Lenten Thoughts: Starting

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I’m a good starter. I attribute that to the gift I believe God gave: I see possibilities.

My MBTI personality profile supports this theory. I walk into a room or a work situation and immediately start thinking of ways to improve the situation. I thrive in work situations where I can think of new ways to do the job. Working this way is plays to my strength of starting, but reveals all too quickly my boredom with follow through.

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Now, while this can be a strength at work, it has a tendency to make my husband moan and roll his eyes at home. Every now and then I’ll get a creative bug in my bonnet and I’ll start some project. Currently, it’s a cross-stitch I started in December for my brother’s birthday in January (yes, I know, it’s almost April). I carry it with me everywhere I go just in case that bug should decide to show up again. It’s almost done.

I just need to bring myself to complete it.

Most of us are good at starting things. How many books have we started but never finished? How many have started college but never completed the degree? How many craft projects sit in bins waiting to be finished? How many diets have we started and given up on?

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In his letter to Timothy, Paul declares, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race.” I believe this verse holds the key to why we tend to give up and not finish what we start. It’s all in the word FIGHT. As soon as the going gets tough, we’re done. It’s true with classes, diets, jobs, and relationships. When it starts to feel like work, we walk away.

I have a friend who has always been an inspiration to me, but I’m not sure she knows how much. She’s a doctor, professor, wife, mother, friend, and sister. Oh, and she’s also a quilter. She makes quilts. If you’ve ever done that you know how exacting and exhausting it can be. Her life has been spent on others, in work and “recreation.” There just doesn’t seem to be any quit in her.

As I think through my friends, there are many people who are inspirational. They face down illness, their own and the illnesses of loved ones. They open their homes to troubled children. They pour out their lives in thankless jobs. They stand by discouraged mates and face down their own fears. The list could go on and on.

Emily Dickenson is quoted as having said, “I dwell in possibilities.” I can relate. But I want to finish, too. I want to finish craft projects. I want to finish jobs. I want to go the distance in my relationships. Most of all, I want to finish the race of faith.

So, excuse me while I put down my pen and pick up my needle. Maybe I can get this cross-stitch done before my brother’s next birthday.

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Lenten Thoughts: Accountability

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The first time I went to seminary, I took a preaching course with Dr. Charles Munson. I was pastoring my first church and felt like such a rookie. One day in class, he made this statement: “There are no secret disciples. Either the disciple will kill the secret, or the secret will kill the disciple.”

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Dr. Munson’s quote came to mind recently as I was reading my latest edition of Writer’s Digest. The article catching my attention referred to their spring writing contest. I thought to myself: I could do that. The longer I thought about the contest, I felt my resolve become: I’m going to do that. Later that day, after doing some research and writing, I told my husband about my plan. Now I’m locked in. He won’t let me forget. And that’s exactly why I told him: he will hold my feet to the fire of accountability.

I was taught the ABC’s of faith were: accept, believe, and confess. We can do the first two privately, but the third sends us straight into accountability.

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When I was still working as a family counselor, I worked with an agency that had several therapists at differing levels of experience and licensure. One woman in the group had “Independent” status. She chaffed at the suggestion someone needed to supervise her. She bristled at the thought of someone looking over her shoulder. I was a rookie at the time, so I was used to having my work scrutinized. Later, lack of accountability became my undoing.

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One of my favorite Bible stories finds the disciples hanging out in the Upper Room until Pentecost. Imagine the scene. These folks had to learn how to be together. There were so many different kinds of folks. Trust was the furthest thing from their minds or experiences. Zealots, tax collectors, ex-prostitutes, and fishermen had to learn to get along. Miraculously, it worked. They were able to connect and when they did a power came on them like one this world had never seen.

What happened in that room? I think they learned to tell their story, the story of what Jesus had done for them, done in them. And they learned to listen. They talked about their dreams and what they hoped to accomplish with their lives for God and for the Kingdom. They told their secrets and became accountable to one another.

And it changed the world.

What secret desires has God been wanting to unwrap and unleash in your life? Tell someone. Get accountable. Allow God to work. You may be surprised at what power you free up to blow through your life and the lives around you!

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Shrove Tuesday Thoughts

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Why do you diet? When I was younger, a certain number (whether it was clothing size or poundage) was the goal. I had a friend who was so tiny and I just wanted to be like that. Small equated with beautiful. Now, it’s not about size or number, it’s about health and the ability to keep up with my grandkids.
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Why do you give things up during Lent? I’m following a devotional guide that was published for 2006. It makes the days off a little. Like today’s was about Shrove Tuesday. I learned a few things. For example, this was the day that those observant Christians would clear out the cupboards of the foods “not permitted” during lent. Those would include fat (hence the name Fat Tuesday), eggs, meat, and milk. It was the day of celebrating before the more solemn time of confession, reflection, and preparation to receive the joy of Easter.

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A few years ago there was quite a stir in the baseball town near me. Opening day was on Good Friday and good Christians who happen to be good Indian fans were in a quandary. How would they ever be able to enjoy a game without having a hot dog? Some went so far as to ask for special dispensation from the church. Isn’t that just like us?

We look at dieting as giving things up to get to a magical number, instead of what it is. Our diet is what we eat—all the time and every day. We either have a healthy diet or an unhealthy one. And it’s all about the long run. Spiritually, we need to adopt the same understanding. A verse came to mind while I putting this together. It’s originally found in the Old Testament, and Jesus picks it up in his teachings. The Shema tells us we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Jesus adds that we are also to love our neighbor as our self. Now that’s a spiritual diet we can live with!

Imagine it. How would life look if every choice we made was determined by whether the outcome would move us closer to completely loving God? Not just during Lent, but when we’re on summer vacation, or whenever. And you might be getting ready to assure me that you do that already, and have done it since you became a believer. Be careful how you justify yourself, Jesus may call you to deeper service (see Luke 10).

So, how’s your diet going this Lenten season? What have you gained by filling up and focusing more lovingly on the one who knows you best and loves you most?

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Do No Harm

First, do no harm.

Quick! Where’s that from?

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Hippocratic Oath? That’s what I thought.

Nope. After doing a little online reading, I found it’s not in the original Greek version. There’s a phrase in the Latin that might come close. It is believed the phrase came into acceptance somewhere in the 17th century.

Why does this matter? What drove me to even look?

I’m glad you asked.

Yesterday, on my drive to visit some folks who are completing a drug rehab program, I had a heart to heart with God.

At first I was trying to anticipate conversations and how I would respond. Okay, I confess I think these kinds of thing through for all kinds of encounters. I’m an old Girl Scout: I tried to always be prepared.

But the rehearsals in my mind were going nowhere.

So I stopped—talking not driving.

And I confessed how foolish I felt and I asked God what I needed to do.

Yes, I’m a trained pastor (two different Masters degrees for that) and a trained counselor (Masters degree and all kinds of continuing education), but we’re facing a giant of an enemy in this heroin epidemic.

This must be how David felt when he faced Goliath. (Okay, go ahead think current Pepsi commercials. See video below if you’re unfamiliar.)

God, I don’t know what to say. I want to offer your kind of lasting, life-changing, life-giving help. How do I do that?

 I know, not a very eloquent prayer—didn’t even say Amen at the end.

But God heard. And God spoke: Do No Harm.

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This is a huge request for an ESFP with ADD. I am not like my introverted friends who think and then overthink and maybe think some more before they open their mouths to speak. I think out loud. Words tumble out of my mouth faster than I can check them.

How do I do that?

Here’s what I did:

I listened. A challenging thing for an ESFP with ADD.

Listening requires intentional focus. Trust me: this requires more energy than a 30 minute workout at CURVES.

But I did it.

And I shared what I knew to be true.

This included some of my own struggle, but also a couple of my foundation scripture promises and fundamental counseling truths.

I’m not sure if we slayed the giant…but we did some serious damage. I left those appointments whoopin’ and hollerin’ for Jesus.

These were divine appointments and I was just along for the ride.

Check back for the next post where I’ll share one of those fundamental counseling truths.  (How’s that for a teaser?!)

 

**ESFP is a Myers-Brigs Trait Inventory designation (MBTI). When I take the inventory I identify as an Extrovert who takes in my surroundings through my Senses, makes judgments through my Feelings, and organizes Perceptively (which is kind of like no organization at all—think scattered).

If you want to check out the test just google it. You can take it online and receive your information.

**ADD is a psychiatric identification, Attention Deficit Disorder. My brain typically runs in scatter mode. I act before thinking. I get overwhelmed by too many instructions. I am highly distracted…squirrel!

 

 

Book Review: Listen, Love, Repeat

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I get  opportunities to read and recommend books. It’s been a long time since I was this excited about a book. It is a rare thing to find a nonfiction book that  blends and balances “how to”, biblical resources, and personal testimony–Karen Ehman does that in this book!

Honest. Practical. Needed. These are the things this book offers, page after page after page. Author, Karen Ehman, packs so much into this book. The chapters identify different groups and individuals who need to receive the practical experience of God’s grace—and the specific ways we can extend His love to them. The timeliness of this book is matched beautifully by the timelessness of message: moving from self-centered me-ness to being focused on others.

As a pastor of a church in the heart of a small town, I believe this book offers tools my people can use to be encouraged in new and refreshed ways. One of the chapters I read through tears was “The Lonely and Unloved.” One of the questions found near the end of this chapter were an arrow to my heart: Can you create one more space at your table this week? Yes, I can…but will I?

This book is like a box of seeds. Plant these seeds (ideas and principles), and watch what grows! I am looking forward to sharing this book in my church and seeing the amazing things God has in store for us as we step up to new ways of listening and loving.

(I received a free copy of this book to provide an honest review.)

Resting

(This is a reposting of a Facebook Note from November 1, 2009)

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Where I work I spend most of my time in two rooms, the kitchen and dining room. They are open to each other. In those two rooms there are four clocks. Should I venture into either bathroom there’s a clock there, too. I never have to wonder or worry about what time it is.

Time. When we think about it we wonder what time it is. We wonder if we’re late or early. How much time do we have? What do we do with our time? We’re accused of wasting time, marking time, stretching time, and watching time fly by.

I used to rush through my days. I was proud of how much I could cram into a day. More was always better and therefore, resulted in a better me. When I gave up sleep to focus on saving the world (or at least my little corner), I made some of the stupidest and most dangerous decisions, decisions that nearly cost me everything, including my life. I finally came to the conclusion that there is a reason that God rested and a reason that he commands it of us, as well.

This morning was the time to change our clocks. It was time to “fall back.” While others were relishing an extra hour of sleep, I was awake and at my computer. I was reveling in the quiet. All I could hear was the rhythm of the clocks ticking around me. Now maybe if I only had that to listen to 24/7, it would become tortuous, but sitting here this morning, it was a Centering Symphony.

I was up “early” because someone imposed a time change on me. Isn’t that just how life seems to go? We grouse and complain because our time is not our own. Someone always seems to be demanding our time.

Recently, I was a t a retreat where the leaders took the watches and phones of the participants. The surrender was to free those attending from the tyranny of time. The thinking was/is to let the staff “worry” about time and schedule. Good as it was, the staff always had someplace for the participants to go or something for them to do, so there was no sense of “free time.”

Compare that to the experience of our house guest. We have a couple unoccupied rooms in our home, so we opened our space to a pastor friend who was between jobs with no place to stay. The first couple weeks she was with us, all she did was sleep, eat, and watch TV. Our interactions were minimal. Slowly, opportunities and necessities began to reenter her life and she began to go out with friends and go to some meetings. One day she came through the living room where I was reading. She sat and we chatted for a while. At the end of our talking, she shared how much she appreciated the opportunity to just be there with no expectations, just able to rest. It was the refreshing that she needed at every level of her being: heart, mind, soul, and strength.

In the great Shepherd Psalm (Psalm 23), we find so much of the care provided to and for us. One of the things we may overlook is that he who knows us and our needs makes us lie down. Thinking of this reminded me of my grandson. I can always tell when Asher needs a nap. Some days so can he. Don’t make the Shepherd bop you on the head with his crook to get you to rest. We were not created to go 24/7.

One day as Jesus was ministering, he looked out at the crowd and was moved to compassion when he saw how weary and out of synch they were. He offered them rest, to restore their rhythm. To receive this gift they needed to come to him and learn from him. Don’t you think it’s time to listen, to learn, to rest?

Tracing and Anticipating

I wrote this in 2009 and posted it as a note on Facebook–it came up as “memories” reminder. I’m reposting it and will edit it later. I needed the message.

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Our three year old grandson, Asher, started pre-school this fall. From the get go, we knew he was a bright child. He even came on his due date. We watched Baby Einstein videos with him until we all knew them by heart. Very early, he knew his shapes, colors, letters, and numbers.

At Pre-school they are teaching the kids their letters and numbers and having them trace them. Asher walks around with his left hand in the air, at the ready for the next thing to trace. If he isn’t tracing the letters, he’s counting how many characters or letters are in the word or string of words. He traces letters on the TV, on boxes, on books, from the newspaper, or on the shirt someone has on. One day, I found him sitting on the floor in the dining room. We have a shelf there with accident/spare clothes for him. He had all his spare shirts lying out and his own shirt off. When I asked what he was doing he looked at me with that “isn’t it obvious, Mema” look. Then, as matter of factly as he could, he informed me that he was tracing. Every letter around him screams to be traced!

Reflecting on Asher’s tracing, I began to see three components that made Asher such a good tracer. First, he walked through his day, minute by minute and room by room, anticipating, no expecting, that there would be letters to trace or count. What do you eagerly anticipate? A quick read of Romans 8 paints a clear picture of what we need to be anticipating.

Anticipating that God is at work, that he has a plan and it includes us, drives us, spurs us, motivates us to be ready. Asher walks around expecting to find something to trace. His little hand is often in the air, making circles, like an airplane getting ready to land. The word tells us we are to be ready, to always have an answer when someone asks us what are hope is about.

Could you do that? I’m not asking if you know some specific plan or canned presentation. I don’t care if you have scripture memorized, but can you (from a sincere heart) tell someone, “This is where I was. This is what God in Christ did for me. And this is where I’m headed.” It’s your story, are you ready to tell it?

And finally, I have been so impressed by Asher’s focus. His questions reveal his passion to learn more. He listens to all our conversations. I know this because often my words come back to me through him. It has caused me to be more conscious of what I say and how I say it. We’ve even had to resort to spelling things we want to keep above his head. Everything he sees is an item to trace. If he’s not tracing letters, then his finger runs around the circumference or perimeter of an item. Some days he carries his step stool from room to room so that he can be sure to catch whatever you’re doing.

Right now Asher seems to be practicing the fine art of learning. It reminded me of Brother Lawrence’s continual practice of the awareness of God. And I started to wonder: what keeps me from anticipating God at every turn? Do I have preconceived and limiting notions about who God is and what he can do? What keeps me from being ready? Is it fear, or busyness, or ignorance of the urgency, or God help us: lack of love? What keeps me from being focused? The enemy is the expert at divide and conquer. If he can get us to thinking in terms of sacred and secular, he knows it’s just a short distance disconnecting our head and heart.

When I was in seminary the second time around, a Sunday School teacher asked our younger daughter, Beth (Asher’s mom), what she wanted to be when she grew up. Beth’s answer struck the teacher enough that she made sure to tell me. Beth’s answer was, “a student like my mom.” There is always a need for us to put into practice what we know, but oh, that God would rekindle in each of us the insatiable desire to learn.

Then we would, like Asher, be anticipating, ready, and focused.

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