Wednesday, March 22, 2017

MELANCHOLY

Okay, I admit it: I'm a melancholy.

I know...you are totally not surprised, are you?

Not only do I need to admit the truth that I am a melancholy - to myself and to others - but I also need to embrace that truth.

I have a friend who is a sunshine. Time spent with her is like a holiday on the beach, like basking in the shekinah of God's goodness and grace.

But my sunshine friend reminded me recently: one of the glories of God's kingdom is that it is comprised of so many different kinds of people, people created and uniquely gifted to minister the gospel in a thousand thousand different ways and situations.

There is a place, she reminded me - and a purpose - for even the melancholies.

Among my greatest blessings are the wonderful Jesus-reflecting people God has ordained to walk this life with me.

I am a melancholy.

Do you have any idea how many times I have been told to "just get over it" when I have been grieved by sin? Do you want to try to guess how often I have been told I to "toughen up" when I have been saddened by the brokenness I see in the world around me?

I take things "too seriously." Something that weighs no more than a shadow to another may feel like a millstone to me.

Feeling the weight of shadows...that's messed up. Not normal. What's wrong with you?!

Yeah, what's wrong with me?! You think I like this heaviness?

On the up side, though...

This heaviness is married to tremendous joy.

Can't handle the melancholy? You probably wouldn't be able to handle my happy side, either. The weight of the joy that is mine in Christ completely dwarfs the melancholy. Like bedrock, the weight of this joy would, I fear, crush some.

G. K. Chesterton put it this way: "Everything human must have in it both joy and sorrow; the only matter of interest is the manner in which the two things are balanced or divided...Christianity satisfies suddenly and perfectly man's ancestral instinct for being the right way up; satisfies it supremely in this; that by its creed joy becomes something gigantic and sadness something small and special...Joy, which was the small publicity of the pagan, is the gigantic secret of the Christian."

So, if I could leave off being a melancholy...and if doing so meant I would have to trade this great heart-bursting "gigantic secret" joy for some "small publicity" knockoff...well, no thanks. I'll pass.

I'm a melancholy, and I'm happy with that.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

PAP

I mentioned in my last post how an unexpected encounter with my granddad encouraged me greatly Monday evening at a time when I was feeling weary and down. I have not seen Pap since his death almost 44 years ago, when I was only nine years old. I don't have any pictures of Pap, and I have often wondered if, after all these years, I would recognize him if I saw him.

Pap and I were big fishing buddies. I wrote about going fishing with Pap in a post that you can read HERE.

But Pap and I weren't just fishing buddies: we were best friends. I was Pap's favorite grandchild, and he loved me and delighted in me. Whenever I was with him, I KNEW that I was precious and cherished.

The funny thing is, if you ask my siblings or cousins, they would all probably say the same thing: "I was Pap's favorite grandchild." And they would be right. Pap was magic like that.

Knowing that I was Pap's favorite did not make me feel puffed up, like I had something over the other grandkids. It humbled me. I felt like I had been entrusted with a very valuable but completely undeserved gift. Knowing that Pap loved and delighted in me made me feel humble and safe and strong and beautiful and special, all at the same time.

Pap didn't think kids were a burden or an annoyance - or if he did, he never communicated that to me. Whether he was feeding hogs or fixing fences or driving to town for garden supplies, he welcomed me to go along with him to help - but, honestly, folks, how much real help can a 6-year-old be at a feed mill or on a hog farm?! Folding feed sacks, sorting nails, holding tools...Pap made little-child me feel like my "work" was important, like it had real value.

You know how a smell or a song or a sound can - in an instant - transport you completely to another place and time? There is a certain rose perfume that, whenever I smell it, for just a second - the blink of an eye - I am a young girl again, standing in the blue bedroom at Mer and Pap's. I see the dark blue satin bedspread, and the polished wooden cupboard in which Mer's fancy Sunday hats are stored, and the fan-shaped pink china perfume bottle reflected in the dresser mirror, and the twisted trunk of the red bud tree outside the window. For just a second, I am right there.

So, back to Monday night...

I had driven Helen to Farm Bureau in Union City for a 4-H meeting. Thinking I could maybe get some writing done while the kids had their meeting, I poked around for a place to hide out with my computer. The conference room looked like a perfect place to park.

Pictures of all the past Farm Bureau presidents were displayed on the wall at one end of the conference room. A bunch of old men, most of them long dead...not likely that I knew any of them, but I think old pictures are cool so I took a second to look over the pictures before unpacking my laptop.

And then...

"That's my Pap! That's my Pap!"

For one brief second, I was a little girl, looking into the face of the man I loved most in the world, the face of the grandfather who loved me most especially, and I felt humbled and loved and safe and strong and smart and beautiful and valuable, all in one enormous, electric, tumultuous surge of emotion.

Of course, two heartbeats later, I was 52-year-old Camille again, with sore joints and a nagging headache and a mile long ToDo waiting for my attention...just a tired, middle-aged woman standing alone in a chilly conference room, staring at an 8-by-10 black-and-white photograph.

Same old Camille...except for the residue of lightning that still tingled in my veins, the excitement of a most beloved child standing at the feet of her most beloved Pap.

I do not believe in chance meetings.

I have been in the Farm Bureau building countless times. I have even been in that same conference room on multiple occasions. But Monday night, my Father - who is most kind and tender and loving and who is always present - He knew that I needed a strong dose of encouragement. And He encourage me in a most powerful and unexpected way. He had me look into the eyes of my grandfather.

I have not seen Pap since his death almost 44 years ago, when I was only nine years old. I don't have any pictures of Pap, and I have often wondered if, after all these years, I would recognize him if I saw him.

Not only did I recognize him, but, for a split second, I stood at his feet.


Tuesday, March 14, 2017

WHAT A DIFFERENCE A DAY MAKES!

I felt truly awful most of the day yesterday. After a not-very-good night of sleep, I began the day tired. The weather was cold, gray, and rainy. I had a headache - no, not a migraine, but one of those persistent, deep dull aches that teeters on the edge. I felt worn down and sad over a relationship problem. I accomplished almost no productive work. And, in spite of spending much of the day in the company of others, I fought an overwhelming sense of loneliness most of the day.

Then, a couple of things happened at the end of my "terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day" -

First, I ran into my granddad. I have not seen Pap since his death 44 years ago. But there he was, in a completely unexpected place. My heart nearly leapt out of my chest. I don't have words to explain how seeing him again after all these years encouraged me. (I will try to write more about my reunion with Pap later this week.)

Second, a sweet friend sent me a hug over the airwaves - a hug that looked like this:

"You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book? Then my enemies will turn back in the day when I call. This I know, that God is for me. In God, whose word I praise, in the LORD, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me?" - Psalm 56:8

And she and two other friends prayed together for me.

Their prayers were effective.

Today, after a not-very-good night of sleep, I began the day tired. Once again, I woke to freezing temperatures and an overcast sky.

I did not, however, wake up with a headache, or with an overwhelming sense of loneliness or grief. Instead, I woke up this morning thanking God for his faithfulness, for his unfailing mercy, for his tenderness, his patience, his compassion, for his incredible goodness to me.

Today day is only half over, but, so far, it has been delightful.

Morning exercise class at Caroline's, floors are mopped and bathrooms cleaned, chugging through the laundry...

I listened to Helen practice Beethoven on the piano while I swept the floors, and I dance to Bruno Mars while I mopped.

I am trying a new "whole food" challenge. Today's lunch - wilted spinach, sweet potatoes, beets, avocado, and I found some shrimp in the freezer. Score! Served in a one-of-a-kind bowl, handcrafted by Freedom Tommy. "Uptown Funk" sounds like happiness to me. This lunch looked and tasted like happiness.
YUM!
Outside the kitchen window now, I see a flash of blue sky, a patch of sunlight in the hay field.

And I am writing...that is happiness raised to the tenth power.

What a difference a day makes.

Friday, March 10, 2017

BULLY FOR YOU, TEDDY ROOSEVELT!

"There are two kinds of success, or rather two kinds of ability displayed in the achievement of success. There is, first, the success either in big things or small things which comes to the man who has in him the natural power to do what no one else can do, and what no amount of training, no perseverance or will power, will enable any ordinary man to do.

"But much the commoner type of success...is the kind of success which is open to the average man of sound body and fair mind, who has no remarkable mental or physical attributes, but who gets just as much as possible in the way of work out of the aptitudes that he does possess." - Theodore Roosevelt, in his essay "The Vigor of Life."


Roosevelt went on to add, "I need hardly say that all the successes I have ever won have been of the second type."

Teddy Roosevelt was weak and sickly as a child. At the age of fourteen, after being subjected to relentless bullying by a couple of other boys, Teddy decided to do everything within his power to become physically stronger and mentally tougher. He studied boxing under a personal trainer. He took up wrestling, and then horseback riding, swimming and shooting.

Roosevelt admits that he never excelled brilliantly at any of these endeavors. He did, however, after much hard and sometimes painful work, develop the ability to "hold his own" - in the boxing ring and on the equestrian course, while big game hunting and during his tenure in the White House. Along the way, he developed greater confidence in his own limited abilities and he earned the respect of men much stronger and more physically and mentally gifted than he.

I am currently reading a delightful book loaned to me by a friend - The Letters & Lessons of Theodore Roosevelt for His Sons. One theme I have encountered repeatedly in this small volume is this: Teddy Roosevelt was not content to sit passively and complain about the things he could not do. Instead, he resolved to make the best of the resources available to him.

As a weak, asthmatic teenager, Teddy knew he would never be a prize-fighter. Even so, he determined that anyone who tried to rough him up in the future would regret doing so.

I am both challenged and encouraged by Teddy Roosevelt's example of working diligently to make the most of whatever abilities he possessed.

How often do I focus my thoughts on something I cannot do, and then use my real inability in one area as an excuse for general laziness or inactivity in other areas of my life, areas where I could actually accomplish a great deal if I only applied myself?

How often do I tell myself the lie that if success does not come easily or naturally, then it must be unattainable?

How often do I look at difficulties and obstacles as justification for giving up, instead looking at them as opportunities to grow stronger and to learn?

I am ashamed to admit that I often choose to lament what I cannot do rather than to work hard at what I can do.

Teddy Roosevelt would have had none of such nonsense.

Neither should I.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

AN UNDERSTANDING WAY

Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered. - 1 Peter 3:7

The footnote in my Bible for this verse reads: "Estrangement from others often affects our relationship with God (Matt. 5:23, 24). In particular, the failure to observe God's will for the marriage relationship can disrupt our spiritual relationship with God. The importance of healthy family relationships is apparent from the typological comparison of Christ and church with husband and wife (Eph. 5:23,24), and by the persistent New Testament characterization of the church as the family of God (1:14-17;Rom. 8:14-17;1Tim. 3:14,15; 5:1,2)."  The Reformation Study Bible, English Standard version.

The context of this verse (see 1 Peter) indicates that its implications extend beyond the husband-wife relationship to address male-female relationships both within the family and within the broader circle of the church.

"Why doesn't God answer my prayers?!" I have heard these words from men struggling to live out their faith in difficult circumstances. What I have consistently not heard from these same men is, "How can I live with my wife in an understanding way?"

"Why isn't God blessing this ministry?!" I have heard these words from disheartened church leaders who have poured their lives into serving churches that gasp and flail like premature babies that just can't seem to make it out of the NICU. What I have not heard from these same men is, "How can we, the male leadership, live in an understanding way with the women in our care?"

Clearly, not all marriage and family and church dysfunction springs from failure of the genders to relate biblically. However, given our proclivity for sin, this is one area of our lives that we need to examine regularly: do our words and actions line up with Scripture? Just as a person may be reluctant to schedule a routine health checkup because of a fear of finding cancer, it seems that this issue - of how do we relate as men and women - is an area we are afraid to examine because of what we might find.

Many of us in the church have allowed the secular culture to hijack the conversation and to set the terms and define the tone of the discussion. Rather than doing the hard work of bringing this discussion back into the Christian home and into the church and submitting it to God's Word, we prefer to opt out of the conversation altogether while we passively absorb the world's teaching, to the detriment of our marriages, our families, and our churches.

A few errors I have seen in the way we engage this issue, both personally and within the church:

We equate "equal" with "same." Scripture clearly teaches moral and spiritual equality of men and women (see above passage in 1 Peter; also, Gal. 3:28). We err, however, when we buy into the feminist ideology that insists that "equal" means "the same." To ignore the biblical distinctions of male-ness and female-ness, to insist that what's good for one is good for the other, is laziness or ignorance at best, outright rebellion at worst.

"I believe in treating everybody exactly the same, regardless of gender." Oh, do you? And I suppose you are also okay with using maple syrup as an engine lubricant for your car.

Both maple syrup and motor oil have value and purpose, but they are not the same; neither are women and men.

(Check out Rebekah Merkle's article, Throw Like a Girl: Why Feminism Insults Real Women.)

Conscious that men and women are not the same, but ignoring the truth that they are equal, we talk and live as if one (male or female) is more spiritual than the other and we create an unbiblical struggle for power. We jockey against one another for influence and authority and for the last word. Men, because they are men, are labeled as neanderthals or misogynistic brutes, and therefore not to be respected. In a throwback to Greek paganism, women, because they are women, are dismissed as the weaker sex (interesting that Scripture exhorts men to understand "the weaker vessel," but never to dismiss them).

One evidence of this wrong way of thinking that I have seen in churches is in the area of study materials, church programs, and ministry opportunities - when these are researched, chosen, and created by exclusively men or exclusively women, we neglect the charge to live together in an understanding way.

We need to include one another in these conversations and processes. "My Two Daddies" or "My Two Mommies" may sound like a progressive way to do family or church, but God demands greater gender diversity. He created people distinctly male and female, and He did so for a reason. We need both.

We look at our differences as irritations to be endured or as obstacles to be overcome, instead of as gifts designed by God to enrich our marriages, families, and churches. For the sake of peace and the appearance of unity, we grudgingly endeavor to meet somewhere in the middle:  I'll tone down the female thing, and you tone down the male thing. We end up with an anemic, ineffective, sickly thing that looks and feels very much like a loveless marriage or a lifetime sentence in a prison camp. It disgusts and frustrates both genders, and it displays nothing of the glory of our Creator. Blech!

So what?

First, if we want to have joyful, vibrant, fruitful marriages and families and churches, we are going to have to endeavor to understand biblically and to embrace enthusiastically this crazy-awesome, God-created-&-ordained thing called gender. We are going to have to canc the whole "boys vs. girls" mentality fed to us by the world in which we live. Instead, we must foster a culture in which the boys are rooting for the girls and the girls are rooting for the boys, because we understand that unless we both win, we both lose.

Second, men, do you feel like your prayers are hindered? Husband, do you feel like your prayers are hindered? Father, do you feel like your prayers are hindered? Church elder, do you feel like your prayers are hindered? Pastor, do you feel like your prayers are hindered? If so, I encourage you to endeavor to live with understanding with the women in your life - with your wife, with the mother of your children, with your daughters, with the women in your church.

Go to these women and ask them: "Help me to understand you better. How can I demonstrate in practical ways my desire to live with you in a more understanding way? How can I show honor to you?" And then, listen to their answers. Take time to actually think about what they say.

If you do this, will God instantly answer all your prayers?

I don't know.

But I am confident of this: if the sons of God seriously endeavor to live with understanding with the daughters of God, these sons will find, when they kneel in prayer before the Father, that warrior princesses are kneeling beside them at the throne, praying on their behalf.

And the two of you praying together...that is powerful.

(I have many more thoughts on this topic - maybe future blog posts. I would love for you to share your thoughts in the comments!)

Thursday, March 2, 2017

PRESS ON

Thursdays are running days for me.

Up early for yoga class at ADBC - today, I got to practice yoga with my favorite yogi, my daughter Martha. When I stopped by Martha's house on the way into town, my granddaughter asked me where I was going.

"I am going to a yoga class with your mom," I answered.

Lizzy replied, "That is so sweet!"

Yes, Lizzy, I agree. Very sweet indeed!

After yoga and a quick change from stretchy pants into jeans - because nobody but my workout buddies at ADBC should have to see me in stretchy pants - my youngest and I headed to Martin for her dual-enrollment class, then ran errands in town, then headed home for lunch, then back to town for piano, then...

We finally made it home for the night about 30 minutes ago. It has been a long, full day, and I am tired.

Somewhere in all of this running around, I meant to write here at the blog. Now, when I finally have time to sit down at the computer, it is after 9:00, and whether I like it or not, my brain is powering down. My head is full of little more than dull gray static.

This makes me sad.

"A longing deferred is sickness to the bones..."

...but...

Tomorrow is a new day.

The great challenge I face at the end of this crazy busy day, this day on which I did not get to write, is to not despair about what I have failed to accomplish today, but to instead press forward expectantly to what I aim to accomplish tomorrow.

"...forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on..."

True for faith, and for life, and for writing.

 Tomorrow, yes, tomorrow, I will write.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

YOU MAY BE OVER 50 IF...

Several years ago - way back in 2010, actually - I posted a list of symptoms that indicate you may be approaching 50. (For that list, click HERE.)

I "approached 50" a couple of years ago and owned it like a boss. Fifty is behind me now, in more ways than one. I have a few things I want to add to my previous list...

You may be over 50 if...

...you are finally happy with your curves. Well, happy at least until you lie down on the sofa and all those curves slide off and melt into shapeless blobs underneath your armpits.

...you always carry a water bottle with you. Always. Everywhere you go. Because drinking lots of water is healthy, and, although you are middle-aged, you are also health conscious. (Never mind the fact that drinking lots of water supposedly helps alleviate some of the unpleasant symptoms associated with menopause.)

...you know the location of the restrooms in all the stores you shop at regularly, and you know which gas stations have the cleanest restrooms. You never enter or leave a building without making a rest stop. (See "water bottle," above.)

...you prefer to watch the grandkids jump on the trampoline instead of jumping on the trampoline with them, and you reflexively cross your legs when you sneeze. (See "water bottle," above.)

...you buy pantiliners in the 120-count jumbo box. (See "water bottle," above.)

...forget wine glasses...you now drink wine out of an over-sized coffee mug. Or a quart Mason jar. Shoot, why get another dish dirty? Just drink the wine straight from the bottle. Or the box. (Didn't they used to sell this stuff in barrels? Why don't they sell barrels of wine at Kroger?!)

...those socially unacceptable thoughts that sometimes pop into your head? You start having more of those thoughts. And, they start flying out of your mouth. (Lord, please help us!)

...when Bruno Mars's "Uptown Funk" comes on the in-house radio at WalMart, you dance like a dancin' fool, baby! Don't believe me? Just watch. I'm too hot! (Or was that just a hot flash? Ooops. Well, might as well rock it.)

...you cry at everything. Everything. Your grandma's funeral, a cute puppy, the last piece of chocolate in the candy bowl, chicken on sale for 49 cents per pound at Rulers, a sharp comment from your husband, stupid cat videos on Facebook, your daughter's piano recital, cold coffee...e-ver-y-dang-thang. (Maybe I should drink more water.)

...you know - on a deeper level than you have ever known before - that life is good.

Yep. Like you said, Nacho...