Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Word of the Week: Listen

Sometimes I have so many thoughts bouncing through my head that it really takes an effort to just be quiet and listen. Being quiet is one thing; intentional listening is another. And yet I'm finding out that, far from being a state of passivity, active listening involves some questions. Sometimes in response to the stirrings in my heart, it does good to ask "God, what are you trying to teach me? What are you wanting me to do?"

I notice I tend to block out negative feelings and even beat myself up for what I'm thinking or feeling. They are, after all, negative . . . and we've been (or at least I've been) conditioned to think "rejoice in the Lord always . . . " - stuff the feelings and move on. Instead I've been trying to just listen to what's going on in my heart. Why am I frustrated? What's my deep longing here? What would God have me do? And what would that be like? I'm learning to:

  • Listen to discern
  • Listen patiently
  • Listen and obey
I notice when I do stop to listen, God doesn't blow me off - imagine that! He's totally okay with me bringing even the negative parts of myself to him. Sometimes it takes another person to help in this listening process, and I'm thankful for people in my life who do that. And I notice the more I listen to my own life, the more I'm learning to listen attentively to those around me.

God is already listening . . . why don't we join him?

A helpful resource for me has been a book I reviewed previously, entitled Listen: Finding God in the Story of Your Life, by Keri Wyatt Kent. I highly recommend this book!

Let us not look back in anger or forward in fear, but around in awareness. James Thurber

"Eat Mor Chikin"

Chick-Fil-A is pretty smart, enlisting the help of the poor maligned cow himself to encourage us to "eat more chikin!" I realize, it's simply a marketing strategy but you gotta admit, it's a pretty clever one. It's one I wish politicians would use, rather than resorting to negative campaigning. (Is it possible cows are smarter than most politicians?)

Last year, I decided to make some major changes in my eating habits. I reached a turning point when I stopped worrying about what not to eat and began focusing on the good stuff. When I feel myself getting off track, I don't think about what I need to cut out. I refocus on how to get more good into my diet. When's the last time I had a fresh salad? An apple? Perhaps a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast beats chocolate cinnamon bread or a Krispy Kreme donut for breakfast. And those ccaaafffeeeiine jitters? Obviously I need to drink a little more water (okay, make that a lot more water). The more I intentionally plan to eat right, the easier it becomes and the more good foods become the mainstay of my diet.

In the same way, I am finding the “eat more chikin” principle true in the spiritual arena. A lot of the Christian life tends to be focused on "negative campaigning," so to speak. Make no mistake, there are things we need to turn away from or "put off," as Paul encourages us to do. And we're called to abstain from food (fasting) and work (resting) at times. But the focus is not what we turn from but rather what we're turning to.

Maybe it's oversimplification, but it seems the more I spend my time filling myself up with good things, in the physical and emotional realms, as well as the spiritual realm, the less room there is for those things that drag me down. The challenge is prayerfully and intentionally making those good things a regular fixture in my life.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

I Got Nothing

Lots of thoughts; nothing coming together yet. But that's okay, because my sweet friend Katrina has a wonderful post about outriggers and canoes . . . well, just trust me and go read it, okay?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Standing and Pedaling

So I just can't seem to get the hang of standing and pedaling while riding my bike. You know, that technique that would give you a bit of extra power when tackling a hill (or in my case, the smallest of grades!)

Anyways, while enjoying a bike ride Sunday, I attempted again to get the hang of this - forget it. I just can't do it! I can't risk falling! But for some reason, it brought to mind that verse in Romans 5:1-2 that is paraphrased so beautifully in the Message: By entering through faith into what God has always wanted to do for us—set us right with him, make us fit for him—we have it all together with God because of our Master Jesus. And that's not all: We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that he has already thrown open his door to us. We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand—out in the wide open spaces of God's grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise. (Romans 5:1-2 MSG)

Just a few thoughts tossed around as I pedaled:

1) Am I able to stand tall . . . am I becoming confident in the grace of God to face each day, each next step? As with everything else in our lives, it's a day-by-day, step-by-step process.
2) Am I helping others stand tall? Am I praying for and encouraging others in their walk? The picture of Moses standing tall because Aaron and Hur supported him comes to mind . . . a beautiful picture of the body of Christ working together!
3) (This is the hardest one for me) Am I able to accept the help of others in learning to stand tall . . . in my daily walk? Can I ask for and welcome the prayers, advice and help of others when needed?

Standing tall . . . bold and confident . . . we have every reason to do so in Christ!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

One Thing

Do you ever feel overwhelmed by all the needs around you and all the causes striving to meet those needs? Entire families displaced by catastrophes and natural disasters. Starving children at home and abroad. Homeless people sleeping under the very bridges we drive across on our way to work. Single mothers struggling to make ends meet. Grown men fighting the power of addiction on a daily basis. It's almost easier to look away than it is to ponder what God would have us do. Where do we begin?

One night this summer, I was with a friend when she got a phone call from someone asking for money, which she knew would be used to satisfy a substance addiction. Wisely she recognized the vulnerability of this situation and referred the caller to a pastor. Nevertheless, as we drove through her neighborhood which skirts some of the roughest parts of our city, we pondered the question, "What can we do?"

I read through at least one of the gospels every year and am always struck by the integration of Jesus' social outreach with his preaching/teaching ministry. Almost everywhere you find him healing someone, casting out demons or raising someone from the dead. Even after long days of teaching, he was sensitive enough to the physical needs of the crowd - enough to ensure their hunger was satisfied. From the gospels, we see that Jesus cares about the whole person. Shouldn't that be our focus as well? But again, the question comes - where do we begin?

The answer, I think, is made plain in Jesus' approach to ministry. He didn't wave his hand over the crowds and forgive sins or heal the sick en mass. No, he healed them one at a time. He broke bread and with the help of his disciples, fed the multitudes one person at a time. And he forgave their sins, one person at a time, extending his hand to them and inviting them into his kingdom.

What can we do? Just one thing. Your one thing will look different from my one thing. Maybe it will only ever be one thing, one time or perhaps it will be one thing over and over again. Perhaps one thing will turn into many things, inspiring others by our example. But we have to start somewhere. We have to look at the needs and face the facts. And we have to be willing.

One thing. What will it be? What does God want? And am I willing? That's what I'm asking myself these days.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Strength Will Rise

What I'm listening to - more Chris Tomlin. Sometimes when I read the Bible and come upon a familiar or even a tough verse, I find it helpful to revert the sentence order. It's kind of like hitting refresh on your computer screen or changing up some outfits. A fresh face on an old familiar standby. For example, instead of "For God so loved the world" I try it as "the world was so loved by God." That begs a question: how loved by God? To what extent and in what way?

I think that's kind of what the writer of this song did with Isaiah 40:31. Instead of "they that wait on the Lord will renew their strength" it reads "strength will rise as we wait upon the Lord." Can't you just kind of picture strength rising, bubbling up inside you, as you wait on God? You may only have a hint of confidence at first, but as you continue to wait, strength continues to rise up within you, as a trickle of water turns into a running stream and then into a raging river, a force to be reckoned with.

"Everlasting God"

Strength will rise as we wait upon the Lord
We will wait upon the Lord
We will wait upon the Lord

Our God, You reign forever
Our hope, our Strong Deliverer
You are the everlasting God
The everlasting God
You do not faint
You won't grow weary

Our God, You reign forever
Our hope, our Strong Deliverer
You are the everlasting God
The everlasting God
You do not faint
You won't grow weary

You're the defender of the weak
You comfort those in need
You lift us up on wings like eagles

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Interlude

Work has been a series of noisy crescendos, one after another. I'm neither a noise girl nor a crescendo girl. No Beethoven's Fifth for me. Just keep the music (and the work) moving along at a steady pace, with appropriate pauses so I can take it all in.

Anyways, a total God-thing happened today. I've taken over one of our most um, trying accounts, a large account in a difficult market with a reputation for demanding purchasing agents (yes, the market, not just this one particular customer). It goes like this: We try. We fail. Customer is not happy. We try to fix the problem. We create new ones. Customer is not happy.

I am new to the account. So is my contact. In spite of one failure after another of late, Mr. Customer has been amazingly gracious. This afternoon I had to give him a bit more bad news.

Me: I hate to tell you this but XXX (bad news). I'm really sorry.
Customer: Oh no! Don't tell me that! I'm going to have to shut myself in my office again with a book!
Me: Oh yeah? What are you reading? (Seizing the opportunity for a diversion from the issue at hand!) I usually read at lunch too.
Customer: Max Lucado's 3:16!
Me: (light bulb goes on!) Ahhh, sounds like we have similar tastes in reading.
Customer: Hmm, must be why we've managed to both be so nice in spite of this terrible situation!

Interlude: A short piece inserted between the parts of a longer composition

This was like an interlude in my day. A different tune. A little calming reminder that God is involved in every bit of our lives. Not standing off to the side, as an dispassionate observer, but intimately involved - right in the middle of it all.

The phone conversation ended and the discordant noise soon resumed. But all afternoon, strains of that interlude lingered, no doubt God's answer to prayers of a friend. A God-thing indeed.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Book Review: Under the Overpass

ATTENTION: We interrupt the normal drivel found on this blog to recommend a great book, Under The Overpass.

"What if I stepped out of my comfortable life with nothing but God and put my faith to the test alongside of those who live with nothing every day?"

With that question on his heart, Mike Yankowski set out with his friend Sam to find the answers. It was a journey that would take him into the heart of six major cities over a five-month period, and one he undertook with nothing more than the clothes on his back, his Bible and journal, a guitar and a sleeping bag. Along the way, they lived alongside the homeless of each city, playing their guitars and panhandling to earn enough money for their next meal as well as bus transportation from city to city. Their eyes were opened to how those who "have" view those who "have not." They learned firsthand what it means to pray "give us this day our daily bread." They experienced both the generosity of some Christ-followers, as well as painful rejection by some churches and those who called themselves Christians.

Without putting his readers on a guilt trip, and free from any hint of self-righteousness, Mike recounts his experience in an engaging yet thought-provoking manner. He willingly acknowledges the part personal choice plays in the lives of those he encounters. He humbly admits that he struggled with the need for discernment on a daily basis: do you give to someone panhandling? And what can you give? After he returns to his former life - that of a well-provided-for college student, he reflects on the dangers of lacking nothing.

In the end, graciously and without preaching or moralizing, Mike simply encourages his readers to open their eyes and hearts to the love of God and how he would have us live it out. "As over-spiritualized as it might sound, I really do think that caring for the needy begins with loving God more completely. It's in knowing and responding to His amazing love for us that we begin to set our priorities straight."

I didn't realize until I was partway through it that it's actually considered teen reading (I order my library books online) - it's that easy of a read. I highly recommend this book, but fair warning: you'll probably be thinking about it for days afterward.

Friday, October 12, 2007

So Much and So Little

So much to blog about; so little time. But here are some ideas swirling around in my brain:

Make & Take - mmm, birthday dinner at mom's this weekend and you won't believe what we're having!
Eat More Chikin - Not just Chick-Fil-A either!
My latest book buys - yum!
The Jesus Creed by Scot McKnight (a review)
Founding Mothers by Cokie Roberts (a review)
Church: Competitive or Cooperative?

So there. I've committed to blogging for at least another week or so!


This picture says it all. You may think it nothing more than a cute little dog, guarding his toy. Nope. There's more. See that heater vent behind him? Well, the furnace has yet to kick on but it being a mite chilly here tonight, MacGyver knows . . . believes . . . that he will be warm again. And so in earnest expectation, he huddles in his favorite corner, waiting. And someone has sympathy on him and kicks the furnace on!

And just in case that wasn't enough cuteness for one day, here's the reason I'm always behind on my laundry:

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Soft Edges

My co-worker and I used to enjoy sharing stories about her mom and my grandma. The phrase we agreed as describing these women was "soft edges." Kind of evokes a feeling of a warm fleece blanket you bundle about you on a chilly winter evening, doesn't it? Do you know someone like that?

I know every person is different, based on their personality type and a host of other individualizing factors. Soft edges don't come naturally to me, but I think it's a quality I want to develop in my life. I want to make people feel at home and comfortable, even if it's just for a brief phone conversation with a customer at work. We think a lot about giving, but sometimes it's those intangible things, like our presence, that mean the most to others. And if that presence is welcoming and inviting, all the better.

Anyways, just thought I'd throw those words out there today. Give us all something to think about. Soft edges.

And a here's a good quote I've been using as my sig line in email:

"It's a good thing to have all the props pulled out from under us occasionally. It gives us some sense of what is rock under our feet, and what is sand." Madeleine L'Engle


Sunday, October 07, 2007

Word of the Week: Cusp

From the Latin: point. A point that marks the beginning of a change; i.e. on the cusp of a new era.

Cusp. Not part of my everyday vocabulary, which is usually limited to words like carbon, ship date, and, unfortunately, LATE! Oh, and coffee - and lots of that! And on the home front, words like pizza and laundry get more of a work out.

I thought about it all day yesterday as we drove down scenic Route 40 to Deep Creek, Maryland. The purpose of our trip of course, was to enjoy the foliage. I think my husband was a bit disappointed, because the leaves are really just beginning to turn. Actually, it's my favorite time, because you really have to be observant. They're on the cusp, so to speak, of turning into an extravagant display.

It's one of those words I'd never given much thought to until I came across it several times in my reading this past week.
It conveys a feeling of expectation and anticipation, like the tree so ripe with fruit you know the harvest is inevitable. And it kind of sums up a feeling I have lately, an expectation that months, even years, of work and waiting and praying are about to come to fruition.

It's not a place we find ourselves in all the time, on the cusp. Life is a series of peaks and valleys, struggles and victories. And yet I wonder if I shouldn't live with more of this approach to life, an attitude of expectation. Not looking for a new era, but living with an expectation that God is at work, living in anticipation of what he's going to teach me next. I'm reminded of this prayer I posted earlier.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Embraced by God

She sees me and her face lights up and she draws me into a warm, welcoming embrace.

It's late when I get home from work but someone's waiting with a big hug and flowers in the fridge (it's our anniversary tonight).

If you know me, you know I'm not really the huggy type. A hug from me typically means my arm flopped sideways across your shoulders, which may get a little squeeze in the process. Needless to say, not being the huggy type, I probably don't invite a lot of hugs either. But lately, I've been the recipient of a few hugs that, well, keep me coming back for more.

This Saturday we'll take a drive down to Deep Creek, Maryland for the day. We'll take our time on the back roads and enjoy the beautiful display of fall foliage, which I am told is just about peak down there. Be still my heart! This is one of my annual anniversary/birthday requests (since they fall in the same month) and one my sweet hubby delights in faithfully fulfilling!

I've always loved fall but I remember first time the changing leaves made an impression on me. It was the year I student taught. I was working on staff at the college forty hours a week and muddling through student teaching at the same time. I trudged onto the bus early one morning, nearly in tears from exhaustion. On the drive over to the school, I happened to get my nose out of the lesson plans long enough to take in the beautiful northwest Indiana fall foliage. My heart did one of those flip-floppy butterfly dances at the sight of painted display, the warm morning sun brushing on the final touches. I felt God fold me to himself in an embrace that said "I'm here. It's okay." And it was.

To me, an embrace is a fuller embodiment of a hug. It involves much more than an arm around the shoulder. It signifies open arms and complete acceptance. And isn't that what we get from God? Open arms and complete acceptance? We just have to stop long enough to let ourselves revel in his love.

So when's the last time you allowed yourself to feel embraced by God?

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Made to Worship

What I'm listening to (even at work, a real treat since we sit so close together and my heater is usually running too loudly to listen to music above the drone of the heater - perhaps the only plus of being temporarily partnerless!)

I really like this line "wrote the story of His love for everyone." The more I see the Bible as "story", the more meaning it has for my life, and the more I see my life as part of his story, the more meaning my life has and the more important "everyone" seems. Does that make sense?

Made To Worship (Chris Tomlin)

Before the day
Before the light
Before the world revolved around the sun
God on high
Stepped down into time
And wrote the story of His love for everyone

He has filled our hearts with wonder
So that we always remember

You and I were made to worship
You and I are called to love
You and I are forgiven and free
When you and I embrace surrender
When you and I choose to believe
Then you and I will see who we were meant to be

All we are
And all we have
Is all a gift from God that we receive
Brought to life
We open up our eyes
To see the majesty and glory of the King

He has filled our hearts with wonder
So that we always remember

Even the rocks cry out
Even the heavens shout
At the sound of His Holy name
So let every voice sing out
Let every knee bow down
He is worthy of all our praise