Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Fetters of a Temporary Identity

A PS to Autumn Musings, October 19.

The beautiful golden Aspen leaves of last week now sport a brown hue with small black flecks. Many released their grasp of the branches and now rest on the ground. The few that remain sway precariously in the autumn breezes; they too will soon let go and flutter down.

The lessons continue.

The first …
The green to gold to brown happens quickly. The golden dress of the mature delicate leaves shines brightly, offers much joy, and then relinquishes their color to the crispy brown state in short order. I know this is part of the life-cycle of an Aspen tree; I know this must happen; I miss the small delicate leaves.

The Aspen tree retains its identity as it grows, matures, and lives through its life-cycle, the life-cycle established by God. As I observe, the outside show is different; but the Aspen tree is still an Aspen tree.

The small golden leaves signal mature leaves. To me their life-cycle speeds by and offers a snapshot with an eternal perspective. If I wish for one part of their life-cycle to stay forever, I deny the Aspen their full glory.

Is this not true for me also? If I fetter myself to a temporary identity and wish that it never end, I deny God and myself the opportunity to live out God’s creation of me.

Another lesson …
I count the months of green, gold, and even the brown leaves of the Aspen – it is about six months each year. Huh, that means the time of dormancy is about six months too. Half and half. Aspens need as much time to renew as they do to be in leaf.

I travel often. My friends hear me say, if I am gone for three days, I usually need three days at home to recoup. Half and half. I too need times of dormancy; often equal to the times of travel.

I need to listen to the lessons of the Aspen.

“You refreshed your weary inheritance.”
Psalm 68:9b

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Quiet or QUIET

The alarm clock rudely barges into my sleep; the five beeps of the coffee pot are a mixed blessing; the barking of the neighbor’s dog and the faithful garbage man seal the deal – I’m awake. My day with all its noises begins.

Romans 10:17, Faith comes by hearing. How quiet do I need to be to hear?
Zephaniah 3:17, He will quiet you by His love. Am I aware of His quieting love?

We live in the country surrounded by tall Ponderosa Pines. Our neighbors are near but the trees obscure their homes – it is private and quiet.   

Many mornings I gather my Bible, journals, mug of coffee and head to our deck - I love being outside in our quiet haven. I arrange everything and settle in – the beginning of my quiet time.

My teaching days return to instruct me. A roomful of eager third graders challenge my communication skills. I quickly learn that a soft voice controls better than a loud one; when I speak quietly their desire to hear quiets their voices.

God speaks quietly too. How important is it to me that I hear the quiet whisper – the still small voice of God? Or are the noises in my life robbing my attention?

I’m learning:
Quietness is a need; God hardwired me for quiet.
Quietness is an art; it does not come naturally.
Quietness is a skill; it is a habit to be developed.
Quietness is a gift; I must un-wrap it to enjoy.

So I sit and stare for a bit enjoying God’s creation. I ponder His words for me and remember. I pray and lay my concerns at His feet a-gain. Sometimes I read a favorite author and all the while, I listen for God. My restlessness transforms into rest – a rest so energizing I want to shout it from the rooftops – but then I interrupt the quiet of my neighbors. The quietness accomplishes its purpose – faith resulting from hearing.

“… and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever.”
Isaiah 32:17b

Saturday, October 22, 2011

A Prayer for my Friends

Dedicated to my mom friends who are hurting.

Father, we come to You tonight as needy women;
          women with tears who are hurting and clinging to your truths.

We come to You tonight as thankful women;
          women who have seen You work in very real ways in the lives of
                   our children.

We come to You tonight as expectant women;
          women who long to see Your loving and kind work in the lives of our
                   children once again.

We come to You tonight as hopeful women;
          Women who love You and know Your character.

We come to You tonight as little children;
          children who need to be reminded a-GAIN of Your care; Your love;
                   Your goodness.

Thank You, Father, for the privilege of coming.      Amen

“God can do anything, you know – far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.”
Ephesians 3:20, The Message

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Autumn Musings

A mere few weeks ago the Aspen are lemon-lime. Autumn teases. Today their golden leaves shimmer quietly in the fall breezes and delight the observers. I love autumn. Sadly, though, soon the leaves are brown, crispy, and die. They lose their grasp on the branches and slither to the ground. The trees stand naked, exposed.

(It’s time; time to dress our home for fall. Perfect. Lodge d├ęcor and fall and winter fit easily. Want to come over for a mug of hot apple cider and a pumpkin bar? But I digress.)

In their nakedness the trees wisely instruct. Just a few days previous, the brilliant colors of the leaves signal their time of dormancy is eminent. As the leaves flutter to the ground, the tree appears dead. But no – the trees are alive; healthy. They are doing what God created trees to do. They wait; they store food; they store vital energy; developmental processes are happening; they prepare for their next season of growth. (Thank you to Grant Wood, Department of Horticulture Science, University of Saskatchewan)

I listen to the lesson of the trees.

I love the light green signaling spring, warmer weather, longer days. I love the deepening green as summer progresses providing shade and a place for nests. I love the lemon-lime as the cooler days of fall approach; I love the brilliant gold a sign of maturity. But the brown, crispy, ready to drop leaves sadden. I love times of new life, growth, maturity; dying is hard. Dying is necessary. The dying leaves are the beginning of dormancy, that developmental process that allows the tree to once again be ready for new life.

Interesting, what dies is what is visible; life being renewed is invisible.

A wise friend once asked my husband, what is dying in you and what is coming alive? He immediately knew the answer. If it wasn’t for the dying, there could be no new life.

The trees instruct; the trees remind – the leaves need to die; dormancy isn’t optional if the tree is to be healthy.

I hear. Some things – those visible things – need  to die; times of dormancy are essential; I anticipate new life.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”
John 12:24

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Muttering or Meditating

Has the gospel taken root in my life?  My son poses the question in his sermon last Sunday. He is exegeting and challenging with the parable of the four soils recorded in Luke 8.

I need his words – especially when he speaks of the thorns! The seed is good; the thorns are not.

Ouch; thorns prick and often draw blood; sometimes they even stick in me. Been there; experienced that.

Jesus teaches that the thorns are the worries (cares) and pleasures of this life. I ponder, where am I bleeding; what are my thorns, my worries, the pleasures I'm hanging on to?  Is the gospel (the good news; the good seed) taking root in my life?

I answer that question with others: What am I listening to? Am I feeding myself Truth or feeding myself feelings and hurts? Am I meditating or muttering? Am I trusting the Truth? Am I experiencing the Truth?

I can only experience the Truth if I trust the Truth; I can only trust the Truth if I am hearing the Truth; I only hear the Truth if I purpose to feed myself (meditate on) the Truth.

I remind myself that the gospel takes root in my life when I experience the Truth – transforming how I think; transforming what I ponder; transforming me.

After Jesus speaks of the thorns, he speaks of the seed that fell into good soil; it grew; it yielded fruit – that which it is designed to do. The difference was not the seed; the difference was the environment into which the seed was sown.

Eugene Peterson in The Message says of this good soil, “But the seed in the good earth – these are the good-hearts who seize the Word and hold on no matter what sticking with it until there’s a harvest.  

God, would you please make me that kind of person – one who seizes the Word and holds on no matter what … amen. Thank you, Jeff, for your words; I needed them!

“Are you listening to this? Really listening?”
Luke 8:8, The Message

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

My Perfect Identity Storm

First the long term forecast; then the next several days; finally, the current weather. It amazes me how accurate these forecasts are; especially when big storms approach. Sometimes all the ingredients are there to create the perfect storm – a frightening reality.

A forecast predicting weather storms parallels the storms of my life – although I don’t often see the pattern in the making quite so clearly – the pattern is there.

I am living in an in-between place; between identities – that is the identity that I voice to others. It is a hard place to be; who am I? I feel severed; I feel alone; I feel unimportant. I retain my badge; I keep my email address; it all seems hollow.

The long term forecast is over three years old; I know it is coming; I live like it is not. As the storm approaches and the signs concur, God moves in with gentle reminders. I hear,
Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs.
Jonah 2:8

I memorized that Scripture years ago. Why? I don’t remember; maybe for this time. Am I clinging to worthless idols? I wonder; I don’t think so – but then why these feelings?

There are other signs; they confirm the storm. I’m aware and unaware. I am unmasked – at least and hopefully, only to me – probably not.

I remember; I review; my only hope to weather the storm.

·        When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. Isaiah 43:2
·        …for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength. Nehemiah 8:10
·        God not only loves you very much; He has His hand on you for something special; something happened in you; your life is echoing the master’s words.
      I Thessalonians 1, The Message
·        And others renew my hope.

The storm arrives. Am I listening to God or am I licking my wounds?

“… you make him glad with the joy of your presence.”
Psalm 21:6b

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Remembering Friendships

My first best friend is Connie. She lives one house away in our very family friendly neighborhood. Connie’s family is Catholic and she gets to wear a uniform to school (I attend public school – no uniforms required). I remember being jealous of that uniform. Crazy, isn’t it?

My next best friend is Marilyn, my college roommate. Marilyn graciously includes me in her family’s Thanksgiving celebration. She warns me though to not take the name of the Lord in vain in her parent’s presence (“oh God” was a fairly common exclamation of mine in those days).

Then there is Liz, Barb, Kathy, Carol, Paula and many others. We raise our children together through their elementary years. We spend a lot of time together. One especially fun memory is coming home from a weekend retreat and stopping for dinner. As we consume our food, we remember, we tell stories, and laugh, and laugh, and laugh.

More recent best friends are my gramma friends: Kay, Louise, Mary and Melissa (the  female half of our couples group). We are doing life together and encouraging one another on the journey.

As I recall these various friends,
I realize that they parallel my journey with God.

Connie’s uniform signifies to me that God is important to her. I could not have voiced this in junior high school but I believe even back then, God is important to me too. Her uniform reflects my heart.

I mark my college years as the time when my friendship with God really begins; I am surrounded by friends who love God, I participate in personal Bible study, I attend retreats to spur on my relationship with God, and I hear God’s voice whisper in my ear for the first time. I remember the place. I remember who else is there. I REMEMBER HIS WORDS! That is HUGE! God speaks into my circumstances in His still small voice! A personal message – kind of like Marilyn warning me about my speech. 

Although the still small voice is my first remembrance of a friendship with God, more often I hear God’s voice through His Word – a certain verse or passage jumps off the page as I read and I know God is speaking to me. Romans 15:5 and 6 is one of those special passages. It is God’s word to me for our marriage. To this day, I write the words of that Scripture on every wedding card I sign.

Often I hear the voice of God through the words of my friends; sometimes as we do Bible study together, sometimes as we pray, sometimes as we take walks or share lunch together, almost always in church. What a wonderful gift friendships are! I appreciate the Truth I hear through the words and see in the lives of my friends. As we celebrate together and as we cry together, God is reflected in them and they challenge me to keep developing my friendship with God.

Thank you my friends – those who I have named and many who were not named.

Make new friends, but keep the old, one is silver and the other gold.
I was a Girl Scout once.  J

“…but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”
Proverbs 18:24

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Precious Thoughts or ...

She said, "I really want to find something that will help me learn how to apply the Bible.  I don't just want to read it; I want to learn how to live it out." 

He said, “I don’t read the Bible; I listen to it.” Did he mean he has the Bible on his iPod? No. He means that the Bible is the voice of God speaking to him.

These two clarify my heart’s desire; as I read my Bible I want to be in tune with God; in tune with His personal words for me. I want to capture the moment; enjoy a conversation with Him. I want to listen to my Bible.

I have read Psalm 139 many, many, many, many, many times. I have been reminded about and am very thankful for God forming my inward parts and knitting me together in my mother’s womb (verse 13); I love that I am fearfully and wonderfully made (verse 14). But last week was different.

I’m not sure why I turn to Psalm 139 on this day – perhaps God is speaking before I even begin to read – because that’s where I went. God continues to speak. In the first three stanzas three similar thoughts jump off the page of my Bible that particular day and I ponder them: you hem me in (verse 5); your right hand shall hold me (verse 10); days that were formed for me (verse 16). 

I’m not sure I like these words; they sound constraining. They might affect my freedom. Do I want to be hemmed in? Do I like someone holding my right hand? Do I want my days planned out for me (sometimes I do). It sounds like I’m a little kid who needs to be held back from running across the busy street.

Two other similar phrases are magnified that morning: Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; (verse 6); and How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! (verse17). I ask myself, do these phrases describe me; do I want them to be my testimony; are these really precious thoughts to me?

Then I remember, I am a little kid; I am God’s child; that is my identity. It’s not many thoughts later that I concede, I need God holding my hand; I need God hemming me in. I’m thankful my days are planned. I pray, God, please help me believe that your thoughts are precious; I know I don’t get it – your knowledge is too wonderful for me. I need to be hemmed in; I need you to hold my right hand; I’m thankful you plan my days; I need your protection. Amen.

As I say amen (so be it) and close my Bible, there is lightness in my heart; there is new energy in my step. I have enjoyed a conversation with a good friend – like Moses in Exodus 33.

“You are my friends …”
John 15:14

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Crust or Canvas

You see a crust; we see a canvas advertises California Pizza Kitchen. I love it. They desire to create pizza that not only pleases the palate but also the eyes. Their everyday work becomes their work of art. What a concept!

Last week my friend and I attend a tea; the setting is lovely; the speaker is too. Her topic is the many forms of beauty. Driving home I ask my friend, What did you hear? Without hesitating she responds, I need to get back to my home. My friend has a lovely home. It is her canvas, her work of art. Her response spurs my thinking. For my friend, homemaking – including housecleaning – is a pleasure; it energizes her; it satisfies her; it’s her desire; it’s her gift to others; it’s the artist in her; it’s a reflection of our creative God in her life; it shows. Gosh, a new thought, creating a beautiful home, or creating a pizza is a work or art, a reflection of God in our lives, a gift to others.

Later I receive an email from her … I was blessed (by the tea)  and continue to think about how I can make our surroundings beautiful...whether with flowers, a nicely set table, music, candles, or just an attitude adjustment!  Beauty takes on many forms, eh? My friend is right.

Although I too enjoy offering a beautiful home for my family and friends, housecleaning will never energize me. My canvas is different.

I love how personal and how creative God is! His beauty and creativity are displayed in so many ways.

“Love of Beauty is taste. The creation of Beauty is Art.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

“For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.”
Romans 1:19, 20