Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Grace in the Quiet

Four posts in July.
Four.
Wow.

I'd say that piece of "blog trivia" pointedly sums up my internal scuffle this summer.
It's gone something like this...

Struggle...
Struggle...
Struggle...
Church, Grace, cry, resolve.
Struggle...
Struggle...
Struggle...
Church, Grace, cry, re...well, you get the picture.

I was driving home Saturday from a wonderful Southern California vocal event I was asked to adjudicate (hollah, Bruce and ICON!) when I heard a song that I knew was being played for me at that precise moment.  (Hollah, God, and Your goodness!)
The line that struck me to the core?

"I don't want to say a word unless it points the world back to You."

Yes.
Nailed it.
I don't want to say words that aren't His.
So I've chosen silence.
I haven't been writing.
Not here.  Not in my sacred space. 
Because my words have not been His words. 
My thoughts not His thoughts.  
My actions not His actions

This morning, as my children exited the door to their first day of Young American Summer Camp, as my body relaxed and certain peace found me, I had an epiphany and RAN to my computer (okay, walked...but really, really fast) because there He was, giving this terminally dense and extremely tired brain the feeling, the message, the words, the reason.  (Hollah again!)


I need quiet.



Not all the time.
Not 24/7.
But in those early, sleepy moments at dawn of day, I need the quiet.
I need the still.
I need the total and complete silence.
Because it's in the quiet that I find Him.
Down deep in my heart where He dwells.  Where He has taken up residence.  Where He penetrates deep and sure and strong.


Not everyone needs quiet.  We all find Him in our own places.  And I can tell you in an hour, I'll be wondering what my kids are doing; whether or not they're growing and changing and having a great time; and I'll need to hear all about it - detail by minute detail - when they get home.
But right now, in this quiet, sun-filled moment;
In my house that needs a good scrubbing;
In this vessel that needs a hard workout;
In this chair that's sagging under the weight of my work and my cares,
I need Him.
His details.
His plan.
His dreams for me.

I need the quiet in the morning to find grace for the day.



Photo credit: "Chairs on deck by lake" - Microsoft Word Stock Images

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Help Me Remember

There are days when I am just all over the map.
This is one of those months.

Yes, I meant to say "months."

I can't decide what needs to be done first.
There are so many blessings, but not enough hours.
I'm not sleeping much.
I need to lose 25 lbs. and my body is showing the need.
There is SO MUCH TECHNOLOGY, I almost feel sick.

(And don't think I didn't notice the other night, lucifer, that, after contemplating giving up all technology each weekend for the summer, the very next morning I received a text with an offer for a writing gig this weekend.  Yes, if I had given up the iPhone, I wouldn't be writing about Santa Claus right now.  I knew it.  You can't fool me that easily.)

I went home to Alabama to visit at the end of June, and I just haven't gotten back to me since.  Gone were my early morning devotionals and prayers in favor of a cup of coffee and visiting with my mom. 
I miss her. 
I miss the laughter and the catching up.  
But without my morning time with the big Guy, I joked with her that the most time I spent with Jesus was using the Jerome Biblical Commentary as a stepstool to turn on the fan in my room. 
(I know, I know, kind of sacrilegious...but it was the thickest book I could find and I'm really, really short!!!)

My focus really hasn't improved much since.
My kids are home.
The Tour de France has been on in the mornings. 
(Could I go to my room to read?  Of course.  But my routine is to sit in my little white chair in the living room. 
My compromise?  Don't do it at all.  Smart, Cynth.)
My campaign is over and with it, a whole new daunting set of tasks, writing, work and hustling. 
(Hustling, not my strong suit. 
My sales technique: "It's probably too much trouble to purchase this app for $0.99 that will improve and enhance your prayer life.  You're right...don't worry about it." 
Effective...)

I'm so tired.
Tired of being responsible to teach and swallow and forgive and stay positive.
Tired of having a plan and a schedule and all the answers.
Relationships are suffering.
I'm feeling contentious.
Feeling nitpicky and full of expectations.

Did I mention that I'm tired?!?!

Last night, as I fruitlessly tried to fall asleep, I found myself inhaling and exhaling, inhaling and exhaling, "Jesus...Jesus...Jesus...Jesus."
Yes, the perfect rhythm for breath.


I read once that when you are stuck for what to pray,
just utter His name and He will fill you.
I needed to remember that.
I didn't fall asleep still, but I felt much calmer.
More centered.
I awoke and remembered.

Jesus...Jesus...Jesus...Jesus...

Then the phrase, "Help me remember..." filled me.
Next the first line of my morning devotional...
"I thank my God every time I remember you."

In & out.
In & out.
Inhale & exhale.
Jesus...Jesus...Jesus...Jesus...
Inhale & exhale.
More peace.
More focus.
More blessings.

Jesus, help me remember.


Wednesday, July 17, 2013

What's Your Word?

My 16-going-on-25-year-old  daughter and I were having a discussion yesterday about the words...

Religious.
Christian.
Spiritual.

She was saying, "Well, so and so is the most religious person I know." 
And I was saying, "Well, I wouldn't say religious.  Religious to me means following the rules of a certain religion rather than just being a devout Christian."

More than once I used the word "spiritual" and she called me on it.  ("You're saying 'spiritual' is more Christian than 'religious?'"  Touche', my dear.)  And at this point, I will admit, I didn't know what the heck I was saying or how to make my point! 
I finally said, "I think you and I are saying the same thing but getting caught up in the semantics of the language." 
And that's how I left it. 
Because I was getting muddled. 
Mixed up. 
And I wanted to make sure that the point I was trying to make didn't get lost in my inability to communicate.  That my point wasn't going to forever skew her vision of herself - or let's face it, her thoughts about her deluded Mama.  I'm not ashamed to admit it!

I awoke this morning, still thinking about this exchange.  I wanted to clarify for myself and for the sake of giving my daughter an accurate picture of her role as His daughter, for once more concerned about her self-view than my interest in winning an argument.  So I did what any faithful woman would do.  I pulled out my dictionary. :)

Religiousrelating to belief in religion, the teaching of religion, or the practice of a religion; believing in and showing devotion or reverence for a deity or deities

Christianbased on or relating to a belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the Messiah, and acceptance of his teachings, contained in the Gospels; somebody whose religion is Christianity (You got me there, Colleen!)

Spiritualrelating to religious or sacred things rather than worldly things; relating to the soul or spirit, usually in contrast to material things

After reading all of these definitions, I knew my answer.  I knew my point.
None of them embraced all that I was trying to say.
Because, the thing is, you can still get caught up in semantics.

Religious is a great description but does not only pertain to Christian faiths.  What about Judaism? Islam?  Buddhism?  When using the word religion, you are encompassing all organized faiths, not just the ones who believe in Christ?  (And when, by the way, did the word "religious" develop a slightly negative connotation in my own mind?  Wow...)

Christian is a great description but there are still the semantics that I was arguing yesterday about it being a state of mind or a philosophical principle rather than a "religion."  (Colleen's stance.)  We were both right.  Still there are the challenges of talking "Christianity" with those people who think their faith is the only Christian one.  (My dad used to say "Catholic Christian" as a way to bridge the ecumenical gap and a road to understanding between Protestants and Catholics, many of the former thinking that Catholics aren't Christian.  Which, of course, never ceases to amaze me.)  Even as I type this, I notice I'm getting agitated and a little short of breath.  Clearly, there is a kind of frustration here for me in the human view of this word (and I'm sure I'm not alone).  With that frustration, then, the word that is supposed to encompass all of Jesus's teachings becomes fodder for argument and loving your neighbor as yourself gives way to proving a point.  Not the outcome He was hoping for, I'd imagine.

The word spiritual brings yet another issue.  Sure it can embrace The Holy Spirit, the religious and the higher thinking of the world, but it can also embrace the occult and the mystics, who don't always follow a Christian viewpoint.

AAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!

After an hour or so of thinking and cogitating and researching and feeling the little pricklies of hair on my neck stand on end in frustration, it hit me.
I knew the answer.
At least the answer I want to share with my daughter.
And the answer by which I hope she can live her life.

Christlike is my word.
Christlike.

Nothing more.  Nothing human.  Nothing argumentative or nitpicky or self-righteous.
I want to be Christlike.
I want feel love for all humanity and frustration slip away.
I want to discard judgment and feeling sanctimonious.
I don't want to study words and their meanings.
I want to study His life.
His life of good and teaching and forgiveness and acceptance.

Yes, Christlike.
That is the word.
That is the goal.




{Have avoided, since I began this journal 2 1/2 years ago,
bringing these sometimes contentious viewpoints into question. 
I want this to be a space of His words and His messages
permeating my very flawed human ones.
I hope you understand the spirit by which this was written. 
Would love to know your "word." 
Please feel free to share in the comments below.
Thanks for reading.}

Monday, July 15, 2013

It's Back

{Back after more than a week with my family in Alabama...so happy to return here to you.  Lessons upon lessons upon lessons to share.}
 
 
 
I walked into my church yesterday after almost three weeks and thought to myself, "I'm just so glad it's back."  Then I chuckled to myself at the root of this familiar phrase which flashes in my brain all together too often.  I know I've said it here before but just don't think I can adequately express it, no matter how often I write it...

I love Seinfeld.

In fact, though the TV show ended in 1998, my husband and I were such fans that even today, we still quote the series.
One of my favorites comes from an episode entitled "The Voice."
Jerry and his friends have come up with a voice by which his girlfriend's belly button fictitiously talks to him.  The voice alternately says "hello" & "la, la, la" & utters the occasional Spanish "hola."  Eventually the girlfriend finds out, tells Jerry it's her or the voice, and in typical irreverent Seinfeld fashion, he chooses the voice.

For once, Jerry's friends cannot believe that he dumped his girlfriend for something as silly as using a funny voice, so, though it brings him incredible joy, they convince him the voice novelty is played out.  Jerry gets back together with his girlfriend, begrudgingly discontinues the voice until, in a freak Kramer accident, the girlfriend has a drum of oil dumped on her (don't ask, just go watch the episode if you haven't seen it...Kramer is in rare form), and the four friends bring the bellybutton talking, oil dodging, "la, la, la" fiction to life.  Jerry is tickled once they're cleared to use the voice again and utters my favorite line: 

"I'm just so glad it's back."

Walking into my church yesterday, I looked to my right and saw my daughter, Colleen, rehearsing with the praise band.
I sat down, the woman in front of me turning around to squeeze my hand and say, "My daughter has been asking where your son is...she misses hearing him sing behind us."
Kneeling down to talk with my Father before the service commenced, I felt a tap on my shoulder from behind, and my friend, Ann, asked, "No second reader showed today, so Alyssa has to read both.  Do you mind reading the second Scripture?"
Services started and as we sang the opening hymn, I watched my son carry the cross down the aisle as he began serving the altar.
 
So much comfort in the communal, feeding me from the empty of my absence, completely surrounding me. 

There was the Matthews family who signed up to feed the needy, so their five year old could learn the value of service.
Behind the ambo was Deacon Shane, preaching a profound sermon on the man, representing us sinners, robbed on his way from Jerusalem to Jericho then helped by the Good Samaritan, representing the saving grace of God.

I felt the nubby cloth of the kneeler as I lowered myself for the Communion rite.
I saw the cream-colored tile that I imagined laying on, face down, burrowing deep, deep beneath it to the center of the Earth to hold my daddy's earthly vessel after he passed away.
I heard the strum of the guitar; the chant of voices raised together in prayer; the babies squealing and murmuring.
I tasted the Body and Blood of Christ, humbled by the thought that it was saving me.
I sensed my community, steadfast and strong from beginning to end, waving across pews, shaking hands, singing and reading together, wishing one another "Peace."
I grasped how deeply I am impacted every week by the faith I share with these people. 

But, community is not ready made.  It is born and bred of service and shared experience. 
It is cultivated through song and Word and Him. 
And sometimes, it helps to go elsewhere for a few weeks, striking out to another church. 
Because when you come back, you truly appreciate the magnitude,
the preciousness of your church, your very own Body of Christ.
 
"I'm just so glad it's back."


Thursday, July 4, 2013

Deprived

(Reliving this post from the same time last year and amazed at how relevant it still is 12 months later.  But GRATEFUL that, as I look back, I feel that I actually have made some progress in a few of these areas.   Lord, thank You for walking with me as I continue to try and grow in all of these areas, praying to one day feel no deprivation whatsoever as I wait for Your plan to be revealed.)

After a month and a half of a concerted effort to comfort myself with food (and almost 13 lbs later...yes, you read correctly...13 lbs), I decided my heart felt better for the lack of restriction but my body DID NOT!! Our trip to Michigan found us in the home of a friend who kept only organic food in the house. (How did you gain 13 lbs then, you ask? I had to travel to town for ice cream!) She set a great example for my family, and when we returned to California, my daughter asked if we could clear our cupboards and get rid of the junk. I readily agreed. I told my family I wanted to try something new. I said that for one month, we were only going to eat organic food or food with all natural ingredients. After that month was up, we could revisit how it felt, and if we want to continue, great. But if we want to introduce one or two items we really missed back into the mix, we could do that as well. Everyone agreed.


YUM???
So Colleen and I arose early on Sunday morning for a trip to our local Farmer's Market. We brought four bags of produce and other products back home with us and put them in the fridge. Project Organic was under way!

The first two days of our foray into health was an adventure. I was cutting produce and the house was wafting with the fresh aroma of summer. Everyone was on board. Everyone was happy.

Then Day 3 hit.

They say it takes three days to establish a habit. Well, by Tuesday evening, my son looked at me and said in a minor wail, "I'm sooooo hungry!" Clearly, this habit did not want to take.

"You just finished dinner 30 minutes ago," I said.

"But I'm stillllllll hungryyyyyy!!!"

"Son, you had steak, a whole ear of corn on the cob, jasmine rice and a salad. How could you possibly be hungry?" I complained.

He shrugged but I noticed him blinking quickly, the pitiful action of a 12 year old boy, aware of becoming a man, thus trying not to cry.

"Are you feeling deprived?" I gently asked.

"Yes." he flatly stated. Then...."Wait, what does deprived mean?"

I started to laugh and so did he. I explained that being deprived means you feel like you are missing something you truly need or truly want. He quickly nodded his head up and down. "Yes, I definitely feel deprived then." I smiled but felt a bit sad.

And in that beautiful moment of understanding, it hit me that this must be the way our Heavenly Father feels when we don't understand our path and struggle tearfully against His plan to bring out the best in us.

Something is new, and we are afraid.
Something is hard, and we quit.
Something doesn't fill our human need for immediacy, and we seek comfort in worldly things.
Deprived.

How does He keep loving us and gently coaxing us in the right direction?
How does He not just throw His hands up in the air, and say "I give up! Do what you want."
How does He not get angry at our desire for more, more, more?

Our house is too small, so we are a failure.
Our checkbook depleted, so we are ashamed.
Our wardrobe is lacking, so we refuse to see friends.
Our thighs are too fat, so we hide in the house.
Deprived.

How does He do it?

Grace.
Patience.
Understanding.

He forgives our questioning and second guessing.
He hopes we will choose a change of heart.
He realizes our very humanity makes us weak,
then He shines as bright as we will allow ourselves to see
so we can lean on Him for strength.

My son had a pudding cup - all natural ingredients, of course - and with it, chose health.
Chose trust.
Chose the unknown over the comfort of the familiar.
Chose to follow.

God, help me to do the same.