Posted by: karanoel | May 28, 2021

It starts with joy

With no room parent in Chase’s class this year to pass along relevant information, teacher’s appreciation week nearly passed without my knowledge… until the morning of the last day of the week when Chase alerted me to the fact, along with an urgent request for something special to bring. With only 15 minutes to spare, I sent Chase to his playroom to make a card and then dashed out with some scissors to the backyard where my eyes had fallen through the kitchen window upon a solution for Mrs. Valencia’s gift – flowers from my garden. I harvested a handful while Chase finished his loving note to “the best teacher ever” and then added a few of his favorite blooms to a bouquet that he proudly gifted this teacher who has worked so hard this extremely challenging year. 

Here’s the thing. When I started planting my garden, it was partly about filling in some barren space but mostly about the newly discovered pleasure it brought me. I thoroughly enjoyed allowing my mind to wander and wonder while my hands were occupied with dirt and new life (and don’t even get me started on how therapeutic it was to meander down the aisles of a nursery). Plus, if all went well, these plants would grow and add to the beauty of my home. While not everything thrived, the process was as enriching to me as to the plants that successfully stretched out their roots in my soil. What never dawned on me was that what I planted for my own joy could be shared for the benefit of another, something that would not only cause me to willingly part with the treasured fruits of my labor but bring a greater level of delight than the gardening (and garden) itself. 

Something similar happened when we were house shopping. Mostly, we were looking for a home that could meet the needs of our small family and, if at all possible, my parents. We spent nearly four years looking at dozens of homes, some of which checked the boxes and appealed to our senses, but none of which brought the sense of joy and rightness we were waiting for. Every single time we walked away from seeing one of these houses, I felt a deep relief to return to our sweet rental. Until the day we walked onto this property and didn’t want to to leave – ever. The surge of restful delight spoke to our hearts, “This is where we belong; where we want to be planted and stretch out our roots.” It is where we now live, still a wonder to me. What I didn’t realize, though, was what a blessing this house would be to so many others besides ourselves… to my parents who live on the property, the neighbor kids who swim in the pool, the family and friends who come for dinner or life group or special events, the guests who pop in for an overnighter or the ones we get to host for an extended visit while we spend days catching up, eating and playing together – and even the puppy and chickens that now call this place home. Being an introvert with control issues, this new reality hasn’t come without challenges, but I keep finding that there is something in the giving of our “harvest” that imparts to me a fulfillment beyond anything I had ever hoped to experience; far more, I suspect, than those we are giving to.

It makes sense when I think about it, this Kingdom principle that was revealed from the beginning. God created us out of the joy of His heart for the pleasure of relationship; to wander and wonder with us, getting His hands dirty in the soil of our lives as He plants us in His garden and tends to us with great care. This is the God who came as man to be close to us and make a way for us. Who laughed and ate and drank with us. Who forgave and healed us. Who calls us to live as He does – in the astonishing joy of love, not duty, where He knows our roots will grow deep and thrive. Where we will grow into an abundance that can’t help but overflow from this sweetly shared communion to the world around us. Because this kind of life cannot be contained by the edges of self, to be held tight and hoarded. No, like the loaves and fish that would be a feast or the barrels of water that would be wine, its starts as one thing, small and immensely humble, and becomes transformed by the ecstasy of heaven, a miraculous bounty, multiplied in the giving. But the giving starts with joy, rooted in the fertile soil of love. What a beautiful harvest it will bring… it can’t help but bring. 

Posted by: karanoel | May 11, 2021

Fixing our gaze

During my ski lesson in Mammoth, while practicing on the beginners hill alongside Chase and other wee people, my instructor, Irina, tasked me with some gentle turns. I found that despite my hearty efforts, more often than not my skis would stubbornly refuse my attempts to redirect them. The problem, Irina explained, is that you are looking in the wrong direction; toward where you are going rather than where you want to be.  “Look where you want to go,” she emphasized, “and your skis will follow.”

This seemed like lame advice, along the lines of wishful thinking, but I clearly wasn’t the expert in this scenario so I decided to give it a try. The next time I went down, instead of looking at the cone I was about to knock over or at my uncooperative right ski, I fixed my gaze ahead where I wanted to be. To my great surprise and delight, and with very little effort, my skis went right where I was looking. It seemed so magically simple, I couldn’t help but giggle.

When reflecting on the experience after our return home, I googled the advice and quickly came upon this passage from www.wamazing.com: “Think of your gaze as a steering wheel. A good way to get better at skiing is to gaze continuously in the direction you want to go in. Beginners tend to look down when they ski, out of fear. From now on, try to direct your gaze up and in front of you to where you want to go.”

Photo credit: Los Angeles Times

Clearly, this is a common problem among new skiers who find this focus correction counterintuitive, and common knowledge among the more experienced who have established a habit of it. This reminds me of Paul’s advice in Hebrews that tells us to keep “our eyes fixed on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from beginning to end” and in Philippians to “fix our thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable.” I’m guessing that for many (or most), Paul’s counsel might seem lame (can anyone say wishful thinking?), oversimplified or utterly counterintuitive. 

Maybe it sounds nice in theory while we are sitting in church or on the bunny slope, but what about when we are out there on the mountain heights, alone, with the cold wind whipping our face as we barrel toward some immovable obstacle or terrifying cliff? We could be facing grief, sickness, addiction or hardship… crushingly negative news or a diagnosis that defies hope… the pain or struggle of someone we love and feel powerless to help. Sometimes it’s just the daily grind of living in a fallen world. The great temptation is to look directly at the problem, causing its size to increase in our vision, perhaps accompanied by choice words or frightened screams, until we smack right into it. It can be incredibly discouraging because it’s not where we wanted to go; especially so when we have earnestly believed for something better.

But if we will fix our eyes on Jesus, instead of strenuous effort with no results, the whole orientation of our lives will turn toward the place of hope and healing where we most want to be. It’s not that the obstacles or dangers cease to exist, but that they will lose their power to draw our attention and redirect our path.

When I lost my son, Cole, a few years ago, I was fortunate to have walked with the Lord long enough to have established the muscle memory of looking to Him. When sorrow threatened to overwhelm me and pain stabbed my heart, I looked to Jesus. When grief tried to define me and self-pity raised its loud voice, I looked to Jesus. When I longed to see my sweet boy again, I looked to Jesus. None of this was done expertly by any stretch. Sometimes I crashed and fell and got hurt. I would sit there, dazed and frustrated, and then look to Jesus. 

As was the case during that ski lesson, to my great surprise, I have found myself heading exactly where I want to be. But instead of ending up at the bottom of a bunny slope, it was right into the arms of Jesus, the place of all hope and healing. Not because I was trying so hard or because I was zealous enough, but because my gaze was set in the right direction and my life has followed. It’s not that I have completely “arrived,” but I have been recently shocked to realize how light my heart and unclouded my joy have become. No longer do I feel like this loss defines me or that my trust in God’s ability to save is fragile. He has led me down the steepest of mountains and I am more convinced than ever that all who fix their eyes on Him will find themselves led safely through every obstacle, no matter how threatening, and made completely whole in Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.

Photo credit: Durango Herald

Posted by: karanoel | May 1, 2021

The long road to somewhere

We were gifted a stay at a timeshare in Mammoth by some friends who were unable to make use of it. It was rather fortuitous since Chase had been talking about wanting to spend some time in the snow and I had recently decided I’d like to learn to ski. So last Saturday, after John’s annual adventure challenge to raise money for the organization he works for, we packed up the car and headed up to the mountains.

As we drove for six hours through long stretches of desert and scrub brush, with heartbreaking patches of apparent poverty and isolation, we were reminded that we are destination people who enjoy the “being there” more than the “getting there.” We marveled at how our friends, Alex and Lindsie, make this drive with their three kids time after time after time all winter long, and figured we probably wouldn’t want to do it again anytime soon.

But then we arrived. The lodging was spectacular, with far more space and luxury than we could have spent on ourselves. This was particularly evident in not just one, but three rooftop jacuzzis that allowed us to warm our bodies while brisk air brushed our faces and snow flurries fell before the grand view of mountains… an experience we had all to ourselves since we didn’t see a single other guest our entire stay. 

One day, we bundled up in winter gear and headed to the slopes where John, an experienced skier, took off down the mountain while Chase and I took a lesson. My craving to learn was joyfully embarked upon, leaving a taste for more, and Chase overcame enough fear to walk away with a surprisingly positive impression of the adventure. Another day, we drove to a nearby lake and took a thoroughly enjoyable family hike in the brisk air with breathtaking views of the landscape; an experience that turned out to be our collective favorite part of the trip. 

Our down time was spent relaxing in front of the fire, enjoying the games, puzzles and movies we had gathered from the lobby, exploring local shops and restaurants or playing hide and seek in our expansive suite. One afternoon, Chase had the unique and rather magical experience of eating ice cream in the courtyard as snow gently fell from the sky. The whole trip was lovely. So lovely, actually, that I would drive up again next weekend if given the opportunity. Knowing what awaited me would have stripped those hours on the road of aggravated boredom and replaced them with a sense of anticipation.

This puts our Christian walk in perspective for me. Sometimes, it can feel like a long road through barren places with patches of heartbreak and maybe a point of interest now and again. When we don’t understand what awaits us, we doubt the value of this journey and simply want to arrive. But as we begin to see and experience how lavish and extraordinary the Kingdom of God truly is, the road to get there is transformed from one of restlessness, boredom or frustration into one of joyful anticipation… one we would choose over and over and over again because it takes us right into the heart of all we’ve ever wanted, giving us a free gift of the purest loveliness and fulfillment we could never have afforded for ourselves.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us… Ephesians 3:20

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Posted by: karanoel | April 22, 2021

Sweatshirts & grace

I don’t have many reasons to dress up these days, plus I love to be comfy and am frequently cold, so I love sweatshirts and wear them pretty much every day. Since my old ones had been heavily rotated, I felt the need to add a few new ones to my wardrobe but wasn’t having much luck finding any. Then, to my great delight, I found exactly what I was looking for at a warehouse sale: Three soft, cute, perfectly-sized sweatshirts. At a great price, no less.

I’d been happily, gratefully wearing them for a few weeks when I pulled a load of laundry out of the dryer. My eye immediately fell on the giant splat of blue ink on my new pink sweatshirt. My stomach dropped as I pulled out a second sweatshirt with multiple blue marks. And there were yet more on the third. Remarkably (and very thankfully), the ink – which was from a pen I’d foolishly left in my pocket – avoided every single piece of John’s clothing and the rest of mine.

I would have left the laundry in the basket and run back to buy more sweatshirts that very moment, but the warehouse sale had already ended and that wasn’t an option. So I scoured google to find possible fixes for clothes that had been washed – and dried – with ink. Some people said there was nothing to be done. So sad, too bad. Some had good suggestions, but the few fixes I tried did nothing to lift the vibrant stains.

My mind suddenly flashed to a conversation I’d had with my brother about Tide To Go sticks, when I’d enthusiastically declared, “They really work!!” So I grabbed some from my laundry room, went to my workspace where my sad, stained sweatshirts were waiting, and began to scrub. Was it my imagination or was there some movement in the ink? Yes indeed! It was smudging and smearing, making a bigger mess… but that had to mean it wasn’t totally set, right? With carefully placed paper towels between layers to keep the ink from spreading further, I set out to see what might come of further attempts. 

What began as a bright blue became slightly less vivid and then a lighter blue… and then lighter yet. By the time I ran out of Tide sticks, it had morphed into a color so faint, it could be mistaken for a shadow. I sprayed a layer of Shout for good measure and threw the sweatshirts back in the wash. When I pulled them out, they looked beautiful – nearly perfect – with nothing in view but the original color of the fabric and a whole new level of joyful gratitude each time I wear them.

This whole thing reminded me a lot of the mistakes we make in this life that have far more at stake than a few comfy sweatshirts. Some cause us embarrassment or ding our reputation, while others cause physical or emotional damage to ourselves or the people around us. The world will often tell us the damage is permanent; that there is no way to reverse the shame that stains our lives through foolish errors. We will just need to learn to live with it, as well as with the regret that accompanies it. Or the world will dole out advice on how to erase the negative feelings attached to our poor choices by justifying – or even celebrating – the wrong we’ve done, or by covering it up to save face. But none of these “fixes” does anything to lift the vibrant stains we know, in our heart of hearts, remain.

What if, instead, we allow God to lay us out on His workspace where all of our mistakes (and those of others that have affected us) can be honestly acknowledged without justification, minimizing, hiding or hopelessness? It is in this sacred vulnerability that grace, like an endless supply of Tide sticks, is applied; where the stains that seem deeply set and immoveable start smudging and smearing, bringing hope that maybe they aren’t so permanent after all. Because they aren’t. They never will be. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross made sure of that. No mistake or wrongdoing ever resides outside the powerful cleansing of grace that removes all judgment and condemnation; all shame and regret. They are blotted out for now and always, allowing the pure color of our lives to shine through once again. It is because of this impossibly good and beautiful love, we are freed not only from past mistakes but the fear of future failure, as we come to see that grace is enough to drain the oldest, deepest stains and the newest, rawest ones until they are nothing but a testimony of God’s faithfulness in a life we can inhabit with a greater sense of joyful gratitude than we ever had before grace was needed.

Posted by: karanoel | April 12, 2021

What’s in a name?

We recently hosted a bridal shower for my cousin’s twenty-something daughter, Aubrey, of whom I’m very fond. I’m also a fan of her fiance, Rob, whom I first met a couple years ago when they started dating. It was a beautiful day to have a shower and I enjoyed seeing some of my extended family and meeting his. 

There was a surprise that day, though. Everyone, Aubrey included, was calling this guy I’ve only ever heard called Rob…  “Robert. Apparently that is what he goes by to the people closest to him. Which is good and fine and not remotely unusual to go by different versions of a name (I go by Kari to family or people introduced by them, and Kara to everyone else). But I suddenly wondered if I should start calling him Robert. Since I don’t fall into the “people closest to him” category and he seems fine being called Rob, I don’t think there’s a need. Which is very good news since I don’t think I’m capable of making the switch. 

I have pretty good reason to believe this. My sister’s best friend from childhood, who is still one of my family’s favorite people, has been going by Rebecca for a couple decades now. But long before that, I knew her as Becky. Despite some valiant attempts to adapt to her grownup name, she has remained Becky to me…. or in my finer moments, Beck, which is as far a departure as I can utter. Fortunately, she seems to love me anyway and has graciously allowed me and my family the accommodation of using her youthful nickname.

Another friend has legally changed her first name because she did not feel her given name reflected who she is. This falls into a different category for me. It’s no less difficult to change my habits, especially since I’ve also known her for ages, but it needs to be done… because it is not just the shedding of a sweet childhood nickname but a declaration of what she sees as her true identity; one that demands she leave behind the old. I want to honor her in that. 

Names matter that way. They speak of who we are, digging grooves of mind and mouth as they are said over and over. Some carry family history, repeating through the generations like a badge of honor and belonging. Many hold within them the love of parents who spent months carefully deliberating the name to bestow upon their precious newborn child. Some, like nicknames, were informally forged; arising from love and friendship, held tight by stories that will be told for a lifetime.

And then there are names that were not given from a place of love and belonging. Some have been given by others to disparage and disgrace, hardening like concrete around vulnerable identities. Loser. Reject. Different. Damaged. Some celebrate a particular trait, appearing positive on the surface but creating a need to satisfy the name and a fear of ever falling short. Pretty. Funny. Smart. Admired. Some, though based on temporary circumstances, can create a permanent identity. Anxious. Depressed. Sick. Afraid. And there are grace-devoid ones we give ourselves, deeming a skewed sense of self as true. I can think of several of my own: Inadequate. Unworthy. Stupid. Selfish. Addict.

God had a habit of changing people’s names in the Bible and, through Jesus, He has done the same for us. Loved. Accepted. Worthy. Free. Redeemed. It’s a legal name change, effective immediately, whether or not we feel deserving (just a heads up, we’re not) and even when we can’t see an iota of truth reflected in our current state (Abraham was old and childless when God called him the “father of a multitude”). This is a powerful shift, releasing us from the striving and shame attached to our former names and the faulty identities they served to secure, while establishing the life-changing truth of who we truly are.

In order for this change to transform us, though, we need to come into agreement with it. In other words, we need to acknowledge – and use – our new names. As I’ve already proven with Becky, this is no easy task. The transition will likely feel forced and awkward as we form the new names in our mind and mouth, fraught with temptations to run back to the old and familiar. Our lives will continue to demonstrate qualities opposite of the new, causing us to doubt the truth of it and making us want to shout the old. But with understanding of how final and significant this change is and a whole lot of help from the Holy Spirit, I know it is possible.

So when my choices look out of control and I want to call myself Addict, I will instead call myself FREE and declare that whom the Son sets free is free indeed (John 8:36). When my insecurities are assaulting me and I feel Unworthy and Unlovable, I will call myself WORTHY and LOVED and will thank God who made me worthy for a part of inheritance with the Saints (Colossians 1:12) and proved His love for me by dying for me when I was still a sinner (Romans 5:8). When I feel Dumb or Confused, I will call myself SOUND MINDED, reminding my soul that I have the mind of Christ (1Corinthians 2:16). I have already seen and experienced this holy transformation in part, but am greatly anticipating how much more is to come. Because I am convinced that the more we disregard the old by speaking out the new, the more we will see – and become – who God already knows we are. 

An impromptu visit yesterday from Becky… I mean, Rebecca

****

What names have you gone by? What are your new, God-given names? What would your life look like if you allowed them to replace the old?

Life and death are in the power of the tongue. Proverbs 18:21a

Posted by: karanoel | March 25, 2021

Where are we going?

The pandemic has severely cramped the style of our “life group” which rotates through the houses of this sweet, homegrown community. While over a dozen adults talk, laugh and learn something about Jesus, 15 kids of various ages run wild and build their own community. As it was decidedly unwise for that many people to gather in the time of covid, we have missed nearly a year of time together. But recently, to my great joy, we were able to meet up with many of them on a cool, beautiful day at the beach. It felt so good and right to be together again; to connect with these people we have grown to love.

There were games of smashball, volleyball and something called can jam. A sandcastle was erected and one determined kid braved the frigid water. But mostly, we sat on our beach chairs in the fresh breeze catching up on life. There was much to be shared about jobs, school, health and the future, sprinkled with good natured teasing. There was one particular conversation that stood out that day and has been causing a stir in my thoughts ever since. 

One of the married couples said they had posed a question to each other. “We are 90 years old, sitting in our rocking chairs. What do you regret not having done?” For one of the pair, the answer was to experience living out of state. For the other, it was the lifelong dream of sailing around for months at a time. As a result of this conversation, they are planning to rent out their California home while they try out another state this fall. And they are hashing out plans the following year for sailing expeditions off the east coast with their three kids. Judging by the family adventures they’ve already had, these ideas aren’t remotely far fetched.

It seemed like such a wise thing; brilliant, even. To go to the end and look backwards: A hindsight of sorts that you can use to plot your course forward. It’s the same way these friends will plan their sailing trips… by deciding upon a destination (or a whole slew of them) and charting their way there, which will presumably produce different results than wandering around the sea hoping to hit an island or two. Or never taking to the sea at all.

My family had a similar discussion a short time later with a few familiar results, like learning Spanish, writing a book, visiting national parks, exploring Europe and the longstanding (but diminishing-with-age) desire to adopt. No immediate plans were made for any of these things, but it did stoke further thought on which are nice ideas that would be enjoyed if they fell into our laps and which are worth actively working toward… and potentially sacrificing for. 

A whole other train of thought was spawned that carries even more weight for me, like what do we most want to impart to Chase for the remaining years he is in our home? I have no interest in charting a rigid course to get there, filled with striving and achievement (for us or him), but I do believe that determining what we want him to know above all when he leaves our home gives us a clear sense of direction for our path while he’s here. 

The most significant impact of this conversation, though, was not from the vantage point of a rocking chair or an empty nest, but from that of heaven, when I am finally standing face to face with Jesus. What do I want to have known? How do I want to have lived? If I look to my Father for a destination, it is clear that he wants me to know above all how deeply, powerfully and wonderfully loved I am – and always have been, even in my messiest moments (and years). And to live as one who loves as deeply and generously as I’ve been loved. I’m a little ways into this journey, thanks to the course plotted in the Bible and massive navigational help from the Holy Spirit, but I am gaining a greater desire to get there with far less wandering and distraction, and with less worry. So I’m pressing ahead through prayer and surrender. It is hard to know what the legs ahead will look or feel like; what hardships or great joys await; what wild stories there will be to tell. But I do know that it is a destination more worthwhile than any other and I’m more convinced than ever that it is worth any cost to get there.

Where sky and water meet
Where the waves grow sweet
Doubt not, Reepicheep
To find all you seek
There is the utter East

― C.S. Lewis ( The Voyage of the Dawn Treader)

Posted by: karanoel | March 5, 2021

Wait.

One of the commands I use frequently with Sunny is “wait.” I taught it to her when we started taking walks on some fairly busy streets near our house, requiring that she stop completely before each crossing and wait for further instruction. It has turned out to be a far more versatile – and crucial – command than I realized. More than once, it has kept her from running out the front door when it’s been left open, which is particularly important since she hasn’t even come close to mastering “come.” It has also kept her from bolting after an interesting dog or racing too fast or close as I’m teaching her to ride alongside my bike, guarding her safety – and mine. Most importantly, I think it has taught her to listen for what comes next, whether it’s “let’s go” to keep moving forward once it’s been deemed safe or “this way” to let her know we’re changing directions. 

If I’m honest, “wait” was one of my least favorite lessons to learn from the Lord. I spent so many years working on this command (and still am); wanting to become obedient, but feeling impatient and frustrated with this unwanted pause as I restlessly yearned to hear “Let’s go!” This was especially true when I didn’t know why we were stopping for so freaking long. I mean, everyone around me seemed to be moving forward… would it be so hard to let me have some uninhibited motion too?! It was so very tempting to override His voice in my heart and at times I did… running at my own pace, dashing off in the direction I felt I should be going, bolting after the things that wanted fulfillment now. But those things never satisfied like I thought they would. Some even caused me, or people I love, harm. So, very slowly and with great frustration, I learned the value of waiting and came to see God’s deep care in it. 

Not only was He keeping me safe, but He was keeping me from falling for the seductive appeal of immediacy that would allow me to settle for anything less than His best for me. The time in between wasn’t inactive like it often felt, but a time of very intentional preparation for what was ahead – both the immensely beautiful things I couldn’t have fathomed then and the impossibly hard things I couldn’t have faced without those foundational years of learning to hear His voice. That process forged a solid sense of trust; one that recognized that God saw beyond what I could and was leading me to the place I most wanted to be. Which, ultimately, was with Him, whether or not that path held the things I wanted.

But as His deep and wide heart would have it, that path has held the fulfillment to so many desires of my heart. And waiting was a significant piece of that. Though I couldn’t grasp the delay in the answer of my prayers for a husband, I fully believe that the 15 year waiting time for John to show up in my life (after my short-lived marriage that produced Cole) gave me time to heal from hurts and brokenness, to grow and mature in my my relationships with the Lord and others and to prepare me to be a wife to this amazing man. I’m pretty sure the prolonged pauses I felt even about dating through those years spared me a good deal of confusion, distraction and hurt. And, as it turns out, John had been in another marriage during that time so God was hanging on until just the right time to release the gift of this man who was more than worth the wait.

As a married couple, our faith was challenged through our house-buying journey as we spent a handful of years to save money and qualify after a short sale, and another handful of years actively looking – but failing to find – what we were looking for, or having our offers beaten out in a very competitive market. All the while, prices continued to climb and our discouragement grew. At times, one of us really wanted a house and we would have to walk by the other’s sense to wait. It was not easy but we kept trusting as best we could. And then one day it appeared. The home that stole our hearts; that was given to us immediately by the owners & realtors who could easily have created a bidding war; the home that exceeded our hopes and expectations, was in the heart of our community and provided a needed place for my parents. I still thank the Lord every day for this beautiful provision, made all the sweeter by the wait that caused us to see His hand so fully in it.

There is one more piece of this I want to share. I had gone to a year of college in my 20’s and had wanted to go back, almost desperately, through much of my 30’s. Most people, I think, would say that’s a good thing and one worth sacrificing for. But every time I pursued it, I couldn’t find peace and forcing it didn’t feel right. I reasoned that God knew I would be overwhelmed since I was a single, working mom who didn’t juggle things well. Still, I felt thwarted and frustrated. I’ve since realized that a major motivator was a sense of identity/accomplishment and that a degree isn’t necessary for what I feel called to do, both of which the Lord knew all along. But I have been floored to realize what else He knew: That Cole would pass away at the young age of 22. Though I didn’t know it then, God was gracing me with the irreplaceable gift of time with my incredibly dear boy who has always rested at the center of my heart. How empty a piece of paper seems in light of that. I could not be more grateful for this gracious use of “wait” and “this way.”

I don’t know if you are in a waiting place. I think we all are to some degree. But I am once again encouraged – and hope you are too – to press on with Him and listen for His instructions. He gives us so much more than we would take for ourselves and will faithfully train us until we can walk in sync with His step, trust His wisdom and wait as long as it takes to see the reality of His goodness, generosity and love fulfilled in us and for us.

Posted by: karanoel | February 21, 2021

Loved and missed

I first met Dianne 10 years ago – about one hot second after I’d started dating her son. She wasn’t about to let our relationship get going in earnest without flying across the country to check me out for herself. Nope, that boy wasn’t going to get hurt again on her watch. I can’t say I wasn’t intimidated by the idea of her visit, despite John’s reassurances, but it turns out there was no need to worry because it was the start of a very special friendship with this unique and remarkable woman full of southern charm, the love of Jesus and good-humored teasing.

The next time I saw her was a few months later when my son, Cole, and I headed to Florida with John and his daughter, Madi, to meet the rest of the family and then embark on a 10-hour road trip to New Orleans with both of John’s parents. Panic set in after I’d committed to this adventure, especially since I hadn’t even met his dad, Bob, yet. But once again, there was no need to worry. Dianne had already made me feel welcome and Bob, who was also full of Jesus, (very corny) humor and his own (much quieter) charm – was quick to follow. The thing that struck me most was how Cole was embraced by the family, as though he, like Madison, had been there from the start.

It was an answer to a many-years-long prayer. Not just to find a man who could fill the tall order of soulmate, but a wonderful family to go with him; one that Cole and I could slip right into and be embraced by. Good golly, did God ever answer that prayer with John and the Luker family. But Dianne was unmistakably at the center of that family. She was like the sun, holding her family firmly in orbit as she effortlessly, vibrantly warmed each one. But it didn’t stop at the boundaries of her household. That warmth extended to every single person I ever saw her meet, drawing them close as though they were family; as if there were no one she’d rather be with. 

I’m pretty certain, though, her favorite people of all were kids. She valued them highly, just like the Jesus she served so faithfully, spending a couple decades as a (favorite) fourth grade teacher, several more as a Sunday school teacher and entering her greatest joy as a grandmother. Every visit, she seemed happiest when she was with our kids, delighting in conversation and laughter with the older ones and endless crafts with Chase that appeared daily out of her suitcase as if from a wondrous magic hat. She made a habit of firmly shooing John and I away on errands and dates to ensure she got time with them to herself. We never complained.

During our visits together – when John and the kids were at work & school or otherwise engaged –  Dianne and I fell into an easy rhythm, spending hours talking, laughing, shopping or just being, with a treasured transparency that grew over the years. I admired her strength; how she wholeheartedly endeavored to raise such amazing boys; how faithfully she served her family, friends and church; how she forged through hard things like breast cancer, the loss of her husband and the endless health issues that harassed her. I loved how quick she was to laugh, how generous she was with her heart and everything in her hands, and how often she told me how grateful she was for me – I mean, like every single conversation we had. I can only hope I expressed my gratitude for her as clearly… that she knew how very much I valued her presence in my life and what an answer to prayer and dear friend she was to me.

When she passed away last month after a bad accident that led to an open heart surgery and then a blood clot, my heart felt a hole bigger than any I’ve experienced apart from Cole. The tears have come freely and often, halting this post many times over these past weeks. They are a testament to how very special she was and how deeply I loved her. But my sadness is tempered by the joy I have in knowing that she has been reunited with her very-missed husband, is living in a body that is free from suffering and that I will get to see her again.

So for now, I will carry on here, leaning ever more closely into the Jesus she loved and the lessons she taught me, asking God to weave them into me and bring His needed embrace to this world.

I love you, Dianne, and will be forever grateful for the gift you were – and always will be – to me.

Posted by: karanoel | January 20, 2021

Running the Race

Something in a church message I recently heard gave me a flashback to running track in high school. I didn’t end up on the team because of speed or athleticism, but to be with my friends and a favorite teacher who also happened to be a coach. I ran the 330 hurdles (which surprised my husband to learn since I have trouble walking through our house without falling over furniture), and the mile. What I most remember about the hurdles was trying really, really hard not to trip over them and fall on my face. What I most remember about the mile was the perpetual frustration of one of my coaches over my habit of breaking into a sprint (or as close as I’ll ever come) once the finish line was in view. Finishing strong seemed like a good thing to me, but it was proof, he said, that I hadn’t been laying it all out there throughout the race.

He was right. I hadn’t been. My biggest fear was – and still is – to come up short. What if I ran too hard at the start and had nothing left to finish? Nope, I wouldn’t risk that kind of failure. I would far rather have a slower time, leaving some gas in the tank to assure my completion; play it safe, you know? As you can imagine, my track career was not very illustrious.

There is certainly wisdom in pacing yourself, but my habit was based in fear, not wisdom. And it’s something I still see playing out – not in track, which I forsook long ago, but in life. Like the way I fiercely guard my energy for fear that I will run out before the day is done, the way I hold back in my generosity to others to make sure I have enough for my own needs and wants, and the way I meagerly measure out my time to others to assure myself the white space that feels crucial to my existence. I have lots of reasons to explain these compulsions, like having been a single mom with low-paying jobs for many years, but the bottom line is that I am operating from a place of fear. And I can prove it by the way I try to control my circumstances and by the panic that hits when things feel beyond my control, like when I don’t get enough sleep or when I feel like I’m failing people’s expectations of me.

I have been seeing this control in full force lately and let me tell you, it’s not pretty. But I believe God is bringing it to the inescapable forefront because He is a very caring Coach who longs to train me with His perfect wisdom so I can run this race well; so much better than my playing-it-safe way of living allows. It’s not about winning. And it has nothing to do with how my abilities compare to anyone else’s. It’s about running the best race I can run with the heart, abilities and resources God has given me. It’s about learning to lay it all out there for my freedom and His glory. 

This doesn’t mean I should say yes to every opportunity like Jim Carrey in the movie Yes Man, or give away every dime in my bank account, any more than my track coach meant I should sprint the whole mile. It just means I need to lay down my fears and take up trust so that God can teach me. Sometimes that will mean running harder than I feel I can, pushing me into His reservoir of strength, and sometimes it will mean slowing down – or resting completely – when I feel I should be upping my pace, learning to trust that He is not going to allow me to fall behind. This is how Jesus, in sync with God’s voice, fulfilled his purposes on earth and it’s the only way we are going to be able to do the same.

Of course, every athlete experiences setbacks and we will be no exception. I’ve been through plenty and I’m sure you have too. But I do believe that we were made for this race; to press through with the limitless wisdom and resources of the God who lives in us. As we begin to lay it all out there, I’m pretty sure we will be able to echo the statement of Olympic runner, Eric Liddell, who said, “When I run, I feel His pleasure.”

Short clip from Chariots of Fire:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…” Hebrews 12:1

Posted by: karanoel | January 8, 2021

A good reminder

I came out to my shed to start writing a book. Nothing fancy; just my story. It finally seems like the right time. While looking for a particular post to reference, I came upon the following one I wrote in 2014. It’s not even close to what I was looking for, but it does happen to be exactly what I needed to hear today. You see, a self-critical accusation has been hammering me hard this week, making me feel unacceptable and unlovable. It’s an old, familiar voice; one that plagued me for years and led to a lot of brokenness. I was able to close the doors that gave it access as God’s love for me became louder than its condemning voice. But this time, it came from a different direction and bore a message that I leaned in to hear… as if it contained truth… as if it changed the narrative of what I know and of who I am. It was good to be reminded that peace is my inheritance, that I am no victim to this skewed perspective of myself and that it is in my power to “demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of Godand to take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” I don’t know if you’re struggling, but thought you might be able to use that reminder too.

********************

flies

All summer, at least two flies were present in my kitchen. My blood pressure must have risen several points each evening as I attempted to cook dinner amidst their perpetual buzzing and stealthy attempts to land on my food. When particularly frustrated, I threatened them in vicious tones and flung my bony hand at their bodies. The motion (or maybe threats) sent them into frenzied flying patterns for all of a few seconds… before they landed in the exact same spot. The process was repeated and our dysfunctional relationship continued.

When John returned home from work each day, he would grab the fly swatter, nail the pesky buggers, and be done with it. If another dared to appear in his presence, it would not live long. After several months of witnessing this, a revelation occurred:

Why did I let these pests dwell in my home, rob my peace and pollute my food? I, yes I, had the power. A fly swatter, to be exact. And, I suspect, a superior intellect.

So I began to take up my rightful place as daytime fly hunter. Lacking the coordination and experience of my husband, who can kill a fly mid-air, it certainly took a bit of effort. But the payoff was fabulous. Along with the perpetual buzz, went the persistent frustration – and an insidious (and absurd) sense of victimhood.

So I was feeling mighty; warrior-like, even. Slaying the enemy and protecting my turf. Then we had a birthday party for Madison. Despite the heat of the day, it was a lovely evening. We lingered outside, devouring the tasty food my mom had graciously prepared. I tied up the outdoor trashbag that was beginning to attract flies (Take that you defeated creatures!) and left it next to the back door – where it was forgotten for four very long, 90 degree days.

When I finally picked up the trash bag to dispose of it… oh my good lord. Living beneath that black plastic on MY porch right by MY back door was a mountainous pile of pulsating white maggots. A steady stream of the foul creatures continued to pour out of a hole in the bottom of the bag. My body froze, followed quickly by a gag reflex, and then a desperate holler to Cole as I witnessed masses of squishy wiggling bodies dropping beneath the wood slats to safety a few inches below… where, no doubt, they would fulfill their maggot destinies and transform into millions, if not billions, of flies and conquer me with their sheer number.

My dear, dear son came running to my rescue and (without gagging once) calmly assessed the situation. Together, we gathered several cans of raid and liberally sprayed every maggot in site. With the cans wedged between the slats of the deck, we blasted those cowering below. And then we sprayed them again. And again. The wood became host to glistening pools of toxic substances, as maggots squirmed and writhed in the wet poison. It was an all-out war.

trashbag

Believe you me, we took out the trash that day. I think we added a couple more layers of trash bags to contain the remaining maggots (sorry environment!), tied them thoroughly and closed that lid TIGHT. There was a slight influx of flies for a short while after that adventure – bionic bugs that survived our attack, but nothing this warrior mom couldn’t handle.

But oh my word, can I tell you what I learned about taking thoughts captive? I’m talking about those pesky little thoughts that fly around in our heads, robbing our peace and polluting our nourishment, not to mention reproducing more of themselves to do the same. Many aren’t world-ending (although some are), so we just let them buzz around while maintaining this strange, dysfunctional relationship with them… as if they belong.

Let me tell you straight-up: they do not belong! Oh yes, I know that we can justify the accusatory thoughts that fly in, often undetected at first, and land on our minds. And how there are scrolls of reasons to accommodate the constant droning of self-pity. And how much evidence we’ve accrued to think that fear and anxiety have a right to exist in our dwelling place – or that we don’t have the authority to kick them out. Comparison and envy? All I will say is that they are waaay more toxic than a little fly juice. Each of our minds were created for peace. Without exception. Anything that draws us away from peace and Godly order is a squatter on the holy ground of our minds.

So what the heck do we do? A few suggestions…

  1. Use the fly swatter! The foundation of our understanding as to what has value and is true – and our authority to reject all else – is the Word of God. It is our fly swatter (or, as Paul calls it in Ephesians, “the sword of the Spirit”). Let’s use it and become the warriors that we are by annihilating anything that doesn’t line up with His word.
  2. Close the door. Thoughts are either they are given access or they aren’t. There will be times when they sneak in as we open the door to get the mail, but there are also times when we are trying to kill them left and right, without realizing that we have left a door wide open. The Holy Spirit is there to help us discern what each area might be for us and give us the wisdom and courage to slam that thing shut.
  3. Take out the trash. Some of the crud lingering in our minds and stinking up the place has been there so long we consider it to be part of ourselves. Maybe it’s a simple realization that we’ve been hoarders who need to reassess what has true value and what happens to be rotten food mistaken as treasure. Then toss anything that does not bear value. If you need motivation, picture the maggots.

“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Cor 10:5)

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