Sunday, January 31, 2010

Fog in the Valley

By Carla Foote

It was foggy one morning this week and I realized that fog is a soothing, familiar blanket for me. Fog is rare in Denver, where I live now, but it was common in my childhood in Washington State.

As I drove to work in the fog, I noticed that the low-lying places had more fog than the hills. There was a sensation of descending into the fog. And I realized that I had grown up sensing this reality — that fog obscures the details of life — but the larger structures are still visible, even through a dim and altered vision.

The valley moments of life can feel like a fog has descended. The edges are blurred and there is a quiet that muffles. But even in these valley moments, some of the essential structures and landmarks of life are discernible. Even if we cannot see the details, the shape of home is evident. We see the outlines of trees, giving context and dimension to what we know to be true about ourselves and the world God created.

Living through the valley moments, when the fog has descended, focuses us on the essentials. Lots of small details don’t matter when we are in the fog of grief or fear. In those seasons, as we listen for a sound to direct us, our senses are focused and rather than being distracted by many things, we listen for the one thing.

In a curious way, as fog obscures our vision and softens the edges of landmarks in our life, there is greater vision and perspective that comes with knowing that we are focused only on what matters and that the rest of the concerns of life have been pushed aside. If our valley is walking through grief, then a million small details of life that mattered to us when we weren’t in the valley seem irrelevant.

I remember a season of grief when a 10-year-old friend died tragically. We were in the middle of remodeling home and adding another bathroom. The contractor said I had to pick out tile that week to stay on schedule. I told him I didn’t care what tile we had in the bathroom, I couldn’t pick out tile when I was only vaguely aware of the contours of home and faith and God in the midst of the fog in my valley. The tile in the bathroom didn’t matter, but helping my son walk through the death of his friend mattered most. That was the only outline I could discern in the fog. I had been in the fog of grief before, but my son had not, and taking this walk through the fog together was essential.

Now, more than a decade later, there is plain white tile in the bathroom, because that was the easiest decision to make when it really didn’t matter to me at all. But now that the fog of that season has lifted, I can see that my son did walk intact through that valley. Ten years later, when another friend of his died unexpectedly and tragically, he had markers of faith and family and friendships to walk him through the fog.

Carla Foote is Director of Communications at MOPS International ( She and her husband have two children in college. Outside of work, Carla enjoys time spent gardening, because it is good for her soul. Her garden blog is

Sunday, January 24, 2010

2010 is the year I hope to ...

by Karen Booker Schelhaas

... invest in the friends that I don't have to clean house for -- a good indicator that I feel loved enough to show them my mess, and that they're strong enough to sit in it. It's good to have friends who love you pretty or ugly.

... teach and discipline my children without shaming them. It's too bad they can't be perfect like their mother... hmmmm... long way to go on this one, wretch that I am. Glad John Newton and I have one little thing in common -- both self-described wretches, desperately in need of grace. If only I could write a lovely song...

... exercise even when I don't feel like it, knowing that discipline is something children catch rather than hear. And physical discipline spills over in to so many other areas.

... call my 95-year-old great aunt more frequently, because she has stories from her years serving God in Africa that have the potential to change my life and the way I live it.

... drop my issues with my appearance once and for all (the scars, the acne, the muffin top, the cellulite, the miniature raisins that were once my breasts, the non-shiny thyroid diseased hair, etc), and focus instead on having a heart that looks beautiful to God. No more wasted minutes on things gravity and aging will make me surrender anyway.

... learn from my mother's wisdom instead of fighting her over it. After all, she's usually, if not always, right.

... respect my husband in front of our kids by keeping my mouth shut most of the time (it is most often seen open, and gapingly so). Somebody recently told me that the difference between a good marriage and a great marriage are the two or three things you don't say every day. True.

... dance more, and in a way that completely embarrasses (yet delights) my children and adds years to my life. Perhaps it will jiggle off some of the above body issues. Wait, I'm not thinking about those any more.

... let go of the past instead of dragging it with me, like an ugly elephant, in to my present. No one likes to look at an elephant, really, at least not in the zoo that is my life most days. Elephants serve no purpose other than to sit there, and look big and ugly. Really. Enough with taking up too much space with my junk. I am even tired of looking at it.

... study and ponder what real freedom feels like -- and resolutely silence those voices in my head that snicker at what I know is true in my spirit. Shut up already.

... quit obsessively washing my car. It just doesn't matter in the greater scheme of life whether or not my car is clean, and having five children makes it nearly impossible anyway. My neighbors think I have a Windex problem, and I'm not even Greek.

... cook with ingredients that nourish my family and remind us that real food is art, created by God. It's meant to bless us, not make us fat. We pray that God will bless food to our bodies -- not dimple our thighs with it. Time to throw out the grey garbage, and eat colorful portions that satisfy, not stupefy.

... listen to my friends. Not listen in the way that I sometimes do, figuring out how their current topic relates back to my life and how I can snag something from it, and then shooting it back to them with a cute spin and sometimes a curtsy. But instead, choosing to be filled by my friend's joys and struggles, waiting for God to prompt me, or not. Quiet listeners are a gift to all people.

... ponder my baby's decade in heaven, and how God's grace has helped me purposely share my pain time and time again. Pain hogged all to oneself seems wasteful.

... invest in a make-the-Griswalds-proud amount of icicle lights to finally oblige my children's Christmas desire to have OUR house be the one people drive to see... in 10 years, I won't have anyone left to care about that. The time for gaudy, cluttered gutters and lawns is NOW.

... judge less. I remember watching a woman with a screaming child at Disney World, the happiest place on earth, and forgetting about all the times I've been the one with the shrieking child on the airplane that nobody can calm down. 45 minutes in to the Disney World screamfest, I said something snide about the poor woman's parenting abilities. My sister-in-law just looked out the window, her head shaking side to side and said "no judgment, no judgment..." I have never forgotten her perfectly executed words about that stranger in distress... nothing but love, people. Nothing but love.

Quite the list. I heard a sermon recently, though, that exhorted me to invite the power of God in to my life, just as David so majestically described it in the Psalms, and to start by laying down my own abilities. I usually get that equation backwards. My feeble attempt to tackle this list can certainly be made perfect through His power. It is power available to me to do and be all of the above, as He wills for me to do and be it. This is a resolution I can get behind, inviting this power in, and it's one that's full of God, and less of me. Always a good thing.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Something BIG

By Elisa Morgan

I wanted something BIG to do.

After twenty years as CEO of an international parachurch – day in day out leading a ministry that swept me under the wake of its growth more than once – I found a welcoming slowing and then gradually…a restless inertia.

Okay, I transitioned a print magazine to digital delivery. I forged real relationships with virtual co-workers. I paid bills and licked stamps and walked envelopes to my curbside mailbox. The budding ministry was – just that: budding but not yet in full bloom.

I had time on my hands.

Mercy, you say, really? Give me some! Who has TIME on their hands?

I did.

Not really hours or days or even big 30 minute slots. I still traveled to various speaking engagements, kept up with a zillion emails, picked up my 5 ½ year old grandson at kindergarten and squished Play Doh into snakes and pasta and meatballs on my kitchen island. I did the laundry and cleaned out files and met friends for mentoring – both for them and for me.

But there was something missing inside me. And every time I peered into the hollow hole to investigate it further – you know to like say “GOD WHERE ARE YOU GOING TO CALL ME NEXT AND JUST EXACTLY WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO DO IT?” I’d get a still, small voice response along the lines of “Chill, Elisa.”

Chill. Right.

I wanted something BIG to do.

I couldn’t rush the growth of FullFill™. Relationships take time. There was only so much money to invest in the next issue. Women can only read online for so long.

I couldn’t push the purchase of my new book, She Did What She Could. It was, afterall, a book focused on doing the next thing, not everything.

I couldn’t even hire myself. I didn’t have enough seed money.

So I listened to an urge that had begun to grow more loudly each month. It had first appeared last spring when I was caring for my adult son’s 90 pound Rottweiler, Darla. Yep. 90 pounds. (I weigh about 110. Shut up – it’s genetic. I take no credit whatsoever.)

Now before I go any further, I need to let you know that I didn’t even like dogs. Anyone could tell you that. Dogs bite me. I don’t know why but they always have and still do.

But in a motherly moment when I agreed to help out my adult son, Darla came to live with my husband, Evan and I for several months. She wolfed down dogfood in our laundry room and pranced around our area rug covered hardwood floor in her pink leather collar. She put her head under my elbow and nudged me to pet her as I typed on my keyboard. She slept in a crate in our bedroom. After a few weeks I’d wake to the sound of my middle aged husband cooing “Good Girl” through the wires of her crate in the morning, releasing her to stretch and yawn and then cajoling her to stillness while he fastened her “jewelry” in place. He was besotted.

Every day – in my new work wardrobe of pajamas or workout clothes, I’d eye the clock and arrange my phone appointments until it was mid-afternoon where Darla would magically appear and I’d know it was time to head out for our walk in the wild behind our house. When we hit the grass, I’d let her off leash and watch with a strange contentment as she ran, free and happy.

One late afternoon as I returned I was focused on my life – or lack of one – and my eyes scanned only the ground beneath the feet. I looked up just at the last second to see two ENORMOUS Akitas hurtling toward me – off leash. There was no human companion in sight. On her Gentle Leader, Darla froze. So did I. Did I mention I never liked dogs? That they bite me?

In seconds, the attack Akitas pounced on Darla. I railed up like a giant grizzly and howled - screamed - yelled for them to GET OFF! One bit my leg before heading for the bushes. Stunned and shaken, Darla and I turned to each other and examined our wounds. We were both bleeding, but okay and limped home where we nuzzled each other like two siblings of the same species.

About a month later when it was time for Darla to return to my son, it was hard to let her go. She had brought something meaningful and distracting and joyful and purposeful and BIG into my days. Her absence tore a new hole into my life.

A few weeks ago I completed my fall speaking schedule and looked at the yawning weeks of home work – back at my computer and decided – I needed something BIG to do. Knowing that God was not yet calling me to the next spot of ministry but rather to continue in the work where he had placed me for this season, I went hunting. I came home with a Rottie Wannabe. I named him Wilson because his favorite thing in life, besides me, is a tennis ball. He’s three years old, a Rottie/Lab Mix, and weighs about 75 pounds. He’s BIG enough.

And as life would have it, three weeks after Wilson became mine, Darla returned for another extended stay. So now we have two crates. Two harnesses. Two leashes. And if you see me out in the wild, you’ll see me happily being pulled along sans sled by two black and tan giants that look and act NOTHING like Akitas. (No offense to any Akita fans…)

That’s BIG times two. BIG squared. BIG on steroids. Uber-BIG. Ah,,,aint it grande?

Monday, January 4, 2010

Holding Patterns

By Nicole Unice

“Folks, we’ve got a bit of a situation.” The pilot’s voice rose above the static of the radio and the drone of the plane. I jiggled my son on my knees and shook a toy in his general direction, straining to hear over the flush of the airplane toilet. “Air traffic control is having some congestion problems, so we’re going into a holding pattern over Chicago. Sit tight and I’ll update you shortly.”

Uh-oh. Holding Pattern?

I had been a mother for less than two years. I didn’t feel qualified to travel anywhere with my toddler son, much less entertain him for an undetermined period. Our little family was folded into the last row of seats in the plane, nestled between a large businessman and the back wall of the bathroom. My diaper bag, usually full of enough stuff to outfit a preschool: depleted. My energy level: low. My hope that we would survive: zero.

Like this plane trip, holding patterns often sneak up on me. And life is full of them. Motherhood, relationships, and ministry can all bring times of holding patterns. They are times of waiting, with undetermined outcomes and nebulous timelines. A holding pattern may be days, or years, long.

I hate them. But I can’t avoid them, especially since I’m trying to have God lead my life.

Holding patterns can be miserable or manageable, depending on focus. I am sixteen months into a holding pattern, which at times has been excruciatingly painful for a go-getter like me. But somewhere in the pain, I know there is good. Here’s a few things I’ve realized in the process:

Holding Patterns Reveal Character.
Both pretty and ugly, holding patterns reveal who I really am. I went into our plane trip optimistic, buoyed by my unflagging energy level and attitude. But mothering has since taught me that energy eventually runs out and attitude always goes south, and then I’ve got nothing.

It’s easy enough to feel faithful to God when swimming in blessings. True character reveals itself when prayers seem unanswered and God seems far. By nature, I tend to be optimistic and adventurous. My current holding pattern has uncovered a fearful and anxious part of me that I usually escape through work and achievement. As much as it hurts, seeing my self as I really am has softened my heart for receiving God’s grace.

Holding Patterns Stretch Patience.
James 1:3 says the testing of our faith produces endurance. The definition of perseverance in the Bible is a “patient enduring”. The holding pattern on the plane and in my life reveals a much different kind of enduring. Rather than patient, I tend to be a moody sojourner. I endure, but not patiently.

When trapped in 37B, I tended to hold it all together for a few minutes, then rapidly cycle into sighing, crying, and needing reassurance from my husband that “YES, we will one day get off this plane….” That kind of patience isn’t the kind talked about in the bible, because it’s the patience that I try to conjure up from my naturally impatient personality. The kind of patience that can endure trials and holding patterns of all kinds is the one that God grants me, through a fingertip-clinging to the truth that He is always faithful. Even when I don’t understand it or can’t see beyond the airplane seat in front of me, He is also good. So I cling, repeating His promises like a cheerleader to myself. It helps.

Holding Patterns Test Trust.
My current holding pattern has left me yearning for stories of God’s faithfulness. In scripture, in my history, and in the lives of my friends, I delight in hearing about God coming through in the end. It gives me hope to know that He has not forgotten me. Sometimes in the space between awake and asleep, I sense God asking me, “Do you trust me?” I say with my whole heart, “I want to trust you. Help me to trust you more.”

A part of me knows that this holding pattern is part of a great story, even if I’m in the section when all hope seems lost. My independent faith is never enough in a holding pattern. Only with God’s patient and consistent reminders am I able to sustain trust in his plan.

Survive or Thrive?
I have two choices in holding patterns. I can survive, emerging weak and weary on the other side. Or I choose to thrive. I can cling to the truth of who God is. He is faithful. He uses holding patterns to build faith. He loves me. He has good for me. I have an opportunity to patiently endure, to cling to the hope that I have in Him, and to go two, twenty, or two-hundred times a day to rest in his presence and choose to be OK with holding patterns.

My husband and I laugh about our Chicago trip. Our secret weapon turned out to be a bag of candy I stuffed into my diaper bag. For almost two hours, my curious toddler unwrapped each lollipop, licked it, and then wrapped it back up. He delighted the passengers around us, who were happy to be entertained. He took the moment and relished it. I want to be like him. I want to find the fun in the holding pattern, take hold of the moment, and let God take care of the rest.

I know my current test of faith will eventually end. But until then, I’m holding on to the memory of a chubby-cheeked toddler and a bag of Dum-Dums, and looking forward to the things I’ll learn from the great holding pattern of ‘09.