California Dreaming

On an early fall morning in 1996, I stood with a dear friend, Suzanne, watching the antics of our neighborhood’s children when my 4 year-old son ran up to us with an important announcement. Poised wide-legged, chest puffed and wearing his new Ninja filename-1Turtle Halloween costume he proclaimed to the world, “When I grow up, I am going to be Ninja Turtle Michelangelo and I am going to stop all the bad guys!” Not requiring any sort of response or advice about his new career decision, he ran on.

Turning to Suzanne I asked, “When do I break his heart? When do I tell him he cannot be a superhero? When do I tell him he will probably grow up to be something practical – maybe an accountant like his Dad? ” Suzanne whispered, “Don’t tell him Jean. The world will tell him soon enough.” Quietly that morning I prayed that Mark would find work when he was grown that brought him joy and fulfillment as well as a means of support.

Several years later during a family vacation in California, we strolled through a park overlooking the ocean. Mark pursued the dozens of seagulls grouped along our path determined to catch one of them. His whole body squealed with delight each time the birds took flight. Catching his breath on a bench before returning to the hunt, Mark made another announcement. “Someday I want to live here! When I grow up I am moving to California!”

Now, 15 years later, Mark no longer wears a cape or carries a plastic sword but his desire to right the wrongs of this world did not fade. He involves himself in organizations and causes that raise people up and him in the process. He lives his life with kindness and fairness even when the world is not always kind or fair to him. In many ways I see him living the superhero life he dreamed of as a child though it looks very different than what either of us pictured.

I cannot help but grin as I tell you that Mark is a newly graduated accountant from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is preparing to start his first job in San Francisco next month. He knew business was a practical IMG_1078degree but had difficulty imagining his life as an accountant. His job opportunity in California is not a traditional accounting job path recommended by his school advisers but it unfolded magically and effortlessly for him. The expression, “It was meant to be” comes to mind. He is excited to get started. I am brimming with joy for him and the new life he is creating but also experiencing worry, sadness and grief at his leaving.

As I summon the courage to kiss my son good-bye before he boards the plane that will fly him to his future, I call on my faith to steady me. My faith over the years has grown into a solid platform from which I can stand firmly and look around. From that platform of faith I can see the happenings of life unfold without being bowled over by them. My body feels the multitude of physical and emotional pain that life brings, but my soul knows I can stand against the current. I have emotions, but I am not my emotion. I have a body, but I am not my body. I am a soul encased in a physical body, learning and experiencing this world but not overwhelmed by it. It is a source of inner strength that comes when I let go of expectations and simply have faith.

I have come to believe that God wants all of our dreams to come true. He hears the desires of our hearts and wants them to be realized. So many times this world derails us. Society often tells us we are not good enough or brave enough to achieve our dreams or face life’s challenges. What if we placed our hopes and dreams in God’s hands without attempting to imagine how those desires should come to be? It is not an easy or simple task but I believe that by putting the longings of our hearts into God’s hands without expectations, we exercise our faith in God and that faith forges the path for God to enter our lives in spectacular and unexpected ways.

Dear God,

Thank you for hearing and caring about the desires of my heart. Help me to let go of how I think my dreams should become reality. Please show me the path to follow and give me strength to bear the pain of the journey. Also dear Lord, please give me the clarity to recognize hopes and dreams realized even when they appear in unexpected ways. Thanks again – for everything!

Love, Jean

Jeremiah 32:27  “Behold, I am the LORD; the God of all flesh. Is anything too difficult for me?”

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Frozen Heroes

Frozen Heroes

A man with a clipboard, a company sponsored shirt and an infectious smile stood in my doorway. “Your home may have damage from the recent storm. With your permission I will conduct an inspection and report my findings.”  After a quick circle around our house he determined our windows were in fact hail damaged.

Suspicious of random contractors coming to my door, I contacted a construction company who worked on our house years ago to verify the findings. The company I contacted offered to both replace our windows and process our insurance claim as they had done previously. We were planning to replace the windows anyway. The insurance money would help get the job done. I signed the contract.

From that moment forward nothing went quite right. Overwhelmed with pressure to compete for repair contracts with the numerous construction companies canvasing the area, exhausted workers littered my life with their frustration, anger and negativity. Several sales representatives assigned to our project abandon their position leaving confused replacement workers in their wake to pick up the pieces. An inspector assigned by our insurance company crawled up his ladder a couple times then, rebuking two independent company findings, flatly denied seeing any damage to our windows so our claim was rejected. I began to question the honesty of all involved.

A lawyer was retained and a lawsuit filed. My heart grew heavier by the day. I lost trust in everyone. During another appointment, a screaming match erupted in my front yard between the newly assigned inspector and a representative from the law office. The sun shined brightly that day but it felt like dark clouds hung heavily over my house. I wanted to run, to disassociate but felt chained to a stake in the ground by a signed legal contract. The ugliness around me seeped into other areas of my life. I questioned everyone’s motives and braced myself for confrontation even when it was not there. My interaction with these profit mongers made me feel like I was one of them, attached painfully to their corruption like thistles wound in my hair.

Yet another inspector confirmed there was indeed damage but the amount insurance would cover was significantly less than first thought. Everything quieted. Many months passed without action, calls were not returned and no progress made toward resolution. Workers passed on our project for those with bigger profits. The lack of activity was, oddly, a relief. A mind clearing appeared in the absence of these people. The recognition that contracts can and sometimes should be broken and new windows could be purchased from somewhere else had space to take hold. It took a long time for me to be emotionally strong enough to construct a new plan and begin again, but by late fall a new contract was signed and the project date scheduled.

Fear and distrust continued to haunt me as the work began on a cold, blustery February morning. A crew of four men arrived to begin the process of replacing twenty-two windows, nearly every window in the house. I was quiet, introverted and prayerful as IMG_0824they set up. The potential damage these men could do to the structural integrity of my home sent shock waves through my nervous system. They explained their plan step by step, answered questions and knowing how nervous I was, reassured me, promised me, they would do their best work.

As they removed and reframed windows each day that week I gained strength and calm. These men worked through record cold temperatures, smiling, encouraging each other and never once complaining. “It is cold, but nothing we can’t handle. Don’tIMG_0817 worry about us.” Music and playful voices blew through the house warming the below zero winds. Instead of raging against the difficult dangerous project they were challenged to complete, they welcomed the opportunity to work and to preform exceptionally.

Their attention to detail, team spirit and positive attitudes through incredibly difficult circumstances changed me, healed me and raised me up again. These young men did so much more than install new windows; they restored my faith in humanity, helped me see the good in people again. When I look back on this project I remember their smiling faces, respectfulness, playfulness and pride instead of all the previous ugliness. For my time spent with these ordinary, exceptional men – the light in my darkness, my frozen heroes – I am truly grateful.

Frozen Heroes

Dear God,  Thank you for these skillful men and their good hearts. Thank you for the light I saw in their eyes, their hearts and their work. Thank you for renewing my faith in humanity by showing me the good in everyday people.  Please help me to be a positive force, a healing light to everyone I meet.  Love, Jean

Philippians 2:14-15  Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world,

Note: This crew of men work for HHC Additions. They are trained and subcontracted by Renewal by Anderson to install windows. I have their permission to share their photos and the story of our time together.

Recharging Our Batteries

Today’s reflection is written by Pastor Paul:  

The glory of God is a human being fully alive! — St. Irenaeus

Dear Friends,

snow covered pathAs I write this letter, I’m looking out the window at the snow drifting down and glancing at the outdoor thermometer which tells me we’re a long way from getting up to zero.  I wonder about my car battery, which has shown unsettling signs of not taking a charge when the weather turns frigid.  Will my battery fail just when I need it the most? What can I do to keep it charged?

My mind turns back to a talk I have often given at pre-marriage meetings about the Four Batteries.   With my retirement coming up this year, I often think about strategies for keeping them strong and fully charged.

1.  My mountain bike accident last August has been a powerful reminder of how quickly the physical battery can be discharged and how long the recharge can take.  Five months later my energy is only beginning to return, and I’m happy to welcome it back.  All of us are in pretty good contact with how our physical battery is doing.  We know when we’re in pain, when we’re exhausted or hungry, and we know when we’re feeling full of energy and delight.  Now that I have completed my course of physical therapy, I’ve decided to get a personal trainer to help me develop my depleted strength.

2. The meter on our emotional battery is harder to read.  We often aren’t entirely sure just what our emotional state is or what to do about it.  That’s why we need to attend to our emotional state, discern what re-charges us and commit to a strategy which will keep our emotional battery maximally charged.  I’m committing to cross-country skiing every possible day and to praying every possible instant. Both recharge my emotions and help me better face the emotional challenges every day brings.

3.  Our intellectual battery can go deader than a car battery without our knowing it.  I’m afraid the “Everything I need to know I learned in kindergarten” slogan applies to many people who have stopped thinking, questioning and learning.  (Don’t go to a doctor who has that poster on the wall.)  Remember the dental association’s slogan “Ignore your teeth, and they will go away”?  Ignore your intellectual life, and your brain will go to sleep.  I’m committed to reading new books, having vigorous discussions with friends about things that matter and learning more about God.  Commitment to being a Christian means a commitment to life-long learning about our faith.

4.  It is particularly hard to get a good read on the charge of our spiritual battery.  We can easily lose our connection with God and with the beauty of his amazing creation.  Our vision can tunnel, and our hope can freeze up.  St. Irenaeus, the great second-century theologian, could express the essence of Christianity with this pithy adage: “The glory of God is a human being fully alive!” To be spiritually charged up is to have a powerful personal connection with God, to be kindled by the beauty of the world, to be powerfully engaged in Christian community, to be focused on being part of God’s great work in the world and to be consumed by love.  I know that two projects I’m involved in give powerful boosts to my spiritual battery – the Radio Furaha project in Iringa and the “Bread Rising: Working Together to End Hunger by 2030 Campaign.”

Sea Lion--Clarita--Dreamstime Stock PhotosWe are all different, but we all have physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual batteries that need regular re-charging.  May God grant us insight, discernment, determination and faith as we seek to give glory to God by being fully alive.

Pastor Paul