Thursday, March 31, 2005

But On The Other Hand...


In my last post I mentioned how I, too, will probably never get to Paris or Rome.

And yet...Who knows? Perhaps I will.

While cleaning house one Spring day in 1999, a thought from the clear blue sky floated down inside my head. This thought said, "You will probably never get to visit Washington D.C. before you die. How do you feel about that?" I thought, "Well, I guess I can accept that."

(Strange, huh?)

And yet that very summer Tom and I, in an amazing turn of events, found ourselves riding a magical bus tour through Washington D.C. Oh my, we loved every minute. I cried at the Lincoln Memorial (couldn't help it) and we floated through the Smithsonian, the one which holds neato stuff like Fonzie's jacket, Archie Bunker's chair and George Washington's tent. We still consider that vacation our very favorite one.

And that same year I began often repeating the phrase, "Never say never!"

I think I look at this verse a little differently than most people:

"Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart." Psalm 37:4

To me that says, "Keep God as your number one desire, and then He will put into your heart the other desires He thinks you should have."

God-given desires get fulfilled. God would be totally unfair, unjust and unkind if He did not fulfill desires He gave me in the first place.

My job, then, becomes to never lose hope...or faith...or trust.

I have found my friendship with God is the answer to my every dream, wish or prayer. I can trust Him to meet all my basic needs and so anything else is just a cherry on top. So now it's easy (well, easier) for me to want only what God wants for me--I've seen by experience that He knows me best and knows exactly--exactly--the friends and places and trinkets I will love most.

So again, who knows? Maybe I will get to Paris or Rome someday. But I'll leave it up to God.

In the meantime, He will remain my number one need. And He will always be enough.

***

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

So We Never Got to Paris


That is the title of one of my all-time favorite Out of the Grey songs. (Please tell me you are familiar with the group, Out of the Grey!)

I heard this song today--first time in probably two years--and just had to share it with you. I do wish you could hear the music, too, because it sharpens the words into little arrows which pierce your heart. ***Special Note*** Alas! You can listen to this song here.

Young lovers without much
Save each other
Isn't that enough?
Paint the future a little day by day
Making plans with no regard for what may come our way

This cup fills up so quickly
There's so much on our plate
Between the living and the learning
Some things must wait

So we never got to Paris
And found the cafe of our dreams
But our table holds a whole world of memories
No, we never went to Venice
And strolled the streets alone
But we built our worlds together and got the best of both.

There's still wonder in our eyes
But we see each other in a different light
Yet the future isn't always clear
Now the question is where do we go from here?

This cup fills up so quickly
There's so much on our plate
Between the living and the dying
Some things must wait

We may never get to Paris
And find the cafe of our dreams
But our table still will hold a whole world of memories
If we never get to Venice
And roam the streets alone
We'll hold our worlds together and we'll keep the best of both.
***

This is one of those songs... you know... that brings tears of gratitude to my eyes every time I hear it. And it's funny because for years and years I wanted to go to both Paris and Rome, but now, well, I know I could never love them as much as I love the home God has given me. Oh, not just the wooden structure, but the world Tom and I have built within that home.

I love those tears of gratitude--they spill from a very full heart. They used to flood my eyes on ordinary afternoons around the house only once or twice a year. Lately they've come once or twice a week.

Now I'm aiming for once or twice a day.


***


"Gratitude is the most exquisite form of courtesy." ...Jacques Maritain

***

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Well, What Did You Expect?


Warning: Some people of the negative-minded persuasion may experience uncomfortable sensations as they enter what may appear to them as The Pollyanna Zone below.

"Be it done unto you even as you believed..." Matthew 8:13

It amazes me how some people (yeah, sometimes me included) expect some days to be bad before they even start.

Or we expect someone to act a certain negative way based on their past ways of reacting.

Or we expect appliances to break down--and they do.... or things to go downhill--and they go rolling downhill, etc...

These past few years I've tried watching what I'm believing for. It's so much better to believe for good things--to believe for things to go right, rather than for them to go wrong.

Okay, some things still go wrong even after I believed for them to go right. But like my favorite teacher says, "I'd rather believe for something good and get half of it, than believe for something bad and get all of it."

My words have power, so I want to choose them wisely. What I believe has power,too, so I want to believe carefully. For years I've practiced believing for a good life and mostly, that's what I've been getting. Even when things aren't so good on the outside, it amazes me how they can still be good on the inside. Living with God, Himself, on the inside can be like that.

Again, "Be it done unto you, even as you believe."

Today I am believing I'll have a terrific time with joint compound on the walls of my new room upstairs. I'm believing I'll enjoy the feeling of healing those hole-infested walls as I soothe them by rubbing on the creamy compound. And then I'll stand back and enjoy the work of my hands.

I'm expecting the sun to come out this afternoon like the weather guy said it would...

I'm expecting that God will whisper some things in my ear which will make me smile...

What are you believing for today?

(Really, I'd like to know...)

***

Monday, March 28, 2005

A Trap Called Guilt


It's weird. When I first became a Christian, I had no trouble handing over all my previous sins and guilt over to God. I had no problem receiving forgiveness because of (or through) Jesus' sacrifice for me.

But afterward....huh. For years when I would sin or make mistakes or however you want to put it, I would hold onto the guilt like it was holy or something. Like I deserved to feel guilty for weeks because of what I'd done.

Oh, think you've never done that? ....Hmmmm?

Have you ever done something which you, afterward, knew darn well was wrong, so then you asked forgiveness, but then you asked for something else too--a sort of a deal which goes a little like this: "Lord, if you'll just forgive me one more time, I'll spend the next two days doing kind things for people. And I'll be extra-nice to my husband, too."

Good grief. I used to do that all the time, never realizing it was a downright insult to God. I mean, here He'd gone and sent His son to die for me, yet I was still, thousands of years later, making my own sacrifices for my own sins. Still paying for the ones I committed most often.

I didn't realize that either Jesus' sacrifice on the cross was enough--or it wasn't. I didn't realize that I'd become proficient at turning conviction from God into ugly, bat-over-the-head condemnation.

Guilt, the walking-around-and-feeling-bad-about-yourself kind, is a trap. Not only does it make me feel shameful when I'm around other Christians who appear to be more holy than I am, but it tempts me to avoid God. It causes me to spend time hiding from Him (as if I could) because of an innate embarrassment. When I hold onto guilt instead of letting it go, I become extremely sin-conscious instead of new-life-conscious.

That kind of guilt is like quicksand. If I'm to become like Jesus, I must spend time with Him. Listen to His voice. Get to know Him for myself. Yet if I'm stuck in the quicksand of guilt--avoiding Him because of my sins or trying to pay for them--then
I'll not grow, just as fruit cannot grow when it's not receiving life-giving sap from the tree.

Well, anyway...that is what I've found.

My whole life changed when I finally learned to run to God when I had sinned--instead of running away from Him by trying to pay for my badness myself. I still mess up every single day, yet Jesus and I still have a great time together each day. And I'm growing now, especially since Grace arrived to help me around my house--and around my heart.

The three of us are having one terrific time.

***
"But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanses us from all sin." ... I John 1:7

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Easter Around My House


I've spent days playing in my new room upstairs. I've been spackling my daughter's former walls to make them look textured instead of as though they barely made it through the war in London long ago. They are plaster walls with huge holes in them because for 12 years we allowed Naomi to be as creative as she wished in her own room.

In middle school she papered her room with plastic sheets of basketball cards.


During high school and college she stapled (yes stapled) a variety of 1960's fabrics to the walls, turning them into swirls at the ceiling. I asked her to remove the nails and staples before she moved away--now there are silver dollar-sized chunks of plaster missing--and ok--a couple places with holes the size of saucers.

But as I'm spackling over every inch of these walls and making them look new again, especially after brushing on paint, I'm not regretting one minute of Naomi's creativity. We always encouraged her to use what she had in the most useful and colorful way possible. I wanted to free her artist's soul as mine had rarely been allowed to fly.

So I've been tipsy in paint fumes, even though the three sun-facing windows are opened a bit and I have two fans blowing. And I've been spending the days upstairs with the Seavers who I have captured on six thinning old videos of Growing Pains.

Truth is, I've been so happy that my heart wakes me up every hour at night asking, "Is it time to get up yet and play in your new room?"

Some people think I must certainly be wimpering or lonely these early days of my Empty Nest, but I am neither. Even with Tom working his usual 12-hour shifts I run out of hours before I run out of things to do--and before I run out of happiness, too.

Jesus, Himself, is helping this aging lady lift her paint brush with every stroke and we are having the time of our lives with the opened windows and their Spring-on-the-verge air... and the Seavers... and the dreams of how this room will look when I'm finished. I walked around its walls yesterday and dedicated them to Jesus and asked that good things be done for Him in this tranquil place...that I'd be reminded with every sunrise that He has risen, too.

And that is what Easter weekend looks like at my house. It looks different than at other homes, but I have learned that is ok.


***

Friday, March 25, 2005

When Things Must Be a Certain Way


Hi. My name is Debra.
I'm a recovering Certain Way Syndrome sufferer.

I first noticed I'd caught CWS during my Nevada Years. My earliest symptom was believing that my family had to be like certain other families:

We should have had more than one child because most everyone else did--even though we were happy with just one.
We had to always sit around the table at dinner time--never around the tv--even when we'd already spent hours together.
Tom's work schedule would just have to change because he'd be gone four days(and nights) and then home four days--even though he would devote much of those four days off to Naomi and I each week.
Our house had to be clean and straightened all the time--even though we usually had various fun projects going and my nagging was making us all i-n-s-a-n-e.

The years flew by and my CWS spread:

I couldn't have my daily quiet time unless I was guaranteed no family interruptions, plus, the house had to be straightened first (so that my To Do List wouldn't nag me).
I had to have just the right kind of paper/journal/pen--and Quiet--before I could write.
I couldn't have company over unless the house was white-glove clean.
I couldn't be happy unless my circumstances were just peachy.

The CWS never reached obsessive-compulsive heights, but it was still there, almost like a low-grade fever. Just enough to keep me paralyzed and wishful for all things elusive. Just enough to keep me aiming for invisible nothings.

Then one morning it was as though the CWS low-grade fever erupted into full-blown I-Am-Sick-Of-Living-This-Way. Have you ever had that? That's a good disease, actually--it's shaken many a person from a miserable life--

You just feel sick and tired of feeling sick and tired all the time.
You want freedom more than you want to be right.
You begin craving God's ways more than your own, so you finally cooperate with what He tells you--even though He tells you to let go of nearly everything you've taught yourself in the past...

...you start giving yourself permission to be contented...and happy...right now, just as things are this day.

And then years and years later, you awake as if from a dream. The way you used to be is hazy and just that--the way you used to be. Looking back, you see how far God has brought you along.

And now your desire is to share your journey with others.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Waiting For God to Make Sense


....is pretty much a big waste of time.

At least, that's what I've found. I used to expect His ways to be like my ways. I used to wait and do His will only when it made sense to my head. Small wonder I rarely saw miracles.

I remind myself to stay away from mental reasoning because too often it has cheated me out of seeing God move in my everyday life. He is so big about this Faith stuff and He loves it when I'm walking on water or on a tight rope with only His hand supporting me.

It takes God to understand God.

I spend much time staring out of windows while listening to Him. I spent years listening to my own head and grew so weary of my own ideas and so-called wisdom. Now, the funny thing is, I've discovered when I listen and obey Him, I accomplish twice as much with half as much effort--usually a sign that God's helping fingers were involved.

I've done it both ways--been on both sides. Spent years waiting for God to ask me to do easy things which would need no help from Him. Simple things which would require no real faith, no real trust, no real courage. Safe things where I wouldn't look too silly if I fell.

And I wondered why my Life was so boring.

When I do that which makes little sense and yet is, from what I can tell, coming from God--well, pretty wild things happen. He sets me free from a lot of fear and paralyzing shyness and I find myself walking on water--and usually having a pretty good time, all things considered.

And the best part--I bring a few other people out on that water with me. And out on that sea where miracles are pretty much the order of the day, the laughter of freedom is like music.

***

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Easy Steps to Frustration



1. Want what God does not want for you.

2. Try to do something you can do nothing about.

3. Try to change other people.

4. Aim for perfection instead of excellence.

5. Take everyone's advice.

6. Take no one's advice.

7. Let your emotions lead you.

8. Do tomorrow what needs to be done today.

9. Hate change.

10. Go Here when God wanted you to go There.

11. Always speak whatever pops into your head.

12. Try controlling what other people do, say or think.

13. Try to make Time stand still.

***

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

When God Takes Away Our Toys


"...but when I became a man, I put away childish things..."

Sometimes God takes away our toys. He knows when we have played with them long enough. He sees when we have relied upon them to entertain us too much. He knows when they are stunting our growth and keeping us from moving forward.

He's concerned when our toys have become too important to us and we've gotten into the habit of running to them for comfort--instead of running to the God of all comfort.

God starts cleaning out our nursery of broken, ugly, second-rate toys. He risks appearing unfair in order to lead us to maturity. He does Spring Cleaning and washes all the windows and lightbulbs, too, so that we will see the mess we've made. So that we'll see things as they have become.

And so that we will see Him better as He sits in the corner chair waiting for us to come to Him for loving kisses when Life turns harsh. For friendship when our friends find other friends and no longer want to play with us.

God opens the curtains and turns on the lights to show us the futility and limitations of our own ways.

Sometimes God chases after us with the fun-loving nature of a father. He wants to be our source of joy.

Other times, He waits for us to come chasing after Him. It is in the running after Him through hill and dale that we discover He is sweeter than all the pretty gifts He sets upon the nursery table.


***
A special thanks to Jeff for bits of inspiration for this post...

***

Monday, March 21, 2005

Not a Summer Rerun...


Reruns are everywhere--now they're even in my blog.

This post was one from before many of you began reading my blog. It's one of my favorites because it's the ultra-practical type--the kind of thing you can take with you out into the world and change that world just a little bit--for the better.

So here it goes--again.

***

When I was first-married, (long ago and far away) I attended a Women's Bible Study each Sunday night. Once while we shared prayer requests, "Jackie" told us about her job at our small town market.

She said that what happened to her the day before was typical. A woman with a full grocery cart had basically ordered Jackie to wheel it out to her car. While the sun blazed, Jackie unloaded the bags into the trunk in a neat row. The woman got into her car, slammed the door and barely missed hitting Jackie and the cart as she left the parking lot.

At that point of the story, Jackie looked up at us with tear-filled eyes and said, "Couldn't she have at least said, 'Thank-you for unloading my groceries'? Is that asking too much?"

I never forgot Jackie's story or her question. Twenty-four years later, I've nearly always thanked those who bag my groceries in supermarket check-out lanes. And with every single thank-you, I've thought of Jackie's tears on that Sunday summer evening.

I guess this story brings up at least two points. One, that we never know what a lasting impact our words have on each other. Words are powerful, convicting things and can spur us into action. I'm glad Jackie shared those words that night. Thanking people who go out of their way for me has become a habit and a part of who I am.

One more point: The ungrateful woman from so long ago, if she is still alive, doesn't even realize that she also helped me. Because of her bad example, I vowed never to be like her.

But oh, how much better it is to inspire others by our good deeds!


***

So Lost Without Your Voice


My peace of mind is important to You.
You don't want me writhing in my head--
All double-minded--
For You said I'd be unstable in all my ways--
And you don't want that, either.

You want me to Listen...

To Listen to You tell me
I am being attacked because I did something right--
And be encouraged...
Or because I did something wrong--
So I can then make some changes.

You want to be
My Great Explainer
So I'll not live confused.

You want to tell me
When I should fight--
Or when I should stand still and watch You fight for me.
You want me to know the difference
Because it just might save my life someday.

You tell me to Listen to your voice
So that I'll be in the right place
At the right time
And I'll say the right words, too--
Because they just might save another person's life.

You want me to Listen to You
So that I'll have something to give away--
So I'll have Peace
To offer
Those who have only Turmoil.

(If I have only Turmoil,
That is all I can offer--
And it is not enough--
So I must Listen.)

You want people to see You
In me--
To hear Your voice, not mine--
So I must Listen

...and obey.

***
"A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways." ... James 1:8

No Complaining Spoken Here


This is my backyard on the second day of Spring.
What is wrong with this picture?

...smile...

Yes, that's what Spring tends to look like where I live. Oh my... It is so hard not to complain about the snows we receive late in March and on into April, especially when we've not seen our lawn since last January and the trees are still so grey.

But complaining only makes me feel worse. Moaning about the snow blinds me to its beauty and makes even the inside of my house appear bleak through my disgruntled eyes.

My complaining changes nothing. I can complain all morning about the snow and it will not stop one snowflake from falling. The sun will not burst from the clouds nor will one green leaf appear upon my lilac bushes because of my complaining.

Complaining turns my day even darker and my spirit drearier.
Complaining stretches my winter 15 times longer.
Complaining makes me forget about the blessings I do have because I'm concentrating on the ones I'm supposedly missing.

And speaking of that--the greatest disaster I can sow, is to complain about the things God has already given me--my home, my husband, my cats, my stuff.... Why should He hand me other blessings in the future if He thinks I'll only complain about those things, too?

(Why, indeed? Doesn't He get an earful of complaining from the whole world already?)

No complaining spoken here...I'll try to choose only life-filled words instead. But oh my.... Mr. Complaining Temptation is certainly rattling his cage right now!

***
The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit." ... Proverbs 18:21

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Spinach, Anyone?


Warning: This is a spinach post, with no dessert--no whipped cream, no cherries-- in sight. If you hate all things spinach-related, you may want to look away now.

While traveling along the roadside diners of Life, I've had to eat so much spinach, none more than in this area of Scarey Pride. Why do I call it Scarey Pride? Because of its silent, subtle, sickening grip. It's so subtle, in fact, that usually God must resort to using other people to hold this spinach before my face. Trust me...God used a variety of people to force this spinach down my throat:

Impatience is a form of pride.

Impatience says,
"I shouldn't have to wait."
"If I was doing your job, I could do it faster and more efficiently."
"If I was you and I was driving your car, I could drive it much better."
"If I was in charge, everything would go along without a hitch."

Believing I'm called to save the whole world is a form of pride.

That kind of belief will find me thinking things like:
"I'm called to help everyone who has any kind of a need."
"Every single person needs what I have to give."
"Without me, this project will fail. I am irreplaceable."
"Since I'm called to do this thing/project/ministry, no one else could do it as well as I can."

Believing I'm someone's only lifeline to God is a form of pride.

That belief says:
"I am the answer to this person's prayer."
"Without my help, this person would be helpless."
"If he disagrees with the truth I share, he is in error."
"God has equipped me to carry out my ministry to others all alone. I only need God's help, not man's."
"Submitting to authority is for the birds."

We all have a part to play, but if I don't fulfill my part, God is able to find someone else who will. That person will carry out what I was called to do in a different way, but it still can be done--and done excellently.

My pride can hinder what I do for God, but God is not necessarily limited by my pride. He is well able to find a humble person who can take my place. What I am called to do could still get done without me--just in a different way.

As long as it's all about me, it cannot be all about God. God can use me in spite of myself, but He'd rather I die to myself so that He can speak clearly through me. He can do miracles through empty vessels. He can speak clearly through someone who has thrown away her own self-composed scripts. Using those, she would be proud when anyone complimented her on what was said or done.

It's not my words which set people free--it is God's words. It's not the empty vessel which is so incredible--it is the power and love of God within that vessel which is awesome. The more empty the vessel--empty of what I want, what I think, what I feel--the more room for God there will be. And where God is, there is peace. There are miracles.

From inside my heart, I've eaten a whole lot of spiritual spinach.

And I've also spent a lot of time watching God take out the trash. He still has lots more trash to take to my heart's curbside. He wants a bit more room in which to move around when He performs miracles.

And I so hate getting in His way.

***
"Pride goes before a fall..."

Out of the Box


Naomi has moved more than half her possessions into her new apartment and last night was her first night there.

I am so excited for her. I remember the months I lived alone at age 19 in my own little two-story house. I paid just $120 rent per month and even back in 1978 that was a terrific deal. I felt gratitude for God's watchful eye upon me and I was ecstatic to finally be on my own.
To succeed or fail on my own.
To stay up as late as I pleased, even into the wee hours of the morning if that is what I chose.
To bring home paper bags of groceries and place them in my own (old) refrigerator and yellow cupboards.
To decorate my little house however I wanted (albeit with tons of imagination and almost no money).

I had four months on my own in that cozy house in a tiny mountain town, and then Tom and I got married and continued living there. Oh my, there were fireworks as we struggled to live peacefully together, but there was fun, too. We often felt like the kids we actually were, just playing house. Just starting a new adventure together.

I awoke this morning feeling the same way.

I felt giddy. Tom and I are alone again playing house, yet with many pluses we lacked all those years ago.

We now have a history. We've learned to live peacefully together (well, most days).
We are reaping good things from our 26 years of Life Lessons learned.
We have cool stuff. We don't need to save-up for more furniture and things.
We can play our old-fogey music as loudly as we wish (respecting the neighbors, of course).
I get to make my own Dream Room upstairs out of one of Naomi's former rooms.
I get my kitchen all to myself (too many cooks in the kitchen...and all that good stuff.)

And on and on.......

Naomi lived with us for a whole quarter of a century. I feel blessed that she was with us that long, since she was the only child we were able to have 'the old-fashioned way.' We once looked into adoption, but did not feel Grace nudging us to pursue it. So we chose, instead, to just be happy with the one child God gave us.

And that made all the difference. Naomi became the type of child who made us feel like we had two or three children. That's hard to explain, but her creativity and friendliness afforded her many friends who were in and out of our home. And well, Naomi just being Naomi, made our lives so rich--and challenging, too, in ways that made Tom and I grow in wisdom and compassion.

What is my point? (I usually always have one.)

My point is that life with God is amazing. With Him, I don't have to feel a certain way when certain things happen. What would destroy those who've not yet met God, does not have to destroy me. He and I have a history now, too. With Him, I can be happy for my little-girl-all-grown-up and I can be excited for the fresh beginning for Tom and myself.

God does all things well and makes all things new. I don't have to feel this is the end of everything.

I never have to feel how everyone expects me to feel.

And neither do you.

***
"There will come a time when you believe everything is finished. That will be the beginning." ... Louis L'Amour

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Minding My Own Business


In my last post, I mentioned there are no short-cuts with God, yet I'd forgotten that there kinda-sorta is one after all.

Years ago I found this short-cut which led out of The Forest of Complication and into The Land of Peace. The sign post at the short-cut's beginning reads, "Minding My Own Business."

Along the MMOB Path, the sun came out from behind the grey fog I'd grown used to and Happiness was the order of the day. Why? Because as I walked this path I learned that Grace only strolls beside me when I'm minding my own business. She would disappear when I'd begin worrying and meditating about:

...the things other people were buying...
...what other people were saying...
...what other people were thinking...
...the Life choices other people were making...


There's no greater struggle than trying to do something about which you were meant to do nothing.

For years I tried to spare everyone from making mistakes. I'd try to figure out the answers to their problems--or what I perceived as problems--for them. And those problems weighed heavy on my mind because, again, Grace vaporized each time I chose to do that which God had not asked me to do. He had never asked me to live other peoples' lives. Only mine.

And half the time I was messing-up my own life.

I had taken 'bear one another's burdens' to the extreme. Other peoples' 'burdens' were even heavier burdens upon me because God had not equipped me to carry that which was none of my business.

Some things are my business. Some things I am meant to help take care of. Some matters are ones God wants to use me to speak through.

But some are not. And those are the ones God wants me to leave alone and just let Him take care of.

Sometimes I'm simply called to pray and then move along farther down the path, trusting that God can indeed, speak to other people, too, and show them answers--answers which often, are not what I'd have advised them to do, but work out well for them anyway (imagine that!).

I learned that God would let me know when He wanted to speak through me--and Grace would bear me up at those times. Otherwise, He wanted me to keep my mouth shut and trust Him to use His other servants to meet a need or use this time to teach strict reliance upon Him.

I learned sometimes my nosiness can frustrate the will of God.

And I learned the world really does keep revolving without me trying to spin it around myself.

And now there is joy because God sends me Grace each time to help me mind my own business. And oh the happiness now without the weight of the world upon my shoulders!

***

"...make it your ambition and definitely endeavor to live quietly and peacefully, to mind your own affairs..." ... I Thessalonians 4:11

Friday, March 18, 2005

The Wisdom of Before


It's the little foxes which spoil the vine...

In my life, I've thought like many people--that it's possible to get something for nothing. Yet all of Life's good things cost something--usually a great deal.

But now I'm learning the wisdom of Before:

Before God can use me in big ways, I must first obey Him in little ways.
Before I will receive comments at my blog, I must comment at other blogs.
Before I can write my creative best, I must let go of trying to write like everyone else.
Before God can trust me with a lot of money, He must be able to trust me with a small amount.
Before God blesses me with new possessions, I must first care for the stuff He already gave me.
Before I can take the next step, I must take the first step .
Before I can become healthy, I must first let go of junk food and laziness.
Before I can have friends, I must show myself friendly.
Before I can learn new things, I must unlearn some old things.

Everything in Life costs something. For years I tried finding a way around that fact. Tried blaming my problems on other people, places or things. Tried re-writing or re-working the ebb-and-flow and give-and-take of Life.

I tried superseding God's incredible wisdom by desiring the blessings of After without doing the work of Before.. But there are no short-cuts with God. No cheating, either.

Maybe I can save you a few wasted years...

"He who is faithful in little things will be made ruler over much."

"Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows." ... Galations 6:7

***

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Empty Nest?!?


Tomorrow our little bird is flying away from the home nest.

Naomi found an apartment a few miles away and for the first time, she will be living on her own. Well, with her four cats, two dwarf hamsters and assorted fish. And visits from Carl, her boyfriend.

So this morning I am thinking about the year Naomi was ten years old and how I would, in my mind, see this day approaching and dread it terribly. I couldn't imagine life without our little girl in our home and in some ways, I tried to slow down Time. As I've shared with you before, I tried to memorize Naomi just as she was in any lovely moment and I attempted to stay awake to all good things concerning her.

But still, Time shot past my head like an arrow.

I look back now, though, and understand perfectly why I was horrified of the thought of Naomi leaving at age 10. While Naomi was a little child, God had not even begun to send Grace to help me release our daughter into the Real World. And without Grace, there is only struggle, hardship and fear. It's never a good idea to toy with anything futuristic without Grace by your side.

So the burning question now becomes-- will Tom and I be left with an empty nest tomorrow?

Are you kidding? Our house will still be full beyond measure. Within these walls you will find:

Tom and I
Our two cats, Lennon and McCartney
My mouse, Brownie
God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit
Grace
Our guardian angels
You, my blogger friends
You, my other friends I share with online
Future visits from Naomi and Carl
Future visits from friends in town and out-of-state
Friends from the pages of my hundreds of books
Friends from The Dick Van Dyke Show
Friends from Andy and Barney's Mayberry
Friends from my Old Radio Show cassettes
Marvelous music like Classical and Big Band era
The Paper Boy, DHL Guy, Meter Readers and the UPS Man-- all at the door
And hundreds of lovely memories of years gone by


Oh my! Naomi will be missed, yet you'll find no Empty Nest Syndrome here.

Our house will be much, much too full for any sort of emptiness.


***
I left a comment for those of you who wished me a happy birthday, but I just wanted to say thank-you again here. While Tom and I spent my birthday visiting a nearby town and window-shopping... and bringing home lunch and watching a movie... and just spending the day together relaxing, I thought of all your birthday wishes and smiled, smiled, smiled with a very happy heart. Thanks so much!

Oh, and a very happy Saint Patrick's Day to each of you! If you are not wearing a bit of green, here is a pinch on your arm. :)

***

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Guess Whose Birthday Is Today?


If you guessed Debra's, then give yourself ten points and a piece of birthday cake!

This birthday marches me a little closer to the huge 5-0, but you know what? I can only anticipate turning 50 in a handful of years. Why? Because I am now ever so much happier than I was at 30 and at this rate, the joy at 50 just might be overwhelming.

Life with God is like that, or rather, it can be--as long as I aim to know Him, keep up with my homework and don't try to slide by.

So let me encourage you if you are young and unhappy like I once was:

Don't let anyone tell you that your best days are behind you--
Never lose your hope anywhere along the path--
Set aside time for just you and God each day--
And expect good things from a good God.

And may all your birthdays--and normal days--be sweet.

***

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Passing The Stick


Actually, two sticks have been passed to me--one from Saija and one from Fish.

1. You're stuck inside Fahrenheit 451. Which book do you want to be?

I keep lists of the books I read and among the hundreds of titles, you won't find this one. So though I vaguely know what this book is about, may I skip this question? Due to past experience, I've learned it's best not to fake knowing what I am talking about. That can generally lead to trouble. :)

2. Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?

Hmmm... I'll have to echo Saija here--Rhett Butler definitely was a heart-throb when I was in high school. And this will sound odd, but in these later golden years of mine, perhaps I'd choose David Grayson (Ray Stannard Baker) as he portrays himself in his books like
Adventures in Contentment,
Adventures in Friendship and
The Friendly Road. Or maybe that's more a case of recognizing a kindred spirit who happens to be male, and wishing I could have spent an afternoon with him in his lovely home in Amherst, Mass.

3. The last book you bought was...?

Grace Livingston Hill: Her Story and Her Writings by Jean Karr. One of only two biographies about GLH, written shortly after her death in the 1940's.

I still read an occasional Grace Livingston Hill book--have done so since I was a teen (and yes, I know some Christians think these are fluff, but I disagree...). I've collected 7 or so in their original hardback form from the 1910's, 20's and 30's because the feel of those is so much 'realer' and 'take-you-back-in-time-ish' than the mass-marketed paperbacks.

4. The last book you read was...?

That would be two books which I love dearly and often reread:
Gone Away Lake
and
Return to Gone Away--both by Elizabeth Enright. I've read them probably 6 times.

And okay... both those books are novels for pre-teens, but each has everything that I ever longed to experience when I was a child--and as an adult, too:
Discovering a forgotten old 'town' in which two old people still live all alone...
Walking through the decrepit, forgotten Victorian homes...
Hearing stories about the people who once lived there...
And then later being able to buy one of the old houses and fixing it up..
And then finding in the attic, forgotten antiques which help pay for restoring the old place. Both these books are incredible and again, have everything I could want in a good story.

5. What are you currently reading?

Wild at Heart by John Eldredge (yes, again!). It's still the one book I would recommend to anyone and everyone if I could only recommend one.

The Pink Motel by Carol Ryrie Brink. A vintage mystery novel for 8-year-olds...

6. Five books you would take to a desert island?

The Bible

The aforementioned Gone Away Lake and Return to Gone Away

Mary Emma and Company by Ralph Moody. (Please tell me you all have read his autobiographical Little Britches series of books!)

Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Yes, I'm serious. I've read this book probably 15 times and have visited Almanzo's childhood farm in upstate New York twice. I'm surprised I didn't faint dead away from joy both times because of experiencing such a dream come true. I was giddy and light-headed, though.

What three people are you passing this stick on to and why?

I will pass the stick to any of my regular readers who wish to pick it up. Why? Because I believe in giving everyone an opportunity to share their thoughts. :)

Motives Exposed


"...being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." Philippians 1:6

Years past, I was anxious to fight in the Great Battle for souls,
"Let me go, Lord! I'm ready, I'm ready!" I cried.

I wanted to slay that old dragon
Who'd wreaked havoc in peoples' lives
And yet--
That same dragon was breathing sulfur into my own home.

I desired to dash out into the fierce battleground
And yet--
I hadn't learned how to put on my own armor.

I felt called to speak boldly to the nations
And yet--
I wasn't speaking respectfully to my own husband.

I longed to use my hands till they bled for The Cause
And yet--
I couldn't bring myself to finish washing the dishes in my sink.

I yanked at my leash, pulled at the ropes and made a lot of noise--
I wanted to look the part of a mighty warrior--
I was so unready.

Then one morning I awoke from my own folly-laced dreams
And horrified, saw my motives for wanting to serve
As a soldier of God.

I was humbled, then crushed by the vision.

But God in His mercy began a new work--
Rebuilt what I'd constructed all wrong--
Retrained me where I'd trained myself--
Gave me a new heart--
And a new home along with it.

And now--finally--
I've made my way out into the battlefield
And I see God's glory to the uttermost plains.


***
"Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called..." I Timothy 6:12

"I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." II Timothy 4:7

***

Monday, March 14, 2005

For The Romantic At Heart


I've been meaning to share a marvelous post with you from Jeff's So I Go blog. He's written an oh-so-romantic post about his wife--how they met and bits about their life together since that day.

I sent Jeff an email about his amazing words because--once again!--Blogger's comments were down. What's up with that? Lately Blogger has been eating many of my posts (crunch, crunch) and it's enough to make the most saintly, patient soul swear.

I am learning to copy my freshly-written words into my browser before hitting 'publish post.' But sometimes I do forget...and then lose what I've written... and then have to remember my past words in this blog about virtue...and then have to ask that my good attitude be restored (as I'm close to screaming...smile...)

Anyway, here is Jeff's amazing post, titled, It's Just Her Way.

The Unseen Battle


Tom and I watched each of The Lord of the Rings films in the theater, but now we are working our way through them again this week on DVD. I think I'll ask Tom if we can watch them together at least once a year so to be reminded that as Christians, we too, are in a battle.

I need to be reminded that the battle is a serious one.

The Bible warns us all over the place about this war which touches us all:
We are told to put on our armor piece by piece, and how
our enemy roams around seeking whom he may devour, and how
we are wrestling against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

But sometimes I still forget what a sneaky, conniving enemy we have.

Sometimes I forget, too, that love--"the greatest of these"-- is also spiritual warfare. If I am wearing my armor and walking totally drenched in God's love, I am fully equipped for any battle which jumps into my path.

And more-- by walking in love, I'll not be unnecessarily drawn into battles of my own making. I think those have been my bloodiest fights--ones I ran right into by not minding my own business... by not walking in the wisdom of the Word...by not considering others before myself.

I certainly don't need to be starting-up my own skirmishes--the enemy already whips up far too many.

Yes-- It's the Lord of the Rings Trilogy once a year for me. I need to be warned about falling asleep on the night watches... about becoming deceived about my own supposed strengths... about the battles my comrades are always facing, too.

I must remember to live ready for anything, even on normal days when nothing much appears to be happening.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

That Sunday Feeling


I don't remember when it was
That I realized
Nearly everyday
I have that Sunday Feeling--
That churchy, been-with-God, old-song,
Been-blessed-and-refreshed feeling.

Though on the day called Sunday
I rest more
And stare out the window with dreamier eyes.

And yet
The other days shine like Sundays, too--
Connect like a seven-squared hopscotch--
Sparkle like a string of diamonds.
This Sunday Life
Is packed with morning, noon and evening glories--
It's the Way I've chosen.

***

Saturday, March 12, 2005

For Napoleon Dynamite Fans Only


I blogged about Napoleon Dynamite here and if you, too, were one of the folks who enjoyed that movie, you might also like this article I came across:

Sweet! Preston Now Reigns as Geek-Chic Capital

And if you're a real die-hard fan, you might like to read this interview with writer/director, Jared Hess, for more behind-the-scenes stuff.

Fans of small towns, like me, can't get enough of this kind of information. But then, I've always been the type of person who enjoys the how-they-made-the-movie interviews as much as the movie, itself. I must not be the only one like that, considering what a big hit all the extra features have become on DVD's.

And you know.... Considering the huge jump I made from my previous post to this one, I think I can finally understand why people have always thought I was downright ODD. Always, I've made big leaps in my conversations the same way.

Anyone else out there like that?

***

Alone With God

'
Another blogger and I were talking about this yesterday...

Sometimes, for a season, God wants you all to Himself.

You can recognize that season when you start wanting something--
But you don't know what...
And your friends wander away into a fog...
And Life doesn't make the sense that it used to--
Puzzle pieces no longer fit...
And there's that annoying yearning in your heart
Which never leaves--though it seems
People leave by the droves.

It could be that God wants to get you alone...

To love you...
To form a relationship that, never again, will be shaken...
To finally become First, really First, with you forever.

To teach you
To obey His voice--only--in the midst of hundreds of others...
To come to Him when called...

To strip you
Of layers of self and selfishness
And pride and your own way--

All in what, at first, appears to be a desert
But, in reality,
Is a garden in the cool of evening time.

All the great ones in the Bible had their years alone with God--
Moses had desert years before the whole Israelite journey...
Jacob, wrestled with God, and had to unlearn some things...
Young David tended his sheep in green pastures...
Paul had his years after the Damascus Road episode...
All the prophets--
All had their years alone with God.

So if God is calling to you to come away with Him
You are in very good company, indeed.

What an invitation!
What an honor
To be invited to become a friend of God.

***

Friday, March 11, 2005

Before I Sleep


Most nights before I sleep
I walk through my house
And gaze at everything,
Stare at it all--
Every little lamp, chair,
Rug, painting and table--
See them
As the gifts from God which they are.

My house, its walls, are a gift, too--
God provided this shelter
And I am thrilled with it
Because it came from His hand.

I stand in my hall,
Look at it all
And near tears,
Try to grasp the wonder
That it's true--
It's really, really true--
That eternal life has already begun
And I am learning right this minute
To live in it--
It begins now--
And it matters now
That I see my house
As from God's hand--
A preview of my bigger house
In a far-off land.

The appreciation starts now,
As does the Life,
Even before I sleep.
I'll not put it off till the New Day--
Because like that bigger house,
This one is from God, too.

And I turn,
Walk down the hall
Loving it all.

"Someday I'll--"


I used to say the word, "Someday," a lot.

"Someday when things get better, I'll--"
"Someday I hope this will change."
"Someday I'll be happy."
"Someday when I have a better house."
"Someday I'll have what I want."
"Someday when I have more money, I'll--"

I was a Happiness Procrastinator. Nearly everyday I put-off happiness until Someday.

Some Somedays came, but many Somedays never, ever arrived.

Things changed. No, I changed. Now, for me, Someday is too far away. Too vague, too iffy, too long to wait.

One day, years ago, I set-up an appointment with God to exchange my Somedays for Todays. Todays are great. More valuable. I love them so much better.

And now...

Today I choose to be happy.
Today I sow good seeds so that I will reap good Somedays.
Today I have all I really need, so I choose to be grateful.
Today I can let God change me, if even in just one little way.
Today is as bright as I make it.
Today my life is amazing simply because God loves me.

No more Happiness Procrastinating for me... I'm choosing Happiness today because Today is all I really have.

My ship has already come in-- it came in on the breezes and waves of my Yesterdays.

--My Yesterdays of appreciation and delight.


***
"If you want springtime ahead of time, then you must have it in your heart, out of reach of the weather..." ... Dallas Lore Sharp

Thursday, March 10, 2005

The Name of a House



My house has a name. Does yours?

I think it's important to name your home. To give it a title of what you envision it becoming.

Some people wait to choose their home's name. They wait until it is all fixed-up, repaired and decorated.Not me. I gave my house a name a few years ago.

You can tell a lot about a house by its name. I named ours Autumn Cottage.

And it's been that name which has guided all my decisions concerning the repairing, refurbishing and redecorating of my house. I love Autumn and I love cottages and that title has become my goal. My dream.

My dream is to have Autumn year-around inside my house.

Names are important for people, too. It matters what you call yourself. It's important to give yourself a name which is something good to live up to.

But many people call themselves terrible names and they live up to those.

I hope the names you give yourself are good ones. You can tell a lot about a person by the names which he calls himself.

And really, I would love to know the name of your house if you have given it one. If you haven't, today would be a wonderful time in which to do so.

I'd love to see a long, long list of names of homes in my comment box...

***

First Love



"Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love..." ...Revelation 2:4

You can have First Love and then
Leave Him somewhere...
You can tell that He's lost because
What people say to you
Starts to mean more
Than what First Love says--
And how people feel about you
Flattens you
When how they feel is bad--
Even though First Love thinks
You're beautiful--because you are His.

And you know that you've
Slipped away from First Love
When you always need something more--
When it's always
"I need First Love and--"
Instead of just
"As long as I have First Love
I will be ok. I can face anything."

When the longing is gone--
When the for-no-reason smiles
Have all disappeared--
When joy feels foreign--
And passion has shriveled--
When time alone with First Love
Just cannot be found
(Or feels like a business meeting)--

When it's like that, well,
You can tell--
It's time to find First Love again
And make Him
First
Like He used to be.

***

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

A Roadblock Called Condemnation


Tom and I drive down summer roads and come across many roadblocks. Summer time is road repair time and we've taken many a detour or just sat in the hot car waiting for orange-vested crews to wave us through.

On the dusty road of my own journey, I have been halted by the Condemnation Roadblock and have camped out there most often, not just for hours, but for weeks and years. I have pitched my black tent there in the road and crawled inside the stuffy darkness so that I could meditate upon my failures.

That's what you do at the Condemnation Road Block.

You unzip your sleeping bag and slither inside and hide so that you won't make other dreadful mistakes. You count your failures one by one. You compare yourself with people who appear to have it all figured out. And when you peer into the future, you see yourself making only more mistakes, so you vow to not even try again to help anyone, at least, not until you act a whole lot better than you do now.

You twist godly conviction into tormenting, clinging condemnation.

And when God tries to unzip the door of your tent, you call from the darkness inside, "No! Don't look at me right now. I'm ugly. I've sinned. I've failed you. Come back later when I get better. When I do some good things to make up for the bad things."

So God stands outside of your tent waiting. And waiting. Waiting while you waste His time and yours and the time of all the people you could be helping. Waiting to continue the friendship He so enjoyed sharing with you.

There's only so much God can do for people wallowing in Condemnation Tents. In fact, He's already done it. He sent His Son to die for us...to pay for our sins...to make us holy through Him. We cannot pay. Either Jesus paid or He didn't.

My stays in the Condemnation Tent are shorter now than they used to be. What brings me out sooner? The banner on the blood-red paper God manages to slip inside the tent: "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit."

I can step out into the light now, not after weeks and months, but moments. In fact, the tent is rarely used now at all because I've learned to repent...to ask forgiveness...and receive forgiveness. I've realized the folly of trying to pay for something which was already purchased.

I've realized it is not a holy thing to sit inside the Condemnation Tent and feel horrid about myself. The holy thing is to meditate upon how good God is--not upon how bad I am.

And now I move on down the dusty road. The journey continues...the road is long...but the sun is shining and the trees are reaching their arms toward God.

***

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

"But Everybody's Going To Be There!"


I woke up in such a good mood this morning. Grateful that my tooth was finally repaired (I'd broken it over two weeks ago). Grateful that it is March and the sun rises earlier and winter is closer to being over. Grateful for God.

I got my books and things prepared for my quiet time and turned on some soft music. Hummed to myself on my way to the kitchen so I could make Tom's lunch for work.

Tom walked into the kitchen and first thing, asked about some money which a couple people owe us.

I sighed. It was pretty obvious he hadn't awaken in my same good mood.

But then I smiled because years ago that would have been my signal to loose Tranquility--to drop him with a Thud! upon the floor and leave him there for the rest of the day.

I used to feel helpless when I was surrounded by people whose mood didn't match mine. Almost like whining to your mother that you just HAD to go somewhere because everybody else was going there. Everybody was doing it. But instead, it was as though I'd whine to God, "But everybody is in a bad mood! I have to be in a bad mood too. I just have to!"

But that was then---years and years of then--and this is now. God has done so much reconstruction within me and He placed a new feature within me. A handy-dandy gizmo which dispenses peace, contentment, hope and even joy in hard, dark times.

The Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the 'new gizmo', yet he was here all the time. I just had to learn to rely upon him and not myself. He doesn't get flattened and blown-away by anyone's bad mood--he is stronger than that. He showed me that a visit to the Land of Bad Moods was not automatic--I had to choose to go there.

He is the Helper, so I am no longer helpless.

The Holy Spirit and I are going to have a marvelous day here around the house. Later this morning we'll probably sit around my little table by the fireplace with Grace and Tranquility for some of my pretend coffee. I can't wait to chat with them about new times.

***
"Oh, the fun of arriving at a home and feeling the spark that tells you that you are going to have a good time." ... Mark Hampton

Monday, March 07, 2005

Dentists and Other Callings


Poor old Debra had to go to the dentist today and have a filling removed from the wisdom tooth she cracked a couple weeks ago. And then the dentist had to replace the filling with a new one. Can you say, "A fun time was not had by all"?

So I've been hibernating on this grey (grey, grey) windy, rainy day in the recliner, waiting for the swelling in my mouth to go down. And praying that I'll have no problems with this latest filling--the dentist mentioned possibly having to yank out the whole tooth if things don't turn out right.

I am so not in the mood for that right now.

But anyway, while the dentist worked on my mouth, I thought about what a blessing it is to have gone to the same dentist for 12 years. Only one other time in my life did I even live in the same town for 12 years, and too, this is the first time I've ever, in my life, lived in the same house for more than 3 years.

I am learning to like change, and yet it's still a treat to have some things stay the same.

And speaking of my dentist, for all these years I've watched him beneath the bright light while his hands are in my mouth and I've thought, "Never in a bazillion years could I be a dentist. I so admire my dentist--all dentists--but yick! That is one job I could never, ever stomach."

Being a dentist is just one of many jobs I certainly could not do and one of the callings I most certainly do not have. Here are just a handful of others--

Being a mortician/medical examiner
Or a doctor/nurse/surgeon/veterinarian
Or a plumber
Or a biology teacher
Or a fireman or a school janitor
And so many others...

I am so grateful for these people! And grateful that God gives folks the grace to do all sorts of jobs which make the world go 'round.

I love to watch people do what they were called to do--people who didn't choose something they were never meant to do, but instead, followed the light God placed within them. People who saw the vision through. They make me stand in awe and pause, if only for a moment, because they give me a glimpse of the bigger picture--perfect artistry-- as designed by God, Himself.

***

Four-Eyed Monsters


My all-time favorite TV series? The old Dick Van Dyke Show. I've even toyed with the idea of someday buying a house like the Petrie's, decorating it exactly like theirs and then opening a bed and breakfast inn for those who loved the show. We could even have parties for our guests in the evenings which resembled the great parties Rob and Laura had. Fun times filled with song, dance and stand-up comedy (I like to dream big.)

Anyway, my very favorite episode was the one with the walnuts and the people from the planet, Twilo. The Twilo-ites looked like us except they had no thumbs and four eyes--two in the front and two in the back.

Sometimes I feel like a Twilo-ite when it comes to the four eyes bit. Sometimes I appear to have two eyes in the back of my head: eyes which are always looking back:

to where I've been,
to days when I was misunderstood,
to people who offended me,
to old, wordly kind of thinking,
to old behaviors which God no longer lets me get away with,
to old fears and worries.

I only want two eyes--the two new ones God gives to those who love Him and learn to see things His way. Eyes which look forward and see:

the future with a childlike trust,
and people with godly compassion,
and the best in each situation,
and a peaceful courage in hard times,
and hope for everyone who appears hopeless.

There is a whole different way to look at Life. A way in which colors and hours and relationships are brighter and deeper.

I want my backward-looking eyes to sink into my head and disintegrate. But I need to stop using them first--let them die from neglect. Two eyes are enough for me, especially new ones formed and fashioned by God, Himself.

***
"Is the life I’m living the life that wants to live in me?" ... Parker Palmer

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Loving The Every Day Stuff


Probably 90% of my life is the every day stuff. The cleaning and cooking and laundry and errands around town and endless small tasks.

Anyone else have a life like that?

When I go blog surfing and find people who hate the every day stuff it makes me sad that, really,what they're hating is 90% of the life God gave them upon this planet.

(You may want to pause and let that sink in...)

Well, I used to be there too. During the dreadful 80's (as I not-so-affectionately call them) I began buying into the hype that homemaking was for drudges who had settled for living in Nowheresville. I even bought the magazines which reaffirmed that opinion.

It's sad to buy into a lie. Sometimes it can take you years to buy out of it. I know.

Anyone want to enjoy an extra 90% of your life? Start enjoying the cleaning and cooking and laundry and errands and endless small tasks.

In Sarah Ban Breathnach's book, Simple Abundance, she wrote about Nell B. Nichols, her favorite literary domestic writer from the 1920's, 30's and 40's. Nell was the Martha Stewart of her day. Here are my two favorite sentences from Sarah's book:

"Reading her columns is like being spoon-fed black cherry pudding: soothing, comforting, completely satisfying, yet a bit piquant. After an hour with Nell I always want to bob my hair, slip into a simple drop-waist cotton chemise, tie on a checked apron with a bow, and listen to Scott Joplin on the wireless as I dye unbleached muslin curtains 'to pretty up the attic windows.'"

Those two sentences, alone, make me want to jump up and clean my house from basement to attic. To run to my record player and spin an old Big Band era album and throw open the windows and tie on an apron and get the dishes soaking in sudsy water. Suddenly, cleaning my house for my family sounds like the most delicious, wonderful thing I could possibly do for them at the moment.

What am I really getting at? It matters what I read. It matters that I not fill my head with words which will only breed an ugly discontent within me.

Yes, I should read articles which will challenge me to broaden my thinking, but only within godly boundaries.

Unlike many people I've met on the internet, I respect Biblical boundaries. I'm learning to live within those boundaries and--wonder of wonders--I'm finding incredible joy there.

It matters that I read words which will encourage me to love this life which God has given me. Words are powerful--both written and spoken ones. They have a tendency to go down deep and stay awhile. Some will remain there for the rest of my life.

Lying words have a tendency to hang-out near the wheel of my ship and snatch it away from me and sail me to dark, choppy seas... places I never intended to go. Places from which it's hard to find my way back home.

Out on Life's ocean, I am learning to steer clear of those.


***
Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof." ... Proverbs 18:21

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Built For The Road Ahead


One Sunday night Tom was watching sports (don't ask me which type) and as I straightened the things on my sunroom table I heard this slogan from the tv-- "Ford: Built for the road ahead."

I swung around to the tv screen and thought, "Hey! I like that." And I wrote it down on a scrap of paper to later share with you, but of course, I can't find it anywhere now. But in just one simple sentence that slogan summed up what God has been doing in my life these past ten years: He's been building me for the road ahead.

Preparing me for the far-off years I cannot yet see.
Teaching me how to live with Grace today so that I can live with Grace tomorrow, too.
Emptying me of myself so He can pour in more of Himself.
Teaching me to do today what I won't regret having done tomorrow.

And on and on.

Yes, for ten years it's been like that. But the sad thing is that there were 24 years before these last ten when God was trying so hard to build me for the road ahead, but I was kicking and screaming the whole way. Mostly it felt like I was kicking against the same brick wall built across the middle of the road. One I'd constructed brick-by-brick myself, but had blamed others for placing it there.

It always felt like I was moving ahead about one measly inch a year. I'd look at other Christians and think they must have been sprinkled with heavy duty fairy dust or favor because they seemed to be growing by big leaps and bounds. But not me. No, I was crawling like the baby I still was.

The difference now? One word--cooperation. I finally learned how to cooperate with God and get hooked into His agenda--not mine.

And that's what my whole blog is about so I'll not reiterate the details in this post. I'll just say that it is possible to stunt your growth as a Christian. To remain a baby in the spirit realm and look like one of those people who make you so sad when you walk past them--full-grown adults who have the mind of a six-year old.

Don't tell me it's not possible. That was me for many, many years.

It feels so good to finally grow. To let God build me for the road ahead, wherever that road may take me.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Sometimes It *Is* All About Me



Huh?

Well, a couple of the comments to my last post reminded me of something which changed my whole life years ago. Reminded me that what people do to me is rarely the Big Issue--it's my own reactions which matter the most to God.

Take this verse, for instance:

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places." Ephesians 6:12


My take on that? It's not about what people are doing to me.

It's about seeing where the real attack is coming from.

And it's about seeing the Big Picture--how God uses Sandpaper People to smooth our rough edges. It's about iron sharpening iron in order to become a more useful instrument.

And it's about Me dying to becoming angry at people... and allowing their behavior to ruin my day (and my life)...and blowing-up when poked...and wanting to get revenge (albeit in subtle, unpinpointable ways)...

It's about Me letting God slice away at the overly-sensitive parts of me which get offended when people say the wrongs things at the wrong time... It's about God being more concerned that I don't say the wrong things at the wrong time.

It's about Me not having to be in control of everything around me...

And it's about Me becoming empty of myself--self, self,self-- so that more room is made for more of God. His likeness, His love, His depth of longsuffering with imperfect people. I can either be full of God or full of myself. I desire the latter, so I must die:

"No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other." Matthew 6:24

So you see, sometimes it is all about me... It's all about me needing to change. It's all about me wanting God to change me more than I want Him to make my life better by changing the flawed people in my life.

Because the amazing thing is that my life will become better when God makes me more like Jesus. Everybody looks different--better-- when you look at them through His eyes of love.

***

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Keeping Up


I had an epiphany tonight.

Sometimes I hear from various old friends after months or years and they'll tell me about all the changes in their lives. They'll go on and on Christmas form-letter style, brag--...er.... rejoicing about...

their new jobs,
or how their whole family is on fire for God
or all the vacations they've taken
or how their church is growing, etc., etc.

Nearly always, those types of reports have triggered funny feelings in me. Not funny-funny, but funny-uncomfortable. Something which sticks to me like a burr for days, when what I really want is to just feel happy for those folks like the Bible says I should.

Over and over, I've asked myself if it's a matter of jealousy on my part, but after some soul-searching I usually realize, no--that's not it, exactly. I mean, I don't want a new job... I love my family just the way they are (though we can always stand to change and grow in certain areas)... I love the simple, no-frills vacations Tom and I take, etc... And yet I'd still go around wishing I knew why those reports made me feel downcast.

But now I think I know why. It's more a matter of letting those glowing reports make me feel like I am not keeping up. Rather like "not keeping up with the Jones'", except that it's not about things and stuff --it's about deeper issues. Not keeping up with spiritual growth, maybe. Growth which appears to have happened overnight in my friends, yet it took years for them just as it takes years for me. But my mind forgets to inform me that I've not heard from these people in years.

I think I've been guilty of this verse, even though I've always considered it one of the Bible's most important warnings:

"...but they... comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise." 2 Corinthians 10:13

This whole thing is weird because I know better. I've heard lessons on this stuff and even taught messages on it, myself. But here is the crux of the matter--my friends' glowing reports test my deepest layers of insecurity which have not yet been dealt with by God. Almost like they come along to stir up a bunch of sediment in the bottom of a glass--and I am the glass. Much of that ugly stuff has been dealt with, yet there is more left to examine, confess and let go of so that it will not spill over into all my relationships, making me an insecure, uptight whiner.

My desire is to be a rejoicer with those who are rejoicing about God's goodness to them.

All in God's timing, of course. He doesn't want me working on what He is not currently working on in me. And as long as I'm cooperating with Him, the work will always be done at just the right time. And I so desire God's timing on everything.

Hopefully, this all makes sense to you. Really, I hope it does, because seeing this for myself makes me feel great. It shows me how far I've come and gives me hope that God will take me the rest of the way--all in His perfect timing.

***

"Rejoice with those who rejoice..." Romans 12:15

***

Wondering About Whining


Just a quick note today... Finally we are getting a break inbetween snow storms so I will brave the roads and drive to the supermarket. I've put that off as long as possible and yesterday we ran out of eggs and flour (the healthy kind) and milk and well, even a professional homemaker like me finds it hard to bake without those things.

So here is my thought: When God wants us to do something--as in fulfill our calling or put our gifts to use-- He provides the way and means with which to do that. And the necessary time. And money.

God is not a big, mean tease. He does not require something of us and yet make it impossible for us to do whatever it may be. He, instead, provides a way where there is no way. Opens doors other men may close (opens a few windows, too).

Why do I bring that up? I guess it's because I've heard a lot of people complain (dare I say whine?) lately that they never get to do what they really want to do nor have what they'd like to have. Something, they say, always stands in the way.

So I wonder...where could the problem lie?

Have we grown impatient? Are we wanting to run ahead of God and zoom past the necessary foundational training years of our calling? Are we wanting to skip the homework and go right to graduation?

Are we spending our time wisely? Are we saying no and yes when God wants us to say no and yes? Is choosing good over best gobbling up our time?

Are we standing in a whole wrong field? Did we look longingly at another person's calling and decide that's what we wanted, even though God never equipped us to do that?

Or scariest of all, did we lose our first love? Instead of going after more of Jesus to fulfill us are we, instead, going after affirmation from people to meet our needs? Or running after things and stuff? Have we forgotten that only Jesus can meet our deepest needs and that everything else will then, in turn, come from His hand which gives so freely (after He's certain these things won't steal our hearts)?

Just a few thoughts for today. These are for me, too-- my boundaries--boundaries which, when in their correct place--keep me from whining...

...and keep me so happy, that I often wonder why this kind of happiness hasn't yet been declared illegal.

***
"What God orders, He pays for." ... Joyce Meyer

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Dreams


There is a verse which says, "Do not despise the day of small beginnings." Or something like that (I am such a Bible scholar, I know...).

Today I was remembering a young woman who appeared on the first two or three episodes of this season's American Idol. She had a husband, a little daughter, and a big dream to sing in front of the world. And before she was dismissed, early, from the competition, they showed her saying over and over with tears in her voice--before and after the commercials--"If I can't sing, I know I'll just die.". And in that episode, she lost her chance to move on in the competition.

I still feel sad for her. Not because I think she will now die (as her passionate words would have us believe), but because she didn't appear to understand the principles of dreams.

A dream begins with a seed. Seeds are so tiny. And nearly always there are a hundred tiny ways to begin living a dream. This woman has a daughter she can sing to. That kind of singing resonates in big ways with God--if only it resonated with us mothers in the same way.

She has a husband with whom to share her songs. Friends. Most churches love to find good singers. Perhaps her daughter attends a school at which this woman could lead the children to sing and give them a love for what she loves. There are nursing homes where she would find audiences who crave the gift of song.

Do not despise the day of small beginnings...

To me, a dream is like a God-given gift, and gifts are meant to bless others more than myself. My God-given dreams are not all about me. They are not even meant to make me feel good about myself. God makes me feel good about myself. I go to Him for all of that--and He is always faithful to give me what I can find no place else.

Being faithful in small things will lead to big things. "He who is faithful in little things will be made ruler over much." (Another verse I'm too lazy to look up.)

God rewards faithfulness in the early, silent years where it's just you and Him. In the days when no one knows or cares you even have a dream.

But it takes humility to start small.
Dreams require so much work on their foundations--and who cares about seeing the basement? A lot of silent years go into building our character along with the building of the dreams. Woe unto him whose character is weaker than his gift.
Dreams require fortitude when you'd much rather just quit during the silent years.
Dreams require hard work.
Dreams require God.

No wonder so many of us never see our dreams through to completion.

No wonder we sit in breath-catching awe and watch those who had the courage to fulfill their dreams.

***

Seeking Serenity


Serene: ...marked by or suggestive of utter calm and unruffled repose or quietude.

I used to drive downtown to stores where I heard serenity was sold. I window-shopped until I found dusty old books and magazines with pictures of tea parties and Victorian dresses because some friends said I'd find serenity if I found those pages. And then I would drive back home and percolate some coffee. Grab my cup and a couple cats and my new treasured books and sit on the front porch on a quiet afternoon. And seek serenity where people told me I'd find it.

I discovered lovely stories, art and then the summer sounds all around me made me smile like a Cheshire cat when I'd look up from my cup. My heart felt inspired and calm and quiet and my breathing came in a pleasant rhythm. Yes, this felt like the serenity I'd imagined.

But though I tried to stretch those times, they always came to an end--like the last grain of Time Sand slipping from my fingers. And always, I had to gather up my books and cups and cats and return to the Real World of noise and worry and rushing about.

I wanted more than an elusive, fly-away serenity. I craved a stronger type.

So I went on a search,a journey of the heart, one which has lasted for years and is still going. But along the way I've found pieces of Stable Serenity. For you see, it does come in pieces--some assembly is required.

I didn't find it all at once or all in one place. I took roads which opened to me only when I learned to say no to the things God was not giving me Grace to do. And then those roads led me to more heartland roads where God taught me to follow Him--not the paths other people had made. I learned to match my steps with His, even when it meant stopping when He stopped-- while all the others around us kept moving in what appeared to be progression to my untrained eyes.

...Becoming quiet when He wanted to speak to me...obeying without always first understanding 'the why' of His request...forgiving when He forgave...
handing my burdens to Him, not carrying them myself along the road...

All those lessons--and more--led me on the treasure hunt to finding pieces of Stable Serenity which fit together like a puzzle. But they could not be found on my own. And not in a cozy little shop, either.

And the puzzle is now sitting here--pieces gathered from journeys with God. Pieces now inter-locked, never to be scattered and lost. Pieces which stay connected even when storms blow across the table. An unfinished puzzle, yes, but the treasure hunt is half the fun. The journey is incredible.

***