I Have a Shelter in the Storm

As I was on a walk today, overwhelmed by the beauty of nature, I felt the lack of nature I’ve actually had in my life recently. Aside from the summers I worked at camp every day, I can’t remember the last time I spent my summer days basking in the sun. I can’t remember the last autumn where I truly felt immersed in all the colors and ambience of a crisp chill season.

I was struck by the reality of how much time I actually spend inside a box, completely out of touch with the outside world. I rarely go outside except to get to my temperature-controlled car, which will take me to another temperature-controlled box somewhere else. The other day when I was sick, I stayed inside the whole entire day, and I wouldn’t have been able to even tell you what kind of day it had been outside.

Firstly, I mourn this lack of “outsideness” in my own life, and I hope to rectify that.

Secondly- which actually leads me to the point of this post- our idea of shelter in today’s world is a place that is 100% isolated from and unaffected by the outside world. We can come inside from 100 degree heat and end up needing to put on a sweater. We can escape the bitter chill of a snow storm, wrap up in blankets with a hot beverage, and forget the snow outside even exists. We never really have to go long without feeling completely comfortable.

The world wasn’t always this way. Before we had our temperature-controlled boxes, people had to deal with much of the outside conditions even in their own homes. On a cold winter’s night, even the heat of a fireplace can only do so much. If you are in the middle of summer in all its heat and humidity, you certainly would know it, even inside your house.

In reading the Psalms, there are numerous passages about God being our “shelter” in the midst of a storm. Example: “For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble;
he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will lift me high upon a rock.” (Psalm 27:5).

Our expectation of shelter is a place where you can go to completely escape and disconnect from the outside world– a place where we can get comfortable again quite quickly. When we hear of God as our “shelter”, we place those expectations on him, hoping him to be one that will hide us away from the problems of the world. We become frustrated and angry when we still face pain, confusion, and hurt. But perhaps this isn’t the kind of shelter God provides for us.

Let’s imagine for a moment: we’ve been hiking on a cold, dark, rainy night for miles. We are weary and miserable. Just as we feel we can go no further, a tent appears on the side of the path. As we get into the tent, we find immediate relief from the rain that’s been beating down on our frail bodies. Of course we can still hear the rain, we are still quite cold and wet, and we know we are not entirely immune from lightning or floods. We couldn’t forget the storm we just came from when we are essentially still in the midst of it. But we feel safer. We feel relief. We can find rest.

When God offers us relief, he doesn’t remove the storm. He doesn’t put us into a comfortable little box, adjusted to our perfect temperature, so that we can forget all about the problems of the world. He holds us in his arms while the storm rages around us, in the midst of all the pain, confusion, and hurt. He doesn’t allow us to get comfortable– because then we forget how much we need him. We’d forget what he has rescued us from. He allows us to experience the storm as he holds us through it, that we may know our need of him.

“For you have been a stronghold to the poor,
    a stronghold to the needy in his distress,
    a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat” -Isaiah 25:4a

Choosing Freedom.

Often the biggest lessons I’ve learned in life have been realized through dreams. The other day I dreamt that I was enslaved to something, had the opportunity to renounce it, and I chose not to. When I woke up, I pondered what things in life could be enslaving me that I am not ready to let go of. I realized that I constantly find myself captive to negative thoughts, bad attitudes, self-pity, and spiritual doubt. Numerous bad habits plague me on a daily basis. The list goes on an on, and I’m sure everyone experiences their own darkness differently. But everyone has something.

These things that plague us could be external habits, or internal thoughts and reactions. I have come to understand that all of these things are indeed choices, and none of them have to be permanent. Regardless of what might be going on in my life, I can choose either to wallow in self-pity, or to have a positive attitude and move forward. I can make good decisions or bad decisions. I can let go of those thoughts, or choices, or whatever it is that is keeping me from finding true peace.

Usually, those things that enslave us are keeping us from something better we could have in our lives. Having a better attitude will make us happier and more content with life. Practicing good habits makes us feel productive and motivated to do more. Working hard gives a sense of fulfillment. Renouncing self-focus is a wonderful way to find true meaning in life. When we don’t allow ourselves to experience these truly good things, we will inevitably be miserable and weighed down by our burdens.

We can CHOOSE our freedom at any point. So why don’t we? Well, these things in our life that we are not ready to let go of become a crutch. They give us an excuse. We don’t have to work as hard. We have something to hide behind. There’s no doubt that holding onto these things is the easiest thing to do. But at some point we have to make a decision: we can take the easy way out by making excuses, or we can choose to be free from the things that hold us back.

Freedom is scary. If you’ve ever experienced being at the top of a really tall building or an amusement park ride with a vast expanse all around you, you know that stomach-dropping feeling of not being in control, and not having anything to cling to. It is the same way when we are faced with the possibility of letting go of something in our lives that we have grown accustomed to, even if it might be bad for us. Once we let go, we will not have that thing to lean on any longer. But ultimately freedom will provide us with the most happiness, fulfillment, and peace.

The New Normal

Living in a new place is always interesting, and it takes some time to adjust to a new setting. Things you thought were normal might be considered totally strange, and you have to get used to a whole new set of expectations. A whole new “normal”.

These are some things I have learned so far about North Carolina:

-The roads have at least twice as many lanes as they do in PA. Especially on the highway. Good luck trying to turn left at a stop sign.

-Speaking of roads, you have two types of roads here: major highways and residential backroads. I have yet to discover anything in between the two.

-The dirt here is orange. If you don’t believe me, take a look at my tires.

-It is legal to sell alcohol in the grocery stores. My fellow shoppers at Aldi must have thought I was crazy when I stopped to take a photo!

-People don’t care very much about recycling here… Quite inconvenient when moving in suddenly means that you have dozens of large cardboard boxes just lying around.

-Just because it is deathly hot outside doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bring a jacket with you everywhere you go… because it will be 30 degrees colder inside all the buildings.

Life Updates

It has been an exciting few weeks for the Hughes family!

Firstly, we have moved from our Broad Street apartment above the orthodontist in Grove City, Pennsylvania to a fancy little apartment complex in Kernersville, North Carolina! We spent a month packing up all our belongings, and we are currently in the process of undoing it all in a new place. The only furniture we have at the moment is a couch, a bed, our dressers, a bookshelf and a kitchen table, so until further notice, we have to keep a number of boxes piled up along the wall until we have a place to put everything. Also not having any internet yet, this means that the days are passing slowly and we are feeling a bit disconnected from the world. Our friends and family are at least hundreds of miles away, and some across an ocean. This will certainly be an adjustment, but we are excited for what is in store for us here.

A few months back, John accepted a middle school math teaching job in High Point, North Carolina (hence the move). While he has been preparing for his upcoming first year of teaching, I have been looking for music teaching jobs in the area. It’s been an interesting journey, at times looking more promising than others. Yesterday, I interviewed with the only school left on my list, and I will hear back within a week!

We celebrated our one year wedding anniversary a few days ago, and to avoid spending all day in a new apartment full of stuff, we took a day trip to Asheville to see the Biltmore Estate! For only $60 each, we got to explore 40/250 rooms of America’s finest mansion, park our vehicle, and participate in a wine-tasting. Shoutout to Steve from New Jersey at the ticket booth who gave us a complementary Biltmore book for an anniversary present! Additional costs included hot dogs in the courtyard, water, swanky dinner at a restaurant named after George Vanderbilt’s dog, and ice cream in the town of Asheville. It was an absolutely gorgeous day, and we had so much fun celebrating our first year of marriage together!

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^^(sophisticated wine-tasting notes)

 

Thank you to all of the people who have helped us in our first year, from the wedding to moving, and everything in between. We have started and deepened so many friendships along the way and we will miss you all and think of you often while we are in our new home!

Puzzles

If you have known me for any amount of time, you will know that I love doing jigsaw puzzles. Puzzles have accompanied us on a number of family vacations, and from time to time I will take up the entire kitchen table and work on a puzzle for a day or two until it is finished. I’ve done every puzzle that I own, probably two or three times. The hardest puzzle I have ever done was a 2000 piece antique map of the world, which I have now completed twice. My ultimate puzzle dream is to get one of those 10,000 piece puzzles and dedicate a whole room of my house to it!

During my most recent venture, I realized that ‘doing a puzzle’ has many similarities to ‘doing life’. So, I compiled a list (of course).

Valuable life lessons that puzzles can teach you:

  1. If it doesn’t fit, it doesn’t fit.
  2. Start with the edges. Being able to see the framework will help you to know what you are working towards.
  3. It helps to be organized. Rather than trying to tackle the whole thing at once, work on small sections at a time. Find pieces that look similar and group them together.
  4. Every piece has a place. If you are working on the sky bit, just focus on that. Don’t worry about the pink flower piece you see—that will have its time later.
  5. Things are not always what they seem. You might be staring at a piece for ages trying to fit it into the house, and realize it’s actually part of the tree.
  6. There is more than one way to do a task. If you can’t figure out what pieces go together based on the color, try looking at the shapes.
  7. When things get tough, you might need to walk away and come back to it. A fresh perspective can work wonders.
  8. Sometimes, you just might not understand until you can see the finished product.

Free Time

I have been battling with unemployment for what seems like an eternity. In reality, it’s only been two weeks. But suddenly, my college life of homework and activities and schedules and mayhem turned into a life of free time—nothing but free time—and I didn’t know how to handle it. There are only so many YouTube videos you can watch, dishes you can clean, and hours you can spend learning Italian before you start to feel like your life is a massive black hole of laziness and unproductiveness.

Was I being lazy? I mean, I was in the process of applying for a job, so it wasn’t like I was adopting a whole entire lifestyle of unemployment. But couldn’t I be doing that process a bit faster? Couldn’t I be spending my time being more and more productive? I wrestled with my thoughts all day long as I occupied a spacious apartment all by myself. And when my husband came home from school, I felt like a little puppy that had waited all day for their person to come home so they’d have someone to play with. But like all little puppies must learn, I was faced with the fact that my person had better things to do than to keep me occupied all evening.

I was bored. I was lonely. I had nothing to do. Except…. I had plenty to do. I could do a puzzle, read a book, paint a picture, watch a movie, organize the house, clean the house, fill out paperwork, pick up sewing again, bake, learn a language… There was a world of possibilities at my fingertips. But every time I tried one of these tasks, it just felt meaningless and empty. The problem: I wasn’t being intentional. Everything I did was on a whim, with no greater purpose in mind. I would aimlessly do things without a good reason. I did what I “felt like” doing—a very dangerous thing indeed!

So I decided to make a list, as I often do. This is a list of ways to prioritize my free time in a meaningful way, with some real intentionality (in strict order of importance):

  1. FAITH— Grow with the Lord. Read about Him in His Word. Speak to Him. Read books that wise men have written about living in a way that pleases Him.
  1. MARRIAGE— Marriage is not easy; it needs to be nurtured, and worked on. Love your husband unconditionally. Do something to make his life easier, even if you don’t want to. Surprise him. Be his best friend and encourager.
  1. RELATIONSHIPS—Invest in people. Call someone. Write a letter. Spend time with people. Do a favor for someone. Turn the focus AWAY from yourself.
  1. PRACTICE— Do what you are good at. For me, this is music. Sing. Play the piano. Take time to learn the clarinet, and get better at the viola. Become an expert; don’t just settle for being a “beginner”.
  1. LEARN—Gain knowledge in your field. Read a lot of books. Learn a language. Improve your geography or algebra skills.
  1. CREATE— Paint, draw, color, craft, sew, crochet, cook, do a puzzle… whatever you can think of to produce rather than consume. That being said…
  1. CONSUME— But do so mindfully and with moderation. Consuming is not always a bad thing. Read a good book. Listen to beautiful music. Eat what is good. Filter what goes in.

I realized that if I put time into each of these categories each day, I will have grown so much more than if I were to spend all my time merely occupying myself. If I am honest, most of this time of unemployment has been spent consuming, and thinking about myself. I have failed to take advantage of this precious time. But from now on, I will be intentional about my days and hours and moments. Even if you are not unemployed and have much more on your plate, it is still very important to consider how you spend your free time.

“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”     ~Ephesians 5:15-17