Friday, October 23, 2015

The Racing Pigeon Club

"How great is God—beyond our understanding!
The number of his years is past finding out."
Job 36: 26

My husband and I were driving to Nebraska for a football game.  I was at the wheel.  A pickup pulling an enclosed trailer passed me.  On the back of the trailer was written "Siouxland Racing Pigeon Club."

My first thought was, You've got to be kidding.  My second thought was more gracious.  A racing pigeon club?  Really?  How exactly does one get interested in such a thing?  As opposed to . . . quilting clubs, travel clubs, antique car clubs, ski clubs, or traveling nearly four hours every football Saturday to watch our alma mater play ball?

There's a club for every interest and an interest in every club, hobby, sport, or diversion.  There are also over 900,000 varieties of insects in the world, 400,000 different plants, and at least as many varieties of chocolate (or is that simply a personal wish?) 

Is this volume of variety really necessary?
Obviously, yes.  To quote a line from the movie "Robin Hood:  Prince of Thieves":  "God loves wondrous variety."

For God made each and every species, genus, group, and classification.  He created them, "And God saw that it was good."  (Genesis 1: 21)
Later that day, as my husband and I sat in the football stadium among 85,000 of our closest friends, I looked across the crowd and tried to see individuals, each with distinct qualities, talents, hopes, dreams, and destinies.  God created each one with a unique purpose.  He wants to know each one on a personal basis, and longs to hear their prayers—and answer them.  It's estimated that 106,456,367,669 people have ever lived. (I love the audacity of the "9" at the end of this number.) That's a lot of variety, that's a lot of unique purposes, that's a lot of Divine attention to detail.

That's a lot of Divine love, over a lot of years. 

Such numbers are unfathomable—to us.  But not to Him.  "But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day." (2 Peter 3: 8)

We don't understand the need for this vast amount of variety, but God does.  I truly believe there is a reason for each insect, each flower, each person.

Isaiah 40:28-29 says it wonderfully:  "Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom."

And yet accepting this variety, pondering the immensity of it, marveling in it, we can also marvel in the fact there is only one God. One Christ Jesus, the way, the truth, and the light. One who is the great I-Am. (Exodus 3: 14)

So during this season to be thankful, take a moment to look around at your world—which is the same yet different from my world.  Take note of the wondrous variety, be awed by it, remember our one God who created it all, and allow yourself a sweet indulgence to feel special.

And very, very blessed.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Keeper of Time

Be still before the Lord, all mankind,
because he has roused himself from his holy dwelling.
Zechariah 2:13 (niv)

My to-do list is novel length. And though editors have often insisted I cut thousands of words from my overlong manuscripts (on one historic occasion, 74,000 words, which is literally another story), I find it much easier to cut entire scenes, subplots, and even characters from my novels than to leave items on my to-do list undone.

It’s not that I have the time to fully (or properly) tackle my list. I admit to being overly ambitious, usually at the most inappropriate times. For instance, when we are expecting company and I am trying to turn my home into something pristine and worthy of a cover story in Better Homes & Gardens, I invariably add projects to my already lengthy list. Like stripping wallpaper from a bathroom—and painting it, or hanging pictures in a room that has never once complained about having bare walls, or going through my closet and deciding what lucky charitable organization gets dibs on a mauve suit with monster shoulder pads. After forty years of marriage, my husband knows the signs and tries to catch me before I go too far. With varying success. “Are you crazy?” he asks.

Pretty much.

I confess. I have an addictive personality. Others may have their alcohol, drugs, or shopping issues, but I am addicted to lists.

Yet, beyond the overachiever issues, my to-do list often gets in the way of something of ultimate importance: my quiet time with God.

Come on. Fess up. I know I’m not alone in this. You too wake up early because the list mentally starts glowing before dawn. You too rise, determined to get tons done.

And then, far too soon, your usual prayer time is suddenly upon you, and instead of willingly submitting, you search your stash of memorized Bible verses to come up with ones that glorify hard work and disdain sloth and laziness. God loves a cheerful worker, yes?

Uh . . . kinda, sorta.

And yet, even as you force yourself to sit, even as you take up your Bible or daily devotional, you’re thinking: But, but . . . I don’t have time for this.

To which God most certainly responds, Excuse me?


That’s when it’s time to cringe—and surrender. If God, the creator of all time, the keeper of all time, has time to “rouse himself from his holy dwelling” for you, then certainly you have time to rouse yourself from your unholy dwelling for Him. If you don’t, then perhaps you ought to put “Prioritize Life” at the top of your to-do list? Hmm?

Here’s some insider information: I’ve found if I stay faithful during the busiest times of my life and give God some one-on-One time, He gives me time to tackle my to-dos—along with a serving of wisdom regarding how to delete (or delegate) a few tasks.

So let’s say He’s got you in the chair. Your Bible is on your lap. But inside you grumble. Then you feel guilty for grumbling. You hope God won’t notice and you can somehow slip under the radar just this once and escape.

Think again. He knows, and you know He knows. More than that, He cares. He wants your time together to be productive and precious. But face it, when you are frazzled and distracted you don’t have the right mind-set for quality time.

So take a deep breath. Maybe two. Or twelve. Then close your eyes and tell God you are there (and that should count for something) and you want time with Him.

Yes, your mind will digress and zip back to your list, but be as dogged toward diverting it right back to God as you are about adding to and checking off your list. Being still, silent, and available to the Keeper of Time takes practice—and prayer. Ask Him to teach you to be still and His. That is certainly a prayer He will honor—and answer.

Then when you are settled down and centered in Him, instead of looking up your favorite “Be strong and do the work” verses, go for a few “Be still before the Lord” verses instead. The to-dos on your list will wait (truly, they will). And the exquisite time you share with Him is priceless.

Above all remember this: Your relationship with the Lord is more important than your work for the Lord. Learn that and you just might be able to shorten your to-do list. Or even tear it up.

Call it a sacrificial offering.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Being Human

Stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you.
2 Thessalonians 2: 15

 If you want to teach something, be something.

Sounds good.

Sometimes I wish I could tell my kids to carry on, do what they know is right and don't mind me.  Being a hypocrite is easy.  Being a role model takes work—more work than I'm up to after tethering and weathering the moments of my life.

When my three children were small, I could get away with the convenience of "do as I say, not as I do".  They didn't notice the Snickers wrapper on the counter as I made dinner.  They didn't say a word when I wore socks with holes in the toes, and they were too busy playing with Kermit the Frog and Candyland to see me clean the entry floor after tracking in my own share of mud. Or perhaps they were too much in awe of Mommy to say anything. 

Maybe not. 

But as they graduated to Barbie, Battleship and beyond, their minds grasped a scary new concept—independent thought.  That's when they began to challenge me and my two-faced behavior.

"How come we have to make our beds when your bed isn't made yet?"

"How come we can only watch TV an hour a night and you can watch more?"

"How come your shoes are all over the place and ours have to be in the shoe bin?"

I shake my head, stalling until I conjure up a desperate parent's jewel:  "Because I'm the mom, that's why!"
They roll their eyes and leave me to my humiliation.  How'd they get so smart?  Certainly it wasn't by my example.

It doesn't help my self-esteem to remember my own mother's perfection.  I never caught her in a faux pas. No wet towels on the floor, no crumbs brushed onto the kitchen floor when no one was looking, no televisions blaring at a ridiculous level (can I help it if I like to feel my movies?).  She taught us by example.  When she worked till the early morning hours sewing a prom dress, we learned to be industrious.  When she made the roast and leftover corn last for two more meals, we learned to be thrifty.  When she made quilts for the less fortunate, we learned to be charitable.

What am I teaching my kids?

There are some good things.  When I work on getting a book written, plodding along one sentence, one word at a time, they learn persistence.  When I hug their father right in front of them and even give him a kiss (gasp!) they learn love.  When I tell them how a prayer was answered, they learn faith.

Not too bad.

Although I am working on making my bed, limiting my television time, and hanging up my coat, above all—flaws and all—I'm teaching my children we're in this together.  I don't know all the answers, although I do know a bit more than they do. I have good traits I hope they'll embrace and bad habits I hope they'll avoid.                          

They know I'm not perfect.

“Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” (Proverbs 22: 6)

If you want to teach something, be something . . .

I'm human. Human I can teach.  Human I can be. 

Perhaps, somehow, they'll learn from that.   

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Getting Ahead of the Game

Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.
Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others,
faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms.
I Peter 4: 9-10

 As the year changes over, I vow this will be the year I get ahead of the game—whatever that game might be. 

I'm tired of procrastinating.  I'm tired of feeling the pressure of should-dos.  I'm tired of being tired.  So . . . my solution is to embrace the Boy Scout motto:  be prepared. Ahead of time.  A little at a time.

The first test occurs right away as I make preparations for some family visitors who are staying two nights. I need to be domestic and clean and cook.  Unfortunately, none of these attributes are my attributes, unless I’m in the mood, and I’ve long realized those moods can easily leapfrog months.  Or years.

But this  year, with my new resolution in tow, I vow that I will get ahead of the game and get the entire thing under control.  D-day (done-day) is five days away, when the guests will arrive. 

Day #1:  I psych myself up to do it right. 

However, as the day wears on and I haven't actually done anything beyond thinking about doing something, I end up feeling very much like Scarlett O’Hara:  I’ll do it tomorrow.  After all, tomorrow is another day.  

Day #2:  I look at my to-do list and divide the house into battle zones:  basement, main floor, top floor.  When the kids were little, I used to draw squares in the carpet of  their bedrooms with a finger, telling them to “Clean up this square” in an attempt to make the chaos seem more manageable. This might have been a helpful memory until I acknowledge the first floor of my house is mostly wood.

Instead I collect dirty dishes from all three floors and fill the dishwasher. 

I forget to turn it on.

Day #3:   Feeling guilty for yesterday, I make a menu and a grocery list.  I even recopy the list according to sections in the grocery store:  Produce, Dairy, and the Fat-Sugar-Chemical aisle.  Knowing this is above and beyond any “getting ahead of the game” scenario I ever aspired to, I feel smug and done for the day but . . . I refuse to give into the temptation and actually go to the grocery store and buy the things I need.

It takes two carts.

Back home, enticed by the food in the Fat-Sugar-Chemical aisle, I make lunch.  And since that makes a mess, I dive in and cook the menu items that can be frozen until the weekend.  Adrenalin kicks in.  Four hours later I have made sweet & sour chicken, coffee cake, muffins, crumb cookies, and a monstrous mess.  I wonder if Merry Maids has a 911 number . . .

I clean up and collapse on the couch.  I fall asleep to "Law & Order" reruns.

Day #4:  I remember the Proverbs 31 Woman (sigh) and try to take verse seventeen to heart:  "She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks."  We'll see about that.

The basement beckons.  As I vacuum, I notice a path in the carpet the cats have made on their way to their Poo-Room.  I decide to force them into a new path by pulling out a bar stool, relocating a potted plant, and moving a footstool in the direct line of their padding little feet.  I wait for a cat to run the gauntlet.  Pepper complies, and I feel momentarily victorious, until I realize a new path will be pressed into the carpet. 

I also realize as I vacuum the stairway, that the felines are not the only guilty party.  Looking down upon my work, I see my own footprints in the plush.  Because there is no solution, and because my back hurts, I retire to the couch and watch "Law & Order" reruns.

Day #5 -- D-Day:  I wallow in the fact the wood floor cannot leave track marks like the carpet, but grieve that it produces a community of dust bunnies.  I do my best rounding them up before proceeding to the second floor where bathrooms and clean sheets beckon.  I try to imitate a fabric softener commercial by making a sheet float through the air to fall neatly on the bed.  I only succeed in getting it caught in the ceiling fan and knocking over a lamp.  But I make my mother proud by making everything fresh and new—including hospital corners.

It’s nearly time for them to arrive.  I'm sweaty and want a nap.  If I ignore the need for makeup, I could probably slip in ten minutes of rest.  I close my eyes (to afternoon "Law & Order" reruns) and am nearly asleep when a kitty jumps up on my chest.  From my position on the couch I notice the entry light has cobwebs.  The cat jumps to safety as I take care of it. 

And the windows need washing . . . Hopefully, no one will be tempted to look through them.

And my roots need touching up . . . If I comb my hair just right or wear a hat . . .

The doorbell rings.  And so the weekend begins.  The house is filled with family who bring their coats, suitcases, and oft-heard stories, which makes me realize no one is looking at the house anyway.  We are too busy talking and being.

The fellowship is awesome, the food edible, and time flies.  As they leave I vow to add something to my “get ahead of the game” scenario:  don’t worry so much about anything because my family don’t care about kitty tracks, they accept whatever level of scrubbed tub I can manage, and they’d settle for McDonald’s if that’s what I chose to serve. 

They love me and I love them, and our time together is what’s important.  "If we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us." (I John 4: 12)

Knowing that is truly getting ahead of the game.