Posted by: karanoel | November 29, 2021

A path freely given

In my town, sidewalks do not run along the whole street, which would allow pedestrians and kids a consistent, safe place to travel. Instead, they start and end abruptly, without any apparent rhyme or reason, spitting those on foot and bike onto the street to contend with parked and moving cars. This is true of the first leg of our ride to school, with only one small segment of sidewalk before it suddenly ends at a driveway and remains absent for a good long while.

There are a few front yards after the sidewalk ends, though, with a patch of untended ground; dirt that can be used in lieu of a sidewalk. Since these are technically someone’s property, we try to avoid using them… unless there are parked cars which would require us to ride with our kid into the middle of the road, in which case trespassing seems like the better option. 

I noticed some landscape work going on in the barren part of one such yard and immediately thought, “I totally get it. All of our feet and dogs and bikes have encroached on your yard long enough. It’s time to reclaim your property.” And then I got closer. My heart melted and tears came to my eyes. Yes, there was landscaping – some native plants and lighting – but right in the middle of them was a beautiful, curved path, leading pedestrians safely from one end of the property to the other.

You guys, they didn’t have to do that. It’s their property. They could have extended their fence to keep people off, or landscaped it in a way that made it impossible to cross. But they chose not only to grant safe access, but to provide beauty to anyone traveling through. 

As the queen of self-protective wall-erecting, I can’t tell you how deeply I’ve been moved by this gesture. It has me questioning, what if we stopped building walls and barriers to protect what is rightfully ours from all the people trampling through and instead offered a safe and beautiful passage to bless them on their journey? What if we, like Jesus, willingly lay down our lives for others… maybe not inside the intimate places inside our “home,” for starters, but just the edges we don’t even really need? Could it be that hearts are softened and unlikely friends are made in the process? Could it be that we find more joy in the giving than anyone passing through?

This last question was answered affirmatively by a man who offered a chalk racetrack instead of resentment or judgment to a kid who frequented his driveway on a bike. Not only did he delight the kid, but so many other passersby, and, of course, himself in the process. [See the video here.] I desperately want to live more fully in this realm, where I can willingly lay down my rights and firmly established boundaries in order to bring joy to the life of another on the often hard and sometimes dangerous journey of life. That is my prayer.

No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. John 10:18

…remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Acts 20:35

Posted by: karanoel | November 8, 2021

Look!

Sunny, our mini sheepadoodle puppy, isn’t the worst barker that ever lived but it does feel excessive at times – and those times can drive me crazy. Mostly, her barks are prompted by something very appealing that she’d like to explore, like the dogs or bunnies she sees out a front facing window while perched on Chase’s bed. Or some threat that she wants to alert us to, like workers coming into the backyard or the terrifying sound of a kids’ wagon being pulled along the sidewalk.

Yelling “no bark!” repeatedly was proving to be very ineffectual. Though she knew its meaning, she was so focused on the object of her desire, self-restraint (or ears to hear) just weren’t there. Or maybe she thought I was energetically barking alongside her.

Then I remembered something I’d read in a dog training book. The author talked about redirecting negative energy into something positive, thus reframing the whole experience and producing a different response. His example had to do with aggressive behavior towards a mailman, but I figured the principle might work for our problem too.  

So I decided that when Sunny started barking, I would lure her away with a familiar command: “Look,” which means she looks at my eyes (or the treat I’m holding by them) and is rewarded for simply giving me her attention. And then I would keep her focus by running through some basic obedience commands: sit, touch, shake, stay, come; giving small treats for performing each one. 

This doesn’t sound like it could compete with a rabbit running by the window, but it does. Sometimes it takes an extra bark or two before it clicks, but when she hears me excitedly say “Look!,” she races out of Chase’s room or the yard or wherever she is, feet hardly touching the ground and stops right in front of me to give me her attention. Then her tail wags wildly in anticipation of the rest of the routine with all its rewards. The whole thing takes less than a minute but by that time, she usually couldn’t care less about the initial distraction.

It hasn’t solved our problem altogether, but it sure has been a fun way to connect with her, reinforce some other commands that benefit her and produce better (and far less exasperating) results. On occasion, I’ve noticed that she’s even caught herself as she’s about to bark and looked at me instead. 

It’s gotten me thinking about the way the Lord handles us. He’s not one to shout or get worked up when we’re focused on the wrong things or displaying negative behaviors, no matter how persistent they are, or to shame us for them. He knows that yelling “Don’t!!!” or “Bad dog!” just isn’t going to help our plight or draw us close to Him. 

Instead, when we are feeling a pull toward something destructive, He excitedly says, “Look!” and trains us by His goodness to come quickly to where He is – away from the noise and distractions – because He knows that if it’s even for just a minute, looking into His eyes and being in His presence is the very thing we need to break the power of our fears and temptations. His calls might not feel particularly compelling at first, especially when competing with the objects of our affections, but when we start to understand  the tangible rewards of time with Him, we too will come running from the far ends of our minds and lives, tails wagging with joyful anticipation, when we hear Him call. 

Posted by: karanoel | September 28, 2021

Standing tall

Audio version available here.

A year or two ago, as I was walking through the nursery at Home Depot, the thin, elegant branches and shapely leaves of a camellia tree caught my attention. The white blooms it would produce would surely enhance its beauty, but even without them, it was love at first sight. I awkwardly maneuvered the young, stately tree into a cart and pushed it proudly through the store to purchase it, then wrangled it into my car as gently as possible. The trip home was slightly traumatic after a Prius stopped abruptly in front of me, causing a violent shift in the tree’s placement and breaking a tender branch, but I mended it as best as I could and happily planted the tree in front of my house where it would hopefully thrive and happily greet me upon every return home.

It has done just that. With or without the blooms it produces in season, it always catches my eye and blesses me with its presence. Even so, I had noticed that it was leaning, imperceptibly at first but more so as time went on. Being so young, the trunk was still narrow and it couldn’t help but bend toward the morning light that beckoned so sweetly. I would have done the same, so I simply let it be. But during the summer, I realized that it deserved better than that and asked John to stake it. So he and my brother-in-law graciously attached it to a deeply planted round stake that was so thick and sturdy it could have been used for jousting. The next time I returned from my walk and approached my home, I could not believe the difference. Standing tall and true, my tree was so stunning, it nearly took my breath away. It continues to steal my heart as its branches grow and stretch into the space around them, supported firmly at their very center.

********

My son, Chase, who just turned 9, is such a great kid my heart skips a beat when I remember that he’s mine. His humor delights me. His creativity astounds me. His heart blesses me. But he has been struggling lately, trying to find how he fits, especially with other kids. On the whole, they have different interests and talents than he does; ones he has trouble engaging in. When he tries to enter in, he feels rebuffed or rejected. Though I – and so many others – love and appreciate him just as he is, it is so tempting right now for his young branches to bend into the labels the enemy is trying to place on him: reject, misfit, different. While not nourishing like the sun, these identities feel warm and alluring to his understanding because they seem so darn true.

At the same time, I am tempted to bend. Into pity for him. Into judgment toward those who hurt him. Into a desire to rescue him from productive struggle, shortcutting the process of growth. And into my own fears of rejection and the way they could be so easily projected onto Chase. I’m guessing my trunk has already been leaning in this direction for a while, even before these recent experiences made me take notice. 

The good news is that God delights in us. When He created us, it was love at first sight. Our very presence in this world blesses Him, no matter what trauma we’ve been through, how broken our tender branches are or how far we lean to one side or another. That simply cannot be changed. But He also wants something better for us – to draw us up into the fullness of our identity so that we stand tall and true, being nourished by His love and life, spreading out our limbs and leaves with beauty and purpose, and bearing fruit in season. 

The only way I know to do this is to be staked to God’s Word, which is stronger and sturdier than any of the beliefs we could ever be tempted to lean into. It is there I come to find that whether or not he feels it or anyone else on this earth affirms it, Chase is loved and he has an immovable place of acceptance and belonging. Shame has no place in him. He was not given a spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind. God’s power is made perfect in Chase’s weakness and He is working all things together for Chase’s good, even the things that seem hard and hurtful, so he is no victim but more than a conquerer. Knowing these things will help me lead him with compassionate hope, not coddling pity or fear, and will help him become firmly established in who he truly is, revealing ever more of the purpose he was created for and giving more delight to the people who have the privilege of knowing him.

The same is true for all of us and is certainly a good reminder for me. What are you tempted to lean into? What verses in the Bible can realign you with the truth of who you were created to be?

I sought the LORD, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame. This poor man called, and the LORD heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them. Psalm 34:5-8

Posted by: karanoel | September 8, 2021

Toughened Layers

Audio version available here.

It had been a long while since I’d tended to my feet. I mean, ages since I’d even bothered to slather some lotion on them. Since I usually wander around barefoot or in flip flops (which is basically barefoot), it’s no wonder that my heels developed cracks that rivaled the grand canyon, caught on our sofa fabric when I stretched out my legs and brought about some good natured teasing by my husband. When my feet were propped up on the coffee table, Chase pointed out several letters formed by the cracks, emphasized by the dirt deeply embedded in them. T, U, V and S, I think.

Is it the Grand Canyon or my heels?

When Chase wondered aloud what caused this phenomenon, I told him they were calluses. “My body created them to protect my feet from the things I’m stepping on all the time, like hot concrete and prickly pieces of mulch,” I said. “Remember how my fingertips hurt so much when I tried to play the guitar last week?” “Yep,” he replied. “Well, if I keep playing the guitar, my body will create calluses there too so it won’t hurt so much anymore.” He seemed to understand so we stopped reading the words in my heels and moved onto better things. 

I did a quick search to see if my understanding was correct. The Cleveland Clinic said: “Calluses develop from repeated friction, rubbing or irritation and pressure on the skin. The hardened layers of skin of calluses are actually your body’s way of protecting the underlying skin from the irritation and pressure.” They said it better, but I was pretty much right.

The reason this (very gross) topic matters is because of the friction and irritation that has been rubbing up against my heart, this past year and a half in particular. Daily doses of strong opinions, contradicting “truths,” fierce judgments and a good deal of fear mongering have, I realized, created the perfect environment for thick calluses to form, protecting myself from conflict (a primary aversion of mine) and my convictions (and opinions) from erosion. 

The hardened layers have mostly done their job, keeping the tender tissue of my heart pretty much unscathed, but they have also created a layer of separation between me and others, some of whom I love dearly. And since calluses don’t protect you from the burning concrete while allowing you to feel the soft grass, I’m guessing I’ve been missing out on some really sweet experiences in this world – even in its current state – with the same people I’m protecting myself from, and probably even from the Lord who, being the gentleman He is, will not force Himself past self-erected protective measures.

So, just as I am doing the work of grinding down the tough skin on my feet and moisturizing the heck out of them, I am making the choice to grind down the layers on my heart and make it vulnerable again, with the belief that loving people is more important than agreeing with them and a trust that the Lord will guard my heart (or heal it) from anything damaging in the process… because, let’s be honest, the tender places can get hurt sometimes. Neither the literal or figurative calluses happened overnight, so I’m not expecting soft, lovely skin to appear in a flash, but I am confident that it will come as I release my justifications for division and step into the heart of God who loves big and wide and without reservation, no matter what side we are on, how loudly we declare our beliefs or what kind of fear or judgment we might be harboring. I think that kind of love is exactly what the world needs right now.

Posted by: karanoel | August 16, 2021

….yet

“Are you 9 years old?,” my brother, Michael, asked Chase who was struggling with his math at the island in our kitchen. “Not yet,” replied the 8 year old. “Hmmm. And can you drive a car?” The same response was given: “Nope. not yet.” “Yet. It’s an interesting word, isn’t it?,” Michael continued as I quietly prepared dinner, wondering what Chase’s thoughts were with this line of questioning. “Could it be that you just don’t know your multiplication tables… yet?” Chase bristled at the suggestion that his future knowledge would include the massive collection of numbers he had deemed impossible to learn.

Chris, the teacher at the tutoring center Chase attended this summer, didn’t expect him to know the answers… yet. He kept telling us that Chase wasn’t required to study and memorize his multiplication tables; only to read them aloud every day and then practice them on his daily worksheets. “Even though some students think it is silly to read the numbers aloud,” Chris wrote me in an email, “it forces students to say them, hear them, process them and eventually memorize them.” Because Chase not only found it silly, but also futile, he was reluctant to follow this simple but crucial component.

It was fairly easy for me to laugh off Chase’s exaggerated sense of defeat since I have no doubt that he will learn the numbers that seem so elusive right now. He’ll probably even look back and wonder why he thought it was such a big deal. But it wasn’t so easy to laugh off my own perceptions of defeat that arose during our pileup of company this summer. Although it was mostly a rich and magical fulfillment of my heart’s desire to gather people together and live in the midst of community rather than on the sidelines, it was also hard. Having that many humans under my roof for that long, especially over the third anniversary of Cole’s death, was bound to expose my rough edges.

I griped, hurt some feelings and didn’t love everyone with the gentleness and grace I longed to. I relied on some old coping mechanisms instead of quieting myself and allowing God to restore and strengthen me. These are all familiar foes and it didn’t take me long to disqualify myself from continuing with this role in our little community. But then I remembered Michael’s conversation with Chase and started wondering, “What if I don’t love as well as I would like to… Yet?” “What if I don’t fully trust God to uphold me … Yet?”

As hope reentered my thoughts, the realization surfaced of how loved I felt by my family despite my shortcomings. And also of how much I’ve grown, both in comfort and capacity, and how far I’ve come. The fact that I’m here in this place, willing to love and be loved and extend what I have, risking failure and rejection in the process, is an outright testimony of God’s presence and power in my life. 

As if to snuff out any remaining sense of disqualification, I received a text from my friend, Rachel, while on a walk the morning after the last batch of company had gone. She knew nothing of my recent struggles but wanted to share a dream she’d had. “I was looking out a window,” she wrote, “at a big place and I knew it was your house but the space was huge. There was an event for the Lord there with a lot of people and there was so much peace!!!” Tears came to my eyes. Not only is God at work, I decided, but I still get to be part of it.

As with Chase’s math, my job isn’t to arrive on the impossible mountaintop. It is simply to keep putting the truth in front of me, thinking on it, saying it aloud and practicing it as best as I can until it has worked itself into my very nature. Through this, God’s love will manifest itself through me. His peace will pervade times of chaos. Joy in being with His people will grow. I will continue to realize that I am not disqualified because God Himself has qualified me – each one of us, actually – to wholly belong and engage, no matter what our shortcomings, in His kingdom and community. According to His love and power, not our own.

These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. Deuteronomy 6:6-9

Are there any areas where you are struggling to have hope for change? Are there verses or worship songs that speak to that struggle? Can you begin to speak or sing them each day, even if it feels silly or hopeless? If that is overwhelming, can you ask God to help you do it?

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

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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

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