Tuesday, December 31, 2013

December in Pictures with Much Thanks...



Eucharisteo...  Things which made me smile and for which I gave thanks in Dec.  (Short list only... ;)



Jewelry and I have a bad history.  I've accidentally flushed, stepped on, broken, and lost more pieces of jewelry than I care to think about. And probably more than Phil realizes.... ;) (And, yes, I have a jewelry box - I just don't always use it... obviously)  I love this bracelet - have had it for three whole days and so far it's still intact!!!! Plus, I can READ it!!!   (What a cool idea!!)    Necklace is a little more iffey, however. Fragile. May just hang it over my computer where I can see it.  One has Scripture and the other is from Ann Voskamp ministries, a reminder to look for eucharisteo daily in the small things...




A blending of the seasons for a mixed-up mind...  Spring-like curtains,  harvest pumpkins, rubber snowflakes, Amaryllis Triage, and Christmas oven mitt...  Honestly, this is me... For real.  "Classic", in my vocabulary, only applies to books and music.  Eclectic, in my humble opinion, is a much more valuable word...


Christmas Tree with Snoopy ornaments, angels, tons of multi-color lights, and whatnot... What's not to love???  I'm totally serious!! 




 Jesse Wreath... 24 days of making space in my heart for Jesus...  Still waay   too much of me and not enough of Him so I plan to keep the wreath up all year long somewhere in the house as a reminder to make more and more room for Him.    (I'm retired. Geriatric people can do things like that and get away with it.)




Candles - never too many. (Well, maybe too many to get in one pic)    And sweet gifts that remind me daily of the family and friends who gave them to me.  The idea is that every time I see a gift from a friend, I'll remember to say an arrow prayer for them.  Doesn't always work but that's the idea... (I stole it from someone at church - the idea, not the gifts..)



They say to look up when you feel down. The other night I felt down and looked down.. and had to smile.  Honestly, warmth crept up from my socks straight to my heart.  Love warm, woolly socks and happy sheep faces and friends who either think like me or who have the uncanny ability to read my somewhat warped mind. And still love me.  Seriously, these socks are so much higher up on the scale than my beloved frog socks, even though my frog socks had plastic eyeballs that rolled around.  Still, these are da bomb!  Besides, one of my frog socks lost an eyeball.   It's unnerving to have a one-eyed frog staring up at you every time you look down at your feet.  



 Love the fashion model! Love the one who so thoughtfully picked out this gift for me!  (They are not one and the same - to my knowledge Phil has never picked out a yellow purse for me. Or any purse for me for that matter. And that's actually a good thing...) And for those who don't know, that shade of yellow is most definitely manufactured in Heaven... Has to be! I can never see it without thinking of sunflowers and sunshine.



Anything chocolate!  (The peppermint is just there for seasonal decor... Trust me - it'll still be there this time next year.  Not the chocolate though!)  Thanks, sweet friend! You know who you are!




This is the life... I'm in my favorite chair, dog is being quiet (for once), and we're both warm, plus the tree is nearby and my kindle is in my lap.   This is the quintessential definition of the word "cozy".  There is no other!




What keeps me going.   Everyday.   All day.  What's kept us together. Every year.  Since 1986.  God speaks. We try to listen.  How do you make it if you never touch hearts with the Creator God through His word?   (And written in the front of the Bible?  The names of three of my sister chicks, women who are following hard after God and letting me limp  along behind them.  And beside their names, the date when my biological sister transitioned to Heaven in Oct. 2008.  So thankful God has an endless supply of sisters to bestow, both here and There.)




Color. Pens. Twistables.   Workbook studies with friends highlight my life.  Over and over and over again....

I am blessed....

Thanks!

Pink Foam Curlers and Rear View Mirrors...

      Blogs can be too much like looking in the rear view mirror and seeing that you forgot to take out that one pink foam curler that you meant to pull out of your hair at the last minute.  Seriously.
     I said I'd choose joy in my last blog entry.  But as I look back over the past 2 weeks, the truth is that I've chosen to grump and complain (and be offended over nothing) as much as I've chosen to opt for joy. It's been a real roller coaster ride emotionally with one day being "good" and the next being "bad". I think I spent most of the day yesterday, the last Monday of the "old"  year, confessing my sins and I am still not sure today if I got them all....  Suffice it to say that it's been "fun" around here as we've pushed each other's do-not-push "buttons" to the background orchestra  of coughing, hacking, and grumbling amid the swishing of two vaporizers in the house.  As best I can tell, Phil and I both have bronchitis now and David is thankful to be mostly at work or with friends these days.
     Yesterday, as I've said, was "reckoning time". Phil was at work. The house was finally quiet.  Past thoughts, words, and deeds loaded with selfishness, hypocrisy, and self-pity came rapidly to mind.  Like an endless replay of Mabel-dale's most unfunny video...  Did I really say that???  I didn't mean it!!  Or did I? Could I have actually thought that  just two short days ago??  Thank goodness no one knew it!! Or did they???
    Well, there's, um, always... God.
    So what do you do?
    I got out the Christian's bar of soap, I John 1:9, and began asking God to search my heart.  What a messy job!  Surely He deserves time and a half pay for thankless tasks like that. (Hold still, Cathie! There's one more sin in there that you've got to face!  Enough justifying already! Bring it out into the light and call it what it is so that I can deal with it.)
    Confession.  Good for the soul.      
    Bad for the ego.
    But as a friend of mine says, I feel sooooo much better afterwards....
    Still, it's hard to see myself for what I really am.  I prefer illusions, selective rear view  mirrors that blur pink foam curlers  until all I can see is just a pleasing pink color.  Trick mirrors that magically  skip over spiritual warts (i.e. sin).
    And then I saw this on FB, an excerpt from a website called Hebrew 4 Christians.  It really spoke to my heart and so I wanted to share part of it here:
    Brokenness distills the intentions of the heart by helping us to be more honest with ourselves. 
    We begin to realize that we are more vulnerable than at first we thought;
    that our faith is not as strong as we imagined,
    and that our motives are often mixed and unconscious. 
    Illusions are stripped away;
    idols crumble; 
    deeper levels of selfishness are uncovered; 
    the gap between our words and our deeds is exposed... 
    It is one thing, after all, to intellectually think about faith... 
    but it is quite another to walk out faith in darkness. 
    Yet it is only there ... that we discover what we really believe and how our faith makes traction with reality...
    Take hope, struggling friend. It is surely the will of God to find strength in weaknesses and comfort in affliction. As it says in our Scriptures, God is "the Father of Mercies and God of all comfort" .... and the Lord "comforts us" (lit., "calls us to His side," ...) in our afflictions so that we may be able to comfort those who are afflicted with the same comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God (2 Cor. 1:3-4).
 
Take hope, struggling friend.
That would be me.  And maybe it would be you also.
Tomorrow is the first day of the New Year.
My goal is still to choose joy and to keep on choosing joy as much as I can until it becomes a habit.  But when I fall, when I don't like what I see in the rear view mirror, there is still I John 1:9 and a Savior who cleans us up and "calls us to His side," the sinless Lamb of God, the God of all comfort.
The God who came so that we might share His very own joy, even as we trip and stumble through this earthly, sin-filled existence.
 May we all be blessed with that joy as we stumble imperfectly into  2014!
     


   

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Joy...

     What do you choose?
     As for me, I choose joy....

    Last night as I was sitting in bed, thinking about how this irritated me and that aggravated me in this house of coughing and sniffling and getting on each other's nerves, I picked up the book, One Thousand Gifts.  In it I read about how the tongue is the tail of the heart.  Um.  Okay.  So my heart was causing my tongue to wag in a lot of ungracious ways.  Often when I was alone and no one... but God... could hear.
    No one... but God...??
    Is that an oxymoron or what?
    I opened the Voskamp book to where I had left off and I read about how her kids were breaking the rules, running in the house, when the lead runner smacked right into the glass front of the entertainment center and broke it.  She heard glass tinkling and someone yelling in pain and her heart rate spiked. Then she heard accusative words and her blood pressure began to rise.
    And when she got to the scene of the crime, she knew she had  choices: complain or lament.  She explained the difference.   Complaint is venting without faith in God. It's what aroused God's anger with the ancient Israelites and got them in serious, deadly trouble in the wilderness.  Lament is voicing frustration, anguish - with the expectation that God will hear and act.  Complaint is dumping on others while leaving God out of the picture. Lament is drawing God into our moments of angst, irritation, and whatever.
    Ann didn't want her tongue to wag and issue forth all the complaints that were coming from her heart but it happened anyway.  And then she went to God with the cry of Psalm 73 - acknowledging that she must seem like a senseless animal to Him when her tongue is driven by a faithless, irritated heart.
    And I sat there both convicted and amazed at how God brought the right words to me at the right time.
    She was basically saying that God offers joy, day in and day out, even in the midst of kids bickering and broken glass lying on the carpet.  But joy can be killed. Not by disobedient kids but by self.  When our fist clenches, the fingers point back to us, to  this:  my demands, my rights, my self...  And that's when joy dies.
    The word "rights" brought me up short.
    My demands may be unreasonable.
    But rights?
    If it is a legitimate "right", then aren't I right to demand it?
    Yes.
    And no.
    Only if I don't want joy is it okay to hold to those everyday rights that sour me on others, God,  and myself.

    And then I read:
    Though my marriage tree may not bud and though my crop of children may fail and my work produce little yield, though there is no money in the bank and no dream left in the heart, though others may choose different ways to live their one life, til my last heaving breath, I will fight to the death for this:  "I will take joy."  Hab. 3:18.  (One Thousand Gifts, p. 176)

   And below that I read:
   Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy."  James 1:2

   And I decided to let go of my rights - the ones I felt had been "violated" over this holiday period - and to take as much joy as I could from the flu, the coughing, the sniffles, the whole shebang for us this Christmas, existing here in a little house with maybe a tad too much togetherness..ha!

   This morning, I choose joy.
   By God's grace... today and everyday I will awaken with the decision to grasp joy instead of self.

 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Toast... to Jesus...

        It's Dec. 24th but Christmas has already "come" for me.
        It didn't arrive with packages, boxes, and bows, to paraphrase the little green guy with anger management issues. Or with any of the things that I associate with Christmas, wonderful as those things may be.  Honestly, it hasn't come in the orthodox ways at all this year.
       It's come in the form of  sickness for  one thing.    Helplessness helps, apparently, when I'm trying to catch the spirit of the Christ Child.  Frankly, I am helpless to "fix" my husband's illness - he is still down for the count and Christmas is non-existent right now for him.
       And there are, of course, other areas I wish I could fix - such is life.  But... I can't.   And my "can't" seems to be the tie that is binding me to the Christ Child this season of 2013, bringing peace and joy to my heart at odd intervals, in unorthodox  ways - even  in the midst of flu and missed pay checks and doctor's visits and a to-do list that is temporarily suspended. Yes, and even in  the midst of irritability which seems to be always sitting on my shoulder or hiding behind the next door (or relative), like an imp who just lives to sour my moment, my day, our life. Out of my helplessness and this mix of joy- stealing things, joy still somehow manages to come.
       Last Sunday morning for example. Dec. 21.  Four days before Christmas and with a sick husband at home in bed, I sat in a pew with two neighbor children sitting  beside me.  My companions were a  boy who was turning 13 that very day and an 8 year-old girl whom I didn't know. The music was wonderful; the sermon powerful. I listened to it all and imbibed as much as I could because I am a straggler after Jesus and that's what stragglers do.
    But joy came, not through the music or the preacher's words but through the actions and words of the kids next to me. The little girl snuggled next to me instantly, trustingly -even though she doesn't know me. Child-like faith. I watched her and tried to learn.
   As she snuggled, she  stared admiringly at  her white shoes, feet sticking straight out in front of her so she (and I) could see them better. Twice, she tilted her perfectly shaped little face up  towards me and breathed this wondrous message, "My shoes are   slippers..." Each time she had a satisfied little smile on her face.  A white, full skirted dress-up dress, white leotards, and white leather shoes that don't snap or velcro or tie.  Her cup of happiness was overflowing.
    And by  God's grace, it spilled right over into my cup and there was joy in the pew where we sat. White slip-on dress-up shoes can do that for you, I learned.
    Then it was time for communion.  As I passed the impressive communion plate high over her head to her aunt, the little girl's eyes got big. She knows not to talk in church but... the pressure was too great. In a voice that was small and with eyes that were large, solemn, she asked me what was in the plate. I told her.  She sat still for a bit longer and then quietly asked, "Do I get some?"  I was caught on the fly, so to speak, so I whispered back that it was mostly for grown-ups.  Not good theology but I couldn't think of anything else.
   Then the plate with the thimbles full of grape juice was passed. This time I was ready when she asked. I told her it was juice and that later, when she gives her heart to Jesus, she will drink it too. She looked solemn before whispering to no one in particular. "I like juice."   Then to my surprise, she said, "Is this  all about Jesus ?"  I nodded and she got quiet once again.
  Before we drank it, the 13 year-old next to me said, "Mrs. Cathy!" I turned towards him and to my total surprise, he "clinked" his plastic thimble full of juice next to mine and said, "A toast...to Jesus!"  An unlikely mix of thoughts flashed through my mind... "What did he say?  Are we even supposed to do that???" And then a quick look behind me  to see if anyone noticed... Followed by  suppressed laughter as the reality of what we'd just done hit me. I had joined an all-boy, next door neighbor in toasting the Savior and I think it was okay with the One  who turned water into wine. Who turns unlikely boys into disciples. And who turns grape juice and white slip-on shoes into joy.
 That's the God I celebrate this season.
  And that's how Christmas came to me this year.

   
 
   

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Best Christmas Ever...

      Wow.
      Christmas is different this year, for sure.
      My husband came home from work early Tuesday and slept off and on for 24 hours. Thursday he went to the doctor and was diagnosed with type A flu. He hasn't had the flu in decades. Literally. But this time he made up for it. In spades.
     Last night his meds didn't agree with him and between 3 and 5  this morning, he had three severe bouts of nausea.  Each time he showed signs of going into shock - which is normal for him when badly nauseated.  So we spent those two hours talking about the Lord (Phil's desire) in between bouts of literally calling on the Lord to help him when the nausea hit.  While Phil was trying to recall words to the hymn, "All the Way My Savior Leads Me", I was trying to figure out when and if I should get help to get him to the ER.  Thankfully we never had to do that.
    This morning I went to the walk-in clinic wearing a hospital mask in case I had the flu as well.  Fortunately, I just had a sinus infection and they put me on Tamaflu to hopefully prevent me from getting what Phil has.
    Choices.
    To be bummed out or not to be bummed out. To be thankful... but not completely... To grouse with a just a touch of grace?
    Last night I knew our family Christmases would be postponed. That isn't a problem: we know the flu is a nasty gift that keeps on giving. Plus, we are both so tired right now, we just want to "pull up the drawbridges" and rest.
    Still, it's not what we had in mind for Christmas 2013.
    Friends.  They impact my life daily.
    A week or so ago, I was in a Lifeway Book store looking for something to read.  I almost always have at least one good book that I'm reading but for several weeks, no matter what I picked up, nothing held my attention for long. I felt restless.   In the store, I ran into a friend from a few years back, we exchanged greetings, and then she showed me the book she was getting:  The Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp.  I'm not a big fan of devotional books but  nothing else appealed to me so I halfheartedly bought a copy, thinking I could give it as a gift if  I didn't like it. (And, yes, I do that.  I don't sign my name into an "iffey" new book until I've read the first chapter and decided it's a keeper!)   I got Ann's book on Dec. 6 so I was behind already on the advent devotionals before I ever got it home.
    For centuries, the Jewish people have said, "Next year in Jerusalem!"
    Well, for decades, I've been saying, "Next year a truly Christ-centered Christmas!"
    As soon as I started catching up on Ann's advent devotionals, I knew I had found a book that was truly all about how to have a Christ-centered Christmas.  I have since read that she has an upside down Christmas tree hanging from her ceiling this year to remind her kids (all six of them) that they want an upside down Christmas!  (You may not think that's cool, but I do!!!  And, yes, next year an upside down Abernathy Christmas tree in the living room!!!)  I have also read that in the past 10 years, none of the members of her family have given Christmas gifts to each other. Instead they take their Christmas money and give to other ministries.  (She doesn't urge others to do this - she says that each family has to find their own way of celebrating Christmas and that there is no magic formula.)
  Reading her book led me to re-read her first book - also brought to my attention a couple of years ago by a dear and faithful  friend  - One Thousand Gifts.  I started re-reading it slowly - I can do that since I don't have a riveting biography or novel clamoring for my attention!  And night after night, morning after morning, as well as throughout the day, both books have spoken to me about how to live in the here and now, how to sense the presence of God in the midst of the "mess" as she would say, how to find eucharisteo (things to be thankful for) even in the hard things.
   So... back to where this entry began... Last night the thought went through my mind: this won't be much of a Christmas. And then, right behind it, came the sequel: actually, this may be the truest Christmas we've ever had.  The Christmas I've always wanted.
  I thought about it.  Phil's family and my family had already decided to keep the gift giving simple and within reason. But I still had a couple of last minute gifts to get. My plan was to have them safely tucked away in the spare room before today.  However, I dreaded the last minute shopping.  The flu hit and, voila! - suddenly I was restricted to pharmacy trips only.  Pressure's off - I can finish my list the week after Christmas.
  This morning - Dec. 20th! - I found myself wearing a hospital mask and heading to a clinic, the last place I wanted to be.  I got out of bed thinking this was going to be a total bummer. And then I remembered Ann's encouragement to look for eucharisteo even in the hard places, the places you don't want to be. And so I decided I could be thankful that I had an opportunity to break out my super-duper, 5.00 holiday necklace that lights up! I hadn't worn this treasure even once this season,  unbelievably enough!  (I'm being mostly serious here...) And what better place to wear it than to a clinic full of sick people 5 days before Christmas?
   So I did and it was neat to see total strangers smile and say, "I love your necklace!"
   Eucharisteo. Christmas in an un-Christmassy place.
  Then I thought about friends - sweet families I know who are in the midst of very dark, very difficult circumstances. Sitting in a hospital while a loved one is passing from this world to the next. Or sitting in an ER waiting room, while the verdict is not yet in - will the loved one make it or not? Will there be residual damage?  And if so, how much?  And yet another situation where the family is, even now, getting ready for the funeral of a loved one...  And there are others.
   And so I prayed for the ones who hover between life and Life - that God would be merciful and help them in whatever way is best. And I prayed for the families, that even in these pits of darkness, that they would somehow sense God's presence and even experience Eucharisteo because He is in the pit with them.
  Eucharisteo.
  Focusing on the gifts  we've already received from His hand. Being attuned to the daily gifts He gives us even now, no matter how they may be disguised.  Being aware of His presence.
  Truly, for us, this may be the best Christmas ever.
Our Jesse "wreath" - idea from Ann's latest book. Only it's supposed to be a tree...



 
   
   
   

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Question...

     I probably shouldn't say anything about this... but when has that ever stopped me?
     So... if someone asks me a question on a mainstream New Testament issue, knowing full well that  I believe in the Bible... And if I give them a Biblical answer, having also made it clear that I love everyone (am not a hater in the popular vernacular)... Then I can and should expect to be fired?

 
   
   

Sunday, December 15, 2013

When Friday night becomes Sunday Morning...

     Seven months ago, a fight broke out across the street from us, two men fighting over one woman while her son watched.  We thought the ex-boyfriend might have been abusive because we had seen a change in the boy after this man came into their lives.  The boy was different, less talkative, more guarded. And then, on the eve of summer break, one warm evening in late May, police were stringing crime scene tape across the road and blue lights were flashing across our windows for hours while I sat and stared at the surreal first blue, then white, then blue again pattern lighting up our living room wall. The ex-boyfriend had become aggressive; the new boyfriend had jumped in to protect our neighbor and her son and lives were shattered.
    It was a tough Friday night.
    Saturday wasn't much better.
    My husband and I went across the street and into the yard where a small blood stained brick still lay in the yard, past some scattered glass, and up on the narrow porch where we knocked and waited for the mom to open the door.  We were beyond stunned when a man, the new boyfriend, opened the door.  He looked hard, really tough. And he said nothing as we stammered through our little speech. Only when he realized that we'd brought our friend some food and a Bible did he show a glimmer of a smile and say anything. "Thanks."  But as he closed the door, he still looked tough as nails and we walked away wondering to ourselves why he wasn't in jail.  I had seen him in the police car the night before.  And where was the mom?  Was she okay?  What was going on?
    The next day, I went to church but realized it was a mistake. The congregation started singing one of my favorite songs, "Days of Elijah" and deep grief just welled up inside me. A tsunami of emotion that I just could not control. I tried, really. But it was like using a bottle cap to plug a leak in a water main.  In only the second time in my 6 decades of life, I bolted from sanctuary, I busted out into the lobby, just looking for a private place to have a meltdown. But like someone who is overcome with nausea in a public place, the gut-wrenching sobs just poured out of me there in the front lobby, no less.  And people came to comfort me when all that I wanted was a quiet place to be a washed-out, wrung-out mess.
   And at that point, I couldn't even articulate what really bothered me.
   Because what really bothered me was that suddenly church, pristine, glistening white, stained glass, and all spiffed up, seemed like a fairy tale. And God seemed, momentarily, the same way.  I kept seeing blue lights strobing across my living room window and I kept replaying the words of my neighbors as we huddled on the street corner at 2 a.m. that Friday night/Saturday morning.  I kept hearing words like, "I heard yelling but I didn't think it was serious until I heard her scream..."  "I didn't even realize the detective's card said "homicide" on it until later."  "They said his face was a bloodied mess; the boy saw everything."
   And I honestly couldn't reconcile such a violent Friday night with such a  spiffed up, happy-faced Sunday morning.  And so I bolted from the sanctuary and I really came undone.
   And people prayed. Tissue helps :)  And life came right-side up again, sort of.  But when I went across the street the next week to offer help, the neighbor I knew was not the same. She wouldn't look at me or hardly speak and she was so subdued and I knew things would never be right for her again.
  Or for her son.
  And I just cried out to God, asking Him what possible good could come from all this?
  But He didn't answer me and life rocked on in the 'hood the same way it always does.
  And the witnesses - the ladies that I huddled with that awful Friday night - came together for four weeks for a Bible study. Ironically, what we'd seen and heard formed a bond between us. The first Bible study night, we shed tears together and somehow those tears washed away a few of the barriers between us.  But some of them also had issues and some of them had had experience with domestic abuse and the last time they had attended regular Bible studies, their feet didn't reach the floor so this grown-up study was an experiment that didn't make it.  The course was 8 weeks and after 4, one lady erected a wall of silence and hasn't spoken to me since. And that was 6 months ago.  The other lady still speaks but is still struggling. Life is super hard for her and it's about all she can do, health-wise and emotionally, to make it through each day.  But still she talks to me.
   But still, reality is, the Bible study, along with all my hopes for it, fell flat.
   And I wondered, where is God in all this?
   Does no one else care about these few streets in the hood besides us?
   And would we even care if we didn't live here?  If these weren't our neighbors?
   And why was most everyone else whom we knew when our son was little - why were all of them smart enough to move while we were dumb enough to stay?  Was it because we feared the wrong thing?  We feared going into major debt more than we feared living in an area that was transitioning into a high crime place that now even the police seem to avoid?
  And then three months ago, my neighbor, the one who would never be the same again, whose life was busted into pieces last May when a man, a former boyfriend, died in her yard - that same neighbor came over and knocked on my door.  She was determined. She said she had to work on Sundays for a while and she wanted to know if we could take her son to church.
  Once again I was stunned.
  After church I took the boy to his favorite, 5 star restaurant - Burger King.  And then a few weeks later, the boys, like the loaves and the fish, multiplied - a little. And there were two boys instead of one.  And the first two lunches at Burger King, I was struggling for what to say. One boy liked to regale me with step-by-step, blow-by-blow descriptions of the comedies he loves. I hardly ever watch movies. I was clueless so I tried to smile where he seemed to expect it while all the time I was thinking: should he be watching stuff like this?
  I prayed for a change of topics and got what I asked for but not what I wanted. The boys started talking to me about their favorite sport. Four wheelers.  I could see that Sunday lunches were going to be tough and I told my husband I might need his help because I don't speak middle school boys' lingo. It was awkward.
  Another Sunday, a different topic.  Football. This was more hopeful because I had seen 4 games when I was in high school.  I knew what a touch down was. I knew it wasn't necessarily a  good thing when they threw a red flag on the ground.
   But still, I barely kept my head above the conversational waters. I came home feeling mentally challenged and worn out.  I told Phil I thought I needed a man to go with me but I knew he was needed elsewhere.  So  we soldiered on, so to speak.
   And then one Sunday suddenly the boys and I  clicked. We laughed and I really "got it". I teasingly corrected one of the guys and he accepted it good-naturedly.   And then there was a quick, impromptu hug initiated by one of the boys right before they hopped out of the car - a hug that left me wondering: did that really happen?  A drive-by hug. So cool.
  And the next time another ungainly hug right before jumping from the car, lest the young girls watching from the window see something so unmanly as a big, bad  guy throwing one arm around  a fat grandmother's neck when she isn't even  theirs.  So uncool. And yet so very cool. And I realized that drive-by hugs can make my  heart sing.
  And then this morning.  My husband came busting into the bedroom and shot me a look that told me he was nonplussed.  His expression clearly said, "Help!"  I was mostly dressed, just lacking shoes. So I hastily exited the bedroom and went into the living room to see what was up. And I was stopped short when I realized the man across the street, our neighbor, the one who was in the fight that awful Friday night seven months ago, was sitting in our living room reading the Bible we gave to his girlfriend the day after the fight.
  He was dressed up in a conservative suit because he understands that you dress up for God. I was wearing leather running shoes, casual slacks and a sweater, very unspiffed-up for God - my normal Sunday attire.
  He was quiet but attentive through both hours of church. Afterwards he opened up and shared his testimony over lunch.  It was quite a narrative, sprinkled liberally with words like "prison", "alcohol", "drugs", "AA", "God", and "second chances" along with the frequently repeated phrase, "I know I shouldn't still be here." And "I know God is the one who is keeping me here."
  And then the plans for the future - his aspiration is to go to Bible College; his need is to not give into cravings the next time they come calling.  We feel  from listening to him that there is a very real chance that he will. But for today, he was dressed up for God, sitting in church, listening.
  And then tonight.  Phil took the boys to church for Christmas music.
  And on the way home, he told them to get on their knees tonight and ask God to come into their hearts and he told them what all that meant.  The talkative one, who makes us all laugh, said, "Yes, sir."  The quiet one didn't say anything but we know from the past weeks that he takes things deep into his heart. They both do.
  Afterwards, Phil hugged me and prayed out loud for the boys and cried for them.
  And I know God heard.
  And I know that Sunday morning is just as real as Friday night.
  And sometimes in His grace, they merge.

  

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Yes, I know this is too long...

       I'm tired; aren't we all?
       I mean, maybe Santa Claus should bring us all a month's vacation with pay so that we can get our regular responsibilities taken care of as well as get all our Christmas enjoyment stuff taken care of.    (Okay, I can check one party off my list, now to get to the store before the sale goes off, and then to the school to see Johnnie's play and, let's see... that only leaves 40 more things that I have to enjoy and do in the Spirit of Christmas before I can collapse on Dec. 26)
     You know, as I re-read that last paragraph, I'm thinking maybe Santa should bring us a voucher for a month long vacation AND a 30 day supply of prozac...
      And if you think you know where this blog entry is going - maybe you do but it's possible that you don't.  (Because it's more than possible that I don't... /=)
      This is the deal - this morning I woke up feeling like Mr. Cold was sitting on my head, causing half my brain cells to misfire and also causing my body to create its own chorus of sniffles, sneezes, and the occasional half-hearted cough.  I lay there thinking dark thoughts about how I was tired from tossing and turning and how  I was too wide awake to go back to  sleep for just  another thirty minutes.
     I was wrong. The next thing I knew, it was 9:40 and home school starts at 8:30.  OOPS!!!   I dressed in 10 min. flat while thoughts, not sweet candy cane ones, walloped through my head.  Like the Rabbit, I was late.  How late, I had no real clue but I would learn...
    Then I realized I had no keys. I couldn't find them anywhere. I hunted for another 15 minutes and finally, in desperation prayed.  God must love... well, people like me. Because I found my keys and drove as fast as I could to my niece's house which is just down the road from us.
   She told me a friend was staying with her temporarily and explained some of the issues that had forced this young person from her home. The fault clearly was the parent's - a mega drinking problem.  It's hard to reason with a mom who has tied one on at 3 in the morning.  So the girl had been sleeping in her vehicle after getting off work in the evenings.
   Today was our noontime small group Bible study and before she went to bed last night, this girl indicated that she wanted to come to our study.  We thought it would be best if she just slept through it because she was so tired but she didn't - she woke up on her own and came downstairs for the study.
   When she walked into the kitchen, I recognized her face but  couldn't quite place her.   As it turned out, I didn't have to.    She smiled and said, "I know you!" I admitted that I felt sure I knew her also but was clueless as to where.
   Her next words floored me as I came to realize that she was the little girl who used to ride her bike up and down the street, the one who was always bright and sweet, the one whom I sometimes avoided because she wanted to converse while I - I was on a mission to lose weight and build up cardiovascular strength. (Obviously that didn't last...)
   Besides that, I often came home from school all "talked out".  Dealing with 70 teenagers throughout the day does that to you.  Walking around the block was "Me Time" - the time when I cleared my mind of the day's clutter and mentally transitioned from work to home.
   And even more to the point, the girl's mom was a pain.    While the girl herself was sweet and mostly just wanted someone to watch her ride her bike down the street and back or listen about her day at school (she loved school), the mom always delivered whiny, repetitive self-serving monologues that could go non-stop for an hour at a time.  Not kidding. Once she flagged me down when I was slowly driving down our residential street and I stopped, thinking it was something serious. It wasn't. After 45 minutes of politely trying to excuse myself, I finally just interrupted her and said, "I'm sorry. I have to go" and I did, driving off while the mom was in mid-sentence. Politeness is huge with me and to my knowledge I've never ever done anything like that with anyone else before or since.  And the mom, essentially came with the girl and therein was the problem.
    So there were many times when I planned my walks when I was pretty sure the little girl would not be outside on her bicycle.
    And now, years later, that same little girl was standing in my niece's kitchen, all grown up, saying, "I know you! When I was a little girl, you used to walk around the block and sometimes you talked to me."
   Ow.
   Double ow.
   We ate lunch and she listened intently throughout our Bible study, saying very little but seriously involved in the lesson itself judging by the expression on her face. At the end, she asked me, "Did you know my mom is an alcoholic?"
    She wasn't accusing in any way but I, however, was definitely guilty as  I stumbled  through my answer.
    "Um, well, she was never under the influence when I talked to her but a neighbor had told me that your mom was prone to call her..."
    "In the middle of the night, right?  And she was drunk? That's what my mom does. She gets drunk and calls people at about 3 in the morning.   But it's gotten much worse lately and she threw me out of the house at 3 a.m. the other night along with all my things, which she tossed into the yard.  Now  I have to go pick her up  and take her somewhere and I'm not sure what she's going to be like.  I don't know if she'll be drunk, angry, or what but I'm the only one who can take her to her appointment and I told her I would take her so that's where I'm headed.  But I just don't know what I'm going to face."
     So we gathered around the little-girl-all-grown-up-now, the one I used to avoid, and we prayed. For her. For her mom.  For the stressful event looming large - just a simple pick-up-the-parent-and-take-them-to-the-garage-to-get-the-car event which was now fraught with unpleasant if not downright dangerous possibilities.  Yet it was a duty the girl herself would not avoid.
     As I probably would have done had it been me.
     As I often did so many years ago, when there was no danger involved, just time. And a giving up of "my to-do list" in order to give a few minutes to a pleasant child with a burdensome mother.
     And I wonder  how many times and in how many ways she has suffered over the past decade simply because of association and nothing more.  Oh, she's so-and-so's child...
     And now I'm thinking: what if I had moved toward that child instead of away from her years ago when I had the chance? What if I had become involved in her life back when?  What if, when I heard rumors about the mom's drinking, I had taken the time to get to know the family and maybe even seek help for the girl if nothing else.
     What if?
      And  yes, I don't feel 100% today physically and I am tired.
     But mostly, right now  I'm sick and  tired of missing the boat.
     And I'm wondering, should I pare my list of 20 "fun" holiday "can't miss" things to do and the additional 20 (or more) un-fun but necessary holiday things on that same list... Should I pare that list down to 10 instead of 40 items? And then dare I add one more thing to my new, less-sparkly-bright Christmas gotta do list?
    Should # 11 on my downsized list be:  go find that neighborhood child who just wants someone to listen to them chat for a few minutes and watch them ride their bike.. And then when I find them,  could I actually listen to them for a bit?  Several times a week?  And maybe even watch them ride their bike and say, "Good job!" once in a while? And then maybe could I try to find out why a nice kid like that is so hungry for adult attention?
   We talk about finding Christmas in the face of a child.
   Honestly, many years ago I had the chance to do that.
   And I blew it. Multiple times over.  I'm not kidding and I'm not exaggerating.
   And now I would give anything for a do-over.
   Just saying: today I had a wake up call. And it was long overdue.
     

Friday, December 6, 2013

Two Sides of Every Coin ;)

   Blogs should be balanced.
   Just so you don't get the wrong idea...

   Last night I wrote (from my heart) about being still and spending time with Jesus this Christmas.
   That was real.
   So was today:)

   Got up at the crack of dawn and nagged husband to get him to stay home from work.
   Went back to bed knowing full well he would go on to work anyway, which he did.
   Woke up at ten. (Not normal but it's been an exhausting week)
   Let the big dogs out of the laundry room. (Their temporary home when the weather is frightful.  Their presence inside does not make our home delightful but we love them...)
   Put the big dogs back in the laundry room.
   Fussed at husband when he came home about 11.
   Worked on writing project while he sweetly (but without any real contrition ;)  starts the chili.
   I season it and let the big dogs back outside, making sure they don't slip out of the fence.
   Put them back in the laundry room and return to keyboard.
   Let the neighborhood kids in because they are bored and want to chat.
   Let the dogs out (all four of them) because they are agitated over the fact that we have guests and feel they need to go bark at something. By this time, I can identify...
   Stir the chili, listen to the kids, and finally promise them I'll  have cookies for them when they come back...  They take the hint and leave but not before I get the big dogs back in the laundry room - the kids are afraid of the dogs and the dogs are afraid of them.  (I'm afraid this is going to go on for 4 more days...ha!)
   Husband talks a bit much about going to work tomorrow regardless. I'm afraid I finally intimate that he won't live to see Monday if he gets out on the roads again against my explicit judgement.  He laughs.  I'm not sure I'm joking.  Splatter him with cold water that has been running over my hands into the kitchen sink. He still thinks I'm being funny... I'm still debating, even now, as to when I should enlighten him... =/
   Back to the keyboard.
   Back to stir the chili.
   Decide to scatter bird seed.
   Back to letting the dogs outside, watching them to see that they don't escape, and letting them in again.
   Then deciphering cookie instructions.
    One batch in the oven. Another waiting on the overcrowded stove top.
    Back to the keyboard.  It's the safest place to be by this time!
    Time to eat brunch -  in the afternoon.
     Spilled chili and booted the dogs outside again.
     All cookies are now  out of the oven.
     Lost one writing project; yes, do-overs are allowed.  Other project is still good... but for how long??
     Gobble dark chocolate and think dark thoughts about computers, outside dogs that are temporarily inside, and guys who feel they have to drive on ice... ha! (Yes, he's gone again "before the roads get bad.."  Is he kidding me???)
     Neighborhood kids are back, still bored. I listen to something about Beethoven (which doesn't sound like the Beethoven I know) and Christmas before I send them in David's direction.  Video games are suddenly my friend!!!
     Main floors bear wet paw prints, kid prints, adult prints, you-name-it prints...  and I really don't care.
     I'm ready to send everybody out into a blizzard if necessary, regardless of the shape of the roads, the sidewalks, the night air or whatever.

     I just looked out the window while musing on this wintry diatribe and saw a truck backing rapidly down our ice-slicked road underneath the glare of streetlights.  Not kidding.  The driver makes a 90 degree turn, still going backwards,  and proceeds out of sight up a steep hill, only to come right back into sight, this time going forward and turning to the left away from our house.  I'm guessing he didn't quite make it up the hill.
     Somehow, the truck thing seems to symbolize this whole day and evening.

     Whoever wrote "walking in a winter wonderland" was a certifiable nut... and/or he was not from 'round hye-er...  in my humble opinion...

   
 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

An Invitation...

     A month or so ago, I met a woman at a spiritual retreat - we were strangers.
     She seemed really happy to be at the gathering and after a bit told me that she had just been reconciled to the church after 31 years of being away from it.   I told her it was  great that she was back in the church.            She nodded enthusiastically.
     Then she mentioned that her brother  was a monk and added that it had been a long, hard road for him but they were so proud of where he'd finally ended up, that to them it was just like a miracle to see how the trajectory of his life had suddenly taken a 90 degree turn.    I knew she was hinting at some dark days, some grief, and probably not a little heartache in regard to her brother - both for him and for their whole family.  So I searched for a suitable comment - one that would indicate I understood her underlying message but one that wouldn't intrude.   Quickly I settled for a platitude which nonetheless seemed to fit the bill.
      "Everybody has a past."
      She agreed and then  added:  but the past doesn't have to determine our future...
      It's true: everyone has a past but the past doesn't have to dictate the rest of our days.
      After nearly six decades of life, I can think back about myself, acquaintances, family, and friends and       remember things that blew me away.  Events, shared confidences.  My own and others.  We all have them -those happenings that rock us to our core; those skeletons that we don't drag out of the closet for just anyone.  The longer I live, the more I am convinced that no one is immune.
     No one but Jesus.
     And He wants to grace my life and your life with His presence, His unmistakable warmth, and His unimaginable love.   He wants to walk right into your heart and allow you to walk right into His.
      But even Jesus can't (or won't) walk into a heart that is skateboarding through the season and/or  find a seat at a hearth where there's not even standing room available, where the crush of things that are less-than-the-love-of-God have taken over.
      We shake our heads and make caustic comments about people who push and shove and even trample others when the business doors open on Black Friday.  Right now there is  a winter storm watch out for our area and I've heard jokes (I hope) about people arguing and even fighting over the ubiquitous loaf of bread and jug of milk, as if starvation is one loaf of bread away for the thousands of us who trekked to the store since the storm was first heralded.
     But this is what I think:  we are on the verge of starving.  We are so emaciated spiritually that we think a loaf of bread and a jug of wine without the Ultimate Thou  will suffice.  That the next bargain, the next special event, the next movie, the next holiday recipe,the next present, the next book will fill us up this time.  Even though it didn't quite do the job last time.
     So I guess what I'm saying to myself as well as to you is this: why not drag your past into the deepest crevice of Jesus' heart and warm your hands in front of the embers of His unspeakably tender love.  Draw up a chair to His hearth and bask in His presence. Watch the smudged record of the past curl up in the heat of His purity, turn to ashes, and disintegrate until nothing is left but His pure light and a deep-down shared joy, a new secret to hold close- I am both known and  loved in a way I never thought possible!
   To experience Him, put the get-all-you-can-out-of-the-season skateboard in the closet,  turn the cell phone with the Christmas ring-tone off,  leave the holiday bargains on the shelf, turn the made-for-Christmas movies off -for just an hour or two (or an evening) - and let the One who made Christmas make this Christmas for you by giving you the gift of His presence.
   I mean, isn't that really what we're all searching for?

   "Long before He laid earth's foundations, He had us (you) in mind, had settled on us (you) as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love.  Long, long ago he decided to adopt us (you) into his family through Jesus Christ.  (What pleasure he took in planning this!)  He wanted us (you) to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son."  Ephesians 1:4-6  The Message.
 
 


   
 


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Therefore...

     There are some days when the phrase goes through my mind:  I hurt, therefore I am.
     This has been one of those days.
      Not debilitating pain; just chronic, low-level pain that causes me to stop and think and wonder if Descartes, brilliant as he was, may have missed the boat.  When I hurt, I can definitely tell you that I'm aware of my existence. I may not be aware of much else but I am absolutely aware of self and if someone ticks me off, I'm pretty sure I can prove that I exist... ha!.
      It's also been an unusually busy day and tonight was extremely frustrating.  The words "insurance", "re-enrollment", "internet login", and "easy" should never, ever be combined in a sentence unless it's a joke or a complaint. (That last sentence was not a joke...)   After an hour and a half of fruitlessly trying to log in, I was ready to beat my computer into a plowshare and pessimistically wondering if growing older is a lot like arranging deck chairs on the Titanic - frustrating, futile, and at times quite scary. I mean if I can't even figure out the enrollment part of the insurance plan what will I do if...
     And then, thankfully, another phrase came to mind:  live for the line, not for the dot.
     This earthly life is the dot; eternity is the line. I'm not always going to have to wrestle with body aches and insurance plans.
      And then I remembered this quote from the Discover God Study Bible by Campus Crusade for Christ:  Because Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, my future is eternal and secure.  That's pretty permanent: my future is eternal and secure.  Doesn't sound like there are any health insurance headaches in Heaven...
     And then I went out on the porch, stared at the absolutely amazing fog - which earlier had simply reminded me of all those Jack the Ripper type of stories that are forever associated with London fog - and decided to sing.
    My brain told me not to.  First, I don't have a good singing voice.  Second, people just don't sing at 9:30 p.m. in the 'hood.  They may drive 90 miles down the road with an oversize speaker system booming out nasty lyrics but they don't sing.  Third, I really didn't know what (or who) was out there in the fog listening.  People don't give a lot of slack in the 'hood...
   My joints told me not to.  They reminded me that people in pain don't sing. Instead such people sit.  Or they recline.  And/or they take Ibuprofin and use heating pads and they  most definitely complain.  But they don't sing.
   However,  I'd already done most of that and it didn't help. So when my heart said, "Sing!" I just did.
   I bellowed out the words, "Give thanks with a grateful heart..." and when I didn't know the lyrics, I just sort of fudged on the wording, ad libbed a bit within the guidelines of the basic message.
   I still hurt and yet it's not quite the same.  It's like my joints are still planted on Terra firma but my heart took a leap in a different direction.
   Someday - I don't know when - my body will follow my heart.
    Until then, I can sing.
    Maybe Descartes and I both have it wrong. Maybe the quote should be:
    God exists; therefore I can sing.
 

   

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Taking the Turns Right Alongside Him...

     Poor Phil! :)
     Twenty-seven years ago when we fell in love and decided to get married, we both entered into a major lifestyle change.  However, as I look back over the years, I think he's had more adjustments to make than I.  For example, he likes to joke that when a man marries, all the woman's things eventually find a home around the house while all the man's possessions end up in storage...  Ha!
      Phil's favorite color is brown while mine is yellow....  Right now our kitchen and our bathroom are painted a bright, cheery yellow :)   Phil's not fond of plants all over the house and right now we have Amaryllises blooming on our breakfast bar - five of them to be exact.  (I used to keep them on the kitchen counter and when Phil would enter the kitchen, he would imitate jungle bird calls - and very well, I might add.)  When we started dating, I had a dog and  he had a cat. His whole family are cat lovers.   Right now we have 4 dogs and no cat.
      However, by far and away the biggest adjustment he's ever had to make was when we allowed friends to live with us for a short time.  International students.  The middle school kid next door.  These periods in our married life took Phil so far out of his comfort zone that he basically ended up in the stratosphere before all was said and done!  Wow! What stress he went through as we prepared to move someone into our home!  Why would he even do that?
     Because he loves me.
     Because he loves God.
     Because he made a lifetime commitment when he threw his lot in with me on Nov. 22, 1986.
    When he made that commitment, he knew I was a lot more social than he was and he knew he was signing on for some adjustments. However, in retrospect I think he can honestly say that he had no idea of what it would cost to live with me. Seriously!
      Yet he's never wavered in his commitment to me but  instead  has, as we like to jokingly say, taken all the turns right along with me... (Quote from Driving Miss Daisy)  And there have been a lot of them - trust me on this!
      And this is where I'm going with all this.
      Luke 9:23 personalized:
      "And Jesus is saying to me:  If you, Cathy, wish to come after Me, you will have to deny yourself and carry your cross daily and follow Me..."
      And the key words that struck me today were, "If you, Cathy, wish to come after Me..."
      Do I wish to cast my lot in with Jesus the way Phil cast his lot in with me so many years ago?
      Am I willing to give up some things, not even necessarily bad things - just things that won't fit with loving and living with Jesus (John 15:5) - am I willing to adjust to His lifestyle in order to be with Him?  And since He carried a cross, am I willing to join with Him in that as well?
    As I write this an image comes to mind from the book, Seal of  God.  In it the author, Chad Williams, describes the training he had to endure in order to become a navy seal.  One of the worst exercises that he had to live through was to run back and forth across a wet sandy beach with several other men... while they carried a boat over their heads.  Literally.  For hours. Often In the dead of night. It was brutal and sometimes when the team had been at it for a while and  was beyond exhaustion, one member would try to slack off by acting like he was holding the boat when in reality, he wasn't - his arms would be lifted up but he would no longer be pressing hard against the hull in order to support it, counting on cover of darkness to hide his little respite. At that point, he wasn't a team player; he had lost sight of the goal.  He was no longer carrying his cross and his companions suffered because of it.
      Jesus enjoyed life. He attended weddings and I have no doubt He would be at someone's Thanksgiving feast today.   But He also had a mission which involved carrying a cross.
     If I take the same road that He is taking, if I cast my lot in with Him, if I am so in love with Him that I want to be with Him day by day no matter what I have to do in order to achieve that - then there will be some lifestyle adjustments and there will be some cross-carrying.  There will be times when I have to say no to myself in order to fit in with His plans.  There will be times when I feel pushed to the point of exhaustion as I run in tandem with Him, trying to carry the cross He has for me to carry.
    But, oh, the joy of being with the One I love!
    For me on this  beautiful Thanksgiving morning, it all boils down to one phrase:
    "Cathy, if you wish to come after Me..."
    Do I wish to follow after Him?
     You know, Lord!
    
    "To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name, and leads them out.  When he puts forth all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice."  John 15:5-6
      And if they choose to follow Him, His sheep find peace that is not of this world (John 14:27), abiding love (John 15:9),  the Master's own joy (John 15: 11), truth that is freeing (John 8:31-32), and, yes, also  tribulation  - coupled with the power to overcome it. (John 16:33)

      This Thanksgiving, if you haven't done so already - would you consider an outstanding invitation to routinely sit at the table with Jesus?
       Revelation 3:20  "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come into him , and will dine with him, and he with Me."

 

 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Some days...

      A couple of weeks ago, I was wowed by who God is.  I saw first hand how He could orchestrate things, bringing random people and events together in a way that no human being could ever do.  I've seen that before but I always tend to qualify it or downplay it as in, I really think that was God... or Isn't that nice? God sure does answer prayer...
     What happened two weeks ago, however, was so random and yet so precise that all I could do was marvel, not just at what God does, but at Who He is, how He can move people and events along the chessboard of life in a way that no human being could ever do. How He transcends time and space.  How He can read the human heart, both good and bad, and yet how He, Almighty God, still bends low to hear  our weak cries and bring  His unlimited power to bear on our infinitesimally puny  needs.
     Yesterday was a different story entirely.   I had a ring-side seat at  a funeral and heard things like:  he was recovering well from surgery and then things suddenly started going downhill... He shouldn't have died... I don't know how I'll live without him... This sucks... And those words, just like the ones I heard two weeks ago, sank down deep into my heart and resonated within me long after the funeral crowd had dispersed to go on about their daily stuff.
   Then, last night some different words,  ancient words, echoed through my mind and this morning they are with me still:  Lord, if You had been here, my brother would  not have died... (John 11:21).
     Lord, if You had been here...
    And I wondered how many times human beings have sat at the graveside of a friend, a relative, a loved one and anguished over that very issue:  Lord, if You had just shown up a week ago, ten days ago, a month ago, then... my loved one would not have died...
    And, yes, I know the rest of the story...
    Jesus, the Son of God, answers his grieving friend with a mind-boggling statement and a direct question:
    "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die.  Do you believe this?"  (John 11:25-26)
     Do I believe this??
     Yes.  And no.
     I mean, Lord, You should have asked me two weeks ago. Then I knew. Now, I'm not so sure.
     I would like to wrap this blog entry up in a bow, all neat and tidy, complete with snappy moral and pithy words of encouragement.  But I can't.
     Because, for me, faith is a real walk in a real world where we are often blinded by "facts" that just don't fit, by a puzzle that seems to have all the pieces one week and then turns up hopelessly missing the crucial center piece the next.
     We walk by faith and not by sight.
     And sometimes sight, as my niece said, really does "inhale swiftly".  I'm sorry - it just does.
     So today I'm just sort of clutching the hem of Jesus' robe, thumb in mouth, afraid to let go, trailing behind in the faith walk thing.
     Do you believe this, Cathy?
     Honestly, all I can say is, "Lord, I'm trying..."
     Some days all I can do is hang onto the edge of His robe.  Yesterday was one of those days and today looks to be more of the same.
   


Friday, November 8, 2013

Beyond Thanksgiving, All the Way to Joy

      I know what I want to say but I don't know how to say it.
      I suppose I could break out into my own rendition of Julie Andrew's These Are a Few of my Favorite Things... But... I can't sing. Or dance.  And my neighbors aren't always the most stable people on the planet so I don't think I want to do anything to irritate them... So imitating Julie Andrews at 11:30 at night in our front yard is.. just.. not going to happen.
      Jesus said that He came to give us His joy and to make our joy full.
      That full-of-joy feeling is often absent from my life.  Flattened by the earth-shaking machinery of daily life.  Lost somewhere along with the truant socks in the laundry basket of As the World Turns.  (And, seriously, where do all those  missing socks go, both literal and figuratively?)
       And yet, as I've learned from the recent Bible study I  just completed, Wonderstruck by Margaret Feinberg, there is wonder, joy, and cause for celebration all around us.  Because our God is so much greater than we can imagine and He has not only given us joy, He has also provided moments of wonder all around us to fuel that joy.  Yes, even here in the 'hood. Yes, even here at the threshold of old age.  Yes, even on the days when it's cold and dreary and it seems like every bone in my body from knees down  to my toes aches.
      These are some of the things that have caused me to stop and wonder lately, things that God has used to rekindle joy in my heart at odd moments in the autumn of my life.
      Well-lit rooms and warmth inside our home while outside the world is dark, damp, and cold.  Hot chocolate, warm blankets, and seasonal movies inside juxtaposed against  early nightfall, blustery winds,  and rain that seems to chill right through to the bone outside.
      The occasional laughter of my niece as we home school each morning.   I love to hear her laugh because there is both joy and innocence in it.   I feel privileged to build into her life as she builds into mine.
      The  Amaryllis plants that we "rescue" every year from Walmart's gardening center.  It's a  ritual, filled with anticipation as we watch to see which plants will respond to our care, which ones will go from being half-dead to being alive and laden with lavish blooms in an amazingly short time.


     The joy of watching our son grow into a man.  He's an adult now - not a clone of Phil or I but his own person. One minute he can be talking seriously about his job, the next he can be seen laughing at a Youtube video while his cockatiel sits on his shoulder.  I love that.
      The gentleness and competence of my husband.  Today I was tense over a Bible study of all things - was I doing it right? Should I change how we approached the lessons?  My husband massaged the tense muscles in my neck as he has had to do so many times over our 27 years of marriage and then wisely, quietly said, "Cathy, just let the Bible speak for itself.  Turn the study over to Jesus. It's His anyway."  And I felt wonder at the goodness of God in providing me with such a wise and loving best friend.
     This is the short list. There is a much longer one.
      Because the Creator God planned it that way - giving us multiple opportunities to glimpse His nature and to feel His joy as we journey through life.
      It's November, a time when we find ways to emphasize the giving of thanks.
      I've been challenged by Margaret Feinberg's Bible study to go beyond thanksgiving all the way to praise and  joy.
      I'd like to pass that challenge on to you as well.
      Ask God to show you the wonder around you and as He does, write it down.  If it's a glorious sunset, take a picture and tape it to your work desk. If it's something you've seen a thousand times but suddenly, God enables you to see how precious it is, journal about it.   And, yes, even sing to Him.  (Raindrops and laundry and birds on our shoulders...  Well, not quite Julie Andrews but... close... :)
      There is joy in the journey and this is a great month to look for it, to praise Him for it, and to share the wonder of it with others as well as with Him, the Giver of all good things. (James 1:17)

     
   
     
     
   

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Not What but Who...

     This week I "got it"... sort of.
     Not sure if I can hold onto it - at my age holding onto things is harder than you might think :)
     Really, about all I can say is that for the first time in a long time, I lay awake until the wee hours of the morning, unable to sleep not because of stress but because of the wonder of God.
     I lay there pondering a rather remarkable answer to prayer and thinking, "This is not what God does. This is who God is."
     Yes, clearly God orchestrated things in order to answer a heartfelt prayer, many heartfelt prayers.  And He did it in a most unexpected way.  Yes, He did that.
     And really, normally, I stop at the "did that" part as in, "Wow!  Look at how God answered my prayer!"  In other words, I'm really, really thankful, maybe even awed by what I (or someone else) received.  But that is where my thought process stops. A kind of: Look-At-That-Blessing type of deal.
     Then there are other times when I sort of tip my hat to God on a deeper level (is there an oxymoron in there somewhere?) and say, "Wow!  Look at how God answered my prayer!" moving a little further along the learning curve of divine-love-responds-to-helpless-man.
     But the other night, as I contemplated some impossible juxtapositions of divine grace and human need, I suddenly leaped past point A and point B and arrived at point C.  "Wow!  This is Who God is!"
     I just kept thinking about the impossible juxtaposition of man-cries-out-and-impossible-things-happen-in-inexplicable-ways followed by the wide-eyed (mental) exclamation: That's God! That's Who He is!
     It's not so much about what He does as it is about Who He is.
     So who is He?
     He's the One who can transport a Jew named Phillip to meet up with an Ethiopian official who just happens to be reading a passage out of Isaiah that he doesn't understand.  What a coincidence!  Just when this international has a question about Scripture, here comes a Jewish man, a total stranger, who can explain that very  passage. And willingly does so.  And then baptizes him. (Acts 8)
     He's also  the one who can instruct a pagan God-seeker named Cornelius to send his servants to seek out an inferior (rough, crude) member of a subjugated race in order to find out who God is.
    Um, run that by me again?  Is that like a Japanese WWII military commander humbly seeking out a Chinese peasant in order to learn about the one true God? 
    Yeah.  Pretty much.
    But there's more.
    Because while the Roman hot shot is getting ready to contact a lowly fisherman named Peter, that same fisherman is being shocked out of his sandals by a divine directive telling him to reverse all his previous thinking and training about what is clean and unclean, spiritually acceptable and spiritually contaminated. As in, Heads up, Peter!  A despised Roman pagan is about to land on your doorstep (figuratively speaking) and you, Peter, are not only going to associate with him, you are going to welcome him, eat with him, teach him, and lead him to Me.  He's going to become your brother... (Acts 10 - loose interpretation... very loose...)
    And if that last seems a bit complicated to you, it's because... well,  it is. Seriously. That's not a kid's story.
     Two unlikely men whom God brings together; men who  have more barriers between them than say... Jewish Jonah and the bloodthirsty Ninevites?  Or Syrian Naman and his lowly Jewish servant girl? Or maybe Nebuchadnezzar and a captive no-body Jew named, um, Daniel?  Or perhaps a Philippian jailer and a couple of inmates named Paul and Silas?
    And I'm not even talking (yet) about taking a measly bit of bread and a paltry packet of  fish and feeding thousands of people with it.  Right now I'm just talking about how God brings the most unlikely of people together in the most precise timing imaginable in order to meet needs, yes, but also to say, "Woo who!  Did you catch that??  What I just did - um, do you know anybody else who can do that?  No?  Well, that's who I am. And, incidentally, I happen to  love you."
    Wow.
    This week I got that.
     Next week I hope I continue to do the same.
   
   
   
 
       

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Please pray...

      Indomitable.
      One of our vocabulary words in home school for this past week.
      Would it be correct to say that my friend has an indomitable spirit?
      Right now she is in surgery.  And surgery under the best of circumstances can make for anxiety.
      But Angie has never lived under the best of circumstances.  When she was young, she was diagnosed with a progressive neuromuscular disease.  Now, at 42, she is frail and spends much of her time drawing one breath after another via a breathing machine.  She's been in a motorized wheel chair for so long that I don't even know if she remembers what it feels like to walk.
     But she knows what it feels like to laugh and she does that almost every day.
     She knows what it feels like to care and she reaches out to others every day, not only through her blog but through countless acts of compassion.  Seriously.  When I started collecting peanut butter for a food bank, Angie was the first to respond and she's been faithful to follow through for a year now.  She takes beautifully decorated cookies to her doctors and uses her blog to share what God is teaching her - and that covers a lot of ground as she is a willing student in God's school of Grace.
     She invites her friends and their children over to her home and loves watching the kids, yet she's never had any of her own. And I've never detected one iota of sour grapes over the things she doesn't have or never has had or has had to relinquish slowly over time although she would be the first to say that when she was younger, she went through some dark days.
     Yet I've only known her as a bearer of light. His light.
     Last year in the pre-holiday madness, about 5 days before Christmas, I went out to see Angie face-to-face for the first time. I was down, distracted  - definitely feeling rushed and a bit overwhelmed.  I intended to spend one hour with her and her caregiver, Karla. I spent two and when I got in the car I felt totally upbeat. I put some music in my CD player and reveled in the world around me.  I felt joy and decided to toss my must-do-Christmas-shopping- list out the window for the rest of the day. It proved to be a wonderful decision, to set aside the world's idea of Christmas and focus on God's. What a novel idea...
    That's the effect Angie has on me.
    Jesus told His followers that He came to reproduce His joy in them and to make their joy full. (John 15)
    Even in a wheel chair, I've seen that He can do that.
    Sometimes the joy comes in hilarious ways, with pithy comments about girl things, our spoiled pets, and/or the world at large.
    But always it comes.
    So I ask again, would it be correct to say that my friend has an indomitable spirit?
    I think it is.
    How her frail body can contain such a spirit, I don't know.  I only know that this morning she is undergoing surgery and for her, this is a huge thing to deal with.
     And so I'm asking: please pray for my friend, Angie.