Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Sorrows and Thankfulness -- Thoughts on a Life of 59 Years

One of my English professors was fond of telling the story of a young man who faced a deep sorrow and afterwards the young man's depth of writing greatly improved. I hated the story because I did not want to face sorrow to be a better writer. I can not say that sorrow has improved my writing, but it has brought depth to my character.

Some of you know I started blogging in January of this year so that I could connect my posts with the Letters of Frank Laubach. The letter that I landed on for my birthday, of all days, deals with sorrow.

"I have been so desperately lonesome that it was unbearable save by talking with God...Somebody was telling me this week that nobody can make a violin speak the last depths of human longing until that soul has been made tender by some great anguish" (Laubach 15 March 1930).

Oh well, why not address sorrow? On this day, the culmination of my 59th year, I can write that I have experienced sorrow (as well as many blessings). I can not write that I am thankful for the sorrow (perhaps in one or two cases I can), but I am thankful for the grace and comfort that God brought into and out of the sorrow.

I never understood any reason for the sorrows of my childhood until I went to other countries where God used my own experiences to open doors into the hearts of people whose lives were so different from those of my American companions.

And so, I give thanks.

When I was laid off from my job, I not only lost my job but also my community. I can write now, nearly five years later, that the deep and intense love that I felt from God made it all worthwhile.

And so, I give thanks.

I have seen some become bitter from sorrow. Maybe the bitter ones become the better writers. Yet, I would not trade my life for Mark Twain's or Robert Frost's (two writers who never overcame their bitterness because of sorrow) for all the acclaim in the world.

And so, I give thanks.

Two years ago, I applied for a program and did not make it in. Instead, my application was rolled over for another year, and this time, after being put on a waiting list, God opened the doors. This is one of those cases where words can not express the extent of my thankfulness. I love the international group of friends with whom I am walking this journey.

And so, I give thanks.

This year, I applied for my dream job, and I did not get it. This year, an older friend died when I was out of town, a family member died too soon, and a little one did not make it to his first birthday. Deep sorrows indeed. I can not understand these sorrows; I can not be thankful for them -- their purposes remain a mystery to me.

Some mysteries may be explained while I am in this mortal body and some may not, but one thing I know: in fifty-nine years, no one has ever shown me a better way or life or truth than that which I see in Jesus Christ.

And so, I give thanks. 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Constant Comparisons and Cutthroat Competition Crushes Compassion

My last post left me unsatisfied. Fasting from "snipping" or "giving my opinion"isn't a bad idea. I love how Catherine Marshall wrote about her day of fasting from giving her opinion--she didn't know how 24 hours of holding her tongue could be so hard! Nonetheless, I think I want to dig deeper. I started listing reasons I would have for responding like the women did to the mother of a two-year-old.

1) I truly think the mother of the teenagers was trying to be loving and kind. I imagine her hope was that moms of little ones may have it tough now, but maybe that means their tough days will be during the years when you can still pick the children up, hug them, and put them to bed.

2) Hopefully, the mother of teenagers was not saying, "You may think it's rough now, but, boy oh boy, wait until they hit the teenage years!" I am fairly sure that something similar has passed through my lips. Now, as I look at a statement like that, I am really competing for whose life is the most challenging. I would like to give myself the benefit of the doubt and say I am commiserating with the moms of young children. Essentially I am trying to say that I understand their pain because I am in pain, too. It is obvious from the harsh responses of the moms of babies that they were not comforted. I need to learn from their responses because I want to be a person whose words bring love and light, not cause harm.

How often I play the comparison game or the competition game. Why? Sometimes I use my challenges because I feel I am being pushed to do something I just can not or do not want to do. Instead of looking to Jesus for direction in my life and simply letting my "yes" be "yes" and my "no" be "no," I compete for whose life is busiest.

Or, I compare my life with someone else's and I look for all the reasons I fall short when I need to listen to the Holy Spirit, who does not use words such as, "Girl, you just fell short. What's wrong with you anyway?" In defensive mode, I spell out how challenging my life is, which it very probably is, because life is tough, but this means the other person is going through tough times as well. I can turn to Jesus to speak words of love and compassion.

I love how Frank Laubach writes in his letter (9 March 1930): "...His question is, 'How far will this man and that woman allow me to carry this hour?'" 

"But how 'practical' is this for the average man? It seems to me now that yonder plowman could be like Calixto Sanidad, when he was a lonesome and mistreated plowboy, 'with my eyes on the furrow, and my hands on the lines, but my thoughts on God.' The carpenter could be as full of God as was Christ when he drove nails...Some hour spent by some night watchman might be the most glorious ever lived on earth. God is not through yet. He is breaking through.."

Wherever I am at: as the pregnant mom with 3 children at home whose "water" broke at the same time that the toilet overflowed (yes, it really did happen), as the mom of 4 teenagers pushing the boundaries while the husband is working overtime hours, as the woman who loses her job and her community when a new boss streamlines the company, in all these my eyes can be on Jesus who keeps me in His peace and His grace as I turn to Him moment by moment. And, when I forget, He lovingly calls me back.

The photo in this post was taken many years ago when my boys were young and decided to change pajamas with one another. I find that I often try to "change clothes with someone else." Not physically of course, but I compare my life to someone else's. I look at their "outsides" and think if they had my life, then...

I put "my clothes" onto them.

Or, I think if I had their lives -- I put on "their clothes" -- then...

Somehow I miss the fact that I end up looking like my boys do in this picture.

I have no need to compete; I have no need to compare. I am His Beloved. He calls me by name; I am His. My identity is in Him. He sustains me as I practice slowing my mind down long enough to hear Him speak so lovingly to me. Often that means not rushing my steps, not rushing my hands, not rushing my words -- that conscious practice of slowing down when it is possible makes it easier to hear His voice when life seems impossible...or when a compassionate word is needed.  

Monday, November 25, 2013

Who Has the Greatest Challenge?

A couple of days ago, I read a touching blog by a mother who wrote well on how difficult life is with a baby. Her desire was to let others know that she understood. Moms of young children do not need to suffer alone in their pain. It was meant to be comforting. The comments, however, that followed looked like a new version of the mommy wars -- this time not between working moms and stay-at-home moms, but between moms whose challenges were during the first two years, moms whose challenges were during the teenage years, and moms whose challenges were in between.

As you look at this picture of my father with three of my four children, notice these things: the mess (I tried to cut out as much as I could), the undecorated walls (not my gift), my son's wild hair, and the oldest son (yes, you're right; he is not even in the picture). If you think I am now going to tell you that this, this, is truly the most challenging season, you're wrong. "Each day has enough problems of its own." Oh yeah. Notice how three days ago, I said I was going to post everyday? Two days in a row. That's as far as I went this time around. Skipped yesterday. We're trying again today.

There are enough sorrows to go around in the world without snipping at one another. Frank Laubach starts his March 9th entry with these words: For the first time in my life I know what I must do off in lonesome Lanao. I know why God left this aching void, for Himself to fill." [underlining mine]

What doesn't show in his book of Letters is that Laubach suffered many depressing days. He was lonesome. He ached. No matter whether one is a mom of young babies or a dad of teenagers, whether one is 21, 35, 42, 56, you name the age and the condition: each day has enough problems of its own. There are seasons of joy and seasons of struggles and pain. Let's pursue peace and grace in Christ Jesus. And, the first small step we can take is to fast from snipping at one another. 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Embracing Change

I have decided to embrace change. It is going to happen anyway, as surely as the shoreline changes from sand being swept away and deposited elsewhere. I am slow to change when it comes to technology: this blog, for instance: I still have not figured out how to do everything. Much like my spiritual transformation. I seem to be s-l-o-w at changing. Nonetheless, I can write as Laubach wrote on March 1, 1930:

The sense of being led by an unseen hand which takes mine while another hand reaches ahead and prepares the way, grows upon me daily. I do not need to strain at all to find opportunity. It piles in upon me as the waves roll over the beach, and yet there is time to do something about each opportunity. 

I must disagree with one part of this letter. "I compel my mind to open straight out toward God. I wait and listen with determined sensitiveness. I fix my attention there, and sometimes it requires a long time early in the morning to attain that mental state. I determine not to get out of bed until that mind set, that concentration upon God, is settled." 

Not going to happen. How many of you are saying as I am, "He has no babies there" or "I wish." No, I am not going to be able to stay in bed; however, each morning, I can greet God. I can hold out my open hands to Him. I can surrender (or at least be willing to be made willing to surrender) my pre-conceived expectations of how this day must go according to the Book of ME. I can look joyfully for Him to live and move and have His being in me, in whatever circumstances the day holds. 

I have seen the following, in just two days of getting back into talking (and hopefully, listening!) continually to God: "Obstacles which I once would have regarded as insurmountable are melting away like a mirage. People are becoming friendly who suspected or neglected me. I feel, I feel like one who has had his violin out of tune with the orchestra and at last is in harmony with the music of the universe."

Laubach goes on to write: "...I would find God's will and I would do that will though every fiber in me said no, and I would win the battle in my thoughts." I have discovered two things about winning over the will. 1) I have to get rid of the idea that God's will is always about sending me to the farthest point on earth. It could be that, but I think day-to-day, God's will is for me to love Him, to trust Him, to ask Him to help me be loving and kind and gentle. To not be angry, to not insist on my own way. 2) I can start in small steps, the steps that I find easier so that being loving and kind simply becomes part of who I am, my character. This week I have learned to look at my eyes and eyebrows in the mirror and really notice what it feels like when I am judging or angry. I can give my eyes and eyebrows to God so that when family gathers for the holidays (as many will do next week and in the coming month), I will have taught my face and my heart/will/spirit to follow after Jesus and not give in to a critical look, a judging eyebrow, a harsh twist of the lips.

I love this photo. So difficult to catch everyone happy at the same time. But, we can be the ones who bring peace and light and love. It has been two years since this picture was taken. That was the last time we were all in one place. It is difficult to get everyone together when children are grown. Changes. I have learned to cherish times of gathering.  

Friday, November 22, 2013

Where Did My Year Go?

Did you start anything in January and here it is the end of the year, and you didn't get very far with your plans? I know the feeling. Obviously this photo is not a January photo. It's November and almost 10 months have gone by since my last post. Change. Make that plural: Changes. Too many. I like change that means "Hello." But, too many changes this year have involved "Goodbye." My one constant has been God, and He never leaves me nor forsakes me. AND, He constantly lets me have do-overs. Encourages them, in fact. So, as I have written here in this blog often: I begin again. I am also encouraged to know that Frank Laubach, whose letters I have been trying to follow in this blog, had huge gaps in his writing -- his 36 letters stretch between January 1930 and January 1932. I have 33 left, and there happen to be 33 days until Christmas. Yes, I am going to try to write one a day during this Advent season.

I feel simply carried along each hour, doing my part in a plan which is far beyond myself. This sense of cooperation with God in little things is what so astonishes me, for I never have felt it this way before. I need something, and turn around to find it waiting for me. I must work, to be sure, but there is God working along with me. (Laubach)

What I love about Laubach's "plan" to be with God is that it simply involves talking with God doing whatever I am doing: washing dishes, tutoring, playing with grandchildren...

After a rather depressing yesterday, I woke up this morning ready to tackle this blog again. I went to go look up the password which I had written down in Oswald Chambers' book My Utmost for His Highest. This thought came to mind: Check out November 22. I needed something, and turned around "to find it waiting for me."

Beware of allowing yourself to think that the shallow concerns of life are not ordained of God; they are as much of God as the profound...To be shallow is not a sign of being wicked, nor is shallowness a sign that there are no deeps: the ocean has a shore. The shallow amenities of life, eating and drinking walking and talking, are all ordained by God. These are the things in which Our Lord lived. He lived them as the Son of God, and He said that "the disciple is not above his Master." (Chambers)

I desire to remember Laubach's closing words on this day: "My part is to live this hour in continuous inner conversation with God and in perfect responsiveness to His will, to make this hour gloriously rich." In eating, drinking, walking, talking, playing, praying, loving, following Jesus.