Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Lessons in the wind and the leaves

I'm not sure where this blog will take me...but it began with the wind.

Yesterday, I tackled the job of raking the front yard. We have a beautiful popcorn tree that just a few weeks ago was full of the most beautiful colored leaves. Now they all lay at my feet and covered every square inch of my yard. I knew the weather was going to turn and if I was going to get this done, now was the time. So I raked, and raked, and raked. To make matters more interesting, the wind kept blowing and scattering my leaves. I offered up a prayer - okay, it was more of a complaint..."Come on, God! Give me a break!" For a moment, the wind turned and blew with me instead of against me; I smiled only to then immediately experience the wind shift again. It was then that one of those random thoughts hit.

From here on, this blog may seem redundant, stating the obvious for the oblivious. Yet, it is something I must remind myself of daily. Can I thank God in ALL things, not just those I see as a blessing?

As I raked and the wind turned against me again, I realized that the same wind that blew my work away was bringing a cool refreshing to my sweaty brow. It caused leaves to dance in merriment up to the unbelieveably blue sky. I could get angry and "shake my fist" at the wind, or I could take a step back and see things in a different way. Instead of working against the wind, I needed to shift my position and work with that wind....see the gift that it brought in the midst of difficulties.

Now, I know wayward leaves pale in comparison to some things people are facing today, but perhaps in them there is something we can learn. Do I fuss and fume when things don't go "my way"? Do I stare in disbelief when life hands me pain? Do I forget to look up and see if perhaps that which is causing me frustration is at the same time blowing in something else I need? Am I willing to be thankful in ALL things?

That same popcorn tree had given us shade all summer long when we needed it. It had painted a beautiful picture to welcome me home during the first few days of fall. It will serve as the backdrop for our nativity this Christmas. I thanked God for its shade and colors, could I thank God for its barrenness as well? Would I lift my eyes from the mess at my feet to see the hope? There truly is hope. Even in that emptiness, there lies the hope of a new season.

I don't know what wind has blown into your life lately...job loss, loss of loved one, loss of a hoped for future. It sounds trite, but I understand. More importantly, God understands. That wind that is "messing with" your plans may also be bringing blessings and hope you have not seen. Though it seems that all is crashing around you....look up. Your strength and hope are there. You can not see them, just like you can't see the wind. But just like the wind, you can feel it and know He is there.

This Thanksgiving, in the midst of all the hustle and bustle of cooking, cleaning, and holiday activities, may you feel the cool wind of His presence and know that He is there. That is something we can truly be thankful for.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Not me...How the mighty have fallen part 2

This topic keeps rolling in my mind so I guess it deserves a second chapter.

I have started back to running this week, a feat which is far more difficult than it was even a year ago. As I force myself to put one foot out the door, I am reminded of thoughts I had when I was at my running "peak". I was talking to a fellow teacher and encouraging her to come and run with me when she revealed that she had once been an avid runner, even completed a marathon. When I asked her what changed, she said she wasn't sure...she just quit running. Right then and there I must have thought what was to become the topic of this blog. "Not me! Now that I've discovered how great exercise makes me feel, I'll never stop." Famous last words.

Now I find myself in that same position. I'm not really sure what happened. I just stopped running. I've put back on the weight I had once lost and tasks that were once simple are again becoming difficult. Stress threatens to take a major toll on my body and nothing fits anymore!

It didn't happen all at once. It was really a series of small compromises. An ankle that hurt a bit, a change in schedules, a running partner who couldn't meet with me anymore, a couple of cold rainy days. One small thing after another and the next thing I knew, more than a year had passed. Oh, I tried to convince myself I hadn't fallen back too far. I still looked in shape to MOST people. I still had more energy than other women my age. I still ..... well you can fill in the rest. But inside, I knew. I knew things weren't what they used to be...what they could be. I was making little choices that were leading me away from what I wanted to be.

Isn't that what happens to us spiritually as well. We see someone who has fallen and we think, "not me! I'd never do that." Bet they thought the same thing.

I read a devotion recently by Charles Stanley that really pegged it. In that devotion, he mentioned Solomon. In his youthful arrogance, Solomon was probably sure that he'd never turn to false gods. Yet we find him in 1 Kings married to a number of wives who had false gods and Solomon began to turn away from what he knew was right. Dr. Stanley writes, "the fact that God didn't instantly react to his rebellion must have made rationalizing the next marriage even easier...." The truth is, every compromise led Solomon farther from God. I wonder if at some point, Solomon didn't look up and wonder, "How did I get here?"

The path to compromise is easy. The path to obedience is often difficult. Compromise doesn't really take any thought at all. Obedience requires that we be aware of our choices and recognize when the path of least resistance is actually a step toward a slippery slope of destruction.

The good news is, God is constantly reaching for us, willing to catch us and point us back in the right direction. I truly wish the road back to obedience was easy, but sometimes it's about as easy as climbing a steep rocky hill after we've fallen a hundred feet. We feel our bumps and bruises and many times the thought of giving up is easier than the desire to get back to the path at the top of the hill. But as painful and difficult as it is, it's worth it. When we return to our journey, we're perhaps a bit wiser and less likely to be arrogant and think, "not me."

As I force myself to go out on this cold day for my scheduled run, may I become more aware than ever of how my daily choices affect my future. May I recognize how today's decisions affect tomorrow's reality. I don't want to become so blinded by the days' activities that I find myself wondering in a few years, "How did I get here?" Nope, not me.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Oh how the mighty have fallen...

That's a quote from Samuel talking about Saul after his death. Don't really know if it fits this blog, but since it's been rolling around in my head all day, I decided to use it.

I have been humbled....by my 10 year old son. He has been begging me to "spar" him in TaeKwonDo. I don't take TaeKwonDo, but I do practice a little Krav, so I felt I was up to the challenge. I should have known from the headache I woke up with that this wouldn't be a good day to spar, but I bargained with my son anyway. I told him if he did well on both his tests that day, I'd spar with him that night. The little rascal made an "A" on both tests! I had to keep my word, so I ran to Walmart to get a mouthpiece and then we rushed to his do-jang so he could humiliate me.

Now in theory, I held my own. In fact, I hurt today. Yes, I did manage to get him down on the ground about 6 times, but he got in quite a few points himself. I am now bruised, achy, and very much aware of my advancing years! I have been humbled. And I've decided (after spending about a day in the mullygrubs over my age) that being humbled is right where I needed to be. For from this position, I am forced to admit my own inabilities and look UP to God who is my strength, my hope, my all. I wonder, if Saul had allowed himself to be humbled, would the verse "oh how the mighty have fallen" ever have been written?

As I get older, I find more and more that, to put it mildly, I am an idiot. I think I can do anything! It's so easy to trust in my own abilities - to do the job, to protect myself, to pay the bills, to...you fill in the blank. The truth is, I can't trust in myself at all. The older I get, the more I realize I am not immortal or invincible. I know that seems idiotic - but many of us live that way! We think we will live forever and our bodies won't give out on us like they did our parents. We'll never make the mistakes they made. We'll never get old.

I am reminded of an event that I witnessed many years ago at a youth camp. One of the younger youth pastors (who was QUITE sure of himself and his abilities) was arguing that women couldn't possibly do what men could do. They were certainly no match on the athletic field. The women there had to listen to his bragging and wish we could somehow show him he was wrong. A few hours later, we were on the field for the final challenge - the ultimate track and field event. As I watched youth and counselors showing off their abilities, I had to admit, I hoped this young man would not win...but what happened next was more than I could have hoped for. As they ran toward the hurdles, his foot caught and down he went. When it was evident he was okay, I turned toward my friend and said, "What was it that goeth before a fall?" and we laughed so hard our sides hurt. By the way, a young lady won that race...way to go Lori!

Funny story, except now, I am the one who has tripped over my own pride. Now I am the one who must be willing to look up and ask for help. I'm the one who thought I could do anything. I'm the one who has to admit I'm not as young as I used to be. I recently heard that Billy Graham said he was prepared for dying...but he hadn't been prepared for getting old. I'm starting to identify with those words!
I still don't like this getting older thing and I really don't like admitting that I'm not superman! I guess I thought I was pretty "mighty". Being humbled isn't what I'd call fun, but hopefully now I can get back to growing into who God wants me to be. Now I can allow my son to become the protector instead of me. Now I see that I need to "pass the baton" on to him so that he can run this race for God's glory. My body is starting to fail me....but I'm not done yet. I'm allowing God to pick me up, dust me off and help me, for as long as I can, run for Him...hopefully without falling so much this time.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Time to point a finger

Okay, we're finally nearing the end of this election and I feel like it's finally time to point a finger at the real problem. It's the Demogans....I mean the Republicats....it's those other guys!

Isn't that just like mankind, to try and point a finger at someone and say they are to blame for our troubles. It's not new, this kind of behavior goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden when Eve blamed the snake and Adam blamed Eve...that woman that God gave him. Gee, I guess he was really trying to blame God. But as humans, we never want to say those awful words..."It's my fault."

I see this behavior all the time in a classroom. When work isn't done, students are quick to make excuses (and usually blame their parents for keeping them out so late. Don't worry, we rarely believe it's the parent's fault.) If they are doing something wrong in class, they are always eager to deflect the blame by pointing the finger at someone else. "He did it first!" When that happens, my mother's words always come to mind- "When you point a finger at someone else, you have three pointing back at yourself." That got me thinking. Is it possible that in this time of national crisis, we need to realize that we have three fingers pointing back at ourselves?

Oh, I know. It's not our fault. We're not in charge. Funny thing is, I thought we were a country of "We the people." The government does have a lot of power, but maybe it's time we start admitting that a lot of what's going wrong is our own fault. We have bowed to the gods of convenience and comfort. We want what we want when we want it. Delayed gratification isn't an option. We have stretched ourselves thin and when things go wrong, as they are known to do, we are unprepared. We've shouted and worried, but have we really prayed? In the Bible, God promised that if His people who are called by His name will humble themselves and seek His face then He will hear from heaven and heal our land.

Maybe it's about taking responsibility for our actions and our IN-action. It's about making our children accountable for their actions when they do wrong. It's about time we stopped doing what is easy and started doing what is right. It's about realizing that we have been guaranteed the right for the pursuit of happiness. Happiness isn't really a destination, it's a journey.

I, along with many others, am worried about the direction this country is headed, both financially and morally. But I can't stand back and figure it's someone else's responsibility. I can't point the finger and shift the blame no matter how bleak the future looks. Much like the character of George Bailey in "It's a Wonderful Life", I have to accept that sometimes life doesn't give me what I wanted. I can't quit or point a finger at someone else. In that movie, there is one point where Uncle Billy loses the Savings and Loans deposit. George doesn't point a finger at Uncle Billy, in stead he says "I have lost the money." Even though he was completely innocent, he took the blame. You don't see that kind of integrity very often any more.
I wonder if I can have that kind of integrity. Am I willing to stand and make a difference in the world that I come in contact with every day? It may mean standing up to those in power and making my voice heard and then doing everything I can to make the world around me a better place. It may mean that life is uncomfortable sometimes. In all this, I have to believe that ultimately, what I do makes a difference. Remember in that movie how different things would have been if George had never been born?
I will vote this coming election day, and when the voting is done, I will support whomever becomes my president - even if he's not my choice. Then everyday that follows, I will do my best to remember, the finger that points toward the one responsible is really pointing back at me. I doubt I'll ever change Washington, but maybe I can change the street where I live.

"Choose you this day whom you will serve. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord" - no matter who wins the election.