The Woman on the Corner

I see her sitting there everyday. Rain, shine, snow, wind, she’s there.

Her skin is dark, weathered, worn. Wisps of black-grey hair peek out from underneath her near thread-bare scarf, her long skirts gathered around her legs as she sits criss cross on the sidewalk under the tree. That big tree that leafs large in the summer, rains gold in the fall and stands tall and threatening in the winter. Some days she has no shoes; today she does.

She sits and rocks gently back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, one hand clutched to her chest. Eyes distant and empty and I wonder if she wishes she was anywhere but here? What is this city to her? Home? Hell?

The Woman on the CornerWhen someone extends enough mercy to make some semblance of eye-contact with her, she begins her plea…I’ve never been able to discern what language she speaks. Is it German? Gypsy? Romanian? I really can’t tell.

With one leathery hand she reaches out to anyone who will look; with the other she gestures to her mouth. Her eyes telling a story most of us don’t even want to imagine.

Often times I make sure I carry something extra in my purse – an apple, a granola bar, something – so I can hand it to her. I don’t like to give money. You never know what they will do with it.

Right?

Day after day I walk past her…multiple times a day I see her face, hear her garbled speech. And sometimes… I just get angry.

I wonder is she homeless? Where does she go at night? She’s never there at night. Is she embroiled in some kind of panhandling scheme? And will her handlers beat her if she doesn’t gather enough today?

Maybe she’s just unable to get a job. Or maybe she’s just too lazy to work, I think to myself on my worst days; and I hate who I am in those moments.

One day I walked past her and smiled gently, but shook my head no. Not today, I try to say with my eyes.

Later I came by again, bringing lunch home for my husband and myself. It’s our little ritual once a week on a day all the kids are in school: we treat ourselves to a tasty lunch.

I heard her mumblings before I saw her, and something stirred in my soul.

But I kept walking.

I didn’t even look at her.

After I got home, I let myself admit what I was trying to ignore down on the street: I should have given her my meal.

Even later, I needed to go to the grocery store and I told myself that if she was still there, I would buy her some food.

She was still there. This time, she didn’t look at me. She was reclining comfortably on one elbow and smoking a cigarette.

A righteous wrath burned within me. Are you kidding me?? I knew it. I knew it was all a scam. I’m sure she has enough food at home and this is just something she does for the money. How dare she!

However, while in the store I couldn’t shake that stirring from before, so I bought a bag of whole-wheat mini-baguettes.

As I neared her place, I found myself wishing I knew what to say to her. But I didn’t. We don’t speak the same language. So I just smiled sheepishly, and handed her the bread. Not knowing if she truly needed it; not knowing if she really was wanting money instead; just not knowing.

She took it and bowed her head. And then she looked at the bread as if it were gold. She looked at it the same way I looked at my first baby the moment she was born. She sighed a sigh of relief and neither one of us needed words.

I struggle sometimes balancing the mantel of being a “responsible Christian” and not perpetuating an already broken system, and having compassion and extending grace I’m sure I would hope someone would extend to me were our places exchanged.

I still have my suspicions about the legitimacy of her plight, but the truth is I have no way of knowing. And so I smile, and any time I can, I give.

And now I know her name and I can’t help but wonder…what if God is using me to call her by name?

I tried to have a conversation with her yesterday, but we speak nothing close to the same language. However, the smile on her face when she sees me coming tells me that Love rarely needs words and Grace is a universal dialect. So I will continue to operate upon the advice given to me by a friend: when in doubt, give grace.

And I will walk even more humbly with my God because what He is showing me about Himself through this woman on the corner.

 

 

5 Things I Learned About Myself on My First Ski Trip

Having grown up a desert rat in central and southern Arizona, skiing was always somewhat of a foreign concept to me. It was something either rich people did, or college kids on winter break. Certainly not an option for a girl like me: not an athletic bone in her body who lived hours away from any possibility of snow.

Then we moved to Austria.

During the week long semester break in February, just about everyone in Austria who has kids does one thing: go skiing.

My husband, who grew up with a ski-instructor for a father, also naturally grew up skiing. He’s told me fondly many times how he remembers skiing between his dad’s feet when he was only three or four years old. Our nomadic lifestyle, coupled with the fact that most of our adult life had been spent in either Ireland or Texas – two places not well known for great ski conditions – made it so it had been years since Seth had been able to ski, even though it’s one of his favorite pass-times.

So, this year we decided to embrace our inner Austrians and head for the hills to shoop-shoop-shoop (to quote my gal-pal Rachel Greene) down the slopes. tumblr_m0f36d7Yzz1r5idzso1_500

Guys, I was slightly terrified. Excited, but terrified.

I mean, what if I was awful at it? What if I hated it? What if I embarrassed myself, not even able to make it down the kiddie slope? What if I broke my whole body??

5 Things I Learned About Myself On My First Ski TripWell, friends, I am here to tell you that I not only survived, I really enjoyed it! I even learned a few things about myself along the way, that I’d like to share with you.

1. I’m physically stronger than I thought. My instructor (yes, I took lessons rather than my husband teaching me. We were told it would be best for our marriage…I believe “they” were right. Anyway.) started me out not with going up the mountain on any kind of lift, but side stepping our way up. “To help me get a feel for the skis and my body on them.” Ha. Also, once I did use a lift, it wasn’t the kind with a seat. It was just a rope that I had to grab onto for dear life as it tugged me up the hill, but also had to let go of soon enough that my hand didn’t get sucked into the vortex of death. You guys, I spent the day tugging, pulling, squatting, lifting, bending and all manner of other “-ings” and I’m not too humble to say I rocked it! I had much more stamina and physical ability than I would have imagined (Thank you Shuan T and Insanity!). At the end of the day, my muscles were totally shot and that’s when I learned the next lesson about myself.

2. I’m mentally stronger than I thought. There were several times when I just wanted to give up. Like the time I ventured higher on the run and bit it big time and slid halfway down the slope on my back. I briefly asked my husband to just bury me there and go on; and tell the kids I love them. But I got up anyway, and my mind gave my body the strength to continue on – without breaking every bone!

3. My husband and I make a pretty darn good team. This one I knew – it was cemented home in the deepest corner of my heart just how great a team we make after the birth of our first child. However, I was reminded of it again this trip. After the massive face-plant described above, Seth was encouraging me to try again from the higher spot on the run. I was – ahem – less than willing. He offered to go with me, and I reluctantly agreed. As I started down the slope, speed caught up with me quickly and I started to panic. That’s when I heard his voice behind me, “You got it. Pizza slice the skis. There you go, good. Now turn, gently. Keep turning, keep turning. Great! Now straighten out. Yes! You got this!” and so on. Man, guys, just hearing his voice – so calm, so confident – gave me the mental boost to get myself under control and do what I had been taught to do. Cross over into real life? Uh, yeah. In short, my husband rocks and he’s my hero.

4. I’m more of an athlete than I thought. I have used many words to describe myself over the years. Athlete or athletic has never, ever been one of them. However, as I was skiing down that hill, it hit me: I am actually quite athletic – as long as it doesn’t involve a ball, puck, or any other such device. I’m great at sports that require self-awareness, balance, and good body control. A friend bestowed the word “sporty” upon me when she saw a photo of me on the slopes on Instagram. At first I balked, but now, I take that adjective and own it proudly!

5. I’m still not an adrenaline junkie or extreme sport enthusiast – and that’s ok! I have spent most of my life (and particularly my childhood) wishing I was something other than what I was. I wished I was more sporty, or better at math. I wished I longed for adventure and excitement; that I would love the “thrill” of the free-fall feeling on a roller coaster. The truth is, I just. Don’t. I’m finally, at the age of 36, starting to feel at home in my own skin, and appreciate who and how God made me to be. I don’t want to waste any more time mourning the things that I’m not – and that Susie Smith next door seems to be. No. While I never want to grow complacent in life, and I never want to be unwilling to push myself and try new things, I want to spend my energies and time developing and honing the skills and gifts God placed in me from the beginning. Skills, gifts and talents He gave me on purpose. For a reason. To wish those away for some other trait or talent I see in someone else is not only insulting to my Creator, it is denying and wasting who I am.

So, there you have it. Some deep personal/spiritual lessons I learned about myself last week while undertaking a new and scary endeavor that I ended up loving.

When was the last time you tried something new and/or scary? Did you learn anything about yourself? Share in the comments!

And Even if He Doesn’t…

I stand at the sink, sleeves rolled, heart heavy.

I dunk the plate into the bowl of as-hot-as-I-can-stand-it soapy water because the pipes have been backed up since Wednesday and the plumber doesn’t come until Monday but I need to do something.

The suds swirl and cover the dish and I scrub and I pray.

Please, God.

The liar whispers, “What if He doesn’t?”

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And even if He doesn’t,” I say.

If the God we serve exists, then He can rescue us from the furnace of blazing fire, and He can rescue us from the power of you, the king. But even if He does not rescue us, we want you as king to know that we will not serve your gods or worship the gold statue you set up. Daniel 3:17-18 (emphasis mine)

It has sure felt like a fiery-furnace kind of year. I think back to this same time last year, how we prayed for God to get us back to Ireland.

And everyone asked us, “But what if He doesn’t?”

“And even if he doesn’t, He is worthy,” we replied.

The pot of cool water for “rinsing” feels refreshing as it soothes the scalding heat of the cleansing water. Like the balm of the reassurance that His ways are not mine; His ways are oh so much higher.

Dunk. Sud. Scrub. Pray.

I think of my friends with the scary diagnosis. We pray, we believe, we expect miraculous tests.

In the quiet places the accuser whispers, “He won’t.”

And we all ask, “What if He doesn’t?”

And she whispers, with trembling voice, “Even if He doesn’t, I am His.”

Dunk. Sud. Scrub. Pray.

I think of my family. The ones I love. I pray for healing. Please, God.

My own heart whispers, “But what if He doesn’t?”

And even…if…

Yes, even if He doesn’t, He is good. He is holy. He is kind. He is Love.

The suds are fading and the water grows cool. The dishwasher serves as a drying rack and I wipe my hands. They are rough and chapped from the heat. Like my heart.

So I pray.

And I remind myself with Truth and I thank God  for His goodness…

Even if He doesn’t.

 

What’s the Point of Singing “Peace on Earth?”

Bombs exploding around the world.

Children gunned down in their schools and classrooms.

What's the Point of Singing Peace on Earth??The “Land of the Free” and “Home of the Brave” ripped apart once again by racial tensions and ethnic divides.

The world is going to hell in a hand basket and it flies in the face of what we see and hear during this Christmas season.

We sing songs of Joy, Hope and Peace. We declare peace on earth and goodwill to our fellow man, and yet what we find when we step outside our doors or turn on our televisions or scroll through our Facebook feed is the exact opposite.

I read an article the other day bemoaning this exact state of affairs. The author shares her experience of how she no longer anticipates Christmas with excitement and jubilance, but rather with lament. She says,

Around this time of year I become a battering ram of lament, pounding against the season’s greetings and wreath-clad doors. We are dying here and there are none to comfort. Does anyone sense the dissonance between our Christmas songs and our actual stories? Does a quick scan of the headlines remind you that Christ, the deliverer, is a long way off? Does anyone care that West Africans are still dying of ebola, Syrian families hang by a thread and brown bodies are under constant threat in their own country?

When I first read that, my  heart groaned in agreement. Yes!, I thought. Why are we proclaiming peace and joy when we should be mourning and lamenting the state of the world and the godless existence so many experience?

Yet, something didn’t sit right with that thought alone. My heart laments the state of this world. It breaks under the weight of grief, despair, depravity, hatred. And yet, I sing.

Peace on earth, good will toward men is not some naive declaration of the way things seem to be every time December rolls around. It is not some empty platitude used only to fill the void and make an attractive Christmas card.

Joy the the World is not merely a rote exercise in remembering better days long past. On the contrary.

It is a prayer. It is a cry lifted to the Holy One, to continue to bring about His master Plan.

It is Hope embodied as I turn from that which is seen to that which is unseen yet so desperately hoped for.

It is a reminder that the best is yet to come, and this world hasn’t been fully left to its own devices. Yet.

These days, these dark times are but a glimpse of what humanity without Divinity would be. We are looking head-on into a dingy mirror of our own souls and seeing what would become of us if left to our own devices. If the Holy, the Almighty, the Great and Compassionate God were to remove the entirety of His presence from among us.

I sing JOY because I see what could be, and I see what He has done.

I declare HOPE because I see what Christ has rescued me from. It may seem now like a mere tiny candle flame in a Grand Canyon abyss of darkness, but it flickers there nonetheless.

I sing PEACE because I look ahead to the day when our Prince of Peace will come and make all things new; will make things as they were always meant to be before the decay of pride set in on that day so long ago under the apple tree.

The darker the day, the louder I will sing.

Because though my heart lament the Shadow of the Valley, my soul will sing His praise because the break of dawns glows dim on the horizon.

My soul grieves in the depths of me for the evil in this world, yet my heart shouts joy! because I’ve been lifted out of that miry, disgusting grave.

My view today is only as  a smeared image through a filth-coated glass, but I see it anyway and it burns hope so deep and so hot that song nearly bursts forth on it’s own.

These days are hard. They are dark. Full of pain and grief. Humanity groans just like a woman in labor for the pain. But I sing PEACE and I sing JOY and I sing HOPE all the stronger because I know Whom I have believed, and I am convinced that He is more than able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day.

Will you sing with me?

When JOY Seems Lost

5 Verses to Renew Your JoyLights twinkle white and rainbow in windows, on trees, stores and street lights, and one words seems to be on everyone’s lips.

We sing songs about it, pose our kids with cardboard letters of it, and plaster smiles on our faces as we spread Christmas cheer near and far.

JOY

Yet, maybe it all feels lost on you this year? Maybe you’re singing Joy to the World out loud, but inside you feel like a big, fat liar because joyful is the last thing you feel. Overwhelmed? Yes. Tired? Oh, yeah. Guilty? Bingo. But joy? Not so much.

I’ve been there, friend. In fact, I am there. So I decided to take action to try and reawaken true Joy in my heart, and in my life. I want to share some of what I have been learning with you. Join me at The Better Mom, where I’m sharing 5 Verses to Renew Your Joy {and they might not be the verses you think!!}. So if, like me, your joy is running a bit low, come on over and see if these help it start to bubble up.

If you’ve just clicked over from The Better Mom, I want to say thanks! And welcome you into my crazy little corner of the Interwebz. Grab some cocoa and a gingerbread man, make yourself comfy and look around!

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