Tuesday, December 30, 2008

That's Where I Want to Go

My brother Joe and his family leave today to drive back to Pennsylvania. We had such a good time together, especially on Saturday night when we had them over for homemade calzones, chili, homemade bread, and Greek Salad with grilled chicken. The calzones were a hit. We didn't know they would be- because we were attempting to make them, for the first time, based on a mouth watering cooking demonstration we saw earlier on TV. My husband fell in love. He had to try his hand at making one of these.

So we made two stuffed Pizzas (or calzones, or call them whatever you want). One had sauce, sweet sausage, green peppers, sweet onion, and lots of different cheeses in it. The other had buffalo chicken bits and sauce and cheese. The kids (the cousins) ate the buffalo chicken one. The sausage calzone delighted the adults. And then we all played this game called "The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Game". See what an optimist I am?!

We broke into two teams- the kids against the old fogeys. You take turns reading the questions to each other and you see how many questions your team can answer correctly. The questions range from the bizarre to the mundane emergencies to the drastic survival situations one would find themself in if stuck on a deserted island. Questions like"How to sense you are about to be struck by lightning" to "How to stop a runaway horse" to "How to prepare for a plane crash over water". We still couldn't figure out, for that last question, why you had to loosen your shirt in preparation for the crash.

We all laughed so hard at the silly questions, such as "How to moisten lips without lip balm"- you don't want to know, trust me. And then the adults got talking together, while the teens all chatted about their interests.

When my brother brought up a couple stories about our childhood, I stared at him, puzzled, because I didn't really remember some of the events he talked about. He, as the oldest, remembers things differently than my youngest sister does. Each of us five kids see our childhood through a lens colored by where we were in the lineup, the place we held as either child # 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5. I'm the fourth, second to the youngest, middle daughter. But I don't see it all accurately, any more than my oldest brother does.

What we know for sure is that we were children, together, in a family of seven with two parents and five children (and the beloved dog, Ginger we had for years, and the numerous cats we had but I can't name them all). What we know for sure is that we have happy memories and sad memories. But now, what I want to know for sure is that I am no longer a child. What I resolve to experience, even more, is that I don't have to suffer any of the negative consequences that unfortunately go with being a child.

Children don't have autonomy. Children get carried around, often, to places where they do not want to go. I saw some of these unhappy children at the mall the other day. One, in particular, was loudly protesting this particular negative experience of childhood- that of being carried about by the decision of parents intent on a day spent at the mall. I was glad I was not that screaming toddler stuck in the stroller. After my daughter Abby made her purchase, I told her, "Let's get out of here!". She was in agreement.

I saw another resolution in Scripture, this morning, that I know I should adopt. Paul writes in Ephesians 4 about maturity and knowledge and unity of the faith, and then he says "that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine...".

He depicted one of the negative consequences of being a child- that of being easily exploited by deceitful people, getting carried about by teachings that are not founded on truth, teachings that will enslave you rather than liberate you. It's hard enough to be a child, dependent on adults to care for you- but its worse when you're a child and you're carried about, whirled around and around in confusion, and then you still don't know where you are, what you're doing. All you know is that you are tossed about, and not on solid ground.

As adults, the good news is that we are not, ever, in Scripture, told to be children. We are told to have child-like faith, yes. We are told that we can cry out to God as children cry out to their daddy, and call Him Abba. But we are not told to abdicate jurisdiction over our mind and will and actions. We must decide what to believe. We must discern when we listen to teachings and philosophies of men. We get to plant our feet in the ground and say "I'm not budging" when we stake our position of faith.

Nobody gets to carry me off to a place where I do not want to go. Nobody gets to lead my thinking into dangerous territory. God doesn't want me to be tossed about. He doesn't want my understanding "darkened" or my heart blind to His redeeming love.

Now, I don't know a lot of the answers to these survival questions I talked about. Thank God it's just a game. But my life isn't a game. It's a real adventure, and I am authorized by God to walk in the autonomy of an adult, the submission of a follower, the wisdom of a serpent, and the gentleness of a dove. That's the challenge and the beauty and the mystery of it all. I don't know how to do it other than to ask daily for His help.

Solomon said, "I am a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in" when the Lord appeared to him in a dream. Solomon wasn't saying that he was carried about and out of control and manipulated by others and without a will of his own. What he was saying was that he didn't know anything- compared to what God knows. What he confessed was his need for God's wisdom and help, that he might "discern between good and evil" (1 Kings 3).

So that's what I'm going to do. This year I will ask even more boldly for God's help. This year I'll make it my aim to not stay as a child in any area of my life where I have authority to act- and yet have not done so. I don't want to be carried about by anything. I don't want to miss out on the blessings of being an adult. There's plenty of responsibilities that go with being an adult, and lately that's all everyone seems to talk about: salaries, employment, crises, decision making. Adults have to deal with these things.

But as an adult, I get to also choose where I'll go and how I'll get there. And one thing I'm resolved about, is that I'm not going to be carried about. I'll place my own foot in front of the other and I'll walk purposefully in the direction I want to go. It's called Upward. It's called Onward. Scripture also calls it "a spacious place" (Psalm 66:12). God wants to lead me there. And that's where I want to go.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

New Year's Resolutions

SUNDAY December 29th, 2008

"That was the longest church service I've ever been to" my nephew told me after church today. He and his family were visiting from out of town, and I had the blessing of having him for an overnight at our house and then after church getting him back to his parents. I smiled at him in empathy and amusement. When you're young and restless, long isn't good- unless it's a long night of video gaming! But when you're older and hungry for more, long can be good. A long service can be like a long soothing backrub for tired achy muscles- no one wants that to stop.

I love Christmas time, but like many, I am okay with it ending- the season of shopping, and wrapping, and cooking and shopping. But that's why I love the period of time between Christmas Day and New Year's Day. For me, this is a time of anticipation. For others, it's a time of excitement or ...dread.

For some, the dread is because of the dreaded resolutions- "I have to make a resolution". So some will immediately think of pounds needing to come off, exercise that must be done daily, or a new healthy habit they need to now employ in their life. No one is relishing the work that comes with the resolution.

Maybe one reason why people fear making a resolution is because they know they are not resolute in what they're about to attempt. We know we easily turn back when the going gets tough because hey, when the going gets tough and the tough get going...we find ourselves often with the group that is not "going". We decide we are not made up of that kind of strong fiber- as though we were made of soft fluffy wool, instead of steel.

I have not forgotten a lot of the insight that came to me when reading Dr. Augusto Cury's book, Think and Make it Happen. And I am not forgetting what I am learning about Fasting, after having read Jentezen Franklin's book. The two can go hand in hand, and the one word that can join these two seemingly dissimilar books is the word Breakthrough.

Breakthroughs occur when ground breaking revelations and sweat producing actions and heart thumping mental resolutions combine together and culminate in something NEW. Yet in spite of how we clamor for the new, we avoid it. New terrifies many of us. "We follow the same schedules, eat the same food, drive to and from work the same way, follow the same patterns of communication with our spouses and children, and meet our needs with the same solutions. In other words, we do not live life very creatively," writes Dr. Cury.

And Jentezen Franklin would contribute his agreement -"Anybody can be normal. Normal is overrated. Someone has to say, 'But I want more! Lord, I'm hungry! I'm going to have to push tradition aside! I'm going to have to push religious rules aside!" He says this because when we fast, we are doing something out of the norm. I would add that maybe we are being creative when we fast. Not that we're intending to be creative by going on a fast- but we have broken the routine, the daily norm, and we are breaking through to deeper communication with God when we fast. We are creatively communicating with Him in the newness of hunger and unfamiliar physical weakness, and with a mind that is starting to clear and a spirit that is magnetized more to God's heart.

Today as I sat in church, I suddenly realized that this year, the new thing for me is that I am not going to make any New Years Resolutions. This could be the first time ever that I am not making a list of resolutions. But there will be Resolutions, make no mistake about that. It's just that I am not creating them.

These Resolutions have already been written for me in Scripture, and I see them now in a whole new light. For instance, "I have set my face like flint, and I know I will not be ashamed" Isaiah 50:7 declares. That's a resolution. I've decided that should be my resolution as well. I didn't write it. I didn't author that thought. God did. But God wants that to be my resolution.

I think God has a number of important resolutions for me. They are HIS resolutions. He is resolved that His children should know His love and His mercy in a whole new way. He is resolved that we should not live as orphans. He is resolved that redemption and renewal should occur in our lives. I am in agreement. Or at least, I want to be in agreement. I want to join in with His New Year's Resolutions for me. He even has New Day Resolutions for me, because every day that I wake up there is new grace, fresh hope, a new slate.

So my journal is devoid of New Year's resolutions this year, as far as resolutions that I compose, dream up, decide upon. I've asked God to let me join in with His work not only in the world, but His special work He is doing in me. He has resolutely declared so many truths in His Word about who He is, what I should know, how I should know Him, that I don't think its wise for me to come up with New Year's resolutions of my own. He's written resolutions that come from His heart, flow out of His will, and are meant to touch my life in such a way that they become my own resolutions.

I'm resolved. I've set my face like flint. I'm strong in Him. I'm not going to be ashamed. And that's just a few that He's speaking to me about. Let the New Year come. It's going to be a good one.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Eve and Beyond

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Ah, the bliss. It's Christmas Eve, and all through the house not a creature is stirring; not even Harry and his stuffed mouse. Well, actually Harry doesn't have a stuffed mouse. He has a bunch of toys, such as a stuffed grouse, a pheasant (which was recently eviscerated and now I have to sew it up again), his orange orangutan, and a couple other toys that don't interest him as much. But as you all know from visiting here at Faith Fuel, Harry's chief interest in life is contentment. He finds contentment through lots of naps and by following me around the house. Cause wherever I am, that may he be also- with me. That's his thinking.

Harry doesn't even seem to notice our sparkling Christmas tree, which is leaning precariously to one side. He doesn't notice that today is Christmas Eve and that we're about to celebrate the most life changing event in all of History: that of a babe being born via a virgin birth, a babe who is the Savior of the world. And I love that word, Savior. I love that Savior who is the Word, the living Word. I need a Savior. I don't know about you, but I need Him more than ever. I want Him to save me body, mind, soul, and spirit. And lately, especially have Him save the mind. I want Him to redeem and renew my thinking so I can perceive all of Who He is and How He works in my life. I do not want to be dull and slow to perceive.

The book on Fasting ( by Jentezen Franklin) arrived the other day, ironically. The fridge is loaded ( and taking center stage is the big hunkin' Standing Rib Roast we will have tomorrow, on Christmas Day) and our pantry is thankfully full. What an abundance of food and feasting with friends we will have! I feel happy about this type of rejoicing around the table. There's a time and a place for it- and the time is now.

But I'm hungrily reading the book on Fasting and my spiritual appetite is also fired up. This book is opening my eyes to the bright side of Fasting. Yes, there's a lack of food and natural sustenance when you go on a fast, but there is no lack of fellowship and feasting on God's Word while you abstain from food. And there's all kinds of fasts. To our generation, a fast where you eat only fruits and vegetables and drink only water would be a type of pain and suffering many would tremble at!

It's not avoiding food that is the key ingredient in a Fast. It's the drawing close to God, through Fasting, that stirs me. It's the breakthroughs of various kinds that occur when you break from natural food and cling to the Bread of Life and cry out "feed me till I want no more", as the song goes. As Jentezen Franklin points out, God is hungry. He is hungry for real fellowship with us and not our rituals of church going and half hearted praying.

Some of us are going through some real battles, real trials. Some of us do not have any half hearted apathetic gestures we are employing to get God's attention. No, instead, we are waving our arms furiously, signally to God, "Over here! Help! Please!" and we are hoping God is hearing.

HE is hearing us. He is seeing our prayers as well as listening to them. But we may not be hearing Him as clearly as we could. We may need to get more serious in our drawing near to God. We may have to push aside food, push aside frivolities and distractions and get desperately intent on knowing Him in all His goodness. When I say that, I mean that we will have to get intent on proving that we don't just know- in our head- that He is good, but that in our lives, His goodness and mercy overflows and many see it and are glad. When people see you blessed and spiritually fed and so content that bliss oozes from you, the world will grab you by the arm and say, Please tell me how you found such contentment!".

I am ready to feast and rejoice with my family at the Heralding of Good News of Great Joy- a Savior is born! But I am also ready, as the New Year approaches, to seek Him with all my heart so that all of my heart knows Him, experiences Him, and sees Him for Who He really is. I am ready for A NEW Year of real newness, fresh revelation.

He is the Way Maker. He is the One Who Makes A Way through the Wilderness. And I know I don't know Him well enough yet. My soul is not content to just be near Him, enough to feel drowsy and content like Harry does when he sleeps nearby at my feet. I want to know God so well that contentment and courage both infuse me, and the courage makes me bold and alive while the contentment keeps me a peace.

There's a journey you have to take if you want to know God. I'm on it. He is the Journey and He is at the end of my journey. Today, it's Christmas Eve. Tomorrow is Christmas Day. And after that, I will still be hungry for more of Him.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Small Packages

Good things can come in small packages- or so they say. I hope my daughter thinks this is true when she looks under the tree on Christmas morning. One of the better gifts, hoped-for and longed for- will be there, under the tree in a small box. The power and value of something is not always in its size.

Likewise, this little book, For These Tough Times by Max Lucado, is a small little package but with a value proportionate to the truths contained within it. Maybe you would call this a Gift book or a little Devotional. I wasn't hit by major blow-your-mind-truths when I read this book, but I did rediscover some gems of wisdom that are always good to remember.

It has eight little chapters, and they get better as you go. When you hit chapter five, you get into the meaty truths that are crucial to remember: how to find peace of mind by letting go of the incessant need for justice, how to know that God is speaking still by being reverently still before Him (chapter 6), and chapter seven a little reminder that "those who pray keep alive the watch fires of faith". I'm all for firing up your faith. A roaring fire keeps cold doubts and gripping fear from chilling you to the bone.

This is a good book. It may even be a powerful book- for someone who needs to hear these simple truths expressed in a clear soothing voice. That's Max Lucado's voice for you- it can be comforting and guiding, even if it isn't a shout in the dark or a trumpet blast from the rooftop. There have been some authors who do just that, to me, when I read their books- they jolt me to action, awaken me from lethargy or fuzzy thinking.

This book, though, is a companion for your softer hours or your lonely times. It may be a small reminder of a big God who loves you or it may be a gift to someone who needs just a little nudge in the right direction.

What's the best SMALL gift you ever got? I would love to know!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

A Weather Bulletin

Snow and more snow. Storms and ice and slushy driving. The weather outside is frightful, as the song goes- but it's wonderful inside my home. The four of us have been holed up at home, ever since Alex arrived (on Christmas break from college) at midnight, Thursday night, at our local airport. We drove home and had hot chicken noodle soup and grilled cheese sandwiches at 1am and talked until 2am and then we crashed in our beds.

I woke up the next morning grinning from ear to ear: my boy was home safe and sound. And then the next snow storm hit- but it didn't matter. Our fridge was stocked, Alex was asleep in bed, the power stayed on, and we were all together.

From one snowstorm to the next, it's all a blur to me as to which storm I'm in the middle of: the first storm (an onslaught of ice and freezing rain) we lost power, the second storm hit right after Alex arrived, and then this morning it was so bad that even local churches cancelled services. I think this is the third storm. But it won't be the last- that I know for sure.

Last night I slept to the sound of pouring rain- even though it wasn't raining outside. My best friend, Mu, bought me an interesting Christmas present that just shows how well she knows me. It's one of those noise machines that have different sounds you can choose from: the sound of a waterfall, the sound of a heartbeat (that one is a bit scary sounding), the sound of birds in a forest, the sound of rain pouring down. I chose the rain.

I've always loved the sound of rain as long as I am indoors and dry and warm when the sound of rain is occurring. Mu knows I am a light sleeper and that this noise machine could help me relax. It did. I slept like a log last night. I slept through all that rain. And then woke up to another blast of snow and whiteout and frost and cold.

But it's all good- cause I keep getting through every storm; and lately,even, with a smile on my face.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Get with the Plan!

A roaring fire in the fireplace and mugs of hot tea and real, true fellowship- what more could you ask for? Nothing more. It was enough for me; more than enough.

Yesterday afternoon was one of those experiences that become a deep, good memory that you later will draw upon- if you remember and fix it in your soul, if you take it in and feast upon it while it is happening. And that's what I did. I just kept gulping in all the warmth in the room like a woman drinks in a mug of hot tea on a day when everything is so cold. Two wise women, experienced in living long and loving God, invited me into their home again, and into their hearts. They connected me with a new friend, an old acquaintance really, who understood some of the journey "issues" that I've been dealing with.

There was such warmth in the room, such sharing and transparency, that my spirit felt fed and fattened with gladness. Later I thought of the verse, My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness, and my mouth shall praise You with joyful lips (Ps 63:5). That's how rich a time it was.

And that just shows how previously dry and bony I felt. Frustration will do that to you. Frustration will suck the life out of you till you feel as dry and thin as a toothpick. Now, I knew I was going through a frustrating time these last months. I knew I was battling the leanness of soul that you can feel when you don't understand what God is doing with all the 'No's" He's saying to you. You want to believe God for "more" but you start to get to the point that you think the "more" has to do with "more problems, more trouble ahead". So you put up a flashing warning sign in your soul: Caution! That's all it says. And one word says it all.

Caution!- because you feel like you're on slippery ground- even if its as dry as a desert. Caution- because you want to love and embrace and give and hope- but your spirit says to you that you don't have enough left inside you to do all that. Frustration will dry out your bones and dry up your hope- even when you're working so hard to make this not be so.

And that "working so hard" part may just be the problem. You can't work for moments of grace. You can't work and strive for peace and relaxed enjoyment of another person's friendship. You can't work for love and encouragement. There has to be a spark of God's breath on the situation for all that to occur. There's has to be the divine touch of God and the child-like response of simply receiving-opening yourself up- for all that beauty to occur.

So now I feel well fed, fresh and full, green and vibrant with life. God gave me an afternoon of just what I needed- when I didn't know what I needed. I thought I needed Answers. He thought I needed life and relational honesty. I thought I needed a better Plan. He said He already made one for me. And maybe its better if I stop striving so hard, and just get with the plan. His plan.

"I know what I'm doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for" (Jer. 29:11, The Message)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Now That's a Thought!

I'd like to rename this book, Think and Make it Happen by Dr. Augusto Cury, and give it a name that aptly describes what happens when you read this book: clarity and courage infuse your heart and mind, and mental confusion and self-condemnation are on their way to being eradicated. Maybe I would title this book Jesus Thinks too- because many want to depict Him as a completely spiritual being, a Savior with a heart of love, a man humble unto death- but not necessarily as a man in full control of his mental faculties.

Dr. Cury asserts that Jesus is our role model in this crucial area of mental health, though there might be Christians that squirm away from that suggestion. Not because it isn't true, but because it sounds so nonspiritual. But there is nothing holy and spiritual about a broken mind, a depressed person living in the dark, a tormented soul with a neurotic mind- however many verses that tormented mind is reciting. Yes, we need to follow Jesus' example and wash others feet (serve); yes, we need to take up our cross (the cost of discipleship); yes, we need to share the gospel (evangelism)- but what about sharing in the mental health of our Savior as well? He was healthy in mind, sound, clear, cogent.

Ask the secular world how many healthy minded Christians they know and they'll count on one hand. I indict myself here, as well. I was part of the problem, for many years, being sold that deep spirituality often looked crazy, wild, insane. I knew, and still know, many mentally unstable Christians. Is it because we keep getting told that the mind is not as important as the spirit? We keep reading about how to pray, how to serve- but not how to think correctly? How to think clearly? "As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he" is a verse we pay little attention to.

What about calling this book, Taking Center Stage: The Outrageous New Position of Today's Christian. No, I'm not referring to being a Glutton for Attention. This is not about the Entertainment Stage- but about the stage of your mind. Who rules your mind? Dr. Cury wants to help people think about this concept.

"Empowering your inner leader means making conscious decisions that will benefit you" he writes. But even here, we Christians might squirm because we automatically assert "But Jesus is supposed to be on the throne of my heart." Yes- but will Jesus actually think for you? Will Jesus do the work of sorting, analyzing, questioning, and deliberating? That is our work to do. It's time more of us started working, and working profitably. The return for this kind of labor is a healthy mind, a mind at peace, a mind clear and perceptive.

Nothing sounds better to me right now than that kind of a mind. It's a crazy world. It's an anxiety-ridden world. There's a deep dark pit you can plunge into if you want to dwell on the possible problems of tomorrow.

But there's light on your path for today, and there's light that can shine in your mind. I call it revelation. And whatever you call this book, whatever you title it, it's worth the read. It's a powerhouse of not only information, but actual food for thought- good thought, good thinking. And that may be the thing we are after- more than we know.

So, what do you think about the power of your mind? I'd like to know!

More reviews here

Saturday, December 13, 2008

When the Power Returns

Now here is when you don't need to care what you look like: when it's dark, cold, and you're in the middle of a storm. Literally. The blizzard (well, more of an ice storm) hit us Thursday late at night. At 4:46am the power went off. The cold began- both outside the house and inside.

Friday morning I stumbled around the house, in the early morning hour, dressed in pajamas (mismatched), an aqua fleece robe, and Bill's coffee-stained white robe on top of that. I looked huge, Abby told me when she woke up. I felt warm, though- and that's what mattered. We heard the sleeting ice outside and the cracking sound of falling tree limbs everywhere. It was time for a pioneer type of survival, and the three of us relished the change of pace. This is what we do best. This is something we know- how to make do in a quasi-emergency of sorts.

Bill went to the family farm to pick up our generator we had in storage. This is the generator we bought back when we built our house, our dream house- not the house we are in now, but the one we always talk about like the way fishermen talk about the one that got away.

Abby and I holed up on the couch with more blankets over us and tons of books around us. We ate chunks of cheddar cheese (opening the fridge just once, lest we lose the remaining cool air left inside) and Pepperidge Farm Snack Sticks- toasted sesame baked with a touch of garlic. Delicious. (We also found juice boxes in the pantry downstairs and brought them up to our little fort). Then we cocooned into the couch and we read. And read.

When Bill got back with the generator, he rigged up a system where we could have heat and the coffee maker going at the same time. It was around 3pm when I first got that blissful cup of coffee. Then we heard the mailman roar up to our mailbox and we looked at each other in amazement. That old adage is true about neither sleet nor snow nor rain nor hail will keep you from getting your U.S. mail (or something like that).

And guess what was in the mail? The first of those two books I was waiting for!And this is the greatest part of our whole adventure with this Northeast Blizzard- that in the midst of it all, something I waited for, something I really needed to read- arrived! I had already read through a whole novel earlier in the day and was in need of something else to read. What I had eaten for the day, so far, was crackers and cheese. Later I would eat half a baked potato for my dinner and then a piece of leftover blueberry pie. That's what I had as far as food for the stomach.

But as for food for the soul....ah, now that's another matter. This book- Think and Make it Happen- sounds so cheerful and almost shallow by its title. It might even sound, to some, to be rather carnal- as though we replace God with the power of our mind and then we are all hunky dory.

But that's not what Dr. Augusto Cury is writing about. He is intent on addressing a very sad conclusion: that humans are living way beneath our God-given potential. And when it comes to thinking correctly, you have to deal with emotions and personalities because "the mind is really our control tower- the source of every word we speak, every action we take, every emotion we feel, and every thought we have."

Now, I never consciously realized that I had an unspoken rule about which books I read when it comes to self-help; but I realized as I read the first couple pages of this book that I did have a rule- an important one- that made me continue on with a book or made me toss it aside. Here's the rule: I have to see that the motivation for the book came out of a personal experience where the author triumphed over something and thereby wanted to share with others that victory. I can't stick with a book if I read it and see pride or arrogance splayed across the page. I can't read a book if legalism or fear of transgressing a law makes the author rigidly adhere to a certain success formula and then he wants to "share" it with me, the reader.

But that's not what I saw here in this book. I saw that the author, a learned and degreed gentleman, had an experience with depression while in medical school and that it was probably excruciating. He faced something dark and bitterly cold in his soul. Maybe he wasn't at all prepared for this type of ice storm that hit him. But he was prepared, years later, to share what he learned through it all, "that when the world abandons us, the loneliness can be overcome, but when we abandon ourselves, the loneliness is almost unbearable".

Don't abandon yourself, Lauren- I whispered to myself as I read the first couple pages. I've been so frustrated lately, so overcome with a sense of feeling unable and inept. And here, when I read these words, and outside the trees kept creaking and groaning under the weight of all the ice, I suddenly realized how I don't really need answers from God as much as I need a new perspective of myself, our situation, our past, our future.

I need a pick-me-up in my spirit, the way that a fighter needs a pep talk from his trainer after a particularly long, grueling fight where he looks like ground up sausage and feels worse than that. The ice storm is about over. Power is starting to be returned to households across the area, across the state, across the entire Northeast. And power has been given even unto me, to overcome, to run and not get weary, to rise up, and to rise up again and again every time I fall.

Can't wait to start reading chapter 2. I'm restricting myself with this book: there's so much to take in that I can't race through it. I'm savoring the journey. I'm dressed for the cold. And I'm ready for the sunshine...whenever it may come.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Fashion Advice for the Spiritually Weary

It's official. My 14 year old daughter is now my fashion consultant. All the parties involved agree that this is best. I was getting a little drab in my choices, zeroing in on black and more black when it came to getting dressed or adding a new sweater or top here and there when the situation warranted it.

The deciding day, though, was one in which she saw me looking in the mirror, pursing my lips in indecision over what I had on. It was not a pretty sight.

"Come with me, Mom" she said, taking my hand and bringing me to her room. She grabbed my jewelry box first and then in her room, in a flurry of color, quickly revamped my outfit. I was in total agreement that she knew what would look best on me. You see, if you're going to have a personal shopper or a fashion consultant, you've got to completely trust who's dressing you.

I've known my daughter for over 14 years, and in the last couple years have seen such wisdom, confidence and joy of expression come from her. I used to think shopping for clothes was all about getting the best bargain. I would go for a slightly damaged orange well-made sweater (even though I hate orange) because it had $9.99 on the tag, and miss the whole point of dressing in color and texture that makes you feel good.

So now, it being Christmas, I have had to make a little list for my husband and kids because they want to know my "wish list". But this year I said, "Whatever Abby thinks is good, is fine with me" and I can't wait to see what she thinks is right. If you think I sound like an eighty year old who has given up on decorum and self-esteem, I haven't. It's just that I need a new fresh wind in my life- of all sorts- and when it comes to fashion, why not let someone I love and trust pick the style, pick the colors? Why not let that person who is trying to find the best look for me- dress me?

I'm trying to do this with God also- let Him dress me. Scripture tells us that we can be dressed in robes of righteousness because of what Christ has done for us on the cross. But there's more fashion choices in the Bible than you would first think.

If God decides to give you a robe of multi-colors, as did Joseph's father , that colorful robe could cause problems in your life for a long time. You might rue the day that you received that robe because of all the jealousy and experiences of pit and prison that you wind up having because of the robe. But then the day could come that you're in a place of honor and responsibility and you suddenly appreciate that your Father saw fit to give you that robe.

You could also come to the day, in your life, that you feel at your end. Maybe you've gone through a time of mourning because you lost a loved one, or maybe you've lost your life savings, or maybe you've lost your confidence in God, in His love for you. That's when you would be so glad to receive "the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness"(Is. 61:3). If God said, "Let me dress you in something that causes your soul to wake up and sing" and you haven't sung in a very, very long time, that would be quite an experience.

I used to go around belting out that old song based on Scripture "Put on the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness, life up your voice and sing..." in times when I needed to rouse my soul to action and faith. Now I see that what I could do, instead, is call out and ask my Heavenly Fashion Consultant to dress me in the garment of His choice, for the season I'm in- and let me know that this is completely for my good.

If I trust Him- really trust Him- I'll tell him to have His way with me, and then I'll get ready to be dressed in such a way that I shine or sparkle or sing...or maybe I'll just know that what He chose for me was only, and completely, out of love.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Remind Me NOW

My computer is overloaded with files and saved data - a fact that means little to me until it starts to slow down to a crawl and I pound away at the keyboard hoping to get the computer to pick up its speed. My son was supposed to play Techno Doc when he was home Thanksgiving break, but he never get around to fixing my computer.

There's this "thing" on my computer screen that keeps popping up, asking me if I want to do one of three things. I keep clicking on "Remind me later". Every day when it pops up, I just pick the "remind me later" choice. I'm not even sure what its going to remind me to do but I know that I don't want to do it now.

Nike told us it was better to "Just Do it" but they never said why. Well, at least not in a detailed thesis of procastination verses....is there one single word that describes the opposite of procastination?

Anyhow, yesterday I was reminded that there are a number of important things that I do need to be reminded of, and there's no better time to be reminded of these key things than right now. Right now I need to know God's Love in a fresh new way. I mean fresh as in produce that just comes out of the ground, not fresh as in laying on the grocery produce shelves, occasionally being misted with water so that the lettuce still looks green and firm and inviting to the consumer.

There are some age old truths about the Father's love for us that need a reawakening of belief in our souls. Today. Right now. Not tomorrow. Tomorrow there will be enough national crises and bad news that will cause us to need to know His love. But today is where we are at. Today is when we need the power of His love for whatever we are dealing with- internationally, nationally, or for what we are facing right at home.

Two dear women prayed with me, prayed over me, yesterday. They might as well have been dressed in armor, wielding swords, carrying out intricate spiritual battle plans- for the way that they prayed for me. They were intent on seeing me have a new understanding of something. I went to meet with them intent on maybe getting some answers to why I feel so mixed up, off track, far behind in the race. I just wanted answers.

They spiritually saw, instead, a thing that kept popping up, like a flashing sign over my head. I think they felt in their spirit a keen intention that this woman- me- should be reminded now of the Father's love.

Maybe I've been saying "Remind me later, Lord" when God has wanted to love me, because sometimes love seems to be the last thing on your mind. Love doesn't seem to be the answer to an impending Depression the nation is facing. Love doesn't seem to be the answer to career questions and issues of bill paying and debt. So of course if God wants to bring up His love for me, I would be quick to say "Remind me later- cause right now, my system is overloaded, I'm clogged with too much information and not enough answers, and all I want is relief, Lord. Just plain relief."

I'm finding out that when I ask for relief, God gives me love. When I inquire about the economy and issues of finances, God says the answer is a type of love called Provision. When I pray about the national news that overwhems me, God says He wants to love our nation. When I look at the whole wide world all askew, God says "That's why I came to earth". To love us. To show the power of His love. And it is something that, more than ever, we all need to know now.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Digging for Pearls of Wisdom

I love it when a plan comes together. But I also love a good paradox. I'm practically salivating at the thought of what I am going to be reading next: two books which, from the outset, seem almost diametrically opposed in thought, practice and attitude. And these two books come from two different Christian Publishers.

I'm not sure which book will get here first: Fasting: Opening the Door to a Deeper, More Intimate, More Powerful Relationship with God by Jentezen Franklin, or Think and Make it Happen :The Breakthrough Program for Conquering Anxiety, Overcoming Negative Thoughts, and Discovering Your True Potential by Dr. Augusto Cury.

One book seems to be about approaching God on an empty stomach, weak, with a seeking heart; and the other book seems to be about the power of our mind and how it is a gift to us from God- not a curse. But you see, that's what it looks like these books are about. I won't know till I open up the books and dig in. It will be a noble digging, of that I'm sure.

It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, But the glory of kings is to search out a matter.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

A Heart to Heart Talk with Harry

I come out to the living room in the morning and usually find my journal and my Bible where I left them- and Harry sleeping on top of them.

I think he has a hankering for more of my thoughts and maybe he wonders if I talk about him in my journal. (I do- I write often how he is the only member of our family to always be so loving, so consistently sweet, and also how he is a nasty garbage picker as well, but that everyone has to have a couple bad traits; so, I can't complain about his).

But he not only sleeps with his head on my journal, but sometimes equally as close to the Bible. I think my dog has a yearning for some answers. But the kind of truth he's looking for has to do with his security: will we return for him when we leave him for a couple days to go on a trip? Will we feed him if he flips his bowl in the air as a sign that he's ready for the next serving of that delicious dry dog food that he is stuck with? (Bill tells me not to put anything on the dry food because Harry's stomach is so delicate, but I often give him a little chicken broth on top or some cooked carrot or a little smackerel of meat. This is why he comes to me and lays at my feet and follows me throughout the day. )

Harry seems to be looking at the Bible and at my journal trying to make a choice about substance and value: which one holds the answers? Which one should be dear to him?

I love how this dog makes me feel like every word I say (understood by him or not) is important to him. I know that the truth is he goes by the tone of my voice, and not by the actual meaning of the word, in discerning what I am saying. We all talk to him in that oochy-goochy voice that you use to talk to a baby, and he lifts his eyes to us and hangs on every word we say. He cares about being near us- even if he doesn't understand us.

But the wonder of my relationship with the God of the Universe is that He completely understands every thing I say and everything I haven't yet said- but will, shortly. And so I value my journal. I value my own thoughts, my questions and my prayers written out in short hand, long hand, and sometimes in a shaking hand, because God tells me He values them.

For some, it's audacity to write and journal and read the Bible all at the same time. Some think the Bible first, the Bible only, and never mind your thoughts. Some think the Word of God can not lie side by side with the words of men. But "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us"- and Christ was not afraid of the thoughts of man. While weak and wrong, often, they are still valid. They reflect our plight and our position here on earth: we only see "in part". God knows that. He still welcomes our thoughts and our questions, though. Isn't that amazing? He loves to see us bring our all before Him.

Obviously God's words are so much higher than ours, so much more in value and substance and power. Yet Harry seems to think the two- man's thoughts and God's words- are both beautiful and meaningful in their own way. And I believe he's got that thought right on the mark.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Almost There

"Almost" is a powerful word. It packs an incredible punch of hope or dismay. A marathon runner who is almost at the finish line will often get his second wind. But a woman who is almost ready to give birth is often not encouraged at all with the thought of almost. Almost means nothing when the pain is great, so great that you forget what you were trying to birth.

That's what happened to me when I had my first child. I forgot that I was giving birth to my son because I suddenly was in the midst of a pitocin induced roaring pain that felt like a freight train ripping through my body. So when the doctors in the delivery room (there were several due to Alex's preemie status) kept saying "You're almost there", I heard nothing but "Pain! Pain! And more pain!". I didn't hear an end in sight. I didn't see a finish line. I was in the midst of a searing "now" with no end.

I'm thinking about all this because that's what I was battling this past week: the almost verses the now. This past week was about the quiet but powerful influences that sap us of our strength, not the noticeable stresses we all have to deal with, such as travel and finances and logistical hurdles like delayed planes and traveling college students.

It was stressful- me trying to get our son back to Kentucky, but not something that many don't deal with every day. But because this was only his second time flying, his first time flying alone, and my first time walking him through it, it was a bit of a challenge. Thanksgiving holiday delays and overbooked seats caused him to get cancelled out of his planned return on Monday morning. Then yesterday when we went in, confident that we were getting him off on time, we found this second planned flight had a glitch with a delayed incoming plane that would cause him to miss his connecting flight. So he would have to be rerouted to Atlanta, which is one of the largest airports in the U.S., and there he would have to connect with the second flight and then get to Kentucky. He had to re-arrange a pick up at the airport (to get to his college campus) for the third time.

But he did get there. He called me last night after I had left a message asking, did you finally make it?

"I'm here in Kentucky, but we were hit by a tsunami so I'm underground with nothing to eat but peanuts and I think I'm having an allergic reaction- but other than that, I'm fine" he calmly told me.

"Ha-ha" I answered him back and smiled. If he was joking with me, then he had made it back safely. Alex always teases me when there is nothing to worry about. So he made it back to college. And I slept last night like a woman who had just run a marathon.

Now I'm back to a quiet house. No weddings, airline travel, hours of driving, or big social events in sight. These aforementioned things were not in and of themselves terribly hard to bear. It was more the unseen dynamics of the battle and the condition I was in when I had to stretch myself this week.

Since Bill and I are both at a career crossroads, and both feeling not only financial pressure but dream pressure, we both are feeling a little dried out- not vigorous and bursting with confidence like a body builder does when he looks at the 100 lb weights he's about to lift. I feel skinny, emotionally, and yet fat with apprehension about the next round I may have to go.

I see the rising economic pressures, the societal unease, and I feel the circumstantial evidence of a world bent on deterring weary travelers and a God who expects weary saints to overcome. If the world even agrees that what you're working towards is a worthy pursuit, it will not tell you that you can make it. The world tells you- you might make it- and might is meant to inflict doubt.

And if you're about to conquer a mountain or reap a harvest, the world will have to admit that you're almost there- but they'll say almost as in "anything could happen, though; and maybe you'll have to go back".

But God keeps telling me "You're almost there"- and by that He doesn't mean making it through the holidays. Beyond the logistics and the financial challenge of a festive holiday celebration, there's another challenge of sorts, having to do with your dream, your heart's passion, your call.

When you look at this kind of challenge, the question is always about the route you are traveling (whether you are on track or not), the distance you have made (are we making progress? Cause if we haven't then we're on a mountain circling round and round). The challenge is also about how much further you have to go and about the response of your spirit when God tells you that you are almost there.

Maybe you feel you are going nowhere. (You might have well meaning dear ones who indirectly let you know that you are going in that direction). God says Nowhere can turn into Somewhere- and don't be so sure you're going nowhere based on the landscape around you. Dry terrain, deserts- these are the places where God loves to shout out in laughter with surprising springs bursting up out of the ground.

I know I look like I am going nowhere. And yes, I feel like I am stuck in the middle of nowhere. But my feeling is not confirmation of reality.

I am certain, now, that some of the best progress we make is indiscernible to the natural eye. I am certain that some of my recent victories have looked rather pathetic to many, but not to God. He tells me "You're almost there, Lauren"- and God says that with Him, almost there is as good as there. Because He's with you en route, He was with you at the beginning, and when almost there turns to there, He'll tell you He already knew that it was.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

A Message From the Valley of Baca

Almost lost my confidence

Almost threw it away
Almost plunged into the abyss
Where thoughts of good are hit or miss

Almost derailed, got off track
Almost gave it up
But God stood firm and straight and tall
-in me- and I did not fall


Monday, December 01, 2008

Your Choice of Words

What a week this past week was. I had tried to write a post here, had written a couple sentences, and had asked my husband if he thought I sounded too negative, too drained of life, as I recounted what this past week was like.

"Do you have to use the word grueling to describe it?" he asked me.

"Well, yes, " I answered back, surprised that he didn't see the aptness of the word. "This past week was one of the most grueling weeks in this entire year."

I know what he was thinking, though. A lot of good things happened this week- why should it be a grueling week? We had our son home this week, on Thanksgiving break from college. We had just been down to our niece's wedding in Nashville over the weekend. Then we drove home and celebrated Thanksgiving with a delicious feast at my sister's house on Thursday. And yesterday we got to go to church and worship and hear a message shared by a man who described himself as a pilgrim. I had poked Bill in the arm when the speaker said that word. That word has particular meaning for us.

So we had a meaningful week; a week of celebration and connection with loved ones. But it was emotionally grueling (and even physically, because of all the days of driving and the fact that I don't think we had a single night where we got to sleep more than six hours). And this morning when we got up at 4am ( yes, four o'clock in the morning), and drove to the airport to send our son back to college in Kentucky, we found out, once there, that he couldn't get his connecting flight. Holiday delays and bad weather were mounting an assault on our best laid plans. The next available flight for him would be tomorrow.

Forget about having all your ducks in a row. "For you have need of endurance" (Hebrews 10:36) comes to my mind. But what I'm craving and calling out for, right now, is refreshment- not the ability to endure. Refresh me, God- give me a second wind! Or at least 8 hours of sleep tonight, and maybe I'll see that the second wind is always available.

When you're weary or worn out, you are open to discouragement and depression. And I'm well aware of that creeping enemy of our soul that loves to capitalize on our times of being flat out of fuel. All week long I had a terrible running inner dialogue going that showed I was starting to talk myself down. I was not encouraging myself. I was not building myself up. And sometimes, sometimes, you just have to build yourself up if others don't see that you're fatigued in spirit and flailing and falling. Sometimes you just have to say the words, to yourself, that you need to hear:

He's with you.
HE is able to save.
He rules.
He reigns.
And He loves you- even when you feel tired and flat as a pancake.
He loves you.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Mountain Climbers and the God Who Loves Them

Why do people tell their story? That's what I kept asking myself as I read Karen James' account of her mountain climber husband's death in her book, Holding Fast: The Untold Story of the Mount Hood Tragedy.

It's interesting how I became familiar with this story: I first heard about this tragedy on the news, and then I heard more about it when Karen James' sister-in-law came to a nearby women's conference and was going to highlight this story as the theme for the conference. The brochure let me know what the coming conference was going to be called: When Life and Beliefs Collide: How Knowing God Makes a Difference. And where there's a collision, there's usually agony and tears. I decided not to go to the conference that year.

The thing about this story that gnaws at you the whole time you are reading the book is- why didn't God answer the prayers, the thousands of prayers that went before Him, pleading with Him to calm the continual storms that buffeted the search teams and halted them in their tracks? It seemed the more that people prayed, the more the rescue was thwarted day after day, until at the end, one climber's body, Kelly James, was found, and the two other climbers were deemed as lost.

Why did Karen James want to tell this story? Utilizing her background in journalism and PR, she painstakingly recounted the details and the days of this tragedy. I had a hard time relating to her voice, though, because I kept thinking, I could never write this way. I could never put all the photos in a book and show them to the world, indicating the magnitude of the search, the gravity of the moment, and the evidence of a personal trial so grave and gut wrenching. I could never go on a trail of clues and try to figure out what what happened to my lost and freezing husband isolated in a snow cave. I could never write about the interviews and news conferences I was doing during the search because I don't think I would be doing them.

But she was a journalist. She was functioning out of her world, her expertise, her coping skills. Everybody handles stress and tragedy in their own way. And hopefully you don't ever have to handle a tragedy such as hers. You would, though -if you married a mountain climber on a mission to find adventure and challenge at every turn. She had a husband so unlike mine that I struggled to take in his beauty of character because he also seemed so hell-bent, even if he was heaven bound. He was a believer. A kind man, a giving man. A man full of creativity and a man crawling and climbing toward danger every moment he could.

Here's where life and beliefs don't collide as much as you would think: Kelly James seemed more comfortable with the idea of a possible climbing tragedy than you would first realize. Thousands were praying for this man to be found on that mountain. But Kelly James left his own heart's desires penned on paper, and these thoughts, prayers, and poems let us know- after the fact- that Kelly James perhaps knowingly began steps to his possible death the moment he stepped on a mountain.

I'm not sure if the author meant for me to have this conclusion but I had a revelation when I read this book. The account of this tragedy is gripping. The loss of the three men is tragic. The efforts of all the search teams were heroic. And the wish of Kelly James was to climb mountains- at any cost.

Perhaps what was colliding was not God's desire to take Kelly James home to heaven verses the countless prayers that were imploring God to save him. Perhaps what collided was a man's prayer for adventure-even-unto-death with the prayers of many who requested a rescue. It was clear in this book that Kelly James' heart felt desire was to challenge limits. He was a man who could not "resist the lure of adventure", who was "absorbed by challenge & to a certain extent, Danger."

This is what amazed me and surprised me in this book: that the author would share so boldly the inner conflict of life and death in her mountain climber husband's soul. He loved adventure, danger, and perhaps the very outskirts of death- and we see this by the poems and bits of writing she shares with us. She talks about what God's purpose was, concerning her husband's death. But perhaps there is also this unspoken message as well: mountain climber Kelly James had a purpose to live a life climbing mountains, defying the odds of survival until one day the mountain defied his wish to live and climb and survive.

This isn't a book to read if you are looking for a good ending, a moralistic account of how to get God to answer prayer, or even how to be a noble Christian living a quiet godly life. What I found at the end of the book was that I got a glimpse into the life of a man who I don't understand at all. I don't understand the need for danger, the risks, the ice and the snow and the altitude of his passion. But I understand that he believed in God, that he loved his family, and that he was undivided in his quest to go higher while holding fast at the same time.

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Shallow End

The day before Thanksgiving is a day of errands and activity in preparation for homage to the great bird, the Turkey. Errands and chores and cleaning and baking- these are all shallow things, we suppose in our minds. This is not a day for lofty thinking and philosophical pursuits.

I have a list of things to do today. Having been away for five days, the house is lacking in attention, the fridge is almost empty (and needs cleaning) and I have two teenagers still sleeping who will wake up hungry and after eating breakfast, will want lunch, then dinner, and then my son will have a bunch of college-aged kids over who will congregate in our lower level and I better not run out of food. I have a lot to do today.

I have to pay bills today, also. I have to juggle the finances and make things stretch. I have to look at Alex's tuition bill and address that. I'm not even going to think about my husband's career crossroads and what needs to happen there.

I'm going to stick to the simple shallow things of ordinary life today. Do what I can do. And I'm going to remember what Oswald Chambers wrote about how the ordinary "shallow aspects of life" are "ordained by Him equally as much as the profound".

I'll try to remember that as I'm scraping dried apple crisp off the oven doors. I was taking the pan of apple crisp out of the oven last night, gloating over the crumbly browned topping, when I suddenly half dropped it. I caught it in time to keep half the contents in the pan (thinking to myself that I would tell my ravenous son, "Half is better than nothing". See how I have these moralistic little lessons ready on my tongue all the time?!). But the rest of the apple crisp splattered all over the hot oven, sending smoke and a pungent burning aroma throughout the house.

So I'm cleaning the oven today as well. But I'm going to remember that"we are safeguarded by the shallow things of life." And I like the idea of being safeguarded. I like the idea of anything having to do with being safe. So I'm listening to the words of Oswald Chambers. He's right. "We are so nauseatingly serious, so desperately interested in our own character and reputation, we refuse to behave like Christians in the shallow concerns of life."

So how does a Christian clean a dirty oven? How does a Christian pay the bills and grocery shop and scrub counters and clean toilet bowls? Not with a halo on their heads. Not even with a pious look on their face. If smoke is still in the air and the acrid smell of dried baked on brown sugar is filling their nostrils as they bend over the oven and scrape and scrub, the Christian will wrinkle her nose and wish she had held onto the apple crisp pan better. The Christian will scrub the toilets and not try to act like it's a great service for God. It's not. It's simple service. Its taking care of the shallow things of life.

And you can only do that if you're alive. You can only wrinkle your nose in disgust at burned apple crisp if you're still breathing, simply trying, still standing after all is said and done.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Home Sweet Home

I have not fallen off the face of the earth. I've been traveling. Lots. That's why I haven't posted in a while.

Bill, Abby, and I drove 14 hours down to Kentucky on Friday and picked up our son at his college and drove 4 hours the next day over to Nashville for a weekend of wedding festivities. My oldest niece, and godchild, got married. Talk about highs and lows, smiles and tears, stress and a test of your equilibrium! It was wonderful. It was beautiful. It was a lot of family (and friends) together- so that always makes it interesting.

Then we drove- well, we were going to drive 16 hours all the way home to upstate New York but heaven poured down its emotions as well. It rained. And it poured. And though we got onto the road Monday morning at 6:30 am, by 6pm we were still on darkened wet highways wedged in between massive trucks on a mission to get someplace. I was pressing my foot to the floor looking for that imaginary brake, calling out to Bill "Watch out! Slow down!" and the kids were having a blast seeing me squirm under the pressure. (They sat in the backseat, and sometimes things look a lot less dangerous when you don't have a full frontal view of whats coming at you).

Sometimes the journey is long, mercilessly long. And sometimes a kind neighbor or brother will step in and let you know, "You're running dry. Stop here. Refresh. Refuel."

And that's what we did. We wound up staying the night in Pennsylvania at my oldest brother's home. We walked into their beautiful home with shaking knees (okay, just mine were shaking) and bloodshot eyes. They made a fire in the wood burning stove, put sheets and blankets on the beds, and we dove in. I was a wreck.

But I woke up and the sun was streaming in. My heart wasn't racing anymore. The second leg of the trip awaited us, but now I felt ready to go on.

So we're home now. In one piece. Sound in mind and body. Harry is delirious with joy at our return for him. (He was staying at my in-laws. He only tried to creep up into their bed one night. What can I say? He's needy).

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Smoke Signals

People do various things to bring comfort into their lives when times are troubled. Toddlers suck their thumbs, some people turn the television on and numb their pain by watching mindless sitcoms, and then there's me: I trim my hair. Not cut it. Just trim.

"Mom!" my daughter will say in a scolding voice at finding me looking in the mirror with the scissors in my hand.

"What?" I protest. "I'm just trimming my hair."

And this scenario repeats over and over. It got to the point that Abby hid my scissors for a couple days. She and my husband had to do an intervention of sorts. No more trimming for me.

I have always dabbled in cutting hair. This started out innocently enough when I was younger and I began to trim a girlfriend's hair and help her style it so that she could look as pretty as she ought to. She was hiding behind her hair and I wanted to help her.

Then I began to cut my husband's hair, years ago, due to economical motivation. He was a pastor in a small church with a small salary. I needed to help make ends meet. So I learned how to use the electric clippers and the different attachments. I give pretty decent haircuts considering most men go into a barber and the barber just mows them down with a clipper. I can do that, I thought, and I did.

Then a year ago my teenage son wanted to grow his hair as long as he could, considering the rules of the Christian school he was at, and it was up to me to keep trimming the ends when his hair would reach his collar (a big no-no). Then after school ended, Alex wanted me to texturize his hair to take out some of the bulk. I know how to use these texturizing scissors pretty well
(a word of caution here: don't try this at home or you could end up bald in a zig zag pattern!).

And then there's me. I have always trimmed my own hair, contorting myself into weird positions so I can see in the mirror the back of my head and get everything just right. I trim my hair partially because its just plain cheaper to do so than to go to a salon every two months and plunk down a huge wad of cash.

But I also trim my hair lately because it comforts me to make something, something, even and straight and right. The last couple years I have been trimming more and more. That should tell you something about my life, or at least tell you something about how I see my life. I see it as a bit uneven, jagged , something's not right here, and then there's this part of my life that I want to get right. I'm coping and I'm comforting myself, when I trim my hair, with the idea that there's something more I could do to fix things, to arrange things better.

Now I know enough about Psychology and I've read enough self-help books to know that in this aspect of my life, this habit is not a good one, that its a reflection of my need to control or cope, and that it's not helping me any. I know this. I don't trim my hair without thinking - this is not good, Lauren.

If you've been trimming your hair, figuratively, in an attempt to get a bit of relief from living in a world which needs a lot more than a new hairstyle, then you may have been asking God for help, for comfort. And until you've heard from God, you've snipped a little here, snipped a little there. Maybe you're doing a lot more woodworking than you did before, and the log you're working on has been whittled down to a toothpick and you're still trying to get it right. Maybe you keep painting the same canvas over and over. Maybe you've been cooking and baking and cleaning to save your life, and people have been asking you- why the frenzy? Why the increase in this activity, this habit of yours?

Sometimes we just do something because its the one thing we know how to do to make sense of something. It's the one thing about which we have a bit of expertise or a bit of wherewithall and we are exerting all we know to do to affect something positively.

I'm not really bringing much comfort to my life when I trim my hair, even if in the very moment I'm trimming I have a momentary sense of satisfaction, of accomplishment, of evenness. I want a comfort that's more enduring. I want a pervading sense of peace. I don't like to feel like I'm in a precarious place of transition and trial.

I've not only been asking God to comfort me, I've been signaling it with my dysfunctional constant trimming of my hair. I see this and God sees this clearly. He's ready to do an intervention of sorts. Because God not only hears our prayers and petitions and requests for help. He sees them as well.

"I love the Lord, because he listens to my prayers for help"
Psalm 116:1

Monday, November 17, 2008

A Certain Economy

Be careful about reading news headlines that scream out shocking truths about the economy. They're meant to scare you. They're pretty much the truth. They're meant to jolt you awake. But they're not meant to minister to your spirit. And you need that just as much as you need truthful information about our economy.

There's a certain veracity to the argument that our nation's economy is on a roller coaster descent of frightening means. Like a roller coaster that got mad and fed up with staying on track and now its off track, and plunging downward. And the fact that its shocking everybody with its plunge makes the roller coaster slightly pleased. It can't help itself. It was telling everyone that it was coming off the tracks and no one was listening.

But then there's another economy that we have to consider. And I was reminded of this at church yesterday. There's God's Economy. And in this economy, the headlines never scream for attention, never delight in evil and in scaring people. There are sober warnings in God's economy- such as you reap what you sow. Such as -be careful to take the plank out of your own eye before you help someone with their lack of vision. And in God's economy, there is an assurance of harvest after a sowing has taken place. What there is not in God's economy is an absolute time table laid out that tells you exactly when this harvest occurs, exactly when everything takes place.

I felt a lifting in my spirits yesterday. That happens when people pray for you. That happens when the yoke of fear gets broken. That often happens when you get together with other people who are honestly and earnestly seeking the Lord. I think we've found a church home. I think we're home now- even if we're still journeying onward.

There's this guy at our church who sits near the back usually. He has a low voice, a soothing voice. And all throughout the worship time- times of exuberant singing and times of beautiful repetitive singing of a certain chorus- this guy will interject his heartfelt exclamations of truth. "You're the King of Kings and we love you" or "You're worthy of praise" or in the case of yesterday, "You've lit our fire, Lord." Oh, yes. That He has.

And God can light a fire of faith in you that rages stronger than the frightening news of a troubled economy. God's economy and its truths can be your internal compass. And while the effects of our natural economy do hit us, hard at times, we still can decide which economy has the most influence over us, over our state of mind, our sense of well being.

In God's economy, those who sow- even while weeping- eventually come to a place of reaping a harvest. Psalm 126 reminds of this. Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy.He who continually goes forth weeping, bearing seed for sowing, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.

My favorite part of that verse is actually just one word- doubtless. Without a doubt. Cause everything in our natural economy tells you that you don't have assurance of anything. So everyone is filled with fear and doubt. But in God's economy, there's Someone eternally solvent who is backing up every single one of His promises. He will have the ultimate say. His kingdom economy is stable and just. No one can sow in faith and come back empty handed. I say that without a doubt in His mind.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

I Do Believe

No sooner had I talked about the fact that lately I've been reading nothing but memoirs than I suddenly got the urge to read a certain book- and it's not a memoir. You might even call it a self help book. But don't worry, it's not one of those "7 Simple Steps to Peace and Prosperity" books. It's a book that simply states, by its title, what we all want to know when we feel we can't go another step: Believe that You Can.

I needed this book this past week. I needed this book's message and I needed to read this author's personal accounts of times when he almost laid down his dreams and his calling because he thought he was all done in. Jentezen Franklin isn't just a good author or pastor. He's also a dreamer. Not a dreamer in the sense of pie-in-the-sky but more like "how to have a dream when there's mud in your face". I wasn't looking for eloquent language or powerful principles well stated and documented. And that's not what I found when I read this book. What I found was hope and a bit of a kick in the pants. A loving one.

I can't even write right now all that's going on in my head and in my life. It's been tense and its been tight financially and its been a bit toxic- the anxiety and the confusion about where we are, where we are going, and where did we get off track- if we did get off track. Cause after reading this book, maybe - I'm thinking- maybe we're just "three days from nowhere" as Franklin writes. Maybe we're closer to a breakthrough than we realize. Maybe we're not giving ourselves enough credit for trying to follow God, even if we fail and flub our way into finding His will. And maybe we're not giving God enough credit for wanting to show up...at just the right time. His right time. Not mine.

Here's the best quote, maybe, in this entire book- and it comes right after he talks about the seasons of our life when we have no answers, no clarity about where we are anymore, and no lack of hurt and pain either:

"Let me give you a little pastoral advice. The biggest room in your brain had better be reserved for things you don't understand. If you have to understand everything before you will trust and serve God, you don't understand the concept of faith!"

Now ask me next week what my favorite quote from this book was and I may tell you something different. But for me, right now, for where I am at, where we are at financially, career wise, ministry wise- this is the quote that echoes in my head.

This quote reminds me of what an African Bible student once shared with me-over twenty years ago- when we were discussing God's will and how confusing it was to interpret God's will. He told me to put the things that I didn't understand "on a shelf" and leave them there till the time would come when I could take that question, that issue, off the shelf, dust it off, and smile- cause faith had finally turned to sight. In that day. That glorious day.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Readers, Writers, Authors, Life Changers

For the first time in over thirty years, I kept a Reading List this year. Thanks to this blog and the widgets and the gidgets they have here, I decided to keep posting and recording the names of the books I read this year(for the most part- I'm sure I forgot to write down some of the books, but I think I got most of them).

When you think about a book's influence on you, how a book can be used to challenge you, soften your heart, make you hope again, influence your perspective, make you want to weep, or run onward- you realize a book is no small thing.

I'd like to honor these authors listed below. Some of these books I loved, some I enjoyed, some moved me mightily, and some I didn't care for- but I still learned something- SOMETHING- from each book I read.

So here's my reading list from September '07 to early November '08:
  • Blue Sky July (a memoir)- Nia Wyn
  • Courage and Craft: Writing Your Life into Story - Barbara Abercrombie
  • Here If You Need Me: A True Story -Kate Braestrup (Nov 08)
  • The Blue Cotton Gown: A Midwife's Memoir - Patricia Harman
  • Cancer Is a B***h: (Or, I'd Rather Be Having a Midlife Crisis)- Gail Konop Baker (Oct.08)
  • Blink - Malcolm Gladwell (interesting, to say the least!) (sept 08)
  • Follow the Stars Home- Luanne Rice
  • Light of the Moon- Luanne Rice
  • Digging to America- Anne Tyler (August 08)
  • The Shack- William P. Young (Wow!)
  • Weary Warriors, Fainting Saints- Joyce Meyer
  • The Success Principles- Jack Canfield (interesting!)(July '08)
  • My Sister's Keeper- Jody Picoult (a deep and moving story. Loved it)
  • Inside the Investor's Brain- Richard L. Peterson (interesting !)
  • Amazing Grace- Kathleen Norris
  • The Best Year of Your Life- Debbie Ford (May 2008) (life-changing principles)
  • Rise and Shine- Anna Quinlan
  • Lost & Found (a Memoir) - Kathryn Slattery (honest!)
  • Get Out of that Pit- Beth Moore
  • Blue Like Jazz- Donald Miller
  • Live Like You're Blessed- Dr. Suzan Johnson Cook
  • Donkeys Still Talk (Hearing God's Voice When You're Not Listening)- Virelle Kidder (March 2008)
  • A Three Dog Life (a memoir)- Abigail Thomas
  • Crazy for God- Frank Schaeffer (not a light read at all!)
  • Traveling Light: Releasing the Burdens You Were Never Intended to Bear- Max Lucado
  • Chicken Justice... by Steve Coffman (light reading)
  • Dangerous Surrender- by Kay Warren (Feb 2008)
  • Pride, Prejudice and Jasmin Field- Melissa Nathan
  • Austenland- by Shannon Hale (just a bit of light reading)
  • The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen- Syrie James (a lovely read)
  • Bird by Bird- Anne Lamott (fuel for writers)
  • The Secret Life of Bees- Sue Monk Kidd
  • Waking the Dead- John Eldredge
  • The Mermaid Chair- Sue Monk Kidd
  • The Flip Side (Break Free of the Behaviors that Hold You Back)- F. Flippen
  • The Journey of Desire- John Eldredge (loved this!! -thought provoking!)
  • The Identity Code- Larry Ackerman (First book I read in Jan. 2008)
  • I Wear the Maternity Pants in this Family- Susan Konig
  • A Place to Call Home- Martha R. Carr
  • Walking in Your Own Shoes- Robert A. Schuller
  • A Walk with Jane Austen- Lori Smith (Great book to read with a cup of tea)
  • Heaven is Real- Don Piper
  • What's So Amazing About Grace? Philip Yancey (Loved this)
  • The Richest Man Who Ever Lived- Steven K. Scott
  • Dealing with the Crazy Makers- Dr. David Hawkins
  • Talent is Never Enough- John Maxwell
  • How Starbucks Saved My Life-M.Gill
  • Become a Better You- Joel Osteen
  • Right People,Right Place, Right Plan- Jentezen Franklin
  • No Man is an Island- Thomas Merton
  • A Short Guide to a Happy Life- Anna Quinlan
  • Thinking Like Your Editor- Rabiner & Fortunato
  • A New Kind of Normal- Carol Kent
  • Thinking about Tomorrow by S. Crandell
  • Reposition Yourself- T.D. Jakes
  • You, Inc.- H. Beckwith
  • Knit Together:Discover God's Pattern for Your Life- D.Macomber
  • When I Lay My Isaac Down- Carol Kent (oh this is gripping!!)
  • Laughing in the Dark- Chonda Pierce
  • The Promise of the Second Wind-Butterworth & Merrill
  • A Life Unleashed-Christine Caine
  • What Happens When Women Say Yes to God- Lysa TerKeurst
  • Pathway to Purpose- Katie Brazelton
  • Running to The Mountain- Jon Katz (love his honesty and his style of writing)
  • Katz on Dogs-Jon Katz
  • It's All Too Much- Peter Walsh
  • Communicating For a Change- Andy Stanley (September 07)
HOW ABOUT YOU? Read anything lately that's changed your life-even just a bit??

I'd love to know what I should read NEXT!

Saturday, November 08, 2008

My Little Reading Corner

Maybe the best way to describe how I'm doing is to tell you that I am reading nothing but memoirs, right now. That should tell you something.

This summer I read nothing but novels- some good ones, some so "light" that I didn't even bother to write them down, some with interesting characters. All easy reading. All fiction. I only wanted to read so that I could temporarily enter another world, a story land, and have the novel end well, and with things all tidy and in place. I read on the beach when we were on vacation, and I read at night, and by the community pool my daughter swam in, and I read while waiting for the light to change.

And boy, did the light change. Not only because it's Fall, and it's daylight savings and everything gets dark and somber by 4pm or so' but also because things in my life have recently gotten...tight. Constricted. Like I'm facing a dark corner and I'm told to go in even deeper. And I say to the person instructing me, "But it's a corner you're asking me to walk into! What can I possibly accomplish being cornered and facing a wall?" That's when I realize I am talking with God. And that's also when I realize He apparently thinks a lot can be accomplished by bringing me into a dark corner, a seeming dead end.

So that's why I'm reading memoirs now. Nothing but memoirs. Because right now I can't stomach any light frivolous reading, any romantic scenes that end in roses and smiles and happily ever afters. I'm looking for something other than fiction. And I don't want to read 12 Steps to Success, or whatever self-help book is indicating that it is clear cut, that the road is straight and clear.

I only want to read about real people and hear them share with me how they got brought into a corner and ... survived it, whatever it was - drastic health issues, widowhood, a failing business, having a child, a son, born with a body that betrays him. I can hear pain in their voice. I can understand their questions, even if I can't really understand the whole scene, the whole complicated scene.

Each story is different. And no one has the same exact values as I do, the same religious, spiritual convictions. But I can still learn from them. And I am. I'm learning that it's amazing what God has put in us, and that it rises up when things get dark and possibilities are not in sight. I'm learning that being an overcomer starts, first, with a decision to be one- or perhaps just with the decision to let God turn you into one.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

All Kinds of Victory

The last couple nights I have slept terribly. I wake up with a throbbing heavy head, feeling exhausted and confused. Can't remember what I dreamt. There are no symbols or images in my mind to help me understand what I was grappling with in my sleep. Whatever answer I was trying to find, I didn't find it in my dreams.

I spent yesterday sighing a lot. Not good. For me that is the tinge of something near to depression. But its just a tinge; like a spot of mold on your cheddar cheese, and you decide it's only a spot and wipe it off...and then eat the rest of the cheese. And so yesterday I kept wiping off that tinge of darkness that hovered near me. I kept going over lessons with Abby, giving her a vocab test, making us a healthy lunch, running out to the post office and then grocery store later in the afternoon. But I did all this with the sheerest of determination and grit- like a cowboy on a dry dusty trail who finds out the trail is longer than he expected and so he digs in, he keeps going, but he feels lost.

It didn't help that in the morning I was reading the early news about the election results, and I was scanning forums and sites where people were writing words of exultation as well as scathing words of hostility, viciousness, and attack . One man won a presidency, there was a victory-and yet there was a lot of alarm, fear, and despair. I tried not to let this plague of distress enter my newly found grateful-thankful mindset...but it did. I felt my optimism and my happy outlook burst like a balloon that was shot at by a nasty little boy with a slightly evil grin. Even at the grocery store, it seemed like people were rude and mean, and children were out of control and screaming and flailing. One little boy was threatening to run out in the road and the mother was nervously trying to placate him as well as keep him alive at the same time.

"I never had to do that," I told Abby as we headed to the car with our groceries.

"Never had to do what?" she asked.

"I never had to worry about Alex acting up and throwing tantrums and terrifying strangers who passed by. He was a pretty mild kid," I paused in my reverie and then smiled at her. "But he made up for all that in his teenage years, didn't he?!". I wanted her to know that I try not to idealize the past. There are all kinds of pasts: the recent past, the real past, the long-ago past, the past that never really occurred but we keep thinking it did.

Here's why I often return to the past- cause that's when I can see God's hand, His presence, a lot better than I can see it in my "now". Like right now, I know He's with me, that He's for me, but is He in front of me paving the way? Because I often feel like I am in uncharted territory, stumbling forward only to look back for His approval of my direction and seeing that He is not there.

"Why do you look for the living among the dead?...He is not here" the angel said (Luke 24). Why do I keep looking back to see if I can find answers for my future? My past can't help me go forward- especially if I am often repeating it! And if I repeat a lesson that I already learned, that I thought I learned, then where exactly am I- in the past, or in the future regretfully remembering the past?

Either way my feet are dogged by memory, by the good memory of seeing how God intervened, and by regret over how bad it was, over how bad I was. But at least I am pretty clear on what happened in my past. I am not clear on what is happening now. If God is in front of me paving the way, I can't see Him, that's for sure. I can't always feel His presence. I only feel my frantic beating heart on those days where I wake up in a hostile world and remember that I have to go out into it. I do hear His words, though, calling to me from up ahead: Do it afraid, Lauren. Do it afraid.

And if I stumble ahead and go grocery shopping and grade a test and make dinner- even though I'm thinking Does any of this matter- if I do all this feeling wretched and dry and short on air, I find that this pleases Him. This. It's so ironic. I feel queasy and unstable- but He sees, instead, a beautiful sight. He calls it....Faith.

"And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him"(Hebrews 11:6). It's just that it seems God always wants to reward me with more opportunities to get to know Him, more chances to stumble ahead, and that's not exactly the Reward I had in mind.

I had in mind a warm blanket and a soft chair; a chance to exult in my recent victory of faith (Lord, I was grateful and optimistic for three whole days!). I had in mind a soothing, "Well done, my child". And instead I hear Him say- from ahead- "Now let's go onward, shall we?".

And so that's what I do.