Saturday, December 13, 2008

God With Us

Probably just like the rest of you, I've been running around trying to get everything checked off of my Christmas list before December 25th rolls around. With Thanksgiving falling later this year, I have only become more panicked that I might not accomplish my goals.

We don't decorate as much as some people do, but the inside of our house has several corners where we have decorations with twinkling lights. In the last couple of weeks my youngest daughter, Deborah, has asked me several times if I would put on the Christmas music, turn off all the houselights and sit with her while we enjoy the twinkling lights. At first, I never felt like I had time to "just sit", but to please her I made time. However, I made sure she knew it would only be "for a little while." Each time I've done this I've been surprised at how the fog of this busy season lifts and I gradually begin to feel the warmth and peace that only Christ's presence can bring. In that moment I am reconnected to Jesus, My Saviour, the reason for this holiday.

There's a story in the Bible about two sisters,Mary and Martha, who were close friends of Jesus. One time when Jesus was visiting their home, Martha busied herself preparing the food and other details for Jesus. Meanwhile Mary plopped herself down on the ground to listen to what Jesus was saying. Martha, understandably, got upset by this and tattled to Jesus about Mary and asked Him to scold her for her laziness. Jesus explained to Martha that by sitting at His feet, Mary had actually chosen the more important thing.

It's so easy to get caught up in details and planning. If I'm not careful they can actually rob me of my ability to be fully present for whatever I'm supposed to be celebrating. This Christmas season, my daughter reminds me that it's in sitting, in slowing down and being WITH Jesus that I've chosen the most important thing--my relationship with Him. Isn't it just like Jesus to give US presents on HIS birthday?!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Power of a Word

I remember after I got married how my Mom really urged me to quickly send out my thank you notes to all the people who gave us wedding gifts. I did it, but it was a chore trying to write something sincere in over 200 notes! I was surprised at how many people warmly told me they appreciated my thank you card.

I wish I could say that I continue to be wonderful at writing thank you notes, but I'm not. I'm much better at verbally thanking someone (or emailing a thank you) if the chance arises. For some reason, hand-written letters are things I rarely get around to. Recently, however, I received two different hand-written thank you notes from others. As I read them I could feel my heart warm toward the people who took the time to thank me for something I had done that they appreciated. It's amazing how much power two words have to bless someone, and how many times I miss the chance.

We all know that words have power, but I wonder how often we really think about it. Words are like tools that we can use to build up or tear down. I read a study about how it takes 10 compliments about performance ("I like the way you play the piano", etc.) to erase the effects of one critical remark about performance--("You stink at playing the piano".) It takes 100 compliments about our personhood--("You are a wonderful person") to erase the effects of one critical remark about our personhood--("You are stupid"). Holding such power in our mouths is an awesome responsibility.

There's a story in the Bible about how 10 men with leprosy came to Jesus asking to be healed. He told them all to go and wash in the river and they did and were healed. They all went on their merry way in health--except ONE of them returned to thank Jesus for healing him. Jesus told him his faith had made him whole. None of the other men lost their healing, but I have to believe there must have been something special that happened inside the man who remembered to thank Jesus for his healing.

A Japanese scientist has studied the effects of words on water by freezing the water crystals after certain words are spoken or even just attached to containers of water. He has found that words of prayer and healing yield beautiful symmetrical water crystals while words of cursing bring about chaotic scattered crystals.

The beautiful little picture attached to this that looks like a snowflake is actually a frozen water crystal taken after someone said the words "Thank you."

If the human body is composed of mostly water, think of the incredible inner work of beauty that those two words construct within a person when they hear, or when they say "Thank you."

As I enter this season of Thanksgiving, I'm committing myself to saying thank you more often. It reconnects me to the goodness of God, it's great for my insides, and it blesses others. It takes so little time and costs me nothing--that is unless I ever decide to actually write it out and send it in the mail!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

What's That Smell?

It was a BUSY day--one filled with a long string of appointments--but I wanted to be a responsible middle-aged woman and get in my gym time! So I dutifully went to the gym right before I had a Dr's appointment. My work out that day was especially beneficial and I really worked up a sweat. So, on my way to the Dr. I squirted a couple of shots of my favorite perfume on my neck so I would give off a more pleasant aroma. Wrong! Instead of smelling like a tropical paradise, I wreaked like body odor laced with coconut! AGHHHH! The only thing positive about this experience was that my honest confession to my doctor about why I smelled so bad made him laugh really hard. But he was probably glad when I was gone so he could air out the office.

Smells are interesting things. Bad smells are usually made from things that should be gotten rid of--trash, sweat, germs, food that's gone bad, etc. The odor doesn't go away until the source of the smell is removed. Even if you put a mountain of perfume on it.

I've been guilty of doing that spiritually sometimes--many times without even knowing it. I've sprayed on a happy Christian face while I still have pride or unforgiveness inside, and I'm sure anyone who was half-way discerning could detect the stinkiness I was trying to mask. The stench didn't go away until the source of my pride and unforgiveness was taken care of.

On the positive side of this smelly issue is the fact that we can also emanate a pleasant odor when we are clean. Scientists tell us that the sense of smell is one of the most powerful in building memories and establishing them. You pass by someone wearing a certain perfume and suddenly you remember your grandmother, because she used to wear the same scent. The smell of turkey roasting in the oven takes a person back to pleasant Thanksgiving meals with their loved ones.

I'm trying hard to regularly take inventory of the stuff I carry inside of me and get rid of the smelly things. Sometimes that's easy and sometimes it's not. In the places where I struggle I need God to help me release those things--sometimes gradually, to Him. It's His forgiveness that makes me clean. No matter how dirty or filthy my issues are, He's happy to take them and fill the empty places with more of His essence.

I remember as a little girl that sometimes before my Dad left for work he would give my sister and I a hug and kiss. After he left I loved it because I still could smell his after shave on my skin. I guess we smell like the things we embrace.

As I spend time embracing my Heavenly Father, I want more of Him to rub off on me so that when people encounter me, they are reminded of Jesus.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Entrances and Exits

I've always been fascinated by hospitals and airports. It sounds random , I know, but I think I've figured out their common attraction for me. They are both places where people are making entrances and exits. Both are usually vulnerable times of change when deep things--good or bad--can happen inside of a person.

I've been going through a lot of entrances and exits in my own life the last couple of years--mainly in my family. I remember 3 years ago at Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday, when my husband announced to me that it would probably be the last time our family all celebrated together because of the ages of our children. My heart sank. He was right. Our oldest daughter was getting married and our next daughter was starting college. Even though we still had two younger children who would be at home for several years, I had to get used to the idea that everyone being present for holidays wasn't a sure thing anymore.

Although a lot of the releasing I've done in my mothering the last few years has been with a heavy heart to begin with, I'm finding that each exit brings new entrances with it. Exit: My daughter gets married. Entrance: I gain a fabulous son-in-law who makes our family so much fun. Exit: My second daughter leaves home for college. Entrance: A new dimension to our relationship where we sneak away to do lunch sometimes, or chat over a cup of coffee. With every successful release there is a growing appreciation and sense of awe at how faithful God is to help me and my husband raise healthy adult children. I'm getting more comfortable with the rhythm of children coming and going. I am excited for them as they go out to experience new jobs, new places, etc. and I am equally as thrilled when they visit home to tell me all about it.

I guess our home has become more like a landing strip for our older children. They've taken off in a sense, but they make regular return visits.

As I've watched my children fly after their high aspirations I find that I am also inspired to pick back up some of my own deferred dreams. Seeing their courage to face life inspires me to want to do the same in certain areas of my own life. My kids cheer me on in these areas and tell me they are proud of me when I take a risk. Once again, I marvel at the wonderful irony. Somehow these precious children who I'm learning to release are the very ones who are helping to release me into the next chapter of my life!

So fly, Hannah! Fly, Abby! You go, girls! I'm right behind you!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

One Dirty Sock

I am NOT a neat freak--ask my family, shoot, come over and see for yourself! I do, however, love the idea of using something over again. Recycling makes my heart happy. I'm excited that a pop can's life isn't over once it's empty--it can be cleaned up and fashioned into another new can or even something else!

I've always been this way--in case you were starting to think I should just take a pill for this or something. I remember when I was just about 7 years old I found one dirty sock out in the back yard. It had been left behind by a construction worker. I was thrilled. I thought about how gorgeous this sock was going to look when it was washed. I went inside and put the sock in the washing machine with an ample amount of soap and turned it on to wash all by itself. When my Mom came in later and discovered the washing machine going she asked me what was going on. I explained my wonderful story to her and she wisely didn't blow up at me. (Thanks, Mom.) She kept her cool and explained that next time I should save the dirty sock and put it in with other dirty clothes as well so that it didn't waste so much water.

I think God loves recycling too. He's a pro at giving things a second chance. Lots of the words we use for God start with the letters RE which mean "to do again"--REdeemer, REstorer, REbuilder, REconciler etc. There is a scene in the movie The Passion of the Christ when Jesus is carrying His cross to be crucified and is almost unrecognizable from the beatings He's suffered. On His journey He trips and falls and his mother, Mary, rushes to help him up. She is mortified by the way her Son looks and the way He is suffering. As she looks at him with concern and grief, Jesus says to her, "Behold, I make all things new."

The reality that Jesus went through such torture and death so that I could be made new leaves me absolutely undone. How can such love be grasped and understood? How can I ever say a big enough thank you for such a thing?

I think my childish act with the lone dirty sock shows a primitive understanding of how lavishly God loves. He sees the things that are dirty and worn, but He picks them up knowing that the wondrous work of His cleansing power can make them clean and useful again. Even if there's just one who is willing to take Him up on this offer--it's worth it to Him. It's not a waste!

Thank you, Jesus, for paying a huge price so that I can be made new.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Call Me Sequoia

I just celebrated my father-in-law's 75th birthday by driving with the whole family (2 van loads) to as many National Parks as we could in a 10 day period. It's one of those experiences that I'm sure will be more precious to me the further away I get from it! That sounds like an insult, but I don't mean it that way. Some experiences are more understood when I am able to stand back and see the bigger picture. As my life moves forward I am able to see their beauty and value in way I couldn't when I was "in the moment".

I thought a lot about that as I observed the vast beauty at so many National Parks: Yellowstone, Zion National Park, The Grand Canyon, Sequoia National Forest, Crater Lake. As I tried to take as much in as I could in these places, by the end of the trip I saw some characteristics that were common to all the these marvelous places:

1. At every place, some event that was big and catastophic had happened sometime in the distant past: A fire, an earthquake, erosion, a volcano, etc. The marks of these events were still evident, and were responsible for part of the beauty that was present.

2. Wherever we went, there were people from all over the world excited to view the beauty in these places. No one needed a translator--their eyes were all they needed.

3. All of these places are natural wonders--man didn't make any of them. They've all been around for a long time. Their beauty endures as time marches on.

Probably my greatest inspiration came from going to see the Giant Sequoias. The valley below this forest is basically a desert. It looks like there could be nothing anywhere near that was big and beautiful. But up above at 8,000-10,000 feet there are huge Sequoias. The largest tree in the world lives there. I found out that Sequoias take root best in a place where there has been complete destruction. They grow really well in ashes from a forest fire. They often grow in small groups because of how the seeds land when trees fall over. They are very resilient to harsh conditions and live for hundreds of years.

I want to be like a Giant Sequoia. When life is dry, I need to seek a higher spiritual place. I need to remember that the soil of destruction can be the perfect place for the seeds of some big, wonderful things to grow. I need to remember that it works best to grow with a group. It makes everyone stronger and more able to withstand the harsh conditons that life sometimes brings.I want the beauty of my life to endure, to remain, to inspire people--often without words--to consider that there is something, Someone bigger than they are who can mold something amazing out of the good, the bad, and the ugly in their life.

Right now, in the moment it doesn't feel like much is happening--it's just another place where I'll have to wait in faith until I get further out and can catch a glimpse of "the bigger picture".

Monday, July 14, 2008

I'm Hooked!

I'm basically a shy person who absolutely loves people. Sometimes that works against me--like this weekend. After completing an intensive class on biblically interpreting dreams--which is usually a process that I do in private at my computer--the class was sent out in teams to the mall and different Starbucks locations to ask people if we could practice interpreting their dreams. It wasn't the interpreting that scared me--it was approaching random strangers--it was the potential rejection. The introvert inside of me longed to escape, but the desire to find if this could really reach people with God's love pulled harder.

There waiting on a mall bench was a Hispanic grandmother and her daughter. As my team approached them, the daughter answered her cell phone. That made grandma our target. We told her we had just completed a class in dream interpretation and asked her if we could practice interpreting one of her dreams. "After a certain age, I stopped dreaming," she quipped. After we urged her a bit further, she admitted that she had had a recurring dream for a while after her husband's death from a stroke. The dream in a nutshell was her deceased husband standing healthy and smiling beside a car with the door open as though he was waiting for her to get in.

"I think I know what that means." I said. She looked at me with interest. "This message is from God to show you that your husband is well in the place where he has gone before you. The invitation is open for you to join him in that place when it's the right time. But since you're still here, that means you still have things that God wants to finish in your life. That includes some of those dreams you've let go of. Don't be afraid to keeping dreaming!"

The grandma's eyes were filled with tears. So were ours. "Thank you so much, girls." She said. "Thank YOU!" we all chimed in. She had no idea how much I was grateful for her warm response. Somehow in the process of looking for people I could reel in for a free dream interpretation, I was the one who got hooked! Not one person during the whole day turned us down. Some people admitted they didn't remember any dreams, but for them we gave them a free encouraging word. It was amazing how people just melted when they were given a kind word that pointed them toward their destiny.

Henry Ward Beecher said that you'll never know how accessible men are until you try to reach them. You just have to find the right door. In today's society it seems that dream interpretation is one of those doors. It's made this shy wallflower willing to comb the malls and coffee shops. I'm a believer!