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By michele

“But Lord, We Have Nothing in Common!”

If you know me at all, you know I’m a huge advocate for community. IMG_5383The word commune is defined as “to share one’s intimate thoughts or feelings with (someone or something), especially when the exchange is on a spiritual level.” The English translation is the word common.IMG_7765

In a message from Henri Nouwen, he shares these thoughts, “Parker Palmer, a spiritual writer of the Quaker tradition, says community is the place where the person you least want to live with always lives. So community is not like a place where you love each other sort of freely and warmly and affectionately. Community is, in fact, the place where you are purified, where your love is tested, where your childhood of God is constantly put through the mill of human relationships. That is what community is.”

Moving around so often, my husband and I have been in many places of community. We’ve invested in base chapel communities, Bible studies, small groups, home groups, youth groups, and military groups. We’ve also seen our many neighborhoods as actual communities. These are all places where we have been divinely placed for a time, to “do life together” with others. A few of these have been chosen by us, however the vast majority we did not choose.

IMG_5608           I remember moving to a new neighborhood and beginning to intentionally reach out to our neighbors. I thought to myself, and was brave enough to admit to my husband, that I was hoping we’d live next door and across the street from people who we had at least something in common with other than an address. How did Jesus expect us to love these neighbors when we had absolutely nothing in common with them? Surely He must have meant people in your general vicinity when He said to love your neighbors, not specifically the ones next door. IMG_7352

And my shallow, but substantiated thoughts spilled into other communities we found ourselves a part of, like a home group from church. Now here, I thought, is where we’ll find people we have a lot in common with and community will be easy and fun. But that’s not what we found. We would often talk on the way home from a meeting about how interesting it is that other than a spiritual foundation, we really didn’t have much in common with the people in this particular group. These are not people we would necessarily have chosen for our friends. In fact, we surmised, if we weren’t in this small group, we probably would never have gotten to know most of these people at church.

Looking back at these experiences, I am eternally grateful for the people God divinely placed next door and in small community groups with us.IMG_2254

People we had nothing in common with, but we began to do life together and enter into their families’ lives. We walked through the valley of the shadow of death together, cried together and begged The Father for healing on each other’s behalf. We celebrated great miracles and milestones with these who had seemingly unnoticeably moved from strangers to deeply intimate friends, ones we broke bread with and communed with and will forever be part of their lives and they ours. We discovered the truth that yes, for sure, community is hard work and it’s messy and there are many days you want to quit because honestly, sharing life is hard. But this is where life becomes so much more meaning-full and hope-full and my goodness, the lessons these “nothing in common” people have taught us are invaluable. IMG_5114Our hearts are changed. And our hearts are full. Community is definitely where growth and healing take place.

Savoring Advent

Advent. Perhaps my favorite time of the year. The reflection, the anticipation and the preparation.

Reflection.

So many times throughout scripture we see the mandate to “remember”.

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Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. (Deut. 5.15)

Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced. (1 Chron. 16.12)

The gift of remembering gives us the opportunity to see God’s faithfulness in the past so that we can trust Him more fully in the future.

I remember our first Christmas together as husband and wife, as we celebrated with family and then drove all New Year’s Eve night to Southern Seminary.

The place where we would learn to trust God as Jehovah Jireh, our provider. And three Christmases later we would celebrate with our own firstborn son.

I remember Christmas seasons in merry ol’ England, ushering in our time of preparation with King’s College Choir and Handels Messiah in London. Spending Boxing Day with our local village vicar and his wife, soaking in the rich traditions of our British heritage. And the plays at the kids’ British school where they would actually talk about Baby Jesus.

So many fond memories fill my mind each December.

I remember singing and dancing at the Christmas tree in Norway, eating risgrøt, pepperkaker and walking through Gamle Stavanger with our torches lit, leading us to the town Kirke (church).

Between California and Florida assignments, we spent several years building sandcastles and replicating our time in Norway as I made our teenage children hold hands and dance around a mound of white sand, with the ocean waves roaring a few feet away, pretending to be in Norway once again.

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More recently, I treasure the memory of having all my adult children filing into the pew and lighting candles at the National Cathedral here in DC, taking a few moments together and reflecting on the goodness and favor of the Lord in our lives.

Anticipation and Preparation.

I sometimes wonder if I robbed my children of the gift of anticipation and preparation as they were growing up.

I never wanted them to be disappointed if a special event ended up not happening, so in an effort to protect them, I often withheld news of an exciting activity, just in case it didn’t happen.

Thankfully Advent, the season of anticipation and preparation, will never end in disappointment.

Every Christmas morning delivers a fresh Hope and assurance of even greater things than we could begin to imagine.

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I wonder. As Mary did. I treasure these things in my heart. Like Mary did. Every morning in December I look forward to getting up a few minutes earlier, lighting the candles that remind me of The Hope that has dawned, and sitting in quiet reflection. I remember the past fondly.  I anticipate what God has planned for the upcoming days. And I prepare my heart to be His home.

Advent. The most wonderful time of the year.

 

What NOT To Say To Your Neighbors

One of my most vivid memories of a neighbor who made a difference comes from our time living in South Carolina.

My husband was deployed and I had four children under the age of seven. Our car had broken down that day and had to be towed home from an hour away.

It was about 6.00pm when I finally crawled to my bed; I can’t remember a time I was so sick. I couldn’t even think about how or what to feed the kids. The five-year old (Emilie) would have to be in charge that night, I’d decided.

JoLynn lived across the street and attended our neighborhood Bible study. She had three young boys and her life was crazy busy. We knew each other through casual conversation and by virtue of living in close proximity on a military base.

I would not have answered the phone when it rang, except I thought it might be my husband calling from Timbuktu (or wherever in the world he was). And I thought that in between throwing up, I could tell him thanks for leaving me and all Gods children at this particular time. (That’s how we affectionately refer to our five funny kids.)IMG_1900

It was not my husband; it was JoLynn and she could tell I was not doing well.

The next thing I know, I could faintly hear her coming into my bedroom and whispering to me that she was taking my four children, (six month old included) to her house for dinner and to spend the evening.

To this day, every time I think of an example of a good neighbor, I think of JoLynn.

I think of her actions and her words, however, I also think about the words she did NOT say to me.

I recently had an unexpected surgery and was in recovery mode for a few weeks. This is a text message I received from my friend and former neighbor, Kathy. “Hey, we are going to send dinner over tomorrow night. Would you like pizza or something else?”

Here’s what Kathy, and JoLynn, did not say.

“Hey, sorry to hear you’re not feeling well. Let me know if you need anything.”

Think back to the last time someone left you with those words. If you’re like me, you probably think that those are nice words, but they are void of any real meaning.

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As neighbors, and friends, let’s move from “let me know if you need anything” to looking to see what the need might be and being proactive to meet that need. Perhaps next time we see a friend in need, we might say, “I know you haven’t had much time with your husband lately. I’m going to feed and entertain your children for a few hours this weekend. What time works for you?” Or, “I’m bringing you a treat from Starbucks this afternoon. What’s your favorite drink?” Or, “I made an extra dish of spaghetti for you tonight. What time would you like me to bring it over?”

If the need isn’t obvious, then write a card or bring a cupcake or flowers; something that says you care and are thinking about them. And just maybe leave the meaningless words at home this time.

Don’t forget to do good and to share with those in need, for such sacrifices are very pleasing to God. ~Hebrews 13.16

 

 

 

 

Listen To Their Story

We ended up sitting in the front row (we like to think it was first class, but in reality, it was just the first row) on our flight home last week.

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My daughter sat by the window and I was sandwiched in between her and a gentleman to my left.

After the flight took off and I was trying to get settled, I noticed the man’s arm was taking up most of the armrest. Not a big deal, I thought. Soon, he’ll adjust and share the space with me.

I ended up repositioning myself so I didn’t have to use the armrest and didn’t think much more of the tiny inconvenience.

After we had been in the air about 2 hours, I had finished reading and again, was trying to readjust (I get very restless on flights). Not only was he hogging the armrest, BUT his arm was actually now resting on MY side of the armrest, like IN MY space. AND his leg was touching mine. While I didn’t feel uncomfortable, it was a bit awkward, and I was trying to figure out how to move over without being obvious.

I was reciting in my head what I was going to tell my daughter when we deplaned, about how annoying this guy was and how he was invading my space and didn’t even seem like he cared. He just continued to play his game on his iPad.

Towards the end of this silent conversation in my head, he suddenly turned, and as he picked up his arm and moved his leg, he began to profusely apologize and explain that he had no feeling in his arm and leg! He was partially paralyzed!

Wow! I can’t begin to explain how hearing this brief part of his story changed my entire perspective.

I immediately felt compassion for him and was so glad I didn’t make a scene or cause him to be uncomfortable.

I automatically thought of a sign and a sermon from many months ago. The sign was on a highway near Richmond, and the sermon was delivered at the Good Friday service at the National Cathedral.IMG_0205

It was a message I had personally experienced several times recently, and I continue to be amazed at its impact.

THERE ISN’T ANYONE YOU COULDN’T LOVE IF YOU KNEW THEIR STORY

Such truth!

I was reminded of the power of a story. So many times we are quick to judge, condemn and disregard, simply because we don’t know someone’s story.

But once we know “the rest of the story”, it usually brings understanding and a different light to someone’s actions.

While learning one’s story doesn’t excuse a behavior, it often helps to explain it and bring new awareness to a situation.

I remember as a new teacher, I would find myself frustrated with one of my student’s lack of preparation and missing homework assignments. Until the day I followed him home and learned “the rest of his story.” Jeffrey lived downtown and was bussed to our school in an affluent neighborhood in Louisville. He spent most afternoons after getting off the school bus, waiting on the doorstep for his mom to get home. It would be a really great day if she had some food to give him for dinner.

When I came to realize that Jeffrey was more worried about eating, and sleeping in a safe place, than about getting his homework completed, I was able to understand and empathize with him. I found ways to help him be efficient at school so that homework wasn’t so vital to his learning. I hugged him and encouraged him and made sure he knew I loved him and cared for him. My whole outlook and method of helping him become successful changed, once I understood his story.

 

As my daughter and I deplaned our flight, I smiled at my seatmate as he waited patiently for his wheelchair to be brought and the flight attendant to help transfer him into it.

 

And once again I was reminded of the power of a story.

Bloom Where You’re Planted!

Jeremiah 29.4-7

The Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, sends this message to all the captives he has exiled to Babylon from Jerusalem:

“Build homes, and plan to stay. Plant gardens and eat the food you produce. Marry and have children. Then find spouses for them and have many grandchildren. Multiply! Do not dwindle away!

And work for the peace and prosperity of Babylon. Pray to the Lord for that city where you are held captive, for if Babylon has peace, so will you.”

IN OTHER WORDS…

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Often as military families, and others with transient careers, we are “held captive” by the assignment system and sent off to far away lands where we’d rather not be. Unfamiliar with the culture, the people, the food, or lack thereof (i.e. places where there is no Chick-Fil-A!), we can justify our limited time on station, and live in our safe cocoon.

I was speaking at a women’s conference in Japan several years ago. Always interested in others’ experiences and stories, I listened to many of the wives talk about their experience living in a very foreign setting.

I could identify with those who were adventurous and would get in the car and drive around, getting lost more times than they could count.

I envied the ones who weren’t afraid to try new food dishes, not having the slightest clue as to how to identify or pronounce what was in them.

But I felt sorry for those who were just doing their time, counting down the days until they could go back to America. The ones who were content to stay safely within the confines of the gated base, and occasionally venture out to Burger King for a night out.

Let’s dare to heed the advice of Jeremiah and bloom where we’re planted.

Let’s paint the walls of our temporary homes and make our yards colorful and our front doors open to a warm and inviting space inside. Let’s invest in the local towns and their unique causes and strive to leave them better than we found them.shaw

Instead of saying, “We’re only going to be here 2 years so we’ll just make do and muddle through,” let’s say, “We’re only going to be here 2 years so let’s make the most of it! Let’s see where God can use us and where we can invest in this place.”

And let’s “work for the peace and prosperity of (wherever God has sent you). Pray to the Lord for the city where you are held captive, for if (wherever God has sent you) has peace, so will you.”