Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Like Manna from Heaven, The Secondi

When I left you yesterday, we were enjoying memories of food and fellowship in my life with an unfortunate hint toward a dimly lit road of gluttony moving forward.  It's time to serve...The Secondi...

It isn't unusual, especially in our society of indulgence and instant gratification, to have a pre-disposition toward overeating.  When access is plentiful, it's easy to overdo it.  But when the eating is done, not out of hunger or physical need but rather, out of emotional need, it becomes something of concern.  When I Googled "emotional eating," I was barraged with 64,300,000 hits.  (I guess it's a real "thing" after all!)  For years, because of my love for and history in food, I told myself that that's just who I am and I "felt okay" to become the little round, Italian food-maven with a big smile and a big personality plus a penchant for serving all of her friends and family delicious, comforting foods.  And certainly there is nothing wrong with adoring food and appreciating everything about it...if you are that person, I'm not criticizing!  But for myself, let's face it, folks...

Cool Ranch flavored Doritoes are not a delicasy...
Reese's Peanut Butter cups do not qualify as haute cuisine...
The last piece of cold pizza in the fridge is not a bite that will forever enhance my life.
Salty, sweet, salty, sweet, salty, sweet...if you or someone you know can identify with these six words and their pattern, keep reading!

No, I've known for years that my eating of "less elevated" foods was simply a bandaid for something that was missing in my life.  The reasons changed over time:  sometimes it was to mourn a loss; sometimes to avoid a fear of failing; sometimes to fill my boredom; sometimes to passive-aggresively hurt someone else; but always to distance myself from pain and fear.

Over the years, I have tried many different strategies to overcome this struggle.  I stopped eating anything that gave me pleasure - total restriction.  I tried exercising incessantly.  I tried just letting it go and do its thing.  This would work for awhile then I would cave and the cycle would start again, often worse than before.

I even tried "giving it up to God" - or at least I thought I did.  I would start on Monday and say, "God please take this from me so I can feel under control.  Please take away my hunger."  That level of effort should do it, right?  I should immediately be healed of my obsession, shouldn't I?  But as I traversed the week ahead, relying on the one prayer in the one moment, I would be shocked to find that God was not raining vegetables and a healthy eating plan down on me like manna from Heaven.  Nor was He taking away my hunger.  Nor was He motivating me to go on a run.  Where the heck was He???

Then last week, all of a sudden, it was as if the blinders had been lifted from my eyes for the first time.  I read "Strive to trust Me in more and more areas of your life.  Anything that tends to make you anxious is a growth opportunity.  Instead of running away from these challenges, embrace them, eager to gain all the blessings I have hidden in all the difficulties."  There I knew I had my answer.

For a week now, I have not hidden, I have not balked, I have not questioned.  Whenever I became anxious or sad or bored or lonely, rather than dash to the kitchen cupboard, I would say a simple prayer, "Thank you, God, for filling the emotional need in me that is making me hungry.  Fill that need with your spirit.  Thank you for showing me the way."  I would truly trust in that prayer.  Each time, my hunger disappeared.

So as I begin week two of this prayerful outlook, I praise God for showing me the way.  For using food, not to numb or depend or avoid or succumb, but as it was meant in all our lives...to strengthen, to sustain, to beautify, to share.  To be the miracle it was created to be.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Like Manna from Heaven

I love food.

It's a lifetime love affair that began when I was a child.  Tastes and aromas are some of my earliest memories, the fellowship found over a special bite creating warm and comforting feelings.  These memories are especially tied to my maternal Italian grandmother, Lucia - "Mema" to me. 

We would pull up to Mema's house for a visit where she would be awaiting our arrival under the carport of her Florida home.  After she had laughed and squeezed and kissed and hugged us, she would say, "Are youa hungry?  Come on ina the house and we'lla eat." We would all troop up the steps from her converted garage turned sunken den into the kitchen, the aroma of simmering sauce and meat on the stove top hitting us like a ton of delicious bricks as we entered. As we gathered around her Formica dinette set in our vinyl chairs waiting to be fed, both body and soul, we would listen while she chattered on, half in English and half in Italian (when she wanted only our mother to understand what she was saying).  While she talked, she would cut fresh fruit from the produce stand she and my grandfather, Angelo, owned.  It was simple fare, but as she sliced and distributed green apples, mango, cantaloupe, and peaches, all dripping with summer ripeness, we would smell the flowery freshness and feel her affection for us in each portion.  Later, after we had all visited for a few hours, the love finally and completely simmering itself into the spaghetti sauce, she would add pasta to boiling water, welcome at least ten more people into the house - adults in the dining room, kids in the kitchen - and we would sit down to heaven in a bowl.  Magic... 

My cuisine courtship continued throughout my adolescence and into my early 20's where I discovered international foodship in Los Angeles when it became my home.  Authentic Mexican food could be found on every corner; Thai food became a monthly favorite; and my travels to Japan uncovered shrimp tempura with white rice, the latter which I had always found uninteresting, but for some reason was deliciousness itself when cooked in its original setting. 

With the Advent of the Top Chef series, my family made it our mission to better acquaint ourselves with fine cuisine and beautifully composed plates.  By the time he was ten, my son considered himself an official "foodie."  (Which was really cute until he started verbally assessing my dinner efforts, giving ratings based on a 5 point scale.  Look, without proper training, I can't hit dinner out of the park every night!  My husband quickly put a stop to that.)

Food, for me, is not just that which sustains life.  It is that which enhances it.  When done well, it's an intricately painted masterpiece...a Shakespearean sonnet...a veritable symphony of flavors, textures, aromas, colors.  It is art.  It is joy.

Which is why, despite the love I have for food and that which makes it beautiful, it makes my heart ache to know that it has provided a crutch to my personal emptiness in later years.  A void that should have been filled by God and the Spirit, was stuffed instead with peanut M&Ms. 

But before we travel that dark and hungry road, I'll let happy memories of a rigatoni-filled life serve as my antipasti, and Mexican/Thai/Japanese memories serve as my primi (sacrilege!).  Then I'll explain the problem, the message and - finally - the peaceful solution in tomorrow's entry, Like Manna from Heaven, the Secondi.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Jesus With Skin On

I was having a troubling morning.  Nothing earth-shattering...simply the kind of morning that comes sometimes to parents of children who struggle.  I didn't worry long but began praying.  I'm getting a bit better at this...worrying less, praying more.  Always a more peaceful solution!  I knew God was with me.  I could feel Him all around me.  Still I was missing a bit that tangible touch of humanity to help me through.

It reminds me of the story I heard recently of a little boy frightened during a thunderstorm in the night.  He calls his mother into his bedroom and after she calms him, she suggests that he call on Jesus the next time he is afraid.  "Jesus is always with you," she says.  Not five minutes go by but a loud thunder clap and a second call from her son.  She gently reproaches him, "Remember I told you to call on Jesus the next time you felt afraid?"  Her son looks his mother directly in the eyes and says softly, "I know Jesus is always with me.  But right now, I need Jesus with skin on."

No sooner had I finished praying this morning but I received - all unsolicited - a text from my sister with a devotional passage related to keeping one's spirit-life calm and unruffled in the face of adversity; an email from a friend telling me that I am "touching more people than I think (with my blog)";  and a phone call from a friend who, after hearing my story, assured me that my child would come out of this stronger for the hardship. "The hottest fire forms the hardest steel," she comforted.

Answered prayers all.  These physical, concrete forms of encouragement were God watching out for me...taking care of me...understanding that in my earthly need, He should send spoken word, friendly voices, His assurances given through others.  They were my Jesus with skin on.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Was Blind But Now I See

This morning I was reading my daily scripture, one of the selections being Acts 9:1-22.  What an incredible story of the start of the conversion of an ordinary man, Saul, into the great disciple we now know as Paul; how he was struck with a bright light and a voice from Heaven, asking for his trust in doing the work of Jesus;  how he was immediately blinded by that light and remained so for three days until the disciple Ananias found him and healed him, despite Ananias' misgivings of Saul's worthiness; how he did an about-face on his views of Jesus and the teachings of the church with this miracle.

I have been blind myself over the years in various ways, I know.  Blind to someone else's hurt or need; blind to my own actions of grandiosity and pride; blind to the results of my apathy or refusal to attempt things in the name of or on behalf of Christ.  At 43 now, it is...

(Sorry, took a break to watch a hummingbird outside my window.  As I was saying...)

At 43 now, it is physically painful to relive some of those situations.  I can't believe how obtuse I was.  Like Saul, I thought I had a grander purpose, a higher calling. A calling to what?  Be famous?  Be recognized?  Be busy?  Be important?  Probably yes, to all of the above.

Thank God, in His infinite goodness, who sent folks along my path...good people like Ananias, who helped heal my blindness, in spite of whether or not they found me worthy; who gently turned me back to the right path; who created miracles in my life that would lead me to the place I am today, the grandest calling of all...to listen to and try my best to follow Him.

However, just in case you are wondering, I, unlike Saul/Paul, will not be changing my name to Cindy in proof of my conversion any time soon!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

With Sugar on Top

Today is the second day of...what would I call it?  My sugar fast? My sugar cleanse?  Now for those of you who think this means I get to eat as much sugar as fast as I can, I must gently correct you.  Nor does it mean that I will shower with sugar from now on.  (Though I have had both a salt scrub and a cocoa massage.  True story.  In Palm Springs at the Esmerelda spa they offer the latter.  I decided to try it but, to my mortification, my stomach growled the entire time because the smell of the chocolate was making me hungry!  Needless to say, I never tried that again.)

No, the sugar fast is something I do a couple of times a year to rid myself of unwanted, unhealthy processed foods and carbs.  In general, it just serves as a good cleaning out of all the "junk" to which I become addicted.  I notice the first few days that my body tends to be unhappy and a little shaky.  But after the initial response (which I can only assume is probably a shock to my system - can anyone say "holiday indulgence"?), I feel energetic, healthy, productive.  It's about only allowing what is natural and healthy into my system.

For my regular readers, I know you've already detected the analogy.  But even I was surprised by the discoveries I made in likening this physical cleanse to a spiritual one.

Of course, it stands to reason that the more good things you put into your mind and heart, the more positive the outcomes will be.  For example, thanking God for my children rather than complaining about them, even in their most infuriating moments, I feel more patient.  Reading inspirational books and articles focusing on beauty, and I feel more optimistic.  (Sometimes a shame because I really liked "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" series.  Boy, but talk about dark!!)  Envisioning the joy, prosperity and success my family will have in the future, then not only do I feel more confident to achieve those successes, I feel more compelled to serve others who do not have.

But I guess what I didn't realize is that when I move away from these good habits, I am 100% affected emotionally and spiritually.  I may have momentary pleasure from the complaining, dissatisfaction, and in general, unleashing of the beast, but it is generally followed by negativity, guilt and regret.  (Much like that second piece of chocolate the night before I started the cleanse!) I guess I have felt as though, like many people, I have been conditioned to see sorrow, pain, anger, and greed on the news and in every day life, so it won't really bother me.  So to know that I am not anesthetized to this kind of response makes me utterly grateful!  Rather than feeling like I am depriving myself of something enjoyable, I just need to have faith that the brighter path will ultimately lead to a brighter future, a beautiful outcome.

So here's to Day #2 of my body cleanse, soulful cleanse and (sigh), personality cleanse!  Wanna join me?

P.S.  Would love to hear from you as to your various, good soulful practices you use.  Please sign up as a member to comment!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

To Pee or Not to Pee...That is the Question

I vividly remember my babies the moment they were born.  Colleen, wide-eyed and alert, hardly a cry, she was so vested in figuring out where she was and how everyone was feeling.  Braden, on the other hand, was greatly offended by the noise and the stimulation, the busyness and the activity.  He cried piteously for a few minutes then promptly removed himself to a peaceful, blissful sleep, avoiding his discomfort.

The weeks that followed each birth were incredible...friends and family dropping by, visiting, helping out, marveling over my two miracles.  Every moment was pure joy...the wonder, the excitement, the newness of it all.  Then the honeymoon wore off and reality set in.

Don't get me wrong.  It wasn't that I didn't continue to think that my children were miracles to be cherished.  But after months of sleep-deprivation  and enduring countless episodes of being spit-up on, thrown-up on, peed on and pooped on, the charm wore off a bit.  Approaching my wit's end, I would be ready to give up...and suddenly they would coo, or belly laugh, or smile at just the right moment and the sensational feelings would return.

I reflect on this now, months after experiencing what I can only consider a rebirth of my faith.  Not that I wasn't faithful before but over the summer and fall because I was so greatly in need - a newborn, you might say - I had to lean on God totally - and was totally fulfilled in doing so.  Each moment was a gift to be cherished...wondrous, exciting, new.  Then the honeymoon wore off and reality set in.

Again, don't get me wrong.  My faith is strong.  I recognize God's hand in my life.  But I have noticed the last few weeks that old habits and perceptions have crept back in now that the novelty has passed.  So what is my spiritual spit-up and throw-up?  What is my divine deprivation of sleep?  What is my faith-lacking pee and poop?  (Don't get all judgy on my lack of reverence here.  You all know you have verbally thrown up before and wished you could take it back!!)

I'd have to admit that the spit-up are the things I say that are lack of confirmation that God is in control, that He can deliver all things through me if He chooses.  It is a lack of trust, not in Him but in myself.  (Boy, how presumptuous!)  The throw-up is definitely bouts of gossip and judgement.  Most days I throw it up with nary a bucket in sight!  Then I have a big, fat mess on my hands that I find difficult to clean.

The pee and poop is all the mental and verbal excrement I release..."I cannot do it.  It is too hard.  I have no purpose.  I am not good enough.  I don't have the proper credentials." What a load of...well, you know. Please, someone throw me a diaper!!

Lastly, my lack of sleep is represented in my restless, anxious spirit.  It is my worry and my woes.  It is my doubt and my apprehension.  It leaves me feeling fretful, weary, drained. 

Luckily, unlike me as a parent, God never tires.  He never lacks attention to my childish needs.  He is always there, waiting out the ickiness to relish in the moments when I smile, coo, or belly laugh.  He stands at the ready to open my eyes to His blessings.

Too pee or not to pee?  There is no question...

Saturday, January 21, 2012

A Beauty Makeover

I'm starting to look like an old catcher's mitt.

My friend, Neysha, became a Mary Kay consultant a few months ago, and I went to see her for a visit and a trial run.  Now truthfully, I have forever been a soap and water kinda gal, proudly at that, and have always been reticent to spend time or money on myself in this way.  But since I am starting to resemble a piece of worn leather - beautiful on a fireside recliner but not so attractive staring back at you from the mirror - I decided I would go and see what the fuss was all about.
Ahhh...how refreshing!

I spent the morning with her, playing, trying products, laughing, eating string cheese and baby carrots (she let me raid her fridge - getting beautiful is hungry work apparently), and at the end of our visit I looked refreshed, renewed, and glowing.  I left her house armed with a veritable arsenal of product, not just for myself but for my family as well.

At days end, I glanced up in the mirror and realized that my face still looked as fresh as it had at noon.  All it took was a few minutes and a little money to invest - and I actually had a great time.  Who'd have thunk?  I was converted...

This morning I was thinking about this very subject, realizing it was the perfect metaphor for my spirit.  True, it can be difficult to find time and energy to invest in prayer, reflection, reading inspirational fare and following Christ.  But when I do, I feel the difference...I see the results still at the end of the day...my family reaps the rewards...I am glowing.

So rather than eventually requiring a chemical peel for my soul, I've decided to devote the time necessary to achieve inner luminosity.  If I slather on the Scripture, I bet it'll take years off.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Play It Again, Sam

"In the morning when I rise...
In the morning when I rise...
In the morning when I rise...
Give me Jesus.

Give me Jesus.
Give me Jesus.
You may have all this world.
Give me Jesus."

This was the second hymn we sang last week in church.  As a lyricist myself, I've sometimes wondered why songwriters repeat phrases over and over and over.  I'm embarrassed to say I've often thought it was a bit of a cop-out. ("Can they not think of anything more to say?  Are they just filling space?  Did they run out of ideas?" are questions that have run through my mind on more than one occasion.  Jeez, talk about being judgemental - and in church no less!) But this week as I sang the opening phrase once...twice...three times, it finally made sense.  Sometimes an idea needs to sit with you, germinate, blossom and flourish before it truly takes hold.  Certainly for me in that moment, it took me all three utterances before I realized..."as soon as I awake, give me Jesus...that's all I need."  What a wonderful prescription for a happy, peaceful day.

The second and third verses followed suit:

"Now the journey has begun...
Now the journey has begun...
Now the journey has begun...
Give me Jesus.


"When the prize is surely won...
When the prize is surely won...
When the prize is surely won...
Give me Jesus.


Give me Jesus.
Give me Jesus.
You may have all this world.
Give me Jesus."

Thank you for the reminder in this precious way, Lord.  Thank you for inspiring our song leader, Vivian, to choose this song for my benefit (and probably the benefit of several others...hope they were listening!!).  Thank you for knocking me on the head with the realization of the meaning.  Yes, my journey has begun and my prize is surely won - as long as I have Jesus.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Called to Follow

To continue Monday's blog entry, my second answer to the question, "What the heck am I supposed to be praying for?" came Sunday morning at the 7:30AM church service.  As the procession began, I glanced to my right and saw Deacon Shane walking up the aisle, carrying the Book of the Gospel.  I knew immediately that I had an answered prayer coming.

My father, my favorite homilist of all time, was theatrics embodied...the rise and fall of his speech as he speak-sung his message was so moving...the cadence of the language creating an intoxicating rhythm.  His words, like poetry, were inspired, almost ethereal.  His humor was as great as was his profundity.  (Gosh, he was cute...) His delivery, in every way, felt like a performance for God at the pulpit.  But it wasn't self-involved...this was simply the way God had made him, passionate and charismatic.

Deacon Shane, on the other hand, is unpresumptious, self-effacing, a "regular guy" in his delivery.  His homily's, in comparison with my dad's, are quiet and reflective, but no less profound.  On the contrary, each time he speaks, I recognize how effective being calm and unassuming can be.  I recognize also that selfless, prayerful quality that comes from truly "listening" for the message.  In Deacon Shane, I see a true disciple.  He is beginning to run a close second to my fave homilist status!

So when he approached the pulpit to read the Gospel and preach the Word, my inner turmoil began to abate as I left myself open for an answer.  I was not disappointed.  The answer was in several parts, the first of which I will share with you now.  It is simple, but no less important in its simplicity.

"We're being called to follow."

Ohhhhhhhhhhhhh, there's the intended subject of my prayers.  "How can I best follow You?" 

You're sure, God?  You don't want me to lead?  You're positive?  You know You made me into a effective leader.  Sure?

Riiiiigggghhhht, that's why You sent me readings twice this week - twice...duh - of Samuel hearing God in a dream, and answering, "Speak, for your servant is listening." (1 Sm 3:3b-10, 19)  (I just thought the church made a mistake and assigned that scripture again.  I feel badly now that I was smugly wondering why we were reading it again on Sunday when we had already read it Wednesday!)

So my intended goal is to listen, to heed, to follow and to carry out.  It doesn't matter right now that I pray for a direction.  I'm being directed as I listen daily.  The path is laid out...listen, follow...the path will lead me on.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Oh, Lord, It's Hard to be Humble...


Grrrrrrrrr..............!!!!!!!!!!!

Miffed
Ticked
Fretting
Worried
Bothered
Anxious
Judgmental
Unyielding
Smug
Arrogant
Ugly


I decided to take the day off from writing yesterday to enjoy a migraine on Martin Luther King Jr. day...the former which I'm sure was exacerbated by the emotions listed above, strangling me in their toxicity.  (Yes, I said "strangling me in their toxicity" - a bit melodramatic, you say?  Probably, but I couldn't think of a better way to describe it.)

So I can't, in good conscience, continue with my "lessons learned" from Sunday morning's service (see Monday's entry, "What the Heck Am I Praying For?, to catch up on my reference here), without admitting my day of evil yesterday.  (Yes, I said "day of evil" - a bit melodramatic, you say?  Probably, but I couldn't think of a better way to describe it.)  Otherwise, this entire blog would be a total sham!

I'll admit it...I was having a bad, worrisome, judgmental day, and I didn't feel like giving it up.  Do you ever feel that way?  Just sick of trying to be good and right and selfless?  Let's face it...it's hard to be humble.  I honestly and fervently try, as the quality of humility just isn't in my kitchen naturally.  And of course, when you know everything...oh wait, there I go again.

I awoke from a deep sleep both by the migraine and a nightmare.  My defenses were down, so anger and frustration easily became my allies.  And to be frank, I just didn't feel like fighting them off.  By evening, however, I was starting to feel aches and pains in places that were haunting reminders of last year's illness, and as terror started to clutch me, I stopped and proclaimed aloud, "You're fine.  Stop it.  Get out of here."  (That last one was to the evil that was beginning to take hold.  Yes, I said "evil that was beginning to take hold" - a bit melodramatic, you say?  Probably, but I couldn't think of a better way to describe it.) And I immediately felt normal again.

I wish I didn't have days like this.  And yeah, yeah, I know I could have stopped it earlier with a change of attitude.  It's just that that quality of self-righteousness is altogether too tempting to me still.  It's so rare I get to be right in my house.  ("Hurry, or you'll be late to your classroom," I said to my son as he was walking out the door this morning to rehearsal.  "Don't you mean 'auditorium'?" he corrected me as to his final destination.  Really, dude?  Did ya' really have to correct "classroom"?  Really?)  So on the atypical occasion that I feel so strongly about my opinion, I have trouble correcting myself.

As I was trying futilely to move away from these uncharitable feelings, I was doing research and came across a verse from the book of Psalms:

"O Lord, our Lord, how awesome is Your name in all the earth!  You have set Your majesty above the Heavens!  When I see your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars You set in place – what are humans that You are mindful of them?  Yet You have made them little less than a god, crowned them with glory and honor."  Psalm 8:2, 4-5a, (My underline)

When I read the underlined portion, I thought, "Boy, someone thinks highly of himself."  But as I put yesterday to rest, I realized that we have been made a little less than a god...because we were made in the image of Christ, with the hope that we would embrace our potential in endeavoring to be like Him, acting always with glory and honor.
There was no glory in my behavior yesterday, nor honor. Sigh...There was only self-aggrandizing and, let's face it, um, well, blech.  (Yes, I said "blech" - a bit inarticulate, you say?  Probably, but I couldn't think of a better way to describe it.)  So as I cut myself a huge slice of humble pie and chow down this morning, I'm able to let yesterday go and endeavor to begin anew...with a better attitude, a hopeful attitude, an honoring attitude.




Monday, January 16, 2012

What the Heck Am I Supposed to be Praying For???

Do you always know what to pray for?  For yourself?  Do you always know in what direction you're going?

I mean, I feel very equipped to pray for others..."Lord, thank you for healing so and so," and "Lord, thank you for taking care of so and so," and "Father, thank you for your blessings for so and so," and so on and so forth.  (8 "so's" in one sentence, by the way...must be a new record.  And why in the heck do I know this many people named "so and so" anyway?)

I am missing a clear direction for myself in prayer many times as there are times that I don't know if my petitions are in line with my given path.

"Father, thank you for blessing my family with a good living and a bigger house so we can share your blessings with others."  (Is this a materialistic prayer?  Am I being selfish?)

"Lord, thank you for putting more writing opportunities in my path so I can fully flesh out Your desire and goals for me and earn enough to help my family grow."  (Is this my desire or His?)

"God, thank you for not giving me more than I can handle and always opening the paths of Your choice for me so I can stay calm and represent Your word to my family and others?"  (Should I be able to handle more?  Am I not working hard enough when I'm stressed about deadlines and opportunities?)

All of these questions and concerns were at the forefront for me this morning as I wearily climbed into the shower to take my son to 7:30AM services.  As always, when I am stressed and confused, my mind spinning out of control, I asked God to quiet my ever-fertile imagination and show me the signs I would need to understand how to pray...for what to pray...when to pray...how to enlarge my vision while also staying humble about my trust in Him.

Then I went to Mass...

And now I sit to write this morning with a joyous, grateful heart.  Not only did He answer my prayer, He really outdid Himself this time.  His message was in the people...in the music...in the message...in the Word.  By the end of the service, I was in tears because He had blessed me more than I could have hoped for through these communications. 

So this week, I will devote each day to one lesson of the many that I heard in one hour of devotion, starting with the song that led the service...my first answer:

"I, the Lord of sea and sky.  I  have heard my people (Cynthia) cry.
All who dwell in dark and sin (and confusion and anxiety), My hand will save.
I who made the stars of night.  I will make their darkness bright.
Who will bear My light to them?  Whom shall I send?  (Me, please!)

Here I am, Lord.  Is it I Lord?  I have heard you calling in the night.
I will go, Lord, if you lead me.  I will hold your people in my heart.

I who made the snow and rain.  I have born my people's pain (both wordly and self-inflicted).
I have wept for love of them.  They turn away.  (Sorry, I really didn't mean to.  I just get so consumed by worry.)
I will break their hearts of stone.  Give them hearts for love alone (not of anxiety, stress or doubt).
I will give my peace to them...whom shall I send?  (I said ME!!!)

Here I am, Lord.  Is it I Lord?  I have heard you calling in the night.  (or at 7:30 mass)
I will go, Lord, if you lead me.  (Just shut your mind up and listen, Cynthia!) I will hold your people in my heart."  (Family, friends, strangers, Christians, Buddhists, atheists, agnostics, and and and...)

Answer One in less than 3 minutes of glorious song.  "Stop worrying about what to pray and just listen.  I made your precious, little worrisome heart - and now I'm trying to heal it.  Love others.  Lead others.  Protect others....as I love, lead and protect you."  Thank you God!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Dark or Bright, Day or Night

I can walk and chew gum at the same time.  I can pat my head and rub my stomach (and vice versa) simultaneously.  I can tell my left from my right.  But I don't think these necessarily fit the criteria for someone of above average intelligence.  There are times I truly wonder how I function in life, I am so dense. 

I have been singing the same song in my head for months now.  It's a song that our praise band sings at church and honestly, I've been moved by it for years, but really only because I like the melody so much.  Oh, and it fits perfectly in my range.  Oh, and I can wail on the chorus.

But it wasn't until October that I truly read the lyrics and realized what they were conveying.  (Thus my discussion on my dimness earlier....lyric subtext was part of the class I taught my whole life...always part of my voice lessons...and here I was suffering from the same blankness as my previous students! Arrrggghhh...)

Anyway, the gist of the song is taken from various verses in the books of Genesis, Psalms and Job.  Sentiments from Job 1:21b have inspired the chorus.  Job praises the Lord despite his inconsistent blessings.  "The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord!"

The song, "Blessed Be Your Name" by Matt and Beth Redman details all of the events and opportunitities we have have to say "blessed be God." 

"Blessed be Your name when the sun's shining down on me.
When the world's all as it should be,
Blessed be your name.
(This next part is where I glossed over the meaning)
Blessed be Your name on the road marked with suffering.
Though there's pain in the offering,
Blessed be Your name.

Every blessing You pour out I'll turn back to praise.
(Again, didn't get this next part for years because the music was just that perfect "build" that I wanted to enjoy...so distracting!)
And when the darkness closes in, Lord,
Still I will say...
Blessed be the name of the Lord.
Blessed be Your name.
Blessed be the name of the Lord.
Blessed be Your glorious name."

Because I wanted to hear what I wanted to hear (and part of that was my own voice raised in song), I was missing the greater meaning.  That we give thanks and praise in times of blessing is a given.  But just as, if not more, important is that we give thanks and praise in times of darkness and doubt...pain and illness...grief and confusion...trial and ruin.  Because we are never truly ruined with God at our side.  He will continue to bless us...just perhaps not in our timeline or as we envision it.

He gives and takes away...He gives and takes away.  Job learned that.  We all have that lesson in life.  But when I can say "thank you God...blessed be Your name" in my darkest hour, then will I know I have reached true faith.  

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Pitter Patter of Baby Steps

Eat more fiber call mama get up early healthful foods check in with sisters return emails what about the magazine article take down Christmas do paperwork research book prayer of jabez grocery shop workout clean house walk dogs train dogs that darn dog buy new ping pong paddle to replace chewed one reupholster dining room chairs earn money argh money visit sick friend go over calendar meet for lunch do writing exercises I can't fit it all in

That is the stream of consciousness that comes forth from my brain every day when I awake, continues throughout every morning, and pervades every moment of my day.  (Sorry to subject you.)  I want to get it all done.  I want to make it all important.  Sadly, I generally just end up feeling overwhelmed and
then I shut down.

There's a beautiful quote by Thomas A Kempis that reads, "The Lord gives His blessing when He finds the vessel empty."  I love the assurance of this sentiment.  But when my brain is working on overload as above, my question for Mr. Kempis is, "What does the Lord do when the vessel is overflowing with junk?"

With proof positive of what He does, I can answer my own question (if I would just settle down and listen to Him through myself sometimes!).  He sends messages.  My job is to be in tune enough to discern them when I receive them.

Three days ago I read:  "Let your weakness be a door to My presence.  Whenever you feel inadequate, remember I am your ever-present help."

Five days ago, I read:  "Don't think of New Year's resolutions.  Think of New Day's resolutions.  What goal will you set for yourself to achieve within the next 24 hours."

This morning I read: "Trust Me by relinquishing control into My hands.  Let go, and recognize that I am God."

And all around me, there are more physical signs.  Red lights and other things slowing me down, breaking down, taking pause, going "wrong" - I look at these occurrences now as signs that I am on the wrong path, headed into the wrong direction...one of stress and nervousness, frustration and anger, bitterness and attempt at control.

But I'm not in control.  He is.

So what do I do?  What is the answer?

Baby steps...teeny, tiny baby steps into productivity...into achievement for Him...then into His grace.  Baby step (make a list)...baby step (by the end of the day, have "X" done)...baby step (plan and then plan for change...it is inevitable).

Then hopefully when I awake, my head will sound more like:

Eat more fiber (done)
Call Mama (Wednesday after writing my blog)
Get up early (check, I'll sleep in Saturday)
Healthful foods (pray/breathe)
Check in with sisters (text then call later)
Return emails - (have to wait until tomorrow)
What about the magazine article (say a prayer)
Take down Christmas (put on music, rock out while working - oops, no time today...it'll happen eventually)
Do paperwork (as needed)
Pray, breathe, pray, breathe, pray, breathe...

Now I'm off to go replace a ping pong paddle.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

One Chicken Nugget Away

I hate New Years resolutions.

I  haven't committed myself to any type of promise or goal at the start of January for years.  I feel that an obligatory pledge at the beginning of a year, just because it's expected, carries loads of pressure and thus is doomed to fail before it even begins.

After a beautiful week at my family's home in Alabama, enjoying every moment, especially the food, I was once again reminded of making New Years resolutions (since previous ones generally centered around losing an unrealistic amount of weight in an unrealistic time period).   Still I commented wryly to my husband, "I'll tell ya', I'm one Chick-Fil-a chicken nugget away from being able to button my pants."  Should I resolve to get in better shape again?

Additionally, while I have no shortage of enthusiasm in starting projects and goals, I am somewhat more challenged in the area of follow-through. I get excited about a drastic change (whether "drastic" is needed or not) then when the objective is not immediately reached, my excitement is quelled and my interest starts to wane. Mentally, I call my husband the "closer." I start a project and he invariably has to step in 3/4 of the way through to finish it because I run out of steam.   Should I resolve to finish everything that I start?

Probably my worst vice is my lack of interest in and care for money.  Don't get me wrong.  I like to spend money.  Otherwise, I have no interest in it whatsoever.  (No pun intended.)  If a bill has a grace period, you can bet I'm taking it.  If I don't remember a deadline, I shrug my shoulders and promise to catch up the next day.  Should I resolve to resolve my irresolve?

I was praying about this in the days before the end of the year and it struck me that, regardless of whether I find these traits undesirable or not, they may, in fact, be keeping me from all of the blessings God wants to shower on me.  I think there's a level of trustworthiness associated with all three of these characteristics.  I am like a child...one who wants what she wants when she wants it and doesn't want to put the time or energy into the real work it may take to finally achieve it. 

I'm not trying to be unduly hard on myself.  I know there are lots of things at which I'm industrious, dedicated and responsible.  I take good care of my family.  I am a hard worker when I am given a job to complete (by someone else!).  I am generous in my care for others.  But should I just accept that I have these other flaws?

No, I think that I am being called to fully realize my potential in each area of my life.  For if I prove that I can finish each project I start, pay each note early, take care of the vessel God has blessed my life with, how much more will God be able to trust with me bigger blessings, bigger territories, bigger opportunities?  Yes, when I think of resolutions in this way, they don't feel daunting...they feel exciting...they feel respectful...they feel honoring.  I am looking forward to a year - nay, a lifetime - of honoring Him in this way.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

A New Year, An Old Message

Happy New Year to you all!!

Drew, Colleen, Braden and I had a wonderful, extended visit home with my side of the family in Alabama (more on the visit and lessons later), and I am finally back to writing...I missed it!  So much to share, so I'm gonna start slow...

The day was January 2, 2012.  For the first time since our trip home, my son had stayed overnight with my husband and me.  Each night previously, he had slept over at his cousins'. 

I was so excited to finally have Braden to myself.  My husband was out on a run in the gorgeous Alabama sunshine while the two of us had just risen for the day.  Braden came into my room and said, "Mom, I feel SO much better!" - a testament to the importance of a good night's sleep while vacationing.  He wanted so badly to not miss a single event and had stayed up too late too many nights in a row.  The morning progressed. I got him his breakfast, we chatted and laughed, and then he settled down, engaged in a book he had received for Christmas.  I wanted to keep visiting, keep serving him, keep caring for him...my need at this point, not his. 

I said to God, "I know You won't mind if I wait on my son this morning first rather than spend time with You.  I feel like I haven't seen him for days, and I miss him so much."   I did a load of laundry, made my coffee, washed some dishes, just generally puttered around, taking care of tasks that could actually have waited.  Basically, I was just dragging my feet to sit in quiet contemplation...the pleasure of having Brae with me was my intentional focus. (In retrospect, I can't believe the gall I had to say the words above...as if God doesn't understand wanting to be with and care for His Son instead of taking care of all of us.  Can you imagine if he asked the same of us?  "Sorry, guys, but rather than defend all of you, feed you, clothe you, and just generally provide for you, I've decided to spend some one on one time with Jesus.  We've been apart from each other for awhile and I miss him.  Plus I need to scrub his robes on a rock, rinse out his oil jar and sweep out his hovel.")

Finally I sat to read and pray, and January 2nd's devotional began:

"As you spend time with me, your thoughts tend to jump ahead to today's plans and problems.  Bring your mind back to Me...This sacrifice of time pleases Me and strengthens you.  Do not skimp on our time together.  Resist the clamor of tasks waiting to be done.  You have chosen what is better, and it will not be taken from you."

Brand new year, same old message...but one that - again - made me laugh aloud.  How many times will He need to remind me?  Oh, God, how am I so transparent and you so All-knowing??  It's a bit disconcerting at times.

I know I will continue to err and misstep this year despite my intentions otherwise.  I know I will sometimes choose, whether wittingly or unwittingly, the more humanly travelled path rather than the Divine, so focused am I on what is of worldly importance.  I know I cannot be perfect or exemplary or flawless.  I also know, however, that as long as I am relying on God to guide me, my footsteps will not falter from the eventual path He has chosen for me.  What a relief!

So as I begin 2012, I look forward to more lessons, more choices, more living, more opportunity, more prayer and more messages!  I cannot wait to see what God has in store.

I hope your Christmas seasons were joyful, grateful, peaceful, wonderful.  Thanks for beginning your new year with me!!  Cynthia