Where I Find God

This morning was cool and crisp and sunny and beautifully unusual for August. I enjoyed two cups of coffee, Facebook, Instagram, Bible study, a crossword puzzle, reading and a little writing outside. I think I could have stayed in the hammock all day, but alas, responsibilities awaited me inside.

Part of the reason I didn’t want to leave the deck was that it felt almost holy to me. I’ve been very contemplative lately and my thoughts have gravitated more towards discontentment than gratitude. This seems particularly unsettling to me because there is nothing in my life that warrants such negativity. My guess is that it has more to do with this stage of life and coming to terms with the fact that our family dynamics have changed. With all the first day of school pictures posted today, I can’t help but feel a little nostalgic. This is the first time in 22 years I haven’t had a child starting school somewhere.

Suffice it to say I was feeling the teensiest bit tender as I settled in for some quiet time. But in true God fashion, he reminded me of all I have to be grateful for and filled me with such peaceful contentment. He awakened each of my senses, revealing himself to me as I sat on the deck:

SIGHT

The beautiful blue sky dotted with wispy white clouds glimpsed behind the trees.

TOUCH

The cool breeze brushing over me and the soft warmth of Sookie’s fur as I give in to her wet-nosed nudge.

SMELL

The faint hint of far away ocean carried on the wind, along with a mixture of fresh earth and fragrant flowers mingled with the aroma of a steaming cup of strong, black coffee.

SOUND

The sound of birds at the feeders, of children laughing at the bus stop, of singing cicadas and the muted voice of Todd as he talks on a conference call in his office.

TASTE

The delicious burst of flavor as I sip my morning beverage.

I will always remember the various stages of raising kids with fondness and there will forever be a part of me that yearns for those days again. I’m grateful for those memories, but those joys have passed and I find myself discovering new ones.

I want to enjoy this stage of life, too. Even in all of its weirdness, because that’s how it feels to me. Weird. And when I start to feel melancholy over days gone by, I’m going to find my joy in the presence of God, thankful that he shows up in every beautiful sight, every comforting feel, every delightful sound, every refreshing smell and every exquisite taste that points me to him.

And next fall I’m probably going to go through all of this again.

 

 

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So Much Good Stuff

You guys! There is so much stuff going on! I had been feeling overwhelmed, but now I’m just feeling blessed. I’ve been going through the most recent online IF:Equip study on the Spiritual Disciplines and it’s been so magnificent. It has reminded me to slow down and lean into God instead of hyperventilating over my super long to-do list. Which I already knew, but sometimes you just need a different voice to remind you.  I even wrote this post for Renewing the Heart Ministries about what I’ve been discovering (or re-discovering and putting into practice.) I’m still struggling in certain areas – always will, no doubt – but they are called “practices” for a reason. So let me tell you all the good stuff!

First, Grace & Such has published our first in (hopefully) a very long line of devotionals. Ten of the writers (myself included) have contributed to 30 Days of Grace.   It is currently available through Amazon.com and will be available for Kindle sometime in the next month or so. I read through the book several times during the editing process and let me just tell you this. I was amazed at the wisdom and encouragement every single time I read each entry. I mean, I might be biased, but I really do think this is a lovely book. And it’s just in time for Mother’s Day! Both the title and the picture link to the Amazon store.

Next on the agenda, this Saturday, April 29th, is the Iron Sharpens Iron Conference for Women in the Reading area. (For those of you who grew up playing Monopoly but aren’t from around here, it’s pronounced “Redding”.) The ministry I’m involved with – Renewing the Heart Ministries (RTH) – is the sponsor so we’ve been planning and planning for months. We have two keynote speakers, a regular worship team, a mid-day concert and testimony by TAMMY TRENT, nine workshops in the morning and nine workshops in the afternoon, one of which I’ll be leading.

I am truly excited about this event, not to mention RTH in general. Because RTH doesn’t just put on a conference and then say, “See ya next year!” We provide resources and training and follow up and everything after the conference. We are, as our fearless leader, Diane Karchner, says, “boots on the ground” and we do much more than just host a conference once a year. Trust me when I say you’ll be hearing more about RTH. Much more.

So then, after the conference is four straight days of house cleaning because Todd’s parents will be here next Thursday. We haven’t seen them for what seems like forever and their timing is perfect because I am in desperate need of decorating help from his mom. She’s really good with colors and styles and such.

But they’re not coming to help me choose a paint color (though I’m planning on that being a bonus). They are coming because Katie graduates from college on the 6th of May. GRADUATES! FROM COLLEGE! Or camp.  Whichever way you want to look at it.

After graduation, Katie will come home for the week so she can hang out with her grandparents before they go back to California. Then she will go back down to Virginia to start her real, adult life. And I gotta tell ya. As much as I wish she would be closer to home, I can’t even be sad about it. I’m just happy for her.

On Sunday, May 14th, I am going to go to church and then come home and do nothing. I’m going to truly practice Sabbath. I will not have a to do list and will only do what I want to do. And while I’m looking forward to being able to breathe for a minute, I’m pretty sure I’ll be a little forlorn that all that good stuff is over. Until the next round of good stuff.

Hidden Emotions

I finally saw Hidden Figures yesterday. Katie is home for Spring Break and even though she had already seen it, she went with me so I didn’t have to go alone. Because I was prepared to go to the movies all by myself. I don’t remember the last time I wanted to see a movie this much.

Knowing the gist of the storyline, there were no surprises. At least not where the movie itself was concerned. I knew I would be mad and I knew I would laugh and I knew I would be in awe of the brainpower portrayed. What I wasn’t prepared for, however, was how much it made me miss my dad. I wanted to discuss just about every scene with him. I wanted to chat about the space program and computers and women in the engineering field back in the early 60’s and the Civil Rights movement and race issues in the workplace and, and, and. Even though he didn’t work for NASA or the space program, he was an engineer working as a civilian with the Defense Department on big computers just like in the movie, using the same programming language (Fortran) just like in the movie. And he wore the same glasses as a lot of the men in the movie, so there’s that.

Apparently the movie had a very similar effect on Katie when she saw it the first time. As sorry as I was that it made her cry (apparently buckets), it made my heart sing just a little that she thinks of her Papa in the same way I do.

Nostalgias aside, it is truly one of the best movies I’ve seen. What amazingly smart women! Witnessing what these brilliant minds had to endure simply because of the color of their skin and, to a lesser extent, because of their gender, was appalling! There were a lot of slanderous comments from the small audience, myself included. I’m not usually given to violence, but I did have the strong desire to cause bodily harm to some of those ignoramuses on the screen. By the end of the movie we were clapping and, if the tiny crowd had been in closer proximity, I’m pretty sure there would have been high-fives all around.

If you haven’t seen the movie, I can’t recommend it enough. I look forward to watching it again when it comes out on DVD. Next time I’ll be a little more prepared for those tugs on my heart, though.

 

So Many Bits

so-many-bits

Today I’m going to take random to a whole new level. I’m talking chocolate smeared on a piece of paper level.

See? I found this in my scripture writing notebook from back in March. I don’t know what I was eating while I was writing out my scripture that day, but whatever it was, it had to be wonderful. Because it was chocolate. And I smeared it. On my paper. And then I commemorated the occasion. If I thought it would be helpful to analyze this further I would, but I’m afraid no good could come of it.

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In the past two weeks, I have followed five different people on Facebook as they recorded their fabulous vacations. Italy, Scotland, New Zealand, England and Germany. Each one has done a spectacular job of making me want to go to Italy, Scotland, New Zealand, England and Germany. But Lancaster County will have to do for now.

Because my mom and my sisters are going to be here in less than two weeks and we will be going to Lancaster to chase see Amish people and take in the beautiful scenery. And probably eat yummy things. Which may or may not include chocolate. We have a lot of other things planned besides just Lancaster and will probably all need a vacation from their vacation when it’s all said and done. And we’ll probably have delicious, Amish jellies for our post vacation vacations.

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But before they come out, I get to go see the Rachael Ray Show with some girlfriends. Did you know you aren’t allowed to wear capris to a taping of the Rachael Ray show? So now I have to hope and pray I have slacks that still fit me. Because it would be really embarrassing to get kicked out for wearing capris.

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And speaking of television, I’ve been binge watching “Once Upon a Time” in between the office project and my work. A couple times I’ve thought I might be losing interest, but then new fairytale characters pop up and I have to see how they work them into the storyline.

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This past Monday was Asked & Answered over at Grace & Such and I was the subject. Which was kind of weird because they were my questions. I was both the interviewer and the interviewee. Which maybe isn’t actually so strange when you consider I not only talk to myself, I answer myself. Complete conversations. I have the best chats and really help me work through a lot of stuff. So if this wasn’t enough you can read more random here.

 

Remembering Daddy

Father and Daughter Playing Together at the Beach at Sunset

This is the first time I’ve ever observed Father’s Day without my own dad’s feet firmly planted on this earth. I’ve thought about him all day, but not with sadness. Instead, I thought about him with thankfulness and joy that I was blessed to be his daughter.

I struggled all day with the want to write something to honor him, but it wasn’t until tonight that I realized I’d already done so. In April I delivered his eulogy and those same words are appropriate today. So instead of writing something else, I’m just going to share a part of what I wrote for his funeral.

I asked my sisters and mother to tell me something they would like to convey about him. I gotta tell ya, it’s hard to boil down so many years of life into just a sentence or two.

Terri said he was a really good daddy and made each one of us feel like a Daddy’s girl. We never felt like he loved one of us any more than the others. Actually, that’s not entirely true. We were just arguing two days ago over who his favorite daughter was.

Michele said that although Dad was a quiet and studious man, he also had a great sense of adventure. As far back as she can remember, we were always getting in the car for a road trip; whether it was just for a ride around Los Angeles to see the sights, or to one of the National Parks, or up the coast of California.  Some of our longer trips were to see family, but often seeing family was a stop on the way to seeing some interesting things, like the Redwood National Forest, or where the California Gold Rush happened.  It would be easy to say Dad just wanted us girls to see some different things, but she believes it was really the chance to see God’s great creation.  To this day, she still enjoys road trips, but her idea of one is to go see what God has created and marvel at the beauty of nature; she owes that love of God’s beautiful creation to her dad.

And the true expert on my dad, my mother, simply said he was a wonderful husband of nearly 63 years and a wonderful daddy. There’s not much else that needs to be said.

This past week we’ve spent a lot of time strolling down memory lane. We have rejoiced in the fact that our husband and father is no longer frail, but whole and perfect and singing with the rest of the saints.

We’ve reminisced about how much he enjoyed life with his wife and three daughters and how he seemed to be the most content when our little family was together.

We’ve marveled over how smart he was, how he never flaunted that intelligence and never made anyone feel like they weren’t just as smart.

We’ve laughed about his sense of humor and some of the funny things he said or did over the years. And believe me when I say there was a lot.

We’ve grimaced over the times in our lives that, as his children, he disciplined us. And we agreed that we pretty much deserved everything we got. We also agreed those times were pretty far and few between.

We’ve smiled as we pictured him dancing down the golden streets, umbrella in hand, while the heavenly band plays “When the Saints Go Marching In”.

We’ve talked about his knowledge and understanding of the scriptures and how he served God in his community and through every position imaginable in his church.

He appreciated good music – whether it was classical, jazz, gospel – and passed that appreciation down.

He was an excellent dancer and boy, could he and my mother cut a rug. Sometimes to the embarrassment of their teen-aged daughters.

He made a great school tutor, though there was a time during algebra in high school I discovered he wasn’t quite as patient as I had always thought.

He was a man of few words and didn’t express his emotions much, but we never felt less than loved and safe and secure.

I would love to be able to share all of our memories with you, but Gary says we’ve only got the funeral home for so long. So I’ll leave you with this final reflection.

There is a common thought among Christians that our perception of God is largely related to our relationship with our own fathers. I’m not sure how true that is, but in my case, it makes a lot of sense. My view of my Heavenly Father has been of a kind and loving God, a just God who disciplines accordingly and not without reason, and a Father who is enamored with his children.

Daddy, those characteristics describe you to a T.

Forget Me Not

Forget Me Not

It’s kind of funny that I chose the word “Remember” for June over at Grace & Such. I had no idea just how far into reminisce mode I would be as the month began. Todd and I came to Arkansas for a Thompson Family Reunion – the first time we’ve been back in 8 years.

We moved here the day after our wedding and resided here for the next 18 years. We did a lot of living in that time. This is where we learned how to be married, where we brought two precious babies home from the hospital, where we raised those babies into school aged children. This is where I was diagnosed with breast cancer and where my surgery was performed, where my treatment was given. This is where Todd had his knee rebuilt and where I left him – he in his cast, still recuperating from the surgery – on the side of the freeway while it was sleeting. This is where he decided that Jesus was real and worthy of his devotion.

The happiest days of my life were spent here.

Each friend or family member we’ve seen has brought back those memories with such a force. I reminisce with every landmark we pass and the bittersweet emotions are raw and heavy.

I think it’s kind of funny that we will leave to return to Pennsylvania on the same day we left Arkansas for good ten years earlier. That was a rough day as well. But an exciting one, just the same.

The past ten years have been spent building a new life in a new place we have come to love. We’ve made cherished friends and are happy there. We love the location and the proximity to different places – the shore, DC, NYC, etc.. But it’s also been a hard stage of life, in my opinion. The empty nest (or pseudo empty nest, really) syndrome has its benefits, but it’s also painful. And there are times I still carry bitter and angry feelings towards cancer and how it changed me, both physically and emotionally.

I long for the days when I was still me and when my kids were around and we would explore and have fun. Where I lived life to the fullest. And all that happened here, in Arkansas.

Next week when we’re back at home and doing our thing, I’ll be happy to be there. I will get back into my routine and enjoy what Pennsylvania has to offer this summer. And I’ll fondly think back on this trip and the treasured people we were blessed to see.

And I will continue working on learning how to enjoy this stage of life so I can live it to the fullest. But I will always remember.

So Much Love

So Much Love

Last Friday, only a few hours after I posted I Wait, my father peacefully took his last breath. My mother and one sister were there with him and there was no struggle, no suffering, just a calm passing from this life to the next.

The response to my post was astounding. So many people expressed sympathy and prayers and a shared mourning. I could feel the love of friends and family through the computer screen.

Between my two sisters and myself, we gave Dad nine grandchildren and 13 great grandchildren. After his passing the grandkids with social media posted beautiful tributes to him, setting to words the legacy he passed on.

Their words not only honored him, they blessed my mother, my sisters and me, and glorified God. The responses to their posts were again full of sympathy, prayers and a unified grieving. Again, the warmth and caring that came through was astonishing.

My dad was a great man and together, he and my mother forged lifelong friendships and the respect and admiration of so many people. We, as a family, have been comforted and gladdened by the outpouring of love.

While this time is a sad time, there’s a complete joy and comfort in knowing where he is, a pleasure in our entire family being together, and an overwhelming peace that can only come from God.

All that love is overwhelming.

I Wait

As I write this I’m waiting to hear from New Mexico that my father has passed away. He stopped swallowing the other day and was struggling to breathe yesterday. This is the natural progression of advanced dementia and it feels merciless to me.

I am sad. My mom is sad. My sisters are sad. We’re all sad. But at the same time, relief is just a last breath away. We’ve watched him suffer and mourned his loss for the last several years and, while we will always mourn for him, our desire is for him to be Earl again. For his mind to be whole, for his voice to be clear, for his legs to be strong. For him to know nothing but pure delight in the presence of his Jesus. This thought changes sad tears to overwhelming tears of joy.

I will not be there when he takes his final breath and I’m okay with that. Or maybe I’m just convincing myself that I’m okay with that. But my family is nothing if not pragmatic – maybe even to a fault. In my heart I’ve already said goodbye. And I don’t believe my presence will make any difference to him. Don’t get me wrong. If I was closer I would be there with my mom and sister, but logistically, it’s not realistic to think I can be there in time.

So I wait. I wait to make my flight arrangements. I wait to figure out when to make flight arrangements for Todd and Taylor. Katie is in the final weeks of her junior year of college and she cannot afford to miss school. So I wait to see when the service will be and if it will be possible for her to join us.

And when the waiting is over I will rejoice. I will rejoice in being with my family, no matter the situation. I will rejoice that my precious daddy is no longer suffering. And I will especially rejoice because I am confident in his final destination.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!

Philippians 4:4

Papa Collage

Texas Adventures – Part 2

Texas Adventures - Part 2When last we met, our people had just left West, Texas, and were making their way through the deluge in two cars, one black and one white, down to Austin.

We pulled out of Slovacek’s parking lot and hit I-35 S for the remaining 2 hour drive. The weather vacillated between a good, heavy soak and, as some might say, “pouring pee out of a boot.” (That means it was raining really, really hard. And that’s not the precise saying, it’s more of the PG version. But you get the gist.) The white car and the black car became separated, but both drivers knew where they were going so we just planned to meet up at the restaurant.

As we were gliding through the water driving down the road, I got on Facebook and was assailed with messages from friends asking if we were okay and posting links to the Weather Channel and the National Weather Service and various other news outlets. Turns out there had been a tornado south of Austin and we were under a tornado watch with flash flood warnings all around. I pointed these things out to Terri and, for some unknown reason, it made us giggle. Maybe it was the hysterical laugh of those who are looking an unfortunate end in the eye. I don’t know. It was inappropriate, to say the least, but there we were, huddled together, looking at my phone and snickering quietly because we didn’t want the guys up front to know.

I really don’t know why we behaved so. There’s often no explanation as to why my family behaves the way we do.

Finally we made it to the restaurant.

If you ever find yourself in Austin I highly recommend you try the original Salt Lick in Driftwood.

The Salt Lick

As one who appreciates good food, I would say it was definitely worth the trip through Armageddon. One friend of mine suggested I order the brisket and ask for the end cut, which I did. Oh my, people. Here’s a picture of my plate. I ordered a combo which had pork ribs also.

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But look at the brisket. See how charred and mouth watering it looks?

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So here’s my take. The brisket was beyond delicious. It was both crispy and juicy, all at the same time, and melted in my mouth. (The taco soup I’m planning for dinner, which I love, is starting to sound a little bland.) I was much less enamored with the ribs and wish I would have just had a big ol’ plate of the briskety magnificence. Next time. Yes – I vow there will be a next time.

The barbecue sauce is very good as well. I’m just partial to a tomato based sauce and theirs is mustard based.

The rest of the fixin’s were good, too. I may or may not have licked my plate. And if I didn’t, I wanted to.

We all decided to complete the experience with dessert. I mean, right? So I had the boysenberry cobbler with ice cream and a cup of coffee. Mmmm…

cobbler

Excuse me while I have a moment…

Okay. Sadly, I wasn’t even able to finish it. Oh, how I wish for a doggy bag right now.

The other offering was chocolate chip pecan pie and it looked pretty much droolworthy as well.

Pecan Pie

Dangit! I should have shared with someone. Why didn’t I think of that then? That’s what my greediness gets me.

Once the food was served conversation was a little sparse because we were all too busy making yummy sounds. When we did chat, the topic was pretty much the weather and the rain and the tornado farther south and the flooding and what a great blog post this was going to make.

When we left the restaurant we switched up the riding situation. Terri and I moved to Jarred’s car with mom and Michele moved to ride with Joe and David. Before we could leave Austin, however, the boys wanted to make a quick stop and see their tattoo guy. Unfortunately, the tattoo guy couldn’t make it into work because of flooding. But we were there long enough for me to get this picture:

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I then posted it to Facebook with the comment that my mom, sisters and I were getting Mother/Daughter tattoos in Austin. People believed me and wanted to see a picture when it was done. So I found this picture on Google and posted it:

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We laughed and laughed because, no. Even if we would get tattoos we wouldn’t get that tattoo. We’ll just have to put more thought into what we want before our next girls’ trip.

And just like that we were back on the road. Up I-35, headed back to West for a stop and then on to Fort Worth. Just out of Temple the interstate came to a near standstill. Jarred got off and found a way around to Bucc-ee’s and Joe eventually followed suit.

Bucc-ee’s alone was an experience. It’s an enormous gas station with a convenience store, deli, clothing and home decorating. Because you never know when you’re going to find just the right piece in a gas station. It really was a fabulous and magical place.

Anyway, long story just the teensiest less long, the interstate was flooded a few miles up the road and was shut down. A policeman at Bucc-ee’s was saying there was no way around it, but when Jarred and Joseph asked him about some roads they had mapped out he told them that should be fine. So we headed out again.

By this time it was dark and it was still raining, though not nearly as hard as it had been. Jarred was in front of Joe and all of a sudden this black sedan came whipping around us, over the double yellow line, and scooted in front of the vehicle ahead of us as a semi was coming the other way. Jarred said very unkind things about his brother for driving so recklessly and at the next opportunity he tried to catch up. But the little black car kept whipping around cars, trying to gain more ground. So Jarred kept whipping around cars, trying to catch up, questioning Joseph’s mental state the whole time.

Finally we came to a crossroads and there was the black car, waiting to turn right. We found out later from Michele that Joseph commented on Jarred’s idiot driving, wondering out loud why he kept going around all those cars and why he was in such a hurry. This, of course, caused us to dissolve into puddles of laughter.

You know – reading through this I realize that maybe we just think things are way funnier than they really are. Oh well. At least we have fun.

At one point Jarred said something about hoping he didn’t get pulled over. I told him I hoped not, either, but it would add considerably to the blog story. He did not oblige so I’m sorry. No story about getting pulled over by the police. Which is just as well. The rest of us in the car probably would have been laughing uncontrollably and Jarred could have been carted off to jail because of it. I have no idea what the charge would be, but I suppose it could happen.

One more stop at the Czech Stop in West for the much anticipated kolaches. As late as it was most of us just bought them to have for breakfast the next day. They made for a delicious morning repast!

We finally made it home unscathed and unticketed and saw this on-line:

Troy Flooding

That’s why we had to find an alternate route.

And to think, this is only Friday we’ve gotten through.

Texas Adventures ~ Part 1

Texas Adventures - Part 1A couple Wednesdays ago I flew from Pennsylvania to Texas for a special girls’ get away. My mother and sister from New Mexico flew in the same day and we were picked up by my Fort Worth sister.

The next day we just kind of hung out and enjoyed each other’s company. Then Friday came. But before I tell you about our Epic Friday (as it’s come to be known in certain circles), let me give you a little back story.

A few months ago my Texas nephews and I had a Facebook argument conversation about barbecue. They said Texas has the best barbecue and I said Texas isn’t the only barbecue in town and I’m really not sure how it all went down. I tried to find the thread but there have been a lot of status updates since then. Anyhow, they decided we would have to make a trip down to Driftwood, just outside of Austin, so they could take me to the original Salt Lick.

Turns out Waco is on the way to Austin and, as it happens, Chip and Joanna Gaines of HGTV’s Fixer Upper just opened a store in Waco and the grand opening was… wait for it… Friday! Not only that, but West is right before you get to Waco. West is famous for their kolaches – delicious Czechoslovakian pastries – and the boys had plotted our course with stops in West and Waco.

So Friday morning came and seven intrepid adventurers set out in two cars.

Friday morning, October 30th.

Do you watch the news?

Did you hear about the weather in Texas on Friday, October 30th?

Here are just a few of the headlines:

“Deadly Floods, Possible Tornadoes Strike Texas as Storms Sweep Through”

” Flipped trucks, widespread damage in south Austin, Texas, after rainstorms, flooding”

” Flash flood warnings continue in South Texas, with rainfall totals over 1 foot”

You get the idea. The weather was bad. But since we were foolish intrepid we went anyway.

So we drove through the pouring rain and sighed our relief when we made it to Slovecek’s in West. Slovecek’s is a gas station with a meat market, bakery, gift shop, and beer cave, among other things. It also has the nicest public bathrooms I’ve ever been in. Which was rather convenient due to the quick stop at Starbuck’s on our way out of Fort Worth. Here we indulged in Klobasnek, Czechoslovakian meat pastries, for breakfast.

Once sated, we returned to the cars and continued on to Waco for the grand opening of Magnolia Market. The rain had lightened significantly and we thought maybe it was passing.

We were wrong and not a one of us was willing to stand in the rainy line. Especially because I think there were two umbrellas between all seven of us.

So my car pulled up to the curb and I jumped out, hiding my camera in my rain jacket, and snapped a couple of shots. We never did see Chip or Joanna. Waco was a bust.

Finally we were on our way to Austin and the real reason for our road trip…

Coming up: Disturbing weather reports, delicious food, huge gas stations and more rain. Much more rain.