Thursday, December 18, 2008

Re-Gifted Winter Weather Advisory

As friends sit by cozy fires watching snow gather on their window sills —even in southern Texas! — I sit in my cozy chair listening to a whirring fan overhead, remembering past blessings of unexpected snow. The memories bring perspective and contribute well to my quiet celebration.

One such memory took me back to my apartment in Cincinnati, where, on January 21, 2007, I received the gift of a winter weather advisory advising of snow that actually came! I'll re-gift my journal entry here. . . .

I awoke this morning to receive from God a very special gift: a winter weather advisory advising of snow that actually came! Four inches worth—give or take a flake.

Excited to celebrate this first snowfall in my usual way, I quickly tucked my toes deep into my slippers and hurried out to the balcony. My head tipped back, and my hands stretched up as I closed my eyes to let the wintry sweetness scatter across my face. Each flake softly awakened a nerve ending somewhere between the tips of my eyelashes and the small dimple bringing together the two halves of my otherwise ordinary chin. I was in heaven . . . and still in my pajamas!

What is it about freshly fallen snow that calls to the kid buried in the heart of nearly every one of us? There must be something. The park next door brimmed with childlike wonder from young and old alike. Families engaged in snowball fights. Older couples walked arm in arm, slowly taking in the sights. Laughter erupted from the hillside as sleds tipped and dads slipped.

While making my way around the park’s path, each step accompanied by the satisfying crunch of icy goodness under my feet, I became aware of a strange sensation. A smile had escaped the intensity of my grown up thoughts. My heartbeat slowed, and a stillness infused my wandering spirit to its very depths.

So, this is what it’s like to be in the moment. I haven’t been here in a long time, and it may be a while before I pass this way again. My memory begins to awaken. I scan the untouched canvas of white spread before me, looking for the perfect spot to leave my signature mark. It’s a mark I’ve made at least once in nearly every year of my life at the first sight of freshly fallen snow. A mark that serves as indelible proof that I was there and did not let God’s gift slip by unnoticed.

Rising from the frosted earth, an old oak tree stood poised to protect well the patch of white beneath it. With the infectious sounds of winter play drawing out the child in me, I carefully stepped from the path to position myself under the branches of that old oak. Inhibitions vanished and laughter burst from the now unguarded center of my spirit as I let myself fall back into the powdery softness behind me.
There I lay, flat on my back, flailing about in the snow like a little kid. Unashamed and lost in the moment, I celebrated the goodness of God, thanking him for his wintry gift.

After several minutes of this satisfying, childlike worship, I scrambled to my feet. In my spot on the canvas of white remained the imprint of a snow angel. Proof that I was there and had not let God’s gift slip by.

Before heading for home, I paused for one more breath.

While the snow presented to me a wonderful gift, the greater gift became evident as I stepped outside myself to worship God without encumbrances. My brain uncluttered and my heart unfettered, he freed my spirit to soar without the boundaries of my adult-sized frame.

Whatever it is about freshly fallen snow that brings me to that place, I want more.

More snow. More stillness. More laughter.

More opportunities to step outside the intensity of my grown up thoughts, so I can experience more God. I’m on the lookout. How about you?

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Every Life for Good

"He didn't make it."

The sting of these words scatter my thoughts today. They're the words my brother used when he called Mom late Friday night. The birth of his son, William Steven Stanley, had come a month too soon.

He separated from his life source. No warning. No shout from his cozy growing space. His active body simply stopped.

No one knows why.

But we do know the sting is real. Losing life hurts. When life ends, grief grows toward a season of sorrow. And sorrow mingles among the tears of the living, weaving its way through a family, a community.

When God set loose his breath within this tiny human form and provided parents for his nurturing and protection, he intended for good.

He intends every life for good.

My brother grapples for understanding as he attempts to dismantle the beginnings of a nursery. "Robin, we saw the baby clap his hands. The nurse doing the ultrasound said that maybe he would grow up to be a gospel singer. No matter what she did, he just kept clapping." His voice trailed off. "Now I can't get this . . . this crib thing apart. I just put it together . . . you'd think I could figure it out."

A picture of his hurt, his helplessness.

Oh, God, I feel his hurt. His struggle with the finite nature of the human body. His frustration with not being able to make things better.

I haven't seen my brother Jim in over a year. I saw, then, his tearful journey with sorrow as our great Aunt Pearle lay unresponsive after a severe stroke. When I entered her room, he looked up at me from the foot of her bed, his heart broken. Tears poured out his helplessness. "She's not going to make it." I wrapped my arms around his neck. We cried together.

She didn't make it.

At her funeral, in our sorrow, we found a way to express our love and celebrate the impact of her long life. We remembered sitting on the steps while she told of her travels, pointing at a different salt shaker for every state she'd been in. We marveled at the way she brought life to those around her, even from a wheelchair when she broke a hip and couldn't be her normal bustling self.

God intends every life for good.

I wish today that I could wrap my arms around my brother's neck. I know that I can't make his hurt go away. I don't want to make his hurt go away. But I would sit with him in his sorrow. I would celebrate with him the short life of his stillborn son. And I would help him see how the sorrow in his tears and Cheryle's tears and Mom's tears and Dad's tears and my tears and his friend's tears mingle together to validate that life.

A life that God intends for good.

Monday, June 16, 2008

A Man of Few Words

I talked to my dad today. In his usual way, his words were few, though well-chosen and without complication. "You can call more often, Honey. I don't always know when to call you."

My dad wants me in his life. . . .

A couple of weeks ago, nearing the end of a short visit to their winter home in Sebring, Florida, I sat with Mom and Dad after enjoying a wonderful dinner. Tears slipped down my cheeks, eventually choking out my voice, as I began to give them an unexpected glimpse into their daughter's story.  God was calling me to a deeper place. A place that required cleansing. . . . and a vulnerability I found intensely risky.

Dad set aside his dinner and locked my gaze from across the table. I asked forgiveness for the facade, for the fear. Through trembling lips, my words came. Tumbling and awkward. "I need to know that you love me with my crap. Not just when I sing or when I get my name in a book." I paused. Then I emptied my heart. My chest heaved as sobs continually interrupted my less than eloquent story. In the end, all I had left were tears. 

Within seconds, Dad made his way around the table. He wrapped my exposed soul in his arms and reminded me where I stood with him. "You just be who you are. I love you." I'm not sure I can remember the last time I laid my cheek across my dad's shoulder or experienced the comfort and safety of his extended embrace. He's a hugger, for sure, but not always the warm fuzzy, expressive type. 

That day, within our small circle, I heard something I'd previously only assumed to be true: my dad loves me just the way I am. As I'm in the process of being perfected, letting go of old skin, walking into tomorrow's clothes, I'll have days of extreme doubt. But this man of few words— my dad, my protector—showed me the picture of Truth: I am wanted, and I am loved. No matter what. 

I love my dad. He does a great imitation of Jesus.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Out . . . Out, I Say!

Center stage, dimly lit, a woman stands — worn, distraught, silent, save for the constant rubbing of her hands. Left over right. Right over left. Each motion just as intense as the one preceding. Her face holds a hollow stare, even at the entrance of her maidservant and a companion.

The intruders pause.

The distance between their words expands to gather in the woman's mutterings.

"Out . . . Out, damned spot. Out, I say."

The torrid display of selfish ambition to which she had been an eager accomplice hangs heavy in the air. Memory of that murderous night slips itself around her neck like a noose, tightening with every labored breath.

". . . Who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?"

The crimson stain, now etched in every wrinkle, every pore, labels the woman guilty. A murderer, far removed from the freedom and power she sought as queen alongside her famed husband Macbeth. Scrub all she may, the stains remain. No toil can quiet the demons of her soul or satisfy her soiled heart.

Sitting in the theater, eavesdropping on Lady Macbeth's torturous grief, I considered my own soiled heart. How many times have I scrubbed and scraped, desperate to dispel the stains of my sin? Stuck in shame, embarrassed in my weakness. Spilling every ounce of energy to make myself clean.

"Out . . . Out, I say."

My soul, restless, longs for quiet. The sorrow of my night displays the truth: I am helpless. No amount of scrubbing can return my heart to the condition of its youth.

The rift narrows. My rhythm slows. The scrubbing stops.

I remember now. . . . Jesus.

His love carried my sin to the cross — yesterday's sin, today's sin, even tomorrow's. The crimson blood, spilled out on my behalf, labels this woman forgiven. Forgiven and free. The chains are gone. I can be seen in full for whose and who I am. No hiding. No scrubbing. Just daily giving my heart to Jesus and receiving from Him, His heart for me.

My freedom? It came at a price. But He paid the price out of love — once, for all. And I am oh, so grateful.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1-3 NIV

Sunday, April 20, 2008

No Ordinary Sacrament

Sacraments are ordinary things through which something extraordinary is offered. An ordinary bush ablaze with God's glory. Tablets of earthly stone engraved by a heavenly hand. The divine Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us.
— Ken Gire (Reflective Living)

God extends Himself through the people and experiences of my life — just as though they are sacraments. In those extraordinary moments, when the everyday begets the eternal, I see my Maker. And I know that I am looked after; I am loved.

Over the past few weeks, I found myself in the center of several such appointments. 

Surrounded by mountains at the edge of Lake Tahoe during a women's retreat, I sat at the feet of the One whose mercy knows no limits — at a time when mercy seemed something I'd misplaced. How good of the Father to remind me of his ways by offering the grand effect of the earth buckling under seismic stress.
Imagine the crackling, the groaning as the ground shook and shifted, thrusting itself through the crust of the earth in relief. Not pretty. Yet the results rise up, a resounding display of God's glory. Evidence that even the most extreme circumstances manifest his beauty — out of his mercy — in his time. Might it be the same for me? Might the Father, in his profound mercy, set in motion a rising up out of the seismic stresses of my life? A rising up to display his beauty? His glory?

It hurts. This shifting. The groaning deafens my ear toward the quiet whispers of my Savior's heart.

But as we share together the sacraments of communion — both with the elements representing His body and blood,  as well as with the community of friends He has gathered — the Word writes upon my heart His pleasure in me, His commitment to me. He extends Himself without measure. 

He offers to me His life. A revelation of my Everlasting Father, a picture of mercy, a fulfillment of grace, a gift of love. 

— Now THAT's no ordinary sacrament.

In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God. God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him. The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it. . . .  So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son. . . . From his abundance we have all received one gracious blessing after another. For the law was given through Moses, but God’s unfailing love and faithfulness came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us.   From John 1 (NLT)

Friday, March 7, 2008

Real Life Role Models

Sunday morning at First Baptist Church in Fayetteville, Arkansas, a bubbly new friend bustled toward us before Sunday school started. Brooke wanted to take her kids' photo with Jennie and me. "You know why, don't you?" she inquired with her hospitable southern accent. Pulling a camera from the bag slung over her shoulder, Brooke looked up to see whether we "got it." My questioning glance must have been a cue to my cluelessness. "You're real-life role models. Adults my kids know who love Jesus and live with the same values we want them to have."


My heart stopped for a second, then melted. What an honor. We met only two days prior to this tender moment, but God connected us in a way that empowered and encouraged each of us. I'm grateful for relationship with Brooke. She loves God with her whole heart — and she loves her kids with intentionality.

At first breath, my knees went weak. The responsibility seemed immediately more than I dared think. But by the second breath, Brooke's request re-opened my eyes to the influence the Spirit can have from within me. I went to my knees, grateful for grace. Glad that godly influence doesn't require perfection, but a yielded and willing heart. 

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. Psalm 139:23, 24

. . . because Father, when Thomas and Abigail see our faces hanging on their fridge, as it pleases your heart, I want them to see you. May they remember the day when the author and her friend came to town as a day when you reached into their young, tender spirits to remind them how special they are in your sight. Thank you for the blessing of being your voice — for ones such as these and others whom you bring into our spheres of influence. Amen.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

An Unexpected Valentine Gift

I just received in the mail an unexpected Valentine from my mom. The instruction on her card reads, "To put toward your car repair." While the gift shuffles like paper and promises to pay out cash, something greater lies beyond the evident. In the corner of that promissory note, Mom had written: ImageBearer Mission. 

Those words summoned my tender heart. Yes, I'm called to be the face (and hands, and feet) of God. To reflect toward others his heart for them. Called. It's my mission, my name, my identity. 

While Mom may not always "get" the choices I've made in the past several months to sell my stuff (after selling my house a couple of years ago), leave my decent and steady income, insurance, family, friends, nephew, a name attached to a position to move to a land faraway (Ohio to Florida!) — she sees that I'm called. And in the calling, God has given me a new name. Somehow, some way, she sees. 

In her uncertain, but loving way, Mom sees me a little more today for who I am. . . . and she wanted me to know. I love her for that. Receiving such an acknowledgement, especially from Mom, makes this calling, this name, this identity for me more real. It validates. It embraces. 

It's like hearing a friend call you by name in the middle of a crowded airport after you've just landed from a very long trip — someone you haven't seen in a long time. Yet she still recognizes you. No, she knows you. And she states that she knows you in the very way she says your name. You hear her voice amidst the chaos. It reminds you that you're known — and loved — and everything's going to be all right.

Now THAT Valentine gift won't just sit somewhere on a shelf or simply pay for a shiny new crankshaft pulley.

Thank you, Mom, for loving me enough to share your resources and your heart. Happy Valentine's Day.

But now, this is what the LORD says—he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine." Isaiah 43:1 NIV

My Protector - He's at it again!

The pesky noises plaguing my car for the past several months finally culminated in a grind-grind-clunk double-twist combo last weekend. The effect, as I flipped the first U-ie to park in front of the house, sent percussive breaths shooting from my lungs. A second U-ie confirmed the clunk and drained every bit of confidence I had taken away after the previous week's oil change. "There's nothing to worry about," the garage manager assured me. "We heard nothing out of place."

But there I was — out of place and out of sorts. 

So I pulled up to the curb, cranked back the brake, and sat. The opposing silence created plenty of space for me to consider an appropriate response. I considered some more — and, yes, cried just a little — before emerging to inspect the street for any clunky, fallen engine parts. When I found nothing, I simply walked into the house, put away my groceries, and went on with my much-anticipated, quiet evening. What else could I do on a Saturday night? 

Funny, isn't it, how ignoring a half ton, broken down vehicle can make it disappear — or at least sit, undistinguished, in the background. 

After more than two days of denial passed, I finally braved the drive back to the garage. A quick turn of the ignition sobered the manager's otherwise cheery outlook. "This isn't good," he uttered, his head turning my direction from under the hood. Hmmm . . . not a pleasant way to begin a conversation. It turns out that a pulley broke clean off from the crank shaft, leaving the belt to waggle and the gadgets to sputter! 

I sputtered too. My bank account cannot afford such nonsense! The manager, seeing and feeling my pain, began to call associates to track down parts, ahead of giving me a preliminary estimate. The result? Around $340. With screaming out of the question, I went about the business of fussing, trying desperately to anticipate whether I should take the car home, borrow a friend's car, and leave the cash in my account for "such time as it would be needed for something more important." In my old manner, I wanted to see what only God can see: the future!

A couple of phone calls later, and a reminder from the manager that my car wasn't driveable, I indicated the go-ahead with a less than enthusiastic thumbs up. "Take care of what's in front of you," I kept telling myself. "Worry about what's to come when it comes." Easy to say, but walking the way seemed beyond my ability. . . . 

And, that's when I began to recognize the long armed anticipation of the One who promises to Protect. It hit me smack dab in the middle of my mess. In a few weeks, I'll be driving across the state to teach at the Florida Christian Writer's Conference. Not a terribly long drive, but what if that pulley had held on, lulling me into a false sense of security until — BAM! It snapped somewhere along I-4, sending me to a spinning, grinding halt with no immediate resources, suspended between Florida coasts?

What if . . . 

Those words haunt me at times, do they you? They leave me suspended — not between Florida coasts, but between heaven and earth. Between lies and Truth. The lie? I'm responsible to provide for every aspect of my life on earth.  And money's often the root of my fear for provision. In my singleness, I've tended toward self-sufficiency. Not asking for help — at times not even knowing I have need, and certainly not being able to name the need so that I know what to ask for (hint: that's called denial, ya know!).

So, yay for me that I called my friend's husband to talk over my dilemma with a fellow talker — because I know I will drive myself crazy trying to internalize an answer. And then — I let him come and pick me up! I knew that something in me had shifted when I responded to a "how ARE you?" question with "God protected me today. That pulley could have broken off any time, anywhere, and left me stranded." But I have a Protector whose unfailing love I can trust — and His timing is perfect. And since, out of that perfect love, He provides for my needs today, I can trust Him to provide for the needs that arise tomorrow — when tomorrow comes.

In your strength I can crush an army; with my God I can scale any wall. God’s way is perfect. All the Lord’s promises prove true. He is a shield for all who look to him for protection. For who is God except the Lord?
Who but our God is a solid rock?
  Psalm 18:29-31 NLT

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Compassion without limits

Wow, what a day. Every part rich with take away! 

A sermon about God being my breath, a tea party presented with poise and flair by Jennie's 11-year old daughter who wanted family time (complete with chapter books to read aloud!), the film August Rush (which left me undone for several reasons), and then reading a few blogs before bed. Aaron Chambers' warning against apathy ( brought together some of the day's loosely strewn threads. Do I carry compassion for people in need (or who aren't like me), or am I too often content to turn my head with an apathetic sigh? 

While I recognize my compassion toward many in varying circumstances, it sometimes falls short. I see that when I'm uncertain I can contain the depth of ache that fills me, I turn my head. I put my arm out as a stop stick when approached by someone who wants something from me I'm not willing to give. They invade my space. Or I'm afraid that if I give a little, more will be required. Then what? What if I don't have anything else to give? Or I can't figure out what's needed. . . . Or I'm so desperate to help, I feel helpless in my smallness — and I do nothing.

It's as if I stand in to protect myself when God clearly names his Son my guardian. Crazy as it sounds, when I let him, Christ's guardianship supplies all the security I need to open my heart toward fallen humanity — and I have more than enough to give.  

So, with Christ as my Protector, God as my breath, and with friends to walk beside me, I can risk laying bare my heart, giving from the Spirit within me. And maybe, just maybe, when I turn myself outward and away from my own desires or insecurities, I'll be open to the same compassion Jesus showed — without limits.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Just Start

"Just start, Robin . . . just start." 

A friend came to this blog looking for my words recently, and found only an info page. . . . She came looking for my words. . . . my words? 

And here I sat. Where I've been now for sometime.

Pressed in. Shut down. Bound from beginning to end.

My words, though dormant, strain against my chest. 

Joy's gentle affirmation re-spun itself through the filtering system of my brain. She's right. 

And so this diary (of sorts) begins. I've been designed by God to bear his image. Be a reflection of his face in a dark, hurting world. Since that is so, the binding has to go. And trembling, I start. 

I started, Joy . . . I just started.