Thursday, December 18, 2014

God's Word at Christmas



Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.

I still remember chanting this line during my elementary school years. Interesting defense, but it doesn’t work. It’s a lie.

Words can hurt me.

Words can also heal me.

Hundreds of years before Jesus was born, a man name Isaiah prophesied the first Christmas.

Isaiah 7:14
“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”

Immanuel. It’s a Hebrew word which means “God with us.”

Imagine that. GOD with us?!

We’re talking about God here, not a celebrity, not a top dog in a business organization, not a sports-team owner, not a major scientist or Nobel Peace Prize winner. We’re talking about the Almighty God, the Creator of the world, who chooses to be with us.

And how about the preposition “with”? God WITH us.

“With”…in the middle of, among, alongside. Not above, around, behind, before. God sent Jesus to be with us. God’s presence is with us in the middle of the messes, the joys, the funny slices of life, the scary nights.

And how special to know God wants to be with US. You and me, personally, one on one.
No matter what kind of month we had, what kind of year it is, whether we are joyful or sad or hopeful or afraid, God chooses to be with us.

Now that’s the best Christmas present of all.

Words do matter.

Luke 2:16
“So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.”

Yup, that’s a pretty good line right there.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Letting Go at Christmas



It’s the weekend before the big news. My son applied to Princeton and his early-decision response should arrive next week.

Yes, he’s qualified. The boy is not only insanely intelligent, but bright, sensitive, loving and thoughtful too. But Princeton has more than my son’s personality and abilities to consider. They have a school to fill; a student roster to generate; a package of incoming freshmen which will add credibility, talent and diversity to their university package.

Regardless of Alex’s statistics, there is a randomness to whether he will be selected.

This is where I need to trust God.

I believe God already knows where Alex should spend his college years. I believe God knows who Alex will meet, what Alex will learn, and how Alex will experience his young adult years. I believe it’s not only the education which makes a school special, but the relationships developed, the freedom to explore and the environment to grow as a young adult which factor into choosing the right college.

While I sit on my hands waiting impatiently for results, I believe God has Alex’s plans for good.

Maybe it’s hard to grasp this belief all the way to the core of my being, but I will write and say and read it until I get it.

I’m excited for him but know there’s a bottomless well of tears ready to flood the uncertainties and pain of letting go I need to experience as a Mom.

This is why, during this year’s Christmas season, I wonder what Mary, the mother of Jesus was thinking.

She is the rock star of letting go.

The Bible says she ‘treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart’ when the wise men and shepherds visited. I get that. As a woman and a Mom, I notice things which at times amaze me. All I can do is package up the experience and treasure it, like a personal Christmas gift.

I also get the fact that Mary, in her last stages of pregnancy and the start of labor, wanted an actual room to stay in, not an animal manger. Was she annoyed about the lack of reservations being made by the oh-so-godly husband of hers? They certainly could have enjoyed a nice bed and breakfast with perhaps a birthing room and midwife to help, but instead roomed in a stable with animals and a straw bed. But she had to let go of those desires, too.

Instead, she treasured up these things in her heart. The blessings. The fact that she knew, deep down, there was a bigger experience going on when her little boy was born. He was going to be the Savior of the world.

Now this is a version of letting go I can aspire to.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Diving into Christmas

Every Christmas season, I dive into a new book or devotional to discover more deeply the meaning of Jesus being sent to earth for me. This year, I am guided by Ann Voskamp's new book "The Greatest Gift" and it already feels as if there’s a new depth to the diving. There’s always fear, though, when it comes to diving. I fear falling in and I fear not being able to get out. I’m reminded of an article I wrote about a fear I experienced in childhood, shared below. This is the way I want to experience Christmas this year, fears and all.

Heights of Fear

Parents trickled into the cavernous room, immediately overwhelmed by the stench of chlorine and oppressive humidity. Dissonant sounds of unclear origin echoed the children’s pounding hearts as they lined up against the gray cement wall on the far side. Moms searched the line for their own children, sending reassurance with a wave and a forced smile. The adults continued to methodically fill the metal bleachers while the swim coaches entered, quietly reminding the children of the basics taught over the past eight weeks. Meanwhile, the high dive platform projected its majestic presence thirty feet up, commanding acknowledgement from its royal subjects.

Staring down at the pattern of tiny gray tiles under my pudgy bare feet, I tugged at my white rubber cap again, wondering how to make the ominous white platform disappear. The muddled sounds of the coach’s voice reminded me to glance up at her lips to glean a word or two of the instructions she was giving. I couldn’t wear my hearing aids in the pool since they couldn’t get wet. Goosebumps and the knotted pit in my gut accompanied my walk along the slippery poolside plank as I waited my turn for the final requirement to finish my swim class. I didn’t want to look up as the first kid tentatively climbed the ladder to his fate at the top. I couldn’t help peeking though; I held my breath for him as he climbed and climbed and climbed some more; then skipped forward off the board to make the dreaded descent. Thwomp. It was a loud landing into the dark descent of the deep water, even to my ears. I bet it hurt. I continued to hold my breath, shivering, until I saw his dark shadow moving closer and closer to the surface of the water. He doggie paddled his way to the side of the pool and climbed out. I exhaled.

After what seemed like an eternity, it was my turn. I stood at the bottom of the ladder looking up, wondering if it reached heaven. Taking a deep breath, I started to climb slowly, keeping my focus straight ahead. I didn’t even want to try to see if my mom noticed me from the bleachers because it meant I had to look somewhere else. One-two-three. I’ll just count my way up there. Four-five-six. Taking my time, I considered going down instead of up again. Seven-eight-nine. The goosebumps and pit in my stomach were now accompanied by the fact that I couldn’t breathe. Inhale, exhale. Ten-eleven-twelve. Inhale, exhale. Thirty four- thirty five- thirty six. I was at the top. The grit of the board scratched the bottom of my feet as I took tiny steps forward to reach the end. There were a couple more steps to take and I stopped and peeked. All I could see was a black square of motion down there, and it didn’t look big enough to catch me.

Time froze; bile caught in the back of my throat, threatening to give me a new way to embarrass myself in front of other people. I swallowed. I slid my right foot forward; dragged my left foot to meet it. I did it again. Oh God I can’t do this. Will I die now? One more step to go. At the end of the board, I knew I had to move fast or freak out, big time. I sucked in a short breath and jumped forward. I don’t know if the screaming was in my head or out of my mouth but it was all I could hear. Falling falling falling until I slammed into a cold wet wall. That hurt. Flailing, I sank sank sank for what seemed like another eternity. My chest tightened with fear, my nose flooded with pool water. At last, I stopped sinking and was still. Silence surrounded me; isolated me; threatened me.
Motivated by my need to get out of there, I finally remembered to move my arms and legs. My chest tightened more. Blowing out through my nose, bubbles tickled my cheeks as they swam to the surface faster than I ever could. I followed the bubbles up the water. Swim swim swim. Swim some more. My arms got heavier but I moved them anyway. The light from the top of the water started to get brighter. I swam some more. Breaking through the wet ceiling, I sucked in air while I kicked my way to the side of the pool. My chest was still heaving as I grabbed the ladder and climbed out. Dripping, I looked in the bleachers for my mom. I took a few steps and finally saw her frantically waving from the sea of parents. I walked the slippery path back to the group of kids in my class to join the land of the living.


Today, I understand how the jump off the high dive was a critical turning point in learning how to trust. No matter how many swim lessons I had, there was a level of trust beyond my understanding which propelled my jump. To trust the God of heaven to love me so much to send His Son—for ME!--is a jump into overwhelming love which I hope catches me each time I fall.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Sunrise at the Beach

It was the last day of the 16th birthday bash for my daughter and her two friends. This was the second year of their tradition to go away together to celebrate. Last year, they went to a cabin house in the woods, but this year’s setting was the Jersey shore. A perfect ending to a perfect weekend would be to see the sun rise on the beach.

The girls plotted their morning wake-up plan using their cellphones as alarms. My own body clock turned out to be more effective. I woke up at 6 and after throwing on my sweats and an extra sweatshirt on top of my pajamas, I walked into the girls’ bedroom where their three bodies morphed as if they suddenly fell asleep playing Twister. I shook them awake, offering them the option to stay asleep. Not happening. They got up, brushed their teeth, found their sweats, hats, scarves and gloves while shuffling to the living room for their shoes. Within minutes, they were ready. It was only two blocks away, but we loaded up in the car and drove to the beach entrance, saving as much time as possible so we could beat the sun’s appearance over the horizon. The girls bounced out of the car and hurried up the wooden ramp to the beach entrance.

At the end of the ramp, we stood silently, just staring. The ocean danced ferociously under the expanse of a glorious sky painted with bold varieties of oranges, pinks, blues and greens. Breathtaking. The wind threatened to take our hats and scarves but we held on tighter and after a few minutes decided to forge ahead to the water’s edge. I snapped photo after photo hoping to capture the sunrise at the precise postcard-perfect moment when it peeked through. I found myself thinking about life and friendship and God and love while watching the trio of young ladies move ahead. Within moments, the colorful sky brightened, as if a God-sized light switch was flipped and suddenly we saw it. The sun blazed its appearance at the edge of the horizon.

The girls wrapped their arms together and, together, received.

I began a silent prayer:

God, you’re showing off for these girls, aren’t you? Thank you, God. Thank you, too, for the chance to spend time with them this weekend. This sunrise is the perfect show of what you have for them. Bless them, God. Be with them always. And thank you for loving them.



Then I cried.

God was showing off for me, too.




Friday, September 12, 2014

Hearing from God

I wear two hearing aids. Seems like yesterday when I got my first one at the age of five. Suddenly, the refrigerator didn’t hum in the background anymore, it roared. Car engines became airplane engines. I even heard my mom call me from the other room. And the toilet flushing? I thought a tidal flood came through our little bathroom.

I didn’t know what I didn’t hear until I heard it.

It’s the same with God.

Really?

Could I actually hear something? Well, it’s God, so I imagine a choir of a gazillion angels or the clanging of a huge bell or perhaps the thunderous sound of a voice which shakes the ground I’m standing on. Or perhaps there’s no sound at all.

As a hearing aid wearer, the best way to “hear” things is to read them. I agree, God could help me to hear despite my hearing aids. But I’ve always lacked confidence in my ability to hear clearly, and reading the closed-captioning on the TV helps. My aids are much more high-tech than they used to be so I can skip the words on the TV most of the time, but hearing from God is still a tough concept. The Bible, however, is the ultimate in closed-captioning. Messages are written just for me.





Earlier this year, I experienced a spiritual rut when I was less sure than usual of God’s plans in my life (aren’t we all?) I found my prayers shifting to a passionless recitation of familiar words which were on my mind but not in my heart. I basically felt abandoned by God because, well, feeling ignored is a familiar “button” for me, and I wasn’t connecting with God in the busy schedule of my routine.

I attended the Beth Moore event in May of this year…solo. I was able to pick a seat from the general seating area by myself. Each of the chairs had a hand-written bible verse on an index card meant for the person occupying it.

My verse was Psalms 9:10:
“Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.”

I looked up a definition of “forsaken.” It means abandoned.

I heard the message, loud and clear.


I’d love to hear your stories: how has God spoken to you through Scriptures?

Thursday, August 28, 2014

First Day of School



The cool breeze suggested the beginning of Fall but the calendar read August 25th---still summer. Regardless of the season, the first day of school arrived again.

My daughter, now a sophomore, bounded down the stairs, the slight scent of powder trailing her. She looked at herself in the mirror, smoothed a couple stray hairs and adjusted her blouse. She then turned, peeked over her shoulder to check the final view from the back, and smiled. Satisfied, she joined me in the kitchen.

“Good morning, precious!”

“Morning, Mom!”

“How are you?”

“I’m okay, thanks. Except I’m a little nervous about the new building. It might be tough to find my way around.”

“I understand,” I said.

More than thirty years have passed since I started my sophomore year in high school. How odd to remember the details to this day. I wore a blue uniform, and remember checking from the back to make sure my blouse collar was laying properly, my socks pulled up, my hair smoothed down.

My young man, now a high school senior, walked down the stairs a few minutes later. Confident and calm, he no longer resembled the little boy I used to escort to the bus stop.

“You ready to take it on?” I asked.

“Yup!” he said.

After breakfast, they each posed for the obligatory first-day-of-school photo. They know to stand in front of the door, so I can see how tall they’ve grown since last year. The photo tradition gives me a chance to capture the moment, hoping to make it stand still. Tears threatened, but I held off. My chickadees hadn’t left the house yet.

“Time to go,” I said. “Let’s put on the armor of God, okay?”

We had been reciting our personal version of Ephesians 6 since my son started Kindergarten.

“Thank you, Lord, that you give us the belt of truth…”

And we go through the hand motions putting on our invisible belts.

“And for the breastplate of righteousness…”

Hand-motions to strap on a chest plate.

“…and our feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.”

Hand motions to tie on our shoes.

“Thank you, Lord, for our helmet of salvation, and the shield of faith, with which we can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.”

Strap under the chin, then left arm bent at the elbow and lifted up to hold the shield.

“…And for the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.”

Right arm wielding a sword, ready to take it on.

And my two young adults walked out the door, stepping out of this momma’s nest to fly.

Letting go is not natural, but necessary.

I cried. The first day of school gets me every time. I think I need a box of tissues to go along with the armor.


Saturday, August 16, 2014

Smoke Break

Today, I watched as an employee at a local retail store took a well-deserved smoke break on a bench just outside the front doors. She was disengaged from the busyness around her, enjoying the breezy afternoon with just enough sun to be comfortable. With each puff, she seemed to take in a dose of stillness. She seemed so…calm.

I’m old enough to remember the days when it was normal for businesses to allocate time for their employees to take a “smoke break” as one of the company benefits. Smoking was all the rage, but only the cool people smoked, and I certainly wanted to be cool.

Remember the Marlboro Man?




Okay, I admit I tried smoking back when I was a teenager (sorry, Mom) but didn’t like it very much. Thankfully, it’s not a habit which interested me. As a result, you may consider me odd but I looked up “how to smoke” on Google. (Ironically, my teenage daughter caught me and seemed wary of my excuse that it was blog research. But that’s another story.)

I’m thinking I want this sense of…calm…when I’m praying.

The Google smoking instructions contained five basic steps:

1) Flame
Obviously, lighting up requires well, a light. Fire is required for smoke.

So many times I am pushed to the limit with feeling out of control in my life that a touch of heat…a flame…a scorch of awareness…is all I need to remember God is really the one in control. It’s a good way to get started in prayer.

2) Inhale a Little
The instructions mentioned it best to inhale just a little bit of smoke, slowly, so as to avoid singeing your throat, and to give yourself a chance to taste the cigarette.

Taking in only a little of the Bible at a time helps me to get a deeper sense of what God wants to say. Recently, I have been reading the book of Proverbs, one chapter at a time, and then selected a single verse in that chapter for reflection. I am able to apply that one verse more tastefully than if I simply sucked in the entire chapter.

3) Hold
The next step is to hold some of the smoke in your mouth, for enjoyment.

Reminding myself of the single verse at various times during the day gave me a chance to savor the lesson. The other day, Proverbs verse reminded me to “guard my heart” and it helped me stay calm when I felt overwhelmed about preparing for my schedule the following day.

4) Inhale Further
Next, the smoke is to be inhaled all the way down to the lungs.

Sometimes, the message I learned the day before (such as the “guard my heart” reminder) needs to get deep into my being. I decided to dwell on it for the next couple days as well. It made a difference.

5) Let Go
Finally, there are various ways to demonstrate your “coolness” by the stylistic way to let go and blow out the smoke.

For me, this means to let go of what I think I can control and simply breathe out my own efforts to let God work instead.

Thinking through these steps, I inhaled a dose of peace instead of tobacco. Drew in some stillness. Exhaled some stress. When I returned to my work later that day, I was more productive and energized.

And I was as cool as the Marlboro Man.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Connections

I had an interesting perspective at Beth Moore's Living Proof Live conference back in May. My special seats afforded me a clear view of wires. Lots of them.



Can you see the two thick bunches of cables coming down from the ceiling? There must have been at least three dozen individual cords in each bunch. Each of the cable ropes connected up to the ceiling, and then fed into the blue cage. You can track the cage across the arena ceiling at the top of the photo. The cage then opened just above the center stage, where the ropes were freed. The ropes then dangled to the stage and were plugged in somewhere below the stage.

Who, I wondered, is in charge of making sure everything is connected? Looking to my right, I found this guy.



Okay, there’s always someone behind the scenes, right? We know he’s done a great job only when we manage to forget he’s even there.

Prayers are a familiar go-to response when life goes poorly. Kind of like when one of the wires gets unplugged.

But what about when life goes well? Could I still remember who’s behind the scenes, keeping all the cables connected properly?

I woke up. Early. God did that.

I have a bed to sleep in. Comfy. God did that.

I have food in my fridge. Plenty. God did that.

I received another annual “we analyzed your mammogram results and there is nothing wrong” letter. Relieved. God did that.

My husband is the love of my life and best friend. Always. God did that.

My children continue to bless my life. Abundantly. God did that.

I can read the Bible. Anytime. God did that.

I can pray and connect with God. Again.

God always does a great job behind the scenes. Even when I’ve forgotten He is there.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Cleaning the Inside

Any fellow coffee lovers out there? Like you, I’m constantly on the search for the perfect cup of coffee, every time. About a year ago, I rediscovered the beauty of the electric percolator…you know, the kind my parents used when I was young. I enjoy the traditional drip coffee makers and also the Keurig single-cup appliances, but when a friend gave me a cup of coffee made in her percolator, I was hooked. My coffeepot was on its last leg, and when it died, my next model was shiny and silver.



After a year of using my percolator, day after day, sometimes twice a day, the inside was—ahem—black. My coffee, like my heart and the words that come out of my mouth, can get bitter with long-time residue left unattended.

It was time to clean the inside.

The tiny quarter-sized well at the bottom of my percolator was impossible to reach, let alone clean. Yes, I tried scrubbing. But as with most coffee makers, the stains became permanent. I considered a popular vinegar method to clean it but was skeptical because I didn’t want the taste of vinegar mixing with my beloved cup of coffee.

Then I tried another method: the dishwasher soap method. I took a dishwasher tablet, placed it in the pot, added boiling water to the top and let it sit for a half hour. The coffee stains practically removed themselves from the inside of the pot and my coffee tastes delicious again. The reason my coffeepot is sparkly clean now is not because of my efforts, but because of what I used to clean it.



This reminds me of the bible verse where Jesus speaks to the Pharisees about cleaning the outside of the cup and dish, not the inside.
Matthew 23:25-26
25 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.

I am making efforts to clean my attitude about eating healthy---again. I am always making these efforts. But the question is:

What am I using as my cleaning product?

The only thing that works…the only thing that EVER worked…is daily prayer. It’s the ultimate dishwasher tablet. Not Dawn, not Cascade, but Prayer. The residue of life’s leftover gunk in my heart practically removes itself when I do this. My heart, like my coffee, becomes better, not bitter.

What’s your version of the ultimate cleaning product?

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Pound Cake Prayers

In my prayers the other day, I started by asking God for help in managing my food choices. Again. God can and will help me with this, I know. I’m using food as a drug to avoid difficult emotions. Yes, I’m aware of this. Yes, I still do it. And so I pray again.

God, I know you can help me deal with food these days. Help me to eat healthier and make better choices. Thank you in advance for being there for me. Oh, and help me not to eat the batter for the pound cake I’m about to make.

I make a mean chocolate cake, smooth butter cookies, crisp pizzelles and to-die-for anise biscotti. Nana would approve with a smile, a hug, and a cup of espresso to go with the cookies. But pound cake? Its secrets to baked perfection elude me.

Don’t get me wrong, I know there are special techniques to pound cake. Room temperature ingredients. Measure properly. Beat the batter for no less than twenty minutes. Check the oven temperature. I reread the page of scribbled notes I took while watching my mom bake yet another perfect pound cake. And I followed my notes and special techniques perfectly.

Raw.



Time to try those prayers again. Time to get raw. What is it I really want to say? I heard it suggested to sit still long enough as if a butterfly could land on my shoulder. And so I sat. And sat.

God, I don’t know if I really want to stop eating. The food helps me to deal with life, y’know? I’m stressed about my daughter’s headache today. I don’t want to panic or overthink it, but is she okay?

Is it okay that I’m afraid sometimes?

I want to let go and let You be in charge. I’ve taken care of myself and everyone else for that matter for so long that I don’t know how to let go.

What about my son’s college plans? Will he make the right choices? Will he get in? What about the finances?

What about my husband’s health? Will he stay stable?

What about my schedule? Am I doing too much? Too little? Am I good enough? Do you love me? Do you even hear me? How do I know you’re here, God?


Maybe, just maybe, the pound cake didn’t turn out to help me avoid eating it.
Raw. Perfect for prayers, not for pound cake.

How do you get raw with God?

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Summertime Gifts

Summer break brings a smile to most school-age children, but for us moms, it can elicit a sigh or two. Sure, we enjoy our children. Sure, we want to spend more time with them. The total lack of structure, however, makes this—ahem—difficult. No wonder so many summer camps are filled to maximum capacity. Yes, I know, those camps are (and I quote) “educational.” Educational or not, I feel those camps are a gift for us parents, so we can have some form of structure. Please, give me a schedule, a plan, some type of order—anything.

My children are teenagers now, but when they were younger, I found the summer slowdown an ideal way to get to know them more. I believe we are all born with unique talents as a gift from God, and one of my favorite responsibilities as a mom is to discover those talents in my children. I’d set us up on the back patio with some chalk, bubbles and a garden hose, and soon their preferences became evident.

My daughter loved to try new things and didn’t mind getting messy or wet. She’d spend hours on extra-large sidewalk drawings evidencing the colorful world in her imagination.

When my son tried something new, he usually preferred to do it over and over until he figured out how it worked. We once had an extra-large bubble-wand-thingy and he spent the entire afternoon figuring out how long the bubbles took to pop.

The toughest thing to juggle then was figuring out how to get my house chores done, too.

This summer, we are juggling my son’s part-time job, my daughter’s two volunteer gigs, and my own part-time job. When my daughter and her friend offered their services to clean my house, of course my answer was a resounding “yes!” This is a new way to get house chores done, I’ve learned.

Two and a half hours later, my daughter and her friend presented me with the sparkling list checked off and finished to perfection. Their organization, energy, competitiveness and joy shone through the wiping, mopping and scrubbing. I discovered more of my daughter’s talents again, along with those of her friend. I noticed their passion for life, their work ethic and their willingness to help. My summertime sigh was converted a summertime smile. What a gift.



How do you set up a sense of structure for your summer? And what are the gifts and talents you’ve discovered in your children?

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Slowdown and Slurpees


Ahhh. The first week of June and summer is not only on the calendar for this month, but on my mind. There’s something about switching to June that reminds me to Slow. Down. Whatever happened to the “lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer?”

I scheduled them.

No more lazy, hazy or crazy allowed. All it takes is a slight touch on a phone and voila! Life is booked. Overbooked, in fact.

When I was a kid, summer meant slowing down. Only then could I enjoy playing with an old chunk of white chalk and draw a masterpiece on the sidewalk, then use the hose to wash it away. I’d enjoy time with a bunch of neighborhood friends where we’d play freeze tag at the parking lot down the street where more neighborhood kids would join in. We’d walk around to the back driveway and grab our bikes to take a ride around the block. We’d play hairdresser and try new styles on each other. We’d ask our moms for some balloons and fill them with water for a short-lived balloon toss game. Then maybe we’d go to the 7-11 down the street for a Cola Slurpee and get brain freeze while drinking it on the walk home. The only way to thoroughly savor a Slurpee to the last drop is to drink it slowly. There’s no slurping a Slurpee.

Today, summer means figuring out the schedule for my teenagers, husband and myself. Driving to and back from appointments, work, volunteer gigs. It’s a good season, though, and I plan to watch for 25 mph speed signs and slow down enough to enjoy the ride. Just like a Cola Slurpee.

How do you plan to slow down this summer?

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Lunch with God--part 2

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about having a lunch date with God. The idea evolved when I planned to spend alone time with Him after attending the Living Proof Live event with Beth Moore in Hershey, PA. Lunch with God was experienced at the one and only Hotel Hershey. We went to one of the hotel’s casual restaurants, The Harvest. You can read about that decision in my previous post.



Seated at a wooden table near a large picture window, I watched the cotton-white clouds float over a stunning blue sky. A large tree in the field behind the building was just sprouting its leafy buds and a sea of greens in the far background finished off the picturesque view. Beautiful.

Lauren, with her smiling eyes, introduced herself as our waitress and told us she’d be serving us today. She described the daily specials as she poured icy cold water from a large pewter pitcher, which she left on the table for refills. I drank some, and it washed down the lingering chocolate taste in my mouth from my pre-lunch appetizer. Lauren said she’d be back with our bread and butter. Ahhh, the food of life. My stomach rumbled at the thought of indulging in the bread basket instead of skipping it as usual. The Harvest was already proving itself worthy.



Lauren was back in a moment and placed the steaming basket on the table, enticing with the scent of yeast and all things bread. It was accompanied by a dish of softened butter piped onto the plate in the shape of a heart. Love on a plate. I unwrapped the maroon napkin to discover four different types of bread, and I started with the multigrain roll, which I lavishly smeared with the love-butter. Crunchy, nutty, warm, decadent.

So far, so good. Chocolate, icy cold water and warm bread. God knows what I like.

Looking over the menu, I decided to order something I usually don’t choose. A burger. This wasn’t just any old hamburger, though. The menu promised juicy 100% Angus beef, prepared to my liking (medium well), with toppings of my choice. Buttery grilled onions and mushrooms, of course. Oh, and lettuce and a slice of tomato to top it off. A side salad of crisp greens served with tarragon vinaigrette finished off the meal. I told Lauren my order. She poured more water.

I enjoyed the next bread indulgence while waiting. This time I had a slice of spicy moist pumpkin bread with a crusty, sugary coating. Yum.

My next hunk of bread turned out to be like a mini scone, buttery and slightly sweet with a hint of cinnamon and vanilla. It melted in my mouth.

“God,” I said, “I appreciate the metaphor now about Jesus being the BREAD of life. That’s a good one!”

“Glad you like it!”

Soon my meal arrived in its artistic deliciousness.


The burger was served piping hot, its beefy perfection resting on a slightly toasted sesame roll, with caramelized onions and grilled mushrooms on top, just as I requested. I cut it in half, took a bite, and savored. The meat was simple, fresh, and insanely satisfying.

And the salad? Crunchy freshness on a plate. Sometime I think salads taste better just because someone else made them. This one was probably made by one of God’s angels. Did you ever have tarragon vinaigrette? Such a unique combination of flavor for the crisp greens. I had the last hunk of bread from the basket with the salad, this time a savory roll with peppercorns and other spices I enjoyed and hadn’t tasted before. It was an exquisite complement to the salad.

I was full after eating half the burger, and saved the rest for later. I asked for a to-go box. Lauren even packed me more bread with softened butter to take with me. Nothing better.

Sporting a mean sweet tooth, I surprised myself when I didn’t order dessert. I was truly full, satisfied, loved. Lauren returned with the check.

It totaled $18.13. What a bargain, just what I love.

Beth Moore spoke about food during the conference. God really does give us food to enjoy. I not only enjoyed it, but experienced it.

Have you ever experienced a meal?

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Lunch with God--part 1

I attended a Beth Moore Living Proof Live event in Hershey last weekend. It was a time of life-changing bible teaching along with extraordinary worship by Travis Cottrell. These events are held all over the country, but this time it was extra fun being in Hershey, the land of all things chocolate. Chocolate and God, what more could I want?

I spent not only one day, but a bonus afternoon and evening on my own in town. Alone. It took a little while to get used to the idea. I’ve always attended these types of events in a group setting but this time I was flying solo.

The event ended on Saturday afternoon, and it was time for a lunch date. With God.

Hmm, where would God take me?

None other than the Hotel Hershey, of course.


I secretly wondered if I’d find an extra $20 floating around, just for fun. I figured God was paying for lunch, right? Spotting the signs for the hotel entrance, I turned left into the driveway. Perfectly manicured trees surrounded by precision-lined tulips in bright colors served as royal subjects for the magnificent hotel at the top of the hill. I parked my car and a light breeze accompanied my walk up the steep sidewalk towards the entrance of the grand lobby. Giddy with excitement, I practically skipped to the concierge desk to request a lunch reservation for two—ahem—one. One human reservation. Indulgence awaited. Looking around, it was evident to me that God knows how to have a lunch date in style.

I made our reservation for 30 minutes later, which gave us time to browse the picturesque fountain lobby and first-floor shops.

This was near the window of the first gift shop we passed:


“God, you have a great sense of humor to go along with that sense of style.”

“I know, Lisa. I know.”

“Oh yeah, I forgot. You know everything, don’t You?”

God and I then stopped in the coffee shop—an unspoken assumption. He arranged for today’s flavor of the day: chocolate. We found a little table in the cafĂ© and sipped, enjoying the coffee and company.

It was time for lunch so we headed through the lobby to the back of the hotel. We had to walk out of the building down a path to another building where the restaurant was located. Once we opened the back door of the hotel, my eyes feasted on a sea of tulips in pinks, purples and yellows. It was gorgeous and I couldn’t stop staring. Stunning both individually and in bunches.



“Yup, I made the tulips for you to enjoy, Lisa. Pretty, huh? Just like you.”

We entered the brick building of the restaurant. The Harvest Restaurant.

“Nice name, God. Your idea?”

“Yes, I’m sure it was. You are part of my harvest, Lisa.”

In front of the hostess’ podium was a table with a large bowl full of miniature chocolates. Like a little child, I grinned, grabbed a handful, and immediately unwrapped one to enjoy.

The hostess asked my name for the reservation. Pausing so I could finish chewing my chocolate, I gave her my name and mentioned I was enjoying my pre-lunch appetizer. She smiled warmly, and handed a menu to the waitress who brought me—ahem, us—to our table for lunch.

“Guess you don’t need a menu, God.”

He smiled.

“Will you please stand by the window so I can take a picture?”

God posed for me. Can you see Him?


I looked over the menu. Oooh, I couldn’t wait. What to order? In my next blog, we’ll talk about the food. Yum.

Where would God take you for your lunch date?

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Focus on the Fence

I was watching a high school tennis match the other day and thought I’d snap a photo of the action going on behind the fence. There were powerful serves, spinning returns and flying lobs only to be slammed just slightly over the net. It reminded me of the sweaty fun I used to have playing the sport in high school. Instead of focusing on the tennis game, however, my camera’s automatic setting gave me this photo instead.


What? Focused on the fence, not on the fun?

It’s how I pray more than I care to admit. Instead of looking at what God can do, I find myself focusing on the fence, the worries, the things that hem me in.

One of my favorite verses of all times is Psalm 46:11 Be still and know that I am God. I love the variety of meanings embedded in this verse. Sometimes I dwell on the last word—God—and am humbled that He really is in control. Other times, though, I think more about the beginning of the verse—Being Still—because it reminds me to adjust my focus and watch what God is doing.

As the mom of a high school junior, my activities this year include all-things-college. College visits, college research, college scholarship information, college financial aid, college standardized tests, oh, and college admissions application deadlines. No, I am not personally doing all the work (that’s my son’s job) but I find that I try to do all the worrying. I figure I can help God out in taking care of my son. Yikes.

At a recent college visit, we were hustling up the steps of the hundred-year-old building to attend the information session on the second floor. As I rounded the corner to head upstairs, I failed to see the small ledge in front of me. My toes caught the ledge and—Slam! Instantly I landed onto both my knees. Fortunately, I didn’t hit my head on the hardwood railing in front of me, and I was basically unharmed. My knees hurt, though. I shook it off, got up, and continued up the flight of stairs.

Later that evening, it became clear to me that God put me right where He needed me. I was worrying about all the college information, and instead, I needed to be on my knees. My fence-focus went away when I instead focused on what God is doing. It was a good reminder that God has it all (even my kids) under His control, and I can simply enjoy every lob, serve and spinning return I see on the other side of the fence.

Do you focus on the fences, too?




Thursday, April 10, 2014

Weighing In



Donating blood. Sounds simple, right? Wrong.

I participated in a blood drive recently. It had been so long since I donated blood, I forgot about all the details involved. All for a few bagsful of blood. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the work done by the medical staff to make sure my blood is safe, but the extent of their efforts humbled me. It reminded me my blood could be life-threatening if they didn’t process it correctly. I prefer to think of my blood as life-giving.

First, there were clinical steps. Blood pressure, check. Finger stick test for something-or-other, check. Temperature. Check. Whew, thankfully I’m passing the test so far.

Next came the many pages of questions regarding my health. The bored technician rattled them off, one at a time, in his monotone rant, until eventually they all sounded the same.

“Do you have, or have you ever had, sickle-cell anemia?”

“No.”

“Do you have, or have you ever had, cancer?”

“No.”

To keep myself alert, I started to say a silent prayer with each “No.” It helped.

By the time he got to the bottom of the fourth page, the technician stated (in the same monotone manner),“Have you ever been pregnant?” I automatically said “No,” following my pattern of answers so far. He hesitated, and then asked again, figuring I probably had children, after which I said “Yes.” I guess he was listening to my answers after all.

“Have you ever had malaria?”

“No.”

“Have you been out of the country in the past six months?”

“No.”

And then came the worst question of all.

“What do you weigh?”

Gulp.

I hesitated, thought for a minute, subtracted five pounds and gave him my number. I already felt I was being judged, but this kicked it up a notch. A huge notch. I found myself wondering the reason for the question. The others questions made more sense to me, since they have something to do with the quality of my blood. But my weight? Does what I weigh affect the value of my blood? Am I too fat to qualify as a life-giver?

The medical questions were finally finished and I moved to the next station, where I did what I came to do: donate blood.

After donating, I headed to the snack table. Okay, I’ll admit, this is my favorite part. It feels like a little window of pampering, being told to sit and eat a snack. The blood drive was held in a local high school, and as a result the volunteer staff included several high school students. Two teenage girls assisted me by offering snacks and drinks before they went back to their own conversation.

“Did you give blood yet?” one said to the other.

“No, they won’t take me. I want to just tell them I weigh 115 so I can donate. It’s only five pounds.”

So this was why I was asked to give my weight. I needed to weigh in at least 115 to qualify as a donor. Nope, not a problem for me. I haven’t seen 115 pounds since elementary school. However, to hear this girl want to flub her numbers to donate gave me a new appreciation for those five pounds I “automatically” knocked off my weight for the records.

Many times, I let my weight interfere with feeling like a life-giver. When will I recognize I’m perfect just as I am? What a great lesson and reminder that God knew me before I was born, and I am “fearfully and wonderfully made.” His Word? Now that’s life-giving.

How about you? Do you ever wonder if you qualify to be a life-giver? Does your weight get in the way of how you feel about yourself?

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Where's the Pool?

Do you ever have days like I do, when praying to God feels like talking to a wall? Days when I wonder if God even hears me, and my prayers seem to be going around in circles with no real destination? On those days I’m reminded of a recent time when I went to a high school event with my daughter and her friends.

The girls asked me to drive them to a swim meet to watch their other friend in the competition. I gladly obliged, and my daughter and I picked up her two girlfriends and headed to the nearby college campus where the event was being held.

I didn’t know exactly where the pool was located, but since the campus was small, I figured it would be easy to find. At the entrance of the campus driveway, I pulled the car over near a directory and map, leaving three chatting, giggling teens in the back seat. I scanned the map but couldn’t find anything labeled “gymnasium.” There was a blue blob labeled “retaining pond” but I didn’t think a swim meet could be held there.

When I got back in the car, the girls agreed we would simply drive around the campus and hopefully find the pool on our own. We figured it couldn’t be far. After a few minutes, one of my daughter’s friends said the scenery was starting to look familiar to her. She had been on the campus several years earlier and remembered there were plenty of sculptures and statues on the property. We had just passed a sculpture she recognized. “Keep going,” she said, “I’m pretty sure there are more buildings at the end of this road.”

We wound up another path and soon I saw a bench to the side of the road with a woman sitting on it. I pulled up slowly, lowered the window, and asked loudly, “Do you know where the pool is located?”

No response.

She was a statue.

I braced myself for the explosion of laughter from the back seat.

Yes, we finally found the building where the swim meet was held. It was fun, but nothing like talking to a statue. Unlike that lady on the bench, God is real, is listening, and can always give me directions.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Who's Watching?

I was driving a familiar road, heading to work after my Weight Watchers’ meeting with only a few minutes to spare. The day was sunny and cloudless, perfect for productivity.

I stopped at the red light on Main Street, and headed to the next light a couple blocks ahead. The light turned green and I hit the gas again. Less than a minute and a half-block later, the shrill of a police siren intruded my otherwise uneventful drive. I looked in my rearview mirror to discover the noise was coming from the cop car behind me. Directly behind me.

I pulled over, silently praying he’d pass by to chase after a criminal or two. Watching in the rearview mirror, I saw that he pulled over behind me. Ugh. Lights flashed blue and red, disco-style, to make sure the whole world knew I was stopped by a cop.


“Guess I’ll be late for work,” I thought to myself.

I watched him in my side mirror as he stepped out of the cruiser, as starched as he was short, and ambled towards my car. His dark hair and eyes accentuated his baby-smooth complexion. I wondered if he could even grow a beard. To my left, drivers passed slowly as they gawked, desperate to catch a glimpse of what a real criminal looks like.

The officer approached my window. “Good afternoon, ma’am.”

God, I’m old.

“What happened, sir?” I asked. “Did I go through a light?”

Breathe in. Breathe out. Stay calm.

“No, ma’am. I clocked you at 41 in a 25 zone.”

“Oh.”

“May I have your license and registration, please?”

“They’re in my purse, which is in the trunk. I’m on my way to work,” I said.
His eyes widened as he stepped back ever-so-slightly, calculating my demeanor.

I didn’t move.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

“Okay with you if I get out and open my trunk for my purse?” I asked.

He took a couple more steps back and nodded. I got out of my car and opened the hatch.

Seriously, there are no drug deals going down here.

I grabbed my purse and carried it back to the drivers’ seat as he watched. Opening my wallet, I pulled out my drivers’ license and grabbed my registration from the glove box. I handed both to the officer.

“It’ll be a few minutes while I do the paperwork, ma’am.”

I wished he’d stop calling me ma’am.

And I sat. And sat. And waited.

The disco lights continued to flash to the beat of their obnoxious dance.

How long does it take to do this paperwork?

Five minutes passed. Ten minutes.

Fidgety, I looked in my rearview mirror to see if he was awake back there. I was tempted to pull out my phone and take a photo of the view from the mirror, framing this little guy with big lights taking care of paperwork. I didn’t want to get in any more trouble, though.

Fifteen minutes.

“God, is it possible he could just give me a warning?” I mentally pleaded.

Five more minutes and he got out of his disco cruiser. Marching up to my drivers’ window again, he handed me a ticket.

“Please drive more slowly, ma’am.”

After he walked back to the cop car, he turned off the lights. Finally. I flicked my left turn signal and pulled out into traffic. Slowly.

Is that how I see God? Always behind me, ready to pull out and give me a ticket for something I’ve done wrong? At times, I behave as if God is more of a cop than my friend. Speeding through prayers doesn’t work, either. Believe me, I’ve tried. When I do take a few minutes, though, to simply be with God, the rest of the day seems to go much more smoothly. That’s a ticket worth writing.