2012/12/23

Heroes nearby

A gift for a child

Early this month I spent the second year in a row in Memphis during the St. Jude Marathon. A town known for music, soul food, and the death of Civil Rights leader, Martin Luther King, Jr., Memphis is also a place where many families have found the only hope for their children at a hospital that offers cutting edge treatments at no cost.

Visible Music College had music stages set all along the race course to help keep the runners motivated, and I was helping my friend George check in on the musicians including students and Vincent Creative Group’s Americana duo Yancy & Yancy. One of the venues was a fire station parking lot that faced part of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. A high fence lined the hospital lawn, green from the still warm southern temps.

As we watched the runners in one of the last miles of the race, we saw that a father and two small children had come out and were peering through the bars at some of the heroes passing by. One of the firemen crossed over to them slipping two red plastic fireman’s hats to the kids from the other side of the fence. The smallest child was a little girl donning a mask and a pretty headband across her head, bare from the treatments that were helping to lengthen her life. She proudly placed the red hat on her head and continued to watch the hero runners, many who not only paid the fee for the race, but had also raised extra money to help kids just like her.

It was a poignant picture, and I thought as the fireman crossed back over to his station how there are heroes all around us. We have family members in the armed forces, friends who are policemen, brothers and sisters who are round-the clock nurses and doctors, and we know teachers who protect children even at their own peril like we saw in Sandy Hook just a few days ago.

Many of us will be with our personal heroes as we reunite with families and best friends over the holidays. Some of us will go “home” to see pastors and spiritual mentors. Others of us will be volunteers along side other heroes to feed the homeless, give shelter to the weary and cold, or to deliver packages to children with out-of-work parents. And less than two weeks ago, I got to meet medical heroes that saved George’s life when he had emergency double bypass surgery.

Truth is, in the midst of a chaotic and troubled world, there are heroes nearby.

As 2012 winds down, we are presented with the perfect opportunity to say thank you to our heroes. If you’ve lost a hero this year, write a prayer, print and frame a special photograph, or gather with people to tell the best stories of that person’s life and record the conversation as a memorial that can be shared with generations to come.

Conversely, take some time to appreciate, to love on, or to serve your living heroes. I’m on my way to see my Pap who is one of my heroes. I often joke with my daughter that they don’t make men like him anymore, but I hope you know someone like him. Devoted father, husband, former volunteer fire chief, prayer warrior, steel mill and railroad worker, retired yet full-time caregiver to my Nan—he is a humble leader with a very healthy sense of humor, a person who leans on his Bible more than his abilities (though he has plenty of them), and one of the most godly men I’ve ever known as evidenced by his every day living.

I plan on telling him how much he means to me. I won’t get anywhere near the mark in expressing fully what a great hero he is to me, but I don’t want to miss the chance I have this year to do so. I promise you sharing your gratitude with your hero will be one of the best gifts they could ever receive this Christmas.

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2012/11/01

In Emergency Push to Open

In emergency, push to open.

Last night, I watched my girl Emma, dressed as Alice in Wonderland, go with friends to celebrate as other kids (and adults) all over the country do, many donning capes and gowns and masks and makeup to hit the streets for some treats or to attend a Halloween party. I noted how some dressed as sweet things like lady bugs and princesses while others went for more dark characters like ghouls and zombies—playing with scary things, fright giving way to smiles or laughter once the realization hits that it’s just a bit of makeup and fake blood.

Playing with fear is much different from living with real fear.

I snapped the picture that I’m using for this post a few months ago. I had just dropped my daughter Emma off at the airport to go to her dad’s for the summer. She was having a rough time and leaving was part of it. The sign on the exit door reminded me of how she was handling it all. She was closing the door to herself, holding back information and her feelings, making it very difficult to know how to help.

At the time, I was worried about her. I had never really seen her like that, but I recognized the new phase we were moving into. Age 12 already felt like 13. Emma being a bit ahead of the curve was no surprise, and the teen angst had been showing up off and on for at least six months.

Fast-forward to today, and that picture is taking on more meaning. Several weeks ago, I began asking, “Where is my little girl?” Everything about Emma was changing. She was disobedient, rebellious, and even rude to my friends at times.

This is normal. This is what it looks like.

But it didn’t feel normal. It felt too sudden and helpless, and my heart felt like bigger things were under the surface. Turns out there were.

I pushed the door open, and in the midst of that I was able to find out at least some of what was going on. On one hand what was on the other side of the door was painful to face, but on another hand, opening it has brought with it hope and some answers.

There is pain, and there are tough, ongoing conversations still to be had. And there is fear—real parental fear. The old adage of taking things one day at a time often becomes taking things moment by moment. Some days are roller coaster days with great highs and deep lows. It helps to know that we are not the first people to ever deal with tough teen stuff, and we are very blessed to be able to seek out the advice of professionals and the love of our family to help.

As a parent, this is by far the toughest time we have gone through. Entrusting Emma to God looked a little different when she was going from diapers to “big girl pants” or from one-night sleepovers to weeklong school trips. Now she has questions about faith and God that I don’t always have the answers to. She feels lost sometimes, and there is a yearning that a mom can’t fix by redirecting her attention to playing with her toys or by determining whether she’s cold, hungry or tired.

Unlike the joy and the relative ease there was in helping her take her first steps, I know that she has to take some of her next steps on her own. And yet, I also realize that in a strange way she needs me more now than ever.

In emergency push to open.

This seems like the biggest thing I can help her learn now. I want her to know that when things get dark or scary or worrisome or confusing that she can be open with me. I want in a small way to show her that my love is big, though nowhere near as big as the love of her Heavenly Father, and that He is always with her even when I’m not.

Just a couple of weeks ago at church, she sang these words from O Vos Omnes with her choir:

(Translation) O all you who pass by the way, pay heed, and see, if there is any sorrow like my sorrow. Pay heed, all people, and see my sorrow, if there is any sorrow like my sorrow.

Did she digest the message? Jesus felt great sorrow, and in that we can take comfort. But as I try to look through the lens of my daughter’s eyes, I can see how that idea, how that comfort, could seem far away or frankly unbelievable. God doesn’t always seem near—even to lifelong believers.

And that makes it hard to stay open especially in the midst of a personal crisis or emergency. Yet so often in scripture we are reminded don’t be afraid, and God is talking about real fear—no makeup or fake blood. As one of my favorite verses in the Bible says from John 14:1:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.”

And later in the same chapter in verse 27: “Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

I’m praying this for Emma today and really for anyone who is facing an emergency. Push to open. Trust God.

May we find rest in that place where fear and trouble dissipate through trusting a God of love. Amen.

2012/09/30

Good eats

Was it my charred onions on the meatloaf that turned my daughter away?

I love food. I often joke that I only exercise so that I can eat. I also love to cook. Like the kind of cooking that can take hours. I love sitting down with some good recipes, making a list for the grocery store, shopping for the ingredients, and then preparing the feast.

On a recent visit to my Nana & Papaw’s house, I got to cook Sunday dinner. Now this was a rare treat. It used to be that my Nana would chase you out of her kitchen if she didn’t want your help. Unless she was teaching you how to make something, you were an unwanted guest in that kitchen. She didn’t need anybody to help until it was time to take the sumptuous dishes to the table, and believe me, there was help standing by to do so.

Now that she’s in her 80s though, Nana has relinquished more control over her primary turf. In fact, my Pap often cooks for them now. It’s pretty great to see this man who worked on railroads and in the steel mill to don an apron. From an era where man’s work was man’s work and woman’s work was woman’s work, he’s come a long way.

So when I had the chance to let both of them take a break from the kitchen on a Sunday, I leapt at the chance. I decided to make a classic—meatloaf. This wasn’t made from any ordinary recipe though. I chose Martha Stewart’s meatloaf. I had made the recipe before with my own custom modifications, so I knew it would be moist and delicious. My meatloaf would not conjure up “bad memories” as a worn out dish from an ancient edition of a Betty Crocker cookbook.

No, the meatloaf I make is so good that it should be renamed so as not to associate it with that nasty meatloaf covered in ketchup. As if ketchup could rescue dry, cheap ground beef, bread crumbs and eggs!

We sat down to dinner and everyone “oohed” and “ahhed” as I dished the entrée out. Mouths waited in eager anticipation. The compliments flowed as my family chowed down. Then I noticed that one person was silent. My daughter. Emma did not like the meatloaf.

I was baffled. Hadn’t she eaten it before? I gently tried to get her to understand that this was premium meatloaf before her. She didn’t really care. She didn’t like it.

I felt a little defeated. Why wasn’t my meatloaf a symphony of flavor to Emma? I had put a lot of great ingredients and love into that meatloaf. But she didn’t taste any of that.

Later, after getting over the rejection, I wondered if God ever feels the same way about what we reject. He prepares such good eats, such blessings for us, but sometimes we turn our noses up and say, “Nah! I don’t want it.” It doesn’t matter the quality of ingredients, or the special custom sauce that rests on top; sometimes we refuse the good things God has for us. Sometimes it’s because we are too proud, or we feel too damaged, or we are blind to see what he has laid before us.

This takes form in the wife who has forgotten how good her husband is for her and her children. She wears him down with nagging and never encourages him. She‘s careless with her words and carries a cold heart and a chip on her shoulder.

This takes form in the son who is not yet a man but thinks the world owes him something. He doesn’t honor his parents even though they have raised him to be a good person and to love God. The son complains about everything he doesn’t have, failing to recognize how grateful he should be.

This takes form in my own heart when I don’t keep my eyes wide open at how truly rich my life is, desiring more not for the sake of expanding God’s kingdom but rather so I will be more comfortable or more successful in my own name.

The key is love. As 1 Corinthians 2:9 says, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.” When I focus on love, and specifically loving God, I have better vision and I am ready to receive his good eats. I can see that what he is serving is premium meatloaf, not what I expect to be served, but notches above my dreams.

Lord, may I see clearly the blessings before me and the quality and care you take in your provision. Amen. 

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.

2012/07/31

Lean In

Recently while eating at a desserts-only gathering (a fabulous concept for a home party by the way), a new friend named Donna told the story about some puppies being born at her house when she was just a kid.  She remembered helping her mother feed the infant pups at what seemed like all hours of the day and night.  Because the litter was large, it took the whole family to feed the “newborns” when each mealtime rolled around.

After a few weeks, Donna’s family looked for good homes for the puppies and several were taken in. When the remaining group of puppies diminished to four, Donna said her family realized that one of the male puppies was blind.  They had not noticed this before.

His disability had been masked because his sister had been leading him around for weeks.  They watched as the pair of them padded around. The female stuck to her brother’s side, leaning into him to help guide his steps, doing all she could to keep him from running into anything.

I love the imagery that comes to mind as I think about those puppies and the way that sister leaned in to help her brother. As much as I like to think I embrace conflict and other tough situations, I know I have failed people in my life because I wouldn’t lean in. It’s not natural to lean into something when it’s really hard. On the whole we are taught to flee or fight (abandon or kill) whatever is making life bad.  It’s so much safer to create distance and boundaries, right?

Just to be clear, I’m not talking about hanging in there when someone is abusive or dangerous.  I’m also not talking about those times when we think that someone is blind based on the fact that they don’t see things the way we see them. This is often a hard thing to differentiate.

In the case of true destructive blindness, I know that I want to love the people around me through their hardest and heaviest moments, but that I find it really difficult to be like Jesus when someone I love is tearing life apart.  It’s not easy to love someone in that kind of state. It’s messy.

Wouldn’t it be awesome if leaning in was pure instinct? The New Testament shows us how good Jesus is at it. He really leaned in to tough situations, into broken, blind people.

I recently visited Thistle Farms here in Nashville. The company was born out of a desire to give work to women who after being rehabilitated from drugs or prostitution or other major problems couldn’t find work for obvious reasons. Who hires ex-convicts and recovering addicts? Thistle Farms does.

When you go on a tour at Thistle Farms, you get to hear at least one story from a recovering woman as you find out about the company. On my last visit one woman told her redemptive story that tragically started with sexual and drug abuse at the age of eight.  At the end of her talk, she said, “If I had just had one person who had intervened or taught me good things while I was growing up, maybe my story would have been different.”

She confessed that she did what she saw at home, and then she passed on that learning to her son—a son that was tragically shot and killed. Her words struck me. “Just one person…” If just one person had leaned in, maybe things could have been different.

After she got clean, that lady went back and rescued others from similar tragic stories. And now, she has a nonprofit that helps teens. She’s leaning in, and she’s doing it in some of the toughest of places in Nashville.

I’m nowhere near as brave as that woman at Thistle Farms, but I’m convicted of my need to lean in. I want to recognize situations where I like to take the easy way out of a relationship or a problem and dig in instead. May God help me to lean on him as I try to love like him.

2012/06/07

Surprise

Image

Surprise!

A few months ago, my daughter and I took a friend of ours to church.  I had specifically invited him on that day because I knew what my choir was singing.  When we came into the church, the ushers offered us bulletins, but I wouldn’t let our friend take one.  He looked at Emma and I with a confused look. I simply told him that something was going to happen during the service that he would enjoy, and I didn’t want him to read ahead. He smiled and kind of shrugged, and then we walked in to find our seats.

Before the service began, he leaned over and astutely inquired about the music for the day.  I just smiled and said, “You’ll see.”  Temporarily forsaking my place with the first sopranos, I had opted to sit in the congregation because honestly, I had to see his reaction when the music started.

We went through the traditional paces of the service, and all the while I was a little giddy inside knowing what was coming.  I tried my best to be reverent through the prayers and liturgy, but this wonderful tension was building and I kept stealing silly looks at our friend in anticipation.

Finally the moment arrived, and being the musician that he is, our friend only needed a few notes to realize that his favorite song was being sung. I had expected that he would be happy; he looked over at us and shook his head while smiling really big. Then he turned more inward and dropped his head a bit, and I could tell that he was gently crying. The surprise had touched him in a deeper place than I had imagined, and with tears in his eyes he looked at me and mouthed, “thank you” as the glorious music wafted out, swelling in all the familiar and best places and then resolving to a peaceful end.

God surprises us like this.  He puts things into our path, into our hours that make us catch our breath. He knows how beauty and purity can touch us deeply. The sunrise over an ocean, the first kiss from someone we see building a life with, the miracle of a tiny baby in our arms, a letter saying “You’ve been accepted into…,” a long-awaited recovery, and the list goes on.

I find it hard to understand why some people hate surprises, and of course I’m talking about good surprises here. It’s amazing to me that there are people who hate the surprise birthday party or the unplanned weekend trip where someone else has packed the bags.

But there are also people that can’t see or even enjoy a surprise. Numb from pain, boredom, or busyness, they don’t let a surprise touch them.  They don’t lift their head to see the sunrise or stop to feel the kiss.  They don’t connect with the weight of that baby in their arms or let the words, “You’ve been accepted…,” go very deep. They don’t believe in true recovery.

But God is a God of surprise. And if we tune into him expectantly, he will surprise us over and over, giving us unimaginable joy—the kind of joy that only someone who knows us intimately can provide. We have to be awake and aware to enjoy those moments. We may even have to look for them.

Lift your head. Feel. Connect. Let the words go deep. Believe.

P.S. This is the song that surprised our friend. Recognize it?

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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…