Monday, March 30, 2009

The Hardest and Easiest Thing to Do

Mu, my dear friend, says I've gotten a little flabby in my writing here. "Where's all that angst, agony, and anguish? Where's the deep ponderings and philosophical musings you usually share?"
she asked me over lunch the other day.

"I'm happy," I said as I took a big bite of my grilled panini with chicken breast, yellow peppers, and other colorful ingredients that should, right now, be making your mouth water.

"Can't you be happy and still write deep things?" she asked.

I took another bite, thought about it, and said, "Nope. Don't think so."

When you're happy, you're relaxed. And when you're relaxed you do things like note the color of flowers, eat grilled paninis with your mouth overjoyed, wiggle your toes and think about painting them, and marvel about how good it is to be alive.

When you're not happy,...well, that's when you agonize, maybe strategize more intensely or pray more intensely. You wail or you hold back tears or you sit alone and welcome the darkness.

Of course, there is a happy medium between the two. It's just that I'm not sure most of us live in that Happy Medium as a normal routine.

Lately I sense that I'm in the center of God's will- and it's not because I'm giving thousands to charity (I'd like to) or that I've gone on long long prayer walks or that I've fasted for a week, or that I've been so pious and good that I know for sure God thinks highly of me and therefore will favor me. No, it's more because I've been finding out that being in God's will isn't all that hard.

In a nutshell, here's the big things God, I think, wants us to do:

Love, Give, Live, Forgive.

And also Eat, Weep, and Keep... the Faith.

God's will isn't easy- but it's not impossible. It's not for the faint of heart, certainly- but it's not for the heroic, bold, and herculean of us, because really, is anybody all that strong? Is there anybody who is immune from doubt, weakness, fear? We wrestle. We struggle. We overcome.

We eat our evening meal, hopefully with a thankful heart. We weep when we feel broken- or we notice someone who is hurting and broken, and our heart goes out to them. We keep on keeping on. Eat, weep, Keep.

We love- and sometimes have to ask God to help us remember what love is. We give- and hopefully more and more with a willing heart. We live- and if we are graced with powerful acute sense of timing, we remember that LIFE is now, and it's for the living, and it's a gift. And we forgive, over and over- and if it isn't over and over, then we know something needs to change in us. Love, Give, Live, Forgive.

Yes, it's good to be in God's will, and to know that straying from His will is not a good thing. A bit of fear that we'll miss God's will is good. But a bit of joy that we can, most definitely, be in His will, is good also.

So, I'm happy. Hope you are too. My eyes are looking up. My knees might start trembling cause I am only human. But my heart is yearning to be on fire with Faith.

It's good to be alive.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Quote for the Day

"Faithfulness to Jesus means that I must step out even when and where I can't see anything...faithfulness to my own ideas means that I first clear the way mentally. Faith, however, is not intellectual understanding; faith is a deliberate commitment to the Person of Jesus Christ, even when I can't see the way ahead."

Oswald Chambers MY UTMOST FOR HIS HIGHEST 3/28 (italics mine)

It's that when and where that always get me! How about you?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The M Word

With the house on the market, I have never been cleaner and neater. Things are rather sparkling and orderly around here, and it's amazing how it affects your spirit. Not that I'm going to quote that Cleanliness is next to Godliness, but I will say that order is a lot better than chaos- and I think God would agree with that.

Every time we have a showing, though, whatever project I'm involved with has to be suddenly packed up and hidden away behind closet doors. I can't get into any big baking binges, with flour flying everywhere, or start a sudden overhaul of my bedroom closet. No, I've got to maintain order and cleanliness- and maintenance hasn't never been one of my "things".

I love to start projects and I'm never at a loss for ideas. I'm even pretty adept at ending things and walking away from unhealthy relationships or involvements. But maintaining something is a whole 'nother story. Maintenance is boring. At least in my mind it is.

That's why I'm in awe at how God maintains the world. I'm astounded at how He deals with our constant prayers rising up to Him. He maintains and sustains us- and from what I understand, He isn't bored or irked by having to do this.

I see this beautiful characteristic in my husband, Mr. Steady Eddy. He really is good at maintenance- of all kinds. He stays on top of all the household fixing and repairing and updating- even while doing this for a living and taking care of so many other people's house projects. He doesn't seem to tire of all that has to be maintained here at home base.

I could almost get a little down on my own lack of perseverance and steadiness, except that the other day my daughter reminded me of a type of maintenance I apparently do that I never realized I did. Abby hadn't been feeling all that well the other day and I busied myself with making hot tea for her, plumping her pillows, rubbing her back, brushing the hair away from her flushed cheeks.

"Mom, you take such good care of me," she murmured. I thought nothing of that statement at first because I know she said it out of gratitude. But I thought about it later and realized how when we're motivated by love, we can maintain and sustain the ones we love with no thought to the work involved. There's a cost to our labor. There's time involved. There's sacrifice. Yes to all that. But we're not thinking I must maintain this person as we are bent over their bed and putting a washcloth on their forehead. We're thinking, Oh, the poor thing, I hope she feels better, how I hate to see her suffer.

And so it makes me think that there's a whole lot more to Maintenance than I realized. Maybe Auto Mechanics who service our cars and Lawn Mowing Services who tackle overgrown yards and Groomers who clip our matted dogs- maybe all these people are doing a bit more than maintenance. Maybe they're loving and serving and helping out in mundane routine tasks that God sees as tasks of kindness, service, and love.

I just felt like saluting anyone who does a routine job involving maintenance of some kind. You might not get thanked much for what you do. You might not get a lot of praise. But today my eyes are opened wide to the magnitude of what you do and the partnership you have with God who loves and sustains and maintains us so well that we often forget the wonder of that beautiful M word.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

At the Car Wash

Continuing on with paradoxes and the problems and peculiarities associated with paradoxes, Harry desperately needs to go to the groomer- and the groomer is the last place he should go right now. Harry is too anxious to be separated from me for even one moment. I know this for a fact. The way Harry handles problems is to completely reveal how upset he is in whatever way seems natural to him. That's all I'll say there. He's a wreck.

But he's always been a sensitive dog. That's why he had three owners and one foster mother before he came to be our sweet furry boy. Sensitive dogs (and people) need sensitivity. And Life just doles out punches, kicks, hard times, good times, anxious times, Instability. Harry feels unstable. Yet he's matted, needs a good bath and a complete clipping- and he'd need to go to that dreaded place, the groomers, to get it all done.

Hmmm. What should I do? I'm tempted to ask the pet store where he goes to get clipped if I could leave him in the grooming room, yet croon a soothing tune to him over the store loudspeaker and see if my voice keeps him calm enough to bear the unbearable.

I got my car oil changed yesterday, and that means my car got a free car wash at the same time. I just love the place where I take my car- they made it so easy to get routine work done on your car by sweetening the venture with free hot coffee, news on the overhead T.V. in the waiting room, and then a free car wash after your oil is changed. I always watch the car go through the different stations and never tire of the seeing the process of something grimy transforming into something sparkling clean.

The last small chunk of snow in my front yard is about to disappear today. The sun is out and it should get warm enough today (in the 40's?) to melt that last bit of winter away. I feel like a kid again with all the possibilities that Spring brings. I hope to impart that sense of hope and excitement to Harry- enough to get him through the process of being transformed, himself, from smelly matted dog to the clipped little lamb that he is. At least in my eyes he is. I see him for the sweet sensitive soul that he is.

What we have to go through in order to become sweet smelling and beautiful may be a bit arduous. I think of the different brushes and cleaning wands and hanging cloths at the car wash whirling around and soaping and buffeting the car and then buffing it until its clean and I can feel like that car at times. There can be an agony and an angst as all this buffing and cleaning and purifying goes on.

Perhaps as we go through the process of getting cleaned up, God delights in not only seeing what emerges in the end, but in how beautiful the process, in and of itself, is. It's called Transformation. Redemption. Renewal. Hope.

And if we can see this process as a beautiful one, it just might be because we can hear God's voice whispering to us, or even singing to us over the heavenly loudspeaker, even as we're getting buffeted and cleaned and blessed enough to come out of the mess into the Son shine.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Home Base

You get a lot of paradoxes when you hang out with someone like me. I'm a homebody, and I'm a nomad. I'm a Christian and yet I'm sure that I don't have all the answers... at all. I'm ready for a challenge, and I dig my heels in, often, and hold back. What can I say? This is how it is when you're growing and changing and yet you are human- and therefore you hold to old patterns, though you say you don't want to.

The biggest of ironies in my life is that I've moved so many times. I was- and still am- the biggest homebody. Growing up, I loved being home, upstairs in my room, reading book after book, and dreaming of travels and adventures and life in an English boarding school. (For some reason the fascination with the English started early in my life. The obsession with tea time and old china came later in my twenties).

My Mom was my biggest comfort and my constant companion. I loved being home with her. Home was home base- and I rarely traveled out from home base unless I was pushed. Good ole Dad had to do that for me: encourage me as I contemplated going off to college, and push me out of the nest to go off to Spain and travels through Europe when I was 20 years old (almost chickened out and didn't go- but Dad told me I did want to go, and so I did. What an adventure and experience that was!).

Then I married a man who took different pastorates all over New England (those were small moves, in my mind) and then got into house remodeling- and that's when I experienced even more moving around. Yes it got wearying and stressful, but it was also exhilarating- the experience of transforming a house, moving in, moving out, moving onward. You just never knew what you'd be experiencing next. That was my life. That is my life.

I'm still a homebody. And I'm still a nomad- a rather reluctant one, but I sometimes forget that. I've got Adventure in my blood, now. I've got a bit more courage to work with, and a sense that things are not supposed to be staid and even and routine. God doesn't have a staid bone in His body! (metaphorically speaking) so why should I?

I can sound confident, but I am still just a little sparrow, hanging around close to Home. Thankfully Home is where God's heart beats and His embrace is felt- and that means Home can be just about anywhere. "Even the sparrow has found a home, And the swallow a nest for herself, Where she may lay her young— Even Your altars, O LORD of hosts, My King and my God"(Ps 84).

I always wondered why sparrows, in particular, were referenced in this verse. So I looked up the history and habitat of sparrows and found out that there are all kinds of sparows. There's the House Sparrow, the Song Sparrow, the Chipping Sparrow.... Sparrows are the most familiar, of birds, and they're primarily seed-eaters. Some do scavenge for food and as Wikipedia cites, they "will happily eat virtually anything in small quantities".

That's how I try to handle the changes in my life that come from moving onward. I try to only gulp down a bit at a time and I stay under God's comforting guiding hand while doing so. The biggest assurance I have is that God knows I can't handle a lot of change and stress without constant reassurance and lots of love that only comes when you're home based.

Look at this Scripture passage in another version and see how the underlying references to Home and Travel and pilgrimage come alive:

1-2 What a beautiful home, God-of-the-Angel-Armies! I've always longed to live in a place like this, Always dreamed of a room in your house,
where I could sing for joy to God-alive!
3-4 Birds find nooks and crannies in your house,
sparrows and swallows make nests there.
They lay their eggs and raise their young,
singing their songs in the place where we worship.
God-of-the-Angel-Armies! King! God!
How blessed they are to live and sing there!
5-7 And how blessed all those in whom you live,
whose lives become roads you travel;
They wind through lonesome valleys, come upon brooks,
discover cool springs and pools brimming with rain!
God-traveled, these roads curve up the mountain, and
at the last turn—Zion! God in full view!

If it's true that God travels these roads ahead of us and points out the surprising cool springs that spring up at the end of a dusty trail, then though it can often feel like I'm a nomad going through a desert, I am, in fact, as safe as a Homebody who has never left Home. God's with me. How blessed are "all those in whom you live, whose lives become roads you travel".

So it's Onward and Upward. It's traveling out into the unknown- and yet never leaving Home. I like that.

I guess you could call me a brave wandering nomad and a happy little sparrow, all at the same time.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Nomads - and the God Who Leads Them

Harry's not doing well, lately. It could be he has an ear infection, or it could be he's upset due to all the commotion of getting the house ready for showings. We're selling the house and we're moving...but we haven't decided where, exactly, we are moving to. (We've done this before- don't worry. I think we have nomadic blood).

D o we want to do another fixer upper? (We've done...hmmm, let's see, five...six of them so far. Now that Bill is doing a big remodeling job for a client, it's got him hankerin' for another big project of his own). Do we want to move down the street? To the town next door and switch school systems? Or do we want to try a move down south again- because perhaps we really are southeners at heart and just don't know it yet? We may have many months to decide in this slower market, and that's fine with me.

Stay tuned to find out what we do, where we go. It's all a mystery right now. These are the kind of mysteries I like. The kind where there is an unfolding of a plan, a sleuthing out of God's hand (where might His blessing be? What is God pointing to, specifically, in our life?) and an answer at the end. A good Answer.

I'm ready for another challenge, and particularly the kind where my husband puts his hands and his carpentry skills to a house and in a year it looks like a completely different place. Obviously it's not a great Real Estate market right now, but in my mind its always a good time to update, remodel, make brighter and bigger and more beautiful. I think God Himself is "into" renovation and remodeling and building. It's just that He is a Foundation specialist at heart, and we forget that. You've got to get your foundation right or everything else will be wrong. Shaky. Prone to crumbling.

So combine the fresh smell of Spring in the air with the idea of moving onward and add to that not knowing exactly where you're going and you get a real good sense of the adventure I'm having. Some days its all so exhilarating. And some days its overwhelming.

And on those overwhelming days , when Harry is anxious and needs me to calm him down, we cuddle on the couch and I drink some hot tea, and I take a deep breath and tell Harry in my most soothing convincing voice, "Everything will be okay". He believes me. I believe God. And that's how it's got to be when Life is an adventure and God is at the helm of your ship.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Signs of Spring

Today is Friday the thirteenth and its a fabulous day. Forget superstitions and stuff like that. Blessings are much more agreeable to the soul and there are plenty of blessings to be found... everywhere.

I can't tell you how much I am anticipating Spring. Almost everything about this past winter was long and dark and draining. It's not just the Economy and depressing daily news and the cold and the ice. It's all that combined together and then the lack of fun, fellowship, silly times, light hearted times. You need all of that too. At least I do.

And for some reason it seems easier to laugh and smile and let little grievances go when the sun is shining down on you and the breezes are light and fragrant. New Yorkers become almost pleasant in the Spring time. We even let the car ahead of us get in line without a fuss...when its sunny and warm.

My brother Mark, the gardener, is definitely ready for Spring time- and not because he found the winter long and hard. I mean that he is ready for it as in prepared for it. His little seedlings are already sprouting and the little miniature lemon tree he has is already sprouting the beginning of a tiny little Meyer lemon.

I wish I had a green thumb. If I could grow green things and make them thrive under my care, I would feel like an Earth Mama. But as it is, I watch all that growing with such awe and reverence. It's in the spring time that I remember that growing things is a gift, an art, a joy, a grace.

I'm going to do my best to make God smile today because I am growing in His grace. I hope He sees me as a little green shoot sprouting up from the rich soil of His love. I don't feel all that strong and I don't think I look like all that promising. But I'm convinced He is the Master Gardener and it's always Spring time with Him. There are always favorable breezes and constant Son shine with Him, and there has never been a better time to spring up and reach out to Him with gratefulness and joy cause you're alive under His watchful care.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Survival and Elegance

I think it was Maya Angelou who said "Surviving is important, but thriving is elegant". I'm not sure how elegant I look (or feel) lately, but I do prefer thriving when given the choice between the two. It's just Winter seems bent on taking that elegance from our life.

Take shoes, for example. I generally wear a rather ugly wool covered pair of Merrells with rubber bottoms- not so that I'll look elegant, but so that I don't fall when I'm walking through slush and ice and snow. Now that the snow has melted some, and there's just a bit of that gray salt-crusted mess lingering on the curbs, I may not have to wear my trusted all weather shoes anymore. But I doubt I'll go straight to colorful high heels. I'll need something to get me from survival-in-winter to elegance-in-Spring.

I'm also trying to get through a book (I normally have no trouble reading through something quickly) not because the book isn't well written but because its painful, profoundly moving, troubled and filled with tension. If you want to read a book that will stir your soul and provoke you, take a look at Mary DeMuth's latest release, Daisy Chain.

There is nothing elegant and breezy about the book. Instead, you might say its about survival and secrets, about what we do to survive, about not wanting to survive when life is too dark and troubled to bear. It's agonizing. And it's a beautiful book in spite of all that agony.

Right now I'm just trying to not always deal with agonizing things, though. There is a time to wrestle through dark and difficult subjects. There's definitely a time to face the fury and the ugliness of certain truths in our past. But there's also a time to dance and sing.

I'm not at that latter point of dancing and singing all the time, yet, but I'd like to be. I'd like to be picking flowers and frolicking in an open field- and looking elegant and feeling as elegant as a woman does when a new day has dawned.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Life is a Highway

I wasn't planning on writing so infrequently but things have been busy. And busy is good. I've enjoyed the activity that comes when opportunity comes. And opportunity is sometimes disguised. You can't always tell when a mundane task will turn into something more.

Here's a little verse I've been thinking about lately, and I especially like the CEV version of it:

With all your heart

you must trust the LORD

and not your own judgment.

Always let him lead you,

and he will clear the road

for you to follow. Prov 3:5

Here's to cleared roads ahead!