Friday, January 20, 2017

STORMY WEATHER


This has been a soggy week in Northwest Tennessee. We've had one gulley washer after another. Don't know what a "gulley washer" is? Stop by my house for a visit, and you'll find out when you drive down the driveway.

All this rain and all this gray have a negative effect on my mood. I feel like I have a ball of tangled gray wool occupying the space between my ears. On the drive to campus this morning, my daughter interrupted my silent funk: "What are you thinking about?"

"Hmmmm?" I wasn't thinking about anything, at least not anything coherent. I was driving along on auto-pilot, lulled into a stupor by the static in my brain.

I can't think; I can't write; I can't carry on an intelligent conversation.

I answered my daughter, "We sure could use some sunshine."

She agreed.

Now, here's the interesting thing...in spite of all the rainy, gray weather, life is pretty much good. I have awesome kids. I have groceries in the house for the weekend and gas in the van. I'm in decent health for a fifty-something-year-old.

My mood, however, doesn't match the reality of all those good things. My mood is blegh. Emotions...they can be such liars!

This has been a soggy week in Northwest Tennessee. While I weather one deluge after another, God is still sovereign, still good, still loves me very much. Above all those dark storm clouds, the sun is still shining, regardless of how I feel.

According to the weather forecast, the sun will break through the clouds sometime early next week. I can't wait! In the meantime, however, over the weekend, I need to remember that the sun is still there.
No, we don't still have leaves on the trees in January! I took these pictures during a storm last summer, but they seemed appropriate for today's post.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

MIND'S EYE

In my mind's eye, I am thin.

Inside my head, I am also young, agile, and clever.

In reality, I am thick.

I am also middle-aged, clumsy, and I frequently walk into a room and can't remember why I'm there. I know the names of all my children, but it sometimes takes me a couple of tries to pin the right name on the son or daughter to whom I am speaking.

I have a friend who is 97 years old. She is deaf as a clay pot, often calls me by my mother's name, and must use a walker to move around her tiny apartment.

She complains because she wants to "go home" to move her potted plants inside from the patio for the winter and to clean out the boxes in her attic and to transplant the pink azalea from the side yard to the front...things she could not possibly do.

Her world has shrunk so small that it is suffocating her. Jigsaw puzzles and TV shows and card games bore her - she is used to doing on a much grander scale. She can no longer engage in vigorous conversations and debates; she cannot even make small talk with a new acquaintance. She cannot hear.

This woman has lived more in her 97 years than I could live in five lifetimes. She has an active mind, and she is accustomed to being physically active. She should be writing her next book, scheduling her next interview, playing her next tennis match, pulling another barrel roll in an airplane.

All the vigor and passion she ever had - it is all still there, trapped behind watery eyes and deaf ears and arthritic knees.

In her mind's eye, she is as young as she ever was.

I understand.

We sit together on her sofa, squashed close so I can speak right into her ear. I want her to know: the woman in my mind's eye sees the woman in her mind's eye. That dynamic, robust young woman, I still see her. She is not lost. I remember.

Monday, January 16, 2017

EPIPHANY

The subject I needed to broach with him was a simple thing, really - not much bigger than plans for Sunday dinner - and yet I was loathe to initiate a conversation. We agree on so little, it seems, and this was certain to be one more thing about which we would have conflicting opinions.

Why was I so afraid to bring up such a small matter?! I wondered, stalling to postpone the inevitable.

Why? Because more than anything, I wanted his approval and respect, his affirmation. I wanted to be validated. I knew that instead, I would be challenged, criticized, and very probably dismissed.

I am fifty-two years old. I have been a Christian for as long as I can remember. And yet, there are lessons I have to learn over and over and over, lessons I will probably still be learning/relearning years from now. As I sat pondering what made me so uncomfortable about the above situation, it occurred to me:

I was so uncomfortable because I was basing my worth and my security on the opinions and the responses of another person instead of on Christ and his ginormous love for me.

God loves me, and I am his.

God loves me. Regardless of what others think of me. Regardless of how they respond to me. Regardless of whether I sound smart or do things the right way or not. Regardless of whether I am understood or misunderstood, treated with respect or belittled, validated or dismissed.

God loves me.

I knew that, but, for a moment, I forgot.

God loves me.

That kind of validation, that kind of affirmation...God loves me...my fear is simply no  match for that kind of love.

Friday, January 13, 2017

STRENGTH AND SUBMISSION

Sally led an awesome yoga practice at Caroline's studio this morning.

From the other side of the studio's plate-glass windows, yoga probably looks easy. Movements are slow and gentle. Once in a position, you hold it for several long, deep breaths. A passerby might look in and wonder what a bunch of middle-aged women were doing frozen in time with their heads down toward the floor and their behinds up in the air.

But yoga is not easy...at least not for me. When Sally tells us to relax into a position, I am usually anything but relaxed. Forcing my tense muscles and tight breath to soften requires concentration, effort, and strength. By the end of this morning's practice, I was covered in a thin film of sweat.

We ended today's session in the corpse pose: splayed on the floor, flat on our backs, completely relaxed, eyes closed, resting. I felt simultaneously strong, energized, and engaged and completely relaxed.

I mentioned in yesterday's post that exercise class is a time to pray. Lying on the studio floor this morning, as I concentrated on relaxing into the floor and letting it support my body, I prayed, "Lord, I want to be like this - this yielded - to your will for my day. I want to be so completely guided by your purposes for me that I offer no resistance to your leading, that I feel no tension letting go of my plans in order to pursue your plans for me for the day ahead."

And yet, this prayer for a yielded spirit was not something limp, passive, disengaged. As I relaxed into the floor and prayed for an attitude of complete submission to God's will for my day, I was conscious of my recently warmed-up and stretched muscles, conscious of my core strength, my alignment, my breathing. I was warmed up and strengthened and had cleared my mind, and I was praying for God to use my strength (and my time, my thoughts, my energy) for his purposes.

Strength and submission. Where man so often creates a false dichotomy of either-or, God issues a divine "and" - I must give Him both.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

PRAY WITHOUT CEASING

What is God's will for my life?

Should I stick with my current job, or should I look for other employment?

Should I continue in this difficult relationship, or should I cut ties?

Should I remain silent, or should I speak up? I know I should always tell the truth, but how much of the truth should I tell?

Should I fix curry/rice bowls for dinner tonight, or meatloaf and mashed potatoes?

I have an idea for my next book, but is it the book that God wants me to write? Does He have something different for me instead?

What is God's will for my life?!

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 tells us to "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." Rejoice, pray, give thanks - this is God's will for my life.

...pray without ceasing...

You mean, pray all the time?

How can I possibly pray all the time?! I have meals to prepare, writing assignments to complete, emails to answer, children to parent, appointments to keep . . . I AM SO BUSY. How am I supposed to "pray without ceasing" with so many demands on my time?!

I am learning - finally - that prayer isn't something to be reserved for quiet moments set apart from the chaos of life. Prayer is something I do in the midst of the chaos. I pray during exercise class and at the post office and when I am driving down the road. I pray while I am in a conversation with my daughter and when I am on the phone with a friend. I pray when I write, when I am at the doctor's office, and when I stand in front of the refrigerator and ask myself what to fix for dinner tonight.

I am like a three-year-old at my Father's elbow.

...pray without ceasing...

Once you begin, it's hard to stop.

Friday, January 6, 2017

GO LOOK OUT THE WINDOW!

When Steve and I lived in Nashville, we attended a small church plant in the Old Hickory area. Although I had been a Christian for many years, it was here, under the pastoral care of Larry Ferris and his wife Lisa, that the gospel was first given shoe leather.

Eighteen years later, I still think of Lisa asking me, on several occasions, "What are the practical implications of the gospel in this situation?" These two, whom I affectionately think of as my Mother and Father in the faith, were active, aggressive, and deliberate about translating what they believed into what they did, in every area of life.

Larry had a gift for making abstract concepts suddenly clear and relevant. This particular illustration still comes to my mind often, and always brings with it a thrill of excitement....

You remember how when you were a kid, and the evening weather forecast predicted snow? You hoped against all hope that it would snow all night and that school would be cancelled the next day. You went to bed anxious with anticipation. Your ears strained for the faintest sound that would indicate that he coveted snow had finally arrived.

You sneaked out of bed, peeped out the window...nothing.

Finally, exhausted and fearing that morning would bring only disappointment, you dozed fitfully off to sleep. You slept, and slept, and slept, until...

The next morning, Mom came into your room, same as she always did, to wake you up so that you could begin getting ready for school. Only this morning, as she shook you gently from your sleep, she did not say, "Wake up. Time to get ready for school." Mom simply whispered, "Go look out the window!"

"Go look out the window!" Those words triggered such a spasm of joy and delight!

Dear Reader, after a long and fitful night, God, in Christ, has whispered to us, "Go look out the window!"

(My time today is dedicated to working on a book proposal. However, I did not want to go another day without checking in here at the blog. I woke up to snow this morning, so it seemed appropriate to re-share this post from January 29, 2010. Have I really been at this blogging thing for seven years?!)

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

CHOICES

My husband Steve gives me a new wall calendar each year for Christmas. This year, he chose a calendar with beautiful pictures by various Japanese artists.

Kazuyuki Ohtsu, Camellia in Snow, 2008

A new calendar - with its fresh pictures, clean pages, and dates yet to be inked with appointments and dates to remember - is an invitation to look forward. Uncluttered and untattered, it hangs on the wall like optimism, like the beginning of a story. "Once upon a time..."

What comes next? How will the story of this new year unfold? How will this year be like last year? How will it be different?

Much of what awaits in the year ahead is beyond my control and beyond my ability to predict. However, I would like for 2017 to include these story lines:

I want to read more, and I want to read more thoughtfully. I am continuing my read-through-the-Bible journey this year with the 5 Day Bible Reading Schedule (HERE), instead of the excellent She Reads Truth reading schedule (HERE) that I've used previously, just to mix things up a little.

My daughter recently introduced me to the Bible Study for Busy Mamas series (HERE), and I hope to work through at least a couple of these as well. I also have a hodgepodge reading list that includes fiction (new and old), a book on trauma recovery, a bit of church history, and technical books about writing.

I want to pray more - more consistently, more deliberately, more precisely. My best prayer time is in the wee hours of the morning, compliments of menopause-induced sleeplessness - seems that God himself is making sure I have TIME to pray! And people and ministries for whom I have prayed in a general way in the past...lately, I have learned of more specific needs they have. When I ask God to give me the time, the motivation, the direction, and the presence of mind (sometimes I simply forget to pray!) to pray, He does.

I want to give more, and I want to give wider. The first year that I made any income off my writing, my goal was to have enough at the end of the year to afford Christmas gifts for all my children. The next year, I wanted to be able to commit to giving consistently to a ministry that benefited someone I knew personally. This year, I want to be able to give to a ministry on the far side of the world.

I want to write more. I am eager to lean into the harness and complete my next book: I hope to have the first draft finished by May. I would like to pick up additional contract writing. I am persevering with the hunt for an agent.

I want to move more. I want to be more physically active, which can be a bit of a challenge when I spend so much of my time in front of a computer screen.

I want to visit more. I want to spend more time with my parents, my children and grandchildren, and with relatives and friends who live in distant places.

All these I-Want-Tos...the truth is, NONE of these will happen if I sit passively and wait for them to be written into the story of 2017.

If I truly want to read more this year, then I am going to have to pick up a book and read.

If I want to pray more, then I am going to have to pause in the busyness of my day and pray.

If I want to give more, then I am going to have to get out there and beat the bushes to find more work/generate more income.

If I am going to write more, then I am going to have to protect my scheduled writing time.

If I am going to move more, then I am going to have to step away from the computer occasionally and pop out a few jumping jacks or crunches. (I am NOT talking "marathon" here, people.)

If I am going to visit more, then I am going to have to make time on the calendar to invest in others, and I am going to have to get a more reliable vehicle...not sure yet how I can facilitate that happening, but maybe it has something to do with writing more...maybe...

I am not particularly big on New Year's resolutions, but I do like to think about how I can approach the year ahead with thoughtfulness and deliberateness.

Steve has often said, "We always choose to do exactly what we want most to do." Do I truly want to do the things listed above? Or, do I think they sound like good ideas, but not things I particularly want to work at? I suppose only time will tell.

Perhaps I should begin this new year not with "I want to..." Perhaps I should begin the new year with "I choose to..." instead.