Friday, April 29, 2005

Karen Carpenter


Does anyone else out there still miss Karen Carpenter?

I guess I've been remembering her lately because Tom bought a box of record albums at an estate sale and inside was a tan album simply titled, Carpenters. I moved my record player up to my Dream Room so I could feel 17 again in the pink light, and my oh my, Karen spins me back to those years, or rather, to the remembered-magic of being 17. And there was a magic to being 17--you just had to brush away all the emotional stuff to find it. Some kids never find it, but I did, and it all comes back when Karen sings:

Long ago... and oh so far away..
I fell in love with you
Before the second show...
Your guitar, it sounds so sweet and clear,
But you're not really here,
It's just the radio...**

And yet... The bittersweetness gets in the way. The sadness of Karen's life, well, I hear it all over her voice and then I remember the movie of her life and all the articles I've read since her death. Yes, the sadness gets in the way and sometimes I walk over and lift up the arm of the record player and let it rest.

And in the silence I return to being 46 and a little stiff in my joints and so far away from being 17 years old in my family's house. But happy. So very, very happy because of who God has become to me and our history together. And because of this life He has given me like a present.

And slowly the ache goes away--all the useless wishes that Karen had had a happy life, too. I wish I could play her songs and feel pure, pure joy. But there's always that ache in her voice and in my memories of her.

I wish I could thank her for leaving us her music. I wish I could thank her for helping me realize that it doesn't matter what people say about the way I look. It matters only what God says--that it's my world with Him on the inside that matters most. When He and I are in harmony, then there's a harmony to my days--not always circumstance-wise, of course, but a harmony heart-wise.

Long ago... and oh so far away...

Someday I will be long ago and far away... and I pray that God will bring smiles, not sadness, not a bittersweetness to those of you who will remember me.


***
**Bits of Karen's Superstar and other songs can be heard here. Scroll down the page.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Living Open-Handed


The first fourteen years Tom and I were married we moved every two years or so. No particular reason--we weren't running from The Law or anything--we just moved a lot. And in the nightmare of moving all our heavy possessions over and over, there was one very, very good thing.

We kept releasing stuff we no longer loved owning.

I mean, after all, who wants to carry and heave and lug junk you no longer like to a brand new home?

Fast-forward to our move here in 1993. Twelve years later we are still living in the same house which welcomed us to this state. A house with three levels and lots of deep, dark cupboards in which to keep shoving more junk. I do love the fact that finally for the first time in my life I've lived in one house for more than 3 years and yet--and yet--there's this annoying ease with which to keep what we no longer love, but only like, simply because we have room to store it.

What is this unholy grasp, this preoccupation we have with our stuff?

Five years ago Grace sat me down one day and told me it was time to pull everything I owned out of every cupboard and closet and drawer. She told me to hold each thing in my hand and ask myself if I still loved it or if it was still truly, truly useful. Well, it took about a month, but I did it. Not as thoroughly as Grace would have liked (I have a feeling), but I did get rid of lots of stuff. And I felt great afterward. Positively refreshed.

Well,guess what Grace once again asked me to start doing last week? Yes, sort through it all again....every cupboard and closet and drawer.

This will easily take a month, maybe longer, because this time Grace is standing over my shoulder, breathing warm breaths down my neck, with every box I sort through. She's firmer with me this time. She keeps reminding me that more than likely Tom and I will be moving across the United States in another year and she tells me, "There is no way on earth that you are taking all this junk with you, young lady!"

I love Grace. I need Grace. I appreciate her so much because only she can release my ungodly hand-squeeze upon things and stuff.

And that is just what I need. She is just what I need to remind me to live my life with an open hand when it comes to Stuff. To see my hands as almost a Giving Stream for things to pass through for others to use. To see everything I own as a gift from God, yet still very temporary.

Because it is. I will take no stuff with me on that final day. But I will take a heart full of memories of gifts given to me by friends and family. And I will take a record of the times I blessed others with the stuff God sent my way. Not a record I've kept myself, but one God keeps for me.

Someday I'll have to let go of all of it--every book, every painting, every chair, every bit of clothing. That will be a happy day. And I keep getting the feeling it will be a happy day, too, when I can let go of half of it early.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Back In The Shop Again


Ever done this? You take your car into the shop for repairs because it just doesn't handle the way it used to or it's making a strange sound or it's just plain not running anymore... and then they tell you that the problem is much more serious (and much more expensive) than you'd ever thought.

Don't you just hate it when that happens?

Well, often I take myself back into God's Shop for repairs. I come limping in because someone said something to me which hurt my feelings.... or I'm just not feeling peace like I used to.... or I'm just plain tired of arguing with Tom...

Well, you know... That kind of stuff.

And then--wham! God tells me what I so do not want to hear. On the pink repair order sheet I read these kinds of things:

"You shouldn't have just spoken without thinking--you hurt the other person's feelings first."
"You've been running away from Me lately when I've called you, plus, you've been worrying a lot. So where's the big surprise that you're not feeling peace?"
"You're arguing with Tom because you keep insisting on having things your own way. Duh."

I just hate it when that happens. When I go running to God for comfort, but instead He tells it to me like it really is. And it's worse than I thought.

It was my pride again.

Pride says:
"I should be able to say whatever I want and to whomever I want, especially when they have messed up."
"I can't help it if my feelings are always getting hurt. Everyone should be careful what they say around me."
"Just let me finish this one project, Lord, then I'll spend time with you."
"I know I worry a lot. I can't help it if I don't trust You like I should."
"I know better than my husband in this situation."
"I know I'm impatient--but I shouldn't have to wait."
"If something is important to me, it should be important to everybody."
"I know the Bible says such-and-such, but God couldn't possibly have meant it that way."

Poor God. He points to my pride and says, "I'm here right now to work on this and set you free if you'll cooperate with me. Let's start with your reluctance to apologize to people."

But too often I'm like, "No, not that! How about if you work on my laziness right now? How about if you set me free from that first?"

Funny how I can pretend God said,"That will be just fine," when actually, He just shakes his head sadly while I back my limping, stubborn old self back out of God's Shop--in the same, unchanged condition.

And as I creep slowly out into traffic while thinking everything will be just fine, I don't even hear all the horns from the traffic backed up behind me. I cannot see in my rearview mirror that I've slowed down a whole lot of other people, too.

************

"No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent."
-- John Donne

"Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty (snobbish, high-minded, exclusive), but readily adjust yourself to [people, things] and give yourselves to humble tasks. Never overestimate yourself or be wise in your own conceits." Romans 12:16

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

The Looking Glass Of Our Days


We are told to daily meditate upon the Word of God.
The Bible tells us to keep our eyes on Jesus.
It tells us to think about things which are of a good report.
We're also told to put other people before ourselves.

I like to listen to what people are really saying.
I try to hear what they are not saying (or not writing).

And here is one of my observations:

The unhappiest people I know, are the ones who have themselves on their mind all the time.

And it's no surprise. Because it flies in the face of the Bible.

Having MYself, MY faults, MY weaknesses, MY problems always on MY mind--well, I would tell you it's a form of idolatry, but I don't think many people could handle that. How could it be idolatry? Because I (me, me, me) have displaced Jesus on the throne of my heart if all I ever think about, meditate upon (worship) is myself (me, me, me--warts and problems and all).

(But that's pretty strong stuff, so let's just forget I mentioned that little bit of information, ok?)

But all I know, is that we are supposed to spend our days looking unto Jesus...and meditating upon His beauty and His promises.... and considering ways we can be a blessing to other people.

We will become like the person we spend the most time with.

I choose to spend my time with Jesus.
I refuse to spend my time counting all my faults and problems and the offenses which come my way one by one.
Looking unto Him--in the looking glass of my days---I hope to someday resemble Him. At least a little.

You know how married couples start to resemble each other when they've been married a very, very long time? Well, it's a little like that.


***
"Be mindful to be a blessing, especially to those of the household of faith..." Galations 6:10

Monday, April 25, 2005

Magnificent Mondays


Hmmm... Why does it feel like some of you read my title and then began throwing tomatoes at me?

Just why are Mondays magnificent?

Mondays begin a new week of this awesome life with God.

A Monday is a present from God--another day to be alive and breathe and to celebrate. Mondays begin a string of days in which potential miracles may happen.

Monday mornings begin with a clean slate. Monday is a new opportunity to spend time alone with Him who imagined you.

Monday is a brand new chance to show love toward the people you know.

On a Monday, you just might receive something special in your mail box. You may be the recipient of a random act of kindness. Or better yet, you, yourself, may show a total stranger a random act of kindness.

Something so great, so memorable, may happen on a Monday that it becomes a day you treasure for the rest of your life.

On a Monday, you just might encourage someone who is ready to call it quits on Life.

Do you realize how endless this list could be?

Sometimes Mondays are horrible because we expected them to be.

For some people, Mondays are dreadful if they are living only for the weekend. As Christians, I believe we have so much more to live for than just a couple days tacked onto the end of a week.

Does anyone agree?

Sunday, April 24, 2005

It's Snowing


April 24th and it's snowing. Part of me says, "Bah!" The other part says, "Oh well. That's Life. That's Life where I live, anyway."

At least I hadn't planted any seeds or transplants outside. That little voice told me to wait. If only I always listened to that wise little voice--it would save me so much time and money and unhappiness.

It's snowing, but still it is Spring. That fact brings comfort and a promise, too.

Isn't this an adorable couple?


Tom found them on the curb one day. Well, he found their picture. I look at them and wonder about their history. In what kind of a house did they live out their lives? Did they have children? Were they happy? Where are they now?

I know some of you love old photos like I do, so I thought I'd share this one with you on this cold, snowy morning so that you could wonder, too.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Refusing To Ride With My Emotions


You know how we tell our kids to never get into a car with strangers? Well, that's exactly how I am with many of my emotions. I refuse to get onboard with them and ride.

Oh, they still drive up to my house and roll down their windows and call, "Come on! You deserve to feel offended today! Remember what _______ said about you? Remember how much that hurt? Well, hurry up! We'll help you rehash the whole ugly episode over and over."

But oh my.... once inside that speeding car, it's nearly impossible to jump out. Trust me, I know. All the cars belonging to my negative emotions pick up speed the second I acquiesce to them and sink down into the passenger seat.

You've heard of Joy Rides? Well, I've taken my share of Sorrow Rides.

I used to think those rides were fun, even comforting at first. That is, until nearly all of them ended in crashes which took me days or weeks to heal from. I believed I had no choice but to step into every passing car which stopped for me. I used to say, "But I can't help it!," and then jump into each sorry, emotional vehicle, ones with these labels written in pin-striping:

Nobody Loves Me
I Hate Mondays
Life Is Full of Disappointment
I Can't Help Worrying
My Best Days Are Behind Me
I Don't Deserve to Be Happy
You Hurt My Feelings
I'll Always Be In Debt
Most People Are Jerks
I Can't Do Anything Right

Well, I can help it. No one forces me to take Sorrow Rides. My emotions are not who I really am and they are not more powerful than the God inside of me. "Greater is He," remember?

Now if I find myself on a Sorrow Ride, I know full well I chose to step into the car when it stopped for me. No one pushed me inside--I got inside because I chose to go for a ride.

There came a time for me to wake up and not be like a zombie on auto pilot headed out the door to those passing emotional vehicles. After all, I've got the God of the universe living inside me--isn't He big enough to help me handle these passing emotions? And they do pass by when they realize I'm not coming along...this too shall pass... this too shall pass...

Besides, I have higher, more important things to occupy my time than sorrow riding. In fact, you'll have to excuse me--God and I are going to go do a bit of joy riding now...

Thursday, April 21, 2005

My Manager


Manager:
One who handles, controls, or directs, especially:
a. One who directs a business or other enterprise.
b. One who controls resources and expenditures, as of a household.

Did I ever tell you that I have a real, live Manager? I do--seriously! He's the best Manager in the business.

But He's strict. He reminds me constantly that years ago, I gave-up my rights when I asked Him to manage my very hectic, mixed-up life. I agreed to trust His judgment even when it went against my own (which for years, I'd always thought was pretty darn wise).

From behind my Manager's desk, He sees the world from a whole different view. Windows circle Him, showing Him angles and perspectives my eyes cannot see. No wonder I'm always doing things now which make no sense to my head...

My Manager tells me to spend money when I'd rather save it-- and save it when I'd rather spend it.

My Manager tells me to keep silent when I feel I should speak. He tells me to speak when I'd rather keep silent.

When crowds are asking me to say "yes" to their requests, my Manager tells me to say "no." He just says, "Trust me," then picks a whole different crowd for me to help.

When those never-satisfied folks, The Shoulds, The Oughts and The Mustn't Offends are bossing me around, He says, "Forget them. Just do what I say."

When the length of my To Do List is stressing me out, my Manager says, "Let me rip that in half. Here, just do this half and leave the rest alone. Listen to me and you'll do less, but accomplish more."

And then just when I think I've got my Manager's ways all figured-out, He changes everything around. He loves to keep me hanging on His every word, minute-by-minute.

And you know what? I love this hanging on His every word, minute-by-minute stuff. For me, there is no better way to live. For me, there is no greater wisdom... no greater peace.

***

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord." ... Isaiah 55:8

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Wanting To Travel Light


Here is what has been taking much of my time lately. My new Naomi-less room upstairs. My Dream Room.

Not 'Dream Room' as in 'The Ultimate Room I've Always Dreamed Of.' No, but as in 'A Room In Which to Dream.' Which to me, is just as nice.

As I've pawed through boxes and cupboards and shelves of my junk downstairs, I've found myself longing to travel much lighter through this world. "Is this an Empty Nest thing?" I wonder. The heaviness of my stuff is beginning to lay a mysterious heaviness inside my permed head. My stuff is always there now--more on my mind than anywhere else.

It's time to let it go. Much of it, anyway. I read somewhere that the older we get, the fewer Things we should have because we are nearing the time when we can take absolutely none of it with us. You know, when we die.

I'm beginning to agree.

Yesterday I told Tom we need to find a new hobby. This traipsing around to estate sales and yard sales and flea markets has been an incredible adventure, but I think I'm glimpsing a new season just around the curve in the road ahead. A lighter, brighter, less-cluttered season.

Not that I'm ready to totally forego the estate sales in huge old family houses as I described here. No, I still would love to go to those--in elegant or fading, decrepit houses, doesn't matter to me-- for ideas for my own home. But just to look. To dream. To see in my mind the good times which were lived-out there.

Well, anyway, I'll let you get to my pictures. If you want to, that is. I do love having my own little pink nest-- I walk through the door and feel as though I have walked into a hug. And perhaps I have.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Soul Validation


Where do you get your soul validation? For years I ran around trying to get mine from friends and family and just about anyone else who would look at me. It's as though I constantly asked these silent questions:

Am I ok?
Am I important?
Am I important to you?
Do you need me?
Do I make this world a better place?
Is your life better for having known me?

...and on and on to the point of making myself a needy, affirmation-gasping mess on the inside.

What has changed? I go to God for soul validation now. What a difference! For one thing, He is always there while I'm asking my questions. He's never on vacation, out walking the dog, or visiting His other friends. Well, He does visit His other friends, but He can visit with me at the same time. That's a great thing about God--He can be in a kazillion places at once.

He also tells me this world is a better place for my having been here because of the times I've let Him speak or act through me. In other words, He makes this world better through me-- and that thrills my heart. It's not all about what I do--it's about who He is in me and what He does.

Another thing--years ago, He convinced me I'm important to Him...so why do I need to hear it from a bunch of other people? He lets me know that He needs the friendship I have to offer and that He loves to spend time with me. Amazing. Truly amazing.

Everything, absolutely everything, changed when I started running to God for validation. I have more inner peace today than ever before since I stopped racing around trying to get peace from what I do. Instead, I've found peace because of who I am--in God and with Him.

Again--amazing. Truly amazing.

***
"You will seek me, and find me, when you search for me with all your heart. And I will be found of you, says the Lord: and I will turn away your captivity..." Jeremiah 29:13,14

***

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Spring Cleaning In Mayberry


I've told you before that my town resembles Andy Griffith's Mayberry. At least, in my own mind, it does.

Many women in my town still do a big spring cleaning. You drive past their old two or three-story homes and see them standing in their yards in their aqua dusters with their hair wrapped in scarves. They are beating rugs, hanging wet laundry, sweeping sidewalks and repainting the porch furniture. You can drive by my house and see me adding to the local color, too. I like to do my share in keeping the old ways alive around here.

I have been carrying boxes from my old office in our basement all the way up to the second floor where I spend my days now in my two new, Naomi-less rooms. And while watching The Andy Griffith Show or The Dick Van Dyke Show (all on DVD), I sit on the floor picking through those boxes, sorting through old junk and old memories.

And too, I've spent hours tearing pages from years' old decorating magazines, keeping only the pictures of cozy rooms I love. I then slip those into plastic sleeves and place them in three-ring binders. These will go out on my porch for the hours I will while away out there.

I love Spring cleaning after a long winter. The air holds so much promise of good times and good weather for the year's remainder. The promise is so thick, in fact, that it carries me along until the job is finished.

I like the old ways. Well, many of them--Spring Cleaning being one. Where's the burden in caring for what God has given me? I mean, who comes up with this stuff?:



So, like, what? It's the sign of a well-spent life to live in a dirty house?

There is a balance to life... if only we would all find it.

Some people say the Good Old Days are gone. Well, it's still the Good Old Days around my house. No one can take them away from me--unless I give them away.

***

Friday, April 15, 2005

What Do We Have to Offer?


When people drop by my home, I know I'm supposed to offer them something to drink, but I so often forget to do that. Many times I've remembered only as they are about to leave (maybe they're leaving because I didn't offer them anything to drink?).

But when I meet people out in Real Life or here in Blogland (which is Real Life to me,too), I am offering them (you) something without even realizing it. It's like I'm offering you a drink without consciously knowing I'm doing so.

It matters what we offer the people in our lives because no one is there by accident.

God gives us a river in which to paddle upstream, against the current, and along the way, it's as though, poof! There's someone next to us in a little boat who's tired of just floating downstream--someone who's ready to face the upstream direction. Someone who needs a towline to get them started... and a drink of water. Someone who needs what we have to offer.

But it's good to ask ourselves, "What do I have to offer?"

It shouldn't be what the weighted-down, Down Streamers offer--things like sadness, depression, complaining, confusion, discontent, irritability and a lack of inner peace and joy. They already have plenty of that.

Yet sometimes I see a lot of Up Streamers with boats full of Down Streamer stuff. Sometimes my own boat has grown heavy beneath that junk.

God has something better-- a way to lighten our load while we are paddling upstream. But it takes emptying our little boats of things we bought into at the Down Streamers Shops along the shore. Dark, heavy things which we bought because everyone else was stuffing it into their boats.

I want to keep my own little ship lightweight. It's easier to paddle upstream with a boat free from junk which weighs me down. And I must paddle upstream, against the current--that's the way to God's Place. It's upriver--just up ahead.


***
"Jesus said...I have come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly." John 10:10

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Non-Dizzy Thoughts


Tom and I had this verse engraved on our wedding invitations many moons ago:

"There are three things which are too wonderful for me, yes, four which I do not understand: The way of an eagle in the air, the way of a serpent upon a rock, the way of a ship in the midst of the sea, and the way of a man with a maid." Proverbs 30:17-19

The writer didn't even try to express his opinions about these things--he left them alone just to ponder their worth.

Some things are too wonderful for me to understand, too. Not wonderful as in wonder-filled or beautiful or intoxicating. No, wonderful as in too overwhelming. And those are the things, the ideas, the current events I try to keep my mouth shut about.

Why? Because I believe it's wisdom to not speak about things I don't understand...things God has not spoken to me about first.

And trust me--from experience, I've watched myself get into loads of trouble by expressing my opinions about subjects I had no business approaching.

It was a monumental day when I finally realized God is not interested in my opinions--and neither are most people. No, what God cares about is that I listen to what He is thinking... and it takes a whole lot of listening to hear that still small voice. It's pretty still and pretty small. And what matters to Him is that I come away from those times ready to share what He said--or--ready to just keep quiet until the time is right to speak them aloud.

And what matters to Him, too, is that I believe what His written word says--you know, His words which even a child can understand--remember those? It's we adults who complicate that whole book.

There is a blog I love to read, especially when its author shares clear, concise thoughts and memories--I am so there with that person at those times. And yet, many of their posts, well, out of perhaps 30 sentences, I only understand two. It's a very weird feeling to read your own native language and yet not understand it! As for the other 28 sentences,they make me a little dizzy and I just pick up the gist that this person is feeling sad.

And often I so want to comment on the two sentences I understood... or I want to plead with this person to please, please wake up and see that brain overload always appears to take them to the Land of Pain. But almost always I leave no comment at all. Why? Because I'd only end up speaking about something I do not understand. And again, that leads to trouble.

I love God's thoughts best. I can understand those because He deciphers them for me. He knows my limited brain can't comprehend anything complicated and wordy, so He condenses it all for me and uses words I know to express concepts I do not know.

His words bring peace to my mind. And if getting peace in my own head means letting complication alone and staying far away from it--I'll do that. To me, peace is always worth the price of staying away from the Land of Complication--even when whole groups of friends are having a good time over there on the beach.


***
But as for me and my head--we will not try to figure everything out.

***

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

The Courage To Go Couchless


Last year we gave away our couch. We had no intention of replacing it, either.

Did you know it is legal to not have a couch in your living room? No C.P's (Couch Police) come to your door and write you a ticket. Even though every other house in the United States has a couch, you are breaking no laws if your house doesn't have one.

Amazing.

But sometimes your friends and neighbors say things about your couchlessness. And that's the test--can you stay couchless by choice or will you give into must-have-a-couch pressure?

We are still couchless. And we are still happy that way. Tom has his recliner for watching movies and two feet away I have my 1960's pink comfy chair designed for one-and-a-half people. I lay across its wide arms, with my feet upon the side table and my afghan over me--and am content.

Maybe our going couchless wasn't just because a couch takes up too much room in our sunroom... Maybe it was our way of rebelling against the accepted norm. Maybe the fact that our sunroom is actually what we use as a living room--although it's just half its size--well, maybe that's our way of rebelling, too.

Or maybe it's one of those little things God has us do now and then to loosen our white-knuckled grip upon The World. A little reminder that this world is not our home, not really, so we don't need to be acting like it is by blending in and having what everyone else has. And by being what everyone else is.

Some revolutions are good. They just might jerk us out of ruts we dug for ourselves--ruts we dug because everyone else had a shovel in their hand and were digging ruts of their own.


***
"Our Lord begins to bring us into the place where we can have communion with Him, and we groan and say--'Oh Lord, let me be like other people!'" ... Oswald Chambers

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

When Your Encouragers Are Out to Lunch


The only bad thing about keeping a blog is that I get tested on just about everything I write.

Like today... awhile after I wrote that piece about emotions, Naomi came home to get more of her boxes to take over to her apartment. Things started out well, then they collapsed into the one thing Naomi does which pushes all my buttons and makes steam come from my ears. She once again insinuated that I know nothing about Real Life...that somehow, somewhere, my brains fell out...that although she is half my age, she has somehow had twice my experience.

And I'd been having such a lovely morning, too. Sigh...

Well, I partly passed the Naomi Test. I didn't sink to her level and say a bunch of stuff in retaliation. I only gently said a couple things to defend myself. For me, that's big. And then I went back into my dream room--my peaceful place of escape at the top of the stairs, and quietly closed the door. In the old days I would have shut it hard. Ok, I would have slammed it.

So far, so good. But then, as I sat back on my floor and continued sorting through my magazines in the sunlight, I came very close to crying. All right, all right... I cried a little. But then I remembered what I'd written this morning and how this was most likely a test to see if I really believed those words. I did. And then God was there sitting beside me--He even nudged my shoulder like a friend and said, "Come on. You're doing fine. You know she's young and still has so much to learn. Cheer up."

And that reminded me of Encouragement 101. The best thing I learned in that class?

"But David encouraged and strengthened himself in the Lord" ...I Sam. 30:6

Very often, you can't wait for a truckload of Christians to come along and peel you off the Highway of Life. Sometimes you just have to ask God to do it. You have to let Him be The Great Encourager when all your regular encouragers are out to lunch... When they've not picked up the signals--spoken or otherwise--relaying the fact that you need some kind, uplifting words.

Sometimes, in fact, God purposely scrambles those signals in hopes that we will come to Him for encouragement. In that case, it does no good to get upset with the people who failed to race to us when we needed them. So often it's more a matter of God wanting us to run to the Throne, instead of the phone in times of need. (I am stealing that statement, I'll confess.)

I am so thankful for Encouragement 101. Kind, healing words from other people--really, they're wonderful! But sometimes even the best encouragers fail us, for whatever reasons.

There is only one Encourager who never, ever fails.

Emotions 301


"Emotions are the believer's number one enemy." ... Watchman Nee

God University has an extremely controversial class called Emotions 301. You can only take this class when you've been in school a few years--the younger students can't handle this one. In fact, the older students don't handle it too well, either.

You should hear all the arguing which takes place in that classroom. People stand up at their desks and hotly defend their right to feel miserable--to go wherever their emotions take them. To go up when their emotions are up and to go down when they are down. To be jerked, yanked and dragged by their feelings any day of the week--that is what many students fight for.

I pitied the Teacher of that class. And when I became a student teacher of that class, I pitied myself.

Following our emotions is like following a treasure map on which the directions and roads keep changing. The treasure remains in the same place, but the lines to it move around constantly.

Emotions are like the lights of sunrise... You know, when you run to get your camera to take a picture of the pink sunrise, but by the time you return, the sun has gone orange. And as the light in the sky keeps changing moment by moment throughout the day, so do our emotions change.

Our spouse says something stupid to us, so Life turns grey.
Our spouse says something wonderful to us, so Life gleams.

We accomplish our work so we feel terrific about ourselves.
We don't accomplish our work so we feel horrible about ourselves.

Our friends keep in contact with us, so we love them and Life is great.
Our friends neglect us, so we resent them and Life is sad.

Our circumstances are going well so we feel happy and healthy.
Our circumstances are going all wrong so we feel upset and sick.

In Emotions 301 we learned that there is something more sure, more unchanging, more steady than our emotions. And that is the Spirit of God speaking to the spirit He awakened within us-- with both His written words and spoken ones. He so wants to put our feet on steady ground...to lead us from strength to strength and from glory to glory.

He is wanting to make us into examples of someone held up by His steady hand. Someone who recognizes why emotions were created in the first place--so that we can express the very emotions of God in any situation...and so that we can express what is going on in the spirit God made alive within us.

And that's what I'm aiming for... to express joy when God does...to express anger when God does... And to allow only a godly discontent in my spirit to move me--not my own gotta-do-something-different discontent.

...to recognize the difference between my emotions and God's... and the difference between my soul and my spirit...

But most of all-- to be led by His Spirit--He who is like a map on which the roads change not--but always lead to Heaven and "Well done..."


***
Emotions 301 is a course which lasts for years and years--it's impossible for me to sum it all up in a simple blog post. So please keep in mind I've left so much unsaid.



"For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." ... Hebrews 4:12


***

Monday, April 11, 2005

Timing 202


At God University, after Instant Obedience 201, you usually take the extension course, Timing 202.

That's the class where you learn that timing really is everything. You discover that when God says, "Do it Now," He means do it Now.

Not in two hours. Not next Thursday.
Not when you feel like it.
Not when you believe tomorrow would be a better, wiser time.

Now is when He's giving you His anointing. Now is when another person's heart is ready to receive what God is speaking through yours. Now is when His power and Grace are at the gate, waiting to be released, like water from a canal wall.

And that's the class where you learn if you wait past Now, it usually means you've blown it. Sometimes God gives you a second chance, but often He doesn't. It's humbling to discover God thinks our own bright ideas are just a huge waste of time. That's all part of the pop quizzes. The goal of Timing 202 is to show us that only what is done for--and by--God will last. Only when we listen and obey His terrific ideas will there be lasting fruit.

But you also learn to Wait when God says Wait. That's just as hard sometimes, because sometimes He gives you the words to say before He wants you to say them. Before the timing is His. That's all part of the pop quizzes, too. Will we zoom out ahead of God and leave His anointing, His timing in our dust? Will we skip blithely ahead with God's words, but our own timing, our own ways, our own ideas--all of which will, more than likely, lead us to a big, fat mess?

Will we race ahead before God is ready or before we are or before others' hearts are ready, too?

Timing 202...Vital, vital stuff. Trust me, at the beginning of that class I was like a wild, untamed horse just chomping at the bit, kicking at the gate and wanting to be released to what I thought was freedom. It took a few catastrophes, though, to learn that real freedom is when God can trust you with the gift He gave you.

And at the end of my thrashing and loud insistence upon rights and running around putting out fires I began myself.....when exhaustion had to bring me to the place of giving up and doing things exactly God's way... Well, it was like the end of the movie, The Miracle Worker. Remember that? The blind, deaf and mute Helen Keller, after years of no discipline and following weeks of physically and emotionally fighting her teacher, Annie Sullivan--Helen finally, finally understood that Annie was giving her a way out of the darkness. And that evening, in the silence, after what had been weeks of wild, rebellious storms, Helen stepped quietly into Annie's darkening room and sat upon her lap in a rocking chair. And, together, they rocked slowly in the blessed peace of acceptance--and true freedom.

Well, it was like that.

***

Sunday, April 10, 2005

A Better Way


Yesterday Tom and I went to an estate sale and then picked up lunch at Taco Bell to eat at home. For the first time this year, we sat at the white table on our front porch after I moved it into the sun. The air was still chilly in the shade but just right in the bright light.

We read our mail while sitting there and listened to our happy neighbors in their yards. Everywhere we'd gone that morning we'd seen people just standing in their yards looking upward and around them, simply enjoying the arrival of what appears to be Spring-Come-To-Stay. It blessed me to drive past so many 20-somethings, especially, standing alone on their lawns, just soaking up the bright, perfumed silence.

But back on our porch--I sat there with a heart full of memories of my life here. I wouldn't have missed these 12 years Back East for anything. And I looked at Tom across the table and Taco Bell wrappers from me--I wouldn't have missed being married to him for anything, either.

Long ago we found something better, more lasting than marriage counseling (here is my controversial twist). We discovered that if both husband and wife allow God to change them into the people He created them to be, then everything in the marriage miraculously rights itself.

If I let God destroy my selfishness, my need to have the last word, my always thinking I'm right and my pride--well, then I'll become a very easy person to live with. And if God is meeting my deepest needs, then I'll not be suffocating Tom with a whiny neediness. I'll not nag him about having his own life because I'll not be lonely while he partakes of what he enjoys.

And on and on... If I let God reduce me to love on all levels and with all people, then my 'marriage level' will certainly be affected. If I am 'dying daily' (as the Apostle Paul would say), then daily I'm becoming more like Jesus--and if that doesn't affect a marriage, I don't know what will.

Tom and I have been married 26 years and have found that there is something greater than following marriage advice, techniques, programs, hints, traditions, or systems from counselors, books or seminars. For us, we've found that letting God break us into smithereens and then, piece by piece, remaking us His way--well, we've found no better harmony maker.

These two recent empty-nesters are on their second honeymoon and are more crazy in love than befits 40-somethings. Each day grows sweeter and the glow in our home burns brighter, come rain or sun.

***
Post Script: Ah yes! Regarding the committment factor as commented upon by Tina and Saija... Just nights before Tom and I were married, (in 1978--the Dark Ages), we sat in my living room and told each other that we were going to stay married no matter what. Whether we had a happy marriage or a miserable one--the choice would be ours--but we were staying married forever. Of course we were just babies at the time (19 and 21), but that one decision has kept us from ever using the dreaded D Word all these years. The question has never been, "Will we stay together?" but rather, "Will we be happy or miserable in this thing?"

"Heaven may be in a sordid slum or a palace, and I can make My Home in the humblest heart." ... From the book, God Calling

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Of God University and Umbrellas


Meg asked which classes I have taken at God University... Here is another one.

(It will help if you remember that 10 years ago I was the shyest woman on Earth.)

Soon after Coming When Called 101, I took Instant Obedience 201. In that class you learn how reasoning can talk you out of obeying the simple, clear voice of God.

An example: One misty day while I strolled through a local national park, I saw a small family walking toward me. The two children looked happy, but the father did not because his wife appeared to be complaining about walking in the rain without an umbrella. She looked pretty unhappy about getting her nice clothes and hair damp.

Quickly they were approaching me and then I heard a voice within me say, "Hand your umbrella to the mother."

Oh my... They were walking toward me so fast and the reasoning began. "But Lord! What if she tells me she doesn't want it?" I thought to myself. "What if she says 'No thank-you' and I look silly? And besides, won't I have to cut my walk short and go home? This is the only umbrella I have. And what if I'm just imagining that you want me to do this, yet it's just me? What if they don't speak English?" (People from foreign countries visit here often.) "What if I frighten them, or something? "

Oh good grief.

Well, in the time it took to for me to ask those questions, the family walked past me and immediately I felt the stab of disobedience. I knew I had reasoned away a blessing and I felt dreadful. I told God, "You should have told me sooner so I could've gotten used to the idea!"

He said, "No, you should have just obeyed me sooner."

Don't you just hate it when God is right? Well, anyway, I asked Him to give me another chance to bring up the grade I had received on that test. He never did give me another opportunity to give away my umbrella--that would have been too easy, I suppose. But He's given me hundreds of chances since then for instant obedience to that still, small voice.

The tests get easier when you understand what's going on. They get more exciting, too, after you've tasted the joy of obedience and seen the President of your university use you to do courageous things you never, ever could have done without Him.

Friday, April 08, 2005

The Life Fear Gave Us


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

We complain we are bored with Life--
Yet when God sends us an adventure
We turn, afraid, and say
"Oh! That is a hard thing
And I cannot do it. Ask me
Anything but that.
What do you think? That I can
Walk on water?"

But still He opens doors
(Often the same old one)
And we keep slamming them shut
Because no detailed map hung outside--
And because He would not let us
Be the Safari Leader.

And because what we saw
Wasn't what we'd already seen before.

We've ripped up so many
Invitations to adventure
That whole piles of confetti
Have buried our feet
And if another adventure came along,
It would take the very fingers of God
To pull us from our littered mess.

But amazingly, that's just what
He wants to do,
Even after the
Lifetime of our "No thank-you's"
And our "I'll not go THERE'S."

True, our hesitation destroyed some
Adventures forever--and yet,
And yet! God is still merciful enough
To leave a few doors opened
For we who have tired of
Our own ways
And are ready to fulfill
Our destinies in lands
Where we must follow God's voice--
His directions--
Or die.
***

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

The Un-Sacrifice


This post will shake some of you up, but hang in there with me, ok?

There's one thing I know for sure: If I want radical changes in my life, I will have to do some radical things in order to get them. It's downright foolish of me to keep doing the same old thing and expect different results.

Years ago, God told me in order to make room for more of Him inside me, I would have to let go of anything which was taking the place reserved only for Him. It was like He would come to the theater of my heart, walk down the aisle to His reserved seat, and then find other people sitting there.

He doesn't like it when that happens.

So because I told God I was willing to do whatever it took to become empty of me and full of Him, He put me through a sort of spiritual boot camp. We started with a class named Coming When Called 101. It didn't sound hard. All I had to do was come away with God whenever that still, small voice called me.

Well, it would have been easy if He only called me when nothing else was going on. But instead, I'd hear that voice call me right before my friends were going to go out for coffee. Or during the time my favorite tv show aired or even--gasp--right before a Sunday night church service. He even asked me to stop writing letters to some of my friends, even though they probably would not understand why.

Oh my... It didn't make sense back then, but it certainly does now. I was so addicted to friendship, that God had to yank my fingers from their death-grip upon it. He had to wake me to the need of obedience even in small areas like tv viewing. And the first time He had me stay home from a church service (no one went to church more than me, except perhaps the pastor--but maybe not even him) He showed me how I'd used such legalistic standards while judging others about their own church attendance (or lack thereof). And of course, since letters had been my lifeline, He had to tie that lifeline off--for a season.

I could go on and on. Coming When Called 101 was no easy A--trust me. It required sacrifice because let's face it--it is never easy to die. It is never easy to do what almost no one else thinks you should do.

And yet...and yet sooner than you would have guessed, it became more of an un-sacrifice. Something which appeared harder to my friends and others who didn't understand than it was in actuality to me. When God tells you to do something, He usually forgets to tell your friends about it. He means to do that--it's all part of the course. It's on every test.

Coming When Called 101 became a joy, because there is nothing sweeter on Earth than spending time with the God who made you for Himself. There is nothing more wonder-filled than His presence.

Like I said, my death-grip had been on friendship and seeking approval. What is yours on?

It took radical obedience for me to be set free from my various addictions. I took Coming When Called 101 eleven years ago and I'm still going through God University. I've taken lots of courses since then and still have never found an easy one I can recommend to you.

But I will recommend this: Don't try to skip courses or cut class. Don't expect to sail through any course God puts you through in a measly week or two. All changes take time. But you can expect help from Grace. She doesn't hand out cheat sheets, or anything, but she will help you with your homework.

***

What We Think We Want


It's funny how you can spend years wanting what is wrong while believing what you want is right. Well, it's not funny, if by chasing wrong dreams you end up in a place God never intended you to be.

That happened to me--and not just once, either. My dreams were to have more friends and to make the ones I had appreciate me more. I would lounge on my front porch on summer days with my nose behind a Victoria magazine appearing to be reading it. But to be honest, I was just waiting for the mailman to bring me letters from the friends I'd left back Out West. Problem was, I couldn't be honest. I couldn't admit that each note I received was like a message telling me I was ok. Accepted in the Friendship Realm. Valuable.

I had dreams to become well-known for either my writing or for being the best wife, mother, or friend (as if someone would hand me a gold plaque for those things). Sometimes I toyed with the idea of doing something Guiness Book of World Records worthy (like writing the most letters in a year). Or finding a way to make money so I'd have enough for the extras I thought I needed. Or being the best-dressed or the best-looking 35-year-old around.

You know...

But the thing was, each time I'd go after those dreams, it was as though God came along and frustrated each one. I'd get no letters, no extra money, no awards. Except that back then, I believed it was Satan who was the rain-maker on my parades, the ants at my picnics, the spoiler of all my plans. I thought he was the one who caused my dreams to die early deaths and never come to fruition.

Not.

No, eleven years later I realize it was good old God, Himself, who burned my dreams to ashes. Why would He do such a thing? Because my motivation was all wrong. I wanted to be the Best Whatever so that I would receive the praise of people. I wanted to look good in other peoples' eyes. I was seeking the approval of man and basing how I felt about myself according to the way people felt about me.

Wrong, wrong, wrong. Like, don't do that.

As the song says, I was looking for love in all the wrong places. Oh, they were never seedy, big-time-sinfully-obvious places. Most were even Christian places. But you can be off just a few degrees in Life and end up in a very sad land. A land where Selfish Ambition reigns and drags you around by the neck--somehow without you even realizing what's really happening. A place where you search fruitlessly for the kind of love you'll find only in Jesus.

Now I thank God that He did not give me what I thought I wanted. I didn't know it back then, but what I really, truly, deep-in-my-heart wanted was Him.

Just Him.

His love and acceptance and appreciation of me is the answer to all my dreams. I am important to Him so now I no longer careen around trying to become important to everyone else. And now Life has gone simple. I try to stay empty of what I want so that I can stay full of what He wants for me. And when I do that, all those good things spill out all over the place. I cannot contain such wonder.

They even spill out all over this blog, that is, when I'm careful to stay empty of me.


***
"Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ." Galations 1:10

"Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves." Philippians 2:3

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

The Landlord of My Head


That's me--the landlord of my own head. Up there I own a street of lovely homes which I rent out to those feelings and emotions I deem worthy and responsible to take up residence. I look these folks over and decide who will add to the peacefulness of my street and who will not. To the peace-enhancers I give my hand. To the others, I give my boot.

Sometimes, though, certain emotions come in a good disguise when really they are not good at all. And sometimes I've discovered some feelings living up there who snuck in through windows while I was unaware. They didn't even ask first if they could take up residence. I have had to step into those houses and insist that those squatters leave, they and all their junky belongings.

Oh my... the bad renters I have had! The Evil Forebodings are renters who keep returning and I keep having to throw them out. If I don't, they sit on the front porch in rocking chairs and shout words like, "Hey! Things have been going really well for you lately. Maybe a little too well, perhaps? Maybe you are due for something bad to happen next. Better look out!"

I've learned you just can't let folks like that rent space in your head. You have to insist that they leave--sometimes over and over until they get the message. Otherwise they ruin your life because they get you believing for bad things instead of good. And it matters what we believe. Like Jesus said, "Be it done unto you, even as you believed."

Other bad renters?

The Easily Offendeds
The Fearfuls
The Guilties
The Dreadings
The Worries
The Unforgivings
The Irritables
The Allaboutme's

All will ruin my life if I don't exercise my legal, God-given right to kick them out of my homes.

Who are the good renters, you ask? Who adds to the peaceful neighborhood of my head?

The Mercifuls
The Courageous'
The Pardoneds
The Anticipatings
The Trustings
The Forgivings
The Calms
The Notallaboutme's

...and so many more.

I enjoy being the landlord of my head. It's never a boring job and God and I get to write up all the contracts. He and I are in charge of what goes on up there--and we are certainly not helpless in dealing with bad renters.

***

Monday, April 04, 2005

Let It Burn!


I had a feeling while writing my last post that someone would ask just how do you keep the fire burning? How do you keep your passion for Jesus alive?

So for Meg and others who keep me on my toes (and that is so good for me)....

Basically, you just do whatever it takes to keep your friendship with Jesus the most vital thing in your life. You stay needy for Him--as needy as you are for air, itself.

You come when He calls and stay until He releases you. You leave condemnation behind because it's like avoiding your best friend because you feel so guilty. It makes things only worse.

You listen a lot to that still, small voice throughout the day. You find a good, solid Bible teacher--someone who will not coddle you. You move when God moves. You stop when God stops. As in a dance, you let Him lead.

If you find yourself craving your way more than His, you choose His way--even if it feels like the hardest thing in the world. You become acquainted with Grace and lean on her for the hard tasks.

Basically, you just keep dying to what you want, what you think, and what you feel.

If He tells you to leave the world's things alone, you leave them alone. You do what He gives you permission to do--and you always, sometimes later--discover what He chose for you was best.

You stop trying to change yourself. You cooperate with God and let Him do what He does best--the changing of a heart.

Basically you just die. You die to yourself bit by bit.

And the more you die to you, the more alive you will become in Him. He will change everything on the inside. And because He created something new in you, He will look and see that it is good.

And the fire will keep burning.

Candle Love vs. Blazing Love


For years I just had Candle Love for God. You know, like the little flame you see upon the wick of a simple candle. A flame, yes, but a little, flickering flame.

I would read those verses which say we are to love God more than everybody else and I'd always feel so guilty. When I could get honest with myself, I'd realize: I loved just about everybody else more than I loved God.

Those verses worried me. And I worried, too, about Heaven. I mean, I knew I'd be going there someday, but I secretly hoped we'd all be able to play a lot of tennis or something--I just couldn't get excited about standing around and praising God in my new heavenly body. I covertly wished for something different.

And like I said, I felt guilty about all that.

But then Blazing Love came along.

I read somewhere that it takes God to love God. Eleven years ago Blazing Love got a hold of me. It was not anything I drummed-up or whipped-up myself. It has never let me go. No, but I always have sensed if there was any letting go to be done, it would have to be done by me.

I would be the one who would have to walk away. God was going nowhere.
I would be the one who would have to stop feeding the flame.
I would have to be the one who would stop the growth process which also began at that same time.

If anyone was going to mess up, it would always be me. God could never mess up--never make one mistake. I had to stop all inklings of thoughts that He could error or step away from me or stay mad at me or base His love for me upon my performance.

There was so much to learn--and unlearn. But Blazing Love kept--keeps--me going deeper into the only love which has ever satisfied my thirsty heart.

We have not because we ask not. Blazing Love is available to anyone--but it comes only from God, Himself. What a relief. All that's left for me to do is to stay hungry. To do whatever it takes to keep Blazing Love burning bright. To set aside time to soak in God's presence each day--and then to face the world, changed by Love.

The old Candle Love is gone. It's been swallowed up, forever, by a Blaze which is like the sun. Blazing Love even changed my eyesight--everything looks different now. Old things have become new.

And if I never play tennis in Heaven, that will be just fine by me.

***

"...the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us." Romans 5:5

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Spring Time At My House


This is the view from my new room upstairs. I took this picture this morning so you could see what April 3rd looks like here.

Just lovely, huh?

Argh. Tell me again, why do I live here? Oh yeah--I love it, especially the thousands of huge old three-story houses like you see in the background. You are seeing the backs of these houses:




Oh my... What a difference green leaves and lawns make! They somehow bring hope and light and peace along with them. That is, if you take the time to appreciate them.

Rather like the difference God makes in a heart. That is, if you take the time to appreciate Him.

He is the sun and greenery of my wintry days.

***

"If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant; if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome." ... Anne Bradstreet

"In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt." ... Margaret Atwood

***

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Heaven On The Second Floor


I'd forgotten what having your very own room felt like. When we first moved here I used to have my own downstairs room, but years later I had to give it to our cats. They were holding wild parties at night and flying into my china, splattering it all over the floor. So my room became theirs at night--they didn't mind--some evenings they even go to bed early on their own accord.

But now that our little bird has flown the coop I have my own room, my own nest, high up in our house. It's peaceful there--I walk up the steps to spend time in my room and it's like walking up Jacob's Ladder to reach Heaven. Well, ok... to me it feels that way. This summer I may even crawl out the windows and sit on the roof just outside so that I'll feel even closer to Heaven. That is, if I can still fit through the windows. Last time I was out there I was thinner than I now am. Hmm...

If I was going to publicly campaign for anything, I would probably campaign for the right of every person on Earth to have their own room. That is how much I love mine.

I run up to my room when I feel the need to run to God--and I'm noticing that is often. I walk up that Jacob's Ladder when I need extra peace. When I've watched disturbing news on TV and seen the scary direction this world is going. When I'm tired, warm and need the cool mist of God.

He is my hiding place. My refuge from a world gone wrong. And I'm thankful for the physical place He's given me to represent just how much I do need Him every single day. He makes all things beautiful, even my life in that little room with the cast-off furniture.

***

Friday, April 01, 2005

A Blogger No More


Well, it looks like
I'll no longer be blogging
due to very personal reasons.
You can read about them
here below:
April fool!
Did I getcha?
(It's hard to write this
so that the punch line
doesn't stand out
prematurely.)

But anyway, my silly little joke brings up a good point. I am learning to hold all my God-given gifts, talents and opportunities in an open hand.

They are not mine to cling to. My writing or teaching or giving are not for me to hold onto for dear life, as though I cannot live without them.

I am not to garner self-worth and affirmation and self-confidence from my gifts and ministries.

My gifts are to help other people--they're not designed to help me. My gifts are meant to make you feel good, not me.

My help is to come directly from God, Himself, or from the gifts He shares through you. My security and worthiness and confidence are all to come from God--and who He is--and who I am in Him. Not by what I do for Him.

Not from the way He touches people through me.

Some people will disagree, I know. That's ok. But I have found these to be truths--truths which keep me pliable so that God doesn't get frustrated when He can't move my affirmation-sucking ego to the next place of ministry. Truths which have released heavy, heavy burdens from my shoulders.

It feels so good to feel free.

And I do thank each of you who have shared your gifts with me. I have been greatly blessed by each one.

***