Monday, December 31, 2007

Redefining RISK

I can over react to situations. I've always known that. But I never realized how often I under react, which is another way of saying that you are slow to perceive something.

Saturday night my son, Alex, took the car and went out with a friend. He was told to return before 9pm. Until our son turns 18, in a couple weeks, his new license requires that he is off the road by 9pm. It can be a big fine and a huge increase in the cost of insurance if he is caught by the police on the road after 9pm.

At 9:07 pm, the phone rang, and I suddenly realized Alex was not yet home. I had been reading and lost track of the time. I answered the phone and heard my son's voice.

"Mom, I know I'm a few minutes late but I got lost on a side street. I'm just now on our road. I'll be there in a couple minutes," he said.

"Alex, you cut this too close," I told him and then sighed with relief that he was just a minute or so away from our house.

"I know, Mom. Sorry. I'll be right....oh, crap!" he muttered. My heart lurched. "Shoot! There's a cop right there and he's signaling me over," he said. My heart plummeted to my feet. Before I could utter a sound, he started laughing. "Gotcha, Mom! I'm right here in the driveway. Safe at home."

"Alexander William!!" I yelled out. Oh, that kid. He knows I over react and get up in arms over his failings and infractions. He loves to bait me and see me fall into a tizzy. He is going to buy me a lifelong supply of hair color to cover all my gray- I always tell him that.

But recently I realized that overreacting is not the only extreme I need to watch out for. If we under react- or don't react or respond at all- that could be just as detrimental to our overall well being. Yesterday at church, I shared with a friend how I felt discouraged about some areas of my life. I just decided to let it out what was bothering me. She named a few things that might help the picture, but I knew inside that it was me that was the problem. Something in me has to change- not my surroundings or my situations.

At the end of our conversation, she told me, "Let's pray and ask God what He thinks about all this. Let's ask Him what this situation means." I looked at her and nodded my head in agreement. That's exactly what I needed to know- what the situation meant, what God meant for this situation to provoke in me.

I woke up to a lovely white snowfall this morning, and as I saw the fresh blanket of snow, I realized I needed a fresh outlook on things. Not my outlook- but God's. After a morning chat with Bill, and several cups of coffee, I "saw" something. I realized I felt a bit burnt out but not because I was laboring so hard or because I was laboring in the wrong field, so to speak. It was because I was laboring without really perceiving Him.

"Do you not perceive it?" God asks of us in Isaiah 43. He reaches out and touches our situation and energizes our ability to respond to the challenge or the obstacle before us. But if He touches us, we've got to discern that He is hovering over us, so to speak, breathing life into us again. If I ignore that He is always ever present and ever ready to give, to supply, to infuse me with strength and vigor, then I am the one failing to perceive Him. He never fails to be there for me. And when God is there in our midst, He is not a beautiful statue standing there so that we admire Him but get nothing from perceiving His presence. God moves, touches us, directs us- and we must perceive this.

When God shows up, everything changes. First, we come alive with recognition that He has more for us, always more- never less. He is not the Take-away God but the Giver, the Sustainer, the Redeemer, the Fire and the Well of Living Water. He will make a way through the wilderness of our confusion or dryness. Then we come alive with hope and expectation. That hope of His empowering changes my outlook.

I should be dreaming bigger dreams. I should be ready to take a risk. As I go into this New Year, I've re-adopted a little acrostic that I made up a while ago. I mean this now, more than ever.

2008 will be a year of RISK for me- but not the foolish risk taking of an overly confident child who thinks she can never go wrong. I know how wrong I can go. So much so that I rarely step out enough in a bold move of risk taking and faith walking. So that inner cautious child in me has got to get provoked to faith, stirred to action, and maybe even booted out of her comfort zone with a loving shove from the Father.

So here it is. Here is my Banner for this New Year. Any resolutions or specifics that I further make come under this banner I wave:

R- Redeem. Redeem mistakes, cash in on anything Satan meant for evil, because God meant it for good. So believe it. Act like your failures and mistakes and downfalls can be used by God, redeemed for His good purposes.

I- Invest. Invest yourself, invest your time, invest your money wisely. Be that good steward with ten talents who went out and invested- not hid- his resources. God loves investors.

S- "See" the possibilities. Perceive God's hand in the picture, His available resources. See it and believe it. Live with your eyes wide open and upon Him.

K- Keep the Faith. That good deposit in you, keep it, guard it. God will keep me safe in His care, and I will keep safe my faith in Him, never allowing it to be snatched from me. I've given my life to Christ, and He will "keep that which I've committed unto Him against that Day."

If anyone wants to journey onward with me, in such a way that we eagerly look for and expect His presence, then join in under this banner. It reads RISK but it really is just that faithful banner of old we've heard about. Song of Solomon reminds us, anew, "His Banner over me is Love." And I want to respond to that Love by taking a RISK.

(Happy New Year!)

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Try to Measure That

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Last night we had another family gathering- this time with my oldest brother and his family, and my older sister, Kris, and her husband and her "son", a little white pekingese named Milo. Other than his little puddle on the carpet, Milo was a perfect little gentleman, and Harry was a galant host, allowing Milo to play with his toys. Add in chocolate cake and mixed fruit pie, and it was a sweet evening of family fellowship.

Now it's Saturday. It's the calm before the storm. New Year's Eve is Monday. All resolutions need to be considered and formed by then. I'm not working on this tomorrow. Tomorrow is a day of rest for me- and I don't want to be mentally grappling with anything other than which book I'll read, and what kind of tea I'll make, as I settle in for a quiet afternoon.

So today is the day for Work, for reflection on the past year and serious consideration of what I am aiming for next year. Notice I say aiming and not what I am going to "accomplish". I'm not so sure that this year I will have measurable resolutions.

I can hear the outcry of the purists who say unless you can measure your goals and pursuits, you can't tell when you achieve them. I can see their point- but it's only a point of view, not the total picture of truth.

The truth is we live in a society that measures everything and thrives on productivity, numbers and noticeable achievements. The Church at large has fallen into this frenzy, I think. But what about all that happened in the heart of a person, in a circle of praying saints who held hands and wept together over someone's trial or sickness? What about the times when we sit with someone, listening to their pain, throwing away all recognition of time? Should the Church quantify such giving of the heart? Can you quantify the growth of a soul learning to trust, learning to run to God?

What I have to deal with is not the direction the Church at large is going in. That is not my responsibility other than who I am in the Church at large. I have my own little boat to row, and even at that, I often put the oars in the boat, lie back, and let God's current of love take me for a while- take me on a journey I do not know where I am going. I think of Anne of Green Gables, lying in her rowboat as it filled with water, journeying down stream, thinking of herself as the Lady of Shalott when really she was just a young silly girl in a sinking row boat. But oh, the journey she was on, for a while. (And handsome Gilbert did save her at the end).

The last time I knew I was on a journey to an unknown destination was when we sold our dream house we had built, packed up the car and the truck, and moved down south...not knowing where we were going. Literally. That was over three years ago, and I don't know what I would quantify about that experience. But what I learned through that adventure into the unknown changed my life, changed my heart and affected my mindset.

My best friend,Mu, wants me to write about this journey I took, that year we walked deliberately into the unknown for some very known reasons. I am hesitant to write about that year, much less dwell on all the reasons we took that journey to God-only-knows-where. We were at the end of ourselves, out of fuel for our dreams, low on courage and encouragement. We were too widely known by family and people in our suburban area, yet nobody really knew the hurt and the hope we carried within us. We needed to get away. We needed to go someplace and find out how to "see" again, and how to perceive God's moving in our life, how to hear Him anew and hope anew.

Ever since that year, ever since our return back to New York, we have been quiet about all that changed within us. It is not easily quantified and categorized. What happened to us and in us is something mysterious and amorphous- I don't know how you would tally it all up.

This past year, 2007, was a year similar to our year down south. I can't really say I accomplished anything significant and statistically spectacular. I didn't even become physically strong or muscular, like I had wanted, because I got sick with Mono this past spring. I have only now started to feel normal again. I am eying that stairmaster and am readying to get back on it, for twenty minutes a day, minimum. But other than that one quantifiable pursuit, I have nothing else in mind for 2008, ...not yet.

I am open to dreaming, though. I am counting the cost you must pay to have a dream. You have to be open to hurt, be open to surprises, be willing to work, but more than that, be willing to feel like God sent you down a river without oars, your heart pounding fast with dread and delight. But then you hear God whisper in your ear, "I will show you the way to go".

Think about God's leading, His grace for the journey, His surprising resources when we are at our end. Just try to measure all that. I, myself, wouldn't know where to begin.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Before I Make My New Year's Resolutions

I always get a bit excited about the time period between Christmas Day and New Year's Day. This is when I start to get ready for change. Serious change. It's not that I start making my New Year's Resolutions, but rather, I start contemplating what I have achieved this past year, where I have been, and where I have gone wrong. By the time New Year's Day comes, I want to enter the New Year not with a spectacular set of new year's resolutions but with a sparkling clean mind set- one where I have cleared out old archaic thought patterns and outdated beliefs that do not serve me well.

This has been a silky smooth vacation week, for some reason. Not only have family get-togethers been relatively smooth and clear sailing, but everything seems to be set in a slow motion setting where the days are calm, lingering, and soft and quiet.

Not that it has been quiet, literally. It hasn't. We had a bunch of teens here the other night, with large pizza boxes and wings all over the place. Harry stole a few paper plates off the table and was about to get the platter of wings when Bill caught him. I think Harry felt guilty and upset for one single moment, and then that moment passed.

While my son and his friends were downstairs watching a movie, Bill, Abby and I watched one upstairs in our bedroom. It was a light romantic comedy- nothing earth shattering in meaning. But there were themes in the movie that resonated with me. The main character was a lawyer, trying to take a stand for just causes; trying to make her parents proud of her as well. She also was falling in love with someone who seemed shallow, silly, and centered on nothing but the inane details of life. He seemed that way- till her eyes were opened, and she saw he had learned to care, learned to give sacrificially ...learned to love.

Usually character doesn't change that radically, habits don't change that fast.
But in a movie they can and they do. The question is how much of our life is really like these movies we watch.

I asked Bill this morning if he thought I had grown much this year, if I had changed much- changed for the better. He sipped his coffee, scratched the dog's head, and answered that yes, I had changed. But he always sees me a step ahead of where I actually am.

When he and I first dated, I was angry about undercurrents of abuse and dysfunction that I had seen in the Church at large, scared of my volatility and emotional compass, adamant that I was not going back to any part of me that walked in subservience to any coercion. He looked at me and saw passion for truth, emotional integrity, and resolution to walk in freedom.

The thing is, I think he has changed the most. When I met him, he seemed jolly and funny, light hearted and good natured, stable and strong. He is all that, still, except the jolly and light hearted part. While he provides our family with enough light hearted bantering and silly joke telling, he is not that same young man with a confident "can do" attitude and the self assurance that goes with thinking you will accomplish, always, what you have set out to do. He is rather sober minded, now; quieter. I don't remember when I first saw him taking that turn into thoughtful, quiet loving and living.

I'm the one who has become a bit more silly and carefree, at times. I still don't tell jokes but I do love to laugh, more than I ever have before. While I'm still a realist, I'm also a bit of an optimist, now- and that was never the case before. I'm becoming an optimist partially because I want to be one, and I never wanted to be one before. The older I get, the more I see that I can be surprised by God, by the hand of God. I'm delighting in God taking delight in me. He rejoices over me with singing, as it says in Zephaniah 3:17.

God has always moved in my life, but I have not always credited Him with the best of intentions. This year, at the close of this year, I want to look back and see all the places where God showed up, all the tell tale signs that He moved mightily in my life. I want to rehearse the good, dwell on the victorious moments, while not denying the places where I fell down.

So before I make my New Year's Resolutions, I want to see this past year with eyes wide open. Before I say good-bye to 2007, I want to reach out and take what I have learned, take it with me, into this new year ahead of me. I'm taking the joy of the journey, with me; I'm bringing the attitude of a conqueror and overcomer, with me. I'm doing this, by faith- because I still don't see myself as a strong, overcoming woman- but I know God does.

So I'm looking upward as I look back on the year, asking God what else I should know and remember- so that I can go....forward.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Love Lifted Me

I love the feeling of pleasant exhaustion as opposed to that feeling of fatigue and despair when you gave your all and it wasn't enough. It was enough, all my efforts and my endeavors to make Christmas Day special and full of hope. I've never been more proud of my extended family. It wasn't just good behavior I saw yesterday-it was grace and freedom and love.

After opening our gifts to each other early in the morning, the four of us sat down to a pancake breakfast with bacon and sausage, orange juice and coffee made with the Dunkin Donuts blend my daughter bought for her Dad. Then it was countdown to 1:30pm when my parents and my brother Mark would arrive for dinner. I rubbed the roast with salt and pepper and fresh thyme and let it sit on the counter. Then I went on to do the apple pie.

This pie had to come out reasonably well. I have not been doing that well in the baking department, lately. You see, I overcooked the bread pudding I made for my father-in-law and the saint that he is, he ate it with such a smile of delight that he could have almost fooled me. But since I kept a small bread pudding at home (I had made three), when I got home from leaving him the bread pudding, I took a bite of the one I had and thought, "Oh, that suffering saint. This bread pudding is dry." I thought of our old neighbor, from years ago, who would always say "I'm dry as a deuce."

But the apple pie came out well, the roast smelled wonderful in the oven, and when my parents and brother arrived with the squash puree (from their organic garden), the table was all set and ready. The Christmas Dinner was about to begin. But not before we said grace, and then popped open our Christmas Crackers- a new English tradition I've started. Inside every cracker is a little toy, a paper crown, and a joke. Dad and Mom looked dignified in their paper crowns, while my brother Mark and my husband clowned around. Alex had his camera on the tripod and was capturing memories for us to feast on later.

Abby's favorite part was eating the cheesecake and apple pie, later on in the day; but only after we played a round of Survival- a game which asks questions about what you would do in a wilderness or survival situation. We played in teams: Mark and Abby, Alex with Nana and Papa, and Bill and I. I surprised everyone by knowing the correct thing to do the first three rounds we played. Some of the questions were hysterical- like how to remove skin caught in a zipper (ouch!) and how to make soap out in a wilderness setting. Other questions related to avoiding shark attacks or avoiding bears. Usually my father answers every question perfectly. That man has the sharpest mind and the most interesting outlook on things.

As Mom, Dad, and Mark were getting ready to leave later,Mark helped my Mom on with her coat, trying to hold her steady. She is unsteady on her feet, frail, but vigorous with joy when she is feeling well. Mark let go of her for one minute and we all watched as in slow motion she started to fall backwards. I scrambled to catch her, but she fell down slowly, onto her bottom, on the carpeted floor. Since she did not fall from too high a starting point, and she almost eased into the fall, she was not hurt.

With relief, we gathered around her to help her up, but we couldn't get her up without her slippered feet sliding across the carpet. My husband said, "I've got her," stepped behind her, and lifted her to her feet , in one swoop, as if she was ten pounds. My mother looked like a giddy school girl rescued by the football player, beaming and a little pink in the face from the quickness of it all.

"Love lifted me" was all I could think of. Do you know that beautiful hymn?

Love lifted me! Love lifted me!
When nothing else could help
Love lifted me!

Everyone takes a tumble now and then. But not everyone is ready to accept help in getting up. "Love does not parade itself, is not puffed up" says 1 Corinthians 13:4b. You can't be puffed up and arrogant when you've taken a fall and need help. But you can be the recipient of an exhilarating ride upwards to "on your feet" again.

Dad commented on Bill's big back and how he has grown more powerful with all the construction work he has been doing. We were all glad that Bill's muscular arms had come in handy. My husband has remodeled houses, swinging a hammer, lifting sheet rock, carrying loads of lumber. He has physically labored in turning a house into a beautiful home. But on Christmas Day, this time, his strong arms had been used for the work of love, lifting someone up, literally. We saw love in motion, swooping in at a person's lowest moment, lifting up that loved one to standing.

Then we all stood together, laughing and talking while we hugged good bye. Our Christmas celebration ended on a good note, everyone on their feet, standing tall,... feeling loved.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas!

While I may not always learn to love myself when I am with my family, I do learn to love- of that I am sure. I am learning to love bumpy rides, comical moments, awkward times, and times of such closeness and tenderness that I see beyond myself into the mystery of God's plan, His idea of the Family, as dysfunctional and delightful as it is.

It's Christmas Eve. Right now I have a Bread Pudding in the Oven, and as soon as it is done, I am taking it out, with oven mitts, carrying it to the car, and zooming down the street to my In-Laws where such a simple baked dessert will bring a lot of pleasure. It's my father-in-law's favorite dessert. He raves about my Bread Pudding so much that I feel I cannot fail at it.

As far as my extended family, we celebrated our Christmas Eve Get Together a day early, last night, at my house. Everyone was at their best behavior. My father's jokes were reasonably funny, my sisters took turns leading us in family games and sing alongs, my mother beamed at how loving and lively we all were, and even Harry was at his most charming behavior, cuddling with everyone and snooping around for crumbs and left overs.

Crumbs and scraps of ribbon and wrapping paper covered the carpet by the end of the evening. But more than that, Love covered us all. Love always covers a multitude of sins and frailties. (Proverbs 10:12)

Christmas makes me remember that wonder and miracles begin in humble places, places where people may even feel down, and low to the ground. If you approach the manger scene to see the Christ child, the lower you are to the ground, the better your view will be of the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. Anyone can not only draw close and take a look, but you can take of the the Life He offers.

It's Christmas- and God has you in mind. He dispenses grace and love to the world, in abundance, all through and because of a Savior who came to us as a babe.

The timer on the oven just went off. The Bread Pudding is done. Gotta run.

Have a Blessed Christmas!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Getting to Know You

In the afternoon, yesterday, I got together with my best friend, Mu, at our (now) favorite meeting place. It's called a bistro but it should have the word cafe in its name. It's a quiet place with leather arm chairs pulled up to circular small tables. We usually sit by the window, split a sandwich and drink coffee, and talk till the cows come home (or until our cell phones ring and one of our kids is calling us).

She and I connect without trying. We have little in common, really, except our way of looking at things. We want to grow. We want to see each other develop her strengths and abilities. We are on such the same wave length that we surprise each other continually with our intersections of action and thought.

"I want you to listen to this husband and wife radio show, Lu" she told me in between bites of the grilled zucchini and turkey sandwich (that was her idea). Mu is always thinking about my writing and speaking. "The wife has a book she's just written. You can find it on the New Release Shelf at the library."

She told me the author's name and I interrupted her with "I just got that book out a couple days ago! I'm reading it right now!" Mu only has to think a positive strategy or idea and I'm already picking it up on my subconscious radar.

I can't tell you how amazingly "simpatico" we are in each other's company. It is so different than when I am with my extended family- even though these people have known me for over forty years. How can this be? How can I be so loved but misread by people who have known me longer and seen me go through more things than Mu has in the six short years she has known me?

I went to pick up my daughter at my parents' house last night. Both my sisters were there, my one bachelor brother, my visiting niece, my one nephew just returned from Italy. I grabbed a few bites- for my supper- of left over potatoes and gravy, after having thrown a spaghetti dinner together for Bill and Alex back at home.

As I ate a few bites I listened to the joking and the teasing going on. One sister was bragging about her dance ability and then getting teased about how she dances like an American rather than the Half-Latina she is. I was sure they would aim for me next, bringing up my embarrassing disco dancing past, which is probably the reason I so draw away from trying to get into the ballroom dance scene that half my family is into. I don't want to add any fuel to their fire.

These family members know my awkward childhood scenes, my erratic dating history (of course one sister was sketchy on the details, remember?), they know my college days of confusion but not the inner pain, and have seen my entrance into marriage and motherhood. They're sure they know me well.

I have never been more sure, though, that they do not know me as well as they think they do. Or if they do know me, then who is that silly, falling, failing person they keep calling Lauren?! I don't recognize myself when they depict me. It's not that they're trying to be mean, but their depiction of me is skewed a bit to my weak side.

My recent revelation is that the person we are (the person we become) is the person who is given grace, and then more grace. That's why my husband knows me so differently than my parents and siblings do. When I met him, when I got to know him, I asserted any part of me that I wanted to, any boldness or opinion that might never have surfaced before, growing up. I tested the waters, so to speak, to see if I could come out of hiding when I was with him. I dared to speak my mind- because he couldn't tell me that's not who I was! The Lauren that came out and declared herself was not a surprise to my husband but was a bit of a surprise to me. I'm still getting to know this bold woman with a history of fear.

In Lori Smith's book, A Walk with Jane Austen, ( writes about her self identity and her relationship with her parents, as she thought about Jane Austen's relationship with her own family.

"Necessarily, as children and parents, our perspectives on each other are slightly skewed. In some ways we see each other better than anyone else because we have the closeness of everyday life in which to observe every fault and every goodness, but the faults are more apparent somehow. In some ways, we get into patterns of thinking about each other, and its hard to get out of those ruts and see each other as we really are."

Oh, are the faults more apparent! That's all we seem to know of our siblings- their faults, their embarrassing moments. How many times do you go to a family gathering and have your siblings rehearse all your strong moments of glory and accomplishment?! It doesn't happen.

The contrast of what I have when I'm with Mu and what I experience when I am with my family is drastic. While I love my siblings and my parents, I do not always learn to love myself more when I am with them. That's the plain truth. I'm not so much disappointed with them as I am aware of this unsettling truth. I am just becoming aware of this dynamic- that if you're looking for great grace to grow, to be upon you, spend time with a good friend who "sees" you. That friend could very well be a sibling or a parent, but more than likely it won't be. With a parent or sibling, "there is always an undercurrent, which we try to read and interpret and sometimes ignore- all these exhausting perceptions."

Sometimes we long for our family to speak better of us, to speak about us with an eye on the future, and not always on our past when we were small, both physically and emotionally so. If you want to grow, stretch out and expand your horizons and your threshold for change, love your family, yes; but find someone who can handle you becoming someone they have not yet known.

Because "a friend loves at all times" and this kind of love is a love that copes with you becoming, growing, maturing, and developing. This kind of love is not for the faint of heart or for those who love to remember you in the past.

If love perseveres and "always believes the best", then love has to consider the present and the future. Because the best is yet to come.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Name this Man!

I've got to run out and finish the rest of my shopping and it will be an assortment of things. I need: a standing Rib Roast for the Christmas Day dinner, Nyquil for Alex -because he's sick with a bad cold again, more Laundry Detergent -because I have a mountain of laundry I have to do and Bill is out of clean socks, leaving for work with an old pair on this morning and nary a complaint. That blessed man of mine.

I was telling him about some of the blogs I've been reading and how interesting their lives are. One blog writer who lives on a ranch refers to her husband as Marlboro Man. I felt provoked to come up with a name that reflects my husband better. "Bill" just doesn't cut it.

"You're way more interesting than that," I told my husband, trying to explain why I needed a better name for him, at least when it came to my blog chronicles. I explained about the woman calling her husband Marlboro Man, and how I wanted a name for him that would depict him accurately in all his muscular glory and all his skill and ability.

"How about Apple Tree Man, and I could hold a gallon of cider in my one hand, flexing my arm muscles?" he asked, thinking of the Apple Orchard he'd like to have one day.

"No way," I said. "You'd sound like Johnny Appleseed. We need a name that has a tool in it because you're a remodeling machine, a man of the howling hammer and the prodigious paintbrush, a man with an eye for detail and...."

"A man who's late," he said, interrupting me, grabbing his lunch pail and running down the stairs to the garage. Minutes later I hear his truck pulling out of the driveway.

My husband just does not give a lot of thought to his image or his public persona. He is too busy working, providing, keeping his commitments to people. He has the patience of Job- and has experienced waves of financial and circumstantial loss, as Job did. Yet he is still whistling a tune, loving me when I am cranky, being firm and patient with our son, and a puddle of weakness with our daughter (I already told you she has more "dates" with her Dad than I do!).

So in spite of the Christmas presents under my tree, one of the best presents I have snores lightly next to me on cold winter nights. The gift is not just a loving, faithful husband, but the realization that I have one. It's such a keen realization, lately-I'm relieved to have wound up with him. It makes me see that canopy of grace, again, that I am under. God has flooded me with blessings- and better than that, I am getting "eyes" to see those blessings.

In spite of my old age, my vision is getting clearer.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Tidings of Comfort and Joy

It finally hit me, yesterday- Christmas is a week away. Yesterday I suddenly went into a frenzy of running around, shopping with a vengeance and with more focus on the particular people I still have on my list. I came home last night after a long afternoon of errands and shopping, made a quick spaghetti dinner, and fell apart at the dinner table. Everything that was bothering me, deep inside, these last couple days, came to the surface.

I really felt the most frustrated with my teenage son, but I don't even want to go there. Let's just say I am constantly aware of Life's challenges and responsibilities and I do not see that he is. In fact it irks me when I am exhausted and concerned about so many details so that everyone's life can be enhanced- and he is barely covering the basic details of his own existence. But it all comes down to perspective, I guess. I could have a son who is wild, out of control, and off doing God only knows what. Instead I have a son who is ....maturing. Maturity, or call it Inner Growth, takes time.

So I calmed down a bit, rested on my bed, and watched the new T.V. reality show about the competing choirs led by famous stars, such as Patti Labelle. Boy, can that woman belt it out. As I watched her choir sing, and saw the recap of the first song, it was like having a rousing worship experience. My deflated spirit got pumped up again. I saw my own emotional exhaustion and my worries for what they were- and was able to recognize how off kilter I got. I needed to repent. I needed to apologize.

Abby came in my room and flopped next to me. She chatted with me about her vacation week and who she wanted to get together with. I turned to her and tried to assess if I had traumatized her with my outburst at the table.

"Abby, I'm sorry for the outburst. I was wrong to act that way, " I told her, with my eyes down on the patterned comforter.

"What outburst?" she asked me.

"The one at dinner," I replied, puzzled that she seemed to not know what I was talking about.

"Oh, that," she said. "That wasn't even a bad one Mom. I've seen worse."

Apparently I've made progress- although I'm not sure if her perspective of my behavior is an accurate indicator of how well I am doing. I have one child who constantly extends grace to me, and another child (a young man) who causes me to need grace, and grace more abundantly.

"And great grace was upon them all" is the fragment of the verse that comes to mind (Acts 4:33). The disciples preached the resurrection of Christ AND great grace was upon them, as well.

"The doctrine preached was the resurrection of Christ;... which being duly explained, was a summary of all the duties, privileges, and comforts of Christians. There were evident fruits of Christ's grace in all they said and did," says Matthew Henry's commentary.

I need to remember not just the duties we have in this life- our work and our labor, the raising of our children, the labor of our soul in prayer, but also the comfort and the privilege I have to know a God who can refuel me when I'm low, infuse me with strength, and give me grace to go on again in an attitude of joy and expectation of His good.

There's a canopy of grace over me, but I think I feel the touch of grace deep down inside me, as well. On top of that deep inner assurance, I hear the tidings of Comfort and Joy.

I'm off again, humming that song, and so thankful for it.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

From My Vantage Point

I finally got around to repairing one of Harry's stuffed animals. He has been playing with his goose, a little grouse, and another stuffed bird that squeaks when he chews on it. Within minutes of tossing his toy around, he will grab a hold of it and start chewing and tearing it apart until a seam bursts open. So I finally sewed up one of the stuffed birds, the other day, and plan to repair the others. He has knocked the stuffing out of them.

Harry is in the friskiest of moods, playful, and frolicking lately as though he were a puppy again. We got him from an Animal Rescue group when he was approx.nine months old, so we never saw him as a little puppy. But that has never stopped us from picking him up and cuddling him as though he were only five pounds. He had a vicious, chronic ear infection, on and off, the first couple years we had him, and we didn't realize how much this was affecting his behavior. He slept a lot, and did not play much.

Now, ear infection gone, and newly clipped, he obviously feels lighter in spirit as well. He's jumping around the living room every morning, waiting for someone to toss him his goose so that he can show off and prance around while we all talk about how wonderful he is. He'll nap a lot, still, but he seems ready for some fun every time he wakes up, instead of dozing back into LaLaLand for long stretches like he used to.

This would be his middle age, I think- if you count dog years as seven years for every one human year. He's in his middle age, like me. I'm feeling a bit hopeful that I may get my second wind as well- especially if any chronic, low lying fatigue and malaise are out of my system.

Medline Plus defines malaise as " a generalized feeling of discomfort, illness, or lack of well-being... Malaise can be accompanied by a feeling of exhaustion, or of not having enough energy to accomplish usual activities."

You could call it burn out, or exhaustion from too much stress. You may experience malaise if you got the stuffing knocked out of you, and no one noticed. I feel terrible that Harry was sick with the ear infection for so long. We did have it treated. We did try different medicines. But it was such a powerful infection that when we took him back to the vet,again, months later, because he was still whimpering over his ear getting touched, she did a more thorough culture and found out he had three strains of bacteria causing the problem. It took a powerful antibiotic, for a longer course of time, to finally knock it out of his system.

Harry couldn't tell us what was wrong. He could only sleep a lot and whimper in pain.Sometimes we thought he was milking it a little, acting like a baby. But finally we realized he was enduring something, bearing up under great pain, and getting no where in finding relief- until the day we got to the root of it.

I can't always put my finger on the spot, either, when it comes to understanding what's troubling me. Sometimes I just know that I am troubled or fatigued. But I forget to assess if I got the stuffing knocked out of me. I'm quick to admonish myself to just get going, keep moving, and stop being a baby.

But sometimes I hear something that troubles me or I experience a break down in communication with someone I love. Last year, ironically in the Spring, I went through a dark season of sadness and sickness and financial instability. I felt pummeled and pounded into the ground.I felt like Harry's goose, with the stuffing all over and a big gaping wound.

Right now I'm doing pretty well. Feeling strong, at least strong enough to keep letting my teenage son know that he is not the boss, strong enough to go on countless shopping trips and errands with my daughter, strong enough to look at the future and tell my husband that I have no idea where I am heading. He nods his head in agreement, looking at me. He can tell I'm not happy about my lack of answers, but I'm not destroyed or in despair, either.

I don't think I have a low lying malaise but if I do, God will resurrect me again- of that I'm sure. I've been in the valley so many times, and have made the ascent to the hills, over and over again. It's been a journey that makes me know He will always revive me, repair me, when my stuffing is knocked out of me.

"Though the fig tree may not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines" (Hab 3:17), though I fall down or need to get my second wind- He will give me all I need to go another round.

If I go down to the valley, even there- because I have been there before- I will look up and see the high hills.

Monday, December 17, 2007

When You're on an Icy Road

I'm quite discombobulated this morning (and apparently in a British mood as I am using the word "quite"). School was delayed two hours this morning due to snow and ice removal. It didn't mean that much of a slower start for us, other than the fact that Bill and I had our first few sips of coffee in bed this morning, rather than out on the couch where we normally sit. Harry was curled up on the couch, not at our bedroom door where he normally is when Bill first wakes up to make coffee. I swear, that dog can listen to the howling wind and sleeting and decide he will not go out and do his duty in that kind of inclement weather, and so he will sleep in on those mornings. This was one of those mornings.

But after a few sips of coffee, Bill said "Let's move out to the couch. I'm sinking into the hole in this mattress." (Here's a friendly reminder to turn your mattress over and around, every couple months, or you'll wind up with a mattress like ours- low and lumpy on Bill's side, and little to no impression where I sleep).

After a few more sips of coffee and some chit chatting on the couch (after pushing Harry gently off), Bill got going on the day. I woke up the kids, pushed Harry out the door to do his thing, and scurried around the house to get us all back on the clock. I was thinking about everyone's commute and feeling relieved that roads were clear now. But they were terrible last night.

Last night I got a phone call from someone who was driving home to their house, and in the middle of talking to them, I heard a sudden, alarming "oh no!", a thud, and then...nothing. It was not a good sound. My heart thumping in my chest, I frantically made a call to this person's relative to see if they were with them in the car. They weren't. But they heard back from this person, and ten minutes later told me she was okay. She had been hit in the side after swirling around on a patch of ice. She and I talked later. Remarkably, she sounded like this was no big deal. If it had been me, I would have been a mess.

I did have a near death experience on an icy road once. My daughter Abby was with me. This was several winters ago, yet she brought up this experience with me, just the other day.

"Remember when we almost got killed Mom?"she asked me as we were driving into the mall parking lot the other day. I looked sideways to see if trauma and scarring were evident in her expression.

"You remember that experience we had?" I asked her. She must have been about nine or ten at the time, sitting in the back seat of the car as I drove on a major road in our town.

"Yea, I remember. That's when you called out, "Jesus!" and we never got hit by the cars coming at us. That was really cool."

"You weren't afraid when it was happening, when the car was spinning out of control on the ice and the other cars were heading straight for us?"

"Oh no," she said calmly. "I knew we were going to be fine. I had faith. And I heard you pray."

Well, my prayer had been one word- the name of Jesus. It was a plea for His protection all summed up in His name yelled out in a mother's worst nightmare- spinning car out of control, cars heading toward us, cars right behind me. I had cried out His name, closing my eyes, and then the next thing we knew, after spinning in circles, we opened our eyes to see all the cars miraculously stopped around us. No one had hit us. One person got out of their car and said, "Lady, That was a miracle you didn't get hit."

That was a miracle, alright. But it was also a miracle, in my mind, that my daughter was not frightened, terrorized by the near catastrophe we were heading for. She actually saw it as a good experience- one where God showed up, intervened on our behalf, and did what we couldn't do: made it all turn out okay. If she can build on that conviction that God is with her, no matter what, she will be in good shape, faith wise.

I'm thankful for that experience. I was scared, half out of my mind, as it was happening. I still remember that helpless feeling of seeing major trouble heading straight toward me and knowing I could do nothing- except call out His Name.

My daughter saw the situation differently. She saw God moving faster than the cars that were heading toward us; God moving so fast to help us that she was filled with awe and wonder at what He did. He won't always intervene immediately to get us out of trouble. He may walk us through some troubling times.

But our faith should always enlarge so that we can "see" God at work in all the many ways He does reach out- sometimes literally- to show us how much He cares.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Things We Have to Know

It's a winter storm, and my kids are rejoicing at the thought of no school tomorrow if things keep up the way they are. Saturday was the calm before the storm, literally. I ran around all day yesterday, shopping for gifts, getting gas, grocery shopping, coming home, finally, at supper time. Bill wound up having to work all day Saturday. A client wants their remodeling project done before Christmas guests arrive. Bill came home just as I did, feeling exhausted and un-party-like, so we sent our regrets to the Open House we had been invited to. Then we all holed up at home. Let the storm come, we thought.

We couldn't get out of the driveway to make it to church this morning, and wound up having our own service at home. Alex brought up his guitars and amp, Abby took out sheet music, and Bill led worship. We sang some of my favorite songs that we had not sung in a long time. We were loud, slightly off-key, and passionate about what we sang. Then I read a passage from My Utmost for His Highest, December 15th's devotion. The text was about diligently customizing your message of your experience of the truth of God's Word so that people can learn from you when you share. It was an interesting way of looking at 2 Timothy 2:15.

"But you must be willing to go through God's winepress where the grapes are crushed. You must struggle, experiment, and rehearse your words to express God's truth clearly. Then the time will come when that expression will become God's wine of strength to someone else."

Unless, of course, "that expression" of truth gets lost in your story line. I got home from all my running around Saturday, and checked the answering machine to find a strange message from my older sister, Kris.

"Laur, I need to talk to you," she says in a quiet, serious voice. "I have a question I need to ask you."

I felt concerned at her sober tone of voice. Kris is not exactly "chatty cathy", and rarely calls me to just chat about nothing in particular. So I called her back, feeling a bit worried about her message.

"Oh, I just wanted to ask you about something you wrote on your blog post, "Now You're Getting Somewhere," she said calmly as I took a deep breath and exhaled in relief.

"I wanted to know who was it that visited you in the hospital. I'm trying to remember the guys you dated, and I can't think of who it was," she said in a concerned voice.

"That's what you needed to talk to me about?!" I yelled at her with a smile on my face. "Oh, alright. By the way, I never said I was in the hospital. But you're right. It was when I had that minor operation on my tail bone," I said, and then proceeded to tell her the old boyfriend's name.

"But you weren't supposed to be focused on the visiting ex-boyfriend," I said indignantly. "You were supposed to be getting the important message that sometimes we need feedback, even if it's negative feedback."

"Yea, I know. But I was too curious about who you were talking about to concentrate on your message," she said and then we laughed.

So much for my serious expression of truth becoming "God's wine of strength" to her!

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Colors of Friendship

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What an interesting day yesterday was. I reflected on the value of constructive criticism, and then when I visited over at Angie's blog, , I found out she nominated me for an award, The Colors of Friendship. What a darling she is.

I have met so many people from all over the world through the blogosphere. It's been a beautiful, colorful journey. I have loved "meeting" all you folks who stop by here at Faith Fuel. People from every race and nation are chatting with each other through the means of blogging. Words of encouragement and even prayers are being offered up as people meet one another, hear each other's story, stay with someone through a difficult season, or even stop by certain blogs known to give you a reason to laugh.

Here at Faith Fuel, my hope is that you find refreshing and refueling for your soul. If I could make that fireplace widget at the top of my blog really give out warmth and light, I would so love for people to really be able to warm themselves by the fire. But since the only thing that "works" on this blog is the words that appear suddenly, I endeavor to make every word here count. Notice I said I endeavor- I don't always succeed.

But here's a couple people who I know who are also trying to speak words of light and life because God has so touched their own life that they need to let the world know. These blogs deserve the colors of friendship award- among so many others who should all receive the award as well:

I'm just starting with four here, but there's so many more. And you know who you are!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Now You're Getting Somewhere

I just sent off an email to someone, thanking them for their thorough critique. Their critique was not a positive assessment of my book proposal. It pointed out several weak points. It was specific and detailed. Initially I felt defeated and deflated. Then a strange sense of delight came over me as the day went on.

Someone took the time to inform me of their valuable judgment and their seasoned viewpoint. I was amazed at how much time this agent took to explain to me what he saw lacking in my proposal. If someone takes the time, a full page at that, to go through your proposal and point out all the things that are wrong, that's a good thing. It's called feedback. Now I know what's wrong with that particular proposal.

Makes me remember a relationship I had in my dating days. I had dated this guy, a generous soul, but had not invested much of myself in the relationship. I broke up with him without giving him much of a reason. But then a year or so later, I was at a low point in my life, floundering and falling, and reconsidering the type of person I should be drawn to. He came back into my life all of a sudden, visiting me one day as I was recovering from an illness. I think he brought me flowers. I don't remember because all I cared about was seeing his smiling face when he came into the room. But the smile eventually turned to a look of pain and confusion. He stood there awkwardly, chatting with me, his eyes looking around the room and then coming back to rest on me. Then he would look down.

I don't remember how he had gotten in touch with me again. All I know was that he was in the room, and yet I could tell he suddenly didn't want to be there, after all. We spoke of nothing and of everything. I didn't say a word about my own conflicted feelings. When I did not see him again after that, all I could remember feeling was...confused. Our relationship had already been over before he came back again, briefly, into my life. Did he come back out of concern for me? Guilt? Regret that we had ended things? In hope of resurrecting our relationship?

This book proposal of mine that got thoroughly critiqued received something that my relationship with this guy never did- an answer, painful as it may be. I obviously knew this relationship was completely over when he never called again. But I would have liked to know what went wrong, where I failed, or when his feelings died and why. Maybe he sensed my instability and my inability to focus on anything and anyone but myself. I would have benefited if he had spoken the plain, ugly truth to me.

Since this agent did just that, I was able to put death a particular proposal without putting to death my dream of writing a book. After I read his critique, nodding my head up and down in sad agreement, I mentally closed up shop on that proposal. I already knew that it was not right. Now I had confirmation.

Sometimes the best thing you can do feels the worst while you are letting it go. But then a feeling of lightness and truth comes in and sweeps out the decaying matter, leaving you with a sense of relief and mysterious happiness. You are done with something that was going nowhere. Now that you're done with that, the things in your life that are going somewhere have their chance at taking a deep breath and getting infused with life instead of receiving leftover small puffs of air. It's better to know the final end of a matter than to be busily en route to Nowhere.

That relationship, that struggling business that you launched for the wrong reasons, or in my case, that particular book proposal, needs feedback. It's tortured, flailing, floundering existence should have already signaled to us its demise. The problem is you and I did not like the signal it was giving us. We wanted to see a green light where instead it was red. We can go ahead, press on the gas and keep trying to make that red light become green, but any crash that ultimately results is a needless occurrence. Instead of a crash, we could have had a quiet, dignified funeral of that faulty particular dream.

There's a time to search, and a time to give up, according to the book of Ecclesiastes. That's what a critique will help you discern- what season you're in, what the quality of your dream is, or what its prospects are. It is not getting negative feedback that determines whether we let something go. It is, rather, the honest, at cost, feedback from someone who has rather distinct insight into your situation or dream. They're not God, they don't know the future, and they're not dream killers. They are just people who decide to tell you what you have asked to hear- an evaluation, a critique, an honest summary of what you have presented to them.

Give me a truthful No, give me a detailed explanation of what went wrong, tell me why this relationship or project is flawed, and strangely, I have something to go on. You can go onward after a negative assessment, after a No.

It's an odd appreciation, not of the Affirmative,but of the Negative. My mother would always sing this song to us, admonishing us to look for the positive: "You've got to accent-u-ate the positive, elim-in-ate the Negative, and latch on to the Affirmative, Don't mess with Mister In Between".

But that song is wrong. I know too many people ignoring the No's, throwing out any negative feedback or any critique that hurts. Eliminate the negative? That's impossible. And it's not needed, anyhow.

You want the negative feedback and the truthful reality of where you are. Just receive a failing grade in a class you thought reflected your future? You want to look at that feedback. A boyfriend that haltingly tells you where you don't fit into his life? You want to listen to his words, however painful they are. Have a friend that is telling you that you are selfishly throwing away your marriage vows? Listen to that person's description of how you are acting. Listen to that negative critique. Assess what it is saying to you. You don't have to swallow it whole. But do check out whether there are some valid points there.

I see some Yes's and some No's in my life right now. I am listening to the No's- not welcoming them artificially with open arms but accepting them; accepting that they are there and they have something to say to me. To consider the negative critique means to hear and see something that will impact your life. It won't be necessarily straightforward in application. You may have to find the hidden gold in that No.

My natural, initial response is "I don't want to hear it." But if I determine that I must not ignore what I so desperately need, I resolve to not only hear it out, but to actually benefit, yes, from the painful critique that I hear.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Unfinished Business

I am waking up in the morning, these last couple days, with a head heavy with fragments of dreams and unfinished thoughts. I've obviously been trying to mentally process a lot of unfinished business.

Last night we sat watching our daughter sing at her Christmas concert. She was radiant and beautiful, but of course, we are biased. We are also exhausted. Bill is physically tired, all the time. He looks better at 48 then he did at 28, bulging with muscles and finding his shirts too tight on the arms. That's what comes from hard, heavy labor, from swinging a hammer, from holding up sheet rock, from construction and remodeling. After dinner, he is usually falling asleep on the couch by 7pm. I don't begrudge him a single moment of that blessed rest.

The only muscles in my body that are tired are my mental muscles. My brain. I am mentally weary, right now. Perhaps even emotionally weary. I have been taking in a lot of info, but not really responsible to decide anything by what I hear. Listening is hard work. Listening means hearing something but not always having something you can do about what you hear.

So this morning, after I got everyone off, and Harry threw his toy around the room in an unusual burst of energy, I walked around my little house, hearing the icy rain come down, feeling so utterly grateful for the silence. And even feeling thankful for my little house.

I have not always been thankful for where I live. I never liked this house. I barely looked around in it when we told the realtor, two and half years ago, "We want to make an offer on it."

We had just returned from a year living in North Carolina- a type of sabbatical we had created for ourselves. It was a year where we delighted in southern warmth and graciousness, hated living in a house rental, and tried to find if down there might be a path for us that continued onward. When we returned to the great northeast (hear my sarcasm?), the housing market was hot and heavy. Crazy, really. We knew enough about housing values to not try to compete and pay top dollar for something that would decrease in value within a year or two.

So when we found our ugly ranch for sale, and found out the low asking price, we thought this could work. We spent more time looking around the full walk-out basement than we did looking at the ugly upstairs, because this is where the potential was. This is where we would do something, where we would finish off the lower level and create a little extra space for us to breathe.

Two and half years later, it looks like a warm, rustic retreat in the woods. Turkeys and deer cross our back yard. Squirrels frolic and birds fly from tree to tree to tree. It is my own personal retreat center. Not my dream house.Not my spacious place to stretch out in- but it is home. We've lived here longer than we thought we would because we have not sensed it was time to go on to another remodeling project.

Waiting is hard work. Waiting to do something significant and meaningful can feel like an elephant sitting on your chest or like a muscle man holding back your arms. But there's always work to be done while waiting.

Even if you are waiting for an opened door, a sign from God, a way to go, there is still unfinished business to attend to. I'm not just talking about filing, sorting and organizing. (I have come to hate that word- organization. Too much is praised as being organized. An organized life- what is that?! An organized family- I've never met one. I've only met people who think their life is tidy and organized. They are, though, just one step away from a sudden turn in the road that throws their planning out the door and opens them up to the unknown).

Unfinished business can include settling your own thoughts about a relationship, deciding how to view yourself in light of something or someone who might make you feel not so sure of yourself or your freedom. Maybe it includes finally deciding how you will "redeem the time" while you are waiting for an open door.

Some of the most determined people I know don't go around saying how determined they are. They just wear a look on the face that says I mean business. My kids have seen me wear that look. When their playful taunting of me enters into a different territory, watch out. No matter how weary I get, don't press me too far in disrespecting me. I'm your mother. I may be petite but I mean business!!

Now I'm not sure what unfinished business I have to take care of. I only know that I do have some to deal with. I can tell because I am walking slower, dreading certain encounters, and not wanting to talk much. I am very conscious of my sub- conscious understanding that there is a cost for declaring your priorities, your values, your progress that you intend to make. The progress includes walking away from any falsehood, especially lying to yourself. The truth will set you free, but it will also catapult you into new territory that you already know is rough terrain. Not impossible terrain, but rough, uneven.

I found this passage in the Message version of the Bible. It says what I'm dealing with, what my heart longs for:

Barricade the road that goes Nowhere;
grace me with your clear revelation.
I choose the true road to Somewhere,
I post your road signs at every curve and corner.
I grasp and cling to whatever you tell me;
God, don't let me down!
I'll run the course you lay out for me
if you'll just show me how.
Psalm 119:29-32

When you deal with things that hold you back, you wind up walking or even running in the path of His commands. Graced with clear revelation, you decide to deal with things that must be dealt with, so that you can walk a step farther on the true road to Somewhere.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

That's Progress

"Too much information, Mom" Alex told me yesterday, frustrated with my lengthy diatribe.

I don't know why I have to keep learning this, but my teenage son does not do any better, become any more productive, by the information I provide to him. If I remind him that it's critical he complete college applications right now, or that lack of scholarships and grants will keep him from getting to college, or that he needs to increase his GPA to get considered for scholarships, it's all "too much information" for him. Even if it's accurate info, even if it's all part of reality, it doesn't help to tell him any of these things. It doesn't motivate him. It just makes me feel like I've discharged my responsibility to tell him. It makes me feel like maybe I am somehow accomplishing something by telling him these things.

This last week as we have gotten closer to Christmas, I have fallen behind in accomplishing what I should be accomplishing: sticking to detailed lists, menu planning, shopping for gifts, getting a dress for a wedding we are going to, filing an overload of paper work and bills. (These are not tough things to do, but nor are they the only things I have to do). I know I have to do these things. But knowing what I have to do is not motivating me. Information, alone, does not help.

I'm convinced that's why these last number of years, stress is at an all time high for most people. We are consistently flooded with information, details, emails, and constant phone calls from every kind of hip device. Flooded with information and details.

What we're not flooded with is what we crave: hugs from loved ones telling us "it will be alright", laughter and joking with a friend as you paint your toe nails, long leisurely meals around a table laden with home cooked delights, evenings with good friends where you talk long into the night. Some of us are experiencing these things, occasionally, but I daresay, most of us are not. At least we're not experiencing these heart-boosters as much as we'd like.

Information supposedly helps us get things done. We run around and try to accomplish things, following sales fliers that point to the best sales, or getting email reminders of appointments we need to go to. If we're in motion, we think we are en route. Many of us are in motion, but not in a state of peace.

"It's important for us to separate motion from progress," writes Robert A. Schuller.

Progress, for me, would be to bake those Christmas cookies with my daughter and actually get to the part where we frost them, decorate them with lots of sprinkles and chocolate chips, while making a mess of the kitchen. Making the mess, not cleaning it up, would be progress. Progress would be me thinking about telling my son some instruction and then deciding, Nah, don't waste your time, Lauren. Let him figure it out. It would be me smiling at him, with the grin of a Cheshire cat, and my son wondering why I am not saying a single, blessed word.

Progress would be me turning off the computer promptly at 7pm. Defiantly turning off the flow of information. And then taking the time to boil water, make a pot of hot tea, set up a tray, and bring it to my bed where any family member can come by and have a cup of tea while cuddling with Harry, our dog- who is always lying on my bed. If you want quality time with him, you must adapt to his preferred location and posture.

I just have to get very purposeful about what I will not do. I will not do it all (that's for sure). I will not be super mom. I will not win awards for organization. And most of all, I will not handle it all.

Now, I realize some people need to take on a bit more responsibility, or get a bit more purposeful in their actions. But most of us tend to do too much, or at least deal with so much that we are thinking if we only do a bit more, somehow we will get to the "it's all done" state that we long for.

We will never get to the point where everything is neatly in place, settled permanently and perfectly. We might get to that beautiful state of inner peace and rest- but only if we survey the bit of mess around us and take that sip of tea while deciding that a little mess is appropriate. It signifies you- purposely living with imperfection- because you have to, in this life.

Monday, December 10, 2007

I've Been Tagged

I've been tagged by week actually).

I'm supposed to write five (5) things about myself that you may not know- some random or weird things. Supposedly this thing is called a "MEME" but I don't even know what that means or what it is. Makes me think of a mime or something- and that's not something I do. (I like using words and I never run out of them. Ask my teenage son and he'll tell you with a pained expression how true that is!)

But here's five things about me that you should know:

1. Back in second grade I was in love with a boy who had red hair,freckles and several teeth missing- and that's the last time I have ever felt attracted to a male looking like that! (It's more the missing teeth thing, not the red hair. Honestly. I just love red haired people- they're firery, or at least they've been known to be that way due to the color of their hair).

2. I cut my own hair. I have a problem going to a hair stylist, paying lots of money, and coming out of there only to come home, look in the mirror and see how uneven it is, or how awful I look. I probably should have just upgraded to a fancier hair stylist, but I just don't like spending money on things like that.

3. I cut my hair...too often and too much. It's becoming an illness. Or at least my husband thinks it is. To the point that the kids are also locking up the scissors and measuring out fines if they catch me with the scissors in my hand and the mirror before me!

4. My husband and I would love to have an apple orchard someday. Or a vineyard. I would wear birkenstocks, jeans and an old sweater, and forgo make up, and roam the hills of my vineyard, or the orchard, and I would be free as a bird- until my husband called me to do the chores with him!

5. If I could invite five famous or historic people to dinner, I would invite:
C.S. Lewis, the Apostle Paul, Dr. Phil, Edith Schaeffer (wife of the Francis Schaeffer), and John Wimber (founder of the Vineyard Movement/denomination). We would have an incredible conversation, and I believe it would be rousing, riotous, and ripe with ideas for going forward in life. And you all would be invited to drop in for dessert (and if you're so inclined, please bring cheesecake, tiramisu, and blueberry pie- those are my favorites!)

And now, if anyone wants to be tagged, consider yourself tagged!

Friday, December 07, 2007

Your Resevoir

My husband, Bill, gave our 17 year old son his main Christmas present early this year. Alex had to help my husband pick it out- it was a bunch of complex computer parts. They're building another computer. Alex knows the ins and outs of a computer like an internist knows the internal organs of the human body.

I, on the other hand, know nothing about how computers work, how to even down load photos. I can't even say "it's all Greek to me" because I actually took Koine (Biblical) Greek in college, and did well with it. But computer parts, computer "anything"- I do not understand at all. I have to get my son to help me with almost every thing I do on my computer- except for the writing. The words, the many words here, are always all mine. (My husband, my son and my best friend Mu wonder where I get all these words from, and I tell them, "Oh, the world within me. You have no idea!")

Sometimes when Bill and Alex are discussing computer components they're buying, I'll feign expertise in the matter and interrupt their conversation with "Yea, I know. My ram is all filled with j.pegs and I have to download my widget to maximize the hard drive so that the mega pixels and the motherboard get along with the peripherals and then the CPU won't be so floppy." Alex will look at me with one eyebrow raised and sigh, "Mom, you're not funny" as though I have insulted the computer world with my gross ignorance and misuse of the technical language.

I have no interest in learning anything about computer components. I just want to turn on my lap top and press the keys and start going. When I run into a problem, I'll yell for my son. He'll come up from his lair, downstairs, and come over to where I'm working. He'll start to tell me all these technical things. I'll put my hands over my ears and close my eyes like a petulant child and yell out, "I'm not listening! I'm not listening!" I am so right brained that if any left brain info gets into my head it may confuse me. I already have memory problems and hearing problems- I don't want my brain to get mixed up anymore than what it is.

But problems, crises and life's challenges, I understand. Not that I understand why they occur, or how they fit into God's plan exactly, or why they have to be so vicious sometimes, but just that they occur.

Last night at the Women's LIFE Workshop I teach at church, our leadership team gathered the women into groups at the mid point ministry time. We broke up into three groups where women could choose what their experience, this Christmas season, was about: Group A was having an Awesome time, and they should celebrate and whoop it up, I told them. Group B was having a Bit of a Battle this Christmas, their stress levels were high, and they needed to talk about it- whether its problems with relatives, stress on the job, trying to deal with a blended family.

Then there was group C. "You're in a crisis," I told them. "There's no other way to describe what you're dealing with. It could be hospitalization of a loved one, the unemployment line you're standing in, or the excruciating sudden loneliness you're facing." We had a lot of women in Group B, some women in Group A who were laughing together, and four women who came over to group C. They could barely talk about what they were going through. One woman said to me, as she began to share, "Now, I know this won't shock you. I can tell you know how it is, how it really is." And she began to share.

I may not understand a thing about computers but I do know about life's challenges. I don't experientially know about every single life problem there is, but I do know that they exist, and that you have no idea how bad it is, sometimes, for some people. What they carry, what they're going through- it can drop your heart into the ground.

I looked at these women in group C and felt such awe and respect for them. How could one bear up under such trials, such circumstances of crisis and constant battle? My first reaction when I hear of such crisis is to gather the troops and pray. Pray! Then my next reaction, after listening to them let it all out, is to hold their hand tightly.

I know they're on a long hard journey. Sometimes I feel a bit mad at God that He would take them on such a hard journey. Take them, or "allow them" - whatever the word, whatever the plan is (Is God causing it? Is He allowing it? Is He ready to mightily intervene?), I'm not happy with the rough terrain that God thinks we can traverse.

But every time I have ever gripped a woman's hand in silent agreement that life is hard and that our faith is about to be given the chance to arise, I remember what I have traveled through. I think of the pockets of despair, the places I have lived (not wanting to remember some of the places), the loneliness, the medical crises, the financial instability and the failures. Failures, as in it didn't work out. Failures as in, you don't look so good right now. But my failures and crises of the past connect me to the women more so than my past seasons of success do.

"...God designed you for the journey of your life...(but)...God designs you by the journey as well" writes Robert A. Schuller in his new book, Walking in Your Own Shoes.

Designed and shaped by what I go through, and prepared for what I will go through- that's all God's doing. My only doing is to keep watch over my internal core temperature, my heart. I learned about this term just the other night when my son's newly built computer was screeching this high pitched beeping sound over and over.

"The internal core temperature is rising, "my husband said to Alex, as they bent their heads over the computer to diagnose what should be done.

Now I would not know what should be done for that computer, just as I don't know what should be done for each person I come into contact with who has a crisis or a big problem to deal with. I know little about the mysterious sovereign plan of God. I only know that He says He will work things together for good.

"And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." Romans 8:28

Maybe one thing He is doing to work it all together, to weave the pain into the gain, is to utilize everything- every snare and ever tear, every time we were beat up or fed up or gave up- for His purpose. Purpose is almost too big of a word for me to tackle. I just know that it's bigger and higher than what my mind can get around.

"By tomorrow, the life you are living today is going to be part of your past. It is going to be part of that ever-increasing reservoir of experiences and knowledge you will draw on when you step into the future."

How painful our past is varies with each person. But we all have a future. We all have something profoundly amazing that we're about to step into. And that's something that I do understand- that today and tomorrow are before me. The past is not forgotten, but it is behind me. It's behind me as a reservoir that I can draw upon- draw upon not only the good, but more so, the painful trials, that no matter how debilitating, could not hold me back from... this new day.

**Want to share
which Group you are in this Christmas? Leave a comment- and let's share. Group A, B, or C?

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Just a Reminder

I picked up an ornament, yesterday, at a little thrift shop. 25 cents for a beautiful, heavy glass mini snow globe hanging from a silver cord. How could you go wrong with that?! I showed it to Bill and the kids and they smiled. Nice reaction. But nothing earth shattering.

But one time, in a Christmas long ago, (I feel like a grandma in a rocker telling my chilluns all about the good ole days), there was an ornament that caused a powerful, beautiful, healing reaction. This ornament was simple. Nothing fancy, but it was a reminder of love. And we all need those reminders ...sometimes we need them more than we realize.

I don't even remember which year it was exactly. I do remember, though, that it was the year after our dog, our Springer Spaniel, Ginger, had died. We had enjoyed her loving company for over twelve years. We had grown up with her. She had witnessed our family fights and our joyous celebrations.

She had one time saved my Mom from going down a raging river. Actually it was just a creek with a fast current and the dog swam out to my Mom who had started to flounder a bit. My mom grabbed onto Ginger's collar and Ginger swam back towards shore. We just like to summarize the whole account by saying she saved mom's life.

Ginger also picked up a wounded pheasant, one day. She jumped onto the closed tent trailer parked in our backyard and laid the wounded bird on the roof. Then she waited there for us to notice her accomplishment. When she waited for us to notice her, she waited patiently. Sometimes she waited a long time.

Ginger was the one thing my Dad and my older sister had in common: they both loved that dog. I think Kris was the one who had to take her to dog obedience classes, when we first got Ginger as a puppy. Dad had a lot on his plate, as a teacher and a coach, and the father of five kids. Ginger, once in a while, was work. She had to be walked. She had to be brushed. Dad felt like the father of six, sometimes- only one of the six was especially obedient. Never talked back. Did not go through a painful adolescence. Never got angry or hurt because of lack of attention.

I don't even want to remember my chaotic teenage years, much less the years that three of us girls were teenagers together, under the same roof, with a weary but determined father, a loving but exhausted mother, and one dog who witnessed the highs and lows of our days. (My brothers were off at college, by now). This dog witnessed the clashes between my sister and my Dad. Ginger watched silently.

One day, Ginger was not there anymore. We all said little and tried not to think about how we missed her.

Then, it was Christmas. It was time to put up the tree. I was helping to unpack the ornaments and handing them to my sister who was handing them to my Dad to put on the tree. I got to one box, and pulled out a simple ornament, a rendition of our dog, Ginger. I handed it to Kris. She looked at it quietly and then handed it to Dad. Dad looked down and saw that it was Ginger's ornament. He looked at Kris, and his eyes filled up. Kris came over to Dad and hugged him. They held each other as they broke down. I heard them whisper something to each other about how they missed that dog.

That dog- who had been with us through thick and thin. Through highs and lows. That dog was a reminder that we were connected together, whether we liked it or not. Now that the sound of her joyous barking was gone, and there were no brown eyes looking quietly at you, waiting for a treat- there was still something left of her in our home.

Her ornament declared the message that love watches and love waits patiently. Waits for an open door. Sometimes a bridge of reconciliation can occur, even over a little thing... such as a reminder of love hanging on a Christmas tree.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Following Yonder Star

Christmas has been a a rather quiet celebration, for me, these last twenty three years of marriage. Quiet, in comparison. Before I married my husband, and then had two children, Christmas with my parents and siblings was always a bit more boisterous, chaotic and celebrative. Did I emphasize chaotic? With five kids, a dog and two parents- one German sauerbraten cooking mother and a Latin Saturday morning pancake slinging father- it was wonderfully chaotic.

We were diverse in temperament, personality, weaknesses, strengths. We were a volatile lot. My oldest brother was a choleric drill sergeant from the moment he was born- he later became a colonel in the Army. The second oldest, my brother Mark, was a gentle soul, artistic, talented and basically a rescuer- at least he rescued me from my older brother who would march me around the house in practise drills. Then there were we three girls. (I won't even go there). Last, but not least, the most Christian of us all- our dog, our Springer Spaniel, Ginger. My Dad used to say she was the most Christ-like of us all because she was so patient, and long suffering.

There we all would be, on Christmas Eve at home. We'd sing Christmas carols after having gone to church. We had to do our own version of these Carols. Without an organ, without a guitar, we would gather in the family room and sing. One Christmas carol in particular, had to be sung. It had to.

It was “We three Kings”. And it was predominantly sung by my Dad and my brothers. Joe could sing loudly and clearly, and Mark could quietly carry a tune. But my Dad sounded like a bull frog going through puberty. Maybe that's why we loved hearing them sing this carol.

We all would sing verse one together-

We three kings of Orient are,
Bearing gifts we traverse afar,
Field and fountain, morr and mountain,
Following yonder Star.

Joe would do verse two, singing confidently and a bit braggadociously. Then they'd all do the chorus. Mark would sing verse three, after some prodding. Then the chorus again.

Then, verse four- it was my Dad's turn to sing. We all would hold our breath and wait for his deep, low mournful voice to sing those beautiful, tragic words:

Myrrh is mine; its bitter perfume
Breathes a life of gathering gloom;
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying,
Seal'd in the stone-cold tomb.

That's always when we would remember, not with joy and feasting, but with awe and wonder, what Christ came to earth to do- to die for us. Sometimes there would be a solemn hush in the room as Dad sang his verse. Some years we would burst our laughing as Dad croaked his way through the song. And some years, if it had been a hard, long, bittersweet year, Dad would cry as he sang the verse and our eyes would well up with tears.

Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying- sometimes some of us know that experience all too well. But then again, our Savior knows that experience. More than anyone.

Then the triumphant end of the song would come, with a burst, with a shout almost, as all of us- the girls included- would join in with the last round of the chorus:

O, star of wonder, star of might,
Star with royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Guide us to the perfect light.

He's guiding us....still. Out of darkness, and always into the light.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

On the Brink of Something

Mu called me early this morning, after we had gotten our kids and husbands out the door. We planned where we should meet for morning coffee and battle strategizing.

"I love the coffee at the bistro but they don't serve eggs there," I lamented.

"The atmosphere is good there, but I wish they would have bagels. I've mentioned it to them but they haven't taken the hint" she said with a tone of frustration. "The only thing that really gets me up in arms is when people don't give appropriate homage to food."

We then agreed to rush through a shower and meet at 9am at an alternate location. This place had a fireplace, okay coffee, and scored a 6 on atmosphere. We'll take it.

So we met. We talked. We laughed. I admitted where I was struggling in my attitude. "You've got a lot of internal conflict, you know that?" she said with a concerned look on her face as though maybe I should be eating more spinach and then the iron would fortify me and I would be more resolute, stable. We then talked about a decision she was contemplating making. Did I say contemplating? Mu does a lot of that. I have to encourage her to get to the "making" part of decision making. We never did bother to refill our coffee cups because we were too engrossed in our conversation.

Good conversation seems to come with an inordinate amount of trust- and trust can only be earned. It can never be commanded or expected. I trust Mu. I never labor when I'm with her. I never try to think of a way to perfectly express something so that she understands. She understands my words, my meaning, my silences, my looks. Oh, the looks we give each other, and then we burst out laughing. She knows what I mean even by one eyebrow raised, hand waving in the air, my right foot constantly tapping the ground. I don't even know what I mean by that- but she does!!

She came into my life 7 years ago and I wasn't even directly, specifically, asking for a best friend. I know God must have seen that I needed one, but I never made a specific goal chart with a check off list on how to find a best friend. I was conscious of my need for a friend, and I took one tiny step one day, inviting her to go shopping with me, but then the rest, as they say, is history.

Yes, I had a bit of a choice in the matter. I had eyes to see, so to speak, that she was there, and for some reason I saw something in her that made me dare to make an attempt to get together. I never expected the friendship of my life to occur. I never expected a friend who sticks closer than a brother. I just made a couple of small choices - noticed her, invited her, and opened up a teeny tiny bit. Just a tiny bit. But then each time we got together I found there was reason for me to open up even more.

I had every reason to fear she could betray me or be two faced, at some point- because I had known girls like that growing up, and then young women like that. I've known Christians who dare to act like they would never hurt you but are so unaware that they have the potential to do so. The fact they do not realize how low they could go is what scares me about people like that. We should all know , as the apostle Paul did, that we are the worst of sinners. We should be realistic about our shortcomings, our mixed motivations, our potential to avoid truth and to fudge and to hedge and to paint better pictures of ourselves than what is real.

But every time we make a choice to invest in an endeavor, in a person, in a relationship, we are on the brink of something. What that is- I don't know. It could be something great or it could be something painful. I've had some painful relationships, some terrible "friendships" and I could have made the choice to never go "there" again.

Fortunately when I met Mu, I did not have to choose to become best friends with her. I just had to choose to take the next step and see what happens. I never even knew the first couple years we were friends that we were becoming best friends. Thats what some miracles are like- you can't even tell when they're happening, at first.

Fear often precedes a miracle. That's probably what Lori Smith would say, author of A Walk with Jane Austen. She delved into the world of Jane Austen, traveling through the English landscape and personally connecting with the famous author through similar observations, experiences, questions, and trials.

"There are always fears. Maybe for some people there aren't, but I am not one of those people. C.S. Lewis said every time you make a decision, you change the central part of you that chooses... Every time you make a decision- to live your life, to do the things that call you- you change what you are likely to do the next time you have a choice," Smith writes.

The next time I have a choice to make it could be a miracle-in-the-making. Each time I decide to take just one more step, my life changes radically. I may not be able to tell, in that very moment I choose something. I can't even take credit for it- because I didn't even know it was a miracle that I took a step towards.