Friday, November 25, 2011

Never Lose Heart

--

The sky directly above me was dark and close with low, dense clouds. Across the valley, visible in peek-a-boo splendor, the sunrise was happening above and beyond the thick bank of clouds. You see, the sun rises in flaming beams of gilded glory even when our view is obscured by an ocean of clouds--it is always warm, always beautiful, always radiant. 

"Then he gave them an illustration to show that they must always pray and never lose heart."

Dr. Luke tells his readers at the beginning of this chapter exactly the principle Jesus was illustrating before he relates the parable Jesus told. Nice of him, don't you think? This time at least, there is no treasure hunt for a truth veiled in a cryptic story we may or may not fully understand--I love that! This was a parable about an unjust judge who, though reluctant and uncooperative at first, was ultimately persuaded to give justice to a woman because of her persistence in pleading her case. Luke tells us Jesus used this illustration as a contrast--if even an unjust, unwilling judge can be persuaded by persistence, then how much more will a just, loving Father swiftly grant justice to His children when they ask Him . . . and keep asking.  Jesus wanted us to see that we "must always pray and never lose heart."

Oh what hard, skeptical hearts we have! When the answers we seek don't arrive looking the way we'd hoped, or in the time frame we thought was vital, we may take the apparent silence as indifference or neglect or lack of love; we may think it means God is displeased with us or put off by our requests, and we don't want to keep bothering Him when He apparently doesn't want to respond. So we go off in a spiritual corner and feel forgotten and wonder which way is up.

Always pray and never lose heart.

Almost a year ago, sitting at a computer in one of our local libraries, I poured out my heart like this:

I just asked God for a parking space . . . and He gave me one.

After driving around and around in the dark with 4 other cars competing in a magnified game of musical chairs, minus the music and not even a single space to vie for, finding nothing, driving away on my way to somewhere I didn't want to go, changing my mind in frustration, turning around and going back to try one more time, I prayed: 

Father God, I used to find it so easy to ask You for things like parking spaces or to help me find my keys or to show up in a thousand little details of my daily existence.  Lately it feels like life is handing me a lot of brick walls and I'm so afraid You're going to say 'no' I just don't want to ask You for anything.  But against the way I feel, and scraping together the tatters of the faith that used to feel so strong, I'm ASKING, can You find me a parking space?


Please.

I pulled in and, as if on cue, I saw a man step out through the double doors, walking to his car--there was no one else driving around in the parking lot--the space was mine for the taking.  God gave it to me as sure as I live and breathe.  THAT was an answer to prayer.  You may think a parking space is a silly thing to ask God for and you may think the fact that I found one was just a coincidence, nothing more than lucky timing.  Not. A. Chance.

I look back on that December night, and my faith that was so threadbare, and I see why Jesus concluded with sorrowful wondering ". . . However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find [[h]persistence in] faith on the earth?" Luke 18:8b AMP   It would break my heart to give Him reason to wonder. I long to be one who persists in my faith in Him no matter what obscures my view, continuing to trust Him enough to keep praying always, and living each day with such confidence in His warmth, His goodness, His beauty and radiance, that I will NEVER LOSE HEART.

________________________________

Joining Ann Voskamp in counting His graces for her Multitudes on Monday
I hope you'll join in if you haven't already!
In the counting of the endless gifts I say with C. S. Lewis,
"This also is Thou!"

#911-925
911. Insightful children
912. A new day, a new week, a new chance to improve
913. Wisps of steam rising like visible prayers off Hero Husband's crisp, white dress shirt as I iron the wrinkles out of it, and lifting prayers of my own that he'll have a good day in that shirt
914. The sleepy resolve of getting out of bed when the alarm says it's time
915. The phrase "right as rain."
916. The glistening gloss of melted butter brushed on homemade rolls fresh out of the oven
917. The generosity of God's provision for us.
918. Getting to be part of Hero Husband's family
919. Hero Husband's fried turkeys
920. Candlelight
921. City lights from a high vantage point
922. Thanksgiving Dinner, round 2, with scalloped corn--after all, I am an Iowa girl!
923. Fire in the fireplace, and us all relaxing together around it
924. When God is my alarm clock
925. A church service that was interactive--something I've always dreamed about!

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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Lessons in Bread-Making from the Bread of Life


The homey fragrance wafts its way from the kitchen throughout the whole house, bringing with it memories of other times and places, other kitchens made warm and pleasantly steamy from an oven full of homemade bread. Of course the first one that comes to mind is the kitchen I grew up in, the kitchen in Canada where I learned under the patient and practiced hand of my mother how to measure and mix, to knead and form dough into loaves or rolls. How I loved to come home from school to find her just taking one of her beautiful creations out of the oven--best after school snack EVER!! I remember visits to a tiny kitchen in South Dakota where my Great Auntie Bess made homemade bread that was like food for the angels. I remember Thanksgiving Days in Iowa in the kitchen of my Auntie Marilyn, and of course my Grandma Ellen in her big old Iowa farmhouse, and my Grandma Laurene in the little yellow house my Grandpa built for her.

Here in California, in my own kitchen, I have been baking bread for Thanksgiving--rolls to be exact, rolls in the shape of cloverleaves. Two hundred and sixteen little hand-formed balls of dough, clustered together in three's to make six dozen sweet dinner rolls. That's a lot of time to let my mind wander around the back roads of Thanksgiving memories and today's graces that call forth gratitude.




Baking bread by hand is a timeless thing. There is something so personal and elemental about putting your own two hands on that warm, soft dough, working and kneading it til the strands of gluten get strong and stretchy to allow the yeast to puff it up into airy goodness. I think it's how the love gets in.



Jesus was a bread-maker too. 

"Then he took the seven loaves into his hands, and with a prayer of thanksgiving broke them, and gave them to the disciples to distribute to the people; and this they did."  Mark 8:6 (PHILLIPS) 

Jesus, the Bread of Life, the Bread broken for us, took seven little loaves, kneaded by the hands of women whose names we'll never know and with a thankful prayer to His Father, He broke the bread into enough pieces to feed four thousand men and their families . . . until they were full . . . with plenty left over.  And I thought six dozen rolls was a lot to do in one day!


On this Thanksgiving Day, as we enjoy the bounty of marvelous food and family, football and fun that our American tradition affords, I pray that we would be ever in mind of our true Bread-Maker, Jesus, who gave thanks for the little in His hand and then proceeded to do a breathtaking miracle that fed everyone in sight. Ordinary bread, hand-touched by His love for those people, became so extraordinary we're still talking about it, and it all began with Him giving thanks. Our gratitude for the bread in our hands today, may just BE the bread that is miraculously multiplied to those within our reach.  May our thankful hearts overflow in such a winsome way that there is no doubt to Whom we give our thanks.

Wishing you and your family a wonderful and blessed Thanksgiving celebration
that lasts far beyond this day!
You are among the things I am most thankful for--thank you for blessing me with your
presence here and with your comments that so encourage me.
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Sunday, November 20, 2011

Voices: Theirs, Ours and His


The burning kink in my neck increased in exponential increments with every tick of the clock as the pleasant, feminine tones of the instructor's voice competed with the loud, steady, humming drone of the air conditioner. Seated in sideways configuration, I had to turn my head sharply to my left to see the teacher and her power point at the front of the room--it was a long (but productive) three hours.

My first class of my return to my education was an orientation to college life and an introduction to many requirements, programs and resources I will need to be a successful college student. I listened carefully, trying to be a sponge to soak up all the information and taking notes where necessary. I've been out of this game for a VERY LONG TIME and I didn't want to miss a thing!

Later that evening, in an offhand conversation with someone I'd just met, I encountered another voice, one that, with the best of intentions, told me the profession I am pursuing is too competitive, it will take too long to achieve, maybe I should think about something else--he didn't say the words, but the air was crackling with them anyway--[at my age].

This voice I will not listen to. I already know where it leads.

It was a long ago offhand remark, from a voice with the best of intentions, that derailed me right after graduation when I first dreamed of becoming a high school English teacher. My mistake was in listening to that remark and taking it to heart, over and over again.

Sometimes even friendly voices can,
like a swirling autumn wind,
blow us in the wrong direction.


How can you tell if the wind that blows to sway you is the voice of wisdom or the voice of hindrance? If even those with our best interest at heart can sometimes unwittingly say the wrong things, things that discourage us from staying in pursuit of our dreams, how do we decide whom to listen to?

For all of us, no matter what age we are, whether we're in college or in the workplace or retired, whether we know where our dreams are taking us or are still trying to figure it out, we will all be faced with so many voices that will try to influence our thinking. What filter will we use to discern the voices to ignore from the voices to give our full attention to?

Psalm 29 tells us many things about the voice of God.  The same Psalm that tells us this:

3 "The voice of the LORD is over the waters; 
   the God of glory thunders, 
   the LORD thunders over the mighty waters. 
4 The voice of the LORD is powerful; 
   the voice of the LORD is majestic."


concludes with this:

11 "The LORD gives strength to his people; 
   the LORD blesses his people with peace."


It helps me to think of the lion Aslan in C. S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia. A picture of Christ, Aslan is both fierce and gentle, and his voice is at once unimaginably powerful and unutterably tender. Aslan opens my imagination to see how our God can speak in a voice of thunder and also speak peace into the hearts of His people. And what can we expect to hear from this thunderously peaceful voice? Proverbs tells us a little something about why it should be easy to listen to the voice of God:

"For the LORD gives wisdom, 
   and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding."

Proverbs 2:6 NIV1984

Voices . . . voices . . . "their" voices, His voice, what about my voice?  I am struck by the thought that it is not only the importance of which voice I listen to, but whether I let God hear my voice in prayer--do I lift my voice to pour out my questions to Him? Do I use my voice to ask Him for His wisdom and guidance and clarity, or do I too often waste time talking to myself or seeking "expert" voices through a Google search? Do I give Him the preeminent place in the classroom as He deserves or does He come somewhere down the list of people I consult for answers and advice? If He's standing at the front of the room, do I tear my eyes away from the mirror and from the people across the aisle and ignore the distracting noise of the world to turn my head fully to focus on Him?

In an age when information is so plentiful it nearly beats down the door to our minds, I pray that we will be a people who, more than ever, know how to be discerning about the voices we allow to influence us, a people who first lift our voices in prayer to seek wisdom from the God who has all of it there is in all the world, and a people who would learn to love and listen to the wondrous voice of the God who knows and loves us completely.

________________________________

Joining Ann Voskamp in counting His graces for her Multitudes on Monday
I hope you'll join in if you haven't already!
In the counting of the endless gifts I say with C. S. Lewis,
"This also is Thou!"

#896-910
896. Getting to be a sounding board for Drummer Boy
897. Getting to be the go-to mom for She So Sweet's friends
898. Waiting to enjoy the game on DVR with Hero Husband when he got home from his board meeting
899. The music of Camelot
900. Big blocks of uninterrupted time
901. She So Sweet's new friend with the warm smile, open heart and sweet spirit
902. Delicious pairing of fall flavors, pumpkin and cranberry
903. The joy that comes from 'paying it forward'--Blessed to be a Blessing
904. Two-mile walk with a dog named Sparky
905. Lunch with Hero Husband at his invitation
906. Getting to surprise Drummer Boy with something he's waited for a long time!
907. My college orientation class--I'm so excited!
908. Sabbath Breakfast at church . . . Lovely food and easy fellowship
909. Car full of She So Sweet's friends going to church with us
910. Hearing big dreams from fresh-faced young people, and feeling just like they do

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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

For When Your Creativity is Thirsty . . . and a Wee Giveaway


When I was too little to know any better, my mother tells of her complete mortification when I would make loud slurping sounds as the tray of communion cups was passed in our little church. The sight of all those little me-sized cups of grape juice going by just out of reach was all I needed to notice how thirsty I was. Since I didn't have the words, I found another way to let it be known that I wanted something to drink.

So it was, just about a month ago now, when Laura Boggess wrote about a new book she loved and was offering as a giveaway. As I followed her instructions to be entered, I found myself uncharacteristically REALLY hoping I would win. I never win these things, and don't often enter or think too much about them. There was something about the sight of that elegant cover, and the chance to see behind the scenes of L. L. Barkat's creativity that was like the tiny cups of juice that tempted that long-ago thirsty baby. I don't think I actually slurped, but I did really want to win . . . and I did!!

iconFrom the Yeats poem inside the front cover, and the personal inscription to me from L. L. herself, this beautiful book had me under its spell and has kept me there well beyond the final word.  Rumors of Water: Thoughts on Creativity & Writing by L. L. Barkat is the newest addition to my very short list of favorite books on writing.
"There are so many things standing in my way this morning, I can hardly begin. Yet I've heard there are rumors of water. Maybe that is enough."
(L. L. Barkat, Rumors of Water: Thoughts on Creativity & Writing) icon
The writing life, or the artistic life, at which I feel such an amateur, is often lonely, and hard, and for some inexplicable reason I find myself almost going out of my way NOT to do the thing I long to do, the thing that is akin to breath for my soul. Not only is there some formless, malevolent tendency, within me or without, (I'm never sure), that fights my desire to write and create, but the obstacles out in the wide world to achieving the dreams I'm almost afraid to acknowledge seem so daunting and the competition so formidable.

L. L. knows all this from the inside out. She understands. She doesn't gloss over or sugar coat. She wrestles with the same questions I wrestle with. Her words, her prose that sings like poetry, share her experience, her insight, her words of caution, and her words of encouragement in ways that are pure nectar to a thirsty artist. I had wanted something to drink, and she gave it to me.

Laura told me there were Rumors of Water and I had just enough faith to enter to win the chance to find out. L. L. writes and reassures me not only is there water, but Jesus still turns water into wine.
"Our thoughts, like fireflies, tease and beckon. We tease and beckon too, enamored with the possibility of touching the magical transience of words and sharing them with the world."
(L. L. Barkat, Rumors of Water: Thoughts on Creativity & Writing) 
Possibility, hope, faith . . . words that are more than words . . . they are God-words that carry such thirst-quenching encouragement for the creative soul.  And I am filled with gratitude at the taste of them and for the lovely ladies God used to bring them to me.

 "Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, 
      Sweetness to the soul . . ."

Out of my gratitude for the giveaway I was blessed with, and as a way to pass a blessing forward, I am doing my first ever giveaway! Just leave a comment on this post by midnight PST on Friday, November 18, 2011 for your chance to win your choice of 10 Friday Dreaming greeting cards! You may choose 10 of the same card design, or an assortment of any combination of designs to make up your 10 cards. I hope you will find these cards the kind of blessing that you can pass forward!
The giveaway has now ended--winner was Dea Moore!!
________________________________

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Thursday, November 10, 2011

Restoring Order, Finding Peace


"For He . . . is not a God of confusion and disorder
 but of peace and order."


My dining room is overrun with boxes.

I find myself flashing back to the height of my work as an office supervisor with Census 2010. I can hear again the dull roar of whirring printers, dozens of voices, a crazy array of telephone ring tones and people scrambling to find which phone to answer. In that mad rush to count our county's million or so residents (1,049,025 to be exact) on a single day in the decennial year 2010, we had every inch of our office, the entire 4th floor of the office building, literally stacked floor-to-ceiling with boxes.  It was the only way we could organize our efforts to facilitate and manage all the binders, supplies and papers going out and coming back in, forms to be evaluated, sorted, data-entered, quality-checked, returned for corrections, shipped to headquarters, you name it, we had a box for it. Everything had to be precise and accurate, carefully controlled and accomplished in an around-the-clock HURRY!  It was overwhelming!

Here in my cozy dining room with the sound of my favorite Itunes playlist to replace the sound of phones and printers, I am all by myself (where are my Census friends when I need them?) in the middle of my own little overwhelming operation, trying to beat confusion into submission and to bring order where chaos has encroached. It is way past time to tackle our household filing that I have been putting off for too long. A little less paper involved than the Census perhaps, but not much! Ugh! 

The filing is just one of several projects that are suffering under their own weight because I have, little-by-little, allowed small tasks to accumulate over too much time. I don't mean to let things stack up. I have the best of intentions complete with perfectionistic attention to detail, but call it the "tyranny of the urgent," sacrificing the important for the immediate, or just plain old ugly procrastination, whatever you call it, I have let it happen. 

The tipping point comes when I am finally reckoning with the stress I feel at not being able to find important things, at not having fingertip access to what I need at any given moment. Time to get into action!

Like we did in the Census, I break the overwhelming project down into bite-sized, focused, one-box-at-a-time steps I can fit into manageable blocks of time. Instead of waiting until I can, in my mind, do the whole thing (which is NEVER), I pick my moments and look for where I can deal with the contents of just one box.  I'm two boxes down in the last two days, which is two boxes more than I have done in the several months since I sorted everything into the boxes in the first place. I feel better already!! Why didn't I start this sooner?

We have a Heavenly Father, our infinitely imaginative Creator-God, who demonstrates His love of order in everything He does. Even in the wildest corners of untouched wilderness there is an undeniable order to things because even wilderness is governed by God. His thoughts are both completely organized AND completely free. His imagination is utterly unfettered AND precisely ordered. Oh! I want to be like that!! Even with the limitations of finitude, I want to mirror the balance of God's perfectly. disciplined. freedom.

There is a godly wisdom that enables us to choose to walk the path that brings us our best benefit, both spiritually and naturally in this life. When we choose to allow God to order our thoughts and to help us live orderly lives, He blesses and rewards us with His peace and joy, free from the stress of self-inflicted chaos. If you have a project hanging over your head that is stressing you out, I pray that you will see a box-by-box way forward and that your Heavenly Father would give you His perfect peace as you allow Him to help you restore order.
Please tell me I'm not alone!!  Anyone else feeling overwhelmed by a big project?
________________________________

Joining Ann Voskamp in counting His graces for her Multitudes on Monday
I hope you'll join in if you haven't already!
In the counting of the endless gifts I say with C. S. Lewis,
"This also is Thou!"


#881-895
881. Sitting down to watch Monday Night Football with the whole family
882. The moment your head hits the pillow
883. Golden tabby cat rolling luxuriously in the sun
884. Blushing leaves
885. Drummer Boy's excitement restored, one day after feeling so discouraged--NEVER GIVE UP!
886. Wednesday night Greek food with all four of us for a change!
887. Farewell letter from our first World Vision "daughter" (whose community no longer needs WV help to thrive) and first correspondence from our new little girl in India!  Missing Suganya already and can't wait to get to know Gudiya!
888. Photoshop CS5--an early Christmas present from Hero Husband!
889. Hero Husband who is such an encouraging, supportive, inspiring cheerleader and provider!
890. A daughter who loves to cook!  
891. Raindrop lullabies
892. Emptying boxes!
893. Yummy dinner at El Charro and She So Sweet's excitement to share her workplace with us and how they all love her there!
894. Favorite worship songs all in a row
895. Spectacular touchdown passes


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Monday, November 7, 2011

All Rights Reserved

--
Sometimes the same thing can look different depending on where you're standing.



After the last few weeks, I would count copyright laws among those things that don't look the same from both sides. I have been both the copyright owner having to defend my copyright AND the one seeking permission to quote copyrighted material. What a different feeling I have about each position.

Click . . . click . . . click . . . I follow the links from page to page, site to site, watching a video here, perusing images there. My inherited Irish temper grows with every selection of my mouse. One of my pictures is being used all over the internet, without my permission, to promote a product for sale no less! You might think I'd feel flattered that someone thought enough of my photography to use this photo in this manner, but all I feel is cheated and disrespected. Harumph!

On the other front, I'm still online, still clicking away, my eyes scanning pages and pages of tiny print, fighting to focus my I-hate-being-in-my-40's eyes, reading the simplified legalese of copyright policies. I need to understand all the detailed requirements for quoting Bible verses of different translations for use in various forms. I'm still smarting from the disappointing answer I got from one publisher in answer to my request for a renewal of my previous permission agreement with them. What once was free to me, welcomed by them, is now costly to me and controlled by them. Here comes that Irish temper again!*

Wikipedia explains the basics this way: "Copyright is a legal concept, enacted by most governments, giving the creator of an original work exclusive rights to it, usually for a limited time . . . gives the copyright holder the right to be credited for the work, to determine who may adapt the work to other forms, who may perform the work, who may financially benefit from it, and other, related rights."

As a copyright holder, I enjoy the protection of copyright laws and greatly appreciate the knowledge that others can't legally use my work without my permission. Happily, when I cordially pointed this out to the person in question, I received a gracious and prompt response to remedy all the improper use of my photo. On the other hand, the application of copyright laws protecting the Bible publisher is hindering my progress and has recently cost me a lot of time and energy to comply with those laws, which as a Christian, it is right for me to do.

Are you encouraged yet? Me neither! So let me get to why I thought there was a reason to write about the dry and frequently annoying subject of copyrights today. God is a copyright owner! Did you know that?

God is the Creator of an original work. Lots of them really.

You. Me. Everyone.

That gives Him exclusive rights to His work, and for Him, there is NO time limit.

He has the right to be credited for His work.
He has the right to determine what or who can influence change and adaptation in His work.
He has the right to determine where and how His work is seen, heard and put in front of an audience.
He has the right to determine who may benefit from His work's activities.

If God is the copyright holder of your life, of my life, how often do I check God's copyright permissions policy (His Word) on what I am doing or am about to do? How often do I reflect on the terms of the agreement He laid out for the appropriate use, performance and application of HIS WORK? How diligent am I about proper attribution to Him of the glory He deserves and how consistent am I with giving Him the love and obedience He desires me to have with Him as my Creator and the copyright holder over all He has made me to be?

"For we are God’s masterpiece.
He has created us anew in Christ Jesus,
so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago."

If I had such a strong response to the misuse of one little photograph of mine, how much more passionate do you think God is about us? If publishers work so vigorously to protect the works under their authority, how much more can we trust God to protect His own handiwork?

I'm not sure where it's located, but somewhere on your heart you just might find a label that says, 

© Before time began by God Almighty. All Rights Reserved.

NOW do you feel encouraged??
I do!

How are you impacted by seeing God as the Artist with you as His masterpiece?
Do you feel comforted or limited by His copyright protection of you?

* I think I'll leave the question of whether it is right to apply policy about the copyright of a Bible translation in such a way that people have to pay you to quote verses, for another day.  Personally, I can't quite wrap my head around it. Whose Word is it again?? =)  Thankful that most Bible publishers have very reasonable policies.
________________________________

Joining Ann Voskamp in counting His graces for her Multitudes on Monday
I hope you'll join in if you haven't already!
In the counting of the endless gifts I say with C. S. Lewis,
"This also is Thou!"
#866-880

866. Having a house that needs cleaning 
867. Drummer Boy singing back note-for-note to the mockingbird
868. Text message from She So Sweet when she wanted to share the sunrise with me
869. The faithful day-in day-out performance of my dream car for the past six years--such a gift from God (and Hero Husband)--so thankful!
870. Getting to call my best customers to thank them for their big order!!  (Love you Mommy & Daddy!)
871. Big black clouds that make such interesting skies
872. New song Drummer Boy brought home from a great day in the studio
873. Phone call from my little brother
874. Checks in check-boxes on my To Do list
875. The kind of clean that sparkles and shines
876. Best chocolate-dipped macaroon EVER!
877. Pepperoni
878. The sound of a German voice saying, "Schnitzel"
879. She So Sweet's first check!
880. DIY fixes that work like a charm (Mayonnaise for a water-stained wooden table)

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