Thursday, January 31, 2008
Over in Matthew's gospel, chapter 8, we have the account of the Centurion coming to Jesus, declaring his belief that Jesus could heal his servant at home with just a word from Jesus. Jesus heard the Centurion's confident declaration of belief, and "He marveled, and said...'I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel."
Now I've been thinking about this. This is a serious question. Would I be one of the ones who Jesus was marveling at, astounded, because of my unbelief- or would He be smiling and marveling over my great faith and confident conviction of His Lordship and Power?
One of the worst phrases, in my mind, that anyone could hear would be the words, "Oh ye of little faith." May that not ever be said of me, to me, by the Lord. And yet, I may have heard these words whispered to my heart- in truth. I don't want to hear that said of me any more. Little faith is faith that trusts little, lacks confidence in God's willingness to reach out and meet us where we are at. It is under developed faith, a faith that has not risen in strength and conviction.
I want to be the kind of faith-filled woman that God loves to respond to, that God can work with. May He marvel that I believe Him, take Him at His word, in times of drought and darkness, and in times of abundance and light. This is the work of faith. It's an exciting work, a liberating journey, a path that winds upward. And what happens on this path of faith is simply marvelous.
"Marvelous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well." Ps.139:14
Wednesday, January 30, 2008
This has come at a good time. I need a break from all my pondering and pilgrimaging (is that a word?!). Now, why anybody should care about what my quirks and habits are, I don't know. But here they are:
1. Two of my nicknames growing up were Fluff and Butterball. No, I wasn't chubby. Actually I've always been pretty thin. But I love butter. Leave me on a desert island and give me three choices for food and I would choose: bread, butter, and ....hmmmm...steak. As far as the name, Fluff, it's because my Mom said I was so soft and quiet and cuddly. Try explaining that to my husband. He'll say "What happened to the soft and quiet part of you?!"
2. When I walk with someone, I have a habit of sort of leaning and veering to my right and walking you right off the path we're on. It annoys my teenage son, particularly. It could be part of my inner ear-hearing problem, or it could be that I'm just naturally off kilter.
3. I took clarinet lessons for a brief moment, guitar for a little longer, and piano for five years. But I've never had the privilege of someone like Mr. Darcy, of Pride and Prejudice, standing by me as I play the piano, talking with me in a low voice while innuendos filled the air. No, instead, I heard the sound of the kitchen sliding doors being slammed shut at my childhood home, every time I practised on the piano in the adjoining room. That should tell you how good I was.
4. I have a thing about needing the right atmosphere when Bill and I do go out on a date. I don't want to be at big noisy place known for unlimited bread sticks. That just doesn't do anything for me. When it comes to choosing where we should go, he'll look at me and sigh and say, "I know, I know" just as I start with my age-old mantra: "I would rather have a pea at the Ritz than a feast at McDonalds".
5. I have cold feet. All the time. (Except for maybe in the dead of summer).
6. I kiss my dog on his nose and whisper to him he is the love of my life- when Bill is not in the room. Harry sighs with contentment when I do this because he knows it is utterly true.
*Now, any one who has commented here in the month of January, please consider yourself tagged. If you find this kind of thing fun, then please comment here that you're participating in this. I'll be the first one to come over and read about your quirky behavior- now that you know about mine!
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
The "at all costs" was ringing in my ear even as I whispered it in my heart. If I look around me, I don't have answers for a lot of recent challenges that have risen up and presented themselves to me. But in that chapel, while the guest speaker preached and challenged the students and visiting parents to examine themselves, examine their path, I had to ask myself if I was ready to keep walking- without having answers. I needed to surrender all doubts and fears, again, so that I could keep walking with Him, through thick and thin, on concrete pathways obviously planned for me, and through seasons of confusing signals and paths that seemingly evaporated before my eyes.
I said yes to this surrendering of the soul- and suddenly a lightness was there in my spirit again. I still had no answers but I suddenly realized that I didn't need answers so much as I needed the God who gives answers- when they're meant to be given. The road was still uncertain before me, but I felt ready to almost frolic along the way.
Later in the day, my son and I had dinner in the cafeteria. We chatted about all that we were seeing while visiting this college. We both were contemplative, pondering the turning point that was before us both. He headed off to spend the night at the guy's dorm, and I went back to my room at the inn.
The next morning, I went down to the dining room for breakfast. There were two couples there, and a single gal. We started talking. It was as if we had known each other a long time. For some reason, they seemed to know who I was, what motivated me, what tore at my heart, and what I was aiming for in this life. One woman took my hand in the middle of our conversation, in the middle of me sipping my coffee and having a bite of the egg casserole, and she said, "Can I pray with you?" That's like asking me if I would like to win a day at the spa. I nodded my head, and she prayed. She prayed something that I can't remember, as far as words; but as far as effect on me, I do remember that. Boldness returned to my soul.
The interesting thing is that as I was packing for the trip, I had decided to take a charm bracelet. I wore it the whole time. On this bracelet was a tiny silver box that opened. I had a shred of paper inside the box and on it I had written just one word. One little word ....Boldness.
On the day I called, You answered me;
You made me bold with strength in my soul.
Monday, January 28, 2008
"Mom, do you have to be so....loud?" Abby asked, noticing the other drivers looking at us as we pulled into the parking lot.
"Would you rather I be somber and quiet?" I asked her with a smile. I had a quick flashback to all the times I was with my mom and she got exuberant in her faith. I remember wishing I could shrink into the seat. Now I realize my Mom was singing her battle song- and many times she sung it completely by faith, by absolute will to keep pressing in for the strength and power God would offer her.
One of my favorite verses from the Psalms is "Sounds of rejoicing resound in the tents of the righteous" (Psalm 118"15). Or in my case, they often resound in my car while I'm driving. Often I'll shout and sing as though the walls of oppression fall down depending on the decibel level of my song of praise going up.
But I wasn't singing or shouting on Thursday. As the plane took off for Kentucky, on Thursday afternoon, what I was telling God quietly was this: I believe you, Lord. I believe in You. I trust you. I was not asking God to do anything for me because I knew that there was something I needed to do first. "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee, because he trusteth in thee". This is what I wanted to do for God- believe Him. Trust Him.
We arrived in the little college town and got dropped off at the bed and breakfast I was staying at. (Alex was going to stay in the dorm). It was cold, dark, and quiet. But when Alex and I walked to the campus and entered the upstairs meeting room where all the prospective students and admission reps were gathered, we walked into a warm, welcoming environment. The DVD they showed about the college made me feel like my son would come alive at this school. I started to see that this weekend was going to reveal some interesting things, answer some questions we had about where we each belonged, and what we did with our gifts and our abilities.
The next morning, I went down to the little dining room at the B&B for breakfast. The sun was streaming in. I sat down at a long table and within minutes was enveloped in conversation about children, college choices, the spiritual environment of the school. People shared their church backgrounds and what ministries they were involved in. These were my brothers and sisters in Christ. I had only just met them, and immediately we were fellowshipping. We were each sharing our story of where we were at, what we were hoping for, what were involved with.
Later that morning, on campus, Alex and I went to chapel. The sun streamed in through the stained glass windows, flooding the old chapel with warmth and light. On the pulpit, a contemporary worship team was belting out their song with passion, singing out their heart to God. Then the guest speaker got up to share a message. And as he spoke, God spoke to my heart as well......
(To be continued)
Sunday, January 27, 2008
We left Thursday afternoon for the airport. When Bill dropped off Alex and me, I went through the motions of getting checked in, going through security, looking for our gate. But deep inside, I also was getting ready to gut this out, this whole trip of helping Alex check out this college. I prepared myself to just get through this trip and return. That was my goal- just get through this, Lauren. Help Alex. Be a good Mom.
But God had something in mind for me, as well as for my son. He had a renewal of sorts in mind for me, a refreshing of my soul. Kentucky soil is a good place for a mini revival to take place- and that's exactly what happened. I am having a hard time writing this because how do you put into words what takes place in someone's spirit? A whooshing sound can describe a wind. The feel of heat can describe the sun. But what describes a soul that comes back to life?
When I get the words I'll be back to share. In the mean time, I'm walking around with a wide grin on my face. I feel like the cat who swallowed the canary. And let me tell you, the canary is still singing inside of me. Nothing is going to shut that bird up.
Thursday, January 24, 2008
My kids joke that I lip read because of my poor hearing. Maybe I do, more than I realize. If they are talking to me and my back is turned to them, I miss certain words. But if I've misplaced my glasses, taken them off while cooking, and then they try to say something to me, I'll look at them in a fog. I can't read their lips, so I can't hear exactly what they're saying.
"Your poor mother is deaf and blind," my husband will say, half teasing me. I'll roll my eyes- but I know they're right. It's clear to me that my vision and hearing are not good. It's obvious when I can't see. Everything is blurry and misshaped. When I miss something someone is saying to me, the results will be comical. Often they'll deliberately mumble something and try to get me to guess at what they just said.
What I have to remember, though, is that my spiritual sight and hearing are just as affected by weakness. I have to remember that I do not SEE everything. What I see with my eyes is not necessarily everything that's there. There is the unseen realm- and its real.
I read through Hebrews 11 this morning. Just in verses 1-13 alone, you can count at least five times where reference is made to sight. "...And certain of what we do not see...", "so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible". Noah, "when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark" and Abraham obeyed God, "and went out not knowing where he was going". Abraham didn't see anything ahead of him. In reference to God's promises, it says that "they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance."
We don't see everything- but that doesn't mean that there isn't more than meets the eye. There is way more going on in the unseen realm than we realize. But we forget this because we are so used to gripping the supposed evidence of our support systems. We're used to seeing something, and then believing it. We fall back into the habit of thinking we are grounded and secure because we feel the ground beneath us, and see it there. It could, of course, open up and suddenly swallow us whole. But we don't believe that will happen.
Unfortunately we also don't believe that God is moving mightily in our midst if we don't see evidence of this. But I've come to realize that God likes to stack the blessings in mounds and piles and suddenly release them to us in a moment where we had no idea that He was even thinking of us. "Really God? You had all this in mind?" is what I inevitably say to Him when there is a manifestation of His grace or intervening power at a moment when I am seeing and hearing Him so faintly. Then He looms in front of me, rises up and is strong in my midst. He thunders loudly and there is no way that I can miss Him. "Can you hear me now?" that Verizon commercial retorts- and they have no idea how often, perhaps, God is asking that of us.
I haven't forgotten the RISK that I said I would take this year. Part of that risk is in purposing to see Him and perceive His presence in my life- even when I have no tangible, to-the-touch reason to do so. Some call it walking by faith. One thing we often forget is that it's not only good for us to do so, and right and fitting- but it pleases God when we take step by step- in faith. "For without faith it is impossible to please Him...".
"Believe me, Lauren," He keeps telling me. Sometimes I'm on a trail of bread crumbs and suddenly the trail stops. I look around and want to know where God is. But He whispers, "No, you just want to know where the next bread crumb is. You are not asking for enough when you ask for more crumbs." I nod in agreement. He's right. He is after all the Bread of Life- and here I was just asking for a crumb.
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
"I have greatly enjoyed blogging these last few months. I have received many heartwarming comments, I’ve read touching stories, and I’ve laughed at jokes you’ve written. I love being a part of the blogging community and part of all the friendships that I’ve formed so I wanted to give a blog award for all of you out there that have Excellent Blogs."
A Mom Speaks handed out the award to several others, and I need to pass this award along. I hate the idea of any one feeling overlooked. But I'll just pick three blogs that for now stand out among the many excellent blogs you all have:
And Angela at Refresh My Soul awarded her friends on her blogroll this award. Faith Fuel is blessed to be one of Angela's blog friends and kindred spirits.
How will I pass on THIS BFF Award? I don't keep a blogroll of blogs I love because there are so many. SO I would like to award this Blog Friend Forever Award to my precious blog friends who visit me here at Faith Fuel.
*If you have commented here, even anonymously, in the month of January 2008, please consider yourself awarded this special designation. If you've been visiting here but haven't commented in January, leave a comment this month and take this award with you!
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
I can't even tell you all the factors involved in this scene. Some I can share and some are private. When you're blogging, you have to continually decide what is helpful to share, what is humorous or sad, and what confidences would betray your soul if you shared them too early or too frequently with the world at large.
In a nut shell, I just am suddenly in the midst of upheaval. That's what you need to know. And what I'm battling for is stability, hope, and the confident conviction that my hope in God will not be in vain. Traveling on a small regional plane in a couple days does not help me right now. This adds to my feeling of being up the air about so many things. Having a self employed husband in the remodeling/housing industry which is critically failing right now- that doesn't help me feel grounded. Our part in helping our son get through college- that is so overwhelming right now. And then add in wanting to be a freelance writer, wanting to take that blessedly unstable career track? Am I crazy? I've never felt more sane, but so unsafe.
So I call out to God for His counsel, His strengthening presence. "This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast,..." says Hebrews 6:19. My NKJV commentary says, "An anchor is only as secure as that to which it is fastened." Hold on tight,Lauren- I tell myself. Hold onto Him and you can't go wrong.
"For you have need of endurance" begins Hebrews 10:36. Hupomone is the word in Biblical Greek. "It describes the capacity to continue to bear up under difficult circumstances not with passive complacency but with a hopeful fortitude that actively resists weariness and defeat."
That's the word, then, for this hour, this battle: Hupomone. Now I think hopeful fortitude has a certain look to it. It reminds me of an adult with a backpack on, who walks around with a smile and a helium balloon in their hand. They have a burden they're carrying, so to speak. But they are actively displaying a hope so boldly that they almost look ridiculous. Adults generally don't love walking around with childlike joy and a balloon in their hand. It singles you out of the crowd. Makes you look a little bit strange. People roll your eyes at you. "Don't get your hopes up" is a constant silent admonition we tell each other in the adult world.
Well, I have two choices. I can go down with the ship- let my emotions overwhelm me and suffocate me. I can feel like I'm drowning in fear or despair, gulping in water, flailing my arms as I go down, down, down with the feeling of the weight of the world on me.
Or I can let hope arise. It's a gutsy thing to do. Hope will lift you, cause you to rise up. You're anchored to Him and Christ has not remained in the grave. He has risen- just as He said He would. You're fixing your eyes on Him with all you've got. It doesn't matter what is causing you to feel down, overwhelmed, or dismayed. If you're in a battle, you're the one who knows what you feel like, what you need.
You and I need to bear up under difficult times. But we have the capacity to do so. He gave it to us. So I'm not casting away my confidence. I'm not silently (and supposedly heroically) going down with the ship. I'm reaching out with faith toward the One who can lift me up. You may just spot me carrying a balloon bobbing up high in the sky. I've got to do that. It's not a party I'm at. It's a battle. But I've got what it takes to wage war. He has given me hope.
"And hope does not disappoint us....".
Monday, January 21, 2008
I'm back, but I am doing that sighing thing and so I'm a bit concerned. I'll have to pace myself. Whenever I take a lot of deep breaths, throughout the day, I know I'm carrying a bit of a burden. This is just one of those weeks that I want to get through.
Today my son is whooping it up for his 18th birthday party. This is probably the last birthday party I will throw for my son. (When you're in college you create your own party scenes , as I recall). I tell this to my daughter Abby as a concession. We are spending the whole day shopping, cleaning, baking, running out to get the pizzas later, pouring soda, cleaning up again, and basically trying to cheerfully bear with it all. I'm happy he is celebrating. Really. I just happen to also feel "behind the eight ball". I feel like I'm running, and I'm way behind.
The next two days I'm trying to get through all the info I need for tax return forms and for the federal financial aid forms for colleges. I hate doing this kind of numbers work, organizing, filling out forms. But I'll feel so relieved when its done.
Then Thursday Alex and I fly out to visit a college down south. We return on Saturday night. I'll come home, flop in Bill's arms, and thank the Lord I won't have to think about doing college searches and filling out forms for our next child for another five years. That's the number of years between my two children. We never planned it that way- but oh how grateful I am that God paced me out a bit.
The one juicy tidbit of incentive I have this week is that I'm in the midst of reading three books. Waking the Dead by John Eldredge, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, and The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen (the book I won in that Jane Austen blog contest). I am sure that as I get the time to read, probably at night and then when I'm on the plane, that I will start to breathe slower, smile more, relax, and see a glorious world unfold before me. I'll be captivated by new ideas, tender thoughts, and words of encouragement that will take me onward.
Thursday, January 17, 2008
My husband, Bill, and I had our first date when he came to my parents' house to see me during a college winter break. We went downstairs to the finished basement, a rec room with old furniture and a ping-pong table. We sat on the old brown couch with nubby fabric, sharing our hopes and dreams with each other. I remember feeling comfortable and safe with Bill. I remember the somewhat pungent smell of the old couch. And I remember when we talked how we both were aching for home- a home of our own. He wanted to build a house, and I wanted to nest in one, decorate it, and fill it with all the things that would make me smile with joy.
What we wound up doing instead, after we were married, was moving- a lot. We moved twenty times in twenty-three years of marriage. The early moves were due to seminary housing constraints and internships in pastoral ministry. Then the moves were to small pastorates in New England in hopes of revitalizing them. After finally deciding to leave the renewal ministry, we needed to find a way to make a living. So we entered the world of rehabbing houses: buying a home, moving into it, fixing it up, and selling it. We were young. We were hopeful. And we kept moving onward.
If someone had told me when I, Lauren the Homebody, was a child, that I would marry and spend the next twenty plus years in a continual state of moving onward but never really settling down, I would have barricaded myself in my room and dared someone to drag me out of there! But God knew the journey He had for me. The Lord knew the temptation I had to make my home base my refuge- to the point that I might never want to venture out.
Many of us struggle with this. After all, we live in a precarious world. Ever since 9/11, Americans have been increasingly aware of feeling at risk in a scary world. Some people escape from the stress and the tension of our times by imagining that perfect home they can create, the place where they will, then, be safe and sound.
The rise of Jane Austen’s popularity and the demand for British dramas depicting grand homes and the sweet social graces of yesterday are not the only signs that we long for a place where we will feel at peace. Home renovation has become a national pastime, with day time cable shows covering every aspect of home revitalization, interior decorating, gourmet cooking, custom closet organization, entertaining secrets, and more.
The idea is that we can create a perfect place to come home to, subtly implying that then we will experience comfort and security, the promise of perfect peace. Then we will have no fears, no insecurity, no alarm. (And we have our intricate, expensive home security systems to help with this!)
We, as Christians, know where our perfect peace should be. We know it’s in Him, our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Sometimes, though, we want something more concrete to touch, to look at, to nest in. Sometimes we want a tangible fortress, a secure, rock solid home. The Psalmist shares how we all long for the place where we will be eternally comforted, protected and at peace- in the presence of the living God.
“How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young— a place near your altar, O LORD Almighty, my King and my God. Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you” (Psalm 84:1-4 NIV).
Sometimes waiting to get to His House, our eternal home, is too much waiting for us. We want to nest and find our complete security in our home, right now.
I’ve had many nests in many places. When I look back at each time we would get ready to move, I realize the thing that kept me going, that enabled me to make it through that draining process of packing and moving, was the fact that I looked forward to my next house. I envisioned it beautifully decorated with gleaming new fixtures and warm welcoming rooms. I held that image in my mind as a child clutches its security blanket.
I believe God has allowed me to be stretched in this area of moving and learning to make every house we lived in a temporary home. He desires to see me enlarged in my focus, in my longing.
God knows the desire we have to settle down, to feel safe and secure at home. He gave us this “nesting” desire. But our frenzied pursuit of the perfect home could very well be an indication that we haven’t fully rested all our hope on the Eternal Home we have ahead of us. This desire for nesting, for making a house into a home, is an indicator of our heart’s true desire. It’s an appetite for an eternal safety and security, really. We will find it realized fully on the day we stand in awe of Him, having arrived at our final Home.
Until then, I pursue with delight the things that help turn each house into a home. I enjoy baking bread and pies, decorating with vivid colors, having an afternoon teatime with my beautiful antique cups and saucers. I creatively plan how to beautify each house. I do the best that I can with each house we live in.
But no home will ever satisfy me perfectly and eternally. That Home awaits me, and I keep my eyes heavenward ... every time we move.
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
I will get to part two of my last post in a couple days but something has come up. Over at http://www.lysaterkeurst.blogspot.com/
there is an announcement of a writing contest. Lysa is inviting her readers to post on their own blog their favorite post (a previously written one or new one) and the winner will have their article (post) published in the Proverbs 31 magazine.
I'm thinking of entering. I'm considering all my older posts, considering what Proverbs 31 magazine centers in on, and wondering which post I should enter? I may just write a new post.
Your comments freely welcomed. (Anyone have a favorite post of all my many ramblings and rantings?!) Otherwise I will just pick one of my favorite posts (having to do with a favorite topic)- or write a NEW one- and post it here by tomorrow for consideration by the Proverbs 31 Ministry.
I'll get back to my regular posting by Saturday or Monday next week.
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
It's that sense that we are able to easily be in touch that comforts and stabilizes me. Mu dispenses advice that is tailor made for me. But more than that, knowing her- over these last five plus years- has been a form of accountability for my pursuits and dreams as well. Her memory is sharp. She never forgets a longing that I voice, a goal that I mention, or a dream that I start to describe. For some reason, I "see" myself more clearly when I am with her. I don't fudge on who I am and what I am purposing to do. I usually feel bolder and ready to "strike when the iron is hot".
The problem is that the iron cools quickly when I don't have her near to affirm that I haven't lost all my marbles in opening up my heart and my mouth every time I write or speak. But I can't have Mu on call 24 hours a day. And there are many times when I am with other people or writing something down to share with a group, and suddenly I am aware of how hard it is to honestly disclose what I am thinking, what I really feel, and who I am. The cost of self-disclosure comes up again. I have to ask myself once more, Now what's the price I have to pay here to say this?
There's a power and a danger in self-disclosure. This is an increasingly Tell-All World. But no one talks about the havoc that is wrought when people bare their souls in a moment of exuberant freedom, forgetting the morning-after feeling of alarm and confusion over what they have done.
Some people carefully share intimate details of their lives, knowing what the cost is to themselves and their families. Some people have been gearing up for years to share more and more of themselves in a concerted effort to be authentic and free from the heavy constraints of a privacy that really is just another wall.
No one can push you any farther than where you are, in this journey. No one should. If you blog, every time you share about your life, you have committed to the page something the entire world could potentially read. Authors have to deal with this when they write a memoir or share their journey through a dark time in their life. Even just sharing with a potential friend something about yourself is an act of self-disclosure that you can later feel glad over or regret.
Say the word Friendship and some think it's two men going hunting together, or two women gabbing together about shopping and make-up. (Just for the record, Mu and I think that going out shopping for clothes is about exciting as getting a hangnail removed). Friendships are about self-disclosure and connecting- and connecting is a powerful and sometimes dangerous thing. (Ask an electrician about this).
Connecting with the world through blogging is the new frontier. Am I ready to share more of myself with the world? And why, exactly, would I do this? These are the questions I am asking. Never mind if I asked these already, some time ago. They have surfaced again.
(To be continued tomorrow...)
Monday, January 14, 2008
Before the movie, we had a family birthday party for Alex. He is 18. My father, brother, two sisters, and one nephew came to celebrate with us and to enjoy one of the best apple pies I have made in a long time. I may have just gotten my old baking touch back again. I didn't burn it. It wasn't dry or tasteless.
One thing that is never dry at these family gatherings is our conversations. Last night's rowdy conversation around the dining room table covered the republicans and democrats running for president, the efficacy of drinking raw milk verses pasteurized, how Americans use too much anti-bacterial hand soap and we may need to get back to playing in the dirt more, and the recent trouble my Mom is having with depression, again.
"Mom has the parapatitas," my brother said as he and my Dad entered through the front door last night. That word meant something to our family even it made no sense to anyone else. We talked about some of the signs of her health, how to read them, and how to know if it's okay so far; how to tell if we're in a rough sea in a tippy boat or if we're just gliding quietly, very quietly, on our own course of needing to be left alone.
I asked Dad how we got the expression "parapatitas". There's a Spanish expression "patitas en al aire" meaning you're flat on your back with your feet up in the air. Mom, at one point in describing her version of that phrase Dad used, just added "para" to the one word she heard. Some where along the way, we adopted it as one of the expressions we use to describe when Mom is feeling the effects of age, ill health, emotional fatigue. Some of us feel these things more acutely. Some of us have bodies that shut down when weary. Some of us battle this onslaught less effectively than we'd like to.
So there we were enjoying a good family discussion, eating a remarkably good pie for someone who hasn't done well lately in the baking department, and missing the one person who always makes our times lively and sweet. We were celebrating the birthday of a young man who is on the launching pad, ready to take off towards his dreams. We were also celebrating being a family, through thick and thin.
I looked around at everyone at the table. You could see everybody's expression, hear their words, and hear a bit of what was going on inside them. But it's always just a bit. There's way more deep down inside. Some of us just don't express everything we're thinking. And some of us look like we are.
But it's just the tip of the iceberg.
Saturday, January 12, 2008
Persuasion could very well be my favorite of all the Jane Austen books- and of all the movie adaptations. This is the story of enduring love, prevailing love, love that was meddled with, and love that won out...in the end.
"You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight and a half years ago. Dare not say that a man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant, " says Captain Wentworth to Anne Elliot.
Constancy never sounded so good.
(Sunday night, Harry, Bill, Abby and I will be watching Persuasion on PBS. Hold all phone calls. I don't want to miss a minute of this!)
Friday, January 11, 2008
I have no idea where it will take me- this journey to understand why God would give us desires and dreams, how to know what these desires mean, if our dreams take us away from God or if they are from God's heart, directly from His heart to ours. I have a lot of questions. (But then again, I always have. Ask Bill. He hears them every morning. Early in the morning. )
As my son gets ready to pursue his dreams in the field of media communications and film, I am constantly telling him, "Go for it!" I want him to have as direct a route as possible to his dreams. I would rather he not have to encircle the same mountain over and over, wondering if he can give himself permission to go after his interests, and use his talents in a field where, to him, the possibilities are endless.
I was a personnel consultant, years ago. I placed office support, executive assistants, office managers, in corporate positions where we had obtained a job order. I would have a description of the job and of some qualifications they were looking for. The rest was up to me to find the person who could possibly fit into this position and make that company glad they had utilized my services as a consultant.
One day a guy came in who I'll call, Dan. He had no experience, really. He was a bit lifeless and dull, did not know how to shake hands firmly or present himself well, at all. My boss told me to file away his application. But I could not. Something in me told me that he just did not know himself, or know what he could do. That's why he had not come to life yet. I felt I could coach him a little and get him into an office support position.
First I had him practise shaking hands with me. I directed him to look me in the eye. I told him he had something to offer and that this company he was interviewing at would love to have someone loyal, steady and consistent. That's how I saw the back side of his weaknesses. If people say you are dull, then maybe they don't see that you are steady. If people think you are boring, at least you will not be wildly burning your bra or jumping off a bridge in a foolish daredevil attempt. If someone says you seem uninspired and limp with desire, then maybe nothing has opened your eyes to the wonder of all God has put into you.
So I coached Dan. He interviewed at a couple places, and was hired. I look back at that job I had, the number of people I placed, and no one stands out in my mind like this one candidate. This one placement was more of a success to me than the other well paying placements I made.
Sometimes we are lifeless and boring because we are bored and life is dull for us. Our desire for Life itself is gone because we have mistakenly thought God meant for us to live a staid, rote existence of denial, self restraint, and duty. Someone once said that the definition of a puritan is someone who fears that somewhere, someone, is happy.
"Once we realize what a precious thing this is, the heart's desire, we must see that to guard it is worth our all. To neglect it is foolishness. To kill it is suicide. To allow it to wander aimlessly, to be trapped by the seductions of the evil one, is disaster" writes Eldredge.
There's a cycle of coming alive to all that is in our heart, voicing it- or learning to trust God enough that we voice it to Him, taking it to Him in full assurance that He knows the way we should take. Then, last but not least, is the learning to release that desire of your heart to God. Not so that He can stamp on it and scold you for wanting something. But so that you can see how all your longings, in the end, are summed up in longing for your soul's greatest joy in comfort and companionship with Him. The tastes of our longings being fulfilled here and now are foretastes of heaven. If no appetizer is ever served, will our hunger be kindled enough for the feast that awaits us?
I dare to learn what my heart's desires are. I voice them to God, and while doing so, learn to hear my own heart and what it longs for. It may frighten me to yearn for something that I do not know for sure is in God's plan for me. It may unsettle me to hear myself speak my heart's desire aloud and wonder if I sound ridiculous or if I am roaring with faith.
But I'll take the risk of bringing everything in my heart to Him. It's going to be an exciting journey, with appetizers served freely along the way.
Thursday, January 10, 2008
Lo and Behold! I am a winner! Of course I think Mu may have flooded the poll with her votes for me. She assured me yesterday when we got together that she only voted once a day, being the law abiding, rule following citizen that she is. I sipped my coffee and felt like a winner already. I had the most supportive best friend anyone could have.
Either way, finding out I won was a spot of delight in my morning just now. Everybody loves to win. We all want to be winners in life. Winning a marathon or a contest is right up there as a life long goal for many people.
I have had a strange history in winning some things. My family can recite all my prizes. First there was the Polaroid camera I won from Barker's Department store, ages ago, back when it was the first and only real store in our town. Now our town is a suburban shopping hall of fame. And shopping is my least favorite activity to indulge in. If I spend a day shopping at the mall with my daughter, I come home feeling flat, lifeless, and sullen. Nothing I want is at the mall. All my dreams lie elsewhere.
Then there was the artificial Christmas Tree I won at a nearby garden center. This was before I was married. My family used this tree for many years. Actually, they only returned it to me a couple years ago when my brother and my father's organic-natural-no preservatives obsession rose to its heights. They got rid of the microwave, all polyester sheets, and returned the artificial Christmas tree to me. It has worked nicely for us. In fact it still stands proudly in the corner of my living room right now. Half the ornaments have been taken off and wrapped. I need to finish the rest of the de-robing, take the tree apart, and pack it away for next Christmas's celebration.
And who knows what I will have won or gained by next Christmas! There are other little things that I have won, here and there. But there are some big things that I am still aiming for. I'm not sure you can win these things. I don't think you can deserve them, though, either. The fulfillment of dreams requires an odd combination of things. I think you have to "see" your hope before you, go after your dream, cooperate with God, and boldly go into the Uncomfortable Unknown.
If "the Kingdom of God suffers violence, and the violent take it by force", then there will be some major expansion, some big accomplishments, that I will only gain by exerting myself to the utmost. Perseverance, diligence, strategic planning and some quiet plodding will be required.
On the other hand, after I've done all I can do, then God has to also do His part in parting the waters before me at just the right time that I dare to step into the raging sea...so that I may go across.
Cause that's what winners do.
Wednesday, January 09, 2008
Some days I do not like this kind of work. I'm fed up, some days, with encouraging and prodding and staying silent so I don't frustrate a teen who already knows so much (supposedly). Some days I want to shout out all I have done to help this teen, and somehow get this teen to see what I've done so he gives me just a little credit. Just a crumb. Just a morsel of motherhood commendation. Some days I'll just take a smile of gratitude- and occasionally I get that. Such bliss.
And then some days all I want is to eat dinner by myself, with a good book in hand, and forget the drama and hard work of rocket launching. So that's what I did last night. I made dinner for the family: lemon garlic chicken, cheddar-broccoli rice, and mixed vegetables. I had Abby set the table and then called everyone to the table. But then, after grace, I went downstairs, retrieved the bed tray, brought it to my room and set it up. I took my dinner plate and a glass of water to my room, as I called out "Enjoy your meal." They did not even try to stop me. They knew better than to deprive mom of a few moments of peace. And if I decided to not eat with the family (which happens maybe twice a year or so), then the signal was clear: Mom needs to be alone. They happily ate their meal while I was in a mini, temporary paradise of peace and quiet.
I wasn't alone, though. (No, I didn't even let Harry come in and sup with me, though he scratched on the bedroom door for the hour I was in there). I felt God's comforting presence, and I listened to the words of a friend, the author of The Journey of Desire.
The peace and quiet changed to the sounds of a revival taking place. I am not a quiet reader. I fully involve myself with what I am reading. "Yes!" I'll shout when the author states something that I have found to be true. "Sooo true," I'll say, shaking my head in agreement. "Oh, this is so good!" I'll say when I reach the end of a chapter. This is what I was doing when I got to chapter ten and eleven; that- and underlining all over the place.
For an hour I had revelation, epiphanies, solace for my soul, and encouragement for my weary spirit. I had an experience. It was more than just head knowledge. There were breakthroughs: revelations of where I had struggled with the same thing the author was talking about, where I "saw" myself and "saw" what the struggle was. I had moments of wonder and gratitude that God saw to it that I found this book to read. I smiled and laughed and cried- all because I had sequestered myself away for a moment so that I would not break into yelling, or worse, break down and quietly give up.
There is such a difference between giving up and surrendering. There's a difference between boldness of request and arrogance. There's a difference between asking God to grant you the desire of your heart and asking God to take away the pain of something by allowing you to be temporarily intrigued with something that you think is a "desire" of your heart.
There's a difference between rejecting the company of your beloved family, and deciding to remove yourself from their presence so that you might come back to them recharged, refreshed, and...ready to go onward with them.
Tuesday, January 08, 2008
For the next three months, starting this Sunday night, we will have Masterpiece Theatre's broadcast of The Complete Jane Austen-all six of her novels in full color drama before our eyes. I don't remember when I fell in love with this fascinating world. But there are signs of my fascination with it everywhere you look in my house: I collect English tea cups and old silver, my one niece bought me a beautiful hardcover collection of Jane Austen's work as a Christmas present last year, I drink PG Tips tea (direct from England), and read all of Rosamunde Pilcher's novels over the years. I loved the new book out, A Journey with Jane Austen by Lori Smith.
I even recently entered this contest: "Pretend you are one of Jane Austen's parents. Describe in two or three sentences the kind of gentleman that would be worthy to win Jane's hand in marriage. What sort of man would you accept as a suitable husband for our favorite author?" over at Jane Austen Today . (See the Poll on the left side of the page and vote for me if you like my description!)
This proper world of courtesy and restrained emotion is fascinating to me. I often try to picture myself in this world, and I see myself stumbling about in a long dress with a tight bodice, not so much spilling my tea at tea time but spilling the beans about what I am thinking, what I want, what I hope for. You don't do that- in this world where formality and decorous behavior are all the rage.
It would be too bold to share what you really want, to declare your deepest feelings to a friend, or to even try to get another to join in with you in dreaming out loud and in declaring your New Year's resolutions or your aspirations. "Catherine sometimes started at the boldness of her own surmises, and sometimes hoped or feared that she had gone too far; but they were supported by such appearances as made their dismissal impossible"-Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey, Chapter VIII.
Nobody would be startled at my boldness if I lived in Jane Austen's day. My supposed boldness would be unmistakably evident to everyone's chagrin. But that really isn't boldness of spirit. That's more of a lack of social propriety, of being clumsy or foolish in sharing what others do not discuss.
I am not bold enough, of that I am sure. I lack total confidence and absolute assurance of God's power at work in me, and especially His desire to freely grant my requests. After all, there is that Scripture verse from 1 John 5:14 about asking anything "according to His will"- knowing that He hears us. Thus, the problem. Most of us get stuck in indecision about whether we're asking "according His will".
This treasure of 1 John 5:14,15 is the landscape of our hope and ideal. But we are stuck trying to access this treasure chest due to "knowing our place". We think our place is the world of those who appear humble, those who wait for God to speak out our thoughts and remind us of what we want. We think about boldly going into His throne room. Then we remember who we are, what we fear, our lack of intimately knowing His will- and we retreat.
I often read this passage, gasp at its magnitude, and then think about how I could appropriate this...another day.
"And this is the confidence (the assurance, the privilege of boldness) which we have in Him: [we are sure] that if we ask anything (make any request) according to His will (in agreement with His own plan), He listens to and hears us. And if (since) we [positively] know that He listens to us in whatever we ask, we also know [with settled and absolute knowledge] that we have [granted us as our present possessions] the requests made of Him." (Amplified version).
Alas, it is too much! (Said in a dramatic expression from Jane Austen's day). How can we get close to the meaning of this passage when words like assurance, boldness, positively know, settled and absolute knowledge- get in the way? Who has that kind of confidence about how they live, how they approach God? The only thing that provokes me to think I could ever be so bold as to go to God and confidently ask of Him my heart's desire- knowing that it was within His will- is to think of all of Paul's confident convictions. Here's one- "for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day." 2 Tim 1:12
Then there's his confidence and boldness about the way, and where, he was serving God, in 2 Corinthians 10. He was confident that he was laboring where he should, and even confident about trying to go onward, making sure that onward meant laboring where no one had yet gone. "Then there will be no question of our boasting about work done in someone else’s territory" 2 Cor. 10:13-16.
I think I can ask God to help me know where to labor, what gifts and talents I can use for Him in a place where people need to be encouraged- because this is according to His will. I can ask God to work with me, forming and shaping me into a person who can boldly state that she knows Whom she has believed in- and she is absolutely persuaded and convinced that God is going to take her all the way Home. But first there is a journey, a cross country pilgrimage. First there is new territory to go to- where no man has gone before.
Somewhat boldly I circle around and come back to talk to God again. "Are you sure you want me to approach you boldly, confidently?" I fear falling into arrogance- and I think many fear this too. But I fear even more never being a child of God who exercises the privilege of boldness.
So before I zero in any more on my specific requests (that's coming), I want to make sure that I look at that passage again and stand there in amazement at what He offers. Free access to Him. The knowledge that He hears me when I talk with Him and ask Him for help. I can confidently call Him "Father".
He offers me the privilege of boldness. And in spite of how bold I would look in Jane Austen's world, I still have a LOT to learn.
Monday, January 07, 2008
After Church yesterday, Bill and I were able to have a little unexpected date. Abby was at a friend's house for the afternoon, and Alex went ice fishing with his grandfather, uncle, and cousin. I was a bit nervous as the day seemed warm and I wondered if the ice at the nearby lake was strong enough.
I will honestly tell you that I told my son, before he left, "Alex, if the ice breaks- save yourself first! Then lay down on the ice, stretching your body out, and try to rescue the person that way." (As if I'm an expert on ice safety or rescue or anything at all remotely like that. What I'm an expert at is trying to watch out for my children.)
We called later in the day, from my cell phone, to see if they had returned from ice fishing. The connection was bad. I could barely hear my brother on the phone. I asked him if Alex was there or had he driven home to our house. There was a pause. Then I hear this unmistakable voice get on the line and tell me, "Alex has fallen through the ice." Nice try, my son, but I am on to your antics!
Later in the evening, the four of us were snuggled up in our bed, watching the second half of Masterpiece Theatre's gripping, romantic production, Jane Eyre. Obviously the four were: Bill, Abby, Harry and me- because Alex only watches enough of British films to learn how to imitate their accent and tease me later with it. And Harry watches British films with us because that's how he gets to snack on popcorn.
Such peace and such sweetness of....I hate to use the word, fellowship. It sounds so old fashioned, so archaic and proper. But do we have a word today that expresses the joy of being together? "Hanging out together" is the best I can do, and that term fails to express the significance of it.
Before the movie started, I was reading in my book, The Journey of Desire. I re-read the end of chapter three. I couldn't get that picture of the parable of Prodigal Son out of my mind (Luke 15). I was not so much thinking about the prodigal son but the son who had dutifully remained at home, carefully serving the Father, laboring faithfully in the family business. He's the bad guy everyone mocks because he was pouty and resentful instead of rejoicing over the prodigal brother's return.
But I don't think the prodigal is anyone to lift up as an example either. In my mind they are two extremes in the Church today. The prodigal represents the wayward, selfish, carnal Christian. He throws caution to the wind. He returns home prompted by hunger pains, really. His desire was for provision and safety- not necessarily the presence of his Father, but the provision of his Father (Luke 15:17).
But the other son, the dutiful son, is just that: dutiful, pious and self righteous. He has been careful and supposedly obedient. But when the wind was at his back, he refused to go with it. He refused to celebrate being with his Father on a daily basis, refused to avail himself of all that the Father had- and yet later wailed that the Father had never thrown him a party.
The Living version has the the father telling the dutiful son this, "Look dear son...you and I are very close, and everything I have is yours." Very close? Are they really that close? The Father was being kind. Perhaps He was being prophetic- and foreseeing the day when their physical proximity would not be the only factor of closeness.
We can be closely following the Lord, staying in His word, and yet be far away in our heart. We can be pious about our actions of discipline and obedience, yet fail to see that we are longing for a party, a celebration of grace, where we dance with joy at being in relationship with the Lord of Heaven and Earth Himself.
If I was intimately aware of the father's deep desire to give these blessings to me, I would not seem so bold but rather it would be fitting for me to ask Him freely. If I made my heart vulnerable to Him, opened up those long -held dreams I have and asked God to review with me where we are at, it would say something about how I know God.
"To live with desire is to choose vulnerability over self-protection; to admit our desire and seek help beyond ourselves is even more vulnerable. It is an act of trust. In other words, those who know their desire and refuse to kill it, or refuse to act as though they don't need help, they are the ones who live by faith. Those who do not ask, do not trust God enough to desire. They have no faith. The deepest moral issue is always what we, in the heart of hearts, believe about God. And nothing reveals this belief as clearly as what we do with our desire." (Eldredge)
I hate the idea of the selfish, carnal son returning home, mainly out of hunger for food. But what I hate even more is to think I could be like the dutiful son, at home, close to the Father- and yet so far away. The dutiful son longs for a party, a fuss made over him too- when he has the reason for the party right next to him. He lives with the Father of Celebration and Life, and yet he has never boldly requested, "Father, Let's dance! Father, can we explore together? ...and Father, can we talk, again?"
I'm going to be asking God these things, requesting more of an adventure with Him. I'm going to be asking not so much for more provision- but rather the eyes to see what He has provided already. But more than that, I'm going to snuggle in close to Him, taking in His presence, and sighing deeply with satisfaction...that I am always with Him.
He says to me, "You and I are very close. And all I have is yours."
Saturday, January 05, 2008
She's ready to run away with him as her escort and go to America in search of land, excitement, and freedom. It's the late 1800's and the time of the Oklahoma land rush. The fact that she barely makes it crawling through his window and flopping unceremoniously on the floor in a heap, is no problem to her. She quickly gets up, rights herself, and declares her mission. Her eyes are set on going to a promised land.
I am that woman. Well, not Irish or wealthy, but I am feisty and I am determined. I also land in a heap a lot, but I always get up. I don't have time to stay down for long. My eyes are looking ahead, searching for something bigger than my bruised ego.
This morning over coffee on the couch, Bill and I zeroed in on our dreams again. Harry kept trying to climb up on the couch to sit on my lap, and finally we let him snuggle in next to me, even if it meant my coffee might get knocked out of my hands by his constant peering out of the window. You never know when you'll see the flock of wild turkeys traversing across our back yard. They have grown in confidence and rarely flinch now when they see Harry let out. They know he is on a chain and can't reach them. They act like peacocks now- proud and priggish over their inaccessibility.
As we were talking, this is when the scene from the movie came to my mind. I saw this scene just as Bill shared this: "Back in the days when this country was being formed, when the West was unexplored and not wide open yet- would we have been one of those pioneer families taking the risk and searching for their new home in that wild west?"
I didn't answer him right away. I was thinking about myself, crawling through the window of a determined boy's room who would escort me to America- to that wild place of open doors and wide open places. I saw myself falling in a heap on the floor and giving that no mind. I have fallen before. I saw myself get up, and tell the boy that I had a plan, a way for him to get to America if he would escort me. I saw myself with my eyes flashing in excitement because I had this plan. I had made up my mind that I was going; that I was leaving my familiar place and risking it all to go into the unknown.
I didn't directly answer my husband's question, except to tell him that I know for certain we used to be like that- risk takers, rule breakers .... pioneers. Then I told him I wanted to be like that, again. I'm willing to fall in a heap but quickly get up because I have a reason to.
That's all I can tell you for now. Oh, and one more thing. I was a pioneer girl. I'm preparing to get on my horse and ride again ... into that great unknown.
I'll tell you more as the dream unfolds.
Friday, January 04, 2008
Last night Bill snored and coughed all night. Alex didn't get to sleep till after 1am because he was studying for a test today. I heard him in the hallway, opening kitchen cupboards looking for snacks, running water in the bathroom sink. I hear every single noise, the mice scratching in the walls (when they decide to visit) ,and every creaking sound the house makes- but I apparently am not hearing God.
I flopped in bed last night, fully spent- and happily spent- from teaching the LIFE workshop at church. I expected to drift off to sleep, but it was more of a drifting in and out of sleep that occurred- all night long.
There is only one thing I do hear God saying to me. It's a very unsettling question. I know God is speaking this because of the book I just happen to be reading. It's an older book (2000)by an author who is quite popular now. This is John Eldredge's book, The Journey of Desire: Searching for the Life We've Only Dreamed of. I knew this book was for me; expressly for me to read at this point and season of my life. I opened the book up this morning and continued on. And then I read it. I read the question that has been haunting me. I see this question now, here in the pages of the book.
"What do you want?" That's the question. That's what God has been asking me for a while, now. And since I have not fully answered God, I think He is waking me up at night so we can discuss this lack of response on my part. It's very easy for me to get frustrated with my life and to lament that I am not progressing or that I am not fruitful enough. But then I have to face the question of "What do you want...specifically?" That's when I slowly start to back away from the question. I thought I had answered that years ago.
Eldredge recounts the biblical story of the disabled man lying by the pool of Bethesda, in chapter three, "Dare We Desire?" He speaks about Jesus asking the man, "Do you want to get well?" and how Jesus was probing for more than just the response, "Of course I do." Years of longing for something- and then not seeing it happen- had changed the man, had caused him "to lose any vital heart-connection to what he wanted."
Later, Eldredge discusses the story of the prodigal son and his return home to a feast and celebration, while the son who had dutifully remained sulked and stormed over receiving no party in his name. "He tells his father...that all these years he hasn't gotten a thing in return for his life of service. The father's reply cuts to the chase: 'All that is mine has always been yours.' In other words, 'You never asked.' "
I'm almost thinking that God is allowing my sleep to be interrupted so that He might get me at a weakened state, unguarded and vulnerable. What will I tell God in those midnight hours? Will I voice the dreams of my heart, and then brace myself to be disappointed again; that I must wait, and then wait longer? Or will I tell God it's too late that He asks me what I want because I'm older, less energetic, not wanting to take risks as quickly as I used to, and that in my mind, it's as if Lazarus is dead. If Lazarus is dead, why is Jesus visiting me? What comfort could He offer me if the one I love, or the thing I long for, is dead?
"But even now...." Yes, that's what rises to my lips in stubborn faith- as it did to Martha's lips. She told Jesus, "But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You." (John 11:22) Even now, in spite of what I see, or in spite of the stench of dead dreams or of delayed dreams- dreams delayed so long that they are moldy and lifeless- even now, I will believe You, Lord. I will believe you to the point that I am ruthless in my eagerness to tell you all I long for, to tell you again what I once told you years ago.
I refuse to be like the third steward who hid his one talent while the others went out, risked, and multiplied what they had. I refuse to be suspicious of God handing out talents and think He is somehow trying to get me to dare to dream- only to rip the dream out of my hands. The third steward who hid his talent thought he knew the master's heart, was convinced the master was hard and mean, not extravagant in grace if the steward had fallen while trying to fly.
"There is this hurt and angry place inside, a very old wound... Life has not turned out the way we want, and we know God could have handled things differently. Even though we may profess at one level a genuine faith in him, at another level we are like the third servant. Our obedience is not so much out of love as it is out of carefulness. 'Just tell me what to do, God, and I'll do it.' " (Eldredge).
God is refusing to hear my request, "What do you want me to do, Lord?" as a genuine request spoken out of eager love and faith. He sees that I'm just being careful and cautious when I ask God what He wants next from me. Perhaps God sees that it's time I answer His question, "Lauren, What do you want?". My reply will be telling. It will indicate how big of a heart I think He has, how much grace and overcoming power I believe He doles out to His children.
My reply will tell God more than just the specifics of my dream. It will tell God that I believe Him for more. That I believe Him to be generous and giving and so forgiving of any botched up steps I take on my way to living out a dream...a dream that that He planted in me in the first place.
Thursday, January 03, 2008
The cold weather makes me want to curl up in a ball and read all day but things are picking up speed here at the suburban homestead. I have to make airline reservations for a trip with my son at the end of this month down to Kentucky to visit a college; I have bills to pay and run over to the post office, the Christmas tree to take down (it's still twinkling in the corner of the living room), the house needs to be dusted (see the dust under the family photos in the picture?), and a Women's LIFE Workshop I'm teaching tonight.
And what am I teaching about tonight? The Power of Your Words- Having a New Vocabulary for a New Year. I'm not talking about increasing the usage of high powered words that impress others, but about purposefully speaking words of life, words that impart grace, to the hearer, to the situation you're in.
So many memories of my childhood are coming back to me- because what I remember most about my upbringing is all the adventures we had, and all the words flying around. Always instruction, always admonitions, jokes mixed in with angry words, Mom's interjections of favorite Scripture verses, and lots of Spanish words heard in the background as Dad continually played his favorite music.
Some of Dad's lectures- I mean instructions- were lengthy and rather much to bear. But then there were those short lessons of his that we heard loud and clear, that we remembered, that we remember still. Some of these lessons he wrote himself, but usually there was Dale Carnegie or a Proverb or some famous writer he had gleaned from, and he would mix it all together to create these interesting sermonettes that I've never heard elsewhere. Don't forget, he said these with his Bolivian accent, with his dramatic way of enforcing a point, with his dark eyes flashing in seriousness or in humor. He's impossible to ignore.
One lesson about words had to do with "The Six Most Powerful Sentences in the World". We were admonished that our conversations should always includes these sentences. Here they are:
6. I admit I made a mistake.
5. You did a good job.
4. What is your opinion?
3. If you please
2. Thank You
We always had trouble getting out #6- but those six words lead you to forgiveness and reconciliation. And #4 was rather a pain to deal with if you were in an argument, and trying to get your victory stance, and Dad would walk by and eye you, reminding you to ask your sibling with genuine interest, "What is your opinion?"
#5 was one we would constantly remind Dad of, if he didn't appreciate the chores we were always doing- even if we did them begrudgingly. At the dinner table, you were supposed to remember #3 and #2 and say them often.
But #1- the single most important, most powerful word, was one we did not forget when Dad would make us recite these statements in order. Starting with number six and working our way down to number two, we would count off the words on our fingers, looking around at each other,poking each other in good natured ribbing if someone forgot a word. But one word we never forgot. It's a powerful word. It's a word every family should say proudly, should say as they look around at each other and hold tightly to each other- through thick and thin:
"We". That's #1 - a sentence in and of itself. And it's awful hard to forget. No matter how much trouble family life is, that's the one word that shapes us and holds us together... in His Love.
Wednesday, January 02, 2008
I have decided not to make any concrete, quantifiable resolutions this year. (There is the one need to exercise, but that's more of a given than a resolution.) I've decided this not so that I can go under the radar and have no accountability as far as progress,but rather so that I can wave my banner of R.I.S.K. (Redeem, Invest, See, Keep) and see what specific actions I should take under these Valuable Verbs that call me onward. I think these four words are challenging enough, and specific enough, that if I apply them to my life, daily, I will have more than enough accountability and resulting action.
The last couple days Bill and I have been talking about where we fell, where we flubbed up, these last couple years. Ever since we bought this house, it feels like we have holed up in a comfortable place (albeit too small a place). We would normally have sold the house by now, because we usually fix up a house and sell it in two years or less. We are now going on our third year here. And I can tell we have stayed long enough. It's time to get moving again.
I know why we haven't moved on. I know why we decided not to sell this house- as far as the economics of it all, the real estate market declining, our financial nest egg having dramatically declined and therefore leaving us without the means to really do another project. I know those reasons. But there are other reasons why we've stayed put- and these have to do with safety and security.
We made some mistakes in our financial/investment plan, and we lost a lot of ground these last two years. When you find yourself coming up short, as far as available resources, it's much easier to just decide that you are content with what you have and adjust accordingly to your diminished state. If I do not let myself get stirred up by a dream, I can tend my little fire of glowing coals and say that I rather like the warmth of dying coals instead of the blazing heat of a roaring fire. That way I do not have to get up , chop down trees, drag in the logs and throw them on the fire. So I can sit by a little warmth, stay warmed enough to be content...until the fire goes out completely.
Why the illustration about a fire? I don't even have a fireplace in this house (and boy do I miss having one!). But fire symbolizes a lot of things. For me, right now, it's a symbol of purpose, faith, and a God-given dream. You have an inner fire, on one hand, and on the other hand you have a past with accomplishments and mistakes. If you see your past mistakes so clearly that you wince, you may be feeling the heat and the shame of those mistakes and not feeling the heat and warmth of your inner fire. You could get used to less warmth and encouragement. You could adjust to Less.
But God is a God of Expansion, of Redemption, of Grace, and then more grace. If we are disadvantaged through lost ground, mistakes, or a humiliating past, we can expect God to speak to us, as He does in Isaiah 54, words of encouragement and exhortation to expand, stretch out, don't hold back. Especially, don't look back expecting to see yourself still standing there in shame or humiliation.
It's as if I can see the Lord walking through my past with this torch of grace. He touches each sore spot as I am about to wince and cringe, and He calls out "Redeemed!" No one is there to hear Him say this except the Lord and me. I need to hear Him say that each spot, each place in my past where I fell or flubbed up, He will redeem. If He touches that sore spot with His torch, it will start blazing again with fire. It will be cleansed of its damaging pain and yield a sparkling truth.
I'm looking forward to the the truth setting me free. Aren't you?
Tuesday, January 01, 2008
We watched Sense and Sensibility last night- Bill, Abby, and I. (And Harry. He loves English movies and finds the decorum and the tea times quite refreshing). It's a great way to end the old year with a movie about character, love, commitment, passion, and hope in spite of the odds. One of my favorite movies, in fact.
The movie ended (it was a DVD) at 11:55pm. We turned on the T.V., watched the ball drop in Times Square, said Happy New Year to each other, and then Abby went to her bed. Bill got the phone call we expected, that our son did need a ride home after all, and Bill went to get Alex from the party he was at. When Bill got home, we all finally flopped in bed by 1am. Or at least I thought we all had flopped in bed.
At 2am, I hear a rustle- it's Alex and he's still up. "Get to bed" I whisper, after I got up, went to his room, found the lights on and my son walking around as if it was three in the afternoon.
At 3am, I wake up again. This time it's because Harry is barking- loudly. He never barks at night, but because of the fireworks going off at a neighbors house, he is unsettled and jumpy. I pet him and soothingly whisper, "Go back to sleep".
At around 4am I wake up, AGAIN, to a loud crunching, scratching noise. My dear friend, the visiting hungry mouse, has returned and is eating the corner outside wall of my bedroom. Lovely. I pound the floor, and then hit the wall to scare the mouse. He keeps on eating. Loudly. I go back to sleep.
All the while, each time I wake up, I find my heart is racing. There must have been caffeine in the soda I had last night. That was my celebratory drink I had with the popcorn we ate last night. I feel panicky when my heart races.I lie down and try to calm my nerves, my heart, my mind. Eventually I sleep. For a couple hours.
When I wake to the sound of Bill making coffee, I feel more exhausted than when I first went to sleep. But it's the New Year. I feel excited and relieved that the old year is over. I am resolved that this year is a year of promise,potential, and possibilities. I have determined to start this year with an attitude of expectation, even if I am exhausted.
So when I read just now, in the book of Daniel, about this young man of purpose and conviction, I see some startling secrets for progress and victory that I can grab hold of. In Daniel 1:8 we find that he "purposed" in his heart not to eat the King's delicacies, not to defile himself- for whatever reasons he had.What sticks out at me is the word "purposed". In several other translations, the other words used are: resolved, made up his mind, determined.
Daniel had made a resolution- and it wasn't even New Year's Eve for him. It was a time when he had an opportunity before him, a challenge and eventually a crisis- and this young man began his time in the king's court with a resolution: I will not defile myself.
For us this could mean we will not defile our hopes with looking backward at our failures, or that we will not defile our dignity by speaking negatively and critically to ourself. My biggest resolve, as I start this New Year, is just to see this year as a gift. A year of opportunities. A year of growth, change, challenge, and potential. I've made up my mind that I cannot afford to waste a single day.
So, tired as I am, I feel invigorated at the chance to step into a New Year. "New" anything always gets me stirred up. A new day, a clean slate, a new book to read, a fresh pillowcase to sleep on smelling like lavender and vanilla, or a new puppy (what I'm thinking about getting!)- these are all wonderful gifts from a God who makes all things NEW (Rev. 21:5).This word "new" in Greek refers to freshness, not so much age.
That's what I want, this year. A fresh outlook- especially about myself. After all, God is at work in my life, in me, and I have got to perceive this. I've got to- if I want to step out, and rise up, and run and not be weary.
So here I am, on this first day of the New Year. I am focusing in on the "S" in my Banner of RISK. I am going to "see" things I have never seen before, mainly because I am going to have eyes to see. I have resolved to see God at work, really see Him like I never have before.
I can almost hear Him saying to me, "Well, I'm glad you are finally on board."