Thursday, November 29, 2012

Where the Heart Howls

"I don't think I love God," Ally confessed softly, drawing me aside in the prison chapel.  "He has forgiven me, but now what? I'm such a mess. My heart is black inside."

Regrets linger to taunt us. Heart howls still echo in the forgiven chambers. Forgiveness does not erase memory. It gives it value, but it does not erase it.

Be honest. Sort through heart rubble with an eye for lessons to learn, restitution to be made, sins to tackle with elbow grease.  When you seek Him you will find Him. When you draw near to Him, He draws near to you.

Be brave. You may have to endure consequences. You may need new activities and habits. Our hearts are daunting, scary places. Ask someone who is familiar with God's Word to help you clear through your wilderness. 

Be gentle.  It takes a lifetime to gain a strong, healthy, godly heart.  God is not in a hurry.  He meets you where you are in this moment.  He has a plan for your welfare and not your calamity. He knows the plans He has for you to give you a future and a hope.  Baby steps matter. Learn to love Him one day at a time, one lesson at a time. 

Be still.  In the habit of stillness, in the quiet place, continue to pour out your thoughts and hurts to Him. It is God who removes the rubble as far as the east is from the west.  It is God who inwardly renews and refreshes your heart day by day. He is the Father who sings over you. Let Him quiet your heart howls with His love.  

Saturday, November 24, 2012

What Did You Say?

You're living your dream. Maybe you're working to make a new dream come true. You might be cleaning up a broken dream.  Then your words get in the way.

"I hate Mondays."  "I hate this cold weather."  "People are so stupid." "My house is such a disaster." "My boss is a jerk." "Never gonna happen." "My children fight constantly."

In grade school my friend Micky did not like Sloppy Joe sandwiches. I could count on dramatic whining from her every Friday. Decades later that's the only solid memory of her that remains. I no longer remember her face, but I remember her words, "I absolutely hate Sloppy Joes. I hate them."  She liked every ingredient in that sandwich.  She simply chose to be negative.

God is the giver of every good and perfect gift.  He offers a clear vision for His people.  He has a plan for our welfare and not our calamity, plans to give us a future and a hope.

Examine your words. You're building a dream and what you speak over your life, your home, your boss, your children, will become reality. Choosing to be negative will make the burdens heavier.  Praise will lighten your load.

Living an excellent life requires speaking intentionally. Let your speech be seasoned with salt and full of grace. We set the tone of our day by our words.  We write our lifesong by our words, our thoughts, our choices.

What if every irritant, every hardship, every change were considered a gift? What if we faced each day with courage, diligence and faith? Nothing is wasted if it contributes to the person you are becoming.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Hide and Seek

"Hi, Nana," a little voice whispers from the back of my closet.

"Hey, buddy. How's Nana's boy?"

"I hiding," Ben answers.

"We've been looking for you," I say, picking up the three year old. "Why are you hiding?"

"So I know where I am," he tells me.

Is there a woman alive who hasn't wanted to hide away in the closet just to know where she is?

"And early in the morning, Jesus went away to a quiet place..." Did He, too, need to escape tiresome crowds and bickering voices? Was He overwhelmed by the endless demands of His disciples?

Instead of declaring quiet time impossible, women get creative. Bible Words get posted in the car, on the mirrors, over the sinks. Children get rocked to sleep listening to sermons and the Bible read aloud.  Overwhelmed women read the Word at each meal or recite scripture aloud to encourage and calm through a crisis. They sing songs that keep their minds stayed on the Father's love and care.

Oh, what a wise and compassionate Father He is! He calls moments of prayer and reading His Words our daily bread. Time alone with Him to know where you are, to remember you are grasped tightly in the palm of His hand where no one can snatch you away.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Uncle Paul's Barn

Beyond the Sunset
Uncle Paul's barn was a big place. When a farmer has a trail of little girls and a dog running alongside to help him, he needs a big place.

I thought I knew a lot about farming back then. I knew how to milk a cow by hand or by machine. How to turn milk into butter. How to bathe a cow. And I knew how to coax Princess out of the barn when we all became too much help at sunset. There are a lot of rules on a farm and life taught most of them.

Decades later, I stood in the old barn with my cousin, both of us grandmothers now.  In our memories the farm is forever alive. Freshly mowed clover hay filling the senses. Wet tongue tickles as newborn calf sucks little girl fingers. Rich, dark soil sliding over palms and under finger nails.

"It used to be bigger, didn't it?"

Did Laura say it first? Did I? We shared the thought, the moment, the memories. We had grown, changed, lived ourselves out of the farm and into the city.

I love getting older and seeing my life unfold. We are here on earth for such a short moment. But someday, beyond the sunset, I will view my life more clearly. I will smile and remember when I thought I knew so much, understood the rules of life here.

"It used to be bigger, didn't it?"

I don't know if Laura will say it first or if I will, but we will both know it. We will have lived ourselves out of the world and into The City.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Live Courage

Andrea timidly raises a small hand to share her darkness. Soft blond curls frame her stark blue eyes. Her voice is soft, feminine, tired.

 "I did so many drugs.  I was afraid of everything. I thought every car coming down the street was going to run me over. There were always hidden things in the dark. I would sit curled up on the blankets, so afraid that there was someone under my bed."

A life not yet 20. A blur of no hope. An abyss of fear.

I touch her and she stiffens, sighs, tries to form a weak smile. Her eyes apologize for lack of trust, cautious hesitation. My heart breaks for this woman-child who is so terrified of life, of people, yet so eager to learn how to live courage.

"I'm proud of you for coming," I whisper to her in the prison chapel. "Coming was difficult for you. It's easier to give up, to hide under the covers."

She nods. Like the other prisoners, she knows about hard things, about giving up. "God took away a lot of the fear," she tells me. "I know He's there."

"The fear of the Lord leads to life, so that one may sleep satisfied, untouched by evil."  It is truth from Proverbs 19:23 that she is learning.  It is truth she has needed to know for a long time.

A long line of others wait to talk to me. I want to hold my breath, to hold on to this moment. To say something just for her, something to provide courage for the week, for the lifetime.

Another woman-child takes my hand. I know Janie. Have loved her in these prison walls. Monday after Monday, I walk alongside on hard days. Her husband has married another and taken her children far away. Janie is broken, facing serious surgery alone. Her mother is dying of the same cancer that is killing her young son. Tears trail down her face. She squeezes my hand, soaks up strength from my faith to keep walking strong.

Janie smiles at Andrea. Understands howling heart pain. Chokes back self tears to live courage, to be Jesus in a dark place. "Can I walk with you?" she asks the newcomer.  "We're all so glad you came. My name is Janie. You're not alone."

Monday, November 12, 2012

When God Says No

Little fingers pull at my bracelet, trying to remove it from my arm.  "No, Maisy," I say, "Not right now."

Maisy, who frequently plays with my bracelets, tries again. "No," I repeat gently, "No, please."

Maisy places her right fist in the palm of her left hand and lifts it to sign "help". When I repeat my answer the third time, she signs "help" more urgently. This is repeated again and again before her interest moves from the bracelet.

Sometimes we think it works the same way with God.  If I ask often enough, urgently enough, He will grant my request. Maybe if I use the right words.  Maybe if I have enough people agreeing with me.  Maybe if I ask louder or with more tears.

I seldom tell Maisy "no".  I love her. I enjoy blessing her and meeting her needs. Sometimes, as on this day, the timing is simply wrong. Because I know what is best for her, my love determines my answer.

I place my hands over Maisy's fingers to stop her from signing "help" again. "I know you want me to help you, "I explain. "I understand. And I am saying no."

God sees my helplessness and frustration, my disappointment.  He says no from a heart of love, eyes full of compassion. It's not that He doesn't listen, not that He doesn't care. He understands there is a greater good, a greater blessing, a protecting action. His love determines His answer.

Friday, November 9, 2012

A Five Dollar Lesson

Mary Englebreit, Artist
The sealed envelope, long ago forgotten in a stack of unsorted papers and magazines, was still there this morning.  I picked it up quickly, intent on finishing my closet cleaning chores.

My name had been written on that envelope by a hand long since left dormant in the grave when she went to live with Jesus. Just the sight of my name, so often written on envelopes by my husband's mother, brought a smile. She was a faithful letter writer and card sender.

I opened the envelope to discover a birthday card and in it a five dollar bill. 

More precious to me this morning than the card or money is the reminder of a valuable lesson.  We have the opportunity to leave a legacy to those we love long after we have left this earth. We begin the habits that create that legacy today.  

When I live a well-ordered life, I leave a legacy of hope, strength and purpose. When I live by God's Word I leave a legacy of grace, love and wisdom. Countless young mothers, bless them so dearly, are easily sidetracked into frustration by the yet-again full sink of dishes, the pile of yet-again dirty clothes and the obstacle course of life scattered across their living room. 

That moment you spend reading a book to your three year old, changing the diaper of your toddler and listening to your 10 year old tell yet-again a funny joke. That moment is your holy habit that will leave a legacy. 

And it matters. It matters so much more than you take time to realize. That song you sing, that smile you wear, that soft answer turning away anger. Eternal legacies, every one.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Collecting Happy Moments

"I like it when we work together," Katherynn said.  "It makes it fun.  Like a sunshiney day dancing in the breezes.  Like eating a candy cane on a Friday."

I laughed. "You're a silly little five year old woman."

"I feel happy," she said. "Do you feel happy?"

I nodded, stepping back with her to view our work. "No streaks on this window. Good job, Katie Kat."

"Good job to both of us," she agreed. "Let's read a book to celebrate. But first let's finish making our soup. I'll carry the cleaner and you carry the rags."

Life moments. How many will I get with Katherynn?  Moments to lick grape popsicles. Moments with chubby fingers dipped in frosting.  Moments of tying blue ribbons into long golden strands of hair. Moments painting tiny pink fingernails. A limited number of moments.

Katherynn tucked bare toes against me and snuggled beneath the old blue quilt. "I like it best when it's just you and me and books."

I smiled into blue eyes, twinkling with the wonder of love and so fully awake to life.

"I like every moment when it's just you and me, Kat," I told her. "Every moment."

"Yes," she sighed, cuddling close. "Yes. Every moment. Now read."

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Mean Old Man

I expected him to be gentle and kind. I expected him to be wise. After all, he had been alive nearly 10 decades. 

I was six. My Aunt Evelyn had taken me on my first nursing home visit to pass out bananas and magazines. I was wearing my favorite little sailor dress and I had new blue ribbons in my hair.

I liked elderly people. My grandparents and great-grandparents as well as the older people in my neighborhood and church were familiar, trustworthy, beloved.

I can still see his face in my mind a half century later. He jerked my arm and he pinched me. Hard. I shrieked, horrified. And then he laughed. And pinched me again, bruising not only my skin, but my heart. 

Years later I felt a similar confusion looking at pictures of Nazi war criminals discovered and captured during their old age. A grandfather holding a child. A neighbor walking a dog. An old man in the market.

Not everyone gets character lines as they age. Some people just get wrinkled...and meaner. Roots of bitterness dig deep and we reap what we have sown. 

I expect to be gentle and kind. I expect to be wise. But as I age, I can already see the struggle it is to hold my tongue, to control my spirit, to become God's best version of me. Just expecting it is not enough. It's not nearly enough.

Monday, November 5, 2012

A Bowl of Oatmeal

"Who taught you how to make oatmeal?" Katherynn asks. "Are we going to have walnuts and raisins in it? I like brown sugar in mine. I don't think I want apples in it today. Is that cinnamon? Because I like cinnamon. Do you like stirring oatmeal? It looks fun."

For Katherynn life is standing still for this moment, this learning time.  I stir oatmeal as she snuggles close, watching, memorizing my motions as if I were creating a symphony rather than making breakfast.

It is only this moment that exists for her, the moment to be savored, remembered. This five year old is a sponge, soaking in love and life one moment at a time.

When did oatmeal become a forgotten wonder? When did life and love become forgotten wonders?

I smile and hug Katherynn close. "I do like stirring oatmeal. Making breakfast for a little girl is one of the most fun things I get to do."

She grins and I let her spoon hot oatmeal into green bowls. "It's pretty, isn't it? And we can decorate it now!"

We can see the beauty in a simple bowl of oatmeal. A simple moment shared. A moment of life noticed, treasured, recorded in the memory of a little girl.