The Plunge: Swimming Through Lessons in Humilty

cartoon swim

Swimming lessons with a 3 year old splashed humility all over this grandma.  Allow me to throw you a life preserver in order for you to avoid getting drenched as well.

Lesson #1-Don’t let your plan or pride keep you from the task at hand. Due to my daughter’s work schedule, I was the one to take Gracie for two weeks to a private backyard pool. In with her sunscreen and towel, I packed my book with visions of looking up from my riveting tale to shout inspiring encouragement as our little fish found her inner-mermaid. Wrong. The pool was just deep enough that Gracie couldn’t touch, and several of the tadpoles were there alone, so the instructor had her hands full. In a flash, I found myself, street clothes and all, with 20-30 something bikini clad moms, gliding the future Esther Williams on her tummy through the waves.  From then on, the book stayed home and over my swimsuit came my “Wendy Peppercorn is a Royals Fan” tank top.

Lesson #2-Pushing through pain is worth the effort, but the voices have to be ignored. While physically I could be way more fit, I’m not too shabby. However, due to the shallower depth of the pool, in order to help Gracie, my knees did not appreciate the constant strain put on them in this awkward position.They screamed and tried to convince me that I was dooming me to a future of unending meniscus surgeries and an ibuprofen drip. Honestly, I was on the verge of saying “Sweet Uncle of Marco Polo”, but Gracie would be left high and dry. However, in time, whatever ligaments were being stressed finally stretched out and now feel better than ever. While we dog paddle between the line of common sense and sucking it up, we need not be controlled by the negative or we will never discover what God has up his sleeve for us.

Lesson #3-Patience, patience, patience. Everyone has a different pace. Some of the kids there will obliviously be competing in the  2028 Olympics. They hit the water like a golden retriever after a duck.  On the other side of the buoy, others were clinging to their moms in terror and trying to scramble to higher ground on the top of Mom’s head. Gracie was kind of middle ground. At three, this venture proved to be on her own terms. In fact, one day, she was not having it, so we had to throw in the beach towel and simply pack it in. Then on most days, whenever the instructor came our direction with her perky positive countenance, Gracie would plaster on a fake smile and turn her back on her like, “If I act like I don’t see her, she’ll go away, because I see her plan to ask me to do something I’m not cool with.” Back in the day, I would have had my kids in the corner and frustrated that “we paid good money for this, so get in there and do what she tells you!” (How I appreciate the blessing of being down the road a bit farther now and the wisdom that goes with it.)

The instructor, however, is a master with this age. She would flounce off, give Little Miss Thing space, and then circle back around, not giving up, but allowing her breathing room and time to process getting more comfortable with this new adventure. After several days, Gracie discovered she wanted Tina’s attention and was hollering, “Look at me!”, eventually going with Tina to try some new stuff.

Lesson #4-Don’t expect someone to be courageous if you aren’t willing to be as well.  The big treat at the end of a session was to go down the slide—well, for most of them it was a treat. One mom was trying to encourage her little guy to go down.  He was at clinching the top rails and screaming like a gut-shot panther.  Gracie was soaking it in as I held her in the pool. She yelled in her most excellent, positive, motivational speaker voice, “Be brave, Cameron!” This gave me great hope as she was yet to show a lick of interest in this activity. “So, do you want to go down the slide?”  She matter-of-factly looked at me and stated firmly, “No.”   Another reality arrow with ‘guilty’ written on it pierced my heart.  How many times do we encourage others like we have it all figured out when we would be shaking in our floaties in the same situation?  Oh, how we need to pray for wisdom in the act of encouraging so that it doesn’t sound like it came from the shallow end.

Lesson #5-It seems hopeless right before the breakthrough. Toward the end of my tour of duty, I told my daughter I was afraid I had taken Gracie as far as I could. True, I could have been more firmer in attempting to cajole her into success, but here is where I was laying down the grandma card. You gigis know what I mean. Grandmas can lavish a bit more grace than parents once in awhile-sometimes out of love and sometimes out of sheer survival.  So far she was content for me to coast her Cleopatra style along the Nile. Bubble blowing was rare, not to mention the super courageous plunge under. Don’t even hint at the s-l-i-d-e. In addition, the day before had been the mondo melt-down session when I pulled the plug and dragged the soggy, sobby, little muskrat home. Beached is how I felt with my role in the swimming lesson gig.

But the next day dawned.

GO (her nickname since she’s named Gracie Olive) was nothing but GO!  She wanted to swim with the instructor–well glide like Cleopatra, but got to love baby steps! She could have powered a MasterCraft X26 with the bubbles she blew and her ‘princess kick’ action. Her eyes lit up when it came slide time, and she climbed that ladder ‘by myself!” like she was Greg Louganis’s twin sister. When she let loose to fly down the shoot, the light in her eyes gleamed of the start of an irresistible aquatic romance.

Not a bit of what went on hinged on me or my performance. Simply being present and willing to get wet was all that was asked.

Which proves again, in the everyday, God shows himself in the silly or the serious.  His words are true. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

How has God shown you that His grace is sufficient?  I’d love to know.

Photo credit: http://swimsafer.webs.com/photos/High_resolution_boy.jpg

 

 

 

 

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Witnessing a ‘Mary’ Christmas

What is everyone standing around for?  Pick up the baby!!!

What is everyone standing around for? Pick up the baby!!!

The young mama-to-be found herself in a precarious situation. Only God knew she carried the child. The circumstance was too much for even family and friends to understand. She could only imagine the glances, the whispering, the opinions, and way too much advice. This baby had to be protected at all costs. The human side of her wallowed in a bed of sleepless nights, for how could this possibly turn out well? Yet, she knew in her heart she was honored to be carrying this precious gift. To think the future of the child was unknown—well, she couldn’t afford to think about it now. All she knew was she had committed to follow this through.

When the labor pains began, she cried to the Lord. And He was faithful.

The wiggly bundle looked at her with moments fresh eyes, ones filled with wonder and uncanny wisdom. She tucked the moment into her heart and said, “Oh, what a wonderful gift you will be to someone.”

As days ticked by, God’s will revealed that this precious baby would not only affect the lives of many, but would be the redemption for the mama as well.

A story straight out of Bethlehem…

And Emporia, KS.

Every year I intentionally pray that God would show me something new from the age old story of Him in baby-bound form coming to earth. Little did we know that He’d start revealing our advent revelation on the quite early date of July 3rd. In a ballet of unmerited favor and unbelievable provision on so many levels, God showed himself faithful through the birth of a unforeseen girl grandbaby. Her name is the testament of God smiling on each and every person her life touches–Gracie Olive. (A ‘wow’ moment in research just hit–Olive means ‘anointed for the good of love and charity.’ Perfect!)

Make no mistake, this child is certainly not divine. She can throw a ring-tailed fit like no other. However, her arrival was swaddled in the warmth of God’s love.

And while making different choices to scoot them down life’s road, I’m convinced our daughter Misty and Mary still would have heart-connected at the local MOPs meeting. Oh, the things they have in common. Ordinary people thrown in extraordinary circumstances. Come take a look.

Let’s start with every branch and leaf of family being nothing but supportive. Nary a stone was as much as tripped over, much less picked up. Perhaps, this was Mary’s family’s reaction as well, since she stayed in her hometown, except of visiting cousin Elizabeth, until that uncomfortable trip to Bethlehem popped up. Whether the decision would be adoption or to keep this little one, everyone respected Misty’s judgment and had her back.

Once our dear friends Megan and Michaela heard the tidings of great joy, they dropped everything and made the three hour journey faster than hyped up shepherds on the hunt for a newborn King. And Cheryl…well, she hovered over the story from afar, being the angelic ear and prayer warrior to the heavenlies we needed at critical times. Pat’s chicken and noodles were truly a Godsend after eight days of eating drive-thru meals.

While Mary was visited by Magi, bearing exotic gifts, Galen and Richelle from Argonia in the East came barreling through the door with a new baby bed and pink bedding with zebras dancing on it.

While angels winged across star-dazzled skies, singing ‘Glory to God in the Highest,” our pastor strummed his guitar, lifting up heart-felt praises from our couch.

Two communities of faith in the fashion of the true redeeming love of Christ were generous past the point of ridiculous. And while in the hospital, once it became apparent that baby was coming home with her mama, the nurses blew us away with gifts and encouragement fit for royalty as well.

Instead of Anna’s tears touching Baby Jesus’s cheek, Pam of the Co-op’s eyes glistened as she knelt in front of Gracie snoozing in the rock-in-play, unspeakable joy running in streams down her face. Our threshold became a well-worn path of those pouring love, encouragement, and offering babysitting services. Every single one of them itched to get their hands on her.

Ordinary people kissed by God, lavishly serving Him in extraordinary ways.

Tonight I gaze upon my Grandma Olive’s handed down nativity scene. I appreciate and understand the distant reverence and awe the brightly-colored characters hold for the Christ child in the manger.

However, from what we experienced, how can anyone keep their hands off of a baby? Don’t we all crave to drink in the scent of purity, snuggle the softness of love, and drink in the whispered coos that are the healing salve of the deepest wounds? The world cannot compete with this phenomenon. Even the most regal Wise Man would have cracked open a chuckle at a bit of baby slobber as it ran down lush robes. Who can resist those powers?

For almost six months we have seen that mojo every day. Like I said, Gracie Olive is not divine, but she gave joy to a lonely old woman in Wal-Mart, flirted a smile out of a car technician, and made Santa laugh when she ate his beard. Every stop takes ten times longer with her around. She’s kind of become everybody’s baby, and her dimpled smile sprinkles joy like glitter on heaven’s breath.

This little glimpse we have been blessed with has opened the earthly blind a little wider to see how hands-on our Savior is. Whether it was the bleeding woman that simply needed a touch of his garment, or the children he insisted hanging out with, or the multitudes that were drawn to him, there is comfort in knowing that no way would He be confined to a manger for one second longer than necessary.

Oh yes, He is everybody’s Savior.

10 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” Luke 2:10-12

‘Mary’ Christmas from The Long Family!

photo credit: http://blog.christmasnightinc.com/tag/outdoor-nativity-scenes/

Three Months of Riding Crazy Waves Grace

5224454-cartoon-surfer-girl--vector-illustrationFor a little over three months, our lives have been turned into a whirlpool. Not only by one event, but by an unusually brisk revisting current.

I have witnessed several friends who have gone through seasons of extreme long-suffering calamity. How they have survived is not beyond me. They clinched on desperately by fingernail faith. When that sliver gave way, God caught them with compassionate faithfulness.

We’ve all had our if-it-ain’t-the-hogs-it’s-the-chickens-and-if-it-ain’t-the-chickens-it’s-the-windmill seasons as well. Ones that left us staggering and not able to remember ALL that we went through.

Has ‘come on, Lord! Give us a break!’ become your constant prayer? Has God mercifully allowed you to keep one foot in front of the other, even if your hair hadn’t seen a brush in you don’t know how long? Are you to the place that you know He is the only way you still stand? Perhaps, down the road you will recognize how you’ve been molded and shaped in priceless ways, but at this moment, you are hunkered down at the faucet, waiting for that lazy drip of a life-giving blessing drop to splash a tiny bit of coolness on your parched tongue?

But, is it possible for things to swing the other way? Does God do that?

Make no mistake about it. He can, and He does!
Our fumbly-bumbly, non-suspecting family rafted along His swirling whitewaters of unmerited favor this summer. When the owner of the cattle on a thousand hills and the One that even the wind and waves obey chooses to cut loose, you’d best have your floaties inflated. Humility and awe soaks one to the core.

Ordinary days transformed by the millisecond into pivotal events worthy of entry in the Long Family Bible log. Seriously. Seemingly insignificant happenings from years prior became rudders to steer crucial life-changing events into being. So much goodness, faithfulness, and provision streamed in on a need-to-need basis. In the midst of these renegade waves cresting, I vowed to take a sledgehammer to my inner crystal ball and shatter that defective sucker. Who could say what was going to sweep into our lives next, for how long, or in what way? If cameras were rolling, we would be stars of a hit reality show or destined for a segment of Focus on the Family at least. By all rights some of the circumstances shouted extreme chaos, but a presence over took that stilled our hearts and allowed God to navigate the surges for us and vaporize our blind spots to appreciate how truly blessed we are.

Today, the whirlpool seems to be calming a bit. Our exhausted bodies thankfully seem to be given the gift of a breath, but who knows. Heaven knows I am not at all complaining, quite the opposite. We crave a sort of balance and stability, enough that even an ordinary vanilla yogurt day can be viewed as a blessing as well.

So what are these stories? This blog is about to light up with them. They demand and rush to be shared. However, some may stay curled, and who knows if they will ever give permission to unfurl publicly. What’s important is we can tuck the memory of His mercies in our back pockets when we are tossed once again over stormy and uncharted seas of life.

What I hope to pass on is that whatever one goes through is not fluff, but that every single bit is a key element to a bigger plan. May you let His hope guide you through the day and the darkest night–God is perfectly faithful and loves you so.

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Matt 6:28-31<

graphic credit: http://www.123rf.com/photo_5224454_cartoon-surfer-girl–vector-illustration.html

The Hatfields and McLongs

Did you watch it?  Of course, the history nuts that we are were panicking over whether we’d get the History Channel’s The Hatfields and McCoys  DVR-ed from the first commercial that marched across our screen.  Normally, I’m not one for that graphic of violence, but this story had me at first blast.

First of all, my assumption that these people were from the Dog Patch side of the mountains was dead wrong.  Bedraggled hats, corn cob pipes, moonshine, shot guns, and a lazy old hound dog gracing the sagging cabin porch was what I had in mind.  Ok, so that part was still correct, but these were intelligent people who had each other’s backs in the Civil War and their property separated by only a river running through the backyard.

Next to catch my attention was Mr. Twister/Titantic, Bill Paxton and always the sterling hero, Kevin Coster,  who would  step out of their career comfort zones and turn into embittered scallywags.  But the real intrigue for me was how seeds of resentment grew into something so powerful that it dramatically tore them apart for generations.  Who was at fault to let the impossible happen?   Did innocent simple acts spiral into a blood bath? How dangerous can passion be when fueled or spread to others?  What would it take to finally end it all?

On the final night our son came in from being up to his eyeballs in wheat at the elevator due to a rain shower.   His new cell phone had arrived and he had a date with a Verizon lady named Yolanda to get him back on the air waves.  A couple times I was interrupted  to agree to contract terms I have no clue on, because I had to get back to the story.  Some interesting faith lines had formed as well, mixed with what happens when justice is ignored or not accepted when verdicts come down.  Truly serious incidents had taken place where no one was innocent.  The match that lit the gasoline was a dispute over a pig. Yes, a pig with a notch in his ear. From then on an avalanche of anger fueled passion resulted in 15 freshly dug graves and cement hard hearts.

Following the ending credits, a time of discussion sprung to life in our living room on how easily things can get out of hand with disastrous results.  A shocking lesson we should all learn from, although none of us could ever be suckered into letting anything go so far.

Until 15 short minutes later.  A very uncharacteristic brouhaha broke out dealing with an unlimited data plan.  Tempers flared since everyone was ‘right’.  Voices were raised, and maybe even a door or two slammed-over something intangible that you can’t even fry in pan with eggs.  So much for the lesson learned.

A couple of nights later we trekked south to visit family from Oklahoma and Arkansas.  A discussion ensued with sprinkles of the same points we had shared at home.  Truly, this was extreme and a rare incident we should all take heed of.

Until the next evening.  I bebopped out of a back bedroom to Cliff asking me “Kelly, what’s the name of the river that runs through Kansas, coming through Wichita, and then goes into Oklahoma?”   “The Arkansas”, I say to a chorus of groans and huffs from rest of the family.  You see, in Kansas, it is pronounced Ark-kansas until it crosses into Oklahoma.  For some reason, baffling loyal Kansans, the pronunciation changes to Arkansaw-like the state.

“Oh, it isn’t either!”

This fired up my husband’s hackles and he charged in, a little more bruised than I had realized.  “That’s how we were taught in school.  Right, Kelly?  (I nod because its true and I think it’s stated in the wedding vows somewhere that I’m required to agree with him-even if he says the sun comes up in the west.) “Watch any news out of Kansas and that’s how newscasters pronounce it.”

Eyes roll from the scoffers.  Cliff makes contact with a native Kansan for support and realizes his own flesh and blood has  to Teamjumped the creek to the Arkansaw’s side.  Betrayal right up there with Benedict Arnold  (or possibly Benedict Arkansaw depending on where you are from).  A newly married-into-the-family member starts to sink farther into the couch cushions, trying to avoid any shrapnel.

“That’s what they call it in Colorado, too,” I say as I hand my husband more ammunition.  I actually don’t know this for sure, but am setting at 80-20 on the Confidence Meter that I’m correct.  But not even the truth matters at this point.  It’s about winning. “Because that’s where the river starts and since Kansas used to go all the way to the mountains…”  This really fires up the border war, and they sound like I’ve launched a grenade of ridiculous in their foxhole.  “Really.  Denver would have been in Kansas had the state lines not changed.” More huffs and screeches at at that.  I Google it, because who can argue with googling.   A map lays out the old Kansas territory, thus getting us off the pronunciation issue that started this battle.

From another room enters the Sweet and Shy Shelby, our high school Okie, who loves history and politics.  “Yes, the Kansas-Nebraska Act came into effect……” which began a jaw-dropping account of Kansas history including sovereignty and John Brown that would make any Jayhawker break out singing Home on the Range at the top of their lungs.  The Okies and Arky’s can’t help but be impressed and are secretly signing her up for Jeopardy’s Student Days.

Finally, the steam goes out of the great debate with no one winning anything.  No even a ham. Family has turned against family with a river cutting the dividing lines.  How silly.  No one was innocent, except for maybe the Couch Crawler.

And we fell into it so easily and shot volleys with skill of Pa Yokem knocking a squirrel out of an oak tree.

Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care.  Turn away from godless chatter, and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge, which some have professed in so doing have wandered from the faith.  Grace be to you.  (1 Timothy 6:20-21)

I used to think the last line was Paul signing off, but after this, I wonder if that is the entire point.  Grace. Because when it comes down to it, that old river doesn’t care what it’s called.  Its job is to keep flowing, much like ours is to flow with grace for others.