Monday, February 18, 2013

The Other Side of the Valley

"This is our valley" by indecent-lighting

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through 
the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
forever.  - Psalm 23, emphases mine

"The Lost Sheep"' by DouglasRamsey
Jordan and I have been walking through a valley. I actually wrote a bit about this last week.  He has not had a job for 6 months since he graduated college, and we hit what we considered to be rock bottom last Wednesday. You know, that moment when your bank account is negative, and you have no gas money, and your student loans are going to start repayment this month, and you have applied to many, many jobs and some interviews with no callbacks.  I opened up my computer and began applying to jobs myself, something that I wasn't previously going to consider since we have a baby girl who needs raising. We have been blessed to be allowed to live with my parents, so we have the basic necessities of shelter, food, and clothing. That's why I didn't consider our position to be absolute rock bottom...but it seemed pretty close, and it was compared to our history.

But God is oh-so-good, and His provision never fails.  The very next day following that bleak Wednesday when our situation seemed hopeless, on Thursday morning, Jordan got a call back from a company who offered him a position.  And they even accepted the pay rate Jordan requested!  Praise God!

God used this time to teach us many things: humility, dependence on God, faith in His promises, how to manage money wisely, the difference between "need" and "want."  And He has, once again, pulled us through the valley and led us to green pastures.  Oh, hallelujah!

I remember when
I stumbled in the wind
You heard my cry to you
And you raised me up again
My strength is almost gone
How can I carry on
If I can't find You

But as the thunder rolls
I barely hear You whisper through the rain
"I'm with you"
And as Your mercy falls
I raise my hands and praise the God who gives
And takes away

And I'll praise You in this storm
And I will lift my hands
For You are who You are
No matter where I am
And every tear I've cried
You hold in Your hand
You never left my side
And though my heart is torn
I will praise You in this storm

-Casting Crowns, "Praise You in This Storm"

P.S. As I was writing this post, I just got a call for a job interview myself. And let's just say...the job fits what I'm looking for in one.  God is working!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Hope in Darkness

“The world is indeed full of peril and in it there are many dark places.
But still there is much that is fair. And though in all lands, love is now
mingled with grief, it still grows, perhaps, the greater.”  -J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

Into the light by ~38DDmisswhiplash on deviantART
Coming Out of the Tunnel by `gilad on deviantART
Grief on the Loss of a Friend by *philneff on deviantART

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Looking for Life in Spring

It is raining out. Droplets of cold water are falling, falling, falling, onto the pure white snow covering the ground.  The crystalline snowflakes are losing their form and melting into bland water; 8 inches has melted into 7 inches and, by the end of the day, may be completely gone, leaving dark muddy naked dead ground behind.

I hate spring in the North (yes, I know it's not spring yet, but today is acting like a spring day). It tears the beautiful snow away from my world, and turns clear, cold days of reflected sunlight and red smiling cheeks into dreary gray days of bone-chilling humidity and dirty mud tracked everywhere.  In the winter, you can go sledding and ice skating; in the fall, you can play football and have bonfires; in the summer, you can go swimming and picnicking. In the spring, you can just do your best to avoid the mud.  At least, that's how I feel about it.  I miss spring in Texas, when the world begins to blossom in March, and I'm on hands and knees planting a garden in the fresh dirt surrounded by flowering trees.  March in Illinois is just dreary and wet.

Yet, the snow must melt. The rain must fall. And the mud must mix into the sub-soil.  Because when it does, and the dirty job of spring is done, everything turns green, flowers bloom, and birds sing.  Baby animals frolic in tender pasture, and people shed layers of clothing for the freedom of a t-shirt and jeans.  And color is everywhere.

I love the beauty of individual snowflakes and of millions of snowflakes combined in a drift.  I love the wildness of stark trees against white snow and blue sky.  I love seeing my favorite constellation, Orion, drift lazily above me, and I love gazing at the bright, colorful diamond-star Sirius.  I love feeling the cold air tingle on my cheeks and turn them red, then coming inside and shaking the snow off and curling up with a cup of hot chocolate and a blanket in front of a fire.

But I love June, as well, with her fully green trees and perfect 70's temperatures.  I love the strobes and crashes of an intense summer thunderstorm that comes and goes in the space of 20 minutes. I love racing across cool water, balancing on two long, thin boards and feeling water droplets fall off my body.  I love being outside every day and seeing something new each day.  Winter has its time, and so does summer, but it's not possible without painful spring.

I go through seasons of spring in my life, as well. I'm in one of those seasons right now. I enjoyed the season of college life and even had it extended as my husband finished his degree and we lived on campus.  Next we hope is the season of being settled somewhere and staying at home, raising our kids while my husband works.  I look forward to homeschooling.  But right now is that dreary in-between time.  It's been 6 months since my husband graduated, and he is still searching for a job.  We have been blessed with the gift of a roof over our heads, food in our bellies, and occasional part-time work, but bills stack up and the baby gets older and we would love to be on our own.  But I am learning, in this time, to trust God more, and He is maturing me beyond the college stage.  (and, I have to say, in spite of the stress of being unemployed, we have truly enjoyed our time staying with my parents; it has also been a period of relaxation after the stress of working & going to college & being involved in much at college)

God is also teaching me to enjoy each stage and not look forward to the future so much that I miss what is happening now.  So I am doing that with this spring in my life, enjoying the time with my parents and Jordan's parents and enjoying our baby while she is still a baby, and I will even do that with the spring that will happen in about a month outside.  I will avoid the mud, but I will also look for the seedlings poking their heads above the muck, bringing life to the grey world.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Engaging in Encouragement: 14 Easy, Everday Ideas

{yes, I love alliteration!} Encouraging others has been on my heart a lot lately.  I’m not usually very intentional about encouragement, and I would really like to be a much better encourager.  It makes my day when someone—friend, family member, stick-in-the-mud—encourages me out of the blue, and it really isn’t that difficult to do.  So why am I not going around trying to help others have better days when it’s an easy thing?

I decided to compile a list of ways I can encourage someone.  Hopefully it will help me remember much more often to take the few minutes to do something unexpected and nice.

  • Write a card – it can even be anonymous, if you don’t want to put pressure on the recipient to respond. Make it a get-well card if the person is sick, or just write a favorite verse with “You are a {insert adjective} person!”

  • Send a verse to someone’s Facebook wall, Twitter, or via private message.

  • Clean something when you’re at a family member or close friend’s house, without being asked by that person. (If you babysit, leave the house cleaner than when you arrived)

  • Tell someone you missed them at the last {small group meeting/church service/MOPS/etc.} (via FB, text, in person, etc.)

  • If someone has just moved in next door, leave an anonymous bag or two of basic groceries on their doorstep. This happened to us when we first got married and moved into our first apartment, and let me tell you, it MADE our day/week/month!  To this day I do not know who left it there, although I have a few wild guesses.  But it helped us out so much and made us feel very welcome.

  • Bake an extra batch of cookies or an extra loaf of bread and give it away.

  • Give something of yours away – a book, a movie, a piece of clothing.  Or let someone borrow something, and when they attempt to give it back, tell them to keep it.

  • Practice hospitality and invite someone (or someones) over, even if just for coffee.  Your house doesn’t have to be spotless, because, chances are, their house isn’t spotless, either. I actually feel more comfortable in a not-spotless house, because then it feels more like home.

  • Give a hearty hug.

  • Ask how you can pray for that person and pray with them (this is also great for people you’ve just met – the waitress who happens to be wearing the same headband as you, the person seated next to you on the airplane, the elderly resident at the nursing home who rooms with your grandparent).

  • Pay for the food the person in the drive-thru behind you ordered.

  • Start a conversation with the shyest person in the room standing by herself.

  • Compliment someone on some part of their character (clothing compliments are nice, but a dime a dozen. Compliments on character, such as, “You are always smiling, and it cheers up the room,” or “You have such a servant heart. I can tell you really seek to serve God through serving others” are so much more powerful).

  • Hold the door open for the mom with a baby, the mom with 4 kids, or the mom-to-be who is spending all her energy just getting up to the door.

There are hundreds, thousands, more ways to encourage others.  Look for ways each day you can encourage someone around you.

What are some ways you have encouraged others or others have encouraged you?