Glory and Small Graces

*In the last few days, there has been an increasingly volatile debate over a “spiritual blogger’s” theological accountability—specifically their accountability to a larger “theological tradition.” Well-known voices in this arena are angry, believing that this article demeans their contributions to the blogosphere and to their messages, largely ignored by mainstream denominations. I can understand both sides of the debate. On one hand, women have been largely dismissed as leaders within church culture—particularly when it involves teaching men. As much as I bristle at times over my local church’s stance on women and leadership, I understand it. Paul is very clear in his writings, but I also note that Paul is quick to praise women who work with him in a variety of capacities—all for the glory of the gospel. As to accountability—I trust that readers of female spiritual bloggers making a dent in the Christian culture are examining the blogs as to biblical correctness—using the discernment the Holy Spirit gives to all believers. As for me, I believe in the inerrancy of scripture. I believe the Bible—Old and New Testaments—tell one predominant story—the story of Christ. From Genesis to Revelation, God’s plan for redemption is unveiled. When I read the Bible in that way, I understand that God is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent—as the creator of everything and the one who holds everything together, He is perfectly able to keep His Word in tact. If you’d like to read the Christianity Today article, here is the link: http://www.christianitytoday.com/women/2017/april/whos-in-charge-of-christian-blogosphere.html

 

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This view is a few blocks from my house. I loved the clouds and the view of the mountains in the distance. God’s glory and majesty reflected in nature.

The Weightiness of Glory and Discipleship

Sometimes I make things far too complicated. Just ask my husband, or my kids, or my former teaching colleagues. If I can make extra work for myself, I do it. Why? I blame my wiring—you know—my DNA coding. Something in me strives to do more and be more and make more…perfectionism, thy name is Cindy.

Take the word, “glory,” for example. I was doing fine with it—singing it in hymns, reading it without pausing in the Psalms, overlooking it entirely in the New Testament since it’s always linked with “the glory of God” or “the glory of Christ.” I read it as one word: “thegloryofGod” or “thegloryofChrist.” I didn’t ask myself what the word meant. Obviously God wanted it there or so many different authors wouldn’t have used it. Time for some research–and yes, I’m a research junkie!

The Greek, dóxa, as referenced in my Greek Word Study Dictionary of the New Testament (Zodhiates) occupies 3 1/2 pages of connotative and denotative meanings. The following definition seems to fit best with the text I’m studying:

“Glory, therefore, is the true apprehension of God or things. The glory of God must mean His unchanging essence. Giving glory to God is ascribing to Him His full recognition. The true glory of man, on the other hand, is the ideal condition in which God created man. This condition was lost in the fall and is recovered through Christ and exists as a real fact in the divine mind. The believer waits for this complete restoration. The glory of God is what he is essentially; the glory of created things including man is what they are meant by God to be, though not yet perfectly attained.”

The text I’ve been looking at is 2 Corinthians 3, particularly verse 18.

“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” (2 Corinthians 3:18, ESV)           

It’s not a complicated verse IF you read the entire chapter. Paul uses the word, “glory,” 13 times (ESV) in that one chapter, contrasting the glory of God Moses saw through a veil, (Ex. 34:34) with the glory of Christ we behold with “unveiled faces.” The Law kept God behind a veil until the time when the Abrahamic covenant would be fulfilled through Christ. The veil separating the Holy of Holies—where God met with the high priests—was torn upon Christ’s completed crucifixion. Believers have no need for a veil or a high priest because Christ himself is our perfect high priest. (See Hebrews 5 & 7)

Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 13:12, that for now “…we see in a mirror dimly, but then fact to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” I go to the NASB translation for another “view” on this verse—one more closely aligned with the original Greek: “But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” There is the word “unveiled” again. But, even though we are “unveiled” (not constrained by the Mosaic covenant), we still behold “as in a mirror”—only a reflection of Christ’s glory—not a face-to-face beholding. So we aren’t there yet. Someday, we will see perfectly—we will see Christ’s glory perfectly.

I think—remember now: this is “small kitchen theology”—I think the verb “beholding” is key. The verb tense is interesting. The Greek is katoptrizō—a present tense verb that denotes reflecting as in a mirror. We are always beholding as in a mirror the glory of Christ as revealed in the gospel. Those who only follow the Old Testament law, still live behind the veil. The full glory of Christ is hidden to them because of their disbelief in the Messiah. Those of us who believe and stake our lives on Christ as Savior, continually behold a reflection of His glory through the gospel. And we are being constantly transformed by the Holy Spirit, “…from one degree of holiness to another.” We are being transformed – metamorphoō—into the image of Christ by way of the Holy Spirit.

That’s it then. I think it is, anyway. I’m not sure, so check it out for yourselves and read commentaries on it. I’m sure I’ve over-simplified it—but that’s me. I want to understand, so I keep chewing on it until it starts to make sense to me.

So—what is my take away? In order to reflect Christ’s glory to the world, I have to allow the Holy Spirit to shape this fragile jar of clay into a vessel that is useful to God. And that means that I have to let go of my contrived human purposes and empty myself of self-determination in order to be God-determined.

We are made for his glory—created to glorify Him. When we feel resentful or uncomfortable with this concept, it’s because we don’t truly know how glorious God is. We have a tendency to make Him small, shaping Him into a being that makes sense to us via our own reasoning. We make ourselves smarter than Him. We make Him an impotent God rather than an omnipotent God.

The psalmist—David in this case—reminds us to “Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness.” (Psalm 29:2, ESV)

Reducing God to a manageable, culturally palatable god is blasphemous. And reducing His Word to a culturally-centered book of myths and stories is also blasphemous. I’m being hard here, but if we don’t “ascribe” to God the glory He requires of us as His creation, we pervert our purpose for living.

In my last blog, I spoke of discipleship and becoming a mature disciple of Christ. The only way to become that disciple is to be fully reliant on the Word of God. To know the very Words of God—not some haphazard collection of writings that span centuries—but the inspired Word, inerrant and holy. Peter doesn’t mince words:

“For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitness of his majesty…And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 16-21, ESV, emphasis mine)

These words come from the fisherman Jesus called early in his ministry. A man full of passion for the Lord, but who retreated in fear for his own life when Jesus was arrested and crucified. A man who then saw the risen Lord and received forgiveness for his frailty. A man who was himself crucified (though upside down because he considered himself unworthy to be crucified in the same manner as his Lord) for preaching and teaching the gospel of Christ. In fact all of the disciples were martyred except John, who was imprisoned on the small island of Patmos for life.

They walked with Christ and died for him. They didn’t kill for him. They didn’t persecute others for him. They loved for him and died for him, as did Paul.

What Does This Metamorphosis  Entail? 

When I read the scriptures—both Old and New Testaments—I recognize their weightiness—their glory. And if I want to be a mature disciple, I must learn from them. And I must empty myself of myself. That’s hard. How do I wrestle with the concept that my purpose on earth is not to achieve my particular goals and dreams–my purpose is to glorify God and honor Him.

Often times our goals coincide with our giftedness, but sometimes they clash and must be put away.

Even when I was a child, I wanted to be a writer. I think most obsessive readers do! I used to make up stories and draw pictures, even into high school. In college, I left that so-called fluffy, unrealistic dream behind and pursued first nursing (scared of organic chemistry so switched majors), then music education (recognized my serious lack of talent and left after two semesters), and then elementary education. Second grade to be precise. Unfortunately, marriage and divorce postponed that goal. I eventually wound up back where I started–sort of–with books. Literature and education–secondary style. That’s what I did finally. I taught high school English for 21 years, and during that time I wrote and wrote. Short stories. Eighty plus pages of novels that went nowhere. Children’s stories for my grandkids that were just so-so. None of them were very good. I had to put that dream aside because I’m just not a good fiction writer. Reality stinks.

My other dream was to teach college literature–not college writing–but poetry and literature. My master’s is in education though. You can’t even teach community college English without a master’s in English or preferably, a PhD. I’m too old to pursue this now, and honestly, that dream has vanished. Poof.

My goals and dreams are muddy now, for a variety of reasons. I’m less sure what I should do with the last 20 years of my life, if God gives me that much time. I am sure that I’m supposed to keep plugging away at life, honoring Him in whatever small ways I can. Like Peter says in 1 Peter 4:10-11:

“As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies–in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.”

Now I’m going to glorify God by making the bed, doing some laundry, and studying His Word. A good steward of God’s varied grace.

 

 

 

 

unblocked for His glory

IMG_4174I was listening to a podcast the other day (many of my friends know this addiction I have…) called “The Calling” featuring Rebekah Lyons this week. Stop—download this podcast from iTunes like—now. It’s put out by Christianity Today and hosted by Richard Clark. I only found it about a month ago, and I’ve pretty much devoured all of its archived episodes. Love it. And now love Rebekah Lyons.

First, I have a confession to make: I have a tendency to discount all these 30-early 40-something female Christian writers as too young to have anything to tell me about life. I’m 59. And I’ve lived a very broken and yet redeemed life, which makes me skeptical about learning anything from a youngster that God has not already taught me. Talking about vanity! Oy!

Yet, I’ve read or skimmed Shauna Niequist, Jen Hatmaker, Sarah Bessey, Rachel Held-Evans, and have just started reading Ann Voskamp. Sometimes I disagree with their theology, but I love the way they write and speak to a younger generation of women. *One caveat: I trust totally in the inerrancy of scripture, so as soon as any writer—male or female–starts to interpret scripture in light of cultural differences, I scurry away. Once we start debating the truth of God’s Word, then we move into muddy waters that make everything about God questionable—including the divinity of Christ. That said, I find some of these women’s works lovely, but few of them are relatable only because my kids are adults and I’m a grandmother and I’ve experienced a great deal of life—most of it encased in suffering. However, I’m enjoying Ann Voskamp’s writing because of the sheer beauty of her writing, and because of the suffering she has experienced through which she teaches.

“I just know that—old scars can break open like fresh wounds and your unspoken broken can start to rip you wide open and maybe the essence of all the questions is: how in the holy name of God do you live with your one broken heart?” (Ann Voskamp from The Broken Way: A Daring Path Into the Abundant Life)

Ah, the old ripping open scars experience. I’m pretty sure I’m covered in scars from head to toe. I think Christ recognizes me because of my scars. My scars cry out to Him and He responds by reminding me that my scars—just like His–are signs of redemption.

Back to Rebekah Lyons. I loved her discussion on this podcast and immediately checked out one of her books from the library to peruse. She is young, but has experienced grief and fear and anxiety and inadequacy. And she is honest about it in a raw and sincere way. She has a son with Down Syndrome—made just as God intended him to be, but that extra chromosome brings with it particular challenges. She also suffered from panic attacks. And she’s been fearful about relocating. I know all of these challenges—to a certain extent. But one thing she said—I immediately had to run to my yellow legal pad where I jot down things I hear that I believe are profound and God inspired—that one thing she said that seared my heart a bit and pulled me back to a truth I try to ignore—that one thing that put me back to writing again was simple: “Public affection will never heal private rejection.”

Isn’t that so true? So on target and exact? Here I sit—a 59-year-old grandmother of three—reeling with memories –memories that have been keeping me from writing. Memories of criticism and neglect and discouragement revealed in private that keep me from using my very small and insignificant gift in order to glorify and reveal my Lord.

Words break me easily—too easily. I need to toughen up and be determined. I need to remember that I’m writing to glorify God—He is my audience and He’s always an encouraging one. But that’s not true, is it? Anyone that writes wants to be read. It’s communication—unless it’s a private journal—those stay filed away “to be destroyed before I die!”

Everyday I get confronted by my unwillingness to write. There’s a huge wall in my brain keeping me from imaginative and creative thought. Instead I study, study, study—to show myself approved. If I know more of God’s Word, then I will have something to say. But instead I’m stymied.

Here’s a truth: we have a tendency to remember the hard words more than the encouraging ones. That one negative statement can haunt us for a long time. However, some folks are strong and courageous. They push through the criticism and improve. They grow and show fortitude. Me? I curl up in a ball like a roly-poly and make excuses for my creative stagnation.

Then Jesus speaks to me through His Word. He is the Word, after all—the Word made flesh who—as Eugene Peterson says in The Message translation—“…became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” His Word uncurls me and stretches me out again. He reminds me that, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:30) He says that he is gentle and lowly in heart, and in him I will find rest for my soul. I can trust Jesus. He knows how I feel. He knew rejection.

So I’m taking little baby steps with His help. I’m letting little things creep in to remind me of why I love to write. John Piper—a favorite teacher of mine—reminds me of the importance of staying in the Word—in Jesus. “I need to stay in the Word everyday, so that the Holy Spirit has something to set on fire when He touches it!” Right now, the Holy Spirit is teaching me about God’s glory and what it means to be a disciple of Christ.

Two verses that have “set me on fire”:

2 Corinthians 3:18: “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” Because I believe in Christ, the veil blocking me from seeing the glory of God has been removed. I see Him for who He is, and the Spirit is the one allowing me to understand that glory. To recognize it. But more than that—the Spirit is transforming me bit by bit—making me more like Jesus. Shaping me. And ultimately that shaping is for God’s glory. It’s very circular. I have pages and pages of writings on how God shapes me for His glory. That’s for another time. I’m still learning.

Luke 6:40: “A disciple is not above [her] teacher, but everyone when [she] is fully trained will be like her teacher.” Jesus is teaching both the crowd that is following Him, and the Twelve. And us. If we follow after Christ, we are disciples. Jesus is training us through His Word so that we can be like Him. To be a disciple, I need to be in the Word daily. I need to swallow it and digest it and let it sustain me like it did Jesus in the wilderness.

So there it is: Cindy unblocked. Not letting the private rejection keep me from doing something I love. There is a reason why I call my blog, “Small Kitchen Theology”; it’s because I’m small and ordinary (and have a small kitchen), but I am a disciple of Christ in training.

Coming soon: Discipleship training: Dependency, Dedication, and Discernment.

May everything I write always be to the glory of the Father.

Grace and peace,

Amen

The Divine Silence: Persevere

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Lake City, CO. A journey with the hubster and daudre, Katie Jean.

“To everything…(turn, turn, turn)…there is a season…(turn, turn, turn)…and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” Thank you King Solomon via Pete Seeger via The Byrds.

Every culture develops certain idiosyncratic “diddies” that meander their way into conversation like “being self-aware” or “being fully present.” Let’s “dialogue.” I want to just “sit in this” for awhile. In an effort to be “transparent…” One diddy that continues to be part of our metaphorical vocabulary is “season.” Christian metaphorical folks often use the term in relation to what “season” God has placed us in. For example…

A typical conversation:

Person 1: “I can’t figure it out. I keep praying and there’s no answer. Why isn’t God moving in my life right now? I feel dead inside.”

Person 2: “Looks like God is keeping you in a season of quietness. It’s just a bump in your journey. A small chapter in your life book.” (Ok, so I threw in the journey and life book metaphors).

I can appreciate a good metaphor. Really, I can. I taught poetry for 20 years—I totally dig a great, winding metaphor (or conceit, as my literary friends would call it). Metaphors take our concrete reality and move it towards an abstraction—and strangely, the abstraction is more relatable.

Welcome to the “seasonal” metaphor

According to this metaphor, I’m in my autumnal years. It’s harvest time for those of us “Baby Boomers” still left on the planet. Yes, I came in at the tail end of that classification, but those of us in our late 50’s still belong to the Baby Boomer club. I should be “harvesting” and “reaping” right now. All my accumulated life experience should lead to wisdom and maturity. I’m not sure it has, and I’m not sure God thinks I’m “harvest ready” yet, either.

Thus my tussle with my Creator, the Elohim, the “I AM”, YHWH, the name of whom I’m not worthy to say aloud, yet He invites me to call Him Abba, Father. I tussle in fear and awe of who He is. Maybe He invites the “tussle.”

In January, a friend shared her New Year’s resolution: to develop her prayer life. I felt a giant Holy Spirit prod—the prods are usually a bit more gentle—to pursue prayer. I wrote about it back in May and suggested I might want to write Prayer: Part Two; so this is it.

After journeying through this prayer adventure since January, it’s time to look at what God is teaching me. Or not teaching me. In fact, what am I learning through these months of God’s silence? I’m learning to tussle—to wrestle with God’s Word, the essence of Him. As Christy Nockels sings, God is inviting me into the glorious…

But it doesn’t feel like it; it feels like I’m disappearing and becoming invisible.

In May I wrote: Prayer is more complex than all my whining. It isn’t a “fix,” but nor is it empty and fruitless. It is an essential component—even “THE” central component for a Christian. But be forewarned! Diligent—and sometimes urgent—prayer requires concentrated time and effort, and will reveal your true self while also revealing a fearsome glimpse of the God who created all.

I smile at that a bit. I  had no idea how much my “true self” would emerge. None. I couldn’t see what was coming. But God did. He had to. He allows “crucible time.” Frankly, I’m still tired of character shaping moments. I want out of the crucible, but it’s not up to me. So in June, I was plunged into the crucible again. No—it wasn’t life threatening, but it was life altering.

The life-altering experience began innocently enough. Like millions of people, I have a ornery back that refuses to be tamed. I had a cervical disc fusion three years ago and had to give up teaching for awhile. (It’s actually become permanent since then.) Then in June my hubster and I decided to go ahead with a laminectomy to help my disintegrating lumbar. He’d had a reverse shoulder replacement in February, and now it was my turn to get better and get the pesky discs off of my sciatic nerve. I’d gone through a series of steroid shots in my bum area and a few MRI’s and X-rays, but my sciatic pain just kept going and going. So, a laminectomy. And then an infection. And then six days in the hospital with IV antibiotics. And then re-opening the incision and cleaning it out. And then a PICC line (central line to heart) and five weeks of antibiotics at home. And then, just when I thought it was over, a gallbladder flare, which led to gallbladder surgery. The night before the surgery, I broke down and bawled like a hungry calf who’d lost it’s mother—or a sheep that felt abandoned by her shepherd. My sweet nurse just held me and let me cry.

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My PICC line. I called him, Peter.

Finally, Labor Day. No more antibiotics. No more PICC line. Life could resume as before, but disc fusion in my lumbar still looms; I refuse to think about it. I just want to get strong and postpone the surgery as long as possible. The pain is a constant friend that I try not to acknowledge—until it knocks me around a bit.

During the Summer from Hell, I didn’t have enough strength to tussle with God. I was knocked flat, isolated and weak. God was teaching me through a study of Jeremiah. I was overwhelmed by God’s Word. Enveloped by it. My prayers continued. My prayer wall in tact. But then another metaphor took hold.

The crucible experience might be over, but still I remained in a valley.

“God gives us a vision, and then He takes us down to the valley to batter us into the shape of that vision.” Oswald Chambers

I have no idea what God’s vision for me is now. I’m broken and spilled out. I talk to myself a lot. I’m a teacher without a classroom. Lord, why do you place such hunger in my soul and then deny me a place and purpose? Why?

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I wish my “valley” looked like this one between Lake City and Creede.

I continue to dwell in the valley. Praying. Studying His Word. Waiting to “hear” from Him. Yes, I’ve been faithful to Him. And still silence reverberates. Is it unconfessed sin? I don’t think so; I have to believe and trust that He is true to His Word: He washes me as white as snow. He throws my sin as far away as the east is from the west.

Because of this valley, I haven’t written. I haven’t had anything to say. My creativity dried up. Was God present during this time? Certainly. His Word says He is. Was I praying and listening to scripture speak Truth into my life? Absolutely. Did I experience God in a mighty way? Not in a mighty way, but in a quiet, loving way. He brought friends around me. Friends I didn’t know I had. Friends that were a blessing. So God moved through His people.

Yet, I remain in a valley.

“The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

Lamentations 3:22-24

One of my favorite books about prayer is *Pete Greig’s, God on Mute. He writes deeply and personally about God’s silence during his wife’s struggle with a brain tumor. Despite the constant prayers of God’s people surrounding her and Greig during this time, there was no healing. Despite an operation, Greig’s wife still suffers with epilepsy, an after-effect of the tumor. Despite God’s silence, Pete and Samie (his wife) persevere carrying with them truth and insight only the Holy Spirit can provide.

Working with God during this valley time has been a battle of perseverance vs. despair. Somedays I waver between both. My poor hubster watches and has no idea how to help. But he stands with me and prays for me.

The truth is I don’t know what to do with myself. My identity was so tied to teaching that now I feel lost. I’m a mother whose children are adults and live far away. I’m a Nana to two precious grandchildren, and one on the way, but I’m too far away to be a constant in their lives. I’m a wife to my hubster who loves my cooking and appreciates what I do around the house.

I have no more students. I’m invisible.

Most days I’m alone. I begin the day with Bible study and prayer. Then lunch. Then I take my pup for a walk (trying to get strong enough to have the fusion surgery in my lower back). I read a little. Work on some crafty stuff. Then fix dinner and spend the evening with Steve.

Yes, I try to schedule lunch dates with friends, and I get out and enjoy the beauty that is NOCO. On weekends (now that I’m 6 weeks out of the infection/surgery mess), the hubster and I take our Jeep out on mini-adventures in the mountains.

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A mini-adventure in our Jeep. On Fall River Road near Estes Park.

It should be peaceful, yet I’m in turmoil. Why? I think it’s because I’m at “harvest time” and I haven’t grown a crop in two years. I’m not rooted, and God is silent and unmoving.

In God on Mute, Greig explores the way God answers and doesn’t answer prayers. There’s nothing formulaic about it. This guy is direct and never boxes God into a particular formula. He is in awe of our Father. He respects and fears our Abba and creator. He looks at God’s Word without bias and brings a fresh pair of spiritual eyes to the complexity—and simplicity—of prayer. I brought my 50 years of walking with Christ into this book and I found nothing that bothered me—no Holy Spirit warning flags that I’ve had when reading many contemporary “Christian” writers. I’m a cynic about popular writers and test them constantly, looking for scriptural mishandling. I’m good with Pete Greig. I find him compelling and honest. Since I’m “tussling” with God right now, I had another look at this book. One reason for unanswered prayer connected to me right away.

Greig writes,: “Is there an opportunity here for going deeper in my relationship with God?”(pp.142-144). Greig directs me to 2 Corinthians 12:7-10. There Paul is tussling with God, too. He has a “thorn in the flesh” and he isn’t too happy about it. Completely understand this. I have a chronic disease—a form of arthritis similar to rheumatoid, but not nearly as debilitating. Yet it is affecting every part of my body and pain is my friend. I have a dear family member who is battling ovarian cancer. Her “thorn” is intense and scary. I believe most of us have something going on that we wish would disappear so we could have a better quality of life. Yet our thorn stays.

And God says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” It sounds like God is telling Paul to persevere. The thorn ain’t going away, so just trust me. I’m enough. Whew. That is hard to do. Persevere.

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Need I comment?

Since I’m a “word nerd,” I looked up the use of “perseverance” in the New Testament (by way of my huge, handy-dandy NASB Exhaustive Concordance and a magnifying glass courtesy of Amazon). Thirty -two times. It’s used 32 times in the New Testament (in the King James translation). It’s used 25 times in the NASB translation (the most literal translation of the Bible). The Greek word is “hypomonë.” A synonym for hypomonë is “proskartérësis.” Both carry similar connotative meanings: “to endure; to continue in something; to remain under, to continue steadfastly; to tarry somewhere.”

What strikes me here is that the word implies a “continuance.” Perseverance is active. My take-away point? Persevere. Tarry in the valley. Continue in My Word, Cindy Lou. Continue praying and seeking me.

My current life verses speak to my need to persevere:

  1. “A disciple is not above her teacher, but everyone when she is fully trained will be like her teacher.” Luke 6:40 (I changed the pronouns to make it more personal.) The “teacher” Luke is referring to is my Rabbi and Messiah, Jesus. Did Jesus ever experience God’s silence? I think He may have experienced a Divine Silence in the Garden of Gethsemane. We only know what the Gospels have provided for us, but we know that Jesus pleaded with His Father to “take this cup from me,” but ultimately He “drank from that cup” and died for us during Passover—the ultimate and final sacrificial Lamb. Conclusion: If Jesus experienced Divine Silence, then why shouldn’t I experience, too? Why should I be spared this tiny, tiny, infinitesimal cup that belongs to me—this wee cup of God’s silence?  If I want to be like my Rabbi Jesus, then  I must go through the training. I don’t want to fail in this task, so I persevere.
  2. My next verse comes from Jeremiah 15:16.  Here’s some context from 2 Kings 22: Judah had many evil kings who allowed idolatry to creep into the Temple. One such king, Manasseh, was particularly evil (historical tradition has him ordering the prophet Isaiah murdered by being sawn in half) and during his horrific reign, he may have had the “Book of Law” (Deuteronomy) hidden or discarded. However, during the reign of good king Josiah, the Book of Law was rediscovered and the covenant with God renewed. Jeremiah prophesied during Josiah’s reign, and this verse in chapter 15 clung to my heart and mind. Your words were found and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O Lord, God of hosts!” I love this metaphor of eating God’s holy Word. I want to do that—to eat God’s Word, to digest it, and have it nourish me. I crave that nourishment.

So here I am. Not where I thought I’d be after resolutely committing myself to prayer this year. I don’t know exactly what I expected? A major epiphany? An aura of spirituality that people would take note of and then invite me to teach? A great calling? A recognition that I was somehow not…ordinary?

How completely self-centered. What a sham! And a shame!

Father, forgive me for my selfish desires. Forgive me for not recognizing that Your Word is enough. You are enough. Help me to walk forward and to continue forward into the ordinary…and into the glorious.

Persevere, dear brothers and sisters. Persevere.

*God on Mute, by Pete Greig was published in 2007. Greig is the founder of the 24-7 prayer movement. He leads the Emmaus Rd. church in Guildford, England. Read more about him and the 24-7 prayer movement here: https://www.24-7prayer.com/team/14/greig/

Here is my inspiration for this blog: Christy Nockels performing, “Into the Glorious.”

Into the Glorious

The Age of Replacements: An Undiscovered Manuscript by Edith Wharton

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How I sometimes see myself. The one in the back is seriously school “marmish.”

I have an uneasy soul. It doesn’t rest well, but instead rises and falls on the whims of my emotions. Silly soul.

I’m far too contemplative—but not in a good way. This week I started “contemplating” whether or not I actually please God? What do I do that pleases him now that my life is so much smaller? Am I less relevant?

I say my life is smaller because I sort of lost my identity. It happens to all of us in some way—particularly in late middle age. Wait a minute, I’m not sure 58 is “middle-age” at all. If it is, I’ll live to 116. Let’s see…if the average lifespan of an adult woman in relatively good health is 79.26 (I looked it up), then I’ve finished with 73% of my life. So middle age doesn’t work any more. Maybe three-quarter age? Or end age? Oy to the vey! Scary. Time to buy the funeral plots and get the will in working order. 

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Love her face and can identify with the eye bags. Ouch moment.

Hillsong United at Relevant Studios“End age” brings with it a change of circumstance, which is why my life is smaller. My cronies all have some sort of age-related chronic illness or pain. A lady in my Bible study asked us to pray for her husband who just had hip replacement surgery. They are in my age category (58-68). I had an “ouch” moment. Forget Oprah’s “Ah ha” epiphany—this moment hurt. All of a sudden I realized I was at THAT age.

The age of replacements.

I was teaching last semester and one day “BAM!” I realized that words like “experienced” and “wisdom” were thrown my way quite a bit by the 30 and under crowd. I also saw an unintentional lack of respect and relevance thrown in just in case I didn’t realize that maybe I needed to step back and let the new generation step forward. An “ouch moment.” Time for a walker and sensible shoes.

The age of replacements.

Next week I will get a couple of shots in my spine in order to relieve some disc discomfort. Can I get an “AMEN”? I’m not working this semester. Instead I’m taking care of myself and my hubster. I’m cooking more suppers. I’m spending a lot of time writing and praying and seeking ways to be relevant.

2366525625_e02339e349_nI’ve also been volunteering at a local pregnancy crisis center for a year now. I work as a mentor for young women who are pregnant and lacking the support system in place to sustain her. No judging. No condemnation. Just love and support in the name of Christ. It’s a very difficult job—mentoring. You basically step into a young woman’s life and try to show her how to parent and how to find purpose and a future.

It makes me think about what kind of mother I was. Ever wonder what those stinking mistakes are for? How God can take something awful in your life and turn it into good? (Romans 8:28) My life is an example.

If you’re at “Three-Quarter Age,” you’ve no doubt had some pretty awful life stuff happen. Maybe you’ve seen how God has taken that experience and made something good out of it. You’ve been “repurposed”! (God is a DIY master.) Hallelujah! We can take those years of experience and failure and joy and use them for something relevant. My failures help me relate to what my young mothers-to-be are going through. I know the rawness of life.

They need to see what redemption looks like.

The Irreplaceable Age

My purpose has shifted. My dreams have shifted. My routine has shifted.

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One of my many bookshelves.

When I started teaching, I realized I didn’t know very much. For 21 years I kept learning and learning, devouring every bit of information I believed essential for teaching. I learned humanities, British literature and history, American literature and history, colonial literature and the history of Africa and India’s colonization, how to use Photoshop, digital cameras, in-Design, world literature, and how to write essays the College Board would love. I read constantly. The library was–as is–my friend.

The result: I still know nothing, Jon Snow. (Game of Thrones allusion) The world is too huge. And there are too many books.

On Wednesday mornings, I sit in my Bible study and realize how much time I had spent reading everything but the history of God’s word. I listen to women cite chapter and verse with depth and sincerity. I envy their knowledge of something so relevant.

So what if I have all the knowledge in the world? If I don’t know the Word…if I don’t cherish the truth found there…if I don’t have the passion for it that I had for Cormac McCarthy or Flannery O’Connor, then what is my life worth? How can I be relevant during my “Three-Quarter Age”? (See Mark 8:36)

Have I studied the wrong thing? Do I regret my hard-earned knowledge? No. Not at all. God gave me a passion for the written word. And God used the written word to communicate with his creation.

But I regret the lack of balance.

So now I have a chance to really study the book that is my source of truth and wisdom.

OK. I’ve rambled long enough. I’m using up too much of what time is left to me now. I need to get back to God’s word. It’s waiting. He’s waiting. And I’m confident that he will guide me towards a purpose that fulfills me and glorifies His goodness.

We are at an irreplaceable age.

 

 

photo credits: 

<a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/23119147@N08/2217889245″>welsh women</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>(license)</a>

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/67084790@N03/14929069710″>DSC_1126</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>(license)</a>

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/7203470@N03/2366525625″>Playing with light</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a>

 

 

 

 

 

A Frou-Frou Woman in the Land of Natural Beauty

Zoey--a muggle that prefers to ease into the morning on my chair. As soon as I leave it...
Zoey–a puggle that prefers to ease into the morning on my chair. As soon as I leave it…

For my dear friend Sheila who encourages me to have fun with my writing.

She knows my life right now. Thank you kind and sassy woman. 

The day begins in the dark. Six or so. Steve making coffee and Zoey stretching her legs and easing out of her crate. (Zoey and I like to let the day happen slowly.) Two cups of coffee. CBS morning news. Steve and I discussing the day’s plans:

Him: What are you doing today?

            Me: Hmmm. Laundry. Maybe going to the library. (A lady of leisure . . . eesh!)

He kisses me goodbye and I settle into my morning routine. A shower with music pouring out of my iMac promising that God will make me brave or that I don’t need man’s applause—just Jesus who loves me like I am (I think Bridget Jones’ Diary). After making the bed and throwing in some laundry, I shoot downstairs with my make-up baskets in hand to watch Gilmore Girls.

Yes...I have baskets of make-up. It's bad.
Yes…I have baskets of make-up. It’s bad.

It’s right before I apply eye make-up that I start to question my sanity. Why am I even applying make-up? Who cares if I wear eyeliner or not? I’m in Colorado…land of the natural woman. BUT, my natural state kind of scares me. I am so vanilla; in fact, I’m the whipped cream on a vanilla milkshake. My eyelashes are white. My hair is turning white. My eyebrows are disappearing. AHHHHH! This whole aging thing could go a bit better. Back to the eyeliner and blackest black mascara…

All right…I’ll come clean: I’m a frou-frou woman. I am a woman who loves beauty products living in a state where women look awesome in their leggings, t-shirts, and fleece vests wearing little to no cosmetic enhancements. Maybe it’s because I’m from Tulsa, which is only six hours from Dallas (aka the capital of frou-frou) that make-up and hair products are so essential to my aesthetic comfort. Send me into Ulta and I’m liable to spend an hour examining every color of blush Smashbox makes, playing with different brands of lipstick in order to determine the creaminess level, or lately—studying a variety of concealers all promising to “perk up” tired eyes. I need an all-over percolating concealer.

After an hour scouring Ulta (or Sephora), I might end up with a $6 L’Oreal lip balm. (I’m not working right now so I don’t feel comfortable indulging too much.) Maybe when I find that job I’ve been looking for I’ll treat myself to a MAC lipstick in the

Lipstick. It's a mood addiction.
Lipstick. It’s a mood addiction.

perfect brownish pink…

Today I’m going to work at my church. I’m doing some data entry and then printing and folding bulletins for Sunday’s service. God is using me to help in some way, and I’m so grateful. No irony in that statement at all. It is pure delight to work with these beautifully gracious and faithful young people who love Jesus with their words and deeds. They remind me of Christ’s words to women (via Holy Spirit via Peter) in 1 Peter 3:

            “What matters is not your outer appearance—the styling of your hair (WHAT? But I love the smell of my Aveda Control Paste), the jewelry you wear, the cut of your clothes—but your inner disposition. Cultivate inner beauty, the gentle, gracious kind that God delights in. The holy women of old were beautiful before God that way…” (The Message Bible).

Inner beauty. We talk about it all the time, but my love for all things cosmetic may keep people from noticing my scary outward appearance! I think maybe…just possibly… my fairly neutral make-up may encourage folks to notice my inner beauty because they won’t be so distracted by my scary-vanilla-albino-rabbit appearance! (Mild justification for full baskets of eye shadow and lipstick?)

Regardless, as a tribute to Colorado and as recognition of my co-dependency on cosmetics, I think I’ll leave off the eyeliner today and flaunt my inner-beauty! Wait…I shouldn’t flaunt? It should be perceived as part of my Christ-like character? Shoot. This is hard.

 Cue music: You make me brave…

OUT OF COMPLACENCY, INTO DEPENDENCY

Near my walking trail. It's rural.
Near my walking trail. It’s rural.

*It has been extremely difficult for me to write after finishing my thesis; I’m always wanting to use APA citations, and my creativity seems to have flown the coop. This is a long, tedious effort to get back in the swing of things.

And the LORD God said to Steven: “Take thy wife, thy puppy, and all thy belongings and head west to the land I will show thee.” (Severance, Colorado)

Did Sarah kick and scream when Abraham said, “let’s go”? Well. . . I did. I was as mad as a wet hen. Tulsa was my home. Family, friends, colleagues=history. Comfort. And a touch of complacency. Just a touch. Really.

Everyone kept telling me how great it was—you know—Colorado—mountains—skiing—hiking—fresh air.

As for skiing—Tried it when I was in my 20’s; gave it up for Lent.

However, I do love mountains, so after I quit kicking (silent screaming continued for a while) and accepted the inevitable, I laid down some ground rules for Steve and God:
1. I must have a house west of I-25
2. I must have a mountain view
3. NO TRACT HOMES!
4. No linoleum must ever touch my feet.
5. No builder’s grade carpet (I would not give up my 50-year-old hardwood floors for tacky carpet).
6. No split-level or two-story homes need apply.

Yes, yes. . . I know. I’m blessed to have a home. I sound so materialistic. In the words of Idina Menzel–“Let it go!”

Then I met our realtor, Scott, and he showed me a total of five houses within our price range. That was it. I’d scheduled three days for looking at houses and only needed one. Seems the oil and gas boom in northern Colorado meant more folks moving in and fewer houses available. Prices went up and up and up and bidding wars ensued.

Lesson: Don’t lay down ground rules.

The Reality:
1. The only houses west of I-25 in Ft. Collins within our price range were split-level, dingy basement, one-and-a-half bathrooms, no-closet-space homes.
2. Mountain views were 50K extra.
3. Tract homes east of I-25 were more affordable.
4. Only two houses were available that wouldn’t require massive renovation and cleaning. One backed to a busy road in Greeley (where the wind wafts the scent of meat processing plants through the town). The other was clean. Good location. Nice quiet neighborhood. A two-story with finished basement. Great storage. Clean. Horrible builder’s-grade carpet. Linoleum in kitchen and bathrooms and 3’ x 4’ square entryway. No mountain view. BUT an incredible garden in the backyard and three full bathrooms. Great sized master.

We bought it the second one.

The Move
Steve moved out first. He started work at a church in September. I stayed behind to sell the house, pack, and finish my master’s thesis. The house sold in 12 days, so I moved in with my parents to finish writing my thesis and moved out in November.

I learned so much during the time with my folks. Certainly researching the effect of optional single-sex classrooms for boys

View from my "tower" at my parent's house. I worked on my thesis there.
View from my “tower” at my parent’s house. I worked on my thesis there.

struggling with literacy was an eye-opener and a very difficult research topic (one I’d chose for myself—no excuses!); however, the real growth came from just being around my parents and watching Christ in action through their lives. Blessed.

More Reality: Identity Crisis

I’m a teacher. It’s my identity. My teaching consumed me—about 60-70 hours a week (to the chagrin of my hubby). Teaching provided me with wonderful colleagues, terrific students, and an outlet for my creativity. Every week I’d look over lesson plans, re-work them, integrate some newer ideas, and grade papers. My reward? The appreciation of my students and their parents. It was never monetary. It was, however, a source of pride. I wanted to be an exceptional teacher. I loved having a great reputation. It sounds so conceited, but it’s brutally true—I valued my reputation and identity as an exceptional teacher.

Vanity, vanity. Poof. It’s gone.

Now I’m unknown. I apply and apply for adjunct teaching positions, but I don’t know anyone who knows someone. No connections.

And I miss my daughter and my parents and being only 3 ½ hours from my grandson.

But I’d become complacent. I see it now. It’s Windex clear to me now.

My complacency looked like this:

  • I figured that once I finished my master’s degree, someone would hire me based on my recommendations, reputation, and connections to wonderful teachers.
  • I figured I’d eventually find the right church and get involved.
  • I figured I’d start feeling stronger and be able to bike and lose weight and get healthy (I had to quit teaching for a year due to major arthritis issues and need for disk fusion surgery—worked on master’s while recovering).
  • I figured I’d start having weekly dinners with my parentals and with my daughter and her hubby.

I figured a lot of things, but didn’t take action on any.

Complacency.

And then God said, “Enough already.” Maybe. Who knows what God is saying in the heavenly realms concerning his millions of children?

Now I’m living east of I-25, have no mountain view, walk regularly on linoleum and builder’s grade carpet. AND I’m at peace.

Linoleum isn't the end of the world. Just miss my hardwoods.
Linoleum isn’t the end of the world. Just miss my hardwoods.

Dependency.

Severance, Colorado is on the eastern plains. When the wind sweeps down from the north, we get a nice whiff of a giant sheep ranch. The tiny town’s motto: “Where the geese fly, and the bulls cry.” The geese I get. The bulls weeping? Ah. Interesting story. Bruce’s Bar in Severance (an authentic “hole in the wall”) is famous for Rocky Mountain oysters—thus the bull’s cry. Ouch.

When isolated from friends and family and familiar places, you can keep kicking and screaming (I did), get really depressed (I did), or learn to trust your heavenly Father (I’m trying).

I began to live in God’s Word. I meditated on it day and night. I found a Bible study class in Ft. Collins. The ladies are precious and the study consumes much of my time. I found a church—Mountain View Community Church. Stevie and I love it. We are getting involved, and I am the volunteer print woman. I am now running bulletins, printing whatever needs to be printed. Using the folding machine. Stuff I learned to do as a graphic designer for South Tulsa Baptist Church in Tulsa eight years ago. I am trying to be useful while I look for a teaching position with a local community college or university.

I have no idea what is going to pan out for my future. None. I’m learning to walk by faith and not by sight—and it’s stinkin’ hard for a control freak like me.

What I know: God is the source of my strength. It doesn’t matter whether I “know someone” or have “connections”—He is my connection.

Kitchen tables are not for eating--they are for studying!
Kitchen tables are not for eating–they are for studying!

On the front of my Bible study notebook I have inserted a printed page that reads:
“If I do not stand firm in my faith, I will not stand at all.” It’s from Isaiah 7:96.

I recite it several times a day. It’s still lonely and isolated. I don’t have any friends yet—just some acquaintances. But God is my anchor and He holds me steady against this changing and sometimes overwhelming tide of change.

You know those giant pill holders? I have one.

A little basket of essentials.
A little basket of essentials.

Welcome to middle age, better known as the descent into strange and not-so-amusing bodily changes. First a bit of an introduction: My husband is 65 and I’m 56. This week has been interesting so far. Monday morning we threw on clothes and avoided any food or drink because Steve had a colonoscopy scheduled, and I had a physical scheduled. 

QUESTION: Why would anyone want to stare at butts all day long, running scopes in and out of old, saggy, gray butts? I don’t trust these doctors; I think they are twisted, or paid extremely well.

 The colonoscopy went fine and I drove Steve home where he crashed on his favorite recliner and proceeded to snore. I showered and went to my own doctor’s appointment. 

Doctor: Well, Cindy. You are on a lot of medications.

Me: It hasn’t been my best year. First there was the psoriatic, rheumatoid arthritis flare (more like a volcanic eruption with molten lava searing my joints), my allergic reactions to Enbrel, Humira, and Orencia. The steroid shots and the discography.The nerve pain in my left arm and hand. And then the surgery—want to see the X-ray? Just a double disc fusion of the C7, C6, C5 vertebrae. No biggie. Payton Manning had one and he’s amazing. Me? I’ve still got burning nerve pain in left hand. I call it “Burning Hand Syndrome.”

Doctor: Hmm. (continues typing on computer without ever making eye contact. I think about adding a brain tumor just to see if he looks up, but decide it wouldn’t be in very good taste. Sigh.)

Me: By the way, my sense of smell is off. I have this weird odor that I smell all the time—and it’s not me! I don’t like coffee smells anymore and coffee was my signature drink. It was my holier-than-thou snotty prima-donna signature. What? You don’t buy locally roasted coffee? What? You don’t grind it daily and then use a french press in order to taste the fullness of the beans? You buy (cough cough cough) Starbucks?

Doctor: I don’t think your surgery caused your sense of smell to change.

I wait to see if he offers a suggestion—some sort of explanation as to why my sense of smell changed. Nada. I’m ready to find a witch doctor.

Me: Oh…and I’ve lost about a third of my hair, and by the way, see these kinky ringlet curls? I’ve NEVER had curly hair before. Maybe a slight wave, but are you seeing these curls? Really? I have to use intense hairdressing just to keep the frizz down.

Doctor: That’s weird. Hmmm.

Me: And then there’s the nausea. I’ve been nauseous for two months now and I don’t have the equipment to be pregnant anymore. In fact, I’m not sure I’m actually qualified to be a woman since don’t have the equipment. Doctor—this nausea is wiping me out. I’m cranky and snippy. Please fix me. Please fix me.

Doctor: Hmmm. We’re going to get a blood and urine sample today. I want to check your thyroid levels.  I’m also going to schedule you for an upper GI.

Me: No.

Doctor: We need to figure out what’s going on. It could be your gall bladder or ulcers.

Me: I have no relationship with my gall bladder. It doesn’t bother me and I ignore it. I just want you to find out why I’m nauseous. I don’t want more tests. DO YOU KNOW WHAT THEY DID TO ME IN AUGUST? HMMM? THEY STUCK FOUR DIFFERENT NEEDLES INTO MY NECK TO REACH MY DISCS IN ORDER TO SHOOT THEM FULL OF DYE? It was not a pleasant adventure. I really don’t want any more tests. Can’t you just give me a ballpark diagnosis?

Doctor: (He said nothing because he’d left the room).

So, this Thursday I have to have an upper GI. I get to drink some sort of chalky barium stuff to make everything glow when they take X-rays. Joy. I can see how this is going to go down. The doctor won’t be able to find anything conclusive, so he’ll schedule an endoscopy. Down the throat with a probe looking for problems. If that is inconclusive, I’ll be the one with my tush in the air while some twisted doctor probes my intestines with a scope.

Meanwhile, I’ll trim up my growing fuzzy facial hair, pluck the hair out of my ear, use my neck creme to prevent further gobbler growth, find t-shirts that have long enough short sleeves to cover the wobble, and learn to love this sagging, bagging body. Oi vey, Lord. Couldn’t you have made growing older a bit more—dignified?

Tomorrow I’m going to check into prices for coffins. I figure it’s time to find a cemetery plot. Shoot, I may have to go lay on a few vacancies until I find the one I like best. Under a tree would be good.

This is my submission for The Weekly Writing Challenge

walking over the cliff. . .

Not THE WALL, but just like it.
Not THE WALL, but just like it.

I remember a ropes course a long, long time ago. I was in my 30s vs. my current 50s. It was a bonding thing. I worked at a private school that believed it was important to bond with the classes you were going to teach. I interpreted that (in my cynical way) as I needed to be willing to humiliate myself before my students in order to bond with them.

First of all, I had just met these kids and they were holy terrors. It was my first teaching job and a rude awakening to the profession I had idealized. I could see myself in my cute power suit standing in front—wait—no, sitting on the edge of my desk answering questions and asking them deep, meaningful questions about Fitzgerald’s stream-of-consciousness style or the metaphysical conceits of John Donne’s poetry. But they were freshmen. They were ornery and somewhat hateful freshmen. One of the first guys to walk into the class on the first day immediately looked at my seating chart and said, “That sucks.”

Then there was the “farter.” I had been warned, so I had my Lysol ready for him. The can was used. By me. (Excuse the passive voice!)

These freshmen also jumped on me immediately wanting to know what political party I belonged to. I wouldn’t tell them. I refused. It was none of their business. So they decided I was a Democrat and thus was going to Hell. Eesh. Freshmen.

It wasn’t what I’d imagined and now I was going to go to a ropes course and humiliate myself in some horrid way involving climbing walls and walking on ropes. I was going to have to trust these hormonally-dysfunctional, judgmental, self-indulgent rich kids! I was not happy. I was terrified. (*I grew to love these kids and taught them for four years! They are still precious to me in my memory.)

But I survived. Wait. You want to know what happened? Ok. It wasn’t that bad, or it didn’t seem that bad until THE WALL. You had to use the kids as footholds and others as a net to catch you on the other side of THE WALL. I weighed 150 lbs. These were freshmen. Their linebackers weighed 150 lbs. I did it though. Laughing and giggling like a freshman as they shoved my tush over the wall and the guys grabbed my hands and helped me over and then caught me. It was fun—sort of. I had built up such fear over THE WALL that I was sick about it. I had tried to figure a way out of doing the ropes course by working on developing a disease, but to no avail.

BUT I stepped out. I got in my car. I drove to the ropes course and quit thinking about. I just acted.

Trust. It is stinkin’ hard for me to trust people and God. I had a really rough 13 year marriage that shattered me. I had a four-year-old daughter that was diagnosed with Type I diabetes. Shattering pieces of my body fell to the floor. My trust in a faith that I’d believed in since I was seven years old shattered, as well.

God fixes shattered souls and shattered faith, BUT I have scars. And sometimes those scars ache with remembrance and doubt. Like now. 

If you read any of my other blogs, you know I had to quit teaching due to what I call the “triple threat” of arthritis. A type of rheumatoid, psoriatic, and osteoarthritis. My unholy trinity. Autoimmune diseases are tricky beasts. Mine ate my cervical discs. Drat those varmints!

From July to November 25, 2013 I was an invalid. Constant nerve pain in my left arm and left foot left me unable to walk well. Steroids. (Bloat). Steroid injection in my neck (3 of them). A nasty invention called a discography where the doctor shoots four needles one at a time in your neck through to your epidural cavity and viola—releases dye. Finally surgery on November 25, 2013. Double disk fusion in my C7 and C6, and C6 and C5. I have a metal plate and bone grafts from my hip. Just to be clear—I NEVER WANT TO HAVE SURGERY AGAIN EVER!.

A scarred neck and thinning hair, but I'm getting better!
A scarred neck and thinning hair, but I’m getting better!

Now, a month and a couple of weeks later, I’m doing better. I can walk every other day for 40 minutes. I’m losing some of the steroid bloat. I’m off my pain pills These are good things. I have my little foam collar to wear when I’m working at the computer or driving. I have this rather awkward black horse collar thing with a magic box on it that supposedly stimulates bone growth.  (A very expensive little machine, that one.)

I can read. Re-watch Sherlock on Masterpiece. Watch every episode of Call the Midwife. But I have no job. No real direction. I don’t know what is going to happen to my life. I can’t go back and teach in the classroom again because of all this stuff going on in my body.

I stepped out on faith. I threw up my hands and fell on the floor and said, “I GIVE UP! YOU WIN!” Well, maybe not quite that dramatic. My hubster—a patient man as ever was born—suggested getting my master’s degree on-line. Wise man. So I am. I’m on my third class and I enjoy it. A Master’s in Curriculum and Instruction with an emphasis on Adolescent Literacy. I have no idea what I’d going to do with that degree. None. Master’s degrees in education are a dime a dozen. But teaching is what I know and what I love. Oi vey. What’s one to do, I ask you?

Here’s the stepping out part—the part about trusting the kids to catch me when I climbed THE WALL: if I don’t take one step each day to complete a Bible study, or a blog, or an assignment, or a weigh-lifting session, or a phone call to a friend then Jesus can’t do anything. (Disclaimer: He can do anything He wants to do, but He prefers not to force the issue). 

He wants me to step off the cliff. Trust him. Just walk one step at a time. Go to the desk. Open my Bible and my journal. Read the plan I’ve set out for myself. Pray. PRAY! I’m a really good on-the-go prayer person. I’m wiping the countertops and shooting up prayers like Brother Lawrence. But God wants some concentrated effort. He inhabits our praises after all. Jesus said our faith could move mountains (I believe it was a metaphor, but I’m not sure).

So the journey really begins again now. No job. No identity to the world. Creativity dried up and crusty. Few friends (Not their fault! Colleagues are busy busy busy!). Loneliness. And fear. Tons of fear.

Here is what I read today that spoke to me: It’s from Matthew 21. Jesus has just cleared the temple and gone to Bethany to relax with Mary, Martha and Lazarus. He withers a fig tree the next day and talks with his disciples about their troubled minds concerning their future without him (I’m paraphrasing a lot—no panties in wads, please!). This is where he says that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No man comes to the Father without Jesus. 

Then in verse 21: I tell you the truth (meaning I’m saying this with the authority of God—you can trust it), if you ________(plug in your name) have faith and don’t doubt. . . you can say to this mountain, “Go throw yourself in the sea,” and it will be done. If you______ (your name) believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in faithful prayer.

Faithful prayer. Walking or limping—doesn’t matter. Step off of the cliff and see what happens. I’m doing it. I’ll let you know how it goes!

Books I’m reading:

Exodus by Leon Uris. I’ve always wanted to tackle this 1958 classic. It’s huge and it’s chockfull of history. I looked stuff up as I read. He weaves a fictional tale that could have happened (and much of it did). If you can hang in there with some corny relationship stuff and the massive amount of Jewish history, you come away with a better understanding of what’s happening over there now. It’s enlightening and powerful.

Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus by Lois Tverberg. I saw this in Relevant magazine (on-line) and bought it. Jesus was a Jew and the Jewish culture was his culture. Tverberg is interesting and authoritative in her writing. Learning a bunch.

Podcast: I’ve not been attending church for awhile due to several things—some valid and some not. God is working on me. I listen to Bill Hybels at Willow Creek. His last teaching inspired this blog. Here’s the link. It’s called “Stronger.”

http://media.willowcreek.org

And worship music. Matthew West “Hello My Name Is. . .”   Not a huge fan of the wha oh oh’s, but the message is great!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=omMoLBKzgjU 

 

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/ableman/144374493/”>Scott Ableman</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/”>cc</a>

Father and Mother: The Duality of God’s Nature

Favorite Philosopher: “Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind. “Pooh?” he whispered. “Yes, Piglet?” “Nothing,” said Piglet, taking Pooh’s hand. “I just wanted to be sure of you.” –A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

Favorite Theologian: “Give me all of you!!! I don’t want so much of your time, so much of your talents and money, and so much of your work. I want YOU!!! ALL OF YOU!! I have not come to torment or frustrate the natural man or woman, but to KILL IT! No half measures will do. I don’t want to only prune a branch here and a branch there; rather I want the whole tree out! Hand it over to me, the whole outfit, all of your desires, all of your wants and wishes and dreams. Turn them ALL over to me, give yourself to me and I will make of you a new self—in my image. Give me yourself and in exchange I will give you Myself. My will, shall become your will. My heart, shall become your heart.” –C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

The drugs that keep me from crying.
The drugs that keep me from crying.

If you’ve been following any of my blogs, you know that this has been a rough seven months. (Hey, fellow literary folks–get the symbolism? Seven–Old Testament number of completeness!)  My disease is infecting and affecting everything in my life–relationships with family and friends and the ability to be independent and do the things that are necessary for daily life. My family suffers with me–especially my husband and particularly, my parents. 

Example: My husband spent the last week in Colorado visiting his delightful daughters and getting in some quality time with his grandkids and granddog, Lily. (I was hoping the dog delight might rub off on him and I could broach the subject of adopting a cute, furry bundle of love–man, he’s tough.) Anyway, I was alone for a week which was fine because I’m part hermit. But at one point I needed a break from an empty house full of school work begging to be completed, so off I went to Broken Arrow (a growing town south of Tulsa) and my mom and dad’s house–or the Nave Family Spa. Yes, it is that powerful because God lives there.

Their house equals comfort and hospitality. Beautifully and elegantly decorated by my talented “momacita,” the house feels like a hug. Certain things are so familiar–the antique hall tree and little antique desk that snuggles up to a corner curve under the stairs. The grandfather clock in the dining room. The family pictures of my kids at every age. Pictures of nieces and nephews and brothers and sister with spouses. The Bibles scattered on the coffee table. The soft butter-colored sofas. The chaise lounge (my favorite) covered in soft animal print. Like I said–elegant.  My mom is elegant.

The chaise lounge--spent some delightful time here!
The chaise lounge–spent some delightful time here!

I had a moment. It was one of those bad pain moments that I’d hoped would stay hidden in a forest somewhere while I was with my parents. It didn’t and I’m thankful it didn’t because it acted as a catalyst and reminder of my parents’ love.

The pain monster bit about midnight. Pain started rolling down through my shoulder and arm. Nerve pain. It’s hard to describe–think dentist picking with that torturous pick thingy and hitting the edge of a nerve. Yep. That’s it, only it doesn’t stop.

I was in the middle of this pain and I was scared. It scared me because I couldn’t (and can’t)  control it. I stumbled down the stairs and barged into my parents’ bedroom. Dad immediately woke up–he sleeps lightly like me. He moved into action, providing pain pills while clad in his boxers. My 75-year-oid dad jumped into action to help his 55-year-old suffering daughter. I was a child again. Dad was going to fix me. He wasn’t thinking about anything but fixing my pain and making me safe.

Enter my mom. She guides me upstairs carrying toast and a Sprite so I don’t take medicine on an empty stomach. Tucks

Their love is inspiring.
Their love is inspiring.

me in and fusses a bit over the heating pad I have to basically wear on my arm. She leans over me, beautiful in her pj’s and well-cut white hair. She prays–holding my hands and crying. Her tears land on my arms. I cry. We both cry out to God. And then she does what moms do–she sits with me. I slowly wind down and assure her I’m going to be fine, but she refuses to leave. Instead she sits down on an antique chair covered in velvet and says, “I’m just going to sit here and pray until you go to sleep.”

And she did.

My beautiful and loving parents.
My beautiful and loving parents.

That night I saw two aspects of God: the “jump into action and fix things” Father who hates to see his children suffering and the “I will sit with you and never leave your side” Father who knows things will hurt, but I will hurt less with the assurance that He sits with me.

It was a night I’ll never forget. I hold onto their unconditional love as a perfect example of God’s grace, mercy and presence.

Isaiah: “He (God) tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.” Isaiah 40:11

Amen. Grace and peace to all.

 

A switch in direction: Here are some of the books I’m reading right now. The

Some books I'm reading. If you've read any of them, please share your thoughts!
Some books I’m reading. If you’ve read any of them, please share your thoughts!

Sound of a Wild Snail Eating is beautiful–small, non-fiction. The author, Elizabeth Tova Bailey, went through a period of dangerous illness that left her bedridden. During that time, she moved into a small cottage and tried to recover. A friend brought her some wild violets and then found a tiny snail to live in the potted violet. Bailey is able to create metaphor, reveal personal history and give us a bit of insight into the life of a snail. Example: “Each evening the snail awoke and, with an astonishing amount of poise, moved gracefully to the rim of the pot and peered over, surveying, once again, the strange country that lay ahead.”

*I apologize for not editing well. Hopefully I fixed things.

Breaching: The Movement of Whales: What it takes to move out of fear and live bravely

A pod of whales cavorting around the San Juan Islands in Washington state.
A pod of whales cavorting around the San Juan Islands in Washington state.

*I originally published this in my older blog, “Pray, Read, Teach” directing it towards my senior girls who struggled with purpose when faced with college. I’m re-posting it for all of us that are in our middle years and facing a wall of fear that strangles us like the roots of tree, dragging us down into despair and weakness. Though I’ve taught for 20 years, every year is a challenge. This year I fear I won’t be able to do my job due to chronic auto-immune diseases that continue to knock me flat on my tush.

Lost Dreams

In my 20s and 30s, life seemed so possible. I was young and healthy. Sure divorce knocked me and my children for a loop–a loop like one of those upside-down roller coasters that leave you screaming like a banshee–and sure, I had to go back to college so I could support myself and my kids–and sure, I had to depend on my parents to help me with my children while I was working and going to school–and sure, I had to teach my mom how to give my four-year-old her insulin shot so she’d stay alive–and sure, I faced loneliness unlike anything I’d ever experienced, BUT I was young. I felt like life was still out there somewhere. God was leading me to something wonderful.

Reality Check

Why in the world did I think that I’d be immune from the suffering that the majority of the world goes through? I guess I thought I’d paid my dues: divorce + infidelity; daughter diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes; moving from Littleton, Co. back to Oklahoma and my parents’ property; watching my children get on a plane by themselves to go back to Littleton to spend a summer with a dad that stayed uninvolved and a step-mother who disliked them passionately (a helplessness only those who have been through will understand); watching my oldest son disintegrate into darkness and depression; watching helplessly while my middle son got stitched and casted after falling face first from a cliff; struggling in a new marriage when you have no history together and no children to irrefutably join you to each other; watching my now-grown daughter suffer through a divorce of her own (the pain is so acute–you feel like your sins have been regenerated in your children’s lives)–I guess I figured I’d fulfilled my quota of bad stuff. “Ok God, now for the good stuff.”

At 55 my dreams have never found a place to bloom. I keep thinking, “This summer, Lord. This summer I’ll write and complete my book–just one book.” And now this. Cervical disks ruptured and rubbing across my nerves, psoriatic arthritis pretending it’s rheumatoid arthritis by copying RA’s pain patterns, dealing with allergic reactions to Humira that cause my eyebrows to fall out and me to faint on a regular basis (even at school). THIS WAS SUPPOSED TO BE MY SUMMER OF RESTORATION! 

I did get in one week of biking. Did several hours of graphic design for next year’s classes. And that was it. Going on seven weeks now and just received MRI results (not good) and preparing for my next epidural steroid shot that will hopefully alleviate some of this pain and give me back the use of my left arm.

Husband in Colorado for a week, taking the vacation we were supposed to share. Instead I curl up in a ball in bed and cry because of the pain. Then I read all the wonderful blogs out there by published authors that aren’t me and I settle into a bout of self-pity.

Where did the joy go? 

I’ve lost my vision. I’m still in the middle of this. I wish I could say that through prayer and Bible reading I’ve grown stronger and more faithful to the Lord, but I haven’t. I’m floundering this way and that…waiting on God to show me if I’m going to be able to work or not (and not working full-time is not a good option for me). I have no idea what is going to happen in the next few weeks. Surgery? Not being able to teach? Then what, Lord? LORD, THEN WHAT? Sigh heavily. 

So this parable that I wrote about dreams and purpose is relevant now as I wallow in fear and uncertainty. I’m reading Lauren F. Winner’s Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis and Margaret Feinberg’s Wonder Struck. I’m listening to Jeremy Camp and MercyMe and Audrey Assad and Lara Landon and letting their lyrics and music soothe the fear I grapple with like one of those bears on Mountain Men (my hubster loves that show). 

Maybe you are in the same place. You’ve reached the middle of life and you feel invisible–like you don’t count anymore. That sounds terrible and selfish. I have a wonderful grandson that I adore and wonderful children who love me and care about me, and exceptionally gracious parents who pray faithfully and cry with me when my body hurts. I have so much. And still I’m scared. Who will take care of me if I can’t work? What if I never write? And the biggie: what if this pain is my new normal? If you are there with me, this parable is for you. I hope you enjoy it!

A Parable About A Girl by Cindy L. Camp

She lived small. A small room in a small house on a small island with a small grandmother. She loved her small room. It smelled of living things like moss and ocean water and lavender blossoms. She had very little furniture: a twin bed covered in a plum quilt her grandmother had made for her. She had crafted it from her granddaughter’s “plum period” tee shirts when the only color that Annie would wear was plum. Not purple and certainly not lavender. Rich, earthy plum.

A small cabin on one of the San Juan Islands.
A small cabin on one of the San Juan Islands.

She also had a chair. It was old and tapestry-covered. Something she and her grandmother had found at a garage sale on the mainland. She remembered watching it sway in the back of the pick-up truck as they crossed Puget Sound on the ferry. It was faded and softly green and she could rock in it. It was her favorite place to sit when she was inside. It faced out to the ocean and the forest and a cropping of stones where birds would sit and the occasional feral cat.

In one corner of her small room was a dresser with a mirror. The mirror was lined with shells and rocks she’d gathered on her excursions around the small island. Her grandmother let her glue them to the mirror. She was wonderful that way. She let Annie be Annie.

The only other things in her small room were a few rugs and hundreds of journals and books. The books were stacked according to color. The journals were stacked according to year. She had journals from 10 years ago when she was 8.

Inside each of her journals was always some sort of plan or map in which she would draw or write out her future. Her favorite journals were maps. She loved maps. On the small island there was a nautical store full of useful things for the fishermen who dominated the island’s population, but the owner, Bud, had trunks full of old maps that he’d let her have for a dollar or two. She’d take them home, cut them apart and create new worlds in her journal. Then she’d draw in her island. Sometimes her island would be next to Africa (which now rested where China once was). Sometimes it was over by Scotland (now relocated to the Mediterranean). Once she had placed the pieces of the map throughout the journal and decided on a location for her island, she would mark off her journey in red marker. She created jobs and adventures in each place. She was a nurse sometimes. Always somewhere dangerous and beautiful. Sometimes she was an artist living on her island now relocated somewhere near Sweden. She would sit by the water and paint the colors of Sweden. Sometimes she was a photographer in the mountains of Nepal or a missionary in Kashmir. Sometimes she was a shepherd in Israel, her island carefully moored in the Jordan River.

Sometime around the age of 16, Annie stopped buying maps and creating adventures. She started trying to figure out what she really wanted to do with her life. She attended a small island school, but her grandmother was the one who really educated her. She read and read. Everything from Melville to Kingsolver. She read Darwin. She read the Bible. She inhaled books like air, each one of them leaving a particle of themselves behind. Her newer journals were full of magazine pictures from National Geographic. At 16, she was going through her “I want to be a photojournalist” period.

At 17, her journals started showing her doubts and fears. She’d paste in a picture of a woman working as a nurse with AIDS babies in Africa and try to visualize herself doing that kind of work. Something so meaningful that she could dedicate her life to and feel that when she died, she would have mattered. But she was afraid. She was afraid she’d never finish college and especially nursing school, so she drew a big red X across the picture.

She added a picture of a teacher working with migrant workers in New Mexico, teaching English to the children so they could have a future in a new country. Another big red X. She was terrible with Spanish. She barely made it through two years of it in high school.

At 18, she read a book about a missions organization that worked with women and girls around the world–helping them to escape sex-trafficking. She even emailed the writer/missionary and asked her about it–but they said they needed someone who could do graphic design for them from the United States. They didn’t need another traveler. Annie didn’t own a computer. She used the island’s library when she needed to access the outside world.

Graduation loomed and passed. Still Annie sat with her journals debating her life. She worked at a small bookstore in Anacortes full-time and took the ferry to and from work. Sometimes she’d see a pod of whales breaching one by one moving towards the place in the center of the world where whales gather.

Her grandmother never pressed her about college. She never pushed her towards a career off of the island. She knew that Annie had to find her own way. She watched her granddaughter struggle with herself, but she didn’t intrude. Not then. She watched. Like the whales, Annie needed to go to the center of her world and gather her thoughts, dreams and wishes into one cohesive purpose.

Finally when Annie turned 20, her grandmother decided it was time to make a few things clear. Annie was still working at the bookstore and still writing her journals in her small room in the small house.

The grandmother met Annie at the ferry one evening. They rode their bikes quietly to the small house. Then the grandmother took Annie by the hand and led her to the bench where they could watch the ocean breathe and gather itself up and then drop itself down flashing against the shore.

“Annie, do you ever want something more than this island and the bookstore?”

Annie looked shocked. Her grandmother never asked her the heavy questions except about God and about the boys/men she occasionally dated. Now she was asking her about the one thing that she had never been able to decide upon despite hundreds and hundreds of journals.

“I don’t know.” And she didn’t, so the grandmother prodded a bit deeper.

“Do you feel restless?” Annie nodded.

“Do you feel trapped?” Annie nodded again.

“Ok, Annie be honest–what do you love to do more than anything?”  Annie looked up and smiled.

“I love to write. I love maps. I want to write about what I see. I want to pick up a soft-covered book and look inside and see my words describing something ordinary that people might miss if they aren’t looking closely.”

“Like what?”

“Like the blue-green mist that hovers around the woods on Lopez Island, or the glassy calmness of the water when I’m kayaking around the east side of the island. Or the miracle of seeing the orcas breach. Or even the market and farms on Lummi Island.”

“So why don’t you? Why don’t you use those journals of yours and travel and write.”

“But that takes money and time.” Annie sighed. “And a decent camera…and a publisher.”

“Yes. It takes all that, but is any of it going to happen if you don’t try? Is a camera and a publisher necessary right now? Can’t you just write?”

“I can’t, grandmother. I…I’m not that good of a writer. And I can’t leave the bookstore–they need me and I need the money. Plus, I’ll never afford a camera on my salary and I do need one. And besides that, there are dozens of books about the islands. We certainly don’t need another one. Who would want to ever read mine?”

“Ok.”

“Ok, what?”

“Just ok. It sounds like you are going to stay where you are and dream your dreams, but never pursue them because you don’t think you’re good enough or special enough or rich enough–when really, Annie, you’re just not brave enough.” 

Annie looked at her grandmother. Her grandmother got up and left Annie sitting on the bench looking out at the water watching the gentle movement of the eternal tide. She turned over and over the things her grandmother had said. She made it sound so easy. Just do it. Quit waiting. Stop letting fear jam you up and keep you from moving forward.

That night in bed, Annie got out her Bible. She read her regular night-time readings. A little Old Testament (Isaiah), some Psalms, and some New Testament (Thessalonians).

This time she decided to read a little Ephesians. And just like that, God spoke. It was a spirit-crunching awareness that made her catch her breath.

While I’m locked up here, a prisoner for the Master,I want you to get out there and walk–better yet, run!–on the road God called you to travel. I don’t want any of you sitting around on your hands. I don’t want anyone strolling off, down some path that goes nowhere. And mark that you do this with humility and discipline–not in fits and starts, but steadily, pouring yourselves out for each other in acts of love, alert at noticing differences and quick at mending fences…You were called to travel on the same road and in the same direction, so stay together , both outwardly and inwardly. You have one Master, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who rules over all, works through all, and is present in all. Everything you are and think and do is permeated with Oneness. BUT that doesn’t mean you should all look and speak and act the same. Out of the generosity of Christ, each of us is given his/her own gifts.” 

The words touched her heart and Annie felt a bit of bravery rise to the surface like a whale catching its breath or flaunting its beauty. My gift…she thought. He gave me my love for writing. He gave me this love for words. He gave me a gift of seeing His beauty in nature. He’s given me a home I can return to when I grow weary. He’s given me a job that allows me some freedom.

Annie knelt beside her small bed. She laid her head on the plum quilt and cried a bit. She was scared. It was a big step and she might fail. She heard a voice say, “So what?” Ok. She would fail. And so what if she did? She’d keep going and learning all along the way. That was bravery. Knowing you’d fail sometimes, but doing it anyway–whatever “it” is.

“Lord, I’ll start right here–on this island. And I’ll just draw the pictures if I need to–just little sketches. Or maybe I can borrow someone’s camera…” Her mind was whirling as she fell asleep.

When she woke up the next morning, she re-read the passage in Ephesians 4 and looked at her journal. She had a choice. The glow of excitement had faded and reality settled in quickly. She could either put last night’s God-moment aside or she could act on it and see what happened. 

She could hear her grandmother in the kitchen waiting for her…waiting for Annie to decide that she had purpose and vision. Annie walked into the kitchen and poured herself a cup of coffee with a little creamer–and then emptied the whole thing into a traveling cup. She picked up her battered backpack and stuck in a few pens, pencils and her journal.

“I am going to cover the west side of the island for a bit and just see how it goes.”

Her grandmother smiled and gave her a hug. “You are gifted for one purpose: to glorify God. Your writing will do that–now go–get out there. Do it. Don’t wait. I’ll be here. I’ll always be here.”

So Annie went.