Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Open Doors

"What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open."
Revelation 3:7

In the fog between slumber and wakefulness where my mind is caught between the images of my dream and the reality of the dawn, the surrounding silence is broken by the imposing "meow" of my Maine coon cat. Pulling the covers up to my ears, I roll to one side showing my back to that cat, with hopes she'll get the hint and simply settle down for at least one more hour. But in the world of cats, there's no such thing as giving into the desires of their human masters and so her ensuing "meows" contest my sleep, only satisfied with my complete consciousness and tending to Her Majesty.

So arise, I do, to search her out and understand her insistence. Her coat is cool to the touch, so I know she's just returned from her night prowl. Her plate I find licked clean, so food isn't her desire. But, there she stands, in front of a closed, bedroom door begging it open.

Three other doors are open wide in that hallway, two of which held the warmth of sleep in their beds. "Why so persistent on this closed door?" I ask as I obey her command. Into that now opened door she prances, her furry hind legs wiggling away from me in pure defiance only to promptly turn around and walk back out the door! Finally, she walks through the open door to my daughter's room and settles next to her where she stays for hours.

What is it about closed doors that makes even us humans curious? What makes them more appealing than the ones that already lay open before us? Is it that we pray the possibility of our greatest imaginings might exist behind them? Is it that we don't like what we think we see from the thresholds of the open doorways? Do we assume what lays beyond an open door before we actually step inside?

Maybe, it's a matter of control. Sometimes what we see through those open doors is not what we pictured our opportunity to be at all. So, thinking that God got it wrong, we stand in front of those closed doors with our ensuing prayers begging God to open them. Luckily, God does not give into our begging like I do with my Maine coon cat. He leaves us to struggle in front of that closed door until we become frustrated enough to finally walk through the one that lays open down the hallway.

God says in his Word that we cannot open the doors that he shuts and we cannot shut the doors that he's opened. Although the sights from the thresholds may not appear to be what we imagined or hoped for, God has a plan that suits us best.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

In My Own Little Corner

"For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose."
Philippians 1: 13

Growing up in the first decade of color television and only three networks, it was a big deal when the family gathered to watch the annual showing of a movie. There was no such thing as a VCR nor did we have DVR as an option to tune into the show at a later, more convenient time. If we wanted to watch a show we had to be present at the hour it aired.

My favorite was Rogers & Hammerstein's 1965 version of Cinderella starring Lesley Ann Warren as Cinderella and Stuart Dammon as the Prince. It aired only 8 times from 1965 to 1974 and I believe I watched it every year.

I'm sure when I was younger I was enthralled by the beautiful princess story and the happily ever after ending with her prince. Today, however, I identify more with the scene where she's sitting in her "own little corner", in her "own little chair." That's where I've wanted to crawl since Saturday. It's where I want to be when I'm challenged and uncomfortable with me.

In an effort to hone my writing skills I participated in a local writer's workshop this weekend. The teaching was excellent. The assignments, somewhat challenging. The talents of the other writers, exceptional. When given 15 minutes to write a narrative paragraph about the main protagonist in our new book, the pens were scratching tirelessly around me, filling page after page with carefully, creatively structured description. My pen, however, stalled after the first sentence. I felt as though I were in third grade all over again, falling behind my classmates and questioning my ability and talent for writing. I literally wanted to crawl into my own little corner, in my own little chair and pretend I was an excellent writer of prose, like the rest of them.

I came home and slunk up to my room. Behind the door I sat on my bed with an open journal and pen until the ink of my heart spilled onto the page with rapid speed. All the raw emotion of inadequacy formed words in black and white. I wondered why I couldn't have done that earlier during the workshop? Why was it so easy to write about my emotions but not about my new main character?

Funny thing happens when you spend so much time with yourself, you come to know yourself very well. Writers write from the familiarity and passion of their experiences. I hadn't spent enough time with my new found friend. I could describe her like I would when meeting anyone for the first time, but I didn't know her intimately or how she would react in any situation.

Isn't it like that between us and God sometimes? We can spill out all our raw emotions to him but, when we try to figure out what he's saying to us or if we try to share what he's done in our lives we come up short of words. We may listen to our friends' God stories; hear them describe an active, living God who seems so intimate and exciting but, when it's our turn, we fall silent. Our experiences don't seem to hit the mark. So, we take our inadequacies and crawl into our own little corner, into our own little chair where we can only imagine being so close to God that we can feel his breath.

It's in that corner though, that we can hone our skill of listening to God rather than complaining about what we are not. We may just find he'll tell us what we are. We may find the more time we spend with God, the more familiar he becomes. The more familiar he becomes, the more intimate we become with him. The more intimate we become, the more we start to imitate him. The more we imitate him, the more we will encourage one another to become the best of what God created us to be.

Friday, October 16, 2009

A Heart All Their Own

"And you, my son...acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts." I Chronicles 28:9

I'll never forget the day I discovered that my children had hearts of their own! I don't mean physical hearts but spiritual hearts.

When my eldest turned thirteen I was prepared for that typical teenage rebellion of crazy fashions, blue hair, breaking curfew and screaming-loud music. But, I never prepared my heart for these words, "I'm not sure I believe the same things you believe. I'm not sure I even believe in God!"

Those words stabbed me right in the heart. For weeks my brain scanned all the stored video clips of my memory, looking for where my husband and I had gone wrong. I begged God to show me where my faith was weak; where I failed to live a godly life in front of my child that created such disbelief.

Then I got angry. I felt betrayed by God. I wondered, "How could you do this to me, God? I have raised my child to believe in you! Why aren't you honoring that training?" You see, I assumed that Proverbs 22:6, "Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it," was a promise. I thought if I raised my children to embrace my faith that I was guaranteed they too, would have my heart for God.

But, Proverbs 22:6 isn't a promise at all. It's only meant to be a word of wisdom for parents. It simply mean that as parents we should train, should discipline, should instruct our children in the way they should go so that when they get older they will know the way to go.

Just like we cannot force a stranger to grasp our heart for God, we cannot force that in our children (or any loved one) either. We can only live by example and pray for the Holy Spirit to do the rest. Jesus reassures us in John 14:26 , "But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you." This truth was the only hope my husband and I had for many, many months.

Our child's rebellion against God wasn't for us to solve. Did we need to keep the truth before that child? Absolutely. Did we need to allow the questions to be asked? Positively. Did we need to show unconditional love? Undoubtedly, yes! Did we need to wear holes in the knees of our jeans from praying for this child? Indeed! Was God faithful? Most amazingly so!

There is nothing more precious now, than to know my child has a heart of their own, a faith in God they can call their own and to watch that child train up the next generation.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Fall Into His Stride

"Now devote your heart and soul to seek the Lord your God."
I Chronicles 22:19

I had to laugh when I came back into my office a few minutes ago. The light on my printer was blinking "Reload" at me from across the room. I chuckled at God's sense of humor because that's exactly what I needed to do!

This morning when the house was empty except for me and my two cats, I thought I'd had the whole day figured out. There was much to accomplish so I dove into the day all on my own with both feet planted firmly underneath me. From one task to the next my pace picked up speed and before I knew it, my "to do" list was half done. "This is great!" I thought. "I'm off to a great start. Now, what's next?"

As I settled into my office chair to make some phone calls, my eyes caught a glimpse of my prayer journal and Bible on the corner of my desk. "Oh yeah," I breathed and then justified, "But, God's not on my list, today. I've got so much more to do. I'm sure He won't mind if I just squeeze Him into my day here and there."

So, as I continued to ignore God's voice to focus in on with Him, I felt like I was wading through a pool of molasses! My network was slow and kept crashing. Skype kept dropping my calls. My laundry wouldn't dry. My crock pot dinner wasn't cooking evenly. The whole afternoon ended in a crescendo of frustration.

Finally, I stopped and opened Oswald Chambers' My Utmost for His Highest and read, "Getting into God's stride means nothing less than oneness with Him. " My heart was convicted. My mind wasn't talking to itself all day was God calling me to spend time with him first and to leave the tasks for later. God further made His point when I opened His word to 1Chronicles 22:19, "Now devote your heart and soul to seeking the Lord your God."

I'm not saying that "to do" list isn't important. Those tasks do have to get done. We may plant our feet firmly beneath us and start the race but we may find our pace is way off to have a successful run. When we hear God calling us to his side, we need to go and fall into His stride to finish well.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Home Coming

"Then all the people left, each for his own home, and David returned home to bless his family." I Chronicles 16:43

In the 1970's the show "The Waltons" was part of my weekly line-up of T.V. shows. It was an endearing story of a large, extended family and their West Virginia mountain community set in the late 1920's and early 1930's. Every week my mother and I would watch this together. I guess for my mother it was a trip down memory lane but, for me it was a celebration of family!

The joy of watching "The Waltons" wasn't always the drama of solving a problem but it was the ending. Every week before the swell of the theme song and the scrolling of credits, the camera focused on the Waltons' moonlit homestead. Then, one-by-one each family member would say goodnight to each other, like they were reading Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown! "Goodnight Mary Ellen, Goodnight Erin, Goodnight Jason, Goodnight Jim Bob, Goodnight John Boy, Goodnight Grandma, Goodnight Grandpa..."And so it went until either Mama or Daddy lovingly hushed their ramblings with their own "Goodnight!" No matter how difficult the problem they faced each day, the Waltons' always ended their day together and at peace.

King David gave us a great example of this too. In 1 Chronicles we're told David spent days maybe even weeks of planning the return of the Ark of the Covenant to the City of David. He sent word out for all of Israel to gather in the city. He delegated responsibilities to the priests and musicians. Finally, the parade of worshipers began and David joined them in song and dance. He worshiped the Lord with sacrifices and prayer. He fed the people and blessed them. Finally, when the celebration was over, King David gave his last orders to the priests and made sure everything was in order for Israel to worship God properly, according to the Law of Moses. Then, after everyone had returned to their own home, David returned to his home and...collapsed from exhaustion...grumbled on his way in the door...demanded dinner right away...asked to be left alone...shut himself in his room and didn't come out for an hour...NO! The Bible says, "David returned home to bless his family!" What did THAT look like?

How many of us can say that after a day of work, let alone weeks of work, we feel like coming home and blessing our families? It's so much easier to unload the daily frustrations on them than it is to unselfishly put aside our own concerns to bless them. It sounds so counter cultural to even think this way that it's hard to imagine what a homecoming of blessing would look like. But, let's imagine it for just a minute.

As you enter your home, you take a deep breath and greet your family with a warm smile. You wrap your arms around your spouse, who's making dinner and tell them you've missed them. Your spouse returns the embrace and says, "I missed you, too." You then give a warm "hello" to your kids, ask how their day was at school and listen to their answers. There's a give and take of responsibilities after dinner and you finally wind down with your spouse for a few stolen hours together after the kids have settled into bed. You both share the frustrations of your daily grind and encourage each other to be the best you can be.

Does this sound too good to be true? Maybe it does for some of us. Is it attainable? I believe it is if we employ David's example to "return home to bless (our) his family!" Although our technology and family structures may have changed a great deal since the time of King David or even the era of "The Waltons," I do believe we all still have the need to gather in our homes and end our day in peace. The secret is to put others needs before our own and serve them rather than be served. The funny thing is, when they're needs are met, they WANT to meet our needs as well!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

It's A Boy!

"You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus." Luke 1:31

"It's a boy!" Those lovely words rang through the phone today when my son and daughter-in-law called with the results from the ultrasound. What music to my ears! Oh, I'd have been just as thrilled to hear "It's a girl!" but there's just something about your son having a son that makes a parent glad. It's like you're assured that your name, your family legacy, your place in history will hold it's place for at least one more generation.

Upon our living room mantle and piano, I proudly display our generational story with old black and white photos of great grandparents I've never met. Intermingled are more current family photos and I wonder, what will the stories be that my grandchildren tell? What snapshots of our times together will spin a yarn around their family table? Will they be proud to wear the family name?

And then I think of Mary. You know, the mother of Jesus? Her family wasn't so thrilled to hear the words, "It's a boy!" uttered from her lips. There was no celebration or public announcement or shouts of joy. There were only murmurs, accusations, hiding and tears. And, when Jesus was born, what legacy could Mary and Joseph ever offer him? Joseph was just a carpenter, and nothing they had or did could ever match to the riches and glory he left in heaven!

But the thoughts of leaving a legacy grew dim as the "now" of 2 a.m. feedings, kissing skinned knees and raising a growing family took precedence. Their family probably acted like any other family except for maybe those few times when Mary or Joseph lost their temper. Picture it. Mary's scolding her second-born and says, "I just don't know what I'm going to do with you! Why can't you just be more like Jesus?!" Oh man! Talk about second child syndrome and sibling rivalry! Or think about when Jesus went missing for three days and his parents finally found him in the synagogue. When they try to discipline Jesus for making them worry, Jesus says, "Didn't you know I would be in my Father's house going about his work?" (my paraphrase) Can't you just see Joseph standing there speechless except to say to Mary, "He's YOUR son!" But Mary, one hand on her hip, points towards heaven with the other and snaps, "Oh NO he's not!" I bet neither one said a word to each other on that long journey back home!

When all was said and done, Mary and Joseph had no legacy to leave Jesus. It was Jesus who left his legacy for them...for all of us. He took our punishment; hung in our place so that we might accept his eternal inheritance. He offers us life if we only believe so that in the end, "The King will say to those on his right 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world." (Matthew 25:34)

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Raise My Banner High

"We will shout for joy when you are victorious
and will lift up our banners in the name of our God." Psalm 20:5

After 9/11/01 it seemed every home in town was mournfully, yet proudly adorned with an American flag. If I recall correctly, I believe department stores sold out of them. Americans even painted flags on their roof tops, stuck them on their cars and wore them as symbols of their love of country. It was an emotional time when patriotism and anger were at their highest levels. It was a time when we were all forced to take a hard look at our country, the value of our freedoms, our families and decide if it was all worth fighting for.

About three weeks ago in the middle of a worship service at church, God planted this phrase in my heart, "Raise my banner." Now, there are banners (flags) in the back of our church sanctuary for people to use as an expression of worship so naturally, not wanting to step out of my comfort zone, I ignored what I was hearing. I didn't want to draw attention to myself, especially since I can't even chew gum and walk at the same time let alone wave a flag and walk...gracefully.

Since lightning didn't come out of the ceiling and strike me, I figured I was in the clear. But, honestly I haven't been able to shake this phrase. It keeps coming back to mind. So, I've had some candid discussions with God of late asking, "What is up with this?!" No answer. I was even willing to take up a worship banner during church this past week if the service leaned toward that type of expression. But, it didn't.

So, feeling like God is obviously trying to get my attention, I did some research on the word "banner" in scripture to see what the message could possibly mean. To my surprise I found that the word banner is only found in the Old Testament (Exodus 17:15, Psalm 20:5, Psalm 60:4, Isaiah 18:3 and Jeremiah 51:27). Much like today, banners symbolized a tribe or a nation and were used to rally their people together. But, when it was raised and placed on a mountain or lofty place it was a call to war. Once the flag was positioned, the war trumpets were blown and the flag served as a source of encouragement for the troops below. It signified what they were fighting for and why.

In Exodus 17 after a battle God instructs Moses to record the battle and to build an altar. Moses called it "The Lord is my banner" or "Jehovah-nissi." Moses wanted Israel to know that it wasn't by his own power, his own arms that they fell into victory, but it was God who raised the banner of His protection, presence and aid that brought them victory. (Easton's 1897 Bible Dictionary, Hitchcock's Bible Names Dictionary).

So what does "raise my banner high" mean for me? Since I do fear the Lord and in light of what I "see" playing out in my life right now, it means two things. First, I must constantly remind myself that "the Lord is my banner." If I experience victories, it is only by God's grace and favor; not my own abilities. Second, I think God is calling me to rally around Him; to look toward Christ as my banner, my sustainer, my encourager, my protection, my Victor as I face any battle before me especially as I walk obediently with Him.

What does it mean for others? I'm not sure. But as I worship corporately on Sunday, if God calls us to battle, if He prods my heart to make Christ known as our banner, I will raise a worship flag. May God guide my clumsy feet with grace!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Giving Birth to My Second One

For me, the creative process is like being pregnant. I have a moving experience, I hear an inspiring story, or something strikes me funny and suddenly I'm in love with a story idea. In a rush of inspiration I grab a pad of paper and a pen as soon as I can and write that idea down while it's fresh in my mind. If I wait until the next day or the next minute, sometimes, the passion is gone and the story is lost. But, once the thought is written down, it sits in my journal, spins around in my head and germinates. I think about it every day. I play with scenarios, dream about it, and let it just rattle around for awhile as I live life.

For awhile it seems there's nothing happening. The ideas I have are disjointed. The words aren't clear. Then one day, a few phrases or sentences are formed. I keep repeating them to myself or write them down hiding them away in a folder marked, "WIP" (work in progress). Every now and again, I take out that folder, look at the words I scribbled on the page and pray something strikes me. If it doesn't I file it away and go on with life.

But then, in the midst of wondering if the words will every flow; if the story will ever take form, it does. It usually comes after discussing the story, out loud, with someone I trust. There's just something about speaking the words. It's like breathing life into them and suddenly, the story becomes real. It takes shape and form and matures until it's ready to be birthed on paper.

Today was that day! I'd been waiting since August to see the story on paper. Having spent some time down south this summer, I gathered some great ideas. They've rattled around in the cobwebs of my upper room just waiting to get out. Finally today, one of those stories eked out. I can't tell you the relief to finally see printed words on a page; the beginning of another children's story in black and white!

I can see an end in sight. There's the pain of laboring over words and form but I know there will be overwhelming joy when I hold my new baby!