Archive for October, 2012

Be Prepared


With the preponderance of online links and web messages I have been tracking storm Sandy or at least giving in to watching the newscasts. And, of course, since there is only so much to be said about a bunch of swirling wind and rain, the news coverage attempts to offer helpful hints for how to be prepared when Sandy comes to your area. Bottled water. Batteries. Fresh water frozen. Non-perishable food on hand. Gas in your car. Keep your electronics charged.

In the old days, and by this I mean, 10-15 years ago, we didn’t have the news 24-7 and we weren’t bombarded with these be prepared messages. My question: are we now any better off?

This hit me smack in the face last night as the wind whipped the trees in the darkness outside my window. I had made preparations – flashlight, water, food, etc. But my husky and I seemed the only ones concerned. He was, uncharacteristically, collecting his “toys” (by uncharacteristic I mean that he has not shown an interest in any of these for about a decade and he is 12 years old), squeaking them each in turn and carting them to his bed one by one. I was antsy, looking out the window, and finally collecting my valuables (computer, cell phone, kindle and journal) and heading to the basement. Because the center of the lower levels of the house are the safest. Everyone who has been watching the news knows this!

All this while the rest of my family sat doing what they normally would – tv, computer, skype, newspaper, etc. – without any concern for preparations.

So, here I am huddled downstairs, wondering if I am a bad mom for not insisting my children take cover from whatever might lie ahead. My husband, well he can fend for himself – there’s no telling him.

This morning the winds have passed. I feel a bit silly, having taken refuge in the basement. But I was just “being prepared.” Because action is what I take when I am told what’s to be done. Not only to protect my belongings but to protect myself. But was I being silly? Was I allowing the news media to whip me into a frightened state rather than letting leveler heads tell me, ‘You’ll be fine. Just ride it out.’

Well, from the lines at the grocery store and the gas pump recently, I am pretty sure I am not alone in my preparations. Perhaps in the majority – but who would know? the calm and collected have been home reading their novels. Had the worse come, I would have been ready. As it stands, it seems to have been a bit of wasted effort and angst.

So my question to me is: How do I know when I am well enough prepared?

I’m not sure we ever know completely – until we have the view from afterwards. But, looking ahead, there will always be external voices pointing out the dangers that lay in wait. Planting the seeds of fear. The voice within me needs to be louder. The one that says, take a seat, fear. You’ve done all you can, now trust.

And when the worst doesn’t come, be grateful.

Prizes are for Kids, Right?


This from Seth Godin this morning. (He’s a marketing guru and motivational speaker and champion of the “common man,” so to speak)…

Ways to improve your performance:

  • Compete for a prize
  • Earn points
  • Please a demanding boss
  • Make someone else’s imminent deadline
  • Face sudden death elimination in the playoffs
  • Wear a heart monitor and track performance publicly
  • Go head-to-head against a determined foe

The thing is, all of these external stimuli are there to raise your game and push you ever harder. They are fences to be leaped, opponents to be defeated.

The alternative is to compete against nothing but yourself. To excel merely because the act of excelling without boundaries or incentives thrills you.

And the good news is that once you find that, you’ll always have it.

For me, sports and academic competition taught me that first set of principles for improving my performance. Seeking the accolade, the victory, the edge. When do we transition to the second way? Seeking excellence for its own sake? And once we do, do we stay there?

Thank you, Seth, for reminding me that the thrill I get from wax on – wax off, shine(!) is just as real and way more enduring over the long haul.

Now, what do I do about all that competition that is rabid for the victory in head to head competition? Remind myself, that’s how one learns. But that’s not where I want to end up. I guess the occasional slippage may be human  but my goal is to spend way more time in the intrinsic arena.

They say “you can’t go back,” but I think I can and do. Even when I do, as Seth says, “you’ll always have it.” It’s mine for a moment. Then I give it to the One to whom it really belongs. Then it’s ours forever. “Here God, will you hold my trophy (paycheck, certificate, diploma, recognition dinner, promotion) so I can get back to work?”

Perhaps the proof of its staying power is when I can celebrate, truly celebrate, the excellence in another’s product or effort without an ounce of envy or regret.

Of course, the best things can always be better, right?

Better + Better Perfects


“Practice makes perfect, but nobody’s perfect so why practice?”

That was one of my favorite expressions when I was a young athlete. ‘Course I didn’t believe a word of it. I practiced all the time. In fact, as I pull out the nameplates from old trophies my daughter observes that I have way more “most dedicated” awards than “MVPs.” The fact was, I knew I wasn’t as skilled as many of the other players so I made up for it by working harder. I think the ‘nobody’s perfect’ expression was my way of:

  1. telling them they shouldn’t practice (so I would get the advantage) and
  2. throwing them off the trail of my secret (that I needed to practice all the time to consider myself good enough) and perhaps
  3. making myself feel better about never reaching “perfect”

Perfection is such a dangerous objective. Why do we work so hard to get there, knowing we can’t? And what about this pursuit devastates us so?

I am wondering, today, whether perfection is an illusion sewn by the enemy who wants us to fail. “Better” sounds way more like Christ to me. Not, better than. Just better.

Oh, I do believe he expects improvement and He won’t stand for less than our best, but I think it’s better and better, not perfection that He dangles before us. Something like: “Gotta be better,” or “Now that’s better.” NOT “You’re so much better than her” or  even “You’ll be better when…” I think He settles for better as long as our intention is to keep up the good work.

I like better because it’s something I can always be. Even when I can’t be best or perfect. Even, in fact, when I am pummeled on the field of play, even when I lose, and perhaps even moreso when I am both pummeled and lose, I am given a gift – something I can work on so I can be better. And that heads me in the direction of perfection without holding that weight over me that says, “See, look how far from perfect you are.”

And that is the inspiration to me of Christ. He doesn’t sit on His heavenly throne and look down upon me pointing out my faults and how far I am from the perfection He is. He just sits before me and inclines my ear and my eye. He sets the example and then lets me sketch. Look up, look down. See how it looks, make your life look that way. Keep looking. Keep drawing.

I am the one drawing. I am the one choosing which lines to erase and which ones to save. It feels like I’m bettering myself in the effort, but in fact it is He who is making me better. Just by my attending to the example before me and the voice within me that says, “that line needs a bit more curve.” Just like the old voice that said “that pitch was a bit wide and outside.” He’s a target, I guess, an unmoving, unerring, pinpoint of a glove, that says, “Aim here,” without uttering a word.

And so I adjust, just a bit. To make the next line, the next throw, the next word better. Not perfect, but more nearly so.

Because everyone knows that practice, just for the sake of practice, never makes you perfect. But dedicated practice makes you better. And better draws you closer. And the closer you are the better you can see what perfect looks like.

This post is dedicated to the living memory of Dr. Donald C. Paup, teacher, mentor, friend. He was as perfect a target as I have ever known. Today Don is Perfect.

The Instrument of Prayer

Prayer is the instrument we play for a listening God.

Our prayers do not flow like a concerto, 
nor are they fluid like a symphony, 
nor rhythmic like a march. 

They are halting and unsure, 
like a child's first piano piece.
God is patient.
Still, they are music to God's ears. 
God knows the melody, the refrain is His.
He has taught us.
We draft the lyrics the Spirit presents 
perfectly pitched;
dynamics, pacing, aptly interpreted. 

Our hearts strum the chords, 
Harmonies float on invisible wings
to His heavenly balcony.
And rest upon Him.
"When they call upon me, I will answer them."
And there was glory, the 7th day.
There was Glory.

Prayer is the instrument we play for a listening God.

The sure way through: blaze by blaze


The reason for the hope that I have is this: the solution is in the problem.

I believe this because time and again I have found it so. Call it trial and error, scientific experiment, pig-headedness, but don’t call it coincidence. I don’t believe it is. When I face forward into issues and problems and difficulties, when I delve and inquire and go toe to toe, I find a way in. Oh, I may not wrap it all up nicely and move onto the next thing. But once inside the issue, I see it differently, see what needs doing or perhaps addressing.

It’s kind of like when you begin a hike along a trail. You may know it’s a marked trail. Others have traveled it before you. They’ve “blazed” the trail. (I learned this morning in my Upper Room magazine that “blazes” are the bright colored spots on the trees that serve as markers.) But when you stand outside the forest in the bright sunlight, you can’t see the blazes. Not until you step into the shadows of the trees, and even then, not until you make your way along the trail, do you see the markings. One and then the next and the next and the next.

I believe God has painted these solutions into all problems. All issues. God has blazed a trail through Christ that can be known to us by the Spirit’s prompting. I believe there is a God-intended solution to global warming. To poverty. To disease. To hunger. To war. A trail to follow that has been laid down in the problem. The Creator placed it there for us to find.

If this is so then surely He has blazed a trail in the issues of our lives. A way to handle our credit debt. A way to resolve the unkind communication in our homes. A way to manage job demands. A way to send our kids to college. It is all there for the finding. The key is entering in. Avoiding these issues, sweeping them under the rug or pretending they don’t exist, allows them to grow and become even more imposing. Often without our even recognizing we are avoiding them.

We tell ourselves, “I’ll just stay here where I know I’m safe.” Or, “I don’t see an answer to that. I’ll wait until I know the perfect approach.” Or, “There’s no solution to that, look at how others have failed.” Or, “That’s too big for someone like me.” And yet, the problem is before us.

If it has been posed to us, set on our path, then it is ours to face. If we trust that the solution is already in the problem waiting for us to discover it, we have hope when we venture in. We need not rush in, for rushing in often leaves me rushing past; but enter we must. Because inside, before us, are the blazes. One by one. There is challenge enough in bushwhacking to each, but I believe God uses even the prickers and the scrapes and the turned ankles and the bug bites (or worse) to sharpen our senses.

Hugging that tree, we breathe deeply in a moment of safety and then realize we can see the next blaze. God says, rest in me, but don’t stay. We may look back at the path that brought us there and, for a moment, consider tracking back. But if we give thanks for the provision that brought us this far might we trust that the way will be made for us to the next marker?

What a sight it will be when we emerge from this forest and look back at the woods dotted with blazes. How easy the path will seem then. But for now, it’s blaze by blaze, created by a Divine Paintbrush. Christ traveled it first, when there was no path.

God created a garden, but humankind opted for a jungle. The Lord of love has blazed a way.

Keep, Toss or Give Away?


How things work is way more important to me than how things look. My house testifies to this; I’m pretty utilitarian. I don’t go in much for decorating, display items and knick-knacks. Even my kids’ prized artwork never got framed or hung up. It’s just leaning against the window or the wall. Photos on the refrigerator or the mantle have been there for years. We can admire them there. That works.

The rest of their stuff is in boxes and bins or has been tossed. All except for the trophies. Those command three quarters of the shelves in the basement, stacked three deep, covered in many layers of dust. (Did I say I wasn’t much for appearances?)

What is it about our trophies?

What do your trophies say about you?

I was already considering this before this uncomfortable sermon series, primarily because I have designs on those shelves. I want them for the books I have, ahem, collected. My kids are past the peewee, trophy-every-season stage, so can’t we get rid of the “Mighty Red Cardinals” statuette that we have in three colors?

I wanted to make it easy for them. I told them I would pull off the precious name plates, craft them into a memory shadow box and then find a good home for the trophies. I have always found it easier to part with things when I can find someone else who will use them. So I asked my girls, “Hey, how about we give those trophies away to some kids who would really enjoy them.” The response, “Mom, no way.”

Of course I never tossed any of mine either, but I am grateful to my Dad who had no problem with this. Not long after I moved away from home I received a thick, business sized envelope. In it were the name plates off of all my trophies – my sports biography in an envelope. At least the memories were preserved. I’m not sure what became of the wood and marble and  the metal figurines. I hope someone made good use of them. That would add to their value.

That’s what the clean out challenge has me thinking about this week. Of what value is my “wealth” of stuff? How do I decide what stays and what goes? I ask myself “Do I use this?” How much use do I make of the stuff boxed in the basement?  Are there things there that are precious but hidden? How about the t-shirts in the back of the drawer? Do I even remember where they came from? Generally, I close my eyes to it all because that’s just easier. Out of sight, out of mind. But now I’m looking.

Thank you, Floris UMC, for doing the hard part for us – inviting organizations to come collect our pass-alongs. All we have to do is sort through stuff we aren’t using and donate what someone else might. And you know what I found out? The Closet takes trophies! I wonder if my kids would even notice if I spirited a few off. Funny, I have no problem giving away their stuff.

For some reason this has me thinking of Thurston Howell III. Ye of a certain age will remember the “millionaire” (laughable now that a single million used to be remarkable, but anyway)  stranded with his wife “Lovey” and 5 other castaways on Gilligan’s Island. The Howell’s brought loads of stuff for their 3 hour tour, all of it worthless on a deserted island. The show allowed us to laugh at their predicament while considering for ourselves: are luxury and leisure making me a laughingstock? (my daughter would add #first world problems)

I wonder how my lifestyle has been impeding me. It’s so easy to see what everyone else can let go of. Why is it so hard for me? Perhaps it runs in the family. My Dad still has a plaque on his desk that reads, “The man who dies with the most toys wins.” Next to this sits a very small silver cup from Green Lake Wisconsin. I awarded him that as a consolation prize when he finished dead last in a sailing regatta there one summer. Picked it up from a knick-knack store on the lake. I was probably 8 or 9 years old at the time.

I guess some knick-knacks you keep.

The Pavlovian ding of my phone


When my phone dings, I look at it. Well, not only do I look but I pick it up and enable the message so I can see who’s “calling.” I think probably I have been trained all my life to do this – answer the ding. Alexander Graham Bell was no dummy, after all.

The problem is, my NEED to answer it. Even when I am out to lunch with a friend (but I’ve left my phone on in case my …family is trying to reach me…remember the days when it didn’t bother you if someone could reach you? but I digress). There the phone sits on the table. I’ve turned down the ringer, perhaps disabled the vibrate function, but it just emits that little “ding.” Immediately, my eyes shoot to the small screen. What is it? a text? a Facebook message? an email? which account?

Oh, I could ignore this, easily enough, or could I? And this is what’s bothering me. I feel like Pavlov’s dog. The minute that phone dings, it has my complete attention. Even if I am listening to my friend, my mind has lept to the ding.

So, I could put my phone away. I could turn it off and put it in my bag. I could, for crying out loud, leave it at home. But I don’t. Because it’s an extension of me. It’s like my extension cord to the world. As long as I have my phone, I’m plugged in.

People expect this. If someone is trying to call and I don’t pick up, they send me an angry text message. “Mom, answer your phone!” Guess who THAT message is from.

So have these people trained me? Are they Pavlov and I the dog? Did I give them my permission to do this?

Ha. The clothes just finished in my washing machine. Guess how I know. It dinged. Guess what I DIDN’T do. Jump up and answer the ding. Hmm. So, why can I ignore the ding of the washer and not the ding of my phone? Now THAT may be the question. This “automatic” response that seems reflexive and unavoidable, can in fact, be overridden.

What is the difference between the washer ding and the phone ding? Honestly, it’s what will happen if I make it wait. And THAT is what I better be giving some serious thought to.

In the  meantime, I really wish they would make it against the law to answer your cell phone while driving. Then, I would have a good excuse not to answer those impatient texters, angry I haven’t picked up my phone. Funny that I need a law to set boundaries for me, rather than setting them for myself. The weight of expectation is heavy. A huge magnetic pull for something I can’t even see.

If God had a ding, what would it sound like? How would I receive it? How would I know who sent it? Would I change course in an instant like I do for my phone? “Excuse me, I have to take this God-ding.” Or would I make Him wait, like I do my washer, because He’ll be there when I get around to responding?

Let Nothing Stop You, but Mind the Detour Signs


Today, I am pushing off with enough force to get me to the finish but not so much momentum I miss the sign that says, “turn here.”

That was my Facebook status yesterday. I did quite a bit of turning. Have a whole list of “DNF’s,” but the day seemed to end on a pitch-perfect note when a kid leaving the field at the end of my fitness session frowned at his mom and said, “Why do I have to leave?” I would never have considered that moment as my day’s intended finish, but it seemed fitting and I thanked God for it.

Sometimes I envy people who have those jobs where you just show up and they give you a task and you do it and then come back for the next task. I wouldn’t last long in a job like that, but I can daydream. No, I need autonomy. Freedom. Room to spread my wings.

Right. And when I have all these things, I complain that I have too much to do or don’t know which thing to do first or which I should do and which are for someone else. I can even cloak this in Christian language. I’ll say I am praying, “What is God’s will for me?” Do I really expect God to bless me with a clear picture of His perfect direction? Start to finish.

I’m not sure God works like that. In fact, I think that may be the Other guy getting the best of me while I am calling it God.

The American way – perhaps the world’s way – celebrates the self driven man or woman. The, I won’t let anything stop me, person. I see where I am headed and, come hell or high water, that’s where I am gonna finish. Well, I can celebrate that dedication and fortitude. I’m just not sure it’s all that healthy. Investing so much in trying to guarantee your own outcome. Because I don’t think God is in the stopping business. He doesn’t stand in my way when I have made up my mind to go full steam ahead.

I do think He holds up that “detour” sign. The “turn here” for fresh produce placard. And if I’m barreling ahead toward my destination, especially when I’m on a deadline or running late and in a rush, I don’t even see that sign.

God does expect maximal effort from me. of this I am certain. But I see it as more of a swim race, a highly competitive, medals will be awarded to the top finishers kind of race. I shove off the wall, full throttle, compelling the muscles in my arms, legs and torso to churn that water and force it behind me. But I’m not meant to hold my breath the whole way. In fact, if it’s a longer race, I’m meant to establish a rhythm between stroking and breathing. Effort and air. Full speed ahead but with the slightest of interruptions to refill my lungs and check my position – not with regard to my competitors – but with the wall, the flags, the lap count. Those things that define the race and my position in it. Peeking at competitors will just slow me down.

There is something about that rhythm, stroke: breathe. stroke:breathe, that seems very right. Maximal effort, race distance and finish line defined, even stroke and turn judges in place to be sure things are competed fairly by all competitors. We’re meant to train, suit up and mount the starting blocks. But the race itself is about rhythm and timing and all out effort. With our eyes open.

Which, we did in the old days, even without goggles. A little bit of chlorine will do you good.

Time In a Body


A friend is having surgery tomorrow. Needs his meniscus repaired. He messaged me on Facebook a week or two ago to ask whether I thought he should get a second opinion. Because, after “this guy gets the MRI results he might not want to do what I want to do.” Which, I subsequently found out, was to avoid surgery and “just rehab the knee to make it work so I can run again.”

I explained what I knew about menisci and their pesky tendency not to heal themselves because they don’t have their own blood supply and rarely are near enough to steal from a nearby vessel. He thanked me and continued to peruse the online sites for orthopedists with extensive sports medicine backgrounds, shopping for someone who would favor a return to action, even if surgery became necessary.

He found said doctor. Tomorrow is fix-it day. Thursday begins his return to action.

Funny, though, through this interchange of messages I have heard the heart of this man. Mid 50’s. Active. Has an outdoor lawn business. He needs his body to work well. It pretty much always has. When stuff like this upends us it makes us face the reality that, with or without our permission, time marches on. Our bodies don’t stay young forever. At some point, we can’t stem the tide of age and gradual (if we’re lucky) decline.

Oh, if extreme illness or circumstance have brought us to this realization earlier in life, it seems unfair. And indeed, it seems to be. Still, for those of us who are given our half-decade of relatively good health and physical performance, we consider this a raw deal. Why can’t we slow down time? How can it rob us of all the good years we know we have left?

No one can slow time, except God himself. But I wonder if the myth we hold onto – that we should be able to – may be a carrot dangled by the Great Liar himself. “Ah, there’s plenty of time, don’t worry.” “Look how healthy you are, you’re gonna live forever!” “Oh, even if something happens, you’re strong, you’re in good shape, you can get it back.” “Pay no attention to Father Time.”

And this deception takes our attention from truth: we must use well the time we have been given.

We must care for our time. Our bodies provide a tangible sense of this and an active practice for this. Things last longer and perform better when they are well cared for. For the timid among us, that may translate into (self) preservation. A kind of “don’t sit on the good couch” approach or a “put it in the safety deposit box so it can’t get stolen” approach. For the bold among us, that may translate into 3 hour workouts everyday, every week until I collapse in exhaustion. Neither under-use nor over-use are good care.

Neither honors the gift – of time in a body for exactly one life. It’s meant to be used, but also maintained for optimal performance. God alone knows our optimum.

Our time in our body is finite. Bodies well cared for last longer and perform better, but use them we must. That’s why they were given to us. But responsibly, respectfully, and attentively. It’s a give and take approach. God has given, we take and give back. When something gets rusty or run down, we check under the hood. What we can’t fix with a bit of rest or a change in routine we get checked out by the best mechanic we can find. Then, we weigh their advice and choose how to proceed.

Sometimes, we have to downshift, and watch the newer, younger models whiz past us. Let ’em feel good about passing me. I’m incredibly grateful just to still be in this race, engine running fairly well. 

We do know how that worked out for the tortoise.

Befriending Time


Does time have you runnning?

Time and I used to be friends. I had plenty. Life was good. Then I grew up and life started making demands. That’s when time and I became enemies. Jesus says, “pray for your enemies.”

It’s really tough to pray for something as intangible as time, so I personified it. I imagined it as a kind of Alice-in-Wonderland, rabbit with a pocket watch, type person. Then it didn’t look so much like an enemy. I looked more like the enemy. What was opposing me was not time itself, but how I was spending it. And that’s the thing, resources that are scarce demand our attention and careful management. At church we call this stewardship.

Oddly enough, a few places where I might have spent my time have not materialized this fall. After I got over lamenting my “regular” activities I realized I was left with some extra time to spend. But, recognizing it’s preciousness, I admit I have become a bit stingy. At church we call this discernment.

Still, with my handful of time, I investigated the PALS information table after services yesterday. That’s the Floris partnership that matches up an adult mentor with a child at Hutchison Elementary for a once a week lunch date.  I tried to be unobtrusive as I scanned the handouts on the table, but Jake McGlothin, our director of Serve ministries,  caught me. I mentioned that I had some extra time this fall. Now don’t tell Jake that you have extra time. Because he is very happy to say,”Oh, you can give more than an hour? We can sign you up for a whole morning if you’d like.” I love Jake; he has an incredible heart for what he does and the people he serves.

But I recognize that I have a time temptation problem. When I hear of a need or get word of something I can do, I tend to jump at the chance. I’m in recovery, though. I’m taking it to prayer. Praying for my relationship with my (former) enemy, time, and my current enemy, my time expenditure.

Somehow, when I bring stuff to God, even my enemies look different. Oh, I can’t say He banished my enemy with a backhand. No, He is more gracious than that. He sends me small ways to address my enemies. Like a watch – that tells the time, complete with alarm, stopwatch and illumination features, but also a chime – which I accidentally activated when I was setting the alarm. It makes a precocious little “ding” on the hour. Not loud. Not intrusive. But audible, when I’m paying attention. I kind of like it. It sounds very much like a still, small voice to me.

And that’s how God has me addressing my enemy, just by paying attention. He’s shown me my complacency – in figuring I had all the time in the world. He’s shown me my value – assuring me that it does matter to Him how I spend my time. So much so that He sends me a prompt every hour.

Just a reminder, and I have come to welcome it. A quick check to see if what I am doing deserves the time I am spending on it. (Oh, there it is…time to go.)

Imagine, something so simple.

Go to Top