Joan Reynolds

Real Faith, Real Life & Real Joy
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You Say What Others Are Thinking….

July1

I had a conversation with a beloved spiritual mentor after church today, bringing her up-to-date  on the things God has been doing in my life in the past two weeks. I am blessed to have a number of friends who get as excited as I do to hear what God is doing in each others lives. When I wondered aloud why I seem to talk about those things, she said “You say what others are thinking, but often don’t say.” Sometimes I think most people are only comfortable saying the good stuff about someone after they have lost someone close to them. It seems a shame we don’t tell them the little ways we see good (and God) in their lives more often while they are still with us.

I guess what I do could be the flip side of  gossiping. I was never fond of a gossip… someone who circulated tidbits of information into the consciousness of friends and family, seemingly only to see where it all ended up…. it always had such a negative connotation to me.  I seem compelled, however, to tell  the positive things, the little nuggets that most people might never say, except perhaps at someone’s  funeral. As another friend said to me this weekend, “you look for meaning in the little things” and usually I do and seem to find big meaning there.

I also feel compelled to write the note, send the email, make the phone call, just to tell someone how magical their words or actions were, either in a particular situation, or in general. I notice the little stuff that makes up the whole, but is  not often mentioned. To me the gift is in seeing the giver and the real gift they brought. It was not the gold, myrrh and frankincense that I remembered about Christ’s birth, but the incredibly long journey the three kings made to be present.

Sometimes the other side of this coin means I say something spontaneously that might sound off point, though hopefully not offensive; I notice this mostly around my sons (a subtle rolling of the eyes perhaps), who have had to hear me talk far too much over their lifetimes, while I struggled to make verbal sense of all going on around me. I have also embarrassed them by sharing things which included them without first getting their permission. My oldest started this blog for me four years ago and told me to practice writing these things down. He knew I had to get them out, and perhaps this keeps me more focused, as well as keeping me from telling my tale to someone who may not need to hear.

I do know at the dear age of 67, I find more people seem to be looking for that same type of meaning in their own lives, more people who are  appreciative of an affirmation of their best efforts and an acknowledgement of their time on this earth. That may be because we are getting closer to running out of it and we have all started losing friends and family whom we may have forgotten to tell how much we appreciated the amazing gifts they brought into our lives. Perhaps I am just pointing out the obvious, but I would rather err on that side, rather than assume they know what I’m thinking, or more to the point, what is in my heart.

 

Musical Chairs….In Church?

June30

I remember about twenty-five years ago, when I started a Welcoming Committee at a large Methodist church back in Florida.

We stood under red umbrellas and greeted people before and between services. There were several buildings and it was easy for newcomers to need help finding where age-appropriate child care was, or where to take their almost teen for Sunday School. More than that though, as a recent newcomer myself, I had noticed the most difficult part of being a newcomer was entering the sanctuary, for when you approached an empty seat you were often told it was ‘saved’. There was never a sign to that effect, as at a wedding or for the ushers, but there was often a quick scuffling around and tossing Bibles on empty seats, to help one see there was a person coming to occupy that seat. Seeing the rejected faces of the newcomer as they try to continue to ask about seats is really embarrassing for the other people around them, yet it never seems to change the fact that it happens every week.

Sometimes a person will enter a church only once, and possibly forever after use that rejection as a means of branding the church, that denomination, even their whole experience of God as being exclusive, not friendly or welcoming to newcomers; an exclusive club that really doesn’t want new members. That is so sad, since the church was called primarily to share ways to live our lives together, to be an example of inclusive love and acceptance  so more people would want to know Him, attracted by the loving and inclusive way we are  living our lives before them. To hear someone say “I went to church once, but I felt even lonelier than I stay home.” It certainly didn’t feel like God’s home was open to them, the very people we go out into the community to serve and invite to church. What a crazy Catch-22 that is!

The Welcoming Committee was a wonderful addition to that church and for years afterward, when I would run  into people I had known while there, they would smile and say “You were the lady under the red umbrella!” I chose red umbrellas thinking it an obvious way to identify ourselves (our being covered by the blood of Jesus and sheltered from the storms of life),  but then, I was  a visual person, so things like that always seem logical to me.  I remember being thrilled to find 6 red umbrellas at J. C. Penney to start the ministry. I wrote the different categories (Sunday School, Bible Studies, Home Groups, etc. ) on each of the triangle-shaped segments , to separate us from  regular umbrella users at first sight. Our covering led to many other conversations and I understand lasted quite a while, even after God had moved me on.

Today in church I was thrilled as the summer season meant many regulars were on vacation. No one around me was saving seats and new faces filled in around me. It was inspiring to hear the worship voice of the husband of one of my prayer partners next to me, and prompted me to join him in even more joyful praise. I was grateful for the mixing up all around me because it made me pay attention even more than usual.

I love the ladies I normally sit with, and since the first day I arrived they seemed to be saving a seat for me, so I always felt comfortable believing God had led me specifically to this church. But I realize now how many other people He wants to bring here, and they may only come that one time; saving a seat seems not as admirable a trait in church as it may be other places. He knows exactly where we should sit, and if we are told that empty seat is ‘taken’ perhaps we  may obstruct His plans not just for others, but also for ourselves, without even realizing it.

In almost every church I have been a member of, I have always wanted to ask the Pastor to stand at the podium one Sunday and say “Everyone on the right side of the church change places with everyone on the left!” and then wait til that was accomplished before beginning his sermon. The different perspective might change everything for some, who had held those spots through generations. I know it would initially have been unsettling, but how might that have opened their eyes to something or someone they had never before noticed .

God loves to mix things up and take us out of our comfort zones to help us to learn the lessons we are actually going to church to hear about. Unlike musical chairs, a chair isn’t physically removed so one person falls on the floor. But consider if Jesus was coming in the guise of a stranger to see His church, but because we did not recognize Him, we told Him the seat was ‘saved’ (for someone important to us).

It is possible He will do just that one day,  to see if we are really paying attention.

 

 

Been There, Done That, Got The T-Shirt…..

June24

We’ve all heard this one, and I found myself saying “been there, done that and got more t-shirts than I could ever wear in my lifetime” yesterday. I followed that with all of those t-shirts represent a circumstance or an event in my journey; divorced, foreclosed, bankrupt, lost job, etc. Yes, they were circumstances. Yes, they happened. However, I am not my circumstances.

All of the above and many, many more have contributed to a wealth of personal history that has given me a huge amount of empathy and sympathy for others experiencing major life changes. I have found through my faith journey that all of them and others are merely possible stumbling blocks on my path. We have a lesson to learn from all of our struggles, but once learned those events are easy to speak about briefly, and usually merely to give another permission to share their own pain in our presence.

There are so many people either living in denial of the events that have happened or possibly worse,they wear those t-shirts daily to remind themselves and others they have been a victim. Neither one is fruitful. Others, particularly those who have been there themselves, see through the disguise they are presenting before us. It is the overcoming and the new life ahead of us that is significant, and God’s sustenance and mercy on that journey.  That’s the only story worth telling, because it is the one that encourages others to move through those painful present circumstances to embrace the future without the bondage and baggage they bring along.

I have several friends who have faced down cancer. While it has changed them, they are not their cancer diagnosis. In the same vein, I don’t know about others but twenty years after a divorce, I resent still having to check ‘divorced’ on every single form I fill out for the rest of my life. While it may indeed be the truth, that is not representative of me, and I always search in vain for another option. Single adult female, happily living on her own terms and providing for herself by God’s grace,  never appears. Worse, I always feel like I am breaking some law by not checking divorced and clicking single. It long ago ceased defining me, yet I am reminded each time how limited our forms are, compared to our ability to choose how we represent ourselves in real life.

I no longer say I am a single parent when introducing myself in a new group. It was true when I raised my sons, but they are now over thirty so it seems a bit ridiculous to use that unless I want sympathy at this point. I will refer to it when necessary, as it certainly was a challenge I met, and often it will bond me to others who have been through the same, much as surviving cancer does for others. But we relate to it now much as soldiers who have been in a war. It happened. I was there. I am here now.

Mostly I find I refer to past circumstances to show God’s grace and the way He was present in guiding and protecting me through those many circumstances and that is my favorite way to speak of them and to prepare me and others for those yet to come.

 

 

People Will Pay More Not To Pay Now!

June22

It struck me this morning, after enjoy lengthy conversations with my son last night about business, that the new technology has made looking like the professional you are very much easier for an artist than in the past.

I have had several businesses where taking credit cards was not essential, but made a difference in a consumer’s mind. As long as I only took cash, they often felt they could negotiate for less. Many may have been sincere and not had more than that amount at the time in their wallet. Most, however,  had found it a good way to get a deal, by assuming I was desperate. Often they were correct in their assumption and I caved, not wanting to wait for their  check, which often took days to clear.

Several times I purchased a machine and set up a merchant account with a bank so that I could accept credit payments.  When I was a  faux finishing artist working mainly in client’s homes and teaching classes at a community college nearby,  I had no storefront. I say purchase because while it appeared to be a rental, when the time came for me to purchase a big item like a home, that little rental company often had to be ‘satisfied’, even though I had returned the equipment and in one case only used it once. The cost of settling was @ $2500 as I recall. Ouch, that one purchase had been $275. Certainly not a great return on my money, hopelessly negative by any standard, but I did get the house.

I told my son that even as an artist, this new thing called a square was amazing! It works off my iPhone and it is free, without a credit check,  paperwork out the wazoo, or signing your future away. You get charged only when you use it, and there is no monthly fee. I wonder now how much more money I might have made had that been a viable option twenty years ago! No matter, water under the bridge.

The best thing is that even now, as a Notary Public, I can accept credit cards. I noticed on Craigslist that no one else advertising the same services does that in my area, even though it would be simple. It also makes me feel like a much larger operation, which I anticipate one day I will be. In the meantime, I can compete with the big guys without that little ‘rental’ with the big balloon payment!

It also occurred to me, being the woman of faith that I am and always noticing the parables of comparison to biblical teachings in current life, that many people prefer the pay later, pay more option to their spiritual walk with the Lord. They keep amassing wealth, possibly being unethical or mean to those around them at the moment,  assuming somehow they are able to buy time to get that all straightened out later. Hmmmm. Wonder how that will work for them if their balloon payment suddenly comes due?

 

 

 

 

Balance…Is It Possible?

August16

I am struck by the fact that at this point in my life it all comes down to that. I have found the right place to live, the right friends, family nearby, the right church (and when I say ‘right’ I mean only that it feels right for me), all contributing  to what feels like a very happy life.

The right work is the last piece of the puzzle that needs to be in place.

I have moved increasingly closer as I have tried some things and,  much like Goldilocks, found some too much or too little….either in amount of time spent for money earned,or in the way they made my life feel balanced and content….or not.

It is a puzzlement, that it is not all one thing or another, but so many things that make up the right amount of work. I know I am getting closer, merely by the way I am able to look at it without fear, without desperation, but with admiration for the person I am assisting in this search…

She is someone I have come to admire a great deal through this process.

Prayer…The Simplest Way To Change Things

April5

I was very aware this week that a family situation was incredibly emotionally complicated. I was not completely on the outside, but not on the inside of it either.  Trying to remain outside of it felt helpless, because the people involved all meant a great deal to me and I wanted very much for there to be breakthroughs that would result in new found freedoms enabling all to move forward in their lives.

This also required some meeting of the minds, with respect to the reality of the situation. Coming from a long line of dysfunctional family coping mechanisms, this had the added concern of triggering any number of knee jerk reactions, all of which could draw attention away from the situation at the forefront.

My mind became focused on what I could do that would be helpful but not add any additional drama to the problem. As much as I was concerned, I had not been asked in anyway for input or advice, so staying on the periphery seemed the best place to remain. I found that the only effort I needed to exert was one to keep my thoughts continually turned to prayer. Whenever I had the urge to get involved, I instead turned it into a request for God to get involved. As a result, I found that there was no mess to clean up, nothing was said  that needed to be apologized for or retracted, and truly the best possible outcome came about with the least amount of angst and anxiety.

When in doubt as to what you can do…pray. Not as simple to do as it sounds. It is definitely not the easy way out. Yet it remains the shortest and cleanest answer to “How can I help?” and it truly keeps the drama at bay. In many of our recovering dysfunctional family scenarios, though it may be highly underrated, to pray  is truly the most valuable way to make a difference.

Why Do I Stop Posting When Things Are Going Well?

April4

I have noticed that I have stopped posting in this journal ever since life became somewhat easier and a lot happier for me. My huge move out to the West Coast, followed by the birth of my granddaughter, and the ease with which I fit into my new community, all made me somewhat lax in writing about my journey. Prior to my move, life seemed full of challenges to my mind and spirit, and I enjoyed writing through them and documenting my progress.

After the move, though by anyone’s estimation there have still been challenges, I have felt so blessed in the midst of them I neglected to put pen to paper. Interesting. I wonder why? I think partly because I thought I was writing merely for myself. I have heard from several friends how they have missed my posts and look forward to my return. That surprised me. I really had to think why writing about good things was so much more difficult than writing about obstacles to good things. Actually, I am not where I want to be, even though I am closer than before. It all comes from working toward it…to be healthier in mind, spirit and body is a daily, conscious decision to keep going, progressing toward the next level of insight into my life and into living it completely and faithfully. Perhaps writing helps me to keep that commitment and not writing allows me to slack off a bit. I guess we will see as I commit to writing as I continue moving forward on this journey.

 

My Car Clock Is Correct Again!

March11

OK, it wouldn’t be that difficult to sit in the car long enough to pull out the directions and change my clock to Daylight Savings Time, would it? However, I do seem to forget to do it. At first I only notice that it has been a week or so, and make a mental note that I really should change it to the right time.  After a month or so has gone by, I find i am making the mental adjustment rather quickly, and it seems almost funny to me to think about changing it. Soon after that, I realize in two months it will be back on track, so why not just wait until then?

Is that the way lots of us  use first little excuses, then much bigger and more ridiculous ones, to cover up what is essentially laziness? Do we get used to taping something that is broken instead of taking the time to glue or fix it properly?

I just was thinking about that today as I noticed my clock was now giving me the correct time. The problem is that now I have gotten so competent at deducting an hour from the shown time, I am having a difficult time trusting that it is now truly correct. Could be that if we wait too long to change a habit that others have been asking us to change, they may have trouble trusting us as well? It is probably a lot smarter just to suck it up and change the thing as soon as we know it is out of whack, no?

A New Calling….?

October4

I have just spent the past two months settling into my new life in California, doing all the things that accompany a big move: opening checking account, getting car registered, finding a church family,  finding a new job, etc., and not necessarily in that order. All in all a terrific way to get my bearings where I now live as well as giving me time to think about where I am at this stage of my life.

I had the very good fortune of attending a women’s retreat with my church this past weekend. There could be no better way of feeling connected in a new place than there was for me in meeting women with whom I already had so much in common. This is a church of truly faith-based believers, and I was overwhelmed by the depth of their sharing and their vulnerabilities. I was even more impressed with the depth and breadth of the heart of our God who met us there!

As I enter a new stage of my almost thirty year journey with Him, I realize the labels I have been wearing have changed. I no longer feel the need to identify myself as a “single parent,”  for instance. That has left the field wide open for God to give me a new assignment and perhaps a new calling. I have passionately defended and supported single parents for over thirty years, and always have and always will empathize with the difficulties they face. My walk with the Lord, however, has shown me that those circumstances are truly no more or less difficult than those  all women face, many with additional challenges involving a husband that can often make things considerably more difficult.

I have processed many things in this walk so far, just trying to stay afloat. Now I see that while there are certainly Selahs (pauses where we can reflect and take stock) in our journeys, there isn’t an end where we get to stay safe and secure and retire. If that happens we can consider ourselves stuck. God always has more in store for us, and my faith tells me that I had better make sure I get growing or He will certainly allow me some uncomfortable circumstances to help convince me to press forward.

So I instead choose to step forward, continually putting myself out where things happen and where God can continue to teach, love and support my growth. While this rest felt very nice for a short time, I recognize the best with God often comes in the hardest trials. So I need to keep risking and keep moving toward the prize, even when I can’t see it and may not even know what it is. It is, like any relationship, a sense of even more intimacy and love than I could ever have imagined, and that continues to expand beyond what I think is possible. Being blown away by His continued healing, loving presence in my life has always been the most incredible gift at the other side of a difficult time.  How exciting to look back at my journey, knowing  He will continue to reveal His plan to me and light the way there, as well as continue to walk alongside me! How awesome is that!

A Psunami of the Heart

August30

Yesterday was a miracle day. It was the fifth anniversary of my oldest son’s marriage to the love of his life. That’s when the new love in our family began to spill over into my life in a big way. It was when I realized a part of me was a California girl at heart. Every trip to see my son and his wife in California let more friends into my circle there and widened my extended family.

A month ago I completed my move to the southern California city of San Clemente. It felt as though it was home immediately, and every day I have added new friends to my circle here. People were easy to meet and talk to. They seemed to go out of their way to make me feel comfortable. My dog was as content and happy as I was, and our daily walks to the Pacific Ocean were a source of confirmation, that I had made the right move.

But yesterday the reasons multiplied. My first grandchild was born to my son and his wife. I was there in the waiting room with her family for over eight hours. I think there are paths in the heart that cannot be erased after they have been traveled, nor can you ever turn around and go back to how you were before. Having a child is one of them. Watching your child have a child is another.

The experience was breathtaking, in the way that seeing the Grand Canyon only a month before with my youngest son was breathtaking. The difference was they get to take this little one home with them and continue the breathtaking forever. And I get to be part of her life until the day I die. I told my son it is like seeing your heart walking around outside your body and yesterday he said he now understands how that feels. Like the splitting of cells, your heart is split open and then multiplies, and more and more hearts burst open with love, and the wave of wonder and awe at this tiny miracle who comes into our lives and truly changes the landscape forever is bigger than one can imagine, until it happens to you.

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