If We Could See Ahead…We’d Run the Other Way

Have you seen this meme? Every time it pops up on Facebook, I laugh and say, “That is SO my life!”

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I was chatting with a friend last night, and we were talking about goals and priorities and where I wanted to be in the next few years. I’d been thinking about that recently, and, in fact, I KNOW where I want to be and what I want to be doing…at least I think I do.

Because I think like that top picture. I’m all about goal-setting and proactivity and action steps. Here’s my goal, my desired destination, and here’s the straightest path there. BAM! Seems easy.

But that’s not really reality. As I sit here, typing away, I have to reflect and realize (not a new realization, trust me), that NOTHING in my life has turned out like I’d planned. Not family, not career, not even my spiritual life has been at all predictable. In fact, as my girlfriend and I were chatting, we both agreed that, if we knew what the future held, we’d probably pull a 180 and run pell-mell away from it.

But I don’t really like that. I’m such a Type A personality:

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For the more linear folks:

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Here’s how it flushes out in my everyday, well-planned, ordered, and theoretically executed life:

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Sometimes my prayers sound a lot like this.

Highly driven and focused. Proactive, self-motivated, and always thinking about what needs to happen to get closer to the goal. And sometimes I get a little worked-up (since I refuse to use vulgarity here!) with others about it…

And I get a bit worked-up with God when he changes my destination…or, when I get there, says, “This was just a rest stop…movin’ on!”

In my 48 years on this planet, I have had at least five career paths. Ministry (in a variety of churches), music performance, music education, social worker, and a short stint as a Mary Kay lady (never could achieve that cat-eye look with the shadow, though). And in the midst of each different life chapter, I threw everything I had into it, convinced that THIS was what my life was supposed to be about.

And then CHANGE. Divinely ordained change.

According to change experts (yes, they’re a thing), change should be prepared for and eased into and processed while it’s happening – ask any management guru about what happens when change is thrust upon an organization. Better yet, ask the employees. They’ll give you an earful.

I don’t think God has consulted with the experts or the gurus.

Each time change has come to my life, it has come with little warning and no time to prepare…probably because if I had warning and time to prepare, I would absolutely pack my bags, pull a Jonah, and catch the next train to Joppa.

In her devotional book, Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence, (and no, I don’t get a cut for advertising…I just really like this book!), Sarah Young writes:

You would like to see a map, showing all the twists and turns of your journey. You’d feel more prepared if you could somehow visualize what is on the road ahead…I will not show you what is on the road ahead, but I will thoroughly equip you for the journey. (Entry for January 12)

As I look back on the multiple times God has quite literally pulled the rug out from under my feet, I see one common thread. Each time, I have been forced to rely on God’s grace direction and have had to obey not out of pious desire, but out of sheer need to survive the rocking of the boat and the shaking of the foundation. And each time, I can identify the hand of my Heavenly Father orchestrating the whole darn thing.

And it’s not like I was ever being disobedient to be where I was. Oddly enough, as I reflect, each different chapter of my life was, in fact, exactly where I needed to be at that moment.

I learned skills and lessons and evolved as a person. I learned to recognize different facets of Heavenly Father’s character and personality and grew closer to Him. I became more attuned to His voice, more able to recognize Him in the midst of the chaos.

And I rather like me at this point in life.

Furthermore…

I wouldn’t trade any of it.

So here we are. 2018 is still in its infancy. I know where I’d like to be and where I’d like life to go in the next 11-1/2 months, but really, all I know is that God is taking me somewhere.

I can either go all Type A, demand to see the map (and since He won’t show me, it would be making up the map in my little brain) and wrest the steering wheel away from him, or I can learn to be more Type B and relax, enjoy the scenery, and trust that He knows where we’re going.

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It really is a tender mercy that He doesn’t give us the whole plan at once. He really does have our happiness in mind. I can trust that.

Starting Off With Thanksgiving

It’s funny how, as a North American culture, we don’t get around to celebrating Thanksgiving until the end of the year: November for the United States, and October for our cousins in Canada.  And what’s even funnier is how, after we’ve gone around the table and given thanks for whatever pops into our head and stuffed ourselves senseless on enough food to feed a third world country, we start bidding the current year goodbye and begging the new one to hurry up and come and please be better than the last.

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When I was reviewing 2017 in my own life, I decided to look for great things that happened instead of focusing on crap that came my way, annoying people who wouldn’t leave, or, God have mercy, politics.  And what I found was that, by-in-large, 2017 was AMAZING!

  • I made it through a very difficult year of teaching – what a victory!
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    Completing a teaching credential at the same time as taking over a secondary level choral program and only being there half the time because of grad program demands was crazy-making for not just me, but all the students who needed and deserved my full attention. But we all made it, even if by the skin of our teeth…

    I finished a graduate program.

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    Master’s degree Number Two.
  • I lost 53 pounds (there’s a 2017 resolution checked off!).
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    After a lifetime of struggle, I finally found a program that works!  Feeling great these days!
  • We celebrated TWENTY YEARS of marriage!
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    I can’t think of anyone I’d rather spend life with – life here and now and life there and then! I’m so grateful that God has brought us this far!
  • And we welcomed a new puppy into our home (yes, we are staying positive on that one).
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Boudicca, Destroyer of Worlds and Fartmonster Extraordinaire. Our 5-month old Rottweiler who is, regardless of what she chews or where she poos, a sweet little bundle of blessing…I will keep saying that…

So I decided to approach this year differently – starting with gratitude.  And, after all, that’s why I blog – to keep track of all God’s tender mercies that He just showers on me, day after day, month after month, year after year.

It’s so easy to get bogged down with the daily grind, isn’t it? And that grind sometimes grinds a little harder than we’d like it to.  And, for whatever reason, the negatives stick in our minds and hearts far more easily and for a lot longer than the positives.  But if we can make a habit of being consciously mindful of the wonderful things that cross our paths, it really will make our lives better.

But don’t take my word for it…you’ll listen to Huffington Post, won’t you?

“Negative attitudes are bad for you. And gratitude, it turns out, makes you happier and healthier. If you invest in a way of seeing the world that is mean and frustrated, you’re going to get a world that is, well, more mean and frustrating. But if you can find any authentic reason to give thanks, anything that is going right with the world or your life, and put your attention there, then statistics say you’re going to be better off” (from The Neuroscience of Why Gratitude Makes Us Healthier).

Now, habitual gratitude can be tricky to develop, so I decided to actually use one of those awesome Pinterest projects I perpetually pin; I made my very own Gratitude Jar!  I put some serious effort into this jar – we’re talking paper tearing, Mod Podge (gosh, I LOVE that stuff, and the smell…I know, totally weird…), hand lettering even.  Then I set up a little thanksgiving station in our dining room.  It’s very obvious and we will always be prompted to take a moment, write down what we’re thankful for, and drop it in the jar. I think it turned out rather well!

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Then, when New Year’s Eve rolls around again, we can spend the evening doing more than binging on Netflix and hoping the crazies won’t crash outside our house and wake us up (because we’re now old and we like to sleep in, rather than party in, the new year). We can go through each little moment of gratitude we’ve deposited and reflect on the amazing tender mercies of God as they’ve been bestowed throughout 2018.

And I daresay that, while we’re doing this, our overall outlook will be transformed.  It is, after all, our mental life that determines how we interpret our outer life.  The state of our mind is what primes us to recognize God at work, and also what primes us to miss His hand in our lives.   Paul tells us this in Romans 12:

Be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. (Romans 12:2, KJV)

I am determined to grow my faith in the Savior’s guidance, and am utterly convinced that cultivating an eye for what He’s doing and a heart of gratitude for it will do just that.  And, as I recognize and give Him thanks for the small things, I will find bigger things to marvel in and bless Him for.

Have a simply BEAUTIFUL 2018!

Intentional Expression

I was a little, or rather, a lot, shocked when I noticed just the other day that my last blog post was on Thanksgiving – approximately 5 weeks ago!  As a music teacher, once Thanksgiving comes and goes, it’s full-speed-ahead into the Christmas music season.  Between 6 school choirs, 1 community choir, and 11 private students, the whole month can be summed up as follows (and believe me, adults differ not from youth in this matter):

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Auto-pilot somehow got me through seven (that’s right, count them, SEVEN) concerts in in two weeks, plus an open house and, oh, yes, that’s right, the out-of-the-blue funeral for my sister-in-law…then right back into the cook, clean, bake, wrap, drive, celebrate, eat-way-too-much, drive, pass out routine that is Christmas Day and all the days that lead up to it.

Nonetheless, I didn’t seem to have time, energy, or inspiration for any laugh-inducing, thought-provoking blogging.  My activities were quite thrust upon me, rather than being intentional.

But now, it’s New Year’s Eve. On Facebook, someone asked, “Did you achieve any of your resolutions this year?”  I replied to that one, because I’m quite proud of what I achieved this year:

  • Got blogging – and some people even read it (like you are, right now)!
  • Finished a Master of Arts in Teaching (because insanity will, eventually, get you a certificate…of some sort…)
  • Lost weight – a LOT of weight – 53 pounds!

He said, “Good for you! What’s in store for 2018?”

And that got me thinking…what is in store for 2018?  I hadn’t taken a lot of time to think about it.  So I gave it some brief thought and said back:

  • More consistent blogging (like, once a week?)
  • 35 more pounds to reach my goal, and…
  • …WRITE. A. BOOK.

There it is.  I said it out loud. WRITE. A. BOOK.

(Thank you, Greg Trimble…you’ve stoked a fire…)

And not just any book…a book I’ve had on my heart for almost three years now.

A memoir of what God has done in and for me, and the journey I’ve been on to more and more fully experience His Love and Grace and Presence in my life – my every day, often-lived-on-auto-pilot-life.

A testimony. I want to write my testimony, and give it away so that everyone can witness what He has done.

Today’s Old Testament reading was from Isaiah.  Isaiah’s one of those books that you labor through and, quite frankly, I don’t remember a whole lot of what’s in there.  But this passage is, quite possibly, the most beautiful I’ve ever read:

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels. For as the earth bringeth forth her bud, and as the garden causeth the things that are sown in it to spring forth; so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations.  For Zion’s sake will I not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until the righteousness thereof go forth as brightness, and the salvation thereof as a lamp that burneth. And the Gentiles shall see they righteousness, and all kings thy glory: and thou shalt be called by a new name, which the mouth of the Lord shall name. Thou shalt also be a crown of glory in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of thy God. (Isaiah 61:10 – 62:3, KJV)

This is such a gorgeous description of what happens when the Lord saves, when He heals, when he restores that which the locust has eaten and makes restitution for lost, broken years.  The joy He has kindled within me and the beauty He has bestowed on me has made people wonder…and I want to tell my story.  I’ve been waiting for the right time, and I think 2018 is it.  Not quite sure, but I’m very nearly positive that yes, this is the set time.

Today’s Gospel reading was, not surprisingly, from John:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. (John 1:1-2)

I am very rarely satisfied with rote teaching, and so I had to look this up.  Greek is a difficult language to translate into English, mostly because we don’t have enough words to encapsulate the richness and subtle shades of meaning that Greek has. (And, with the onset of textese, soon we won’t have any words at all…NOT LOL…)  So, pulling out my handy dandy Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance (now easily accessed on the internet instead of having to lift all 72 pounds of the actual book), I looked up logos, the word we translate as “Word”.

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Here’s what I found, and I can’t believe I’d never seen this before:

“Logos: the expression of a thought…preeminently used of Christ expressing the thoughts of the Father through the Spirit.”

English is so inadequate.  But now when I read it, here’s what it says to me:

“In the beginning was God’s thought, His plan, expressed, spoken, brought forth.  The plan perfectly reflected Him.  The plan – that perfect expression of His love and grace and truth and mercy – was with Him in the beginning.”

Everything Jesus Christ thought, said, and did – and everything He continues to think, say, and do – is a perfect, flawless, intentional expression of His Father’s character and His plan of salvation.  It has always been thus.  And that’s what I want my testimony, and my very life, to be – a perfect, flawless, intention expression of my Father’s character.  Now, I certainly can’t guarantee perfection and flawlessness, but I can be INTENTIONAL.  I can choose my actions and my words carefully, so that they will communicate “the king’s glory”, and so that they shine like a diadem and a crown in the hand of my Heavenly Father, causing all who see that light to spring forth in praise.

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Here’s to 2018…what do you have in store?