Sunday, December 19, 2010

Christmas Losses

I went to the same funeral home two nights in a row to pay respects to two different families this weekend. To say the very least, it has been an extremely difficult week for many, many people in our school community. We lost two very different people on the same day. One was a beloved and dedicated teacher who at last succumbed to ALS, Lou Gehrig's disease. The loss was not unexpected, but devastating, nonetheless. In his teaching career he impacted thousands of students and hundreds of colleagues.The other was a substitute teacher and very involved parent who died suddenly and unexpectedly. She had spent countless hours volunteering and giving of herself for the benefit of the young people in our schools. Many of the same adults and young people stood in long lines two nights in a row to express their condolences to the loved ones of these individuals whose loss will be felt by many in our community.
I have been thinking about these families and how the Christmas season will forever be associated with the loss of their loved one. I have been thinking about the many families whose experience has been similar. Something within us all cries out, "This is wrong! This isn't supposed to happen at Christmas!" We don't say it, but we do feel it, even if we aren't conscious of it. In the back of our minds we have this idyllic image of what the Christmas season is supposed to be like. The literature, movies and music associated with the season serve to cement the unconscious expectation that Christmas is supposed to be perfect. Perfect food, perfect gifts, perfect families. No tears, no disappointments, no losses. There is no room in this image of perfection for the realities we often face. Illnesses, job loss, the death of a loved one. None of these things fit how it's "supposed to be".
So, what do we do? How do we handle reality in the face of such unrealistic, but deeply rooted idealistic expectations? First, I think we have to give ourselves permission to mourn. When we expect things to be perfect we will often try to avoid expressing our negative emotions. Mourning and the Christmas season seem incompatible, but the reality is there are many who are mourning. It is appropriate to mourn when we have lost someone, or something, important and it's just as appropriate at Christmas as any other time.
Second, we need to give ourselves permission to enjoy the holiday. I know that seems contradictory. Often when we've experienced a loss it seems wrong for life to go on. We might feel disloyal to the one we've lost if we feel any joy. Enjoying what we can of the holiday is a testament to the reality that life does go on, and even though we have lost someone or something extremely valuable, the life we are living is just as valuable. We honor their memory by valuing this life that we have and living with hope. Because the truth is that Christmas is about hope.
Hope is really the greatest message of Christmas. Christmas is about God loving the world so much that He gave His son as a gift to all of us. That gift gives us reason to hope. Christmas reminds us that we are not alone. We are reminded that we have each other to be grateful for. Yes. But we are also reminded that God is there. Every Christmas carol is a reminder of this truth. Without God there really is no reason for Christmas. Without God there really is no reason for hope.
There is another reality that we don't like to acknowledge. We have all experienced loss and we often feel that loss more keenly during the Christmas season, even if that loss occurred long ago. It might be tempting to diminish our own sense of loss by comparing it to those whose loss is recent. I think we still need to give ourselves permission to mourn and permission to experience the joy of the holiday. Our loss is still real. Our life still does go on. Our reason for hope remains the same.
It's less than a week till Christmas now. I am feeling these losses deeper than I would have expected. So, I will mourn when I need to, but I will also rejoice when I need to. My prayer for you in this season is that you will fully experience the hope of Christmas regardless of the realities you may be facing. May you have a blessed Christmas, dear one. You have reason to mourn, reason to rejoice and, most of all, reason to hope.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Holiday Unstressed

Maybe it's that I am maturing or that my kids are getting older, but I just haven't felt that stressed by the holidays the past few years. There are still tasks to be completed, but I have pared down to what is most important to me and those I love. But I don't think it's primarily the simplification of my to-do list that has "unstressed" me.

Stress comes from within as well as from without. We often can't control the situations that cause us stress. When a loved one is injured or seriously ill, there is little we can do to control the situation. All we can do at a time like that is find ways to manage the stress. In the holiday season, however, there are many factors we can take control of, like the number of cards we choose to send or the number of gifts we choose to buy and how much money we choose to spend. We can limit the number of activities celebrating the season that we get involved in as well. Have I done any of those things? Yes, I have. In fact, I think I have done all of those things, but I still don't believe that is the reason that I have become "unstressed".

So, what is it, then?  I remember a few years ago feeling overwhelmed by the month of December. I and my family were involved in a number of activities that couldn't be pared down. Even with my list made and a number of items purchased I still wondered how I would be able to get it all done. As I reviewed everything I had to do, I just couldn't see how I could go to work and take care of my family and do everything that I normally had to do as well as the various holiday activities and preparations. As I came to the conclusion that everything on my to-do list was necessary and couldn't be changed, I realized that only one thing could be changed:  Me. What had to change was my attitude. I had to accept my to-do's as they were and believe that somehow the strength would be there to get it done. So, I took a deep breath and chose not to let myself continue in a state of being overwhelmed, and proceeded through the month of December.When I came to the end of that Christmas and holiday season I was relieved. Everything had been accomplished without a constant feeling of stress, yet I also knew that I never wanted the season to be that full of busyness again. The following year a few activities were missing from my to-do list and you know what? I didn't miss them.

Our family has always tried to do things to "keep Christ in Christmas", to remind us of  the real reason we celebrate this joyful, hectic season. I guess I have realized that those activities alone can't keep my heart centered. There are choices I have to make about how I approach the necessary preparations. They have become less important in themselves. I guess what has really happened is that I have begun to see the whole season as a celebration, rather than hectic preparations leading up to one special day. Making my list of gifts to purchase has become part of the celebration, as has decorating the house (which that one year was an overwhelming duty) or purchasing and wrapping the gifts.  Yes, I am doing less and enjoying it more, but I am also enjoying more because accepting an unchangeable to-do list forced me to accept the extra activity as part of the season.  In doing that, I have learned to enjoy the whole season rather than just the relief of checking off the items on my to-do list.

So, let me encourage you: Enjoy all of it as much as possible. Eliminate what you can. If you can't eliminate it, then choose to enjoy it as a part of the celebration. Enjoyment is definitely a stress-reliever!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Unexpected Love

I remember the exact moment, the exact image, that took my breath and heart away. We were at Disney World of all places, and my heart was immediately captured. I'm not talking about a person, but bear with me as I try to communicate this experience of unexpected love.
It was several years ago when Tom and I were celebrating our twentieth wedding anniversary. On our honeymoon my new husband had taken me "around the world" at Epcot, taking a photograph of me in each "country". We had returned to Disney to recreate that fun memory. In an unexpected place I experienced a life-transforming moment. I fell in love with China. Yes, the country of China.
It was just another stop on our trip around the world so we visited the "China in 360" attraction. We had probably visited it on our honeymoon, but I have no recollection of that visit. This visit, however is etched in my memory. In a round movie theater with no seats, only bars to lean on, we were viewing a film that gave you the sense of standing on the Great Wall, seeing everything in front, behind and around you or traveling on boat on a river, or walking on the streets of Shanghai. I was enchanted, but then we were flying above beautiful mountains, rivers and hillsides unlike any I had ever seen. That was the moment my heart overflowed. I was unexpectedly arrested by the beauty of a country that until that moment was just a large shape on a map. After that moment, I felt myself among the people, immersed in the music, the grace, the beauty of an unfamiliar culture. I didn't want the film to end. When it did come to an end, my emotions didn't. My feelings were so strong I couldn't speak. I left the theater knowing that some day I HAD to go to China.
Amazingly enough, later that same year my husband was invited to go on a trip to China . We were both excited at the prospect and my first question was "Can I go?" The answer was yes, but I would have to pay (his expenses were covered by the nature of the trip.) It was hard to give up, but I knew without a doubt that, for a variety of reasons, this was not the time for me to go. But deep within I knew that I knew that somehow another opportunity would come at the right time. So, I learned as much as I could about the places he was visiting and drank in the pictures he took with no jealousy. It helped that he went in January and it was freezing cold! I didn't envy that part of his trip!

Just recently it happened! Another opportunity to go to China! Excitement about the possibility quickly became an inexplicable, painful longing.  I went to my husband and as close as I could without begging asked if we could go. No, that's not really it. I told him, with eyes overflowing, "I have to go to China."

So, next spring we are going to China. My heart still swells at the prospect, for reasons I can't explain. But I AM going and somehow I know that once will just not be near enough. This unexpected love will not be satisfied with one visit. This will be the first for me, second for Tom, with who knows how many to come. Only God knows what part China plays in my future. I know this kind of love doesn't happen without a reason. I just can't tell you what that reason is yet. I can only tell you that it has unexpectedly come... to stay.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Mistakes and Mishaps

Doesn't it bug you when you make little mistakes? No? Well, it bugs me. I recently went for a haircut. I have been looking at photos at the hair dresser's for years trying to find something that is both "new" and "me" at the same time. I showed a photo to the stylist and talked about my thoughts on what I might like to do with my hair. Non-committal, as usual. On the way home I realized that I had mistakenly identified Keira Knightly as Winona Rider in the pic. No biggie, right? I got that squirmy feeling inside at having made a silly mistake. So, what's the big deal? I found that one easier to shake off than others, but I still had a few moments of discomfort at the realization. Maybe I would have felt better if I blamed someone else for my mistake... Why do they use photos of celebrities any way? Who really knows all those people? ...Nope, doesn't work. Still my mistake.

So, maybe you are okay with your own mistakes, but get really peeved at the mistakes of others that affect you. Maybe you'll identify with this one. My daughter recently applied to be a part of an educational travel group. First, she got a call saying she was accepted. Yippee! Later that night we got another call saying the first call was premature. What? Eventually, we heard that she was not accepted to the program "at this time". But the first mistake precipitated a number of positive communications from the national office until the withdrawal went through their whole system. She has handled the whole thing pretty well, but I became a bit annoyed. What if my daughter had been heart-broken? What would all this see-sawing do to her then?   I was polite and understanding in my phone contacts to clear things up, but I wouldn't be in too much of a hurry to have her sign up with this organization again if she had another opportunity.

Yes, we all make mistakes. Not one of us is perfect. We know this, but we don't really practice it, do we? Somehow, we still expect perfection of ourselves and others.  Why is that? Honestly, I think we were created for perfection, but that perfection is not within our grasp on this earth. We are continually disappointed. "What a tease!", you may think. Well...yes, I think it is meant to be a tease. If perfection were available in this life why would we hope for anything else? If perfection is only available in the life to come, then that desire for perfection makes sense, and our constant disappointment on earth becomes a reminder of our need to hope for something better. For the many who don't believe in a life to come those constant disappointments can be life-shattering and cause them to lose hope completely.

So, I am reminding myself that this is not all there is. Those little mistakes don't really matter in the big scheme of things, not just my own mistakes, but the mistakes of others. In the long run, they are reminders that I am just passing through, making the most of this journey, on the way to what really matters. Perfection really does exist, it's just out of my reach... for now.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Going Deeper to Reach Higher

If you read back to my first post then you know that this whole blogging experience began as an uncharacteristic impetuous decision, which, by the way, I don't regret. But as time has gone by I have been asking myself a lot of questions about what this blog is really supposed to be. What should my focus be? Who is reading this and what is it I want them to get out of it? I know that I want to encourage others, but in what area do I want to focus my encouragement? If I believe that this is an assignment, then how do I fulfill that assignment? Successful blogs (blogs that people actually want to read!) come out of the writer's passion and experience. What is my passion and what experiences do I have to share that make my blog unique and make it worth someone else's time?

I focused on the name "Real Life" because I want to share my honest self with you. I am in search of a more original name, but I don't want to change that purpose. What is my purpose in sharing my real life with you? My journey of self discovery may aid you in your journey of self-discovery. The only way to mature in life is to be honest with ourselves about who we really are and who we want to be. As we discover our strengths we learn how to achieve our God-given destiny. As we discover our weaknesses we learn how to overcome them, if possible, or accept them as a reminder that we can't be or do everything and we need help.

I initially named my blog "A Work in Progress" because I needed to come up with a name in order to continue the template, but then I thought about how life is a work in progress. My life. Your life. We are all a work in progress. I want this blog to reflect my progress. I want to be honest about what I am struggling with or thinking about. I want to share what I have learned or am learning through this working out of life. The truth is we are all trying to "arrive" and we won't get there until we draw our last breath. As we realize that others are on the same journey, facing similar inner obstacles, we begin to accept ourselves as we are, while continuing to work towards who we can be.

When I write I see a broad audience. I have a lot that I could say to women, but I don't think I am blogging just for women. Maybe some day I might start another blog just to encourage women to be all they can be beyond artificial boundaries, but I don't believe that is the purpose of this blog. I am a Christian. My faith is the driving force behind everything I do, say or think, but I don't believe I am supposed to write for a "Christians-only" audience.

So, who am I writing for? I am writing for you. You are reading this today. You are the one I write for. You are the one I want to encourage to be all you can be and do all that you were created to do. I want to encourage you that it's okay to examine yourself and acknowledge that you have faults and weaknesses. I want to encourage you that being honest with yourself about who you are is the first step to finding out who you were meant to be. The current URL for my blog is When I settle on a new name I will change the URL to reflect it, but I don't want to change that purpose either. I am believing for the best in you. I know that you have a Creator who intends you to fulfill your life-purpose and to be fulfilled in that process. I believe that, like a seed, all that you are meant to become is hidden inside you and in the right conditions you will grow beyond anything you can imagine.

So, like this blog, like me, you are a work in progress. The best is yet to be written about you and me. Let's share the journey together and go deeper inside ourselves so that we can reach higher in achieving all that we are meant to be.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Hot Buttons! DO NOT TOUCH!

HOT SURFACE! DO NOT TOUCH!  I am not one of those people who would see a sign like that and then put my hand near the surface just to make sure. If I know that something is hot, then I want to protect myself. I am staying as far away as possible!

Wouldn't it be nice if people had some kind of warning label to alert you to their "hot" buttons? We all have them. Some of us don't show them as much, but they are still there. The closer you are to someone, the more you get to know what really pushes those "hot" buttons. Maybe you are like me. I try to avoid those triggers whenever possible for two reasons. Reason number one: I care about those I love and I know they don't like to have their buttons pushed any more than I like to push them. Reason number two: I don't enjoy conflict. I don't enjoy getting "burned". So like the hot surface, if I can avoid that unpleasant experience, then I will! I have to be honest and say that I think Reason number two is probably a higher motivation. Self-preservation over selfless protection probably rules the day. Ugh!

My "hot" buttons are less obvious than other people's to the untrained observer. I am an internal processor. That doesn't mean I get less annoyed, I am just quieter about it. To the untrained eye that may appear to be patience and strength of character, but I know better! Patience is an internal quality that is expressed in an outer attitude. In certain instances I may appear patient, but I know that I am not!

Case in point: I work in a school and interact with many students, most of whom do not bother me at all. However, there is the rare student that pushes my "hot" buttons. Something in their attitude or behavior ticks me off inside, not just once, but every time they are in the room. I have been more aware lately that true patience, the kind that is considered a virtue or what the Bible calls a "fruit of the Spirit", goes much deeper than my external efforts to be civil with the person who brings me to a boil inside. True patience, also called "long-suffering", means that I don't just deal with my outer behavior, but my inner attitude. Perhaps because I can "keep the lid on" my behavior I haven't worked as hard at understanding my own "hot buttons" as I have at understanding others so that I can protect myself.

Because I want to be truly patient and not just appear to be so, I guess it's time for some self-observation. I don't want to just "keep the lid on". I want to disable the "hot" button completely!


Sunday, October 17, 2010

Threads of Insecurity

Something just isn't quite right. I need to fix something...just a little. I missed something somewhere, but I am just not sure what. You ever feel that way?

I have been feeling that way about a recent conflict, not fight, not disagreement. Something needed to be addressed and I did it as respectfully as I possibly could, but did I handle myself as well as I should have? Could I have handled the situation better? Is there anything I should do to follow up?

Perhaps all those questions swirling around in my head are because there is something that needs to be done. Or maybe not. Maybe all those questions are just a clue that there are some threads of insecurity lurking around inside of me that need some clipping. We all have them. Sometimes they are neatly tucked inside and we forget about them. Sometimes those threads are visible to others, but not to ourselves. Then we need someone else to bring it to our attention so that we can deal with it. You know, like the person who notices that you have a thread hanging from the hem of your pants and brings it to your attention. Then you realize that you've been stepping on the thread for the last 15 minutes and the hem is about to come down. You might feel a bit embarrassed that you didn't notice it yourself, but you do your best to remedy the situation in a temporary way immediately. Then you take the time to make more permanent repairs later.

Insecurities take time to remedy. Longer than it takes to fix a hem. They take honest self-evaluation and disciplined effort to overcome. And often, when we are sure that we have overcome insecurity in one area, confident that "thread" is neatly clipped, another one surfaces and we have to go through the whole process all over again. Don't you hate that?

Guess it's time to get out my scissors...again.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Humanly Honest

"Honesty is such a lonely word. Everyone is so untrue. Honesty is hardly ever heard. And mostly what I need from you."  Billy Joel
These lyrics are from one of Billy Joel's most popular songs which was, believe it or not, the theme for my junior prom in 19...never mind. Lovely thought for the junior prom, don't you think? "Everyone is so untrue." Well, I guess if you think about it, honesty is what we really want from those closest to us. We want honest relationships where we can say what we really think and feel and be loved just the same.  We want to know and be known. But at the same time, we are often afraid of what people will think of us, so we "put on a mask", so to speak, and cover up who we really are with all our questions, quirks and general messiness. We choose to show only our best to the world and ignore the rest.

I recently finished reading the book "Choosing to SEE" by Mary Beth Chapman.  She is the wife of well-known Christian singer/songwriter Stephen Curtis Chapman. Unfortunately, the whole family received national attention when they tragically lost their 5-year-old Maria in an accident in the family driveway. What impressed me most about her book was, not how the whole family is so strong to get through such a horrific experience, or what a great gal Mary Beth is (although I do think she'd be a great person to have a cup of coffee with). What impressed me about her book was her honesty. She shares much about her life and the final third or so,of the book covers the tragedy of May 21, 2008 and the time following. Much of it reprints  her blogs as she struggled to cope, to understand, to go on with life. She shares her questions, her anger, her fears for her other children. She shares her deliberate choice to trust in God's goodness even when the whole thing seems to make no sense. She disarmingly shared many personal details and let the reader in on the family's indescribable pain and journey of healing.
We might use the phrases "painfully honest" or "brutally honest" to describe how Mary Beth wrote, but I think I would choose the phrase "humanly honest" to describe her. Too many times those who profess a whole-hearted commitment to Christ choose to "show their best face" in times of tragedy and struggle, rather than just be honest about how they feel. If I, as a Christian, come across as someone with no needs why would anyone think that I have something that they need? Mary Beth showed herself to be a real person who finds her strength in faith, even when God seems to make no sense at all. She showed herself to be a human being with deep needs like every other human being. She showed herself to be one who finds herself relying on God to meet those deep needs in ways that no one else can touch.
So, is everyone "so untrue"? I hope not. I struggle with how much of my "junk" to share with others. I think I often come across as one of those with "no needs". Of course, that is absolutely not true and definitely not intentional, but knowing when to "let it all hang out" can be a bit tricky. I have learned, though, that I can "let it all hang out" with God.  If He loves me, then wouldn't it follow that He wants honesty from me? I firmly believe that He can handle all my "junk" better than anyone else. I honestly do.

For more on Mary Beth Chapman's book click here. 

Amy Grant's newest song does a great job describing God's desire for honesty from those who call on Him. Click on the title to hear the song and see the lyrics.
Better Than a Hallelujah

Saturday, October 2, 2010

What Is It About History?

     Maybe you aren't like this, but there is something about history that stirs me. Perhaps it's because whenever my family traveled we'd stop at every historic marker along the way and find out what important person or event was associated with that location. In former days I was an actress, and my greatest love was for the period pieces with language and costumes that drew me into another time. I loved researching and learning about what it was like to live in that time and immersing myself in the manners of the time as well. I was a costume designer's dream. I loved fittings!  I was in one play where each female member of the cast wore a custom-fitted corset. I may have been the only one who didn't complain. I loved it. What better way to identify with the Renaissance period?!
     What is it about history that stirs me? I was recently moved almost to tears at a board of education meeting. I know it sounds really weird, but let me explain. I work in an historic school. I guess it's something that most of us in the school just forget about or aren't aware of, but some members of our community (all former Social Studies teachers!Go figure!) have undertaken the task of commemorating the history of our school and its connection with Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. As they were giving their presentation at the board meeting I was overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude and pride. Gratitude to those who have committed themselves to a project to make sure that our history isn't forgotten, and pride to be connected with them and our school. How many people get to work in a place that is now on the national and state historic registers? I was surprised at the depth of emotion I felt and it has made me wonder just what the privilege of being connected with history in this small way touches in me.
     I suppose the thing about history is that it reminds us that we aren't alone, that many, many people have lived on this earth before and that, in some way, we are all connected. Those who came before, whether from ancient or contemporary history, have forged a path for us. Their experiences and contributions are part of who we have become. When we study the past and learn to connect with historical figures we learn something about who we have been and who we can be.  The contributions they have made inspire us to give of ourselves and reach beyond our comfort zone to make a difference, or show us how not to behave and remind us of the damage that poor choices and selfishness can inflict. 
      When I learn about people from the past I feel a sense of connection with them in their humanness. Their weaknesses and strengths challenge me to evaluate myself. As I compare myself to them, I see my own strengths and weaknesses more clearly. It's often encouraging to recognize that these frail and flawed humans can make a great contribution to the world around them. Case in point: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. Though there is often a hushed awe when their names are spoken, it doesn't take much research to discover that they were deeply flawed people. Yet in their "for such a time as this" moment they each contributed a great deal to our nation and our world. 
     Can God use deeply flawed people to accomplish His purposes, even when they aren't aware of it? I believe the answer is "yes". So, I will continue to let history, world history as well as Biblical history, inspire, challenge and encourage me to let my life, though flawed, make a difference.

The former Franklin D. Roosevelt High School

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Your Esther Moment

     Did you ever wonder if you were really making a difference in the world? Maybe you know that nagging feeling that you should be more or do more, like you aren't doing enough that really matters. As we get older perhaps that question looms larger. When we realize that there are more days behind than there are before, we start to wonder if our existence on this planet has had any lasting impact. I want to submit to you that it has, but that you are probably looking in the wrong place for the evidence. We Americans have an implied understanding that if it isn't big, loud, fast, beautiful or famous it doesn't count. Well, I believe that we are wrong. I submit that your greatest influence and lasting impact is right where you are spending your life at this moment. Let's call it "Your Esther Moment."
     Have you ever heard the phrase "for such a time as this"? When I hear that phrase I think of the Bible book of Esther. Esther was a beautiful young Jewish girl who caught the eye of the king of Persia and became queen. When the Jews were threatened with annihilation by their enemies, Esther's surrogate father, Mordecai, encouraged her to go to the king and plead for her people. He told her "And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14) Esther did go to the king and her people were saved. She was in the right place at the right time and did the right thing for the right reason, even at her own risk. She used her influence where she was and made a difference.
     We all have a desire to make a difference. I believe that is born into each one of us. God-designed, if you will. It says in the book of Ecclesiastes that "...He has set eternity in the hearts of men..."  This desire for eternity is what drives people on to do something that lasts. Some strive for fame or to accomplish a feat of great importance. Whatever it is, we each want to feel that we have done something that goes beyond ourselves.
     It may be that you have come to your current position "for such a time as this". Your current position may be as a stay-at-home mom, or at a seemingly obscure job. Perhaps you see yourself doing something big and important and wonder when that is going to come about. Your greatest influence and most lasting impact may be in raising that child or helping that co-worker through a difficult time. Your "Esther moment" may be as a listening ear for a grieving neighbor, or a care-giver to an aging parent. Your "Esther moment" may be happening over and over in the little things you do that improve the lives of those around you. You are in the right place at the right time so that you can do the right thing for the right reason.
There are few things that really matter in life and even fewer that make an eternal difference. Don't miss your "Esther moment". It could be happening... right now.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Aged to Perspective

Don't you love new things? We love kittens, puppies and babies, a new car, a new house, even a new piece of clothing, or a new notebook. In the halls of the school where I work I have seen many a notebook that could be re-used tossed in the trash bin at the end of a school year. Our love for new things has caused us to discard much that still has worth and value. Even relationships and people have become disposable.
Japanese society reveres the elderly. American society often treats the elderly as a burden to be cast aside. They slow us down on the roads and in the halls. They require extra patience and care, bu oh, what treasures they have to share with us if we would only slow down and listen before they no longer have the ability to pass on their wisdom.
Yesterday I attended a class taught by a 73-year-old man who had been in ministry for 53 years. he described himself as bi-vocational for most of his years in ministry having been employed as a teacher, a school administrator and even a chief of police while also leading a church! It didn't take long to realize that this man, not only had a thorough knowledge of the subject he was to teach (Old Testament survey, to impress you bible students), but had a wealth of insight and wisdom that he had gained as a result of his many years of experience, not only in ministry , but in life. He was full of humility and joy at having the opportunity to share the many jewels he had acquired in his travels with our small class. Though our class was released long after the other classes had finished, we didn't mind at all. The time had been well spent in the presence of a master, not only of the class subject, but of life. What an honor to sit, listen and learn from his wealth of knowledge and from his perspective gained by age.
The Hebrew Scriptures say in Leviticus 19:32 "Rise in the presence of the aged, show respecct for the elderly and revere your God." Now there's a practice that has gone out of fashion in the US! Isn't it interesting that respecting the elderly and revering God are equated with each other? Paul says in I Corinthians 14:5 "you have many teachers, but not many fathers." I had the rare and marvelous opportunity to hear from a "father" yesterday. How grateful I am that I was not in too great a hurry to pay attention.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Black Screen, My Friend?

So, I am no computer geek, but even I know that a black screen on a laptop is not a good thing. What I am wondering is: Is this the black screen of death or will my laptop be resuscitated and live another day? I have found ways around the black screen. At the moment I am typing on my laptop, but viewing a desktop monitor via a video cable. It works for now, but it isn't ideal. I am in communication with a computer geek I know and am hoping that I will get some good news. We all need a computer geek in our lives in these days when technology changes as fast as a click.

My situation causes me to review something I have reflected on often. Life in the 21st century has gotten very complicated. We move at the speed of light from one activity to another. We instantly communicate and microwave our meals. We keep our calendars on our hand-held devices and can rarely find an empty space to get together with friends. All this technology was supposed to simplify life, right? Instead, we rush around hoping that we don't lose our cell phones, that our computers don't crash and that we can get that one-more-e-mail written or read before we fall asleep at the keyboard.  We are constantly in motion from activity to activity, but where are we really going anyway? Nowhere. And we are going there faster than ever before.

I am grateful for my cellphone and my computer. I enjoy having portable music and a calendar on my phone. I am glad to be able to keep in touch with people through text messages, e-mail and Facebook. But I wonder what would happen to our society if all the satellites and cell towers crashed tomorrow. What if we had no more Internet for Facebook and e-mail. No cell phone. No instant information. Maybe we would go back to just sitting with each other and enjoying a cup of tea or coffee or lemonade and talking. We might ask questions and really listen to answers. Now, there is a lost art. The art of conversation, reading faces or body language. The art of being there when someone is in need of a hug. The ministry of presence.

Technology can certainly aid relationships, but it can never replace face-to-face, voice-to-ear, hand-to-touch relationships.  There is a subtlety in voice inflections, gestures and eye contact that can't be replicated technologically. There is a comfort in the touch of a hand, a hug or a smile that symbols on a screen just can't imitate.

We were created for relationship, to love and be loved, to know and be known. When technology helps us to accomplish that God-ordained purpose then I am all for it. If I need to let my laptop go, then so be it. But I will replace it in some way so that I can stay in touch with you, because you can't be replaced.

Check your calendar. Coffee, anyone?

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Beaches and Mountains

Everyone loves a vacation. We all get excited about some time away from our normal routine. Many of us return to the same location year after year for our R and R. Some people travel into the mountains and camp or rent a cottage. They love the woods and mountain lakes. They load up their hiking shoes and camp gear and trek to where the air is cool and fresh. Some travel to the seashore. They load up on sunscreen and reading material looking forward to the roar of the ocean and the sand between their toes. No matter which is your favorite, what is it about beaches and mountains that calls us away from our everyday lives? What is it that speaks so deeply to our spirits that we feel renewed and refreshed?
I love the mountains,, but when it comes to a favorite getaway, I am a beach person. I have come to realize that not just any beach will do. It has to be an ocean beach. And not just any ocean beach satisfies me. It has to be a beach that spreads out for miles, where the ocean breeze cools me in the heat, and where the sky seems to go on forever. I don't mind a crowded beach as long as there are not a lot of people between me and of the ocean. I find that on a beach like that, even if it is crowded, I can feel a sense of isolation and solitude. That sense of being alone with the sky and the ocean is what I love most. Why is that?
There was one year, one very difficult year, when all I wanted in the summer was to go away to the ocean. I wanted it even more because we weren't able to go. The longing was strong to the point of being overwhelming. I began to ask myself and God, "Why do I want this so badly? What is it about the beach that means so much to me?" One day the answer became clear: I feel safe on a beach. When the sand stretches out for miles and the sky seems to swallow the whole earth, I feel small...and safe. Why safe? Doesn't feeling small make us feel vulnerable and at risk? On a beach I am reminded how big God is. As expansive as the ocean or sky is, He is even bigger. He holds it all and me in the palm of His hand. When I feel alone with the sky and the ocean, I really feel alone with God. In that year, when so much of life seemed overwhelmingly difficult, the thought of God being bigger than it all and holding me in His hand made me feel safe. Even though I never made it to the beach that year, the realization of what I was really longing for and that God was just as big while I was at home and in the middle of a trial, gave me comfort.
Whether we love the mountains or the ocean, that sense of our Creator's enormity and creativity and beauty fills our spirits with an awareness of Him. We may not always recognize Him consciously, but we are renewed and refreshed because we have been in His presence.

"The heavens declare the glory of God;  
the skies proclaim the work of His hands." 
(Psalm 19:1)

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Will the real Eleanor Roosevelt please stand up?

I have recently finished reading Eleanor Roosevelt's autobiography. Since I pass Eleanor's home, Valkill Cottage, everyday on my way to work, I thought it was time to get to know her a bit. I found her descriptions of growing up at the turn of the twentieth century fascinating. What a different time than our own! Not only that, but her transformation from a shy, unloved girl to a woman revered by the world for her service in the pursuit of making life better for others is inspiring.
On visiting one of the historic sites in our area I was chatting with a park ranger and when I referred to her book, he said, "She sugar-coated her life." As if she didn't really tell the truth about herself and her life. As if she wasn't being "real" in her book. That got me thinking. Not just about Eleanor, but about life. Did Eleanor present her real life? Do any of us? Do I?
As I thought about Eleanor, I came to the conclusion that she did not sugar-coat her life in her book, but she was very selective in what she talked about. She was a product of her time. In her day, private things were considered off-limits. She shared about all the public aspects of her life very freely, where she traveled, dignitaries she met and what issues they discussed. However, she shared very little of her private pains or joys. In this day of reality TV and tabloid newspapers, perhaps that might come across as "sugar-coating". I think that she was as "real" as she felt appropriate. Her marriage and family were not considered anyone else's business. In our day those aspects of a public person's life are considered everyone's business, but are they really?
Am I not being "real" if I don't share every aspect of my life in public? I think, that like Eleanor Roosevelt, we all have a private life and a public life. There are aspects of my private life and yours that don't need to be public. However, the essence of who we are should be evident now matter where we are.
Much of my life has been spent in the public eye on a small scale. Many people feel like they know me and my husband. Does that mean they should know everything about us? We choose not to share every detail, but we want what people do know about us to create as genuine a picture as possible without exposing every detail. We want to be real, not sugar-coated. I once asked one of my children if they thought we had acheived this. I was relieved by the answer. If my kids think we are faking to the public, what a failure that would be.

"Now we see things imperfectly as in a cloudy mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God knows me completely. " (I Corinthians 13:12)

After reading Eleanor's book, I only know her partially, imperfectly. Even if we had been the best of friends, I would not know her completely. What you or I know of each other is partial and incomplete. Only God knows each of us completely. The challenge for each of us continues to be: "When I stand up in my public life do people see a genuine, though incomplete, reflection of who I am?"
Let's keep each other honest and real. No sugar-coating allowed. Let the real person stand up!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

What have I gotten myself into?!!

If you read my first post, then you know that this whole blogging idea was an uncharacteristic, spur-of-the-moment decision. I started by just clicking "create a blog" to see what would happen next and ended up posting! As soon as I finished, my husband was there and I showed him my brand new blog. He immediately linked it to his Facebook. That may not sound like a big deal, but because of his public position and charming, outgoing personality he has more than 600 friends! I suddenly had a moment of panic. "Will people actually read what I've written? And if they do, what do I do now?" Well, I checked back a few hours later and found that I actually had a few followers and comments! Then I began to ask all the questions I normally would have asked ahead of time. "How often should I blog? How am I going to work this into my already full schedule? Am I going to be able to keep this up? What should be my focus?" If you don't mind, could you join me in a little tweaking?
As I thought about how often to post, I was very aware that school will start in about two weeks. Since I am a 10-month employee in a public school, that means I go back to work. Full-time I might add! I became overwhelmed by the thought of trying to write every day, although I would love to. I have been reading the autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt. Did you know that Mrs. Roosevelt published a newspaper column called "My Day" six days a week from 1935 until her death in 1962? Think about it! In the days before laptops and the Internet, she basically wrote a blog every day and sent it to the newspaper no matter where she was in the world! I am not sure how that was accomplished technically, but I do know that she often survived on much less than eight hours of sleep a night. If I did that I would probably become a walking bowl of Jello! No. At this stage of my life, daily blogging is not for me. So, if you don't mind, to keep myself from going crazy and becoming a walking bowl of Jello, I am setting a goal of posting at least once a week. Maybe more if time and inspiration permit.
Also, I did a Google blog search (I didn't even know there was such a thing until after my first post!) just to see if mine would come up. (Okay, I am a true newbie!) It didn't, but four other blogs titled "A Work in Progress" did. That caused me to consider what I would want to be different about mine. I want to share with you about real life, my real life. I don't want to pontificate about great ideas or truths, although I hope my blog will be full of truth. I want to share my journey with you. So, beginning next time I will be changing the name of my blog to "Real life: A Work in Progress". We are all in a constant state of becoming. Eleanor Roosevelt, for example, did not start out as the humanitarian spokeswoman that history recalls. She started out as a young girl growing up at the turn of the 19th to 20th centuries and rode the challenges and experiences of her life to become the historic woman known as "The First Lady of the World", because real life is a work in progress. (I will probably write more about Eleanor at another time.)
So, thanks for joining me in this process. I know that this blog is something I am supposed to do. I feel very strongly that it is meant to be a mission and a ministry. I remain confident that He who began a good work in, and I hope through me, will be faithful to complete it.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

A New Work Begins

So I am inspired by my friend, Melissa, to begin a blog. I have always journaled my thoughts. Still, the idea of posting them on the web for all the world to see is somewhat daunting. But what if I really do have something to say? What if my sharing could help someone else? Isn't life really about sharing our experiences so that we help each other?

In an unusual move for me this is a spur of the moment decision. I usually ponder for a long time before making a decision to do something. I consider ALL the angles, pros and cons and weigh every consequence. Not so this time. I love to write. I have dreamed of writing something that might encourage someone. So why not now?

I had no idea what to call my blog, so as I worked through the "create-your-own-blog-for dummies" template I randomly chose "A Work in Progress" and moved on to the next step. Then my mind started pulling in the idea that I am the work in progress. Aren't we all? Why couldn't a continuing blog about the work that God is doing in me and my responses to it be called "A Work in Progress"? Then I had to choose a URL, something I know nothing so I clicked on the "more-info-for-dummies" tab and realized that whatever I chose should in some way be related to the title of my blog. So I decided to go with it and immediately Philippians 1:6 came to my mind,     
"And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns." (NLT)
After fooling around with a few variations on that theme for a URL I was reminded of a song that I used to remind my husband of to encourage him. It is called "Believing for the Best in You" and was recorded in the mid 1980"s by Michael and Stormie Omartian. The idea of that song is that, in spite of how down on ourselves we might get, God is still at work. "You've got Jesus in your heart and you love him so, and that's all I need to know, all I need to know. I'm believing for the best in you." I decided that would be my URL. 

We are all works in progress and I am confident that the good work He has begun in you and in me will be completed because He is faithful! 
Enjoying the journey with you,