Ordinary Moments, Extraordinary Encounters

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So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

Genesis 1:27

Created in the image of God, we share His likeness in many ways.  We are intellectual, with the capacity to know and to reason.  We are emotional, feeling a wide range of emotions, sometimes all at once.  We, even the most unorganized of us, like order in some way.  We are creative, taking a blank canvas and creating a masterpiece, choreographing steps into graceful dances, and putting together ordinary notes to make a symphony.  We are relational, operating best when in community.  When we look at God, we learn about ourselves, and so it only makes sense that as we look at ourselves (the pure parts), we can learn a bit about God too.  I experience this most in my role as a parent.  Sometimes I just can’t help but think about the relationship God has to His children, to me, when I am relating with my own children in some way, even from afar.

Last week I experienced a lot this as I was camping with my kids.  Sometimes I clearly saw how God relates to me, His child, while other times I was left to ponder, “I wonder if God…?”

Much of my time at camp was spent alone.  Brianna and Ben were at overnight camp from Sunday through Thursday and I was given strict instruction (especially from 12 year old Brianna) to pretend not to know them if I saw them around, not acknowledging them in any way (It sure was a surprise when Ben ran right up to me excitedly showing me something one day).  It is totally un-cool to have your Mom on the grounds while you’re at camp!  Make no mistake; I didn’t stay because I am overprotective in any way.  While they were at overnight camp, Jeremiah attended Summer Adventure Camp from 8am-5pm. Since the campground in an hour and a half away, I wasn’t going to drive him there and back each day.  Instead, I enjoyed my days reading, working, enjoying the outdoors, even taking a few naps  and he joined me during the evenings for cooking over the fire, hikes, bike rides, and board games until we fell asleep to the sound of crickets and toads (one night I heard the squeak of a bat, that was NOT so pleasant).

Many times during the week, I heard children having fun from a distance.  The sound of kids having fun during free time—lined up for four-square, running around the playground, splashing at the beach—drifted across the lake as I paddled with a friend in a boat.  As I lay in bed at night, I could hear squeals and laughter from a hayride in the dark.  What amazing sounds, ranking right up there with the songs of birds, chirps of crickets, and distant worship!  I pondered, “I wonder if God gets such satisfaction listening to his children?”

One day, I trekked down to the Trading Post for a snack.  While my hot stuffed pretzel (why are they sooo good?) was being warmed, the lady working started up a conversation about Jeremiah.  He had been in many times that week for his daily (at least) snack.  She was telling me how much she enjoyed it when he came in.  She told me how well-mannered he was.  I thought she was just being friendly when she rubbed her arms as if she was shivering and said, “It just gives me the chills to talk about him, he is just so good and special. There aren’t many kids like him.”  Then I knew we weren’t just exchanging pleasantries, but she was genuinely telling me of the joy Jeremiah brings.  I couldn’t help but walk away beaming, “That’s MY boy she’s talking about!”  My pretzel would soon fill my tummy, but my heart was already full.  It is just a wonderful feeling to hear good things about your kids!  As I sat down on a bench overlooking the lake I pondered, “I wonder, does God feel equally as happy, does He fill with pride when somebody speaks highly of one of his children?”

Another afternoon, I sat beside the lake reading a book.  Looking down a little ways, I saw a group of kids on the beach when something special caught my eye.  Ben was buddied up with Jeremiah for swimming.  To go swimming during children’s camps, it is mandatory that each kid have a buddy.  Every few minutes a “buddy check” is called and the kids are counted as a way to make sure everybody is safe and accounted for.  Ben had plenty of kids to choose from.  After all, he was at his very own camp.  Not to mention, the kid is never lacking for followers.  Everybody loves Ben (except Brianna, hey, I bet God and I share some feelings about sibling rivalry). He was in no way obligated to pair up with his little brother.  Jeremiah loves to swim, is as friendly as you can imagine, and has many close relationships, but mostly with adults that have chosen to love him.  He struggles to connect with his peers.  So, that day, when Jeremiah wanted to swim, but didn’t have a buddy, Ben chose to come alongside him.  This momma was so excited to see that act of love from one of her children to another, and once again I pondered how God feels as He watches us.  “I wonder, does God rejoice when He sees one of His children help another?”  Yes, yes, I think He does, He even tells us to do it.  The verse that immediately comes to mind is Galatians 6:2, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

Perhaps the most impactful of the experiences as a parent that taught me about God was during our last night.  “Is it gonna be ok?” a scared little voice asked.  Wind was blowing, rain pelting the camper as lightning flashed and thunder crashed.  Jeremiah climbed into my bed and repeated the question, “Is it gonna be ok?”  He was scared of the storm.  As I held him, I offered some assurance and before long he still and his breathing deepened.  I knew he was resting.  His rest wasn’t because an overabundance of assurance from my words.  I couldn’t promise the storm would leave us unscathed.  Our shelter was a 30 year old, $300 pop-up, not all that sea worthy.  Plus, there always seems a bit of a mess to clean up outside after a storm while camping.  His security came from my arms, from my presence.

As I continued to lay awake I thought about the security God offers just by His presence.  I also thought about how satisfying it was when my child came to me to find security and rest when he was fearful.  I pondered how God might find satisfaction when we approach Him with our fears.  That picture changed my whole perspective on bringing my fears to Him.  Often I have read the words “fear not,” “do not fear,” or “be not afraid” with a sense of condemnation because well, I have fears.  As I held my child in my arms, thankful that he had come, I heard those words from the Lord in a new light, not one of condemnation, but of invitation.  Instead of a Father putting His thumb down, exerting His power, bellowing out a command or sometimes worse, belittling my fears, “That’s nothing to be afraid of!” or “Quit crying about that!” I heard, “Come! Sit with me. Bring me your fear, find security and rest in My presence.”  What a contrast!  How easily I then I offered my fears to my Father, taking the invitations to come, the sounds of the storm soothing my soul as they reminded me of the power and majesty of the One to whom I spoke.

I had many wonderful times throughout the week, but these times pondering my Heavenly Father, experiencing His love for me through my own love for my children and the feelings that elicits were by far the best.  The ordinary became extraordinary.  Perhaps after reading you will spend some time pondering these same things, or you will have a new view of approaching God with your worries, fears, and concerns.  Maybe you will begin to look at your ordinary moments with a potential to become extraordinary as they help you to encounter God in a new way.  I pray it be so.

Lessons from the Hills

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I have always loved to ride my bike.  My still scarred knees (and elbows and…) prove the continued love despite many topples as a child.  As a kid, bike riding was the special thing I shared with my dad as we would hop aboard our saddles to ride through some of Jackson’s beloved parks, Cascades and Ella Sharp, or trek a little farther to Vandercook Lake, or to who knows why (still trying to figure it out) the water treatment and sewage plant…YUCK!

I continued to like to ride as an adult, but didn’t spend a whole lot of time doing it.  Then this thing called WOMBAT started.  WOMBAT stands for Wheels Over Michigan Bike-A-Thon and is a group of cyclists that rides across the state of Michigan to raise money for missions, most recently an eye and dental clinic in Dessalines, Haiti. I started to dream, this I would LOVE to do.  I didn’t get to do it right away, but two years ago I finally realized that dream.  It was an amazing accomplishment for this non-athletic girl, riding over 250 miles in a span of five days on a bike built by my brother (how special is that?!) and in padded spandex shorts so that I was totally fooled into thinking I was the real deal.  I went the following year as well.  This year, I opted out for multiple reasons.  For the most part, I am ok with a different kind of riding, leisurely with a friend or my kids, taking in all that is around me, seeing things that I can’t get to or would fly by unseen in the speed of a car.  I am missing some things though, the excuse to spend a day on my bike because I need to train, the hours I spent pondering and praying on long rides, and the lessons I learned on the seat of my bike.

So, today’s post is nostalgic, a look back at some lessons I learned on a particularly hilly 40 mile training ride during the summer of 2016.  For funny blond moments and deep spiritual truth, read on…
1. Children aren’t in the corn, but crows are and they’re equally as scary.
2. Do not try to spray yourself with the mist ‘n sip water bottle WHILE you’re taking a drink. The mist goes right up your nose.
3. There are many people running for Hillsdale County Treasurer. If number of yard signs are any indication of who you should vote for, Balcom is your guy.
4. It doesn’t bother me when bikers (motorcycle) flip me off. I just think, “yeah, why don’t you try to take the ride you’re taking now on your BICYCLE?! That’s right, I’m amazing!”
5. I am fearfully and wonderfully made. My legs can do more than I could have ever imagined…I even accomplished some things today that I couldn’t a year ago.
6. Traverse City to the Mackinaw Bridge? No problem! Today I rode to Timbuktu.
7. Using my inhaler doesn’t make me a wimp. It means that I am a beast who can make it up some nasty hills without fear of death now.  (Unfortunately I am not sure about the latter part there, uncontrolled asthma is just one reason I took this year off)
8. I like nuts. I used to not like nuts, but anything with healthy fat and protein that will keep me from bonking out is pretty good and yummy too. I wonder if I can learn to like coffee, chocolate, and shrimp as well?
9. Even nails beautifully painted to match your shirt (coincidence) don’t make you feel any less disgusting by the end of a ride. At least I can ride with flair though!
10. Cycling is not for the faint of heart. Today I was involved in a collision…with a butterfly. Nobody was injured.
11. I can bike faster than a deer can run, well at least that deer I was racing today.
12. Bundy Hill…miserable to go up, scary to go down. (I think I clocked in at 60 mph)
13. Suntans are overrated. I love cloud cover…I didn’t have that today.
14. The bottom of a big hill is a crummy place for a stop sign.
15. I prefer to ride with a destination in mind. Not only is there a sense of accomplishment, but the journey just seems a bit easier with the perspective of the end result. I think life is the same, while not easy, knowing the end, my final destination, provides perspective. “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ” Philippians 3:20. “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” 1 Timothy 4:7-8
16. Sometimes I find it helpful to look down when I am going up a daunting hill. I either look at the pavement, the curve of the white line marking the road, or my feel pedaling. Somehow the hill is easier to climb, focused on taking that next pedal instead of the overwhelming sight of the whole hill before me. It reminds me of Jesus’ words, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Matthew 6:34 Just keep pedaling, just keep pedaling!
17. My favorite part of riding is when the momentum from a good downhill takes me all of the way UP the next hill. I am reminded of God’s faithfulness. Looking back on how he has brought us through one storm can sustain us in the next. He is a gracious God that way. There’s saving grace and sustaining grace. Both are sufficient and I am thankful for them!

For my friends that will be leaving soon to once again pedal across the state, I pray blessings on you for a safe journey, no flat tires, good weather, and priceless fellowship.  For those who donated to their cause, thank you for your sacrifice and I am praying that your dollars will be multiplied and used to make great differences in the lives of “the least of these.” For the rest of you, whether on the saddle of a bike or by some other means, I hope that you will slow down and notice things previously unseen and not pondered, and I pray that as you do God speaks to your heart.

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