The first of a series of posts on change . . .

I love that I grew up a country girl. The wide-open spaces of the outdoors still exhilarate me. About once a year I go home to eastern Pennsylvania where my entire family still lives. A walk along the country road, passing the farm and neighboring farmlands, immediately transports me back to my childhood.

There’s the big hill where I wiped out on my bike because I didn’t think I was going to stop before I reached the highway that rolls past our farm. Maybe the brakes didn’t work. I just remember intentionally falling off my bike while in motion. What was I thinking!?

Heading towards the bridge where we would catch the bus, I pass the field that made a perfect sledding run. On a cold winter evening my brothers and I decided to sled by the light of the moon. Positioning myself belly down on my wooden sled sent me flying down the hill only to find that the runway we had made earlier in the day had turned to ice in the night air. That frozen snow sent me right through the barbed wire fence at the end of the field. I came home from the doctor’s office with 51 stitches in my face. Not the cosmetic makeover a 7th grade girl was looking for.

The bus stop by the bridge . . . well, Mom would stand at the living room window to watch for the bus at the neighboring farm and call out loud and clear, “Bus!” and we would take off out the door, through the front yard, out the gate, running the quarter mile to the bridge with book bags over our shoulder, breathless as we stepped up on the bus. How many times did that bus driver have to wait on us I’ll never know?

Then there’s the cornfield along the way to the bus stop where I wanted to run and hide on a school day because I didn’t like my 5th grade teacher (she didn’t like me, which was the problem). Never had the guts to do it.

There’s the barn where I fed veal calves for 4-H and the pasture on the other side of the road where I would stand with pitch fork in hand when it was time to help put the cattle out to pasture. I never enjoyed this job – I was deathly afraid that one of those steers would come running towards me with head down ready to buck me to my death. A watering trough where fresh spring water flows proved a great spot for a summer lemonade stand for the very occasional passersby.

A few years ago I went beyond the road following the creek to a spot that I fondly remember. I recall spring days when wild daffodils popped up in bouquets along the little stream that flowed into the creek. I’d find a rock to sit on and do my childhood daydreaming. But, now I could barely find, much less hear, the gurgling brook. Brush and brier had taken over this little piece of country paradise. It wasn’t the same anymore. Forty years of time had changed the scenery. I had envisioned it in my mind as it used to be, but the reality of change was obvious.

Change happens and there’s no getting around it. Sometimes change takes me by surprise. Sometimes it's a subtle change, gradually making its mark over time. The closer I got (not get) to 50, change seemed to shift to overdrive. I knew it was coming, but why did it take me by surprise? The family dynamics began to change. Kids started leaving home. The house got quieter. Kids were getting married. Now we have a grand-baby. It's all settling in now, but there for awhile I needed time to catch up. Beyond that, my body is changing. That dimpling thing on the upper legs started. Extra fat cells begin to accumulate for no apparent reason around the waist, butt and hips. Gray, course hair that has a mind of its own makes its appearance. Change. It's inevitable!

Change . . . the need to adjust, adapt, amend, in order to refashion, redesign, revamp . . . in others words, sometimes life needs tweaking.


Grief, Forgiveness, Generosity . . .

Henri Nouwen identifies these three traits as belonging to the father in the story of the prodigal son. Mesmerized by Rembrandt's painting of the return of the prodigal, Nouwen writes a challenging portrayal of this story from Luke 15 in his book, The Return of the Prodigal Son.

With focus often given to the rebellious son who left home and family with his early inheritance, Nouwen challenges us to take a closer look at the elder son who stayed home. Truth be told, a judgmental and disgruntled attitude may describe more of us than outright rebellion (much like the Pharisees of Jesus' time and to whom he is telling the story).

Nouwen asks us to take an even closer look at the father. This, he says, is who we all should desire to become. The father grieves over sin, saddened when we miss the mark of what His Kingdom should look like. Yet, he graciously extends forgiveness, and on top of that is generous beyond comprehension.

The first time I heard a message on the elder son, I realized that I'm most like him, which was just as wrong as the younger son, if not worse! Until I read Nouwen's book, I never thought of becoming like the father. If all I see is that people sin and God forgives (which is true), but fail to miss the challenge of becoming like the father, then I have missed the crux of the story.

What a different world it would be if we became more like the father – traits that move us beyond ourselves.

Allowing my own sin and that of the world (injustice, abuse, misuse, exploitation, greed) to pierce my heart in such a way that I’m willing to do something about it, to make it right.

Stepping over pride, fear, and anger to extend forgiveness without condemnation, with no strings attached.

Choosing to freely give in love – a generous love that offers hope.

Nouwen writes, “This is not the picture of a remarkable father. This is the portrayal of God, whose goodness, love, forgiveness, care, joy, and compassion have no limits at all.”


I found my vocation . . .

While at Rosy Mound Nature area the other day I was sipping my iced caramel macchiato while journaling at one of the picnic tables by the parking area. I overheard a couple gals who had driven in from Grand Rapids trying to figure out the parking fee box where $5. will spit out a daily pass to be displayed on the car dash to escape the $39. infraction fee. It wouldn't take a credit or debit card and the girls only had a ten dollar bill, which would issue them a pass along with 20 quarters in change.

I knew I recently had received some one dollar bills in change, so I walked over to the girls to see if I could be of help. I offered five of my six ones which they accepted with thanks and without further ado the fee box issued a ticket and they were on their way to the beach.

Another lady approached about the same time with only a ten. She and her friend scrounged up four ones and I exchanged my last dollar for quarters which sent them happily on there way. A mom and two sons walked up at that point and I assisted them with the use of the machine.

I went back to my journaling when the mom walked by stopping to thank me for the help. Then I heard the two ladies as they were walking pass the box heading out to the trail say to another visitor, "Do you need any help with that? Someone helped us, so we thought we would ask."

Later when I was finding my spot to sit on the beach, I passed the young gals from Grand Rapids. We exchanged a friendly hello and words to enjoy the perfect day. Later the ladies walked by me, giving me a smile and a wave with a "hello again."

It struck me how kindness multiplies itself once given - how easily it is reciprocated. I may be out five dollars, but the spirit of kindness was well worth it. It was a little thing, but it seemed to go a long way with smiles and friendliness.

(Maybe it's a sign for the "what's next?" in my life - "fee box attendant" OR maybe it's a cue that the township should make the fee box a bit more user friendly :)


It's good to be back home . . .

Home, bed, shower were a welcome sight when we arrived in Spring Lake last Friday after 5 weeks out of the country. Home for a couple weeks before we head out again (not so far away this time).

I love where I live. Although the Adriatic Sea was beautiful off the shores of Croatia there's nothing like the sandy beaches of West Michigan (which I recently heard is the softest sand around). I can get a "mini vacation" at the beach anytime just minutes away from our home. (Now if we could just keep the EColi levels down for safe swimming it might bring the tourists back who come on the recommendation that Grand Haven is one of the top 10 family vacation spots in the country. You would think with the Eco focus these days someone would make this dilemma right. Sorry, had to vent my frustrations with that.)

I went out to Rosy Mound Natural Area on Tuesday. If your willing to take the .7 mile hike to the beach, it proves to be a quiet, more isolated place to soak in sun, read a book, walk the beach and just relax. The hike itself is picturesque as you walk through wooded dunes (plus good exercise with it's over 400 steps). Close to the end of the trail is a beautiful overlook that takes in the foredunes below and Lake Michigan beyond.

In Stari Grad we totally missed sunsets due to the location of the town on the island. Dennis and I saw a beautiful sunset right off our own Grand Haven pier when we walked out to the lighthouse Sunday night.

I love where I live . . . I love my friends, my neighborhood, my community, and my church (looking forward to seeing everyone in Sept.). It's good to be back home - a place to belong, a place of familiarity, a place to settle in, a place to call home. I love where I live!