Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Higher Ground

I had one of those light bulb moments this morning; you know, your brain is foggy, you're dutifully eating your pasty but good-for-you oatmeal, and you're looking at a Scripture verse for minutes on end while your mind is somewhere else, and then....Blink! The light is turned on.

First, though, there was coffee and a bit of "discussion" with Safety Bill this morning. I like to say we discuss things, but anyone listening in might say "That sounds more like arguing." But that's only because when I "discuss" things, I tend to get a little vehement, a little heated, and Safety Bill gets more quiet and goes on high alert--like he's thinking that the boiler pressure relief valve might let go. His thinking is Safety first. Mine is Make Way for Truth. We try to meet in the middle.

But there's no middle ground when God is pruning you. That's what I've been thinking about lately. John 15:2 alludes to some kind of "pruning" that God does in our life--like you're an apple tree and God is going to lop off a few branches. NOT! If that were the case, you would know what was going on when God was pruning you. It's easy to see the branches come off--if that were pruning.

But the Greek word here has to do with God purging your life. It's more of a vicious cleansing than a lopping off. He takes what is mixed-up in your life and un-mixes it. He removes things. He peels things away. And I'm convinced that when God is pruning, you feel more of a panic and dismay than a non-chalant attitude of "Oh, that's just God pruning me."

I don't think we have to go around pretending that we like being pruned. When we're going through a confusing, botched up situation and things are falling apart in our life, and we feel a little uncertain about what the heck is going on, and someone asks you how you're doing, we don't need to give some spiel about how wonderful it is to walk with God and be pruned. It's better to say, "I feel like I'm in a storm. I'm a bit confused as to what God is doing in my life right now. It's all a b it murky right now."

But hold on for the light bulb moment! Because at some point down the road, it WILL come on. Matthew 5:8 says, "Blessed are the PURE in heart, for they will see God." And in this case, the word PURE has the same Greek root word meaning as PRUNED: you're PURE because God has purged you, He's made you clean in your motives, He's removed undesirable elements from your life. And if you've ever prayed to see God more clearly, He'll take you up on that prayer. He'll shake up your staid life, purge things from it, remove the impure motives, and make you look like a mess all the while it's happening. (Ask Job.)

But hang in there, friend. Because blessed are the pure (and pruned and radically purged)--they're going to see God. When God has messed up your organized life a little, and torn apart your nest, and re-arranged relationships and purged addictions from your life, get ready for some major light-bulb moments. You're about to see things in a whole new light. You're about to see God. And when you do, you'll be glad that when you were this close to giving up, you didn't. Because like Job, though He slay you and purge you, yet you trust Him... to see you through.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Between Two Worlds

I've just spent the last hour trying to clean out my email inbox. (I'm still getting these warnings that the mailbox is precariously full, though.) This is more a statement about my inability to make quick decisions about what is necessary and what is superfluous in life, than it is a question of pressing the delete button over and over. These are the things that weigh us down in life--I'm convinced of that. When your garbage cans and email inboxes are overflowing, it means things have caught up with you.

I've got more than spring cleaning on my mind, lately. It seems like it's time for me to do a little soul searching too; or maybe you would call it a re-balancing, like the way they re-balance the tires on your car so that uneven weight distribution doesn't cause noticeable vibrations.

I've spent a bit of time over the last week reviewing some news stories and videos about the Japanese people and their state of emergency after the earthquake and tsunami. They are not dealing with petty things like cleaning out email inboxes. They are dealing with issues of survival. They are trying to find someplace solid on which to stand. They're looking for lost loved ones and dealing with a death toll that some say is hovering near 22,000.

What can I learn from the Japanese? They are going through hell right now. They are learning to cope, to endure, to overcome. Everything is critical in their life right now.

I do not face these same challenges. But I'm called to the same actions of persevering, enduring, overcoming. In light of their overwhelming pain right now, the light bulb has gone on in my brain: it's called Perspective. I see things differently. I realize that I have some challenges in life, but I am not challenged to the point of death and despair. I realize that there are things I don't want to do in life, but I am not dealing with the daunting undesirable task of searching through dead bodies so that I can identify a loved one. I'm not in a season of crisis. I'm not, in any way, at the end of my rope, so to speak.

So on behalf of those who are in crisis, I contribute to the Red Cross relief efforts through my local grocery store. But more than that, I pray--for divine help, miraculous strength, a way...where there seems to be no way. And then I also set my mind about how I will deal with the challenges in my life. I want to have the right attitude, the right undercurrent of thought about every big and small problem: this is just an obstacle, a minor issue, a relational blip, a financial challenge; and I can deal with this.

It's not a feeling of guilt that teaches me this perspective. And it's not so much relief either--relief that I'm not living through the aftermath of catastrophe-- but it's the understanding that in between those two opposing worlds of guilt and relief is the healthy balance of an appreciation for Life, sweet and full, messy and frustrating, challenging and precious.

I think our Japanese friends would tell us this, that when all is said and done, a hand in yours, an embrace of comfort, an understanding look, a listening ear--these are the things we all cherish, no matter what season of life we're in. This is what Life is--the flow and the undertow, the crisis and the calm after the storm, and everything else in between that makes us look up for help and then reach out for those around us.... gratefully.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Book Review: Skipping a Beat

Speaking of timing, here's a book that explores what happens when someone suddenly wakes up to the truth of how fleeting this life's journey is. As we empathize with the Japanese people in the aftermath of catastrophe, we certainly have a higher sense of the brevity of life, the preciousness of time with loved ones, and the question of what really matters in this life.

Sarah Pekkanen explores some of these questions in her latest novel, Skipping a Beat. I eagerly began reading the book and was hooked right from the beginning. The story centers in a prosperous thirty-smething aged couple who has it all--after having had little as children-- and what happens when the main character, Julia Dunhill, finds that after a cardiac arrest, her husband, Michael has come back to life, but not exactly in the same frame of mind as before.

This is a beautiful story. I probably related more to Michael than to Julia at times, throughout the story, but there was ample backstory and exploration of character nuances to get anybody tied in to the unfolding of the story and the ultimate outcome. Some reviewers have discussed the ending as surprising, but I wasn't surprised by the resolution of the story. The only thing I couldn't relate to at all had to do with what you call the theology of Michael's experience and his viewpoint of the afterlife.

But this novel certainly explores some of the more impacting experiences of life. It's no picnic in a fairytale world, but a thoughtful look at a marriage in trouble, a man with a new outlook on life, and a woman who has never forgotten her past. Sarah Pekkanen's SKIPPING A BEAT is aptly named. More than that, it's a moving story; a treasure chest of reality and hope.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I receive books free from publishers. I am not required to write a positive review. The opinions I express are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Have You Got the Time?

My timing has been a bit off here at Faith Fuel--I've been writing sporadically and posting from time to time but not with any degree of regularity. Getting the timing right on something is always a bit of a challenge, isn't it?

I love how the Psalmist writes, "My times are in your hands" (Psalm 31:15). He's referring to the seasons of opportunity and the timing of certain events being directly in God's powerful hands. It's a good thing that divine timing is not left up to me, I can't even get human timing right!

The thing is, if our seasons and windows of opportunity are in God's hands, then chances are (timing, again) that we're going to be in the dark about things until they're made clear. And most people who are "in the dark" feel somewhat afraid, a bit tenuous about their sense of security.

For example, I'm in the dark as to when I'll hear from my college-aged son, what exactly he is doing down south, what he is up to. I'll get a text message from him from time to time, but I basically don't know what he is doing, if he's getting to classes, sleeping at all, or remembering that college is about getting an education and not about having an extended vacation. He's a creative, wild type, my son; prone to taking a hair-raising adventure like Mr. Toad in the Wind in the Willows. It's best if I am kept in the dark about what he's up to because my heart rate might accelerate out of control if I know all the things going on in his life.

But maybe there's a correlation with how God works as well: I don't think I could handle knowing everything that is coming my way, or what "adventure" God is lining up for me to experience next. I thought I wanted to know more about what God is doing in the dark so that I can take a more definitive stance to what I am doing in the light. But God does not play fair--mainly because He doesn't play with our lives and He has a different standard for what fair is.

If I cast my bread upon the waters, as it says in Ecclesiastes, I may have to wait days, weeks, months, years before I see what happens. A better way to understand this verse and see that it doesn't have to do with soggy bread but Timing, instead, is to read the verse in the New Living Translation: "Send your grain across the seas, and in time, profits will flow back to you." So you're really casting your ships on the water, over tumultuous seas, where they sail out until you can't see them anymore. They've disappeared into the horizon. You don't know when they'll return, and if they'll return full or empty.

My Dad didn't want me to major in English, back when I was in College, because he couldn't see that there would be a very good return for me career-wise. Where do English majors wind up? In various and sundry places, I can tell you that from experience. I completely understand, now, why he wanted to guide me into calmer waters where smooth sailing--at least career-wise--was a bit more possible.

There have been a number of ventures and adventures that I've taken over the years and when I look back, I can see where I would have taken a different turn or where I would have changed course, depending on what I saw coming my way, at that time. But all my seasons of life are woven together, working together for good; they're held in God's hands and He has promised to make sense of them all.

And after recently having a pivotal birthday, I'm obviously wondering if I've got the time, still, to make my life count, make my mistakes count even. Mistakes go hand in hand with risk. And risk is an ingredient in Faith. And without Faith, it's impossible to please God, says Hebrews; because God is looking for people who send out their ships on the waters and release them to the wind and to the chance of storms and danger. There's a chance an endeavor you've gotten involved in may start to go south. There's a chance that you can't quite reach that goal that you've set for yourself. But there's one thing I'm sure of: you've got the time, still, to reach out and go for the impossible. It's still the opportune season for taking a faith adventure because it is always God's will to press onward, press toward Him, and reach for something that would take His power, in you and on you, to do.

Don't stand too long looking at your ship sailing into the purple strirated horizon and wondering how long it will take till you see a return. It's probably a better usage of our twenty-four hour time to pour ourselves into the work at hand and leave the timing of it all, the outcome of it all, in God's hands where mysteries lay concealed... until the opportune time.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

O Happy Day

Harry's fan club is growing, mainly because as he ages, his adorableness does not seem to wane. I, on the other hand, experienced a rather traumatic event in February that has to do with the accounting of time in a chronological manner. Yes, the dreaded birthday. I really was having a hard time with this one in particular and wasn't even going to write about it. I was going to try to pretend that it hadn't occurred.

But that's cowardly. We don't "do" cowardly here at Faith Fuel. So let me share what went on in my head and heart over the last week and a half. I tried to be plucky about this new decade and age category I was entering. I tried not to be so shallow that getting a year older should upset me so.

But it really wasn't the birthday that was getting to me. It was the fact that a year had passed and I had not accomplished anything significant--at least in my mind. Which is the place where age matters, really--it's all in your mind. That's where a lot of our problems are as well, or the magnification of our problems, I should say. In our mind's eye, everything looms large and threatening when it might just be a whisper of a problem.

I was not happy on February 21st, the day of my birthday. I went to bed that night and felt listless, defeated, deflated. I woke up the next day and things were still gray: the skies, my mood, my outlook. I think God had had enough of my pity party because that afternoon as I was driving around doing errands, I felt that whisper of tender inquiry, "What's really bothering you, Lauren?"

So I told God, "It's that I don't feel like I'm 50. I feel like I'm 41 or 42. I wish I could still be in my forties. That would just feel like I have more time to, you know, 'get there.' "

I felt like God was in a forbearing mood when He countered with, "So then, do you want to turn back time and go back seven or eight years. That would mean your son is back in middle school, having that rough year, and you would be without the church family that you're connected with right now."

"Oh, no, I don't want to go back to that season of my life" I thought. "How about 45 then? I'd like to at least be in my forties."

"Well then you'd be experiencing that delightful transitional stage with your son. Remember that period of time where there was a lot of yelling and asserting of independence and storming around the house and slamming of doors- and it wasn't just him doing all that??" God reminded me.

I flushed with embarrassment. This was not going well. I saw where God was going with this. I saw that to survive somewhat-trying seasons, you had to pay the price of time. You gave up minutes, hours, days, months of your life. But you also got the reward of having gotten THROUGH that time. And once you get through a difficult time, why would you want to go through it again?

I felt a sudden wave of deep appreciation for where I was in life, at that very moment, at that very age I was. It's not really your age that defines you anyhow--though society wouldn't exactly agree with that.

I think of Abraham in the Bible. "Then Abraham breathed his last and died at a good old age, an old man and full of years; and he was gathered to his people."(Genesis 25:8) This is the man we affectionately and respectfully refer to as Father Abraham. You don't get to be a father unless you pay the price of years spent. You don't get to be a grandparent unless you are "full of years."

I want to get to the point where I can view advancing age, old age, as something that is GOOD, something that is a Reward. After all, ask anyone battling a life-threatening disease if they are worried about getting a year older. They want to get to the point where the possibility of living to "a good old age" is a reality.

And so, on behalf of them, and on behalf of those who are trying to get THROUGH trying times, I embrace this new age, this birthday I just had. This was my reward. I didn't just make it through another year, I completed a level. I passed some tests. I have made it into a new season of life. I've got a brilliant son in college who will be graduating in a little over a year. I've got a teenaged daughter who has excellent judgment and such perspective for a sixteen year old. My husband and I will celebrate 27 years of marriage this August. My mind is still clear. My dreams are still alive.I've got a lot going for me, even though gravity and the passing of time might defy my body.

You know what a birthday really is? It's a Door. Each Year that Comes is an Open Door that leads to many things. I turn the doorknob and step into a new year mindful that I get the opportunity to explore and question and grow. I get to experience the grace of God, and if anything, I think I see His grace more clearly the older I get. Hopefully I am more grateful than I was last year, more thankful than ever to be alive- because this is Life, moving fast and faster. I step into the flow of wonder and awe expectant and eager to live to a good old age.