Friday, March 14, 2014

A Father/Son Perspective on Lent

Lighter post today (to make up for that last loooong, heavy one!).
Ya gotta love a little short but sweet male perspective to make for a nice change on this blog of flowery language and verbose phrases.

It was Friday of the Lenten season, a day when our church fasts from eating meat.
The exceptions to this rule are for young people under the age of 18 and seniors over 65.
Then, each person, each family, discerns what's right for them.
For us, we have the added wrench thrown in of a 14 year old who has Type I Diabetes.  So the protein choices throughout the day, as you can imagine, are very important.  Still, if we can provide suitable substitutions, we like to adhere to the meat fast.

The father/son exchange went something like this:

Drew:  "Brae, it's the first Friday in Lent so we'd like to pack your lunch without meat if possible.  What do you think?  Cheese sandwich?  Peanut butter sandwich?  Peanut butter crackers?" 

Braden:  "No, I don't really like peanut butter anymore."

(Get ready for it...)
Drew:  "I bet Jesus didn't like dying on the cross either."

BAM!!!!!!!

Few words.
Intense meaning.
Braden had peanut butter.

Thank you, God, for my husband.
And for little phrases with big impact, You ever at the center.



{Happy meatless Friday!
And thanks for reading.}

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Say What You Mean, Part II

(Hold onto your saddles, folks.  This ride's a long one!)

In yesterday's post , Part I of this duet, I was all ready to button up the message (I thought) I had received, sharing some hard earned wisdom on negative self-talk.  The idea that "words have power" is a strong one in my life, not only because I am a writer but also, because I've seen and experienced the affect words can have, especially in my work as a teacher.

Words can give life.
Words can destroy a life.

We each have that power with one another, yet none are so potent as the words we speak about ourselves.  As I mentioned in Part I, we tend to believe what we speak.
What we call ourselves.
Predict of our futures.
It was at this juncture of the post that I was going to tell you to say good things and life would be peachy. And, of course, I believe that to a great degree.  What I didn't count on was a dark experience that took my lesson in a profound direction.

We are living the 40 Lenten days before Easter right now.  It is actually one of my favorite times of the spiritual year.  You'd probably think I was weird if I shared that I actually enjoy depriving myself of things.  But I do, so think what you must.  It has everything to do with focusing my mind on the sacrifice Jesus made for us.  For me, this is never easier to concentrate on than when I have a mental battle raging.

(Let's set the scene. It's the end of a long day.  Everyone is in bed.  Work is done and I have an hour to sit and unwind.  I'm watching a television show, curled up on the couch under a blanket, and I've given up something for Lent...in years past, treats such as sugar, eating after 7PM, salty snacks...something, that is, which would make my television watching oh, so much more satisfying.  Okay, action!)

Me the whiner:  "I reeaaaaallllly want something to eat."
Me the faster: "Suck it up, Cynth.  You gave that up for Lent."
Me the whiner:  "But I'm huuuuunnnngggrrrry!!"
Me the faster:  "Cut it out.  You're a week in.  33 days left.  You can't have it."
Me the whiner:  "33 more days?!?!?  How will I make it 33 more days?!?!?!  I'm starving!!!"

Me the faster:  
"Jesus died on the cross to save you from your sins and you're complaining about being hungry after having three meals today?"

Silence.

You see?  There's nothing like Lent to give some much needed perspective, and that's why I like it.  I need it.  It's vital for my soul to make a small sacrifice, becoming centered on Him as we head into Easter.
(Except for the year that I gave up coffee.  Truly, and I ask you trust me on this...that was good for NO ONE!)

Back to this year's Lenten promise.  I didn't want to focus on food this year as I already have a rather unhealthy relationship with it at times.  So I did the next best thing...the thing that I loathe almost as much as depriving myself of food.  
I promised to get up each weekday morning at 6AM.
(Those of you who know how much I hate early morning may now remove yourselves from a laughing heap on the floor.)

Days 1 & 2, I jumped out of bed, shut off the alarm and made myself a cup of coffee, launching enthusiastically into the day.
Day 3 found my husband shaking me awake after my alarm had been sounding for several minutes.
Day 4 was Monday...you know, the first weekday after Daylight Savings?
So really, I was waking up at 5AM rather than 6AM.
Stupid, lying alarm clock...

I fumbled out of bed, snoozed once (don't judge me...there were no snooze parameters attached to my Lenten promise!), then stumbled down the hall to make COFFEE!!!!
The day progressed with both children staying home sick, a doctor's appointment and a list of  14 "to do's," only two of which got to-done.
It was about 6PM, Drew at a weekly band practice and the children and I in the den when "it" started...the rumblings of defeat....the sting of negative self-talk.
The problem was, it wasn't me talking (though at the time I thought it was)...it was an intense evil hissing in my ear, beginning to take me down.


I cannot adequately explain it, but a darkness enveloped me like I have rarely known.  I felt at once catatonic yet close to tears.
Then the adverbs started.  You know the ones?
Always...never...ever.
As in, "You're never going to finish that app.  I don't know WHAT in the world ever made you think you could!"
"You always quit.  You always procrastinate.  Why should this list of yours be any different than ones of the past?  You are such a failure."
"Why are you looking at that house?  If it hasn't happened by now, it never, ever will.  You are destined to never move forward, never accomplish anything, never affect change. You're a dreamer and nothing more."

That last phrase thundered dramatically in my core.  I kept my head down, buried in the computer screen in an attempt to hide from the children the malevolence that had taken hold.  Though at the same time, it was such a dramatic internal change, I couldn't help but wonder if they could see it radiating from me.
I slowly got up and went into the bathroom...best. hiding. place. ever.
What was happening?!?

Thunder of a different sort arrived.
A God-moment.  
Clarity.
"Ahhhh, it's the exhaustion," it said loud and clear - not hissing and quiet - a transparency that could be attributed to no other.  
Satan knows my weaknesses.  Sickness and exhaustion.  Never are there more fruitful times of surrender to weakness than when I am sick or tired.  he had infiltrated my mind in the nausea of fatigue and changed his voice to that of my own.
I adjusted my perspective, my words in that moment.
I thought of what God called me, not of what satan does.

God calls me a warrior.
A champion.
A daughter of the Most High King.
He calls me His precious child, His love and servant.
Enter the adverbs again, though this time used for reassurance rather than discouragement.
"He is always beside me."
"He will never leave me, nor forsake me."

As you move forward in this beautiful season of self-sacrifice, and yes, throughout the rest of your lives, I ask you to question:
What does God call me?
What do I call myself?
Oh, yes, words have power.
Words have the ability to destroy a life to be certain, especially when they are hurled at us through the venom of our enemy.
Yet, at their best and most true, words have the ability to speak grace...
sustain love...
build faith and joy.
Words, spoken with the voice of the Father, give us His bountiful abundance of life.



Thanks for reading this lengthy epistle.  
Wow, just such a profound lesson for me.  
I hope you were moved in some way by these "words."  
Praying for you in this lovely Lenten season.



Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Say What You Mean, Part I



I received Joel Osteen's daily devotional via email recently, entitled, "What God Calls You."
I read the title, pondering, "I wonder what God does call me?!?"
Without skipping a beat, I mentally answered, "Pain in the butt!"
I chuckled to myself at this answer, until I felt a burning conviction at my rationale.
No, God doesn't call me a pain in the butt.
I do.

That's how I tend to characterize myself in the many, varied conversations with Him where I question my direction, praying for things over and over again (even when I've clearly received the answers...aaarrrggghhh!). 
No, He wouldn't be so uncouth as to think of me in those terms.
He thinks of me, I feel certain, with love and hope, probably mixed with a bit of sadness and gentle chiding.
How could I possibly think that my Father would condemn me as I condemn myself?

That's how our world has conditioned itself to think, I believe.

My mom was telling me of a dear, dear friend's conversations of late.  She's 83.  She's in poor health.  Her mother died at 83.  
You see where this is going
The conversation begins, "You know, my mother died at 83."  The conclusion is not verbally drawn but is implied.
Enter my mother's no-nonsense, practical approach to life.
Her response?
"So what?  Just because your mother died at 83 doesn't mean you're going to die at 83."
Love it!  And good for her for speaking life over fear!  Ah, for everyone to take that approach.

Sadly, though, the majority of us believe what we tell ourselves, so much so that we often bring it to pass.
We believe what we call ourselves...
Poor. Ugly. Fat. Cursed. Not Enough.
(Sound familiar to anyone?)

We believe what we say of our future...
"I'm never going to make it." (career, college, promotion...you get it.)
"I'm never going to feel better." (depression, illness, the general malaise that accompanies doubt)
"I'll never be able to stop (you fill it in)."  (binge eating, procrastinating, yelling, avoiding...oh, so many things.)

Our declarative sentences become a clearly marked road map to our future.
"My relatives couldn't so neither can I."
"I don't have enough education."
"There's never enough time, money, desire."
"I'm going nowhere in a big, fat hurry."

Before I go further, I'll let you in on a little secret.  
Here's where I was going to wrap this sucker up with a beautiful fuchsia bow and a motivational message, pontificating on what we must do in order to avoid the pitfalls of negative words...negative thinking.
Wouldn't that have been nice of me, to succinctly tell you what to do?
As if I've got all the answers, a guru on a mountaintop watching goats hop from peak to peak, assured in the knowledge that the answers stop mountainside before drifting down to the rest of you sad sacks?
Sigh...

He had other plans.



photo credit:  "Mountain" by @Doug88888 on flickr



{Living the Word this morning in 
an effort to pave my own way.  
Check back in tomorrow 
for the conclusion 
to this important lesson.
Thanks so much for reading.}

Monday, March 3, 2014

Deep in the Heart of Taxes, Part II

(Thanks for returning for Part II of "Deep in the Heart of Taxes.")

Ann Voskamp wrote in her blog a few days ago: "It’s only by amazing grace you are born where you are — to be abundant, amazing grace for someone born somewhere else.That’s the point.  That’s the point: What God’s graciously given you is always enough to be abundant grace for someone else."  (Bold emphasis mine)

So, we're back at this really fun topic (ha!) of money...

wealth...
charity...
rich vs. poor...
right vs. wrong?
I don't know why I feel uncomfortable even typing these words.  
But at my core, I think it has to do with the stigma of poverty...
and also one of wealth...
both being topics that are not likely to enter polite conversation...
and the guilt (or lack thereof!) that oft accompanies having while others do not.

As Ann Voskamp mentions above, we are blessed beyond measure that we have been born where we are.  This is only by God's amazing grace.  I can't solve the problem of hunger or poverty or even put a band-aid on that which would stem the flow of sickness in the world with this one post. But thankfully at church yesterday, God answered my constant prayers on this subject through our church's scripture and the sermon.  (And how fitting that the Gospel reading was Matthew 6:27-33, the very Scripture I mentioned in Part I on which I wished I could base my whole financial philosophy!  God is really cheeky...)


I don't know much but I know two things with complete certainty.
God wants to bless His children.
And...
God wants His children to bless others.

But, ultimately, how do we know what to do with these blessings?  I think it's by faithfully doing three things:

Listening.
Prayerfully discerning.
Then, above all else...

Doing the right thing.


The right thing will be different for each of us.  

Some will give everything away and move to Africa to build a school or a church or a shelter. 
Some will work and contribute in local communities, feeding those who have nothing.  
Some will welcome others into their homes - poor or rich, stranger or family, foe or friend - making each feel welcome and cared for, as every person requires support in their own singular way.
And each of these directions is equally important in their way.  

As Deacon Shane said in his homily yesterday, the answer to wealth doesn't lie in extremes.

You see, the world wouldn't work if we all sold everything and moved away to care for others.
Nor would it work for every person to care for only the people in their immediate circle.
The beauty of God's system is we each have a calling...and we don't decide what it is.
God does.

He knows each person's capabilities.
He knows each person's gifts.
The key is to prayerfully listen to His call then do as He bids.
We can't tell others what to do.
We shouldn't make them feel guilty for being blessed.
And we shouldn't feel guilty for enjoying our own blessings and gifts.
I don't think He wants that either.
I'm convinced that God created beauty for His children to enjoy.  (In fact, it's scriptural.)
That we should look around us; see the beauty; revel in His glorious touch on all things good; and let that inspire us to share that beauty with others is one of His greatest gifts to us.
As long as we serve only one Master - 
not living for money, loving money, or making the acquisition of wealth our goal - 
but also not living in shame for our blessings...
As long as we consciously bless others with the blessings we've been gifted, we are living with God's grace.

"I came that you that you may have life in abundance."
He wants us to abundantly live...
abundantly give...
abundantly enjoy His plan for us as we walk in charity and love to His heavenly kingdom.


Thought It Might Happen...

I knew it would happen.
I'm into Post 6 of the "7 Posts, 7 Days" challenge.
But I had gigs Thursday-Sunday plus life and laundry and la-la-la...

Tonight after hosting a little Oscars get-together, I just don't have it in me to string together the remainder of my thoughts on "Deep in the Heart of Taxes."  (Though I did spend an hour on it this morning before church...I tried!!)  Despite my best efforts, I just couldn't wrap up the thought into a nice little package.  Couldn't figure out how to end it.  So instead of butchering it in an effort to produce a post, I will just share with you amazing grace that the Gospel reading today and church and the homily following were all about...

Wait for it...

Wealth!  And what to do with it...and what God wants of us.
Talk about an answered prayer!!

So tomorrow I will work on my 7th post, hopefully articulating the message in a clear and lovely way.  For today, I will simply leave you with my favorite Scripture verse, which addresses my main point for tomorrow... 

"For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord.  Plans to prosper you and not to harm you.  Plans to give you hope and a future." -- Jeremiah 29:11

Thanks for reading...more tomorrow...

Sunday, March 2, 2014

1000 Gifts Sunday

I couldn't think of a better time than during this "7 posts, 7 days" challenge to FINALLY FINISH my 1000 Gifts Sundays started sooooo long ago.  I can't imagine why I stopped with only 5 gratitudes to go!  So, I'm delaying Part II from yesterday's post, "Deep in the Heart of Taxes," and neatly inserting some special moments of late, sharing my heart in this sacred space. Thanks, as always, to Ann Voskamp and her blog, A Holy Experience for the encouragement to write and share the things for which I am most thankful.  I finally made it, Ann!


Gratitudes #996-1012

#996  For much and varied work, feeling valued and valuable
#997  For an opportunity to associate direct the current Young American cast in their Broadway show...like going home
#998  Having Colleen at rehearsal with me ("Wish I could go watch you teach again.  That really made my day."  Waaaahhhh! Thanks, sweet girl...)
#999  For new work opportunities for Colleen...nannying and getting experience doing production work.  Little Max saying, "Look, Mama...it's my Colleen."  So dear...
#1000!!!!!!!!  For my marriage and my husband...almost 18 years.
(Moment of incredible celebration at reaching 1000!!!   Wooooohooooo!!!!!!  Okay, breathe...now back to it, Cynth...)

#1001  For a new show and new experiences for Braden...a radio murder mystery...fun!
#1002  For a good doctor appointment this week...looking ahead to better health.
#1003  For new writing opportunities
#1004  Looking forward to having a new website for all of my work...thanks to my talented sister, Theresa, for helping me!  (Date TBA...but coming soon!)
#1005  For our beautiful Lord carrying little Maggie through a ruptured appendix and surgery, helping her heal quickly
#1006  For Cookie, our beautiful senior doggie...for paw lifts and handshakes and love
#1007  For the completion of my app design and the hope of starting the programming very soon.
#1008  For eager minds and joyful sharing of talents in my Disney workshops
#1009  For the celebration of the birth of two beautiful women in my life...my dear Robyn and my niece, Carolyne - same birthday!
#1010  For great movies and sharing as a family
#1011  For the weekend with my lovely mother-in-law...so sweet and so helpful
#1012  For love and laughter, grace and goodness...His love around me each and every day.




{Finally 1000!
Feel free to share what you 
are grateful for today
 in the comments below.
And thanks for reading.}

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Deep in the Heart of Taxes, Part I



No, I didn't invert my vowels.  It's just "that time of year" and taxes have been on my mind. (Though maybe I should have titled it "Deep in the Bowels of Taxes?"  Ugh...)

With my husband driving his mom to her tax accountant in the high desert this morning and my own work sifting through W-2's, 1099's, deductions and contributions the past few weeks, I have been focusing, more than I typically like, on money.  Of course, there's also the whole "Colleen is in her senior year and will be leaving for a whole new set of experiences that we're honored to pay for," line of circumstances as well.  So I've been taking a very methodical approach to our budget of late, making spreadsheets, sorting paperwork and revising our plan.

I inherited my dear Daddy's acumen for finances, the sum of which parts total a philosophy of "let's give away a bunch of money to people who need it and hope there's enough for food later."  I kid, of course.  He wasn't that extreme, but I do wholly credit my mom with what can only be considered a miraculous achievement of feeding, housing and saving for five children on a shoestring budget.  I think I heard one time that in the later years of their marriage, the local fueling station would just send my mom a bill at the end of the month, because if she put $10 in Daddy's pocket, it would invariably end up in the hands of the homeless rather than his gas tank!

Anyway, days of dollar scrutiny always leave me with a question in my heart regarding wealth and our Heavenly Father.  It's a subject I contemplate and pray about frequently. There are essentially two main philosophies on wealth from a biblical standpoint.  While I wish I were a learned scholar on the subject, I will confess the more I read from both viewpoints, the more confused I become. Almost unfortunately, I can understand both sides. Boiled down to a simple verse on either side (though it's soooo much more complicated, I realize.  Or is it?  See?!?  I can't make up my mind!) are passages from Ecclesiastes and Matthew:

"19 Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God." - Ecclesiastes 5:19

When on the other end of the spectrum...

"21 Jesus answered, 'If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.' 22 When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. 23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, 'Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.'" - Matthew 19:21-23
(Passages from New International Version Bible)

Personally, I'd prefer to never have to worry about the concept and just claim Matthew 6:27-33 as my motto:  

"And who of you by being worried can add a single [q]hour to his [r]life?28 And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin,29 yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! 31 Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ 32 For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But [s]seek first [t]His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be [u]added to you."

But the reality is that, though we needn't worry from where our food and shelter will come, we still, especially here in the Western world, have the ability to amass wealth.  And with that ability comes a choice.  
Will I store?  
Or will I share?
What does He want for us?
What is the right choice?

Stay tuned for the message on my heart in tomorrow's Part II post of "Deep in the Heart of Taxes."  



{Wow, first a post on death and now two on taxes?!?
Talk about poking the bear!
Thanks for sticking with me through 
these sometimes controversial topics.
And thanks especially for reading.}

 Photo credit: www.LendingMemo.com