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"For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain." I lived on the banks of a river . . . and it captured my attention. These are my observations about the parallels between my life...and the river.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Microwave Popcorn Culture

We are an advanced society. We know how to plan, we know how to organize, to schedule and to succeed.

The problem is, we don't know how to wait. We want to make our plan, organize our day and schedule our lives to enjoy success. Much like making microwave popcorn at the end of a long day. Doesn't take long -- starts as an idea, we get up, get it out, pop it in the microwave and 3 minutes later, voila! Enjoy.

Unfortunately, life doesn't work that way. There is a lot of hard work and patience required to reap the benefits of all of our planning, organizing and scheduling. And sometimes, regardless of how well we plan, organize and schedule, things don't turn out the way we expect!

Life is much more like living on a farm than microwaving popcorn. The farmer plans his crops -- he readies the field, plants, fertilizes, prays for sun and for rain, tends to the weeds and other pests, and then finally, after much work in the harvest, he can enjoy the fruits of his labor.

Unless, of course, a disaster strikes. Then it's back to the beginning. More hard work and patience.

So often we see something someone else has -- success, or realizing a dream, sometimes even possessions or other achievements -- and we say, "I want that too!" But its not as easy as microwaving popcorn. Success, dreams, achievement, all of this is harvested, reaped, after much labor. Hard labor.

So often we want to take the easy way -- avoid the hard work and the long, circuitous route.

Just this past weekend Jimmy Fallon received an honorary degree from St. Rose after dropping out of college just before he was to graduate. I was listening to the news, as St. Rose is local so it was quite an item on the local stations! As I was listening I found myself thinking and feeling almost sad. Sure, Jimmy Fallon is popular, has achieved a good measure of success in our culture.

But, I thought, would I want to receive an honorary degree just because I was popular? Or would I want to know I had earned it with my own effort?

I had kept a basil plant on my balcony for a good part of last summer. The salads and dishes I made with that fresh basil were the best I'd ever had. Even better than buying fresh basil at the grocery store! Not because the cooking was extraordinary, but merely because I had grown the plant. Watched it mature and picked its leaves.

Microwave popcorn? Or enjoying the fruits of my labor? Call me old-fashioned, but when it comes to the important stuff, I hope I always exercise patience and put my blood, sweat and tears into it.

I want to hear, "well done".

Monday, May 11, 2009

Available vs. Fully Present

I wrote this last month after a situation at work provided much food for thought.....

Available vs. Fully Present
What's the Difference?

We are encouraged as believers to be available for God to use. Many times we ARE available. But frequently, we are available for the things we expect God to bring along our path. Sometimes, even when we are available, we may miss an opportunity.

Fully present, however, means being 100% in the moment -- with the person, doing the task that God has brought across your path. It means that interruptions become vehicles that God can use to reveal Himself and His plan to use us for His glory.

When we are fully present, our heart, mind and eyes are open to see God in the mundane. We can see Him in the interruptions, and we can see Him in the midst of the crisis. When we are fully present we are blessed to see and experience God in ways that we miss when we are blinded by our idea of what He wants, and how He will use us.

Being fully present also implies that our hearts are in tune -- in constant communication -- with God's. It is through this that we are able to discern which interruptions need to be resisted, as they are truly distractions, and which ones are God, calling us to experience something different and uniquely special in the midst of the ordinary (or even a time of crisis).

Being available to God is vital to being used of God. But let's go one step further and be fully present. Allow Him to open our eyes to everything, big and small, that He brings across our path. In this way, He is able to redeem the mundane and we are able to experience a whole new level of being part of His work.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Clean windows

I read a story the other day about a housewife who criticized her neighbor's laundry (hanging to dry in the yard) and said "She didn't do a very good job! look, the clothes are still dirty! someone needs to teach her how to do the wash properly." She said this to her husband every time her neighbor hung laundry out to dry, until one morning when the laundry looked exceptionally clean. To this she said, "Look at that, someone must have finally taught her how to properly do the wash!"

And to that her husband said, "Actually, dear, I got up early and cleaned the windows."

Our perception of everything truly is clouded by our perspective. For good or bad, we judge everything based on what we know. Based on our experience. This can lead to so many erroneous assumptions, hurtful things being said or done, but when we take a moment to realize the windows may be dirty, or something may be clouding our perspective, we have an opportunity to make things right.

It takes humility to stop and look at the window through which we view the world. It is easy to think that we are right and that we see things clearly. The laundry really did look dirty! But in that little story, there was a difference between the way it looked and the way it was.

Before making a judgment call we should consider looking at the situation from a different angle. Putting ourselves in the other's shoes, a commonly used phrase that means essentially the same thing.

All of us are shaped by our history. History that extends long before we took our first breath. Who our parents are shapes us -- who their parents are shaped them -- where we live, the presence or lack of faith and God in the home, finances, schools, our parent's jobs and principles. So many things shape who we are and how we view the world around us. So much so that we can't even define it sometimes. We just think that we are right, and by the way, doesn't EVERYBODY think the way I do?!?

Well, if they don't, they should because I am RIGHT!!

Right? I mean, doesn't everyone wipe the sink and counter off after washing their hands or running water?


You think that's a little OCD?


Does that make it wrong for me to do? No. Does it mean I should expect everyone else to treat a few drops of water on the counter the way I do? No!

Jesus spoke of this a little when He spoke of taking the 2x4 out of our own eye before we try to take the sliver out of our friend's eye. He was speaking of how blind we are to our own faults and how we are easy to spot them and try to correct them in others.

I'd like to make a slight adaptation -- or rather, an addition -- to what He said. Yes, we need to check our own selves before correcting someone else, but sometimes we may need to wash the windows before we make an assumption about someone else.

In other words, maybe we need to think a little more about WHY someone feels the way they do, or believes the way they do, or even acts the way they do, before we label them in our minds. Or before we try to force our beliefs on them. Or expect a certain answer from them.

God has given us a set of life circumstances completely different from anyone else's. Yes, even if we grow up with siblings, there are plenty of factors that make our experiences unique. As much as we want others to recognize that and not put us in a box, we need to remember also that we look at the world through a set of windows that are dirty and clouded with all of the things that shaped us.

We would do well to clean the windows once in a while. Better yet, get up off the couch, out of the house, and go into the other person's world for a little while to better understand them, and to walk with them.

Isn't that what Jesus did for us?

Thursday, May 07, 2009

So...who is it about anyway?

We go through life trying to take care of ourselves -- trying to get ahead, trying to reach the top. That is what our culture has programmed into us. Look out for yourself because no one else is going to!

There are certainly things we need to do to be healthy. There's the physical -- eat right, sleep enough, get lots of exercise, etc. The physical affects all other levels of our being. Spiritual, mental and emotional. We also need to take care of those levels by communing with God, following His principles for life, and keeping our environment as free of emotional toxins as possible.

This past week, well more like the past year, my environment has had more than the usual share of emotional toxins. I have learned multiple ways of dealing with them. From adding more physical exercise, to going into deep dark times of denial, to blocking everything else out except things I can excel at, I've "dealt" with them. Not always in a healthy manner, but I've made it through.

But back to this past week -- I found myself very overwhelmed with a few situations that hurt me deeply, but I didn't know how to handle them. In both situations I have yet to have the opportunity to talk with the individual(s).

This has been quite literally making me ill. And miserable. And anxious. And teary. And panicky. All of those things combined do not make for a person that people want to be around! Not even me! I wanted to throw myself off a bridge or something. Well, not all of me, just the anxious-miserable-emotional part.

And then I had a revelation.

It was as if God whispered in my ear, "Hey girl, it's not really about you anyway."

And I said, "whaaaaat?" (sometimes I can be a little slow when it comes to comprehension)

But He said again, "It's not really about you. What would happen if you just listened? What would happen if you just stopped creating every possible argument in your head, imagining everything the other person will say, and just waited? In peace. MY peace. I haven't left you, even when you've done things that have gone against my path for you. I'm still here, I'll be with you then, and I will be with you afterwards. We can get through this together. It's not about you."

Wow. What a revelation. I mean, sometimes I WANT it to be about me!! But in these situations, worrying so much about what to say, what might be said, and how to respond was sucking the life out of me.

"It's not about you anyway"

Well then, who IS it about? First of all, it's about Him. It's about what He wants to do in my heart and life, and in the hearts and lives of others. Secondly, it's about others. "But Lord, even when they are hurting me?!" Yes, even when they are hurting me. Not that I should roll over and play dead, or let them do whatever they want, but that is the point of confrontation anyway. Even though it's uncomfortable. Even though I can't control what the other will say or do.

It's not about me. It's about Him...and them. And if I put them first, He will fulfill His promise to never leave me or forsake me. And He will protect me. Maybe not FROM hurt, but He will be there in it with me. Even if it's caused by something I did or said that I shouldn't have done or said.

Because I am His. And He is mine.

Loved with everlasting love, led by grace that love to know
Spirit, breathing from above, Thou hast taught me it is so
Oh, this full and perfect peace! Oh this transport all divine!
In a love which cannot cease, I am His and He is mine.

Things that once were wild alarms, cannot now disturb my rest;
Closed in everlasting arms, pillowed on the loving breast.
Oh, to lie forever here, doubt and care and self resign,
While He whispers in my ear, I am His, and He is mine.

Lyrics by George Wade Robinson