Saturday, January 31, 2009

All Quiet on the Home Front

There was actually some sunshine today, believe it or not. The great Northeast is still cold and snowing on and off and there's ice everywhere...but there was also some sunshine. Thank God.

That's my big celebration for today: the fact that the sun came out. So instead of me playing the part of Annie and singing, "The sun'll come out tomorrow..." I can sing that it came out today. But it's better if I just tell you this news- and not sing it. Everyone is much happier if I stick to writing my thoughts and not singing them!

There's no earth shattering news today other than my little weather report. But I expect I will have more things to share in the months to come. For now, it's quiet at home base. Sometimes it's nice just to let people know that you are well, of sound mind, stable, and at peace. In this world, that's a lot.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Your Turnaround is NOW

It has been very strange- the way I have been feeling encouraged by God at a time when things are more than discouraging. Nationally, things are a bit depressing. Personally and economically, things have been tight. Very tight. Come to think of it, I haven't run into anyone, lately, who- when asked how they are- replies "Fantastic! Never better! Things are wonderful."

But that doesn't mean that things are worse for me. They're not. I've never been better. There's wind at my back, now- and that is something I haven't had in a long time.

I'm not sure where that phrase exactly comes from but I expect it is a maritime term, and any boat sailing along on a long journey wants wind at their back- not in their face. We all want support from behind us and open doors ahead of us. And surprisingly, I think that's exactly what I have right now.

I do also have problems. Or let's call them challenges or hurdles. My son, away at college, has been sick again with a bad cold and struggling with Asthma. My husband is temporarily between remodeling jobs. Issues about insurance, security, income, dwindling accounts- these are all real issues for us, and probably for many of you as well.

But there is a source of wealth (and I do mean wealth) that has recently appeared to me. Without this kind of wealth, you are in a real pickle. Some call it the favor of God. Some call it an inner knowing that everything will be okay. I call it a turnaround. And it's not ahead of me. It's now. Right now.

I had to look up this post I wrote, and I knew it was sometime last year that I wrote it. But I didn't know it was almost exactly a year ago that I wrote this. When I wrote about Your Turnaround is Just Ahead I had no idea that I needed to hang with this thought, marinate it for a year, and then "see" it come to pass.

It's not that I see fruitful fields right now and everything I have is multiplying. I don't see that yet. But I did hear God. And I keep hearing Him. He's speaking to my heart, and there doesn't seem to be a gray murky screen between us anymore. I'm not sure why He had to sort of keep me in the dark for so long. I knew He was real. I knew He was God, all these years. But I just didn't feel like I was in a vibrant personal relationship with Him where He was longing to chat with me as much as I was longing to talk with Him.

Who knows- maybe I knew too much about God, knew too much Scripture and too much about church life and even the M word (ministry)- for my own good. It's sometimes good to to get reduced to the absolute God-honest facts. It's sometimes good to get whittled down and pared down- if it means the rebuilding will be a more solid promising thing.

When Job's turnaround occurred, after he was whittled down and reduced to some desperate means, we think of what lay ahead of him: green fertile fields, livestock multiplying, more children, his wealth increased. But I think this true wealth began- this turnaround began- precisely at a point that Job chapter 38:1 indicates- "Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said...".

During Job's trial of misery and questions, he wasn't hearing God speak to his soul. He had no idea what his trial was all about. Friends tried to answer that question but they were only simple humans with a tiny, tiny bit of insight compared to the whole picture that God sees and God knows. During this awful time for Job, he was trying to declare some good things- as I was trying to declare good things myself, these past dry dusty years. That's where we get Job's famous "though he slay me, yet will I trust Him" phrase that has become a rallying cry for the disheartened and despairing when things are going all wrong and you don't know why and what's worse- you can't see or hear God. But you still believe in Him.

But if God starts talking to you out of the whirlwind, you have now begun your turnaround. Before you see good things happen, the best of all things has already occurred: God has spoken to you. You are not in the dark anymore. You are not alone- because you can hear God whisper to your soul or speak to your mind or however you hear Him best. This is good. It's a good thing when the God of the heavens is chatting with you, talking to you, girding you with encouragement and His perspective of things.

So if you're in a whirlwind of some type of catastrophe or financial distress or emotional upheaval, even though you want answers and you want relief, I think you may want, even more so, that God speaks to you. I know that when I can hear Him, I am suddenly sailing onward with the wind at my back, an oar in my hand, and an expectancy of good things to come.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

What a Relief!

My daughter and I have been watching the Masterpiece Theatre production, Wives and Daughters, and for me, it's the second time I've seen it. Besides the gorgeous scenery and costumes, this time I am enjoying "seeing" the character of Molly Gibson.

If I liked her last time I saw this, I like her even more so now. Molly Gibson is a truth teller. And in an age of discreet and tedious social protocol, she stands out as a pure light of simple honesty. She says what she thinks- when the situation warrants it. And when the situation calls for her to bite her tongue, so to speak, she does. She knows how to do both.

I'm impressed by this kind of practical and social wisdom. It's no small thing to "be yourself", blend in with the social mores, stand on an issue, keep within a social group, build relationships, cut ties when you have to. You don't need the patience of Job for this kind of accomplishment- you need the wisdom of Solomon here. And even in that department, Solomon himself did not fare that well.

According to Wikipedia, Mores (pronounced /ˈmɔːreɪz/) are norms or customs. Mores derive from the established practices of a society rather than its written laws. They consist of shared understandings about the kinds of behaviour likely to evoke approval, disapproval, toleration or sanction, within particular contexts.

I recently discovered- don't know why I didn't see this before- that there are no social mores with God. When it comes to prayer, or coming to God with your concerns, there are no intricate, unspoken but implied, paths you have to navigate. For the Christian, the plain and spoken reality of the cross of Christ is clearly seen as the means we have, the access we have, to come to God.

But there are no social customs, no snickering snide remarks made by angelic bystanders, about the way we are supposed to come to Him. You won't hear an angelic whisper admonish you, "Oh, didn't you know? You're supposed to kneel three times, cross yourself twice, and look as pious as you can. That's the way we do it here in this realm".

The plain, welcoming truth is that I don't have to figure out any incidental customs that would invoke disapproval or disdain if I inadvertently said the wrong thing to God at the wrong time. There are no social mores with Him. What a relief.

There are social mores in the church, in relationships we have with other people of faith or Christian beliefs, though. There are preferences in certain sub-groups for how to present yourself or how to pray, even, or how to express your thoughts. That's reality. It's just that many groups don't even realize they have these preferences. This can cause a bit of a problem. Sometimes relationships suddenly reveal that we've had our preferences and our likes and our dislikes as guiding rules- and sometimes a rule gets broken in the relationship. Now the relationship has a problem- but what exactly is the problem?

Haven't figured out all the social interpersonal stuff yet. I may be 100 before I figure all that out. But I have discovered that there is a very direct route of communication with God. I've discovered there are no social mores with Him and that I don't have to weigh myself down with concern over possibly breaking any so called unspoken but spiritual rule of how to talk with God, how to be myself with God. I just talk with Him, any time I want to. He hears me.

And if I have to take up my cross to follow Christ as a Christian, and thereby suffer some things, one thing I do not have to suffer is a burdensome, tedious route to talking with God. The coast is clear. My mind is clear. And it's very clear that it's all because He made a way for me to come to Him.

Friday, January 23, 2009

I Found Gold!

Just a little something, today- but I found this verse (Ps. 34:8) worded beautifully in the Contemporary English Version and had to share it.

8 Discover for yourself

that the LORD is kind.

Come to him for protection,

and you will be glad.

That's the word that describes my journey lately. It's been one of discovery. I am discovering things about myself in light of what I am discovering about God. I have discovered, or you could also say found, that the Lord really is kind. If anyone is compassionate and full of mercy and grace, it's Him.

It's just that we have to discover that for our self- no one can discover it for us.

Think of it as gold in the ground. It's worth every effort to discover the treasure hidden from sight!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

All Clear for Take Off

I imagine that Barack Obama thinks this is a good day- a very good day for him. It's a turning point for our nation. It's a new day as far as closing out a former presidency and ushering in not only a new president but a new hope and a vibrant confidence. I don't think I have it wrong when I say that Obama is confident. He is very confident. And that dazzles us. It revs up our engines; it cheers up our flagging spirits. The nation is responding to Obama's charismatic confidence.

The other day I was racing out the door, with Abby, to do an errand. I got in the car and drove a couple hundred yards down the street with a sense that everything seemed blurry and unfocused. Then I quickly realized that it really was blurry and unfocused! I didn't have my glasses on! Thank God I kept a pair of prescription sunglasses in the car. I quickly grabbed them from the compartment and put them on and looked over at my daughter and began laughing. That was a close call.

I know what you might be thinking- that I'm getting old and forgetful. But it's really more that I've gotten so used to going around without my glasses on, while inside our home, because my vision isn't that much better with the glasses on. Supposedly I am supposed to be able to read things up close, with my glasses, as well as see things far away. But my eyes keep changing. I think my eye sight might have even improved, lately. But to prove that I 've got to get to the eye doctor and get my eyesight checked. He'll be able to tell me how I'm really seeing things.

As to how I am seeing things, from a spiritual perspective, only God can verify that. But the interesting thing is that there is also a corresponding manifestation of how spiritually confident you are: you keep wanting to draw closer to Him when your confidence in Him is growing. The more confident you are of His love and His grace for you, the more spiritually confident you are to go to him for more, to draw near to Him for whatever concerns you. "We are not of those who draw back" Scripture tells us.

"This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him" (1 John 5:15,16). How you know that God hears you is quite a subjective thing, I think. It might be like when you are talking with someone and they keep looking away or getting a glazed look in their eye or suddenly interjecting that they have an emergency appointment at the office that they suddenly just remembered. You get the idea, then, that they really are not hearing you. They may be listening to you, in a strict literal sense, but they're not hearing you. You have not been heard.

One of the greatest gifts that God gives His children is this access to Him that causes you to not only be able to tell Him everything on your heart, but you also know that you've been heard. I don't think too many of us actually try to go to God with an intentional quest to ask Him something outside of His will. Most of us are not trying to use God as a slot machine. But because of this part of the verse "if we ask anything according to His will", some of us don't have any confidence to ask Him anything at all. We're sure that we are sinful or selfish or at least ignorant of the complete, holy will of God. So we don't want to draw near and ask Him anything at all. We disqualify our self from the outset.

But you don't need to do that. You can draw near to God and tell Him, from the outset, that you're not sure if what you're asking is His will. You can tell Him that you would like to be in His will. That , though you don't understand His will too often, you are sure that there are reasons for His will. God is not a temperamental, hot-then-cold being that you might rile up if you go to him at the wrong moment. He's all there, all the time, all ears. He really wants to hear you.

I can't tell you what a gift it's been to experience this truth, and see myself grow in this deep inner confidence. I have nothing on the outside that would embolden you to greater confidence in me. I haven't had any big accomplishments lately. Not even sure I've had any measurable accomplishments at all- except that I haven't burned any dinners lately, and I haven't gone off driving without my eyeglasses since that one time. That's progress. But those are not real accomplishments.

Yet I am a woman whose spiritual confidence is growing. These last couple weeks, I just feel the grace to be able to draw near to Him- and so I do...constantly. I feel His approval. I even have heard the Lord correcting me on some things- and by cooperating with God in addressing certain issues in my life, there is a new found freedom and joy and ...more confidence.

You're not going to be dazzled when you see me, though. You won't be able to partake of my confidence and have it affect you as in a ripple effect. The only thing my confidence in God can do for you is to whet your appetite and make you wonder what it would feel like to be running to Him boldly and joyfully. Everyone can be confident in Him. You can mount up with wings as eagles, as it says in Isaiah. There will be a sense that take-off has occurred. You're not on the same runway anymore, hoping He'll hear you, wondering if God will hear you.

Try it. Dare to draw near to Him in good faith. For whatever point in your life that you are at, in whatever situation or history you have- dare to approach God with your need and your hope of being heard by Him. He made a way for you to come to Him. Approach Him, then. Botch it up as you do so. Mumble and stumble. It doesn't matter.

You're not going to feel roaring confidence before you go to Him. You'll feel it as soon as you get close enough to see and sense that God drew you in, so that He could fill you up, so that you could walk out, confidently, into the world, sure of only one thing. He's real. Powerfully Real. That's your answer for a lot of things in this shaky world, in these uncertain times of change.

That's your answer. That's your confidence speaking. That's you- no longer on the runway, but above it all, seeing things in a whole new light.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Let's Go Another Round

After two hours in a refrigerator-like arena, watching my daughter enjoy a time of ice skating with friends, I rushed over to a local eatery to meet my best friend, Mu, and enjoy a hot cup of coffee and an hour or two of chatting. Well, actually, we never chat. It's more like we dig in. We can be like war generals, devising victory plans or discussing past battle losses so as to learn from failures.

The funny thing is that I often catch people looking at us as we're talking intently and I have to question why. Sometimes I can talk too loudly. It could be that. Or sometimes it might be that she and I are laughing so hard, and it can almost look like criminal behavior to be that overjoyed on such a frigid, dismal winter day. It's been near zero degrees, lately, and we northeners are a bit bundled up and cast down in spirits at the same time.

It could also be that people want to figure out what our relationship is all about. We look like friends, laugh like best friends with a long history, discuss strategies like war generals, and communicate as counselor and counselee- with myself being the counselee more often than not.

A lot takes place when we get together, but the biggest things that happens is that we get geared up to go another round. We're like old boxers who don't want to leave the ring without winning- but we haven't gotten there, yet.

Lately I'm just enjoying being me.

This is a recent development in my life, but I now have a new sense of gratefulness and appreciation for how God made me. This is an ironic thing. It's an unexpected thing.

It seems like God has changed the mirror in my bathroom and when I look into it, I now see the funny, the good, the interesting, the unique way He made me. It's like God is standing behind me as I stare in the mirror at myself and He is saying "Like what you see? Cause I do." Now, remember, He is standing behind me while I look in the the mirror so there's this strange sense of looking at myself while seeing Him at the same time. Is that something close to the meaning of "Christ in me, the hope of glory?"

Anyhow, what this all means is that I'm so enjoying the journey, lately. I looked back at my past enough to know that I am not there anymore. I'm in the Now. And before I get to tomorrow, I still will be me- loud voice, laughing, battle scarred but not scared, dancing around in the ring 'cause I'm ready to go another round.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

More, Please!

Our son is back at his college campus, ready to start his second semester; and so our house is quiet again. I'm not baking up a storm anymore. Daily cakes and banana breads don't need to appear on the kitchen counter anymore. Our hunger- Bill's, Abby's and mine- is manageable. But when you're feeding a nineteen year old, their hunger never ends. It's a good sign, though. It means that they're healthy and growing.

Lately I've been thinking about spiritual hunger, what it is, what it isn't. I've been thinking about the things we do to address our hunger. And then I got thinking about the many ways God fills us when we're hungry. Like a gourmet chef in a deluxe kitchen, God has everything at His disposal to fix us up something that simply satiates our soul. And lately I've been discovering how easy it is to get your voracious appetite addressed: show up at meal time!

The thing is, God doesn't serve routinely. In spite of what many might think, I'm not so sure that Sunday is God's favorite day to "feed" us. I think He also likes Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday..... Maybe what really motivates Him, pulls on His heart, is hunger- real hunger. And God can tell- even when we can't- when we are truly hungering for Him. Those who hunger....are filled. By Him. He says it in His Word. If we are not getting filled, then we have to wonder: am I really hungry? Am I, maybe, just a fussy eater who is going to pick at whatever is offered, anyways, and the great Chef can tell that?

In our house, growing up, fussy eaters were frowned upon...tremendously. My parents' goal seemed to be to continually expose us to the choicest and weirdest of foods. Maturity meant you tried everything and oohed and ahhed over the flavor of it all. You really needed to pretend that you were enjoying the experience of eating all these healthy, strange foods, or you were going to be continually presented with them, over and over. Actually, even if you liked eating deer meat, soy beans, baked trout, or a weird lumpy kind of cheese, you were still going to keep getting these foods. This is the diet they thought was best.

So I wonder if we take our food fears to God. Do we place on Him our apprehension that we just know, for sure, that he is going to feed us something we don't like when we say we are hungry. And worse, if we go to God and say that we are hungry, and we don't even know for what, will God then surprise us with something awful and lumpy and chewy and tell us that THIS is what we were hungry for?

I read Jentezen Franklin's book on Fasting just before the New Year, and now I am reading a book about a woman who enters cooking contests. There's a lot of food descriptions in the book. Most of them do not entice me at all. I might have particular tastes, I am finding out.

I enjoy a good chunk of homemade bread with a lump of butter. I'll eat a piece of cake, once in a while, but for the most part I'm not that drawn to sugary things. Give me a steak (medium rare) anytime. And sure, throw in vegetables. Not because they're good for me. I like them. Especially if they're not overcooked. I love baked potatoes with sour cream and chives. And in the fish and seafood family, I'll take lobster, scallops, shrimp cocktail, and baked haddock. Oh, and lots of fresh spinach or spinach in a quiche. And omelettes with mushrooms, onions and swiss cheese.

See? A lot of this stuff is good for me- but I don't eat it primarily because of that. All of the food listed above are some favorites of mine. They satisfy my hunger and my taste buds. I've developed a taste for some of the above, and some foods I loved from early on. That's my physical hunger.

As for my spiritual hunger, I'm finding out that I relish not only times alone with God in quiet thought and reflective journal writing, but lately I've been quite chatty with Him. And I feel His pleasure at being with me. We've had a running repartee- with God getting His thoughts to me through a sense that I'm "feeling" His answer, rather than audibly hearing His replies.

People have asked me this question: how do you know when you are really hearing God talk to you? For me, it's when I hear something in my spirit that is too gracious and truthful and loving and forgiving for it to have come from me so quickly and easily. Proverbs tells us that " a soft answer turns away wrath" and I know that a gracious answer turns away doubt and fear. A loving, forgiving, welcoming answer draws me in.

You might say this is all about how He feeds me. I'm learning that with God, the feast that He prepares for me (in the presence of mine enemies, Psalm 23 tells us) is a feast that I want- even if I don't know it yet. He whets my appetite for more of Him as a way to draw me in and give me what I've been hungering for. He's glorious and He's good. To me. And I want more of Him.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Real Bodies, Real Saints

I started reading a book about the life of Mother Theresa, switched to reading Robin McGraw's latest book, What's Age Got to Do with it?, finished it, and am now back to reading about Mother Theresa. Some might think I am in two different worlds with these two books.

Both are famous women. One woman was viewed as a dear saint, a Rescuer to many dying on the streets of Calcutta, a woman who had taken a vow of poverty, who had given her life to serve Jesus and see Jesus in everyone. Then there's Robin McGraw, wife of Dr. Phil, living a fairly opulent lifestyle in California, famous not for serving the dying but the living, writing not about the secret, internal life but about the physical life, and how to care for the body.

Do these two women have anything at all in common?
Can you even compare the two? Dare you compare the two?

I do. I do dare. I found it rather refreshing reading both books simultaneously. I've always loved Mother Theresa and had a special regard for her, as does the world- but more so because of a talk I heard her give once (televised), right at the time when I was hospitalized with a potential miscarriage. She spoke about life, about saving life- and I was fighting for my baby's life. (Abby survived and is here today to remind me of God's miraculous, intervening hand).

But I've never revered Mother Theresa to the point that I thought this woman had the corner on the market on spirituality and piety and righteousness. She had a calling to the poor. She had a mission she was on. She had her days of light and her nights of darkness.

Robin McGraw has a a calling too- and while her calling (as the wife of a celebrity and famous Advice Giver) may seem less... less noble- it's the One who calls us to something that decidedly ennobles our work. Robin is using her platform to speak out on issues she cares about, and this one issue of taking care of your self is especially close to her heart.

I wasn't particularly interested in the development of subject of the book- but that's because I don't have many questions in the area of what anti-aging cream to use, what hair color helps me look younger (anything but gray is my answer!), how to redefine the arch of my eyebrows, etc. (Look at the almost non-existent arch of my eyebrows and you'll see I don't care!).

I was hoping, based on the title of the book, that the book would dig deeper into issues we face when we age: fear over the future, diminished self-respect for our aging, wrinkled bodies, confusion about our role or our place in loved one's lives. The book didn't go there. When it was listed under the subject heading of "Practical Living", they meant practical- as in physical and "hands on".

I won't poo-pooh her advice, though, or the context from which she wrote this book. Her mission statement seems to be about the grace and the power we authorize our self with when we are taking care of our physical body. It could be that this is the flip side of Mother Theresa's focal point- where the eye is completely on the need of the person before you, their plight, their physical needs.

Taking care of the body (your health and habits) is as crucial as taking care of your soul- but for different reasons. For me, manicures, facials, and eyebrow waxes still don't come high on my list- nor will they ever, I'm guessing. (Although I have a strong viewpoint that massages are more essential to peace and harmonious well being and everyone should try to get at least one massage in their lifetime!)

But I really should take some vitamins, and I do need to build strength and keep my bones strong. I need to be a role model for my daughter on how to live and love and serve others, yet not neglect taking care of myself as well. So I did get a bit of something out of the book.

But more than that, it was good to read two different kinds of books at the same time and remember that as saintly as we want to be, we are still human and we can't forget that, musn't forget that. We can have a deep inner spiritual life- but we have a physical life too. That's simple, plain truth for real people on a spiritual quest.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Travel Plans

I drove up to my bank's drive-up teller window and there was Lou, my favorite bank teller. I handed him my deposit forms and asked him how his new year was going so far.

"Ask me again in March and I'll know by then" he answered with a half smile.

It's only 9 days into the New Year and he, perhaps, didn't feel qualified to say how good the year was, so far, because maybe he needed to compare these first nine days to the next months ahead, and then he would know by comparison.

I know all about making a conclusion (or a projection) based on a comparison. That's how we often decide how we are doing. "Well, compared to yesterday, I'm fine" or "Well, compared to last year, this year hasn't been that bad."

I can't compare this start to the New Year to any other years because I don't think I've ever begun a New Year the way I've started this year: decidedly not making any New Year's resolutions of my own, and feeling like God wanted to show me what resolutions He has in mind for me. He has been showing me, day by day.

I joked with the postal clerk at the post office, the other day, about what New Year's Resolutions he made this year.

"I didn't make any- because I always break them. Better not to make them at all, and then I won't feel guilty" he said.

See, that's exactly how I didn't begin this year: with pressure, with guilt, with a sense of let-see-how-this-year-goes-but-I'm-already-not-too-optimistic. No wonder it's been such a good journey so far, like breathing in a lot of good clean air as you make progress at a nice pace. (God sets the pace for you, so there's no need to compare your progress and pace with someone else).

I'm not sure if it's optimism I feel (but I wouldn't discount that), or if it's relief I feel at not having commenced a rigorous regime of New Year's Resolutions Fulfillment. It's more that I feel like I am on a journey and the ticket that I received says that this is a "Good" trip I've signed up for. I clutch the ticket in my hand and keep going.

How's your year going so far?!

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Simply Irresistible!

Another winter storm has hit our area and we have yet to find out if this will be anything significant or if it will just be a day of shoveling and ice removal and then we're back to normal. Normal, for us here in the North, is a variety of things, but one thing it's not is sunshine and sweet breezes. Not in the winter, at least.

When I brought up the topic of vulnerability the other day, I guess I was indirectly trying to grapple with the issue of "What is normal or healthy?" concerning vulnerability, and there was some resulting comments that made us look at two things. There's our vulnerability to people, and then there's vulnerability with God.

I'm not so sure the word transparency is exactly equal in meaning with the word vulnerability, and I bring that up only because Christians seem to value some degree of transparency and accountability with each other. Scripture seems to indicate we should have the type of relationships where there is some give and take going on in what we see in each other, how we help each other (remembering to take the plank out of our own eye first before we remove the splinter in some one's eye, for example).

I've been transparent with people, some times more than others, in some settings more than in other settings. I've been glad I've been transparent, and then there have been times I wasn't rosy with joy at the outcome when I shared freely. That's life. That's how the cookie crumbles, I think. But I've never really doubted that transparency and relational honesty isn't good for me. I know its a good thing.

Being vulnerable with people is, I think, a whole 'nother thing. The word suggests a complete openness and exposure of self as in the case of a deer out in an open field on the first day of hunting season. Nothing glorious or good would happen to that deer based on its vulnerability to the hunters.

But with God, I would dare to be that deer in the open field and let Him be the hunter. He doesn't hunt with a gun. God is the Hound of Heaven after our heart. He's the lover of our soul and I don't think we're aware of that enough. If we were, we would be freely open and trusting and expose all of who we are to Him.

I don't think we make ourselves vulnerable with God unless we are absolutely assured that nothing negative can come from this act. If we make ourselves vulnerable with friends or family, or are exposed to human opinion and perspective, our vulnerability can result in some negative, terrible outcomes as well as positive beautiful results.

But there is nothing negative, hurtful or damaging- ever- that occurs when we make ourselves vulnerable with God. It is absolutely impossible to receive harm from Him when we are drawing close to Him. And one thought that I recently had due to something I heard in one of Dave Schmelzer's sermons is that God is attracted to our faith exerted, to our reaching out for Him. He finds our faith almost "irresistible".

Perhaps one aspect, one flavor of faith, is vulnerability. God might just find our vulnerability irresistible. I expose my weaknesses in God's sight and I bring myself before Him without any hiding, fudging, twisting of the truth. I make myself vulnerable and open before God. I do this out of faith. I might initially want to shrink back and not do this (make myself vulnerable) if I fear a "Holy God of Wrath" and do not see Him as the Abba Father who makes us right in His sight, who knows all about my weaknesses before I have verbally shared with Him what I painfully "see" about myself. But we are not of those who shrink back and are afraid, Scripture says. We are not.

We are bold as a lion, and as wide open before Him as trusting children who fear absolutely nothing from the One who loves them without end. It's a joy to be vulnerable when you are with Someone who can not, in their own nature, take advantage of your state and make you rue the day you trusted Him. THAT will never happen when you make yourself vulnerable to God.

All this to let you know that I have enjoyed the most amazing week or two. I've had more joy and lightness of being than I've had in a long time. Not that any major big things have happened, but there's been an increasing pull towards God's perspective of me and an accompanying willingness on my part to go for broke, loosen up and let it all out. With God. I'm not sure that I'm sharing any more than I normally do, or that I'm being any more honest with Him than I normally am.

It's more that I'm sharing everything with Him in a way that speaks boldness and trust even as I am wide open and exposed. I'm conscious that I am willingly making myself vulnerable in His presence. And yet there's a sense that He drew me in with absolute reassurance that nothing but good would come from this type of engagement with Him.

God made it a win-win situation for me. He's just too amazing for words.

Monday, January 05, 2009

The Big V

I've had a very interesting start to this New Year. It seems like a lot of shifting and shaking and then settling has occurred in certain relationships and now things seem a little clearer and obvious. By clearer I don't necessarily mean better or improved or enjoyable- but a lot of hidden things have been brought to the surface.

Cream will rise to the top, but so will problems and old issues. Maybe it's like doing some much needed house cleaning and you suddenly find out that back behind your stove, things are pretty bad. But you can now deal with it (such as invite your friends to come over and see what a lousy stove-cleaner you've been). Or clean it (in stoic silence and nobody will be the wiser after you've done your cleaning). Or just decide to ignore it (in which case the world won't fall apart at the thought of your dirty stove and neither will you).

Last night Abby and I watched the first half of Tess of the d'Urbervilles on Masterpiece Theatre. Abby wasn't too sold on this gloomy look at Victorian England's morals and biases, and by the end of this first segment aired, I decided "Enough!" as well. It is beautifully filmed and there's some interesting symbolism and authorial protests about the time, but it's also just plain depressing.

One television critic aptly described what was bothering me the whole time I watched the movie- it was Tess's "perpetual vulnerability" that seemed to haunt me, encourage me, scare and plague me. How vulnerable do I want to be? How vulnerable should I be? And what about the sub culture we're in- and how it defines vulnerability? Some people call it being completely honest and transparent. Some people think it's foolishness to be so vulnerable and overexposed. Some people prey on other's vulnerability and some people praise it. In terms of computer security, vulnerability has to do with a weakness in the system whereby you are open to a lot of problems, bugs, and viruses.

I'm not sure Scripture talks much about this trait of vulnerability, even though many professing Christians seem to be characterized by excessive vulnerability. (I could even be one of those confessing vulnerable ones). It certainly isn't listed as one of the fruit of the Holy Spirit, for example. If anything, I almost wonder if Jesus was alluding to this susceptibility to unnecessary exposure to trouble when He said to "be as wise as a serpent and as gentle (innocent) as a dove" (Matthew 10:16).

Both of these comparisons intrigue me and challenge me. It's not exactly a comforting thought to be compared to a snake in anything (unless you happen to be a snake lover). But it seems Jesus is getting at the discreet nature of a snake that has to plan when it strikes out and when it needs to quietly slither away. Likewise, when He mentions the dove, is He alluding to its innocence and purity ( a more obvious upfront conclusion) or something else as well? The Greek word akeraios not only means "innocent" but "unmixed" as well. And the first thing I think of is pure motives verses mixed motives.

Is vulnerability a good thing? And what about godly people, or people who are trying to know God- is vulnerability a sign of something intrinsically good in you, or something in you that is inviting trouble?

I think I often share (quickly share) some of my weaknesses, upfront, with people because it seems to set the stage better for their not being aghast, later, at what they find out about me. On the other hand, I can be guarded and private and a resolutely flaming introvert who demands privacy and a certain amount of cloistering away of my soul. At times I think I am too vulnerable, and at times I don't think I've been honest and "unmixed" at all.

Who's to say that the topic of vulnerability will lead us anywhere enlightening, but I'd really like to know if you struggle with this issue or if you see yourself clearly on one side of it. Cause all I know right now is that I have a dirty stove that needs to be cleaned, relational issues I have to sort through, and a disclaimer that all this talk of vulnerability started simply because I saw Tess of the d'Urbervilles's big eyes and vulnerable heart- and didn't know what to think after that.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Clear Skies Ahead

Since I didn't formally write or create any New Years Resolutions of my own this year, I also didn't do a formal review of my strengths and weaknesses, of my mistakes and my breakthroughs for the year. It's probably good that I didn't do this, although if you did do this kind of life assessment, that's fine too. This is a judgment call we have to make. For me, I don't trust my judgment, lately; and I'm not sure that's a bad thing.

I've been too wrong about what's been happening in my life, and here's why. These last couple years our route through ministry, jobs, relationships, and challenges has been quite a winding one. Nothing has been from point A directly to point B. And I'm not even sure what the points are anymore. It's like when you get into a conversation with someone and you wind up talking about some things that surprise you, things you hadn't been consciously thinking about, and someone says to you, "Get to the point, will you?!"

Well, I would get to the point if I was clear about the facts and the conclusions and the whole picture. But right now, at the beginning of 2009, I see my life as a rather big gray cloud. Nothing is very clear or straight or obvious to me. And a recent new friend helped me deal with this supposedly negative state I'm in, and he doesn't even know that he is a friend of mine.

Dave Schmelzer pastors a church in the Boston area, and has had an interesting background of different jobs and ministry positions, successes and failures, and he even has a temperament that may be somewhat similar to mine, from what I gather. He also has recently written a book called Not the Religious type- Confessions of a Turncoat Atheist. I picked this book up from the library, several days before New Year's Eve, not knowing that it was significantly an answer to my prayers. I only knew that it was a type of memoir (and I had been into the memoir-reading stage, if you recall).

I read the book, but really, it seemed more like I was in the pages of the book, wandering through his experiences with him as he recounted them, nodding my head in agreement and echoing, "Yup, been there too. I know just what you mean."

The book is probably meant to "minister" more to the hearts of atheists and to people who have noticed the real weaknesses, insecurities and biases of Christians and therefore have not wanted to join in with our "group". Schmelzer refers the reader to M. Scott Peck's writings, and to some interesting ways we can look at how Christian sub cultures form and why many spurn the journey to knowing God if it means you have to be ignorant, or a rigid rule follower, or whatever weak area you noticed in a Christian's life or thinking.

It's not his story of how he became a Christian that I understand and can identify with. It's what happened to him after he said yes to God, after he said yes to ministry, yes to taking risks for God, and yes to the Seek ye first the Kingdom of God. What he shares, as you get to the middle of the book, is the weird, meandering route God seems to take us on, and the disappointments and misunderstandings that can occur when you set out to follow God, thinking Of course God will bless this. This is a good thing I'm trying to do for Him- and then God doesn't show up.

When we attempt "good" things for God and we don't see His blessing, it can do more than surprise us. It can set us back aways; set us back in our desire to trust Him and our desire to take a risk again. Oh, we'll keep following Him- those of us who are Followers of Christ with a capital F. But we may not want to be gutsy for God anymore- not if gutsy now seems to mean foolish and naive. Sometimes this is where we look at what we think were mistakes, because it didn't turn out successfully, and we say, "Well I'm not going to make that mistake again."

My husband Bill and I have rather mixed feelings about our past of ten years of pastoral (renewal) ministry in New England, and our ten years of house remodeling as a means to make a living, and our different volunteer ministry positions we've recently held. I have mixed feelings about what I focused on these last couple years- the writing and the speaking and the emphasis on ministering to women particularly in the areas of fear, anxiety, depression and worry (These seem to be the doozys, don't they?).

I feel conflicted about my history because I know I set out to do something good, after responding to what I thought was God's prodding, and I don't know how much good occurred. Oh, I know there were bits here and some breakthroughs there and testimonies from people over there who said it helped. But really, I look back and I don't see it all in such a bright light.

But when I read this book, (I also went to his church's website and clicked on some of his latest sermons), I found myself seeing my journey in a whole new light. Schmelzer also set out to do great things for God. Some things worked. Many didn't. He took risks for God. He wanted to serve full time in ministry but money wasn't always released to the situation. He had friends who also set out in ministry and they failed, or the money wasn't enough, or they had to go back and regroup.

What's the truth about our progress- if we can call it progress? Scmelzer is not after the kind of Truth "that treats capital-T Truth as something we can master, get outside of, hold in our hands, and survey from all angles until it's both tame and uninteresting". No, he's joined in at a stage of understanding that embraces knowing God without having to know all the answers.

Sometimes God just brings you into a season where things are not connecting easily or effectively. Relationships can be strained. Doors don't open easily, if at all. You can be temped to think the truth is He doesn't love you or like you anymore. But really, the truth might just be that we don't like God very much, at this painfully awkward time in our life. That's okay, don't like me- I think God would say. But keep talking to Me.

So I am still talking to God, only I am not asking Him much about my past anymore. It's all a gray cloud, remember? But I think Dave Schmelzer had those days too. And the interesting thing is that by him sharing about those disappointments, I was encouraged. He wrote about pursuing the relationship with God and how we find that sometimes "God takes us someplace destabilizing", but that "the road to that destabilization is paved with everything we've wanted in life: love, connection, answered prayers, and encouragement that we're in good hands".

Now if we get all of the just mentioned, why would we need Answers about where we went wrong or what we did right? Even if God told me, "Now , Lauren, when you did this, in your past, that was right", I would be tempted to just go out and do it again exactly as done in the past. Because that would be an answer with a capital A, and those answers tend to be safe and predictable. But it wouldn't be hearing and walking and living by faith.

So seeing my past as a rather murky gray cloud is not such a bad thing. I don't have to know what I did right, what exactly I did wrong, where I could have done it better. That's a bit calculating and heartless, now that I think about it- because it shows I'm more interested in the success of my journey with God than in the joy and the relationship I've had knowing God through the pain and the gain.

My appetite has been whetted to go out and "do it again". What is the "it" that I'm going to do once more? I'm not sure. Yet. But I know the Who that I am going to be with when I do it once more. God is by my side. He's in front of me, especially. And He's even covering my past, gray murky cloud that it is. I'd say that I pretty much have it made- even if I don't have it all clear.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Happy New Year!!

What can I say? When you party with Harry, you have to get ready for a rip roaring fiesta. Our New Year's Eve celebration was as wild as Harry is.

Our soon-to-be-nineteen-year old son, Alex, decided he wanted to stay home and be with family on New Year's Eve, instead of going out with friends. I should be touched, but honestly, look at this dog and tell me you would choose to be anywhere else but with him?!

He is the apple of our eye, the heartbeat of our home, the popcorn-eating fur ball that makes our house a home. So of course we are going to have our New Year's Eve celebration with him.

New Year's Eve is one of Harry's favorite holidays. He expects to wear a party hat. And in this case, we had the paper crowns left over from the Christmas crackers we opened on Christmas Day. We all put them on, but of course, we only took pictures of Harry wearing his. Photographer Alex went to work capturing Harry's essence and as the photo shoot went on, we got the idea that Harry wanted to communicate a message.
Harry would like to share some New Year's advice for you all, based on his perspective of being loved and adored. Here it is:

1)Let people love you and take pictures of you if they think you are adorable, cause you can't help it if you're cute.

2)Remember to party and celebrate anytime people around you want to- even if it's only over a tiny little victory. A little victory is better than no victory at all.

3)Don't be afraid to put on a party hat, when asked to.

And if the party hat slips over your eyes, obscuring your view, it makes no difference. Use your nose to find your way out of darkness and into the light. Feel your way forward, even if you can't see where you are going. Seeing is not always believing, anyhow.

4)And remember, you are royalty- no matter how you feel. Your crown may be a paper one, but it's still golden. And so are you. So shine.

5)And after shining, Harry recommends that you take a nap. It helps to restore your internal brilliance.

Happy New Year- from our house to yours!