Friday, February 29, 2008

Be Still, My Beating Heart!

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Emma is not one of my favorites of all the Jane Austen books.
The character, herself, is privileged and protected. She is also so unaware of her lack of wisdom and discernment. That's just my take on the story. The funny part about this story is the matchmaking gone awry. I've attempted to play matchmaker a couple times in my life, too. (And oh, what a mess I made!).

I think a lot of women enjoy seeing a match made, and feeling like they had part in something good happening.
I'm not sure men get into this, though. (Any male readers, please comment!) I don't know if men understand or think about the mystery behind two souls being drawn to each other. For women, it seems like we need to hear the story over and over- the story of love prevailing, love making a way, love conquering all.

I've gone through periods where I read intensely all kinds of non fiction: how-to's, devotionals, memoirs, and biographies. Then I'll go through a period where I need some fiction: I need a story to take me away from it all. I need a light hearted romance where I can laugh at the character's silliness or their stumbling and bumbling around. Then there are also the stories that touch my soul, are deeply moving, sad and profound. These stories remind me to allow myself to feel pain, embrace the experiences I am going though, and keep moving on into fresh new ideas and hope and dreams.

All this to say, ( I feel like a kid about to tell you my wonderful new secret)-I'm heading over to our local Library's Used Book Sale today.
$1.00 for hardcovers, .50 for paperbacks. That's a whole lot of joyous feasting for my soul. I'm going to walk out of there laden with books, my shoulders aching from hauling off my bounty, my soul reveling in the new ideas and stories that await me when I open the cover of the next book I read.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Fill 'er Up

My dog has put his foot down (I mean, paw) about something and it doesn't look like he's budging on this. Harry has decided he will not drink water from the tap. Our water is from a well, and maybe he can smell the minerals or the residue of clay in the water. Either way, he has decided that when we fill up his water bowl he is not going to partake of it.

Instead, he goes to the door something-like twenty times a day, begging to be let out so that he snow. That's his beverage of choice. Fresh snow. White fluffy snow. Anything but tap water in his bowl.

Now I don't know what he is going to do when Spring comes and the snow melts. He may decide to rescind his strange gourmet taste for snow and go back to tap water in the bowl. He will have to. Because I am not importing snow for him just so that he is not thirsty.There's plenty of water right at hand. He drank it before winter came with its fluffy snow to partake of, and he will drink it again when the snow has melted.

I think I am perturbed with Harry because his fussiness reminds me of myself. Every time I start to tell God I am in need, He asks me if I've had a drink of His living water. When I want to recount my problems or my challenges, He just hears me tell Him I'm thirsty for more of Him. He knows when I am thirsty before I even do. And His offer of refreshing water still stands. "... 'Anyone who is thirsty may come to me! Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart’” John 7:37,38.

It's not that His Word and His presence do not satisfy us. They do. It's that I generally, initially, want other things first: I want answers, I want miracles, I want evidence of His working on my behalf. When I'm done telling Him what I want, He then tells me what I need: You're thirsty, Lauren. You want Me. You want a drink of Me.

So I take a drink of His goodness. Sometimes I don't like the initial taste of the living water. I can be fussy, like a colicky baby. But even if water tastes like river rock or tastes like clay, it still quenches my thirst. That's the whole point of sipping it,gulping it down, swirling it around our mouth and swallowing. We need water. We are so thirsty. Continually thirsty. And thank God for that- because then I remember the answer for my continual thirst, I need you, Lord. I need You.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The P Word

Getting the Blogging with a Purpose award from Angela, yesterday, came just as I was dealing with another P word called Platform. I know why I'm gun shy about this word. When I think of platform, I think of a stage. And when I think of a stage, I think of having to perform. It all started with having a theatrical mother (who was formerly an entertainer in the USO). Every time we would have company my mother would make my two sisters and I perform a little song or dance- or preferably, in her eyes, both. I still have an aversion to anything that makes me have to "show my stuff" to a clapping audience. Yet I am facing this word more and more, and probably you are too.

For writers, you have to have a platform before a publisher will seriously look at your book proposal. Bloggers have to build a platform if they want their blog read by more than their mother and their best friend. Those who are job hunting have to have a platform- it's called their resume. And it better look good.

A platform is what man builds in order to be seen and heard. These are your accomplishments, your statistics (big numbers, people, they must be big numbers), your publishing credits, your sphere of influence quantified and qualified.

A platform is not evil, in and of itself. I shouldn't be super-spiritual and silly about the need for business credentials, the need for marketing, the need to follow business rules. But I have to tell you, I am stumbling over this whole thing of needing to build a platform. This word makes me almost think of putting my pen down or giving my typing fingers an eternal rest. It's a word that many believe is their open door. And it is part of the open door we need. Part. But there's something else we should be considering, besides having a powerful platform.

I think of Mother Teresa: she wound up with a platform upon which she spoke to the world at large, to kings and presidents, to dignitaries and to the dying. I remember one message of hers vividly. It was 1994. I was in the hospital, three and a half months pregnant. Abby was in my womb- but the doctors said she would not make it. They told my husband Bill to prepare for me miscarrying the baby any day. I lay in the hospital bed, quiet and resigned to the peril I was in. The TV was on and I saw Mother Teresa speaking at a President's Prayer Breakfast, I believe. She spoke with power, waving a bony finger and admonishing us to love, to love our unborn, and that a nation that aborts its children is not a nation that loves; that we can't piously say we want to help those dying in the streets, yet we don't want to spare those dying in the womb.

She rallied my spirits. Faith arose in me. I must not faint, I thought. I must not resign myself to loss and death before I had yet begun to fight. The end of this story is that Abby, our precious daughter, was miraculously spared. Not just once, either. Twice I wound up rushed to the hospital and the words were spoken over me that it was all over. But there was no power in those words. Though they were spoken from a medical platform of expertise and knowledge, they did not know all, see all, understand all. No matter how big your platform is, you are still, just a man, just a woman, speaking about what you know- in part. It's always in part.

So even if I build a platform, and accomplish such spectacular statistics proving that people listen to me, hear me, read my words- what is that to me? I speak in part. I speak in glimpses of seeing through a glass dimly. And if once in a while I see so clearly that I cry out, "Look!", and if more eyes turn to Him because I have a big platform, then more are induced to see Him. But it's Him and His outstretched hand that all were looking for, looking at, in the first place.

(I have to pass this "Blogging with Purpose" award on, but I feel reticent about awarding it to just a few when so many are blogging with purpose. If any of my visitors would like to accept this award and pledge themselves to continuing onward, please leave your comment here. Think of it as a commitment to persevere in writing and blogging for the PURPOSE of building up people in the truth of God's Love and Grace. )

Monday, February 25, 2008

Blogging with a Purpose

Image Hosted by Angela at Refresh My Soul has awarded me with the "Blogging with a Purpose" award. I can't think of a better commendation to receive, right now, because I have really been wrestling with the subject of purpose and the the written expression of our heart. Why do we write? Why do we blog? How powerful are our words? What is our message to the world? (And how much time should we spend proving that our message should be heard?!)

I've got more to write about this but I have to prayerfully contemplate about passing this award on to some people, and even more than that, I have to think about this P word. When you talk about Purpose you also wind up needing to discuss another important word. It also begins with P. But I'll write more about that later.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Staying Around for More

Lingering at the table after a good meal, for the sake of just talking, is something you don't see much of. Every one's busy nowadays and it's rare that families eat meals together as a usual thing. Because it was such a major component of my life when I was growing up, I just planned that it would be the same for our family of four- and it has been a pretty sure thing that we eat supper together every single night.

Now, I try to do my part in making the kids want to be there by not doing some of the things that my mother did when I was growing up. Like, for example, serving a strange looking dish with something brown and firm looking centered on the plate, and me asking her, "Mom, what's this?". She answered me in a light breezy way, "Oh, that's just...meat" and went back to puttering around on the stove. My suspicions were definitely raised, because if it was ground beef or chicken or steak she could have just said so. But since she tried to sneak venison or squirrel or God-only-knows what animal onto my plate, I was even more on guard every time I came to the dinner table. That's how it was at my home when I was growing up: my parents were determined to get us eating very strange, healthy things- and we kids were determined to find out what these things were before they entered our mouths.

It's stressful having dinner and playing "Name that Animal on Your Plate". But for some families, the stress of the family meal has to do with what's missing. It's uncomfortable to hang around and talk after a meal because...well, we don't talk to each other before meals or between meals, so why start now?

I thought about this during Church this morning. Actually, I thought about it after the service was over, and we were invited to linger as the Worship Team played on. Many of us stayed in the sanctuary. We stayed in our seats, some of us with our head in our hands, some standing and clapping, some sitting quietly as the worship team stayed and the band played on. And on.

It was so good. I didn't want to leave. It was like we had just been given a very good meal- adequate and nutritious. But then we decided to stay and linger. And by lingering around the table of bounty, the table of fellowship, everyone became more aware of just how good a spiritual meal we had just received. Interestingly, statistics tell us that it takes twenty minutes after we've eaten a meal to feel full- and I think there may be a spiritual correlation as well. Those who lingered were starting to experience the fullness, the weighty presence of God. Our cup was getting filled and filled. Right then. Our faith reservoir was being refreshed.

I heard God whisper to my spirit, "Just linger here at my table." And I did. I just gave in and lingered in the beautiful enveloping peace of His presence. I realized many times God has offered me sustenance and refreshing and I took a bite or a sip and then rushed off- and I could have had more. So much more.

So Bill and I lingered. We stayed. "Thou preparest a table before me..." the psalmist writes- and not just when your enemies are around you. He also prepares a table at every point you need more. It's good to linger at the table where God is there with food for your soul, wind for your sails. By lingering on, you're telling God you believe He has more for you.You're showing God that you see Him as Your Provider, Your Sustainer, Your Bread of Life. And there's more, always more, for those who wait on Him.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Just Checking to See If You're Okay

An incident with the police, yesterday, made me think about how many people are lost or in trouble. Some people can be burdened, lost, and going astray- but they're not going to shout out for help. They may keep a smile plastered on their face even while their soul is plunging into an abyss. Then there are others who look lost, look like they're not doing that well- and well, they're just fine. Really.

My son drove his car to the dentist appointment I had scheduled for him and his sister yesterday morning so that he could leave when his appointment was done and I would stay with Abby and take her home. This was the first time my son was driving into this city where our dentist practises. I had to give Alex written directions so that he could leave from there and get to his school where he was meeting a teacher to help him with a power point presentation.

Right after Alex left the dentist, I got a phone call from him telling me he was lost and asking for directions. I explained how to get to the main highway from where I thought he was. Then Abby and I finished up at the dentist and drove home. Later in the day I got another phone call from Alex. He wanted to touch base, let me know where he was, and when he'd be home.

"By the way, I got pulled over by the police," he said.

"Alex!" I clutched the phone and wondered if he had been speeding. He's a pretty good driver,not crazy, not known for racing or anything. What had he done wrong?

"Mom, I got lost after leaving the dentist. I pulled into a parking lot and that's when I called you. But just after I hung up the phone, a cop drove by, saw me parked there, and then circled around and came back. He came up to my window and asked me what I was doing. 'What you got there, son?' he said. He thought I was smoking pot or something like that!"

"That's what cops are always on the lookout for: teenage boys partying in cars. Where exactly were you parked?" I asked.

"Well, it looked like a warehouse or closed up store. I was the only car in the parking lot."

"No wonder the cop was suspicious. What did he say next?"

"After he suggested that I was smoking pot and I told him No, that I was just talking on the phone with my Mom because I was lost and asking for directions, he smiled as if to say, 'Sure you were, kid'. Then he looked at the blankets in the back seat of the car and asked me if I was living out of my car. I told him, 'No, they're there because my Mom makes me keep blankets in the car in case I ever break down and get caught in a blizzard or something."

At this point I was smiling, thinking that the cop must believe my son is an incredible story teller or that my son has an obsessive-compulsive , protective mother!

"Did he believe you about the blankets?" I asked.

"I'm not sure he was getting it, yet, that I'm not that kind of kid. But then he asked me where I was heading, and I told him I was on my way to my school, told him the name of my school- XXXXX Christian School- and that I was going to be helping my Math Teacher with a computer project for his ministry presentation. I think that's when the Cop finally realized that it was all adding up. I really was just a teenager who was lost temporarily. That's all."

"Alex, you're a good kid," I said, choking up with emotion. He could have been a lost teenager- really lost. I would still love him and fight for him to get back on track if he was spiritually and emotionally lost. But as it was, he was just temporarily, physically lost. But this is how it first looked to the cop: a lone car, parked in a deserted parking lot, a teenager in the car, maybe a teen running away, on drugs, living out of his car. But it wasn't that way. Alex's situation looked worse than what it was.

But there are some who look like they're doing better than what they are, yet they're not doing well at all. They're heavy hearted, frightened, or overwhelmed. Some are in a crisis. You may not see them parked alone in a parking lot. You might see them instead rushing to work, partying at a fraternity, working out at the Gym or volunteering at their kids' school. You might see them bringing home a fat paycheck, but also bringing home a heart burdened beyond belief.

I'm glad that cop was just doing his job- checking out a scene that could have been a different story. If someone I love is lost, I want people to help find them. I want to know that people are asking questions, lovingly investigating something that looks suspicious, or something that seems...well, not right.

You may be doing just fine, yet temporarily be lost and confused. But you know you'll be okay if you stay connected with a loved one, if you keep talking to a friend and asking for directions, asking for help, for prayer.

But if you're not doing that well, I know you're not going to wear a sign that says, "I'm in trouble. Please Help Me Out." We are not good at asking for help when we are starting to fall down. And many of us are afraid to ask if we can be of any help. We don't want to intrude. We want to respect people's privacy. We think someone will be offended if we ask how they really are doing.

Ask anyhow. Somebody who is really lost, really hurting, is waiting for you to investigate the scene of their trouble. They need someone who cares and shows they care. But it's not because you're a cop that you're looking into the scene. It's because you're a friend, a mother, a teacher, maybe- and you see that someone might possibly be going down, stumbling, falling. There are not yet obvious signs that they are, but you think you detect a look in their eye of desperation or pain. You see their shoulders sagging. Something isn't quite right. Ask them, "Are you doing okay? Cause if you're not, I care that you're hurting. And I want you to know that."

They may wave you on, laughing that they're just fine. And they may be. Or they may get quiet and then with a deep breath, start to tell you what's wrong. But if they shrug off your concern, or even act like they're offended that you think they are not appearing strong, don't be alarmed that they walk off rejecting your concern. One thing they will not mutter to themselves is "No one cares about me at all"- they can't say that. And it will stick in their mind and heart- that someone really cares about them- even if they're not yet ready to accept it.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Divine Lessons from French 101

Sometimes God speaks to my heart in the strangest of ways. What I mean, actually, is that it might seem strange to others but it is very real and normal for me to hear God speaking to me through a word picture, a verse, and- in the case of this morning- in French. I only had a couple years of French in High School, along with classes in Spanish. Then in college I took one more year of French, bumbled around with it, and left that language behind to go further with Spanish.

But certain French phrases remained with me. One of them was spoken to me this morning. By God. Quietly. I suddenly remembered my French, and more than that, I got the gist of what God was saying to me as several different Scriptures came to my mind right after God whispered to my heart, Regardez-vous. It brought to mind my French professor, at the blackboard, about to write a new phrase for us to learn or a new vocabulary word. You would sit up and take notice when he said, Regardez-vous!

"Look! Watch!" God was saying to my heart.What did God want me to watch for? Things have been rather slow and dull in my life. Bill and I were talking about this, this morning, about the areas of our life that we felt were a bit stagnant and flat. We want to pursue God into fruitful labor but we weren't sure if we were seeing the picture correctly, or even seeing ourselves correctly.

Several things came to my mind about the word Regard. "To regard someone highly" means that you would notice someone; you would see all their outstanding qualities when you regarded them, such as in Phil. 2:29 when Paul admonishes them to hold Epaphroditus " in high regard". Proverbs 13:18 tells us not to ignore correction but that "he who regards a rebuke will be honored." Then there's that beautiful verse, Psalm 138:6, "Though the Lord is on high, yet He regards the lowly; but the proud He knows from afar."

You can't regard something till you first notice it. I think when we've been waiting for God to move in our life in a new way, when we wait a long time for something to start or something to take off, we can grow weary and relaxed in our sense of anticipation. Soon we don't notice anything God is doing- or we don't credit Him with what He is doing in our life- because we've forgotten to regard His faithfulness to us. We're convincedthat if God is going to move in our life, He is going to do it sloooowly because that's His preferred mode of operation! We believe that- because it seems to be the case. The reality is- we are in need of God moving at a gentle, slow speed. We are not at all ready for a big move of God, a sudden surprise. We think we are- but we're not.

Last night, on the T.V. Show, American Idol, one of the judges spoke about the contestants not being ready at all for the sudden fame and stardom that their lives would experience. It was intimated that these young people couldn't possibly know how to prepare for it because they had never really experienced anything close to the powerful swell of popularity and fame that was coming their way. Each week that this show goes on is another week for the contestants to get used to the camera, the voting, the fickle nature of the audience, the roar of the crowd. It's good that this happens slowly.

Now, you and I are not on this show (unless you happen to be one of the American Idol contestants reading this, and if so, get back to your voice lessons. You've got work to do!). Our slow stride to fruitfulness and productivity is probably out of the spotlight of notoriety. Nevertheless, we all want to make progress. We all want to be fruitful and flourishing.

God hears me ask, Can we make this process go a little bit faster? He smiles His answer and tells me to Watch Him, then. Notice Him . See Him at work in my life. God is telling me to get my eyes off of all the supposed indicators of my progress and put my attention directly on Him. Regardez vous!

Every time we regard highly the work of God in our life- in whatever area of our life we see it- we honor Him and identify Him as the Author and Finisher of our Faith. Every time I notice the hand of God, the touch of God, in my life or in your life, I call attention to Him, and give Him the credit due His Name. I demonstrate that I am watching carefully for His coming, His touch, His work in my life, in this world.

It behooves me to return to class with a sense of anticipation. Yes, I have learned many lessons already. But every day there is another important lesson the Teacher has for me. I show Him that I believe this is true- and that great things are about to happen- because I am all ears, my eyes on Him, my heart racing in anticipation.

Regardez-vous! To everyone who responds to His call for our attention, there is a reward: we get to see the God of Heaven move mountains here on earth. We move those mountains with Him. At the sound of His voice. "At the impulse of thy love". Whenever He tells us to take a step forward. Because we are watching Him intently.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

I'm Over at CWO Today!

Today I'm a Guest Contributor at Christian Women Online. Come on over! The topic: "The Road is Closed." Now, you know I'm not talking about the highway of holiness, the path of freedom, the path of peace. Those are all open to us. Eternally. "I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free." That's our calling: running, not stumbling, on a level path of God's blessing.

But when we're stumbling about on a road we should not be on, that's another story. We're not supposed to be walking back into bondage of any kind, back into guilt or self-sabotage. Don't even go there. When green fields of Freedom are ahead of you, why choose the flat, dry landscape of your past?!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Friendships We Long For- Part Two

Well, my dear friend Mu and her family will be in sunny Florida this coming week. She'll be lying by a pool, sipping a cold drink, blissfully at peace while I make my way, without her, through this cold upcoming week of snow, ice, wind, and gray skies. But I'm happy for her. Really. 'Cause that's what friends are for: they are there to be happy that at least one of you is under the sunlight even if the other isn't. And Mu needs the sunlight even more so than I do. I've never minded gray winter days as long as I can be indoors in a warm house with a hot pot of tea and a writing project or a good book to read.

We were talking at the Italian restaurant we were at, Friday, about our friendship. I don't think anyone would have thought to pair us up as friends, years ago, because we really have little in common. I had forgotten that. We laughed as we realized we really shouldn't have made it as friends. I like to read, putter around in my house, think about cleaning, knit once in a while, write, and teach seminars. Mu will read but mainly for the purpose of information gathering, she cleans her house fastidiously but says she's not cleaning enough (if she's not cleaning her house enough, then I really am not doing it enough), and she's on top of all bills, paperwork, and filing not only at her house but at her part time office job as well.

What we have in common is more a similar outlook than anything else. It's the way we look at things, our perspective, that is so compatible. I see how she looks at things. I understand what motivates her, what angers her, what cause her alarm. She knows what gets me in a tizzy, what gets me inspired, what makes me want to give up. For some reason we just "got" who the other person was, very early on in our friendship.

It's simply a gift from God. And even the friendships I've had over the years, friendships that hurt, friendships that failed- these are a gift from God too. But of course I can say that now, with years of perspective under my belt and a sigh of relief that I've learned a thing or two. What I've learned about friendship has more to do with what friendship isn't. It isn't a cure-all for the heart's ache that is meant to lead us to God. Friendship isn't about avoiding pain, truth, or problems.

When friends are in the best mode- understanding each other, caring for each other- we see God's grace, feel His love, understand His heart's desire for us to be encouraged to go onward in this life. The best of friends have the best of God's plan at work in their friendship: redemption, forgiveness, and grace.

If you add in lots of laughter, the kind of laughter that causes your stomach muscles to hurt for days, then I'd say you are a blessed person. And if you don't yet have the kind of friendship where God's redemptive love and grace permeate the relationship, start looking to flow in grace, walk in grace, all the while yearning to share that love of God with someone who could very well be your dear friend. Cause after all, if you have no earthly habits and interests in common, you do both have a heavenly Father who loves you.

That's a good starting point, right there.

Friday, February 15, 2008

The Friendships We Long For

Mu is taking me out for lunch today. It's an early birthday gift. We're going to an Italian restaurant known for its delicious food and warm environment. It'll be so good to see her- because it's been almost two weeks since we've last had a get together. Oh, we've talked by phone and in person, but it's always better face to face, and especially with a delectable food-ish or coffee aroma wafting under our noses as we talk. And talk.

In a couple weeks, I'm going to be teaching a workshop at Church on one of my favorite subjects: Friendship. I have not always felt like this was a subject I've done well with. It's only been the last ten years of my life that I took a high road into the terrain of heavenly friendships. I'm not the Friendship Expert, mind you, but I have learned a lot in the last decade about what makes a healthy friendship, what are the characteristics of a good friend, and how do I find and make a friend when I'm starting from scratch.

Everyone is talking about Friendship, lately- or at least trying to depict what it is. Chick Lit has sprung up as a whole new genre, describing the urban, sizzling adventures of polished, professional women. Recent new T.V. shows have groups of women- high powered executives- sharing the details of their lives with each other and looking like they have a tight friendship. But I don't know- something smells fishy in a lot of these story lines. For one thing, what is in vogue, now, are women who look promising, powerful and professional. That leaves out over half of American women! (Not that many of us aren't promising- but few of us lead that high powered a life, that glitzy and Gucci a life where money is no object, children are attended by Nannies, and wearing the latest designer delight is your hallmark).

Most women I know- who would be candidates for friendship- wear baby's drool on their shoulders or have lines on their faces from the wear and tear of mothering, they wear slip on flat shoes (lest they throw their back out from wearing high heels!), and they wear a pair of jeans and a clean shirt that is hopefully not too wrinkled or outdated. Even the professional women I know don't look all that glitzy and glamorous. Remember, a full time make-up artist, on hand, helps you achieve that look. You don't look that good- the way you see women on T.V.- without a lot of primping and painting and pfluffing and posing!

So, before we can talk about what a real friend is, what real friends are like, we've got to forget the Glitz and the Glam and get down to brass tacks. What a women wears is no indicator of how she'll be as a friend. The brand of her handbag, the color of her hair, the designer of her jeans- they can't tell us a thing about a woman's soul, really. Sometimes these things reflect her financial challenges, sometimes they reflect her lack of time spent reading fashion magazines- but they certainly don't reflect whether she has the capacity to be a true-blue friend.

As my 13 year old daughter comes home from school each day and shares the highs and lows of her day with me, I am so aware that this all-important topic of Friendship she is just learning about is going to impact her life significantly. We need to lay a good foundation here. A good friend makes you feel like you can take on a big challenge. A person who you thought was your friend and who betrays you or hurts you, can make you feel unsure of yourself, unsure of wanting to open up again. We've all heard that saying, "With friends like that, who needs enemies?!".

I would love to know how you all feel about the topic of friendship. Do you have great friendships, and have you always had them? Have you learned recently how to be a friend or make a friend? Do you struggle with this area? Did you learn about making friends from watching your mother? Has the Church been a place where you've made friends easily? Is it important, to you, to have close friendships?

Leave your comments. I'm listening. Really listening.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

It all Started with a New Brand of Coffee

We thought school would be canceled today. All the forecasts pointed to this storm, which is really more sleet and ice than it is loads of snow. It's a bit gray out. Not many cars are passing by. I love this kind of quiet day.

Bill and I enjoyed a longer chat this morning, sipping our Dunkin Donuts brand coffee and savoring the quietness of a morning where our first challenge was to get Harry dried off and keep him from climbing onto the couch. The wet-dog smell mixed with the aroma of our hot coffee. We used to enjoy Folgers brand coffee but recently tried Dunkin Donuts coffee, brewed at home. Wow. It tastes as good at our home as it does at the Dunkin Donuts shops. It's a new treat we've adopted for our morning routine.

Sometimes it really is the little things- that we can easily change- that help set us on a course of being able to make the big changes. I've known people who are so stuck in a rut that changing the brand of coffee they buy would have been an earth shaking decision. I can't afford that kind of rigidity. I've got to be continually growing, changing, trying new things. I've got to always be ready for fresh new ideas, new tastes of spring in the dead of winter- or I won't at all be ready for the kind of major winds of change that God often employs.

We often want God to do major, new miraculous works in our life yet we demonstrate a resistance to change in so many ways we are unaware of. If we take the time to look at our little choices we have to make daily, will we see that we often try new things? If we can't handle little changes, what makes us think we'll be ready for a big change when God brings it into our lives? There are often subtle, unspoken things in our life that scream out the message "I'm not changing a thing- and yet I'm asking God to change me." Some people can see this in us- but we often can't see it in ourselves.

So try taking a little inventory of your habits. As the Psalmist said, "And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." (Psalm 139:24). Look at how it's worded in two other translations: "And see if there be any hurtful way in me, ...." (NASB) and "... see if there be any grievous way in me;..." (Darby).

Sin is not always am obvious act of disobedience and selfishness. There are sins of commission and sins of omission. Something we do that hurts our progress, that grieves the Holy Spirit, is when we resist change. We resist change (an assertive stance) so that we won't have to make a change(a sin of omission).

We are called to be a "peculiar people", a people of pilgrimage, of violent undertakings that shake up our comfortable soul. For some of us, that sounds so radical. But it's also somewhat radical for us to try a new recipe, go to a new event, call someone we don't know and invite them to a Bible Study. And if we won't do those less radical things, why do we think we'll ever get to the earth-shaking, mountain moving things that people of faith are called to do?

"Take a step into the new thing I am doing," He says. That new thing may be a step farther along that unknown path, or maybe just a step into a new place for the sake of seeing something new- because its in your power to do so. Yes, there are many things that we have absolutely no control over. But in the areas that we do have some say-so, let's make a change. Let's think a new thought, try a new route, consider a new way of doing something. Then maybe we'll actually have eyes to see that new thing He is doing in our lives. When He whispers to our soul, "Do you not perceive it?" we'll be able to answer, "Why, yes! I do, Lord".

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Quiet Time

Call it a Quiet Time Out ...for Grown Ups. No, I haven't been bad. (Well, by that I mean I haven't been bumbling around in my human failing any more so than usual). But I have been asking God to speak to my heart, to speak to the issues I have brought before Him. And I think that before I can hear Him, I have to dial down, quiet my heart, and welcome a silent period where I finally have nothing to say, but a lot to learn.

I'm not sure if my husband has noticed that lately I am asking fewer questions when we have our morning coffee. I am not even writing much in my journal. Ideas for books and articles, and for new teaching workshops have quieted down to a whisper. I don't have a million ideas running through my mind like I normally do. I especially don't have the physical energy, now that my back muscles are slo-o-owly healing. So maybe this is what God is "working together for good"- my bad back, my tongue becoming silent, my eyes on Him- because where else do Answers come from?!

When we were kids, my family watched the movie, The King and I, starring Yul Brenner, and I swear that my father learned way too much from that King of Siam. It was around that time that my Dad started to adopt pithy phrases that quickly let us know the main point he was making. One phrase he would say as sternly and majestically as the King of Siam did was, "If you listen, you will learn!" We joke about it, even to this day.

But on a serious note, that's not how God is speaking to me. It's not like He is severely admonishing me to cease talking and sit up straight if I want to hear the secrets of life. It's more like God is saying, "Lauren, are you done talking, done trying to figure it all out?Because if you're done projecting and analyzing possibilities, I have a few things I'd like to share with you."

He knows that there comes a time when we have to run out of steam and come to the point where we voluntarily say, I really do want to listen, Lord. I have no ideas of my own anymore. He knows that what I desperately want more than anything is wisdom. I want to be discerning of the hand of God in my life, and to "see" the open doors He provides even though they don't look open in the way I would have thought.

"For those who love what you reveal, everything fits—
no stumbling around in the dark for them. " Psalm 119:165 The Message

God is not short on desire to reveal His will for our lives. We have the general will of God in Scripture.But then there are times in our lives when we need a little more guidance in specific areas. In these areas I want to do all I can to hear God's counsel and to appropriate it, benefit from it, and rejoice that God doesn't want us stumbling around in the dark.

One Scripture that my younger sister quoted to me, over twenty years ago, when Bill and I were first embarking on pastoral ministry in small New England towns, was a Proverb that has always made me take a deep breath of hope and peace.

"But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, that shines brighter and brighter until the full day" Prov.4:18.

So even if I get quieter and quieter as I wait on God to speak, to clarify, to point me in the way I should go, I know that my path will get brighter and brighter. I think that's a good exchange. And my family is quite happy about the arrangement as well.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Austen Mania Explained

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Masterpiece Classic, February 10, 17, & 23 at 9 p.m. EST

I only watched part of Masterpiece Theatre's Pride and Prejudice last night. I've seen this movie so many times I can repeat the lines from several scenes, word for word. Next to Persuasion and Sense and Sensibility, this movie is one of my favorites.

Whether you're into Jane Austen's books and regency romances or not, you should notice that there's a bit of mania going on lately about this world of quiet romance, bucolic countryside, and grand houses filled with people dining or dancing. I've read a couple of Austen-like novels recently. And I think there'll be more coming- more books and movies and maybe even T shirts that read "Austen Addict" or "Give me Mr. Darcy or I'll Die!".

I'm not saying that I'm an Austen Addict, but I can see why people are flocking to these books and these movies, eager to escape this world we are in. In our world, houses are not filled with beautiful sculptures and long dining room tables with the help waiting to serve you your tea. In our world, we don't have men in white ruffled shirts who know how to politely converse with a woman, watching their language and their tone of voice lest some damsel feel distraught.

Yes, there were a lot of horrific things happening in the days of Jane Austen, but those were not highlighted in her books. Instead, we see scenes of lively conversations and strolls through the vast fields behind grand houses. We feel the love that is expressed between a certain two who are aware of something between them. We get to be enveloped in a beautiful world where it is quiet, at times, and slower paced.

Maybe,more than anything, it's this quieter life that we long for. Whispered conversations while sitting on a bench, chatting with a friend while walking arm in arm, sipping tea with a loved one and not having to rush off to our next appointment.

As it is, it's supper time and there is no hired help, so off I must go to make the meal. Harry is barking loudly, outside, wanting to come in. I have to do several loads of laundry. And I promised I would make a banana bread for Bill and the kids. So no more musing here about Jane Austen's blissful world.

Besides, true bliss is having your future secured, your past forgiven, your today covered with His overflowing grace. I'm sure that the Lord is the One I should turn to- not Jane Austen- to get what my heart is longing for.

"He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul..." Psalm 23:2,3

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Your Turn Around is Just Ahead

It's late Saturday morning and I am propped up in bed, with the lap top, Harry lying next to me, and Bill downstairs doing that dreaded work of filing and sorting of all the bills and paperwork that I have not dealt with for weeks. (Now that's just one of the many reasons why I appreciate that man so much!)Alex is still asleep and Abby just woke up.

I am contemplating so many things right now. And since it's a Saturday and my back is telling me not to go zooming into the day, I am authorizing for myself a time to write, think, pray, ponder. Bill and I already had our early morning chat together. It felt like a summit meeting. We are endeavoring to not return to any strongholds of the past, any faulty thinking or incorrect conclusions.

One of the things I shared with the women on Thursday night was that while there are many myths and lies about having to maintain an image, Paul tells us in Corinthians that "we are not unaware of the devil's schemes." That's right, we are not supposed to be in the dark about what he tries to do to prompt us to return to darkness and defeat.

Once you articulate some of the myths that we often believe, then its time to assess where these lies might be carried out in your own life. You don't have to do this with a wagging, scolding finger pointed at yourself, but rather with a sense of relief over having detected where you are going wrong.

Recently I have been pondering an interesting phrase-"turned the captivity". God turned the captivity of Job when he prayed for his friends, Scripture tells us. "When the Lord turned again the captivity of Zion, we were like those who dreamed" it tells us in Psalm 126. I'm convinced that when we've been in a desert season for a long time, for whatever reasons, that we might not detect that its our time to come out of captivity and come into a season of refreshing, a season of harvest after years of no reaping but yet, continual sowing.

When God turns our captivity, He restores what the locusts have eaten. When God "turned" Job's captivity, He restored Job's fortune and family life. It says God restored it when Job prayed for his friends (who were,in my mind, lousy friends, starting out right by staying with him and then adding to his pain with their projections of why he incurred wave upon wave of tragedy).

When God turned it around for Job, it implies that it happened the moment he prayed, yet the manifestation of the turnaround took some time. So here's the predicament: when we've been purposing to walk in faith, watching over our heart and our mindset, there can come a time where we've left the bondage of the past but we haven't yet seen the manifestation of what we've contended for, what we've believed for in the face of opposing, supposed evidence.

When Job obeyed God because he believed God, and he interceded for his friends, Job might have enthusiastically declared, "Now watch what God is going to do in my life. He's going to turn it all around!". And if he did say something like that, and his friends stayed around to watch, how long did it take to see this turn around? How long did it take for Job's captivity to turn into fertile fields, thousands of animals grazing on hills, children running around in laughter, his health restored, his gold and silver replenished? Did God do it in a night? In a year? In a decade? I don't know. I just know God did it.

That tells me that you can't always tell when your turn around is taking place. It might be so slow of a thing that you're tempted to think you're still captive of your past. The enemy of your soul might show up and taunt you with "You really think God is going to get you out of your prison of pain? You really think He'll do all that He says?!?"

This is one of those times where we don't need to play nice. We just need to tell the enemy where he can go. And then we need to fix our eyes on what God says is ahead- our release, our right to run on the path of His Word. Because we are NOT unaware of the enemy's schemes, and we are not going back to bondage of any kind when there's something bountifully better that He says we can have.

Take a moment and even if you can't see the fertile fields ahead, can you at least detect the smell of new grass sprouting? Can you feel the mist of beginning rain? The rest of the bounty is not that far away.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Top or Bottom- This Momma Has it All

I'm a Top Mommma!
First I was hot Mama, a couple days ago (see the previous post for clarification!), and now I'm a TopMomma!

Apparently I'm on the front, home page of! Now I don't know how I got there, and I don't know what this is exactly, but since when has confusion and blundering around stopped me from getting anywhere?!!

I'm a Top Mommma!

"Mommy bloggers are sorted by popularity, which is based on clicks and referrals. When a new mom enters the roster, the least popular one gets pushed off the site. Think of it as a “mommy time out”…With a bit of luck, and a really supportive bra, you just may end up as TOP MOMMA – which earns you bragging rights and a spot in the elusive “Hall of Fame..."

Okay, so does this mean people have to vote for me? Am I still a top mama even if no one responds to this at all? Do I still have worth and value even if I fall off this "hall of fame" chart I am supposedly on for a brief fleeting moment?

And how coincidental is it that tonight I am teaching a workshop on "Breaking the Bondage of Maintaining an Image"?!! Here I have a momentary uptick in my Image, and I am about to speak about breaking the bondage of trying to maintain an Image!

What are some of my key points? I'm glad you asked. Let's just look at two lies that we wind up believing when it comes to trying to LOOK GOOD.

Even if you "Fake it till you Make it"- you'll never really make it. Sorry, but that's the bad news. As to when you get to the point of having "made it" I don't think we really have an objective indicator for that. The measuring mark just keeps getting moved up, you have to run on that hamster wheel forever, and you'll still never "MAKE IT". You'll never get to that day when all think well of you and YOU think well of yourself. Let's just put that lie where it belongs: in the garbage can!

At one of the low points in my life, years ago, I decided to befriend a janitor at nursery school my daughter was going to. This was a time in my life when finances were miserable, our housing situation was precarious (tell you more about that some time) and I felt about as wonderful as a frog in a pot of boiling water. I first started talking to this janitor at the school because he was a sweet humble man and I couldn't cope with hanging around anyone who was successful, powerful, and making huge advances in their life. The thing is, as I got talking with this man on almost a daily basis, I found out he was a man of peace, a man of inner rest and tranquility, a man who knew that "no weapon formed against him would prosper". This was a man who could have been the CEO of a company- or he could be a janitor- and neither position would make him feel more self worth.

I learned something from that janitor. He changed the course of my life. Not because I suddenly became successful and wealthy, but because I found out what it looked like to have the "secret of contentment (Phil. 4:10-20). And when I looked at that smiling, rejoicing janitor, I thought to myself, "I want to be like him. I want to know, really know, what he knows."

So, Top Momma, Hot Momma, Weary Momma, Waiting Momma- whatever momma I am, in whatever circumstances I find myself in, I can "do it." Yup, that's right. I can LIVE a wildly satisfying, abundant life, with my eyes on Him, and know no limitations to peace and joy. He says I can have it. And I believe Him.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Excuses, Excuses!

Let me tell you, I am one hot mama. Literally. The heating pad is under my back and I am burning up. But the heat feels so good that I don't care if I'm burning hot. Sometimes to get through the pain you have to go through some hot times, you know?

I think I know how this back of mine got out of whack. A week and a half ago I was down in Kentucky with my son, visiting a college. It was bitterly cold. We walked all over the place, from dorm to cafeteria to admissions hall and back to the B&B I was staying at down the road. I walked everywhere for two and half days straight. I had on new shoes- nothing fancy like spiked heels. Just a pair of rubber soled wedged clogs. They were comfortable- but they did have about an inch and a half of a rise in the heel. Normally I run around in these wool flat slip ons with rubber soles, but a woman has to dress up once in a while, you know? So I did.

But when you're on heels, you lean forward, walk putting pressure on your pelvic area, and use different leg muscles. Add in to that the fact that I was constantly cold and tightening all my muscles in reaction to the bitter cold. I returned home without seeing any effect from this, and I think I'm hunky dory. (Wherever did that term come from?!)

Then this past Saturday as I spent the whole day running around, at the mall with my daughter, walking on cement floors, my bodily suddenly protested. My back said this feels different, and wham! the muscles seize up and the lower back goes out. Now this is just my take on what I think happened. I mean, I know my body and I should know what is too much for it,or what causes it to break down.

I know that if I go too many nights without sleep that I can get hysterical. I remember with baby #2 (our Abby) that I went so many months (nine, ten, eleven?) without a full night's sleep that I started to get desperate and hysterical.

"I'll never sleep through the night again the rest of my life," I sobbed to my husband. Mr. Stick-to-the-Facts Himself thought I was being ridiculous and that of course the baby would eventually sleep through the night and therefore so would I. But to me, it felt like my body would never get that reprieve ever again.

I have to admit that I got a bit dramatic yesterday with Bill and was starting to get fearful about this body of mine not being able to take a simple thing like two and a half days of walking around without having my back fall apart.

"If I can't take that now, it's only going to get worse as I get older," I said to my husband, sighing.

"You have to exercise and take better care of your body. You're small, but you don't have much muscle tone. You need to work out with weights more," he said.

"But you were going to be my trainer," I retorted in protest, remembering that he did offer to help me work out with weights. "It's up to you to get me downstairs, to the weight machine, and motivate me to workout, tell me I'm doing it right, and cheer me on and..."

"And anything else you'd like?" he asked me, staring at me with those blue eyes that know me so well, that see through all my excuses.

"No," I said smiling, "Nothing else. That'll do."

In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength..." Isaiah 30:15

So who's with me? Do I have any strength training buddies out there ready to pump some iron, ready to trust God for more strength, ....ready to learn to be quiet when you don't have a good enough excuse?!!

Monday, February 04, 2008

Breaking the Bondage of Maintaining an Image

I realized that after mentioning, recently, my vision and hearing problems, and then talking about my back I just threw out, that I sound like I'm falling apart! You might be picturing me, hunched over, hobbling, squinting, and calling out,"Huh? What did you say deary?"! I can almost picture some of your sympathetic murmurings, "That poor dear, she's really a mess"!

Well, I am a bit of a mess. On some days I realize this, and on other days I am packaged up quite nicely, thank you. But it all depends on the moment, the month, the miracle of grace, as to how I am doing. I know that full well.

It's appropriate that this week is my next LIFE Workshop I'm teaching. This was planned out months ago, but what a coincidence: I am teaching a workshop called "Breaking the Bondage of Maintaining an Image."

Last night, I lay in bed, flat on my back with a heating pad under my lower back, watching a beautiful but somewhat depressing PBS movie called, Miss Austen Regrets. They depicted Jane as a woman who sipped a lot of wine, spoke her mind freely, and looked like she regretted almost everything while having her speaking that she did not. A bit confusing for me.

The subject of Regrets is a fascinating one. No one wants to have a lot of regret at the end of their life. I would not want to get to the end of my life and have regret over failing to follow God into every thing He called me to. I am purposing to have no regret, each day, in how I live, and in how I seek God. It's wholehearted living I'm after- and as James would add, "with no doubting" because as we know when you doubt you're like a wave of the sea tossed about, and I feel nauseous just thinking about that image.

One of the best ways to go wholeheartedly after God's will for your life is to give up wanting people's approval of you. But this is no small thing. We struggle with this constantly. For this matter, I look at the Biblical figure of David as my mentor. God allowed David's descendant to rule on the throne "because David did what was right in the eyes of the LORD , and had not turned aside from anything that He commanded him all the days of his life , except in the matter of Uriah the Hittite" . (1 Kings 15:5).

Yes, David messed up in that "matter" of adultery, and I'm sure he messed up repeatedly in attitude and sins of the heart. Look through the Psalms and you see him calling out for God to search his heart because he knows only God can keep our heart on target. But David continually longed for God's approval of him, God's blessing and God's favor. It was God that David looked up to when the world looked down at him.

What I look like in God's eyes is the key thing, isn't it? People will not always have the complete picture in mind. They couldn't possibly know all that God has called you to, or allowed you to go through for certain reasons. People will never fully understand the way that you take. But whose eyes are always on you? In whose eyes does it matter what we look like?

I don't have enough energy to go around fine tuning my image and wondering what I look like to others. I have been given, though, enough strength to seek after Him, enough hope of hearing His "Well Done, good and faithful servant" so that the roar of the crowd or the jeers of an enemy do not sound like anything other than noise in my ear- because my eyes are on Him. And most importantly, His eyes are on me.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

The Spirit is Willing

Last Sunday, Bill and I had stayed in the sanctuary after the official end of the service to enjoy the continuing praise and worship that the worship team was offering. Anyone who wanted to stay was welcome to enjoy an extra time of refreshing in the Lord. For me, I felt particularly exuberant and joyful. I was standing, practically jumping, in worship and in joy. I had just come back from the trip to Kentucky, from a time where God met me in a powerful, personal way- and still met my son's needs as well. I love that about God. He is never stretched too thin. Thousand, millions even, can call upon Him all in the same moment, and He can reach us all, where we are at.

But this Sunday, today, I walked into Church and looked like an old lady. I have thrown my back out. I don't know how this happened. I didn't lift anything heavy these last couple days. But yesterday, after spending the day running errands with my daughter, I came home, made dinner, and while walking around in the kitchen, suddenly had my back seize up. One minute I'm carefree and moving easily around, and the next minute my back revolts in a protest of pain and spastic muscles.

I couldn't bend over, couldn't sit down without yelping in pain. I felt like Meg Ryan in the movie, French Kiss, when after eating cheese and having a lactose-intolerant reaction she cries out "Spasm! Spasm!" Bill helped me to the bedroom, and Abby warmed up a heating pad to put under my back. I laid on my back for the rest of the evening. I slept okay, and woke up to...the same pain- like the seizing of an engine. I took some muscle relaxant pills and decided to still go to church anyhow.

In the parking lot, I met Mu and her family coming into church.

"We are too in sync with each other, " I told her."Now my back is out and I look like you hobbling along." Mu has been going to a chiropractor and then a physical therapist for a pinched nerve problem she had that had not gone away. Only listen to this- her physical therapist gives her a massage as well! I'm not feeling too sorry for her!

We linked arms and let our husbands and kids walk ahead of us into church, while she and I laughed as we hobbled into church looking like two old ladies. She limps from pain from moving her hips and I walked as straight as I could, trying to keep my lower back from cramping, and would intermittently gasp as my back muscles would suddenly tense up. We are true friends, indeed; and I think we'll make a great pair of wild old ladies when those dear days of advanced age creep up on us. She and I will not "go quietly into the night", that's for sure.

So after the service, when Bill and I sat there to enjoy the extra time of worship, I looked very sedate, very prim and proper. I lightly clapped, trying not to jar my back too much. I sang. But what I wanted to be doing was standing and shouting out praise and breaking forth into song. My spirit was willing, but oh, my body was weak!

I have new found empathy for all those who want to so desperately move into the next thing for their life, yet they're held back by some limitation. It doesn't have to be a physical limitation. Sometimes it can be a handicap such as a bad memory of something, or a spirit that is so rejected and hurt that you can't trust God for open doors or for new friends, loving friends. It could be that you're limited by finances yet not by passion for your dream. It may be that you are physically captive in a body that won't cooperate.

There are things that will get in the way of us moving forward. One week I'm free to physically worship God- stand, clap, jump, kneel if I want to, and the next week I'm limited as to what my body can do. But nothing will stop my soul from digging in to the love and acceptance God provides to me. Nothing will stop me from being joyfully certain of the good God has in store for me. I don't know how long this back of mine will fight me.

But I'm going to run on the highway of holiness. My spirit can always soar with God even if my body "doth protest".

Friday, February 01, 2008

That's What it Tastes Like

I was so tempted to leave you all with a recipe the other day, that's how victorious I was feeling in the cooking department. A couple nights ago we made homemade pizza. This is not an unusual thing for our family. We've been doing this, usually weekly, for several years now. I'll make the pizza dough in my bread machine,buy the ingredients- which must include fresh mozzarella (in a ball or packaged in water). I'll put out three pans, and then the bake off begins.

Bill usually pairs off with Abby, Alex does his solo thing with extra, extra cheese, and I will do the pizza with mushrooms or lately, a white broccoli. But the other night I had come home with a package of frozen buffalo chicken bites. And I had an idea for a new pizza- after remembering one of the boys at Alex's birthday party requesting a buffalo chicken pizza. I had never heard of that before. (I lead a sheltered life).

So, we each made our pizzas. I spread a little of the mozzarella over the well oiled dough, squirted some blue cheese dressing all over that, spread the pizza sauce over that, then added more cheese. Lastly, I place the the buffalo chicken bites all over the pizza, and sprinkled with parmesan and more mozzarella. I put my pizza and the other two in the oven. The verdict? Surprisingly the kids voted my pizza as the best one that night. (Usually Alex wins because his pizzas are so loaded with cheese).

So what does my beautiful, prize winning, buffalo chicken pizza have to do with anything? I'm glad you asked. Here's my epiphany: sometimes we surprise ourselves when we create something wonderful- and didn't intend to do so. It's not a big thing that I made a great tasting pizza. But it is a big thing that I was creative, somewhat successful,and that there was a positive response to what I had made.

One of the joys we have in this life is the ability to do things and to do them well, do them with a flourish and a sparkle.But even better than that is when someone responds to what we are offering, what we are creating. Maybe it had been a long time since my kids said "Wow, Mom, that meal was incredible!". (Actually, I'm sure that it has been a long time since they said that). But what surprised me more than hearing their positive response was the joy that I suddenly felt, the sense of accomplishment.

I may go from pizza making to some other creative pursuits. I may go on to bigger things. But I won't even try unless I've got the taste of success in my mouth.

" When you eat the labor of your hands, you shall be happy, and it shall be well with you." Psalm 128:2