What I Learned in April … and March

Gratitude Day 448

Thurs., Apr. 30, 2020

Ephesians 1:18: My prayer is that light will flood your hearts and that you will understand the hope that was given to you when God chose you. Then you will discover the glorious blessings that will be yours together with all of God’s people.

When 2020 began, I challenged myself to pause at the end of each month and reflect upon little things that I discovered or rediscovered or relearned in the previous month.

I was doing so good. And then, COVID-19 happened. Somehow, this little exercise got lost the end of March. So today, I offer up a plate of little ideas that have been muddling through my brain this past period of time. As you read through the things that I have discovered/rediscovered/relearned, think about what your growing edges have been these past few weeks.

The most Captain Obvious statement I could make: the entire world has shifted in the last 60 days because of something we call COVID-19. We can talk about 100-year floods and 9.11 and tsunami’s and the Great Recession as life-changing events. And they were. Yet, it’s a pesky, lethal, infectious virus that will be the defining life event for many of us.

What’s different about COVID-19? It doesn’t discriminate based on geography, age, socio-economic and a whole host of other reasons. Yes, certain people groups are more susceptible. Yet, it has caused disruption into EVERY. SINGLE. PERSON. WE. KNOW. Our friends who live outside the United States. Those who are discovering how to help home school their children. Our high-risk neighbors who must be oh, so careful about who they expose themselves to. Our front-line workers whose essential occupations should never be taken for granted again.

The impact is life-changing and never ending. We’re watching our food chains become terribly displaced and challenged beyond belief. Our country which is often touted as having the best healthcare in the world as experienced more positive cases and deaths than anywhere else in the world. More Americans have died from COVID-19 than during the Vietnam war.

Shortly after this crisis was declared a pandemic, Hubby Rick shared with our grandkids that they would be living through an event that will forever change their lives. I do not believe his statement was overstated and probably understated. This is the event by which all other crisis will be defined.

My Aunt Beverly lives in Denver, CO. She will be 90 in July. Aunt Bev lives in a care facility. Since March 8, she has been able to leave her room only once a day, for the sole purpose of walking down to get her mail. Otherwise, she eats every meal in her room. Her only “visitors” are the facility’s staff. Recently, she wrote me this:

“It is so difficult being in our rooms all the time. They even bring own meals to us ‘at home.’ I’m so weary of being cooped up. I’ve lived through world wars and lots of other events, but this pandemic is the worst.”

We have our own stories and interpretations of how this pandemic has affected us. The lens through which we process this virus is most often based upon where we are affected the most. These stories are oh, so different. The story of an exhausted nurse treating COVID-19 patients is not the same as a dairy farmer who is dumping milk because processing chains couldn’t shift fast enough. Small business owners hoping to reopen their life’s passions are as important as the creative means by which teachers are educating from afar. And the list goes on and on and on …

Crisis have the opportunity to pull out the best within ourselves … if we make this choice. I pray that we all choose to do all the good we can today and tomorrow and the next day as we journey through this time together.

All those things we “thought” were so important? Well, they’ve been put on “hold.” For some, these things are huge disappointments. No graduation ceremony. Missing your high school prom. Sporting events and birthday parties and confirmation celebrations and delayed weddings. The list is long, deep and difficult.

Some people feel terribly “robbed” of these benchmark times in their lives, as they should. The grief and disappointment are real. It is not to be minimized.

Yet, somehow, we’ve reclaimed some things that were too often lost in the shuffle. Eating meals together. Cooking at home. Time to play games and have real conversations. There has been more dog walking and people walking outside than in years. Our neighbors and Hubby Rick have been working on our lawns for weeks. Some of us have rediscovered the art of real phone calls and sending cards and letters. These are all good things. I pray we remember these are special opportunities and times which should continue beyond stay-in-place orders.

Most of us truly are all old dogs learning some new tricks these days, including myself. Online meeting platforms are getting heavy workouts these days. Artists desperate to uplift and encourage folks are collaborating and creating content in new and different ways. We’re worshiping in new ways, visiting the doctor virtually and depending upon curbside pick-up like never before. The latest fashion statement is a mask, often styled to express our passions and interests.

How will all of this translate tomorrow and next week and next month as we eventually begin moving towards our previous lives? I’m confident there will become new definitions and expressions of “normal” in our lives. We have unique opportunities to embrace ideas and concepts that previously were considered too sacred to change. This will be scary for many people and warmly embraced by others. I pray we embrace grace and compassion as we navigate new “norms” in our lives.

What lessons have you discovered about yourself in these last weeks? Where do you find yourself cautious about timid versus anxious and stressed? I pray that we see this time as important. Necessary. Potentially life changing. A time to lean into our faith and be guided by the One who loves us, cares for us and journeys with us. Amen.

For life lessons that keep challenging us, I am grateful.

Blessings –

Dianne

Dear God – Some of us embrace new and different things openly. Others, only kick and scream. May we have open hearts to hear the lessons and stories that you long for us to observe and hear. May we embrace grace and compassion as we journey through this time together. Amen.

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March Madness and More

Gratitude Day 418

Sat., Mar. 7, 2020

Psalm 119:130: Understanding your word brings light to the minds of ordinary people.

I truly believe that life is made up of a whole bunch of little moments that end up being big moments in our lives. In life’s journey, too often we focus on “big” moments; things that feel like watershed moments when life shifts.

These guys are important. The day we get married. A first child. A new job.

Yet, there are a whole bunch of moments that are smaller in nature in the moment but often the moments that teach us more about ourselves that we will ever know.

Here are a few little moments that seem like just ordinary run-of-the-mill deals at the time. But I feel teach us a lot about who we are, what is important to us and how we live our lives.

It’s March Madness Time. This means if you love basketball, you can watch a game almost every day of the week. And then some.

It’s high school basketball tournament time in Wisconsin. This means each game is one and done. Win it, your team moves on. Lose and you are done for the season.

College roommates with Megan – Lisa, Megan, Dianne and Barb

For the last few years, Hubby Rick and I have been following our dear friend Megan’s team. Megan’s mom, Barb, and I were college roommates. Barb is one of my “go-to” gals. If I ever needed someone or something, she is someone I could “go-to.”

Megan is a senior. We have watched her play volleyball and basketball the last number of years. Megan has been instrumental in the teams she plays on. She’s the captain, a skilled player and very competitive.

Her basketball team had high expectations this year. Going into tournament time, their stellar record seeded them high. Yet, their one and done happened this week.

It was a huge disappointment for the team, the coaches, the parents and everyone who follows the team. The season didn’t end how everyone hoped it would.

Some of the girls on Megan’s team will play college sports. Megan could but is choosing not to. Yet, the skills and attributes she learned in sports will serve her well into her future. Teamwork. Hard work. Persistence. Giving it your all. Loosing well.

Life is full of wins and losses. At the end of every game, there is a winner and a looser.  It can be heart-breaking to lose. Winning is a lot more than the final score. I am so excited to watch Megan take what she’s learned from sports and translate these skills into little moments throughout her life that will make big impacts. This is what great leaders do. This is what people who see beyond the scoreboard focus on. This is taking what seems like a big loss in the moment and making it mean more than one game.

What started as a chance meeting over 21 years ago has become a life-long friendship. One moment at a retreat all those years ago shifted my life in a big way.

When I began the path to becoming a pastor, I was required to attend a weekend retreat. There were about a dozen people there. During a break, Mary Ann came over and introduced herself. She felt that we had met before. We discovered that she knew one of my sisters. Since that moment, we’ve been life-long friends.

Mary Ann could be my mom. She has children my age. We have multiple common interests. We regularly share ministry and personal moments with each other.

While Mary Ann and I often plan things for the two of us to do together, the last number of years, once a year, we include our husbands. We have our annual card-playing day. This week, Hubby Rick and I traveled to the Floerke’s and we spent hours playing cards and laughing together.

It’s such good medicine to just let the world pause and see whether the guys or the gals have the better cards for the day. We don’t solve the worlds problems or even our own problems. We simply enjoy the small moment of playing cards speak well into our lives.

Like playing cards, we can’t control what we are dealt. What we can control is how we respond. React. Deal with life. Some “hands” make life more challenging. Other hands allow for growth or creativity. Yep, there are times when it feels like everyone else has the better cards. Yet, we still hang in there and play anyways. Big lessons from a little card game.

What little things have happened to you this week that can have a big impact in how you look at life? What seemingly simple and ordinary moments help you define what is big and most important in your life?

This is what faith is. Discovering that there is something beyond ourselves that helps us find meaning and purpose in the million ordinary moments of our lives. Knowing that life’s scoreboard is not the same as what is at the end of a game. Letting the ordinary words of God bring us comfort on challenging days. And surround us with each and every little thing that makes us each 24 hours of our day.

Today may feel like a very ordinary day for you. And that’s OK! I pray you will see how the ordinary, little moments of today become part of the big moments that impact our faith and how we live our lives.  

One last thought for today:

For little things that are the big things, I am grateful.

Blessings –

Dianne

Dear God – when the big life moments happen, thanks for being there. When little things happen every day that feel ordinary and mundane, thanks for being there as well. May we see You in the little moments and connect them to the big things of life. Amen.

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The Empty Container

Gratitude Day 362

Thurs., Nov. 14, 2019

Philippians 2:7-8: (Jesus) emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.

It happens, oh, about once a week.

I open the refrigerator and find a perfectly empty, but dirty, container inside.

And it always makes me smile.

I’m not quite sure WHY Hubby Rick does this. Maybe to put a smile on my face? But it happens repeatedly.

And not just in the refrigerator. One day this week, I opened the chest freezer in the basemen. You know, the one that holds all the good stuff? What did I find right on top?

An empty, but dirty container.

Rick uses these containers to put food in for his work lunch. They are always dirty. When they appear, I’m never quite sure what day they are from. Yesterday? Two days ago? Last week?

Just once I want to ask Rick, “Why don’t you walk the five steps and put the container in the sink?”

Just once.

Sometimes, I THINK he wants to reuse the container. I know. Eww. Other times, maybe he’s lazy. And then, there are the times when possibly he does it just to make me smile.

Or irritate me.

This is the deal about marriage. I could get upset about the dirty containers in the refrigerator. Or I can smile and let them go.

Maybe it’s not dirty containers at your house.

Maybe it’s dirty underwear on the bathroom floor.

Or shoes right inside the door.

Possibly its toothpaste left in the sink.

You pick whatever it is that sometimes is just a wee bit annoying. And let it go … because there may be a day when you wished the underwear were on the floor. Or you were tripping over the shoes as you push open the door.

And yes, maybe you might long to have an empty, but dirty, container in the fridge.

As I opened the container this week and examined the evidence of what used to be inside the container (pasta with veggies), I had this little moment. A moment when I remembered someone who emptied themselves for MY benefit.

His name was Jesus.

He emptied himself for my benefit. For your benefit. He took upon himself my dirty and ugly sins and did not get disgusted by them. He took them anyways. When he looked inside of me, Jesus doesn’t say, “Eww.”

No, he says, “This is a child that I love.”

And he says this to you as well.

I didn’t put the dirty container back in the fridge. I walked the five steps over to the kitchen sink and put it there because the dish washer needed to be emptied.

As I dropped the container into the sink, I was thankful that I have a husband who does these things just for me. Just so I could remember who emptied himself for me. And it put a smile on my face and in my heart.

For Jesus’ choice to empty himself just for me, I am grateful. 

Holy God – Thank goodness You don’t look inside of me and say, “Eww.” You overlook every awful and disgusting thing that I have done … and love me anyway. Please help me aspire to be as forgiving as you are. Amen.  

Blessings –

Dianne

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Six for Saturday – A Few Life Lessons

Gratitude Day 319

Sat., Aug. 31, 2019

Matthew 16:25 –If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.

Good Saturday Morning Friends –

I have missed you. I have missed being able to sit down and share a few thoughts about life, faith and how the two integrate the last few weeks. Today, I’m going to share Six Things for Saturday, which maybe really a few things I’ve explored and discovered the month of August. Grab a cup of your favorite coffee or a glass of peach iced tea. Let’s reconnect for a few minutes and kick off this holiday weekend together!

Sometimes, life happens. And we just need to let it be. Going into August, I knew it was going to be a busy month. I’ve been working on two significant projects: one affiliated with my part-time job (which is more like full-time during August) as well as a big job that I’ve personally been working towards. The work job is nearly completion. My personal job? I’m making significant progress.

If you are slightly interested in knowing more about this project, I’ll share a bit today. Other times, I’ve mentioned about working on a book. My goal has been to have a rough draft completed by Sept. 1.  I have one more chapter to finish up today … and then, I’ll have a completed rough draft! Now, the entire book needs to go through several more revisions and editing and other steps. But achieving this first milestone has taken me awhile. I’m excited about being so close. Yes, there will be a lot more investment on my part in the next few weeks. But I am excited about the progress that I’ve made. Please stay tuned. I’ll be sharing more in the next couple of months.

In light of these big projects, unfortunately some other things had to get set aside, if only for a while. And yes, blogging was one of them. I’ve shared this previously and I am even more convinced of this: Trying to achieve balance in one’s life is impossible. At various periods in our lives, our time and attention will be draw towards some things more than others. This is OK. When this happens, it’s impossible to keep every life ball in the air. Instead of trying to do so and fail miserably at most of them, understand it’s just fine to let some things fall down the priority checking list, if only for a while. This doesn’t mean something is no longer important to us. It just says that it’s a lower priority for the minute. Extending ourselves grace in these situations is SO. IMPORTANT.

If you are in the middle of trying to juggle multiple hats or balls right now, be gracious with yourself. Look at your life and intentionally pick something to just be for a hot minute. You can come back to you later.

When life feels very full, self-care is terribly important. Some days, I make more this more of a priority than others. In some ways, I feel I attended to myself a bit better this past month than I have during other very busy times of my life. I exercised nearly every day. I had a quiet/devotion time about 75% of the time. I prioritized time with Hubby Rick on the weekends. Caring for ourselves, no matter what is going on in our lives, IS IMPORTANT. Why? It helps us keep perspective, understand why we do what we do and allows us to feel good about what we do and ourselves. When I’m run dry and have no more to give, I’m not very effective. Self-care says that we value ourselves and our ability to give back.

Sometimes, it’s easy to let the urgent take priority over our lives. Be intentional about these choices. As a pastor and a person in general, often, my day will be completely changed by a phone call, e-mail or some unexpected event in a day. Suddenly, I find myself letting go of everything I had planned for a particular day and allowing the urgent become the day’s focus.

There are some urgent requests that are truly urgent. In these instances, we need to drop everything else and focus purely on the situation at hand. But do this intentionally. Other times, we let the urgent sidetrack our priorities and goals.

Sometimes, a grandma duty request comes late the day before I am asked to help out. This is an urgent request that becomes an intentional request that I will fulfill. I am finding it a little easier to let some urgent requests wait for a minute until I have time to truly focus on them. It’s OK to let the urgent requests take priority. Just be intentional about this choice.

Looking for a great book to read at the end of summer? I highly recommend the historical fiction book, Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly. Awhile back, I recommended another book by Kelly, Lost Roses. This book was set during World War I. Lilac Girls was set during World War II and was the first book Kelly wrote. The story is told from the perspective of three women: an American woman named Caroline Ferriday, Herta Oberheuser, a German doctor who was the only female doctor at the all-women Nazi camp called Ravensbruck and Kasia Kuzmericak, a Polish girl who spent several years at Ravensbruck. Caroline and Herta were actual people who lived during World War II. Kasia was one of Polish women who became known as the Rabbits; women on whom the Reich performed experimental treatments.

The story of the Rabbits was completely new to me and one that struck a chord with me. This is a story about forgiveness, redemption and secrets that were hidden for decades. I actually listened to the audio version of this book, which I enjoyed immensely. Each character has a different reader, which made the book so interesting. The story opened my understanding of World War II from a different perspective. It’s a very interesting book to read and one I feel is worth the time.

Life is full of choices. Every choice we say “Yes” to means we say “No” to something else. For years, I’ve tried to say “Yes” to everything. I’m realizing that this is not always the best choice. Just because I say “No” to something does not mean this is unimportant to me. We will often say “No” to very important things. Reality is that we can’t do everything. I find that I don’t have unlimited energy and focus, which means I have to carefully pick where to direct my energy and focus every day. Some days, I do a better job of this than others. What I do hope is that God becomes part of this conversation and choice. It’s still very hard for me to say, “No.” But I know this is what I need to do.

I appreciate every single reader who reads these blogs. I appreciate every “share” and “like” someone gives. I love having a few people who follow along and use this as a daily devotion or way to quiet their soul. Thanks for being patient with me of late. I pray these simple words of faith bring just a bit of sunshine and reflection to your day.

For continued lessons about life, I am grateful.

Holy God – As we journey through these days, thanks for continuing to provide us opportunities to learn more about You, ourselves and our relationship with You and others. Thanks for always being there for us. I pray we find you in our little neck of the woods today. Amen.

Blessings –

Dianne

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