Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Stubbornness and Rebellion...

So... apparently, the events at church Sunday morning were the warm-up in this round of conviction. Before the service, I had asked my friend to pray for me. I had shared with her the events that had occurred during the rehearsal. She signed "Stubborn?" and "Rebellion?" It wasn't QUITE what had happened that morning, but certainly "MY way" vs. "His way" fits both of those terms.

Sunday afternoon revealed - again and again - a way that I am both "stubborn" and "rebellious" - doing it "MY way" rather than "His way". Confirmation after confirmation came to me. Late that afternoon, I had to put down - OK, I "chose" to put down - the bible study when yet another confirmation came in the form of a question: what do I turn to when I should turn to God?

Had I continued on, I would have discovered what lay on the next page. Instead of finding this in the privacy and comfort of my own home, I found it in the midst of my bible study small group. There they were: Two words: "Stubbornness" and "Rebellion". (Seriously!) I signed "guilty!" (again), and wiped a tear out of my eye before it could fall.

Yet, despite conviction after conviction, I was shown: He does provide. In the most unlikely of places, the strangest of ways, He does provide.

Following the study, I gathered my things: bible, study book, flip flops. At the bottom of the stairs, I turn left and enter the quiet stillness of the sanctuary. It's dark, with only a trace of light coming through from the hallway. But, I know where I'm going, and my eyes are beginning to adjust. To the right front corner I walk. There, before the cross, I kneel. I close my eyes, and I sign, "Father, forgive me...."

Monday, September 29, 2008

One Way...

So... a lesson in humility today. There is always, always something I learn in service to God. For me, this is especially true in the world of interpreting. There is just something about standing up there, in our spot, worshiping before God and the congregation that is very powerful. There is something about that 'spot'... but perhaps more importantly, there is often something that happens, standing up there, that is very convicting - or moves my heart- in some way or another.

When I have time during the week, I like to bring the music - on my ipod - to the church. If I'm fortunate, and the church is open, I practice on our 'spot'. If not, just being on the grounds is helpful.... beautiful and peaceful, too, which is a bonus! For some reason, the songs get "tweaked" a little easier there than they do at home.

This was not one of those weeks. As a matter of fact, I didn't feel like I had much time at all to focus on the music. I had met with my mentor, and we had translated the songs, but I hadn't had much time to work through them. Most weeks, they're pretty much on my hands by Sunday morning. Not this week.

This week was an exception. I got to the church early, some quiet time with God to review the music on the grounds before the band arrived. Four of the five songs were OK. But one - the second one - I just couldn't get my hands around.

Before rehearsal, as the band was setting up, I was in our 'spot', going over the song again. "One Way.... Jesus..." OK... so I had the chorus. That was a start. Then I focused on the verses. "My life control surrender..." OK... got that... the next line, OK.... then the fumbling came. I looked at what we had written on the paper. Then I looked up at the air vents, where you'd think God lived by the way we focus there. It's there that we look when we're "search"-ing for Him, or "praise"-ing Him. There I look and sign "Help me". Then close my eyes to listen. I restart the ipod. OH... OK... there's another way to sign that phrase that my hands can grasp. Good. Turning back to God-in-the-air-vents, I sign "thank you!"

The next phrase that my hands stumble upon, I glance up. Yes! Ok... that works. On and on through the song we work. I cross out what I had written down previously, and write these new sign-words.

Stepping away from the music stand, I restart the song. First verse - OK, my hands can do that (can't remember the lyrics exactly, but I know if I can hear them and trust God, it will be OK). Then, the chorus comes... "One Way, Jesus. You're the only one that I could live for..." Then, I laugh... and cry. (and sign "guilty" - convicted!)

The man in the "crows nest" mixing the music notices. When I've finished the song, he gestures "You OK" and "tears".... I laugh and sign to him. "Yes. Realized trying to sign MY way..."

For what it's worth, it wasn't perfect. But I made it through it. It was also a wonderful reminder to me, and a good opportunity to let go of "MY way" and try His...

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Moments of Simple Joy - the Screensaver

I have recently figured out how to program my computer to scroll through the images of my 'pictures' folder as the screen saver. Two clicks - done. But, as it always happens, when one improvement comes along, it demands one or two more.

So many of the pictures need to be rotated. I've made some progress, but in the mean time, you'll see my family turning our heads on their sides to see the images in their proper orientation. Christmases, Easters, birthdays, the crazy lettuce we grew this year - all there again before our eyes!

And then there's the cropping and deleting that needs to happen. Digital photography is wonderful in so many aspects, but, for me, it does lead to some clutter. I take many, many more pictures than I would with a film-based camera. I can, so I will. But, I am realizing that there is no need to have 15 shots of my daughter's first missing tooth. This is providing me the opportunity to inventory my "pictures" folder. (yippee!) Another opportunity to sort through the "stuff" in my life and identify that which is truly important to me.

But, despite the 'to do' s that have been added. I have really enjoyed watching the moments of our lives appear on my resting computer screen. Better yet, I have enjoyed watching my children as they sit and focus on each picture, each event and say "MOM! do you remember that?" Of course I do...

They grow fast. Life changes. As these moments flash by again before my eyes, I am reminded to cherish today.... THIS moment. I am reminded again of how blessed I truly am.

Thank you God.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Tree of Life and Death

It was after my "shack" experience that I noticed this tree. I had walked out of the church, into the sunshine and had spent about twenty or thirty minutes sitting against a tower of sorts in the field nearby. There I had simply enjoyed the sunshine and the breeze on my face. Sitting there, doing nothing, but being in reflection of the previous two hours and of the amazement of the presence of God in my life. Joy and Peace and Grace and Love surrounded me.

When it was time to leave, I stood up and started walking toward my car. Suddenly, I stopped. Something was strange, but I couldn't quite place it. As I continued to stare at the tree that had caught my eye to the right of the field, I made mental notes. "Great symmetry" "it has a central base, then divides". Then silence as my breath catches: "half of the tree is dead!" I stood there silently for a long time, just staring at the tree, its symmetry and the dichotomy it represented.

Oh, how I wanted a picture of this - wanted to capture it to remember! My camera battery had previously "died" within the church and I prayed a moment - "just enough battery for one more picture, please!!" Sure enough, it powered up. "Thank You, thank You, thank You..."

As I turned to walk away, I said aloud, "I want to choose life! Please help me to choose life!"

Friday, September 26, 2008

On Finding a House

It was October. My divorce was final. The kids and I were living in the house that was his before we were married. Something about that didn't feel quite right, and the kids would be starting school in the near future. That fact obligated a different school district.

I contacted a realtor friend of mine and put the house on the market. Then, my search for a home began. I soon realized that not only did I want a certain school district, but I wanted a certain HALF of the school district.

I found a house that I liked - it was a little close to the electrical substation, but I figured I could over look that. I put an offer on that house - contingent on the sale of my house. Then waited. A few weeks later, someone else put a contract on that house. I was devastated.

I began my search again. I found another house. It had a great location, but had some features that I wasn't happy about. An interior design friend of mine and I met to evaluate the possibility (and cost!) of renovations. I decided it was doable - though I really wasn't thrilled with the one thing I really couldn't change - the garage on the front of the house. But, to be in this wonderful subdivision...and its perfect location... I'd deal with it. And, since I had a contract on MY house now, my time was limited. (I REALLY didn't want to move twice!)

I made an offer. They declined. I offered again. They declined. It was now the beginning of December. I made a third - full price - offer. At the very last hour of their consideration period they declined. "This is ruining our Christmas". I couldn' t believe it. A full price offer ruining their Christmas? Bizarre!

I called the mortgage company to stop the paperwork they'd started. I asked some more specific questions about my qualifications. He gave me a ballpark figure that would give me a mortgage comparable to our current house. I went and sat in my papasan chair. Fully supported there, I said, aloud, "Clearly, You don't want me in that house... where would You have me?" Once I'd regained some strength and dried my eyes, I returned to the computer to search the MLS listings again.

This time, I searched up a price bracket. Hmm... there in the same neighborhood, was this really cute house. As I sat and stared at it, it was if I heard "If you put down the money you were going to put into renovating the other house, it's the same money from the bank". I shook my head, startled. I pulled out a calculator. WOW. It was true. It was still a little out of my price range - but the picture was a few seasons old, perhaps there was wiggle room. I called my realtor.

Ten minutes later, she called back. Yes, it was still for sale. Yes, they'd love for me to see it, and believe it or not, they had dropped the price to what the mortgage guy had quoted me. Now the hard part. Waiting 3 days to be able to walk through it.

I reviewed the online listing over and over again. It was a little bigger, a little newer, side (two car) garage and a real bonus room. Finally, the day to see it arrived. Once I set foot into it, I knew I was home. It was even painted in "my colors". We wrote up the offer, sent it in and it was accepted!

This home has been a joy. Nearly 3 years later, I still pull into the driveway and say "Wow. My house. I love it! Thank You, God!" That feeling is reinforced every week, as I visit the other house - just around the corner. Walking out, I know I could have been living there. But God knew better and chose well for me.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Waiting... .and Wisdom

Tonight, I spent some time with my dog and with my God. I had to laugh when I realized, as I was massaging Jake's dysplastic hips, he was gnawing like crazy on what's left of a red rubber fire hydrant. As I ran my fingers through his thick coat, I considered how similar I must look, as I mentally gnaw at the events of my life. Reminiscing the the events of the day, last week... and looking into the future at what is yet to come.... I gnaw.

Recently, I've been feeling called to act. The gentle nudging has started to become more frequent, and less gentle. It's getting harder to ignore. "Be bold in your faith".

"Boldness" in my faith - what EXACTLY does that look like? How EXACTLY do I do that? I want details. I like to know the plan!

But, these are questions I won't know answers to until the time comes. I was reminded of that today. Not only do I need the right words, I need the right timing. I need Divine Appointment.

Yet, still, I gnaw over it. Will I know what to say? Will I know the right moment? I laugh again and shake my head. The dog pauses, looks at me, then returns to his obsessive chewing. It's so not about ME. It's about HIM. For me, it's about listening, and willingness, and letting Him lead.

I am grateful for the women in my life with whom I pray, and who pray for me. For those who remind me of timing. For those who inspire me and encourage me. And for my God, who is always there. Ready. Waiting. Perfect words, perfect timing. May I listen, obey and let Him lead.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

You Can't Take That From Me

This morning, as I was standing at the kitchen sink, I was reminded of a scene that took place earlier this year. I had been in the same spot at the sink, washing dishes. It was a warm day in early spring, and I had opened my windows after a seemingly long winter. Just as it had this morning, a breeze had come through the window, and brushed up against my face. I had paused, closed my eyes and taken a good deep breath.

A week before that spring morning, there had been a burglary in the neighborhood. Everyone was up in arms, wanting to DO something about it. Myself included. We investigated beginning a formal "neighborhood watch" program. In doing so, I had done some online research. One of the things I discovered was a list of precautions one could take to keep oneself safe. That list included keeping the windows closed.

That spring morning, as the breeze brushed my face, and I stood there with my eyes closed, enjoying a moment, I thought "Oh! you can't take this from me!"

There are things that can be taken - Take my stuff!! - but other things, Peace, Joy, Hope, Love. Those are gifts that can't be taken (though I can surrender them, if I choose to do so).

Ultimately, I can choose to live in Fear OR I can choose to live in Peace, Joy, Hope and Love. I choose the latter!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Moments of Simple Joy - the dog

Who would have thought this bundle of energy could bring me such joy. Especially the way it started!

We had been family to 3 dogs for a long time. Two Great Dane - English Mastiff mixes and a German Shepherd mix. Thirteen years of 400 pounds of dog! Whew! Then, the same year my marriage died, one by one, the dogs did too.

Two years later, it was time. The paper arrived. The "pet of the week", was an 8 week old chocolate lab pup. I asked the kids what they would name him? "Brownie!" "Jake!" (WHAT was I thinking?)

The next morning, "Jake" was a part of our family - and part of my "Conspiracy of Sleeplessness". I'd forgotten how much attention an "infant" needs - day and night. I'd forgotten how much puppies liked to chew. And I'd forgotten how much energy labs have - and for how long!

His submissiveness at the pound, where we first met, turned out to be sickness. Once he was well, the battle for "alpha" began....and continues. It is improving, but reminders remain necessary.

Yet, despite the fact that he can get on my very last nerve. He does bring me great joy. He comes and sets his head briefly on my shoulder while I sit on the porch steps in the morning. He is a walking partner. And the past few days, he has made me LAUGH OUT LOUD!

The first day, I had been "Tending the Earth" (AKA spreading mulch). I decided to let him run free from his fenced portion, while I watered the transplanted bushes at the edge of our backyard. I looked over my shoulder, and there he was - running around, with the old plastic mulch bags in his mouth. He'd gotten the prize! There he'd run, just out of reach, encouraging me to play 'tag'. I walked up to him, he ran. He stopped. I walked up to him, he ran. One time, when I thought I was close enough, I ran after him, reaching for the plastic bags. As he took off, I leaned forward and ended up rolling in the grass, laughing so hard I couldn't speak. (I'm sure I was a sight to see!). At this point, he came over to see what was so funny, and lay the bags near my head.

The second day was bath day. The bath itself was uneventful. When he had dried, I put the flea and tick repellent on him. It was the liquid kind - but the "non-toxic" liquid kind. I think it smells wonderful, but apparently, Jake does not. Once the last of the lemongrass-cinnamon-peppermint oil mixture was on his back, and he was set free, I sat back on the chair on the deck. When I turned to look out at him, there he was, running, then diving onto his back, as if he were hoping to find something to roll in that would mask his new smell. It was the funniest thing. Over and over again, he'd run, dive and roll. And once again, there I sat, laughing out loud - Joy overflowing. The dog stopping his rolling long enough to glare at me briefly.... and rolled some more.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Being "Stalked"

"Why do you have all the cool "God things" happen to you?" a friend once asked me. I had been sharing a story, describing how my needs had been met time and time again following my separation and divorce. I shrugged. "You seek them out", someone else said. Really? do I? hmm....

I know I have some great "God stories". Numerous summaries of how God has graciously acted in my life. Some of them I have shared here, others have begged to make the "Yet to Come" list. Many, I would find hard to believe if I hadn't lived them. Some were quickly apparent, most needed the perspective of time to fully appreciate.

Recently, this same friend shared some of the events that have been happening in her life. I grinned. She gave me a sideways questioning glance, "what?" I laughed and grinned some more. Her look intensified. Finally, I said, "You're being 'stalked'!!"

She said,"Well, this is NOT FUN". "No," I replied. "It usually sucks at the beginning!" I encouraged her to hang on, and not to fight it. "SURRENDER to it!" She rolled her eyes and turned away. "Your "Stalker" is patient and relentless....and kind" I reminded her. She nodded.

I am reminded of the early days of being "stalked". The days when I was very, very afraid. Very afraid of change. Very afraid of losing control. Many days I tried to ignore Him. I learned of His patience and relentlessness. Some days I flat out asked Him to go away. He never did, despite the times when I refused to see or acknowledge Him.

As time passed, and as I'd walked through fears and misperceptions, I began to trust more. I began to witness the kindness and the grace - in my life and in the lives of others.

These days, when I feel I'm being "stalked", I notice. I don't always like it. I still don't LIKE change all that much. But I am (more) willing. I know that if there is pain or darkness to walk through, there will be healing and light once we do. These days, I hold on tight for the ride!

Yes, there are still days when I ask for Him to "lay off" for a little while. Sometimes He does, other times, we press forth. Either way, I am not forgotten. Either way, I am supported, cared for and loved. I know I will never be given more than I am able to handle, and I know that I will never, ever have to walk the path alone.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Developing an Attitude of Gratitude

I used to spend a lot of time living in "victim". You know how it is, something ("bad") was always happening TO me. And, oh, how I'd let you know! Poor, poor me. If someone else was having a bad day, I could out do it. I knew how to stir up a crisis.

I didn't realize that my choices were affecting my life. As I continued to choose poorly, "bad" stuff continued to happen. It was a life of insanity - doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

It takes a lot of energy to live in victim-mode. For me, it was an unending process. It was all I knew. It was probably the reason I was so comfortable with the chaos of working in a busy trauma center: Chaos, I knew. I seemed to thrive on it!

I also have been blessed with an innate sense of Gratitude. The problem - it's impossible (for me) to hold tightly to victim and express gratitude. What I didn't realize then was that I was CHOOSING to live in "victim" rather than CHOOSING to live in Gratitude. I liked it - it brought me attention! And sympathy!

One day, that began to change. A loving friend confronted me. "Do you realize how much time and energy you are putting into being a victim?" I scoffed. She didn't understand me. Oh, but she did. She'd been there too.

She was a friend and a confidante - I told her the stuff that was happening "to" me. Again and again, patiently, but relentlessly, she confronted me. She suggested I develop an "Attitude of Gratitude". I thought she was nuts, but I asked what she was talking about. She suggested I make a daily gratitude list. 10 things, written on paper, that I was grateful for that day.

No problem, I though. At first it was really really difficult. Most frequently, the last few items on the list were "I only have 3 / 2 / 1 more stupid thing to write on this list"

And, relentlessly, she'd keep me accountable "How'd your gratitude list go today?" she'd ask. "Ok", I 'd say. "Great - share it!" NOW I had a problem... I had to come up with 5 more things to make my list complete before I emailed it to her. And she expected more than the countdown of "stupid things to write on this list".

With practice, Gratitude came easier. So, she added a challenge. When I'd whine and complain about my job, or my family, or a friend, she'd ask for a Gratitude List specific to my current irritation. When I came up with nothing, she started it for me "You HAVE a job...", "You HAVE friends and family". She was right. I did - as much as I struggled with it, she was right.

She also challenged me to simply listen to anothers situation, rather than trying to out do it. A step further, when I was feeling sorry for myself - SEARCH OUT another that I could listen to, or assist in some way.

One day she asked how I was doing. "Good. I feel really, really good." "Isn't it easier to live in Gratitude than in Victim?" she said. I hung my head and nodded. She was right. It was.

For years, I kept a written Gratitude Journal. It really helped me to focus on the good in my life. Today it's more informal. It has become an in-the-moment "Thank you God for......" experience throughout the day.

Today, the top five:

I am grateful for the friends who have loved me enough to confront me.
I am grateful for those who have walked beside me on my path.
I am grateful for the challenges that have presented themselves along the way.
I am grateful for the blessings that have encouraged me to continue.
I am grateful for the God who has continued to patiently, yet relentlessly, "stalk" me.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

By the Light of the Stained Glass

... As I step through the doorway, I am awed again. I reach for the light switch, then think better of it. It is as I remember: the coolness of the slate beneath my bare feet, the old wooden pews, and the mustiness that hangs in the air.

I pull out my camera. The detail of the stone catches my eye, as does the beauty of the stained glass. More and more pictures. With flash, without flash, wide shots, zoomed close ups. The sun shines through the large set of windows that is behind the altar. The polished stone on the top of the altar reflects the colors. Their tones are muted on the matte slate floor.

I walk from the rear of the church toward the altar. The first song comes forth. "Great is Thy faithfulness, oh God, my Father...." Of course. I love how my voice carries and sounds full within the confinement of the stone walls. Half way up the aisle, the words are choked out as the tears fill my eyes. Now, I can only hum. I pick up the camera and gaze through it.

The piano and the pulpit are there, but their locations have been reversed in the past decade. I take a closer look at the piano; the keys are still without ivory finishes. The sun fades, and thus the colors do the same.

As they return, I place my feet into the blues, reds, yellows and greens that dance on the floor. I am still focused through the camera lens, I realize. I turn and walk to the rear of the building. Hanging the camera over the last pew on the right, I turn and start down the aisle again.

Then, the hands start. The signs come out. "Father, God, You have called me here, in this place to be with You. Why am I here, Lord. What do I do?" is the translation. "Why am I here, in Your presence, with You now?" The tears are streaming as I make my last few steps toward the front.

I kneel down before the altar, resting my head on the slate floor. The tears have hit the stone. I can see their dampness. I kneel upright again and sign, "My heart, heal it. Completely heal it." and then a sign that I love so much because it encompasses so much more than its English translation: "connect" or "relationship". Thumb and first finger looped, interconnected, moving back and forth between my heart and God. That's what I want. I dry my eyes, turn and sit up against the half stone wall.

It is a small church, seats seventy-five at most. As I sit with my back against the half wall that divides the congregation from the pastor, I think of the engraving I passed coming in. "The Birthplace Shrine. February 4, 1810." I wonder how many weddings and baptisms and funerals have occurred here. I look out over the pews, at the stained glass and to the pulpit.

Laying there is a bible. King James. I stand and walk over. On the left-hand page is Hebrews chapter 10, on the right, chapter 11. That catches my eye. Verse 1 starts by defining "faith". I smile, and skim down to verse 17. "By faith, Abraham, when he was tried offered up Isaac..." I turn to the altar; it's dancing again with color. I lay my chest on it briefly, wishing I could see the pattern of color I know is now on my back. Thank you, thank you, thank you, God.

There I lay the remains of what I have held onto through the years. There it remains as I stand and walk to the very last pew on the right, where my camera is hanging.

Another view through the lens. Proof that it lies there in the colors of the altar. I put the ear bud into my left ear, and press play on my ipod. It's still just me and God. Song after song, I sing. Then one makes me pause.

"Beauty for Ashes. A garment of praise, for my heaviness," it starts. "Beauty for Ashes. Take this heart of stone and make it Yours..." There's no more singing for me now. I just listen as it continues. ".... trading all that I've had for all that is better". I still see the signs I've done before - images in my mind's eye: "All-of-me. Surrender. Grace pour-down-on-me". What a language! The song ends, I press 'repeat'. Over and over and over again. As it has been in my life: Beauty for Ashes, again, and again and again.

When there are no more tears. I stand, gather my belongings, and walk out into the sunshine. The breeze greets me as if to wipe the tears away for good.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Returning to My "Shack"

Well, the day has arrived. The day I return to Montgomery Bell State Park - to the chapel - to my "shack". My wish for the sun on my shoulders and the breeze on my face has been granted. It is a beautiful, cloudless day, with just a hint of autumn in the air.

I start my Wednesday morning as I usually do: with a Mothers' prayer group - our focus, the students, teachers, and administration of the elementary and middle schools our children attend. We have a long list to pray for today. With the last "Amen", my focus changes. It's time to go... really time to go.

My backpack is packed - ipod, camera, journal, a couple of bottles of water. In the car already are my bible, study book and hiking boots. And a box of Kleenex, can't forget the Kleenex! In my pocket are a couple of dollars and some rings that say "Courage", "Strength", "Wisdom". Figure I could use all of those today.

I hug my prayer partners. They wish me well, and I head to my bedroom to grab my backpack and slip on my flip-flops. As I turn to leave, my computer "bleeps". Incoming email. Compulsive reader that I am, I turn, wiggle the mouse to remove the screen saver, and see into which folder this email has landed. "Inbox". It is from my new friend - that I've never met - "I'll be thinking of you all day", she says. I smile to myself and feel such gratitude for all the people who support me - in my daily life and in this endeavor.

In the car - my clean, clean car - I place my ipod onto the external speaker system and press play. The music starts and I fasten my seat belt. My ipod contains all the worship music I have interpreted in the past few months. 56 song, 4 hours of playing time. That ought to be enough. A deep breath, and I'm on my way.

I've decided to plan my route so I pass the "womb house". It's essentially on the way, and it will allow me to meander the winding country roads between here and the park, rather than taking the interstate. Any chance I get, I'll take the winding country roads!

I drive along, the song changes. I laugh out loud. Yes, I brought my contact lens case, but I did not bring my glasses. I didn't expect to need them... already!! The words to "Amazing Grace" come out of the speakers, and the tears stream down my face. Ah... another set of contact lenses ruined to tear proteins.

Onto Chapmansboro Road, I turn. Ahead, on the right is the "womb house". I slow down. If I'm going too fast I'll miss it. As it is, without pulling all the way into the driveway, all I will be able to glimpse is the point of the roof and the attic windows. There it is. New mailbox, but the same marker in the ground, which reads "Clement". Apparently three other sets of homeowners also failed to remove the name of the original owner.

On the left is the trail head: "Sycamore Creek" it reads. Day after day, I walked there. Has it really been fifteen years? I do the math in my head. Yes. Fifteen years since I purchased that house and the land. Fifteen years since I was met on that trail. Fifteen years since I've reconnected with God. It was definitely in its infancy then, but it was there on the trail we met.

I pass the motel at the end of my (old) road, and bypass "downtown" via a street that didn't exist then. Now, I'm hoping and trusting my memory will serve me as I continue down the winding country roads to the park. Just in case, I flip on the GPS.

I'm thirty minutes into the hour drive. The songs have change numerous times, and I have been singing nearly the whole way. Occasionally, I must stop when I'm too choked up to continue. But, when I do, the visions of the signs continue in my head. I know these songs. Many of them have touched me deeply from week to week. Many of them have made lasting impressions on my heart.

Finally, the green of the park is visible on the GPS. "YES!" I'm nearly there. The final turn onto highway 70. A few miles more, I'm in the park. Past the welcome center and up the hill, around the campground and down the road marked "Historic Church", I go.

There it is. My car is the only one in the parking lot. "YES!" I was hoping not to have an audience for this adventure! I pull into the parking space, remove my ipod from the speaker, clip it onto my beltloop and look out the passenger window. Another car has pulled in beside me. "Can You help me here?" I say aloud as I glance upward.

I head to the restroom, as the woman in the other car walks down the trail - right past the church. "Thank you, God!"

Through the lens of my camera, I can remain detached. I see the beauty of the stone and the stained glass. When I was here last, the dogwoods were in bloom, as were the redbuds. It was spring. April, 1999. I pass through the iron gate, and walk up the road toward the church. A few more pictures. A few more moments of being detached.

I walk up the path toward the entry. There is a notice of reservation: The church is being used for a wedding - tomorrow. I slide off my flip-flops, set them to the side in the alcove. Reaching out to the door, it opens easily. I step inside....

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Moments of Simple Joy - the garden

The evenings are cooler these days. Surely, autumn will arrive in the near future. I'd like to say the same for rain. It's been dry here.

I have recently transplanted a dozen or more Rose of Sharon bushes. In the absence of rain, I've been out with the hose. I start with the transplants, noting which continue to look wilted and which have begun to adapt to their new home.

From there I move to the vegetable garden. Much has passed - partly due to the season, and partly due to my neglect, as I adapt to the new schedule that the school year brings. I make note of the tomatoes that are ready for harvest. A few of the cherry varieties end up in my mouth. Beans and pumpkins are also begging my attention.

Finally, the herb garden. Midsummer bee balm have lost their red blossoms, as have the yellow gladiolas. Yet, as I water, I am reminded why this is my favorite of the gardens. I close my eyes and breathe... deeply. As I inhale, the aromas surround me: Basil, Sage, Rosemary, Thyme, Oregano, Lavender.

There, I stand... and just breathe. Eventually, I must leave. One last deep breath. Until I return to the Simple Joy of the garden.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A Moment of Gratitude

I wanted to briefly share a Moment of Gratitude today. I hesitate to do so, though, for some of you may think I have LOST MY MIND. (OK, here goes.... inhale.... exhale....). Right now, I am grateful for the field mouse who has blessed me by his presence in my pantry. Seriously? Yes, seriously!

Listen as I share how this has unfolded. A couple of nights ago, I'm sitting in my kitchen, feet on the counter, laptop on my lap, blogging. Out of the corner of my eye, I see movement. I catch the last glimpses of the mouse scurrying under the pantry door.

"EWWWWWW!!" I think I actually said aloud! I live in the country, and the seasons are changing. It's getting colder at night. Now, this particular mouse probably has ancestors that lived in my back yard before there were houses, so in a way, I can't blame him. He's doing what field mice do. Seeking warmth, shelter and a food supply.

I pull out a mousetrap - I live in the country, remember, so I keep them on hand, though fortunately haven't had to use one in several years. As I'm reaching for the peanut butter, I realize how sloppy I have become about keeping food in mouse-proof containers. (note to self!)

The next morning - the pantry is the project. Out comes everything. Shelves get washed, old forgotten things get discovered and either get brought to the front, or thrown out. Tupperware gets sorted, and miscellaneous "stuff" that has been put there temporarily, gets returned to it's rightful location. AND.... much to my surprise, I am now inspired to finally straighten and properly secure the top shelf in the pantry. (It's only been 2 1/2 years since I've been here and installed the shelves!)

The following morning: no peanut butter, no mouse. I rebait the trap. And, as it always happens, as one improvement is made, others are sure to follow. I tackled the garage. It's not completely organized, but it has been sorted, and things discarded or returned to their proper places.

This morning: the mouse lies slain in the trap (for YOUR gratitude list - I spared you a picture!). AND... another project. The car. Anyone who knows me, knows that my car is usually trashed. If you know the kids in my carpool, they've probably told you! Miscellaneous shoes and straw wrappers lie in the back of the van until I have a free hand to carry them in. Today, right now! It's clean - and I mean take the seats out of the van clean! YES!

So, thank you, thank you, thank you little field mouse for blessing my life with your presence.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Preparing to Return - part 2

As I prepare to return to the little stone chapel at Montgomery Bell State Park, I am reminded of what I am to bring: ipod, journal, camera, contact lens case and, of course, Kleenex.

I know I will walk into the back of the church and sing, just as I did a decade ago,when I first set foot in the building. I am sure I will sing and I will sign. I do that.

The song that moved me so undeniably this past week at church runs through my head: "I choose to love you, I choose to love you, for always. Forever." The song was written for a wedding, but sung (and signed) to God becomes a powerful declaration of intent. "I choose to love You. I choose to love You. For always. Forever"

I have visions of laying myself bodily on the altar, experiential woman that I am. It seems more plausible than laying my heart on the altar. I think of Abraham and Isaac. I pray that God will provide a ram for my Isaac heart. Sharing this sentiment with a friend, she reminded me, "He already has". What a gift!

I am sure I will walk, or sit beneath an old oak tree, or lay in the grass. There, I will close my eyes and just breathe. I hope for the warmth of the sun, and the caress of a gentle breeze on my face. I'd dance in the rain, though, too. We'll see what God provides and where the Spirit leads.

Until then, I wait, and I pray. For courage. For strength. For willingness to let go of control (AKA an agenda!). For peace. For stillness. For the ability to listen and to hear.

Until then, I wait. Until then, I pray.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Preparing to Return - part 1

I have recently finished reading "The Shack" by William Young. For those of you who haven't read it, it's a story of a man named Mack, who returns to a place - a shack in the deep woods - which holds a link to his "Great Sadness". There, he meets the Trinity. (You'll have to read the rest for yourself!)

I have also been reading a book by Jan Johnson, titled "When the Soul Listens". It was recommended to me by one of my walking buddies. She said it reminds her of me. It is a book about contemplative prayer, and the importance of taking time in our daily lives to just BE with God. No agenda, just quiet time in the presence of God. YES! I like that!

My friend was sharing her desire to take a weekend away to do just that. However, time and money were presently obstacles. I encouraged her to take SOME time, even if it couldn't be a weekend and we tossed around a few inexpensive alternatives.

As we were walking and talking, I kept feeling like *I* wanted a retreat! On the quiet drive home, I kept hearing "Come...." The Gentle Voice Within....."Come". I knew I must. But when? Where? I had the same time and financial constraints as my friend.

Then, I heard the words of encouragement I had offered my friend. "It doesn't have to be a whole weekend, just a day - or part of one". "It doesn't have to be expensive" Ahhhh....yes... but where would I go?

Then, it hit me. I knew exactly. I went directly to my calendar. Wednesday September 17, 2008. My retreat day. Just me and God. In ink, I wrote "Montgomery Bell State Park".

There is history there. And there lies my "shack". Tucked into a corner of the park, is an old stone chapel. There, nearly a decade ago, I was married.

Now, please don't hear me wrong, I am not saying my marriage is my "Great Sadness". It is not. The grieving of the wish and mourning the loss of the hopes and dreams of a young(er) bride come closer. Had I been pulled aside and shown the events of these past 10 years just prior to being married, I would have chosen the same.

It has been many, many years since I set foot in that chapel, yet, I need to return. I need to go - there - and be in the presence of God. I need to allow Him to heal my heart.

I have receive confirmation after confirmation since setting the date. My favorite, thus far, occurred last Monday Night. I have joined the fall Women's Bible Study group at my church. We had received our books. Out of curiosity, I checked the topic for my bible study for that day: "Getting rid of busyness" and taking time to be with God. Seriously.

So, return I will. No agenda. Just me and God. From there, we'll go where He leads.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Coincidence, NOT!

I do not believe in coincidence. I've heard it said that "Coincidence happens when God wants to remain anonymous".... well.... His cover has been blown in my eyes!

When I start to notice coincidental events occurring in my life, I pause. I become very still and I listen. More shall be revealed.

When these events come repeatedly, they become a confirmation. Confirmation of a question I've asked of Him, or of an obedience that He's requested of me. Then, I REALLY pause - and pray for willingness. I begin to suspect He is at work in my life. (Again)

When the confirmations continue to come, I am stopped dead in my tracks, praying for courage. I know He is working in my life and wants my cooperation. Most times, it seems it would be easier to run the opposite direction. Many times, that seems like the wiser choice as well. But, I have been shown, time and time again, that with willingness and courage, I am able to walk the path He is setting before me (even if I don't know where we're going). If I follow His path, peace, joy and healing are sure to follow.

Is it coincidence that I am planning a personal retreat this week and suddenly, my week is free of after-school childcare responsibilities? I don't think so.... More shall be revealed.

Is it coincidence that I recently received an email from a woman I've never met (we've happened to read each others' blogs). "Coincidentally", our life stories are surprisingly similar. Coincidence? I don't think so.... More shall be revealed.

So,here I stand, dead in my tracks, praying for willingness and courage. I will, in faith walk forward. More shall be revealed.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

It's Girl Scout Cookie Time!!!

Well, no, not really. Cookies come in the spring. But my daughter just signed up for Brownies, so we've been doing some reminiscing. I pulled out my old Girl Scout vest and we looked at my badges and my star pins (which she liked best). She put on my old beanie and gave me an ear to ear grin. It begins.

It's changed a lot in the years since I was a scout. The thing I notice most - since I've not actively been involved in scouting - thus far! - is how cookies are sold. In my day (and yes, I know I'm dating myself here - I'm OK with that!), we sold cookies door to door... and they were a dollar a box! One year, I had sold the most in my district - 265 boxes (or something equally ridiculous). And that wasn't mom or dad taking the order form to the office, it was DOOR TO DOOR. The reality of that designation hit me when I was loading up yet another wagon full to deliver them... door to door. (I vowed never to seek that honor again!)

These days, they set up outside of Wal*mart or the grocery store. Several girls and their leader or adult volunteer. For the past several years, I've developed my own Girl Scout cookie tradition (that my sister has encouraged me to share here!). I love the cookies and I believe in scouting. But, my problem: I love the cookies. It wouldn't matter how many boxes I bought, I'd eat them all - without an opportunity to teach my kids about sharing. So, I've gone about it in a little different way.

When I see them set up outside the store, I now grin ear to ear in anticipation. I enjoy that feeling while I do my shopping. On my way out, I stop at the table.

"Would you like to buy some cookies?" they ask. I ask how much they cost, and quickly count the number of girls at the table. I then ask each girl in turn what their favorite flavor is. "Thin mints", "Tagalongs", "Samoas". I tell them I'll take one of each. They stack them up and tell me how much I owe - now significantly more than a dollar a box! Change in hand, I pick up the stack of boxes and hand each box to the girl who expressed it as her favorite. "Enjoy!" I say as I walk away.

It's interesting to hear what happens next - and honestly, I wish I could be a fly on the wall to truly witness it with my eyes, but I'm walking away, so I have to trust my ears. At first they are baffled. "for me?" the silence says. I can only imagine they look at each other and then the shrieking begins or the laughter, and the "THANK YOU!!"s. "You're welcome", I call back.

I am able to donate to a worthy cause, demonstrate random acts of kindness, and I save myself THOUSANDS of calories. That is a definite win-win situation!

I'll repost this in the spring, when it IS Girl Scout Cookie time, with a challenge to make a Girl Scout's day!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Cinco de Mayo

Upon return from my quest to Chaco Canyon, NM, life turned on a dime. I had quit searching for information to explain the current state of my marriage. For a long time, I believed if I knew WHAT was going on, then I'd know how to FIX the problems. I was wrong. Most supremely wrong in the fact that I could control the outcome. Certainly, I can work on the pieces that I contribute to life and the world and my relationships with others, but I can't control the outcome. Another wonderful reminder to me to "Show up, do my best, and leave the outcome to God".

But, I digress. I had long since quit searching for information - yet, somehow, the information that I needed to make appropriate day to day decisions presented itself to me. And this day was no exception.

It was actually the 4th of May that the information was presented, and the conversation took place. But it was Cinco de Mayo when he moved out. It was time.

In the days, weeks and months that followed, I continued to depend on God for direction. I continued to be amazed at how the people I needed in my life showed up before I needed them. Whatever the need, it was somehow met.

I also tested out the theory that I'd formulated in New Mexico. God would meet me HERE. Suddenly, it baffled me, that I hadn't realized that fact, despite my experiences over the previous months and years. As it must, to be truly understood, the knowledge was making its way from my head to my heart.

I can't tell you it was easy. The process of divorce is never easy - but ours was relatively uneventful, as divorces go. We were both able to maintain a spirit of cooperation - still do, which has been beneficial long-term.

Cinco de Mayo - the beginning of my living independently, from a worldly perspective. From a spiritual perspective, I've never lived so dependently! I am seen as a single mother - but, I have never, ever been alone. Never.

For those who may not know the significance of "Cinco de Mayo" (aside from 1/2 price margaritas at the local Mexican restaurant). The 5th of May - Cinco de Mayo - is the celebration of initial victory of Mexican forces over the French in the city of Puebla - not it's official "Independence Day"... but a darn good start! Same for me... pretty cool!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Quest... I am. Here.

It was late fall 2004. We were sitting in Applebee's, waiting for our dinners to arrive. "Where on earth does your spirit feel alive?" Outside? In the forest?... She caught the smile that crossed my lips and pressed further. "What were you just thinking?" she asked.

I share my thoughts. "It was many years ago. We were in New Mexico. For some reason I really wanted to go to see the Indian ruins at Chaco Canyon." She nodded, picking at the french fries that had arrived with her sandwich. "We got there about an hour before closing, so we weren't there very long, but standing by this ancient kiva..." I started picking at my fries. "I was just so moved. He was chattering away - I wished he would have shut up, because the place required silence." I paused again. "I said I wanted to go back one day...." "You NEED to", she said. "You must!"

I had a million reasons why I couldn't. Kids. Job. Husband. Money - to name a few! "Look at you", she said. "When you speak of the place, your face lights up - when you think of why you can't go, it just falls..." I was silent. Damn. She's seen through me. "Promise me you will go", she said. I nodded, though not at all sure that I could pull it off.

For Christmas that year, I asked for a weekend away - and a plane ticket to Albuquerque, NM. We were in the season of Sorrow and Peace. The time of waiting.

Winter passed and spring arrived. The weekend had been set. The very last weekend of April, 2005. I would return to the ruins of northwest New Mexico.

As the months passed, I became more filled with anticipation - and with a vague uneasiness. With the arrival of spring came the awareness that the last time I'd asked for a weekend of solitude and reflection, I'd returned to ask husband #1 to leave. Would I do the same with husband #2?

Finally the day arrived. At the airport I said my goodbyes, and headed toward the gate. A single suitcase - checked - complete with a tent, sleeping bag, yoga mat and a change (or two!) of clothes. On my back was my backpack with the essentials - water, food, journal, camera, and a whistle.

"God be with me". I shook my head, "I can't believe this is really happening!"

Flight behind me, I slid into the rental car. "Here we go!" The 3 1/2 hour drive was spent in silent prayer "Meet me here, Lord. Please let there still be a campsite... Meet me here. Keep me safe...."

As I drew closer, the road became more and more rugged. Great potholes slowed the traveling speed to nearly a stop - but I pressed forward. Knowing that soon I would be in a place where I could be still and listen.

As I pulled into the National Park, I knew there was no turning back. I found a campsite and pitched my tent. I grabbed a small bag of granola, an apple, water and headed toward a spot on the ridge I'd noticed coming in.

From that point, I could see both the sun rise and the sun set. It became my place of morning and night-time sitting with God. There was some conversation - prayer requests, and expressions of praise and gratitude - but mostly, there was silence. What a change: from the demands of a day raising three year old twins to this. No agenda. Just be.

The desert nights were cold - snuggled deep into my sleeping bag with my whistle secured around my wrist, I prayed for protection. There I lay til the sun rose again.

The day-time consisted of morning quiet time on the ridge, exploration of the ruins, including hiking the ridge. I'd hike for a while, passing piles of rock to mark the path, then sit and journal for a while. When it was time to continue, I did. 15 miles and several pages I logged that day. Supper on the ridge was brief, and as the sun set, I prepared for sleep. I had one more morning before my return to Albuquerque. I needed a shower before entering an airplane - for everyone's sake! (and I wanted to buy some moccasins!)

Sunday morning, brushing my teeth, a woman walked in. "You went to sleep early last night", she said. I nearly choked on my toothpaste. I nodded. I told her about my hike and she nodded. As she left, I thought "Gosh - I'm not as invisible as I'd like to be sometimes...." Yet something about her awareness of my presence was comforting.

It was time to go. Granola, apple and water in hand, I hiked to the ridge for my final breakfast at Chaco Canyon. I opened my journal and wrote down some final thoughts about what I had learned. God had indeed met me here. But it was at this point I realized. I didn't need to come HERE to meet God. I simply needed to be quiet, and go within. God would meet me.

As I hiked down the ridge for the final time, I paused at the first turn, and gazed back. I smiled and nodded. I stacked four rocks on top of another. I am on the path. I am here.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Gifts in the Sorrow

In order to get to where we are going, we must briefly return to the past. We're back again to the days immediately following my "Thus Far" and "Love him well" experiences. The hurt was new, the uncertainty overbearing. They were days of deep sorrow. But, they were also weeks of great peace.

I had been told that "There is always a gift in the pain". Up until then, I wasn't sure I believed it. But, as it is when God is on the move, the strangest things began to happen.

My fierce independence subsided, and I realized I must depend on God to get through my days. I had two small children and I felt very alone. I didn't know what the future held, and I didn't know how to complete the tasks at hand - say, for example, "love him well." I didn't know much of anything, except that life was changing - quickly!

I'd come to the point where I had no choice but to say, "Ok, Lord... where are we going today? I have no idea. You lead." That was new behavior for me. VERY new behavior. Previously, I always had some sort of a plan ... not always a very GOOD plan, but a plan nonetheless - and usually a plan B, C and D to follow, for good measure!

And lead He did. The days were filled with clarity - what to do, what to say. Moment by moment, when I needed guidance, I was willing enough (or broken enough) to pause and say "What next? You lead". And I would wait. Peacefully, quietly wait. It didn't matter how long I needed to wait - I simply, peacefully KNEW I needed to wait until I was shown what to do.

The days were also filled with a sweetness that only God can provide. Routinely - literally, every day - there would be a song that ministered to me, a stranger who would speak my truth, a flower that would seem to bloom before me, or a butterfly that would grab my attention as it floated through the sunshine, bringing peace and hope with it.

In my dependency - in my brokenness - I allowed myself to be comforted, guided, supported, cherished and loved by God Himself. I didn't have a choice. I knew no other way - and somehow knew every other way would fail me. From a place of betrayal, I learned to trust... God.

I do not enjoy the seasons of pain and of sorrow in my life. But, these days, when I find myself there, I stop and listen, and know - really know - that there will be gifts - truly amazing and wonderful gifts - here in the sorrow with me. And, as I continue to press forward through the darkness - no matter how thick and sticky and unending it seems - there will always, ALWAYS be light on the other side.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Walls and Those Who Love Me

If you've never read the book "The Wall: a parable" by Gloria Jean Evans, I highly recommend it! I don't believe it's still being printed, but used copies can be found on Amazon.com. Unfortunately for me, when I needed to read it, Amazon.com didn't exist.

But, God wouldn't keep that fact from getting in between me and a book I desperately needed to read. (Even then, He was actively "stalking" me, but this was WAY before I was aware of it - I was barely aware of His presence in my life back then.)

It was in the early days of the "womb house". Over a decade had passed since my rock experience, yet I was still longing to discover my Self; to be comfortable in my own skin. I was actively investigating my 'assets' and 'defects' of character.

One day, a package arrived for me from Louisiana. The handwriting was unfamiliar, as was the return address. I opened the paper to find a paperback book - no more than 50 or 60 pages, with only a few sentences on each page. The illustrations caught my eye. Black and white sketches of people and walls and flowers and hands... Stuck between two pages was a note. "For your journey. Please return when you are done. I love you, Karen".

"Wow", I thought. "I've never even met this woman outside of my email inbox, and she trusts me with her book." I'd get it back to her.... eventually.

I sat on the steps of that old house, the breeze from the river blowing through my hair. I opened the book and started reading. Twenty minutes later, I closed the back cover, wiped the tears off of my cheeks and headed inside.

I now knew how I would proceed with my Self-assessment. I pulled out construction paper, scissors, glue and a sharpie. I cut shapes in green, brown and red - stones in my wall. I took the sharpie and wrote on the stones, naming them: "Procrastination", "Denial", "Unexpressed Anger". Lost in the creative process and letting my intuitive side lead, I continued: "Patience", "Truth-Seeker", "Creative"...

More and more stones were named, and eventually glued in place on the 11x14 background. When I finally stood back to look at the results, I was amazed. There it was. My wall- my Self- laid out before me.

I looked more closely and was fascinated by what I saw. The stones were color-coded. Character defects were brown, assets green and red. Even more curious was the pattern in which they were laid. On first glance, it's primarily brown, with some color here and there. The stones near the top - "Honesty", "Level-headed"- were the ones I allowed people to see. Those on the bottom, I kept most hidden.

Most curious to me now - I doubt I even realized it then - is the stone in the most lower right corner: "Spirituality". It is buried deeply beneath "Self-abuse", "Over achieving", "Self-doubt", "Denying my gut", "Unexpressed Anger" and "Rationalization" - there *IS* a little "IALAC" ("I Am Lovable And Capable") thrown in the midst for good measure.... a little.

For the years that I lived in that house, the framed "wall of my Self" hung in the hallway between my kitchen and my bathroom (no one visited me there, remember?!) It served as a reminder to me of what lay between me and connection to the people in my world...and between me and my God.

Little by little, as in the parable, I identified the stones in my life and became willing to ask God to help me remove them. Little by little, light began to return to my world.

When I married, and left the "womb house", the picture was put into storage. I pulled it out again when I moved to my current home - post divorce. I was amazed at what I saw and at how much my life had changed in the decade since it's creation.

Some of the defects remain, of course, but through the mercy, grace and love of God- and others who have loved me in spite of myself- they have been significantly decreased or set aside. With learning to trust and allowing myself to be vulnerable, has come much freedom.

There is Joy and light where once there was Sorrow and darkness.


In case you're wondering: Yes, I did return the book to Karen - with a copy of my wall. At the prompting from the Gentle Voice Within, I purchased my own copy several years ago - and with further prompting, have recently re-read it. There is a work in process, no doubt.... we'll see where I'm headed now...

It is also this wall that another 'teacher' referred to when she recently noted that I didn't need it anymore. I am now surrounded by people - chosen by God - who love and support me.

Monday, September 8, 2008

My Motto: "Here to Serve"

I believe in the power of service. I have found nothing else that has the ability to get me out of my Self. Becoming available to another human being, being willing to step out of my own situation and into theirs, no matter how briefly, can be life changing. It nudges me out of my comfort zone, and distracts me from the troubles I tend to focus on.

I was challenged by one of my teachers years ago. It was a period of time when I was feeling especially sorry for myself. Life was a daily pity party. Poor, poor me. She encouraged me to search for ways to be of service to others. (I thought she was nuts... I had enough going on, why burst into someone else's problems as well?)

I started out having to pray for willingness to serve. Once willingness came, I needed the courage to be able to ask "how can I help?" (and DO IT!). I quickly learned that even half-hearted prayers requesting opportunities to serve were answered abundantly! Before I knew it, everywhere I turned, there was yet another opportunity.

Service has changed my life. (I encourage you to try it!) It doesn't have to be the type of service people tend to recognize - service in the grand sense: Serving our country, or participation in a mission trip. So often, we fail to recognize the equally important acts of service that can occur in our every day lives - at home, at school, at the store.

An elderly woman needs help lifting the case of water out of her grocery cart. A young woman pushing a stroller and carrying an infant on her hip needs help opening a door. Chairs need to be set up, or taken down. Teachers need construction paper sorted. Simply put, people need to experience grace in their lives.

Today, service is a part of my daily life - both formally and informally. I enjoy both, but honestly, I delight in the opportunities that pop up unexpectedly. The moments where I can step out and lend a hand, lighten someone's load, provide a smile or a courtesy - a small portion of grace. These unexpected moments I treasure. It is in these moments when I truly realize how blessed I am, and how grace extended to another returns to me ten-fold.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The Conspiracy of Sleeplessness

I do not understand the Conspiracy of Sleeplessness that surrounds me this year.

I should have expected it, though. They say that whatever happens on New Year's Eve, happens all year long. Well, based on that experience, I'm right where I am supposed to be.

My son had a friend sleep over. The friend was like an alarm clock, awakening me every two hours - to the minute! Also interesting that night - I felt the need to pray for a friend upon awakening - every time. A night of interrupted, prayerful sleep.

Now, nine months later, it continues. If it's not a child coming in to snuggle me or find out "how many hours til morning?", it's the dog wanting out. If, by some small miracle both the children and the animal are quiet throughout the night, there will be a mis-dialed mid-night call.

Early on, I cried about it - exhausted to tears. Last night, as I returned to bed after letting the dog out, I laughed.... "oh.... The Conspiracy of Sleeplessness continues.... You're gonna have to help me today, God"

Saturday, September 6, 2008

God's Chosen People.... In My Life

I continue to be blessed by the people that God chooses to put in my life. Rarely a day passes that I am not reminded of and reassured by their presence. Some days - like yesterday - their presence is essential!

There are, of course, the teachers. People who have come with some formal(ish) instruction plan. They have a specific message with a depth and breadth that exceeds coincidence. Often the lesson is discovered retrospectively, but it is there, nonetheless.

There are the strangers. The people I meet at the grocery store, at Wal*mart or at the airport. Frequently we share only a brief smile of encouragement, a opportunity for service, or the understanding of a shared situational frustration. God-chosen? Absolutely! They show up when I am feeling isolated, or I need to 'get out of my Self' through service.

There are also friends - those who walk beside me with an ear, a shoulder and support. They are the people with whom I can be transparent. I can - and do! - share my joys and my sorrows, my hopes and my fears. I can process ideas and situations openly. They listen, provide honest feedback, and remind me to "believe".

Most interestingly, there are those people who really, really annoy me. The ones that STAY in my life, and continue to annoy me! I used to roll my eyes and ask, "God, can you take them away? PLEASE?" He never does. Then, I learned to listen to them - really listen. It may not be their words, but their delivery that I needed to see or hear. More often than not, they brought with their annoying presence, a message or a gift. Had I continued to ignore or condemn them, there would be much I never would have received.

I start to notice patterns. Recently, there has been an influx of women who pray... really, really well. Beautiful, eloquent prayers. Women that I can call, text, email or IM with a prayer request, and I know they will pray. No matter how trivial the request, I know it will be brought before God. I know they are there for a reason - and one beyond my own personal needs and requests. I'm sure they're here to teach me to pray (aloud!) - I hope one day to match their eloquence.

Recently, a teacher-friend made an interesting comment. She knew me when I was hiding behind a self-constructed wall. A wall designed to keep others out and the "real" me in. It felt safer that way.... then. She said, "You don't have the wall to protect you anymore, you have been given God-chosen people who love and surround you!" She was so, so right... Thank You, God!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Embracing My Imperfections

I am a perfectionist, there's no denying it. Though, my perfectionism is less crippling to me now than it used to be, I still struggle with it from time to time. Over the years, I've been given many, many opportunities to "embrace my imperfections".

I was given another "opportunity" on Wednesday this past week. I was meeting with the church interpreter to review the music for Sunday, as well as work on developing my interpreting skills. I had plugged my ipod into the speakers, and we had listened for unfamiliar words and phrases.

The words reviewed, it was time for me to interpret the recorded sermon. It was awful. I'd catch a word here, a phrase there, but the overall message was nowhere to be found on my hands.

"You want it to be perfect. That is going to throw you off", she said. "...just like always..." I thought. Ahhhhh... another opportunity to embrace my imperfections.... I sighed. "Thanks a lot, God", I thought, sarcastically.

My perfectionism: a stumbling block in my way again. Yet, in order to disentangle myself from it's grip, I need to let go of control of the outcome. I need to surrender to the fact that it may be "good enough". I need to trust that somewhere in this world, there is enough grace to cover my imperfections.

I need to remember what I've been instructed to do:

"Do what you've been asked to do, to the best of your ability, and leave the outcome to God."

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Morning Moments with God

Bleary-eyed, I stumble to the great room to free the dog from his kennel. Our morning routine has begun - he takes time to become reacquainted with the backyard, and I take a few moments with God.

As we open the french doors, I am amazed at the beauty of the sunrise. Shoo-ing the dog out onto the deck, I return into the house for my camera. "YES! A sunrise picture!" I thought.... "hmm... could have used that in my blog yesterday.... oh well....I'm sure there will be another opportunity."

The dog romps and plays and sniffs at the grass. The hummingbirds flock to the feeder. I sit on the steps that lead from the deck to the backyard, leaning up against the railing. I'm still not quite willing to awaken.

It's a cool morning, the sun is making it's way up around a layer of clouds. There is hope for a beautiful day today and the refreshing promise of autumn in the air.

The chattering of the hummingbirds remind me to be joyful. I smile. I appreciate all the reminders I can get to remove myself from the business that can overwhelm my life and leave me feeling frantic.

What to write about today, I wonder... Thus far, I have known. The titles have leapt forward from their listing and the stories have come to life. Today, I'm not sure. I open my eyes and look at the fading colors of the sunrise, consciously pausing to take it in before it's gone.

I don't know at what point in my life, I was taught to hold these moments of unexpected beauty close to my heart - to stop time for a moment and honor their presence, and Him who brings them before me. I am reminded of the fern print that hangs in my great room. "Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away", it says. "Amen", I say.

I hear the hawk calling from behind me. Again and again, he cries. I stand to make my way back toward the house, hoping to be inspired in some small way. I raise my eyes to search for the hawk, as his cries are incessant.

Standing there, I gasp. The hawk is silent. There is nothing now but me and God and the view before me. A rainbow! (a double no less!). Thank you, thank you, thank you, God... for another moment by which my life is to be measured.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Solitude and Silence

It's quiet here. Of course it is! Anyone with any sense is still asleep. But, I'm awake - preparing for the day, enjoying the pre-dawn moments of Solitude and Silence. (Though, I must be honest here, if I had my choice, I'd still be in the bed!)

There are gifts in the early morning - the unveiling of the sunrise, the quiet stillness as the day awakens, (the return of the hummingbirds!). Soon, the house will be full of activity - the children, hoping to get in a few minutes of game time before they head to school, the dog, hoping to get a few minute of playtime, before he heads to the back yard. And me, hoping to get breakfast in the midst of the activity and morning routine!

I have been reading When the Soul Listens - a book on contemplative prayer written by Jan Johnson. She illustrates the importance of taking time to be still and quiet. To focus on nothing but being in the presence of the Divine.

I long for this, and remember the days when the schedule was more accommodating. The days when I didn't seem to be pulled in as many different directions. Jan reminds me, that although a weekend away seems ideal, finding a few quiet moments daily is ultimately more beneficial.

I promise myself I'll become more intentional about my quiet time. I search the calendar to find moments - and even a day - that I can dedicate to solitude... I want to HEAR God speak... hear that Gentle Voice Within.

And as the morning skies are painted pink and orange, I am reminded, once again, that it is in stillness and in solitude - when the rushing of everyday life pauses, and the world stops for just a moment.... THEN I am able to simply BE in the presence of God.

Monday, September 1, 2008

The Weekend of Reunions

I was living in the old farmhouse, in (semi) rural Tennessee - "the womb house", a friend called it. It was there where I was born into knowing my Self. It was there that I 'grew up'. It was there that I stepped out on faith and acted TOTALLY out of character...

I had joined a list-serv: an internet discussion group. A bunch of nurses. But that was not (really) out of character. I had developed friendships with many of them over the months - and I had been introduced to a "teacher" (the "mirror"-holding one). That wasn't particularly unusual either. But one day, the strangest thing happened.

Something within me said, "OH! To meet these people, face to face..." - and before I could talk reason into this dream, I sent an email inviting them - all 187 of them - to my house. When the message arrived in my inbox (confirmation that it had arrived in all the inboxes), I thought, "My God, what have I done?" Yet, when asked, "Are you sure?" I responded, "Absolutely!!"

People started to reply - they'd love to come. I started to worry - where will they sleep? But, excitement and anticipation grew - and the hotel construction began at the end of my street. (seriously!)

Months went by from my May invitation to the Labor Day Reunion. I headed to the airport - hoping to recognize the faces from the pictures I'd been given. Standing there, trembling, I wondered what I'd say - if I would LIKE them in person. One by one, they arrived - each confessing the fear they'd had - and the comments they'd gotten from strangers when they shared about their trip. They were heading to a city they'd never been, to meet people they'd never (really) met! ("Are you NUTS?!")

Others arrived by car, and in the end, we had collected 8 people from 5 different states - some now sleeping in my spare room, some camped in tents in the yard - and a couple in the hotel at the end of my road.

The house was alive with conversation and laughter. Hope, Joy and Love were truly abundant.

On the second morning, as we chattered and laughed while preparing our breakfast, I turned to my friend, Karen - my "teacher". She had been asking me for several months, "are you lonely?" ("no!") That morning, I turned to her and said, "NOW, I know what lonely is..."

That was the first of 10 consecutive Labor Day reunions - each with a different assortment of individuals, each with a unique feel and theme. A decade of laughter, joy, confrontation and support. A group of individuals who continue to support each other, and love each other across America - on line and in person. Totally unbelievable... but, OH how grateful I am to have stepped out of my comfort zone, and listened to the Gentle Voice Within...


Please believe me. I have struggled and I do struggle.

My journey with God has not been one of sweet surrender and never-ending bliss. In fact, the words of a song resonate with me: "I'd rather fight you for something I don't really want, than take what you give that I need". That's me.

I am independent to a fault. My nature is to press forward under my own power, and when I mess up, implement my own damage control strategies.

If you can imagine the picture accompanying the poem, "Footprints in the Sand". We're always shown the beautifully placed footprints, surely set by the edge of the sea. What we're not shown - in my life anyhow - is the stretch of beach that precedes these surefooted prints. Looking at where I've been, there is the disarray. The stretch of beach where I have clamored, thrashed and wrestled. The areas where I have attempted to hold on, to claw at the sand and maintain my position, rather than allow myself to be carried.

Fortunately, I am teachable, and God is patient and kind. I resist, He waits... I wrestle myself to exhaustion, He waits. He reminds me of the previous times when, out of desperation, I have surrendered. Reminds me of the comfort and peace that is mine for the asking - if I would only quit fighting.