Pursuing Peace & Joy Inexpressible

I cannot count how many times I have settled down with my journal to pour out my frustrations and dashed dreams, and within a span of a few pages, find my writing shift into something like praise. It’s not because I’m holy or somehow divinely inspired. It’s because God shows up, time and time again, and speaks truth to my heart as I write. I recognize God’s voice by the sense of peace that comes along with it. It’s the sense that I am moving towards joy.

It was October 8, 2016 and our small business was slowly failing. The pressure of constantly meeting payroll, and rent for four commercial spaces, and the $10,000 metal print supply order that we had to place nearly every month, felt increasingly oppressive. I was homeschooling my two children and had a toddler. We were also residential landlords and land owners. The responsibilities were overwhelming.

A babysitter was coming so Rich and I could celebrate our wedding anniversary a day late. Neither of us felt like celebrating, but knew we should. We had limited funds, and decided on our favorite cheap date: a day in Yosemite Valley. We’d have the drive up to Yosemite and back to talk, and in between the drives we knew we could find someplace beautiful to wander.

That morning, I sat on the porch swing on our front porch with my Bible and told God I was sick of the stress of the business. I missed my sisters and extended family. I was tired of not having a church where our kids could learn and grow. I was exhausted from homeschooling, and the idea of continuing into high school felt overwhelming. I prayed an, “I’m at the end of myself, save us now!” kind of prayer…and then got ready to go to Yosemite.

We were exhausted and stressed driving up towards the valley, and as always, our conversation turned towards our business. Rich had ideas on how to downsize and streamline our services. We sat eating sandwiches, somewhat numb to the beautiful vista, and thought up new business plans.

We kept driving, and parked near El Capitan meadow. We walked east, and found ourselves in a part of the meadow where we’d never been, though we’d been walking in that area for 18 years. Suddenly Rich looked at me and said, “I think we’re supposed to sell our house. I think we need to sell our house and move back to our little blue house.”

I agreed. The cost of having a larger home was draining our pocketbook, and it seemed wise to downsize our living expenses so we could shore up our savings.

He continued, “We need to downsize because I think something big is about to happen.” 

My heartbeat picked up in excitement, and I felt like he was speaking truth I already knew, but hadn’t verbalized yet. “I agree!”

“I think God is going to move us. I think he’s going to move us to a city of some sort.”

I nodded, my spirit perking up like a dry plant drinking in fresh rain, as these words poured out of Rich’s mouth and into my ears.

“Suse, I think he’s going to move us to Nashville.”

Nashville? Rich had never been to Nashville. 

“I don’t know about Nashville, but I agree…I think God is about to do something. It’s like we’re on the cusp of a big change.”

October 8, 2016, the night we learned we were moving to Nashville. A candlelit dinner with a view of a pickup truck in the window sets the scene in Mariposa, California.

And just like that, the weight of the business; the worry; the angst that had plagued us for months lifted as God gave us a new vision, and a new dream. We spent the rest of the night feeling giddy and in love with each other, and with life. We had an amazing dinner at a little restaurant in a neighboring small town, wondering at what the future held, and for the first time in a long time, we felt a sense of freedom.

“And though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory.” 1 Peter 1:7

It’s the rush of  inexpressible joy that keeps me coming back to Jesus, time and time again. That’s what we felt that day in Yosemite. 

And the time when we drove home after Rich’s cancer diagnosis, and stopped the car to look at the thousands of stars in the dark mountain sky and suddenly felt full of joy and peace, even though Rich was so sick and the prognosis wasn’t good.

And when our son was in the NICU after being intubated because he stopped breathing for unknown reasons, and Rich came into the hospital room with his face beaming because God had inexpressibly spoken to His heart and given him sudden peace and joy while sitting in the hospital courtyard.

Though I’ve experienced God’s peace in these trying times, one of my favorite places to find God’s joy is in the mundane moments. It’s so unexpected, and such evidence of His constant presence. I recently took walk by myself around our neighborhood. It was twilight and the sun had set. Bunnies were out collecting bites of flowers, and the robins were twittering. I began thinking about my friends far away. I was missing their faces, and praying for them, and my mood shifted from melancholy to being suddenly full of joy…joy inexpressible, as I walked in the middle of a typical suburban subdivision in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

These circumstances; this inexpressible and unexpected peace and joy, is living proof that God is present in all situations. He is constantly working good on our behalf, even when the circumstances are hard. Hard times cause us to lean on Him more fully, and to be more aware of Him and His voice…which refines us. The truth is that sometimes, to be rebuilt, things need to be torn down. Businesses close. Marriages fail. Relationships sever. But God is not done. He is still writing our stories.

“So that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable even though tested by fire; may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 1:6’

I’m 3.5 years past that prayer on my porch swing. We never moved back into our little blue house, but God did move us to Nashville, where I have a fulfilling job working at a ministry. My kids are in excellent public schools. We found a church that has stretched us and grown us, with the teaching perfectly coming alongside us as we began to rebuild our lives. Rich is pursuing his dreams in new ways that are inspiring both of us. It’s a good new life.

Are things perfect? No. There is a lot that is hard about this time. It’s possible to see blessings as curses sometimes…which leads me back to my journal, so He can transform the feelings in my heart into joy inexpressible, once again.

 

New Plan: Be Content With Simple Things

Survival & SimplicityThere is value to simple fun; fun that costs nothing other than free time and a place to play.

When I was a kid in the 1970s and 80s, I didn’t play soccer, take ballet, or do art classes. I went to school, came home, played in my yard, and planned various ways to spy on my teenage sisters. 

I was frequently bored, and had to find creative ways to fill my time, like pretending the rock garden in our back yard was actually a kitchen; or finding a packet of morning glory seeds in my mom’s junk drawer and planting them next to the pillars on our side porch. My mom stared at them in disbelief when they began to work their vines up the pillars, wondering how they could have possibly grown on their own.

We had three very old out buildings behind our midwestern farm house, and I would endlessly examine their floors and corners, looking for treasures from the families who came before mine, but usually just found disturbing spiders.

I have always had an active imagination, and I think most of that is because I had to entertain myself as a kid. I had to create my own simple fun. This was common amongst children when I was growing up.

Kids of today have different childhoods. “Fun” is often organized, planned for, and often paid for. Trampoline arenas, climbing gyms, pottery painting, Chuck E. Cheese…As my friend Delissa once said, it’s a “Pay to Play” era. Somehow having my kids at home, all of the time, has made me realize how much I seek entertainment from the outside world, and I have conditioned them to do the same.

I am also becoming more and more aware of a monologue in my brain that is a bit neurotic. It’s a compulsion to do something; to fix things; to remove boredom; to invest in my kids’ education; to give them another experience. It goes something like this:

“Have my kids done their homework? Have they answered emails from their teachers? Did I buy the snacks I promised for the kindergarten classroom?” Oh wait, there is no school.

“My kids haven’t moved enough today. We need to enroll them in something, anything. Rock climbing? Tae Kwon Do? How much would that cost every month?” That’s right, there are no classes right now.

“He’s interested in coding. I wonder if there are any coding camps he could do this summer?” Oh…yes, most camps are cancelled.

“He’s been on his screen too much today. This isn’t good!” Oh, but that’s the only way he can do his school.

“Has he seen his friends lately? We should plan a playdate. What about socialization?” Oh, that’s right, we aren’t allowed to see anybody!

So often, my answer to each perceived problem is an action; it’s DOING something. But in an era when we literally can’t DO anything with our kids outside of our home, this dialog is completely useless.

So I’m having to resort to new thought processes. I have to be OK with many things being broken; or different; or just kind of existing as is. Here’s what I’m noticing:

Our lives are far less chaotic. We are lingering at the dinner table instead of racing through to get to an activity.

It’s a nice break from the outside world of teenage pressures. I feel like my teenagers can be themselves in a way that isn’t possible when they are out on the town, perpetually embarrassed by their parents and little brother.

We are all getting a little crazy, and the craziness looks different on each of us. If you are  trapped in a house with your kids and your spouse, you know exactly what I mean…if not, I’ll leave it up to your imagination.

My kids are remembering old interests, and are spending time doing hobbies that had been set aside because of the busyness of school. They have been reading books for fun again.

In many ways, this time is reminiscent of when we homeschooled. On the days when I work from home, we eat all three meals together; we share stories; we talk about old memories from when they were little…

And it’s kind of like a family vacation because we are all together on this adventure, with little interaction with the outside world.

But there is also an overwhelming sense of unrest. As much as I love having my children at home, and all of the family time we’ve had, things aren’t as they should be. Teenagers love to be with friends. My kindergartener misses going to the park. My parents have been in isolation for months now, with no reprieve in sight. Things aren’t right.

A difficult season calls for a different plan. So I’m working hard to adopt a new approach to life, and to school, during COVID-19. Here’s my new plan for the remainder of this season. It’s based on embracing simple things, and easy expectations. Maybe it will resonate with you:

Activity #1: Survive as well as we can. Let’s face it, shopping with gloves and a mask is no fun, especially when grocery stores are depleted. Contracting COVID-19 is even more scary. I’m here to say SURVIVAL IS ENOUGH. But just surviving can get boring and repetitive, which leads to the rest of my list…

Activity #2: Bake cookies and try some new recipes. When my dad had a heart attack at 43, I remember my older sister telling me to stop crying, and then pulling out the ingredients to make chocolate chip cookies with me. Doing something ordinary like baking distracted me, easing my spirit, and made the time pass more quickly. It is the same today.

Activity #3: Do the little things that give us joy. Like baking. Or watching the baby bunny in the backyard. Or looking at old family photos.

Activity #4: Do the school work that must get done, but realize that the majority of the “work” in this season is character development. We are all learning about endurance, patience and being content in any circumstance. I, for one, like seasons like this to pass quickly (which illustrates why I apparently need more practice learning those character traits).

Activity $5: Exercise and breathe fresh air. Exercise is my Prozac. If I don’t move, everyone suffers.

Activity #6: Focus on our blessings more than our hardships during this season. This is a lesson I’ve had a lot of practice in since the closure of our small business three years ago. It has taught me that gratitude is a choice, and it is something that has to be practiced. When I practice being thankful, I realize that, though there are a lot of hard and unsolvable things in life right now, I am also surrounded by blessings. It’s a constant, repeated choice to choose gratitude over grumbling, and the more you do it, the easier it gets.

Activity #8 Embrace the simple fun. Card games; binge watching a Netflix show; reading books; making the cats chase after the laser pen…my kids have the chance to live my childhood for awhile. I’d like to enjoy it with them. How about you?

Truths About Schooling During COVID-19

Truths for Schooling During Covid-19First of all, let’s be clear: This is not homeschool.

We are six weeks into COVID-19 distance learning and I feel more overwhelmed with educating my kids than I ever did as a homeschool parent. The schools are calling, texting, and messaging repeatedly, with updates, reminders, and new ideas on how to educate our children at home. It’s helpful, and it’s necessary…but it’s also overwhelming.

I homeschooled my children for eight years. They’ve been in public school for the last three. With this kind of background, you would think I’d take this change in schooling in stride, but I am here to say: I’M HAVING A HARD TIME WRAPPING MY BRAIN AROUND COVID-19 SCHOOLING!

When I homeschooled, I spent hours researching curriculum and planned school for each of my children, modifying based in their needs as we went through our school year.

When I sent them to public school, I did my best to reign in my control-freak nature as they learned how to navigate teachers who were not me…the hard ones who challenged their skills; and the ones who assigned consistent busywork.

COVID-19 school is a weird hybrid of the two. Though my kids are enrolled in public school, they must do their school work at home. In our school system, the work is optional, and it’s not graded. We can log in to see the assignments…or not. Though this alleviates the pressure of worrying about their grades, it introduces an entirely different type of pressure.

My lazy parent (and child) voice says, “Do they actually need to do the assignments? Why make them, if they aren’t graded? None of their friends are doing them…”

The over achieving voice says, “Of course they need to do their assignments! If the teachers are still giving assignments, my students should be doing them! They are home all day anyway…what else do they have to do?”

The hard part is that, unlike when I homeschooled, I now have a full time job. My husband works full time from home. OUR work has continued, and is busier than ever…and now we need to add schooling into the mix. The opportunity for mom guilt is endless, and at times, it feels suffocating.

As I pondered the overwhelming emotions that have come with parenting during this season, I asked myself, “What is true?” And I began to make a list. And as I looked at the list, I thought other parents might find it to be helpful too. That’s why I’m sharing these truths about having children during the COVID-19 pandemic:

Truth #1: This is temporary. It will not last forever. School and normal life will someday resume to a (new) normal. Take heart.

Truth #2: Our kids are learning a lot while living through an historic event, and watching how we and the world around us respond. They notice EVERYTHING. Don’t freak out.

Truth #3: This virus has upended every area of the WORLD…So it makes sense that this aspect of our lives feels so unsettled. We aren’t alone.

Truth #4: My kids are learning, growing, and are spending more time together than they have since they started public school three years ago. They are closer, and our family is closer, than when the safer-at-home orders went into effect. This is a gift.

Truth #5: The schools truly have our best interests in mind, and I am so thankful that they are diligently trying to instill some normalcy into my children’s lives, when everything else is abnormal. This is grace.

Truth #6: IT’S NOT ABOUT ME, or my kids, or school! With COVID-19 risking so many lives, cancelling school and having to figure out how to do life in a new way is a necessary sacrifice. My kids being at home means life for someone else. This makes the discomfort and confusion worth enduring. This is necessary.

Truth #7: THIS IS NOT HOMESCHOOL…but it is a chance to approach “school” differently (which is my next post!). As I told my kindergartener this morning, learning doesn’t just happen at school. It happens everywhere. Sure, he has assignments from school, but he also has been building impressive Lego creations, playing ball with his brother and Daddy, and studying the bunnies who live in our backyard…and those are all fantastically worthwhile for a six-year-old to do!

Truth #8: Parents, we are doing something unique, and hard, and rather illusive: trying to come alongside our kids during a difficult time in the world. It’s going to look different in every family, because every family has different needs and demands. We need the peace of knowing that, with school, and with every aspect of our lives, all we can do, is all we can do. And truly, that must be enough.

USA Today publishes my column

I’m excited USA Today published my article on working at the GraceWorks Ministries food pantry during COVID-19. Click here to view it!

USA Today published my article on working at the GraceWorks Food Pantry during COVID-19

Waiting for Easter and normal life to return…

I can’t imagine how disillusioned and disappointed they felt. In one day, their hopes, dreams and plans vanished, as they stared at Jesus, dead on a cross. The one they had given their lives, and their livelihoods, to follow: Dead.

In 2020, we have the benefit of knowing that the story doesn’t end with Jesus dying on the cross. That on Easter Sunday, He miraculously rose from the dead. But his disciples, friends and family didn’t know the full story during the long hours that spanned from Jesus’s death until they found His tomb empty on Easter Sunday morning.

And here, as we sit in the isolation of COVID-19, we are in a season of unsettled waiting, as well. Many are in despair. We bounce amongst the walls of our homes, and wait. We go for a walk, and wait. Those of you who are essential workers are working, working, and working and waiting for a chance to stop and rest.

We don’t know what is to come. We don’t know what is next. We don’t know if our very lives may be lost; or our livelihoods; or maybe both.

But God does.

Who would have imagined a virus could spread across the world and shut down nations, economies and everything within? That the entire modern world would be isolated in their homes, afraid to interact, and terrified of catching an invisible illness?

God works quickly, decisively, and resolutely sometimes. And often, ironically, those periods coincide with a season of waiting for what’s next. Like this season of waiting.

Here are some things to ponder, during this odd and unlikely time:

– What have you written off as being dead, that is actually in the process of being brought to life (or resurrected) in a new way?

– What areas have you let fall to the wayside in the busyness of your normal life?

– What things are you desperately missing (Church, Starbucks, chicken wings, your kids going to school, the novelty of a schedule) that you took for granted?

– Who are you missing that you cannot see right now, even if you wanted to?

I think this season of waiting is making me immensely more informed of the many blessings of my normal daily routine. Don’t you?

As for me, I’m living out this COVID-19 pandemic one hour a time. Some hours I feel like it’s the best thing, having more downtime with my family. Other hours, I feel I am on 2020’s hit list.

Today, however, one thing is very clear: COVID-19 didn’t stop Easter weekend from arriving; a weekend when we are reminded of God’s power. He brought Jesus back to life, and He will do the same thing for us, our circumstances, and our lives.

Our faith can be made stronger, or fall apart, during times like these. Let’s help each other stand strong, look up, and wait patiently.

It really is a matter of time until the miracle of a daily routine will be given back to us. Let’s be ready to embrace it with a new perspective, fresh gratefulness, and a full awareness of the blessing that comes from living “normal life”.

Small Business Owners – I Understand!

Oh, Small Business Owner, how I feel for you.

I understand the fear of knowing what tomorrow holds. Stay-at-home orders mean a lack of sales, dwindling business prospects, and evaporating savings accounts.

I understand the faces that pop into your mind at night: Your employees and the faces of their children; those children who are fed each week by the income brought in by your ideas, innovation and persistence. How will those good, good people pay their bills if you lay them off?

I know how you are sitting up, looking for a new market, or a new way to address the same market, to bring in some kind of revenue to bridge this ever-widening gap of income.

And let’s just acknowledge that, when they talk about how most Americans live paycheck to paycheck, the truth is that many American small businesses do, too. The income from this week pays for next week’s payroll…

I know how, even if you have a decent savings stacked away, or a line of credit, how quickly payroll and rent eats that up. $250,000 in the bank can become $250,000 in debt in a few short months for many small businesses. It’s nothing to lose the cost of an entire mortgage or two, with a few months of bad business.

You never thought you’d see 20 years of brutally hard work evaporate, seemingly overnight, right? I get it.

These are the times that small business owners live in a haze of caffeine, anxiety, and endlessly stretching their minds for a great idea that might save the day.

And dare I suggest that the idea that might save the day is this: You don’t need to save the day. 

Run your financials; make projections; create plans and worst case scenarios and backup plans, and whatever you need to do to reconcile the crazy in your mind with the craziness surrounding you…and then take a walk.

Go breathe the air outside, feel the sunshine on your face, and hold your little boy’s hand as he picks up dandelion bouquets. Notice the things in your life that have nothing to do with work, and begin to cherish them in a new way.

If you are like I was, you have become so entrenched in running your business that somehow you became your business. Its success or failure equals your success or failure. And that’s not the truth.

Your business is an entity that you created, grew and gave life to. And just like all things, it has a beginning date, and an end date. Statistics say that most small business owners will outlive their business. Statistics also say that second businesses are often more profitable and better run than the first.

What if this is a turning point for you? What if this is the thing that makes you finally focus on what you’re supposed to be doing? What if it allows you to trim a department or make a change you’ve been knowing you should do, but couldn’t find the justification to do it? Or what if it’s time to stop this business, so you can embrace something new?

I have learned and grown a huge amount in the three years since I closed my small business. I didn’t plan it, and I didn’t expect it…but once I surrendered to a new course for my life, I felt a freedom I hadn’t felt in years. I was able to release the pressure and my own expectations, and look forward as a new chapter began to unfold.

And guess what? I like the new chapter!

My prayer for you, Small Business Owner, is this: That you trust God. That you seek Him out, and ask Him to show you the next step, and the next step, and the next step. And that you embrace that fact that He loves you, and He will give you the wisdom you need to endure this season, and whatever challenges or successes it includes.

While I’d love to tie this up with a neat little bow, the truth is that this season is really hard. Stand strong, breathe deep and press on into tomorrow, one day at a time, knowing you truly are not alone.

Photo: The staff of our small businesses, West Coast Imaging and Aspen Creek Photo, in 2016

Renewing My View of Hope

I’ve been afraid to hope. I feel like my adult life has been full of so many overwhelming challenges, unexpected turns, and blows to my hopes that it has put me in a place where I am afraid to extend that fragile vine of light.

It’s not that I’ve been hope-less. There is a difference between being afraid to hope and having no hope.

Being hopeless looks like in-the-pit despair; feeling like there is no path forward; being at the end of yourself with no energy, gumption or will to move on.

Being afraid to hope feels more like disappointment; not wanting to take chances; being afraid of outcomes; and an inability to fully take hold of whatever is in front of me, because it may all fall apart anyway.

When I’m honest, my fear of hoping comes from not trusting God, and wanting life to go MY way, instead of HIS way.

If I put my hope in people, or outcomes, or the acquisition of things, then I will be disappointed. 

I hope to take a trip to Florida; I hope my husband takes me out to dinner AND has the kids fed before I get home; I hope this new plan I’m putting together brings in income; I hope work is easy today…

If I put my hope in God, and trust that His plan is better than mine, my hopes are rewritten in a new way:

I trust that God loves my kids even more than I do. I trust that He will use each experience to hone them, and form them…the good and the bad…just as He has done for me. I trust God loves my family, and has good plans for us, and will lead us in ways to come alongside each other, exactly as we need to each day. I trust that God has a plan, so I will do my work diligently. I trust him to provide exactly what we need.

My fear of hoping also comes from disappointment in the times that I hoped for things that did not come to pass.

I hoped for our small business to not go out of business, but it did.

I hoped for my children to be born healthy, but one spent three weeks in the NICU and then has had to endure many surgeries throughout his childhood.

I hoped for relationships to be restored, only to have them continue to be bitterly broken.

I hoped to be a writer with my books covering an entire shelf in the library…but God has had other plans, so far…

Why am I so quick to list my dashed hopes, instead of hopes that were fulfilled? Afterall, the Bible says “we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character, and character, hope. Romans 5:3-4

The truth is that there have been many, many times my hopes had great outcomes:

I hoped for a new piece of equipment for our business, and it came to pass, allowing us to continue to employ our staff for many more years.

I hoped for my husband to be cured from his Stage 3 testicular cancer, and he was healed and made whole again, even after being so very sick.

I hoped for three children, and, despite many odds, I now have three beautiful, healthy children…even though the doctors said we wouldn’t have a third, after my husband’s cancer diagnosis.

I hoped for a way out of running our all-consuming  business, and to pursue ministry work…and God led me out of our business, and into my current job at a ministry.

But what is amazing about both the hopes that came to pass, and those that didn’t, is that they all grew me, refined me, and made me lean on God in an entirely new way. So, when the things I am hoping for now, don’t seem to be going my way, I need to trust that God is working me towards something better.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jer 29:11

Now I’m working on aligning my hopes with God’s plan for me. I’m asking if the things I’m putting my hope in are things that will pass away, or if it’s in something deeper and more meaningful.

What does life look like if our hopes aren’t in things or people? What if we have hopes like these:

I hope to live my life in a way that is consistent and kind.

I hope to be a light to the people around me, and encourage them as they walk out the tough stuff of life.

I hope to let go of the things the world says I should be (or my kids should be, or my husband should be), and really see them and love them for who they ARE; for who God made them to be.

Learning to put our hope in God means valuing what God values, over what the world values. It means aligning ourselves with His plans, instead of our own plans. It means realizing that the outcome isn’t about more money or a bigger house, or a newer car, but about what He’s doing in our lives to grow us closer to Him, and closer to each other.

Afterall, where God is growing a heart, hope abounds.

Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long. Psalm 25:5

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people. Ephesians 1:18

 

Reality Check: I am, indeed, a work horse

Most days, I feel like a work horse.

My life is full of obligations that live on repeat.

At home there is the never-ending cycle of laundry, cooking and cleaning, school drop-offs, shaken up with a doctors appointment every now and again. At work, it’s bookkeeping, reconciling checkbooks, onboarding and offboarding employees, and all of the details in between. Some days, it feels like I continually pour myself out, only to be left completely empty at the end of the day…and then I need to wake up and do it all again the next day.

On one such day recently, I was driving to work, feeling tired and like my recent Christmas break was full of more work than rest. I was thinking about years and seasons past…times I’d spent cross country skiing through fresh Sierra snow, instead of driving on busy highways; living in a house with a view of mountains, instead of hundreds of vinyl-sided houses. I was feeling melancholy and nostalgic…an exhausting combination to start out a busy day.

Then on my Daily Audio Bible podcast, I heard the following scripture:

Psalm 32:8-10 I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you. Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you. Many are the woes of the wicked, but the Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the one who trusts in him.

I instantly thought of how different the life of a work horses is from the well-kept horses I see in the barns scattered throughout the Tennessee countryside. 

The work horses have a daily objective and purpose. In the mountains, they carried heavy loads of  food and provisions to hikers and the high country camps. In the Grand Canyon, each day they carry tourists down the 5000 foot descent to the Colorado River; and then the next day turn around and carry the tourists back up.

The horses kept for pleasure have a different life…one that is far more focused on their wants and likes, than that of a work horse. 

I realized that what I most wanted in life, at that exact moment, was to be a kept horse, in a nice stable with acres of grass to graze at my leisure.

Instead, that day as I drove to work, I came to the undeniable realization that my current lot in life is to be a work horse. I am a hard worker who is diligent and thorough. I’m faithful and trustworthy and consistent. Just like so many of you who are reading this.

But, as the scripture references, I also tend to be a horse that needs to be controlled by bit and bridle. For the past four years, I’ve been engaged in a spirited battle of MY will for my life, versus GOD’S will. 

My will looks like mountain streams, and beautiful views and long walks along the Tuolumne River with my husband. God’s will currently looks like a 40-minute commute, wrangling with Quickbooks, and time away from my family…but it also includes helping to make a fantastic ministry even better, using my talents in new and interesting ways, and being part of a team who is engaged in actively serving and helping people in our community. 

Living out God’s will for my life requires faithful hard work and a dozen daily decisions to set aside my own ideas for my life, to fully embrace His. Because God has different plans, and they are always better than whatever I could imagine.

 I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you. 

God saw a ministry in Franklin, Tennessee, that somehow needed exactly what I’d learned while running our small business. God saw schools where our kids could thrive, and a church that would make us come alive in ways we never imagined. Each step of the way, God has revealed His will for my life, and my family’s life. And He continues to do so. 

Many are the woes of the wicked, but the Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the one who trusts in him.

Trusting God, and really believing that his intent is to bless me (and you) and to love me (and you) UNFAILINGLY, is what transforms daily work into an offering to Him. It makes it, not about my talents and effort, but about showing up, saying “Here I am,” and allowing Him to use my life that day, however He sees fit. 

 

The Legend of the Yosemite Snow Banner

It was my first time in the Ahwahnee bar, that cold March night in quiet Yosemite Valley. We were lucky enough to know locals on that first visit, and they wisely advised us that an inexpensive way to enjoy the historic Ahwahnee Hotel was to linger over a nice cocktail. 

It was warm and dark in the bar, with a motif of dark wood and what I remember to be deep red curtains lining the floor-to-ceiling windows and back wall. It had the aura of a place that had hosted many conversations; many deep thoughts; and many bodies tired from a day of exploring and ready for a bit of rest. It felt like old friends and relaxation.

The cocktail menu featured warm drinks that my young self had never imagined. Hot cocoa and coffee drinks mixed with rums, liqueurs and splashed with whipped cream. After much studying, I settled on a Snow Banner: A hot chocolate drink with Irish cream, cherry liqueur and a generous dollop of whipped cream. The server brought it to our table in tall glass mugs. I immediately cupped my hands around it, lacing my fingers through the handle and felt the warmth seep into my cold fingers. I lifted it to my lips and tasted the sweetness of the cocoa; the bite of the whiskey and the delicate whip of the cream. It tasted to me like heaven itself, and it was torturous trying to make that single drink last…I wanted more from that very first sip, and I never wanted it to end.

Years went by, and the Snow Banner lived in my memory as the best winter drink that had ever crossed my lips. Each year, I went to the Ahwahnee, hopefully looking at their hot drink menu, but I never saw the Snow Banner again…

Until the year we took our staff to Yosemite for a Christmas party. 

Our small business was overwhelmingly busy before Christmas, and in January we’d have a party to thank everyone for their hard work, service and care. One year, we decided to take our staff members and their spouses ice skating in Yosemite, followed by drinks at the Ahwahnee. Though our business was located right outside Yosemite National Park, several staff members had never been ice skating at the Curry Village rink, with views of Half Dome, and none had experienced a hot winter drink at the Ahwahnee Bar (and we weren’t rich enough to take everyone to the Ahwahnee dining room for dinner).

As we settled in around a large table, we perused the menu, and I reminisced about the Snow Banner…how there had never been another drink like it; how its flavor captured all that was magical about my first trip to Yosemite, and like all first times, could never quite be repeated.

A waiter took our orders, and I began to tell him about the drink. He got an inquisitive look, and said, “Just a minute.”

A few minutes later, he emerged from the depths of the hotel with an Ahwahnee Bar menu from 1993. The edges had been nibbled by mice, and he informed me that he kept a filing cabinet of old menus, and the mice sometimes got into it.

As I looked at the menu, midway down the page, I saw the Snow Banner. I stared at the ingredients, feeling vindicated that this drink that I had never again seen on the Ahwahnee Bar menu, actually existed. It wasn’t a made-up fantasy.

The waiter looked satisfied, too…as someone who had worked at the Ahwahnee for decades, you could tell he was excited his memory was able to take my story, and stitch it back into reality.

Of course I ordered a Snow Banner that night. As I sipped it, looking at the faces of our staff members, it tasted different, but still amazing. 

It’s true that you can’t repeat first times, but sometimes reliving legendary memories during a new chapter of life makes it even sweeter. I felt like I had completed a circle. I was no longer a college student, engaged to my fiance, and visiting Yosemite for the first time. I was 15 years older, a boss, a mother and a wife, living the life of my dreams as we grew our home and our business just outside of Yosemite. 

That night at the Ahwahnee, with the mouse-chewed menu and the Snow Banner in my hands provided a new memory…the kind where, for just a few moments, you fully realize the full measure of your blessings, and it fills you with fresh thanks and awe.

A Remedy For Thanksgiving Nostalgia

Everything about Thanksgiving reminds me of someone…

The pile of recipes in my recipe book, written by my best friends from college; a recipe for curry sauce I first ate at a friend’s house 20 years ago; family recipes from my mom and mother-in-law…

Making stuffing and hearing my mom’s voice telling me to, “Yes, melt a whole stick” of butter in the pan, bucking my low-fat diet of the 1990s.

Pies…and how my mom would give each of us a little scrap of leftover dough to roll out, spread with butter and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. I would roll and stretch and roll and stretch to make my little dough pastry as thin and wide as possible.

As I celebrate Thanksgiving weekend with my little family, I feel a little homesick…not for a specific place, but for the people of my past Thanksgivings, and for who we all were, at that age, in that chapter of life.

There were the Thanksgivings of my growing up years…my mom waking in the early morning to put a turkey in the double oven of our old midwestern farmhouse, shooing us out of the kitchen as she bustled to make a feast…and her bustling in the kitchen of the old brick colonial when we moved to Ohio…and how every year, my mom and dad would invite a collection of friends who, without family nearby, claimed us as their “holiday family.” I miss our “holiday family” members.

There was the Thanksgiving when my sisters and I, and their boyfriends, walked to a local tree lot, and brought home the Christmas tree, all by ourselves. I was 17, and I  wore a navy peacoat and a red plaid scarf that kept me warm and cozy on that bitter Ohio night. I remember feeling old, and free, and mature as we assessed each tree to try to find the perfect one for our family’s home.

A few years later, I married Rich moved across the country where we found our own “holiday families” since we were far from our own families.

We had a Thanksgiving in Yosemite with a friend who cooked the entire spread from the year’s Martha Stewart magazine. We had Thanksgiving with friends who mashed potatoes with a hand masher…and another set who made stuffing with oysters.

Our first year in Oakhurst, we learned to make our own Thanksgiving, with a $20 bill that we somehow stretched to buy turkey, potatoes and all of the fixings except rolls…that was the year I learned that rolls were a critical part of the Thanksgiving tradition for my husband. We always have rolls now…

There was the year we had Thanksgiving for 17 people in our 900-square-foot townhouse, with the table stretching into the stairwell…and the one I cooked when I was 8 months pregnant, serving 14 people dinner in our new mountainside home.

As rich as these memories are, as each Thanksgiving passed, I found myself feeling nostalgic; Yearning for the experience of the previous years…for my sisters and parents; old friends; and time with family members who had passed away.

I feel the same this year. There is a vacancy that is left by warm memories; a yearning to relive that time again; to capture those moments that can absolutely not be relived.

The nostalgia used to make me think I lacked something…that if I was just nearer to family, I’d feel complete. But now that I am near family, I find myself missing old friends, and our spirited conversations, and how the dreams and hopes we had in our 20s are different than the ones we have in our 40s – and how our kids are teenagers, and I want to hug the little people who used to fill my home with so much noise and toy explosions.

This year, my third Thanksgiving in Tennessee, I cooked the same dinner I’ve been cooking for 20 years. Rich carved the turkey, and as we served dinner to our little family, I paused to look at each face, because someday, I will be missing this Thanksgiving: The one where our kids were still in our home, safe and sound and eating the food I made. A Thanksgiving before boyfriends, girlfriends, spouses and grandchildren. This Thanksgiving with a 15, 13 and 5 year old…and us in our 40s, healthy and in love with each other, even after all life has thrown our way.

Maybe it turns out that the best cure for that homesick nostalgia, isn’t to try to relive the past. It’s continuing to invest in making sweet new memories, with whoever God puts in my life today.