Monday, May 4, 2009

Discipline, Part 2

I just spent some delightful and insightful moments reading the blogs of people I follow. I responded to some with a written comment. To others my response was in the form of a prayer. I loved reading about their days--whether those days were good or bad. It brought warm feelings of connection to see some parts of their lives in high noon light with no shadows behind which to hide.

The sporadic nature of my own posts stands in dismal contrast. The infrequent timing reflects my status--body and soul. To use a time-worn cliche, I've been 'under the weather'--although I think this statement might be quite accurate in my case since my infected sinuses are most likely the result of atmospheric conditions. My weakened body produces a soul-weariness that drinks my creative juices dry.

There-in lies the problem. I am too content to languish until I experience an 'aha' moment. Personal aside: I do love an 'aha' moment. During those grand and glorious encounters with an eternal truth that pushes through an ordinary experience, thoughts, words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs and ultimately, blogs bubble up from deep inside and then cascade triumphantly into readable form. But they don't happen every day...

To wait passively for inspiration denies the value of intention. Inspiration requires very little in the way of purpose or discipline. Interestingly, my previous blog post was on discipline.

I find it easier to write about discipline than to practice it.

I have nothing else inspiring to say. My ears hurt and my glands feel swollen. I'm positive it isn't swine flu. And, yes, I see the doctor tomorrow. Maybe renewed health will produce more insight or at least, some amusing anecdotes.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Musings on Music and the Place of Discipline

The music escaped the center-stage Steinway as if it couldn't wait to be released from its ebony prison. The notes surged relentlessly toward the eager ears of an enraptured audience. Time tested compositions from Bach, Haydn and Chopin led the way to surprisingly energetic offerings from the more contemporary Ginastera and Piazzolla. Music of this magnitude restores and energizes the soul. That night it scooped me up and held me until my heart beat in time with its own melodious rhythm.

A solitary pianist used the keys at her fingertips to open the doorway into this experience. For a fleeting moment, I envisioned myself seated in her place, dressed in regal black and captivating the audience with my performance. After all, I too had once played the piano. Fourteen gruelling years and and thousands of dollars invested in the illusive hope of making me, if not a concert pianist, at least a church accompanist, and, according to my fun-loving mother, "the life of every party."

This ephemeral vision vanished in the too-bright reality of the spot-lit stage. Such musical ability requires discipline as well as talent, and I was lacking in both. Memorizing enough music to play for an hour and a half requires hours of practice. I certainly had practiced my obligatory hour a day. Every day. Right after school. Before my mother arrived home! I methodically ran scales and played pieces while I kept one eye on the television--and another on the driveway! (The latter was necessary so I could turn off the TV before my mother arrived. This system worked until she discovered my ruse when she placed her cool hand on the unnaturally warm TV.)

During my piano years, I never connected my lack of success with my own lackadaisical attitude. I suspected it was my succession of teachers, two of whom told me, "You are wasting my time and your parent's money." Of course, they refrained from repeating their comments to my mother out of deference to her feelings and their fees.

With the clarity of a soul freshly awakened by the penetrating music and an hour of reflection in a darkened recital hall, I saw the consequences of my own meandering path. I don't regret my cast-off musical opportunities for piano is neither my passion nor my talent. But, how many other areas of my life have suffered because I lack the discipline to persevere when it is boring, or I am tired, or I lack inspiration, or someone requires my assistance....

In how many ways am I content to do well when with sustained practice, I could excel? How has my walk with Christ been hobbled? In my pursuit of God, how often have I been distracted by a passing pleasure or an urgent item on another person's to-do list?

My pianist friend practices twelve hours a day. When I asked what she did for relaxation, she responded, "I play the piano." Her passion and devotion became a precious gift for her audience. What keys lie within my reach that I must exercise in order for my life to pulse with the rhythm of His grace?

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Two Stories of Stumps and Storms

I awakened to the unfamiliar sound of silence. The clock's rhythmic blinks offered a plausible explanation and its sincere apology, "Power was out. Don't blame me." I glanced out the window, but the predawn light successfully hid any damage inflicted by the storm that had raged during the night. Reporters for the early morning news offered a more telling assessment. Thousands of homes were without power. Traffic lights were out. Tree limbs littered water logged streets. High winds and a possible tornado had taken their toll.

As the sun rose, I surveyed our newly landscaped yard. Neither limb nor leaf marred the freshly laid sod. What a stark contrast to the after effects of previous storms. Mere months ago a night like this would have left our yard waist high with branches freshly ripped from our ancient trees. (Not that we considered this all bad since downed tree limbs allow for the most manly of all pursuits--the wielding of the mighty chainsaw. Ours holds a privileged place within reach of our bedroom in the unlikely event we will have to cut our way out of the house someday!)

The pristine condition of our lawn was no accident. Neither was it a mighty miracle at the hand of a merciful heavenly Father. No. This particular blessing was the benefit of a tough decision made months ago following Hurricane Gustav. Two of our three largest trees had blown over in the storm. The arborist warned the integrity of our remaining tree was seriously compromised. The next major storm could bring this majestic tree down on our house or a neighbor's. This pecan, a major factor in our decision to purchase our home, had provided shade for our parties, a backdrop for our pictures, pecans for our pies and a sense of peace for our yard. It was a wrenching, tear-filled decision--one we could only hope was right. Until this week.

As pictures of crushed cars and punctured roofs filled the evening news, and as we witnessed the new piles of storm debris on curbs, we clearly recognized the wisdom of our decision to remove the tree and grind its stump.

Lives can be a lot like trees.

Intense pain registered on her face for just a moment before the too bright smile of a practiced, 'I can cope' surfaced. From first-hand experience I recognized that well-rehearsed expression of resigned acceptance--a response so often used it almost convinces the one who hides behind it.

I was an adult when I began to recognize my sunny smile and optimistic disposition had a precarious foundation. I was a successful wife, mother, graduate student and teacher. My over-the-top busy life was characterized by a serene self-sufficiency that worked flawlessly--except for those moments when something (and I seldom figured out what)pushed a button deep inside me, and I erupted. Not that I exploded. No, indeed. To explode would be to admit a flaw. I imploded, shutting down in stony silence, taking long walks on dark streets or driving until I calmed down. (Yes, I did once get to Lafayette before returning to my curious family who was all too accustomed to my disappearing act.)

In time someone suggested my erratic behavior indicated a trail of hurt in my life. I couldn't very well disagree with their diagnosis, but I was convinced I could effectively hold a tighter reign on my emotions. My resolve crumbled when God gently sought my permission to deal with the root of my issues. I, who so longed to be like the tree planted by the streams of water (Psalm 1) was dropping dead branches every time a storm blew in. It was apparent the integrity of my steadfast spirit had been compromised. It was time to let God bring down my self sufficiency.

It was a hard decision and a continually painful process. Pruning the branches of recent development wasn't sufficient. Repeatedly God takes the axe of Truth to spiritual and familial strongholds. Even now He keeps a stump grinder handy as He continues to eradicate everything that is not Him.

Life's storms still come into my life, but the wind damage is less destructive. The hard decision to deal with roots of rejection and anger results in a life that increasingly yields its fruit in its season and it leaf does not wither; and in whatever [s]he does, [s]he prospers (Psalm 1:3)...

and no more does she drive abruptly and unthinkingly to another city.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Real Help From A Back Seat Driver

Yesterday my 'back seat' driver sat boldly in the passenger's seat--a position usually reserved for me. Not that I love riding passively. In fact, the argument over who gets to drive on long trips has caused more friction in our household than any other topic. But yesterday, I was the chosen! Seven glorious hours behind the wheel of a rented Nissan.

From years of riding when I would rather be driving, I have developed my own survival technique. Periodicals, puzzles, a novel, and for a case of serious boredom--a pillow. I studiously avoid watching my husband challenge the other 'idiots' on the road by keeping my eyes focused on my own pursuits.

With our positions reversed, my husband did not reciprocate my studied indifference. Mile after mile, his eyes glued to the road, he offered running commentary. "Watch your speed here. This area's always patrolled." "You will probably want to get into the left lane. The right is bumpy for miles." "You probably have time to pass that truck before you get to the exit..." And on it went from Baton Rouge to Natchitoches to Dallas.

An oft-used "I know that" almost escaped my pursed lips. But with an uncharacteristic outflow of humility, I realized I didn't know the information he offered. He, who travels this road so frequently he could navigate it successfully while finishing a crossword puzzle and simultaneously reading a novel was giving me the benefit of his hard won experience. I was grateful rather than annoyed.

Freed up from trying to figure out the quirks of an unfamiliar highway, I allowed my mind to travel the more recognizable terrain of my daily life. I thought of and prayed for the young women I see regularly--the ones who tell me their stories and want to hear mine. Suddenly I realized my role in their life journey is not unlike the role my husband is playing on this day-long trip. These gifted young women are solidly behind the wheel of their own lives. I couldn't take the wheel even if I wanted to. Yet, in a way that daily humbles me, these women invite me to journey with them for a while. They ask to learn from my experiences along this stretch of life's road. They are eager to know where the potholes are and which is the most expedient route. My comments won't make their journey shorter, but it might make it safer.

I see now I am not so much a mentor as I am a 'back seat driver' in another woman's life. Based on yesterday's experience, I'm okay with that.

Saturday, February 21, 2009


I woke up yesterday with a stiff neck and a mild headache. My husband was in an automobile accident, but I had whiplash!

No, I wasn't with him when a car cut across his path without looking. I was suffering from the jolt of an unexpected slice of life careening across my path. In the larger scale of life's journey, where recent illness had detoured and delayed our plans, we thought we were again traveling smoothly. Even in the short run of a day trip, I was on the road to success. Following an itinerary that had been mapped out since the night before, I was almost home (literally as well as figuratively).

The phone call alerting me to the accident transported me into high efficiency mode. Shut down computer. Drive husband to the doctor. Begin discussing immediately the logistics of a the days when we would be sharing a car. Express genuine thanksgiving there were no serious injuries. I felt great, all things considered. In retrospect I was in shock.

The day after the accident, I was shaken up. I felt bruised by life. In the aftermath, I was tense and exceptionally cautious. But even whiplash won't keep me off the road to Kingdom adventure. This most recent setback reminds me of one of my favorite Scripture passages, "Though the fig tree should not blossom and there be no fruit on the vines, though the yield of the olive should fail and the fields produce no food, though the flock should be cut off from the field and there be no cattle in the stalls, yet I will exalt in the Lord. I will rejoice in the god of my salvation." Habakkuk 3:17-18

The unexpected happens. Even the unpleasant. For a moment we respond to the impact. But no real damage has taken place. The One who cannot be shaken still stands.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A Correct Diagnosis

Crippling symptoms appeared uninvited. Without so much as a token 'with your permission', they took up unwelcome residence in my husband's body. In response to his best efforts to evict them, they remained entrenched and claimed possession with remarkable tenacity.

He sought help. Three doctors listened, poked, prodded, drew blood, ran tests and drew tentative conclusions. The symptoms were obvious; the cause was obscure. Finally, by a process of elimination, the source was announced and appropriate treatment began. Handfuls of pills. Adaptive therapy. Weeks of waiting. No progress. The symptoms remained as invasive as ever.

The expertise of a fourth doctor produced our first ray of hope. A quick diagnosis, a short procedure and a new type of therapy began the slow process of letting him reclaim use of his body.

Correct diagnosis is everything. This is as true for my soul as it was for his body.

I am often crippled by bad behavior. I am led astray by unwelcome thoughts. I trip over my own intolerance. In response I reach blindly for the latest 'how to' book. I make lists. I journal. I join accountability groups. Much of it is done in a manipulative effort to produce a more Christ-like image in me. Disappointment dogs my days as my efforts fail to bring about lasting change.

I too often focus on the symptoms and not the root cause of my own behavior. I may deny it by blaming circumstances or other people. I may excuse it as a personality quirk. I may pin it on God who has allowed it to surface in my life. But these incorrect diagnoses leave me unhealed and in continuing pain.

For a correct diagnosis, I have to seek the counsel of the Great Physician. It is he who recognizes pride and self-sufficiency and who knows I suffer from failure to love or to forgive. Only he provides much sought relief. 'He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases. He redeems me from death and crowns me with love and tender mercies. He fills my life with good things. My youth is renewed like the eagle’s!' (Psa 103:3-5).

Although I regret the days I remained immobilized by a faulty diagnosis, I rejoice that the only true diagnostician offers 24/7 office hours.

Monday, February 16, 2009

An Acquired Taste

Titling my blog Sunrise might seem an odd choice. People who knew me in my early years suspected my most authentic encounters with the dawn came through literary descriptions. They might have been right.

I wasn't always an early riser. I might be genetically predisposed to staying up very late and compensating the next morning. Or maybe I learned peculiar habits early in life. In regard to sleeping habits, I came from mixed heritage. My father went to bed early and was never seen after 9 pm except on those rare occasions when he appeared in his too short pajamas to scare away poor young men who had lost track of curfew at my house. My mother on the other hand preferred to sleep until ten am and regularly began her housework after my father was asleep.

I'm not sure what would have become of me if I hadn't married into a family who believed early to bed and early to rise should have been the eleventh commandment. My husband faced early morning as if he really loved it, and since I loved him, I tried to tolerate it as well. The more often I awakened early, the better I liked it. I concluded watching the sun rise might be an acquired taste.

I began a love affair with those early hours when they took on personal spiritual significance. A significant phase in my spiritual growth was heralded by a recurring phrase in my head, "Your light will break forth like the dawn." After a morning when I sat in total darkness and watched day dawn over the Gulf of Mexico, I understood more clearly the work God was beginning in my life. It was truly the dawn of a new day for me.

As I progressed in my spiritual journey, I no longer awoke early out of duty. Increasingly I was awakened by a hunger to spend time in the Word. Those early hours took on added significance as I concluded along with Isaiah "He awakens me morning by morning! He awakens my ear to listen as a disciple (50:4)." It helps to know that Jesus also sought time with his Father in the early hours. In Luke 4:42, it says 'And when day came, He departed and went to a lonely place' and spent time in prayer.

But while sunrise is a great time to spend in prayer, it is more than just a time of day. Sunrise is what Zacharias used to describe Jesus as he prayed following the birth of his son John who was the forerunner of Christ. He prophesied, "Because of the tender mercy of our God, with which the Sunrise from on high shall visit us, to shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death."

Sunrise then is more than a great way to start the day. It is more than the quiet hours for getting in tune with the Fathers heart. Sunrise is the very person of Jesus who is the theme of my life. My prayer is that the blogs I post will reflect him and spread his light.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A Blog of One's Own

For a woman in the early years of the 20th century, the literary path required 'money and a room of her own.' At least that was the opinion of Virginia Woolf. Well, Virginia, times have changed. A woman in the 21st century who aspires to write need only have a laptop and a blog of her own. Who needs a room when corner coffee shops offer such conducive environments. As for money, if you can purchase the latte (required for securing a seat and for staying awake), you have all the money you need.

With a serious blog of my own, I hope to re-establish some credibility. After the unfortunate incident a few years ago, my son issued a warning to his friends, "Be ware. My mother is running loose in the blogosphere!" So much for trying to add a personal counseling touch to an online discussion between Duke University professionals. (Sigh) I might have avoided the web forever except for the encouragement of a friend.

With her persistance I now have a blog of my own. Whether or not I write something worth reading remains to be seen. Who knows? Perhaps in a few months people will add my blog to the "must check regulary list." On the other hand, they may be echoing my son's sentiments, "Help! Bettejean is loose in the blogosphere."