Thursday, May 31, 2012

Signature Dish

I got to watch my grandmother make goulash.  I helped even.   I’m hoping that when I get home I can recreate it.  There is something kind of magical, mystical about sitting around the table at my grandmother’s house eating goulash.  She makes it every time my mother visits.  It is one of those recipes that is not written down.  It never uses exact measurements.  The ingredients are more or less the same.  But it always has that distinctive grandma flavor.  My aunt Jeannie said her goulash never tastes the same.  There are no guarantees mine will either.
What is it that makes something a signature dish?  Something that never tastes quite right unless a certain hand has made it?  Is it in the stirring or the chopping? Is it in the way the ingredients are assembled? 
I never thought in all my life that I would ever have a signature dish.  But somehow it happened.  I only know this is true because my husband’s mother (a crazy amazing cook) referred to it as mine.  It was after I brought a couple of String Pie’s to Hospice.  All of Tim’s family were there, waiting and watching, as his grandmother quietly took her time dying.  Everyone was tired.  Everyone was hungry.  But no one wanted to leave because they feared they would miss the moment of her passing.  It’s hard keeping vigil with small children, so I was at home. And I was going to cook anyway.  I simply doubled the recipe.  Off we went to Hospice; children, casseroles, paper plates, and Kool-aid in tow. 
I believe food heals, particularly when it is shared around a table with conversation and laughter thrown in.  It did that night.  During a difficult time the family gathered round.  For a time the sweetness of kindred souls filled the Hospice dining room as string pie filled hungry bellies, and creature comfort filled grieving hearts.  You would have guessed we were at a happy family reunion, not watching and waiting for death to visit. It touched me deeply when Nanny, Tim’s mom, told me how good it was, how helpful.
As we leave my grandmother’s I will remember the goulash.  I will remember the crazy stories shared around plates heaping with it and my Aunt Carol’s guacamole.  I am hoping that my soul has been nourished by the time I spent in my grandmother’s kitchen, getting dinner ready.  I don’t know when I will get the chance to return.  So I am asking God for the grace to remember:  how she browned the ground beef on low, sprinkling in generous amounts of garlic powder; how she simmered crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, and tomato juice; how she cooked the green pepper and onion in the leftover grease from the hamburger; how each part cooked separately, flavors developing while the elbow macaroni boiled; how finally it all got stirred into the same pot to mingle and marry, making a fine dish.
I wonder if my sons will someday return to my table with their children, talking about the meals that only I can make, begging me for a special encore of a dish they believe only I can do.  As one who loves food, I tend to believe it doesn’t really matter who makes it.  But there is something about cooking that develops over time, particular recipes prepared regularly, making it to special request status.  For me it is the story of love and relationship, being told in the slurping silences and satisfied sighs of the dinner table, aiding and abetting the stories of family swapped and savored between bites.  It is the pilgrimage of the familiar returning again and again for a taste of home.   More than a recipe perfected, this is what I’m most hungry for.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Memory of All That

Monday was our first full day at my grandmother’s house.  It is so good to be here.  There is a part of me that is like Peter.  I think we should build tabernacles and stay awhile.  But I know this is a rare gift, and it cannot last forever.

Of course once we arrived  we had visitors.  My Uncle Jim and Aunt Carol spent the whole afternoon and evening.  They brought over a tub of dollar store toys.  My boys loved them.  Better than the toys was the romp with Uncle Jim.  He has a special gift with children.  Like the pied piper he captivates them; sooner than the blink of an eye they follow his lead into merry chaos.  The joke was passed around several times that mothers of small children do not let their kids sit by him at dinner.  I can fully appreciate that wisdom now. 

There was something about the inflection of Jim’s voice, the wild imaginations spurting from his lips, the quipping of hands animated with grand stories that made similar moments with my own grandfather, memories from my childhood, come alive again. I could hear my own giggles in the peals of laughter, my own heightened anticipation of what would come.  The child, hidden in the grown man, never disappoints.  Not then, not now.

I have missed my grandfather’s presence since he passed away.  He died while I was pregnant with my first son, Noah.  So none of my children have ever met him, but I try to keep his memory alive by introducing them to his picture, telling them “Silly Papaw” stories.   I love though, that his presence is still with us in uncanny ways.  I love that my children get to live the adventure I once tasted as a child, through the descendants of the man I admired so much.  I am reminded of the scripture from Isaiah 55:12-14:   For you shall go out in joy and be led back in peace.  The mountains and the hills shall burst into song and the trees of the field shall clap their hands.  Instead of the thorn bush shall grow up the cypress; instead of the briar shall grow up the myrtle.  And it shall be to the LORD a memorial, everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.” 

Yesterday we all went eat at a favorite local Mexican restaurant.  When the food came I asked the boys if they wanted to pray.  The two year old did what he always does, muttered quietly to himself with his head bowed, suddenly popping up with a loud “Amen!”  Since no one could make out the mumbles I asked the five year old if he wanted to pray.  He led us in the basic “Thank you Jesus for our food, Amen.”  We commenced with the devouring of the feast before us.  When our meal was drawing to a close an older woman who was making her way out of the restaurant came over to my seat.  She said it was such a wonderful thing that I was teaching my children to pray at such an early age.  She said it was a wonderful legacy, something that she had been taught and had also passed on.  I couldn’t help but think of my mother and grandmother sitting there with us, my grandfather looking on from Heaven.  I’m only teaching what I was taught.  It is something worth saving and sending on.

Our legacy is the everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.  What we receive from those who go before us, and what we pass on to those who come behind us, becomes the living memorial to God, the sign that others can look to, pointing them to the Presence that is always there.  So my grandfather is with us still, in the stories, in the mannerisms of his children, in the faith he so faithfully taught us, in the GOD he so faithfully followed whom we follow still.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Paving the Road with Intentions

I’m so excited that summer break is officially here.  That means it’s time for road trips.  I am actually writing this on my laptop in the back seat of my parents’ truck.  Woo Hoo!  We are traveling to Texas to see family.  On this particular occasion my cousin is graduating from high school.  I’m so excited because I get to see my grandmother.  After Tim’s grandmother died, I am anxious to be with her.  I know that time is precious, opportunities like this rare.  How could I not go?

I have hopes for this time away.  I hope that I get those rare gifts of heart moments shared with my grandmother, where we glimpse each other’s souls.  I hope that I express to her my gratitude for her encouragement.  She is faithful in reading my stuff.  She always returns my begging-for-prayer emails with thoughtful words.  She has a way of showing me the path of God’s grace, especially when it is most hidden.  I hope that I will take the time to laugh, deep in my belly, till my eyes water, so much that I have to come up for breath.  You know how there are those times when you get together with family and the memories you make expand?  Okay, I’m not talking about the food.  The food always makes me expand in ways I wish it hadn’t.  But I do love how being with family, especially when it doesn’t happen often, has the ability to make your life feel bigger than it felt before?  Funnier.  Livelier.  Hope-ier.  Happier.   I’ve often said that my mom’s side of the family doesn’t stretch the truth, we just remember big.  I love how everyone’s a storyteller.  I hope I listen to the stories and take them in so that they become a part of me.  I hope that I carry this week within me for the rest of my life, that at a cellular level it changes me in important and beautiful ways.  I hope that I give generously of myself to those around me, that I don’t hold back sharing my heart.  I hope that we are able to hold tightly to the good things of being together and that we will be able to let everything else go by.  I know myself well.  There is that natural jet lag that happens whether you travel by plane or not.  Traveling has the potential to keep everyone and everything out of sorts.  I hope instead that the adventure of this time will override the inconvenience, and that we will enjoy every part of it. 

Here is the biggest hope I have.  It is wrapped in the tender souls of my two sons who are traveling with me.  I hope that they will know themselves to be more than they knew, that their understanding of themselves will grow as they spend time with family larger than they guessed.  I hope that they will sense the current of the sweeping story they participate in through their bloodline.  I hope they will come home with grand memories of being with family in Texas. 

These are my prayers and intentions for this time.  Somehow writing them down at the beginning of my journey helps me.  It feels like I’m more likely to live into it that way.  So blessings to all of you.  May your own roads be paved with prayers and intentions as well.  And may we all live fully the adventure that lies ahead of us!

Friday, May 25, 2012


I'm not in the mood to hug the planet today
A couple of years ago a young woman's passion
to make a difference
lit a fire beneath me,
her desire a fire
showing plainly my own indifference
to the fate of our mutual earth.
So I started using paper plates--
instead of styrofoam;
throwing cardboard, glass, and plastic
into the red recycle box--
instead of the trash can.
Her passion helped me care.
So I'm not in the mood to hug the planet today,
but I do anyway.
Because planet hugging without the mood
creates the mood.

I've learned the same is true of marriage.
"Honey, I'm not in the mood"
is a poor excuse for
not trying,
not loving,
not giving of oneself--
not stepping beyond oneself.
Stepping beyond mood,
in the right direction,
creates the mood.

I would say it's been easy,
these sixteen years stretching out behind us.
(If our marriage were a person,
today it would start driving . . . or dating.)
But then I would be lying.
And who would want an effortless marriage anyway?

Our effort--
yours and mine--
makes our partnering beautiful.
We've had to overcome so much
to meet in a place of Grace.
We chose to come over so much--
our pride,
our point of view,
our deeply held comfort--
to see the other side,
my other's side.
It is how we have become,
and are becoming,
one flesh.

Oh sweet man!
Your love has held me, when I could not hold you.
My love has held you, when you could not hold me.
And when neither one of us could hold fast
to the bonds between us,
we held quickly to God,
hoping, praying, begging
for His LOVE
to be enough to hold us together.
It was.

We hold hands now in a circle of LOVE,
our heads and hearts bowed.
I would say
God is in our circle,
but even that is not true anymore.
We have chosen to place the circle of our love--
you and me and three blond boys--
in the CIRCLE of
God's Hands.
We no longer grasp for the Divine Hand
to hold ours.
Instead we have chosen
to plant our feet firmly in
HIS Presence--
side by side,
but resting
the whole of who we are,
on HIM.

. . . when I found him whom my soul loves,
I held him, and would not let him go . . . ."
                                                 Song of Songs 3:4

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Power Packed

Isn't it wonderful how those little computers in our pocket come to life so easily?  My two year old knows how to work my iphone.  Amazing.  He knows just how to press that button at the bottom and then slide his sticky fingers across the face of it to open it up. And it can do anything we want it to.  As the saying goes, "there's an app for that!"  Better still is that when it runs low on juice all we have to do is plug it into a wall somewhere.

So why is it that I often forget that little detail?  Why is it that I allow the amazing computer in my pocket to come into such a low state of functioning that I might as well not even have it?  Sometimes I think I need a sign taped to my bathroom mirror that says, HEY SAMI--CHARGE YOUR PHONE!!!!!  Anyone out there relate?!

The truth is sometimes I think God is trying to communicate a similar message to my life: HEY SAMI--CHARGE YOUR SPIRIT!!!! 

Holy cow, life is hard!  There are those times when everything within me is calling out, each cell in my body screaming the duress I feel when caught in the impossible.  It comes out as a wail in the bottom of my gut, wordless but wrenching.  Only the wordlessness can encompass the difficulty of the situation I find myself in.  Ugh doesn't even come close.

I know you've been there. 

Haven't we all felt trapped at one time or another?  When I feel trapped my mind immediately goes to that place where I feel the need to be cut free.  And when I am in that place I forget.  I forget that there is a Tower of Strength and Comfort I can plug myself into. 

Why is it I forget God made me to be overcomer, victor in the midst of strife, living memorial of His power to sustain?  Why do I forget that Jesus not only walks on the storm like it's a carpet, but invites me to?  Why do I allow the amazing spirit God made and placed in me to come into such a low state of functioning that I might as well not even have it?

I'm not trying to be morose or a downer.  I'm just trying to articulate that place that especially needs what only God can give.  Because I believe so powerfully that accessing the power of God in our lives is a simple as plugging our phones into the wall.  Really.

It's not even a whole verse in the Bible, it's a phrase in a verse in the Bible.  But it has the Power of God to change everything for us.  It's the last part of Romans 4:20:  "but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God."   It's tucked away in the story of how Abraham became the father of many nations, especially God's people, even though everything about his life said he wasn't the father of anything.  But what this little verse is telling us is that a Divine Exchange happens every time we extend ourselves (step out of default mode and consciously step into something else) in the direction of God.  As we step out towards God, God infuses us with everything we need to be and do what He is calling us to be and to do. 

Two words.  Glory.  Faith. 

As we give glory to God, we grow strong in our faith.  The Greek word for glory is doxa.  It means dignity, glory, honour, praise, worship.  (See  As we give God dignity, glory, honour, praise, and worship something significance happens to us.  Within us.  I swear I can even feel the stuff of my body changing when I worship God.  It's that simple--praise and worship.  For me it means that I open up my mouth and really sing.  From the stuff of who I am I belt it out.  I sing as if no one else is in the room and God is the only one who can hear.  And then I lift my hands.  Sometimes I dance.  I find the song whose lyrics scratch the itch I can't seem to reach; I download it onto my phone; I stick the CD into my car.  On my worst days I just say the words, "I praise God for . . . ."  And then I fill in the blank with whatever my eyes land on first.  I don't even have to mean the words I say.  I just have to say them.  The saying of them leads me into the meaning them. 

The trouble is most of us think we have to feel like worshipping to actually worship God.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  It's why it's called the "sacrifice of praise."  Because there are days we want to do anything but worship God.  But when we actually open our mouths and let worship and praise come out of it, when we literally lift our hands, when me open our ears and listen to it wafting on the airwaves, the chemistry of our brains changes.  We open up a door where God is able to step into our reality and begin making it His.


Which leads us to the second word.  Faith.  The Greek word for faith is pistis.  It means faith, belief, trust, confidence, fidelity, faithfulness.  (See  As we praise and worship God, our faith is changed.  It grows stronger.  Our believing grows stronger.  Our trust grows stronger.  Our confidence . . . grows stronger.  Our ability to stick with something, for others to count on us . . . grows stronger.  I don't know anyone who doesn't want that.  Often we think we just need to try harder.  But trying harder is not the answer.  One of my favorite sayings from my psychology days goes something like "insanity is doing the same things and expecting different results."  It is not in us to produce something other than what we are.  But it is in us to connect to Someone who can make us more of what we are supposed to be. 

What I love about God is that He supplies within us the very thing He responds to the most.  When we believe Him, He moves.  When we trust Him, He shows up.  When we rest the need of our lives in His capable Hands, His Hand become capable in our lives.  Oh yes.  Yes, yes, yes, yes.

Like so many I am in a place in my life where I no longer have the resources to see myself through.  I need Something beyond myself to help me get where I need to be.  It didn't used to be like that.  I used to be able to drag up from within the dregs of my motivation, energy, and intellect what was needed to get through.  That is no longer true.  The challenges are bigger than me.  But I am absolutely convinced that my God is far superior to any challenge I face.  But I cannot connect to God's power if I refuse to connect to God. 

So when I plug in my phone tonight, I'm going to remember another plug in I need to make.  Because I want my life to be power packed.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Only Stubborn People Can Fly Kites

My neighborhood was full of them, stubborn people.  Because when I was a kid, flying a kite was a big deal.  All the kids in our neighborhood had a kite.  Kite flying was an art to be mastered.  We would stay outside for hours, working hard for that moment when our kites would be small and high in the air, our string unwound to the fullest, taught with the power of the wind.  It was amazing to me and quite an accomplishment to get to that point.  But boy it took perseverance to get there.

The funny thing was, the wind was often the very thing that made getting off the ground hard.  It would work in tandem with gravity, sending would-be air climbers careening violently to the ground nose first.  It took so much trial and error to get going.  The trick was to figure out how to get the wind resistance underneath the kite's wing span instead of on top of it.  There were only two ways to accomplish this:  You either had to run into the wind using the string as a short tether that would help fill the kite with air, or you had to have a partner to hold your kite towards the wind so that the force could gently lift the kite up as you slowly released the string.   It always worked best with a partner.  By far the best solution was a combination of the two; the helper would hold the kite high in the air catching the resistance of the wind, and the flyer would take off running as fast as could be, hoping the kite would reach sufficient lift and velocity to rise into the air

It's so like life.  Getting off the ground in anything is the hardest part of living.  We experience so much resistance and gravity.  It's like the whole of existence is conspiring to keep us from reaching our goals, living our dreams.  The worst is that it's not just difficult circumstances around us that make flying seem impossible.  It's the groundedness within us that's hard.  We are so tied to  the way things have always been.  Even if the promise of new life is better than anything we have ever experienced before, the old life is something we know so well.  We become experts at our own misery.  I remember well the saying that the pain of staying the same has to become greater than the pain of change for real transformation to take place.  There is that thing in us that likes the comfort of the familiar.  It can become a monster within, dictating everything about the way we live until we aren't really living at all.  When I was in seminary one of my friends used to say, "Kiss your monster on the nose."  I love this expression.  For me it means I kiss my fear goodbye on the way out the door to my destiny.  "Oh yes, hello fear.  Hello comfort.  I'm stepping out of my box for awhile.  See you later."  The key is to run faster than your fear can find you.

Let's just say up front that anything worth pursuing is going to take effort, a true stepping beyond the person we are presently to try on the skin of the next person we are called to be.   Just like kite-flying this process is full of trial and error, but eventually we get there.  For me it means I have to set my face towards Jerusalem.  I have to decide that I'm either going to accomplish this thin, or I am going to die trying.  This over-and-over stepping out is what creates velocity, along with a good sprinkling of confidence, within us.  Each time we expend effort in the direction of our dreams, the effort becomes easier, stronger, and we get better at lifting off the ground.

Of course having someone there who believes in us is so helpful.  Someone who can hold us up when we fall.  Someone who can give us encouragement when we have to try again . . . again.   Someone who can see the possibilities within us as much as, or perhaps better, than we can.  Sometimes we just need someone to help us stand when we experience the wind.  And when we combine that with an internal drive that refuses to give up, refuses to give in, getting off the ground is really just a matter of time.

Ultimately the resistance we experience outside of us becomes our ally in overcoming the pull of gravity within us.  It's like the thing that once scared the pee pee out of us, once we actually do that thing, it is no longer unfamiliar.  We know more about it, what it feels like when we do it, what it looks like when we fail, what might help us next time, what might help us succeed.  If we keep making that step of faith, eventually our faith turns into certainty.  Instead of holding us back that difficult circumstance becomes the thing that helps us rise to the next occasion of testing.  And once we learn how to rise above one circumstance, rising above others begins to follow in short order.  Truly perseverance pays off.

So this is my prayer, Oh God make me stubborn.  Make me stubborn.  Oh God make me stubborn in all the right ways.  And make all the timid souls like me out there stubborn too.  How grand it would be to see the world decorated with beautiful lives flying.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Ahhh, this is what I am made for . . . .

There have been moments. When everything within me leapt in joy. When exhilaration was my exhalation, and wonder and gratitude my inbreath. When everything about me felt I was dreaming because I felt so, so good. When I knew, ahh this is what I am made for.

I've been pondering those moments. And I've been pondering a particular scripture I've known for years, but have never pondered in just this way before. Romans 12:1 says, "I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship." It's one of those verses that has left me more than a little scared. I've always thought, always been taught, that to present oneself wholly to God as a sacrifice was to put to death the thing in you that desires to have desire fulfilled. It's to live estranged from one's own self, which is now dead to self, and put to better use serving God. Living as a servant. Or a slave rather. Bound, and sad, and bereft. That is what God wants right?

And yet the Spirit is telling me NO! Today the Spirit is telling me NO!

I hear the Spirit saying, "I did not mean that at all!" In fact, I hear the Spirit saying just the very opposite.

Because the scripture goes on to say that we are members of one body, differently made for different purposes. Although we belong to one another, we are individuals, who are differently gifted by Grace! See what the Spirit is saying to us:

For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individuallywe are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in dilligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness. Romans 12:4-8

Each one of us is given a different grace. God's desire is that we live into the grace He gave us. In fact it is woven into our very being; we have a natural leaning toward this gifting. And naturally we are no good at other pursuits. This is how it should be. I just hate it that the enemy of our souls can so easily convince us that we are supposed to do the thing we hate, the thing we are no good at, the thing that other girl can do. Shouldn't we be able to do it too? I hate it how the enemy twists God's Word so that we think we are doing God a favor by being miserable, instead of having the courage to be who we are made to be. The enemy convinces us that the greater sacrifice is trying to squeeze ourselves into somebody else's image, no matter how much it hurts. Yet the Spirit says we are given Grace to live into God's image; Grace is the grease of life that facillitates the living. The Spirit alive in us is not drudgery and obligation. The Spirit alive in us is joy!

So then why the sacrifice? What is it that has to die if there is so much joy in being a living sacrifice, living into the Spirit's call (or "inner wooing" as T.D. Jakes would say)? We die to the expectations that we've been trying to live up to for so long, ours and everybody else's. That's not easy. Because the road to answering God's Grace is never paved with certainties. And we will have to disappoint some folks. For people pleasers that can been harrowing. Unthinkable. The sacrifice for us then is to think the unthinkable. To live the unthinkable. To know in the center of one's being that God's sufficiency is all we need to live and do what we were created for. Truth be told, that is the only sufficiency we've got. Everyone else will disappoint us along the way. And that's okay. Someday our lives can be an encouragement to them to follow their own dreams.

In the meantime we are to live the sacrifice that we are, dying to certitude and approval so we may live to inspiration and exhilaration. Romans 12:2 actually describes this process quite well: "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God--what is good and acceptable and perfect." I love that God's promise to us is that we WILL be able to know God's will for us. I LOVE that when we see God's will we will recognize it because it will be GOOD, ACCEPTABLE, and PERFECT! We will say to ourselves, "Why didn't I think of that?" We will know it as our destination because everything within us will recognize our truest self within it.

I believe the renewal God seeks from us is not renewing our passion for Him, but getting it in our heads that He is PASSIONATE for us! We did not die for Him to have life. He died, that we might have LIFE and have it more abundantly. Not just eternally later on. But abundantly now. HE died for us. Our renewal, our spiritual act of worship, everyday, is to LIVE FOR HIM. When I am more willing to live for Him than I am willing to live a dead life, then I am transformed. Then my mind is renewed. Then I am a living sacrifice.

Monday, May 14, 2012

A Celebration of Mothers, Reflecting on Yesterday

I left work today saying to the Lord, "It's hard being a mother!"  I had just observed a mom trying to corall her son, who was running away from her throwing a fit.  It's tempting to think something like, "that woman needs to get a hold of her child," but I know better.  I know how easily "that woman" could be, has been, and probably will be again, me.  Oh Lord, it can be so hard some times.  I remember the fits my own mother had to endure.  She tells me of the time when we were in the grocery line and my three year old self was begging for something she told me I couldn't have.  After being firmly admonished that it wasn't going to happen, I piped up oh so clearly, "Are you going to beat me again?!"  Please know I've never been beaten a day in my life.  It's amazing any of us ever survive these tender and tenancious days of parenting and being parented.  One of my favorite people is a dear woman that I see often at church.  She has successfully raised three boys to adulthood.  I look at her and feel encouraged.  I think, "if she can do it, I can too."  Those boys run circles around me.  But my favorite circles are the ones like this morning, when all three wrap their arms around me  and give me a big hug at the same time.  So nice.

What I thank God for today is mothers:  Mothers who raised us, who praised us, who prayed us through.  Mothers who washed us, wept for us, wept with us.  Mothers who kept us fed, and sometimes kept us fed up!  Mothers who cooked and cleaned, then who made us learn how to clean and cook.  Mothers who spoke life into us and scared the life right out of us.  Mothers who disciplined us, ultimately giving us the gift of self-discipline.  Mothers who laughed, sometimes at us, often with us, and always at themselves.  Mothers who clothed us, often with whatever creative means necessary, so that we could walk confidently into our days, whenter we wore name brands or not.  Mothers who taught us the value of separating colors and whites while doing the wash, and gave us the gift of not redoing what we failed to do, so we could learn that lesson well.  Mothers who gave us Mother wisdom every day, feeding our brains with the well-worn words we would someday repeat to ourselves.  Mothers whose voices are as familiar as our own, the sound of which calms us, carries us, yet also carries the challenge that spurs us on.  Mothers who can see through our shenanigans, yet see the real us too.  Mothers who see us as God created us and see the potential God placed within us.  Mothers who hear us, not just the words that we say but everything simmering beneath.  Mothers who understand without us even having to say a word.  Mothers who open wide their arms and hearts, allowing us to take up residence there, feeling deeply the pain of loving with abandon, and rejoicing exuberantly when that love is returned.  Mothers who so carefully bring the ministrations of the God who tenderly leads and cares for the sheep that we are. 

All of us have mothers.  I thank God for them.  Without them we wouldn't be here.  Even if we had the worst mother ever, she still was the vessel that poured out our gift of life.  And I am thankful for those brave souls who carry within them that fierce Mother Love, who have opened their hearts to new life, yet carried the anguish of loss in their arms instead.  You are such fabulous mothers too.  Because you dared to open your soul and give yourself fully to another.  That's the most any mother can do. 

So Lord bless all the mothers.  We need Your blessing.  We need Your Strength, and Help, and Hope, and everything else that is You.  Because it's hard being a mother, and only You can help us see it through.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Affirmations of Life

I find myself once again needing a solid place to rest my faith.  I am in a season of transition, called to move to a new place in heart, mind, and especially practice.  But this new territory is strange and unfamiliar.  It is so completely unlike any place I have been before.  I realize I cannot get there on my own.  To find my way I need a new head space and heart space to lead from. 

How does one do this?

It's actually quite simple.  For those of us who grew up in the church, we are already know what to do (even if we don't realize it). 

Let me be honest. When I was a kid I thought church was boring. I hated it. The only perk was that I got to dress up, which was kind of fun. (Until Jr. High when I was completely self-conscious about the clothes I wore, worrying about whether I had enough or if they were pretty enough.) 

My family always attended the local Methodist church.   Since those were the days before contemporary worship, every service in every local Methodist congregation generally looked the same. In an effort to help it go faster, I would follow the bulletin looking for each part I could check off: The Call to Worship, The Lord's Prayer, The Offertory, The Apostle's Creed, The Gloria Patri, The Doxology, The Benediction. I knew them all by heart.

What I failed to realize was that each Sunday was another opportunity to reinforce of the faith I would need later on. That simple reiteration of the basics each and every week helped build a stable foundation I could build upon.

And this is where one must start when moving to a new head space and heart space.  It's all about the Affirmations of Faith that we speak into our lives.

Truly we do this already.  An affirmation is "the declaration that something exists or is true." Everything we speak to ourselves is an affirmation of one kind or another.  How familar are these phrases:  I wish I could ____________.  I'll never be able to ___________.  Why can't I _________?   Every word or phrase we say to ourselves is creating a truth we live into.  The Bible says faith comes by hearing.  How different would life be if we heard ourselves saying things that affirmed the life right into us?

That's what I'm most hungry for right now.  I want to affirm the Life right into me with everything I've got.  Because I know I cannot manufacture it on my own.  I know I have to reach toward Grace, to listen closely to the Still Small Voice, and HEAR what it says about me.  Then I have to speak it into my heart, mind, and soul until I believe it.  Until I can stand upon it.  Until I can act as if it is the truth of who I am. 

So here is how I began.

Step 1.  Listen for the Spirit's Call.  What exactly is it that God is leading you toward?  What truth is God inviting you to live into?

Step 2.  Open the Word.  What passages reflect, define, build upon, explain, flesh out this new territory you are being led into?

Step 3.  Write it Out Loud.  Copy the passages in your own messy handwriting.  There is power in writing truth with your own hand.  Change the language into a first-person belief statement.  Include the book, chapter, and verse.

Step 4.  Tape it Somewhere conspicuous.  By the toilet.  In the fridge.  Over your bed.  On the dashboard.  Wherever you will see it every day, several times a day. 

Step 5.  Read it OUT LOUD.  Every time you see it, read it to yourself.  Make it your bed-time story or your morning kick-in-the-butt.  Even more powerful than writing it, seeing truth written in your own hand, is saying the words yourself, and hearing the words spoken in your own voice.

That's it.  That's what I'm doing.  I'm considering it a kind of "Holy Experiement."  I just know I need to be convinced that God has something more for me, that I have not lived the best days of my life, that the more that is to come is truly Something More than anything I've already lived.  And so these are the Affirmations I am learning to live by.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

If you're happy and you know it, then . . .

This was one of those splendid moments when the intricacies of little boy movement and camera phone timing timing alligned, and I was graced with a picture worth a thousand words.  The caption is obvious:  "If you're happy and you know it, then your face will surely show it!"  I love that my little guy is so happy so often.  His happiness is contagious.  It is the seed of so much joy in my life.  My daily goal is to allow that joy to take root and produce something beautiful in me. 

I think finding joy in the moment, not tied to any outcome or product or circumstance, is a powerful spiritual discipline.  I really, really try to practice it.  Some times it is easier than others.  It would seem that joy and self-discipline should be mutually exclusive concepts.  Joy is so in-the-moment.  Discipline is so, well . . .  disciplined.  You know: thought out, premeditated, planned.  How can joy be all those things? 

Hmm.  Thoughtful joy.  Premeditated joy.  Intended joy.

I've been pondering the concept of intention alot lately.  I believe it holds the key to marrying spontanious joy with one's daily rhythm.  It's all about what we choose to attend to, what we allow ourselves to be preoccupied with, where we are willing to develop receptivity.  In other words, we make up our minds ahead of time to pay attention to the things that spark gladness within us.  It's that simple.  And when we find something that ignites a spark we attune our senses to it, noticing it more and more,  so that it grows bigger.  We cultivate a joyful life in the same way one cultivates a garden, a talent, a hobby.

But there is that thing within me that wants to save my spontaneously beautiful, joyful moments for that time in my life when all is well and there are no loose ends.  It's almost like I want to be able to anticipate correctly the stuff coming at me.  I don't want to waste these productive, preparatory moments on joy when I could be worrying.  I mean, doesn't worrying about the future make it better?  Give me an edge on conquering it?

Sounds silly when I write it out loud.  Yet it's there, like the itchy place in the middle of my back that I cannot reach no matter how I contort my arms.  I think worrying gives me the pretension of control, whereas joy is such an out-of-control place to be.  To be truly joyful means to be truly surrendered.  It is to give oneself over to full attention on something besides oneself. 

It takes faith to be joyful.  Joy-full.  Because you have to trust that Someone bigger than yourself is leading you into the present moment, and that same Someone is holding all the moments to come.  It is a total relinquishment of heart and mind space.  Instead trying to arrange one's life into a neat and tidy and palatable package, you have to abandon that focus altogether, choosing instead to be present in the here and now.  Choosing to be glad.  It is impossible to be glad and to worry; to be glad is to be holy.  Because the Holy has gotten our attention, and we've gone with it instead leaning upon our own understanding.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Slaying the Jabberwocky

I remember my last fall retreat as the campus minister at the WKU Wesley Foundation.  We decided upon the theme "The Gospel According to Disney."  I scoured the video store looking for rentals that could provide meat for discussion.  One movie in particular stands out to me from that weekend.  It was the new "Alice in Wonderland" starring Johnny Depp.  It tells the story of what happens in Wonderland when Alice returns.  Of course Alice is no longer a child.  In growing up she has succumbed to expectations that have robbed her of the vitality she once had.  When she finds her way back, many of her former Wonderland acquaintances simply cannot believe it is her.  In commenting on the change the Mad Hatter explains, "You're not the same as you were before. You were much more...'muchier'. You've lost your 'muchness'."
That quote has stuck with me.  I know with certainty that I was there.  Running the campus ministry while trying to keep up with and please the demands of the leadership of the greater church seemed to be draining the life out of me.  I had lost my muchness. 

As painful as it was, when the Bishop ended my appointment at the Wesley Foundation, it was like the captives being set free.  The worst had finally happened.  In exercising his authority to move me, ironically he moved me right out of his arena of power, putting me in a place where I never have to worry about what he thinks again.  Some gifts are hidden in the strangest wrapping.

I've spent the past year remembering.  In its truest sense re-member-ing, putting myself back together again, allowing the disintegrated parts of my heart, mind, soul, and body to reweave themselves into a coherent unity, feeling deeply my own depletion so that I could celebrate the sweet infilling of Grace.  At last I feel whole, once again.  I feel like I belong to myself again.  I feel like I have something to offer. 

But at the same time I feel restless. 

My husband and I have been wondering what is next.  I thought for sure I was supposed to return to the university and teach college freshmen.  I prayerfully, ardently, carefully applied for a full-time teaching position.  I felt in my deepest heart that I was being led, that my efforts were my faithful response to God's promptings, that God was going to open a new door for me, for my family's provision, in answer to the door that the Bishop had closed.  I received a phone interview.  After weeks of wondering . . .  I also received a face to face interview.  It went so well; it felt so good.  I could not have done any better, and still been me.  I had such a sense of God's blessing, God's smile, God's consolation.  I felt so sure.  Never in my life had I allowed myself to feel sure of anything.  I know well the price of disappointment.  It's just that the Hand of Destiny seemed to be so prominently arranging my life in Mysterious and Wonder-full ways.  I emptied myself into trust,  trusting that He would move, that He would open, that the year of drought would be over.

As I look back it seems appropriate that the rejection letter came on Friday the 13th.  Come to think of it, perhaps the mail carrier was wearing a hockey mask. 

Oh well. 

I still feel restless.

When I received the news, I was perplexed.  It wasn't as big a deal that I didn't get the job.  The bigger deal was that God was speaking so consistently into my life about opening a door, birthing something new and glorious, lavishing my steps with love and hope.  And I wasn't the only one sensing something new, a glorious shift coming.  Trusted intercessors, dear friends, felt it too.  I have been praying for God to redeem His word, to show me how its Truth is still true.  In my praying and perplexion a blanket of sadness and defeat settled over my heart.  Now what?

My interview for the teaching position was just days before the ladies retreat that I participated in.  Our ladies retreat was so amazing.  Oh my it was amazing.  I could feel the Holy Spirit coursing through me as I spoke like the torrents of a River, ebbing and flowing, surging and gushing, speaking a Word to hearts that needed healing.  In the speaking my own heart was healed too. 

I have to confess that coming home from that weekend I told the Lord that if I had to choose between teaching University Experience full-time and leading retreats, speaking passionately about Jesus, giving voice with wild abandon to the hope that is within me, that it's no contest.  I would choose wild abandon every time.  Even in the face of my deep love for college students, my passion to see them safely through the turbulent waters of transition, I would choose to tell boldly the story of God's grace breaking through our human experience and into our wobbly hearts.  When I do this, every part of me lights up. 

For years now I have sensed God has given me a deeper, truer vocation . . .  to write.  And also for years numerous fellow pilgrims have encouraged me.  But I've always been to chicken to heed the call.  Yet I cannot get away from the fact that it is in writing and speaking the Truth that holds me that I am most alive, most myself, most available to God.  Having been rejected so many times it's hard for me to believe that I could ever be more than I already am.  But the call never goes away.  I kind of believe that God isn't interested in whether I BECOME a published writer or not, just whether I give myself to heeding His call, even if it means I must TRY to become a published writer.  Oh messy obedience.  I hate trying without assurances.  I hate giving myself to life experiments without the foreknowlege of success. 

Is this experiment risky?  Oh yes.  It scares me to try.  It's not just my future that is on the line here.  People I love so deeply will be affected if I fail.  But then I guess they will also be affected if I never try.  They will have to live with a woman who never really said "yes" to God, who always stayed in the shadows of Grace, but never stepped into the Light.  How can I teach, ask, expect my own children to chase the Light if I refuse to do it myself?

Here is what Henry David Thoreau, says about messy obedience in his book Walden:

"I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings."

It seems to me that the whole point is to pass the invisible boundary, to live a life larger than the capacity which we now hold.  God never lets up in wanting to enlarge us.  I hate it about Him and love it all at the same time.

At the end of the movie Alice discovers her destiny in Wonderland.  She must slay the Jabberwocky.  She alone can do it, and Wonderland's existence hangs upon her agreement to be it's champion.  As the white queen says, no one can make the choice for her.  It must truly be her own, because facing the Jabberwocky will demand everything from her.  What Alice discovers is that in fighting the Jabberwocky she secures not only the survival of Wonderland but she receives back her "muchier" self, enough so that she can return to the real world and face down all those who would put her in the box of prim and proper. 

I have a Jabberwocky to slay, as I suspect we all do.  It's not so much about whether we succeed or fail, but whether we are willing to give ourselves to the fight.  Ultimately we are fighting for the person God made us to be, that glorious, beautiful, exquisite self that only we can be.  Without that person, the world is a darker place.  And like the citizens of wonderland, I suspect someone out there needs to see our light, or rather His Light shining through us.