Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Hurt of Hurry


Ann (see, I'm on a first-name basis now...or so I delude myself into thinking) says hurry makes us hurt.

I look at my day: hurry through work so I can go to a friend's house to hurry through a visit, then hurry home where husband waits for me and I stuff dinner down my throat and this is when I should be most present - with my husband and in our prayers - but I hurry to bed, hoping I can get to sleep as fast as I can. Sleep, I believe, is the only time when not only do I not want to hurry, but I am forced to take it slow, minute by dreaming minute.

The next day I hurry to wake up and start it all over again. Actually, if I am honest, I primarily want to get to the sleep part.

Now what kind of existence is that? Where's the room for miracles? For sudden surprises that leave me laughing out loud? Where's the looking? The first blue-jay of Spring could fly right past me and I wouldn't even know it.

Many Christian songs ask the question: what if you just passed someone on the street and that person was Jesus? You wouldn't have seen him.

Yes, hurry makes us hurt.

I miss out on my clients succeeding at their jobs; I miss out on the taste of acai berry tea and having honest conversation with a friend; I miss out on tasting a good dinner; I miss out on my life with the man with whom I am to spend the rest of my life and if there's ever a sin it's that. What does sleep hold that's so enticing that it's my get-to-goal?

Ah, it's an escape. It's forced-upon-down-time. Rest. Of course, I want to escape this hurtful hurry-up-ed-ness. My life has the fast-forward button on and it's tiring, sad, and joyless.

Not so when I slow down. Not so when my eyes linger on a tree branch arching in the breeze. Right then, I am the breeze. I am the branch. I am beside God, watching Him create these moments.

I don't want to live asleep. I want to witness God's work and I want to do work for God. I vow not to hurry up any longer. I press the stop button and press play, with the occasional pause.

Bless you.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

What If... Belief in Need

Ann Voskamp, author of "One Thousand Gifts" and bodacious blogger over at A Holy Experience, asks the heart-wrenching question:

What if we believe we have everything we need?

Does that question scare you? Does it make your heart beat a little faster? It does mine.

Personally speaking, I know that I live as if I don't have everything. I constantly worry about what I don't have enough of: money, time, talent, faith, happiness. You name it and I worry.

After reading Ann's book (you simply must read this book), I learned that, as Dan Zadra says: "worry is a misuse of the imagination." Worry is a waste of time. Worry is a waste of space. And yet I worry about worrying too much. Do you see why I tear out my hair?

So what if we believed we had everything we need? And that God, our great creator, was the one who supplied us with all our needs. "Supplied" is too sterile a word to use in this context. Provide. He provides us all our needs; what if we believed that? Do you believe that? Does that scare you? Does that comfort you?

Is it in our nature to always want more, therefore making us feel like we never have everything we need? Where will that kind of thinking get us?

I don't have any answers for this one, my friends. Ann doesn't have answers, exactly, either, but do go to her blog post and read her beautiful reflections.

To know that you are totally taken care of by God, that all your needs are met, takes great faith. I'll capitalize that: it takes great Faith. It takes the kind of Faith that seasoned Christians have. I am only a neophyte. Therefore, no. I don't feel like I have all that I need.

Does that show a disrespect toward the Lord? I don't know. I don't want to deny all He's given me in my life and, especially, since my "dawning" in November of 2010.

I count my blessings every day, making a list of 1000 blessings and beyond just like Ann Voskamp and hundreds of women across the globe who have embraced her book. I am thankful, grateful, and yet I don't feel like I have all I need.

Is suffering tied into this? Suffering runs through my veins like blood and convinces me that I need it. That I crave it. That I can't survive without knowing I can survive. The survival of suffering shows me that I am alive.

But I needn't suffer any longer, I tell myself. Jesus suffered for all of us. We need to live as Christ-like as possible: with love, grace, beauty and in God's glory, for God's glory.

I wish I had an answer to this question or at least pondered as poetically as Ann does. But I'm content, at least for now, to be a neophyte and be in the place of absorption. Absorbing my Christian mentors' blogs, reading the Bible, discussing Faith (and faith) with Pastor, my husband, and friends, reading supplementary books about the Christ-life.

I know that, now being a Christian, I feel like I have more than I had before - and that must show that I feel more confident about having what I need.

It's a step.

What are your thoughts?

Bless you.

Dare to Compare

I have a running list of my favorite Christian blogs. Because I am a woman writer and mother, I look for others of the same ilk.

A few in particular come to mind whose words are poetic puzzles that I enjoy putting together. It seems as though they have a beautiful abundant life and even when they write of their messiness, it, too, is with beauty and grace. So their lives must be easy pieces of pie and sweet hymns, right?

I mean, look: she lives in the country on a farm raising a gaggle of kids. I live in a city and am a sort-of-Mom (i.e. step) to three.

She goes to a quaint country church where decoration is stripped down so only the holy remains. My church (bless it!) is not made of wooden clapboard, but has a distinct 1970s feel, rather than 1870.

Their family shares regular prayer time, hymn singing, and mission talk. We're just introducing confirmation class to our eldest who is having a rough time with it and are getting the younger two into Sunday School.

You see? It's easy for me to compare our lives. Look how gentle X is with her child who misbehaved. Why can't I do that in such a Godly way?

But look deeper and realize the crazy truth: that we're the same. X is no better than me. X yells at her children just as often as I gently coax apologies out of mine. These women aren't some sainted, chosen women who perfect the world with their words. They bless and enhance this world because of their willingness to share, but I am - or can be - just as much a contributor to this wonderful world as they are.

Our new house, beneath melting snow, has the promise of dozens of flowers and landscaped plants. It isn't a field of wildflowers to trollop through, but it's God's beauty all the same. God blesses us all.

So if you ever read this blog or my articles and think, boy, she is gracefully perfect, I beg you to look at my chewed nails, dark eye circles, and therapy bills. And yet I have a loving, God-fearing husband, three affectionate stepchildren and a house more beautiful than I'd ever dreamed of.

We're all blesed. Us bloggers or writers just choose to chronicle those blessings. So the next time you're tempted to say, "Oh, X has such a better/cleaner/more organized life than mine," remember that we are all as different as we are the same - and that maybe is the most beautiful, imperfect thing of all.

Bless you.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Centrality of Us

I spent much of today in a claustrophobic bubble with a film over my eyes. It's back.

January of 2010 (and remember, this was before I found Christ) I plummeted into a five-month long depression with bits of hyper-normalcy. I felt unlike I had ever felt before - like I was manically depressed. Depressed to the nth degree - to the point of not being able to sit still. I was so full of anguish and terror and awful thoughts. I talked to doctors and they said that people with mental illnesses often get triggered by the changes of weather, strangely enough, like warm weather inserting itself into the end of Winter. Lately, it's been mild and in the upper 30s and 40s. And with that change has come the panic, the depression, the terror. Yes, it is all happening again.

I spent much of the day looking inward, asking inward questions (even to God), like, "Will I always be like this now? Is this a yearly thing now? Why?"

I spent much of the day in a mixture between numbness and hyper depression.

I was at a job site with a client and I went to buy a soda and the sales person gave it to me for free since I worked with the client and said I could have it as an I.O.U. I grinned and said thank you.

And that simple exchange, believe it or not, pushed me out of the bubble and I entered the real world, feeling like the real me for the first time that day.

Why am I telling you this? How does it relate to God and Christianity? I promised myself when I started this blog that it would not simply turn into a daily whining of my depressions and mood changes. I will tell you how it has to do with God.

I was driving home listening to my favorite radio program, Live the Promise, and I wish you could have seen my facial expression while I drove and listened.

My eyebrows were arched, eyes wide, jaw slack. I hung on every word. David Bryant was the guest and a most passionate one at that! The topic was simple: celebrating and worshiping Jesus Christ.

Mr. Bryant used two words that hit me like a semi: centrality vs. supremacy of our devotion to Christ. He described how, in today's culture, we make Christianity into a very need-based religion. We pray and pray and ask Jesus/God to help us with this or that. We focus on what we need. Don't get me wrong; it is not wrong to pray for help in life. Jesus wants us to find solace and comfort in Him. He wants to be our Savior. But does the definition of that only look like us asking Jesus for things? He is our Savior only if He gives us what we want? That is the centrality
of Christianity. We are centered around what we need.

Supremacy is when we live for Christ. We recognize Jesus as our Lord and Savior and live our lives accountable to Him. Mr. Bryant told a parable: take an empty bottle to the ocean and fill it up with water. That is centrality. You are focused on the water (Jesus) filling up the bottle (you). But supremacy is when you throw the bottle (you) out into the ocean (Jesus) and the bottle fills quickly and thus begins to descend further and further into the mystery of the ocean, surrounded by it, infused by it.

I know about centrality, though on a more psychological level.

I've always been what I call self-centric. And yes, that could mean selfish in some circles. Because I've been depressed all of my life, in and out of hospitals at times, in and out of therapist offices, dipping and jumping, all over the board, I have spent a lot of time navel-gazing.

As a young adolescent, my mother and I would lie on her bed and I would tear up and look into her chocolate eyes and ask, "Mom, why am I like this?"

You can imagine this would pain a parent to hear. She wrapped her arms around me and said she didn't know, but she would help me find out.

She died before we found out.

I still don't know. And so I look at the Ultimate Parent: God, why am I like this?


Lately, I've pondered why I haven't felt a strong connection to God/Jesus. Husband and I pray every night together. We pray long monologues where we release our vulnerabilities and celebrations. We pray for people and we ask for blessings upon us. As I think of it now, I realize that most of my praying is self-centric. I feel ashamed about that.

And yet I know that Jesus wants to help us. I know He does. He wants to our Helper, our Comforter. But what can we give Him? What can I give Him? How do I know when I am fully giving myself to Him? I feel so confused.

One thing I realized is that, in the past, I've only trusted myself to give me what I need. I've been hurt so much that I decided to protect myself. I wouldn't let anyone have the chance to hurt me again. So I gave myself what I needed - or tried to.

Now that I'm a Christian, I'm seeing that I need to give all that up. I have to give my life to Christ. I have to trust in Him and His will.

I write that and look at it and wonder, how in the world do I know when I'm doing it? All I know now is that I don't feel as close to Jesus as I think I could.

Granted, I am a new believer. I shouldn't ask to see the entire world when I am just learning about my own city. I shouldn't get down on myself for not feeling as close to Jesus as I could. I will get there, I'm sure.


When I received the free soda today, simply smiling and saying thank you broke me out of that bubble. I left my navel-gazing world and entered God's world. And, of course, I immediately felt the life re-enter me. I stepped into the person I am on most days, when I am not in the mire and dire of depression.

I don't have a simple, clean closure for this entry. This is a work-in-progress. I've known my whole life that I've been too self-centric and yet I can't seem to stop. It's been a constant battle. I'm ashamed of it and the more ashamed I become, the more I think about it and, thus, the more self-centric I become. That hideous circle.

So I guess I'll end this by saying that I am on a quest to know Jesus more personally. I want to know what I can give Him.

This scares me. Giving means being vulnerable.

Vulnerable means being hurt.

But if anyone will heal this broken heart, it's Jesus.

Bless all us broken people.

Bless you.

Friday, February 11, 2011

I Dare You...

As you may know, I am reading Ann Voskamp's, "One Thousand Gifts" and it is shaking up my already-shaken up world. But by shaking, I don't mean my usual unsteady, hand-trying-to-find-a-sure-thing kind of shaking. I mean an I-was-lost-and-now-I'm-found kind of shaking. A shaking of the head to get the cobwebs out, to let the light shine through the barn doors.

I am almost finished with the book, even though the online book club is only discussing chapter two right now. I will go back and re-read the first page the second I finish reading the last.

I want to talk about something that is at the heart of this book, however. That is, thanksgiving. Or, as Ann also calls it, thanksliving. In Greek, the word is eucharisteo. Yes, you are right in seeing the word, Eucharist, in it. The entire book is about being grateful and counting blessings. Yet it goes so much deeper than that.

Right now, however, I want to start simple. Ann writes in mazes, poetic playgrounds, beautiful drops of prayer. I could only hope to write like her one day. For now, I'm going to focus on my own idea of what gratitude is.

I started my own list of 1,000 gifts today in a blue notebook (thank you, Cindee, for mailing me the perfect notebook in which to re-write this) and realized tow things about the process of discovering things in which to be grateful.

First, I noticed that I looked around me and also thought back to moments in my life that were beautiful. I wrote down: sunset.

But I wasn't satisfied with that. What's wrong? I asked myself. A sunset is something to be grateful for. Who wouldn't be? It's a Godly experience, watching the sun set. Right? Of course! That was when I realized I was writing down what I thought I should be writing down. But I continued.

What next to count as a blessing? I wrote it down: my children. Still, I felt incomplete. What was wrong?

Then I realized the second thing: I was not inspired. Yes, these were wonderful things, but I felt obligated to write them down. I knew that, in the craft of writing, one had to be intentional and specific in details. Maybe I had to be in gratitude, too. And not had to or ought to, but maybe the experience would be all the more richer if I was specific and rich.

I tried: sunset across our white backyard fence. Yes, I could picture it. Try it again: 7-year-old jumping into my arms and hooking onto my arms and swinging. Yes! I thought. Oh, I could almost feel her swinging there, back and forth, a giggling pendulum in fast-motion.

That was it. I shouldn't write a list of blessings based on what I thought I had to be grateful for. I had to be inspired. I had to relax my mind and body and think: Beauty. Love. Eucharisteo. Thanksgiving. Thanksliving.

In the beginning of reading the book, I had little "sympathy" for a beautiful women living in the country with a gaggle of loving, Christ-centered children, who had the time and energy to thank God for the sprinkling of cheese on a pizza:

I roll out the dough, sprinkle the ring cheese on round pizza thin. I feel how the sun lies down warm across hands and how thanks soaks through the pores (p58).

Surely, I wouldn't have time or energy to notice such minute things. And, indeed, if you continue, Ann writes, "I think how God-glory in a cheese ring might seem trifling. Even offensive, to focus the lens of a heart on the minute, in a world mangled and maimed and desperately empty."

I think to myself, yes. See, Ann? Even you realize the silliness in this.

But the poet-me, the idealist-me, okay, the Real Me, said, "Ann's right. Holy can be found in any little thing." And maybe it gets holier the smaller you go. There's a chapter further in the book about going lower... seeing with a smaller, child-like perspective... and how important that is.

God does not say, "You must be grateful for this...and this...and this..."

We say, "this...and this...and oh, I should thank Him for this..."

but do we really mean it? Are we really full of thanksgiving, eucharisteo, for this thing? This whatever we have written down or thought about?

So I dare you, just as Ann dares you on the cover of her book - "a dare to live fully right where you are" - to really examine the thing you are saying you are grateful for.

Don't short-change your prayer of thanks.

Thank you for my

Name those blessings. Name what health you are glad of. Name your children and what they do that blesses you. What about your finances thrills you? Why do you love your work?

God does not order you to be grateful. He does, however, want you to come to the place of gratitude. And if that journey was made THROUGH Him and not JUST BECAUSE of Him, all the better.

Insert eucharisteo into your vocabulary.

I dare you.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Thankful Thursday - An Accident with Purpose

I remember when I stumbled in the wind

You heard my cry to You and raised me up again
my strength is almost gone
how can I carry on
if I can't find You
and as the thunder rolls I barely hear You whisper
through the rain
"I'm with you"
and as Your mercy falls
I raise my hands and praise
the God who gives and takes away
-- "Praise You in This Storm," Casting Crowns

At church, a few days ago, I watched this video that Pastor showed us:

(the only version I could find online had Spanish subtitles, my apologies, except to my Spanish readers:) )

I hope you can watch the whole thing. It's about 10 minutes long. It had a profound effect on me.

So now, with two references to rain, let me tell you how it rained on me today.

It was the first day after a big blizzard; I dropped off all three kids at their respective schools/day care. The sun was out, the streets slick. I drove on a busy city street and was too close to the car in front of me. I pressed my breaks to back up as he was coming to a stop, but I rear-ended him. The front of my car was pretty smashed-in. I was grateful that

a. the kids weren't in the car
b. no one was hurt

but in terms of being grateful for other things, I was less than peppy. The situation went deeper and how, I won't get into, but there were consequences that could hurt us immeasurably. I cried and cried in the car. Both the other driver and the policeman were kind to me in a matter-of-fact way. I just crumbled into my own ball of fear, anger, and self-pity.

I called out to God: "how could you let this happen? Just this morning I looked at our checking account and we were in the black still with bills to pay. Why, God?"

I felt it raining hard on me. The kind of rain that the lyrics in the Casting Crowns song talks about and the kind of rain that is talked about in the video by NOOMA.

I felt angry at God. We had such a great couple of days - we received anonymous help during the blizzard with snowblowing our driveway and a neighbor brought over cookies...we were just reaching out to people and helping them unselfishly, not expecting anything, and receiving so much back.

But here I was, the next day, in a pretty bad car accident, having just put us further and further into debt. We've been praying about so many things: money being at the top of the list. How do You want us to spend our money, Lord? We can't take that step out on a limb and tithe yet, as You say we should do in Scripture, but we want to give back to You and our church - to do that we need to have our debt under control.

And now...I had just caused us a lot of trouble. Yes, I was angry at God for the first time since I came to Him this past November.

Then, that song came on the radio: "Praise You in This Storm" by Casting Crowns. One of my favorite songs. I knew the lyrics and message well. I needed to praise God even as the rain came down upon me.

So I prayed. I prayed that the financial burden wouldn't be too awful. I prayed that I would learn my lesson not to tailgate so much (and I have!) and I praised God for not having anyone hurt.

I thought of the NOOMA video and realized that He was not the God causing this to happen, but the God who was walking beside me, holding me - the baby - to His chest and whispering, "I love you...I love you..."

So today is Thankful Thursday on Twitter. My Christian twitter name is @DoveWhisperer. And today I am thankful for my lesson learned, for my boss and her comforting, encouraging words, to my new friend, "T," for her reassurance and fellowship, and to Husband for forgiving my cruelty I bestowed upon him due to my own embarrassment and shame of the situation.

I am thankful I am okay. I am more than okay, really. More proof that He is beside me.


Bless you.