Monday, December 17, 2012

Prayer for a bent world from a bent heart

Silent night. Holy night.
Now is calm. All is quiet.
Family—father, mother, child.
Day’s work ceases; rest awhile.
Sleep in dreams of peace.
Sleep in dreams of peace.

Shining dawn. Shadow falls.
Children quake at the sight.

Evil streams its blackness nigh,
scatters heart-rent stain.  All cry:
“Human darkness, born!"
Christ, our darkness born.

Silent night. Desperate night.
Son of God.  Love’s pure light?
Sorrow's trail on mother’s face
blurs all vision. Hidden grace.
Plead “Emmanuel."
Come, Emmanuel.

Silent light.  Holy light.
Cure our souls.
Heal our blight.
Cancel Darkness, take its place.
World relent to redeeming Grace.
Bring Your promised peace.
Christ! Oh be our Peace.

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Car Necklace

More than a few passengers in my Honda Pilot have commented on the odd combination of items dangling from my rearview mirror:  

A leather cross received from a Baylor friend, a free coffee pass from Einstein’s Bagels (better get some before it expires!), and a charm my Camp Ozark buddy, Robin, gave me last August.

It says “Noticed.” 
A word that conveys a powerful message.
For when I’m noticed, I am . . . .

Maybe even cherished.

The coffee coupon and the cross on my “car necklace” aren’t so surprising.
But the pendant?  It’s a little more telling. 

Because—for better or for worse—I long for someone to notice how I’m . . . .
                    Living my life.
                    Parenting my children.
                    Talking to my husband.
                    Interacting with my students.
                    Keeping my house.
                    Commenting on papers.
                    Cooking (ok, thawing or picking up) my family’s meals.

And I wonder:  Am I the only one who feels this longing?

In past seasons, the noticing has occurred in the context of friendships fed by time spent . . . .
Being known.
Reminding—and being reminded—that amidst seemingly endless cycles of living-parenting-talking-interacting-keeping-commenting-thawing . . . .
the Light still shines.

These conversations are more sustaining than that oh-so-vital early-morning cup of coffee.

Lately, though they have been scarce.
There has been so little time to notice.  Or to be noticed.
To share.  To listen.
To remind.  To be reminded.

This more solitary season has brought a reminder:
It is my Father’s noticing that is most vital.

And my loneliness for friendship is really a loneliness for Him.
A longing to hear “well done.”
To know that I just might be a “good and faithful servant” after all.

But it can be so very hard, sometimes, to recognize His eyes, to hear His voice.
Which leads me to some questions:

* When are you most aware of His noticing you?

* How do you experience His “well done” in your life?

* What does His noticing sound like? Feel like? Look like?

And (maybe most importantly) are there people in your life who would be blessed by your noticing them?

Maybe even today?

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Anxious Thoughts: A Blessed Redirection

My last post describes my tendency to get swept into the swirl of anxious thoughts that often spew, uninvited, through my mind.

This thought-pattern God is uncovering is one I didn’t even realize as a part of my life.  And I am recognizing—even this very moment as I type—that the hands doing this uncovering are those of a loving, gentle, powerful Father providing firm guidance.  Guidance my life needs.  Guidance my heart craves.

He is continuing to speak truth about my tendency towards anxious thoughts . . . .  And I wonder whether I’m the only one who might benefit from hearing what He seems to be saying.

For most of my life, I’ve believed that this experience: the unexpected and overwhelming flood of worried thoughts, the chokehold of worry, the careful, fear-motivated efforts to avoid each “worst case scenario,” the compulsion to make absolutely sure that I am not the failure that these thoughts suggest . . . . For most of my life, I’ve mis-labeled this experience as God’s conviction.  

It’s one thing to feel anxious, have worrisome thoughts move through my mind.  But it’s another thing altogether to interpret those thoughts as originating from a loving heavenly Father.  To understand the frantic, fear-filled flood of worried "what-ifs" as God's way of speaking, guiding, moving me in the right direction is, simply put, wrong.

I think this is why Jan Johnson’s explanation of the “search me oh God” prayer has brought such deep relief to my very core:  For years, I have believed these anxious thoughts were from my Father.  And that belief has caused me to give those anxious thoughts an incredible (and mistaken) level of power in my life, in my heart, in my decisions.

He is inviting me to see this experience in a new way, to recognize my anxious thoughts as something else altogether.  To identify them as not-my-Father’s-voice.  To confess them as sin, even.  Then to release them into His hands.  And to release my mind from their fiery, fear-triggering clutches.

He is allowing me to see my anxious thoughts in an altogether-different light.  A light I am trusting to be His.

Even as I’m being released from this long-cultivated, spiritually exhausting pattern, I’m also being invited to something new.  To learn a different way of hearing Him, of recognizing His guidance, of sensing His direction. 

So I wait.   My heart is craving for Him to continue this blessed uncovering, this welcome redirection, this new way I’ve longed for without even realizing it.


Thursday, October 11, 2012

know my anxious thoughts

I’m sure you’re familiar with this prayer that ends David’s beautiful Psalm 139.

“Search me oh God, and know my heart.
Test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.”

For most of my life, I’ve understood this passage as a plea for God to convict me of displeasing actions and attitudes in my life.  Sort of a request for Him to open my soul’s door, turn on His flashlight, and spotlight the sins that I may be able to see myself.  It’s been a prayer that often led to confessing unholiness I wasn’t previously aware of.  And, since I know there’s plenty of sin tucked away in my soul, it’s long been a prayer I’ve been a little hesitant to actually pray.

Lately, though, these verses have taken on a different, more hopeful, meaning.

In her wonderful book, Abundant Simplicity, Jan Johnson (whose writing, by the way, has been a source of guidance and encouragement to me for many years), paraphrases this prayer like this:  “Search me, O God, and know my heart.  Test me and know my anxious thoughts that drive me to distraction and excess.  See if there is any offensive, ostentatious way in me and lead me in your glorious way everlasting.”  She encourages us to use this as a prayer of self-awareness, so that when we recognize anxiety or distraction, we can ask God to gently redirect our thoughts and steps.

Anxiety.  Distraction.  Excess.  When I read those words, something resonated.

I’ve been thinking a lot about anxiety lately, because (partly as a result of Johnson’s book), I’ve become newly aware how often anxious thoughts spin through my mind.  Some of them sound like this:

*      When I’m running late (which is more often than I’d like):  What if people perceive me as unreliable?  Or (worse), what if I really am unreliable?

*      When I’m giving what I know will be a disappointing grade to a student:  What if  s/he doesn’t like me now?  What if s/he gives up, and it’s all my fault?

*      When I see the wonderful things my colleagues are doing around campus:  What if my peers think I’m not as invested in in my work as they are?  What if I can’t come up with similarly brilliant ideas?  What if they decide I don’t belong here?

*      When my children aren’t doing as well in school as we’d like:  What if they get a bad grade on their report card?  What if their teachers think we are slacker-parents?  What if we are slacker parents?  What if we are totally and completely messing up as parents?

·      When (because of days that are filled to the brim with work and family activities):  What I’m too exhausted to be as sociable as I think I should be?  What if my friends think I don’t care?  What if I find myself completely alone, with no friends . . . and it’s my own doing?

As I’ve become more aware of my own anxious thoughts, a pattern has begun to emerge:  When something in my life threatens to go awry, my mind shifts abruptly from calm to churning, and my body reacts as well:  my muscles go from relaxed to tight. My face and neck suddenly feel hot.   I’m anxious. Distracted.  Fear-full.  Desperate to avoid whatever awful outcome my mind has managed to conjure.

This, of course, leads me to excess.  Excessive attempts to avoid bad things.  Excessive attempts to be super-mom, super-wife, super-friend, super-teacher.  Excessive attempts to muscle it up and “do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

It’s all just a big, ugly whirlwind of a lie.  A lie that I’m so easily swept up in.

What I’m beginning to understand—what I’m so very grateful for starting to see—is this:

I don’t have to get swept up.

When my heart starts to pound, when I feel my cheeks reddening, when I sense my body reacting to anxious thoughts about who I have to be, I can stop.  I can ask God to reveal those thoughts—and their deception--to me.  I can take a deep breath, step back from the desire to bolt-and-run down a path that will help me avoid whatever awful outcome I’ve imagined—an outcome that probably won’t even happen.  And I can choose, instead, to put my feet back on the road right in front of me.  The road that is illumined—one step at a time—by His lamp.  The road that is guided by One who is gentle and humble.  The road that He prepared for me to walk, and that He knows completely, from beginning to end.

And I can trust.  Not myself, and my own capability.  But Him.  The One who made me, knows my every thought before I even think it.  The One who loves me.  The One who is redeeming me, bit by bit.  The One who says I am enough, because He is enough.


Thursday, September 13, 2012

Ode to Middle School

So the adjustment to middle school is a little more than anyone anticipated. 

Part of it has to do with the challenging academics. 
The material is a little tougher. 
The expectations are higher, as they should be. 

But the real issue?  Organization. 
[Not my strong suit, by the way, which is no small irony, since I teach a course in study skills.  For a living.]

But it’s time to get our game faces on.
And we are getting really serious around our house.
About the agenda. 
About recording assignments.
About bringing home the right books at night.
About getting our work done.
About doing it well.
About putting that work back into the binder for tomorrow.
About turning it in.  On time.
About not cramming things down to the bottom of the locker.  
Or the backpack.  (Because while doing a clean-out the other day, one of my little darlings found a baggie of a-substance-formerly-known-as-grapes.  Fortunately for all of us, the Ziploc was intact.  I counted this as a blessing.  Really.)

And who's in charge of all this serious-ness?
I don’t even have to say it:
Mama has to wear her game face, too.
Gotta remember when to pick up the kids.
Gotta check that agenda.
Gotta confirm that what’s on the agenda matches what’s on the teacher websites.
Gotta make sure all the math problems get done.
All the permission forms get signed.
All the tests get studied for.
All the papers go back to the right spot.
All the half-eaten snacks get thrown away.

Plus provide yummy-but-healthy after-school-snacks.
Plus prepare something-that-resembles-a-nutritious-dinner.
Plus connect with my sweetheart husband when he gets home.
Plus make sure the dog gets taken outside.
Plus keep things moving, so we can get to evening activities.  On time.
Plus ignore the papers that are waiting to be graded.
After the homework is done.
After the dinner is eaten.
After the softball game has been won.  Or lost.
After the dishes are cleaned up.
After the kids are hugged on, sometimes prayed with, and sent to bed.

Every.  Single.  Afternoon.

With a smile on my face and a song in my heart.

Well, not yesterday.
I was just concentrating on the serious part.
The stressed-out part.
The Mama’s-gonna-make-sure-it-all-gets-done-and-gets-done-right-no-matter-what-it-takes part.
There wasn’t a song to be heard.
Or a smile to be seen.
My own all-too-serious was silencing everything else.

Silencing the banter.
Silencing the “Mom, will you quiz me on this?” invitation.
Silencing the silliness that can make the work bearable.
Silencing our spirits.

Well, I knew it.

So I went outside.
Just to get a little taste of this delicious, pre-Fall weather. 
Just to catch a glimpse of the blue sky.

And I saw it.

Last summer, my son and I decided we wanted some home-grown vegetables.  So we made our purchase.  One tomato plant. (My family doesn’t even like tomatoes, but that’s another story.)

Not wanting to overwork ourselves, we did virtually nothing for this plant.
No fertilizer.
No special watering.
No prime spot in the sunlight.
We just put the pot on the back patio and left it there.

And—perhaps not wanting to overwork itself—our little plant gave us a grand total of maybe 5 cherry tomatoes.  Which was okay.  We laughed about our scant harvest and threw away the remains of our purchase in early November.

Here’s what we didn’t know:
Somehow, that not-so-fruitful plant left behind a seed.
And this particular seed is a determined little guy.
Because it decided to grow.
Right where it fell.
In the dark dirt underneath our patio steps.
Somehow, this little seed managed to sprout.
And the stalk from that seed has muscled its way through a crack in the concrete.
(It was hungry to see the sun.)
Over the course of the growing season, it created miracles.
Yellow blossoms.
Then fruit.
First like little green marbles.
Then bigger.
Then (finally) bright red, juicy cherry tomatoes.
More than I can use in my dinner salad.

But just enough for today.
Just enough to pop into my mouth on a not-so-great afternoon.
Just enough to remind me:   Don’t postpone joy.
Just enough to sing a quiet song: 
Right where you’ve been planted.
Stretch towards the sun from that spot.
That will be just enough.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

{Okay, here's a confession:  
Posting these words is like putting something precious in a handmade canoe and shoving it into the big, old ocean.  There's no way to know where--or whether--my boat made shore.  
If it did, though--if something here "landed" in your heart, gave you a glimmer of hope--I'd be seriously blessed if you'd say so in a comment.  You can think of it as sending a little canoe back in my direction.  :-)  }