Encouragement from a Squirrel’s Nest

Saturday morning at our porch party, the wind whipped around the house, bending the frail-looking Georgia pines. My husband and I wore heavy coats and were covered in blankets. We sat rocking and drinking coffee together.

Of course I was thinking about lots of things.

Some family issues.

The small group at church we’re going to be leading soon.

Writing ideas.

And I was drawn to the strangest sight–

A clump of leaves way up high in the top of a hardwood.

I’d noticed them several weeks ago.

“Look at those leaves in the middle trees. Why are they there?”

“It’s a squirrels’ nest.”

“Isn’t that weird? It didn’t fall–even with all the wind and rain.”

“Yep.”

“And the poor squirrels had to build it with the only things they had. Leaves and twigs.”

“Um-hmm.”

“I bet they didn’t worry or complain. They probably didn’t say, ‘I wish we had a nice box lined with a soft blanket instead of these dumb old leaves’.”

Rick looked at me like where do you come up with this stuff? 

I didn’t care. I had that sweet, warm feeling God was talking to me. 

Later that day, I did some research on squirrels’ nests.

They build their nests with green leaves in the summer. After packing them in tightly, the leaves die and turn brown, and their nests grow even stronger in the winter–just when they need them the most. (Here’s more info on Wikipedia.)

You wouldn’t think squirrels’ nests could possibly work.

A pile of sticks and some leaves.

But they do.

It’s exactly the way God planned it.

When He calls us to do something seemingly impossible–a job, a dream, or even to love someone–He gives us everything we need at just the right time.

And not a moment sooner. 

Have you ever experienced one-leaf-at-a-time kind of faith? Tell me about it! I’d love to hear.

Love,

Julie

Young Love and a John Deere Tractor

When we moved into our log house in the woods, my husband said he needed a tractor. A John Deere tractor.

“What for?”

“Wait ’til it rains. You’ll see.”

It rained for days that spring. Our long gravel driveway turned into a mud slide. “Uh-oh. What now?”

He grinned, hopped onto his tractor, and drove up and down the driveway. The gravel miraculously surfaced. The path to our house returned.

He was right about the tractor.

That John Deere has been faithful after all our storms. Dependable. Strong. It’s helped him in the garden, moved heavy things, and even made us smile.

My beautiful niece Libby, 10 years ago.

Last week I developed an even stronger love for the tractor. 

We’d had days of rain (again) and my husband hadn’t had a chance to drag the driveway. Driving slowly and carefully over the deep gullies, I made my way toward the street.

When I got back home from the grocery store, this sight caught my breath.

Our son and his fiance dragging the driveway together.

They couldn’t hear me following them.

I crept along, thinking.

Remembering.

Newly married, 36 years ago, we couldn’t possibly imagine the road ahead. The twists and turns. Steep hills and valleys.

Watching Brittany and Thomas, a prayer rose.

Lord,

When it rains, go before them. Smooth out the rough places. Protect them. Keep them close. 

When they reached the house, I jumped out of the car and thought about that old country song by The Judds, “Young Love.”

“Oh, y’all! Stay like this. Side-by-side. No matter what.”

And you’ll do just fine. 

There’s nothing like riding a tractor with someone you love, no matter your age.

If you can’t see the video below, click here. It’s worth watching. I promise.

What matters most in your relationships?

How is love like a John Deere tractor?

What have you learned about love?

Have you ever ridden a tractor (or skied, or run a race, or swam a river) with someone you love? Tell me about it!

Love,

Julie

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Blew It

Well, y’all, I blew it. In less than a week, I rebelled against my word for 2015, SIMPLE. I turned something SIMPLE into something complicated and ugly.

As it was happening, I ignored God’s gentle tap-tap-tapping on my heart.

The week started out beautifully, too.

I used my Belk Christmas gift card from Mother to buy plain, white dishes. I thought if my kitchen table looked SIMPLE, I’d remember my word.

I found a SIMPLE green wreath from Target.

But the day I bought my dishes, a phone conversation with someone I love went south.

God seemed to whisper, Don’t respond. Leave this alone. 

But I didn’t.

Anger erupted inside of me like red-hot lava.

For most of my life, my anger has turned inward. My stomach hurts. I shut down and smile. This time, I lost my temper. I let loose. I screamed back. Tried to defend my opinion. I was driving, and it felt like the car shuddered around me.

Hang up the phone now, the Soft Voice said.

I lost all sense of time and space, but worse than that.

I lost my peace. I abandoned my word. 

Even then, I sensed God’s Spirit calling out to me.

You don’t have to do this. 

I knew better. I’ve had years of Alanon.

Still holding the phone, I cried messy tears–the kind where you can’t catch your breath. “I have to go now. Bye,” I choked out.

I came home. Took a hot bath. Cried some more.

I can’t share details, but I knew better than to poke the bear. 

The next day, my SIMPLE white dishes arrived.

Feeling stupid and exhausted and a million miles away from God, I unpacked them and set the kitchen table.

Then I unpacked my heart.

I sat by my dishes and wrote hard and fast in my prayer journal.

I did the only thing I could do.

I started over on Step One in Alanon which applies to every area of my life. 

I “admitted I was powerless over alcohol and that my life had become unmanageable.

If you’re like me and you’ve somehow lost your word, its closer than you think. 

So is God.

My Simple Peace returned, bright and warm, like the candlelight shining on my plain-white dishes. 

God’s tenderness found me. Again. 

Keep it Simple, Sweetheart. There’s really no other way.

How’s your year going? Your word?

Love,

Julie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thinking Ahead–My Mother, Myself

My mother is the Queen of Preparedness. She’s always giving me detailed instructions about the future, how-to articles, and insightful books to read. You’ll never believe what she’s preparing me for now.

Friday she sent me the strangest text from her new iPhone.

I can’t find our obits. Didn’t I give you copies? Where are they?

What kind of message is this?

She’d met with the man who makes granite headstones in her hometown two weeks ago. And now this.

I couldn’t take any more. And I didn’t want to think about any of that right now.

I texted her back: You gave me some papers. Didn’t read them. Put them in the lockbox. 

The next day in her kitchen:

“Your brother must’ve accidentally thrown the obits away when he cleaned,” she said. “By the way, there’s a sack of stuff you might want on the kitchen table. I have one for Jennifer too.” (Jennifer’s my sister.)

My heart gonged.

I knew what she meant by “sack of stuff.”

Pictures from a long time ago. Love-notes from my children. Things too sentimental to throw away.

I didn’t want to dig through memories with her looking over my shoulder. I could get trapped in another world like Alice in Wonderland.

Too many emotions.

But I could see my parents’ wedding picture from 1958,

My grandmother, my niece, Mother, and me, 1992.

Enough.

I looked away from the sack. “Do we have to talk about obituaries right now, Mother? You’re only 78.” 

She pretended to straighten some papers.”I just wanted to make things easier for you.”

Oh. I swallowed the softball-sized lump in my throat.

Quickly changing the subject, she smiled and handed me an article from the sack.  ”This is wonderful. It’s helpful for writing dialog. It’s called, ‘Speaking Southern.’”

“Mother!”  I pointed to her note on page one. “You even gave me instructions on how to read it!”

For Julie: take your time and read this S-L-O-W-L-Y.

We laughed until the tears rolled, and for a few minutes, nothing else mattered.

Lord, if families can laugh, surely we can get through anything. 

Has laughter helped you through a tough time or an awkward situation?

Have you had this conversation with someone you love? It’s tough, isn’t it?

Love,

Julie

 

 

 

 

 

Our Mysterious Destination (and My 2015 Word)

I’d been considering a certain word for 2015. I didn’t have much in common with it, but I loved it. It’s tiny and tender compared to my last three heavyweights–surrender follow, and enough.

Something unexpected happened Christmas night, and I knew the word was mine.

Six p.m.

“Go get your coat,” my husband said.

“Why? Is everything okay? Where’re we going? Do I need my purse? Let me get my phone.”

“Nope. Just your coat.”

(We re-enacted  for pictures. On Christmas night there were no cars.)

Even though I felt uneasy leaving everything behind, I followed his simple instructions and grabbed my coat. While he drove to our mysterious destination, I asked a million more questions.

He just smiled.

Patted my knee.

Approximately eight minutes later, we parked at the town square.

“Ohhhhh, we’re walking around the square, right?”

He winked.

It’d been a couple of years since we’d walked around the square together. And never on Christmas night. “Wow. Everything’s all lit up.” I hurried toward the first shop to peek in the window.

“Slow down. We’re not exercising.”

Oh.

I felt a tug at my heart.

Something’s happening. Pay attention.

“Look at the Christmas tree lights!” I said. “They’re the big old-fashioned kind, like when we were little.”

“Oh, look at Buckles Hardware all decorated.”

“We might even see Barney Fife!

“Yep,” he said.

photo credit Bisse’s Photostream Flickr link

How had I missed the beauty of small town simplicity?

The beauty of simple things? 

We stopped at a window box full of pansies.

Spotting one simple candle glowing in the window, I finally said yes to my word. One-hundred percent yes.

“Guess what my word is for 2015? It’s the exact opposite of me.”

“Risk-taker?”

“No. It’s Simple. My new word is Simple. Like, ‘K.I.S.S. Keep it Simple, Sweetheart.’‘”

He looked at me and I knew exactly what he was thinking.

But you’re not simple. You’re complicated. You never stop thinking. Or planning.

“With God’s help, I’m going to think simple thoughts. I am–I’m going to simplify and focus on what matters most.”

Maybe simple faith is all we really need.

Do you have a word for 2015? Please share it with our group!

**Reminder** Facebook is changing in January. Be sure to sign up for my blog through my website.

Love,

Julie

 

 

 

 

 

 

Worshipping at Walmart

Glancing at my last-minute Christmas brunch grocery list, I hurry across the wet Walmart parking lot. It’s damp and cold. I wish I’d worn my coat. Making my way through the crowd of grim-faced shoppers, my thoughts scatter like marbles. I check my list again.

* Find red tablecloth

* Eggs, orange juice, chocolate milk, bacon

*Send Katie mini-cheese blintz recipe 

Taking a short-cut through pajamas aisle, I hear Christmas music.

Is it piped in through the speakers?

People move toward the center of the store as though following The Star of David.

I forget my list and follow them.

Workers stop to listen.

This music.

This beautiful music. 

It’s a little rough, but in a good way. It’s raw.

Full of passion.

And powerful.

So very powerful. 

A form of praise that can’t be contained.

Warmth spreads through me as I pass a small nativity.

Spotting the giant circle of carolers, I’m filled with unspeakable peace.

This kind of worship isn’t planned.

It’s spontaneous combustion.

Not of this world.

So much bigger than me. 

Some drop to their knees.

Wipe their eyes.

A few raise their hands.

I remember yesterday when I heard, “Christmas Cannon,” by Trans-Siberian Orchestra. This same wonder and awe came over me.

(Click here if you can’t see the video.)

And now, 

Miraculously,

In the middle of a busy Walmart on Saturday before Christmas,

We sound every bit as beautiful as the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

Glory and honor and praise fill an ordinary building as a ragtag collection of us sing our hearts out.

(Click here if you can’t see the video.)

Unhindered,

Unrehearsed,

We worship Christ the newborn King.

 Have you had one of these moments this Christmas when God’s Gift fills your heart? Please share it with our group! 

Love,

Julie

Friendship, Faith, and Feeling Fifteen Again

photo from Meghan Davidson https://flic.kr/p/eEBxML 

“What’s wrong with us?” Robin, my BFF of 40 years said last week on the phone. “Why don’t we ever see each other?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “Friends do things together, don’t they? Like on the Hallmark Countdown to Christmas movies--they’re always drinking coffee and laughing and window shopping.”

Robin and I spend our days in the virtual world on computers. We’re bloggers/writers. Her amazing site is All Things Heart and Home.

“Let’s make a lunch date,” she said. “Have some Christmas cheer.”

“I’d love to! We could just meet at Starbucks if you’re–”

“Nope. Let’s go to Maggiano’s. They have an incredible gluten-free menu.” (Here’s a Maggiano’s restaurant review by Pretty Little Celiac.)

I was so excited, I nearly cried. “We can sit and talk!”

“Like real friends!”

Using a Christmas-red marker, I wrote the date on my calendar. 

Thursday morning, we spotted each other in the parking lot, and ran and hugged like they do in the movies. She glanced at the crinkly lines near my eyes. “You haven’t aged a bit,” she said.

“Neither have you.”

Chatting nonstop, we felt fifteen again. We were so busy talking, we forgot to take pictures. Two bloggers forgetting to take pictures!

After lunch, we  weren’t ready to say goodbye, so we shopped. We bought the same kind of jeans. Same size. Not the same size as when we were 15. :)

At the counter, I pulled out my zippered pouch to pay.

“Where’s your wallet?” Robin said.

“It’s right here.”

“Julie, that’s not a wallet.” She showed me hers. Neatly organized. Butterscotch-colored leather. A hand-me-down from one of her daughters. “You need a real wallet.”

We laughed. “Why? I like keeping my credit cards in rubber-bands.”

At Starbucks, she handed me her cup of extra hot soy latte. “Here. Taste. It’s creamy-dreamy.”

“This is terrible. It’s so blah. Try my Sumatra.”

She took a tiny sip and made a face. “Tastes like an ashtray.”

“Today’s been so much fun,” I said. “We didn’t talk about our problems, did we?”

Which we could have.

Because we have problems.

“We’ve been too busy laughing,” she said.

We paused.

Watched shoppers stroll by.

“Maybe this is what faith means. Letting go of problems and living in the moment,” I said.  

“I think so, Jewels.”

I smiled all the way home, so very thankful for faith and friendship.

(photo from https://www.flickr.com/photos/ichigochan-/)

Do you have friends like Robin? Oh, I hope so.

Have you discovered living in the moment faith? 

P.S. I don’t understand all the Facebook changes coming in January, but I’m not sure if I’ll still be able to share my blog links through FB. If you haven’t signed up to receive my posts through email, just insert your email address in the box at the top right corner and my blog posts will be delivered every Wednesday morning. Thank you!

Love,

Julie

 

 

Straight from the Heart

This past Sunday we were having a tiny family get-together to make Christmas cookies. Very low-key. But Saturday morning, we had a church commitment and overslept.

Hurrying, I forgot what matters most.

“I hate running late!” I said. “Now we’ll be behind all weekend long. I have so much to do.”

“Nah,” Rick said. “We’re fine.”

By the time we got back home, I felt like I was chasing myself around trying to catch up.

Get a Christmas tree.

Bring decorations upstairs from the basement.

Decorate.

Go to the grocery store.

Finish addressing Christmas cards.

NOW. Hurry!

And I’m married to a man who can’t be pushed. Or rushed. The harder I tried to get things done, the slower he moved.

Sunday afternoon right before the party, he finally brought the tree inside, and I started making cookies.

Which should’ve been done hours earlier.

Scanning the box for directions, I discovered something odd–

A paragraph explaining why “Mr. Sunface Bebo” founded Immaculate Baking Company.

This sentence seemed about ten feet tall. 

“His vision is to inspire people to LOVE ONE ANOTHER.”

Whoa. 

A baking company has a vision to inspire people to love one another? 

And it’s right here on the box.

Straight from the founder’s heart.

Something inside me shifted.

In all my hurrying, I’d lost my vision for why I was having a cookie party.

Because I love my family. 

Before long, I saw–really SAW–our son Thomas and his girlfriend Brittany decorating the tree.

Our daughter Katie was frosting cookies.

We missed you, Jamie. :(

I sat beside Rick. “Sorry, I pushed so hard.”

He made his my wife scares me face. Which is part of why I love him. His sense of humor.

Later, alone in the kitchen, I turned out the big tree lights.

And studied our nativity.

Because of God’s great love for us,

We can love one another,

Straight from the heart. 

Do you decorate Christmas cookies?

Have you been hurrying too and missing the good stuff?

(The glutenfree cookies were amazing! I have Celiac.)

“…love one another…” John 13:34

Love,

Julie

 

 

 

Life-changing Love

Every now and then, someone comes along and rearranges my thinking. It happened again this weekend.

I’ve been following Vicky Westra’s blog, The Westra World, for a couple of years. Although we’ve never met, each time I read her words, they squeeze my heart–that soft place inside where God lives.

Vicky writes about  faith and fear. And courage.

She considers each day a miracle.

Vicky says, “I’m just a girl living the dream of being married to my superman, raising two active boys, and discovering more of who I am every day I am here. I’m currently undergoing treatment for breast cancer and learning how to expand my time, instead of worrying about extending it. So I am living my moments daily and blogging the whole crazy adventure.”

Recently, a few of Vicky’s friends did a fundraiser in her honor. They crafted door-prizes and selected five winners.

When I made my small contribution, I never expected to win. I was randomly chosen. I couldn’t believe it.

Me! A winner!

For sure, I never expected to win a life-changing gift.  

Saturday morning, my prize basket arrived.

From someone I’d never met.

In honor of Vicky in Minnesota.

A state I’d never visited.

In Fall colors!

I spread everything on the floor around me. Books! Coffee! Music! My favorite things!

Immediately, I was drawn into Bob Goff’s book, Love Does.

Good grief. This book.

The kind of reading where you forget to breathe.

It’s all about love without limits.

The same way Vicky writes and lives her life–the same kind of love her friends have. 

A quote from page 9:

“…the kind of love that God created and demonstrated is a costly one because it involves sacrifice and presence. It’s a love that operates more like a sign language than being spoken outright.”

The first song on the Selah CD,  ”You Amaze Us,” shares the same love message.

If you can’t see the video below, click here.

Of course, it’s not about the gift I gave.

It’s about the unexpected, unforgettable, life-changing love I received in return.

Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put in your lap, “ Luke 6:38 ESV.

Have you ever had life-changing love rearrange your thinking?

Love,

Julie

Thanksgiving Bumps and Bruises

I saw one of those sweet Publix Thanksgiving commercials the other day, and the family-shaped place in my heart ached. Watching their warm, endearing expressions toward each other, I wondered if everything was really this perfect in their world.

Or were some family members missing from the table?

Were any estranged from each other?

Had some gone to Heaven?

Did they have any problems?

Or were they a little more like our family?

With a few bumps and scrapes and bruises.

(If you can’t see the video of the commercial below, click here. It’s only a minute long.)

Watching this TV family, I longed for health and healing–in every way–for all of us in my family.

No barriers.

No illnesses.

Peace and joy.

I guess I wanted the impossible.

Heaven on Earth. 

The next morning I sat in my bedroom talking to God about life, and Clyde laid down beside me as always.

I spotted a handmade bookmark on my bedside table from a Daily Guideposts reader. I’d probably skimmed it a dozen times and had never noticed how the words were spaced on separate lines.

This time I read each phrase slowly.

Be still and know that I am God.

Be still and know that I am.

Be still and know.

Be still.

Be. 

Just be still like Clyde. Still and trusting. At peace.

One day, all the bumps and scrapes and bruises in our families will be healed.

Be.

Be still.

Be still and know.

“Be still and know that He is God,” Psalms 46:10.

I’ll be giving thanks tomorrow and praying for you and yours.

Love,

Julie