Saturday, December 6, 2008

Where is my security?

Cell phones are a wonderful invention - when they are not lost, ringing at the wrong place and time, or broken. Recently, it was brought to my attention just how strong my love/hate relationship has become with these strange little devices which have so powerfully changed our world.

Mark was due to come home for an appointment with the orthopedic surgeon. At the arts university he attends, classes are held at a variety of hours during the day and night, so his last class before we could leave was scheduled to run until 10pm. Since Mark could not drive with his broken bones, Rob was away on business and David was working, this meant six hundred miles of driving for me until 3 in the morning. Knowing my ability to fall asleep at the drop of a hat, I decided to leave early and catch a few zzz’s in Mark’s room before time to turn around and come back to Virginia. Ah, the best laid plans. . .

When it was time to leave my home, I double checked my purse for the cell phone that had been in it at 6:30 that morning when I took Libby to the bus. Strangely enough, it was not there. I began to look some of the other places I often leave the phone, only to come up empty handed. I used the house phone to call my cell phone, only to remember that I had placed the phone on silent the night before during Libby’s rehearsal and had probably never changed the setting back. So no matter how many times I called the phone and ran around the house listening for even some faint vibrating sound, no electronic buzzing was heard. Slowly, I began to feel a bit of panic rising in my throat. It was time to leave. I needed my phone. After praying and asking God to show me where the phone was, I resumed my search, confident I would soon be successful. That was not the case.

My mind began to rationalize all the reasons it was critical God show me exactly where this cell phone was located in my home. As the mom, I am the central coordinator for our family. Often scattered across the southeastern United States, they usually each call me to figure what out what is going on with everyone else. I knew with my phone out of commission, no one would know exactly where I was and several of them would be trying to contact me. What if my car broke down? How would I get help? When I arrived at NCSA, Mark was going to be out and about campus. I would have no way to get into his room to sleep if I could not locate him. Without a cell phone, we could be missing each other all over campus for quite some time.

When my mind stopping rehearsing all its human reasoning, the still small voice of God began to speak quietly into my heart. “Where is your security? Do you trust that little piece of metal to care for you or do you trust me?” My response was not exactly humble obedience and repentance. This one would not easily let go of me.

“God, it is only a phone. Could you please just show it to me so I don’t have to freak out my family?” It was very quiet. There was no phone to be found. With the clock ticking away, I had to get on the road sans the now seemingly precious piece of metal.

The summary of the story is this. Some of my family did freak out thinking some of the worst possible things could have happened to me. They quickly adapted though and began to help each other without my assistance. Mark left his room unlocked for me and I was able to take a nap before getting back on the road. We made it back home safely where David had found my phone in a pile of clothing I had moved in the early morning hours (a fact which had completely escaped my brain during my search). The phone crisis was over, but I had at least heard a lesson which I knew needed to be addressed.

Where exactly is my security? If I truly believe God is sovereign, that He alone controls my destiny, then why the panic? How dependent have I become on the things of this world for my protection? There is truth that needs to realign my brain with God’s way of thinking.

This is God's Word on the subject: "As soon as Babylon's seventy years are up and not a day before, I'll show up and take care of you as I promised and bring you back home. I know what I'm doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.
Jeremiah 29:10 (The Message)

Ultimately, God is in control. He decides my future. He is and should be my security. Whether it be my losing my cell phone, losing my position or many other possible scenarios which are much more serious, my faith and trust can only be safely placed in the arms of my Father. Where is your security today?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Having a Good Time

My children are very aware of a strange, but consistent phenomenon that happens around our house in the early morning hours after Halloween. I excitedly race around our house gathering up every vestige of black cats and jack-o-lanterns to quickly replace them with turkeys and pilgrims. True confession – not being a big fan of Halloween, I am in fact a Thanksgiving freak. I just love November. The fall pumpkins are still beautiful, the leaves are falling from the trees and everywhere I see reminders of being thankful (at least in my house – the stores only seems to carry Christmas decorations at this time of the year!).

There is one other key factor that causes my elation each year when the calendar rolls over to display November. I know that it is only a few short weeks until we get to celebrate one of the most special times on our family calendar each year – Dowell Thanksgiving. Twenty-five years ago this year, we began gathering as a family to stay together somewhere in the Southeast and celebrate a week of food and fun. Living in different states across the South, this is the one time each year we are all able to be together. Rob’s mom, who we affectionately call Deedah, her five children, their spouses, their children and now even their grandchildren spend five days and four nights eating and playing. When we began twenty-five years ago, Deedah had three grandchildren. Now she has eight grandchildren and three great grandchildren.

Nobody knows how to have a good time like the Dowell family. It is loud, boisterous and filled with laughter. There are only a couple of hours on the clock each day when the entire house is asleep with teens and twenty-somethings playing games until the wee hours and the forty plus generation rising early to cook breakfast and bang around in the kitchen. Competition is a key component of our time together whether we are screaming at the football game on television or loudly debating any issue one might want to imagine. There are normally 8 to 10 conversations going on at once, even when there are only 6 people in the room. Practical jokes are played, charade and poker games won and lost and more butter consumed than should be eaten by a small nation. The Dowells are just plain fun.

My children have grown up in this tradition. They love it. For one week each year, we have pulled away from the demands of life to enjoy the family God has given us on this earth. Many times I have watched as my three had to do hours of homework and makeup work because of the school time they missed. Often they found themselves trying to explain to angry directors why they were missing so many rehearsals. Yet, if ever questioned about why we were pulling them out for this week, I always replied that my children often learned more in these few days with the Dowells than in a month of school.

I think sometimes, as a generation living in the 21st century, we have forgotten how to have a good time. We are so busy achieving, so busy reaching that next goal, so we can reach the next one and then reach the next one, marching on to a distant imagined prize or outcome. As parents, we often begin building our children’s ladders to success at an early age. We strive to keep them on “the master plan” in order to see that they become all they can be. But what has happened to just plain having a good time?

A time to weep and a time to laugh,
A time to mourn and a time to dance. Ecclesiastes 3:4 (NIV)

It may sound silly, but I like to think that week we spend with the Dowells is kind of like what it might be like in heaven. No, our family is not perfect, nor do we fly around with angel wings. But, the fun, the laughter, the enjoying of food and games together, just fit into my picture of what our eternity will be like with Jesus. A place of love, a place of acceptance, a place removed from the fear and anxiety of this world. A place I want to be. A place Jesus invited all of us to be. A place to have a good time.

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him and he with me.
Revelation 3:20 (NIV)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Elastic Den

At the parents’ meeting for the middle school musical Libby was participating in this past winter, the typical volunteer sign-up sheets were touted with the usual “we can’t do this without your help” speech. Knowing my complete lack of sewing talent (thereby eliminating me from the costume crew), my daughter’s desire to not have me backstage during the performances (there goes the stage parent list) and my struggles with even getting my own makeup on correctly (elimination – makeup committee), I signed on quickly to host the cast party. I estimated that at least I knew how to open the front door of my home. Later, it was the look on my husband’s face when I answered his question about the size of the cast (about 70 students) that reminded me that we might have some space issues in our beautiful Northern Virginia home. Being a terrific host and dad, he quickly smiled and assured me it would be fine. After all, they wouldn’t really all show up – would they?

Having raised two other children who had been involved with theatre, we knew that a group of drama kings and queens can rival any sports team with their activity level. Not wanting to see groups of seventh and eighth graders go hang out in our bedrooms for the evening, we realized we needed a plan. Theater kids love few things more than the opportunity to reprise their stage roles. We decided one activity for the evening would be to run a DVD version of the musical the students had just performed. Our 10’ by 15’ den was to be the gathering spot for this particular activity.

As the students began to arrive, it became obvious that watching, laughing and singing along with the DVD was the activity of first choice for the majority of the cast. On a typical evening in our home, you can comfortably seat three to five people in our den. For opening Christmas presents with family, we added chairs from the kitchen and actually squeezed eleven of us in for a brief time. Yet, on the evening of the cast party, teenagers started pouring into our den like ants at a picnic. At one point, Rob counted almost forty of them squeezed into the den which seemed to suddenly have walls of elastic. They laughed, they sang and they had a blast – all sandwiched in on top of one another. If you had told me in advance, I would have sworn the den could never hold so many middle schoolers. But on this night, the walls truly seemed to be made of elastic.

Isn’t that just like God’s love?

Every so often, I seem to pull another stunt which causes me to wonder if I have not finally done it. This time, my mind reasons, I have pushed God’s love right to the edge. I have really messed up. This will be the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. Yet that is never the case. Is this true because I am so special, He just continues to love me? No, He continues to love me because He is Love.

God is love.
1 John 4:16b (NIV)

Isn’t that just like God’s truth?

Viewing the Bible as God’s word is a truth that seems to be pushed against from all sides in our culture. Every so often, there is a new scientific discovery which seems to disprove God’s word. Sometimes there are archeological finds that appear to conflict in time with the Bible’s account of events. Each year the bookstore displays work from a new “scholar” who touts the evils of religion noting that God is nothing more than man’s trumped up imagination. Yet for all these occurrences, God’s word never changes. His truth continues to stand – whole and unbent in spite of tidal waves of change in human culture and discovery. Do I know this because I am a Bible scholar? No, it is because He can be trusted. His word is true.

“I the Lord do not change.”
Malachi 3:6a (NIV)

Isn’t that just like God’s relationship with us?

God wants to place elastic in the walls of our relationship with Him. As women, this can be scary as we sometimes envision anyone coming towards us with expansion on their minds as just wanting more of our already stretched time, energy and emotions. It is not our Father’s desire to involve us in more activities for the sake of expansion. He wants to expand our relationship with Him. As we grow closer to Him, He will suddenly expand the room to hold more of Him. Does He do this because I have performed the right number of steps to be promoted? No, He does it because He is a God who actively seeks out each and every one of us.

For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.
Luke 19:10 (NIV)

At Libby’s cast party, my den surprised us. It held elastic within its walls I never knew was there. Every day, I love being surprised by the elasticity of God. Just when I think I have reached capacity . . . . .

His love
His truth
His relationship

The elastic appears and they get a little bigger.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Leaf Geeks

The Dowell family would not qualify as early morning people. Libby has to be at the bus every weekday by 6:35am and Rob usually leaves for work around the same time. This not being our preferred hour of the day, we usually all function around the house in silence. A kiss goodbye and “I love you,” are about the best we can manage some mornings. This morning, however, was different. We were all riding in the car together when we began talking about how beautiful the leaves were all around us. Excitedly, we would point out to one another when we spotted a particularly beautiful tree, bush or hillside. The conversation was animated and definitely unusual for our bunch at that hour. Here is the cold hard truth. We are leaf geeks.

Maybe it was the twenty years in Florida without autumn color changes that sealed our fate. Maybe it was Rob and I’s childhood spent in the beautiful state of Tennessee where trees are everywhere. Maybe, we just have nothing better to do. Whatever the reason, we love to gawk and marvel at what happens to trees in the fall.

When I returned home this morning there was a long list of things that needed to be done. After tackling one or two, where did I find myself? I was on the back patio, taking pictures of leaves in our backyard. I know, the geek factor just shot up considerably. Truly, could I not get something accomplished on my list? (Do these voices speak to anyone else but me??) But may I share with you what happened to me in those moments when I was “getting nothing done”?

Suddenly, I found myself weeping. I was just overcome. Here is the truth I do not think my heart will ever understand as I long as I live on this earth. How could a God who created such beauty have any interest whatsoever in me? I mean, these leaves are spectacular. They are so gorgeous. And the reality is that no matter how many new clothes I buy, how much weight I lose or how many cosmetics I buy, I am not. Please do not misunderstand. I am not being falsely modest or lacking in self esteem. I can certainly dress myself up and look perfectly presentable to the world. The thought that made me cry this morning, is that my Father sees deep into my heart. And in there, things are so not pretty.

So why does He love me? Why does He even bother to turn my way? I truly have no clue. The truth I want to hang onto today is – He does. He does love me. He does turn to me.

And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.
I John 4:16a (NIV)

He loves me. He really, really loves me. The Creator of the universe, who made beautiful leaves which change color in the fall, loves me. This is a truth that can change my life. It can change my heart. It can change the way I treat others each day. Rude driver cuts me off – no problem, He loves me. Angry family member – no problem, He loves me. Others making decisions around me which highly impact my life, but over which I have zero control – no problem, He loves me. Concerned about the stock market or the future of our country – no problem, He loves me. If I truly understand the truth that the God who paints beautiful leaves in my backyard also loves me completely, it will change the way I live my daily life. I think that is what John was talking about when he said we know and rely on the love God has for us.

So where is your heart today? Many of you are facing obstacles and challenges that far surpass rude drivers and market volatility. Do you know that the Creator who paints the leaves loves you completely? If you do not, please ask Him to show you. If you maybe had just forgotten in the craziness that is life in the 21st century, please stop for a moment and remember. For today, know and rely on the love He has for you.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

I Do it Myself

Children come with different personalities. Having three of them, Rob and I have had the opportunity to see many varied facets of humanity. One thread seemed to run common in all of our children though. While some children seem to be easily corrected, falling into quick submission with the least word or glance, ours seemed to have a very different view of reality. Not one of ours responded quickly or easily to correction. The slight glances of disapproval that would send other children into tears did not faze our brood. They were an independent, strong willed bunch. By the time they had reached the age of two, frequent cries rang through the house of “I do it myself!” Independence was the watchword for our children.

While this theme was especially apparent in the preschool years, it continued to persist in their personalities as they grew older with some very interesting results. One particular incident has become one of those family stories we recite repeatedly. David was a young elementary school aged boy when I went to put him to bed one night. He had a lamp right over the head of his bed that he enjoyed using for reading at night. As I turned on the light that particular evening, smoke began pouring out of the socket. Frightened, I grabbed David out of harm’s way and yelled for Rob. Rob was able to stop the smoking before it became a full- fledged fire, but was puzzled as to what the cause was of our obviously damaged lamp. I must admit, I was spooked. This lamp was right over my baby’s head! What if he had turned it on when he was alone? What if it had sparked to a fire burning David and our home to the ground?

I began to notice that David seemed curious, yet not at all frightened by this chain of events. When we began to talk with him, he answered in very calm tones. David explained to us that his light bulb had gone out. In an effort to “recharge” the bulb, he had placed aluminum foil and lemon juice down in the light socket. In typical Dowell child fashion, David had seen the problem and addressed it on his own. No need to ask for help. He had it covered.

Our children were not born with these personalities in a vacuum. It seems as if the blending of Rob’s personality and my personality presents a universal trait of stubborn independence. No need to ask for help. I have got it covered. “I do it myself.”

It was easy to see the danger that had been invited into our home when this child decided, “I do it myself.” But what happens when I make that choice, as an adult, in my own life? For me, this frequently looks like me telling the Father, “No problem. I got this one covered. You are busy running the whole world. Let me take some of the burden off of your shoulders. I can deal with this.” This sounds like the adult solution right? As an American, should I not be all about independence and self-reliance? Isn’t this the mature, adult response to my situation? The reality is, I might as well be two years old, stamping my feet and screaming, “I do it myself.”

What danger does my seeming “independence” bring into my life? The list is limitless. However, the most frequent consequence in my life seems to be a burnout/emotional meltdown because I have taken tasks onto my own shoulders which my Father never meant for me to carry. He is well aware of my limits. He completely understands my lack of knowledge regarding a solution to my difficulties. Ever the gentleman though, he will not steal the burden from my shoulders. He waits for me to decide to lay it down.

Today, I would rather not be a screaming two year old. I want to approach my Father and ask Him to show me what burdens I am struggling with that He never meant for me to carry. I would love to replace the cries in my heart of “I do it myself!” with “Father, carry this for me.”

“Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
Matthew 11:28 (NIV)

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Scared to Sacred

One of our three children had a consistent struggle as a child. This child was scared of almost anything new and different. Though this child has walked away from this particular struggle and is now leading the pack in a life of new and different, during their childhood, this struggle presented quite a problem. Almost every time there was a new school, a new class, a different worker in the nursery or anything out of their everyday routine, fear would quickly set in. Rob and I began to realize what was going on and look for solutions. One of the techniques that was most effective for us was to be able to touch this child when they were faced with a new situation. If we could just keep a hand on them, the fear seemed to calm and it became easier for the child to walk forward into the unknown.
As an adult, one of the ways I have learned to process my emotions is by writing things down on paper. I do not understand how it works, but when I place my thoughts on paper, things will often become easier for me to understand. Things sometimes appear on the page that I did not even know were in my mind or heart. Writing has also become an easy way for me to talk to the Father about what is going on in my life. As He listens and I process, He often shows me truth I have been unable to see.
As I was recently writing to process several circumstances that had arisen in our lives, my emotions began to flow, as they often do. True confession – I am a major sappy crier. As I wrote, the truth came up in my heart, “I am scared.” When I went to write the word “scared” however, I suddenly blanked on how to spell it. Am I the only one who does this? One minute I am a cognizant, literate adult, the next minute, I cannot spell scared. As I wrestled in my brain, “Is it scared or sacred?,” I realized it only required the switching of two letters for “scared” to become “sacred.” That is when my precious Father held my hand and began to share truth with me.

1. My emotions are safe with my Father. It is my basic nature, when challenges arrive, to suck it up and push through. I can be very gifted at stuffing my emotions into a place where I feel they will no longer bother me or be a distraction to me or those around me. After all, there are mountains to climb, battles to fight – right? However, for me, eventually, my walls will crumble and the emotions will roll in like an ocean wave in advance of a Florida hurricane. All the while, my Father patiently waits until I am able to bring my emotions to Him. When I choose to do so, He is a completely safe place, no matter how violent the anger, how intense the fear, how deep or desperate the grief.

The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and His ears are attentive to their cry; Psalm 34:15 (NIV)

2. When I come to a place of sharing my emotions with Him, I can choose to let go of them and hold His hand. At the point I choose to pour out my heart to the Father, there is rarely an immediate solution to whatever brought me to His feet. However, I can often feel an exchange of anger, fear or grief for peace. Something about choosing to share my emotions with the Father, allows me to also begin to let go of them. Just as we learned that a hand on our child’s shoulder could help them navigate through their fear, something about spilling out my emotions allows me to leave some of them with Him, in exchange for feeling His hand on my shoulder. Please do not mistake this for a Pollyanna response indicating I walk away from my time with the Father completely free of anger, fear and grief. When we placed our hand on our child’s shoulder, there was not an instant resolution for them. They simply had more strength to address their situation. As do I.

I will give thanks, for you answered me; you have become my salvation. Psalm 118:21 (NIV)

3. Life will give me plenty of opportunities to practice these lessons. A danger spot for me will be when I stand amazed at how these things could happen to me or those I care about. Though the Father is perfectly capable of handling all my whys, I have to move through those questions to a place of trust in Him. Life is very hard some days. Being in relationship with God makes me His child; it does not exempt me from trials. If I begin to take the attitude that since I love God, these circumstances should not be floating my direction, I will end up in a bitter and confused place.

He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. Matthew 5:45 (NIV)

Today, I want to be a woman who is switching letters. I want to meet with my Father, entrust my emotions to Him and walk away from the scared to the sacred. With His hand on me, I am truly able to face every situation.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Can the Floor Open Up and Swallow Me Now?

With boys who were seven and ten years older, we quickly began to observe a frequently repeated comment when we took our new baby girl and her brothers out into public. People would lean down to see the baby, dressed from head to toe in pink, and coo over her. They would then look at our two elementary age sons and a comment began resonating from their lips much more often than I liked. “Oh, how wonderful for you. You FINALLY got your girl.” Much to my frustration, few seemed to think about the impact this statement might have on our two young sons. One night, I decided to address the issue at the dinner table. With the boys in our presence, I shared with Rob how once again, someone had given us the “finally” statement when we had been out that day. “Do these people really believe we spent the past ten years having no life, just waiting for Libby to be born?” My question was meant as much for the boys to hear as for Rob to answer. I went on to express my concern with a brilliant statement. “The next time someone says that to me, I think I am just going to smack them.”
Within the week, I took the boys to an appointment with a new dentist. The hygienist came out to graciously greet our family. Sure enough, she bent over the stroller, cooed over Libby, looked me straight in the face and said, “Well, you finally got your girl.” Immediately, Mark began pulling on my arm. Before I could address him, he spoke in a clear voice, “Mom, didn’t you say you were going to smack the next person that said that?” As you can imagine, there was nothing for me to do but smile and wish the floor would open up to swallow me.
So this is the story of the one time in my life my child/children completely embarrassed me – NOT. As you can imagine, as you have probably personally experienced, something about being a mom just lends itself to having “will the floor please swallow me up now?” incidents. So, what is really going on when these things happen?
Sometimes, I was not careful with the words that came out of my mouth, especially in my home. At times, my children had just not yet developed the maturity to understand that not everything said in the home demands a repeat presentation in the marketplace of life. Yet some of the time, there was a larger issue going on, one that has had to be continually addressed in my life.
You see, I had chosen to dress myself in a non-visual, yet very real to me, coat. This coat was extremely heavy, unattractive and often just plain stinky. This coat not only impacted my life, but has been at times, a terrible drain on my children, much like an over-burdened, over-heated mom can be to a family. The coat I am describing was one of letting my children’s successes and failures become my resume/report card. When my children were successful (whatever that means), I was a good mom. Not just a good mom, a good person, feeling like I was on top of the world. When my children struggled and had failures, I was a bad mom, beating myself up, overanalyzing every decision I had made/was making with them, depressed and miserable to be around.
It is an easy trap to fall into as a mom. We love our children. We want the best for them. We know we have a huge impact on their lives, especially when they are little. The following logical application seemed to be for me, if they do well, I have done well. If they struggle and fail, I have screwed up.
God has graciously pointed out to me, over the years, the utter failure in such “logic.” He describes himself, over and over again in the Bible, as a parent to us.
“I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” 2 Corinthians 6:18 (NIV)
He tells us how His ways are perfect.
As for God, His way is perfect. Psalm 18:30a (NIV)
Yet, you also see God hurting over the mistakes of His children.
“My heart churns within me; my sympathy is stirred.” Hosea 11:8c (NKJV)
You see, in spite of God’s being a perfect parent, His outcome is not perfect children. I only need to look in the mirror to understand that particular truth. Why then, was I expecting superior results from my own flawed parenting?
This week, I had the privilege to share this truth with some mothers of preschoolers. I wish I could say God allows me that opportunity because I have carefully learned this truth and consistently now apply it in my daily life. Unfortunately, I seem to be in the position of repeatedly being able to share this truth because it is something I struggle with so mightily. The reality is I am not a perfect parent. And the coat of my children’s outcomes being my resume is too extraordinarily heavy for either me or my children to bear. We all need the freedom to learn and grow without anyone’s resume depending on the outcome.
The moments I want the floor to open up and swallow me because of my children are now very rare. Probably, the shoe has passed to their feet, especially for a teenage daughter with a so not cool mom. Hopefully, God is starting to write His truth on my heart. I am not a perfect parent. He is. I have not turned out perfectly. They have not turned out perfectly. Yet just as I love them, He loves me. Even if He does still want the floor to open up some days.

Friday, July 11, 2008

In Fashion

When Mark was a baby, he loved to crawl. In fact, Mark loved crawling so much that he was not at all interested in learning to walk. He was a big guy, fast on his knees, and chose not to walk until he was seventeen months old. With a three year old big brother he wanted to follow everywhere, this presented some interesting dilemmas. We soon realized Mark was so eager to keep up with the older children that he would follow them down the concrete driveway oblivious to the fact that his knees were bleeding. With the warm weather of Florida, David and the neighborhood children were outside much of the day. Mark was anxious to tag along.
Our solution to this dilemma was functional, but not very pretty. It was too hot for the boy to wear long pants, so we took some of Rob’s knee high athletic socks and used suspenders to hold them in place. Mark crawled on, happy to be able to keep up and mom and dad content to see his knees no longer bleeding, but he was quite a sight. He was a fashion blunder waiting to be rescued by the latest cable show.
So now you know our son was a functional fashion disaster as a toddler, due to his parents. However, lately I have been thinking of different fashions. What am I clothing myself in each day?
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Colossians 3:12 (NIV)
Wow, what a list! Humility? Gentleness? Are these even in my closet? Often, I would believe falsely that these are not options for me. Random erroneous thoughts come to me like “just not my personality.” However, that is not the whole truth.
My Father has well outfitted my closet. He has made me holy – still a mind boggling concept for me, but a true one, none the less. He has filled my closet with everything I need to wear each day – including compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. My choice each day is whether or not I want to clothe myself in these things.
Mark’s fashion disaster was a functional one which still brings laughs and fond memories for our family. My life, however, can become a fashion disaster when I choose not to clothe myself in the beautiful things my Father has given me to wear. There will be nothing funny or fond about it, when I choose to ignore the clothes/qualities my Father desires that I wear. Today, I want to go out looking good by choosing the clothes the Father has laid out for me. His fashion sense is always in style.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

An Anchor

As a teenage girl, I experientially learned a painful, but profound truth. Life can change in a moment.


When my only sibling, my fifteen year old younger brother, died suddenly and unexpectedly three days before Christmas, I was thrown into a world with a depth of pain I had not imagined possible.

Except for the loss of a dearly loved uncle, my childhood had been relatively pain free. When this tragedy came blaring into our lives, seemingly out of nowhere, it felt to me like one must feel when suddenly overtaken on a quiet dark road by a speeding semi-truck. You are suddenly flattened, left without air in your lungs, terrified, stunned and generally lost.

Obviously, I was not the only one affected by these events. My parents were attending a Sunday School class party when the news came that turned their world upside down. Our extended family changed their plans from Christmas dinners to receiving food from grieving friends wanting to give us comfort. For my aunt and her family, Christmas dinner became hot dogs in the Atlanta airport as they traveled home from the funeral. Both my brother’s junior high and my high school had to cancel some semester exams the next day when students became too distraught to test after hearing the news and looking at their classmate’s empty seat. My pastor, a strong and godly man, spoke words of comfort at my brother’s funeral, but only after privately confessing his feelings of total inadequacy in light of such stark tragedy.

All in a moment.

Where is the hope in this story? Where do we turn in the hour of our greatest need, our darkest pain? If we can not know from one moment to the next whether or not everything in our lives will be turned upside down, how do we get out of bed each morning? The only answer I have found is in the Bible.

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.
Hebrews 6:19 (NIV)

Anchors were only pictures in a book to me until Rob was assigned to a ship as the assistant supply officer. Watching the large ships of the United States naval fleet as a young bride, I was amazed at the size and scope of the anchors. These mammoth shapes of metal were accompanied by large, long chains which allowed them to drop to the bottom of the ocean floor. When the chains began to creak as they dropped, you knew the ship they were tied to was going nowhere. The ship would remain steady no matter how the sea rolled against it.

The book of Hebrews gives me words which I can use as a secure anchor for my soul as the seas roll in my life. These words give me a place to find hope. Chapter 2 tells me that Jesus tasted death for me and is not ashamed to call me brother. It says that He shared in my humanity so He could destroy the one “who holds the power of death – that is the devil.” (Hebrews 2:14b – NIV) In chapter 6, we who are in relationship with Jesus through His death on the cross are called heirs. We are called those “who have fled to take hold of the hope offered.” (Hebrews 6:18 – NIV) What is that hope? That we are part of God’s family. Forgiven. Heirs. Brothers and Sisters.

The reality I learned as a teenager is that I truly have no clue what the next twenty four hours hold for me or for those I love. I can dream, plan, anticipate, but I will never be able to anchor my life to anything in the future. Life can change in a moment.

The only anchor for my soul, the only secure resting place is with the hope I have in Jesus Christ. He has secured my spot in the family. My long term destiny is clear, though what happens in this life may be foggy. Thankfully, very few days in my life have been like that life changing December day in my teens. So many days have been happy and calm. My hope is not in future days of calm though, my hope is in God. He is my firm anchor of delivery for whatever happens . . . . . . in a moment.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Missing Beth

Recently we had some precious friends from Orlando come to visit us and see Washington, D.C. It was a treat for me as playing tourist in our nation's capitol is one of my favorite things to do. We took off for the week visiting the museums, the monuments, the Capitol and the White House. We were having a grand old time playing in the city as she showed off for us all decked out in her annual pink necklace of cherry blossoms.

On Saturday afternoon, one of our friends had to head back to Orlando, so after we put her on the train, we went to see the Washington monument. The view was spectacular walking in a short circle to see the Lincoln Memorial, the reflecting pool, the White House and the Capitol. We sat and marveled at how good God had been to give us such a wonderful week.
The next Tuesday morning, I sat in bible study listening to everyone sharing their prayer requests. One lady mentioned that she had a special praise. On Saturday, she had taken visiting family down to the district to see the sites. When they stopped in front of the Capitol, who did they see but Beth Moore filming on the steps of the Capitol. My friend continued telling of how they got to meet Beth, how she was just as precious in person as she is on her DVDs and what a special day it was for their family.

While this story was being shared, I sat with my mouth hanging open. It has been my privilege to study several of Beth Moore's DVD series. Each time, Beth has a way of presenting the material so that you feel you are sharing God's word over a cup of coffee with her. Consequently, I kind of consider Beth on my list of BFF's, even though we have never met. So, what was up with me standing and gazing from the Washington Monument at the Capitol while Beth is standing on the steps of the Capitol and never knowing she was there? After all the warm mugs we have shared together over God's word, shouldn't I have realized she was in town? Unbelievable.

Hopefully, you are grinning about how silly I am to get worked up over missing someone who has never even met me. I know I will get to hug Beth's neck in heaven and thank her for giving of herself to write and teach Bible studies that have drawn me closer to the Father. Meeting Beth on this side of eternity would be a treat, but it is not in any way essential. There is, however, a meeting I can not miss - my meeting with Jesus.

Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits-
who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases,
who ransoms your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.
Psalm 103: 2-5

I must have my sins forgiven. I need my diseases (selfishness, a critical spirit, being judgemental and on and on) healed. I want a life that is ransomed from the pit. And oh how sweet when He satisfies my desires with good things and renews my youth (a benefit which looks better every year!) like the eagle's.

Recently, a precious friend shared with us how God has changed her focus in the intense struggle she has been walking through. Some days, she shared with us, all she can say is "At least I am not going to hell." Though initially this may seem like a very morbid statement, its truth is exactly how Jesus instructed His disciples. When they had returned from missions He had sent them out on, they were rejoicing over all they had accomplished through His power. Look at Jesus' words to them:

"I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven."
Luke 10:19-20

This is where my heart wants to rest today. "Rejoice that your names are written in heaven." I may have missed Beth, but praise God . . . . . . I did not miss Jesus.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Puffed Up

Have you ever seen the defense mechanisms of a puffer fish at work? When perceiving danger, the puffer fish has the ability to fill its very elastic stomach up with large volumes of water (or air) and bloat itself to several times larger than its normal size. Many species of puffer fish also have quills or spines which become more pronounced upon inflation. Their sudden bloating and resulting exposed spines frequently drive away potential predators in fear.

Lately, I have been noticing behavior in myself akin to a puffer fish. Maybe I am noticing because my gracious Father has been turning my eyes that way. When something does not go my way or I feel mistreated, especially with family members, I begin sucking air in and blowing up my body. Out come quills all over me ready to strike at any perceived danger or offense. As the air continues to bloat my little puffer fish-like body, so my attitude grows larger and larger, more and more distasteful.

Please understand the perceived danger in my life does not involve physical violence or vulgar, abusive words. My perceived dangers look a little more like this:

“Well, if he expects me to ___________ (fill in the blank with any number of ideas), he’s got another think coming!”
“So help me, if I have to tell that child one more time to _________”
“Does he ever think about how this might impact me ?!?!?”

Slowly but surely, I mentally become the “offended” rehearsing over in my mind the “offense.” Needless to say, my countenance, my thoughts and my attitude quickly sour as this thinking inflates inside of me. Depending upon my mood at the time, I can choose to use my drama queen tendencies to either cover the bloating inside of me or exaggerate it to be sure my offender is aware of their crime. Pretty picture, huh?

Two competing ideas seem to arise while I am bloated. My own self, along with the whispers of voices of evil which desire only my self destruction, instruct me to balance the scales of injustice by dealing with the offense. Self and evil advise me to dwell on the offense by turning it over and over in my mind. They encourage me to devise a plan of action for educating the offender of his or her mistake. All of these mental gyrations allow the nasty air to swirl around inside and keep me bloated.

The Father has been showing me I have some other options in these situations. He gently reminds me, despite my protests, that I do have choices in these matters. His ideas are starkly different from those of self and evil.

Let it go.
Consider that your “offender” may have meant no offense.
Let it go.
Is this really worth your mental energy?
Let it go.
Will you even remember this one week from now?
Let it go.

The “Let it go” mindset is glaringly unpopular in our world today. “Stand up for your self,” “You have to make them understand,” “You can not just let them walk on you.” These are much more popular concepts. For me, these ideas are not particularly helpful. They allow me to justify the very thoughts and attitudes which keep me bloated. I hate being bloated.

Making the choice to let go gives me much more power and control. These are two of my strongest cravings which this time can work for my good. When I let go, I can feel the air beginning to leave. As the sour air seeps out, I slowly deflate. This deflation relieves my bloating. My mind comes back under control. Peace floods in.

I know many of you are probably climbing on your soapboxes of concern to remind me that I need to have a voice, my family needs to understand how their actions impact me and discipline and boundaries are essential in the home. Truly, I hear you. But here are my personal truths. I have wasted too much energy in my own life being puffed up about things that did not really matter anyway. Too much of my time and thoughts have gone towards anger at the very people I actually love more than any others on this earth, often when they had do clue what they had done. These are personal truths that propel me to change.

I can feel my Father smile and whisper His approval at my decision to choose to let it go. He has watched as I built my own chains of bondage through the years around my bloated self. This is not His desire for me. He is a lover of freedom.
Today I want to remember the little puffer fish. I want to understand how easily my mind blows up with sour air. I want to stay deflated. I want to choose to let it go.

"Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up."
1 Corinthians 8:1b (NIV)

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Homecoming

During the first year of our marriage, Rob was assigned to a naval ship based in Jacksonville, Florida. I enrolled at the University of North Florida while Rob began the long hours of a shipboard officer. Two days after our first anniversary, we kissed goodbye as Rob boarded the ship for a six month deployment. As a twenty-one year old newlywed who was crazy in love, the months loomed seemingly endlessly before me. These were the days before cell phones and emails. I could look forward to receiving a letter, usually one to two weeks old when it arrived, or an occasional phone call when the ship made port. Rob’s particular vessel had few breakdowns that deployment which meant very few ports of call. It was not unusual to go two months without hearing his voice.
Needless to say, when it came time for the ship to come home, families were ecstatic. As young wives, my friends and I worked on losing those last couple of pounds (those were the days!), shopping for a new outfit for the big day and buying every conceivable food and beverage we thought our sweeties would enjoy. The house was scrubbed from top to bottom, I had my hair cut and nails polished, made welcome home signs and spent a sleepless night waiting for the morning to arrive. At last, the big day was here.
As we crowded around the pier, someone spotted the ship crossing the horizon. Slowly the ship came into view with the crew lined up on deck in their best uniforms. It was a sight to behold. My eyes continued to search though. For there was only one sight I wanted to see – Ensign Robert C. Dowell. Homecoming is a wonderful time.
Flash forward over twenty years. Rob was deployed to Bosnia for eight months. Everything was very different. We were able to talk on the phone once a week. We exchanged emails every day. The ensign had become a commander. The newlyweds had become parents. Some of our offspring were even taller than either one of us. There were three more hearts very much involved in this difficult process called separation. Each of them handled the deployment differently, but all sorely missed this man who was and is a rock in their lives.
As homecoming time draws near, some of the same rituals appear. New clothes, cleaning the house, laying in the food are all repeated much as they were in those early years, just on a larger scale. This time the scene is an airport. There are four of us, scanning the horizon, waiting for his face. But the tears and the joy are very much the same.
So why are my thoughts reminiscing this Easter about these special days? Our homecomings so remind me of another, a concept which simply blows my mind. Sure, it makes sense that a young newlywed would excitedly prepare for her husband’s return or that children of a beloved father would anxiously watch for their father, but the Creator of the universe looking for me?

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”
Luke 15:20b (NIV)

Seriously, Jesus is laying in the groceries for me? Cleaning the house for me?

“In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”
John 14:2-3 (NIV)

Amazing. But how do I find my way home? How do I know He is preparing this place for me?

“You know the way to the place I am going.”
Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
John 14:4-6 (NIV)

To paraphrase Charles Schulz, that’s what Easter is all about, Charlie Brown. Jesus came, died to pay the debt for my sins, so I could be in a personal relationship with Him. When I accept Him as the way, turn my life over to Him in exchange for wiping my dirty slate clean (repeatedly), He starts preparing for my homecoming. Cleaning the house, laying in the food. I have beautiful memories of very special homecomings. Days are locked in my memory that mean more to me than I can adequately express in words. I still tear up over almost every military homecoming I see in the news. Here is what boggles my mind. Quite frankly, I have not seen anything . . . . . . . yet.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Humility is:
-dying to self
-living a life like Christ
-giving up "my rights"
-giving up control
-giving up protecting myself and those I love through my control
-trusting God
-being obedient
-in the small things
-will show itself glaringly (either present or lack thereof) in my relationship with my spouse and children
-making myself nothing
-starts in the heart; translates to the mind (attitude)
-letting someone else be first
-the opposite of self focus
-foot washin'

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing taking the very nature of a servant being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man He humbled himself and became obedient to death - even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.
Philippians 2:5-11

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Invitation

Okay, so here is my dream . . . .

I go to the mailbox one day to find a beautifully engraved invitation. Yes, it is finally here. Someone at last informed George and Laura that Rob and I, like they, are Southerners transplanted into the crazy world that is greater Washington, D.C. Naturally, they decide they simply must have us over for dinner.
After calling Rob and screaming my excitement in the phone, I quickly RSVP a “yes” to the White House invitation. I clear my calendar to open up room for a hair appointment, a manicure, a pedicure, and shopping time with a girlfriend to find the perfect dress, shoes, jewelry, etc.
On the big day, I spend hours primping and preparing. My appointments and shopping all behind me, my head filled with the latest news talking points (“So, Mr. President, how will NATO deal with those protestors in Belgrade?”), Rob and I head off to the White House. After clearing security, we finally enter the doors of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. How do I feel at this particular moment? I am a nervous wreck.
At this stage in my life there is probably not enough preparation, money or coaching to have me mentally approach a visit to the White House without nerves. Will I look okay? Will I say the right thing? Will I fall on my face? Questions of insecurity would pummel my brain.
Yet, almost everyday, in some form or fashion – long or short, drop-in or sit down chat – I walk into the throne room of almighty God. The Sovereign Creator of the universe. The Alpha and the Omega. The Great I Am.
How do I dress for this auspicious occasion? Seriously, you would not want to see me. Usually, no makeup, frequently sweaty in my old t-shirt and shorts I wear to ride my stationary bike, sometimes even pajamas. Very often, I have not had my shower, combed my hair or even brushed my teeth. Yuck. Sometimes I might be cleaned, dressed and made up, but I buzz in and out of the throne room in thirty seconds or less. Zoom in the door, speak and take off again.
My security clearance for these meetings? No problem, I just buzz right in the door. Through a process which is at the same time simple and yet far beyond my understanding, the guards immediately see I am one of the family, covered in Jesus blood. I am ushered into the presence of the Master of the universe.
So what’s the difference? Why am I a nervous wreck over even an imaginary White House invitation, but do not hesitate to sail into the throne room of God? The answer lies partially in the limitations of my own mind. I probably will not in this lifetime completely comprehend what it means when I – yes, sinful, messed up, broken me- walk into God’s throne room. The Bible says even angels long to look into these things. How in the world did I end up with access to God’s throne? It is so simple, yet so profound. Jesus gave His blood to be my “fast pass” through security. When I turned my life over to Him, I became one of the family. I simply said yes to an invitation that is open to each and every one of us.
The other part of the answer involves my heart. Somewhere, deep inside, Jesus finally seems to be reaching the little girl in me. He whispers to her of perfect love. He lets her heart know she is completely safe, completely welcomed and completely loved. He tells her of how she is His princess. The little girl in me buys into His words one hundred percent. Jesus is so convincing, so alluring, and so safe. The grown woman my struggle with fears, doubts and insecurities, but the little girl waltzes into the throne room, showing her daddy how she can twirl in her skirt - or her p.j.’s or even her sweaty shorts.
So for today, I want to think on these things. If I would be nervous about a White House visit, how amazing is it that I get into the ultimate executive mansion anytime I want? The ruler of the world invites me in with no hair appointment, no manicure, and no pedicure. He just issues an invitation.
”Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence. “
Hebrews 4:16a (NIV)