NATIONAL PARK CHURCH blog
Today is an ordinary day. Yesterday was an ordinary day. I expect that tomorrow will be an ordinary day. The dictionary defines the adjective "ordinary" as with no special or distinctive features; normal. It seems that the routine of my life now has no special or distinctive features.
As a child, I had all kinds of dreams. I suppose that could be said of each of us. We dream of becoming this or that. We dream of accomplishing this or that. For some, those dreams do become reality. For many of us, however, our childhood dreams fade into a different reality. The reasons vary. Many times, circumstances change which don’t allow us to become what we once dreamed of. Many times, we change. We grow up and our goals and aspirations are no longer what they once were.
When I retired at the end of 2017, I found myself once again dreaming of what I thought would make my days worthwhile. I looked forward to retirement with great expectations. Now, two years later, I can honestly say that I love being retired. It’s great not having to wake up by an alarm clock and not having to punch a time clock. But, as the old saying goes, ‘it was good while it lasted.’ For life has a way of dealing us those hands we didn’t expect to be dealt. All the expectations I had…being my own person able to do my own thing…have faded into a new and unexpected reality.
Those who know me well know that my passion is writing. I have two novels completed and a third almost complete. My dream is to be published. Although I’ll keep writing until the Lord calls me home, being published would be opening the door for others to read my work, which would then open the door for even more writing. When I retired, my goal was to actively pursue publication. While that ultimate goal hasn’t changed, it’s become clear to me that God has other things in mind. He may not have closed that door, but He’s definitely said ‘not right now.’
You see, God had other plans. In His wisdom, He has once again shown me that my ways are not His ways. I’ve found myself in a season of life that I did not expect, and that I have struggled with on a daily basis. It’s not a season I welcomed. Why? Because it meant it was necessary for me to put those plans of pursuing publication of my novels on hold, and, instead, to learn that God not only is the God of dreams coming true and goals being accomplished, but He is also very much a God of the mundane and the ordinary.
When I retired, I had a real desire to serve in some way. I considered volunteering for Eight Days of Hope. That was something I could do from time to time and still pursue getting my novels published. But I gave that up because I realized that with the Fibromyalgia, I couldn’t commit as I’d need to. While I was considering other options, God placed two babies in my life. One is a biological great-grandchild. The other (they are siblings) is not. But we love them both equally. They are active toddlers! So, you see, what I envisioned after retirement and what is actual reality are two very different things. My days are now filled with a routine of helping to care for two precious little souls; changing diapers, rocking, folding mountains of laundry, doing lots of cooking, and lots of dishes (I’ve never owned a dishwasher). I’m not the main caregiver. I’m merely part of the supporting cast. Still, most days I barely have enough quiet time to contemplate writing anything, and when I do, I’m too tired to actually write.
I’ll be blatantly honest. I’ve cried out to God more times than I care to admit. I’ve cried also. I’ve cried lots of tears, and I’ve cried out in desperation, frustration, and anguish. I’ve questioned. I’ve not only asked why, but I’ve asked, “How long Lord?” I’ve asked because I’ve had to give up, for however long the Lord allows, the dream I’ve clung to for so long. I thrive on solitude and quiet time. I’ve always been a homebody. That hasn’t changed. So, I’ve cried out to God. ‘How long, Lord? I want my house back. I want my life back. How long, Lord?’ I love these babies with everything in me. They bring me a lot of joy. But, while I have never resented THEM, I came to realize that I very much resented the changes I’ve had to adjust to. I’ve had to give up, at least for now, that picture of what I thought my retirement would look like. I’ve had to deny self. That’s never easy. Most days now are okay. But I have to be honest. The journey leading to "okay" has been difficult.
Perhaps some of you are struggling with a reality that you did not expect or envision. Perhaps you, too, have cried, or are crying, tears of disappointment and frustration and desperation. Perhaps you, too, have cried out to God and asked why and how long, Lord. As always, our heavenly Father knows exactly what we need at any given time. This past Sunday, my first day back to church in quite a while after being sick, I felt as if the sermon must have been just for me. But, isn’t that always the way it is? God speaks to each of us in our various needs through scripture. The scripture text was from Habukkuk.
2 Then the Lord answered me and said,
“Record the vision
And inscribe it on tablets,
That the one who reads it may run.
3 “For the vision is yet for the appointed time;
It hastens toward the goal and it will not fail.
Though it tarries, wait for it;
For it will certainly come, it will not delay.
Habakkuk 2: 2-3 NASB
We all struggle individually. Your struggles are likely very different from mine. In fact, you may be reading this and thinking, ‘she thinks she’s got struggles? She should see what I’m going through right now!’ Whatever your struggles are, dear one, He knows. He hears. He understands. I don’t know about you, but I needed to be reminded of that. You see, I’d lost sight of that; not entirely, but enough so that God knew I needed a reminder. Satan takes away our joy, if we let him. He comes to steal, kill, and destroy. I had allowed him to steal my joy. I had given him a foothold. So, I needed a stark reminder of God’s infinite wisdom and providential care. I also needed to take my eyes away from me, and focus them once again on Him.
As I sat listening through tears as my minister read those words, it was as if God was telling me, reinforcing for me, that He hears my cries. He sees my tears. He knows my expectations and disappointments. His loving heart cares and feels my desperation. But He was also telling me that this situation, like all others He allows, isn’t just about me. It’s FOR me, but it isn’t just ABOUT me. It’s for me because, even in my retirement years, there are truths I need to learn. It’s not just about me because He’s given me an opportunity to be the hands and feet of Jesus to two precious, innocent little souls. Even if being the hands and feet of Jesus means I’m cleaning, doing laundry, cooking, and washing dishes day after day after day. He’s also telling me that what I long for and pray for will come to pass. It may or may not be in the way I expect, but it WILL come to pass. He will bring about the desires of my heart, either literally, or by changing my desires to fit His will. Though it tarries, wait for it; For it will certainly come, it will not delay. It will come in His time, which is always the right time.
Today is another ordinary day. I expect each day will, for the most part, be an ordinary day; with no special or distinctive features. But this I know. God is there in the midst of the mundane, the routine, and the ordinary. Perhaps that’s when He does His best work.
My nature is to nurture, but sometimes I go at it like a sprint, not a jog. My heart’s will and its endurance are not necessarily in sync, sometimes rendering more commitment than capacity on my part. As a result, I often find myself emotionally breathless, having to sit out the next leg of the race until I can build back steam. Do you ever feel that time or limitations dictate how you run your race?
I once read that most of us can only successfully nurture about five close relationships at any given time. That makes sense to me, because when I try to gather too many chicks under my wing, I start to fade fast. I would be thrilled to say that I can prepare a casserole for every occasion, attend each gathering or Bible study fellowship among my circle of friends, pen greeting cards to the masses, and be the ever-present shoulder to lean upon; but the reality is that I do not juggle all of that very well at the same time. For those of you who have mastered being Mary, Martha, and Dorcas all at once, hats off to you. I aspire to your example of excellence, but I’m not there yet and, frankly, do not foresee it in the near future. I often beat myself up for it, too, desiring to do more good works and be more available than I can effectively manage.
Instead, my prayer is that I can greet others with a genuine smile and kind words...to listen so that they feel heard...to carve out time weekly for a few phone calls, texts, and even lunch with those who simply need their grieving hearts heard. As Maya Angelou so perfectly penned, “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” So, on my kitchen wall I have a handmade sign, a gift from my daughter, which reminds me, “Find a way to lift someone up.”
I find that a kind word, a hug, or a listening ear goes a long way in letting people know you care, because everyone is struggling with something. Some of our challenges are obvious, like my being a widow or perhaps someone else’s physical ailment, and are open for the world to see. Others may be less apparent. Sometimes, we tend to compare, thinking that no one can possibly be going through the depth of pain that we are. Hopefully, though, we can remind ourselves that whatever others’ struggles are, those may be the worst experiences of their lives, whether we deem them minor in comparison to ours or not. I recently heard a statement that helped me put this into perspective. “It doesn’t matter if you are in 30 feet of water or 60 feet of water, if you struggling for air, you are still drowning.”
We all have it within us to be a blessing in some way. What might be considered by some as a small effort may be a major blessing to others. Recently, I was visiting with someone before worship services began. She took my hand, looked straight into my eyes and said, “I want you to know that I have been praying for you. I mean REALLY praying for you.” That meant more to me than I can describe here. In her own challenging life, prayer is currently her main ministry, for which I am so thankful. In her tone and in her eyes, I heard and saw the love of Jesus.
If you are at a point in this season of your life, young or old, for whatever reason, where you are struggling with the conflict that you can not do as much as you would like to minister unto others, my hope is that you will follow the example of this sweet sister who was such a blessing to me. I would encourage each of you to examine your gifts and intentionally find a way to use those to lift someone up. Your gifts will not be the same as others, but none are too small in His service. And, please, please remember to give yourself grace when you only have the stamina to jog, not sprint. We are all winners in this race.
Old things have a special place in my heart. I have a fondness for old photographs, old weathered wood, old antique jewelry, old… Well, you get the picture. Why the fascination with old things? I like to think of them as relics, not just of bygone days, but of the lives each piece touched.
My parents handed down some old things to me. I had my maternal great grandfather's gun, which I've now passed along to my oldest son. I have Bibles that belonged to both sets of grandparents. I have a large portrait of my great uncle; my paternal grandpa's brother who became a doctor. He drowned trying to cross a swollen creek en route to tend a patient. These are only a few of the old pieces I have. Each one is like a living piece of history…my family history.
This morning as I was having my coffee, I looked at some interesting photos on my Facebook timeline. They were photos of an abandoned castle in the forest in Belgium. Although abandoned, the rooms still included furniture and fixtures. Such as a small library with shelves full of books and stacks of books on the floor, some strewn haphazardly across the rug. There were toys in the hallway and at the top of the staircase. Several photos could have been from an attic or storage room. But what struck me most was that, as I looked at the photos, I could almost smell the mustiness of the rooms; the fabric of the upholstered furniture, the draperies, and the bed covers. Some of the rooms looked as if they could have been abandoned only yesterday…some for decades. Some appeared in good shape. Others showed decay and neglect. But, oh, the musty smell seemed so real!
I wonder. In our spiritual lives, do we ever smell musty? Does our walk with God sometimes bear the musty smell of decay and neglect?
The scriptures tell us that the sacrifices of the Old Testament were a sweet-smelling savor to God. 'And when the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma, the Lord said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man..." ' Genesis 8: 21
Jesus Christ was our sacrifice…the perfect Lamb of God, without blemish, offered in our place. 'And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.' Ephesians 5: 2
Through our lives, presenting ourselves as a living sacrifice (Romans 12: 1), we offer up a pleasing fragrance to God. 'But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.' 2 Corinthians 2: 14
'For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing,' 2 Corinthians 2: 15
When I was a little girl, my daddy never wore a suit unless doing so was necessary for a special occasion. I can remember my mother taking his seldom worn suit out of the clothes bag and hanging it on the front porch to air. The fresh air and sunshine were necessary to rid the suit of the musty smell of many days in the closet, and, hopefully, of mothballs.
For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. Galatians 3: 27
Can others see Christ in us? Is it evident to those around us that we are clothed in Christ? Or have we allowed the things of the world to manifest themselves in our lives so clearly that His likeness is no longer visible? Do our lives still hold 'the fragrance of the knowledge of Him?' Or do our lives instead hold a musty smell; empty of the things which bear witness to an active relationship with Him? Do we cling to the Savior as we did when first we clothed ourselves in Him? Or do we openly display the things of the world; striving only to reflect His image on special occasions?
It is my prayer that our lives always bear the fragrance of the knowledge of our Lord; that we always bear witness to Him. I pray that we never abandon our walk with the Savior. I pray that our hearts are always a warm and welcome abode for Him…never musty from emptiness and being closed to His presence. Instead, let us keep our hearts open to the freshness and vitality of His love. As each of our old treasures from the past are relics of years gone by, may our lives be reflections of the abiding love and likeness of He Who never leaves or forsakes, but is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
Marva Jo Hardage
For the remainder of the summer, National Park Church will be participating in a sermon series entitled Keep Christianity Weird. The idea of this title came from the city mottos of Austin, Texas and Asheville, North Carolina – Keep Austin Weird and Keep Asheville Weird. Citizens of both cities proudly proclaim and adopt this slogan, because the essence of their cities is found in their respective weirdness. They fear that their cities will become like any other cookie-cutter city, which would mean that the uniqueness of their cities would be lost, if they do not intentionally insist on maintaining the customs that make them abnormal. The same danger threatens Christianity when it loses the strangeness of its message – the peculiar story of a crucified God. If we, as the church, have grown comfortable with this narrative and depiction of God and being his followers, then we have likely sanitized the radical gospel of Jesus. Jurgen Moltmann suggests, in his book The Crucified God, that “Christians who do not have the feeling that they must flee the crucified Christ have probably not yet understood him in a sufficiently radical way.” At the same time, the cross is the event that is intended to shape the lives of followers of Jesus. Our hope is that all will feel welcome to come and learn why adjectives such as foolish, strange, and weird are embraced by Christ’s disciples as fitting and profound descriptions of Christianity.
Adult Sunday Morning Class: This summer we are having a combined adult class which will meet in the Auditorium. We will be journeying through the book of Philippians. Our time together will allow us to explore specific ways that the church can more faithfully orient itself around the self-sacrificial example of Jesus Christ.
Camp Create hosted at National Park Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas has reached max capacity for our 2018 camp, The Greatest.
We look forward to meeting our performers and are so excited about what you will learn and seeing you create!
The theme this year at Camp Create at National Park Church in Hot Spring is: "The Greatest" drawing elements from the film, The Greatest Showman.
"At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
2 He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. 3 And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me."
'This is not what I'd planned on!'