly blessed.

When Debbie informed us she’d gotten engaged, I was thrilled. Not because she’s the last one, and we can check off the box of family weddings. (Five daughters, one son–we should go into the business.) I’m thrilled because I’ve gotten to know the young man she’s going to marry. Taylor is a gift to us all.

It’s not enough that Debbie loves him. He’s becoming part of a family where everyone wants him to fit with our larger clan. Families get up into each other’s business, and we’ve made that practice an art form.

So the wedding is in the planning stages. I’m delighted.

I’m also aware of how many people I know who would love to be married. People who’ve been disappointed or hurt in past relationships. Those who’ve not yet found anyone who will love them well. Friends who feel like the wait for the right person is impossibly long and has no hopeful end.

Marriage appears to be the way out of loneliness into shared, affable companionship. Romantic love where music plays every time two people are together. Where “happily ever after” is the phrase left unsaid at the end of all marriage vows.

When I got married, I figured it would be eternal bliss with a guy I adored, and we could live life our way.

No one informed me that we’d have to work through (read “battle through”) differences of opinion and story. I thought he’d fully get me from the beginning. That there was more of me to understand–and vice versa–was shocking. And painful.

It’s been work.

My expectation was the forever love of novels. That it would magically happen without any effort from me.

Don’t we all want that?

What about those who don’t have the chance to marry? Who are disappointed in love again and again? Who don’t find their expectations of life fulfilled?

None of this comes easy. Work and disappointment are often underlying refrains for all aspects of life.

But there is One who chooses to love perfectly, be available continually and understand me completely and desires a relationship with me. And all who choose Him.

Jesus is my perfect Partner. The One who gets me even when I don’t. The best possible Husband when I feel misunderstood. Who loves me no matter what.

The Bible talks about Him being our Bridegroom. The best of the best match for everyone. To be fully experienced in heaven.

The real happily ever after.

 

 

 

 

Treasures Found Where Life Is Happening

Perspective changes with circumstances.

Several years ago, we invested in “freshening” our home. New floors, new paint, new counters. Twenty years of wear and tear, six children, several dogs and most surfaces having been peed, pooped or puked on made it feel necessary.

It was a big deal for me. As frugal as we were, the price was higher than I wanted it to be. Once it was done, I was obsessive about taking care of it so it would last.

Four years later, our floors are scratched, our walls have marks on them and gouges can be found sprinkled around like tiny ice cream scoops had been used on surfaces.

I purchased the stuff online that fills in gouges so “you won’t even know they’re there.”

I still know they’re there.

I’d scurry around after gatherings and mop up spills, wipe down walls, a small can of the leftover paint on hand to brush on marks made by others.

It was exhausting.

The kids are grown, so they’re not here to carve initials in surfaces they shouldn’t. Our dog died several years ago, so pet stains aren’t happening. (John has said no more pets that can’t live underwater for five minutes.)

Wear and tear still happens.

I can’t stop that.

I can appreciate the memories we’ve made in this “refreshed” space with all the different people in our lives. The family and friends who’ve blessed our home with their presence. Who will experience accidents. Will gouge a floor or scrape paint off a wall.

The memories of times together far surpass the appearance of my home.

Being with family this past week and the new friends I made this past year have reinforced that truth. I need to invest more energy in people.

It’s so easy to become immersed in stuff–things stare me in the face all the time. A car that doesn’t run well. Not having the “right” outfit to wear to an event. An old computer that insists on having a mind of its own and refuses to listen to me.

Stuff doesn’t fill in the gaps of my heart and my need for friends who love me, family who gets me, those who are my safe and comfortable people. I yearn for folks in my life who won’t criticize or condone but will listen.

That’s where I need to invest my time and energy. Those people are my life treasures.

Jesus spoke often about the posture of our hearts. What we value becomes the focal point of what we hold dear. How we invest what we have.

He warned that building treasure on earth is temporal. I’ve seen that happen when things gained lose appeal. When something of value is taken or lost.  Fear is the underlying melody of acquisition. There’s always the worry I could lose it.

This past week I made memories for a lifetime with family. Laughter and jokes that we won’t forget. Stories told that share heart needs. Love shared graciously. Friends made this past year are investments in people who will populate my life longer than a new paint job.

That’s a guaranteed investment where I can’t lose.

 

 

Fanciful Forests And Familial Fun

 

Family time is like a treasure box that you open with anticipation, wondering what will be inside.

With my siblings in Santa Rosa, this is the first time we’ve gathered since Mom died. Not knowing how the others had been dealing with personal grief, I wondered how we’d embrace each other where we were.

It’s been beautiful.

With an acknowledgement of what’s been and the general path we’re each taking, it’s been a coming together of heart friends more than just siblings.

A gift.

That was underscored our first day together when we made a trek to Armstrong Woods, home of giant redwood trees. We all needed the chance to decompress, and what better place to do so than in the midst of some of the most magnificent trees I’ve seen. Breathtaking panoramas of old splendor and renewed growth.

I’m a Tolkein fan, and as we entered this national park, it felt like walking into a scene from Lord of the Rings. Ancient trees that could have been Ents (tree shepherds) and a backdrop of age-old foliage that looked as if they could be homes to hobbits or dwarves. Moss spread like carpets over the ground and around fallen trees. Huge redwoods with holes big enough to hide in–or live in, depending on your size.

The middle of a fantasy forest where awe and wonder were the only appropriate responses.

In the forest, our voices were quieter, our conversations more subdued as we walked on sun-dappled paths that led from one wonder to another. The beauty was vibrant, with an intensity of color and years that made me pause.

It felt like sacred ground.

I’ve been in places before that have captivated my soul and heart. The Grand Canyon. Mountain peaks in Colorado. The ocean. Places that reflect a majesty and beauty not limited to this world. Areas that manifest something greater than us. Even man-made creations–a basilica in Spain, a beautiful work of art like Van Gogh’s Starry Nights, musical compositions, like Handel’s Messiah–come from a depth of spirit that stirs my soul.

Being in these woods was being in a sanctuary. A place of peace, growth and beauty.

We all felt it. It calmed our conversation and spurred on thoughts of our Creator as we pointed out incredible vistas, walking through one awe-inspiring spot after another.

I need sanctuary. A place to be calm. Space to be still and quiet. A chance to hear the needs of my heart and think past the noise of the moment. To consider the bigger picture of what I’m a part of. To get past myself. To choose not to focus on me.

I have a Living Sanctuary.

There’s an incredible beauty to having Jesus as my Refuge, my Rock. I don’t live in an area of magnificent mountains or magical forests. The wonders of the world aren’t available. But Jesus is always accessible. Always available. Sitting with Him and hearing His voice in my heart, telling me how much I mean to Him, fills my soul.

No Rivendell required.

 

 

What Will We Do With What We’ve Been Given?

When presented with a conclusion to an epic experience, the only possible way to finish well is to party.

True celebration is a gift. It’s an opportunity to become excited with those who are filled with hope and anticipation. It’s also the chance to empathize with those who’re disappointed and hesitant of next steps. We honor the truth of life in others–both sides of celebration.

Our last times with our group, brought together from all over the world for this year of development, was filled with of hopeful possibilities and the disappointment of unmet expectations. There was sharing that revealed heart reflections and needs. Tears and laughter. A vulnerability that the world doesn’t often experience because not everyone we encounter on our journey is safe.

After the tears was the real party. The fun and funky, let’s-get-crazy-and-dance party. Dress-glam-or-geeky party. Where bustin’ a move was better than bustin’ into tears.

Memories were made as pictures were taken and hugs exchanged. Reminders of laughter shared and mutual grief experienced.

The big takeaway for me, as I listened to stories told of the year was how this group used the time and opportunities given them. The choices they made in living this season.

It’s unique to be able to live in close proximity to co-workers. To have consistent times together in discussion and play. That’s been the experience of these folks for ten months. And they’ve not misused the gift of time and space.

If I look at my circumstances and options, I don’t always see the gift of time. I can whine about not having enough time to do all I want. My busyness is my choice. I can whine about not having the things that would make my life easier, more comfortable. How I use my belongings, how I spend my money, is my choice.

My choices take into account my values. What matters most to me reflects my heart.

So I ask myself–not often enough–what I’m doing with what I’ve been given? With my own time and treasures. What am I investing in? Who am I investing in?

When Jesus walked the earth, he chose to invest in twelve men, men who didn’t have the best reputations or credentials. Some were common fishermen, used to hard work and not a lot of respect from others. One was a tax collector, shunned by most of his people because of his penchant for taking extra for himself. One betrayed Him three times, after another betrayed Him to those who’d kill Him.

I may not think much of what I have and what I do, but I’ve been given a chance to live my life in a way that matters. I can make a difference by using what I’ve been given by a gracious and mighty God.

We might not appreciate our life stories, but we’ve co-written them with the God of the universe. We all have value. Not because of what we’ve been given. But because of what we do with it for the glory of God.

What will you do? Celebrate every day? Or complain of what’s hard?

Our choice.