Have I mentioned...

...that two of my pieces received Honorable Mention in the Writer's Digest 77th Annual Writing Competition? The letter informs me that "this year's contest attracted over 17,000 entries. Your success in the face of such formidable competition speaks highly of your writing talent, and should be a source of great pride as you continue in your writing career." Both pieces were entered in the Inspirational Writing category. One, fittingly enough, was called The Whole Box of Donuts and contained 5 or 6 of these short essays that are on my blog (ending with the one about the donuts, of course). And the other, titled The Changing Faces of an Unchanging God, consists of short "snapshots" of different moments that I've seen God throughout my life.

Several of you have believed in my writing ability for some time now; maybe this will be the thing that finally allows me to believe I could someday be more than just a wanna-be!

A parent’s legacy

Surrounded by Your glory, what will my heart feel
Will I dance for you Jesus or in awe of you be still
Will I stand in your presence or to my knees will I fall
Will I sing hallelujah, will I be able to speak at all
I can only imagine…

(from Mercy Me’s “I Can Only Imagine”)

In my mind, envisioning heaven is not the hard part. The hardest part, I suspect, when thinking about dying, is leaving behind those you love. Feeling like you might be missing out on their lives. And thinking maybe you didn’t make enough of a difference, that maybe you won’t be missed after all. Maybe you aren’t necessary.

Since Mom was diagnosed with cancer, I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of her legacy. What will remain when she’s not physically here. I can’t ease her fears, erase her sadness, or give a good reason why this had to happen to her. But I can promise her this: no matter what happens, her presence in my life will never be diminished. Do I want her here forever? Absolutely. But even when she is not, I will know what she thinks about things and what she would tell me to do. I will continue to want to buy her quirky gifts that are just perfect, that no one else would appreciate the way she does. And I will continue to enjoy the houseful of peculiar objects she’s given me over the years, knowing better than anyone else what I would love and what pleasure I get from things others would think are strange. I will cook from the recipes she wrote down for me when I went to college – and when I don’t, I’ll remember all the times I tried to avoid letting her know we were going out to eat yet again when we really should have been saving our money and watching our waistlines. I will see her reactions in my own reactions to situations. I will laugh, knowing what she would find funny, wishing I could call and tell her. I will notice the things in this world that are unjust, the people she would want to take under her wing and help in her own unique, thoughtful ways, and I will want to pick up where she left off. My kids will talk about her, just as they talk about my grandfather, who died before they were born. He’s not here, but he left a legacy of love and education and they admire him tremendously. They know him, even though they didn’t get to meet him.

A couple years ago, when my friend Nancy lost her dad, I wrote this to her: “You will always be your father’s daughter, and you can still give thanks for that every day of your life. He helped make you who you are, and because of that, he will never be gone. I’m glad to know you and to know a little of your dad through you.” Until the moment I wrote that, I hadn’t known that to be true. But it is. As long as I live, people will see my mother. Most women vehemently deny that they are anything like their mothers, but we know every one of the ways in which we are (even if we won’t admit it to our husbands). I never thought I'd say this, but I’m one of the lucky ones who can be proud of those things.

When Jesus was preparing to leave this earth, He didn’t want to suffer, but He knew there would be comfort for those He left behind. He knew He would always live inside the hearts of those who remained, both in those who walked beside Him on those dusty roads and those who would not be born for 2,000 years. He’s not gone, nor is He forgotten. We don’t see His physical body, but He remains visible (or should) through all of His children, all those who allow His wonderful traits to show in their lives. As long as we are present, all those around us will see and remember our Lord — seeing a little bit of Him in the way we talk, the things that make us smile, our mannerisms, our expressions, the way we love each other. They can know Him, because they know us.

I know that nothing will be the same without my mom here, and I’m hoping and praying for many, many more months with her. My heart is already broken — but our several-times-daily phone calls and spontaneous lunches and shopping trips are currently holding it together. But when that day comes, when my mom is face to face with the One who will remove all her sorrow and pain and sadness, when she is basking in the light, overcome with joy, not remembering that she had doubts about what it would be like, no longer caring about the questions she always thought she’d ask, experiencing an intensity of sweetness exponentially greater than the most amazing moments we’ve had with God here on this earth… on that day I will stand proud, holding onto the things she has made me, holding on to the parts of her that I want the world to continue to see… praying that God will shine through me, but knowing that when He does, He will also let those parts that are her remain. With Him, in Him, and in me. A part of me, forevermore.

Looking up

This past weekend, I attended a spiritual retreat. Several times a day we walked along a driveway between the conference center and chapel and dining hall. The path was several feet wide and made up of thick, chunky gravel. One side was deeper and harder to walk on; the gravel on the other side was worn down by traffic and was packed and smoother, but there were some ruts and potholes along the way. Several women discussed how precarious it was. We walked back and forth all weekend, heads down, careful not to step in a hole or twist an ankle by stepping on a large, loose rock.

On the third day, as we walked along the path for about the twentieth time, a woman beside me pointed and said, “Look at those trees! When did they change?” Lining that stretch of the path were several maple trees, and they were ablaze in the beautiful vibrant oranges and golds and reds of fall in the Midwest. The colors were so impossibly vivid and saturated against the clear blue sky. Wow. Had they been this way all along?

We spend much of our lives, I think, looking down. We don’t mean to, but we’re so concerned by the things that might trip us up. We watch for potholes and fear losing our balance. All our efforts go into spotting potential traps, not just for ourselves but for our friends, too, to keep them “safe.” And that’s OK. But when we do this, we sometimes forget to look up. If we did, we might be amazed by what we see. There are blessings all around us — some are small, but some are so breathtakingly beautiful that you have to stop walking for a moment to soak it in. Moments like these remind us that, although our walks are important and we don’t want to stumble along the way, there is beauty throughout the journey – if we’ll only look up and open our eyes. Who knows what blessings we’ve missed that have been there all along?

My soapbox

Welcome to my first ever (and likely last) political blog post. I want to say up front that I mean no offense, and I don’t expect most of you to agree with me, and I’m truly not doing this to open up a heated debate between sides. But it’s time for me to respond to the statement/accusation I encounter practically every day: “But… but you’re a Christian. You can’t be a Democrat!” I just want to state my case, just once ... just because I can.

To me, the very foundation of Christianity is the right to choose whether to accept or reject God. We choose when to come to Him, how to come to Him, how much of Him we will accept into our lives, how closely we will follow His Word, and if we will come to Him. The ultimate gentleman, He never forces us to receive Him. He could, you know, but He doesn’t. He loves us beyond anything we can fathom, yet He wants us come to Him because we want to, not because we have to. The New Testament teaches us that serving God is not about the law; it’s about the attitudes of our hearts. That’s how we find Him, that’s how He knows us. Throughout our whole lives, God gives us free will and then He roots for us to make the right choices.

So when I look at politics, I take the same approach. If God, creator and ruler of the universe, allows us free will to make choices – choices with eternal ramifications, the most important choices we could ever make – than who am I to make those choices for someone else? I cannot choose whether someone should be able to have an abortion. I cannot decide what someone can or cannot say or how they will express their freedoms. (If I do, they’re not freedoms.) I mustn’t declare that some people have rights over others, and I mustn’t judge that simply because someone lives in a state of sin (according to my standards, or even those of God), they do not deserve the fundamental rights the rest of us have. Christ died for all of us while we were yet sinners. We cannot regulate morality. Even the Lord did not do that. He offers guidelines; He gives us rules; He rewards us for following them. But it all boils down to individual choice. If we, as followers of Christ, will choose to operate within the freeing realm of His will, politics and party affiliations really become irrelevant. When we act right, there won’t be a need to regulate us.

I don’t believe I have the right to make crucial life decisions for someone else. But I do believe, rather than slinging mud and bashing those who disagree with me, I should put my focus into educating people. Teaching them about God. Showing them through my actions and by example that I genuinely care. Helping and counseling them to make Biblical choices. I am more likely to have an impact that way than by voting for a particular party. And I also think about this: who is more likely to effect change? Someone who’s never struggled, someone who shouts judgments at a woman who is deciding whether she can go through with an abortion … or someone who has experienced the same struggle, someone who can say with genuine emotion and empathy that she’s been there, and these are the consequences she’s experienced from the decision she made? I’d prefer, rather than taking it all into my own hands, to give God the chance to work through His imperfect people. As He has always done.

As Christians, we are called to be ambassadors. We are to be Jesus’ hands extended. To me, one way to do this is to feed, shelter, nurture, educate, protect, and nurse the sick and the poor and the underprivileged. We cannot decide certain people don't qualify for kindness, and we cannot take away opportunities simply because there are people who will abuse the system. In my mind, the Democratic party’s approach more closely embodies what we are to do as individual Christians and allows us the freedoms we are granted within our chosen faith.

And no matter the outcome, no matter who ends up in office, I will pray for our leaders’ wisdom and right choices. I will pray for compassion and peace and provision and blessings. And I will thank God daily for putting me in a place and time in which I am allowed to express my views and find my own ways to give glory to the Almighty God.

Petty theft

“She’s stealing my chalk!” Anna yelled, outraged. “What?” I ask. “What are you talking about?” “Some girl just walked by and stole my chalk!”

After colorfully decorating our whole sidewalk, my kids left a tray of chalk sitting in front of our house. Some girl (probably junior high age), walking with an adult, both of whom presumably know better, picked up the tray and took it with her. When Anna and I went out to check, the girl was a block away. She looked back and saw us watching her in disbelief, but she kept going, looking back every little bit but holding the tray in front of her so we couldn’t tell if she had it or not. The kids wanted to chase after her, but I said no, it’s their own fault for leaving the chalk where it didn’t belong.

Later, we discovered the tray – missing half its chalk, but at least we got some of it back. It was in the grass on the far side of a tree about a block from our house. My kids were still in shock. They couldn’t believe someone would take something of theirs. Even though they left it there, she should have known they didn’t want her to take it. They felt personally violated, and didn’t want to accept any of the responsibility for what happened.

How often do we blame someone else for what we’ve allowed that person to take from us? Satan is the author of confusion, and Jesus is the Prince of Peace. As soon as we stop watching, the enemy will try to steal what God has given us. If we suddenly notice our sense of peace is gone, we need to stop and think:What opportunity did we create for someone to come in and steal from us? What door did we leave open? Sometimes it’s not even that we actively did anything wrong. We didn’t open the door, but we didn’t lock it, either. Maybe we didn’t start a misunderstanding – but we also didn’t actively stop it. Maybe we allowed questionable behavior rather than taking a stand and making sure our friends understand our position on right and wrong. Perhaps we perpetuated a false assumption or an implied insinuation because we didn’t want to risk being judged once we declared where we stood on that issue.

When it comes right down to it, though, we’re here as ambassadors for Christ. We are to represent God’s holy standards to His people – and make sure all the credit for doing right is pointed back to Him. People watch us, you know, waiting for us to fail. They jump at the chance to expose us, because it makes them feel better about their own failings. Sure, we’ll mess up, probably over and over again. But when we do, we need to learn a very important lesson: don’t do it again. And never, ever leave our chalk in the middle of the sidewalk.