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My dog is BORED.
My 12 year old Bichon, who we call Dobby, is bored. Yes, in case you are wondering, he is indeed named after Harry Potter's favorite house elf. Poor Dobby misses Brooke. While he loves all his people, his favorite roll-around-on-the-floor playmate is Brooke and she lives in Boston now.
The reason I know he is bored is that he is driving me berserk. He follows me around the house staring at me and when it gets within 2 hours of dinner time, he starts the hard core whining and begging. Being that I have less people to care for lately, I have decided that Dobby and I need to try something new, so that I don't have to kill him.
SO, we have started taking walks! TWO DAYS in a row we have gone for a walk! For those of you who have been walking your dog for years and do not understand why this warrants an exclamation mark, I should explain that we have a fenced back yard and we have always just let Dobby out back to do his business. His exercise routine has consisted primarily of chasing a Kong across the family room. But we are mixing it up here in Chantilly and we are going for walks. We are crazy and spontaneous that way. :-)
Today on our walk, I was thinking about the phrase "you can't teach an old dog new tricks" and laughing about Dobby and me....me just turning 50 and I suppose Dobby somewhere around 84 in dog years...learning how to go on walks in our "old" age. So far, we aren't very good at this walking thing. He tends to strain at the leash, pulling ahead in his excitement to smell all the one million smells and course, pee on every immobile object we pass. He wanders off the path to smell something new and I probably yank a little too hard instead of just calling him back. My guess is that we will probably get better at it, in time, should we choose to continue this experiment. I've found that is generally how these things work, although I much prefer being good at new things right from
As we are walking, I'm thinking about the connections to all the other things going on in my life and how there might even be blog material to be found in this little outing. I've started doing that again....seeing my life through the lense of what I could potentially write about it. When I was blogging and writing regularly years ago, I tended to see connections and spiritual metaphors everywhere I looked and, even if I didn't end up using what I discovered for a blog post, I always found blessings in being watchful for God's simple graces in the ordinary days. I found there was usually a theme to what God was growing in me and it deepened my faith to see repeated connections as I explored them through my writing.
So I am finding myself drawn to the writing again and the theme these days seems to be new beginnings. The manna ceased and God is doing a new thing in this season of my life. I am starting to explore what practices and disciplines I need to start or change as I adjust to my new normal. From past experience, I've learned that doing a new thing requires repetition and perserverance. So I'm trying to show up and do the things I know are good for me. And now, I think that includes writing something every day. Sometimes it is good and sometimes it is just practice. I am learning to be ok with that because I have learned that showing up consistently is 90% of the battle for me. So we will see where this leads. And, for the record, I do think an old dog can learn new tricks!
Back to our walk for a minute. So, I'm thinking about these things as we walk...trying new things, establishing new habits, not being too old to try something new, how in the world does this dog possibly have enough urine to continue to pee on everything we pass....and then this happens!
Sometimes when we try something new, something completely unexpected happens. Who knows, maybe a delightful blessing might be just around the corner...
I have been leading bible study at a day shelter for poor and homeless individuals on Tuesday afternoons since the summer of 2008. When I first started leading bible study at the Lamb Center, I would prepare my lessons with great attention and careful detail. I would arrive with an outline of pertinent scriptures to explore and a list of corresponding questions for each scripture. As I began to have a deeper understanding and love for the community in which I was serving, it became more and more clear that my illusion of control was just that…an illusion. While I still spend time in preparation, I have come to understand that in many ways, I am just a passenger along for the ride. And often, it is a very exciting ride! I am definitely NOT the one in charge.
This morning, I was reminded of the many places in scripture that it talks about various characters who “walked with God.”. I particularly connected with one of the author’s descriptions of what it means to walk with God. She said to walk with God is to “live continually God-aware.” As I meditated on that concept, I thought about the places and spaces in my life where I already “live continually God-aware” and those places where I might benefit from a greater adherence to that practice. On Tuesday afternoons at the Lamb Center, I have learned to “live continually God-aware.” The staff there live that way every day and they are wonderful teachers.
When I began serving at the Lamb Center, I was quickly faced with the awareness….perhaps a better word would be certainty….that I could not do this thing using only my feeble bag of tricks. My collective wisdom, training, experience and gifts were woefully insufficient. What wisdom or solace could a middle aged mom with plenty of money in the bank have to offer to someone who was living in the woods and was overwhelmed by despair? In all honesty, how dare I presume that my words would mean anything in that context? Yet, because of a series of circumstances, I knew I was supposed to be there and so I went. At first, I went with a flurry of preparation and planning. Eventually, I went with a handful of scripture and eyes wide open to see what God was going to do with it. Like the young boy who offered up his meager lunch of a loaf of bread and a couple of fish, sometimes I feel like more of an observer to the miracles than a participant.
Sometimes during bible study, things seem to be careening out of control. Perhaps we have more than the usual number of guests who are struggling with mental health issues or are experiencing overwhelming fear or anger. During those times, I I have learned to get very quiet and listen very carefully; as if my guide on the path has held up His hand as an indication that I should pause. Sometimes, in that moment, one of the quieter guests will chime in with words of such wisdom and clarity and kindness that I offer a prayer of thanksgiving to God that He put a hand over my mouth at that moment. Sometimes, I feel a gentle tug on my heart to ask a different question that might lead us down an alternative path- a question that I hadn’t thought of before that moment. One day, when I saw us heading down a path that I was certain led directly off a cliff, one of our precious guests was reminded of a song and so I asked her to teach it to us and we sang it together. Because I am no longer attached to my agenda or under the delusion that I am in control, I have been able to witness and experience God work miracles. But I MUST listen and be willing to be flexible. And I am personally blessed and changed every week by my fellow sojourners and the ways that God uses them to teach me.
Here’s the thing: I KNOW I can’t fix anybody at the Lamb Center, so I don’t even try. I can’t orchestrate their healing or get them housing or keep them sober or undo the pain they have suffered in their life. So I lean in and follow the one who CAN do those things. His timing is often not what I would choose and the path He takes often looks like the long way around. But after 6 years of traveling this road, I am convinced He knows what He is doing and so I spend my days there “living continually God-aware” expecting to see miracles, in spite of myself.
When I walk through the doors of the Lamb Center now, I am blindingly aware of God at work. With this awareness of God’s presence and provision, I often stumble upon unexpected treasures and wind up following paths I hadn’t planned. “Living continually God-aware” in this context means seeing the people and situations I encounter as sacred and knowing that God is present in the midst of them. Each conversation is holy, each person (including me) a sacred work in progress. Even the ugly and difficult, when seen through God eyes, is somehow a reminder to breath deep and lean into my much stronger and wiser walking Companion like a sturdy walking stick. Because the situations there are often difficult and the resources are limited, we have no choice but to trust that our Guide is capable and knows the way.
But here is my point: (FINALLY, you say!) I don’t want to only walk with God on Tuesday afternoons. If I am honest, much of my life is out of my direct control, isn’t it? While I can control my attitude and how I spend my time, I cannot control the people, places or things around me. I have no idea what the future holds, so wouldn't it be to my benefit to walk with God all week long? To live every day "continutally God-aware?" What lessons learned on Tuesday afternoons might I take into the rest of the week?
Perhaps these are a few of the things I am learning:
Proverbs 3:5-6 (ESV)
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.
I am a chronic, mostly unapologetic over-explainer.
I tend to go into slightly more detail than technically necessary when purchasing an item at a store, ordering my food at a restaurant, paying for my groceries, talking to the doctor or pretty much any interaction with other human beings. I make a lot of new friends this way, but I also frequently embarrass my husband and children. In an attempt not to over explain this, here are just a very few examples:
If you receive a gift from me, you are also likely to get a potentially long winded explanation of why I chose that particular gift, what I considered as an alternative, where I sought to purchase said gift, where I eventually found the gift and even, possibly, instructions on how to correctly use your gift.
My daughter and I visited Ann Taylor Loft one day searching for a pair of business-like dress pants for her to wear as a character in a play. In our quest to find just the right pair of black pants for her character, I felt it might be helpful if I told the poor unsuspecting sales lady the entire plot of the play. Thankfully, it was just a one act!
And perhaps my family’s favorite, I once told a waitress that my husband was having a colonoscopy in a couple days by way of explaining why we were ordering a particular modification to our flatbread. Bless. Her. Heart. I wish I had a picture of her face....or my husband's....or my daughter and her boyfriend's....
ANYWAY, why this confession? Because knowing this little tidbit about my character, you will see the conundrum when someone asks me the question, “What do you do?”
I remember when I decided to retire from paid employment right before my youngest daughter was born. One of the things with which I initially struggled was how to answer the question “What do you do?” I often went into an unasked for recitation of my resume; the degrees and certifications I had earned, the kind of work I had done in the past, my last position as a clinical social worker in private practice, before finally saying that I was now home with my kids doing the mommy thing.
Truly, I was not embarrassed or conflicted or even ambivalent (ok, maybe a little ambivalent) about our choice for me to stay home with our kids. I have never once regretted the decision. However, at least at the beginning, I had a hard time with the idea of that being my entire identity. I had worked hard to build my career and I had achieved some success. I loved my work and I took pride in what I did. Truth be told, at that point, I was still feeling somewhat over my head and out of my element as a parent. If I had been a little bolder at the stage of the journey, I would have answered that question by simply saying “trying to keep these two kids alive without them having too much material to talk about in therapy once they are adults..” We were totally making it up as we went along and I wasn't sure I was going to be very good at it.
Fast forward 18 or so years and here I am again in transition. We did it! Through the grace of God, a lot of prayer, and a slightly twisted sense of humor, we have managed to raise these two amazing individuals to adulthood. Too soon to say how much fodder they have for the therapist couch, but they are wonderful human beings and I am proud of whatever contributions I might have made in the process. They are, in some ways, my finest work to date. Now they are both off on their amazing adventures, making their own decisions, and equipping themselves for what I’m sure will be lives of meaning and purpose. I adore them and I have treasured my front row seat in their journey thus far.But that question. Once again, I find myself often faced with that question. “What do you do?”
Well, kind sir or madam, I’m not too sure yet. May I give you a list of my training, job experience, volunteer work, personality traits, the causes I support, my hobbies, my passions, my talents, my loves? I know I SAID in my previous post that I was giving myself time and permission to BE STILL, but it has already been like 3 whole weeks of this empty nest thing. Now what am I going to DO?
But here is some really good news that I’ve learned since I was first struggling with this question 18 years ago: I know that as a follower of Jesus, that it is not what I DO that gives me my value, my worth, my identity, my purpose. I am so much more than what I DO. If I taught them nothing else, I hope I taught my girls that our value and the value of everyone around us is in our identity as children of God. I don’t need to DO anything except say YES to be the recipient of that incredible, healing, fulfilling, extravagant Love. In Him, I am complete, I am enough, I am loved. I truly believe this to be Truth with a capital T and that knowledge does help me as I wrestle with these questions once again. However, I also believe that my identity as a child of God is both a blessing and a responsibility. In gratitude for the grace I have received, I am compelled to DO something with my life, to fulfill my calling, to be a blessing to someone else and to use my gifts and talents for the Kingdom. The question now is what that might look like in this next season of my life.
But do you think that maybe the two paragraphs above are a bit too much explaining if someone asks me “What do you do?” :-)
Yesterday morning, while watching a video with a large group of women, I was surprised to find that I had tears running down my face. Luckily, one of my dear ones sitting behind me noticed my tears and kindly and quietly handed me a tissue. Have you ever had the experience when you hear something that resonates with you so deeply…that feels so TRUE…that it literally takes your breath away for a moment?
This isn’t the first time I’ve had that experience while listening to Beth Moore teach on a video screen. I started her newest study yesterday and, as always, felt like I was reconnecting with a well-loved old friend. Beth inspires me with her joy in the Lord and her passion for His Word and I am grateful for her impact in my life.
To make a long story shorter (I seldom say anything “short,”) Beth was talking about loss yesterday. She was talking about seasons of life where we get comfortable; we like our activities, our group of closest confidantes, our daily routine. We know who we are and what to do. And then something happens that blows it up and leaves a gaping hole. The Greek word was paroxusmos. And blowing stuff up or being near an explosion can hurt like hell.
For the past 2 decades, my life has largely been characterized by being Alex and Brooke’s mom and by serving in ministry and leadership at our church. This is what I did every day, but it was also who I was to a large degree. Thankfully, God pushed me out of my comfort zone once before several years ago, and my ministry at the Lamb Center became the third leg of that tripod. Through a series of circumstances, both wonderful and difficult, 2 of those 3 came to an abrupt end this summer. And I’m finding myself feeling a little wobbly as a result.
Don’t get me wrong, I KNOW full well that I am still Alex and Brooke’s mom and I always will be. I talk (ok, text) with them both frequently and I look forward to them coming home for Christmas and summer breaks. But honestly, it is just different, isn’t it?
See if this makes sense: the relationship I have with them as individuals continues and hopefully deepens and grows, but the sense of this being “what I do” is irrevocably altered. For years, being their mom and all that entailed was my purpose, my job, and my focus. It was how I ordered my days and chose my activities. I went on mission trips with the student ministry to serve with my girls and to teach them that they are blessed to bless others. Because of their passion for theater, I was the head Drama Mama and threw myself wholeheartedly into the work of the drama department. I scheduled my days to be there when they got home to hear all about their day at school or their rehearsal. I bought food for their friends and invested in their lives too, so that our house often became the destination gathering place. I loved “my job.”
I’m rambling a bit today, but let me stop for a moment and say that I’m not entirely sure that this singular focus is always completely healthy (fodder for another post perhaps,) but I know it is not unique to me. While I tried to balance my focus by serving in various aspects of ministry, being mom was still my primary calling. The online parent groups in which I participate are talking about this, in addition to my group of women friends. People are hurting. The overwhelming response I got from my last post on the empty nest was testament to the fact that people are not quite sure how to deal with this transition and others like it. So I keep writing about it, in hopes that my out-loud processing will bless someone else and keep the conversation going. My therapy, if you will...
So, back to the moment of connection that I experienced in yesterday’s video. Beth gave me some new language yesterday that I have been thinking about ever since. She suggested that God will help us fill the holes left behind in seasons of loss and change by doing a “Remix.” I looked up the word Remix online and a couple of the definitions really struck a chord with me (excuse the pun:)
Don’t you love that picture, hurting empty nest mamas? Our lives are being remixed because God has a new audience in mind for us. I suggested the metaphor of the empty canvas the other day and I love that this idea of a Remix takes that a little deeper. God is working on a new masterpiece and we have the privilege of being co-creators. We are not done yet! Those same notes God used to help us guide our children into adulthood will now be used to sing a slightly different song for a new audience. Carefully crafted notes of unconditional love, encouragement, compassion, patience, humor, organization, multi-tasking, and creativity are never wasted. Those were hard earned skills learned in the trenches of parenting and now we have the opportunity to use them in a new and different way; new jobs, new volunteer opportunities, and perhaps most importantly, new relationships. I’m not completely clear just how that will look, but I’m getting more and more excited by the prospects. I am starting to look forward to the Bonus Tracks, how about you?
“Sing to Him a new song. Play well with loud sounds of joy.” Psalm 33:3
I can not count the number of times that I have stood at the door to one of my children’s bedrooms and thought, with parental self-loathing, “I have totally failed as a parent. This child will never, ever be able to live in civilized society.”
I’m sure that you, dear reader, have much better trained children. However, for those of you who can relate to my sense of despair, I hope you will take heart and that one day you too will have a text conversation with your child like the one I am about to describe.
In case you are uncomfortable with me sharing the details of a private conversation with my offspring, this is the same child who regularly took screenshots of our text conversations and tweeted them out to the whole Twitter world….at least until I caught her and threatened to take away her smart phone that I pay for and replace it with a “stupid” phone. Plus, she is in a really good mood right now because she just got cast in her first college play. And even she knew it was funny. So she won’t mind, I swear.
Just to give you some context, when this particular child has something important to say or is feeling strong emotion, I get texts containing ALL CAPITAL LETTERS! And lots of exclamation marks!!!!!!! And very little punctuation. I received one of these texts last week regarding her frustration with her messy suitemates. I won’t quote verbatim, but it went something like this:
Frustrated Offspring: “NOONE WILL CLEAN EXCEPT FOR ME I AM SO DONE HOW HARD IS IT TO CLEAN YOUR DISHES AS SOON AS YOU USE THEM WHY IS THAT SO HARD”
(So, you can see my dilemma. Clearly, the child is distressed and needs to feel heard. But SERIOUSLY…)
What I said: “Wow, that must be so frustrating! It takes some adjusting to learn to live in community…blah, blah, blah….insert supportive Mom speak here.”
What I thought: ARE YOU KIDDING ME?
Furstrated Offspring: “I SWEAR I AM NOT, NOT, NOT DOING THE DISHES ANYMORE. THEY CAN JUST SIT THERE. I AM DONE” (insert additional ranting and outrage here)
What I said: “Have you shared with them how you are feeling? Here are some possible solutions: learn to ignore the mess and not let it bother you, continue to do the dishes as an act of love and service without expecting anything in return, murder them all in their sleep….”
What I thought: Good luck with that! I tried them all…
Slightly calmer, but still outraged offspring: “It is amazing. They agree to do their dishes but then they just put them in the sink like they just EXPECT that someone else will come along and do them!”
(Notice that due to my calm, loving demeanor, my listening ear and my gentle, playful and even humorous suggestions, the capital letters have stopped at this point in the conversation.)
What I said: Nothing, I was speechless for a moment. Doesn’t happen often and it generally passes quickly, but you can see my amazement at the beauty of this situation.
What I thought: This. Is. The. Best. There is justice in the universe.
But finally, I just can’t resist.
What I said, and I quote: “The irony of this conversation is just astounding.”
Capital Letters Again Offspring: “MOM, I KNOW! THOUGH YOU ARE MY MOMMY SO IT DOESN’T COUNT”
What I said: ROFL
And then I said, and meant every word: “You are adorable, I love you and I wish you were here to leave dirty dishes in my sink.”
But I do kinda love college.
It appears that I have survived week one of my empty nest relatively unscathed.
A few weeks ago, I found myself with tears in my eyes at the grocery store because the milk I was placing in my cart had an expiration date of September 5th. "They will both be gone on September 5th," I thought to myself sorrowfully. The milk’s expiration seemed to eerily coincide with the dissolution of my family…foolish, of course, but that’s how it felt in those last emotional weeks.
The last few weeks of preparation for my youngest daughter Brooke’s move to Boston and big sister Alex’s move to London were bittersweet. Lots of quality time together shopping, planning and packing. Even an impromptu trip to Cape Cod with Alex on our way home from dropping Brooke off in Boston. The anticipation of saying goodbye was in many ways worse than the actual goodbye when it finally arrived. At some level, it was really a relief when we were all settled in our new or much quieter homes.
So here I am. After 20 years of hands on parenting, my babies have flown the nest and are off having wonderful adventures in far off places. I am pleased to say that they are both doing well. In spite of an occasional pang of homesickness, they love their new homes away from home and I love to hear about them making friends, enjoying classes and exploring their new cities. That knowledge gives me an enormous amount of peace. So now that I helped them get settled, what’s next for me? Because of the financial security that my husband's job provides, I am blessed to not have to go out immediately and earn an income, so what will I do instead with this space left behind?
I remember the year that both girls were finally in school full time. After 7 years in the trenches of babies/toddlers/ preschoolers, what would I ever do with all this free time? What I did was run out and sign up for WAY too many things. Room mom for both girls classes, new stuff at church, etc….but I had so much free time, right? It quickly became apparent that I had over booked and over committed and over reached my personal capacity for juggling. Trust me, I am NOT a very good juggler. That was the year I learned to say no. Looking back on that time, I think there were lessons learned then that might just be applicable for me now:
So friends in transition, how are you “taking time” in this next phase of life? How are you embracing the change you find yourself in? I would love to hear your ideas!
We are going through some major transitions in our family this summer.
In a few weeks, our oldest daughter will be moving to London to study abroad for the fall semester.
Even sooner, our baby girl will be moving to Boston to start her freshman year of college.
This fall, for the first time since my big girl started school 16 years ago, I will not be planning my days around school schedules and kids’ activities.
A few weeks ago, my husband unexpectantly got an exciting/ scary/ wonderful/ challenging/ BIG promotion at work.
Earlier this summer, we made the difficult decision to leave our church home of 17 years and have recently started visiting new churches.
AND, on Friday, I will turn 50!
This past weekend, I had the pleasure of attending the Woman of Faith conference with some of my favorite sister friends. As always, we had a wonderful time and I thoroughly enjoyed the music, the teaching, and the time with my dear ones. One of the speakers, Christine Caine, was especially inspiring for me in this season of my life.
Her message was centered around Joshua 5 when the Israelites finally arrived in the promised land after 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. God had once again delivered them through seemingly insurmountable obstacles. At this point in the story, they had arrived in the promised land, but had not yet taken possession of the promised land.
As I listened and took notes, I made a number of meaningful connections as she talked about taking laps around Mt. Sinai in preparation and the “circumcision” or cutting away necessary to take possession of the promised land. This was, after all, a familiar story and I have always loved the part where the Israelites had to wade into the Jordan and get their feet wet before God stopped the water for them to cross. So many beautiful spiritual metaphors!
This time, however, I heard something new. Probably my favorite thing about studying God’s word is when He surprises me with something brand new in a familiar story…something I would swear was not there the last time I read the passage. In verse 11-12, we learn that after they ate from the produce of the land of Canaan for the first time, the manna stopped. For 40 years, God had been feeding them by dropping food from heaven in the form of manna. Now the manna had ceased. Christine suggested that God was saying to them “I’m not doing it like that anymore.”
I had never thought about the manna stopping before!! I have always loved the story of manna….bread from heaven, only enough for one day, just the right portion for each family and it would spoil if you tried to stockpile it up for the future. Each day, you had to receive your perfect portion directly from the hand of God. So many applications to the ways that God provides for us.
But manna was food for the wilderness, not the promised land. Just because God provided sustenance in the form of manna for a season, didn’t mean that was the one and only way God could or would provide for His children. I’m sure some of the manna eaters were thrilled by something new to eat in their new home, but I suspect there were a few who did not like things changing. THIS was how God fed them, this was how God WORKED….it had always been that way, at least in recent memory, and they were likely comfortable knowing just what to expect. You get up in the morning, you go out and gather the manna. Every day, except for the Sabbath. You could count on it. Predictability feels like safety sometimes.
For some reason, the phrase “the manna ceased” struck me deeply and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. I find myself repeating it, praying it, pondering it, meditating on it. The circumstances of our life right now speak to God saying “I’m not doing it like that anymore.” “This is a new season,” He says, “and you may experience Me, hear Me, be fed by Me in a new way….perhaps even an unfamiliar way.” I’m still listening….writing about it is part of the listening.
The good news about being so dang old is that, for the most part, the idea of God taking me on a new adventure and speaking to me in a new way sounds really exciting. I trust Him. He has always, always been faithful, even when….especially when… I’m not. There are days when I’m not sure whether I’m still circling Mount Sinai, waiting in the circumcision line at Gilgal or marching around Jericho waiting for that wall to come down. I know for sure that I have experienced all 3 of those scenarios at some point. And now, in this new season, what will it mean to take possession of the Promised Land that God has in store for me? I love that the Holy Spirit still uses the stories of scripture to speak to us right where we are today. In a room full of thousands of women, God reached out to each of us individually in just the way we needed. I love that!
The manna ceased….I can’t wait to see what is next!
We are rich. There really is no way around it. By every definition of the word, we are rich. We own two houses and 4 cars. We go on nice vacations, eat out often and buy anything we want at the grocery store. We give to a number of organizations, including our church, and have been able to save for college and retirement. We live in a safe community with wonderful schools. Our kids have had every advantage that money can buy. I am grateful for the Lord's provision and my husband's hard work.
Last month, I read a book called 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker. As I told my friends on Facebook, it rocked my world. You should read the book to really understand, but essentially Jen and to some degree her family looked at their life of relative wealth and decided to dig a little deeper. To do that, she looked at some of the excess in her life of affluence and decided to do an intentional "fast" in 7 different areas: food, clothing, possessions, media, waste, spending, and stress. She fasted for a month in each area and wrote about her experience and what God taught her in the process. In the study guide that she published later, she suggests a week long "fast" in each area for those who were intrigued enough by her experience to go deeper themselves. That is what my friends and I are going to do for Lent.
FYI, my family thinks I'm crazy.
Let's take a detour for a minute and talk about what a fast is. One definition I read was "fasting is an intentional reduction, a deliberate abstinence to summon God's movement in our lives. A fast creates margin for God to move." Another definition said "it is exchanging the needs of the physical body for those of the spiritual." God talks about His ideas of fasting in Isaiah 58. When Jesus brings it up, He says "when you fast," making the assumption that we will be doing so.
SO, we begin this week, as Lent officially begins on Wednesday. This week, we examine our relationship with food. In the book, Jen picked 7 foods that she would eat exclusively for one month. Our group decided that each of us would decide for ourselves what our "fast" would look like this week.
Back to my wealthy lifestyle. We have loads of food in our house. Pantry is full. 2 freezers are full. One refrigerator full, the other partly full. We buy food that we end up throwing away because it goes bad. I have thrown out things in my pantry that were 2 years past the expiration date. Some evenings, I look in the refrigerator, don't feel like thinking/cooking and go out for fast food instead. I don't actually know what a gallon of milk costs anymore because I know I can afford it. We are privileged that we have never for one day known what it feels like to go hungry
But the abundance, and the opportunity for excess, is internal as well as external. Like most of us, I often eat when I'm not hungry. I indulge a passing craving, the bag of chips catches my eye, Steve leaves a bag of candy on the counter (clearly, that one is his fault.) A handful of this, a spoonful of that...many times eating that has little to do with the real purpose of food which includes, in my opinion, nourishing our body and living and celebrating in community. My relationship with food may be symptomatic of a deeper condition that plagues our culture: I want, what I want, when I want it.
I read this scripture this morning from 1 Peter 4: 2 (The Message:)
Think of your sufferings as a weaning from the old sinful habit of always expecting to get your own way. Then you'll be able to live out your days free to pursue what God wants instead of being tyrannized by what you want.
For me, much of the excess in my life, in all the areas mentioned, is based in that "old sinful habit" of expecting to get my own way. I want what I want now- so I buy, eat, listen to, watch, sign up for, do- what I want now.
Don't get me wrong. The food or other stuff we buy or do is not in and of itself the problem. The problem lies in the priority, power and purpose it has in my life. I am often overwhelmed by the clutter...of things, choices, possessions, information overload...with which I am inundated every day.
How can I hear God's voice amidst the noise?
I've thought about this food fast all weekend while I was in New York with a group of kids eating out every meal. With two daughters watching, I have been very careful about never getting legalistic about food. Food is one of life's great pleasures and I believe God meant for us to enjoy it....every holy day He established included feasts after all! Food is for nourishment certainly, but sharing meals is often the setting where we celebrate our time with the ones we love most. On our trip this weekend, it was during the meals that I got to really get to know the people with whom I was traveling. Food is a blessing and I want my fast to reflect that. For that reason, my fast this week will be about trying to put food back into its proper place. For this week, I will only eat nourishing foods, no snacking, no grazing. I will eat slowly, in a chair, only at meal time, and when possible, with other people. No sugar, no junk food, no fast food. In addition, I will clean out the pantry and the freezers with all the excess stuff and either cook it or take it to the food pantry.
I'll let you know at the end of the week how it goes!
For years, I envied people who called themselves runners. I liked the idea of being a runner, but "knew" that would never be me. I was not a runner.
But then, back in 2010, I decided to try again. In a different way than I had tried before. I even blogged about my journey as a runner back then. And I became a runner.
Right now, it is a balmy 16 degrees out...up from the 4 degree reading on the thermometer when we woke up...and today, I am only running on the eliptical in my basement. However, I read a scripture today that reminded me once again how much I have learned about life from running.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.
As I read these familiar words, I was reminded of several truths that encouraged me.
I did finally run a 5K race a couple of years after I started running. I didn't break any records, but I finished in a respectable amount of time and I loved the process of participating side by side with the other runners and being encouraged across the finish line by the cheering spectators. It is that scene that I picture when I read the verse above. The accomplishment that morning may have seemed like it happened in a little over 30 minutes. In reality, it took much, much longer. It involved me getting over the idea that I would never be a runner. It required me listening to people who knew more about learning to run than I did and following their advice. It required me spending many months alternating between walking and running, before I could finally run the whole way. It took me putting on my very supportive sports bra and good running shoes every Monday, Wednesday and Friday whether I felt like it or not. But ultimately, the process and perseverance paid off.
I know the same things to be true in my walk with the Lord. While He works the miracles of transformation in my life, I have to show up and do my part. I have to spend time in His word and I have to spend time on my knees (metaphorically speaking....my dog freaks out and bothers me when I actually get on my knees, so I mostly pray sitting in a chair.) I have to be vulnerable and share my journey with other believers and hear God's voice through theirs. I have to practice gratitude purposefully and intentionally every day. This is the process that God uses to bring results. And He has set this race before me....He alone knows the course...so I have to show up every day to find out where we are going.
Today, I am grateful for this race set before me and for my "running" buddies with whom I am running this race. Love you, ladies!
I love to travel. One of my very favorite things in life is to visit a place I have never been before. I love the anticipation and preparation before I go; the guidebooks, online searches, itineraries and maps....I especially LOVE maps! And when we arrive, I want to drop our bags, grab my map and explore! I want to see everything there is to see and, left to my own devices, I tend to plan somewhat of an ambitious schedule.
My family, on the other hand, tends to tire of my "energetic" pace and eventually intervenes or stages a mutiny...like they did in Paris a few years ago. "Mom, today we are going to STROLL, not MARCH! We are NOT marching today!" "But," I protest, " we still have to see _____!!" In spite of my attempts to convince them that our trip would just not be complete without checking off all the items on my list, the girls and their father insisted that it would be ok to miss a few things and just sit and watch the people for a while. While this departure from my agenda cut considerably into my planned photo opportunities, it ended up being one of the most enjoyable days of our trip. Since then, we tend to compromise and have both marching days AND strolling days on the itinerary (and yes, I still make an itinerary!) I have learned to relax and enjoy those unplanned days. I am, however, still a little ticked that we didn't make it to the Rodin museum!
Today in my devotional, the topic was pilgrimage and the scripture was from Psalm 84:5-7.
5 Blessed are those whose strength is in You,
whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.
6 As they pass through the Valley of Baka (or weeping,)
they make it a place of springs;
the autumn rains also cover it with pools.
7 They go from strength to strength,
till each appears before God in Zion.
What does it mean to have a heart set on pilgrimage? Pilgrimage is defined as "any long journey, especially one undertaken as a quest or act of devotion." Is a pilgrimage then, in this context, the long journey towards God? The author of the devotional I was reading this morning talked about our need to "arrive:" the perceived need for the perfect home, the perfect family, the perfect job, the perfect _____. He said "so often, we reject pilgrimage and look for heaven on earth" as the source of our sense of self worth and value. Is process of seeking the Kingdom and the manifest presence of God....knowing that we won't fully experience it this side of heaven...a worthwhile goal in and of itself?
This line of thinking reminded me of that familar quote "Life is a journey, not a destination." Sometimes I tire of the search and I just want to "arrive." I want to have the perfect formula for living a life of balance and meaning and purpose. I want, as Micah says "to act justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with my God," yet I haven't quite figured out how to do that consistently. I want to see all the sights and check them off my list, but sometimes I find myself weary from the marching.
As I've pondered this word 'pilgrimage' today, it seems there is something to be said for the reminder that my quest to know God is indeed a journey- it is a process, an unfolding, an imagining and it won't be anywhere near complete until I see Him face to face. In fact, it is just this journey- this pilgrimage- that God is calling me to right now. The uncovering, the discovering, the trial and error are all part of the journey. Getting lost and then getting found again is part of the journey as well. And this scripture reminds us that we grow stronger and stronger through the process until we reach our final destination. Perhaps it is even an invitation to sit back and enjoy the ride.
Some days my pilgrimage does require marching, but often a leisurely, expectant, open-for-anything stroll might be even better!
A few weeks ago, I had a birthday and began my 50th year on this earth. In turning 49, I began a year that promises to bring a lot of changes and transistions. This time next year, my youngest will have left for college and my season of full time, day to day parenting will come to a close. This huge milestone for our family will come a week or two after my 50th birthday. My life as I have known it for almost 20 years is going to change significantly, so I am trying to be thoughtful and intentional about listening over the next year. Listening to myself, listening to the wisdom of those who know me best and most of all, listening to God as I contemplate what comes next for me.
My baby girl is a senior in high school! I remember when they were little and I calculated what year they would graduate; the Class of 2012 and the Class of 2014 seemed light years away. Now, here we are on the precipice of 2014 and it feels like both a lifetime and only a moment have passed. My journey as a parent has been one of great joy and I have never regreted the decision to retire from full-time employment while my girls were growing up. However, now that I have been out of the work force for nearly 18 years, I realize that the world has changed somewhat since I last drew a paycheck. Re-entering that world as a 50 year old woman presents challenges, both daunting and exciting. It occurs to me that there may be value in beginning to ask questions and explore options while I am journeying through this last year at home.
What questions need to be asked as I wrap up my first half century and contemplate the next season of my journey? What do I do that brings me joy? About what am I passionate? In what ways has God uniquely gifted me? What do I have to contribute vocationally that would help meet the financial needs of our family at this stage of our lives? And here is the big one: how do I communicate the skills and expertise that I have developed in these 18 years that I have been away from paid employment? I am not the same person that I was when I quit working to stay home with my kids. Besides my responsibilites on the home front, I have been actively involved with volunteer work in the community and served in a number of leadership positions, but how does that translate into skills that I might have to offer a potential employer?
As I said when I began this blog back in 2005, I do some of my best listening when I write it down. As we have gotten back to our school year routine this week, I have been starting my days with my journal and today I decided to find my way back here to see what I might find. What I love about blogging is the opportunity to initiate a conversation. Back when I was blogging regularly, I loved to get comments about the questions and thoughts that my musings may have inspired in those who took time to stop by and read my words. I am hopeful that others of you who are at this stage of life will share with me your journey: how have you handled a looming empty nest? How are you making the transition back into the workforce after a time away?
Now that the pictures are posted everywhere, their 20 little faces haunt me.
For years, I have talked about my opinons about our country's gun laws to anyone who would listen. When asked why I primarily vote for Democratic Party candidates, generally gun control is the issue I mention first. On Mother's Day in 2000, I attended the Million Mom March in Washington, D.C., but that has been the extent of my so-called "activism." Since that time, except for voting and an occasional forwarded link on Facebook, I have done little else but run my big mouth. With each mass shooting, I shake my head and say something should be done. Columbine, Virginia Tech, D.C. sniper attacks, Tuscon, Aurora, the mall in Oregon just last week. And now those precious little ones and their brave teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School. And this list is only a small representation of the mass shootings in the US in the past few decades. SOMEONE should do something, right?
While I did not pull that trigger on Friday, I can't help but feel that I bear partial responsibility for the deaths of those little ones.
I was sobered by these words that I read this week:
A study in the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery found that the gun murder rate in the U.S. is almost 20 times higher than the next 22 richest and most populous nations combined. Every one of those nations has stricter gun control laws.
And then there's this fact: add together all the gun deaths in the 23 wealthiest countries in the world and 80 percent of those are American deaths. Of all the children killed by guns in those nations, 87 percent are American kids.
I am not so naive that I believe that stricter gun laws will entirely eliminate violence in our society. There are many other issues involved in these situations, including a culture that glorifies violence and gives media attention to desparate, attention seeking individuals who are in need of mental health care. All of these issues need to be addressed, but I feel strongly that our first priority needs to be evaluating very seriously our love affair with guns in this country and what we are willing to sacrifice to maintain our "right" to own guns that are created primarily to kill other human beings. At the very least, in my opinion, we must reinstate the ban on assault weapons and eliminate access to high capacity ammunition clips.
Today, finally, way too late for those children in Connecticut, I decided to do something other than talk. First, as I have been doing since Friday, I prayed and wept and prayed. Then I wrote to the President. I also wrote to my Senator and my Congressional representative. I signed a petition and I emailed the President of our local chapter of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence to see what else I can do. And then, I told my children that I did those things so that they would know that the adults in their lives are not helpless in the face of tragedy. We have a voice and we will use it to protect them and keep them safe.
Now I am writing this blog to invite you, if you are led to do so, to join me. I would love to hear from you in the comments, if you do.
I am encouraged today by the number of politicians who are making statements about a desire to take action. I was encouraged last night by the resolve I saw in the President's eyes as he spoke to the grieving families of the victims. But, it is not enough for them to make promises. We have heard promises before. We must hold them accountable and let them know we have not forgotten once the media coverage subsides. They, after all, work for us.
One of the little girls in the photos reminds me of my niece Amanda Jane, who is only a year or so older than the kids in Newtown. I allowed myself to "go there" in my mind...to picture my sweet AJ in the situation those kids faced...a gun that fired continually for endless minutes, most of them shot multiple times by a stranger loaded down with hundreds of rounds of ammunition and guns that fired and fired and fired. I wept again and vowed that this time, we must do more than pray.
"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."- Edmund Burke
In preparation for a house full of company next week, and because we could barely open the door, I cleaned out the pantry yesterday. If the level of organization in my pantry "pre-clean out" is a representation of the state of my mind, I should probably not be allowed to operate heavy machinery.
Along with one thing that had expired in 2006 (a box of oats, I think,) we had 11 jars of peanut butter in our pantry. ELEVEN! If you count the separate containers in these packs of Jif To Go, the total
number of peanute butter receptacles in my pantry would be 19. But I'm not counting them and I will stick with 11.
In my defense, my other peanut butter eater has recently moved out of my house.
We also have enough tea bags in our pantry to serve tea to everyone in our neighborhood. Oooh, a party idea! With our tea, we will need to make some kind of food that involves powdered sugar....we have LOTS of powdered sugar. But I digress...
As I reorganized and threw out and consolidated, I laughed at some of the things I found and was truthfully a little sickened at the excess. We have so much more than we need and yet, I keep buying more stuff and stuffing it in on top of the other stuff. I mean, don't we always need more peanut butter and powdered sugar?
It also reminded me of a post that I wrote years ago, when I first started blogging and the follow up post that I wrote a few days later. I wrote that post about clutter in 2005 and here I am in 2012 still fighting my piles. I had really expected to have things a little more under control by now. :-)
Really, let's be honest, I am not ever going to have it all together. Not even a little. Right when I get one area of my life somewhat under control, something else pops loose. What's that game...Whack a Mole?
I may be more consistent about exercising these days, but I still need to get the old videos organized and converted to DVD. I cleaned out the pantry, but my purse is a disaster. I did a good job of nurturing my relationship with my teenager this week, but I haven't called my mother in weeks....and what about my best friend from high school who is going through a tough time....I should REALLY make time to call her. What kind of friend am I? The Thanksgiving basket is ready for delivery, but I'm not sure all the gifts are purchased to celebrate Christmas with my family next week. Oh, I probably need to run by Target...I always need to run by Target.
Whack, Whack, Whack....those damn moles are EVERYWHERE!
Let me talk to my girlfriends for a moment. Are we ever enough, ladies? At the end of the day, do we ever allow ourselves the freedom to say "job well done...maybe not perfect, but good enough." There will always be more work to do, there will always be an area of our life that could use our attention. I know so many women who struggle with the perception that everyone else seems to have it "all together" in a way that they don't. And so they always feel less than...not quite ok.
That, in my opinion, is a lie straight from the Evil One. God's Word is very clear that our worth, our value, is in our identity as His precious children. In Christ, we are His and He loves us because we belong to Him. He loves us because He created us to love us and loving us makes His joy complete. Strengthened by that love and in gratitude for His grace, we are set free to choose obedience to Him as the better way. We are blessed to be a blessing and have the privilege of participating in the restoration of His Kingdom. In Him, we are enough.
Even when we don't remotely have it all together or under control. Whatever that means.
Life is messy and beautiful. As my my favorite blogger, Glennon says, much of this life is "brutifal." On this adventure, I am finding that most people are doing the best they can, including me. The state of my heart is much more important than the cleanliness of my pantry or the relative length of my To Do list. Today, that is enough.
Still, I REALLY need to tackle that mismatched sock basket!
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody's business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy. ― Thomas Merton
The Pharisee takes as his aim keeping the law rather than becoming the kind of person whose deeds naturally conform to the law...Jesus does not call us to do what He did, but to be as He was, permeated with love. Then the doing of what He did and said becomes the natural expression of who we are in Him....It is the very core of what we are or can become in His fellowship, not something we do. -- Dallas Willard
'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments --Jesus
I stumbled across all these words today. The connection between them is the part that seems especially important...the part that drew me back here to wonder out loud.
What I think I hear is this: on my own, no matter how hard I try, I am simply unable to love like Jesus. I can not love others and I can not love myself...not really. My love is a skinny little anemic wannabe love compared to the big Agape Love of the Kingdom Come. My love weighs its options, my love makes judgements, my love holds back and stays safe. In all honesty, my love saves itself for the ones that love it first....just in case.
My only hope for big Love is to focus on loving God with everything I have in me. The more I look AT Him, the more I look LIKE Him (2 Corinthians 3:18.) When I lean into God, drink Him in, rest in His presence, abide in Him, walk with Him and talk with Him, I cannot help but be changed. Fruit of the Spirit and Fruit of the Vine. It isn't about trying harder to "be good," it is about loving Him more and, by doing so, becoming a Lover like Him. Transformation is real, but not my job.
What is my job? To love God with all my "passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence." (Luke 10:27, The Message)
The school where we send our daughter and our money, American University, was in the news this morning. Apparently, a professor teaching a Sex, Gender and Culture anthropology class made the choice to breast feed her child during her class. Her child was sick and couldn't go to day care so, rather than canceling her class, she brought the child to class and ended up having to feed her. Of course, everyone has strong opinions about the appropriateness of this action, but that's not really my point here. I personally think that it is no coincidence that this happened in a class about gender norms and culture; in fact, I think she did it on purpose to make a point....but I could be wrong. If she did, I think it is a great idea and probably will likely trigger meaningful discussion on just the types of issues that these classes are designed to address.
Here is the part that I found interesting. In pursuing the story, Channel 4 interviewed some students at American University. Most didn't see it as a big deal. One young woman, however, said "It made me uncomfortable and I don't go to class to feel uncomfortable."
In the book I referenced in my earlier post this week, we are examining what makes our life a "good" story. As I mentioned before, the author suggests that a good story is when a character wants something and is willing to overcome obstacles to get it. In the following chapters, he goes on to talk about the things that get in our way. For many of us, our addiction to comfort is the number one obstacle to living the meaningful story we crave. Even though we dream of a "better" story, we often struggle to move out of the patterns and habits with which we have grown comfortable. Even the undesirable can become familiar and safe. And that can keep us paralyzed in inaction.
As I traveled around to colleges with my daughter over the past year or so and listened to their spiels, I grew more and more excited about the opportunities she will have to dig deeper and explore her place in the world. I like to think that we have given her a good foundation, but now I hope she meets people who see the world differently and challenge her to really think about what is meaningful, what she believes and what her contribution to the world will be. I hope she is stretched and, yes, I hope that it is sometimes uncomfortable. And I hope that discomfort is much more compelling and provocative than being "forced" to see your professor breastfeed her child. Seriously!
Some of the best sermons that I have ever heard were the ones that make me uncomfortable. This is also true of some of my favorite books. Yet we live in a culture that is all about us maintaining a certain level of comfort....an underlying assumption that if I am uncomfortable in any way, then something is "broken" and needs to be "fixed."
To some extent, this is true. If I am feeling pain in my body or my spirit, then I may need to look more closely and give attention to the source of that pain. However, I think we sometimes miss an opportunity in those times when discomfort or discontent is simply an invitation to wrestle with something, to dig deeper, to look more closely....simply put, an invitation to grow.
As I talked about in a post long ago, Jacob told the angel with whom he was wrestling "I will not let you go unless you bless me" in Genesis 32. Really wrestling with something, being uncomfortable, being challenged, being unsure, living in that "in between" and "I don't know" place can sometimes bring about the greatest blessings on the other side. I am learning that sometimes I need to rest for a moment in those places and see what they may have to offer.
That doesn't mean I have to like it though. :-)
I have a five year old friend who started Kindergarten last week. As part of the "getting to know you" activities, she shared with her new class that she had a pet squirrel at home. She described the squirrel with such enthusiasm and in such detail that her teacher decided to check with mom to see if perhaps they had indeed tamed a squirrel! Mom responded that it would be in the teacher's best interests to confirm the veracity of any "larger than life" stories she might hear this year with her; my five year old friend has what some might call a "vivid imagination." As the youngest of 5, that imagination and creativity has been nurtured and encouraged, as well it should. The story made me smile and it brought back wonderful memories of my own little storyteller.
When my friend shared the tale of the pet squirrel with me, I recalled that I had had the exact same conversation with my youngest child's Kindergarten teacher. In fact, I am pretty sure I had it with most of her early elementary school teachers, although these flights of imagination began long before she started elementary school. When she was 2, she would begin her tales with "Once upon at time, there were two wittle dirls..." For those who don't speak toddler, that would be "little girls' because the adventures always starred two little girls suprisingly similar to the two that lived in our house. When she was a little older, her stories often included her alter ego "Fireball" who was a boy and something of a super hero. Fireball had many adventures and always conquered the bad guys in the end. Sometimes, when she arrived downstairs in a certain outfit, we knew that my daughter had temporarily left the building and Fireball had taken her place. Eventually, Fireball outgrew his special super hero clothes and we had to rely on our imagination to conjur his presence.
Fast forward 10 or 12 years and "Fireball" has become a lovely young woman who is still a gifted teller of stories. Whether on a stage or on the page, her creativity and imagination continues to delight her unabashedly biased mother. She paints pictures with words and makes me laugh with her zany way of looking at the world. I have no idea what God's plans are for her in terms of a vocation, but I have no doubt that it will somehow have something to do with telling good stories and I feel quite certain that she will be successful. The world needs more good storytellers.
We love stories. Books, movies, plays...even the commercials to which we only give cursory attention...people universally love to hear a good story. Stories engage us at our most creative and imaginative level. We picture ourselves in the role of the hero and we conquer our greatest fears and insecurities as we lose ourselves in the struggle to defeat the forces of evil. The power of a good story is the power to influence and change minds and hearts. It is why I love books and it is why I love theatre.
I am reading a book right now called "A Million Miles in a Thousand Years" by Donald Miller. Mr. Miller is best known for his best-selling book "Blue Like Jazz," one of my all-time favorites. In this book I am reading now, he talks about the power of a good story as he recounts the process of turning his book "Blue Like Jazz"- a memoir of his own life- into a movie. In the process, he explores what makes a story a good story. Along the way, he decides that a good story is about a "character that wants something and is willing to overcome obstacles to get it." He then goes on to discover that his real life isn't really telling a very good story and sets out to change that. I haven't finished the book yet; I'll let you know if he succeeds. I saw on his website that he has a new book coming out this week called "Storylines," so I bet he does. :-)
Anyway (and yes, I know I am rambling a bit here) I have been thinking more about stories and what makes a good story and whether my life is telling a good story. If I am the main character in my story, what is it that I want and, perhaps more importantly, am I willing to overcome obstacles to get it? And, as a follower of Jesus, whose life is arguably the greatest story every told, how does His story impact my life's story?
I think I will leave us there for today because this is getting long and I have a meeting to attend tonight. We will let this marinate a little longer and see what comes of it.
What do you think of this definition of a good story? What kind of story is your life telling?
And yes, my dear friend, I do think your pet squirrel story would make a great blog!
I've been living by the school calendar my whole life. And on the school calendar, September is the beginning of the new year. Each year, as September rolls around once again, I vow to "get organized" and refocus my efforts to get control of my little corner of the world.
I think I can hear God giggling.
So this year, on Labor Day, I spent some time with my fancy calendar on my Mac...which automatically syncs with my phone. From my phone, I run my little corner of the world. I read recently that there is some value in doing things at the same time every day, so I scheduled my mornings with the things that I see as priorities in my life. Once Brooke leaves for school at 6:45 each morning, I am scheduled to seize the day in this fashion:
7-8 Prayer/Study time
9-10 Shower/ pick up around the house
As you can see, by 10 a.m. each day, I will have nurtured mind, body and spirit and taken care of my lovely family by caring for our home. By 10 a.m., I will be ready to get out there and face the world. This new plan to tackle the world was to begin on Tuesday of this week.
Well, maybe next week.
On Tuesday, I got a good start. I got up, got Brooke off to her first day of 11th grade with a packed lunch and a smile. Of course, since I have been sleeping in all summer and my brain was used to waking up at 8 instead of 6, I'm pretty sure I slept through most of my reading and prayer time. However, I did do it and, as always, was blessed by any time I spend with God. He is happy to see me, even if I am sleepy.
I was supposed to exercise next. The problem was, I also was scheduled to meet some friends for coffee at 10 and then go to the Lamb Center at 1:00 and so I would need to shower first and well... the problem was is that my hair was already clean.
You can see my dilemna.
I had showered late in the day on Monday and it takes time to dry my hair and my hair was already clean. I sweat a lot when I exercise...if I exercised, I would HAVE to wash my hair. So, if I exercised in my scheduled time slot, I would be wasting a perfectly good head of clean hair. And that just seemed wrong.
So I checked Facebook instead. Then I got ready and went to have coffee with some wonderful friends with my already clean hair. I then went to the Lamb Center and talked about manna and God's abundant providence with some other wonderful friends. Later that night, having already utilized my clean hair sufficiently, I did yoga.
Wednesday was going to be a whole new day; kick off for the new schedule! However, my husband came home from work on Tuesday with a 101 fever. So I slept poorly in the guest room that night. After Brooke left for school on Wednesday, I went back to bed until 9:00. Woke up to find my sweet husband awake and feeling better, so I had coffee with him until 10:30. Did get in a work out later in the morning, but mostly threw out the schedule for the day since he was there and distracting me from my new sense of purpose and focus.
So, now it is Thursday. I think I am starting to feel a little more awake. I did indeed have a lovely time of study and prayer this morning. Hopefully, God found me to be a bit more interesting conversationalist this time....at least I was conscious. Haven't made it to exercise yet, mostly because I had to brag about the Cowboys win on Facebook first. I chose Tony Romo as my fantasy football QB and he scored me 23 fantasy points last night....so I'm feeling quite self satisfied about my football prowess. Even though Steve will probably take credit for it if I win my league this year.
So, what's my point in sharing this sad tale of best laid plans and my constant distraction from my goals?
I don't know, but it makes me laugh. Life is messy and wonderful and sometimes it does not obey my attempts to tame it. Kids and husbands need care and time and attention. I'm so grateful that I am here and available to provide that care most of the time. Friends need time and care and attention. I want to be here to provide that too. I know there are some things I need to do to take care of me....to fill my cup so that I have something to give. To breathe in those things that give me life and strength. To feed my soul by drawing near to God and His word. To take care of my body so that I can physically be here for as long as God has plans for me. To be around friends that encourage me and remind me that I am not alone in this journey. Those things ARE important and I will neglect them, if I don't schedule them and make them a priority.
But I've known me for 48 years now. I am easily distracted by something shiny, so I have to continue to take myself by the hand and gently remind me of what is important TODAY. As I have gotten older, I have also learned to not take myself too seriously. I don't respond well to stern reprimands and finger shaking. Most days, I get done what needs to get done and, if I don't, then I put it on the list for tomorrow. And most days, that is good enough.
So, maybe I'll try the new schedule again next week. I still like the idea of getting those important things done first, so that I'm available to do my other "stuff" in the afternoons. Like write blog entries! Of course, today it seemed important to do that now instead of exercise. Plus, I once again have clean hair and I have a lunch date with a special friend! :-)
We were struggling. We didn't really know what to do next. We had come at this problem from every angle that made sense and nothing had changed. We sat there in silence and I thought to myself "I'm the mom. I should know how to fix this." Then I felt that gentle tug on my heart.
Feeling silly for not thinking of it before, I said "Let's pray." So, we joined hands and prayed. We told God that we didn't know what to do next to fix this situation and we were tired and frustrated. We asked that He bring healing and guidance and focus and patience. And then we said Amen...and tried again.
During the rest of the day, we kept talking and listening. We even cried a little bit at times. We also made brownies and breathed deeply. And then talked some more. Towards evening, we expanded the circle to include some friends who brought understanding and laughter.
It wasn't until the day was over that we realized that we were better... maybe not fixed....but better. The burden felt lighter and the way seemed clearer. We didn't have to try so hard to breathe deeply.
As I lay in bed thinking about the day, I gratefully realized that the shift happened when we stopped to pray. Not a lightening bolt or a miraculous healing, but a way forward that felt manageable. A letting down and a letting go that allowed us to wade through the fear and worry to a place of hope and calm. A place that felt safe...a place to begin.
As I said my tearful thank you, I felt Him say "I was just waiting for you to ask."
I awoke this morning with no plans and a full heart. These last lazy days of summer seem a bit more melancholy this year because I am still trying to adjust to the departure of my sweet girl. As of this past Saturday, one of my babies lives somewhere else; off to college and the fulfillment of years of hard work and big dreams. My sadness at her absence is tempered by the realization that she is happy....excited about her new home and ready to take on all the challenges this new community has to offer. We are thrilled for her and so I woke up this morning planning to nurture my slightly sad self by doing those things which feed my spirit....reading, gardening, writing, praying or maybe even singing.
A full day ahead with nothing on the calendar, so I decided to start by reading one of the books in my stack. Several people have recommended this book to me; including my mother and my pastor/sister/friend. When your mom and your pastor both tell you to read a book, a girl really ought to listen!
One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp is stunningly beautiful and was the perfect "medicine" for me today. A reminder of what I know at my very core; that the secret to life is gratitude and thanksgiving. Ann's journey to intimacy and romance with her Creator began by challenging herself to notice and record one thousand of God's gifts of grace to her. She kept a notebook and paid attention. She gave thanks for the sweet curl of her daughter's hair, the multiple colors in the soapy suds and pain medicine when her son was injured. She sniffed out God's glory all around her and intentionally gave praise to the Giver...even in the midst of grief and despair. Through thanksgiving or Eucharisteo, she found healing and wholeness.
After reading the first few chapters, I felt compelled to get out in my garden. For any of you who read my blog back when I wrote regularly, you may remember that God often speaks to me there. I know that putting fingers in the dirt is often worship for me. With our travel this summer and our focus on preparing for Alex's big move, my garden was in need of some tender loving care. As I began to weed the flower beds and trim the over growth, I breathed deeply and gave thanks. And then, I chased butterflies around with my camera!
Here are two of my favorites. The blue one was a bit shy.
Besides my butterfly friends, I found another delightful surprise. Before Alex's graduation party back in late June, I purchased a bunch of flowers to fill in holes in the garden. I never got around to planting one flat of flowers, so I threw them back in the corner of the yard thinking maybe I would plant them later. 2 months later, I had forgotten all about them. Until today...
After my time in the garden, I came back in and finished the book. Later in the day, I had the privilege of meeting with a friend whose daughter didn't just leave for college this summer; she left for Heaven. In talking with her, I was reminded how fragile and precious this life is and how random and senseless life would feel without knowing Someone a great deal smarter than me is in charge. I marveled as she recounted the gifts of grace she is finding even in the darkness of this deep grief. I was humbled by her faith and hope for the future; inspired by her resolve to take care of herself and move forward as her daughter would want her to do.
Eucharisteo...an offering of thanksgiving. Here is a quote from the book:
While I may not always feel joy, God asks me to give thanks in all things, because He knows that the feeling of joy begins in the action of thanksgiving.
Today, I chose to do the things that I know God uses to feed my spirit. Today, I was reminded that my path to God is found in thanksgiving. Today, I was amazed by the power of the Holy Spirit working in the lives of those who trust in Him and humbled to be witness to that power.
And today, I chose to write again because THIS is one of those things that God uses to feed my spirit. I pray that He will use it for His glory.
This is the message I gave at our Hope in the Darkness service last Thursday evening. Blessings for a wonderful Christmas!!
I love Christmas. For me, Christmas season begins the minute we recover from our huge Thanksgiving meal and lasts through New Year’s day...sometimes even longer. I love Christmas music, I love Christmas decorations, I love Christmas lights and, much to the embarrassment of my teenage daughters, I love tacky Christmas sweaters. I even love the crowded mall and Christmas shopping. If you went into the parking lot right now, you would see that my brown car is adorned with a big red nose and antlers. And, of course, as a follower of Jesus Christ, most of all, I love the Christmas story and the mystery and beauty of the gift God gave us in the birth of Jesus in that manger so long ago.
As much as I love Christmas, there have been some Christmas seasons in my life that have been very difficult because of the circumstances in my life at that time. I know many of you are here this evening because you know exactly what I am talking about. Some of you may be experiencing grief over the loss of a loved one this year. Some of you may be battling some kind of health challenge or depression. For some of you, this year is particularly difficult because of the transitions that families go through as someone moves away, loses a job or ends a relationship. In 2008, our family had a very difficult Christmas. On the first Sunday of Advent, we received a call that my father had finally lost his battle with alcoholism and that he had unexpectedly died. The next week or so, as we drove back and forth to North Carolina to make arrangements and have a memorial service, were filled with so many conflicting emotions. Grief, loss, sadness were mixed with anger and regret. Here I was in the midst of this fresh loss right smack in the middle of the Christmas season and everything felt raw.
For me that year, I found comfort in the familiar words from Isaiah 9 that get read and sung so often during the Christmas season each year. As I thought about what I wanted to share at this service, I couldn’t think of anything that would be more appropriate than this scripture. That year, I clung to these words like never before:
2 The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.
6 For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of course, I had heard these verses before that year. However, that year, it did feel like “living in the land of deep darkness.” That year in particular, I decided that I needed a God who would indeed be MY Wonderful Counselor, MY Mighty God, MY Everlasting Father and MY Prince of Peace. This scripture has become a lifeline for me all year long and a way to re-focus my understanding of who God is....particularly when I am in those especially difficult seasons of my life. Let’s look a little more closely at these titles that Isaiah gave to the coming Messiah.
First, what does it mean for Jesus to be MY Wonderful Counselor? When I was reading this verse in the different translations, I noticed that some versions put a comma between the words wonderful and counselor. One of the translations used the word "amazing" instead of wonderful. I read somewhere that the word that is translated as "wonderful" in some parts of the bible, is translated as "beyond understanding" in other places.
Wonderful and counselor, together or separately, speak to me of wisdom so amazing, so unbelievable, so unexpected, so surprising that it is hard to explain as anything but Divine...something that can’t be found in the resources that the world has to offer. And while professional counselors can be an important part of our support system during difficult seasons in our life, this version of the word “counselor” means much more. One scholar I ran across explained the world “counselor’ in this context in this way:
This is a term that has connotations of deity. The term "counselor" is not what we think of today in terms of a therapist, or someone we tell our problems - although Jesus is that as well. It's more of a military strategist. It probably refers to a king who has the ability to come up with a winning military strategy. You could say "Extraordinary Strategist" (NET Bible).
Isaiah predicts a baby that will become an Extraordinary Strategist. Jesus is a Master Strategist, able to deliver his people from hopeless situations. He is a strategist who can handle situations that look hopeless to us.
In this sense, Jesus is a "strategist" that is greater than we can even comprehend or understand. He is a strategist...a counselor, that specializes in situations that we simply can't handle on our own...any one had one of those lately? Those times in my life when I didn't know where to turn, when I was confused or troubled or looking for answers, those are the times when I can experience Jesus as my wonderful counselor, if only I ask. As I seek His wisdom, the answer may come as that still small voice in my spirit, or in the wise words of a friend, or in the discovery of the perfect scripture for my situation, or maybe the strength to endure a situation where the answer is still unknown to me. With that wisdom...that answer...comes the incomprehensible realization that I am never alone. When Jesus finished His earthly ministry, He promised us the gift of the Holy Spirit...the Wonderful Counselor to whom we have access 24/7....if only we avail ourselves of that ministry.
What does it mean for Him to be MY Almighty God? There are just some situations in life where we need a really BIG God. When I think about this aspect of God’s character, I am reminded of the Veggie Tales videos that my kids used to watch when they were little. There was a song that always stuck in my head that said “God is bigger than the boogie man. He is bigger than Godzilla or the monsters on TV. God is bigger than the boogie man and He’s watching out for you and me.” There are times in our lives when our circumstances are just too big, too scary, too overwhelming to face. For me, it is the mightiness of God that is the antidote to fear. Numerous times in scripture we hear God say to us "do not fear." The reason He can say that to us is because He is in control and there is no power in the universe greater than His. God's power, strength and influence mean that we can rest in His embrace and turn our worry, fear and uncertainty over to Him. Even when we don't understand why something is happening, we can rest assured that He has it under control and that we are never alone in the midst of our struggles. We can retire every day as the General Manager of the Universe because He already has that job and He is much better at it than we are anyway. When life doesn’t make sense, I need a Mighty God who is bigger than even the most difficult circumstances I face.
Wonderful Counselor speaks to His divine wisdom, Mighty God reminds us of His unmatched power, and the next one, Everlasting Father is the perfect picture of His eternal, personal, intimate love for each of us.
Paul reminds us of how big God's love is in his letter to the Romans. In Chapter 8, he says the following:
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Nothing can separate us from the love of God...even death. God loves us because He created us to love us. I love the verse in 1 John that says "How great is the love that the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God!" This love is personal and intimate; like a parent and child. I remember when Brooke was little, there was a period of time when she was first learning to talk that I was the only one who could understand her. Because I knew her so well, I could anticipate her needs and understand her in ways that others couldn’t. Our Heavenly Father knows us and loves us even more than the best earthly parent. He created us and knows our every thought. He knows our hurts and knows how to comfort us. He loves us so much that He even knows the numbers of tears we have cried. In Revelation 21:4, John says these words about our Everlasting Father “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things will be gone forever." When life feels like more than I can handle, I cling to the promise of a Father who sees my tears and loves me so much that He will never leave me or forsake me...no matter what I am going through.
Finally, Isaiah promises us that this coming Messiah will be a Prince of Peace. It seems to me that during these times, peace might be the most elusive thing of all. When we are dealing with a season of loss or despair in our life, there are so many conflicting emotions...sadness, anger, regret, anxiety...maybe even relief or guilt in some circumstances. That year that my dad died, I struggled with every single one of those emotions. I was sad that he was gone. I was angry with him for continuing to drink when he knew that it would kill him. I was devastated that when he called on Thanksgiving Day, I had been too busy to talk to him and said I would call him back and now I would never get that chance. And, if I was completely honest, I was relieved that this battle we had waged for 30 years with his alcoholism was finally over and then I felt guilty for feeling that relief.
Grief, fear, sadness and despair are messy and complicated and inconvenient any time of the year. At Christmas, it just feels magnified by the contrast to the joy and celebration around us. That Christmas, I particularly needed to know this Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, and Everlasting Father on a personal level. And that Christmas, like no other before, I desperately needed a Prince of Peace. There is no earthly peace to be found in much of what life throws at us, yet Jesus promises us His peace, which is altogether different. Hear these words from our Lord from the Gospel of John; “Peace I leave with you; MY peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” He goes on to say “I have told you these things so that in me, you may have peace. In this world, you WILL have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
God knows that we will have trouble in this world, but the good news of Christmas is that we do not have to walk through those troubles alone. In the Gospel of Matthew, we hear one more name for our promised Messiah.
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).
Emmanuel. God With Us. This promised Messiah has come. Because God became man, He knows what it is like to hurt, to be sad, to be lonely, to be afraid. This GOD...this wonderful counselor, mighty God, everlasting Father, prince of peace...this God is also Emmanuel, God With Us. God with you and God with me. The Good News of Christmas is that He is right here with us, in whatever circumstances we find ourselves in this year. Praise be to God for His wonderful Gift!
I am sitting in my chair by the fireplace and laughing to myself about what I see. Within reach, I have a stack of Advent devotionals that I have recently retrieved from my bookcase and a HUGE stack of holiday catalogues. When we returned from our Thanksgiving travels, the stack of mail that awaited me contained almost 30 catalogues for my cyber shopping pleasure! Also within reach are my cell phone, the home phone, my computer, a notebook for making lists and, of course, my cup of coffee. As the tshirt I saw the other day said "I'm fairly certain that given a cape and a nice tiara, I could save the world." With the supplies I have surrounding me, the only thing I could possibly be missing is a cape and a nice tiara!
Advent...a word ripe with meaning for followers of Jesus and, if I'm honest, a potential source of stress for a busy mom/ volunteer. I absolutely love this time of year; in fact, I would say that Christmas is my favorite season of the year. However, each year I find myself struggling to find balance in the way I "do" Christmas. I long for times of quiet contemplation and study...times to read God's word and my Christmas devotionals and ponder once again the mystery and beauty of God incarnate. However, I also love the hustle and bustle of decorating and shopping and celebrating. This year, I am also mindful of the significance of this Christmas for our family as we consider how we will continue our Christmas traditions next year when Alex is living somewhere else for much of the season (not to mention all these unending college application deadlines so "conveniently" settled amidst the months of Dec./January!) And, did I mention that Alex's 18th birthday is December 11th? With all this going through my mind, is it any wonder that I found myself restless and distracted as I settled down for my morning quiet time with the Lord?
I consciously focused on breathing deeply and slowly as I opened the pages of my favorite Christmas devotional. Apparently, I am not the only one that often finds themselves "chasing" after Christmas. These words struck a chord with me:
As we are searching for God, the good news is that God is searching for us. Better yet, He has found us. The great question is not whether we have found God but whether we have found ourselves being found by God. God is not lost. We were, or as the case may be, we are....
Seekers and searchers of all times have looked toward the heavens in order to find God. Then the gift was given. Mary's searching was interrupted by an angel who promised that soon, very soon, in a matter of nine months, she would look not up but down, into the face of the baby in her arms, into the face of God. This is called incarnation, meaning that God is infleshed in our humanity...And so it is with all who, wearied by their searching, wake up to the gift already given; so it is with all who wake up to find themselves found by Emmanuel, God with us.
Give us the grace, we pray, to surrender to being found.
"The grace to surrender to being found"...that's it! Everything that Christmas is or was or will be is already true and present and given. I don't have to chase after Christmas. Emmanuel, God with us, is already with us. The gift is given and there is nothing I need to do except surrender. Surrender to His grace, rest in His love, accept His gift. He says "Be still and know that I am God." He says "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Perhaps Christmas is all about sitting still for long enough to once again be found.
Creativity- the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.; originality, progressiveness, imagination.
I've been thinking about creativity this week. With the passing yesterday of one of our generations' most creative minds, it has struck me that creativity is perhaps at the heart of what makes us fully alive. On a spiritual level, creativity is our very connection to our Creator- the life force that makes us most like our Heavenly Father in whose image we were created.
My eldest daughter and I had the privilege this past weekend to be in the cast of an original musical called Weaver. The story and the music of Weaver (except for 2 songs) were written entirely by my friends Don and Zoe. This particular story, the melodies, the lyrics were not present in our world prior to Don and Zoe deciding to bring it into existence. Something within them decided that, in a world full of songs and stories, something new was needed...something different...something beautiful. Something we didn't know we were missing until we experienced it. As actors, singers, artists and musicians, we then became part of the creative process by adding our own touch to the story...a collective work of creation that further touched the lives of both the participants and the members of the audience.
Multiply our experience by every song you hear, every play you watch, every book you read, every piece of artwork you enjoy. What causes someone to decide that the world isn't enough with just the status quo? Why do we build a more beautiful building, sing a different song, paint another painting? What inspires us to dig deep within ourselves and expose ourselves to criticism and judgement by offering up our creations to public scrutiny?
While I have been speaking specifically of more traditional forms of "art" such as theatre, music, and painting, I think the opportunity to look back over the life of Steve Jobs reminds us that creativity occurs anytime we allow ourselves to think outside the confines of that which already exists. Mr. Jobs, in his short life, created products that we didn't even know we needed and now we are sure we just can't live without. He didn't allow failure to stop him from imagining something new, something better, something different. I don't know whether he was a man of faith, but it seems to me that he lived his life with an understanding that being in touch with his creativity meant making a difference in the world. I love these words from his address to the Stanford students in 2005:
Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.
As a believer, following my "heart and intuition" is directly related to staying connected to the originator of that Creative spark within me. Knowing that God made each of us with the ability and the yearning to be creative forces within this world challenges me to pay attention to those opportunities that I am given to step outside of the status quo and do something different, even when it is scary. I read this quote from Julia Cameron last week while we were in our final days of rehearsal for Weaver and it really resonated with me:
"We are ourselves creations. We are meant to continue creativity by being creative ourselves. This is the God-force extending itself through us. Creativity is God's gift to us. Using creativity is our gift back to God."
As I said before, it makes sense to me that the creative spark within each one of us is the very thing that most exemplifies the "family resemblance" we have with the One in whose image we were created. As I sought to describe what I think that feels like for us, I recalled the words to one of my favorite songs from another musical Children of Eden.
I've got an itching on the tips of my fingers
I've got a boiling in the back of my brain
I've got a hunger burning inside me, can not be denied
I've got feeling that the Father who made us
When he was kindling a pulse in my veins
He left a tiny spark of that fire, smoldering inside
The spark of creation, is flickering within me
The spark of creation,is blazing in my blood
A bit of the fire that lit up the stars
And breathed life into the mud, the first inspiration
The spark of creation
I see a mountain and I want to climb it
I see a river and I want to leave shore
Where there was nothing let there be something, something made by me
There's things waiting for me to invent them
There's worlds waiting for me to explore
I am an echo of the eternal cry of
Let there be!
The spark of creation, is burning bright within me
The spark of creation, won't let me rest at all
Until I discover or build or uncover
A thing that I can call, my celebration
Of the spark of creation
The spark of creation, may it burn forever
The spark creation, I am a keeper of the flame
We think all we want is a lifetime of leisure
Each perfect day the same
Well that's alright if you're a kind crustacean
But when you're born with an imagination
Sooner or later you're feeling the fire get higher and higher
The spark of creation!!!
Having the opportunity to participate in the colloborative creative process of Weaver this past weekend was truly a privilege. Performing with my daughter, who is passionate about the art of theatre, was a tremendous blessing. She is in several shows a year and it gave me an even greater sense of admiration for her work ethic, her talent and the courage she displays every time she puts herself out there in the hopes of creating something meaningful. Zoe and Don are my heroes for believing in their own spark of creation and trusting the process even when the end result was unclear. I am inspired by all the artists with whom I worked these past few weeks.
"I am an echo of the eternal cry of Let There Be!"
I have a quote that I want to share. Ponder this for a moment:
It is surrender to the known will of God that paves the way for the discovery of the unknown will of God.
I heard those words the other night in a video lesson by Andy Stanley in a series called "Discovering the Will of God" and I have found myself continuing to think about them ever since.
What would it look like to "surrender" to the known will of God? What do I already KNOW about the will of God? In answering these questions, I find myself always going back to Jesus' answer to the teacher of the law who wanted Jesus to name the greatest commandment. Three times in scripture we find that His answer to this query was "to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself." In 1 John 3 & 4, John tells us that we are liars if we say we love God, but don't love our brother...and not just love with words, but love "in action and in truth." In John's gospel, particularly in chapters 15 and 16, we learn that Jesus said we would show our love for Him and we would remain in Him if we obeyed His commands. He went on to say that His command to us was to "love one another." Jesus also talks a lot about how we treat the "least of these" in our midst (Matthew 25,) so I'm pretty sure that loving and caring for the poor is also part of the equation. In short, it seems fairly clear that one thing about which Jesus felt strongly was this issue of love...love in action, sacrificial love.
So, going back to my previous question, what would it look like to surrender to the known will of God? In all honesty, I find it much more interesting at times to wonder about the parts of God's will that are still unknown to me than to consider how obedient I am being to the parts of God's will about which I am already clear. Wondering about God's will for my life and lamenting the lack of clarity I am experiencing gives me permission to sit quietly in committee in the safety of my easy chair. "I just don't know what God wants me to do next" or "I'm still praying about that" delays my obligation to DO anything of any consequence.
Don't get me wrong, there are times in life when I need to wait upon the Lord or pray for clarity on a particular issue. However, the quote with which I began this post suggests to me a greater truth. I am going to have difficulty hearing God's voice and discerning His will on a particular issue if I am not actively pursuing those aspects of His plan for my life about which I am already perfectly clear. I KNOW already that God wants me to love Him, love my neighbor, love my family and love the poor with a sacrificial, all-encompassing, action-oriented love that is different than the way that the world teaches love. Even if I never understand another thing about His will for my life, then pursuing this one thing...understanding this one pursuit...growing in this one area could potentially define my life and keep me plenty busy until He calls me Home. Any other details that He might decide to let me in on would just be a bonus!
In Luke 6, Jesus asks the question "Why do you call me Lord, Lord and not do what I say?" He goes on to say that it is only when we hear the Word AND do what it says that we build a foundation that will withstand any storm. I know what my life looks like when I am attempting to love the Lord with all my heart, soul, mind and strength...I also know what it looks like when I am only giving that my half-hearted attention. For me, peace only comes when I am in surrender mode because that's how God wired me. I know I need that reminder every once in a while.
I love a clear morning after a night of steady rain. The world looks like it has been washed clean. I particularly enjoy seeing my flowers as the sun comes out and they stretch out, energized by their soaking nourishment. As much as I water my plants, they always seem stronger when God does the watering. When I stand there with my hose, I get bored or distracted and probably move on to the next container or flower bed before they have had their fill. A long, deep drink of water takes time and I am an often impatient gardener.
I saw a link this week on Facebook that caught my eye. A friend referred us to a blog entry entitled "The Disease Called Perfection" and I was moved by what I read. I'll let you read it for yourself but, suffice it to say, I could definitely relate. The comments generated by the author's challenge to be "real" numbered well over 4,000 the last time I looked. I read a few pages of them and they broke my heart with their desperation and hopelessness. Person after person in bondage to their inability to overcome the parts of themselves that they hated and too ashamed to reach out for support. Many expressed gratitude for the opportunity to be "real" and to discover that they weren't alone in their struggles to be a better version of themselves. The fact that almost 5,000 people commented and well over 100,000 people have recommended the post to others speaks volumes about the universality of this issue. We live in a broken, hurting world and we are unable to fix that brokenness or fix ourselves.
As I have continued to think about what I read and the ways in which I can personally relate, it became increasingly clear to me that it is for this reason that Jesus came. This shame, this brokenness, this helplessness to change ourselves and the isolation we feel as we pretend to have it all together...this is the very human condition that makes the Good News such very good news.
On my own, I struggle to change enough of my bad habits and stupid choices to "clean up nice" for company. If I can look like I have it all together...that my house is perfect, my marriage is perfect, my children are perfect, my church life is perfect...then perhaps noone will suspect the areas where I struggle to keep my head above water or the issues which threaten to rob me of peace.
In Christ, by contrast, I can choose to remember what scripture says about Who God is and who I am in Him. In Christ, I can hold firm to the promise that the good work begun in me WILL be carried on to completion...not by my own power, but by the power of the Holy Spirit within me. In Christ, I am reminded that God sees me as holy and forgiven. I am His precious child and He delights in me, sings over me and rejoices over me. He will continue to work in me to transform me into the image of Christ and I can do all things through Him who gives me the strength. Whatever my struggles, He will never leave me or forsake me. There is no condemnation in Christ. It is for freedom that Christ has set us free and we no longer have to be slaves to that which has formerly kept us in bonds of shame and despair. Whatever it is, whatever the struggle, we are more than conquerors through Him who LOVES us!
Some days I forget all that. Some days, I can get bogged down in the frustration of my humanity, my "so not perfectness." Some days I put on a happy face and pretend. Yet, more and more often, as I remember His promises to me, I choose to believe Him instead of the world. His mercies are new every morning, but I must drink deeply to reap the benefits. I have to return to the well of His Word often and linger there a while. In God's time, His will for me unfolds and I see the fruit of His tender care. I am so grateful that someone shared that good news with me. In case you hadn't heard, this good news is for you as well. His Kingdom come, His will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.
The retreat in Minnesota where I spoke the first weekend in April was at the church of our former associate pastor, Neil. He and his wife Jenny have been faithful encouragers in my life for a number of years. Neil first encouraged me to blog and Jenny started telling me that I could do something like this shortly after I met her. In fact, I would never have had the guts to go through with this first retreat if they hadn't suggested it and encouraged me. I told someone that God was calling me to step out in faith and Jenny and Neil pushed me out of the nest! If you listen to my message and hate it, it is all their fault. If you like it, then I worked very hard on it and take all the credit. :-)
Actually, in reality, I don't take any credit for it. In truth, it is all God's fault. The most amazing part of the whole experience was the leap of faith it required to figure out what the heck I was going to say. My audience was completely unknown to me, except for Jenny, and I struggled initially to figure out what the "right" message might be for a group of women about whom I knew little. When I was in the early days of planning the topic I might cover, I saw a comment Neil made on our mutual friend Jeff's Facebook page. Jeff is in seminary and was preparing to give his first sermon that week. Among a few other words of wisdom, Neil told Jeff to just be himself and he would be fine. That really resonated with me. It seemed that God meant for ME to be there on that day with those people for a reason, so it made sense that sharing ME was part of His plan for our time together.
Still...Why was I even doing this? What could I possibly have to share that would be of use to someone else? Why would I want to make myself vulnerable like this in front of strangers? What if they thought I was a fool? Some of the same questions I asked when I began blogging back in 2005. Yet, like when I started the blog, my gratitude for the freedom and joy that I have found in God and His Word motivated me to step outside of the safety of anonymity and put myself "out there." My story, in the context of God's Bigger story, was my gift to give. Frankly, it was terrifying. It was also exhilarating and one of the greatest privileges of my life. In spite of my fumbling around, my tendency to go on too long, talk too fast, and repeat myself, God was able to use my offering and do something with it. Over the course of the weekend, I had the opportunity to hear how something I shared resonated personally with someone and they heard God's voice speaking to them.
It is almost painful for me to listen to the recordings because I hear all the mistakes and see all the things I want to do differently next time. I have listened once to each talk and I'm not sure I will again. Yet, even for me, there were moments when I was able to set aside my critic and hear the truths about who God is that I was sharing that day and I am again grateful that I have experienced this Love and had the privilege of sharing it with someone else. It is hard to be new at something at 46 years old, but it is also an adventure. I'm kind of excited to see what's next!
Here are the two Saturday sessions, if you have time to listen. They are each around 40 minutes long.
For some reason lately, I have been thinking about blogging again. It is unbelievable to me that I haven't posted anything since October of 2010 after several years of regular blogging. Perhaps the blogging season of my life is winding down, although I'm not ready to write that final post quite yet.
My journey as a blogger began with a desire to put my thoughts about my faith journey into written form...an opportunity to process "out loud" about the ways that I saw God working in my life and in the lives of those around me...a chance to share what God was teaching me in a way that He might even use as an encouragement to others. Serendipitously, one thing led to another and I found myself in unexpected places sharing the power, peace and purpose I have discovered within God's Word and the freedom I believe is possible through a growing relationship with a living Lord. Most recently, I found myself in White Bear Lake, Minnesota speaking to a group of women whom I had never met before. We celebrated the arrival of April and warmer weather by sharing together a weekend "Spring Renewal" and I left with 50 new friends.
As my oldest daughter finishes her junior year in the next couple of days and my "baby" completes her freshman year, I become increasingly curious about what God has planned for me in the next season of my life. So much of my time and energy over the past 15 years has been focused on my daughters and their activities and I have enjoyed every second of it. Although I have never doubted that being home with my girls was the right decision for our family, I do look forward with anticipation to see what might be next for me in terms of vocation. Will I return to my work as a clinical social worker in private practice? Will I pursue my love of writing further? Will this recent adventure in Minnesota blossom into an expanding speaking ministry? Might I go to work advocating/ fundraising for one of the causes about which I feel strongly?
It is still several years until baby girl graduates and I am grateful for a few more years of being a full time mom. Yet, I am also aware that I need to be listening...listening to the places where "my deep gladness meets the world's deep hunger." While I know I will be sad when my babies have all left the nest, I want to make sure that the space they leave behind does not leave me empty. While I cherish each moment of the next couple of years, I am also beginning to explore the next steps that God might use to unfold His plans for me. My recent weekend is Minnesota was part of that process.
I have recently been able to download the recordings of my talks in Minnesota and I am going to attempt to share them here over the next few days since it appears that Typepad now has the ability to insert audio right into my post. There were 3 sessions and the one below is Friday evening's opening session. Each of the talks is around 40 minutes in length. I pray that God will use these words to reveal something to you about His deep and abiding love!
1 I love you, O LORD, my strength.
2 The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;
my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge.
He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
3 I call to the LORD, who is worthy of praise,
and I am saved from my enemies.
We began our bible study time at the Lamb Center yesterday discussing adoration- the practice of expressing our love to the Lord. As we read the verses above, we talked about the intimacy of the way David repeated the term MY over and over. He clearly had experienced the Presence of God personally. For David, this God was REAL and this God was HIS God.
In attendance yesterday was a young woman new to the Lamb Center. She was there with her 3 small children; all under the age of 4. As we spoke, she expertly and lovingly cared for her babies; rocking one to sleep, offering play-doh to keep another busy, finding a snack for another. As we spoke about David's personal God, she listened carefully and then asked this question: Is there a time that WE had experienced God in such a way that we knew He was real? That He was really there?
This question opened up a time of sharing that I will treasure forever. It wasn't a large group around the table, but each of us shared a time when God reached down into our lives and made Himself known in a personal, intimate way. Most everyone shared, some in more detail than others. Truly, as is often the case at the Lamb Center, it wasn't always clear who was a guest, a volunteer or staff as we passed around the tissue box and wiped away our tears of gratitude for the gracious God we had each met. Those worldly barriers meant very little as we shared the experience of God's unexpected, intimate, gentle, comforting, encouraging Hand in our lives.
There was one story with which our young mother seemed to be particularly interested. M shared that she had been living, in her words, in a "very dark place." She had gotten herself into a particularly difficult financial circumstance and was in danger of losing the one thing that meant the most to her...the one thing that kept her connected to her daughter who she cherished. In this desperate circumstance, she ran across a stranger who she asked for money. He, like Peter at the gate called Beautiful (Acts 3,) told her "Gold and silver I do not have, but what I have I give you." He laid out his bible on the hood of his car, took her hands in his and led her in a prayer of surrender to a Jesus who she had told him she was not "really into." He told her that it was ok to go to Jesus with all her reservations, all her doubts, all her skepticism. From that moment on, her life has been transformed. Like the beggar at the temple gate, she has experienced healing beyond that which she had originally asked. She begged for money, and received new life. As she told the young mother the many concrete, personal ways that God had redeemed her life, tears ran down her face and she said "God is real! This is all real! It is all true! He is SO good!"
As I told her after the bible study, M was now getting to experience one of the great joys of Kingdom living. By sharing what God had done in her life, she was able to bless another person....an opportunity to give back a portion of what she had been given. God blesses us, so that we can be a blessing. I experience God's love more deeply, as I share that love with another. I understand the depth of my love for Him as I see Him at work in the lives of His people. While I SOMETIMES feel His presence and His power in my moments alone with Him, I almost ALWAYS feel His presence and power in real moments of community like what we often experience around the table at the Lamb Center. We are not meant to walk this journey alone; God wired us to live in community and to encourage one another as we try to serve Him.
God is real! It is all true! He is SO good!
I am a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a, a book lover, a follower of Jesus, and recently, a very infrequent blogger. While none of these labels describe all of me, each word gives you a bit more information about who I am. When I blogged about labels last fall, I never in a million years thought I would ever add the word "runner" to my list.
As a kid, I dreaded P.E. class. Don't EVEN get me started on dodge ball or red rover! I have always much preferred curling up with a good book to exercising or playing sports. As I have gotten older and my jeans have gotten tighter, I have begun to appreciate the wisdom of regular workouts and the physical and emotional benefits of making exercise a part of my life. Because my husband has always been an athlete (the kind of boy I hated during dodge ball games!) we invested in a workout room with all the equipment a number of years ago and that has been my primary exercise outlet. For me, part of the appeal of the workout room is the television. If I must exercise, at least I can distract myself watching E True Hollywood Story!
One beautiful day this past May, as I headed down into the basement, I found myself wishing that my exercise routine could be done outside instead. The flowers were blooming, the trees were budding and the temperature was a perfect 75 degrees. The obvious choice would be to go for a run, but I knew that running was not for me. My sister is a runner. My brother is a runner. Kelly is NOT a runner. I am the non-running sibling. I had tried before to run and I couldn't do it. In college, my boyfriend (now husband) and my roommate talked me into going running ONE time. I lasted about 5 minutes, at which point I turned around and headed back to the dorm to take a nap. I am and always have been a very good napper. I hated running. I was bad at running. I wasn't built to run and I had made my mind up about it.
However, in May, the idea of exercising outside persisted. I went online to look up walking programs, thinking that perhaps a fast walk on a pretty day would be a nice addition to my exercise repertoire. Long story short, I ran across an app for my Iphone called Couch to 5K that promised a very gradual progression from walker to runner. When I started in mid May, I would walk for 2 minutes, then run for 90 seconds, repeating this process for 20-30 minutes...all prompted by an encouraging voice on my headphones. After a few weeks, I was walking 3 minutes, running 5 minutes...gradually increasing the amount of time running. Throughout what turned out to be the hottest summer on record, I did this 3 times a week every week except one...I was too intimidated to run with all the cross country kids when we were in Philly on the mission trip!
Just recently, I started running the whole way. I still do a 30 minute workout and I am now going about 2.75 miles in that time...not exactly a blistering pace, but I'm not in a hurry. Just this week, it occurred to me that I now consider myself a runner! My husband pulled up next to me in his car one day when I was out running and said that I actually looked like a "real" runner, whatever that is....having known me for 30 years, he said this with a bit of disbelief in his voice!
So, why am I sharing this here? This isn't a running blog, but more often a place where I talk about my faith journey. As I thought about this progression from walker to runner, it occurred to me that I am learning some very important lessons in this process that are likely applicable to other areas of my life.
First, I wonder how often we limit ourselves by stating absolutes about who we are or are not. One of my girls said something the other day about the way she learns. Her statement was said in such a way that it was clear she had made up her mind that this was an immutable fact...this was just the way it was and she had to deal with it. As we talked, I encouraged her to not to limit herself at this young age and told her that the way I learned best had evolved at each stage of my education and was continuing to change as I grow older. Growing and changing is part of growing up. "I'm bad at math," "I'm unorganized," or "I'm not a runner" are all examples of self-limiting and self-defeating statements. I "choose" not to run is different than saying I "can't" run. While a healthy and realistic understanding of our strengths and weaknesses can be useful in making choices about how we spend our time, I wonder how often we shut down God's plans to stretch us by immediately dismissing those things we have decided aren't our particular talents.
Secondly, let's be clear, I am not a runner in the same way my sister is a runner or my friend Neil is a runner. For me, running 3 miles without stopping to walk is a huge accomplishment. For them, that is a warm-up. But that's ok! Letting go of the need to compare ourselves with the way another person does something is the beginning of freedom. I am not ready to go running with anyone right now, I am not ready to enter a race right now, I am not planning on ever running a marathon right now...but I might change my mind someday. Letting go of a particular image of who or what defines the word "runner" allows me to explore the new and perhaps, different ways that I might also choose to describe myself with that word. The same freedom applies to labels like "mother," "teacher," "singer," "writer," "artist," or even "Christian." Isn't it glorious that God made us all so different? It is sad how often I limit His creativity by trying to be like someone else instead of celebrating my unique expression of my God-given abilities.
Third, I did not become a runner overnight. For me, the path was slow. Perhaps others started running by just going out and running. For me, that didn't work. For me, the process of alternating walking and running is working, but it might not work for someone else. For me, breaking my "run" down into baby steps worked at the beginning, but it might be too boring for someone else. When I began the Couch to 5K program, it warned participants not to rush through the suggested incremental stages and it also advised you to repeat weeks, if you felt you needed to do so. I took their advice because it sounded like they knew what they were talking about and because there were stories of others who had been successful using this approach. I allowed myself to go slowly, I allowed myself to have bad days when I went backwards in terms of my progress and I allowed myself to be a learner. In my journey with the Lord, I would be wise to remember the value of slow and steady progress, the importance of spiritual mentors, and the humility of always remaining teachable.
Lastly, for reasons I'm not sure I understand, I made up my mind to stick with this and so far, I haven't quit. Somedays...initially, most days...I hated it. On hot days, and there were many, I really hated it. At first, my body hurt after every run. And then, it began to hurt less. It is only recently that I have begun to actually enjoy running and I am experiencing the benefits that drew me to try this path. Now that it is cooler outside and I can run farther, I come back from my runs exhilarated and I look forward to the next run. I may never run farther than 3 miles, but for now, I am having fun and it makes me feel strong and alive. I am proud of myself for trying something new and doing something I thought I couldn't do. As I move closer and closer to my 50th birthday and to the time when my little birdies will leave my nest, I know there are going to be many more opportunities to re-define myself and try new things. That gets me excited to see what God has planned for me next!
Lessons from this journey: be willing to learn, be myself, slow and steady, be committed.
Hebrews 12:1-2 (New Living Translation) 1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. 2 We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.
Our mission experience last week in Philadelphia was hosted by Adventures in Mission (AIM.) Marcus, Kathy, Maddie, Melissa, Doug and Sara were wonderful guides, teachers, cheerleaders and partners as we sought to serve the community and grow closer to the Lord while we were in Philadelphia.
At some point early in the week, Marcus said something during one of his talks with us that really resonated with me and continues to do so. In fact, I would venture to say that this one sentence encompasses the power of what we experienced in Philadelphia last week. Here is what he said:
"Prayer and relationship are the currency of Heaven."
I invite you to ponder that sentence for a moment. Prayer and relationship are the currency of the Kingdom of Heaven. Prayer and relationship, relationship and prayer. Prayer and relationship are the currency...the medium of exchange...that draws us into the Kingdom. The Kingdom comes into focus as we invest in prayer and relationship. Our experience of and participation in the Kingdom is intimately connected to our experience of and participation in prayer and relationship. While I don't think this is new information to me, something about the simplicity of the sentence struck a chord with me.
One of the parts of this mission trip that I particularly enjoyed was the emphasis on prayer; not just talking to God, but truly creating the space to really LISTEN to God. Every morning, before we did any activity that could be called "ministry," we were asked to spend a significant amount of time in prayer. We prayed individually and we prayed collectively. We invited God to speak to us about particular scriptures and we invited God to speak to us about where we should serve that day. Although I would consider myself a person of prayer, I realized through our experience in Philadelphia how hurried and limited my prayers often are at home. If I'm honest, back in Virginia, I often make my to-do list and schedule my "ministry" activities and then ask God to be with me as I run, run, run. Here's my plan, Lord, please bless it! By contrast, in Philadelphia, we were invited to enter into an ongoing conversation with God each day and ask Him to show us where to go, step-by-step, opening our eyes along the way to see Him powerfully at work. In Philadelphia, we asked God to surprise us and allow us to do things we could only do through His power. As I consider the lessons from our time in Philly, I am beginning to think maybe my "Virginia" prayers are much too safe!
The other facet of this "currency" that draws us closer to experiencing the Kingdom here on earth is relationship; our relationship with God and our relationship with others. Through seeking the heart of God and taking time to really connect to the people He places in our path, we experience life as we were designed to live it. A return to the Garden, if you will. While we were in Philadelphia, and even before our departure thanks to the sermon we heard the morning we left, we asked God to give us "people eyes"...eyes that REALLY saw the child of God that was standing, sitting, playing, walking in front of us. As we prayed together and worked together, we experienced a deepening of our relationships with one another and a strengthening of the bonds that brought us to this place as a team. Without the distractions of our busy Northern Virginia lives (including cell phones and computers,) we all had the opportunity to share at a deeper level and be better listeners with one another. As we grew closer to one another and to God, we were filled with His love and the confidence to risk a little more in our relationships with the strangers we met...the strangers who became our friends. The children at day camp, the lady in the neighborhood, the homeless man at the coffeehouse on Kensington Ave....all part of this greater Kingdom that expands and grows as we open our heart to a bigger, deeper, better Love and offer ourselves to be used as agents of God's healing. Connected to one another, strengthened by our bonds in Him, we are stronger and better equipped to go out be the hands and feet of Jesus.
I say this every time I get back from one of these mission trips with our youth, but I am just blown away by these kids. I signed up for my first mission trip as an adult in 2007 because both my kids were going and I thought it would be wonderful for us to share the experience. Since then, I go each year because I am completely inspired and awed and humbled by seeing our students in action. It is a privilege to partner with them in this Kingdom work; our future is in good hands if these kids are a reflection of the next generation. As one of my favorite songs from the musical Wicked says "because I knew you, I have been changed for good."
Prayer and relationship are the currency of the Kingdom of Heaven. Thanks, Marcus!