Archive for ‘life’s journey’

2013/10/30

Recovery in Question

Recovery in question...

Recovery in question…

Emma turns 14 this weekend. I can’t really believe that 14 years have passed. I can’t believe that in 4 or 5 years my nest might be empty. To celebrate this momentous birthday, an age marking awkwardness but also independence, we are having a party. Not just a party, but a Masquerade Ball.

It is sooooo Emma. There’s a dress code for boys and girls. There’s a fabulous menu, beautiful masks, a long song list for DJ Doug. And I’m hoping the songs I don’t know won’t embarrass me or the other adult guests coming or that my dance moves don’t embarrass my daughter. Who am I kidding?

In the vein of throwing a classy party, I mean Ball, we are trying to stay away from the usual party fare of chex mix and BBQ wienies. But since our budget won’t allow for a caterer, I’m the chef at hand. That sounded like a great plan when we were leisurely driving over fall break, planning the menu and decor.

Now in a week that has turned stupid by all of the things that have hard and fast deadlines, including the Ball, I’m feeling quite overwhelmed. I’ve had delicious moments of energy and productivity, but the pile is so very large and daunting on both professional and home fronts. So the other side is me barking and grumbling and nagging for someone in the universe to please help! Like someone who is 13.95 years old who I live with…“Hey you there, offspring, help me!”

The result is sorry-filled teenager staring blankly. “What can I do?” her eyes and voice say.

Indeed, what can she do for this always-setting-the-bar-too-high mess of me? I like to think I am a recovering perfectionist, but am I really recovering? Am I putting all of this pressure on myself? Have the “shoulds” taken over?

I think my perfectionism was dampened in Emma’s younger years due to the perfect storm of going through the trauma of divorce, transitioning to single parenthood, and scrambling for income at every turn. It was a period in my life that basically showed me that failure is a launching point. It was the first time I really started seeing and understanding grace at work so that I could accept it and begin to extend it to others.

But I tell you, there are times now since Emma has entered into this age of pushing back and stretching her wings, that I feel like that old person again. It’s like I’m grasping for more control by boxing her in with too high standards and my way of doing things. How can she learn to be her own person, to be her own capable adult, with this kind of perfectionist bullying?

She can’t.

On our chalkboard where we write the dinner possibilities for the week, where there is now a pumpkin face, I sometimes write, “Harp less, encourage more.”

This statement is totally 100% for me and no one else in the house. Not for Emma, not for our cat Mo, not for anyone else who comes to visit. It’s just for me. It’s where I want to live but sometimes find it so hard to live out.

In my mind the week where this important milestone of 14 happened for the one and only time in Emma’s life, looked so different. I was going to be a little more Martha Stewart + Jesus, calm, organized, brilliantly creative and loving. I feel more like Jeff Lewis from Flipping Out, obsessive, frantic, and demanding (minus the psychics and “scream therapy,” though maybe that would help at this point).

And I’m realizing that I need that statement from our chalkboard now more than ever. But this time I need to say it to myself.

“Harp less, encourage more.”

Stop trying to do too much. Stop worrying so much. Stop striving so much. Stop beating yourself up. Hug more. Pause more. Love more. Celebrate.

And maybe, just maybe if I can resolve to put less pressure on myself to be more than I really can be anyway, I can let go and enjoy the process and the time with Emma between here and this celebration and even, God willing, beyond.

Lord, thank you for loving recovering perfectionists like me. Help me, in the moments where I stop to listen to you, and feel your love, to then live out of that reservoir and not return to my silly way of striving and pushing. Amen.

2013/08/31

Good Form

running-symbolA couple of weeks ago, I went to a running clinic on Good Form. I’ve been running for almost a decade, so why would I need a Good Form class? After my car accident earlier this year, it took me a while to get back into my normal workout schedule. And unfortunately by the time I was done with physical therapy, much of my endurance that I built up last year was lost.

This hasn’t been discouraging for me. In fact, I’ve focused on more cross training with dance, shorter running routes, and strength work as I gear up for a Warrior Dash in October. But even as my focus has been other types of exercise, I have this longing to train for another longer race. And with that longing has come a desire to improve my running both in form and speed, which I know will increase my overall benefit from it. It made sense then to start with my form as a precursor to speed training.

At the class, our experienced instructor Tammy Sanders took a video of each of us running past her. Then she played our videos back one by one in slow motion, pointing out how our feet were striking the pavement, what our posture looked like, and if our arms were in the right position. We learned that cadence, or the number of steps per minute, is important too.

It was very enlightening to find out that I’m a heel striker, my arms are coming across my body too much, and that I have good posture and head position. I left the class focused on the simple truths that would help me correct my poor form: bend my knees, center my posture, look down the road and not down at the pavement, lean slightly forward, run with light steps to stay balanced.

My first solo run to practice the good form tips I had learned went well for the first mile or so. But I noticed after that, my body wanted to return to old habits. I struggled at times to keep the new, better form even though I knew that it was more efficient and would help me avoid injuries common to runners. I measured my cadence that day, and found out that mine is about 170 versus the optimum 180 strikes per minute. I have work to do there too.

For a decade, I’ve been running—with success—as far as I would define it. I’ve never been fast; I’ve had very few injuries, but with good form now added to the mix, what more might I discover I can achieve?

What if I practiced good form in my spiritual life as well?

I’m not asking this question to lead into a discussion on “works” here. I’m talking about what if I consciously started to address the bad spiritual habits or baggage I picked up along the way that is throwing my form off.

For those of us raised on church, sometimes bad spiritual form is linked to our families and how they relate to church or other believers. If we’ve been hurt at church, sometimes it is linked to forgiveness we refuse to extend to other Christians or a church as a whole. For those of us who were or are preacher’s kids there’s a reason that there is a negative stereotype equated with many of us. And we see many pastors and wives of pastors (I was also one of these) wound up in burdens that while related to ministry also have to do with poor spiritual form due to burn out, unresolved conflicts, and living hidden lives outside of their parish.

But like the formation of any bad habit, poor spiritual form doesn’t happen overnight. I know for me, I can think of several very distinct instances or situations even in the last five years of being a Christian where certain seeds planted bad form. And frankly, I let those seeds take root.

This bad form has made me more cautious about being “too involved” at church sometimes. It has made me distrust certain Christians without real cause. Basically bad spiritual form has given me excuses to hang some of my decisions on, a place to justify a distance and a separation that I sometimes have practiced in order to protect myself.

I know there is a different way. I can practice good spiritual form. It isn’t easy. Bad habits are hard to break.

But I can start with some simple truths:

bend my knees in prayer

center my posture on God

look down the road and see who is in need not down at the pavement absorbed in my own problems

lean slightly forward into hope

run with light steps giving my burdens to God to stay balanced

Father, help us to practice good form in our spiritual lives that we may be strengthened in you and that we might discover anew what you can do through us to the glory of your Kingdom. Amen.

2013/05/31

Serendipity

40 years ago my grandparents celebrated their 25th Anniversary here.

40 years ago my grandparents celebrated their 25th Anniversary here.

I’m nearing the end of my “School’s out for Summer” vacation. Traveling with my mom Ginger and daughter Emma, we spent most of the time in Mayfield, Kentucky visiting my aunt and uncle and their oldest son and his wife. We had a great week of movies and food and church happenings around the congregation my uncle pastors. I’ve made an attempt to get things in that both mom and Emma like.

In that vein since my family has always loved baseball, I planned for the last leg of the trip to take us to Jackson and Memphis Tennessee so that we could take in ballgames at Pringles Park and AutoZone Park. Lucky for us, we were running late to the game in Jackson when high winds and a thunderstorm rolled through. We caught the storm en route in Milan, Tennessee and had to wait it out. By the time we did get to Jackson, things were a bit too soggy for the game to start on time, so we had a nice dinner at a local Mexican joint and headed on in to Memphis.

After some business and fun with friends and musicians Linda and Cecil Yancy, we had planned on heading to the Redbirds game. But a mix-up with comp tickets left us high and dry, so we opted for dinner in a sweet Irish restaurant and pub called The Brass Door. A man named Seamus runs the joint, and I highly recommend the food and the vibe of the place.

It was there at The Brass Door that serendipity became apparent. Tomorrow is my grandparent’s 65th anniversary, and as my mom explained over fish and chips, 40 years ago she and my dad were taking them out with my mom’s kid brother Steve to celebrate. We sat just a few blocks from the very restaurant they went to that is unfortunately no longer in business. It was one of those rotating places high on top of a building overlooking Memphis. I snapped a photo of the building as we drove past (as pictured).

Who would have guessed that we would be sitting in the same town that my grandparents Elmo and Verna Melvin celebrated their 25th anniversary on the eve of their 65th anniversary? Wow. I wasn’t even born when that occurred.

It’s a season of anniversaries for us. This month marks the 13th anniversary of Emma being baptized and my confirmation in the Episcopal Church.  In just a few weeks it will be the 5th anniversary of my divorce, and the 4th anniversary of our move to Nashville.

As I think about these milestones, I realize they represent such an amazing spectrum of feelings and events. My grandparent’s anniversary is truly awesome in that same way with everything that those 65 years hold. 65 years!

They have faced so much together: poverty, abundance, love, anger, tragedy, joy, family, more family, a growing faith, health, sickness, loss, comfort, constancy, patience, and…well…I could go on and on. This short list represents how the good stuff is mixed in with the hard stuff. And as I look down the short path to the 40th anniversary of my birth this December, I’m starting to appreciate this tension more. I think there is a richness that can be savored in the good things when we have overcome the challenges on our way to the celebration of a milestone.

As Jesus so wonderfully shares in John 16:33, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

When I think about my grandparents being married for so long, I see this verse (and many others) being lived out. I think they would both admit they couldn’t have made it to this milestone on their own, but only through the power of the Prince of Peace. So I pray that they can celebrate the full spectrum of all this anniversary represents between them and to those of us that are near and far thinking of them. They have overcome all that life has handed them for 65 years, together, walking with God. I am so blessed by their testimony of love and perseverance, and hope I can continue to walk through the trials and milestones of my life with such honor and faith.

2013/04/30

Clear title

My free and clear but totaled Jeep

My free and clear but totaled Jeep

My car was totaled in February. I was on my way to work, and a young driver lost control of his vehicle and hit me right at my driver’s side window. A few days later  (as pictured) I was saying goodbye to my Jeep Grand Cherokee as it sat at the wrecker’s lot waiting to be dragged off to a junkyard. From this shot the extensive damage isn’t evident; only the buckled door frame gives a hint that something’s wrong.

I have to say it was a tearful goodbye. At almost 11 years old, so much had happened in and around that car.

I bought the car by timing out the first payment with the arrival of the first real paycheck my former husband earned after becoming a priest. Emma grew up in that car. She’s the reason I bought the car. Rear-facing baby seats and VW Golfs don’t mix, so I traded German engineering for a car manufacturer with military roots.

I moved from Kansas City to Baltimore to Nashville in that car. A lot of life changes are represented in those moves. There’s even a great picture of my two best friends from Baltimore—Lauren and Greg—sitting on my tailgate with me the day I packed up to leave Maryland.

I know it was just a car, but it represented so much more. In that car was a mix of memories and conversations and accidents and victories.

I have a different car now—a dream car really. I always wanted a Jeep Wrangler. When I ended up with a totaled car, I figured why not shop for what I want. With only two Wranglers in 100 miles of Nashville that fit the bill, I would say I was pretty blessed to find the one I have.

My new used car didn’t come without a price. Weeks of Physical Therapy due to the accident cost me time and money. My Jeep Grand Cherokee was paid off, free and clear of any title. The Wrangler is partially owned by Huntington Bank, thank you very much. I don’t have a clear title anymore.

My car is part of a silver linings playbook in a sense. It’s what I always wanted, but I wouldn’t have it if it weren’t for that unexpected accident, and in the end I’m working to pay for the dream—to pay for a clear title.

I have friends in similar situations. My best friend, George who is still in cardiac rehab from his surgery in December, is very grateful to be alive. There are just a few medical bills he has to tend to. He has another chance at life, but he doesn’t have a clear title.

Another dear friend is finding a new, thriving life for her and her kids after a tough divorce, yet she still has to work on the sometimes-strained relationship she has with her ex. She is blessed that things are better for her and her kids, but she doesn’t have a clear title.

At church recently, I was gratefully reminded that there is an ultimate hope and joy in the fact that there will be a day when all of our titles will be clear. From John in Revelation 21 (bold face mine):

I saw the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children.

NIV, Verses 2-7

No more tears. No more death. No cost.

This song really says it all with rich vivid imagery:

When I can read my title clear to mansions in the skies,

I’ll bid farewell to every fear and wipe my weeping eyes.

Should earth against my soul engage, and hellish darts be hurled,

Then I can smile at Satan’s rage and face a frowning world.

 

Let cares like a deluge come, and storms of sorrow fall,

May I but safely reach my home, my God, my Heav’n, my All.

There shall I bathe my weary soul in seas of heav’nly rest,

And not a wave of trouble roll across my peaceful breast.  

–“When I can read my title clear” by Isaac Watts

So take heart. There will come a day when your title will be clear, when you won’t even have to count on a silver linings playbook, because of the hope in the life to come. Amen.

2013/01/31

Take the shot

Take the shot

Take the shot

“Goal of the century.”

“Best goal of all time.”

That’s what the London AP said last fall about soccer player Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s goal in a Sweden versus England match.

What made the shot so incredible? Zlatan was shooting blind. The goal was made with a 25-yard overhead kick that sank right into the net.

The odds were clearly against him, but it didn’t prevent him from taking the shot. When you watch the replay of the goal, you see that Zlatan didn’t even hesitate to take what looks like a completely impossible shot. The commentator mentions Zlatan’s “improvisation and skill.” I love the juxtaposition of these two words.

Cynics and naysayers would probably say this was a lucky shot. I look at it a bit differently. His physique, his coaching, his hours of practice all prepared him for this moment.

Sometimes even though we are prepared for a moment like this, we fail to take the shot.

Zlatan’s shot reminds me of faith. As Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (NIV) This chapter in Hebrews goes on to trace the history of a team of faithful followers who did extraordinary things in the name of God, taking blind shots, as they trusted Him to lead the way.

  • Abraham faithfully raises a knife over Isaac
  • Moses faithfully leaves the privileged house of Pharoah to eventually lead the Israelites to freedom
  • Rahab faithfully helps the spies who come to Jericho

These stories just scratch the surface of a myriad of believers who have taken the shot with a promise unseen or a blessing yet unfulfilled, and often the promise or blessing is somewhere far off in the distance. This particular passage of scripture doesn’t tell the whole story—how many of our forefathers and mothers doubted God’s words to them, tried to manipulate events to quicken God’s promise, or even wallowed in their own insecurities. And yet, they all stepped up to take the shot, however unclear the future was.

Sometimes we can’t see what is ahead. Sometimes the path is so foggy the brightest flashlight doesn’t help. Sometimes though we study scripture and learn from sermons and seek counsel from fellow Christians, we still aren’t sure of what to do next.

I have a pretty extreme need for knowing the course ahead, ever the planner, I want to take the safest path. But frankly the lack of trust at times has stopped me in my progress. Sometimes I’m too afraid to take a calculated risk because I’m trusting in myself versus trusting God and His sure and lasting promises to me.

As 2012 came to a close, I felt God pushing me out of my comfort zone in some surprising, life-giving ways. When my humanity takes over, I get scared and start talking myself out of moving forward. But as 2013 is now a full month underway, I’m praying for courage and strength, even if my back is to the goal, to trust the training, the coaching, and the practice, to step up and take the shot.

May you find the courage to do the to take the shots God is leading you to take in 2013.

2012/08/22

This is where life is now

Life starts from the reality of where we are now

My neighbor turned 40 a few weeks ago. This vibrant, beautiful woman that shares a wall with me is celebrating four decades of life. Though we have lived beside each other for about three years, we only recently became good friends. Two single moms passing like ships day and night are now sharing Zumba and laughter and more conversations about life, love and God.

Because our friendship is relatively new, I was really honored when she asked me to come to her birthday party. It was great for a number of reasons but perhaps most of all because she was inviting me into her close circle, and that was a wonderful gift.

At one point in the party, we talked about the “big 4-0” and she confessed to being a bit sad and unexpectedly emotional about it. Most of her feelings centered on her expectations of “where she would be” at this age. Birthdays, especially the mile-marker ones, have a knack for making you evaluate your life.

But even though she has faced a lot of tough stuff through the years, my neighbor doesn’t just sit around waiting for life to happen. She is actively shaping her life around the things she knows are valuable.

Years ago, this is not where my neighbor would have envisioned herself at 40, but this is where her life is now.

I have two friends both who have lost their moms in the last few years. They each have small children some of whom will not remember much about their grandmothers. Their moms have left this life too early, and life just isn’t the same without them.

I know these friends think from time to time about the big things their moms will miss like birthdays, and weddings, and great-grandchildren. And they think about the ways they miss their moms right now in the day-to-day stuff of life.

Losing their moms so early in life is not what they planned on, but this is where their life is now.

I have another friend who spent 10 years writing a book. Ten years is a long time to work on anything. At times, she was very discouraged in the process, and she thought about giving up. Sometimes she beat herself up for taking so long, and yet as the celebration of the release of the book grows nearer, I think she knows now that the timing is just right.

She would not have planned to take this long to write her book, but this is where she finds herself now.

So many of us have similar stories. We have unexpected break ups, a move across the country to find a job, a miscarriage, a betrayal that forever changed the course of life. I certainly am not living the life I once imagined. I’m not married, I only have one kid, and I continually bounce between laughter and tears at my bank account.

But this is where my life is now.

And I know I need to embrace it.

It’s scary to let go and move on. Forgiving ourselves and others; taking another risk; rising to a new challenge; believing that God’s timing is perfect timing…these are tough things to make peace with. Sometimes though, we willfully choose to stay shackled to the past and to the pain, to the failure and the loss.

God knows how to use our pasts to help us live in the present and wants us to have confidence that our futures are redeemed in him. When we pray, trust, and keep ourselves open to him, we can see glimpses of this truth.

So whatever you are facing, look it in the eye and come to grips with, “This is where life is now.” And choose to see that statement as a fact that is your friend. From that reality, you move forward.

Just like the beautiful women I’ve mentioned here. They remind me in inspiring ways that life goes on with realigned expectations, new dreams, and unexpected hope.

This is where life is now.

But with a hope rooted in the God of all, it’s just the beginning.

2012/04/24

Just (fill in the blank)

So I’m no Michael Hyatt, and I don’t blog every hour on the hour.  If you don’t know who Michael Hyatt is, he’s like a crazy, mad daily blogger telling people that they need to be blogging several times a week to gain an audience and building a following and all that.  He even has a ton of guest bloggers that blog for him.  He is very good.  And he has nice advice.  I just can’t keep up with him!

Yes, yes, I know.  I’m lucky you are even reading this blog, aren’t I?  You thought I stopped blogging altogether didn’t you?  Well, I did. But I didn’t stop writing in the meantime.

Last year was a wonderfully creative year spent on projects that helped boost my confidence as an artist.  I started a fan page on Facebook.  I wrote an optional script for a musical that was a bestseller for a publisher.  I started a second book on an end-of-the-year, happy birthday to me writing retreat.  I got to collaborate, edit and advise on scripts and books penned by fellow writers.  I even took the leap and applied to a Creative Writing Masters program.

I know more today that pursuing art and specifically writing is to become an increasing part of my life.  I know this despite not being accepted into the Masters program (found out a few weeks ago).  I know this even though I haven’t made a ton of progress on that second book I started in December (when I recently described the premise to a friend though, he got chills). I know that I need to write simply because of how it makes me feel.

Tonight as I sit and work on this simple blog for instance, I feel so blessed and so much like myself.  My body is so telling me to go bed, but I’ve discovered how valuable the process of writing is to my inner being, so I am writing in bed.  Close enough.

Anne Lamott says it like this in her book Bird by Bird, “Writing has so much to give, so much to teach, so many surprises…the actual act of writing—turns out to be the best part…the act of writing turns out to be its own reward.”

I couldn’t agree more.

So what about this blog?  Because the premise behind it has been about my time as a choir member, it has been difficult to write and post here on Notes from the Other Side of the Altar over the last few months.  Much has changed at my church.  Our music director is gone for complicated reasons; we have a new more modern worship service; and I’ve found myself more often than not having to let go of being in the choir on a regular basis.

This season I’ve had to use many of the rehearsal hours I wanted to spend at choir for other things like making ends meet, keeping my house semi-clean, and being a mom.  So, I am in the process of changing the focus of this particular blog.  I appreciate your patience as I do so; insert “pardon my dust” sign here.

As I struggle to work through life’s usual challenges and try to live up to my responsibilities, I sometimes feel the guilt of not really going for what I want.  I know what to do, now if only I would do it, and on a more regular basis.

It makes me wonder, what is keeping you from moving forward on the thing that you know you need to do?  Is it the chatter from people, maybe even people who love you but don’t know how to encourage you?  Is it a lack of knowledge?  Is it a lack of resources?  Is it really?  Is it time, or not being disciplined enough to make time (my problem), to do what it is you need to do?

Do you struggle with doubt?  Do you let doubt win?  If like me, you feel most like yourself whenever you do, even for a short while, the thing you know you need to do, then just do it! Start. Make the effort. Don’t think about results; live in the process of doing it.

My mantra these days is, “just write.”  And with that, I hope.  I hope that by doing what I’m supposed to do, good will come of it.  If nothing else, I will feel more “alive,” as a friend would say, when I am living out my calling.  I encourage you to do the same.

I have to quote Anne again…

“Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come.  You wait and watch and work:  you don’t give up.”

And from my favorite book, from the source, a word that I need reminder of in these days:

But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. –Romans 8:24-25

Don’t give up.  Fill in your blank and just _______________.

2011/07/31

I want

I want.  Yo quiero.  It’s a phrase we are all used to saying. We order the delicious items that call out to us on a menu by saying, “I want.”  We take off for the mall, cash in hand to buy the things we want.  We make plans and create strategies spending our lives pursuing the things we want.

As I grew up, my sole dream and desire was to be in love.  Like many young girls, I dreamed of a prince and being treated like a princess with a fairy tale wedding and life.  As I got older, my vision changed, but I’m not sure I traded those fairy tale dreams in for the more realistic stuff of falling in love with a real person versus some superman on a white horse.  But I always wanted a family and a home, and at the center of my dream was the relationship I would have with my spouse.

This dream was very powerful in my life.  Looking back I would say that above anything else, including God, (though I wouldn’t have always recognized or acknowledged that fact) I wanted a deep, loving relationship with someone.  That dream was so strong for me that I know I made decisions along the way solely based on the very narrow vision of what I wanted.

As life has happened and as I have changed, I have come to realize how much I took care of that dream to the detriment of other parts of my life.  Most importantly, I’m very aware today of how much that dream came between God and I.  I know that I did little to make sure that dream was built on the right foundation.  Looking back, I feel I was like an Israelite who heard the words of Moses saying, “Love the Lord with all your heart; fear Him; keep his commandments; put no other gods before Him…” but the way I was living you would have thought I just heard, “Blah, blah, blah.”

Scripture is filled with the idea that loving God and putting him first is the key to prosperity and the desires of our hearts coming to fruition, but I really need the story of the Israelites to remind me of the lifetime journey I’m on to defeat the idols in my life. In Deuteronomy before Moses hands over his leadership to Joshua, he reminds the Israelites over and over of this very thing, and in chapter 30 he basically says that if the people will love God with everything in their being that he will restore their riches and gather them all back to ultimately give them the promised land.

It’s great to think about God in unconditional love kinds of terms, but we don’t like to focus much on what is required of us when there might be pain and sacrifice involved.  Here’s just one reference to it from Deuteronomy—emphases mine:

“The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts (ouch!) and the hearts of your descendants (not my kids too!), so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.” 30:6

Life—that’s what we all want.  And I’m not just talking about the act of living of course.  When we define what makes a good life, certain images come to mind based on the desires of our unique hearts.

But what happens when our dreams are idols that we put before God? Circumcision.  Yeah, I know it’s not a pretty word to use, but it fits.  God has circumcised the dreams of my youth, the ones that kept me from his true promises.  It’s been a painful—oh so painful—but necessary part of my faith journey.

A few years ago, I stopped uttering, “I want,” and it wasn’t because I’m some super spiritual person.  It was because I couldn’t really even lift my head.  I was in a valley that overcame me for a time.  I was taken to that place beyond thirst to a place of survival, and amazingly I realized that only God could get me out of there.

I think he is still in the process of doing that, and now I’m more attentive now to his presence.  I’m desperate to live the life he wants me to live.  I know I won’t get it all right.  I know I need to constantly be reminded not to put idols before him.  I know it would be so easy to go back the way I came into the wilderness of old plans and dreams.  But that’s not what I want anymore.

I want what he wants for me.

In May I stood on Mount Nebo.  I looked across the Jordan valley into the Promised Land just like Moses did when he begged the people to remember to put God first and no other.  What a view I had from up there.

I was in Jordan on a theatre in missions trip with Christians in Theatre Arts (CITA)—a dream trip that God miraculously and unexpectedly gifted me with.  Our mission was to work with Muslim and Christian high school students in Amman.  After we left Jordan, we toured several towns in Israel performing scripts at many of the biblical sites we visited.

Our group’s collective journey was very meaningful, and to this day I can’t really believe that I was so blessed to go along.  Being in Jordan and Israel gave me a perspective on my faith that I’m not sure I would have gotten any other way.

My favorite days were in Jordan.  I loved waking up too early and sharing breakfast and conversation with Anna over a delicious bowl of cereal with dried strawberries in it.  I loved sharing food together and reflecting over the amazing things God was doing through our group with Tom.  I loved the late night silliness with Morgen and the prayers we lifted up for one another.

My roomie for the trip was Bev.  Bev has a wonderfully rich soul and lives life with rare vigor and earnestness.  She does not give up easily, though her life has thrown her a number of curve balls.  And she helped me to learn about 5-bar experiences with God—those moments when the communication with him is so full and rich like when all the bars are lit up on my iPhone and everything is clear and unencumbered by interference.

Music was a part of our mission trip as our group worshipped together in the mornings sometimes on our bus.  For Bev and I, both being Anglican and away from our respective churches brought up chats about some of the hymns unique to our tradition.  Once in a while we would just break out into song in our room.  We discovered that we both loved one of my favorite hymns.

Bev and I didn’t have a hymnal or a good internet connection to find all the lyrics while we were on the trip, so we did the best we could scribbling a line or two along the way when one of us would remember, adding up to maybe one or two full verses and the chorus by the time it was all over.  Like bad karaoke we would sing with fervor the parts we knew and then hum the rest until we got back to a familiar word or line.  When I got back to the states, I found my hymnal right away so I could fill in the blanks:

V1:

I want to walk as a child of the Light.  I want to follow Jesus.

God set the stars to give light to the world.  The Star of my life is Jesus.

REFRAIN:

In Him there is no darkness at all, the night and the day are both alike.

The Lamb is the Light of the city of God.  Shine in my heart Lord Jesus.

V2:

I want to see the Brightness of God.  I want to look at Jesus.

Clear Son of Righteousness shine on my path and show me the way to the Father.

V3:

I’m looking for the coming of Christ.  I want to be with Jesus.

When we have run, with patience the race we shall know the joy of Jesus.

This hymn is my prayer of the year.  It speaks to all that I hope I’m living out right now. I want to follow Jesus.  I want to look at Jesus, and I want to be with Jesus.  Though I don’t consciously want to hurt, I don’t want to be so far away from the pain it took to get here that I forget that sacrifice and even circumcision are necessary parts of a life dedicated to God.

I stopped saying, “I want” when I went to that desperate place.  But he has lifted my head and helped me to walk again.  And in the stillness he has begun to let me know that it’s okay to ask again.  It’s okay to dream again.  He is whispering to me, “What is it Kim that you now want?”  And from this new place with new perspective, I humbly pray for the desires of my heart.  Psalm 37:4

Lord, may what you want for my life be always what I want.  Amen.

I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light composed by Kathleen Thomerson  (lyrics) © 1970 Celebration.
2011/04/30

VDay

This year my Valentine’s décor was up in my house way past the time it should have been taken down.  Yes, even in April there are a few people in my neighborhood who still have Christmas wreaths on their doors, but Christmas is a major holiday. Sometimes we linger, even if a bit too long on keeping the Christmas décor and lights up because it’s a holiday with real meaning.  It has a weight and depth to it.

Valentine’s is more of an excuse to spend too much on greeting cards and to gain a few pounds eating chocolate.  Now, I don’t have much in the way of decorations for VDay—just a little bit of heart soap and something that hangs on my mantle and some old cards from people from various years.  I have a few cut out hearts and some things that Emma made when she was little.

Since I’ve gone through divorce and all the disenchantment with love that goes with that, the last several years I have pretty much refused to celebrate VDay.  In fact, every time the day rolled around, I could be found cursing the holiday more than relishing in it.  So, to put out any decorations, meager as they were, and to celebrate what has been a somewhat complicated day for me is at least a small victory in the scheme of my life.

Last month, our choir sang our last major concert of the season.  It was a Holocaust Memorial concert.  For it, we stood in front of the altar instead of our usual semi-hidden place behind the altar—yes, the other other side of the altar.

The Memorial concert was a mixture of songs and words from people that had been in concentration camps.  Jewish survivors and also liberators from our community were invited. For many of us in the choir, it was emotional to sing and say the words in the program.

The stories of torture, torment, family separation, human experiments, children being treated as if they were lower than animals and mass murder are sadly very real, and these things happened not too long ago.

We sang that night, not just in memory of what happened during World War II, but also for the injustices that continue around the world and even in our backyards and in our personal lives. Some of the songs deal with faith issues, and the fact that anyone could hold onto a belief in a loving God during such a time was telling and humbling. One song in particular wouldn’t stop playing in my head and swimming around in my heart long after the concert was over.

The song is called, “Even When God Is Silent” by Michael Horvit.  The words are from an actual basement in Germany and written by someone hiding from the Gestapo.  Knowing the context of the text, it is very hard for me to imagine writing such a thing.  It is faith at its pure essence.  The words simply say:

I believe in the sun even when it is not shining.

I believe in love even when feeling it not.

I believe in God even when God is silent.

To this day, I can sing the first and third lines convincingly, but it is that middle line that really gives me trouble.  When I really start to break down the words in the sentence, “I believe in the sun when it is not shining” it doesn’t take long to think it through.  Yes, of course, it’s grey some days, but that doesn’t mean the sun has not gone away.  Here, reason it seems, wins out.

Third line seems a bit tougher until I break it down as well.  “I believe in God even when he is silent.”  Yes, I do.  Who else am I screaming at when I can’t hear him?  Why even bother if I don’t believe he is listening?  Why he does not answer in those moments my human limitations cannot illuminate, but if I don’t believe in God when he is silent, then I have to believe I am crazy for yelling at no one.  Not ready for that admission quite yet.

And then there is that darned middle line.  “I believe in love…even when feeling it not.”  No, this one I cannot easily sing and believe.  The notes and the words come out, but my heart is not in it.  Believing in love when I don’t feel it.  How?

I readily admit that this is a big issue for me.  In human relationships, I need reminders, markers that love has not strayed or diminished. It’s not so much that I’m the jealous type or that I have to be with someone 24/7 or anything, I just expect love to grow and progress.  I expect loving relationships to evolve and deepen.  I love with so much of my being that I want that in return.  But for me, this type of loving has seemed to overwhelm people in my life at times.  When it comes to the opposite sex in particular, loving this way has simply not worked.

And frankly, that’s really confusing.  I’ve had several years now to ponder all of this, and honestly I don’t know if I would be able to recognize real love that might last from mere romantic love that might not.  I hate thinking that I’m somehow jaded, but I think I’ve been betrayed one too many times to know if I will ever be able to rest in love again.

In my relationship with God, I’m proud of the fact that I rely on him more today than I ever have.  But the days of aching loneliness and a sometimes-silent Father become true tests of my faith.  I don’t feel as if I’m meant to be alone forever, and yet I am for now, so I look for what God is trying to teach me in these days.

After the concert, I became curious about the word “holocaust” since I had only really known it’s meaning as it related to the horrible tragedy and war crimes of World War II.  But when it is not formalized and capitalized, the word holocaust means, “a sacrifice that is totally consumed by fire.”

When I read that, I thought about the great prophet Elijah.  What a holocaust God provided for the prophets of Baal to witness.  That is before we read that Elijah hightailed it to the desert in fear.  Yeah, he has this great victory, fire raining down and consuming everything, and then gets threatened by a girl and because he can’t take it, he disappears.  And not only that, he basically asks God to end his life right then and there.  Finally exhausted from the stress of it all, Elijah falls asleep.

Of course, in all fairness, it was God’s victory out there with the prophets of Baal.  Though he felt the victory, Elijah may have just been completely overwhelmed at that point.  He had seen a lot happen—he had relinquished his own power and allowed God to use him.  And who knows what seeing that miracle did to him.  As scripture says:

“Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also (I love this part) licked up the water in the trench.” (1 Kings 18:38 NIV)

Say what? Even the trench water was gone?  I can’t even really imagine it, and somehow I totally relate to Elijah taking off after this.  I mean, things should be great for Elijah for a while, right?  His God just rained down fire on a soaking wet bed of timber and rocks in front of 950 false prophets. But shortly after this when Jezebel unleashes her fury, Elijah takes a sudden leave of absence.

I think there are some people who when they have amazing experiences where they see God at work they are somehow able to put those experiences into spiritual banks that help them get stronger and more confident and faithful even.  But that’s not me.  I regularly need touch stones and altars to remind me of the goodness in my life and the great things God has done.

I need God to wake me up from my stress-induced slumber saying, “Get up and eat.” (I Kings 19:5).  And this is what Elijah does.  Then he makes a long journey to a cave.  Still in hiding perhaps? Was he going to the mountain of God to purposely meet God or was Elijah just avoiding facing normal life again?

There God asks him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” God asks, not once but twice. (1Kings 19:9 & 13) And in kind, Elijah gives God the same answer both times:  “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty…” (1 Kings 10 & 14) and he goes on from there to talk about what everyone else is doing—like he is trying to avoid God’s question almost.  And then Elijah pulls out the real sympathy card: “…and now they are trying to kill me too.”

For a long time, I too have been pulling out my pathetic sympathy cards and laying them out before God:

“Oh Lord, you know the pain in my spirit that I have been dealing with these past few years.  I lost my job some time ago.  I still feel very alone at times.  And it’s really tough out here in the desert.  There are times I almost long for death because if I died, then all of this would be over.”

Like Elijah, I tell God the details of a story he already knows.  I spell it out for him again and again, just in case he missed it the first hundred times I said it.

And like with Elijah after the wind and the earthquake and the fire, God’s answer, though in the form of a question, is still the same…

“What are you doing here, Kim?”

He asks this because he knows.  He knows I’m not my best when I’m stuck in a place of fear while looking back over my shoulder at the distant past.  He knows that my wandering in the desert and hiding in caves because I don’t know what to do next is a lack of faith.  He asks this question in a gentle whisper so that I really have to stop and listen to hear his voice.

He asks me what I am doing here because he has something better for me.  If I get my rump in gear and get out of my funk, he is ready to show me.  He gave Elijah a very specific list of things to do once Elijah stopped to hear God’s voice.

I had a rough start to this year, but in the midst of that God gave me work that challenged and inspired me.  And I believe in recent days, he has given me some specific things to do too in regards to my long-term future.  So every day I pray for the courage to believe and trust in his plan while fighting the urge to hightail it to the desert again.

I know he wants me to believe in love “even when feeling it not.”  That starts with digesting more fully the way he loves me.  It means looking down at the foundation that has been underneath my feet all along.  He is patient enough to hear me recite my sympathy card script again if need be, but I know that he wants to see me release the grip on that tired story so he can give me a new script for love and life today.

May God give all of us the strength and courage to live in his truths and rest in his perfect love.  Help us Lord to stand our ground after the holocausts–whether they are true tragedies or an outpouring of your power–and to look forward to the work you have before us.  Amen.

2010/12/25

Arrival

Baby Emma's arrival

A couple of days ago as I drove down the road, I passed a Christmas tree lot.  There were men taking down the proverbial big white bulb strings of lights that outlined their outdoor store.  A few forsaken trees lay toppled on the ground around them.  Whether satisfied with their sales or not, it was two days before the big day, and they were packing up.  Time to head home and perhaps trim the leftover trees.

This image is just one sign of what now has finally come.  Ready or not, Christmas has arrived.

Arrival is a great word.  Arrival is often the culmination of something eagerly anticipated—like a package in the mail, a plane carrying a dear friend, or the birth of a baby.  I have two friends that gave birth this year and one that is very ready to have her baby though she will have to wait until next year.

It’s been fun and a little strange to witness the life-changing event of a baby coming take place all around me.  I had Emma more than 11 years ago this year, yet some of my friends near my age are just starting their families.  My parenting skills span over a decade while they are learning how to change diapers and fuss with car seats.

But then again, Emma wasn’t planned.  No couple in their right mind would get pregnant while the wife was the sole bread winner and hubby went to school full time working on his masters.  No, that wouldn’t make sense at all.  But that’s exactly what happened.

We were limping along financially like many seminary couples around us, and I was on the road a bit promoting dramatic and musical resources for the company I worked for.  On one particular trip, I was very tired.  I had flown to a conference in California, so I thought I had a major case of jet lag or something.  I was downing coffee and mochas from the hotel café like nobody’s business.

Some of the ladies with me on the trip listened to me complain of my exhaustion and watched my coffee addiction increasing by the day until one of them finally said, “I bet you are pregnant.”  “Ha!” I confidently said, “I don’t think so.  Not me!”

But she had planted a seed—or maybe more of a weed.  And that weed of thought took over my brain until I was able to get home to take the pee-on-a-stick test.  Sure enough, while unknowing daddy-to-be sat trapped in the bathtub next to me (he had failed to notice that there was no shower in the apartment he picked out for us), I made the grand announcement: “We are pregnant.”

Happy panicking took place shortly there after.  We were in shock.  There were a lot of schizophrenic “yippees!” and “what!?” and “how will we…” and “let’s call our parents” all at the same time.  This was not in our plan, but the countdown to an arrival had already begun.

Much has been written about the arrival of Jesus into our world.  Yet the amazing birth that we celebrate today is still pretty hard to imagine.  The circumstances were complicated, the setting not even close to ideal, and two anxious first-time parents were ushered into a life they were unaccustomed to.  And on top of that, they were now mom and dad to the ruler of the universe, the Messiah.

Last week, I attended a service called Silent Night at my church.  I decided not to join my choir for the music, but to rather sit and listen and pray.  The service was focused on healing and hope, recognizing that many people do not have Happy Holidays or even anything close.  Many of us looking at the year behind wonder how we made it to Christmas at all.

At that service, as the message wound down, the priest asked us to close our eyes and use our imaginations for a moment.  He read us a story about a boat.

The boat comes from a distance towards the shore.  You are standing on that shore waiting. The passengers: Mary carrying the baby Jesus in her arms as they cross the choppy water. The vessel drifts in and then comes to a gentle stop; you go to meet the boat. Mary looks up at you and then lifts the swaddled baby up asking you if you will hold Jesus.

You reach out and place one hand under his head and one hand under his back until he is safely in your arms.  Holding baby Jesus next to you, you look down at his sweet face.  And he looks up at you.

Christmas is in your arms.

If you’ve ever held a baby, I’m betting this scene isn’t too hard to imagine. The simplicity and the beauty of Jesus coming as a baby never gets old.  The genius choice God made to come in this way is easy for me to understand as a parent because, no matter the circumstances that bring them into the world, babies are wonderful blessings.  We just sometimes fail to recognize that in our broken world.

So this year, whether it’s been a good one or a hard one, whether you have a new baby to enjoy, new dreams to pursue or you’re just struggling to get by, I hope that you will be able to focus on the one thing that matters.

The journey of another year almost over, let’s find ourselves at the manger reaching in to hold him–perfect joy and salvation in our arms–as we walk into a New Year filled with mystery and promise.

Merry Christmas everyone…