Beyond the Catch-Phrase
Have you seen those gimmicks on social media that ask if the car is blue or green? You plunk in your answer only to learn the car was actually green when you said blue, or vice versa. It’s not a new lesson; either our DNA or our perspective can take us down a completely different path than the person next to us.
At one point I was part of a ministry that emphasized learning Scripture as one of its core values. I learned how to navigate the Bible, to understand the nature of God and how He wants to interact with us. (Confession: I was just a tiny bit of an over-achiever back then. And laid-back was only used in reference to a car seat.) If the Scripture passages were about self-discipline, I was going to be the most self-disciplined. If they were about purity, I was going to be the purest.
Scripture is amazing, and timeless. There are a myriad of teachings that convey God’s heart toward mankind and His standards. The Sermon on the Mount from the Gospels and Jesus’ numerous parables teach us life lessons for relationships, money, time, and prayer. The fruits of the Spirit give the briefest insight into the outcomes of a God-centered life, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Still working on some of those…) The Epistles teach us how to live in community with one another, as followers of Christ, how to love and forgive.
In any culture young adults find affinity in groups and doing things together. It’s an exciting time of life, with new-found independence and (hopefully) income. Everyone dresses alike, group-thinks and adopts trendy catch-phrases to reflect their one-ness. One such phrase we adopted was the pursuit of “God’s best” for our lives. It was sort of a shared core-value, and it got tossed around more than a set of Yahtzee dice. “You could go to New Jersey but you want God’s best for your life, don’t you?” or “You could become the Surgeon General but maybe that wouldn’t be God’s best.”
Whether in this group or some other, catch-phrases or group-think mindsets evolve. Most likely God’s best was originally intended to imply a life surrendered to God’s ways and standards. Instead we inferred a sort of nirvana of a painless future with dreams fulfilled, and problems solved. At what point did fantasy replace an authentic pursuit of godliness? Speaking of which, what would the phrase, God’s best have meant to Mother Theresa? Based on the evidence of her life, it must have meant a life spent emulating the Gospels, i.e., feeding, clothing and loving the unloved, where ever God led her, i.e., Calcutta.
This diatribe about God’s best is only one example but a ginger, truthful examination reveals much. I, for one, bacon-wrap phrases and principles with my own dreams or wounds and then pin it on God with questions, pain or expectations. Suppose my visual of God’s best has always entailed the proverbial white picket fence, a husband, and 2.3 children and a dog. Wouldn’t that be misleading for me as a condo-renting, non-parental, non-dog owning single? It’s a lens that I see through, and one that can lead me to misunderstand God’s abundance toward me.
What if we were to choose authenticity over catch phrases and clarity over shallow communications? What if we were to stand in the midst of what’s done and dreams unfulfilled and took the risk of owning our life, calling it what it is, and reaching toward the One who gave His only Son?
Ditch the Plates
Recently I was reminded of wisdom from my friend Julie, “When things are not working in one area of your life just humble yourself with God and let Him sift your heart. Let Him call the shots about where things are out of whack.” Such a relief I felt. I can do that. I can’t fix all the things I’ve broken, but I can repent for the places He shows me, and I can rejoice where He shows me successes.
Lately things are messed up enough that I’ve been content to just look at the messes with Him for a moment. To see things as He sees them.
Others see the outside of us. They perceive that we have our lives together, that we are impenetrable. “What could she possibly need?” The truth is we’re all re-assembling our lives in view of the empty tomb at Calvary. I feel like I’ve been trying (Read: trryyyingg) so hard to keep all the plates spinning. I decided to stop trying. So let the flippin’ plates go. It’s just too much, too confusing. I don’t understand and the pieces seem like they belong to someone else’s puzzle, not mine. Seriously that sky blue piece can’t possibly fit in my puzzle that’s all clouds and stormy weather.
Anyway it turns out when you stop trying there’s some exposure. It resembles the Hoover Dam a bit, unleashed. You didn’t get the job done. You are suddenly not the ideal girlfriend, the most physically fit with the cleanest apartment, the most accomplished. In fact your failures scream at you. Meh. Let it go. Just look for the scarlet cord and take hold of that. The One that matters.
To ask for help does.not.smell.like.failure. It has the fragrance of a rainy day after the sun has come out.
Another friend told me, “Your success at pursuit of the Kingdom is not what is measured. Everything you do, prayerfully intending to obey God will be accounted to you as missional obedience, as righteousness.” — Shun Lee
That statement has changed my life. It’s changed what I do, what I will pursue, and how much of myself I will risk to see Kingdom accomplished.
All Things New
Worry comes naturally for me. If you ever need me to worry about something for you, just let me know. I’m already up until the wee hours wondering if I have enough air pressure in my tires? Was the truck making a funny noise this morning? Pffft. That’s the easy stuff in comparison to the relational worries that create cobwebs in my brain.
– What if someone has subtly conveyed judgements concerning me and I’m unable to defend myself?
– Or worse, what if I said something hurtful and we never got a chance to work through it? Maybe I was jealous or spoke out of frustration and yet those words are lodged in the foundation of our relationship now. I have a few of those scattered around the world so don’t tell me I’m being ridiculous.
You’ll have to agree that neither of us lives our lives in such a way that everything we say is lovely, and every bit we contribute is graceful.
Oh be real, would you? I am over here plowing my way through this life trying to avoid bludgeoning people with sharp objects when I don’t get my way. It’s not polite to scratch people’s eyes out when they are not nice. Mama told me to be a lady. And so that is what I am. But it doesn’t mean the “want-to” goes away …
Maybe you are a better person than I, but it’s there in the midst of that heap of words uttered and opinions undefended that I finding myself longing for God. Big G-o-d. He has to be big because life is messy. And I crave the fresh air and Father-will-sort-it-all-out kind of care that I find in the presence of the Lord. Plain and simple, the stuff that keeps me up at night is just too much for me. I have to trust Him.
Only He can make heads or tails of all that we bring to Him. Only He can cause us to wait quietly for justice, or gently send us back with an apology when the time is right.
He is a God whose nature it is to make all things new.
Entering the Creative Process
The bird also has found a house and the swallow a nest for herself
where she may lay her young.
With a singular focus and deliberation the bird circles and circles until she finds a safe place in which to nest. She is stirred and on a mission until she finds what it is she is looking for: a place. And then she broods, rarely if ever leaving until her eggs hatch.
A woman intuitively looks for safe places in which to lay her young, whether it’s for the children of her womb or the artistic endeavors of her spirit. She longs to give birth to the verses and the stories and the melodies but until their appointed time they remain hidden deep within … taking form, growing, nourished through her until they are able to sustain life on their own.
Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered into the heart of man,
All that God has prepared for those who love Him. 1 Cor 2:9
Scripture talks about how the way of the Spirit of God is mysterious. I would venture to say that the way of the Spirit is not unlike the mystery of conception and birth. A baby is a twinkle in her Daddy’s eye … he’s got a great idea. But from the point of where the idea begins until he bounces that sweet-faced child on his knee … we can only marvel!
When we enter into the creative process we are partnering with God to bring the stuff of the Spirit into the natural realm. The miracle of birth is always God’s doing but every time His own DNA mingles with that of the child’s parents. And let’s not forget about the heart. God always mixes in love, an ingredient He never forgets. Whether a creative work or the much hoped-for wee child: all that originates in His heart bears His image, His thumbprint.
As women we are utterly consumed with the birth process: awaiting the day when our knowing look will give us away; carrying the planted seed within, stretching out our lives to prepare for its presence; yielding to the transition and then the inevitable, unavoidable birth process. If a mother does not give birth she will likely die and certainly her child will die. Birth is not optional. Her body literally changes structure, her emotions are all fiercely protective and locked in on one objective: to bring this child into the world. And so it is with the creative works that He plants into our hearts, designed to come from us. Beautiful and yet ugly; awkward and yet perfectly orchestrated, red-faced and slippery our little ones come into this world.
Just as a mother has a core-level connection with her infant so have we with our creative works. Nothing is so wildly beautiful to a mother than the face of her son or daughter. From the outside we observe and critique but a mother never hears friend or foe call her baby ugly. Her role and calling are to lovingly carry, lead, discipline and cheer her child until he reaches full maturity.
Revision upon revision, reshaped until it stands on it’s own. One day the song will sing its melody in hidden places throughout the earth. The story will tell itself to the nations … until the day in which the melody expands and the story’s seed is flung to the wind.
And Father’s heart will have expanded once again.
With dove’s eyes the Creative will again find a safe place in which to lay her young.
At Loose Ends
You’ve heard the expression, to be at loose ends. I’m probably making this up but let’s suppose the true origin of the expression is from weavers as they reached the end of the warp yarns. They would find themselves at loose ends. Weaving creates a powerful word picture for that idiom because it is makes sense that there’s a call for action on the part of the weaver. He will need to bind the end of the fabric to finish it off, so that the loose ends are not able to fray.
When I look at the tapestry of my life, it feels like there are many loose ends. I’m casting about trying to understand the relationship of one yarn to another. Some strands are coming to an end while others are vibrant and powerfully influencing the direction of my life. Yet a tapestry is not created around a single thread or yarn by itself. It requires the presence and purpose of all of the other yarns with it.
I keep staring at the short yarns that seem to have ended too soon, and others that seem unwieldy and never-ending. Some threads I need and others I’m ready to toss out like a bad date. Through it all there is the conundrum of the now and the not yet.
Have you ever felt the tension between letting go of one thing and trying so hard to be into the next thing, and it remains elusive to you? I know I’ve quoted this bit before, but Elizabeth Elliot speaks of the need to “… carry within one’s self the unanswered question.” That is so apt for this present season of my life. To carry within seems to denote a yieldedness to be burdened. There is also a letting go of expectation. No more insistence, “It has to go my way, or I won’t play.” As elementary as that sounds, it is most often where I find myself. Thankfully yielding doesn’t entail blindly thrusting ourselves into a black hole. We entrust ourselves to the King.
Remember earlier I mentioned that the weaver needs to bind the loose ends of a tapestry? In a way I picture myself binding myself, my loose ends and my life to my King. Somehow I’m going to choose to let Him lead, and yield myself to that vulnerable and soul-searching process.
Getting Back With You
Not long ago you trusted me with some rather heartfelt questions. I’ll be honest. The questions caught me a bit blind-sided and my answers were small, I thought. I just wanted to say thank you for trusting me enough to express them. With your permission, I’d like to try to answer them again, having given them more consideration.
Understanding the purposes of God can be a bit tricky. As I navigate this turf I want to point out my frame of reference – or starting point – for this response to you. I truly believe that there is a God. If we wanted to talk about the proofs of the existence of God, we could. But I think that you know – deep down – as well as I do, that He most certainly exists. I also believe that our God has feelings, just like you and me. The Bible says we are created in God’s image. There’s a whole lot of meaning to that statement. Just as you or I wrinkle our brow or feel a tear drop on our cheek, why shouldn’t God do the same? Every single thing that we know about ourselves, we can know that our God is wired similarly. Simply because you cannot see Him wrinkle His brow, or shift His gaze doesn’t mean that He hasn’t the ability. And so, this God who has feelings has deep feelings for you, and for me, wants to be in relationship with you.
He wants to know what *you* think, Friend … even your ugliest thoughts. He can take it. In fact, He’s better at fielding the questions that I am. I find that He doesn’t even care if I use rotten, un-ladylike language. (Yes, I did balk at your language. But it’s because I love you, and want you to become a fierce and lovely lady; one the world must reckon with.)
But, I digress…
I think it will help you in your discoveries to know that absolutely everything about God will be upside-down from the way you think it should be. That means that the reasons why He does things will often confuse you at first glance. But when you look a little deeper, and you ask Him about it, He will show you the deeper meanings and reasons of His ways. But you have to ask Him. He’s the kindest Person you’ll ever meet. He waits for you to look at Him, for your questions. And, once you ask, He will answer.
It will also help you to know that when we become followers of Jesus Christ we actually transfer our citizenship to the Kingdom of Heaven. In doing so, we suddenly realize that our priorities and focus has shifted as well. Remember that God created all things – all things – and through Him all things hold together. So, that means that He created time. And space. And stuff. And people. He created the enemy – satan and his household- that antagonizes us and, for a time, they rule this world. Knowing that there are two kingdoms at work sometimes helps me understand the conflicts
Whenever I get bogged down with the questions, “Why did You leave me here?” “Why was I born into this family?” and “Who are You, anyway, and why don’t You speak to me?” I really only do one thing… I sit quietly and ponder God’s big-ness. Smile. I become like a first grader, and expect that, as my real Papa, He’ll explain everything to me. So where do I look to understand God’s big-ness? I might look at Scripture. I could just look at the horizon, or the night sky, and see the stars and all the things around me that He’s created. But I happen to like Scripture and usually after I read the book of Job, or even just the chapters 38-42, I almost always get a sense of the magnificence of the one true God.
Ciao! Until next time…
Dreams: Revised and Rewritten
Recently I’ve discovered that dreams have a funny way of shifting and rewriting themselves, to the extent that they become fairly unrecognizable from their point of origin. Why do dreams seem so elusive, and how do we bring them out of the shadows and into reality? And what happens when a dream is no longer a dream?
The example that is closest at hand is my home. For several years the only thing I could think about was buying a house. Everything else seemed to take a back seat. It’s possible that buying a house was a little more achievable than my other dreams. All of my savings, bonuses, and expenditures were processed through the lens of the question, “Will this get me closer or further from owning my own home?” As you probably know, said home is on the market. While I have loved owning a home these past few years it’s just not worth the quantum amount of money and sweat required to maintain it. But it was a dream, right? I was thrilled to push myself to reach the previously unreachable. To wait until the timing was right, the money was there. All of these factors developed my character more than I realized. My college degree came about in much the same way. It didn’t come to me easily but then no longed-for thing ever does.
While yet unfulfilled my dream loomed large in my thoughts. Now it’s an accomplishment, and a part of who I am. Self-discipline, strategy, and creativity all wound together to bring me to this point. A new dream must take it’s place and, for the life of me, I don’t know what is next. I do know that selling my home will free me up to focus on things more important to me: my writing, travel, laughter, loving others. I really want to be poured out, like the Apostle Paul says. You know, to be so full of life that others are filled up, just by being around you?
Sometimes our dream makes us, more than we make the dream. And so my prayer is that a new dream will find me, and take me by the hand. It will catch my breath and wrap itself around my very soul.
Living in the Moment
I’d just exited the freeway, and was driving down the little highway leading to my sister’s home. I was looking forward to seeing everyone, and knew that we’d laugh, share stories and Thanksgiving dinner as soon as I arrived. I had a few moments of quiet ponderings yet, and I looked out across the horizon.
The afternoon sun shone across the plowed fields, with a few head of cattle here and there noshing on the leftover cornstalks. It’s not unusual to see a good-sized train making its way across the country, and I’ll recognize cargo from San Franscisco Bay. Where is he headed? I passed the beaver pond with its piles and piles of wood heaps. Marshy waters, tired cat-tails and yellowed prairie grasses stood in the stillness. I didn’t stop but I let the peacefulness of the sight wash over me.
Some gals dream about the future, and want things to be just so. They find deep satisfaction in planning how it’s all going to go. She’ll wear the red dress with her black heels, and have her hair up. And there are men who will be satisfied when they get that shelving unit installed or the spare bedroom carpeted. Some girls insist on roses but why won’t a daisy do? I’m kind of funny, I guess. I don’t know if it’s because I need to learn to dream or if I so absolutely live in my moments.
The hubbub of my days is consumed with my search for a bit of something for my spirit to nibble on. A strawberry sunrise while in a traffic jam…how else do you get strawberry jam? Snowflakes…just because. Napping with my cats in the sunshine. Seeing the look in a friend’s eye when you have shared with one another, deeply from the heart.
Beauty, yes. Or is it life?
Do you ever stop to think about your adult siblings, and compare them with the awkward, pimply teenagers you grew up with? (Note to self: do not alert family members to this post.) It’s really hard to believe that those adults-in-the-making became the professionals that I interact with today. Seriously? You’d hire my brother as your engineer, or let my sister near your baby with a needle? Why, exactly? And when did they become experts in their field, and where was I? Believe me, they’re saying the same thing about me. “That’s my little sister! You’re not going to let her consult on anything, are you?!” What was really happening while we were so busy coping with one another?
My intent in focusing on family is not to define what a family is. As a single, I’ve been adopted into a family or two, and I’ve been incredibly grateful to have the lines re-drawn to include me at the table and, in some years, under the Christmas tree. I know the quiet desperation, at times, of wanting to have my own family, so I do not take any relationship lightly. But families are different from friendships, even the best of friendships. As adults we are in a family paradigm as a result of choices we’ve made. We choose to stay relevent to one another, or we allow our loved ones to be cast aside like a paper boat, listing and taking on water.
I have had the amazing and wonderful blessing, in these last few years, to connect with my sister’s family now that I live here in the Midwest. As the interactions take place, I see family from a different perspective. There is simply nothing to prepare you for what comes next: a crisis with tears; a question; a deeply profound insight from an unlikely source; two more questions; an argument over an undetermined, yet coveted item interrupted by the bleating of an abandoned toy and the repetition of the first question, only louder. There’s nothing extraordinary about repeated questions, howls of distress or the “Shh, I’m on the phone.” What’s extraordinary is that before we have the chance to ponder it twice, these family members will be conducting teleconferences in the middle of La Guardia and flying stand-by in order to get home for Thanksgiving. They’ll be doing our dishes and reminding us of doctor’s appointments because we’re not as razor sharp as we once were. Oh, believe me. I’m thankful for the moments.
My growing up years were more about relationship than I realized. I learned how to live with my siblings, in spite of their inane, absurd, highly annoying, arrogant or antagonizing ways. And they with me. It’s true that my parents taught a great many life skills, e.g., cooking, and gardening, etc. but maybe those were the superficial lessons after all. Is it possible that conflict resolution, forgiveness, patience, listening-while-frustrated, and peacemaking were the lessons they were modeling but not really discussing? I wonder if there was anything else they were saying?
Grams Teaches Identity
I recently heard someone say that parents form their children’s identity by reminding them of who they are, moment by moment, day after day. This is such a mystery to me. At what point does a young girl or fellow grasp what’s been instilled? And how does this feedback manage to so vividly shape the who of our identity? I remember well the verbal instructions, “Ladies don’t slouch. Stand up straight.” Surely my brother and sisters remember the imaginary plumb line Mother would draw from the tops of our heads. At what point does a parent stop saying the words and begin twinking their brow, a telegraphed message across the room, to pull yourself together? Yet my parent’s instructions were mild compared to my grandmother’s.
An expert seamstress and cook, Grams taught all her children and grandchildren a myriad of skills. My earliest memories were of watching my Mom and Grams cook and quilt together. They would nod sagely, wordlessly consulting one another, dismantle, re-assemble until a beautiful masterpiece was born. Their tireless work always seemed so effortless. Year after year, I would prepare my 4-H sewing projects beneath their watchful eyes. My wobbly seams were doomed. “Rip it out, child. It must be straight.” Heartbroken and frustrated, I would tug out the stitches and then battle with my temper and the sewing machine until a worthy outcome was produced. I basked in their hard-won pleasure with my work.
Grams always kept a charming home. It was where she wore her heart on her sleeve, with momentos and photographs of treasured places in Germany. The nostalgia and tchotchke always left you feeling like you had visited a place in her heart. That time had stopped for a moment and you had really lived. I did not realize that Grams’ standards for me would endear her to me. Her lectures I endured wordlessly as I learned she just needed a snuggle from me to stem the tide of words.
Though I’ve lived in many places through the years, it occurs to me that the walls of my kitchen have always resounded with the rumble of Grams’ deep German voice. Growing up, I perceived her to be stubborn, opinionated and, above all, outspoken. Yet she loved me. Deeply. I memorized the look in her eyes, her beautiful skin, and the wrinkles on her hands. I would hold hands with her just because I could and, over a cup of heavily sugared tea we would discuss all the world’s problems. Though she enjoyed people very much, it was in the quiet moments together that she showed me who she was. She would talk about her family in Germany, and history, and about her sons, and her daughter, my Mother. She would talk about the neighbor boys who had tragically died in the war, and how she taught herself to drive. While I wish that I could remember the stories, for I did not write them down, it occurs to me that it is not so much the historical accuracy that matters. What matters is that she told me, and I listened. And I carry within myself a part of who she was.
It’s been a while since I’ve taken on a sewing project. Yet, it’s pretty safe to say that the work that I produce today as a software developer bears a strong resemblence to those straight seams that Gram required. I think what surprises me even more is the motherly manner in which I exact straight seams from those I mentor in the office. Stubborn? Outspoken? Surely you jest! Let’s have a cup of tea.