Postcards from Florida: Big Hair and Other Gifts from God

shells

I love Florida. It’s my favorite hair salon.

If I go to a real salon where they actually style your hair, I usually leave with my head feeling stiff and full of gel, hairspray, or other product. And I feel like I’m wearing a disguise. (I’m ready for my spy assignment!) One time a stylist straightened my long, slightly wavy hair with a hair iron after she cut it. I’m not sure why she did that. I hadn’t said, “I’m travelling back in time to 1969 and need some stick-straight hippie hair.” She must have somehow misheard me when I asked for a trim.

That’s why I’ve decided that Florida is the best hairstylist for me; it’s just too bad I don’t live there. Maybe a different state would work better for you, but the Sunshine State’s humidity curls my hair and adds volume, making it look naturally big and bouncy as opposed to the Colorado version of dry and flat.

I say this because I recently spent a week in Florida with my hubby—not just for the hairdo, though. I love the ocean, too. And on Sanibel and Captiva Islands, you get a bonus along with the sun and sand—seashells!

On our first day at the beach, my big hair and I were happy to look at the shells that had washed up on our little bit of the shore. There were enough to keep me interested. On the second day, I took a short stroll along the ocean. On the third day, I saw someone walking toward me with a huge Horse Conch shell. That’s when I was struck with shell envy and decided we needed to explore.

So my husband and I walked toward the end of the island. We walked and walked, and then we saw them: piles and piles of shells lined up on the sand, long rows of them, waves of shells where the low tide had washed them in.

As we discovered this stunning abundance, I wasn’t even sure where to look. I was overwhelmed with pleasure: the light bouncing off the seashells, the blue of the ocean, the sound of the lapping waves, the dolphin we saw swim by as we had walked to this Eden-like spot—all this had drenched me with joy and contentment.

This must be what heaven is like, I thought.

Yet for two days, I had missed miles of beach covered with a ridiculous wealth of shells. I had kept my head down in the only little spot I knew, the stretch where the beach was mostly sand instead of mostly shells.

I hadn’t known that a 30-minute walk would take me to a world where the shells I’d found on the first days wouldn’t even be considered worthy of notice next to the riches the sea continually deposited just a mile down the shore. Even though I’d taken a short walk on the second day, I hadn’t wandered quite far enough. 

This experience prompted me to ask myself a few questions:

  • Where was I living my life? On the small patch of mostly sand or the wide swath of mostly shells?
  • Have I been oblivious to the abundance God has given me? Is there something I haven’t even noticed? Is there a pile of shells right around the corner, through an open door, or a decision away that God may be prompting me to make? 
  • Are there blessings I’m not noticing because my head is down? Am I so focused on my square foot of life’s business that I’ve forgotten to look up and around every once in a while and enjoy the gifts God has for me?

How about you? Are you forgetting to look for God’s gifts today? Be sure of this: God your Father wants you to enjoy His gifts; He is the sum of all fathers delighting in the smiles, the laughter, and the joy they bring to their children’s worlds.

I saw a few of those fathers on Captiva Island. One was swinging his daughter around and around on the beach; she was laughing and enjoying the ride. Another father, a few tables away from us in a restaurant, was dancing with his little girl near their table, even though there was no official dance floor. The musician playing the guitar for the diners was all the dad needed to twirl his daughter around.

  • I like to think of God that way—twirling me around on that Florida shore, showing me the beauty and abundance of all those shells and delighting in my happiness.

And maybe He was also letting me know that every once in a while, I need to  look around, maybe even walk down the shore, looking for what He’s already given me. And I can do that with or without big hair. He doesn’t care.

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” James 1:1

“I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” John 10:10

 

When You Need The Light

best sunset with waveI had a few days off last November and was boarding a plane. Was I  traveling to a beach? Somewhere I could parasail? Somewhere with tropical breezes and palm trees?

Nope. I was flying to Wisconsin. In November.

If you’ve never experienced a Wisconsin November, let me explain. This is a depressing month in the Midwest. The green of summer is gone, as are the oranges, reds, and yellows of fall, leaving only brown and grey.  The snow hasn’t yet freshened up the dreary landscape or decorated the bare tree branches bleakly holding themselves against a colorless sky. Not only that, but the dark days of winter begin with a vengeance, a time when weeks can pass without a hint of sunshine and the damp cold seeps into your bones. En masse, people in the Midwest begin their battle with seasonal affective disorder.

As I left my 68-degree sunny mountain home and stepped into one of those sardine cans masquerading as an airplane, part of me wanted to turn back.  Apparently the part that wanted to turn back wasn’t my feet, because I kept moving forward and plopped into a middle seat in the back of the plane, in one of those coveted spots with a view of people and their full bladders lining up in the aisle.

Accompanying the view was the overbearing heat inside the plane, which had been baking in the sun and preparing me for this sauna-like spa experience.  If I could have moved a muscle, it would have been the perfect environment for doing hot yoga. 

But I wasn’t in the mood, anyway. It’s hard to do yoga while you’re  hyperventilating because of claustrophobia. You see, I had made the mistake of looking ahead of me at the mass of bodies stuffed into the tube of metal and decided we were all TOO CLOSE TOGETHER!  I closed my eyes and started praying—hard. Did I mention that an overheated plane does not mix well with a hot-flashing woman?

With God’s help, I made it to my destination without causing a scene. That’s when the darkness descended. As I stepped off the plane, Wisconsin draped its heavy clouds around my body and psyche for two solid days until I felt like an ambulatory coma patient.

And just why had I flown to Wisconsin in November? Love makes you do crazy things. For someone who’s had issues with depression, it’s a sacrifice to step into the darkness. But when you love your child, you do these things. I wanted to see my son’s new home and share his world. And I knew I wouldn’t see him at Christmas time.

My trip gave me a new realization of what Jesus sacrificed for us because of love. Yes, He offered the ultimate sacrifice on the cross. But He also stepped down from the glorious light of heaven, down into the darkness of sinful humanity. He confined himself in a human body with all its limitations, its pangs of hunger and thirst. These must have been sacrifices, too.  I wonder if He felt claustrophobic in that body. And did He miss the light of heaven?

I’m so glad Jesus stepped down into our darkness, because now we have access to His light. Isaiah 60:19 says, “The Lord will be your everlasting light.” Have you ever noticed how the light shines at the beginning of the Bible in Genesis 1:3 when God created it, and how it continues to shine throughout the Scriptures as we read about the Light of the world and how we are to walk in the light? Throughout Exodus, Job, the Psalms, Isaiah, and the Gospels, the theme of light continues until we’re offered the revelation that in the future, on the new Earth, God himself will be our light. God’s word is infused with light!

Even as we live in a world that often seems much darker than a Wisconsin November, the Son’s light is available to us all. His light is as warm and lovely as that sunny spot near the window where cats love to nap, but it can also be as brilliant and overpowering as the equatorial sun at noonday. It often needs to be a strong kind of light, one that can cut through the dense fog we sometimes find ourselves lost in.

On the last morning of my Wisconsin trip last November, I prayed and then exercised at my hotel. Then I discovered I could tune the radio to one of those sleep-aid stations. This one played the sounds of the ocean, complete with the cries of seagulls! I thanked the Lord for exercise that perks me up, for the music of the waves, and for the joy He brings when we turn away from the darkness and into His glorious light. Mostly I thanked Him for coming down into this darkness for me.

If you’re lost in darkness today, ask the Light of Israel to show you the way. No plane ride required.

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12

And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. Exodus 13:21

For you are my lamp, O Lord, and my God lightens my darkness. 2 Samuel 22:29

And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. Revelation 21:23

 

Beauty Lessons

beauty-treatment-898251_1280-680x680I was sitting at my desk the other day, minding my own business, when Mount Vesuvius erupted on my chin. You know how it is. One minute you have clear skin, and the next, the affected area is glowing like your cell phone screen in a darkened theatre.

It doesn’t seem fair to earn the senior discount at thrift shops while one spot on your face is screaming, “I’m 16!”  On the same day the throbbing red mountain exploded I also discovered a new wrinkle—right next to the super-sized pimple. Oh joy.

Does anyone have a combo wrinkle cream/zit zapper?

Discovering any new wrinkle isn’t fun, but when one suddenly appears in a portion of your body that has been smooth and lovely for more than half a century, you find yourself doing a double-take.

Hey, I asked myself, Who plopped that vertical Grand Canyon on my chin?

I remember the day I discovered my first major facial wrinkle. I was sure it was only one of those creases you get from sleeping on your pillow just so. But the crease hung around. I don’t think it’s leaving because it’s invited relatives to move in next door.

I’ve been thinking about beauty quite a bit this year, but not the physical kind. I’ve been pondering the beauty of the Lord and the beauty of pleasing Him.

It started after God gave me a precious moment with himself one day. I’d just completed a project that God had called me to do, and it had taken a year to complete. God had begun preparing me for this task more than a decade earlier; the job required sacrifice and hard work; it was physically, mentally, and emotionally challenging. But I needed to do it—I wanted to do it for Jesus.

Now you need know that I’ve been held back numerous times in the remedial Christianity 101 class. I’m still trying to graduate, while you’re probably teaching college courses in knowing Jesus. Maybe you’re like the man I learned from this weekend who teaches all over the world about the Holy Spirit. When this guy was only 12 years old the Spirit began nudging him to speak to people, and in the following few months the pre-teen led about 30 people to Christ. When I hear that, I think Wow! I spent my twelfth year of life watching Gilligan’s Island on TV.

So the Lord completely surprised me on the day He gave me a special pat on the back. I have to admit I ugly cried.

You poured yourself out for me, Jesus whispered to my spirit though Mark 14:3-8. You have done a beautiful thing to me.

I’d done what He prompted me to do, I’d done what I could—that was all—and He saw my act of obedience as beautiful! He didn’t care if I had a gigantic zit or my waist was four inches wider than it used to be.

I’m sharing this because I know the Lord’s message for me that day was for you, too: your obedience to God, your sacrifice for Jesus is beautiful to Him! Think about that for a minute.

God created beauty—He knows beauty, He is beauty. God could measure us according to the most magnificent physical specimens on Earth—to Marilyn Monroe, to Beyonce, to a Brazilian supermodel. He could compare us to a fire-in-the-sky Coloradan sunset, to the mesmerizing cerulean waters of the Caribbean ocean, to the tiny jewel of a butterfly’s wings or the vast view from a mountain peak, the kind that replaces garbage cans, police sirens, and claustrophobic office cubicles with a world of green and blue and peace. He could compare us to the face of a sleeping infant whose tranquil softness reflects heaven for the briefest of moments—just a sliver of time—before the gravity of a sinful world begins it work of decay.

Consider the greatest beauty you’ve witnessed in your life: He could compare you to that. But He doesn’t. Your willingness to do what you can for Jesus is beyond compare to Him. In fact, even before you were obedient, Jesus loved you and sought you—He only wanted you to be with Him. And when you are with Him there’s no need to worry about make-up or the hair on your upper lip, because He will wrap you in His beauty. Consider 1 Chronicles 16:27:

Glory and beauty are in his presence; strength and gladness are in his place.

So if you are measuring yourself by the firmness of your abs, the color of your hair, or the size of your clothing today, get yourself into the presence of the Lord—where the true, eternal beauty lives. Clothe yourself in the beauty of being with Him, the beauty of pleasing Him.

And let the beauty of the LORD our God be upon us: and establish thou the work of our hands upon us; yea, the work of our hands establish thou it.

Psalm 90:17 (KJV)

One thing have I desired of the LORD, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire [or meditate] in his temple.

Psalm 27:4 (ESV)

 

Managing the Slippery Rocks of Life

 

When you come across a sign on a mountain trailhead that says DANGEROUSLY STEEP,

it’s best to do an about-face, especially if you are me: a 53-year-old woman who fondly remembers that one year when she was physically fit.

By the way, that’s actually me in the photo, hiking in Colorado. My husband likes to take numerous photos of me struggling up rocky inclines. It’s his hobby. But the photo represents a different ordeal, um, hike.

Unfortunately, on the day of the DANGEROUSLY STEEP hike, my husband and I simply ignored the sign and followed a large, chatty group and their dogs past the sign and down the trail. When the man leading the group asked us if we were okay with steep trails, Jeff and I communicated with a glance: If they can handle it, so can we.

Unfortunately, we ignored two facts:

  1. In Colorado, steep means something completely different than in Wisconsin, our former place of residence.
  2. The word dangerous means “involving possible injury, harm or death.”

Fast forward 20 minutes: the group ahead of us has disappeared and so has the trail. We can’t find any trail markers on the trees. Still, we forged ahead, even if the ahead had vanished.

Our search for a path through the trees following the stream down the mountain led us to another sign.

This time it said: Slippery When Wet.

I didn’t let that sign stop me, either. In an effort to find the trail, I ended up sliding down a wet, moss-covered slab of rock that perched dangerously over a stream.

Did I mention that the stream was mostly vertical?  Please note the words dangerously and vertical. After sitting there in a daze for a while, listening to the water rush over all manner of jagged rock below me, I realized that I needed to climb back up that slippery slab. It was the only way out of my predicament.

I grabbed a tree root growing from the side of the hill but failed to get a grip on the rock with my wet, mucky tennis shoes. That’s when I started to worry. My husband stretched out his hand from above, but there was no way I was going to grab it. If I did, my legs would dangle and I’d probably pull him off the edge with me.

I had absolutely no idea of what to do. And so I prayed.

Then it came to me. I took off my shoes, tied the laces together and draped them around my neck. Unlike the mud-covered soles of my Columbia Omni-Grips, my bare feet clung to the rock beneath the slime. I made it easily to the top, and we found the trail.

Most of us don’t come up against slippery slabs of rock every day, but we face so many other trials in life — times when we can’t find the trail markers, when we wander the wrong way, ignore all the signs of danger or simply don’t know what to do.

As I was praying lately about a few slippery areas in my own life, that rock I climbed came to mind, as did Psalm 18. Not recalling the content of that particular Psalm, I opened my Bible and read:

The Lord is my rock … and my deliverer … he made my feet like the feet of a deer and set me secure on the heights … You gave me a wide place for my steps and my feet did not slip.

The Lord was reminding me that underneath the moss and slime of life, the Rock is still there. I simply need to cling to Him, like my feet clung to the rock near the stream. And He will even equip me with the strength to do so (Psalm 18:32).

Are you clinging to the Rock today?

Six-Inch Heels and Other Stumbling Blocks

The pink, six-inch heels in the photo are not mine.

They were formerly the property of a young woman whose car was recently repossessed. Yet they stand as the latest testament to my uncanny ability to stumble and fall. Let me explain.

My son, Ben, works at a car repossession business. Once a certain time has elapsed, the content of repossessed cars is up for grabs by the employees. That’s why Ben came home from work the other day and handed me the pink shoes and a half-used bottle of Victoria’s Secret “Such a Flirt” fragrant mist.

He’s such a generous guy, and he was pleased to present his mother with this gift to brighten her day. It reminded me of presents proffered up with pride long ago, like the Christmas ornament made of noodles or the tin-can pencil holder.

Now I have to say that using the sugary sweet “Such a Flirt” body spray when you’re a 53-year-old woman who’s been married for 29 years is just wrong. Yet here I was, spraying the stuff on my wrists and noting the “8” stamped on the bottom of the hot-pink heels.

Hmmm. They would fit my feet, if not my stage of life, which is definitely not the “age 21, wear thong underwear and six-inch heels” stage. I’m more the “middle-aged, wear bigger and bigger underwear and have a bad back so need to wear flats” stage. But just for fun, I tried prancing around the living room with the heels on. My prancing ended on the first step as I wobbled from my lofty pink perch and hit the carpet, much to my son’s delight.

I’m an expert at falling down. Too bad I can’t make a living at it. I’ve walked smack-dab into walls and posts in stores. I’ve tripped over steps numerous times, even while I was telling someone how I tripped over this very step and fell on the concrete while a crowd of co-workers watched in horror.

Recently after having dinner at a friend’s house, I picked up my empty dinner plate and pushed back my chair. As I started to stand up, I managed to catch my shoe on the carpet and fell right on my rear end. But I didn’t break the dishes!

A few months ago, I was sliding around on a friend’s slick wood floor for fun and ended up in a horizontal position, staring at the ceiling. Last week I ran into the couch as I walked through my own living room. How bad is that?

I’m great at stumbling in other ways, too. I didn’t fall on my behind yesterday, but I did let being unemployed ruin my day. I let myself feel like a loser — a washed-up has-been with no future — even though God has told me that I’m beloved, treasured, known, and prayed for. I know that the Lord has a plan for me, even if I can’t see it. But some days my spirit seems to forget that. If you’re stumbling like me, remember what God says to us in Psalm 37:23-25:

The Lord makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him; though he may stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand.

This morning, after my stumble-of-a-day yesterday, I opened the daily Bible verse that’s sent to my email. It was Jeremiah 29:11.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

I’m so thankful that the Lord offers me His hand and keeps me steady when I stumble.

How about you? Do you need to ask God for His steady hand today?

Laughing at the Days to Come

She can laugh at the days to come.  (Proverbs 31:25)

When I started writing this blog, there were three unemployed people living in my house—me, my husband, and our twenty-three-year-old son. Doesn’t sound like a recipe for laughter, does it?

But God has shown me that this is precisely the time when laughter is most important. I can laugh at the days to come because Jesus is with me.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not putting pressure on myself—or you—to be the Proverbs 31 woman. That particular proverb represents an ideal woman; it was originally a list of attributes for young men to consider as they looked for a wife.

It’s not a description of one amazing woman who broke the mold back in biblical times, so say “Whew” with me and pass me a piece of your chocolate bar. No, I’m not superwoman. And either are you. But God has shown me that I can live out verse 25. And so can you.

In my mind, a woman who can laugh at the days to come doesn’t sweat what the future may bring, because she trusts that Jesus Christ has her back. She knows that Jesus is interceding, supporting, loving, and comforting her; she realizes that Christ can provide for her in every way possible.

This mind-set sounds easy enough to manage when life is rolling smoothly along.

But then your son becomes addicted to drugs and eventually dies. Your daughter joins a cult. You and your husband lose your jobs in the same week. And finally, a loved one sends you an email with the definitions of the words queer and transman, which is a good thing since you have no clue what those words mean.

I’ve faced all this and more during a recent two-year period, so I’ve had some time to consider just how much I trust Jesus. Thankfully, I experienced a soul-rocking crisis earlier in my life, so this time I knew the best way to handle the storms.

I hang on tightly to Jesus’ robe, even when doubt tries to loosen my grip on His garment. I pour out my heart to Him—all the sorrow, confusion, anger—and He accepts it and gives me peace, understanding, and comfort. When I think there’s no hope, Jesus says, “Hope in me alone.” And I do.

Of course I’m not the only one dealing with tough stuff. Right now I have a friend undergoing chemotherapy, one dealing with chronic pain, and yet another who was hurt in a major way by members of her church.

These friends are great women of faith: the one with cancer feels God’s peace and praises Him; the one with chronic pain still holds tightly to her faith, sends cards to others to encourage them, and gives generously to those in need; the one betrayed by believers has supported me in prayer for the last fourteen months as I faced one loss and trial after another.

Like me, these women aren’t perfect, but they don’t have to be! They’ve learned they can “laugh at the days to come” simply because God is Emmanuel—God is with us, always.

So enjoy the laughter that comes from total freedom—the freedom of being held by our Father, whose love is everlasting and ever-present. You, too, can be a woman who laughs at the days to come even as you walk through the tough stuff of life. You can be this woman if you allow Jesus to lead and carry you.

Frankly, Jesus has the tough job in this carrying deal (especially since I gained an extra ten pounds).

Are you ready to laugh with the Lord? I am!

Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.”  The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.      Psalm 126:2-3