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Archive for December, 2008

I saw him walking down the alley late Wednesday afternoon–who could have missed those neon green pants? He gingerly walked on the water-covered ice, amazingly accomplishing the feat of staying upright while walking and looking upward at the same time.

He was one of about half a dozen linemen from the power company. Their three trucks lined the alley where it T’s behind our house. When I saw him coming, I grabbed my hoodie and hurried–as fast as one can with solid ice underfoot–so as not to miss him before he headed back down the alley in the other direction.

My power wasn’t out–hadn’t been all during the ice storm. But, after having seen these trucks and these men all around the city everywhere I’d been for the past five days, I just wanted to say “Thanks.” So I did. And I found out that these guys were just checking out anything else that might cause a problem. And they were planning to lift back into place the one sagging wire which remained across our back yard, now that it was finally unfrozen from the corner of the neighbors’ garage. We hadn’t asked them to do it–they were just going to do it because it was the best thing to do and it needed to be done.

After that little interchange of information, I put my hand on his arm and said, “Thanks again.” And then–the clincher: He wished me “Merry Christmas”.

I went back into my house and bawled.

I don’t know if this guy was from the Fort or was a member of one of the many crews that had been brought in from out of town to aid in the aftermath of the ice storm. Either way, chances were pretty good that he wasn’t going to have a nice, cozy Christmas morning with his family and a leisurely day to follow it. Yet, here he was, wishing me a Merry Christmas.

At that point, I couldn’t do anything else to express to him the gratitude that welled up in my heart for what he and his fellow workers had done for our city–for my friends and family–during the past five days. So, I told it to God and asked Him to protect and sustain these unsung heroes of wood, wires, and ice.

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I have come to a conclusion: Gratitude is a huge antidote for much that ails us.

I could spend the rest of this post pointing out Bible verses that would back up that conclusion–but you can look them up. (If you don’t know any, use a Bible concordance and start with the words “thanks” or “praise”…you’ll come up with lots of verses; or just begin reading through the Psalms, in the middle of the Bible.).

In the past few days, I have struggled on several levels. These haven’t been the all-possessing kinds of struggles; they’ve been more of those nagging kinds that let you keep walking but keep you just enough off-balance that the least little thing has an impact.

For one thing, there is someone in my church who is struggling with newly diagnosed disease. My heart goes out to her and her husband and I ask “Why this one of Yours, Father?” She has been a good mom, a good wife, a good servant of yours, a caregiving nurse and helper to many. And, on top of that, today I am enjoying good health. That makes me feel guilty. Guilt can eat you up if you let it. So, for starters, I thank God for good health, I pray for my sister in God’s family, and I make a note that in this day, I should let her and her family know that I am praying. (I have become convinced that that is the second part of the effectiveness of our prayers–let people know you’re praying for them. It will be a HUGE encouragement. I know–we’ve been on the receiving end of lots of those messages since the October announcement that TUFW is closing and Michael’s job will be evaporating at the end of the school year.)

Another of those nagging struggles has been that all around me, people have been out of power since Friday due to the major ice storm we’ve had hereabouts. I have not been without electricity except for a few blinks when the wind gusted particularly fiercely. Thankfully, my friends gradually report that, as Victoria L. quips, they’re “seeing the light” and “feeling the heat”. But, I’ve felt guilty to not be suffering the hardship. I’ve offered encouraging words, checked on people who might need help, and prayed for the powerless and power restorers. And, I’ve been saying thank you to God…a lot. I also used the absence of loss of electricity as an opportunity to become better informed in the event that we do lose power for a long bit of time somewhere in the future. I’d hope not only to be able to help myself in that, but to be of help to others.

For some reason, Christmas shopping has been challenging this year, mainly because the creative juices haven’t been flowing. Nearly all the gifts purchased for under the tree and in the stockings have been rather run-of-the mill. Not that they haven’t been practical or useful or a good fit for the recipient’s bents and desires. They just haven’t been much in the category of those things that surprise and delight. Thus, facing the traffic and the cold that are out there for Christmas shoppers who do their work in the few days right before the holiday has seemed more to be a chore this year. Michael is finishing up the last of the little stuff shopping today and as he expressed the lack of desire for braving the cold and traffic, I was prompted to remind us both that we have much for which to be grateful: we don’t have any sons in Iraq; no loved one is in a critical care unit of a hospital; no ice is falling from the sky at the moment; our children are healthy and of bright minds…those were the things I told him as he walked out the door, but I could fill several posts with the list that goes on. Immediately after the outloud reminder to myself, I felt my heart lift a bit.

Gratitude–the attitude that has healing, soothing power beyond anything I realize.

(As I write this, I know that to the degree we are blessed, God expects us to turn that around to bless others. And for a Christ-follower, that means I need to be a doer as well as a thinker. And this is part of my struggle–sometimes the doing doesn’t seem very much. But, realizing that being thankful and being an encourager prompted by the Holy Spirit is part of “good works” that result from faith, too, has helped me.)

What have you learned to do with your blessings?

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Worrying Twice

I don’t like extreme weather. In my lifetime, it has played too many tricks on me.

Once as a child, a tornado went through the small orchard behind our house. At our farm around the corner it picked up the barn ever so slightly and sat it down again on its foundation, just a little bit askew. It relocated a corn crib to the middle of a bare field.

One slushy night when I had no business being out (What was my mother thinking of?), a friend and I ended up in a ditch when the slush wouldn’t let him drive as he desired. A neighboring farmer pulled us out. That wasn’t the only ditch in which I’ve landed due to something other than a clear road surface under my tires.

When I was seven months pregnant for Gabe, on a day very much like the past 24 hours have been here in icy Indiana weather-wise, Michael and I made a last-minute change to our holiday plans and traveled by train from our home in Arkansas to our family in Michigan to avoid driving through the ice storm that socked in the nation’s mid-section for several days.

Deluge rains have flooded my basement in a major way at least twice in recent years.

So, you see why extreme weather might stir me up just a bit.

All day, I’ve been watching the limbs and the wires behind my house. Earlier, we watched as quite a few large limbs plummeted from the heights to become debris filling the back yard. We have been holding our collective breath that the electrical wires would not be caught by any of the falling firewood or snap due to icy weight they could no longer bear.

Now it is bedtime. I have two choices: I can lie awake listening for every little snap, crackle, or pop that might be a breaking branch or power line. Or I can rest.

I have tried to learn to take this course of action when worrisome things come about: I at least articulate the worst-case scenario. Then, when I am thinking straight, I talk to God about it. I tell Him my fears and that I am going to let Him deal with it, trusting the care of an all-wise, loving Heavenly Father.

Easy? No. And I don’t always manage it. But the alternative is the possibility of worrying twice. If the bad thing happens–the power lines snap, the branches land on my house–I will have expended my emotional energy twice. If nothing happens, I will have spent it needlessly. In either case, I will have been a worrywort, which is not what my Father expects of His child.

So…God of wind and waves, who sees the ice on my trees and backyard power lines, I trust it all to your care in these overnight hours.

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Face It

Unfortunately, winter doesn’t always look as gentle and nice as it does here. Apparently, gently falling snow that doesn’t accumulate is reserved for one’s blog.

All day all the weather predictions here have been for ice tonight. The meteorological certainty of this inclement weather has precipitated (no pun intended) an “ice storm warning”. Doesn’t that sound foreboding?

I did go to the grocery this morning and I did buy the obligatory extra gallon of milk and even a couple of jugs of drinking water (I guess in case the power goes out…except, we don’t have an electric pump here, so would we still have running water? I guess the city’s water works could be hampered by a power outage…couldn’t they? Shows what I don’t know…) But beyond that, I’ve not really wanted to face the fact that we might have nasty weather overnight that might inconvenience us more than a little. Hopefully, that will be the extent of any bad weather episode–not endangerment, not a narrow escape–just inconvenience.

This has gotten me thinking about other things that I really don’t want to face. There are inevitabilities in life–they say death and taxes are among them. But there are also things like disappointments, broken relationships, loss, debilitation, sickness–whole hosts of things that we would rather, like the weather, wish to “…go away; come again some other day.”–or not.

All that kind of thinking ends up in a great deal of wasted emotional energy–dread, fretting, checking out the window (figuratively speaking). I can take that approach–or I can face the reality.

The only sure way to face the reality and stay standing (again, figuratively speaking, since sometimes the best position in which to face reality is with my face to the ground, bowed before a sovereign God who loves me and is surprised by not a single second of my reality) is to acknowledge God in the midst of whatever that is. I read somewhere today that sometimes we fail to take God’s power especially, but some of His other attributes as well, into consideration when we face hard things. And that causes us to thrash about and reach for answers, grasp at solutions that are totally unsuitable–simply because we don’t acknowledge Him in that part of our way along the path.

So, I ask myself: What reality in my life am I not facing? With what certainty about the God who fully knows it will I stare it in the eye and say, “Bring it on. With my God, I can….”

I’ll be smiling when I listen to the weather and school closings/delays in the morning.

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Last night I posted about gifts (I think I wrote some of it my sleep, so don’t bother to go back and read if you haven’t already; then again, if you need a laugh, maybe you should read!). One thing I didn’t say about the shopping that comes before the wrapping, something that is also pure pleasure, is the feeling that comes when you spot something on the store shelf or rack and know immediately that it is JUST THE THING for the person whom you wish to delight.

Well, this morning I read a Facebook note posted by my college roomie Sherrlyn. The moment I read the last word, I thought: I’ve got to send this to Jon. Since I know he or his dear wife Nancy stop here on occasion, I’m hoping today will be one of those days and I hereby dedicate this to him and wish him a “productive day”…and more!

21st Century Rodin
by Mark L. Lucker

The upper right-hand
corner of my desk blotter;
a fresh, stark canvas
this morning, now a sepia
montage of concentric
accomplishments.
I sip,
I Think.
I sip,
I think.
I sip…
I think.
Sip.
Think.
Sip.
Think.
Sip
Big sip
sip sip sip
sip sip sippppp.
Ahhhhhhh.
Final sip, cup down.
A caffeine-laced
still life of a Slinky.
Boy-oh-boy-oh-boy-oh-man
was-I-ever productive
today!

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I’m waiting for clothes to come out of the dryer before going to bed.  Earlier in the evening though, also waiting for clothes to dry, I was in the basement wrapping Christmas presents.  I wasn’t wrapping anything that I needed to keep a secret from anyone in the household; these gifts were for all the younger set in the VanKampen family–my parents, siblings, and their families–with whom we will celebrate this weekend.  Still I wrapped in the basement because the wrapping supplies are kept there and it was easier to go to the paper and ribbons and tags than to haul it all upstairs and back down again. 

There was a day that the press of pre-holiday busyness never allowed for gift wrapping until the late hours after the kids had gone to bed on the night before we were to leave for our week in Michigan with extended family–or the night before we were to celebrate our own immediate family Christmas.  The task was always demanded right in the press of much else to do and, even though dear Michael stayed up late too so we could work as a team–he wraps, very neatly I might add, and I do the ribbons and bows–it was not so much fun by the time the last piece of tape was secured, the last bow knot was tied,  and the last ribbon strand was curled.  Exhaustion had always set in by that time. 

But now, life is a little less hectic at the holidays, and I can usually get gift wrapping done at a more leisurely pace.  I like this, because it gives me time to ponder the gift and the recipient.  Tonight as I wrapped, I thought of the children who will open these presents.  I thought of how dear, how sweet, how funny–how unique each one is.  Every time I wrap gifts in that manner, I do a better job than I would otherwise.  It sets me thinking about what little touch of whimsy on the package might make that child laugh–or at least smile.  I’m reminded of the very particular child who will care if only half of Santa’s face is on the front of the package and the other half is wrapped around the back–and I reposition the paper. 

I started to go off into some life lesson, to draw some application of this process to everyday life.  But I think I’ll stop here…for two reasons:  the dryer will buzz soon and I need to clean up my wrapping “workshop” before then and, mainly, if I stop it will feel like I continue to savor the pleasure of my little gift wrapping ritual.  And a simple pleasure at what can sometimes feel like a complicated time of year is a fine thing indeed.

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Punctuated Life

In a little flash of whimsy, I ended the annual Christmas letter thus:  “As we anticipate 2009, there are lots of question marks.  But there is one huge “period”:  “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever”–and there are many, MANY exclamation marks of praise to a God who is awesome, perfect in His knowledge of us, and unbounded in His love for His children.  All of that lets us face an uncertain future with great hope and with peace in believing that His best for us will come about as we trust and obey Him.  In a world that sometimes finds that whole concept to be nothing other than wishful thinking, we pray that the message of Christmas–“God loved us and sent His Son”–will find a fresh home in many hearts in this season we celebrate.”

What question marks are punctuating your today?  Are there “periods” that anchor your faith?  What exclamation marks of praise renew your perspective and give you hope?  Anyone care to share?

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