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Introspective Sojourner

The journey inward following Christ’s path to that person I was uniquely created to be.

Lawn Chairs in the Living Room

Struggle = Desired State – Current State.   Our pastor often asks, “Who is on the throne of your heart?” There’s occupancy for one, even though I often try to one-cheek it and just help Jesus out a little bit. He is faithful to let me take control, and faithful to take control when I vacate the seat for Him too. 

Currently I am on and off that throne so much I have bruises on my soul. You see, we recently moved to Ohio. We had big plans. We’ve been so excited about this for months. My family is close to where we moved, as are all of my grandchildren, and half of my kids. We’ve been looking forward to the slower pace and less financial stress due to the cost of living differences. Step by step we prepared to move.

Now both of my realtors were amazing – and came recommended by a friend or family. That’s an important point. Our California realtor helped us secure an electrician, general contractor, section one company and we easily completed the minor repairs needed to sell our home. It sold very quickly.

Our Ohio realtor helped us find a house beyond our dreams on a two day whirlwind house hunting trip and we put in an offer that was accepted. So we began the process of packing to get ready to move.

I called several movers, as well as PODS. I had PODS all set up, along with hiring muscle on either end to lift the heavy stuff. Then PODS told us the earliest date we could receive our belongings was December 14th. We have a blue and gold macaw that would be riding with us as we crossed the country and staying with us in a large dog kennel – which is still significantly smaller than his cage. An extra week in the kennel seemed unkind, so I went back to the movers I had already researched.

One mover stood out. They were a family run business. We would be purchasing the full 26ft truck for a flat rate, so that it would be unlikely that our belonging would get lost. The same movers would show up at my California home as would deliver to my Ohio home – in uniform. They couldn’t drive more than 500 miles a day but they could deliver our belongings on the 6th or 7th of December. They were perfect – and too good to be true. I had a feeling they were too good to be true before we hired them but I wanted Rio out of that kennel as soon as we could. So I ignored my gut reaction.

Here we are on December 21st and this moving company has been everyone’s worst nightmare. They didn’t show up when they promised, or with the size truck they promised. They sub contracted out to another moving company to do the work. The new owners of our California home would arrive at 6PM on the day the movers did show up. And the cost was astronomically higher than promised. The contract had been wrong and we had asked the movers to correct it but there was so much to do between the two sales that making sure we had the right contract fell through the cracks. When the subcontractors arrived we had no choice but to sign the contract, or they would not load our belongings. The new owners were coming. We signed the contract.

We managed to get a photo of the first page of the contract but the mover would not let us take pictures of the remaining pages. They would email it to us. They did not. They took down the contract from the emails they had sent previously with the incorrect contract so we couldn’t even compare them to each other.

Every day we text, call and remind the movers that we need our stuff and that Rio is still in a dog kennel. Every day they evade, half answer and make promises they aren’t going to keep. Apparently they have 30 days, or 21 business days to deliver our belongings legally. Of course this is what they tell us – we don’t really know that for sure.

My emotions have been all over the board. Sometimes I can lay this fiasco in God’s hands – after all there is nothing I can do that is making any difference in the outcome. Sometimes my emotions push me to yell and berate the movers – which I’m sure does nothing to help our cause.

I’m definitely experiencing struggle. What I pictured as my desired state of kicking back in our new house and starting this new phase is not the same our current state of not knowing if our belongings will ever arrive or arrive in one piece. Turns out, being the only family on one truck was also a lie. They informed us we would be unloaded somewhere in California and loaded onto a much bigger truck headed for New York and then from there be unloaded and loaded on a smaller truck to deliver. So many chances to break our belongings. I find myself panicking off and on.

But when I do vacate the throne of my heart and leave this mess in Jesus’ hands, I am reminded that we made the trip without incident. It was actually a nice trip – even with a dog that gets car sick and a macaw. Rio was so good – I really am shocked. Everyone is settling in. Even though we’re sleeping on an air mattress and have borrowed lawn chairs in the living room.

Neither of us got sick, even though this pandemic was kicking into high gear as we traveled and people on both ends of our move tested positive. All of our friends are recovering, and none had severe symptoms. We have much to be grateful for.

This house will not be perfect and we will have to deal with all life throws at us. That’s not different. We expected that.

Our pipes backed up into our basement and we had to call RotoRooter out to handle it. The sewage water that soaked several carpet tiles – that’s where many of our belongings would have been stored waiting to be unpacked had things gone by plan. We got the problem fixed in just a few hours. Because our things hadn’t been delivered nothing else was destroyed.

What is different is I never expected to be sitting on lawn chairs in my living room wondering when or if my things would arrive. Already though God has proved that even though this has been unbelievably stressful – I can see He is with us. The more I turn my heart over to Him – the less stress I feel.

I’ve been through a lot in my life. God has always been faithful. There has always been struggle but when I look back, I have so much to be grateful for.

This has been a difficult year for so many – far more difficult than my stuff being delayed. After all, it is just stuff. Next year – even though it won’t be 2020 – will have its own set of struggles. As will the year after that. That’s kind of the gig. Our pastor asked what the difference was between being buried and being planted. Trusting the gardener. What a great visual.

I do trust Jesus, maybe just not enough. I know I’m not alone but perhaps my introspective journey will help you as you traverse yours. Trust Jesus – even when you are using lawn chairs in your living room. Then step back and appreciate how you grow where you were planted.

By Vicki L. Pugliese

Conversation with a Friend

Friend: I’m lost.

Me: I am too. Follow Him.

Friend: I don’t know if I can trust Him.

Me: You can.

Friend: But you aren’t following Him and I knew another guy who said to follow Him and he wasn’t following Him.

Me: I know it doesn’t look like I’m following Him but He went through that dark valley. I was afraid, so I’m going around. But I am following Him.

Friend: That little gully right there, with all the sunshine?

Me: It looked darker to me. I was afraid.

Friend: So you don’t trust Him?

Me: I do… but maybe not enough.

Friend: I’m gonna kinda follow you but my own way. Just in case.

Me: Don’t follow me. I’m lost too. Follow Him.

Friend: I’d rather watch you. I think you’ll let me down and I can get back to that easy trail everyone else is on, then I’ll be sure I made the right choice.

Me: How will you know that you made the right choice, if you don’t follow Him for yourself?

Friend: Because I know I’m lost. (pause) But everyone I know is going that way.

Me: If everyone is going that way and you’re sure you’re lost, then aren’t they lost?

Friend: Hmmmm I guess so, but at least we’re together.

Me: I want to be with Him. Maybe I will go through that dark valley. It might be a small gully. I should trust Him more.

Friend: Wait – if you’re going this way – maybe I’ll follow you.

Me: Don’t follow me. Follow Him.

Friend: I don’t understand. Why not?

Me: Because I’m stubborn and I take my eyes off of Him. If we both try to follow Him, we might not get lost so easy.

Friend: I don’t know how to start.

Me: Just follow Him. He’s easy to find if you look for Him, and when things get really hard, He’s always right beside me.

But you’re gonna have to take your eyes off me.

Friend – looks for Jesus taking a tentative step in that direction.

Jesus to my friend: I’ve been waiting for you to follow me. I knew you would. That was me that called softly to you, so that you would know you were lost.

Friend to Jesus: I don’t know how.

Jesus to both of us: That’s why I brought you together. You can help each other follow me and not be afraid to go where I go. Just remember to keep your eyes on me. I’ll never be far.

And so our journey following Jesus converged for a while and we were strengthened as we helped each other – to follow Him.

To all my readers – follow Him.

By Vicki L Pugliese

Open Letter to the NFL

Dear NFL, it’s time to have a Dr. Phil moment. “How’s that working for you?” We’ve spent so much time and energy fighting over ‘how’ this important message gets made. Players boycotting the anthem. Fans boycotting the games. Owners supporting and openly standing against the ‘how’ – on a very basic right to protest. Give the players a time and place to make this statement.

The issue has never been that you don’t stand against racism or police brutality. The issue was always the ‘how’.

Colin Kaepernick wasn’t wrong that football games are a far reaching mechanism to get the word out. He wasn’t wrong to risk his career defending a desire to make this country better for all.

The misstep was in the ‘how’ and YOU have the power to not only bring us together but to show us you believe in the message.

Kneeling during the anthem will never stop offending certain groups such as veterans. They too have a valid point, paid for by the blood of their fellow veterans. It’s not okay to dismiss their sacrifice, but until the anthem is for all of us – it’s true meaning is lost.

What if the NFL sponsored the protest – provided a time and place? What if before we sing the anthem, we show all Americans that the anthem is for them. Allow players to meet at the center of the field, perhaps wearing black hats. Both teams, all races coming together for a minute of silence on their knees.

Toss out fans who are disrespectful or unsupportive. Putting a stop to racism is that important. Let’s find our solidarity.

When the minute of silence is over, let the players stand united for one country. The land of the free and the home of the brave. Sing the anthem that should be an anthem for all of us.

Respect the message Colin was trying to make while respecting the sacrifices of those who fought for his right to say his message, and his right to protest. It’s an important message.

Maybe if we look at ‘how’ we say our words as well as how important the words are, we can say even more. The ‘how’ speaks volumes by itself.

Let’s end the division and fight for our unity. Let’s kneel together for an America that is better for us all. MLB, NBA, NHL feel free to join the movement.

Maybe this idea still needs to be refined. It’s a great jumping off point. Help us stop fighting over a message we agree upon!

Sincerely,

Vicki L. Pugliese

Lessons from a Puppy

My puppy is teaching me lessons I should already know about love. She is needy. Plain and simple. And there are consequences to not filling those needs. When I’m not watching closely enough, like most puppies, she’s destructive.

She has needs, like everyone. She needs to be fed, preferably on or before 5:30 pm, in her opinion. She needs to burn off her energy and if I don’t provide that she gets needy in other ways, or she destroys things.

It’s my own fault during this shelter in place, when I don’t meet those needs, if she acts out. While I do get frustrated when she destroys unacceptable items, especially since we have provided her a plethora of acceptable ones, I believe often, her destructive ways are a response to her unmet needs.

She’s a terribly picky pup, as well. She loves to have her face kissed. She wants my full attention, and to have both hands surrounding her enormous head, while I look directly in her eye and smother her face in kisses. One handed, while I’m still looking at my phone, will simply not do. She will drown me in slobber showing me what she needs. I am trying to teach her one kiss is plenty.

Although she prefers butt rubs and belly rubs, she first needs to know that she has my undivided attention. Sometimes I’ll try to get away with rubbing her head or behind her ears while continuing what I was doing, but she is quite frankly the most persistent being I have ever met. She wants love the way she receives it, and she is patiently, or persistently, teaching me how to fill that need.

I wonder today, staring at yet another dog bed with a hole in it and fluff scattered everywhere, why it’s taking me so long to figure this out? Why do I stubbornly insist on loving her differently than how she needs? Why do I call her needy when she has plainly shown me how she wants love and asks for it repeatedly. Maybe it’s time to wonder why I stubbornly withhold what I want to give her anyway?

The parallels in my life elsewhere are easy to see. I receive love in words of affirmation and acts of service. You can bring me presents all day long and not only will I not receive the love you are showing me, eventually it will make me uncomfortable. I have a dear friend who receives love in gifts and sometimes I wonder how we’ve remained friends for so long when we struggle so much to show each other love in the manner that we each need. Yet I love her dearly.

I have this “thing” about adult birthday parties. I can’t explain how uncomfortable they make me, but I am learning to put aside that uncomfortableness to show the people I love who receive love this way, that I care.

Why is that so hard?

It took me years to figure out that I could do my own thing as long as I did it near my husband who just wants proximity and quality time. Sometimes I still stubbornly withhold even that. Why? We’ve been married thirty years, why do I withhold what he needs when he’s my person? I honestly don’t know but I am grateful he loves me anyway.

God is so patient with me. He too, wants my time. Over and over He nudges me to think of Him. Over and over He shows me such grace. His is the love that truly fills me. His is the love I receive best – I simply need to accept it. Like my puppy, God doesn’t tire of my weird obsession to do it my own way. He only needs me to be still for just a moment. Just a moment. Why is that so hard for me?

This afternoon as I sit quietly in my yard, I feel Him near. I feel His love and I feel filled.I am grateful for His persistence and His pursuit of my attention. I am grateful for the puppy He brought into my life to help me learn to love others as they receive and not begrudgingly, forcing them to receive as I do. Only God could show me through a stubborn little Pit Bull, how truly ridiculous I can be.

By Vicki L. Pugliese

An Easter Heart

If you want me to be introspective and self evaluating,

Do not point out my flaws, my weaknesses, where you see that I have failed. I will only put up walls. Raise my defenses. See your flaws. I will not hear. I will return judgment.

Instead stand me before a mighty creator and show me the intricacies of His creation.

Let me see how small and insignificant I am before the vastness of space or at an oceans shore.

Let me struggle with how frail and fragile life can be on the top of majestic mountain, or at the moment life begins.

Instruct me on the wonders of just how similar and just how different things look under a microscope, so I can understand how little I understand.

Show me the beauty my busy life has had me missing. Let me drink in the colors of a sunset, the softness of rain drop, the sweetness of a snow flake.

Let me see myself before the great I am, and I will naturally bow before Him.

Then tell me that He loves me beyond compare. That though I dare not raise my face before Him, yet He died to bridge the gap. His love so immeasurable, I can not comprehend.

Tell me the story of His life – His death – for me. Because of this love. And my heart will crumble when I take it all in. When the story seeps in, my heart will break beyond words.

When I am face down before Him, broken hearted. I am ready for Easter, for the celebration, the gratitude, to go and spread the good news.

Then may I remember to show others the great I am in all His majesty, beauty, unfathomable creativity and immeasurable wonders, and unstoppable love so that they might truly be ready for Easter too.

By Vicki L. Pugliese

One Last Chance

Jake was giving God one last chance as he got out of his car at the church on the corner. Life had been so hard, especially lately. Shoving the pain down one more time he headed towards its doors.

She saw the elderly woman take a shaky step onto the ramp that covered the stairs. It didn’t have any handrails. She thought about how her own mother was comforted and steadied by taking her arm as they walked, so she offered it to the woman. The elderly woman smiled and thanked her. They chatted about the weather as they walked down the ramp and parted ways.

A mom carrying a small child saw the woman offer her arm and smiled. She loved this church even though she had only been there a couple of times. 

“Good morning, did you need help finding something?” a man standing at a visitor’s booth nearby asked her.

“Is the children’s ministry still down this way?” she asked just to be sure.

“Yes, but you have to go around because of the construction. Here let me show you,” he said walking towards her.

They walked around a shed to get back to the doorway. He was pleasant and her son warmed up to him quickly.

Someone met them at the door and the nice man told her to have a wonderful day. The young woman at the door showed her how to check in her son and walked her to the room with children his age.

The man who had walked her around the construction went back to his booth, greeting everyone he passed. He stopped for a second to chat with someone he knew. They exchanged a laugh.

Probably an inside joke, Jake thought as he approached them.

The man looked Jake in the eyes and said, “Good Morning!” His smile was bright.

Jake mustered a small smile and a nod. He was following the people who seemed to know where they were going, but in the few seconds it had taken to walk here from his car, he was feeling his mood brighten.

“Beautiful day, isn’t it?” asked another man coming along side of Jake.

Jake nodded thinking, it was a pretty friendly church but that didn’t really prove anything. Still, he was glad they were.

A pleasant woman with bulletins greeted them at the door. The man Jake had walked up with told him to have a nice day as he stepped away to greet someone he knew.

Jake slipped into the back row on the left as the worship team moved towards the front. A large screen was counting down for something. Jake assumed that was when the service would start. He was right. As soon as the countdown hit zero there was a soft drum roll and the music began.

Jake didn’t sing. The lyrics were displayed on the screen over a view of waves crashing at a cliff. The video mirrored his feelings lately. Jake was determined not to participate. He stood without singing. This was God’s last chance and he wasn’t going to make it easy on Him.

There was a break in the music and someone came up and asked visitors to fill out the card in the backs of the seat in front of them. Jake stared at the little red card and pen in front of him, but didn’t pull it out. The music resumed and people around him lifted their hands in the air. Jake stared at the words, feeling lost in their midst.

Soon the music was ending and a man, presumably the pastor, bounced up onto the stage as the worship team stepped down. Happiness seemed to ooze out of him. The screen now held a Bible verse as the pastor began. He spoke of fighting for your joy and how he wanted them to be happier today than they were yesterday.

“There’s more joy in Jesus than in anything…” the pastor said and Jake felt like he looked him directly in the eyes when he spoke.

Jake was thinking he hadn’t felt joy since his before his father got sick. It had been a long fight against the cancer that had caused his father so much pain. He had passed away a fraction of the size he had been when he was strong. Cancer had devastated every part of him. Jake’s small mother had seemed to have no trouble lifting him from his wheelchair to the couch or bed.

A single tear threatened to roll down his cheek as his heart ached at the thought of it. Jake did his best to will the tear to stay. His mind wandered, barely taking in the sermon, though a visual or two broke through. God’s presence hovering like a cloud over the temple and God’s light showing them the way in the dark.

Jake thought to himself. “It would be nice to know where you were supposed to go.”

Jake felt like life had been filled with darkness lately. His mom’s health was deteriorating now as well. She missed his dad so much. No one expected her to be with them much longer. He wasn’t sure he could take the pain of losing her too.

“We were designed to be in relationships, in relationship with God…”

Jake thought about being alone soon. Those thoughts scared him.

“How can I be in relationship with you God? I’m not even sure you exist. Where were you when Dad died? Where are you now?” Jake thought.

Jake felt a warmth fall over his shoulder. He looked to his side but no one was there. His heart beat wildly in his chest as if he were a rabbit caught out in a field alone. He froze, afraid to move. The feeling didn’t go away. It was as if God sat down in the chair beside him and put his arm around Jake and whispered in his ear, “Here. I’m right here.”

Jake didn’t hear another word of the sermon. It was all he could do to keep the tears from falling. The pastor finished and sat down a few rows in front of him as the music began again. Jake didn’t stand when the worship leader asked them too. He was too afraid the feeling would leave him.

A paraphrase of a Bible verse he knew, where two or three are gathered, bounced around in his head. Had God truly met him here today? Jake couldn’t shake the feeling and he couldn’t explain it. 

As he walked slowly from the building several people smiled and spoke to him. Jake was still miles away, focusing on what he had just experienced, and trying not to let it overwhelm him. He looked down and realized he was carrying the visitor’s card and that somewhere in the service he had filled it out. Barely, but still, his name and email were present.

The man who had walked in beside him stepped up next to him again. “If you take that to the booth over there, they have a gift for you,” the man said patting him on the shoulder as he pointed to the visitor’s booth.

“Thank you,” Jake said in almost a whisper. The warmth of the man’s touch reminded him of the warmth he had felt in the sanctuary.

People were smiling and chatting all around him, but Jake was still lost in what he couldn’t explain. Even though he had arrived to give God one more chance, he had dismissed all that he had witnessed.

It was a friendly church. They did seem joyful and Jake longed for that joy. More importantly Jake longed for the relationship he thought they must have with God, if there was a God.

He handed the man at the booth his visitor’s card and the man handed him a small bag of things. Jake peered down into the bag at a coffee cup and some other small items. It was nice. If this man had any idea how he had felt when he arrived, Jake wasn’t sure he would still be as kind to him.

No one thing had made a difference. Determined to walk away sure there was no God, Jake had dismissed them all one by one. He couldn’t dismiss God’s presence.

But God had a different plan and each thing Jake had witnessed or experienced had brought him one step closer to the place God planned to give him back his faith, the place where God showed up in Jake’s story.

God knew Jake had only one more chance to offer Him, and He used His people to bring Jake close, and to complete the morning that Jake would never forget. Just the way He would use Jake in someone else’s story in the very near future to move His Kingdom forward. His plan was perfectly woven.

You see, little things don’t mean much… they mean everything.

 

By

Vicki L. Pugliese

That’s my son

I knew the second I laid eyes on him, even though his back was to me. No doubts – none at all. I immediately started to cry. Seconds before, at the fish tank, at the entrance of the restaurant, I had just said, “Wow, that kid looks so much like Thomas.”  – our grandson.  They lived on the other side of the country, thousands of miles away. The thought that it was Thomas never entered my mind. 

My husband had decided to take me to lunch. We rarely did that because where I worked wasn’t close. I should have seen that as a clue. They had cleaned the house too. That was the big clue I missed. I wasn’t complaining. Seriously though, really clean, and that was the big clue.

My son and his family had conspired with my husband and daughter to surprise me with their visit. I had absolutely no clue. They had been coming and then there was some valid excuse that they couldn’t. I had no reason not to believe they couldn’t make it. By the time I walked into the little Chinese restaurant, it was forgotten. 

But the second I saw his frame – I knew. The clues fell into place. My son had come home for a visit. My daughter-in-law smiled up at me from across the table with her precious face. It filled my heart. It was the best surprise ever.

Our church uses a word “communitas” – not community. It signifies that deeper relationship – the idea of doing life together or serving together. A little like the way that my small home town was more like a community or the way we made our fellow veterans our family when I served in the Navy.

The type of relationship we all search for. That knowing the second you see them – there is someone I love – who loves me. The way I knew that was my son even though he was facing away from me.

It’s that kind of relationship that gets my super introverted family to go to church. They belong there and people know them and love them exactly as they are, no hidden agendas, no wish list of things they should do better at, or be better at. The smiles of those we’ve known and loved for years now, tell us that we are welcomed. Just the way we are. Just as far along in our journey as we have come. No one there sees us with a big list of how we’ve failed or let them down. They’re just happy to see us – as we are them.

I suppose it isn’t a perfect church – that was never the point. It’s our communitas. Other Christians who aren’t perfect, who love us even though we aren’t perfect, even though we make mistakes.They want us to be there. They want us to be part of their journey and to experience God’s love through the way He moves in all of our lives. It brings us and keeps us closer to Him. The one who called us by name before we ever took a breath. He knew what knuckleheads we would be. He knew the mistakes we would make and yet He loved us so perfectly. There’s no stronger desire than to be loved that way, completely loved and fully known.

We have to lay down our lists. Our lists of the wrongs others have done to us. Our list of the disappointments we have felt. Our past hurts. Our lists of how we think this person in our life “should” be. Expectations that set us up for barriers in our relationships that do exactly the opposite of what we desire. To be truly loved in spite of our mistakes and bad choices.

We have to stop judging our church services and having roast pastor for lunch. Stop the hate. The “I hate this kind of music”.  I hate when the church is too full or too empty, too dark, too loud. I hate when other Christians aren’t perfect…   because just like us, they want to be loved while imperfect. 

God put so many wonderful people in my life and none of them are perfect. What an amazing blessing that is. Others just like me, on a journey to spread the great news about how God loves them and isn’t fooled by their masks, or public faces. He knows my heart and loves me more deeply than I could ask. That’s such great news. He put a whole group of people to journey with me, so we could help each other to deepen our relationship with Him and reach out to those who are yet to believe. What a mind blowing blessing that is, don’t you agree?

I hope you find your communitas, or that you create a communitas. So that everyone can know, somewhere out there is someone who loves me so much that they’ll cry at my sight. They love me so much that they recognize me instantly from far away or with my back to them even if I was supposed to be miles away. Someone who knows what a dunderhead I am, but choses to love me anyway. Just the way our Savior does. Just the way I am.

By

Vicki L. Pugliese

The 11th Mile

“How is your soul?” our pastor asked us to ask each other. “Tired”, “Fine”… I heard around me. “Wounded and a bit beaten,” was my response. It was such a small moment with such a big impact. My words stuttered as they came out. Emotion caught in my throat as the truth of them hit me.

As the day wore on, flashes of five years ago kept creeping into my mind. Five years ago my husband and I trained for a Disney Half Marathon – which we completed. For some reason my mind was connecting the feelings my words had described to that day.

I am not a runner by nature, and I’m slow.  My husband said when I jog it’s more like a cross between moseying and jogging. He’s not wrong.  It took a little over a year from when I first got off the couch and prepared for my first 5K. I was diligent at training. Don’t applaud my efforts too soon. I’m an “all in” and then “quickly all out” kind of girl – I get bored easily. Injuries have sent me back to my old ways and I have gained back the weight I lost. But that day when I was “all in”, despite an injured ankle – I finished my race. The finish line is not where I felt those feelings – that was at the eleventh mile.

At the eleventh mile I stopped and soaked my sore knee and ankle in bio-freeze, as did many of the other runners.  I made a pit stop, and when I came back out, I saw her run by; the balloon lady.  For those of you who have never run a half marathon, or didn’t run it at the back of the pack, there is a pacer and she has balloons tied to her so that you know that’s who she is. For a Disney half, you end up out running on the streets near the park. So for safety reasons, if you are behind the balloon lady at a mile marker, there is a bus sitting there ready to take you to the finish line. You are not allowed to continue – it’s a hard and fast rule.

As I saw her run by, my heart sank. I was already exhausted and there was over two and a half miles left to go, and now I was behind the absolute slowest I was allowed to go. I immediately took off in an attempt to catch up with her. I caught her and fell behind her several times in the next mile.  At one point she reminded several of us that if we were behind her at the mile marker, we would be asked to stop. I remember thinking I wasn’t going to make it. I had trained so hard and yet I was going to be asked to stop. It was defeating.

Then several of us began plotting her demise as we ran just in front of her.  She would laugh and tell us that she could hear us. It helped to lighten that despair, even if it was silly. Somehow the journey took on a value of its own. I was laughing.  I was enjoying commiserating with others but knowing I wasn’t going to give up. We encouraged each other. Eventually I would pull away from her enough not to have her presence be a constant worry. Worry is exhausting. I found my second wind, somewhere deep down and finished; running into the happy arms and smiling face of my husband who had finished much sooner.

That feeling I had at the eleventh mile – that’s how my soul has felt many times recently. I suppose I’m in the eleventh mile of my career. Close enough to want it to be over but tired enough to also want to give up and get on the bus. Some days I’m not sure I’ll find my second wind.  

I lost my job a little over a year ago. I was not a match for this little company I had joined. It’s been a hard battle back for my self-esteem. I was injured in the process. Injured where it doesn’t show, if you don’t know me. I long for retirement – the finish line. But in the process, I’m missing the journey.  In the process, I’m longing for my future and dismissing the value of my present. I see the balloon lady and I’m discouraged. It’s hard to keep working when you aren’t sure you can do it. When with every mistake made or unrealistic deadline missed, I wonder if this failure will be my undoing. The voice in my head is my own worst enemy. It’s like running and trying to keep up with the balloon lady, passing her only to have her pass you again.

Our pastor told us to pray for those answers we heard. Pray for those, like me, who answered honestly from a place of less than victory. And now, after my pastor’s question – I’m looking for my pack. The one that will plot the balloon lady’s demise… and make me laugh, and make me enjoy the journey again. I need to find my “communitas” as our church calls it. I need to fight for my joy and I need their help with that.

I’m looking for them now. I’ve realized how much I need them, so I won’t end up on the bus. How much I need them to change my focus because I’ve realized I don’t want to quit. I want to finish the race. I want to finish and run into the smiling arms of Jesus. Somehow I think someone else out there is looking for their pack too. I want to encourage you to fight for your joy. Find your pack. Don’t miss out on the journey wishing for the finish line. Because the best memories are there even in the eleventh mile and you’ll miss them if you get on the bus.

 

 By

Vicki L. Pugliese

The Search for Joy

There’s something very attractive about Joy. We seem designed to search for it, to fill our insatiable need. It warms us and lingers. The belly laugh of a baby, or the antics of a puppy; they bring a smile to our face. That look on an old friend’s face as you walk through the door; so happy to see you. We long to have our lives filled with it, and will do almost anything to obtain it.

We’ll substitute Joy’s cousin happiness, if our cup gets too empty. Happiness seems so much easier to find. We find happiness in relationships, achievement, and material things. But happiness is intricately linked with disappointment. Relationships that start out somewhere in the stratosphere end up being plagued with boredom, or worse – apathy. We are selfish by nature, and the work it takes to maintain a relationship gets tedious. Our prior achievements quickly lose their sparkle. The happiness they brought inevitably devolves into “what have you done for me lately?” The next shiny new toy only makes us long for more. Happiness becomes, at best, contentment with a side of obligation.

The difference from true joy seems obvious, even though, at first, they felt the same. We are drawn to it.

Our pastor regularly tells us “There’s more joy in Jesus” and that he wants us to have more joy today than we did yesterday. What seems like a simple focus change, in practice, is not as easy as it sounds.

I try to trust and follow, only to find I’ve wandered off. I go through the motions of church attendance, and reading His word. It isn’t changing me. There isn’t a list of minimum things to do to achieve Joy. Maybe it’s just me, but I’m certainly going to end up looking to do the minimum even if I start out zealous.

Once I mess things up, I’m quick to hand it over to Jesus, but when things get back on track… Well… then I start pushing Him off the throne of my heart. I forget and strike out on my own – hoping to find an unending source.

And in the process, walk away from it.

Jesus doesn’t need my help. There is no minimum list because nothing I could ever do could ever earn what He has already done for me. He wants my whole heart. His plans are far greater than anything I could imagine. Complete with the redemption from careless actions I’m sure to take.

But do I trust Him enough?

I want to hang on to my pet wound that I’ve tucked down so deep. I want to pick it up and hold it close, to shed a tear. I want it healed – but I don’t want to let go, even as it leads me away from joy. I allow it to hurt me all over again. Had I only let Him heal it, I would have found joy in that story. Over and over I could return to His healing to find strength, faith and hope. Over and over I could have received the joy He intended.

All He ever wanted was for me to trust Him, to follow Him, to allow Him to be in control – and then my life would be filled with the Joy I so deeply desire. My cup would be filled and overflowing, so that I might let His love flow out onto others. So that I might be this joy that someone is drawn to, and I could tell them of the unending source. I could tell them of Him.

By Vicki L Pugliese

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