Beauty in the Unexpected

A trip to the dentist office with my daughter is typically not going to be a big inspiration for writing, but you never know when something beautiful is going to land in your world.

We sat in the waiting room as a very elderly woman came in with the assistance of her companion. She was bent over, frail, using a walker with shuffling careful steps, silver haired, soft spoken. She settled into the chair quietly and accepted the magazine her companion offered to pass the time until the appointment. She had a slight expression of confusion on her face, seeming to not quite know what to make of being in the waiting room surrounded by unfamiliar people.

The receptionist called the elderly woman back to the exam room and she, her companion at her elbow, carefully made her way down the hall.

As my daughter was called and we began our journey down the same hallway, this amazing voice began to emanate from an exam room out of my eyeline. A rich velvety alto voice, strong and full, poured forth from seemingly nowhere. Rivaling Rosemary Clooney at her best, this voice, unabashedly and with perfect pitch, navigated lines from old standards and torch songs.

As I got further down the hall, to my great surprise I saw that this robust voice was pouring out of it the elderly woman from the waiting room. In the waiting room she had been near-silent and doddering, but there she was, sharing this incredible gift at the request of the staff who knew this unexpected beauty she possessed inside.

I sat in the exam room with my daughter, my brain spinning, as the a cappella concert continued. The little old lady ended her “set” from down the hall with The Star Spangled Banner and it was all I could to NOT cry.

My daughter laughed at me as she saw me digging out my notebook to capture in words what I had seen and heard. “That’s going to be a blog post, isn’t it, Mom?” Yep.

This little old lady and her songs stuck with me, hovering in the back of my mind. She was unaware of how her gift, coming from such an unlikely source, blessed total strangers within her hearing, just because she was willing to share. Just because she let her beautiful come out.

How often do we forget to tap into the unexpected beauty within us? Sometimes all it takes is an invitation and we are ready to let this treasure pour forth. Sometimes we forget it’s even there, or it remains undiscovered.

There’s beauty all around us and beauty God placed within us, just waiting to be discovered and shared. You have it inside you. I have it inside me.

Today, I challenge you to be that unexpected beauty in someone’s life, that surprise that they aren’t expecting, that sparkle that will change their whole perspective. Sing that song, write that poem, paint that image, dance!

It’s just waiting to be released. And you never know who you’re going to bless.

Let your beautiful come out!

 

Quiet in the Fireworks

Now stand quietly before the Lord as I remind you of all the great things the Lord has done for you and your ancestors. 1 Samuel 12:7 NLT
Doing anything quietly is completely counter to my nature, standing quietly before the Lord even more so.  When I stand before the Lord I usually have a laundry list of things to chat about, to ask Him about, to wonder about, to worry aloud about; a lengthy list of those things most in need His help in my life.  Not quiet.
But this verse gave me pause.  My list of questions, wonderings, and “help me!” items are usually driven by my fear, my worries, my wanting things to be better or at least different.  They are often centered on wanting everything to be taken care of my way in my timing.
They are not classified as standing quietly before my Lord, remembering all He has already done for me and for my ancestors, both physical and spiritual.
I don’t know about you, but I need reminding.  I need my eyes refocused on His resume, His nature, His track record.
He is faithful, He keeps His promises, and His timing is perfect.
Don’t get  me wrong, I know God is there to hear all of my ramblings and worries, ready to listen, ready to comfort, but this reminder, this invitation to pause and remember is a crucial part of the equation.  Standing quietly implies being focused and ready to receive, ready to listen.  Not distracted.  Not coming with my piece to say.  Not coming to be heard, but to listen, to hear, to remember.
Dear Lord, You are faithful.  Always.  Please quiet my soul as you help me remember.  Remind me of how, time and time again, you have cared for me, loved me, forgiven me.  Remind me of all You have done and open my eyes to all you are doing in my life and my circumstances right now.  Thank you for who You are and all You have done.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Deep Breath…

Looking at a blinking cursor, an empty screen, I take a deep breath, trying to contain my excitement. 

I shared in last week’s blog that my health is improving under the care of my new doctor and I am now looking at options that seemed to be completely out of the question not so long ago. 

It’s been, in many ways, like climbing a mountain.  (I know of which I speak, because I used climb actual mountains.)  I feel like I’ve been living in a smoggy valley, hazy and indistinct, for so long.  And now as I climb, as I work through the new treatments and new supplements, new lifestyle changes, it seems that I am gaining altitude, rising above the smog and muck.  I feel like I’m drawing clean, clear, unpolluted mountain air into my lungs after inhaling sludge for what seems like forever, breathing deeply and fully for the first time in a long while.  I am beyond grateful.

But.  Why now?  I’ll take it, of course, with deepest, humblest thanksgiving.  But the questions still nibbles at the back of my brain: why now?  What does that mean for us?  

There’s a phrase that resonates over and over in scripture: “At just the right time, God…”  Throughout the Old and New Testaments, God acts, He does something, at just the right time.  Not early, not late, and not according to human ideas of good timing.  But at just the right time. 

At just the right time, God allowed my health to remove a stressful (but beloved) career from my life.  At just the right time, God allowed us to move to new place.  At just the right time, God sent me to a new doctor, one who would put me on the path to physical recovery, a thing I didn’t expect at all.  Because so many doctors had told me there was nothing to be done.  That this was my life. 

But at just the right time, God had other plans.  And I trust that this next wacky left-turn, one of many that has marked my life, is actually turning me back to a place I’ve seen before.  Not like taking a step back, but like reuniting with an old friend. 

The huge number of possibilities, the ways I could spend myself and my energy threatened to spin me out entirely.  But after praying over the next steps since the very day it occurred to me (post caffeine withdrawal headache) that I was feeling better, REALLY better, I may see a glimmer of what the next piece might look like.  

At just the right time, 12 years ago, mama of a 5th grader and 2nd grader, I began substitute teaching.  And at just the right time, recovering from a chronic illness and needing flexibility, mom of a gainfully employed young adult and a college sophomore, I will start substitute teaching part time this fall, two time zones from where I started, but so very excited to pour into young people again.  

At just the right time, God.  I take a deep breath and smile.  His best is reflected in His timing. Something I am learning more and more.  

 

What are you willing to give up?

Living out loud is so important to me, particularly on this blog.  I want to be real and authentic with what I’m experiencing, what God is teaching me, and how life and faith collide in my Texas world.  So, here’s the latest. 

I’m better. Really. Better. 

I was quite sure I would never be writing that. 

Because I was diagnosed with a chronic illness. Because I’ve spent the past two years learning to live with said chronic illness and how to best manage my symptoms while still having a life, friends, a loving marriage, young adult kids, and a peaceful home.  

Career, gone.  Mobility, iffy.  Energy, very limited.  But I found joy.  

I changed my diet and embraced a regimen of supplements (vitamins and minerals) which made some improvements, moved to a climate that’s better for my illness, reduced my stress levels, and was experiencing more good days than I used to. But I was still very clearly a gal whose life was limited by this illness of mine. 

Then things began to shift.

I was skeptical as I walked out of my first appointment with my shiny new doctor a couple of weeks ago, expanded supplement regimen in hand, more dietary restrictions listed.  Seriously?  No caffeine and no wine?  I’m not a barbarian!  But I was willing to try.  So, I carved back my food list even further.  And I started the new supplements.  And I made friends with Apple Cider Vinegar and Kombucha 3 times a day. 

And I feel as though I’m waking up for the first time in 2 years. 

Remember a time when you had the flu, sick for a couple of weeks, weighed down with fatigue, aching and miserable, wondering if you’d ever be well? And then you woke up one morning feeling more like yourself. Feeling better.  Well.  Imagine a flu that lasted 2 years, and waking up one day feeling more like the you that you used to be. That’s my story. 

Tears of gratitude on my face, I lay in my bed last week, praising God that I could do things, that reasonable activity expectations for a day weren’t “one and done,” that I could actually do SEVERAL errands and still have some energy around the house in the evening.  My brain was buzzing with all the things I could accomplish, all the possibilities.

Here’s the thing: I could focus on the things I’ve had to give up.  No red meat, no sugar, no gluten, no white potatoes, no dairy, no fried foods- the list goes on.  But I can confidently say, balanced against what I’ve gained in the process, it’s worth it. 

Far better to focus on what I’ve gained.  It’s hard to describe what it feels like to see the light at the end of this incredibly difficult tunnel, one I never thought I’d see.  And I may not climb Half Dome again (which is fine with me, by the way, once was good), but I could feel normal-ish again.  Which means more than you can know unless you’ve had seasons of canes and wheelchairs, confinement to a couch, isolation, and crushing fatigue that were part of my world.

I can choose to eat the way I used to and feel terrible.  Or I can choose to gratefully submit to this new program and begin to feel good again.  Easy choice.  What am I willing to give up?  A lot. 

I don’t know if the changes and improvements are permanent, and I have a long way to go, but I am cautiously optimistic.  It’s like waking up, as I said before.  Not just my body but my mind and my heart as well.  I feel like myself more than I have in so very long, like there are possibilities I hadn’t imagined.  Or that I had set aside, sure they were not part of my future.   

I’ve had people tell me “Oh, I could NEVER give up (fill in the blank)!” But you can.  If it will change your life, the way you feel, the way you are able to function and love your family and contribute to this world you can absolutely 100% give it up, whatever it is.  You can.  We choose, and we live out the consequences, positive or negative, of those choices. 

 So, this leads me to ask: What are you willing to give up?  What are you holding up as an “I could never give up” that is keeping you from God’s best for you?  From better health? From better relationships? From better living?  Is it worth it?  

 Hanging onto things that aren’t your best, even if you love them and will suffer without them (ask me about my four-day caffeine withdrawal headache) isn’t something you HAVE to do.  It’s what you choose to do.  

I’ve learned so much about what I can do without, even when it’s really hard.  I’ve done without so much during this time of illness- activities, outings, time with people I love, hiking, exploring, walks, my career- because of my limitations.  I am trading limitations, I realize, but these are changes I choose to accept because the help and health far outweigh the loss.  It is worthwhile to make these changes if I want to have energy and a pain-free life again.  So, I choose.  It’s tough when everyone else is sitting down to a burger and fries and I have my, um, bun-less beef-less fry-less alternative.  It’s hard.  But I choose.

Maybe this is a bit like what we are asked to change, to give up, to rethink in our walk with God.  He gives us a pretty clear idea of what an abundant life in Him could look like. Steered by love, looking out for others, living out our faith in a real way rather than just a Sunday type of deal.

But if we follow His way, we have to give up a few things.  Like being motivated by ambition, or holding onto bitterness and past hurt, like seeing everything through our own flawed lens instead of through God’s eyes.  It means giving up striving and being willing to trust Him and walk in His Grace.  It means giving up pride and self-sufficiency, surrendering MY way to His.  

These are so. very. challenging. to give up if this is the way we are used to living.  But.  It is so worthwhile to lay these burdens down at the altar, leaving them there to go up in flames, rather than carrying their burden any further.  Worth it to walk through life lighter, free-er, happier, more joyful.  I don’t want to over-simplify here, but it some ways, it is simple.  Just not easy.  The struggle of letting go of long-held habits and hurts are worse than my four-day caffeine withdrawal headache.  I get it.

 But you get to choose. 

What are YOU willing to give up?  

 

If I needed to come all the way to Texas to find this doctor, I am grateful beyond the telling that I came here and I found her.  She is an answer to prayers spoken across this country, putting me on the path to restored wellness.  Thank you, truly, for your prayers as I’ve walked through this season.   

GPS for the Journey

I have come to rely heavily on my GPS since uprooting myself from my familiar California environment and plopping right in the middle of a new Texas life.  Google Maps is seriously one of my best friends.  I can with all confidence say that I wouldn’t have ventured out much at all without it these past 9 months, intimidated as I was by Dallas/Fort Worth roads, the multiple swoopy and confusing freeways, numerous detours for construction, totally unfamiliar parts of town, all of which conspire against me, making me unsure of my surroundings and erasing my sense of direction.  But having the guidance I needed made me much more confident and adventurous in exploring our new hometown and the surrounding area. 

I’m sure I’m not alone here.  Pretty much everyone I know has come to rely on GPS.  We pull out our smartphones, enter our desired destination, and we set out, trusting the guidance system we chose. 

We may think we know the best direction to take before we start, but out of nowhere we are rerouted by our GPS into the unfamiliar: a completely different route to our destination, one we’ve never taken before.  This alternate route may be to avoid an accident, road work, something that could delay or be a detriment to you.  Something that would leave you stuck behind seemingly every Texas Edition truck in the greater Metroplex.  Or it the reroute could just be a faster and more efficient path to your destination. 

 Sometimes the new route is a little unnerving because it is unfamiliar, not what you’re used to, taking you through an area that might seem a bit on the sketchy side- falling-down houses, graffiti-covered walls, and less-than-savory looking businesses- but you trust the navigation system.  Your experience has proven the GPS knows things you don’t. 

Sometimes the new route takes you on a beautiful detour, showing you an area you’ve never seen- a cute downtown shopping area, a neighborhood of beautiful homes, lush green wooded hills- one you would love to go back to and explore a little bit more.   

Sometimes you seriously wonder where in the world you are, how you got there, if you are (as it seems) a million miles from your desired landing spot, and whether you’ll ever arrive at your destination.  And then.  You do.  Safe and sound.  Just where the GPS wanted you to be.  

I’ve learned so much the past 2 years about trusting my God, trusting His navigation, during some of the hardest times in my life.  I’ve had more than a few detours in my life, many that were through some sketchy areas, scary and unfamiliar, not knowing what would be around the next corner.  And I know God has routed me around things that would have kept me stuck, avoided negative situations that would drag me down, delay me, be a detriment to me.  He has taught me He knows the road ahead of me in ways I don’t.  In ways I can’t. 

In this journey He has taught me to trust that He will get us where he wants us to be, whether the route seems like the right one or not.  The unfamiliar, the road less traveled, can often be the absolute best.

Maybe trusting my Navigator, knowing He gives me the guidance I need, has made me a bit more adventurous, a bit more willing to venture out into new territory.  I will continue this journey, trusting God’s GPS.  

Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”  Isaiah 30:21

Battle Armor in Panera

Sitting alone at lunch, my attention is drawn by affable voices mingled together.  Eight vibrant and vibrantly-dressed women surround a nearby table, clearly part of a special group.  Bespectacled, sparking, filled with the energy of their younger selves, they band together, walkers and canes set aside.  Laughter and stories ring through Panera and I lean in a little bit, curious. I wonder who they were, these wives, daughters, mothers, what mountains they climbed, what they’ve seen in this world as it has changed so dramatically in their lifetimes. I have no doubt the stories they could tell would fill volumes: stories of shared experiences, of joy and pain, of the victories and defeats of life. As I continue to observe it becomes clear that these ladies, in truth, aren’t really old, just further down life’s path than I am.  

 They wear scarlet hats with purple accents, each bedecked with different decorations, as varied as their personalities, seemingly a bit over-fancy for their suburban strip-mall sandwich shop environment. I smile as I watch from afar, inspired by how they embrace life’s adventure, these strong and united women, bearing the uniform of their tribe, the red hats as their own version of battle armor in this life. In them I see the joy of embracing each season of life and the strength found in this precious sisterhood so often missed by women, unmarred by the spirit of competition and comparison that plagues so many relationships.

The Red Hat ladies finish their lunch and reluctantly say goodbye to each other.  They hug, smile, and exchange see-you-next-times, going back to daily life. But they leave with me an impression, a precious spirit to emulate, and a reminder to link arms yet again with my tribe.  

May I surround my table with my warrior women friends, either face to face or online, and share victory and war stories.  May we wear our version of battle armor for this life, the uniform of our tribe, and walking confidently through life, drastically overdressed for a Wednesday afternoon.  

May we share with future generations the importance of seizing the day and being fabulous. May we pass on to our daughters, our nieces, our friends, our sisters the value in coming together in strength as women rather than seeing each other as rivals.  May we teach them (and ourselves) the power of “together” and “me too” rather than the friendship-killing distraction of comparison.

As I work through what my blog should be, I can’t overstate how much I appreciate the tribe that reaches out to me, the people who comment and let me know what resonated.  Thank you for standing with me!

 Today go forth, put on something unnecessarily fabulous, and reach out to your tribe.  Remind them that we all struggle, that together we can be strong in the face of hard things, and that you are still right there for them.

 

 

Authenticity: Confessions of a former Stepford-Wife-Church-Lady

“What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life?  The world would be split open.” – Muriel Rukeyser

That quote.  It cuts to the heart of something quite elemental, something we all long for.  Truth.  Authenticity.  We all long to know and be known, to be real and transparent with those we work with, those we serve with, those we live with.  But that ability to be real often eludes us.  It’s just scary, all this truth. I know this from my own experience on both sides of this equation, but we will get back to that.   

I got a Marco Polo video message a couple of weeks ago from a dear friend, one with whom I have a VERY transparent relationship.  She was not having a great day.  At all.  She was overwhelmed, exhausted.  Getting over being sick, my friend had one kid in a drama production which required almost nightly rehearsals, and one who needed immediately a prom dress altered, and for mom to purchase prom-worthy shoes, purse, and strapless bra.  My friend was struggling on her healthy eating plan, and was in her minivan on the way to what she called a Stepford Wife Church Ladies meeting.  The house she’d just left was a disaster, and her friend who was supposed to help her with said disaster had just bailed.  It was an especially crazy week, her husband inaccessible in an all-day work meeting. And to add to that, she hadn’t rinsed the shampoo all the way out of her hair, which was now resting like a greasy hot clump on her head (her words, not mine), she hadn’t shaved her left knee and ankle well enough, and was overall teetering on the brink of a meltdown. But, she told me, in this group of Stepford Wife Church Ladies you can’t do that, the whole meltdown thing.  This wasn’t a place for a let’s-get-real gut-honest talk, a place to air the frustrations or share what a rough day you’re having.  In this case, she and her greasy hot clump had to stroll regally into an Olive Garden where all at the table would pretend everything was okay.  When it was SO not.  She confessed, just before leaving her minivan, her overwhelming urge to mess up the Stepford Wives’ hair and make them do a mud run. 

No one wants to sit at that table at Olive Garden.  Especially when you’re fresh from a heaping helping of reality in the form of daily hard life stuff.  Perfection- or the illusion of acting like it’s all great- is inauthentic. And not at all welcoming or relatable.  My heart went out to my friend, her words and feelings resonating to my core.  I’ve been, as I said, on both sides of the equation   

You see, for years I put up a cardboard cutout of myself, and slipped quietly behind it.  Curled up into a ball, hiding behind my thin shiny veneer of normal and ok, I hoped and prayed no one noticed how flawed, how broken the girl behind the mask really was.  Hidden, fearful, turned in, focused on my tiny world that I tried with fervent desperation to control.  This state is the opposite of authentic, a million miles from real.  But it’s where I lived for many years.  Because I was afraid I wasn’t enough.  I was that Stepford Wife Church Lady.  I thought I had everyone fooled as I nearly killed myself striving to talk a good game, to act like I had it all together as a wife a mom, a professional, everything just so.  And nothing could be further from the truth.  Not that I was harboring a dark and ominous secret or I was a double agent with the CIA or anything, but hiding behind my cardboard cutout, my veneered mask, kept me from really being authentically me.  Kept me from showing my true face. So rather than be open with my lack of perfection (which made me an actual real girl not a short red haired Barbie doll), I put up the cardboard.  And I freaked out a bit when the life/work/kids/home/me I saw before me didn’t match up with the image in my head, the image I wanted to portray to those around me. So they would accept me.  So they would like me.  So they would think I was okay, too. 

And one day, many years back, a loving friend (one who had actually seen my true face) called me out on it.  One of the hardest conversations I’ve ever had.  Ever.  But that conversation changed my perspective, and ultimately changed the way I walked through life.  This difficult chat caused me to question some things about WHY I was choosing to live that way, hidden.  After all, who was impressing?  No one.  Who would be handing out my martyr points?  Again no one.  I was ridiculously distracted by my inward focus, sure that I was being judged on every side, when that couldn’t have been further from the truth.   

As I said before, telling the truth about your life is downright scary.  No matter what your life is.  It is a terrifying thing to put yourself out there, opening up to misunderstanding, to judgment, to criticism.  So much easier to hide.  And not everyone is going to be nice about it.  

 I have learned, however, over many years and many madness-inducing experiences, that real is so much better than faking Stepford Wife perfection.  So. Much. Better.  No one can keep up the facade, there is always a point where it starts to crumble.  And it is the most exhausting thing to try to patch the cracks and repaint the faded cardboard, all to no avail.  I’ve tried. And failed.  And disappointed myself a million times. 

 But here is truth.  People will love you for you (or not).  And they will love me for me (or not).  And they will want to know the real rather than the perfect.  Perfection (or the imagined facsimile thereof) is terrifying. 

 Knowing what I know now, I can’t be friends with perfect.  I just can’t.  Because it’s 1) intimidating and because 2) (as we’ve established) it’s not real.   

Walking in truth and authenticity holds vast power.  Telling true (but scary) stories of your struggles will ALWAYS speak more loudly than pretense. As I walk through this blogging life, I see more and more that the posts that garner the most response are those in which I share my authentic feelings and situations.  So I will live (and write) my truth out loud.  And love Jesus and other people right here in the mess of my imperfect, non-Stepford Wife Normal Girl Who Loves Jesus life.

Guilty until proven innocent: Accusations in the Lowe’s parking lot

I don’t know what upsets me more, being wrongly accused of doing something I didn’t do or being rightly accused of something I wish I hadn’t done.  Two sides of a slimy and icky-feeling coin.  Allow me to explain.
I was running errands in preparation for an influx of guests which were coming in a matter of days, and the final stop on my agenda was Lowe’s.  We needed mulch to fill in planters and some flowers to spruce things up a bit.  You know, the essentials.  I was driving my husband’s SUV for the occasion rather than my little sedan, so I could fit more mulch in the back.  I was extra careful as I parked in each space I encountered throughout the day, conscious of the way a larger vehicle handles, careful of the cars on either side.  I was at the end of my energy for the day, pain and fatigue starting to bloom around me rather than flowers, when I headed back to the SUV, full cart in tow, leaning on my cane.  Waiting by my vehicle was a gal in full-on Lulu Lemon yoga gear- hands on hips, clearly annoyed and impatient, vitriol flashing in her eyes.  Someone had clearly spilled her latte.   “Ma’am,” she barked, “would you mind telling me how this scrape got on my bumper?”
I paused, furtively glancing around to see who she was mad at.  I tentatively approached the back of our Toyota and pushed the button to swing up the back tailgate.
“Ma’am,” louder and more annoyed, “would you mind telling me how this scrape got on my bumper?”
When the words were repeated, I realized she was talking to me.  Yikes.
I looked over at Yoga Lady (who was clearly not in a Namaste state of mind), looked down at her driver side rear bumper, and saw immediately the aforementioned scrape, the same color paint as my car marking the beige of hers (who buys a beige car???).  Yikes again.
I was so careful when I parked.  I’m sure it wasn’t me.  I stammered a bit, “I’m 99.9% sure it wasn’t me, I would have left a note if I had hit you, ma’am.”
I put my innocent plants into the back of my car, one at a time, under her withering gaze.  She continued, her ire rising with her words, demanding: How I could be sure? Was that scrape there when I left my car? Would I stop what I was doing to look at MY front bumper to make sure I hadn’t just forgotten? I smiled. I obliged.  I walked to the front of our SUV.  Not a mark on it.  No beige (ugh) paint.  Miles between my vehicle and hers.  As I came back around to report my findings, Yoga Lady seemed to get larger and more annoyed.  She didn’t buy it, all my exonerating evidence.
I politely invited her to take a look at the front of my car as I continued to put my plants in the back.  She huffed to the front of my car, steam rising from her ears.  Nothing on my bumper.
Not a word to me, she came back to her own vehicle, her husband now joining her, further examining the wreckage.  It was clear to me that, despite my response, despite the evidince, I was still guilty in her eyes.  Her husband even said the vehicle that hit her would have some significant damage, and mine had none.  She was still mad, and I was the convenient target for her blame.  Accused.  Accused but innocent.  Not a great feeling.
I thought about her as I drove home with my SUV-full of plants (which are now happily at home in their beds and containers.)  And I though of the Accuser who actually has the evidence to back it up.  Icky-feeling.
I know I’ve blown it a million times in my life, a million ways.  And I am daily grateful for God’s forgiveness – daily in need of it – but when He forgives, He forgets.  My sins are remembered no more.  As far as the east is from the west.  In the bottom of the ocean.  He won’t bring it up again.
BUT.  There is one who does.  And he knows just what to remind me of, and just when to do it.
He hisses in my ear “remember who you used to be, no one will take you seriously.  remember that habit.  remember when you talked smack about her behind her back.  remember when you totally lost your temper with your daughter about scissors (sadly a true story).  remember you are broken and no one wants to hear from a broken voice.”  Harder to take because they used to be true.  And I wish I could forget.  Satan, the Accuser, has a bag of tricks, but they’re old tricks.
No one wants to be accused, whether the allegations are true or false.  Both leave me feeling unsettled, the Yoga Lady and the Accuser.  Both remind me of how imperfect I really am, how broken and prone to fail, but one is wrong and the other is defeated.
Revelation 12:10b-11 gives us hope: “For the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, he accuses them day and night before our God.  They have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony;”
Satan, that old liar, won’t win.  He will be thrown out and defeated through the blood of the Lamb, Jesus’ great sacrifice for us, and the bold word of their witness, the brothers (fellow believers) who speak up for us.
Let that truth seep into your heart today.  The accuser can say whatever he wants.  But he is defeated by our God.  And you are redeemed by our God.  Regardless of what Yoga Lady says.

Behind the Scenes: Preparation is Everything

A dream, dropped into the middle of a normal night, distinct enough to interrupt my thoughts, odd enough to wake me up, interesting enough to make me lie there in the middle of the night thinking, “That needs to be a blog post.”  

So here it is…

I became aware of being somewhere I didn’t recognize, surrounded by people I didn’t know, with a responsibility in my lap I neither wanted nor remembered consenting to.  

 I was, for reasons that may never be revealed, in an all-female production of Hamlet.  I was cast as Polonius.  And it was two hours before our opening performance.  Odd enough, yes.  But far worse:  I didn’t know my lines.  In this dream I had never attended a single rehearsal.  I hadn’t read Hamlet for more than 27 years (true fact).  This is NOT something you can bluff your way through, Hamlet.  Not even as a side character.  My dream self didn’t even own a copy of the play, and despite searching, couldn’t find one anywhere.  This is some of the meatiest, most challenging writing and acting in the English language.  And I was going to blow it on an epic scale.  Unprepared, uninstructed, and people waiting to see my performance.  I was no less that a colossal disappointment; I had let down my cast-mates and disappointed my director. 

Someone else would have to take my role and people would never see my unique interpretation of Polonius.  In an all-female production of Hamlet.  Honestly, I don’t know how many people in the real world would be disappointed to miss this opportunity, by any stretch of the imagination, but as I lay awake in my dark bedroom, heart pounding, my dream resonated in many ways. 

You see, I can’t stand the idea of being unprepared.  For anything.  Ever.  This is a central characteristic of my nature.  Hard wired into me.  From birth.  If anything, I over-prepare.  

 So being caught on my back foot in this dream situation was way beyond uncomfortable, all the way past disconcerting, disorienting.  I’ve learned to roll with unfamiliar places and new people, even new roles, but the piece of this where I don’t do my part threw me for a loop.  It stuck with me as I went back to sleep, and as I woke up knowing I needed to dig into this wacky night-time drama in my brain.  

As I pondered over coffee, a few things fell into sharper focus for me.  Walking out my faith, parallels to my dream emerge.  Bear with me, maybe there are some nuggets for you in the midst of all my crazy. Here are the lessons I’ve extracted:  

·         Being prepared isn’t just a broad concept, it’s a way of life.  As a Jesus-girl on a journey, I may not be Polonius, but I have my role to fill and I need to be ready to do it.

·         I need to know the play.  I need to dig into the Word every day, understanding not only my role, but what the Bible says about it, how I need to walk out my faith.

·         I need to know my lines. Not just mirroring what I read in the Word, but speaking life into the people around me.  Seeking the Director’s guidance when I need to have a challenging conversation, or when I need to reach out and bless my cast-mates.

·         I need to listen to the  Director.  I have to make sure I’m sitting with the Lord consistently to hear His direction, His next step, what I need to change and how He can help me improve in my performance of my role. 

·         I need to show up to rehearsal.  I need to be an active part of my spiritual family, which takes many forms: my church home, my online community, my small groups, my mentees. 

·         I need to support and be supported by my fellow cast-mates, reminding them of what the director wants, what their lines are, and having them remind me. 

·         I need to do the behind the scenes work (that is absolutely not glamorous) in order to be ready for my moment onstage.  I need to make sure I have my copy of the script close at hand for me to read, to study, to understand not only my lines but the way they fit with the rest of the characters and the overall plot and theme.  

·         I need to understand my role and my character, to do that I need to not only read the script and the stage directions, but also need to consult the Director, getting his vision of not only the play’s interpretation, but my character’s contribution, the timing of the action, the pace of the scenes, and where I need to walk, stand, sit, pause, or rush offstage. 

My role in God’s play is of eternal importance, much more so than any production of Hamlet (I played Ophelia once in a college production), and the lines are far more important to get right.  I don’t have to be perfect, but I do need to listen to the correction and direction of the Director.  His instructions will keep me in sync with the tone and feel of the play. Imagine how weird it would be if Polonius busted in during Hamlet’s To Be or Not To Be speech with a jaunty show tune. 

 I need the Director to keep me in my role and the rest of the cast fill their roles.  Trust the casting, people.  My role won’t look like yours, yours won’t look like mine.  We bring different skills to the table, but the play isn’t complete and doesn’t work without all the roles filled with the right actors.  the whole production suffers without the right cast.  

If I don’t show up, prepared by my knowledge of my lines from the script, prepared by the instruction and correction of my Director, ready to support and learn from the rest of the cast, then the world misses out on my unique piece and the whole production suffers.  Not because I’m awesome, but because the Director has set it up to be that way. 

I want to be prepared, ready for the moment I walk onstage.  I want my Director to be proud, I want my fellow actors to feel supported, and I want the audience to receive what they need from me and my small part of the drama.  All that preparation needs to take place beforehand, some of it so very solitary, reading memorizing, running lines, digging into deeper subtext.  some one-on-one with the Director, listening, asking questions, course correcting as needed, fixing what’s wrong with what I’m doing, sometimes taking this in a direction I would never expect my role would take me.  

I want to do this, to prepare, to listen, to support, not to disappoint.  I must make it a priority, scheduling this preparation into my time and my life, even before I know what the specific role will look like.  I have the script.  I know the director.  I will excitedly wait to meet my castmates. 

 

Receipts: Spending your resources, spending yourself

After a full morning of errand-running and busyness, the resulting bags and boxes hauled inside from the trunk of my car, I plop my purse down on the kitchen table, push aside this morning’s cold half-cup of coffee, and ease myself down into a chair.  Taking a deep breath, I relish a much-needed reprieve from the rush. I retrieve my cell phone from my open purse, meaning to text my daughter.  Said purse, tips over, resulting in a cascade of receipts that falls to the table: artifacts of where I’ve been for the morning, what I’ve spent my resources on.  

What a lineup, these papers.  My receipts that show the path I’ve traveled, the places I’ve stopped, the usefulness of my outing. One of my receipts shows I’ve bought food for my family, one shows a trip to Target.  Maybe a few not-totally necessary purchases there.  I browse through the pile.  Hmmm.  Practical stops are more prevalent that Starbucks breaks, so that’s good. This crumpled collection of paper outlines my spending: what’s of value and what isn’t, what will benefit my home, myself, my family, vs. the frivolous things I could be spending money on.  It’s a paper trail, quite literally. 

What if life was like that?  What if each activity I did during the course of my morning, my day, my week, my life came with a receipt?  Something concrete I could look at to gauge how productive I’d been, what impact I had on my family and loved ones, how I used my words, how I reached out to people around me in Kroger.  For me, I must admit that some day’s receipts would show the life-equivalent of hours spent buying and consuming cotton candy.  Ugh.  Scrolling through social media as my default time filler, bingeing on Netflix on a day I am perfectly capable of working in the house, writing, or having coffee with a friend: fluff.  Spinning my wheels on a project, procrastinating when I should just get it done: empty.  I cringe to think of the pile of receipts that I could be amassing, and what they would show about my life. 

 Here’s the thing.  I get one shot at this life.  So do you.  And we get to choose how we spend ourselves, how we spend our time, our energy, our resources.  Yes, many of us work full time, many have young families at home, many have both.  I realize (as a gal who was in that boat not so long ago) that not all of our time is your own, but think about the time you DO have.   God has made you steward of many things in this world.  Time is a big one.  God calls us to enact wisdom as we choose how to use our time.  

 Think about the receipts that would be generated by how you spend yourself.  A tangible reminder like that would definitely make me pause and think about the more God-honoring use of my most precious resource.  

Take inventory of your hours.  Where are your spending yourself?  Your time?  Your resources?  What will be on the pile of receipts that cascade out of your purse at the end of the day?  Make sure it’s worthwhile. 

 What would my receipts show?  What would yours show?  Are we redeeming our time?  Are we using it the best way?   

So teach us to number our days, that we may present to you a heart of wisdom.  Psalm 90:12

Conduct yourself with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Colossians 4:5

“Dost thou love life?  Then to not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of.” -Benjamin Franklin