Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Minding the Pronouns

Driving home from a wonderful brunch date with a sweet friend today, I heard a song on the radio that caught my attention. It was on a Christian radio station, and was certainly written for the purpose of bringing attention to God. But the problem was --- the pronouns were all wrong.

Years ago a friend taught me to "mind the pronouns".

In London there are signs everywhere saying "mind the gap", hoping to assist pedestrians when stepping onto and off of the railway system. You see they do not want people to stumble and fall, or worse yet get caught in the closing doors. With this in mind, my Steve and I like to help each other "mind the pronouns" instead. We have learned that with the wrong pronouns, we can easily stumble and fall, or worse yet get side tracked with the wrong focus.

Anyway ---- the song on the radio kept referring to "you". So I listened more closely as I enjoyed the song. And that's when I realized the "you" they kept saying was referring to us, people, regular folks, me, you. Very few times did the song actually refer to GOD. It's an easy twist, a subtle distraction, a simple way to allow "us" to stay focused on "self" ------ and isn't that the main problem in life. Keeping our focus on ourselves, our feelings, our thoughts, our plans, our dreams, dare I say our schemes ---- instead of focusing on the One whose thoughts are higher than our thoughts, and whose ways are not our ways. The One whose plans are better and dreams are more than we could ever imagine.
The "YOU" in the song should have been about the One. But instead the "you" in the song was about those who are loved deeply by the One. It was all wrong --- it felt wrong. I wanted to apologize to God --- because once again the pronouns were all wrong.
The problems become bigger when we focus on all the "ones" who did not create the universe and everything good in it. The reality of our inability looms on the horizon and beats down on us with a fury when the pronouns are stuck on the "i", "me", "we", "us" merry go round of self.

A wise person once said to me ----- the sincerity of a person's heart for Christ can be measured by their pronouns. So I began to notice how often the word "i" came out of my mouth or was typed in my writing. (I was ashamed.) Likewise --- we can catch the glimmer of a selfless soul when the pronouns are more centered around God and others. (It's what I'm pursuing with a passion.)

This became a good measuring stick worth applying to life.

To be fair, the song today was referring to God's great love for "you, us" --- and referring to people as God sees them. It was not meant to detract from God ---- and it had a great message. But still, my soul ached, wanting to see more of the attitude of worshiping God for His greatness --- not because of how He sees us.

So many of our "worship" songs refer to what He has done for us or how He sees us, both of which ARE immensely important indeed, gifts that should never be overlooked. ------- However, shouldn't the focus of worship revolve around Him; His greatness and majesty and power and love and grace and patience and...
The pronouns are too often off balance.
The scale weighted too heavily in the wrong direction.
The praise should be for HIM.
The focus should be on HIM.
The subject should surround HIM.

One of the most treasured and possibly the most memorized passages in the Bible is a beautiful example of getting the pronouns right. The chapter begins and ends with the focus on God, our Shepherd, our Lord. Throughout the 6 verses God is referred to by name or through usage of pronouns a total of 13 times, while pronouns are used to refer to those God loves (us) a total of 16 times.
So while those God loves are referred to 3 more times than God Himself ---- there is no mistaking who the passage is written about.
And for centuries and centuries hurting "sheep" have rolled the words across their tongues to remember and declare that we do have a Shepherd. A Shepherd who will not demand that we get the pronouns right --- but will certainly be better able to comfort us when we do.

Psalm 23

 1 The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
 3 he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
   for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk
   through the darkest valley,[a]
I will fear no evil,
   for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
   they comfort me.
 5 You prepare a table before me
   in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
   my cup overflows.
6 Surely your goodness and love will follow me
   all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD

The typing of this blog is a transparent revealing of my ugly self ---- that my pronouns need to be measured more carefully. Even in loving and serving our Lord -- it's far to easy to let the "I" become too prevalent.
Just as sheep long for the comfort of their Shepherd's staff ---- so it is with this daughter.

Photo taken by Rachel Klave of Kenzie, a precious soul, now in Heaven. Her adoration for the Creator inspires me; a picture of "minding the pronouns".

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Beauty of Gratitude

The simple expression, "Thank you", means we have paused for a split second to acknowledge the kindness just shown us was not a requirement, but was a gift. The door being held open so we could pass through, the pause in busy traffic allowing us to enter into the crowded line of cars, the single paper handed to us rather than just passing the whole stack our way, the moment when someone did something for us, that did not have to be done - but was an expression of consideration towards us - and was selfless on their part. We miss the tiny gifts too often, and therefore we "miss" the kindnesses that came our way.

It's a huge pet-peeve of mine, to be in traffic (enough said there), notice someone needs to get in front of me, pause and let them in, and then they act as if it was due them. It's so frustrating to me when no kind wave acknowledges their appreciation. Likewise, I love it when I see someone pause in traffic to allow a car in front of them, and a friendly wave expresses gratitude from the one who was shown kindness to the one who gave kindness. It just feels right.

It's the beautiful attitude of gratitude that can be seen in a life being lived well.

For the Christian, these expressions of appreciation, can be the precursor to our readiness to see and appreciate all that God does for us. The scriptures tell us, "in this world you will have trouble". It's guaranteed. No one will get through this fallen world without "trouble" on their doorstep. But in the midst of this "trouble", there are many, many goodnesses being poured out on us. If we are not conditioned to notice the good, we can too easily miss it completely, being left with only a lap full of "trouble" and feelings of hopeless despair.
We live in a society of anti-depressants and anti-anxiety meds. We live in a society that can't go to sleep at night or if they do go to sleep,  they wake up in the middle of the night - unable to get the full needed cycle of uninterrupted rest the body needs. We live in a society that seems to proclaim the negative, with only a cursory note of the good. We need something to lift us, inspire us, help us; we need something to give us hope.
Is it possible the "something" we need can be found in the tiny capsules of pausing to see, to notice, to receive, and to acknowledge ----- kindness shown --- beauty seen --- goodness revealed --- all around us.
This beauty is usually silent.
Kindness is not typically LOUD.
A gesture of selflessness is usually quick and often inaudible.
It's all too easily missed.

But pausing to see, to realize, to receive, and to acknowledge that we just received a "gift" of kindness ------- can open our eyes to seeing a whole new world around us.

I realized this profoundly when staying in a hotel in Kenya that was very difficult and unlike any place I had ever stayed in my life. The windows were broken, but the bars were in place, the mosquito net had holes in it, the toilet didn't flush, and the shower didn't work. There were "critters" I had never seen before crawling about, and noises I had never heard before creeping through the night. I lay in my bed, fully clothed, because the scratching bed coverings were not the color they should have been if they had been laundered, and I prayed. As I prayed, I began to "cry out" to God about my circumstances. You know --- a sort of "petitioning" to God. Really, I just wanted to tell someone of my plight --- and God was the only one there with me.
So I began listing my grievances to Him --- and He allowed my tearful rantings for almost an hour. I had much to say and was using many eloquent adjectives.
Our Lord is such a patient Father.
For when I had exhausted my list --- He gently whispered to my heart, "Now, let's look at all that is 'right' in your world tonight".
I didn't want to, but I did. After all, I had nothing else to do. There were still several hours left before the sun would give me a new day.
I paused, and admitted, He would have to reveal them to me, my mind could only see the negatives.
And so He began ---- "you are laying in a bed, not in a prison (or worse yet - not out on the street), there is a locked door between you and the evil outside, you had 3 meals today that stayed in your stomach and nourished your body, you drank clean water today, you have clothes on your body and extras in a bag, you have a husband at home that adores you, you have not been to the hospital or the funeral home today, you will ride in a car/bus tomorrow- you will not walk the 50 miles ahead of you, you have..., you will..., you do not..., etc..., etc..., etc...
God's list to me ------ embedded itself in my soul.
God's list to me ---- lasted for more than an hour.
God's list to me --- transformed my heart and mind.
God's list to me was much more profoundly important than my list to Him.

A simple expression of "thank you" given with a sincere heart ----- can escort in profound life change with intense realizations of our Father's goodness to us each and every moment of each and every day.

It's a change of the mind set that can bring life to the body and joy to the soul.

Focusing on all that is right and good and pleasing ------ and saying "thank you" to the One who makes it to be this way, makes the troubles of this world seem less daunting --- and the singing bird outside my window much more beautiful.

"Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful." Colossians 3:15 

Photo taken by Steve at Cades Cove, Tennessee

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Life in Laughter

Proverbs 17:22
"A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones." (King James)
"A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones." (NIV)
"A cheerful disposition is good for your health; gloom and doom leave you bone-tired." (Message)
"A happy heart is good medicine and a cheerful mind works healing, but a broken spirit dries up the bones." (Amplified)
"A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit saps a person’s strength." (New Living)

and then -

1 Timothy 6:6
"But godliness with contentment is great gain." (King James)
"But godliness with contentment is great gain." (NIV)
"A devout life does bring wealth, but it's the rich simplicity of being yourself before God. Since we entered the world penniless and will leave it penniless, if we have bread on the table and shoes on our feet, that's enough." (Message - verses 6 - 8)
"Godliness accompanied with contentment (that contentment which is a sense of [a]inward sufficiency) is great and abundant gain." (Amplified)
"Yet true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth." (New Living) 

Each of the beautiful ladies in this photo sitting with me is a widow who has buried her husband and many of her children and even grandchildren. They have burdens and pains that are so intense it would be disrespectful for me to share them openly. Some would say, they have many reasons to embrace a 'broken spirit'.

But instead --- oh how they shine --- as they choose the embrace of life, love, laughter and their Lord. Oh how I see GOD'S GOODNESS in their eyes.

They hold in their hands and within their hearts ---- treasure. Treasure that men can not steal and rust will never destroy.

They are beautiful.
My Lord shines beautifully within them.
My Lord shines.
My Lord.

(photo taken in Kenya by my Steve - during a treasured "widows walk")

Monday, March 7, 2011

"Your pain has changed me --- your courage asks me..."

I love the reality that every person was created by God --- uniquely individual  --- beautifully different ---- and yet God calls each one of us to a very similar place in the end.
Ultimately God wants relationship with us, He wants our thoughts to matter less and less to us ---- and His thoughts to matter more and more to us.
God knows that as long as we are caught up in our own ways of thinking, we will miss what He has for us ---- and what He has for us is good and right and pure and holy.
Have you ever known someone who lived their whole life ultimately wanting and trying to get ---- what they wanted? Oh they might not view themselves in that way -- they might have convinced themselves that they were "thinking of others", but ultimately, deep inside, this person is only really satisfied at their core, when things are working out as they want. Have you ever known someone who has not "died to themselves" in order to live for something greater than themselves?
We've all known someone like that --- goodness, we've all been that person (to varying degrees)---- because we all are born with that innate instinct --- to be self consumed, self focused.

And then God...

The most beautiful people are those who have recognized their "self" tendency and have actively sought to lay it down and pour themselves out ---  for something more, something deserving, something worthwhile...

Ultimately --- that "something more" is our Heavenly Father.

He is the ONLY worthwhile reason to move and breath and live. He will always bring a good return on our investment in what He is doing. He promises the greatest retirement plan imaginable. He does not set about to do a work for the good of His own selfish desires (there is no selfishness in Him). "He knows the plans He has for us, and they are not to harm us, but to bring us a Hope and a Future." Jeremiah 29:11

In order to get us to "die to self, and live for Him" John 3:30, He will carry us on a journey.
John Bunyan wrote of it in "The Pilgrim's Progress" (1678). Hannah Hunard wrote of it in "Hind's Feet on High Places" (1955). Roy Hession wrote of it in "The Calvary Road" (1952). Catherine Marshall wrote of it in "Beyond Ourselves" (1961). Robert Keller wrote of it in "The Shepherd's Look at Psalm 23".  Max Lucado writes of it in many of his books - one of my favorites is "Traveling Light". Peter, John, Paul, David, Moses, and many others wrote of it hundreds of years ago. God will use circumstances to draw us to Him. God will use our weakest moments to allow us to feel His great loving strength covering us.
Why then do we sometimes frantically focus on managing our personal realm in such a way that we do not allow ourselves to see or experience the painful aspects of this world. Why do we avoid or hide from the painful realities that will enable us to best see our Lord at work?
Would we ever truly appreciate the good pleasure of a warm blanket if we never felt the cold chill first?
Isn't the most beauty found when we SEE GOD --- and not our own managed realm?

God is not focused on our comfort, He cares much, much more about our walk with Him. Because He knows that during the journey of the walk --- He will be able to bring us into full bloom. He will be able to transform us from what we were, into what He created us to be. He knows that it's in the dying to ourselves, that we will be able to fully live in Him.
It's contrary to what feels natural to us isn't it? But if it were easy ---- then we wouldn't need God would we?

Sara Groves wrote a lovely song --- chronicling a transformation of herself in a portion of her journey. God can and will use pain, to change us. God can and will use suffering to transform us. And in the process of the journey we will see with our hearts and souls "the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living" even as our eyes take in the pain around us.

Allow yourself to be touched by Sara's words ---- they beautifully illustrate my journey as well. May God be at the center of it all...

Click here for Sara's song --- "I Saw What I Saw"
(please ignore the advertisement at the beginning of the music/video - I couldn't figure out how to remove it)

Pain changes everything. Suffering requires a response.

I love you all so very much.

"But those who suffer he delivers in their suffering; he speaks to them in their affliction." Job 36:15

"He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem." Isaiah 53:3

"A large crowd followed and pressed around him. 25 And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. 26 She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. 27 When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” 29 Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.
 30 At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”
 31 “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’
 32 But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. 33 Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” 
Mark 5:24-34

Photo taken by Steve of me praying with a crippled Turkana lady. She has been crippled for most of her life and crawls for miles to come to church. Notice the yellow container on the ground - it is what she carries her water in.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A Simple Path - Love in Action

God is saying much these days ---- speaking through His Word, and whispering to my heart.

Long ago I read a book by Mother Teresa where she described her morning prayer time with God. She would rise early in the morning, long before the sun, and sit with her Heavenly Father. A typical prayer-filled morning would last about 4 hours. But then if the day was expected to be overly demanding she would rise even earlier to have extra prayer time --- explaining that if she did not have the needed time with God first, the fruit of the day would be insufficient for the needs.
I was amazed by this way of thinking. In my child-like mind, if the day was expected to be overly demanding, then extra sleep might be needed to be rested and ready. Mother Teresa knew the truth though. If there was no filling of God, no strengthening from Him, then her strength would never be sufficient no matter how much "rest" she stored up. The demands ahead of her would require God's filling, anointing, favor, empowering, guidance, blessing, wisdom, discerning and enabling. So spending the extra time with Him, was the foundation to her effectiveness with others.

Below is an excerpt from "A Simple Path" a book about Mother Teresa's ministries:
"In the West we have a tendency to be profit-oriented, where everything is measured according to the results and we get caught up in being more and more active to generate results. In the East, especially in India (and I will add in Africa as well), I find that people are more content to just be, to just sit around under a banyan tree for half a day chatting to each other. We Westerners would probably call that wasting time. But there is value to it. Being with someone, listening without a clock and without anticipation of results, teaches us about love. The success of love is in the loving --- it is not in the result of loving. Of course it is natural in love to want the best for the other person, but whether it turns out that way or not does not determine the value of what we have done. The more we can remove this priority for results the more we can learn about the contemplative element of love. There is the love expressed in the service and the love in the contemplation. It is the balance of both which we should be striving for. Love is the key to find the balance."

I can literally feel God shifting my mind set --- altering my focus --- preparing me for the days ahead. When it will be MOST fruitful for me to pray long and often, and sit still (perhaps under an acacia tree). To love in unhurried real-time ways. To love and speak and move in ways that reveal --- loving well matters more than measurable results of my "love in action" (a phrase often used by Mother Teresa).

As I ponder this shift taking place at my core ---- I realize I have not loved well in this way. I've already been on my knees with my Father about it.
I've always, always, always been a results oriented person --- sadly enough, even with love. I've foolishly believed, "well, if the results will not be meaningful for them, then it will be a wasted effort". 
I like to plan, organize, and implement. God is saying to my heart --- I, God, am making these plans. I, God, will organize these details, and I, God, will implement. This will be done, my way, in my time, according to my plans, and for my glory.
----- I, God, --- want you to LOVE OTHERS! Outcomes, results, responses do not matter. Love others donna - love deeply and often. I will hold the meaningfulness in my hands and use it at my will.

It will not matter what I say ---- what will matter is how I love. Love through words yes --- but I can also love without them. There is no language barrier in love.

For the record ---- I have never had a season in my life when God held me still the way He is holding me still now. I know --- to shift from this place, would be disobedient. I know --- He is preparing me in ways I can not grasp. I know --- the powerful hand of my loving Father is on me. How can such power produce such peace?

I also know --- that the days ahead in Kenya will reveal the fruit of what God is doing in me right now. Let there be no mistaking this ---- God will accomplish much --- He will be glorified.

1 Corinthians 13: 1-7 (Message translation)
1 If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don't love, I'm nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. 2If I speak God's Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, "Jump," and it jumps, but I don't love, I'm nothing. 3-7If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don't love, I've gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I'm bankrupt without love.

   Love never gives up.
   Love cares more for others than for self.
   Love doesn't want what it doesn't have.
   Love doesn't strut,
   Doesn't have a swelled head,
   Doesn't force itself on others,
   Isn't always "me first,"
   Doesn't fly off the handle,
   Doesn't keep score of the sins of others,
   Doesn't revel when others grovel,
   Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
   Puts up with anything,
   Trusts God always,
   Always looks for the best,
   Never looks back,
   But keeps going to the end.

Photo of Jackson Maina Taylor (our Kenyan son) and me on a cold day in Kinangop, Kenya, taken by Maggie