Posted in Thoughts from Life, What I'm Learning

Sufficiency and Tightropes

I’m procrastinating today.

We slept in a bit this morning, which has me running a little later on the routine than normal. But, that’s not really what has me moving slowly. In reality, it’s the subconscious knowledge that, if I keep putting off writing, I once again won’t have time to get a blog post written, edited, and published before I absolutely have to get to work in order to get my hours in before church. That subconscious knowledge has actually become my safety net. And I’ve been spending more time in the safety net than on the tightrope where I belong.

You see, I have quiet a few blog posts stored in my files right now. Some are just thoughts tapped out quickly that need to be fleshed out. But others are fully written and just need to be edited. I have good intentions of starting my morning with some editing, photo searching, and publication prep so I can get one of those posts up. But each morning I find a whole list of other things that just have to be done. Then my time is spent, and I have to get to work. So, the posts never go up.

But it’s not really because of a lack of time or because of so many other things that are pressing. It’s really because staying in the safety net is more comfortable. It keeps me from falling. Because I know that I’m not going to stay on that tightrope. I will fall. How much easier to just stay down here where I know I’m going to end up anyway?

I’ve always been like that. I’ve never been a risk-taker or a daredevil. Thrill has never enticed me. In some ways, that’s a good thing. There is a place for people like me, because we like to keep the show running. We like to be in the background providing everything the thrill-seekers and dreamers and brainstormers and visionaries need. We make their ideas happen because we’re good at the practical and the organizational and – to be completely honest – the boring. That’s our place. That’s our strength.

But, too often it’s also our hiding place. And we have a litany of reasons to hide. One of the big ones for me is a feeling of insufficiency.

One of my daughters surprised me one day by verbalizing exactly how I feel so often, especially in the presence of my children. They are so talented. So amazing. They all have such incredible skills. I feel pretty mediocre standing next to them. Yet, one morning my daughter expressed how she felt useless and untalented, especially compared to her siblings. They, in turn, stared at her with mouths gaping and quickly began stating all of the ways she was so awesome and her talents were so amazing and useful, especially compared to how they viewed their own talents and strengths. As I worked to build up and encourage each of them, I also ached because I knew exactly how they all felt.

Insufficient.

They believe about themselves the same things I believe about myself. We may have our skills and talents, but what difference do they actually make in the real world? How can we possibly compare to the extraordinary offerings of so many other people? What impact can we, with our piddly contributions – actually make?

We recognize that we’ll never know if we don’t try, but we’ve also all – yes, even my three precious children at their tender ages – have tried and have fallen off the tightrope. Multiple times. Sometimes because of our own failing and other times because we’ve been shoved. Every time because of some insufficiency.

We long for the tightrope. We even do all of the preparations needed to walk the tightrope. And really, we don’t mind falling in the process of learning to walk the tightrope. But, we know that we won’t always fall on our own. Sometimes we will be knocked down, whether accidentally because of a lapse of attentiveness on someone else’s part or intentionally because of jealousy or rudeness or pride. But, it will happen. And in that fear, we stay in our safety net and wish that we were already experts on the tightrope. Already skilled to the point of being able to better resist the shoves. Unsure that we can handle both the learning and the struggling.

That’s why I’m procrastinating today. That’s why multiple posts remain in my folders, unedited and unpublished. And that’s why I’m forcing myself to publish this post today. Because it’s time to get out of the safety net and get back on the tightrope.

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Posted in Family, Thoughts from Life

Together

A couple of weeks ago, we headed out for a much-needed and highly anticipated family getaway. We left early on a Thursday morning because our mouth-watering, start-vacation-off-right, pancake and omelet breakfast treat was an hour away in the destination city of Hot Springs. It was a delight to hear the proclamations of, “Wow, that’s just good,” and see the expressions of delight as the kids tasted phenomenal apple pancakes, delectable omelets, fresh-squeezed orange juice, local sausage, thick bacon, and delightful apple butter. Before climbing back into the car to head on to our cabin twenty miles away, we walked off our fullness by browsing the shops that were open at such an early hour, and I once again delighted in the responses of my children as we entered a cute shop with pottery and carvings and jewelry. We ended up having to drag them out, even after they’d made small purchases and thought they were done looking. They kept finding new treasures they’d missed!

And then there was the cabin on the lake. A glorious retreat into peace and quiet and fresh air and beautiful views. A treasure for each and every one of us. Some of the time, we interacted. Walking around the park. Hiking a trail. Skipping rocks at the lake. Closing out each day with s’mores or warm beverages and a game of some sort. Other times, we did our own thing. Curling up with books either in separate rooms or scattered around the cabin’s living room. Wandering around outdoors. Sitting out on the porch with a cup of something or other, watching the rain fall.

But even when we did our own thing, we were together.

And that’s what I love about our family. We love being together. Oh, we frequently go our separate ways out of necessity, but we all like coming back together. We enjoy sharing things with one another. Laughing together. Discussing with one another. Speaking in movie or book quotes and pursuing philosophic contemplations together.

Just being together. Whether we’re interacting or doing our own thing.

When I think of all of the families I’ve known through the years, the consistent reality is that the happiest of those families are those who enjoy being together. Whether they have plans or are just being. And there is a very distinct common thread that runs through all of the families who enjoy one another. They are all intentional about their togetherness.

Togetherness doesn’t happen by accident. Neither does the desire to be together. Both must be intentionally chosen. Actively cultivated. Even stubbornly pursued through the times when togetherness is not the pleasure and bliss we enjoyed during our recent vacation.

Sometimes togetherness is hard. Sometimes we get on one another’s nerves or wish for someone else – anyone else – to be with. (And yes, there are many times when we need to be with other people, but that’s another topic for another day.) But the good only comes when we choose the work. The discipline. The intentional interaction.

As our children grow older, we know we are rapidly approaching the day when togetherness will not be so frequent or so easily accomplished. My prayer is that we will never lose the joy of our togetherness, even if it has to be enjoyed through phone calls and sporadic visits. But I also pray that our children are able to take that joy into their own adult lives as they marry and have children of their own. That they are able to cultivate and celebrate their own togetherness and teach their children the joy of that interaction.

Because it’s a beautiful thing to enjoy life…together.

Posted in Meditations & Meanderings, Thoughts from Life

The Story of Talkative & Friend

We all know those people who monopolize conversations. I know I’m sometimes guilty of it myself. When I get going on a certain topic or thought, I have to remind myself to stop and let someone else contribute to the “conversation.” There are some people, though, who never recognize that they are the only ones talking.

I can’t help but recall a relationship between two people who shared a common interest. Each time the two would get together, “Talkative” would jump into her latest discoveries and activities in the interest. Her Friend would try to interact, but would only get half a dozen words in before being interrupted yet again by Talkative. Before long, Friend would just give up and resign herself to listening.

Here’s the catch. Talkative was absolutely, beyond a doubt certain that she knew Friend well. She “knew” just what her companion liked and disliked and just how to please her.

The reality was very different. The supposed knowledge was not based on knowing what Friend liked but instead on the “conversations” between the two in which Talkative rambled on and on about her interests while Friend listened and nodded politely, knowing she would never have opportunity to comment. Talkative automatically concluded that her Friend was expressing, by her silence I suppose, that her interests were exactly the same. Friend determined that her thoughts and opinions would never be important to Talkative, so she ceased bothering to try to communicate them.

Talkative claimed that she loved and wanted to be an interactive part of Friend’s life. But, when they were together, it was always all about Talkative. There was never give and take. Never companionship. Just the interests of Talkative.

Friend loved Talkative and willingly spent time with her when the opportunity arose. But, over time, Friend became deflated and drained. She needed the opportunity to both give and receive. She needed the nourishment that came from mutual interaction. So, she began to branch out and interact with others who shared her interests and passions. She still spent time with Talkative, but only when it fell into the natural flow of life. She did not avoid Talkative, but she no longer instigated visits.

Talkative noticed, and it hurt her feelings. But, she never attempted to find out why Friend’s interaction with her had changed. She simply made a point to – with every visit – remind Friend of the fact that she wanted them to spend time together, unconsciously increasing the wedge with her guilt trips.

I struggle each time the Holy Spirit reminds me of this relationship. First, I struggle because I have been in relationships like this, and I know what Friend is battling. I know the hurt. But, mostly

I struggle because I know I’ve been Talkative before, even though I try not to be. I am far too often guilty of not listening to and investing in others, focusing instead on what’s important to me.

But, there’s another behavioral tendency that is even more disturbing for me: too often I treat God like Talkative treated Friend.

I talk and whine and journal and let Him know my side of the story. Then, I take my thoughts and opinions and imagine that God is endorsing them. I neglect to stop and listen, instead, to what He wants to say to me. His wisdom. His truth. His guidance. His commands.

And what He wants to say to me is much more important than pouring out my “all about me” thoughts and feelings.

Because here’s the bottom line. It’s all about God. If He monopolizes a conversation, it is not because He is being self-centered like Talkative. It is because He alone has the words of wisdom. He has the answers. And He doesn’t need to hear us talk in order to know us. He created us, and He knows His creation well.

Yet I turn into Talkative and completely ignore Him. And His will. And His people. And His work.

Who will we be? Talkative, or Spirit-minded Friend? It’s a choice. What choice do you make today?

Posted in Meditations & Meanderings, Thoughts from Life

Welcome, 2018

Looking back and looking ahead are expected activities for the turn of a year. What progress was made in the last year? What goals need to be set in the new?

According to my Goodreads log, I read 69 books last year. I originally set a goal of 42, then upped that to 52 late in the summer. I’m honestly shocked by the progress. But I’m even more shocked by the realization that I didn’t change much to hit that number. I was just intentional about it.

The part that surprises me most, though, is that 26 of those books were non-fiction. Over a third. That’s huge for me. I frequently only read a handful a year – half a dozen in a good year. But this year I made it through a good portion of my to-read stack and allowed quite a few others to trickle in along the way. And I enjoyed them and gleaned from them far more than I expected. Many of them have become new favorites, including Made for More and just about anything by Mark Buchanan. His book Hidden in Plain Sight is on my list for this year.

Also, late in the summer Doug and I finally were able to nail down some good routines for exercise and were able to really get a handle on how to impact our eating without “dieting.” My progress seemed excruciatingly slow at best, and often completely stalled. But, I’m now just a few pounds shy of the halfway mark to my goal and am feeling much more comfortable in my clothes – many of them a size or two down from where I was over the summer. Best of all, these new habits – the slow but steady progress – have made it much easier to enjoy holiday eating without packing the pounds back on. Yay!

But, the reality is that those two things, as well as other progress points this year, are simply external evidence of the fact that God has been working on me internally. A lot. Some of it has been exhilarating and energizing while other portions of it have been very hard. But, for the most part, it has been like the weight loss: slow and steady. I didn’t always see the progress day to day, but I can look back and see where He worked and shaped me a little at a time day in and day out. And I’m sensing that there’s more coming. Probably some serious pushing on my comfort zone that will make some of the growth more immediately noticeable. But, it’s coming.

So, what do I see in the coming year?

Who knows? I definitely don’t! I have no great illumination regarding what progress I’ll see in the coming year or exactly where God will be working on me. I have some inclinations, just like I did several years ago when Sabbath and rest started popping up everywhere I turned. (We learned a lot of hard lessons about that this year, and still have a long way to go!) But, everything I see will take a lot of time and a lot of smoothing away my hard edges.

I’ll make a new Goodreads reading goal. I’ll be more focused on the writing, because something tells me that it might finally be time to work that back in. I’ve been learning (or trying to learn!) guitar with my son. I’ll never get it like he does, but there’s something relaxing about picking out a song or a scale. I’ll be more intentional about planning outings with my family, enjoying some sewing on our rest days, and being committed to helping my oldest finish high school well.

But most of all, I hope that I’ll be open to those edges being smoothed. I hope I’ll be more sensitive to relationships and being a servant. And I hope I’ll be more fully surrendered to the Lord being in full control of every part of every day – not just the few minutes I spend in His Word every morning.

So here goes! I’m diving in and taking action on this first day of 2018. It will be fun to look back next year and see what amazing things God does – and just how much He’s able to do even through a hard-around-the-edges child like me.

Posted in Thoughts, Thoughts from Life

Lost Words

Earlier this week, I had a great brainstorm for a blog post. Fortunately, I had a notepad handy, and I was able to furiously scratch notes. The notes flowed as smoothly and rapidly as the train of thought, and everything seemed to make clear and perfect sense…then.

I was not in a position at the time to sit down at the computer or with anything more than that little scratch pad, but I fully intended to make writing a priority that morning so I could turn those notes into a blog post immediately. I’m trying to do better about that, knowing how often I wait too long and then lose the context of what I was thinking. But, this week took my by storm. By the time I even had a few minutes to look at those notes again, several days had passed. By that time, the notes might as well have been gibberish.

I have no idea what I was thinking. No clue about the context. No comprehension of the thoughts that were so strong that morning. I can remember the feeling of the thoughts flowing forth with clarity and strength. But I cannot remember the details to save my life.

In a way, it feels like I’ve lost something precious. The thoughts were that powerful.

In another way, though, I am comforted. You see, those thoughts were meant for that morning. I do remember them motivating, encouraging, and propelling me into my day. They planted in me a strength and a determination to face this very full week. I may be forgetting the context right now, but on the morning of the brainstorm, I know I stepped into the day with an internalized lesson.

The words may have been lost, but the lesson – and its impact – remained.

I am married to a pastor, but I frequently cannot recall the points of his sermons from one week to the next. Even when I am intentional about taking thorough notes, I often look at them later with confusion, not sure what I was thinking as I wrote. But, each Sunday as I listen and write, my goal is often to plant in my head one way I can implement the message in the coming week. One way I can actively choose to grow in response to what God has said through my husband.

Again, I may not be able to dredge up the specific points or context, but the lessons remains.

Not everyone is stirred by words. We don’t all process that way. We do, however, all have a method by which truths are best communicated to our hearts and lessons are merged into our lives. But none of this happens naturally. When blog posts create themselves in my head, it’s very easy to tap them out, then forget them. Sometimes I go back and read articles and am stunned to find that I wrote them! They feel so foreign because I never truly internalized the message. It takes an effort and a choice to pour those truths into my soul instead of simply pounding them out on a computer keyboard.

It takes an effort and a choice to decide to act on a sermon instead of simply listening and then walking out unchanged. (Think about it – have you ever said, “Good sermon, Preacher,” because you have already forgotten that what you should instead be saying is, “Ouch!”)

Truths are constantly moving from the mouth of God to our eyes and ears, giving us the choice each and every day. What will we do with them? Will they just become lost words, or will we turn them into lessons internalized?

Posted in Faith Nuggets, Thoughts from Life

Fulfilling True Religion

What comes to mind when you think of your “Christian duty”?

We can all probably come up with a long list of ways we are pressured to do our duty by the world around us, whether our society or the church as a whole. Love everyone and do not judge are two common, general ones. But, there are also several ways to serve that are encouraged and emphasized within the body of believers.

– Be a foster parent and/or adopt. There are thousands of children who have nowhere to go, and it is our Christian duty to care for orphans in their distress.
– Give to a long list of ministries. All of them are good, and they are worthy of your money.
– Serve in a homeless shelter or food kitchen, or find some other way to volunteer in a way that ministers to the less fortunate.
– Engage in prison ministry.
– Go on a short-term mission trip.
– Move to the mission field, whether it be among a specific social group in your own country or overseas.

I’ll stop there, but the list could go on and on and on. You are probably already thinking of several to add to the list, whether they are services you engage in or some you have been “encouraged” to be a part of.

Now, before I go any further, let me just emphasize that we are all called to serve. In some way, shape, form, or fashion, we are meant to surrender our all to the leadership of the Lord Jesus Christ, becoming His bondservants and serving for His glory. That means sacrifice. That means a measure of discomfort. That means being stretched and grown.

But the truth is that none of us was meant to serve in every single capacity. We have to prayerfully select what ministry to support with the finances God has entrusted to us because we do not have limitless cash flow. There are times when we cannot open our homes to foster care or adoption simply because God is using our homes or our families for other purposes. And just because we are serving in a ministry that is not widely visible does not mean we have to also step into a food kitchen or a prison just because that is the currently socially acceptable means of service within the culture or our Christian communities.

Yet, we are often made to feel guilty because we do not share the passion of others around us. We may quietly give financially to numerous ministries, but we’re not going on mission trips. Or, we may serve weekly in a crisis pregnancy center, but we’ve never adopted a child. Or our ministry might look completely different, not matching the norm in any way. Yet we feel torn in a gazillion different directions and fear we are not doing enough simply because we do not respond to every passion.

I will go ahead and dare to say that sometimes “Christian duty” is trumped by the way God is currently using our energies.

Please hear me when I say that I am not giving any of us license to make excuses. If we find ourselves constantly making excuses for why we are not actively participating in an area of service, then we are being disobedient. Plain and simple. But, sometimes we don’t have to offer the excuses because we know in our hearts we are right where God has told us to be. We are serving Him in obedience, even when it does not fit into the picture of service that society or our community has created. They might not understand, but that’s okay. We can just say no, knowing – because we have an active relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ – that we are living and acting in full submission to His lordship.

My friend, the biblical commands to give, serve, care for orphans and widows in their distress, and take the Gospel to the ends of the earth will not always fit into a societal mold. Sometimes it will look strange. Sometimes it will be odd. Sometimes it will be misunderstood. And, it might be that no one else shares our passion; that we have to settle for being supported in faith by the community rather than actively working alongside others in our community. Our job is not to fit a mold. Our job is to serve in obedience. Our job is to make sure that we are actively responding to God’s instruction, not society’s expectations.

What does your obedience look like today?

Posted in Faith Nuggets, Thoughts from Life

Provision

Back in July, our van died. After 235,000 miles, it went kaput. It wasn’t a sudden thing – we knew it was dying. But one day, I needed to go somewhere. So I hopped in and cranked it up. It did not even make it to the end of our short street before it died for the last time, never to truly crank again for more than few brief moments.

If this had happened while we lived out in the country, it wouldn’t have been that big of a deal. We rarely needed both vehicles there. But here in the city, it’s different. So, I thought for sure God would quickly either fix the van or provide another vehicle.

I was wrong.

Meanwhile, a precious friend’s car died on Christmas Eve. Within a short time, God had provided her a replacement, ensuring that she would not be in a one-vehicle situation. I’m chuckling a bit right now, because I had the thought for this post long before my friend’s vehicle died. But, only now, after seeing how God has worked differently in very similar situations, is all of this fleshing out in my head. I love how God does that!

So, what is the difference in our situations? Well, my friend and I have very different lives and dynamics, and I can give you practical ways that she really needed that vehicle. But, I can point out practical ways we need another one, as well. The difference does not come down to practicalities. It comes down to one thing: God’s will.

God’s provision has nothing to do with my concept of need or desire. If it did, I can point out a myriad of situations that would have had different resolutions – not just in my life, but in the lives of people dear to me who have endured grief and suffering far beyond my piddly concept of needing a second vehicle. No, God’s provision is not dependent on my perception. Instead, it is dependent upon His will.

That may seem harsh, especially in light of grief and pain. But, that is because we view it with our narrow vision.

On New Year’s Day, my mother posted this greeting on Facebook:

I love TIMELINES……… if you put 2016 on a timeline of just the past 10,000 years, it’s barely a BLIP! And, if those 10,000 years are put on a hypothetical timeline of eternity, they wouldn’t even register. 2017 will come and go before we know it, so make the best of it! It will be gone before we know it. HAPPY NEW BLIP!!!

Oh how I love that! It reminds us that God sees eternity. And His provision is based on our lives for eternity. It’s not about what will simply grow me or make me useful during my short blip of a life here on earth. It’s about what will mold me into what I am supposed to be in light of eternity. It is about how what He does through me right here and right now will contribute to drawing all men to Himself…for the sake of their eternal souls.

The most baffling reality of this is that my needs, and God’s provisions for them, do have relevance for eternity. My little life. My little needs. My little journey in this little blip are relevant enough to God that He works His will in and through me today. He chooses to replace my friend’s vehicle but not my van because there is relevance. How incredibly humbling and amazing!

Sometimes I see a glimpse of that relevance. Sometimes I can point to some semblance of a “why.” But I never see the full scope of what He sees. What He knows. Why He works the way He does. But He’s the God of the universe. The King above all kings and Lord above all lords. He’s the utmost Ruler. Yet He knows me, and He considers the little details of my life – the details He works in daily – to be relevant to eternity.

Wow.

Lord, may I be reminded of this truth every time I doubt Your provision. Your provision is in line with eternity. And I am overwhelmed that I get to be a part of that.