October 21, 2016

I Am An Offering

In the Bible, God describes himself as "I Am that I Am."
"I Am" is a confusing name to a child. Pondering it during my life, I've come to know that God is "I Am _______" for me. If I fill in the blank with anything good or true or lovely, God is that. No matter what I lack or who I need in any moment of life, he fills in that blank in the way I need most.

After 28 hours of labor, he was courage for me.
Unable to sleep or read or even think past immense pain, not knowing what was wrong with me so very many mornings at 3 a.m., he was security, comfort, and very present love.
When I've yelled at the ceiling because I don't like what he's doing, he's been a listener, waiting for me to work through my built-up mad.
When I'm hating a part of myself so much, dreading that I'm actually the opposite of all I long to be, he reminds me he created me and delights in me.

A few days ago, I was in my car listening to a worship song by Nathan & Christy Nockels.
You come as You are/ And I come as I am
And grace covers shame
You come in Your power/ And I bow down
And grace covers shame
You come like a flood/ And I'm lost in this
You come as You are/ And I come as I am
And grace covers all of me

The words overlapped in my head with thoughts of I Am, and I was stunned by a new realization: in the verses in the Bible concerning Jesus, there isn't a single time when he got defensive or argued for why his actions were right or got prickly about someone's reaction to him. He absolutely had emotions; he most certainly spoke hard truth to people at times. He didn't ever make excuses for himself or give any sign that he was insecure about his behavior.

I think Jesus took the time to listen to his Father God, but I know there are times he felt inadequate for what God asked him to do, as in the Garden of Gethsemane. Once Christ stepped into his Father's will, I think he had complete trust that God would provide whatever might be needed to fill in the blanks. Even if Jesus didn't feel ready. Even if things didn't happen the way he wanted.

I will never be perfect. I simply cannot arrive as the be-all and end-all, "Your troubles are over because _I_ am here" in any situation. What I can do is offer myself where God opens doors. I can agree to offer my writing, my musicianship, my creativity, my teaching and cultivate trust that my Abba, my God who is always the I Am, will show up with whatever else is needed.

All I have to do is offer and trust.

Sometimes the simplest things feel the hardest.

October 19, 2016

Thoroughly Cowed

I wanted to kill a dog this morning.

We have a large Siberian Husky mix (possibly Malamute, possibly part wolf) at our house. He's a gorgeous beastie, all 85 pounds of him. He's wonderful company for me during the day to talk to, pet, and so forth. He is almost always in need of exercise; this is a large dog who moves fast enough to keep up with a running deer. I've seen him do it.

Today I thought I'd be a good girl and exercise both of us right away. We drove to a small wilderness area nearby that has walking paths, trees, and a small creek. Cody loves to go there, and I've been able to let him off-leash most times we're out there.

Then came this morning.

We were walking--ok, I was walking; he was running--and came to the trail section that runs parallel to a county highway. Cody has been wonderful about obeying me, staying scrupulously to the path when I say, "Path." I don't know if he heard or smelled something new, but in no time at all, he was gone. Up the slope, across the highway, and out of my sight. When I crossed the highway myself, my heart sank.

Cody found cows in the field. If he is part wolf, I feel safe in saying that wolves do not have a herding instinct. A harassing instinct, yes. Herding, no. It was like this dog thought he found large new, interactive toys to play with. He raced up to and around several, seeming to delight in seeing that "these things move, too!" No barking, no howling, no trying to biting or attack (thankfully), but definitely chasing.

Then he swam across the creek and climbed up the other side, because he saw another group of cows! (All through this, mind you, I'm yelling his name in my Army-command voice.) It wasn't until a young male decided to take Cody on that the dog decided the weight difference mattered after all. Suddenly he 'remembered' I was calling him, and he ran back through the creek, across the field, and straight to me without running on the highway again. He was muddy, a massive dog-smile on his face, mouth open, ears back, mud & wet all over... I wanted to kill him.

I leashed him up, marched him in a straight line through the wilderness and right back to our car. Into the car, home in disgrace, and I took him out of the car (still on his leash) and marched him into the laundry room where his bed and dishes are. I left him shut up for a while. He's still pretty somber around me, tentative with his actions and gaze.

For as mad as I might have felt in the moment, I have to honestly recognize the times I go racing off, chasing things larger than me that have the capacity to injure me greatly. Even if it feels fun in the moment, I wonder how much dirt and possible injury God sees when he looks my way.

That insight feels very ham-handed, and I dislike even the appearance of "And here's the bad I do; I should feel bad about the bad I do" slap-my-own-face-before-another-Christian-does-it-for-me response. I sincerely am asking myself some of these questions, though. Are there things I'm chasing that I don't understand, that maybe require more humility? Are there ways I'm trampling all over someone else's thoughts or feelings because it matters more to me that I surrender to my impulse in the moment?

There were moments of seeing Cody fully alive, doing something he understands instinctively. It can be an amazing, beautiful thing. It shouldn't be a goal to kill that in him; the struggle and the discipline are to find ways of using that ability, channeling that energy, in a way that honors life around him, too. That is also my goal for my own misdirected abilities. Someday. So I don't end up chasing cows my whole life. : )

October 17, 2016

Grace in the Gray

Today didn't go the way I wanted it to.

When my family left this morning, I sat at the computer doing family history research. When my husband came home for lunch, four hours later, I was in the same position. Still in my pajamas, sitting cross-legged in our desk chair.

I don't have anything productive in hand from my hours researching. Ideas, time spent learning, information for my mom about her Irish forebears, yes; tangible results for so much time spent in hyperfocus, no.

Partly because of the wet, autumn-dreary, weather, partly because of the information I waded through, and partly because of my feeling that this morning was wasted time, my whole frame aches. It's just how 'me' works for now: any stress ends up resonating through me physically as joint pain and fatigue.

I hoped to follow up on some productive days last week--do some laundry, clean a few rooms, shower--none of those things happened.

Will I choose to keep reminding myself of all I didn't do this morning?

The act of sitting down to write this is a way of choosing grace. I choose to remember who I am: a learner, a puzzle solver, a girl who loves to find family stories. I choose to remember how enthralled I felt as I delved into Irish parish records and immigrant ship descriptions and sailing dates. I choose to be thankful for who I am, for a family who loves me for being me.

Today, so help me, I will choose grace in the middle of gray.

October 16, 2016

Can You Hear Me Now?

There used to be a television commercial for a phone company that featured a man walking around with a phone to his ear, regularly asking, "Can you hear me now?" The question became a trademark for the company, and it cleverly embedded itself in our culture. In those days, signal coverage, the ability to make a phone call, was a lot harder. Wandering five feet from your original position might mean you dropped the call or got your connection back. We fought for that connection. We sought out the tallest places and contorted our bodies in bizarre ways; many phone calls felt like lifelines. We worked hard to keep in communication and hear each other. The commercial and the company's tagline piggybacked on our real-life experience.

Our options for connecting with other human beings have exploded in the last twenty years. Nokia introduced the first phone with internet and email access in 1996. Twenty years later, the number of people who own a smartphone and can check email or surf the internet is in the billions. [As a sidenote, think about this: counting to one billion, saying one number per second without pausing, will take 31.7 years.] Microsoft launched its Encarta program for millions of people to use as an encyclopedia resource in the 1990s; it shuttered the program in 2009. Wikipedia began in 2001; it now has more than 5.2 million articles with more than 850 billion edits. 4.2 billion people send 18.7 billion text messages a day, 560 billion texts a month. Online journals first started in 1994; there were 23 blogs in 1999. Today, there are more than 1.5 billion blogs (including this one) and more than 2.1 million pieces posted online to those blogs in the past twelve hours.

Our tools for connecting have skyrocketed, but I get a feeling of desperation from all of this communication. I feel frustrated if I'm unable to reach someone, but I don't feel as frustrated if I see I missed a call. I confess I usually think, "Drat. Well, they'll try again later."

If there are 18 billion texts sent every day, 2.1 million blogs posted, and 10+ billion phone calls per day (3 billion or more within the U.S. alone)... this is an overwhelming flood, even for 7.3 billion people. We are inundated daily with millions, billions of voices screaming for our attention.

The television commercial is a interesting (if slightly twisted) picture of truth. The industry the commercial represents has inundated our world with options for connecting. We're all talking more; we're all trying to say more; we're all trying to connect more. But we're listening less. We're asking each other, over and over on so many platforms in so many ways: "Can you hear me now?" I've never once asked (or heard) the opposite question: "Do you feel heard?"

I don't even think our lives are more connected, despite our tools. A study in 2014 for the company DHL on phone usage statistics worldwide found that we talk often amongst ourselves, but little to those who are 'unlike' us. Only 3-4% of phone calls were international in 2014; most are domestic. On the internet, roughly 17% of all internet traffic crosses international borders. An estimated 16% of the average person's friends on facebook are foreign; 25% of those we follow on Twitter are foreign. To quote the authors, "Just because we are able to befriend anyone living anywhere on Facebook doesn't mean we will—there is an important distinction between potential connectivity and actual connectedness." [the original study is here]

We're talking more--more topics, more places, more people--but we're listening less.

I think change starts small. I can choose to mute my phone or set it aside (face down, so it doesn't distract me). I can look another person in the eyes during a casual exchange. I can listen to another person talk and use my mind and energy to understand what they're saying, rather than figure out what I'm going to say next. (I'm particularly bad at this.) If I can help even a handful of people feel heard in a day, imagine what 7.3 billion handfuls might do.

Can you hear me now?

October 15, 2016

The Nature of Hope

Since college, I have seen deep truth in the natural world. In clouds, the moon, trees, grains of sand and many, many more instances, I see bone-deep wisdom reflected back to me. These moments of wisdom have given me great peace, security, and insight.

I used to think everyone could read nature this way. After college, I had the privilege of writing the opening for an email newsletter that went out every week to a large group of people centered in the Kansas City metro area. My writing was usually about one or more of these insights that I saw. After several people told me they had never considered such a thing before, I felt more and more grateful for being able to see this hope, these insights of truth, in nature.

This last week I saw a new analogy, and it gave me such hope that I want to share it with others, too.

I had to drive for an appointment, and as I drove alone, I watched the sky. A large front of clouds moved across the windshield. The front wasn't severe enough to birth a large storm, but it was still impressive. I watched the clouds and thought of my sister, who lives on the West Coast. She's mentioned more than once that she misses thunder. Only the plains of the Midwest have the open space necessary to build the massive thunderstorms and fronts that generate hail or even tornadoes. Anyone born and raised in the Midwest knows the change in the air that signals "Storm coming." The worst storms don't accelerate gradually; they explode all at once. The air in front of them feels tense, charged with a feeling that something is coming. The literal 'calm before the storm' isn't peaceful. It's eerie.

The insight that brought me such hope came when these thoughts on thunderstorms overlapped with our political system.

Our nation, for all its flaws, is a wide open space for opinions. Negative, public opinions of our leadership have been aired widely for more than two hundred years. (Trust me. Even George Washington was sneered at in the newspapers of his day.) These wide spaces allow huge storms of opinion to blow up. Every four years, the storms get so big and wreak such havoc that we question if life as we know it will end. This year I've seen multiple voices insisting that if this person (or that, from the opposing side) become President, the apocalypse will come. Right now, I see the storm building. The air is tense. We're dreading the moment the storm breaks, but at the same time we just want this to be over. Many of us are willing to take whatever might be on the other side of the storm, just to get rid of the stress and dread of waiting for it.

Just like storms in the Midwest, the storm breaks and will eventually end. On January 20, 2017, no matter which candidate wins the election, our current president will hand over his position to the winning candidate.

Stop for a moment and allow yourself to realize the amazing nature of that sentence. No other nation in the world has a history of more than 200 years with regular, war-free revolution. The United States has the largest military capacity, the greatest economic sway (though this is changing), and a huge international political impact. These massive juggernauts of power are given to the winning candidate's party every four years. Without fail. Regardless of whether the incoming president aligns with the outgoing president or not. They may have everything in common, or they may not agree on anything. The winning candidate still enters the White House. The outgoing leader still leaves.

The political storms are huge this year. I hate them. I am encouraged greatly to realize that even this line of storms will break, play itself out, and the skies will clear. Period. Knowing that, I truly am willing to face any outcome of the storm's impact. Even if the sky is now green, winds are moaning, and hail is spitting right now, be encouraged: we can survive even these storms.

October 05, 2016

Soul Jeweler

This morning was horrible.
It shouldn't have been, but it was.
It had no reason to be, but it was anyway.

The reason this morning was horrible was because I tried to avoid God all morning.

My thoughts and emotions have been swirling and storming the last several days, and I couldn't get them settled. Once my family left the house, I thought, "I should journal." Just as quickly, I recoiled. I hemmed and hawed and delayed and dragged my feet and tried to skate past that idea. Why do I keep doing this? What exactly am I afraid of?

I played games on my phone, fully aware I was only treading water on unresolved inner cycling (at best; usually I'm losing even more ground). I reluctantly sat down at my piano, getting close to spending time with God, but still just spinning out what was already inside me. I often have the idea that I have to vomit up 'self' until nothing is left in order to make room for God. This idea is wrong; I know it's wrong, but I still keep returning to that mess of vomit.

Because I promised myself, I went to a local midweek chapel service. The worship songs and message were exactly on point: God gets to be God. He is not and never will be a math equation I understand, let alone one I could solve. He gets to show up when and how he chooses.

One of the worship songs we sang was the song, "Shepherd," by Bethel Music. The lyrics wove into so very many thoughts I have had this past week. Tears run down my cheeks every single time I've hear the song, and I hate crying in front of other people.

When the service was over, I talked with a couple good friends who were there. We talked about where we are now, not where we were yesterday or last week or what a glossy brochure of us would say. Genuine friendships and conversations are among my favorite things in life.

Me? I stated baldly that I despise the speaker (a wonderful friend of many years, greatly used by God to speak truth in love). I didn't mean that I truly hated him, but that I resented his words being just what I needed to hear, even if they weren't what I wanted to hear. I even swore at one of the people I was talking to. Swore. In a sanctuary. Deliberately.

I'm still in a somewhat numb place, but while I was listening to "Shepherd" again (yes, more tears), I thought: "Maybe this is one of my gifts."

Blunt words so often spill from me like untumbled pebbles. There may be incredible insights or deep truth, gems, among those words, but they're so very rough and unfinished...

One of my greatest gifts is how ready I am to simply be me in all my honest, messy brokenness. I know very well that my attempts to polish are pointless. I know, marrow-deep, that God is the only one who gets to be the jeweler of souls, deciding which form will showcase beauty and reflect light most brilliantly.

I don't know what's ahead of me. I'm afraid of it, whatever it is. I don't know why I'm afraid. Today feels like a day to empty my self of its many weights (for the who-knows-how-many-th time) and dump them in front of God. Today is a day for me to choose trust that he'll always find gems worth keeping in me. Today I'm reminding myself to believe he knows best how to shape me.