Sunday, August 31, 2008

"Love him Well "

(Note: if you have not yet read "Thus Far", please do; it is the precursor to this story...)

Having had my "Thus Far" experience, I continued to witness the "fast and furious" progression of events that lay ahead. Saturday, we discussed the events two days prior. Trust was broken, and our hearts lay torn and battered.

Following our conversation, I headed to bed. There I lay, almost certain that my marriage was disintegrating in front of my eyes. I cried out, "My God, what am I going to do?" The kids were small, and I felt very, very alone. "What do I do, Lord? What do I do?"

In the silence, I hear, "Love him well". My eyes flew open. "Excuse me?" "Love him well". I could hardly believe it. "Love him well? What the hell....? Do You understand what's going on here?? Do You have any idea of how I feel right now?" (Of course You do...) I shook my head, closed my eyes and looked away.

I sighed deeply, realizing that this was very likely instruction from God, answering my plea for direction. Not only was it the antithesis of what I was feeling, but it was, how do they say....? Biblical. It seemed crazy to me, but over and over and over again, the message was very clear: "Love him well..."

Many minutes went by, but finally, I reopened my eyes. "If this is what You want me to do, 'Love him well' ", I said, sarcastically, "then You are going to have to show me how, because I can't do that myself!" A silent calm surrounded me. I knew He would do just that.

Day after day, as the anger and hurt rose up inside me, the Gentle Voice Within would remind me, "Love him well". Day after day, situations would arise, and despite my pain and resentment, I was shown how to act lovingly. It was, by no means, perfect, but it was certainly better than it would have been had I acted on my own.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Press into God

"Press into God," she said. I didn't understand those words at first. I heard them at a bible study where Priscilla Shirer was telling us to "Press into God"... but, I mean, how does one "press into God"? It's not like we can crawl into His lap, and really, truly, lean our heads on His chest...

Then I kind of laughed as I remembered how many of the members of my congregation have 'caught' me - nestled between two trunks of an old, old oak tree.

I am a very kinesthetic learner - I am experiential. I like to DO things, participate in my world. I like to climb up and FEEL the tree: the solidity of the trunk, watch the branches dance in the breeze, experience the texture of the bark (and, no... it's not a picture of me... I was barefoot....but it IS the tree).

"Press into God". I think also of the days when I was first remembering God and delighting in His presence. I remember the mornings at the trestle bridge, where He would brush the hair out of my face...and I would lean into the wind.

"Press into God". The moments when the world has been turned upside down, and everything that used to make sense, doesn't. That's when I wish there WERE a way to crawl up into His lap, and feel His arms surround me.

Ah... but there is...the wind, the trees, the grass beneath my feet. All reminders to me of God's ever-presence in my life. All reminders that I am divinely loved, cherished, cared for.

Yes, there are days when the connection is harder to find, when the distance seems too great. The days when the shame is unbearable and the fear is overwhelming - when the idea of a relationship with God seems impossible.

Those are the days, when I most need to remember to "Press into God" - to lean toward Him, seek Him out. To trust with all that is within me - and sometimes borrowing the faith and hope of others - that God is still with me - "stalking" me. Not once letting me out of His sight. Not once.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Thus Far

The night that crisis hit my marriage, I lay in the bed and prayed. I prayed that whatever needed to happen, happened - "fast and furious!" Over and over again, I prayed - "fast and furious, Lord, fast and furious!"

Careful what you pray for!

The next morning, I joined my Women's Bible Study group to continue Beth Moore's "Believing God". Beth had a way of speaking to me, and though I didn't know it yet, God was working overtime in my life.

Beth was telling the story of the Israelites hauling stones out of the Jordan River as they escaped Egypt, and of Samuel, after the defeat of the Philistines, raising a stone to symbolize - in Beth's words - "We have no idea where we're going from here, but THUS FAR, God has been with us"

The dam broke, and my tears poured out. I shared with them the story of the previous night. They circled around me, prayed over me, prayed for me, my marriage, my children...

And in that moment, the truth of the saying "when God is all you have, you realize God is all you need" moved from my head to my heart. The series of events that had led me to this group of women, that had re-established my connection with God, fell into place. The puzzle pieces fit.

I could appreciate - to the best of my human ability - the work that had been done (by God!) in my life through the previous years for this moment in time. To be surrounded by a group of godly women, to have met God in the stillness of the yoga mat, to have restored my belief in the power of prayer, and the benevolence and omnipotence of God Himself.

I had no idea where I was going from there - but of one thing I was certain: "THUS FAR God had been with me"

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Love Never Ends....

It had been a difficult year. One of the most influential "teachers" in my life had died suddenly, leaving me feeling very lost and alone. No one to hold up the "mirror", gently stand beside me and say "look". Yet I remembered how, again and again, she had told me she loved me, and that she'd always be with me.

I had muddled my way through my grief. Now, a year later, my father had died. As I stood weeping in the shower, after hearing the news, I realized how blessed I had been. I was overcome with peace. Trivialities of family life, gone, I considered my mother's question to me that morning: "Would you like to speak at the funeral?"

Hmmmm. As I stood there, water pouring down, I was showered with memories of things I had learned from my father. Suddenly, all the rules I had rolled my eyes at as a child, held great wisdom. I realized that the challenges that lay before us are not the handicap; surrendering hope, ability and perseverance to your 'difference' is. I compiled the list, and shared these truths at his memorial service. (He'd have liked that!)

I realized that my father loves me - present tense. Though his body is no longer with us, the love that he gave throughout the years remains.

Returning home to New England for the funeral, I pressed my face against the cool glass of the airplane window and looked out over the darkening sky. I could almost hear my friend, Karen laugh and say to me, "I TOLD you I would always love you."

Within my finite human experience, I was beginning to understand the verse, "Love Never Ends".

Supper Club ... Ministry in Action!!

I've you're not part of a "supper club", I HIGHLY recommend creating one! If you don't know what I'm talking about, sit down, I'll explain.

Supper club is the most wonderful thing on earth for a busy mom who wants to feed her family healthy food at suppertime. Our group consists of four women. Each of us picks one day to cook for everyone. My day is Tuesday.

On Tuesdays, I cook for my family and the three other families - a main dish and a side, serving at least 4 people. I pack the food into a plastic grocery bag and deliver it to their homes. Well, now that may sound like a pain - but don't judge yet! Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays, meals show up at MY house (Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays - leftovers!).

I was the last to join our group - I resisted for a long time... we are eclectic eaters, our schedule is crazy and oh yeah... I don't cook. (At least I thought I didn't!). One day, out tending the earth - mowing the grass, if you must know - one of the women stopped by my house on her way to deliver supper to my neighbor. As she walked up to me, I thought, "why am I NOT doing this?" When she was within earshot, I cried out "I WANT TO JOIN!!"

The next week, sitting with my meal - prepared with love by my friend - I thought... THIS is living in community.... THIS is how we care for one another.... THIS is ministry in action.

Oh..... hey... we carpool too!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Meeting on the mat

It was that period of time between the death of my dear friend, Karen and the death of my father. I had "some how" (thank you, God!) arrived in a yoga class at our local YMCA. I couldn't tell you much about that first class aside from the Gentle Voice Within SCREAMING at me: "This is IMPORTANT! LISTEN!! PAY ATTENTION!!!". I recognized that feeling within me now - a new "teacher" stood before me.

Week after week, I felt as if she had been following me - "stalking" me - for she spoke my truth. She provided answers to my unspoken questions (thank you, God, for the way You speak to me through the people You bring into my life!!).

I learned many things in that class: most importantly, I learned to breathe and I learned how to be still - physically and mentally. As I experienced moments of stillness, I realized - God was meeting me there on the yoga mat.

When we would move into camel pose - with the heart open wide to the heavens - I would spill the tears I'd hidden deep within my heart, then collapse into child's pose... God was there, with me on the yoga mat, catching my tears, healing my brokenness and my pain.

Be still.... He says.... Be Still and Know...

Teachers and Those Along the Way

I have been blessed with many "teachers" along the way. Influential individuals who arrive in my life before I need them, providing the answers before I can articulate the questions. Women who have loved me enough to hold me accountable and who were willing to love me before I was able to love myself.

Initially, I was oblivious to their presence in my life. However, once I acknowledged their existence, I could look back and name each and every one of them. I recognized the part of my journey in which they walked, and the lessons they helped me learn. Each had an integral part in helping me grow into the woman I am today. Each was heaven sent.

Many have shown me the blessings in my life - either by the presence or absence of such in theirs. Some stood silently beside me in the times when I needed quiet company, or the strength of companionship. Others challenged me to surpass my self-imposed limitations. One lay a hand on my back and said, "You can do this. You are strong!". A few have sat beside me late into the night, shining a light into the dark corners of my world.

One was an expert at holding up a "mirror", standing beside me and saying "look". She would review the situation and my reaction to it. I would avert my gaze and change the topic of conversation. She would redirect, saying, "No. Linda. Look at this". Together we would look. We explored the joys and the pain, the fears and resentments that were my life. We discovered parts of me long forgotten - including my relationship with God.

Together, we sorted through the sack of issues I was carrying on my back. We identified which were mine, and which belonged to others; which I would be able to let go of, and which I needed to hang on to for a little while longer.

We identified the stones I had placed in the wall that I had created between myself and others. Resentment, Jealousy, insecurity. We celebrated the discovery of my strengths and talents.

We cried and we laughed. We found peace, faith, hope, joy and love.

She's gone now, but in those times when I struggle, I can still her her voice in my head, "Lay down the guns, Linda. Quit fighting. I love you."

Invited to Fellowship

I am a shy person by nature: quiet, reserved. I tend to get lost in a crowd, but there I was, attending a church with a very large congregation - several hundred attending services on Sunday mornings. I was feeling "apart from" in a place I wanted to feel "a part of".

So, one day, I risked it - I verbalized this to God: "Lord, help me to be connected here".

Not long after that, picking up my children from their Sunday School classroom, one of the other mothers turned to me. "We're starting a new bible study - It's a wonderful group of women. We'll be studying Beth Moore. We meet on Friday mornings. There's childcare. I'd love for you to join us!"

I didn't know what to say - I didn't know this woman. I didn't *do* bible studies. Beth who? Oh, God.... help me! I finally managed to find the words to let her know that I didn't think Fridays would work for me. "Too bad," she said. "I'll ask again..." (Oh, I'm sure you will....maybe I can avoid you...)

Several weeks went past. I continued to feel disconnected and lost in the sea of faces. I risked again: "Lord, I really want to be connected here. I'm not sure I'll continue to make the effort to be here, if I'm not connected". Not an hour later... she asked again...

I really hope my jaw didn't drop when she invited me to join them - but I'm sure it did. I had just been shown (AGAIN) the answer to my prayer. Now, it was up to me. Would I choose to accept her offer... HIS offer. I just nodded - "what time?"

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Fine Line Between Inspiration and Obsession

I am learning that there is a fine line between inspiration and obsession.

In the few days since I have been inspired to put my thoughts and experiences to (virtual) paper - thank you Matt! - I've also been aware of HOW MUCH I have to write.

I suppose that shouldn't surprise me, since I often feel like the young Cole in the movie "Sixth Sense". Cole sees dead people - everywhere. I see God - everywhere. I have a rich, rich testimony. I have struggled and wrestled. I've been truly, truly blessed... Beauty from Ashes: again and again, and again.

So... as I walk my neighborhood, or prepare a meal, my life is now suddenly interrupted: "OH! I need to blog THAT!" I take a moment, run to my computer and update my "Yet to come..." list.

Some stories want out - NOW, and others are more patient. My challenge is to present the current events as well as maintain some historical perspective. To catch us up without falling behind in real life.

Ultimately, it's about balance; about not mistaking the urgent for the important; about being intentional as I straddle the line between inspiration and obsession.

Wish me luck!

"All I have needed, Thy hands hath provided...."

"Here", she says as she hands me the CD. "Track two. It'll make you cry."

I pop the CD into the player and begin to listen, as she heads to get the music to review. She is right. As the music begins, the tears fall. "Great is Thy faithfulness, Oh God, my Father..." When she returns, I say "I want this played at my funeral". "NO!" she says. "This is your LIFE song." Again, she is right. She knows me too well.

I think back through the years... "... all I have needed, Thy hands hath provided...." It's true. Even before I was aware of the pain, the sorrow, the needs... they were met. Through my darkest moments, I was never alone.

"Great is Thy Faithfulness, Lord unto me". My LIFE song. Thank you God.

Joyful reminders

There is much joy in this world. Just ask the hummingbirds!

My habit of late is to sit on the steps of the deck as the sun is rising and watch the hummingbirds. Oh yeah, and in the afternoon, I watch them too...

Of course the hummingbirds are swarming around, playing... games of 'tag' and 'chase', chattering to each other...and then I realized....

When I was first aware of the hummingbirds, I could only see them at the feeder, or if they stopped to hover RIGHT IN FRONT OF MY FACE. Then I began to recognize their joyful chattering. When I heard their song, I stopped whatever I was doing, and began to search for them.

Today, I noticed, not only could I see them at the feeder, but could follow their winding flight patterns as they departed the feeder, landing in the trees - and from the trees back to the feeder. Sometimes, I catch a glimpse of them as they are speeding by in mid-air.

Then it hit me: this has been my path with God as well.... Initially, I recognized God's presence only when He was RIGHT IN FRONT OF MY FACE. As I began to recognize His voice, I began to search for Him and noticed His more subtle activity in my life. When I allow myself to be still; to sit and listen for His voice, I catch a glimpse of His presence. Day after day, as sure as the sun rises and the hummingbirds visit my feeder, He is there.

The other thing I love about God and hummingbirds: both fill me with the most unbelievable joy... simple, pure, peaceful joy...

Monday, August 25, 2008

Dancing in the rain

I love the rain: the sound, the smell. But mostly, I love the feel of it on my skin - It is as if God Himself is baptizing me, over and over again.

So, whenever I have the opportunity, you'll find me dancing in the rain...

OH! You mean ME....

I had arrived one Sunday morning to a new church. Conveniently enough, it was only a mile from my house, driveway to driveway. But, that is not what I loved about it.

The feeling I got when I walked inside the building, the people, the joy: that's what got me. I felt that stirring deep within. "You're home."

I sat with my children as the music began. As the service continued, I realized my attention was focused to the left side of the stage. There stood a woman, interpreting the music in American Sign Language. The worship music transitioned into the sermon, and still I focused on her hands, her expressions, her ability to bring the meaning of the words to life. Sure, I could hear what was being sung, what was being said, but the words from her hands settled in my heart.

I thought back to my childhood, when I'd learned to fingerspell. I had also learned a few signs here and there, so I could communicate with my mother without my father - who was blind - being aware. A quick fast-forward through my memory, and I'm in college, taking a "fun" elective - American Sign Language. Fast-forward again, and I'm teaching my children the requisite "baby signs" - "more", "milk", "stop", "I love you".

Following the service, en route to pick up my children from their Sunday School class, I pass the interpreter. When she signs to me, "Are you deaf?", I realize I have signed to her "I love your signs". I pause and shake my head, hands now resting on the stirring in my abdomen.

The following week, I am again aware of my focus on the interpreting. Aware of how it captures my heart and brings the message to me in a way that my ears can't process. It bypasses my brain and works directly on my heart. I don't even KNOW this language, and it affects me - deeply.

Oh.. and they need help interpreting. Kewl. Hope they find someone. I discount the stirring deep within me. *I* don't stand up in front of people. I'm shy, remember. I work every other weekend...and besides, who would watch my kids during the opening worship?

My daughter presents me with the project they had worked on in class. A card. The outside says "Thank you for Serving". Inside she has drawn a picture, subtitled, "Mommy".

The next day, an email arrives: "... The deaf ministry is in need of additional interpreters..."

Finally, it dawns on me. I looked up and said "OH! You mean ME..."

Sunday, August 24, 2008

I am.... a quilt?

It was during those searching adolescent years, when I first was aware of the Gentle Voice Within. Of course, I know now, that God has been "stalking" me much longer than I can remember, but it was new to me then.

I was at camp - working in the office, the summer between my junior and senior year of high school. Across from the office sat a rock and a tree. I'd spent so much time that summer beneath the branches of the hemlock that the camp staff began to refer to it as "Linda's Rock". And it was. The rock was perfectly shaped to hold me - sitting upright, or reclined, the crevices of the rock supporting my back, shoulders, head. I had full view of the camp road that passed between the office and my rock, but was not easily visible from the road. I spent hours on that rock, journaling the mundane, and struggling with the question that pulled at my core. "Who am I?"

It was the beginning of a multi-decade exploration of my Self... oh yes, it's still in process. But that day, as I sat, hidden beneath the branches of the hemlock, I was aware of pieces of my Self. The pieces were qualities I'd modeled after the influential people in my life - those that I admired, respected and loved. "I am.... responsible, like Debbie; a good listener, like Mimi..." I wrote. The list continued, each quality qualified with a "like".

I lay back upon the rock, stared into the branches of the tree, and sighed. I was seeing the qualities I possessed, but felt very fragmented and not "me". I closed my eyes and sighed again. With the next inhale, I had this vision of a quilt. A quilt? "Yes. A quilt." At first I didn't understand - neither the meaning of the vision nor the voice. Then, as if answering my unspoken question, the Gentle Voice Within continued to explain. "A quilt is made of pieces of this and pieces of that. But, sewn together in its own unique way, it becomes an entity of its own: beautiful, comfortable, warm." I smiled to myself... Ah. A quilt. I am a quilt.

I'm sorry, "Stalked" ... ?

Yes, "stalked".... though I do use the term tongue-in-cheek. By no means to I believe that God is following me around with intent to harm. Quite to the contrary!

I came upon the title of my book after a particularly difficult weekend. (yes, one day, I will write a book - for now, the blog will do.) I knew where God wanted me to go, but I was so tired and so weary, that rather than follow immediately in obedience, I resisted. I spent the weekend avoiding and ignoring.... and when I tucked myself into bed Sunday night, completely spent, I could hear the Gentle Voice deep within: "Are you done yet? C'mon let's go..."

Sitting on the side of the bed, weeping, I said aloud "My God, You are still there..." (in spite of my Self!) "Stalked by God".... forever and always. Amen.