Tuesday, March 3, 2015

And today's forecast is .......

Before I get dressed every morning, I check my schedule for what I call "big rocks," those planned appointments and responsibilities that determine the structure of my day.  And then I check the weather forecast to make sure what I am wearing is both appropriate for what is planned and for the weather.  I look ahead to what I can know and prepare for what may not yet be on my radar.

As I go into my day, I want to wear the right shoes, the right jacket, and the right attitude.  There is rarely the time to change any of those in the middle of the day.

And I know that like my schedule and the weather, my plans are tentative, subject to change.

I have told many a frustrated young mom, "From now on, your middle name is "flexibility."   I don't just need to get used to things going awry, but embrace them when they do.  I can have every detail aligned and tied with a bow, but then comes something over which I have no control.

And that's when I realize that I am not in control, but God.  It is not even a matter of laying my carefully crafted day before Him, but sitting still --no matter the tumult around me or before me -- and accepting God's design and divine appointments.  And follow Him into His day for me.

Get on the bus, but be prepared for what God has placed on your path today.  Eyes wide open, heart softened and teachable, ready to stop where you did not plan, prepared to go down a trail you do not yet know.  God will not just direct you.  He has already gone before.  And He goes with you.

When I go into God's day for me, there are no accidents or interruptions.  Just His design.

The most profound thing I can do today is to be found in Him. That way, the focus is not on the doing, but on the being.  Because when I direct my attention to the being, the doing falls right into place. God knows that my heart needs to be right first, or the doing is always misaligned.

In God's economy, there is nothing big or small, just what is faithful.

"The real test of the saint is not preaching the gospel, but washing disciples' feet, that is, doing the things that do not count in the actual estimate of men but count everything in the estimate of God.  Paul delighted to spend himself out for God's interests in other people, and he did not care what it cost."  (Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest)

The most significant thing I do today is probably not even on my radar yet.  And most likely, something I may not ever realize.

Even before I check my schedule or the weather, I check with God, praying and drinking in His Word.  Because He will direct me into His appointments.

What is before me today?

All I need is You.

... be found in Him.

         Philippians 3.9

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Many layers of sound

Last evening, we attended Mahler's ninth symphony, performed by the Nashville Symphony.  Before the performance, a lecture was offered to tell about the background of the composer, his mindset at the time, and the intricacies of this complicated piece of music.  The piece all works together down to the last few astonishing measures when there is no longer sound but an incredible silence resounding in the concert hall.

The orchestra was unusually large for this performance, and the instruments were placed in different arrangements for the blending of sounds.  The violas and cellos had changed places, the woodwinds dominated front and center, and two harps graced one side.  This was not a random placement of musicians, but designed for specific audio dynamics.

Before we entered the auditorium, I noticed a large photograph on the lobby wall of a group of people at the symphony in what was probably the 1950s.  I recognized the era by the number of women wearing hats. Front and center was a young girl wearing a dress with puff sleeves and a sash, slouching down in her seat with a reluctant look on her face as if she had been coerced into coming.

It was not me, but it could have been my younger self.  How many concerts did I endure through my growing up years?  The rehearsals, the recitals my mom performed on her violin, the performances in halls both small and large?  At the time, my mind wandered.  I counted people, instruments, even tiles on the ceiling to keep myself occupied.

But I listened.  The layers of sound, the intricacies of classical music, the merging of the individual instruments into a common pursuit, all worked its way into my ears and engraved my mind.  I did not appreciate it at the time. I am sorry, mom.  You gave me a gift, even if you made me do it.

Each of the musicians are directed by a single conductor, each part vital to the whole.  Each individual instrument has its own sound.  Every one is not just playing the same piece of music, not even just on the same page, but they are even coordinated on the same measure.  Different parts, different notes, but in the same key, bound in the same tempo, and the complexity pulled together by the conductor.

Just as a single musician cannot produce piece of that magnitude on his own, I cannot do life alone.  When things are easy, I may think I can, but I need direction and guidance and the emergence of many layers of meaning and purpose that can only come from a God who loves and leads and produces dimensions I don't even know can exist.

If all I hear is a simple melody, I have missed out immensely.

...for not by their own sword
       did they win the land,
nor did their own arm
       give them victory,
but Your right hand and Your arm,
and the light of Your countenance,
for You delighted in them.

                         Psalm 44.3

When my eyes are on Him,
God guides me in my day
   and gives me strength
          how to do it well.
His indwelling changes
    not only me,
    but the outcome.
Follow His hand,
know His strength in it,
and He will pull it together,
     His purposes bearing the beauty.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

A patch over one eye

Somewhere in a box of old family papers and images in our attic is a pair of light blue glasses that I wore as a tiny girl.  No photographs exist of me wearing them as if my mom was afraid those ugly glasses would impact how I saw myself.

The irony is that those glasses DID impact how I saw not only myself, but everything around me.  On a trip to see relatives in faraway Texas when I was a preschooler, an uncle pointed out to my mom that something appeared to be wrong with my eyes. When we returned, my mom searched diligently for an eye doctor who would even address the needs of a small child.  Back in those days, there was neither the scrutiny nor the resources that are available today.

It was not that I could not see at all.  I didn't even know anything was wrong.  I didn't know anything different.  I just thought that was the way the world looked.

It is one of my earliest memories, going to that doctor over the course of probably a year or two, riding the elevator in an old building, the mass of instruments in the examining room, and the opthalmologist peering into my eyes.  My left eye was an overachiever, the right one didn't bother to do any of the work, a "lazy eye," it was deemed.

But the doctor didn't just make a diagnosis.  She did something about it.  She placed a dreaded patch over one eye of a pair of glasses, forcing my lazy eye to pull its weight.  And then she commenced a training program for me.

Three times a day, I sat in front of the mirror at my mother's little makeup table in her room.  My job was to follow the light of a little pen flashlight as my mom moved it in different patterns, mostly on the periphery of my vision.  It was like calisthenics for my eyes, stretching and strengthening them.  It didn't take too long for my eyes to begin working in sync with each other.

I saw everything differently.  No more double vision, a new sense of depth perception, and those little black squiggles on the pages of my older brother's Dick and Jane books became actual words.  Up until then, I just memorized what I heard.

I no longer need those glasses with one patch, but I am still aware of my need for deeper vision.  I have found a daily reading of God's Word as what stretches and strengthens my eyes and the muscles of my heart. God changes me through His Word.  It is not that I couldn't see before, but now each day I can see differently the people, situations, and glaring need that I might never have noticed before or even to know how to respond.

As a young girl, I needed that daily training for my eyesight; I need it now even more for my focus on God. And that changes everything, all the way down to the core of who I am.

We don't know what to do,
but our eyes are upon You.

            2 Chronicles 20.12

As a little girl, I had no idea what I was missing.  I didn't know there was anything more. What dimensions of God around me am I now missing?   In Scripture, the eyes and the heart are always connected.  Daily training in Scripture -- reading, thinking about what I read, taking a verse with me -- helps me to see beyond the obvious and know that there are eternal dimensions in it all.  His purposes go even deeper than what I can see to what I can know about Him. 

It impacts how I see God,
how I see others,
how I see what is around me,
and how I see myself.

Follow the light.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Great Ice Storm of 2015

The mild winters of which Southerners boast disappeared this February under inches of ice, snow, freezing rain, sleet, single digit temperatures, and a mysterious moniker called "wintry mix," which translated from the local dialect means "we have no idea what it is, but stay inside if you can."

I imagine that the people of Boston or Minnesota laugh at the turmoil a few inches of snow and ice create in the South.  But then again, Northerners balk about any kind of hardship that rivals their own, even among themselves.  In the North, bragging rights could be legalized as a sporting event. Incredible survival stories dominate most conversations in the winter, firmly enmeshed in a kind of "I can beat that" mindset, even from one side of town to the other. 

In the past couple weeks in Nashville, schools were closed due to snow and ice storms, and churches were opened, taking in anyone and everyone who needed a place to stay for the night. Newscasters urged listeners to check up on neighbors. Police combed the city for people living on the streets.  Southern hospitality prevailed, even in the crisis.  So many churches opened their doors, providing warm clothing, food and shelter that there was far more than needed.

Ice storms are not uncommon in the South, but they are almost always followed immediately by a warming spell.  And hence, when they happen, people just wait for the ice to pass in a day or two at most.  But this time, that did not happen.  Ice was followed by snow, sub-zero temps and even more ice, hard and thick and immovable. 

But today, a warm breeze blew into town.  It is not yet spring, but it is beginning to feel that way.  And that thick ice which was so destructive and impossible has finally begun to dissolve.  The great thaw has begun. The ice-jammed gutters, the slick roads, the ice covered driveways began to melt, drip by drip.

Just waiting for time and warmer temperatures to alleviate ice that is inches-thick might work with the weather.  But in life, time alone will not melt difficulties in relationships that have grown rock-hard over time. If anything, time and avoidance just add layer upon layer to volatile relationships.    

Only forgiveness can melt away resentment, bitterness and hardness of heart.  It doesn't happen all at once, but drip by drip.  How can I bring my own forgiving heart to this impossible relationship or situation?  Forgiveness does not mean an accusatory "I forgive you for doing that to me," nor condoning an action or condemning a person, but letting go of the bitterness and moving on.

In the midst of the winter storms, the public was warned to be prepared to venture into the bitter cold -- to dress warmly, carry a cell phone, blanket and food in their cars -- so that they would not be caught unawares if stranded.  Even so, we should go forth into icy-cold relationships prepared with kindness, forgiveness, healing, and compassion in our hearts, minds and hands.  How can I approach this differently?

If I want things to change,
     something has to be different.
And that would be me.

If a little melting can move a glacier, what can kindness do in our relationships?  Forgiveness changes my heart.  Forgiveness changes the landscape.

The ice is released one drip at a time, losing its grip and changing its very nature.  

The Bible does not talk about ice storms
but it tells the story of forgiveness
from beginning to end,
the steadfast love of the LORD
           and the softening of hearts.

Let the melting begin.

Above all hold unfailing
your love for one another,
since love covers
        a multitude of sins.

              1 Peter 4.8

Be kind to one another,
forgiving one another,
as God in Christ
                forgave you.

               Ephesians 4.32

Monday, February 23, 2015

Stay With Us

The Oscars ceremonies on Sunday night honored those who tell stories, through so many dimensions --acting, visual effects, music and writing.  But it seemed odd to me that so many real life stories were buried and unspoken.   Amidst all of the thank you's to family members, co-workers and even pets at the Academy Awards, and even amidst those who chose to use the platform for fame and other agendas, there emerged a single powerful story behind one of the awards. 

When the young 33 year old Graham Moore was awarded best adapted screenplay, he began with the usual litany of thanks.  And then quite suddenly in an unrehearsed moment, he turned to the microphone and briefly mentioned his own untold story, not for personal attention but as a lifeline for others.

"I tried to commit suicide at 16 and now I'm standing here," he said. "I would like for this moment to be for that kid out there who feels like she doesn’t fit in anywhere. You do. Stay weird. Stay different, and then when it's your turn and you are standing on this stage please pass the same message along." (quoted from a news story from the Huffington Post.)

He couldn't see the future from where he was standing when he was 16. He thought he was the only one who was weird, when indeed we are all different in one way or another.  Despair has a way of closing the blinds, blocking out the light, and making life look very bleak indeed. 

But there is a future.  There is always a future.  And most likely, that which you cannot YET see.

When the iconic comedian Robin Williams committed suicide in August 2014, I read an article published by Krista Tippett in NPR's On Being.  She quoted the last few paragraphs of  Stay:  A History of Suicide and Philosophies Against It, authored by Jennifer Michael Hecht.

"None of us can truly know what we mean to other people, and none of us can know what our future self will experience. History and philosophy ask us to remember these mysteries, to look around at friends, family, humanity, at the surprises life brings — the endless possibilities that living offers — and to persevere. There is love and insight to live for, bright moments to cherish, and even the possibility of happiness, and the chance of helping someone else through his or her own troubles. Know that people, through history and today, understand how much courage it takes to stay. Bear witness to the night side of being human and the bravery it entails, and wait for the sun. If we meditate on the record of human wisdom we may find there reason enough to persist and find our way back to happiness. The first step is to consider the arguments and evidence and choose to stay. After that, anything may happen. First, choose to stay."

While Hecht's book is not written from a biblical worldview, it recognizes the preciousness of God-given life.  Each one of us is so loved by God, who is our forgiver, healer, redeemer, and savior.  He redeems our past, He walks with us in the present, He is there in the future, even in that which we cannot yet see.

Choose to stay.

For I know the plans I have for you,
                 says the LORD,
plans for welfare and not for evil,
to give you a future and a hope.
Then you will call upon Me
and come and pray to Me,
             and I will hear you.
You will seek Me and find Me;
when you seek Me with all your heart,
     I will be found by you,
     says the LORD.

                  Jeremiah 29. 11-14  

I waited patiently for the LORD;
He inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the desolate pit,
          out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
and put their trust in the LORD.

                   Psalm 40. 1-3