Hope

My computer is in desperate need for a “clean-up” so I’ve begun going through files and deleting or archiving them off the computer.  In the course of doing this, I have come across some articles, blogs, and papers that I have written.  Some of them still seem to be relevant so I thought I would begin sharing them here. (I’ve tried all sorts of ways to use this blog and am on the verge of giving it up but thought I would give this thing another shot!)

As a Leader I believe that it is especially important to study Scripture both in a theological context as well as a contemporary context. (Scripture doesn’t change but the individual and circumstances do, so graciously the Lord provides fresh insight for current circumstance using past experiences with Him as a touchstone or benchmark.)

January 2012 I was dealing with difficult personal circumstances and pressures at work when I was given the news that my oldest sister, Judy was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. The lens and filter I was using to view the material I was reading changed in the blink of an eye. My sister who had just been diagnosed with cancer was required to undergo aggressive treatment.  Having a sense of the battle and the ramifications caused me to view my reading and study through the lens of pain and fear. It is this filter that led me to Tozer and 1 Peter.  (O, Lord, you know what my need will be for tomorrow even as I live in today’s moment!)

As my sister was in hospice I the Spirit gave me Nouwen for comfort and encouragement. But it is not about my sister that I write but the hard and difficult circumstances that come to us and the authors he sent my way to help me through them.

I am presently reading Tozer (Fiery Faith) and feel as if I am visiting an old friend but yet discovering new topics of discussion and learning. Amazing how that works.

One of my favorite quotes by Tozer: “Whatever comes into your heart and mind when you think about God is the most important thing about you.”  I remember that the first time I read this it stopped my mind short.  When my mind turns to God, what thoughts come?  I confess that I was a bit ashamed of my thoughts.  You see, I discovered that the first things that came to mind were my needs, my wants, etc. — that my thoughts about God were through a selfish lens if you will…. Not that anything I thought was a bad thing, but my perspective was skewed.

My struggle with this came while we were in a difficult appointment. It was one in which my motives, my officership and my actions as a mother were constantly questioned and ridiculed.  So, naturally, I was constantly “crying” to God for relief.  It was all about me not about concern for the spiritual state of individuals who could behave in such hurtful and destructive ways.

God in his tender mercy–while soothing my pain–taught me to not only work through that pain but, while doing so, practice the art of Christian love — Christian love that wants and works for the best good of others no matter what they do or think about you in return. No easy task but when you begin looking at others, especially those that use and abuse you, through the eyes of Christ…..your heart begins to soften by the knowledge of just how much they are hurting themselves and that they can only hurt you if you let them. Make no mistake, others can cause you pain and disappointment, but they cannot hurt you. All they can do is drive you closer to the Lord who brings comfort, peace, courage and strength.  Annie Johnson Flint reminds us that we are covered and armored with the Love of God.

He giveth more grace as our burdens grow greater,              
      He sendeth more strength as our labors increase,
      To added afflictions He added His mercy,
      To multiplied trials he multiplies peace.

When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
      When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
      When we reach the end of our hoarded resources
      Our Father’s full giving is only begun.
 
      His love has no limits, his grace has no measure,
      His power no boundary known unto men;
      For our of his infinite riches in Jesus
      He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.

A verse of scripture that God gave to me while attending SFOT:  

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. (1 Peter 5:10)

In that difficult appointment (and many since) I have had to come back to this promise.  No matter my circumstance, God will bring me through … and not only that, make me stronger — both personally and spiritually.

Let me finish this post with Tozer’s words:

“God is personally concerned about you.  God is not too high or lofty to remember that His children are in the land where illness is prevalent.  Where accidents happen every day.  Where there are loss of jobs and financial worries.  Where people are betrayed by their closest loved ones.  Where there is separation, as for instance, when the boy who has been close to us for so many years, shakes our hand with a grin that is not quite real and walks down the sidewalk and waves at the corner on his way to report to the military service.  Separations come, some never to return to us again.  God knows it and says, ‘Now, I know that’s the kind of world you live in, but I have laid hold on you forever, and I know every detail of your trouble and all your problems, and I’ll anticipate every act of the enemy and every act of every enemy I will anticipate.  I will go before you.’” (Tozer, Living as a Christian, pp. 206-207)

    

     

      

     

      

      

    

 

    

Killing by the Little Cuts

The following article is written by one of my favorite authors, Walter Wangerin. I read it as part of my devotional time. Well worth the read.

Walter Wangerin

This urinal can’t swallow the cigarette someone flicked in it.

Saddest, wettest, shreddingest cigarette butt I ever hope to see, for the moisture that swells the tobacco’s not water alone. And the filter’s a sponge. And tendrils of brown bleed across the porcelain.

Sad cigarette. Sadder custodian. . . .

Yet saddest of all, I believe, is the man who first dropped his cigarette here in a public place. This one is benighted. This one cannot—or will not—comprehend the consequences. Can’t see that at the end of even his slightest act there always stands another, one whom he will scorn and trouble and cut, or else will love, by the act.

This fellow, this contemptuous flicker of cigarettes—however well he dresses, however solemnly he sits in his own church pew, however commanding, powerful, arrogant, smiling, self-satisfied, well-married, and prudent—can nevertheless not claim before God that he loves his neighbor as he loves himself, for he did not love my friend. He visited upon her a moment of moist, unnecessary misery.

This is the acid test. Do you love Christ Jesus? (Which question embraces this next one): Do you love the real manifestations of the Christ in the world around you? (Which question is the same as asking): Do you love the Body of Christ, the people whom Jesus loves? (Which question is made sharpest and purest in the following): How do you love the ones you do not meet, who cannot punish or reward you, blame or praise you, or in any way make the action anything more than the unvarnished (spontaneous) revelation of your natural self?

True love arises from the self alone, yours and mine, unqualified and free. Is it love when some threat drives me to it, or some payoff persuades me? A goodness given for a goodness gotten is a business transaction. No blame in that. No love either.

At the end of our least act, still affected by that act (for the world is shaped much more by the millions little gestures than by the more glorious res gestae of human accomplishment) stands another. Always. And that human was made in the image of God.

It is a radical truth that the Christ identifies much more with “the least of these” than with those of weight and repute in the world. “Radical,” I say, because such a downward identification is a flat reversal of the way we choose to identify: upward, to those admirable, to those whose station flattens ours, whose power might empower us. We would be heroes. Jesus is the stranger. He is, in our common existence, the sick and the imprisoned.

How do we (as we will so often proclaim we do) love Jesus? With what attention and genuine love do we attend to the invisible people?

When I lean on the car horn loud and long, whose peace do I destroy? And how do I justify my anger now? Do I know the rules of the road better than the gentlewoman driving precisely the limit in front of me? And which of us is nearer the heart of Christ at this moment? And where is love?

When I neglect to signal a left-hand turn I neglect the driver behind me who might have gone forward in the right lane, had he known of my intentions. But he has snuggled up to the back of my bumper, as has the driver behind him, and so all must now wait with me the oncoming traffic, drivers and drivers and Christ as well. (Or did I suppose that holiness rode in my vehicle alone?)

When I break the myriad little promises I make in a day (many of them made just to get rid of some persistent person) I break faith. I break my word. And though my word meant nothing to me, to my lessers it was the food of hope. Yes, and if the littlest things I drop my bond and word thoughtlessly, like a butt in a urinal, in the greater, more “important” things that word will still be stinking of the urinal.

Laugh once at a racial joke, and I’ve laughed at the skin of the Son of God, whose chose to come enfleshed.

O man! When you speak of your wife as a fool, a ditz, a smiling second to your own great self, you shoot out the lip of your Savior. Do you not yet know that Christ both approaches you and tests you in your spouse? Woman, you cannot dimmish his native interests without reducing his Creator (and yours) to the bozo you think your husband is.

If, by loud sighs and significant looks and angry gestures,  you declare the old man ahead of you in the grocery line—you have lost patience with Elisha, the bald-headed prophet of God.

Complain about the children in your neighborhood whose noise unnerves you—or about your own children, whose energy leaves you both angry and exhausted, febrile—and you have complained about those whom Jesus suffered into his presence, saying, “Of such is the kingdom of God.”

And what of your father and mother when they descend into their dotage? (Teenagers often suspect that their parents have already entered the Fuddy stage, prelude to Duddy, by far the worse of the two.) If you despise them because of your vaster knowledge, your greater experience, your more contemporary ethic, your cooler view of life, you despise the instruments by which the Creator created you. Can you risk chopping the tree on which you are the fruit?

And surely you wouldn’t assume that the only way to rate an employee is by her efficiency. Surely you would not cancel all the rest of this human by the stroke of your executive pen? But “cancel” means “kill” in affairs of the spirit.

Do you recognize that your mood at work is the very air your coworkers breathe? By which, in eight hours, in weeks and in the passage of years, they may thrive or else may suffocate?

So, then:

Toss your fast-food wrappers on the highway.

Toss beers cans in the river.

Toss trash, the detritus of your burned-out desires; toss the very souls of those you use and lose; toss these wherever others do not see you, in the dark, in the night, in your unacknowledged solitude, away.

Toss a cigarette butt in a urinal, and you have made my dear friend miserable one more time, and she is the least of these, the sisters of Jesus.

And shall you rise in church tomorrow protesting your love for the Lord?

But we are more accurately revealed in the unconscious, habitual act than in acts we plan and for which we pay. In the former our truer nature dwells, and by it is made most manifest.

I am not writing of democracy. I’m not begging a political equality of all individuals. I am begging rather the coming of the kingdom of heaven, whose citizens we are when we elevate the least to that same citizenship.

I am writing of love.

For at the end of every deed stands the Master—cleaning urinals.

Becoming Me, part 2

I don’t exactly know what started me down this path of sharing a bit of my background on this blog. I thought that I was just looking for something to write about and frankly I was thinking in terms of quilting. But in my casual skimming of files and photos I was brought up short by a draft document that I had failed to delete years ago. I know that it was the Spirit that kept me from passing over it and wants me to share some of it but for what purpose I have no idea nor which parts. So I move on trying to be carefully sensitive to His ‘nudgings.’

I believe I was given a partial answer my questions in this mornings quote from Frederich Buechner:

WHAT I PROPOSE TO do now is to try listening to my life as a whole, or at least to certain key moments of the first half of my life thus far, for whatever of meaning, of holiness, of God, there may be in it to hear. My assumption is that the story of any one of us is in some measure the story of us all.

Sacred Journey: A Memoir of Early Days

The first few years after the death of my father are difficult ones for me to recall.  What I do remember is that I retreated into my place of comfort, in a place of my own making particularly through art. In my art I would create homes–horse farms mostly–families and scenarios of happy times. Books and my love of reading were truly a Godsend. Reading lifted me out of the world I was in and took me to some amazing places. In my books I met characters who became friends and would visit them over and over again. In fact I still have many of them in my library today. Music was also a large part of my world and was also an avenue into other places.  I remember the song that I sang often during this time was, “How Far is Heaven.”  It was a song about a little girl whose father had died and she wanted to know how far it was to Heaven so that she could go see him.  It must have been a difficult song for my mother to hear me singing, but she never asked me not to sing.

In a very real way, these were days of isolation.  I was left to my own devices and had few friends, none that were close.  As I look back I can see that God was on the edges of my life.  I always managed to find a Sunday School near my house and got myself there regularly. My parents were always in favor of my going but never made an effort to help me get there.  They simply allowed it. I always felt drawn to this world but few of the people there seemed to feel drawn to me.  No adults from any of these Sunday Schools stand out in my mind. I never had any relationship with any of my “teachers.”  This fact came to play a role in my own ministry in later years.

Mom found a new job, bought a house and settled down with her two remaining daughters.  Life became “normal” but I was unsettled.  Mom began to date and I thought that she would find us a new father and we would become the normal family that I read about in books, and that I saw on TV. I needed a father.  I missed Daddy terribly and yet somehow in my young mind thought he could be replaced, only “fixed.” No alcoholism this time.  But it never happened.  While Mom did remarry once, it did not work out.  She remained single but regularly dated a railroad man that came through town a couple of times a week.  

In August of 1963, I found my Father; my heavenly Father.  I began going to church at The Salvation Army and found a whole new family.  An intact congregational family that gave me the love and discipline I so desperately needed. 

My timbrel brigade and in the middle of the first row my Lieutenant. She was awesome! (Not to mention one gal standing second from the right who became a lifelong friend.)

Becoming Me

Like many Americans I have been concerned with much that is going on within our culture. What I especially find troubling is the lack of honest discourse because of the fear of being branded hateful, bigoted, or fear of being on the wrong side of an issue. The tragedy is that the only way to learn how you truly feel about any issue is the exchange of ideas and perspective with others. The result of this kind of fear is that everyone places themselves within “camps” of people who are like minded and then are seldom called upon to defend their ideas and assumptions. It is in thinking through–developing–your position that you gain real understanding of any given issue. What really hurts me is that our young people are being betrayed by the very individuals that should encourage and mediate this kind of debates–no matter the subject. Growing up in the sixties I still recall the heated debates that were going on around me and not only on campus. Without these discourses we miss out on the richness of diversity found in our country and remain locked in our ignorance and misunderstandings.

Anyway, I did not start down this avenue to simply vent and if you are still reading thank you for hanging in there. No, I began this because I recently found a paper that I wrote in college. The overall course was about leadership but the paper was part of a required personal case study. While skimming it I found myself experiencing a bit of the emotions that doing this case study had evoked. This led me to a sense of gratitude to God for the way in which He has worked in and through my life over the years.

I debated with myself but in the end I just felt led to share a part of it with you all. No worries, I am not sharing it in total just a few paragraphs.

In 1968 Sammy Davis Jr. sang the following song:

Whether I’m right or whether I’m wrong
Whether I find a place in this world or never belong
I gotta be me, I’ve gotta be me
What else can I be but what I am

And to quote Shakespeare:

This above all: 
To thine own self be true,
for it must follow as dost the night the day,
that canst not then be false to any man. 

(Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 3)

I could not help but think about this bit of prose from Shakespeare as I worked through this paper.  The purpose of this paper is to do, in essence, just as Shakespeare exhorted:  to be true to myself and by doing so, I can then in turn be true (genuine) to those I have been called to serve and lead.  However, in order to achieve this knowledge it is essential that one delve into one’s past to discover the truth of one’s nature.

Reggie McNeal in Practicing Greatness (Jossey-Bass, 2006) breaks this down into three disciplines: the discipline of self-awareness, discipline of self-management, and discipline of self-development. God develops a person over a life time of experiences as well as their choices and decisions made by the individual.  There are tests of character that God uses to hone and fine tune those he calls out. 

Having set out the context I share with you a part of my story.

The night was so dark that you could not see your hand held inches from your face. There were no street lights there in the mountains of West Virginia; actually there was no street there at the head of the “holler” where my grandparents lived.  The red glow of cigarettes looked like dancing stars to my four year old eyes. It was late and my sisters and cousins were sound asleep but I was drawn to the noise of revelry caused by men who had too much to drink. What drew me to peek out at this scene was Daddy.  My father was out there with his brother and other men I did not know.  I was ‘daddy’s little girl.’  I was the “spittin’ image” of my father.  I was thrilled to hear things like, “you look so much like him he’ll never be able to disown you;” “aren’t you Arvil’s daughter?  You look just like him.”  I wanted to be in my father’s presence even if I had to sneak out into the dark corner of the porch to do so.  

After four daughters, my mother was determined to name this last child, boy or girl, for her husband.  I do not know if I was a disappointment to my parents, but I can honestly say that I never felt any kind of disappointment from them for being female. I became, in essence, daddy’s “son.” I was a ‘tomboy’ that loved to do all of those things usually attributed to boys: climb trees, fight, play ball. But in spite of this, I have few memories of actually doing any of these things with my father.  He was so trapped in alcoholism that there was never any time left to be the father that his children needed.

As I look back over these days I see a little girl who is her father’s daughter, knew that she was loved but nonetheless often felt bereft of her father’s attention.  My relationship with my father shaped my life in ways that laid a foundation for the person I have become.  

“Baby, Daddy’s dead.” Those words hit me like a physical blow.  I thought he was getting better.  I should never have thought about what life would be like if Daddy died. Was I somehow responsible for his death? These kinds of thoughts flooded my nine year old brain as I ran into my mother’s arms. 

I am going to leave the story here and will continue with it in installments as it is difficult to tell and time consuming to edit.

As Sammy sang in ’68:

I’ll go it alone, that’s how it must be
I can’t be right for somebody else
If I’m not right for me
I gotta be free, I just gotta be free
Daring to try, to do it or die
I gotta be me

“Jesus, You’re Doing it all Wrong”

This weekend we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ. We call it Epiphany or Theophany because now His divinity is revealed and expressed in no uncertain terms.  The knowledge that Jesus is God tells us something about who He is, but it also reveals to us something about Who God is.   In the hymns of the feast we sing that “the Worship of the Trinity is made manifest.”  God is not only One, but Three.  God is now not only Spirit, but flesh.

And what is John the Baptist’s response when he sees Jesus wade out and stand before Him, waiting to be baptized?  He tells Jesus, “Wait, you’re doing it wrong!”  Like when you see someone bite into a Kit Kat candy bar without first breaking off the pieces.  NO!  THAT’S NOT HOW YOU EAT IT!  “Jesus, you’re doing it wrong.”  St. John says. “I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?”  “Tut, tut,” says Jesus,”Let’s just do it this way for now.”

This isn’t the first time someone has tried to tell God how to do His business.  Moses was sure God had the wrong number when he answered the phone and the burning bush told him to go have a face-to-face with Pharaoh.  Moses had a whole list of reasons why God was wrong about that:  he couldn’t speak well, He had no authority, they wouldn’t believe him.    Wait, God, you’re doing it wrong.  But God insisted, and so he went.

Nor was this the last time someone would question Jesus’ judgment.  St. Peter himself did so right before Jesus’ crucifixion.  When Jesus wrapped himself with a towel and began washing the feet of His disciples, he came to Peter who said, “Jesus, you’re doing it wrong.”  Jesus replies that “I know you don’t understand just now, but you’ll get it later.”  Peter, however, persists.  “You will never wash my feet.”  Only when Jesus tells Peter he would have no part of Him otherwise, does he relent.

Both John the Baptist and Peter tried to correct Jesus because each time Jesus took the servant’s position.   In the first case it is a passive position.  Jesus consents to be baptized and allows someone else, John the Baptist, to be the master of the event.  He does it, He says, to fulfill all righteousness.

In the second Jesus again takes the servant’s place but in an active position.  He seeks to serve his disciples by washing their feet.  In this case it’s implied, rather than stated, that this is how righteousness is fulfilled.

Jesus was washed in order to Himself wash others.  This is a model for us.  The Son of God became incarnate to renew humanity and to show us what a perfect man is and does.  He doesn’t insist on the high places, he doesn’t shun the dirty work, he makes his fellow men his principle concern.  First by showing solidarity with them and then by crouching down and washing their feet.

How often do we take the opposite approach and say to God, “Stop it, you’re doing it wrong?”  We say it every time we commit an act of so-called piety simply for the sake of being seen or to gratify ourselves.  Like John claiming to be unworthy of baptizing Jesus and Peter claiming to be unworthy to be washed by Him, we say things like “God willing” when we really mean “I hope things go my way.”  For instance, occasionally someone’s reply when asked how he’s doing is simply “Thank God.”  Thank God for what?  It is altogether appropriate to thank God in every circumstance, but then why not answer the question?  “I’m doing well, thank God.” Or “I’m having a tough time, but thank God I’m getting through it.” We must take some responsibility for the conditions with which we contend and how we do so. We can’t always blame God. It’s an attitude of piety that inadvertently acts pridefully by taking the passive role when it ought to be active, the way that St John the Baptist did.

The other way we try to tell God he’s doing it wrong is by being active when we ought to be passive.  We cannot by our own efforts make ourselves worthy of God’s grace, worthy of Holy Communion or of any of the sacraments.  No matter how many  prostrations we make, no matter how many self-deprecating acts of piety,  no matter how many times we come to church, if we are not plugged into and participating in the sacramental life of the Church then we are leaving that grace—the only means for becoming like Christ—on the shelf unused.  We must be washed by Jesus as St Peter was whether we like it or not.  It happens first in our baptism, and then is constantly renewed through Holy Confession and Holy Communion.

St John Chrysostom offers another way to renew our baptism in addition to confession and repentance:

But let us all humble our own souls by alms-giving and forgiving our neighbors their trespasses, by not remembering injuries, nor avenging ourselves. [Because] if we continually reflect on our sins, no external circumstances can make us elated: neither riches, nor power, nor authority, nor honor; nay, even should we sit in the imperial chariot itself, we shall sigh bitterly.

If we only ever focus on how unworthy we are, then we will never get up off of our pallet, pick it up, and get to work.

As we celebrate Jesus’ baptism, we should remember our own baptisms, and how we participate with Jesus in His death, burial and resurrection.  We can do that best by evaluating the present cleanliness of our baptismal garments and then washing them in the tears of repentance in Holy Confession.  Moreover, we should think how we, like Jesus, are baptized to serve.  We begin by being receptive to the Holy Spirit in the Sacraments, we continue by serving and loving our neighbors, and we will end—if we persist (Not “God willing” because we know that it’s His desire)—by participating in that eternal communion in the Kingdom of Heaven. 

We must stop saying, “Jesus, you’re doing it wrong.”  So that when the time comes Christ will say to us, “Congratulations, you did it right.”

Letting Go

Sometimes you just need to let things go. Yeah, I get that, but it can be hard to do. I am a sentimental person so I tend to keep things that are reminders of people and places that are important to me. I am also a creative person and I am finding that it can be equally difficult to let some of my “creations” go. Let me give you an example.

Here is a painting of a buckskin horse I had done with the intention of selling at an upcoming Arts and Crafts Fair. It took a few weeks for him to emerge because he was not coming out easily. So I would stop work for a time so as not to push or rush the process. In the mean time while working on other projects he would catch my eye and my thoughts would dwell on him. Hmmmm, why can’t I get him to emerge? I would catch myself having asking him why he was making it so hard for me to help him come into the world. As he was emerging he just looked so haughty and prideful about it all that I took to calling him Pride. Which later became the name of the painting. (I know, I know. This all says a lot more about me than him.)

After completion, he sat on the easel for a few weeks while I finished my other projects for the event. During which time I just enjoyed his presence. He brought a sense of satisfaction of a difficult job well done. While I could see the ‘flaws’ in my work there was just something compelling about him. When it came time to prep him for the sale I just couldn’t do it. I could not let him go. It’s not that I consider him the best work that I’ve done, he’s not, I think that it is more that he reminds me of a challenge that I managed to meet and besides, I like him and I like having him around looking down that prideful nose at everyone and everything. Let him go…..mmmm…not just yet.

Actually, I have always found it difficult to let my art work go unless I was making it for someone specifically. I tend to put more of myself into my paintings than anything else that I do. When I let them go it’s as if I am giving away a piece of myself or my world. When doing that for family and friends that to me is a good thing. Selling them to someone unknown, that’s much harder.

Letting go is hard. However, sometimes it is necessary. Clinging to “stuff” and even people can be detrimental to our well being. Someone once said that, “Letting go is a part of moving on to something better. You will not get what you truly deserve if you’re too attached to the things you’re supposed to let go of. Sometimes you love, and you struggle, and you learn, and you move on. And that’s ok. You must be willing to let go of the life you planned for so you can enjoy the life that is waiting for you.” (Anonymous)

Now I have been talking about “stuff” but letting go has far more deeper meanings and ramifications when applied to our work and ministry, our relationships, our children and family, as well as our possessions. No matter the situation, letting go is often one of the hardest things we are asked or required to do. But we are not left wanting when we choose to make right decisions to let go. Remember, Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12-14 NRSV)

The Right Tool

My sewing machine was on it’s last leg and just a smidge from dying! I was trying to finish the last few projects for my upcoming Arts & Craft sale. Sigh, it didn’t make it. It needed to be fixed. I could not in good conscience continue to use it as it was affecting the quality of my work.

With a heavy heart I looked into a possible replacement. I did not want to simply fix my machine because I had been hoping to replace it with an upgraded one if I could make enough money at my next sales event. My husband urged me to go ahead look into purchasing a new machine. As I set out to look for a new machine I was calculating what I could perhaps expect to make at the sale verses what I could afford to add to that. I was assuming that the machine I had had my eye on was out of the question so this was not a very happy task for me.

I decided to check out the brand of machine I was hoping for knowing that there was no way I could afford the one I actually had my eye on. But, nothing ventured nothing gained. To my surprise and flickering hope…A huge sale! Dare I push the budget to actually get the one that I wanted? It was almost within my budget range but not quite. What to do? My mind was trying to think things through while watching the demonstration by the salesperson. My prayers were going heavenward pleading for help as to what I should do. To help me not to simply give into my want. I worked hard to listen to what the Lord was saying to me while trying to beat back my excitement at a possible purchase. So close and yet so far!

I did it! (Do I have an awesome husband or what! Rather than being upset at the added cost He encouraged me that we could work it out, no problem.) The arts and craft sale went very well and I was able to apply it to a good portion of the cost of the machine. I now have my “dream machine.” ….I have my dream sewing machine….wow….

As I was finishing up projects for the sale on my new machine, I realized how easy everything was going. The machine was working correctly and I did not have to fight with it. I had forgotten how relaxing and enjoyable sewing could be for me. I had been so frustrated sewing on my old machine that all I had been experiencing was disappointment, anxiety and tension. I could not help but think of the old adage, ‘the right tool for the right job.’ Yet even when you do use the correct tool if it is not used correctly or in disrepair it is no better than using the wrong tool.

I am so looking forward to working on my next projects and discovering all of the features that are now available to me on my new sewing machine. Two things I have appreciated through all of this: first that the joy of creativity can and will push through obstacles to come to fruition; second I was reminded that with the right tools creativity enlarges itself by leading to new possibilities.

In all of this I thank my Lord for helping me to navigate the minefield of temptation as to what I can and should do in this whole situation.

A peek at my next project.

It will be a table runner….I think

Response

 

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance, perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4)

Have you ever considered that your responses to life’s situations can be considered a spiritual discipline? Keith Drury in his book, With Unveiled Facescomes to this conclusion: that at the end of all spiritual disciplines is this one final ‘discipline’ called response. He states that “a right response to life is not automatic. If anything, our natural responses are more often the wrong ones. Thus it is a spiritual discipline to respond the way Christ calls us to respond.” So to the list of spiritual disciplines, Drury suggests that we should add Response. Aspiritual disciplinethat calls for us to manage or exercise discipline in our reactions and responses to what life brings us, be it good or bad. I have come to believe that this is an important ‘discipline’ that aids us in our ministry.  Like any discipline it needs to be cultivated and exercised in and through our relationship with Christ.

As I look back at my own life and the way in which I may have reacted in any given situation, I have to admit to the truth of Drury’s conclusions. I think back to my last appointment as an active officer and contemplate what some of my responses were to some decisions from THQ. For example, if I were to disagree with a given decision and choose to complain about it loudly and publicly it is easy to see how this negative response would cause me stress personally but consider the negative stress that my reaction could cause to those around me.  Worse still my responses could then cause negative reactions in co-workers; and could lead to divisiveness in a number of areas: officer to officer, DHQ to THQ, employee to employee, officer to employee, etc.  Like a pebble thrown into still waters, the ripples of effect could have reached far and wide. Conversely, should I choose to exercise the spiritual discipline response and simply accept the decision given by THQ and look for ways of reconciling myself to it then instead of a ripple of negativity the waters would remain much more calm. It then becomes easier to keep relationships strong so that focus on mission and ministry maintains its priority.

I remember being in the fall months of a new appointment when our daughter was struck by a car on the way to school.  I remember coming to the scene and seeing my daughter stretched out on the road being attended to by EMTs.  I clearly remember the stab of fear that went through my whole body.  My first reaction was prayer for my daughter’s life and health. As I stood there alone praying, unable to move, unable to reach or touch my daughter, a stranger simply placed a hand on my shoulder and uttered a comforting word.  I realize now that, at the moment I instinctively recognized in that stranger God’s comfort and reassurance.  In the ambulance ride to the hospital, I once again gave my daughter back to God and prayed for strength to accept what lay ahead. Somehow, in that moment, my past relationship with the Lord guided my response to the horrific crisis that was facing me. (Praise God she was and is totally fine—a miracle that I still marvel at. And in fact was privileged to experience with my son. Am so grateful that God is still a God of miracles.)

About a year later I discovered that the people of our new corps had noticed my response in this situation and my reliance on God.  In their observations, (that were shared with me by an awesome woman of God.) my response indicated that I had the God-given resources to deal with difficult situations. The outcome was a greater ability to minister to our people and to help them through their own difficult or tragic situations.  I am not sure what the effect would have been if I would have allowed fear and bitterness to be my response.  Responses such as: How could this happen to my daughter, I’ve been trying to be a good Officer, witness, etc.; they should throw the driver who hit her in jail, it’s all his fault; and on and on. Responses such as these lead more to self-pity and help no one. In fact I would maintain that they do more to harm ministry because the focus is on self and lacks trust in God and His control of circumstances.  On the other hand exercising spiritual response looking only for the best outcomes in a tragic or difficult situation demonstrates trust in God for whatever the outcome may be which brings to the individual a calmness and peace that is attractive to those around them.

I still praise God and marvel at the peace that carried me through an ambulance ride to the hospital not knowing what awaited my daughter there. In all of that I do know that my spiritual life was deepened and enriched in and through this very real life and death experience. And today—thank you, Jesus—I have a beautiful daughter who loves and serves the Lord as well as a loving son-in-law and two extraordinarily bright and beautiful grandchildren.

In his book, Drury, goes on to explain that: “Each of our responses becomes a thread that weaves together the rope of our character. Our character is the sum and total of our choices. In the spiritual discipline of response, we braid into that rope Christlike responses to life’s situations.”

My continued prayer is that God would continue to work in me in such a way that my response, even in the smallest most unimportant situations, will be appropriate and in keeping with His will.

“There is meaning in every journey that is unknown to the traveler.”                              —Dietrich Bonhoeffer

 

In His Image

It’s funny the things that give pleasure within the same activity/genre.  I like to make quilts. Which is a sewing activity, right?  But I do not care to sew clothing as I once did. What I have come to realize is that it is not the activity of sewing that I like, it is what I am sewing or better said, creating.  Even in sewing a quilt I can quickly come to dislike it if I do not like how color or patterns are progressing.

Creativity if a funny thing. It can inspiring or frustrating; it can be challenging or   easy; it can be a driving force or lassez-faire. God gave this marvelous gift, I believe to give us a measure of understanding about who He is and what He is like.

Since we are made in the image of a creative God there is a measure of creativity within each of us. Yet there are those who seem to be bereft of this creative gene.  In my first appointment it was part of my responsibility to work with kids ages 7 to 10.  During an art project I suggested that they use their imagination to draw a picture about some part of the story we had just read that they liked. I was astounded (and heart broken) at the lack of imagination within these poverty-stricken kids whose parents were themselves educationally limited.  For example, several of the kids parents could not read nor write or even sign their own names.  We had a number of adults using some form of an X to sign their vouchers when receiving assistance from us.

It took these kids to help me realize how insidious poverty can be. From that point forward I made it a priority to try and stimulate and help these kids awaken their imagination and to begin exercising their creative gifts. I will never forget their responses as they began to actually create something from their own imaginations with no help from mine. It was an experience that as I think back I cannot help but to ponder how much light came into the life of those kids as they began to learn to create.  Even if it was to simply draw a fish/whale.

I recall reading an article about creativity that spoke about Adam’s creation. Part of it read something like this:

Imagine day six of creation. God has formed the very first man but he lays lifeless. The outer shell has been formed and the body made but there are eyes without sight, ears without hearing, lungs without air, and a heart without a beat. There lay God’s            creation jewel the period of His work. Finished?

God’s creation was done. Finished. Finished? Man formed, yes. But finished, no. Creation would not be complete until the first gasp of breath. God had ‘imagined’ how He would create this human and like all artists paused knowing that the work is almost complete but just what does it need added to be finished. Ah, yes, I need to add breath. But how to get breath into the body of His creation? I’ll breath into it and he will become complete.

Creativity challenging and easy….for God.  And even frustrating as the Creator God realizes that the human was not finished even when breath and life had been added because he was alone. And so our Triune God created another human to complement and finish His human creation.

I absolutely love the idea that my Creator God did not simply speak Adam and Eve into existence as He did with the rest of creation but He formed us by His hands. Creating us with the abilities to think, reason, feel, and create. Created in His Image.

I love this quote by Max Lucado, “God must’ve had a blast. Painting the stripes on the zebra, hanging the stars in the sky, putting the gold in the sunset. What creativity! Stretching the neck of the giraffe, putting the flutter in the mockingbird’s wings, planting the giggle in the hyena. And then, as a finale to a brilliant performance, He made a human who had the unique honour to bear the stamp, In His Image.”

 

 

 

 

Tiling…in Embroidery

I have done some tiling in my time–backsplashes, fireplaces, etc.–but this is the first time I have done it in an embroidery project. It is almost as challenging as tiling with porcelain tiles.

 

My first project, “Dashing through the Snow” was quite a challenge but one undertook with enthusiasm and ignorance of the process. I loved it frustration and all. I want to do this pattern again and next time do it correctly.  There are some minor errors in the one that I completed that I would like to correct. Nevertheless it still came out well and I love it.

In fact I enjoyed the process so much I purchased another pattern that I absolutely love and, for the most part, is progressing well. But boy! the stitch count is up there!

This one is called “Santa’s Workshop.”  So far I have 17 out of 32 tiles completed. It is a lengthy process. One of the tiles took 97 minutes to complete. Patience is a very necessary ingredient in this tiling process.  Well, really I guess it would be necessary in any kind of tiling process.

In case you have not noticed, I love to sew, quilt, embroider. I love learning new techniques and new ways to create old patterns.  Needlework requires lots of patience if your goal is to create a flawless (almost flawless) piece.

Patience is something that I have come to appreciate through the quilting process. Take the time to do it right then you won’t have too many mistakes to correct. And don’t expect to complete your project in one sitting.  Since I’ve learned this lesson the quilting process has become much more enjoyable.

I approach my work time with anticipation of working on a particular project with the added bonus of listening to a book, podcast, or music.  TV is great for keeping you company when you don’t need to pay attention to it.  As the mother of four I still find some kind of noise (voices) in the house somehow soothing.

Patience also allows you to enjoy the process along the way. Worry over completion of the project is removed and the love of the creative process becomes dominant. In addition I have discovered that a by product, for me, of learning  patience is contentment.

Paul wrote to the Philippians, “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content (4:11).” This is so much more difficult than it sounds because contentment is something that we learn. It is not a natural part of us. We’re not born with it. It is not a gift. For some of us it may take years and for others, not so much but it is something that is learned by those who choose to pursue it.

Generally we tend to  look for things that will make us content; those things that we deem better or the next rung in our career rather than putting forth the effort it takes to learn how to be content. If only I had a dollar for every time I have heard someone (and myself) say, I will be happy/content/satisfied when I am promoted; when I am married; when I am single; if I were rich; if/when I am healed; so forth and so forth.

Contentment is not about denying one’s feelings about wanting or desiring something they can never have, rather being content brings to the individual freedom. Freedom from being controlled by the feelings of always wanting and never having enough.

Contentment is not pretending that every thing is all right when it is not, but rather contentment brings about the peace that comes from knowing that God is bigger than any problem and that he will work all of life’s problems and difficulties out for our good.

“Contentment isn’t a feeling of well-being contingent on keeping circumstances under control, but instead it promotes a joy in spite of circumstances, looking to God who never varies. Contentment is not based on external circumstances, but rather on an internal source. Contentment is of the heart” (Rick Ezell).

Let me leave you with a John Wesley story of contentment and gratitude. John Wesley was about 21 years of age when he went to Oxford University. He came from a Christian home, and he was gifted with a keen mind and good looks. Yet, in those days he was a bit snobbish and sarcastic. One night, however, something happened that set in motion a change in Wesley’s heart. While speaking with a porter, he discovered that the poor fellow had only one coat and lived in such impoverished conditions that he didn’t even have a bed. Yet, he was an unusually happy person, filled with gratitude to God. Wesley, being immature, thoughtlessly joked about the man’s misfortunes. ‘And what else do you thank God for?’ he said with a touch of sarcasm. The porter smiled, and in the spirit of meekness replied with joy, ‘I thank Him that He has given me a life and being, a heart to love Him, and above all a constant desire to serve Him!’ Deeply moved, Wesley recognized that this man knew the meaning of true contentment.” (Source unknown)

Who knew you could learn so much from quilting? Or from a railroad porter.