Five Minute Friday: Song

5 minute friday Linking up with Lisa-Jo and the great group that participates in Five Minute Friday. The main rule is to write for 5 minutes flat – no editing, no over thinking, no backtracking – on the topic that Lisa-Jo posts about each week.

The topic for this week:  Song

I love music.

So often God uses the lyrics of a song to articulate something I might not yet even be able to give voice to.  Other times, a song serves as a reminder, a prayer, or a challenge.

I love compiling songs and making playlists based on theme.

My playlists typically represent a particular season in my life or what I’m praying for others during a given time.  I’ll listen and rearrange repeatedly until they’re in an order where they flow and fit, ending up with four or five distinct playlists in process at any one time. The modern day ‘mix tape’ I suppose.

As much as I love songs, I love knowing the story behind the songs – whether it’s a brand new song or an old hymn.

The hymn, ‘O Love That Will Not Let Me Go,‘ was written by George Matheson during an extremely difficult season of his life.

Through deteriorating sight, Matheson pushed on and went to school, his sister by his side both caring for him and taking up Greek and Hebrew so George could pursue going into ministry although he was going blind.  An engagement to his fiancé ended when she learned nothing could be done about Matheson’s sight, and she decided she was unable to “go through life with a blind man.”

With so many losses and disappointments, combined with great loneliness, on the eve of his sister’s wedding, Matheson penned the hymn in just five minutes, saying, “The hymn was the fruit of that suffering.”

O Love That Will Not Let Me Go

O Love that will not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in Thee;
I give Thee back the life I owe,
That in Thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.

O Light that followest all my way,
I yield my flickering torch to Thee;
My heart restores its borrowed ray,
That in Thy sunshine’s blaze its day
May brighter, fairer be.

O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to Thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.

O Cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from Thee;
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red
Life that shall endless be.

The third verse, especially, brings to mind another song I wrote about just a couple of weeks ago.

I’m grateful God gives us the gift of songs to encourage and inspire, challenge and convict, and to speak to us in a way that sometimes nothing else can.

Psalm 23

I’ve been rereading A Praying Life over the last couple of weeks since I last blogged about a portion of it.

Further into the book, after showing what life would be like if we don’t have the Good Shepherd with us, Miller goes on to tie it in to how His presence along the journey makes all the difference.

In the beginning of the psalm, the Shepherd is in front of me – ‘He leads me beside still waters’ (verse 2); at the end He is behind me – ‘goodness and love will pursue me’ (verse 6, NIV); but in the middle, as I go through ‘the valley of the shadow of death,’ He is next to me – ‘I will fear no evil, for You are with me’ (verse 4).

The protective love of the Shepherd gives me the courage to face the…journey.

A Praying Life, p. 185-186

I love Miller’s description of it as His protective love.

Pretty much everything about my life is up in the air.  Not as if it hadn’t been already the last half year or so, but it’s at an entirely different level now.

Even when nothing makes sense and I have no idea what His plans for me are, or where things will be in a week, let alone a month or a year, I’m still kept in His protective love.

I hadn’t been struck by that quite as much on any of my earlier readings of the book.

Aside from the importance of the reminder, it made me smile because back in November I made this necklace…

kept in his love

As I had been reading (yes really) through a hymnal, I saw that phrase from an old hymn and turned it into a necklace.  While I’ve not worn jewelry much the last six and a half months, when I have, it’s been one of my various hope necklaces or this one.

Now when I wear it, I’ll think of it as a reminder that I’m not just kept in His love, but kept in His protective love.

Despite all the unknowns, I’m kept in His protective love, with my Shepherd in front of me, behind me, and most importantly, alongside of me.

You Are Good!

Over the last several months much talk has taken place online and in the blogging community about how we view ourselves.  From letters being written to themselves at a younger age, to the Dove Real Beauty Sketches, it has been interesting to see a trend in conversation about self perception.

A conversation with a friend the other day led to me questioning a lot about myself, something I’ve already been doing plenty of during this odd journey God has me on right now.

I’ve been reminded again of the struggle it can be to not let my identity be defined by the perceptions others have of me or my ability to do anything (I’d say of worth or to make a difference, but right now many days it’s really even just my inability to do anything beyond get from one room to another).

Rarely a particularly outwardly emotional person, especially around many others, there’s just something about the video of the first story – the creation story – in the Jesus Storybook Bible that makes my eyes welly every single time I hear it.  And because I’ve listened to it so much, even just reading it below I hear the inflection and emphasis placed on certain words and it hits me all over again.

God’s view of me isn’t based on what I achieve or contribute, nor the current state of the frame of my body, nor what anyone else thinks of me, thinks I should do, or thinks I should have done.

His view of me is that of a Father who loves His child just because I am.

I am His and that’s what really matters and where my identity and definition needs to always come from.

The Beginning – A Perfect Home

In the beginning there was nothing.

Nothing to hear.

            Nothing to feel.

                         Nothing to see.

Only emptiness.

     And darkness.

          And nothing,

                                     but nothing.

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But God was there.

                                       And God had a wonderful plan.

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“I’ll take this emptiness,” God said, “and I’ll fill it up!”

“Out of the darkness I’m going to make light.

And out of nothing I’m going to make EVERYTHING!”

Like a mommy bird

     flutters her wings

          over her eggs

               to help her babies hatch,

                    God hovered over the deep, silent darkness.

He was making life happen.

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God spoke.

                       That’s all.

And whatever He said,

                                               it happened.

God said, “Hello light!”

And light shone into the darkness.

God called the light, “Day,” and the darkness, “Night.”

“You’re good,” God said.

                                                  And they were.

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Then God said, “Hello sea!  Hello sky!”

And a great space opened up, wide and deep and high.

“You’re good,” God said.

                                                  And they were.

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Then God said, “Hello land!”

And there –

                        splashing up through the oceans –

came cliffs,

                         mountains,

                                                 sandy beaches.

“You’re good,” God said.

                                                     And they were.

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“Hello trees!”  God said, “Hello grass and flowers!”

And everything everywhere burst into life.

He made bugs bug.

                                        Shoots shoot.

                                                                     Flowers flower.

“You’re good,” God said.

                                                    And they were.

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“Hello stars!” God said.  “Hello sun!  Hello moon!”

And whizzing into the darkness came fiery globes,

     spinning around and around –

          whirling orange and purple and golden planets.

“You’re good,” God said.

                                                     And they were.

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“Hello birds!”  God said.

And with a fluttering and flapping

     and chirping and singing,

          birds filled the skies.

“Hello fish!” God said.

And with a darting and dashing

      and wriggling and splashing,

            fish filled the seas!

“You’re good,” God said.

                                                    And they were.

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Then God said, “Hello animals!”

And everyone came out to play.

     The earth was filled with noisy noises –

          growling and gobbling

               and snapping and snorting

                    and happy skerfuffling.

“You’re good,” God said.

                                                   And they were.

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God saw that all He had made and He loved them.

And they were lovely because He loved them.

But God had saved the best for last.

From the beginning, God had a shining dream in His heart.

He would make people to share His forever happiness.

They would be His children, and the world their perfect home.

So God breathed life into Adam and Even.

When they opened their eyes,

the first thing they ever saw was God’s face.

And when God saw them,

     He was like a new dad.

                                                    “You look like Me,” He said.

“You’re the most beautiful thing I’ve ever made!”

God loved them with all of His heart.

And they were lovely because He loved them.

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And Adam and Eve joined in the song

     of the stars and the streams,

          and the wind in the trees,

               the wonderful song of love to the One who made them.

Their hearts were filled with happiness.

And nothing ever made them sad or lonely or sick or afraid.

God looked at everything He had made.

“Perfect!” He said.

                                      And it was.

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But all the stars and the mountains,

     and the oceans and galaxies,

           and everything were nothing

                 compared to how much God loved His children.

He would move heaven and earth to be near them.

                                                                                                           Always.

Whatever happened,

     whatever it cost Him,

           He would always love them.

                  And so it was that the wonderful love story began…

The Jesus Storybook Bible
The Beginning – A Perfect Home

Colours

I LOVE colour!

I was the kid who didn’t want to use her big new box of crayons because I didn’t want anything to happen to one of my precious colours.

I was equally protective of my coloured pencils.

I’ve always loved colour.

My favorite book when I was little was called “Oh Were They Ever Happy.”  It’s a short little book of what the kids in a family helpfully try to do when their parents go out for a bit.  Let’s just say they returned to a multi-coloured environment!

Despite my love of colour, and thus, most everything artistic, I always complained that I got ripped off in the creativity department.

In fact, my mom told me that I couldn’t be a teacher when I grew up because I wasn’t artistic.  She said that if all my animals looked the same, the kids wouldn’t be pleased – that dogs shouldn’t be mistaken for horses or cows or anything else.  I then went on to teach for nearly a decade, and my students were probably none the worse for their teacher’s lack of artistic ability.

It wasn’t until about ten years ago, when the allure of the spectrum of colours fabrics could come in drew me and I found that I had been wrong in my thinking. I wasn’t devoid of artistic ability, I just hadn’t found the right medium before that.

Once I started playing around with textiles, I saw that that love of colour God had engrained in me as a child came to life.  And as I helped with decorating and other projects, to my surprise, I saw God had given me a unique eye for colour, which led to many trips to the LA Garment District helping with fabric purchases for different projects people were undertaking.  Colour and textiles became my creative outlet and the very thing I began to chase down when overseas.

In Morocco I could have wandered for hours, pouring over the textiles and beads available. Drawers of beads and other fancies used to make trim or to be used on elaborate design work drew me in.
beads 3 beads 2

 

Colour came to life in traditional dress and shoes, as well.

 

Morocco - Habous

 

Moroccan shoes

Colours were also in abundance at the souq that would be set up each week near where I stayed with friends.

Morocco souq day

We took a horse cart through the neighborhood and countryside to get there, colours just as varied on each cart as the homes in the neighborhood would be.  A ‘parking lot’ of horse carts would grow outside the souq, and young boys pulling handcarts would offer to help tote purchases in exchange for tips once in the souq.

Morocco souq transport

 

The detailed tagine dishes were available in some places…

 

 

Morocco tajine

 

Chickens and sheep were available in another area.  Take them live or take them home warm and clean them up yourself…

 

 

Morocco dinner

 

Fresh produce galore…in all the colours of the rainbow!

 

 

Morocco veggies

 

And candies, sweets, nuts, and other treats of every colour were available, as well.

 

Morocco souq too

 

Colour is therapy to me – mixing dyes, combining them in fabrics, or exploring God’s world.  So on days like today, when it’s been a long or discouraging day, when I don’t feel well, and know I probably pushed it too much, I’ll find some fabric to create with, some crayons to colour a sketch of another idea with, or some beads to sort, and remember that although my creativity may be relegated to a less traditional realm, that doesn’t mean God’s not wired me with creativity at all.

Five Minute Friday: Comfort

5 minute friday Linking up with Lisa-Jo and the great group that participates in Five Minute Friday. The main rule is to write for 5 minutes flat – no editing, no over thinking, no backtracking – on the topic that Lisa-Jo posts about each week.

The topic for this week:  Comfort

The word comfort immediately brings the beginning of 2 Corinthians 1 to my mind and the confidence we have in knowing that God is not only the source of all comfort, but that He comforts us in our troubles so we can comfort others.

 All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ. Even when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your comfort and salvation! For when we ourselves are comforted, we will certainly comfort you. Then you can patiently endure the same things we suffer. We are confident that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in the comfort God gives us.

2 Corinthians 1:3-7 (NLT)

I think, too, about the ways that has worked in reverse in my own life, even over the past months.  God has used the sufferings and situations others have walked through to provide comfort to me in the midst of this foggy season I’ve been in.

Today He provided comfort in the form of a small measure of normalcy – a friend who took me out for lunch for my birthday and a chance to eat at a place we always have met at in the past, time to catch up on life, and just share what’s gone on in the last few months since she came to visit me in the hospital.

And He provided comfort in the form of a box full of some really sweet notes and cards from many of the kids at church.  I’m not sure who organized it, but the friend who I had lunch with got to be the delivery person of a really sweet (and, in some cases, entertaining!) gift.  The timing couldn’t make this much more bittersweet of a gift than it was, but it is nice to know that they’re praying for me and that really did bring comfort today.

box from church box of cards

It’d be lovely if this meant things were suddenly better and all was well again, which isn’t the case.  But several examples of how God has provided comfort today immediately came to mind when I saw Lisa-Jo’s word for this week.

Finally, I thought back to this passage from Hannah Whitall Smith’s work, The God of All Comfort (or you can read it online here for free):

Our Comforter is not far off in Heaven where we cannot find Him. He is close at hand. He abides with us. When Christ was going away from this earth, He told His disciples that He would not leave them comfortless, but would send ‘another Comforter’ who would abide with them forever. This Comforter, He said, would teach them all things, and would bring all things to their remembrance. And then He declared, as though it were the necessary result of the coming of this divine Comforter: ‘Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you; not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart [therefore] be troubled, neither let it be afraid.’ Oh, how can we, in the face of these tender and loving words, go about with troubled and frightened hearts.

‘Comforter’—what a word of bliss, if we only could realize it. Let us repeat it over and over to ourselves, until its meaning sinks into the very depths of our being. And an ‘abiding’ Comforter, too, not one who comes and goes, and is never on hand when most needed, but one who is always present, and always ready to give us ‘joy for mourning, and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.’

The very words abiding Comforter are an amazing revelation. Try to comprehend them. If we can have a human comforter to stay with us for only a few days when we are in trouble, we think ourselves fortunate; but here is a divine Comforter who is always staying with us, and whose power to comfort is infinite. Never, never ought we for a single minute to be without comfort; never for a single minute ought we to be uncomfortable.

Of Friendship, Faith, Fun, Forgiveness, and the Furtherance of an Addiction Part 2

Part 1 posted here

Fun…

…ascertaining the fine art line between managing to be both snarky and sympathetic, and sassy and sincere.

…discovering others of the rare breed of people that would find a suitable time to learn to teach yourself how to knit being while watching baseball playoff games.

…surveying (and, really, not entirely in jest) interest in a 3 am small group – because, really, isn’t that the time you first think to sign up for a Bible study?  It was for the two of us!

…laughing over utter failure….of sleep studies.

…rediscovering – and, on some levels, discovering for the first time – the joy and freedom of thinking (and living) outside the box in all aspects of life.

…being among the few people would go to Souplantation just to sit for endless hours, people watch, solve the problems of the world, and eat sprinkles.  Really.  We schemed up an entire book based on the lessons we’d taken away from Souplantation.  Seriously.

Oh, and we were friends with all of the regulars.  Average age=75.  No joke.  We gave them all our own nicknames and created fascinating back stories for them…only to find out we were providing them with equal entertainment and laughter.  Besides, do you know how fun it is to make Mr. Rocket Scientist break out in a huge smile when you agree to try one of his strange concoctions that you’ve tried to analyze the ingredients of from across the restaurant for weeks on end, only to get “caught” in your peeking over after endless unnecessary trips to the fountain drink machine right near “his” table?

…plotting a takeover of the world…and arranging lunch with two very intriguing political figures.

…dreaming up crazy trips, with crazy routes, to crazy destinations, and knowing the other was one of the few who didn’t think we were off our rocker.  Have passport, will travel, right?!

…the number of times we seemed to find ourselves in the face of situations where common sense was clearly a misnomer…and way too many people were lacking any sense…common or otherwise.

…planning an impromptu slumber party after getting a call that your friend was being taken by ambulance to the ER.  Why not turn it into an excuse to play Sequence, watch Toy Story, and stay up all night while making sure there’s not another health crisis?

…joking about her cool car’s apparent “invisi-shield”…trying (most unsuccessfully) to figure out the car’s very fancy navigation system – while endeavoring to find a random, little known, cancer treatment center one of my cancer kids was at near the Getty Center…and pronouncements that, “we’re gonna die,” followed by giggles, nearly every time we were out in her car.   Yeah, gallows humor, but…

…staying up all night watching election results come in during the crazy 2004 election night drama…surveying websites, eating (we seemed to do a lot of that!), and, once again, playing Sequence for hours on end.

…seeing movies, movies, and more movies.  How many people can say they saw more movies in theatres in three weeks (gotta love cheap matinees at the cool – then – new theatre!) than they had in the entire prior three years?  But more than the movies, it was the conversations they provoked that were so great!

…discovering that most of our other friends referred to the other as our “invisible/imaginary friend.”  Other than church friends/family, the rest of the people in our respective worlds didn’t know the other, despite the fact that we were together so much.  Thus the joke that others in our life felt like the other was a bit like Snuffalufugus on Sesame Street – the supposed friend that no one else was sure existed.

I learned to find laughter and fun in the little things…that sometimes great things come in unlikely combinations or places…the importance of a little more balance to my personality, and of letting a side of me I so rarely let show be seen…that the simplest things – a smile, a wave across a restaurant, or the sampling of strange “potions” – really do often make the day of a person alone in need of a smile…that, every once in a great while, God brings along other people who are truly at the same very bizarre place in life, on some very strange levels…that sometimes, really, the best – or only – response to life’s challenges is laughter.

Forgiveness…

It’s funny because, for a host of reasons, one of the songs I most associate with that friend is Todd Agnew’s, Grace Like Rain.  That Todd Agnew album was nearly always in her car, and it’s the album that I remember so vividly the night of the hospital induced slumber party.  I suppose it’s really not a surprise then, that when she first moved away, it was like God “stalked” me with that song – it played literally every time I’d get in the car (always having inadvertently left the radio on KLove).  There were times it seriously ticked me off, it was like enough was enough, God!  But somehow it was actually fitting because the themes of grace and forgiveness were things I was challenged with on new levels, thanks to the gift of our friendship.

I learned that when God tips you off in advance, in dreams or otherwise, of the need to forgive, there’s always a reason for it – and it’s always best to do it -it makes it so much easier than it would be later on.  I (re)learned how often we’re quick to extend grace and forgiveness to others, yet, in turn, struggle to receive grace and forgiveness ourselves – whether from others or ourselves.  I learned if you can’t forgive yourself, it’s often incredibly hard to believe or truly accept forgiveness from anyone else, as well.

and the Furtherance of an Addiction…

Although I’ve long loved Disneyland and it became my local ‘escape,’ it wasn’t until one Labor Day with her that I first got an Annual Pass and my real ‘addiction’ began.  The day before school started, and having breathed a huge sigh of relief after finishing the castle for my classroom, we headed up to the ‘Mouse House’ for what was the first of many days spent at Disneyland.

I really think that it wasn’t until we had passes and could go all of the time that I learned the luxury of really appreciating all of the little things.  And what can be better, solving the problems of the world in the Happiest Place on Earth?! 🙂

We spent entire days not riding a single thing, instead hunting for the 50 Golden Hidden Mickeys for the 50th anniversary celebration of Disneyland’s opening (and then confused the heck out of the Cast Member in City Hall when we found 51 – no one was finding one, so they added one and forgot to remove the other!).

File:Mr Toad Statue, Disneyland (Closeup).jpg

And, a day at Disneyland that September was the first (of what’s ended up being many) day that became the place-to-escape-reality-and-await-potentially-life-changing-test-results (whether my own or someone else’s) and I vividly remember being there together and getting the phone call from someone dear to me that her cancer was back.

Through many of the ups and downs of the last eight years, there have been incredibly happy, fun, carefree, and joyful days at Disneyland, and days where it’s truly served as a source of escapism.  But it’s thanks to my friend that I discovered even more of the magic behind a place I’d long loved!

I’m grateful for a friend that I shared so many things – both the fun and goofy, as well as the weighty and heavy – in common with that I can’t even begin to explain to others.

I’m grateful for a friend from whom, with whom, and because of whom I’ve learned, grown, and been challenged over the years. 

I’m grateful for a friend with whom I’ve shared some truly great days and a few impossibly difficult days – times that really could have been described as “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” 

I’m grateful for a friend who says what I need to hear, even when it’s not necessarily what I want to hear – and one with whom I can do the same.

I’m grateful for a friend that’s seen me at my best and at my worst…and who loves me anyway – and who’s allowed me to see her at both and knows I love her anyway, as well.  No matter what.

My friend, you are loved and missed.  

Of Friendship, Faith, Fun, Forgiveness, and the Furtherance of an Addiction (part 1)

I knew of my friend long before I knew her personally.

Truth be told, she’d say the same of me.

The reasons behind both, however, were entirely different.

Though we all have a story that is unique, her story is uncommonly so, and, as such, and since she’d shared it publicly, I knew of her. And, having been around the same church for quite a long time, and having been on staff in the past and very involved (and with two parents on staff at the time, to boot!), for better or worse, many people, my friend included, knew of me, as well.

On the surface, our lives, to most, would have seemed to have had little in common. Really, I’m not sure either of us would have envisioned we would forge the friendship that we did – especially not as quickly – or that we’d find we shared so many things in common that we shared with few, if any, others.

With most of my friendships I can recall the very moment the friendship began – when or where we first meet, or a particular conversation or event.  That is definitely not the case in this instance. Actually, I remember one – or both – of us cancelling several of our first attempts to get together. In spite of that, we just truly became fast friends, and, as cliché as it seems to say it, it was a God thing. I really don’t think there’s any other way around it or to explain it.

Of Friendship…

After what were just a few of our first shared marathon lunches at Souplantation – something which became a regular (often at least weekly) habit – an employee came over to the booth by the window where we always sat. She grinned at us, asked if we needed anything, which we politely declined, and then she said, “It’s so nice to see friends enjoying time together. You are always laughing and looking as if you enjoy one another’s company, and it’s nice to see!”

That, to me, encapsulated one of things I most appreciate about that friend – from the outlandish to the mundane, everything was far more enjoyable if done together. I learned how rare it seems to be to actually enjoy the gift of the people God has put in our lives.

There was so much hard stuff going on – in the world and in both of our lives – at that time, but sharing it made it more endurable. And knowing that others watching us didn’t know that our laughing and energetic conversation often were peppered with discussions about why it was God was entrusting us with quite the size slice of a crap sandwich that He was at the time…even all the better! I learned that even heaping servings of the crap sandwiches in life doesn’t have to allow the laughter and joy be dampened, overtaken, or stolen by the heaviness surrounding us.

In a day and age when it seems more and more common to pigeon-hole people as this, that, or the other (or find yourself being pigeon-holed), I continually found my preconceptions of my friend were misconceptions. Within about the first five minutes of conversation, I’m pretty sure we both shattered any myths the other had, and our friendship became one of ‘the good, the bad, and the ugly.’

I vividly recall, one very difficult Thanksgiving weekend, being flopped backward over the edge of my bed, on the phone (so bizarre because we NEVER talked on the phone for more than sixty seconds) that I couldn’t believe how my life was turning out. I had a house and not a husband, a cat and no kids. That wasn’t how it was “supposed to be” – in my mind (or most anyone else’s as far as their perception of me) – and although everyone else thought I “had it all together,” that couldn’t have been further from the truth in how I felt, and I vocalized that for the first time. I learned the freedom of authenticity and realness, and that giving voice to our struggles often diminishes the power of them.

For really the first time in my life, there was someone who the words, “I’ve not slept in four days,” didn’t provoke: a) raised eyebrows, b) a skeptical you’re-obviously-being-hyperbolic look, c) “what are you talking about?” or d) all of the above. I learned the joy of not being alone in a situation that so few experience.

For, definitely, the first time in my life, I was gifted with a friend for whom complicated – in nature and in explanation – health stuff was also the norm. A side of life I so rarely gave voice to could be spoken with little to no explanation necessary. That some days were good (or even great) days, many days were just days, and some were downright lousy was understood. And that one day something was possible, and the next day you literally couldn’t walk down the steps just sort of went with the territory. There was no pity, no shock, no being treated differently, and no explanation or apologies needed when plans suddenly took a drastic twist or turn or you needed a shoulder to lean on (figuratively or literally). And, thankfully, rarely did those high highs and low lows overlap with where the other was! I learned the blessing of words and explanations being entirely unnecessary, and knowing, implicitly, someone “got it.”

Faith…

Growing up in a church ‘mafia family,’ as my friend once called it, I found that expression captured a side of the experience I’d never heard given voice. Then, becoming a later in life PK, that dynamic changed even further, especially when my second church home, and relative ‘refuge,’ became the other church home of the rest of my family. Having an ‘outsider’ (as in not in my direct family) who could relate, yet at the same time wasn’t involved, gave me an outlet for being real about stories and experiences that were never kosher for ‘public consumption.’ And, at the same time, the experience of the joy of going somewhere in anonymity, and as much as I love them and am blessed, not being anyone’s anything! I learned the freedom of being ME – not Leese, so and so’s _____(fill in the blank) or Leese, the ________ (fill in the blank role/position I filled).

Sharing the highs and lows…the ins and outs…the encouraging and the disillusioning parts of ministry and the experience of being, at times, way too much of an insider and knowing things you didn’t want to…that even the most of unlikely of places (such as Roger Rabbit’s Cartoon Spin – yes, really!) allowed for the venting/discussing/analyzing/questioning that the inside – and sometimes ugly side – of ministry seems to periodically provoke. I learned questioning, feelings of inadequacy, and frustration just go with the territory sometimes, and no matter who you are, you’ve got to have a safe place to share.

On days when I felt shaken to my core, and hesitated to share the depth of my questioning, doubting, or struggling, I found myself being given grace, and in the presence of a friend who didn’t try to ‘make it all better’ with the spewing of well-intentioned pat answers. Instead she met me with outstretched arms and gently directed my eyes upward. And really, I think that’s a reflection of what Jesus would do – and did do. I learned my questions and struggles don’t scare God – and that He (and all that He is) doesn’t waver or change.

Against all odds, and on days when the cliche, “I know God doesn’t give me more than we can handle, but I wish He didn’t trust me so much” is all too real, I’d witness (or experience) God giving the strength for another step forward or one more breath. I learned the reality of God giving grace for each moment and situation.

Some people have experiences that truly anyone would see them as entitled to being miserable, frustrated, righteously angry, or any number of other things. In some of those situations, many people would also see someone as fully entitled to sort of ‘take advantage’ of the situation, and understandably make the most of it, in one way or another. Yet I saw someone who chose the antithesis of that. I learned the true depth of our ability to choose how we’re going to respond to a situation and whether we’ll let God use that to make us bitter or better as a person.

From one who knows all too well how quickly that things can be over in just an instant, I witnessed the choice to truly live. To ‘suck the marrow out of life’ and to live well, as there is no guarantee of tomorrow. I learned anew, as well as on a new level, how quickly things can change and the importance of making the most of every moment God gives us.

Sitting in the face of some really heavy situations, and being amidst people who were in desperate need of a miracle, there were days it was easy to question whether things were “too far gone.” But then, there was the reminder that I only need look in the mirror – or at the face of the friend sitting across from me – to be reminded that even in the grimmest of situations, God sometimes chooses to spare people or intervene in ways (and for reasons) we’ll never understand. I learned – or relearned – that our God is still in the business of doing miracles and the unexpected.

“No guilt in life…no fear in death…this is the power of Christ in me…from life’s first cry to final breath…Jesus commands my destiny…no power of hell, no scheme of man, can ever pluck me from His hand…’til He returns or calls me home…here in the power of Christ I’ll stand.” I would say I learned I cannot hear this part of “In Christ Alone” without a mix of smile and tears, but that doesn’t quite fit with the flow of everything else! I learned ‘no fear in death’ can be far more of a reality than we think…and, in the face of so many things that seem to point to the contrary, Jesus truly does command our future.

(Part 2 coming tomorrow)

The End of the Story

Not that the last six months haven’t been interesting and caused me to stop and wonder what God’s up to enough as it’s been, but some events this last week have resulted in those questions coming to the forefront of my mind even more than they do already.

I really have no idea what He is up to.

Many of us wish God were more visible.  We think that if we could see Him better or know what is going on, then faith would come more easily.

When we suffer, we long for God to speak clearly, to tell us the end of the story and, most of all, to show Himself.  But if He showed Himself fully and immediately, if He answered all the questions, we’d never grow; we’d never emerge from our chrysalis because we’d be forever dependent.

Paul Miller
A Praying Life, p. 193-194

I have no idea where the story of my life is going to end, let alone where the next possible twist in this chapter alone may take things.

As much there are days I do wish God were more visible, that I could see Him more clearly, or hear Him better, I know, too, that then it wouldn’t require any faith at all.

After all, I would always be able to flip to the end of the chapter or the end of the story and see where it was going to end and how I would get there.  Where’s the trust needed if I can “cheat” and see what’s coming next or how He’s going to work it all for His glory?

Since I first heard it decades ago, I’ve loved the song “Trust His Heart.”

I still love it, but once it was sung at my friend Carolyn’s funeral, I not only love it, but now I feel convicted by it too, reminded by the grace and faith with which my sweet friend lived her life.

Over the last couple of months I’ve found myself humming a few of the lines, in particular, and most especially, the chorus.  It’s a great song, especially for moments I’ve had over the last week or so, to have in my head and heart and to serve as a reminder that even when I don’t understand, I don’t see His plan, and I can’t trace His hand, that I still can trust His heart!

All things work for our good
though sometimes we don’t
see how they could.
Struggles that break our hearts in two
sometimes blind us to the truth.
Our Father knows what’s best for us.
His ways are not our own.
So when your pathway grows dim
and you just don’t see Him,
remember you’re never alone

God is too wise to be mistaken
God is too good to be unkind.
So when you don’t understand,
when don’t see His plan,
when you can’t trace His hand,
trust His Heart.

He sees the master plan.
He holds the future in His hand.
So don’t live as those who have no hope,
all our hope is found in Him.
We see the present clearly,
He sees the first and last.
And like a tapestry He’s weaving you and me,
to someday be just like Him

God is too wise to be mistaken
God is too good to be unkind.
So when you don’t understand,
when don’t see His plan,
when you can’t trace His hand,
trust His Heart.

He alone is faithful and true,
He alone knows what is best for you.

So when you don’t understand,
when don’t see His plan,
when you can’t trace His hand
trust His Heart.

Five Minute Friday: Brave (and Friend)

5 minute friday Linking up with Lisa-Jo and the great group that participates in Five Minute Friday. The main rule is to write for 5 minutes flat – no editing, no over thinking, no backtracking – on the topic that Lisa-Jo posts about each week.

The topic for this week:  Brave

People have such varied definitions of what makes someone brave.

It’s really not a word I would use to describe myself, though it ends up being one others use about me, which puzzles me.

I hear that I’m brave going to some of the places I go (particularly alone).  I guess I just see it as my adventurous side and my love of seeing this big world God’s created and getting to experience and learn along the way.

And I hear that I’m brave based on how I handle this rocky health journey God’s had me on (again, somehow being alone – most avoid calling it what it is…single – seems to add to that, too).  I guess I just see it as it’s life – what else can I do but keep moving forward? Do I like bone marrow biopsies, uncertainty, blood clots, and hospitals? Of course not, I guess to me it’s just survival and facing my reality.

When I think of the word brave, so many other people, situations, and things come to mind.

I was reading Beth Guckenburger’s book Reckless Faith (it’s great, by the way…all her stuff is, and most out of stock on Amazon right now – she must have just spoken somewhere big!) and I was struck by this quote and it came to mind as a great example to me of bravery.

A truly reckless faith, however, always expects change, and as a result, it’s eager to risk more and fear less! A reckless faith knows there is more to the story, more we can’t see, more than I experience now.

If someone considers me brave for any reason, I pray that it’s because I have reckless faith that’s quick and eager to risk and slow to fear!

I thought, too, of this video about an Olympic runner who ran in Barcelona.

To me, bravery is also is picking up and moving forward even when you’re in a spot that seems hopeless and persevering.

God wants to meet you where you are…He’s not waiting for you not necessarily to sprint towards Him, but to limp towards Him.

I love that quote from near the end of the video – it’s because God is there wanting to meet us where we’re at, wherever that is, that we can be brave regardless of what our lives or circumstances look like.  And, as He always is, God’s just as present there waiting for us whether we come running or limping.

***

Since I missed out on writing on last Friday’s FMF prompt, and the topic is near and dear to my heart, I decided to write both

The topic for this week:  Friend

I’ve been blessed with some amazing friends.  As I’ve mentioned before, unfortunately many of them are scattered across the corners of the world.  But then again, that always adds to my motivation to travel!

I have friends that I’ve known since early childhood – people that we shared our earliest years at church or school or Wednesday Clubs together for years.  Some I still see regularly, others it’s not nearly as common as we’d like, but we can pick back up just like we always have.

I have friends from junior high when I moved away from where I had grown up and met some of the gals who are still some of my closest friends, though all but one of them live overseas now.  It’s been fun to see the way God’s allowed our lives to intersect and so many of them now become friends, too!

I have friends from high school.  One of my closest friends and I met the very first day of high school PE (of all unfortunate places!) and we joined the swim team together.  Although we ended up at universities nowhere near one another, after I came home and got a teaching job, I talked them into hiring her the next year, and we taught next door to one another – what a gift, especially since she went on to meet her husband on our crazy adventure not long after that.  On my first trip overseas, I met a girl that, four (ish?) years later would go on to become my college roommate – someone I’ve celebrated more birthdays with than anyone else outside of my family since our birthdays are so close together!

I have dear friends from college.  From my suitemate our first year at college, to the one that became my roommate my last year and a half of college that I’d met in Japan, to two precious friends that we shared a house (and a lot of adventures) with my last semester at school, to a group of people I lived and breathed community and ministry with in a way I’m not sure I’ll ever fully be able to articulate, I can’t imagine my life without any of them!

And then there’s all my “back at home” friends – the ones God’s enriched my life with somewhere along the way after I moved back to California.  From dear friends who have become family – people I celebrate holidays with just as much as I do my own family by blood, to close friends I’ve done ministry with here, to precious friends who have prayed faithfully for me, and the sweet ones that have gone above and beyond to be present in this most unusual season of life God has me in right now, my life is rich with friends.

I’m out of time so I’ll have to end it here – but not without adding in a note of gratitude for the friends God’s brought into my life thanks to wonders of the online community, too!

I’m SO glad God knew we’d need friends to walk through this life with!

Endure

When I started thinking about this post, I searched my blog looking for the other time I had mentioned this same book in the past.  I was shocked that it it was a year ago to the date – I don’t think I could have done that if I tried!

Joe Thorn’s unique little book, Note to Self, is a bit of a devotional that also has shades of Jesus Calling woven into it.

As I was praying for various people today, God kept bringing to mind the theme of endurance.

Since Thorn’s book has various topics, I found the one entitled “Endure” and am including that here.  It’s based on Colossians 1:11-14.

You will never make it to the end by trying harder but by trusting more.  I know this works against your natural tendency to want to take care of a situation on your own.  You prefer putting your head down, getting to work, and making things happen.  But this is a dangerous approach to following Christ that is sure to lead to a great fall, for faith and perseverance are not simply matters of willpower and determination.  Yes, God calls you to be resolute, but in all that you are called to be and do, you will fail if you are not depending on God for the strength necessary to make it to the end.

It can be so easy – so tempting, really – to want to take control of a situation and bring about the desired results we feel are best.

The more I thought and prayed today, even after reading Thorn’s note, the more I realized that, in one way or another, endurance was an underlying theme in what I was praying for each person or couple or family.

For friends trying to endure while…

…walking through battles with cancer with loved ones

…seeking answers of how to best help and support a child with special needs

…waiting to go pick up their children waiting on the other side of the world

…hoping for a positive pregnancy test and knowing that they’ll soon also be called ‘mom’

…awaiting for answers from medical tests, for a family member to get out of the hospital, or someone close to them to get a much needed transplant

…wondering if they’ll spend every day and night alone, waiting for God to bring the person they’ll spend the rest of their lives with into their life

…trusting God to provide a much needed job, a sale of a house, or financial help into a situation that feels desperate

…depending on God to bring healing, restoration, and transformation to a broken marriage

The list could go on and on, but those were some of themes that God brought up in multiple situations as I prayed.  There is so much about life that is hard and so many people that are hurting.   Yet it’s not our own doing that allows us to make it through, no matter how strong, feisty, persistent, determined, stubborn, or unyielding we may be.

You can endure, but not because you have put long hours training yourself to persevere.  You can endure because your God is a “God of endurance” (Romans 15:5) who is faithful to carry out the good work He has begun in you (Philippians 1:6).  You can persevere to the end because God has delivered you from the domain of darkness and has give you citizenship in the kingdom of His Son.  Your new King and community stand with you so that you are not alone.  To trust God more requires that you recognize your dependence, know His power and purpose, and continue by faith.

While we can try to muster up all our strength and resolve, put up all the fight we may have, it does and always will really coming back to having nothing to do with us and everything to do with God.

No matter what the situation – from the smallest to the most serious – we are able to endure because we have the God of endurance by our side.

No matter the specifics of the hill or valley the people God brought to mind might be encountering in this leg of the marathon of life, it was a reminder to not only pray for endurance, but to pray that the nearness of our God of endurance would be very real in the midst of it.

When I stop and think about it, I suppose that’s about what some of the people close to me are praying for me, too.

I’m glad we have a God of endurance – who knew that life is hard and we would need reminders of that, and of His nearness and presence.