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.

The Wedding Shower

by Rhonda, August 07, 2022

I slid my Ghostbusters mug under the Keurig early on a Saturday morning.  I'm not a fan of moving quickly on Saturdays, but this particular morning required it.  I had a wedding shower to attend.  My cousin is getting married, and the women in our family had put together a brunch in a city a few hours away.  I needed to get my daughter moving, pick up my mother, and hit the road. 

But, not without my coffee or my Ghostbusters mug.

The gift for the bride-to-be had been bouncing around my mind for a few months.  My cousin and I aren't particularly close.  She is in her mid-twenties, so she's significantly younger than I am.  She has been away at grad school, and we haven't kept in touch.  I don't feel like I know her well enough anymore to know what she likes.

I checked out her wedding registry.  I could simply buy a gift off her registry and make my life easier, being sure I've gotten her what she wanted.  But, it all seemed so impersonal.  A set of pans, a random picture frame.  I could splurge and get some of the more expensive items, but how often does one really use a fondue set?

I closed out the wedding registry, and turned off my laptop.  My eyes scanned across the room and landed on my green quilt.

THE green quilt.

I want you to give it to her, God told me.

I wish I could tell you that I immediately loved the idea.  But, I mulled it over for several months.  What if she doesn't like green?  What if she doesn't want a quilt?   Will she care, or would she rather I buy her another cookware item from her registry?  Perhaps she's not into homemade gifts.

I thought of my grandmother.  All of the cousins received handmade gifts from my grandmother throughout our milestones.  She made us dish towels, quilts, or even Christmas ornaments when we got married, when we had kids, or even just as Christmas presents.  However, this cousin is significantly younger than the rest of us.  She doesn't have the homemade heirlooms from our grandmother, since she passed away when my cousin was younger.

I looked at the green quilt again. I'd never used it, it was still beautifully brand new.  A cheerful ribbon was wrapped around it.  I ran my hands across the quilting, looking at the vibrant fabrics.  I knew that regardless of whether she even wanted it or appreciated it, God would see the gift.  He would know the importance, so it didn't matter.  I had to decide I was going to be obedient to Him.

I walked into the shower with the quilt wrapped in a pretty box.  I set it on the gift table with the other gifts and chatted with the other women at the shower, over coffee and beautiful pastries.  As an introvert, I always struggle with large gatherings of people, but once I get there, I begin to relax and enjoy myself.  I talked with another of my cousins about all things related crafts, sewing, and other things we had in common.  I watched Leeza and my mother circulate about the room - something I rarely do.  I'm always looking for one-on-one conversations at these types of things.

Soon, the host called everyone's attention to be seated, and the bride to be began to open her gifts.  Her mother stood next to her, handing the gifts one by one.  She opened boxes of dish towels, serving trays, and picture frames.  They were all very nice, and she was gracious about receiving each of them.  I'm not sure why, but my gift was pushed towards the end of the table.  It was going to be the last to be opened.

I was nervous.  Every single other gift had come off her registry.  They were all muted colors, my quilt was vibrantly colorful.  They were all very modern in nature - a quilt was kind of old fashioned.  I held my breath as her mother announced, "Okay, this is the last one.  It is from Rhonda."

The room watched as she opened the box and removed the tissue paper.  As soon as she saw the quilt, she began to pull it out of the box.  When she realized what it was, she stopped and she dropped her head.  She began to sob.  Her mother came over and finished removing the quilt from the box, showing everyone in the party.  

She looked at me.  "It is absolutely beautiful."

I smiled and nodded. "I love you," I mouthed to her.  She dropped her eyes as they filled with tears again, and she took a few minutes to compose herself.  

"Are you taking any orders?" someone from the crowd asked.  I laughed and shook my head.  Pretty soon, the bride to be composed herself and the party moved onto a game of Scattergories.  But, I couldn't help but realize the impact of a small act of obedience to God. 

As I drove home, my mother said to me, "Can you believe your gift made her cry?".  

"No," I said.  "I was completely surprised."

I still don't know what touched her so deeply, but I would imagine it was that someone took the time to make her feel as special as my grandmother used to make all of us feel.  Instead of a dish, she received an heirloom. She received something a family member made with their own hands, and wanted to give specifically to her.

Acts 20:35  In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.'

I was far more blessed in the moment with her than I would have ever been by keeping the quilt.  If I had chosen to disobey God, I would have missed out on a tremendous blessing.  I was able to see my cousin's heart in the middle of the party, and a new connection is formed again between the two of us, bridging the gap time and distance have created.  

I'll never miss the quilt, but I'll always remember the moment my cousin received an unexpected gift at her wedding shower.

The Grass Clippings

by Rhonda, August 04, 2022

The ring around our Alexa turns yellow, indicating she has some sort of communication for us.  She calls it a notification.

"Alexa, play notification," I say.

She proceeds to warn of a heat warning.  It is probably the third straight day of 100+ temperatures, and as a result, the third straight day of Alexa warning me it is going to be hot outside.  

We live on a few acres, and the property is a lot of work.  No one really sits around in our home.  If there's not something to work on inside of the house, there's always many projects to work on outside.

I walked into the living room where Alex and Grandpa were eating breakfast.  They work outside on the property nearly every day during the summer together. 

"Alexa says there's a heat warning today."

Grandpa nodded.  "We're going to mow as soon as we're done eating.  Its going to get too hot later."

I returned to my office and went back to work.  I heard the mower firing up shortly thereafter, and I was glad they were getting an early start.  Alex doesn't do well in extreme heat, one of the fun side effects of having radiation as a young child.  He likes to work outside, but overheating can hit him fast.

An hour later, I glanced out of my window to see large rain clouds forming.  Alex and Grandpa were sweeping grass clippings off of the concrete.  Grandpa was working on one side of the yard, and Alex was sweeping on the other.

A flash of lighting, followed by a clap of thunder, erupted in the sky.  Rain began to pour heavily.  I watched as Alex continued to sweep the sidewalk.

"ALEX," Grandpa yelled from the other side of the yard, "BAD NEWS!"

But, Alex kept sweeping.

"ALEX," Grandpa yelled again, "WE NEED TO GO INSIDE."

Again, Alex kept sweeping.  

Alex can be like that sometimes.  Cancer has slowed his thinking and when he's locked in on a task, he has difficulty moving his mind onto another thing.  My father happens to be extremely patient, and the two of them work well together.  This is a gift from God, and I can't thank Him enough for my father's patience.  Not everyone can handle dealing with that on a daily basis.

I stood to watch from the window while rain drenched the sidewalk, and their clothes.

Alex continued to sweep.

Grandpa ran over to Alex and put his arm on his shoulder.  I couldn't hear the conversation, but I know Alex told him he just wanted to finish.

So, Grandpa began to help.  He started at the other end of Alex's sidewalk, and the two of them swept grass clippings while the rain drenched their clothes, drenched their brooms.  The grass stuck on the sidewalk with the water, so it took more effort, but they took their time and they finished the entire sidewalk before coming inside.

My Dad could have made Alex come inside.

My Dad could have left Alex.

Instead, he swept grass clippings in the rain.

As I watched the scene unfold, I thought about how Christ never leaves us or forsakes us, even when we're doing things that don't make any sense.  He stays with us in the storm, even when we refuse to take shelter.

Deuteronomy 31:6 Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you."

I was quite moved, watching my father's selfless act of kindness.  Tears rolled down my face as I stood at the window.  I've not told either of them I saw what happened, but when the time is right, I'll thank my father for what he did.  

I am very blessed with my little unusual family, very blessed indeed.

The Garden

by Rhonda, August 03, 2022

I've been pretty excited about my garden this year.  I've got cucumbers, canteloupes, honeydews, tomatoes, beans, and even a new melon called Farmer's Wife melon.  All of these plants have been growing happily throughout the summer.

 I did make a mistake, though.  I didn't plant everything far enough apart.  The melons need a lot of room to stretch themselves out (so do the cucumbers).  I wasn't too worried if one plant grew into another, and to be honest,  I didn't mind the thick net of greenery that resulted.  I have a bit of a jungle, but the chaos also made it beautiful to me.

However, now I see why this is a problem.  The cucumbers have caught some sort of a disease (I'm still figuring out exactly what it is).  I think its a fungus of some sort, but guess what.  They're so intertwined with all of the other plants that now some of the other plants are starting to die as well.  What started as one plant in the corner of the garden looking sickly is quickly spreading.

I'm afraid I'm going to lose the whole thing.

Its amazing how an entire healthy, thriving garden can be threatened by one little plant that is sick.

I was thinking about the spiritual parallels.  Our irregular little family (myself, my kids, and my father) all live in this house together.  Against all odds, we're doing well.  Perhaps not thriving, but I think we're on the path to it.

Yet, it doesn't take long for me to lose my way and find myself off-track.  Divorce will do that to you.  One sizable dose of unforgiveness, followed by a bout of anger, followed by a lot of distraction will quickly sideline me.  My spiritual health affects more than just me.  It affects my kids.  It affects my father.  It will quickly make the entire household sick if I walk around bitter and angry.

Just like that, one sick plant will take out the entire garden.

I've seen it happen.  I've watched the tone of our home change when I fall back into anger and unforgiveness.  Every time it happens, I remind myself this is about so much more than just me.  It is about the others who live here, the others who depend on me.  I don't get to sit around and be angry and bitter, as tempting as it may be.  I can't fall into it.  I don't want that life for me, or for those whom I love.

Ephesians 4:31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.

Every time I want to fall back into anger and bitterness, I must stop myself from living by my impulses.  When we are ruled by our own impulses, we become resistant to the righteousness of God.  Instead, we start to live in the righteousness of Self, which is never a good road.  We need to live in the righteousness of God, not Self, as followers of Jesus.  His opinions are what matters, not ours.  What does He say about the situation?  Is this right?  Is this good?  Is this what's best for me?  These are the questions we must ask.

The problem with living in anger is we will live in revenge.  Revenge clouds out grace.  So, to live in anger means we compromise grace.  This is an exhausting way to live.  We need to rest in the grace of God.  We deserve to give ourselves some space, to make room for God's grace in our lives.  If we don't, revenge will spread misery and before we know it, the entire garden is in danger.

God will work through us, or in spite of us.  The difference is going to be our experience.  I want to experience God's grace much more than I want to exact revenge.  

Today, I bought some fungus treatment for my plants.  Tomorrow, our family is going to be working in the garden.  We're going to remove the infected leaves, and spray the remaining plants.  It will be a project, but we'll tackle it together. We're hoping to heal the garden so it will be plentiful again.  

There may be damage, but there's always hope for new life.

The Recovery

by Rhonda, August 01, 2022

My Sunday was quiet this week.  I enjoyed the family coming over for my brother's birthday party on Saturday.  It was fun to see everyone.  But, part of being a quiet introvert is that I have to recover from hosting a large party.  Its a strange thing, and it is one of the things about my personality that I've often struggled to understand.  Why would I find it stressful to simply be around people that I love?  

If I were around them one at a time, I would not have any issues whatsoever.  But, a large gathering is something that is always challenging for me.  I want to do it, but I also have to recover.

It is okay to be this way.  It is how God created me.  I have to return to my routine, to my quiet.  I have gotten to the age (finally) where I can recognize this isn't some sort of flaw, or something I need to overcome.  If I could have overcome it, I would have done so years ago.

After a large week at work, plus a party on Saturday, I woke with raging anxiety staring me in the face on Sunday.  It was so frustrating, because I had planned to get caught up on some work on Sunday.  But, with the level of anxiety I was facing, I knew work was off the table.  I am unable to function when I am in this state.

My mind needed to rest.  It deserved a break, and it demanded it.

The first thing I had to do was limit my media intake.  This one is always hard, because watching TV or, my favorite YouTube channels is a distraction.  But it often makes the anxiety worse once the television is turned off.

I also tend to go into planning mode when I'm deep in anxiety.  I stare at the week ahead, unable to think through how I am going to tackle everything.  I begin to plan every spare minute I've got.  I plan all kinds of things.  I plan all of the extra hours I'm going to work.  I plan to fix problems in my relationships, so I will plan to visit certain people in my family on a weekly basis (whether they like it or not).  I will plan to launch a new business.  I will plan to get another college degree.  Anything to let me feel like I'm regaining some sort of control.

But, the problem is this doesn't give my mind a break.  I needed rest for my overloaded mind.  I would schedule my life away if left to my own devices.  God has been teaching me to abide less by my schedule and more by what my mind and body are telling me.  

I had to go back to the One who gives my mind rest.  I am a sensitive, introverted soul, and without Jesus I will carry around a lot of pain as a result of how I'm wired.  I have limitations.  I have to respect them, and working eight hours on Sunday wasn't in the cards for me.  I needed to accept it and trust Him with the results.

I got out my five step journal (Dr. Caroline Leaf).  I set my timer, and I took the time to allow God to heal me.  Throughout the day, God fought the anxiety and panic with me.  It was a victory for me.  Instead of punishing myself because I was in pain, I sought healing from the One who can heal.

If you struggle with anxiety like me, I can't encourage you enough to seek healing.  Healing may be a combination of seeking Jesus, counseling, medications, daily practices, or even diet.  There's so may facets to it and the treatment has to be specialized to your specific needs.  I have utilized all of these things, understanding that part of how I'm wired makes me especially susceptible to anxiety.

Choose to listen to your mind and your body.  It is telling you it has been injured.  It has been triggered.  Take care of your mind.  Allow God to take you down the path needed to bind up your wounds.  Don't ignore it or distract your mind.  Take the time to heal it, not punish it for not functioning.  Do not reject yourself or God's design for you.  Your pain matters, and you need to listen to it and take care of yourself.

John 14:27 Peace I leave with you.  My peace I give to you - let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.