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.

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.

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!

Doing the Splits

We moved a lot during my husband’s career. He was utilized as a plant launch specialist and when his company wanted to start up a new factory, he was THE guy for the job. During the ten years of my children’s’ education, we moved seven times, living in five different states.

After one relocates a few times, the brain tends to switch to auto pilot. There is a mental check list of notifications, closet cleaning, and good-byes. We generally had a two week window to wrap up life in one location before moving to another. During those two weeks, we would pack up our computer, schoolbooks, and a survival wardrobe and move into a furnished apartment while house-hunting in our new location.

Notification of transfer usually came mid-December; January would find us in a new apartment, and we generally closed and moved in to our new house in early May. That left about 4 months of “doing the splits”- living with a minimum amount of stuff, away from those things that make our day-to-day life more enjoyable, easier, and fun. Inevitably, I would think I had something essential with me, would tear the apartment apart looking for it, only to conclude it must be a the other house.

I have been in Florida since January and did “the splits” this morning! I woke up with my mind made up on what I want to wear today. (Doesn’t everyone do that, or is it just a “girl-thing?” ) The object of my search is a print cotton cardigan. It has a brown and tan and orange pattern and would go great with the brown Capri’s, orange belt, and white polo that I am wearing to work today.

I tore apart all of the storage bins under my bed, my limited closet space, and even dug through the bins in the back of my van. I am convinced it is still at home in my closet.

Not having the sweater is a minor frustration. It is just a reminder that I am “doing the splits.” My life is currently split between Michigan and Florida, and will remain in transition until God opens up a firm direction for our future.

As a Christian, I should be used to “doing the splits.” I live in this world, but am not of this world. My real home is in heaven; I am just a sojourner on this earth. Someday, I will finally get to go home.

Here, in the present, living between Michigan and Florida, I am searching for my sweater.  I know that when I go back to my home in Michigan and will retreive it.  But, during our time here on earth, we spend our lives in a state of searching – searching for that illusive happiness and peace. 

The missing ingredient in life is Jesus Christ, and many of us spend our entire life searching for true happiness in all of the wrong places. It cannot be found in parties, drugs, or possessions.  There is a peace and joy in Jesus Christ that our world here cannot give.  Behind all of our searching, is Jesus.  He is what our broken, empty hearts are ultimately searching for.    He is waiting for all who seek Him.  Call out to Jesus and find that true peace.

A Twist of Fate

I have been battling homesickness on this Snowbird journey, so I was elated when my husband announced that we needed to spend the following week in Michigan for an important work meeting. A week of living in a real house, seeing my friends and family and doing laundry in my own (free) machine was definitely worth a two day drive with drugged cats. My week’s activities were quickly planned and I was terribly disappointed when the meeting was suddenly cancelled.
That cancellation meant that instead of being on the road, we would now be spending the weekend in Florida and I didn’t like the weather forecast. The weatherman called for severe thunderstorms, gale force winds, and tornadoes. The thought of riding out a twister in a trailer park made that two day drive on winter roads all the more appealing.

Authorities tell you to go to a safe place in case of a tornado, only there are no safe places here. There are no basements because the water table is very high, and ditches quickly fill up with water, snakes, and gators. The desk attendant at the RV Park told us the standard procedure for dealing with tornadoes is “get in your car and try to outrun it.”

So, we prayed for God’s protection and sat and watched and waited. The sky turned black in mid-afternoon and the tall trees began to whip from the wind. The RV began to rock and shimmy. The torrential rain was so strong we couldn’t see outside of any of the windows.

At the peak of the storm’s fury, the RV sprung a leak. A seal on a stationary window gave way and water poured in and down the wall. It soaked the floor in the front third of the RV, including everything stored under the sofa and in front of the driver and passenger seats. We moved what we could to higher ground and went to bed.

The next morning we bought a shop-vac and pulled at least a quart of water from the carpet, washed the towels, and tried to dry out. We have been running electric heaters, the air conditioner and a small dehumidifier to dry out of the flooring before it grows mold and mildew. The window is now resealed and survived last night’s rainstorm, but the carpet is still damp three days after the flood.
I can only imagine the mess we would have walked into, had we followed our original plan and returned to Michigan for the week. The storm and flood would have hit on the first day of our absence. Outside temperatures are ranging in the mid seventies, which would have turned the inside of our soggy RV into a mold and mildew breeding ground. Chances are, the interior of the unit would have been destroyed.
Now I look at the cancelled meeting with grateful awe at God’s protection. Not only did He protect us from the storm itself, He protected us from the property loss that would have ensued had we been away.
And it makes me wonder how many times our plans don’t work out because a merciful God was protecting us from very unpleasant consequences. Yes, I am disappointed that my week at home didn’t happen, but I am ever so grateful for God’s providential intervention on my behalf!

My “Fantasy Island”

I have a fantasy, which I visit when I feel I am being pulled in every direction and need a “Calgon Moment.” In my fantasy, I am spending the winter in a large summer “cottage” on the back-side of Michigan’s Mackinaw Island. The walls are made of golden pine logs, with original wood floors that are covered with worn Persian Rugs and hand-made rag rugs. The living room is furnished with a well-worn leather sofa and comfy over-stuffed chairs, complete with cozy red Native American wool blankets thrown over the sofa’s back. There is a wood-burning stove in the living room, topped with a simmering pot of soup.

In my fantasy, it is snowing outside, with big white, fluffy snowflakes drifting to earth, and the water of the lake outside the window is rough and grey, but inside the cottage, the light is golden and warm.

I am snowed in for the winter, armed with stacks of canvases and paints and I spend my days painting wonderful, artistic pictures. There is no television, no radio, and no internet. I am content to be snowed-in alone with my art.

This is totally a FANTASY! In reality, my cold-induced asthma would take me out the first time I had to reload the wood box. And, despite the pretty surroundings, they would become a lonely cage. I need to be involved with other people.

Nothing has brought that need for human interaction into crystal focus better than spending a few months in an RV park in northern Florida. Instead of being a “jeans and tee shirt” winter, it has been “sweater and jacket” weather. One night, the wind-chill was actually zero!

Winter weather here in the panhandle is cold and wet and people stay holed up inside their rigs most of the day. Temperatures may top out around 70 for about 30 minutes in the late afternoon, but quickly plummet once the sun start to set. Folks bundle up, walk the dog, and scurry back inside where it is warm. The best place for conversation and chance meetings seems to be the laundry facility.

There are only so many books one can read, so many pod-casts one can hear, and so many hours on Facebook before the need for human interaction drives you out. And rightly so! God created us for relationship, both with one another and with Him. We are called to be conduits of God’s blessings instead of reservoirs. Life is intended to be shared in fellowship.

Do you know people who are “shut-in” at home? It might be health issues, age, or a new baby in the home that confines a person to their house. When I was a young mom, at home with two little ones, I had a friend in a similar situation. When the Mr. Rogers television program came on, we had a scheduled daily thirty minute phone date that carried us through the rest of the day. Nearly thirty years later, and living in different states, we are still in contact and consider ourselves friends.

We are blessed when we bless others. Who is in your circle of influence that would be blessed by a visit, a phone call or a note? I encourage you to reach out, brighten someone’s day, and be a welcome blessing to someone else.

What’s YOUR Story?

I am meeting new people on this snowbirding journey. Protocol for meeting new folks covers the same questions: “What’s your name?” “Where are you from?” “What do you do for a living ?” (Or “What did you do for a living?” – because most of the people I am meeting here are retired.) And, “Which rig is yours?”

There is the usual mental sizing up and rating system: Yankee vs. Confederate, blue collar vs. white collar, urban vs. country dweller, those who camp in huge, shiny RVs vs. those who stay in older ones. We tend to classify and pigeon-hole people as if we are scientists cataloguing plants. We smile and nod, are polite and play nicely, but it takes time and shared interests for real friendships to develop, so conversations rarely move on to deeper things.

People shut down if the conversation moves into tricky waters, such as religion or politics, too quickly. You look for little clues and nudge the conversation, all the while being ready to side-step the issue if they are not receptive to the nudge. So, we stay in the shallow end of the pool and tread water instead of diving in an risk alienating a potential friendship. Everybody has a story, but you have to build that bridge of trust before they are willing to share it with you. Trust takes time to develop. As a result, most stories remain untold.

Last night I had a dream about heaven. I was with a huge crowd of people, from all ethnic backgrounds. We were all wearing whatever “street clothes” our culture or time period deemed, and we were all roughly the same age. There were no children, teens, or elderly in the group. Folks were clad in jeans and tee shirts, prairie dresses, sari’s, buckskin, and silks – a wide assortment of humanity, both men and women,

There were people standing shoulder to shoulder as far as the eye could see in any direction. We were all facing the same direction, and way off in the distance was an elevated platform with some people seated in fancy chairs. We in the crowd were all very excited to be there, and were eagerly sharing our stories with those standing near us.

These stories were intense, personal, and vivid. There was no reference to names, places, jobs, or titles.. Instead, the question was, “How did you meet Him? How did you meet Jesus?” And, we talked, sharing our stories in heartfelt, deep details, giving glory to Jesus for His grace to touch our lives. There were no half-hearted, “Well, my grandma used to take me to Sunday School, so I decided I was a Christian” or “Well, my family all went forward on an altar call when I was little and I didn’t want to stay in my pew, so I guess I’m a Christian.” stories. These stories were rich, detailed, personal, and powerful.

There was no classifying, no judging, no rating system of who had the “best” story. Instead, there was a deep excitement, acceptance, and overwhelming joy. Everyone had a story and everyone was intensely interested in hearing what anyone had to say.

One day we will all be called to tell our story, to give a personal account for our life. What will your story be?

Christmas lights in November

Today is November 4. It was dark and frosty as I drove to the office this morning and the sun was just beginning to peek over the horizon. Amidst the piles of leaves and rotting Jack-o-lanterns, I passed a house that was already decorated for Christmas.

Every tree and bush around the house was lit with multicolor twinkle lights. And when I saw them, it made me smile.

Some people say that decorating so early is “pushing the season” and rail against the department stores playing holiday music in November. Holiday music in November makes me smile, too.

I’m not talking about adopting the whole “Santa is coming to town” commercialism mentality, but am referring instead to the phenomenon of “God coming to Earth!” Those little twinkle lights remind me that Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, came to rescue sinful man from spiritual darkness.

The promise of Jesus the Messiah began in the garden of Eden, after Adam and Eve sinned. Later, Abraham was told that through his offspring all the nations of the earth would be blessed. God in human flesh, Jesus Christ the Messiah, is a descendant of Abraham. He lived a sinless life and paid the total payment for all of our sins. Anyone who trusts in Him will be saved from damnation.

Those twinkle lights remind me that Jesus is the light of the world. The music at the mall reminds me of the angels singing in celebration of His birth. When I see Christmas lights and hear Christmas music, I smile and thank God for His incredible sacrifice for me. Christmas is THE gift to celebrate: God Himself coming to earth to rescue sinful man.