A new song

The book “After the Boxes are Unpacked” by Susan Miller sat collecting dust for years on the book shelf. A sweet well-meaning couple from my mother-in-law’s church gifted it to us when we moved out of state as newlyweds.

It went in and out of cardboard boxes from Lowell, Michigan to Akron, Ohio. Then from Akron to Stow, Ohio but it wasn’t until the Stow to Ada, Michigan move in 2009 that I finally read the pages. The move had broken me. I was seriously shattered so the casual conversational writing style was like a letter from a friend. It helped give me words to express my feelings, comfort that I wasn’t alone, and hope that I’d get through the move. It was a tool that helped redirect my focus off of me and my problems and back to God, to his plans, purpose and glory. I don’t usually understand God’s plan or purpose but I trust He has one.

When we moved back to Stow, Ohio from Ada, Michigan in 2011 I became confused to what God was up to. Even though I was less than a mile from my previous house, I didn’t fit back in, it was like the band had marched on without me and I wasn’t sure which song to pick up to get back in step.

I love the lyrics from the hymn “Come Thou Fount” that say “Tune my heart to sing thy grace, streams of mercy, never ceasing, call for songs of loudest praise.” When I allowed God to tune my heart with grace and mercy I became an instrument that was ready to play a new song for his glory.

God is the master orchestrator.  One Sunday I saw the announcement in the church bulletin for a book study of “After the Boxes are Unpacked”. Then I noticed the women’s ministry leader was one row ahead of me (not just a coincidence considering the 5,000 plus congregation meets in several venues over several service times.) My heart strings were pulled, I was ready to play so I approached her and asked if I could help with the class. She said they had been praying for a co-leader and welcomed my help.

When I reacquainted my self with my “After the Boxes are Unpacked” book I reread the inscription from the sweet, well-meaning couple, Phyllis and Elmer. “Just in case you end up moving here and there a lot – this may be a blessing”. 

At the time I was in my 6th home in 10 years, for me that qualified as A LOT. The book was a blessing and so was leading the class and the relationships I formed with the women and the lessons I applied to my life about God’s loving provision. A community that is weaved together with laughter and tears creates a residence in your heart that always has the welcome mat out for whenever your paths cross again.

Now that I am in my 7th house and third state I have a new song to learn. A new friend shared this verse: Psalm 33:3 “Sing to Him a new song, play skillfully and shout for joy.” However I’ve learned I don’t sing a cappella all that well. So let’s have a sing-a-long. God has given me the “skill” of moving so I am starting an “After the Boxes are Unpacked” book study in Prosper, Texas to help other women find their new song. Moving has a tendency to put us a little out of tune so perhaps together we can laugh and cry and learn to sing a new song. Together.

Made in the Shade

I moved to Texas in the early spring. Most everyone I met emphasized the ridiculous heat I was in store for. Considering it took 3 bags of salt and a pickaxe to remove the ice from my driveway so the movers didn’t have a liability lawsuit, the Texas spring 70 degree weather already felt balmy to me.

So as the mercury began to climb I noticed that the heat wasn’t really the problem. It was the sun. It felt like it was constantly a few inches from me almost like it was riding around on my shoulder like a pirate’s parrot.  Arrrgh!

I’ve always lived in a northern state so I had once marveled at those in warmer climates that could wear long sleeves and coverings in the extreme heat. Now I know it is to stop the sun from boring into your skin. Hats, sunglasses, and umbrellas once a fashion accessory are now considered survival gear. August is the new January where we hunkered down to wait out the extreme temperatures. My high heat bills are replaced with high electric bills to support our two air conditioning units and sunscreen is as vital as my phone and keys to grab before heading out the door.

Psalm 121:5 says “The Lord himself watches over you! The Lord stands beside you as a protective shade. The sun will not hurt you by day.” 

This verse has new context thanks to my new address. Shade can make a difference of 10-15  degrees. It protects from burns, over heating and melting. So if you are feeling like what the Southern folk call a “hot mess” perhaps you need to retreat to the shade of Christ’s grace and love.

Equip yourself with prayer and the scriptures like you would sunscreen and hats. Find relief with godly friends, worship music, or christian media. Escape the penetrating and damaging rays of this world and rest in the protective cool shade of God’s presence. This verse promises that whoever seeks refuge in Jesus will certainly be made in the shade!

Back-to-Back

I had arrived at the mall an hour earlier than the shoe store actually opened. Fortunately there was a play land so I settled in to let the kids play and pass the hour. I made eye contact and exchanged a smile with another mom a few times before she moved closer to engage in small talk. I had recently moved to the area and was lonely. She had recently became a stay-at-home mom and was lonely. We hesitantly exchanged emails. I feared I was coming across desperate and she worried she seemed like a stalker.

Ecclesiastes 4:12 “A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple braided cord is not easily broken.”

God promises to provide for our needs, even our loneliness. Individually we had been praying for a friend. We each needed someone to have our back as we battled the recent changes in our life. God moved us together in a weird but a wonderful “only-God” way so we knew our meeting was totally from Him.

When Jesus is that third person in a relationship it strengthens a friendship into a bond that is not easily broken even under the strain of time, distance and the daily challenges of life.

I shudder to think of the loss my pride could have caused me that day had I not had the faith to trust His leading to this new friend. Rachael and I joined a Bible Study together and had each other’s back. We became better wives, better moms and better women together.

So if you are feeling lonely and unraveled, start with prayer. Then keep your eyes open for His provision. No matter how unusual it looks, trust He will provide for your needs in that wonderful “only-God” way.

The Right Road

I was wrestling with those feelings of discouragement and hopelessness many movers encounter.  The lack of homes that met our expectations in Michigan and the amount of time our house was taking to sell back in Ohio was becoming a rocky road for me to travel emotionally. It was like the red traffic light that never seemed like it would turn green and let me go.

This verse became my prayer: Psalm 25:4 “Show me the path where I should walk, O Lord; point out the right road for me to follow.”

I wrote in the margins of my Bible (for us to live on) after RIGHT ROAD. 

One day as the realtor and I were house hunting, I turned a road too soon but I continued on because it looked like it might cut through. This was before my cell phone had GPS mapping so I was still reliant on my Garmin to navigate. All the way down the road I was pestered by “Recalculating…Make a U-Turn When Possible“. The road did dead end but God still had navigated me on to the right road. There was a house for sale that I had overlooked on my internet searches. While Garmin insisted I make an U-Turn God seemed to say “You Have Arrived at Your Destination“.

So often, especially when we are exploring new territory in our life, we worry that we took a wrong turn and immediately try to get turned back around to familiar roads. We feel safer going the way the world directs us listening first to well-meaning friend’s advice or self-help books instead of trusting God’s direction and following HIS WAY.

Jesus said, “I am THE WAY, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” in John 14:6. When we realize Jesus is the way we are free to travel any road in life without fear and with a sense of adventure. No road hazard can trip up our trip with Him.

WHEN YOU ARE OVERWHELMED ALONG THE WAY: 

Isaiah 43:2 When you pass through the waters,
    I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
    they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
    you will not be burned;
    the flames will not set you ablaze.

WHEN THE ROAD SEEMS TO DEAD END:

John 11:25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die;

WHEN THE ROAD SEEMS TO NARROW & HARD AND YOU WANT THE EASY ROUTE:

Matthew 7:13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

WHEN THE ROAD SEEMS UNDER CONSTRUCTION:

Isaiah 40: 3 A voice of one calling:
“In the wilderness prepare
    the way for the Lord;
make straight in the desert
    a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be raised up,
    every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
    the rugged places a plain.

WHEN THE ROAD HAS BEEN LONG AND TIRING:

Psalm 23:2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
    he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
    for his name’s sake.

So whatever the road hazards, I try not to see them as obstacles but opportunity for Jesus to grow my faith and show me He is THE WAY. He has the power to save, overcome and restore so I can take any road He leads me down. I don’t want to miss out on the HOME God intends for me, a life abundant and full with Him, following Jesus all the WAY!

Which Switch Is Which?

It is like an aggrevating game show when you first move into a new home. You can almost hear the cheesy voice through the sparkling teeth of the show’s host Will B. Movin say, “Let’s play…WHICH SWITCH IS WHHHIIIIIICH?”

How can such little switch flip me out so easily? Power switches can blow my fuse as I fumble in the dark for one or repeatedly reach to the left upon entering a room instead of the right. My temper lights up as I click all four switches on a plate attempting to turn a certain light on. I can hear Will B. Movin in my head, “Is it behind Switch #1, #2, #3, ooor #4?…..Oh, I’m sorry the correct answer is the switch on the other side of the room. Better luck next time!” UGH!

There is the switch that doesn’t seem to be wired to anything. The switch that you think is a light but turns out to be the garbage disposal causing you to jump 10 feet in the air. The 30 switches left on by your kids that makes you run frantically around as if you were in the final round of your crazy gameshow trying to get all the lights off in time to make it to your appointment before the buzzer determines you’re late…again.

Switches in a new home can make me dim with despair as they only seem to remind me that my life in my new home is not yet connected. But desperation also reminds me for my need of a Savior.

Jesus says “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12

So before the muscle memory develops and reaching for the correct switch becomes second nature spend a moment examining if you are plugged into God and His word, the Bible. Seek Him, like you seek the correct light switch and thank Him when he shows you the way like a bulb illuminates a dark room. Ponder if He has some things to switch up in your life, agenda or attitude.

It is important to stay connected to the source for peace, purpose and life, especially when you move. There are lots of things that will drain your energy but only Jesus has the power to recharge, renew, restore and redeem you as needed. He is the light of the world, if you aren’t plugged in, won’t you consider the switch?

Danger

It is said that if the South is the “Bible Belt” then Texas is the buckle. I think this holds true because of the unreasonable amount of dangerous things that exist here. Venomous snakes, scorpions and poisonous spiders, everyone seems to be packing heat, and even the weather wants you dead by means of tornado, hail or sun scorch. I have prayed for safety in these last 6 months more than I ever have in my previous 36 years!

I have a new paranoia about me, I am always on alert and a bit jumpy even in my own home. My daughter has already stepped on a snake and had another fall out of a tree directly in front of her. When I go running on the roads, everything looks like a snake and my jog turns more into a high intensity cross fit routine jumping and dodging every stick, shadow and road debris. (see feature image of the 2 headed snake that almost strangled me on the road the other day.)

I’ve tried to turn these new treats to my homeland security to prayer instead of panic. To believe God’s commands to not fear and promises to be my protector and provider. Yet the Bible also teaches to take precautions and be prudent about dangers to avoid payment of the penalty for of potential consequences.

However the real dangers from our recent move to Texas do not actually slither, bite or blow. My real enemy right now is filling the voids with things other than Jesus. Moving creates a lot of holes in your schedule, heart and head. Jealousy, vanity, insecurity, laziness, complacency, and resentment give way to over eating, over spending, yelling at my kids, escaping with a drink, scrolling social media instead of personal interaction.

The prudent see danger and take refuge,
    but the simple keep going and pay the penalty. Proverbs 22:3

One of the prudent precautions you do in Texas is “shake out your boots”. Something may have crawled in and everyday you have to check your shoes. A friend confirmed this with a story of a huge tree frog in her boot one day. It was startling enough to shake him out but to have squished him with her foot was heart attack potential!

I am choosing to “shake out my boots” everyday with continual prayer. To shake out those insecurities by reminding myself of God’s love for me. To shake out that need to be in control and remind myself His way is the best way. And to stop “shaking in my boots” because God is my protector and provider trusting that any pain that comes my way has purpose.

What can you ask God to help you shake out of your life today in order to prevent a dangerous situation for your physical, emotional or spiritual well being? 

Delight

“The Lord your God will delight in you if you obey his voice and keep the commands and laws written in this Book of the Law, and if you turn to the Lord your God will all your heart and soul.” Deuteronomy 30:10

When I read that this morning my first thought was how far I feel from delightful, obedient, perfect and wholehearted.  I feel more like the rotten banana I discovered at the bottom of the fruit bowl.

But the God of Restoration reminded me as I began the baking process that nothing is beyond His use despite its appearance. A rotten banana is not delicious on its own but when surrendered to a baker it can become a delightful treat.

Because Jesus was obedient, perfect and wholehearted so can I. His Holy Spirit helps me:

  • Be obedient. I must be willing to open myself up and follow His recipe.
  • Be perfect. I must be willing to be mashed, mixed and changed for the roles and responsibilities that I am created perfectly for.
  • Be wholehearted. I must be willing to loose my rotten identity to becoming a part of the greater whole. I must be all-in so I can be nourishment and flavor for the hungry.

Do not be discouraged in your walk with God no matter how rotten you may feel. You are the Baker’s Delight!

Building on a Solid Foundation

When we moved to Texas in March 2015 it was the beginning of a record breaking spring for rain fall. I could go on and on about the weather because it seriously went on and on day after day. I had expected sun and heat and got rain and mud. Rejoicing over drought relief quickly turned to flood damage panic for the state. The creek in our backyard showed me what a true flash flood looked like swelling from a gentle shallow flow to a rage. Tornado warnings, hail, and torrent rains were as common as cornbread in Texas.

This biblical passage came to new life after surviving the Texas spring weather.

Matthew 7:24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” 

The key to surviving the storm is having a solid foundation.

Our realtor raised red flags over several homes based on poor gradation. I thought she was being over cautious. None of the houses have basements here and its hot most of the time, how big of a deal could rain be? But now I understand how the combination of the clay soil with the intensity of a storm can make for flash flood conditions right out your front door and threaten your home.

Understanding the condition of your foundation is crucial when house hunting. In the northern midwest we had basements but dealt with moisture. In Texas there are no basements but you have to water your foundation to prevent buckling from the hot and dry clay. My husband was like the wise man in the parable always looking for structural integrity. I live in the fool camp ignoring the bones of a house for the charm and superficial features.

Jesus needs to be the foundation and core that we build our lives on. If Jesus is not our Lord and Savior than the lives we build are like the fool building in the sand. A fool cares more about the exterior charms or relies on other support systems. Many people make the mistake of just dedicating a room in their life to Jesus and not making him the solid foundation of their life.

Foundational issues are not easily seen but are discovered by warning signs like sticky doors or a crack in the wall. These are secondary issues to the primary problem, the foundation is off.  The sooner you identify potential problems the easier it is to fix them. When you feel like your going to crack in life or you feel stuck you may need some maintenance. Return to Jesus, and make sure you are in line with Him, listen to his teaching through His word, the Bible, and obey by applying it to your life. 

When you move it can feel like life is crumbling around you. Jesus has used my moving in my life to shake down some of the superficial additions I keep erecting in my life. He gently reestablishes His position of cornerstone and rebuilds according to His blueprint for my life.

When things break or go wrong in a house it is frustrating but a foundational issue can be devastating. Do a home inspection today.

  • Is Jesus your life’s foundation as your personal Lord and Savior?
  • Are there additions to your life that you are building outside God’s blueprint for your life?
  • Are there any cracks in your life indicating a bigger issue at your foundation?
  • Can you thank Him for His security in the storms of your life?

would you like to get well?

John 5 tells an odd healing story. A sick guy hangs out by what he thinks is the solution to his problem, a healing pool, but day after day fails to have the help and ability to reach his goal. Jesus, the Creator and Healer, walks through crowds of sick people to this particular man and asks the question everyone in that crowd is after,

“would you like to get well?”

Duh! It says this guy was sick for 38 years. The very thing he had been hoping for, waiting for, trying for, crying for, and dreaming of was to be well. Jesus asked a simple yes or no question, and received a list of good excuses.

Deep down inside I love a good excuse. When I ran late to work and hit a patch of bad traffic, phew, now I have a good excuse for my boss. It’s raining so I can’t go running. I’m sick so I have to cancel.

When you are moving homes it becomes a good excuse to stop eating well, exercising, and it gets us out of commitments. It justifies being frazzled, forgetful and overwhelmed. It’s why you are lonely, angry, and resentful.

But the danger in this story isn’t in making excuses but clinging to excuses. We must admit to Jesus we can’t heal ourselves and that we need His power to stand up, pick up and move on. The danger was in choice the man faced, that we all face. Would he obey Jesus or cling to his excuses?

But it is hard to change, even when you want to be well. I want new friends but it is easier to stay on my mat and scroll the FB feed to see what my old friends are up to. I want to get up early and have quiet time with God, I know that will make me well, but it is easier to stay on my mat and snooze another hour. And I want to be settled in my new home but if I finish unpacking the boxes, then I don’t have the excuse that I am still moving in and I love a good excuse.

Jesus is invitational not forceful. He asks to make sure we really want to and are ready to change. Jesus wants to change our attitudes not our circumstances. Jesus wants to change our hearts from broken to healed, change our resentment to grace, and change our selfishness to loving others. He changes our focus from the healing to himself, the Healer. He listens to our excuses yet still graciously empowers us to get up, pick up our responsibilities and move on.

What has you stuck in life? What hopes and dreams seem out of reach? Have you encountered Jesus lately? His invitation stands, “would you like to get well?” The solution to your problems isn’t other people or different circumstances or better resources. Jesus is the Healer. If you believe in Jesus as your Lord and Savior than you are healed. I don’t know if the man felt his healing, saw a physical difference or just had to have faith enough to get up to see if it worked by taking one small step at a time.

The irony of this story is that after his miraculous healing he doesn’t skip off into the sunset, he walks into a bigger problem. He encounters some Jewish leaders who accuse him of working on the Sabbath, an offense punishable by death (See Numbers 15: 32-36). The man reverts right back to excuses, blaming Jesus for telling him to carry his mat. How quickly we can revert to our excuses.

Jesus catches back up with the man and encourages him to stop sinning. What sin is Jesus talking about? He had been invalid for 38 years, he couldn’t have been up to anything too devious. He wouldn’t have corrected him for carrying his mat like the people were trying to accuse him. Jesus was addressing his heart attitude. To stop relying on excuses in life and start relying on Jesus instead. Jesus is Healer, would you like to get well?”

Loss

2 Corinthians 1:3-4 says “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” 

We lost our fish in the move. He endured 1100 miles in a large mason jar and even temporarily survived an accidental drainage of his water while we were stopped to eat. But  a few days in the stress finally took him. I worried for my daughter but marveled at her faith when she simply prayed through tears that God knows what he is doing because He is good and has a purpose for everything, even Googlys death. Loss from a good and loving God is not a logical equation. But her faith in her loss comforted me as I continue to process and grieve the losses with our recent move to Texas. 

I just had a friend apologize for not empathizing more about my move. She is in a similar stage of life and was able to sympathize with our move and was always willing and able to help meet my practical needs in the process. But it wasn’t until this week when her husband accepted a new job 2 hours down the road was she able to truly relate. Moving is a loss. Loss of comfort, order, identity, and relationships. Even if you have hope and are looking forward to the new additions a move can bring you still have to deal with the losses and subtraction. I think God subtracts things from our lives so all that is left is Him. But then he uses our losses to add comfort to others lives and point them to the saving equation that Christ lost it all that we might gain. We may have lost a fish but I gained a glimpse of the trust that is being added to my daughters faith in a good and purposeful God.