Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Beautiful Surprise of Fresh Eyes

I have been praying that this season of Advent be full of expectation, in a fresh way.  I wanted to consider the Gospel accounts, the worship, the music, the traditions with a fresh sense.  The season of Advent unfolded in a lovely, but predictable manner. Nothing "fresh"--- until late Christmas Eve afternoon.   

My church has, for its afternoon Christmas Eve service as a centerpiece, baptisms.  Sometimes there are many, this time two.  I was honored to assist with one this year. 

As the pastor walked the parents through details, the pastor said, "I will finish up with a prayer where we lay hands on you and your son,
praying for the day he stands before the church on his own proclaiming faith in Jesus Christ."  

The mom started to cry, she was so moved by this moment and the hope of that moment in the future.  It was touching and beautiful to see her emotion surface;  to see the depth of faithful love expressed in a spontaneous reaction. 

That was it.  Through her, I saw the majesty and import of it all with fresh eyes.  It was not what I expected and it was the best of surprises.  I worshipped with a joy and thankfulness anew.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Hardships Facing the Idle Rich

We finally shopped, wrapped, stamped and shipped a large pile of I don't even remember now to the Midwest where a large pile of kin are currently hunkering down through a blizzard.

Check off the list.

Enjoy an extra Christmas cookie.

 
Turn thoughts to the status of giving on the home
front.

It occurred to us that some of what we had so smugly ordered first week of December had yet to arrive.  No worries, three shipping days left.  Yet, we had not seen the charge on the bank statement either.

Pause for dramatic effect.

It turns out the the set of new knives that hubby JR had found for me at a great price appealed to many other people as well and will be delivered around January 18ish--just in time for the festive gift giving so often associated with MLK and the NFL playoffs.

Also, it seems the moccasins that I found for hubby JR are out of stock--they told me of this when I directly asked them when to expect the moccasins--and we should expect them by next Christmas, no problem.

So, outside some new perfume (I am guessing) and a new belt and sweater for JR, we will be exchanging our out of stock good intentions on Sunday morning

It was an odd experience.  It was a little like an overbooked flight without any remedy.  No apologies, or offer for free shipping or even notification that our orders won't be filled until well after Christmas.

I say it was odd, because it's not exactly sad, is it?   This is the kind of hardship that rich people face.  Do we cancel, wait or scramble to find an alternative gift?

If I shared this with almost anyone else in the world they would be well maybe amused at what passes for a problem in the USA, probably shocked at what passes for a problem in the USA.

Of course I am not making light of the real trials people face (see last post), but I am making light of my current dilemma, because it feels a little like a problem, but is it really a problem of too much good stuff?

So what are the idle rich to do when confronted with such hardship?   Well, we decided to laugh at it, and give thanks for the hangnails and hangups of too much good stuff.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Faith, Hope and Love: The Greatest of These is Love

I have sat on this one for a while.

Advent is the season expectation.   Words most often associated with it include: joy, lights, giving.

God interrupts time to invade the plant He made, we broke,  with a great and holy gift.  His son.

For God so loved this broken world, he gave his son.

Within this season, I received a note from a good friend.  She was passing on a note from one of her friends.  It was a different kind of interruption.  There is within the story a whisper of the great and holy gift, but also the grief and pain of the most painful of all losses.

Why am I sharing this --the anguish is real, but so is the honest beauty of faith in a living God even when confronted with such pain.  It's the kind of honesty and the depth of faith that inspires an instructs as to the realities of a broken world and how we survive with faith. 

Also, I am asking you to pray for both my friend who forwarded the note to me and for the writer--a wife, mom, daughter and friend who is hurting a great deal as she says goodbye to her husband.

First the background note from my friend:

 "I wanted to share a prayer request last night but it was too tender and I was scared I was going to burst into tears. Some of you may know of them.  The husband has been fighting cancer for over 15 years and we met them in 2000 when when my husband was first was diagnosed. Since that time, the wife and I have been through so much together and are bonded by faith and our almost exact experiences with cancer. Their faith has been an amazing witness and I wanted to share this with you because this is exactly what our study group talked about a couple of weeks ago. Exactly....This is the wife's post from their Caring Bridge website. As you feel led, please pray for this precious family and dear friends. Thank you!!!

Now:  The Caring Bridge Post from the wife/friend my fried mentioned:
"Remembering God's character--

God is good. God is faithful. God is loving. God gives His perfect peace. I can go on and on. Even when these difficult times come, I am reminded that He is able to hold us up. He is going to take care of us. He is going to provide and remain our faithful God. Everything else will be ok because of Him. But it doesn't mean it will be easy....


Today I took Tom back to the hospital for IV fluids and IV nutrition. He was admitted but as of this writing (almost 10pm) he still has not started the IV fluids! This is so frustrating!! Patience has never been my strong suit, but I am trying.


Yesterday was one of the most difficult days I have ever had, and I have had some tough ones. We had to tell the kids that Tom may not get better and that he might go to be with Jesus. Never a conversation you want to have. We had emotions all across the board- lots of tears, fears and anger. But in the end, precious time together as a family and an opportunity to say things that might get left unsaid for a lifetime. Another precious blessing wrapped in difficulty.


We hope to have a heart to heart with our doctor tomorrow and also see how Tom is responding to the fluids. I have already been in contact with a local hospice and will see if and when that transition will be made.


Please continue to pray. We have felt the Spirit move on our behalf. We have experienced His peace. But I have also felt like someone has ripped the heart from my chest. I almost can't breathe at times. I can't imagine Tom, the love of my life for over 20 years, not being with me. But I trust God and His character. I trust Him for Tom, our children and myself. He is worthy."


Thanks for lifting up this family in prayer.  I give thanks for their faith and their love for each other. 


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

What Will I Give Up for What's Behind Door #2?

I was writing away at my desk, in my bedroom and the phone rings. A friend wanted a recommendation of a Christian author for a Christmas gift.

As the conversation wandered she shared a story about a woman in New York who spent a year looking for the key to happiness and how thorough her research was for this project.

My friend then commented, “she is not just some woman sitting in her bedroom writing a blog.” No kidding. Ouch. I actually laughed because the irony was too sweet.


 
What I was writing, in my bedroom:

 
In sorting through notes, as I am in between studies and cleaning up, I found this summary of recent research on greed published in the NIV Application Commentary (Luke).

 
• Respondents said for 10 million dollars:
o 25% would leave their family
o 25% would leave their church
o 23% would become a prostitute for a week
o 16% would give up American citizenship
o 16% would leave their spouse
o 13% would put their children up for adoption.
 
Now, if you think through these hypothetical stats you see some contradictions (abandon family vs. leave spouse, are they not the same?) Also, some seem low—I think more than 25% would leave their church for 10 million dollars. However, letting go of those issues, it points to a personal and probing question:

 
At what price will I sell out my integrity? For what reward will I cave morally?

 
• If I am paid in comfort (no interruptions, no rejection, no risk)

 
• If I am paid in recognition (look at me)

 
• If I am paid in self satisfaction (it is all about me)

 
Whatever the compensation—what price turns my head away from what I should do to what I am willing to give up for something immoral, but desirable.

 
What is the tipping point that creates a change in direction—where greed wins?

 

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

How Dare You Say Something Kind!

Last night, at a neighborhood study group, a woman offered up a really nice compliment.  After I closed the study in prayer, she suggested that I open a prayer line for people to call in so I can pray for them.

You would have thought she suggested I dye my hair red and green to express true Christmas spirit.

In my typical false modesty fashion I responded with a deflecting joke about my Midwestern nasal sound that is not really made for amplification or recording.  I then make another not so funny joke about being Lucy from Peanuts cartoon, chagrining while charging people 5 cents at a prayer help booth, after I bully Charlie Brown.

This is actually an improvement.  I used to argue with people when they complimented me. 

Once a gentleman praised a class I led, and I just about took him to the woodshed.  Really, we ended up laughing as I protested his kindness directed at me by telling him directly he was wrong.

Why am I uncomfortable with another's kind appreciation? 

When someone says they like my flip flops, I smile and say thank you.  When I get a kudos for my cookie bars, I offer up the recipe.  Yet, when someone dares to say something nice about my study, leadership or writing I want to forcefully reject such talk as outrageous.

On the surface it seems like a form of humility, but it's actually false modesty and sometimes just rude.

Humility is putting the interests of others behind my own interests but false modesty is refusing to accept a gift of affirmation from other in a form of pretense.

When I cooperate with God and serve faithfully I should not be taken back when others are blessed--not so much for my fabulousness, but that how God works--through others. 

When the response is positive, that is evidence of sound ministry-in the Bible it's called fruit.  As long as I realize that from the perspective of a servant, giving people room to express appreciation is not arrogant.

It's sometimes hard to point to God as the one who really deserves credit-that can be a odd way of putting people off too.  It's like I would be saying...you shouldn't have complimented me that way, you should have given credit to Christ.  Yes, to God be the glory, but I don't need to scold or edit someone's kind words.  

It is not interpersonal relational calculus to accept another's appreciation in a humble way--it's not hard, so why do I make it hard?

I need to take the kindness when it's offered as a gift.   Open it, enjoy it, enjoy it and remember really it is a response to my faithful service to God and equipping from God.

Monday, November 28, 2011

A Perfect Season to Choose Healing

I just read the revised edition of Healing is a Choice by Steve Arterburn, who also hosts the excellent radio program and ministry, New Life Live. Healing is an excellent personal or church resource.
Arterburn structures his entire work around the question Christ poses to the man in John 5:6, “do you want to get well?” From that perspective he offers up 10 decisions that lead to wellness and 10 lies that slow down or block wellness.

While the answers to the questions and the unpacking of the lies are sound and helpful, what is most powerful are the stories that accompany each. Arterburn starts with the frank description of his divorce and then includes many other life stories that do more than evoke compassion they effectively point to application.

The book includes a vehicle for journaling, a concise Bible study and challenges that move the reader in healthy directions. It works as a tool for individual application on to use as a group.

It’s much more than advice—it is an honest portrait of typical brokenness and proven, practical path to healing. It’s sound, relevant and thorough. Most of all, it’s encouraging that we can confront what holds us with confidence –if we choose to be well.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Friendship & Feeling: Ladies Only

Grinning:


A conversation that I am sure no two men have ever shared.

I had lunch today with a good friend and shared a story about how I had done something significant, and it was ignored. I was at a point of frustration.

She encouraged me, sympathized with me, and affirmed me— all the good stuff a good friend does at such a time.

Then she said, “You need to go and tell this person that she has hurt your feelings, and you are taking it personally.”

While, that is true (how I feel), it occurred to me later, that no man on the planet would suggest or do what she suggested and I briefly entertained. What it may offer in therapeutic release it also costs, in lunacy.

Where does such a confrontation lead…would I feel better with a dismissive, “oh I am sorry.” I don’t think so. Would I find comfort in making a point? No, I would feel needy and sort of pitiful.

It’s not that honesty isn’t the best policy. It is. Yet, there is time for wisdom to quiet me down.

Besides, when this sort of thing crops up, it’s a good time to remember who ultimately do I serve and who I really need to seek to please.

Oh, and with some humility consider who I may have overlooked recently who is having lunch with a friend talking about how I hurt her feelings…

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Better At Bats

Last night I sat in a barn while one of my chickadees took a batting lesson.  I worked through a Bible study assignment while she worked through the effectiveness of her swing. 

I was struck by questions her coach asked, and thought as I muddled through this assignment on self control--hmmm, that's relevant.

Coach:  Why do you not think about your grip?
Chickadee:  I don't know, I just swing.
Coach:  Why do you think you do it this way?
Chickadee:  Because it's comfortable.
Coach:  Do you recognize that you have other options, and while it may feel funny it will produce what you want?
Chickadee:  I guess.
Coach:  Which way just got you though with a rocket.
Chickadee:  The new way of gripping.
Coach:  So when you grip it different something different and good happens.
Chickadee:  Yeah
Coach:  So, make the decision yourself.  Do it.

I thought about areas inconsistency and repeated traps of undiscipline.  It occurred to me that I don't even think about it as a approach it.  In the abstract, concepts of life I want to "do better" but too often I go through the motions in the most familiar, comfortable way.  

What if I start with a decision about my grip, recognizing I have options and what are those options.  What if I practiced with various options until I discovered the most effective?  What if I do the thing that works best even if it feels weird. 

Mom and Dot may start hitting rockets. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Author Fails to Answer His Own Question as to Where

Where Has Oprah Taken Us? The Religious Influence of the World’s Most Famous Woman by Stephen Mansfield is a frustrating read. Why, because Mansfield does not capture the extent of that influence at all.


He does a thorough job of highlighting the spiritual celebrities who frequented the Oprah show, but does not offer up what impression they really made on the audience. He tries to capture what impression it made on Oprah’s personal belief, but that is speculation and conjecture.

Another disappointment—the heavy reliance on Kitty Kelley’s Oprah biography. I have not actually watched an entire episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show and so Mansfield may be assuming a familiarity with the program in his readers that I don’t share. Still, it would be a much more substantive work and more true to the title if there was empirical evidence of influence.

Is it is possible that the people featured on the show were received as mere entertainment?

The strongest quality to the writing is a clear exposition of New Age, Postmodern relativism that glorifies the individual to a God-like stature. Mansfield does a good job of documenting how these New Age personalities (Iyanla Vanzant, Deepak Chopra, Gary Zukav, Eckhart Tolle, Marianne Williamson) contradict each other and logic and even the faith traditions (Christianity, Judaism, Tao, Zen, and Hindu).

He effectively points to Oprah Winfrey’s attempts to embrace all of these as inspiration and revelation—and that such a response to this is absurd.

Yet, he fails to finish that with the mark it really made on her viewers and fans. If Mansfield really believes that Oprah has become, “the priestess of an innovative brand of spirituality, one that was even reshaping the place and nature of religion in American life,” (xiii) he needs to make that case.

The book is an assumption that because Oprah highlights these works and words on her enormous platform it resonated in an impactful way with the viewer.

Perhaps it did, but Mansfield needs to demonstrate that, not assume it. This is an interesting compilation of modern humanism but does not accomplish what it sets out to do.

I read and reviewed this book as a part of Thomas Nelson Publishing Booksneeze program.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Journey without the Moses Moment

Spent some time today, not really facing a writer’s block, but a bit of a writer’s speed bump.

I offered to submit a story for my church’s annual Advent devotional.

This year’s them is Awakened and the gist was to collect stories of transformational faith experiences.  

I was wide awake, and alertly drawing a blank.

Awoke to my daughter’s orthodontist appointment this morning and I shared with her this theme and the concept of a transformational experience for this devotional, while we waited for her to be fitted for a zebra striped retainer.

Sally replied, “Oh yeah, I get it. I call those Moses moments. I don’t really have those.”

Apples don’t fall far.

God stirs me in everyday, ordinary moments that don’t make for one captivating story but it’s like a good recipe that builds layers of flavor.

I can read almost anything by Philip Yancey, or spend some somber time in prayer over requests from friends in my study class and be moved by both the power and presence of God.

I look at my rapidly growing girls, my kind and funny husband, my church that I love and I am struck by the overflowing blessing of love and relationships. I delight and give thanks for those gifts.

I am learning more and more about faithful responses in times of trial, and in time of tranquility. I am learning from God how to hold all of this loosely, to be in a posture to give and to receive from him.

“Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long. “ Psalm 25:5

Father, I want to learn to love, honor and know you with all I have. I pray that it shows in what I think, what I say and what I do. I thank and praise you for the mercy and grace you pour out to me. I pray that you find me cooperative with your purpose. I ask and seek this in Christ’s name. Amen.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Words

Words.  I love words.  I love speaking them, listening to them, reading them and writing them.  I just re-read my last post and thought about the line, "words can easily hurt but can rarely heal."   It just hit me what a strong statement I wrote, even in context.

Is it true?  I spent some time this morning using words to persuade one of my daughters to study more effectively.  I even asked her to consider what else might motivate her because the many words I was using involving consequence, implication and application--none of it was resonating.

I teach Bible studies because I know the truth in Scripture (inspired words) leads to a more confident, more honest, more impactful faith walk. 

What started this wordy tome on words, you ask (good question).  This bottle of lotion on my desk.  I don't need much to launch. 

If you can't read it, let me translate.  This lotion will, "melt away stress and help you unwind and feel at ease."  WOW.  Who knew? 

I realize that in the United States advertising and marketing writers are required to exaggerate, stretch and entice.  However, this reaches beyond the limit of a good pitch.

Is this harmless, just a far fetched use of words to attract my attention away from the 1,253 other lotions with the same sort of smell? 

Does it point to a greater issue that we so misuse words that we communicate and create empty meaning?

I am reading for a review a book about the spirituality of Oprah Winfrey.  Not a huge fan of this book or Oprah for that matter, thus the my plodding approach to the assignment.  However, the book is full incredible exaggeration that passes for inspiration or revelation.  Like the lotion bottle. 

Has our careless hyperbole created a problem in our ability to wisely communicate or are we just silly?

I don't know, I revisit my words to a friend about the power of words to hurt someone and the rare occasion when words really help.  I wonder if our misuse adds fuel to that dilemma?

Takeaway:  use words with care.

Also:  this lotion does smell good and makes one's skin soft.  Period.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Tough Question

I really only have one friend who asks me for advice.  I have more than one friend (I am pretty sure about that) but one who calls or e-mails me with pointed questions, wanting an answer.  I have not posted for a while, so I will post her question and my answer.  A Dear Abby of sorts.  Perhaps you will read it and conclude one advice seeking friend is one too many. 

Question from my friend:

This was sent to me by my friend, regarding her mom. The suffering is great. What to say to help? 
And here is what her friend had written to her...
I'm a little tired of all the church signs that intimate God answers all prayers. I must be praying for the wrong thing......And I was not even asking for the miracle.

My answer:

I don’t understand prayer. I really don’t “get it”.
I do think that church signs in general, even the charming or warm ones are mistake. Completely wrong vehicle to communicate anything beyond name, time.

As to your friend. I don’t know what to say to her because there are no words that will comfort. Words can easily hurt but they rarely can heal.

As to "answered prayer": 2 things happen when I pray. The first is I start to reflect Christ in that I care about others in a way that I really believes he does. Prayer puts me in a posture to focus on others, want the best for others, forgive others, show compassion and mercy to others. 

The other thing that happens when I pray is I am in a posture to be moved. The quote I keep in my prayer journal: the nature of your prayers are the description of your duty.

It occurs to me just a God/me moment is not the end game. I need to look for way to minister/love/act. It also moves my mind to consider a healthier, more faithful perspective.

If I am in prayer about someone or something that hurts, I start to consider a longer view than my normal default position. In other words, the Spirit starts to show me things beyond my little world.

Not sure, in fact I would suspect neither of those answers will “help” your friend. The truth is, her mom, whom she loves, is dying in a cruel way. It’s out of everyone’s control except God and there is not much evidence that he will interfere in the course of events to change the direction of this insidious disease.

It points to the truth that we all—faithful and people of no faith feel—how can a God who is described as being the essence of love allow that, when he has the power to change it?

We as parents would, as an act of love, protect our children from such horror-- if it were in our power. Why does God not protect us from the horror, pain, anguish, suffering of most death? Good and fair questions. I don’t know the answer.

There is ZERO comfort or satisfaction in this kind of pain to the reality of God’s mystery sovereign nature and the reality of broken world. It adds to the pain when we try and give someone a condescending theological pat on the back as she watches her mom die.

I always pray for healing because I think God wants me to want that for others. And I do want that for her mom and for her broken heart. I am so grateful when healing comes to people.

As a person of faith, I do believe that complete healing and wholeness won’t come on this earth—everything both good and bad is temporary and partial.

I am so sorry that the church signs add pain —Christians mess this and other things up all the time. In our limitations we corrupt sharing the love and good news too often so it’s neither loving nor is it good news.

I don’t thinks of prayers as ASK and ANSWERED—I don’t have that kind of clarity on God’s providence. I lift up people and circumstances and seek to care, to faithfully respond to both. I hope for things, give thanks for things, express negative and positive—tell God what I want, but not with an ask/answer loop in mind.

However, as I said before, I don’t really get prayer. I do it because I know it is a faithful response and it helps move me in right directions.

I am so sorry for you, your friend and her mom. It’s devastating. I hope your friendship overshadows the pain these insipid church signs cause and she feels and trusts in your love and care.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Stringing Pearls: Learning From Another

Steve Jobs passed away--have you heard?  The words legacy, visionary, icon, greatest, most, once in a generation are free flowing as his life and work are remembered and honored. 


Andy Crouch of Christianity Today wrote an article capturing some unique reflections on this complex man here.   One of the observations of Crouch is that Jobs put, "the fruits of insanely complex engineering into accessible form."  That Jobs made this technology both, "safe and cool for ordinary people."  What is interesting is Crouch calls this Jobs' gospel. That Jobs was a messenger of good news and hope on a secular platform. 


I don’t know if Steve Jobs’ believed in Christ.  In his famous Stanford graduation address Jobs said:  “in connecting dots you have to trust in something:  your gut, destiny, life, Karma, whatever…but follow you heart.”  Not the typical expression of a Christian,  but Jobs life and work bless us and move us in positive way. 

Can Christians --the church learn from Jobs' brilliance?  Can we take the real good news and real hope and put it on a platform that is accessible and exciting and relevant?  Are the ways I express faith "safe and cool for ordinary people"? 

I think some of the hallmarks of Jobs' life and work leave much for us to learn. He still is an effective teacher.

My takeaway.  Launching from what is now said about Jobs/Apple, I challenge myself to learn from Jobs/Apple and engage life and work,  people and programs with four dimensions:
  • Creativity: Are the thoughts words and deeds inspiring, interesting? Too often the message of faith is over simplified, insipid platitudes (see prosperity teaching) or burdened hyper intellectual pretense that moves to hostile debate (see reaction to Rob Bell). Neither tone reflects the creative connection Christ, Paul or even Deuteronomy—yes Deuteronomy—to know and grow as a Christ follower.
  • Simplicity: Is my work and words following the straight path of my faith? We are broken. We need healing. There is hope to move from one to the other through Christ.
  • Relevance: We should ask ourselves, what difference does this truth make in my relationships, my circumstances, my work, my dreams and ambitions? It should move us in obvious, everyday ways. The inspired should infect the ordinary.
  • Honesty: It is true? Faith is not an abstract set of ideas, it’s not philosophy. It’s God moving into the human heart to receive grace and release grace.
I give thanks for Steve Jobs life. 

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Stained Glass Hearts: Faithful Hope and Humor

Stained Glass Hearts, by Patsy Clairmont is a treasured collection of faith stories partnered with an "Art Gallery" devotional section including suggested paintings, music and Scriptures to add to the experience and perspective of brokenness and healing.  Clairmont uses stained glass as a metaphor for Christian living--Christ's light shining through cracked glass creates a beautiful image.

In classic Women of Faith honesty and grand humor she reveals her stories with winsome wisdom.  She and her writing are a delight.  Clairmont begins the book sharing her troubles growing up and the pain of enduring through her son's life threatening illness.  These are powerful testimonies and her honesty evokes a strong response. 

Stained Glass Hearts captures what it means to faithfully live with hope --and humor.

I also loved her chapter on reading--it's so practical and encouraging.  She shares not the who and what she reads but also the why and how she reads, concluding with C.S. Lewis' comment, "we read to know we are not alone."  It's a lovely surprise topic for a devotional book.

Overall, its a pleasant read.  It's perfect to carry around and drop into when you have a few minutes to sit and take in a quick story.  The addition of suggested art is also nice, the book would be far more substantial if the images she refers to were included in the actual book. 

If you are a Woman of Faith fan, or a lover of storytelling this would be a great addition to your library.  Patsy Clairmont leaves her listeners better than she first found them--adding to their heart and soul with love and laughter.

I reviewed this book as part of Thomas Nelson Publishing Booksneeze Program.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Zebras and Ducks

The Lord is my light and my salvation--whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the stronghold of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?  ....Though an army besiege me, my heart will  not fear;  though war break out against me, even then I will be confident.  One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.  For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling;  he will hide me in the shelter of his Tabernacle and set me high upon a rock.  ...Hear my voice when I call, O Lord;  be merciful to me and answer me.   My heart says of you, "seek his face." Your face, Lord, I will seek.  Teach me your way O Lord, lead me in a straight path because of my oppressors.  I am sill confident of this;  I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.  Wait for the Lord, be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.   excepts from Psalm 27

Personally, September has been a drag.  There has been loads of blessing and laughter but personally, it has been a wad of tension.  Something was wrong on the inside and I knew it.  By inside I mean literally the inside not some metaphor for my soul spirit or emotional center or whatnot.  The same ole things were not doing their same ole thing.

My first response.  Denial.  Denial is such a sweet liar.   Really.  It offers such compelling comfort in the form of distraction and rationalization--and as time marches forward and the problem grows, the fake escape hatch of denial keeps lurking around.  Maybe today I will feel better, "it" will go away.  As with all denial, "it"  not only stayed but made "it's" presence more known and more felt. 

Next:  seek comfort from hubby JR who, as noted in earlier posts has an abundance of logic and pragmatism.  "Call a doctor and relax," he says, "when you hear galloping behind you think horses not zebras."

I smiled and stared.  Not relaxed.

Well in JR's advice was truth and it was truth in love, but it did not comfort because it was not the answer I wanted. 

Next:  waiting in the doctor's office reading my Twitter feed--it occurs to me you are now concerned for my sanity when I confess to denial and having a Twitter feed within the same story.   Anyway, someone posted a quote from Rosa Parks on my feed:  "I have learned over the years that when one's mind is made up, this diminishes fear.  Knowing what must be done does away with fear."

Well, there is truth in that, and a little comfort as I kicked denial to the curb.

Next:  doctor M.  such a kind and smart man, who has as a nurse Bonnie who is equally kind and smart.  Took Dr. M all of 78 seconds to find the problem by looking at my blood work and my body.  Verdict:  a fibroid that is creating severe anemia. 

I smiled and stared.  Not relaxed.

In my defense, it's not easy to relax in an outfit made from paper towels.

I was trying to pretend I had quiet confidence.  I failed.  What I really thought was, well I have some form of abdominal cancer.  I actually started to wonder what treatment for abdominal cancer will do to my schedule, my relationships.  Who and how will I tell?  Dr. M. actually sorta yelled at me...Carol, this is really what it is (not cancer, fibroid), stop spinning in other directions.  I had not said anything but my staring must have spoken a lot.  Dr. M says, "If it walks like a duck, quacks,  ya know,  like a duck, looks like a duck it's well a duck."  I told you he was smart.

I smiled and asked him.  How do you know it's a duck?

He smiled and reviewed what he saw in my tests/examination (actual facts) and then told me that in 18 years, he'd seen this exact thing a lot (actual experience), and never, not one deviation from my symptoms.  He made it clear I was not going to be the first time he was wrong,  he then announed  we (he) will run a few more tests to confirm what he already knew-- that  need to take some iron and come in for an ultra sound and we will look at some options to fix it.  Dr. M, "I am not worried, you shouldn't  either.  STOP."  All of that from my stare, and follow up duck question.

I smiled, left, called hubby who confirmed I am a duck on Web MD and then I went home to finish up Bible study.  Not relaxed, but no longer a wad of tension either.  Did you know that a sympton of iron deficiency is irritability--JR smiled at that.

Enter Psalm 27:  fear, confidence, waiting and wanting the goodness of the Lord.  In the lesson was a reference to God being iron for the soul--given my hours old diagnosis of significant iron deficiency, I thought much about the application of faith upon fear and trusting, leaning into to what I know and believe to be truth. 

Spent a large chunk on time on study.  I almost did not post this, until test scores were in and all was settled.  Then it occured to me the truth of Psalm 27, the results don't matter to the outcome which is determined.  I will seek the Lord, and in that is my confience. 

I am not bold in my ability to manage this, but I am bold in the trust I have from faith.  I hope for good news  from Dr. M.'s office.  I hope I continue to prove him right.  I hope I am a duck.  The truth of Psalm 27 and what I really hold onto says that even if it's zebras and geese behind me, I don't have to settle for denial or fear but I know, "he will keep me safe in his dwelling." 

It may or may not be a season where that is tested, but I am bold in this--that when tested it's proven true--actual facts and experience.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Book Really Is Better

I went to see The Help  by Kathryn Stockett, over the weekend with a friend.  Great movie based on a great book about a devastating American culture.  As my friend and I discussed our thoughts about the movie, book and all things girl talk, it hit me why the book is better. 

I won't write as spoiler for the 1.3 people who have yet to see The Help,  but I was struck by how the movie has some great, powerful, confrontational scenes not in the book.  Why were they not in the book? 

Even though the book is fiction, its part of the memoir genre--based on a real life story, and no such confrontations happened in the real life, so those "scenes" from the screen were not on the page. 

We want them to be real, and Hollywood is so artistically good at exploiting our desires.  We want to have the last, best greatest word, and reduce our enemies to shiveringly shaking piles of tears.  We play those scenes out in our imagination and so when it plays out onto the big screen, it's a yeah, you tell 'em, right on,  kind of moment--it seems so powerful.

It's the "take this" moment of redemption.  But it's not real. 

In the real world, nice guys do finish last but without the last word.  Satisfaction comes at times in silence, without audience or desired outcome.  Battles can be won and moral victory achieved but not celebrated and often with a price.  That's real. 

Our egos often call out for our rightness to be acknowledged, especially in conflict--but well, such a publicly affirming spectacle is not real.

So, is it wrong to wish for a life that fits our well written script, for imagination to take hold and indulge in how we want these moments to sound like?  What's the harm in just playing it out in our mind? 

Is it so bad to want it to be real?

Well, as normal as it is for me, I think too much of my dappling into the fertile fantasy pool of my last best word is a dangerous trap.  The risk of ego inflation aside, how much wasted energy do I invest in that which is not real?  Do my fantasy scripts ever lead me to sound, healthy solutions? (ahem, no--not yet)

In the movie, these scenes work, in part because those who have the stunning moments of silencing their enemies are really the ones in the right, confronting the one's in the wrong.  Simple.  But such clear lines of right and wrong are not really real either, are they?  Life is more complicated and conflict less clear cut.

At the end of the day, this desire is really for vengeance.  You hurt/humiliate/devastate me and here it comes back--faster, harder and much more clever--with cameras rolling. 

It seems fair, you do something wrong and I say something oh so right.

Real redemption is a restoration to a whole, healing place.  Redemption is when we work to and want to leave people better than we found them, and not in a pile of what we perceive they have coming. 

Real redemption is slow, often partial or elusive and does not garner much whoops and applause.  At least here on this planet.  There seems to be rejoicing in the heavens however, when we get real.

Redemption, of which there is much in the book is not the same as vengeance.  Vengeance is so tempting, seems so just, makes us happy--but it's not real.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Alone Together

I really like my Blackberry, to love an object seems the stuff of hyperbole, even for me.  I really like it, but when that cling/ding announces a new text or e-mail--I act like Pavlov's dog in responding to check it.  That little sound has a way of cutting through all other noise around me.  I don't think my acute always up radar of semi-awareness of that cling/ding is a good thing. 

I also think it's funny how slightly dismissive it feels to me when the person I am engaging is really engaging the screen giving me the occasional eye contact/nod, but when it's my time to screen check, I am just taking a peek--quick little check in glance and of course right back to the more important human in front of me.  Kettle, pot,  black, I think Yoda say.

Psalm 46:10 says, "Be still and know that I am God."  The Hebrew for "still" is also translated enough, or stop.  God is speaking to the nations, making it clear he will be exalted, yet the instruction, correction, direction works down to the individual as well.  Be still, settle down, stop it and know that I am God.

 
Connection from verse to Blackberry still unclear? 
  • In a culture that dings and beeps and interrupts and multi tasks. 
  • In a culture where as my daughter's coach says, "on time is late."  
  • In an environment where more is not ever enough and there is a constant stream of messages (not really communication)
In the midst of those realities:  who really is still enough to know that God is God, when we can't pull ourselves from a 3x5 screen to talk to a person in front of us?

 
I heard a story recently of someone dining alone and just tuning into the the vibe around her.  At the next table, four women sat--three of them engaging a screen.  The storyteller commented, the women at the next table were alone together--the most alone the woman eating all by herself  at the table with three other women but no screen partner with which to dance.

Alone together, the new normal.  I wondered as I listened to the story, how often I am one of those at the table.  I wondered if I can pay attention to the people right in front of me and tune out the screen.  I wonder,  how well do I pay attention to God, to a still soft voice, to a whisper, nudge or invitation from the Holy Spirit. 

How might I be more faithful in who and what I tune in?  It seems I need to pay attention to how well I pay attention.

Monday, September 19, 2011

New Blog Feature: Grinning

Lately, I have been looking for circumstances that make me smile. I tend to inappropriately laugh like Mary Tyler Moore at Chuckles the Clown's funeral, but still I pursue the grin.  To be sure, there is some real pain and suffering, but it's a good thing to pause and give thanks for the absurd and amusing.

Saturday a group of lawyers who work with hubby JR invited us to a concert which included a lovely picnic supper beforehand.  It was chamber of commerce weather in Atlanta, and we pulled up to the amplitheater and walked to the VIP gate per instruction.  First smile came as the clearly marked VIP gate was nestled between two dumpsters.  As we approached a very nice lady enthusiatically greeted us and gave us the "special VIP bracelet, because we are special VIPs".  When she called me a special VIP I do think I laughed out loud assuming she was saying it tongue in cheek.  Nope, turns out we were extremely important.  Second smile of the VIP arrival came when I looked down at my VIP lime green hospital band VIP identification that was taped to my wrist so tightly that circulation to my fingers became a problem.  However, because of my VIP status I was given a second band.  It's all who you know.  The lady greeting us was so sweet but she kept calling us VIPs, telling we are going to have a great time because...yes we were VIPs and on and on.  It was odd, I said to hubby, it's like have to explain a joke--if you have to tell us again and again and again that we really are VIPs then clearly we are not.

I received a prayer request card that read, "pray for a family member who needs therapy."   I was honored to lift that up in prayer, and I it may well be the therapy sought is for a serious situation.  However the way it was phrased made me smile, because it is not a universal request?  It's the prayer card/request we all want to write. 

I had a service man come to the house for a maintenance issue and he was kind and professional, but as he explained that he was looking to move into "semi retirement" from his current work, he asked me to keep an eye out for a job that did not require him to "work much or think much."  OK.

My daughter's coach who chided the team, "Girls, you are going to have to get your dresses dirty... MOVE!"  Girl athletes have a way of going from tough to prissy as a group. 

My 10 year old nephew breathlessly yell/talking to us on the phone about how he and some buddies "ding dong ditched some girls" Saturday at a great sleepover. 

Finally for this entry, I am loving a new book titled, "My Bangs Look Good and other Lies I Tell Myself"  by Susanna Aughtmon. 

"Laugter is the closet thing to the grace of God."  Karl Barth





Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Adjust and Re-adjust

My pastor shared a powerful sermon September 11, capturing the moment of the anniversary of 9/11 without having that devastating memory overwhelm the worship of God. 

He preached from Luke 10, the Good Samaritan and honed in on the principle of neighbors see need, not differences, and then act.  I thought about that a lot (indication of a strong message)--but I don't think I trip over differences, where I fail to be right neighborly is in the area of indifferences. 

What culturally, psychologically, religiosity, financially, emotionally, verbosity (I love words more than most) separates me from you--that is not what keeps me from responding.  It's the lure of indifference.  It's an apathy not an offense. 

The apathy does not look like the lifestyle of a sloth bear, I am busy and engaged.  I am productive and have a long list of to-do's.  I even have a list of not gonna get dones. 

The question on the table for me is, "how willing am I to be interrupted or inconvenienced?" 

In another sermon on the same passage the minister pointed to a MLK challenge to not ask what will happen to me if I stop and help, but ask what will happen to him if I don't?

See, the stopping is the rub.

I like to help--helping helps me.  Stopping from the auto pilot setting of my life to reset according to those needs of others is uncomfortable and really actually easy to avoid (because I can point to the many, many, many other circumstances that need my attention).

Looking back just over the last week, I note a few--but too few times when I stopped, and pivoted toward a need of another that was not on script. 

I am going to pray and pursue those people, circumstances more-adjust the settings so that I will apply the brakes and turn in another direction to meet a need with mercy and joy. 

My daughter's coach calls it:  adjust and re-adjust.  It does lead to better play.

"But the Samaritan, as he traveled, came to where the man was;  and when he saw him, he took pity on him.  He went to him and bandaged his wounds...".  Luke 10:33:34. 

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Why Bother?

It's time to jump start a new season of study.  Pencils sharpened.  New, shiny workbooks with not a wrinkle, neatly stacked.  My new reader glasses (3 pair)  ready (also double as a headband, how forty-something, I know). 

As I consider what to write on my last invitation to join in the group, I think why should these women bother?  Really, why take a Bible study?

There are endless number of reasons, but the most compelling for me is that God's word sounds much different than my word.  Christ and I don't think along the same lines and without a study to guide, prompt, reveal, confront me to that difference, I tend to assume Christ does agree with me. 

That wrong assumption is sometimes funny, but other times destructive.

Example of Carol's word:   I worry about the girls, will they make the team, make friends, make wise choices?  What about starting the school year with less than super grades?  What if they don't reach their potential (what does that mean anyway)?  Am I parenting well?  Too strong, too weak?   What if I take a risk, and it does not work out?  Why did they not include me on the GNO?  Am I a dud?  Why did I say that, or not say anything?  What is wrong with me?  What is wrong with them?  I would not do that, what were they thinking?  What if they don't want to work with me or take "my" class?  How can I be better?  How can they be better?

Example of Christ's word:  Luke 12:21-22:  "This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself, but is not rich toward God."  Then Jesus said to his disciples, "Therefore I tell you do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body,what you will wear."   What about this strong warning from Mark 7:  "You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.   He said to them, "You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions (or in my case my own priorities, concerns, perspective, values)."

Notice a slight difference?
It's not that the people and circumstances in my life are unimportant, they are valuable, but how I act and react to them should filter through the lens of faith.  My thoughts and words and acts should be consistent with what I believe and know to be true and a sound Bible study moves me in efficient and effective ways to line up my mind and mouth with Christ.

There is also the great joy and benefit of sharing scripture and its power with other Christians.   Learning and encouraging together is inspiring and motivating and humbling.  I think God gifts us with such fellowship.

So that's the short answer to why bother?

It's time to listen and learn and adapt to a holy voice.  It's a sweet sound.

Faith & Grace Bible Study
Roswell Presbyterian Church
Wednesday nights 6 pm and Friday mornings 9:30 am
Study Guide:  David:  Seeking a Heart Like His (written by Beth Moore)

Westchester Fellowship
Tuesday nights (2nd and 4th) 7:30 pm
Study Guide:  Brave:  Honest Questions Women Ask (written by Angela Thomas)

RPC Presbyterian Women Circle 2
Tuesday mornings (first of every month)  9:30 am
Study Guide:  Me, Myself and Lies (written by Jennifer Rothschild)

RPC Faithbuilders Sunday Morning Class (men and women)
Sunday morning:  9:45 am Sanc. 302
Study of the Gospel of John

Any of these sound sweet?  Contact me at johncarolswan@bellsouth.net

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Blessing: Welcome Wisdom

The Blessing: Giving the Gift of Unconditional Love and Acceptance by John Trent and Gary Smalley offers practical application of the need and benefit of parents blessing their children.
It's is not a book about self esteem, but rather a carefully written identification of what is blessing (meaningful touch, spoken message, attaching high value, picturing a special future and active commitment).

It also is rich in warning, setting forth clearly the consequences of withholding blessing. Their explanation of the contrasting "curse" was powerful, and grounded in sound Biblical thought.

The stories are compelling, and a word of encouragement--the book starts slow but gains momentum in content and delivery.

It is helpful for parents of any ages (including adults) as it speaks to the ways we can really express love and care for others in any relationship--while maintaining the essential need for blessing in the parent child relationship.

While it would be a great baby gift, it would also bless a parent who is about to gain a daughter or son in law or for parents working through the dynamics of a blended family. It reminds us all that what we say, and how we say it matters much.

I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of the BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Friday, July 1, 2011

Perspective, not information informs choices: Stringing Pearls

"Your word is a lamp to my feet, a light to my path."  Psalm 119:105

I had an opportunity last week, a chance to jump into a new, exciting and compensated challenge. 

I passed.  A decision from which I have complete peace.  I think it was the wise decision. 

However, there was residual disappointment as hubby J.R. thinks I missed a chance to stretch and contribute to something wonderful.  He may be right, but (there is always a but) not exclusively.

I choose the word wise because there is more than one good option.   While passing up this chance to work, I risk not getting another chance for a while, and right now I want to work.  However, in passing up this chance I leave open an option for work that fits my skills set, my ambition and my family schedule more effectively. 

Of course scripture did not point the the right answer--it's not a Ouija board or Magic 8 ball.  So how to "use" scripture to guide my path?

Well, in seriously leaning toward embracing the change, I fell back on the Biblical truth "go, be bold, fear not, and trust."  All principles of faithful living. 

What stopped me?  "Wait, giftedness, wisdom, family and prudence."   Second set spoke louder than first group of truths.  Both are true, and regardless of circumstances I am blessed, forgiven, broken...jobs don't change that. J.R. thinks that jobs are about working hard and earning money, he has logic and pragmatism a plenty.

The practical application of what I know/learn through study and pray and worship is that wisdom is not making a decision and putting God's seal of approval on it, but instead humbly trusting that in whatever I do, I am serving God, and to love others.  Period.

Did I make the right non-move?  Perhaps.  Maybe not. 

Did I make a thoughtful non-move that was consistent with what I know to be true?  Yes.

From the perspective of a person of faith, good does not equal wise.  In this situation, a good job was not a wise fit right now, and I press on to today's circumstances and opportunity, grateful for what I learned and where and when I may go next.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Thankful for a Great View

My daughter was in conflict.  She was eager,  she said, "dying," to get back to a church mission project at a child development center,  but not willing to ask for time from work as a swim coach, as she is the only coach comfortable with the little boy on the team who has autism.  She likes coaching him and they have made some real progress in the pool. 

That is some dilemma. 

It's something to see God at work in your kid, recognizing this is not some inherited trait, like her height (paternal) or her stubbornness (also paternal) or her tears over sad songs (maternal) or her love of ice cream (both ma and pa gene pools generously contributed). 

Nor is it the result of some whiz bang parenting trick that I read, applied and presto!  Results! 

It's her responding faithfully and actively to the grace given her by God. 

I don't count myself as naive, I think there will be moments, perhaps seasons, which lead to different blog entries. 

For now, today,  it's a glorious thing to see from the front row of life.

Friday, June 17, 2011

VBS: A Whale of a Week

VBS wrapped up yesterday with much celebration.  Day 3 had been a huge hit with a giant whale that held the whole group for discussion.  We had talked much about Jonah, but focused on chapter 1-3.  I encouraged the kids to go home and read chapter 4, letting me know what they learn.  I was thrilled at the response--why was Jonah still so angry at God's mercy to the people of Nineveh?  Answer from Rachel, age 9:  He still did not think they deserved it, and that's not loving other people.  Home run Rachel.  I have decided the only real way to study the book of Jonah is within the belly of the giant fish.

Next challenge, we as a group had to convince Peter, who looked so much like my teaching partner Jenn but with tremendous fuzzy beard, to go to Jesus and ask for forgiveness for denying him--even though that is hard,  The group's compassion and passion for all three classes just touched me. 

Typical experience, I learned much, I came away with more than I walked in with.  I blessed by 60 medium sized people who love to question and challenge but without any cynicism or sarcasm.  I was blessed by a teaching partner who brought wisdom, humor and insight into presenting each lesson.  I was blessed by "walkers" who "travel" with each group--they were helpful in practical ways but also participated with joy. 

We talked a lot about the 2 jobs we all have (purpose) to love/worship God and Jesus and to love others.  We asked ourselves what do we learn about God, about people and what are we supposed to do this this lesson after VBS?  We laughed ourselves silly over skits, costumes and props and celebrated with chocolate. 

Faith & Fun--it works well together.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

VBS: A Sacrifice Reveals A Value

Day 2 of Pandamania, old school VBS:  take one baby pool, fill it with landscape pebbles and rocks and sticks and then have the kids build an altar just like Elijah.  One student was quick to point out this is a skit, it really did not happen that way.  So, with the altar building out of the way all we needed was a bull and for fire to rain down from heaven and lick up the stones (1 Kings 16--great moment in Scripture).  Well rather than use a baby stuffed animal or poster, the clever minds at VBS suggested an extra large Hershey candy bar.  Genius!  It's not an understatement to say the kids were really upset, it bothered them to put that giant candy bar on their altar, douse it with water and wait for the sacrifice (a firefighter interrupted our event to remind us of what happened the last time Elijah did this with all of the fire and to please cease the activity in the name of safety first). 

What amused us was the passionate response to the sacrifice.  My middle schooler would describe the class reaction as a "freak out" and she would be right.  The candy, and in such large and unique quantity was valuable to them and hard to give up.  They were really bothered by it.  It was a great lesson for me, as I thought:  what's my candy bar?   What do I have trouble giving up?  Do I only sacrifice what I calculate as not that costly?  Do I get upset at giving up things I really like but are not all that valuable? 

As I considered this I was asked to help with some youth events (that greatly minister to my daughters) and my first response was, uhhhh--errrr, well don't ya know I am doing VBS and really behind in some other ministry work as a result?   My second upon reflecting from the profound Hershey lesson:  yeah sure, I will give up some time and order in my schedule to help. 

What if I take that milk chocolate wisdom into every arena, avoiding "freak outs" and present the blasted treat with joy?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

VBS: Big Story, Big Questions, Big Response

VBS launched in such a fun way.  The kids are great and the time too short.  We tried too many things and completely ran over schedule.

We read Genesis 1, the creation story and the emphasis was on how wonderfully complex God made us.  I added the idea of purpose and blessing--the reality of one's wonderfulness is leverage to motivate and encourage us to use that to honor God and serve others--in the context of being 8,9, 10.  I am also pushing the kids to think about how these truths can live on in their hearts after VBS.

My teaching partner Jen wondered if they would question the story of creation in Genesis.  I thought nah.  She was right, I was wrong (happens a lot). 

"God did not really create in a day because a day is like 1000 years to God right?"

"What about evolution"   "What about the dinosaurs?"  Then there was Jen's question:  "Why create plant life before the sun." (read the order of creation, think about it). 

So, VBS is not just for faithful cartoons, cool treats and spray bottles.  It digs up some real theological issues.  At what point do you move from just teaching kids through stories and into theology and acknowledging the questions Scripture does not answer (it's not a science or history book, it's God's word to us and there is a difference).

My answer to the kids yesterday was a quick change of direction...God is a spirit and not bound by time.  He created time and we can't imagine what that reality of being outside time is like, so we can't fully understand how this all looked.  Nice dodge, I know. 

My answer to Jenn, "I dunno."  (She is used to that).

However, creation still points to God's power and purpose and it still begs the question:  how to respond in faith, and of course fun.

Today:  Elijah and the prophets of Baal.  Baby pools, stone altars and Jenn as a firefighter.  Gonna be good.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

VBS: it's starting to look a lot like a Birthday Party


Jenn's authentic additions

Blessings from clearance rack at big box store!

The church campus looks transformed to an Asian Jungle.

My VBS classroom looks like its ready for a birthday party. 

A fun party--with subtle hints of Tiki Huts and Luau (big box store again), but not exactly the Panda/Bamboo Jungle captured in the curriculum.  It sports loads of lanterns.  Happy, clearance rack ones that I brought, like these hanging from the ceiling.  Teaching partner Jenn knew how to make ones (she home schools, so she has cooler hands on solutions to dilemmas like VBS decor). 

The whole thing makes me laugh.  It's the only week where a friend of mine asks, "Hey do you want a campfire for this week, because I know I stored one in the attic and you can have it?" 

My oldest who helped decorate pointed out that the theme was Pandamania and we don't have a single panda in the room.  She suggested I draw one but I think it would look like a glob of b/w circles.  She agreed my gifts are elsewhere.

It's a good thing the point of next week has nothing to do with the the room decor, but has every thing to do with a marriage of fun, some folly and a heaping pile of faith.  From the beginning of creation to the resurrection, we will get to laugh, sing and our way through God's grace and truth.  What a privilege.

I need to write that now, because if memory serves, by Thursday morning the kids will be fearless, realize they are at church not school and containment will come only from divine intervention.  The theme will shift from "God is Wild About You" to "You are Wild, Time to Scoot Home." 

I consider it already a great time. 



Friday, June 10, 2011

A VBS blog series

I wonder if we will ever outgrow Vacation Bible School in my house.  My kiddos now help with VBS leadership, we are all on the giving end of VBS, and  yet we gain so much.  Count me as a fan. 

I am a huge fan, even easing into the annual chore, I mean opportunity, to decorate, I mean, transform my room to an Asian jungle.

I love VBS for many reasons:  it engages the whole church;  it balances serious ministry with serious silliness; most of all it has a lasting impression on the hearts of kids (all ages and stages) who share in this unique ministry.  There is a lot of staying power in the messages, music and mayhem of VBS.  Studies show that the repetition of themes and a variety of approaches (music, drama, rec, craft and Bible study) combine to leave a permanent mark on the children and adults who share in this week. 

I am going to blog throughout the week, my observations, my oh wow and oh no and oh my and okay moments. 

Right now I am prepping.  I need to run to one more store for some paper and plastic jungle supplies, but I wanted to start with what I have learned in getting ready for day one of Pandamania from Genesis 1. 

First I discovered that when God created man in "his image" the work tselem means a replica, a likeness and resemblance.    He then blessed them--barak it means both to bless them like giving the a salute or praise them but it also means he equipped them the the capacity to be fruitful--the ability to live out his plan and purpose for them.  He sat back and said it was "very good" (m 'od) exceeding good--to a very great degree, it like God with much excitement said to the angels, , "well my my, would you look at that?"

It was new, it was exciting, it not only had God's fingerprints but it had God's likeness all over it.

That is the beginning of the story for the kids next week.  What a cool way to start a week and to start a life:  --created, with purpose, looking a bit like God and blessed with a purpose and direction.

My partner Jenn and I have plans that involve dry ice and aluminum foil and several water spray bottles and,  of course, a flashlight. Tucked into the middle of that giggle inducing chaos will be a message that I hope will be planted in some fertile ground for growing in faith.

Time to go find a paper lantern and plastic bamboo.  It's time for a summer time blessing.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Beyond Talent: Maxwell Draws Effective Roadmap

Beyond Talent by John Maxwell clearly spells out details that, if applied, will lead the reader to expanding productivity and effectiveness. It’s a quality roadmap for personal growth and team building.


Also, it’s depth (13 packed chapters) encourages the reader or leader to revisit concepts and suggestions for implementation over time. As a resource tool it has much value.

Some of the stories, quotes and highlighted motivational pieces I thought were weak. Using athletes as examples is tricky (Maxwell features Joe Namath) for two reasons: first an athlete’s skill and achievement are not naturally transferred to a workplace and second athletes often have much compromised integrity, to hold them up is to compartmentalize their character (rouge in personal life, but excellence in professional realm).

Also, some of the work rings of advice, not insight: “look for teachable moments, make them count (page 184).”

Overall, the work is solid and offers practical methods to add quality and opportunity to one’s life and skill set. Maxwell includes in Beyond Talent many warning and common traps that slow down progress.

Beyond Talent will serve a manager planning any kind of training meeting or an individual seeking a catalyst for greater development. Maxwell continues to encourage people to not settle, but pursue life with expectation that hard work, focus and discipline do pay off with satisfaction and success.

This review is part of the Thomas Nelson Booksneeze program.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

What Am I Going To Learn Today: A Path to Sanity and Perhaps Grace

"We don't work to earn God's blessing, we work because we already have it."  a tweet from Matt Chandler (pastor from DFW area) based on a teaching from Romans 12.  All scripture is a good read, but Romans 12 is a great spot to visit often. 

Anyway, that thought struck me, in conjunction with another thought;  there is a new study out titled Duty or Delight...I have no idea if its a solid study, but I love the title. 

Both comments come from the same root: faithful living in contrast to faithful thinking.  It's a lens to consider grace and daily bread as a concept or a reality. 

These ideas are floating around the reality of the very ordinary. 

The idea of responding to God's grace by giving and living in grace most all Christians agree with, but the evidence of our thoughts, minds and general cranky martyrdom (is it just me?) that permeate environments points to an conundrum:  what we agree with in theory does not show up in work and attitude.

How to make the move?  One thing that has worked me recently, is to approach any and all work--face the day--with curiosityWhat will I learn today?  If my posture is as a curious student, then generally the day is productive--I do learn things, about people about circumstances.  It's not all good, but it's always fresh.

If my goal and motivation is to learn I am in a much better place to grace--even if I am leading or teaching or parenting.  It focuses my attention out, in a good way.

Example?  This morning, my friend Ellen wrote a great reflection about the Christian "f" word (FINE), you can check it out here--she put "fine" in way I had not considered. 

In a committee meeting, study group, as I read and research and write--I really do learn so much, if  that is what I am after and I adopt that posture.   The key?  If that is my primary objective (as opposed to my comfy old postures of seeking approval, getting "it done", or establishing my rightness in situation) I have landed on more delight and less duty. 

It's so much easier for me to ask myself, I wonder what I will learn from this?  Rather than, "OK Carol have a grace filled attitude about this meeting, report, meal, event, bill paying, weed pulling, vet visiting" opportunity.

I move from a position that emphasizes process to one that emphasizes people, and it allows for much more joy to come into the equation.  It also emphasizes what's coming, not so much my standard pit stop to the disappointments of yesterday.

All is not perfect, I still am too cranky and quite a martyr in my work as team mom (too many annoying details) and my "to do" is is too long and I stress about things that I am overseeing and I am tired of driving around North Atlanta for hours at a time (note how privileged that list is that drives me crazy--hmmm need to ponder how I am spoiled)  So, I am a work in progress-but at least I am not too old to learn a new trick.

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About Me

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Roswell, GA
Loves to find the answers to three questions of a sound Bible study: what does it say, what does it mean, what difference does it make?