Seeds and Fire Ants

Yesterday we drove across the  Sunshine Skyway Bridge between St. Petersburg and Bradenton, Florida. 174 feet above the water. I’ve been over that bridge many times but it’s still breathtaking.  A huge tanker was going under the bridge just as we were going over. I wished we could just stop and watch for a while but there’s no stopping on the bridge! I wonder how many people going over that bridge yesterday were miles away in their thoughts and didn’t even notice the spectacular view much less the large ship below us.

After crossing the bridge, we drove for a few more minutes and arrived at our destination, Dooley Groves.    We were on a mission to pick  Honeybell tangelos.  When it was our turn to go out to the grove, the guide gave us baskets and some specific instructions. The most important of which was, “watch out for fire ants.”  The lanes between the trees were filled with fire ant hills and stepping on one would cause the ants to attack the closest foot or leg.  With five children, five adults and a stroller it was tricky business to avoid the ants.  Several times we had to quickly  brush ants from the pants and shoes of one of us who, focused on the bright orange fruit, neglected to watch where we were walking. Fortunately there were no serious bites to contend with.

We picked enough to fill our baskets and headed back to the van for the trip back across the bridge.  At home we were all anxious to taste the fruits of our labors which we had been thinking about all the way home.  After peeling a softball-sized fruit, I had juice running down my arms.  I’m sure I’ve never eaten an orange so close to harvest before. But as I ate, I realized that it would require some concentration to fully enjoy this treat. If I didn’t pay attention I could possibly break a tooth!  LOTS of seeds!  I found four in just one single segment as I ate.  I just took my time and savored the sweet flavor but I was careful!

Afterwards I thought, could we just have gone to the grocery store and bought oranges (without seeds)  with much less hassle?  Of course. But the experience and the waiting and the effort it took to eat this delicious fruit made it all the more special.  And the memories we made in the process will outlast the sweet flavor of the fruit.

I think sometimes we get in such a hurry to get to the next thing on our calendar or our to-do list that we miss the blessings that God has for us if we are willing to slow down and appreciate the moment. In a lot of ways, I believe God purposely puts fire ants and seeds in our path to cause us to slow down and pay attention.

Perhaps today you can take a look at the things in your path that may seem like a hassle and think about why God may have put them there.  It might just be that a sweet blessing is there waiting for you to notice.

Psalm 34:8  Taste and see that the Lord is good. Blessed is the one who takes refuge in Him.

Psalm 31:19 How abundant are the good things that you have stored up for those who fear you, that you bestow in the sight of all, on those who take refuge in you.


Friends For This Life and the Next

Back in December I wrote a post where I made this statement:

The real friends you make in your life will always be with you, no matter where you live. The miles or the years make no difference. (read the rest of that post here.)

This weekend we had the opportunity to spend some time with some friends from Iowa. These friends are relatively new to our lives, just a couple of years, but we’ve bonded in a special way. God does that sort of thing.

When we received the call asking if we could transport them from the airport to the dock where they would board their cruise ship we were thrilled to agree. So a week ago we drove them the half hour from the airport to the ship port and then yesterday we did the trip in reverse with a slight detour for lunch. We had a wonderful time just visiting as friends. The location for lunch was chosen spontaneously. No need to pick the right place to impress anyone, no agenda, no real plan except to be at the airport on time.  It was a very relaxing visit with much laughter and many words of encouragement shared.

What a blessing to have friends that you can just be yourself with. Those are the friends for life. You can’t help but be encouraged when you get the opportunity to be together, even for a short time.  And isn’t that what God intended friendship to be? A true source of encouragement.

I have already written more emails and letters in the last month than I have in a very long time.  I have chosen to be intentional about keeping connected to those who have become a part of my life.  For 10 years we have done this with the friends we left in Ohio, now we add more precious folks from Iowa to our circle.  We are so blessed!

Some of our special friends have gone on to their Heavenly homes and it is also a blessing to know we’ll be together again one day. And what a reunion that will be!

Sometimes you have friends who are in need and you do whatever you can to help them. We saw that kind of outpouring of love when we were preparing to move.  Many friends came to offer their help and encouragement. It meant so much to us.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up.

Can I ask you to pray for a friend of mine? We have friends we have known for over 30 years who are in a difficult time in their lives. We haven’t seen them in many years, but we share many memories and feel connected to them even today.  Four years ago they lost everything in a fire.  They have spent those years rebuilding their lives only to lose it all again to yet a second house fire this past week.  I can’t imagine what they are experiencing. My heart aches for their family.  If you would add Steve and Lyn North to your prayer list I would be grateful.  And if you are interested in helping in a tangible way or just reading about the incredible work God has allowed Steve to be part of in Toledo, Ohio you can get more information by clicking on the following links.

Lifeline Toledo

Help the Norths


Family Chemistry – The Balance of Relationships

Our home has a different feel to it.  Our normal household of fifteen has been reduced to only eleven for the next few days.  Two of the children are staying with their other grandparents and Andrew and Christine are away for a much deserved adventure for a couple of days. That leaves us with four children to care for. So far things have gone amazingly well.  The little one went down for a nap without a bit of resistance and the younger boys took naps without fussing too. That left just one little boy who was completely engrossed in Legos and having a wonderful time not having to share with anyone!

It’s amazing to me how the chemistry of a household feels so different when just one or a few are missing. You’d think that with this many people we wouldn’t even notice their absence but it’s not true.

We have already formed a family bond that is strong. It has always been strong, but putting all of us in the same house has already caused growth and a sense of strength that only comes as the fibers of family become even more firmly braided together.  We feel it when even one is missing.

With such a big family, we often have to resort to a head count to make sure we have everyone when we are out somewhere. When we get into the van it’s common to hear Andrew doing a roll call with each child responding, even tiny Gwendallyn who proudly answers “Yeah!” when she hears her name. But even before a count is done, you can sometimes just feel that someone is missing. There is a disruption in the chemistry if you will.  And sure enough, when you do take attendance, you find someone indeed is missing. Fortunately, it’s usually an adult and not a child!

It makes me think of the parable of the lost sheep in Luke 15. The story says that if the shepherd loses one sheep he leaves the ninety-nine and goes to look for the one. If he had ninety-nine sheep would he count each one before he knows if one is missing or does he just have a feeling everyone isn’t accounted for? Does he just know the chemistry of the flock isn’t right?

I think He just knows, like we know when we do our head count.  We can feel it. So can He. Each sheep is that important that their absence is immediately felt.  He takes His title of shepherd very seriously.  Even to the point of dying in order to bring His sheep to safety.  It’s more than my little brain can comprehend.

John 10:14-15  “I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.





Starting to Think Like a Floridian Instead of a Tourist

Well, it’s starting to happen.  Yesterday we went to the beach to watch the sunset, the photo with this post is one I snapped with my phone.  It was a beautiful sunny day but it was cool and the wind was brisk.  I had my jacket hood pulled tight around my head and was glad I had several layers of clothing on.

You who live in the north are surely laughing at the thought of me being chilly while you are freezing!  I’m sorry for that, I wish you could all be here with me. We could have a wonderful beach party at 60 degrees and you would be happy about those temperatures!

While Randy and I stood watching the higher than normal surf and the shore birds trying desperately to outrun the waves, we also observed a few….tourists.  They were dressed in shorts and tee shirts. Barefoot, they were running in and out of the surf taking pictures with their phones and trying to smile while I am sure they were shivering.  But, they were here on vacation and no matter the weather, they were going to swim and enjoy it.

And as we watched them, I realized that I had moved away from the tourist perspective. I was enjoying the sunset, but being in the water could wait for another day since I knew there would be one.  I knew that, barring an unforeseen circumstance, I would be here another day and could look forward to enjoying sinking my toes into the sand and feeling the gentle waves coaxing me into the sea.

That made me think about how I view this life.  We are really here, on planet earth, for such a short time. And while we might not view it as a vacation, we certainly have a limited amount of time to enjoy the creation God has given us. I made the decision to try to be more aware of my surroundings. More thankful for what God allows me to experience.  One thing I was thankful for this weekend was seeing some  wild parrots. I never knew, in all the years that I’ve visited Florida, that there were these incredibly beautiful, bright green birds living in our area.  Did I mention that green is my favorite color? How wonderful of the Lord to bless me with the opportunity to see green birds!  It may not be a big deal but it made me smile and I thanked Him for it.

And as I am getting used to the idea that this is my home,  and as I learn to appreciate what this new life has in store for me, I can pause to consider how the Lord sees it all. He has allowed us to live here for a while, but in a way we are just tourists.  In a way, while this is the only home we have ever known, there is something more to come. One day a place that we might now see only with the perspective of a tourist, a place we can’t wait to visit, will become home.  That is how I can see Heaven right now. One day I will arrive there as a new visitor but I’ll be there to stay. It will  become home, and it will be more than we could ever imagine.

John 14:1-4  “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way where I am going.”


If you are interested in seeing the wild parrots  check out this YouTube video  Wild Parrots in Florida


Learning to Be Content in the Big Things and the Small Ones Too

I’ve been a resident of the state of Florida for 4 weeks today. So far things have gone fairly well.

I didn’t come here with the expectation of a smooth transition. When you are combining three households into one there are bound to be some glitches. When you are feeding 15+ people every day you don’t just sit back and put your feet up either!

Meals have been the biggest challenge. Someone had to be delegated to sort of oversee the planning, shopping and meal prep. That would be me.

Of course I have many helpers available to contribute meal suggestions, help with shopping, unloading and putting away a mountain of groceries as well as with prepping and cleaning up. It’s a major production every day.

Added to that is the challenge of cooking for a variety of health issues. We have two diabetics, two with liver disorders, one with food allergies and when Andrew’s father-in-law joins us, one on blood thinners. So, we watch the carbs, watch the salt, watch the nuts and the red meat. And try to watch the budget too! What does it cost to feed up to 17 people everyday? You don’t want to know!

But in spite of all of that, I am up to the task. I actually like the challenge of cooking for an army again. Back when I was cooking for as many as 11 every day I had lots of helpers but they all needed stools. Now the adults out number the children so that helps a lot.

And we have a huge kitchen with two stoves. We also have two refrigerators and a membership to Costco.  We are already on a first name basis with a few of the helpful folks at Costco. We really only shop for meals about three days in advance since much more that than would really put a strain on our storage options.

And speaking of storage, Randy and I have had a couple of trips already to the storage unit and are trying to sort and continue to purge stuff we realize we can live without. It’s amazing how your perspective changes and you realize just how little you really need to be comfortable when you downsize from a 2400 square foot home to a 160 square foot bedroom. Not that I don’t have this huge lovely home to enjoy with everyone else, but as a woman, my “nest” space has been drastically reduced.  It’s a good thing, really. I’m learning to be content with just a few things easily accessible. The rest is in storage and the longer it’s there the more I realize I don’t really need it. It’s a great blessing to come to the end of the day and retreat to my room that I only share with my husband and feel completely content.

It was a great blessing to have Randy home for almost a month before he started his new job. We have already had many wonderful adventures with the grandkids. Now in the second week with Randy going to work every day, we are settling into a more normal routine. We know there will be many more adjustments and challenges ahead, but we are so thankful for God’s grace through it all and thankful for the lessons we are learning. He is making us a stronger family and working on the refining of our hearts as we work through the challenges of living in a household this size.

James 1:2-4 Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

2 Corinthians 9:8  And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed.




We Have Arrived!

A week ago today we were somewhere between Des Moines and Paducah, Kentucky.  A caravan of one huge yellow truck, 2 Toyota Camrys and a minivan. The first 3 hours were spent trying to stay together in thick fog. At one point we were separated for about 45 minutes. We finally figured out that a little space between us was a much easier way to travel and I spent most of the rest of the trip looking in my rearview mirror trying to see if the big yellow truck was still back there somewhere.

Since I was the lead vehicle, with the navigation system, I was in charge of making the decisions about stopping and route changes.  I never expected this job to be so stressful! It’s very difficult to lead into unknown territory and know that whatever decision you make, it had better be able to accommodate a truck pulling a trailer.

Some of the time I had a passenger. When I was alone, I found myself having some wonderful conversations with God. I was able to spend hours expressing my gratitude for all the incredible things He had done for us to make this trip easier. Some of those things were related to lessons learned while packing the truck.

On the day we packed, we had a couple of hired movers who were experts at loading the truck. They expressed their concern at the beginning that there might not be enough room.  All the expertise in the world didn’t give them the ability to load more stuff than I should have taken. We ended up having to rent a trailer to pull behind the truck and that forced us to drive the car we were planning to tow. This meant that all 4 drivers had to drive the whole time with no relief. The relational stress this caused made me realize that my attachment to my stuff had now caused problems for the people I loved. While I was willing to take full responsibility for this, it was too late to turn back so we headed out and tried to make the best of it. I am blessed to have a family who forgives and moves on.

We were very blessed on the entire trip. After negotiating the fog for the first morning, things cleared up. The list of things I was thankful for grew by the hour.  No rain, no snow, no bright sunshine that would make it more difficult to drive.  No accidents and very little construction. Great hotel rooms, good meals, no mechanical issues. We all stayed awake.  That was a miracle in itself. I was able to drive 30 hours in 3 days and wasn’t really sleepy once. I felt God sustaining me every minute. The only thing I had to deal with was that I was wearing out my voice telling God how grateful I was and singing his praises with the worship music on the radio, much to Alex’s frustration!  It’s a good think he had headphones and the opportunity to ride with someone else once in a while.

We finally arrived in the middle of the afternoon on the third day. But it still wasn’t time to rest. We still had to unload the things we would need right away. That night well after dark, we were unloading the trailer. Randy took the trailer back the next morning and then we spent the next 2 days unloading the truck. At one point I am convinced that God sent 3 muscular angels to help us unload Randy’s table saw. They just happened to be working in the section  of the storage unit where we were unloading our belongings. We were all so glad to see that truck drive away for the last time!

Now we are getting settled in. We are all finding it rather surreal that we have finally arrived. It seemed like the waiting would go on forever. We often look at one another and say, “we live in Florida,” like that will help it to seem more real.

The things I am thankful for today include sleeping in my own bed again and a room where I can find solitude when I need it. I am also thankful for the way my family worked as a team to get things unpacked. We have many adjustments ahead of us but I already have a deep sense of contentment. I am right where I belong for the next chapter of the Maxey Adventure!

Philippians 4:11 Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.

I’ve Loved It Here, I’ve Loved It There, I’ll Learn to Love It Anywhere!

I loved growing up in Delaware, Ohio. It was a small college town of about 15,000 people when I was in junior high. Our folks have lived in Delaware for over 50 years and are still there. It’s a nice little town.

I loved raising my boys in Westerville, Ohio. It was a little bigger than Delaware but still a very nice place to live. We lived there almost 20 years and have some great memories.

For the past 10 years we’ve lived in Urbandale, Iowa. One of the hardest things I’ve ever done was move away from everything and everyone I knew. I was sure that I would never be completely happy so far from home. But God surprised me.

God has made Iowa home. We’ve spent these 10 years raising our younger boys to be young men here. Some of them have lived in Iowa longer than they lived in Ohio.  We all got attached to some very special people.  We’ve loved it here too. The fact is, you can be happy anywhere if you choose to be. It’s really about the people. Your relationships are what makes a place home, not your surroundings.

But now it’s time to move on. Next week I will begin a new adventure. I will have the opportunity to watch my grandchildren grow up in Clearwater, Florida.

I have a choice to make. I can spend all my time grieving over what I’ll leave behind or I can embrace the new chapter ahead of me.  As we get closer to the final day in Iowa, I am reminded that when we leave here it will be with a different opportunity than we had coming from Ohio. With the addition of Facebook in my life, I will be able to take all of my friends with me! Isn’t that generous of me? I’m taking all of you to Florida!

The truth is this. The real friends you make in your life will always be with you, no matter where you live. The miles or the years make no difference. I hope you know what I mean. I hope everyone has at least one friend that you can pick up right where you left off no matter how long it is between the times you are together or talk on the phone. Those people are precious gifts. I find myself incredibly blessed to count many friends as friends for life.

And next week, I will be given the opportunity to begin to add Florida friends to that list. The only thing that will hold me back is my own hesitance to step outside my comfort zone.  That saying, “bloom where you’re planted” is really true.  I have to allow myself to blossom and grow and not allow the temptation to become a wallflower to limit what God wants to do.

So, the truck comes tomorrow and we pull out 2 days later. And I am blessed to know that you are all coming along for this adventure!

Perhaps this post has made you think about a friend you haven’t talked to in a while. Maybe today would be a good day to make a fresh connection. Perhaps hearing from you is just what they need today.

Hebrews10:24-25 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Moving is a Little Like Giving Birth

I feel like I’m in labor and at that point where I want to say,”Hey, who’s idea was this? I think I’ve changed my mind.”

Of course, in the process of moving  and in the birth of a child, you don’t really want to change your mind, you just want this part to be over with!

I feel like we’ve been preparing to move for the past 3 months. Like when I was expecting each child, the anticipation was so exciting at the beginning. It was easier to make decisions, easier to move around, easier to sleep.  Now I am feeling the stress of trying to live everyday life around piles of boxes and realizing something I need at the moment is already packed. And sleeping is a little iffy these days.

I am ready to be done. Wishing that I could get the Star Trek guys to beam me to Florida and just be done with it.  But no, it doesn’t work that way. Now, at the time I’m most stressed and most exhausted, is the time for the final push.  soon we’ll be loading the truck and making the 3 day drive with 3 vehicles in the caravan. Or really, 4 if you count the car Randy will be towing on the back of the truck.

I know that God has been orchestrating this move from the very beginning. And I’m seeing that the beginning was much longer ago than I realized. He was working on this move for at least a year that I can see, probably much longer…

The timing is perfect, the weather forecast has been very cooperative. God was generous and gave the entire country warm weather in December just so we could get to Florida without having to deal with ice or snow, right? Thank you, Lord!

Now I just have to buckle down and finish this race. I have to focus on the outcome, just like being in labor. I have to look past the difficulties of the next few days and think about the end result. It will be worth it, but it won’t be easy. But hey, I’ve done hard before, I can do it again. God is still with me. Forever and always.

Hebrews 10:36 For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.

James 1:2-4 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

God Will Meet Your Needs and He’s Never Late

So we had this van that we’ve needed to sell. We’ve been trying for almost 6 weeks.  We’ve been praying for God to send the buyer we needed so we could get it sold before the move.

Yesterday the prayers increased as we knew that we now only had one more week left.  I had already begun to thank God for providing the perfect person at the perfect time. I knew He could do it. But still, as the days passed quickly, I have to admit, I was starting to get a little nervous.

Yes, I should know better. Yes, I’ve seen God show up at the very last minute enough times that I should be able to have perfect peace while I wait.  Well, maybe YOU do but I confess, I don’t always feel that way!

So last night at 10:00 I was sitting in my living room praying because my husband had just left to meet a potential buyer.  A man who called at 9:00 to say he would pay cash for the van agreed to meet Randy at a neutral location and make the deal.  I’m sure you have figured out that my stress level was a little higher at that moment than I would like to admit.  I was praying protection, praying for the money to be real, praying for the deal to be done so we could just get beyond this hurdle.

Perhaps you wouldn’t have been fearful but after the things in the news these days and the fact that this was a Craigslist ad responded to late at night by a man who said he’d just moved here from out of state….well, let’s just say my imagination could easily run a little wild.

So Randy left, I stayed home and prayed. My two adult sons had agreed to meet him there too, just to be safe. And they ended up bringing another friend with them. So there was Randy and his 3 bodyguards waiting for the buyer to show up.

When the man arrived they began to talk and while they were talking a white van pulled up, stopped right in front of our van and several young men got out. Randy said he was ready for an ambush.

Do you know the scene from the movie Back to the Future where Doc and Marty are in a deserted parking lot late at night and a truck full of terrorists show up?  I can imagine that scene might have been what was going through my husband’s mind at that moment.

But the deal went through easily and Randy even drove the van to the mans apartment.  They were a very nice group of young men and frankly, the buyer was probably just as concerned about his safety when Randy arrived with his entourage!

I learned some important things from this experience. First, I was reminded that God is never late. By waiting until now to sell the van, we had the  luxury of having 2 vehicles so I could get things done while Randy was at work. He only has 3 more days so now that isn’t a problem.

I also learned something while I was praying and struggling with fear for Randy’s safety. God quietly reminded me of these verses in the Book of Luke.

So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. “For everyone who asks, receives; and he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, it will be opened. “Now suppose one of you fathers is asked by his son for a fish; he will not give him a snake instead of a fish, will he? “Or if he is asked for an egg, he will not give him a scorpion, will he? (Luke 11:9-12)

I asked God for a buyer for the van and that is exactly what He gave me. I didn’t need to worry that He would send something that wasn’t safe for us. God is a good Father. He wants what’s best for us.

And this experience is especially meaningful to me because, as some of you know, I have been keeping a “Gratitude Journal” which I began at the beginning of the year with the goal of reaching 1000 things I was thankful for. This morning I wrote #1000. A buyer for the van.

Thank you Father, for always providing at just the right time!


Date Night Stands Even During a Cross-Country Move

Friday is date night. Yes, we are moving in a week but some things take priority and our marriage is one of those things. We don’t usually do anything extravagant. Often it’s just a cheap $20 meal at a local restaurant. We’ve also been know to go shopping for things we need for the house, the standing joke from the kids reminds  us of the time we bought a new toilet.

This week we won’t be doing anything big. We will just take time to get away and sort of reset our focus.  We’ve been so busy it sometimes feels like we don’t have time to connect at all. We discuss the logistics, the to-do list, and the zillions of details that require our attention. But we don’t have time to talk about our hopes and dreams about what this next chapter of our lives might look like.  Those discussions are what happens on date night.  We take the time to dream and to share our excitement about what lies ahead.

We also take the time to be in awe of what God has done to make this adventure happen. There are so many things we have seen God do that were completely unexpected. He has brought together so many details in such a seamless way that we are amazed. We will take the time to tell Him how grateful we are.

And we will continue to pray together for the rest of the details that need to come together in the next week.  We still need to sell our old van, we still need to make decisions about many small details. But God has again shown Himself to be faithful and we know He will not let anything slip though the cracks.

This week’s date night won’t just be about us though. Sometimes your priorities  have to make room for others. Tomorrow as we leave for our night out, our first stop will be the funeral home.  As I wrote last time, we have a friend, John, who on Tuesday had surgery for brain cancer.  Yesterday  another friend, Doug, came to the end of his battle with brain cancer after 3 difficult years.

We may be moving, and our lives may be changing but the lives of those families have been turned upside down.  Their names and their faces come into my thoughts over and over throughout the day.  No matter what I have on my plate, I will chose to make time to pray for those we love.  Will you continue to pray for John and his family? And will you please add Doug’s family to your prayers as well?

Life is often hard, but God is always good.