Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Cat in the Hat Says Alot About That

The last time I wrote I was pretty bummed.  I mean, sometimes I just get discouraged.  I find myself like Peter, walking on water in impossible circumstances, and instead of being amazed at my water walking feet, I begin to pay attention to the circumstances I'm in.  Thus the sinking begins.  I believe that is where sinking feelings originate; we take our eyes off of Jesus, and begin to survey our surroundings.  I believe what we are called to is ultimately to be able to view our surroundings through His eyes rather than our own.  But until we are in that place, it's best to just keep our peeps fixed on Him!

So this is how my sweet Jesus calmed the storm inside of me:  I had been worrying about our future, finances, trying to understand how all the mismatched pieces of our lives will finally fit together.  That's where I was last Thursday when I sipped tea.  When my oldest son arrived home, he told me that he wanted to be "The Cat in the Hat" for school the next day.  His teacher had asked the students to come to school dressed as a book character.  And so the hat fixing odyssey began.

At the beginning of the school year someone handed me a red WKU recyclable bag while I was on my way to teach class.  I took it.  Not because I really needed it, but because, like every other member of Western, I like free stuff.  It had been laying in our office at home, empty since then.  Until Thursday night.  Did you know that you can cut up one of those bags and make a "Cat in the Hat" hat?  It's true!  I just used a ton of staples, an old folder, an empty butter tub, and some ribbon to fashion a costume for my son.  We didn't have to buy anything.  Everything we needed was hidden in what we already had. 

As I was working on the project, everything fell easily into place.  Whenever one step was finished, inspiration would hit again and the next part would seamlessly work itself out until the whole thing was done.  It was as if invisible hands were leading me to just the right thing to make it all work together.  Now I know God has all kinds of important things to attend to, you know, hurricanes and all that.  But I swear I felt His Holy Spirit leading me until the project was completed.  And sweetest of all was the quiet, almost shy, I-would-have-missed-it-if-I-hadn't-been-paying-attention, remark of my son, "Thanks Mom for making my costume."

Later on I whispered my own quiet, almost shy words of gratitude to my Heavenly Father.  With all the big stuff going on in the world I am humbled that God would care to provide a costume for my seven year old, that He would allow it to come through my hands and heart, that it would be fashioned with love and stubborn imagination, and that it would make that precious boy grin from ear to ear.  I could almost hear God's own quiet whisper, "If I can take care of the little thing that means so much, don't you think I can take care of the rest?"

Yes Lord, You can.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

A Good Word

Last Spring when the Wesley gave me a going away party, one of my students gave me a beautiful "Tea for One" tea pot and cup.  The gesture was so beautiful and significant.  The set is delicate and lovely, covered with butterflies as well as the words "The Lord Bless You and Keep You" printed on it.  As the weather has turned colder I have pulled out the gift and put it to good use. 

There are all kinds of tea cups and mugs I could use to drink warm beverages right now, but this one in particular keeps drawing me back.  It could be that last weekend was Homecoming and I am struggling with feelings of homelessness since it was the first time I have not attended since moving back to Bowling Green over nine years ago.  It could be that I am grieving the loss of Wesley all over again; as a friend pointed out  we tend to mourn repeatedly as the seasons change.  I always thought Fall was  a special time with the students, and  I find myself wistful for them.  It could be that everyday I wake up and find myself needing God's blessing and keeping like never before.  Yep, that could certainly be it.

Those words of blessing come from Numbers 6:22-27.  The full scripture says this:

The Lord spoke to Moses saying:  Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying,
Thus you shall bless the Israelites:  You shall say to them,
The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.
So they shall put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.

I first learned this blessing as a teenager participating in youth group.  We knew it simply as the UMYF (United Methodist Youth Fellowship) Benediction.  Years later when my youth director from that time was killed in a car wreck, I was told that members of my former youth group gathered around Charlie's grave, joined hands, and said its lines once again.  As I became a youth pastor during seminary, I ended each meeting with the familiar refrain.  Even as an associate pastor serving a church in Florida these lines were ones I often used to send my congregation forth.  But the most special, sacred, and holy place that I ever uttered these words were the times I shared them with my students at the Wesley Foundation.  It didn't matter how many entered our ministry as freshmen, or graduated and walked out into the next great adventure, each one knew these lines by heart before they left.  We would stand together in a tight circle and say them to each other, blessing each other day after day.

I never dreamed the day would come when I would be the receiver of the blessing, rather than the blesser.  But as I sit in this quiet house while my boys are at Nanny's and my husband is at work, I tell the Silence I so need this blessing.  I need to know You will bless me and keep me.  I need to know You will bless and keep my sweet boys, who are the joy of my heart.  I so need to know You will bless and keep my beloved.  My own blesser and keeper feels broken.  I need to know that the true Blesser and Keeper never breaks, and never breaks His Word.  

In the original language "bless" or barak means to bless abundantly, to bless altogether, to bless greatly.  As the details of how my not being at Wesley anymore get worked out in practical application, this is certainly the kind of blessing my life needs, and most definitely the kind I cannot produce myself.  I feel the same affinity for that word "keep."  In its original language shamar means "to hedge about (as with thorns), i.e. Guard; generally, to protect, attend to, . . . beward, be circumspect, take heed (to self), keep(-er, self), mark, look narrowly, observe, preserve, regard, reserve, save (self), sure, (that lay) wait (for), watch(-man)."  (See  Just now I remember having a conversation with one of my friends at church shortly after finding out about the Bishop's decision to move me.  She said, "Sami, God is not going to let anything bad happen to you."  She cupped her hands together as she said her next words, "He's got you in the palm of His hand." 

Benediction literally means a good word to go out on.  Our shared benediction at Wesley has become the gift they gave me as I left, words of blessing and keeping, a prayer that God's Word made flesh would hold and keep me as my family moved forward into a new place.  So here we are in this new place, and it is still the Word I hold on to.  

The Lord bless you and keep you,
the Lord make His face to shine upon you
and be gracious unto you.
The Lord lift up His countenance upon you
and give you peace.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Amazing Grace

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound.  Amazing grace sounds like the squeals and laughter of three little boys running around our home.  It rarely sounds like silence anymore.  There was a time when I could spend hours in silence.  I used to go on silent retreats and not speak for three days!  Those days are long gone.  But its okay.  I like the noise.  It reminds me that life and joy fills our home.

I am amazed by the grace of the noise I hear.  I love the sound of little toddler feet tromping through the living room, shod with blue suede boots.  I love the sound of my big boys using their imaginations to play heroes fighting monster aliens together, working out the details of their next plan to save the world.  I love the sound of the conversation Tim and I share around the kitchen table, with the chatter and clatter of our sons rumbling in the background, discovering the common ground of our days. 

It's all just very normal and ordinary.  Sometimes it is hard to believe I went to seminary and got a 90 hour degree just so I could discovery Jesus in the day to day chaos of raising three sons.  We expect the big God moments to be wrapped in the extraordinary, to emerge from the amazing and dazzling.  Instead we find His presence hiding in the simplicity of making dinner, helping with homework, giving baths, and reading a bedtime story.

The last several months Tim and I have been spending the last moments of our sons' day, telling them stories, reading the Bible, singing songs, having prayer.  Each night I choose a memory to share with them, often from my own childhood, ordinary moments often touched in some way by God's hand.  At the time, I didn't realize God's fingerprints were there.  It's in the telling that they begin shining through, piercing the darkness of my boys' bedroom with Light.  I want them to know that God is with them, loving them, filling them with His goodness.  I want them to cherish each moment, to inhale it deeply, and live it loudly.  Blessedly they've got that last part.  I just want them to know how sweet this life is that we've been given together.  I want them to know how grateful my own heart is to know them as my sons.

My prayer is that one day they will find themselves in another dimly lit bedroom with their own children, recalling the splendor of childhood.  I pray that they will remember how good it was to be a brother, sharing adventures that only brothers can share.  I pray that they will see the hand of God emerge from the recesses of each memory plucked from the past and served to their own children with love and tenderness.  I pray that they will share the wisdom that is being wrought in these noisy days of grace, that it's power and goodness will not be lost on them, that they will see beyond the details of an ordinary life to the splendid beauty of God's Life being breathed into theirs.  I pray they will shine with love and gratitude, the way my heart shines now.

It is all so amazing to me.  Mostly because I never thought this life would be available to me, for all kinds of reasons.  So the noise is really quite wonderful, and a constant reminder of how God's grace quietly permeates our daily lives, until one day we look around us amazed at how sweet and beautiful this life really is.

Monday, October 10, 2011

"Hope Never Loses Us"

I wish they were my words.  Alas I am not that clever.  Instead my gift seems to be recognizing the powerful moment when I see it.  This moment hit me as I exited the ladies room on the second floor of Cherry Hall today.  I had to make a pit stop before teaching my class.  On my way out the door, these words caught me.  No they did not catch my eye.  They literally caught me, the person that I am, the one living in a season where hope plays hide and seek, the girl who is constantly looking for hope but scared she may miss it.  That's me, a woman caught,  off guard by simple magnetic words sticking to a board in the hallway, arranged as if they were waiting just for me.

Secretly I've always been afraid of being hopeful.  I never wanted to be the person that put her hopes in something only to be crushed by a very different reality.  Yet I've also felt the weight of being a woman of faith, to trust beyond comprehension that God's goodness is working its way into my life in ways I cannot see.  I can trust that God will surprise me with His goodness.  When I don't expect it.  When I'm not looking.  That makes sense.  And it happens all the time.  In fact I love it when God does that.  There is just that part of me that learned early on how devastating disappointment can be.  I figure if I never have specific hopes then they cannot ever be dashed. 

But these delicious words wash over me, and fill me with, well, hope.  Hope never loses us.  It takes the pressure off somehow.  My soul hears it as good news.  My weary, battle worn heart doesn't have to hold on to hope because Hope is holding on to me. 

Today in particular I needed those words.  I have been wrestling with the ins and outs of this peculiar season.  Losing my job last spring brought the unexpected grace of rest and simple joy back into my life.  Yet this "gift" has brought me to a season of deep uncertainty about the future, one I've never had to be in before.  There is no doubt in my mind that God's hand moved me out of that position.  What has frustrated me is that His hand did not move me into another position that provides like the last one did.  Honestly, I don't want to go back to that place of carrying huge burdens on my shoulders.  But if I had to, I would.  I would do whatever I needed to do so that my family can make it.  I've learned to be very self-reliant.

Slowly I am coming to see how my own self-reliance has been an idol in my life.  I never needed to rely on Him so completely before.  It terrifies me.  Even as the gift of being free tastes so yummy, I find myself squirming in the unsettledness this freedom brings.  Before if something in my life needed to happen, I would simply make it happen.  Now I can't make anything happen.  I have to rest in and rely on Him.  I love it and hate it at the same time.  My heart feels hopeful. because the burden is gone and I feel so free, but the feeling is nothing I want to put my hope on.  Can I really trust God to provide?  Can I really trust that obedience to the nudge to rest in His presence and enjoy this time is truly wise?  Can I really believe that He has plans to prosper my family that I have not even imagined yet?  Can I really trust that still small Voice in my deepest heart that says "Wait and see!"?  Can I really believe that Hope is out there whether I have it or not?

I like to think that the Hope of my future, and the future of my family, is watching me right now, unconcerned with whether or not I find my own way to the hope filled destination God has for me, because Hope knows right where to find me, when the time is right.  No matter how much I think hope is lost, Hope never loses us.