A Place to Practice

I remember when I was in my teen years, sitting in church, and feeling great discomfort as the pastor asked if anyone wanted to give their “testimony”.  I should have a testimony, I thought. Other people have testimonies, and they sound so glowing and spiritual. I would scramble to think of something to say and hope that the time allotted would be done before I got myself together to volunteer.  And then I wouldn’t think about it again, until the next uncomfortable time, when I would also not be ready again. So went my first uncomfortable church experiences.

Since then, I am happy to report, I’ve discovered a new way to deal with discomfort in church (other than staying away from church – not the best solution). This is partly due to training I’ve had in Bible Study Fellowship, where they taught me to think about my own spiritual experiences, beliefs, and even feelings ahead of time.  We have a somewhat “churchy” language when we call it a testimony, but it really is an explanation of what I experience, believe and feel about my relationship with God.  And how odd was it that I had never realized I could think about those things ahead of time?

 The last two weeks in church, the pastor has offered an opportunity to practice being vocal about our relationship with God.  Last week he asked for examples of God’s faithfulness during the week. This week he asked what thanks we had for God.  Such general questions are great nudges for us to practice speaking about things that are important to us. Church gives us opportunities and a safe place to practice in order that we grow and improve. Speaking these things gets easier the more we do it.

In this day of TED talks and podcasts, people are all over the place, talking about what is important to them. Not everyone is meant to be a public speaker, but it looks to me like God gave most of us mouths and the ability to speak. He is faithful to us, blesses us with things to be thankful for. Every week he makes it possible for us to be back in church in front of a friendly, compassionate audience of friends and neighbors. I should be the first on my feet. That’s why I am.

Being first up is my philosophy of the last few years. It really cuts down on anxiety, vacillating on whether to speak or not, those moments of racing pulse and stage fright. I don’t always know exactly what I’m going to say, and sometimes I say something a bit strange and wish I’d said it differently. But overall, the practice has been worth it.  The Bible says that when we are brought before authorities to answer for our faith, that God will give us words to say. Somehow, I don’t think it’s saying that should be the first time we’ve ever opened our mouths.

I’m just sayin’ this because I know others have this same discomfort at times and I want to encourage, if this is you. Think of something to thank God for each day, and be ready to say it.  It’s really that easy.

The Grocery Walk

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One of the nicest things about living in a small town is how close I am to almost any kind of service I need or want. In the few months I have lived here I have thought on this many times. Take today, for instance. And honestly, you could take today, because it was almost a waste for me, due to a headache that hijacked my afternoon. If it had not been for my evening grocery walk, I wouldn’t have much good to say about this Monday.

I emerged from “headache fog” late in the day to be reminded by the husband that we had no milk. I thought of a few other things that should be on the list and decided to go shopping after supper. Walmart is literally in our backyard, and a second grocery store is about a half mile away, so I took my back pack and walked in search of food.

The store farthest away had one of the items I most wanted to get, so I went there first. The cool air and the act of moving myself rhythmically felt very restoring. It reminded me of the “contemplative walking” I had heard about in doing research for my upcoming Grand Canyon hike. Walking does give me time to think, and thinking makes the distance go so fast. There is also the benefit that I see things with time to look at them, unlike when I’m driving past.

I walked past Lake Hayward where a pair of Canadian geese were already looking for a nesting spot on the small area of open water.  The sidewalks and roadsides were covered with dirt left by the melting snowbanks. I passed numerous office buildings, my favorite clothing store, and Dairy Queen.  I wondered if an ice cream would be good for someone who had just had a headache for hours…

It didn’t take long to make my purchases at Marketplace and load up the coleslaw dressing, the organic bananas and the oatmeal in the backpack. It is a good thing that I’m carrying some weight on my walks because I’m supposed to be training that way – again for the Grand Canyon hike.  (Can you tell that I’m getting a little obsessed with this hike? It’s a bucket list item and I want to do it right.)

Passing Dairy Queen again, I decided to check the DQ app on my phone and, sure enough, I had a coupon for a $.50 cone.  I was feeling kind of guilty for not having change with me and having to use a credit card for that small amount, when I checked in my pocket and realized the credit card was no longer there.  By now I should realize that when I pull one thing out of my pocket, the phone, more than one thing sometimes comes out – it’s not the first time this has happened to me.  I knew it had to be a few yards back, on the sidewalk, but even so I was surprised to find it.  It’s a strange feeling to see something you normally guard with your life, glinting in the sun in the distance on the dirty sidewalk.

I thank God, I did get my $.50 ice cream cone and it was good.

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The last stop, Walmart, added milk, celery, and raspberries to my pack. A short distance later I was home again.

Why am I writing about this? Because it amazes me and makes me feel noticed when God allows a simple thing to come along and brighten my attitude.  Often, he uses a change of scenery, getting outdoors and doing something active to restore and help me feel better when I’ve felt miserable.  There will always be times in my average life that are not so great, but God balances them and somehow leaves me feeling blessed and aware of his kindness towards me. It doesn’t take much.

Not Tired of Winter (yet)

Not really tired, no. It’s still fascinating that snow comes in so many forms. Last week it came with wind, and was in fine, round particles that stung when they hit my face. A couple of days later it fell straight down out of the sky, so slowly you could watch a single snowflake on its way.

The snow on the ground this morning is definitely flaky, intricate, lightly and loosely stacked, and reflecting the bright sunlight. Beautiful.

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This beauty and variety is stunning, and straight from the creative genius of God. He allows me to observe it scientifically with my mind, that he also created. He allows me to enjoy it with senses that he created.  That is a large part of why I am not yet tired of winter.  I’m actually thankful for it.

Things to wonder at are everywhere outside.

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I could not begin to pile snow 3 feet high on a table and have it be done so neatly. Notice the line showing two snowfalls.

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It’s just a bush, with an artistic hole in the center. But how curious?

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Bedtime Thoughts: God

What does a spirit look like when you finally see it? I don’t know. But I think about it a lot, usually at night before I fall asleep.  Maybe it will be strange and scary to see God. He must have thought so because there were times he told people not to look.

But when I say “I’m putting something in God’s hands”, I’m not thinking of a scary God. I’m thinking of Jesus – God, who gave up being whatever unusual, powerful, and possibly scary thing he was and became like a man forever.

Jesus had hands. He could hold things.

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A Song of Intent

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Song 1

A song by Shirley when things weren’t going well with the sale of their house.

In the style of David

 

My hopes were high.

 I have waited for your help,

asking over and over for you to finish what you have started with me.

One minute I was excited and feeling like you had blessed me,

and the next minute unexpected circumstances dashed my hope.

It looked like you had been toying with me.

It looked to some like I was foolish to depend on your goodness.

Why would God care about the sale of a house in Florida?

I would be wiser to acknowledge “chance”

or ask “the universe” to work things out.

 

But today, the sun slowly appeared on the horizon.

That sunrise!

Light shot straight up into the clouds and turned so many beautiful colors.

The clouds filling the skies glowed rose gold one minute and royal purple the next,

going through their changes like a kaleidoscope.

Even as I looked to every corner of the heavens,

 my eyes were drawn back to the center of light,

that blazing circle of fire.

As you have promised, it is there every morning

to remind me of your faithfulness, your creative power,

 your intent to make a world perfectly designed for me.

You even took care to make it beautiful as well as functional.

 

As you are faithful in these large things,

I will trust you with my own small concerns.

I will acknowledge your demonstrations of love and care.

I will wait for what comes next with interest.

There is no one who cares for me better than you.

My Uncomfortable Life (and how God uses it)

I love to play the piano.

I am not a virtuoso, but I have played enough over the years, that I can relax and enjoy expressing myself through music.  I’ve played hymns in churches most of my life, and always offer to do so when I move to someplace new.

And so it happened that I offered to play for the church that I am attending here, “up north”. and am collecting quite a collection of piano stories with a common theme. Embarrassment.  It’s got me thinking.  But, as always, what I let myself think is important. Humility and embarrassment are related, but not quite the same and that is where the importance starts.

This morning I arrived early enough for church that I could make sure the electronic instrument, a clavinova, was plugged in, turned on and sounded appropriate for the small early service. I only had to play for the communion portion of the service – one hymn.  All was set.  The service went well, the message was moving and the invitation was given for communion. To my surprise, when I started to play there was a pop drum beat and a very weird bass thing going on with my reverent, calm hymn.

I hunted for any button on the control board that had STOP written on it, and tried several times to make the hymn sound like a hymn, but no. What finally came out of the machine was barely recognizable and was probably more distracting than having no music at all.  Stuff like this is a musician’s nightmare.

This particular service is early, 8 am, and has small attendance, so the music crew does not do a lot of practice for it.  Other times when I’ve participated, I have played the wrong song at the right time, played the right song at the wrong time, and played when I was not supposed to play at all.  I suppose the regular attendees are getting kind of used to me and my uncomfortable adventures.

I am filled with mixed emotions. Why do these things keep happening? It always takes a bit of courage to put myself in a place of service to others where what I do is noticeable if I do it poorly. I am aware that music sets the mood and can influence people. I desperately (yes, desperately!) want to not distract people from their worship, or make them uncomfortable because they are worried about me.

On the other hand, I realize that music is not what it’s all about.  Worship is not about me at all and how I respond when things go poorly is what God is probably watching. What does my embarrassment lead to? What discouraging messages am I giving myself about my performance, my usefulness? Will I be intimidated and unwilling to serve again? Those would not be good choices. However, I have to consider that God might be telling me that my time playing for church is finished.  Maybe I am to move on to something else, and it would be okay.  It has to be okay. Kind of makes me look at my pride issues and wonder what God wants to teach me next.  That is always a good thing.

This morning, the pastor asked me what I was going to write about next.  I had no idea then, but God inspires in strange ways and look what happens. Just sayin’…

 

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Bottom line – I can always make music in my heart, and maybe that’s the best place for it…

I Sang in a Chorale

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I am small, but I am there. Second row from the top, just to the right of the soloist’s head.

It’s the kind of song that sticks in my head once I start singing it, so much so, that it’s in the background as I fall asleep at night, and it’s still there when I wake up.  It was complicated to learn, but after much repetition, I’ve fallen in love with it.  It’s a chorale experience I won’t forget. The last performance was this afternoon and I’m sad because I don’t want the song to go away. I guess it’s one that’s been around for a while but this was my first meeting with it.

How Can I Keep From Singing?

My life flows on in endless song above Earth’s lamentation.

I hear the real though far off hymn that hails a new creation.

Through all the tumult and the strife I hear its music ringing.

It sounds an echo in my soul. How can I keep from singing?

 

No storm can shake my inmost calm, while to that Rock I’m clinging.

Since Love is lord of heav’n and earth, how can I keep from singing?

 

Although the tempest round me roars, I hear the truth. It liveth,

And though the darkness round me close, songs in the night it giveth.

 

My life flows on in endless song above Earth’s lamentation.

I hear the real though far off hymn that hails a new creation.

No storm can shake my inmost calm, while to that Rock I’m clinging.

Since Love is lord of heav’n and earth, how can I keep from singing?

 

Singing these words, I realize how closely they express my feelings about life’s storms, about truth, about hope for the future. I do hear that “far off hymn” that says everything is going to be made new and good. I don’t believe that we are going to figure out how to do it ourselves. Don’t get me wrong – I am amazed at what we have discovered, what we can do, what we call science. But amazing as it is, the things we discover always seem to end in a question, not an answer.  We discover things that have already been put in place. Science doesn’t tell me who put things in place. My faith tells me that.

God can be mysterious, hard to understand, and his sense of timing can be annoying to me because I am a limited, fairly clueless being when it comes to knowing what time is really right.  But I am won over, just by looking at the choices in front of me. I choose God because he is a communicator – through what he’s created, the historical record of what he’s done, and the experiences he takes me through. He is all about communication when I see it for what it is.

That’s a good question – how can I keep from singing? It’s very much like the question “how can I keep from writing?” I can’t, at least not for long.  I have to respond in hope to the future as God lays it out, as he promises. My everyday life goes down in writing in these posts, mostly because of this hope. I am loved, relevant, made on purpose and designed to know God and love him back. Like a witness in a courtroom, I tell my story, usually in 600 words at a time, right here. I can’t help it.

He who was on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”  The Revelation from Jesus Christ to John, chapter 21, verse 5.

 

 

The Last Day of May

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This last day  of May 2018 – the perfect morning to sit with my cup of coffee and my book. At this time of year the sun in the east finds a break in the wall of trees between us. It shines through the translucent blades of grass, lighting them up. It shines through my dusty windows, to the floor and back up into my eyes. The husband thinks it’s too bright and shuts the blinds. But what on earth is light? Why can’t I see it, but without it, I can’t see anything else?

It’s a wonderfully quiet time of day. I can hear the cardinals, a mating pair, that live in the backyard. I can hear the refrigerator running and the faint hum of my “device” as I sit and think and type. It’s a wonderfully quiet time of the year, as the number of summer tourists is much less than the number of winter tourists. The traffic problems are lessened, noticeably. It’s the last day of May and I realize that summer is starting and the slower pace and the heat affect everything, in a good way. I find it easier to relax. I have slept well.

I can sit here and think so many different thoughts. Am I hearing all the electrical synapses as they connect and bring up memories, phrases, mental pictures? (I think I can!)

“How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them they would outnumber the grains of sand. When I awake, I am still with you. “

 I don’t want May to end but I don’t know how to hang on to it either. Time is like light, another thing that I can’t quite comprehend. Some people think they know all about light and time, but I don’t believe them. If that were true there would be nothing left for science to explore. We will never have it all down. Light and time are actual creations of someone not like us. Someone “other”.

“Your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”

 It’s not just me. People have been thinking thoughts like this for a very long time.

The Bible, Psalm 139 (My new memorization project)

 

 

A to Z: Selling Our House (Letter M)

We had discovered a big time delay in our schedule when planning the electrical upgrade on the rental house. The electric company (FPL) could not schedule the power cut off until May 7th! The best we could do was to get on a cancellation list. When there’s nothing I can do, I’m pretty good at saying I’m leaving it in God’s hands, it’s his timeline I want to follow.

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A sudden change of plans. This is getting interesting.

 

Suddenly, there’s been a cancellation and the electrical work is getting done this Monday. I’m overwhelmed with the speed at which this house could go on the market, overwhelmed with all that I have yet to do. I’m finding that it actually requires more trust in God’s timing when there are things I can and should do. Will he equip me in necessary ways? Will he bless my time management?

 M for Management

Being a general contractor is a complex job. When a house is being built, it’s not easy to get all the specialists on the site at the right time, with the right supplies and equipment. I think I’m getting a small taste of what that is like as we orchestrate this sale and this move. It’s a little like reverse house building.

Some days I have two or three workmen stopping by either to do work or to look and give proposals. I take them around and go over our lists with them. Sometimes I watch them work, or pitch in and help. Our houses are not brand new. As we “peel off layers” of furniture, dirt, etc… we find new things to fix or clean up. The plumber, bless his heart, has been back three times for small things that have come to light.

It’s almost looking like the rental house could be ready before my own house. I haven’t finished a couple of paint projects on my side, and then there is the packing… The packing, yes. The rental house is empty, our house is definitely not. Realizing that we could actually leave, once the pictures are taken and the house is listed, I am trying to figure out what should be stored long term, and what should be available for our use until we have another house. When should I order the storage container? How long will it take to pack it? Should we leave any furniture in the house? If we pack it all, how will we manage ourselves and for how long? How will all this coincide with the husband’s plans to give notice and stop working?

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Raggedy Ann, which box would you like to rest in? And could you please fix your skirt – there’s a scary clown sitting next to you, Thank you.

Even today, as I struggle to rest and restore, I am trying to figure things out. I am answering calls about the furniture listed on Marketplace. I am thinking about which box to put my daughter’s keepsake Raggedy Ann in. I am wishing I had mowed the lawn yesterday. I am wondering who might want our grandfather clock.  I am thinking, thinking, thinking, and not resting, resting, resting.  I struggle to be still.

Big changes require a lot of physical work and maybe more importantly, for me, a good deal of spiritual work. I am discovering what God’s plan for us is, by seeing what he makes possible. He is an excellent manager and he will thoroughly equip us to do what needs to be done.  I am comforted by that… just sayin’.

What I Read for Encouragement

pexels-photo-247195.jpegI’d like to encourage people today, although I don’t know exactly who or in what way. Does your head hurt? Did you sleep poorly last night? Have you gotten bad news lately? Are you feeling stale? Numb? Anxious? Maybe I want to encourage you.

Go read Psalm 103. You don’t have to be someone who has a religion – it’s literature, a book that’s been around a long time and is easily accessible. Just read it.

What if there is a God and that is an accurate picture of him? What if there is some “pit” he wants to pull you out of? What if he does want to satisfy the desires you have to be loved and valued? You could jump on that train of thought, just for a few minutes and see how it feels. I’ve memorized this chapter because I so often need to hear what it says.

I’m getting pretty aware of the things that are wrong with me.  When I hear a writer describing a distance “as far as the east is from the west”, and he’s telling me that’s how far away all my wrongness is going…  I get the impression that someone has a plan to deal with bad stuff, mine and everyone else’s. Thinking along those lines gives me hope. Hope is important.

Here is the most hopeful part of the reading for me – the part where “he knows how we are made, that we are dust, earthly”. I do kind of add my own translations as I think more and more about it. To me, it says “I know how I made you – different from anyone else. I know exactly what you are capable of and I don’t expect any more from you than that.”  That’s the way I want to be known. It encourages me to think that God and I might be on the same track in that regard.

The writer of this psalm felt that even when God knew him completely, he still loved him in a way described as “from everlasting to everlasting”. I’m a writer, and I can’t think of a way to top that. When I rehearse this psalm in my mind, I always think I want to be know that way and loved that way. It would make me happy, encouraged, hopeful. It’s a place to start.

Sure, there are some qualifiers in there, referring to those people who are known and loved. Again, as a writer, I’m paying attention to the verbs throughout the whole chapter. “Rescues”, “satisfies”, “works righteousness and justice”, “made known his ways” – all things that God does and is doing instead of things I have to do. I think the writer is saying that God is willing and able to work with people, to bring them to where they love him back, want to keep his covenant and remember to obey him.

It encourages me because it’s a good deal. It’s better than finding an honest used car salesman, or whatever analogy you want to use.  There’s more in that chapter and maybe there are other parts that will seem important to you, if you read it. Try it on.  See what it makes you feel and want. And consider that it is meant to encourage you.