Construction Zone!

Thomas Jefferson began construction of his mansion “Monticello” at the age of 26 and did not consider it complete at the time of his death, at age 83. For most of his life, his home was a construction zone.

I can relate to that! Both my husband and I grew up in “unfinished houses.” While not palatial estates by any stretch of the imagination, it seem our parents were always tweaking our homes, adding upgrades to the floors, expanding rooms, or adding design elements here or there. The smell of fresh sawdust triggers a flood of happy childhood memories for both of us.

This tradition has continued throughout our marriage. Because of the experiences from our childhoods, we were not afraid of “fixer-uppers” and houses that needed some TLC. We have moved frequently through my husband’s career and have purchased a home at every stop along the journey. True to form, we have added rooms, replaced roofs, upgraded kitchens, and/or finished basements in every house.

Because we are creative, we tend to act on the suggestion of “wouldn’t it be nice to have x, y, or z at this house?” and then we proceed to tear out walls and transform the structure to our vision. It hasn’t happened overnight; the process has spanned years in some cases, and the fragrance of my marriage has been a combination of sawdust, drywall dust and paint!

No matter where you may be living, there is another home improvement project taking place on a much grander scale. If you are a Christian, you are the dwelling place of God’s Holy Spirit. When we accept Jesus Christ as the Lord of our life, we become alive to spiritual things and the Holy Spirit moves in. He guides us and helps us in our inner remodeling project, as God slowly transforms us from our selfish stance of, “Life is all about ME” to the very image of His Son, Jesus Christ, bearing a heart of love for God and others.

This is definitely an “upgrade” but, much like Thomas Jefferson’s construction project, it is a process which takes time. God has a magnificent vision for our life, but it is not fully realized nor completed until we reach heaven. He consistently continues to tweak and improve us through circumstances, people, and Bible study, giving us opportunity to become more and more like Jesus in our reactions, thoughts, and words.

Dear Christian, if you find yourself feeling as if your walls have been broken down, that you are surrounded by the debris of shattered dreams, and find yourself knee deep in the crumbled plaster of dashed expectations, take heart. Your reconstruction is in process! Things must first be torn down in order to be rebuilt. It is a process and it takes time.

You may be frustrated by the construction mess and wonder when the 2×4’s and sawhorses will cease to be a trip hazard in your living room. Why do the same old sins seem to trip you up, time after time? The process does not happen overnight, but the day is coming when you will have victory.

When the “fresh paint” smell of Jesus begins to permeate your life, you will carry that fragrance where ever you go. The people you meet will notice it, catching a whiff of something different, like an exotic perfume. Those who have known you will begin to notice the changes, the new beauty and grand design taking place in your life and will want to know what has happened. Your “house” will be fresh and new and others will notice and want to know how your life has changed. And, you will be able to share about your personal remodel by the Master Carpenter and invite them to join the construction zone.

Condo-Shopping Speed-Dating Style

Speed dating provides an opportunity for busy singles to spend a few minutes chatting with other singles in a controlled environment and quickly decide if they want to get to know each other better through subsequent dates. It is fast and furious and often mocked on sit-coms and commercials. Really, how well can you get to know a stranger in five minutes?

This week’s condo shopping experience felt very much like speed dating. We drove to Virginia on Monday, interviewed real estate agents later in the week and selected one to work with. Our agent sent us links to 15 homes in our price range, which we rated in descending priority. Some were ruled out because of square footage, others ruled out because of price, and most second floor units were discarded. That narrowed the field down to eight homes that we wanted to visit. We set up our house hunting on Saturday.
In four furious hours of shopping we toured these properties, selected a home and placed an offer to purchase; it was almost like speed dating.

This will be a second home for us, similar to the northern cabins that many Michigan families own. It will be occupied part-time and doesn’t have to be fancy or luxurious, which is a very good thing considering our lower price range! We discovered that most of the homes in our price range are foreclosures, bank owned, repossessed, or abandoned. Only a couple properties we wanted to view were for sale through a private owner.

The bank-owned units were scary. The utilities are disconnected, most appliances missing, and are sold “as is,” meaning that the bank will not make any repairs that the buyer discovers during personal or home inspections. The buyer pays to have utilities connected before the inspection, and purchases these properties at their own risk. Most of the bank-owned units we toured were distinguished by tattered window treatments, broken door locks, missing appliances and light fixtures, stained carpeting, and black mold.

And, bank-owned properties are notoriously slow to close, taking months to come to an agreement, as opposed to the 30 to 45 days usually needed for a sale to close by dealing with a home-owner. Possession is negotiated with the seller, and can be at closing or after an agreed upon time to give the seller time to remove their things. Bank-owned properties are empty and possession is immediate a closing.

We found only one home in our price range that we liked and placed an offer. It is well maintained, but the cabinetry and fixtures are dated. The carpeting is neutral, but worn, and the window treatments are not to my taste. This is minor when compared to the conditions we encountered in the bank-owned properties. We like the neighborhood and the lay-out of this unit; cosmetic things can be reasonably corrected.

The seller countered our offer, and we accepted their new price. Now, we start the parade of appraisers, inspectors, and financial juggling to pull it all together.

Once we close and have possession, we will start a frantic week of repainting and re-flooring before moving our furnishings from our apartment in Tennessee to this new dwelling. The target date of the move is mid March. I don’t think the “speed” part of this speed-dating process will slow down any time soon!

The Gypsy Life!

Life is fluid. Just when you think you have it figured out, it shifts and changes direction. Blessed are the flexible; they will bend but not be broken!

After nearly a year of life in Tennessee, we are moving again. We became Snowbirds and spent last winter in Florida, then became “Half-backers” when we moved half-way back to Michigan and tried life in Tennessee. Despite loving my position as Connections Pastor in Sweetwater, my body did not do well with Tennessee weather. I battled sinus infections all summer and lived on antibiotics and steroids. Once cold weather moved in, my asthma kicked up and I had to go back on the drugs! Enough is enough! You can’t live where you are sick all the time when there are other options.

Our options are many. My husband has retired now, so we are not locked into a location based on a job. We can go anywhere! We revisited our original plan of moving to Florida, and brainstormed over doing something wildly different for a season. We have chosen the wild way!

Our son’s family is in Michigan, and we have a house there. We will use it as a summer retreat and a place for the family to gather for the holidays. This way we can still be involved in our grandchildren’s lives and the lives of our parents and siblings who live in the Frozen Mitten.

Our daughter lives in Virginia so we will buy a condo there. Lots of people in Michigan have a small cottage up in the north woods for vacation get-aways. Our “small cottage” will be near our daughter and we will spend spring and fall in Virginia. And, we have the option to take the RV to Florida for the coldest 6 weeks of the winter and camp! For this season of life, we will be gypsies, traveling cross country, following the spring. We realize that this is for a season; someday we will be too old and feeble to chase the sun and will need to make a decision on a residence for our final years, but not yet!

The down-side of this plan is the inability to serve full time on a church staff, but we are trusting God to faithfully open up doors of ministry where ever we may be. It is the dawning of a new chapter and a new adventure. Life with the Lord is never boring!

Backseat Drivers

Summer is the time for road trips. The kids are out of school, the weather is warm, and undiscovered adventure beckons. And despite skyrocketing gasoline prices, driving is still cheaper than packing everyone into an airplane! Plus there are those priceless hours of family togetherness in the car.

Too often those long hours in the car are accompanied with the sound track of: “ I’m hungry! “ “ I’m thirsty! “ “ Are we there yet?” “I’m bored!” “He’s in my space!” “I have to go potty!” If we have ever traveled with children or have had a sibling, we can relate. Voices from the backseat are distracting and demanding. They can steal our peace and rob us of the enjoyment of the journey. Keeping one eye on the road, the driver often focuses on the turmoil in the backseat, snarling, “Don’t make me stop this car!” “Settle down! Behave!”

Distracted driving is dangerous. The driver jeopardizes his safety, emotionally hooks into the situation in the backseat, and loses his peace of mind. The kids are controlling the adult who is driving, who directs their primary attention on the drama being played out in the backseat. The trip is conducted with the primary focus being on the rear view mirror.

Driving while focusing in the rearview mirror is dangerous in the physical realm (because you could drive off a cliff !) and in the spiritual realm. Don’t drive down the road of life focused on the rear view mirror.

The offspring of Regret are Shoulda, Woulda. and Coulda. All too often we find them firmly planted in the backseat of life. If we listen to them, allow them to steal our joy for the journey, and focus on them, we can plunge ourselves into despair. They will control us if we let them.

Yes, we check the rearview mirror from time to time, to glance at what is behind us, but our focus needs to be on the road ahead. Tune out the demanding voices of the Regret Triple Crown and look to the horizon ahead of you. God has a plan for you; He has mapped out your destination.

Keep your eyes on the road that God has planned for you and don’t allow Regret to be a backseat driver.

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

A nostalgic good bye…

In a few days I will return to my house in Michigan and prepare to list it for sale. It is a bittersweet feeling. This house has been my address for over 13 years, which is the second longest span of time I have ever lived in one place. There are lots of memories there.
We intentionally sought a place that needed lots of TLC when we bought it. Our children were quickly approaching their own launch into adulthood, and the life skills of remodeling are best taught with hands-on instruction. The house had “good bones” despite the many cosmetic issues and neglect. We replaced most of the floors, all of the doors, and re-did the kitchen. The “virgin” basement was transformed into a finished living area, complete with second kitchen and bathroom. We learned how to cook on a woodstove during power failures, raised chickens and gardened, dug a pond and built a barn.
The “Great Room” has hosted numerous holiday gatherings of friends and family, weekly Bible studies, and other celebrations. This house was our Granddaughter’s home for her first 5 months of life, and was a place of shelter for her parents when between jobs. Favorite memories are of campfires down by the pond, and sitting on the porch swing watching the fireflies dance in the fields.
I love the winding tree-lined lane that leads to the house. I love the wind-swept fields and watching the blue herons fish in the pond, the geese that return every spring to raise their babies and the small herd of white-tails that we try to outsmart from our garden. And it is hard to let it go. It is a little bit like a death.
As much as I love the house, I cannot live there anymore. My health prevents me from attempting to endure any more cold Michigan winters. Despite my husband’s retirement, my new career prevents me from wintering in a warmer state and spending my summers up north. And that is okay because I really love what I am doing. It is all good, but I still feel sad at saying good-bye to the house in Michigan. Or rather, I think I am saddened at the finality of that chapter of my life coming to a close.
God is always faithful and has a wonderful plan for my future. I can trust Him to lead and direct me into His very best. He is in the process of writing another exciting chapter of my adventure through life with Him.
Turn the page. A new chapter begins.

Remembering Lester

I had a boyfriend in ninth grade whose name was Lester. He was a big, husky kid with a rough and tumble attitude who played a defensive position on the Jr. High Football team; academics were not his strength, and teachers warned my mother to keep an eye on her sweet, studious little girl because of her fascination with this big, bad country boy.

Neither of us was old enough to drive, so our “dates” consisted of holding hands at high school football games, dancing at school dances, and talking for hours on the phone after school. Sometimes he would phone me and play records for me to listen to. His favorite was “Baby, I need your Loving” by Johnny Rivers. Sometimes he would even sing along. At fifteen, I thought it was terribly romantic.

A little rural church held a monthly youth outreach called “Teen Club” and Lester, his cousin, my best friend and I were regular attendees. The youth pastor and his wife were achingly young, fresh out of Bible College and tried their best to connect with us, but we listened in boredom to their sermons and quickly found an excuse to escape from the church basement, board games and lemonade into the night where we could horse around under the streetlight in front of the church. We were rowdy, disinterested, and I suspect, discouraging for the young ministers.

Lester and I did not remain an item for long. We dated on and off during my freshman year, but ran in different circles for the rest of my high school time. Over the years I lost track of these people who were once so important in my life, but recently reconnected with my girlfriend from those Teen Club days. She and I both have a committed relationship now with Jesus Christ, so perhaps some of those seeds were not sown in vain. I don’t know what happened to the boys.

I heard from her last week and she sent me a copy of Lester’s obituary. The article said that he passed away, surrounded by family, in his sleep. It sounds like a long illness, perhaps cancer; the paper didn’t give any details. But it made me remember him, and those days back when I was fifteen.

Ministry has brought me in contact with many teens who remind me of my fifteen year old self. Those youth who come to events with ulterior motives, whose interest is focused on some guy or girl and who have perfected the high art of flirting are found in every church. And I think of that dedicated missionary couple, faithfully sharing the gospel with their unruly, uncaring audience.

I write this as an encouragement to those discouraged, frustrated youth workers. Keep sowing the seed; be faithful. I don’t know if Lester or his cousin ever accepted Jesus, but two of those boisterous teens did, and one grew up to be a pastor. Your job is to faithfully sow the seed; the Holy Spirit’s job is to make the seed grow. Keep sowing because you don’t know which of those seeds will sprout. You are making a difference, even if you cannot see immediate results.

Rest in peace, Lester. I hope some of those faithfully planted seeds helped you find Jesus.

Catching a whiff of memories

Isn’t it funny how scents can trigger memories?  A summer breeze wafting past my neighbor’s cow barn transports me back to happy childhood summer afternoons playing in my Grandmother’s cow shed.  The smell of fresh tar immediately transports me back to the days my Dad sealed the outside of the basement walls of the house he built when I was four.   And if you open a box of crayons around me, my brain takes me back to the hallways of Flora List Elementary School.  

Today I walked through a classroom here at the church and something I smelled took me back to my Aunt Patty’s farmhouse kitchen!  I spent a week at her house when I was six years old and she made blueberry pancakes for breakfast.  I was startled when that whiff of something in the classroom instantly “took” me there and my mouth began watering, remembering her cooking.  

The sense of smell is an interesting thing that is directly linked to our taste buds.  Hold your nose and you won’t notice the taste of something that has an unpleasant flavor.  Yet, constant exposure to an odor will dull one’s sensitivity to it.  I have talked to people who live in towns with paper mills or oil refineries.  After a while, they don’t even notice the odor.

Just as people who smoke cigarettes don’t notice the odor of nicotine clinging to their clothing, or a pretty perfume seems to lose its scent to the person wearing it, we can easily become immune to the common smells that surround us day to day.  In the Bible days, a shepherd spent his life so close to his sheep that he would begin to smell like them.  I’m sure the shepherd didn’t notice the sheep-smell, but everyone else probably did.  

As Believers in Jesus Christ, we are called to spend so much time with our Lord that we begin to smell like Him.  We may not even notice it, but those who don’t know Him will.  My prayer is that we leave a fragrant scent of Christ’s love where ever we go, so that when people “catch a whiff” it will trigger a pleasant memory and make them hungry for more of Jesus, much as I am now hungry for my Aunt Patty’s home-made blue berry pancakes!

Easter has always been a BIG DEAL for me.  When I was little, and too young to understand the real significance of the day, Easter  meant getting a new outfit and a break from the everyday routine.  There was the traditional hunt for colored eggs, a breakfast of chocolate and jelly beans, going to church, followed by lunch at my Grandmother’s.  The whole family would gather at her rambling country farm house, enjoy a luncheon spread of ham, potato salad, baked beans and pie, then spend the rest of the day flying kites in the pasture.

As a child I never thought about all of the behind the scenes work that Grandma did getting ready  for  Easter.  The house was always clean, the sideboard  loaded with a variety of freshly baked pies, and a big meal of delicious food  made from scratch.  She must have worked long hours in preparation.

I have hosted a number of Easter family gatherings and can certainly appreciate Grandma’s efforts. While my pies may not have been made from scratch as Grandma’s were, I always made sure the house was clean and tried to prepare enough food for whatever size crowd I was expecting.  There was always an air of anticipation and growing excitement as the day drew closer, looking forward to the seeing the people who would be coming.

This year I will not be hosting a gathering with my biological family for the holiday but will be celebrating Easter with my brothers and sisters in Christ.  And, as Grandma or anyone who hosts a family gathering would agree, the days leading up to Easter are filled with activity.  Across the world, there is a flurry of activity as churches are being prepared for the celebration.  Woodwork is polished and dusted, floors buffed, paint retouched, weeds pulled, flowers planted and weeds pulled.  And, like any party held in one’s home, there is a growing anticipation and looking forward to the church family and guests who will be coming to the celebration.

Have a wonderful Easter.  Color and hide those eggs.  Nibble the ears off the chocolate bunnies for breakfast and feast with your family.  Celebrate all of the Easter traditions but never lose sight of the true significance of the day. Resurrection Day, or Easter, is about more than chocolate and candy, family parties, or new clothes.  It is the fulfillment of God’s promise to deliver mankind from the bondage of sin. Jesus’ resurrection, which we celebrate on Easter Sunday, is a forerunner of our own future resurrection.  1 Corinthians 15:20 says that Jesus is the first-fruit of those who have fallen asleep.  As He was resurrected, so can all who belong to Him look forward to our own resurrection someday.

In the days leading to Easter, many of us are  cleaning out the cobwebs and dust and polishing our homes and churches to receive guests for this celebration.  This is also an excellent time to do some spiritual housecleaning and receive Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior if you have never done so.  Romans 10:9 says “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved.”    Without the cross and resurrection, Christmas would be a broken promise, but God has prepared a way for sinful man to be reconciled to Him through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Stop living your life by your own rules and embrace the richer, bigger, better life that Jesus paid for with His death.

Easter Preparations

God’s “Suddenly”

A recurring word throughout the Bible is “suddenly.”  When God opens doors, and blasts you through them, it feels very much like  a “suddenly.” 

After three months of Snowbird life, God “suddenly” opened a door with a job offer and I found myself en-route to a new position and life in Tennessee.  We broke camp in Florida and headed north, eager to begin the next chapter of our lives.  

When God opens a door it doesn’t necessarily mean you will have smooth sailing. If the devil can’t close the door, he will try everything he can to slow your progress and distract you.  We almost made it to our destination trouble free, but all that changed about 15 miles out.  We heard a funny noise in the engine and, as my husband and I were speculating on the cause, we “suddenly”  heard a noise resembling gremlins  banging on pots and pans under the hood.  We limped to the nearest exit and started making phone calls. 

After a long evening of waiting for a tow truck, quickly packing a few days’ worth of clothing, unhooking the car from the dolly, and transferring valuables and the cats from the RV, we were on our way again: the RV towed to a shop and us to a pet-friendly hotel.   The repairs were not quick, easy or inexpensive.   Essentially, a belt in the motor broke and the cascading effects caused major damage throughout the engine; repairs took longer than we expected, and cost more than we expected.  My husband kept saying, “We must be doing something right! Look at the opposition.” 

A few nights spent in the hotel did not delay me from starting my new job and beginning the search for a place to live.  Plans were to live in another campground inside the RV until we found an apartment. Living in a campground while working is possible, especially if you don’t mind sharing the showers with 80 new friends, but it makes an apartment feel like a luxury! 

Apartments are few and far between around here, but God came through again.  We spent a day driving around the surrounding communities and happened across a for rent sign.  This unit was not advertised in the paper, and we were fortunate enough to drive by and spot the sign.  A few phone calls later, we did a walk-through and assessed the potential of a year long lease. 

The rooms are big, it is in a safe area, and has quiet neighbors, but the carpet and woodwork felt very 1980’s, and the appliances were horrific.  I struggled  because of the kitchen, but after looking for other options, I figured it was better than living in the RV and signed the lease.  God (and our landlord) surprised us again by blessing us with new, modern appliances, which significantly improve the overall quality of the apartment.

We are leaving our house up north fully furnished for when we list it  and decided to buy a few strategic pieces of furniture for the apartment.  God has faithfully led us to unexpected sales and the place is starting to look like a real home. 

I have experienced a “suddenly.”  Within a week I left Florida, moved to Tennessee, started a new job, found furniture, and moved into an apartment.  We are nearly unpacked and even have some pictures on the walls.  The week has been a whirl-wind, with meeting many new people, learning a new community, apartment hunting, furniture shopping, and the demands of a new job. Some days it has felt as if I am trying to drink from a fire hydrant, but God continues to graciously bless and surprise me.  And I look forward to being at the point where the only thing I have to focus on is my job! 

 

Reflections

My snow-birding adventure in Florida is rapidly coming to a close. Winter is over. Tomorrow morning we will embark on a new chapter, as we walk through a door that the Lord has opened and follow His divine direction for our lives. It seems like a perfect time to review and reflect upon the past three months.

I am so grateful for my husband; he is my hero. He has sacrificed so much for my health and comfort; most recently in his decision to file for an early retirement and spend the winter in Florida, working via up-link from our tiny RV. He will not officially retire until the end of April and certainly would have been more comfortable spending his last months on the job in his office in Michigan! Adjusting to life in the RV has been a challenge mostly due to the confined space (and in sharing that space with the cats!). We call our Maine Coon “the House Monkey” because he insists on finding high spaces to inhabit and doesn‘t mind climbing over anything to reach them, including important papers. He has added many a wrinkle to my husband’s attempts to stay organized.

A job lead brought us to Florida’s western panhandle, but my first month in Florida was spent in physical recovery. I battled influenza, a urinary tract infection, and wrapped up January with a viral upper respiratory infection. Other than trips to the Santa Rosa Medical Clinic, my days were mostly spent in bed, listening to sermons or watching DVD’s on my laptop. The job lead fizzled, but I was too ill to care.

This snow-bird experience was not what I had imagined. While in Michigan, I envisioned a winter of summer-like days spent by the water with a book. The weather in January and February was too chilly for extended outdoor activities, I was easily bored, and missed interaction with people. Everyone stays inside when the weather is cold and wet, and only venture out to quickly walk the dog or do laundry.

By February I was feeling better and had my fill of campground life. I asked the Lord to open a door for me, and He led me to the Santa Rosa Pregnancy Resource Center where I became a “full-time/short-term volunteer.” It takes many willing hands to make a ministry function and this filled my days with a variety of activities, from addressing banquet invitations, answering phones, meeting with clients, sorting baby clothes, general housekeeping, and assembling baby equipment. I got to know wonderful godly women, help the ministry run smoothly, and be a blessing to others. The reality is, they were even a bigger blessing to me! I enjoyed every moment spent at the PRC. In this short time I have made friends that I hate to leave.

As I reflect on the past three months, I can say that God is faithful. He protected us from the many storms, answered a multitude of specific prayers, and showered us with innumerable blessings. Jesus came that we might have life to the fullest, and walking with Him is never dull!

Are you bored, frustrated, or lonely and wondering just how and where God will ever use you? Abundant life is waiting for you. I urge you to start investing yourself in others. There are many opportunities for service in your community; not all ministry happens in a church! Ask the Lord to lead you and direct you to where He has already prepared a place for you. You will be blessed beyond your wildest dream as you become a blessing to others. Listen for his voice and be willing to follow whatever He directs you to do. Life’s great adventure is waiting for you just outside your door!