Monday, December 20, 2010
This whole gift giving thing really has me uptight.
In the last two weeks I have been lavished with simple, yet thoughtful gifts from new friends and co-workers--homemade cookies and treats, flavored honeys and syrup, handmade cards. The thoughtfulness overwhelms me and then I quickly realize my hands are empty and I have nothing to give in return. I feel like a Christmas failure.
I'm not an artsy-craftsy kind of gal. I would LOSE friends if I gave away things I made! Somehow a store-bought box of chocolates feels impersonal. I don't have enough money to buy each friend a new car, so my dilemma remains. What to give? How do I show my gratitude?
Today I had a new friend over for tea. I totally enjoyed visiting and hearing her story--so much so that we went overtime and had to quickly end things so we could hurry to other responsibilities. But it got me thinking. I felt so blessed after the visit. It was a real treat--a gift. But this was a gift I knew I could give in return--friendship!
Christmas challenges me to give what I have--to give of myself. I am especially drawn to the accounts of the Christmas story in Matthew and Luke that speak about the wise men and the shepherds. We sing songs about how great the wise men's gifts were: Gold, frankencense and myrrh. They gave what they had--they were kings!
The shepherds were astounded by an angel choir telling them about Christ's birth. In return they hurried off to find this baby they had been told about. No mention is made of them bringing gifts, even though they might have. What they DID do was spread the good news far and wide. They were messengers. They gave as they told others what they had seen and heard.
One thing is for sure. No one was having a "best gift competition" at the manger. All other gifts paled in comparison when laid at the feet of the greatest Gift of all. The shepherds and wise men both had the same response--worship.
So I'm realizing anew that it's not about my gifts--it's about my focus. If the gift is the focus, my stress levels start to rise and I'm sure I won't be able to measure up. The truth is, I won't. I don't. However, if I'm giving what gifts I have in order to honor Christ's birth, I feel alive inside. I am aware that I do have something to offer--myself.
Saturday, November 13, 2010
Well, It's mid-November, and for some miraculous reason, the THOUSANDS of snow geese in our area know that now is the time to migrate to warmer climates. At just about any time during the day you can look overhead and see the sky filled with geese getting out of town. They aren't being quiet about it either. The air is filled with their cacophony of high pitched shrieks. It's amazing and kind of eerie at the same time. How do they know where to go? How do they know when to stop? How will they know when they find home? Snow geese mate for life, so wherever they go, they go with their partner.
Home is an important place--especially when it's cold outside. It's somewhere that I know I'll be warm and safe, but it's more than that. It's where my family is. It's a place where I can hang around in my pajamas, forget about putting on makeup and no one will vote me off the island. I have a lifetime membership with this clan--warts and all.
Although the gift of immediate family is a wonderful thing, it isn't static. It grows. It shrinks. It changes. As much as I would love to hang onto the status quo for my own comfort, I cannot. In the last year I have moved away from two of my adult children who now have spouses of their own. My head knew this was a good thing, but somehow I felt a sense of homelessness within myself as I said my goodbyes and boarded a plane. I had temporarily lost my "happy place" on the inside of me and I felt lost.
As I have ruminated and adjusted to life in a new location, I've come back up to the surface with a deep appreciation for another family that I'm a part of: The family of God. The town where we moved is filled with people who love God and have shown it over and over again by the way they have embraced the smaller version of our family and helped us settle in every way possible. Even though these people aren't immediate kin, they have shown care and concern for my family's safety and wellbeing. Their love has provided a safe place to be when thing's have felt cold and unsettling on the outside.
Family is powerful. It's the vessel that God chose to usher Jesus into the world when it was very cold and dark outside. Even though Jesus is now preparing a forever-home for me in heaven, His Spirit lives inside of me here on earth and I'm never separated from His presence. No matter what changes, no matter where I go, the presence of God is always with me. That's my real home--that's my happy place.
Last Sunday was baptism Sunday in church. The whole service was dedicated to baptizing 5 people. The room was filled with family and loved ones of those about to be baptized. As one particular young man took his turn to be baptized he told how he grew up without parents and was tossed back and forth in the foster care system until he finally landed with a Christian family who kept him and introduced him to salvation in Jesus. He spoke about how the faith he has found in Jesus and the friends he has made at church and college have given him a place to belong that he never had. There was hardly a dry eye in the house. As the young man came up out of the water from baptism, the pastor lovingly wrapped a terry cloth robe around his dripping-wet body and said, "Welcome Home!"
Thursday, August 26, 2010
About 45 years ago my Dad answered an ad in an academic publication and applied for a job as head librarian of a Christian college in Oklahoma. He got the position and the resulting move took our family several states away from relatives and friends and landed us in a new place that we knew very little about. Looking back at it now, I can appreciate what a huge risk it was for my parents to make this decision. With my 20/20 hindsight, now I can see how this move positively influenced our family's spiritual beliefs, and put me in a place where I could develop into the young woman God created me to be and eventually meet my husband. It was a launching pad for my destiny!
At the time of this move I was only 5 years old and all I knew was that we were moving away from my grandma, but we got to get a newer, bigger house. I couldn't understand at that young age that God wasn't just expanding our living space, He was expanding our lives.
I've thought of this situation several times in the last year as my own family has travelled a similar path. We recently made a huge move from the US to Canada. Two years ago I would have thought a transition like this would be insane, but God's voice and our circumstances made us more and more willing to take the leap.
So here we are, transplanted from the lush Willamette Valley of Oregon to the prairie of Saskatchewan, Canada. I would be lying if I said that the move has been easy. It has challenged every fiber of my being--but God has never left me through a minute of the process.
When my husband came to interview for his job in Saskatchewan, I was taken aback by how absolutely FLAT the terrain is. A person can go for miles and miles and miles and not meet one bend in the road. I laughed when I thought of the Bible verse that says "You have set me in a large place." As time has passed, the beauty of the prairie with it's amazing sunsets and wide open sky has begun to sink into me. I am becoming more and more aware that God has been the chief instigator of this transition.
The house number that our family is renting is 118. Initially, I thought nothing of it, except to try to commit it to memory for postal purposes. However, On our trip to move our family up to Canada, our hotel room number was also 118. I laughed at the coincidence and thought God was just having mercy on my overwhelmed mind by giving me a room number that I could remember. The next morning, however, I felt compelled to flip to Psalm 118. My eyes fell to verse 5: "From my distress I called upon the Lord; The Lord answered me and SET ME IN A LARGE PLACE!" I felt so strongly that God's Spirit was affirming to me that this large place was to be our address; the place we lived. And I rest assured from prior experience that He's not just expanding our living space--He's expanding our lives!
So as I continue to physically and mentally unpack things from this move I rest in the thought that God holds all our details in the palm of His hand. I thank God for His faithfulness to us that brought us through the path we traveled the last 2 years, and I look at the long straight road ahead of us that leads toward our future and I smile.
Sunday, May 16, 2010
We recently sold our family home that we had lived in for over 10 years. Although we were very grateful to sell it, there was a sense of loss because it was such a wonderful, nurturing place for our family for the last decade. The couple we bought the home from had lovingly built and lived in the home themselves for about 20 years before. Every spring in our backyard, the entire border was filled with beautiful, mature, rhododendrons of several colors. Over the years the branches had intertwined together so that the bushes appeared to have multi-colored blooms all over them. A few months later, the blueberry bushes would yield so many berries that I grew tired of picking buckets full every other day. Around the corner we had healthy raspberry bushes too. One cool summer evening I remember sitting and enjoying the loveliness all around me when I realized that most of the beauty and fruit around me was due to someone else's efforts. The former owners had carefully landscaped and cared for these mature plants that I loved and admired so much. I'm sure they planted them for their own enjoyment, but I received the benefit of that!
I've thought about that realization quite a bit in the last few months. My husband and I are nearing the end of our current work assignment. We are searching and waiting to find out what's next for our family. Transitions like this invite self examination. What seeds have I planted or helped nurture that the people coming behind us will enjoy? I can feel the selfish tug of wanting to put my name on things I leave behind so people will know how I contributed! But deeper still I can feel God pulling on me to release everything to Him. Just as a seed has to die and become broken inside of the ground to bear fruit, this process is inviting me to a deep surrender. Perhaps some of the best things I have planted are mainly for other people to enjoy who I may never meet. They may never know who I am.
At first I could physically feel the YANK inside my heart as I entertained this thought. Now I feel a flutter of excitement because I realize that I am releasing my seed into the wind of God's spirit. He can take it wherever He wants and do so much more with it than I ever can or could! This process isn't perfect in me. I still struggle to stay in that place of yieldedness. But as I land there I realize that God has been breaking me to make me willing to let Him blow on me and my family and send us wherever He wishes. While that would have been unthinkable only a short while ago, now we are excited and expectant for what lies ahead. Wherever it is, and for how long or short it may be, I'm sure there's going to be good fruit!
Friday, March 26, 2010
I have a confession to make. I am a spelling/punctuation geek. I cringe whenever I encounter typos in church bulletins, or business signs. When I was in high school, I even attended a punctuation competition. (Yes, they have those!) In this illustrious contest, each entrant was handed a brief, typed essay that was filled with various punctuation and spelling errors. The focus was to find as many errors as possible in 1 hour's time. I wound up coming in second place for my age bracket.
Well, I'm grown up now, and I'm a bit rusty on my punctuation skills, but I still am an avid supporter of correct grammar. Consider the power of the comma. Alone, it's a simple, slender punctuation mark that looks alot like an eyelash. But when it's used properly, it can make even the strongest of men pause for reflection.
Lynn Truss, author of a famous punctuation textbook, humorously illustrates this point with the following two sentences: 1.The chinese panda eats shoots and leaves. 2. The chinese panda eats, shoots, and leaves. While the first sentence describes the panda as an herbivore, the second sentence depicts the panda as a heartless killer! This is all because of a little inserted comma in the second sentence!
Without punctuation it's often easy to misunderstand a message or race through a reading too fast. A comma says, "Hey, pause a minute! There's something here worth looking at a bit closer." It sets a rhythm and slows down the pace.
Sometimes there are punctuation points in life. I recently hit some in my own. I'm a busy wife and mother of four children. It's easy for me to pick up speed in life and keep blazing through one day after another. Then I got word that my mother had ovarian cancer. I felt like the rest of the world kept whirring around me, but my life skidded down to extreme slow motion. It felt like a big period had been added to a section of my life story. Something came to a screeching halt. I asked God all the "why" questions, and walked through several days feeling like a zombie. Then I started to feel a shift.
As my family joined together in faith to believe for my Mom's recovery, I began to see this chapter could still be a good one. Things weren't ending--they were just slowing down. I found a real beauty in that. As I made the trip to see my Mom, we spent a lot of time simply visiting. She laid on the couch as we laughed and shared at a level we hadn't in a long time. Normally we would have felt like we should be doing something. This necessary pause, due to her illness, helped us focus on the most important thing of all--family.
The late comedienne, Gracie Allen said, "Never put a period where God only placed a comma." While my Mom's diagnosis felt like the end of the world, it has turned out to be a meaningful pause for my family. Each day is filled with purpose and very little is taken for granted. The chirping of the birds, the sun streaming through the window, the kind gestures of a concerned neighbor, finding a beautiful wig to wear during chemo treatments--all of these stand out at a time like this. The rhythm of life's dance has changed to a more intimate, slow pace.
On my own, I don't know how much I would learn from life. I think I would just blaze right through it. As I look over my life thus far, I find that most of my lessons come at times like these when a comma is inserted in my life. In this period of reflection and pause, God offers wisdom and insight that help equip me for things down the road. And I realize just how full and blessed my life really is.
Saturday, January 30, 2010
My second oldest daughter, Abby, is getting married in August! Our family couldn't be happier. Her fiance, Jeremy, is a wonderful young man and a great match for her. Recently Abby set out to find her wedding dress. Even though a wedding dress is just a piece of clothing, there are entire magazines, television programs and books written to help you choose just the right one for "the big day." The process can feel overwhelming. But Abby was up for the challenge. She knew the kind of dress she wanted and she went on-line and found that another young woman was selling this very dress (never been worn) for a quarter of the retail price. The dress was two hours away in Portland, so we hopped in the car to go and see the dress and try it on! The dress fit Abby perfectly. Even though she quickly tied her hair up to put the veil on, and still had her jeans on underneath the dress, she looked radiant. But just in case her fiance reads this blog I shouldn't go into anymore detail other than to tell you that the dress is beautiful and white:)
All this wedding stuff has me musing about the rich spiritual symbolism that lies within the subject of marriage itself. In the Bible, the church is called the Bride of Christ. I am not a theologian, but I can tell you that must mean the church is pretty important to God. But church is such a loaded topic today, isn't it? So many wonderful people I meet have either been hurt by the church and aren't going anymore, or else they are bored by much of the traditional ways of "doing church". I've often fallen into the latter category the last few years. In my boredom, my tendency has been to become the Roger Ebert of church services. Each service either gets a thumbs up or a thumbs down depending on my critique. One day when I was mentally filing through my list of criticisms for the church, I believe God gave me a daydream.
In this daydream, I was in a surgery room. On the table was a young woman who needed surgery. I was handed the scalpel and rather than strategically cutting where surgery was needed, I started slashing and cutting away with little regard for the patient.
Right away I knew I'd been busted. By this simple picture God showed me that I had been mercilessly cutting down the church. My sharp critique carried no regard for the health of the church.
It's easy to get lost in criticism for the church, but the bottom line is this. God loves her! In layman's terms, the church is Jesus' girlfriend. He loves to be in her presence. Somehow by seeing the church as a woman in my daydream, it helped me realize in a deeper way that the church isn't an institution--and really, that's the part I'm bored with. It's people. But it's people connected together because of Jesus' sacrificial love and forgiveness.
In Matthew 18:20 it says, "For where two or three are gathered together in My name, there I am in their midst." It's one thing to worship God in our alone time, but something dynamic happens when we gather together with other believers and worship. I think God comes running to meet with us because we start to resemble the Bride!
Sure. There are lots of improvements the church needs to make, but according to the Bible, the church's best days are still ahead. Ephesians 5:27 says that when God comes back for Her, that She will be spotless and perfect. Wow. That's something I want to be a part of!
When I was a kid we sang silly words to the traditional wedding march song. I'm sure you've heard it--"Here comes the bride, big, fat, and wide. . ." Even though that version of the song isn't meant to flatter the bride or the groom, I now see the words of that first line as a statement of faith depicting the Church when she is perfected. Not weak, not sick, but hearty and full of life! I'm not sure exactly how that will happen or what it will look like, but I think I got a small snapshot of it when I saw my daughter in her wedding dress--it will be beautiful and it will be white:)
Wednesday, January 6, 2010
I'm going to be a grandma for the first time! I'm so excited I could wet my pants--which is easier for me to do these days than you might think. My daughter just finished her first trimester and is feeling better and starting to show a cute little "bump" where my precious grandchild happily and safely resides for the time being. Next week she and her husband have an ultrasound to check on the baby's health, but also to see if they can tell whether it's a boy or a girl. That is why I am writing this blog now. I don't know whether this sweet bundle of life is a boy or a girl. I don't know his or her name, I don't know what color of hair he/she will have or whether her/his eyes will be blue or green, but I can tell you I am madly in love with that baby already!
According to pregnancy.com, my precious grandbaby is currently only about 4 inches long--about the size of an apple. His or her eyelids are still fused shut. Weeks ago I saw very early sonograms of the baby--at that point the pictures looked like a pinto bean with two spindly legs dangling. On the very end of each leg were 5 tiny dots--precious toes! My heart leapt at how precious that little pinto bean baby was!
As I watch my beautiful daughter's tummy grow rounder, I am so grateful that I get to see my baby have a baby. My heart is thrilled that the loving marriage she has is literally bearing fruit. I'm excited to see how her child will look. Will he/she have her daddy's curly hair? Will she/he have her mother's blue eyes?
As I pondered the incredible love I already have for my grandchild, my thoughts naturally turned to the depth of God's love for me. He knew me before I was even conceived in my mother's womb! When he looks at my spiritual life and sees the parts of me where I am still growing, he doesn't reject me because of my immaturity! He is delighted at the prospect of the new life within me and He knows what the meager beginnings are going to become inside of me.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that my love for my grandbaby has given me a greater patience with my own shortcomings. Although I am excited for my grandbaby's birth, I am very willing to wait the 9 months because I want a healthy baby. There is right time for things to be born. But I wait in hope, and I know that each new day brings new growth inside my daughter's womb. As I wait for this blessed event--coming the end of May--I am desiring to do some growing of my own. I hope that I can look at each day of my life as an opportunity for maturing and know that the things God has put inside of me will come forth. There's just a timing for them. For these things I am learning to wait with hope.