Friday, April 15, 2011

Vin, I Love Ya, But...

The shaved head... once an object of derision, a sign of old age.  Now, it is chic, BA, sexy.  But before Bruce Willis, there was Elisha.

 2 Kings 2:23-25 (The Message)
23 Another time, Elisha was on his way to Bethel and some little kids came out from the town and taunted him, "What's up, old baldhead! Out of our way, skinhead!"
24 Elisha turned, took one look at them, and cursed them in the name of God. Two bears charged out of the underbrush and knocked them about, ripping them limb from limb—forty-two children in all!
25 Elisha went on to Mount Carmel, and then returned to Samaria.

I love that verse 25 suggests Elisha stood there, watched until everyone had been eaten or had fled, and casually walked away!

Now, I love action flics, and Vin Diesel is the kind of guy sins are made of, but Elisha schooled 'em all! 

BTW, I have to be honest, I posted this picture more for myself than for its relevancy or impact -- I'm human after all!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Party Like It's Yo' Birthday!

For most of my childhood, I was in search of a birthday.  Through church after church, vacation Bible school after vacation Bible school, I learned how great it is to have an "amazing conversion experience."  One speaker after another filed through our tiny Christian school -- ex-cons, addicts, former rock stars.  They all had these incredible back-from-the-dead types of stories; how God redeemed them from a life of debauchery on a cold, rainy night in a dirty motel room.  Other special guests would apologize for not having any other testimony but, "I was raised in a Christian home, when I was six God spoke to me and I gave my life over to Him...blah, blah, blah."

"C'mon, Dude!  Where are the guns, the drugs?"

I knew God wanted me wherever I was -- beat-up, burnt out rock star, or six year old Hudson Taylor prodigy.  But I foolishly searched for a "birthday" -- some date upon which God had reached down, pulled me from the gutter, and lavished me with love and success.  God had been lavishing me with those things all along.  Why did I think they were hiding elsewhere?

Looking back, I remember many instances in which I capitulated, surrendered all to Jesus, my Savior.  But I fell right back into my selfishness, greed, lies, lust, despair again.  With no transforming experience in my life, I was sure I was doing something wrong.  My salvation "didn't take."  I was ashamed and felt like a failure; I gave up.  God didn't.  He sent His Holy Spirit to do a work in me, and He wasn't about to stop until it was complete.

If I live to be a hundred, it will never be complete.  God is working in me everyday -- sometimes slowly, sometimes painfully, sometimes so surreptitiously it seems instantaneous.    I will continue to surrender myself to Jesus everyday, constantly.  And He will continue forgiving me, molding me, reshaping me, loving me until I more closely resemble Him everyday.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

"Retreat! Retreat!" (Part Three)

I stepped out of the women's retreat.  The sun had appeared and the day had warmed to seventy degrees or so.  To me, the owner of a black SUV, that means my salad with Feta and raspberry vinaigrette had warmed to a balmy sixty degrees.  Mmmm.  Glancing around as I crossed the parking lot, I hadn't noticed any other "brown baggers," so I ate in my truck.  Besides, I cranked up my new CD's and had a praise and worship party of my own.  Somewhere around Track 3, a forkful of salad wound up partially in my lap and partially between the driver's seat and center console.  I grumbled; I did.  The lunch thing was back, but I needed God to take it away.  As I picked sunflower seeds off the carpet, wiped the slimy dressing from the seat, and tossed a radish out the window, I prayed, again.  "I don't understand why this keeps coming back, Lord.  It's like bad tuna.  It is ruining my weekend!  Please help me."

Despite a scallion that will continue to petrify under my seat with the passage of time, everything was pretty well cleaned up.  I grabbed my apple and decided to take a walk.  The air was perfect for flopping my jacket over my arm and letting the sun warm the shoulders of the light sweater I'd worn.  Beautiful.  Sounds of occasional traffic and laughter floated by.  I was alone with my true friend Jesus and we were walking side-by-side; He was letting me figure things out, but reassuring me He was always there.

As I neared the building again I could hear some of the conversations that had moved out to the patio after lunch.  Silly conversations -- and I'm not meaning to judge, really I'm not.  But, suddenly I was glad I was alone, at least for lunch anyway.  The last speaker had been so powerful, the worship so intense, it would have somehow distracted me from the message if I'd spent lunch discussing Clorox wipes vs. Lysol bleach wipes.

I checked out some of the activities and a display on the second floor, but at that point, I really was just ready to leave.  I thought of finding a quiet place to sit outside and meditate on some of the things I'd thought, written, experienced; to meditate on the material and listen for God's words to me.  I had some great worship music.  I was hungry for God to speak to me, challenge me, direct me, maybe even refresh me.  Things are definitely going to begin heating up in writingworld -- I've already committed to putting my talents to better use.  Scott's business is about to go full swing, and as partner, bookkeeper, receptionist, PR person, and Girl Friday, I need God's strength and direction.  I needed quiet, or so I thought.  "God, speak to me; tell me where I need to be right now."

As I watched ladies begin to file in again I thought, "Realistically, where will I go, what will I do if I leave right now?  I will be so tempted to jump right back into whatever is going on at home, or 'stop at the store,' or something totally off-base like that."  I went back inside. 

At my seat, one of the ladies who had miscounted was waiting.  She explained about the miscalculation and the fact the lady had never shown up after all.  I think she'd been sort of embarrassed by her friend's handling of the situation.  (It hadn't really been a polite request at the time.)  She attends the church where the women's weekend was being held, and was truly shocked I did not.  We discussed our histories and what had brought her to the church; the conversation was superficial -- definitely no lasting friendship there -- but something became clear to me.  When I walk through my church and see an unfamiliar face I assume he or she is a guest.  I try to be a good hostess and anticipate their needs or any questions they might have.  This is one of the county's megachurches; when she walks through, she probably assumes nothing.  Having attended a couple of megachurches in my day, I know small groups that meet together through the week, generally sit together on Sunday morning.  It's commonplace to see a multitude of unfamiliar faces in each worship service, because the only folks you really bond with are sitting right there beside you.  They are your church.  The rest are merely folks who work in the same building, but different departments.

 I stayed for one more session, but left at the break.  As I left, my row mate and her friends chirped a genuine, friendly "goodbye."   Walking through the lobby, I made eye contact and spoke to a couple of people on my way out.  Nothing.  Guarded smiles, shifted eyes, "dead" faces.  "Lord, I know I get lost in my thoughts; I know I can glance at a person, and look right through them if I'm distracted.  I s that what this is?  Are they as pensive as I?  They almost appear frightened.  Are they unconvinced?  Totally unswayed by what they have heard.  Lord, help me to understand; remove all judgement from me."

I stopped at Mount Hope Church.  Sitting in my truck, facing the three crosses at the far end of the cemetery, I popped in another CD and opened my Bible to the book we'd been studying.  I finished reading the portion I'd not completed -- Habakkuk Chapter 3.  Habakkuk, after having a discussion with God about the way things had been going with His people, is let in on a revelation -- God's plan for His wicked children -- the Babylonian Captivity.  Habakkuk reconsiders and tries "reasoning" with God about His handling of things.  But God is not offended by Habakkuk's fear; He reassures him He is not asleep at the wheel.  In Chapter 3, Habakkuk worships the Lord, His sovereignty, His providence, His loving care for us as a people, and as individuals.  Habakkuk concludes with: 

   Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
  yet I will rejoice in the LORD;
   I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
 GOD, the Lord, is my strength;
   he makes my feet like the deer’s;
he makes me tread on my high places.

I am still learning what my women's weekend was all about.  What a great husband I have, that I could go not only with his blessing, but his active ear and his active support?  That, while things don't go as I would have planned or preferred, God is not asleep at the wheel?  That though I didn't leave the retreat with all I'd hoped, my "retreat coffers" were left wanting, I did not blossom as I'd expected, I can rejoice?  Maybe it was all about prayer, the simple act of leaning on Jesus, learning to rely solely on Him, seeing Him as a true and faithful friend.  Scott believes God wanted to see how serious I was about getting close to Him; what sort of distractions and speed bumps I was willing to endure just to know Him, and how committed I could stay to that quest.  And what about my "issues," my preconceived notions?  I still don't feel like I belong at that church, but it's not important that I ever do.  Jesus loves me, and it's all about Him.    

The Road to Committment

I want to be able to sit down and write, solely for You, solely because of You, Lord.  If I count myself as worthless, where do I find the courage and confidence to submit my work to a publisher?  I find it in You, Lord.  "I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me."  I do it out of obedience and stewardship.  I do it simply because I want to please Jesus, whatever the world accepts or rejects.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

"Retreat! Retreat!" (Part Two)

Having fared somewhat less fabulously than I'd hoped on Friday night, I decided to find some purpose in all of this.  I began a journal.  It might help me get to the bottom of my "disconnect."  If not, at least it'll give me a record from which to learn something.

2:50 AM -- Asleep shortly after 10, but for the four and a half hours or so I slept, I must have awakened at least five times.  I am sooo tired.
3:15 AM -- Have to make my lunch.  But, I'm getting OK with that.  It's gonna be a good lunch, a healthy lunch, to go with my healthy attitude about a wonderful day dedicated solely to Jesus and me.
3:40 AM -- Why didn't I stop for coffee?
3:41 AM -- Why didn't I take off work?
5:47 AM -- So, how is all of this going?  Well, Satan has laid on a full court press.  Lousy sleep, everything in place for some fabulous fellowship, yet...  Something is in the way.  Bitterness?  Anger?  Self-aggrandizement or arrogance?  Thinking "I deserve to be treated better than this?" or "My agenda is more important/ sincere/ holy than the Chatty Kathies -- AND they're probably getting lunch!"?  Where did this legalism come from?!  Blech!
7:30 AM -- Leaving work now.  I wonder if anyone else is going through what I am going through for this.  Oh, enough with the legalism already!  We're not doing the "I should be treated better because" thing!  At least I'm good with the lunch thing, though.  I really am looking forward to my salad.  And as for fellowship?  Who knows, maybe I'll run into some other "ineligibles" and we can talk outside.

After ripping apart the English muffins, and turning my "2 for 3" into something truly worthy of the McDonald's moniker, I was feeling pretty good.  I had done my research on the praise band and was armed with the list of CD's to purchase, I was praying all the way down the road; I'd even made a pledge to myself that I would refrain from using the phrase "came straight from work" during all interactions (if they exist) even if the door opened wide.  There'll be no martyrs here today.

When I arrived I located the restrooms -- they were of course, in "the hall," right there with the coat rack.  I smiled to myself.  As I walked past the tables set for lunch, I barely flinched when I saw the cute little favors and Hershey kisses awaiting each "eligible" at her place.  "Praise You, God.  Remove all pettiness and strife from Your time today."

The auditorium was still being prepared, so I wandered around the lobby, noticing a lady who sat in the same row as I, last night.  I casually struck up a conversation about the books we were perusing...  I don't think she spoke English.

The CD table was open for business, so I headed on over.  A familiar face!  A quick glance at her nametag told me just where I recognized her from.  So, as my transaction was taking place, I casually mentioned that I had been trying to place her.  Her response was polite enough, her attempt to make me believe she actually recognized my name was charming (I'm relatively sure she did not, as most of my registrations for homeschool activities share my daughter's last name, and I had, unthinkingly given her mine), but her friendliness was absolutely checked.  "0 for 2 in Friendly Banter today," I thought.

I entered the auditorium, looking at the sea of coats, programs and other items dotting the room, saving seats for those (members, I'm sure) who had been there since early morning, working, and had access to the room.  No worries, I found a seat close to the front, right in the middle of a cluster of personal articles.  "Nothing like throwing yourself right into it."

The Chatty Kathies, of course, filed into the row ahead of me.  "Really?"  In my row I was asked to move "my friend" down, the group of ladies at the end had miscounted their saved seats.  "My friend" --  simply my jacket and Bible that I'd placed on the seat next to me.  My friend got moved to the other side.

Five minutes into the first speaker and Scott and Steven are blowing up my phone; apparently the sofa pick-up had developed some complications.  A quick call and some texts at the first break set everything square for now.  "The speaker seems like a really nice lady, talented, and she really loves the Lord.  Why do I feel as though I get more out of sermon on Sunday than I'm getting out of this?"

The next speaker was via video.  Incredible!  So charasmatic, so inspiring, so many points of challenge and conviction.  I was so mezmerized by the video I couldn't even take notes, but sincerely wish I had.  "This!  This is why you go to retreat," I thought.  "You're either deeply engrossed in study, or so fired up you can't contain it!"

Lunch was announced, with a heartfelt "thanks" to Chick-fil-A.  "Chick-fil-A?!  Chick-fill-A?!  Are you serious?  I missed Chick-fil-A?  Oh, come on.  And you just know there are people who didn't show!  Couldn't they have taken my name, told me to stop back at lunch, maybe claim a ticket someone hadn't used?  3 or 4 bucks?  They just bumped the refund factor up to 5, at least!"  I felt like I was last to be picked for kickball.

I called Scott.  I needed to focus on something else and I wanted to make sure everything had gone smoothly.  No answer.  I texted him, hoping Madison would text me back.  OK, nothing.  Steven?  No response there either.  "Such a simple thing -- picking up a sofa.  The one time I get out for some renewal, and all this stress.  This is why I don't--"  The thought came to me.  "Such a simple thing?  Like fixing a leak, or mending a tire, or re-hinging a cabinet..."  All things I'd have to clumsily muddle my way through, but Scott does them without a grumble or sigh, with no frustration at my ineptitude.

"Lord, this weekend may not be turing out like I planned, but I pray it is turning out like You planned.  Whatever You are trying to teach me, whatever it is that I am supposed to see, open my eyes, my ears, my heart to it.  Jesus, thank you for Scott.  He is amazing; a gift I could have never deserved without Your grace.  Thank You that You are here with me even when I can't seem to find You; You never lose track of me."

(Part 3 on Wednesday)

Monday, April 11, 2011

"Retreat! Retreat!" (Part One)

So there was this e-mail, see.  Then a notice in the church bulletin.  And, well you know God, He just kept at it, and at it -- nudging me.  I wasn't sure whether I wanted to go.  Not that it was a ton of money, but it was certainly more money than I was willing to lose if I "bugged out" at the last minute.  What kind of freak would get cold feet about, of all things, a Christian women's retreat?  Me.

First of all, it wasn't exactly a lazy weekend on the homefront.  There were things to be done --a sofa to be picked up, some spring shoe shopping -- you know, all the stuff that absolutely cannot wait.  Yeah, yeah, poor excuse, but I can be a real control freak.

Secondly, and hopefully this one looks better on paper than it sounds in my head.  I have a lifelong problem with authority.  I hate being tied down, hate being told what to do, hate having to do anything.

Lastly, and probably most honestly, I have a problem with women.   I grew up thinking that to be vulnerable and feminine was to be less than human somehow, a license for people to walk all over you.   Maybe I became judgmental, thinking I was stronger, more powerful than other women because I refused to cry, hug, discuss dreams or, worse -- feelings.  Maybe quite the reverse.  Maybe I became ridiculously insecure; maybe I feel like I don't measure up in Girlworld.  How do they be so girly and still get what they want?  How do they admit to being fearful without getting crushed by the opposition?  How can they be so cunning, evil, sarcastic, conniving, bitchy, petty -- yeah, a problem with women.

Anyway, I mentioned it to Scott.  One sure fire way to commit to something is to make yourself accountable to someone else.  I'm surprised he didn't have me 302'd right there from the pew.  No guffaws.  Not so much as a, "Really?"  Wow.  The Holy Spirit is either working overtime on him, or I'm supposed to be at this weekend.

I was on the hook for this now, and expecting God was going to do something great, something marvelous, maybe where my relationships with other women are concerned.  Maybe I would meet a girl who loves shoes, enjoys sex with her husband, reads something other than Danielle Steele, and has more to talk about than who got kicked off "Idol."

I even made a list of some of my expectations -- "What Am I Looking to Get Out of This:"
1) deep fellowship time with Jesus
2) learning and growth
3) maybe a cool friendship

It actually wasn't until late in the game I realized this was at a church where, in the past, I may have had some people issues.  I have a few friends who belong there and love it.  Me? Not so much.  I have found the people, especially those associated with some of their outreach events, to be unfriendly, unhelpful, and generally en garde against "outsiders," AKA, me.  Some seem to be working from a pre-printed script or handbook; when visitors' needs exist outside those parameters?  *WARNING*  Suddenly the walls go up, you get a well-this-is-what-it-is attitude, and you are treated like a second class citizen.  Some agree with me; others do not.

So, I checked their website for details, and Googled the address; they've relocated since the last time I'd been.  Easy, squeezy -- except for the fact they are located in what resembles an industrial park.  I can see two or three buildings from where I am on the road, and I'm coming up on a driveway.  Of course, Mario Andretti in the Infinity behind me is so close it's like he's lookin' for French fries under the backseat of my truck.  I bang a quick left into the drive, finding I'm at the right place after all -- their sign only faces one way.  "No surprise there," I thought.

The parking lot was virtually empty.  "The doors opened twenty minutes ago," I thought.  "Hmm, not exactly the big rush I expected.  Can you say 'Harbinger of Lameness?'"
As I approached the front of the building I saw a sea of blue shirts – greeters and ushers just waiting to assist… uh, me?  “Can you say ‘woman’s retreat’?”  My mind went back to the Women of Faith conference I attended in Philly some years back.  Hundreds of women – all shapes and sizes – praising God, thrilled to be there, hungry to talk about their Lord and Savior.  “Plenty of women like me in a crowd like that.  But this…?”   

I received a hearty, warm welcome at the door.  She immediately asked me if I had pre-registered.  Anticipating my needs, no assumptions, no making me ask for things a visitor might require; a true hostess.  She directed me to the registration table.  Very friendly there.  Well, all but that lunch thing.  I’d handed in my completed form – with my selection for lunch -- and my payment.  As one of the friendly registrars handed me my name tag, the other friendly registrar casually informed me I was ineligible for lunch the following day.  


“Yeah, the lunch order was already turned in, but you’ll have enough time to drive to any place you choose, close by.”  

 “No, see, I choose here.  That’s why I paid you right here,” I thought.  “Didn’t the website say registration at the door?  No deadline.  Didn’t every e-mail and notice I got about this thing have a typo for the coordinator’s phone number, so try as I might, I kept dialing the same poor woman and insisting she was head of women's ministry?  (The charges are being dropped -- hopefully)  Wouldn’t the vast majority of people registering at the door be guests from out of town, or ladies with lives so hectic, they made it on a wing and a prayer?  So this is how you treat guests? the tired and weary?  So I, a guest, am paying the same price with no lunch, as your members are paying because they knew about the lunch deadline?”  Silly really, to get so affected by a plastic wrapped chicken sandwich on a toxic Styrofoam plate; especially since earlier that day I was thinking how good a salad with Feta and Raspberry Vinaigrette for lunch would taste instead of dry chicken on white and a Little Debbie’s brownie.  I mean, really, what would the refund be?  Three, maybe four dollars?  But I had planned on using the lunch break to sit down with a few folks, meet some new people and rehash some of the discussions. 

I amended #3 on my objectives with "but I am not hopeful."  So much for trying to interface.  "Lord, I’m trying here; why are you making this so difficult?  When will I have time to mingle? Bounce ideas off others?  Certainly not while standing in the CD line.  The bathroom line?  Maybe I’m the first to notice, God, but women aren’t exactly at their personal best when they’re waiting in line."

"Where can I hang my coat?" I asked.  It had been raining, and my trench coat needed to dry.  After stunned looks, hemming and hawing, some vague pointing toward "the hall," some discussion over whether their were even racks in "the hall," someone suggested I hang it on the back of my seat.  Do I have to tell you what happens in a crowded auditorium when you hang a long coat on the back of your seat, and it crumples into a pile, and the people exiting and entering, and exiting and entering, and exiting and entering the row behind -- well, you get the idea. I slung it over the seat next to me thinking, "Even my Podunk little church has coat racks.  It's really only civilized.  This is a women's weekend, right?  Like, not a filming of Ice Road Truckers?"

Settling in, I thought it would be a good time to pray and focus on some of the material we'd be covering; I thought it would be a great time to pray against silly little distractions like lunch deadlines or coat checks.  I also took the oppurtunity to update my objectives.  I added a fourth:

4) glorifying and honoring Jesus' name (I felt sort of foolish for not having made that Objective #1.)

The auditorium began to fill.  Just as I opened my Bible for a little meditation...

"No, she goes there to have her eyebrows done."
"Really?  Is that the place her boyfriend owns?"
"Which boyfriend?  The one she left her husband for?  Noooo, she doesn't see him anymore!"

"Are you kidding me?  Am I missing something?  This is supposed to be a retreat, right; as in retreat from all of the usual nonsense and worldly prattle.  God, I wanted this to be a time for me to get away from chaos and commotion, really focus on You, where You are leading me, what You are saying to me.  They've switched seats three times, the coordinator is beginning prayer, and they are still talking!  I feel so alone, so out of place, and so far from anything remotely 'Godly.'"

Once again, I amended Objective #3 -- "especially not now."

Worship was absolutely amazing!!  At one point I even found myself thinking, "This is so beautiful, all these women, it sounds like angels singing."  I don't know why I thought that; somehow I can't imagine the Angel Gabriel sounding like Beverly Sills, but...  Immediately, I dismissed the thought; I waited for someone else to make such a cornball statement, but it never did come.

Instead, the first speaker was introduced.  Her message was good but, somehow I wasn't getting it.  I mean I understood it, but it seemed flat to me, like Tab.  It wasn't particularly revealing; no study of Greek, or ancient customs with which your average middle-aged mom might not be familiar.  It wasn't completely inspiring; no challenges or convictions that grabbed me.

8:45 -- Closing worship and then, party's over.  "Worship rocked, but the exodus?  This oughta be fun; two hundred women trying to get out of a parking lot on a rainy night."  It really wasn't bad.
At home, exhausted, I fell into bed.  Strains of the last chorus still floating heavenward and drifting through my head, mixed with the words of my husband as he kissed me goodnight – “I love you.”

(Part Two on Tuesday)

Sunday, April 10, 2011

A Word of Peace

What a tremendous comfort and challenge to us!  Spurgeon said this better than I could ever hope, so I'll let you read it straight from him:
Preserved to Work's End

The Lord stood by him, and said, Be of good cheer, Paul: for as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome. (Acts 23:11)

Are you a witness for the Lord, and are you just now in danger? Then remember that you are immortal till your work is done. If the Lord has more witness for you to bear, you will live to bear it. Who is he that can break the vessel which the Lord intends again to use?

If there is no more work for you to do for your Master, it cannot distress you that He is about to take you home and put you where you will be beyond the reach of adversaries. Your witness-bearing for Jesus is your chief concern, and you cannot be stopped in it till it is finished: therefore, be at peace. Cruel slander, wicked misrepresentation, desertion of friends, betrayal by the most trusted one, and whatever else may come cannot hinder the Lord's purpose concerning you. The Lord stands by you in the night of your sorrow, and He says, "Thou must yet bear witness for me." Be calm; be filled with joy in the Lord.

If you do not need this promise just now, you may very soon. Treasure it up. Remember also to pray for missionaries and all persecuted ones, that the Lord would preserve them even to the completion of their lifework.