Monday, February 28, 2011

God in the Yard :: Gratitude

For a month now, I have attempted to find the words to express one of the first beautiful lessons encountered during my yearlong journey to memorize Colossians. This post sort-of feels out of order, as it represents a "Part 3" to that thought. I will address what feel to me like Parts 1 and 2 later; but this thought stands alone and fits the theme of this week's chapter of God in the Yard: Gratitude.

We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way:

Bearing fruit in every good work, growing in knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light
. Colossians 1:9-12 (Emphasis mine)

The latter part of this passage outlines four ways we can "live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way." Notice the fourth way involves gratitude: gratitude that as Christ followers, we have been promised a share in the eternal kingdom of light.

The promise of eternal life inspires gratitude indeed; perhaps we demonstrate that gratitude by our appreciation for the (very) many smaller gifts we already receive in the now.

I think of myself as living in this kind of gratitude. I try to appreciate the immense gift I have received, of a lifetime of love. My parents gave me their best, with God's help. My husband dotes on me. I feel loved and supported by friends in at least five (perhaps twenty-five) states. I have been entrusted with three small lives to shape and train, and they all love me. My life overflows with blessing.

A photo I took years ago, representing an image described in the book: 
a plant growing out of a stone. 
She called her mental image, "Impossible hope and God's generosity." L.L. Barkat

In Chapter Five: Sky, L.L. Barkat discusses the open spaces left in the roof of historic architecture such as the Parthenon, to allow interaction between humans and the divine. Whether conscious or not, deistic or not, humans tend to refer to the sky as an authority figure.

Interaction goes both ways: it allows the divine to reach down to touch the mundane; and it also allows the mundane to reach up to touch the divine. The author further suggests the open space allows the divine access to our moments of worship.

I think of myself as a grateful person, especially to the divine. Yet for some reason I have historically resisted ever listing my reasons for gratitude. After reading about open spaces it strikes me that perhaps I fear the intensity of the divine.

Perhaps I view God as authoritarian, like the sky, so I resist opening a window onto something stern and harsh. During my personal worship time, what if I left an open space between me and the vast sky; and what if the object of my worship were to actually draw near to hear my gratitude confessions, and look me in the eye, and smile? Sometimes I feel safer when I keep the roof closed, try to have a good attitude, and just send nonverbal messages.

But I have no reason to see God that way. I have experienced God as nothing but good. Maybe I can acknowledge that God is worthy of my respect and caution, while also understanding him as a father who wants to give good gifts to his child.

Gratitude is a critical element of a life "worthy of the Lord." I bet this is because the Lord desires to hear from me directly, in words just as much as in my attitude. Perhaps if I were to risk the effort to put my gratitudes into words, to risk opening a hole in the roof of my worship space, to risk connecting with the one who has "qualified me to share in the inheritance of God's holy people": perhaps this would please the Lord.

I bet it won't even be scary.

1. The hope of salvation.
2. Being treasured by my beloved.
3. My vibrant, supportive church community.
4. My kitty, who sometimes also serves as my early-morning conscience, waking me in time to meet with the Lord.
5. The steamy smell of fresh-turned earth in the afternoon sun.
6. Living in "such as time as this": in a wealthy nation, with access to so many resources.
7. My babydoll, Lulu.
8. Neighbors who hand down clothes and share other goodies.
9. My first ever strawberry plants!
10. A sense of coming into "my time."

Taking this step has also inspired me to join the community celebrating "1000 Gifts" and beyond. My Colossians memory journey includes Ann and hundreds of her readers, now I also begin the gratitude count.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Feeling Defensive

Something happened earlier this week that still bothers me. A pushy door-to-door salesman showed up on my doorstep at 6:30 on the night of our first small group meeting of the semester, which also started at 6:30.

He wouldn't let me tell him I couldn't talk right then. He couldn't have cared less about my schedule.
I wouldn't shake his hand, tell him my name, or look at his license to solicit. I couldn't have cared less what he was selling.

And for five increasingly uncomfortable minutes we kept cutting one another off, each determined to get our point across without letting the other gain any ground.
And my wide-eyed children stood with me and witnessed the entire exchange.
And my brand new small group members parked in front of my house and walked past us through the front door.
And I got angry.

I just hate door-to-door sales people.

They make me feel defensive in my own home, like I owe them an explanation for why I do not choose to spend my money on them. The only reason they want to hear my reasons for saying no is so they can come up with a counterargument. Every time one knocks, they receive the benefit of a bigger residue of anger left from the ones who came before.

I found out the next day that he had badgered every one of my neighbors that evening, successfully selling his product to some of them just because they couldn't say no. And now I'm boiling!

Obviously, I took this event way too personally, and have spent the last 48 hours having an imaginary conversation with the perpetrator, practicing my self-righteous indignation.

This kind of prolonged response usually indicates I need to examine something in my spirit. So I wonder, what would Jesus do?

I bet Jesus would have had time for the salesman. Of course, he probably would have started telling him about God's kingdom, and ended up with the man becoming a Christ-follower. Perhaps he would have invited the man to join our group discussion time.

Should I be ashamed to admit that simply didn't fit into my plan for that evening?

Instead, my front entry now sports this mixed message, along with a few mixed feelings:

Perhaps my learning point, however, has nothing to do with this man but everything to do with my heart.

No matter what I could or should have done differently in the moment, one thing is sure. Continuing to harbor anger over something in the past will definitely not produce anything constructive in my own life.

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” James 1:19-20

God desires me to grow in righteousness, and he gives me a guide for how not to fail at that: be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. I'm memorizing this verse to help me next time I feel the anger start to boil.

What makes you angry? What suggestions do you have for other readers as they deal with anger?

Friday, February 11, 2011

FLU is not the way I got to my tropical vacation

One of my Top Ten Rules to Live By states: Expect Resistance.

Last week I finally overcame months of inertia, and read a book on how to write a book proposal. It really fired me up to get moving. Tuesday I began to write it.

That afternoon, the school nurse called me to come pick up 5 year old Rooster due to his having a fever.

Wednesday, little Lulu had another fever seizure (her third in a year), and I freaked out and called 911, which resulted in an ambulance ride, which led to us spending the afternoon in the ER.

Thursday, I spent the day taking her and Rooster to the pediatrician, with the end result of them both being on Tamiflu and over-the-counter medications for fever, cough, and sinus congestion. I am now a certified meds-and-fluids pusher, dispensing four doses to each of them every four hours and cajoling them with pedialyte, jello, juice, capri-sun, and anything else I can think of.

After school each day this week, I have also been working with Miss Boo on one of her biggest 3rd grade projects yet, a poster explaining Tsunamis. I love the irony that this week has felt like a personal tsunami. Not to mention the political tsunami happening today in Egypt. In fact, I have never in my life seen so many references to tsunamis on the internet, news, and everyday conversation as I have this week.

Today I just needed a mental break, and I didn't want to face my sticky kitchen floor (which would have had to come before writing), so I got out my sewing machine and whipped up a doggy bandana for a friend. That gave me good therapy.

But I suddenly notice, I have not gotten back to that book proposal in four days.

As I worked on it Tuesday, I was a little discouraged to see the big names that have already published very adequate books on the same subject I plan to tackle. Yet I think my idea still merits a fresh approach, and I begin to suspect the Enemy has a serious interest in keeping me from pushing forward with this idea.

So, do you know what? I refuse to give up.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair.2 Corinthians 4:8

I have been distracted, but I will not be turned aside.
I have been discouraged, but I will not give in to despair.
No, in all these things I will overcome. Because I have been given a message, and it burns to get out of me.

The Enemy has also successfully distracted me from my Colossians memory project, as well as my regular Bible reading, for the past four days.

Goal number one dictates I return to look intently into God's face. Then allow myself time to contemplate. After that I probably need to mop this sticky kitchen floor, and then perhaps the Ultimate Author will open up a little window next week to keep plugging away at my Big Idea.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in his wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of his glory and grace.
-Helen H. Lemmel, 1922

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

God in the Yard :: Celebration

Surprised again, challenged by the ideas introduced in this new chapter, I surface from it for a week.

This time the author suggests that in order to fully experience joy, one must fully embrace past grief. In principle, I agree with this idea. 

Not every discipline in this book will be of particular growth material for every person. I believe celebration is not one of my current growth challenges. I do experience joy in my life, in spades. 

And yet.

The author describes feeling "so incredibly sad. A deep sadness that I literally feel in my body . . ." and "weighted with unknown griefs."

I know that feeling, intimately.

Only no past grief immediately springs to mind. I grew up in a whole home. My parents taught me well about Jesus. Tragedy never approached too uncomfortably close. My life seems about as trouble free as a human life could be.

Some time ago, I began to wonder if the grief that weighs on my heart represents the weight of sin. If the deep sadness expresses my separation from God, as I wait for heaven.

This may be true, but I grew impatient with that kind of grief. I found no cure for it, and it grew to a point of destructiveness in my personal life. My husband, the kids, the house, the bills all suffered. It seemed to pull me further from God, not motivate me to move closer.

So I went to see my doctor and found out it's more than a spiritual manifestation of sin. Now I haven't had it in months, because I started taking a pill for it. It works very, very well.

Is "embracing grief" a non-growth area for me?

Instead of a solid "No," let's just say it's a "Not Now." I think once my kid-years wane, I may have the courage to try life again without the normal pill. When that inexplicable, paralyzing grief comes back, maybe I will be better equipped to deal with it. Perhaps it will even lead me to a higher understanding of celebration.

Not feeling so profound this week, but happy to be where I am,

Monday, February 7, 2011

Priorities :: Big Rocks

"Teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom." 
Psalm 90:12
We all know the story of the rocks in the jar. When you put the big rocks in first, the sand fits around them. But start with the sand, and the big rocks won't fit.

The big rocks represent our big priorities, the sand represents the miscellaneous things that want us to tend to them first.

"Get your Big Rocks in First" E. Tavares

But so few of us actually put the big rocks first, even when we know better. 
  • We place the urgent over the important.
  • We have a hard time saying no.
  • We are influenced by the priorities around us.

I know I fit this profile. Why do I resist prioritizing and following through on the important things?

I think I resist because I am afraid. Afraid of losing rest and margin. Afraid of becoming driven. Afraid I will lose me-time. So I take those things first (Facebook, watching TV with my hubby, taking a nap) and then end up feeling harassed because the big rocks just never seem to fit in my schedule.

My heart has been telling me lately that I am living without margin-with a diminished capacity to be functional, to take whatever comes in stride.

And it turns out by some crazy logic that this feeling of never having enough time to get everything done is a result of mismanaged priorities. (Yeah, not really so crazy, eh?) Because in truth, my priorities determine how much I can get done in the time I have. Stated another way,
Priorities determine Capacity
I pause here for a moment to consider my big rocks, my priorities:
  • God
  • my husband
  • Boo
  • Rooster
  • Lulu (each gets their own big rock)
  • Writing
  • Housework (as much as it pains me to admit it)

It turns out all these big rocks are relational. Writing is my way to invest in others' relationship with God. Housework is my way to create a haven, to improve the life of those who live in and visit my home.

So if I want my capacity for tending to each of these big rocks to be as large as possible, here is the how-to.

The truth is, humans are designed to build our lives around the biggest priority of all.

"For who is the Rock except our God?" Psalm 18:31

The Bible's term for priority = SEEK.
  • "God, I earnestly seek you; I thirst for you." Psalm 63:1
  • "I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray." Psalm 119:10
  • "Seek first God's kingdom." Matthew 6:33
  • "Your [God's] will be done." Matthew 6:10

When God is first it helps me set every other priority in its proper place.

So... if my number one priority this year is to DRINK from the well of God's words, then my task is to examine each day and ask myself:
How will I drink today?
This message stands as one more confirmation that as I prioritize drinking from the well, the me-time and the housework will fit in and not weigh so heavily on my soul.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Building a Boat

I never run out of amazement at the speed of time, and how quickly it slips out of my grasp, despite my best intentions.

We now have five weeks of the year under our belts, and so far I have done lots of talking about my writing goals for this year, but zero actual work in that direction.

For the record, my stated goal for the year is to take a book proposal to She Speaks 2011, in July.

Visiting family, spring cleaning, family birthdays every weekend, sickness, and even a Central Texas snow day all count as valid reasons why I have yet to start, but they feel more like excuses.

It could also be that I am afraid of success; unsure how to exactly proceed; or uneasy because I am so all-or-nothing that I don't know how best to navigate the balance between my roles as mom, artist, and ministry professional.

Today, I finally broke free of the excuses as my lovely hubby shut me in my room with a laptop, a kitty, and a thermos of coffee; and proposed to manage the household so I could begin chipping away at my book proposal. I am just now wrapping up five hours of me-time nirvana.

Have you ever written a book proposal? I believe that by the time I have thoroughly written mine, I will have learned as much as I ever did in a college course.

The only way to get across what seems today like an ocean standing between me and publication, is to sail a boat across it. I think of this proposal as my boat.

First I need to learn how to build a boat.
And get supplies to build it.
And actually build it.

Eventually, I will cross this ocean.

And today, I have taken some important first steps. Progress feels good.