Archive for June, 2012

Strip Down

The Summer Olympics will be held in London in late July and our quadrennial obsession will commence. (quadrennial: happening every four years. Impress your friends. Find a way to use quadrennial, too.)

Anyway, my husband and I will become absorbed in track and fielders, gymnasts, pole vaulters, equestrians. Archers and shot putters and spear throwers. I mean javelin throwers. We cheer for the USA and Serbia soccer teams (if you are wondering why, please see my About Me page).

Swimmers and divers.

Love, love, love.

And think about this. When the Apostle Paul was writing in the First Century a.d., the Greek games had already existed for 700 years. What started as a 200 yard footrace now offered a great many events, including chariot racing.

I will at this point note that a savage sport was introduced in 648 b.c. called pancratium. It was a sometimes deadly combination of wrestling and boxing. I mention this for you UFC fans without commenting on the vicious, merciless bloodletting, and . . . oh, never mind.

But what reels us in, even to the sports about which we know very little – like kayaking – are the stories.

Sacrifice. Injury. Discouragement.                                                                                                           

Grit. Determination. More sacrifice.

Finding a way to win.

Inevitably, every story has these elements.

So back to Paul. He appears to have been a fan of the Olympic Games. And he brilliantly illustrates the Christian life as a marathon.

While I’m not a big fan of The Message Bible, I do like its Hebrews 12: 1 version:

Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever.

  •  Extra spiritual fat? You mean like sitting in church week after week and not sharing the Gospel, or, at the very least, your own story of coming to know Christ?
  •  Parasitic sins? You mean habits (bad), secret (bad) activities, non-secret (bad) attitudes?

Running this marathon with extra spiritual fat and parasitic sins is like shouldering a bag of bricks and expecting to – what? Actually win?

The stuff that’s causing the problem has got to go. Period. Then, helpful things, like Runkeeper, (you make the analogy) can do their job.

Simon Wheatcroft, age 29, from Doncaster, England, lost his sight when he was 18. He is an “ultra-runner”, covering distances over 26.2 miles. Simon uses the app, Runkeeper, which maps the terrain for him, then reads the information over a headset while he runs.

Simon with app.

There are occasional mishaps. But, he says, “You only run into a post once before you think, ‘Right, I’m going to remember where that is next time.'”

Exactly.

And he’s going to be one of the torchbearers at the 2012 Olympic Games.

He runs light. He runs smart. He runs with help.

Study, said Paul, how Jesus did it.

Your problem won’t be the Cross. But it might be the shame or the whatever. Regardless, strip down, start running, never quit. And, for heaven’s sake, keep your eyes on Jesus.

Because, if you do, one thing is guaranteed. There will be an exhilarating finish.

Have you thought about extra spiritual fat in your life? Or parasitic sins? Is it time to acknowledge and discard them?

For Glory and for Beauty

Vermeer’s Milkmaid.

The very impulse to create is divine.

This is likely not a great revelation. I mean, works like the Sistine Chapel and The Last Supper fairly shout “GOD!”, don’t they? Or anything by Vermeer, a personal favorite.

But what about you? And me?

The very impulse to create is divine. Although we may agree with this idea, the results of those impulses are often assigned the second-rate status of hobby.

And it’s a shame.

This has been a personal struggle. For years I viewed a love for writing and books and language as a secret pleasure to be indulged only when every other duty and responsibility was fulfilled. I did not create a writing life.

And it was a mistake.

In her little book, Walking on Water, writer Madeleine L’Engle speaks eloquently to this point. She proposes that we have been losing that “willingness to know things in the deepest, most mythic sense.”  Don’t think she’s getting all woo-woo here.  “Unless we are creators,” she states firmly, “we are not fully alive.”  L’Engle cared for both her family and her art by determinedly creating a life where she moved between the stove and the typewriter.

In Exodus 28, the garments of the high priest were to be made for “glory and for beauty.” Artisans were filled with the “spirit of wisdom . . . in understanding, in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship, to design artistic works.” Women gifted in the arts of spinning and fine fabrics had “hearts stirred with wisdom.”

Having spent years diligently honing their crafts, God now took those efforts, overshadowed them, and created a thing of beauty for His glory in the middle of a vast desert.

We all know people who

paint

or draw

or sew

or write,

who may scrapbook,

garden,

decorate,

remodel,

or maybe repair things,

cook,

write music,

play an instrument

– only if they can steal a little time to retreat to the backyard, or a room, or the garage, and lock the door. You may be one of those people. Will your paintings ever be displayed? Possibly never.  Will your songs ever be published? Maybe not. But the exercising of those gifts is a God-thing. We know exactly what Olympic runner and future missionary Eric Liddell meant when he said with such passion: “When I run, I feel His pleasure.”

We do it because it stems from a divine impulse.

We do it for glory and for beauty.

We do it, indeed, for the pleasure of God.

So dust off your gift. Stop calling it a hobby. Or a guilty pleasure. Assign it the value it deserves. And get going.

God’s waiting.

Are you allowing your creative impulses to give God glory? If  not, why not?

Help for the Conversationally Challenged

Is it really that hard to have a two-way, face-to-face, conversation nowadays, you ask? 

Yes, dear, it is.

There are things abroad in the land, sneaky, subversive things. They go by various names such as, but not limited to: “I’m Not Really Interested in What You are Saying Unless It’s About Me,” “I Have a Lot to Say About Me, So Please Don’t Interrupt,” and the dreaded, “Story-topping.”

I’m finding the whole thing exhausting. So before I decide to stop talking to people altogether, or at least drastically narrow the field, I shall, in my quest to be Helpful in the World, make some suggestions.

Really listen when someone is talking to you. People used to do this, but it happens less frequently now. Maintain eye contact, nod your head appropriately. Be interested. But also be prepared. When it is your turn to contribute to the conversation, it is possible that:

1) the person’s eyes will shift to something over your shoulder.

2) they will start checking purse or pants pocket for their phone.

Do not be one of those people.

Some years ago, I was having a pleasant conversation with a woman at a conference. Someone came up and said something like, “You are needed elsewhere.”  She turned and walked away. Gone. I was left stunned, mid-word, with my mouth hanging open. Rather than making me, well, resentful, it made me more determined than ever not to be one of those people.

Consider “How are you?” to be an actual question. 

  • If you are asking, look the person in the eye, smile, and wait expectantly for an actual answer. This includes all those people working in department stores, grocery stores, and restaurants.
  • If you are asked, refrain from a simple, “fine, thanks.” Instead try, “I’m doing well, today, thank you. And how (maintaining eye contact – see above) are you today?” You might be pleasantly surprised at their pleasant surprise at your apparent interest.

At Target one afternoon, a young guy scanning my stuff told me, after I asked how he was, that he was a guitarist in a band and they were playing in San Francisco and someone had approached them about making them famous. Or something. Anyway, the next time I saw him, I asked about the amazing music thing. He was pleasantly surprised (see, I told you). Sadly, there was no Big Break. But I think my interest brightened his Targety day.

Ask follow-up questions. This fundamental element of good conversation has almost disappeared. If you are listening, as you ought to be, and if you are making eye contact and tracking what is being said, ask a follow-up question. Really, how hard can it be? On the other hand, when you are speaking, your conversation pal may already be thinking about how they are going to respond. It will likely be with something that makes what you just said irrelevant. This is called:

Story-topping. This is where things get serious. Story-topping is epidemic. It has several virulent forms, but symptoms are obvious:

1) While you are speaking, there is a slight glazing of the eyes which are not, by the way, looking at you.

2) You can sense their wheels turning: How can I respond with a better story about something that happened to me?

3) Absolutely no reference is made to what you just said.

Story-toppers suffer from a veiled form of narcissism. Do not let the conversation wander too far from attention on me. If possible, conversations with story-toppers should be avoided.

Unless they ask for prayer.

While having a conversation with a live human being, do not text, check email, or tweet on your cell phone. Janet Sternberg, a professor of communication and media studies at Fordham University in New York, notes that students no longer look her in the eye and have trouble with the basics of direct conversation. She attributes this to the prevalence of texting.

Yes, the culture is in technological transition and the rules are being written as we go. No matter. It will always be rude. You may say, “I am expecting a call and will probably have to excuse myself at some point.” This gives the other person fair warning. But to just stand or sit there with the phone in your hand is – Did you catch it the first time? – rude.

Eye contact. Excellent follow-up question.

So, there you have it. If you think you might be a Conversation Offender, simply follow my suggestions and improvement is guaranteed. People love to talk about themselves. The key is to find interesting people.

Be one and they will come.

Do you think the nature of conversation is shifting?  If so, how?

Job. Finale.

Job was.

People who look through keyholes, said Author Unknown, are apt to get the idea that most things are keyhole shaped. 

In the very first post of this series I made the point that, in regard to life’s tribulations, what we often lack is an accurate perspective. Here, in Chapter 42, at the end of this, shall I say, severe story, it remains true.

Okay, so I’ll concede that a fair amount of self-righteousness got in Job’s way. I can say this because I am without fault. Wait! Wait! That can’t be true, can it?!

We might quibble with the method of Job’s correction. Seemed sometimes like taking a sledgehammer to a pimple. But that’s God’s decision to make. And if there’s is one thing the Book of Job makes clear it is that God Has His Reasons. And He doesn’t always share them.

There is a key to this story in the last chapter. Job, thoroughly humbled, repents in dust and ashes. Then his friends repent. Quickly. (When God uses the term “wrath” in regard to your behavior, it is best to round up those bulls and start building an altar.)

So far, so good. But there is one more thing.

And the Lord restored Job’s losses when he prayed for his friends. (Vs. 10a)

Job did.

Are you as stunned by this as I am? God permits Satan to strip Job of family and possessions. And afflict him with a disfiguring disease. After which Job must endure repeated verbal assaults by men who should have been his comforters.

But, ultimately, Job is permitted no self-pity. None. Instead, he must reach deep into the inner recesses of his character. He must draw on reserves of compassion that tragedy and betrayal have not, miraculously, drained away.

“Perhaps,” writes T. Whitelaw, “his complete forgiveness by God was contingent on his own complete forgiveness of his friends.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

And so, this book has puzzled, shocked, angered, and humbled me. I am grateful for its splendid revelations and unflinching honesty. Time now to work on that perspective. And living out verse 10.

Is unforgiveness crippling you in some way? What’s in the way – pride?

What I’ve Learned So Far Since Becoming a Grandparent

Isaac Samuel, age 12 days

Isaac Samuel Celovsky was born at home on May 16th, 2012, in a hurry, almost beating the midwife, the doula, and his RN auntie. It was a kind of 1 a.m. manic ballet, with cases of medical supplies scattered around, each player performing some necessary duty for mom and baby. Low light, low laughter.

Several hours later, while holding our beautiful boy, Willow, the doula, announced: “And that’s how you have a baby!”

His big sister, Natalia, slept through the entire birth. She arrived 2 years ago and our family is, to put it mildly, crazy about her.

I confess, at this point, to being one of those moms whose Memory Lane has never been paved, and who doggedly pulls her little red wagon of regret over the stones and ruts of remembered failures, all the while weeping into a well-preserved cloth diaper.

Pathetic, I know, but there it is.

I am, however, being redeemed. Becoming a grandparent has been an extravagant gift, an offering of grace. And within its abundance is the possibility of a kind of existential rewind, a do-over. Here are a few things I have learned so far:

  • Grandchildren are not “all the joy without the responsibility”. They are joy with welcome responsibilities. That those responsibilities are not 24/7 adds to the joy. Got that?
  • Grandchildren are a constant and healthy reminder of the swift passage of time. So, to avoid another red wagon, I’ve learned to slow way down and savor them in all their miracle, move at their pace, see the bugs, hear the birds, touch the grass – with a fresh sense of wonder. Except for spiders.
  • Grandchildren provide an opportunity to instill a love of books and reading in the next generation. A particularly satisfying pleasure. We can revisit all the old favorites and be enchanted by new ones. Dr. Seuss? Still genius.
  • Grandchildren remind us of the gift of animals. Imagine the world without them. Think about how small children love our pets at home, how much of children’s literature focuses on the exquisite creatures of the earth, how keen we are to get our kids to the zoo. When praying over her food, Natalia invariably asks God to bless the “penguins and lemurs.” Madagascar, you know. Animals rock. Grandkids help us remember that.
  • Grandchildren help us practice all those other life lessons learned. Things like not sweating the small stuff (trite, but, you must admit, true). In fact, it’s better to hold tighter to the Father’s hand and not sweat the big stuff, either.

    Natalia Renae, age 2

My husband and I have been assured of a grandchild every 2 years for the foreseeable future.

Okay, so that was what I think I heard.

My family is small and scattered across the United States. Sam’s is large and scattered around the world. We intend, therefore, to keep filling up our home right here in Sonoma County with loved ones, including lots and lots of grandbabies.

Because we’re learning, that’s how you build a family.

What grandparent lessons have you learned? Or, what things do you see your children teaching?

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