I'm so glad you stopped by! What you will find here are musings from my own personal Bible study, quotes from authors whose work I respect and other random items I come across. I am a Christian woman, the wife of a pastor, and the mother of four teenagers/adults. My deepest desire in life is to live a life that points those around me to the cross of Jesus.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Blessed Beyond What we Deserve!

As I sit here typing, it is almost seven p.m.  No big deal for me normally, being the night owl that I am.  But I'm exhausted at the moment.  Could probably fall asleep if I would let myself - and I won't!  Knowing my luck, I'd fall asleep now, be wide awake at 3 a.m. and get my sleep/awake cycle completely fouled up! 

Why am I exhausted?  So glad you asked!!  Today has been a day of whirlwind activity that had me running from one "event" to the next.  But it was also a day that involved a decision for our church that was a very big deal to my family!

My day started at a little before 7:00 a.m. when I hit the snooze button yet again.  (I'm sure it wasn't the first time since the alarm had been set for 6:30!)  I finally dragged my not-yet-fully-rested self from bed at about a 7:15.  My shopping trip of the night before (a couple hours on the road to Des Moines, four hours in a busy shopping mall and then home again) had caught up with me as I knew it would.  Don't get me wrong - didn't regret going for a moment since I got to spend the evening with some of my FAVORITE young ladies, but working your way through a shopping mall a week before Christmas is tiring work!

There I was, making cheesy potato casserole at 7:15 a.m. for the potluck at church.  The meal would be followed by a business meeting.  Today's meeting was especially important to my family but more on that later!  Out the door by 8:35, heading to First Baptist; Sunday school and church then the potluck.  I ate a quick lunch then ran my two youngest to the Hawkeye Theatre (for the final performance of a show they were in this weekend) then back to the church for the business meeting.

Meeting was out by about 1 then it was home to finish getting food ready for our annual Open House!!  This is something my mom used to do each year when my dad was a Pastor.  It's one of my favorite holiday memories from my high school years!  No agenda, lots of yummy finger foods (veggies, crackers and cheese, cookies, summer sausage, etc.) and tons of fellowship!  Open House from 3 - 5 or thereabouts and then clean-up which I finally completed at about 6:30.  Yep, tired.

Now about that business meeting I mentioned.  Remember, the one with the decision that was a big deal?!  Some background information - Since we moved to Fort Dodge almost two years ago, we've been renting a home that was, at the time we moved here, up for sale.  About a year and half ago, it was taken off the market.  The landlords have let us know that they intend to put the house back on the market sometime after the first of the year.  While we are grateful to have a place to live, it is not a house we would consider purchasing.  A few weeks ago, our church choir director (who is also a realtor) walked with us through a foreclosed home that is on the market.  It needs some cosmetic work and the kitchen needs a fairly complete overhaul.  But when I walked through it, I knew I was already falling in love with the house.  With the blessing of the realtor/choir director, our church treasurer, and the church moderator, my hubby wrote up a proposal that was presented to the Church Council (our leadership board) at their meeting the first Sunday in December.  Basically, it proposed that withdraw money from an account that was created when they sold the parsonage several years ago and had been used to take care of the Pastor's housing allowance ever since.  They would then make a loan to us with which we would purchase the house.  All the questions about contract, contingency, etc. were asked and answered and the Council voted unanimously to take the issue to the church at the business meeting which was held today.  The church family was given an explanation of the proposal, they had a chance to ask questions and then hubby and I were excused so they could discuss and vote.  They voted unanimously to do just what we were asking.  Even as I type that last sentence it seems a little surreal.  We signed the paperwork tonight (lucky we're such good friends with out realtor that he was at the Open House!) and the offer will be made either tomorrow or the day after.  Wow!  There is work to be done before we move in - aka the kitchen! - and absolutely nothing is packed so there's quite a bit of work ahead of me.  But I'm so grateful that the wait on this end of things is over!

But the result of the vote wasn't what REALLY blessed me.  It was the reaction of our church family to the whole situation that touched my heart.  One of the ladies in our church came up to hubby and I after the meeting, hugged us both and was "just thrilled" (her words) for us.  Others expressed their enthusiasm and excitement for us when they stopped at the house this afternoon.  A couple of them talked about the more "permanent" solution of home ownership vs. renting.  One even said she felt like we were making a statement about how long we intended to stay!  Rather than see the proposal as burdensome of even pushy on our part, they saw it as a chance to bless our family and were thrilled to have the chance to do so!  I am so grateful for my brothers and sisters at FBC and only wish I could find words to adequately express how I feel.  This has been just the most recent in a long string of incidents that keep proving to hubby and I over and over again that we are right where we are meant to be!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Seeking the "Good"

Old frustrations are coming back to haunt me.  As often happens, this seeps into every other area of life and leaves me frustrated and a bit snappish as well as making it difficult to find the "good". 

I'm still deeply wishing and praying for a full-time job so that the stress of working two part-time jobs will be lessened.  And in all honestly, if one of the two part-time employers were to offer a full-time position, I would gladly jump at the chance.  Mind you, this is not a "if either one offered" attitude.  Of the two, there is exactly one I desire to continue my employment with.  The money from the other is a nice addition to the family finances but that is really the only good thing I can say about it. 

I'm going to be honest - I've been wounded.  No music teacher (or art teacher or p.e. teacher) wants to hear that they are simply there to provide planning time for the "real" teachers.  I chose the music education as my major in college because I believe it has been instrumental in teaching certain lessons and bringing a sense of beauty into my life.  Being denigrated to nothing more than a glorified baby-sitter is disheartening.

The other employer . . . let's just say that they've made huge strides (at least in my experience) in an effort to really include the part-time staff in the life of the institution (and there are LOTS of part-time staff!).  If I got a call tomorrow offering full-time for next semester, I wouldn't have to think for longer than a second before offering an enthusiastic "yes".

But I have no reason to believe that such an offer is coming.  So I seek to find the good in a job where my education and experience are not as highly valued as I'd like and I've put in numerous unpaid after school hours to get the Christmas program ready without so much as a thank you. 

Looking for the good in that situation- the job is very close to home so I'm not using much gas (in warmer weather I can even walk!) and it is some extra money in the paycheck.  Well, it's not much but it's a start.

Looking for the good in a more general fashion?  That's a little easier - I have the opportunity to work with the Spring musical at Iowa Central Community College in 2012, an opportunity due in large part to my other theatrical involvements in the community and my part-time employment as an adjunct professor.   And I will once again get the chance to work with the students at FDSH on their Spring musical!  My hubby is filling our home with beautiful, handmade pieces - dining room table and chairs, bookshelves for his daughters, gifts for the kids, even a trivet or two - as well as being "commissioned" to do some pieces by friends of the family!  Is it weird that I love seeing the joy that this brings him?!

I will choose to focus on these things while I wait for God to provide.  And I still believe he will.  I'm just getting a little impatient to see how!

Wednesday, December 07, 2011


My hubby, my two eldest and I were a little late getting to bed last night.  Can't speak for the other three, but I'm really not the least bit tired!  I think that's because I was so encouraged by the conversation that kept us all up so late.

It all began with a question from my 18 year old - Is it truly possible for a married woman to be a pastor and still be a submissive wife who responds Biblically to her husband's leadership in the home?  Now, I know that there are those with strong opinion's on both sides of the issue of women in the pulpit.  That's not really what the discussion was about.  I listened to my two oldest discuss this issue with some passion.  The whole issue of submission was discussed with some measure of intensity.

We didn't stumble across some incredible insight that tied the whole issue up into a neat, easily explained package.  I'm fairly certain it's an issue that the two of them will still wrestle with from time to time.  But they are wrestling.  They are questioning.  They are working to make sure that the faith they possess is truly theirs, and not just a series of cliches and clever phrases they've heard and memorized.  We didn't all agree with each other.  We didn't even really solve anything.  But I don't think that was ever possible.  

I loved hearing my girls discuss the issue so passionately.  I loved discussing the issue with them, not as "my little girls" but as women.  In Philippians 2:12 & 13 we read - "Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed - not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence - continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose."  So I cherish these types of conversations with my children.  Yes, they will occasionally take a stance that disagrees with mine or their father's.  But what matters most to me is that they are thinking and talking and asking questions.  For that, any amount of sleep lost is worth it!


Sunday, December 04, 2011

Feeling Reflective

Maybe it's because of the season we are in.  Maybe it's because I've been sick for most of the week so I'm emotionally already a little worked up.  Or maybe it's just because.  

Sang in the Sonshine Singers Christmas concert tonight.  Great music, great people . . . just wish I'd felt better!  But at least my voice held out till the last note was sung.  Have nothing left, but I'm okay with that!  One of the biggest treats of the whole experience was the two gentlemen I stood between.  They are both basses and anyone who knows me well will tell you that I LOVE hearing a bass sing!  I think it might have something to do with the fact that my daddy is a bass!!  Just standing between these two gentlemen was a special treat for me!  I have had the chance, in my teen years especially, to sing a duet or two with my dad so standing between Z and Marty tonight took me back to those cherished experiences.  Once again, I'm feeling very grateful for the love of music that was nurtured in me and encouraged by my parents!

There's a song we did that has stuck with me and I thought I'd share some of the lyrics here:

How is it, Lord, we can feel so alone

When we're standing in the pressing crowd?

And why is it, Lord, we feel overwhelmed

By the sights and sounds all around?

Take us back to the place where we knew your grace;

Help us once again to see

That the manger holds the answer:

Jesus came to bring us peace.

Later, in the second verse:

O lead us, Lord, to the stable again

Give us respite from the pressing crowd

A moment in time when we're undisturbed 

By the sights and sounds all around.

Take us back to the place where we knew your grace;

Help us once again to see

That the manger holds the answer:

Jesus came to bring us peace.

I can only speak for myself, but I know that peace is definitely something I could use a dose of. I'm not speaking of an end to armed conflict on a national level.  I'm talking about the concept in Philippians 4:7 - "And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."  It is my wish for all those I come into contact with, whether personally or "virtually",  that they will find at least a moment of peace in an otherwise hectic season.

Monday, November 28, 2011


I'm really struggling to keep my attitude in check.   Have been for the last couple of days.  December is right around the corner and I stopped to think about all of the demands on my schedule during that month.  It looks a little crazy - college finals to administer and final grades to turn in; college band/choir concert to attend where my second born will be performing (and I will have the privilege of sitting in with the concert band!); Senior High concert to attend so I can see my two youngest share their talents; a concert with a community-wide ensemble I'm a part of; my two youngest are in a Christmas play at a local theater; I have an elementary program to direct less than a week before Christmas; hubby and I are hosting an open house for our church family. Whew!!  If you take into consideration that at least four of those events will require at least two after school or evening rehearsals, the schedule gets even nuttier!  I love music performances at Christmas - really, I do!

But my attitude has been a battle nevertheless.  At least one of those items I listed above is an unpleasant obligation.  I won't mention which one specifically but it is attached to one of my jobs.  Dealing with some of the last minute details and extra rehearsals of that particular item has sent me into a bit of a funk and I'm fighting to get out but not finding much success just yet.  Not ready to give up the fight - just wish I was making more progress in a positive direction.

And of course the enemy latches onto my "funk" and takes it for a joy ride, reminding me of the frustration of my job situation and the irritations I must deal with in at least one circumstance.  Not exactly the types of thoughts one wants to be having on the heels of a relaxing Thanksgiving weekend!!  So I continue to fight to "take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:5).  Easier said than done but I'm not giving up!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thanksgiving and Nostalgia

Hope you all enjoyed a wonderful Thanksgiving, full of moments to express gratitude and chances to relax and enjoy family!  Some of you may have even been able to get some Christmas shopping done this weekend, courtesy of the sales that always show up Thanksgiving weekend.

Much of my Thanksgiving weekend was spent reliving memories of Thanksgivings past.

A little bit of background - we lost my Grandma Redfield (my mom's mom) this September.  She was my last surviving grandparent and her house was the scene of numerous family holiday get-togethers.  Her health had been failing for some time so her passing wasn't entirely unexpected; doesn't make me miss her any less and this was especially pronounced over the holiday weekend.

Earlier this year, my mom and her brother began sorting through Grandma's things and giving much of it away to family for the purpose of renting out her house and providing funds to help provide for her care (she was living in a nursing home).  As a part of this process, my sisters, cousins, and I were given chances to request certain items from the house that we would like to have.  Thankfully, there didn't seem to be any conflict over any of the requests - Praise God for small favors! - and one of the things I received was a set of dishes.  No big deal, right?  You set the table with them and you eat off of them.  But these dishes are so much more than that to me.

Grandma purchased these dishes from a neighbor.  This neighbor and her husband had actually bought the farmhouse my Grandparents lived in for quite some time.  When Grandpa stopped farming, they moved to the house my uncle had built right next door.  The new residents of the farmhouse turned the old milk barn into a cute little store that sold stoneware dish sets.  Grandma took me over there with her one day and asked me to help her pick out a set.  I happily agreed and she bought a set of dinner plates.  Over time she added some pitchers, bowls, dessert plates, a meat platter, serving dishes . . . you get the idea!  She didn't use those dishes all the time but they definitely came out at the holidays.  Every time I saw that familiar pattern on the table at Thanksgiving or Christmas I felt just a little bit special.  After all, I had helped pick out those dishes and they were considered special enough to be used on special occasions!  Do you understand now why I requested those dishes when I was given the opportunity to do so?!

And can you guess which dishes graced my table this Thanksgiving?  When it came time to clean up from the meal I shooed the entire family away and told them I would handle the clean up myself (with the one exception of allowing hubby to help put away the leftovers!).  I needed some time alone with the memories.  As I carefully washed each of those precious pieces, I flashed back to a kitchen crowded with Grandma, my mom, my aunt and all six of the cousins as we were all called upon, after each holiday meal, to help clear the table, take care of leftovers and see that the dishes got washed, dried, and put away.  As a teenager, that kitchen was uncomfortably crowded and I really didn't want to spend my holiday doing dishes.  Now I would give anything for one more chance to stand in a kitchen with those women and share the responsibility of cleaning up as well as share the stories of our lives.

As an extra-added little touch of nostalgia, I found out on Thanksgiving that my mom and dad had headed to Ludington, MI - about four hours from where they live in Battle Creek - because my aunt and uncle were going to be celebrating Thanksgiving at their oldest daughter's home.  It was the first time in 12 years that my mom got to spend a holiday with her brother!!

My extended family was much on my mind this weekend.  My sisters, cousins, and I have moved to various places across the country - Michigan, Iowa, Texas, and Pennsylvania to be specific!  - so face to face get-togethers are rare.  But I've been able to keep track of what's going on with all of them at least a little bit and our chance to chat at Grandma's funeral was precious to me.  I love hearing what is going on in their lives and love them all dearly.  What I wouldn't give to do just one more puzzle with my aunt, my cousins, my mom and my sisters.  It was a holiday tradition that we rarely missed.  We almost always finished the puzzle but that wasn't the really important part.  It was always the time that we "women" caught up with each other. When we were kids, my cousins and I would use the great desk Grandma and Grandpa had to play "office".  We always made the two youngest be the receptionists.  We told them it was their job to answer the phone and that we would let them know when it rang.  It never did but it took the two of them quite some time to figure out that we were tricking them!

I'm proud of the heritage I've been given by my parents and grandparents.  Are they perfect?  No.  Which basically makes them normal!  But I've learned about the importance of being involved in my community, the value of investing in young people and my local church and so many other things.  My grandparents were a small town couple who raised two kids, had six grand-daughters and, at current count, have 13 great-grandchildren.  They never made headlines or changed the world.  But they made sure that their extended family had a place to gather and stay in touch.  They opened their hearts (and their home!) to their family, their community, and their church and I'm a better person for having known them so well.

Monday, October 24, 2011

No Easy Answers

It would be nice if I could narrow my thoughts down to a few pithy phrases that could be expounded on and spread over several days.  That would make it so much easier to get something on this blog daily!  Truth is, what I'm walking through right now is not easily watered down into a few choice phrases that are cleverly worded, easily remembered, and oft-quoted. 

My last entry talked about the power of prayer - the ability to, whenever I choose, enter the very throne room of God and have his attention.  In that entry I mentioned that I was going to practice just "being" in the presence of God.  True to my statement, I've done just that.  Rather than allowing me to get a grip on the concept of being in God's presence, it simply continues to overwhelm me.  The more time I spend just "being" the more aware I am of the honor I have been given and the more reverent my attitude when I come to pray.

So, there is nothing profound or new for me to say here.  I'm simply continuing to seek a better understanding of prayer - the power I have access to, the various mentions of prayer in scripture and the instructions or lessons contained therein; guess you could say I'm still "in the process."  And I have a feeling this is not going to be quick!

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Taking power for granted

"The LORD said to Moses: “Tell your brother Aaron that he is not to come whenever he chooses into the Most Holy Place behind the curtain in front of the atonement cover on the ark, or else he will die. For I will appear in the cloud over the atonement cover."
Leviticus 16:2

The emphasis in the above verse is mine.  That warning seems strong.  Especially to someone like me who is living after the New Covenant.  Aaron - and the High Priests of Israel that came after him - were allowed only one visit each year to the most holy place.  In the rest of Leviticus 16 you can read the painstaking ritual that had to be followed for Aaron to safely enter and exit the most holy place.  If any of those steps was skipped or short-changed the high priest would not survive the experience.  The most holy place was filled with the presence of God.  The access was limited to one man, once a year.

Heady stuff right?  I admire Aaron's willingness to even try and enter the most holy place.  I don't know that I could have done it.  Or watched a husband or son try it!!!

Then I read Hebrews 4:14-15:
"Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need."

Wait a minute.  I am being told to approach God's throne confidently.  And I don't see a limit on when or how often.  If I'm reading these verse correctly - and I believe that I am - the gift of Calvary changed the requirements for entering God's presence and the frequency with which it can occur.  I can confidently enter God's presence.  No ritual sacrifices or bathing as described in Leviticus 16.  No offerings or special garments.  Just enter.  

Do I even get what that means?!  When I pray I have immediate access to God's throne!!  Not even the High Priest of God's chosen people had that kind of access prior to Calvary.  And what do I do with that access?  What kind of attitude do I bring with me into the presence of God?  I'd rather not answer that question. 

Oh, let's be honest.  I walk into the presence of God wanting help managing my time, solutions for problems, intervention for friends who are stressed . . . not that those aren't worthwhile things to pray for.  It just ends up sounding like a shopping list.  But do I REALLY get that I am in the presence of Almighty God?!  That he listens and wants to move in my life?!  Truth be told, I don't think so.  

So now what?  Where do I go from this realization?  I'm going to spend much more time simply "being" in the presence of God and not so much time talking!  I want to enter every time of prayer very mindful of the privilege that it is to enter the presence of my King.  I wonder if my prayer habits will change?  What do you think?

Friday, September 23, 2011

If it weren't for my past . . .

I am currently back in Michigan, along with my family, for my Grandmother's funeral.  Her passing was not entirely unexpected since her health has been slowly failing for some time now.  It doesn't make me miss her any less, but I've gone through the pain of unexpected loss when my Grandfather died and I'm not reeling as badly this time around.

My kids begged to go back to the small town restaurant my grandparents used to take us to when we would return to my hometown for a visit.  We managed to catch dinner there before the visitation at the funeral home tonight.  My kids, ranging in age from 20 - 15 have spent quite a bit of time playing "Do you remember . . ." and sharing memories from hanging out with their Great-Grandparents and Grandparents.  My sisters and I have also done a bit of reminiscing about our years in our hometown.  We talked about friends, some of whom we've renewed contact with via things like Facebook, and old boyfriends.  The memories moved from there to family activities to church and school events.  

I had a moment of clarity that could possibly be called an epiphany.  Every moment, choice, and experience - whether good or bad - has made me the person I am today and led to where I am in life.  The positive parts of my character and my relationships have been crafted by the variety of experiences I had growing up in a small Michigan town.    Do I ever have the urge to play "What if " or "I wonder if"?  Sure.  Don't we all have those moments when we think about what used to be?  Whatever was, I am who I am today because of my past and I am where I am - married to a Pastor, mother of four children, etc. - because of the paths I followed in my past.

It is my hope and prayer that I have learned from my mistakes enough not to repeat them, that I have learned from my successes and repeat them often, that my failed relationships taught me something about how to love better and more effectively and that I remember to be grateful for all of it.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Glitz and Tinsel

When one teaches K-8 general music part-time at a small Christian school, one finds herself teaching Christmas songs in September in order to have the little darlings ready for the Christmas program come December!  After all, I only have my students once a week for 45 minutes! That means 15 weeks from the beginning of the school year until the program (allowing for days off like Thanksgiving weekend!).   This year, I took on a rather ambitious project that will involve some "outside of school" rehearsal time as well.  Several years ago, the students at this particular school  performed a musical called "Miracle on Main Street" written by Celeste Clydesdale.  Since the budget is tight and it's been long enough that the former cast has moved on to high school or college, I decided to pull it back out and do it again this year.

It's everything you would expect from a Christmas musical for kids - fun songs in varying styles, fairly simple dialogue, an obvious plot line.  Don't get me wrong - you can't write musically challenging shows with complicated plots if you want children to perform in them.  It would just frustrate them!  I only state that it was everything I expected to find in a Children's Christmas musical.  But I have found some profound, challenging thoughts and statements in the lyrics.  I only hope I can get at least some of what I've learned across to my students.

The first moment came when I was going over a song entitled "Glitz and Tinsel" in preparation for teaching it to my students.  The song is talking about those who seem to be in the Christmas spirit on the outside - lots of festive decorations, cute Christmas sweaters and ties, lots of parties, etc. - but completely miss the fact that Christmas is the celebration of Christ's birth. The lyrics are a bit challenging.  (The toughest ones are boldfaced.)

If it's only glitz and tinsel it's a meaningless display.
It's like a present with no gift inside.
It's like a Christmas card no one cared to sign.
I'm sure I've done it from time to time;
I've polished up the surface and not what's deep inside.

Ouch!  As an adult and a teacher, it's tough for me to admit that I've been that shallow.  But if I have an hope of impacting my students - or my own children! - I have to be carefully honest about my own struggles to grow spiritually.  I'm not saying I should hand out all the gory details of every time I've ever given in to temptation.  But I can at least be honest enough with my students to admit that there are times I get hung up on the trappings of Christmas and forget to take care of "what's deep inside".  Maybe then we can work together to keep our focus where it needs to be this year - on the baby in a manger, born in the shadow of a cross.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Counting the Cost

"The loss of transcendence has left in its wake the flotsam of distrustful, cynical Christians, angry at a capricious God, and the jetsam of smug bibliolatrists who claim to know precisely what God is thinking and exactly what he plans to do."  (Ruthless Trust, page 81)

Have you ever been be driven to your knees in breathless awe of God's transcendence?  Not sure I ever have.  I know that I have heard many sermons and Sunday School lessons on God's justice, the growth of the early church, the Great Commission, the stories in the Old Testament . . . you get the idea!  But my memories of sermons or Sunday School lessons which focused on the fact that God is so beyond me as to be undefinable and uncontainable?!  I have very few (if any) which leads me to believe that perhaps there has not been as much attention paid to this issue as there should have been.

According to dictionary.com, capricious is defined as "subject to, led by, or indicative of caprice or whim; erratic".  I think I can safely say that God is not capricious.  He does not manipulate our lives to suit his whims.  We are not merely here to provide some measure of amusement for him.  His actions are certainly not erratic.  We may not always understand why things happen the way they do, but that doesn't mean that God is erratic.  The simple fact is God does not owe us an answer for why he allows certain things to happen in our lives.  He may occasionally allow us to see his purpose but he is not obligated to do so.

As for those who try to claim that they have a good handle on what God expects of us, that is arrogance at best and a blatant flouting of scripture at it's worst.  In Isaiah 55:8-9 we read, " 'For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,' declares the LORD.  'As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.' " If God's thoughts and ways are higher than man's, why on earth would ANYONE assume that they can explain God?!

So how do we avoid the arrogance of assuming we fully understand God or the frustration that comes from believing him to be erratic?  We seek a better understanding of His word.  We dwell on verses like the one mentioned above and allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by the "bigness" of God.  It's time to allow ourselves to dwell on exactly what scripture tells us of God's character and what the gift of Calvary really entails and then allow all of that to drive us to our knees. 

I've been asking God to blow my mind with a better understanding of just how far beyond me he really is.  I want to be blown away by how very poor my understanding of him is and will be this side of glory.  He is my Abba and I am so grateful for the intimacy that term implies.  But he is also Yahweh and I want to function in an awareness of just what the name means, just how beyond me he is.  It's not that I seek to think that I am too far beneath God to matter; instead, I seek to understand how far above me he is and be grateful that he still seeks to have a relationship with me!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Moralism and Legalism

In my copy of Ruthless Trust the chapter entitled "Infinite and Intimate" is full of highlighted passages. The entire book was the beginning of a major paradigm shift for me and this particular chapter was quite possibly the most powerful part of that motivation.  The following passage stopped me short and I re-read it multiple times:

"Moralism and its stepchild, legalism, pervert the character of the Christian life.  By the time young people enter college, they have often abandoned God, church, and religion.  If they persevere in religious practices, their need to appease an arbitrary God turns Sunday worship into a supersititous insurance policy designed to protect the believer against God's whims."

Manning purports that the church's failure to dwell on God's transcendence has resulted in a rather self-absorbed focus on how we are behaving and how we are "feeling".  We worry about how happy we are, how fulfilled we are and we relegate God to the role of divine regulations overseer.  Children in the church are taught that God cares about their external behaviors - everything from whether or not they wash their hands eating to sexual purity.  While it's true that our behavior can be an outward expression of what is going on in our hearts, it is also true that people can maintain a certain level of behavior simply as a way of pleasing others.

You probably could have called me a "goody-two-shoes" during my school years.  I never got into much trouble mostly because I lived in a very small town and my father was the pastor of the only church within the village limits.  I should probably also mention that my grandmother was the secretary to the Superintendent of the school district.  Everyone knew who I was and who I was related to so any bad behavior on my part would have gotten home before I did.  My conduct was acceptable.  My motivation was anything but.  I wasn't doing the "right thing" because I was motivated by the overwhelming realization of God's love and glory - I simply wanted to keep myself from getting grounded!! 

When we ignore God's glory, his transcendence, what then motivates our actions?  An awareness of how undeserving we are of God's love combined with an awareness of just how great that love is will in turn motivate us to obey - to do the "right thing" - because we want to, in some small way, return the love we've been shown.  We stop seeing God as a cranky being just waiting to nail us for screwing up and begin to see that he is passionately pursuing us as a bridegroom who cannot wait for the day when he claims his bride!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Paradox of Infinite and Intimate

Many people today - Jesus followers included - tend to view God as loving, caring father figure.  They say he is completely loving and longs to give us good things.  All of that is true.  We only need to look at passages like Matthew 7:11 which reads - "If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!"   And then there is John 15:15 - "I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you."  In other words, scripture backs up the attitude that God is loving and personal

But we fall short if that is where our attempt to understand the character of God comes to an end.  This same loving God is also completely "other".  He is the same God who refused to let Moses actually see him.  God wasn't being mean.  He just knows that we, in our limited, finite form, cannot handle seeing God face to face.  I don't mean it would be difficult for us - I mean it would kill us!  In Exodus 33, Moses asks God to show himself.  God agrees to walk by and let Moses see his glory after he has passed.  God's reason for this is clearly stated in verse 20 - "But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.”  I don't believe there is anything else in all of creation that would kill you with simply a glance.

If we limit our "understanding" of God to those characteristics that we find comforting and loving, we cheat ourselves and prevent ourselves from truly drawing close to him.  As Manning states in Ruthless Trust, "We pay a price for steering clear of transcendence and unknowability.  The loss of a sense of transcendence among believers has caused incalculable harm to Christian spirituality and to the interior life of individual Christians."  That's a strong statement, I realize, and that's one of the reasons it caught my attention when I first read the book.  But I believe he is right.  When we ignore God's transcendence, we cheat ourselves.  We set ourselves up to worry that there may be some situations he cannot handle.  We fail to feel a sense of awe that the transcendent God is truly interested in us.  

The challenge for any believe is to see God as both personal - invested in the lives of those who love him - and transcendent - holier than anything we can possibly fathom this side of glory!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


I learned a new word while reading Brennan Manning's Ruthless Trust.  That word is "Kabod".  It's the Hebrew word in Scripture that is often translated as "glory" and is used in reference to God.  As sometimes happens in scripture, we fail to catch the full grasp of what Kabod actually means; translation has lost some of the subtleties of it's different uses.  It has been used in scripture to represent something of great importance, a description of majesty, and a representation of rank. It eventually came to be associated with the glory of God appearing as a light so brilliant that God himself could not be seen for it's glow.  Victor Hugo once described God as "a divine and terrible radiance."  Many Bible scholars, Manning included, seem to think that this is a fairly accurate way to describe the response that a serious meditation of Kabod Yahweh is meant to bring out in us. 

When trying to get his reader to understand that God is both personal and majestic - or as the title of Chapter 6 in the book says, "Infinite and Intimate" - he has this to say:

"Kabod is not a safe topic.  It induces a feeling of terror before the Infinite and exposes as sham our empty religious talk and pointless activity, our idle curiosity and ludicrous pretensions of importance, our frantic busyness.  The awareness that the eternal transcendent God of Jesus Christ is our absolute future gives us the shakes."

I've had many moments in my life when God has been the source of comfort I have so desperately needed.  He has been my loving Abba who has allowed me to, in a metaphorical sense, climb up in his lap and tearfully point out all the bumps and bruises that life has handed me.  But I'm not really comfortable with thinking about his "divine terrible radiance."  Focusing on the transcendence of God is intimidating at best and terrifying at worst!  

But there is this:  if my Abba, the King above all Kings and the Lord above all Lords, is the same God whose glory is so beyond what I can conceive, how much  more of a privilege is it to call him Abba and have the privilege of coming into his presence whenever and wherever?!  

I've said it before and I'll state it again here.  As frightening as it can be to spend large amounts of thinking about Kabod, thinking about God's transcendence, I do not want to serve a God who merely makes me comfortable.  I do not want to serve a God that I can explain and understand.  If I, a flawed human limited by my finite existence, can fully explain and understand God, then how great can he really be?!  But if his character and Kabod are so far beyond me as to leave me a little shaken, then he is truly God and there is no other.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

An Act of the Will

Everyone faces heart-wrenching difficulty at one point in their lives.  For most of the human race, difficulties come more than just once.  How do we cope?  When we don't see any answers or reason, how do we keep going?  Difficult situations hurt and they can even make us ask God "Why?!"  He doesn't have to give us an answer to that question.  Sometimes he does.  Sometimes he does not.  And both responses are good because he cannot be anything BUT good.

But that doesn't answer the question of how we keep going.  In his book, Ruthless Trust, Brennan Manning touches on the very human reaction to painful times in the following quote:  "Harriet Beecher Stowe understood the depths of the human struggle when she wrote these words to a heart broken friend:  'When the heart-strings are suddenly cut, it is, I believe, a physical impossibility to feel faith or resignation, there is a revolt of the instinctive and animal system, and though we may submit to God, it is rather by constant painful effort than sweet attraction.'"

That's a side of trust that many of us don't like to think about much less discuss.  But we've all been there.  Those dark moments when we cling to God out of a desperate need to cling to something.  We are raw and hurting and really wish it all made sense.  When we cannot do anything else we make the "painful effort" Stowe referred to and we trust out of sheer need.

And I sincerely believe this is absolutely okay with our Abba.  I don't believe that it brings God pleasure to watch us walk through dark times.  Sometimes they are things he has allowed to happen because he needs to  work on us, to polish off some rough edges.  Sometimes they are difficulties that our own choices brought down on us and letting us suffer the consequences can be the most effective teacher.  And sometimes we are simply hurt by the fact that we live in a fallen world.  Whatever the cause, I believe that Abba hurts with us, cries with us, and definitely walks with us through all of it.  If my children are hurting and suffering and they throw themselves at me all tears and sniffles and anxious thoughts, I'm going to throw my arms around them and hold on until they don't need me to hold on anymore.  Can you imagine our PERFECT Heavenly Father doing anything less?!

So the next time the clouds gather and the pain sets in, don't feel obligated to slap on a happy face and pretend like everything's good; don't feel the need to fake having all the answers.  Throw yourselves into the arms of the Father and let it all out - the pain, the fear, the frustration, the pain.  Make the painful effort to choose trust and eventually the trust will become sweet once again.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Free to be Grateful!

I've often heard - and I believe that scripture REPEATEDLY backs it up - that one of the many things Jesus did during his earthly ministry was give us a glimpse of who God is.  In Jesus' compassion for the lost, we saw the heart of God.  In the frustration Jesus' displayed with the money changers in the temple, we saw God's justice.  You get the idea!

At the heart of trust - as I am continuing to learn!  - is the acceptance of that revelation of Jesus that lets me see at least a glimpse of the character of God.  As Brennan Manning states "Uncontaminated trust in the revelation of Jesus allows us to breath more freely, to dance more joyfully, and to sing more gratefully about the gift of salvation."

"Uncontaminated trust" - that's an interesting description, don't you think?!  One might say that trust is, as it's very core, free of contamination.  But let's be honest.  Circumstances can serve to contaminate our trust can't they?  A job lay-off, a serious illness, a broken heart - all of these can make us turn to God with an attitude of "Are you paying attention?!  Seriously?!"  I would say that when life throws those curveballs at us, our trust will, for at least a moment get "contaminated".

Have you been there?  Or are you, like me, living right now in a set of circumstances that is trying VERY HARD to contaminate your trust?  Then let's try something together, okay?  Close your eyes for a moment.  Take a few slow breaths.  Just concentrate on the rise and fall of your breathing.  Calmed down yet?  Good.  Now I want you to think about all of the things that Scripture says about Jesus - what he said and did - and what those things tell us about the character of our Abba.

Jesus was called a drunkard and glutton by the religious leaders because he hung out with the "undesirables."  Guess that means that nobody is "beneath" God.  When a group of angry, pious Jews brought a woman to Jesus because she had committed a crime that was punishable by stoning, he told those who had never done wrong to throw the first stone.  When everyone else walked away, Jesus told her to "go and sin no more."  Guess that says volumes about Abba's willingness to offer forgiveness and a second (third, fourth . . . )chance.    Jesus scolded his disciples when they tried to keep some kids away from Jesus.  No such thing as "the wrong age" for God.  Jesus had both men and women involved in his ministry and ministered to both Jews and Gentiles so gender and race don't matter.

But what about people and their suffering?  Jesus wept at the death of a friend.  He felt even the smallest touch on his garment when it was motivated by suffering laced with a touch of hope.  He noticed people.  All kinds of people. And when he knew the end was near, he stood on a hill overlooking Jerusalem and wept for those who were too blind and deaf to understand what he was about to do and why.

I can't tell you why bad things happen.  I cannot even begin to guess what the purpose of suffering is.  But I can tell you this - when you weep in frustration, Abba is there to throw his arms around and simply let you weep for a moment.  When you ask why, he doesn't get angry.  He may not give you the answer but he will give you the energy and the courage to take one more step.

Then it happens.  In the midst of the difficulty, with no clear answers yet in sight, it will happen.  You will find a moment of calm.  And then a moment of peace.  Not peace with difficult circumstances but peace with the one who will give you the endurance needed to take one more step.  Friend, do not let anyone tell you that you must be happy in the midst of painful circumstances.  And don't let them fool you that you will someday know why you had to suffer a particular pain.  God doesn't owe us an explanation and there are times he won't "tell us" why certain things happened.  But I am his, he loves me, and his kingdom will be expanded through my "dark times" and that alone is reason to trust.  From there, it's a simply matter of drawing close to him so he can undo the damage that my circumstances have done to the trust I have in him.  Once my trust has been officially "uncontaminated" again, then I can once again "sing more gratefully about the gift of salvation."

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Have you ever felt like you just don't fit in? Maybe it was at school or - tragically - in your own family? Here's the tough question - ever felt like you just don't fit in with the family of God? Ever wondered if Calvary was really intended for you? I've been there. And without going to too much lengthy explanation, I'm coming through that phase into a place where I am very secure in "whose" I am. Which leads to yet another "Ruthless Trust" quote that practically leapt off the page at me!

In this particular excerpt, Manning begins by quoting another Godly writer -

"Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar states, ' We need only to know who and what we really are to break into spontaneous praise and thanksgiving." Scarred and screwed-up though we are, an appreciation of our greatness as Abba's beloved child, vibrantly alive in Christ Jesus, overcomes the sleazy sense of our seedy self and elicits the grateful exclamation, 'I thank you, Lord, for the wonder of myself' (Psalm 139:14)."

You know what? I think both Manning and von Balthasar are correct. If I spend even just a few moments focused on how much my Abba loves me, how much he wants to pour himself into me, there really is no other choice but gratitude!! Oh, how precious to me is the fact that he doesn't see the messes I've made. He chooses to see the grand design he has placed in me and delights in those moments when I take even just a step or two in the right direction!

Just thinking about how much he loves me, leads me to one of my favorite verses in Scripture, Zephaniah 3:17 - "The Lord your God is with you; He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing." God is absolutely holy, he is absolutely just and he is absolutely crazy about me! How can I not humbly express my thanks for his favor?!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Gratitude and Trust -

In Manning's book, Ruthless Trust, we read "The foremost quality of a trusting disciple is gratefulness. Gratitude arises from the lived perception, evaluation, and acceptance of all of life as grace - as an undeserved and unearned gift from the Father's hand."

Like most of the quotes I'll be sharing, I read and re-read this portion. I had never seen gratitude and trust as being so closely linked but the more I thought about it, the more sense it made. How can I trust someone that I do not know will always be there? And what better way to make sure that I remember what God can and will do for me than by being careful to be grateful?!

This past weekend, I attended the Women's Conference for the American Baptist churches in our region. In a discussion group time we were asked to talk about times that we had seen God's grace evidenced in our life. Grace was defined, for our purposes in this exercise, as "getting something we didn't deserve". As our group talked, it struck me that most (if not all) of what we were mentioning were everyday things - family, jobs, safety while commuting, kids who are turning out pretty well. I was a little ashamed at the fact that I rarely - if ever - thank God for any of it. At the very least, I'm not consistent in expressing how grateful I am.

I came home from the conference, determined to make sure that I see God's grace in those "everyday" moments. Like laughing with my family at the dinner table. Or sharing some SERIOUS belly laughs with my girls while I baked cupcakes that they were intent on frosting without my help. And now it's listening to them as they are in the living room watching "Meet the Robinson's and quoting their favorite lines (it's a family past-time to quote and/or sing along with our favorite movies!). I love hearing them enjoy one another's company and I still love to hear my kids laugh. It's one of the daily graces and I am ever so grateful for.

What about you? Are you ready to demonstrate your trust in Abba by looking for things each day that you can thank him for? It won't always be easy, I know, but I'm going to try. And if He keeps me doing it faithfully, guess that's one more display of his grace I should be thankful for, right?!

Saturday, July 09, 2011

From "Ruthless Trust" -

"Uncompromising trust in the love of God inspires us to thank God for the spiritual darkness that envelops us, for the loss of income, for the nagging arthritis that is so painful, and to pray from the heart, 'Abba, into your hands I entrust my body, mind and spirit and this entire day - morning, afternoon, evening, and night. Whatever you want of me, I want of me, falling into you and trusting in you in the midst of my life. Into your heart I entrust my heart, feeble, distracted, insecure, uncertain. Abba, unto you I abandon myself in Jesus our Lord. Amen.'"

Can I tell you a secret? In my most private prayer times, I pretty much exclusively refer to my heavenly father as "Abba". This is a habit I started back in my college days, right around the time that I learned what that particular word means. Essentially, it's the equivalent of "Daddy"; that familiar term children use for the man who will always have the answers and make things better (or so small children think). The term is so valuable to me that I wear a ring on my right thumb, the design of which is called "Abba's Heart". I found the piece when I was at a Christian festival and stopped at the "Remember Me" Jewelry booth. I kept stopping by and re-reading the poem that came with the ring :

This ring represents the
Daddy Heart of God.

‘bring your hurtin’, climb on up
I know just what to do
I’ve been waiting, anticipating
time alone with you
nowhere else I’d rather be
in this entire world
than here with you, believe- it’s true…
you’re Daddy’s little girl
I Love You’
Romans 8:15

Get an idea why this poem and piece of jewelry mean so much?! And do you understand why the prayer in the passage I quoted at the top of this blog got my attention?! I'm not usually a big one for pre-written prayers but this one might become the exception. Maybe I'm the only person alive who can relate to having a heart that is "feeble, distracted, insecure, uncertain" but somehow I doubt it! What a comfort to know that I can, as the quote states, fall into him with all of my shortcoming and know that Abba will catch me! After all, I'm Daddy's Little Girl!

P.S. - I've shared the link to the "Remember Me" Jewelry page for "my" ring just so you can see it!


Friday, July 08, 2011

What is trust?

In light of the frustrating circumstances of past weeks, it's a question I've struggled with. As person after well-meaning person quotes Romans 8:28 to me and tells me that I just need to trust and God will show me the good, I've tried to get a grip on exactly what it means to trust God.

I found a copy of Brennan Manning's Ruthless Trust that I had inherited from my sister and decided to read it. Wow. It wasn't what I expected at all. No well-worn cliches, no "don't-worry-be-happy" Christianity in those pages. At times it's confrontational. At other times it's raw and almost too honest. There are moments of comfort, moments of challenge . . . it's not an easy read but it's worth every difficult page turn!

I found myself underlining passages that jumped off the page at me. Since completing the book, I keep going back to those underlined passages. For the next few (several?) blog entries, I will be sharing these quotes and the impact they have had.

"Our trust does not bring final clarity on this earth. It does not still the chaos or dull the pain or provide a crutch. When all else is unclear, the heart of trust says, as Jesus did on the cross, 'Into your hands I commit my spirit'. (Luke 23:46)" I cannot begin to tell you what a comfort this verse was. Trusting God does not mean I deny the pain or difficulty. So many people have intimated, using Romans 8:28 as their support, that if I just look hard enough I will find the good in any circumstance. But if I can look and find the good on my own, why do I need to trust God?

It is only when I throw myself into the arms of my Abba that I am truly trusting. When I seek to find "clarity" (which Manning paints as the enemy of trust) or to find the good in every situation I face, I remove God from the picture. When I know that I cannot figure it out or even survive it on my own, when I run stumbling and crying to Him, it is then that I begin to trust.

I'm learning that trust does not deny the pain of the circumstance. It isn't a Pollyanna-like approach to life in which we insist that there is a bright side to everything. Trust is, at it's core, an honest assessment of the situation and an absolute refusal to allow those circumstances to change my view of God. And when those circumstances drive me to a place where the only thing that is sure in my life is God's love for me, I can rest fully in that love - then I am beginning to learn how to trust.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Just when I think I know my kids . . .

I have worked on several theater productions with my kids; sometimes all of them, sometimes only a couple, sometimes, just one. I've been onstage with three of the four at least once (I'll be onstage with the fourth this fall!) and we've had just about every imaginable combination of two people working in various aspects - one on stage and one in the pit, one on stage crew and one in the pit, etc. So working with my kids in theater is nothing new.

But this current experience has been unique. Our church decided to sponsor a youth theater this summer. We started with a Junior High cast doing "You're a Good Man Charlie Brown" and it opens this Friday (June 24th). Since the goal of the youth theater is to help train students in all aspects of theater from directing to stage crew to acting. My son is in the production and two of my girls asked to be a part of the experience. My youngest daughter wanted to be student director and my eldest asked to be stage manager. I explained to them what I expected and they were still interested so we took off for a new theater experience.

My expectations were fairly simple - by the end of the rehearsal process, I wanted my student director to have given notes, corrected mistakes, polished blocking, etc. and I wanted my stage manager (aka my eldest daughter) to have the backstage organized in such a way that the cast and crew could function. Our church has a small stage which has been used for nothing but storage for the last 30 years so the curtains probably need to be replaced and the "stage lighting" consists of five light switches, some ceiling lights, and a few track lights. These lights must be controlled by someone backstage since that's where the switches are and this job fell to my stage manager. She made incredibly good use of the little lighting we have as well as the stage curtain. Every lighting plan was her idea and I love what she has done. True, she checked a few things with me to make sure that the staging and lighting would work together. But the final decisions I left up to her.

My student director (aka the youngest daughter) ran a few rehearsals and added some fun things that cracked me up!! She has exhibited all kinds of confidence when giving the actors notes to help improve their performances and she has been an invaluable help when it comes to clearing up confusion, tweaking blocking, encouraging cast members . . . it's been a blast to work with her!!

I've loved every opportunity I have had to see my kids involved in something they enjoy and that allows them to display their talents. But this has been an unforgettable experience. With the show opening in just a week, I have pretty much handed things over to them and focused on playing for the show since I am serving as piano player and sole pit member!! They have done all I asked of them and more. I have no idea if they have enjoyed the experience or not but it's definitely been something new for them and it's been fun for me to discover that they each have a talent for the job that they took on!!

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Trying on optimism -

I am not naturally an optimistic person. Yes, there are probably reasons, and yes a good therapist could probably help me tackle them. Be that as it may, I am trying to think more like an optimist today.

One of the jobs I applied for I have not yet heard anything from them. Not even a "Thanks for your application we'll keep it on file". But it's only been a couple of days since I dropped the app off so . . . I wait!

There was a second job I had grabbed an application for that recently posted. E-mailed the superintendent with some questions and got a response along the lines of "there might not be a job after all because we might share a teacher with another school district". Huh. Okay. Moving on.

If I need to feel positive about how something in my life is going, I need look no further than the performing arts. Our church is sponsoring a Youth Theater program this summer called Take 2 Summer Youth Theater. The goal is to produce two musicals - one with a Junior High cast and one with Senior High performers. The Jr. High show - "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown" - is currently in rehearsals and I am SOOOO proud of my kids! They are doing a tremendous job getting the show ready for an audience. I have a crazy supportive mom of a couple cast members who has been my right arm through it all - rounding up costumes, getting the posters designed, finding us free radio advertising - and I enjoy working with them.

As if that wasn't enough, I auditioned for a show that a local theater company, Comedia Musica Players, will begin rehearsing in August (onstage in November) - Stephen Sondheim's "Into the Woods". I LOVE this show. The role of the Witch has been on my list of "Dream roles I would love to play" for many years. I actually got the chance to direct it a few years back and was thrilled when I heard Comedia was doing it. Got the call last night - I'll be playing the witch!!! I'm still in shock!!

Now if I could just find a way to turn all of this theater stuff into a paycheck . . .

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

In the calm after the "storm" -

Just said farewell to the last portion of my extended family who had come out to Iowa for my second born child's graduation celebration. It's been an INSANE four weeks - administering finals at the college and turning in final grades, Senior High Spring show, all the end of the year concerts/award ceremonies/projects, graduation party to plan and shop for, and 13 family members dropping in for the graduation weekend. Eleven of those family members ranging in age from my parents in their 60's to my three year old niece stayed in my home. Chaotic?! You bet! We still have left over bags of chips that didn't get eaten at the grad party. Sorry, the cake is all gone! But I could hook you up with some veggies and dip or left over sloppy joes. And if you just love a deli meat sandwich, I have one whole tray left over untouched!!

My house is showing the wear and tear of the last four weeks. It's not completely falling apart but my floors are crying out for a good, focused, cleaning. My kitchen surfaces could probably use a careful scrub down. Piles of "stuff" have accumulated that need going through, end tables need cleared off, the graduate needs to take care of her cards, etc. and mom is REALLY looking forward to a schedule that does not have to be planned with the precision of a military expedition!

Do you want to know a secret? There is a part of me that will be sad to pull the house back together. In all of the chaos of the last four weeks, in all of the craziness that goes with the end of the school, with all of the stress that comes during the final couple weeks of a show, I've learned things about myself and built cherished memories. Once I pull the house together, I admit that this busy but fun-filled period of life has come to an end. And if you've read the last couple of entries, you know that what awaits me on the other side of the clean up isn't exactly fun.

So, if you don't mind, I'll let that stack of graduation cards sit on my counter just a bit longer. I'll smile just one more time at all the graduation party invitations from my Seven Brides cast members still covering my refrigerator even though most of the parties have already happened. I'll sit on my back deck with a glass of lemonade and reflect on the outing to McDonald's that the women of the family - three generations in all - took and the conversations that we shared. I'll relish the fact that my niece and nephews were thrilled to come to "Aunt Moj's" house and hated to leave. I know that the work needs to be done and my house needs to recover. But I think it can handle just one more day while I bask in the warmth of the happy memories.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Next steps -

Filling out job applications, taking chances on jobs that you are not even sure you are qualified for, hearing rumors about possible openings, trying to verify said rumors . . . it's exhausting!

I've had several people "remind" me of Jeremiah 29:11 - "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord. "Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and future." I say "remind" because I happen to have that verse memorized. But there is something about the context of that verse that I tend to forget because it is NOT comforting.

Jeremiah is talking to the nation of Israel which has been taken into exile. They are refusing to "settle in" because false prophets are more than willing to tell them what they want to hear - that God is going to take them home soon! Then Jeremiah shows up with God's REAL message which is "Ya'll better settle in and get used to life in Babylon because you are here to stay for the next 70 years. Have kids, marry them off, plant gardens, build homes . . . become a part of the community because I am not taking you home for awhile."

Think about what probably happened in that 70 years. Loved ones died, children married into local families, children were born who had never known anything but Babylon . . . this wasn't an easy message for the people of God to hear! And when the 70 years was up, what happened? They returned to the land God had promised them, yes, but they left behind those who had died and been buried in Babylon and there might have even been some of those children who were married off that decided Babylon was home. So when I think about the phrase, "I know the plans I have for you" in it's original context, it's not exactly comforting! And don't worry - I'm fairly certain that the good-hearted people that feel it necessary to quote that verse to me do not mean to imply that my situation won't change for 70 years!

There is another verse that I have memorized that I much prefer right now to find comfort in. Zephaniah 3:17 says "The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing." Believe me, my thoughts and my heart have needed some quieting in recent days.

Situations like the one I now find myself in are a clear lesson that I DO NOT possess much patience. Summer is around the corner and the next school year will be here before I know it. There are some job issues I would like to have settled before then, people who need to be notified if I will not be available to help fulfill their needs, and in my limited, finite, understanding it would be helpful if I could give them plenty of advanced warning! But, as I said, my understanding is limited and finite and I'm desperately trying to trust that the same God who will lead me to "the next thing" will keep those people from being furious if I must give them a very late "no". He can also sustain me through another life-draining year like the one I just had. Knowing what to expect would be nice. Then again, that wouldn't require trust would it?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Warning - if you are one of those people who only reads blogs that are positive, filled with sunny statements and observations, this may not be a post for you. If you prefer not to hear others talk about dark times in their lives, moments when they truly know what it means to "walk through the valley of the shadow of death" then you might just want to leave now.

Last weekend was horrid. I could candy coat it and say that it was "less than ideal" but I want to be completely transparent. It was awful!!! On Friday, I found out that I did not get a job that I had interviewed for. No big deal, right? Lots of people interview and don't get the job offer. But this was my dream job. Not only was it working with high school students - yes, I actually ENJOY high school students - it was a choral directors job and my Bachelor's degree was in choral music. On top of that, I would have been working as the assistant director in a program that is led by a friend of mine. He and I work together on the Spring musical at the High School and frankly enjoy working together. Are you beginning to see why this wasn't just another job loss? Wait. There's more.

This past school year, I worked three part time jobs, adding in a fourth job when the high school musical began their auditions in March. Yes, the musical is technically a job since I get paid to do it. Granted, I LOVE doing it but I can call it a "job" when there is a paycheck attached! Of the three part time jobs that occupied the majority of my time, I didn't enjoy two of them. I don't mean they were rough or had bad days. I did not like going to those jobs. Ever. Not once. Get the idea? It's nothing against the employers or the jobs themselves. Both of the jobs in question were working with Elementary age kids and I don't enjoy that age group as much. Junior High on up to college age is my preferred age group so hopefully you can understand why spending focused amounts of time with with large groups of students in grades Kindergarten through sixth is not enjoyable for me. I know that this mindset makes me a villain in the hearts of some. But it's my "divine design" - I just enjoy the teen age/twenty-something set far more.

As for the third part-time job, it was with college students (bonus) working as an adjunct professor. "Adjunt" is a fancy word for "Part-time". Loved the age group. Hated the "adjunct" part of the job description. Ever worked at a job where you experienced a serious divide between the full-time staff and the part-time staff? If you have, then you get an idea of what my year was like. The full-timers were cordial. The adjuncts were appropriately invited to all of the departmental parties and such. But for someone like me who thrives on relationships, there wasn't much of that. Okay, since I'm being honest, there wasn't ANY of that!! Much of the time, I was getting last minute reminders to complete tasks that I had never been told I needed to complete so I'm scrambling to fit things into my semester . . . you get the idea. For an extra little complication, the college classes I teach are in the field of education or helping students with academic issues in the area of writing. (My Master's is not in music). Are you beginning to get a picture of my 2010/2011 school year? Three part-time jobs, none of which brought me any significant sense of accomplishment or satisfaction, and one short-term part-time job doing what I love with the age group I enjoy. Do you understand now why the loss of the dream job was so devastating.

And the weekend got worse before it got better. On Friday night, just hours after finding out I wasn't getting the job, I found out a friend had passed away. She had directed the production of The Wizard of Oz I was in last fall and we became fast friends. Apparently, this past weekend was my weekend to grieve. She was only 49.

I wish I could tell you that hubby was a tremendous source of support and counsel. Nope. Within minutes of finding out I wasn't getting the job - and thus getting rid of the mental strain of trying to take care of all the details involved in three part-time jobs - he wanted to know what I was going to do now. What job options was I willing to consider? What was my plan of attack for the next school year? In other words, I got the distinct message that I was to get over my sense of loss, and move on. We ended up spending most of the weekend angry with one another because he thought I was wallowing and I thought he was being insensitive. Add more emotional strain to my weekend.

As I sit here and type this, it's Tuesday. I've gotten NUMEROUS platitudes thrown at me, all the standard verses quoted at me, and numerous reminders to "just have faith." It's all true. Every single over-used phrase people have said to me is accurate. And I want to punch the next person that begins to quote Jeremiah 29:11 or Romans 8:28. I know those verses. I can quote them myself. And I know they are true. But right now they have a rather negative effect on me. I told someone that it's like going up to a person who is at a funeral for a beloved family member or friend and saying "It's time to slap on a smile and be excited about what God is going to do know that he's taken your loved one away." No one that I know would EVER be that insensitive. But since I lost a job, people feel quite comfortable telling me to just "get over it."

I've received some very trite, platitude filled counsel. Quite a lot of it, actually. But there have been a few of gems. My sisters have been AMAZING through this. One of them shared with me something God laid on her heart while she was having a time of prayer for me and my situation. Her words didn't give me answers or any clue of where to go next, but there was a glimmer of new perspective in what she said. My other sister has simply been there and agreed with me that it sucks! My dad has offered a shoulder to cry on or a listening ear should I need it and it's come with none of the standard, over-used "church-speak" phrases. And, thankfully, hubby and I have FINALLY gotten to a place where we better understand where the other person was coming from and we're trying to get through this situation together.

What I find fascinating is that no one has tried to talk me out of grieving the loss of my friend. Apparently, it's okay to grieve when your heart breaks over the loss of a person. But when you are frightened and hurt by a job situation that leaves you emotionally and mentally destroyed at the end of the week, that's not okay. Not all heartbreak is, apparently, spiritually acceptable to some of my brothers and sisters in the faith. Expressions of discouragement were met, not with compassion or empathy, but Bible verses and pithy sayings.

I wish I could end this post with some great story about how God has already miraculously dealt with my work situation (NOT looking forward to the life-sucking possibility of another year like this one) but that's not the case. I'm still wondering where to go from here, still hurting, still facing the reality of a memorial service for my friend tomorrow - not much has changed. Like I said earlier, my sister's words to me provided a glimpse of a new perspective and that's where I'm concentrating all of my mental and emotional energy for now. Hoping that the fog lifts soon and I get some sense of where to go from here.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Controlling the tongue!

Scripture is full of comments about our speech - what we should not say, what we should say, being ready to give an answer, controlling our tongue - I could spend hours simply quoting the verses that apply. But I'd rather share a life lesson.

I have learned that someone very dear to me really thrives on praise. If you are familiar at all with The Five Love Languages writings, this person shows possible signs of Words of Affirmation being one of his "native tongues". It's not his primary language, but it could very likely be a secondary language. The person in question is my hubby!

I learned this truth in a very simple way: I paid him a compliment in a public fashion. There was something I appreciated about him and I expressed that appreciation in such a way that others knew how I felt. Boy did I strike a chord!! I like to get an "attagirl" every so often. But my man positively glowed after my statement! He repeatedly told me how much it meant to him that I said what I did. And by repeatedly I mean half a dozen times in the course of about three hours.

Now the hard part: I need to keep looking for ways to offer GENUINE praise. Empty flattery is one of those things spoken against in scripture and I would NEVER knowingly hurt my husband by offering empty, meaningless, words as a substitute for sincere appreciation. But when I can make him feel overwhelmingly respected and loved by offering genuine appreciation and praise, why would I miss any opportunity to do so?!

Friday, April 08, 2011

A Gift of Trust

There are times when a lesson I've learned is difficult to express in words. Some - most? - of the intensity of the experience gets lost in translation from my head to the page. No matter how I try, no catchy phrase or carefully chosen adjective fully describes just how drastically my paradigm has shifted, how severely my perspective has altered.

Instinct tells me I may be embarking on one such experience but here I go anyway!!

I've made a concentrated effort lately to express respect to my husband. I don't mean merely focusing on feeling respectful. I've tried to find opportunities to tell what I respect about him in very specific detail. Since feeling respected doesn't push my buttons like it does his, I've had to be very deliberate and proactive in this self-imposed exercise.

This change in my behavior had the surprising effect of bringing about an altered perspective like I mentioned before. I went into it trying to fulfill the Biblical directive found in Ephesians 5:33 - "and the wife must respect her husband." I figure God made my husband so he probably knows what hubby needs most from me. Right? So I made a simple choice to be obedient and didn't even suspect how it would change me!

Like a significant majority of men, my hubby finds his sense of purpose and significance in his job. I, on the other hand, am a fairly typical female in that I find my joy and purpose in building relationships. Please note - I am NOT saying that one is better than the other. Neither approach is wrong, but the two different views of life can create misunderstanding at times. Oh, let's be honest - a marriage between someone who is energized by their work and someone who is energized by relationships has all the ingredients for good old-fashioned conflict! The work oriented person - who happens to LOVE his or her job - just doesn't understand the relationship oriented person who comes home from work fatigued. The relationship junky, on the other hand, cannot understand why anyone, including their more careere minded spouse, would want to leave a social gathering early! You get the idea.

In my effort to express respect for my husband on a consistent basis, I began to better understand how his job energized him and began to really appreciate the joy he finds in it. And I absolutely LOVE those moments when he's really jazzed by what is happening in his ministry as a Senior Pastor. It's one of the major benefits to being a Pastor's wife: you not only know what your husband does for a living and have a chance to build relationships with the people he "works" with, you actually get to watch him shine in his element on a regular basis!! I love it!!

The other night, I was mulling over my new perspective and deeper understanding. I've come to appreciate the deep, abiding passion my husband has for leading our church "family". I've stood by his side more than a little proudly when people thank him for a timely word or visit or when they tell him how much they enjoy his preaching. (All the while thinking things like "That's MY man!!") But I was stunned when I thought about his passion for his job and his commitment to excellence in light of a task he has entrusted me with.

Our church is sponsoring a Youth theater this summer - Take 2 Summer Youth theater - as a part of our desire to impact our community. This venture was birthed out of something called a Missional Church Learning Experience that a team from our church took part in. Without going into too much detail, we learned about the importance of chatting with our community to see what they saw as needs in the community and then seeking to meet those needs. Hubby's hope (and the hope of the team as well) is that this will be the first of many such ventures; that the people in our church can start to use their God-given S.H.A.P.E. to reach out in creative, practical ways to those around us.

Hubby asked me to take on the role of "Managing Director" for Take 2. I accepted the job and didn't think much of the fact that he pretty much handed over responsibility for getting the ball rolling regarding planning/promoting auditions as well as getting the contracts for royalties and rental and has trusted me to take care of the details and report back to him. Or should I say I didn't give it much thought until just recently. Now that I understand a little better how passionate he is about ministry - ESPECIALLY the missional approach to ministry - I realize what a gift he handed me!!

With this being our church's first encounter with a missional approach, I know it's important to him that it be a positive experience all the way around so that others in our congregation will be encouraged to step out into the community with their gifts and passions. Hubby is a great manager and it would be so easy for him to keep "checking in" on me to make sure I'm taking care of my responsibilities. But he hasn't. Not even once. When I bring up anything regarding royalties, auditions, costumes, sets, etc. he is more than willing to chat with me. But that's it. He has, in the very truest definition of the word, ENTRUSTED this task to me. Don't get me wrong - we have people in place to handle PR, set-building, etc. But he has, without hesitation or any outward sign of anxiety, placed the role of "Managing Director" in my hands and stepped away to let me do the job.

I am honored and humbled by that level of trust from my husband. He knows my passion for the performing arts and the joy I find working with teens. He knew before he asked me to take the job that I would say yes!! But the unquestioning trust he has displayed in my abilities since that moment has left me humbly grateful for the gift of such an amazing husband.