Monday, February 27, 2006

Farewell Don Knotts


Yesterday I learned that the actor, Don Knotts, passed away and I was, and still am, saddened.

In this blog I've often written about Mayberry and for forty years I have watched and loved The Andy Griffith Show, due in large part to Don Knott's hilarious Barney Fife. Last night I watched one of my favorite 'Barney episodes', one called The Song Festers... the one where, upon a dark, silent stage, Barney softly, tearfully sings part of Santa Lucia after he'd been asked to bow out of performing his solo. On a good day that episode makes me cry. On the day when I heard about the passing of Don Knotts, well, the tears came from a deeper place.

Few things in this life can be said to be perfect. But Knotts' Barney Fife was one of those few things. No one else could have played Barney, no one upon this whole Earth. No one.

But then, no one else could play you or me, either. We each have a part to play which can be played by absolutely nobody else. No one else can teach the lessons you teach or touch others in the same way. There is a sense of perfection in that, too. And I hope you have found it.

I was going to title this post Farewell Barney Fife and yet Barney will always be here on film. As long as I am here, I will keep Mr. Fife upon my shelves and when I need a really good laugh... when I need to be reminded of a place like Mayberry and how good life can really be, I will slip The Andy Griffith Show into my dvd player and Deputy Barney Fife will live again.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Even Though He Slay Me...


It's like I've been skipping rope around Blogland, knocking on doors to see if anyone wants to come out and play, but the doors do not open because so many people are weeping inside. They're feeling sad and confused and angry, too, even throwing dishes and books at God.

I have one verse which has pulled me up and held me and helped me down through the years... Immediately in bad times my heart runs here:

"Even though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him..." Job 13:15

For me, it all comes down to that. There is no place else I can go other than there where I have also found these:

"Even though He doesn't always make sense, yet will I trust in Him..."

"Even though the newspaper is covered with tragedies, yet will I trust in Him..."'

"Even though I get sick sometimes, yet will I trust in Him..."

"Even though the Earth shakes and floods and blows apart, yet will I trust in Him..."

"Even though I'm unjustly accused, yet will I trust in Him..."

"Even though horrible things happen, yet will I trust in Him..."

"Even though those closest to me pass away, yet will I trust in Him..."

"Even though all people advise me otherwise, yet will I trust in Him..."

So now that secret is out...

And more than ever before in these years where it's one thing after another, I have made-up my mind, I am standing firm, unshakable on those truths above...

...and on this, too........"Let God be true, and every man a liar." (Romans 3:4)

And sometimes in this Life, that's exactly what it takes to make it through. Sometimes, anything less will lead to drowning by way of tears... or drifting away to scarey places from where it's so very hard to return home.

Trying To Be Like Jesus


When I was eleven years old I became a Christian. It was wonderful, it was real.

It's funny how only in looking back can you understand what was happening to you at the time. And when I stare behind me and see those years after 11, I remember an increasing frustration and sense of guilt instead of increasing joy and peace like the Bible promised.

Why? Basically, it was because I tried to be like Jesus. I ... I.... I tried to be like God. But that wasn't my job and for years and years the frustration grew because I was in the wrong job. I plopped myself into an impossible career, one no person on Earth can handle, though I tried for the next 25 years.

I'd go to church every Sunday and was preached at that I should tell people about Jesus ("tell, tell,tell..that's the main thing") and I thought that meant telling strangers about the Jesus in the Bible. And my guilt grew like trees because talking to strangers scared me to tiny pieces.

I was told to 'be ye perfect' and I tried so hard and scribbled tons of plans and read stacks of books and tried and tried to be perfect. But I never even came close. And guilt grew taller and a sense of failure, too, as well as the need to wear a mask to hide all this mess. To appear as something I should be, but wasn't.

I could go on and on, but I probably don't have to. Probably many of you know exactly what I mean and it would be like watching your own version of "This Is Your Life."

Finally, God gave me a break. You could even say He put me out of my misery. He got my attention one night 12 years ago... and there was so much love... He knew I needed love after all the years of mental abuse and stress I'd given myself. But that night, the room was alive with love and acceptance--from Him. And that is when it's best--when the love comes straight to your heart from God's very heart, bypassing other people, places or things first. At least, that is what I've found.

He told me we were starting over because I'd run this whole thing into a bottomless, dark ditch. I'd taken the reigns from Him many years prior and I'd gotten lost somewhere out in the Fog Of Doing It All Myself and then wandered farther out into the even scarier, Land of Being Led By Your Feelings. Frightening places, both.

How good it was to start over. How good it was to take baby steps again with my tiny hand curled around His fingers. God was there to pull me back up and remind me that it's up to Him to keep me walking. My job is to cooperate. To learn. He loved me through it every mile of the way, never tossed me aside in my failures. Not once. There has been no dark night of the soul, no feeling alone for even a minute... perhaps I had already lived that dark night in my years of trying to be like God by following my own outlined, organized plans and feelings.

Oh, there are hard times, yes... It is never easy to die. Over and over I've had to die to much of what I had wildly insisted was true all my life. I've had to face the ugly, mishapen quasi-Christian creature I had formed myself and oh, how shocking to see that in His light! But how good of Him to stand beside me while I face it.

And whenever I fall or fall apart, God is there to pull me up and remind me that it's up to Him to keep me walking. It's up to me to simply cooperate with whatever He tells me. And He loves me through it all.

But over and over, even in the pain of dying I see something:
the more I die,
the more I listen to God and not myself,
the more I let go of the errors I learned in the past--of every sin I've sinned,
the more I forgive myself and concentrate not on my failings, but on God's perfection and His acceptance of me...

...the more the joy grows... and the daily, sweet peace, too.

But only as I realize my job is to die. God's job is to live inside and overflow outside of me. There was no way I could have ever, ever become like God on my own. Only God can be God in me. Only God can pour Himself out of me.

And finally the little girl who was once 11 and terrified of telling others about Jesus, well, she can just laugh about that because how hard is it to tell others about the best friend you ever had?

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Hospital Lessons


Yesterday while the morning was still black and blowing icy winds, Tom and I drove to the Big City for another of his back injections. We had to travel over my least favorite stretch of the thruway (not that I have a favorite stretch, hence my white knuckles), then drive to a section which is always in the news for violent altercations, and arrive at the hospital in deepest, darkest downtown before 6:45 a.m. (I was shocked that there even is a 6:45 a.m. outside of my own house.)

All week I'd been reminding myself of what I've written in this blog--about how dreading things spoils potentially-special times and days. I tried, instead, to anticipate that something wonderful would happen during that too-early-too-awful-thruway-drive Friday hospital visit. It wasn't easy.

But anyway, we got out of the car and were glad to see various workers all around us in the dark--safety in numbers and all that good stuff. And just as the ice in the wind whipped away our bodies' car-warmth, we stepped into the hospital's Main Lobby with it's scattered bistro tables, couches, coffee bar, fish tank and even a grand piano, lid opened high. It was as though we'd entered a 1930's nightclub... bluesy music playing... people sitting drinking coffee beneath the warm lights... and laughter and greetings and kindness all around. Like walking into the Twilight Zone, only sweeter. I knew at once that in a violent part of town, here was not just a huge, antiseptic hospital, but a meeting place for any of the elderly, especially, to meet safely, companionably, with their neighbors. There was no sickness required to hang around within these walls.

One woman at the desk searched and searched for any piece of paper stating that Tom even existed, while the 60-ish woman beside her spoke to someone else about switching the stations back and forth between American Idol and Olympic skaters last night, also pausing to speak joyful greetings to anyone who walked past. Finally, the woman helping Tom, (but not helping), told the smiling woman next to her that she could find no record of Tom's appointment and rather than panic, moan or roll her eyes, Joy Woman simply laughed and said, "Well, let's see what we can do."

And then Joy Woman looked at our last name upon the sheet Tom handed her and remarked what a wonderful name it was. And because there is a certain word within our name, she commented about that word, how good it must be to have such a word in our last name--that it was a special word. By what she said, this woman gave us a hint that she knew God, and had she not been so efficient and able to send us merrily on our way before we even knew what happened, we would have acknowleged that we, too, were Christians.

But as we followed an adorable little elderly gentleman volunteer, we simply voiced our warmest thanks to Joy Woman and we came away feeling as though we'd just spent time with Tess from Touched By An Angel. Remember Della Reese's delightful angel character on that show? And all the rest of the morning we felt the remembered-warmth of that woman--it was something we couldn't shake, something we did not wish to shake.

And later, riding up and down the elevators and sitting in the child-sized chapel to kill time, I thought, "That's how I want to be--just like Joy Woman at the desk. But there's no way that's going to happen unless it comes from God, Himself."

And I was okay with that. I can trust Him enough to eventually get me to that place because He's brought me a thousand miles farther already than where I used to live before... a million miles, actually, away from a land called Pitiful.

And you know? I'm looking forward to the remainder of the trip because with God, you never know what kind of surprises may be waiting.

Especially when you switch from Dread to Anticipate.

Friday, February 24, 2006

It's Good For Me...


Lord, help me to remember it's good for me to not always get what I want.

It's good for me to give to someone else what I wanted for myself, including encouragement, friendship and support.

It's good for me to do things which are impossible for me alone, but are possible only with Your help.

It's good for me to not fear making mistakes as long as I continue to learn from them and grow in wisdom.

It's good for me to be kind to others even when I am in a bad mood. It's good for me to be kind today, to never put it off until tomorrow.

It's good for me to push beyond my comfort zone.

It's good for me to show mercy to others if I want to receive mercy for myself.

It's good for me to carefully choose my words. It's good for me to listen more than I speak.

It's good for me to give away money and things to the needy even when I am needy, myself.

It's good for me to invite people to my home even though people have not yet invited me to their home.

It's good for me to forgive.

It's good for me to let others go ahead of me in line.

It's good for me to live always prepared to give a card, a prayer, a smile or a simple word of encouragement.

And finally, it's good for me to totally fling myself upon Your ability because in my own strength, I could never do any of these things on a regular basis.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Letting In More Light


Inside my car today I waited in the drive-thru lane of McDonalds (this is Tom's day off) and in the sun and light of winter it came to me what being spiritual really is. Well, at least, what it means to me.

Being spiritual isn't what I used to believe it was... memorizing Bible passages to impress people... being on so many committees at church that everyone calls my name as I step past... putting 'witnessing' and church and visitations before my spouse and my family... carrying my big Bible with me everywhere and underlining nearly all the verses... trying to speak and write in an ultra-spiritual style to keep up with the 'big kids'...

No, as I sat in the car today reaching for the paper bag of chicken sandwiches the guy handed me, I thought being spiritual is waiting patiently, with a real smile, in a line, whether it be at McDonalds or the supermarket... it's hurrying to my quiet time with God in the mornings because I can hardly wait to get there... it's making sure there's always peace between Tom and me...having compassion for people who live differently than I do...

...and it's obeying God, even if that means tossing away my big plans and taking on His small plans instead, or staying silent when I'm just dying to speak, or doing my good deeds in secret when I'd rather do them upon a stage..

My definition of being spiritual is always changing, like the light of morning deepening to the light of afternoon before switching, yet again, to twilight. Subtle changes happen over time and only in looking backward can I see how much my own pathway has brightened, how far I have come, and how the Great Light changes absolutely everything as long as I stay out of the grey shadows...

...as long as I prefer His path of mystery, and not my safe, worn rut.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Sharing Beauty With Friends


Hearing from so many of you after my last post, made me feel as though I'd been standing in a field's bright center, alone, and then from the trees at the edges, peeked faces of friends I'd guessed were hiding there all along.

Or something like that.

I think I am waxing poetic lately because I am rereading the book, Housekeeping, the first novel by Marilynne Robinson. Please tell me you've read it. To me, Marilynne is Queen of Beautiful Similies and Metaphors. The same-named movie is in my top five favorites of all time and it places dreams in my head long days afterward.

So to all my friends who popped out from behind those aforementioned trees, I have no sermons for you today. No, I have only snippets of treasure to share with you...sometimes we are so bombarded with what's wrong in Life that it's like dessert or a balm of healing to be told what's right.

If you were to delve into the book, Housekeeping, here are just a handful of the golden jewels you'd pull upward. And I'm sharing them because, as we all know, nothing in this life is appreciated fully until it is shared with a friend...

"Her children slept on starched sheets under layers of quilts, and in the morning her curtains filled with light the way sails fill with wind."

"They had no reason to look forward, nothing to regret. Their lives spun off the tilting world like thread off a spindle, breakfast time, suppertime, lilac time, apple time."

"And she would feel that sharp loneliness she had felt every long evening since she was a child. It was the kind of loneliness that made clocks seem slow and loud and made voices sound like voices across water."

"She felt the hair lifted from her neck by a soft wind and she saw the trees fill with wind and heard their trunks creak like masts."

"For five years my grandmother cared for us very well. She cared for us like someone reliving a long day in a dream."

"Lucille and me she tended with scrupulous care and little confidence, as if her offerings of dimes and chocolate chip cookies might keep us, our spirits, here in her kitchen."

"I remember sitting under the ironing board, which pulled down from the kitchen wall, while she ironed the parlor curtains and muttered 'Robin Adair.'"

"We stayed awake the whole night because Lucille was afraid of her dreams."

"Sylvie always walked with her head down, to one side, with an abstracted and considering expression, as if someone were speaking to her in a soft voice."

"If someone had asked me about Lucille I would remember ...that she smelled dully clean, like chalk or like a sun-warmed cat."

"That evening Lily and Nona were taken by a friend of my grandmother's back to Spokane and we and the house were Sylvie's."

"Downstairs the flood bumped and fumbled like a blind man in a strange house, but outside it hissed and trickled, like the pressure of water against your eardrums, and like the sounds you hear in the moment before you faint."

Monday, February 20, 2006

Praying for My Readers


Looking for something fun to do? Pray for the people who read your blog.

No, really.

No matter what kind of a blog you keep, you can pray all sorts of things for the people who stop by and read your words. You can even get sneaky and pray tons of blessings down upon that person who regularly freaks-out inside your comment box, disagreeing with everything you write. Just don't tell them, though. Wait a little while until God starts to soften their heart toward you. :)

I often pray for my readers...

...that they will find peace here, especially if they are reading late at night, unable to sleep, searching for comfort...

... that they will understand what I'm trying to say... that I will never write a sort of intellectual, religious mumble-jumble Christianese which would make anyone afraid that following God is way too complicated, boring or impossible...

... that they will always find at least one little thought in each post which they can, like a stick of gum, chew upon during the busy hours ahead...

... that they will feel the love, the nearness, the breath of God while they do what must be done each day... that they will feel closer to Him today than they did yesterday...

...that they will awaken each morning smiling with the anticipation of spending the day with God, Himself...

... and on and on... to infinity and beyond...

It's my idea of fun... I like to think that God's idea of fun is blessing others, too.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Babies, Bath Water and Those Drains


"Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry..." ... James 1:19

It's funny-sad... You mention certain well-known people, ones who have their own talk shows, tv ministries, radio programs or those who write controversial books or newspaper columns and so often certain people bristle and exclaim, "Oh, I never listen to that person! He/she believes _________ and I totally disagree, so I stopped listening to him/her years ago."

And whenever people say something like that to me, or I read it online, immediately a picture flashes through my mind: I see babies spinning down bathtub drains. You know, because of that old saying, "Don't throw out the baby with the bath water."

I guess I'm sensitive to that attitude because I used to be the same way, always holding my ten-foot pole up to anyone I disagreed with and avoiding their words like proverbial plagues. And now when I look back, I see that fear was involved. Fear that untruths would tackle me and make me believe in them, even against my will. Fear that gullibility would cause me to eat up and devour any little tasty, foreign morsel... and doom me forever.

And well, let me say here that there are still things, teachings, I avoid even to this day, namely, anything I perceive as being contrary to the Bible. I'm not talking about opening myself up to that which is, hands down, evil or anti-God.

No. But what I'm saying is that these past few years I have loosened up. I've begun listening to people who I don't agree with 100%, people from way different backgrounds and thought--and I have grown. I've discovered that every person has something to say, something to teach, even if it's as basic as, "Don't do what I have done. Don't let this happen to you."

But usually, the lessons are much greater, much more varied and I come away glad that I'm no longer filtering what I hear by a sort of fear factor. I'm no longer turning the tv channel just because a friend told me that she can't stand that person... I'm no longer avoiding that tv ministry or that newspaper column just because a group of people or a blogger told me that the celebrity said or did _________ (fill in the blank).

No, because again, every person has something to teach me. All people have experiences which I can learn from. Every person has bits and pieces of wisdom just waiting for the taking--and perhaps they are bits and pieces I would gain no other way. Maybe God places these sometimes controversial people/movies/books in my path at just the perfect moments and then stands back to watch what I do with them. Will I look past my prejudices, judgments and handed-down ideas and learn something new? Will I listen long enough to actually come to care about that person or group and then pray for them out of compassion?

Perfect love casts out all fear... And I'm finding the less I fear the differences in others and their beliefs, the more I am growing as a person because of the lessons each of us are placed here upon Earth to teach.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Drawers and Cupboards


Once Tom and I went to an estate sale way out in the country of a nearby town. The large, white farmhouse had belonged to one family for over 140 years and that day, spread over acres and acres, was the flotsam and jetsam removed from inside where families had burrowed together. The tree-surrounded house had been purged of its decades and decades of stuff, like waves and waves of belongings from the 1800's to the present. Nineteen-forties lamp shades, sea-foam rugs, mahogany beds and tables, round boxes of Mother's Oats and bisque dolls in heaps. And books! One field looked like a garden ready to be harvested of its rows and rows of boxes of books.

Tom and I, beneath cloudy, cold skies walked around, mesmerized, poking at these old things spread everywhere. I found myself wishing with all my heart that I could have been one of the emptiers of that house, one of the pullers-out of that house's inner parts. What fun to wade through all the drawers and cupboards, making discoveries of treasures and serendipities which people hoarded and tucked away over 100 years. Layers and layers of stuff which child after child and parent after parent deemed worth keeping.

We drove home slowly that day, took a different route home, one through hills bursting in autumn and thankfully, I wasn't the one driving that day because I was encased in a dream. I wondered about my own drawers and cupboards. What do they conceal? What do they reveal about me and what I like and who I am?

Probably, I'd be surprised.

Still, since that estate sale day, I've looked at my drawers and cupboards more like treasure chests which, someday, people will pick through hoarded item by hoarded item. And part of me likes that idea... part of me wants to collect unique, old things which will make the sifters-of-my-stuff smile with excitement of possible discovery.

But the other part of me wants to share the treasure right now with those who would appreciate it. Part of me believes that hoarding is not exactly the godly way to go. So lately I find myself collecting my own flotsam and jetsam, yes, but with a different eye. With an eye and a spirit which can, at the drop of a 1930's felt hat, give away any bit of treasure to anyone who may voice an especial delight.

I want to look at everything in my drawers and cupboards as temporary--almost like foamy shells rolling into shore, then tumbling back out to sea. Here and then gone to a better belonging place.

And I want to look at my credit card, the one I use online, as a type of golden ticket... as a way to bless others with surprises on what may be a sad-afternoon-turned-sweeter after a walk to their mailbox and the discovery of treasures inside.

Rather like sailing the shells from my part of the beach back into the ocean and those better belonging places. Rather like emptying my drawers and cupboards while there's still time to watch the smiles of treasure seekers, myself.

Rather like "gathering flowers while ye may"... and giving them away this side of Heaven.

Friday, February 17, 2006

My Adventurous Life


It's all one big adventure for me. My life, that is.

I mean, I watch adventure movies and it comes to me that just keeping up with mopping the floors and washing all the clothes and dishes and paying the bills on time and cooking meals where everything is hot at once and exercising and running errands in the car when I'd rather stay home and trying to follow God's steps for me through it all, well, that's plenty of daily adventure for me.

And when I watch pro football or the Olympics and the sports announcers are shouting wildly into microphones, sounding as though a touchdown or a race won are similar to saving the world from blowing-up, well, it reminds me that whatever God asks me to do is just as important. With Him, there are no small things. He could ask me to make an encouraging phone call, but if I raced out at that moment and tried to feed the whole world instead, well, it would amount to disobedience.

Obedience to God is always big, even in what appears small in our eyes.

When those touchdowns are made or those races won because of years and years of practice, faithfulness and persistence and going beyond ones own strength, well, when God wants me to be like that with my own simple blog, then, I, too, am involved in great adventure and am reaping rewards just as amazing. Though in a heart realm... though the rewards don't come in stadiums with ear-piercing cheers and announcers proclaiming my latest, greatest move.

No, my rewards come in quieter ways, whisperings from God not even heard by the people standing beside me. But that's ok--His 'atta girl' was all I wanted anyway.

Yet still as I watch tv sports and the Olympics and adventure movies I find all the parallels to my own simple life. The lessons I've learned and the struggles I've faced are similar.

And I think about how God provides an adventurous life for all of us, though many people go searching for other peoples' adventures, but they're never a custom fit, so are usually disappointing.

How sad to arrive in Heaven having missed ones own custom-made adventures upon Earth.

Most of my adventures take place in my heart and all the practice and sacrifices and hard work are done in a stadium where just One sits watching and cheering. The main One. The best One.

And that's just fine with me. It's more adventure than I can handle on any average day.


***

"Adventure is not outside man; it is within." ... David Grayson

"Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but [only] one receives the prize? So run [your race] that you may lay hold [of the prize] and make it yours." ... 1 Corinthians 9:24

"Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable.” ... Helen Keller

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Seasons With Grace


After five weeks at home following his shoulder surgery, Tom will be returning to work tomorrow.

No more hours and hours of us lolling around in our winter room watching movies and tv series on dvd... trying to be first to solve the mysteries... squealing toward the tv, "Wait for back-up! Stay out of that dark room! Shoot him! Shoot him!"...

No more days when, if I washed a load of laundry, ran down to the video store, wrote in my blog and washed the dishes in between movies, I considered it a highly productive day.

And ok, maybe it wasn't a mega-productive season, but it was still a season of learning. But then, every season is rife with lessons if only we can stay calm enough to learn them.

I relearned a lot these past 5 weeks. I relearned that God sends along Grace to help me do anything which needs to be done, only sometimes, I fail to open the door for her when she knocks. I keep her standing outside in the rain while inside, I try to keep my normal schedule, when actually, God sent Grace to me almost Mary Poppins-style to give me a break...to give me peace and rest in the middle of this season of helping Tom...to give me permission to just sit and keep him company while he healed.

He reassured me there was nothing more important to do than just that. Never is anything more important than what God is asking us to do at any given time.

The only hard minutes these weeks were the times I did what God wasn't even asking me to do... when I was feeling pressured to do 'business-as-usual'.. to keep up... doing work, alone, when Grace and I should have been doing it together.

But I'm learning.... I'm learning that when I'm frustrated, I've again, shut Grace out of the house and closed my ears to her knocking. I've again, like a child who's failing at dressing herself, cried, "I do it myself! I do it myself!" till I fall in an exhausted heap on the floor.

I'm learning to recognize that frustration comes from one of two things:

Either I am doing what God never asked me to do in the first place, or
I'm doing what God asked me to, but I am doing it without His help. Without Grace.

Frustration, for me, has become like a red light suddenly flashing on a car's dashboard... "Warning! Warning! Something is wrong!" And when I see that red flashing light, when I feel even tiny risings of frustration, I am learning to get off the road, sit awhile and calm down.

Then proceed down the road with Grace to the next season just up ahead.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Complication Not Spoken Here


For the record, I hate complication. Hate it. Hate it.

What do I mean by complication?

Complication, to me, is knowing in my heart what God wants me to do, but then having my head analyze that thing to death--and then try to enhance God's instructions with my own bright ideas or even bury them out of fear.

You know, like when God asks you to show kindness to strangers and then your head, like rapid fire, starts shooting questions like:

"But what if I'm just hearing things? What if this isn't even You at all?"
"What if that person doesn't need any help/kind words?
"What if I suddenly can't think of a thing to say?"
"Shouldn't I do something bigger than what you're asking me to do?"
"What if they think I'm weird/demented/looney?"

Or in other areas where we feel God is leading us.. When we stray from simple trust and torture ourselves, instead, with stuff like:

"What if I invest a lot of time and money in this and it doesn't work out?
What if I can't do what You are asking me to do?
What if I can't keep my commitments?
What if I lose my friends? What if I'm misunderstood?"

That's the kind of complication I'm talking about. That's the kind of complication which has too often cheated me out of The Best Life Plan which God wrote up for me before I was even born. That type of mind game complication has cheated me out of years' worth of a grateful, giving life...and it's cheated lots of people out of what God wanted to do through me for them.

Another word for this kind of complication is reasoning. I hate reasoning, too, even though lots of Christians declare they thrive on it... thrive on figuring-out in their minds what to do, where to go, what to say, what to think, who to follow... Well, they can have it. All of my share and beyond. I had my years of reasoning and I feel only cheated by them.

I feel cheated anytime I am doing something God never asked me to do in the first place. Why? Because only God's ideas will succeed and bless others.

What have I chosen now instead of complication? Simplicity. Good old-fashioned simplicity which resonates more like this:

"You want me to help that person, Lord? Ok, show me what to do and then I'll trust you for the words to say."
"That person needs help, Lord? Well, they don't look like they need my help, but I'll just trust that I'm hearing from you. I'll trust that you have a specific plan in mind and that you'll be there to help me help them."
"You want me to invite company over to my house? Well, please help me to keep things simple and think more about my friends having a good time rather than impressing them with the way my house looks."

Simplicity... Wanting to know God so well that I can hear Him whisper....wanting to obey that whisper and not ask for five signs and miracles before I'll step out on the water...

Simplicity.... Coming away with God when He calls me to those quiet places where I can best hear Him... that place where He assures me that He'll be right beside me to walk on any body of water up ahead.


***
"Simon answered, 'Master, we've worked hard all night and haven't caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.'" ... Luke 5:5

Monday, February 13, 2006

Valentines: Encouragement Waiting To Happen


"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." James 1:27

That's the verse I was reminded of when I read something my friend, Wilma, wrote to our old-fashioned email group. One of the ladies thanked Wilma for the Valentine she'd mailed to her home and this was part of Wilma's reply:

"I'm glad the cards gave you a bit of cheer. That's really what I like about Valentine's Day. A bit of cheer in the dark of Feb. I try to send them to my housebound or nursing home neighbors and friends also. I get so much fun from doing it and it's good to know someone was made happy."

Amen, like, a million times! February 14th comes right around when many people are feeling desperate for Spring and flowers. And sunny afternoons. And walks and porch talks with friends. I can only imagine how dark this month is for those who are shut-in, forgotten.

When I first read Wilma's words I immediately regretted that I'd not sent out Valentines to more widows. True, a couple of my friends are widows and I did send them sweet little cards in pink envelopes. But next year I am vowing now to mail more Valentines to those who are widowed or single and alone.

May I remember that a Valentine can be like hope and good memories and sweetness all-rolled-into-one upon a simple piece of paper. A Valentine can create a smile and gratitude, too, for being remembered.

Millions of people are desperate for even the most simple forms of love. Sometimes we forget that.

Last year I wrote about Anytime Valentines and I'd almost forgotten about those. I think I'll mail some of those out later this month and on into March. Maybe I can include little gift certificates with them or homemade certificates of promised gifts or visits. Or maybe I can pass along Anytime Valentines with flowers from my garden later near summertime.

The possibilities are endless because peoples' needs are endless. And the possibilities for the joy of giving are endless, too.

Wilma and I agree: we just cannot understand how anyone could ever, ever hate Valentine's Day(???) Heaven forbid.


***
Happy Valentine's Day to all my readers!

There is more hunger for love and appreciation in this world than for bread.
~ Mother Teresa

You will find as you look back upon your life that the moments when you have really lived, are the moments when you have done things in a spirit of love.
~ Henry Drummond

Sunday, February 12, 2006

"Where's Tom?"


For the first twenty years of our marriage, Tom was always on the worship team of any church we attended. From state to state and church to church, people were charmed by his being able to sing like the proverbial bird, and more, by the way he could lead a congregation to what felt like the very throne of God in worship and praise. And more than anyone else, I loved to hear him sing, too, be it at home, at church, around camp fires or at the occasional concert where he sang alone or with a band.

But there was one thing which made me crazy. Being in the power plant, a business which operates 24/7 and is known for its wild work schedules, Tom would often have to miss church one or two Sundays each month. There was no getting around it--that's just the way it had to be. Yet always I would pack up Naomi and she and I would go to church on those Tom-less Sundays. And Sunday after Sunday, no matter which church, no matter which state (California, Nevada or our present one) the same old thing would happen when I would walk through the doors. Many people would look at me, smile real big and then ask, "Where's Tom?"

Yes, over and over, time after time it was, "Where's Tom?" Not, "Good to see you, Debra!" or "How are you doing, Debra?" or "My! Aren't you the faithful little thing, Debra."

No, it was always just plain ol' thoughtless, "Where's Tom?"

Well, when you're the shy, insecure mess that I used to be, that kind of thing can really get on your nerves, especially when it happens no matter where you go and no matter what else you may do in a church. I mean, it didn't matter how 'important' I became in any church, it didn't matter how many classes I taught or how many acts of kindness I did, still, year after year, yes, it was, "Where's Tom?"

Since I do try to be honest in this blog, well, what amounts to being pretty honest for me... I'll say here that it took me right around 20 years to finally stop getting my feelings hurt by that constant "Where's Tom?" stuff. But the hurt only stopped after what God thought about me became more important than what other people thought about me. It only stopped after my love for God grew greater and stronger than my love for everyone else.

It only stopped when I accepted the solid fact: People are just people... and I need to give them time and space to grow, just as God gave that time and space to me.

But to get to that point, oh my... God had to take me to some places I didn't, at first, want to go. He had to show me some ugly things that, man oh man, I just did not want to see about myself.

And those things are what I tend to write about in this blog. The changes God has made in my life are what I'm recording here.

But oh, what life is like after God pulls you up out of the mess otherwise known as The Life You Created For Yourself! The difference is indescribable. And, over and over, I see that difference in little ways, such as, now, go ahead and ask me, "Where's Tom?" when I step through any door.

I'll just laugh at the silliness of it all.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

"So, Like, How Am I Doing?"


Somewhere along the way I discovered some things, namely:

It ruins my day to get my feelings hurt about little things.
It takes a lot of concentration and energy to hold a grudge.
It requires too many idle words to gossip about how others treated me.

My life became so much better, sweeter and more peaceful when, instead of automatically getting upset with other people, I chose to ask God, "So, like, how am I doing?"

"Have I spent this whole day under a cloud because of what was said to me? Am I toying with becoming a recluse?"
"Was my verbal reaction to that criticism something you, Lord, would have said?"
"How about my emotional reaction? Are my feelings headed down, down into a spiral?"
"Am I considering sneaky retribution? Am I considering never trusting anyone again?"
"Am I learning the lessons I'm supposed to be learning through all this?"

I'm unable to even start telling you what a difference it's made to concentrate more on my own reactive behavior than others' shoddy behavior toward me.

And no, I'm not talking about wallowing in the mire of my own guilt and condemnation--heavens, no! If you want a guaranteed way of slowing down your spiritual progress, just dive into a big vat of guilt and condemnation. Just constantly feel bad about yourself and your weaknesses, like I talked about here.

No, I'm talking about switching what my eyes see. They used to see only the mistakes other people made, but now, I try to see where I, myself, am failing. Where I, myself, still need the improvement only God can bring.

And there is always something. Always some area which I need to let God change however He chooses. It then becomes up to me to listen to His correction, His wisdom and then walk in His ways. And that takes time and energy and obedience and dying to one's self. And I can't afford to waste all of that by staying mad and hurt and offended.

The fact? God gives me the power and energy to change, but He does not give me power to stay upset with people. So that's what wears me out.

The difference is like the blackest night and the most golden day. I cannot change others, but I can let God change me.

And there's enough hope in that to light strings and strings and strings of good days.


***
"Love hardly even notices when others do it wrong." 1 Corinthians 13:4

"One moment of patience may ward off great disaster. One moment of impatience may ruin a whole life." Chinese Proverb

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Nothing Better To Do


I belong to one of the Internet's most old-fashioned groups. It's a Good Thing.

Some of us are, again, mailing paper Valentines to each other. I worked on mine this afternoon while sitting upstairs in my dream room and listening to my record player. And ok, I had to lift the lid carefully, for it was heavy with some of my clothes and the album spinning around was my 1960's Christmas Treasured Hits one. But hey.

My cats slept nearby on my bed and there was snow outside the windows and a pool of light on the table where I filled out my Valentines. I smiled because always, writing upon Valentine cards makes me feel 10 years old again and reminds me of the delight of Valentine's Day parties (oh those cupcakes!) in warm elementary school rooms.

I find it sad that so many people hate Valentine's Day. I love it. I view it as Friendship Day and I revel in it, heart-shaped confetti and all. And may I never change in this area. May I never blast and spoil such a sweet holiday and become sour and Grinch-like about something so simple as sharing a card and a grateful sentiment for the sake of friendship. May I use any day possible to express what is good and right about this life...

And may I never, ever, ever toss away a holiday just because other people decry and spoil it--I am letting their negativity win and spread and thrive if I do. But instead, may I celebrate each holiday on my own terms and keep them all with joy.

And, well, later I also smiled up there in my cozy room because lots of people online would laugh at us old-fashioned ladies and our Valentines. They would chide us, scorn us, for having nothing better to do.

And then I thought...

May I never have anything better to do than to send little heart-shaped cards to my friends, telling them they mean a lot to me...

May I never have anything better to do than to bake cookies for someone who is lonely or surprise them with a phone call or an email...

May I never have anything better to do than spend time with my husband in our cozy winter room, laughing and talking together...

May I never have anything better to do than give my daughter the little trinkets I find in stores, little things which remind me of her...

May I never have anything better to do than share simple stories of God's love and encouragement in this blog with people who are searching for something meaningful on sleepless nights.

And may I never have anything better to do than let people know that God loves them. Because after all, that's what matters first and foremost anyway.


***

"When I was young, I used to admire intelligent people; as I grow older, I admire kind people." ... Abraham Joshua Heschel

"The everyday kindness of the back roads more than makes up for the acts of greed in the headlines." ... Charles Kuralt

The Jungles of Confusion


On Tuesday night the fog rolled out of my head and the sun arose, making Life appear good again. How good to feel good!

During my Flu Days, Tom and I watched probably 14,000 dvd's (well, maybe not that many...), but on one of them, a young man doubted whether he should continue his training to become a priest. He took some time off, then later, shared his doubts with his own priest who had some, ok, I'll say it--rather dubious advice. He chuckled and asked the young man, "Is that all? All these years later, I'm still waiting to feel certain that I should have become a priest." He went on to tell him, basically, that you just have to hope you've made the right choice, do the best you can, yada, heard-it-all-before, yada.

What's up with that? I thought this was true:

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

I've found there is no peace in making a decision, then wondering whether I should have made a different one (a.k.a. second-guessing). That fits more into the department of fear... fearing I've missed God... fearing I'm disappointing Him (and everyone else)... fearing I'll miss the fulfillment which a lot of other people seem to find.

And, well, fear brings torment (1 John 4:18). And that's the last thing God wants us to live with. (Can you imagine?)

I've found that crumpling-up my own agenda helps me make more right choices. I make fewer wrong decisions when I'm not in this life for myself, but rather, for whatever God asks. It was an extremely happy day for me when I realized down to my bones that God knows more than I do. That His ways are always right. That He never made a mistake in His whole life.

And there is comfort in knowing that, if I should make a mistake in what I thought I should do, God will still be blessed that I did what I did because I truly believed I was following Him. Yes, He'll be blessed because it's one thing to make an innocent mistake out of love for God and quite another to be determined to fulfill my own agenda come heck or high water.

It's my own agenda which ruins everything. My own agenda rolls in like fog and obscures God's plans for me. It's my own agenda which leads me into a sort of jungle where there are bunny trails galore leading to bubbling, miry bogs of confusion. Deep pots of wondering, second-guessing, indecision, doubt and confusion.

We walk by faith, yes, but we are also led by God. Faith is not like fog because God and His ways are not like fog. They are sure and certain and always right.

No, I had enough of fog and bogs. Been there, done that. Give me God's ways every time, please. There's not a bunny trail amongst them.

***

"For He is not a God of confusion and disorder but of peace and order." 1 Corinthians 14:33

"...because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God." Romans 8:14

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Godzilla Days


Here in this blog I've talked about Fairy days, Nevada Days and who knows what other kind of days.

Lately I am having Godzilla Days. Ugh.

Turns out, this is no simple cold. No, this is the flu. Man, I can understand how elderly people die from this. I've fantasized about crawling beneath our bedroom dresser, lying flat, all the while hoping God would meet me there and whisk me away to Heaven, sick, ailing body and all. (Can you say 'delirious'?)

Yes, these are Godzilla days. My poor house looks like Godzilla trudged through it, and stepped back through the kitchen again and again. I, myself, look like the bride of Godzilla (think I'm kidding?). You are extremely, mightily blessed that you cannot see me right now. And well, if Godzilla is a big, fat whiner, there's just one more resemblance between us.

And here's what might prove to be a helpful note: If you're looking for a stock to invest in, you may want to try Kleenex. Just trust me on this one.

But I'm grateful for one thing. Even though I have phone calls and emails piling-up and spilling over, God is giving me a break. He's telling me that He's not expecting me to take care of all these loose ends at this moment of sickness. He knows exactly how horrible I'm feeling and He's much too kind to make me feel guilty that, right now, I'm unable to do anything but curl up in my chair and try to stay warm as I watch tv with Tom (he with the arm in the sling).

And over and over I keep giving myself that same permission because part of me wants to push myself to take care of all those emails and phone calls and errands. Part of me wants to cave to the tyranny of the oughts and shoulds (I am stealing that line). Yet almost hourly I remind myself that--even on good days--God only expects me to do what He's giving me the grace to do. Nothing more. Nothing less.

God doesn't stress us out. We do it to ourselves.

And over and over in my near-delirious state, I keep reminding myself of that.


***

...a very special thanks to each of you who left comments after reading my last post...Please keep praying... (she says as she drags herself up the stairs, slow step by slow step, in her greatest, dramatic form... Where are the Oscar people when you need them?) Heh.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

The Good News. The Bad News.


The good news? For 2 1/2 years I did not come down with one single cold. That may be a personal record, due in part to taking 1,000 - 2,000 mg.'s of Vitamin C every single day of those lovely cold-free years.

The bad news? Last night I came down with a stupid, beyond annoying cold. Bleh. But the second my throat scratched a mega bit, I swallowed lots of Vitamin C which probably helped me have just a sore throat all one sleepless night and not two. But still, I've been one wilted, sleep-deprived, woe-is-me puppy all day. And I am so sick of hot lemon juice. Sick of it, do you hear?

But the other good news is that we've had only a faint powdered sugar snow so far. And I didn't need to drive anywhere today. And Tom is home. And I've been so quiet, so complacent, that even all the hours and hours of Super Bowl pre-game stuff has appeared quite interesting, maybe even delightful. (Not being a football fan, that may mean I'm a lot sicker than I thought. Perhaps even delirious?)

There's even more good news... Always, there's more good news than bad in nearly every tough situation--we just have to search a little harder to find it. You must know how and where to look, and practicing the search on normal days is great preparation. And even though I've got that achey-stuffy-head-fever-can't-get-any-rest feeling, God is still God. He is still good. And this, too, shall pass.

Friday, February 03, 2006

This Piece of Cake Winter...


... is quickly disappearing from our table. But oh my, it was delicious while it lasted.

Yes, here where I live, we've been having what I call, a Piece of Cake Winter. I mean usually, January is our iciest, most dangerous month. The month where you stay home as much as you can and when you do get outside, everyone is bundled and huddled-over while taking baby steps across parking lots of ice. Usually in January, the daytime temperature hovers around 3 degrees Fahrenheit and we have wind chills of -20 (or more). January is usually the month we all ask, "Why do we even live here?"

Oh, but not this January. No, last month was like early Spring-without-the-flowers. It was a month of stepping outside the door, feeling the gentle air upon your face and exclaiming, "Man! I can't believe how warm it is!" We had days and days of bright light and temperatures which hovered not around 3 miserable degrees, but around 40 and even 50.

Some people don't believe in global warming. I do.

But you know about cake don't you? You have it one day and then you want it the next day, too. And the next. Soon, you start expecting cake everyday... you start demanding cake. And next, you can't even imagine life without cake.

Well, this glorious January has been like that and everyone in my town has become terribly spoiled. We want our cake and to eat it, too... we want this party weather to stay--who cares that it almost feels like The Twilight Zone? We want our early-spring to remain... and the fact that no deep freeze means that summer will probably be rife with insects, well, we'll think about that later.

But this weekend, the Piece of Cake Winter will finally be taken from our table, crumbs and all. This spring-in-winter party will be over.

Oh well. The party was lovely while it lasted and I thanked the Host over and over for showing us such a good time. But sometimes you just can't be thankful enough. (Have you ever felt like that?) Some gifts are too plain wonderful, and for some reason, you just can't pull up the deepest level of gratitude. You can't be glad enough, though you certainly try.

The lake effect snows will swirl-in this weekend... and it's up to me to not let them bury my gratitude.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

School Of Life


In our cozy-escape room last night, Tom and I watched a good movie called, School of Life. And ok, it wasn't the next Gone With The Wind. But if you are always hunting for films which remind you that each of us do, indeed, leave imprints upon other peoples' lives, well, you may like this movie.

It starts a little slow, a bit predictable, but give it time. And it's only PG, so there's not a lot to worry about there. I liked it even though, lately, I've totally switched movie genres. I went from 40 years of watching sappy sentimental stuff straight to murder mysteries and suspense thrillers. (Tom has been like, "What have you done with my wife?") There's a reason for this switch, but that's a whole other post.

But School of Life, for me, was well-worth the trip back to sappy sentimental. The reminder that we influence others' lives for good or for evil, was certainly worth the trip back. Because we do make a difference, you know. We can't escape that fact, though heaven knows--sometimes we try.

School of Life gets a Debra Thumbs Up.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Pain Pills


Something happened last Saturday, something I didn't tell you about, but then, that's not unusual... there are many things I never mention here. But anyway, Naomi and Carl came over for lunch to celebrate Naomi's birthday. In between caring for Tom and keeping house, I'd shopped for Naomi and given a lot of thought to this lunch and her gifts. The anticipation was sweet.

The lunch went well. The opening of the gifts went well. But afterward, Naomi gave us the bad news about her worse-than-we-dreamed financial situation... and that she may need to move back home in March for a 'couple weeks'... We asked questions--made not a single accusation...did not raise our voices one mini-bit-- yet she shut down. Told Carl she was ready to leave. We offered to change the subject, but no... Naomi dragged a poor, in-the-middle-of-it-all Carl out of our house.

I sat at the table, stunned at this swirling whirlwind too reminiscent of earlier years... and cried. But not many tears--by the time you've had a child for 26 years, your mother's heart has toughened a bit. You've been through this before and learned the difference between the end of the world and just another problem which someday will be a memory you can choose to keep inside a dark drawer--and forget.

I told Tom, if he wanted, I would run down to the video store and get the next disc of 24. 24 is great for taking your mind off of what is going wrong in your life. At least, it works for awhile.

He said that would be great, so he walked back to our winter room, using his cane and with his arm in the sling, and I got into the car and immediately switched on Kimberley Locke's song, Eighth World Wonder. Then out in the sunshine with that song, already the world felt better. Down at the video store (where we have an all-you-can-watch-for-$14-per-month contract and where they've come to know me quite well since Tom's operation) I chatted with Brenda, the woman our age who recommended 24 to us, as though everything was just fine. With people behind me in line, there was no time to complain about the-birthday-lunch-gone-wrong.

But sometimes that's a good thing. Those few words with Brenda reminded me that life still goes on... it is ever moving forward... and I need to cooperate with it, move along with it.

Then back home through the sunshine and the song again and then back in the house, Tom told me he had cried a bit while I was gone. But I told him already I felt better and I tried to share the sun and the song and the video store chat with him as reminders that yes, we will move past this day.

In a way, I was giving Tom pills for the pain--the same pills I'd been given after I left the house. But you realize the thing about those, don't you?

Pain pills heal nothing. If you only take pain pills for an ugly, gaping wound, that wound can still become infected and kill you.

Everyone knows the old saying, "Time heals all wounds." Well, Dr. Phil says "Time heals nothing," and at first I disagreed with him. Quickly I recalled how Time, always moving forward, had whisked me far away from the moment of specific injuries. Time carried me to places beyond the wound and left it so far behind me that, even in looking backward, not one hint of pain resurfaced.

No, but now I think Dr. Phil just may be right. Time is more like a pain pill. Time can dull the pain of a gaping wound, but it cannot clean it or stitch it up so that it will heal-over, leaving just a tiny scar.

No, now I believe God heals all wounds. And we help Him by cooperating.

Maybe that's why Tom and I, both, felt a lot better after watching the 24 dvd(stay with me here... I know that sounds funny.) I think many of us never feel healed because we can't sit still long enough for any surgery God wants to perform on us. Instead we run. We run to friends and phones and professionals and liquor and food and who knows what else. We run and God cannot hold us down long enough to stitch us up. We run and God cannot take us into His lap and whisper comfort in our ear. We run and God cannot hug us into wholeness again.

Maybe Tom and I felt better after watching 24 simply because we sat still. I know as I sat there, I kept one ear opened to God's whisper. He can whisper an encouraging word in just a second, but you have to wait for it. You have to expect it. You often have to sit still for it.

And when it comes, oh my, there's nothing like the healing it brings. I know, because I heard Him whisper to me that day.