Thursday, January 31, 2013

Cured?

Almost there
It's the final day of the Apartment Therapy January Cure. I'm looking back on a month of riding twin rails: cleaning out used spaces and shedding things no longer used. In the middle of the tracks, I laid a month-long commitment to purchase nothing I don't eat or use up. The month shaped up as fun and worth the effort.
  • Today someone came to buy our unused Robomower. I had hopes of a nicely cut lawn at the back when I bought it 10 years ago. My husband still weed-whacks the wild area bordering the forest two or three times a year. Goodbye mower! (and lawn idea)
  • Someone picked up sewing supplies and asked for more. Their homeschool coop teaches students to sew. (Look, Mom! We're found a home for the stuff we'll clear from your sewing room!)
  • A CL-er is coming for the K-NEX boxes our boys outgrew 2 decades ago.
  • We donated bags of clothing, books, and unused household goods ... three times since New Year's Day.
  • We Freecycled at least one item each day in January.
  • Our adult kids claimed some family treasures we no longer use.
  • I bundled up collectables ("Just the Right Shoe" and Hummels) for resale. The British teapots are next.
A focused being that knows its purpose
So, am I cured? Nope, but I feel like I've ripped off a bandage of storing things I'll never use. I am beginning to heal. Internally, I feel more space for considering new directions of work and play.

Lessons I've learned about tackling excess? How we can reevaluate our life and spaces?
  1. Notice what you have. One minimalist challenged me to name every item in a room and say aloud what its purpose was. "No utility? No beauty? Not adding value to our lives? OUT!" I'm not quite there but I'm looking around. 
  2. Be grateful for every opportunity represented in the stuff. Just don't feel obligated to be everything and do everything you thought you could or should when you brought it home!
  3. Imagine the life you're called to and designed for. Go outside your room (office / house / garage, etc.), take some deep breaths, and maybe go for a walk. Dream about the life you'd ideally be living. Then walk back in your door as a "stranger." Ask, "What parts of my collected life reflects the life I want to live?"
  4. Take out everything and refocus. Remove the contents of a box, a closet, a desktop, a room. Put back only things you really like or need. Trash, repurpose, or rehome the rest.
  5. Focus, through a doorway
    at Cambridge
  6. Rejoice. With each decluttering accomplishment, enjoy the space, energy, and the time you've gained. (You'll need less energy and time for maintenance, cleaning, or rooting through piles of stuff.) Keep looking for ways to pare down. Follow through on giving away stuff ... without regrets. If one day you need that 10th extension cord, borrow one from your neighbor or run to the shop on the corner.
Quoted in Real Simple Magazine
This process works for life as well as spaces: notice with gratitude where you are. Pray for direction and focus.

Serve well. Many routines are imposed at work and home. Beyond that, schedule only things that align with your calling and strengthen your relationships.

Let the rest go. We know that you're not superhuman, but we'd love to see you less frazzled!

Read more:
*It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him. 1 Samuel 3:18

*And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? Luke 12:25-2 

*Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!

“Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen. Romans 11:33-36 NIV

Moravian Prayer: Lord, you promised never to leave us nor forsake us. Forgive us when we become anxious about life’s issues. You know what is best for us; please strengthen our faith and trust in you. In Jesus’ name. Amen 


Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Treasures worth investing in

I could only be a minimalist under duress.

Reading "The Joy of Less" by Francine Jay, I'm struck with the weight of our stuff. We are taught from childhood to trade ourselves for items we don't need, whether for their use or beauty. Jay talks about "the freedom of living with just 'enough' to meet our needs."

We covet things, save to exchange our lives for them (time=money), and fill our homes with them. Then we have to clean and maintain them, push them around to make room among our other stuff, store them when we're weary of them, and finally dispose of them. (Or if we're unwilling to do that, our kids or executors are stuck with the chore.)

The first time I remember distinguishing between the beauty that enhances my life and a house full of "pretty things," I was listening to professional organizer Peter Walsh. He was trying to explain to a hoarder that precious items should have a place of honor. That every thing was not important or worth keeping. But in the blank expression and distress on the person's face, I saw the same initial incomprehension I was feeling. Wasn't all the stuff I had pleasing to me? Useful? Or at least pretty?


As a follower of Christ, I'm obligated to keep my heart free from the love of acquisition. I'm not permitted to tie myself greedily to things. Jay asks in her book, "If someone offered you a great job [/ministry] if you could move across the country in 3 days, how would you respond?"

Would you or I:
  • leap at the opportunity, thank God, and pack a few boxes?
  • spend sleepless nights and days packing and sorting ... and fretting?
  • decline because there's too much stuff to consider moving?

I had to think about that. This month, God has brought one thing after another along to encourage and help keep me moving. Some evenings there is more on the floor than I started with. The heaps of things turned out of drawers and surfaces come and go.

Bathroom during cleanup
(I love to read in the tub; I hate to
store exercise clothing in the closet)
Bathroom after
(books put away; clothing
hung on hooks, ready to use)

I've barely started but the weight is lifting. This home took 35 years to fill. Four children have grown up here and their residue lurks in the basement along with other forgotten treasures and junk.

How would I think I can sort and free myself from the clutches of memorial waste in a month, baring a catastrophe? I can watch people lose everything in an instant via BBC and Japan News. On my monitor, people run from war and floods and earthquakes with only their clothing and a small sack of belongings. Why do we think that could never happen to us? That we could never live without our possessions?


In contrast to the things we've been trained to value, what does God tell us to fill our lives with? Truth, wisdom, discipline, good judgment, relationships. Those cannot be taken from us by feast or famine. These things will remain.

Back to work, then!

Read more:
*Get the truth and never sell it; also get wisdom, discipline, and good judgment. Proverbs 23:23

*God is wise in heart, and mighty in strength—who has resisted him, and succeeded? Job 9:4

*Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:19-21 NIV

*Who indeed are you, a human being, to argue with God? Romans 9:20

Moravian Prayer: Mighty God, thank you for being available for us; forgive us when we fall and come short of your glory. Father, we ask for a fresh anointing on souls today, that we may experience your Holy presence in our lives. Amen.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Party day

What makes you feel like throwing a party?

Cultures differ on what they celebrate. When we moved to the States from Canada over 25 years ago, we were surprised by all the partying going on. Canadians may close shop to watch the Grey Cup or Hockey Night in Canada, but everything felt like a celebration here.

Snacks and cakes, decorations, gifts.  They were everywhere. And the shop window themes. Don't get me started! Here, a job promotion or the relocation to another house could bring up party ideas. How about milestone decade birthdays, kindergarten graduation (WHAT? that kid has a long way to go!), and reaching goals at work? It initially felt weird and uncomfortable to be surrounded by people who thought everything was remarkable and worth a party.

Mind you, my mom made a big deal of birthdays and Christmas, so I copied her when I got married. However, I quickly noticed that my husband's family celebrated birthdays with a homemade cake and quiet conversation around the dinner table. Christmas was not an over-the-top event. I toned my expectations down for birthdays and Christmas at the in-law's.

When our kids were young, I hosted astronaut, "backward-everything," and Barbie-themed birthday parties. I confess I was thrilled when the kids got older and I didn't have to stress over their upcoming days.

I asked if they wanted high school grad parties. We agreed to celebrate when they got done with college. (Actually three didn't finish high school and one was ambivalent since she was ill.) And when the time came for college grad, they wandered over to friends' parties. They ended up being more Kowalski than Daher. At home, I cooked a celebratory family dinner. They got a few gifts along with congratulations from grandparents, aunts and uncles, and siblings.

We have friends over often. Our annual Christmas dinner is a highlight at year's end. And we like having people at our place to mark achievements and special days.

I notice that in Scripture, celebrations centered on God's work and His presence. I wonder what we've lost by making life all about us. By honoring peers' accomplishments more than the wonders and benefits of knowing the Most High.

When I reflect on what God has done, every day could be a party day. I could stand on the rooftop and shout His goodness every morning. Every milestone we reach is a gift from our Heavenly Father. Party, anyone?!

Read more:
*God is with you in all that you do. Genesis 21:22

*Then Solomon and all Israel celebrated the Festival of Shelters in the presence of the LORD our God. A large congregation had gathered from as far away as Lebo-hamath in the north and the Brook of Egypt in the south. The celebration went on for fourteen days in all—seven days for the dedication of the altar and seven days for the Festival of Shelters. After the festival was over, Solomon sent the people home. They blessed the king and went to their homes joyful and glad because the LORD had been good to his servant David and to his people Israel. 1 Kings 8:65–66

*Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord, is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.” With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. In that day you will say: “Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done, and proclaim that his name is exalted. Sing to the Lord, for he has done glorious things; let this be known to all the world. Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel among you.” Isaiah 12:2-6 NIV

*The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. 1 Thessalonians 5:28

Moravian Prayer: Loving God, forgive us when we seek to take control forgetting that you are our Creator and Father. You watch over us and shower us with your grace through the blood of Jesus. Thank you for your faithful promises. Amen.

Monday, January 28, 2013

First responses

All photos from BBC Day in Pictures, January 2
I woke this morning with a to-do list and a song in my head. The to-do list whirled around with possible outcomes:
  • Did I understand that email correctly? Was I supposed to extend an invitation or is the meeting host making the arrangements. Check in with the leader before moving ahead.
  • When I ask the store for this item, the response might be a) ... or b) ... or c)...
  • The list from last week's team meeting: pull it out and get moving on it.
  • Write a thank-you to ...
And so on.

The song conducting my waking toe movements is a happy one: (Click here to listen.)
Chorus:
You have been so good to me
You have been so good to me
I came here broken, You made me whole
You have been so good, You have been so good
You have been so good to me (repeat)

Verse:
How can I thank You, there is just no way
How can I thank You, Lord, how could I repay
For Your kindness, for Your tenderness
For Your constant Presence here with me

Before I roll out of bed, I grab the IPad on my nightstand to listen to a daily coaching moment with Dr. Dave Martin. This morning he talks about the consequences of humanity's fall. God asks Adam and Eve two questions: 1) Where are you? 2) What have you done?

In a coaching setting, what great questions to evaluate the past before doing the next thing.

As usual, my mind churns in a direction not necessarily intended by Coach Dave. My question is: What would have happened if Adam had been honest and repentant? What if, instead of trying to stay hidden, the first people had confessed: "We both messed up. We did what you forbade. How can we make it right?"

From everything I read in scripture, God responds to sincere grief over wrongdoing. An entire wicked city was spared from judgment when they mourned their sins. (Read about it here.) Would God have reacted differently to Adam and Eve, had they fallen on their faces with a heartfelt "Help us! Forgive! We are sorry!"?

Instead, Adam and Eve go into the world, raise children, and die at an old age. We can't prove that Adam and Eve were good people among sinners, as many of us assume. Adam died in the generation before the flood of Noah, when Noah's father Lamech was an adult and wickedness was rampant on the earth. Adam may have been the model of awfulness that his kids and grandkids followed, though the Redeemer was promised in his lineage. (Crazy to think about, isn't it?)

How faithful God is to his promise. How can it be that I fall among those chosen to believe? Unfathomable. Amazing.

By the time I eat breakfast, my head fills with theological possibilities, my heart's singing about God's faithfulness and "Barmherzigkeit" (lovingkindness and mercy coming from the heart), and I'm eager to see what the day holds.

What a wonderful way to start the week! How was your Monday awakening? What was your first responses to God's "Good morning, dear one?"

Read more:
*Then Solomon and all Israel celebrated the Festival of Shelters in the presence of the LORD our God. A large congregation had gathered from as far away as Lebo-hamath in the north and the Brook of Egypt in the south. The celebration went on for fourteen days in all—seven days for the dedication of the altar and seven days for the Festival of Shelters. After the festival was over, Solomon sent the people home. They blessed the king and went to their homes joyful and glad because the LORD had been good to his servant David and to his people Israel. 1 Kings 8:65–66

*Psalm 18:7-15; 1 Chronicles 26; Acts 16:30-17:3

*The Lord put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Psalm 40:3

*Jesus said to the blind man, “Receive your sight; your faith has saved you.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him, glorifying God. Luke 18:42-43

Moravian Prayer: Compassionate Savior, we praise you this day. Keep your praises on our lips and in our hearts. Touch our spiritual eyes that we may see you more clearly and worship you faithfully as you created us to do. Amen.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Body and soul convergence zone

Do you ever get the feeling of settling into your true self? That body, mind, and spirit are coming together? As though a puzzle is complete? As though you've slipped into your groove?

You might be one of those who love to serve by caring for people. Do you feel fulfilled when setting up a computer program or administrating an office? Do you thrive when baking, crunching numbers, cleaning, or driving? Artists and runners talk about a "high" when their skills, training, and focus converge.

This morning I was astonished. Surprised by joy. I connected a piece to my life-puzzle while leading a workshop. When I speak in front of a group (large or small), my whole body relaxes. I like it. It feels peaceful. Fulfilling. (The last time I did this, I couldn't have been more content if shot up with "happy drugs." Really! Strange, I know.)

Let me acknowledge those who hate getting up in front of crowds. You may assume every speaker pushes forward for attention. That insiders hog the limelight with prideful ambition. Or that those up front want to show off their talents.

Sometimes that's true. People on stage may look like they have their act together. Some wear flashy clothes and bling. Some come across as downright obnoxious.

But most of us are just showing up. Saying "yes" to our calling, like God's servants do in other arenas.

"How shall I decide what to do?" a ministry colleague asked me. "How will I know God wants me in a particular ministry?"

My advice was to say yes whenever the time, place, and your gifts match. Sure, I was nervous last week, thinking about the session. My speaking skills feel rusty. As I age, I depend on God's help more than ever before. "Yes" is not always easy. It often requires extensive preparation beforehand.

When I was done this morning, I called Mom to thank her for prayers. I depend on her wise counsel and her gift of intercession."Always remember," she said, "this is the Lord's gift, not something you can drum up."

Her caution rings true. Some of you would rather die than speak in public. Yet how soothing standing up with material to share is to those like my husband and me. W and I have discussed this talent: we've never sought after the speaker's chair. But somehow God wired us for this. (W comes home from teaching exhilarated - when others would be crawling on the ground, exhausted. Teaching fills him up rather than draining him.)

Those gifted to speak understand: our service has little to do with being up front, nothing to do with pushing forward. We rarely tell others about the pleasure of speaking because it makes us seem like show-offs.

Instead, this confluence of gift and calling makes us happy! We get to tell the Story or explain what we're learning ... out loud. How cool is that!

I don't look for ways to stand up and talk. More often than not, it's more fun to push others forward. (Another part of my wiring wants to see those in the shadows step into the spotlight. Smile on my face thinking about that pleasure!)

But when I stand with my notes, open my mouth, and hear God fill it, oh ... how grateful I am for this lovely gift and the ease it brings to my whole being.

What does your natural "groove" look like? How do you know when you're serving the way God designed you to be?

Read more:
*The Lord gives grace to the humble. Proverbs 3:34 (NIV)

*Whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant. Matthew 20:26

*Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.

For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father, who is over all and in all and living through all. Ephesians 4:1-6 NLT

Moravian Prayer: Son of God, we humbly come before you this day thanking you for bringing us through another week. May whatever we do this day be a reflection of you. May we experience your holy presence guiding us to serve our brothers, sisters, and strangers in your name. Amen.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Where love looks

It's becoming pretty clear from my Monvee evaluations that ideas, creativity, and life-in-motion are some of my core values. So how does an "idea-person, activator, or strategic thinker" (Strengthfinder 2.0) show love for others? My focus naturally falls to tasks and speech, to helping people move from where they are into exploration of their potential and use of their gifts. I'm thinking about where my love looks, where it rests its gaze, and what it envisions for the ones I love.

I love this from Real Simple's Daily Thought:

Certainly there are times and places for "gazing at each other" or taking a second and third look.
  • When being introduced, we may look closely several times, evaluating if this person is someone who will become a friend or coworker.
  • At the beginning of a romance, you want to see the other person and have them look back at you. 
  • At special occasions, we may focus on the memories etched in a loved one's face.
The true love that God goes further. It examines the trajectory of a life, falls alongside to boost and support, and walks at the beloved's side. Through thick and thin. Through joys and sorrows. Through failure and success.

Guests swimming at a luxury hotel in Jakarta while
the rest of the city endures flooding (BBC)
Love doesn't isolate itself from reality. It doesn't ignore the needs around us (see photo right).

Let's find the direction of God's love and people's needs. I can probably come up with some ideas to make that kind of true love come alive today. How about you?

Read more:
*May he give us the desire to do his will in everything and to obey all the commands, decrees, and regulations that he gave our ancestors. 1 Kings 8:58 NLT

*Your way, O God, is holy. Psalm 77:13

*O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! Romans 11:33

Moravian Prayer: Holy Lord and God, you are the way the truth and the life. Fill us with your Holy Spirit; teach us your wisdom, knowledge, and understanding. Move self out of the way and direct our paths. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Woman's world

Men and women differ. That's no surprise to anyone who's been around the other gender.

We met as a credentialed women's leadership team today. The women freely shared ideas while our fearless leader kept us kind-of on track. (He's a male leader from the Network team.)

We accomplished a lot today. We have assignments for the next few months, connecting, writing, inviting, renewing.

I came home with an awakened sense of participation in God's mission. It was cool to hear how God is using women in ministry. We love God. We love the Church. We love our peers in ministry. We love the people in our churches. And yes, we face many challenges mixed in with our opportunities.

The diversity of each woman's calling is cradled in our mutual commitment to Christ and Spirit-empowerment. I'm privileged to be among women who have been called to lead, proclaim, train, and mentor God's people. Not one of us of us takes His call to ministry lightly ... or takes it for granted.

Read more:
*In the future, foreigners who do not belong to your people Israel will hear of you. They will come from distant lands because of your name, for they will hear of your great name and your strong hand and your powerful arm. … Then people all over the earth will know that the LORD alone is God and there is no other. 1 Kings 8:41–42, 60

*The hope of the righteous ends in gladness. Proverbs 10:28

*Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4:29-32 NIV

*You need endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised. Hebrews 10:36

*Moravian Prayer: Our hope is in you alone, O Lord, the author and finisher of our faith. When we are obedient and see the results of your promises, it gives us great joy. Strengthen us to always do your will. Amen. 

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Bragging rights

Achieving a goal brings a mixed bag of responses. Sometimes the feedback is hard to negotiate. Here are few my friends and I have have encountered in the past decade:
  1. Sincere congratulations. Your friend is happy for you. A coworker or colleague (who understands the cost of reaching the goal) gives you a heads up. Cool. Say "Thank you!" and invite them to the celebration.
  2. Wise-cracking asides. Your friend jokes about your accomplishment. Negotiating this is harder. Are they wondering how to say, "We're proud of you," or envying your success? A shrug, smile, and "Thanks," works if you're not fast with a humorous comeback.
  3. Name-calling. This takes various forms, from the sincerely congratulatory to the snide put-down to wondering if you've changed and become an arrogant poop. I've heard many versions of "Hey, doctor!" since finishing my degree. I occasionally find this one hard to respond to (especially outside of academic circles.) Yes, I'm glad I finished. I've earned the right to the title. But it can't and won't define all the other parts of me. Usually I say thanks and move to a topic more interesting to the group.
  4. Envious comments. "Wish I could do that but I'm too old (fat/tired/broke, etc.)," or "I'd never get that far," or "If only I had ... I could also ..." As a motivator and mentor, I think to myself, "Don't compare yourself, but do your own thing. If you don't move toward what you love, you'll be stuck here in 10 or 20 years."
  5. Judging remarks. A few will judge your attitude based on their character. "She thinks she's better now," or "Don't let it go to your head," or "He probably doesn't want to hang around with us anymore." Some people need reassurance that you still think they're important. Others feel put down and left behind. My response is this: if they don't want me alongside, I don't push it. Walk away.
  6. Silence. When someone is publicly acknowledged, published, or praised, those aspiring to fame say nothing. Plus, not everyone likes you.
"Little-hearts" or "hate-you" bystanders rarely say, "Job well done" or "Congratulations." They pretend you never received the honor. They refuse to promote you when openings or resources become available.

Be big about such slights. Withholding a "well done" hides a stingy spirit and sometimes self-absorption or a prideful "humility." Don't expect acknowledgement.

In contrast, you and I may choose to show up and to do better. Let's note when others do well and be connectors and encouragers. Every effort and every accomplishment happens because of God's love and power at work -- opening doors, giving strength, or clearing a path. Underlying our personal praise for others lies the recognition of God's glory. He is pleased to dwell among us.

When you set out for a goal, look for those who will cheer you -- and sometimes drag you -- across the finish line. When you're done, celebrate with them. They'll be happy for you and tell how proud they are of you to anyone who will listen.


Above all, listen closely to see how you're aligned with God's plans. Won't it be amazing to hear him brag about us some day? To hear him say, "Let me introduce My servant and My child. Look at what we accomplished together!"

Read more:
 *I will praise you, O Lord, with all my heart; before the “gods” I will sing your praise. I will bow down toward your holy temple and will praise your name for your love and your faithfulness, for you have exalted above all things your name and your word. When I called, you answered me; you made me bold and stouthearted. Psalm 138:1-3 NIV

*This is what the Lord says: “Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the Lord. Jeremiah 9:23-24 NIV

*But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:4-10 NIV
 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Go! Just go!

Overwhelmed by information?
Got too much to do? Too little time? Perhaps it's time to clear the path. To pare your life into its wonderful essentials.

Many of our key choices won't rest on saying yes to great opportunities. Instead, the bulk of life-changing decisions involve saying no to unessentials and lesser things.

"Minimalism" and "living with less" is a current fad. Why? We have TOO MUCH surrounding us. Our brains get confused and overwhelmed by trivial. Details demand to be touched or negotiated.

Collecting too much of a good thing?
How was your morning? In the closet, did your trousers,  jackets, and shirts (blouses)  hang willy-nilly. Did choosing your outfit take more than a few minutes?

Instead of an easy 10-minute routine, did you root through the "plenty" in the bathroom for basics? Sort through skin cream / makeup and scramble for a fresh tube of toothpaste? Hesitate about which shampoo to use in the shower? Argh. Was there even time for a shower? Were you running late with too much to do before you left the house?

Was the rest of the day similar? Were you exhausted and discouraged by nightfall ... because you had too many plates and too much on those places. Did you drown in the details?

The top shelf "during":
piles pushed to one side
to install separators
As readers know, I'm on a clearing streak.  I've been sorting things I no longer use out of my life. This morning the top rack of my closet fell victim to my efforts. I'm glad I forgot to snap a picture of the before, with sweaters and tops leaning on each other. I recorded the during and after.

EEEK. That's all I can say. Eeek!

The top shelf "after': sorted into types (turtlenecks,
sweaters, T-shirts, etc.)
I'm no perfectionist: so what if the folded stacks lean a bit. I'm no minimalist: I kept clothes I've recently worn. I'm not obsessive about details: who cares about color coding? As with cooking, my creative method is to stand in front of the possibilities and quickly pluck items to go "into the soup" or on my back.

But I've been startled by this common sense, which eluded me before. As the house gets more orderly, it's becoming easier to define other choices. To say "Yes" to things that God is calling me to, and "No" to expectations that don't align with what I hear in prayer, meditation on God's Word, or from the counsel of those I trust.

Just the basics, please!
Some mornings when my toes touch the ground, I hear a little voice urging, "Go girl! Just go!" The hurdles and obstacles to a productivity seems fewer and further between with so many "NO!s" in the recent past.

How would you define your recent choices? Is there time to think? To reflect? Then to move "full steam ahead" once your course is charted?

Or is your life cluttered with so much "good" that the way forward seems impossible?

Read more:
*A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold. Rich and poor have this in common: The Lord is the Maker of them all. Proverbs 22:1-2 NIV

*Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”

The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. Lamentations 3:22-26 NIV

*God says, “From this time forward I make you hear new things, hidden things that you have not known.” Isaiah 48:6

*Let anyone with ears to hear listen! Luke 8:8

Moravian Prayer: Holy Redeemer, as we face another day, enable us to spend quality time in communion with you. Touch our listening ears and teach us how to have a closer walk with you. In your name we pray. Amen. 

Monday, January 21, 2013

The beautiful ability to fear

We use the word "fear" variously to describe emotions and attitudes. We may be afraid of:
  • physical harm like natural disasters or being homeless or hungry
  • scary things that go "boo" on Hallowe'en or frighten us in horror films
  • personal phobias like the dark, spiders, small spaces, or airplane trips
  • relationships that threaten malice (or envy), political ill-will, and other harms
  • being overlooked or deemed insignificant
  • think others may interrupt our dreams or disrupt our goals
  • approach change with uncertainty or doubt
But we "fear" in other ways, when we:
  • respect those with power over us
  • honor and admire those who become role models
  • worry about the future
  • take risks into new challenges beyond our comfort zone (act courageously)
J. T. Lowery

I'm wrestling through an idea from scripture: "Unite my heart to fear your name." (Psalm 86:11 KJV)

My mind stumbled and stopped at the connection between unity of heart and our ability to honor and respect God. When our inner beings are divided, distracted, and scattered, can we comprehend the foundation of our faith--the hinge on which we pivot toward God--which is respectful fear?

Paul writes also that hearts that are divided within faith communities cannot understand or know God: "My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ." Colossians 2:2 (See context below: read more.)

Only when we are single-minded in pursuing our relationship with God and we single-heartedly forgive and accept others in the "bond of peace," can we approach God.

Our common alternatives to such the hard disciplines of unity and love?
  • Hail God as a friend or buddy, always on hand to help out or alleviate our loneliness. "You're not alone; you have God's shoulder to lean on." We don't have to change a thing - he's our crutch when we get in trouble. We may feel abandoned and disappointed when God doesn't come through like a cosmic vending machine of goodies.
  • Self-help through gurus who tell us how easily (and without sacrifice) to appease God's expectations or ward off bad "karma." Our designer god looks a lot like us and only demands what we are willing to give.
  • Hypocrisy and self-deception where we live as "Christians" and claim to be followers of Jesus without giving up secret sins or destructive habits. We look good while ignoring Jesus' blunt warning: "You white-washed tombs. You look nice on the outside but stink of filth and rot inside."
  • Procrastination and increased fear. We never resolve the inner conflicts and fragmentation . We spiral further into darkness rather than walking in the light.
Fear of things out of our control will debilitate us.

BUT awe and reverence for God will set us free. 
He's in charge, in control, and strong enough 
to hold all things together by the word of His power.

Are you amazed at his love? Dumbstruck with wonder at his provision?

Harmony isn't a denial of suffering or ignoring of circumstances. Instead, true holistic living begins with willingness to lay down our own fragmented interests and desires to unite our hearts to fear His name.

Both personally and in the community of faith.

Read more:
*
For you are great and do marvelous deeds; you alone are God. Teach me your way, Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name. I will praise you, Lord my God, with all my heart; I will glorify your name for ever. Psalm 86:10-12 NIVUK

*Seek the Lord, all you humble of the land, who do his commands; seek righteousness, seek humility. Zephaniah 2:3

*A great wave of persecution began that day, sweeping over the church in Jerusalem; and all the believers except the apostles were scattered through the regions of Judea and Samaria. … But the believers who were scattered preached the Good News about Jesus wherever they went." Acts 8:1, 4 NEV

*Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord. 1 Corinthians 12:4,5

*(Paul) I want you to know how hard I am contending for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally. My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments.Colossians 2:1-4

*If you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Colossians 3:1
Moravian Prayer: Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous his thoughts and turn unto the Lord. Amen.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Oh bed you're dead

A messy bedroom: thankfully not mine, before or after!
Is your bedroom relaxing and calm? Or do you heap 101 unfinished projects or books to read in the corners and on the furniture?

I thought it wasn't too bad on my side of the bed UNTIL I started clearing. Yesterday I emptied the drawers of my nightstand, washed the bedding, and hung the down duvets in the cold sunshine. Today I tackled the floor beside my bed: 5 magazines, 30+ books. 2 letters to be answered. That's a lot of reading; thankfully I'm well on the way through most of it.

A relaxing bedroom, also not mine
By the time I write, the publications are sorted, separated into library and mine, finished and must-read, and shelved. The fluffy sheepskin rug is shaken outside, the floor vacuumed, the furniture dusted, the long bins under the bed moved and replaced (DIY tools and purses in separate bins. Important things stay close at hand.)

I've stuck to my goals of re-homing something every day on Freecycle and having a bag or two every time a charity calls. Gradually, as I promised myself for the New Year, I'm leaving behind the past for the future.

The outside reflects what God is going on the inside, helping me shed old habits for new graces. I am grateful.

Australians can request household clearing
pickup from their city. Good idea!
Due to a  miserable cold, I have resisted going out to spread it. So I've missed two engagements I was really anticipating. Raclette with friends and a writers group. One has been rescheduled. One is a loss.

But my side of the bedroom is clean and tidy. "Never shun small gifts!" she tells herself as she smiles and tosses the dust rags into the wash.

What have you been putting off? Do you have an unexpected morning or evening to deal with it?

Read more:
Here's a marvelous "inner room of the heart" de-clutter and cleanup message, sent by my friend Tillie Porter:

*Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.


For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit. Romans 8:1-4 NIV

-----------------
O soul, are you weary and troubled?
    No light in the darkness you see?
    There’s light for a look at the Savior,
    And life more abundant and free!
      
 Refrain:
        Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
        Look full in His wonderful face,
        And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
        In the light of His glory and grace.
 
  Through death into life everlasting
    He passed, and we follow Him there;
    O’er us sin no more hath dominion—
    For more than conquerors we are!
  
 His Word shall not fail you—He promised;
    Believe Him, and all will be well:
    Then go to a world that is dying,
    His perfect salvation to tell!
 
      -- Helen H Lemmel 1922

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Life under God

Our family is reading and discussing With, a book that reflects on our postures in relationship to God. Mostly, it deals with our attempts at manipulating God so we control our surroundings and ward off our fears. We often life:
  • For God: "I'll serve him" (then he'll be nice to me)
  • From God: "I want prosperity / health / wealth / happiness" (he should provide for me)
  • Under God: "I need to appease him because he sets the rules" (don't make God mad)
  • Over God: "Who cares about God?" (he may or may not have set the world into motion, but what does that have to do with me?)
The author suggests living WITH God in deep communion and trust. More on that in another post.

In my 1-year chronological Bible reading, I stumbled across Elihu again. He's Job's "Comforter" and "friend," a punk with all the answers. He admits to listening to his elders and then disses them with:
  • I've heard you and you don't have anything wise to say
  • I've considered deeply and don't have to be old to know what's going on
  • You should listen to my wisdom. I've figured it out
  • No matter what your protests, I'm right
  • Do it my way and you'll succeed
Cheeky. Arrogant. Stupid.

It doesn't matter if parts (or even most) of what Elihu says is true. His attitude stinks. And his approach is totally "Under God" - if we follow the rules, God also has to follow the rules.
  • The wicked get punished. (So hey, if you're suffering, you don't have enough faith, you've got sin in your life, you don't understand your own evil heart, etc.) 
  • The good prosper. (If you're rich, healthy, and have a good reputation, you must be doing something right.)
  • God is unmoved by our plight. (Stop asking him for help, confess your sins, be a better person,  and pull up your own boots to get to work.
What I find fascinating is that God doesn't respond to Elihu at all. If he's got it all figured out, why bother to interact?

On the other hand, God asks the other three "comforters" to bring sacrifices and have Job make them on their behalf. God is willing to restore relationship with them.

Oh Lord, for all of our youthful or immature "right answers," our arrogant suppositions, and our silliness in thinking we have you figured out, we're sorry! Lord have mercy! Christ have mercy! (Benedictine) and Lord have mercy! (Michael Smith and Amy Grant)

Read more:
*By the ordinances of the Lord is your servant warned. Psalm 19:11 (NIV)

*Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.
His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of gods.
His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords:
His love endures forever. To him who alone does great wonders,
His love endures forever.
who by his understanding made the heavens,
His love endures forever. Psalm 136:1-5 NIV


*No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit. Luke 6:43

Moravian Prayer: King of kings and Lord of lords, our desire is to do your will. Come into our hearts, rescue us from darkness and sin so we may bear good fruit in your name. Amen.

Monday, January 14, 2013

A legacy of laughter, kindness, and prayer

Vancouver BC from space: Chris Hadfield NASA
There's remarkable unity in God's creativity. This week, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield tweeted incredible photos from his NASA space mission. I thought some of them were pictures of underwater coral formations. Nope, that's the ferry dock on the BC shoreline. From small to huge, the signature of God is beautifully consistent.

Waldemar's family buried his 99-year-old Uncle Ferdinand last weekend. That old man lived a live of consistent laughter, kindness, and prayer. (Obituary here.)

Uncle Ferdinand at 99
Uncle Ferdinand Hirch grew up in Poland and German. He was a hard worker, whether as a laborer or in his eventual profession as a baker of exquisite German breads and pastries. (Oh those marzipan rolls and cream horns!)

Parts of Uncle Ferdinand's life can only be described as difficult and miserable. His family was so poor that he had to leave home at an early age to look for work. As a young father, he was conscripted into the Russian army. He lost track of his wife and baby for nearly 2 years. He survived being shot through the face -- a bullet went through his nose and out his ear. "That bullet saved my life. I got out of the army!" he said, rejoicing in his life rather than complaining about his deafness. A German pastor happened to read the Red Cross missing persons bulletin after WWII, leading to the family being reunited.

Uncle Ferdinand and Aunt Lydia's only child became a missionary, a great hardship of distance between close-knit parents and child. Uncle F and Auntie L made a point of traveling to Brazil to help build churches, pray over each new grandchild (all five of them!), and sacrificially supporting their son's ministry. They prayed long hours, lived simply so they could be generous, and hosted hundreds of people in their home over the years. They tended a lush garden brimming with basics and exotics like asparagus in the spring, berries and potatoes throughout the summer, and cabbage and horseradish in the fall. They canned and cooked, baked and cleaned in the old European tradition.

Uncle Ferdinand suffered many physical crises through his 99 years. His baker's hours were a brutal 3am - afternoon. (My brother, who worked for him one year, exclaimed about the physical exertion as well as the extreme hours.) Yet Uncle Ferdinand never complained. He and Auntie L greeted every bakery customer with a cheerful hello or word of kindly advice.

He was a joker, telling simple stories from life with a laugh and viewing human interactions as a funny series of possibilities. He attributed his long life to the goodness of God.

Waldemar's uncle never missed a morning or evening church meeting he could get to, even after Auntie Lydia died nearly 10 years ago. The church's sanctuary was only accessible by a long flight of stairs but he climbed them, service after service. Before reaching those stairs, it took a great effort to cross the church parking lot from his senior apartment after a knee replacement in his 90s. Then a car hit him in a crosswalk, hurling his 95-year-old body into a heap on the ground. He was in the hospital for a while but kept his good humor and happy outlook. And he went back to sit in his pew as soon as he could.

At 99, he still rode his scooter to town to shop for groceries. He cooked his own food, kept a neat apartment, did his laundry, and shrugged off "too much help" even when climbing stairs. He shopped in town on a recent Friday, howdy-ed with people who knew him, and died when his heart stopped that evening. He was almost halfway through the year toward his 100th birthday.

"He was always glad to see us!" According to his grandkids, he was cheerful as he ate, sang, and prayed with them last Christmas. He didn't complain about the noise of his 12 great-grandkids, nor the effort it took to get to his grandson's house for Christmas dinner, nor about having to Skype greetings to his son and daughter-in-law in faraway Brazil rather than hugging them in person.

Flying over Key Largo: Chris Hatfield, NASA
The consistency of Uncle Ferdinand's life reminds me of what only God can do in us. From his creativity and wholeness in micro to macro worlds, life with God is stunning in its integrity and beauty.

Over 100 people attended the funeral on Saturday, many in their 20s, 30s, and 40s. The memorial was that "small" only because most of his traveling companions have already died.

Who do you know with a similar legacy? Are you leaving similar good memories behind for your friends and family?

Read more:
*The Lord God is a sun and shield. Psalm 84:11

*Solomon also made all the furnishings of the Temple of the LORD: the gold altar; the gold table for the Bread of the Presence; the lampstands of solid gold, five on the south and five on the north, in front of the Most Holy Place; the flower decorations, lamps, and tongs—all of gold; … the doors for the entrances to the Most Holy Place and the main room of the Temple, with their fronts overlaid with gold.

So King Solomon finished all his work on the Temple of the LORD. Then he brought all the gifts his father, David, had dedicated—the silver, the gold, and the various articles—and he stored them in the treasuries of the LORD's Temple. 1 Kings 7:48–51

*It is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 2 Corinthians 4:6

Moravian Prayer: Dear Father of light, thank you for shielding us so we can worship you another day. Continue to remove darkness from our souls and spirits so we may be beacon lights in your name for others to follow. Amen.