Sunday, March 30, 2014

Stop Talking & Listen!

I’d already written last week’s blog, already had processed and determined to de-clutter my mouth with a little spring cleaning, when I sat down in my favorite chair, Bible in my lap, journal open.  I was ready to hear from the Lord.  Well, in all honesty, I was ready to move on and be introduced to a new topic.  The topic I’d just unpacked had left a little sore spot in my heart.  Yes, my pride was bruised a bit.  However, it seemed the Lord wasn’t quite finished with me yet, and determined not to beat around the bush in taking the matter a step further. 

As, I turned to the first few verses of Matthew 17, I was immediately caught up in the scene, and imagining the scenario:  a handful of disciples, Jesus, Moses & Elijah.  The story we commonly call The Transfiguration.  It’s an important story as we journey through Lent toward the cross and the resurrection.  By now, the disciples know Jesus is certainly the Messiah – his miracles attested to that fact, and Peter’s declaration had not been denied.  It was undeniable that Jesus was preparing them for his imminent death.  He’d been talking about it, but the men just couldn’t quite wrap their minds around it.  Then Jesus takes them to a mountain, where his whole being transformed in front of them, and he fully engaged in a conversation with Moses and Elijah. 

In my mind, I’m thinking, what an honor to be present for such an occasion!  Yet one more affirmation of WHO Jesus really was.  I’m thinking to myself, yes, honored, but more, humbled…and speechless!  I’m thinking that at that moment, I’d have been OK with an awkward silence (maybe for the first time in my life).  I’m thinking it would have been difficult to stand in the presence of such greatness!  I’m seeing myself on my face in the dirt.

BUT NOT PETER!  For some reason, Peter filled the moment with his classic impulsivity.  I’m sure it was well-meaning, “Let’s build three churches right here: The Church of Moses, The Church of Elijah, The Church of Jesus, Messiah!”  Now, I’m wondering, would that have been me?  What would I have done…………really?  My typical pattern is to let nervousness speak up.  Like Peter, when I allow my un-comfortableness room to talk, it pretty much doesn’t make sense either.  I ramble, too.  I could have easily said something equally as clumsy.  Even in the midst of greatness, I would have probably not had the sense to be silent.  That was a sad indictment. Sad, but true.

As I read on, I found myself laughing, because where could Peter go next?  With that suggestion, he’d put himself out on a limb… Ah, but from heaven, God-the-Father saved the day, and rescued Peter (in other words, the Heavenly Father interrupted him before he could hang himself on said limb)!   “Yes, this is my Son; I love Him greatly!  I am well pleased with Him.  Stop talking (implied), and listen to Him!”  (Internally, I think God-the-Father is chuckling as He says this.  After all, He created those of us like Peter, so we don't surprise Him...)

The question (and multiple suggestions) has bounced around since that moment, “Why The Transfiguration?”   Was this for Jesus sake?  Did Moses and Elijah come to encourage him as he marched solemnly toward Calvary?  Did they come to bring words of love, affirmation, and assurance from heaven?  Was it for the disciples?  Was it meant to be a mile marker of hope to be remembered during the upcoming events of the Easter season?  My answer is to shrug my shoulders. 

I do think this:  In the big picture amidst everything else, what should be remembered are the Father’s words.  There are, simply, times to stop talking, in order to listen to the voice of the One Who Matters.  He is deserving of our ear…and our focused silence.  Even in my so-called quiet times, I am busy talking, building churches (metaphorically), or trying to put words in God's mouth for Him.  Oh, may I learn to stop talking so that I can just hear Him!  He is the Father's beloved son, well-pleasing, why would I want to hear my voice instead of His?

Monday, March 24, 2014

Just Noise, or the Need of the Moment?

Lenten Lessons.

#1.  I simply just talk too much.  No, I'm not extroverted, but when I'm around people, I seem to need to filll the empty spaces with noise.  I'm not comfortable with awkward silences.  However, as I've been reflecting back over my days (and in connection with Scriptures, which are combined with my quiet times), this truth has become more uncomfortable than those gaps, where there is a lack of conversation...  Then this verse showed up:

Let no unwholesome (rotten) word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification (the act of building up, assisting in the advancement of the divine life) according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace (that which results in joy, peace, and liberty) to those who hear.
Ephesians 4:29

The need of the moment.  That phrase was italicized in my NASV Bible.  It simply took my breath away for a moment, and I think my heart stopped beating.  How many times do I not notice the need of the moment, because I'm talking?  Or, how many times am I in such a hurry that I am totally, ignorantly, unaware of the need of the momentProbably 99% of the time.  I’ll generously give myself an entire percent of credit.  I doubt I’ve earned that. 

In order to identify the need of the moment, I have to slow down.  I need to develop some other skills, too.  Here’s the list I’ve created:
I need to stop talking... I need to learn to listen.  I better stop worrying about me, and the awkwardness.  I need to quit thinking about what’s on my to-do list.  I better quit focusing on my own issues; and begin to be others-oriented.  In order to listen, I have to hear, read between the lines, ask questions, and not worry so much about what I am going to say next.  That’s probably my biggest barrier in listening.  Because I see myself as a poor communicator, I am continually phrasing my next comment.  I get in such a hurry to tell my story, that I’m not paying attention to their story. 

I’ve decided that listening is a gift of grace in itself.  Maybe I don’t have anything clever or wise with which to respond, but I have a good gift to offer: a listening ear.  Sometimes encouragement simply comes in the form of really engaging with someone: leaning forward, developing eye contact, and being fully present in the few moments I have with them.  Sometimes, the greatest gift I can offer is that when my friends walk away, they believe they have been heard.  Heard and believed.  This is crucial…I know from experience.  We all want to be heard.  We all want to be known.  We all want to be believed

So, I want to ask more questions than attempt to provide pat answers (which are probably just cliché anyway), or fill empty spaces with a clutter of words.  I want to develop good listening habits.  I don’t want to put a time constraint on my conversations, as I’m able (obviously, sometimes appointments create that for me).  This is a gift I can always afford: the gift of grace, for the need of the moment!

So, a challenge for me is to talk less, ask good questions, listen more.  Just as I'm working on reducing the clutter of my home, it's time to spring clean my mouth!  

Monday, March 17, 2014

I've Discovered I Am Divergent...

Each night, now, for the last week and a half, I've been practicing the prayer of examen.  It's been an eye opener for me in many ways regarding what's going on inside my heart.  Definitely, it's doing what it's intended, and reminding me of just how lost I'd be without Jesus.  As a result, gratitude swells even greater as I make my way toward celebration of the crucifixion and resurrection of my Savior.  Over the next remaining days and weeks, I'll share some of the insights the Lord has shown me.  However, before I can invite you to join me on this Lenten Journey, I must share a little background.

I have taken to walking through each aspect of my day, almost as if I'm walking down a timeline of events.  Then, almost without thinking, I grab a hold of one particular situation, and that becomes my focal point. One night, as I was starting this process, the events of the day began whipping by a bit too fast.  Out of the blue, I said to myself (in my head so I wouldn't wake up my already sleeping husband), "Whoa! Slow this train down!"  That's when it dawned on me that each event was like a specific car of a train passing by, and every now and then, I'd grab hold of a certain car and jump on for the ride.  In fact, I'm a bit like a hobo carrying my kerchief knapsack on the end, and once on, I settle down, open up the knapsack, and take out my possessions, making myself at home for the time being.

I've decided some train cars are better left un-boarded.  Some are truly toxic, poisonous to my  mind, and therefore, my soul.  These cars are filled with lies that cause me to wallow in self-pity, or suspicion.  Some make me critical - of myself, of others.  Some feed negativity, worry, doubt.  These cars are more frequented than any other.  One night, while I was particularly in a wallowing funk (you know the place: the one that leads to discouragement, shame, despair…), I heard the still, small voice of the Lord say, "Get off!  This is not a place for you to be tonight.  You have the power to choose a better place to spend your time in a more productive place…"  So, while this is revealing about me, that I tend to always go to those kinds of places, there are other things more worthy of evaluation.  Other train cars that are more productive to my soul and my character than the places I tend to mentally frequent.  I must stay off the cars that carry the hazardous waste…

I have to laugh.  Those of you who have read Veronica Roth's, Divergent series, will get this.  This, once Abnegation gal, has, for the time being, become Dauntless…  Just saying that makes me feel more empowered.  Nope…I still won't get a tattoo...

Monday, March 10, 2014

Tradition! There's Something I Like About Old Ways...

After throwing weekly followers-of-this-blog off this last week with a mid-week post, I sit to write this morning's regular blog.  So, if you were one that didn't catch the out-of-the-regular-routine introduction to my explanation of my additional Lenten practice, you might want to go back a blog and catch yourself up.  If not, here's a summary:  In lieu of Lent, I decided to give up giving up.  In a sense it was a joke to begin with, but after further reflection, and a confirmation from the Lord (via another blog I follow), I took the idea more seriously.  Instead of giving up, I added something intentional each evening.  I added an old, liturgical practice: the prayer of examen.  I've followed that practice regularly each evening as I go to sleep.  Here's a link for a brief explanation:

Last night, following a post on FB, a dear friend asked a relevant question.  It's good to think these things through, and I hopped on that mental train for the rest of the evening.  That question became my focal point for my prayer last night.  Here's the question:  Maybe you can help me understand the concept of Lent....If I were to give something up or take something on for a season because it draws me closer to God...wouldn't I want to do that for more than a "season"?

Great question!  Of course, the answer is a resounding "yes."  If I were to give something up, or add something (as I have), I should want to do that for more than a season, especially if it were a practice that drew me closer to the Lord!  After the reflection, I have an answer that suits me, personally.  

First of all, I am not giving up my evangelical leanings and becoming Catholic.  :D  I'm not a proponent of following any liturgy, just for the sake of following liturgy.  I grew up Episcopalian and one of the hindrances (for me) was that the liturgy became so rote, I didn't pay attention to what was being taught. Spirituality got lost in the practices….  This side of the church, I recognize there was some beauty in the prayers we prayed out of the Common Book of Prayer (in fact, sometimes those pre-written, rote prayers, give words to my heart that I can't come up with on my own!).  This side, I see some depth to the liturgy itself.  This side, I appreciate the respect and reverence given to the Lord inside the church.  

However, I like some aspects of tradition.  I like the tradition of seasons that become heart-preparation for a bigger event.  Of course, Christmas should be celebrated all year, and shouldn't just be seasonal.  Yet, I love celebrating Advent!  I love taking the time prior to Christmas day to reflect on Scriptures around the birth of Jesus, looking more in-depth into the "fulness of time" that led to the arrival of one of the greatest gifts we've ever been given.  When I celebrate Advent for the forty days prior to Christmas, I am so overwhelmed by the birth, that Christmas day can't get here fast enough.  Truly it is a heart preparation that makes my celebration that much fuller!  My experience has been that a tunneled focus during Advent, keeps the distractions of the season at bay, and allows me to not get so caught up in the worldliness of shopping and preparations.  When Christmas day arrives, not only is the celebration fuller, it is richer in meaning…

So, this year, I decided to go back to a celebration of Lent.  Though for the life of me, I couldn't think what I would "give up."  That is, until I left my cell phone at home, and spent the time "examining" the practice of giving up.  Then it clicked…Lent is supposed to be a mirror.  We give up, to see more clearly, the lusts of our flesh, the lusts of our eyes, and the pride in our life (1 John 2:16,  The purpose of Lent, as the purpose of Advent, is to prepare our hearts for Easter. The purpose of Lent is to look inward, to remember "Oh what a wretched man/woman I am!  Who will set me free from the body of this death?  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 7:24-25a)!"  As we examine our hearts, remembering the WHY-I-NEEDED-A-SAVIOR (which sometimes shows up more clearly when we "fast" from something), then Easter is more meaningful, more rich, and the celebration that much more joy-full!  The "Hallelujah-He-Is-RISEN-INDEED" is that much greater!  Lent isn't so much about the giving up, or the self-denial, as it is the examination of our hearts.

Yes, this whole concept should be done regularly.  Yes, I should make this practice of examen a regular nightly practice (and probably will), HOWEVER, there's just something about going back to the old traditions, and remembering the purpose behind them.  It's like coming back to the heart of true worship.  For me, the season becomes that much more special, that much more purposeful, and less distracted by commercialism.  I am falling head-first into tradition, and really liking it!  Especially when the outcome is that much more rewarding…

Thursday, March 6, 2014

I Gave Up My Cell Phone for Lent (and it lasted one day)…sort of!

Yesterday I forgot my cell phone.  For a whole 13 hours, I was not a slave to phone calls, text messages, email notifications, social media, games, or downloaded books.  Nothing was calling my name, or demanding my attention.  Consequently, I was fully present in each and every moment.  True confession: it was quite liberating.  I missed nothing but the ability to tell time (and that was easily fixable).

It was the perfect day to be without a cell phone.  It was the first day of Lent, otherwise known as Ash Wednesday.  When I was a kid, we always began the day by going to Lenten services at church.  We were always challenged toward celebrating the season with self-denial, whose purpose it was to examine those things that reigned over our heart more than the Lord.  As we became more aware of our heart-issues, we would be in a better state of celebration when we celebrated the Resurrection of Jesus, and the price he paid for our sinfulness.  Ash Wednesday was the start of forty days without candy (seriously, what else could an eight year old give up, especially back then?), and it was the day I went to school with a cross on my forehead sketched by my Episcopalian priest through the medium of, obviously, ashes (duh!).  The odd thing is that nobody thought that was odd.  The kids in my class were like (imagine a shrug of the shoulders), "Oh…it must be Lent again."  Nobody mocked.  No one called in the ACLU, or a Religious Rights Activist, because we were infringing on their freedom to be of another faith.  Imagine that!  It was just…accepted….

So, I used being without my cell phone yesterday, as a test.  Maybe I'd give up social media for the next forty days?  Maybe I'd give up chocolate….again?  Maybe I'd give up coffee (that was a short-lived thought)?  Oh, yes, and there were those little Lenten boxes, where we gave up some of our allowance to take back to church.  Maybe I could give some of my….oh, yes, I don't get an allowance anymore.  Being without my cell phone was a reminder to reflect on the very thing I would deny myself of and, thereby, examine my heart.  The plan backfired.  I rather liked it.  The end result of the day without my cell phone was that I missed nothing I couldn't rectify in approximately five minutes at the end of the day, when I returned home.  It seemed social media didn't miss me either.

As I lay awake thinking through the Lenten giving-up-concept, it dawned on me that maybe it wasn't so much about giving up, as it was simply the whole purpose of examination.  So, I fell asleep determining that instead of making this a season of self-denial, I would propagate a period of time devoted to proactively positioning myself for promoting the long lost spiritual prayer (wow, that's a lot of "p" words) of "examen."  Re-read that, and don't get lost in the woods of the "p" words.  Basically, I'm convicted of being proactive about engaging in the prayer of "examen."  What might that be?  Historically (thank you, St. Ignatius), the prayer of examen is a time of reflection at the end of the day, whereby we look back with gratitude on the day, filter through the events (including the emotions, the responses to the events, and our behaviors), pray through at least one event & its outcomes, then fall asleep looking forward to and surrendering our tomorrow to the Lord.  It's a simple process, but one in which we are able to take an honest look at our spiritual responses of the day and make a critical (in a positive way) study of them.  It's nothing more than an "examination of me."  However, it adds an important element of gratitude.

So, I'm giving up giving up for Lent.  I'm giving up self-denial.  Instead, I'm adding something.  I'm adding a new spiritual exercise.  An exercise that is foreign to me.  I'm offering the Lord, at the end of every day over the next forty days, my own attempt at personal introspection of each day, with gratitude, and a look forward to tomorrow.

Wow!  Maybe I should leave my cell phone home more often…

Monday, March 3, 2014

Lessons from Cuba 3

For me, the most difficult part about writing is the first sentence, even the entire introduction.  I've wrestled for days with a way to say what I hope to say without coming across judgmental.  That's certainly not my intention.  So, I'll jump in with both feet, and hope this ends better than I'm starting.

We were blessed with seven laptops, multiple cell phones, and several digital cameras, which we were able to take into Cuba with us.  These things are hard to get in-country, and when you can find them, the cost makes them prohibitive.  At the same time, each of these items were donated to FOCUS because they were "outdated," "old," functioning "slowly," or in need of some repair.  In other words, they were discards, not quite good enough anymore.  Our nephew, Paul, went along with us.  Paul knows the ins and outs of computers as if he'd been born experimenting with one in the womb.  I'll brag on him a second - he is amazing!  Paul worked magic on those computers.  He cleaned off the hard drives. He vaccinated away speed-sucking viruses.  He added new software - all in Spanish; and, on every computer, he purchased and provided a high-end Bible program, knowing it was our desire to bless a Cuban pastor.  These were still old, outdated, discards, but Paul redeemed the value of them in a BIG WAY!

I just wish you could have been a bug on the wall as we handed these gifts to the pastors and their wives.  Our dear friend, and contact in Cuba, had prayed long and hard as to who these blessings should go to before we arrived.  One by one, he would call the pastors into a side room during one of the conferences, and allow us to gift the computers, the phones, and the cameras.  The word that comes to mind is heartwarming, but the word doesn't do those scenes justice.  These men would break and cry as they would hug their "new" computer to the chests.  Their wives would also silently weep, and one squealed, "Oh! A digital camera! I have prayed for years for a digital camera!"  One pastor could hardly get out his words, "Thank you! This will change my ministry!" By the end of the week, we still had one computer left to give.  Following a full day of speaking in conferences, a full night of evangelism, then praying over a woman with stomach cancer, and a child who had fallen recently and was left with a traumatic brain injury, we all loaded up in the van, and headed to the local bus station.  There standing on the corner was a pastor from Havana.  This young pastor had traveled 14 hours by bus just to receive his computer.  We explained that God had blessed us and we wanted to bless him.  I looked at the computer he was getting.  It was the oldest of the computers, which means it was the slowest of all the computers.  Here in the US, no one uses Windows 95 anymore.  Here, it wouldn't sell for any amount of money, probably ending up in the trash behind some Goodwill store.  Fourteen hours he had come by bus to receive this computer, and he stood there and wept.  He tried to thank us.  I found myself embarrassed and humbled.  We had done so little…but not in his eyes.  That piece of junk meant the world to him!  After taking his gift, he once more embarked on a 14-hour return trip.

Nothing is wasted in Cuba.  Everything is refurbished, remade, recreated, and the resourcefulness of the people is inspiring.  In the center square of downtown Cuba is a one-room business that is filled with old sewing machines.  In that space, women re-create old clothes into new clothes, and sell them.  Cars that shouldn't still be on the streets, still run, probably with engines held together by rubber bands.  Resourceful.  Good stewards.  Making the most of everything they have.  Not embarrassed by old, worn out, discarded.  When life is hard, and "stuff" is expensive, resourcefulness is necessary.  I look at what we've had over the years, and given away, sold, or tossed simply because we were upgrading.  I'm not advocating poverty.  I'm not trying to send anyone, especially myself, on a guilt trip for having new, or nice things.  I left Cuba simply thinking I want to think twice before I replace. I want to learn to be a better steward of "stuff."  I want to honor the Lord with my resourcefulness and creativity when it comes to old, or worn…  I fear that deep inside me is this rich-woman-mentality in a middle class life.  The two don't fit, can't mix.  So, I want to take away and learn a lesson from my Cuban brothers and sisters on how-to make the most of all I'm blessed to have…but most of all, how to appreciate and be thankful for EVERYTHING!

…I have a stewardship entrusted to me (1 Cor. 9:17, the Apostle Paul).

…in everything give thanks (1 Thess 5:17).