An Offering Called Adoption

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Because my parents had four children in the span of five and a half years, I have really never known life without siblings.  I was number three of four and shared the middle child status with my brother Dave who is not quite two years my senior.  We did our share of fighting as kids but began our “thick as thieves” years when I was a freshman in high school; the year we shared a locker and a lunch table.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was during the high school years when I also unknowingly shared a girlfriend with him.

Annette and meI met Annette at church camp and we quickly became friends.  Annette is one of six children who lived with their parents on a farm far from grocery stores, gas stations and youth groups.  Ours, at forty minutes each way, was the closest.  Annette had a mom who always put the needs of her children before her own needs.  And when those needs were spiritual, she was unstoppable.  So, before long, the Tilmant kids were a part of our church and youth group.
Tilmant farm 2 Tilmant farm

Mom Tilmant wouldn’t think of not returning for Sunday evening church so, most Sundays, I was at the farm for the afternoon or Annette was at our house.  Somewhere along the line when we were sharing secrets about boys, Annette’s boy secrets became about my brother Dave.  Ewww.
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Those were the days I thought he stole my friend.  What I’ve come to realize is that their dating relationship and subsequent marriage was the best insurance I ever had for keeping Annette as my life-long friend.  Dave took my friend and gave me another sister in her place.  And I’ve been forever grateful.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne of Annette’s goals was to have her child bearing finished by her 30th birthday.  Child #3 was born in September of Annette’s 29th year and the family was complete.  But as the years passed, there were several periods of time when she did not feel complete.  In fact, at times the family felt incomplete for Annette.  But the decision had been made and, before long, they fell into complete rhythm as a family.
Merkis without AbbyThen as Nathan, Kristen and Philip grew into their teen and college years, Dave and Annette began entertaining the idea of foster parenting.  They took the classes, had the home inspections and, before long, had their first pre-school boy to foster.  They were hooked.  The whole family was hooked.

I have never been a foster parent.  I’ve only watched THEM foster parent.  And what I have learned from watching is that if you venture into the world of fostering, you had better leave your rose colored glasses behind.

It’s work.  It’s hard work.  It’s expensive.  Sure you get a stipend, but it nowhere near covers the expenses.  It’s not something you would ever do for the money.  At least not for more than one week.  It costs time too; lots and lots of time.  Time at the kitchen table catching up on years of school work never done.  Time at offices of counselors and dentists and doctors.  Time with siblings visits.  Time helping scarred and scared children learn to sleep in a new place; time that you don’t get to sleep in your old, familiar place.  Lots and lots of time.
foster parentAs an extended family we had fun with their calling.  It meant that we had young children at our holiday tables once again.  Once more, I was looking for trucks and dolls at Christmas.  Anticipation came with their every visit.

About six years ago, Dave and Annette had one elementary age girl.  She was high maintenance.  Very high maintenance.  Soon a call came asking if they would take two more girls – sisters.  Dave and Annette said yes because it’s just who they are.  Servants.  Givers.  Generous.  Lovers of children.  Christians.  For them, it was about introducing children to Jesus.  Giving them safe shelter, warm beds, full stomachs.  It was about BEING Jesus.  Hands and feet.  Praying parents.

Generous – it’s who they have become as a couple.  It’s their trademark.  And not because they have so much money.  It’s a place in their hearts.  And that’s were generous is supposed to reside.  The rich young ruler never understood that.  The money is what made him leave sad.  Had he given the money away?  Joy.  Contentment.  Servant.  Giver.  Generous.  Dave and Annette.

One of those two sisters was named Abigail.  Until Abby, the goodbyes required in fostering were difficult but not impossible.  Abby changed that.  She brought them back around to the buried question of whether their family was complete.  The answer?  It wasn’t.  But how do you choose to adopt one sister and not the other?  You don’t.  God takes care of those details in ways only He can.
Abby and Annette abby birthday Abby trick or treatabby foster days abby ear piercing Abby horseDave and AbbySo here they were.  Beginning adoption proceedings at just the time when their friends were celebrating empty nests.  Adoption proceedings in a messy, messy, messy system.  And that’s on a good day!  Adopting a fourteen year old girl – the exact age and gender that may most often be the answer to the question, “What do you think is the most difficult child to parent?”  Adopting when they themselves were becoming grandparents.
Abby dedication adoption day
And they did it with joy.  Pure joy with everyone in the family on board.  The love was (and is) undeniable.  Complete love both ways; them for Abby and Abby for them.

How?

Offering.  It became their offering.   Their gift.  Their grace.  And it was a gift Abby chose to receive.
givingThe best part is we all love Abby.  Grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews.  In her own charming way, she has completed us all.

It was God’s good plan for Abigail.  An Abigail for whom God had a plan before she even came to be.  An Abigail who even looks like her sister Kristen.
Kristen and AbbyAn Abigail who has painted a beautiful picture for our family of what adoption looks like.  Adoption.  God’s idea for us from the beginning of time.  For each one of us.  His good plan for you.  And for me.
Abby parent Dave Merki siblings


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When Burger King Comes to Church

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When Burger King is allowed to come to church we, in essence, proclaim:
burger kingAnd we’re in big trouble.

All the while, King Jesus is waiting to be invited.  He proclaims:
I am the wayAnd now we have a chance for our communities to be changed.

Which is it for you?
heavensWhich role do you play?  Is it your way or the highway?  Or are you one who blesses your church by allowing God to have His way?

Fasting May Be Old Fashioned But It Still Works

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During my sixth and seventh years of life our family lived in Glassboro, NJ. I can’t say I have a lot of memories of those years but among them are the woods behind our house that served as our playground; woods filled with poison ivy and a path that led to the sewage treatment plant, scientific experiments that included slugs and salt, the beautiful teenage girl that fascinated me when she used orange juice cans to curl her hair, mom giving piano lessons to Steve, the Sunday night dad and a couple of laymen staked out the dark church hoping to catch whomever was stealing the altar flowers every week and my introduction to fasting.
Glassboro woodsWednesday nights were called “Prayer and Fasting” and since our home was dubbed “the parsonage,” you can be sure we participated. I don’t recall mom and dad eating anything but, since there were four children between the ages of 4 and 9, some semblance of dinner had to be served.

Among my facebook friends there are many who would give a hearty “yes” to the question “Can I get a witness?” regarding the culinary skills of my mother. She could compete with any 5 star chef. Not only that, she has always been the master of creating fellowship memories around a table filled with incredible food.
feastBut my memory serves a very different story when it came to our Wednesday fasts. I remember long faces staring at bowls of soup and no homemade bread in sight. I also remember the night mom cut and fried an eggplant so that we thought we were getting the very rare treat of French fries. Suffice it to say that my brother Dave never did take well to food trickery and he is still bitter about this event in his life.
eating soupI don’t know if it was my early childhood experience or the fact that I’m one who can get busy on a project and simply forget to eat but, I have never been one to fast. Enter early November, 2013. Forty five years after the eggplant debacle. And God, as only God can, began speaking to my heart about a fast.
fastingMy heart had been growing increasingly heavy regarding a personal situation that was not resolving with me in charge.  Fancy that!  Because I skip meals by nature, God was asking me to fast sweets…through the holidays…and trust HIM to work out my concerns. So there I was, already with all of our decorations in storage and now facing the choice of obedience regarding the absence of cookies, cakes and cheesecakes. I love sweets. Even more, I love Christmas sweets.
DSC_0322You know what is so interesting? When I made the choice to obey, giving up the sweets was not even difficult. It was the obedience part that was most difficult – the first step. Then God took over. And in His loving way, He put a guard over my mouth regarding the situation and He worked all things for good as I committed the situation to Him through prayer.

My plea was not immediately resolved. It was a process. But the process now belonged to Him.  My hands were off.  His hands were on.  Things were now in proper order.
prayer and fastingColossians 4:2 Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving.

The Gift I Did Give My Daughter…

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My last post spilled out the gift called balance that I failed to give my daughter.  If I could change that I would.  She’s eighteen.  It’s too late.  My regret has been established.  Her forgiveness has been complete.
giftsHowever, there are some gifts her wonderful dad and I did give her.  They were hard gifts to give.  She never asked for them.  They didn’t make her popular.  Truth is, they didn’t make us popular either.  We couldn’t be her BFF and give her these gifts.  But we also knew that our vision for her future would never come to fruition without the consistent administering of these gifts.

One of those gifts was obedience for we knew, without it, our daughter would never find true success and fulfillment in life.  And we knew she would never find Jesus without obedience either.  So we had no choice but to embark on the long, arduous journey of teaching obedience.  For, if we erased her chances of finding Jesus, no other parenting successes or failures would have mattered.  The ultimate choice was hers but it was our responsibility to consistently introduce her to Him and to do so without hypocrisy.

So how do we teach obedience?  By modeling it.  By being obedient ourselves. By being vulnerable and honest with our children.

I know, I know.  Abi could not grasp that concept as a toddler and young girl.  So our best alternative was in routinely letting her know that disobedience has consequences. Consequences stink…for the child and for the parent.  But they are unavoidable where disobedience reigns.  The consequences of “young child disobedience” are nearly insignificant compared to the life altering consequences of adult disobedience. Therefore, she had to learn while it didn’t hurt as badly.
parentingAs she grew older, we knew Abi was measuring our expectation of her obedience against our own willingness to obey.  She was right to do so for expecting obedience when we ourselves are not willing to obey is a sham.  Teenagers know that.  They aren’t stupid.

Abi’s greatest front seat view of obedience-in-action was when her dad resigned his job in 2013.  It was politically incorrect.  In the eyes of some, it put a stain on his career. It was misunderstood.  For a few it was a victory dance; the details of which we could likely never divulge.  There were even family members who questioned.  To this day it remains our greatest life wound.  And our greatest teacher.

But it was “Jesus obedience” and our girl knew it.  She had been taught to trust and to recognize truth so when her dad told her “If I stay one more day, I will be walking in disobedience” she knew from experience that she had a dad for whom disobedience was not an option.
hard obedienceJesus obedience.  The hardest kind no matter what your age.  Outside of the “thou shalt nots,” it’s misunderstood obedience and thought crazy by on-lookers. Often, it’s even thought crazy by the one doing the obeying.  But, if you really know Jesus, you likely also know Jesus obedience.  It requires immediate action.

And here’s where I am in some difficulty over the gift we gave our daughter.  She has chosen to learn the lesson and is practicing obedience.  Jesus obedience.  Obedience that may take her around the world.  Not just mission trips, rather mission life.  Africa. South America.  China.  Inner-city America.
povertyI know there are lost people in million dollar homes and at the Country Club around the corner.  She says Jesus isn’t calling her there.
mansionNow, the gift we gave her requires boomerang obedience on my part.  My husband’s got this one.  Me?  Most days are good.  Some days I struggle with celebrating the gifts we DID give as much as I regret the ones we did not give.

But this I know.  Jesus loves her more than I.  My job was to parent.  I chose a great man to co-chair that assignment.

God’s word instructs us to obey.  We taught that.  We modeled that when it was harder than hard.  Now we trust.  It’s our gift to beautiful, wonderful, obedient her and, ultimately, our gift to God.

obedience

The Gift I Never Gave My Daughter…

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For a while now it’s been on my heart to write this in hopes that it may keep you from making the same mistake I made.  This is a hard one to write because it requires deep vulnerability and exposes my greatest regret.  But if it helps one person it will have been worth welcoming you inside my front door.  From there I will fix you a cup of coffee and ask you to join me at the kitchen table.  And we’ll talk.  And I’ll likely cry.
coffeeI feel like I’m about to give a good spanking because “this will hurt me more than it will hurt you” rings true right now, but it’s really for your good if you will let it be.  So let’s get on with it.

I was blessed 18 years ago with this incredibly beautiful tiny baby girl.  She came into the world a little early, perfectly formed and weighing little more than a bag of flour.  I had done all I could to care for her during the six months I was aware she was growing to completion in me.  I ate right.  I slept right.  I talked to her.  I sang to her.  I dreamed dreams for her.  I loved her.

And then I birthed her.
scan0016Her debut became one of the best days of my life.  Some people tell me that we should only have birthday parties for our children for a season and then we should quit because we run the risk of spoiling them.

My question for that line of thinking is, “Why would I quit celebrating God’s greatest gift to me?”

So I haven’t.  We celebrate big at birthday time and it’s right for us.  I have never regretted our annual celebrations.

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144There are, however, some things I regret deeply.  One of those is the fact that, in spite of giving Abi life and endless love, I failed to give her balance.  Eighteen years later there are no do overs.

I used to be very content with my Martha nature.  I even liked it.  I defended it.  I got a lot done, worked within a schedule, knew mostly what to expect for my tomorrows and dealt well with the pressure I placed on myself.  It worked for me.

Until, as a mom, I relentlessly projected my Martha nature onto my Mary natured daughter.  And I was too blinded by my own drive to even recognize the damage I was doing.  Or at least I liked to believe I couldn’t see the damage.  The truth is, at times, I could see and I hated myself for it.

Both sides of Abi’s family are blessed with incredible people who have had lifelong struggles with their weight.  I watched with sadness as those family members dealt with their own disappointment and the health issues which resulted from excess weight.  Long ago, it put a spirit of fear in me.  And I became determined that Abi would not join their battle.

It became a mission of sorts – a mission to save a precious young girl and teenager that neither wanted nor needed to be saved…except from me.

My intentions were pure and my love for her never wavered but my methods were messed up.  I took away balance in favor of control.  Rather than “you shouldn’t” and “you can’t”, I should have been teaching her balance.  Balance.  The balance that admits there are simply some days when an extra scoop of ice cream or another hand full of M&M’s is exactly what some great life moments are made of.  Balance.  The balance that teaches there are days when you need more sleep long before you need one more minute of exercise.  Balance.  The balance that blesses normal, healthy women over the unhealthy, stick thin models portrayed in every magazine, TV show and movie she will ever see.  Balance.  The balance that models healthy eating over starvation diets and cleanses.  Balance.  The balance that says, “You are safe with me, no matter what the media and stupid boys at school tell you.”  Balance.  The balance where this mom instills security rather than reacting out of her own insecurities.  Balance.  The balance that every Mary needs and every Martha denies.
balanceSo there you have it.  Vulnerability brought to you compliments of your internet service.  My personal business become your personal warning.  Heed the warning.  Reprogram your own sick brain.  Bite your tongue.  Love your daughter for exactly who she is and not for your wrong standard of who she ought to be.

I’ve apologized to my daughter.  Several times over several years.  It’s what I’m left with because I can never take back the wrong things I’ve done in this area of balance.  And because she is an incredible picture of God’s love and grace, she has forgiven me every time I have apologized.  She has even lectured me about forgiving myself.  You’ve gotta love that.
forgivenessI’ve also asked God to forgive me and to mend her whole in those places I unintentionally caused damage.  It’s part of the process.

So, if you are the mom of a young daughter, please learn from me.  Celebrate the gift God gave you.  Give her the gift of balance every day.

If your daughter is grown and you failed the balance lesson with me, ask her to forgive you.  Then take her out for ice cream or join a Zumba class with her.  There is balance in both.  Don’t miss it!
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Dear Layman…

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Dear Layman,

Last week I wrote a letter to your shepherd leader.  This week it’s your turn.  I’ve never been a pastor so my letter to your leader was also a letter to my own leader.

I have, however, been a layman.  When you are a pastor’s wife (which I am) you are sort of stuck in between but, because my husband traveled as an evangelist for twenty years and I mostly stayed home, I got to be a real, live layman and I liked it.  There are freedoms afforded laymen that pastors never have.  I even spent several years serving on a church board.  If nothing else confirms me a layman, that certainly does.

And so I have a few things on my heart to say to you…and to myself.  Some of them will morph between my lay eyes and my parsonage eyes.  All of them are said from a heart of love.

We all have reasons for choosing the church we attend.  Sometimes it’s simply where our family has always attended.  Sometimes it’s the only church of our chosen denomination in the town in which we live.  Sometimes it’s for good preaching or preferred music or friends or children’s ministries or youth groups.

None of those are bad reasons.  But in every church we attend, there is a pastor hoping and praying for laymen who support him.

So how can we support our pastor?

1)  Pray for him.  Every day.  Whether we like his preaching or not.  Whether we agree with his leadership style or not.  Whether we liked what he wore last Sunday or not.  Whether we think he’s paid too much or not.  Whether his kids behave or not.  And especially if his kids don’t behave.  Pray for him.  It’s our chosen church.  He’s our pastor.  Pray.for.him.
Pray for your pastor2)  You and I can either be his cheerleader or we can be a huge discouragement to him.  It’s our choice.  Choose the high road.  Choose to treat him the way you want your own family members to be treated.  My first pastor’s wife (aside from my own mom) was an elementary teacher.  She had a wall plaque that said, “My teacher thought I was smarter than I was, so I was.”  I loved the sentiment when it hung in her home and I love it now.  Over the years I have allowed it to morph into any area where someone holds leadership over me.  For example:  “I think my pastor is better than he is, so he is.”  You and I really can make that much difference.  Will you choose to?
cheerleading3)  Stay mindful that the pastor is called to shepherd.  You aren’t.  I’m not.  We should be very slow in telling him how to do his job.  I am amazed when laymen who have never felt a call to vocational ministry tell their pastor how to pastor.  I don’t think I’ve ever heard a pastor tell a layman how to run a classroom or how to manage their business.  So why do we tell our pastor how to pastor?  Do I believe there is a place for a review?  Yes I do.  But even there I think we need to be very prayerful and careful.  An effective review can and should benefit everyone; pastor and people.  Do I believe there is a place for disrespect?  No I don’t…ever.

4)  Let’s agree to stop saying, “I’ll be here long after he’s gone.”  I have heard these words in every church I’ve ever attended.  I’ve heard them in churches where I’ve visited.  I’ve heard them at camp meetings.  I have heard them on a boat.  I have read them in a note.
brainsWithout exception those seven words are spoken when a) we don’t like our pastor and we’re going to let everyone know, or b) our pastor has hurt us.  Those are two very different scenarios.  One makes me want to say “Grow up.”  The other makes me want to say “I’m sorry.”  Yet, in either case, the person hurt the most is the person proclaiming the words.  Those words keep us from getting involved.

They hurt the very church we love more than they ever hurt the pastor they are spoken against. 

Why?  Because we likely WILL be here long after he’s gone. 

And he’ll likely go someplace better.

But us?  We’ll be left in a church that has missed out on years of our good, positive contributions.

5)  Let’s stop expecting our pastors to be counselors.  Most aren’t trained to be and simply get into trouble when they play them on TV…or in their offices.   Instead, let’s protect our pastors by providing them with a list of counselors they can recommend when the need arises.  Part of the problem here is that counseling is expensive and our pastors are free.  Remember: we get what we pay for.
lucy-psychiatrist6)  Applaud his time away.  Whether we see it or not (and we don’t), his job is 24/7.  Bless his vacation.  Hold him accountable to a Sabbath every week.

7)  Allow the pastor to dream.  His dreams are for us.  Support his vision.  Build up.  Don’t tear down.

Be responsive to your pastoral leaders.  Listen to their counsel.  They are alert to the condition of your lives and work under the strict supervision of God.  Contribute to the joy of their leadership, not its drudgery.  Why would you want to make things harder for them?  -Hebrews 13:17 (Msg)

8)  Pay your tithe.  Paying tithe is second nature in our home.  My husband and I were both raised to give God His portion first.  When you start that as a kid, it’s pretty easy to continue it in adulthood.  That said, I realize many, many of you were not raised that way or you came to faith later.  So paying tithe is a difficult concept for you.  Maybe you are so over extended that you really can’t give 10%.  I understand that.  Just start somewhere.  Give something.
tithing-giving-offeringsIt’s not about your pastor.  It’s not even about your church.  It’s about you and God.

It’s a subject for a dedicated blog, but I am amazed at how our money stretches when we honor God with it.

9)  Be generous.  My experience has been that when a church is generous with their pastor, they are a generous church in every area.  Keep in mind that there is a huge difference between generosity and control.  One is a blessing; the other is anything but a blessing.  Be generous.

10)  Love the pastor’s children.  As laymen we really do have the power to either help parsonage children come to a place of faith or land in a place of bitterness.  With all my heart I believe we will be held accountable for how we treat our pastor and the effect that has on his children.  We should never kid ourselves.  It does affect them.  No matter how old they are…
PKSo there you have it from one layman to another.  It’s pastor appreciation month.  Let’s honor him this month but, better yet, let’s honor him all year.  And let’s include his family.

I’d love to have you join me.

JoAnne Hancock

Lessons Learned in the Sanibel Stoop, Part 2

The shells washing ashore provide examples of the many ways we can survive the storms of life and arrive safely at our destination.
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We can arrive connected.  Together.  With the help of a friend.

Carry each other’s burdens and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
-Galatians 6:2

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We can be carried or hidden.  Sometimes we are absolutely without strength for the journey.  We need to be protected.  We need to be hidden under His wings.

The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation.  He is my stronghold, my refuge and my savior.  -II Samuel 22:2-3
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We arrive young and we arrive old.  One thing is for sure.  There are no guarantees on the number of our days.  It’s amazing to me that God created the sea to protect both the tiniest and the hardiest shells.  He does the same for human kind.

Your eyes saw my unformed body.  All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.  -Psalm 139:16
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We can arrived battered and broken.  The battering can be self imposed or inflicted on us by another.  The good news is….we can still arrive.

The suffering won’t last forever. It won’t be long before this generous God who has great plans for us in Christ—eternal and glorious plans they are!—will have you put together and on your feet for good.  -I Peter 5:10
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There is no discrimination.  My dad used to say “the ground is level around the cross.”  It is.  The One who created us will welcome us home without regard to our color or size.

In Christ’s family there can be no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female.  Among us you are all equal.  -Galations 3:28
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And when we get there we, who have made Him our Way, will each be His prize possession.  We will know Him and be known by Him for He was there in the shaping of us all along.

And God saw what He had made and it was good.  -Genesis 1:31
Well done good and faithful servant.  -Matthew 25:23

Lessons Learned in the Sanibel Stoop

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When I was a kid we lived for a couple of years on the east coast.  And because my parents were both born and raised outside of Philadelphia, our family grew accustomed to the Jersey shore.  We enjoyed the board walk, salt water taffy, small amusement parks and birch beer; all compliments to salt water, sand and waves.  Outside of one trip to Florida, it’s what I knew of the ocean and what I knew, I also loved.

After I had been married for about ten years, my in-laws retired to Clearwater, FL.  For twenty years we made at least one trip south each year to visit them and I became acquainted with the whiter sand and calmer, warmer waters of the Gulf Coast.  Call me fickle but, I basically broke up with the Atlantic Ocean in favor of the Gulf Coast.

Before mom and dad Hancock retired they purchased a time share on Sanibel Island, FL which is where I find my blessed self this week.  This is where I learned about the “Sanibel Stoop.”  The Sanibel Stoop is so well known that photographers and artists have captured and framed it.
Sanibel StoopSanibel is an island off of the gulf coast that is situated in such a way that sea shells land on her shores by the millions.  Hunting for the perfect shell is sport here.  I can sit on the lanai and watch stooped people search for hours.  Or I can join them.  So I do.

True to the gulf coast, the waters of Sanibel are generally calm and rather clear.  However, for the last couple of days there have been storms brewing out in the gulf.  Those storms have picked up the winds and stirred up the sea creating rough surf and unusual waves.  All that does is interfere with the thrill of the hunt because it creates murky waters in which prized shells cannot be found.  Yes, there are lots of shells on the beach but those have been picked over by the shell hunting fanatics who are out there with lights attached to their foreheads before the break of dawn.  Not it.

So this morning when I left for my walk, I didn’t even grab a shell collecting bag.  I knew it was useless today just like it was yesterday.  Only today I headed west instead of east and as I rounded a corner thousands and thousands of shells were being washed up in the turn.  The angle must have been perfect for the depositing of shells.
shellsIt didn’t take long until I was frustrated with the rough surf and cloudy water.  Every time the tide would pull back and open a window, the sea would come crashing back over a prized shell siting.  I stood there like a child at recess playing tag with the sea.  And the sea was winning.

And then God showed up and invited me back into the classroom where we began to review the lessons from the last several years.

I’ve spent a lot of time in the last few years trying to get a clear picture of what is beneath the stirred up waters of life’s storms.  And every time it felt like I might have permission to see, another cloudy wave would hit.  And another.  And another. The window has, more often than not, felt painted shut.

And then it struck me that the piece of perfection I was looking for today was buried beneath the storm’s messy place and that without the storm, it would not ever be a piece of perfection.  The mess of the storm was perfecting the mess of my life.

It was then that I got to thinking about the fact that my life had always been relatively easy.  In fact, I expected easy almost as if God owed it to me simply because I claim His name.  Like He never approved anything difficult in my life because He loved me too much for that.  And I thought about Lauren Legge.  And I thought about Stephanie Hagar-Nicholson.  And I thought about my own brother.  All are proof that Jesus never promised Easy Street.
Easy StreetAnd then I saw it.  And I got my fingers around it.  The perfect conch shell.  The single shell that is the thrill of the hunt for me.  The shell that is my teacher today.
IMG_1839The shell, through which, Jesus said to me, “My purpose for you is that you make it safely home.  It will take storms and rough seas to get you there.  In fact, you can’t arrive without surviving them.  But I’ve created a safe place under the raging seas if you will meet me there.  From there, I’ll carry you in.”

I’m still in the sea.  I’m still being perfected.  Some days the waters are rougher than others.  I’m thankful for the days of calm.  I’m even becoming more thankful for the storms…sometimes…sort of.

Mostly?  I’m thankful for a God who meets me there.

One of the greatest evidences of God’s love to those that love Him is, to send them afflictions, with grace to bear them.  ~ John Wesley

Dear flip phone

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Dear flip phone,

You have been my friend for many years; about 10 to be exact.  Lots of people don’t understand why we have been friends for so long.  I know, newer and better friend versions have come along, but I’ve never been one to give up on friends easily.  You are no exception despite the fact that I have been bullied because of you a time or two; even by my own family members.   I’m okay with that because you have been worth it.
flip phoneI want to thank you for all of the good friend qualities you have brought to the table:

-you are low maintenance
-you are a cheap yet loyal date
-you are inconspicuous
-you help me mind my manners by not interrupting me constantly
-you are not jealous; expecting me to give all of my time to you alone
-you mostly allow me to be present in the moments of my life
-you don’t expect me to sleep with you
-you have not required constant upgrades
-you make it possible for me to keep in contact with people I love
-you are okay with being left behind when something more important than you is taking place
-you always pick up right where we left off
-you don’t tell anyone where I am or what I’m doing

I have always believed that honesty is the best policy so I need to tell you that I am considering breaking ties with you.  I hate it because you have done nothing wrong.  It’s just that I got a job and several times already I have needed help from a more educated friend.

Please know that, if I follow through with this, it is nothing personal.  It’s business.  (I know… I’ve heard that one before too!)

I will never forget you and the place you have held in my heart and life.  You helped me raise my daughter and I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank you for that.

Friends forever,

JoAnne

God’s Love Trumps My Guilt Every Time

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This morning as I walked on the beach and looked at the endless expanse of water, all I could think was:
The Love of GodThose words always paint a picture for me when I am at the beach.  Interestingly, no one knows who wrote them.  There is speculation that they were penned by a man living in an insane asylum.  If that’s the case, he understood something in the midst of his insanity that I can rarely grasp.  He knew and understood the expanse of God’s love.  Not guilt – love!

I love that God and life continually bless me with new friendships.  It’s one of His greatest gifts to me and I am especially blessed when those friendships endure the test of time.  One of those friends is named Glenda.

I met Glenda about 20 years ago.  My husband was travelling the country at the time and had met Glenda’s family 2 years prior.  His love for them was immediate.  They didn’t live particularly close to us so when Tim kept asking if I would go meet them, I honestly didn’t see the point.  While I genuinely love people, I’m not generally a camp-out-with-them kind of girl.  But because it was important to Tim, I agreed to stretch myself and head north.  It was one of the best decisions I ever made in my life.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI could tell you a lot about Glenda, but all you need to know for the purpose of this particular blog is that Glenda has taught me volumes about letting go of guilt.  And, more so, she has taught me about never picking it up in the first place.   She lives by the I’m-not-carrying-that-around-with-me philosophy.

It’s a simple philosophy.  If God convicts her about something, she confesses.  Then she drops it and leaves it.  Yes, really.  She LEAVES it!  It’s been quite a revelation to me of what is possible in the life of the Christian.

And about those things that involve self –imposed guilt or people-imposed guilt?  They don’t get ten seconds of her time.  Proper discipline of her children and now grandchildren?  No guilt.  Saying no because her plate is full?  No guilt.  Sleeping late?  No guilt.  More than two cookies at a time?  No guilt.  Not exercising today?  No guilt.  Buyer’s remorse?  None.  Choosing Biblical principles over political correctness?  No guilt.  Not supporting a cause that buried deep runs against her convictions?  No guilt.

I’m not hard wired that way.  I live more by the hello-guilt-can-I-give-you-a-piggy-back-ride philosophy.  It’s a complicated philosophy.  And it’s exhausting.
Guilt-tripIt’s a philosophy that often puts self and people on equal footing with God even though we’re not on equal footing – ever.

And carrying guilt so often gets in the way of understanding and experiencing God’s love.

So, today, I just want to remind you of the nature of God.  His nature is love.  I’m choosing to quote familiar passages using less familiar versions.  Why?  Because I hope that it will be harder for you to just mindlessly quote your way through if I use a version you haven’t committed to memory.

This is how much God loves you…

God's love 4

The Lord your God is in the midst of you, a Mighty One, a Savior [Who saves]! He will rejoice over you with joy; He will rest [in silent satisfaction] and in His love He will be silent and make no mention [of past sins, or even recall them]; He will exult over you with singing.  Zephaniah 3:17 Amplified Bible (AMP)

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This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again.  John 3:16-17 The Message

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Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us. He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ.  Ephesians 2:4 The Message

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So today I celebrate.  I celebrate by the sea.  I celebrate a God of grace and love.  I celebrate freedom from false guilt.  And I’m really okay if you want to join my party.  In fact, consider yourself invited.   I’ll welcome you…even though I’m not a camp-out-with-you kind of girl.

freedom from guilt
By the way; where are we going for dinner?