Jesus is My Pool Boy

When people ask how we desert folks survive the intense summer heat, my response is always the same:  air conditioning and a swimming pool.  I’m not sure how anyone survived 100+ temperatures before these things were invented.  Not everyone is blessed enough to have their own backyard pool here in Phoenix.  But when we were looking for a rental home three years ago, my kids took one look at the pool and diving board and knew THIS was the place to live.  And they were right.

Now, before any of you non-pool owners get any ideas about how we just walk out the door when we feel like it and jump into the cool water, let me stop you right there.  Not only were we fortunate enough to have a pool in our backyard, but we also had a palm tree near the pool.  A really TALL king palm tree.  Sounds pretty scenic…unless you know that king palms send out these long green shoots at the end of May.  And those shoots open up and blossom with little white flowers.  And those little white flowers fall at the slightest of breezes. And it takes WEEKS for all those little white flowers to fall.

What does that have to do with swimming you ask?  Nothing, I suppose, as long as you don’t mind floating around in a pool full of little white petals, dead bees and itty bitty pieces of palm tree debris.  I find the whole scenario rather disgusting, which is why at the first sign of those nasty green shoots, I immediately call my landscaper to come trim my nearly 30-ft. palm tree.  Problem solved, right?  Well, yes….except that the neighbor’s king palm tree sits directly over the wall just to the southwest of my pool. And they could care less about all those shoots and flowers and debris that make their way into my pool.  So, therein lies the real problem: every time we want to swim, I have to spend more than a half-hour skimming all the debris from a tree that isn’t even mine.  (Pity party for one, please.)

It’s a back-breaking task that takes extreme patience, perseverance, and a great deal of strength, too. (And I did mention that it’s over 100 degrees most of the summer here, right?) I cannot go out to the pool and expect to be done cleaning in a matter of minutes.  I know it will be a long, arduous process.  I can skim over a certain area of the pool over and over and over again…just to return to the same spot and find it still a mess. Sometimes as I feel I’m nearing the end, a big gust of wind comes up to extend my cleaning time.  There are moments I have to set the long pole down and take a break. But I don’t quit.  I keep going.  Because I know in the end, I get to sink into that cool, refreshing water and relax.

In those quiet moments as I silently skim the mess from the pool, God has been speaking to my heart about this incredibly difficult journey I’ve been on in my life and how much it is like this process of skimming.  There is no doubt that my days are filled with so much debris and mess.  Broken relationships.  Loneliness.  Grief.  Financial worry.  Anxiety. Fear of the future.  The burdens of others I love.  And just when I think some area of my life is “fixed” and clean, I come back to it over and over and over again, to find out what a mess it continues to be.

Do you identify with this as well?  How many times do you find yourself asking God, “When will this be solved?”  or “How much longer do I have to keep dealing with this?”  Somedays I just want to quit, don’t you?  I just want to put down that heavy metal skimming pole and walk away from all of life’s battles.

As much as I detest cleaning that pool, I have come this conclusion:  I have gained considerable strength (and a decent tan) from those half-hour upper-body workouts. (Hmmmm….perhaps I should consider skimming my pool in the non-swimming months as well.)  If I only had a few measly leaves in my pool, my gain of strength would be quite minimal.  When I stand and survey the mess before I begin, I can’t help but think,  “Why couldn’t there just be a few leaves?  Why couldn’t the neighbor just trim his tree?  Why is today another windy day?”  But as I get to work, it hits me:  The fact that so much mess blows into my pool on a daily basis, which is seemingly frustrating, is the very reason I am stronger.

So many of my life’s messes I did not choose.  And I know you didn’t either, sweet friend. How many times do you survey the mess and ask God those hard questions:  “Why did my marriage have to end?  Why did my loved one have to die?  Why did I have to be the one to get cancer?   Why do I have to struggle with finances?  Why did this happen to ME???”

Most likely, we will never know the answers to these questions on this side of heaven. But I do know this:  it is those VERY messes that grow a deep faith in us, strengthen us beyond anything we think we could endure and empower us to live a life pointed to Christ.

It is the debris of our lives that God uses for His glory and His purposes. 

And the absolute beauty of this truth, is that no longer do we bear the burden of holding onto that skimming pole all by ourselves.  You see, we have the most amazing, strong, faithful, loving, sacrificing pool boy, who takes the pole from our hands and says, “Dear child….you are not alone. I’ve got this mess under control.  Let me help you.”

Make no mistake.  There are days I don’t think I have the strength to keep dragging that net around and around the pool.  But as I am weary, Jesus comes alongside me with His strength as He so faithfully promises to do.  And He reminds me of why I keep going, moving forward, continually skimming those itty bitty pieces of junk. Because there is hope and complete assurance that when all the mess of this life is over, I’m going to put my feet into the refreshing waters of eternity.  And it will be SO. INCREDIBLY. WORTH IT.

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Running Without a Finish Line

I have a lot of respect for people who run long distances.  Or short distances for that matter.  I decided to try to become one of those people a couple of years ago.  You know, a person who actually enjoys running and is good at it?  I didn’t really have any strategy, except to run every day or so and to try to run farther and longer than I did the previous time.  That didn’t work out so well.  Some days I couldn’t go as far as I could the day before and I’d end up feeling defeated.  Some days I had lots of energy to keep going and felt encouraged.  At one point, I’m fairly certain I ran nearly two and a half miles without stopping.  (A pretty amazing feat for someone who couldn’t even run the half-mile in high school PE class.)  But despite all my efforts, I never really figured out how people could run and not get that stitch in their side. (You know, the kind that feels like a sharp knife digging into your ribs every time you breathe?) Or how one maintains an energy level to run for such a long period of time.

I never did become a serious runner.  But I am a teacher and I think in some ways, teaching a school year is a lot like running a marathon.  It starts off at a moderate pace for those two weeks before the kids arrive.  And then….well, you’re off and running.  There’s a lot of energy at first, but by about Thanksgiving, you begin to get weary and are ready for a break.  The rest station of Christmas is just around the corner, which provides enough motivation to keep going.  You come back in January renewed, ready to run again.  You push through till Spring Break and then you’re in the homestretch, right?  Wrong.  The final few weeks can be the most exhausting.  And you’re not only tired.  The kids are too. Everybody is counting the days until that finish line of summer break (37 to be exact…but who’s counting?) when we can all take off our running shoes and sit it out for a while to catch our breath.

Life is full of finish lines.  We count down to the next paycheck, vacation, birthday, graduation, anniversary, retirement and think, “If I can just make it till then…”.   And perhaps life is wonderful for that brief shining moment, until the reality of daily life sets in again.

But I’ve been learning over these last few months that in grief, there is no end.  There is no day that I will ever wake up and say, “Well.  I made it.  Glad that’s over!”  Because it isn’t.  And it never will be.  And that is a most wearying reality.  It goes beyond physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion.  It’s life exhaustion.

It’s like running without a finish line. 

Although “running” may not be the word I should use.  More like “limping” with a cramp in my side.  Multiple times I’ve googled how to get rid of those nasty side cramps when running.  According to womensrunning.com, the first thing is to NOT PANIC.  Focus on breathing, slow down, stop if you need too.  Put your hand and press on the part that hurts.  Ironic how one also has to do that in grief.

To not feel panicky and function in my day, I now have to take anxiety medication.  I have to hike and take long walks and breathe deeply to process all my thoughts.  I have to color in a coloring book with calm music just to settle my racing heart.  I have to take naps and rest, even when I know there’s work to be done.  Above all, I have to be patient with myself, because I can’t run at the pace I used to.  But putting my hand and pressing on the part that hurts?  No amount of medication or hiking trail or music or markers or breathing technique is going to do that.  That’s where God steps in, puts a gentle hand on my very weary and broken heart and presses in with the truth of His word.

My soul is weary with sorrow; strengthen me according to your word.
~ Psalm 119:28
I will refresh the weary and satisfy the faint.”
~Jeremiah 31:25
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.
~Matthew 11:28
 “My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him.
~Psalm 62:1-2
 “Yes, my soul, find rest in God: my hope comes from him.”
~Psalm 62:5
He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary,
    they will walk and not be faint. 
~Psalm 40:29-31

 

Those words don’t automatically make all things better.  They don’t change the reality of my life.  But they do make it bearable by assuring me that God promises strength, rest, and hope for my exhausted heart.  I’m thankful He sends people run the race with me and to be my cheering section by encouraging me to keep running this race.

May God give us all the strength and perseverance to make it to the ultimate finish line of heaven!

And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,  fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. ~ Hebrews 12:1-3

This song has been a huge encouragement to me in the weary moments…praying it will be a blessing to so many I know who are also tired from running this race of life.