Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Antidote for Fear in a Crazy World

Penny (my dog) and I spent time hiking in the woods today. Being a weekday (but so warm and sunny I felt sad for those who weren't able to enjoy it!), we had the trails to ourselves mostly. When we got deeper into the woods, I began thinking that it had been awhile since I had been hiking by myself. And, despite having my dog with me, I felt a bit nervous about it. Even as I was sitting on a bench absorbing the smells of spring that rose from the muddied ground, I tensed at the sounds of movement behind me. Penny was resting in front of me; her ears perked also. I knew I should turn around to see what it was. It sounded big, like someone walking toward me. I was actually frightened!

When I finally looked around, I saw nothing and heard nothing. I waited a minute or so, then saw the scampering squirrel run out from behind a tree, make a beeline away from Penny, and run up another tree. I had been spooked by a squirrel running through dried leaves. Pathetic, I know.

I reminded me of the verse in 1 Peter 5:8, where Peter warns followers to be aware of "your enemy the devil [who] prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour." Note that the enemy is only like a roaring lion - a cheap imitation! We serve the true lion, the Lion of of the tribe of Judah who has triumphed! (Revelation 5:5).

Furthermore, thanks be to God, who "has not give us a spirit of timidity, but of power and of love and of self-discipline" (1 Timothy 1:7). While we need to be aware of the enemy's schemes, lest we ourselves be deceived, we do not need to be afraid when we follow in the footsteps of the true lion - the Lion of Judah.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

WE!

"For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them." Ephesians 2:10

I remember meditating on this verse shortly after I committed my life to following God. I had a vision of a large woven tapestry that was bathed in rich and vibrant colors, and sensed that God was showing me what my life could be like.

Recently, I was meditating on this verse again, but instead of seeing one tapestry, I saw a line of them, of which I could not see the end. The other thing I noticed was that they were not rich in color like the one I saw before, mine included. It was then I realized I was seeing the works in progress. But they are so drab! I thought. Where are the wonderfully rich colors that I saw before? I looked down and had a can of paint and paint brushes in my hand, and I knew that I was supposed to paint the tapestries. As I began painting, I noticed other people painting with their own colors.

I am not God's workmanship. You are not God's workmanship. WE are God's workmanship! God may weave our individual lives with gifts and talents that will enable us to uniquely affect the world. But the beautiful colors come from each of us pouring into the lives of each other. None of us is alike, nor do we have the same color to offer. But the more people we allow to pour into our lives, and the more lives we pour into, the more amazing the final tapestry will be.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Moses, my muse

Moses, my muse Posted by Picasa

Just got word yesterday that Moses is only two weeks away from becoming a bonafide Leader Dog for the Blind! However, while we are extremely optimistic, there remains one thread of dread since I have heard many a story of pups "throwing it all away" only days before they were to be placed with a blind student. Turns out the pups must have a sense that they are going to be spending the rest of their lives (until retirement) working...and some decide last minute that being a Leader Dog isn't for them. They pull stunts like refusing to cooperate with their trainer after performing great in previous weeks, or chew up anything they can get their mouth around, or decide to growl inappropriately until "career changed," then never misbehave again.

admittedly, we have mixed feelings about Moses making it. While having him lead a blind person into greater avenues of independence is why we devoted 11 months to him, we also became quite attached to the old boy. Although, after taking a tour of our backyard today, I was reminded quickly of his many destructo-dog moments, tearing out the edging along the flower beds as well as digging grave-sized holes to hide his tennis balls in. Funny how all the bad stuff falls away, and only the fun memories remain, like being able to nap on the couch with two dogs...one step away from heaven.

I'm in the process of writing a children's story about raising him - publisher, anyone? So, I'm banking on the fact that he will go onto a bigger and better life than just hanging out with the Smyth's, yet another family dog. I'm hoping Moses will join the prestigious rank of Leader Dog for the Blind. Will we raise another one? Perhaps. There was something wonderful about the doggy subculture surrounding Leader Dog puppy raisers. Rumor has it there are puppies available now, as LD is expanding their puppy raising from 300-500 pups a year. They are always looking for puppy raisers, as well as those who will host breeding dogs (and their newborn pups!) Just thought I'd throw that out for anyone who needs to complete one more good deed....

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Where Feminism Failed

Recently on Good Morning America, Diane Sawyer interviewed Linda Hershman, who contested during the interview that "feminism had failed." I totally agree with her statement, but find much fault with her assertions as to why it has failed.

Ms. Hershman says that feminism has failed because too many women want to be moms and want to stay at home to raise their children. She further says in her GMA interview that stay-at-home moms are "a threat to civilization" and that women are misusing education because an "educated, competent adult's place is in the office." Interesting.

Am I wrong in thinking that the original intent of the feminism movement was to give women a choice to go out into the workforce? Unfortunately, feminism has feminized itself out of its own movement. I believe all our human nature has a bit of rebellion in it, so when you tell someone she has no choice she most likely will desire the opposite. That's what is happening to feminism. Ms. Hershman's remarks were in reaction to a study she conducted wherein she found that while women were outnumbering men on college campuses, the majority of the women she interviewed intended to stay home and raise their kids should the opportunity to do so arise.

As a child of the feminism movement, and as a bit of a rebel myself, I appreciate that I had many choices available for a career path. If you would have asked me ten years ago what I wanted to do as a career, I don't think stay-at-home mom was even on the list. However, I now am, and am glad that I had the choice and the opportunity to stay home. Therefore, to hear a "feminist" tell women that their place is not in the home but in the workplace where they can use their talents makes me mad. As a matter of fact, it makes me want to stay at home and raise gaggles of children…maybe even home school them to add insult to injury.

Has feminism failed? Only if we are telling women that their choice to stay home is no longer a viable option. And, in that case, aren't we right back where we started?

Monday, March 20, 2006

This is Penny, our perfect family dog. We found her at a local animal shelter, just one month to the day that my beloved Inde died. Inde (a black lab mix) had been with me for nine years, through some pretty turbulant years at that. She was perfect and amazing in her own right. I wasn't sure how I would do with another dog after her. But three weeks after her death I was on a mission to get another dog in our house (too quiet without one!).

Posted by Picasa

I wanted a "pookie" dog (something to fit in a cute little bag that I could dress up in darling doggy sweaters). Barry looked crestfallen at the suggestion. I told him that if we found a lab at a shelter, I would go get it. One week later, I found Penny via petfinder.com, a fabulous website that searches all the animal shelters and rescues in any area in the U.S. After picking up Mike from school, we went to meet her. She was a total sausage - soooooo fat - but sweet as could be. It took me 30 seconds to decide (ok, I did have my mind already made up on the way over), the next day she was coming home!

Some people think that once their dog dies that they could never love another one. Perhaps they are afraid of the new dog reminding them of the old. I have yet to meet any one dog that reminded me of any other. Dog personalities, as far as I can tell, are as varied as ours...and can be just as quirky. Penny is incredibly well-trained, very affectionate (ok, demanding) and a little food obsessed. In a nutshell, she fits right in with the family.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Abide and Believe

The word, abide does not flow often from our lips in conversation. Rarely does anyone say, “We abide in Michigan”, or “My friend abides with me in a cute, two-bedroom bungalow.” We use the generic term, live, which in my opinion is so much less colorful than the word, abide.

When I let the word abide roll around on my tongue, it conjures up a feeling of being settled, content, comfortable, secure. It speaks to me of overstuffed chairs and big, artsy coffee cups; of lots of room to roam, and safety. The word, abide, is a word that I have meditated on since the beginning of the year, when the passage from John 15 spoke so powerfully to me:

Abide in Me as I abide in you” (v.4).

I am amazed that Jesus wants to abide in His people, that He wants to make Himself comfortable in us. And I am amazed that He expects the same from us: to make ourselves at home in Him. As I’ve been meditating on this awesome truth, I am again reminded that Christianity is unique from any other religion. While all other religions depend on the follower performing to earn favor with the worshiped being, Jehovah, is more concerned with our being than He is with our doing. God is more concerned with our character than our performance.

Indeed there is nothing we can do to impress God: our greatest wisdom is foolishness to the God who knows all; our acts of righteousness are as filthy rags when compared to what He endured on the cross; our love is self-centered, while His love is complete. God doesn’t call on us to impress Him, He only calls us to believe.

“Jesus answered, ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent’” (John 6:29).

Believe that Jesus is the Son of God, who lived a sinless life on this earth for 33 years, took all the sin of the world upon Him as He was crucified on a cross. Believe that He died, but rose from the dead three days later, and now sits in Heaven at the right hand of the Father. Believe that if you believe in Him, you, too, have died to the power of sin and death, and are a new creation in Christ. Believe that you have the same power that rose Jesus from the dead living in you. Believe that you are filled and sealed with the Holy Spirit of God, who will guide you and protect you until you are called Home.

Make yourself comfortable in the amazing grace and love of God. Believe that the God of the Bible is more than able to do all that He has promised.

Monday, March 13, 2006

That your joy may be full

My son and I went on a retreat this weekend for teens around the state. The theme was "temptation," so I should have know that satan would be working over time. Not only were three of the four boys who were scheduled to attend sick (including my son), but also the youth minister fell ill the morning we were scheduled to leave. On top of that, about fifteen minutes outside of our destination, my husband called my cell phone with the unfortunate news that my son had left his luggage in the trunk of our car; meaning, he had no clothes, no tooth brush, nothing but the clothes on his body and the snacks in his hands.

Because our destination was two hours from home, I had no intention of returning, but also was not looking forward to breaking the news to him once we arrived. When we caught up to the other van load of kids at the hotel, I told Mike that he had forgotten to transfer his stuff to the van in which he was riding . He was upset…no, angry…and could not be consoled. While I reminded him that I was his mother, and that we could go to the store and pick up some stuff, he didn't want to hear it. Nor did he want to join us when we went into town for dinner later that evening.

I was struggling as well: Why didn't he want me to help him? Why wouldn't he ask me for what he needs, knowing I am able to provide it for him? I let myself wallow in my own hurt, reviewing my past failures of my short term of motherhood, wondered why he didn't trust me to care for him. On and on, I let my mind run, and my heart break. Yet something inside of me warned me not to get for him what he needed until he asked. So I stood by and watched my miserable, stinky kid.

Saturday afternoon, as I prayed to God, wondering what to do, I sensed that still, small voice prodding me: "Who does Mike remind you of?"

Hmmmm…I ignored the question, and continued in my fervent intercession, "Lord, help him see that I can help, that You will provide…"

"Who does Mike remind you of," the voice interrupted, a bit more insistent this time.

"I don't know, Lord," I replied sheepishly. Maybe I didn't want to know.

Silence. I waited for the answer, but my heart had already received it. "Me?" I asked cautiously. And then the light of understanding flooded in. I don't always ask God for what I need. Many times I stew about an issue or an obstacle until I have exhausted all my natural resources, and only then turn to God for help. I was looking at Mike how God must look at me in these circumstances. How many times had I assured Mike that he will have everything he needs. How many time does God assure us in His word that whatever we ask according to His will, He will do for us?

Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full (John 16:24, NKJV).

As we walked through the store with our cart full of t-shirts, boxers, socks and other stuff, Mike looked at me and said, "This is going to cost a lot."

To which I replied, "Baby, don't you know your mama would move heaven and earth to get what you need?"

And in my spirit, that voice whispered to me, "Baby, don't you know that I would move heaven and earth to get what you need?"

Yes, Father, I do.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Digging up Dreams

I just returned home from having coffee with a friend. One of the recurring themes of our chat tonight was our dreams and the need to dream big in this hour. I believe and know that this is a season to dream big dreams, which implies that we need to cultivate the soil in which a dream can be nurtured and grow. Thus the challenge...turning off the tv and radio, curling up on the couch with a steaming cup of coffee and letting your santified imagination run wild. Spring is coming, the ground is softening, so start digging up those dreams.

************************************************************************************

There is the sweet transporting dream that awakens our desires. The dreams that help us to remember what we have forgotten about ourselves. The dreams that get lost in the daily grind of laundry and grocery lists and navigating rush hour. The dreams that are planted in our souls at birth, excavated little by little, year by year. As we age, mature, the reality of who we are peels away like layers of a sunburn exposing the tender dream-skin beneath.

Dream this year. Not fantasy day-dreams, but dream life-giving and life-changing dreams. Dream that which already has been eternally planted within you. And by dreaming, let the layers of calloused life be peeled away so that the real you and the True Dream will live and thrive. Let the burn ensue, so that the healing takes place and eventually the new skin will emerge. Then, crawl in....

Monday, March 06, 2006

Thankfully Content

O Lord, who lends me life, lend me a heart replete with thankfulness. --William Shakespeare

I had a "runaway" day this weekend - a 24-hour escape from humdrum life. Twenty-four hours with no one asking where the car keys are, or the phone; what there is to eat, or what I'm making for dinner; if I'd wash jeans, or had I seen a missing wallet; no other moods to contend with, no space to share. Just me and my own noise.

I find it astounding how quickly our human nature can go from one extreme to another. One day we bemoan, "If only I was married…" Later we cry, "He's holding me back!" We wish, pray and hope for kids, then threaten to pluck out our eyes if we have to do one more load of laundry, or make one more bag lunch. Unfortunately, our human nature revels in discontentment. It wants us to stay in the school of more, better and different.

By the end of hour 18 of my day away from my boys, I realized how easy is it to lose perspective in the trenches. Life becomes a daily grind rather than the miracle it is. The life that we hoped and prayed for is weight instead of wings. We find our dream list replaced by a to-do list. But it isn't life that has changed, or the circumstances that have changed, it's our attitude that has changed.

Fortunately, there is a weapon with which we can wage war against our fleshy discontent:

My counsel for you is simple and straightforward: Just go ahead with what you've been given. You received Christ Jesus, the Master; now live him. You're well constructed upon him. You know your way around the faith. Now do what you've been taught. School's out; quit studying the subject and start living it! And let your living spill over into thanksgiving. (Colossians 2:6,7 The Message, bolding mine)

"Let your living spill over into thanksgiving" - isn't that beautiful? Now, I know I am idealistic (I've stopped apologizing for it), but what would a day look like if I, you, and everyone around us expressed thankfulness and gratitude for our lives, our families, our jobs (or the time we have away from them), the roof over our head, the food in our fridge and cupboards, the convenience of laundry machines, our car…Pretty nice place to live in, don't you think?

Needless to say, I was sooooo happy when my boys returned. Time and distance may restore our perspective. But, better yet, lives spilling over into thanksgiving consistently maintain perspective. That is a life worth living.

Be thankful.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

The Challenge

Each Tuesday, I lead a youth group for teen girls. This past week, we joined another group of teen boys for a discussion of John 6 and 7. Mike, my son, was part of the group. Therefore, when I asked the question whether any of them thought it is possible to have the intimate relationship with God today that Jesus had then, I was challenged when Mike quickly (too quickly!) answered, "no." When I asked why he thought that (knowing that the same Spirit that Jesus received on earth was given also to us when we accept Christ today), he said that he had never seen such a relationship. ouch.

Later, as I thought again about his comment, I was reminded of the atheist (his name escapes me), who said that Christianity sounded great, and if he actually ever met a Christian, he'd believe it. ouch. Mike's comment, along with this thought, have been swirling around in my head since Tuesday. I needed to hear that challenge again.

The challenge: To be Jesus to the world. Many people will never read the whole Bible, or any of the Bible for that matter. They will believe only what they see. Too many Christians (me, included) often get comfortable with "life in the pew" or their "fire insurance." Sure, we do a good work here and there, but do we live like we believe 2 Corinthians 5:10:

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.

Hearing this challenge - and I take it as a challenge and not a rebuke - makes me want to live with abandon. Before I became a Christian, I was one who thought that most, if not all, Christians were hypocrites. Therefore, I didn't want to be one. But, that was faulty reasoning on my part. I believed that Jesus was, and was who He said He was. I believed He died so that my relationship with God could be restored. I just didn't want the pressure of having to live up to what a life lived in Jesus might look like. Again, ouch.

One of my favorite inspiring songs right now is by Nicole Nordeman, "Brave." I listen to it, and I want to do better, live livelier, love deeper, play harder, reach farther. I know it's not the song, but it's who the song reminds me of - Mike. I want my kid to have the fullest life he can have; I want him to overcome all things in Christ; I want him to know that all things are possible in Christ Jesus. So, yes, he makes me want to be brave for God...to live with abandoned holy boldness...to be a pure vessel of God's powerful love.

It is not mission impossible for people to see Jesus in His followers. I fall short, yes. But I serve a very big God who can take my feeble efforts, even the quaking of my knees and cause earthquakes. I want to begin my heavenly life with the words, "Well done, my good and faithful servant. " It's what I live for.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Today I was hiking with my hubby in the woods. It was colder than I thought, and quickly began wishing that I had brought a hat. Lucky for me, my husband is very giving; he gave me his green snap-off hood from his jacket, which I promptly put on and fastened the buttons under my chin. Initially, I was grateful for the warmth and protection from the wind. Then, I took a step back from myself (figuratively speaking, of course) and really looked at the dork that I had become – fuzzy magenta pants, lilac wind jacket with a burgany polarfleece underneath, army green hat, dollar-store gloves...Who is that?! I wondered.

This brief experience sent me on a fashion review of my previous 33 years (well, excluding the years my Mom dressed me…her fashion sense was always better than mine). As a matter of fact, I realized I had gotten myself into fashion trouble about the same time that I began dressing myself. Again, thank God for Mom who always made sure I was dressed well for my “back to school picture.” I cannot take full blame for my many fashion mishaps, however, remembering that I did spend my formative fashion years during the 80s. While I escaped the Madonna-inspired look, I did fall prey to Michael Jackson’s fashion influence – parachute pants, anyone?

Today, when I shop, most often I purchase something strikingly similar to that which is already part of my wardrobe – khaki pants (half of all the pants I own are khaki), blue shirts of various hues and styles (but all solid color), and the requisite black turtlenecks. Yes, there are slight variations, but you’d be surprised how often I find that I’ve worn the same thing in pictures for a few years in a row. Moreover, as a stay-at-home mom/wife and fledgling writer, I feel no inspiration to develop my fashion IQ.

Why is this on my mind now? I’m seeing myself in the eyes of my teenager! While I don’t want to embarrass him with my lack of coolness, I feel that driving him to school in my pajamas doesn’t count. After all, I do have my winter coat on over them. However, seeing him wear what he thinks defines himself as cool, takes me back to my teen years when I – hey, weren’t we all – defined by cool. Looking back now, I think I just looked silly half (ok, more than half) of the time. It makes me wonder, as I look at my motley outfit that Lands’ End would be appalled at, when did I stop caring about cool?