Wednesday, April 27, 2011

When Life Gets In the Way of Living

The novel I'm writing is in two sections; the first book about Gideon and Magdalene; the second book about their children. One theme that runs through both halves is the struggle between living life and having a living, or sometimes just living at all. The main characters of the second half, Justice, Cherish, and Truth, struggle with this the most. Because of his charismatic personality and keen intellect Justice is pressured into running for political office, ultimately becoming the King; Bookish and free-spirited Cherish is swept into the world of Academia, moving from the research and teaching that she loves into the frustrating politics of leadership; in childhood it became clear that Truth is a 'seer', meaning that he can only speak the truth and he can see the truth in any situation, the perfect leader for the Church except that his gift has made him painfully shy. All three wrestle with wanting to have a 'normal' life, out of the spotlight, free to make decisions without wondering how the whole country may be impacted by their choices. This struggle becomes especially intense for Cherish when she falls in love with someone incredibly unexpected and rather inconvenient.

I didn't set out to write a novel about this struggle. I just started writing and I haven't stopped. It has morphed several times but this theme has been apparent throughout. The character I love the most is Cherish, she is the me that I want to be. She's witty, charming, incredibly learned, sophisticated, and graceful. But most of all she is determined. There is a breaking point in the book that causes Cherish to finally rise to the occasion and take her life back. She defines her life in her own terms and she stops letting the powers that be direct her life.

I, like Cherish, feel that I've been swept into a life that isn't one of my choosing. I let life happen to me rather than intentionally choosing the path I would take. Now the great thing is that God has been leading me through the paths of His choosing--paths which led me to my husband, ministry opportunities, and friendships. But I have to wonder--if I'd joined Him in the front seat rather than napping in the back seat, would there have been more opportunities, more blessings, a more rewarding path? But because I was just cruising, disengaged from taking responsibility for my life, I settled for the path that seemed easy, convenient, or 'only temporary'. God's not going to throw a sleeping person into an adventure.

Cherish seems to wake up one day and realize indignantly that she didn't choose her life. I have that same feeling every now and then. I wonder how I got here, like driving from home to work and not remembering the drive. I've gotten from Cuyahoga Falls to Wayne but I don't remember how I got here. This isn't about regret, but the realization that I've been sleeping through life. Or perhaps that life has gotten in the way of living.

Take a job because you need one, not because you love it. Before you know it life has slipped through your fingers and you haven't been living. Put off starting a family because there isn't money or time, and before you know, life has slipped through your fingers and you haven't been living. When we shelf our dreams and settle for less, even if we believe it's only temporary, before long life has slipped through our fingers and we haven't been living. That life has gotten in the way of living. e.e. cummings once said, 'being undead isn't the same as being alive'. Boy, ain't that the truth?

One reason I've kept writing the novel throughout the years is because it seems that if I can work out their issues, I can work out mine. That's how the whole thing started. A writing assignment in 11th grade. I made up a distopian world where the characters couldn't be together because he was too different from the accepted norm. At the time I was dating a boy my family wasn't a big fan of because he was older than me and quite different from what they wanted for me. In my story it all worked I kept writing, writing, writing. But it never worked out in real I kept writing. The story changed. I changed. As I've grown up, the story has grown up with me. But I still write to work out my own life on the page. I'm no longer Magdalene of the first story, the story I wrote at seventeen...I'm Cherish, the story I'm writing as a young woman.

In the story, Cherish doesn't change very much externally when she takes her life back, unlike her mother in the first book. She doesn't run away, quit her job, or change the world. But she makes it clear that now her job is of her choosing. She will love and be with the one of her choosing. She lives a life of her choosing, even if it looks very similar to the life that was chosen for her. She wakes up from her existence and begins an adventure. An adventure that doesn't take her any farther from home, but an adventure of the heart.

I'm tired of life getting in the way of living. I'm tired of realizing that life is slipping through my fingers and I haven't really been living. And I think the change comes in choosing something everyday. Choosing to sit in the sunshine, to go to the park and swing, to teach the dogs how to go down a sliding board. Choosing to color instead of clean, to sing instead of sigh. Choosing to write, to read, to dream. Choosing to take an opportunity when it comes.Choosing to make the most of my life in every circumstance.Choosing to find the adventure in the ordinary. Choosing to find the thread of my life that God has always been holding onto and follow it passionately, instead of mindlessly being woven in and out of other people's adventures.

I'm still working on the book. Like a coloring page, I've got an outline but I need to color it in. And as I color it in Cherish and her brothers will find their adventures...and I think I will, too.

Friday, April 22, 2011

It Should Always Rain

I was in college, I can't remember which year. I was walking past the B.A.building with my polka dot umbrella, it was raining. I remember side-stepping the large puddles that always formed there in front of the B.A. building and breathing in the clean wet air. I've always loved rain, but this rain felt special. This rain promised life. This was a Good Friday rain. As I considered the rain, I decided that it should always rain on Good Friday. I remember the next year it didn't rain and I felt indignant. It should always rain on Good Friday.

It is as if the world, the atmosphere, the earth is aware of what happened on this day, and mourns again. We humans, as intelligent as we are, forget and take for granted the sacrifice of Easter. We gloss over it or ignore it completely in favor of Chocolate bunnies and marshmallow chickens. But the earth cannot. It won't. When we don't acknowledge the great love of God expressed in this all encompassing sacrifice, the earth still does. This isn't personification, this is scriptural.We're told that the very rocks will cry out if we don't praise Him. The Earth sings and rejoices in praise for Him; wwouldn't it also cry out in mourning for His death?

At noon, darkness fell across the whole land until three o’clock. At about three o’clock, Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli,lema sabachthani?” which means “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”
Some of the bystanders misunderstood and thought he was calling for the prophet Elijah. One of them ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, holding it up to him on a reed stick so he could drink. But the rest said, “Wait! Let’s see whether Elijah comes to save him.” 
Then Jesus shouted out again, and he released his spirit. At that moment the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, rocks split apart, and tombs opened. The bodies of many godly men and women who had died were raised from the dead. They left the cemetery after Jesus’ resurrection, went into the holy city of Jerusalem, and appeared to many people.
The Roman officer and the other soldiers at the crucifixion were terrified by the earthquake and all that had happened. They said, “This man truly was the Son of God!”

The gospels tell that on the day of His death the sky grew dark, the earth quaked. The earth was reacting to the death of Son of God. The One who had been there at its creation nailed to a cross, crying out in agony. The sky grew dark in the middle of the day, the earth shook violently. The people may have been mocking the death of the Lord, but the earth was trembling. This is how the mockers knew what they had done; that when they jeered Him as the King of the Jews they'd been wrong, because He was truly the King of Kings.

I've never been in a real earthquake, just the slight tremors we feel time to time here in Ohio. But once, in college, I saw the sky grow nearly dark as night in the middle of the day. I was leaving the Eppler Center with a friend of mine from class. The Eppler Center doesn't have windows in many of the classrooms so we had no idea the sky was growing midnight blue while we were inside arguing about American Literature. We came out from the class, expecting to squint from the sun but were met with darkness in the middle of the day. It felt ominous and foreboding, like what happens in the movies when it is the end of the world. Obviously, it only rained, I'm sure it stormed and the wind blew very badly because that's what happens out here. But I know how unsettling it is to experience near darkness in the middle of the day, and an inkling of how frightening the darkness experienced on that day must have been.

The scriptures indicate the darkness experienced on Good Friday was complete, that it was as night from noon to three. Could the stars and moon be seen? Were they visible witness to the atrocity happening on Earth? Did they watch what God could not?

Dark skies in the middle of the day, an earthquake violent enough to split open rocks and tombs. It seems to me that the Earth was mourning openly, perhaps because His followers mourned only in hiding, in fear. The Earth will do what we cannot, it is His creation, too. Not sentient, not by choice, but by reaction to the whole world being turned upside down. Sin was never supposed to enter our world, and the Son of God was never supposed to die. But because one did the other must also. And we need to mourn both deeply...the death of perfection twice; once bringing death; once bringing life.

Which is why we celebrate on Sunday. Life restored. An empty tomb, a resurrected Savior. The world in balance again. Did you ever stop to think that the before Mary ever reached the tomb, the Earth was already rejoicing in His life? Last year for Easter I sang a special which speaks to that very idea. Again, this isn't just romantic personification of the Earth, the Earth has no brain, no soul. I get that. But it is His, surely, it must know His touch and feel His presence. He told the sea to calm and it did. Wouldn't the Earth also obey the command to rejoice upon His resurrection?
Did the grass sing?
Did the Earth rejoice to feel you again?
Over and over like a trumpet underground,
Did the earth seem to pound 'He is Risen!'
Over and over in a never-ending round,
He is Risen! Alleluia! Alleluia!

For some reason this song conjures up images of Narnia. Maybe it's the talking animals or the dryads coming to life from trees, but when I think of a 'trumpet underground' I am reminded of Lewis' Narnia. I think of how spring came to Narnia, banishing winter and diminishing the power of the White Witch, as soon as Aslan arrived, even before the battle. I think of the faith of the Old Narnians in Prince Caspian. In Lewis' world the Earth and the creatures of the Earth knew their King, might it not also be so in our world?

If nothing else, the rain serves as a good reminder to reflect. Rainy days seem to always been good days for thinking. A rainy Good Friday turns the heart and the mind to Jesus. Perhaps that is why darkness fell that day, to turn the hearts and minds to Jesus so that their souls might be saved. Maybe I am just romantic and have spent a bit too much time in Narnia. Maybe I'm all wrong about the rain. But I do feel that it should always rain on Good Friday. And today is Good Friday, and in my little corner of the universe, it is raining.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Confessions of a Perfectionist

I remember being 14 or 15 and making plans for my life. I was working at the history museum with my mom, it was summer. I was in the old meetinghouse, kept cool and dim by the long shades over the windows, all alone with my thoughts and my dreams. Pensive by nature I delved deep into my own heart, trying to make sense of what I felt and what I wanted. And I made a bunch of plans for my life, for the man I would marry, for the family I would have. It seemed like a necessary thing to do. These were plans I resolved deep within myself, plans that would prevent pain and harvest happiness. And, truthfully, there is part of me still clinging desperately to those plans.

With some distance between myself and the old me I can see what I was really trying to do. I was grasping for control, I was groping for some order. And the only thing I felt that I could control was my own future, my own family of someday. This was a reaction to my parents' divorce, that I am sure. It's strange, there is a distance of years and forgiveness between the divorce and now. I've let go of so much, I've stopped letting this singular event be the lens though which I experience every other event of my life. And it seems that as the big wounds heal, I find smaller scars I never noticed before. Thankfully, when I find these scrapes and scars it doesn't devastate at me, as in years before. I puzzle over it, I ponder it, I hold it at a distance and figure it out. It doesn't define me, I won't let it. Instead, I define it. And this is what I've been thinking about.

This desire for control, for plans, for creating expectations that aren't fair or altogether reasonable to expect. It's that grasping for sense, for something to hold onto, for something over which I alone can be sovereign. But it's a fallacy. There is nothing over which I alone can be sovereign. There will always be other people contributing to my world and to my experience. For that matter there will always be weather, traffic, and bad Internet connections interfering with my plans. I truly cannot control my world.

And I cannot manufacture the family I always wanted, the one I planned. At twenty years old I sacrificed my dreams for the husband I had imagined. Broken-hearted and devastated for the second time I decided that whatever I had planned for at 14 was an impossibility. I gave it up. And within six months I met my husband. Not the man I had planned, but the man I needed. Not a Cary Grant, but a Jimmy Stewart. Practical, down-to-earth, compassionate and sweet. Never mind that books bore him to death and his favorite part of musicals is always the part where someone fights. He's the man I couldn't have planned for, the one I couldn't have imagined. But I had to release my expectations to find him, and release them again to let him have a fighting chance.

I tend to choke the life, the chance, the joy out of everything in my life with my lists and plans and expectations. Planning my wedding was more of a nightmare than a dream. I ended up in tears when I watched most of our guests leave before our first dance. This wasn't what I planned! People weren't following my script and I didn't know how to cope. Our honeymoon suffered the fate of my over-planning. I had over thought things and it didn't work out how I had imagined. My thinking about things too much had led to making a stupid choice to save some money, and when it didn't work out, I was again in tears.

Every time my husband and I plan to go somewhere I get sick to my stomach. My mom says I get too excited and my system can't handle it. And it especially can't handle the devastation I feel when things don't go well. Our trip to Cleveland to see Les Mis prompted this discussion and this post. We think I got food poisoning from the restaurant in the hotel...but then again...maybe I was just sick with expectations that couldn't be met.

Now, and this is important,  I can't and I won't renounce the whole thing. There is something to be said for making plans and being prepared. Dreams are a good thing, perhaps even a gift from God. They inspire us, keep us going, and give us a method by which to achieve.But the fanatic and frenetic energy with which I do the whole thing is what causes the damage. I create expectations that cannot be met, and I am only left with varying degrees of disappointment. I rejoice in what worked out, but I always notice what wasn't quite right. This makes everything bittersweet, every glass can only ever be half full. Or perhaps full but smudged with fingerprints. Never perfect.

I think spiritually we all long for perfection because we had it once. There are echoes of Eden crying out that this imperfection isn't what we were created for. We were designed for perfection but must live in brokenness. No one feels that crippling reality more than the perfectionist. But we have been given an out, a way to freedom...accepting that perfection simply will not happen this side of heaven, but life can still be beautiful.

Some of the best memories I have are from the messiness of life when things didn't go as planned. When we had to improvise to make the best of things. When life takes you off script you can melt down or you can improvise. I am learning to improvise.

I still dream of my someday family. I still have plans and ideas for those little ones I've yet to conceive but pray for everyday. But the deepest prayer of my heart is that I will learn how to stop this great expecting. What I want most of all for that someday family is that they will not have a mama mired down in plans and expectations. I don't want this scar of mine to become hereditary or contagious. I don't want my husband to tiptoe around his frenetic wife and feel that his plans will never be as grandiose as mine, and therefore, not good enough for me. I want to be free to plan but not control, to dream but not build my world in those dreams.

That girl in the meetinghouse at the museum12 or 13 years ago...she meant well. She was hurting, probably scared, probably angry...not just at the divorce...but at being a teenager, at being young. Those years were full of disappointment and frustration (as well as beauty, laughter, friendship, and fun, I must add). Teen years always, always, always are, if we're all honest. And I look at her with compassion, but I can't honor her plans anymore. She simply didn't know what she was talking about, she didn't really know what she wanted. She didn't want control, she wanted security, she didn't want compulsive plans, she wanted safety.

And here she is today. A woman safe and secure in spite of the plans which didn't come to fruition or the ones which changed shape several times. A woman ready to let go of one more hurt in order to be stronger. A woman, wobbly like a toddler, learning how to step into uncertainty and embrace the unexpected, trusting the strong hands of the Father who alone controls.

This post doesn't signify the end of the lesson, it is not the reflections of triumph, but the promise of a future change. More like a caterpillar entering the cocoon then the butterfly leaving it, more like that wobbly toddler just starting to step than the adult resting from the run. My inspiration, I feel compelled to explain, is my five month old niece, not even able to crawl just yet...but trying, flexing those muscles, noticing new strength every day. If she can learn, so can I. She's got her whole life ahead of her, and so do I. A life of beautiful dreams and just-right expectations. I want her to learn from me. There are two ways we learn things from older generations. Looking at them and saying, never will I be like that. Or looking at them and saying, I hope to be like that.

Here's to becoming the latter.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Dressed Up and Geeked Out

So Les Mis was everything I wanted it to be. I'm sure you were all wondering after my previous post of geeking out. There were several changes to the show, most of them so minuscule the average fan wouldn't probably notice. But I found myself noting several alterations--Fantine bites her attacker instead of scratching him, Marius would like to close Eponine's wounds instead of heal them, there are no chairs or tables on the stage when Marius singes 'Empty Chairs at Empty Tables'. For serious. But...I knew all this coming in. I knew that they had changed it. Which is why I originally was passionately against such a thing, declaring I would never go to see anything different. I tend to be a bit dramatic.

But I am glad that I saw it. The digitized backdrops--mostly illustrations lifted from the book--were good to see. The pace of the show was much quicker which I have mixed feelings about. I felt that the emotional build was diminished because of the shorter orchestrations. And an entire verse of Gavroche's 'Little People' was cut!

Though despite my small complaints and observations, I have to admit, I was in heaven. There is something about the theatre that gets me completely spellbound. I've been this way since I was a child. Arguably I am this way because I had these experiences as a child.

I first saw 'The Phantom of the Opera' around age 8 or 9. I was so scared at after the chandelier dropped that I sat on my dad's lap for the entire first act. He took me to see 'West Side Story' around the same time, and as we left the theatre, my dad asked me if I cried. I admitted quietly that I hadn't but that I had wanted to. It was soon after these experiences that I saw 'Les Mis' for the first time (as my other post details), and on the same trip 'Guys and Dolls'. My parents took us to as many cultural things as they could--mostly museums. But my dad often took me to see musicals; it didn't matter if it was at the high school or one of the nearby universities or up to Playhouse square--if there was a good show playing, we went to see it.

This tapered off in middle school. The last time I saw 'Les Mis' was in 8th or 9th grade. Which was the last time I went to the theatre until I college, I think. At any rate...there is something about the entire thing that I absolutely love. I was bitten by the bug as a little girl and I've had it ever since. I hope to pass it on to my children. An adoration of the stage.

There's just something magical about a solid cast and an iconic show. I appreciate the continuity with the past that only a live performance can bring. Theatre has been passed down across the ages. I relish the experience of a live performance--their energy and mine and those around me creating the ambiance, adding to the performance, shaping the experience. And this particular show for me is an old friend. Expecting every twist and turn, I soaked in the artistry and passion. I devoured every detail. I was spellbound, as I've always been with the magic of the stage.

After the show I got my picture taken with Mme Thenardier
as part of a fundraiser for Broadway Cares.
Curtis has agreed to take me to another show next year. I think he realizes there's no getting out of this now--two years in a row is enough to start a tradition. And while he didn't really like Les Mis (other than the part when they shot the guns), I think he appreciates the experience. Or at least that's how much he loves me. He'll endure even Les Mis for me because he knows just how much I love it. And he'll go to another show because he knows I will get all dressed up and geeked out over it. And I love that part of it just about as much as the show itself. I'm a theatre geek, that's all there is to it!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Do You Hear the People Sing? I will!

My husband is amazing. He's not a big fan of musicals or live theatre. All that singing and dancing...not so much. He's more of a combine derby/tractor pull entertainment enthusiast. But he loves me and he knows just how much I love the theatre. So for the second year in a row I get to go see a show as late birthday/Christmas gift. Last year we saw 'Wicked' at the Stranahan in Toledo. And this weekend we're going to Cleveland to see 'LesMiserables' at Playhouse Square. I've been listening the soundtrack on my iPod to get me all pumped up and ready to see if I really need any pumping up....(((read on)))

I've been trying to figure out how to explain it to Curtis, in about 10 minutes or less. Which is impossible. The show is nearly 3 hours long and covers a time span of at least 20 years. I've decided to boil it down to the central themes and give him a few names to get through the first act. Intermission will be spent trying to prep for the second act. Which thankfully isn't nearly as complicated. But honestly, if you're not familiar with the book or show the specifics of this post may not make sense to you. But I ask you to keep reading anyway...ignore the names and song titles. Read my heart instead, because my heart sings with music.

This is a show I've seen twice before--once on Broadway and once at Playhouse Square. My dad first took me to see it when I was 9 or 10 years old. We were vacationing in Ocean City, New Jersey which is about a two hour drive from NYC. On the way there he wanted to get me ready for the he gave me some basic information about the plot, and then he had to tell me about prostitutes (one of the characters is one very briefly)...which is odd...because he hadn't told me about sex yet. And then he told me about flashers, which has nothing to do with LesMis but everything to do with NYC apparently. I've never looked at raincoats the same.

So there I was 10 years old, totally confused, and a little freaked out about the prostitutes and flashers...but I fell in love with it anyway. It takes place during the French Revolution (as if you couldn't tell from the name) and with all the French names I had no idea who was who but that didn't matter. It was the humanity, the music, the ambiance that had me completely spellbound. I didn't grasp it then, but it's a memorizing show about love, grace, redemption, sacrifice, war, liberty.

I can remember going back to Ocean City and talking to my older brother about it. To this day I have absolutely no idea why my dad took me and not my brother, but to be honest, I'm glad that he did (sorry, Adam...if you read this!). I tried to explain a show I barely understood, which has resulted in what will be a lifelong inside joke about John is John (the main character is Jean Val Jean) and 24601 (he has spent 20 years in jail and that is his prison number). Thankfully, my brother got introduced to the show in some other way and came to enjoy it almost as much as his little sister. If my niece had been a nephew, he would've gotten a homemade '24601' onesie. Sorry, Marissa...maybe I'll make you a 'Castle On A Cloud' onesie. dad bought the 3-CD complete symphonic recording, which I listened to religiously. I fell in love with the character of Eponine, who suffers from unrequited love. This is why 'On My Own' was my first real solo in 7th grade. I cannot tell you how many thousands of times I sang that song alone in my room, feeling the pangs of being unnoticed and unloved by someone I 'loved' very much. *sigh* The angst of youth.

Thanks to that CD set, I memorized the entire show. To this day you could pick a spot anywhere in the show and I could probably recite the rest of it to you. Which is probably why when I went through my first real heart-crushing, devastating break up at age seventeen I remember singing 'I Dreamed a Dream'...because it felt like my life was over and that music was all I had to express the agony.

Recently I've fallen in love with different aspects of the show. I'm older now and finally understand the deeper themes of this complex epic. I see the issues of grace and justice, the real struggle between Val Jean and Javert (the 'antogonist' always trying to get Val Jean back in jail). Themes of sacrificial love and redemption unfold throughout the show. Some characters give up all they have, including their lives, out of love for another, giving that character a chance at redemption--a new better life. It's complicated and painful, but beautiful...just like life.

I have many favorite moments, but my hands-down favorite line in the entire show is :
 to love another person is to see the face of God.

This line was printed on our wedding programs, and I quote it often. I've even scribbled it on the pages of my Bible...1 John 4:12 (No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us.)
This line, like the entire show, inspires me. I want to be changed by that idea. I want to love my husband with grace-filled, sacrificial love so that he can see God through me. And someday, when I'm a mama, that is my deepest hope. To love them in such a way that they see God. Because it is true; when we truly love a person--a love that requires Grace and Sacrifice--we see the face of God.

'Les Mis' has been translated into 21 languages, been performed in 42 countries and 291 cities. In October 'Les Mis' celebrated its' 25th year with a concert and two productions in London. (Incidentally, Nick Jonas played one of the main characters in the 25th anniversary show, so that was a double geek-out for me. Yes, I shamefully admit to liking a Jonas brother...but really just Nick.) Approximately 55 million people have seen the show. Clearly, I'm not the only one who gets inspired and all wound up about this show, as complicated and messy as it may be. Perhaps its the messiness that draws us. Or maybe it's just the really phenomenally crafted music. Either way.
I'm ridiculously excited about getting away this weekend--the past couple of weeks have been especially draining. It will be great to just relax in a fluffy hotel bed, swim in the pool, and reconnect with the man I love very much. The man who loves me enough to buy tickets to a show that he knows nothing about and probably anticipates not liking. But I hope he does like it. I don't expect him to love it, especially not like I do (I'm a little nutty over it, if you couldn't tell) but I do hope he likes it. Or else...I might not get to see another show next year! Hmm...I wonder what's playing next year?? Is it too early to plan?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

(Sign)Posts on A Journey

Commit. My word for the year. Unlike words such as 'joy', 'patience', or even 'prayer', my word doesn't speak to one specific goal or attribute. And I think God designed it that way. He pressed the word on my heart, I know it's the one word in all the words I know that He wanted me to focus on and filter all my prayers through. Commit. But to what?
  1. To being committed.
    • Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people. (Ephesians 6:7)
    • I tend to be non-committal. Sometimes I just look for a way to flake out. I suppose that is the curse of modern society, but I am called to be above that. If I say I will do it, do it. Because whatever I do it's for the Lord. Even if it doesn't look or feel like it.
  2. To believing with the purest most refined belief that anything is possible for she who believes.
    • But you must really believe it will happen and have no doubt in your heart. I tell you, you can pray for anything, and if you believe that you’ve received it, it will be yours. (Mark 11:23-24)
    • That Even I Could Receive a Miracle
  3. To loving
    • No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us.(1 John 4:12)
    • 'To love another person is to see the face of God'--LesMis
    • Loving my husband the way God intended, loving my family the way God intended, loving my friends, my students, the youth, my neighbors, my enemies. Loving the way God intended. Not the same for each person or relationship, but the way that God designed.
  4. To teaching
    1. The teaching of your word gives light,so even the simple can understand.(Psalm 119:130)
    2. Until I get there, focus on reading the Scriptures to the church, encouraging the believers, and teaching them. (1 Timothy 4:13)
    3. But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven. (Matthew 5:19)
    4. Teach, encourage, give light. I must be committed to sharing what I know, what I have been taught or else it is hiding my light under a bushel. And that would be pointless.
  5. To writing
    • God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another. (1 Peter 4:10)
    • I write because it's what I was created to do. I know this now. I've stopped fighting it, or wanting to change it,  or believing that I have to be writing something important to be writing at all. I write because it blesses God.
  6. To leading
    • But Moses protested to God, “Who am I to appear before Pharaoh? Who am I to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt?”  God answered, “I will be with you." (Exodus 3:11-12)
    • "Give me the wisdom and knowledge to lead them properly, for who could possibly govern this great people of yours?” (2 Chronicles 1:10)
    • Although I've resisted and fought against it, God has given me some leadership qualities. There are areas where I need to be committed to forging ahead, perhaps forging a new path, and lead people. It's a terrifying thought, and really very humbling because like Moses and Solomon, I realize I can only do it with God.
  7. To making the most of every opportunity to do good in these evil times.
    • So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do. (Ephesians 5:15-17)
    • Seize the day the way God intended. Use every opportunity to share the truth of the Good News. Don't wait to live the abundant life that Christ came to give.
  8. To repenting of my negativity.
    • We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.(2 Corinthians 10:5)
    • Committed to breaking my chains of negative thoughts and words. I'm one of those people that despite the joy in my heart the words on lip are negative. Not always critical as much as laced with disappointment. I have great joy, I just struggle to express it and dwell on it. Negative thoughts can be so taking them captive until they can behave!
  9. To embracing gratitude
    • Because you are my helper,I sing for joy in the shadow of your wings. (Psalm 63:7)
    • I will shout for joy and sing your praises,for you have ransomed me. (Psalm 71:22-24)
    • This is the day the Lord has made.We will rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118:24)
    • I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13)
    • Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! (Philippians 4:4)
    • I've struggled with this in spite of my desire to notice and record my blessings from the Lord. I find that in the busyness of life I've been unable to stay committed to really celebrating what I've been given and embracing gratitude as a way of life.
  10. To studying His word so that it might change me
    • “Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today.Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up.Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders.Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6: 4-8)
    • God's word is living and active. It has the power to change, even me as stubborn and thick-headed as I am. By studying, memorizing, pouring of His words over and over my life will change. He will speak to me, He will change me, and I will actually be able to commit to all these things.
Because by no means have I been able to do that. I probably never will be fully committed to each of these things at the same time. But that's why this is a journey and a prayer. It is the prayer of my heart to learn what it means to commit all I do to the Lord, and allow Him to tell me what I need to be committed to. I've linked up many of my previous posts because it is a testimony to this journey, this revelation on commitment. And I am certain there will be many more posts along the way. (Sign)Posts on a journey so I can look back and see how far I've come.

Monday, April 4, 2011

That Even I Could Receive A Miracle

"Have mercy on us and help us, if you can.”
“What do you mean, ‘If I can’?” Jesus asked. “Anything is possible if a person believes.”
The father instantly cried out, “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:23-24)

This passage resonates deeply within me. Like a tuning fork being tapped I twinge and reverberate and long to have my strings tightened to be in tune with the Truth.

The man in this story is asking for a miracle healing. His son is possessed with a demon. He's desperate and in his despair he cries out to Jesus, 'Have mercy and help us, if you can.' It's that last bit which gets Jesus' attention. I can picture His eyebrow raising along with the pitch of His voice. 'If I can?' He repeats. Picture the celestial arms being bared as Jesus pushes up His sleeves. 'Anything is possible if a person believes', He informs not only the man but the surrounding crowd. And the man immediately exclaims, 'I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!"

I believe in you, Jesus, but there is still part of me that can't believe in the impossible. Too many disappointments stand in the way. I am this man. How many times have I approached Jesus not with the plea, 'if you are willing' but instead, 'if you can'? And how I desperately need Him to help me overcome that unbelief which paralyzes my faith and cripples my prayers.

“Lord,” he said, “if you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean.”
 Jesus reached out and touched him. “I am willing,” he said. “Be healed!” (Luke 5:12-13)

Over and over Jesus was approached by people asking for a miracle, knowing that if He was willing, He would do it. That He could do it. Over and over Jesus was moved by their faith and healed them. Because Jesus is compassionate, He could feel the ache and longing of these people. Often the cast outs of society, He was healing them not only of their physical ailments but their emotional and spiritual ones as well. He forgave their sins, healing their souls, and then He healed their bodies. But He wanted very much to give good blessings to these people He loved so tenderly. He was and still is willing.

“You parents—if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him." (Matthew 7:9-11)

To those who ask Him. I wonder how many people stood on the edges of the crowd, wanting to approach the Rabbi, needing to be healed, but too timid to ask for His blessings. I'll just hang back here and watch, they thought, their needs are more important than mine, He's too busy for me. I won't bother Him. They watched and they wished, but they never dared to ask.

I know about this wishing. I wish for that which I long for, that which my heart aches for. I wish and I hope and I want it so badly...but sometimes I find that I haven't truly asked in the midst of all my wishing. I don't believe that Jesus honors our 'I wish' statements. I believe those would fall under the 'If you can' category. I wish you could do this, Jesus. That doesn't acknowledge His power or His desire to give good things. It's a statement riddled with unbelief. I wish. Not I believe.

Another pattern I find in the Gospels is that of Jesus inviting people to ask Him for their miracles. As they draw near, Jesus asks what it is they want Him to do. And I don't imagine that His tone is laced with weariness or exasperation. It's not as if He's bothered by having to perform yet another miracle or grant yet another request. Rather the Scriptures reveal that He feels sorry for people, compassion, tenderness. I get the feeling that His heart surged every time one of His lost people came near needing to ask for healing. And that's why He wanted them to feel that they could ask--because He knew how desperately they needed to.

When Jesus heard them, he stopped and called, “What do you want me to do for you?”
“Lord,” they said, “we want to see!”
Jesus felt sorry for them and touched their eyes. Instantly they could see! Then they followed him. (Matthew 20:32-34)

As the man came near, Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” 
 “Lord,” he said, “I want to see!”
And Jesus said, “All right, receive your sight! Your faith has healed you.” (Luke 18:40-42)

Believe and ask. Two steps on our part. We must believe and then we must ask. Completely unlike asking for a miracle in order to believe. Instead, the believing must come first in order for the miracle to follow. He's not in the business of performing miracles so people will believe His claims. Rather, Jesus is in the business of rewarding those who already believe and have been saved with His blessings of goodness.

Help me to overcome my unbelief. Perhaps that is the first healing. Heal this unbelief which poisons me. Banish the doubts of your ready willingness to lavish good gifts. Silence the whispering that I am unworthy of receiving your blessings. Help me to believe that even I could receive a miracle. As messy and broken and going-in-circles as I am...that you would reach out in compassion and touch even me. Because the fact is, I need a miracle and only you can help me.

Moved with compassion, Jesus reached out and touched him. “I am willing,” he said. “Be healed!”

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Red Letters

As I shared before I've been preparing to teach the youth group about Jesus. The specific question being 'Who Is Jesus?' As I've delved into the world of scholarship and even more so into my heart to come up with some kind of intelligible answer dcTalk's song 'The Red Letters' kept coming to mind.
I've never actually owned a red letter Bible. I've always wanted one though. I love the idea of Jesus' words being visually different from everything else. And I appreciate the symbolism of red letters. Not green, blue, or purple letters. Red letters.
I'm really grateful that I was able to do this lesson as we're drawing closer to Easter. Every Easter and Christmas season I long for it to be meaningful. I have lofty goals of reading all the gospels and lots of books about those holidays. I thirst to truly appreciate the magnitude of both events. God drawing close and making that closeness possible for forever and always. The bridging of the chasm. History and the cosmos forever altered. It's so hard to fathom the true magnitude of what He really did, so it's much easier to simply enjoy the holidays rather than wrestle with their meaning.
And no matter my lofty goals or good intentions I inevitably get distracted and never achieve what I want. Christmases go by and spending time trying to really grasp the meaning of it all has been thrown by the wayside to do shopping, wrap gifts, and send Christmas cards. Easters go by much the same way. And I'm always left feeling as if I just missed a marvelous opportunity.
The reality is I don't need a holiday to spend that kind of time grappling with the magnitude of God on Earth, but the holidays are full of ritual that can coincide really well with it. A catharsis happens on Christmas morning or Good Friday & Easter morning when I've really soaked in the reality of Jesus. And thanks to this youth lesson I've jumped in the deep end of studying and searching.
And I've been discouraged because I'm waaaay behind in a Lent reading plan of the gospels and a book of readings for Lent. I've been feeling like I've failed on my goal before really getting started. But God impressed upon me that it doesn't matter whether or not I stay on track with a plan created by man to study Him and His word. What matters is that I do the studying regardless of the plan. It doesn't really matter if I get through all 4 gospels before Easter as much as I read to find Him in the red letters. Much could be lost if I rush through the readings to simply meet a deadline. So much more can be found if I take this journey to Easter with God instead.
I want to close this post with the lyrics to dcTalk's 'The Red Letters' (and here is a link to youtube so you can listen to the song yourself. The bridge is a little funky but it is classic dcTalk...and the song is profoundly powerful). And I want to invite you to spend some time in the red letters and let Jesus guide you through His life. This Easter can be an experience and not just another Easter Sunday if you meet Jesus on the way.
Pages filled with a holy message
Sealed with a kiss from heaven
On a scroll long ago
Phrases, words that were bound together
Now have the power to sever
Like a sword evermore

Heed the words divinely spoken
May your restless heart be broken
Let the supernatural take hold

There is love in the red letters
There is truth in the red letters
There is hope for the hopeless
Peace and forgiveness
There is life in the red letters
In the red letters

One man came to reveal a mystery
Changing the course of history
Made the claim he was god
Ageless, born of a virgin Mary
Spoke with a voice that carried through the years
It's persevered

Heed the words divinely spoken
May your restless heart be broken
Let the supernatural take hold

(repeat chorus)
What you say moves me, revelation, come and take me
The more I look [the more I look] the more I see [the more I see]
The word of God [the word of god] is what I need

Oh yeah, oh yeah
Yeah, it's the book of love
Yeah, yeah, yeah
It's the book of love
(repeat chorus)

Speak to me, breathe in me new life [x2]
Let him in your heart [x4]

Saturday, April 2, 2011

There's More Than 1 Verse to That Song???

In the course of googling various things for my youth group lesson I found an article on wikipedia about the song "Jesus Loves Me". I'd never heard/read all the verses before and I think that's a bit of a tragedy. The other verses are really wonderful, as is the case with many of the old Sunday School songs and hymns. I've always been a big fan of this song. On occasion my dad would lead the singing at church and I'd always insist that he pick this song. I always felt and still do that adults should sing this song every now and then.

Taken from wikipedia...(which is often doubtful but this information seems credible)
Jesus Loves Me is a Christian hymn set to words by Anna Bartlett Warner.The lyrics first appeared as a poem in the context of a novel called Say and Seal, written by Susan Warner and published in 1860. The tune was added in 1862 by William Batchelder Bradbury who found the text of "Jesus Loves Me" in this book, in which the words were spoken as a comforting poem to a dying child. Along with his tune, Bradbury added his own chorus "Yes, Jesus loves me, Yes, Jesus Loves me..." After publication the song became one of the most popular Christian hymns in churches around the world. Different verses, other than the first, often are substituted. The verse about illness is usually omitted, to make the hymn less disturbing to children. The United Church of Canada hymnal attributes the second and fourth verse, and the last two lines of the final verse, to David Rutherford McGuire. Attribution of the third verse is unknown. An external link at the end of this article points to the original version.
And here are the verses...

Jesus loves me! This I know,
For the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to Him belong;
They are weak, but He is strong.
Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!
The Bible tells me so.
Jesus loves me! This I know,
As He loved so long ago,
Taking children on His knee,
Saying, “Let them come to Me.”
Jesus loves me when I'm good,
When I do the things I should,
Jesus loves me when I'm bad,
Though it makes Him very sad.
Jesus loves me still today,
Walking with me on my way,
Wanting as a friend to give
Light and love to all who live.
Jesus loves me! He who died
Heaven’s gate to open wide;
He will wash away my sin,
Let His little child come in.
Jesus loves me! Loves me still
Tho' I'm very weak and ill;
That I might from sin be free
Bled and died upon the tree.
Jesus loves me! He will stay
Close beside me all the way;
Thou hast bled and died for me,
I will henceforth live for Thee.
Perhaps tomorrow a post from my 'Who Is Jesus?' lesson for the teens?? We'll have to see how my day unfolds...

Friday, April 1, 2011

A Crash Course on Jesus

Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.--John 21:25

I've agreed to give the lesson at youth this week. We're working with these 30 questions which cover everything from how to tap into the power of the Holy Spirit to spiritual warfare to end time prophesies. I picked one question I thought I could handle--Who Is Jesus? I knew it wouldn't be easy per se but I thought I could handle it.

But trying to capture Jesus in words, phrases, and metaphors has proven to be very difficult. There's a great song by Josh Wilson called 'Three Minute Song' on this very topic. How can you fit Jesus into a 3-minute song or a youth lesson? How can you summarize the man who changed history for all time? Now, I understand that I don't have to cover everything in one lesson so I'm not going to try. What I've decided to do is like a Jesus overview...a crash course....of our Lord and Savior. Let's cover the basic facts--when He lived, who He claimed to be, and who Christians believe Him to be. And then get into why any of it really matters.

Because after several false starts writing an outline...I finally just said,
"Jesus, tell me what You want me to tell them about You.
This is Your gig, I'm just the mouthpiece.
And don't let me get in the way of Your message."

And the response I received was to really get into the why of it all. Maybe that's because teenagers always want to know why they need to know something. How many times did you ask in high school why you really needed to learn geometry or biology or Shakespeare? Or maybe that's just humanity and not only teens. If we're honest we'd have to admit that we are likely to have the same attitude at church only we're not as apt to vocalize it. But internally I think we sometimes wonder why we really need to know all this stuff. Isn't it enough to just sign up and join the club? Sure, we think, I'll sign up for that no-hell-forgiveness-of-sins-thing. That sounds good. But we don't really know Jesus, and when people talk about it we wonder why that's even necessary. We believe in Him and asked for Him to save us, isn't that enough?

Maybe that's just me...part of me used to think that way, albeit unknowingly. Because of course, I already thought I knew Jesus but that's because I knew about Him. I didn't really know Him. And it was the moment I learned the difference that my whole world changed. That was my big conversion moment even though I'd been 'saved' for many, many years.

So...somehow in language that falls short and probably through rambling and 'ummm-ing'...that's what I'm hoping to teach the youth. A little bit of who Jesus is and a whole lot of why you need to know Him. Kinda like that TV show from back in the day 'Reading Rainbow.' The host would tell the kids watching at home how great a certain book was and would always end with: "But don't take my word for it!" (for years, I thought that meant he was lying...and then I realized...he wants me to read it myself. I guess I was a little slow back then.) I really want to get them curious about Jesus and digging into their Bibles to find Him for themselves.

When I get it all hammered out I'll have material for several posts so be on the look out for my crash course on Jesus. Hopefully I'll be able to post a couple of them this weekend. As difficult as it is to try to capture Jesus on paper (imagine how hard it was for the gospel writers!) I have to say it's a challenge I readily embrace. Because while I know my words will always fall short, it seems I can never write enough about the One who Saved me.

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