The Great House Mystery

“Go work on your house and forget about it.” 

That random quote is written on one my bible’s front cover pages. I cannot remember exactly when I wrote it down there, but I have a memory of being intently focused on the pastor’s words while he was speaking to us that Sunday morning at church.

At the time, the words struck me as so very important, so relevant…but now, I can’t recall the specific circumstances in my life that made that sentence evoke such a strong reaction in me. However, decades later, despite the mystery behind why they are there (or what they even mean exactly) they still do something for me.

I believe I was in my twenties when I entered that phrase on that page. It’s possible I was in my late teens. It was before I met my husband, that’s for certain. The bible I wrote it in has been in my possession since I was thirteen-years-old, so that means it could’ve been written any time between ages 13 to 28. It has been a mystery I’ve been wanting to solve for years. That is, why did I make note of that? In my bible, of all places. What was it in reference to?

I remember the feeling I had when I wrote it down. It was a moment of discovery. That feeling you get when understanding unfolds in your soul and you can breathe just a little bit deeper than you ever had before. The joy of comprehension bubbles and rises up in your heart so big that you smile with wonder. Or maybe you might dip your eyebrow down a little as you ponder that new nugget of wisdom and attach it to old memories tucked away in your brain.

I recall the urgency I felt to make sure it was a message I would not forget. But, human that I am, I have forgotten the details. So over the years, every now and then, I work rather hard at puzzling out what exactly it was supposed to refer to.

The reason this mystery is important to me is that it’s written in my bible. In nearly 30 years, I’ve underlined scripture, made notes in margins, drawn hearts over verses that have caused me tears of thankfulness and joy…all between Genesis and Revelation. But it has been rare that I’ve written down anything in the blank pages of the front and back covers.

My bible is sacred to me in the sense that it is not the place where I make grocery lists or the like in it. I cringe, actually, every time I see Julia Pfieffer Burns State Park (near Big Sur) crossed out on the inside of the front cover. Lacking paper once, I’d dashed off the name of a place a new friend had recommended visiting (I discovered it is a beautiful place, by the way). But afterward, I vowed to not write unnecessary things in there again.

There are three blank pages at the beginning of my bible, its leather cover fractured and torn in multiple places on the spine from being handled and read for twenty-eight years. These front pages are a bit warped, the ink on some of them a little blurry now. They hold just a few little pieces of info from years past that, in the moment, I wanted to remember…quick jots of heart-musts.

For example, written in pencil at the top of one of those pages is the title of a hymn I loved immediately after I sang it for the first time–“‘Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus #581”. I had scrawled that in a hurry. A tiny little pair of eyeglasses are doodled off to the right, my signature note-taking symbol which was to remind me to go look it up again in the hymnal later when I got a chance so I could take time to really savor the words.

Underneath that are three words in skinny black ink: “He is Able”. No mystery there. That was a wow moment during a time in my life which was a steep climb when I felt weak.

A hand-written quote is third in line–the thicker black ink a bit fuzzy, possibly from the the humidity which engulfed my apartment. A pipe had burst while I was away on vacation and left water on the floor unnoticed for a week. I had carefully written,“Contentment is not our goal, it’s a by-product of living your life for Christ.” 

Beneath that John 17:1-26– with a puffy heart and the words “JESUS’ LOVE FOR US” in all caps– is boxed confidently, secured in the center of the page.

And then, from what must have been a really rough patch in my life, my heart twists in sympathy for my younger self as I reread in barely-brave-enough pencil, “I don’t want to hurt anymore, I just want to live in His joy.” 

I don’t remember what exactly caused me so much pain when I wrote that sad sentence in my very special, very-much-a-part-of-me-book…wait, stop. Isn’t that amazing? I don’t even remember what hurt so bad. What a testimony to God’s grace and goodness. That, too, has passed.

I also can’t recall where I was when I penciled that determined vow. But I do have to go off-course for a minute here to remember that it must have been the beginning of a season in my life when, for the first time, I deliberately and persistently sought joy instead of holding out hope that it would be brought to me on the UPS truck.

Until I discovered joy is a choice, and it is sometimes hard work choosing if you’re not familiar with how to infuse it into your soul.

But the work is worth it, and the reality is that seeking and attaining joy is a roller coaster. You have to hang on during the lows and keep your eyes focused on the hill as you chug slowly upward, closer to the heavens, having faith that eventually you will get to the top again and experience joy once more. Have you ever noticed how easy and fast it is to decline on a roller coaster, and how difficult it is to keep the momentum as you race to the top? And once you’re up there it’s a brief and fleeting thrill before you drop to the bottom again. Joy is like that. Life is, too.

If you are searching for joy right now, keep searching. Keep climbing. And expect the lows now and then. Be prepared for them. Know that there is no limit to the number of rides you can take on the roller coaster of joy. You get a free pass. It’s just up to you whether or not you hop on. Focus on what you can be grateful for. Make lists. Redirect your negative thoughts to positive thoughts. There is power in gratitude.

And back to my bible, there are a couple more notations on that second blank page. But then you flip to the third blank page and, sitting all alone, are the mystery words:

“Go work on your house and forget about it.”

The only handwritten line on that third page of my bible cover. Nothing else on the page. The teeny black-inked words scribbled in haste, so that I wouldn’t miss out on the rest of the message in church that day.

What did that mean? What could it mean? Perhaps it’s referring to our aspirations. I know sometimes I am overly ambitious…unreasonably ambitious. To the point I get overwhelmed and have taken on so much that I can’t do justice to all of the things on my plate. Maybe it’s a reminder to step back and focus on what really matters.

Maybe it was in reference to worrying. Don’t worry, have faith, just bloom where you’re planted and everything will come out according to God’s plan. The pieces of your life that are not within your control aren’t worth wasting your energy on…so go work on what you can control so you won’t waste your time on what you can’t control.

Maybe there was someone in the bible who God basically tells “go back to what you were doing, I’ve got this.” 

I’m just making guesses here. I read it often, and I wonder for minutes on end. And each time I come across it, I happen to be facing something different in that moment of my life. Surprisingly (or not), the phrase seems to mean something profound to me in its own little way for each of those respective times.

And maybe that’s what it was meant to do.

What does “go work on your house and forget about it” mean to you? What are your favorite notations in your bible, if you’ve made any? Feel free to share in the comments below!

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Patient Urgency

A child learning in her own time. A pair of friends rebuilding trust in a relationship that is precariously on the edge. Weight loss. Waiting and working through a long, painful recovery. Writing a book.

Those are some of the things which develop a patient urgency. You want the outcome to happen now. But the reality is that accomplishing it will take months, years, or even decades. It’s not the same kind of patience it takes to stand in a long snail-like line at the DMV or sit in bumper-to-bumper traffic. You can daydream your way through those situations…no real work involved. You get to go home at the end of the day. No vulnerability needed, no real exertion.

Experiencing a patient urgency, however, is dealing with the kind of patience we find ourselves facing when we are not really waiting, but working toward something for the long haul. Putting in effort and grit. Falling and getting up again. Messing up and seeking restitution. Denying yourself what you really want because you know it´s the better choice. Knowing you’ll write 100,000 tangled words that will need to be cut down by half—and even then, you won’t have reached clarity until you’ve quadrupled your mental elbow grease.

You may even find yourself victim to procrastination because a mean little corner of your mind has convinced you that you’ll never reach your goal. Yet, you feel the pressing need to wrestle with obtaining that goal anyway because you just. have. to. Or else…or else you’ll always wonder or regret. Because the need in your heart and soul to do this thing is so eager to get there that you will put in the time and sweat and courage to make it possible. Just thinking about it exhausts you. But you go on.

Some people thrive on the mere thought of the journey. They mentally put themselves on the podium of success before the outcome is even close to being achieved. They envision greatness. They expect it.

Others find themselves battling self-criticism, self-doubt, and insecurity…which unfortunately causes the journey to be so much longer for them, so they face the threat of never reaching their destination. What those two kinds of people share, though, is that magnetic pull to accomplish something important.

The thing about those goals which require a patient urgency is that you can’t really see the end yet. It takes faith to continue on. Faith. Perseverance. Confidence. Inner strength.

It’s an urgency that pounds on the door of your heart each morning and won’t turn away if you don’t answer. A patience in believing you’ll get there if you just keep going. A delicate trust that the God who led you to this call will show up every day and walk through it with you, guiding you and giving you wisdom, comfort, and grace. He is the One who planted the seed.

It is up to you to make sure you either ¨bloom where you´re planted¨, or transplant yourself to where you need to be in order to grow and thrive.

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Sleepless Flight

In the darkness of my home, I imagine crossly that the boisterous bird outside must be the most desperate bachelor in the entire North American continent. Whatever gal he’s trying to attract surely must be sleeping.

It is half past midnight, and it seems so weird to me that a bird is out there, singing in the black of night under the invisible new moon. He seems not to care who he awakens, his pride full-grown.

His night song is persistent, shrill. I want to yank open the door and throw a shoe at whatever tree he sits in. I would never, of course…but the thought crosses my mind. Trying to tune him out, my thoughts return to an upcoming flight and I look helplessly up to the ceiling which I cannot see.

It’s stealing my sleep again. Not the bird, but the worries. This is not new, this overthinking of flying. I love to travel, but I do not like getting to my destination by air. And yet four times this season I will be facing the giant big scary sky. My wanderlust must be greater than my unease, but on nights like these I question my choice to explore.

I scowl when the bird goes on and on, once again he interrupts my worry. Accepting that he will not be silenced, I slowly realize I could be grateful he is there. I could let him be a welcome distraction from my fear of flying….the thing that keeps me up days and days and days before I ever set foot in an airport. But it is a battle, this choice of gratitude versus distress.

Squeezing my eyes shut, my senses are flooded with discontent at the thought of being on an airplane. Apprehension so strong I can feel it weighing me down, as if I’m restrained in the same way I once saw my grandmother as she was tethered to her wheelchair in the Alzhemier’s unit. The fun of it all has been sucked out of me, replaced with big fat fear. This leads to other worrisome thoughts, and I clench my teeth with the realization I’m letting it get the best of me. Again.

Through the thick, closed window panes and through the deep walls keeping the fresh air out, the night bird’s music keeps trying to remind me of something important. Summer has brought a warm tossing-turning night, and I gather my strength to kick off the covers. The window begs me to open it, but I won’t dare.

Ridiculous! I’ve been done with the anxiety. I’ll not let this bring me back to it. I shove myself out of the bed and blindly search for my glasses in the dark. My hair is annoying me, I need it off my forehead and off of my neck in this airless room. The fan is too weak, and at this moment so is my mind. I begin to pray for strength, for calm. There is so much world to see, so much laughing to do, so many people to meet, and experiences to dive into…I will not give in to this joy wreck.

As I quietly pad my way into the living room, my feet relieved to meet cool floors, I pray all the way to my favorite chair. The birdsong follows me to where I now sit with head bowed, forehead too stubborn to assist the tears which fight for release. His tune changes from frantic to sweetly melodic, and I belatedly make the connection that this nighttime companion is also connected to flight. I smile, surprised by the thought…and I think on the amazing wonder that air travel is even possible for humans.

The rhythm of the clock nearby steadies my heart, and suddenly the C.A.L.M. acronym from a recent Max Lucado book, Anxious for Nothing, flashes in my memory, the four letters white and flickering like a neon sign in the dark:

C-Celebrate God…Lord, thank you for being here with me, thank you for the opportunity to take these trips to see new places. 

A-Ask God for helpFather, please take this anxiety from me. Please help me to sleep and breathe and stop worrying over what I can’t control.

L-Leave the problem with God…I give this to you, God. Your Word says to “fear not”. So I’m just going to try really hard to do that. 

Breathe. Deep breath. I sit for a minute to give my thoughts some space. The bird is silent.

M-Meditate on good things…Thank you, Lord, for that night bird and thank goodness he finally quieted down so I can get some sleep and for reminding me of your presence.

Again, I breathe. A little deeper this time. And the air, while still not fresh, feels a little cooler and more bearable. My thoughts continue to tread on the good things. I remind myself that, for me, it’s the only thing that will cancel out the fear…the choice to think of one good thing at a time. Thought by thought.

As my fears begin to wane, I am reminded of all the ways that flying is fun and most always safe. My mother’s voice echoes in my ears from when she told me earlier in the day that just being in my house or driving a car is putting myself at risk of danger.

“So why not fly?” she countered matter-of-factly.

Her excitement for me in my adventures brings a big smile to my face. And I begin to softly imagine the lilting accents I will soon hear, and the lovely green foliage my eyes will feast on.

The pulsing rush in my ears has stopped, and I dig in Grandpa’s Desk for the little notebook of bible verses. The emerald and gold cover has edges worn, some rips and bends, but I don’t mind. I run my hand across the cover which says “Happiness is a bright and shining thing.”  This little gem has seen me through many fears, many flights.

It holds words I’ve highlighted and literally held onto…our future only truly known to God—whom I love and whom I am learning to trust, breath by breath. I joke with my friends about airport margaritas being my saving grace, but really it’s the selfless protection of Jesus. I read through the verses in the little book again, and I know that no matter what all will be well.

Before I go back to sleep, calmer now, I will leave these verses with you in case you need them, too. I will always needs them. Reading them once will never do. But each time I am reminded that I am in good hands, and each time I can feel strengthened and resolve to be a conqueror. And as I leave this paragraph, I hear the bird again…and this time I’m not annoyed for I remember it is, after all, his love song.

From My Fear Not Journal

  • “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous hand.” -Isaiah 41:10
  • “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your mind in Christ Jesus.” -Phillipians 4:6-7
  • “When I am afraid, I put my trust in You.” -Psalm 56:3
  • “For God did not give us a spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control.” -2 Timothy 1:7
  • “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you.” -1 Peter 5:6-7
  • “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” -Deuteronomy 31:6
  • “I sought the Lord, and He answered me and delivered me from all my fears.” -Psalm 34:4
  • “Therefore, I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds in the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” -Matthew 6: 25-27

Do you have any verses, songs, or tips that help you in times of anxiousness? Please share them! Thank you.

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Ponderings

Write with me, Lord. Be my words. 

This was my prayer as I walked down the shadowed hall after a long day of work, a mountain of things to do gradually falling off my shoulders with every step toward the keyboard.

Be my words.

It is my prayer every time I write. And today I think again and again on the question “WHY do I write?“. Why do I come here, week after week, to tell a story…or to try to remind us both of God’s goodness and grace?

It’s part selfishness, part love.

The selfish aspect is that it comforts me to leave a legacy of some kind. At this web address will always be found a piece of me. In the chaos of everyday life, when the bell or the time clock or the agenda of the day drags us away from discussions of the heart and steals from us the breath of what really matters, I like knowing that I can come here so the person who needs it can read something that may make them smile…or think…or remember.

But the love part, the greater part, is having the space and place to freely speak of Jesus and how He loves you and me. The idea that maybe–just maybe–someone may see the positive side of a dreary situation and make the decision to see the light instead of being focused on the darkness: By sharing the victories in my life which have followed the battles I’ve encountered. Or simply noticing the beauty of the world around us amidst the clamoring debates and arguments and nastiness of the world.

I fear I’m not doing it right. I fear that I come here week after week trying in vain to be the encourager I set out to be and fail. My heart is so full of hope for others to find the salvation that only Jesus has given. The gift of eternal life. Or to help someone reconsider their sadness. And here I am telling again instead of showing…at least in this post. When really, it’s apparently through stories in which people connect with.

This leads me to I worry that I am not a storyteller. I worry about sharing too much…too little. I resist the advice to weave my words in a way that captures attention, and so instead I write plainly from my heart. In doing so, I risk lack of acclaim, lack of “sharing”, lack of “likes”. But the very core of my soul knows that none of that matters. The number of “hits” has nothing to do with resting in the love of God who already loves me so…and who loves you so, as well. He longs only for us to acknowledge Him and know Him and spend time with Him….to share the story of Christ to all.

Because of this, because of my prayer that God write with me, I often forego the “rules” of the writer. I ignore the fact that the most “hits” my blog has ever had was about my dog. I could write post after post about my dog in order to gain more readers, but I it feels strange to do so. At least, for now. I feel like in doing so it will be me wanting to conform to the writer’s world in order to earn a buck. Or recognition…or popularity.

Isn’t it so hard to not compare ourselves with others and just realize that we, too, are amazing? Let’s not put numbers on ourselves….instead, let’s leave the numbers to God, whose thoughts of each of us are so many that were we to count them they would be “more in number than the sand” (Psalm 139:17-18). Isn’t that where the true substance lies?

All I want to do is be here, and share words on a page inspired by the God who created us, who meets us here—you and me–in order to nudge us to think and reflect on life, love, and laughter. My God doesn’t want fancy words or perfection…He just wants me, as I am. And so, I show up and see what happens. Thank you for joining me on my journey of figuring out how to encourage. I’m still learning as I go.

Write with me, Lord. Be my words. Please. 

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Belated

Belated. Those who know me best know that I am, and have been, belated with many things in my life.

The short list:

Remembering to send birthday gifts on time.

Getting dinner on the table.

Filling the gas tank.

Recognizing my purpose in life…(still puzzling that one out).

There are so many other events and circumstances, big and small, that I have been late for. Each time, I learn that some things do indeed let others down. This leaves me feeling guilty, and challenges me to try harder to be punctual.  There are some things, though, which have come to me belatedly and have been worth the wait. One of my best belated outcomes has been meeting my husband…another is my sweet friendship that has blossomed with my mother.

My mom is one of those gifts in my life that I don’t want to take for granted. Especially because she has been experiencing chronic pain since October when, honestly, we nearly lost her. Today, eight months later, I can still recall the medical team rushing her out of the ER in order to perform a procedure necessary to ultimately save her life.

Sitting alone in the darkness of the hospital room that had been hers, the missing bed leaving a gaping stretch of littered linoleum across from me, I was left to wait. Quietly, I curled my forty-year-old legs into the hard chair like a child, and hung down my head to finally cry. After more than forty-eight hours of being her advocate, along with my step-dad, I had forced myself to stay strong. It was exhausting, but necessary. I was thankful for this moment of solitude, this opportunity to feel.

A pair of well-made shoes appeared in my view like a shy, gentle fawn. I wouldn’t be surprised if my silent crocodile tears splashed a few times on top of them before I raised my head to look into kind eyes. It was one of the doctors who had been looking after my mom while she was there. In his eyes, I spotted the clash of his own uncertainty and hope mirroring mine as he valiantly tried to reassure me.

“Don’t cry. She’s going to be okay.”

And she was. But not without dealing with a long recovery, and still experiencing pain ever since.

When I think of my history with my mom, it wasn’t all rainbows and daffodils. Like many mothers and daughters, we had arguments when I was younger that would shake the shingles of the roof. Disagreements which left us giving each other the cold shoulder for days. Words that wounded and would be imprinted on our hearts for years. Our relationship was not always easy, and I’m sure I was not an easy child to deal with. I could be stubborn. Entitled. Moody. Like Fern in Charlotte’s Web, my sense of injustice ran high…sometimes unreasonably so. I really didn’t know what the future held for us.

It wouldn’t be until I became a teacher and saw the realities of parenthood all around me that I would understand what I had taken for granted all of my youth. I finally began to understand how much stress she must have endured being a single mother for so long, raising a child while at the same time earning a college degree (and a Masters), and then later working full-time. It took so much tenacity and hard work to accomplish that. She has the heart of a warrior, the most generous soul, and a gentle spirit I am now coming to know more and more as I call her not only “mom”, but also “friend”.

As a social worker, she has dedicated her life to serving those in need and providing them with resources. I am proud of her for helping children find adoptive families and placing them in their new homes. I am in awe that she directed the setting up a shelter for women who suffer from domestic violence. I am touched by the involvement she had in coordinating the reuse of old wedding gowns and having them turned into tiny burial gowns for infants who pass away while in the hospital. I am thankful for her foresight in arranging for my grandfather’s hand print to be put on pillows for the members of our family to have to remember him by. She demonstrates the kind of selflessness that I aspire to have someday, too.

These days, my my mornings are made complete with her daily funny meme or motivational text…an occasional weekend FaceTime, or monthly halfway-between-our-respective-towns lunch meetups. Even though she is going through pain of her own, she’ll text me encouragement when I need it…like a few weeks ago when I was overwhelmed and she reminded me to “count backwards from 3” and then turn my negative thoughts to positive thoughts. Or last week when I was feeling super tired and having trouble pushing through the morning, and she urged me to “Decide you’re going to have a terrific Tuesday.”

Then there was the time I shared with her my current favorite blog, Adventures of Toby, where Toby’s new sidekick is a blind dog named Amos. She perused it for a bit, and then optimistically texted back, “How sad [for Amos], but he doesn’t let anything keep him down!” I think I must have inherited my perseverance from my mother.

Not everyone has a friendship with their mom. Maybe for some, their memories are what they hold on to now. For others, perhaps they were mistreated or are estranged. Life is not easy. We all have our rough patches. Whatever your circumstances, know that you are loved beyond measure by the One who knew you from before you were here. God is our first and ultimate parent. In Psalm 139:13, David reminds us of the Lord’s hand in our life’s first whisper of existence when he says, “For You created my inmost being, you knit me together in my mother’s womb.”

And so, even though Mother’s Day has come and gone for the year, and even though we had a nice lunch on that holiday and were able to be together, I honor my mom here. Better belated than never. Image result for heart clip art

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Unique Friends

I’ve known silence. Maybe not as oppressively as some. It can be a soothing, needed balm to the soul. It can also be the destination of lonely. Being my mother’s only child, I grew up in a quiet house. I was reading before I ever remember learning how to read. And in my books, I found gateways to worlds I could visit, introducing me to life beyond the walls that knew me. When I wasn’t escaping into fiction, I stared dreamily up at the ceiling as I discovered the power of music. Books and music—lenders of comfort…a comforting joy. My first friends.

I’ve had a few amiable pets throughout my lifetime, but about a dozen years ago, I met the best dog friend ever. A round bellied chocolate lab puppy named Amber, she pranced around the grass in a backyard filled with her already adopted brothers and sisters. She sported a white ring around her tail, which we think may have been the reason why she hadn’t been picked yet. It was down to two, and even though the other puppy left had a perfectly good tail, we chose Amber because she ran straight to Mike when he called for her from across the green, silky autumn grass. Silly people…they missed out on the greatest dog in all the world.

As soon as we brought her home, she dominated her new backyard. Only about twelve inches tall back then, she was, and she made it clear to every bird and squirrel in her dominion that she ruled the roost. “Don’t mess with Amber”, said her little proud stance guarding her backyard world, “and don’t mess with my mom and dad.” That would be us.

She was our little girl…this bouncy, seriously hyper little ball of brown fur. She failed puppy school, she ate a hole in the carpet, and socks cried in fear of her presence knowing they would disappear from the world if she crossed paths with them. We spoiled her. Not a single night did she sleep outdoors. Even when Mike had to stay in the hospital overnight and I stayed with him, the kind neighbors next door took our girl over to their house to sleep inside. She was older by then, taller and full grown…but every bit still the best dog ever.

She was entirely sweet, though, and only gruff when protective. Amber won the medal in our hearts for “Best Companion”. On hard days, she was there to lick the tears which would drip onto my shins as I sat in momentary defeat. When I got ready in the mornings, she was there to supervise my makeup routine, tail whacking rhythmically against the linoleum floor in contented approval. When we went to sleep at night, it was hard not to notice she was there…stubbornly digging in for snuggles on the bed and then trotting off about a half hour later to the couch where she would settle for the night.

Sometimes, I can still hear her nails click clacking on the hard floors. I imagine she’ll slowly meander and stretch her way up to the dishwasher to “help” put the dishes in as always. When the doorbell rings, once in awhile I forgetfully pause and wait for her curious bark.

Oh…my girl.

The day we came home without her was unbearable. Healthy until just a few weeks before she went to heaven, her loss was a shock. Our hearts ripped out of our chests, our shoulders shook with grief. We had known all along we loved her, doted on her, and relied on her for laughs. We had never taken her for granted, knowing the unreasonably short lifespan of dogs. She was family;  she meant the world to us—but we didn’t know just how much until she was gone.

If I were given the option to never know her if it meant we would never experience the pain of losing her, I wouldn’t trade a single day of having her in my life. I can truly say with all my heart that I can relate to Tennyson’s line ” ’tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” Because of Papa, because of Dad, because of others I have loved…and, yes, because of Amber.

The loss of her friendship was rough. I wasn’t prepared for the thick silence that came with her absence. It was the kind of silence that squeezed my throat and beckoned tears which held my breath captive. The kind of deafening void that compounded the reality of knowing she was really not going to be sitting on the doormat outside the back door waiting patiently to be let in.  The silence that sharply teases with phantom musical shakes of the collared dog tags lost to heaven.

I felt abandoned once again, forsaken. Lost. A dog, yes. But one of my best friends. She filled my afternoons with joy, and was the best secret keeper I had. Funny how we can find such sincere companionship in four-legged creatures. Hard to explain, yet so easy to accept. I had to accept and relearn the silence.

But with her loss, I regained something amazing. I realized that I’d nearly forgotten about the One who was still there with me all along.

One afternoon in late March of this year, eight months after Amber passed away, I’d flung myself onto my bed in overwhelm. My temples pounded a heavy drumbeat while warring against processing a heap of new knowledge that my crowded brain had no room for. I had decisions to make, and uncertainty to conquer. I was mostly happy, yet in that moment I felt exhausted and confused. In need of cheer. In the past, Amber would have sensed my discontent and would’ve burrowed in for a comforting cuddle, or nosed her ball at me to distract me with a game of fetch.

So on that day, without her, I didn’t quite know what to do with myself. My Christian textbook answer was prayer. “Time to pray!”, my memory called out to me faintly. I wore the label of knowing Jesus, but when was the last time I really sought Him in prayer for my own tender heart? It had been awhile. I prayed for others, but when was the last time I spent quiet moments sharing with God about my needs? My slowly hardened heart had been filled with assumptions that He didn’t need to hear all about me, when in reality He longs to spend time with us. However, instead of praying, I still just sat idle and contemplated how to overcome this emotional avalanche. On my own. In need of a friend. I was geographically far away from my friends at home, and…

I didn’t have my BFF anymore. Amber.

Squeezing my eyes shut, I searched my mind for a solution. The silence would always be there, loved ones, beloved pets…they would inevitably come and go. Amber had served us well as a happy, loving pet. But I wanted to retain the joy that she brought to us. I needed to have something, Someone to hold onto that would never die. My memory tickled my brain again…“The first, the last…the beginning and the end” (Revelation 22:13)….and then the words became stronger from the inside, from the deep cellars of my ears, “I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20).  I have believed in Jesus for thirty years, but it had been a long time since I remembered what a friend we have in Him (John 15:15). I remembered that day.

After a long breath, laying there with the words of the familiar bible verses floating around in my mind, clarity unfolded in my heart—a butterfly emerging slowly from its cocoon. A thought had fluttered into my mind—one I knew I could hold onto forever–and I sighed with adoration at the beauty of it. The comfort in it. The silence can be lovely, and not unsettling because we are never truly alone. As dear as they are, friends come and go…but ultimately there is one friend who outshines them all.

And if the love and joy we have from our wonderful friends in our presence and in our memories can feel so good, isn’t the love and joy we can receive from our God and Creator a million times more? Smiling, soul-relieved, I pulled out my hot pink leather journal from the bedside table…the one that boldly says “Amazing things can happen” across the front…and I wrote down six little words which I knew wouldn’t be denied:

“Jesus, will you be my BFF?” 

And then I prayed. I knew Amber would joyfully approve with a great big “Woof!”.

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Fear

To reach that spectacular, beautifully rugged land’s end, I needed to cross that blustery bridge. It was the summer of 2015, and my husband and I stood on the rocky soil of County Antrim, Ireland. The smiles of the people waiting in line for their turn were like lifelines to me. Tourists who had already made their way over the popular Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge waved across to all gleefully, eager to share their joy at reaching a point of the Emerald Isle that would have been treacherous any other way—if not for the bridge made of simple wood planks and intricate knots of thick, trusty rope.

I wasn’t so sure that rope was so trusty.

Shortly after we returned to our home in California, I turned on the computer in our home office and immediately discovered my husband had changed the desktop wallpaper. It was a picture of me on that bridge. I was confused. Why not a picture of the two of us from some other photo op on that trip? Usually, our desktop wallpaper was something of us together, or of our beloved dog, Amber.

I called out my question to him from where I knew he could hear me in the living room. It was quiet for a bit, and then I heard the muffled sound of his feet brushing across the carpet as he made his way to the room.

“I know how hard that was for you,” he replied quietly from the doorway.

I felt my heart swell with love for this man.

“I know how hard it was.”

Although our trip to Ireland that year was overall an amazing experience, it seemed like I was trapped into facing one battle after the other. Instead of being excited to fly across the Atlantic, I would wake up in the middle of the night with my heart racing in fear of our upcoming flight. Instead of every moment thrilling to the luscious green land all around me, at times I struggled to catch my breath. Instead of marveling at the natural wonder of the hexagonal columns at the Giant’s Causeway, I trembled in near panic as we walked along dirt paths next to cliff walls…certain they would crumble down on top of us at any moment. The odds of that happening were extremely slim.

The fear I struggled with is a distant memory now, but at the time that gruesome pest was taking all the fun out of an extraordinary trip. And my worrying over every little thing was draining the strength out of my mind and spirit.

So by the time we arrived at the “car park” of the rope bridge, he looked over at me before we got out of the car. “Are you sure you want to do this?” I peered out the windshield and looked at the path which led to the ocean. I could barely see the bridge, but from this point it didn’t look quite as scary as I had imagined. “Yep,” I huffed with a tight smile. “Nope,” my heart shot back, the echoes of my discontent bouncing around my rib cage.

As we got closer to the line of tourists waiting to cross, however, my breath started to come out in hesitant, quivering bursts. I squeezed my eyes shut in an effort to quiet the evidence of my uncertainty. “Are you sure?” he checked again when he caught me staring down at the crashing sea 100 feet below.  (That’s the part you can’t really see in many pictures.)

“Yep.”

When we were next in line, I looked up at the young, fair-haired Irishman whose cheeks were red from being slapped by cold, wild coastal air. He was one of two workers there who were the gatekeepers, so to speak, supervising and limiting the number of bridge crossers. The three of us chit-chatted loudly over the roar of the waves while we waited, laughingly trading California and Irish stereotypes, and how he’s been meaning to make his first trip to the States to visit a friend in San Diego.

Finally, I looked into his friendly blue eyes—certain God had placed him there that day to comfort me with his quick camaraderie—and all of a sudden blurted, “I’m a little terrified, but I’m going to do this.” It had been the statement I’d repeated silently the whole way down the path up to this point. I was sick and tired of letting fear beat out my faith and trust. I said it over and over until I believed it.

The stranger’s kind smile gentled, and his eyes turned serious as they acknowledged my fear.  “Not to worry,” he said, his musical Irish accent calming me, “you’ll do just fine. Are you ready?” He had received the nod of permission for us to trek ahead from his partner across the way.

And so, step by step I worked my way across the bridge. The creaks of the rope swaying in the gusty wind invaded my ears, but the strength of the planks below my feet, my silent prayers, and my belief that I could squash this feeling of trepidation—because I chose to—upheld me and my courageous soul the whole way and back again. For the rest of the day, you couldn’t take the smile off my face if you tried. Even thinking back on it now, the memory girds my heart.

“I know how hard it was for you.” My husband’s answer whispered to me again.

Currently, I’ve chosen to focus on the truths of courage over the lies of fear…but I still have my moments of not believing I can do certain things. Even now, I have some goals that leave me shaking in my boots when I think too long on it. But the things I want to conquer don’t have to be achieved all at once. I believe that some day I will be able to scratch each one off the list, but I have to be patient with myself and give myself the grace to persevere—one step at a time, if need be.

There are some fears I’ve fled from and didn’t triumph. And yet, I won’t dwell on the ones from the past which I may not have the opportunity to face again. Instead, I’ll find new things to find victory in.  Whatever you may be facing, believe that you can declare yourself the victor. The feeling of accomplishment and relief…the burden of dread lifted…the surrender…it is so worth it. Will I ever bungee jump? Never will I ever. For me, today… in about 10 minutes, it’s going to be the pile of dishes in my sink that I will conquer. That mess seems impossible. But I believe I can tackle it, and so I will.

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Strength

If you ever want to see a visual of how Christ can strengthen your life, just go tackle a vine. Until one summer two years ago, I’d only examined a vine once in my life, and at that time it was a baby vine. I saw the potential of its strength, but I had no idea how tenacious, resilient, and intricate a fully grown vine could be. My husband and I had let some things go because of the drought, and one morning I decided to try to remove a big ol’ vine bush from our backyard. Well…I sweat. My muscles ached. My back became sore, and even my breathing became labored! Not really having done ANY sort of yard work in my life, I had no idea such an innocent looking bush could be such a challenge!

But as I worked these words kept floating around in my head:

“I am the vine…I am the vine.”

“You are the branches.”

“Abide in me.”

The more I dug in with my trimmers, the more I discovered how this plant was so intricate, so strong…so amazingly beautifully ugly. It was imperfect and unkempt, like how I feel on a daily basis. Yet even in a drought it persevered, grew, and formed a weave of sturdy branches…some wider than my thumb! The vines were tangled, yet glowed a vibrant green…what I thought was ugly slowly became beautiful strength in my eyes.

“I am the vine…you are the branches…abide in me.”

When we abide in Christ, we do that by reading the bible to know Him and how He would handle situations…we pray and do not lose hope, even when things seem hopeless or we don’t understand why He didn’t answer the way we begged Him to…we trust Him…we are conscious that He is ever beside us. And if we abide in Him, the result? We are the branches!!!! Those strong, tougher than nails branches which make the bad things more difficult to penetrate and affect us. Yes, I was able to cut those thick branches, but not without grunting, Herculean effort (for me, at least!)…if we have that strength in us, how much harder will it be for others to try to attack us, hurt us, or to allow ourselves to give in to despair, jealousy, and fear??? Many days pass when I do not read the bible as much as I’d like to in order to gain and be reminded of this strength that comes from Jesus…I’ve felt the disconnect when trying to pray…but after seeing this real-life example, I can’t help but want to run to my bible and dig in!!!

“I am the vine and you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” -John 15:5

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Rest

When life is not quite sailing along the way we think it should be, we cannot allow our spinning wheels to cause us to forget the miracles, gifts, and answered prayers that God has blessed us with. Remembering those good things alone can turn a scary or frustrated thought into a much needed smile. 

Take a quiet moment and be still today. God is in control…we need not worry so much. We can rest in Him and give Him our burdens. Praise Him for the good things in your life because, if we take the time to look around us, there is much to be thankful for. The list of what’s going wrong may be piling up, but give some extra attention to what is going well. Doing that, you may find that you will be able to move forward much easier than if you dwell on the negatives.

In your still, silent moment, listen for His voice of compassion and grace. Take a moment to breathe in His goodness and sovereignty. Ask Him for wisdom, and receive His love. He is waiting for you.

“He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.’ The LORD Almighty is with us, the God of Jacob is our fortress.” -Psalm 46:10-11 (NIV)

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