Tuesday, October 30, 2007

When You're Ready

There's another marriage event, a "weekend to remember" that our church is hosting. I'm sure it will be a wonderful time for many. But I think I have an abnormal reaction to these kinds of things. Neither my husband nor I like to go on these marriage enrichment weekends- but for different reasons. He just thinks our marriage is already "enriched". He may be right.

I don't want to go on one of those weekends, though, because I have a terrible taste in my mouth from anything relating to forced, planned communication, marital or otherwise. And that bad taste in my mouth comes not from me having gone on a marriage retreat, but from my parents having gone on one. Years ago. Our family was never the same after that.

My father learned about this technique called "dialoging" when he and my mom went on a Marriage Encounter weekend. This technique- of writing out what you felt, reading it to your spouse, and then listening to what they read to you- was supposed to be a dynamic tool for helping improve communication, peace, and marital stability. So my Dad figured - what's good for a marriage should be good for a whole family.

From the time of their return from this marriage weekend, our large family of five children and two parents then began periodic "assemblies" around the kitchen table where we were supposed to share openly, read out loud and share our deepest feelings. This was supposed to conclude in bonding, tears of forgiveness, and increased camaraderie. But it didn't. At least, not from my point of view. These were rather upsetting times for me, once in a while punctuated with a bit of bonding and forgiveness, but more often than not- no. Really, it was a mess of a scene. We tried this "dialoging" thing many times. I don't know- maybe it did clear the air, a bit. Maybe it aired out our inner chambers of resentment and hurt. I'm just not so sure it was helpful. But you have to give my Dad and Mom credit- they tried. It's just that I don't think you can force these times of bonding and openness to occur, simply by announcing that you're calling for it to happen.

So that's why you would have to drag me kicking and screaming to one of these marriage encounter weekends! Now, you might be confused about my stance here. Didn't I just write about authenticity,communication ,and sharing your emotions and feelings- yesterday? Yes, I did. I believe in being open and in setting a tone in our home where we're not shocked easily by expressions of doubt or controversial viewpoints. I believe in letting kids share what they feel, and what they see as hypocrisy in the Church or, gulp, in your life. I might cringe as I hear it- but the truth should be told.

But we can't call a meeting and announce that we ALL will NOW share what's on our heart- like it or not. Cause you'll see me high tailin' it outta there in a flash. (Now that I am able to leave the table without first asking to be excused). I have to be prepared to not only share with you, but I have to count the cost for what I'm going to share. I have to be ready to live with the aired truth, as well as the reaction to what I say.

Sometimes I don't even want to know what I think. I might be in the midst of formulating my opinion. I don't want to conclude prematurely and incorrectly something that could have been viewed differently if I considered longer all the aspects of the scene. I want to discuss all that I think and feel with...God, first. He can help me sort out the truth of not only what I'm dealing with, but what I'm feeling.

I still think my Dad was gutsy for what he tried to do with us. As I mentioned, we lived in a time period where open sharing, honest discussion, conveyance of doubt and fear, was not occurring- as a norm. Our own family went from periods of denial to periods where we tried to "be real". It's just that nobody is ever really ready for what "real" sharing can bring.

"When you're ready, you can tell us what you think, what you feel." That may possibly be the best thing we can tell our kids or our spouse or our best friend. When you're ready, I will be here. But to be honest, while your loved one gets ready to share, you may want to prepare for the truth of what they feel. Good, bad, or ugly. You may not be prepared to hear it. But I know Someone who always is.

"From the end of the earth, I will call to you, when my heart is overwhelmed. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I." (Ps 61:2) When you're taking it all to the Lord, in prayer, He can handle it ALL perfectly, capably. You never have to ask God, are you ready to hear what I really think? What I'm really feeling?

And so for that, when heaven reminds me every morning that the throne room is open and consultations are freely given, I go....running....towards Him. And there is nothing abnormal about that. It's the healthiest of responses, I think.

But then again, that's coming from a woman who will not, I repeat,- will not- go to a marriage encounter weekend. Pray for me.

I've got some "issues" I have to work on(!)

Monday, October 29, 2007


Now that my husband is back (from the men's retreat this weekend), I have someone to talk to in the early morning, over hot steaming mugs of coffee. When I hear myself talk to my husband- when I hear what I have to say- I realize that I'm processing a lot. It's the way my mind works. I'm glad my husband can handle the fact that I always have something to say. (He knew what he was getting into when he first dated me- I was not the silent type, even back then).

But I was as a child. Perhaps I am making up for a childhood where I kept so much inside of me, other than the bit I revealed to my secret diary that I named "Holly". Holly was my imaginary, best friend- never shocked at what I had to say, never surprised by the vehemence of my feelings. She was the best "friend" a girl could have. She could handle it all- hook, line and sinker. And I did a lot of sinking in those days.

As I prepare to teach this month's Women's LIFE workshop at my church, I am addressing the topic of "Runaway Emotions". Nothing major- just addressing the reality of fear, anxiety, depression, happiness, jealousy, euphoria, shame, confusion.....all part of the Christian's life.

Yes, in spite of the fact that you know the Creator and Savior of the World, you are still a person with emotional reactions to many things. And emotions don't quietly subdue themselves at the singing of a hymn in church. Emotions don't disappear at the sound of a Bible opening. No, you've got to deal with them. Or at least find someone who can deal with them. The perfect person, of course, who can handle it all is God Himself. "Casting ALL your care upon Him, for He cares for you." (1 Peter 5:7) He can handle your runaway emotions- and not even be flabbergasted by the depth and the range of what you feel.

I did not have that as a basic premise back when I was a child. Few people even discussed the word "authenticity" and what it meant. In my family, I wish we could have validated the good, the bad, and the ugly, more frequently and fairly. Back then, most Christians were stuck in the "go to Church and what ever you do, look good!" thing. No one shared their downfalls, their messy scenes of family life, or their awkward moments of falling apart. Most of all, you didn't discuss among yourselves how awful it felt to be afraid, or what you "saw" when you looked around you- if it wasn't good- or how ridiculously uncomposed we really were when the guard was let down and the need to look good was gone. And when we talked to God, we often told Him...what we thought He wanted to hear. Not the reality of what we felt or were dealing with.

My kids are experiencing a different environment, I think. Life at home, here, is... interesting. Often messy, but real. My husband and I have gone out of our way to make sure that our kids know that what you feel and what you think can change, can get modified, or debated and discussed. We don't want them to learn to package themselves up nicely and have raging emotions on the inside, not dealt with, never expressed.

Yes, there is a need for propriety and self control. And there is Truth that does not change. But what we want is for our kids to search for the Truth. When it comes to the Truth of Christ Alone, Christ the Lord- each one must decide for themselves. A conviction about the Christian faith? We want it to be their conviction, not ours- shoved onto them.

That's why my kids can yell out, "Mom, TD Jakes is on TV" knowing he inspires me, while deciding that they get nothing out of watching him. I won't make them watch. But sometimes my son will come in and lay on the end of my bed and listen for a minute. I think he may be considering what it is that I'm getting out of this guy's sermon. He's considering the merit of the message I am personally celebrating.

But it's not just a guy preaching on T.V. It could be a book I'm reading. Or maybe the sermon we just heard at church. We're talking about it. We're expressing our view points.

We are each a work in progress.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

The End of an Era

I woke up this morning to the sound of silence. I actually slept in till 8:30am. No dog scratching at my bedroom door. (Harry slept in, for some reason.)No sounds of water running in the kitchen and dishes clanging as Bill makes coffee- because he's not there. (He's off at a men's retreat). My daughter is still sleeping, and my son is exhausted and won't be up till noon, probably. Yesterday was the end of an era for us.

Alex played his last soccer game, yesterday. After playing soccer for over 11 years, I think it may have been the last time he plays the game competitively, at a school. I doubt he'll play in college. And while his team lost the sectionals yesterday, they had already won the local championship- first time in their school's history. My son scored the winning goal, in overtime, at one of the last games, giving his school a shot at winning the championship. And then in the last game, his school won 3-2, my son scoring one of those three goals. It was a good way to end the season. Finally.

So my son walked off the field yesterday (he asked me to make sure I was there- and I was), smiling, grinning, exhausted and happy.At peace. His team lost the regional sectionals but they had already won the local championship. He was a champion. And now he could put soccer, as a sport, to rest. It is not a ticket to anything else.

My Dad and my brother were at the game, my husband and I were there, and our daughter was running around with the older kids, cheering for my son. My son had a league of his own- a league of people who loved him and who were championing his dream. And his dream wasn't to be known as the best soccer player in the world. No, he just wanted to feel like a winner, for a season, and after years of working at the sport, walk off the field and let it go, finally; go on to something new that would take him .... somewhere. Soccer was a great sport, team play had frustrations, challenges, and moments of elation- and now playing on a school team was over. Sometimes it's good when something ends. It doesn't always have to bring a sense of regret when you end something. It can even bring blessed peace.

There are so many things my son wants to excel in: media communications, graphic design, song writing, film making, just to name a few. Thank God he can let a sport go, and know that it was a season, a long season of his life, but not a ticket to his dreams. It was a way to build character, strengthen his physical body, hone his instinct to pursue and prevail, learn team camaraderie, respect for a coach regardless of what you feel or think, and so many other things. But it isn't going to last, this ride. It ends sometime.

I turned to my husband who was quietly watching the game from our vantage point on the hill. "You were a NJCAA champion...." I reminded him. He had run cross country and skied cross country in college. My husband was an excellent athlete. I like to remind him of this, now and then, because nothing else in his life does so. There are no more rewards for having been a winner at a school sport, later in life. After a while, people forget your moments of glory, even if you never do. And you can be very frustrated in life if you think sports and glory and successful winning moments are always going to make you feel like a winner.

So, get a new ticket. Find the next thing for your next season in life. Cherish your memories and moments of glory, ... and then go on. Because life does.

And you don't want to miss what's next.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Radical Relationships

I had another interesting dream last night. In the dream, my husband and I were guests at this couple's home. We do not know this couple real well, but they think highly of us, and trust us because of our apparent respectability, reliability, and doctrinal sobriety. The man is a sober minded, serious, devout person of integrity and self control. He doesn't smile a lot, but he's not an angry stern man either. I can't figure out why we are staying at their home, but I'm not agitated about it. The only problem is that I know,( in the dream), that he does not really know us all that well. I know that if he and I were to talk more, he would see my controversial standpoint on many things. He would be disappointed in some of my views and in my perspective of things. I wake up with a sense that I am walking a fine line.

You know why I had that dream? Because even reading Joel Osteen's book, Become a Better You, seems like such a radical thing for me to be doing. I can't let this go. Some of you may not be embroiled in this. But I have been a Christian for over thirty years (maybe over forty years but it depends on when God saw that defining moment to be). I have experienced staunch evangelical settings, radical house church chaos, third wave charismatic experiences, pentecostal teaching and worship experiences, erudite educational settings of theological debate, the monotony of mainline churches, and now....radical so-called Christian books centering on progress, prosperity, and the issue of happiness in this life.

The topic of happiness is controversial in the church, lately. Thinking positively - watch out for that term. Some Christians feel the need to draw a line through the sand every time someone smiles- you have to decide if it's a godly smile or an evil smile. People are getting frantic and alarmed over books that encourage positive social behavior such as smiling, hoping, expecting good, dreaming for more, planning for expansion.

I found an interesting blog the other day, called the Internetmonk.com- http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/reactions-to-the-60-minutes-joel-osteen-piece
The guy is sharp, interesting, and I believe anxious to defend the true Christian faith as he lives in a "post evangelical wilderness". I understand his passionate stance. I admire his articulation of important issues that won't fade away. When I read his bio, I smiled to myself, and thought "I like this guy." http://www.internetmonk.com/michael-spencer/ We would have a great conversation. And we would argue over some things, for sure- such as his " THIRTEEN CRITICAL PROBLEMS FACING CONTEMPORARY EVANGELICALISM", number 6. in particular:

"The corrosive and compromised influence of Christian publishing in shaping evangelicalism, as exemplified in the rise of Joel Osteen, The Prayer of Jabez and the Prosperity Gospel."

I read the Prayer of Jabez. I did not go apostate or off the deep end because I read it. I employed a few things I learned from that book- like I am with Joel Osteen's book.

Here are the things I've decided to do: smile more, give someone the benefit of the doubt, and get a little more radical in anticipating good. After all, I'm prone to being suspicious, critical and a bit of a crankpot if I don't watch myself. And that's with me believing and embracing the gospel of Christ, having been baptised, memorizing Scripture till it comes out my ears, teaching Bible Studies for over twenty years, studying New Testament theology in college, having been a pastor's wife, and other so called credentials.

My point is, I am a staunch evangelical (and charismatic Christian, Bible believing Christian). But I can read a book and not embrace it as a guidebook to eternal life. It's not a theology book. It's not a book that I am going to eat, only, and digest for the rest of my life. It's just a book. It's not the Bible.

Why can't I glean something out of Osteen's book and leave behind his flimsy theology? Why can't I enjoy his light humor and learn how to be a bit more relaxed and joking, without taking on his whole understanding of Scripture (especially if it is a limited one)? Why can't I read Prayer of Jabez and summarize that yes, I have not thought big enough or expected to widen my circle of positive influence- without stumbling into selfishness and hell. I know there's trouble in this world. Joel Osteen knows it too. Bruce Wilkinson has seen it. But we don't have to center a book on everything that plagues us in our life, in our world. A book doesn't have to answer every issue or contend for it all.

Why can't a book encourage us to press forward, rise higher, plan for blessing, develop a habit of happiness- to name a few from Osteen's book. I may not want Joel as my pastor and live exclusively under his limited teachings, but then again, I have never attended his church and experienced weekly services there. So I don't know if I would get enough "feeding" there.

But I can learn from him. And I can learn from the InternetMonk too. And too bad if you think I can't walk that fine line. I refuse to throw Joel Osteen out with the bath water. And I refuse to embrace staunch evangelicalism- as if anyone is the main leader of this amorphous branch of people. I can't even agree with my husband all the time of what God is doing, how I am doing, and if we are still "in" His grace. And Bill and I have traveled through college/seminary, pastoring, ministry experiences- and know what the other intends to do. We intend to serve the Lord, love Him, love His Church, be alarmed by what should alarm us and be hopeful for the Holy Spirit to work in us.

My relationship with God is the radical thing. How I think I hear Him. How I listen to the Holy Spirit with an eye toward Him and an ear to my spirit, waiting to see if the fluttering of His Spirit is stirring me, provoking me, speaking to me of what to look for, what to watch out for. There's plenty of serious things to watch out for. "Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong. Let all that you do be done with love" 1 Cor.16:13.

I'm watching out for deception that would topple me. I'm trying to stand fast in the pure faith of Christ alone, and Christ-in-me- the hope of glory. What else should I watch out for? Is Joel Osteen's book the thing that will bring me down in unbelief or gullible self centered living? Since I've read his books and listened to some sermons of his, the only difference is that I am smiling a bit more, on purpose.Trying to be more cheerful. More gracious and relaxed with people. And trust me, I'm not even doing that well with it. That's not an easy thing you just learn to immediately do after reading one or two books. But it's a good thing for me to learn.

I just don't hear the Lord telling me that I'm in danger if I read Joel Osteen's books. I haven't looked at him as the Messenger of all heavenly wisdom. He's far from that. I'm not suddenly transported to a false heaven either, if I read his book.

I'm still just a woman journeying onward in a crazy place on a whacked out earth, rubbing elbows with some people trying to stick to the path of peace that Christ alone made possible.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Risky Behavior

My son risked being late for the bus this morning in order to check the computer to see if the SAT scores were in. They were. After a bit of whooping and hollering this morning over seeing his second set of SAT scores (he scored a 700 in Reading), I reminded him that his first grade teacher, Miss Wackenhuth, had told me at a parent teacher conference (long ago), "Lauren, Alexander is a very smart little boy." And you never disagree with someone named Miss Wackenhuth.

Alex has a world of choices opening up to him, now that he is a senior in high school and soon to "go out" into this world. It's an exciting thought and its overwhelming as well. We are not always ready for grand opportunities or pivotal appointments with destiny. Yet they are heading our way, ready or not.

Which reminds me that I want to clarify something. Don't get me wrong about my crazy college years and my year spent in Spain. While they were the worst of times- of inner conflict and constant seeking, they were the best of times too. I got to go out into the world, discover what I didn't know, embrace what I needed, choose wrongly and then wisely, and eventually learn to throw away what brought me down. I learned a lot through trial and error and error and error. I got to do all that, feel confused and happy, drink lots of coffee, and race around like nothing would ever slow me down. I got to feel young and alive, feel lost and afraid, and look magnificently strong on the outside, as well. Youth is meant to be wasted on the young.

But what is wasted on the mature? What do we older, wiser, sensible people do that is akin to the youth wasting their strength and their time? I think we waste opportunities because we won't risk. We don't like to take a risk anymore. After all, risk sounds like frivolous selfishness or arrogant stupidity. Risk reminds us we could slip and fall down. And might not feel like getting up again.

I will take risks, but up to a certain point. And then it all starts to feel...rather risky. That's when I usually will draw back. Take a step back to Safety or Security. Remind myself of my age. I'll remember those college days of uncertainty and remind myself how much I hate to feel afraid or on shaky ground. As if what I feel is the main indicator of what I should do.

I just don't think I am risking enough, lately. Maybe you're not either. Try naming five things you are taking a risk on, right now. Okay, how about just three things? Get my point? (If you do have a long list of risky endeavors, please re-evaluate why you have sooo many. That is an indicator of something else!)

Some say Faith is spelled R-I-S-K and I am beginning to think this is true. Yes, it's "the expectation of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" but if you were to sum it all up, faith is risk. Faith involves taking action that may or may not yield the evidence you hope for. You could wind up with the road dropping out from beneath you or the wind taking your boat out to sea. Or then again, you could just stay by the shore, your little boat tied to the post, and your life jacket on, with nothing in the horizon to make you yearn for more.

A mother risks every time her teenager steps out into the world. A writer risks every time she writes the truth of what she feels and knows. An explorer risks every time they leave home for a place like Everest or Timbuktu.

Taking a risk comes with taking a mountain, or subduing an enemy, or celebrating in the face of the ordinary. It isn't just in your college years that you are making life changing decisions that affect your future well being. It's right now that you could miss the adventure. It's right now that I could draw back. I could worry about missing a stupid school bus and miss a celebration over a big success at a young age.

Or I could risk it. Whoop it up now, celebrate my son's success, and then run around grabbing lunches and uniforms, and send my kids off running down the driveway to the approaching bus, yelling, "You can do it!!"

Now all I have to do is shower and dress, meet Mu for breakfast, and discuss coming up with a plan that yields enough risky behavior that I know I'm alive...and kicking.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

It's About Time

I dreamt last night that I returned to college, and went back to living in a dorm. I didn't even get to pick my roommates. I felt surprised by this "reversal of fortune" I was experiencing. When I woke up, I told my husband about my dream and questioned out loud what it meant. Weird dream.

The house is quiet now and I can think about it. Bill is off to work, my son is at school, my daughter is sleeping after coming home from school, sick, yesterday. It's a dark, gray rainy morning- more somber looking than yesterday, but I know this day is filled with potential. I felt tempted to be agitated in spirit over several upcoming events, and then I let that burden go. Just let it go, with a smile. Happy people do not worry about things. If you keep things simple- what is my job today, and what is God's?- you decide you really can do your small little part.

"God is more glorified by a man who uses the good things of this life in simplicity and with gratitude than by the nervous asceticism of someone who is agitated about every detail of his self-denial," Thomas Merton wrote.

Getting agitated is easy to do. Sticking to the simple plan of living in grace is rather hard to do- unless you just decide to accept the grace, simply and thankfully. Why get agitated if the choice before you is a clear one: agitation, because you think "it's all up to me" or happiness, because you think "God can handle this."

Which leads me to my dream. I didn't have to return to the past. That's my conclusion of the matter. I don't have to go back to college. I don't have to live in a dorm of college girls who are nice, mean, competitive, striving, lost, happy and raging with confusion. I did that. I was one of those girls. Didn't mean to be so messed up and confused, but frankly, you don't have much choice when you're 19 or 20.

But now, I'm ...(not going to tell you my age, for one thing) ...mature. Wise enough to be careful that I don't self sabotage. Stable enough to admit I'm only "safe" if I'm centered on His grace while my thinking gets solidified in and on His promises. I'm so glad to be where I am, now- and I'm not going back to those college days of excitement and confusion. I've got something better.

A sober expectation of good- not a giddy one, that's what I have. It's based on hindsight and on perspective. I "see" all around me. Yes, something good is on the horizon. I'm getting adept at delighting in happy moments. I am willing to be blessed, if you want to use a more spiritual term. Or to put it plainly,

I think I could handle being happy. And I think I hear God say, it's about time.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

To Sum It All Up

On this gray, windy morning, I feel a bit like a flat pancake. Not because of the weather. Just my human condition flaring up again. While I found out yesterday I won a little blogging award relating to communicating truth, today I found out I have to make amends for a miscommunication of mine. Someone misunderstood my "tone of voice" in an email I sent. (A word of advice: I guess those smileys come in handy and I should use them more often. If I focus on communicating complex administrative details in an email, I can't be too much to the point- I've got to interject warmth and sweetness into the tone of the email, somehow). And there are other areas where I feel I have stumbled around. So I let God know this morning how frustrated I am that I can't carry out the good I want to do without botching things up all the time.

My Quiet Times with God, in the morning, are not usually quiet. I talk, out loud, to the Lord, as well as scribble furiously in my journal. I felt relieved to know that no matter what I said to God this morning, He understood my meaning. He can handle me, how I say things, and get the gist of it all, perfectly well. There was no miscommunication.

Though I feel a bit like clay this morning, I also sense the sweetness of the grace of God. How? Well, lately God is talking to me as if I was a little child and couldn't handle too many big words. (King Solomon rightly answered God when he said he was just a little child and didn't know how to go out or come in).

God is condensing the big truths into manageable nuggets for me. I'm not doing any long word searches throughout Scripture or intense studying, lately. It seems God wants me to just dial down a bit. I've just been listening and sensing the loving correction of God coming to me in a couple words, a couple phrases.

When I heard these little phrases over and over, I realized they are the same gentle but challenging instructions I have for my own kids, if I had summed it all up- which I forget to do.

Be well.
Stay warm.
Do Good.
Be happy.
Come home.

Be well. Don't fall into confusion or despair over your own failings or over the dark meanness in the world. Ask God for forgiveness as soon as you know you erred. Be real about what you did wrong, and about how God lavishly forgives and restores you. Be well in spirit, clear in your mind, alive with hope. (3 Jn 1:2)

Stay warm. No one should ever be alone in the world, and no baby should go uncovered at night. It's God's will that our heart not grow cold. That no one cry alone in the dark without the warmth of someone's arm about their shoulder- and if no person can be there, then may the Almighty Arm of God be felt around you.(1 Thess 2:7 talks about the gentleness we should have, like that of a nursing mother who keeps her baby "warm" or cherished.) Receive and share the comforting blanket of God's love.

Do Good. The good you know to do, do it. The good you're trying to do and botch up, well, God knows what you were aiming for. If God prods you or provokes you to do keep doing the good things, thank Him for it- even if you don't like His methods. Keep going.

Be Happy. It'll be a sign to the world that God reigns. Be happy and be joyful. Smile- by faith. And when life is hard and catastrophe strikes, hold onto the hope of how God will create something better than happiness in your heart- its called assurance that nothing can separate you from God's love. Nothing can destroy your eternal hope and destiny.

And then when all is said and done, I know this is what I long for at the end of the day- that my kids come home. Whether they walk in the door recounting their successes and their triumphs, or whether they come home sharing their pain, I want them with me. God feels the same way. He's the author of the Nesting Syndrome. He's the Eagle hovering over His nest of kids, jealous that none think they will find a better parent elsewhere. Cause you won't. He's the Loving Father. He's more protective than a nursing mother. He'll keep you warm. Eternally.

I hope no one misunderstands me here. But if you do, I hope, at least, that you don't misunderstand God's love and His plan for you. Maybe Scriptures have been hard to understand. Maybe you just started to read the Bible and its a bit much to get through. Maybe you've read the Bible for fifty years and you know so much but need to remember the little phrases of truth that you can cling to, like:

Be well.
Stay warm.
Do Good.
Be happy.
And always,always,no matter where you went wrong, or even if it's at your last hour-
.....Come Home.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Thank you!

I found out that I was nominated for the Mathetes Award, created by http://managementbygod.blogspot.com/2007/09/excellence-in-discipleship.html
"I have discovered that there many others that have a similar heart to share God's Word, and further His Kingdom. The role of a disciple of Christ is to carry His message to the ends of the earth. It is with this heart that I have created the Mathetes Award."(Awarded to me by My Christian Life blogger- thank you! http://goodchristianlife.com/?p=45#comment-19

I'm encouraged by the recognition of my heart's purpose to help refuel anyone's Faith tank when it's getting low! I'd like to nominate five bloggers for their efforts at encouraging and discipling, and ask that they pass it on to five others:

And for all those who read my blog and who are busy sharing Christ's love and grace in this world- recognized by an award or not- YOU are noticed by God, and His hand is on you to make you "mount up with wings as eagles...(and) run and not be weary, walk and not faint." ......Walk on.

Fare Well

Farewell my friends. No, don't worry. I'm not ending my blog or going away on a long trip. I'm just going out into the world today, and so are you. It's a bit rough out there. I hope today is good for you. So I'm wishing you well today. I'm taking my cue from the apostle Paul who wrote, in conclusion of his letter,

"Finally, brethern, farewell. Become complete. Be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you." 2 Cor. 13:11

Farewell. May it go well with you. My son would particularly enjoy it if I reduced all my love and my instructions for him, into one little phrase, such as fare well. It would save him a headache, and me a lot of verbal rehearsing of what is going on for the day- our family's schedule- only to have him tell me at the end of the day, "I don't remember you saying that." Men.

This morning everyone left, fairly on target for the day, equipped with lunches, sports uniforms, cell phones, homework, and oral instructions as to who was finishing work or practise at what time and who would be getting picked up by whom and where. Once everyone leaves, then it's just Harry, our dog, and me, the hum of my computer, the sound of the washing machine going, and during this week, the fans on in the basement because we had a tiny leak again and the carpets got soaked. Bill is drying it all out again, found the leak, repaired it, and is on top of it all. I'm so thankful for a husband who is my 24 hour a day handyman as well. There isn't anything he can't fix, I don't think. I'm a happy woman.

I'm at peace. I'm looking forward. I have a hazy, distant memory of past mistakes and problems. (Some things you should not try to remember so distinctly- let them be a dull memory). I have an expectation of good, and that's healthy.

But it's also a bit dangerous. It's like you have a target on you when you're happy or when you're experiencing a bit of success. There's a running undercurrent of competition, jealousy, and ego that is a mainstay in much of our world- in so many areas. It's so rare to have someone root for you. Maybe they'll kindly cheer you on if you're stumbling around and looking haggard. But if you're doing well, if you're taking on a bigger challenge and smiling as you do so, will you find those champions of your dreams out there? Is there anyone "big" enough in heart and joy who will cheer you on- even when you're already doing well? Some don't like it when things go too well for you.

My husband, Bill, met a guy, once, when he was working on a remodeling project in a nearby town. Bill started talking with this guy- a large man of italian descent- because he seemed so genuinely interested in my husband's plans. My husband was sharing how he had just completed a small subdivision of land. We owned a couple building lots, at that time. It was a first, for us. We were attempting to progress in our Real Estate investing. We had to- because this is how we were trying to make a living, after having left the pastoral ministry.

Bill shared what he was hoping to do next. This guy looked at my husband in the eyes, smiled, and said, "Good for you!!" Bill felt so touched that this man wished him well, cheered him on, congratulated him on his bit of success. My husband came home and told me about what this man had said to him, and how he said it. My husband said, "I want to be like him.I want to make sure we always do that with other people- because we know how hard it is to go after your dreams."

This man could have knocked my husband down a few notches and said, "Well don't be so sure you know what you're doing." Or he could have rehearsed how hard life is and how we don't get to always live out our dreams. He was an older man, after all, and he could have used that against my husband. But he didn't. Instead he was glad that my husband had fared well, had accomplished something, had a fighter spirit left within him.

My husband and I can hear his "Good for you!!" still. It rings out when things seem against us. It springs up in our memory when someone has been unkind or hostile to our hopes and dreams. It cheers our soul. And I smile just remembering that day when three little words made my husband feel like a man who could conquer a mountain- or at least like a man who had a friend who wished him well if he tried to do so.

Fare well, today, my friend. I mean that. And if you're already doing well, then I hope it gets even better for you today. And if you land that job, get that raise, get invited to tour, receive a promotion, go out on that long awaited date, get your art in a show, get hugged by a child who says you're the best mom in the world-

then I hope you hear me calling this out to you today: GOOD FOR YOU!!

That about says it all.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Oh, Happy Day.

I'm on a new little streak, here. Humor me. It's called happiness. It's why I've chosen this new song- Jose Happy- (scroll down a bit to activate it) to play here as you read this. It reminds me of my year spent in Spain, over 20 years ago, a time when I was tossed about in my emotions, my perspective, my sense of who I was. Being happy wasn't my pursuit then. I wanted something way more than that. I wanted to know the way out of confusion and darkness. I wanted a miracle to settle the turbulence within me.

But today, I'll settle for being happy, as trite as that sounds. It's a beautiful fall day. My daughter and I just purchased two cans of pumpkin, planning to make pumpkin-chocolate chip cake. And we bought a bag of honey crisp apples. She bit into one, handed it to me, and I took a bite. "It does taste like honey," I said in amazement. Apples advertised correctly. What a novelty. Such happiness.

But happiness is relevant. It depends on whether you catch yourself in the moment, smiling, relaxed, noticing the fall colors, or humming along to a song. It's not a monumental life changing emotion. For some, it's a controversial emotion. Many Christians even fear it. After all, it sounds shallow, wanting to be "happy". Many of us have been trained to be stoic and long suffering. Some of us have had to major in endurance and perseverance. For some, happiness is an insult- when you're going through a tragedy and grief is a blanket around your shoulders. I understand that.

But when happiness truly touches you on the shoulder, I think we should just welcome it, accept it. Not broadcast it in the face of someone who is suffering, but not deny it when we're near those who despise the sound of the word- for no reason they're aware of.

I dare to be happy. Trust me, it's not that hard to be happy, but it seems hard to let other people know you are.

When you're happy and smiling, the world wants to know a couple things: Why are you happy? and Do you deserve to be happy?

Well, of course I don't deserve it. Anymore than I deserve to see the sun rise or to experience unending grace all the days of my life because of a Savior who loves me. Of course I don't deserve it. And that's exactly why I am happy, today, in this moment. Cause I've had a glimpse of powerful grace in a calm day of simple pleasures.

That's all. And that's more than enough.

"Blessed is every one who fears the LORD, who walks in His ways. When you eat the labor of your hands, you shall be happy, and it shall be well with you." Psalm 128:1,2

Friday, October 19, 2007

Me, In a Nutshell

My husband joked with the kids this morning, as they scrambled around, late for school, "We're all late this morning because I was busy listening to your mother. And I'm still not getting paid the hundred dollars an hour she should be paying me!" I smiled at him in agreement, even though I was previously irritated with him these last couple days over some other non-consequential weaknesses of his.

One thing I can say about my husband is that he IS a good listener. And I would probably owe thousands to a counselor if I didn't have him to help me sort out my thinking and my conclusions simply by his listening to me. I can be honest with him and say what I think, and ponder aloud. I am blessed to have a husband like this.

What's one thing someone could say about you, in a nutshell? I enjoy hearing a straight-to-the-point assessment of oneself. I'm intrigued by someone being able to take a whirlwind of attributes, talents, calling, and inner conflicts, and summarize it all by saying "One thing I do know is ..." or "One thing I'm good at is..." or in the Apostle Paul's case,

"but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" Phil. 3:13,14

Paul says, in a nutshell, I'm good at forgetting what I should forget. I'm called to reach forward and press toward what I don't want to ever forget- God's upward call on my life.

I found a little hidden paragraph in Joel Osteen's new book that tells me how he sums up his best skill, his essence, his anointing, if you want to call it that.

"One thing I'm good at is staying focused. I don't allow what people are saying to distract me...I'm called to plant a seed of hope in people's hearts... My gifting is to encourage, to challenge, to inspire."

I read widely and voraciously. (Just ask the local librarians. They constantly call me to tell me the books I've reserved, are "in".) Years ago I read a number of books by trained Life Coaches. Many of these books had exercises you'd go through where you would arrive at some conclusion or assessment of yourself. I remember doing one exercise that had you circling the verbs that resonated with you, narrowing down which were your key activities that you should center in on. It was hard to keep crossing off extra words that were so important to you, but the test had you continually refining what your key motivational attributes or activities were. Then it had you get down to just four.

This was over seven years ago, and I have never forgotten my 4 words. The first two words start off everything I do in life, really. These are my motivators. This is what provokes me, gets me passionate and purposeful. These two words, in particular, and in order, light up my path and fuel my faith.

Learn. Inspire.

In that order. I mean, really-what could I share with people other than what I have learned? And what I set out to learn, I also think many other people want to learn. I know I want to learn how to go forward in life, and not backward. I want to learn how to live in peace but not let peace pacify me and make me dull about battle strategies or the need for them. I want to learn how to appropriate at least a measure of the victory God has in store for me, a portion of that good Plan, at least, that is for my progress and my purpose in this life: that Christ be lifted up, in me, in my life.

And then with what I learn, I want to inspire. While I do teach, I am not trying to get information across. I am not trying to educate. Life Changing Information is available to us in so many places, yet few are grabbing hold of it and applying it with a vengeance. I believe inspiration is needed.

I know I need to be inspired, if I want to make radical changes in my life. I can't just be educated about choices. I can't just be informed. I need the breath of inspiration in me, the lightening rod of the Holy Spirit, the wind of His arrival, the sudden illumination of Truth in a way I can understand.

These are the first two words and the main two words of my existence. One thing I'm good at is learning. Or I should just say that I love to learn. (Let's let God be the judge as to whether I'm good at it!) And as to whether I inspire others, that remains to be seen. I can tell you, I do know how to inspire myself. But it's more that I allow God to inspire me, that I "see" when He's trying to get my attention, provoke me to passionate exploits done in zeal and in crippling but necessary weakness.

You ought to hear me at times, sounding the battle cry- and none are around me. I will be driving in my car, the radio off, with my words loud and feisty as I talk to myself. I call the troops together- and let my emotions and my thoughts know that I am the general and we ARE going forward. I have learned I need to do this. And inspiration takes over. God breathes a new thought into me. I hear it. Or I might sense it in my spirit. I am His own, after all. God breathed life into me that moment in time. And He does still.

There's very little about me that anyone could ever sum up in two words. My temperament and personality is complex, my experiences varied, my interests- many. But you can sum up what I am out and about doing, in this life.

What motivates me beyond all else are two motivational verbs that thrill me beyond belief. They are not the only important verbs in this life. It's just that those two verbs- learn, inspire- are me. They're what I really want to do in this life.

In a nutshell.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Happy Boy's Father

"Happy Boy is on, hon, if you want to watch him," my husband will call out to me now and then. We are rarely in the same room of the house because I hole up in the bedroom, in the evenings, reading or writing or watching a tv show, and he is usually downstairs in the rec room...recreating. Or maybe working on the plumbing. Or dozing on the couch after a hard day's labor.

Who is "Happy Boy"? Okay. Prepare yourselves. If I'm "on the war path" and daring to go where none have gone before, I might as well talk about a controversial figure: Joel Osteen. That's who my husband and I affectionately call Happy Boy. There's no doubt about it: the guy smiles a lot and seems genuinely happy.

Maybe that's one reason so many Christians are irked by him. Now I know that his exegesis and theological reasoning seem weak, at least when he's preaching on T.V. I read his first book, and am now starting on his second book, Become a Better You. The guy is commonly assaulted for a glitzy theological stance that says God wants you to be happy, healthy, and prosperous.

My review of Joel Osteen's book? When I watch his TV sermons, they are a bit skimpy in dealing with the big troubles of life, the deep suffering, the catastrophes that beset many. On TV, he comes across as a happy school boy- naive, irritatingly happy, and simplistic. Yet when I read his books, I see he is a sane man, of sound mind. I see that he is, at least, aware of life's deep problems, the common circular reasoning of many, psychological issues of self sabotage, boundaries,and issues of abuse.

One thing he seems to say over and over, whether on TV or in his books, is that God wants more for you. Think higher and better than what you do. Honestly? He sounds like an overly confident, ivy leaguer who has lived with wealth and prestige all his life.

But here's why I think he comes across this way:
He had an earthly father who really poured into him a sense of being loved, called, and destined for greatness. If we're going to attack the guy, attack him for being lavished with love by his parents. Attack him for him having an upbringing where his parents set out in active faith, and took steps of faith, believing for healing, growth, a multiplication of God's resources and light in this world..

Joel Osteen hasn't always been a Happy Boy. He was first a quiet, shy boy, it sounds like.

"I never dreamed that I'd be doing what I am today, encouraging people around the world. For seventeen years, my father tried to get me to speak at our home church, but I had no desire. I'm naturally quiet and reserved and would much prefer working behind the scenes." (p.10)

His Dad must have been loving and encouraging all those 17 years of trying to prod him into speaking- because Joel doesn't seem to resent his Dad for his attempts at getting him into the pulpit. Joel's Dad kept encouraging him, prodding him, and saw no real results for all those years Joel stayed out of the limelight. It wasn't until Joel's Dad died that Joel stepped into the pulpit.

No matter what you think of Happy Boy and his messages, he had a loving father who provoked him, prodded him onward, spoke to him of all that God wanted to do in his life. Let's look at that fact- and then ask if we too wouldn't love to have a father like that! Why, if we had a father like that, we, too, might even be...dare I say the word....happy?! Overjoyed?!

Well, we DO have a Father who speaks life over us, lavishes us with good plans- plans not to harm us but to give us a hope and a future. (Jer 29:11) He is a Father to the fatherless, husband to the widow, Giver of Hope to those whose hope has died. Giver of Life eternal. He's the best Father in the World.

Whether people call you happy boy or happy girl is not the issue. Maybe for you, the new name would be Woman of Peace - if you once walked in anxiety or fear. Or your new name could be Mountain Climber, if you once dared to do nothing but sleep and eat junk food. Or maybe your new name could be Standing Tall- if you once lived a life where people walked all over you, and you thought of yourself as nothing but a doormat.

Whether it's a new Name or a new resolve, we could all use a little upgrading, I think.

Today, I think I will just choose to be happy. Not because all is so abundantly perfect in my life. But because my Heavenly Father IS.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The MuLu Connection

The MuLu Connection occurred again yesterday. I know, it sounds like a Swahili train station or something. But instead, it's what Mu and I call our time together. (The term doesn't make sense unless you knew beforehand my nickname, "Lu" and how her name came to be "Mu").

Over coffee and quiche, we covered the "issues" of life we were dealing with, and reviewed our obstacles of the week. It's like the Oval Office -meets-coffee shop, or the War Room where the generals meet. She and I mean business about getting to the truth of the matter- whether that's something heavy, like Why Does God Allow Suffering?"(after this past Sunday's service where a cancer survivor and current sufferer shared her powerful testimony.It opened up a lot of theological complexities and concerns) or Why Do our Teenage Sons Drive us Crazy? The Good, the bad, and the Ugly. We like to deal with it all. But we also laugh a lot, and loudly.

She has the most amazing knack of confronting me pointedly and lovingly without getting me offended and up in arms. I almost relish what targeted insight she will deliver to me next. She's direct, kind, and honest. I hope this is the way I can challenge and encourage women with hard truths, illuminating insights into God's Word, and hilarious highlights from my past that grant an ounce of perspective that might grant someone a reprieve from pain.

I am known as the confronting type in my family. I don't think my extended family members relish my approach or perspective. Perhaps I do get militant in my stance or maybe pound the pulpit, so to speak. I'm not sure exactly how I come across to various family members- except that I am often seen as a radical, a crusader for the lost, and a contentious bull dog. I know how I want to come across: as someone who will not back away from the ugly truth, as someone who doesn't want to pretend or play games, as someone who learned the long hard way to stand up for truth even if you stand alone. There's quite a tension between what I'm aiming for and what certain family members think I actually accomplish.

Just to let you know how badly I need a PR team helping me with looking "good" in my extended family's eyes, here's a snippet of something that happened a week or so ago.

I called my parent's house to reply to my mom. (She leaves me lots of messages, tying to cajole me into calling her so that we can chat about this and that, and how I should be taking ball room dance lessons from Dad because I do need to learn grace, and why don't I go back to wearing contact lenses because I look better without glasses, she'll say). I usually try to call back when I've eaten and am relaxed, and remember that my mother IS a saint who gave birth to five children and lived to talk about it. (So what if she wants to talk about so many other things as well!)

I held the phone, waiting for someone to answer. My Dad picked up.

"Hi, Dad. It's Lu. Can I talk to Mom?" I said nicely.

"She's on the war path, Mil," I heard my father say as he handed the phone to my mom.

Really, help me out here. Was that a militant thing I said?! I just asked to speak to Mom! But my directness is a bit of a problem with my family. For some reason, though, it's often the thing that other people enjoy about me. (Someone please tell my parents this!)

I've met with confused people, people who have lost sight of some basic truths or who have gotten confused in their theology. (Who isn't?!) While I am no expert in exegesis and hermeneutics, I do have a discerning, questioning mind that once was more of a curse to me than it was a help. In those years, long ago, what I SAW and what I detected just didn't get dealt with because it didn't get spoken. Authority figures- Spiritual authority figures- were always right, and you were wrong to question. In those olden' days, to question or to consider that someone might not have all the answers would be akin to sins of doubt or defiance.

What good was discernment and an active, healthy mind that perceived something "amiss" yet had to ignore it all in the name of "faith"? And now that we have enormous personalities on the scene, in the Christian realm, many still stumble about,wondering if popularity or notoriety is a good indicator that we should listen to them, hook ,line, and sinker?

Oh dear, I'm stirring up trouble again. I'm on the war path. But let me tell you, I spent way too many years on the "Lost" path of confusion and fear.And part of the reason I was on the dark path was that I was not allowed to say what I thought, use discernment and ACT on it, confront, or reject something if it resonated with impure motives, bits of Scriptural truth mixed in with a lump sum theology that could not work for all things at all times. I love to share Scripture verses, but I also get concerned lest something I share be taken out of context, misapplied, or seen as a be-all to end-all. Even a testimony can inspire - and yet do damage, if someone misunderstands your point, your key Scripture reference.

"Mu, in the Old Testament, there was a prophet, who walked around with his buttocks exposed as a sign to the people of pending judgment. (Micah 1:8) Does that mean we should take that one verse and apply it as a specific directive for our life today? " I asked her. Then we laughed hysterically, picturing that. Naked prophets, the need for dance lessons, trying teenage sons- we'll tackle it all.

Cause we're on the war path. Watch out.
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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Even if Your Heart Isn't in It

There are things that disturb our lives- such as mice living in our walls- that are needlessly there. We have authority over certain realms: our home, our physical bodies, our thoughts. Yet we allow certain things to exist in our lives that do nothing but trouble and unsettle us- and we do nothing about their removal. Maybe because we don't "feel like it".

Then there are other realms where supposedly "God reigns" because we declare it to be so, and yet we climb in the driver's seat, rev it up a notch, and off we go- our agenda at the wheel, ourselves in control, and in danger of ruining our lives.

I've had several conversations with different people over the last couple weeks where the issue of what we want to do "to take charge" has come up. And what we often want to do is look good, and sound good, even as we're doing something "not good."

One person I know is deliberately pursuing something out of the will of God and yet desperately trying to find some scriptural back-up to support her as she goes driving off, pursuing her own wayward agenda.

"I just don't feel like doing it anymore, " she said to me, regarding the "right" path she had been on.

"So what? God doesn't care what you feel like when you're pursuing something against His will," I said. (Lovely affirming counselor, aren't I?!)

The interesting thing is, my next topic for my Women's LIFE workshops is all about emotions. I'll address how God wants us to bring all our feelings to Him, wants us to sort through and sift through- with HIS help- what we feel- because it matters to Him what we feel.

But while it matters what we feel, it's not an excuse,to God, as to why we do what we do. If I don't "feel like" telling the truth, God doesn't excuse me from the task of honesty just because I don't feel like it. God doesn't care that "your heart isn't in it"- He cares that you obey. Yes, for some of us, we may have to even do it kicking and screaming and God will be pleased- that we did it.

Our pediatrician has known my two kids since Abby was one year old. Alex is my strong silent warrior. He has had his back covered in 30+ needles- twice- for allergy testing, and then for years, 4 shots weekly. He accepted it all quietly and with a stoic look. Abby, on the other hand- and much to my pediatrician's delight- is another story. Abby's doctor had to call in three nurses to hold her down as she kicked and screamed, just to get one little vaccination done. Every time. For several years. And he'd say, "That's my girl!" and look at her with such pride. Was he nuts? I realize now he was proud of her fighter spirit- but, regardless, he was going to make her conform to what was good for her (the vaccination) even if she didn't feel like it. He knew some day she'd be glad she did. So he ignored her fury and her outcry.

Yet there's such a thing as holy fervor. A fervent passionate faith expressed in zeal and fervor that almost looks like you're doing something out of feelings alone. But something- Someone- bigger than you is behind that fervent expression.

Fervor is an intensity of feeling or expression. I think that holy fervor is God's passionate heart towards something expressed through us- and THAT is Someone's feelings that I SHOULD care about! It isn't just the thoughts of God, the plans of God, that we should be thrilled He thinks toward us (Jer.29:11). It's His Zealous heart beat for something that I want to agree with.

I think that's why, lately, I have not minded getting lovingly rebuked (which is a nice way of saying someone is passionately saying "you're wrong, you blockhead!"). I can be "thick" about something, self-sabotaging or negligent in doing my part to carry out what God has called me to. I can be pig headed and belligerent- and I'm not getting away with it, thank God.

But I also will challenge others to the truth of the integrity and counsel of God's Word- not the nice soothing current counsel of "you get to "feel good and still 'do' bad and it will all come out in the wash."

No, when you mix a good plan- from God- and a bad, stubborn course you set out upon, you get the murky, muddy brown mess of a....mess.

Some worry that they will not get a slap on the wrist from God when they're going wayward, and that maybe it will take a horrible calamity to get their attention and so they continually try to convict themselves over every little thing to avoid the vengeance of God. I should know- I spent years doing this when I was in my teens.

But God is perfectly capable of getting through to you- if you want to be spoken to. If you really want to know the truth that sets you free. If you search for Him, you WILL find Him- and His plan for you, His correction, if needed, His warning. How can you assure yourself of hearing Him?

Every time He speaks, answer Him with "Here I am" -even if you're in the middle of stealing cookies, committing adultery or walking inadvertently into the enemy's trap. If the whisper of God comes- the conviction, the knowledge that you KNOW you're doing the wrong thing- agree with Him . Agree with Him even as you are caught in that sin. (He saw it all. He can handle what you did- but you can't handle what you did if you don't receive correction, make a change of mind and heart, turn around, go the other way, close the door behind you and don't look back).

Let God disturb your false sense of peace. It's a blessing you'll come to realize, later.

When the finger of God touches that pulse point of pain and impurity- accept it. Nod your head in agreement, climb out of the driver's seat, and ignore the protest of your feelings at that very moment.

Instead, embrace the fervor and jealousy God has for the things of His heart to be at work in you. Let it all come to a head in your life. Get passionate about what He feels about you, wants for you. It's love that doesn't exactly feel so good, at that moment. But it's a time of glorious gain.

Later, it's seen as the harvest you almost lost-if you had gone with your feelings. But you responded to Him, nevertheless, to what He thought and planned for you. You responded to His correction, valuing Him over your feelings.

It'll be a harvest you'll later rejoice over ....with holy fervor. And those are feelings - a passionate conviction maybe expressed in shouts of joy- that you don't want to ignore.

Monday, October 15, 2007

It's Just Gotta Be Done

The end of something is better than its beginning. Not giving up in spirit is better than being proud in spirit. Eccl. 7:8

I'm not sure why I'm beginning with this verse except for the fact that it came to me as I woke up this morning....early this morning. And I do mean early.

Before I get to that, let me share the beautiful soothing-to-the soul weekend I had. Saturday night, we had enjoyed a relaxing supper where my son, Alex, was joking around, teasing his sister, smiling at me in that kind of way that suggests I'm not too bad of a mother, after all. Then my daughter and I later watched a movie in the master bedroom while my husband was downstairs with Alex who was playing Halo 3. (Don't ask me about gaming or all that- I am sharing what is soothing, here!)

Harry, our dog, was- as usual- curled up on the foot of our bed, and Abby and I dropped an occasional bit of popcorn his way. Harry loves popcorn, kisses, and soft places to sleep that are up high (it's rare to find him asleep on the floor. When we do, we're quickly asking, "What's wrong with Harry? Did you do something to upset him? Why is he lying on the floor?" and feeling his furry forehead to see if he has a fever or something).

By 10pm, my daughter was half asleep next to me, Harry had scooched up between us with his head on the pillow, and I was drifting off . Abby whispered "Good night, Mom" and went to her bedroom. "Night, sweetie, " I murmured as she left. Harry sighed in contentment (yes, my dog sighs when he's happy), thinking he might just get to spend the whole night in bed. He didn't. When Bill came in later, he sent Harry out of the room, dashing the dog's hopes of snuggling with me the whole night long.

Sunday was a day full of hope, rejoicing, listening, sharing, worshipping. After church, I took Abby for a quick haircut (they are open now, Sundays). Abby's face glowed with delight as the stylist commented on her thick dark beautiful hair. Then we came home, ate dinner, got organized for the next day, and even my son seemed to be prepared to start the school week in the right frame of mind. We went to bed at a reasonable hour. Such Delight.

Off to la-la land we went. Until 4am or so. I was having a bit of a bad dream, because when I woke up suddenly, I had a picture of a man's rough scarred face in my mind and the scene of me living in an apartment that was a hovel of a place. But what woke me up was this loud insidious scratching, crinkiling, scruffling noise I heard in the walls.

"Bill, Bill- wake up!" I said, grabbing his arm. He mumbled something about it being just a mouse. But it sounded more like a giant rat, and it was right behind my head, right behind the wall behind the bed's headboard. I tossed and turned, remembering last year's mice raid on our house. (Okay, it was just a couple mice and Bill removed them within a couple weeks, but it felt like an all out assault on my home). I started to doze off again, fitfully, sleeping on my side, curled up to my husband, clutching his arm. It was quiet for a few moments. Bill went back to his slight snoring.

And then I felt it- a tickling soft brush against my stomach where my pajama top had crept up ever so slightly and left a bit of my stomach exposed to this.....thing. I screamed and grabbed my husband, jumping on him.

He rolled over and peered at me in the dark as I sat up in bed trembling. And then I felt it- the draw string of my pajama bottoms. That's all it was- just the edge of the draw string of my bottoms rolling over my skin. We burst out laughing when I told him what it was. We lay back down, me clutching him as he turned to go back to sleep. I whispered, "I want you to get rid of that mouse in the morning." A thought of "the end"of a mouse ended my soothing weekend.

And that's when I thought of that verse from Ecclesiastes, "The end of a matter is better than it's beginning....." The end of that mouse's visit to our home will be better for me than the beginning of his jaunt into our abode. I realized my husband had what it took to see this "thing" through. He's always been patient in spirit- and adept at critter removal. He sees it through- all the tough things in our life, like plunging out stopped up toilets, cleaning up after burst water pipes, removing mice- dead or alive- from our home.

I, on the other hand, am a woman of many beginnings, many ideas, and beginning projects scattered around our house. But there are some areas of my life that I am determined to see through. (It's just that mice removal is not one of them).

I am determined to not give up in spirit- concerning who I am, what my calling is, what the labor of my soul will yield. I don't want to be proud or presumptuous about what I can do- but neither do I want to fade away at the first little mouse-like thing that brushes against my skin in the middle of the night.

See it through- what you've started, what you know you're called to do. And be glad for the calling that those around you have- especially when it involves removing things from your life that unsettle you and alarm you in the middle of the night.

We all have a part in progressing forward, going onward, and higher.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

What I Learned at a Garage Sale

It absolutely couldn't have been more beautiful today than it was. The leaves are changing and bursting with color. The cold air makes me want to drink hot coffee and eat apple spice donuts. And so that's what I did this morning.

Then my daughter and I went "sailing (garage sale-ing), digging through an assortment of oddities here and there. Our total take-home treasure? One beautiful full color House Plans book, a pfaltzgraf pie plate (reminding me that I will be baking pies with zeal and abandonment!) and a little package of colorful paper clips my daughter picked out. These were not earth shattering discoveries- just a little fun and discovery under the fall sun.

But as we drove home, we got talking about the last two garage sales we went to. They both were pretty high priced and we could see the owners valued their things highly- even over-valued them. That got us talking about how some garage sales we went to, we could see people didn't know what their things were worth, or didn't care. And other places, every little sock or dish was priced as though it was gold.

We talked about which side we should fall on- if we have to appraise our own worth. Should we fall on one side (because we never get it straight dab smack in the very middle on the first try)- the side of over valuing rather than under valuing who we are? My 13 year old daughter, so far, feels confident of her worth, and said it was better to err on the side of thinking we are worth so much- than to think we are worth nothing . I smiled at her in silent agreement.

It is a dangerous thought in many Christian circles to over value oneself. I know it is thought that this is akin to "pride going before the fall". I know the verse not to think of oneself more highly than we ought" but rather with sober judgment. With safe thinking.

Did you know that when Paul is talking about God not giving us a spirit of fear but one of power, love and "a sound mind" that this word in Greek refers to "safe thinking"?(2 Tim 1:7) It is one thing to be excessively self-indulgent, it is another thing to have sober judgment in valuing yourself, realizing the costly blood of Jesus that was shed for you.

Many fear indulging themselves in positive self-reflection. I can understand why. But as I look around in this world I see very few people who know their worth, who value and respect what God has created, and who know how to walk with their eyes upward, their shoulders squared, and their lungs eagerly taking in air.

I know we ought not to fall into arrogance or pride. But, really, are we accomplishing that- avoiding pride- when we put ourselves down and when we murmur our pleading prayers with self contempt?

I have a daughter about to go out into this world in the coming years. She is equipped in so many ways. She's pretty discerning (and that's partially because I have taught her to trust that instinct that says "something is NOT right" and to go with that- without needing proof that she is right.) She's pretty good with self-defense- and the boys that know her will tell you- don't mess with her! She learned life saving techniques (through a baby-sitting course) and manages her money with skill and intense evaluation.

But above all that, she has got to know her worth- if she's going to be "safe" in this world. She has got to value who she is- because the world is not hospitable to doubters and trembling, fearful souls. It's a jungle out there- and avoiding pride and arrogance, alone, will not keep you humble.

What helps us, I think, is getting back to the root meaning of the word "humble"- stay "low to the ground". But do not grovel. Stay low- because sometimes missiles soar overhead, and because sometimes we need to remember the soil our body will return to- even as our spirit soars heavenward.

Stay low to the ground because the smell of the earth reminds us of living things and that things grow best in good soil of kindness and grace. When you stay low to the ground, you're not quick to judge others- but you are quick to reach out and steady any soul that starts to tumble in a flood of self- hatred or despair.

When you walk humbly, you'll walk with your eyes heavenward and your shoulders squared. You'll breathe in this delicious fall air- and be glad to be alive.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Remember That

Yesterday was Mu, my best friend's, birthday. I wanted to post it yesterday but had to consider if she thought I might be publicizing her too much. She is rather demure about me proclaiming her value to the blogging world.

"But, Mu, you're the sage of the universe! You're the Unpaid Life Coach all should be calling!" I told her in between mouthfuls of egg and strawberry crepes at IHOP yesterday morning. Okay, the truth is, I didn't exactly say that- but you would think I did the way she rejects my tiny, teeny compliments and honest appraisals of her abilities and strengths.

"Lu, please," she always tells me, rolling her eyes, because I am exaggerating and "selling" her good points as though I was a hyper car dealer in a parking lot with the camera on him.

Now, she can always admonish me if I am not recounting enough of my accomplishments and abilities, but I am not allowed to do too much of that with her. I would say that we are unequally yoked, in that matter- but yoked we are, nonetheless. Best friends. Bosom buddies.

And speaking of bosom buddies, I was chatting with an acquaintance yesterday, and she reminded me of a couple times we had gotten together, long ago, when our kids were little ones running around outside. I could not remember. It's not that I didn't value our time together, but my memory is getting worse and worse as I age...I mean...progress in maturity.

My husband says I could remember things if I really tried, if I was more conscious about moments spent with people. But when you've been a pastor's wife (for ten years approximately) you learn to be so conscious of maintaining confidences and delicate prayer requests, that you block out almost everything people tell you- confidences and public knowledge- so that you won't slip and repeat something you shouldn't. So that you don't remember something you shouldn't. At least that's what was instilled in me from those years.

But now, there's a lot for me to remember- if I'm going to be like David in the Bible, and recount victories so that I rise up in faith and slay the giant when I need to. I am supposed to remember the times when I prevailed, by God's strength, the times when I tackled something head on- trembling but determined not to shrink back.

Is that called boasting? Is that too much confidence? There's a story told about a pianist at church, a devout pious woman who was complimented on her piano playing.

"Oh, that's not me- that's Jesus playing through me," she murmured. Really.

How do we "go from strength to strength (till) each of us appears before God in Zion" (Psalm 84:7) if we can't remember our last strength- our last moment of triumph in Him- from the moment before? How do we acknowledge the strength we have grown in, by His grace, if we can't identify the strengths and the talents He has given us?

I'm just asking these questions because one strength I want to grow in is the strength of conviction. The kind of strength that makes someone say, "...I KNOW Whom I have believed in and am persuaded that HE is able to keep that which I've committed unto Him against that day." (2 Timothy 1:12)

And so, when you run into me (for those of you that are in my neighborhood) please remind me of the times when I rose up in strength- His strength- and prevailed against the enemy. Remind me- understanding the fact that I do forget so many of the things that I should remember- and I remember too much the things I should forget.

As Paul said, Forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” Forgetting the things of my previous lost condition, and remembering and reaching for those things which are before me- the high calling from a Most High God to go on....higher...in His strength.

Times of strength and victory and triumph. A time when I rose up and rose to the occasion- not because I'm great but because of His great strength in me to overcome. His calling on me to overcome.

I want to remember that.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

And Now for the Right Plan

Speaking of dead lions, (see yesterday's post), did you know that you may be the one subduing it, wrestling it down by its mane, and standing triumphantly over it like a safari hunter who has escaped with his life, trembling, relieved, and smiling? What does a dead lion have to do with finding the right plan for this season of your life? I'm glad you asked.

This morning, as my husband and I grabbed a 10 minutes talk over coffee before we woke the kids for school and flew around the house like crazy people getting lunches made, sport uniforms out of the dryer, homework printed up hastily (teenage son tries to multi task and turns me gray)- we tried to surmise if we were going "down with the ship". As far as today is concerned, all bills are paid. But we feel like we're on a ledge. After all, he is basically out of work right now, (building and remodeling are slowing down at the rate of avalanche speed), I have not had any writing published, and we're out of plans to turn all this around.

"I just don't see anything happening right now. We're okay today, but it doesn't look good, as far as tomorrow is concerned," I said to my husband. And then I heard myself, heard the words "see" and "look" and realized they were not words compatible with walking "by faith and not by sight".

As one wise man said, "People know neither love nor hatred by anything they see before them." Eccl 9:1

Don't judge how you're doing by what you see right now! What you see before you may look grim and dismal, but that really doesn't mean tomorrow will turn out that way. And the only way to determine and ensure your future victories is to recount your past ones. Then you'll remember that you are a victor. And victors triumph- whether it's killing the lion with their own hands, tackling a Goliath head on, or coming up with a business plan or suddenly getting a book published.

But first, remember what you have done victoriously in the past. That's what David did. Upon facing Goliath's taunts, his first reaction is to make sure no one's "heart fails" by what they saw before them: the giant Goliath. So David recounts the past victories rather than projecting potential defeat!

"When a lion or a bear came and took a lamb out of the flock, I went after it, and struck it, and delivered the lamb..." (1 Samuel 17)

Here's the Plan: you'll know what to do- I'll know what to do next- when I need to actually DO it!!

David didn't put his hand to his chin, gaze thoughtfully upward as Goliath's taunts rang out in the camp, and slowly contemplate that he might hear the battle plan at some point in his future. It was required that SOMEONE deliver the Israelites out of Goliath's grip, and that Someone needed to act NOW. What flashed through his mind was all the times he needed to act quickly, radically, and defiantly-in the face of death. What flashed through his mind was the time he violently grabbed the lion by its beard (mane) and wrested the lamb out of its mouth, killing the lion with his own hands.

David knew that life is about living- and you can't LIVE if you've been eaten by the lion. Now, there are times when we have time to plan, time to make 1 year charts, and 5 year time lines, and project our goals and research possibilities- and all of that is good. That's our part of the plan- our labor and our effort that God blesses.

Then there are times when we've planned, projected and acted, and we're still wandering a bit in the wilderness. If a lion suddenly comes out of nowhere and roars at you, consider that God has sent you an answer to your silent cry of "What should I do next?" Be glad for the necessary required action, on your part, of slaying the lion- because at least you got to move quickly and know that you should have.

When there is no threat of a lion, then walk onward, quietly, before Him. Know that you're doing all that you know to do. Love, help others, clean the toilets, pay your bills on time, share, let the car in front of you into your lane- you know, the simple necessary things of an obedient, faithful life. That's all part of the Plan.

And remember that at any moment, God may answer your prayer of "specifics". And when that lion is roaring and running at you from out of the blue, don't complain about the violence and the critical nature of the moment. Don't forget you've been waiting for an opportunity to know exactly what to do.

Recount- in a flash- that you've slayed the lion before, and then rise up quickly, and do it again.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

For the Living

Being in the right place at the right time can seem like an intelligent, purposeful thing we must do. But often it happens when we are bumbling around or flying out the door to a destination and God stops you in your tracks. It's just that when God helps you be in the right place at the right time, you often look like you're simply late for an appointment, or falling apart, messing up your organized day.

Yesterday, a day when I felt a black cloud over me but didn't want to dwell on why, I came home from the library, started to carry groceries I had bought earlier up to the house, got inside, stumbling around, trying to find room on the counter for all my bags, my purse, my dangling keys. The phone rings and it's my husband.

"Honey, Abby wound up taking the bus home, and she needs you to pick her up at the bus stop right now"- which was a drop off point ten minutes from our house. As he's talking, Abby calls me on my cell phone and I switch to her, "Yes, Abby, I'm on my way right now!" and I run out, locking the door behind me, only to get to my car and find out I have locked my keys inside the house.

To make a long story short, I fortunately had my cell phone on me and called Bill and sent him racing to meet the bus in time, while I stood outside and wandered around, trying to avoid Harry's poops all over the ground. I knew I would have about twenty to thirty minutes of doing nothing, so I wandered around the yard, near the woods. And wandered towards the front of the house...and then I saw them.

Two adorable little dogs , with the tags on their collars jangling like Christmas bells, were running down the street- in the middle of the road. Cars came whizzing around the blind corner we live on and narrowly missed one dog. I tried to call the dogs.

"Come here, sweet doggies," I called out. "Come on," I invited them- in my most inviting tone of voice. But they weren't buying. And they were not street smart either. They zig -zagged over the road, confused, frightened, and maybe a little happy for the adventure they were on- unaware they were in danger of losing their lives.

They took off in the other direction, now going up the street towards the main road- a busy, highly trafficked road where many accidents occurred- even without the addition of two sweet but stupid dogs prancing along.

I called Animal control and got the pager. Punched in my number. I get a call back and I yell out "Hurry!" and proceed to give him my street address and the details of these two little lost dogs.

"Oh, no" he says and then the officer is on his way. I can't see the two little dogs anymore and I'm guessing they are near the busy main road. I 'm standing on the hill in front our house and see my husband's work truck coming down the street. He has Abby with him, and as they get out of the truck, I tell them what has happened.

It all ended, miraculously, on a good note. I say miraculously because when the Animal Control Officer kindly called me back to relay the owner had gotten her dogs back safe and sound, he proceeded to share with me that this morning's incident with another dog in the street did not end so nicely.

Because I locked myself out of the house, all in a dither, I just happened to be at the right place at the right time to help save two little dogs' lives. For dog lovers out there, this is a big deal. For the more rational of sorts, this is not life changing news.

But let me tell you what I learned from this. This morning I chose to read some Scripture from Ecclesiastes- my book of choice when life is confusing, I'm not reading the signals from God too well, and I want to know if it's really worth all the effort I am putting into this thing called life. I turn the page and read this verse:

"But for him who is joined to all the living there is hope, for a living dog is better than a dead lion." Eccl.9:4

During the day yesterday, the fight had gone out of me. I can't tell you all the other circumstances as to why, but let's just say that I was aware that I had some influences in my life who were not "for" me. I did not feel like a roaring ,majestic lion yesterday. I felt like a pillow that had lost most of its stuffing- flat and worn out.

Then this episode with these adorable but confused little dogs happens. And God tells me something in all this: First, that I WAS in the right place at the right time.

And secondly, that it's better to be a living dog- maybe a little dumb at times as to safely navigating the roads of life. But at least I was alive. This world's exploits are for the living. And a living dog is better than a dead lion.

That's for sure.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

A Spacious Place

My daughter and I play a lot of mind-stretchers. That's what I call these mental exercises that we do where I'll ask her questions like, what kind of a man she thinks she would want to marry someday, or where would she want to live if she could live anywhere- near the lake or ocean or in the mountains? I want her to consider and ponder the possibilities. I want her to be active in choosing good for her life. I want her mind to be open to where God might take her.

Open minds are good places for the thoughts and plans of God to take root and flourish. A closed mind is, instead, a dry wasteland, and nothing can grow there. And that's not a good place to be.

There is such a thing as the right place to be. Some would say, be careful when you talk about trying to get to the right place that you don't forget to be content where you are. While "godliness with contentment is great gain", there are those who major in that scripture only, camping in one place their whole life, quoting it while they encircle a mountain in confusion and lack of clarity concerning their destiny, their source of provision, their purpose.

Isn't that why the Israelites were admonished that they "had dwelt long enough at this mountain"? Isn't that why they were admonished to break camp and advance...finally? (Deut. 8:6,7)

Any place that is at odds with your destiny is no place to remain. It's one thing to pass through the valley of the shadow of death, it's another thing to decide you like it and want to stay there.

While I can not always exactly tell where I belong, I can discern where I don't. I may not know if I should live in a beautiful palace or a budget, pop-up tent, but I do know that I shouldn't live in a brothel. There's a lot more that we know that we should remind ourselves we know.

I know for sure that while I want to remain faithful and remain in a state of grace, I do not want to remain in the past. I don't want to envision where God is taking me- and then forget I have to let go of where I am.

Now I know I have had the glorious, nomadic advantage of having moved a lot in life- 2o times in 23 years of marriage. (Can you hear my gentle sarcasm?!) Most of these moves were required- due to housing constraints in seminary, going to little pastorates in New England, and then remodeling houses and selling them, necessarily making a living. (You really can't just live on love).

But I realize God has been putting me through the exercises of discernment of God's call, releasing of the past, taking hold of the future, and sometimes being like Abraham, going out "not knowing where he was going." This has built faith in me- faith for the journey, and an expectation that the journey is costly. It costs you a sense of security, stability, and status. Notice I said "a sense of". Because you DO have stability and security when God is moving you onward- you just may not feel it.

My son filled out a college application last week and had to write an essay. Of all the things he picks to write about, he wrote of the seven moves (of our 20) that he has participated in. He wrote proudly of this fact- and at first I wondered why. Then as I read, in his essay, of his plans for the future, his profession of his gifts and calling (to be involved in media communications and film making), I realized he was describing why he confidently felt he would make this journey-into his future.

He was confident that he knew how to move...onward. He could have been scarred by these moves, felt like he never had a home base long enough, or stayed long enough in one place to be with best friends all his life.

But instead my son felt advantaged and blessed to be someone who knows, already, that life is a journey. He knows we may go through fire and flood (Psalm 66), but that your future is always one where you have to go forward, and onward, to be in that spacious place God has called us all to.