Gardens and Suitcases

Ah, the blessings of an other-paced life.  I loved getting to see another new city last week as part of my “Tag Along with James on Business Trips Tour 2016.”  Oklahoma City was beautiful, lots to see and do, and the people were warm and friendly. One of the things I enjoy about these trips is being able to set my own (chronic fatigue syndrome-friendly) pace and organize my docket of activities during the day as my wonderful husband works hard.
Taking advantage of just such an opportunity on a warm and somewhat humid late spring morning, I strolled in (and sat in) the beautiful Myriad Botanical Gardens where I saw a most curious person.  A woman, probably slightly younger than I, was pulling 4 roller suitcases of varying sizes through the garden which occupies an entire city block downtown.  This  struck me as, well, unusual.
Most other people visiting the gardens that day (myself included) had a backpack at most, a handbag perhaps, not a full compliment of airport-worthy luggage.  But upon closer examination from my covert bench-in-the-shade vantage point I could see clearly that she was not a tourist, not a visitor admiring the amazing plantings and landscaping, but was in fact one encumbered by all her worldly possessions on this very warm June day, pulling them with her with great effort under the sunny sky.
We were both surrounded by this incredible beauty, yet she hardly seemed to notice it, so focused she was on the weight she carried, on making sure no one touched her things, on not letting go of a single item.  It was crucial to her, this baggage of hers, because it was hers.  It gave her security, knowing she had her stuff.  It was, I imagine, familiar and comforting to have all of these things, just in case. She would sometimes set one of the larger bags aside, seemingly weary of dragging it along, but would be back to retrieve it within minutes, having never let it out of her sight.
In so many ways I recognized myself in that woman, my own soul hauling behind me everywhere I go roller bags filled with not only my “stuff,” the material things I find to be so very important, but also the heart-burdens I bear, the things I JUST won’t let go of, the grudges or sadness or sickness, the things I allow to climb aboard for the ride that were never mine to pick up in the first place.
I’ve grown used to them.  They’re familiar, and oddly, comforting.  I don’t want anyone touching with them or interfering.  Because they’re mine.  But they weigh me down and make my trek through life so much harder and more laborious than it needs to be.  So much.
They keep me focused on maintaining my “stuff” rather than seeing all the good and beauty around me, nursing the familiar instead of taking awe in the spectacular.
“When we’re familiar with lugging our life around – a la living as a Soul Sherpa- it’s hard to trust in a lighter way.  It’s hard to trust God’s promises to us that might be able to change us if we do the disciplines of listening and letting go.”  Apt words from Leeana Tankersley in her latest book, Brazen.  You should order it now.  It’s great.  I’ll wait…
Glad you’re back.  I love the image of a Soul Sherpa; I read this passage from Brazen just hours after seeing the woman with her suitcases and it fell heavy on my mind and heart.  I needed this message, this image in many ways.  Jesus wants us to live in a lighter way, not weighed down with our past, our pain, all the thing we choose to carry because they’re ours, because they’re familiar, because we don’t realize we have a choice.  But, as Leeana writes, takes the discipline of listening and letting go. Which reminded me of a verse written thousands of years ago:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw of everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles us.  And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”   -Hebrews 12:1-2a
Let that roll through your mind again.
Throw off everything that hinders.  I have to ask myself: What am I carrying that is holding me back?  What weight could I just drop that would make going forward better? Easier?  Lighter?  That’s where the discipline of listening and letting go and start to take hold.  If you’re not honest with yourself, if you don’t really seek God about what needs to leave your suitcase, you will keep on carrying it.  And it will weigh you down, making you sweaty and tired without even breaking into a run. Throwing off what hinders is decisive.  It is an action.  A choice.
Sin that so easily entangles us.  Oh my.  It is too easy for me to get caught in the loop of past habits and past things (or for that matter new things) that pull me in a direction that is not God’s best.  Can I get an amen?  That keeps us from going forward. I picture these things wrapping themselves around my legs and tripping me up.  It takes time and, again, decisive action to unwrap these things so I can again set off on my forward track.
Run with perseverance.  Could I have run a race pulling 4 suitcases through the park?  No.  For many reasons.  Chief among them (even before joining the ranks of the chronically ill): I don’t run.  Not even in case of a zombie apocalypse.  But that’s another story.  The point is we keep going forward.  You don’t give up, you move on with determination.  You show up.  You give it your best.  And this is markedly easier when we lay down the burden we are carrying.  Again, decisive action.  You’re choosing to run.  Then to run some more.
The race marked out for us.  Ah.  I will not be running the same race as you.  And yours will not look like mine.  We are different, we are individual, we have different assignments, different gifts, and different challenges from God.  Just as I don’t need to be picking up and carrying roller bag suitcases that aren’t mine or soul burdens that don’t belong to me, I shouldn’t be swerving into your lane of the racetrack and trying to run your race.  It will cause nothing but trouble for us both.
Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.  I. LOVE. THIS. VERSE. One of my favorites over the past few years when I’ve walked (not run) through some really hard things.  Like the woman with her suitcases, I tend to keep my eyes focused on what I think I can control.  My baggage.  When that’s all I look at I miss what’s beautiful around me.  And I can miss the help that’s only a breath away.  But if my eyes are fixed on Jesus, the pioneer (who goes before me, blazing a trail) and perfecter (who fixes it when I blow it yet again) of faith, I don’t have to be so attached to my Soul Sherpa roller bags and I can indeed learn to live (and complete my race) lighter.
I wonder if the woman in the garden would just take a moment to take her eyes off the things she is determined to preserve, lay down that burden she is carrying, if she would be able to catch a glimpse of the gorgeous she’s meant to see.  I wonder if I would.

Qualifying the Unqualified

Hours spent with wheels spinning and getting NOWHERE, I have found myself so very stuck in the frenetic nothingness of frustration.  Awash in the irony of the situation, I am up to my ears in the extraneous trappings of trying to “be a writer” and I’m doing zero writing.  I’m spending time to learn how to do it better, how to build a platform, how to edit myself well, how to craft a book proposal, and then I’m getting sucked into setting up my professional Facebook page and getting so very lost in social media, how to add widgets and graphics to my shiny new blog site (this is NOT my forte), and how to create everything around this little party of mine.  Everything except the writing.  Is this what God call me to spend all of my time and myself on?  No!  He called me to put words on paper, real or virtual, and to share His work in me. 

Then the scary thought, the whisper of the accuser in the back of my mind: Or did He really call you? 

I am honestly second guessing myself like crazy and need to be talked off my ledge.  And as I view some of these articles, videos, etc., meant to prepare me for my first ever writers’ conference in July, I am frozen.  I feel like I have NO business doing this at all.  I have a TINY platform (people who follow my work).  I have no audience other than people who know me.  What makes me think I have ANY reach or ANY business doing this?  Did I mishear you, God?  As I wrestle through the muck of emotion and self-doubt it’s all I can do NOT to un-register myself from the conference, cancel my flights, and crawl under my covers with a box of tissues.  I feel as though I have nothing to add, it’s too early in my process to attend this kind of event, I have NO chance of getting a publishing deal since I haven’t gained traction anywhere else, and I am wasting our family’s resources by even thinking of going.  I have swallowed the lie of the one who would stop me from following God’s plan.  My heart whispers: I am unqualified. 

But.  My eye is drawn to a lovely art print hanging by my desk, a gift from a sweet and supportive friend, that says “God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called.”  A reminder I needed to drink into my soul today. God doesn’t expect me to be other than where I am.  He knows I don’t have all things (any things!!) ready for a national speaking stage platform and book tour.  Heh.  Not even close.  So that’s not where my next step will be.

Matthew 17:20b says “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed you can say to this mountain ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move.  Nothing will be impossible for you.”

Yes.  He will do what He will do with this mustard seed effort, these words in print or from my lips, these small steps of obedience on my part.  God will open the next door He wants me to walk through.  And the next.  My sweet husband reminded me, when I was crying on the phone to him about today’s aforementioned “talk me off the ledge” moment, that I need to have faith in the bigger plan and see where He takes me, where He takes my book, my blog, my speaking.  So what if I don’t get a publishing deal?  Who says I have to do that within 6 months of starting this in earnest? (The answer is no one, just another wacky unrealistic expectation I have in the carnival of my mind.) Those things don’t mean I’m unqualified for where God is taking me.  They mean I’m exactly where He needs me.  At the beginning.  Can you hear me exhale?  Whatever God wants will unfold His way with His timing. 

Oh my friends, I know God has a plan.  And it often doesn’t sync up with the pretty little picture in my brain.  But He has shown me again and again this year that I can put my trust, my complete faith, in His way even when I can’t see the end result, in His plan because it’s better than mine.   I am reminded often that He can do immeasurably more than anything I can ask or imagine because of His power at work within us (Colossians 3:20).  Nothing will be impossible. 

He’s called me to write.  If that means I need to prepare to “be a writer,” I will do all the things that necessitates as well.  But the writing is the central thing, the place I need to choose, the place I need to park myself in this season, growing as a writer and honing my craft.  Time at my computer NOT just working on the extra stuff, but just fingers on keyboard, watching where the words take me.    

My job: obey and write.  His job: the outcome.  I will endeavor not to confuse the two. 

Contemplations the week before Graduation…

I recently had the pleasure of have a few unexpected moments yarn shopping in Hobby Lobby with a dear friend.  As we wandered at a leisurely pace back to the needlework department, I glanced over to a section of home décor items, (how can you miss it, honestly?), seemingly for a nursery, and saw one that struck me.  “For this child I prayed.”  That’s what it said.  In beautiful script and soft colors it expressed the joy in Hannah’s heart when God granted Samuel to her after years of being unable to have a child.  I smiled, remembering how I prayed to have children in the years before God blessed us with our two, both of whom are now young adults. 

Thinking about that sign during the week, however, I almost want to go back and buy it.  Not because we are having a baby.  Oh no. And not even because I’m mourning my kids’ childhoods too quickly past.  Nope, I love having them in  my life at this age.   But that little sign resonates so deeply with me in this season because for our children I have prayed.   And prayed.  Over these children over all of their lifetimes.  And I know they’re not babies, and I’m NOT petitioning heaven for a new life in our home (not even a kitten or puppy, thank you very much) , but I am (and always have been) constantly petitioning heaven on behalf of these amazing people God sent to us. 

I prayed for them during my pregnancy and in anticipation of a safe delivery. 

I prayed for them when they were sick as babies, learning to walk and talk, learning to share (help me!), learning to make friends and adjusting to being in school. 

I prayed for them as they learned the excruciating lessons of junior high (which is seriously the most vile time of any person’s life.  Trust me on this, I’m a recovering middle school teacher). 

I prayed for them as they have struggled to decide who they are, tried on different versions of themselves, and had their hearts broken by others. 

I prayed for their path through high school to college.  And beyond. 

I prayed for their choices, for their safety, and for their protection from said less-than-optimal choices. 

For these children I prayed.  And prayed, and prayed. 

You’re never not a mom.  From the moment that first pregnancy test comes back positive or you get that call that the baby you’ve been praying for has been born and is ready for you to come and get him/her, you are all in.  And I will never NOT pray for my kids, even as they walk the paths of their own lives, their own way.  I won’t always agree with their choices, but I won’t pray for MY way.  I continue to pray for God’s way.

Our youngest graduates from high school in less than one week.  Seriously, I don’t know where the time has gone.  But as she goes forward, and as our son continues his path through college and career, I will continue to pray, trusting God’s plan and path are so far superior to my own controlling machinations, knowing He will use even the hardest things to bring good into their lives. 

These verses keep my focused on reaching up to God on behalf of my kids, their future, and their path. 

When they’re struggling:  As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: it will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.  Isaiah 55:10-11 (emphasis mine)

To remind me God isn’t finished with them yet:  He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. Philippians 1:6b

When I wonder if God hears me: The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. James 5:16b

To remind me to keep praying: So we must not get tired of doing good, for we will reap at the proper time if we don’t give up.  Galatians 6:9

To remind me that God can handle anything: Jesus answered them, “I assure you: If you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you tell this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ it will be done.”

Sometimes praying for our children is all we CAN do.  Sometimes it’s all we NEED to do. And it’s always the best thing we can do.

Letting the Mask Slip

I am good at maintaining the image that I have it all together.  I can do “pulled together and competent” all day long.

I, throughout my adult life, have crafted a shiny veneer that looked pretty good.  I dressed pretty well, didn’t go out of the house without having hair and makeup at least sort of done, kept my house at a certain level of clean and decorated appropriate to the season/holiday at hand (when was a slight chance people who don’t live there might see it), kept all the plates of life spinning in an organized fashion as dictated by my cute day planner, and was able to keep up the façade that I could handle all things ever.  I talked a good game, and often I bought it myself. 

Even as I did that tap-dance, transparency was not something I did with most people.  I liked “fine, thank you very much” mask that I wore most of the time, and aside from a few select people, that’s what most people got to see.  Was I fake?  No, because I really am blessed and a generally happy person.  Was I guarded?  Yes.  Was I reluctant to allow people to see the mess “behind the curtain?”  Oh. Yes.  Because that’s a scary and vulnerable place in the middle of my mess. 

I wandered closer to the edge of “realness” in the past few years, gradually opening up my life a bit, but still a bit unenthusiastic to really let the mask slip, so to speak.  And then I got sick.  And it changed everything. 

I can tell you, when the rug gets pulled out from under your whole life, you tend to re-examine a bit.  And it became abundantly clear that I DON’T have it all together, I CAN’T just handle everything, I’m NOT perfect (not that I or any of the people who live with me thought I was), and it’s really okay.  It took being pushed into a big place of humility to be okay sharing my struggles.  And share I have.    

As I’ve worked on setting up this new website and migrating my blog to this new shiny space, I looked at posts that were written before my illness.  Without hesitation I decided to leave them where they were.  Reading those showed me how far my heart has come from those days.  Everything was awesome in my early blogs, and I was annoyingly chipper about many things (my retroactive apologies), but I didn’t share much of what was hard in what was real. 

Since I became sick last spring I have felt the burden to blog about what I was encountering, but more importantly, what God was doing in and through my life.  And to do that I had to take off the mask.  I had to be honest about my fears, my hesitation, my sadness, my frustration, my confusion.  And you all blessed and encouraged me beyond what I would have ever thought or imagined.  Turns out people appreciate the messy real person that is me much more than the “superwoman” façade.  Thanks for that. 

In this year long process of breaking down and rebuilding, I have shifted my focus, opened my heart, and listened to what God was saying.  He had to stop me cold in my tracks before I would be ready to take a step on the path He was preparing for me, a path toward a life-long dream.  And here’s the step: I wrote a book.  Labored over with love these past months, started as a gift for my daughter’s high school graduation, this couldn’t have been written in the not-so-distant past, largely because I wouldn’t have been so open with my considerable faults and failures.  I wouldn’t have been able to trust my readers with some really hard personal stories, and would have probably just come off as preachy. 

Though this process of becoming more transparent has been a challenge for me, I encourage you to let the mask slip.  It’s scary, it’s really uncomfortable, it’s vulnerable and can make you wonder how people will receive it.  But it’s worth it.  When you aren’t so concerned with keeping up the appearances, you can be open to what God has for your next steps.

One year…

A year ago I was, unbeknownst to me, in the final week of my career at Wells Fargo Insurance.  I would spend the coming weekend in the hospital, and eventually be diagnosed with an illness that would change everything about how I did life.  Everything.  I never saw it coming.

As I look back at the past year, it is with some sadness, still, over what was lost, but also with great hope and anticipation.  Really!   As I look back I see a rough road that I walked, a lot of stillness, God’s great faithfulness, and a lot of work and attitude adjustment on my part.

I’m always amazed at the ways God connects what I’m experiencing with his Word.  I recently read a devotion about the Sabbath.  Not just the day of rest given every week, but the Sabbath year God gave to the Israelites as they were entering Canaan.   Take a look at this:

Leviticus 25: 3-7

“When you enter the land I am going to give you, the land itself must observe a Sabbath to the LORD.  For six years sow your fields, and for six years prune your vineyards and gather their crops.  But in the seventh year the land is to have a year of Sabbath rest, a Sabbath to the LORD.  Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards.  Do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the grapes of your untended vines.  The land is to have a year of rest.  Whatever the land yields during the Sabbath year will be food for you- for yourself, your male and female servants, and the hired worker and temporary resident who live among you, as well as for your livestock and the wild animals in your land.  Whatever the land produces may be eaten.”

After working hard in their fields for 6 years, they were to take a year to let their land lie fallow, not raising any crops, so the land could be more productive.  Just like taking a Sabbath day every week was designed to do for them.  They were to rest from their labor in the field- and allow the land to rest- to prepare for what was coming next.

Did they request this year?  No.  God gave it to them in His wisdom.  I imagine the whole idea was pretty scary, not raising food for an entire year.  When given this rule they must have wondered what they would eat.  But they had to rely fully on His provision; His plan was to grow their faith and to show His faithfulness.  And He did provide.

This Sabbath year was probably (at least initially) uncomfortable, odd to them.  Out of their routine and their familiar rhythm.  Out of their self-sufficient comfort zone.  This was a “Sabbath unto the LORD,” realigning their attention from themselves to what HE was doing.  Which is just where God wanted them.

Well.  This has very clearly been my Sabbath year.  My illness and eventual diagnosis necessitated rest that I didn’t ask for but desperately needed, total change of lifestyle for my whole family, and learning a more complete dependence on God.  Being still and waiting is against my very nature and miles away from my comfort zone. But waiting is not wasted with God.  This waiting was designed, much like the Israelites’ Sabbath year, to grow my faith and show His faithfulness.

Look back at the passage from Leviticus- “Whatever the land yields during the Sabbath year will be food for you.”  The things that have come through this time have definitely fed me.  I wasn’t out working, planting, sowing, tending, harvesting, and yet He has provided over and over again, physically, emotionally, financially, mentally, and spiritually. And much like the experience of the Israelites, this has been a “Sabbath unto the LORD,” realigning my attention from myself to what HE is doing.  I’ve felt so many times that I was accomplishing nothing (again SO not part of my nature!).  Now I can see that God has been accomplishing something.  He has been preparing the fields, after they’ve rested, for a new purpose, having now fed His wandering daughter on what “grew on its own.”

After this post, you will see my blog on a different site.  God is doing something here and I am eager to see what it looks like.  In this Sabbath year of preparation and rest He has led me to pursue writing and speaking (as health permits) in a more purposeful way, sharing what He is teaching me from the perspective of being a fellow traveler, not one who as arrived.

Adjusting my Lens (4/2/2016)

Have you ever flip-flopped between two extreme emotions in the space of a breath?  If you haven’t, I’m jealous and want to know your secret, but in the meantime I invite you to take a moment to peek into my crazy.  If you have, you should identify a bit with what I’m writing here.

 

Often I love social media.  Sometimes I hate it.  And that can change in a heartbeat.  It’s a double-edged sword for me and, I suspect, many, many other women.

I love the connections I have made and rekindled because of Facebook, the old friends from across the country I see almost daily, getting a glimpse into their lives and their families.  I am truly blessed by the encouragement I have received through this medium during this hard (and often very isolated) year of health issues and the loss of my dad.  I deeply appreciate the spiritual insights found in the posts of bloggers and ministries I follow.  I love that I can encourage and pray for friends and family members as they genuinely share their struggles or heartbreaks.  I look forward to the community interaction I have with women across the country who participate in an online Bible study I joined.  I love that it’s a platform on which I can share my random musings through my blog.  I love Facebook.

But.  This same source of encouragement and blessing can bring me to a place of unexpected, irrational knots in my stomach.  And that inexplicable dissatisfied feeling deep inside.  And occasionally tears.  I can be happily scrolling along and see freshly posted pictures of a group of people I know, all doing something fabulous together without me.  Or events I haven’t been invited to join.  Or pictures of holidays that look nothing like mine.  Or things they’re doing that I can’t do. And it all crashes down.  I hate Facebook.  And I hate that it brings this out in me.

Again, I was happy until I saw these things, but holding my life up to this lens, I find parts of it wanting.  I’m sure we’ve all been there.  But why?  Realizing this is an irrational response, I truly want to dig past the snarls of tangled emotion to the root, the cause of my gut reaction.

Honestly, my life is pretty great.  More than great.  Please don’t misunderstand me: I am not saying people shouldn’t post pictures of these kinds of things, recording the fun events of life.  I do it myself.  This issue is not with the people OR the pictures.   It’s with my view of the world, my lens, not the fun my friends are having.  Here’s the core of it:  to quote my dear friend and prayer partner of nearly 12 years, Dana Phillips, “Comparison kills contentment.”  So. True.  I’m comparing what I have – and love- to what I see on Facebook.  Yep, maturity abounding here.

However, (I am reminding myself, here, not just you) the lens of social media is a distorted one.  No one posts pictures of their messy laundry room, themselves sitting at home alone in yoga pants watching The Good Wife, or having a “spirited discussion” with one of their people who live with them.

We often see the best and happiest moments, without the pain that is an inevitable part of life.  Without the mess, the frustration, the loneliness.  The perfection that is so prevalent on Facebook and Pinterest (my two sites of choice) is, like all “perfection,” an illusion at best and a toxic lie at worst.

As I look at something a friend has or is doing, I have to ask myself, do I want everything that goes along with it?  Without even peeking behind the curtain of the smiles and beautiful pictures, I can say the answer is invariably, “No.”  I will take my own burdens, thank you very much, and my own joys. (There’s a glimpse of returning sanity!)  I am working on the contentment part.  And trying to see through the social media lens more realistically.

The apostle Paul knew a thing or two about this, having a life that was far from photo-friendly.  He wrote from prison and in deep want, in loneliness and pain, and often under threat of injury or arrest.

Here are just a couple of examples:

But godliness with contentment is great gain.  I Timothy 6:6

I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. Philippians 4:11b

If he could find godly contentment in his circumstances, surely I can.  Finding that contentment can make me less prone to flip-flop, less likely to take a seat on that emotional roller coaster of mine.  Contentment will remind me that my messy-beautiful life is so much more than what someone would see on Facebook.  And so is everyone else’s.  I have really come a long way toward learning these lessons in the past year, being open and accepting of what God has for me, content with where I am. I will continue to adjust my lens, refocus and recognize the blessing that is everywhere. But I still clearly have a long way to go.

Resurrection Sunday (3/26/2016)

I have been a bit down all day yesterday and today, struggling to put my finger on why.  And then I realized.  Tomorrow, Easter Sunday, will be the first time my extended family, my mom, local brothers and sister-in-law, niece, and nephew, has been together since my Dad’s funeral on December 30.  It will also be the first family gathering at my home since Dad’s passing. One of a calendar full of “the first time without Dad” moments and events.

It still seems surreal that he isn’t with us.  When asked today what we were doing for Easter Sunday, I caught myself telling my sister-in-law that my parents were coming.  It was like a weight was crushing down on my chest when I realized what I said.

Our table will be full tomorrow, thanks to lots of family and my niece’s and daughter’s boyfriends, all the chairs taken, but there will be a gaping space in my heart.

 

In preparation for tomorrow’s dinner, I decided to keep things really simple, just use paper plates, napkins, cups, disposable silverware.  Made a special trip to target to get something I liked.  But as I looked at the unopened packages on my dining room table, I stopped.  I couldn’t do it.  Paper was not enough.  Somehow it felt wrong.

Let me be clear, this is not about impressing anyone, and I’m all for simple and easy, something I’ve learned well over this past year of chronic illness.  But no.  Paper wasn’t…honoring.

Here’s the thing.  Easter has always been a holiday near and dear to my heart, for many reasons.  But it rings stronger, pulls deeper within me this year than others past.  Easter is hope of resurrection, life eternal, because of what happened that Sunday morning all those years ago.  And because of that hope, the hope to which I cling and the hope my Dad had, I can KNOW that I will see him again.  I can KNOW that he is with Jesus, celebrating Easter like never before in his Wranglers, cowboy boots, and suspenders.

So to honor that, to honor my King and to honor my Dad who is with him, I lay out my simple/beautiful white china.  And cloth napkins.  And silverware that won’t be in the trash by 4pm tomorrow.  I honor what Easter is, Who it is, and the difference it makes.  I miss my Dad.  I will the rest of my life, I’m sure.   But I know he’s saving a seat for me at the banquet table.

It is by His great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead.

I Peter 1:3

Fresh Eyes (3/25/2016)

It started out as a routine Sunday morning.  I woke up slightly earlier than I wanted to because that’s just the way it is, I rolled out of bed, made coffee, read a bit, made breakfast and ate with my husband while our young adults still slept.  Grateful for a later church service time, I went upstairs to do my usual yoga and take a shower (it was a hair washing/blowout day, so I had to factor in a lot more time for this process.  Can I get an amen?), and as I was moving through my routine I remembered with some excitement that it was the day I could put in a new set of contact lenses.  We have to take joy in the little things, people.

My contacts are monthly use multi-focal lenses, you see, and I love them.  They serve me well, but by the end of their 30-day life cycle, they start to become a little bit uncomfortable.  My eyes start to bother me.  The lenses don’t work as well as the month marches on, especially for reading, and I get annoyed on an unconscious level with the blurriness of my world.

It occurred to me as I was putting in my exciting new lenses: it was almost like getting a fresh pair of eyes every month.  Fresh view of the world, fresh perspective, new clarity, lifting of the weariness and discomfort I was feeling.

A fresh pair of eyes.  Oh, how I need this in my spirit as well as in my body.  What if there was a new way to see my world, see my people, see my ministry, see my place in this wonderful madness of life?  What if I look upon what is around me with fresh eyes, refracted through the lens of God’s work and Word in my life, His Spirit guiding me, Jesus’ love and grace as my example?

Perhaps then I would feel the weight and weariness of carrying regret, or jealousy, or a grudge lift away.  New clarity for my path and in my relationships.  Fresh perspective on issues that challenge me.  A fresh view of the world and how I fit into it.  And how God can change it through me.  With fresh eyes, I could perhaps shed that layer of unconscious annoyance, with the blurriness in my world clarified by a better perspective.  Think of what it could mean, fresh eyes.  A new perspective.

Where, though, can I get this?  It’s not like going to my optometrist and getting a new prescription, or going on the 1-800-CONTACTS website and ordering new boxes of lenses.  In truth t’s simple, though not easy:  I need to seek more time in God’s presence to see through His lens, more time in His word to bring my heart and my view in alignment with His heart, asking for His view, His focus.

Speaking to Ezekiel the prophet, God tells His people, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”  (Ezekiel 36:26)  When I go to God and seek a new perspective, He will happily, lovingly grant it to me.

 

But just like changing my contacts, changing my perspective is a choice.  I could decide to keep right on wearing the same pair of lenses, month after month, increasing my discomfort and the distortion through which I view the world.  I could continue to wear them, risking infection and, potentially, lasting damage to my vision.

By the same token, I could continue to view the world, the circumstances, and the people around me the same way, and become less and less satisfied with what I see.  I could choose that, thinking all the while, “Why should I change?  I’ve been fine with this way of seeing all along!  I’m comfortable.”  Even though I’m not.

I have to intentionally take the contacts I’ve worn for a month out of my eyes, walk to the small waste basket in my bathroom, and throw them out.

I have to surrender seeing things my way, the old way, through my tired lenses. And surrender is intentional.  I have to CHOOSE to take on God’s lens through which to view others, view hard situations, view His people, view circumstances.  I must deliberately throw those “lenses” in the trash.  And leave them there.

I would NEVER pull old contacts out of the trash and put them back into my eyes just because I was more accustomed to them.  I don’t even want to think about the infection that would cause.

Neither should I retrieve my old way of seeing someone or something, the way without God’s influence and grace, and put it back into my life, back to the familiar.  Think about how that would be toxic, damaging to my heart and my relationships.  Detrimental to my growth.

But isn’t that easier said than done?  I know I have often drifted back into old habits, old ways of seeing the world, even though the new ways were better.  It takes deliberate choice to change, and it takes deliberate choice to NOT return to the old way of seeing things.

Seeing through a new lens isn’t just intentional surrender, it’s ongoing surrender.

Fresh eyes.  And a renewed heart.  Thank God for contact lenses that help me see.  And thank God for His lenses that help me see His way..

Focus: Choosing where to Gaze (3/19/2016)

I recently heard a Christian speaker and writer, Karen Ehman, say that you can choose where you glance and where you gaze.  This really resonated with me, this description of choosing your focus in life. So let me share a story.

I used to hike.  A lot.  My husband and I went on some grand and somewhat hard-core adventures a few years back.  We enjoyed many beautiful high-altitude day hikes/climbs together in Desolation Wilderness near Lake Tahoe and in Yosemite, eventually ascending the top of Half Dome.  Yep.  I did that.  Wasn’t my natural habitat, but it was glorious to be out in nature and doing something out of my comfort zone with my beloved.

However, I as recently recalled, when I first started doing some of these more challenging hikes, my tendency was to keep my eyes glued to the trail.  The rocky, unpredictable, steeply ascending path was fraught with potential rolled ankles and falls (in my then-inexperienced hiker brain), so I would spend literally hours looking down.  Making sure I was stepping where I needed to, fueled by fear of a misstep or of hurting myself in some way or hurtling off a cliff.

In all of these excursions I followed my more-experienced hiker/Eagle Scout husband and watched where he was stepping, doing my best to do what he was doing.  All the while asking myself why was this something people did with their time.

On one of many quick breathers/water breaks on one particularly hot California-in-July afternoon, I took a moment to look up.  And I was amazed.  The scenery around me was truly breathtaking.  Soaring pine trees, sheer granite, brilliant sunshine in lacy patterns filtered through tree branches.  None of which I had seen while staring intently at dirt and rocks.

All day I had I followed my guide, but didn’t see the beauty around me.  I labored along, without the joy of the journey.  I chose to gaze where I should have glanced. I don’t mean I should NEVER look at where I’m putting my feet, that would be dangerous and foolhardy, but neither should I do that exclusively and miss all the grandeur of my surroundings.

Glance at the dirt, gaze at the majesty of God’s creation: the lesson allowed me to truly LOVE hiking.

But isn’t it easy to do that in life?  We slog through our days, doing our best to follow Jesus, but our gaze is fixed on the ground, on the hard things in life, rather than the beautiful things with which God surrounds us.  But we have a choice.  We just have to choose to look up. And be amazed.

Even on the rockiest path, there is beauty and blessing to be found.   Glance at the hard things,  as we have to keep moving on, and gaze at the splendor God is putting in your life.

Sometimes, though, we don’t feel like we have a choice, that we are forced into our focus.  My sweet 87-year-old mom shared an experience with me recently.  She described a very elderly woman who came into a restaurant with a couple of her friends helping her.  She said this poor woman’s spine was so bent that her shoulders and head were practically a right angle from her torso, forcing her to look at the floor at all times.  The woman was not able to raise her head to look around her, and had to rely on her friends to get her to the table.

Have you ever felt stuck in your focus, unable to see anything but the dirt, the hard things in life?  Let me tell you, I have felt EXACTLY that way.  The woman in the restaurant physically had no choice but to gaze at her feet, at the ground, but sometimes I can feel so trapped in the overwhelming nature of the tough things of life, of my disappointment, of my pain, of my sadness, that I feel unable to look up, without a choice of where to focus, as though I can’t even begin to glance and see the good.

Psalm 121: 1-2 says “I lift up my eyes to the hills- where does my help come from?  My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.”

When you are oh-so-stuck, can’t seem to get your eyes off the dirt and rocks, don’t miss it.  Don’t miss the opportunity for the Maker of heaven and earth to show you more.  There is so much more that He has for you than the path, rocky as it is.  He is your help.  He surrounds us with beauty in the pain, we just have to look up.

Lift up your eyes; don’t give up.  Choose, as Karen Ehman writes, where to glance and where to gaze.

Taking the Leap: A February 29 Challenge

Waking up predawn today I found a train of thought lurching around my brain that I knew I’d have to let out today.  So here goes.  Leap year has always fascinated me on a couple of fronts.  First, it extended my birthday month by a whole day, so as a kid I thought that was cool.  Second,  I felt so sorry for people who were born on February 29, because they only got to have a birthday once every four years and couldn’t grow up very fast.  Until I met someone who was born on February 29 who patiently explained the got a year older EVERY year, had a birthday party EVERY year, and usually had an extra special celebration on leap years.  Again, I was a kid.

And I digress, this isn’t the topic of my blog or my insistent train of thought that pulled me out of sleep.

I have passed much of my adult life wishing I had more time, thinking that if only I had more hours in the day I would…you fill in in the blank.  I am certain, in the busy times that envelop us all, that most of those who are good enough to read my words experience the same thoughts.  So I ask myself (and you), what would you do with an extra day, with one day more, with a bonus 24 hours, with a true extra Leap Year Day?  Imagine you had 24 hours with no one else’s expectations, schedules, or any responsibilities.  What would you do?

Would you rest your body, mind, and soul, and pamper yourself, weary from life and all its demands?  Would you work on something that is your heart’s passion, losing all track of time because you are fully immersed in what gives your soul joy?  Would you spend every moment with someone dear to you, in conversation or just companionship, having that time to simply be with them that you never get because of life’s crazy pace?  Would you lose yourself in a great book?  Would you organize every space and thing in your home, clean out the old to prepare for a fresh start?  These are some of the things that came to my mind.  If I had 24 hours I would…

But you have 24 hours.  Every day.  Granted, it’s NOT free of commitments, work, and demands, but you get the same allotment every day.  So I challenge myself here, what am I spending my precious days on, this time I will never get back?  If I would do XYZ with 24 free hours, why aren’t I spending my days (and therefore my life) doing it right now?   If a relationship is important, I need to make it a priority, even if it just means shooting a quick text or email to the person I love.  If my heart’s passion is important, why don’t I carve out time to sit and write every day?  If caring for my body is important, why wouldn’t I do that in order to continue to make the most of my health?  If growing in my relationship with God is important to me, why wouldn’t I set aside even some small time every day to sit with Him and be quiet?

Simple answer: the tyranny of the urgent often trumps the truly important in our lives.  I’m as guilty as anyone else of this.  This condition of being bossed around by the urgent things in life conspires with the trivialities that can crowd every open second, the sheer noise of technology that permeates our society and every inch of our homes (mine included).  And so our days are not spent as we want our lives to be spent.

A movie scene shimmers in the back of my mind as I ruminate on these things.  Robin Williams leaning into a group of fresh faced 1950’s prep school boys looking at pictures of the past, whispering “Carpe diem!  Seize the day, boys!”  This still gives me chills.  He’s urging his young students to realize that today is the only guarantee we have, truly, and this sentiment, this Carpe Diem clarion, resonated deeply with my college student heart when I first saw the film in theaters.  (Disclaimer: if you have negative opinions of Dead Poet’s Society, you are free as an American citizen to have them, but please don’t share them with me as that’s what inspired me to be an English teacher.  Please and thank you). Williams’ character, Mr. Keating, urged his students to truly live life to the fullest, referencing one of my favorite quotes from Walden by Henry David Thoreau:

“I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately, I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, To put to rout all that was not life and not when I had come to die Discover that I had not lived.”

Focusing on the important over the urgent is hard.  Really hard.  Urgent is loud and shiny and often necessary, but it shouldn’t completely rule our lives.  If I let days, weeks, years slip by, what will I regret?  What will I feel as though I missed?  I am determined not to live a life of regret and am working hard to focus on what I can do, small steps every day, to use my 24 hours fully, to NOT get to death only to discover I haven’t lived. If we want to live deeply, as we would in that “extra day” promise of leap year, we must choose to do so in the here and now.  It is intentional and daily, this choice.  I’m getting better at some of these things.   Do I still watch reruns of The Good Wife while knitting on the couch?  Yep.  Is that “sucking the marrow out of life?”  Nope.  But I am getting better at choosing, “putting to rout all that is not life,” filling this limited precious time, this 24 hours I get every day with the things that matter most.

I invite you to join me in Taking the Leap, in choosing the journey to seizing the day, and intentionally living to the full.

“How we spend our days, of course, is how we spend our lives,” -Annie Dillard

“Teach us to realize the brevity of life that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90:12, NLT