Thoughts on a Snowy Day

Have you been waiting breathlessly for a follow up to my last blog on the subject of “Mine”? You can breathe easier now because I don’t seem to have much more to say on the subject except that God is repeatedly nudging me to the old-yet-always-new truth in Romans 12:1 and 2 as paraphrased by Eugene Peterson in The Message: So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life–your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life–and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so self-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

Note the underlined the words. How easily I drift toward the culture that says “MINE” is the norm instead of staying on the path that leads to “well-formed maturity.” Yes, even at this stage of life when maturity has supposedly(!) been reached. God is never finished with his formation project and I can choose whether or not to follow the plan.

The picture above is taken through my dining room window after last night’s snowfall.  If you look closely you might see the screen’s grid which somewhat distorts the snowy view and the candles’ reflection.  But the candles in front are seen clearly. When I look at my culture’s expectations, I need to remember that the view is distorted. I need to keep my eyes on the light–on the Light–so God can bring out the best in me, continually developing well-formed maturity.

MINE!

FightCan you see and hear the frustration, anger, tears, screams as young children tussle over the same toy? Adult conversation momentarily halts as the battle increases until a caregiver wades into the fray to prevent the battle from turning into all out war.

Recently I became aware of an inner tussle with the word MINE front and center. It started—or was fed by—an insurance company’s television commercial of a woman’s “she shed” burning. It’s a comedic ad that’s gone viral but for me was a reminder of a (somewhat) humorous remark I made to my husband as we prepared to return to the U.S. after twenty-plus years of living outside our “birth borders.” During the most recent years, the ministry office was in our home and while it was convenient to figuratively roll out of bed to the desk, more than a few inconveniences existed. During work hours, our “home” was an open book.

So when we mused about the kind of house we wanted/needed in the U.S., along with built-in closets (only wardrobes in Germany), a fireplace (if possible), and maybe even an icemaker in the refrigerator, I reached for the sky and laughingly said, “How about a small shed in the backyard where I can sit for writing, reading, thinking? No doorbellShed and a lock on the door would be nice!”

We eventually bought a lovely home (with fireplace, closets and icemaker!) where there was at least space to retreat—but no She Shed. Eventually we downsized to a condo which fit our needs, but retreat space became even more limited. Then age, health, and finances required a second downsize. It is a perfect place for our needs and I rejoice that God supplied the space even when the “odds” seemed to thwart our plans. No She Shed. Not even a spare room. No space that is exclusively MINE.

While a “man cave” has gained not only in interest but is often seen as a necessity for men who need a place to unwind, think, “privatize” after the demands of the workplace, similar space for women has only recently been studied. Hence the popularity of that commercial?

The other morning when that inner tussle threatened to distract me from moments dedicated to prayer, I began examining my demand for MINE. Why this niggling thirst for something, some place, that exclusively belongs to me? A place with a lock and without a doorbell! What else, who else do I insist is MINE? And why?

And with those questions I end this session! I welcome your thoughts on the subject (mj.ehle@comcast.net; MINE in the subject line) and promise to return with your observations and more of my own.

 

Snow in the Desert

Don’t be fooled by this picture! It’s snowing today in Colorado Springs with gusty winds and temperatures dipping from yesterday’s 80° to this morning’s 20°. I pulled spindly petunias from the flower box two weeks ago and the herbs are gone until next spring. Although the optimists among us predict warm sunshine for the weekend, I fear that summer is truly over.

In case you hadn’t noticed, no words have landed on this page since May. (And if you didn’t notice…oh, dear.) My summer wasn’t one of lying in the sun, thinking deep thoughts, musing about life, people and God. Oh yes, life was present, people surrounded me, and God was near…but He wasn’t saying much. Have you ever had those days? Or weeks? Or months? Maybe not quite a desert, but definitely a dry spell?

Mine wasn’t like Elijah’s. I wasn’t afraid. I wasn’t running for my life. I didn’t cry out, “I have had enough, Lord” (1 Kings 19:4). I sang with 5,000 others at our Cru Staff Conference and relished times with old friends. My mind was stretched and challenged as I learned from experts at a writers’ conference. (Best part of that week was living with, eating with, shopping with, laughing with my daughter!) Lunch with friends traveling through town was delightful and, yes, even planting those herbs and petunias brought joy.

But it was dry with only occasional sprinklings of water from the Word and the Spirit.  I know I’m not the only one with these experiences, many have encountered not just dry days, but months of deep depression. The list is long: Mother Teresa, C.S. Lewis, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley, and others.

The person—like this writer!—who wants answers, if not easy answers, is driven to the word “why.” One man wrote, “Many prominent Christians have shared their thoughts on why this happens: ‘you’re recovering from a time of sin, dealing with a season of doubt, stuck in an old-fashioned rut,’ the list is endless.” I don’t have a holy answer to why this happens. But I’ve decided that, at least for me, it’s just a time to BE. To review God’s past nearness and blessings. And most difficult, it’s a time to keep on keeping on. Not with dullness of spirit nor spurts of manufactured gaiety, but with determination and knowledge that God will may reveal himself in new ways, with new words, at a new time.

So…with tonight’s meeting cancelled because of the snow, with chili steaming for tonight’s supper, and with the aroma of cinnamon rolls permeating the house, it’s time to simply say, “Thank you, Father, for being with me in the snow, in the desert, for tempting me with the fragrance of your presence.” Like the scene pictured above, the sun—the Son—is always present.

A (Late) Mother’s Day Message for My Granddaughters

Because we were traveling in the days preceding Mother’s Day…and then recovering from travel…these thoughts simply floated around in my brain, never finding their way into print before last Sunday. But when thoughts continue to nudge, I’m slowly learning to pay attention and so here’s my Mother’s Day message to you, Molly and Megan.

I am blessed with two intelligent, healthy, beautiful, becoming-wise granddaughters. (I thought of including your pictures but decided such public view was neither necessary nor prudent.) You possess the exquisite combination of inherited genes, exhibited in sometimes surprising ways. Although we haven’t had the privilege of living near you and thus missed the everydayness relationship, nevertheless our visits have included an extraordinary journey of observing you develop from those baby days, through childhood, teen years and—for one—into blossoming adulthood.

This isn’t an advice-from-Oma piece! Nor is it exactly a what-I-pray-for-you piece. Maybe a bit of both but also including thoughts gained over the years, especially in recent years.

I grew up in a family, age, community, evangelical Christian culture that pretty much proscribed a girl’s future. “Good” Christian girls married, had children and…if God gave a somewhat secondary call…nursing, teaching, missions could be added. Specific and undeniable gifts of leadership, teaching, music, etc., would be secondary to that primary call. I followed willingly into that pattern and have no regrets. A husband, four children and volunteering in church happily filled my hours. Eventually, I followed my husband into Christian ministry.

It was that last step that triggered my first uncomfortable and whispered questions. (And whispered only to God!) I had been a vocal enthusiast for Paul’s submission teaching, but niggling reservations began to surface. Was I only Bob’s “assistant”? Why did only men give the lectures at Lay Institutes for Evangelism? Why didn’t women serve on decision-making committees? (And in one wonderful church we attended, why didn’t (couldn’t?) women speak up in business meetings?!)

It was during a difficult time in my life—in all our lives—that I began to understand that my identity was more than, and prior to, any role of wife and mother. I began to comprehend that, while physically accompanied by others, I essentially walked through some valleys with God alone. This was a time of exploring more deeply who I was as woman-created-by-God. It was framed with confusion, wrenching emotions, struggles with Scripture, tears and even quiet inner rebellion.

And then, through no effort of my own but definitely through God’s ingenious grace, I discovered devout, wise, intelligent, female authors and scholars who began cracking open too-long tightly closed interpretations of Scripture, uncovering the difference between cultural (even church) expectations and biblical truth. I’d grown up with a picture of an apron-wearing Proverbs 31 woman and a subservient, spineless Eve. I’d been taught that Eve’s primary role was “helpmeet” and the church explicitly defined what that meant.

Carolyn Custis James was one of the women shedding light on my path. Hear these words from her own pursuit:

My first serious encounter with my calling as an ezer happened in the middle of the night. It was around 3:00 a.m., and it changed my life. I wasn’t tossing and turning in bed, but wide awake, pouring over books, smuggling volumes out of my husband’s study, and searching for answers. I felt like a detective and I knew I was onto something. For years I had been troubled by interpretations of Eve that left me and a lot of other women out in the cold. I was looking for answers, but I was not at all braced for what I was about to find.

 God could have given any number of labels to the woman. He chose ezer, which in English Bibles is translated “helper.” Kenegdo is translated “suitable” or, as in older English translations, “meet,” which explains how we ended up with “helpmeet.” This in turn has led to interpretations of the woman as the man’s assistant, wife, mother of his children, and manager of their home, which as we’ve noted excludes some 60 percent of females in this country alone. How many millions of women and girls are we leaving out worldwide?…

 Focus on the wife as her husband’s helper has led to the belief that God gave primary roles and responsibilities to men, and secondary, supporting roles to women. It has led to practices that communicate that women are second class citizens at home and in the church.

Now what? Would I, should I, turn into a flag-waving women’s lib advocate?! You would not have observed any (maybe many?) outward changes, but thought patterns, an uncomfortable examination of my identity, re-thinking of my goals began slowly to emerge. As I investigated the word ezer in the Bible, I discovered that it’s almost always prefaced by the adjective “strong” and frequently used in a military sense, i.e., a “strong warrior.” Both Ruth and the Proverbs woman are called women of valor.

God began—and continues—to mold me into the ezer of his choosing. This isn’t an easy path as anyone who’s endured military boot camp will assert. But that’s also his goal for you. God may grant you the privilege of marriage, motherhood, singleness. He may call you as business owner, inventor, coach, photographer, veterinarian, chef, writer. His call is never to anything less than Holy Spirit driven completeness, enjoyed in any so-called role. Dream big. Focus on the world not some small corner of it. Learn, learn, learn. Ask questions, especially uncomfortable ones. Love well. Dig deeply and daily into God’s Word. See yourselves both as Mary and Martha. (Actually, a blessed combination of both!). Discover the urges in your heart and ask hard questions of God about why he put them there and what he wants to do with them. Be patient.

Someone said, “Some people will only love you if you fit into their box. Don’t be afraid to disappoint.” God’s boxes are never sealed shut and they’re bigger than you can imagine in your wildest and most beautiful dreams. See yourselves poised on the brink of God’s unfathomable future. And rest assured that I love you.

Oma

 

Thoughts Between Good Friday and Easter Sunday

Recently a tech-savvy friend* blurted out her frustration over an equipment glitch. Overhearing the outburst, I calmly suggested that maybe an alternative might/perhaps/perchance/conceivably be tried. Note my caution indicated by those underlined words, a caution expressed because this friend is not known to be patient with non-tech savvy people such as myself.

Although my suggestion was first met with mentally rolled eyes, almost immediately the process was successful and I walked to another room. As I sat ready to open a “spiritual” book, that squiggly imp called Self whispered: “Once again you didn’t get thanked,” and for a comfortable few minutes I basked on the shores of self-pity. But the imp’s voice was soon countered by another message: “This happened to Me too. Remember those cleansed ten lepers? Only one stopped to say thank you.  And oh, yes, let’s talk about what happened recently… ”

Yesterday as I hurriedly ran several errands, I misplaced the silver chain I was taking to the jeweler for repair. Retracing my steps and activities, I remembered having the chain in my hand when unlocking the car. Did it fall after I placed it on the passenger seat? I scoured the car and trunk floors, emptied jacket and pants pockets, fumbled through purse pockets (no new purses with more than two compartments). The chain was nowhere to be found. I’m unsure of the chain and its pendant’s monetary value, but it was one of my mother’s few prized pieces of jewelry, and I’d put off the repair too long.

I honestly was too busy yesterday to worry overmuch about the possible loss…I would look later…but it nagged “at the edge.” And this morning upon awakening—and after coffee—the missing chain was one of my first coherent thoughts. Later as I walked around the rear of my car, THERE ON THE GROUND WAS THE CHAIN! After a moment of self-congratulation—”I knew it was somewhere!”—I went on about my day. Never once intentionally thanking God. I’d like to think I had a grateful heart, but I honestly don’t recall actual words of gratitude.

Just like the nine lepers.

I’ve spent this past Holy Week digging deep into the experiences of Jesus during His last week before the cross. Was I in the palm-waving crowd? Did I offer Him food and rest in my Bethany home? Did I flee the blood-soaked cross or remain weeping with the other women?

Yesterday, Good Friday, I meditated on the horrific scene of his beating, head whipping from side to side, blood dripping from the gashes in His cheeks. Unbidden the words of the prophet Isaiah came to the fore: “it is by his wounds that we are healed.”

Sometimes it’s hard for those of us who “accepted Jesus” as children to truly understand the depth of our sin. Perhaps we’ve never substantially rebelled or participated in gross sin. From what deadly disease have we been “healed”? Doctors say that certain diseases—when symptoms are ignored or disregarded—can “sneak up on you.” Persistent fatigue or shortness of breath may indicate heart or kidney problems. Frequent thirst and slow-to-heal wounds may be red flags for diabetes. Left too long without attention these symptoms can become deadly.

My ingratitude—though unintentional—is a directional signal: pay attention to how pride’s talons can easily grip my soul. Watch out for actions and attitudes (symptoms)—even unintended—that lead more to death than life. I’m convicted about how long it’s been since daily beginning my prayer time with confession. Some might want to “ad lib” confession but I find a prayer offered through the centuries to fit me, changing only the pronouns from the plural to the singular, adding silence for the Spirit to speak personally:

Merciful God, I confess that I have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed. I have not loved you with my whole heart and mind and strength; I have not loved my neighbors as myself. In your mercy, forgive what I have been, help me amend what I am, and direct what I shall be, so that I may delight in your will and walk in your ways, to the glory of your holy name. Now speak your word to me, Holy Spirit…   Amen.

It seems a long and undulating way from tech issues to jewelry chains to my sin and the cross but here I sit. Between Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

*Unidentified to remain in a good relationship.😏

What’s My Detour Reflex?

detour signThe orange cones and yellow detour signs still decorate our street while the workers laboriously inch their way closer to the driveway of our condo complex. Any day now I expect to see one of those No Entry signs necessitating a turnaround, delay, change of plans.

To refresh memories: DETOUR: a long or roundabout route taken to avoid something or to visit somewhere along the way, a diversion or bypass…

We wend our way through or around detours in various ways. My husband drives a slightly long alternate route, a recently re-paved street, smooth, free of orange cones and potholes. I, on the other hand, take the regular route though it’s bumpy and slow. I enjoy seeing the progress. Or lack of same in current wintry weather.

Jonah–of Whale Story fame–decided to take a detour. In his case, it was to avoid a God designed route. He not only disagreed with God’s AAA plan, but he poured out his anger. Eugene Peterson paraphrases Jonah’s outurst this way: “God! I knew it–when I was back home, I knew this was going to happen! That’s why I ran off to Tarshish! (A detour!) I knew you were sheer grace and mercy, not easily angered, rich in love and ready at the drop of a hat to turn your plans of punishment into a program of forgiveness!…” Hm-m-m…maybe it’s a good idea to carefully examine our detours to see if they’re part of God’s plan.

Emotions also differ when facing detours–aka anything that impinges on our detour-free  comfort. Recently I overheard a conversation in which the young woman ranted about a one-hour flight during which a child seated behind her occasionally kicked the back of her seat. (Incidentally, you haven’t lived until that’s happened on an international flight. A detour to remember!) In addition, her rotund seatmate commandeered the armrest the entire flight. The woman was irate, even considering demanding a refund on her fare, still red-faced with anger as she related the tale.

Another woman of my acquaintance, when told that because of flight delays (detours), she would miss her connections, went to the ticket counter and quietly asked for alternatives. To her delight and surprise, she was placed on another flight and upgraded to Business Class. Not all detours are so pleasantly resolved but it’s good to remember Who’s in charge.

I’m reminded of David’s words: “Surely I have calmed and quieted my soul; like a weaned child resting with his mother…composed and freed from discontent.” (Psalm 131:2 Amplified Version)  Famed preacher Charles Spurgeon commented: “David…was like one who was able to give up his natural food, which seemed to him absolutely necessary, and which he greatly enjoyed, The weaned babe has given up what it loved.” When detours prevent me from pursuing what is “absolutely necessary,” what is my natural reflex? What do my reactions reveal of my view of myself, of life, of God?

Some detours face us with jolting, heart-stopping magnitude. Two weeks ago a friend’s wife–a vibrant happy woman–died in her sleep. Facebook comments poured in from around the world to memorialize her, to comfort her husband. How will he, her children and grandchildren traverse this unexpected detour? Because I’ve “been there,” I know tears are flowing, hearts are breaking, minds are foggy, the future uncertain.

These detours–death, divorce, tragic diagnoses–are not mere obstacles on the way to a destination. They are life-changing, direction-altering mountains to scale. Other orange-cone events are the decisions made earlier in life–not essentially bad decisions, but perhaps those made without sufficient thought or counsel. Decisions that influence all further decisions. Decisions that alter the entire path ahead.

My Detour Reflex can be trained as I mature on the road, working toward the attitude of a Hebrew prophet of old: “Even though the fig trees are all destroyed, and there is neither blossom left nor fruit; though the olive crops all fail, and the fields lie barren; even if the flocks die in the fields and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will be happy in the God of my salvation. The Lord is my strength; he will give me the speed of a deer and bring me safely over the mountains.” (Habakkuk 3:17-18)

The orange cones and yellow signs are reminders to periodically examine my Detour Reflex.

Detours

detour signStreets near us are decorated with orange traffic cones, yellow signs screaming ‘detour,’ iron jaws of “dozers” ripping apart crumbling curbs and sidewalks, and dump trucks rumbling with loads of oily, restorative asphalt. The goal of all this labor? Pothole-free streets, unbroken curbs, and stumble-free sidewalks. In the meantime we reduce speed, weave between the orange cones, alert and aware of yet another detour sign directing us to a side street.

DETOUR: a long or roundabout route taken to avoid something or to visit somewhere along the way; a diversion or bypass; from the French détourner = a chance of direction.

On any given day my attitude toward orange-cone detours reflect my opinion about life’s—perhaps God’s?—detours. When I’m late for an appointment, or fanatically driven (apt word!) toward a goal, detours are annoying and frustrating, often producing illogical thinking. “These laborers waste too much time.” Or “Street B needs repair ‘way more than mystreet.” Or—even more telling—“Why me, God?”

Moving fluidly from Point A to Point B is my preferred method of everyday travel. In my neighborhood and in my life. This is especially true when I’ve heard God’s call toward a specific goal. A call confirmed in God’s Word and by his Spirit, affirmed by community, and justified by results.

Then orange cones appear in my “neighborhood.” Unannounced, unexpected, unsought. I am diverted from the plan. (Although admittedly I’ve been known to occasionally sneak out at night, secretly placing cones of my own in the path.)

I can fall back on pithy sayings, most true, some annoying:

When God calls, he provides.
The greater the obstacle (detour), the more glory in overcoming it. (Moliére)
Obstacles (detours) are designed to make you stronger.
Obstacles (detours) do not block the path, they are the path.
Obstacles(detours) are those frightful things you seewhen you take your eyes off the path. (Gerald Ford)

I need to reflect more about detours in life. Does God have something more profound to say than Moliére or Gerald Ford? If God has called me to go from Point A to Point B, how will he get me there? When will he get me there? What do detours mean?

To be continued…