Monday, May 27, 2013

The Back Story: It Involves an Oatmeal Box

Can we return to last week's blog?  Ha! You have no choice, I'm really not taking a vote.  Trick question.

What does last week's thought have in common with an oatmeal box?  Another trick question!

However, it was an oatmeal box that actually started the process of tying the knot between the closure of good-byes, the angst of my tomorrows, and truth.  I thought I'd just share the story (I apologize to those who've heard me tell it).

In the midst of my packing, I grabbed the familiar basket of train tracks and Thomas the Train engines off the shelf.  That basket has been the favorite of many a grand-child and neighbor boy.  One grand-son in particular.  It has been the one thing of all the things we do together that has occupied hours of our time.  We have built hundreds of tracks, run through more batteries than imaginable, and created multiple memories that put a smile on this Nana's face.  One Christmas all I asked for was more train track, so we could really send Thomas around the world of our little apartment.  No track was complete without...THE OATMEAL BOX.  Oatmeal boxes make terrific tunnels, and this particular box lived in the train basket during its off-work hours................for years.

As I was saying, I was packing, and knew it was stupid to pack the oatmeal box.  We needed the room.  So, off to the trash I went, hugging the oatmeal box.  The trash can was maybe 30 steps away.  However, between the bedroom and the kitchen, I lost it.  Major meltdown.  I hugged the oatmeal box and wept (vulnerable moment here, laugh if you want - I did.....later; I even kissed the thing).  I threw it away.  Cried some more.  Went to my favorite chair, where I meet with the Lord every morning, decided to journal, and went back to the trash and took the oatmeal box out.  I took a picture of it.  Then I went to throw it away again.....................................and, took it out of the trash another time (it became an object lesson for a devotional thought I was giving to the leadership students).

My journal entry started like this:  Today, I hugged an empty oatmeal box and cried...  You don't need the rest of what I wrote.  At this moment, I think I was as crazy as you are thinking I was.  However, that oatmeal box was symbolic.  Symbolic of the good-byes to come, the fast pace at which life has passed, and the tomorrows that will fly by, as well, before I know it.  As I processed on paper, I realized I didn't want to hold on to the past, or the little boy whose hands held and played with that oatmeal box.  Nor did I want to worry today about his, or my, tomorrows.  I wanted to celebrate the now-minutes for all they were worth.

I was also reminded of something else.  It's a pattern I see all through Scripture.  David did it.  Paul did it. The elders in churches did it.  Jesus did it.  It's OK to grieve.  Stuffing emotions only traps us. As I tell students, emotions are not good or bad - they are what they are.  God made us emotional beings.  They are teachers, indicators.  They tell us what is going on inside the heart.  They help us fully embrace today.  Grief in its own way is a celebration of the now-minute.  The oatmeal box represented that now minute.  I cried, not over the box, but the memories of the good-times-past, and even the humongous-trials-weathered that it represented, as well.  In all this, one passage of Scripture kept haunting my mind.  I remembered Paul leaving the elders on the shores at Ephesus before he boarded the boat that would take him away forever.  I looked it up later, and while it's just words, it was a reminder to me, of the way God intends for us to fully live in today's celebration of now (I'll pick up after Paul's words of good-bye):

And they began to weep aloud and embraced Paul, and repeatedly kissed him, grieving...and they accompanied him to the ship (Acts 20:37-38).

You can't hug and kiss a memory, but you sure can an oatmeal box!  I just want to add, it's the healthiest way of dealing with grief - fully embrace and live (momentarily) in the emotion.  Then you send it sailing, and turn the world upside down!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Good-byes, Good Memories & Good Lessons

I hold in my heart more memories than I can count…ten years worth.  In five days, I will symbolically (with attendance at a graduation) close a chapter on a season of life, and turn the page to open a new one.  The first page of the new chapter is blank…and looking ahead all the pages are.  They are yet to be written.  My options include a wondering of what they might read, and that would result in no small amount of fear, or to feel cornered by the uncertainty, and experience frustration and anxiety. 
Looking ahead is certainly not helpful.

At the moment, I choose to look back.  This isn’t particularly helpful either, nor do I feel the Lord would want me to wallow in exploration of the already written pages for very long.  Yet, I do think in order to fully “set my hand to the plow,” there needs to be a measure of reflection, for closure sake.  Good-byes are always hard.  I prefer to avoid them like a plague.  I’d like to just dissolve into oblivion and never say another one. My life has been filled with too many, and at the same time, I know it is part of life, and there are more to come.  So, I take a minute to look back and celebrate the past with a few smiles and multiple tears.

I ended up at Arizona Christian University (then Southwestern College) as an act of competition.  Bay and I had come over to speak in chapel.  At the time, we were spending some part-time months on a sister campus, staying in a 30’ fifth wheel trailer.  Over lunch, President Garrison taunted us with an offer, “Move your trailer over here, spend time with some of our students, and we’ll throw in free lunch.”  He may have been joking, but we took him seriously, and showed up on the campus doorstep not long after.  How that transitioned to my volunteer position (eventually followed up by a ¾ time offer) as Dean of Women, an on-campus apartment, and interaction with thousands of students over the years, only God knows. 

As I literally turn the pages in my journals over the past years, I am taking away great big gifts (no wonder our truck and trailer will be packed so full…oh, wait, these aren’t the things that take up room!).  First is the gift of growth.  I have been educated (and I don’t just mean the completion of a master’s degree), become more dependent on the Lord, sought his wisdom and found his answers, discovered the joy in living in my strengths and spiritual gifts, and been stretched beyond my imagination. I am changed!

I am taking away the gift of story: the stories of hundreds of students I have been privileged to sit across from over the years.  Every story has a face; every face has a name; every name has a niche in my heart.  That means there are a lot of “niches” that will be empty.  Sigh.  But as Pooh reminded Christopher Robin, I am choosing to put the memories in the place of the presence of the faces (you will stay there forever!).  Those memories will become treasures of gold.  How rich the contents of my heart!

I am taking away the gift of friendship (that of students, yes, but more, that of my co-workers).  I am leaving the best team God ever put together on the planet.  I have been privileged to do life with these people.  Together we have shared the best and worst of ourselves, dared to be vulnerable, and found trustworthiness in the midst of our mess.  It’s been easy to do, because we share a common goal: to love students to the best of our ability.  These people have challenged me, inspired me, and loved me.  Words fail.  I live more authentically because of them.

So, why did I take all this space writing about good-byes and good gifts?  You may be asking what the point of all this is?  I mean, duh, who doesn't know that good-byes are difficult?!  Here is what I'd want to have us all take away (especially me, at the moment):

Live fully in today.  Celebrate the little now-minutes of life.  Tomorrow is tomorrow, waiting to unfold like a flower blooming.  The past is filled with gifts, which are cherished and kept dear inside.  Be thankful for each memory; those are the glimpses of the tools God has used to make us into who we are. We can't worry about tomorrow, nor wallow in yesterday. Today is it!  God is using right now, to write the first page in the next chapter of this novel called LiFe. Let's make it a good read!

Today is the day the Lord created; celebrate and be glad in it! Psalm 118:24

Don't be anxious about tomorrow; for tomorrow will worry for itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own. Matthew 6:34

Therefore, be careful how you live out your life, not as unwise men, but as wise, and make the most of your days... Eph. 4:15-16a.

PS...and I think I need to share the back story to this blog next week. :D

Monday, May 13, 2013

Anonymity in My Pajamas

After I answered the blog question last week, I soaked a bit in Romans 9:17 and spent some time just re-committing my sense of God’s calling back to his care.  My words on paper, at the time, were sincere.  However, not even 24 hours passed, before I realized that my words weren’t really matching my actions...or attitude.  OUCH!  I’m thankful the Lord shows me, the reality of my unconscious insincerity, but it really isn’t pleasant, and re-affirms that I still have a long way to grow...

As I prepare to leave my current position at Arizona Christian University in a couple weeks, I heard my mouth saying these words (actually, I watched my hand write them, so I can quote exactly), “Lord, you are leading into another new chapter of life.  The pages are blank, but at the end of this chapter, I pray I have been faithful to allow you to send me, wherever you want me to go, whenever you want, to whoever you choose.  Beautify my feet with the gospel message...the living words of Jesus.”
The very next day, my honey called a map-meeting.  Usually, he calls calendar-meetings.  This was, actually, a map-and-calendar-meeting.  I tend to not like these meetings.  While I like to know details, I don’t want to be the one planning the details.  I just want to be handed the itinerary, and go.  However, these meetings are important as we determine the course of upcoming ministry.  We began to look at the fall (as in the season).  Keep in mind, I’m still trying to get to the end of spring; and, I’m tired.  All I want to do is sit on my back porch and hide behind a good novel.  As an introvert, I’m just about done with people, and need to simply make it to the end, so I can renew.  I wasn’t ready to talk about being on the road, living out of a suitcase, being introduced to new friends, and speaking to who-knows-how-many.  As Bay showed me the calendar, the plan, and the mapped out roads from Colorado to the East Coast, where we’d catch a flight to Kenya, and back again, I cannot truly say I wanted beautiful feet.  Something in me started rising up against “wherever,” “whoever,” and “whenever.”  Whatever!  My will decided, in that moment, that I preferred anonymity.  I wanted to share the message; I just wanted to do it in my jammies and from the comfort of my living room (isn't there a ministry like this somewhere?).  Total unreasonableness was worming its way into my attitude from my deceitful heart.  Like I said, “OUCH!”

Conviction took me back to Romans 9:17 again.  I’ll repeat it, not for you, but for me:  For this purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth. Conviction is just what I needed to lead me back to reality, which in turn, allowed reasonableness to meet with my mind (and change my attitude).  I know God doesn’t want me to be a lazy-girl-follower.  He needs me out of my comfortableness in order to demonstrate his power.  He needs me to pack up my suitcases and move those beautiful feet in order to take his name out of my living room (& I think he's given me permission to get a pedicure first).  It may be a new chapter, and a new journey, but whatever he asks, and wherever he sends, the truth remains, he will go, too!  He always has! 
So, I am revising my prayer, anew:

Lord, where you say go, I will go...  When you say follow, I will be close behind.  There may be times I will hide behind your royal robe, but I’ll be there (I will, because it’s about your will, not mine)...even if it’s in my PJ’s!

Monday, May 6, 2013

The Social Media Question...and a Personal Call

Recently, after a debate on the  pro's and con's of social media, I was asked why I decided to write a blog.  Good question.  With all the research that I’ve seen lately on the effects of social media, maybe it’s time to seriously consider the answer to that one.  It’s true, isn’t it, that frequently visiting  Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram, and the large number of creative blog sites on the Internet, often leaves us in a state of discontent?  Seriously!  I tend to visit these sites when I have down time, when life is on hold, when nothing of interest is happening...  Most of us do, of course.  However, it only takes one cute craft, or home d├ęcor, or new recipe, or intriguing status, or perfect picture of somebody on their amazing trip to Rome, or upbeat blog to leave me in a state of envy, or worse, momentarily dissatisfied with my life.  Face it, in a world where performance and perfection are heralded as king and queen, social outlets give us all an opportunity to create a persona that is air-brushed and unreal.  In turn, relationships become masked, and I easily hide behind a newly created identity.  The issues of life deepen when I compare myself to someone else’s presentation of their world.  Comparison is always the chief thief of joy.  So, at the end of the day, I not only still fall short of performance and perfection, I’m in despair.  (Keep in mind, this is not all the time...but it does happen.)

So, I’ve asked myself the question, “Just why am I doing this...REALLY?”  Possible answers that came to me are:
  • I want a small voice in a big world.
  • I’m desirous of significance, a pat on the back, a “like,” or an affirmative comment (OK...let's call it what it is...pride).
  • I feel compelled to share what I’m learning about life, and hope that others relate, and a message of hope is created. I want a purpose beyond myself.
  • My passion is Jesus & re-presenting His truth.
  • It’s a way to organize my jumbled thoughts in a journaling journey.
At one time or another, all of these are true.  At times, it is just what it is...a way to stay connected, to share my journey, and at the same time to have a purpose that’s beyond me by having a Jesus-voice.  Years ago, when I started a weekly devotional thought (back when I first came to ACU there was no such thing as a “blog” and I taped these thoughts on the doors of the girls in the residence hall), my hope was to have a vehicle for messages from Jesus, a truth on which to reflect...a spiritual kick-start for the week.  My life isn’t perfect – I have a whole lot to learn, even still – I just wanted those who read (past and present tense) to know they don’t have to be perfect either...we’re just on a messy journey together toward completion, and sharing our stories is a way to encourage each other to lean harder into the one who will accomplish that in us.

When we were leaving Kenya (wow, that was a long time ago, now), God illuminated a verse for me with blinking lights and issued me a personal calling.  This verse is found in Romans 9:17 (an odd verse, because it was referring to the not-so-spiritual Pharaoh of Egypt):  For this purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.  Indeed, nail scarred hands once “raised me up” and turned me, the mess, into a vessel of honor, in order to be a demonstration of his power perfected in weakness, a mouth piece proclaiming his name...
That’s my hopeful answer to the blog question (or social media in general).  I want to simply be about my calling, using whatever medium is available.  While I will fight the same temptations that come with this territory, my desire is to simply follow where led, prayerfully examining my life, reviewing the lessons God is teaching me, and sharing when appropriate...
...BUT, never compromising the call.