Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Loving LIfe, Finding Hope

I have come to love her Facebook posts, the ones that appear at the close of my hectic days. She chronicles simple things—the pleasures of a garden bud or bug, a delightful visit with a friend or the success of a worthy endeavor. Her days and comments overflow with creativity, domesticity, intellectual pursuits and personal relationships. I don’t know how she gets it all done and still has time to let us know with such frequency and regularity. Her insights, always personable, sometimes pensive, usually positive, brighten my day. Like ‘One Thousand Gifts’ (Voskamp), her brief messages encourage me to appreciate every moment of life and look more deeply for the blessings that they bring.

If you only saw a random post, you might assume she lives a charmed and privileged life. The vignettes she posts reveal little of the health issues she has faced, the dietary restrictions that shape her days or other private pains. Faced with whatever comes along, she remains a woman who loves life, looks for the best and stays engaged.

This morning as I pondered the impact of her posts on me, I could not recall the specifics of a single one. Their power does not lie in the details but in her outlook. Her musings burst with life and hope. It is these two traits that are re-tinting the lens through which I observe my own daily efforts.

I had a like experience once before. Almost thirty years ago, two other people had a similar effect on me. I was at a crossroads when we visited my husband’s aunt and uncle at their two-story, blue trimmed log cabin in Salt Lick Valley. At the time nothing in my life seemed right. I had no hope for things improving on their own and no confidence in my ability to change them. Life was passing me by, and I no longer cared enough to wave as it flew past.

I am not sure what caused me to share my gloomy thoughts with these almost strangers as the three of us strolled through the growing darkness in a twilight search for deer. I couldn’t see their faces; they couldn’t see mine. I was in unfamiliar territory both in finding the path and revealing my heart. Perhaps the fact I stumbled on that uneven road while they walked with comfortable familiarity made me think they had something solid to offer that I needed.

As they shared their story, I silently observed they had overcome with inspiring resiliency things I would have considered insurmountable obstacles. They continually sought out new challenges. When they had been forty and life was good, they determined to make it count for more. They sold their Pennsylvania home and moved to Kentucky to serve as house parents in a mission school. When faced with inadequate funds for retirement, they had salvaged an abandoned log home and painstakingly made it into the bed and breakfast that was a welcome sanctuary for all who found refuge there. Their stories went on and on, filling me with admiration and courage.

With gentle chuckles, they kindly let me know my own problems were a temporary light affliction, easily surmountable. Through their words and by their example I heard, ‘Never give up.’  Life is good. There really is adventure around the next corner, but you have to keep on walking. And when you find it, even if it seems the smallest of victories, embrace it, cherish it and celebrate its goodness. I learned to hope that night.

It’s curious that almost thirty years later, this couple’s daughter is the one who encourages me unknowingly through her daily posts. Loving life and finding hope must run in her family.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Thank you, CC's!

I find myself in an unfamiliar part of town this morning—trying to make the most of an inconvenient block of time between dropping someone off at the airport and picking up someone else. Curbside parking for an hour is prohibited and circling the airport is tedious, or dangerous, if it attracts unwelcome attention from airport security. It is pointless to snake my way home through morning rush hour only to use my driveway to turn around and head back.

I could, of course, pay to park my car and then park myself on a backless bench in baggage claim. But why, when I can certainly find a nearby coffee shop? Latte with soy, free Wi-Fi and a soul-refreshing hour of solitude. With Southern University so close, certainly there will be multiple choices of places to sit, sip and study. But, no! No CC’s. No Starbucks. At least none that I can find.

IHOP it is. I feel a little bad as a solitary female taking up a booth large enough to accommodate a family of six or team of burly men. Not that my presence is inhibiting the steady influx of guys, all wearing short sleeve shirts with collars, who arrive for loud conversations served up with hearty stacks of more calories than I consume in a week.

The other women in the restaurant are here to serve. The sweetest of these calls out from across the room at least three times, “Hey, honey. Sorry. I see you. I will be over shortly.”  Startled I lift my head from my computer to smile and assure her I’m fine. Do I really look that starved for attention? Apparently, because this same caring soul repeatedly interrupts my train of thought to inquire about the warmth of my coffee and the adequateness of my food. It must be highly unusual for someone to order just a dish of fruit in this house of carbs. (I wonder if my order will make the company newsletter.) I also learn it confuses the system if I don’t pay so she can close out my ticket in a timely fashion—although she gives me permission to stay after I pay.

The experience makes me appreciate certain aspects of the bona fide coffee house like never before. And so, CC’s, I say, “Thanks.” Thanks for
  • Saying just one cheery “Welcome,” when I enter the door.
  • Handling the business end up front so I can put away my cash or card before I grab my cup.
  • Serving one steaming latte with the option of soy that arrives so hot I need a holder; one that maintains a reasonable temperature for the duration.
  • Arranging a selection of just right tables, perfect for a single laptop on a working day or a plate with goodies on a day with the kids.
  • Offering a tasty selection of bite size goodies, no expectations attached.
  • Knowing I always need the Internet and providing it free, along with places to fuel my laptop's insatiable need for power.
  • Creating an atmosphere where the hushed tones of other patrons is punctuated only by the periodic sounds of beverage making machines,
  • Making it easy to pursue a solitary train of thought or a thoughtful conversation with a friend.
  • Establishing so many venues near the places where I work, play and live.
  • Being a caring-but not too caring-community.
Leaving IHOP I have a ridiculous need to explain my odd behavior. When I share that I just needed a place to work while waiting to pick up someone at the airport, my server exclaims, “Oh, my. Well, you be careful out there, honey.” Her parting concern makes me glad I am leaving her a tip equal to the cost of my small order. But don't worry, CC's. I can't wait to be back in your cozy, and non-intrusive care.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Light Shines

A friend and I discussed how we had spent a recent holiday.  My own triumphs paled in comparison to his efforts. He had tackled the non-functioning landscape lights along the walkways of his newly purchased home. This was undoubtedly an issue he could resolve by taking apart the individual lights, checking the wiring and making sure all was suitably in order.

Satisfied with the thoroughness of his efforts, he confidently flipped the switch. Nothing happened! Rechecking his rewiring work did not reveal any errors. Determination and diligence failed to produce even a flicker of light. Eventually, and I’m not sure how, he discovered the lights were not tied into the electrical current. Without that connection, these correctly aligned lights could never be a source of illumination.

This humorous recounting reminded me of my early years, ones that showed similarly frantic but futile efforts. Don’t get me wrong. I am not talking about electrical wiring. Even I am smart enough to know my technical limitations. I am talking about ambition and goals. I think that hardwired into every child is the desire to glow with a light that others notice, one that will, in time, make a difference in the world. At least that was how I was wired.

Childhood was the time of assembling the correct parts—loving parents, solid biblical teaching and excellent education. Even in retrospect, I can’t find any pieces that were left out of the process. At some point I was boxed up and shipped into the world with the hope I would light a pathway for others. As a follower of Christ, I wanted that pathway to lead them directly to him.

I was soon installed in the garden of family, church work, and secondary and college teaching. What an opportunity to shine! What a pitiful light! Certainly I was meant for more.

In an effort to improve output, I poured over countless manuals—the how-to books of being a more loving wife, a better mother, a more effective teacher, a more faithful friend, a more honoring daughter, a more committed follower of Christ. I would immerse myself in their paper bound knowledge and emerge with renewed resolve to do it right. From the information acquired there, I would set about refitting and retooling the structures of my soul. It was exhausting work, but I was diligent and determined. Given enough time, I was sure I would get it right. But I never did!

Repeated efforts produced the same inadequate results. During one of several absolutely worst, but ultimately best, seasons of my life, I came to the end of my resources. With counter-intuitive wisdom, I unclenched my fists to let go of my own efforts.

Now my heavenly Father could take hold of my hands and he gently showed me the problem. I was disconnected from the source of power, the Holy Spirit of God. I was wearing myself out trying to be the light instead of letting Christ’s light shine through me.

Unlike the lights along the walkway at my friend's house, it wasn’t that I had never been connected to the source of power. That unbreakable connection had been made the moment I committed to follow Jesus. My problem was I had never learned to depend on that power.

At first it was hard to grasp the magnitude of the discovery. I read and reread Ephesians 1 and 2, underlining then circling any phrase that reminded me I was in Christ. I had been firmly wired into the breaker box of God’s eternal power. Nothing could separate me from his love or the resources he provided. The power of the Triune God was available to pulsate through my human wiring and spotlight his love and majesty.

The knowledge that the essential wiring was in place gave me hope. Tapping into that power brought me joy. While I was in the process of living ‘do it myself’ Christianity, the concept of living by the Spirit had seemed mysterious and inaccessible. Now I could see it was logical and attainable. I felt as if God himself took me to a spiritual breaker box. With his light shining into the dark cavity, I clearly saw the on/off switch. I flipped the controls and chose him.

Joy filled me, power surged, light shone.

I will not be insulted if you stop reading now. In fact, I really wanted to end here for several good reasons. First, because I can’t imagine why anyone would want to read anything longer than this is. Secondly, because I am lazy, and while it was fun to dash off the above writing in under a half hour, it will take me much longer to write applicable conclusions. Thirdly, because I really wish this were the end of the story, and I could declare I lived happily and glowed brightly ever after.

The truth is that living with an active, power-flowing, light-producing connection to the Holy Spirit requires continual choice. I have to begin each morning by committing my minutes, my body, my decisions, even my interruptions, to God to be used as he sees fit. Before I put bare toes to the cold floor, I acknowledge my own abilities will never be enough to walk out what he wants to do through me. I make the hard choice to set aside my rights to a personal agenda, and I give him permission to have my life his way.

This conversation is one God and I must have often throughout the day. Sadly I have discovered I have an inborn, unthinking, tendency to flip the switch that transfers power back to me. Almost anything can trigger the impulse—a difficult person, an unresolved problem, a road under construction or people I love to be with, a problem I can solve, a journey with smooth sailing.

It may take a few minutes or a few hours before I recognize the absence of his light. I may notice it in the effort it takes to be kind or to be effective. I may see it reflected in my eagerness to take credit for a job well done or to use people to make me happy. I may feel it in an emotional overreaction to something that doesn’t go my way or the pride I have when something does. I may be reminded by the still small voice that whispers “Let this mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus.”

Reconnection is as easy as an in-the-moment decision to reconnect to his power. It’s a lot like pushing the reset button on a ground fault interrupter—that electrical outlet in your kitchen or bathroom that shuts off the flow of electricity when you splash water or overload the circuit.

Joy fills, power surges, light shines.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Marked for Victory

In those early hours, before sleep-drenched skies stretched and beckoned forth the day, I lay thinking and praying. Perhaps it was the unrelenting predawn blackness that made me painfully aware of the struggles of my friend. Poor health. Unmet expectations. Dashed hopes. Emotional abuse. Bad choices. Painful memories.

To the waking world she appeared stalwart and strong. To her community of close friends she admitted her heart was crouched and wary. Because I knew the stories from her past, I called out to God on behalf of this one who has so often been a victim.

Unbidden and unexplained, a small phrase appeared in my mind, “Marked for victory.”

With those three words everything changed. My mind whirled with the implications of this new designation. A person marked for victory is called a victor, not a victim. Her destiny is not the passive plight of a helpless victim, but a noble effort whose success has been predetermined. Commissioned as a warrior in the heavenly realm, she can rest assured in the promise, “We are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”

This was hope in the darkness. It presented a truth for her and for all who long to snatch victory from seeming defeat.

An enemy has declared all-out war on her soul. His finely tuned battle plan has been crafted to sabotage her ability to become all God created her to be. He hurls abusive words and demeaning thoughts at her. He heaps insults and rejection. As if this is not enough, he deceives her into thinking it is all her fault and she is only reaping what she has sown. He is particularly pleased when she loses sight of the battle entirely and simply accepts adversity as her way of life.

Her current difficult circumstance is just the battlefield on which the war is being fought. The enemy will use either ill health or ill will to equal advantage. A trying circumstance is not her enemy, but rather the arena in which the battle rages. 

Ongoing warfare produces serious wounds, but being wounded is not to be confused with defeat. Her wounds are not the battle; neither are they the enemy. Wounds are a result of warfare. They hurt. They need care. They need healing.  But they do not keep her from victory.

Ultimately those three words ‘marked for victory’ reminded me that she is fighting a battle that Christ has already won for her. Even as the battle rages on earth, victory is declared in heaven.

I continue to pray for my friend, but now I pray she will dress for battle in God’s armor, stand firm on God’s Word and have the courage to continue in God’s work. And I want her to be encouraged by the knowledge that a whole army of fellow warriors battles alongside.