Posted by: karanoel | December 17, 2019

Go in the strength you have

As you are probably well aware of by now, my walks are a lifeline. But things had been busy and I’d gotten out of my groove. Last Saturday, I had a window of time to walk in the morning before scheduled events crowded out the possibility, but I was feeling lazy and also a bit down, leaving me feeling lackluster about tackling my usual couple of loops up and around the hill I’ve grown to love. With a little encouragement from John, I begrudgingly headed out the door, knowing that – at some point – I’d be glad I did. 

IMG_7737.JPEGA mile or two in, I noticed how much slower my pace has become. More of a stroll than the power walk of years gone by. Nothing wrong with that, really, but something about it felt off. Maybe a little defeated. Then the strangest thing happened. In the midst of my normal jumble of thinking, processing and praying, God crashed in with a moment of clarity about a “should” I’d been carrying and a reminder that He leads me by joy, not duty. In an instant, the load lifted from my shoulders and my whole being was released in a bubbling burst of joyful delight and physical energy. Not only did I make it around the hill twice, but for the first time since living here, I added a third loop – at a quick clip – with my heart singing all the way. 

It brought to mind an experience I had this past summer. John had planned a trip for just the two of us to Yosemite around the anniversary of Cole’s death. It was thoughtful and touching, both because it’s my favorite place on earth and because we’d never seen Cole so happy and childlike as he was there. Since we didn’t have Chase on this trip, we were planning to do some actual hiking. Maybe not to Half Dome, which requires permits, waking up far too early to avoid the crowds, and a fitness level I don’t currently possess. But we could start with Upper Yosemite Falls, John suggested, which neither of us had ever hiked before and would still be a challenge. 

Normally, I love hiking. But we’d had a super busy summer and I’d gotten really sick and I felt extremely out of shape. Add to that a terrible night’s sleep, complete with a full-on bloody nose and accidentally walking into two of the lodge’s strangely placed walls during a restroom trip (which may have been connected events)…. and I just wasn’t sure I’d be able to complete this “very strenuous” six to eight hour hike with a 2,700 foot elevation gain that our friend had jokingly dubbed the Stairmaster 7000. When my legs grew tired on the flat, easy walk to the trailhead, any remaining confidence completely failed me.

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As we started to climb this stairway to heaven, carved out in stone before us, I let John lead as I kept repeating under my breath “but those who trust in the LORD will renew their strength… they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not faint.” It wasn’t long before something magical occurred, much like the experience on my recent walk. A joy rose up from inside me, expressing itself in physical energy and a transformed mindset. I found myself saying – and totally believing – “I was made for this!” And, I kid you not, I started bounding up those steps (John took to calling me Billy Goat), and reached the top with far more energy than I had started with. The next day’s hike was the same and while I wanted to keep going until we couldn’t go anymore, I’m glad John’s voice of reason turned us around before then because the following day brought about some very sore muscles. So we wrapped up our trip with some lovely lounging, with a book in hand, by the sparkling river, enjoying this special time away together that capped off a difficult, yet very rich year and launched us into a new one, yet unwritten.

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Here’s the reason this matters. There are hills and mountains before each one of us that can be incredibly daunting. The enemy gets up close and intimate to lay out the specs of these hikes – how strenuous, how much elevation gain, how long it will take – and we listen so we can be informed, not taking into account how this particular source leaves out important information like the help we will be given all along the way. And then, while he has our ear, he will bring to mind how unfit we are to tackle such a thing. We are out of shape, after all, and have been through so much already, and certainly don’t have the reserves or experience or training necessary. It’s going to be a dismal trudge, he’ll say. Why not bide our time and not set out quite yet? Or maybe not set out at all? And so, before we even start, we feel tired, discouraged and defeated.

But that is all irrelevant information because, as counterintuitive as it seems, our own strength and ability are not prerequisites for the journey ahead, no matter how difficult. They can actually be a hindrance because they cause us to trust in and depend on our own limited resources, exhausting (while also exalting) ourselves in the process, rather than depending on God’s limitless resources which release joy and supernatural strength, reveal and establish our true identities and glorify God in the process.  

I can’t help thinking of Gideon who was called by God to lead Israel to battle against the Midianites. He was an unlikely candidate, being as he said, the weakest link in the weakest clan, who believed the Lord had abandoned Israel and delivered them into the hands of the enemy. Not quite the “mighty warrior” the angel called him – or not yet, anyway. Instead of God beefing up his army to boost his confidence, God beefed up his heart and proceeded to whittle down his army from many thousands to 300 men. So he could feel discouraged or defeated from the start? No! His victory was already secure. It was so he couldn’t boast, “my own strength has saved me.”

The Lord had said to him, “Go in the strength that you have… Am I not sending you?” For Gideon, to “go” meant taking steps with trembling knees, big question marks about God’s faithfulness and a massive sense of “unqualified” tattooed on his mind, but that’s all God asked for… the strength that you have. It resulted in an astonishing victory for Israel under the leadership of this weakling whose identity as a warrior was revealed and established along the way, as was His relationship with the God who sent Him. It’s the same thing He’s asking us to do today: to go in the strength that we have. He is the one sending us and He is the one whose strength will deliver us. We won’t start out being warriors, just like the jugs of water at the wedding in Cana didn’t start out as wine. But there will be a transformation along the way – a joyful, energizing and empowering one – as God arms us with strength and makes our way perfect; as He makes us surefooted as a deer, enabling us to stand on mountain heights. (Psalm 18:32-33)

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Posted by: karanoel | December 11, 2019

Thank you

I was deeply moved by your responses to my last post. There is so much healing for me in just sharing on this blog; to have a place to process and friends to listen. Often the burden lifts the moment I post. But to feel so loved and cared for in return; to hear that God could use the words that come out of this cracked-open heart for good in the life of another… it is more profoundly humbling than anything I’ve known. 

crumbling-wall.jpgWalls that for a lifetime have kept love outside for fear that it didn’t belong inside; they are crumbling. How could they stand here, in this sacred embrace of vulnerability met with overpowering grace? It has brought me to my knees. But there is no place I’d rather be.

So thank you. Thank you for reading what I write, for holding my hand in hope, for standing with me through prayer and loving kindness. My words fall short but I pray that the Lord wraps around you with His mighty grace as you have done for me and crumbles any walls that would keep out the living, breathing love your heart was formed, so very intimately, to know.

I thank my God every time I remember you. Philippians 1:3

Posted by: karanoel | December 4, 2019

A homecoming deferred

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We have been in holiday mode for a while now… enjoying a couple-day visit from our daughter and a couple-week visit from my mother-in-law, playing with Chase who had a chunk of time off school, sleeping late, celebrating a Thanksgiving feast with a favorite cousin and extended family, buying and decorating a Christmas tree, and watching a mind-numbing amount of Christmas movies on the Hallmark channel, which I just recently realized we had (aren’t you grateful for this discovery, John?!).

But today is quiet. John is at work. Chase is at school. Our guests are now gone. I am resting in the embrace of my enormous sofa with my computer on my lap and the Christmas tree lights twinkling by my side, listening to the rain come down. 

I have been missing Cole. After he left for the Navy, it wasn’t a given that he would come home for the holidays so last Christmas without him didn’t seem strange. But it’s been a long pause since his last visit. The rhythm we’d established tells my heart he should be coming home soon. I can’t help picturing it; what our time together would look like. I keep imagining him walking with me around the block of this new neighborhood he hasn’t yet seen. It would be so natural and right; so unserious and yet deeply relational. He wasn’t one for big planned events, so connection with him always happened that way… organically; quietly. There would be bike rides around the neighborhood, late nights watching Bob’s Burgers as he teased me about being like Linda (“Did someone say sailing??”), light-hearted conversation in the kitchen while I cooked, Legos with his brother, inside jokes with his sister, indulgent restaurant dinners John would treat us to after we’d all wandered around the Spectrum laughing because there was always laughter when Cole was around, getting to see my favorite sight on earth – all three of my kids together. 

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It doesn’t seem far-fetched that he would show up on our doorstep. That we could pick up where we left off and carry on. There will be a time for that. We will all be together again and it will be so worth the wait, with laughter and connection sweeter and richer than anything we’ve yet known. Yes, there will be a time when everything has been made right; our every mistake covered by the power of love. All the darkness we’ve experienced will flee in the presence of astounding light. The pain we’ve known so acutely won’t even be a memory because it will be overtaken by the purest and most perfect joy. 

Thank you, Jesus, for choosing to come to this broken world for us, knowing how desperately we needed you. Help us to grasp and carry the profound truth of your birth in every cell of our being; that we could sing of your goodness, not just this season but forevermore. 

Posted by: karanoel | November 15, 2019

The power in a seed

SeedWhile in my backyard yesterday, I noticed a few bright yellow dandelions sticking out of the grass. Upon closer inspection, I spotted two that had passed the flowering stage and turned into seeds; billions of them, probably, judging by the way they reproduce. As I grabbed one, in an attempt to keep its fertility out of my garden, several of the featherweight seeds caught the smallest breath of air and sailed through my fingers to fulfill their destiny of producing more dandelions. While I’m no fan of pernicious weeds, even when they take the shape of sunshiny flowers, I let out the most delighted squeal at the sight.

You see, it reminded me of a mental image the Lord gave me after Cole died. It was of a seed flying through the air like a little helicopter, carrying – through its death – new life. I had a feeling that seed was going to travel far. And that I was going to get to accompany it. The message to my heart was that because Cole’s life had passed the flowering stage here on earth and become a seed that God would carry and plant, many others would experience new life as a result. It moved me and I tucked it away inside. But it wasn’t until I was trying to confine those darn dandelion seeds that I realized how marvelously uncontainable new life can be. And, holy cow, how much greater when it comes not from natural life but from the resurrection power of God. I feel like I could float up into the air myself at the thought of it.

So I am reminded once again that Cole still has a purpose here and encouraged to keep surrendering my hopes, dreams and expectations of how things should be; to lay down my life instead of clinging to it. Only then can I become a life-filled seed carrying resurrection in my very DNA… destined – uncontainably and without limit – to produce more of the same.

I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives. John 12:24

Posted by: karanoel | November 7, 2019

A thief called distraction

iphoneI have been in a wildly distracted place. My phone has been in hand first thing in the morning as though an inbox of immaterial emails can’t wait until my heart has had a chance to orient itself to a new day and the One who created it, and then dozens of times throughout the day as thoughts fly immediately from my mind to my iphone’s keyboard. Some of the things I consider most important have taken a backseat to what will gratify in the moment, not unlike a cheap sugar fix that will leave me unsatisfied and craving more. It’s not that I haven’t been accomplishing good things too. I have. But sometimes good things can be accomplished out of order or serve as a distraction themselves, leaving a lack of internal rest and a mind that can’t be still.

For someone who thrives on a quietness of soul, it is interesting to realize that it hasn’t just escaped me; I have actually been avoiding it. Not consciously, really. But out of self-protection. “Being still and knowing” allows us to connect to our hearts and to God’s; to touch life, like live cables to a battery. With it comes truth, conviction and emotions. Sometimes there are things we don’t want to see, to acknowledge, to feel. Which is why we – or at least I – choose at times to distract ourselves with the dead things of this world that might bring no value but at least pose no real threat.

My attempts to settle down and refocus were fruitless, so I did the best thing I know to do: Throw the weight of it on God and tell Him He was going to have to do it because I couldn’t. This is how, through no effort of my own, Monday found me passing up the extra dose of caffeine I’ve been using to fuel my frenetic energy and being willing to enter into the quietness. It is no surprise that I spent two days crying. Not desperate sobbing, but hours of tears in a tender connectedness to my heart and God’s. It was good to be connected again, especially because I spent so many years completely shut down, but it was uncomfortable too, as the pain medication of distraction wore off and feeling came back. There was the ache of a deeper level of releasing Cole, the pain of a horrific loss our friends recently experienced, the raw vulnerability of trust. I don’t even know what else was released in that river of tears. Sometimes we don’t have to.

The third day brought a remarkable sense of peace. It’s like a rain had come, watering the ground and washing away the clutter. My body felt calm and my mind was still. On my walk, I didn’t want music or a podcast; just the silence of peace and the air around it. I wasn’t focused on what I wanted or needed to do, but on the warm light hitting each golden leaf as it surrendered itself to the sky and the truth that God was walking with me as He did with Adam and Eve in the garden in the cool of the day. 

I still feel tender and I still feel quiet. Not completely without distraction, but with a heart that wants to remain connected, no matter how uncomfortable it may be or how much it hurts. Because in being undone, I am being made. Into someone who is real and true and very much alive. As the Skin Horse in The Velveteen Rabbit says, “When you are real, you don’t mind being hurt.” And when we bring that hurt into the presence of the Lord, it can’t help but be transformed into something beautiful and healing, cleansing the pathways of our hearts like the ground after a rain.

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Be still and know that I am God. Psalm 46:10

Posted by: karanoel | October 25, 2019

Shopkin bible love

As a kid, I knew how to play. By that I don’t mean just structured play, like a board game with a defined purpose and clear starting and ending points, which has remained manageable through the years. I mean free play where I could apply my imagination to whatever toys were available and fully enter into a world I’d created. Somewhere along the way, that ability which once came so naturally became really, really hard. 

I didn’t fully realize this until a few years ago when my sweet boy, Chase, kept asking me to play Shopkins with him. These are small, overpriced, plastic toys made in barely discernible shapes of food and other household items. Playing Shopkins with Chase meant wide open free play with no concrete framework and no definitive end. It’s not that I didn’t want to. Okay, fine. I totally didn’t want to. I would have rather gone to the dentist. Not the gentle one I go to now, but the one that actually hurt me on a regular basis.

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Sometimes I was successful in redirecting our playtime to something I enjoyed more, like a game or puzzle. Or anything else, really. But from time to time I would spend a handful of minutes that felt like hours attempting to create dialogue between characters like a guitar-wielding broccoli and what appeared to be dish soap. Because of love. The sacrificial bible kind. Jesus must have known about Shopkins when he taught us about this kind of love.

We eventually graduated to playing with Legos, which was definitely an improvement, but I still found it to be hard and unnatural. Not the building part, even though I’m not super creative in that area, but actually playing with the characters and scenes we had built. But one day, instead of trying to avoid, redirect or just grind out some playtime because of Shopkin bible love, it dawned on me that I could actually try to enter in and enjoy myself. Like the kid I once was, not the middle-aged grownup I have become.

Lego Characters

I’m not going to lie. It was still awkward and a bit forced. But then, as I continued to “practice” playing, my Lego characters started developing personalities and accents and quirks. I liked them a lot and thought they were pretty dang funny. Chase seemed to agree and now considers those characters mine. In this process, I have been realizing something. I am having fun. Like a kid. I’m not saying I want to play for hours at a time  and it’s still a choice I have to make, but it’s changed from the sacrificial duty of love to the playful joy of love. Way better than the dentist any day – even the gentle one.

This newfound playfulness isn’t just bound to our little Lego world. I laughed with the uninhibited delight of an easily-entertained toddler when I realized that if I throw plastic starfish at Chase while he’s taking a bath, they will stick to his chest and tummy. I have no idea why this hit my funny bone, but every single stick of a starfish drew out a riotous laugh. It just didn’t get old. Yesterday, when I was talking aloud to God as I tend to do when I’m alone, something in our conversation hit me as downright hysterical and I found myself once again laughing out loud in a distinctly un-grownup kind of way. While anyone looking on might question my maturity and sanity (if they haven’t already), I think this spontaneous joy – especially for someone who overthinks and overanalyzes a whole lot in life – is the greatest thing ever and I have decided it’s at least partially linked to playtime.

It made me think of that verse in Matthew when Jesus says, “And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” I still think that mostly means to be without guile and full of trust as we fully depend on our Daddy, but now I’m thinking it might also mean to learn how to play and lose ourselves in the fun of it. Maybe because it requires setting aside our cares and worries, our tasks and burdens, our expectations and appearances – which is an act of trust. Or maybe by practicing what “could be,” instead of what “is,” we are actually practicing faith. However you look at it, I hope I can keep choosing to enter into playtime because it pretty much feels like entering the kingdom of heaven, right here in Chase’s playroom. 

Posted by: karanoel | October 22, 2019

A captured heart

Typically, I’m not an intense doer kind of person. The only to-do lists I ever create are on the infrequent occasions I actually intend to set aside my normal tempo and plow through a chunk of tasks. And the only reason I would ever choose to do that, apart from the occasional need to feel like a productive and useful human being, is to remove from my path those undesirable barriers that keep me from rambling about my day in introspective bliss. 

This focus on my thought life can be a wonderful thing, especially because it is often intertwined with prayer and the sense that Jesus is with me… hanging out, talking, doing life together. It’s in this white space that understanding magically appears; that ideas for blog posts form in my mind; that I feel calm, settled and most like “me.” 

height-requirement.jpgThe downside is that my thought life can also be very self-focused. It’s where all those measuring sticks live with their nagging doubts about my ability to meet their standards, making me feel like a perpetual child whose head never reaches the height mark for the rides I most want to go on. But instead of height, it is: 1) Beauty – something that has always felt so important and yet out of reach. I would settle for “decent” with the ability to dress it up well, but that’s never been my thing. And, 2) Success. By this, I don’t mean a winning career with a cushy salary and fine things; those have never interested me. But the idea that there’s something I’m good enough at to hold up and say, “See, I’m good at this so I have worth,” preferably in a form others can recognize. I’d probably settled for decent here too, with the ability to dress it up a little. But that’s never been my thing either.

These shortcomings don’t plague me the way they used to, but they still try to say that I’m not allowed to get on this ride, throw my hands in the air and live my life to the fullest. Until I can measure up, that is. But here’s the thing I’ve been realizing and it has to do with the one exception to my aforementioned approach to life: When something captures my heart and interest, I become consumed; single-minded; thinking little – or nothing at all – of appearances. Not because I’m trying so hard not to care, but because my cares get squeezed out by something greater.

A recent example is gardening. I don’t understand why, but when I’m planting new things in part of my yard, I can hardly think of anything else. It doesn’t matter that it requires time, focus, money (sorry John!) and demanding work under a hot sun (because I just don’t want to wait until later when it’s cooler). It’s all I want to do. John would be the first to acknowledge that I get so consumed, any thought I might have for beauty goes out the window. He has often come home to a feral wife with wild, tangled hair adorned with sticks and leaves, dirt-encrusted skin and nails, makeup running down a sweaty face and, I’m guessing, a savage look in my eyes. I’m talking working-man dirty, not cute-girl-on-TV dirty. He hasn’t bought my suggestion that maybe it’s a “jungle sexy” kind of look and, upon inspection in the mirror, I have laughed out loud in agreement… and don’t mind a single bit. 

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The other thing that’s goes out the window – at least long enough for me to pour my heart into my task – is my care for success. You see, my fear of feeling like a fool and looking like a failure has been so dominating that it typically prevents any kind of action in which success is not predetermined (which, let’s be honest, is everything worth doing). So the fact that I’m actually acting on a spark in my heart and admitting through my visible efforts, nursery receipts and this blog that I really enjoy it is fairly miraculous – and equally terrifying. It’s one thing to care, invest and look messy if you are on the way to producing something of verifiable beauty and worth; maybe like an artist covered in paint while creating a masterpiece. But what if all those resources are invested in creating a piece of art that could be made with far less effort by your kindergartener? Or, in my case, what if all my efforts fall flat and my plants either die or fail to produce any beauty? That would suck really hard. Or would it?

What if success isn’t defined by a product – an end result that can’t be guaranteed and might keep us from embarking in the first place, but by the act of showing up with vulnerable hearts willing to engage? And what if beauty isn’t something on the outside that we dress up, but something on the inside that gets uncovered and discovered as we follow the joy of our hearts? And what if by learning to show up and be led by this joy, we are actually learning to connect with and be led by the source of all joy, God’s own heart? And what if His heart love nothing more than to take us on amazing adventures to places we could only have dreamed of going and use us for greater purposes than we ever thought possible? And what if we become so enraptured by this whole joyful, relational, consuming adventure that all our cares for appearances simply fall away?

That, my friends, is what I’m discovering. It’s the very thing we are here for: Joyful adventure with a God who will carry the burden of the outcome for us. All He is asks is that we show up and join Him. There are no height requirements; not a single exclusive standard. All are welcome. So let’s hop on and throw our hands up in the air as we passionately, wholeheartedly live in the fullness of our joy – and His.

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Posted by: karanoel | October 18, 2019

Wayward Pup

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Google Pic (I was too busy chasing the dog to take a photo of the actual experience!)

On my walk yesterday, I came upon a large dog bounding up the street toward me, leaving in the dust two women obviously trying to catch him. As I called to the dog in an attempt to give his owners time to catch up, he ran over to inspect me and accept a bit of affection. But since he had no collar for me to grab, it wasn’t long before he was gleefully galloping off to explore the neighborhood like a released prisoner. It was a picture of joyful freedom. Except for the fact that he kept dashing into the busy road, oblivious to the fact that he was nearly hit – several times – and almost caused an accident. The two women, it turns out, weren’t the owners of the wayward pup, but good Samaritans who had both pulled their cars over to help.

By very good luck, one of a string of drivers we had stopped, as the frisky dog once again dashed into the road, handed a lead out her window without a word… as if she’d anticipated this scene when she prepared for her day. “She’s my neighbor,” said the primary good Samaritan. “She owns lots of dogs,” she added as she coerced this one to the sidewalk. She managed to roll him onto his back and work the leash around his neck while I indulged him in a belly rub, and then led him to the back of her Volvo. Since the dog seemed (understandably) reticent to relinquish his freedom and get in the car, even with me enthusiastically calling him from inside, the authoritative Samaritan wrapped her arms around his meaty body and hefted him in. Her plan was to take him to a local shelter where his microchip could be scanned (fingers crossed that he has one) so he could be returned to his owner and to the safety of his yard.

That was the end of the story for me and nearly the end of my walk, so I made it home in a few minutes and went on with my day. But the picture stuck in my head. It made me think of the gift of freedom. For those who have been bound, there is nothing sweeter. But there are two different kinds of freedom: One that is taken and one that is given. The first is the kind the world offers and it looks a lot like the dog’s experience yesterday. Whether out of innocent desire or outright rebellion, we sometimes believe that we should be allowed beyond the boundaries that confine our world and restrict our movement. Maybe we talk ourselves into believing that it’s the very thing our Master would want or maybe we think that he’s depriving us of something. Either way, we feel justified in jumping over, digging beneath or knocking down the fences that keep us in.

There is no doubt an initial sense of liberation and joy. We are free to go where we want, do what we please and not be subject to anyone else’s designs for us. What we don’t often realize though, like the playful pup, is that the fences are provided for our safety and that when we choose to go beyond them, we are putting ourselves and others in harm’s way. Even if we escape death, this kind of freedom will eventually leave us hungry and dirty, lonely and fearful, or terribly wounded.

It seems that after our willful choice to leave our Master’s home that we would deserve to be left to our own devices. But that’s not the way He sees it. He knows that no matter how we act, Home is the only place we belong. Unlike the good Samaritans of yesterday, though, he won’t force us. It has to be our own choice or we will just bust down the fence again. Instead, He is watching and waiting. The moment he sees our humbled hearts turn toward home, He will run to meet us so He can tenderly embrace us, fill our lonely hearts with His love, and heal our wounds with His gentle touch. He will bathe us to cleanse us of all our filth and shame, and He will nourish our bodies with the richest food. And He will return us to the boundaries He has lovingly prepared so that we will be once again be safe. It is the story of the prodigal son and one that couldn’t better define God’s heart for His pups who escape and wander… even when we do it time after time after time. He is always watching and He is always waiting. So let’s go home. 

In another post sometime soon, I will explore what it looks like to be given freedom. 

 

Posted by: karanoel | October 16, 2019

Anchors Away

Cole would have been 24 on October 7th. Last year, he’d only been gone for a few months by the time his birthday came and the days leading up to it were brutal with anxious anticipation. The thought of a quiet day to think about my loss panicked me deeply, so my ever-gracious husband whisked us off to Disneyland, allowing me to spend Cole’s birthday lost in a distracted escape from the painful realities of the day.

This year was different. There was no real anxiety leading up to his birthday. My heart felt so much steadier; less fearful of what was to come. I felt at ease facing that Monday alone, in quietness, with John at work and Chase at school. First thing that morning, Madison sent a video of her choir performance from the weekend, in which she sang a beautiful solo. Fly Away Home was the piece. The choir director couldn’t have known when it was chosen, nor could Madison have known when she performed or sent it, what an incredible, ministering gift it was for me to receive that very sacred day. I listened at least 15 times that morning (and so many more times since), releasing a river of tears as the song washed over me and reminded me, sweetly and beautifully, that my boy’s journey on earth is complete and he has flown away home. 

My insistence to swap out the new car John gave me highjacked the rest of the day so we were unable to celebrate Cole the way I would have liked. It seemed like an opportunity lost, until we decided on a belated celebration on Sunday, our “family day.” The whole thing felt so lacking in the heaviness of grief. Yes, it was tinged with sadness, but it really did feel like a celebration and one I joyfully anticipate repeating.

We wore temporary anchor tattoos, a tribute to his job in the Navy, his love of tattoos, and Jesus who has so faithfully anchored our souls. It was playful and magical and, next year, because of a friend’s suggestion I loved, we will invite those around us to celebrate Cole’s birthday and life by wearing one too. 

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Since Cole also loved making art, Chase thought we should draw something to honor him and I agreed. So we all drew anchors to compliment our tattoos, and I’ve already housed them in a birthday binder I made to collect these tributes year-by-year. 
Chase also drew a picture of Cole in a sailboat under the sun in high seas. In the picture, the chain has broken away from the anchor and it almost looks as if the boat is going to float up off the water and fly into the sky. I couldn’t help but soak that truth in. That Cole is untethered from this earth, no longer needing an anchor because he is far above the reach of thrashing waves. He has indeed flown away home. Someday, when my journey is complete, I too will fly away home to join him. Until then, I will keep anchored to Jesus, my only hope, and do my best to make my boy proud.

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Cole and Chase on a walk to the lake

Posted by: karanoel | October 12, 2019

An extravagant gift

My Jeep was having some major engine trouble that our very trustworthy mechanic said was beyond his ability to repair. It needed to be taken to the dealership, he told us, and would likely cost thousands to fix. Not something you ever want to hear, especially about a car that you love and has met your needs so well. Last Thursday, John swapped cars with me so he could take it to the dealership to assess the issues and cost. When he got home from work that day – earlier than usual – he asked me to come out front to see the work they did. That seemed a little suspect since major work is rarely done in a single day and because John knows I’m not the kind of girl who enjoys looking at an engine, no matter how fixed it is. “Did you trade it in?,” I quickly queried. “Just come and see,” he responded.

Sitting in our circular driveway, in place of my broken Jeep, was my dream car. Not one I ever planned on owning, mind you (the Jeep was nicer than anything I ever expected to call mine); just one I’d fallen in love with many years ago when my brother had one on loan. Yet, there it sat in my driveway, its gorgeous lines gleaming white in the afternoon sun, as my husband handed me the keys and called it mine. To say I was shocked would be an understatement. I repeatedly looked from his delighted face to the beautiful SUV and back, asking if he was crazy. It seemed far too nice and fancy for the likes of me.

This was not an impulse buy. John had been researching for quite a while – even before the bad report on the Jeep – grilling my car buff brother and scouring the internet, determined to find just the right one, in the colors I love, at a price we could afford. And then, after waiting for it to be transferred locally, he spent several hours at the dealership tending to details and filling out paperwork so he could walk through the door and hand me the keys. 

I would like to say that I graciously received this amazing gift, but I struggled. Receiving love has always been hard for me. I guess it feels scary or I feel undeserving. Or both. Walls go up to keep it out or just let little trickles in. This felt like a waterfall. It was so extravagant. When I went for a cup of tea the next morning, I was gone for an hour, driving this delightfully fun and powerful car down long roads with the sunroof wide open and the windows down, weeping. I felt so humbled and so loved. And I didn’t quite know where to put that.

And then I started thinking of what it would look like to others; how this would misrepresent my “humility;” the fact that I have never been one to strive for – or even want – materialistic things. They would judge me or make assumptions about me. I know because I’ve done the same, sizing up the values, priorities and even the character of those with expensive belongings. This was quickly followed by the fear that by accepting this gift and enjoying something so nice, I would be ever closer to becoming materialistic; that by choosing to handle, taste and touch (Col 2:21-23), my flesh would run rampant with greed.

So on Sunday, which happened to be John’s birthday, I told him I was grateful for the gesture and loved the car, but I simply couldn’t keep it. No siree. It just didn’t represent me as a person and was insensitive to others who don’t have nice things and it just felt wrong. I would take advantage of the dealership’s return policy and exchange it for something nice, but less so; something that looked and felt more humble. He seemed deflated and hurt and didn’t understand, but he gave me the paperwork and freedom to get what I wanted. 

The following day, my mom and I sat in many, many cars and test drove the best. They were all nearly the same price as the one John bought me but appeared to be at least slightly more humble, so even though none could even begin to compare in quality, design or delight, I still earnestly considered them. Until I realized my foolishness. In the few days of owning the car, I had experienced – for probably the first time ever – the desire to drive. Not just for the sake of getting from one point to the other, but to enjoy the experience of it. And yet, because of fear and false humility, I was about to spurn this generous gift from a heart of love. So I decided instead to step into the true humility it takes to receive something lavish that I did nothing to earn or deserve; to receive it with joy and gratitude, letting the waterfall of love pour over me each time I take to the road.

Since I made that decision, my heart has been softened in a way I can’t quite explain. Love – not just from John, but from heaven – has penetrated the walls. It is changing me. And I’m wanting to return it like never before. I am seeing my judgment and self-righteousness and realizing that just as we can have pride about the things we own, we can also have pride about the things we don’t. I have a tangible picture of the lavish nature of grace… so unearned; so heart-softening and life-changing; so much greater than anything we would choose for ourselves. How deeply we hurt the heart of the Giver when we, in self-righteousness, choose lesser things and spurn the gift of love so painstakingly sought out for us. But what great joy it is to Him when we humble our hearts to receive it with gratitude because by receiving His gift of grace, we are really receiving Him. As we do this, we will find that we have exchanged the drudgery of getting from point A to point B in this life for the joy of unrestrained power and the wind in our hair on the long roads ahead.

Open Road

*photo courtesy of CineGeek

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