Monday, August 30, 2010

For an Audience of One

I love going to a venue that ended up smaller than expected. Where there are no assigned seats, making it easy to pick one a little more towards the front--you feel as though you are closer to that person on stage who is speaking, or singing. Maybe the attendance was disappointing, but every one who was supposed to be there, came. And it was great. Especially afterwards, when the lines to meet that famous person were so much shorter!

I wonder if this ever happened while Jesus had his traveling ministry. I wonder if people fought their way through the crowds, trying to get as close to him as possible. The woman who had an issue of blood, for 12 years, comes to mind. She knew there was no way for her to get close to Jesus, in plain sight--for she was considered 'unclean'. Yet, just touching the hem of his garment caused power to go out from his presence, healing her instantly. In reality, it was her faith that made her whole. Her belief, confidence, and perseverance that she could have what Jesus talked about. That is was for her, not just every body else.

I try to imagine how it would feel to be famous. People lining up, waiting for autographs, sideways hugs and pictures. Kind of like finding a multitude of friends that you never met. Being told that your latest book or hit song was life changing. I recently met several great musicians and writers. I remember that before we lined up to meet Christy Nockels, my friend next to me remarked at how she felt closer to God, just by watching Christy lead worship. I couldn't agree more. Christy has this presence about her when she is singing. Her eyes closed, head lifted up, sandals off her feet, totally wrapped up in what God is doing, through her. Wow...hearing and seeing that made a huge shift for me on how to view worship. For years, I often felt like I didn't know what to say when people would come up to me, after church, and tell me 'nice job singing' or 'great worship today'. On the inside, I would wonder if it was the christian thing to do to say 'thank you' or should I come up with some kind of reply about how 'it's not about me', blah, blah, blah.

Now I understand that none of the above is necessary. If I am truly focused on God while leading worship, I know that it will not be about me. Just getting lost in the presence of it all, not caring how you appear. That is the moment when you no longer wonder if people are staring at you or if things went well, musically. Sometimes, after what seemed like a difficult run as a music team, people will still comment that they worshiped God and how awesome it was. Just another confirmation that it isn't about any of us, except that we are willing to surrender our talents and abilities to bring people closer to God. And when a person does come up later, with kind words, we know that we succeeded in ushering them in to an encounter with God. Those affirmations are so sweet...and good to hear, from time to time. It's how we build each other up.

I find so much freedom in just living life. Not realizing that you are bringing people around you, closer to Jesus, no matter what they think about him or where they may be at, spiritually. The pure love of God, flowing through you and me will be what moves and shakes the world around us. I'm starting to get excited about meeting people groups that I don't normally interact with. I told Troy that I should go downtown to a certain coffee shop, frequented by more 'free thinking' college students...and see what happens. He looked at me with half a smile and said, 'ok?'. Just think of the stories you might come across, sitting at a retro table with coffee in hand and your heart, open to those around you. Coffee, European style!

I know that I would be changed by that experience. I would be challenged in my beliefs. I probably wouldn't know the answer to most of the why questions about God, but that's ok. I would encounter conflict at a level I have never known before. I can't explain why I would want to do this, but I guess it's in my heart, somewhere. Kind of intimidating, right? But when we play for an audience of One, it doesn't much matter the number of people who are there. All who were meant to be there, came. And it is always awesome that way.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A Script for the Day

It was a typical Tuesday morning, trying to get the kitchen cleaned up before heading off to our weekly park date. As I was scrubbing pots and pans, a certain friend was brought to my mind. I wondered how she was doing this week. I should call her...hmmm, maybe later would be better. I was curious how her weekend went, if she was feeling more peace over her difficult situation. And then the phone rang: guess who, right? I invited her to join us at the park, since she was looking for some action for the day.

Nothing close to epic, but that scenario reminded me of how God orchestrates every single detail of our lives. He knows who needs to talk to whom, and how to hook them up for some time together. I've been thinking a lot, lately, about my relationships. Some that are good and growing, some that have waxed a bit distant. I'm realizing that it takes time to develop a good friendship. It takes having no agenda, other than to be a friend. It takes trust and some risk...but it's worth all of those elements for the stories that come into a person's life. Even when conflicts arise, its still worth it for what is gained beyond the initial tension.

It's even worth it for the role you might play in another person's story: maybe your the friend that opened the door for someone to meeting more new people...and you never become much more than that, but your character was vital to their success today. I don't believe there is ever someone that you are not supposed to meet. You may not like them much. Maybe they raise the hair on the back of you neck, beckoning every competitive bone in your body to put up a fight. But there is a purpose for the just might not see it, yet.

Having been one of those needy people for awhile, it's finally come to my attention that a person cannot give much back until they've had much poured into their life. Sometimes it takes years, even decades, for recovery to happen. What is exciting is when you see a change. That person starts to look for ways to get involved, to give back to the community or their church. They become transformed from within. They are starting a new chapter in their life and moving forward, beyond whatever it was that was holding them back for so long. Now I understand why it is more blessed to give than it is to receive. Sounds kind of cliche, but it's true.

Awhile back, I wrote about how boring life had started to become for me. Not in busyness, but that it seemed to lack adventure and discovery. I recently went through a three month layer of grief over my mom's death--she died 2 years ago. It is easy to become despondent and negative over every aspect of life when you are in the thick of grieving. Apparently, this may be an annual thing for me. Spring is not a good time to be thinking of my mom, but it is the time of the year because of my kids' birthdays, back to back, then Mother's Day(crummy, again), and then June rolls around marking the anniversary of the end of her life, on earth. So many markers at once, so many missed events that she will never experience with us.

But now that I've come out of that, I can see that the conflict of my mom's passing was what has propelled me into writing...again. Every time I write, it is birthed out of some tragedy. It doesn't mean that I will always write about that specific event, but the event itself has a way of creating many thoughts and reflections. You become thrown into something that you didn't ask for and somehow you have to find a way to process through it.

The first time I knew I could write was when I was 13 years old. We flew out to Oregon to visit my aunt for a week. No one had a clue of the losses I was internalizing at the time. I had much time to be alone because my mom was spending time with her sister; and my brother was playing with our cousins who were at least 5 years younger than me. There wasn't anyone that I could really talk to or hang out with. We had some fun activities line up where every one was together...but when you're sad, you often don't remember the good times.

So there I was, with a pad of paper and a flood of emotions. They spilled out onto the pages like water going across the counter top--and then along came the 'Brawny man' with his "quilted, quicker-picker-upper"--and absorbed the mess before it hit the floor! Wow--commercials really do sink in, don't they? I still have those old poems today. I don't remember letting too many people read them, but somehow my aunt figured out what I was doing when I kept on asking for more paper. It was brown penmanship paper, with the 2 inch blocks and dashes in between. Must've been for the boys to practice on or something. She didn't roll her eyes at me or shrug her shoulders. No, she recognized what I was only beginning to understand at the time.

She told me I should save every thing I wrote because, one day, it would help me become a good writer. I believed her, even though I didn't believe in myself at the time or could imagine that anything I could write would matter to someone else. But here we are today. Things are different and much has changed, 20 years later. I feel that story has come around full circle and has helped create whatever chapter is unfolding, right now. The idea of story, characters, and creating new memories are things I've learned in a book I just finished. I've already mentioned 'Million Miles', by Don Miller. It probably won't be the last time, either. Such a great book!

Every day is a new day. It is a gift. How will the world change, today? What impact will you choose to make in another person's life? How might someone else bless you, in return? Allow it to happen. Find ways to make make memories that are fun and off the wall. I'm already thinking up random stuff that I can work in to a busy day with a toddler and preschooler. But those are the kind of things I want them to remember! It's food for their dreams that we have yet to discover. And it is food for my soul, as well.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

A Letter from the Editor

Lately, I've been reading 'A Million Miles in a Thousand Years', by Don Miller. A great read, so far. He also wrote 'Blue Like Jazz'--a book that I picked up in study group a few years back. I really enjoy this author's perspective on God. He is an out-of-the-box thinker. I like those kind of people. Probably because they resonate in me a distaste for sameness and lack of creativity. We are not all the same. There is not one right way to do anything, except keep the Commandments and love God and others. Beyond that, there are many grey skies above us that sometimes cloud our vision.

Since I've taken up writing again, the idea of God writing the story of our lives, has been repeatedly coming back to me. I don't think it's a coincidence that I heard Don speak about 'story', a few weeks back. He has offered me another way to look at life. Did you ever think that maybe you could edit your life? Sounds crazy, right? Yeah sure, I'd love to edit out some of the mistakes I've made, words I've spoken, colorful places I've found myself in! Only God can do that. He tells us that our sins are as far as the east is from the west. But that's not what I'm referring to, here.

This editing thing...hmmmm...I think what it means(so far)is that we choose how we want to live our lives. Every one loves a good story. Some of us might feel that our lives are rather boring and ordinary. That maybe there isn't much to report. I love this quote from Don Miller: The essence of story is this--"A character who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it." So there has to be conflict in order to have a great story. There has to be ups and downs, the reds and the blues, to make it colorful. As I was listening to Don speak about all of this, it was like I had an 'a-ha' moment. Here is me, the person who hates conflict, always trying to avoid it, taking this all in.

I love my life, for the most part. I have so much to be thankful for. Yes, I've had my share of troubles--who has not? But the one thing I keep hearing from God is the word 'conflict.' I'm still trying to learn how to deal with it. You know what? I think I finally realize that I have to face it head on and not look back. Instead of letting the fear of it hold me back, I need to embrace it as a part of a part of my story. Those dreams that I have that are on hold. Those ideas or 'what-ifs' that turn around in my mind when I'm cleaning the house(who says sweeping isn't productive?); maybe its time to live it out.

Or, when I catch myself coveting another person's success, I can turn around and smile at my own, knowing that today is a gift. I can look at my children and try hard not to blink because someday they'll be twice as tall...and maybe then they won't want 'to hold me', as my daughter often asks. I definitely will buy that used treadmill and walk for miles, as though I were going somewhere...well, trying to 'go away' from 10 extra pounds is a place that I would like to be! My dreams are seeds, planted in my heart from before I ever was. They could small ones or big ones, but every good one come from God. He knows me inside and out. Every life counts. Every life matters and has a role to play.

What I do today does matter, for earth and for eternity. I want to live out a great story--the one that God has already ordained. Its all the in between stuff that makes it hard to wrap your head around this concept. There is no remote in hand or fast-forward button. There is no movie screen but there is a mirror. There is a Book and there is the 'whispering, within'. And there are the choices. Tough ones, easy ones, good ones, bad ones. We need them all as chapters in our story. One that may inspire others to look upward and marvel at the Editor in Chief...and He gets all the credit.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A Princess Story

I had the privilege of spending last weekend in sunny Orlando, Florida with some of the best company from miles around. Getting somewhere good takes planning, a little stress, and a lot of effort. But once you're on that jet, a sigh of relief exhales as you look forward to the destination. That describes how I found myself at the Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) Convention, 2010.

Last year, when I first attended this event, I found myself crying like a baby as we drove to the airport. It was hard to leave my kids for 5 days--had never done that before. I felt broken and numb, as the reminders of 'mothering' were everywhere--all too soon for me in losing my own mom. But, God was doing some healing in me while I was away. I traveled with 2 friends who were solid as a rock and kept me going through the weekend. We had tons of fun and came back with our suitcases bulging and our hearts overflowing. We shopped 'til we dropped and soaked up all the music and training that we could while were in hospitable Nashville, TN.

It was necessary for me to experience my first Convention in that way. I had gained a bigger perspective of what we do, as a MOPS group, and how important mothering is in making this world a better place. This time around, I went with 2 friends who were the 'newbies of the group'. It was fun to see their reaction to everything taking place. We had so much fun together--I have to say that nothing is better than being poolside with friends who are like-minded--who love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength and have a passion for reaching out. It was refreshing to invest in each other with no distractions--no kids, no schedules, no demands of home life. I really didn't want to leave!

I felt like I was in Heaven, for real. The Gaylord Palms is one of the finest hotels in the country. The whole place is beautiful, with its conservatory environment: plants, waterfalls, rock formations and wandering paths, ever where...excellent restaurants, entertainment and fabulous pools! You feel like a Princess from the moment you walk in. There was a well-dressed man, passing by the line of women, waiting to get their room keys. He had a silver platter with individually-wrapped chocolates and candies for all the moms, as well as sweet compliments on how we have the hardest job in the world--so true. There were the fanciest lemonade stands I ever saw: glass and brass containers with golden spickets--how cool is that. Complimentary refreshments that spoke volumes to each of us, on our true worth.

What would be my favorite part of the event? It's too hard to pick just one thing. Since we had a smaller attendance this year, it made it easier to get through the lines and meet the speakers and musical artists that were there. We met our favorite local band, 'Go Fish', worship leader Christy Nockels, and saw Ritchie McDonald(former lead singer of Lone Star) as well as many authors and speakers. The worship time was incredible. I only wish every Sunday morning, back home, had as much volume as we experienced each day, there. Wow.

I was surprised to see Don Miller--author of a favorite book('Blue Like Jazz') be one of the speakers. What a neat guy he is. I love his perspective on God--definitely an 'out of the box' thinker. I love hanging out with people like that. Margaret Feinberg, another excellent writer and speaker, inspired me with her correlations between scripture and nature. She has taken the time to get to know people who take care of sheep, keep bees, and tend vineyards--and how God has used those analogies to give meaning to our every day lives. I just had to show her pics and video of my butterfly who could not fly. I knew there was a reason why I brought that footage along with me. Isn't it awesome the way we are prompted and directed?

The Resource Fair has continued to be a blessing in my life. Last year, I was given a small pendant that had the number 23 engraved on it--as in Psalm 23. The vendor noticed the necklace I often wear that belonged to my mom. She wanted me to have something like it, from their company. I was touched and lifted up by that small gesture. This year, I came back to Union 28, a company that makes 'marriage apparel'--that would be T-shirts(not something else!) carrying unique designs that incorporate phrases like, 'My Husband Rocks' within the logos. I decided that I would buy a shirt for me and one for Troy. The woman at the booth recognized me from last year--we started chatting and in leaving, she wanted me to have one of her CD's--even though I didn't purchase the amount set to get one for free, she said she felt led to give one to me anyway. Wow. Awhile later, I happened to pass by a booth for Care Net--the umbrella organization that has helped our local Crisis Pregnancy Center get up and running. The women who were there knew our CPC director and have been talking to her a lot. I also discovered that Care Net is looking to form partnerships with local MOPS groups so we can together serve women who need support. And we were just talking about doing that, at our last Steering Meeting! God is so good.

Probably the best encounter I had, with new people, was in meeting one of the women from MOPS international. I had heard, last year, that she was battling ovarian cancer. I wanted to meet her, but it never happened. I was just finished getting one of my books signed when I turned around and there she was, right in front of me. I introduced myself to her and asked how she was doing. I went on to tell her about my mom and recap our story through her illness. It was a teary moment that I will never forget. Then along came her daughter, our MOPS emcee for the weekend. I was able to meet her as well and get a picture taken together. I am amazed at how God knows the desires of our hearts and grants them when the time is right. I pray and wish Carol and Kendall, all the best in their relationship together as mother and daughter--that they will have many more years together as a family.

And then the clock struck midnight: our beautiful surroundings would soon be turned back into pumpkins--time to go home! I think all of us were exhausted, getting on that airplane. Sometimes the home-going is not so pleasant. Had to have a little 'heart to heart' with our airline when I got home. Guess what I discovered? I really do have it in me to stand up for myself and for what is right. One of my biggest struggles in life is in handling conflict. I learned, this weekend, that 'God is not afraid of conflict'. In fact, it is a part of life that needs to be had in order to make things better. Duh, right? Some of us learn this more slowly, I guess! I don't think I had ever felt more righteous anger towards anyone--or company--let alone what a suitcase can do to my emotions! But so be it. I learned something and intend on grafting into my life so that I can move forward with no regrets.

Ok, this is hilarious. Speaking of 'pumpkins', we are growing them in our garden and while I was gone, Adrian picked a big one that had already turned orange. Troy sent me a picture of it, on my phone, a day before we left. So when he came to pick us up, at the airport, there was that proverbial pumpkin--sitting on the floor of the van! Hmmm, somehow I find that very significant. Yep, we are back to our little pumpkins--no more Cinderella--until next year!