Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Confession 123: Inexplicable Praise

Have you ever just wanted to praise God?  I'm talking jump out of your seat, sing at the top of your lungs, twirl around like a Whirling Dervish PRAISE GOD?  The other day, as the boys and I were driving to the park for a picnic, Third Day's song that begins, "I want to sing a song for you Lord" came on the radio.  It was like some sort of fire started coursing through my blood and I just wanted to praise.  It was inexplicable.  Nothing major had happened.  Nothing in my life had suddenly changed.  No prayer requests had been made and miraculously answered.  But suddenly, the Spirit was there and my entire being wanted to bask in the glow of my Creator.

Lately, I've had a case of "the weary blues".  This whole job hunting thing has gotten me down, I must admit.  I filed for Unemployment last week and then proceeded to break down in the shower. I felt humiliated.  It's a total pride thing.  I've always considered myself to be a successful and skilled professional, and to be unemployed makes me feel unsuccessful and skill-less. God and I are working through it, but when you've got "the weary blues"  sometimes you "can't be satisfied".  I got a fortune cookie yesterday that said, and I quote: Success and Wealth are headed your way.  I gave a wry chuckle, pointed to the sky and said, "Nice one."  I've always believed that God has a very quirky sense of humor.

All of that is to say that it surprised me when I was overcome with praise, although really, it shouldn't.  The thing about us as humans is that we were created to praise God.  It's literally in every fiber of our being.  And why shouldn't we give God inexplicable praise?  What in our life could be bigger than him?  As James writes, we are like the morning mist, appearing for a moment and then gone.  In the grand scheme of things, our problems are a drop in the infinitesimal bucket of existence.  I'm not being sarcastic at all here--I mean that, even if I forget to see it at times.  So we praise God, through it all.  And it is in that act of giving praise that our spirits are lifted, our hearts made whole, our souls filled, and hope grows.

Inexplicable praise.  Have you had it lately?

Blessings and Peace,

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Confession 122: Where Am I Now

Wanda, our new mini-van, has a built in GPS navigational system.  Never having one of these before (I typically just rely on my husband) I've enjoyed experimenting a bit.  The advent of the computerized, digitized, satellite-ized navigational system has proved ample fodder for Christian devotional writers and bloggers.  There are just so many places you can take it.  For instance, Greta (I got to name the GPS.  I chose Greta, as in Garbo, as in not a Garmin) begins each journey with the admonition to "Follow the road."  For me, this brings to mind  Isaiah 40:3: prepare the way for the LORD [a] ; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God.  Or Matthew 7:13: Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.

Yet, perhaps my favorite aspect of Greta is her "Where Am I Now?" button. This always makes me chuckle, not in some sort of self confident "I always know where I am" way, but because I can't go anywhere new without getting lost at least once.  I actually allow at least a half hour getting lost time whenever I go to a new destination! It is inevitable, like needing to budget for gas or bringing Cheetos to snack on.  The best getting lost experience I had took us to Georgia when we should have been crossing the border into North Carolina.  It was dark, my sister and I were in one car, my mom and a family friend in another.  We had stopped to eat at a little cafe in the middle of nowhere.  When asking the waiter for directions back to the highway and to the North Carolina border, he told us to follow the road over a couple of mountains and then we'd be there.  Really, that was it.  Go over a couple of mountains.  So we drove over a couple of mountains.  As time went on, I noticed that there were more and more Georgia license plates on the road.  I think I even made a comment to my sister that there seemed to be a lot of Georgians going to N.C. that night.  Then all of a sudden, out of the darkness appeared a giant peach, lit up with the words, "Welcome to Georgia--the Peach State!"  I think we stopped for the night.  A "Where Am I Now?" button would have come in handy before we crested the first mountain, I think. 

As Christians, I think we are in need of a "Where Am I Now?" button for our soul journeys, too.  It's good to stop and get our bearings every once in awhile.  There is a song by Sara Groves called "How is it Between Us?" in which she talks about the need to check in with God before the start of a new day to see where she is and how she's doing.  To steal a line from Ferris Bueller, life moves pretty fast.  If we're not careful, we can get lost in the midst of it wondering, "Where am I?" and "How did I get here?".  More importantly, "How do I get back?"  In those moments, we need to turn to our own navigational system. We need to dig into God's word, pour out our hearts to God, and pray for the Spirit's discernment and the wisdom to see it. Thy Word, O Lord, is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path. Ps. 119:105.  

When we push our spiritual "Where Am I Now?" button, God, not Greta, comes to our rescue.  God, who is infallible, who always has map data verified in every part of our lives, who is the one from whom all roads came and to which all roads will return.  God, the creator of the heavens and the earth, the restorer of souls, the great "I AM" will shepherd us through the unfamiliar territory back onto sure and solid ground.  I will guide you in the way of wisdom and lead you along straight paths. Pv. 4:11  I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. I will not forsake them. Is. 42:16  He has come to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace. Luke 1:79

So, how's your nav system working for you today?  Do you know where you are?  Take some time today to find out, and let me know how it goes.
Blessings and Peace,

Monday, August 23, 2010

Confession 121: Just Another Manic Monday

I recently started working through a Women of Faith Bible study called A Life of Worship.  As I was reading through my chapter today, this quote by Sheila Walsh shook me out of my pre-coffee stupor:
Sometimes we know we need refreshment but are too lazy in the routine of life--
or too preoccupied with what we think is "important" --
to stop for spiritual refreshment.  Sometimes life may crowd in on us
enough that we are simply not aware of our need.
Do you know how many times I have heard people say to me, "I wish I had more time for Bible study!"  I'm trying to start up a new women's Bible study at our church, and there is a lot of interest, but not a lot of time.  Finding a day or evening that doesn't butt up against some other commitment is virtually impossible.  There are women's clubs and sororities, sporting events, family obligations.  We rush around to this or that, pursuing all sorts of different things, making meaning in the busyness but neglecting the source that gives our lives true meaning and purpose.

In filling out various job applications, I always get stuck on the section that asks for a listing of "other activities, organizations, clubs".  I've never been a joiner.  I was one of about three people in my freshman class at college who didn't go through "Rush Week".  I saw no point in paying ten bucks to meet people I'd meet in classes anyway and get a t-shirt.  I'm not saying that I think these things are wrong, or that I'm too good to join in various groups.  It's just that I think they need to be balanced with quality time in the Word, for that is where our foundation lies.

The cornerstone scripture of the Jewish faith is found in Deuteronomy chapter 6.  It is called the Shema, and is one of the first pieces of scripture learned by Jewish children.  This scripture is placed in mezzuzah's found on the doorposts of Jewish homes, and I think it is applicable for us as Christians, as well.
Write these commandments that I've given you today on your hearts. Get them inside of you and then get them inside your children. Talk about them wherever you are, sitting at home or walking in the street; talk about them from the time you get up in the morning to when you fall into bed at night. Tie them on your hands and foreheads as a reminder; inscribe them on the doorposts of your homes and on your city gates. 
As Christians, our lives must be enveloped in God's Word.  It is our hope, our strength and our peace.  Blessings to you this Monday!!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Confession 120: Early Morning Wake-Up Calls

I woke up this morning around 4 A.M.  No idea why.  It could possibly be due to the fact that I went to bed around 9:30 last night and my body just cannot handle the thought of more than five or six hours sleep at a time.  As will happen when one wakes up before the sun rises, my brain started to race through a plethora of topics, none much conducive to sleep, except the thought of exercise.  There's nothing that incites hunkering down in bed to me more than a good workout!  I tell myself that the First Lady gets up at 4 A.M. to exercise, and if she can do it with all she's got going on, then surely I can too.  But, alas, here I am sitting in my work-out clothes exercising only my fingers.  Ah well... the day is still young.

The truth is, early morning has always been one of my favorite times.  Often, it is the only time to myself I will get throughout the day.  I like the quiet of dawn.  The sun rises gradually, no booming trumpets announcing the day.  First there is the hint of light, illuminating the darkness and revealing shadowy outlines of the world around.  Then there is a hint of color, inky blue bleeding into deep violet, and the shadowy figures come into focus; tall oaks, fat shrubs, a cat stealthily crossing the road after an evening carousing in the dark.  Then comes the pale pink glow of the sun simmering just below the horizon.  The birds wake, calling to each other through the leaves to herald the official break of day.  It is a symphony of sorts, the various calls, chirps, rustling of leaves and wings.  And finally, the sun is there, pale yellow and orange spilling over the sky.  The grass sits up, shaking off the dew so that the dew hovers above it in a fine white mist.

I cannot help but think of Psalm 30: 5-- "...weeping may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning".   And another favorite, Psalm 143: 8-- "Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you.  Show me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul."  There is something inherently hopeful in the dawning of a new day.  One of my favorite lines from Anne of Green Gables is when Miss Stacey tells Anne that each new day is like a blank slate waiting to be written upon.  Yet, I think it is a choice to write something new, to let go of the hurts, failures, frustrations of the day before, to raise a new song of praise to God for yet another day to try and get it right, to try and make a difference, to follow God with all our hearts, souls and minds.  (I can sometimes be of two minds!)  A new day is a new opportunity to live the lives God is calling us to live.  We still have our problems from yesterday, they don't magically disappear or get erased.  But our response to them can be new, can be hopeful, can be productive.

Yes, crazy as it seems, I love early mornings.  A new day is dawning--let's go catch it!

Blessings and Peace,

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Confession 119: Pillow Talk

When I was a child, I used to love falling asleep at night listening to my parents voices as they talked quietly in their room down the hall.  It was comforting to hear them as I drifted off to sleep, a sign that all was well and I was not alone.  Now that I'm grown and have children of my own, I realize that this was actually the only time they had during the day to talk to one another!  Having two small children of our own, my husband and I have found that pillow talk time is our time; to reconnect, renew, and enjoy each other once more.  We laugh a lot, discuss everything from kids, politics and religion to gossip, silliness and Cardinal baseball.  It doesn't matter what the conversation is about, it just matters that it is.

The other night, our conversation took an interesting turn.  We were discussing our new mini-van.  Chris decided to name her Wanda. 
"Wanda?" I asked.  "Where in the world did you come up with that?"
"Wanda," Chris said.  "As in, I "wandah" why I bought a mini-van!"  This is the kind of humor I deal with every day.  My husband always insists he is the funniest person I know, and given his sense of humor, this is probably true.  He also told me he considered the name "Van-essa", but thought it was too obvious.  We spent some time trying to decide if we actually knew anybody named Wanda, and there were a few.  When we were remembering one Wanda in our life my husband made the comment: "That girl was cookoo for Cocoa Puffs."
I snickered.  "Where did you get that?"  I've never been very adept at colloquialisms.
"You've never heard that before?"
Chris was silent for a few moments, thinking.  "How about 'one out short of a full inning'?"
"The elevator's not reaching the top floor?"
"Not swinging with a full set of clubs?"
I laughed, "No! Where do you get this stuff?  I have heard 'a few bricks short of a load' and 'bats in the belfry'."
"All the lights on and nobody home."

This went on for awhile, before I finally gave up and went to sleep.  It got me to thinking though, what other expressions or colloquialisms are out there that I don't know?  Are we just "cookoo for Cocoa Puffs" ourselves, or do other people have conversations like this too?  What does your pillow talk consist of?  And if it's not pillow talk, where do you find time to talk?  What do you talk about?  How do you keep it fresh and new?  I'm not trying to be nosy, just curious and looking for some conversation.

Blessings and Peace,

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Confession 118: Faithfulness

I have been in a dark place the past several weeks. I'm not talking power outages here, although maybe that's an appropriate metaphor. This has been more the: "Did you lead us out of captivity only to let us die in the wilderness?" kind of dark. Our new town, home and community are wonderful, but in moving to our new appointment I gave up a job that was the best professional experience of my life. I've been searching for a new teaching position for months now, and nothing is opening up. My last paycheck comes next week, so we're down to the wire. I've been telling myself, and all those around me, that God will provide. God always provides. Yet deep down, those nagging doubts have been growing. Will God provide? Why is he being so silent? I need to see a plan--any plan!! And it can't be one that involves me spending 24/7 with my two and four year old, because that is just not who God made me to be. I need to work. It's who I am. It's where I come from. All of the women in my family have worked, even my great-great grandmothers.

After a very unproductive day of job hunting, I decided to take the boys for a spin in our new mini-van to put them to bed. Yes, we bought a mini-van. My car lease was up. Purchasing a minivan requires faith on so many different levels! The boys were out in fifteen minutes, so I had some quiet time with God. I poured out my heart to him, as the Psalms tell us we should do. I recounted a Psalm I had read this morning, Psalm 69, in which the psalmist states: "Save, me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck...I have come into the deep waters; the floods engulf me. I am worn out calling for help...My eyes fail, looking for my God."

I had literally just finished telling God that I was looking for him everywhere and couldn't see him when K-Love began playing "Let the Waters Rise" by Mike's Chair. I don't know how many of you are familiar with this, but here's how some of it goes:

"Don't know where to begin, it's like my world's caving in
And I try but I can't control my fear. Where do I go from here?
There's a raging sea right in front of me
Wants to pull me in, bring me to my knees
So let the waters rise if you want them to
I will follow you, I will follow you.
God you know where I've been, you were there with me then
You were faithful before, you'll be faithful again; I'm holding your hand.
So let the waters rise, if you want them to
I will follow you, I will follow you."

And, as if that wasn't enough, the very next song was "Right Here" by Jeremy Camp. "Everywhere I go I know you're not far away. You're right here, you're right here."

It was like God was wrapping his wonderfully strong arms around me saying, "You silly girl. You know I'd never leave you." He didn't give me all of the answers. He didn't reveal his master plan, but he opened my eyes to his presence and his unfailing faithfulness. And right now, that's all I need to see.

Blessings and Peace,

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Confession 117: The Saga of Buzz Lightyear

About six months ago, Chris and I purchased a big talking Buzz Lightyear to help with our potty training for Garrett. If he pooped in the potty, he got Buzz. Well, months and months passed and no pooping in the potty happened. We packed up Buzz in our bedroom closet box and reshelved him. I was beginning to think that his permanent place in our home was going to be under a sweatshirt on my closet shelf. Yet, miraculously, Garrett did the deed the other day and was rewarded, in kind, with Buzz. Hallelujah! Praise God!!

Unfortunately, our celebrations lasted only long enough for Stephen to realize that Garrett got a big Buzz, and he, the self-identified Buzz Lightyear in the family, did not. You have never heard such screaming, wailing and gnashing of teeth. Had I been removing the kid's toenails, he would not have carried on so. After some vain attempts at reasoning, the boys and I piled into the car in about 110 degree heat and headed off to "The Evil Empire" to get a little Buzz for Stephen. All was well, or so it seemed, but brothers will be brothers, and whatever one has, the other wants. As soon as the plastic was off, Garrett wanted to trade Buzz's with Stephen for a little bit. Of course Stephen was all for this, until Garrett wanted his Buzz back.

We cycled through this throughout the day, and about 4:30 in the afternoon, I snapped. Stephen was throwing his hundred and sixtieth tantrum of the day and I was trying to start dinner. I sat Stephen on the counter next to the stove, which was not what he wanted. In his temper, he picked up a ceramic spoon ladle from the stove and hurled it across the kitchen, where it broke. I don't know what it was about that little snowman ladle, but the loss of it broke open the waterworks within me. Stephen was deposited in his room and I returned to the kitchen to cry and clean.

Luckily, Daddy came in shortly thereafter and, as is typical, fixed everything within half an hour. After attempting to teach Stephen a lesson in sharing, he came into the kitchen and sighed. "It's so unfair to Garrett," he said, "for Stephen to get a big Buzz." My heart sank, but he wasn't finished. "But it's so unfair to us to have to put up with that." He indicated the small child screaming beyond his capacity in the living room. My heart leapt within me. After agreeing that Stephen would enter into a period of indentured servitude with us for a few months, and wishing him a very merry Christmas, he and Daddy were back on their way to "The Evil Empire" to get a second Buzz.

Stephen carried his Buzz Lightyear like a trophy through the store. He clutched it to him all the way home, and it hasn't been far from his reach since. I know there are parents out there who could and would have handled this situation in a more appropriate manner. There are parents out there somewhere who could make their two year old understand the nature of the reward system, special gifts, and sharing. Yet, we are not those parents. There is not enough Zoloft in the world to help me cope with the level of tantrum that would have continually erupted from Stephen had he not gotten a Buzz of his own. Don't think that the irony of this right after my last post is lost on me. Some child, somewhere, will get a big new Buzz Lightyear for Christmas care of Stephen, and Disney will profit even more from our boys, which is the entire point for Disney.

Thus concludes the saga of the Buzz Lightyear. Next, the saga of the dueling Buzz's!

Blessings and Peace,

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Confession 116: Blessed are the Poor

Last Sunday, I went to church with my in-laws at Church of the Shepherd in St. Charles. The church was beginning a campaign entitled, "Feed My Starving Children". The church will be gathering money for food which they will be packing and shipping overseas to impoverished communities in Africa. Incredibly, a child in Africa can be fed for a year for $79, while a family of five can be fed for under $400. Meanwhile, the average American spends over $200 a week on food!! My husband and I had been contemplating purchasing a new comforter set for our bedroom. We already have a perfectly fine comforter, as well as several blankets and quilts. It wasn't a necessity, but the color scheme of the set fit with the color we want to paint our bedroom and J.C. Penny was having a sale. I think you see where this is going. Long story short, God vetoed the comforter and pulled my checkbook out of my purse for me for a much more important reason.

Throughout my scripture reading this week, verses regarding God's faithfulness to the poor have been popping up in almost every passage. I'm feeling more and more convicted in this area, especially as I open the refrigerator and look in our pantry to see food just spilling out everywhere. I told my husband that I'm not buying anything else from the grocery store until our cupboards are almost empty, so we've had some pretty interesting meals this week. Pulled pork and leftover black beans turned into bbq burritos. Meatball sandwiches turned into spaghetti with fried eggplant and meatballs. And then, I am of the opinion that you can put about anything in a salad and call it good!

The point is, I'm feeling the need to live a more pro-active life in regard to those in need. My husband and I have had some great conversations about alternative giving and what we would like to do in the future, especially in regard to our children. It's a fine balance, because Garrett is at an age where he would notice if he didn't get anything from Mom and Dad for Christmas or birthdays, but as our children are happy jumping off of furniture and chasing around dollar Matchbox cars, I think we can give him the joy of gift-opening without being excessive.

I'd love to know what others think. How do you balance your life and responsibilities with the responsibility to care for those in need? And also, how do you instill these responsibilities in your children?

Blessings and Peace,

My Family

My Family

My Family 2

My Family 2