Saturday, October 22, 2016

Beach Bummin'

There's still sand on the floorboard of my husband's car. It makes me smile as I remember the constant hopping in and out of the vehicle with sand-encrusted feet and flip-flops as we played on a South Carolina beach. The powder-blue plastic wristband still slides up and down my forearm...even though the hotel pools and hot tubs it granted me access to are now 650 miles away. And before the clothes were even unpacked from our suitcases, the complimentary photo of us eating at a calabash seafood restaurant was posted on the fridge, reminding me of endless smiles from the miles traveled on the vacation now ended. Let's just say I'm having a little trouble letting go of the week just past.

Maybe it's because I'm not supposed to. Oh, to be sure, there's no escaping the return to real life; work schedules and household chores demand my attention once more. Already I feel the encroachment of tension and worry into my subconscious, trying to wrestle my mind from the rest found in sunrises and sea breezes and attach it to the tasks waiting to be tackled. But God would tell me not to wipe the sea foam from my eyeglasses just yet.

There are purposes to vacations that are vastly more important than just getting away. We need more than just a break from our regular routines; we need a new outlook on life. Every getaway is really a chance to reset our thinking, refocus our eyes, and restart how we live our lives from this point forward. If we limit our vacations to just a few days of play we lose out on the lessons God meant to impart into our hearts.

Some groan at the thought of adding yet another task to what is supposed to be time off from the same. Thankfully life lessons abound in everything around us; capturing them as we walk out our days is a game as addicting as Pokemon Go, once we download the idea into our thinking processes and set off to see what we can find.

God makes it surprisingly easy. He told me he wanted me to lighten up, to shed some things that were weighing me down. It just took me a while to realize what they were.

The first day we were in Myrtle Beach I carried my sweatshirt with me everywhere we went as we walked first the beach and then the storefront sidewalks. Storm clouds littered the horizon; shouldn't I be ready for a sudden downpour? Restaurants that offer a respite from the heat often offer a seat right under an air conditioning vent; I didn't want to shiver as I shoveled in the food. Best to be prepared...or so I thought. Soon the bulky extra weight began to bother me, and when God asked me if I wasn't getting tired of caring that thing all around, I was finally ready to hang The Fear of What Might Happen on a hook in the hotel room. I didn't touch it the rest of the trip.

I love to get up early and walk a beach while the morning is still fresh, the sun just breaking through the clouds and the the water rushing to the shore to wave repeated greetings to me as I pass by. But on our first morning there I overdid it just a bit; the sun was still sleeping and the hotel coffee bar was still closed. No problem; I'd just hoof it half a mile to the Starbucks down the road and load up on coffee there. But I had only taken a few steps out the door when I became painfully aware of my situation. I was alone in the dark carrying a big purse that held all our vacation money and gift cards, as well as anything I might need to occupy myself with while my husband slept in. As it turned out, I did get robbed, emotionally, if not physically; the simple joy of the morning was stolen away because I was burdened by treasure I held in my hands instead of my heart. What did I really need to walk the beach? Just two legs, a cup of coffee and my phone tucked into a pocket. Later that morning I shoved The Fear of Lack into a dresser drawer and slammed it shut.

The last to go was probably the hardest. My husband wanted us to hit the pool deck; the two swimming pools, a circular moat filled with inner tube floats, and two hot tubs were calling his name. But to enjoy them meant to shed the clothing covering one's biggest source of insecurity; our perception of the way we look. We simply don't like to expose our flaws to public scrutiny. But one of the joys of traveling off-season is that all the beautiful bodies are usually back at work or school; everybody lounging in the pool area was likely as pale, fat and old as we were. On went the bathing suits and off we went. Once we hit the deck I realized that my fears were groundless. Nobody was “scrutinizing” anybody; they were too busy swimming, soaking or floating in the last of the summer sun; we simply joined in the fun. And at the end of a couple of hours of delightful play, I smiled as I threw our swimsuits over the bathroom shower rod, realizing with a smile I had hung my Fear of What Others Might Think out to dry, as well.

Souvenir shopping is always a part of my vacation fun, so I was surprised that I came away with just one – a key chain made of a colorful collection of starfish and shells. That bit of bling on a ring simply reminds me that the days ahead will be richer because of what I left behind.

Therefore then...let us strip off and throw aside every encumbrance (unnecessary weight)...”
Hebrews 12:1 AMP

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Mason Jar-Worthy Moments

I startled my neighbor the other morning.

Coming up the driveway a little faster and farther than I usually do before stopping to look for passing traffic, I caused the driver of an approaching truck to slam on his brakes, thinking I was going to pull out in front of him. I waved my apology, and as he went on by I realized why he was a little nervous; he was carrying precious cargo. Pulling a trailer loaded with bee hives, the driver was the owner of the honey farm just down the road, bringing home a load of golden goodness locked in the little compartments of the honeycombs.

He held an open house on his farm last weekend; I wish I had been off so I could have learned more about the honey production process. I know the basics, that forager bees collect nectar from flowering plants, then pass it on to worker bees at the hive where it is stored and gradually transformed into honey by the evaporation of excess liquid. The bees feed off the stored honey in the hive in the winter months, and it produces a bountiful harvest that we enjoy in a variety of ways every day.

Although I had to work the day of the open house, as I sat on the deck with my coffee I noticed a honeybee gathering nectar from the nearby flowering plants. Wondering if it was a wanderer from one of my neighbor's hives, I observed how diligent it was in its search, going from one bloom to the next, hitting them all. God reminded me that just as honeybees are becoming rare, so, too, in this day and age of negative news and mindsets are those who seek out the sweet in all of life's experiences.

I want to be such a person. So it shouldn't have been a surprise that in the next couple of days I came across a devotional written by Max Lucado that talked about the many jars of canned goods he would see in his grandmother's cellar. It suggested that we can similarly store up good thoughts and moments to get us through emotionally lean times in the months ahead.

The idea took hold, perhaps because August is a canning month and people have been busy processing what is coming out of the gardens they have cared for so diligently over the summer. As a grocery store cashier I have seen a multitude of mason jars pass over my register scanner recently, and have helped a number of patrons find the pickling salt and spices they need only at this particular time of the year.

It was when God told me to pull out a mason jar of my own that I reminded Him nervously that I am neither a gardener nor a cook. He may have actually laughed at that point, remembering perhaps some of my earlier attempts at both. But He calmed me by saying I simply had to be the “forager bee” He created me to be. For the next month I was to go through each day looking expressly for the moments that made me laugh or smile, gathering those droplets of joy in my mind. Then in the evening, just before bed, I was to write a word or two about each of the most fun on three tiny slips of folded yellow post-it notes, just enough to later jog the memory, and then deposit them into the jar that I kept on the windowsill just over my sink. Those instructions could be condensed to three little commands I saw on a page-a-day calendar recently: Capture smiles. Capture love. Capture life.

Didn't we used to do that as kids? How many of us lucky enough to live where lightning bugs abound could resist the urge to catch as many as we could in a jar to use as a bedroom nightlight later on? Even then we were unwittingly storing up joy for dark times ahead. (Nowadays a string of battery-powered lights in a jar evokes the same emotional uplift without leaving a mess of dead fireflies to dump out in the morning. Progress!)

Because I love to play games with God, I eagerly signed on to the project. I have to admit that even my husband felt a twinge of anxiety when he first saw the mason jar waiting to be filled...but his concern turned to curiosity as the days went by and he saw it slowly filling up with yellow paper instead of yucky food I would later require him to eat. Finally he had to ask me about it, which of course was part of the point. You see, people will notice when you deliberately start filling your mind with joy you seek out instead of the junk the world offers. It becomes visible in even your facial features; they can't help but notice the smile on your lips, the giggle in your conversation, your laughter with an increasing number of friends. Eventually they will ask you about it, and that's when you get to share with them the goodness of God, how He fills our days with sweet nectar that is ours for the taking, blessings of all kinds that are blooming all around us, just waiting to be gathered up, enjoyed, stored, and shared.

But what was I to do with the jar at the end of the month? He told me to first pick a time to dump it all out and review the contents, enjoying each moment once more. Then I was to refill it with the paper slips and put it on the top shelf of my kitchen cabinet, where I keep my pills. The significance of that latter instruction was not lost on me - truly a daily dose of smiles does as much for my health as my blood pressure medicine and vitamin tablet combined! And so I did as I was told, but I didn't shelve my commitment to being an active member of the hive. It is said that if you do something for thirty days it becomes a habit, and truly now I can't help but look for laughter everywhere I go. At the end of the day I review the moments that are written across my heart and give thanks for the joy of the day gone by.

This is a game that all can play. Just as it takes a bunch of bees to make a hive, so it takes a whole family working together to make a home a happy place, a lot of coworker cooperation to do the same at the workplace, and all of us working together to bring positive change to our world. How wonderful to think that the power to accomplish all that begins with the individual bee, simply buzzing from flower to flower.

Attention, all! See the marvels of God! He plants flowers and trees all over the earth...'Step out of the traffic! Take a long, loving look at me, your High God, above politics, above everything.'”
(Psalm 46:8-10 MSG)
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