Is Your Church a Family or a Building?

A church is more than a building.  A synonym for church should be family.  I am soooo incredibly thankful for my church family.  Last weekend we witnessed a piece of heaven descending and it appeared in unlikely looking packages.  Our church hosted a family in-town retreat.  Every family that came participated in meaningful ways, knitting our hearts with chains of fellowship. Palpable love. From hugging babies to squeezing together doing dishes, we felt harmonized by heavenly chords.

retreat1We kicked off the weekend with a pig roast potluck.  Yum!  We also had brisket and hot dogs, so every tummy got full and we packed away enough pulled pork for another family dinner.  The brownie bake-off produced an 8-foot table laden with enough chocolate to make Hershey himself proud.  Haley’s lemon brownies disappeared in a hurry though, so a few non-chocolaholics may reside among us.

Ray and the Wise Guys kept everyone laughing throughretreat3 Holywood Squares.  Their creativity amazed me.  I mean, John the Baptist came with his head on a charger, for heaven’s sake!  What does that tell you?  Vanna White couldn’t be there, so she recommended her cousin Hannah Green.  We live among a lot of ingenious people!

Saturday we enjoyed the spoken word, cake decorating, and classes with personal study guides.  An afternoon virtue walk brought personal ministry.  Recreation proved so enjoyable it was hard to drag folks away from the game boards for pictures.  Colin brought a drone for an aerial picture of us all…what will people think of next?

retreat2The retreat topped off with dinner at the Mountain Top Cafe, a message from BJ, a hayride and campfire.  The artistic talent, musical offerings, spoken ministry and teamwork of the entire branch just put the icing on the cupcake.  Literally.  We all enjoyed Cupcake Mountain.retreat 4

A branch is a family, a really large extended family.  Being in close quarters with everyone participating, made us feel more like a family than ever.  Sure, we have our characters, but what family doesn’t?  We also have enough love to spill over and wash us with joy, so yeah, I love my church family!  A church isn’t a building.  It’s a family.

Is Your Vision 20/20?

Am I 20/20?  Nope, not even a little bit.  People…I don’t know, people like doctors, maybe people who know me, the DMV, all wonder why I never wear my glasses.  Am I myopic?  Yes.  But here’s the thing:  I can see cars, signs, people.  If I know where I’m going, they aren’t necessary.  Truthfully, I suffer from a chronic malady rendering eyeglasses insignificant.  I am afflicted with chipmunk cheeks.  My glasses fog up when it’s hot and they fog up when it’s cold, so really, what’s the point?

Much more important to me is developing 20/20 spiritual vision.  Recognizing the signs of the times.  Realizing good for being good and evil for being evil, and rightly discerning the importance of world events constitutes perfect vision for me.  It requires stepping back, back, back…and looking at the big picture.

foggy statueThe minutiae of life makes everything fuzzy when we fail to look at the big picture.  Big ideas like liberty, salvation, faith, who God is…you know, the things that span eternity…require clear vision to fully appreciate them.  A recent trip to NYC brought that home for me.  I’ve seen Lady Liberty in gorgeous sunshine and brisk cold weather.  This was my first time to see her shrouded in fog.  It reminded me of how hazy the big picture looks these days.

Perhaps people become spiritually myopic in life because their God is so small that their frame of reference diminishes to a pin prick of self-righteousness.  Their vision gets hazy and they miss the big picture.  I see God in bold brush strokes painting an elaborately choreographed picture of His return.  If you agree, join me for further discussions!

How to Avoid a Moldy Life

The choice is yours:  A moldy life or living instant in season.  The Bible offers this one short phrase as an injunction for all of life.  At first I wondered what it could possibly mean, but I learned its lesson the hard way.  I now base much of my life upon it…but what does that mean to you?

Nike says it succinctly: Just do it.  I add the now.

I like this wry explanation. “Someday is not a day of the week.”  Penned by Denise Brennan-Nelson, her tongue-in-cheek view of the antithesis makes me smile.

Defined by action, being instant in season requires immediacy.  Thinking of someone?  Call or pen a note.  Yes, I’m old school.  Our children text or email, but the result remains the same.  The lifeline you toss to another may be just that.  Solomon talked about it:  “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.”  A prayer into the universe gets directed to you and what? You procrastinate? You choose not to answer?  Whose hope, whose life drowns because you chose to do it someday?  Lifelines save lives and heal hearts, as I’ve learned so poignantly these last few months.  Instead, be instant in season.

We once lived in an over-sized garage. We never redecorated or made it our own because, of course, it was just temporary.  Why pour money into something we’d be leaving behind?  Four years later it looked exactly the same as when we moved in, and I learned my lesson.  Make your life your own today.  Live in the now. Embrace the tangible and make it real.

The basis of living in season is falling in love with your life.  Create a life beyond mere existence, a life of passion.  Yes, goals may be long term, but actionable steps make the promise real today, not tomorrow.  Distilled down into the nitty-gritty, it requires taking responsibility for your hopes and your dreams, being the architect of your own future.

neverWhat happens when we fail to live our lives instant and in season?  Ever have to clean moldy food out of the refrigerator?  Your hopes and dreams become diseased and unhealthy when harbored past a designated shelf life.  Turned in upon themselves, you create your own desert of depression.  The cure?  Toss out the old and dream up some new.  My planner for 2018 reminds me of a favorite C.S. Lewis quote: “You are never too old to set another goal or dream another dream.”  I look at it and read it several times a day.  Yes, I believe that.  With all my heart.

When Bitter is more than Sweet

It’s a bittersweet day at the Rhoads house.  After 8 years of having Alma’s family closer than/better than neighbors, they move into town today.  Of course we support their decision and wish the best for them.  At the same time, I’ve been crying for days now.  It’s like losing Alma all over again.

How do we deal with these times of bitter change that don’t feel sweet at all?  I ask because boomers face more and more difficult changes as they age.  Knowing we traverse an expected transition does little to ease the angst, however.  Surely something moves the sweet into the bitter?  I mean, I’d love a sweetbitter experience over a bittersweet any day of the week.

So what helps?

  • Of course, counting blessings tops the list.  I am grateful we enjoyed so much time with these precious ones.  And hopefully out of sight doesn’t mean we’ll be out of their lives!
  • Crying helps.  Wait! What?  Yes, it’s okay to grieve loss.  I feel Alma very close these days.
  • Self-indulgence is permitted.  One day I have got to give up sugar again, but I still comfort myself with little treats.
  • Find new interests.  We’re working on that.  Easier said than done, because while we are a pair, we are still two very different people.  Writing helps me a lot.
  • Figure out how to survive without help.  Really?  Alma did 90% of the upkeep, and we see no viable solution here.

So, three out of five isn’t bad, is it?  The only problem is that we’ve been mired at this stage for months now.  How long do these transitions last?  Is there ever really a cure for a broken heart, broken dream, broken life?  We wear smiles.  We stay busy.  I write a lot.  But underneath the veneer little changes.  The bitter still outweighs the sweet, and this day more than most.

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Flag Down

flag downThe midterm elections lie inches away in my calendar timeline and I, for one, cannot wait. The cacophony of ads every time I turn around hurts my ears. He said, she said…and precious little corroboration for anyone’s claims. The vitriolic nature of discourse dim my hope for our nation. I fear it will soon be flag down, for good.

Now I’m not a political pundit.  Trust me on that.  Still, I think two simple words shade my voting tendencies.  I think two simple words will determine the outcome of this election for many of us.

Kavanaugh.  No matter where you fell on the Kavanaugh spectrum, the Kavanaugh spectacle made me sick.  Literally.  Have we sunk so low as a nation that judicial confirmation hearings look like an episode of Jerry Springer rather than an august deliberation?  And none of the participants in the debacle seem bothered by that? I fear for my country.

Word two: Caravan.  A mob of Hondurans march to cross our border. Again. And our response is…what?  Do we welcome them with open arms or arms fully loaded?  I hear little discussion on how to meet and greet these folks, but this only serves to highlight the tension surrounding border control.  Am I the only one who sees a problem here?  No matter where you stand on humanitarian immigration, I think we can all agree that should we accept thousands at a time we might as well switch our national language to Spanish. Habla espanol?

we the peopleI don’t know about all y’all, but I’m a two-word voter this election.  Kavanaugh.  Caravan.  You don’t have to sit on my side of the kitchen table to agree…these are two defining moments for our nation.  And our response to them will change the course of our nation. We the people better be figuring it out, because I don’t see a lot of answers coming out of either side of the aisle in DC.

Are You a Bible Wrecker?

bible 4I know people with pristine Bibles.  I am not one of them.  I am an inveterate Bible wrecker and it makes the Word of God come alive for me.  Worse yet for all you pristine Bible lovers, I plan on never mending my ways.

Of course I bean with underlining my favorite passages as a child. I then proceeded on to color coding.  I chose word topics and using colored pencils and highlighters, colored verses with or about those words.  That very soon led to personal indexing.bible 2

Threading ranks as my second favorite form of Bible wrecking.  I find a topic of study, and cross reference one verse to the next and so on throughout the Book.  I found I needed to add the starting and closing verses to the Bible’s concordance in the back to be sure I could find it at a moment’s notice.  Indexing is key for me, because nothing is more frustrating than knowing I have a scripture somewhere in a book of 66 books.  I started running out of space for indexing, and had to get creative.

bible-1-55894952-1539785010836.jpgThen I started adding quotes and reference material by way of inserts.  I began with typing them onto thin tracing paper, but with the advent of computers, quickly resorted to using regular copier papaer.  I learned the hard way not to use rubber cement as a medium for insertion.  It eventually dries out and the insert becomes a nuisance.  Worse, it discolors the margin as it dries.  I now favor a high quality paper crafting glue.bible-5.jpg

I finally starting adding Washi tape to highlight books since my Bible had no tabs.  Word of warning: Don’t wait to do this.  It’s hard to cover over notes in the margin.  Since my Bible is starting to fall apart, my next new Bible will have Washi tape inserted at the start.

I do enjoy Bible journaling and art journaling, but I use other versions for that pleasure.  When Alma died I found it hard to hold thoughts in my head, and focusing on short phrases kept me in the Word.  I had a wide-margin version of the Bible I already used for that form of meditation and worship, and focused on that medium of study.  I am not an artist, but the whole point is that you don’t have to be.  It’s a form of personal meditation, and I am chagrined to share my simple artwork…but it illustrates the point.  Just do it and stop worrying about perfection.

Being a Bible wrecker offers me a creative outlet and a way to express what the Word means to me.  It also prepares me for sharing intentionally at a moment’s notice.  I hope it makes me a warrior for the Word, not to use it as a weapon, but as a way of zealously defending the King.  Last but not least, it seasons my life with all the benefits of a life with Christ.  Peace, joy, and strength keep me going through this season of loss and change.  The Rock and His Word never fail.  Yup.  I plan on being a Bible wrecker ’till the day I die.  #noregrets

 

Harbingers of Fall

fall medicareThe harbingers of fall change as we grow old…or do they…as my friend Tim would say.  As a child, fall signaled stomping through crunchy leaves littering the sidewalks.  Later I cherished quaking aspen and epic watercolor scenes painted against the skyline.  Now fall’s glory is reduced to the mountain of Medicare offers I receive as unsolicited mail. Sad harbingers of fall, indeed.

How many noble trees sacrificed their lives for this growing mound of rubbish I’m accumulating?  I feel guilty, though my only complicit act was one of aging.  Yet somehow they died because of me and I feel sad. I mean, do people think I’m reading all this?  Is someone being paid to create and send trash?  Let me just say this:  STOP! End the insanity already.

medicare 2First of all, Medicare should be simple enough for failing minds.  Any plan requiring a syllabus the size of a Sears catalog and a magnifying glass is too complicated.  Second, I can’t afford it.  Looking at the proposed monthly premium I need to fork over, I’d better be getting sick on a regular basis to justify the expense.  Third, get your act together.  Half of Congress acts like they are doing me a favor by making me choose a Medicare plan, and half acts like I’m taking food from their children’s mouths by being alive enough to use it.  Sheesh!  I hear a lot of talk about abolishing Medicare altogether.  Just push me over to the side of the road when I get sick and let me die already.  Oh wait.  That’s what old folks homes are for.

Responsible legislation has become an oxymoron in this day of partisanship and lobbying interests.  Mind you, I hold the AARP in this category as well.  I remember a time when all sides sat at the table and hashed things out to a reasonable compromise, but then, I’m almost 70.  I fear our children and grandchildren have few memories of accord in the political arena, and that, my friends, is the tragedy.  Without a living memory of what Congress was supposed to look like, our hope of a return to sanity grows dimmer every year.  What can I do about this mess?  My electoral mandate is a draining of the swamp.  Strict term limits.  There will always be opportunists and self interests, but limiting the amount of damage they do is a step in the right direction.  Will government die with inexperienced politicians?  Look at our constitutional inception with farmers, soldiers and inexperienced statesmen at the helm.  I think they did a pretty good job!

In the meantime, I plan on getting back to my roots.  I’m bobbing for apples, on a hunt for some good crunchy leaves, and going for long scenic drives.  I choose to set my own harbingers of fall, and I like mine better!

What is YOUR Comfort Margin?

I like spring of course. Who doesn’t? Milder temperatures and fresh balmy breezes never fail to intoxicate the senses. Now that’s comfort! But here’s the thing. It exists as a mere eyelash in time. Blink twice and suddenly it is H-O-T.  I’ve come to the uncomfortable conclusion that my comfort margin may not exist.

fall leaves
Cancelled this year. Sorry, folks!

Then it begins. I dream of fall. I yearn for fall. Will fall ever arrive? I conjure up memories of brisk air and a landscape contrived by a Master painter. Wait for it…Wait for it…When it finally arrives it seems all the more glorious for having waited a lifetime. Wait! What? Blink twice and it becomes another eyelash in time. Who forgot to pay the Power bill this year? My glorious fall suddenly devolved into a sodden mess and I’m a basket case.

After a great deal of annotated analysis (I am, after all, almost seventy) I finally realized my problem. My perfect number is 72. My comfort index is an eyelash, not a sturdy one-inch ribbon. I feel content at 71-73, which I’ve proven exists as a figment of the imagination. I need to cultivate a wider ribbon of comfort. That’s my goal this year. I want to add a degree on each end of the comfort index for a wider margin of comfort. What’s the measure of your comfort of index?

 

Flame the Fire of Joy

After a full week of algebra and schoolwork with pedal to the metal, we enjoyed an afternoon of bowling yesterday. Yes, we left mowing undone. We left a small mountain of wood unsplit and unstacked.  My work area held a manuscript for book three needing to be imagined and a blog post to write. Yes, we were out an out slugs. Instead, we chose to follow Grand Poppy’s sage advice: “We keep the fun,” and loved seeing the joy explode out of the hearts of our two scholars.

Children grow up. I know, it’s hard to believe since it happens one baby step at a time. When parents turn around and suddenly realize the children have grown up without them, a ginormous opportunity remains forever lost. Enjoy time with them now to avoid the bitter ashes of feeling cheated later.

Living in the moment doesn’t mean we work less. We work faster, with more focus.  We love intentionally. We create pockets of time from which we extract these memories to cache away as joy for another day. Here’s the thing: It doesn’t always happen at a bowling alley. Amazing, right? Share popcorn over a movie, snuggled in an afghan. Play a rousing game of Mexican trains and for goodness sake, let the silly train whistle drive you crazy. Bake some cookies. I’m full of these little ideas. I could go on all day long, but I think you got my drift already.

We country folk who heat with wood like to say it’s the only form of energy that heats you twice: once when you cut it and again when you burn it.  These romps from routine hold the same promise: warm the heart in play, and remember the warmth for years to come when the eagles have flown the nest. Best of all, the flames of joy burn clean with no ashes to sweep from the hearth. Boy, howdy! That’s a win/win for ya’! What price joy? I have no answer for that.

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Are You a NonSleeper? Read This

I think it’s time we review sleep, or the lack of thereof, once again.  I promised you further chapters in my ongoing dilemma of to sleep or not to sleep and how it might translate to your life.  The lack of sleep affects you and everyone around you.

Of course, the symptoms of sleeplessness live on your face: bloodshot eyes, raccoon circles that belie every pleasant expression.  It also seeps out in unintended crankiness when least expected.  I find those effects less disturbing than these: 33% of all people everywhere suffer from missed sleep.  That’s how many billion of us?  And are these the ones mucking up our Facebook news feeds with angry chatter?  All of these billions of us have a 13% higher mortality risk.  Yup, say goodbye now, because numbers never lie, lol.  Last but least, 77% of us cranky non-sleepers become addicted to medications.  Not okay.

Remedies abound.  To recap an earlier post: Yes, I take melatonin, employ a nightly ritual, practice slower breathing, wear lavender like it’s my new fashion accessory.  If a simple one-size-fits-all remedy existed, its billionaire owner would have just bought the island of Shangri La.  That said, I confess I am intrigued by claims that DoDow users fall asleep 2.5x faster.  My first thought: faster than what?  Their perceived prior insomniac versions of themselves?  After researching claims, I headed over to Amazon to see what the battery-driven gizmo runs.  A hefty $59.  Wowsers!!! Realizing its effectiveness relies on my ability to breathe on the command of a blinking light and that I am hopelessly uncoordinated, I am reluctant to drop that large a chunk of change.  I mean, I can’t even clap in rhythm to a song, so how am I ever to learn how to breathe like that?Middle aged woman in the night with insomnia

I really am hoping some friendly reader will try it out and personally let me know how it works.  Perhaps I need one of those ubiquitous GoFundMe accounts to finance its purchase.  Either way, gentle reader, take heart.  I am still one of you non-sleepers and I feel your pain.