Wednesday, August 31, 2005
In my last post, I mentioned living prepared to comfort others.
Now as I watch coverage of the Hurricane Katrina disaster, I am asking myself more questions...
Am I prepared to handle such a devastating crisis if it were to happen to me? Since I believe the Bible, I also must believe what it says about these Last Days, namely, that things will only get harder in just about all arenas of Life. Am I getting prepared now for rougher times down future roads?
Am I letting God change me from the inside out? Am I letting Him take away, brick by brick, my need to control people, places and things in my life and instead, give that control over to Him? In disasters such as floods, I would venture to say the loss of control is what leads to incredible frustration. If I've already given that control to God--my whole life in reality--that frustration would, hopefully, be replaced by the trust I'd already come to rely upon in difficult daily situations. I would hope that the peace which passes understanding would kick-in as it had previously over and over.
Or, instead, am I experiencing much wild-eyed frustration already in the daily, tiny annoyances and illustrating my smallness as in this verse: "If you falter in times of trouble, how small is your strength!"... Proverbs 24:10?
Trust... trust requires unanswered questions. Do I so trust God now that, no matter what happens, come what may, would I be able to remain sure of Him, His care, His love, His goodness, His wisdom, His sovereignty.... or would I yell at, question and accuse Him and basically, fall apart?
Can I obey Him now in small things such as--if He tells me to stop watching CNN's coverage of disasters because it's lowering me into a sad pit so deep, that it will take a miracle to lift me back up--will I turn it off the minute I sense His voice? Will I do whatever it takes to obey Him and keep the channel between Him and me clear and unobstructed? Or will I just sit there like a zombie and miss chances to be a light and a help and an encouragement to people who need God's help through me?
Many people will disagree with this.... that's ok. But as for me, I would rather die than, out of my confusion and distrust, accuse God of terrible injustices. Yes, His shoulders may be broad, and yes, He knows we are but dust, but He still has a heart which can be made sad by my questioning of His goodness, His wisdom and His all-knowing, always-right judgment. Especially after He's spent so many years being so good to me over and over--and I suddenly forget that in my hard times--I would be horrified to pierce His heart that way.
I want to get prepared now for whatever is ahead up the road so that I'll not risk hurting the One I love best in all this world. If I wait to get prepared--if I wait to let God change me when He's trying to get me prepared right this very minute--it will be too late. I will face any future crisis with a limping, in-and-out, zig-zag faith.
These things take time. Growth, real, lasting, stand-firm-against-that-mountain growth--takes time. That's because relationships take time and history--none more so than my relationship with God. And it's that relationship which will, ultimately, get me through any crisis.
I'm starting now. I'm getting prepared now...before it's too late.
"Though he slay me, yet will I trust in Him..."... Job 13:15
Monday, August 29, 2005
With this latest hurricane I am being reminded that I want to live my life prepared. Prepared to comfort others in an emergency. Prepared to offer help in any appropriate way.
The time to get prepared is always before hard times and catastrophes. In the middle of day-in, day-out life--that's the best time to prepare. If I wait, it will be too late. May I use my time wisely now, in silent, peaceful times, to grow in grace and humility. To cooperate with God and not miss His voice and His instructions which, if followed, will always have me in the right place at the right time offering the right kind of help.
Here is a note I found on the internet a few minutes ago--a note which reminded me of the need to be ready--to live ready to encourage and to be kind:
'The haunted look in someone's face'
From the mailbag:
I overheard two women talking about Hurricane Katrina on Thursday. One woman said "I don't care what they say, I think all those projections are wrong and I think it's gonna come to New Orleans". After looking at the projections online I immediately dismissed her as a quack. Of course, now that I am bunkered down in a hotel room in Alexandria with six other people, five cats and two dogs, I kinda wish I had listened on Thursday.
I wanted to share our experience here in Alexandria. The entire hotel is filled with people from New Orleans, Metairie etc. You can see, every once in a while, the haunted look in someone's face as it finally hits them: "I may have nothing left tomorrow".
And when that look starts to cross someone's face one of the employees here walks over, cracks a joke, pats your shoulder, or just talks to you to make you feel better. These amazing people are handing out blankets and pillows and opening the doors of every conference room, ballroom, and whatever-is-left room in this hotel to house everyone they can fit in the doors. There are dogs and cats of every size and shape in many of the rooms, and no one working here minds in the least. And it isn't just the hotel. Every restaurant, every local who passes by had some kind word to say to comfort all of us today. I have never felt so welcome, so comforted in the face of devastation, as I have felt here in Alexandria.
I can tell you that I won't sleep a wink tonight. I will watch the weather channel, check the Hurricane Bunker notes, and say a few prayers for the people, the city, and life as we knew it three days ago.
- Claire, from metro New Orleans
Sunday, August 28, 2005
There's a Christian tv station in our area, one which many people complain about. Tom and I try not to mutter along with everyone else--we believe our words are important and we prefer to pray about what we don't like rather than complain about it.
Well, that's our goal anyway.
But this afternoon on that Christian tv station, a young Korean woman sang a song about making choices to hold onto anger and sadness-- or Jesus and Hope. How it is a choice. And well, it wasn't that the words to her song were amazing. It wasn't that her voice was incredible--it wasn't flawless and oh-so-trained. But it was anointed. As in, it was as though the Holy Spirit was standing right behind her backing her up. Or He was being the 'wind beneath her wings' ...or her strength and almost her very breath.
It wasn't about her performance--it was about something, Someone, coming through her words and through the whole tv with a high dose of freedom. With the power to shake people from their complacency and back into grace and joy and peace.
How do I know? How could I tell?
Because that's exactly what the Holy Spirit did for me while she sang.
Oh, not that I was in any deep doldrums, but I'd just needed something... a joy zap, or something. Something to shake some cobwebs and restore some light.
Sometimes we get that directly from God, one-on-one. Sometimes we get it from stepping into a church to pray alone. Or sometimes, to keep us away from an I-only-need-God-and-no-one-else mentality, God shows us we do need each other... So it comes while attending a church service or sitting with a friend or reading a passage in a book.
Or it can come from a simple song on tv on a slow, summer Sunday afternoon.
There's something about people who have been set free... people who walk with God. They bring Him along wherever they go and it's surprising what He does to others who cross that path. Who knows how God touches people through us? Who knows the extent or the long-stretching ripples of that?
Who knows what could happen if we all walked with God like that? With that awareness...that power?
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the good news to the poor; He has sent Me to announce release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to send forth as delivered those who are oppressed [who are downtrodden, bruised, crushed, and broken down by calamity]..." ... Luke 4:18
Friday, August 26, 2005
"I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance (to the full, till it overflows)." ... John 10:10
I would ask, "Are you living the abundant life Jesus came to give you?", but frankly, I'm afraid of the answers I would get. Not just that many would be negative, but some people would argue that we're not even supposed to live an abundant life here on Earth no matter what John 10:10 says.
I read some blogs and am amazed at how negative some Christians have become. They argue about the difference between happiness and joy... They are suspicious of laughter in the church--tears--ok, laughter--no way. They criticize men and women who are winning and helping thousands of souls... And they blog against all that is going wrong in this world instead of using their computers to be part of the answer.
When it comes to being around negative people, I'm learning to become an escape artist... to slip out of their negative grasp before it becomes too tight. To back-out of complaint-filled rooms on tip-toe. Negativism is like a disease and I refuse to turn sour and legalistic as I age.
The people I like best? Those who just live their lives on an even keel no matter what is happening. Although the world spins out-of-control, they still remain peaceful and humble and happy in the little things. Simple, down-home folks. You go to them feeling discouraged, but come away feeling hopeful. They can always find something positive about anything negative. Their conversations aren't all about bills and crime and the government and bad husbands and kids-gone-wrong. Instead, they smile and work hard and putter in gardens and sit on their front porches and thank God for sunsets.
I'm not even saying that these should be your favorite people. I'm just saying they are mine. They are the people who are my examples of what abundant life looks like.
Henri Frederick Amiel:
Life is short and we have never too much time for gladdening the hearts of those who are traveling the dark journey with us. Oh be swift to love, make haste to be kind.
Wednesday, August 24, 2005
When we first moved here, we lived with a widow in our church for two weeks until our house finished going through escrow. This woman had books all over her house and one day I picked one up. I never forgot what I read.
I have no idea what the title of this book was, but on one of its pages were words similar to these: By the time our children turn 12 years old, they pretty much know what we believe about most things because we've pretty much told them what we believe over and over and over. When our children reach the years 18 - 21, we need to give them their God-given freedom. It's a freedom which is rightfully theirs, a freedom we all need in order to become what God intended us to be. If that freedom is not extended to our adult children, then we are holding them back from becoming who God created them to be. We had freedoms at that age and our kids must be given those freedoms, too. If we refuse, there will be rebellion and a breakdown in the relationship-- and the fault will lie with us, as parents.
I read that when Naomi was 13 years old and it never left me. It haunted me--and it helped me, too. It helped me work-up to giving her that freedom by 'extending the line,' (I pictured it like a fishing pole line), a little bit more each year she was in high school--instead of having to suddenly let out the whole line when she turned 18--and feeling the dreadful shock of that. It helped me keep my mouth shut many times when she did turn 18 and 19 and beyond and she made choices I would never make.
But oh my.... still, there is almost nothing harder in this life than letting go of our children. I mean, really letting go. Standing back and watching them make their own mistakes. Not saying "If you would only have listened to me..." Being a support instead of a know-it-all nag.
Only if you've been there can you know what I'm talking about.
Yes, we can still offer advice, and yet... That advice needs to come from a heart led by God's wisdom and His timing--not by a clingy, controlling heart. The difference is wild and huge.
Our unresolved need to control is, I believe, most often exposed by the way we treat our adult children. We can try to hide it or deny it, but if it's there, it will slither out eventually. By our voice tones... our intensity.... or in childish ways like holding back our approval or our love or just having an Ok-Fine!-I'll-Just-Not-Say-Anything-And-Then-You'll-Come-Crawling-Back-To-Me-When-Everything-Falls-Apart Attitude.
No wonder so many people have breakdowns in communication with their parents. I see it all the time. Parents who believe the issue is how their children are living, when in reality, it's that the parents just cannot let go and move on to the next phase of their own lives.
I'm thankful that I read that passage in that book while I still had time to get used to this idea of letting go. It saved me from making 1,000 mistakes.
I think I only made 500 mistakes, instead.
And yet, looking back and looking at the way things are now and the good relationship we have with Naomi, I'm thankful that with God's help, I was able to give Naomi her freedom when the right time came... Not in a lump sum, but year after year, a little at a time, until the line was so extended that she was already quite far out in the Lake of Life when the final snip! of the line took place-- and it didn't hurt nearly as much as we thought it would.
Monday, August 22, 2005
I mentioned to you earlier that my parents will be visiting us for the first time since we moved here in 1993. I'm surprised I've not written more often about this huge event because, for four months, it's been the utmost thing on my mind.
If you've followed this blog very long, you may have noticed the absence of words written about my parents. I guess that's because I have one of those awkward relationships with them which so many people have.
Rather than describe it or rehash the past, I'll just tell you what I am thinking now. For these past months it's been on my mind to fix up our house so beautifully that perhaps, finally, my parents will get the message that Tom and I are all grown-up. I want them to look around at our home and our things and think, "Hmm.. it appears they've made a very good life for themselves out here in this state where we've always thought they should never have moved in the first place."
I want them to finally get it that I am no longer 16 years old and an emotional yo-yo. (During our last visit, I couldn't believe how often my mother brought up how I felt about things at 16 and even younger. Sigh. )
If only.... if only they would see me as the 46 year-old-woman that I am. If only they could see that these 12 years living thousands of miles away, have been the most life-changing, amazing years of my total existence.
Oh, we talk on the phone... and email... and we have flown out there and visited them. But this upcoming visit of their's--that will be the biggest test and it's all I can do not to feel as though they are coming to examine this life which we have created for ourselves.
But already, I see the flaws of my careful plans. I could parade before their eyes everything wonderful about my home and my town and this whole section of my state, yet still, there is great potential that they will just not appreciate much of it at all. That is because, basically, we are as different in our likes and loves as the proverbial night and day. Always, our treasures have resided at opposite poles. So I could make my house into the grandest 1935 Craftsman Bungalow on Earth, yet they could, very likely, point out our lack of modern touches. That we have only 1 bathroom. That I do not use my dishwasher by choice. That our kitchen doorknob falls off a lot.
So what it boils down to is this: I need to cut it out. All of this. All of this fixing and painting and rearranging with my parents in mind. I need to return to my earlier mindset of making a cozy home for Tom and me and for Naomi when she visits. This is not my parents' house. Tom and I love our home (most days) which comes in quite handy since we are the ones who have to live here. Or rather, the ones who get to live here.
And we believe moving here was the best thing we ever did.
And more--we love the people who we have become while living in this state so far away from all we knew while growing-up. We took a different turn than the one my parents wanted us to make and we discovered, around the bend, something better than we'd ever dreamed.
God had to take us to a faraway place in order to finally change what needed to be changed within us. That's the way we see and understand it to be--and we will always be grateful.
And that's what matters most.
Another mini-vacation weekend from my blog... Years ago I learned the difference between being faithful to a thing and being faithful to God.
They are wildly different.
If I am faithful to a thing, I will neglect other areas which should be addressed and attended to and enjoyed. But if I am faithful to God, the thing will get done the very best way because I'll be responding with His wisdom, not my own. I will miss-out on nothing of real importance and the people in my life will not feel neglected, either.
But that's a whole other post.
Tom had one day off this weekend and we watched a movie in which I saw something I am now dreaming about. The college-age daughter in this movie rode home from school along a river on an old Schwinn-type ladies' bike. She was wearing a longish floral dress with a blue cardigan sweater over it and her hair was long and wavy behind her.
Oh my, it was like seeing the woman of my deepest soul. That is exactly who I am way down there deep and now she is begging me to let her come out and take a bike ride.
Tom is such a sweetheart--I paused the movie and told him I want an old bike like that and look--isn't that girl very much like a younger me? He agreed because that is how I looked when he met me. He got excited about painting a bike in original old-bike-colors for me then setting me off to spin around these pre-WWII neighborhoods. And right after the movie, he looked in the classified ads for an old bike for me--he called about one and left a message.
I can't wait till we find one. I will ride around our neighborhoods with long wavy hair floating and I'll be known as That Woman Who Looks Like She's From The 1950's. I think I'll start looking for vintage picnic dresses at the Salvation Army down the street and when I have my hair twisty-curly-permed in September in Lee's adorable little yellow cabin shop, I'll tell her, once again, please do not cut my hair. I am growing it long once more, even though I am in my late forties and some people frown on that. But it is my hair and I think I am one of those rare middle-aged women who look better with it long. And even if, in reality, I do not, then at least I feel I look better and that is what counts, right?
Besides, I will need long hair when I get my bike or else how will it flow behind me, touching the small of my back and completing the image of that woman deep inside who wants to ride an old bike and look like a 1950's vision before it is too late?
P.S. Lennon is doing much better! The vet was very happy with Lennon's blood results on Saturday and so were we, of course. Thanks so much for your prayers--I appreciate them far more than you realize.
Friday, August 19, 2005
In October my parents will visit us for the first time since we moved here 12 years ago. They just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary and this trip will be in celebration of that as a gift from my sister, brother and myself. All summer I assumed we were going with Plan A, but then my sister--who is planning the bulk of getting them out here, which I appreciate--emailed me and told me about a Plan B.
Well, I'd spent months with Plan A in my head and when Plan B came along, and it involved my dad doing some driving back here in Insane Driving Territory, suddenly I got frustrated.
Yes, me. I got frustrated and for an hour my sister and I emailed each other back and forth. To sum this up, she called my parents and found out what they wanted, which is really, a basic, do-able Plan C. It's something we can all live with.
But here's the tragedy... After all the emailing, all the frustration--which fortunately, felt like This-Was-My-Old-Life-So-What's-It-Doing-Back-Here-Now?...after all that useless emotion, I walked up our basement stairs and saw that it was now dark outside.
I was disappointed. I'd missed the sunset. I'd missed sitting outside a while and watching my neighborhood play before the evening's end. I'd missed time on our porch with Lennon while I looked through decorating magazines for new ideas. I'd missed sitting up in my dream room watching sun rays go from red to grey while Glenn Miller played Moonlight Serenade.
And it all made me wonder, "What if I come to the end of my life and, looking back, see thousands of such wasted golden hours?"
I was sad because I could never get that hour back. I had squandered it on frustration over nothing. Even if it had been frustration over something frustration-worthy, still it was a waste. Frustration shows me I'm still trying to control the world, my world, which of course, I can't. But I can control myself because God does give us self-control and when I pay attention to how I'm doing in that area, it leaves me little time for the my-world-is-crashing frustration I used to sit inside constantly.
Well, guess what what I will not being doing tonight?
And guess what I will be doing instead?
My life changed when I realized I had choices in how I react to situations. I am not helpless and I am not a victim--I am a choice-maker when it comes to my emotions and what I do with them. And God is the one who gives me power to love this life He gave me and to make the most of it. He gives me the power to have joy in the midst of hard times. You can keep your other kinds of power--that's the kind of power I want.
Wednesday, August 17, 2005
"Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God." Philippians 4:6
When the Bible says 'everything', I like to think it means 'everything'.
When the Bible says 'all', I like to think it means 'all'.
Call me a wild and off-base Christian if you want, but that's what I believe.
Some bloggers say you should never pray for yourself.
Some say you should only pray for yourself if it involves a spiritual thing.
Others say you should only pray for yourself if you are dying.
And others say you should never pray for little things, only big things.
Some say you should never pray for little things while you are at church.
Some say you should never pray for material wants or needs.
Ackk! Let me off that merry-go-round.
Like I said, I believe in praying about everything.
And so right now I am going to ask you to pray for our cat, Lennon. He's the diabetic cat who I give shots to each day. The vet called this morning and said Lennon's blood numbers are horrible--through the roof. After all these weeks, they've only gotten worse, not better. After all those shots and all my attention to detail and trying to do everything just right and being brave and hopeful about the whole thing.
Lennon is the sweetest cat on earth... He can do tricks like a dog and he sits beside me on our porch steps. I love that cat. He is my buddy.
If you, too, believe that we can pray about anything, I would very, very much appreciate your prayers for Lennon.
I took a walk this cool morning along our streets which are tree-lined and old-house-lined, too.
I was enjoying the shade and the quiet and thanking God for it all when whack! A leaf swooped down and brushed my cheek.
It was sudden. It was sweet. It took me by surprise and stung a tiny bit and was, for a second, overwhelming.
I thought, "I've been kissed by a leaf."
Then I thought, "Or maybe I was kissed by God."
When you spend every day with God, you see Him in odd places and gasp! Then you stand there and look around at all the people who are just passing Him by... people with unopened eyes. And you want them to see Him, too.
Tuesday, August 16, 2005
Tom and I had breakfast this morning on our sunny front porch. I put on my apron and made waffles in the old iron and then we took the waffles outside, along with the newspapers from Sunday and Monday. We sat at the table in companionable, peaceful bird-chirping quiet amongst all these pre-WWII houses, many with front porches of their own.
But we broke the silence at times and shared articles of interest with each other from the pages before us and then we'd return to our reading and our munching.
We especially enjoyed the article about the couple who'd been married 74 years... The 100-year-old wife is immaculately dressed by 6 a.m. each morning, with lipstick and pearls, even. LOVE THAT!
Some people say you have to work at having a good marriage. Hmm... I guess you can look at it that way. But to me, that sounds rather like,"You must eat spinach if you want to stay healthy." Or, "You must visit the dentist regularly in order to have good teeth." And well, when Tom and I do things or go places, our times together do not taste like spinach nor do they feel like going to the dentist. They do not feel like work, either.
Instead, it feels like cozy fun. It feels like what I said at one point during our meal this morning in my best broadcaster's voice: "Ahh... La Casa (our last name). The very best in patio dining."
This may sound odd, but I enjoy our 26-year-old marriage. We're having too much fun to work at it.
Monday, August 15, 2005
In my last post, I mentioned looking at people in order to really see them...
This is something God is still working out in me. There is still residue leftover from my decades beneath a curse of shyness. The days when I could look no one in the eye, but always averted my gaze. I became such a professional at that--you'd hardly guess that's what I was doing.
But oh, what I must have missed.
I want to see what is going on. To go to the supermarket and around town realizing there are people beside me who are carrying enormous burdens-- women who's husbands have lost their jobs... parents of sick children... people who have have just attended the funeral of a loved one...or have just returned from the divorce lawyer's office... people who, themselves, are sick and may die soon... people who are afraid of nearly everything.
I want to be able to pick those people out of a crowd and then ask God, "What do you want me to do for them?"
More than twenty years ago our pastor's wife told us this story. Her sons' high school principal lived just down the street from her. For two weeks, off and on throughout the day, she felt a burden in her heart for the principal's wife. So she prayed for her, yet that didn't seem to be enough. Still the burden persisted.
Eventually, she felt as though she should walk down to the principal's home and speak to his wife. One day she knew she could postpone it no longer, so she walked down the street to the principal's house. She was a nervous wreck-- she had no idea what she would say when she got there. She knocked on the door and the principal's wife opened it and just stood there. She was not known for being friendly--there was no smile upon her face.
My pastor's wife said, "I'm not quite sure why I'm here... I've been praying for you, and well, God told me... I thought, well.... Maybe you needed a friend?"
The principal's wife burst into tears. She'd been desperately lonely and had been praying for a friend to be sent to her.
I want to be able to read God and to read people, too. I don't want to reach the end of my life only to be horrified that I was consumed by my own needs. That everywhere I went, it was as though I walked down city streets and stared in big plate glass windows in order to watch only myself walk along.
May the song in my head not be, "What About Me?". May all my Me's not drown out the You's.
Instead, I want to go through this life with my eyes and ears wide open... and then to have the courage to do something about what I see.
Sunday, August 14, 2005
Ann's comment to my post, The Great Shopping Cart Debate, is a perfect way to begin this one:
"Lessons are learned everywhere...think of it---without shopping carts and corrals, I might actually think the state of my soul was fairly good."
"Amen!", like, a million times.
Back in my early days of Supermarket College, this is what I learned:
God is very concerned about my attitude toward others. It matters to him that I not sputter and fume if I race around a corner and come upon The Supermarket Slowpoke. You know her, don't you? She's anywhere from 60 to 80 years old and walks the speed of a sleepy caterpillar. God wants me to not only show patience as I'm standing behind T.S.S., He wants me to go even further--to have compassion and patience in my heart. And to make certain this lesson goes down deep within me, He sees to it that T.S.S. is at the store every time I am.
To God, it matters that I put items away in their proper place if I change my mind about buying them. He cares that I not leave a head of lettuce next to the cans of tomato sauce. He cares that I not be that lazy or that thoughtless about the employees who will have to put the head of lettuce away --if it's not spoiled first. And because God cares about things like that, I need to care, too.
God cares that I pick up what I drop... And in advanced classes, He asks that I pick up what other people dropped earlier. Not only is this combating laziness, but it's sowing good seeds--perhaps someday I will be old and will need others to pick up after me.
There are many smaller things to be learned at Supermarket College--how to choose foods wisely when feeding my family. How to save money by reading the price per ounce stickers on the shelves. How to resist temptations to buy junk food and items we do not need. How to budget and buy enough to last so that I'm not running to the store all the time and purchasing extra things my eyes see during those extra visits.
And there are bigger lessons like Kindness. Letting others go ahead of me in line if they have fewer items than I do. Or in advanced classes, letting them go ahead of me if they have even more, especially if they look tired. Which brings up another lesson--learning to look at people and really see them. Learning to read their eyes and see their needs and having a heart to help where I can.
And learning to listen...Striking up conversations with people in line. Once the woman behind me told me she'd just been diagnosed with cancer, so I listened to her and then told her I would pray for her. Other times I've listened to the checker tell the person ahead of me her problems, and then when my turn came, I've told the checker I would say a prayer for her.
This is longer than I thought it would be.... The lessons are more numerous than I thought (I've not even mentioned parking lot challenges). But so many of those lessons center around one thing: Going to the supermarket not just for groceries, but for reaching out to others.
I like to think the supermarket is one of those 'highways and byways' Jesus spoke of. He wants me to shop there with eyes wide open to the needs of others instead of thinking selfish, complaining thoughts about high prices and over-crowded aisles and squeaky shopping carts and cranky people and crying kids. There is a whole world inside the Supermarket, one far deeper, one which can only be seen with a God-changed heart.
And I am still learning to see that world. I have been in Supermarket College for ever so long.
Saturday, August 13, 2005
In many ways, my tendency to think outside the box is what has always made me feel different than most people I have known.
Take this thing about college. Nearly all my friends in the past 26 years that I've been married, have gone back to college. And they have seen college as only being a group of tall buildings where people pay large sums of money to go in order to obtain more information for either self-improvement or for a better job. Or both. Or they have seen college as being classes you can take online for the aforementioned large sums of money.
Well, you know how the Sixth Sense kid saw dead people everywhere?
I see colleges everywhere.
I've told you about God University and a couple classes (here and here) which I took there.
And I've already told you about Homemaking College.
But there are many, many more places of higher learning. Places where incredible make-your-life-better lessons are free for the learning if only we'll open our eyes.
City Library College
Dealing With Church People College
Staying Happily Married College
Raising Children College
Personal Bible Study College
Movie Theater College
Gardening In Your Backyard College
Obeying God Daily College
Driving In Traffic College
Going On Vacation College
Department Store College
Estate Sale College
Life Experience College
... and more.
Since Jr. High, I have refused to think like everyone else... And that has made all the difference. I love seeing what is invisible to most people, (and it is fun attending invisible colleges), but I've had to get used to the strange looks and the try-to-be-like-most-people lectures.
I'm not going to write about what I learned at each of these colleges, but in my next post, I'll outline a few things from my days at Supermarket College. Stay tuned. You won't want to miss it.
Friday, August 12, 2005
Oh fun! I found another shopping cart mini-discussion going on over in Mel's comment box.
I love those. I love them because, really, it's not about the shopping cart at all. It's about obedience and rebellion and sacrifice and putting others first.
But for now, I'll pretend it is about the shopping cart.
Eleven years ago I was like everyone else. After unloading my groceries into my car, I'd leave my shopping cart wherever I darn well pleased. Well, usually I'd spend 90 seconds trying to get it to stay in the utmost left-hand corner of my parking space. I'd turn the wheels a certain way so that the cart would not roll into any of the cars near it. So that it would not roll into mine. So that it would stay after I left and allow someone else to park in that space.
Of course, instead of spending 90 seconds doing the great shopping cart balancing act, I could have spent just 30 seconds rolling it into the designated corral.
Well, about that same time (11 years go) God turned my life upside-down (which is pretty much what this blog is all about). All of a sudden, I couldn't get away with squeezing my shopping cart into that tight corner. Why? Because weirdly, in my heart, I kept hearing, "Just put it where the signs say to put it." And being from the "Go-Ahead-and-Make-Me Generation," it actually took me around three weeks to finally give-in to that nagging little voice which I'd come to recognize quite well in recent months because it seemed I heard it every time I turned around.
So I began putting the silly cart away in its corral, even though that meant getting soaked by rain or having to wait for cars to pass by or having to walk 11 car spaces down the parking lot. And then the amazing thing--low and behold, one day I heard Joyce Meyer talking about how God had, years before, convicted her about the same thing. How He used the supermarket to teach her many lessons about obedience.
If I had false teeth, they probably would have fallen out.
But the sad thing was this--that same day, I realized that, had the Holy Spirit not convicted me before I heard Joyce speak about the shopping cart deal, I, more than likely, would have said, "Well, that's fine for her, but I'll just wait till God tells me the same thing."
And when I realized that, I was horrified.
I so do not want to be like that. I do not want to wait for two angel appearances, three writings on the wall and a voice from Heaven before I'm convinced I should obey one simple sign. I don't want to be a fleece-laying, I'll-do-it-my-way, prove-it-to-me-first Christian. Instead, I want a heart that is hungry to obey God and to obey those in authority. And when supermarket owners post signs in their business, I want to show I respect that authority by obeying those signs.
And I want to put other people first... I don't want my laziness with the carts to dent anyone's car or make them have to drive around and around the parking lot simply because my cart rolled to the center of a great parking space. And I want to go beyond written rules and beyond what I'm asked-- I want to have a heart which loves to let people go ahead of me in line or give them change when they bought too many groceries or help them find what they are looking for.
The supermarket is a remarkable place for learning Life's Lessons. I've learned my share there. I've had my heart exposed there--many, many times.
And I haven't always liked what I saw.
Call me crazy, but I love this getting older stuff. Some people always talk about wanting to go back to their 20's or 30's-- not me. No way.
I would never go back to the days when I spent (wasted) sorry hours meditating about what was going wrong in my life, playing it over and over on the screen of my mind. The money problems... the relationship problems, the house-falling-apart problems... And then complaining to people in the key of whining. And thinking 'poor, poor unappreciated me'... Doing and thinking all those things, morning, noon and night and then wondering in total confusion, "What's wrong with me? Why aren't I happy?"
No, I'll stay right here, thank-you. Right here where, in learning to enjoy God, I've learned to enjoy Life. Right in this spot where I've learned to recognize when my mind has veered off into Sad Thought Ditches. Here where, as long as I have Jesus, my days will be not just ok, but amazing--only because He is amazing. He brings enchantment to even days like this one where I will stay home all day and paint and clean and do laundry. (And feed the birds and vacuum and pay bills and dust and make dinner.)
And you won't find me attempting to sneak peaks into the future, either. Oh my, no. I would never want to see ahead because only when Grace is beside me can I handle my daily portion. And when it comes to the future, Grace isn't there yet to help me understand and cope with what I may see. She's here with me today, and she'll be with me tomorrow, but that's all I need to know. And it's enough.
Today is good. Today is better than good--parts of today will be downright incredible--simply because He is incredible. It doesn't matter what I have on my schedule or on my plate--you won't find me thinking on things which are ugly, newspaper-negative and of a bad report. Chances are, if you drop by and visit me today, you'll find I was thinking of Him when you knocked upon the door--and smiling a smile full of secrets.
"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you." Philippians 4:8,9
Thursday, August 11, 2005
Last night Tom and I watched The Man Without a Past. I hardly know what to say about this film, so I'll let Roger Ebert say it here.
It was after nine when we began watching this movie, so we intended only watching half, or so, and then finishing it today. We have become traditional mid-lifers in that we fall asleep early most nights. Such is life.
But there was no sleeping done during The Man Without a Past. It's a movie made in Finland--one of those treasures where you don't mind reading subtitles. We believe it was supposed to take place in modern times, yet the whole feeling was extremely 1965. It's a slow-paced film--so if you prefer fast-paced thrillers, forget this one.
We couldn't get over how decent it was--we couldn't remember one single instance of swearing (though I don't promise there is none--just that neither of us remembered any.) The only reason it is rated PG-13 is for the very violent scene in the first five minutes (I had to close my eyes). Although it was a morally decent film, I wouldn't watch it with children or most teens. Most likely they would fall asleep, that is, if they didn't talk you into watching something else, first. Watch this with your sweetheart after you put the kids to bed.
We loved the parts with the Salvation Army workers. We loved their songs and to hear the words of the songs, you'd think this was a Christian film. There was such sweetness in this film--and yet a lot of unkindness, too. In fact, early in the movie I paused it and turned to Tom and said, "You know... For the first time in my life I can understand how people in other countries could easily size-up the United States according to our movies-- how they could assume our people and our Country look and feel exactly like any movie may happen to portray them. Because that's exactly how I'm feeling right now about Finland... like, 'Remind me never to go there because the people appear to be so mean and unfeeling.' But good grief! I'm making that judgment after watching only 15 minutes of this movie. What a good lesson..."
Anyway, read Roger Ebert's review for a closer look at what the movie is about... It was just one of those haunting films that stays with you for hours and hours after you watch it. And when the night watchman's wife says, "We were lucky to get this place," -- "this place" being a big metal shipping container in which they are living, well, maybe that will shake you as it shook me, too, especially when you see the shipping container neighborhood.
We all have so much. We should be so grateful.
P.S. If you liked the movie, Dear Frankie, you will most likely enjoy this one, too.
Have you ever read John Mason's book, An Enemy Called Average? I am rereading it early mornings. As always, it's terrific--just looking at the title of it is enough to jolt me into acting right.
Here is a passage I thought I'd share with you. This is something I had to learn for myself--and once I did-- I finally began growing in places where, before, there had only been stagnation year after sorry year:
"Everybody gets knocked down. It's how fast he gets up that counts. There is a positive correlation between spiritual maturity and how quickly a person responds to his failures and mistakes. The greater the degree of spiritual maturity, the greater the ability to get back up and go on. The less the spiritual maturity, the longer the individual will continue to hang on to past failures. Every person knows someone who, to this day, is still held back by mistakes he made years ago. God never sees any of us as failures; He only sees us as learners.
"We have only failed when we do not learn from the experience. The decision is up to us. We can chose to turn a failure into a hitching post or a guidepost.
"Here is the key to being free from the stranglehold of past failures and mistakes: learn the lesson and forget the details. Gain from the experience, but do not roll over and over in your mind the minute details of it. Build on the experience and get on with your life.
"Remember: the call is higher than the fall."
Tuesday, August 09, 2005
There are a couple blogs I read sometimes which are written by women who are trying to fight their way into leadership positions in their churches. I read them and smile because I used to believe much of what they do--that if a woman is going to get anywhere in the church, she's going to have to 'fight her way to the top.'
Key words: "used to believe."
I never leave comments at these blogs because I feel my words would not be tolerated there. So I will speak those words in my own blog instead (where they may not be welcomed, either, by anyone but me).
I have found this verse to be true:
"A man's gift makes room for him and brings him before great men." Proverbs 18:16
God does not just give each of us gifts then tell us, "Run with that! Do with it as you will--use wisdom or don't use wisdom--it's up to you." Instead, I believe He spends years preparing us to use our gifts wisely. He knows it is possible for our gifts to take us where our character cannot keep us. He also knows that however many people we can help, that's also the number of people we can hurt.
There's been enough people hurt by ministers who ran out ahead of God before their character was tested and tried and humbled. There have been enough ministry disasters along the horizon of the Past.
And since I'm talking about women here, what God wants are women He can trust with the gifts He uses through them. And I have to question whether God could trust these women in places of true leadership:
Women who write in their blogs that men in leadership in churches are jerks, imbeciles and not to be trusted.... that most men are clueless as to how to minister to their churches and the outside world.
Women who hold clandestine meetings to discuss ways to get around church leadership in order to do their own thing.
Women who are bitter about the doors closed to them and are still blaming men for closing them when it may very well be God, Himself, who has closed those doors.
God is not so mean or such a tease to give us gifts we are never set free to use. If we are at a place of frustration because we're not being allowed to use our gifts in the church, it is good to recall: "God opens doors which no man can shut." When God sees we are truly ready to step into a leadership role, no man on earth and no demon in hell can stop that from happening.
Whatever our gifts, there is always a place to use them. There is always a place to start, no matter where we may be spiritually. We all have neighbors. We all live in towns with needy people. We all have the Internet. What is it in our human nature that stops us from cooperating with God and starting small while He further works on our character? Dare I say it? I believe it is pride.
Years ago our pastor in Nevada said something which has never left me: He said, "If you feel you are called to be a leader, look behind you. Is anyone following you?"
Over and over I have seen simple, humble women year after year faithfully do all the small things God asked of them. And along the way they grew to a point where they were highly trusted and respected by both men and other women. And then this verse happened in their lives:
"For not from the east nor from the west nor from the south come promotion and lifting up. But God is the Judge! He puts down one and lifts up another." Psalm 75:6,7
God promotes us, not man. If there is any true promoting to be done, it has gone through God's hands first before it passed through the hands of any man in authority.
If only we could all realize God's realm is not like the world's realm. His ways are not our ways. We do not get promoted in God's kingdom by fighting and calling names and bullying. If anything, that's what slows us down and will probably get us demoted.
God promotes those with the humility and faithful heart of Jesus. God promotes those who He has prepared and prepared and prepared to lead. True leaders are true servants. God has a specific plan for each of us and He knows exactly the moment we are ready to step into that plan.
And when we are ready there will be a place--the perfect place--in which for us to serve. After all, that's what true leadership is all about--serving those in need. And again, people in need--they're everywhere.
"For man's anger does not promote the righteousness God [wishes and requires]." James 1:20
"You're not fit to be in authority until you learn to come under authority." ... Joyce Meyer
There is a tv commercial which Tom and I hate. We turn the station or mute it every time it comes on. The sad thing is that it's a commercial for a well-known children's charity. The even sadder thing is that the spokesman stands there for two minutes telling us in sarcastic, belittling, condemning tones why we should give to this charity. You begin to feel like he's your disappointed father who never thinks you'll amount to much. Or that high school teacher who had it in for you.
It's awful and like I said, sad.
There is a tv evangelist we never watch anymore, though we used to try. We believe most of the same things he does, yet during his sermons he always sounds angry. He frowns and ridicules the people in his congregation by telling sarcastic jokes about them. I really don't understand how they can sit there and take it except perhaps they believe he's talking about everyone else, but certainly not them.
I don't know. All I know is that we cannot watch him, either, though like I said, we have tried--many times. We even have friends who think he's the greatest thing since peanut butter.
So what's my point? I would rather inspire than coerce people to give and to live a wonderful life for God.
Maybe I'm extra-sensitive in this area because down through the years I've had to greatly change my own tone. At times I still slip and get 'preachy under-tones' and Tom or my relatives will remark about it. But those times have become less and less as I've let God change me from the inside. He's done more than work on my tone--He's worked on my heart. Heart changes show up in all sorts of areas.
To me, the greater miracle is when people act in love because God spoke to their hearts through anointed words, rather than just going through the motions out of the guilt someone dumped upon them. It's more touching (and lasting) when others are inspired by watching someone live a godly, selfless life. The sort of life where words aren't even always necessary because the godly actions spoke so loudly.
Are there ever times to speak firmly and with heated passion? Of course. Look at the way Jesus spoke to the money changers in the temple and the Pharisees, too. But He was being led by the passion of God in both those incidences. And that is wildly different than my being led by frustration or bitterness or a bad attitude and seeing everyone else as money changers and Pharisees when they are not.
There is a big difference between coercion and inspiration. To me, inspiration will reap greater results because others are being led by their hearts rather than by invisible, forceful cords around their necks. Inspiration allows you to breathe and run in freedom--and you can live a pretty amazing life that way.
Monday, August 08, 2005
1. When special people in my life constantly say, "I can't help it." Especially when other people are providing wonderful advice and help and the I Can't Help It People give them 12 reasons, every time, why that advice won't work for them. The Bible says we are snared by our words and I have found that to be so true. It is hard watching your friends flounder and flounder year after year because they believe they cannot change their attitude or their situation--that they are the exceptions to any help coming their way.
2. When missionaries or preachers (or others) come into town and tell whole crowds that unless you are a missionary or a preacher, you are missing the mark and are just spinning your wheels.
We all have different callings in Life and there is nothing more important that I could ever do than fulfill my God-given callings, no matter how 'small' they may appear to be. I could try to be a missionary or a preacher, but I would be missing God's will for me and therefore, I would be spinning my wheels trying to be something God never intended for me. All callings are important because each piece is needed in the Great Puzzle of Life.
3. When fathers and mothers buy into the lie that making a good, solid godly home for their families is second-rate ministry.
Oh my..... this one makes me not only sad, but extremely upset with the people who speak or write these lies. Families were God's idea and there is nothing second-rate about caring for them. If only parents realized that--perhaps the world wouldn't be in the mess it is in today. (Don't get me started.)
4. When I find myself doing what I tell others not to do.
But rather than get all condemned about it, I have learned to repent and move on in the right direction. Groveling in guilt and punishing myself just wastes enormous amounts of time when I could be out helping others.
These, of course, are not the only things which make me sad, but these came to my mind quickly because I deal with them most often. Like I said, we all have different callings and probably what makes us saddest are the injustices and lies we, ourselves, are called to do something about.
Hmmm... I don't know if I ever quite thought of it that way before.
Anyone want to let me know what makes you sad?
Saturday, August 06, 2005
In my previous post I told you about the sign I saw on the porch of one of the lovely old houses in a nearby neighborhood. It says, "And They Lived Happily Every After." (For more info. see my post below.)
Well, today I drove over there on my way back from running errands, not even shaking with fear as I would have years ago. (What a relief to be out from under the curse of shyness!) Anyway, the husband was home as well as his adorable little curly-haired girl and boy, Rosalie and Wally, both of whom kept asking me my name. Their mom was out playing league softball on this cool Saturday morning.
So anyway, I told the dad I loved their sign and I asked him where they found it. He said he thinks his wife bought it at a craft fair and that she loved it, too. He scribbled down my phone number and said he'd have his wife call me if she had more information about it. And while all this was going on I stood there on the porch with the adorable little ones asking me my name over and over (I gave up telling them after repeating it three times) and memorized the sign because most likely, I will try painting my own.
But I looked down at the children, too, and I wanted to tell their young dad that he and his wife are at such a magical phase of their lives. I wanted to, but I didn't, because sometimes when you say that to people, especially while the children are talking non-stop, the parent sputters and chokes and says, "Yeah, right." But still, I should probably say it anyway because later it may come back to them and slow them down, even a moment, to really look and See their children. Kids move and grow so fast and if you're not careful, the time vanishes and you're looking back at only shadows of Life as it was but can never be again.
But I digress...
Yesterday online I found some signs with the same line, but compared to this one, they were small and boring. This one had pizazz and for right now, all I can do is describe it to you in case you'd like to paint your own.
The board was approximately 8 inches tall and 4 feet long.
Across the top and bottom were two lines of checkerboard painted in cream and dark blue alternating squares. There may have been a little heart at each corner of the board--I'm not sure.
The center of the sign was cream and brown sponged together.
The lettering in the center was, I believe, in dark blue. It said, And They Lived Happily Ever After.
After the words "And They" there was a thinnish dark red heart just a tad taller than the lettering, and sponged with bits of black. And there was another heart after the words "Lived Happily".
Well, that's how I recall it looked. I may try painting mine soon. I'll let you know if the mother calls me back--maybe I'll give her my line about her being at a magical stage of life if I can slip it into the conversation. Perhaps she needs the reminder.
Come to think of it, don't we all?
Friday, August 05, 2005
Our weather finally cooled so today I was able to take a walk. And not being one to enjoy ruts, I decided to walk through a different take-you-back-to-the-old-days neighborhood. There I was, strolling along this tree-lined street amongst all these two and three-story nostalgic 1920's houses when I saw it...
Oh, I was enchanted!
What was it? On the little entry porch of one of those houses was a longish, country-style sign which read, "And They Lived Happily Ever After".
Oh my . I have GOT to have one of those! Got to. Got to. Got to. Would that be perfect for us, or what?
I can see it hanging on our patio now. It would create one of two reactions in most people driving or walking past. Some people would smile and be enchanted as I was. Other people would probably throw-up.
Actually, I would delight in either reaction. :)
So today or tomorrow I am walking or driving back over there and I'm going to ask the owners of that house where they bought their sign. The old Debra would have rather died than done that, but not this new Debra.
Or perhaps I will look online or even make one of my own... hmmm! Now, there's a thought.
If only Christians lived what they preached... we wouldn't have to beg others to listen to us. Others would be begging us to tell them why we have so much love and so much peace, even in hard times.
If only Christians walked in the fruit of the spirit... love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and self-control... we wouldn't be in the same kind of trouble others are in. Our marriages and families would be strong.
If only Christians realized that we do need practical teaching on how to live every-day-life God's way ... instead of criticizing teachers who have that gift.
If only Christians truly realized we each have different God-given gifts to make one complete body. If only we would support those whose gifts differ from our own instead of complaining that our area of concern is not their's.
If only Christians realized actions do speak louder than words... If only we realized we are being watched.
If only Christian husbands, wives, parents and neighbors saw their opportunites to share God in the same light He does. If only we stopped belittling our callings and instead, realized no ministry, no opportunity is small in God's eyes... If only we saw ministry in our homes as being important...
If only we truly believed one soul is as precious to God as thousands.
If only Christians realized if we are truly following God, we will be different... we will stand-out... If only we would stop trying to blend in...
If only we would stop getting distracted and just live simply to serve others...
If only Christians were hungry for more of God ... instead of for more of what the world wants...
If only... if only... if only...
Thursday, August 04, 2005
You wouldn't have recognized me 26 years ago.
I was one sad woman.
I mean, there I was a Christian, living in my favorite little mountain town in a cute two-story house with a terrific husband and a darling 6 year-old daughter. We went to church. We had friends. I was thin and healthy and often walked to the town's old-fashioned library in a 1920's cabin where I discovered many favorite authors I still read today.
And yet I was lonely. So lonely, in fact, that I remember at least two eternal afternoons when I called the Time and Temperature operator just so I could listen to another human voice.
And those were *before* my depressing Nevada Years which I told you about.
Sad. Sad. Sad.
Sad that I looked to other people and relationships and things and stuff to meet my deepest needs.
Sad that Jesus was in my heart, but only there, it seemed. Not in my everyday hours.
Sad that I did not know Him as that Friend who sticks closer than a brother, who is more real than any brother.
Back then what I was hearing from everyone was that I should take time each morning to read the Bible and pray and then everything would be better. I tried that. I tried it and it failed because it became just another item on my To Do List. It turned into just another discipline. Just another Debra-led-thing instead of a Spirit-led-thing.
When something is Spirit-led, there is Life to be found there. Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty and joy unspeakable and full of glory.
Well, my quiet times were so not like that. I sucked the life and liberty and joy out of them by doing these things.
I struggled and hobbled about for another eight years... wandered through my own Israelite wilderness of sorts...
...and then He came.
He came when I tossed away my legalistic To Do List... He came when I got out of the way... He came when I came to Him without an agenda, but instead, with only a hunger to know Him.
Just to know Him.
And suddenly in those times, there was light and anticipation and delicious thoughts about what is good in this life.
And no, I wasn't finding myself--I was finding Him. I don't want to know who I am--I want to know who He is. In turn, He will show me, me -- I can handle seeing myself through His eyes much better than through my own.
And now there is a constant communication all day long... a constant drawing from the well which never runs dry--so how could I ever thirst again? A constant, running conversation is always taking place between my heart and His--so how could I ever feel lonely?
There are no more long, silent afternoons where the clock seems to tick backward...There are no more phone calls made to previously recorded voices.
Now there is just one voice all day long. And it's enough because He is enough.
"[For my determined purpose is] that I may know Him [that I may progressively become more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him, perceiving and recognizing and understanding the wonders of His Person more strongly and more clearly.]" ... Philippians 3:10
Wednesday, August 03, 2005
Finally, Tom and I bought a DVD player which has TV Guardian installed in it. I am still wondering what took us so long? I mean, after all, it was only $49 from our local WalMart. It's made by Sanyo and you can see it here. It's cool. It's easy to install.
Tom and I enjoy watching movies. Some Christians don't, but we do. I enjoy learning big and little lessons from the movies I see. I keep a running list of my favorite modern movies here (always on my sidebar) in case you're curious as to what I like. I list only movies which I'd recommend to most families with teens.
So often a movie would have been totally enjoyable if only the language had been cleaned up. Well, now we have something to clean it up for us. Oh happy day! Break out the popcorn and soda and roll film!
This morning I was reading from Simple Abundance and saw this:
"Rupert Brooke...spoke of those who could 'store up reservoirs of calm and content... and draw on them at later moments when the source isn't there but the need is very great.'"
I liked that.
It answered a question for me. I've wondered this past year, especially, why some Christians totally lose it.... self-destruct... crumble to oblivion when they face tragedies or other difficult times. Yet other Christians, after a period of initial grief, move forward in grace and strength which inspires.
Perhaps the latter had been filling their wells on average days. Perhaps they'd earlier learned to draw from those wells the love and contentment and joy and peace which only God can give. And perhaps when the hard times come, out of habit and practice--out of wells well-watered--they were able to draw from all the extra water awaiting them there.
I like that explanation. I like knowing that my daily times with Him not only provide what I need for today, but are storing up what I will need for tomorrow.
And it will be more than enough, just as He is more than enough on normal days, so much so, that no day when lived with Him is normal or average at all.