The Art of Enjoying Different

It’s the day before Christmas Eve

And all through the house

I’ve a plan in the making

For me and my spouse…

 

Our stockings are hung

By the chimney with care

In hopes that whomever

Tries harder to  care… to share… to love… to forgive … to accept…

 

Okay- so my poem reads a little differently than the one we usually hear this time of year. But that’s what I’m focusing on, accepting and enjoying “different.” Not just the kind of different that make my husband and me better together but the kind that set us apart too, reminding us of who we are individually and dare I say… who we’re not.

The Plan is to joyfully grasp and gravel with the idea of different and to accept those who see things differently and be accepted by the same token.

Sounds like a tall order, huh? Well, it is, both for a jolly ol’ saint dressed in red and white going chimney to chimney and for those of us striving to maintain Christmas cheer around festive tables of tradition. You know us; we often miss both the point and person of Christmas altogether until it’s too late and we’ve worked ourselves into a tizzy over unimportant details, or when we’ve lashed out (audibly and silently) at loved ones for their versions of different or when we’ve failed to accept what is and then rejected what isn’t. Like Christmas cookies, no two are exactly alike but if mixed with all the same delicious ingredients, even though the are different they taste the same, even the broken pieces!

 

The Art of Enjoying Different is to take one delicious bite at a time, accepting and appreciating each crumble for what it is.

 

Accept that this year is different… it is not the past; It’s the present. People, places and traditions change every single year.

 

  • Accept that my family is different … we’re neither the family next door, nor the one down the street nor the one on the other side of town. We’re us and we’re doing the best WE know how to do.

 

  • Accept that my narrative is different… my story belongs to me, and not to others and that is ok. It makes me who I am. As for the others, they have a story too …

 

I know I cannot go back and relive the awesome memories or awful mistakes of the past, nor can I go forward and live the expectations of the future, at least not yet.  I cannot even go door to door photo-bombing the special moments of others or teleport myself into pretend movie sets and magazine photo ops. But I can be inspired:

 By cleverly staged photos and well written stories played out in pixels on screens, both big and small, yet different from my own

 By the real-life people and places with which I have the priceless privilege of being acquainted, though they are different.

By the life lessons we learn from doing life together and differently.

 Yes, I can be inspired to grasp reality, yours and mine, with a gratitude for the unique experiences and expressions we each enjoy. I can gravel with the fact that there’s always a 20/20 hindsight moment in the making because of our differences. It’s in those moments that we have reason to pause and ponder our actions and reactions and whether or not to extend the very grace extended to us by Father Christmas Himself, Christ Jesus.

 

Speaking of Christ and Christmas-

I cannot celebrate Christmas without celebrating Christ at the table of Creation, where in the beginning He fashioned the most fabulous feast of all time in a perfect garden setting, the place where He first called us to come and dine.

I  cannot celebrate Christmas without celebrating Christ at the table of the Cross, where in the middle of time as we know it, He fulfilled His plan to redeem the failures of mankind (especially mine) after we left His beautifully set table in the garden to sneak a bite of the forbidden fruit pie, the one never intended for our consumption.

I cannot celebrate Christmas without celebrating Christ at the table of our eternal Celebration, where He went to prepare an even better place for us to gather and be relieved of our earthly sufferings: our pain and our shame.

I’ve decided I think I like different. It tastes good, especially when eaten one sweet bite at a time chased by a glass of grace and gratitude.

How about you? Want to join me in embracing others in hopes that they will likewise embrace you back in the same manner?

Oh my! I feel a New Year’s resolution of a “different” kind emerging. (pun intended)

Two by Two by Two…

even-though-i-walk-through-the-valley-of-the-shadow-of-death-i-will-fear-no-evilfor-you-are-with-me-your-rod-and-your-staff-they-comfort-me-psalm-23-4

To say we were carried through the week by angels on high and cradled under the wings of the almighty is an understatement. It was Super Bowl Sunday and my five year old daughter was to be checked into the children’s hospital north of Atlanta at 6 AM the following morning for surgery. She had suffered with progressive renal reflux since birth and the damage to her kidneys had worsened. Her latest check up revealed she was not thriving as other five year olds thrive. Her weight and height had not moved in almost a year. I could see it in the dark circles under her eyes and in the pasty white color of her otherwise olive skin-tone. We had spent many weeks in the hospital on IV antibiotics fighting urinary tract infections caused by her increasing inability to void. She now she needed intervention.

That same night during the football game my nine-month old son had to be rushed to the hospital on the opposite side of town of where we needed to be in just a few short hours. He had become dangerously dehydrated from a violent stomach virus. It was a virus his pediatrician had told us could last for up to 10 days and to “wait it out.” The problem with waiting it out was that my son also suffered from Gastro Esophageal Reflux Disease. His case was advanced. In other words… he was not your typical baby spitting up from an overfull belly. Though he had not yet failed to thrive like his sister, he was not well either and his status was about to change.

The night was harsh but by four o’clock in the morning our baby was stable again and we knew the time had come to split up. As two parents with two children suffering from two disease processes wreaking havoc on their little bodies, we had no choice. We needed to be in two places at one time. Even though it appeared as if we were losing our battles we were not, we were fighting them. Though we were temporarily without the comfort of the other’s hand to hold or shoulder to rest upon we were not alone. God provided help during our time of need.

For seven days friends and family also split up to comfort and care for us. During our most unpredictable and worrisome hours they prayed with us. They cleaned our house, washed our laundry, cooked our meals and held our hands. By the end of the week we had been relieved of the burdens we had been shouldering for years. The people in our lives loved us through the darkest moments until we reached the light of day. 

The first week home we noticed was our son was holding his food down, something we had never before experienced. During our second week home we noticed our daughter’s temperature charts had maintained readings between 98.4 and 98.6. That’s a normal we had not experienced consistently during the past year when I learned to drink coffee by the pot instead of the cup.

A few weeks later my son’s gastroenterologist held in his hands the test results before the virus along with the ones after the virus. He was weighing them in the balances. “It’s a medical impossibility that an intestinal virus could correct such a complex condition,” he said before adding, “But it did.”

Then a year later my daughter’s urologist did something similar when in his hands he waved the results of her most recent renal scans. He said, “though we can correct renal reflux disease through reconstructive surgery we cannot reverse the damage it causes to the kidneys beforehand; however, according to these results there is no trace of the previous damage.” 

Unlike their pediatric specialists my husband and I were not scratching our heads; we were lifting our arms and praising our God for the healing He had brought to our family: two children healed from two disease processes while in two hospitals located miles apart.

In the period of one week’s time two battles were fought and two were won and two children were healed and two parents relieved. And for this reason, “I will praise You, O Lord, with my whole heart; I will tell of all Your marvelous works. I will be glad and rejoice in You; I will sing praise to Your name, O Most High.” Psalm 9:1-2 (NKJV)

“Time Out!”

Time Out! (5)

Last summer- my brother-in-law unexpectedly passed away leaving behind his wife and three children. In an instant their lives were changed and with just one parent left to carry the load of both, the manner in which their family operates is forever altered.

In February- my husband was involved in a skiing accident. With one awkward turn on the slopes our lives changed. Initially, he could neither stand nor walk nor perform the most basic of tasks. I, along with a few others, stepped in to do those things for him until he recovered.

Recently- friends received a phone call with news that they had been chosen as the adoptive parents of a precious baby girl. In an instant their fourteen year pursuit to become parents had ended and their hopes became a joyous reality. Yay!

“Time Outs” are those periods of time and circumstances in life that stop us in our tracks just before transforming our hearts and providing us with a renewed perspective of the future.  Though we would never ask for such tests of our faith, they are effectual in assessing the inward genuineness of our outward professions and preparing us for the days to come. So what should we do when unexpected circumstances and fiery trials drop themselves squarely into the middle of our lives? For me, I’m still learning how to maneuver through the stages of each by accepting them for their future purposes and I’ve joined the i-culture as follows:

i-Stop to pray and ponder the steps necessary to move forward.

i-Swap what I thought I knew about my abilities for the reality regarding them.

i-Swallow (with knots in my throat) the circumstances I face and try to agree with God to be transformed in the days, weeks, months and years that follow. * This one is so much easier said than it is done.

i-Share what I have encountered because somehow with God’s help I know I will make it to the other side and I will gain a new perspective of the trial’s future purpose. God simply works all things together for good!

Throughout the ages God in His infinite grace has provided His children with the opportunity to grow in wisdom and knowledge as a result of their trials. When we learn to look back through the lenses of hindsight we become better acquainted with God’s perspective and are able to honor His name with praises no matter how hard the circumstances seem at the time. This is a tough saying. It means that we admit our trials, as painful as they can be sometimes, will generate worthy rewards and sacrifices of praise. Our “Time out” seasons will provide us with the perspective to one day look back in order to minister forward. The scriptures, along with our own experiences, help us learn to gain the strength we need to move forward.

  1. Like my sister-in-law, Ruth and Naomi experienced a period of “time-out” marked by the deaths of their husbands and they journeyed together through widowhood void of the presence and partnership of their husbands (Ruth 1). God protected and cared for them both and brought them back to Naomi’s homeland where they encountered Boaz, the guardian-redeemer who married Ruth, restoring her and her mother-in-law, Naomi (Ruth 4).
  2. Like my husband, the lame man experienced a “time-out” marked by a season of immobility and reliance upon others. When he encountered the healing touch of Jesus he was able to walk and care for himself and testify of Jesus’ healing power (John 5).
  3. Like my friends who received that phone call, Hannah and Elkanah experienced a trial of barrenness (1 Samuel 1). Hannah uttered prayers and promises to God if only … because the wait for a child tends to stir up pledges we might not otherwise make. I know, I’ve uttered them. The wait opens our hearts and make us receptive to receiving children in other ways and for periods of time different from what we originally imagined.

COMMENT- How about you? What “time out” season in your life transformed you from the inside out and changed your past perspective into a future ministry?

 

Welcome Home

Welcome Home

The tagline on my email signature reads, “Embrace Change-it expands your purpose, which broadens your perspective, and illuminates your path.” These words are much more than a creative tagline for my email, they’re my life!

After 20 + years of climbing proverbial ladders and transferring up and down the east coast, my husband and I decided to embrace yet one more change, a move back home. After all, we didn’t want any of our children growing up and deciding to stay in one of those far away states we had only temporarily populated.

First, we had a house to sell so we made all of the necessary repairs and improvements, those things we never got around to finishing and enjoying for ourselves. Seriously!

Next, we removed anything and everything that was reminiscent of the family who actually lived there (MINE) in order to stage an illusion,

“Welcome Home Family, this is your Perfect House” (NOT MINE).

Finally, when the house was staged and ready to go on the market we realized we really needed to take our family out of the mix. That perfect house was no longer a welcoming place for us to live so we packed up and traveled south where we indeed were welcomed home with open arms.

The plan was to stay with my parents for the summer while searching for a new house and waiting for the other to sell, but when the “Welcome Home … Perfect House” didn’t sell by end of summer, moving back home took on an entire new meaning.

We were feeling the impact of:

living fatherless,

living husbandless,

living homeless.

None of us had expected our visit to linger so long, eleven months to be exact. When my parents had graciously said, “welcome home,” they didn’t limit us, they waited out the season with us and it all worked out.

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. Romans 8:28 (KJV)

During this time my mom and I had the privilege of ministering together,

My Pop recognized that my boys were missing their daddy and he began to fill their days with childhood stories as they studied history; homework help as they studied math and lunches when I needed a break.

My Dad took us to many breakfasts and we got to know him better than ever before.

A special bond formed between my grandmother and me,

and then between my grandmother and my younger boys.

My oldest son dated the girl of his dreams, now his wife,

and my daughter finished her degree.

And the list goes on and on… all treasured experiences and relationships distance had never before allowed.

We left the northeast in order to create an illusion, “Welcome Home … this is your Perfect House” for potential buyers. Ironically, the longer the inauthentic illusion remained on the market, the more we experienced an authentic “welcome home,” hospitality of another kind. It was an experience that trained our hearts and expanded our perspective.

Fast forward six years. The older two children are now grown and flown. But they too wanted to return home, and they came, and they lingered while looking for a new house.

Guess who got to expand her purpose when she uttered those familiar words, “welcome home?”

Guess who got to wait out a season of life together because her perspective had been broadened?

My previous experience illuminated my future path.

There’s another place where we’ll hear “welcome home” one day, but it’s not a temporary place or even a season of life to wait out together, it’s eternity.

And God… well, He’s still working all of our things together for good until that day when we’ll hear, “Welcome Home” one last time.

For now, “Embrace Change-it expands your purpose, which broadens your perspective, and illuminates your path.” Lora Leftwich

The Better Plan

It was the day after Christmas and we were heading out for one final holiday celebration. My husband asked if I had finished wrapping the gifts. I snapped at him and said, “No, but I shopped for them, purchased them and even put them in a bag for you so that YOU could finish wrapping them this morning!” Surprised by my outburst he asked, “Why are you treating me this way?” With tear filled eyes, I looked up and said, “I’m so sorry, I’m exhausted and utterly empty.”

Plan A

Rewind to the week after Thanksgiving. I had planned out four of the most glorious holiday weeks ever. The two younger boys were participating in a Dickens Caroling experience around the city; I had arranged for us to see Christmas lights by horse-drawn carriages; I had even planned a few Pinterest crafts for my grandson and a big family night complete with cookies, cocoa and decorating the Christmas tree. O WHAT FUN!  The plan was grand, but the plan would change.

During week one, some of our staff came down with the flu which meant I was needed at the shop instead of the craft store. No worries, I could adjust the plan and combine a few things the following week. Like the first week though, the second was met with more illness and absences. “No worries,” I said, “we can still do this.” By the third week I was waning in holiday cheer because after all, hadn’t I taken off most of December? My husband was now off to Minnesota on a business trip and my boys on an adventure in the Midwest. We were still understaffed and I was now overwhelmed.

By the time everyone returned to work it was the week before Christmas and my tune had changed from a cheerful, “Joy to the World” to a sarcastic, “The Boys Are Back in Town.”  Four weeks of holiday bliss had been reduced to four days and I was scrambling to pull off Christmas. No worries, right? Wrong!

Wrong because Christmas wasn’t mine to pull off, it was God’s and He accomplished it more than 2000 years ago.

Wrong because Plan A was not the plan. Plan B was; I just couldn’t see it even though it called out to me daily, “Helloooooo, this is the plan!”

Plan B

I’m ashamed to say it wasn’t until Christmas Eve that I saw Plan B for what it was, a blessing. The pastor spoke these words, “Sometimes in the midst of our busyness and frustrations, we tend to miss the blessings right in front of us.” 

BOOM! My deafened ears were opened at once. God had me exactly where I needed to be, assisting during a time of illness and absence.  Plan B was the blessing I had missed.

A “blessing” doesn’t always mean the circumstances are good, or that they will even change, it means that God will work them out and weave them together for eventual good. 

  • I could work when others could not, what a blessing!
  • My family was able to travel as planned, what a blessing!
  • Our staff made a full recovery from the flu, what a blessing!

Plan B is the blessing-God’s perfect plan, the one one where he takes our present circumstances and works them together for eventual good. I have a new appreciation for “Plan B” because it’s just the thing I need to adjust my perspective. It calls on me to Be Still, Believe, and Bow Down. 

BE STILL because He is God and I am not.

“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations; I will be exalted in the earth!” Psalm 46:10 (ESV)

BELIEVE that He is Lord over all our best laid plans.

Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.” Proverbs 19:21 (ESV)

 BOW DOWN in order to submit to the plans God has made.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)

For the Love of God…

 

“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:9 (NIV)

As I stood at the door a tight knot formed in the back of my throat, one that would remain there for the next twelve months. It was January and I should have been stuffing navy and white chevron pillows into plush leather chairs while arranging furniture in our snazzy new customer lounge, except there was no customer lounge! Instead, we were staring at a cold empty shell feeling the full weight of its barrenness on our shoulders. Despite all of our perfectly laid plans not one wall had been erected and we were just a few weeks away from opening, or so I thought.

“Where are my walls,” I asked the project manager?” “Where is the flooring?” Shuffling back and forth he tried to speak confidence into the situation but we both knew better. There weren’t going to be any walls erected that day or even that week which meant we wouldn’t be opening our new business as planned either. He had made a big mistake in estimating his own skills and his ability to find subcontractors in the middle of winter not to mention the requirements the county was now imposing upon our project. I was angry and feeling outright betrayed.

Oh God, I whispered inaudibly, “What are we going to do?”

He recited my memory verse to me, Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” Mark 12:30 (NIV)

“What does loving God have to do with renovating this building and opening our business!” I silently shouted.

He answered me again, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” Isaiah 55:9 (NIV)

I wish I could say these verses readjusted my thinking immediately but they didn’t, they irritated me. I realized we were about to embark on an unplanned journey that I didn’t anticipate, one I didn’t request and most importantly one I would only appreciate in hindsight. God wanted my heart (devotion), my mind (thoughts), my soul (core essence) and my strength (might) but for the love of God, pun totally intended, I didn’t understand WHY until twelve months later when the final check was in the mail.

Looking back, my reality that day was simple; God wasn’t asking me to trust Him to fix the circumstances, He was asking me to love Him so that I could adjust my view of the people with whom I would be working. Loving God influences my response towards others.  As I focused my attention on loving God in the months that followed, He equipped me with mercy (His which became mine). Legally, I had the right to respond otherwise but spiritually, mercy was the right response. Except for the love of God, I would have chosen “the otherwise.’

Loving God also influences our perspective which positions our priorities. In hindsight I realize that I would have gladly abandoned the contractor and started over with a whole new crew but that was not what I was called to do. I was called to endure to the end which meant for as long as was necessary, ouch! I was called to extend grace to those with whom we worked even when they didn’t deserve it, double ouch!! I was called to remember that without the blood of Christ, I also was undeserving, triple ouch!!! Legally, I had the right to abandon but spiritually, showing grace was the right response. Except for the love of God, I would have chosen total abandonment.

God’s ways are definitely higher than my ways and now I understand why it is so important to love God wholly. How about you? Can you recall a time when you were called upon to love God in order to adjust your perspective, priority or response resulting in an act of grace or mercy? Was it as difficult for you as it was for me? Please share your experience in the comments section below.