Archives for September 2016

Hunger We Can Help Fill {Stooping Low}

The “crowd” is small. But, disappointment in the turnout is quickly replaced with a reminder of the ripples. It doesn’t take a boulder to ripple the water; it takes a pebble. And while the room is mostly empty, perhaps there’s a pebble in the audience who desires change, who feels called to this purpose.

She says the pastor is unavailable to share about the community garden, so a gentleman she’s affectionately nicknamed Gardner Bob will share. As he walks forward, I place my hand to my heart in an “oh, isn’t he sweet” way. He is just what you imagine…older, white-haired, dusty from garden work.

And so very wise.

Gardner Bob tells us the story of the gardens.

His church purchased an apartment building that later had to be torn down.  Because the fill dirt over the former building basement wasn’t packed properly, rebuilding or paving the land wasn’t an option. The land stood empty until the pastor planted a few tomato plants, and the idea of a community garden was born.

Not just any community garden, but a garden for those in need.

Every Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday at 3:00 pm, Bob places the fruits of his labor in the stand at the garden’s entrance, and the vegetables are free for the taking. Bob says they don’t police who takes what. He trusts that whomever comes gathers only what he or she needs.

And if you’re wondering how Gardner Bob cares for two large gardens that produce over 7,000 pounds of food each year all by himself, get this..

The garden is planted, picked, watered, and weeded by inmates from the local correctional center.

Awesome, huh? Gardner Bob isn’t just offering valuable vegetables to those who need them, but he’s also providing spiritual food as he works alongside inmates each week, listening to their stories, offering them a meal, and loving them well.

Bob tells us of his conversations with the inmates as they plant and pick. Their thankfulness for hamburgers and chips during the lunch break. Their stories of mistakes made and punishment applied. He reminds us the “criminals” who come to complete community service hours at the gardens are human beings, made in God’s image.  I can tell he enjoys his time with them. He says, “I treat them as if they are from any other job agency.”

Bob sums his gardens up in one sentence:  “We wanted to produce food, but I think there’s another hunger we can help fill.”

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As I listened to Bob speak, I think of all the seed planting and fruit producing language in the Bible. Of the parables and the reaping and sowing. But, when I sit down to write, all I can see is Gardner Bob quietly serving and sacrificing each day to give food to those in need and to love those who are down and out.

Bob is past retirement age. He could be sitting on his porch, watching the sunset, and sipping sweet tea. But Bob bends over day after day, stooping low to pick vegetables and love others.

Isn’t that just like Jesus? Who stoops low to love an outcast. Who eats with tax collectors and sinners. Who loves and serves the least of these. Who plants seeds of love and hope in all who meet him.

And Bob doesn’t stoop because he’s above and they’re below. He stoops because that’s where he can serve. That’s where the fruit is. That’s where he can love. That’s what Jesus did. And perhaps we are most like Jesus when we stoop.

I pray I always take the time to notice. To bend down and give a helping hand. To bend down and listen and to love . I am not sure what to do with what I heard from Gardener Bob last night. But, I pray God leads me to a life of stooping.

 

Psalm 113: 4-8

The Lord is exalted over all the nations,

   his glory above the heavens.

Who is like the Lord our God,

   the One who sits enthroned on high,

who stoops down to look

   on the heavens and the earth?

He raises the poor from the dust

   and lifts the needy from the ash heap;

 he seats them with princes,

   with the princes of his people.

 

{Thanks to Stacy DeCicco, the United Way, and the Mountaineer Food Bank for introducing to me Gardener Bob and giving me the privilege of seeing The Starfish Throwers. May we all be Difference Makers!}

The Couple Who Helped Me See Him { And I Thought It Was Random}

We step into the muggy interior with mismatched tables and eclectic chairs with customers to match.  A (seemingly) random stop for lunch as we travel home.

The hostess ushers us to the back, and we squeeze around the corner table about two feet from an older couple.

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I always notice older couples. Perhaps it’s because I know they have a story to tell.  I smile as I see them holding hands or sharing a meal. What a gift to be nearing the end of life but still have a spouse, a companion walking alongside you. It seems rare to me. Maybe that’s why I notice.

I eavesdrop as I look at my menu. She’s in her (late?) 70s, reading “today in history” aloud from an app on her smartphone. The great London fire ended today, and do you know that it ended the Black Plague?

How? He asked.

It killed all the rats and things spreading the disease I think, she said.

They order and look toward us, making eye contact. They ask us where we are from and we ask the same. They’ve moved to a smaller town in West Virginia to avoid the traffic of their larger hometown in Virginia. They’re in town to see the bird banding at Dolly Sods. They love this restaurant.

She sipped tea. He wore the napkin as a bib along with a large med alert bracelet. As we turned back to our food and they back to theirs I hear him ask…where do we live? She repeats the town and state.  Patiently, kindly, as if for the first time.

She repeats the day in  history. She repeats what he ordered for lunch.  Later, he’d ask us again where we lived, and we’d repeat too.

And she never once made an excuse for his memory or lack of. She simply continued patiently and kindly repeating…we are staying here tonight. We plan to see the bird banding tomorrow.  We are about to eat pizza…

I continue to slip a glance here and there toward their table. I watch her cut his food. I listen to their steady conversation, and my eyes fill with tears. I wonder at my tears – at why I find the couple a mix of heartwarming and heartbreaking. I find myself wanting to tag along to the bird banding. Wanting to help them – even though it seems they need no help.

They’ll be driving across the country to California to see their grandchildren this month. The wife says it’ll be slow going as she’s the only driver.

My friend says God has prompted her to pay their bill. (Side note: I can’t tell you how much I learn about Jesus by living life alongside her).  I love that she’s thought of this. I am giddy waiting for their reaction – like a kid on Christmas morning.

When it’s time for them to leave, the waitress says, “your check has been paid” then points to my friend and says, “by this young lady.” We didn’t expect the waitress to reveal who paid for it, just that it had been paid. But, what a gift….

The older lady says, “I’m speechless…perhaps in 57 years of marriage I’ve earned a free meal, but I’ve only seen this happen in the movies.”

My friend says, ”Well, we’ve been blessed watching how you love and care for one another, so we wanted to bless you in return.’

She thanks us over and over. And she explains that we’ve paid her bill to her husband a few times. And they leave slowly with huge smiles.

Sometimes our women’s ministry team will ask one another, “where did you see Jesus today?”  And on this day, I can easily answer because I paused enough to soak in life, to be still, to enjoy, and to notice.

I saw Him in the way a wife cared for her husband. I saw Him in the generosity of my friend. I heard in the perspective of a woman who had lived many years – too many years to let Alzheimers slow her or her husband down. I saw Him in the food placed before me when I know so many starve to death every day. I saw Him in the smiles of my kiddos as they sat across the table from me sharing stories and insights. I saw Him in the restaurant owner as she gave grace to two new employees who were struggling to keep up with their tables.

Where have you seen Jesus today? Because if you stop and look, stop and breath, stop and listen…he’s there. Every where. Look for him today.

When You’re Fresh Out of Amazing {We Can’t Do It All}

Dishes in the sink, scuff marks on the floor, bed unmade. General clutter. Mail, books, the jewelry I wore yesterday. Bills need paid. Dinner needs cooked. Laundry awaits. One child is home; one is waiting on me. A text alerts me that a client needs help. I sit my overloaded backpack on the floor, knowing I’ll have to finish working later – much later.

I am overwhelmed. I don’t voice it. Never voice it. Because I will conquer this feeling, this house, this clutter, this to-do list.  I will not fail. I will navigate becoming a single mom in superstar ways, leaving everyone to wonder, “how does she do it?”

I will.

Deep breath.

Lord, give me strength. Give me anything.  I don’t know how to do this.

I cook and sorta clean. Laundry in. Hugs given. I listen with one ear as I mentally recount my to-dos. They know I am not all there. They sense it, and I hate it.

Lord, I want to do this well. I really do. But, I have no idea how.

I am fresh out of amazing.

I know it deep down; I write it in my journal…Lord, I am failing here. I look like super single mom on the outside, but I am losing me on the inside. I am frazzled and forgetful.

That moment was almost a year ago. I still feel it some days, but it’s the exception not the rule.

Have you felt that way? As if you’re fresh out of amazing? Those are the words of Stacey Thacker and the title of her new book: Fresh Out of Amazing.  These are among the moments in the book that spoke to me…

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You are so very tired of being the one is strong and dependable and brave (11). Yes, I was. Yes, I am

God has indeed met me in my mess, but my fixer-upper heart needed a complete remodel. My foundation had cracked under the weight of other people’s expectations, my walls were covered with to-do lists, and my wiring was outdated by the idea that I was responsible for everything (26/27)  Did I write this? How does she know?

He desires our maturity more than just our maintenance (27). I spent two full years in maintenance mode. Running on the treadmill of life. Going nowhere. Just keeping up.

Growing up others would describe me as dependable, teacher’s pet, obedient, and conscientious (35). My childhood and high school friends need not chime in;) After all, my senior class voted me Teacher’s Pet and Most Likely to Succeed. Enough said.

Our sense of responsibility can and should lead us to care. But doing is optional. Besides, we can only do so much (36).  I still fight the “doing” urge. But I know this to be true. Very true. All missions aren’t mine. I care. Really. But I don’t have to do.  

A woman stretched thin has a temper to match. Responsibility can cause me to be overwhelmed to the point that I become pretty hard to live with… (37) I tell everyone within a room or two of my voice all the things I am doing all by myself. I tell I have had it. I mean had it.

Ugh.  I can see myself in the kitchen. Cooking. Washing dishes. One child is on her phone at the table – two feet from me. The other child is in the living room. And I blow a gasket. You can SEE I need help. Why aren’t you helping? I secretly wonder…do they not love me? Do they not see how hard I am trying to do this well? Or. Maybe.  Mom had juggled so long without help – without asking for help – that they had no idea I might want help.

Only one Person can help when I am at that breaking point…Jesus. (41) Truth. Just plain truth.

Martha was busy but she didn’t have to be burdened…She was set free to be who God made her to be. She could still be a servant like Martha, but she could first be filled up like Mary. (45)

Stacey’s insight into the Mary/Martha story changed my perspective. I have always thought…I am so like Martha. And that’s horrible.  But, sisters, you can be like Martha – it’s NOT BAD.  It’s lovely to be hospitable. To serve. But only from a place of filling.  Of movement toward him first. Love this!

If none of this “way too busy” talk resonates with you, there’s also other ways you might be fresh out of amazing….

She’s Amazing and I’m Not: The curse of comparison is fueled by our insecurity and our fear that will never measure up.

I Feel Like My Dreams Have Died: Jesus does beautiful work in our broken places.

Liar, Liar Pants on Fire: Those lies that “dwell and reproduce” within us. Be aware of the lies you believe.

When You’ve Lost Your Song in the Valley of Bitterness: Stacey shares the day she lost her daddy.  When you’ve lost a daddy too, your eyes just don’t move across the page; they swell with tears.  You know this pain too.  I will confess I recognized more of myself than I wanted to in this chapter.

Part 2 of the book is an invitation to wrestle…to watch and wait…to write it down…to worship…to take mercy. To Jesus. And ultimately, Stacey asks us to “grab your Bible and get to know the Great Big God who desires to revive your heart.”  The best advice ever.

You should know…I received an “review” copy of Fresh of Out Amazing from the author a few months ago.  When you’re a blogger, you often get early copies in exchange for a post and social media shares. But, I’ll be honest. I don’t always do either. If I don’t think my people should waste time on the book, then I won’t share it. But, this book? It resonates. And I think you’ll love it.

** Visit Stacey here to get some freebies!