Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Art and Beauty

I had to take my car to the shop the other day to get an estimate on some body work I need done (IMHO a little unnoticeable ding but to my husband, an embarrassing eyesore!) The estimator spent about 15 minutes explaining my options to me, waving his hands over the car as he did so. You could tell he enjoys his work. As I was pulling away, I noticed a tech getting ready to pull a wrecked car into the garage. And I wondered if he looked at that car as a kind of blank canvas, or ugly lump of clay, just waiting for him to draw out the beauty.

Later that week, I was in a meeting at work where several members of our accounting group were explaining some of their processes to our group of sales and customer service personnel. I swear I saw their eyes light up as they elaborated on what seemed to be tedious and mind-boggling procedures.

And that got me thinking, I wonder if everyone sees beauty in what they do, if they view their work as art. Or is that reserved for certain personality types?

For me, beauty emerges when things work together properly. When I can have a hand in that, all the better. When words line up as they should, to draw forth a picture of what is most true, that's beautiful to me. When I'm cooking and ingredients come together just right, and flavors marry well, that's beautiful to me. I don't often find this in my day job, although occasionally, when I'm working on a big project that requires a lot of creative thinking to pull things together, I get a glimpse of beauty in a very odd sort of way. Back in the day, I used to do quite a bit of artwork - mostly calligraphy, sign lettering, some graphic design and a bit of watercolor and pen and ink work. That, although art and enjoyable, was not necessarily beauty to me. Why? It usually didn't involve much creativity.

How important is beauty to you? How do YOU perceive beauty? Do you feel compelled to create beauty, or are you content to just enjoy it? I ask, mostly out of curiosity, wanting to get a glimpse of how others view work and life. Is your work beautiful or do you find it elsewhere? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Connections Missed and Made

Like a pair of bookends, my weekend was caught between two missed connections. A friend and I were supposed to meet Saturday morning. At 8:35 am at Panera, I had a feeling something had gone wrong. My friend is punctual and organized and (at least to my knowledge) not the type to be running late. And I knew in a flash what happened. She went to the Panera near my house while I went to the one near her house. (I missed that little detail in the string of eight or so emails it took to arrange our get-together!) With the exception of 45 minutes missed, we ended up having a good time catching up. Lucky for me, she's a good blogging friend, so we keep in touch that way too.

This evening, I headed for the local gym to meet a friend from church. On my way, I heard a pop and that annoying sound like someone just let the air out of my tire. Ooops! I had run over a piece of metal and just like that - there went my hopes of a walk, while I sat and waited for the motor club guy to come bail me out. For once, I didn't even have a book with me - a rare occasion for which I gave myself a sound thrashing!

In the middle was time spent with my parents, my sister and her crew to celebrate my dad's birthday. I was tickled pink that my baby niece let me hold her . . . we think she must have confused me with her mom - what do you think? (As is our unintentional habit, my sister and I showed up dressed alike - white t-shirts and denim capris!)

Friends to miss and family to love . . . I guess it doesn't get any better than that.

Friday, April 25, 2008

The Story of Jack and John

Jack went to work one day. He wasn't feeling so well. He excused himself from a meeting and went to his office. A co-worker went to check on him and found him dead of a massive heart attack.

John wasn't feeling so well either. He mentioned this to his doctor who ordered some tests. John had a stress test and a heart catheterization which indicated the immediate need for major bypass surgery.

Jack was a much loved co-worker. He was 59 years old. Over a year later, he is still greatly missed.

John is my dad, a much loved dad and grandpap. We will celebrate his birthday tomorrow, a little over a month after his bypass surgery. He is slowly but surely recovering and enjoying life again without chest pain.

We are amazing creatures. God has wired us in such a way that when something is not right, our systems alert us. Just like emotions can inform us (something I am learning a lot about), so our bodies let us know when something is awry. Pain, fatigue, etc. - are all signals something might be out of order. Are we listening? Are we too busy to listen to what our bodies might be saying or are we just afraid to hear the painful truth? The truth being that we are limited, finite creatures and every breath is a gift from God of which there is no guarantee of another.

Soooo . . . are you listening to your body and what it might be saying to you? As well, are you helping those you love listen to their bodies and what they might be experiencing? For the sake of those you love, and those who love you . . . LISTEN!

(My dad and his new buddy, Buttons! Happy Birthday, Dad. Thanks for listening!)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Obsessions, Passions and Addictions

So I'm reading along in that great classic by Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones. And she has this chapter on writing about our obsessions. Because, as she says, whether we acknowledge them or not, they're part of us. Some of them, the main ones, probably have power over us and may emerge again and again in some form, be it in our writing or just our everyday living. So rather than deny them, she says to write about them. I don't think she means to write entire books (or even blog posts) about them, but just to get them out. Acknowledge them head on. In getting them out, you can probably put them to good use.

Immediately I started making a list, right there in the book. The first thing that came to mind was coffee (I was in a coffee shop as I read that chapter). Can one be obsessed with coffee? I don't think it's exactly an addiction. I drink mostly decaf and don't get the jitters or headaches associated with a caffeine addiction. But most days, one of the primary things on my mind is where and when am I going to get a good cup of coffee. Ideally it's at home. But that doesn't always happen. When I went away in February, I thought I would die - when you travel with a tea drinker and an "anything goes" coffee drinker, you know your chances of a good "cuppa" are slim to none. I swear I felt a little panic set in, but perhaps that was associated with my utter dislike of airports and travel in general.

Another obsession of mine is about as pathetic. Socks. I love socks. But socks must match - period. It's probably a hangover from Bible college days when casual dress meant a long denim or khaki skirt, socks and tennis shoes (over pantyhose - we were not allowed to go without!) I guess the best thing I had going for me was my socks! My poor feet have been cringing in embarrassment all day because my socks are navy blue and my jeans are black.

This was a fun line of thinking to explore. What are my obsessions? My addictions? My passions? Have I clearly defined the difference in my mind? What do I dwell on, subconsciously as well as consciously? Where's my heart? Am I giving anything power over me that belongs to God? Lots of good journaling fodder!

Funny, when I went on retreat in April, the coffee thing didn't cross my mind. Which tells me obsessions don't have to possess me. Tomorrow maybe I'll wear two different color socks, just to psyche myself out!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Word of the Week: Dwell

Dwell: to remain for a time; to live as a resident; to keep the attention directed upon>dwell on my fears> (m-w.com)

So we're back to WOTW posts and this word just drew me in this week. It's one of those that rolls around on your tongue and makes you wonder how in the world it ever made it's way into the English language. It's rich and multi-layered.

I love that God throughout history has always sought to dwell with mankind. From the garden to the wilderness, from the temple to the Babylonian captivity, till Jesus came and "moved into the neighborhood" (John 1:14 MSG), and now through the presence of the Holy Spirit, God wants to be with us. And yet, he has done more than just take up residence among us. Not only does he want to be with us, his thoughts are toward us, dwelling upon us! We are the apple of his eye.

It occurs to me that it's possible to live somewhere and yet not really be there. You can live in a house but not make it a home. You can attend church without being church. You can be in a relationship without being fully engaged in it. You can profess to be part of God's family without being rooted and experiencing growth. Am I truly dwelling in, am I present in each and every relationship and situation God has ordained for me? Or am I merely taking up residence?

One thing I ask from the LORD, this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD
all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the LORD
and to seek him in his temple. Psalm 27:4

Friday, April 18, 2008

Four Bucks, Four Bucks, Four Bucks!

* Updated. I won! Two bucks, two bucks, two bucks!

I've had good luck buying clothes off eBay, believe it or not. Usually because I'm just looking to fill in a gap in my wardrobe . . . white blouse, black jeans, etc. I stick to the 3 L's (Land's End, LL Bean and Levi) and just check for the item in my size.

So I was thrilled to see a Land's End khaki skirt in my size with a starting bid of just $1.99. The same skirt new would run about $39. What a deal. Being the generous, lavish soul that I am, I figured I'd bid $4.00. Four bucks, four bucks, four bucks. With shipping, that would bring the total to $10, which suits me just fine.

Now I have bid competitively on eBay for a few things. You know, where you sit and try to outbid someone down to the wire. I think I've done that twice. But I'm not a very competitive person. Usually I stick to Buy-It-Now items, or I enter my max bid and am done with it. Whatever will be, will be . . . let the bids fall where they may.

But for some reason yesterday I checked back on my bid. I really wanted that skirt. I'd be willing to pay a little more perhaps. Wonder if anyone else is looking at it? I'm so glad I looked. You won't believe how much I bid. Not $4. Not $40.00. Not even $400.00. Nope - I bid $4000.00 for a used skirt! Yikes!

And do you know what I did? Those of you who know me will not be surprised at this. I laughed. That's right, I laughed. Sometimes that's all I can think to do when I've done something really, really dumb.

When reality finally sunk in, I figured I'd have a hard time explaining this one to my husband, and I better start trying to remedy the situation. I sent off a frantic email to the seller, pointing to my 100% rating and begging for mercy. Then I figured out you can actually retract a bid on eBay in these kind of situations, so long as you rebid immediately. Whew!

Like I said, I almost always get great deals on eBay!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

When I Am

And God said, "I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain." Moses said to God, "Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?' Then what shall I tell them?" God said to Moses, "I am who I am . This is what you are to say to the Israelites: 'I AM has sent me to you.' " Exodus 3:12-14

When Moses asked God for references so he could save face in front of his fellow Israelites, God did not reply with an impressive list of accomplishments. He did not remind Moses that he had created the universe, formed the earth out of nothing and fashioned man from mere dust. He did not parade the animals in front of him or give him a science lesson about the propagation of fruits and flowers. God did not feel the need to explain his background, nor did he tell Moses of all the wondrous works he planned to do. He simply said, "I AM."

How different from my tendency to constantly polish up my resume, mental and otherwise. Something happens however, as I learn to cease from my strivings and just be . . . when I am confident in God's love, living in the shadow of the cross, content with who I am and trusting God for who I am becoming. There is always time to do, to write, to speak, to serve. But if these don't come out of who I am, they are futile efforts, like trying to hurl a dandelion globe into the wind - they come flying back into my face.

We are not "I AM" - that belongs to God alone. But we are "I am," and understanding the essence of who we are and who God created us to be and just resting in that truth has to be the foundation of all we do.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Staying With the Questions

This past Sunday evening the retreat began with dinner, an opening session followed by evening prayer and then the "great silence," in which we were challenged to just be quiet for the night. Quiet for me meant not calling home, and avoiding the urge to dive into the one book I brought along, just because I think I have to be reading every spare moment! I noted in my journal about some tension I'd been experiencing and about which I was hoping to get some answers during these few days. Not tension as in stress, but that kind of tension that leaves you feeling pulled, often between two good things.

Wouldn't you know it, the next morning that was the topic of the first session - tension! (I never thought about all the tensions ministry leaders experience - between being and doing, truth telling vs. image management, etc.)

Needless to say, my heart perked up at the word "tension." Aha! Thank you in advance, God, for the answer. I'm all ears. Oops! Not quite. There wasn't an answer per se but rather a third way - the way of grace that comes with discernment. A challenge to stay with the questions. To be with the tension in God's presence. The creative tension, the leader referred to this as.

I can't tell you how world-rocking this was for me. I'm not exactly comfortable with questions. I want answers. But coming to understand that God is in the questions - well, I kind of want to be there.

I've been intrigued by this idea of questions vs. answers lately and recently started going through the book of Genesis, underlining questions. The first three questions God asks are rather revealing: Where are you? Who told you you were naked? What is this you have done? It was through these questions that God spoke to mankind about the truth of their situation. Jesus continues with the question approach throughout his ministry. So it makes sense to me to learn to welcome questions and even be able to ask them of myself.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Solid Places

I'll tell you a secret. Even though I am a person who loves order, much of my life has been lived in disorder. You know - the squeaky wheel syndrome. Whatever squeals the loudest generally gets my attention. Trying to keep it together but not always managing where it matters most, in my soul. I have this mental image of myself as a would-be trapeze artist of sorts, mostly swinging about in mid-air, always grasping for that solid place, something to hold on to. Lots of holding my breath in between. Lots of flopping onto the net below. Hardly artistic!

But as I think more about trapeze artists, their art is centered around those solid places. The beginning platforms, those swinging bars or the outstretched hands of their fellow artists. Never getting off the platform would be pointless. Always hanging on to the bar would hardly be artistic. And the gravity factor makes constant hanging in mid-air impossible! The beauty of trapeze work is actually centered in the rhythm of grasping and letting go. And that's the way I want, I need, my life to be ordered - around solid places that are as much a part of faith as the day to day unknowns.

So what does this look like for a person who never plans to leave solid ground? I think for me it boils down to being intentional about some familiar Christian practices. Instead of acknowledging them as merely good ideas, realizing they need to be the bedrock around which my days revolve:

  1. Silence - making a point to just sit and be quiet for a few minutes most mornings before I head off into the fray, even before I open my Bible.
  2. Midday prayer - stopping in the middle of the day to spend a few minutes in prayer, usually written prayers. Because in the middle of the day, I really can't focus as well, it helps to just pray through the same psalm or other form of written prayer.
  3. Evening review - taking time, as often as I remember, to just pause and think about the day before I drift off to sleep. A while back I read where a parent uses these three questions with his child at the end of the day: What was good about your day? What was hard about it? And where was God in this day? Somehow just pausing at day's end to look back and be thankful for God's presence seems to tie my days together a little better, helping me remember that God is the one who ordains my days.
Establishing healthy life-giving rhythms such as these was the focus of the retreat I participated in over the past few days. I had previously done a bit of reading on the topic, especially in two books by Ruth Haley Barton, who facilitated the retreat: Invitation to Solitude and Silence and Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation. So this was a great experience, time to put these rhythms into practice for an extended period of time and to consider how to continue to integrate such rhythms into my life.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Off the Page

"Off the page" is the phrase that comes to mind to describe what I've been experiencing in my life lately. Think three dimensional. Think comic strip characters brought to life on the big screen. Off the page and into real life. Think John 1:14: "the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us." And think 2 Corinthians 3:2: "you yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone."

What am I talking about? God keeps bringing people into my life who are living "off the page," so to speak. Living out the word of God in a real and powerful way that is speaking volumes into my life.

It's not like I haven't always had people like this in my life. My mom, for example, has consistently lived out her faith in such a way that has inspired both my sister and me over the years. I think the difference perhaps is that God's just been working over the soil of my heart, loosening up some very hardened ground and creating an increased sense of receptivity. The popular song lyric "open the eyes of my heart" comes to mind.

I think for the first time in my Christian life I'm starting to understand and appreciate the importance of community with other believers. I'm by nature a pretty private person, so it was easy for me to take the concept of a "personal relationship with Christ" to an extreme! But I'm learning that growing together is the way God meant for it to be. Yes, as some of us were discussing this morning, the commitment to growth is my responsibility. Only I can say "yes" to God and take that next step. But God really doesn't intend for that to happen in a vacuum. Again - nothing new here - except that I'm finally coming into awareness of this truth. Blogging has been instrumental in this awareness, in creating a safe space for me to share and in the sense of community it has offered, and so I have to thank each of you for being part of this journey over the last few years.

I'll be away for the next few days on a retreat of sorts - as opposed to the more or less private retreat I did last year, this will be more of a group experience. I don't exactly know what to expect but I'm quite excited about this opportunity. I would greatly covet your prayers that I will be open to God's voice and direction during this time, and that I would appropriately respond to his invitation to live life "off the page."

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

God of Our Yesterdays

I've been reading a great little book by Chris Tomlin called The Way I Was Made (thanks MC!) I think it was geared towards either youth or would-be worship leaders but God has spoken volumes to me through this little book. And who'd think a singer/songwriter would have such a way with words, but for Chris, the words seem to flow as easily on the written page as they do through his powerful music. Anyways, one chapter towards the end encouraged me to stop and ponder what God has done. Chris asks, "Can you look back along the road of faith and see how God has graciously worked in your life?" And I had to say, although I don't jump up and down about every stage of my life, realizing and remembering that God has been with me every step of the way does make me want to jump up and down.

And then on my way to work this morning, this song by Matt Redman came on that just reminded me that the God of my yesterdays is still very much at work in my life today.

God of Our Yesterdays
We were in the darkest night,
And wondered if our eyes would ever see the light,You were there, Lord,
We were in the storm again,
And wondered if we'd ever live in peace again,
You were there, Lord,
You were there is the struggle,
You were there in the fire,
You were there all the time.

Praise you, the God of our yesterdays,
Praise you, the God who is here today,
Praise you, our God, as tomorrow comes.

So whatever lies ahead,
Whatever roads our grateful hearts will come to tread,
You'll be there, Lord,
And we will fix our eyes on you,
And know that there is grace enough to see us through,
You'll be there, Lord,
You'll be there is the struggle,
You'll be there in the fight,
You'll be there all the time.

Praise you, the God of our yesterdays,
Praise you, the God who is here today,
Praise you, our God, as tomorrow comes.
We thank you for grace in our yesterdays,
We thank you for peace in our hearts today,
And thank you, our Joy, as tomorrow comes,
We will trust you, God.

You're always closer than we know,
Always more involved and in control,
We will trust our lives to you,
The One who was, and is, and is to come!

Praise you, the God of our yesterdays,
Praise you, the God who is here today,
Praise you, our God, as tomorrow comes.
We thank you for grace in our yesterdays,
We thank you for peace in our hearts today,
And thank you, our Joy, as tomorrow comes,
We will trust you, God.