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“No waiting on lane 7! No waiting on lane 7!”

The Target employee at the end of the checkout lanes called out like a carnival barker, enticing shoppers to leave their lines for the lanes, soon to open.

“Ma’am, do you want to move to this lane?”

The customer behind me had to repeat himself because I didn’t realize he was talking to me. I’d been standing in our line for literally less than a minute. I hadn’t had time to even be frustrated by the waiting and here was an offer of immediate relief from having to wait in line.

I appreciated the gesture but declined his offer and let him head to the newly open lane. I wasn’t in a hurry, but even if I was, I hadn’t been waiting that long.

And it wasn’t that long before it was my turn in my lane.

I wondered as I waited: When did waiting become a crime against humanity? When did not waiting become the expectation?

Not that I’m always so chill about the waiting.

Most of the time I’m more like:

hate waiting

And even when I resign myself to a long line, I’m still hopeful for another lane to open soon.

When I’m waiting, I’m on the lookout for an end to the waiting.

“Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.”

We’d been standing in line for the Sky Ride at Dutch Wonderland, a family amusement park where we live, and I was having second thoughts, even though I was the one who suggested it. The Sky Ride, in case it isn’t obvious, is a ski-lift style ride that takes you across the park, high above the treetops. The last time we went to Dutch Wonderland, I thought it seemed fun but we had limited time and couldn’t do it. So, this time, it was first on our list.

My husband and our daughter were ahead of us and as they settled into their seats and were carried away, I nearly threw up. I clutched our 4-year-old son’s hand as our turn came. It was now or never.

I was sure that once we were on the ride, my fears would dissipate and I would enjoy myself.

NOT TRUE.

The Sky Ride is a slow journey of panic and torture. I gripped the bar with my free hand while holding my son’s hand with my other hand and prayed that it would be over soon. I don’t know how long the ride actually is but it felt like forever and the higher our contraption rose, the more panicked I became. I was as close as I’ll probably ever be to having a full-blown panic attack that makes me pass out. I could feel my blood pressure rising. (Probably I should not have been on the ride.)

I looked around at the other people riding and none of them seemed as concerned as I was. My husband even turned a bit in his seat and waved at us. I wanted to yell at him to HOLD ON WITH BOTH HANDS but didn’t want to draw attention

I was never happier to be with two feet on the ground than when we reached the other side.

I’ve been in and on higher places without the same feelings, so I was a little confused by my reaction. Turns out I’d prefer my feet be on something than just dangling in mid-air, and I think I wanted it to be over more quickly. (I’ve told myself that I probably could have handled a zip line because it would have been over faster. I think I’m actually delusional.)

The journey across the park on the Sky Ride was slow and scary and totally out of my control. Had we fallen, there would have been nothing–not one thing–I could have done to prevent it or make it hurt less. And once we were strapped in, there was no turning back.

Sometimes waiting feels the same way, and even though I signed up for the journey, I start to doubt and fear.

The chug-chug of the motors and the smell of whatever was powering them blasted our senses as we wound our way through the barriers of the Sunoco Turnpike ride, also at Dutch Wonderland. Again in pairs, we were waiting our turn for two cars to drive around the new island exhibit at the park. While we were waiting, one of the cars broke down and held up the line while the two ride operators waited for help. Then when the path was clear, we waited some more while those ahead of us got their chances to ride.

At one point, a grandparent couple squished into one of the cars to follow their family members around the track. A woman ahead of us made a sound of disgust as she questioned why two adults should be allowed to ride when they can drive real cars. (As if adults aren’t allowed to have fun.)

On the next ride, a woman with two children was bumped to the front of the line because they had a special-needs pass that allowed them front-of-the-line access to the rides. The family ahead of us looked less than pleased, even though we all were guaranteed a spot on the next boat.

I’m so tempted to judge and condemn those who less-than-patiently wait their turn.

Then, I remember.

I’m guilty too.

Our family is still waiting to find our place. In the world. In God’s plans. And it is ever so hard to watch others pursue their dreams and live their passions before us, especially when we feel like we’ve been waiting longer, and we’re still wondering what our dreams and passions are.

In the waiting, I am jealous and selfish for my turn to come.

So maybe I hate waiting but maybe I need waiting. I need to be reminded that I’m not as good as I think I am, not as patient as I’d like to be, not as content or secure. In a world where I can have anything I want rightnowthisinstant with just a click, maybe it’s good to step back and pause before buying or pursuing or setting my heart on something I think I want.

I do hate waiting.

I want it all figured out right now. All of it. Life, people, relationships, calling. There are days I want to skip to the end, whatever that means, so I can find out how it all turns out. Did my marriage thrive for the duration? Did I raise my kids well enough to make good decisions? What did they decide to do with their lives? What will this tiny seed of an idea grow into? Was all the struggle, the hard times, the waiting worth it?

The end is my favorite part of most stories. But it wouldn’t mean anything without the middle part, the part where I’m not sure how it’s all going to work out, the part where the characters aren’t sure how it’s going to work out.

The middle–where there’s doubt and fear and misunderstanding and conflict and trial.

That’s where we’re all at right now, one way or another. We’re smack dab in the middle. And we’re waiting. For something. For one thing. Or a person or lots of things.

And even when it’s hard to see and believe, this is what I know is true: the waiting is worth it.

In the waiting, I learn to deny myself, to put others’ needs ahead of mine, to give myself space to be still and not keep rushing past my surroundings.

In the waiting, I take notice of people: the girl having a rough start to her work day, and I offer a smile, a word of encouragement. In the waiting, I remember the feel of my son’s hand as I gripped it for dear life and his tiny-voiced question: “Momma, are we in the trees?” In the waiting, I remember how precious life is and how I don’t want it to end.

In the waiting, I don’t just look; I see.

In the waiting, I don’t just hear; I listen.

In the waiting, I don’t just assume and judge; I seek to understand.

Yes, the waiting is worth it.

And I’ll tell myself that again and again.

Until I believe it or the waiting ends.

What are you waiting for? And what happens to you when you wait?

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I swept the porch this week.

I know: stop the presses. Alert the local media. Breaking news, right here.

But my son wanted to play outside and I was tired of the clutter and feeling like I was just sitting around recovering from stressful days or waiting for stressful days to happen, so I took charge of the day and my attitude and decided it was past time to clean.

For a few months, our porch has been accumulating the toys we want to give away. Getting them out of the house was a first step. But they couldn’t live on the porch forever. So, I moved them to the yard, took some pictures, posted to Facebook and hoped I’d have a some takers before needing to haul the treasures to a thrift store.

In the meantime, I moved everything on the porch away from the house and I took a broom to the dirt that had also piled up. And I swept away the grime. I rearranged the furniture. I rounded up the toys we were keeping and tried to contain them in a bin. I trashed the garbage and set a boundary: no more stick piles on the porch.

As I cleaned, our son reminded me of the springtime cleaning we did, wiping the grit off the windows so we could throw them open and feel the breeze after a stuffy winter.

These are not earth-shattering activities by any means, but they represent a shift in my thinking.

See, we don’t own this home. We’re just renting it. And even though my continues to wander to the houses for sale in our neighborhood, my husband reminds me that we need to settle in to this house. For real. We’ve been here a year and we still have piles of things that need to be trashed or sorted or dealt with. Stuff that has followed us through three moves in two states and seven years of marriage.

And though we’ve never owned a home, this space is the first one we’ve wanted to take care of like it is ours. I’ve told you how my husband likes to take care of the yard. He doesn’t have to. We don’t have to. But we want to. (And if we live here long enough, I might actually get around to planting flowers or gardening.)

It’s no secret that I’ve struggled to be content lately. Even with the summer of fun behind us and a fulfilling first year in our new community, I am still floundering a bit, wondering what’s next, what we’re doing here, and if it’s ever going to change.

In those times, it’s easy to find fault. With our community. With our house. With my family. With me.

So that sweeping of the porch, it became a sort of holy moment. As the dirt swirled at my feet and floated off the porch, it was like my mind was clearing out the cobwebs, too.

Anne Lamott said this and when I read it this week, I knew exactly what she meant:

“My only hope was to plug into something bigger than my pulsing mind, to flail around outside rather than within me. God can’t clean the house of you when you’re still in it.” (Grace, Eventually, 235)

The more I cared for the physical space we occupied, the more I cared about it.

When I keep it clean and tidy, when I seek to improve our living space, leaving it better than we found it, something happens in my heart and I love it more. The faults are less and I am more at peace with the way things are.

And just as my love for our home increases with care, so does my love for people.

It is easy to find fault with people when I am not caring for them. It is easy to convince myself they are not worth my time, that I can find other people better suited to my life.

BUT.

When I care for and love and serve these same people, I find I love them more. (I think our pastor said something similar to this in his sermon last week. I’ll have to re-listen. I was a little preoccupied.)

I could choose to not care about our house because we’re just renting it. But isn’t everything in life temporary? Aren’t we technically just leasing our lives, our relationships, our talents and gifts and time from the God who gave them to us?

If my throwaway attitude transferred to all of those areas, then I’d be wholly unsatisfied with my life all the time.

When I care for my relationships, I care more about the people in my life, even when they aren’t perfect.

When I’m purposeful with my time, I spend it better.

When I exercise my talents and gifts, when I cultivate them and use them in ways that serve others, I’m more satisfied with my place in the world and less concerned with the gifts other people have that I don’t.

All I did was sweep the porch.

But it was so much more than that.

I cleaned out my heart, too.

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I tend to learn things the hard way.

You know, reluctantly and repeatedly.

Actually maybe that’s not the hard way, just the way. (I’m not sure I could name something I’ve learned easily or on the first try.)

Maybe I should say I tend to learn hard things the hard way.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t like to attempt things I know I can’t do or do well or do the first time. (I must have been delusional about parenting before I ever had kids.)

I make lists. I check off tasks. I throw a load of laundry in the washer and clean up the dishes and feel satisfied that I’ve done my duty for the day and then I go find a book to read while the rest of my house sits cluttered.

I follow recipes, especially ones without a lot of ingredients or steps.

I write articles I know with about 85 percent certainty will be published. I blog (because I’m the publisher…wahoo!). I go to the same grocery stores and restaurants because they are familiar and easy to navigate and I know what to expect.

Because most days I want my life to be as easy as possible. And if not be easy then certainly look easy.

I don’t want you to know how panicked I am about our budget when I’m breezing through the aisles of the grocery store, avoiding the ones with the food we can’t afford. I don’t want you to hear how I talk to my kids at home when I just want to be left alone and they need everysinglethingrightthisminute. I’d rather you think we have it all together.

I’m not sure why but when I was composing this post in my head, I was thinking about my first job. Not the babysitting one, but the one where I had to dress professionally and work in an office. It was a good-bad job, but I wasn’t thinking about the job itself; rather the days before I got the job. My grandparents had sort of arranged for me to call the guy who would be my boss, and when that day and time came, I huddled under my bed covers and pretended to sleep late. (Hey, Mom. This is a confession here. Go easy on me, okay? It was almost 20 years ago!) Of course I wasn’t fooling my mother who had to literally shake me and nearly drag me out of bed. To make a phone call. For a job. (Confession: I still hate making phone calls. If you hear me on the other end of your phone, consider yourself special.)

It might have been the phone call or it might have been the job. I was 17 and liked being by myself with a book (some things never change), but I also liked money to buy things, so I eventually did the hard thing and made the call and got the job and did the job (which in itself was hard).

Our late bloomer. I can relate.

This rose just bloomed, months after the other ones withered. Better late than never.

I would like to tell you that the older I get, the better I’m able to deal with these things, but it just isn’t true. Long after I graduated college and was working a full-time job in my field, I was avoiding hard things, trying to make my life easier. (I even cried during a staff meeting, way more than once, but once in particular because I got a change in duties that was actually a vote of confidence but it messed with my social life. Clearly, I have issues.)

So, the hard things.

I did a hard thing this week. And not because I wanted to. I had to. And it was bigger than I could handle alone.

(Another confession: when it comes to sink-or-swim situations, I’m in the “sink” category. I’d much rather give up and drown than fight my way to firmer ground. Please don’t analyze that. I don’t want to know what that says about me.)

When it was over, people said things like “awesome” and “organized” and “put together” and they called me things like “leader” and “confidant,” and while those things make me feel good for a time, I secretly wanted to tell them all the truth.

What truth? Oh, you know, the one where I wasn’t sleeping for days because of worry and to-do lists and the one where I thought I might actually throw up on the day of this event and how my family nearly disowned me because I was a wretched person who yelled and cried and predicted disaster and hoped no one would show up so they couldn’t see what an utter failure I was. (You think I’m exaggerating, don’t you? I’m not.)

Something happened, though, in the days leading up to this massive undertaking, and I wish I could tell you it was because I have an amazingly fruitful and faithful prayer life and absolute trust in God. (Did you not read the part where I was predicting disaster? Help my unbelief!)

I didn’t pray as much as I should have or could have. I was too worried for all of that. But someone must have been praying. Or maybe sometimes God shows up anyway, even if we haven’t prayed. Maybe He loves us enough to help us out, even if we forget to ask.

Everything happened as it should. There were no great disasters. No epic failures.

And I can’t take a bit of credit for it because I felt like it all happened around me and in spite of me.

It’s like this passage I read (this week … not a coincidence) in Anne Lamott’s Grace (Eventually):

God was most show-offy when things did not go according to my plans, which was approximately ninety percent of the time.

If I limit my life to easy things, the things I know I can do without help from God or anyone, then I really haven’t done much of anything. But if I let myself attempt things that are too big for me, then I learn to ask for help.

From God and from other people.

And then life gets a little more exciting.

Or interesting, at least.

I’m not sure you’ll find me seeking adventure or challenge around every curve, nor do I have any plans to make my life harder.

But I’m slowly being convinced that my life needs to reflect something bigger than me. If I can handle everything that comes my way, then I have no need of God. If my dreams are within reach, maybe they aren’t big enough.

I don’t know what all of this looks like or means, but I know that when I do hard things and God meets me in them and carries me through them, I become more and more convinced that an easy life is not the same as the abundant life He promised.

When’s the last time you tried something too big for you?

What stops you from taking risks?

Where have you seen God be “show-offy” in your life?

 

 

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A beach vacation is hardly first on my list of destinations, but at the request of friends, we decided to take the plunge, so to speak, and take a joint family vacation with another family.

It was wonderful in ways I’m still trying to understand, myself.

And it was enriching to my spiritual life, even though the only time we set foot in a church was to admire the stained glass in the Catholic church on the square.

Because standing on the shore of the ocean, I can feel God and sense His presence.

Deep calls to deep, the psalmist says, and I don’t understand it but that’s what I feel when I look out on the forever-and-ever stretch of water before me.

It calls to me. And I want to dive in, splash, and be swept away by something bigger than me.

I look at the ocean, and I see God.

I’m blogging at Putting on the New today. Read the rest of this post here.

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Lights in a rainbow of colors criss-crossed the stage, near-blinding the audience at times, perfectly coordinated to the heart-thrumming rock music blaring from the stage. The congregated faithful raised their hands, swaying, dancing to the beat, overcome to overflowing with joy and adoration.

third day

Fifteen years ago, this is what I thought the Christian experience was all about. The ecstatic worship the pinnacle of spirituality. I drank in every opportunity to attend concerts and festivals and experiences that would remind me of my new nature, my new family, my new take on the world. I wanted to be carried along on the high from one experience to the next and never come down.

Looking around me in the present, I wondered if anyone else was thinking that. I wondered if their faith was strengthened by the gathering of believers or if they were downcast at the appearance of everyone else’s exuberant worship. I was among those singing my heart out but not because my life was full and my joy unending. The opposite was true.

I was spent. Dry. Worn out. And all I could do was sing loud in hopes that my soul would hear.

“You look so relaxed!” 

I had posted this picture from our first day at the beach and the comments echoed this sentiment. Because how could you be at the beach and not be relaxed?

In truth, it was our worst day at the beach. Two tired mommas with five rowdy kids were anxiously awaiting the arrival of the dads and the weather–how dare it!–was not what we needed. The wind stirred up the sand, stinging our backs and covering everything. Away from the ocean, our kids cried as the sand mercilessly surrounded us. We were all tired after a day of travel. We were determined to spend a bare minimum of a couple of hours at the beach because of the colossal effort it took us to get there that morning.

When I snapped the picture, it was so I could text it to my husband with the greeting: Wish you were here! (A note with a double meaning, for sure.) I posted it online later in the day because it was a decent picture of me. (I don’t do a lot of selfies.) And I was surprised at the message it conveyed.

If we’re not careful, our whole lives can play out like this. We can wear our masks of comfort and civility when deep inside we are hurting and bitter. We can put our best clothes on when our souls are covered with filthy rags. We can say the right things and do the right things and never let on that our lives feel wrong. We can paint a pretty picture for the world to admire hoping no one will look too closely and see that we’re just trying to cover up a tattered canvas.

I don’t know about you, but it’s really easy for me to judge someone’s surface. I glance and assume and never take the time to scratch away my assumptions. And I walk away distressed because my life as I know it doesn’t measure up to what I perceive is someone else’s reality. And I’m not just talking about Facebook and Pinterest and Instagram. I’m talking in real life with the people walking around beside me.

I not only judge a book by its cover, I judge a life by its snapshot.

Because that’s really all I get in a moment is a snapshot. One picture that represents just a moment, not the whole. Even a scrapbook of snapshots wouldn’t tell the whole story. I know that my snapshots don’t show you what’s really going on. So, why do I assume it’s that way for everyone else?

I have to write a recap of our family’s year for a family reunion on my husband’s side.

I will confess that I dread this task. I hate writing a year-end Christmas letter, too, because all the highlights and cheer are not the sum total of our lives. There was a year not too long ago when I wanted to lay it all out there–all the junk our family was going through because I just couldn’t fake it anymore. I think we managed a letter that addressed the reality without covering it up, but I still didn’t want to write it.

I’m learning that a year is not all highs and not all lows. Nor is a month or a week or a day. It is some of each, and I am one of the first to side with an extreme. (Life sucks! I hate everything! Why are we here?) My husband gently reminds me that this is not the way it is. That even in the hardest weeks, we have bright spots. It is one of the reasons we try, as a family, to share one best thing and one worst thing about our day at dinnertime. No one has to have a worst part but we encourage each other to find one best part.

Some days, we need reminding that there was good in our world.

The windows are down, a breeze filling the car as we zoom the country roads. I am singing at the top of my voice, uncaring about the notes or how I sound. I want to scream and yell and hit things but this day, I sing instead. It is a release, of sorts.

I am curled up on the bed, bawling on a Sunday morning before church because I don’t want to go and be with people. I want to wallow in my own messy life. But I wipe my nose and dry my eyes, all puffy and red, and I go, less because I want to and more because I think I should.

And I find myself in good company, among those with messy lives and heavy burdens and free-flowing tears. There is comfort and joy and love and care.

And there is this song.

Bless the Lord, O my soul, O my soul. Worship his holy name. Sing like never before, O my soul. I’ll worship your holy name.

The sun comes up, there’s a new day dawning, it’s time to sing your song again, whatever may pass and whatever lies before me, let me be singing when the evening comes.

Sing like never before. And I do. Loud and raspy and off-key.

Whatever may pass and whatever lies before me. There are good things and bad things that have happened and will happen. There are weeks of triumph and weeks of trial. This is the sum total of the Christian experience. Not just breathtaking mountaintops. Not just sunless valleys. Some days are deserts. Others are waterfalls. Some draining, others refreshing. And the presence of one does not guarantee the absence of the other. A good week may be followed by a bad one. A bad one may lead to a good one. A season of trial will not last forever, nor will a season of comfort.

Let me be singing when the evening comes. At the end of the day, week, month, year, will I still be singing no matter what happens?

It is a prayer of constancy in an ever-changing world.

This moment, whatever it may be, does not define my life. Or your life. This season is not all there ever is. And what you see now is not how it always was or will be.

Let’s not be afraid to step out from behind the picture. To show our lives for what they are: a messy, beautiful reality. And to look for the scratches beneath the surface of other people’s pictures.

Not so we can judge each other more but so we can love each other more.

Maybe we’ll love ourselves a little more in the process, too.

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I am not what you would call a “prayer warrior.”

I forget to pray. I tell people I’ll pray and then I forget. I try things on my own effort before praying as a last resort. I intend to make a dedicated time in my day to pray and then oversleep or get distracted by the children fighting in the first 10 minutes of being awake. (Summer, we love you, but it seems like we’ve had enough.)

And even when I do remember to pray and do so faithfully for a time, I give up too early when I don’t see anything change and I wonder if prayer really is effective, like the Bible says, or if it’s me who has a deficit in righteousness.

But then there are weeks like this last one. When I pray and the answers surprise me and I believe all over again that God cares and hears, and yes, prayer matters.

Our eight-year-old mini-van has been limping for a few weeks now. We weren’t sure what was wrong only that she wasn’t running as smoothly as she could. (Why is our van a “she”? I have no idea.)

On Tuesday, the kids and I piled into the car to run a quick errand only to discover the car would not start. I panicked, then took a deep breath, then tried again and it started but it was still being funny and I prayed all the way to the store and back that please, God, could you just get us there and back without trouble.

He did, and the car did not repeat its antics for my husband (which always makes me feel like a stereotypical hysterical female, even though he does nothing to encourage that feeling) when he drove home from work that night.

I continued to pray for safe travels around town, but as I prayed through the week and the car continued to limp, I changed my prayer from “get us there and back safely” to “if we’re going to have a breakdown, let us see You in it.” I feared being stranded while out running an errand and prayed that we would see a friend if that happened. I feared being stalled in traffic and prayed that a police officer would pass at the right moment to help us. I prayed that Phil would be with us when it happened because his head is much cooler than mine in times of adversity.

We made it through the week without a breakdown, and I breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that Phil would soon make the call to get the car into a mechanic. We had survived another week and I felt like we’d won a battle.

Sunday was a busy day for us. Phil was scheduled to preach one of his occasional sermons. I was in charge of coffee and snacks and had two containers of muffins to contribute.

Because he works a full-time job during the week, sermon prep often happens in his head and takes shape on Saturday night. Sometimes late. I prayed that he would have clarity and vision and focus. His process would drive me, the planner, crazy, but it works for him and God always shows up.

Still, when the light bulb of an idea went off on Saturday night and the message took shape, I shook my head in amazement.

Why am I surprised when God answers prayers?

As I baked the muffins, I continued my praying because I have struggled to have a servant’s heart during coffee hour. I love providing food and coffee for people but sometimes, I am overwhelmed by the burden of it and the need to be appreciated. So, I prayed for God to change my heart, which was tending toward selfish, and let me have a heart of service. And I prayed that we would be able to feed people with the few snacks we had available. Our stock was desperately low, and the muffins were a last-ditch effort to make sure we had enough.

We managed to be ready to leave for church when we wanted to be–early enough that Phil could get prepared for his part in the service and I could start the coffee. The kids were dressed and mostly behaving, so we were feeling good for a Sunday morning.

The kids and I loaded ourselves into the van. I turned the car on to lower the windows while we waited for Phil to join us. He got into the car, stuck his key in the ignition and turned.

Nothing happened. Except the thing that had happened to me on Tuesday. The dials on the dash went wacky but the car didn’t start.

He tried again. And again.

He popped the hood.

And tried again.

We had no extra time to try to get the car going, so we phoned for help.

Our pastor came to pick us up. We loaded our kids and their seats and the muffins and the sermon props into the car and headed to church.

I was in tears.

Of all the mornings, Lord! Why this one? Why when Phil has to preach did the car not start?

The short drive to church reminded me that this exact thing is what I had prayed for. (Okay, maybe not this exact scenario, but it was an answer to prayer.)

We had been stranded at home. On a Sunday. When lots of people we know are available to help us and drive by our house. We had time to spare before church started. Yes, it was inconvenient and not according to plan, and yes, we had to rely on the help of others, but of all the scenarios I’d imagined about our car breaking down, this was by far, the best one.

It didn’t happen on vacation. Or on our many trips through the Midwest to take the kids to their grandparents or pick them up. It didn’t happen while we had a van full of groceries or while Phil was at work or on a busy road.

I still cried about it because I hate when things break, but I saw the good in it. And how God had answered my prayer.

I headed straight for the church kitchen when we arrived. The kids and I had done some prep work the day before, so all I really had to do was turn the coffee pot on and get a few things in order.

But I was stopped in my tracks by the sight of four boxes of donuts on the counter.

Four. Boxes. Of donuts.

I hadn’t planned for them, but there they were. Provision. Not exactly like fishes and loaves, but a close enough comparison to make me grateful for the God who hears and sees and provides even donuts.

I set to work cutting the donuts into halves so they would go further, and I shared our troubles with friends who popped in to ask how we were.

And I realized that my prayer for a heart of service was answered, too. Because it is hard to worry about what other people are thinking of your snacks when your van is sitting dead in the driveway and people are pouring love into you by caring and shuttling and hugging and offering to help.

The van needed a new battery, which in itself was an answer to a prayer I didn’t pray because that’s a less expensive solution than having the car towed to the mechanic and who knows what else. After a Skype consultation with my dad (our family mechanic) and a ride from a church member to the auto parts store, Phil was able to fix the battery problem, and we still made it to his work picnic in time to have dinner with his co-workers and their families.

Our car troubles are not completely over, but this week reminded me that my worries are not a worry for God. My prayers do matter and God hears them, even when I pray for things to turn out a certain way and He has other ideas.

I forget that prayer is not just telling God something or making a list of requests, but it’s part of a relationship. And it doesn’t end when we say “amen.” If we keep our eyes open, we might discover answers to prayer we didn’t expect.

I could use more of those kind of surprises in my life; couldn’t you?

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We huddled on a blanket as fireworks launched over our heads in a burst of color and sound, the literal kind of fireworks that are so prevalent on the Fourth of July, not the figurative kind lest you think me some kind of sappy romantic. (Okay, sometimes I’m guilty.)

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I watched with lips parted, uttering the occasional “oh” and “wow.”

I’ve seen dozens of fireworks displays through the years, some better than others. Maybe it was the absence of our kids or the gathering of friends or something yet unnamed, but this show of sparkle and sound left me in awe.

Moments earlier, a Civil War-era cannon brigade fired 16 times during the 1812 Overture, leaving my heart pounding as I giggled like a teenager and clung to my husband.

It was, all of it, a celebration of freedom and life and even as we sat in traffic waiting to leave the mall parking lot, I was grateful.

For this and so much more.

A year ago, we sat on the edges of the group who’d gathered, unsure of ourselves and our place and how we’d fit in. We were moving soon and this would become our family and though we couldn’t stay for the entire picnic, we dropped in to say “hi” and introduce ourselves. Our kids played on the playground and we met new people and we left with hope that this whole moving to a new city thing was going to work out okay.

Later that week, people we hardly knew showed up to our house, driving nearly an hour on a Saturday to sweat and lift and pack up the life of a family they had no blood connection to. They chauffeured our stuff to our new house where Phil and I sat amazed at the amount of work accomplished in so little time.

It took us months to settle in (in truth a year later, we still have unsettled areas) at least where our “stuff” is concerned but our hearts are a different story. They began to settle that day when near-strangers adopted us as family and ushered us in to our new community with grace, love, sweat and sore muscles.

But it was only the beginning.

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It’s been one year. One. Year. We’ve spent a whole year of our lives in our new home, our new community, and some days I can hardly believe it’s only been a year. The people who fill our daily lives have deeply embedded themselves in our hearts.

I am always amazed at the people God brings into our lives when we move to a new area, people I can’t imagine having never known. People who love us and our kids. People who challenge our thinking and encourage us in our struggles. People who offer us tangible support and friendship.

I used to let people in only so far, never knowing if we would be sticking around only for a few years. If I didn’t get too attached, it wouldn’t be too hard to leave, I told myself.

But this year has taught me that love with abandon is deep and fulfilling. It’s scary and wild and no guarantee against hurt or disappointment.

It is overwhelming, too.

In one year I have more people I can call “friend” than I did in multiple years when we first moved to Pennsylvania. It is good and yet I am forever falling short in maintaining and investing in these relationships.

Perhaps my goal for the next year will be that.

There are years I look back on and wonder how we survived. And I marvel at the work God did to bring us through and how He has changed us.

And then there’s this year of living in Lancaster. Not perfect but altogether good, without any soul-crushing low points.fireworks 2

And I can’t hardly put into words what I feel–how a year can be filled with such goodness, not because we deserve it or have earned it but because it is a gift.

This year, it has been a gift. Better than any wrapped present or expensive purchase. It has been a year to renew our hope, restore our relationships and heal our hurts. And just as those years of trials have changed us, so has a year of goodness.

We are moving toward our best selves, the people God wants to make us. We are healthier in our whole selves, not just getting by but taking tiny steps toward thriving. We are thankful. Less grumbling. Less bitter. More aware that this journey is not about us and the plans we’ve made but about God and the dreams He has for us.

It is not perfect because we are not perfect, but it is good and I will rest in that.

And a year from now, let it be said that we embraced each day knowing that God was at work for good.

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