Welcome to my blog...

Green trees, cool water, a gentle breeze...the perfect place to sit at the feet of the Master and learn. Jesus taught so often on the shoreline, and He's still speaking today.

This is where I share the lessons He teaches me, often during the time I spend on the shores of a local lake. I don't have all the answers...and some days I don't have any. But I go here when I need to draw near to Him in a tangible way. Come with me...

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Opportunity Lost

Rounding the corner, I saw the sea of yellow out of the corner of my eye.

As I banked the next turn in the road a tad faster than the posted 40 mph, I thought, "Wow! What an awesome picture that would make."               

For a split second, I considered pulling off to the side of the road and heading back with my camera, but I was already running late to work.

"I'll get the shot tomorrow."

But tomorrow was the same scenario-too much to do and in a rush to do it. The photo would have to wait.

Unfortunately, it was the same story day after day after day.

Within a few days, the brightness faded and patches of brown appeared. I sensed my opportunity fading too, and while I made mental note, I did nothing to change the outcome. At the end of the week, there were more dead flowers than live ones.

Finally, a field of nondescript brown stems dotted with an occasional pocket of yellow from golden rod took over the landscape. The weed held none of the glory of the daisies.

I lost the opportunity to capture the beauty and wonder I had witnessed because I was too busy. Too focused elsewhere to enjoy the moment in front of me.

*****************************************************

A pastor once shared a story with me about a conversation he had with a young man. The youth had lots of questions about eternal things, and although this pastor sensed the man might be open to taking the final step and accept Christ, he didn't push it.

"I'll be sure to engage him again next week."

Next week never came. The young man was in a car accident that evening on his way home from church and was killed.

The pastor thinks often about the opportunity he was given that he missed. One that may have cost someone their eternity because he didn't take a few extra minutes to follow through, his thoughts not on the temporal nature of this life.

                            *****************************************************

Whether it's a chance to soak in the moment or a chance to change a life, how many opportunities do we miss each day because we don't take the time to seize them?

James 4:13-14 reminds us "Now listen, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money. Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.'"

We are not guaranteed tomorrow. Not guaranteed another opportunity. Seize the one before you today and make it count. Take a moment to enjoy the flowers. Take a few extra minutes to encourage another.

Don't regret opportunities lost.

You may wonder how I have a picture of daisies if I never stopped to photograph them. It's one I took a few years ago when I slowed down to spend some time in a park and capture the beauty around me.

It was an opportunity found and capitalized on and now I have it forever. A much better outcome.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Message Received

I didn't think much of the email I got Tuesday night.

It happened many times before: a volunteer had a conflict and wouldn't be able to make her shift in the food pantry the following day.

I didn't realize then it would be the pebble that started the landslide.

Wednesdays are "pantry days" and are always busy, but with extra errands to accomplish before work, this one promised to be especially hectic.

First I swung into the dollar store as they opened. purchased items the pantry lacked, then headed to a mechanic we use when our cars ministry volunteers are too busy or the job is too complex for our resources. This visit was to drop off the title to a vehicle we decided to junk since it wasn't fiscally prudent to repair.

As I pulled out of the mechanic's parking lot, I glanced at my watch feeling pretty good about what I'd accomplished thus far. Only 8:45. I'd be in the office long before the 9:30 staff meeting.

Immediately, my phone pinged. It was a text from another volunteer. She was in a lot of pain and wouldn't be able to come in. I sent her an encouraging "rest up, we'll be okay" even as I thought - "ugh - what now?"

Both volunteers who cancelled were bi-lingual...the only bi-linguals serving in the pantry that day...and we have a 70% Spanish-speaking clientele.

My day just got more difficult.

I parked outside the pantry so I could unload my car later in the morning and headed through the building toward my office.

As I exited the pantry into the main building, an acrid smell smacked me in the face. Something electrical was burning and I could see a haze hanging in the sunbeams streaming in the windows.

"Good thing I came in that way" I thought. No one would have caught that for hours.

I notified the proper staff about the smell and met a pair of volunteers outside my office. They were waiting to pick up a food order and needed me to give them the key to the church's box truck.

After sending them on their way, my phone rang. It was yet another volunteer calling to say he was dropping off a bread delivery early. Would anyone be in the pantry to receive it?

I ran back to let him in. He noted the missing box truck and asked if I had gotten the Panera donation off it.

Face palm. "No. I totally forgot to retrieve it while I was running around. The truck is on its way to pick up the food order."

"Toni" he warned "they'll never get anything in there. Someone has it filled with furniture."

I could feel my shoulders tighten and my stress-induced palpitations begin. I tried several times to reach the truck-driving couple by phone and text, to no avail.

It was quickly becoming obvious I was going to miss the staff meeting.

I began unloading all the dollar store stuff from my car so I could drive over to the big box store and load up with some of the food order.

Now none of this may seem like a big deal. Each thing in and of itself really wasn't. But over the past few months I've been dealing with some overwhelming health and family issues and tears are often close to the surface. So in my little world, all the little things messing up my already busy day were adding up.

As I tried to jockey down the least congested lane of rush hour traffic, I cried out "God, I just can't do this today."

I flipped on the radio to my favorite station - Klove - and the chorus that met me was "When did I forget that you've always been the King of the World? I try to take life back right out of the hands of the King of the World."

Yes Lord, message received.

Was the rest of the day busy and hectic? Yes.

Was I stressed out about the lack of volunteers and the amount of work that needed to be done? No.

The King of the world who created the universe and cares about every detail of my life reminded me clearly and simply He was on the throne and in charge on crazy busy Wednesdays and every day.

"Just a whisper of your voice can tame the seas
So who am I to try to take the lead
Still I run ahead and think I'm strong enough
When you're the one who made me from the dust"

King of the World - Natalie Grant




Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Back to the Bench

It all started right here.
Ten years ago - it seems hard to believe it's been a decade - my heart was heavy. Almost inconsolable.

Then I began what I called Lakeside Services.

On this very bench, as I took in glorious sunsets each evening, I would cry out to God in my pain and ask Him a lot of "whys?"

I didn't get an answer to every question, but surrounded by the beauty of His creation, I found peace and comfort in the midst of the storm.

I went back to the beginning of this blog today. Back six years looking for one of my early posts that spoke of that time. When I pulled up Lakeside Services I was surprised at what I read, but honestly, I shouldn't have been.

The verse that has defined the past three months for me was there once again. The verse I wrote about last month in Flood and Fire.

Isaiah 43:2: When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.

In the Flood and Fire post I shared about my recent cancer journey. I have been blessed in that it was caught early, treatment was short and uneventful, and the prognosis is good. (Although prayers are gratefully accepted for my one month follow up July 3rd!)

What I didn't share was the other half of the past three months. The part of the journey that is the more emotionally taxing for me than even a cancer diagnosis.

The same day I received that news, my brother reappeared after more than a year; homeless, desperate, and looking for help.

He is almost four years younger than me, but hard living most of the past few decades has taken its toll. Most people think I'm the younger sibling by as much as 10 years.

He now suffers from short-term memory loss and a host of health issues. When he resurfaced it was from a place a little lower than rock bottom.

My profession is working with people in desperate situations. My office is often their last resort.

I thought that would have prepared me for working with my brother, but I was wrong.

No matter how intense the needs and demands of others who walk through my door, I could still go home at night, pray for them and move on to other things.

Not so when it's family.

There are no "work hours" and "down time."

It's all the time. 

The phone rings early in the morning and late at night. Work and weekends get shifted around to accommodate visits to social services, Social Security, and doctors offices.

I thought I was awesomely juggling all the balls in the air until the day the wrong button got pushed. I dropped him off at the temporary shelter where he's been staying the past three months and sobbed all the way home.

It didn't make sense to me. I was angry with him and his behavior - why on earth was I crying?

But cry I did. The ugly cry. The shoulder-heaving, snot running, torrents of tears so-thick-I-could-barely-see-the-road cry. And when I thought it had stopped, it started all over again.

The next day, and the day after that, and the day after that, tears lived in the rims. The mere thought of having to deal with him pushed those droplets over the edge and down my cheeks.

It wasn't my nature to be so down for so many days on end.

Through it all, I have continued to force myself to sit down and work on a writing assignment and my book. I would leave work, then write for several hours. I have deadlines to meet and I spent many days going from the computer screen at work to the computer screen at home.

Last night as I drove home I noticed the sunset, and the lake called to my spirit. I can't tell you how many long, long months it has been since I sat on my bench and watched the sun slip below the horizon.

I almost didn't heed the call.

At the last minute I rerouted myself and headed toward the park. It was 8:30 and the sun was already hanging low in the sky. As I drove in the direction of the marina, I saw movement out of the corner of my eye.



There was a fawn prancing around it's mom, then taking off in wild abandon. It stopped in its tracks, abruptly changed directions, and charged off again.

I pulled off on the side of the road to watch for a full two minutes, laughing at the fawn and his joyous play.

It immediately lifted my spirits. 

I slowly drove off, then pulled my camera out of my purse, turned around, and was thrilled to see him still at it so I could record his antics.

A few minutes later I continued to the marina and headed down to the water with my camera.

The lake and the sunset did not disappoint. I sat on the bench and listened to the "whizzzz" of the fisherman's line being cast and the "plunk" as the weight hit the water to pull the hook below the surface, tantalizing the fish below with a worm or minnow.

I smelled the sweetness of the honeysuckles hanging in the air.

And I felt the warm breeze on my face.

This is where it all began for an aching heart searching to find joy again.

This heart, once more heavy with the struggles of this life, has returned to ask new why's. To seek answers once again in the stillness and beauty of creation.

To hear Him whisper "I am with you always, Toni. Sometimes in this life you will go through storms, but I am in control."

This heart has come back to the bench.











Saturday, June 3, 2017

Adventures in Community Outreach - Cares Day

Three years ago I stepped down from a volunteer position running a ministry I loved, in order to take on a full-time ministry manager position at another local church.
 
It was like leaving a child behind. 

I had birthed the ministry, grown with it, and been richly blessed by it. I had witnessed many miracles of God's provision through it, and in fact, I'm writing a book about it. 

There were many tears shed on my part, but I believed I was following God's leading and call in making the move. I knew I was handing the reigns over to a woman who had a similar passion for the community and that lessened the blow a bit. For the past few years she has loved and nurtured the ministry, keeping it going strong.

Then a few weeks ago, I sat in the sanctuary of that former church and watched as the baton was passed again to co-leaders. One started with us a few years ago as garden manager. The other was my "brain." I  was the upfront vision caster and she was the keeper of a million details and queen of our volunteer spreadsheets relishing in her behind-the-scenes anonymity. 

As I watched her speak that morning, tears streamed down my face. I was so proud of her for moving out beyond her comfort zone to take on a co-leadership role and so honored to see that God was continuing to use the ministry to impact the community.

Today was the first outreach since the two took on the leadership mantel. Despite a very rainy morning, a number of organizations in the area benefited from the practical acts of service performed.

This year, I was able to participate as a volunteer and I was so excited to experience the day from the "other side!" I signed on as photographer and drove around to the different locations capturing pictures of the good deeds.

At the church, breakfast bags were assembled for a local soup kitchen, snack packs were put together for an after-school program, and hygiene kits were created to hand out to the homeless. 








A team went out to the on-site location of the after-school program to clean and organize four of their classrooms. It was there I heard a conversation between a parent of a child in the program and our team leader about what was going on and where the group was from. People are always so surprised that an "outside" group would take an interest in helping to beautify/clean/improve their space.

Cares Day provides that opportunity to explain what we do for them is an outpouring of our love for Christ. Serving like this gives us the chance to share our faith in a way that might not otherwise be possible.





I left the second group knee deep in pencils, books, and craft pieces to head over to a local free clinic where the next group of volunteers were beautifying the grounds. 



Although the rains came and went, they managed to plant and mulch, bringing beauty to an area dominated by concrete and asphalt.





The next stop was the warehouse facility of an organization that primarily champions the needs of single parent families. Among the many services they offer, they provide a food pantry that includes much needed items like diapers. Volunteers sorted the diapers by size and bagged them up 25 at a time. After making quick work of that task, they moved on to a second one. 

Two of the projects had to be cancelled because of the weather, so my last stop was at a local park where a team bagged trash. They remarked how they felt God's presence as He held up the rains while they worked, then even sent a garbage truck by to pick up the trash, just as they finished! I love that God is always in the details.



Seven years ago, I was obedient to the prompting of the Spirit. I knew God wanted us to move beyond the walls of our church and into the community. I had no idea how, but God led the way. Through this outreach and many others, He continues to impact lives years later. I may have been the first person at the helm of CommunityConnections, but it successfully continues on without me because it was never me who was in charge.

What is He prompting you to do today? Don't brush aside the nudge. It's been said that God doesn't call the equipped, He equips the called. You can be part of the miracle He's doing or you can miss the blessing. I'm glad I jumped on board and I'm excited for those who have heeded the call since He moved me on.

Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord, equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. Hebrews 13:20-21.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Flood and Fire


When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. Isaiah 43:2. 

I love this verse and have often shared it to encourage others going through difficult times. I'll remind them that it says "when" these things happen and not "if." God is not surprised by any trials that come our way. In fact, in John 16:33 He goes so far as to say "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." 

So the first time this verse popped up in something I was reading a few months ago, I smiled and nodded in affirmation. "Amen." 

The second time it appeared I thought "Well, that's confirmation of a comforting promise. Love that verse."

But by the third, fourth, even fifth time I either read or heard it in a short span of time, my thoughts were more like "Where you going with this God? Are you preparing me for something?"


He was.

I've been through a lot of "somethings" over the past decade, but this one has me passing through waters I couldn't anticipate and walking through fire I never saw coming.

About a year and a half ago I noticed a small "something" on my shoulder. Every doctor had the same reaction: "Hmmm...that's weird...I've never seen anything like that. I have no idea what that is." 

But during a routine physical last November, one doctor's comment was tinged with foreboding. "Hmmm...that looks different. Have it checked."

Three months ago, a dermatologist biopsied it and a few weeks later, after I'd all but forgotten about it, he called with the results. I was busy in the church food pantry wrapping donated bread and not really paying attention until I heard two words.

"Lymphoma." "Oncologist."

It still really didn't sink in. I went back to the job at hand and purposed to call him back in the morning when I could listen without distraction. Surely I had misheard. 

I couldn't get hold of him the next day and had to wait the weekend. But by Monday, those ugly words were back. 

"You need to call a hospital hematology/oncology department for further testing and tell them you have 'biopsy proven' marginal zone lymphoma." 

It sounded as if someone had slapped a little gold sunburst on my chest like a Good Housekeeping seal of approval. Hi, you've got cancer and it's "Biopsy Proven!"

My head was reeling in those first few days. Finding an insurance covered hospital and oncologist. Going for a CT scan. Having an ultrasound. Then waiting. Waiting. Waiting.


But as time has gone on, in the midst of scary words, unfamiliar faces, tests and new terminology, I have a peace. God is still in control and He uses people and things like music to remind me of His presence. 

On my first visit to discuss radiation treatments, Mercy Me's "Even If" came on the radio as I pulled into the parking lot.

I know You're able and I know You can
Save through the fire with Your mighty hand
But even if You don't
My hope is You alone
They say it only takes a little faith
To move a mountain
Well good thing
A little faith is all I have, right now
But God, when You choose
To leave mountains unmovable
Oh give me the strength to be able to sing
It is well with my soul
On my first treatment visit, I asked the tech if they "took music requests." He asked what I'd like to listen to and I told him Contemporary Christian. 

"My daughter is a Contemporary Christian artist. Would you like to listen to her CD?"

"Sure."

A few minutes later, as he left the room saying "the treatment is about to begin," I heard these lyrics "Set my eyes on you. Your love is all I need to live."

A few days later, the tech gave me the CD. Those well-timed lyrics were from a song called Psalm 16.

"Keep me safe, my God, for in you I take refuge. I say to the LORD, 'You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing.' I say of the holy people who are in the land, “They are the noble ones in whom is all my delight.” Those who run after other gods will suffer more and more. I will not pour out libations of blood to such gods or take up their names on my lips. LORD, you alone are my portion and my cup; you make my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance. I will praise the LORD, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me. I keep my eyes always on the LORD. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay. You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand." Ps. 16

One of my favorite bands is Tenth Avenue North. Their lyrics always touch my soul and their newest song could not have come out at a better time.

Take a minute to listen to I Have This Hope and I know it will minister to you wherever you are. (I'm smiling right now because as I clicked through the link to make sure it worked and listened to the song, Even If came on right after - so listen to that too. God is so good and in every detail!) 

I have this hope
In the depth of my soul
In the flood or the fire
You're with me and You won't let go
Yesterday marked the half way point in my treatments. A sweet friend gave me this necklace.


For those of you with "older" eyes like mine, it says "What Cancer Cannot Do. It cannot...invade the soul, suppress memories, kill friendship, destroy peace, conquer the spirit, shatter hope, cripple love, corrode faith, steal eternal life, silence courage."

All that is true but even more important is what God CAN do in and through me. He can...give rest to my soul (Ps.62:1), remember the righteous (Ps. 112:6), be a friend (John 15:15), keep me in perfect peace (Is. 26:3), make me more than a conqueror (Romans 8:37), give me a future and a hope (Jer. 29:11), save me because of His unfailing love (Ps. 6:4), do the impossible with the smallest bit of faith (Matt 17:20), give eternal life (1 John 5:11), and commands me to be strong and courageous (Joshua 1:9).

Yes, there is both flood and fire going on in my life right now. But my hope is in Him alone and if I set my eyes on Him, I'll see He is with me and He won't let go.