Friday, February 29, 2008

This Way and That

I hate windshield wipers. They make me dizzy. (Perhaps this explains my dislike of the automatic car washes!) I do all I can to avoid using my windshield wipers. I love the delay and mist features (I go through lots of windshield washer fluid in my car) and rely heavily on those to get me through rain and snow!

Now my new car poses an additional problem: rear windshield wipers. I can see the point - water does tend to accumulate on the rear window of my Escape more than on my Regal. But it makes me crazy to have two sets of wipers operating out of sync. I tried at first to synchronize them - I really did. Trust me, it's impossible. So I use the rear one intermittently and as infrequently as possible.

I guess those wipers describe the state of my heart right now, going this way and that. I'm just not in sync with blogging these days. I feel pulled in opposite directions, part of me enjoying the connection that comes with blogging. But part of me wants to be more intentional about writing than blogging can really accommodate. God's been working on my heart about some things just are not bloggable (not yet anyways) and when I sit down to write a post, it sounds like I'm underwater or in a tunnel - all I hear are my own words and they're anything but clear.

So when all else fails, take a break, right? Seems about this time every year, I find some time away provides some clarity and direction. I still enjoy the community blogging affords though, so I'll be around, reading and commenting.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Face Time

Earlier this week, I had to travel with a few coworkers to visit a major account. The reason: they (the customer) needed face time. Honestly, I'm pretty sure that's about all they got from me - smiles and nods and the usual meet-and-greet handshakes, as I sat and mostly listened to my colleagues explain our course of action. They got face time, almost five hours. But you know, they need much more from us than face time. What they really want is assurance and confidence that we will be able to meet their needs on a consistent, proactive basis. They want action and communication. In short, and in their words, they need a partner.

I think I used to give God face time. Sunday mornings were his for sure. Possibly a few hours during the week. And morning devotions, as often as I could squeeze them in. In college, we had to fill out an activity report on such requirements. Perhaps more than build discipline in my life, it served to make such things mere duty.

Yes, there's something to be said for quiet moments spent listening to his voice, reading his word. There's a time and place to gather with others to worship. But God desires so much more than that, and slowly I am coming to realize you don't just give God face time. Even though we may tend to relegate him to corners of our lives, he remains present and involved, throughout each moment of the day. There's never a moment where we are out of his sight! How comforting is that!

And as incredible as it may seem, he invites us to partner with him to bring about his purpose in the world, as our current series at church in Ephesians is making quite clear. More than face time, God wants our faces turned toward him always, aware of his presence and work in and through our lives.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Thanks be to God for Broken Food Processors

I need to bake cookies today. A lot of them. Today, not tomorrow (I'm notorious for putting things off a day). So I got up ready to tackle the task at hand and oops! I'm short about 2 cups of flour. Undaunted, I decided to grind some oatmeal in my food processor and use that instead (it works, I've done it before with great results). But today my food processor decided to bite the dust. It's been on it's last leg, hard to turn on lately, but today it wouldn't budge.

You know what? I'm glad! Not because I need to go buy a new one. Okay, but who doesn't love shopping for a new appliance? But I'm glad because I sat down and had my quiet time, which I had put off to get a jump on my day. Ha! So much for that bright idea. Instead I had a sweet time with Jesus over Fruit Loops, inviting him into my day which already seemed to be off to a funky start.

I'm glad for a broken appliance and foiled plans which forced me to just sit in quiet for a bit. I'm glad for the reminder that he holds the days and hours in his hands. I'm glad for the awareness of his presence. I'll get to the cookies of course. But I'm glad the day took the turn it did.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Words to Speak

Sometimes a few lyrics seem to frame what's on my heart and mind better than I can, and that's the case with this song I heard recently by Aaron Shust:

Give Me Words to Speak
Calloused and bruised/ dazed and confused
My Spirit is left wanting something more
Than my selfish hopes/ and my selfish dreams
I'm lying with my face down on the floor
Cryin out for more
Cryin out for more

Every night, every day/ I find that I have nothing I can say
So I stand here in silence, awaiting Your guidance
I'm wanting only Your voice to be heard
Let em be Your Words
Let em be your words

Give me words to speak
Don't let my Spirit sleep
Cause I can't think of anything worth saying
But I know that I owe You my life
So give me Words to speak
Don't let my Spirit sleep
(full lyrics here)

I really appreciated that Aaron has posted a few journal notes about the story behind each of his songs. As I listen to these lyrics, an image of an altar comes to mind, where the children of Israel gave back to God what he had given to them. In asking for words to speak, that is my prayer also - something to give back to God.

By the way, just wondering if you iPod or mp3 users have migrated away from CDs and gone to just downloading music? I haven't but am wondering if it doesn't make more sense. The only place I really listen to CDs anymore is in my car, and I could always burn a few favs onto a CD if need be, right? Besides, do we ever love every song on a CD?

Lately I've been listening to Pandora through IM Radio (a feature of MSN). It allows you to create your own radio stations, based on your favorite artists or songs. You don't have control over what it plays other than to give songs a "thumbs down" but it's been nice to listen to at work. I have several radio stations created: a worship one, an easy listening (John Tesh, Enya, etc.) one and my "Weird Mix" - anything from Chicago to Bread to BJ Thomas (like I said, weird!) 

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Prayer Reminders

I haven't participated in a Works for Me Wednesday in ages but this is that kind of tip that is working for me and I just had to share.

I hate when I promise to pray for someone in a particular situation and forget. I'm not talking about praying for family and friends so much as those once in a while events like surgeries, moving, traveling, etc. And I'll just say it - prayer lists never really worked for me.

Again, this has to do with using the multiple calendar feature on Google Calendar. You can add several different "calendars" to show up on one calendar, and differentiate them by color. For instance, I have my personal calendar, meal planner, work schedule (came in handy to track overtime last fall), etc. So now I have a prayer calendar.

Since I look at Google Calendar several times throughout the day, it's a helpful reminder of people and events I want to keep in prayer. For example, a group from church is going to the Biloxi area to help with post-Katrina rebuilding efforts there. My mom is going on a mission trip to Spain. A family is moving. Someone is having surgery. So these events show up in bright teal several times a day throughout the month and kind of jog my memory.

I really do think Paul had the right idea - to pray without ceasing, or always be in an attitude of prayer. But with so many things vying for our mental and otherwise attention these days, sometimes a visual reminder goes a long way in keeping matters of prayer at the forefront of our minds.

So that's what is working for me right now, at least where prayer for others is concerned. Feel free to share something that works for you.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Quotations and Reflections 2

Slowly I have realized that I do not have to be qualified to do what I am asked to do, that I just have to go ahead and do it, even if I can't do it as well as I think it ought to be done. This is one of the most liberating lessons of my life. ~ Madeleine L'Engle (And It Was Good)

It's nice when you realize some accomplished person whom you really admired struggled with the same feelings of inadequacy. The important thing then, is not whether or not we believe we're qualified, but that we just forge ahead with the task at hand. And then we stand back and marvel at how God steps in and fills in the gaps.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Fragrance of Her Life

(written in honor of my gram's birthday, February 13th)

Recently I've become acutely aware of how closely my memories of my grandmother are tied to my sense of smell. Some of the memories are intentional; when I miss her most, all I have to do is start baking. The smell of chocolate chip cookies or bread baking conjures up pleasant memories of many days spent underfoot in the corner of Gram's kitchen, where I hovered at her elbow, begging for my chance to stir the Thanksgiving gravy or beat the egg whites for her amazing Austrian dumplings.

The most pleasant memories, however, are the ones I bump into quite unexpectedly. Take, for instance, Irish Spring soap. Just a whiff takes me back to wash day at Gram's house. My favorite part was helping run the fresh, clean, one-hundred percent cotton sheets through the mangle, an old-fashioned ironing contraption. The mangle squeaked and moaned as the sheets were pulled inch by inch over the hot steamy roller arm. Once the last bit of sheet had passed through, you quickly pulled the freshly pressed sheet out, folded it once more and repeated the process. Gram then carefully tucked the sheets away in a drawer amid a bar or two of Irish Spring soap. On a hot summer night, nothing brings on a restful sleep like a cool, crisply creased cotton sheet and the fresh smell of Irish Spring soap.

Then there's furniture polish. Although it emerges less frequently at my house, when it does, it brings to mind many Saturday mornings spent cleaning Gram's house. Dusting was my favorite chore. Each and every knick-knack had special meaning to me. As I fingered the old books on the shelves, my love of the classics grew. The model frigate inspired dreams of faraway places. The little china girl with the poodle dog set my heart on having my own dog someday. Even the fine china and crystal had an impact on me, as I began to dream about the day I would host family gatherings and cook the holiday dinners.

More memories come to mind as I pass through the cosmetics section of a department store. Usually a kiss and hug from Gram left a bit of Hollywood Extra cold cream on your cheek. It was her standard makeup and gave her warm Italian skin a bit of a shiny glow. But on special occasions, she donned her Estee Lauder Private Collection fragrance. I can still picture her, dressed to the nines and decked out in her fur coat, ready to take my mother, sister and me to the Nutcracker ballet one year. As we stood in line, the sweet fragrance of her perfume filled the air and my girlish heart swelled with pride to have such a classy lady for my gram.

So many wonderful scents – so many precious memories. I realize now my Gram's entire life was a fragrance that delighted and refreshed all who knew her. Since her passing, I've become especially sensitive to scent. The slightest whiff of lilac blossoms in spring or a baby freshly powdered after its bath remind me to stop and enjoy all the loveliness around me, and remember a beautiful life whose fragrance still lingers with me.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Quotation and Reflections 1

I came across this quote a while ago and it really resonated with me:

What deadens us most to God's presence within, I think, is the inner dialogue that we are engaged in within ourselves, the endless chatter of human thought. I suspect that there is nothing more crucial to true spiritual comfort than being able from time to time to stop that chatter, including the chatter of spoken prayer. - Frederick Buechner

I can so relate to that "inner dialogue" thing. Not that there's anything wrong with thinking, certainly a God-given part of our makeup. But yes, at times, it does tend to drown out everything else. At first, I had to pause at the part about spoken prayer, but I'd have to agree that at times, my prayer is just that - chatter. I so easily forget the other part of the conversation - listening.

So does this ring true for you at all? If so, how have you found ways to balance the "inner dialogue" with making room for God's presence and voice in your life?

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

My Lenten Journey

Thinking back over the years I am amazed to see how God has used the season of Lent in my life, even though my observance of it has been mostly as a bystander:

  • I observed smudges on people’s foreheads, and in ignorance pointed them out! Oops. (They were merely Ash Wednesday ashes.)
  • I observed friends declaring what they were giving up for Lent. And felt a sense of secret chagrin that for that many weeks, I couldn’t share home-baked treats or lattes with them, not wanting to offend or tempt them.
  • I observed my own sense of self-righteousness, sometimes proclaiming almost proudly that I didn’t observe Lent. Didn’t need to.
  • I observed a personal lack of understanding of the biblical practice of fasting. I felt God challenge me to privately “give up” something as a reminder to pray for my friends during this season.
  • I observed God at work in my heart, asking me to be open to seeing things afresh, stripped of preconceived notions about how things should look.
  • I observed others observing Lent – not merely as a meaningless ritual or requirement for righteousness but as a season of letting go in order to grasp more tightly to things of God.
  • I observed a growing curiosity about this tradition that is not specifically mentioned in the Bible and yet contains so many biblical elements.

Lent for me has been a strange but beautiful journey over the past fourteen years, one I didn’t even realize I was on. But for these reasons and more, I’m excited to embrace it more fully this year, and all that God has to teach me through it.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Reading the Stitches

A few months ago, I got it in my head that I could learn to knit. As a kid, I always wanted to learn to knit. My gram was an expert crocheter, but try as I might, I never really liked it. Crochet said pineapple doilies and lace and granny squares and daisy afghans - a mind-tangling array of possibilities. Knit said knitting and purling. Row upon row. Straightforward and simple.

So it happens that some ladies at church get together and knit or crochet projects to give away to homeless shelters, new mothers or sick children as the needs arise. Some of them were talking about it at Bible study one night. Hmm, I thought, I could learn to knit, get involved with something worthwhile, have something to keep me occupied while my husband watches TV at night, as well as get to know some other women. Oh and make some Christmas gifts. (who am I kidding!)

I started not one, not two but three projects before I ran into some many snags. So I met a friend one night at B&N. She taught me my most important lesson: learn to read the stitches. She made me look closely at my work. "This is a knit stitch. This is a purl stitch. The knit stitches look like "V's" while the purl stitches look like bumps."

You see, I'd been cruising along, knitting and purling but not always paying attention. When I'd realize I made a mistake, not knowing where I erred, I'd pull the whole thing out! Learning to read the stitches has made my knitting life so much easier.

And this weekend as I was knitting, I realized how important it is in life to read the stitches. To be aware of what's going on in my heart. In my home. In my relationships. And physically. What is God teaching me? Are there lessons he keeps bringing to the forefront of my mind? Where am I enjoying life-giving rhythms, and where am I out of sync? How have changes (of seasons or whatever) thrown me off course? As well, I need to read the stitches in others lives, to be attentive and considerate of where they are. What's _____ going through right now? What does she/he need? How can I pray for them?

Our lives are surely God's handiwork. He knows the finished picture and, day by day, is revealing more of that to us as he works in our lives. But we must pay attention to the stitches.