Stuff That Doesn’t Matter

Ready to tackle the journey

Ready to tackle the journey

I spent a week sorting through the remains of what my mom already sorted through: 52 years of life in one house, 59 years of marriage. We had an estate sale, my brothers and I, not because of death, but because my parents moved into a brand new, one level, smaller house, and didn’t take much with them. The majority of their stuff lay in neglected piles in the echoing rooms of my childhood home.

I found some cool things, burrowing through a house which still carried so many remnants of our life. I found pictures of my grandmother as a baby, posing with relatives we never knew. I found “the stick” which we all felt on our bottoms at several belligerent moments of our lives. I found the hated bowl that was set by our bedsides if we were sick. Of course I emailed a picture of that to my siblings who responded with “Disgusting!” “Gross!” “Just the picture makes me want to hurl.” Followed by a quiet, “thanks for sending the picture.”pukebowl

I crawled far back under the stairs where no one was allowed when I was a child and discovered a love letter from my dad to my mom, written just a week before they were married. I sorted through special knick-knacks and ran my fingers through the container full of buttons I played with while mom sewed nearby. I found forgotten boxes of slides and home movies and came across souvenirs from family vacations. I cleaned up toys from the toy-box; Toys left from our childhood and passed on to our own children.

My brothers went through the garage which held an astonishing hodgepodge of projects dreamed of, half-finished and left-overs from accomplishments.

Each new thing we found brought us out of our corner to show the other, or to email our sister and tell the story, or ask “Do you want this?”

Our responses were the same, “I don’t have room for more stuff,” or “I would love that, but what would I DO with it?” or sometimes a “If no one else wants that, ma- a-aybe I’ll take it…”

lionsndollsBecause while we all cherished the memories, it was rather sobering to see 52 years of stuff bought out by strangers in a matter of hours as the town descended on the Estate Sale. All the things my mother had lovingly cleaned and guarded against four rambunctious children, all the different projects my civil engineering father had carefully documented and developed, all the memories hung on the walls and handicrafts from when we were kids and things we’d sent home to mom and dad from travels abroad as we flew from the nest – all gone in 2 days of estate sale.

The painful realization after a week sorting more than 52 years’ worth of memories: in the end, it’s all just STUFF. No matter how much it originally cost, no matter how many memories it triggered, no matter how many times I played with it, no matter how beautifully it looked hanging on the wall for years; it was just stuff.
You would think, coming to this realization, I would leave empty-handed. But none of us did. No matter how many times we declared we did not need any more stuff, someone would quietly tuck something away. Different things touched us each in different ways.

It’s true, I now have a little more “stuff” than I did before I went back to my childhood home. But it’s just stuff.

More important to me is the time I got to spend with my brothers and sisters-in-law, with nieces and my nephew and their children. The fun of my sorting came from taking an old black and white photo to my dad and listening to the story behind the picture. The closeness came from the emails between my sister and I, allowing her to be part of the process from far away. The importance came from the relief mom felt because SHE didn’t have to go back and sort any more! The joy came from hanging out for hours with my brothers and really getting to know them in new ways as memories were triggered, laughed at, cried at, and let go.

Stuff can never replace the important people in life.

Stuff can never replace the important people in life.

The stuff didn’t matter all that much, but the love will always matter! (click to tweet)

Bloom Where He Plants

Family pictures 065I’m linking up with Lisa-Jo Baker and the wonderful bloggers who meet each week on Thursday nights (late) and write for five minutes on a prompt that Lisa-Jo gives us. No editing. No turning back. Just write and publish. This week’s prompt? Bloom

Two different conversations, with two different friends.

But first, let me tell you why these conversations happened. We move a lot. Not every few months or anything, but my husband’s administrative job means that turnover is expected. For years we’ve not sought openings but have moved when called. We have felt, strongly, that our moves have been orchestrated by the God in control of our lives.

Our last move prompted these two conversations:

Conversation 1 – - “I get your faith and all, but don’t be a jellyfish, just floating wherever you’re sent. Control your own destiny. If you want to live where you’re living, then do so, but if you’d rather live in such and such a town, then make it happen. I just don’t buy that God, or whatever being is up there, gets to arbitrarily send us somewhere.”

Yes, I’m loosely paraphrasing a much longer conversation. A conversation that surprised me and left me feeling a little, well, lonely and sad.

Conversation 2 – - “I’m really sorry you guys are leaving _______. You will be sorely missed. You’re good with kids and you’re good at what you do. I know you’re going a long ways away, but I know that you’re the type that will bloom wherever God plants you.”

Yes, another loose paraphrase, except for that last part. “You will bloom wherever God plants you.” That phrase has stuck in my head for two years. What a compliment. What an encouragement. What a mission.

Because that IS what I believe. I DO believe there is a God up there with a much clearer picture of our life – what it COULD be, and what it SHOULD be. I’m very happy to feel led by a God who cares much more about my children than I do, who understands our jobs and the people we work for much more than we do, and yes, One who controls my destiny.

My job? To bloom wherever God plants me.

Bloom, and Bloom Again (Without Fear)

bloomKnow that every flower has a season and purpose—and they don’t all smell the same. You, too have a season and a purpose, and just like a seed dropped into the soil, it may take some time before you bloom. And that’s ok.

Blooms don’t start in the sunlight. They start as tiny seeds or bulbs, ravaged by water, rocks or other natural processes that allow water to seep into the seed and give life to the speck of hope inside. Give God time to work wondrous changes in your life. Hold on to your speck of hope. (Click to tweet)

The first growth starts under ground, where time, water and dead things give life to a little seed. No one sees the growth—the painful stretching, reaching, and hesitating that hurts because things shoot out and grow in a confusion of grasping roots. The Gardener knows what happens and he offers grace for your journey. Give yourself grace during the growth.

Once the roots take hold and the plant pushes its way through the crusty soil, the outward journey has just begun. Leaves and buds take time to appear—sometimes, days, and sometimes years (if you’re a cactus). The Gardener knows the difference between the weeds and YOU. He knows you’ll changes in his time. The Gardener will shine on you and your journey—and let you know what he wants and when he wants it. Don’t compare yourself to every‘bud’y else. (Click to tweet)

One day, you’ll wake up and realize that those difficult times, the dark, under-the-ground-and-scary times have ended. Your journey from seed to something has resulted in a beautiful bloom. God will see you thought each step of the way. Don’t be afraid to share your beauty with the world around you.

Live your life remembering the lilies of the fields. The process will happen over and over again (and it should) as the Gardener shows you ways he wants to use you in his cacophony of love.

Fear not, little seed. God will see you through. (Click to tweet)

I’m joining Lisa-Jo Baker and other fabulous bloggers at Five-Minute Friday–where Lisa-Jo gives us a prompt and we write for five minutes of and hit the publish button–no questions asked and no second-guessing.  Join us?

You Are Beautiful

Do you feel as if caregiving or life's worries have worn you out and stolen a piece of you?

Do you feel as if caregiving or life’s worries have worn you out and stolen a piece of you?

You are beautiful. Deep down inside you, a place of beauty lurks, waiting for living water to set it free. Stick your fingers in your ear and cover your eyes and ignore the words and images of all the naysayers who say that only the thin, the perfect, the athletic, the ‘with it’ people have a corner on the beauty market.

There is no market. That’s the lie. Outward beauty is a façade created by society to cover up insecurities. Your self-worth doesn’t come from a bottle (of hair dye, nail polish, diet pills, designer shampoo, beer or vodka)—it comes from knowing that you are loved.

And you are. You are loved to the earth and back, from heaven to the cross. Jesus didn’t die for just the beautiful—he died for YOU—with the grey hairs, the crow’s feet, the rolls of fat, the swollen ankles, the acne, the zit, the flabby upper arms, or the double chin.

You can’t change that. No matter how much you mentally or verbally abuse yourself, it won’t change the fact that Jesus loves you to the earth and back.

So you’ve messed up. You’ve dyed your hair the wrong color, gotten drunk, failed to love, slept around, lied, cheated, overeaten, committed murder (in real life or in your heart). It doesn’t matter. Jesus loves you. We all sin and fall short of God’s plan for our lives. He loves us anyway. He never gives up on us.

Don’t give up on yourself. You are beautiful. You have gifts that no one else has—talents or compassion that only you can offer to the world. (tweet this)

Maybe you think you look passable on the outside, but your inner state makes you cringe—you yell at your kids, snap at your spouse, throw impatient words at the world or harbor hate in your heart. Jesus loves you. He knows how soul-weary a person can get. He knows how physical fatigue wears you thin and exposes your nerves like electrical wires without the protective plastic.

He offers protection and peace. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) You don’t have to power through life alone with your burdens. (click to tweet)

Stop looking at yourself through the eyes of world. See yourself through God’s eyes. You are his beloved, beautiful child, and he yearns for you to feel the same way about yourself that he does. (click to tweet)

Take a moment to stop, to quiet the voices that accuse you. Drown those lies out and repeat after me: “I am beautiful. God loves me. No matter what.” Living water awaits.

What if Church Were More Like a Blazers Game?

Would more people want to belong if we paid attention to the purpose of church?

Would more people want to belong if we paid attention to the purpose of church?

I’m joining the Five-Minute Friday crew over at Crystal Stine’s this week.  Our prompt?  Belong.

If church were a sporting event, would more people want to belong?

I went to a Portland Trailblazers basketball game back in the day, and although I arrived as an observer, I left a fan (of the Trailblazers—not sports in general).

The Rose Garden in Portland, OR quickly filled to capacity the night I went—and I noticed right away that people dressed to support the team—I spotted black, white, and red t-shirts on just about everyone there. Occasionally, the cameras would pan the crowd and zoom in on a Blazer-painted face, or even a torso-face combination. I had on a green shirt. But it didn’t matter.

But my voice mattered. I cheered when the Blazers made a basket, and grinned at perfect strangers in the bleachers around me. When the team called a time out, I felt comfortable enough to ask a person I’d never spoken to before to explain the significance of the referee’s call. That’s just the way I felt—secure in my fellowship with thousands of people crammed into a tiny coliseum to participate in a victory for the team.

I seem to remember a real live organ belting out the musical cues for the fans to cheer when the Blazers fell behind and the victory cheers when they scored. We jumped to our feet when Jerome Kersey made a basket, and held our breath as Clyde ‘the Glide’ Drexler defied gravity with the grace of a ballerina and avoided a traveling call.

During half time, we stood and stretched, bought popcorn and joked with the people around us. I found out that the guy behind me had been to every home game for the last five years. I discovered that the lady in front of me had only been to one other Blazer’s game (she preferred the Phoenix Suns, but was enjoying herself any way).

By the end of the evening, I’d learned stuff about free throws and their strategic importance to the game that I still remember to this day (I promise not to bore you with the details). Time passed, but I didn’t notice. Sitting in the bleachers felt nothing like watching a game at home.

I left the game energized and excited to have helped spur the Blazers on to a victory. MY cheers helped them win. I could scarcely talk for the next two days, but I had an inner glow knowing that I had had a voice in victory. I belonged. I was a Blazer fan.

Church. I go. I sing. I sit for so long I long to jump from my seat and shake someone’s hand. I want an intermission. Everyone smiles politely, sits politely, listens politely. No one eats popcorn or turns to ask the person behind them the meaning of a text (it wouldn’t be polite to turn and whisper in church). But what if church were more like a basketball game?

Hebrews 10:22-25 reminds us that need to go to church for two reasons. First of all, we need to worship together.

Who decided what worship needs to look like and sound like? David danced and sang before the Lord. I intone hymns and wish that worship felt a little more like the cheering and the singing at a basketball game—slightly off-key, but from the heart, not the head.

The second reason we should go to church?  To “spur each other on toward love and good deeds.” WE should spur EACH OTHER on. It doesn’t say anywhere that the pastor is in charge of the spurring and encouraging. We should do it for each other. I can attend church for years and never really know the burdens of my fellow churchgoers.

An introvert by nature, I need someone to direct the ebb and flow of my conversations and questions—just like the organ player at the basketball game directed our cheers and shouts of victory.

Although I go to church, I sometimes feel as if I belong more to the Blazers game than I do to my fellow worshippers. But wouldn’t it be fun if we could spur each other on? If we knew each other well enough to sing loudly off-key and ask deep questions and feel the worship with each other?

Community building (or congregation building) doesn’t happen passively in a jug-mug relationship (you know, the teacher is jug, ready to fill all the little mugs).  (click to tweet)

It requires direction and instruction in how to get along so that those who belong can learn from each other.  Community building requires work and and effort and sounds like conversations and talking over the backs of pews(click to tweet)

I Don’t Belong Here

Carol BoveeI’m linking up with the Five-Minute Friday crowd at Crystal Stine’s place this week.  Our prompt?  Belong.

“No! This can’t be happening! Not me. I don’t belong here!” How many times have I said that to myself?

At the age of 10, standing helplessly, crying and holding my hands and head, staring at my twisted bicycle. The driver of the flower delivery van that hit me and carried my body and my bike about 150 feet to a different road stood crying with me.

At the age of 14, standing on an Awards Night concert stage in front of hundreds, unable to get a tuning note out of my flute because the nerves were attacking even my mouth. My flute teacher’s stunned face and my mother’s look of horror as I nodded at the pianist to play made that phrase pass through my mind.

At the age of 21, finally officially declaring my major. I don’t belong in Education because everyone else has these stories of wanting to be a teacher all their lives. Not me! Too much work, not enough money.

At the age of 29, holding my first beautiful baby in my arms. Was she supposed to be blue like that?

At the age of 36, typing the program for the memorial service of my handsome and talented young nephew. These things don’t happen to our average-type family. It’s too surreal. Too horrible.

At the age of 39, standing at the side of my four-year-old’s gurney as they wheeled him in for a bone marrow biopsy. Leukemia. That’s not your average word. It does NOT belong to my healthiest child. It cannot belong to anyone I love.

This is not happening. I don’t belong here. I thought it as a child because my older siblings were too beautiful, talented and amazing for me to fit into this family. I smiled it while receiving my degrees and on my wedding day. I’ve said it when I’ve moved across the country, when I’ve received awards and when a life-long friend succumbs to cancer.

Happy moments, sad moments. Surreal in so many ways.

I don’t belong here.

But I healed from the accident, my concert went fantastically, I love teaching with all my heart, my daughter is a healthy 19-year-old, my sister is amazing and we know we’ll see my nephew again someday, and my Leukemic four year old has grown taller than I and is cancer free.

I still have those moments where I’m sure I don’t belong here. And that’s really okay. Because the truth is; I don’t belong here! Not because I’m deserving of more, or even less. Not because I want more, or less. But because Jesus Christ has paid that price!

And because of that, I can make it through moments of celebration, sadness, joy, mourning and those moments of not belonging. Because I know I belong. I’m a daughter of the King! (click to tweet)

Feeling Dismal? You Are Not Alone

Jesus felt your painDear Friend,

I know the day seems dismal and dreary despite the summer sun shining brightly outside your window. I know that each breath requires a herculean effort and retreat into a dark hole seems like the only option.

I know how difficult you find it to text, to call, to reach out through your fog and find a friend (after all, you think you don’t deserve friendship). I understand your resistance when friends try to force themselves and their opinions on you and what you should do.  You think you are unworthy and unhelpable and no one has ever felt like you feel right now.

The crisis you find yourself in is deeper than a spiritual crisis (although we pray daily that the Shepherd will guide you towards the help you need). Do not feel guilty because your ‘faith isn’t strong enough.’

Do not attempt to heal yourself—that’s like telling a cancer patient to cut out his own tumor or just pray it away. Don’t let embarrassment keep you from seeking the professional help that could start you on your journey to wholeness.

Depression manifests itself in many ways—physical illness, impulsive eating, emotional outburst or lack of feeling. Cancer manifests itself in many ways, too. You can’t cure either one on your own.

There is no shame in admitting that you need help. There is no shame in taking medication or participating in counseling or even going to a hospital. Do whatever it takes to discover the causes of your condition. Explore the treatments and the healing and embrace them wholeheartedly.

And just as I pray for my friends that face cancer, know that I hold you up in prayer as well. I have a friend who felt just like you do.

Jesus suffered the same darkness that you experience. “Jesus told his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took Peter, James, and John with him. He plunged into a sinkhole of dreadful agony. He told them, “I feel bad enough right now to die. Stay here and keep vigil with me.” (Mark 14:32-34, The Message).

And so I will keep vigil with you.  You do not suffer alone. Jesus knows your burden. (tweet this)

He will guide you to the help that you need. Embrace the help that he offers.

You are not alone. Ever.

Oatmeal Zingers

Oatmeal ZingersLooking for a cookie recipe for your chocolate-hating friends (yeah, those people DO exist!)? This oatmeal cookie recipe has half the fat of regular cookies and is chock-full of yummy things like dried cranberries, pecans and oats.

Preheat oven to 350˚

1 c. butter or coconut butter
2 1/2 cups brown sugar
1 c unsweetened applesauce
4 eggs
1 Tbs. baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 tsp vanilla extract
3 c whole-wheat flour
6 c whole rolled oats
1/4 c. orange zest (grate the peel of a large orange using the smallest holes on your grater)
1/4 c. flax meal (optional–it never hurts to add more good things to a cookie!)
1 1/2 cups of chopped pecans
1 1/2 cups of dried cranberries, chopped into smaller pieces

Beat the butter or coconut butter until it is fluffy. Add the brown sugar and the applesauce and beat for another minute. Add the eggs, baking soda, salt, and vanilla extract and beat for a minute. Mix in the flour, oats, flax meal, and orange zest and beat again until the dry ingredients are incorporated. Stir in the pecans and dried cranberries.

Place by tablespoon (or, if you’d like giant cookies, use a 1/2 cup ice-cream scoop) on a lightly greased/non-stick or Silpat-covered cookie sheet and bake for 10-15 minutes.

©2014 Anita Ojeda

Exhale and Consider the Joy

exhaleYou want me to call THIS pure joy? I exhale—breathe deeply and try to explain to the sympathetic voice on the line what has led me to make this phone call. I’m thousands of miles away from home and everything seems off kilter.

Another trial stares me in the face and I don’t feel ready for it. Can’t cancer be enough (granted, that trial ended in a miracle ten years ago—but I don’t feel ready to face another trial of any kind).

The words of James pop into my mind again, forcing me to check my Bible to see if I remembered it right just as soon as I finish my phone conversation.

It’s there. In black and white–heavily marked, underlined, color-coded and commented on. James 1:2-4 “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (NIV).

The Message says to think about those challenges that rush in from every side as a sheer GIFT. A gift that will help me define myself in my Savior.

I KNOW that with Jesus in the vessel, I can smile at the storm. I KNOW that I can lean back and release all of my fears and worries to my Savior. I KNOW these things.

I had conveniently forgotten that when tests and challenges come at me from all sides, I should feel JOY(click to tweet)

And so I exhale again. This time I try to exhale joyfully. I am not in control. Yes, I might face challenges of many kinds—but if I can revel in the power of a squall on the ocean, I can certainly revel in the power of my God in action as he works everything out in his time. I wait. I exhale my frustrations and worries and sheer panic. I inhale the promises, the assurance, the joy.

I’m joining Lisa-Jo Baker and other fantabulous bloggers for Five-Minute Friday. Our prompt this week? Exhale. Grand your pen and paper and start to write–you can do it!

Smiling at the Storm

Smiledeut31“If this doesn’t kill me, it’s certainly going to add to my collection of grey hair!” I yelled to Pedro over the howling wind of the sudden squall that had blown in whilst we leisurely paddled our way back from Bear Island.

“If we get struck by lightening,” he hollered back, “I think just the opposite will happen.”

“What?!” It took a moment for his meaning to sink in, and then I laughed. “You mean getting struck by lightening will turn all of those grey hairs sooty black?”

A giant wave splashed over the bow of our kayak, sloshing warm water from Bogue Inlet into our tiny craft. “Should we get out and walk this baby?” I asked Pedro. “It doesn’t seem like we’ve moved forward in the last five minutes.”

“Sounds like a plan,” he answered. We struggled out of the kayak (one does not enter and exit a kayak gracefully, under the best of circumstances) and started towing it through the shin-deep water next to a hummock of land. Ominous clouds hovered over the estuary, and in the distance (at least, I hoped it was distant), purple forks of lightening exploded on the mainland.

After five minutes of towing the kayak, we rounded the point of land and lowered ourselves back into the narrow confines of the kayak. Although it didn’t seem possible, the wind picked up and water continued to slosh into our boat. My shoulders felt weary—and we still had three miles to paddle.

“There’s a little inlet up ahead,” Pedro said. “Maybe we should wait the storm out there.”

“Good idea,” I answered. “And there aren’t any trees to attract lightening…and we’ll still be lower than the marsh grass…” my words trailed off. Naw, no point in thinking about lightening strikes.

Five minute later, our kayak safely ensconced in a tiny inlet, the heavens let loose with rain so fierce I had to keep my eyes closed. The raindrops started filling the kayak with water (at least it was warm water).

“Here comes hypothermia,” Pedro said.

“I doubt it,” I answered. “If we get cold we can just sit in the ocean water—it’s like a giant hot tub.”

Lightening flashed nearby. I counted. One-one hundred, two-one hundred, three-one hundred, four-one hundred, five-one hundred…KABOOM! The bass rippled through the waters and reverberated the kayak seats. Continue reading