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Introspective Sojourner

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

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Gratitude

Wrapping Not Value

Today I was struggling, again, with seeing my worth. I get caught up in what I see. God helped me to see the difference between “wrapping” and the value of the gift inside. You see I am quite challenged at gift wrapping, but I don’t get upset about it because I know it doesn’t change the value of the gift inside. You can wrap poop in a beautiful box but it’s still poop. Likewise, you could wrap a beautiful and rare gemstone in a paper bag with duct tape to seal it, and that gemstone is still valuable.

Of course, my ADHD brain took off after that bunny.  I’ve seen people who put poop into composts. They probably add other good stuff but mostly they add time, and they add a little effort and pretty soon they have this rich healthy stuff that they add to their gardens. That compost becomes healthy dirt that enables strong new life to grow. If you add time and a little effort that dirt creates more life that creates more dirt. Eventually that dirt gets packed down and the pressure of life creates rocks. Given the right circumstances and the right ingredients those rocks become gemstones. If those gemstones are pulled out of the rock, and the rough edges are chiseled away, the rock becomes something even more beautiful and rare. And it becomes more valuable.

Conversely, if you put poop on top of more poop and you keep adding poop and you do not give it time, it becomes sewage. Sewage will infect the dirt around it and make it unclean and unsafe. It can contaminate the water making it unclean and unsafe. Even if you put that sewage in a gorgeous box, it’s still sewage.

I saw the connection to who I am as a person and that original box of poop. My actions sometimes stink. I’m not as kind as I should be. I think of myself first, and I judge others too harshly. Given time, especially if I fill that time with time spent in the word or in prayer, those actions – that sin becomes empathy. I start seeing those actions through a lens of how I’ve been hurt or hurt others. If that empathy is put in the right conditions, it becomes Godly action where I breathe His love into someone else, or perhaps stop adding new poop to the pile. That love infused into someone else, can become new life. Perhaps a seed or the water to bring them closer to seeing God. Until there are many seeds and watered seeds creating new life and growing life.

The pressure of everyday hardens us. It pushes us and molds us. As long as we are still infusing God’s love into our lives, we become stronger. We become the rock that things can be built on. We provide stability for God’s love to blossom. But until God chisel’s away our rough edges we’re just a rock with the potential of being a gem. If we fight that growth because sometimes it’s painful, we will never reach that full potential.

Life is often hard. It cheats and it doesn’t care that there is pain. When I look back on my life, some of the hardest most painful times in my life also contained some of my fondest memories. There are times that I didn’t think I could go on, and that moment created strength that I didn’t know I had. I don’t really remember any time that was free of some sort of drama or pain. I realize often sometimes that’s my own fault because I don’t always see the consequences of my choices before I make them. Still, I have no memories of life being perfect in every aspect.

Which brings me back to this morning, where I have a good job that I like with people I like working with. I have a great husband and fabulous kids and amazing grandkids that love me and fill my life with wonder. I have sweet pets that fill my life with unconditional love. I have a great home that brings me pleasure, and I can afford my bills and my indulgences. Yet this morning, I looked in the mirror and only saw the paper bag wrapping sealed with duct tape. I didn’t see the gem that God has been building in me. I, for a moment, forgot how content I am in life right now, because of that wrapping that I felt ashamed of. That wrapping that adds no value to who I am and does not take away from the gift God has been creating in me.

It’s taken time and reflection to get me to this place. You’ve probably seen my journey through these blogs. Today, I choose to see the gem God is creating in me and to give it time, and effort. I choose to let God chisel away at those rough edges and TRUST Him that the good work He is creating in me, is not finished. But it’s going to be amazing.

By Vicki L. Pugliese

Pray, Watch, Squirrel

My Why statement would be that God might use me to allow someone to feel His love. Which is slightly different from being His hands and feet, both in who gets credit as well as follow through. I have an issue with follow through. My little ADHD brain gets distracted easily, and if it doesn’t, my warped sarcastic sense of humor would surely jump in and muck stuff up.

All my life, as a Christian I’ve been taught to consider where I am as my mission field. God placed me there for a reason. I don’t need to go to Mexico or Africa – there are people right where I am that need to feel God’s love. At one of the churches that I attended our pastor encouraged us to wake up every morning and pray that God would show us how He could use us. Watch for His direction and step out in faith when we felt Him lead us (Pray, Watch, Step). While this sounds great on paper, let me tell you, that is way too many steps for this old girl. There are far too many squirrels in life to distract me, and at one point, this discouraged me.

I have friends that I have prayed about for a very long time. When we put up our new church building, we wrote names that God laid on our hearts on the dry wall before the walls were put up so that they would always be there and prayed over them as a church. Looking back my guess is that when I talked to those friends about Jesus, I did more harm than good. When I’m intentional – somehow it doesn’t work out for me the way I might hope. It’s not a bad practice. It’s a great practice even, for some people.

But God knew how He created me. He knew I’d wander off and say something sarcastic at just the wrong moment because it struck me as funny, and I didn’t think it through. Execution has never been my strong suit. I have great ideas, but my results usually don’t resemble what I intended – even with my words. God knows exactly how to use all my mess ups; all my miscommunications and distractions.

I have a lot of long-time friends; school, Navy, work, various churches. As I have reconnected with old friends over the last few years, what I am finding out is that the moments where God breathed His love into their lives through me, I barely remember. They’re moments when I was just being me, not even being mindful of God. They’re moments I would look at and say, “Of course I did that.” I can’t imagine not doing that.

And that’s the point. God knew.

God knew I wouldn’t even imagine not doing that in that moment. He knew what that friend needed and maybe hadn’t even communicated to me. One of my friends was diabetic and we didn’t even know. I just knew when she needed to eat, she really needed to eat. And since I was in charge of lunch schedules, I worked around that. I can’t imagine not doing that. I wasn’t trying to be kind or thoughtful – it just was the only thing to do.

I can’t take credit for any of those moments I’ve learned about recently, because it wasn’t me. It was how God designed me. I couldn’t mess it up. He didn’t need a plan B, because He wired me to do what I needed to do to show His love. He had a plan and I got to breathe His love into that friend without even being aware it was important.

I’m sure even my children, if asked, would point out moments that I would never think of. And they’ve forgotten all those moments I thought I was rocking that “Mom” thing. That’s how God has used this weird brain and really warped sense of humor of mine. He planned all of it, long before those moments arrived, and planted what I needed in my very DNA. All I ever needed was to love Him and want others to know His love the way I do.

So don’t worry if you feel like you didn’t make a difference the way you thought you were supposed to. God doesn’t have a Plan B. His plan was always going to work, and you might never even notice that it happened.

By Vicki L. Pugliese

Good Morning Lord

By Vicki L Pugliese

The Pruning of Me

Pruning my roses is cathartic for me. I love searching out the right spot to trim back to. I know that trimming the bushes will allow them to bloom again; fuller and stronger. I see the deep color of the new leaves. I see the thicker, heartier stems pushing through and hints of blooms to come. 

There are parallels to my life and faith. I’m not always happy when God prunes – especially when the decay goes deep. Things I’ve struggled with for a long time that I know need to be cleared away for me to grow. They are familiar and I get anxious when He says they have to go. 

I look at my childhood and see the blooms I once had. I miss them. 

“Remember when I prayed all the time and ran around singing hymns, God?” 

He tells me that He loved those blooms too, but to trust Him, the new blooms will be even better. I worry that my faith was stronger and might never be that way again. He reminds me that I needed that faith to survive the childhood ahead of me and the trauma I would go through.

I learned to go to Him at a very young age, afraid that everyone would abandon me. I would need to know to turn to Him and believe He would always be there even when my world shifted under me.  I would need that when my mom was institutionalized again. 

I learned to be grateful for my life and my wonderful friends. I have been blessed with the best friends my whole life. He shows me that I needed them to counteract the hate I experienced from my family. I needed their kind words to hear Him tell me that I was enough – that I was loveable. 

Now my faith is my own, not words of others that I believed without question. I have gone through deep seasons of doubt. My faith has been tested, and He has proven Himself faithful. I have so much to be grateful for. Even during my biggest struggles, He brought me joy. I know this without question now.

He is the author of the new growth in me. He created the new blossoms ready to bloom. I have had my share of pain – often at my own doing, avoiding the deepest cuts He needed to make. 

I find myself grateful tonight for the blooms that once were, now cut away. I see the beauty in them as they were at their peak. That beauty lets me trust in the promise of what God is yet to do in my life. I see the new leaves. I see the stronger stems. 

I’m sure there will still be whining about the cuts – after all I am still me. But I know I can trust Him because He sees the me He designed me to be.

 

By Vicki L. Pugliese

A Different View

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 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

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

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

DO I TRUST GOD?

My childhood was filled with song. My stepmom and my dad were both prone to breaking out in song for no particular reason. Sometimes it would be hymns or Barber Shoppe songs or even silly children songs. One would start and the other would usually harmonize. It was common to go for a “drive” to give us more chances to sing as a family.

We sang at church as well. Sunday evenings were my favorite because most of the service was spent singing hymns. The pianist would ask for favorites. People would raise their hands and if selected, call out the number to their favorite hymn. You could count on being called on a couple of times each Sunday, if you wanted. I made my fellow congregation sing “In the Garden” most weeks. It has always been my favorite.

I remember just singing to God when I was by myself as a teenager. I talked to Him far more regularly then. I did have more time. My faith was strong, before life had a chance to batter it – tarnish it. Not that my childhood didn’t have struggles too. I have the emotional scars and abandonment issues to prove it. I had reason to need my faith just as much then. I clearly recall the whirlwind moments when the enemy was screaming lies and fear in one ear. God always sent someone to whisper gently the truth in my other. He has sent His love for me through the arms of His followers so often that I can’t count them.

This weekend our Pastor was reminiscing about a trip he just returned from. His sermons often remind us that “God’s better is better.” This weekend he completed that conversation and his words pierced my heart. He had asked himself, “Do you trust God?” Of course this is always the point of God’s better is better. His reply is what struck me. “I do but not enough.”

“I do but not enough.”

Me too, I thought. As a kid, I believed without a doubt that God had a plan and all of my sorrows would be used for good. I did my best to follow His leading. Do I still do that? Mostly, but it’s often not my first instinct.

Life has a way of wearing you down, stealing your innocence, beating you back until your faith is not your first response. Fear has a way of being my gut reaction. I know it’s the opposite of my faith. I have to remind myself of all the angels in my life, all of the times God rescued me from my own bad choices or the wrong instincts of others.

When I remind myself “God’s better is better”, I am putting my trust in God. I would not have survived my last job loss without that phrase and I truly hung onto it every day. But I wished God might bring his better to fruition a little faster, as if the timing wasn’t also just as perfect – because I do trust God, but not enough.

That kid, the one who’s home and life was filled with song, mostly worship, she did. The beauty of that childhood is a blessing. Not everyone had parents who valued music like mine. Not everyone had parents that valued the community our church brought to our lives. The blessings I had as a child, humble me.

It takes more work to polish up that faith that life has tarnished, beaten. I can’t help thinking the big difference is that life and work have marginalized my faith. I no longer run around the house worshiping, and I should. I no longer talk to God throughout the day as effortlessly as I once did. He is still faithful, waiting, working in me. He still rescues me and has plans that are far better than my own. I do still trust Him.

But maybe not enough

By Vicki L Pugliese

If I had only known…

I wish I would have known while my dad was alive. I only traveled home about yearly, or bi-yearly. I only called about monthly, sometimes longer. Every time I would go to his house, he would invite me into the living room and ask me to catch him up on what was going on. My parents made me nervous. I felt like I never shut up around them. I felt like no one could get a word in edgewise. I was instantly tossed back in time, just a kid struggling for attention. I wasn’t a neglected child but there were six of us, and I was not the golden child – ever.

Still, every time I called, every time I visited, dad would focus on me, and ask about the details of my life.  How was my job, my kids, and my husband? What did we do for fun? He would get me started and a year’s, or a month’s worth of data would vomit out of my brain. I even asked my husband to give me a subtle nudge if I was talking too much. I don’t talk that much at home.  Oh, I’m not completely silent, but I don’t go on and on – most of the time. When I was around my parents, I couldn’t seem to stop myself.

I worried that they thought less of me because I couldn’t shut up. I tried to ask about their lives too, but they always turned the focus back on me. I never seemed to know much about their lives. I worried it was my fault. I wish I would have known. I would have called more.

My kids are grown now, with lives of their own. Still connected to mine, but separate. It’s wonderful when we get together and just talk about what’s going on in their lives. I want to know about their jobs, their friends, their kids, and spouses. I want to know about their dreams, even if they never come true. I want to know about their struggles and heartaches. Everyone has them. I don’t think less of them for having them too. I cherish the fun we have in group texts, and out for pizza, or playing cards. I cherish family gatherings. Mostly I love hearing about their lives, even the mundane things, because I’m not there, and it makes me feel connected. I wish I would have known.

You grow apart too easily. Life slips by too fast. There are too many chores, and not enough free time. There are too many good choices, and too much life to live. I want to hear about it all. They could talk a mile a minute – I wouldn’t care. They could tell me the same story two and three times over; I like hearing their voice. I like being with them.

To those of you out there who still have your parents, call them, write them, text them, keep in touch. Never feel like you talk too much. Stay connected. I say this knowing I need to call my mom, and my step mom. I need to catch up. I say this, missing being able to call my dad. I wish I had known. We weren’t super close but we weren’t estranged either. I was blessed. I am blessed with family connections that will always be there, even after a month or two, or a year. We get together and pick right up where we left off. Catch me up. Tell me your stories. I want to hear.

You could never talk too much. I wish I would have known.

Tell Me Your Story

I want to hear your stories.
I want to hear about that time.
Tell the one that made you laugh,
The one with your partner in crime.

Tell me how you took the train,
Across these great big states.
Tell the one about Uncle Horace,
And the cows getting through the gates.

I want to hear about it all,
To live a thousand lives.
To meet one hundred characters,
Get on memory lane and drive.

I want to hear your stories,
I’m waiting patiently.
You pick the topic, I’m all ears.
Oh won’t you please tell me…

By Vicki L. Pugliese

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