Noticing God in an Otherwise Ordinary Moment

 

The day sneaked up on the calendar without time to appropriately send my “I cannot attend because of…(fill in suitable excuse).”

It is a Bible study, which, offered in a friend’s home, will hopefully extinguish the bubble of self-created seclusion I desperately want removed.  I haven’t been part of a community in some time, and the longer I am without, the more isolated I feel, so I urge myself past excuses and onto the road to her home.  The entire drive battles against red lights and weariness, has me chanting a mantra similar to that of The Little Engine that Could,

“I think I can. I think I can. I think I can…”

I make it just on time and enter, adorned in camouflage-beige hues, just in case I need to escape unnoticed.  A couple of familiar faces notice my arrival, though, and engage me with pleasantries until it is time to make my way to a seat.  Feeling adrenaline fueling my feet to rise up and catapult toward the exit, I scope the possibility, but since the door to exit is also the entrance to the living area in which everyone sits, I see my possibilities go out the door.

So, I decide to settle in for the session.  I am grateful I do.  It is exactly what I need.  The topic is on miracles in the mundane.

Knowing I don’t need to actually participate and can be an observer only, my need to flee temporarily subsides.

I make it until the end, casually making my way toward the exit with smile-attached goodbye, and out the door I meander—and nearly fall down the steep driveway as the heels of my confidence-giving boots have me leaning too far forward.  Narrowly escaping embarrassment, I head to the local coffee establishment to write.

I can’t, though.  I am stuck in my vehicle.  The emotional toll of keeping the dang feelings under control has me uncomfortably out of control as the urge to purge by way of tear ducts has me backing up and heading home…

Until I see Bill’s car at the other end of the parking lot.  Hmmm.  I wonder what he is doing over here.

I have a gift, which I am sure Bill is not too happy about, as I notice things – good things, like that the barista today serving my coffee doesn’t have her glasses on, and I comment on how nice she looks.  She smiles and thanks me, surprised that I notice.

I think of myself as a “Noticer.”  I notice small details undetectable to most people’s awareness. So, seeing Bill in the parking lot driving in a different direction than normal has me interrogating him on his intentions, usually because he disappears on occasion for lunch interludes with burgers and foods outside our clean, cancer-fighting plan. So, I question him, “Did you go for sushi?”

“No.”

“Did you go somewhere else to eat?”

“No, just here.”

“Oh.”

I wonder all the same because his car should have entered from a different end of the parking lot if he came from home as he said he did.  But, I let it drop.  I don’t have the energy to question his food intentions.  So, I inform him of my emotional turmoil, and need to hopefully sleep off the sadness.

Imagine my surprise when I exit the bedroom nearly an hour later, and walk by his office.  He shouts out from behind closed doors that he bought me flowers.

“Oh, honey, how sweet.”

“Make sure you put them in water,” he instructs, which actually irks me as he feels the need to assist me to accomplish any and all tasks correctly.

Still, he knows my love for flowers, and I love him all the more for the arrangement. I especially like to take each individual flower and place it just so.  Blame it on Oprah; I watched an episode years ago on how to properly arrange a flower arrangement.

About four flowers in, I notice a small box.

My heart flutters.  It is my ring.  I’ve been waiting since early December for my wedding ring to arrive, and here it is. As an anniversary present, I had a new setting created for my diamonds.  It was supposed to arrive the next day on the calendar.  But, here it is, in the middle of the flowers.

He hid it there as a surprise.  Apparently, he went out on his lunch hour to pick it up – which explains his car’s positioning in the parking lot.

It is the jeweler, who has been in contact with me all along, who goes out of her way to call Bill—thinking maybe he would like to surprise his (emotionally unstable) wife with the ring.

A miracle in the mundane. 

You may wonder, “Josie, is this really a miracle?”  Well, I believe it is.  You see, God knows the landscape of my heavy heart, and I believe He prompted the jeweler to go out of her way to contact Bill, so he could go out of his way to deliver this sweet present to his wife, who needed to feel some tangible encouragement.

My mood elevated three sizes that day.

 Miraculous arrangement from God? 

Makes me wonder, how often do we notice His presence in our moments?  And, do we attribute these special moments as something He maneuvers behind the scenes?

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

The Other Side of Illness

 

She was a hero of faith, a sweet lady who spoke of her mundane faithfulness, on a blog site titled with the same name. Her name: Kara Tippetts. Just an ordinary wife and mother caught up in the ravages of cancer, her intensely painful story enveloped her followers in a certain intimacy that is often difficult to cultivate, even in person. Maybe the gravity of the situation drew us in without prejudice, comparison, or any other adverse reaction when one succeeds in an endeavor.

Her story, mixed with a myriad of emotions, left my heart raw and aware of the preciousness of life itself. And, I must say, she was faithful to the very end. Her final post absolutely wrecked me. Not solely because of her void from this world, though her absence certainly felt like a hole developed in my heart. No, it was more than that.

Her story wrecked me for the better.

A favorite quote of mine, which may make its way on my arm, via permanent ink, is by the founder of World Vision, Robert Pierce,

Let my heart be broken with the things that break the heart of God.

Since Bill was diagnosed, back in November, 2015, I’ve privately journaled the highs and lows of our journey– from my perspective. I’ve titled these reflections, ‘The Other Side of Illness.’

You see, the angle from which I meander through this hard time may be solely unique to me, yet still, I believe our stories have the ability to affect another if we allow them to be shared fully–for the better.

So, I’m sharing these writings from the earliest entries, to present ones. Some are deeply personal, as you’ll notice my heart limping along just to make it to the end of the day. While other entries may spark joy, and cause you to cultivate that same joy yourself.

And then, there are some crazy moments, ones you may or may not believe, when I believe God appears on the radar with a message of hope, direction, or just to show Himself near.

Brokenness is a weary ground with many treasures lying beneath its surface.

Hopefully, we can cultivate some treasures together.

Awestruck,

Josie

The Unspoken Rules of Disengagement

I saw an excellent movie the other night, titled, ‘A Monster Calls’.  I read this eclectic book of illustrations, intermixed with words, in under 48 hours.  Very few times does a movie’s quality compete with the writing, but this was an exception to the rule.

Basically, without a spoiler alert, it is a story of a boy and a monster and a mother with cancer. Amongst the dialog, wise words were spoken from mom to son about life.  One particular statement by the mom stood above all other words expressed, “life is always in the eyes.”

Yes, and even more so, may I suggest that there is more than just life tied to the eyes, and  that true, authentic connection occurs in this inaudible display of this particular sense?

I first learned of my avoidance of intimate connection at a Proverbs 31 Conference, in which I paid an exorbitant amount of money to receive instruction on my speaking abilities.  Overall, I did well.  My mentor gave me excellent marks on performance, appearance, voice inflection and such, but, she said that I diverted engagement with the audience by looking up when the topic transitioned at a pivotal point–the point when I entered the emotional portion of my message.

By doing so, I kept my composure.

But, by doing so, I disengaged my feelings.

Since Bill’s illness, I am acutely aware of my need to avoid.  Sometimes I divert engagement by switching to topics less intrusive, to keep the conversation on the surface, so the emotions stay safely under control.

Ot, I avoid community all together in favor of staying close to home.

I’ve noticed disengagement with others also.

A quick glance and smile my way, both while in mid stride, but no locked-in gaze to stop and initiate conversation.  I call it the ‘walk by’.  Similar to a drive-by, but without threat of personal injury.

Or, let’s say we are in a conversation, and I sense the atmosphere feels too close for comfort.  But instead taking heed to the internal warning, I start to share my hurt, and in doing so, the conversation takes a quick turn just out of the intimacy range.  Usually it is the cousin of a friend’s next door neighbor, who moved away three years ago to another country, who happened to have a vaguely similar struggle–oh wait, that was the Hallmark movie she now recalls from 2002.

She says, “Yes, the actress was going through the same thing, and I cried throughout the entire movie.”

Or, glib answers to fill in life’s hard terrain:

“It will be ok.”

“He will be okay.”

“You just need to have faith.”

The problem with pat dialog is it is devoid of intimacy.

I get it.  Sometimes closeness is like wearing wool on a warm day, in South Texas.  Intensely uncomfortable.

Still, how do we break through the disengagement ceiling, and be fully engaged? Even when intensely uncomfortable?

Maybe a hug.

A prayer.

Words like, “I’m sorry you are going through this.”

Or, “I don’t know what to say.”

Perhaps, “I’m here if you need a shoulder to snot on.”

Sometimes the hardest thing in the world is to acknowledge and address pain.

Today, as I walked into the coffee shop, I had two doors from which to choose, both with tables nearby occupied by people that I happened to know personally.  Both, I knew would involve conversation, which may not be good because my emotional wellbeing was near breaking point.

But, I moved forward on the one I knew was the more dangerous of the two.  The one which was likely to not allow me to disengage.

In doing so, I received eye contact.  Hugs. Words of comfort.  Encouragement. Even when I felt the need to exit, they continued to engage.

It was this depth of engagement that bypassed eye contact, and penetrated my hurting heart– with love.

To you, you know who you are, thank you for engaging me today.

 

Filling Up with Avoidance

Apparently, red wine therapy seems no longer as effective. It used to be a glass would nearly knock me off my feet if not sipped slowly over several hours. Now, I can take down two glasses in the same duration, and still stay somewhat composed.

Add to that, I’m up three pounds. Okay, three pounds in the last month. I’m actually up more like 13. Yes, a baker’s dozen. Not necessarily a big deal in the scheme of my current landscape of life, but, four weeks ago, the doctor prescribed me the miracle thyroid drug, and the scale should decrease, and not increase.

So, I’m going to take some John the Baptist prescriptive advice, and avoid alcohol for awhile.

So I will decrease, and no longer increase.

I’m quoting, paraphrased of course, a passage from John 3:30 when John says, “He must increase, but I must decrease,” which has more to do with John becoming less so God would become greater, and not necessarily by measures of alcohol, even though he did omit from alcoholic beverage…

Seriously, at times I feel overwhelmed, especially at night. And, to shut off the concerns of Bill’s cancer and the unsteady terrain ahead, sometimes it is best done by way of Cabernet at night, along with daytime avoidance techniques such as shopping, cleaning, running, etc.

None are necessarily bad on their own, but I feel this is an avoidance technique to turn off emotional turmoil, instead of taking hold with an even tighter grip to the only One who can calm me from within.

This could be an accountability piece for myself, but, it had me wondering all the same how often do we turn to something instead of someone, namely Jesus, to avoid heartache, pain and fear, instead of embracing His Presence with our upset?

A couple days ago I had my competing liquid beverage of choice, the cappuccino, with a friend. During our time together, I kept feeling the tear duct wanting to let go of restraint by way of tear betrayal.  But, I managed to keep them under wraps in favor of dry eyes.

Well, enough already.

Emotional avoidance is unhealthy.

It seems writing is the one release that’s helping me to deal head-on with my emotions. That, and this morning while running, when these thoughts were running faster still in my mind, I felt God’s nudge to share you.  Maybe, just maybe, I am not the only one out there struggling with emotional avoidance issues.

Anyway, enough for now. Love to you!

Awestruck by our Great God,
Josie

I’m Not a Cook, I’m Just a Critic

Bill made dinner the other night, which is quite common in our household as I try to avoid burners and ovens and such.  Most evenings consist of the most basic of ingredients, which include a version of a meat, starch, and veggie.

This night though, he decided to replicate a dish he saw from the show, ‘Chopped’. Now, he will tell you how much he does not enjoy this reality show centered on cooking and competition, but, he never seems to leave the room when I have the occasional control of the remote control.

If you are unfamiliar, each chef competes by cooking a meal from specific items inside in a basket. They do not know what these are beforehand; sometimes the ingredients are interesting. Sometimes they are plain gross.

The purpose is to create something exquisite to the tastebuds for the judges.

Easier said than done.

This particular night, one chef creates a delightful dish using kale. Yes, the leafy green weed with bitter aftertaste.

The chef amazed the judges with his digestive genius.

So, Bill decides to recreate this side dish, and eagerly awaits my reaction to his recreation:

First bite…

“You need to cook the kale less, not put in as much vinegar, add a little salt, oh, and don’t use so much garlic.”

“Other than that, it is good.”

Now, you may wonder, who are you to critically critique his cooking anyway?

Well, I do watch ‘Chopped’. I guess this makes me an expert of sorts. Maybe not as a chef, but more like one of the judges.

Seriously, they can take the best of dishes and chop away at them by nitpicking small details of the dish until it is less palatable. Like a plate that is not pretty enough, or maybe one discovers a bone in her Salmon (oh heaven forbid), or, the meat is undercooked.

The complaints vary from judge to judge.

And each chef responds to said complaints differently.  Some stand there and take it with a smile, while others pridefully defend their dishes. Then, there are those who slowly slump as their ego is chopped away of all confidence.

All from the critique of a food critic.

In all reality I have difficulty cooking with decent ingredients, so who am I to judge?

Maybe our inner critic need not to be so critical of others.

That, and it got me thinking–some of us have less-than-desirable items in our baskets to work with:

  • We were born in less-than-ideal surroundings.
  • We were raised in dysfunctional households.
  • We’ve been mistreated by those who were supposed to treat us well.
  • We’ve lost loved ones entirely too soon.
  • We’ve lost our innocence at the hand of another.
  • We have disabilities that hinder our abilities.

Since we don’t fully know what is inside a person, maybe we should be careful how we communicate.

There was a time, a long time ago, in a kitchen far away, this young wife thought a clove of garlic was the whole bulb, and proceeded to chop it up, and put the entire thing into my first attempt at Shepherd’s Pie.

And, this same hubby of mine ate every bite without a negative dissertation on the measurements of garlic. Albeit, he is Italian, and garlic is embedded in his DNA.

I am certain he had a bad case of bad breath. But, still.

How can we build up instead of chopping away at the core of a person’s being?

A wise man penned a verse years ago that has yet to lose its flavor:

Gracious words are like a honeycomb,sweetness to the soul and health to the body. Proverbs 16:24

Fear Threats

The summer between 7th and 8th grade, I received a call from someone who clearly knew me, yet, wanted to remain anonymous on her end.

I tethered my fingers tightly around the brown-tinged yellow cord, causing my indented fingers to turn white from loss of blood flow, as each word incrementally raised my pulse.

White was also my complexion, as all color left my my face from the fear of it all.  The person on the other end spent minutes, which felt like a lifetime, threatening my livelihood.  Maybe not promising to actually kill me, but promising to inflict bodily harm to me.  To this day, the remembrance of this episode still produces anxiety in my gut.

And because of her verbal assault, I remained out of sight, under the radar, for fear of an ambush; stripping the dog days of summer from all of its joy.

I think I came by fear naturally.  Not the kind caused by the girl who desired to inflict bodily harm, which seemed a reasonable response for an adolescent, but, the kind that sat under the radar of my skin, causing cortisol to rise in the innards at the slightest variance from calm.

Fear was a common companion in my childhood household.

It seems natural then for fear to catapult in my dad at the diagnosis of his cancer. Similar, yet subtly different, there is nothing the medical community can do to help him other than keep him comfortable.

Interestingly, this man, who has a higher fear threshold than some, seems at peace with  diagnosis, and future fate.   Actually, I’ve never witnessed such calm from him my entire lifetime.

Death seems to have changed this in him–for the better.

It appears he’s absorbing the extra time on earth, and not wasting it away in worry.  With one exception:  us. He chokes back tears as we converse on the phone, miles away. He worries about Bill and his future, he’s concerned about me and our girls.  He prays constantly for Bill’s physical healing above his own.

I go back in February to absorb more of his presence, his stories, the ones I may have heard a thousand times, and some I may not have known.

Fears.  We all have them in one area or another.

  • Fear of death keeps us from living today by worrying about tomorrow.
  • Fear of forgiveness has us holding out in hurt instead of forging toward forgiveness.
  • Fear of future failure keeps us standing still today in a safe bubble of confinement.
  • Fear of spiritual healing keeps one remaining a victim.

The capillaries of fear can branch out in unending directions, and if left in place, kill all livelihood of life.

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10

 

 

Obscurity Breach

 

“It’s been quiet lately, Lord.” Not a complaint, or a petition for intervention. More of an expressive sigh from heartache as of late. What I would do for something, anything from God, to know He is near.

A knock at the door hours later, indicated by the bellowing bark of Oscar the unruly Border, revealed a shift from bathroom surroundings to create rule to my unruly mane atop my scalp.

Really, I decide to go a shade lighter, and now my hair is the consistency of straw. ‘Fix it and forget about it’ has never been my motto so I toil in an effort to make it out the door in a timely manner without being late for my coffee meeting. Ok, coffee with a friend. When unemployed I need validation that the air I breathe is not exactly useless and I am a viable creature not just consuming air—so, yes, a meeting.

Anyway, Bill strolls in and says our neighbors are here and want to meet with us. I can’t walk out mid-hair disaster, so I tell him I’ll be right there, knowing these next minutes will steal the last remaining moments to fix the tresses.

This is the second time in hours when the doorbell rings to warn of neighborly intrusion. One hour before midnight of the New Year another guest arrives, with son in tow, to deliver sweet goodies when my mangy Maltipoo escapes at the crack of the door and attempts to attack poor boy with her toothless bite, startling him and mom and me as I attempt to bring her back, while simultaneously attempting to prevent a pajama malfunction, which would scar more than Gracie’s gingivitis gums.

Anyway, back to the moment.

“Tell them I will be right there.”

It has been quite a Day One of 2017 already with a visit to the med clinic.  I’m convinced the physician received a consultation from Google to diagnose the diagnosis I already received myself via Internet.

“Yes, it appears to be Shingles.” He says.

“Oh, thank you for your affirmation–and hefty bill.” I say to myself.

Apparently I am not handling stress as fluidly as I feel since these nasty craters all over my midsection indicate a disturbance just under the surface.

Anyway, back to the unexpected arrival from our sweet neighbors.  They took temporary residency next to us while their permanent residence is under construction up high on a hill with a hill country view. Still, nice friendly people to share space, with the exception of one small, unobstructed view into their living room from our back deck.

I stride in hoping my smile deflects the matted mess atop my head and heaviness underneath that wants me to hide away, as I attempt sincere elation at their unannounced presence.

“Oh, hi, how are you?” Wondering if I should say something before she steps into my infected space for a hug, or just allow it and hope for the best, and feel residual guilt later for not indulging evidence of the nastiness underneath the light layer of clothing; especially since her immune system is already compromised and this could be bad for her wellbeing.

“Wait, stay back. Don’t hug me– I have shingles.” She backs away mid-embrace.

They both give empathetic gestures, because honestly they’ve been through a cancer scare only over a year ago, but with a more encouraging remission report. Still, I know they know, you know?

So, she says with the most genuine expressive smile I’ve seen in ages that they have just the right medicine for us. I interrupt the prescribing to let them know I’ve received a prescription already, when she interrupts my interruption with the reason why they came– to offer us time away in Hawaii at one of their condo timeshares.

I turn away to fight off tears of shock and true elation, combined with a knowing that there is only ONE outside of my immediate realm who would know of my desire to go back to our dream destination.

Really God? I would have taken a text message from a stranger to feel Your nearness, but You give more than we can ask or imagine, now don’t You?

Interestingly enough, He chose to reveal His nearness through neighborly loved ones.

I think of the times as of late I’d rather confine my heartache then express it or allow others to feel it as well.  Usually with a smile. If I engage my pearly whites and say I’m ok, then you and I don’t need to feel uncomfortable and either divert eye contact or talk of others we know, just outside our immediate circle, with struggles we may care about but are not necessarily close enough to involve intense emotion.

So, I desire a small wall of obscurity to confine the contents within, yet, God knows I need intimacy with others.  Because, they hold the arms in which He desires to hold me in.

“Lord, breach the walls of my desired obscurity so I allow others in. “