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)

Posted by: karanoel | January 1, 2021

Diagnosis

After the festivities of December, which bring all kinds of delight but also constant busyness, I always feel a sense of restful gladness to step back into a quieter rhythm; one that creates space for reflection and writing. With the holidays behind me and the decorations packed away, it feels so good to sit in front of my computer – not to place yet another Amazon order or look up holiday recipes, but to reconnect with you, wish you a very belated Merry Christmas and pray that you are holding hope in both hands as we enter this new year.

We were able to have a sweet Christmas despite the craziness of the year, but it wasn’t without stress. On Christmas Eve, I found out that a dear friend of mine and several of her family members had been diagnosed with Covid. Before my grief over their Christmas cloud fully set in, my mind raced back to the birthday lunch my mom and I spent with her the week before. A pit formed in my stomach as I quickly determined that we too must be carrying the virus. 

I wasn’t too worried for myself, figuring that I have a pretty good chance of fighting it off, but for my 75 year old dad who struggles with a myriad of health issues and feels particularly vulnerable. And for my visiting brother who has been a picture of caution during the pandemic, willing to sacrifice comfort and convenience to follow every rule and recommendation out of a deep, active concern of contracting and spreading this troublesome virus. He only recently included our small family in his quarantine bubble and I was horrified by the idea that we would be the breach in his carefully maintained fortress. 

Truth be told, knowing my brother was coming had already caused me to scour my body (and my family’s) daily for evidence of the disease, paranoid that it might be quietly lurking. John’s tiredness one evening (after a long bike ride) followed by a single cough in the middle of the night drew a Covid diagnosis. As did my sinus headache (during some dry weather). And Chase’s flushed cheeks (after coming in from the yard one warm day). The meaning of each random “symptom” was only heightened after my brother’s arrival and friend’s diagnosis. 

As it turned out, my friend’s exposure was after we’d seen her, but I wanted to get tested to be sure, which was not an easy task during the holidays in a highly infected county. I finally found a clinic with availability where I got my nose swabbed and waited in the parking lot for results. Fifteen minutes later, the nurse reappeared with a smile, a hearty “Congratulations!” and a paper with my name on top and “negative” circled. A heavy weight slid off my shoulders and I let out a giddy “Woohoo!” out my car window. There was no need to break bad news to my dad or brother. No need to worry. I had my results in hand. Negative. Every symptom that followed could be dismissed. It felt like freedom. Of course I could still get Covid and I’m doing my best to be careful, but it was a picture of something far more final to me. 

We are all plagued with symptoms of sin, from the mildest anxiety to the most incapacitating addictions, and everything in between. When we scour our lives for these symptoms, looking to draw conclusions from them as I did with my body, we often realize with a pit in our stomach that we have been exposed to sin and contaminated by it, which makes it is oh-so-easy to diagnose ourselves: “Unclean.” “Unrighteous.” At least until a certain amount of time in quarantine has passed or we have made progress with our symptoms. But no freedom can come from accepting our self-diagnosis based on the things we see or feel on any given day.

We could spend our lives in this weighty uncertainty… or we could go to the Great Physician and get an actual diagnosis. The truth is that we all tested positive for unrighteousness based on the sin in our blood. But the day we accepted Jesus – and every single day thereafter – the undeniable, certified diagnosis with our name written on it is handed back: “Clean.” “Righteous.” Not because of the purity of our own blood or our own actions, but because of His. Oh yes, the symptoms of sin will still plague us, at least for a time, and we will be tempted to attribute meaning to them. But they will lose their power over us as we come to accept the finality of this diagnosis – that we have been made clean, once and for all.

The weight we’ve been carrying will slide off our shoulders as we receive a hearty “Congratulations!” and the reality of our freedom sets in. A “Woohoo!” out the car window is a good start, but I find myself doing a whole lot more rejoicing than that when I remember this truth and realize once again that I have been made wholly clean and wholly righteous. No wonder the gospel is called good news. I can think of none better. Happy New Year, my friends!

So, then, as through one offence to all men it is to condemnation, so also through one declaration of ‘Righteous’ it is to all men to justification of life… Romans 5:18

Posted by: karanoel | December 3, 2020

“Give”

“Leave it” is the command we use for things Sunny should not have in her mouth; one she responds to readily (well, most of the time) because it is always followed by a treat. “Give” is a command we use when asking her to release something that she has a right to have in her mouth, like a toy. The reward is that she gets the toy thrown again, something she loves. But despite our solid history of throwing her toys over and over again, she isn’t always too keen on letting go of something she considers hers. 

Her favorite toy of all (and the best purchase we’ve yet made) is a rope attached to a long handle, a giant cat toy for dogs, if you will. This ingenious contraption allows me to lead her on a fast-paced chase through the yard, bringing her a joyful thrill and taxing her vast reserves of energy. To elicit a release after she’s caught it, we have had to tempt her with the rope from Chase’s swing, which often works but sometimes ends with her tenaciously gripping two ropes with no plans to release either one.

But something shifted recently. She has been – of her own volition – dropping the rope. Not like she does with other toys when she drops them out of my reach and then quickly grabs them before I can. But letting go of it completely and then waiting expectantly. I’ve done nothing different so my guess is that she’s finally understanding that I’m a giver of fun, not a taker of toys, and that her maximum enjoyment will only continue once she lets go. Armed with this newfound understanding, she is finally (if only in this context) readily responding to the command, “give.”

This relates, I think, to something that’s been stirring around in my heart and mind. If you don’t mind indulging me, here is a post I wrote in May of 2018:

I wanted to share a story that might help illustrate my last post about learning to let God lead. My son, Cole, had been in South Carolina attending the Navy’s Nuclear Power School for two years and we missed him like mad. After graduating, he was fortunate enough to get a month off around Christmas before heading to his submarine job in Virginia. It made sense to me that most or, heck, all of his time off should be spent with me, his adoring mother. And the rest of our family, of course. There were other things to do during that time, he explained, but he agreed to meet up with us in Florida for a week where we would be spending Christmas with John’s side of the family. Sure I’d like more, but I was grateful for whatever I could get.

The time came to see him and my heart leaped a thousand times. I quickly adjusted to his sleeved arms (sooo many tattoos) and soaked up every minute of his quirky nature and dry humor. Seeing all three of my kids together in all their sweetness and laughter made my heart melt on an hourly basis. It had been a long time.

With our Florida trip coming to an end, I asked (okay, maybe begged) if he could come home with us to California to see my side of the family and extend my happiness… just a wee bit longer. Unfortunately, no, that wasn’t going to work. So I revised my plan in order to suck more life out of our time together. The rest of the family would head back to California while Cole and I lingered a few more days in Florida. Cole agreed. I was happy. It was set… until it wasn’t.

That night, I felt a tug on the reigns. God was speaking and it was clear. I was supposed to go home. It would mean saying goodbye to Cole earlier than absolutely necessary; a very sad reality, especially in light of the fact that we knew he would not have any time off for an entire year – at least. But I’d experienced God enough to know that His plans are good, even when I don’t understand. So I let Cole know of the change in plans. And that was that.

The following day, Cole had a change of heart. The things that had felt so pressing suddenly looked to him like they could wait. And he could indeed accompany us out to California. The week (or two?) that followed can only be described as pure magic. I don’t think I’ve ever had so much fun with my boy as I did during his visit home. There was so much lightness and laughter. He was able to see my family (who helped raise him and loooove him), as well as some very dear friends. He also got to visit his great grandmother, a last opportunity since she passed away after his return to the Navy. He was even willing to override his extreme aversion to having his picture taken to allow us to take millions of pictures to capture the joy of the visit.

This unexpected and utterly divine experience didn’t come from my attempts to make it happen (all of which all fell flat on their face), but from following the leading of God, who wanted to give me so much more than the couple extra isolated days with Cole I was willing to settle for. As it turns out, he hasn’t gotten leave for well over a year and I’ve only heard his voice once or twice since then, so that time together has been a sustaining gift. Not just for me, but him too, I think, to tuck away for the long journey he’s embarked on.

While following God’s lead doesn’t always provide such immediate delight and gratification, it does always make space for the very best… giving us so much more than the “good” we would have settled for. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:9

As it turned out, that magical visit was the last time we would see Cole on this earth. A year and a half later, before he had a chance to take leave again, he took his life. You guys, I had no idea what was on the line when the Lord asked me to “give” that time in Florida and head back to California, but I do know it felt significant even then. I am so grateful that I’d gained enough understanding through my history with the Lord to know that He is a giver of joy, not a taker of dreams and that He could be trusted if I let go. What strikes me most is how much more He wanted to give than I was holding onto, not just for me but for others who love Cole just as much as I do and were able to be co-recipients of the forever gift of time with him.

I find myself here again, with a tug on my heart to “give.” It feels different on this side. Not harder necessarily, but vulnerable. My heart is still tender from the last time I surrendered Cole, which resulted in a story I hoped I’d never have to live or tell, but also more grace than I’ve ever experienced. As a mom who has lost a son, I have every right to hold onto my pain, disappointment, regrets or thoughts of what could have been. No one would blame me. But in my heart of hearts, I know that there can be no forward movement until I let go. Not just beyond God’s reach so I can quickly grab it again. But to lay down all the love and hope wrapped up in Cole’s life – willingly and freely – and wait expectantly before the Lord to lead on. 

It is not an easy or light undertaking, but I believe God has something even better for me than the short time here with Cole I would have taken for myself. I may not be able to see it clearly yet, but I suspect it has to do with the lens of eternity and with others also getting to be co-recipients of heaven’s amazing forever gifts. I have this mental picture of myself standing before Jesus one day and laughing with joy at how beautifully He orchestrated things and proved once again how much higher, sweeter and better His ways are than mine. Until then, somewhat like the anguished father in Mark 9 who says, “I believe. Help my unbelief!,” I am praying “I choose to give him to you. Help me let go!”

Is there something you are holding onto? Maybe something you have every right to keep in your grip, but that is keeping you from forward motion? I know it is hard, but I pray you join me in this journey of trust as we choose to release our grip and open our hands to receive all that He has for us. So much love to you, Kara

Posted by: karanoel | November 20, 2020

The good samaritans

While on my morning walk last week, I passed a small backup at the end of the street. An elderly person in an old station wagon had stopped part-way through the intersection, with a clear intent to turn left but no follow-through. The driver behind him/her*, who was unable to move forward as a result, started honking. The white-haired person responded with some hand motions, which I took to mean that he/she now wanted to turn right and needed the trailing car to back up… but that couldn’t be done because there was yet another car in the queue. “Old person, just turn left and make a u-turn later,” I said to myself as I passed by. “You’re holding everybody up!” The other drivers, who appeared to be put out, managed to awkwardly maneuver around the offending station wagon and zip away. 

Not two minutes later, I turned around to see that the couple who had just passed me on the sidewalk – a petite woman and young-ish man – were pushing the wood-paneled station wagon up the slope through the intersection. Others quickly pulled their cars over to help and I heard their voices shouting, “Turn the wheel to the left!” “Good!” “Now put on your brakes!” As it turns out, the car had broken down and the driver was stuck there. I stood there, pierced with sadness at how grossly I’d misread the situation and humbled by the kindness of those who took the time to listen and to help.

For a moment, I wished I had been one of them instead of heaping quiet judgment as I passed. But then I wondered how that would have worked. “I couldn’t have pushed the car myself,” I thought. “And soliciting help is super uncomfortable for me. Besides, I usually just get in the way. Plus, I’ve been gone a while and should be getting home.” Before I knew it, though still heart-broken about my error, I was feeling relieved that I’d avoided the inconvenient, uncomfortable and potentially messy work of helping someone in need, happily leaving it to the others who were getting it done.

This got me thinking about something. Even though I have spent decades with a longing to adopt and have wept with heart-felt compassion for these kids, I’ve recently felt relieved that fostering (and/or adopting) didn’t work out for us. It would have been hard and messy, I’ve reasoned, and certainly not as romantic as I’d pictured. There are other considerations, too, like not putting my delicate, introverted temperament through that kind of stress, disrupting the balance of my family, or interfering with the things God has called me to do (like sitting in my pretty yard writing things). Those are certainly important considerations – ones that should be taken to the Lord in prayer – but I’m starting to wonder if I let myself off the hook a little too readily, happily leaving it to others who are getting it done, presumably way better than I could.

Maybe fostering kids isn’t what God is asking of me, though. Maybe He would be thrilled with the far less dramatic willingness to be interrupted by the opportunities that present themselves every day in my home and not too far beyond… things I walk by because of blindness, judgment or justifications (It’s inconvenient, I’m tired, it will cost me something I’m not willing to sacrifice). 

You know, I’ve always handily villanized the priest and the Levite in the parable of the good Samaritan who left a fellow Jew half-dead on the road to Jericho, passing by “on the other side.” Like they didn’t even want to get close to the mess or be accountable for what they saw. But were they really so bad? Maybe they were people who really wanted to be kind and generous, but either didn’t recognize a legitimate need when it presented itself or justified their way out of helping. It could have been that they were on their way to help someone else or thought this guy deserved what he’d gotten. Or maybe they just didn’t want to get stuck in the middle of a sticky or costly situation that others could certainly handle without them. I’m judging them a little less harshly these days. Because they sound a lot like me. 

I don’t see this as a guilt thing… what I could or should do but don’t. That never accomplishes anything. But I do see it as a stirring in my heart; something God wants to transform in me. Not just to be someone who feels pity for the downtrodden, but someone like the good Samaritan who is available to help, even when it is inconvenient, uncomfortable and costly. Not noisily honking grievances at the lost or passing by with quiet judgment, but pausing long enough to truly see the person, perceive their need and be moved with the Father’s heart of compassion for them.

After telling the story about the good Samaritan, Jesus asked, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” “The one who had mercy on him,” was the reply. Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

*As seems fitting, I didn’t get close enough to see whether it was a man or woman.

An oldie, but goodie – Keith Green, On the Road to Jericho:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L0C6NtVwjLM

Posted by: karanoel | November 10, 2020

Click

One morning a couple weeks ago, Chase was struggling. Not quietly, but in his typical dramatic fashion. He’s an AMAZING kid, but an emotional one who feels things intensely and reacts accordingly. (Can’t imagine where he got that!) Every attempt I made to help the situation only drew his ire until it hit a feverish pitch of exasperated panic, anger and disrespect. 

I asked if he wanted a do-over. When he questioned, “What do you mean?,” I explained how actors often do several takes of a particular scene but the audience only sees the best one. I figured we could do something similar and I would choose to “see” only the one he decided was best. He knew his behavior wasn’t reflective of who he is or wants to be, so he took a moment to cool down and then accepted my offer. His second take was calm and mature, expressing the struggle without the drama. We then problem-solved the issue together. It was sheer beauty.

It was so successful, in fact, that we instituted a new rule in our house as a result. Anytime we respond in a way that causes regret or doesn’t reflect our true heart, we simply say “click” (the word Chase picked for a do-over) and express what we wished we had said in the first place. Just like that, the new response replaces the former one. Instead of just retracting something negative with a “sorry,” it offers a chance to say something better,  blessing both parties while forming new grooves of grace-giving and grace-receiving.  We’ve already taken advantage of this a few times and Chase even asked if he could “click” a whole morning, to which I gladly agreed (it was a rough morning!). 

The Bible says that love keeps no record of wrongs. This isn’t just a mandate for us as we love others; it is the way God loves us. He’s not marking down our failures in some holy gradebook with a sharpie as he shakes his head with disappointment, nor does he average them with our successes as we nervously hope for a passing grade. Nope. He is a loving Father who doesn’t see failure in the endless falls of his kids attempting to walk or ride a bike or act like the loved, accepted, forgiven people we are. Rather He sees them as opportunities for us to learn and grow as He teaches us, comforts us and cheers us on in our efforts. If we get it wrong, He gives us “click” after “click” to stand up and try again, always choosing to see the perfect righteousness of Jesus that swallows up our every failure. And He doesn’t just forgive what we’ve done, but speaks something better over us… and then reaches into His impossible, empowering grace to draw it out of us, establishing us in us ever-deepening grooves of grace-receiving and grace-giving. This is how, little by little, we become like the people we were made to be; ones who bear a striking resemblance to our remarkable Dad who lives and loves so well.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 1 Cor 13:4-7

Posted by: karanoel | November 2, 2020

Love, training & time

The dog breed we were getting was going to be pretty perfect. I’d done my research, talked to people who owned them and even taken Chase to meet a friend’s. They were great family dogs who were easy to train, didn’t shed or bark much, and their energy levels were said to be manageable.

The timing of getting our dog was going to be pretty perfect too. The litter was due in April and would be ready to go home by early June. School would be out, construction on my parents’ cottage on our property would be nearly finished and, most importantly, the work on our yard and pool would be done.

Do you ever find that life doesn’t go exactly as planned?  

Sunny did come in early June. She didn’t shed, which was great, and the barking was minimal (at the start, anyway). Turns out she was pretty trainable too, in the sense that she learned commands quickly, but reinforcing them required me to be on task nonstop… as in every single waking moment of every single day. As to manageable energy levels? As if!!!  Sunny had unrelenting energy, the likes of which I’d never seen.

Though a pandemic hit, dramatically changing Chase’s school schedule, he did get out for summer right before her arrival. But permit delays on my parents’ cottage meant the trench running their gas through our yard could not be filled. Because of the order of things, this meant our torn-up yard and pool could not be completed and our fence couldn’t get put back up. So our 8-week old puppy came home to an unenclosed danger zone and, since we couldn’t take her on walks until she was fully vaccinated, nowhere to expend that boundless energy. Things like ‘What have I gotten myself into?” and “Help me Lord Jesus!” escaped my lips on a regular basis.

It’s not like we were feeling fresh as daisies to start with. It had been an exhausting year and we were spent. Since I had been the one driving the puppy purchase, I carried the weight of added stress her craziness brought to John’s overwhelming world of work and construction. And since I wanted a positive experience for Chase, I felt angst over her excessive biting and jumping and a need to get her in line ASAP. Plus, we had a few rounds of guests coming causing me to feel especially responsible for her energy and behavior, not wanting it to negatively affect their stay.

To make matters worse, the handful of friends who had gotten puppies had ended up with freakishly mellow ones that hardly even needed training. “How is that fair?,” I wondered with a good dose of self-pity. And all the training I worked on so constantly with Sunny simply evaporated in her exuberance around people, causing them to ask so frequently, “When are you going to have her trained?” I was expecting hard, but this was hard.

At the end of one particularly defeating day, John caught me googling, “Are Sheepadoodles crazy?” The internet didn’t seem to think so. Clearly they hadn’t met mine. But no matter what exasperating things happened during the day, a shift would happen at night. Hope would rise that there was some way to tackle this; that order could establish itself in the chaos. So after putting Sunny to bed, I would search for videos on whichever behaviors were at issue and delve back into the training books I’d read. By the time I closed my eyes, I had a strategy for the new day. Weeks came and went like this, every day pouring myself into the work of this puppy. What happened as a result wasn’t some magical transformation that was (or is) obvious to onlookers. As much as I would have loved that, it was even better. 

It was the development of relationship – a really sweet one – which couldn’t be escaped with all the time we were spending together. Since this is the reason we got Sunny in the first place, it’s a much bigger win than simply having a calm or well-behaved dog. Another thing has happened along the way. I’ve realized that she is learning. Maybe not at breakneck speed or in a way that impresses others, but enough for me to know that we are on the right track. It also hits me every once in a while that she is still a really young puppy and there are certain things that will come with age and maturity; no sooner. So now I’m not in such a hurry for either of us to get it right because I’m learning to trust in the process of love, training and time. 

The even bigger takeaway has been a revelation that has affected me pretty profoundly: The God I serve is a God of relationship, not of good behavior. He isn’t phased by any of my areas of sinfulness or acting out because He sees them as opportunities to engage with me; to spend time hearing my heart and imparting His; to establish connection and trust. He’s in no rush for me to get it right and isn’t worried if other people – myself included – see the progress, because He knows that the very intentional work He is doing in my life is on track. His unsnuffable hope brings new mercies every single morning, along with masterful wisdom to establish me in the best ways, bringing order from chaos to bless not only me but the family and community He’s placed me in. And He will never compare me or my progress with anyone else the way I do with Sunny (Sorry Sunny!). I can’t tell you how much I needed this encouragement right now. It brings me such a sense of rest as I let His hope rise day by day and trust in His process of love, training and time. Praying it does the same for you.

Posted by: karanoel | October 23, 2020

When life feels small

The tiny little plants I bring home from various nurseries tell impossible tales of how big they will be someday, demanding large chunks of space for their roots and leaves to expand. As a gardener, I really should take this into account. But it requires faith that this supposed growth will actually happen and patience to tolerate the underwhelming, barren look of my garden until then. Because I lack in both of these areas, I’m a notorious overplanter.

Take, for instance, the zucchini plant I bought for my veggie garden a few years back. There was no way a little leaf sprouting from a few square inches of soil was going to take up 5 or 6 feet of space. I mean, come on… who makes this stuff up?? Plus, I was not about to waste all that needed garden space on a single plant. So I gave it about a foot on each side, which felt extremely generous at the time, and surrounded it with corn, tomatoes and peppers. It turns out that whoever wrote the info card that came with the plant knew what they were talking about because that thing got HUGE.  All the surrounding veggies had to be moved – more than once, if I remember right – to accommodate the surprising growth of that leafy giant.

Sometimes my life has felt small like the zucchini sprout I brought home, underwhelming the landscape and looking decidedly unimpressive. I’m pretty sure God has spent a good many years uprooting weeds and crowding plants of busyness and false identities so my roots can grow deep, my branches can spread wide and my life can produce fruit – hopefully lots of it. For someone who has struggled with faith and patience in more areas than just gardening, it has often seemed like we are going in the wrong direction. Like, shouldn’t we be planting more instead of removing what I’ve worked hard to put there?? But God is not concerned with how things look (or how I feel about how they look). He is a master gardener who knows His plants well – each unique person on this earth – and will tend to them with faith and patience until they are mature and thriving, fulfilling the potential contained in each seed.

I don’t know exactly what that will look like for each of us, except that it will be different. But I do know that there has been a shift for me; a growing surrender in my need for an above-the surface identity and a comfort in the space around me, even if my life never fills it with grand branches or flowering vines. Because my roots are getting established. They are growing healthy and strong in who God made me to be. And anything that grows out of that, whether big or small, has got to be good. I’m encouraged by this sense of rest and security and think that someday it might even gain the scope of imagination and excitement, knowing that what I see now – in  myself or in others – is only a small glimpse of what is to come.

Posted by: karanoel | October 20, 2020

Brothers

Cole and Chase had a different relationship than typical brothers who might fight over toys or debate who’s better at burping. This probably had to do with their 17 year age difference, the result of my long spell of singleness between marriages. While genuinely happy for me when Chase was born, Cole wasn’t thrilled about having a loud, needy newborn around. Still, he graciously surrendered my attention (which had historically been his) and managed the extra noise brought by his wee little brother with the judicious use of his headphones, like the fairly mature but equally hands-off teen he was. 

But then Chase started to form a personality; one that was sweet and charming and endlessly entertaining. He adored his big brother, glowing brightly when he entered the room and eagerly conversing with him, using surprisingly big words in his tiny cartoon voice. Cole’s defenses were powerless against this animated warmth and his heart was won over in no time flat. 

Though Chase had just turned two when Cole left for a six-year enlistment as a Navy nuke, the pair had already formed a forever kind of bond. Their closeness was reflected in this sweet story in Cole’s first letter home from bootcamp: “My RDC made me open up your letter in front of her and the rest of the division to make sure you didn’t send me any contraband and when I opened it up and saw a picture of Chase, I lost it. Fortunately, everyone else was too busy with their own mail to notice me standing in the middle of the room crying like a damn baby.” “It has been really tough,” he continued, “being away from Chase (and yes, all of you as well) and realizing how much of his life I’m going to miss out on.”

Little did he know when he wrote this how much of Chase’s life he would indeed miss, not just during his enlistment when visits were rare and texts, photos and videos had to suffice, but when he chose to take his own life just shy of four years later. My heart hurt deeply for myself, but far more for my boys… for Cole who was in such a place of darkness and fear that he felt the need for such a desperate measure, and for Chase who now has to deal with the pain and fallout of Cole’s actions, something that is getting more tangible for him each year.

Here is the thing. Even though I completely disagree with Cole’s choice and wish he could have received the love and help that was held out to him so he could have chosen life instead, I feel nothing but love and compassion for him. No one does damage to himself or others, intentionally or unwittingly, without it coming from a place of fear, lack of understanding or brokenness. Cole was no exception. And while I know that it is going to take a lot of processing for Chase that I would never want to shortcut, I feel like my role is to help him know who Cole really is, to forgive him for the pain his choice caused and to enter into an even deeper love for him than he would have otherwise… because it will have to be a selfless, God kind of love at this point; the agape kind.

As Chase was processing his sadness with me on Cole’s birthday, I thought about the hurt God’s kids are causing each other in the world right now. It may not always be between bonded siblings like my boys, but between those called family by God, created with a potential for a bond even stronger than brothers of blood. As Cole experienced, it’s not always easy or convenient to have our peace interrupted or our comfort taxed by calling someone “brother” who is so different from ourselves, but what a beautiful, blessed thing it can become. And as I experienced, I have to imagine it breaks God’s heart, even more for us than for Himself, to see the damage we are causing each other by our choices of word and action… sometimes intentionally, sometimes unwittingly, but always from a place of fear, lack of understanding or brokenness. 

The same God who has seen beyond our (often poor) choices to who we really are, forgiven us without fail and loved us with relentless compassion is calling us to do the same. We don’t need to agree, but we do need to love. As with Chase, at this point with hurt that’s gone so deep, it will have to be a selfless, God kind of love. One that believes the best, is not easily offended, keeps no record of wrongs. One that doesn’t draw lines of where worthiness begins and where it ends. Because He has made us all worthy of love and it is only when we receive this gift and the grace that comes with it that we are able to see clearly, to love our brothers and sisters well and to choose life – for ourselves and others – in our words and actions.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 1 Corinthians 13

If you have a chance, I encourage you to listen to Jenn Johnson, For the One:

Posted by: karanoel | October 14, 2020

Anchored.

We have this certain hope like a strong, unbreakable anchor holding our souls to God himself. Hebrews 6:19 tpt

Wednesday, October 7th, would have been Cole’s 25th birthday. Last year, our little family wore temporary anchor tattoos as a way to celebrate him since he was in the Navy and loved tattoos, but more significantly because of our hope that is anchored in Jesus… our hope of heaven, of seeing Cole again, of comfort and healing while we are here on this earth. Chase had also instituted the tradition on this special day of creating art, a particular enjoyment of Cole’s. Because of a friend’s suggestion, we invited others to join us this year in these young, humble traditions.

It felt vulnerable to put my heart out there like this; to invite others into our joy-filled memories of Cole – and into our pain. And yet what poured in through that vulnerability was profoundly moving. Texts and posts of anchored arms sprinkled my vision that day, as did heartfelt drawings and paintings and caring notes that wrapped me up in comfort as my emotions began to rise. Many friends from our neighborhood and community stopped by, most of whom had never even met Cole. But still, they willingly entered into this sacred space of joy and pain, alongside so many others, drenching me in an overwhelming love that shook walls of self-protection that were erected long before Cole was even born, causing ancient bricks to crumble and allowing me to show up uncovered, unburdened, embraced and accepted.

Because that’s what love does. It enters into the vulnerable places, breaking down what never belonged in the first place and building up what was always meant to be. So thank you all for entering in with me through reading this blog and all the other ways you have shown unbelievable kindness and love. I can only hope to enter in with others as you have done for me.

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