Lakeside Cheers

Last weekend, I found myself helping my roommate cat-sit for one of her friends. And by “helping”, I mean “mooching”. You see, the cat lives in a cabin on a lake… Need I say more?

I’d been excited for this weekend since I knew of its possibility. Though house-sitting with this cat usually means sleepless nights lulled into alertness by its broken meow, to me, nothing beats days spend pondering life on their dock. It also means a few day escape from the “real world” where I still don’t have a job. Somehow, worries subside when seaside (or in this case, lakeside).

In preparation for this weekend, last week, I felt God urge me to bring one of my cherished bottles of wine to celebrate. But my Kentucky wine God? What do I have to celebrate? I asked frantically, not willing to minimize my Kentucky stash from three bottles to two. It’s not what I have done, but what I have yet to do, God responded boldly. Ah yes, one of those risks I get to take, I responded with slight sarcasm. So, basically, I’m going to trust that You’ll provide even when the job-world seems like a desert? And then I’m going to celebrate what You’re going to bring even, and especially before You bring it to me? Yes. Okay, I agreed, somehow comforted by His confidence, As long as we’re on the same page… Packing my sole bottle of Talon Winery’s Equestrian VI, I prayerfully prepared for God’s special celebration of trust.

It happened on Saturday. Spending much of the day switching from reading on the couch, to writing on the dock, I felt God okay the opening of the bottle once I finished the book I was reading. (It was cheesy, and terribly, terribly, written, so a reward was very much necessary.)

Around 5pm, the perfect “somewhere” time, I reached for the $23 bottle of Equestrian VI, momentarily pausing as I realized its representation in my life. For the nearly six years I spent in the land of the horses, Kentucky, I will now take a moment of silence.

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After a minute of respect for my past, and an epic product-placement photo opp. outside, I opened the bottle, and poured me a glass… Well more rustically so, a mug (classy, I know). I swirled it, sniffed it, and then let the dry’n’sweet Kentucky aroma flood my senses.

Making my way to the end of the small, wooden dock, I sat down at the end, dipping my feet in the icy cold, refreshing lake water. Raising my glass Heavenward, I cheers’d my beloved Maker, “To all the people nearby, who think I am crazy cheersing the sky, outloud, and by myself… To this summer, for helping me survive… No… For surviving me, is that a thing? I couldn’t do any of it without You. Thank You for all You’ve provided so far, and this really tasty wine! Finally, thank You for the job You will provide. You know, the one I want – the $17 an hour one in Moose Lake, Agency-Wide Advocate – the one I’ll be good at – yeah, to that!”

cheersrrd

Raising my glass slightly higher, I cheers’d, and then took a generous sip. The wine warmed my heart and soul as the tannins danced deliciously amongst the aromas of pepper, cherry, and spicy cocoa. To me, I’ve always tasted a red wine base soaked in a french oak barrel, with essence of cigar spice, deep berry, and the warmth of Kentucky love, but that’s just my wine inexperience talking…

After this short, soulful indulgence, I raised my glass again Heavenward, “To the jobs my friends want, that You will provide.”

Raised glass cheers and delicious sip.

“To the relationships blossoming in the lives of my friends. May You bless them, and may they bring glory to You.”

Cheers.

. . .

And then it hit me.

What if we prayed in cheers?

You may consider me crazy, or slightly sacrelig. for this idea, but nonetheless… What if?

Slowly, but surely, I continued to empty my glass to the praising of God – of all the things He’s done, and especially those He has yet to do!

. . .

Isn’t this how we’re supposed to live our lives? Taking the mundane tasks and directing them Heavenward? What if we took the activities we use to bring ourselves pleasure, and instead used them to bring pleasure to God? Do you think, perhaps, if done in the right spirit, that our blessings would multiply not just to ourselves, but to those around us as well?

I think so.

I’d like to see a ripple of cheers breakout from around the lake, to around the world. God knows we enjoy it already, so why not take it, let Him shape it, and celebrate God – for all that He has done, and all that He has yet to do?

I can cheers to that!

Can you?

MUGDOCKRRD

The Magic of Generosity

Today was a good day. Today was a great day! Today was Santa Day at the humble thrift store where I serve. Santa Day for us, is like Black Friday, but with more affordable items and for a good cause.

For awhile now, I knew that this day would be special. In the many moments when I thought about moving or was interested in a different job, I would pray that life would keep me at the store until at least, Santa Day. I wasn’t quite sure why, but I knew I wanted to be a part of it.

On Santa Day at our thrift store, children from all over the county come to share their Christmas wishes with Santa and munch on delightful holiday treats as their parents capture memorable photos of them with Santa (for free)! Parents enjoy shopping through a store full of new clothing and toys priced at a very affordable rate. And we, the workers, enjoy dressing up in our elvish costumes as we spread Christmas joy to everyone who enters in.

This year was incredibly special for me, because God gave me an opportunity to be a part of it. God let me in on the magic of generosity.

Our thrift store, linked with a larger Christian non-profit, is solely based off of donations. And any money we raise beyond operation costs benefits our food pantry, which serves nearly 800 families per month in the country where we serve.

We collect new donations all year in preparation for our big day. We contact Santa and arrange his visit to our small Kentucky town from the North Pole. Homemade snacks are baked, elves are gathered, and we pray – oh how we pray: for donations of clothes and toys, for safety, for joy and to ward off greed. And God who is compassionate and loves so dearly to provide for his children, provides! He delights in our delights, and through gratitude he multiplies our fishes.

This season, while praying for God’s providence in the toys realm, I felt him whisper, “Be the change.” He was granting me an opportunity to be generous, to be a part of the magic of Santa Day. I love opportunities to be generous!

You don’t have to be rich to be generous, that’s for sure. I live very simply, and nearly comfortably. 🙂 I don’t make much, but I always have what I need (though sometimes it comes through seemingly uncomfortable circumstances).

The thing about giving, is it usually takes some sort of sacrifice. I knew what God was calling me to do, and I knew that in order to obey, I would need to sacrifice my joy of creating and giving gifts to my friends and family. And I love giving gifts! So. Much. 🙂 It felt weird and uncomfortable as I made the Facebook event informing my friends and family that I wasn’t going to be sending them cards or gifts this year. In some instances, I even felt guilty. I had to double-triple check with my mom to make sure that she wouldn’t feel disappointed at Christmas when all my other siblings gave her and my step-father gifts, and I did not. She was fine with it, and even wanted to be a part of it, because she’s a generous person too!

I explained that “This year I’m changing things up.” I said that instead of spending money on stamps and Christmas cards, or presents and gift wrap, that I would use the money to buy toys for children and families in need. Instead of creating something cool (because I am pretty crafty) for people who have more than they need (and it would probably gather dust on a shelf or in a shed anyway), I would show my appreciation for their presence in my life by paying it forward. The joy of a child brings out the true meaning of Christmas anyway. I also invited family/friends who usually send me cards or buy me gifts, to pay it forward as well. By the urging of the Holy Spirit I asked friends to donate gifts to the store, or to give to an organization of their choice. I knew that even though I love receiving gifts (almost as much as I enjoy giving them) that I really didn’t need anything. I am already blessed beyond belief!

I learned a lot about generosity and God’s providence in this season of preparation for Santa Day. God showed me the benefits that could be reaped by asking others for help. He taught me to listen and obey. I learned the importance of patience, and the promise of his faithfulness. He always provides. Whenever I started to saddle up my high-horse, Pride, he threw me to my knees. Humility became a close companion. Though one of the most crucial things I learned was the importance of gratitude. While reading, “The Broken Way,” by Ann Voskamp, God awakened this revelation in me through these words:

Charis. Grace. Eucharisto. Thanksgiving. Chara. Joy. A triplet of stars to reveal the outline of the fullest life, thanksgiving, joy…

He took it and gave thanks. Eucharisto. Then He broke it and gave. How many times had I said it, ‘Eucharisto precedes the miracle’? Thanksgiving precedes the miracle – the miracle of knowing all is enough. And how many times had I read it – how Jesus, ‘took the seven loaves and the fish, and when he had given thanks, he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and they in turn to the people’? Eucharisto – Jesus embracing and giving thanks for His not-enough – that preceded the miracle. But why hadn’t I been awakened at the detonation of the revelation before? What was the actual miracle?…

Not enough was given thanks for, and then the miracle happened. There was a breaking and giving – into a kind of communion – into abundant filing within the community” (Voskamp, 30-31).

Though this passage is talking about the miracle of the breaking, I was struck my lack of gratitude in my prayers for providence. While asking over and over again for God to provide more toys, how had I forgotten to thank him for the ones he had already given us? Though it seemed like not enough, it was still something to be thankful for. I was praying that he would multiply the loaves and fishes, but I didn’t even think to thank him first.

. . .

Gratitude. What if Thanksgiving wasn’t the only day we focused on gratitude? This year seems to be a year of changing things up for me, as I spent this Thanksgiving quite differently than I usually do. Instead of eating myself sick, I fasted. Instead of being surrounded by close friends and family, I fellowshipped with my Lord. Instead of boycotting Thanksgiving day shopping – I went on a shopping spree. Though my friends and family thought I was “struggling” being all alone on a holiday, this time I thrived! I sipped tea (I allowed myself hot tea and water during my fast) and journaled, I watched the parade and worked out, I took the dog I was sitting out for a walk, and I spent my Christmas budget’s worth on toys! Not too often do I get to buy cartloads full of toys. 😀

I also did one other thing differently (that I hope to repeat).

Impressed by the Holy Spirit, again, I decided that I wanted to be a blessing on Black Thursday. I prayed that I would be a calming presence for my fellow shoppers, and in the spirit of giving, used some of my budget money to purchase five $5 Starbucks gift cards. My thoughts were that I would find a mother with a cart full of kids, or someone incredibly rude (you never know who’s fighting a battle) and bless them with a cup of sugar/caffeine. However, when the time approached, it was much too chaotic to seek out individuals and in all honesty, I was a bit faint from my fasting.

While waiting in the line that weaved through the aisles, I remembered something. I thought of a few instances when families showed me kindness while I was a front desk clerk at a hotel. The light in the darkness of that job were the moments when guests would buy me supper while they were out to eat in town. Such a simple gesture, but it meant so much to me! With those memories in mind, I decided to show my gratitude to the store clerks that checked me out at each store. They have to deal with us crazy customers, and I know that it can be a completely thankless job. However, they are necessary and deserve to be appreciated! Their smiles revealed joy to me, the same joy I felt. The magic of generosity.

. . .

My coworkers and I start each morning out with prayer. Soon after my revelation of gratitude before the abundance, I thanked God for the toys he had already provided us. That afternoon, we received a shipment of toys that put my donations to shame. (Comparison is no bueno, another lesson I learned… The more the merrier is more like it!) God provided, he provided indeed! And though I struggled between shame and defensive pride of my donations, through seeking God, I realized that someone else’s gifts can’t outshine mine, and vice versa. Comparison is a fruitless sport because we all are necessary. All the toys and clothes that were donated were necessary.

And as I checked people out today, seeing who purchased what, I knew that God had a plan for each gift. There were a few gifts I remember thinking while shopping Really? You want me to buy this Lord? but today as I saw who bought them I knew that it wasn’t just a crazy voice in my head, but that God had a purpose way beyond me buying whatever it was. I was just the messenger. 

It blows my mind really. God’s timing, his providence and the fact that he would let me be a part of something so wonderful. He doesn’t need me, but he wants me, which is the beauty of it all. I’m so incredibly thankful that he let me in on the magic of generosity this holiday season.

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Snow-Coated Transition

So I’ve been meaning to fill you all in on my first month at cleftRock. I have oftentimes compared it to cliff jumping. The before is exciting, exhilarating and this awesome unknown. So I run and run passionately in the direction of my dreams, and then I jump and it’s thrilling and scary and amazingly faith-filled. I’m flying! As the icy cold waters rush over me, at first, it feels all loving and refreshing and it consumes me. Then suddenly I remember in a panic, that I don’t know how to swim. All the important questions that I hadn’t asked because I was so excited to simply run away from where I was and fly to something else, something better. Now I’m thrashing, sinking and feeling less like I’m living my dreams, but more like I made a mistake, it’s dark, and I’m alone. Only after I allow myself to struggle for a bit too long, do I hear a still small voice saying, “Just float,” And I feel a gentle presence calming my heart, mind, and soul. I’m floating. I’m breathing steadily. God is guiding me along the river in the direction of our dreams. And for now I’m simply letting Him carry me along, and that’s all He needs me to do. Be still and know that I am God [Psalm 46:10].

From my perspective, I wrote this in a text message to a friend during my first week back after the holidays:

I got my car all packed with leftovers from my apt and then it wouldn’t start – deadzo. But I got a jump and my mechanic said itz alright so I headed to cR where I was attached by the flu [a going-away gift from Minnesota, [“Suck it Kentucky!”] so I was out all day Wednesday and all the while trying to persuade the mouse in my cabin to leave me and my stuff alone! Oh and yesterday on my run I was ferociously barked and nipped at by dogs on my road that hate me, as well as nearly tackled by a large playful dog that loves to leap!

That’s my week.

To add to this, my computer charger also died, so for a couple weeks I was without a laptop to watch movies [and since I don’t have a super smart phone, I also didn’t have access to wifi]… I felt drastically close to the characters of “Into the Woods.”

I WISH. MORE THAN ANYTHING. I WISH.

All the questions my family and friends had been asking hit me like a baseball bat to the gut. Oh I get it now, they were just caring by asking these questions, that I need to learn to consider before I jump into new experiences… Next time I’ll know.

I wish I would have heard this song during the the month of strugglefest, but alas, it’s encouraging to hear now:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tIZitK6_IMQ

Life started getting better during team-building week. It saved cR me. I was able to open up to my very loving and accepting team about how I was actually doing, who I am and what I need to survive [aka socialization and LOTS OF HUGS!] 🙂 It was wonderful getting to know each of my teammates, as well as myself better.

Once I accepted I wasn’t completely alone, I remembered to actually listen to God. After one of the lovely snowfalls, I went for a photo walk with Jesus. He reminded me that even though this time is cold and uncomfortable, it is also very beautiful. I just need to refocus myself on God and all that He is doing and I will see the shimmering pure beauty of His creation, timing, and plan.

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Now this realization doesn’t make everything all better and/or easy, but doable. With God ALL is possible [Matthew 19:26]. Not an easy certain, but a hard-working, intentional POSSIBLE. Which is exactly how I foresee this cR journey to be, possible only through God, hard-but-good work, and intentional in every aspect, especially relational.

This month – February – cleftRock takes a sabbatical to practice what we preach and rest/rejuvenate. I realize it might seem silly considering I’ve only been working full-time with cleftRock for a month. But if you’ve followed me at all this past year, it’s been full of crazy transitions and leaps of faith. I must say I am quite exhausted. I will be traveling to see family in Indiana and Idaho, and would gracious accept prayers as I journey to socialize as much as possible 🙂 as well as train for my half-marathons [ferocious dog-free], and discern how God would like to provide for this cR journey – and what I need to do to help. Thank you for your continued prayers and support!!!