But I Don’t Wanna!

Our obstacles are different – it could be a physical obstacle, an emotional obstacle ; an educational obstacle like a test or something; but we all have them.

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Ever face an obstacle in life that you just didn’t want to go through?   Where you felt absolutely paralyzed to move in any direction, let alone forward?    I had one of those days this week.    So what did I do to escape?   I hopped on a bike at the gym and just rode miles.   And miles… and miles (kind of like Forrest Gump!)  There was a time when biking wouldn’t necessarily have been my first choice…. And there are still many of  things that I do to escape…  like just crawling into myself and just playing the piano, or working on some sort of Craigs’ List project – or something that I don’t have to put actual thought into, but can do relatively mindlessly while I wallow in self-pity.   It is good to have ways to escape.   But the reality is that sometimes we JUST HAVE TO MOVE FORWARD.    As much as we’d like to just sit down and pretend the world around us is not happening.     But how do we do that?

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What do I do when I really just don’t want to face it?

When I left for the gym that day after a whirlwind sort of morning dropped some things in my lap that I honestly just didn’t want to face, I had an overwhelming sense that I just needed to hear the voice of God. It was a craving for His voice to comfort me and tell me everything was going to be ok.    I can remember when I was a young teenager, home on summer break.  My mom set the expectation that I was to call her every morning when I woke up (because, of course, she left before I woke up).   I remember that the sound of her voice answer the phone was comforting.   Years later, after I was married, I recall feeling that sense of comfort when I called mom and just heard her voice.  Somehow on that morning, I craved the comfort that only my Heavenly father could give.     I have a Bible app on my phone that I use regularly to read scripture… but I just wanted to HEAR scripture today.    I’m not sure why I hadn’t done this before, but I downloaded the BIBLE onto Audible. I really wanted to listen to Psalms, but the app downloaded the Bible in many “parts” (not by book or chapter), so I couldn’t necessarily tell which “part” was psalm, and they were still in process of downloading all 83 hours and 13 minutes of the complete New International Version of the Audio Bible.  So Joshua 19 it was.   The good news is that the narrator has an English accent, so it was kind of cool hearing him read scripture.    Somehow I think God orchestrates far more in our lives than we ever realize, and I believe this event was no exception.  Although the specific text of Joshua I was hearing was actually pretty dry (it was on the division of the land to the Israelites), my mind began to wander to the verse in Jeremiah (29:11) that is my life-verse.  This is a verse that I heard explicitly in my early 20’s from a close family friend who is a pastor: “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”   It goes on to say, “then you will call on me and come to pray to me, and I will listen to you”.  It was a reassurance to me that, even though I may face obstacles I don’t necessary want to, God has an ultimate plan for my life.

That evening, I dug out a few verses that I thought were appropriate for when we are facing unpleasant things. As I thought about it, and started searching for scripture that might give me an answer, I realized this was exactly what Jesus felt like when preparing to go to the cross. In the garden of Gethsemane, when He said (Luke 22:42-44, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done. An angel from Heaven appeared to him and strengthened him.  And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground”.  I bolded a sentence above – one that I had never even noticed before today.    Even Jesus needed support – and the angel was there to strengthen him.   And the angel was right there to support Him!  The interesting thing about this passage is that Jesus felt exactly like I did on that day – He had to face something he really didn’t want to have to do – and He even asked God to take it on so that He didn’t have to do it.  We all know how that ended, right?  He DID have to go through that which he didn’t want to…    and so do we sometimes.

 

Our obstacles are different – it could be a physical obstacle; or an emotional obstacle; an educational obstacle like a test or something, or to have to break bad news to someone; but we all have them. In those “obstacle moments”, I relish in the fact that I know I have a God that has a plan for my life – and know that He will strengthen me just when I need it.   I am so thankful for the encouragement that you all have given to me along my journey – and I pray that I can be encouragement back to you to keep going when you don’t feel like it.

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Loyal

In response to the daily word challenge, “loyal”, it is tempting to write about the loyalty of my dog, or a good friend, or the loyalty we have to a company.  Indeed, these are good topics.  But in all honesty, what I would rather discuss today are traits that make people worthy of loyalty.    In fact, I would rather solicit your input.  What character traits define someone or something as worthy of loyalty?    Please comment below. 

Ascend

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Ascend

Out of the pit of despair, I begin the slow ascension toward the light.  I realize now I cannot do it on my own.  No, I’ve tried that already.  Tried and failed.  Over and over again.  In the past, I thought the best way to demonstrate my courage was to boldly climb, hoping that others would follow.  On my own, I was able to overcome obstacles and actually climbed quite high at times, only to find myself falling down, back in the pit of despair.    No, I cannot make it on my own.   I need someone to guide me, to encourage me when I’m tired and feel like I cannot climb anymore.  On this climb, I realize I need God, and his words ring true:  from Psalm 40: 1 I waited patiently for the Lord;he turned to me and heard my cry.2 He lifted me out of the slimy pit,out of the mud and mire;he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.3 He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.

Psalms 40:1-3 NIV

No, I think I can only ascend on the wings of God, for it is through Him alone that I find the strength to continue the climb.

Father-Shaped Hole

Eventually I learned that Jesus, and only Jesus, can fill the father-shaped hole in my heart.

The mere utterance of the word “father” paints vividly different picture for many different people.  For some, the picture is alive and well and changing every day.  For others, the colorful picture is full of wonderful memories, each painted in the throes of happy times over a lifetime of events.  For others, more of a black and white, dull emotionless; and for others still, the picture of blackness, representing the loneliness of the father-shaped hole in their heart created by the absence of that essential relationship.

In the month of June each year we honor our fathers on the hallmark day set aside for them.  I remember so vividly the pencil holder I made for Fathers’ Day when I was in third grade.  It was made by meticulously tearing tiny bits of masking tape, applying them randomly to a soup can until it was completely covered.  Then, after covered in masking tape bits, gently rubbing brown shoe polish, applied with an old rag, created the appearance of an aged, cracked glass container – in this case to hold pencils.  I was proud of that pencil holder, and looked forward to giving it to my Daddy.  As I put the finishing touches on his pencil holder, cancer continued to ravage his body to degrees that my 8 year old mind could not comprehend.  I knew he was sick, but did not fully understand all that his sickness would mean in my life.

Father’s day came, and he was thrilled to receive my work of art.  That work of art would be gently placed in his casket only days or weeks later.   I remember so clearly the night that he passed from this world into eternity – the details of which I cherish in private.  The finality of his death took many months for me to realize – it all seemed so surreal to me that I thought it was all a bad dream from which, one day I would wake.

Through his sickness, my father’s faith in God never waned.  He was, and remains to me, one of the most Christ-like men I have ever met.   When he was well, he would spend his lunch hours on the streets of Pittsburgh looking for people to whom he could witness – bringing the hope that he had through the saving grace of Jesus.  He knew that when he passed from this world, he would be entering eternity with Jesus.  For him, it was wonderful.  For me, it was devastating.  For many years, I could not understand how God could take someone like my father away from his family.  I was angry at God, and spent many years searching for ways to deal with the father-shaped hole left in my heart.

My mother, though wounded, stood as strong in her faith as she had through any hard times in life, and was the rock that my sister and I needed to keep us grounded.  Over the years, we continued to go to church and build relationships with those who eventually helped me to see that, thought I may not understand all, God indeed has a plan for my life.  Eventually, and through means and methods weaved into my life through God alone, I learned that Jesus, and only Jesus, can fill the father-shaped hole in my heart.  Though I may never understand, on this side of Heaven, why he chose to bring my father home when He did, I am confident that my life experiences have prepared me to continue that work; to spend time looking for people to whom I can witness – bringing the hope that I have through the saving grace of Jesus.

There are so many people who have father-shaped holes in their hearts – for some, the father-shaped hole may be have been created by fathers who have left, fathers who have died, or even fathers who are physically present but emotionally absent from their children’s lives.    My prayer is that they may come to know their Heavenly Father – and that He will fill the father-shaped hole in their hearts, preparing them to continue His work, looking for others to whom they can share their Hope.

 

I Cried Out

This poem was written when i was about 15-16 years old, and exemplifies the struggle I had between wanting to help people and needing to be helped myself.

 

I walked alone in darkness, along a dark pathway.

I walked along in silence, had nothing left to say.

Ahead I saw a figure – could not make out its form

Its state in total agony – a hopeless soul, forlorn.

 

Sitting there on the edge of despair

I wanted to help, to show that I cared

 

I heard strange noise escaping, deep from its inner self

like the sounds of souls who lament within the depths of Hell

 

Each cry came out more feeble, more desperate than the last;

And still each cry, unanswered, went off into the past.

 

I reached out my hand, my friendship to bestow;

And as I reached I realized what I had not yet known.

This poor soul who was sitting and crying all alone

Turned out to be the same soul – none other than my own.

 

Exceptional!

via Daily Prompt: Exceptional

Many visions envelope my head as I reflect on the word, “Exceptional”.   Exceptional performance.  Exceptional behavior.  Exceptional service.  Exceptional children.  Exceptional teamwork.  Exceptional leadership.

Having just completed day 2 of a 3 day leadership program sponsored by my company, I pause to reflect on EXCEPTIONAL LEADERSHIP. In my career, I have been fortunate to have the pleasure and benefit of working for an exceptional leader, one like whom many people can only wish.  What made him exceptional was not merely what he accomplished, though we could point to a host of awards and trophies he had earned throughout his career.  What made him exceptional wasn’t that his expertise was sought by many, though it was.  What made him exceptional was that he genuinely cared about developing people to be the very best that they could be.  I knew that he “had my back” and that I could count on him for support and encouragement.   He took the word MENTOR as seriously as I wish everyone would.

When I struggled with a particular strategy, or business decision, it would have been easy for him to simply tell me the answer the way many “leaders” would.  Instead, he would ask leading and open ended questions to help me determine the best answer.  He coached me through various options, gently guiding me in thought processes to help develop the right decision for the situation.

Three particular examples stand out in my mind. First, he took a chance on me.  Prior to being hired into my first formal leadership role, I worked as a supplier quality engineer.  He took a chance that I could make the leap from independent contributor to manager.  During my first year in that role, I lamented the fact that, although “TEAMWORK” was defined as one of our companies’ core competencies, I saw great opportunities to improve within my team alone.   I had devised a rather unconventional program to develop teamwork within my team, consisting of a variety of teaming activities designed to help break down the walls of my team members to help them build relationships to enable better performance.  My leader believed in me enough to allow me the freedom to try something new and innovative.  Although I was criticized by other managers for holding these events, he continued to support me and allowed me the freedom to develop the program so that it could develop the people in my group to be the best they could be.

In the second example, our company was introducing a new way of doing something, and I was at the forefront of it. It wasn’t specifically my idea.  However, because of the position I held, it was a natural decision that I become the driver behind the culture change, which you might guess was met with resistance across the larger organization.   The change was frightening.  In this case, the change required a bit more work due to the regulatory nature of our work, and though not a popular idea, was one that must be introduced if we wanted our company to continue operating in the current spaces.  My leader allowed me to become the “expert” in the area, learning the intimate details of how to accomplish what needed to be accomplished.  He became my Roadblock Removal Champion.  I relied on him for support whenever we had to present our position to the President of the company, and he paved the way to get the support we needed from the President.   He didn’t do it for me; he made me do it.  But he coached me through my approach, providing tweaks where necessary, and he truly paved the way and removed necessary roadblocks.

The next example involves a mis-hire. The position reported to me and was actually a key position in the paradigm shift mentioned above.  We were looking to bring some “expertise” to the new processes, so we reviewed resumes from people who had been performing this type of work. We found what we thought to be a promising candidate, who “wowed” us with his knowledge.   My leader and I were both on the interview team who decided to hire this man.  About 3 months into his employment, I noticed some inconsistencies in his behavior and his performance, and I voiced my concerns to my leader.  We discussed various aspects of my suspicions, and facts gathered, etc.   I could tell he didn’t completely agree with my decision on how to handle the situation, and he gave me some alternatives. He asked me to think about the alternatives over a weekend and let me know that he would support whatever decision I made.  When we reconvened the following Monday, I reaffirmed my original decision, which in this case was to terminate employment.  True to his word, he supported my decision and had my back, despite possibly having a different opinion.   In that instance, he allowed me to make the decision that I thought was best, knowing that even if it was the wrong decision, I would learn from the experience.

I could site many other examples of his exceptional leadership, and reasons why I count him a mentor still today, though we have both moved on to different roles and responsibilities.  For me, an exceptional leader is not the one who seeks the glory, but the one who strives to develop people to be the very best they can be.  Through servant leadership, exceptional leaders accomplish much through their influence.  Further, their leadership transcends their role, and ultimate bears fruit in generations of leaders borne out of their abilities.  I am forever grateful to have had a wonderful experience with an exceptional leader.   (Thank you – you know who you are).

 

Lucky Ducky Dog

If ever there was a time in my life that I wondered if God heard my prayers, those doubts disappeared one summer as God answered the prayers of a 10-year-old boy.

Our middle child was born with enormous compassion for people and animals.  At the age of 3, his decided profession was a zoo keeper.  We had two dogs that he loved very much.  The first one passed, and then a few years later the other passed.  Brokenhearted, he asked his dad if we could get another. His dad said, “No.”  He asked again, and again, and again, many times over the next several years.  Every time, his dad said, “No.”   Sometimes his dad would tell him, “When you have a house of your own, you can get a dog.”   Every Sunday during prayer request time in his Sunday school class, he would pray for a dog.  It got to the point where the Sunday school teacher would look at me when I picked him up from class and say, “Would you just get the kid a dog already?”   I would smile and say, “You don’t understand. Dad said, ‘No.’”

One day he had a brilliant idea.  Instead of praying that he would get a dog, he began to pray that God would change his dad’s heart.  I know this because his Sunday school teacher told me.

That summer, our church was preparing for vacation Bible School.  The theme was Avalanche Ranch and they had asked to borrow artificial Christmas trees as decorations.  Willingly, I donated our tree but kept forgetting to take the box out of the back of our van.  We drove to vacation Bible school each evening, and I would say to myself, “Don’t forget to get that box out when we get back home”, and then I would forget until the next evening when I saw it again.  This went on every evening from Monday until Thursday evening.

On Thursday evening, we took the same route home that we had taken every other evening this week.  With a little less than a mile to our house, we came upon a commotion on our very busy road.  Cars littered the sides of the road, pulled off in a haphazard fashion, and a small crowd of people gathered on the side of the road.   Obligingly, I pulled over, too, and began to get out of the car to see what had happened.   As I reached the side of the road, a tear-stained teenage boy looked up from his vantage point over-top of a black and white dog laying on the side of the road.

“I don’t even know where he came from!” he exclaimed. “I didn’t mean to hit him.  I don’t know what to do.  My friends went around to all of these houses to see if the dog belonged to anyone, but he doesn’t.  He has a collar on, but no tag on the collar.”   Visibly shaken, the young man sat there petting the bleeding canine.    My heart broke.  Then I remembered the box that I had forgotten to take out of my van all week. Peering down at them, I realized that the dog was larger than I could handle myself.   Before thinking it through, I found myself telling this young man that if he could help me pick the dog up, we could put him into the box in my car and I would take him to the vet.  After all, I just happened to have a cardboard box in there! Sobbing, he looked at me in wild amazement and said, “You would do that?”

Before I could fully comprehend what had just happened, we were riding down the road with a bleeding dog in the box that used to house my Christmas tree, and I was calling home to say we’d be later than planned.  Because he wanted to be zoo-keeper, I told my son that this was “his moment” and he could come and give comfort to the injured dog.  Almost immediately, my son began to ask, “Can we keep him? Can we keep him?”    I knew I couldn’t make a promise like that because I had no idea how badly injured he was.   Our youngest, who was 3 at the time, kept shouting, “I don’t like this dog!  He’s bleeding everywhere and he stinks!”  I called the local emergency vet service to explain the situation and see if we could bring him in for evaluation.  They asked if I was willing to pay for it.  “How much could it be?” I thought. “Of course I’m willing to pay for it.”

When we arrived at the emergency vet, we went inside and explained that we didn’t think the dog would be able to walk.  The vet tech came outside with a gurney, and we loaded up our newly named, “Lucky”, which we decided was much better than “Angel” or “Dead”.   The girls waited in the waiting room while my son and I talked with the vet.  They said that he’d have to stay overnight for evaluation.  On our way home that evening, I said to the kids (as if we were playing Monopoly and I was telling them to go directly to jail), “Not a word to your father.  Go directly to bed. Do not mention anything about a dog.  Got it?”  Luckily, they obeyed, giving me some additional time to figure out how to break the news to my husband.

The next morning, the vet called me to report that “Lucky” had lived through the night.  The X-ray revealed that he has a luxated paw, which they could repair for $2500.00.   I had no idea what a “luxated” paw was, so I asked about the risk of not having it fixed.  When they said that he might develop arthritis later in life, I decided that was a risk worth taking.  We opted to simply cast it and hope for the best.

“Then there’s the screw we found in his stomach,” they said.  “Screw??”   “Yes, he must have eaten a screw.  We can remove it for $4,000.”     “$4000?    Or… he could poop it out?”     “Well, yes, possibly, but it could tear his intestine lining on the way out.”

At this point, I was awestruck. “Listen, my son has been praying for a dog for years.  I am pretty sure that God we serve is bigger than the screw in this dog’s stomach, so I’m going to let God work it out.”    I didn’t think about it at the time but have since wondered if the people who worked at the vet service thought I was a lunatic.  They were probably thinking they needed to call psychiatric services to have a straight-jacket ready for me when I came to pick up the dog.   “I cannot return for the dog until this evening after vacation Bible school.  Will that be ok?”    “Yes, that’s fine.   But your bill is adding up by the hour,” they told me at 9 AM.   “How much will it be?”   “$1800, so far.”   “Goodnight,” I thought.   Good thing I didn’t elect the additional surgeries.

I called my mother that day to fill her in on the dog’s condition.   “You cannot just show up at home with a dog,” she said.   Of course, I can.  It’s called:  beg for forgiveness rather than ask permission.  I do it all the time.  After all, my son had asked permission for years now, and it hadn’t worked in his favor!

That evening, during vacation Bible school, I mustered up the courage to call my husband.  I began the whole story by letting him know of our son’s Sunday school prayers, and slowly recounted the entire tale up through present time.  Anxiously, I listened to the silence on the other end of the phone.  After what seemed like an eternity of silence, my husband slowly said, “You hit the dog, didn’t you?” Ha.  You can’t make this stuff up.  “No, I really didn’t.”     “You’re bringing the dog home, aren’t you?”    “Um.  Yes, that’s my plan”.     S-i-l-e-n-c-e, followed by a long sigh.  “Ok, then, I’ll see you in a little while,” I said cheerily and then promptly hung up.   That evening, we went to pick the dog up while the girls went with my mom to buy dog food and leashes.   Poor Lucky had an enormous cone on his head, and his paw was bandaged in a small blue cast.  He stunk to high heaven… I mean… STUNK.

Still a little unsure how my husband would respond, I led Lucky into our house and toward our bedroom to meet him.  As I entered the house, my daughters’ friend exclaimed, “Hey, I know that dog!  Call my dad!  He knows who owns him!”    Briefly, Lucky and I entered the bedroom, walked over to my husband to say our Hello’s, and then right back out to the garage.  When I called to find out more about the dog, Glenn told me empathetically that the dog was better off with us.

That weekend, we left word at the police station and local veterinarians that we had found a dog and posted information on Facebook, and various other places.  Had someone actively been looking for the dog, we left plenty of avenues for them to have found us.

A few days passed.  One afternoon, while visiting with Lucky in our garage, my husband stopped.  He bent down and petted his head, making a remark about what a sorry sight he was.  “You know, don’t you, that we don’t know whether or not he’s had shots, so we’re going to have to get him vaccinated.    If someone claims him, they’ll have to reimburse us for the vaccination.”   All of a sudden, a light bulb went of over-top of my husbands’ head – you know, just like in the movies!   “How much have you spent on this dog?” he asked.    Uh-oh.  “This is the end of the line,” I thought.  “Uh.  You don’t have to worry about it,” I said.   “Um.  Yes.  I do.”    When I told him what the bill was, I thought he’d fall over.   He exclaimed, “No one is EVER going to reimburse us THAT amount of money!”   After a brief pause, he said, “Well, looks like we better buy a pooper scooper.”

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A few days later, we took Lucky to the vet to be vaccinated.  In a follow-up x-ray, they confirmed no presence of a screw in his stomach, and no damage to his internals.   Six weeks later, his cast and cone came off, and Lucky became a permanent fixture in our home.  Don’t tell, but I have often busted my husband cuddling Lucky when he thinks no one is watching.  😉

To be sure, we could have found a cheaper dog at the pound; but the story we can tell about Lucky is far more priceless than that. For me, Lucky represents I John 5:14-15, “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.  And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.”     Many of us would look at a prayer from a young boy as insignificant, but God didn’t.  Because I knew that God cared enough about a 10 year old boy to answer his prayer, I knew that I could trust God with prayers both big and small.  Lucky will forever be a part of my own personal journey toward a deeper faith in a God that loves us enough to answer the prayer of a 10 year old boy. Today, that boy is a freshman in college studying youth ministry, thanks, in part, to this answered prayer.

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If you doubt that God hears your individual and specific prayers, think again.   He loves each and every one of us, and is waiting to hear from us so that He may pour His blessings out on us.

I would love to hear how God has answered prayer in your life.  Please feel free to contact me through comments below or at sbjourneyforlife@gmail.com.

 

Blessings,

SB