Faithful Discovery

Faithful Discovery

“Your real, new self (which is Christ’s and also yours, and yours just because it is His) will not come as long as you are looking for it. It will come when you are looking for Him” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity) I believe we’ve all gone on a journey of self-discovery. Some of us look within, searching our hearts during times of trouble. At times we examine our life’s trajectory, attempting to see around corners, wondering where the road is taking us. We reflect on our career choices, our life-styles, our health. We examine our friendships and our relationships, either longing for more of both or less of each. We read countless self-help articles. We pour out our hearts while sitting comfortably on a stranger’s couch. We retreat to the woods, the beach, the lake for solitude. We seek, we search, we strive to discover our life’s purpose here on Earth.  While there is inherently nothing wrong with pondering and questioning, constant self-reflection drowns out God’s whispers. The chaos and busyness of searching blocks out that still small voice, a voice that longs to direct us. When we get caught up in discovering for ourselves that which God wishes to reveal to us, we miss the signs (or misread the signs) God has placed along each of our paths. Signs of direction. Signs of revelation. Signs of explanation. Signs of interpretation. Signs of truth. To walk with God is to deny ourselves. This precept flies in the face of the world’s demands to self-seek, self-please, and self-rely. It’s when we relinquish control and allow God to lead that the need to search ceases. We walk in trust and faith, humbling ourselves and allowing our God to reveal His plan for each of our lives in His time and in His way. It’s when we stop the exhausting exertion of clearing a way for ourselves that we discover the unseen paths which God has already designed for us. As long as we’re looking down, toiling and tilling a road wrought with stones and debris, we fail to look up. Heads down, we push that shovel right on by a beautifully smooth path. When C.S. Lewis wisely says the discovery of our new selves, our true selves, comes while searching for God, he ultimately speaks of faith. True faith is having trust in the things we can’t see. God’s directional signs don’t always reveal the answers to our “why’s?” Why didn’t I get that job? Why did I lose the one I love? Why have I not found the one? Why have I had so many trials? Why is my life so difficult? No, we aren’t promised a clear explanation for the turns, bumps, and dead ends we encounter on our life’s path, but we are promised a faithful, constant companion along the way. A companion whose love for us lead Him to promise life-plans which are for our good, not for our harm. God’s plans promise a hope and a future. Searching for God, seeking to know His will, not our will, provides a type of discernment which is impossible when it’s all about us all of the time. I love Hebrews 4:12: “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” A walk of faith is the ultimate form of self-discovery. When we walk by faith, we discover all things are possible through Christ who strengthens us. We discover God’s ways are above our ways. We discover God is the source of endurance needed to run this race called life. We discover it’s not about our plans but His purpose. We discover rest when we’re weary. We discover peace of mind when we’re anxious.  We discover healing when we’re hurt. We discover the sacrificial love of our creator from whom we can never be separated. We discover grace and forgiveness and hope. When we let go, and let God, the signs which always marked our paths become visible. The weeds of self-reliance are removed, and we can see. We can see the person God always purposed us to be....

Faster, Faster

Faster, Faster

I’m standing rooted to a spot on my living room carpet.  My three year old daughter has demanded authoritatively that I not move.  Knowing too well the feisty aspects of her personality, I don’t dare disobey her.  Instead, I watch amused as she backs up slowly, keeping a cautious eye on my feet.  She makes her way a little farther and a little farther away from me. I know the distance is only temporary.  I know the routine.  In a moment she’ll sprint forward, a huge grin on her face, arms outstretched, ready to catapult into my waiting arms.  I’ll start to spin.  In between her squeals of delight, she’ll beg me to spin faster and faster.  And though my feet will comply, my heart will protest.  Each beat an echo of this mother’s wish: slower, slower.  Can’t we please go a little slower? As a child, I failed to understand one of my dad’s favorite phrases: time flies.  In an effort to turn the abstract into something concrete and understandable, my little mind often pictured a clock with wings, moving rapidly across the sky.  A literal interpretation of all things figurative, this is the truest expression of a child’s innocence.  But life happens, we grow up, and the literal lens through which we view our language and our world evolves.  It becomes dimensional. Metaphorical. Symbolic. There’s a quote by Elizabeth Stone which captures the experience of being a parent perfectly.  I loved it so much, I placed it in my son’s baby book.  It says, “Making the decision to have a child – it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body. ” The symbolism is clear.  Children steal our hearts from the moment they’re conceived.  Our love for our babies fills our hearts to the point of bursting.  Suddenly, we can’t imagine a life without them in it. The cruel irony, though, of having children exists in the realization that one day our babies will grow up.  One day they will become completely independent.  At some future time, they will forge their own paths, make their own way.  They will leave us. In fact, the very goal of parenting is to prepare our children for their flight from our nests.  We are working in that direction from the moment we bring them home.  We mark the important milestones in their baby books: first smiles, first words, first steps, first teeth, and more. From the beginning, we parent with the goal of creating self-sufficient individuals. Helping them to sleep in their own rooms.  Teaching them to feed themselves, go potty, and tie their shoes.  One day we’re holding them on our laps to go down the park’s slide, and the next we’re standing at the bottom encouraging them to slide down on their own. As adults, as parents, we’re completely aware of the literal interpretation of the expression “time flies.” We know time’s characteristics. We know it’s continuous.  We know it’s unstoppable. We know it’s finite. Yet, we often wish time had a pause button, a way to slow things down, even if it’s just for a little bit. Yes, I see now how time flies.  I see it every day. As my son takes his first steps into my waiting arms.  Time flies. As I tuck my daughter into her big-girl bed.  Time flies. As I wave back to my son from his window-seat on the school bus.  Time flies. As my daughter enters her preschool class without looking back to me.  Time flies. As my son and daughter swim on their own.  Time flies. As more birthday candles are added.  Time flies. As play time with me is replaced by play time with friends.  Time flies. My daughter has reached her starting spot. She positions herself, and looks up expectantly to my face. With a Ready, Set, Go, she’s on her way. I bend forward, open my arms to her, and smile that big, open-mouthed-mama-smile reserved for moments just like this. She leaps into my arms and wraps her legs firmly around my waist.  Once her tiny arms are securely around my neck, I start to spin.  She throws her head back and squeals in delight. Blonde hair flying, hands squeezing tighter, she’s holding on. Deep down, I know I’m the one holding on the tightest.  We’re both laughing as she begs me to go faster and faster. Knowing this moment is fleeting, I...

It’s in My Genes

It’s in My Genes

  I am the daughter of junkers.  Most are unfamiliar with the title “junker” because it exists in rural areas of the South, a term reserved for the dialects of the most country populations of southern Appalachia.  By definition, a “junker” is a German nobleman or aristocrat, esp. a member of the Prussian aristocracy (citation). My parents were famous; however, it certainly wasn’t due to a royal lineage. Their fame was gained strictly by their uncanny ability to spot a treasure in the midst of trash.  That’s the job of a junker: to single out a rare antique, collectible, or piece of pottery others have discarded or misappropriated. The search for these treasures took my two sisters and me into the tiny towns and backwoods of western North Carolina, the hollows of Tennessee, the boondocks of Georgia, the podunks of Kentucky, the whistle stops of West Virginia, and the confederate towns of Virginia. My dad’s fame for discovering china cabinets in barns, corner cupboards in sheds, hall trees in attics, and pie safes in chicken coops developed and thrived during these trips.  My mom’s talent showed in her ability to unearth a rare piece of pottery beneath piles of discarded housewares or recognize a valuable carving sitting on the crowded shelves of Goodwill. Her instinct combined with my dad’s knowledge made for an unbeatable pawn in the game of junking. Their teamwork earned them the trusted middle-man position for auctioneers, antique dealers, shop owners, and more.  Daddy and Mama found the goods, fixed some up if necessary, and turned an unbelievable profit on most of their finds. Their reputation as two of the best was earned by their skill, not through glamorized creations of the media like stars on Storage Wars, Pawn Stars, and American Pickers.  No, my parents were famous before the reality shows of today even existed.  Their stories and experiences outmatch any fabricated versions of those produced behind the scenes of Hollywood’s cameras. Their names, Tommy and Rea, treasures on the tongues of many.  Their lives, a legacy.  Their passion for the treasure hunt, innate and as ingrained on the DNA of my sisters and me as the genes which make each of us theirs. I am a junker.  My need to find the good amidst the ugly drives me in my daily routine.  My search for that hidden gem, buried beneath years of trash, consumes me, literally and figuratively.  You see, I cringe at the thought of paying full price for anything.  The only mall you’ll find me in is an antique mall.  I’ll choose a thrift store over a high-priced boutique any day of the week.  A flea market is my Macy’s; I am simply giddy as I park and make my way into the rows of dealers on an early Saturday morning.  Driving by a yard sale sign produces in me a compulsion to stop that is as hard to ignore as fixing an out of place object is for someone with OCD.  I can track down a consignment store on family vacations to the beach.  I know when the local Goodwill gets the best donations.  I am not above dumpster diving, much to the embarrassment of my husband, who often finds himself unwillingly involved in my search.  I simply love the promise of a bargain or good deal. My house is furnished by many a Craigslist find, with one of my hunts taking my husband begrudgingly into a dangerous part of Durham, NC to secure a beautiful, like-new, brown chaise lounge for a steal at $175.00.  My good friend loaned us her van so we could make the 40-minute drive to Fuquay Varina, where a lovely dining room suite awaited us.  A quick search for “bunk bed” under “baby + kids,” a drive to Chapel Hill, and my son’s new big-boy bed was riding home in the back of our neighbor’s pick-up truck.  A couple of years later, I combed through dozens of hits for “girl’s bed,” sent an email, made a phone call, and drove a few exits down I-40 where the seller helped me load a sweet little trundle bed into my own van for my daughter’s big-girl room.  My best find, a wooden play set with two swings, rings, slide, and climbing wall, required a U-Haul and some extra muscle to get it set up in our backyard.  Our house displays the rewards of my junkin’ labors. When I’m not virtual junkin’, I’m looking for live sales.  I love when I get the chance to attend an auction or an estate sale.  Unlike consignment stores, antique malls, and flea markets, there’s an element of...

Partners

Partners

  Hello again my sweet husband, my partner, my best friend.  You know, we’ve been using the term “partner” for so long, I stopped thinking about its meaning.  Lately, though, it’s been on my mind more and more.  As I reflect on a term we’ve used countless times in our relationship, I’m struck by all the unique ways we’ve come to define “partner” in our marriage.  We’ve added layers of substance to a term with a pretty simplistic meaning.  We’ve changed it to fit our very own love language. Partner, the person by my side on those long runs we’ve always enjoyed taking together.  I remember our very first run on a trail near each of our apartments.  It was the same trail I used to see you on when I’d take my dogs for a walk.  The memory of you running always stayed with me because it’s not often one sees a big, muscular man like you running so effortlessly.  Later, when we started dating, I shared those memories with you.  I wasn’t on your radar then; you had no memories of me and my two dogs. You ran alone, focused on your destination.  I walked alone, focused on my past, still healing from a deep hurt.  God wasn’t ready to bring us together just yet, but He began the work of bringing your world into mine and my world into yours.  My future husband, your future wife, passing each other, going opposite directions, feet apart, unaware God’s plan had been set into motion. Yes, there was a nostalgic element to that first run, for sure.  I remember I started strong, being used to running three to three and a half miles pretty easily.  You were used to five, so we compromised and went for four miles on that first run as a pair, as partners.  Eventually, we worked our way up to six.  At some point during one of our runs, you reached over and took my hand in yours and said, “I love you partner.”  I said, “I love you, too, partner,” and I held on to your hand for a little while. After that, it became our thing.  You take my hand at some point during every run, and we repeat those same words.  As we run, our hands joined together, our steps synchronized, we are one.  We are partners. Partner, the person by my side during the ups and downs of life.  When we took our vows, we promised to love each other through better and through worse, through sickness and through health.  I believe the beauty of a true partnership exists in each person’s willingness to sometimes let the other person lead.  It’s like the tide.  It’s an ebb and flow.  It’s fluid and organic and free.  When I’m down, I relinquish the reigns for a while, with complete trust in where you’ll lead our family.  You step forward as I slow down and fall back a bit, taking refuge in your shadow. After Daddy’s cancer returned, you became both Mama and Daddy to our babies.  You gave me an invaluable gift:  time.  I didn’t have to think about anything; I didn’t have to do anything; you did it all.  While you kept our little family going, I was able to step away for a bit.  While you played outside with the kids, I sat by my Daddy’s bed and held his hand.  While you woke up in the middle of the night to feed our three month old baby, I kept the night vigil by my Daddy’s side.  While you made our little ones breakfast, lunch, and dinner, I kissed Daddy’s forehead and told him over and over how much I loved him.  While you bathed our babies and tucked them into bed, I watched my dad take his last breath on this side of Heaven.  When I returned to you, broken and weak, you held me up.  You supported me as I regained my strength.  And when I was ready, I stepped out of your shadow and back into the void by your side.  You put your arm around my shoulder, and we resumed our walk, side-by-side.  Partners again. Partner, the person kneeling by my side in prayer.  Partner, the person by my side raising our children. Partner, the person by my side cheering the loudest.  Partner, the person by my side helping to chase every dream. We are partners.  We share a path, a destination; we stride to the finish line together.  Hand-in-hand. Partners to the very end. ...

One Man’s Trash…

One Man’s Trash…

One Man’s Trash….  Chevrolet was the truck of preference for my dad.  He spoke highly of the brand’s reliability and took pride in owning an American-made vehicle. Pick-up trucks are the transportation of choice for the majority of men in the South, young and old.  After a hard rain, young men gather up their friends, head to a muddy, empty field, and spend the rest of the afternoon mud ridin’ in their pickups.  Others purchase a pickup and begin the tedious process of jackin’-it-up, monster-truck style.  Outdoor sportsmen enjoy the pick-up truck’s ability to transport huntin’ and fishin’ equipment, while some ramp up their ATV’s into the truck’s bed for easy transport. Daddy’s partiality for the pickup rested strictly in its ability to haul home a lot of junk after a long day of junkin’. After the excitement of door knockin’ (literally knocking on the doors of houses with potential junkin’ treasure) the reveal of the sought-after treasure was typically anticlimactic for me.  Picturing a beautiful, pottery-filled corner cupboard in the living room, I became confused when my dad and I were directed through the owner’s house and outside again to an old storage shed in the back yard.  Later, I learned this is a good sign for a junker.  If the desired pieces sit lovingly in the owner’s home, the price to negotiate a sale is higher.  If, however, the item has been scrapped to a storage shed, barn, or other off-site location, the bid for its purchase is usually much lower. Though my disorientation and disappointment increased when we arrived at the decrepit shed, my dad’s anticipation peaked.  Stepping inside the dimly lit unit, Daddy’s metamorphosis commenced.  I watched in wonder as his breathing increased, his eyes became sharp and focused, and his hand released its grip on mine, momentarily unaware of my presence.  Turning his head side-to-side, scanning the room, I instantly knew when he spotted the cupboard.  Like a dog on the scent of its quarry, my dad moved in a single direction, stepping around and over everything in his path, undeterred. When he arrived in front of the cupboard, he began the inspection process.  As he opened doors, checked hinges, noted markings, and tapped wood, he mentally tallied the defects on the discarded antique.  Broken hinge, lopsided door, rotting wood, each would bring a negotiated deduction off the asking price. Skillfully, though, Daddy also noted the makings of an antique collectible:  dovetailed drawers, crown and dental molding, square-headed nails, and dowels (all signs of hand craftsmanship).  Age:  musty smelling interior, sold-wood construction (poplar, walnut and maple to name a few), and distinctive tool marks.  Originality:  mismatched hardware and slightly separated corner seams.  Value:  a signature or other marking which could lead to the identification of the cupboard’s creator. Pokerfaced, hiding his excitement, Daddy highlighted all of the problems with the piece and made the man an offer.  With a quick nod and firm handshake, the man’s trash became our treasure. God is our creator; we are all children of an Almighty Father.  Just as the craftsman’s passion guided the tools which transformed a piece of wood into a beautiful cupboard, we are lovingly designed by God.  Isaiah sees the creation of man by God as a work of art.  “But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand” (Isaiah 64:8).  We are affectionately formed by the hands of God. Earlier in the book of Isaiah, God identifies himself as our creator when He commands, “Bring My sons from afar, and My daughters from the ends of the earth—Everyone whom I have created for My glory; I have formed him, yes, I have made him” (Isaiah 43: 6-7).  God glories in our existence as His sons and daughters, even if we become distanced from Him. It’s difficult to return to something we’ve neglected or abandoned.  I feared the hypocrisy of my decision to restart a relationship with God after I walked away from Him for a season. What would people say?  How would God perceive me? I know some of you feel doubtful.  You still question your worthiness.  You know the life you’ve led, the mistakes you’ve made, the unbelief you’ve harbored, and you fear God’s reaction.  Perhaps you’re already saved, but you’ve tempered your relationship with God.  You’re not going to church as often, you’ve stopped praying, you’ve often forgotten God in the chaos of your day.  Maybe you’re afraid you’re not living up to God’s expectations.  Fear is paralyzing. Yet fear should never prevent us from returning to God:  “But now thus...

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