The closet doors in my hallway open up to a sheer thing of beauty.
What happens when you open up a child's jewelry box? I think mine was beige on the outside with a delicate worn out white inscription on top; the inside was red velvet with a little ballerina that spun in place. Again, the velvet was ripped and worn out which makes me think it was a hand-me-down. Hmmm... I wonder what ever happened to that? Back to the story. When you open up my hall doors, it is as if the heavenly hosts have flung open the soft, translucent white curtains because I'm certain you can hear the sound of angels.
No seriously. Bed sheets neatly tied with ribbons, quilts stacked, sewing items purposely displayed, threads color-coordinated, children's craft boxes filled and labeled, a new coloring book and crayons, jars of colorful buttons. It is a wonder for the eyes to behold!
No agenda. That challenged me. Do I have an agenda? I don't remember praying that I wanted to go "deeper" in my faith. In fact, you could say I was "going through the motions" and living the life everyone needs me to live. I'm the person that keeps the glue together in our home and at work and that has been important work. I have a jeep that sits in the corner of our drive-way under the trees collecting rust, leaves and dust. Was it calling me to an adventure? Was there a fragrance I did not see coming my way calling me into wholeness?
There are three things you should know about me before I begin this post. 1) I'm a Vanilla Chai with Soy sort of gal. I am not a coffee drinker 2) I am a Multi-tasker which comes in handy when you have a very busy full-time job that juggles incoming demands 3) my faith is the most important ingredient to who i am. Remove this final thing and you won't find remnants of me. If at the end of my journey, you were to say I was a nice person, you would negate my sacrifice and love.
I didn't see it coming but the past month has caused me to go deeper in my faith and in this website. The thought does not escape me that I am really exhausted.. the type of tired that is not quenched by sleep. So let's buckle up and set the agendas of what I thought I would write about at the computer screen and be open to how God would use me to communicate faith. I have the jeep at the locked gates, four wheel drive in gear. Let's begin.
The momentum had been building. Everyone was excited for a new season.
Add a complicated software program, hours of additional training, an additional beta project for a new company all on top of regular full-time duties. My nerves were beginning to get frayed.
If that wasn't enough, add a Co-Chair to a large voluntary position to the list. Ball gowns, programs, speeches and slide shows, each and every detail of an event goes through a sieve of planning and preparation in an already busy year.
.. and finally, the dietary restrictions of being "gluten-free" not by choice but by medical necessity and the entire existence spells "drama."
The Journey forward
Symbolism has meaning to me. I love gifts that come in three as it reminds me of His gift: the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit.
I am really thankful for my faith as a child. Even though the repetition of prayers seems like a trivial, "Red Letter" type of obedience, it has really come in handy as I have matured in my faith. It allows me to recognize the "quickening in my spirit and my immediate action" as I humbly respond to His call. I recognize my Father's voice and I trust Him.
This recent faith journey keeps calling me to a place when I was little. It is a place of "childlike" faith, hope and love. This journey began when our company came for a visit last month. We were sitting outside and I grabbed some blankets. Normally, I grab the quilts from the closet but instead, I grabbed a white blanket I normally never use or even notice. I think it is usually sandwiched between other blankets on our bed in winter. After they left, I started using the blanket outside when I was gathering my thoughts and listening to worship music. The strangest revelation came to me. I remember now... what I was like as a child. I had forgotten but I loved this one particular blanket that had satan edges. I used to rub it along my face gently when I was going to sleep. I think I had a pink, cotton blanket with roses and white satan trim. It made me feel safe, warm and protected.
Remember work? Where the momentum was building to an unhealthy out-of-balance position? I came home after working for 10 hours straight and after dealing with the frustration of computer technology, was worn thin to a child-like place where "Grammy" (homemade chicken) soup curled up on a couch alone with a cozy blanket and a "chick flick" romantic comedy seemed a likely remedy to the details of the day.
I reached for one of three remote controls but quickly realized I couldn't remember the order of the switches and nothing I did managed to activate the DVD player. What would normally be a simple procedure turned into a monumental technology task and I was tired and fed up.
DANG IT! Can anything be easy? Is there anything I don't have to work at?
As quickly as that thought came to me, another one came. I truly have the most magnificent view on the planet out my backyard. "I will pretend I'm going to the outdoor drive-in theatre" I say to myself. I used to LOVE that as a kid. So armed with my Mac Computer with the movie, Letters to Juliet, a bowl of soup with white rice and my white blankie, I headed out the door.
Oh My- this was going to be much better than I thought for the sky to the West was spectacular splashes of color. Brilliant orange brush strokes painting beauty beyond description.
Now- I had a spring in my step... giggling and excited, I was up for the adventure.
Where the blanket was the first map bringing me back home. It was sitting outside in my backyard watching the movie that was the second. I have to "actively" search for cherished memories with my biological father but the drive-in theater is one of them; I forgot about that memory. Last Thursday evening was a perfect California night- warm, with a slight breeze, the sound of crickets and children's laughter in the distance. As if from a scene from a movie, I had to brush the vividness of the memory from my eyes. I only felt love, laughter and family. I remember wearing little feet pajamas (forget that we were wearing those out in the dirt at the movie theater). I loved to swing really high and they had a playground at the movie theater. It probably provided a respite for weary parents because I don't remember any parents there. I soared higher and higher.. my sister, brother and I laughing as we played and ran between the snack bar and swings. It was an exuberant freedom.
At about dusk, we were called back to the car. I don't remember the type of car but I remember cramming piles of pillows, blankets and barbies into the back. We made the coolest, best houses, towns and roads... lots of matchbox cars (remember- barbies can only go so far with boys) and set up extravagant dreams. It was always a double-feature. They played a "family friendly" movie for the first showing and something for adults for the second. They must have trusted we would close our eyes during the second feature!
There is something very different about the sound of movies outside. I can't really describe it but it smells of adventure, mystery and en element of surprise. The silver speaker box perched on the window crackles an almost erie old sound. The dial is turned several times back and forth in order to tune in the sound. We three kids wait in anticipation for the movie to begin. There is always piles of popcorn with lots of sweet tasting butter and a sprinkle of salt. We grab and gobble handfuls of the glorious treasure. Shhhhh... we quiet down as the movie begins. Silhouetted are the actors on screen. We are in a sea of cars that echo the same sweet sound.. The scent of cigarettes as my father puffed the most perfect circles of smoke (come on... it was the 70's). We drift off to sleep in a childlike innocence.
There is something else about the movie theater. We must have gone a lot because my dad tells me the second word I spoke was gol'fee'r; the first was da da (daddy). It was a child saying "Goldfinger"! Isn't that awesome? My second word in the English language is from a James Bond movie!! 007 is adventure.. well an element of style, sophistication and sex appeal too. I am not making this stuff up.. I ooze of symbolism, adventure and mystery if I dare to allow the jeep to take me deep into my history; to penetrate the chasm of my soul.
I have gone deeper in my faith than I have in many, many years these past weeks. I am absorbing myself in God's presence: I am lured to Him in the early morning (4:30am), long to be in His presence (worship music) throughout the day, humbly on my knees in prayer by late afternoon (4:30pm) and it is the last thing I do (other than my website or numerous other journals I'm working on late at night (10:30pm). I know I won't be able to keep up this momentum indefinitely but His presence gives me hope and a truth and a love.
So- what do I have to show for it? A couple of thoughts (musings- if you will).
Three of my favorite quotes from Shakespeare
The workers are few and the harvest is great. Remember I said the beginning would be important and to be patient? Now- we have come to that (but still not the final story that brings me back to my childhood). Naturally, I will illustrate it with the story of at least two girls:
1) My days are full. What about the life of a child? We live in a culture where children are exhausted. It is not uncommon to see girls and boys tired from the schedules. One such example: a teeny, tiny little girl couldn't stop crying.. her daddy dropped her off; he was late for work. She wanted to only rest in his arms. A father's presence was the balm to a wound too deep to heal. Her parents were divorcing. Her tears turned to sobs because she couldn't remember where her dance shoes were.
I tried to calm her little spirit with kind words. Her weeping was not a whining or a selfish demand but a soul-filled cry out to a God she may or may not know. She carried the burden of an entire family (that included two sisters) on her tiny, little shoulders. As I spoke softly, her tears began to slow to a whimper and then finally, words.
She began to tell me about the schedule of her days and weeks which included moving back and forth between parents. She had six dance classes four days a week, clothes were mingled between two houses. Her final sentence was the one that marked her most heavy weight..... and in her teeny, tiny little voice said "And- I'm gluten-free". Tears flowing heavy once again.
Like the marks of a scarlet letter, she thought her revelation was something I knew nothing about. That is where our roads could cross. That was my entrance into her world. Her sadness grew to empowerment when she realized, I too was "gluten-free". This brought on dialog where she could give me tips of the trade: Dominoes has a gluten-free crust, yogurt dipped gluten-free pretzels are the best and on and on. I had some gluten-free crackers in my drawer that I shared with her.
Sacraments... do they not represent the body and blood of Christ?
So last month, I tasted coffee. I hadn't in many, many years. It wasn't all bad. Weeks lapsed. Then last week, I had an all-day training for my favorite subject: computer software programs. Sixty of us crammed into a tiny room with no ventilation. My 6x8 name card had me in the front, center of the class. Hmmmm- this was not good. The stakes were high; the body was willing but one slip and my bobbing head would be a dead-give-away as a fraud. I did everything in my power to keep my eyes open.. Into battle I went but I was quickly loosing the fight. I put up a good effort though... then it hit.. I was struck with a tidal wave of drowsiness that captured my body and ransacked my soul. What was a girl to do? This called for "reinforcements" but where were they?
A strong battle calls out for strong tools..
and there it was (wait for it... as my friend, Barney from the TV show, How I Met Your Mother Says, this is Legen...... dary!) I reached for a cup of coffee (A breakfast blend- light roast with one packet of sugar). I'm pretty sure my colleagues could hear the angels singing. I partook in the glory of a full cup of coffee.
I told you... a strong battle requires strong reinforcements! ... So there it is: my long, sorted battle. So- I have one last story to tell.
I am not naive. As much as I would like to think a stranger might stumble onto this website. In reality, I know my following is a strong group of 17-25 year old women. They too, cry, silently into their pillows as they wrestle with their place in the church. These women have faith to move mountains, traverse across paths of cultural injustices to have a cup of coffee with mothers in South Africa or in the the highest lakes of Peru or in the schoolhouses of Zambia. These are mighty prayer warriors that are completely sold out, passionately in love with a savior that gives them far more than their hearts could desire. They are armed with friendships that empower and equip them. Why? because they know they are deeply loved by a God willing to die for them AND they know they are deeply and passionately loved by their friends. They have bold faith because they have bold friends. I am not quite sure why we, as a generation and a church bear marks of fear rather than love.
So.. who am I? There are three gifts I bring to the alter. 1) I can throw a great party, 2) I think I can string some thoughts and words together and 3) finally the one that means the most to me: I am a powerful prayer warrior for those I love. I am on my knees so they can move forward into greatness. They inspire and challenge me, not by what they do but by who they are becoming. Simple.
I am sure glad God doesn't just work in the symbolic, theological, philosophical realm because I may, otherwise, grow weary. The movie, Letters to Juliet ends... the credits roll... I set my worship play list to GO; I prepare my heart to go to the throne of His mercy and grace.
Let me tell you... there are only a handful of times that I have caught my breathe (these I count as my greatest treasures) but when I looked straight up to heaven, I caught my breathe with the spectacular beauty of a star filled sky. The next moment invaded my personal space with this song... why was this song on my worship play list ?
Where I was seeking worship songs; He was seeking my childlike faith. We put on a good face for everyone around us but God knows us from the inside out and He alone knows that long before barbies, or castles or jewelry boxes, I was the best tree climber around. I spent hours building tree houses with any scrap wood I could find. I didn't long for beautiful, spacious homes; I really only wanted to escape to a deserted island and live high in the trees where the sounds of waterfalls and birds lulled me to sleep. Adventure was only a tree away and the tree house I would build would be a really cool one made up of bamboo, rope, feathers and cloth.
God invades our space because he longs for our dependence on Him. He gives us other people but still asks that we put Him first. He longs to give us the desires of our hearts but asks that we seek Him with all of our hearts and with all of our minds, and with all of our strength. He offers us a snapshot of heaven but asks us to patiently wait.
I love Tarzan and as I was writing this post, I thought of the clues I un-intentionally leave as footprints of who I am. As you walk to our front door, there is a very large fern. Below it sits two smaller ferns. These were given to the previous owner of my home - by her "daddy" whom she loved dearly. There is a fountain near the fern accompanied with the sign that reads, "May blessings fall on you like a gentle rain". And, there is a basket by the fern... that is for all of the treasures I will find.
What is your story? Has God grabbed your heart? For the first time in my life, God has me right where He wants me.. In anticipation of the next chapter.. but I get a sense.. he won't let go of me and there is great freedom in that.
So the next chapter in my website? Who knows ?... but I know it will involve a jeep, an adventure and my trusty companion...
This month is all about athletics... sort of.
I am not a dancer but I put 100% into everything I do so it is easy for me to metaphorically relate to Melanie as she wholeheartedly jumps ... but what about Neil, the dancer catching her? When I think of his role, I think about the World Cup Soccer games this month. I was watching a game that went into "sudden death". Each team has five tries to get the ball into the net. The first man steps out onto the green. There is no support from his teammates. He must endure the pressure alone, relying on his strategy for a perfect kick. The goalie, on the other hand, must try to predict his opponent's move and block the ball.
Every man for himself... with all the eyes of his fellow teammates, coaches and fans watching, he steps onto the field. Sudden death is a tough way to loose a hard-played game and every soccer fan knows it. The cheering for the first man indicates he made the shot, now the opposing team, again victory. Each team sends up a solo player. No man wants to be the one that misses the shot. It is excruciating for me to watch. Whether it is having a son or getting old enough to see a man's vulnerability on public display, I can see the pressure in the faces of these young men. Inevitably, somebody is going to miss (statistics alone says it will happen). Then the crushing block... the goal is denied and the player collapses in his failure... the journey out to the field won't be nearly as long as the journey back to the locker-room.
I'm competitive by nature. That is good and bad. On the negative, I have a temper but on the positive, I seek to surround myself with people that raise the bar for me in all areas of my life.
As odd as it seems now, girl's athletics in elementary/high school were not always popular. I was born about 10 years too soon so when I signed up for the mens/woman's downhill ski team my freshman year of college, I was ill-equipped for the rigors of the game. I entered competent, confident and competitive. It was my roommate that got me to join this almost entirely men's college ski team (many of whom were from the Squaw Valley Ski team- what was I thinking?). I will never forget that first day of "dry land" training which primarily meant running and stairs, suicides and weight training. These competitive guys took one look at the slightly built, blond hair, blue eyed knock-out (my roommate) and thought both she and I would crumble under pressure. What they didn't know was my roommate had broken State Records for endurance and cross country running. I, on the other hand, had sheer determination coupled with a strong work ethic, both of which proved to be valuable assets to a good game.
The land training was never a problem but in preparation for the real deal, I went to Squaw Valley for some pre-game warm-ups. The only problem? I forgot to check a map. I just took a chair and went up, and up, and up. Once off the lift, I realized I had no idea where I was and the terrain was harder than any I had ever seen. It wasn't "Headwall" (the name should give you an indication of the difficulty of the run) but it was something comparable. Scared but fearless, I took a deep gulp, "sucked it up" and took off. The next several minutes were a blur. .... it had something to do with gravity, snow, skis and my head thrusting between the ground and the air. Roll after roll, everything seems to be in slow motion. It seemed the turbulent "dryer" spin would never end. In cartoon style, i was like a big snow ball billowing down the hill, gaining speed, snow and momentum. Then as quickly as it began, it stopped. Miraculously, grace shone on me that day. Opening my eyes, I was an arms length from the biggest, widest tree on the slope. Because most of my family was a part of the North Lake Tahoe Fire Department, I had long heard about the numerous deaths on the slopes. I escaped with no broken bones, just a broken spirit. I guess I should have taken it as a symbolic trophy but two skiers quickly skied over to 1) make sure I was alright and 2) let me know it was the most impressive blow-out they had ever seen. Great!
Remember Melanie who jumped? The next part of that video clip is from the judges who give her feedback regarding her athleticism and spirit (she goes on, incidentally to win the season)- I would watch the whole clip. With the same passion that propels these youthful dancers, passionate ambition takes place in college athletics. The ante in the game is dialed up a notch. Years of hard work in elementary and high school have propelled these young men into an arena of competition on a different scale. This time, the best of the best are seen as hopeful players while potential career contracts lure desirous hearts to grandeur, acceptance and success. We live in a culture that marginalizes everyone (and yes, these men too). They now take their game to a new level where "competent, confident, competitive" coaches actively pursue players for their team. Alternatively, players who represent hours of dedication, experience and hard work are among the recruits. The competition and pressure does not escape me. Choose your sport... there have been games and seasons won and lost. All the eggs in one basket, pride, vulnerability, sweat, adrenaline, tears, Testosterone, hopes, applause. Like a dream-like cloud, the pressure is great and like in the "sudden death" in World Cup Soccer, each man goes out on the green alone prepared to take his best shot.
Having children is a "game changer". Whether they are biologically your own or adopted in spirit, they forever change your life. They are God's way of humbling you to your knees. How else could He get independent, free-will, wild men and women to quiet their souls to a place of a whisper? So quiet, you can hear the wind in the trees and in your own heart.
It is a game changer and you better make your choices deliberately and soberly. Any good athlete knows there is an element of physical and mental stamina. They know when to coach and when to be coached. They need to be cautious and deliberate in choosing their teammates because when they too have to go to the line for "sudden death" they know who has got their backs; it is an element of trust.
So who do I coach?
I coach an athlete, dancer and artist. (Ok- they would cringe with my stereotypical confining label but for the purposes of a post on athletics, it works). Their lives represent all the joy and the greatest depths of prayer I could muster. Between the three of them, I have faced struggles (too many surgeries to count, over 15 nights in hospital rooms or outside a bedroom door) wading through waters of disappointment when it came their way or celebrating victories with the exuberant triumph of an athlete winning the greatest game. For them, I'm all in and their greatest fan.
Who are my teammates?
These represent a small group of men and woman of varying ages, who when i pause and scratch my head and think to myself, "you are way above my league, why are you even friends with me?" inspire, challenge and love me and I love them back. They are some of the most brilliant, talented, creative, capable people I know. Marriage, parenting, careers, building a home, raising a family is a hard game and you need to choose wisely. There will be times you sweat and need to pass the ball to a teammate when you are too weak to make the play; they will make the shot for you. I know that and they know that about me.
Why a dinner?
Remember that story about me on the ski slope? Fear knocked me down. After graduating from college, my son was determined to trek the Himalayas (the border of India and Napal). For 31 days, he carried all he needed on his back, equipped with the experience of being an athlete, alongside a small group of peers he learned elements of leadership. At the conclusion of the Trek, he let me know he was traveling to Thailand to live there for the remainder of the year, meaning I wouldn't see him for close to a year. At the same time, my daughter, a second year student in college was accepted into a 5 month program in South Africa- a long held dream of hers. What was the chances they would be gone at the same time? I can almost replay the tape in my head that cried out to God, "really"? "How will I keep them safe"? A coach knows when to let his players play. He has to trust that his players were listening and then stand back and let them play.
My kids were little when I joined youth ministries as a volunteer worker at our church. My son was six, my daughter 3 and I was pregnant with my third and youngest daughter. I vividly remember standing on the lawn of the church, silently praying how I wanted to "go deeper" in my faith. I felt a faint, almost audible whisper deep within my soul calling me there. I was repeatedly told that I should wait until my kids were that age and the best fit for me was in the nursery. I did what I was told, occasionally working in the nursery, children's bible school while continuing with my Wed morning women's bible study... but still I felt a tug in my heart.
My determination and persistence wore down my spiritual advisor. She finally conceded and invited me on an overnight youth conference with her and the new youth leader. I heard about church in a way I had never heard it before. I was challenged and changed. That ushered in a deep lasting bond with kids and leaders all holding a common goal of reaching out to teenagers for the sake of the gospel. At the same time, God ushered people into my children's lives who helped to grow them into the man and women they are becoming.
That brings me to June dinners. A year ago, in June and again last month, in June I held a dinner. As extravagant as I could, my husband and I wanted to welcome our two oldest children home. Having not seen our son for almost a year and our daughter for six months, we wanted to be the hands and feet of Jesus, who give us exceedingly more than our hearts could desire; we wanted to shower them (along with our youngest daughter) with all the love they have given (and continue to give) us.
Then last month, after 13 years, God again used us as the hands and feet of Jesus. Coming home to see a father on hospice, our youth leaders laid their hands of grace, outstretched with love, forgiveness and mercy on a man that lived his life filled with struggles and triumphs, doing the best he could, they helped to "ease his pain" paving his walk home a little easier. Like the dinner last June, awaiting them were people (far more than they realized) waiting to also welcome them home- a home into a friendship of love.
This Jesus is radical- turning lives inside and out. His discipleship is "leave no man behind" calling people to himself. He is the coach that guides us to a banquet we cannot even fathom. You will find disciples that are broken, weak and human but are willing to lay down their desires because of a God willing to die for them.
My father died over four years ago. I miss him everyday. There are so many stories to tell about him but one that is useful for this post is one told by my brother-in-law who is hilarious when he tells the story of meeting him for the first time. I don't even remember this but he does. We were all in my father's boat on Lake Tahoe- crystal blue, cool, clear water. We weren't far from shore when Mike (my brother-in-law) realized he forgot his swim trunks on shore and it was really hot. He asked him to go back... my dad calmly and cooly shook his head no. Mike had to jump in butt-naked. He must have had us turn our eyes because I don't remember that story but the point is Jesus calls us to himself naked and vulnerable in order for him to fill us completely with his love and grace. Will you jump in?
A person who searches for depth and beauty in the simple things.