Friday, August 28, 2015

My Birthday Celebration(s)

Today is my birthday. (08/27) YES!  I love birthday celebrations.  In fact, I just got off the phone with my dear friend, Nancy….an “old” college friend.  What a joy to reconnect, every year on our birthdays. 

Birthday celebrations were paramount in my family-of-origin, setting the pattern for me for the rest of my life.  And since this is one of those “banner” years (70, gasp!!!!), I have had a lot of time to perfect the practice of celebrating birthdays….not just mine but also those of friends and family.

There are so many different ways to acknowledge this special day... big parties and intimate gatherings.  I’ve received cards in the mail, gifts and many wonderful birthday greetings through social media.  

Today is just simply…. a lovely day.  Here in the U.P. (Upper Peninsula) the fall season begins to show itself about this time of August.  Today it’s pleasantly warm, and the leaves are just beginning to leave behind the greens of summer and drift toward the reds, yellows, browns and golds of fall.  We have our adorable 5 ½ year old grandson with us and we are looking at the world through his eyes.  What could be a more special way to “celebrate” this significant birthday? 

Grandpa (known as Cha-Cha, a name given to Charlie years ago by Henry’s mama) and Henry rode their bikes to our nearby park, which also borders on a bay that comes in from Lake Michigan.  This may be their last opportunity to enjoy the play equipment and do a little fishing.   Tonight we are taking him with us out to dinner at a local restaurant.  (His mom and dad have done a great job of teaching him manners and how to adapt to life with adults).

As fun as it is to engage in all of this celebratory stuff…..the “birthday” that has eternal significance is the moment I was born again into the family of God.

As an aside, that term “born again” was not a part of my vocabulary growing up.  It wasn’t something we learned about in the church of my youth.  But as an adult, as I began to have a hunger for God’s Truth, my Bible studies led me to the Truth of what “born again” actually means.

There are several places in the Bible where we can read about being “born again”: John 3:3 & 7 and 1 Peter 1:23, for example.  Jesus is very clear that “no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”

When we acknowledge our sin, understanding our sin will keep us separated from God (Romans 6:23); when we profess faith in Jesus Christ as being the only way to have a relationship with God (John 14:6); when we acknowledge our need for Jesus to save us from our sins (Romans 10:9); then we can have the assurance that we ARE, in fact, born again into God’s family (1 John 1:9).

All of us have a story to tell and it is part of the larger narrative of God.  We all have a physical birthday….mine was August 27, 1945.  A young couple (Helen and Clarence Moore) excitedly brought me into this world.  But to be born again into the family of God requires a personal choice.  Have you made that choice?  If not, or if you are not certain, just bring it to the Lord in prayer.  Whatever words you use, if your heart authentically seeks forgiveness and acceptance of Jesus as Savior, God will hear and you can have the assurance that you are His child….for eternity!

Sunday, August 23, 2015

My "Bucket List"

Many of us remember a movie released back in 2007 called, “The Bucket List”.  Just to refresh your  memory, it was about two men who shared a hospital room with plenty of time to think about what might happen next – and about how much of that was in their hands.  Basically the movie’s message was, it’s never too late to live life to the fullest.

I recently had one of those “bucket list” experiences!  We were having one of those fabulous, Upper Peninsula summer days….you know…where the sky was brilliant blue, the sun sparkled off the water on the bay, the breeze created ripples and the temperatures were perfect.  It was the kind of day that deserved to be celebrated!

In our community we have a vast, waterfront park that includes a public beach area. The beach itself is located on an island with a charming, old fashioned looking bridge making it all accessible.  Across from the beach/island is a marina with a variety of sailing and motor boats berthed in the many slips.

This year a new business was launched out of the beach house; we can now rent kayaks and paddle boards.  The beach/marina area is frequently dotted with people enjoying both of those but the paddle boards really intrigued me.  I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to stand upright on a flat board and use an oar to create movement around the harbor.

Earlier this summer I harbored a secret wish: before summer ended I wanted to try one of those paddle boards.  The little voice in me said, “Judy, you are getting ready to have one of those “enter-another-decade” birthdays!”  (You know, the one that no longer allows denial about the aging process.)  That voice was gaining strength and nearly won over the secret “bucket list” wish. 

I am enormously blessed to have wonderful friends, many of them younger in years than me.  My friend, Michelle, who also embraces life, and is ever ready to have an adventure, encouraged me to join her and teen family members to head to the beach and rent paddle boards.  After I paid the fee and donned my life jacket, that crazy little voice fought to be heard in my head.   “What are you doing?  Isn’t this really for younger people?”  Fortunately my sense of adventure and the encouragement of the others won out. WHAT FUN!!! 

Per the instructor’s tips, I started out on my knees.  Well, as physically active as I am, those knees of mine did not want to stay in that position very long.  (I suspect it has something to do with the age “issue”.)  So I sat on my behind and stretched my legs out.  All of us were laughing and hooting and cheering for each other.

After watching my friend get all the way up, I decided I had to make the big move!  Up I went!  Yes!  Me! Judy Vader!  The muscles in my legs quivered but I was up and standing!  What a great view of the world around me.  It was almost like walking on water!

I believe God rejoices with us (maybe even smiles?) when we embrace those challenges and life adventures.  God tells us in His Word (Jer. 29:11) that He has good plans for us.  In the New Testament (I. Tim. 4:4) He tells us everything He created is good and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving. 

Challenges come in many different forms.  Sometimes they are fun and low risk (like my adventure on the paddle board).  At other times we may be plunging into a new job, starting a marriage or a family….something that feels more risky.  And at other times a challenge could even mean embracing and growing through illness, loss, or some type of adversity.  I have experienced all of those challenges.   Some of them terrified me, but I was determined to not let fear hold me back. 

What is on your bucket list?  Is God calling you to step out in faith? Maybe you have had something thrust upon you, something hard that you would never have chosen. Do you think God is surprised? 

I want to leave this life with a body that is worn out from embracing ALL God has for me!  Every hurt, every sorrow, every pain, every joy and every life experience has the potential of drawing me closer to my Savior and growing me into the woman He wants me to be.  I want my “bucket list” to reflect the adventures God has planned for me.  So…I wonder, what’s next?

Monday, August 17, 2015

A New Look at "old" Scenery

Summer is such a special time in my part of the country (can you tell by the focus of my recent blog posts?) and today brought yet another new appreciation for “life in the U.P.”  I don’t think I could ever get bored with temperatures in the 80’s (much cooler at night), lake breezes and sparkling Lake Michigan water. 

However, if I am truthful, the bitter north winds in March and snow that won’t go away in April probably do enhance my appreciation for summer.

My hubby and I set out on our long (22 mile) bike ride.  We have a favorite route that takes us to the edge of our town in 5 minutes and then we are soon riding through the countryside.  This route takes us initially away from the lake and then back to it.  It also offers a wonderful menu of beautiful sights: farms, rivers, occasional wildlife and winding roads with gentle hills.

But today….something different happened.  I realized how much I tend to focus on some of the same things when we ride this route. Certain houses, signs, structures, rivers and the lake tend to catch my attention every time.

On the first leg of our ride, I suddenly became aware of a unique sign written on a large rock that named a family home.  Then, as I was riding by, I noticed a long driveway and a lovely big house at the far end of the driveway, back in the woods. I don’t know why this was so significant to me today except it spurred me on to pay more attention to things I don’t ever remember seeing before.  And a familiar route became even more interesting.

Could we look at our journey through God’s Word, like that?  I once had a lady say to me, “OK, I’ve read the whole Bible; now what?”  I was flabbergasted and was without an immediate response.  But when I gathered my wits about me (to divert a moment…does anyone actually know what “wits” are?), I realized how this dear lady had really missed the mark.

The more I read and study scripture, the richer God’s Word actually becomes.  He speaks to me in different ways, often through passages I have read dozens of times.  Like my ride today, when I go to God’s Word with an openness and freshness, when I really open my (spiritual) eyes, when I intentionally pray for the Holy Spirit to guide and teach me….I have an exciting new encounter with the God of the universe.

Proverbs 2 offers us insights about opening our ears and hearts to become wise.  Matthew 6, Jesus reminds us that the eye is the lamp of the body.  In Matthew 11:15 Jesus is teaching the crowds and says, “He who has ears let him hear.”  Psalm 34:8 tells us to “Taste and see that the LORD is good.”

There are many and multiple words in the entirety of scripture that refer to our senses.  I have a dear friend who is legally blind but oh how Joani can share God’s Word with me; you see, she listens to it on tape or via  Christian radio/TV throughout her day.  It is remarkable how a woman in her late 70’s has so many verses memorized. (How often do I hear those of us who are older complain about how difficult it is to memorize "at my age" ?!)  My friend immerses herself in the Word of God on a regular basis and she truly does have great wisdom (per Proverbs 2).

How about you?  Do you ride, walk or meander through life without really seeing the scenery God so wonderfully wants to share with you?  Are you caught up in a routine that you have allowed to dull your senses?  God wants us to enjoy His presence through the beauty He places on our paths.  Beauty isn’t limited to nature.  Beauty shows up in relationships, a lesson well taught, a tasty meal, a healing word.  I issue a challenge to you today: that you would use the gift of your senses.  Ask God for a fresh touch from Him and see what happens!


Sunday, August 9, 2015

Under the Apple Tree

We have a wonderful old apple tree in our back yard and it does produce ….most years.  I love watching it bloom, knowing those beautiful blossoms will eventually produce fruit.  The apples are not necessarily sweet for snacking but are great for making pies, applesauce and apple cider vinegar.

Last year Charlie gathered the ones from the ground to use as deer bait.  Then…..we learned about making our very own apple cider vinegar.  Since we have been moving toward making more healthy food choices, we are also producing some of our own food.  (We share a large garden with friends who have many acres in the country.)

When we discovered how easy it is to make apple cider vinegar, my husband went back to camp and brought those very same apples back home where we processed them until they turned to vinegar. Fun!

Now that you have the background, I have a great story to share with you:

A few years ago, around the time of year the apples were nearly at picking stage, with some falling to the ground, I went for a walk through the neighborhood with a friend.  During that walk we encountered our local newspaper delivery boy; he had his “apron/newspaper holder” on.

We struck up a conversation with this friendly and talkative young man. He was excited about the house "down the street" that had all the apples on the ground and he had picked some up. (I could see the shapes of those apples under the fabric of his newspaper apron!)  Apparently his mother told him to get them so she could fix him an apple pie!  Hmmm.

He was really cute and I hated to burst his bubble but I was pretty sure all those apples were not from the ground and I was very sure about the source of those apples!  So, very gently, I confirmed with him that those apples had come from my yard.  Very gently, I told him how much my husband loved his apples and the many things he did with them.

I LOVED this young man’s reaction!  He apologized all over the place, said he would be glad to give them back, etc.  What’s not to love about such a humble heart? Such a sweet, attitude with none of the defensiveness that can so easily rear its ugly head.   At this point I was ready to tell him to go back for more! Right?  I told him to keep the apples and enjoy his pie.  Very gently I suggested that next time he just come and ask us.

How many times have we, unknowingly and without malice, taken something we should have not taken?  Or misunderstood a situation and made a decision that didn’t have good results?  Yes, we DO sin, often intentionally, but it is also possible to hurt someone, make a poor judgement, render a decision….because, for whatever reason, we do not have enough information.

That sweet newspaper boy set the bar high when it comes to a humble heart and sweet attitude.  He didn’t give me a song and dance…or defensively adopt an “entitlement” attitude.  He realized he had taken something based on a poor understanding of the situation. 
I want to be like that!  I want to be able to ask for forgiveness that quickly, or rectify a situation with grace and a humble heart.

What is my reaction when someone else “intrudes” on my territory?  Perhaps I get my feelings hurt over something I perceive to be an insult.  Maybe someone "slights" or ignores me and I take it personally without knowing that person is having a really bad day.  It is so easy to jump to conclusions and make assumptions.  Instead of expecting the “bad”, how about we cut others some “slack”?

God’s Word, the Bible, instructs us to be kind, to be grace filled, to be compassionate and to encourage and lift others up. 
 Ephesians 4: 32 says, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”  Proverbs 18: 21 reminds us that the tongue has the power of life and death.

That young man, delivering newspapers (and picking up apples!), showed me the way of Jesus that day.  Sometimes our life lessons come in the most delightful, unexpected moments.



Sunday, August 2, 2015

Aging with Grace and Vigor

Birthdays seem to be a central theme in my life right now.  Birthdays that celebrate long lives…many years.  This weekend we attended a surprise birthday party for a lovely lady who turned one of those pivotal markers, 70.  Diana’s birthday was a joy to celebrate; she is a woman with godly character, is physically active and has a face that radiates the joy of knowing Jesus.

My husband also hit a significant marker in April and it was a few of his recent remarks and observations that inspired my thoughts today.  He just returned from a 10 day canoe trip in Canada, a journey he shared with 3 other men who have seen “many days”.  (We are heading to Canada for a few days in September to help one of them celebrate his 70th birthday.) These very active, but astute men, concluded this could be their last trip, at least one that demands they carry their canoes over rocks and camp in rough, wild places.  There are legitimate concerns about falls and accidents.

I have a “significant” birthday quickly approaching.  Since Charlie and I graduated in 1963 it would seem you could do the math! Obviously we have many friends moving into the “sunset” years, as people like to call them.

There are some phrases that people use that kind of roll off the tongue without much thought:

1.      When approached by someone they haven’t seen in some time and asked how they are doing, often we hear: “Yep, I’m still upright and breathing.”  (As though that were a glorious goal!)

2.     There is always the classic: “Yep, have my aches and pains but what can you expect at my age?”

3.     Another one is: “When you have your health, you have everything.”  I really don’t like that one; it infers that if you are unhealthy you are left with nothing, no life purpose, no value. 

4.     But my all-time favorite is:  “Well, it’s better than the alternative.  I could be 6 feet under.” (Really?  “Six feet under” means having the most important part of me in the company of Jesus!)

So what about this aging process?  Really, now that I am there, it is important to me to approach this season of life in a way that pleases God.  I am extremely thankful that, as I write this post, I am healthy. I enjoy much more energy than many my age.  I know how quickly that can change and I entertain an attitude of gratitude every day.  But even when the time comes that my health fails, I pray I can continue to see new ways I can serve God and love others, even within imposed limits.

The Bible gives us some clues about aging:  Abraham was 100 years old when Isaac was born and Sarah was 90.  (Must admit, I am really hoping God does not have anything like that in mind for us!!!)  Moses was 80 and his brother, Aaron was 83 when they took up leadership and went to speak to Pharaoh.  Get the picture?!  Those are only 2 of many examples of age being insignificant to God’s call on the lives of His servants.

Psalm 92: 12 says: “The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.”  Verse 14 says: “They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green, etc.”  I find it interesting that God attaches the idea of righteousness with flourishing and bearing fruit in old age.

One of my favorite sermons of all time was called “The Gap”.  Our pastor acknowledged that this side of heaven there will always be a gap between what we say we believe and how we behave. But the real question is:  is that gap growing wider or is it getting narrower?

I want to take whatever days I have left to serve God…. whenever…. wherever… in every situation… no matter what.  I am no longer looking at life stretching far out ahead of me.  But I also know God has great plans for me (Jeremiah 29:11), right up to the time I am freed from the bonds of this earth.

I have told my family to never let me get away with saying, “I am too old to change.  I am too old to learn ____.”  As Psalm 100 declares: “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!  Serve the Lord with gladness!  Come into his presence with singing!”  That’s what I intend to do as I wing my way into the next decade.