Tuesday, April 28, 2015

To Write or Not to Write, That is the Question

"My story is important not because it is mine, God knows, but because if I tell it anything like right, the chances are you will recognize that in many ways it is also yours." ~Fredrick Buechner

I've been entertaining some pretty counter-productive thoughts lately. (I love the picture that "entertaining thoughts" conjures up for me: I see myself and these thoughts - which are words with arms and legs but no heads, incidentally - sitting on couches in the living room of my mind, sipping tea and chatting.) I'm not sure if I invited them or if they barged in without knocking, but I will acknowledge that I did encourage them to stay and visit for awhile. Boiled down, it's about this blog and the book I'm trying to write. Whether these thoughts were born out of fear or laziness or both or something else entirely, I've been wondering about the value of this, of sharing my story. Wondering if it's worth the effort, whether it's a waste of my time and yours, whether I should spend my time on something a bit more lucrative, whether anyone's even listening (and if that even matters), whether it's just egotistical rambling thinly disguised as spiritual reflection designed to get the positive response that feeds the people-pleasing monster in me, whether I am even capable of writing anything worth reading, whether my story has any significance, whether God actually called and equipped me for this task or if I'm hiding behind it to avoid the thing I'm really supposed to be doing (whatever that might be)...

I'm a little embarrassed to admit that I'm finding this book-writing business to be loads more challenging than I had anticipated...or hoped. One issue that's significantly hindering my progress is my tendency to go back and rewrite everything every time I sit down to work at it. Micro-editing, I've started calling it (no idea if that's a real thing or not, but it most aptly describes my agonizing, nit-picky process...). Going over and over and over a particular passage, wondering if I could say it better, if the words I've used are the best possible ones, if it would make more sense this way or that way, with this alliteration or that metaphor, if this should be included or that taken out or moved elsewhere... It feels to me right now that the only way this book will ever be written is if I just sit down and write the whole thing all at once, in one looooooong sitting. You can imagine what the odds are of that ever happening, right? Yeah - me, too.

Because this thing called life keeps happening. My family has these crazy expectations, like three meals a day, clean clothes, clean dishes, a reasonably tidy home, occasional coherent conversation...And I have friends who, for reasons beyond my understanding, like to see my face now and again. And I have Norwex to sell and practices to attend and trails to walk and groceries to buy and books to read and a ministry to oversee and promote and prayers to pray and relationships to cultivate...

I look at my little to-do list above and have to chuckle - I'm not really that busy at all! I know there are those of you reading now who have so much more on their plates, so many more hats to wear, such heavy burdens and responsibilities weighing on you. When I compare myself to you, I have to ask myself why exactly is it I can't seem to do what I need to do? So I won't do that (anymore) - "comparison is the thief of joy", you know (Theodore Roosevelt, I think). My calling is not your calling. My time is not your time. My priorities are not your priorities. My life is not your life. And that's as it should be. All different members of one body, right? With different functions but of equal significance.

Yet again, blogging has given me perspective. For that alone, I am grateful. If that's the only reason I write - to gain some clarity and context as I unravel my thoughts - then there is value in what I'm doing here. In fact, it's very often in writing that I most clearly hear from God. So I'll carry on. Thank you to those who choose to carry on with me. My hope is that you'll recognize in my story a bit of your own, and that we can draw from this common ground strength and encouragement to fight the good fight, to finish the race, to keep the faith.

Monday, April 27, 2015

I Just Wanna Be a Sheep

I had the honour and privilege of speaking at one of my home churches this past weekend. (I have four churches spread around the country that I can call "home" - how blessed am I?) One of the awesome and awful things about preparing a message, in my experience anyway, is that whatever it is God wants me to share, He usually makes me work it out in my own life first. In this case, that was a tremendous blessing. I was starting to forget again just who I am. I was starting to focus more on my situation than on my Saviour. The enemy's whispered lies were starting again to infiltrate the battlefield of my mind. 

And so, out of the blue really, comes an opportunity to spend hours pondering what Jesus meant when He called Himself the Good Shepherd, who lays down his life for his sheep. This whole experience is just dripping with grace - such a kindness from the Shepherd who tends my soul so tenderly. The following is an excerpt (slightly modified) from what I shared on Sunday. May you hear your Shepherd's heart for you in these words.

...I think it’s safe to assume that Jesus intended his audience (and us) to carry this metaphor through to its logical conclusion – if he’s the shepherd, then it follows that we are the sheep, right? There are so many truths we could mine out of this comparison, but the one I want to focus on is how highly the shepherd valued the sheep, as demonstrated in his tender care and self-sacrificing protection. The shepherd valued his sheep because they were his.

You are valued by your shepherd because you belong to him. He has called you by name and you are his. Your value doesn’t depend on what you have, or what you do; your possessions and abilities have no bearing on your worth in the shepherd’s eyes. Your significance cannot be altered. His love for you has never changed, will never change, CAN never change – because you are his. Your worthiness has nothing to do with you and everything to do with him. The shepherd gave his life to save ours – even before we acknowledged him as our shepherd! He loved us first.

There have always been those who have questioned the value of human life, who have put conditions and boundaries on what it means to be human and who does or does not meet the criteria. Today, we’re seeing it manifest in places like abortion clinics and euthanasia laws, from schoolyard and cyber bullying to terrorist attacks and suicide bombings. This is one of the enemy’s most effective tactics – to tear away at our identity until we don’t know who we are, to make us question our own worth and allow ourselves and others to be treated as though we are worthless. To bog us down in guilt and shame and condemnation and doubt and fear and anger and despair.

BUT THAT IS NOT WHO WE ARE! We are his. We are loved. We are treasured, valued, highly esteemed, cherished. NOTHING can ever alter that truth – NOTHING! Can you hear what I’m saying, friends? I mean, really hear – and believe that it applies to you – even you!? For years, I couldn’t. For years and years I was suffocating under a heavy blanket of shame – as far as I was concerned, I had no value – I was completely and utterly worthless in my own eyes. It affected every part of my life and really made a mess of things for a very long time. But my shepherd, in his great mercy and love, kept chipping away at those lies until the light finally broke through and I could see – really see. I saw that the truth had remained unchanged, that God had always been for me and not against me, that He called me beloved, precious child, daughter, accepted, chosen, favoured, redeemed, forgiven, worthy – his.

You know, there’s one thing sheep do really well – they know how to follow their shepherd. They know his voice, and they trust him implicitly to care for their every need, even to the point of laying down his life so that they can live. You can trust your shepherd. You can trust that his words are true. You can follow where he leads because he always and only has your best in mind.

 And never think for a moment that the journey is done. Our shepherd is continually leading us on to new pastures, to new scenery and new territory. He invites us to enter more deeply and fully into his amazing love so that it will eventually pour out of us onto everyone around. He challenges us to imitate him, to lay down our lives for each other out of the overflow of the love he so freely and abundantly pours out into us. Any act of kindness, any gift of love, any self-sacrifice on behalf of another – it’s all and only possible because we have the ultimate example right in front of us. It’s only possible because we ourselves are so deeply and fully loved, that we can lay down our lives for another. Because the good shepherd gave his life for us - his sheep - we can live and love without fear and without limits. Hallelujah! 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

I've Got Rhythm

I don't have rhythm, actually - I can't even clap and sing at the same time. I've tried using a tambourine or an egg shaker a time or two, but it wasn't pretty. And I can't dance. Like...at all. For most of my Baptist-steeped life, this presented no problems (except for when they tried to teach me the Landler in high school for the Sound of Music - now that was entertaining), but now I'm a member of a Pentecostal choir, and they've got rhythm just oozing out of them. And don't even get me started on my family! Not sure how the rhythm gene missed just me, but my Dad's a member of a barbershop quartet with moves, my Mom can dance up a storm, my brother's a drummer, bassist and guitar player, my sister is a professional bassoonist and music teacher, not to mention my husband and boys who are are all awesome musicians. Sheesh!

But you know what? That's ok. That's not really the kind of rhythm I'm looking for. What I'm earnestly seeking right now is a good rhythm for my days, one where everything important fits and there's room to pause and to ponder, to admire and appreciate life. I first stumbled upon the life rhythm image about a year ago at an intensive workshop, and it sure sounded like a good idea at the time! However, moving from theory to practice is proving to be far more challenging than I had originally anticipated. I'll come up with a rhythm, work on implementing it, do really well for a few days or weeks, then get side-swiped by some crisis, large or small, which completely distracts me and throws me off course. The important is replaced by the tyranny of the urgent and that which is good and necessary and soul-nourishing and life-giving gets dropped completely. Weeks later, I'll resurface, gasping for breath, and have to start all over again. The worst of it is, it's become a great source of guilt, since I set up expectations of myself and seem to fall short over and over again. Which is exactly the opposite purpose of pursuing this in the first place!

The most recent cycle of this really turned our household upside down for a time - and everything I'd been working to establish went right out the window. All of my energy and attention went to sorting out the crisis at hand, to the exclusion of pretty much everything else. It made for some very anxious, uncomfortable, unsettled days - for all of us. (Because you know it's true, that "if Momma ain't happy, ain't nobody happy...)

What I really need is a crisis-proof rhythm! One that has spaces, that has some give, some flexibility. I also need to determine what are the absolute essentials, the non-negotiables, that which is necessary for peace and order and security for myself and my family. I need an ideal rhythm, one that includes everything that I've determined is important and valuable, and a bare-bones, survival kind of rhythm for when those crises come - because you know they will! Grace, that's what's needed here:

Come to me. Get away with me 
and you’ll recover your life. 
I’ll show you how to take a real rest. 
Walk with me and work with me—
watch how I do it. 
Learn the unforced rhythms of grace
I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. 
Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
(from Matthew 11, The Message)

Oh, "to live freely and lightly"! I think my time would be best spent learning to walk with Jesus, learning these "unforced rhythms of grace." I have a feeling that if I focus on this, everything will fall into place. What a wonder to have a Saviour who invites us to walk with Him, who cares for us so intensely and intimately, whose hand is in the details, whose plans for us include such freedom and peace and joy! Thank you, Lord!

Monday, April 6, 2015

Too Much?

I want to apologize. I think. I don't know - I'm so confused...

An innocent comment has inadvertently caused me to take a long, hard look at my life. It was something like, " I think you're at a different level of Christianity than I am". And then, a few weeks back, a friend thanked me for some encouragement I had offered, then added, "but don't overdo it." It had never occurred to me before, but putting the two incidents together, I'm cringing now to think that I might be projecting some sort of holier-than-thou, so-heavenly-minded-I'm-no-earthly-good, looking-at-the-world-through-rose-coloured-glasses vibe to people in my world. Do I overdo it? Am I too much when it comes to my faith? Do I seem insincere? Over the top? Do I encourage too much? Am I too enthusiastic, too positive, too joyful?

I'm not fishing for compliments or affirmation here, I promise... I'm genuinely concerned that what I'm putting out there might be turning people off to Jesus. Or at the very least, having my witness overlooked or passed by or dis-counted because I appear to be deceptive, devious, evasive, false, fake, hypocritical, phony or just plain silly (frivolous, childish, preposterous, ridiculous...). (Thank you, thesaurus(dot)com.)

And if this is actually the case, what in the world do I do about it? Because, believe it or not folks, it's all real. I love to encourage people. I get giddy when I get to worship. All those lovely Facebook pictures with great verses or quotes really do speak to me and challenge me. The glory of nature really does thrill my soul. I get so excited about what I'm learning that I just have to share it. Yes, I get sad and discouraged and frustrated and fearful at times, and I try to be up-front about that, too. I call this blog (the) real joy for a reason, and I'm doing my best to live my life after the same pattern. I'm not trying to justify anything here, just stating the facts.

But I never stopped to consider before what my life must look like to other people. Am I alienating people with whom I should be trying to connect? Am I causing anyone to stumble? Am I helping or hurting the cause of Christ? Does anyone actually take me seriously? Am I being a faithful ambassador? A credible representative?

Are these even the right questions? I don't know. But then there's this:

For the message of the cross 
is foolishness to those who are perishing, 
but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 
(1 Corinthians 1:18)

I don't even know if that particular verse is relevant to this discussion, but it's what came to mind. All I know is that I want to be all His. I want to be right in the middle of what He's doing. I don't want to hold anything back. But there is such a thing as maturity, tact, wisdom, restraint - right? 

Yes, I'm actually asking the questions. I must admit to a sort of sinking, quaking sensation when I consider the potential feedback on this post. I find myself hoping, in my most secret, insecure heart-of-hearts, to hear from at least one person in my world that I'm awesome just the way I am (smirk), but I tremble at the thought that someone thinks this is a valid concern, even if they never say so. Regardless, I believe there's value in self-examination for the purpose of self-improvement. And I believe in the value of wise counsel from fellow believers. And I believe that God reveals truth when we seek Him. So bring it on!