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.

Posted by: karanoel | September 28, 2020

Do you love me?

“When you love someone, truly love them, you lay your heart open to them.” Sherrilyn Kenyon

I was sitting on the kitchen floor with Sunny the other day, petting her floppy mane and teasing her with a toy, when I was flooded with a realization of my love for her. I knew I’d been starting to bond, but was surprised by how vulnerable I felt. With it came a profound desire to be loved by her. Not for what I do for her – like giving her a spoon of peanut butter when I brush her or throwing her rubber chicken time after time in the backyard, but because she loves me.

I often tell her I love her, but this time I asked her, “Do you love me too?” She didn’t answer, but my guess is that she is learning to love me. And truth be told, I’m still learning to love her too. I keenly remember the regret I felt about her purchase when, according to my journal, I considered her “an unnegotiable constant that magnifies all my other difficulties.” And yet here, after only a few months of showing up to care for her, I find this love and desire in my heart. And I’m pretty sure that even if she never answers my question with a clear “yes,” I’ll keep showing up and pouring myself out for her.

You guys, this made me think of God’s love for us. He didn’t have to grow into it like I’ve had to with Sunny, because it was pure and perfect and complete from the beginning of creation and it could never be anything different because it’s His very nature. He has cared for us relentlessly, showing up day after day and hour after hour, no matter what behaviors or difficulties we bring, always telling us – and showing us – how much He loves us. How vulnerable that must feel; how exposed His heart is. He has laid it open to us, willing to be hurt if we don’t return it.

I picture Him asking, “Do you love me too?” Some might give a quick, biting “no.” Some might give an exuberant “yes.” But I think that most of us are learning to love Him. Not just for what He gives us or what He does for us, but because in that tender, faithful care, we come see the beauty of who He is. And more than any blessing, we just want to be with Him.

Posted by: karanoel | September 24, 2020

Without further ado

Many years of conversation about getting a dog came and went. One that was past the puppy stage appealed, but despite the intensity of my on-again-off-again searches, the right one never seemed to show its face. Plus, we were renting and didn’t know what our long term situation would be. Other important questions kept making the rounds, like ”Who would care for our pet when we traveled?” “Would it actually scratch the relationship itch Chase had as the only child living at home?” “Would it be a repeat of The Infamous Craigslist Puppy Purchase?” And most importantly of all, “Do we even want a dog?” With a lack of answers, we always dropped the subject and moved on.

But then this past January came. Life had changed a bit. The pet fish I’d planned on getting Chase at Christmas didn’t materialize because something inside said, “This is the year you’ll get a dog.” So after the holidays, I broached the subject again. John was open. Timing-wise, it made sense. We had settled into our purchased home with plenty of room for a dog to roam. The construction of my parents’ cottage on our property would be wrapped up within a matter of months and their presence might make travel a possibility. Our simultaneous pool rehab would be completed by summer, when Chase, who was now a good age for a dog, would be out of school and available to help.

Of course big questions still lingered and we didn’t have clear answers so research and discussion were heavily peppered with prayer. I kept handing it back to the Lord, unwilling to enter the decision lightly or impulsively, but He seemed to keep handing it back to me, as though it were a gift he wanted to give. Direction came just when it was needed, like stepping stones appearing before every footfall. Chase was ambivalent about the possibility, saying he thought it could be good but “wouldn’t want to help with it every day.” But John thought we may just need to call it and draw Chase into the adventure (and responsibility) with us. I agreed and also had a strong feeling that it could help minimize the growing fear that had replaced Chase’s early fondness of dogs, and possibly soften the blow of his best friend moving away after the school year. When Chase met our friend’s Sheepadoodle, the breed we were leaning towards, he was immediately smitten and became the loudest voice in the puppy campaign.

And so it was that we put a deposit down by the end of January. And then became puppy owners of a fluffy little Miniature Sheepadoodle named Sunny in June. There are plenty of posts to come on the subject, but I will end this one by saying that Chase’s fear of dogs evaporated almost immediately (despite Sunny’s early terrorizing of him with her unrestrained puppy self) and he has become a self-professed dog lover, daily declaring his affection for Sunny, jumping at the chance to accompany me to the dog park and spending a fair amount of time pondering which breed he will get as an adult.  And while this dog ownership journey has – at times – seemed harder than I thought possible, I too am smitten with this shaggy character I love calling mine. I look forward to getting her up in the morning because her joy makes my life better and her antics make me laugh out loud. I would venture to say that despite all the craziness she has added to an already wild ride this year, John is bonding too. So, without further ado, I introduce you to our sweet girl, Sunny Luker…

Posted by: karanoel | September 15, 2020

Landlubbers no more

A conversation with a friend recently got me thinking about what I consider a good day, which is pretty much one that goes smoothly… with no hitches, unanticipated stresses or flatout disasters. There’s nothing wrong with that and I am grateful for each and every one of those days, but the problem is that I am pretty tempted to consider anything else a bad day or at least one I would gladly swap out for a better one. The thing is that as much as I like “easy” – and believe me, I do – it tends to shortcut the growth that will produce the freedom and joy I most want in this life.

Pregnancy is the first example that comes to mind. The stretching and growing my body had to endure to produce my babies was uncomfortable and inconvenient. It taxed my energy, my mobility and even my sleep as I, a human beach ball with heartburn, attempted to find a decent position to get some rest. I remember a particularly trying day in my first trimester with Chase when I said to John, “I changed my mind… I don’t want to be pregnant anymore!” Of course I didn’t mean it. What I meant was that though I really, really wanted this baby, it was hard when I wanted it to be easy. But the birth of both my boys, as I held their tender bodies against my own, was so great a joy that I would have willingly undergone the discomfort, doubts and pain all over again to obtain the treasure on the other side. Of course pregnancy was only the beginning because motherhood stretched me in far deeper ways, forcing my roots down into Jesus and causing more growth that I needed (and desperately wanted) but wouldn’t have chosen because, as we’ve established, I like things smooth and easy. 

I’ve been experiencing growing pains of another sort. The house we bought last year had a separate office/workshop that would be ideal, we thought, for my parents to renovate and move into. Their agreement with our happy idea began a 1 ½ year process that was anything but easy. In fact, it was downright hard. We were all stretched and pressed and inconvenienced. The costs were far greater than expected and, because of permit issues, the time to complete the project went months and months past original (and revised) estimates. I had a couple days, as in my pregnancy, when I told John, “I’m done. Over it. Tapping out.” Of course I didn’t mean it. I meant I wanted to be done having to grow. I wanted it to feel easy again and within my control. But with most of the construction completed on a beautiful cottage that suits them perfectly, my parents were finally able to move in last week. And, despite some serious threats by an inspector to make them move back out, today marked the signoff on the final inspection. It is now a done deal. We hold this tender new family setup on our God-given property with gratitude and joyfully embark on a new adventure. Of course, as with motherhood, there will be plenty more stretching to come… always followed by growth and freedom as we surrender to the process and allow God to form Himself in us.

Since growth in its truest form produces something, like babies or fruit or parents’ cottages or maturity, I have realized that many of the very challenges I would have escaped given the opportunity have actually been answers to the prayers of my heart. For who I’ve wanted to become. For the things I’ve wanted to be able to let go of. For the freedom I’ve yearned for. 

When I was praying for a friend in a very hard place many years ago, a picture formed in my mind that I’ve never forgotten. She was out at sea in a storm. The water was choppy and rough, the skies gray, the wind howling. She feared for her life and all she wanted to do was get out of the waves and onto the shore where she would feel safe and in control again. But God in His mercy knew that if He plunked her right back on the sand with sunny skies, she would be bound to that shore – a landlubber forevermore. He had a bigger vision for her life. So out of His vast patience and knowledge, He wanted to teach her to sail the seas with such mastery that she would never fear the water – or a storm – again, and would be free to go wherever He called her, no matter how big the waves or deafening the wind. Let me just tell you that I have seen her surrender to His compassionate but relentless teaching these past 20 years and though the storm of her circumstances has only intensified, she is no longer afraid and is now teaching others how to sail those daunting seas.

I know He wants to do the same for each of us, leading us into far greater growth and freedom than we would ever choose in our shortsighted desire for comfort or control. It might not be easy, but it will be so worth it as we hold the precious treasures that result.  I don’t know what you’re going through, how long or how hard it has been, if you feel stretched beyond breaking and want nothing more than to tap out of your trial, but I do know that He will not abandon you here; that He will see you through to the other side and that He is using even your hardships to answer the deepest cries of your heart. So my prayer is that no matter what things look like or feel like right now, we can choose to look to Him and let Him teach us how to sail the high seas.

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