Ruff Summer by Kim Clayton

It’s the last week of August.   School buses, buzzing locusts, cool nights – they all point to one thing: summer is slipping away.   Let’s all pause for a moment of silence...  Thank you.   Does it seem to you that summer was doing battle just to get here at all this year?  The first few months looked like this:  rain, rain, drizzle, downpour, rain, sun (quick, get the mower!), rain.  Crops, gardens, and lawns barely stood a chance.   And in the midst of the wet and dry summer, I’ve been living a rollercoaster life.  As a matter of fact, I did ride two small coasters on our trip to Kings Island where, guess what, it rained.  But mostly the rollercoaster consisted of emotions big and small.  Branden, my youngest, is heading off to college soon which means we’ll soon empty the nest.  And, we got a puppy.  I know, bad timing, right?  Summer in my house looked a bit like this:   smile, cry, smile-cry, “No, bad!”, “Go potty,” cry, smile, “Get that outta your mouth!”, smile-cry.  Ugh, I’m nauseated, let me off this ride.

So you’ll notice the picture of our two dogs I put with this post.  Do you see the way our oldest dog, Frank (upper corner), is sitting there all calm in his maturity, and how the new puppy, Stella is a blur of activity?  It’s a visual of who I am and who I’d like to be.    I wish I could weather the storms more like Frank, who looks as if to say, “Well, this is new… but we’ll get used to it.”  But unfortunately, I seem to be more like Stella.  I jump about in my uncertainty, in and out of focus, as if to say:

God, how do I…

Will he know how to…

What on earth will we…

Maybe I should…

Oh my goodness, I’m so glad my Heavenly Father is strong enough and infinitely patient enough to take on my messy heart and overactive brain that switches gears so quickly.  One minute, excited for the adventure, and the next minute, waving my hands Miss America style at my brimming eyes.  He’s not rattled by my reactions, but takes it all and says in Phillipians 4:6-7,

“Don’t worry about anything; instead pray about everything.  Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.  Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand.  His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” 

Don’t worry?  Easier said than done.  There are at least eleven mentions of “Do not worry” in the Bible, and even more of “Do not fear”.  When I fix my eyes on the future and the unknown, my heart squeezes a bit and I get anxious about what is ahead, much like climbing the hill of a large coaster and fearing the drop.  I forget at times, most of the time, that where I’m headed, my Father has it covered.  He has already been there, waiting with arms wide open to catch me.

The verse goes on to remind us to replace worry with prayer and to thank Him for all he’s done, something I also forget to do.  If we look back and remember all he’s brought us through, how faithful he has been, it’s like knowing the bottom won’t drop out.  There’s a cushion.  I think of how the Israelites would worry about every little thing and Moses would remind them of the parting of the Red Sea.  How on earth could they forget something like that?  How do I forget all he’s done for me?

And then a promise to experience peace, and not just any peace, God’s peace, that exceeds understanding.  A blessing.  Deep in my soul, it’s there, and the truth of it wells up.  I know it will all be okay, because it’s all in God’s hands.  In my heart I hear a simple question, “Do you trust me?”  My answer can only be yes.  “Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68)

I believe, only help my unbelief.

I trust, only forgive me when I worry.

I surrender, only help me to let go.

Amen.

Finish Strong by Kim Clayton

Four years ago, I fancied myself a runner because:

a) I owned a pair of cute running shorts

b) I had a nifty water bottle, and

c) I could run/walk 3 miles and not pass out.  I even did a couple of 5ks for validation. 

 

The reason I even started running was also threefold:

a)  my husband was a record-breaking high school runner

b) both my boys were running cross country and track, and

c) I wasn’t getting any younger.

 

Basically, I wanted to experience what they felt in a race.  When I watch a cross country race, I am inspired.  Inspired to run (spectators have to run in order to even watch the sport!), and inspired by the lessons that so obviously translate spiritually.  Here are a few lessons that have floated to the top of my list.

 

Be prepared.  No coach ever put an athlete on the starting line that didn’t go through training.  Athletes understand the importance of self-discipline, stretching, summer mileage, and walking the race course.   “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” 1 Corinthians 9:24-27

 

Pain is a guarantee.  There’s a reason why no one ever looks good in running pictures. Running hurts while you do it, after you’re done, and two days later.  But even though it hurts, you run through it because you know the pain is getting you somewhere.  The lung capacity and cardio, the muscles and the mindset – they all get stronger.  My son said he once heard a quote about racing, “You’re already in pain - go through it!  Don’t quit.”  Or here’s one of my favorite quotes from Westley in The Princess Bride, “Life is pain, highness.  Anyone who tells you otherwise is selling something.” Pain is part of the process; it sharpens us, and gives us character. Jesus promises in John 16:33 “In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.”

 

Encourage each other.  I’ve witnessed countless athletes encourage one another along the race course, and not just their own teammates.  There’s something about sharing the same experience, understanding what another person is going through, and realizing that you have it in you to offer words of help. Once athletes finish their race, tired as they are, they “bring the rest home” cheering for their teammates still working their way through the course.  “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11

 

Finish Strong.  The finish line is where I cried my first tears at a cross country race.  It amazes how determined a tired, worn out runner will attack those last few meters when the finish line is in sight.  Giving every last ounce to the end of the race, many collapse or nearly pass out at the finish.  At the finish line, I yell with the other spectators trying to infuse strength with my words: “Finish strong!”  It’s a reminder that those of us watching believe, we know the end is in sight, we see the value of the race and the completion.  “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” Hebrews 12:1-2

 

The finish line is the lesson that resonates most strongly with me these days as we approach graduation for our youngest son.  His cross country days are over. No more team meals, carpools to distant race courses, or reminding him to pack his inhaler.  This is sad, and it’s also freeing.  It’s a reason to celebrate, and a reason to cry.  He’s heading for the finish line, only to begin a new race into the college years and beyond.  And in the same respect, it’s my finish line too.  It brings Darrel and me to a beginning of “who exactly are we without kids?” A bit scary and exciting all at once.  But in all of it, I trust my Lord and Savior who has great plans for each of us in all the directions we go.  We are, after all, still running the race!

Zuzu's Petals by Kim Clayton

Christmastime is here, although there is no snow.  No snow at Christmas feels strange to me, kind of surreal, like something significant is missing.  I like a white Christmas all peaceful, nostalgic, and made for snuggling up with a cup of cocoa.  But even without snow, there will be Christmas, and there will be my family, and we will open gifts and eat delicious food, and we will head to church and take communion and remember that Jesus became "God With Us" on that holiest of nights in the little town of Bethlehem.  And I will think wistfully of loved ones who once celebrated with me and who are now memories that bring tender tears to my eyes.  I will remember them and be thankful that I was put on this earth during their lifetimes to know them.

There’s a scene in the movie It's A Wonderful Life where George Bailey realizes his wish of never being born has come true.  He searches his person and discovers there are things missing that make him and his life real.  He finds no wallet, no insurance papers, but worst of all, when he checks his pocket, no Zuzu's petals.  That hits him hardest of all… no Zuzu’s petals.  If the petals are missing, that must mean no wife, no family, that those he loved most dearly were nonexistent.  And who was he without them?

I can’t imagine Christmas, or life itself, without family, but more importantly, without Jesus.  When it comes down to it, Christmas would still come without presents or snow or traditions honored.  Remember, even the Grinch couldn’t steal it from Whooville.  But it wouldn’t come without Christ.  If He had never been born we would be, most certainly, in a sorry state.  Who are we, after all, without Him?

He came as Immanuel – God With Us, The Word Made Flesh.  He came, and he humbled himself to dwell among us, breathing our air, feeling the aches of the body, knowing love and loss, and all the time still being God.  He was born, and lived; then he died and lives!  He is God With Us still as he promised in Matthew 28:20 “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  Even now, He continues to be God With Us, and with him we are salt and light in a bitter and dark world that seems to have no room for him.  With him we are known and loved and saved.  With him we are free and whole and forgiven. 

With him, it truly is a wonderful life, and a Merry Christmas!

“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel (which means “God with us.”)”  Matthew 1:23

Stitched Together by Karen Pettyjohn

My mom taught me to knit as a young girl.  She believed in teaching us basic skills to keep our hands busy.  We started out learning embroidery, using those iron-on transfers that were free in magazines in that era.  Next, we learned to crochet.  I used my first "allowance" to purchase a crochet hook and thread at the local dry goods store.  One Friday, I asked Mom if she would finally teach me to knit.  She asked when, and I said right now!  Actually, it wasn't about the knitting at that time.  Friday was always cleaning day and I didn't want to clean the house on a beautiful summer day.  Mom stopped cleaning right then and gave me my first knitting lesson. Then... we finished cleaning the house.

I thought of my handiwork as just learning basic skills.  I had no idea how well these skills would serve me throughout my life.  My knitting is something that I keep building on, learning new techniques.  It has also been a great stress reliever as well as a companion during solitary times in my life.  Knitting has introduced me to new people and taken me to new places and experiences.  It has allowed me to make items for my family, but it has also allowed me to "give back" by knitting items for those in need that I may never meet.

Knitting reminds me of my faith.  Growing up, I thought I was just learning the basics like "Jesus loves me," and "Love my neighbor."  As I continue to study God's Word in the Bible, I keep learning new things.  Like my knitting, God's Word has also been a great stress reliever as well as a companion during solitary times.  It has allowed me to bless others as God has blessed me.  The fellowship has introduced me to new people and taken me to new places and experiences.

Stitched Together at the VMC is a combination of my knitting skills and faith.  It gives women a time to gather and share, both their handiwork and their prayers.  We work on different items, using different skills.  There are some that knit, crochet, quilt or just do some mending.  We share our individual talents, as well as our lives, as we encourage each other and pray for one another.

Karen Pettyjohn facilitates the Stitched Together group which meets on the first Monday of each month from 6-8 p.m.  Come join in and bring whatever project you're working on.  

The Boyfriend Break-Up of 1986 by Kim Clayton

I am falling apart.  All signs point to the end of summer.  Fields of corn are dying before my eyes.   Flip-flops are disappearing into closets.  And the bees are slow.  That’s a sure sign of the end… slow bees.  Say it isn’t soooo!!!  I am sad.  More than sad, I’m like a petulant teenager from 1986 who’s suffering through a dramatic and unexpected breakup.  Maybe it will help me process and move on if I can experience it that way, and then lie crying on my bed rewinding “Saving All My Love For You” by Whitney Houston on my Walk-man.  

On that note, I present a little skit where Summer is the boy who is breaking up with me, and I’m blindsided and needy.

Allow me to set the stage.  It’s September, 1986, and Kim is leaning against her locker, twirling her hair as Summer breezes out of last period.  For your visual purposes, the part of Summer will be played by 17-year-old Kevin James, from the movie “Hitch”.  I have always had a secret crush on Kevin James, so this is a dream come true for me.  The part of me will be played by 16-year-old Princess Elsa from the movie, “Frozen”, because this is my skit and anything can happen.

Summer: (tentatively) Kim, we need to talk.

Kim:  (looks dreamily at Summer, snapping her gum)  Sure.  How was English?

Summer:  No, that’s not the kind of talking we need to do.  It’s just that… I think our relationship is coming to an end.  I’ve been feeling the need to move on. 

Kim:  (looks devastated, eyes wide)  What??  No!!  What about all those times you brought me flowers… the long walks… the starry nights by the fire pit making smores… those days you were so hot you melted my ice cream… 

Summer:  I know, those were wonderful times, and I enjoyed sharing them with you.  What we had was beautiful.  Trust me, it’s not you, it’s me.

Kim:  (throws down her school books, sobbing, clings to Summer, unashamed)   I can’t lose you…  You mean everything to me!  I will never make it without you! How will I get my vitamin D?

Summer:  I’m really sorry, but this is how it has to be, you need to let go.  (Feel free to sing “Let It Go” at the top of your lungs)

Life is all about change, whether it’s of our own making, the seasonal predictable kind, or the stuff that just drops in unannounced. Familiar words come from Ecclesiastes 3 about a time to plant and to harvest, to weep and to laugh, to mourn and to dance.  A season, it says, for everything under the heavens. But reassurance comes in knowing that through all these seasons, our Lord is faithful and constant.  Romans 11:36 says, “For from him and through him and for him are all things.”  Nothing comes to pass without first passing through His hands, and there is great comfort in that.

So yes, Summer may have ended our relationship.  And we are never, ever, ever getting back together… until next June.  But don’t worry, I will move on.  Fall has some great qualities, too.  I just can’t think of any right now.