Three Ways To Banish Discontent And Revive Hope

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She captivated me.Her smile spread wide contagious. Personality bubbled happy like the hot pink blouse she wore.
Hope seeped from every pore. Though she spoke no english,

I felt her joy.

I felt her gratitude to have a job in an emerging country, but a country where the employable still outnumber the available employment.

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She and her fellow workers possessed a deft skill that made them exceptional, the ability to take a random length of cloth and fashion it into something beautiful. They soared amazing even with an ancient sewing machine from a different century, a machine that would sing under their flying fingers.

An implement we would never consider using, only a novelty consigned to corner or an attic or a museum or gasp…a junk pile.

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Our society lives forever on the hunt.
The hunt for the new, the better, the best.
Discontent and envy forever pounding at the door.
The latest computers, cell phones, cars, clothes etc…etc… etc…

More-Better IS the American way.

The Preacher is a rarity. He cares not one whit for the bigger and better. When we moved into a different house with a different living room arrangement, which forced the sofa a long way from our small TV, he had no interest in a bigger one. Our son had to convince him that he wasn’t going to be able to see his beloved St. Louis Cardinals from such a distance without getting a larger screen. Cardinal baseball was the magic word in that exchange.

Sadly, our discontent won over The Preacher’s good sense.

Even with religion, there are so many choices. So many opinions, so many new-age ways that look little like the pattern laid out centuries ago.

We already received all that we needed.
The perfect words, the perfect book, for an imperfect people.
There is no improvement possible on the flawless and pure.

It is impossible for God to make a mistake.
So if we have no trust in his book, we have no true faith in God.

In Jesus time the biblical scrolls were cherished and rare. The priest would carefully unroll them and read the ancient words to crowds of rapt participants.

They revered the old and trusted the words as true.

Funny how the perfect, instead of intimidating and destroying, can offer hope to the flawed like me.

The words could have dangled an unreachable, unattainable dream.
Instead they unveil a roadmap cushioned with hope, sacrificial love and forgiveness.

So shake off the lure of the new by:
1. Embracing scripture with a wholehearted trust.
2. Reading it daily.
3. Watching your discontent dissolve and hope revive.
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2 Timothy 3:16-17 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

-What are you dissatisfied with? What makes you yearn for the new?
-Determine to read at least one verse daily to change your life forever.

Three Key Blessings Easily Missed When Your Life is Full to Overflowing

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Item upon item stacked
And shoved
And piled.
The overflowing clutter feels like my life.
Controlled chaos.

A riot of color and texture infuse the tiny space with sumptuous temptations, the lure of the new and the promise of better. Choice after choice, the silky turquoise or regal purple for that new dress? Or the radiant orange? Or what about the powder blue?

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These Rwandan shopkeepers care not for western sensibilities of marketing. The more they can pile in, the more they can display and the more they can sell. It’s exhilarating and an assault to the senses at the same time.

To cover the beat up table in the center of the store, we needed a table cloth for The Shop. I could have lingered for a while, but the claustrophobic space and press of bodies elicited a quick response. “I want the royal blue roll in the back of this pile. 7 yards should do it.”

And out the door I went, leaving my compatriots to negotiate and settle up. Of course no price is “firm”, so while they haggle, I’m given plenty of time to soak in the exotic sights.

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My sweet mother-in-law would be overwhelmed. She hates digging through clothing racks. On the other hand, my mom and sister and I will bulldoze for hours if there promises to be a cache for bargain prices, a left-over trait from our youth.

Living a modest paycheck to paycheck life, when we wanted new clothes not sewn by my mother, my sister and I pawed though the “damaged” items in my manager-father’s retail clothing store.

A missing button here, a dirty spot there, a hem that had come unraveled,
Minor problems, often easily fixed.

We tunneled, laser-focused, looking for that buried treasure. That thrill of the chase, trying to beat each other to the prized items.

I shop for a living, but my oldest son can shop circles around me. A trip to the mall for a pair of jeans meant going into every hip store, looking for the perfect pair while rifling through every sale rack in sight.

To nip any arguments in the bud, we put our boys on a clothing allowance when they turned 13 and 15. So they learned to streeeetch that money. They had the choice of spending it all on an expensive pair of jeans and a couple overpriced shirts, or if they wanted quantity, they learned to be creative.
But with patience and determination, he always ended up best-dressed. His classmates had no idea how little he spent.

And I miss three key blessings when I rush through life instead up slowly perusing the racks, sifting through the chaff, looking for perfection.
1. Be still—Look for the nuggets in scripture that fuel our souls.
2. Rest—Take time to view the amazing sunset and be thankful for God’s smiling handiwork.
3. Enjoy—Be present in the moment. Relish the laughter of a child. The time with dear friends. The love of your family.

Sometimes the real treasure in life is right under your nose.

“For where your treasure is, your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:21

What To Do When You Feel Unworthy (Rwanda #6)

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She strode regal like an African Queen.
And I stared, all the while pretending I wasn’t staring.

Hoping she wouldn’t notice me.

Like I used to do at the mall when I wanted to see if that guy I caught out of the corner of my eye was as good-looking as I thought. When I wanted to see (wishfully) if he was looking at me.

Even as I spotted her head covering bobbing among the crowd, I could tell she exuded command and authority. No shrinking violet, the vivid primary colors of her native dress,

Demanded attention.

Demanded respect.

The unusual and exquisite tailoring spoke of expertise with it’s double layered collar, button detail, the bias cut of the skirt, and the beautiful waterfall of the hat.

As if she were royalty, and maybe she was, the crowded downtown shoppers parted like the Red Sea as she glided by.

And they stared just like me.

But the other detail that did not escape me, she was easily over sixty. In a nation where more than 50% of the country is under twenty, and the life expectancy is only a mere fifty-eight years, only 2.4% are over sixty-five.

Meaning? She was not slaughtered in the 1994 Genocide like the close to a million souls in her age group. And she had not fallen into ill health because of hardship and lack of medical provision like many others of age.

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I wonder if she asks herself why she was spared?

I hope she knows.
I hope she has lived a life though borne of tragedy, redeemed in giving meaning to others.
I hope she is one of the many adults who took in scores of orphans to raise as their own when their parents were executed. 95,000 Rwandan children and youth were orphaned in that terrible one hundred day blot in their history.

I hope we know.
I hope we revel in the fact that we too were spared.
Spared from a life of meaningless days, futile pursuits and hopeless futures.
Eternal reward instead of eternal punishment.

We the unworthy
We the traitorous and fickle
We the weak and timid.

Yet in one bold, agonizing, horrifying act,
His love flowed out of his broken body along with the lifeblood of his laboring heart.

And in those minutes that changed our history,
He did not die for us because we were good or deserving.
But for the love.
The compassion of a father to a child, watching us flounder and fail again and again.

So he did the unthinkable, he died cruel for us.
He died for her.

The color of our skin or the origin of our birth matters not.

We are all created with love in his image and walk beautiful in his sight.
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Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

-Do you struggle with feelings of unworthiness?
-Accept that he doesn’t dwell on your past, only your future bathed in his cleansing blood. Say a prayer of thanks everyday this week.

Making a Bad Decision- A Good Decision-Or A God Decision (Rwanda #5)

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Snug as a bug in a rug.
The rhyme whispered a familiar cadence in my head as I witnessed the same ingenuity over and over. Fascinated, I determined to get a close-up photograph.

Blurry…oops she turned away at the last second…oh no…another person stepped in the way…
Standing on the street, patience waining, I watching the hustle bustle past street vendors and overflowing shops as I snapped and snapped.

I can’t figure out how they do it, bodies wrapped tight with a blanket. The mothers carry their babies on their backs. A nifty innovation for unencumbered shopping, washing, or just walking everywhere like most do.
Not a stroller in sight.
Anywhere.
And we thought “hands free” meant bluetooth and various other communication devices.

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The infants I get. Carrying a ten to fifteen pounder seems no big deal. But some of those kids look to be two years old. Yikes.
Thats like carrying a huge sack of potatoes or two—or three.
On your back.
Everyday.
For hours.

It’s a load that while tiring to the mother, gives a sense of security and comfort to the baby. But it’s a burden carried with love and care.

I think about the burdens we carry in the name of love. The cancer stricken family member we minister to. The marriage wars we witness between those we care about. The fear that the depression we view in another will spiral down too far to return. The crisis of faith in our dear friend who hides it well behind a bright smile.

The life hacks.

We pack our anxiety in secret and hide the weary load in dark places. And we often make the bad decision to hang  onto them like a precious bundle hoarded and camouflaged as healthy concern.

Yet some burdens we are called to carry.
And we falter so tired.
And we can’t get our stuff together.
And we keen we aren’t strong enough,
And we cry we can’t take it anymore.
And we wail for relief and answers and resolution.

All the while Jesus waits and waits, and implores us to lay our cares at his feet.
And when we finally decide we can’t walk alone any further, he gently folds us in his arms and wipes our tears.

And he cradles our millstone in his hands.
Sometimes he removes it,
And sometimes he simply relieves some of the pressure,
And paints our soul with his bold strokes of peace,

A beautiful abstract of human suffering, bathed and restored in the calming light of his glory.

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Matthew 11:28 Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

-What do you need to lay at Jesus feet?
-Make a God decision to pray for peace and rest right now.

How To Find Comfort When You Are Drowning (Rwanda #4)

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Their faces upturned.
Waiting,
Expectant.

Was this Mzungu (white person) going to impart anything useful? Anything interesting?

A tapestry of beauty and color, these women sat along the work table with expressions as varied as the patchwork quilt covering the end of my bed.

Some gazed curious,
Some dared hope,
Others hid expressionless as life had taught them long ago and depression danced a funeral dirge on their soul.

To survive–they all know the mantra, pounded into their vey beings:
There are no room for feelings,
This is your lot in life.

Lonely,

Alone,

This is all you get.
This. Is. All. You. Deserve.

But the most upsetting shock to my American mind, was knowing some were illiterate. I have no idea which ones, they all seemed bright and intelligent. I cannot fathom being a grown woman and never knowing the pleasure of diving into a good book on a rainy weekend or never knowing how to read instructions, or signs, or write a love letter.

Another notation on my lengthy mental checklist of “Things I take for granted.”

But I am a “Mzungu”, a rich white person.
No one would call me rich in the states, just an average working woman.
But there, in the exotic Land of a Thousand Hills, amidst more than a thousand pockets of poverty, I am rich beyond their wildest dreams.

I have two cars. I have a garage to put them in. I have more beds than people in my house. And have a refrigerator so full of food, that sometimes those unlabelled plastic containers get shoved to the back of my refrigerator and are growing gross things before I find them.

Then I began to speak instructions as the words flowed through the mouth of the translator.
Over, under, loop and pull.
Over under, loop and pull.
And suddenly to their delight, a macrame bracelet began to emerge.
Like small children begging for affirmation, they held out their knot patterns for inspection.

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As I checked their work, smiling nodding and murmuring “Good,” over and over again, the shuttered gaze began to raise, their smiles flashed frequent, and confidence shone over their new accomplishment.

I sat and worked among them, while my lone white hands flashed a pale rhythm along side their dark ones. I couldn’t help but wonder when they last heard that they were good at anything, or received any words of encouragement no matter how small?

So little time, so much to do…

I know there are many places God can use me stateside, but…

I felt like I was needed and wanted and could help make an immediate difference.
And give them a window to a different future.
Give them hope.
Show them an exit route from the streets of prostitution to the road of legal employment.

I want to go back tomorrow.

Yet what tiny offerings I could impart pales with the honeyed words of scripture they are immersed in each morning.
He is the real life-changing element in this story,

Not me.

His compassion knows no bounds of country or race.
He scoops you up, he scoops me up, he scoops up the hopeless and broken women of Rwanda.
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Psalm 18:16 “He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters.”

-Quit trying to navigate life on your own.

-Ask him for his perfect help.

How I Found Thankfulness on the Other Side of the World

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( Above are the before and afters of the The Shop)

You know the panicky feeling you get when you face an impossible deadline?

I had it in spades.

Where was all the shelving I sent specifications for from my stateside office? The pieces that were to be built and delivered so that when I arrived in Rwanda we could paint them?

Looming in front of me was a tired, dingy box of a room. A rainbow of merchandise hung sparsely in a vain attempt to liven up the faded yellow walls. An assortment of vivd purses and aprons lay folded on less-than-ample mis-matched shelves.

I knew lurking somewhere lie a potential for cuteness, but it had to be unearthed.

So tape measure in hand I began to lay it out…again.

When the sweet carpenter finally showed up, all was forgiven. I showed him where I wanted the new shelves and told him I needed boards all the way around the room at ceiling height so we could screw in cup hooks for hanging bags and lower boards for hanging jewelry.

And I needed them by tomorrow.

He smiled and nodded. And I said, “No really, I need them by tomorrow.”
When he saw that I was serious, his smile never dimmed. “I can get helpers and we will have them to you by eight o’clock tomorrow night.”

I could have kissed him.

I was sweating the fact that I was half way around the world—with a specific job to do—and worried I wasn’t going to be able to do it.

Now the next question. Was eight o’clock Rwandan time or American time? Rwandan time means the time set, in their eyes, is just a suggestion. Often they show up one to two hours later.

But darling Martin showed up early with our load of new shelving.
He walked proud. We smiled giddy.

Then the fun began. I had the privilege of working alongside Betsie, the gal who runs the handbag workroom, Umucyo, and her friends David and Kelly. We had to paint that evening so it would be dry enough the next day to second coat the shelves and began merchandising them.

But the paint we got was an oil base and the fumes so bad, even with the windows wide and the door open, we began to get dizzy and had to step outside for fresh air at regular intervals. Giggles ensued, as we frantically pushed to finish. By the dim light of one bulb we bonded and got it done.

And as midnight neared, exhausted but happy, I surveyed the results.

Thankfulness washed me clean.

Thankful for a carpenter who worked on “American” time.
Thankful for new friends willing to work hard alongside me through stink and toil.
Thankful for the women who worked long hours to provide beautiful handmade items for The Shop.

Thankful for a patient God who led me steady through my futile worries.

The grand opening of The Shop is today.

I solicit your prayer for it’s success.

Every item sold insures the employment of these women who have mouths to feed and many have little other options other than selling themselves.

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(Vendors are Belay Global-jewelry, Umucyo-bags and aprons, More than Sparrows-homegoods. Look them up!)

How to Figure Out What is Really Important (Rwanda #2 2016)

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The feelings wash the same.
The thankfulness gushes from my very pores.
The chagrin over the excess in my stateside life overwhelms.

It’s only been a year since I walked the rutted roads of Rwanda.
A year ago I vowed not to forget.
Not to fall into the spoiled American habit of
Whining. About. Everything.

I stand weary in the shower. Rinsing the dust and dirt from my first-day-in-Africa-body. The hot spray revitalizes me behind the makeshift rope-strung curtain. And in the midst of my leisurely enjoyment, the repentant thoughts wash hot.

I’ve slipped back into an American callousness.

I realize I’m doing it again.
A lifetime of habits not easily shed.
From the mind frame of a take-for-granted life.

I become conscious that I am taking an “Americanized” shower. Spending waaaay too long. Wasting water. Making the three other housemates wait. Did I even ask them if they needed in tonight before I monopolized the bath?

What is wrong with me?

I’ve been away from Africa too long.

Birthplace of civilization, areas unchanged for centuries. Other locales clash in brutish contradictions of old ways and modern life.

Kigali, the bustling modern city with skyscrapers of success that belie the poverty hidden in secret pockets. Weary mothers sell fruits from huge platters balanced on their heads. Barefoot children with big-eyed stares, sit quietly at their feet. Many daily trudge the long road to market and back, wares loaded on their heads, babies strapped to their backs.

Reminders everywhere that I am—
Spoiled.
Insensitive.
American.

And the countryside further unfurls the dire need in an unashamed exhibition of a life lived day to day, hand to mouth.

Yet she smiles with gracious charm and says yes. I take her picture. And we buy the tiny African bananas. Half the size of ours, the bold, sweet taste renders our bananas back home as a bland and tasteless shadow of it’s tantalizing cousin.

A joy eliminates from her dark face. Her shy smile fills me with a desire to help these brave Rwandan women.
To do more.
To be more.
To allow them to feed their families with honor and dignity.

Like the tasteless banana from home, my life seems bland and routine after seeing their struggles. My good life here becomes a great life on that continent. I see what I have in abundance and I am humbled.

 

So I promise myself again.
I will be thankful.
I will look at my world with eyes fresh from Africa.
I will count my blessing every day.

I WILL give back to the women of Africa–even from my stateside seat.

Let my prayers abound and may I never ever forget.
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2 Corinthians 9:8 And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.
-What do you forget to be thankful for?
-Stop now and thank the God of abundance for his gift to you

Finding Courage to Wait For God’s Perfect Timing (Rwanda #1 2016)

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(Look above the desert for the stripe in the middle of the picture--The Sea.)

(Look above the desert for the stripe in the middle of the picture–The Sea.)

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I never ever get a window seat.

I aways allow The Preacher to hunker there so I can shield him from Chatty Cathy or Talky Tom. In faux-extrovert mode all day at work, to recharge he thrives on silence with his nose in a book.

But today on a trip to the other side of the world, I am all alone with my very own window seat.
And though I had cold feet about enduring two solitary eight-hour plane rides, from Detroit to Amsterdam and on to Rwanda, I found myself giddy as I began to figure out what we were soaring over.

Nose pressed to the window,
Heart thumping with excitement,
I felt like a little kid trying get as close as I could without smudging the window. Well, maybe I did smudge it a time or two…

A white blanket, as if snow, covered the ground as far as my eye could see. Yet snow made no sense for our southerly route. The plane locator map on my tiny TV screen revealed the truth to be– miles and miles of scorching white sand of The Sahara Desert. I scanned for an oasis but I saw no signs of civilization from my birds-eye-view.

So I knew we were close.

Squinting and patiently waiting for the clouds to thin, I gazed with rapt attention.
In the distance it spilled— The Red Sea.
Visions of God parting this water with a frantic Moses ushering his people into the dry sea bed, danced in my mind. Somehow I had the size pictured as similar to the Mississippi River which flows eleven miles in width at it’s widest point. But when I focused on the immensity of this body of water, up to two-hundred-twenty-one miles wide, my breath hitched and I felt a reverent awe encase me.

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(The dark line in the lower right is The Nile)

As I changed my sight line I saw it. Snaking beneath us, carving the sand was The Nile River.
The same river that Pharaoh’s daughter bathed in.
The same river that produced the tiny Hebrew baby, later raised in the palace as a prince.
The same river that produced millions of frogs.
The same river that coughed up all life teeming beneath the surface, as our God turned it to blood and filled the land with the dreadful stench of death.

I’d never felt Moses so acutely.
The echoes reverberated of a fearful man, changed by God to save his people.

The once favored son who tried to defend his people with his own hand, became a hunted murderer.
On Pharaoh’s hit list, he fled to the desert to wander in exile for years.

A has-been,

Unimportant,

Forgotten.

But God was not done with him.

With forty years of toil to vanquish the impulsive brashness of a younger man, time ripened for him to do things God’s way.
And though he balked and whined and begged for help, Gods patience and provision prevailed. Joined by Aaron, he found courage and became the knight in shinning armor God envisioned for his people.

A forgotten man

Remembered by God.
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Exodus 4:13 But Moses said, “Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else.”

-What do you need courage to do?
-What do you need to let go of and wait on the perfect timing of God?Finding Cour

What To Remember When You Can’t Seem To Let Go of Stinkin Thinkin (Renovation #6)

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If ugly was a deciding point, we would have turned and run.
The house rose before us in a hideous jumble of mismatched parts and overrun vegetation.

As we toured the neglected structure, it was apparent the previous owners had left it pretty much circa 1980 and let the termites run wild. The front door frame had a twelve by four inch termite run etched into the veneer. Ick!

Tentatively inching our way across matted brown carpet, we rounded the corner and stopped with a gasp.
Then an incredulous laugh—

“Are you kidding me?”

The real weirdness showed up in full regalia.
An addition had been put on the back of the house probably twenty years ago, but the exterior windows that were now inside the house were never removed. And still slicing up the view were the exterior sliding glass doors from the “new” dining room to the “new” breakfast room.

Call us crazy—

We bought it anyway.
But you know…
Amazing results happen from a fresh coat of paint, a lot of cleaning supplies and the removal of ancient stained carpet.

The house began to grin.

But still those awful exterior windows and glass doors in the middle of the house mocked us every time we walked by.

So next on our agenda?
Demolition.
Remove those awful windows and sliding glass doors.
Sledge hammers to action.
Open concept here we come.

Done.
The old house breathed a sigh of relief, shedding it’s thirty-five years of wear like a well needed face-lift.
I felt it grinning from ear to ear.

No matter how good the rest of my house looks, if I ignore the old eyesores and refuse to remove the blemish, my final product will always be tainted.
Jealousy.

Pride.

Anger.

Stinginess.

Unfaithfulness.

An unforgiving heart.

I’m thankful my ugly doesn’t make God turn and run.

Somehow he sticks around and loves me anyway.

Even when I hang on to my stinkin thinkin.
Even when redemption seems impossible.
Even when redemption seems too good to be true.

He.

Never.

Gives.

Up.

On.

Me.

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2 Tim 2:13 If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny who he is.

-What are you having a hard time letting go of?
-Write it down then tear it up and pray.

Don’t Forget to Remember–This world is Not My Home (Remodel #5)

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“All of life is a coming home.

Salesmen, secretaries, coal miners,

Beekeepers, sword swallowers–all of us.
All the restless hearts of the world…

All trying to find a way home.

It’s hard to describe what I felt like then.
Picture yourself walking for days in a driving snow.

You don’t even know you’re walking in circles–

The heaviness of your legs in the drifts;

Your shouts disappearing into the wind.

How small you can feel.

How far away home can be.

Home.”
Excerpt from Patch Adams

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A new zip code.
A forgotten derelict of a house.
A new place to hang my hat.
Walls deconstructed, reconstructed, cut, expanded, papered, painted,

And so our journey went.

The master bath proved to be the biggest renovation challenge.
We tore down an unnecessary wall to make one large room, ripped out the filthy chipped tub and replaced it with a shower. We treated the mold under the old tile, and any other unpleasant surprises hiding in secret. Finally we tucked the toilet in the corner instead of leaving it front and center since it was not the focal point of the room.

Even with all the renovations done, it was not a home until I made it so. I displayed my precious family photos, placed my favorite chair just so, put out the proverbial welcome mat and let the newly reborn house be a gathering place for others.

What makes a true home?

A welcoming haven? A place of peace and comfort and acceptance for your restless and sometimes tattered soul?

Or in less than optimal circumstances, it looms lonely as a place you return to each evening—never feeling like a true home, just a house.

More than simply a shelter to keep the weather out, it can be the place you live now, your parents place, or even a childhood dwelling place.

Or maybe it’s not even a structure with four walls, maybe it’s your people, your family or your church.

We sometimes yearn for the home we’ve never really had, or a distant memory, or something we mourn because we have it no more.

Sometimes we are determined to create the kind of loving, accepting home we were fortunate enough to be brought up in. Other times we are just as determined to establish a home looking nothing like our dysfunctional home of origin.

After a trying day with well-meaning but gripey church folks, one of my friends said, “I’m not going to let petty things upset me anymore, I’m just going to keep my eyes on heaven.”

She knew how to keep her temporary life on earth in perspective. She knew where her ultimate home resided.

As a child my sister and I loved to roam among the mossy tombstones near my Missouri grandparents’ home, discovering ancient dates on crumbling stone.

I felt drawn to the peaceful setting and my mind raced with imagined stories of their lives—some happy, some tragic. The mother and child buried beside each other sobered me. I envisioned a grieving husband kneeling between them—imagined from tidbits of worn text carved on the cool stone.

Those pioneers knew then what I strive to remember now--when peace escapes me and the walls press in.
Written on headstone after headstone in delicate script or bold block lettering were the words,
“Gone Home”.

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Proverbs 27:8 “Like a bird that wanders from its nest, so is a person who wanders from his home.”

-What kind of home did you come from? How do you pattern your current home?

-Write a thanks to God for being with you during the trials of life and for the heavenly home awaiting you.