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

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)

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

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