The Countdown

by Rhonda, October 30, 2022

I've watched the video over and over.  It is a video of a missile hitting the business owned by the refugee family that we will be hosting.  It is loud, violent, and incredibly sad.  In an instant, their lifelong work evaporated into smoke, and now they start over with nothing.  I cannot imagine the loss they feel.  I cannot imagine the insecurity all of this uncertainty has created within them.  

They have booked their flights into the United States and they will be here shortly before Christmas. We've begun the countdown. The past two weeks have been an absolute blur of activity while we prepare for their arrival.  I've prayed for God to please show me this is His will, that He's in this, and I've reminded Him that I need his help to do something so bold.  It is difficult to live with those you love, let alone a family you don't know and don't speak the same language.

But God.  He never disappoints me.  Every day there's been a miracle.  I have been so tickled by both his faithfulness and his creativity. 

Every day, something new shows up.  We've had clothes donated and furniture given to us for free.  We've got beds for the children.  We've even had a family volunteer to "adopt" the Ukraine family for Christmas and buy all of their Christmas presents.  I'm blown away.  I wish the Ukrainian family could  see all of the activity happening here while things fall into place for their arrival, but I do give them daily updates.

I've gotten bolder with God.  I have asked him to make bigger things happen and now I am just trusting that He will.  We need to figure out a car situation for them, or some sort of transportation.  I am watching to see what He is going to do.  He's been absolutely showing off these past few weeks, and I wake up every day delighted with what must be coming next.

For example, yesterday, I awoke to a neighbor calling on my cellphone.  She had some old cabinetry in her shed, so she wondered if I might want it for the family.  The crazy thing is that I wanted to put some cabinets in my basement where the family is going to be staying.  I wanted them to be able to snore snacks or perhaps get something to eat in the middle of the night without having to trek up the stairs.  

I immediately woke my daughter up to go with me to look at the new (old) cabinets.  We knew right way it was going to work perfectly for the space we had available.  But, I didn't have a way to move them to my house.  We don't own a truck.  I called my father on his cell to tell him about it, and he said, "I'm ten minutes away with a friend in a truck.  Want us to pick them up for you?"

"Yes!" I said.

And that's how everything has happened since I decided to be bold and follow God's prodding to open my home.  I've only seen God do things like this one other time in my life, and that's when we adopted our children.

Last night, my daughter said to me, "I'm going to bed, but I'm sure you'll wake me up early tomorrow for some other new crazy adventure."

I laughed.  But, her words rang true.  I have no idea what God has in store for us right now.  Every day is a delightful adventure.  I only know it has been a long time since all of us have been this joyful.  I've gotten to know co-workers better as they've reached out.  I've gotten to know my neighbors better.  I had no idea what this would lead to.

Yesterday, I received a message from the father of the Ukraine family.  "My English is not good enough to tell you how I feel," he said, "So I will just say thank you."

I can't wait until they get here.  We've talked about how our two families may not be related but we'll always be family.  God is so good, so faithful, to me.  What a privilege for me to get to help this family.  What a privilege to watch Him work wonderous miracles to make all of this happen.  His love still shocks me.  It is never-ending, and his grace and generosity are unlike anything on this Earth.

What a blast it is to follow Jesus. 

1 Peter 1:8-9  Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

The Gap

by Rhonda, October 16, 2022

A family from our community donated an old, beaten up dresser for the children of the Ukranian family we're going to be hosting.  While we were greatly appreciative, we didn't love how the old dresser looked, even though it worked fine. It had scratches in the paint and the top of it had something sticky that had been spilled on it. So, over the past few days, my father and my kids have been sanding down the old dresser and repainting it.  With a fresh coat of paint and some new knobs, the dresser looks as good as new and will fit perfectly into the bedroom for the children.

We couldn't help but stand back and admire it.  "It looks like new," my son said.  I agreed and couldn't help but think about how God makes things new, too.

My daughter said, "Too bad we don't have two dressers.  Then, when they move out and and each kid has their own room, they would each be able to take their own dresser."

I reminded her they're only coming with what they can fit into a suitcase, so she didn't need to worry.  I was sure the kids can share a dresser.

But, God heard her sweet concerns.  

Today, at work, I got a text from her with another picture of an old dresser.  

"Guess what me and Grandpa found for free!" she texted.  

Sure enough, they found a free dresser sitting by the curb.  She is so excited, and she began sanding the second dresser down today to get it ready for a new coat of paint.  I can't help but be thankful to God for hearing her request.  I can honestly say I've never driven around town and seen a free dresser by the curb.  What are the chances?

Sometimes I'm blown away by how much He cares about the littlest things.  With God, there is always a testimony in everything we go through, even the small stuff.    He can turn the most ordinary things into something extraordinary, even a dresser on the side of the road.

He's always faithful to fill in the gaps. He simply asks us to take what we have to work with and do the best we can with it.  The gaps are His responsibility.  In the midst of any of our circumstances, God is faithful to His promises.  He really wants us to love Him and out of that love do the best we can to serve and obey.  He provides the rest.  

I believe those old dressers becoming new again are just as exciting to God as they are to us. Those old dressers were destined for the dumpster, but now they are being sanded down, painted, and have a purpose of serving a family in need.  Sometimes we need to be sanded and given a fresh coat of paint and a new purpose!    We show up with a willing spirit, and it is amazing to see what God will do.  

The only way we can accomplish what God has called us to do is to lean on Him.  He is our ability.  He wants us to lean on Him for everything, even the ability to do the things that He commands us to do.  He doesn't expect us to do these things on our own strength.  No, he provides us the strength to enable us to run the race He's set before us.  

But, so often we (myself included) underestimate God.  We underestimate our value to Him, and how much He loves us.  We don't always see how much He takes care of us.  We do not realize the power He is willing to exert on our behalf, but when we get our heads around that, we will be blown away by the magnitude of love He has for us.  We serve an almighty, powerful God who is willing to use His power to fill our gaps.  

Ask for a dresser, it will be sitting on the side of the road.  Ask for help, He will show up.  Even in the smallest things, He delivers.  His love is faithful.  Our needs matter to Him.  Our suffering matters to Him.  He delights in being our comforter, our provider.  

We were meant to run our race with Him, not with Him cheering on the sidelines or watching from afar.  

The Adventure

by Rhonda, October 04, 2022

Do you remember when I told you that I felt God stirring in my heart for a new adventure? 

I just haven't been able to shake it.  I want to be used by God in new ways, I long for a break from the routine.  I need something that takes the focus off of me, and onto others.  I want to be less, well, selfish and self-focused.

I've been absorbed by the war in Ukraine since it started.  I'm closely tied to that part of the world. My kids were born in Russia, and I've spent a considerable amount of time there.  When the war began, I couldn't stop watching the news.  I would stay up all night, obsessing over the latest developments.  After a while, I had to force myself to stop.  I was becoming sleep-deprived and anxious, all over things that I could not control.

I may have turned off the television, but as we all know, the war has continued.  I'm not in a position to do much, but I do have a home that has extra bedrooms.  There are Ukranians without homes who need somewhere to go, and someone to care.  More than that, they need someone to help.

So, in a step of total bravery (and probably unlike me, if I'm honest), I put myself out there to sponsor a family.  It wasn't easy.  I was afraid of bringing someone in my home that may harm us, or more likely, may simply not align with our values.  I was fearful, so I prayed and asked God to stop any connection that wasn't His will.

It wasn't long before we were connected with a family.  We arranged for the first video call, and let me tell you, all of our fears are completely gone.  For the past week, we've consistently had video calls with the most lovely, sweet, and yes, heartbroken family.  They've lost it all in this war.  Their business was destroyed, their home was destroyed.  But they will tell you, "It is only money.  We are alive and we are together."

They don't speak the language here, and they are unfamiliar with the way of life here.  Yet, they are so excited to come.  They are excited because they need to safe as a family over the next few years, after experiencing nothing but devastation.  They need a place that feels peaceful, that allows them to heal from the trauma of bombs and missiles.  They are, after all, starting over.  

I know I don't have nearly the trauma this sweet family has experienced.  But, I'm starting over, too.  I have finally decided to let go of the past and see what God has ahead of me.  I've filed divorce papers after three years of separation.  I've asked God to help me move forward into what He has planned for me.  I've told him I want to walk along the path He's designed just for me.

Psalm 25:4 Make me know Your ways, O Lord; Teach me Your paths.

When I prayed this prayer, I thought perhaps He might lead me into another relationship.  I don't feel ready for it, and I really have no intention of getting remarried.  But, I decided to be open to whatever God brought into my life next.

I had no clue, and I mean no clue, it would involve a Ukranian family whose lives were destroyed by war.

I met them the same week I filed divorce papers. In fact, I was connected with them the next day.

God wasn't kidding when He told me He had a full life ahead of me if I would stop living in the past.  I know it sounds crazy, but I am so excited.  I wake up thinking about them.  I go to sleep thinking about them.

Ever since meeting this family, our home has changed.  My kids are as excited as I am.  Now, our evenings are filled with plans for making their living space as nice as possible.  Neighbors have donated beds.  Friends have offered clothes.  Co-workers have even offered to help pay for an apartment.  I had no idea our little community would show so much support.  

We spent this evening repainting a dresser someone donated.  "I wonder what the children's favorite colors are," we mused.  We wondered what kind of movies they like, what kind of games they play.  We are learning more about them daily, and we enjoy planning for their arrival tremendously.

My stress levels have gone down dramatically.  What seemed important in the past has faded into the background.  Now, my focus is on the Ukranian family, and ensuring they have what they need in a horrible time of loss.  Somehow, this giving away of myself and my home, has led to a joyful home of my own.

I wonder if this is what God means when he says His path leads to joy in His presence.

Psalm 16:11 You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

I can't wait to be used by God.  Our adventures are only beginning, I know this now.  As his plan unfolds for our lives, it will be anything but boring.  But, if I'm honest, I think all of us in this house are ready for it.  We're ready to help others and live for something besides ourselves.

Let's do it.

The Divorce

by Rhonda, September 24, 2022

This week is the week of filing paperwork around my divorce.  We've been separated for three years, so I guess you could say this is a long time coming.  I have decided not to disclose all of the details around the reasons for our divorce.  We have kids, and they love their Dad, so no amount of ranting will ever excuse hurting my kids.  But, like any divorce, it has been tremendously painful.

Even though I won't disclose all of the details, I absolutely will tell my story and what God has done for me through it.  I have been married for over twenty years.  I met my ex-husband when I was nineteen years old.  There's times I really don't recall much of my life before I got married.  And, I was okay with that. 

I had my life planned out from a young age, and my plans came together pretty nicely.  I had the husband.  After a lot of struggle, we ended up adopting two wonderful children.  I had a good job, a retirement plan, and a map of the traveling I wanted to accomplish over the next twenty years.  I was proud of our life, and I was excited for the future.

I did not plan to be a divorced Mom of two teenagers.  It wasn't on the map.

But, I can tell you with all of my heart, I have never known my savior like I did when I was in the darkest moments of realizing my dreams were shattering into a million pieces.  The first nights we slept in this house, just the three of us, I honestly didn't know if my physical body could handle the pain.  I felt like such a failure.  I felt like such a disappointment to God, and I could not see how He could ever be proud of a daughter like me, who couldn't even keep her marriage together.

I worried about my kids until I was sick.  The pain was unreal for them, too, and honestly I think more of my pain was for them rather than myself.  I worried we had ruined them for the rest of their lives.  I worried they would never get past this.  I worried they would be angry with me, and I would lose them forever.  I was in a state of so much pain and so much worry, I felt at times as if I were losing my mind.

Two months after my ex-husband moved out, my 16-tear old son was on an operating table having a brain tumor removed.  I have never been so turned upside down.  All of a sudden, the divorce seemed like small potatoes.

So, this useless, worthless feeling daughter got on her knees like never before. Never had I needed Jesus so much on a day to day basis.  Never had I needed Him to give me enough strength just to get out of bed, just to keep going.  I felt so worthless, and since I was such a failure, I felt like I deserved all of the misery brought onto our family.  The pain and anxiety were what I deserved for being such an embarrassment.  My son's cancer was further proof of our lives falling apart, and this Mom failed not just her family, but even worse, her son who now had a recurrence of cancer.  

I asked Jesus, do you see anything in me at all anymore?  I have failed a child with cancer and caused him even more pain.  I have failed You.  I can't see anything good anymore.   How could you ever love me?  I will never be the person I used to be when I was married.  How will I ever glorify you again?  Do you even think I'm worth this life anymore?  

To my absolute shock, He whispered to my heart that He was proud of me.

I didn't believe Him.  So, I asked him again.  Over and over.

The answer was always the same.  I am proud of you.  You are my daughter.  I don't love you because of your marital status.  I love you because you are mine. You can rely on my strength to get you through this. 

I couldn't fathom or understand a savior who was so gentle.  After being in such a tumultuous situation for so long with horrible things said to me, why would Jesus be so kind?  I was waiting for the condemnation, the correction, and the reminders of what I did wrong.  But, it never came.  

I remember when my son came out of his brain surgery, which lasted hours and hours.  As he was in recovery, before he even opened his eyes, he whispered through his dry lips, "Mom," and he raised his hand up.  Let me tell you, this Mama has never run across a room so fast to hold her baby's hand.  I laced my fingers through his, avoiding all of the IV lines, and he squeezed my hand.  

It was then, and only then, that I realized I didn't truly know the heart of my savior.  I didn't know Him like I thought I did.  All of my Bible studies hadn't prepared me for the absolute love and kindness He showed me in my worst moments.  The son I felt like I'd failed still wanted me, even when he didn't fully know where he was or what was happening.  

I couldn't hear God's encouragement enough.  I asked Him to tell me He loved me again and again, because I just couldn't get it to sink in.  Every time He whispered how much He loved me to my heart, I cried so hard that I didn't think I had any tears left.  I had never been loved like this in my entire life.  Never.  In the midst of so much strife, Jesus showed me what it felt like to be loved instead of condemned.  He showed me that my identity wasn't in my marriage, my ability to provide for my family, or even in my ability to be a good Mom.  My identity was that I was His daughter, a prized possession of the one true King.

The weeks after surgery were so challenging but God's words got me through it.  My son's pain was intense and I am still haunted by the night I was so exhausted from being up with him that I fell asleep and awoke to him crawling on the floor, vomiting, because I missed the window for giving him his pain medication.  I slept through the alarm that I had set and we were up for hours getting the pain under control again.

I wanted to fall apart when that happened.  The next day, my father announced to me that he was going to be sleeping at my house until my son was better.  At the time, I felt like a failure again because I couldn't even take care of my own kids.  But, once again, God remained faithful and at my worst moments, he sent my Dad to help shoulder the load.  God gave me the strength to keep going, to nurse my son back to health, and bit by bit, as he healed my son He also healed my heart.  

Over the next few years, He continued to whisper his same message to my heart.  I love you.  I am proud of you.  I will take care of you.  I love your children.  Your confidence can come from Me.  I will pick you up, I will restore you.

It has taken all of this time for me to have the strength to file paperwork, even though my ex-husband hasn't lived here for three years.  It has taken three years of Jesus putting me back together, of rebuilding me from the ground up, and teaching me His heart is a heart of love and devotion to his daughter.

I don't deserve such a wonderful savior.

But, I don't know what I would do without Him.  He pulled me out of the biggest wreck I could imagine.  My worst nightmares came true, and I lived to tell about it.  I am living proof that our God is bigger than our circumstances, bigger than any pit life throws us into.  He can pull us out of the worst situation, dust us off, and rebuild us!  He will heal us!  He makes all things new, and that includes our broken hearts that are shattered into a million pieces.

He is my redeemer, my deliverer.  I will never be able to praise His name enough, because I know what I was, and I know what He has done for me.  His love has transformed me. 

And to top it off, my son has been cancer free for nearly three years. 

Blessed be the name of the Lord.

The Butterfly

by Rhonda, September 22, 2022

We've begun pulling up the plants in the garden that are dying.  We've started bringing potted plants off of the porches, since most of them are done for the year.  We will attempt to keep the strawberry plants in containers alive over the winter, so we'll store them in the garage near the house, hoping there's enough heat in the garage to allow them to live another year.

It is time to bring the sewing projects out from storage.  My daughter and I like to work on our quilts throughout the winter, and we have several projects we didn't finish last year.  This weekend, we will put away the garden supplies and begin to pull out the quilting supplies.  Soon, our extra room will be covered with fabrics and sewing notions.

The hummingbirds are crowding the feeders while they build up enough strength to make their annual journey south.  The birds' nests around the property are empty and quiet.  Our dogs have even started to grow their heavier undercoats, preparing for what lies ahead.  In a few months, we'll have ice on the ground.  

Change is in the air, and it isn't just the weather.  I spent an evening this week reviewing the first page of my journal that I wrote on January 1st, and I was reminded of God's challenge to me this year.  The question is scrawled in pink ink.  Are you aligning your decisions with your beliefs?

If you want to know what to change in your life, all you have to do is take a few minutes to honestly answer that question.  No doubt I believe in God.  No doubt I love God.  But, do my decisions, behavior, and actions show it?  Do I live my life aligned to my beliefs?  I don't always love the answers to those questions.

No one lives life perfectly, I know that much.  But, it is a question I ponder as I watch the seasons change outside of my window.    I am a follower of Christ.  I am a daughter of the King.  What are the behaviors that don't reflect my true identity?  These are the things that need to change, much like the seasons.  Their time is coming to an end.

Today, I was in the city, walking into work from the parking garage.  I stopped on my way in when I saw a Monarch butterfly lying on the cement, slowly moving its wings.  I bent down to look at it, and when it didn't fly away, I reached my hand out to touch its wings.  As I touched its wings, it kept moving them, ever so slowly, while it laid on the ground.  Something was wrong.  The butterfly was dying.    

Did you know butterflies only live for about a month, and some only live for two weeks?  During their lifespan, they color the sky with their bright wings.  But, their vibrant wings only flutter for a short amount of time.  Then, as the season changes, they are gone.  Today, for some reason, it was incredibly sad to me to watch the vibrant butterfly dying on the gray concrete.  We may live longer than the butterfly, but our time on this earth is also very short.  I want my time to count, and I want to live as my authentic identity, a daughter of the King.  I want to be vibrant during my short lifetime, coloring the world around me.

A child of God is prepared to alter their way of life as a result of their beliefs.  As we grow spiritually, God brings more and more of our conduct under His standard.  Changing always starts with choosing.  Our choices shape our lives far more than our circumstances.  In fact, often God uses our circumstances to allow us to "practice" making good choices.  Will we choose temptation, or will we choose God?

When Satan suggests an idea into your mind, it is called temptation.  When God puts an idea into your mind, it is called inspiration.  You choose which you accept or which you reject.  One choice is in line with your beliefs, the other is in opposition.  One leads to life, vibrancy.  The other leads to bondage.

We will struggle with sin in this lifetime.  As human beings, sin is going to be present in our lives.  However, because of what Jesus has done for us, we no longer have to be slaves to sin.  God allows us to change anytime we want to, and as a result, we will see good results in our lives.  God will change our lives if we let Him!  The season of change can begin today, at this very moment.  

Our thoughts direct our lives.  Our struggles happen in our minds.  Temptation happens when we are conscious of it, and sometimes it also happens when we are unaware.  Satan cannot control your mind, but he can make suggestions.  But, remember, your mind is where God's spirit works within you.  So, we must choose to feed our minds with the best thoughts.  We need to monitor and limit our intake of unhealthy "trash" entering into our minds.  Is your mental diet of what you allow in your mind poisonous?

Proverbs 15:14 A wise person is hungry for truth, while a fool feeds on trash.

I don't want to be a trash monger.  

When we make a decision, we can ask ourselves a few questions to be sure we're living in line with our beliefs:

1.  Is this right?

2.  Is this good?

3.  Is this what's best for me? 

4.  What does God see in my situation?

As human beings, we are always in a state of change.  We can change for the better, or for the worse.  We can allow God to change us because we desire to be obedient to Him.  Or, we can allow the world to change us, and the end result will be struggle and strife.

Jesus is sitting at the fork in the road, pointing the way.  All we have to do is follow.

The Coffee

by Rhonda, September 18, 2022

In true fashion of what I've come to expect from the Holy Spirit, He's brought something to my attention today that needs work in my life.  I need so much work I might as well carry around a sign that says "Construction in Progress".  The issue He's highlighted for me today is that lately, I've been easily offended.  If I'm honest, I've probably always been easily offended, but He's polite enough to point out only recent events.

Earlier this week, my daughter went to Starbucks but she didn't bring me back anything.  I was only slightly annoyed, since I, her mother who would die for her, always bring her something back from Starbucks when I go.  But, it didn't become a bigger deal until she explained the reason she didn't bring anything back for me.  "All I had was my gift card, Mom." she said.

My daughter had received a $100 gift card to Starbucks for her birthday.  She's bought everyone coffee with her gift card.  She's bought her grandmother coffee.  She's bought her brother coffee.  She still has over $50 on her gift card.

Yes.  I was offended.

Yes.  It is stupid.

Yes.  I can easily drive to Starbucks and get my own coffee.  

I didn't say anything but I simmered.  

This weekend, my daughter left to go to the gym with a friend.  This particular friend happens to work at Starbucks.  My daughter called me while on the way to the gym to tell me that her friend gets free coffee during the hours that she works.  "I want to work at Starbucks," my daughter proclaims, while she has me on speakerphone in the car.

The trouble is, we've talked about her needing to stay at her current job for at least a year.  "What do you think, Mom?" she asked me.  She knew what I thought, and I was annoyed with being put on the spot, so I was getting ready to respond with "Perhaps if you get free coffee you'll bring one home for me," when the Holy Spirit zapped me.  Yes, I received a high priority e-mail straight from heaven telling me to stop being so easily offended.  

Thankfully, I listened and didn't say anything.  We'll have a discussion about the job, in private, when she gets home.  But, in the meantime, I am left simmering over something that should not deserve this much attention from me.  I know my daughter's heart, and I know she just got excited over the idea of free coffee at work and needs to be reminded of the value of commitment.  It isn't a big deal.  But, offense snuck in and began eroding my relationship with my daughter over a stupid cup of coffee earlier in the week.  

Isn't that the thing with being easily offended?  Something that isn't a big deal blows up into a problem that shouldn't have have existed.  In this life, we have to make a decision not to make small stuff into big stuff.  Big stuff steals our focus and keeps us from the things that are truly important.  Love and mercy should be our focus.  Everything else is really noise when viewed from this perspective.  In the end, the thing that truly matters in this life is how we've loved.

Remember, God isn't going to defend us from a battle He didn't call us to fight.  There was no way my conversation with my daughter was going to end well if I'd humiliated her with a snarky remark in front of her friend.

So, how do we handle when we're offended?

When we're offended, it is okay to allow the feelings to run through us.  But, we've got to move past the feelings.  Ask yourself, "How can I see things differently?" or "How can I work out a way forward?" or "How can I believe the best about this person?".    In the beginning offense has shallow roots.  If we can forgive it early, we don't have to deal with deeper hurt later on.  We must quickly forgive the other person before the roots of offense take hold. 

Our feelings may not change immediately, but they will eventually catch up to our decision.  We can tell our feelings and emotions, "Thank you for the reminder, but I've forgiven this, and I don't care anymore".  Eventually, they'll stop reminding us of these little, inconsequential offenses.

Hasn't the enemy taken enough ground without us handing him anymore?  We will get to choose daily whether or not we want to be offended, because there's never a shortage of opportunities.  But, we open the door for the enemy when we stay in offense, because it will eventually lead to strife.  An angry undercurrent is always dangerous and it destroys relationships.  

Instead, we want to ask ourselves "What does God see when he looks at my situation?".  After all, His eyes are what matters.  If we stay in offense, we will be reactive in anger.  When we're reactive in anger, we'll compromise grace and mercy.  When we live in anger, instead of grace and mercy, we'll live in revenge.  Revenge clouds out grace and makes us miserable.  

Forgiving quickly when we're offended may be difficult, but holding onto it is so much worse.  It doesn't make us stronger or better.  It doesn't "right" the wrong.  It simply makes us bitter and angry.  Forgiveness isn't just about giving mercy to others, it is critical for our spiritual journey.  

Tonight, my daughter sits next to me with her laptop and I'm helping her with her homework.  Every so often, the offense tries to rear its ugly head, but I am reminding it that I don't care.  I've forgiven it and I am moving on with my life.  I know my daughter's heart.  I'm relaxing and giving space for the Holy Spirit to work.  

Today, I choose peace.

The Pivot

by Rhonda, September 14, 2022

I had a day today where I simply had no strength.  I had gotten up early this morning, gone for a run, and perhaps I felt fatigued from the early morning.  All throughout the day, fear kept popping up for me.  Left and right, I found something else to worry about.  I couldn't focus on work, and all I wanted to do was climb into my bed and worry.

That's one of my favorite pastimes, typical of a person who struggles with anxiety.  We like to take to our beds and worry. 

Finally, around 2 p.m., I gave up and grabbed my journal.  I took a thirty minute break from work and began working through my five steps.  I badly needed to pivot my thinking away from my fears and onto something more heavenly.  

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things. (Phil 4:8-9)

I needed to think about things excellent or praiseworthy.  Dwelling on my problem was getting me nowhere, except to a town called Angry.  Angry is a trashy town, full of burnt buildings and loud people.  Angry smells bad, has darkened skies, and no one ever seems to progress anywhere.  I used to live in Angry, and even though I've moved away, sometimes I still like to make prolonged visits.

But, not today.  Today, I needed to pivot what I was feeding my mind.  I was focused on things that were triggering me today, reminding me of past failures and hurts.  Instead, I needed to move forward with work, I needed to stop being so afraid.  

On days like today, sometimes all God asks us to do is show up.  Days when we're saddened by events in our lives.  Days when we're in pain.  Days when we're afraid.  God says, let's do this day afraid together.  Days like today, God takes everything that is too much out of our hands and He handles it.  He is strong in our weakness.  He loves us so much that he uses His strength while we take the time to rebuild ours.  

Days like today require us to rely on His strength, not mine.  We just have to check the attendance box, and that may be all we can give.  His love for all of us is as deep and wide and as countless as the drops of the ocean.  His will for all of us is peace in our lives.  So, on days like today, it is okay to acknowledge the day is too hard and we need to rely on Him and fall into His arms.  

We can stop worrying.  We can stop focusing our minds on the things that are triggering fear and anger.  God's going to handle it, so we can be done with the sleepless nights and the restless thoughts.  He knows we've done all we can do.  We can stop trying to reason through the same problems, over and over.  Instead, we can rest in His presence.

We are, after all, only human.  Sometimes everything becomes too much for us.  But, the amazing thing is so often our fears are but a mirage and they disappear when we get close to them.  God allows us to use His strength to approach our fears, and then He shows us how powerless our fears truly are.  

Rely on His bravery today.  He went to the cross, so this problem is really nothing for Him.  You will be okay and God will protect you today.  He loves you.

The Steps

by Rhonda, September 12, 2022

I've talked before about one thing that has been life-changing for me when it comes to recovering from the trauma of my son's cancer, divorce, and really just the trauma of living everyday life.  I read a book by Dr. Caroline Leaf called Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess.  I just can't recommend her enough if you're serious about needing to heal your mind using sound principles proven through research.

I try to do the five steps she teaches on a daily basis.  I have a journal that's completely dedicated to my five steps.  Once I started doing five steps, I've found a noticeable difference when I go several days without doing it.  It has been healing for me, and it has brought me closer to the Lord.  I've modified her five steps slightly to center it more around a conversation with the Lord and this method works wells for me.  Here's how it works:

1.  Set your timer for five minutes and write down "Step One" in your journal.  Use these five minutes to write down every wrong thought in your mind.  It might be a worry, a complaint, or a memory that's hurtful.  Whatever it is, write it down.  Get it all out, and let your mind just explode with all of the worries and fears that are causing you anxiety.  When the timer goes off, stop writing.  

2.  Write down "Step Two and Step Three" in your journal.  I've modified this one slightly from Dr. Leaf, but I approach both of these steps together.  Set your timer for ten minutes.  After re-reading your worries from Step One, write down God's answers to all of these worries.  You're afraid your boss will be mad at you?  Write down how God grants you favor and how your reputation is in His hands.  Angry over something someone said to you?  Write down God's perspective on the situation, and remind yourself not to be easily offended and to not let someone else steal your joy.  You see how this works, you continue to correct all of the wrong thoughts in your mind with God's truth.  If you're not sure what God thinks, take a moment to pray and ask Him.  You'll be surprised by how quickly the ten minutes flies by. 

3.  Write down "Step Four" in your journal.  Reread what you wrote down in Step Two and Step Three.  Are there still things that need correcting?  Are there more things you need to write down to remind you of God's truth?  Set your timer for five minutes, and re-read the truth from Step Two and Step Three and continue to write any further truths you need to clarify.  I've used this step to find applicable Bible verses as well.  This step is used to further cement the truths in Step Two and Step Three.

4.  Write down "Step Five" in your journal.  Re-read Step Two, Three, and Four again.  Set your timer for two minutes and write down your key learnings, and what you can do to stay on the right track.  What did you learn from your Five Step?  Dr. Leaf calls this "Active Reach".  What can I actively do?  My Active Reach today is to allow my mind to rest from worry by staying away from news, media, etc that might trigger anxiety and rest in God and His truth.  I've has past Active Reaches around watching my negative words, or about trying to compete other people, etc.  God's never shy about what we can do to improve our lives and our situation. 

The first few days you do five steps (mine are actually four), you won't notice much of a difference.  Dr. Leaf says it takes 63 days to get the full benefits from doing the five step neurocycle.  She also advises to focus it on one specific issue you need to work through.  I did that for my first few neurocycles, but now I use it simply to get through the difficulty of day to day life.  I can tell you that after 63 days of doing this, you will be amazed at the changes in your thinking.  It has truly been life-changing for me and it has allowed me to manage and deal with my life.  I still struggle with anxiety, but this is a critical tool for managing it.

Now, when something really difficult happens, I notice I find myself less reactive in the moment - particularly if something makes me really angry.  Instead, I'll think to myself I'm going to need to work this through five steps with God later.  I am going to need to know what He thinks about this.  I love that I can share even the dumbest of my hurt feelings with Him and work through them.  It releases me from ponding the same problems over and over, without any resolution.  

I also do five steps with my kids.  They became curious about what I was doing with my timer and when I told them, they asked if they could join as well.  Now, we all do it together, and particularly for the first few neurocycles, I found it helpful to have your family join with you if possible.  We all just worked quietly writing things down in our own journals. Having someone else starting it with you keeps you on track and forces you to make the time to do it daily, and before you know it, it will become a habit.  When we find that we're really getting off track as a family, one of the first questions we ask is when's the last time we've done five step?  Then, we grab our journals.

Best of luck on your journey, and I hope this is helpful for you.  Healing from trauma is quite the difficult process, and having some Christ-centered tools is critical for progress.  

The Locust

by Rhonda, September 08, 2022

My daughter and I parked the car near a rusty gate at our county lake.  It isn't far from where we live, and we like to go to this particular lake because it is so peaceful.  But, today we were here for a different reason.  We've been training up for a 5K, and we decided to try a new running route to add some variety to our training program this week.  It isn't that we don't love running around our little neighborhood multiple times, over and over, but everyone needs some new scenery once in a while.

We planned to get up at 6:30 am and begin our run.  However, the problem was it was now 4 p.m.  The 6:30 plans went by the wayside when both of us hit snooze too many times on the alarm clock.  We were going to pay the price for it, though.  It was ninety degrees, muggy, and the sun was in full force.

"Maybe we'll pick up a breeze across the lake," I said.

"I'm already hot," she responded, "and I haven't gotten out of the car."

We took one last drink from our water bottles and exited the vehicle.  We'd never run the route at the lake before, and to be honest, I wasn't sure if there was even a proper trail around the lake.  As we began to walk through a narrow trail, I was surprised by the sheer amount of bugs that jumped out as we walked by.  Grasshoppers, moths, you name it.  There were bugs everywhere.

As we began to run, it seemed the bugs jumped out of the tall grass near the trails even faster.  Grasshoppers bounced off of me.  Other bugs did, too, but I don't know what kind they were.  Then, a very large bug bounced off of my forehead.  I actually stopped for a moment because I was a little surprised.  It was huge and I rubbed my forehead to see if there was a large dent that remained.  I was pretty certain it was a locust.

I can see why John the Baptist ate those, I thought to myself, they would be quite filling, given their size.  

After we finished through the Terror Trail of Bugs, we rounded the first corner and stood face to face with a steep hill.  

"You've got to be kidding me," my daughter said.

I didn't say anything, because I was still recovering from nearly being flattened by a locust that John The Baptist would have eaten.

As we started up the hill, I couldn't help but think about how life can be this way sometimes.  Since I've been struggling with approval addiction lately, I could see a parallel.  It can feel like you're being attacked left and right by annoying bugs, and constantly struggling uphill to gain (and keep) the world's approval.  Isn't that how the world works?  We are always on an up-cycle of approval or a down-cycle.  We never stay static.  

Jesus invites us to get off of the roller coaster of approval.  We are allowed to stay at the top of the hill with Him, because he always approves of us.  He died on the cross as an ultimate act of mercy for us, and as a direct consequence of His mercy, He supplies us with never-ending approval.  No roller coaster.  No uphill, no downhill.  Only peace.

Romans 3:22 (GW Translation) Everyone who believes has God's approval through faith in Jesus Christ. There is no difference between people.

I wanted peace.

My calves ached as we ran to the top of the hill.  The top, oh the beautiful top of the hill, was finally upon us.  I enjoyed it for about two seconds before we began the descent down.  The jog down was much easier than the jog up, but as soon as we were to the bottom, we looked up at another gigantic hill.

"Worst run ever," my daughter said.

I didn't say anything because I couldn't think of anything positive to say.  We'd both already forgotten how easy the downhill was, and all we could see was the hill ahead.  When we finally began the arduous task of jogging up the next hill, I was sure I was going to die.  I'd rather take a locust to the forehead.

Isn't that the problem with the roller coaster of approval?  To stay on top, you have to make your way back to the "top of the hill" position the same way you obtained it.  If you obtain approval by letting others control you, you'll have to continue this same pattern to stay on top.  If you obtain approval by stepping on others, you'll have to continue this destructive pattern.  No, thanks.  The roller coaster gives the devil access to our lives.  The enemy has taken enough ground, no need to give him anymore.  I'm taking the chicken exit.

I made my way to the top of the second hill, and much to my surprise, I did not die.  I kept jogging with my daughter beside me.  We still had to go back through the Terror Trail of Bugs (TTOB) to get to the car.  I took a deep breath and closed my mouth so no grasshoppers would jump in.  I began jogging and the TTOB did not disappoint.  

A plethora of bugs bounced off of me.  A few landed on my shirt, and if I hadn't been so freaked out, I would have been fascinated by how odd they looked.  I'd never seen such strange looking bugs, but since they were on my shirt, I didn't take much time to inspect them.  I flung them off, kept my mouth closed, and kept running.  I flung bugs to the left, I flung bugs to the right, and I have to admit my average page picked up substantially.  Bugs are quite the motivator.

Before we knew it, we were back to the car.  I turned on the air conditioner.  My daughter grabbed her water bottle.  "That was not fun," she said.

I was still checking my clothing for bugs.  "Which part?  The bugs, the steep hills, or the sun beating down on us like the Sahara?"

We drove home, swearing we would never again decide to run around the lake during the hottest part of the day.  But, the lesson of how hard it was to stay at the top of the hill was not lost on me.  There's always a testimony in everything we go through.  

It takes too much energy to stay at the top of the hill. I think I'd rather just follow Jesus.

The Victory

by Rhonda, September 06, 2022

I awoke on a Friday night with a start.  It was 2 a.m., and my mind was racing.  The anxiety was back, and it came for me with a vengeance.  I felt like I couldn't breathe, like knives were being slid between my shoulder blades.  I panicked over a difficult work situation.  I pondered everything I've ever been angry about in my twenty years of marriage, which ended in divorce.  I wondered if my kids would ever be self sufficient.  I felt sick inside, and I just wanted to curl up and disappear. 

I gasped for air.  I begged God to help me.  "Please calm it down," I prayed.  "As your child, I am an heir to your peace.  Help me find it."

That must be a big difference between heaven and earth, don't you think?  In heaven peace will just exist as part of our being.  But on earth, we have to continually pursue it.

I fought it for several hours before falling back asleep.  Soon, the alarm was going off, and I needed to get up and move.  I was hosting a party (a typical trigger for me), and I needed to start cooking and get to decorating.  I didn't have time to do some of my typical coping activities.  Or, at least that's what I told myself.

As I was getting ready for the day, my daughter came into my bedroom and made an off-hand comment that didn't sit well.  So, we argued.  But, let me tell you, when the guests came to the door, we smiled and you would have thought you were entering the House of Peace.  Isn't it funny how we can be nice to guests but argue with one another behind closed doors!  

We got through a very nice party, and everyone had a good time.  Once everyone left the kids and I decided to attend Saturday night church services.  I really, really didn't feel like attending.  I was worn out.  But, it was the only time this weekend the three of us could attend together.  So, I did my best to ignore my feelings and get ready for church.  

My anxiety was still in full-force.  My daughter was still moody from the argument before, so we picked up where we left off on the drive into church.  We argued all of the way into church, but once again, when we got there, we were all smiles.  Thinking about it now makes me laugh so hard.  But, at the time, I was fuming mad and so was she.  I honestly don't even remember what we were arguing about, but I'm sure it was stupid.

As worship began, and church progressed, I finally began to get some relief.  Church always helps me.  I don't know why I think I have to do God a favor and attend church.  The blessing is mine.  Halfway through the service, my daughter slid her arm around my shoulder.  "I'm sorry," she whispered in my ear.  I squeezed her hand, and my mind was flooded with much-needed relief.  I felt so guilty, and so stupid, for allowing myself to let my temper get out of hand.  When my anxiety is hyped up, one of the hardest things for me is when I allow myself to take it out on others.

I asked God for forgiveness.  I asked my daughter for forgiveness.

The Lord immediately reminded me of a quote I'd written in my journal.

"The devil's cause is never more in danger then when we no longer desiring, but still intending to do God's will, look round upon a universe from which every trace of God seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys."  C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

God saw my day as a victory!  Isn't that the craziest thing?  I battled anxiety, yet still had a nice family party.  I argued with my daughter, yet I still went to church.  I didn't accomplish my day without sins, no, that's for certain.  Yet, He saw my heart.  He saw how hard it was for me, and He saw that I didn't give up and did my best to remain faithful.  God's perspective is so refreshing.  At my worst, He sees the good.

It reminds me of Paul's musings in Romans:

Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean He no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? ... No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. (Romans 8:35)

Even my anxiety, at its absolute worst, can never separate me from the love of Christ.  It will try to convince me otherwise, but I have the truth sitting in the text in front of me.  And, the truth clearly states nothing can separate me from Christ's love.

I'm not sure how a day of such struggle could end in victory, but it did.  When God reminded me of how He sees me, I was able to have an evening of peace instead of a pity party soaked in guilt.  His ways are certainly not our ways, and His thoughts are definitely not our thoughts.  

For that, I am grateful.

The Routine

by Rhonda, September 04, 2022

The seasons are changing, and there's a new crispness in the air signaling fall is on its way.  My garden is struggling to finish with the last of the fruits for the season.  We had our last summer party this weekend, and when everyone left, we cleaned and closed down the outdoor grill until next summer.  The pool will close soon, and school is back in session.  It feels like the end came so quickly again this year, and the work/school grind is in full effect once again.

Don't get me wrong.  I love fall.  I love it when the leaves change and the temperature falls.  I love warming up next to a fire with a cozy blanket.  I love decorating my front door with a fall wreath, and I photograph the beautifully changing trees obsessively.  Fall is fantastic, and the changing of the seasons is always welcome by me.

But, perhaps my bigger issue is returning to the routine.  School schedules are tough.  Work schedules tend to become more aggressive as we focus on goals for the remainder of the year.  My heart craves the adventure and freedom of summer as it slowly succumbs back into the routine.

Our church had a worship night last week.  Our worship nights consist of reading of scripture and playing of music for an hour and a half.  I look forward to worship nights, because I think a deep requirement within the soul is to worship God with others.  I leave worship nights feeling like a great need has been met inside of me.

At the service, the kids and I sat in front of a family who didn't speak much English.  Two young girls were dressed in colorful dresses and sat between their mother and father.  We nodded to them as we sat down, but couldn't say much more than hello.  As the service kicked off, even though they didn't speak much English, they knew most of the songs being sung.  They sang loudly, very loudly, along with the music.  It was so enjoyable to sit in front of them, listening to them worship with all of their hearts as tears ran down their faces.

I wondered if this is how their church in their home country always worshipped.  I wondered if, when they came to America, they found our services to be a bit watered down and corporate.   I considered how precious this small, faithful family was in God's eyes.  Truth be told, I thought about them a lot.  I wondered how they were doing here, and I thought about how hard life can be here if you don't speak English.

Last weekend, they were still on my mind during our final summer party, hosted at my home.  My sister-in-law is from Peru, so I asked her, "Do you ever wish you were still back home?"

She thought about it for a few minutes.  Then she said, "No, because the opportunities here are better for my kids.  And, I've gotten used to this country, so I am not so homesick anymore."

We sat quietly for a little while, thinking about my question.  Soon, she spoke up again.

"Did you know I joined the gym?"

"I heard that.  Do you like it?"

"Yes.  Because someday the boys are going to be grown and I am going to want to do mission work.  I want to start getting strong for it now, because it takes a lot of strength."

And, there it was.  She's desiring adventure and freedom, too.  What we're both looking for is to see God work in big ways.  Sometimes that's harder to spot in a country of many comforts.  The need for Jesus somehow becomes muted by the race for more money and more things, and I'm as guilty of it as anyone.  

I thought about our upcoming vacation this year.  We're planning to head back to Florida, to see Universal Studios during Christmas.  I wondered what would happen if we took a trip that was more meaningful.  A trip to Israel could be life-changing, or a trip back to Peru with my sister-in-law to help the poor would never be forgotten.  I pondered whether my kids would go for it.

As the party came to a close, I hugged my sister-in-law goodbye.  After listening to her talk about her dreams that day, I got to know her better and I realized we have far more in common than I knew.  The biggest thing we have in common (and always have) is our deep love for God, and our desire to serve Him.  I wondered where it would lead us.  Perhaps our dreams were going to intersect and somehow come together.

Today, I am deflating balloons and taking down decorations from the party.  I have adventure on my mind, and a longing in my heart to see God in a new light, in a new way.   I wonder what would happen if my adventures center around seeking God more than anything else.  What if I approached every day of my life this way, not just a once-a-year vacation?

I finish cleaning and pull a book off of my bookshelf called Wild Goose Chase by Mark Batterson.  The following words leap out at me:

When God puts a passion in your heart, whether it be relieving starvation in Africa or education children in the inner city or making movies with redemptive messages, that God-ordained passion becomes your responsibility.

Maybe this nagging need for an adventure pursuing Jesus is more than just a random desire.  Perhaps it is actually my responsibility.  

Only time will tell.

The Homecoming

by Rhonda, August 22, 2022

I wake this morning to the sound of geese outside of my window.  A large flock has flown into the nearby pond, and they're not quiet about their morning routines.  It isn't the optimal time to wake up on a Saturday, but I accept they're not the quietest neighbors.  I get up and make my way to the coffee machine.  

Oh how I love my Keurig.

I am happy to be home this morning, and it feels good to wake up and not have to hit the ground running.  As with anyone who works, sometimes work ebbs and flows.  This week, it flowed, and I spent nearly every waking hour in the city.  I live in a rural area, on a few acres, and my life here suits my introverted personality.  But, the job doesn't always accommodate rural living, and while it can be somewhat flexible, this week working from home wasn't an option.  I spent the week in the city, working in an office high in the sky, with views of concrete.

I make my way to the back porch, my first time sitting on my beloved deck in a week.  I haven't seen my kids much this week, and they're sleeping through the noisy goose party this Saturday morning.  I am looking forward to spending time with them this weekend.  

I sip my coffee on the deck, inhaling the peaceful morning.  My dog, Tucker, jumps onto the chair beside me.  

Tucker is a beast of a creature.  He's a small black dog with a few brown spots.  That's probably the extent of my description, because he doesn't resemble any particular breed.  He's a true mutt.  He's adorable, but he's mean.  I took Tucker in from an abusive situation, so he has his reasons for his craziness.  But, he trusts me fully, and I have no doubt he would give his little life defending me if there were ever a need.

He and I have been through a lot of work together.  I suppose that's one of my gifts, earning trust over time.  I have worked with Tucker time and time again, proving to him that I won't hurt him.  I understand that underneath his difficult personality lies a history of abuse and fear.  It took me six months to get Tucker to allow me to touch his tail, because his former owner had picked him up by his tail.  Even now, a year later, he doesn't let anyone else touch his tail.

Tucker is ecstatic to see me after a week of work in the city.  He follows me around the house everywhere I go, and he growls at the other dogs who try to get near to me.  I pet him and move on with my morning coffee.  He will calm down once we've had some time together.

I set my time on my phone to do Five Steps, and I open my journal.  It feels good to find my way back to God.  It wasn't that I left Him, but I didn't have the time this week to enjoy His presence like I would have preferred.  Life happens that way sometimes, but Jesus is always there, extending an open invitation to return to His presence, His peace, without any hesitation.

I finish my Five Steps and a few members of the house have stirred.  My daughter and my father join me on the deck, eager to catch up and talk about what I've missed over the last week.  I talk with my Dad about the garden, and I talk with my daughter about the latest drama at her work.  I refill my coffee for the second time, because there's much to say and one cup isn't enough.

I thoroughly enjoy the time.  I've missed them so much.  I rest on my deck, in the arms of God, listening to my daughter and my father talk.  

Matthew 11:28-30 "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

God calls us to come to Him when we need rest, and isn't it His gentleness that gives us rest?  Isn't it the way He's so tender with his mercies and loving with His kindness?  He reminds us to be gentle when the world is loud and harsh.  He's quiet and lowly in heart.  He stops the insanity of the schedule, the hurry of our hearts.  He slows everything down, teaches us gentleness once again, and calls us to His arms for restoration.  

Hurry is never gentle. 

As I relax, I wonder if Jesus ever felt hurried.  I wonder if He was ever tired of being rushed, if He ever felt the schedule was too much.  Maybe that's why He's so gentle with us.  He knows how it feels to have the world be so demanding, so difficult.  After all, who would know better than Him.  I think about the crowds who followed Him.  I wonder if He ever wanted just a few moments to Himself.

I finish getting caught up on the events of the week.  My Dad realizes he lost his cellphone for the hundredth time.  My daughter leaves to help him find it.  I hear my daughter chastise him.  "I would call you, but I know you probably left it on vibrate so you can't hear it."

"I wasn't wearing a jacket," my Dad replied.

I laughed.  Poor Dad doesn't hear well anymore.  My daughter speaks louder.  "I said you left it on vibrate, not in your jacket."

"I know," he answers her.  "I wasn't wearing a jacket."

My daughter gives up and begins looking for the phone.  I smile as I watch the two of them, and I know someday when they're not here, I'll miss them terribly.  But, that day isn't here quite yet. 

No, today I get to rest in the arms of my Lord and enjoy my family.  

What a fantastic Saturday.

The Fire

by Rhonda, August 14, 2022

I watch as a familiar truck pulls onto our property. The back end of the shiny F-150 is full of dead tree limbs.  It is our neighbor, and this is the third truckload I've seen her unload this morning.  We have an area of our property that we use to burn fallen trees - either knocked down by storms, or simply trees that have died as a normal course of their existence.  My Dad obtained a burn permit a while back, after he paid a hefty fee to unload tree limbs at the county landfill.

"That's outrageous.  A burn permit costs a fraction of the cost to haul all of this to the dump."

I also think Dad just likes burning things, but he would probably contradict me on that one.  He likes saving money even more than burning things, and with this solution he gets to do both.  As he oversees the property, he's always on top of cleaning up fallen limbs, so it made sense to me.  I nodded in agreement.  He paid for his burn permit the same day and has not made a trip to the dump since.    

Seeing his ingenuity, our neighbor approached us a few months ago.  They've been trying to clean up their acreage, but they don't have a good place to burn all of the fallen, dead tree limbs.  They asked if they could utilize our burn area.

"Of course," we responded.

Then, we didn't hear anything for a few months.

Until today, when she showed up with truckload after truckload of tree limbs. As I watch her unload the ugly, mangled mess from my back porch, I thought to myself this stuff must have been piling up for months, if not years.  

Indeed, it has.  The dead tree limbs have piled up on their property, and they've begun to drown out the new life trying to grow underneath.  Bugs and other varmints are making their home in the pile. They're killing their yard, not to mention, they're an eyesore.  It must feel good to be finally getting rid of all of the debris and emptying their land.

She finishes unloading the third truckload and lights the fire.  She's got a hot few hours of managing the fire, but after that, she doesn't have to deal with this anymore. 

I wave to her, and I go inside. I have an empty house this morning, and I enjoy the time alone with my thoughts.  My heart has been extra heavy this week about my divorce.  There's nothing that's triggered it, but that's how grief works.  It comes and goes, hits in waves, and sometimes you're just sad.  

The Bible talks about mourning our losses, and divorce is certainly a loss.  But, I wonder if we truly give ourselves permission to grieve and mourn in today's fast-paced culture.  Its okay to mourn something we've lost.  It's okay to take the time to allow those emotions to bubble to the surface.  Its a normal part of processing grief.

Matthew 5:4 Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.

We live in a fallen, broken world, and we have fallen ourselves.  Even when the mistakes are on our shoulders, even when the sin is entirely our fault, God will still comfort us in our mourning.  There's no stipulations on His promises.  

Grief and mourning are needed and expected by God.  God created us with a range of emotions, and those feelings are a double-edged sword that sometimes hurt us. Our only recourse is to bring our pain to Jesus.  He's the only one who can heal it.  The suffering of the world is great.  But, God loves us and He will comfort us in our grief.  

Isaiah 49:15-16 Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.  Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me.

Sadness as a result of divorce is going to happen.  Processing it is therapeutic.  As God's children children, we are promised comfort and it is not conditional upon what caused our losses.  Of course we will mourn our marriage.  Of course we will mourn mistakes made, by both parties.  Our hearts would be stone if we didn't.  But we can remember God's promises.  He promises someday He will replace our grief with joy.

John 16:22  So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.

God will see us through this.  He will protect us, and we can rest in Him.  When we mourn in the arms of our Father, instead of stuffing our feelings, we will process the deepest of hurts.  We will become more empathetic to others, a trait necessary for solid relationships.  So, instead of letting old, dead debris pile up, we are free to mourn.  Free to mourn over the things we've caused and free to mourn over the things we haven't.  We can throw ourselves into the arms of Jesus and have a good cry.

Perhaps that's what I needed today.  Some time to grieve, some time to mourn.  I needed to share pain with God that seems to have been triggered for no apparent reason, and not feel shame for it.

My neighbor's husband pulls up in his truck, and pulls some lawn chairs out of the back.  He retrieves two cold drinks from the cab, while his wife sets up the lawn chairs in the shade.  They sit together in the heat, watching the fire consume the dead debris, talking together.  He has some health issues, but he still wants to keep his wife company while she manages the fire.

I have an image while looking at the two of them in their lawn chairs.  I imagine that's me and Jesus, watching some of my hurt and anger burn.  It makes me smile.  He never leaves me or forsakes me.  Never.  But I have to make the decision to light the fire.

My Dad and my daughter return home, and the timing is good.  God seems to have reserved some time for just the two of us, but now that's coming to an end. I've finished my cry in the arms of my Savior and I'm ready to move forward.  I am excited to see both of them now that I've processed a few things. 

They are in a great mood, laughing as they walk through the door.  Dad exits through the back door as soon as he sees the neighbors burning on the property.  Its his opportunity to chat with people, one of his favorite past-times, and he is off to say hello.  

My daughter asks if I'd like to go to Dairy Queen, because she's craving ice cream.

"You don't have to ask me twice," I answer.

We head out the door with car keys in hand, our minds on a DQ Blizzard.  But, despite the day moving on,  I won't forget how Jesus comforted me today in my grief.  He allowed me to burn some debris of my own, and I felt the relief from it.  I'm sure it won't be the last time.  Debris tends to pile up over time, but each time it seems to pile up more slowly.

We pull out of the driveway and wave at my father, chatting with the neighbors.  The fire roars behind them, and the three of them wave back.  I smile at my daughter, and we talk about her morning at work.  

Out of the ashes, hope arises.

The Distraction

by Rhonda, August 13, 2022

I have a particular fondness for YouTube.  I've paid the extra fee to remove the ads, and I rarely watch television.  Instead, I watch YouTube videos.  Once in a while, I watch movies with my kids, but I really love my YouTube channels.

There's some really wonderful Christian channels on YouTube that bring me a lot of peace.  There's quilting channels, crafting channels, travel channels.  There's always new content. But, there's also channels that mostly focus on gossip.  I have to admit, I can get distracted by some of those channels.  Particularly if they involve the royals.  I have no idea why I care.  But, perhaps my mind really loves the distraction after a long day.  I can click on video after video about the royal family, and before long, I've wasted several hours.

Sometimes I get completely carried away. 

The past few nights, I've watched so many royal videos that I've missed my Five Steps.  I also stopped writing on those days, which is something that's very good for me.  Instead, I was engrossed in the lives of people who live far from me, whom I will never meet.  I told myself that I deserved it, I was exhausted, and I just needed a few nights off to relax and not think.

A few days later brought the results.  My Saturday mornings are normally blissful, but I woke up very stressed.  I am worried about work, how people have treated me, what people think of me, and the things I need to get done this weekend.  I'm also worried about the royals and how the queen is going to handle all of these challenges.  Its funny, I know.  But, my peace is gone.  All because of my own lack of discipline and inability to keep things in moderation.

You know, the flesh loves distraction instead of healing.  I'm pretty sure the Bible says fools feed on trash.

Proverbs 15:14 A wise person is hungry for knowledge, while the fool feeds on trash.

Yep, I thought that was in there.  

We reap what we sow, and I know myself well enough to know that I can't go that long without doing things that keep my mental health in check.  So, I am back before the Lord, repenting, and neck deep in my Bible.

Given these things, it shouldn't have surprised me that our church sermon this week was on wisdom.  God is always faithful, and He doesn't hesitate to give me some pretty strong guidance when I need it. 

What does it mean to be wise? Is it possible to seek wisdom?  

It certainly is.  Seeking wisdom means I am growing in the knowledge, understanding, discernment, and experience of the truth and grace of God.  It is a lifelong process.  I've always wanted to seek as much wisdom as God is willing to grant me.  I am pretty fascinated with Solomon, and his wisdom in the Bible.  When wisdom is in full force in your life, it is also shared with those around you, as it was for Solomon.  The wise display love and humility in their lives.  They reflect truth, and if necessary, they change their lives and listen to correction so they reflect truth.

Proverbs 15:31 If you listen to correction to improve your life, you will live among the wise.

By contrasts, the Bible also talks about fools.  

The foolish person changes the truth so they don't have to change.  They want to stay the same, and they don't listen to anyone who speaks truth into their life.  I've certainly had my moments in this category.  The foolish display strife and conflict in their lives as a result of their refusal to change and seek truth.  People who continuously live foolish lives require you to place boundaries.  

There's also another category.  There's evil.  

Proverbs 6:16-19 There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.

The evil destroy the truth.  They live outside of it completely.  They go out of their way to battle truth, and they focus their lives on hurting others.  They display deception and abuse.  Evil people don't require boundaries - they require complete removal from your life.  You must flee and protect yourself from those who not only reject wisdom of the Lord, but come against it.

Knowing this, it is important to pursue a daily direction that leads to a wise destination.  Wisdom is a gift, and when we seek it, we get to open the gift God has given us.  Whatever we seek with our hearts, we will find.

We will not become wise overnight.  Wisdom is developed over time.  Being an expert requires experience, after all.  But, God loves to share his wisdom when we go to Him and ask.  We must open our lives to be influenced by the wisdom of God, not the world.  We can follow it like a map when we're truly committed.  

A wise person is always aligning to the truth, enjoying like a prized possession, being protected by it.  How can we align our lives to God's truth?  How can we seek wisdom on a daily basis?  How can we stop from bouncing between these categories?

I'm sitting on the deck this morning, pondering these questions before the heat of the day comes upon us.  There's a slight breeze and the birds are singing.  The lawn is freshly mowed, thanks to my son and my father who worked hard yesterday on it.  I think about how I want today to be a day of seeking wisdom instead of foolishness.  I think about how amazing it is that our creator's wisdom leads to peace, however increase of knowledge of the world leads to torment.

Which will I seek?

I look up a few scriptures, and send a few verses over to my son, who is at his Dad's house today.  I enjoy sharing what I learn with my kids.  He sends me back a large heart emoji.  I put down my phone and relax.  The pursuit of wisdom is quiet and peaceful.  At last, I feel the anxiousness begin to leave, and my Saturday morning begins to feel right again.

The Groundskeeper

by Rhonda, August 11, 2022

Quite a few months back, the kids and I had an opportunity to visit Kentucky.  Considering my daughter's (extreme) fondness for horses, this was a dream trip for her.  The Kentucky horse farms are really something to see, and my daughter was chomping at the bit (pun intended) to see some horses.

Horses, she hoped for, and horses she got.  They were in abundance.  Even just driving down the highways of Kentucky gave glimpses into beautiful horse farms, with perfectly groomed horses, their coat shining in the sunlight.  

Given she is visually impaired, she could only see some of the horses near the road, but Alex and I would describe the ones to her further away.

"There's one up the hill," we would explain.  "A brown horse with white spots, with a foal."

She would ask for us to describe it in more detail, so she could identify the breed.  We tried, but we often didn't explain well enough, much to her disappointment.  

I wasn't satisfied with our drive-by tours, though.  I had a surprise up my sleeve for her.  I was able to get us a tour with a groundskeeper of a particularly famous horse farm.  

We met up with an elderly groundskeeper, complete with southern charm and an accent to boot.  He gave us a glimpse into a whole new world.  We entered the gated property and drove past the most meticulous, beautiful barns I'd ever seen.  They were stone, and they housed future famous racehorses.  As a result, we weren't allowed to actually go inside of the barns, but many of the horses in the paddocks were close enough for Leeza to see.  

He drove us slowly through the farm, which went on for miles.  He let the kids get out many times to take pictures of the stunning scenery.  I have to admit, I'd never seen anything like it.  The ground were absolutely beautiful, landscaped to perfection.  Multiple crews worked to keep the grass perfectly trimmed, the flowers maintained, and of course - the paddocks looking gorgeous.

Our guide told us story after story about the horses as we passed by.  He knew them all.  He knew their history, their lineage, and we enjoyed each and every detail.  He explained how things work on a professional horse barn, and Leeza was hanging on his every word.  Since she's worked in a horse barn, she asked him "What do you do when you clean the stalls?  Where do you put all of the used straw."

He smiled at her question.  "You wouldn't believe it," he said.

Then he drove us to the drop off facility for the used horse bedding.  

"Every day," he said, "there's a truck that comes in and picks all of this stuff up."

Leeza was amazed.  We spent a good twenty minutes talking to our guide about the mechanics of removing horse poop from the stalls.  He got such a kick out of her questions.  She was genuinely curious about how it all worked.

Soon, we came upon an empty barn where the horses had been put out for the day.  Leeza got to peek inside of the barn.  It was spotless, complete with fans for every horse, and beautiful doors sporting the name of the resident in each stall.  Of course, Leeza could not believe how clean it was.

"There's literally no dirt.  Its as clean as our house!" she exclaimed.  Our groundskeeper laughed.  "These horses live a better life than a lot of humans."

I nodded in agreement. 

We ended the trip with the last paddock, which had seven or eight horses together in one field.  The groundskeeper parked the car as we sat inside.  

"Leeza," our guide said.  "Can you see all of those horses?"

"No," she sighed.  "Can you describe them for me?"

"Honey," he said, "get out and stand by the fence and take a picture so you can see them."

He didn't have to ask her twice.  She bailed out of the car and stood by the fence to take a photo.  

Then, the most amazing thing happened.  The horses spotted her by the fence and all of them came running towards her.  They didn't just run over to her, they formed a line, one by one, and began to run along the fenceline.  Each of them ran in front of her, showing their beautiful form, their grace, and their speed.  She got to see every single one of them, up close, in amazing detail.

I watched in amazement from the car.

"I've been here a long time," the groundskeeper said.  "I've never seen that happen."

Leeza put her camera down and just watched the entire thing.  I don't think she got a single picture, she was so overjoyed in the moment of watching prized racehorses running past her.  They were so close she could reach out and touch them.

She must have stood there for fifteen minutes, just staring into the field, long after they had returned to the other side of the paddock.

I opened my door to retrieve her, since the groundskeeper, Alex, and I were all waiting on her in the car.

"Don't." the groundskeeper said.  "Let her enjoy it."  

So, I did.  Once she was sure they weren't coming back, she returned to the car and immediately asked me, "Did you see it?"

We relived the excitement of it together in the car, while the groundskeeper drove us outside of the gates and back to our hotel.  It was an amazing day, and we have told the stories from our trip on the horse farm multiple times.  Even now, I can't get over how it ended, with the horses parading past her.

A few days later, we were in the airport on our way home.  The groundskeeper called me on my cellphone.  "I want you to know, your kids are top shelf.  I've driven around many rich people on this property, even corporate executives.  But none of them were as polite as your kids.  You're doing a good job with those kids, Mama."

My eyes filled with tears as we hung up.  Sometimes us Moms don't hear those words very often, so to hear them from a stranger was pretty meaningful.

To my sadness, I received a message today that the groundskeeper from that horse farm passed away.  I told the kids, and they were very grieved to hear of the passing of our wonderful guide, the southern gentleman who was willing to share his knowledge with a girl obsessed with horses.  

I have been thinking about him all day.  He was so generous with us.  He would have stayed as long as we wanted, explaining everything with a tremendous amount of patience.  He was so kind.  He was so supportive.  He went out of his way to let us know we mattered to him.

We knew him for one day, but we will remember how he made us feel for a lifetime.

I can't help but think about how much God blessed us that day.  I know God lined those horses up for Leeza, but without the patient groundskeeper, she wouldn't have seen it.  I wonder if our guide went home that night, thinking about the grand finale of our visit like we did.  He must have thought about it, since he called me a few days later.

I am thanking God tonight for this man's life, and the one day we got to spend with him.  I am hoping heaven got a bit more southern today, with a deep laugh, and an unmistakable accent.  

He was, indeed, top shelf.

1 Thes 5:11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.