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...

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.