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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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.

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

Advent 12-01-15: Wait

By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.

Luke 1:78-79

I’ve never heard anyone say waiting is easy.

Sometimes the waiting is full of dread: Waiting for test results; waiting to start therapies; waiting outside the principal’s office…

Sometimes the waiting is frustrating: Waiting in traffic; waiting through commercials; waiting for a break in the rain…

But sometimes the waiting is full of hope and excitement: Waiting for vacation; waiting for the big party; waiting for the coffee to brew…

Wait

… or waiting for the Messiah to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.

 

Advent 11-30-15: Prepare

See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight–indeed, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts.

Malachi 3:1

2015 is the year of being prepared for Christmas. Not just that I have nearly all my shopping done. Or the fact that I have the tree up (nothing else at the moment). Or even the fact that I’ve calendared all my holiday shenanigans on my iPhone.

I am prepared to fully experience the holiness of Christmas.

Prepare - Feature

Every night I put effort into preparing for bed. First I put on my pajamas and my warm slippers to insulate the soles of my feet from the cold bathroom tile. Then I wash my face, brush my teeth, and apply lip balm and hand cream. One that’s done, I put my phone in “Do Not Disturb” mode and settle in for a good night’s sleep. I could easily go to bed without the rituals, but it would be noticed. I wouldn’t sleep as well because something would be missing.

I’m seeing this holy season as kind of the same thing. I can just wing it and show up on Christmas day, but something would be missing. Instead I’m intentionally preparing myself for the event by reading specific scriptures, praying specific prayers, and listening for God. Already Christmas is feeling more reverent than it has in years past.

Advent 11-29-15: Hope

The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The LORD is our righteousness.”
Jeremiah 33:14-16

This past Sunday I wasn’t necessarily in the mood to go to church. The last couple of months have been sort of crazy – I was traveling a lot in October and into November – and frankly, I just kind of got out of the habit.

While I don’t believe church should be a chore (if it is then there are some weighty issues to be considered), for me it needs to be a Sunday priority and when it drops on the importance scale I feel it in my soul. So I bucked up and got ready and off Todd and I went.

And I was blessed. I spent the majority of the service with tears streaming down my face. Not sad tears, mind you, but tears that flow from a Spirit-shattered heart. It all started with child dedication and when I, as part of the congregation, verbally vowed to help raise these children in the faith, I choked up.

What always moves me, no exceptions, is when we sing. When we pour out our hearts and souls in worshipful song. Some days are more powerful than others, and this Sunday was close to epic. Todd reached over and offered me his sleeve because, let me tell you, I was a hot mess.

“How Great Thou Art” is one of those hymns that thaw out my numbed and frozen spirit and it certainly did that on Sunday. But even more provoking was “Scandal of Grace”. Those lyrics always speak to me. Always.

Hope

Just as Jesus was the hope Jeremiah spoke of, he’s still and forever our hope.

Advent Season 2015

Advent Season 2015

I like the holidays. Not as much as some, more than others. But I always find the lack of Christ in Christmas disturbing. It seems no matter how hard I’ve tried over the last several years, the Christmas season has been more secular than holy. I get sucked into the business of decorating, cooking, purchasing, and whatnot, with very little celebration of Jesus’ birth and what that means to me as a Christian.

Every year it’s the same and by the time the presents have been opened I feel a little deflated because, no matter how much I say, “Christmas isn’t about the gifts and the food or even the family,” that’s exactly what it’s about.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m certainly (and obviously) not against all the frivolities of the season. I actually enjoy cooking the special meal and pretty trees and decor make me happy and being together with family? Well, that’s just the best. But there’s so much more to it.

This year is different. I’m not working  and I don’t have little kids. That goes a long way towards my ability to study and ponder and really consider this advent season.

My friend, Julie, knows how much I like to take pictures and she directed me to Alive Now, a resource of The Upper Room. Alive Now is sponsoring an Advent Photo-a-Day challenge. Each day I receive an email with the advent word of the day and several scriptures and other tools to guide my reflections towards the coming birth of Christ. I then take a picture that represents that word and post it to Instagram.

There are only so many words you can type in Instagram so I’m going to post them here at Jenster’s Musings as well. And maybe, if you’re sucked into the business of the season, you’ll find a little holy in the secular.

Pleading for Resolution

I’m feeling very somber this morning. Not just somber, but my heart feels rather heavy. My very dear friend, Gretchen, and her husband have been working towards adopting two of the cutest little girls from Ghana. When I say they’ve been “working”, what I mean is they legally adopted them nearly two years ago. OUR government – the United States of America – is the reason why these precious sisters haven’t come home to THEIR family. And yet America opens the borders to illegal immigrants like it’s nobody’s business. How is that right? How is it right that a person can come into this country without any type of documentation and be welcomed with open arms and entitled to all the benefits, but these children, who have been legally adopted by two United States citizens, are not allowed to COME HOME!?

The newest fear in this story is Ebola. Ghana is not terribly far from the outbreak in Africa and is listed as an area at risk for Ebola emergence. This is obviously cause for concern on two fronts. One – nobody wants their child near an Ebola outbreak – especially in a third world country. Two – if there is an outbreak in Ghana all flights out of the country will be suspended, trapping the girls indefinitely.

All of this makes me sad and it makes me angry. There’s not one reason why these girls shouldn’t be with their mother and their father and their big sister and big brother. Not one.

I realize this is a fairly common story. Maybe not the specifics, but the feeling of helplessness in trying to get an adopted child home, only to have the mercilessness of red tape – their country’s or our country’s – stand in the way of what is right. I’ve watched another close friend go through the heartbreak and it is just so wrong. The time, energy and money spent by these politicians on squashing something that is good and noble and right should be used for something else. Why don’t they direct that manpower to something that’s a little more cause for concern?

The orphanages and the government should be judicious in these adoptions – make no mistake. The worst thing they could do would be to “traffic” these innocent children, who may or may not be orphans, to the wrong people. I get that and I applaud that. But come on. Doug and Gretchen have passed every test, followed every protocol, crossed all their Ts and dotted all their Is. Ghana has done their due diligence and has determined these girls are truly orphans and that they are the legally adopted children of my friends.

Six hundred plus people signed petitions a couple of weeks ago to bring these girls home, but their fight is just one of many. Last night Gretchen was on her local news and I’m praying this clip will make the rounds until someone with some power to do something will do just that. Not just for my friends, but for all the children who are trapped in their birth country and for all the parents who are waiting to bring them home.

You can see her news clip HERE.

Please pray for this family – all six of them. And please pray for the countless other families who are waiting to be united. And please pray for the families who have been forced to relinquish their dreams of adoption.

One last thing I need to tell you. Like my friend, Kati, who has fought more than just one of her own battles, Gretchen is a woman of great faith. I’ve watched them both deal with the hope and the grief and the joy and the heartache while on this rollercoaster. They both showed incredible determination to fight as long and as hard as physically and financially possible. But most inspiring to me is the way they both did so with such grace, relying heavily on God regardless of their situation.

There is no one holy like the Lord;
there is no one besides you;
there is no rock like our God

1 Samuel 2:2 (NIV)

Good For The Soul

I’ve been stuck in a rut lately . You know how it is – every day you repeat the same task, the same function, the same drudgery . You are merely existing and not really living.

That’s just life and I see no help for it. At least not on a daily basis. But sometimes you just gotta get away from that existence and live a little. And that’s exactly what I’m doing this weekend.

I am in Cape May, right across the street from a quiet beach with five girlfriends. The kind of friends who will unashamedly make you pee your pants because they make you laugh so hard. They see you stand that certain way and know you’re just one zinger away from cursing your lack of Depends. Cruel women, and yet I adore them.

They’re also the kind of women who strive to know Jesus better. I think of them kind of like a soul trust – a brain trust for the spirit. The collective wisdom is staggering. I am so happy to be a leach to their oozing brilliance.

I love this very safe environment. We sometimes have opposing views about politics, church, books, fashionable hats and the like, but we love each other and we don’t waste time on such unimportant differences. The one thing we have in common is a very big, very awesome God. Well, that and a love of all things Outlander.

Some may say we should feel guilty about going away without our husbands, the other half of our whole group. And by “some” I mean our husbands. But I say I’m not into guilt so let’s make it up with a barbecue for the entire gang later this month and call it good.

This weekend is about recharging my batteries. It’s about getting away from the monotony of the every day and embracing this big, beautiful life. It’s about the peace that envelops me from gazing at a steel gray ocean and listening to pounding surf. It’s about tears with friends over a reenactment of the first Outlander episode or a real hurt that another is experiencing.

It’s about connecting. Connecting to each other and connecting to God.

It’s about disconnecting. Disconnecting from the stress of that daily life.

It’s about sitting on a balcony overlooking the beach and writing or reading. It’s about shopping and eating and coffee and wine and napping and sinking toes in the sand and breathing in the tangy air and just being.

It’s about living. And it’s good for my soul.

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