Mud Pies

Contentment is one of those virtues that we often talk about and hardly truly attain. It’s generally the idea: “ok, I’ll just live with  fill in the blank .” This is more of a spirit of acquiescence than anything.

Contentment is often sought after in want. What if, we would not be content with mediocrity?  What if, we are not satisfied until we ask for more of God’s grace and goodness, instead of a lukewarm, paltry request? What if we are discontent with the status quo faith when we have the power of the true and living God of the universe accessible to us? Or perhaps we don’t know Him yet and we are living life seeking total fulfillment from all this world has to offer.

We often relegate ourselves to far less than is within our grasp.

CS Lewis says it best in his book, Weight of Glory:

 “Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased. “

We are content with making mud pies when we could go to the magnificent ocean and play in the infinite sands! We are content with being clothed in rags, instead of wearing the royal robes as child of the King.

A prayer I read this morning sums it up beautifully:

I go into a far country,

And come home a prodigal, saying “Father, forgive me”.

And yet, God is always bringing forth the best robe.

Every morning let me wear it,

Every evening let me return in it.

Let me go out to a day’s work in it,

Be married in it,

Be wound in death in it,

Enter heaven in it shining as the sun.

Grant me to never lose sight of the:

Exceeding righteousness of salvation,

Exceeding glory of Christ,

Exceeding beauty of holiness,

Exceeding wonder of grace.

Let us not be far too easily pleased!

mud pies

Breathless

There are moments in life that take your breath away: some for good, some for bad.

When it happens in a bad way, nothing can prepare you for that, neither strength of character nor faith. Neither mental preparedness nor emotional stability.

I had that kind of moment just a few weeks ago when my husband called to tell me he’d been fired from his job of two months. (It only helped a little knowing that it happened because he had stood up against injustice and unethical behavior.)

No, it’s not like a family member announcing they have stage 4 cancer. It’s not even like living through a stomach churning 6 point earthquake. It is more like a kick in the stomach or somebody yanking the rug right out from under you. At which moment, you’d like to yell some choice profanity!

Just like dental work, the numbness of bad news wears off slowly and pain is left in its place. But instead of feeling better over time, this pain often creeps over your heart like thorny tendrils of bitterness. I knew this from experience. They would have to be clipped quickly!

Some days, I was unwilling. The injustice of it all set in. My husband’s reputation was called to question and maligned. I was angry and rightfully so. I love him. He’s a hard worker and labors with fastidious ethics.

It was all so disturbing, confusing, maddening, unjust.

As I shared the story with friends near and far, they were just as baffled as I was. Yet, in the days and weeks that followed, an incredible series of snapshots began to unfurl into a bigger, grander picture- one so wholly unexpected and complex, even I was left speechless.

The picture became clearer and so did my faith.

What man meant for evil, God truly meant for good. What we cling to as security in this life is often nothing more than a vaporous bauble. We feel safe in a title or an income bracket when, really, we should only ever feel safe in the arms of Jesus.

Yeah, I could feel happy because the ending is good (my husband has a new job, four miles from home in a much more peaceful environment). I could feel happy that his name was cleared a little and we can breathe easier now. But I don’t.

I feel happy that my breath was taken away. I feel glad that God stripped away false securities. I am thrilled that our struggle has brought such encouragement and joy to others.

Am I ready for the next breathless moment, either good or bad? No, probably not. But I know God has my back and I know He acts in His good will because I have a lot to learn. My Potter sits faithfully at His wheel, molding this hard headed and hearted piece of clay until He makes something beautiful. For that, I am truly thankful!

absolutely resolute

I am absolutely resolute. I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. Never. Ever.

Instead, I pick a theme, song or phrase that sums up what I’d like my year to resonate with. Last year, it was this song:

 

 

This week, as I sat in my new home, in a new city, not knowing a soul outside my family, I felt a tiny bit overwhelmed by it all- awed, really.

Then it hit me- we are far too easily awed -by things or people which/who should not capture our attention or affection for more than a passing moment.

We are awed by: someone’s musical talent, acting skills, fashion choices, strength, expertise, genius, inventiveness, parental success, beauty, wealth or persuasive talk.

We are awed by: nature, books, movies, structures, vehicle designs, art forms, inventions, etc.

We are even awed by intangibles like: bravery, knowledge, dedication, courage, heroism, tenacity, fame, or even evil and monstrosity.

Honestly, none of these are inherently bad to find ourselves overcome with a strong sense of respect, mixed with fear or wonder. This is good expression of human emotion. Yet, in this world of instant and constant media, we are barraged more than centuries before us and find ourselves too easily awestruck, star struck, selfie struck, et al.

So this year, my desire is to be awed first and best by the God of the universe. He deserves, even commands, my reverential fear, respect and awe. All else pales in comparison.

Yes, I will feel overwhelmed as I stare at the face of a rocky cliff or soak in the SoCal sunset. I will be moved to emotion by a piece of artwork, movie or song. On Sunday, I watched the Golden Globe awards and was struck with the beauty of the celebrities in their couture gowns. But all of this is because I see the creative artistry of the Creator and profoundly appreciate that same creativity He put in the hearts of human kind.

I am astonished by God’s peace, kindness, love and mercy and I will look ahead with pleasant and earnest expectation for more.

At 40

It’s no secret and I‘m not ashamed to say it- I turned 40 this year. Don’t get me wrong, I’m feeling it some days, mentally and physically. Every once in a while, I catch a look at my reflection and think, “Ay Carumba, I’m getting the gizzard neck!” Time for more Oil of Olay Night Firming Cream (as if that does anything for the inevitable) or sometimes I might just be an itty, bitty tad forgetful.

But I am not writing to play a sad song on my pity violin about the woes of aging. Instead, am celebrating 40! I mean isn’t it cool, the catch phrase we can now assuage ourselves with at the turn of each new decade: 40 is the new 30, 60 is the new 50 et al.? It makes no sense but it sure makes us feel better!

So, six months into this phase called “MIDDLE AGE”, I think I’ve learned a thing or two. While I know I have yet to arrive at some upper echelon of enlightenment, I do think that a few lights have come on (even if they are just night light bulb sized). So, at 40:

  • I wear what I want, what makes me feel comfortable, what I think looks good. High heels are hellish and I refuse to wear them. If someone thinks I dress “too young”, too bad. I still want a pair of Converse in every color and sometimes, I even wear my daughter’s clothes. It’s not like I am going around in a crop top for the entire world to see my lovely stretch marks that crept up my sides when I was pregnant.
  •  My friendships are deliberate and meaningful, deep and loyal. Life is short, so why waste time on some, whiny, over dramatic, manipulative woman that adds nothing to my life but another pain in the A? I love the fact that I have a variety of friends in all age groups, walks of life and religious persuasions. I’m done with overly zealous, backbiting gossips, quick to judge people.
  • Parenting is the most DIFFICULT job in the world. I went into it blindly and naively, depending on the opinions of others instead of God and my own good common sense. I was dead wrong about a lot of things, right about a few and still down on my face in prayer about most things. Every stage and phase brings a new set of challenges. This I am sure of- your parenting won’t look like mine and vice versa. If your kids turn out A-OK, PLEASE do not break your arm patting yourself on the back or smear it in my face. Likewise, if they turn out “different than expected”, don’t razor strap yourself with a burden of guilt. These are people with a will of their own, not a piece of Jell-O that I mold just how I want and they stay like that for life.
  • Marriage is a strange beast. I went into it with a textbook mentality and I am here to say- THROW THE TEXTBOOK TO THE WALL! (No, I do not literally think marriage books are not helpful.) My marriage has taken twists and turns that were wholly unexpected. Nothing could have prepared me or warned me of the issues we would have to duke out. Yet, my marriage is, this side of heaven, the pinnacle of delight in my life. At the risk of sounding cliché, I do consider my husband, my best friend and confidante. Yet, I speak my mind to him as he does to me and sometimes this does not bode well. Such is life. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
  •  I am unapologetic about my faith. It is the sum total of why I do what I do, how, when and where. I do not bow to the whims and fancies of man’s theological ideals. I do not ascribe to mere rules taught by other Christians. I think for myself with an abiding sense of awe for God’s word, holding to this as my highest authority; not because I am a weak-minded zealot but because I am convinced that if not for God being LORD of me, I would be dead or at very least in a shambley mess of a life (messier than the one I’m in).

At 40, there are a good many things I’ve learned, a good many things I hope to learn and a constant sense of keeping my fingers on my own pulse. I’m smarter than I was in my 20’s and more confidant than I was in my 30’s.

I’m not dead yet. In fact, I’m feeling rather invigorated, happy and ready to fight the next monster that comes around the corner called inevitable.

Bits and Bobs

So, forgive me. I’ve taken a weeeee bit of a break. The respite offered was truly needed this year. Besides a lovely family vacation, I have taken some time to inventory- my life, my house, my priorites.

Back in December, I wrote a little ditty called, “Meet Grinchetta” about the stresses of Christmas (maybe I’ll post that NEXT year).  It was during the midst of my own personal Grinchmas that it happened.  The street was perfectly quiet and still as I walked the dog. Despite my mad rushing mind, I suddenly became acutely cognizant of the carefully laid lawn décor and colored twinkling lights. Instead of my knee-jerk response of a possible eye-roll or disdain over the gaudiness, I smiled a genuine smile. I paused- this was pleasant, a sight to take in, appreciate and remember- a season fleeting. From that moment on, I vowed to let Christmas enrapture me.

I would stop the madness, stop worrying about my Amazon orders or wondering how to strategize my next Costco trip without feeling like I was in a stampede.

I made batches of my favorite candy, a recipe handed down from my great grandmother. I lingered over the recipe card written in my mom’s impeccable penmanship and shrugged at the vanilla extract stains on it. I didn’t bake a single cookie though, which is a first.

I played the shmultzy Christmas music and sung along out loud to the likes of Dean Martin and Bing Crosby. I REALLY listened to the rather steamy lyrics of: “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” (Who knew it was so scandalous?)

Then a new year snuck up on me. Maybe I was enjoying myself a little too much. 🙂

It came anyways. 2014. And I didn’t make any resolutions. Oh the bliss! But that’s a story for another post…

Look Here

Perspective.

In light of this recent cold snap, I was reminded that so much of life truly is perspective. The word, as defined by good ol’ Webster means:

~the capacity to view things in their true relations or relative importance

or

~the interrelation in which a subject or its parts are mentally viewed

You see, I say, “I’m freezing. It’s so cold outside”, then I hear that the town we used to live in in Idaho is exactly 0 degrees and I stop complaining. Later I read about parts of Montana that have a wind chill of 50 below zero and I think that you might have to be part crazy to live there!!!!! I’ll take my 27 degrees any day!

I remember the first time I really grasped the meaning of this concept (although at 17, it would be years until I was able to really apply it to life). It was my first semester of college and I was FORCED (note that word) to take an art appreciation class. While attending a field trip to the L.A. art museum, we were instructed to write observations on all kinds of paintings. There was one that I’ll never forget. It was an idyllic fall scene of a sleepy town. The rich golds, crimsons and oranges still stand sharp in my mind, but it was how the light morphed that really struck me. I had to view the painting from a variety of angles and distances and as I did, the canvas evolved before me. It was as if light was coming alive inside the painting. As my perspective changed, so did the scene before me.

Throughout my life this has happened time and time again. I have been sitting around, wallowing in a large vat of self-pity filled with stinky stuff like: financial woes, child-rearing woes, health woes etc. then BAM, I hear about a friend’s problem or a natural disaster that trumps my vat o’ crap by 10,000 stink points. I immediately admit that things could be much worse. Conversely, I’ve been sitting prettily atop my high horse thinking “I’M ALL THAT”, when BAM, someone rides by on an even higher horse. All at once I get knocked flat on my derriere, taken down by pride. I am forced to look straight up from my new perspective lying on the ground.

You see, no matter where you are, in the valley or on the mountain, you know by now that things can and DO change in a heart beat. Not only that, there is, in the wide world over invariably someone out there better or worse off than YOU! (The nerve of some people that seem to continually fall into the “better off” category!)

So here’s my challenge for you and myself:  Change your perspective. Shift your focus. Embrace where you’re at. Try to change where you’re at. Step back. Step forward.  If you get knocked down, lie there a little while and take in the view. If you are at a pinnacle moment type of place, look out into the distance and realize where you came from. See the bigger picture, the sum of the parts. Find the beauty in the broken, the meaning in the muck, the purpose in the plight. Recognize and appreciate the fractal light features that appear as you shift your perspective.

My Overflowing Cup

True to my “go against the flow” side, I have not partaken in the Facebook trend to write a daily “what I ‘m thankful for” ditty, but as I was looking up some recipes this afternoon (for absolutely obliterating the healthfulness of sweet potatoes by adding copious amounts of sugar and butter), it struck me that indeed, my heart brims over with gratitude.

I promise you won’t walk away and think I have some peachy keen life full of sunshine and flowers. In fact, I hope to reveal that some of my most profound thanks is born out of loss and despair.

So here is my (brief) gramercy list in no particular order:

~ Thankful for parents who took me to church and raised me to know who God is so that I wasn’t left searching the void when my young adult years came.

~ Thankful for parents who stayed married so I never had to endure the pain of divorce, yet whose poor communication and lack of friendship made me realize early on the immense priority those things must be in my own marriage.

~ Thankful that my mom and I had 24 years together. Her death caused me to be acutely mindful that each day of life is a gift to be treasured and that the influence a mother has on her children is life long. Death doesn’t scare me anymore.

~ Thankful for a husband who has endured many rude, disrespectful words from my lips without retaliating, also that he stuck by me through seasons of depression and loved me when I was so unlovely.

~ Thankful that we have “lost it all” materially speaking because this revealed my heart of greed, sense of entitlement, misplaced worth, lust for earthly treasures and lack of compassion for the poor.

~Thankful that God gave me the distinct privilege of being a mother to my 3. Thankful that the intense pain and intense love of motherhood balances me out and reminds me of the great love God and mercy has for me.

~ Thankful that, after being part of the conversation between a partially hearing and a deaf person, I have my five senses (for now). To see the beauty in creation, to smell the rich brew of espresso, to hear the notes and tempo of my favorite song, to taste the creamy sweetness of crème brulee`, to touch the strong hand of my husband- these are the spice of life!

~ Thankful that my few lifelong friendships give me a depth, solace and acceptance that is irreplaceable and for the friendships that come and go- they are precious if only for a short season of time.

~ Thankful for a sister who, despite our very different personalities, is my dearest friend, confidante, cheerleader, prayer partner.

~ Thankful for a hip disease that humbled my youthful pride and for the surgery that took a year to heal from, so that I can empathize with diseases/illnesses that debilitate other people. I am mindful of this every time I run, jog or walk.

~ Thankful that my husband and I are committed to each other through the ups and downs of life (and there have been many downs), that he values our time together and dates me “just because”.  His laugh and smile make my world a brighter place.

~ Thankful for a God with whom I have full acceptance, a Savior who knows the nuances of humanity, and the Spirit He gave to empower us supernaturally; also for the Bible- the beautiful words we have that reveal His plan for the world, comfort our hearts and direct our steps.

Give thanks. Today. Everyday. For the rest of your days.

Life is Like a 1,000 Piece Puzzle

One by one, I turned over the pieces. My excitement was a bit diminished by the task- tedious and monotonous.  One thousand pieces was daunting. The tiny cardboard cut-outs appeared so insignificant and disjuncted. Yet, I knew this was an imperative step I would not regret later.

Life is like this 1,000 piece puzzle: sometimes daunting, at moments seemingly impossible, pieces and parts that appear elusive to the bigger picture, progress is slow, but bit by bit an image is born.

I studied the box’s glossy image, captivated by the night time cityscape. It was peaceful and serene, so unlike the scattered mess that lay before me. The edge pieces would prove so much easier than the middle (this I knew from experience), so I tackled them first. Without these, the more challenging parts would lose their definition and purpose.

I know the “edges” that frame the whole must be constructed meaningfully and purposefully. It would be simple to fashion the framework into a “self- gratifying, grab for the gusto, it’s all about me” picture. But the more arduous effort is trusting the Divine power outside myself to be the framework that will hold up and support all the smaller parts. God as Master of me, hemming me in before and behind, sometimes chaffs against my self-sufficiency, my sense of accomplishment even. Yet, deep down my soul cries out for Him.

With the edges complete, I decide to piece together a part that seems most challenging, for fear that if I leave it for last, I will become discouraged and give up. It is the reflection of lights on water; lights that appear almost identical except for a few variances in color. After this section, the other parts flow together nicely, until I tackle the night sky, which is a vast expanse of blackness, save a few small stars. I want to rip out my hair. It is driving me nuts!

Some seasons of my life have been this night sky: perplexing, discouraging, even enraging. I can’t see how things fit and I certainly am NOT enjoying it. Time stretches out before me vast and uninviting. I have to tell myself to remember WHO: frames me in, keeps me safe in His loving, watchful care, and knows the plan far beyond the moment of difficulty I see.

Other seasons have been the more pleasing satisfying parts: the “easy” pieces that fit together on the first try, the ones you spot amongst the messy pile and just pop them right into their spot. These pieces are like the breath of fresh air, the lovely lingering sense of a job well done or just the simple pleasure of being with family and friends. These are the days you wake up and feel at peace, when your faith buoys you above the surface and anchors your soul to rest in the bigger picture.

I gingerly place together pieces 999 then 1,000. Running my hand over the completed picture, I sit back in my chair satisfied and wonder how many hours this took me. Does it matter? Not really. I am finished and now relish the fruit of my labors both easy and difficult. 

My “life” puzzle isn’t finished until I draw my last breath. The sum of the parts make the picture that God intended- and those will never look just like anyone else’s.  My own finished product will be uniquely mine, fashioned and put together by the Creator of the universe. What could be more beautiful than that?!

Memoirs From the Gem State

Two things were solidified on my recent trip to Idaho:

One-  I was meant for the city and the city was meant for me!

Two- They say home is where the heart is and a little piece of my heart will always be in Idaho.

Two other random things were also reaffirmed:

One- I have some phenomenal friends that love me NO MATTER WHAT.

Two- My dad, despite all our differences is an absolute blessing in my life.

So about the city thing, here’s a little background: I was raised in the country, like the hardcore, rural part of none other than Los Angeles county. In my childhood, I experienced many creatures of reptilian persuasion, (including, but not limited to): Mojave Greenbacks, Rattlesnakes, King Snakes, and the Gardener variety type (discovered in the living room no less). Then there were the tarantulas, scorpions, fire ants, centipedes, and a plethora of black widows, wasps, and household spiders.

When I left home for the city life, I dusted my hands off and never looked back. This week after less than an hour in the boonies, I nearly stepped on a coiled rattlesnake! In that moment, as my life flashed before me, I remembered the many reasons why I hate the country: it’s dusty, the insects are large and in charge, it’s wild and untamed, too quiet, too isolated, too dirty. And besides, what is it about country folks and their large, obtrusive amounts of lawn ornaments? Oi!

Number two on my list was the heart thing. It’s true that a piece of my heart will always be in Idaho. Has to be. I have family there and several friends that I am sure beyond reasonable doubt, rival your best friends in character, love and over all coolness. But, I must say, the key to my heart is unlocked by the Golden State, hands down. California is where it’s at- plain and simple. Maybe because I was born in the heart of LA, the rays of sunshine (and prolific smog) hold my heart captive.

Now for the mushy stuff:

I had the privilege of spending the past two weeks with my dad. That’s the longest  amount of time we’ve been together since childhood. My dad and I were buddies back then. Over the years, our ideas have changed and we have not always seen eye to eye. He is sometimes just a grumpy old man, what can I say. Yet the past weeks together have reminded me that there is no love like a parent’s love: they will support you in times of trouble; they understand what a pain in the butt raising children can be. A dad always has that special protective eye for his daughter. MY dad loves me through and through and despite his many labels for me like tree-hugger and yuppie, I know he always has my back.

My friends are just the icing (actually, I hate icing, so I will dub them the “butter cream frosting”) on my cake. I spent several hours with many dear ladies that bless me beyond measure. One in particular has enriched my life for 37 years- a life long friend for sure. Over lunch, when she threw her head back and laughed her hearty, beautiful laugh at some silly antic from me, I was reminded of all the reasons I love her. She and I have shared many lovely and some sad moments together (our oldest sons were born 4 days apart almost 18 years ago), yet our friendship has stood the test of time and many miles. I am so, so grateful for her.

The Gem State may hold pieces of priceless treasure for me, but I prefer my sunshine, smog, and overpopulated city life to the wilds of untamed Idaho. I am a Cali girl through and through!

Trading Chains

When you hear the word “slave” what images or words do you conjure up?

For me they are: subservient, servant, labor, shackles, mistreatment, beatings, harsh, plantations, black, negro spirituals, master, cruelty, dehumanization.

I often try to imagine what it must have been like for the slaves whose emancipation finally became a reality. How surreal. They could walk away, no longer be forced to work in the sun, back bent, answering to a man called “master”.  But as free men and women they inherited a new set of worries- integrating back into society with the label “freed slave”.  They were marked so to speak, probably for life.

For much of my early Christian life, this is how I lived out my faith- like a freed slave. In my mind, I knew that grace saved me and that I was free in Christ, but in practice I was bound by legalism, rules, expectations. Being like a dumb sheep, I gave in to listening to the confines of men. This appealed to me. I followed what they taught almost without question, mastered by what could easily be called pseudo-biblical principles, relying heavily on the interpretation of men rather than God Himself.

No wonder I became such a rebel. I hated all the stipulations because what I craved was true freedom. Instead, I had simply traded one set of chains for another.

But over a period of years and a thorough embracing of the gospel of Jesus, the freedom came. The rules stopped being my god. God became my Master and I embraced Him willingly (although sometimes with suspicious resistance as I wondered if I could fully trust Him). This was not forced labor, under the service of a harsh, cruel taskmaster. This servitude was one that I entered into by my own free will, through the grace of God. Now my burden was easy and the load to bear was light.

What irony- to go from being a slave to sin, to the bondage of legalism, to a willing servant of Christ! I think of it as liberating servitude- not oppression or lack of freedom- but a loyal heart free to follow after the best, kindest Master ever.  He knows my needs and cares for them tenderly. He loves me in an unrelenting fashion. He forgives me when I have strayed or rebelled. He lavishes me with abundance, meeting all my needs and more.

Now the labor I exert and the rules I live by are simply a beautiful expression of thanksgiving to my gracious Master, who died for me. I am pleased to serve Him, happy to submit to Him, striving hard to keep my former evil master at bay; mindful also of never going back to the bondage of legalism because now I am a servant without chains.

Here it is in the words of the book of Romans, chapter 6 (The Message):

15-18 So, since we’re out from under the old tyranny, does that mean we can live any old way we want? Since we’re free in the freedom of God, can we do anything that comes to mind? Hardly. You know well enough from your own experience that there are some acts of so-called freedom that destroy freedom. Offer yourselves to sin, for instance, and it’s your last free act. But offer yourselves to the ways of God and the freedom never quits. All your lives you’ve let sin tell you what to do. But thank God you’ve started listening to a new master, one whose commands set you free to live openly in his freedom!

19 I’m using this freedom language because it’s easy to picture. You can readily recall, can’t you, how at one time the more you did just what you felt like doing—not caring about others, not caring about God—the worse your life became and the less freedom you had? And how much different is it now as you live in God’s freedom, your lives healed and expansive in holiness?

20-21 As long as you did what you felt like doing, ignoring God, you didn’t have to bother with right thinking or right living, or right anything for that matter. But do you call that a free life? What did you get out of it? Nothing you’re proud of now. Where did it get you? A dead end.

22-23 But now that you’ve found you don’t have to listen to sin tell you what to do, and have discovered the delight of listening to God telling you, what a surprise! A whole, healed, put-together life right now, with more and more of life on the way! Work hard for sin your whole life and your pension is death. But God’s gift is real life, eternal life, delivered by Jesus, our Master.