Thursday, December 9, 2010

What do I value?

"Seek peace and pursue it.  Set your face like flint to find that place of peace that goes beyond what you see or understand naturally. Allow Me to elevate you above the things of the world, above your circumstances, and above your disappointments to a place of absolute freedom in the Spirit.  Release yourself from all that keeps you from receiving all that I have promised, says the Lord."

I was just thinking about this very thing and then opened this from Marsha Burns and there it was. What do I value above everything? Peace and the ability to be myself without putting on a mask of fear or rebellion or frustration. I value earthly people with whom I can be myself (without makeup). I value people who are real with me. Funny thing, these can be peaceful people but they do not have to be. Sometimes peaceful people are the least real. The peaceful mask is covering up who they really are. 

I value messed up people because they are real.  I value people who will yell and stomp their feet and rail against injustices in their lives and the lives of those around them.  I value those people who yell  their prayers at God and scream for mercy. It’s those people who recognize God’s grace in their lives when it comes.

I value people who can laugh at life and with whom I can laugh. I value those with whom I can tell my deepest, darkest mess up and they will laugh with me.  They help me not take myself so seriously.

I value people who will challenge me to be better and live better.  Those who hold me accountable or who I allow to hold me accountable are very few.  To me there is no greater gift than someone who cares enough about me to ask how things are going in the areas I am struggling with.  Sometimes it comes out in humor but always I know they have my back and I value that.

I value elderly people and their wisdom.  Far too often in this world, we relegate the elderly to some corner of a facility. We tell them what to do when. Their lives, though, have value to us and to the world.  I thank God for who they are.

I value children who climb up in your lap even when you don’t invite them.  Who talk to you like you are the only person in the world. Because at that moment in time, you are the only person in the world to them.  What a gift they are and they don’t even know it!  All they want is the attention of someone older and larger than their tiny world.

I value God's presence of peace in my life. For me that only comes when I'm in constant communication with him and listening to His still, small voice.  I value God’s constant presence going before me and behind me, hemming me in, surrounding me, sending His angels to minister to me, pick me up when I’ve fallen, comfort me when I’m down, rejoice when I’m obedient.

No matter who you are or where you are in your navigation through this world, I value you. Being human is not easy.  It is sometimes lonely and depressing and frustrating and overwhelming.  What would the great times in life be without the difficulties? How would we be overcomers without something to overcome? So, celebrate today if for no other reason than the fact you are alive.  Think about the positives in your life.  And, as it says below Jesus will have your back.  He'll stand guard over the most vulnerable places in you.  Things may seek to hurt you, mess with your emotions, frustrate your mind, but when you are focusing on Him, He promises to stand guard.  To me, that's a WOW! I hope it is for you as well, because you are valuable just as you are.

  Philippians 4:6-8  Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.  Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy-meditate on these things.

Monday, December 6, 2010

God directs moving objects...

There are many reasons to sit on the sidelines of life.  Some people want their experience to be prefect.  They want their home to be perfect at Christmas, all nice and clean, perfectly decorated.  I'll take mine almost decorated and partially clean. If that happens I will be so happy, even without my perfectionistic tendencies. 

It is a known fact, however, that it won't get perfectly clean if someone doesn't clean it. And yes, I hire an awesome cleaning crew who does a top to bottom once a month but in between the floors get dirty, dishes have to be washed and laundry put away.  We can wish things were different, but that just doesn't work, take it from me.  

What I've learned is that God directs moving objects. You have to be doing something for him to direct you.  I love Isaiah 30:21, "Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, This is the way: walk in it."  When  you get to that place where you're just not sure of the next step, pray for guidance and take a step. Listen with your whole heart, soul and body for that gentle nudge from the Spirit. He won't let you go wrong.  

Recently, God nudged me about something I was writing or wanting to write and said, "Be still and know that I am God."  The word I was emphasized strongly. I thought it didn't fit with this moniker that I'd had for awhile saying God directs you when you are moving. That day, I learned stillness is moving.  It's moving closer to God.  That movement brings more clarity and focus that an entire month of going here and there and asking, is this it?  Is this it?  

I came upon some road construction today on a road I use a lot every day. As a matter of fact I went up and down it three times today. Each time, the trucks had moved to a different place. Just when you thought you knew where they'd be, the next time they'd moved. I figured it was just God keeping me on my toes, seeing if I were paying attention and not texting as I drive, like I had promised Oprah.  

I think you can see a beautiful possibility here, God is directing us to move. If we are all moving, things are getting accomplished. Road work is getting done. I'm getting my errands done.  Down the way someone may be going to visit a sick friend at the very moment a doctor is discovering a cure for her illness. I would be very concerned about this world if no one was moving or only a few were moving or everyone was waiting for someone else to move.

There is a song by Switchfoot that speaks to this. The lyrics say:

"Welcome to the planet, Welcome to existence, Everyone's here, Everyone's here, Everybody's watching you now, Everybody waits for you now, What happens next? What happens next?

"Welcome to the fallout, Welcome to resistance,The tension is here, The tension is here, Between who you are and who you could be, Between how it is and how it should be.

"I dare you to move, I dare you to move, I dare you to lift yourself up off the floor, I dare you to move, I dare you to move, Like today never happened, Today never happened before."

It's not about laying on the floor waiting for someone to discover you and help you up.  Sorry, I'd help you up if I knew you were down there, it's just sometimes hard to know that you're hurting that bad, especially when you're on the floor.  It's not about forcing God to tell you something. It's not about being perfect. It's about moving somewhere, doing something to make a difference. And as you move, it's about desiring to be directed, moving out cautiously and listening with your whole being.   If you find yourself stuck, it's about getting unstuck.  If you find yourself defeated, it's about finding something to be victorious about.  IF you find yourself overwhelmed, it's about finding someone else who is more overwhelmed than you and sitting beside them for awhile.

Take a step in a direction, any direction. I dare you. I dare you to move and then listen for that still, small voice of the Holy Spirit, the Refiner, refining your steps into boundless, limitless possibilities. And then, let me know how it went.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Living in Abundance: A Tale of Two Farmers

This is a tale of two farmers.

The first farmer didn’t have any money. He lived in a small wooden shack with dirt floors. The house was owned by his employer a rather wealthy farmer. Each day the farmer went out and worked hard for his employer, plowing fields, harvesting crops and taking care of livestock. This farmer was very poor.

The very poor farmer had six children. He rarely saw his children because he worked from sunup to sundown. When he came home at night, he wanted the children in bed so he did not have to hear them crying, complaining or whooping and hollering in play. The children all learned very quickly to stay out of their father’s way. If they did not, they might get the end of switch or worse, yet, they might witness their father giving their mother a similar treatment.

Every Friday, the very poor farmer would get $10 pay for his work and a little bit of whatever the wealthy farmer had left over. He would give whatever leftovers the farmer had given him to his wife to feed the family for the next week. His wife would then tell him what she needed from the grocery store in town to help round out the family meals for the week and a list of other needed items.

With the $10 in hand, the very poor farmer would begin his five-mile walk to town. This week, as he walked he repeated to himself what things he needed to purchase from the store. About a mile from home, though, other thoughts seemed to creep into his mind. “I toil all week long, why should I have to spend all the money I make on these things? I really deserve something more for working all week than bringing back this list of wants to my wife. Who does she think she is anyway, telling me what to do with my money?” By the final mile, the thoughts were overwhelming. “I could just buy myself one thing couldn’t I? I deserve that much don’t I?”

And so by the time he got to the tavern on the edge of town, his thoughts governed his actions. He turned, entered the door, sat down at the bar and gave the bartender a sad look as he set the usual in front of him. The very poor farmer slowly pulled the $10 bill from the pocket of his worn overalls, which were poorly patched and torn. He laid the money on the counter never to see it again.

And that day, for lack of a dream, a family began to die.

The second farmer also did not have any money. He lived in a small wooden house with dirt floors. The house was owned by his employer, a rather wealthy farmer.
Each day the farmer went out and worked hard for his employer, plowing fields, harvesting crops and taking care of livestock. This farmer was very rich.

The very rich farmer had two children. He rushed home each evening as soon as his work was done to be able to spend time talking and playing with his children. There were smiles between the very rich farmer and his wife and laughter throughout the house.

Every Friday, the very rich farmer would get $10 pay for his work and a little bit of whatever the wealthy farmer had left over. He would give whatever leftovers the farmer had given him to his wife to feed the family for the next week. His wife would then tell him what she needed from the grocery store in town to help round out the family meals for the week and a list of other needed items.

With the $10 in hand, the very rich farmer would ride his employer’s horse to town. This week, as he rode he repeated to himself the list of things he needed to purchase from the store. About a mile from home, though, other thoughts crept into his mind. “I toil all week long in the fields and taking care of the farmer’s livestock, but my wife works hard taking care of our children. I want to do more for them. I want to give them a farm that one day they can inherit.. I wonder how I could purchase a farm so that I could work for my family and myself rather than just for my employer?” By the final mile and the thoughts were overwhelming. “This is a dream I must share with my wife and children and together we will work hard to make it happen. We will own our own farm. We will build our own home. We will make this dream come true.”

And so, when the very rich farmer got to town, he went to the dry goods store and the grocery store and bought the items his family needed. He was very careful in his shopping to get quality items at the best price. He was very pleased at the end of his shopping to have half the money he started with left.

Excited, he galloped home where the very rich farmer was greeted at the door by his wife and children. After hugs, he told them all he had a very big surprise. The very rich farmer slowly pulled the $5 from the pocket of his worn overalls, which had been meticulously patched so that it would difficult to see where the tears had been. He laid the money on the kitchen table and declared to his family, “This is a down payment on our own farm.”

And that day, because of a dream, a family began to live.

This is a tale of two farmers. Both were my grandfathers. One died before I knew him. One lived to pass a dream on to my family, which is very much alive today. I thank God for the very rich farmer.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

What do you want?

It’s a valid question. One we should all contemplate. I have always answered that question with I want to know and feel the smile of God on my life. Sounds good, doesn’t it? Flows nicely off the lips. But what does that mean? What would that look like in my life?

To figure that out I thought of the times I knew for certain God smiled on my life. I figured it would have something to do with writing since that has been both my vocation and avocation for as long as I can remember. Remarkably, though, it is not directly related. The times I knew for certain God smiled on me were when people were helped even in just some small way.

The help didn’t have to be life-changing. For years I taught adult Sunday School. Many adult class members, fellow strugglers along life’s path, told me that the classes meant something to them, made an impact on their life in some way. One woman made a decision to go back to school and pursue a career directly because of the things she discovered in the class. Tears were shed as eyes were opened to truth. And God smiled.

Many times sitting in a meeting, I am prompted to give financially to a cause. Years ago it was $10 because that is all I had. I don’t really write many checks any more because I give to most of my causes through my account online. I love to type in the numbers because I know God rejoices when I do. It’s like he’s saying, “She gets it, she finally gets it! It’s about giving back what she's given. It’s about holding all things loosely.” And God smiled.

Last week I was privileged to meet an amazing young lady who has chosen to follow God in a ministry of prayer and intercession. At age 19, without the support of her parents, it is a scary journey. God told me to give her everything in my wallet. Usually that would be about 10 cents but because I had made several out of town trips, I had gotten cash several times. I have no idea how much was there. All I know is it was what God said to give so, it was enough. And God smiled.

In 2003, God started me on a journey towards having weight reduction surgery. It was a scary proposition, but one he confirmed to me over and over again. The main confirmation came during a church service where our pastor at the time spoke about how God can break the chains that bind us. It was a turning point service, an epiphany, really. I wept and told him I would do whatever he required of me and I did. And God smiled.

Scripture speaks to me over and over and over again. One that has been motivational for me is Isaiah 30:21. It basically says if you’re walking along you will hear a voice behind you saying no this is the way whenever you turn to the right or to the left. I discovered that verse reading through the Bible one year. Imagine how amazed I was to find out that as I shared it, others knew about it as well. To me it says it’s important to keep walking because it’s in taking the steps that God can direct me and let me know if I’m veering off the path. So, I decided the importance of embarking on a life of walking out in faith, not knowing for sure. And God smiled.

In the last few months I have been privilege to begin life coaching some amazing women. Amazing because they all have such awesome hunger for doing what God wants of their life. As I have questioned them, listened to them, cried with them, I have learned something valuable. We don’t have to do anything to receive God’s love. He already loves us just as we are. The video I posted below says it so much better than I. But it so true and that truth is permeating my hardened shell. As it does, it is contagious and spreads to those I'm talking with, sharing with, loving with. Lately, as I have sat with a woman, spent time with her helping her discover purpose, talked with her, heard her heart I could just see God sitting in his heavenly recliner, sipping a lemonade, watching the movie that is us playing out before him. You know what he did, right? And God smiled.

That’s what I want. I want more of that.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

There can be miracles

Is there some part of your life that seems like a disconnect? Are there things you know you need to do but just can't seem to get started doing? Are there people or relationships that aren't working? In short do you feel stuck? Do you feel like you need a miracle Let me tell you about what for me was a series of small miracles to help me get my life on the right track in several areas. Life coaching.

What is a life coach and why would I need one? Well, first of all let’s talk about what a life coach is not. A life coach is not your mommy or daddy or best friend forever. They are not a counselor, therapist or psychiatrist. They are not your thought police, your agenda-setter or your number-one rescuer. They will not solve all your problems, set all your goals or climb all your mountains. In short, they are not miracle workers.

A life coach is a mentor, an accountability partner, a questioner, one who challenges you to be better. A life coach is a friend who sees where you are, where you want to go and helps challenge you to set goals to get there. They see the big picture, as well as the small pieces of the puzzle that have been hiding from you in plain sight. They are another set of eyes and ears, another heart, to look at your journey with you. They are the person you can count on to ask the tough questions and wait for you to discover the answers.

Using a simple book Conversations on Purpose for Women, your life coach will listen to your answers to some interesting topics and questions. Believe me, it is in the questions and the conversations that change begins as your trained life coach gently nudges and challenges you to discover where you are stuck and how you can move forward.

Ever wonder why you might be so resistant to setting and keeping a budget, exercising, starting a college class, cleaning house or any one of a myriad of other well-meaning overall goals? Many times there is disconnect between what you have good intentions of doing and what your overall values are. For instance if you place more value on having time to play with your children, maybe the house won’t get cleaned. But if you really want both, then you have a disconnect. Sometimes, we need a life coach to help us define and take those fist steps.

Life coaching is about helping you find your reason for being and, then, working toward it with all diligence. It is about ordering your priorities and life goals to achieve what you can only now dream about. It’s about learning to dream. It’s about focusing on the positives in your life and taking full advantage of them so that the dreams can become a reality.

You might say, “That would be a miracle.” The truth is nothing happens if no one moves. Without action, no change is made. And waiting for someone or something to change only succeeds in nothing different happening. The other truth is miracles still happen today. We hear about them every day. Mostly they happen to those who are doing something. They happen to those who believe enough to dare to take the first step. For many that first step is placing themselves in partnership with a life coach And for them, that is where the miracle begins.

“There can be miracles when you believe. Though hope is frail, it’s hard to kill. Who knows what miracles you can achieve when you believe? Somehow you will. You will when you believe.” (When You Believe by Stephen Swartz from The Prince of Egypt sound track)

If you are interested in having a life coach or in becoming a life coach, feel free to email me for information,

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

What Melts Your Heart Like Water?

What melts your heart like water?

When I ran across this phrase in the Bible I was intrigued. It’s one of those passages I had read before but never really stopped to contemplate this phrase. Imagine my surprise when I realized this passage is really about keeping your agreements.

To examine the phrase I looked at other passages where someone’s heart melted, once again like water, a third time like wax.

A curious phrase to be sure. In Joshua, where I first ran across the phrase, the army of Israel was taking the Promised Land. They had won a victory. In the victory, though, God had warned them not to take any plunder from the enemy and to burn everything. All of Israel agreed to this.

One man, out of the multiple thousands, did not keep his agreement. He took some loot and buried it. No one knew but God and Achen.

The next battle was a dismal disappointment. For a nation riding high on victory, backed by the promise of God that they could not fail, sending 3,000 men (a small portion of their army) up against what their spies had said was an easy victory and coming back defeated was as if God slapped them in the face.

The response of the entire nation was one of total despair, discouragement and depression. “At this the hearts of the people melted and became like water” (Joshua 7:5, NIV). Joshua led by God confronts Achan who admits to his sin. Achan. His family, all his livestock and possessions are destroyed.

A terrible punishment for a little sin, you say? Greed, don’t we all have it? Should we all die for this breach? A couple things come to mind about that. We all will face consequences for our desires that do not include God. God makes it clear in this situation that Achan chose his path. He agreed with the rest of the people to what God directed and then he willfully chose to violate that agreement. The result of his disobedience was swift and sure. The result of ours sometimes lingers for a lifetime.

Ezekiel warns the people that because of their disobedience, God will turn his back on them. When that happens, “Every heart will melt and every hand go limp; every spirit will become faint and every knee become as weak as water” (Ezekiel 21:7).

David is afraid God has turned his back on him. He says, “I am poured out like water, and my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me.” (Psalm 22:14).

As the Psalm progresses, though, David remembers the ways God has worked in his life and how his strength comes from God. In verse 25, he declares that he will fulfill his vows. Not only as an agreement between him and God, but before the people as well.

What melted hearts like water and wax in these three instances? The knowledge that they had not kept their agreements with the God of the universe.

I have to admit, just thinking about the ways I have not kept my agreements with God, turns my heart to water. Vowing again to keep them is intimidating in itself. I am reminded, though, of the ways God has worked in my life. He has kept his promises to me. As a matter of fact, he sent his son to die a hideous death because he knew I, like Achan, could not keep my all of my promises to him.

Christ’s death on the cross, though, is not an excuse to ignore my agreements. It is even more of a reason to keep them.

The Apostle Paul explains it this way: “Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again” (2 Cor. 5:13-15, NIV).

He goes on to say that the way to keep your agreement with Christ is to unite with him. “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (2 Cor 5:17, NLT).

This would be a great place to end this article on the upbeat. But anyone who has been a Christian for awhile knows that following Christ is not a simple matter even though we are living a new life and have the Spirit of God within us. Paul goes on to tell us 2 Cor. 6 of all the things he has endured. You can see the list there in short he says he has endured troubles, hardships and calamities of every kind.

There will certainly be tests of your faith, tests of how well you are keeping your agreements with the Spirit of God Almighty who, by the way, knows if you are or not.

“Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?” (2 Cor. 13:5, NIV). And that, my friend, would melt my heart . . . like water.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Holy Moments

It was a holy moment. No one else would have seen it that way. Actually, no one else saw the moment at all. I was laying in bed in those first moments of lounging before getting up to face the day. Most nights I lay on one side or the other with my arm curled under my pillow supporting my head. It’s just the way I sleep. I like laying on my left side, for some reason, but the problem is an old rotator cuff shoulder injury makes that shoulder start hurting after laying on it awhile. Every night I seem to not remember that the next morning it’s going to hurt. So, in those first few minutes of waking, my shoulder hurts. I get up to use the facility and take two Tylenol. Then I lay back down, on my right side this time. I stretch out. The bed feels good beneath my feet. I curl my arm under my pillow just right savoring the smell of jasmine perfume that wafts from my nightstand. I love that smell. And when I turn on my right side the perfume bottle is close and a take a deep breath. Somehow it is the fragrance of the new me. And I am new.

My left arm runs down my side feeling the curves of my body. Instinctively, I ease my left elbow down on the mattress. This puts just enough stretch on my shoulder to make it feel better. In this position, my hand automatically rests on that area at the top of my pelvic bone and just under my rib cage. It’s my waist and this is the holy moment. Six years ago if I had attempted this position, I would have wound up like a beached whale. Although it is not a position of extremity in any sense of the word, it would have been for a woman who weighed well over 430 lbs. and couldn’t even remember ever knowing where her waist was.

I run my hand over my protruding pelvic bone and then over my rib cage. I run my hand back down and along my waist to the skin that lingers there at the front, my pennicula. Well, I can live with that. It’s a reminder of when I was so big it hurt to move. I run my hand down the top of my leg and feel my hip bone and then my thigh muscles.

This is indeed a holy moment. For God in His infinite mercy has allowed me to experience what it feels like to not be engulfed any longer in the addictive sin of overeating. He has allowed me through the miracle of modern-day surgery, to have my stomach resized much smaller and my intestines rerouted so that at least one-third of them are bypassed. This means several things. First, I can’t eat much at one time. The days of gorging at a meal until I could barely move are over. Even if I wanted to, and most days I do not want to, I cannot eat large amounts. I can eat about half what I used to eat. Even that concerns me as for several years after my surgery I could only eat about ¼ of what I used to eat.

I like the built-in control that having a smaller stomach brings to my life. I like saying, “No thank you. I’m full.” I like bringing home doggie bags. Strange what things you begin to savor after never having the control before. Of course, I could bring home the doggie bag, wait about an hour and eat the rest of it. That’s where the self-control or I should say the God controlling self comes in. I pray that God give me the truth of the situation and then I tell myself that I just ate and I am not really hungry. Most nights, it works. Amazingly, it works. And every time I realize, God cares more about this than I do. And this, too, is a holy moment.

Second, because of the bypass portion of the surgery, if I do overeat or eat something with high fat or carbohydrate composition, it will be bypassed and not absorbed by my system. Yes, friends that means it comes out the other end. After a few times of this happening, it is enough incentive to try to avoid that scenario. It is as if God Himself is reminding me again of my promise to make Him first instead of food. Ok, need I say it? This too is a holy moment.

Third, because I don’t absorb as much food, I also do not absorb as much vitamins and nutrients so I must take things like B12, calcium and multi-vitamins. It is a necessary thing for me, not an if-you-want-to thing. This too is a God-thing. If I want to be healthy, full of life and ready to do what God wants me to do, I need to do these small, seemingly insignificant things like take my vitamins. Now it is part of my daily ritual, morning and night to take my vitamins. The fact that God wants me to be healthy for His purposes makes this also a holy moment.

A fourth necessity is one I have to admit I’ve got away from but am back at and enjoying. It is exercise. I’ve never liked to exercise. That’s probably one reason I got in the shape I did, that and the wonderful cooks in my family. I found that water aerobics are my exercise of choice. As many mornings as possible I go to the local parks and recreation gym and either do water aerobics or walk for 30 minutes on their water track. I really enjoy the latter because I can do it at my own pace and on my own time. I can make my own rhythm. Also I make it a prayer and reflection time. It’s the time that the Lord and I have together. The sameness of the steps, the swing of my feet and arms and the presence of God all combine to make this once again, a holy moment.

One problem I have had since my surgery is a bladder issue. This nagging problem cropped up in earnest about a year after surgery, after I had lost about 200 lbs. I wondered if it could be the extra skin hanging over my waist line that was causing the problem. Doctors said no. About a year and a half ago, I went to my old OB/GYN. I told him my problems. He sent me to a urologist, who did tests and didn’t like what he saw. He sent me to a neurologist who did lots of other tests and came back with the very annoying diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. The MRI he took shows 25-30 spots on my brain called lesions.

Although the only symptom I have of MS right now is the bladder difficulty, the doctor explained that I need to go on a daily injection of one of the MS drugs. Because the injection is expensive and hasn't been shown to cure the type of MS I have, I decided to get a second opinion. At the Mid America Neuroscience Institute in Lenexa, KS, they told me they would follow me and have me go through basic tests every three months to see how I am doing. This will point out any problems or new areas of concern. If the MS returns or affects some other part of my body, I may need to go on the injections. For now, I'm just being monitored without putting some drug in my body that no one is sure what it accomplishes.

In the next few months I am also having both knees replaced. Hopefully this will increase my ability to walk and engage more fully in my exercise routine. Although it won't be a piece of cake, I am praying the results will mean stability in standing and walking eventually without pain. I know that my knees are worn out because of all the weight that they carried for years. Sin has consequences. Even though I'm in a better place physically, I'm dealing with many of the consequences of my years of disobedience in eating whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted and however much I wanted.

Obviously I have some lessons God would like for me to learn in all of this. Whatever, they are I will try to listen and get them the first time so that perhaps I won't have to go around the mountain a second, third, fourth, etc., time. My prayer is, by whatever means, in whatever process, God be praised.

So far the MS diagnosis and even the knee replacement surgery has forced me to get more particular about my routine. I make sure I take all my vitamins. I exercise at least three times a week, more if possible. I try to eat whole, healthy foods. I take time to pray, read my Bible, do my Bible study. I’ve cut things out of my life that eat up my time and are not things God has specifically told me to do. Now more than ever I realize the time, perhaps my functional time, is short. The talents and gifts God has given me in the area of writing have to come forth now. Whatever He wants me to say, whenever He talks to me, I will write it down. Just like this morning, even though I should be getting ready for church, God said, write it down and so I have. And this, too, is a holy moment.

©2010 by Teresa Parker

What part do you sing?

“People don’t want to tell you that,” my husband said to me following a conversation I’d had with a newcomer to our church.

“People like to talk about themselves,” I replied. “Problem is no one asks them questions and they don’t know what to say.”

I was either born to interview people or I’m just plain nosey. I haven’t decided which but many times when I do an interview with someone, they tell me things that they wouldn’t tell anyone else. It’s because I’m asking them to talk about themselves and people rarely get an audience to do that. I learned a long time ago, when I was publishing a Christian newspaper that I don’t tell everything in an article. Good News Journal had 100,000 circulation. Sometimes those I interviewed didn’t realize the wide readership. We distributed to many churches in Columbia, Jefferson City, Fulton, Boonville, Moberly, Fayette, Centralia, Mexico, even sometimes as far as Macon and Kirksville. We inserted in daily newspapers. If I put everything people told me in the articles I published, I would have been in deep trouble. I printed the things that were relevant to our readership, the good things.

I tried to follow Paul's advice. He tells us to think about the things that are “true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst, the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.” He says if we do that God “will work you into his most excellent harmonies.” (Phil 4:8-9, The Message).

I love that image of being worked into a harmony, almost like God has written a part just for me. I’m not that great a singer but I did sing in the choir, back when churches still had choirs. I think I sing somewhere between alto and tenor. Maybe I’m a second alto but those parts are hard to hear and stay on pitch while everyone else is singing other parts. It was only when the choir director stopped everything and worked directly with the two or three second altos that I could hear the part and then sing it and blend with the other parts.

My point is sometimes we have to sing out about who we are and allow our lives to harmonize with those around us. Sometimes we have to share who we are in an authentic way and trust others to only publish the best and not the worst. A word of caution when sharing your stuff, though, make sure you get a chance to read and censor before it is published. Rarely, though, did I have people change the stories I wrote. I wrote what I heard them say, the meaning behind the words. It might not have always been word for word but it was heart for heart. When I wrote down the actual words they said, that’s when they wanted changes in the story. Kind of like when someone repeats something you said out of context. It can have an entirely different meaning. The truth is not only the words we say but the feeling behind the words. A good writer will capture those as well. It might be by adding information about what the person does for a living, what type of home they live in, the ages of their children, even their pets. All that gives information to who that person is rather than just what words have come out of their mouths.

If someone were to write a story about your life, what would it say? What are the things that make you, you? How are you living your story today? What adjustments might you make to make your story more “true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious?” How does your story harmonize with those around you?

What do you sing in your life story? I’d love to know and contrary to what my sweet husband says I know you want to tell me and those around you. So live your story with energy and life so that the world around you will know, you are alive. You matter. You care. You love. You make the song better. You make harmony.

“Write the vision. Make it plain so that those who read it, may run with it.”

©2010 Teresa Parker

Monday, June 28, 2010

Laying in on the line

The ambulance driver hit the switch as lights and siren cut through the hot August night. Tattooed and pierced 13-year old girls in shorts shorter than their baby’s diapers stepped back to let the vehicle through. Two older men with white hair leaned on their canes seemingly mesmerized by the red and white swirling lights atop the ambulance. Several men dressed in work boots, jeans and paint-splattered tshirts stood nearby, burly arms folded across their chest, scowls on their faces.

With the exception of the girls and their babies, the work boots and the older men, the crowd gathered near the sidewalk on my front lawn contained mainly boys, around age 10 or younger dressed in huge white t-shirts and baggy jeans. Some of their tennis shoes cost more than a week’s wages of the guys’ dressed in work boots.

One boy stood out immediately. He wore a dirty,green t-shirt. It was ripped down the front across a school name. His cut off jean shorts were frayed and worn. His feet were dusty. The night was warm but and he wore no shoes. His dark brown, almost black hair, was curly, not kinky like most of the other boys; his skin a warm shade of milk chocolate with a touch of vanilla added. He was the kind of kid a mother could love but I could tell his mother didn't. Big, blue eyes locked with mine for a second before he turned away. Yet he did not leave, not then or when the ambulance pulled away from the curb.

“You kids remember this night,” the police sergeant said looking at each face in the crowd as if memorizing it. “This is the night the Cut Throats claimed your neighborhood. He pointed to the red graffiti painted on a nearby power box.

“They think they have the power now. I don’t have to tell you what this means. All of you are in danger. All of you. It doesn’t matter who you know or what side you think you’re on. Leo thought he was safe. He was a Cut Throat. Even had the red tag on his arm. But it didn’t work. Why? Because this way of life never works.”

No one spoke. Everyone stared at a spot on the ground between their feet. “What can we do, Sarg?” Work Boot asked.

“Keep your eyes open. Report any unusual activity. Know where your kids are. Keep them inside. Send them to Grandma’s farm. It’s going to be a rough month until school starts, I’m afraid.”

I saw the curly haired boy slip to the back of the crowd. I figured he was going to leave before he heard what he needed to. Maybe he didn’t have a home or mom or dad who watched out for him. Maybe most of these kids out here didn’t have a mom, at least one who was home and not on Crack or working Main Street and 6th.

“Look, Guys, take it from a mom, OK?" I said my voice shaking just a little. "You know something, you tell the cops. They are your friends.” Every eye under 13 was looking at that space between their feet again. “I know a bunch of you are into things. Some of you are even wearing colors tonight. What are you thinking? You want to be the next one shot? You care whether you live or die? All of you, all of you have that I don’t care attitude.”

Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a bit of green moving away from the crowd. “Except you,” I said pointing to the curly haired boy. “Don’t get mixed up in this.”

The work boots shook their heads. The old men tottered off to their homes. The little momma’s shifted screaming babies to their other hips and sashayed through the night. The 10-year olds, put on their ear phones, held their britches on with one hand and dance moved down the road, hitting each other on the shoulder, high-fiving as they parted to their separate spaces. The green shirt had disappeared and took the curly hair with him.

The sergeant looked at me, cocked his finger like a gun and pointed it my direction. “You just killed the green shirt. You can't just point someone out in a crowd like that. You don't know enough to get involved. You may have thought you were helping but you didn't help that boy. I just hope the next call isn't about him. Stay out of this. That's an order, Ma'am,” he said as he tipped his police cap. Then shaking his balding head, he plodded slowly, heavily towards his patrol car. I watched him pull out and until I saw the tail lights turn at the corner. He was gone.

Quiet had descended on the neighborhood like a blanket. Even porch lights had been turned off, doors locked and bolted. This happened on my front walk. I didn't care what the sargeant said. I was involved. I could sit back and be scared. Oh, I'd lock my doors. I would be safe. But there was no turning back now.

Leo was just a boy, not a gang member, just a boy riding his skateboard down the sidewalk. Sure he was wearing a red arm band but that was just to, hopefully, protect him, not make him a target.

What happened? What went wrong? I can’t do anything. But I can't not do anything. As Gram would have said, "It's time to fish or cut bait." Guess I'm going fishing.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Becoming a character

"As I worked on my novel, my character did what he wanted and ruined my story," says Donald Miller in A Million Miles In A Thousand Years. He goes on to draw parallels between himself as the writer and God as the Writer. With God as the Writer, each of us as a character has a story to live out. Problem is we fight against the story that the Writer wants to tell through us.

"Why didn't I trust God?" Miller says. "I believed He was the Writer who was not me and he could write a better story than I could, but I did not trust him."

I so relate to what Miller is saying, both as a writer and as a person in this great story called life. It is no secret to most anyone who knows me that I would like to write a book, but not just any book, a novel-length fiction story that has something meaningful to say that will change someone, if even in some small way, for the better.

I say I don't have an idea for a story, but the truth is I have lots of ideas. I just don't know if they are earth-shatteringly great ideas. When I think of a story, I start adding characters. Then they do very ordinary things and the story sort of never goes anywhere. The story is not intriguing because the character wants to stay in her comfort zone. She never wants to parachute out of the airplane or run a marathon or bunji jump off the cliff because it might hurt and she might... die.

Trouble is, if the character never parachutes, runs or jumps, or does the thing that scares her, she never will learn if she can survive, overcome, grow. Stories about people who sit in front of the television set, mow the lawn and do the laundry are not interesting. They are safe. They are static. They are boring.

Boring books I know a lot about. I don't just read books, I devour them. But there are only a few books I can tell you the story line of. Surprisingly some of the ones I remember most are true stories about ordinary people who found themselves in the middle of extraordinary events because they trusted the Writer and obeyed his direction.

One of my favorite books is the Heavenly Man, a story about Brother Yun, a dedicated Chinese house church leader who was persecuted for his faith. His courage and faith are extreme. And yet he was just an ordinary man living life in the village where he was placed by the Writer. He didn't run to a more comfortable place or hide his faith. He stood boldly in the face of what looked like certain death. He willingly stayed in the story and allowed the Writer to tell the story through him. He has led many to Christ and his story has inspired thousands maybe millions more.

Remember the movie about the mother and wife who is a CIA agent but no one in her family knows? Interesting stuff because every wife and mother can identify with wanting to do more, be more than just an ordinary person muddling through life. We want to know that what we are doing matters.

We don't have to work as a government agent or live a persecuted life in China to make a difference. But we do have to listen to the Writer and agree to go a little bit out of our comfort zone. It might be as simple as going to a different grocery store that the Writer is wanting to write into our script. When we agree with the Writer, we may find someone in need at that store or an old friend with whom we need to reconnect. If we say no to the Writer and make a conscious decision to stay in our old routines, probably nothing bad will happen. Probably nothing will happen at all.

That's why I've decided I will write something each week. Not a best seller, maybe not even a fictional story, but something.

This is my inciting incident. I'm announcing to anyone who cares to muddle through and read this in its entirety that I will write something at least each week and I'll post it here.

In processing through why I am not writing anything much, my daughter helped me see that it's because I don't have an audience. So perhaps you are my audience of one. But if you are, you are an audience. Perhaps these posts will become more meaningful as we go along but at least for now, I am determined to post. I am determined to become a character in my life story. I am determined to do more than wait for something to happen. I will begin. I will start today. I am a writer. I will write.