Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Big D

Can I just say one thing-only one- about the show, The Bachelorette, which was on last night? I promise that I'll get back to more serious, noble pursuits and not discuss any more such trite and foolish things as how a woman chooses a future mate, how she sifts through the personal information these men present to her, how she discerns who is really there for her and who is using this moment of fame to further their fortunes. NOT!

This IS serious stuff. This is not fluff. I know, I know- it's a T.V. show. It's a reality show. It's produced and edited and reformatted to entice viewers and to sell advertising and all that. But I'm talking about the main verb here of what Jillian is doing in this show: she is deciding.

There is nothing frivolous about decision-making. How you decide on something is how you either live, thrive, suffer, survive. Decision making is Key. Good Decision making ability is a key to a successful, fruitful, prosperous life. Read the book of Proverbs and you'll see it's all about the wisdom and foolishness of man's decision making.

HOW you choose something (or someone) and WHY you choose something (or someone) says a lot about you. I belabor this point a lot, I know. And it's because I look back at my own life and see that the majority of painful times I went through had to do with not only the decisions I made, but more importantly, the liberty I felt- or constraint- in making those decisions.

If there's anything I want for my teenage daughter, it's wisdom and the ability to choose wisely. Even when it comes to Faith, and understanding God's love for us, you have to choose your response to God's Love: will you accept it? Will you decide it's real and that you can believe it and rely on it?

"Choose you this day..." and the choices are many each day we live. Forget Reality TV for a moment. Forget the foolish drama that is played up on these shows. The real drama of life is already occurring every time we decide what we will do, what we believe, who we trust. I'm just glad that the Who I Trust Decision was settled along time ago.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Forward, March!

I'm famous! At least I was for a moment. Well, only if you happened to be watching our local news, and only if you watched it at approximately 5:15pm yesterday. For one moment, there I was, in living color: me, the introvert, on T.V.

I had gone to a local career fair, yesterday, and there was a TV news crew filming the participants. I kept trying to step out of sight of the camera, but somehow, when I wasn't looking, they zoomed in on me, smiling, shaking hands with a Human Resource Rep, and looking very intent on what the person was saying to me.

I was intent on our conversation. This meant more to me than being on T.V. because what does a moment of fame get you? Nothing, really. (Especially since my family and my best friend didn't even get to see me on T.V.). But a new job, a new career,...now, that will get you somewhere!

I'm one of those people who know what I love doing, but don't exactly know the name of the job I should have. I could probably enjoy a number of different types of jobs, and I have, over the years, done a number of interesting things. So, it's been a little hard, over the years, getting on a career track and staying on track.

My bigger goal has been to stay on track spiritually and emotionally and to have a healthy mind. What can you do, for a job, if you are crippled in your thinking, hampered by debilitating fears, held back by self sabotaging behaviorial patterns? Not much.

I'm never going to stop writing and speaking and teaching, when the situation calls for it. But I have been seriously considering going back to school and getting my Masters Degree in Counseling. It's funny how we use the term "going back to school" as if this is a step backwards.

I probably have missed many steps forward precisely because of this: that they seemed like they were a step backwards rather than a step forward. Onward Ho! Forward, March! These are all the expressions that need to be in the vocabulary and mindset of anyone who wants to make significant progress in their life. There'll be many opportunities to advance- but they're often disguised as something else. And this is where I ask the Lord for a clear mind, a discerning spirit, and tons of courage to take the next step forward, no matter what that looks like.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Surprise, Surprise!

Sometimes I feel like I should join a Support Group called Introverts Anonymous. The reason why this group would meet anonymously and be known by first name only is because everyone in the group, including myself, is an introvert disguised as an extrovert. Nobody ever believes me when I tell them I'm an introvert.

"But you're so cheerful and outgoing!" (Because most people think introverts are morose and ominously quiet!)

"But you're so talkative!" (As if introverts don't like to share what's on their mind!)

I share what's on my mind all the time. Maybe you can tell that- if you've visited here off and on over the months. I can easily articulate what's on my mind, what's bothering me, what I'm thinking about, what I'm hoping for. I've been articulating my thoughts for 40+ years. It's just that for the first 14+ years of my life, my diary was the main recipient of my thoughts.

Even then, being a quieter kid did not make me more of an introvert. An introvert is someone who refuels by being alone- or refuels better by having enough time alone as opposed to being with people all day long. Introverts can be very sociable- trust me on this. We can be pleasant and conversant. It's just that if we have to converse TOO much, we'll soon want to withdraw and get some time alone. We want to recalibrate our inner thermostat.

Give me a quiet beach and some good sunscreen and an iced tea and a good book- I will be one happy camper. (No, don't take me camping, please. I did enough of that when I was younger and in my mind, it's an arduous type of enjoyment, if you ask me. And remember, if you ask me, I will tell you what I think!)

Why am I bringing this up? Recently we were chatting with a couple that we've been getting to know better, and one of them could not believe me when I told him I was an introvert. His mouth hung open in disbelief. (Apparently we were doing enough chatting, and I was doing enough expressing of my opinions, that I did not look like the quintessential introvert!)

But you can always find tell tale signs of my introversion. For example, good bloggers post a lot of photos, and in particular, a lot of photos of themselves doing things, doing crazy things, smiling at the camera, etc. I don't like to post photos of myself. I'm an introvert, remember?!

Sometimes I want to share some thoughts with the world, and then leave the world behind and just be alone. Sometimes I want to hang out with loved ones and hear all their thoughts and laugh and joke around. But then I'll feel a need to get some time alone, by myself, later on. Maybe it's my way of getting my stability, getting my base line.

The only reason I bring this up is to mention that Christians can be introverts or extroverts. Surprise, surprise. And one of these is not holier than the other. Don't be over impressed by the gregarious hospitality of someone who invites someone to come stay with them for a week. If this person is an extrovert, they may not be straining at all in doing this. They're not more pious than an introvert who goes out of his way, out of his comfort zone, to reach out to someone and spend the day listening to them.

You really can't always tell when people are operating out of their comfort zone. Sometimes people are doing something that takes a great deal of faith and effort- and you would never know it. And sometimes people are doing wonderful things that everyone can see, and maybe they already have their reward, as Jesus said.

Now, I don't want anyone clapping their hands for me or commending me- BUT if I decide to post some photos, particularly of myself, I just want you to know it was a big step for me, being the introvert that I am! And if I don't wind up posting more photos here, well...it's cause I'm an introvert. I kinda want to stay hidden.

But I'll still keep chatting with you all here- even if you don't see my face, you'll hopefully see my heart. Everyone is welcome here at Faith Fuel- whatever your burden, whatever your hang up is, whatever your social orientation is. Extroverts, Introverts...God calls us all to Himself and we all shed our layers of protection the closer we get to Him.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Cooking Up a Great Father's Day

I love Saveur magazine's tantalizing recipes. These appear in my email inbox every day and tempt me to think I can make every day...gourmet.

I asked my husband, yesterday, what he wanted for father's day, as far as food goes. I was thinking Lobster because I noticed our local supermarket had lobster on sale. I think it was 5.99 a pound. (I just wanted the claws and the tail, drenched in melted butter, and ...wait, I'm getting ahead of myself).

He said a thick steak on the grill, or shish-ka-bobs with lots of sweet grilled onion and green peppers. He's definitely a meat and potatoes type of guy. So that's what he was thinking about yesterday.

We wound up making our homemade pizza, though- and it was probably the experience of making it, together, that my husband wanted- more than the taste of pizza itself. Maybe this is when we really feel like a family and look like one. (We're a messy family, for sure. The cheese was everywhere!)

Hope all you Fathers out there had the best Father's Day Ever!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Oh, That Smells Good!!

Sometimes in trying to fix a problem, you create another one. It happens all the time, in high and low places. Or in the case of our house, which is situated rather high on a hill, the problem occurred in the lower level of our housel.

I'm remembering this problem because yesterday we had another showing on the house. I was careful to clean and neaten up the house but at the same time, not create the problem that I did when we first listed the house.

We were having a Broker's Open House and I was getting the house ready for what would be a real hard nosed critique by these savvy brokers who were coming. I thought I did everything right, until the written critique came in a couple days later. There were some glowing comments about our house having a lovely "alpine setting" and some other nice comments. But there were two comments that referenced something similar to Marcellus' comment: "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark".

I had vacuumed the carpets with a borrowed vacuum cleaner (ours was broken) that had not had the filter changed in a while. A long while. There was a dank musty odor left over after the vacuuming that I had not really detected in my frenzy to get the house ready. Here I had freshly vacuumed carpets (yeah!) but a nasty musty odor at the same time (oh no!).

This seems to happen a lot in life. You try to do something good but you sometimes cause a problem in the process. I think God has a lot of compassion for us when this happens. In fact, I would venture to say God has more compassion and grace for us, when this happens, than we do for ourselves.

But I think one thing God is not too compassionate about is when we deliberately disobey, or faithlessly want to retreat or return to old addictions, old problems and patterns of the past. And I think God has to be very firm with us when this happens. He has to thunder at us, in warning, when we want to sabotage our progress.

When the Israelites were in the desert, they really got God's dander up when they complained of His lack of provision and referenced that they, at least, had some food back in Egypt. God rains down a new type of food, called Manna, and He gives them the provision they had complained He doesn't give. But he does test them, as well. (It's for God to test us, not for us to ever test God).

He tells them, through Moses, not to gather more than what they need for that day. In other words, every day now, they were going to have to believe and trust and have faith that He would rain down the manna. And some did not want to trust Him. Some did not want to have faith that He would provide. So they gathered extra manna to hoard it for another day. "And it bred worms and it stank".

This odor of unbelief is a lot different than the bad smell of a botched up plan to do something good. I try to comfort myself with this revelation every time I start to do something good and wind up failing at it or fumbling around. Maybe I could even look at my botched up progress as something that still smells like a beautiful fragrance to God. God loves it when His children step out in faith- even if they later fall and skin their knees.

But if I do something out of fear, out of unbelief, out of a deliberate refusal to trust what God has already proven Himself faithful in doing and providing, over and over- then I not only disappoint God, I also have a musty odor. To Him. It could be that sometimes God sighs and says, "Something is rotten in the state of Lauren's mind- because she doesn't trust me". Ouch! I don't want that said of me either. (I know, I also said in one of my recent posts that I don't want it said of me that I'm so heavenly minded, I'm no earthly good. So now I'm accumulating things I don't want said of me!)

Some of you might be saying, "Lauren, just go out and buy a new vacuum cleaner and you won't go into these ruminations!". But just for the record, my broken vacuum cleaner was a brand new one that I just bought! Not new enough to be under warranty and return it, but new enough that it made me mad it wasn't working already.

Still, after cleaning out the filter and the bag of the borrowed vacuum cleaner, it still has a bit of a musty odor. I need a brand new vacuum cleaner. (I might get that one with the ball that easily glides around corners. How's that for how advertising gets you!). Whatever I get, I not only need a new vacuum cleaner, but I need new faith for each day. It's a gutsy faith- not the kind with a serene smile and a passive stance.

Because while my house had a momentary problem with this, I don't want any unbelieving stench coming from me. I want God to not only see me approaching Him, but to smell me a mile away! He'll take a whiff of my operative faith and instead of scrunching up His nose in displeasure, He'll smile at the fragrant aroma of my fresh Fiery Faith.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


I really don't have anything against this guy personally. But I don't care for Wes too much. But it's not because this guy is shady or dishonest. He seems to be pretty clear about his goal of becoming a country music star. I just don't think, though, that Jillian is hearing this guy when he talks about his music career and the needed publicity and the fact that he's getting some very good publicity by being on the show, The Bachelorette.

Most of us who are watching this Reality Show are well aware of Wes' ambition. He's not exactly writing it in big letters on a billboard for Jillian to see, but he is fairly clear about his desire to be a famous singer. If he sings that song, "They say that love- it don't come easy" one more time, I might throw something at the screen! But Jillian just loves it when Wes sings. She thinks he's singing for her. He's not.

This is where the "wise as a serpent" admonition comes in. This is where we need to think on our feet, and not just let our heart beat...in rhapsodic hopes of love. This is where we need to dig a little deeper when it comes to assessing someone's intentions, their ambitions, their addictions.

My teen age daughter and I get to do a lot of discussing when we watch this show (and I get to do a lot of editing too! Not everything that takes place on the show is what we accept as normative for our lives). We talk about how you have to go a little deeper when it comes to seeing someone's true colors. And it's perfectly acceptable to be somewhat reserved, somewhat appraising when it comes to evaluating what someone wants from you, who they are, what they are offering. You don't have to hug everyone the minute you meet them. You can look for substance, depth, honesty, integrity- and when you find it, the hug you give someone means so much more.

Here's to hoping Jillian takes another long hard look at Wes. Here's to her seeing how much he wants a music career- maybe more than anything else. More than he wants her. And here's to Jillian, and every other person who has had to realize a painful truth, but then because they did, they were better off. Much better off.

Monday, June 15, 2009

You've Come a Long Way, Baby!

Bill and I had friends over Saturday night and we had a rousing good time: lots of talking and conversing and questioning and debating and eating. One issue that came up was whether or not Christians do better deliberately trying to do business with other Christians. My personal point of view was that if I have a business matter at hand, I seek out the best business advice, the best rep, the best firm- I don't care what their religious beliefs are. I sounded very "secular", I know.

Our friend had a different feeling on the matter. He thought that you would do better doing business with someone who held godly convictions, and that they would deliver the goods, so to speak, more so because of their spiritual convictions and beliefs. That you could, as brothers or sisters in the Lord, hold each other accountable to God's higher standard of doing things.

I just think it muddies the water. I've become more pragmatic in my golden years (!) and by that I don't think "less spiritual". I think it's godly to be practical. I think it's godly to do business in an excellent manner- and yet I've met and known outstanding business people who did not hold my "godly" beliefs, and I had a better experience, sometimes, than if I had done business with a Christian.

I'm not saying all Christians are lousy business people. Really, I'm not. But I've known a lot of Christians who were trying and sincere, and yet fumbling and mixed up at the same time, just as many non Christian business people can be. I've also known atheistic business people who had integrity and clear objectives, and I've known well meaning Christians who tried to evangelize and manage contractual obligations, poorly, all at the same time.

Why am I bringing this up? Who knows?! But maybe this conversation we had with friends is more of an important life matter, to me, than I realized at first.

When I visited the Yahoo Finance page this morning, I saw this article headline "7 Signs a Stock is Ready to Slide"- and it made me think of how people slide and fall and how we don't always see it coming. It made me remember the times I've gone to do business with a Christian, expecting the experience to be smooth and clear, and I was shaken up by how screwed up the relationship got and by how bad the business advice was or how inept the person was. I didn't see the signs that the transaction was getting botched up royally. And I was mad or hurt or shocked because I thought that the person, being a Christian, would then be an ideal person to do business with.

No one is ideal, though. No One. Sometimes I feel like apologizing to the world at large for all we've botched and bullied in the name of Christianity. And sometimes I feel like yelling at the world and telling it to give us a break for being human, fallible, stupid at times, and dim witted. Sometimes I'm embarrassed by how much I've grown and matured because it means that I was so stupid and dull and slow to see. It means I had a long way to go- if I am now more mature. A long way.

But everyone has a long way to go. It's just that I think we Christians sometimes forget to remind ourselves, and the world, that we're in that category as well. We have not arrived. Just because we "know Jesus" or we've "seen the light" doesn't mean that we are not still, often, sitting in the dark and thinking it's bright enough.

So if you have a business matter today to attend to, my advice is to seek someone who is grounded in the facts, and more than sincere in their aim to help you. Sincerity is not enough. You have to be clear about how cloudy you can be. You have to remember that the best help is given when the objectives are met, the transaction is straight forward, and the outcome is that you feel you were helped, not defrauded, not preached to, not short changed.

I want to be a better business woman. I want to be a clear minded citizen. I want to be sane and cogent and clear on all matters- religious or practical. Because the last thing I want said about me is that I'm so heavenly minded I'm no earthly good.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Oh Happy Day

What I loved about today:

1. Bill and I slept till 9:00am- an absolutely miraculous event. We normally get up every single blessed day at 6am- can't seem to stay asleep past that. But this morning we snoozed and snored past the normal time and we woke up smiling at our achievement.

2. This afternoon our family went on a hike up Prospect Mountain and the views were so amazing that we remembered how tiny we were and how big God was. The sky was blue, the clouds were pierced with brightness, and we were all in a mood to receive and take in all the beauty. So we did. We took it in. We snapped photos everywhere. (I'll try to get them posted this week).

3. We came home hungry and feeling creative. So we did what we do best and made pizza. I got the dough just right. Alex used enough cheese to feed an army of mice. Bill loved the pepperoni I bought for the first time. Abby decorated her pizza as though she was beautifying it for a pageant. We blasted the music, opened the doors to let the breezes in, and we ate and laughed and ate and laughed. Can it get any better than this? I thought.

Hope you had an absolutely memorable day!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Dating Advice for Anyone Who's Ever Listened to Willie

If this was Monday night, I'd be watching the Bachelorette. I'm fascinated by that reality show, even if it has some stuff in it that's not exactly kosher. I'm always interested in why people choose what they do, and in particular, why women choose what they do when it comes to dating and potential marriage. I'm hoping that the bachelorette, Jillian, will choose substance, and not flash. But these shows have not always yielded promising results. I've narrowed my list down to a couple favorites who I think are good, solid men- but I don't know if Jillian will see what I see.

Speaking of favorites, for some reason my husband is not only playing a lot of old favorites, like Kenny G and BB King, but now he's also adding in....Willie Nelson. Yup. The King of Twang was crooning to us while we ate our dinner tonight. I managed to do a beautiful pork tenderloin roast- not undercooked (oh no, trichinosis!) but not overcooked either (oh no, we're eating leather for dinner!).

I was so enjoying the old crooner. He can really sing. But when Julio Iglesias joined him on that song "To All the Girls I've Loved Before", I started to notice the words. The chorus, in particular. Then I was laughing. Then I was disgusted. Then I thought of all the women who've bought this type of ridiculous reasoning, and I was mad.

There's nothing I hate worse than to be taken. Fooled. Like the way Eve was fooled by the serpent. Like the way men "worm their way into homes of weak willed women". Like the way people actually buy the stupid reasoning, which Willie and Julio sang, about why there were so many girls in their life and why they couldn't stay with one of them:

The winds of change are always blowing And every time I try to stay The winds of change continue blowing And they just carry me away

The thought of the wind sweeping a 200+ lb. man out the door and away from a loving woman is...well, ridiculous. I don't think the man tried hard enough to stay.

Love stays. Love sticks it out. Period.

Now, there are winds of change. That part of the verse is true. People change. Our ideas change. Our plans change. But what does that have to do with sticking it out with someone you profess to love?

Don't know why I'm ranting and raving about this, except to say that for almost 25 years I have been married to a man who does a lot of beautiful loving things to show he loves me:

He washes the dirty pots and pans that I hide in the oven (and there are some there, right now, as I write this!).

He listens to me- really listens to me when I talk to him.

He sees me as capable of doing anything I set my mind to.

He is patient when I'm not, and silly and humorous when I'm cranky.

He loves our two kids fiercely and fathers them in such a way that I don't think they'll have issues trusting that a Father God loves them eternally.

He does a lot. He loves me a lot. And most of all, no matter how the winds of change are blowing, he doesn't have to work hard to try and stay with me. He's practically glued to my side. He's a keeper. He's a Lover. He's my Everything.

And I didn't see all this when I first met him. I didn't know the depth of his character and his staying power....not right away. Not at first. But over time, it became clear what this man of mine was made of.

So here's a little dating advice for any single people who might be reading this: Hold out for the one who stays and keeps staying. Hold out for someone who wants to keep drawing nearer, who wants to get to know you. Look for sincerity not only in his words but in his actions as well.

Hold out for someone who will stay with you through thick and thin. Because any man who lets the winds of change carry him away is too much of a light weight for you.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Why Middle Aged Women Love GM

I saw a GM commercial the other night and I had to give it to them: they know how to re-posture themselves. General Motors sounds brave. Their commercial talked about "this not being the end. This is only chapter one".

Oh, the things middle aged people could learn from GM! Or at least, the things we could learn from their advertising agency! They're pitching General Motors as brave, enterprising, and as a company that is ready to find a new position- a winning position-again.

In the face of financial catastrophe, they are "reinventing the automobile and our company". Wow. That's quite a feat. It'd be like a 48 year old woman getting a face lift and hiring a life coach at the same time. You can't just deliver a new product without delivering a new company that the product comes from.

Now, I'm not thinking of getting a face lift. But instead of hiring a life coach, I am deciding to be my own best life coach and direct myself into fruitful ventures, enterprising situations, fertile ground. You can do that, you know. You really can choose the best way to go- even if it takes many tries to find the best way.

The key thing is to not turn back. BE BRAVE. Take it from GM- and in the words of Hebrews 10:35 Contemporary English Version -"Keep on being brave! It will bring you great rewards".

Or in the words of T. Harv Eker- "Try this. The next time you are uncomfortable, uncertain, or afraid, instead of shrinking and retreating back to safety, press forward."

Sometimes pressing on is more of a messy stumbling forward than it is walking confidently with a fully planned route exposing all pitfalls. The reason we don't stumble forward enough is that we look around and we see so many composed Christians with smiles on their faces and the Word of God in their hands- as though this book had a million detailed maps contained within it and you just had to whip out the right one every time you were confused.

I'm a bit confused as to why Christians should be composed and all packaged together nicely. It seems to me that if we are growing and stretching and relying on God, that we will be, therefore, in all kinds of uncomfortable situations that stretch us and yes- make us a bit bewildered at times. I don't think Eker meant this advice directly for professing Christians, but it could be the best advice I've heard in a while:

"From now on, whenever you feel uncomfortable, instead of retreating back into your old comfort zone, pat yourself on the back and say 'I must be growing,' and continue moving forward."

So that's what I'm doing. I'm moving forward even though I don't feel comfortable at all. But that's not to say that I don't feel confident. I told my husband that I have never felt more sure that I have the God-given skills and abilities to help me triumph and prosper- and yet, I have never looked more the opposite. I'm not getting any younger. I'm 48, soon to be an empty-nester (in just a couple years), and I'm not in any concrete career track. I'm not on a direct certain route to Inspirational Identity, and I'm certainly not on a Fast-Track Career Track- or any track at all. (This is exactly what my father feared when I told him I wanted to be a writer, and wanted to major in English).

But like GM, I I know that I can start again. Or at least I know that I need to. I know it's a new chapter and I need to think on my feet even as I plan for a new product line that will dazzle the world.

What's my product that I offer to the world? Every time I hold onto my beat-up dreams, I tell the world that they have not seen the best of me yet. Just give me a minute. Give me a chance. And if the world doesn't want to give me that, I'll just take it anyhow- because it's mine for the taking.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Sunlight, Grace, and Itchy Skin

I woke up at midnight, itching all over, having gone to bed early last night, at 9:30pm. I'm sure that the itching was not just a reaction to sunscreen, sun light, and bug bites. I do have a problem every summer with adjusting to direct sunlight and I seem to get a type of skin poisoning where I itch all over and feel like I want to tear my skin off. It's a lovely feeling, let me tell you.

The first time this happened was when I was in Spain, at the age of 14. We were there on a two week vacation- my mom and dad and younger sister and myself. I laid out by the hotel pool one day and soaked in all the sun- and then later in the day went back to the room and started to writhe in agony as my skin reacted violently to the sun. I'm not a pale skinned blond, and I don't know why I suddenly couldn't handle all the sun.

So last night, after we got home from visiting with some friends (sitting outdoors in their backyard and eating fruit and talking and talking), I went to bed a little itchy, fell asleep, and woke up a LOT itchy. Maybe I had gotten a few more bug bites. Maybe it was adding in more sun exposure. And maybe it's the new soap we are using in the shower, cause we ran out of the gycerin Bath and Body Works soaps that we always use. I don't know what it was, but my skin was reacting.

But I didn't wake up just because of my skin itching all over. I also woke up because my mind was alert and stimulated by the honest and invigorating conversation my husband and I had earlier that day with our friends. I ate the cherries and strawberries that they beautifully laid out on a tray, and I ate up the honesty and the candor of our conversation. It's not so much that we aired our dirty laundry as it was that we all admitted we had dirty laundry that needed airing. We had "issues" and we all knew we did. But we're working on our issues. And we smiled at each other in relief of knowing that, really, that's all you can do. The sense of relief and lack of pretense was precious. Powerful. And I didn't know that it meant great grace was there.

When I say I'm "working" on my issues, on my deep seated thought patterns that are helpful and not so helpful- I mean it. It is work. It's a type of labor that goes against the norm of maintaining status quo. I'm changing the way I look at things, the way I frame my questions, the way I see myself, even.

On the other hand, I'm also recently consciously practising a type of non-work- which I now realize is called grace- where I deliberately don't allow myself to strain and strive in order to accept good things. And this is where the itchy skin comes in.

Sometimes Grace is so against the norm of what we humans think we should receive, that it's like getting too much sunlight. Grace can make you itchy, uncomfortable, fidgety. Flowing in a state of grace is rare. I think people who grasp what grace is expect to find it mysteriously powerful and almost overwhelming- like the way sun light can actually overwhelm your body if you get too much of it.

There are warnings when it comes to taking in the sun. There's sun burn and sun poisoning and even skin cancer. Watch out for too much sun light. But when it comes to Grace, can there be such a thing as too much? When the Bible mentions about "great grace" being "upon them all"- did it cause problems? Itching? Fidgeting?!

What would happen if we lavished grace on people, problems, and predicaments? What would happen if we gave ourselves grace when we hit a wall? What would happen if we were quick to give grace? What would happen if we admitted that we're still a bit fuzzy on what Grace is? I'm sure that we would have to keep redefining what grace is, just like I have to keep figuring out what is really making my skin react, cause there's so many things the skin reacts to.

Grace comes in a variety of expression and flavors. Grace changes how you react in a situation. I think grace is a balm that calms inflamed situations, shattered self esteem, and raw emotions. Grace doesn't just blanket things and hide their reality- instead, it helps you to cope and see the thing that scares you.

And maybe grace doesn't mean that no one is wrong or that nothing needs to be done. Rather, grace could mean "we've got a lot of work to do, this is a mess, and boy is this itchy and agonizing." Then Grace becomes the hand that restrains yours from scratching your skin so hard that you hurt yourself- even though Grace is also what is making you so itchy and fidgety.

Maybe I came home from our time spent with our friends, feeling like I had been more honest than I had cautiously intended to be. I was itchy and uncomfortable because I had been seen, known, and loved- warts and all. My friends drew me in with their accepting love and their own candid sharing. But then more than that, great Grace was upon us. So we all dared. We all shared. And even though we knew we couldn't really handle too much of it, we took a step closer to the Son light.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Another Open Door

I'd like to say that I haven't been posting as much because I've been too busy "doing" my faith (and not just praying about matters of faith)- but it's not quite true. I've been contemplative. That's a scholarly way of saying you're not doing much; that you're "simmering" your thoughts as you contemplate making decisions. Concrete decisions.

I'll tell you more, later, about the decisions I'm faced with, but I want you to know that when I say "that I'm faced with" that these are not grim-faced decisions I have to make. Not at all.

Lately I've been thinking about the gift of Choice, and how glad I am that I don't have to be a robot or a spiritual puppet or a meek mouse. I'm a grown woman and I get to act like one. This is the positive side of aging: you get to become more wise, and you should be getting wiser, even if you're getting more wrinkled.

That's nothing better than having a choice, or a say-so, in an important matter. And anything, really, having to do with your life, your values, your hopes, your children, your dreams- is an important matter.

So I'm feeling wealthy (again) because of the richness of Choice. I'm feeling inspired, again, because of the possibilities.

It's Friday, and it's the weekend. And just planning what we'll eat for dinner tonight is making me smile like a mischievous cat. If you haven't felt mischievous or felt like frolicking, maybe you haven't been feeling like you have many choices or many opportunities.

Tonight, instead of counting your blessings and naming them one by one, try counting the choices before you- even if it's only what you'll eat for dinner, when you'll go to bed, what you would like to dream about. Maybe by the time you wake up and the sun shines on you and infuses you with warmth, maybe you'll keep counting all the opportunities and choices you have before you. Maybe you'll see more and more. And then you'll wonder, like me, why you never saw them before.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

When Prayer is Not Enough

I know, I know: the title of this post sound sacrilegious. But I'm not trying to be. I'm saying this respectfully when I say that I've recently become aware that I'm praying too much and not acting enough. ( I don't mean acting as in pretending or prancing around on the stage, either).

Here's just a little example of when praying could mean laziness or foolishness. We have our house listed for sale. There's a nice little sign out front telling the world that we're interested in selling our house. We are also Christians, so that means we are probably also praying that our house sells. Christians are supposed to "let our requests be made known to God"(Phil. 4:6). I think most Christians are pretty good about talking to God about all their problems and requests. I do that type of thing pretty well.

But what we also need to be doing, beyond praying about our house selling, is making it sell-able. I don't think God is going to do that part for us, no matter how much we request that He do. Though we did a lot of work on the interior, it's not the interior of the house that you first see when you drive by. Our driveway needs patching and a new top coating. We have more landscaping to do. One nice agent said that it has "a rather alpine feeling to it". That's a nice way of saying that we're covered in brush and trees.

We've got work to do if we want to get this house sold. That's just the plain hard truth. And that hard truth has recently been showing up in our life over and over again. Many of the things we want to progress in and change about our life have to do with the actions we will be taking, not the prayers we will be praying.

I do mean that literally. Most of the things that will physically change in our life ( our weight, our bank account, our jobs, our meals that we eat) all have to do with physical actions we take. Prayer might motivate these actions, or prayer can even sometimes spiritually hinder our actions. Well, not exactly Prayer itself- but what we think Prayer is and what Prayer does.

When I read Self-Help books, I'm always reading with an eye for what "the Christian" would say when reading statements about progress, change, behavior, action, goal setting. For many Christians, these words shock us or offend us. These words don't sound spiritual. They sound man-oriented, and we know we are supposed to be God-oriented, Faith filled, spiritually minded people. Do spiritually minded people make goals, plan ahead, make money, grow businesses? There's a debate about that. There's so much spiritualizing that goes on whenever talk turns to money, earning money, planning for business success, etc.

Want to make people squirm a bit? Try telling them that you are a committed Christian and you are a seeking to make more money. Or try telling them that you are reading the Bible and also reading 101 Ways to Grow a Multi Million Dollar Business- and that you're getting a lot out of both books. (And no,I'm not reading that book...yet- I just made it up. But something close to that title probably exists).

In this Chapter that T Hard Eker writes about playing the role of victim, he talks about Victim Clue #2: Justifying. He's a straight shooter. Listen to this:

"Rich people understand the importance of money and the place it has in society. On the other hand, poor people validate their financial ineptitude by using irrelevant comparisons. They'll argue, 'Well, money isn't as important as love.' Now is that comparison dumb or what? What's more important, your arm or your leg? Maybe they're both important."

I immediately thought of the many times I've prayed about something or heard about a friend praying about something- as though only prayer were needed. Have you ever heard a Christian say they're praying about a problem- and then months later you ask them how they're dealing with that problem, and they tell you they're still praying about it?! Maybe prayer and action are both needed here! But that's sometimes a tough thing for Christians to deal with.

She's so heavenly minded, she's no earthly good- ever hear that saying? It's a terrible indictment of any faith-professing Christian. Earth is where we need to be doing some good, 'cause Heaven doesn't need our help. Earth is where we need to be praying up a storm- and acting, in faith, because we have prayed.

Let me put another little blurb from Eker here: "Listen up, my friends: Money is extremely important in the areas in which it works, and extremely unimportant in the areas in which it doesn't work. And although love may make the world go round, it sure doesn't pay for the building of hospitals, churches, or homes. It doesn't feed anybody. Not convinced? Trying paying your bills with love."

Or in my case, try fixing my driveway with Prayer. Or try "bathing it in prayer", as we like to say. Hmmm. It still looks like a mess. The sink hole at the end of our driveway still is there. It's not as bad as the huge hole in the library's parking lot. That hole is so big they put orange cones around it and I don't even think that is warning enough, because if your car drove over that hole, you'd wind up in China- that's how bad it is!

So all this to say that Prayer is always good. Always. It's just that Prayer, by itself, is not always enough. At least, by that I mean, what we think Prayer is. We think it's talking to God about things and then God starts his heavenly fixing and arranging and orchestrating of events while we wait patiently- and maybe put a few orange cones around the problem so no one falls into it while we are waiting for our answer to prayer.

But that's a bit infantile of an understanding. Just like we can't deposit "love" into a bank account and expect to receive green bills in return, we can't just pray about things and then expect an answer to drop from the heavens.

We need to pray. And then we need to get to work. Whatever the work is, that's involved in the answer, you'll know. You'll know by the size of the problem and by the way it screams out for you to do something. Start with something simple, like seeing that the problem is there. Add some protective cones circling around it while you debate and pray and think about what to do. But don't wait too long. The hole will not fill itself.

The smelly problem does not get bathed in prayer and then miraculously stink no longer. No, the problem requires an answer. An answer usually involves action, of some kind. And maybe that's where we can start to see that not only though we prayed, but because we prayed, that we have work to do.