Tuesday, June 16, 2015

To Be Like Him When I grow up

We're sports-junkies in this house. I might have mentioned that before. Specifically, I'm surrounded by people who live and breath basketball. If I was irreverent, I might even say it was our family's religion (except for SK is almost anti-sports). So if you have the slightest interest in basketball, you'll know tonight concluded the NBA's season for the 2014-15 year.

Beve, J and I were hooked on these finals from the start, settled ourselves to watch and root for the Golden State Warriers because they have a player who played his college ball in Beve's and my hometown, stayed to watch because their star was so sweet (yes, sweet) and boyish, and their coach a humble man in his first job as a coach. There were a hundred stories about this team, about this finals, and I got caught up in all of them. That's how sports always draw me in--not with statistics or with large boasts  by arrogant men but by the real- life stories of the players.

Tonight those Golden State Warriors did win the NBA championship. They did spray champagne all over each other in the locker room after kissing the trophy and screaming with joy. The playoff season is a long haul--two months of intense games to get to the final game. And keeping their eyes on that goal every day was grueling. But these aren't ordinary players on this extraordinary team. We were told tonight--by THEM--that they go to chapel together before each game. And the Series MVP said he admires the team's leader (the full season's MVP) so much, "I want to BE him when I grow up! He's such a godly man, so humble, such a great leader."

Think about that a moment.
This huge basketball player, who had just won the series MVP didn't envy the skill, the honors, the professional advantages that skill has given this superstar teammate. He envied his Godliness. He was looking at the RIGHT things. I wish I'd taped that interview. It was the epitome of how we are to look at others and their gifts. "I want to be like Him when I grow up."

Paul tells his followers to "Follow me as I follow Christ" in Philippians 3.  Imitate what is Godly about me. That's it. Isn't that always our goal? Isn't it what we're always about? Sometimes the opportunity in front of us is the one we must take. We spend unreasonable amount of time trying to figure out that will, as though it's as slippery as an eel. It isn't. His loving will is given in love, not in punishment. The Psalmist says (and I'm quoting from the Living Bible here), "I will make the Godly of the land my heroes and invite them into my house." (106:5) THIS is His will. We watched Godly men excel at their God'given talents and it's was a pleasure. The MVP of the series proclaimed on national television, "I want to thank all the chaplains around the NBA...we all go to chapel together before each game." These men are different, and he was explaining why.

That's what a testimony is. To explain the difference.
And give God the glory.
And know that it's His will to do so: to Follow the ones who follow Him. To Give Him the glory when He makes the difference.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Walking By Faith

My youngest child has been home for almost a month now. It's like her gap months between the ending of one phase of her life and the beginning of the next. I've been eating up having her here, especially because we've had some great and meaty conversations about what comes next. We've talked a lot about how she's felt pulled to this work in Kenya that she begins in August.

There have been a couple of times before when SK's felt God's strong pull to something. She knew clearly where God wanted her to go to college, even though it was a private (read expensive) school and, on paper, seemed to be beyond our means. We watched in awe as He worked in finances; her faith was a lesson to Beve and me then. Two years after she graduated from that university, she felt His voice calling her to California. And every door opened in front of her for that move, too.

And this time, as He called and she answered, the timeline was short. The money needed large, the piles of tasks to be done seemingly overwhelming. But she's down in Seattle tonight because tomorrow she flies to Atlanta for a week-long training with AIM, and all the money needed is in hand. Read that again--ALL the money she needed to raise was raised. And again, I'm awed. The money is a huge testimony to God's call. He wasn't messing around. He called, she said, "Here I am!" and He was pleased to provide through a large community of faithful believers--of Him and of her. I feel so grateful for His call on her life and for the many people who are a part of her journey. It's a humbling thing to stand on the sidelines and watch the envelopes come pouring in, to see all these people be so invested in our child and HER ministry.

SK and I have talked a lot about His faithfulness toward her, about the gift that He's spoken to her so often and so clearly already. A friend told her the other day that many people live their entire lives without ever hearing Him speak so specifically. It seems to me that those who DON'T hear His voice saying, "This is the way, walk in it!" have a greater path of faith than SK or I have had. They live by belief without ever having heard Him. That's some powerful faith. Most people don't get clear paths but cloudy ones. So what SK has experienced these times is an exceedingly abundant grace. And she knows it.

That she's heard Him call her, that He's proven so loudly that He's in this, has been confirmation to us that she's doing what she's meant to do--at least for the next year. And that has made me unbelievably excited to walk with her on this journey (albeit from across the globe). I can hardly wait to see what the year will bring for SK in Kenya as she teaches choir, strings, lives and works and mentors kids high above the Rift Valley. People keep asking me if it's hard to think of her being so far away. The answer is, "Well, of course." And, "Not at all!" Both at once. I'll miss her like crazy. I've adored having her home (and am thrilled she'll be here for another six weeks after her training), but who am I to NOT want her to do what God wants her to do? If He calls her, WHEN HE calls her (or any of us), I can only rejoice.

And dream about the great Rift Valley and the place where she'll make her home.

Friday, June 12, 2015

What my life was meant to be

I've been reading through old blog posts and found a good one tonight. I remember the most ridiculous things in the world--full conversations from years and years ago, locker combinations, phone numbers, what a person was wearing on a particular day we shared (I'm sounding REALLY crazy, aren't I?)--but once I've written something, it's finished. That is, I don't have to hold it clearly in my memory any longer  because it's held somewhere else. So these blog posts are always new to me when I come back to them. Okay, there are a few exceptions, but you get my point.

Anyway, here's the post:

I've often wondered if I've changed much as I've aged.  In some ways I feel exactly the same as I did when I was 18 or 25 or 35.  In fact, I've often said I feel like I've always been exactly the same person, inside and out.  The same size even.  When I was a very small child, I had to stand on a stool to  wash dishes in our kitchen.  And this is telling about my mother.  My older brother and I were given that chore, even when we were so young we had to stand on such stools.  He'd wash and I'd dry, or visa versa (I loved washing because of all the suds and my clean, wrinkly hands) when I was no more than five or six.  If you think I'm exaggerating, you should call my aunt and ask her.  She remembers visiting our home in Michigan and practically having to sit on her hands when my mom said it was our job.  
My point, though, is that I don't remember growing tall enough to stop needing the stool.  I don't remember when I could reach the bathroom sink myself.  Inside my size hadn't seemed to change.  Or, more precisely, my perception of my size hadn't.

The same is true about my emotional, mental and spiritual size and shape.  When I was fourteen and a brand new, with the slick dew of new birth wet behind my surrender, I thought I was mature and wise and knew enough that I could tell my parents and thing or two (and did tell them, sorry to say).  When I was eighteen, with my tassel just tossed from one side to the other, my high school diploma in hand, I became a Young Life leader to high school girls, some of whom were older than me, and I was sure I was a sage, for all that most of them had seen more of life, and plenty more of relationships than I'd even dreamed.  And when I was 25.  Well, when I was 25...

Last night I got an email from a dear friend who'd found a letter I'd written her.  Written when I was 25.  It said...well, let me speak for myself:

"You know, I'm sick to death of everyone asking what I'm going to be when I grow up.  "You're 25 years old, when are you going to settle down and do something?"  Is that the meaning of life? To produce, to be "something," to accumulate?  I despise that.  I will not get on that treadmill, at least not until it stops looking like one to me.  How futile and worthless it is.  I just want to be who I am.  I'm not going to prove my value through some profession imposed on me by standards other than my own.  It's a travesty of truth, and I refuse to live that way.  I like life.  My own particularly.  I choose to read, write, travel, enjoy it. "

I was surprised when I read this last night.  Surprised not because of how foreign it sounded, but because of how like me it does.  Like I could have written it yesterday.  When I look back I imagine that I had grandiose plans and expectations that were bigger than anything God meant my life to be.  But I didn't.  Even then I knew that my life was meant to be lived on a small scale.  That an organic life doesn't have to do with production or title or accomplishment, but simply being.  I don't say it here, but it's all implied (because I know this as I breathe, because I know well who I was!) that Christ was my own standard.  

Many times over the long years that I've been a Christian, I've prayed the small prayer prayed by the father in the gospel, "I believe, help Thou my unbelief."  This prayer in my life has often (usually?!) been a directed litany. Early, it centered on boys, or a specific boy (at different times), as I asked God to requite my rather strong feelings.  Most of the time those prayers were not answered.  Or at least, that is how it seemed at the time because they were manipulative and full of personal pleas and bargains and very little of the small faith the prayer claims.  However, as I look back, I see that God was--all along--answering that heartfelt, earnest prayer as it was fundamentally intended.  My faith IN HIM was increased.  That is, my faith that He would do with me and my life as He intended, and make ME be who He intended me to be, in spite of what I thought I wanted myself.  Perhaps such intensely honest prayer was all I could manage then.  But He knew what it meant and used it.  He used it.

Just as He took the words of this letter as they were intended, as the cry of my true heart, the essential me saying, "This is REALLY who I am," and has allowed a life to equal with such luxury.  I am spoiled by my life, and am well aware of it. Yes, God allowed me pain and suffering, but in part, so that I could be so spoiled. Isn't that amazing? So that I could have this unbelievable gift of this life. THIS life.  The life I imagined and dreamed and wanted when I was only 25.

Now my prayer is that in this small, luxury of a life, that He is glorified in it, that I do not--for a single moment--take it (or the Beve, of course!) for granted.  Yes, glorify Yourself in me.

How did you (or do you, if you're young and only now dreaming!) imagine your life?  Dare to dream and He will--I promise you, He will--do it.  And may He be glorified in it!

Saturday, June 6, 2015

A seamless life

We traveled across the mountains this week. It was a quick but important trip to a city on the eastern border of our state where we joined a host of people honoring the life of a dear friend. It was a powerful time. It's taken me three days to be able to write about it with any clarity. Too many conversations, too many images, too many tears and laughter and eloquence from those who spoke have stilled my fingers here.

Her son told me, "This is the last part of her dying."
I suppose that's as good a place as any to start. We came from all over to pay our respects to this extraordinary life. She wouldn't have called her life extraordinary, of course. She simply lived the life she was given, was faithful in all her endeavors. A better word for her life, perhaps, is seamless. It's a wonderful word for who she was, how she lived. As a quilter, I've thought about seams. I've looked at pillow-cases, for example, and marveled that most of the time, they have a single seam holding them together. T-shirts can come the same way without a single seam in the body of the shirt. This seamlessness is the best metaphor I know for what a life as Jesus' disciple should look like. It isn't about necessarily doing extraordinary acts that put a person on the global map. It's about living each day as His, doing the work one's been called to, being in relationship, even laughing and vacationing as a gift of oneself, and a gift to others.

My friend lived a seamless life. The testimonies about her were of a piece: she was relational, she was a care-giver, she was honest and wise and transparent. Over and over, we heard the same words until I realized that we were really hearing God say, "Well-done, good and faithful servant!" straight through all of us to the one who is at home with Him. Hearing Him say it FOR us, so we knew how pleased he was with this quiet life well-lived.

Every life is more complicated than straightforward. I know this. Each of us is given a whole truckload of gifts (BY GOD!!!) with which we are to serve others and glorify Him. My gifts aren't the same as my friends. I could no more duplicate her life than I could be a professional athlete. But what I can do is live my own seamless life, doing and being who He created me to be, each quiet day or each loud one.
My friend's brother was one of the speakers to give testimony of her life, and he ended his remarks with words from their dad: "She was who she was meant to be."

I gasped at those words. So profound, so loving, so full of what Father God was also saying. And they've stuck with me. Let that sentence be my aim. Let it be the aim of each of us--to become who we were meant to be.

This is RJD over at Dawn's blog. But instead of posting an old journal entry, I am simply posting this--it's my personal privilege to have been this woman's friend, and I'd love to share her with others.
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Monday, June 1, 2015

Walking In Pain

It's been a long dry spell. The earth is cracked and hard. The streams that once flowed unendingly (so it seemed) have trickled down to nothing. As far as the eye can see, there is no moisture. Sometimes there are waves of hot mirages in the distance, but up close, nothing is there

That's how if feels when I sit down to write these days. It isn't that I haven't tried. It isn't that my hands haven't hovered over this keyboard, but nothing comes from nothing, as the song from "Sound of Music" goes. And somehow, there isn't enough inside to make the words come.

I'm not afraid of drought spiritually. Drought in the material world is a whole different story. My sister lives in southern California. She can tell you a thing or two about drought. Even if it rains for the rest of the year (which it won't), that won't be enough to stem the problem for long.
But spiritually, I understand that it doesn't matter whether I am able to write, whether the cup within is overflowing. He is faithful. He loves me. I stake my life on this.

But here are some alongside realities that have made life difficult for me in the last month:
I've been struggling with ongoing debilitating back pain, on top of the chronic leg pain I've lived with for a dozen years. I don't say this to illicit sympathy but to explain something that I realized the other day. Because I am LOATHE to have another surgery, I've been doing intensive Physical Therapy for the last six weeks. And I realized something just last week. One of the ways I've 'coped' with my physical pain for these many years is to say, "So what?" to not allow it to have control over me. Sure, it limits my life, but it DOESN'T limit my brain or my heart or my relationships--with God or anyone else. I am NOT my physical pain. However, what the PTs (and I have two of them) have been asking is that I focus on my body, that I actually pay attention to it, NOT to separate myself from it, NOT to look at this body as merely the place in which I dwell, but a wholly integrated part of me. And, as I've tried to do that, so I can work on strengthening muscles that may or may not be able to be strengthened (the PT jury's still out about that), it's like I've become one with all this chronic pain again. Not separate, NOT above it, but fully IN it.

And I have to say, it's not very fun. It's hard, sweaty work. Pain isn't easy. Finding joy IN the pain isn't easy. Concentrating ON the pain is the most excruciating work I've ever been asked to do.

It has brought me to a desert place, a place where I am more dry and empty than overflowing.
I do not write this as a complaint (and hopefully it won't sound that way to you) but simply to explain. In truth, I want to be like the Psalmists who ended all their hard Psalms with words of praise. When I'm in a desert place, when I walking on cracked and dry ground, He is working as truly and completely as He is when I'm being showered with His presence. And I trust that my obedience in this will result in His glory, one way or another.

I have learned the secret of being content, whether in plenty or in want...I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.