Wading boots


Pastor Nathan told us a story about how he loved to fish when he was a little boy, about ten or eleven. He loved it so much, and he thought, “If I could just get out farther, then I could really catch something.” So his mama bought him some wading boots. With the waders on, he could get a whole foot or two deeper in the water, but he still had to be careful because of the way the sides drooped down and would let water in. He was so excited, and he fearlessly waded out into the water… then he felt himself sinking into the mud at the bottom. He tried to move, but the boots were held in place by the mud that was sucking them down. He couldn’t get them to budge. He quickly realized that the only way to get loose was to leave the boots behind. He had to come up out of them in order to be free.

It’s a lot like sin, don’t you think? We convince ourselves we can get a little bit closer, get in just a little bit deeper, mistakenly thinking we have the power to pull ourselves out when things start to get a little dangerous. We think it’s OK to get in up to our ankles, then we’ll go to our knees, then maybe even our waists. But we won’t get in all the way, and we won’t do it without a little bit of protection. We put on the illusion of safety. We tell a friend to hold us accountable, or we ask someone at church to pray for us. But we don’t stay out of the water. Oftentimes, we find ourselves going in just a little bit further. One more inch… one more… there! We’re still OK. We can still see the shore. Forget all the dangers that might lurk in the waters, we’re focused on the surface, on ourselves, on how far we can push it. We urge a friend to tell us all the details of a situation, feigning concern, then we gossip to another friend under the guise of a prayer request. We might start with a simple conversation, then become friends with someone we see at work or around town, then think, well, it wouldn’t hurt to text them. And before you know it, the harmless flirtation has serious repercussions on a marriage, and on the kids, and on everyone involved. We think, I’ve had a hard day, so we pour ourselves a drink to help us sleep. Then maybe two, and maybe three the next night. Before we know it, moderation is a thing of the past. The thing we thought we could control is controlling us.

I’m strong, I’m a Christian, I’m walking right with God, we say. We think that God winks at our mishaps, fondly shaking His head at all the times we mess up. We pray, genuinely repentant, on Sunday mornings, and then go home and make excuses for ourselves all week long. But our God, while forgiving and gracious and merciful, is first and foremost holy. All the un-holy things we do put a wedge between us and Him. Instead of inching closer to sin, we should be inching closer to God, before the current gets too strong, and the mud too deep, and we find that we’re stuck. We need to come up out of the sin that entangles us and let it go. It’s OK to leave it behind. When we are truly walking with God, that’s where sin belongs. Behind us.

My offering

"Your stories, they are a gift. They were given only to you. You are the only one who could have experienced them the way that you did. You are the only one who can tell them the way you do. They were a gift, and it is your obligation to offer that back, to do what you can do with it and offer it back to the Lord." These aren't the exact words of a friend of mine, but this is how I remember a conversation with a fellow writer several weeks ago.

These words have rolled around in the gapingly open, empty void inside my head ever since.

These are my stories. I don't just have the option of telling them. I have an obligation. I do believe that to be true. That's how it feels to me, anyway. It also helps explain the power I feel when I do just that, when I record my experiences in writing, when I step back, out of the way, and let God take over.

Tonight I learned at Bible study something I already knew, but I connected to it in a whole new way. Christians often quote the part of the Scripture that says, "Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice." OK, I know that and try to do it. And I find myself getting all puffed up when I do it, feeling proud, feeling blessed and holy. But I think the most important part is next: "For this is your reasonable act of service." Oh. It's not going above and beyond. When I operate under the power of the gifts He has given me, when I am simply doing what I am good at, when I am using my abilities, both the ones that come naturally and the ones that I've worked hard to develop - I'm only doing what I'm supposed to do. I'm not making God proud of me. I'm not earn brownie points. No, I'm just doing my duty. It's no more impressive than a child not throwing their juice boxes on the floor. (Although in my household, that is something that would be impressive.)

So I'm putting these two ideas together, and this year for Christmas, Lord, I am giving you an offering. I am going to use what you have given me, the stories of my life, of my faith, and write them to give back to you. I don't care if anything comes from them. I don't care if there seems to be no purpose. I am simply going to move forward into the bare minimum category. By writing for you every day, maybe, hopefully, I will advance out of the bare minimum category into something more. But right now, I'm not even doing what I'm supposed to do. I'm not cleaning my room, doing the dishes, or making my bed, so to speak. Bare minimums. And if I want to find more, I have to first step into that. So here I go, stepping forward in faith, using what you've given me, asking you to accept this humble offering.

Why you haven't seen much of me lately (part 2)

I've been in such a crazy phase of my life lately. I have been involved in an ongoing project since June, and it has consumed my little corner of the world. I'm friends with a wonderful couple in Virginia who own an advertising agency. They are talented and vivacious and have the most amazing connections. Anyway, they were hired to do a re-branding campaign for a Fortune 500 company, and they asked me to come aboard and help. I was not one of the lead creative people, but it was an experience I couldn't pass up. It's had its ups and downs, and now the project is almost finished and I can breathe again!

So maybe sometime soon I will write again.

In the meantime, I spent what little free time I could find recycling some things I'd already written... and ta da! My devotional was born. I designed a book containing 48 pages of my essays, paired with relevant scriptures, thoughts for the day and prayers. I'm giving them as Christmas gifts but since the minimum order was many more than the number of people on my list, I have them for sale as well. Cost is $7 and I can take checks or credit cards. Anyway, I'm a lousy salesman, so I won't tell you how great and inspiring these are... but if anyone is interested, call or email me and I'll get one to you.

Thanks, and hopefully I'll be getting back into a more regular posting schedule now.

Kelly
765.366.6709 or kelly@kosdesign.com

Why you haven't seen much of me lately (part 1)

Getting ready for these upcoming jewelry shows. I usually only make things once or twice a year, but I was inspired by some amazing jewelry at an art fair this fall and have been consumed with going insanely overboard. If you're in the area, I'd love to see you at one of these events...

Staying on the right road

The shock of it all nearly caused me to skid off the road. Luckily, no one was behind me when I slammed on my brakes. It couldn’t be the same place, could it? But it was.

This past winter, in a foolish attempt to take photos one cold, foggy morning, I took a detour down a treacherous, muddy road. My car wallowed in the thick soggy earth, I barely made it through, and the friends I saw right after the experience still laugh about the look on my face when I told them the story. How scared I was, how my car kept getting bogged down by the thick, viscous mud, how I was sliding from side to side and couldn’t slow down or pull over or stop and I was bouncing through pot holes and holding on to the steering wheel for dear life and praying out loud the whole time — nothing any more coherent than “Lord Jesus, please, Lord Jesus, please” over and over again. But today? Today it looked lovely. Clear, golden sunshine filtering down onto the weeds and flowers, which were overgrown at the end of summer, the feathery grasses rippling in the warm breeze. Bountiful fields of crops, looking ripe and hearty under a brilliant blue sky. Hard-packed dusty ground traced a benign path between the fields. It appeared to be the perfect, peaceful, idyllic country scene.

My journey last winter struck terror in my heart — and today? Nothing. Sometimes it’s all about timing. It’s about seasons, and using wisdom, and knowing when to put yourself into situations and when to take yourself out. The same goes for the spiritual world, too. My faith is strong today, but what about last month? Or two weeks from now? We can’t stop watching where we are going. The very same place that is dangerous today might not be in six months. And what was perfectly fine last year could be very, very dangerous and traumatic this year. There are innumerable variables that change daily — our situations, our circumstances, our finances, insecurities, emotions, hormones, relationships, self-esteem. Maybe running into your ex-boyfriend this week wouldn’t phase you, but had you seen him two months ago when you were tired and exhausted and mad at your husband, it could have led to lots of bad complications. Maybe this month your bills are paid, but next month you will be tempted by money someone left sitting out or lie about your situation to get your creditors off your back.

I guess that is why we’re told to rely on our faith. Faith comes from God, not from us, so it’s not dependent on our judgment or abilities or circumstances. We can’t know what dangers lurk around the next bend. How bumpy the road will be. How slippery the path. Without faith, the thought of navigating down that road is really scary. But with faith – with Him – we can take a deep breath and relax our grip on the wheel. Because we know He’ll help us stay on the right road.

Where in the world have I been?

Nowhere. Stuck right here in my office, working frantically for a client who thinks the world revolves around their needs. I agreed to it, and that's OK, but it's taken over my life and I'm trying to regain some control :-). The project should end around December 1st, and then maybe I'll be back to normal (whatever "normal" is for me!). Sorry I haven't posted for so long. I actually wrote a couple essays this week and should be posting more soon. But in the meantime, just wanted to say hello, in case anyone out there is still checking in, and to post a link to a surprise I found this morning. I went online to read the latest issue of Kyria magazine, and discovered that another of my devotions is in this issue. They bought it months and months ago but just hadn't told me when it would be running. Pretty exciting to happen upon something like that.

Hope you enjoy... (go here and turn to page 5)
Plugged in to the Source

Creating order from chaos

As I sat last night, beads in little plastic drawers and piles all around me, feeling my soul soothed by the sorting and ordering and grouping of colors and shapes and styles, rearranging drawers by color families in a smooth progression, I had to wonder. How big a dork am I?  With each drawer that was properly placed, each bag or string of beads that was cut loose and tumbled, clickety-clack, into drawers, my troubles seemed to ease. My stress lightened, my mood brightened. Maybe it's as simple as the fact that I love shiny things. But maybe it's more.

This morning, as I thanked God that I felt better, I asked Him why sorting helped me so much. And immediately my spirit answered: because that's what He does. He creates order from chaos. He takes despair and confusion and replaces it with hope and wisdom. He reorders, restructures, regroups, taking the raw materials that were there and making something entirely new from them. Something better. He created form from the void, light from darkness. So, perhaps, when we impose order on the jumbled mess all around us, we connect with Him on some level. No, I don't mean that we are playing God. It's not about having the same kind of power. It's about eliminating confusion, erasing doubt, creating sense from disorder — finding peace in the storm.

Thank You, dear Lord, for peace in the midst of the storm. If it can be found in the small storms, it's also there in the monsoons, because You do not change. So as I organize, categorize and alphabetize, help me remember to give You thanks for the way You do all those things within me, in the chaotic, ransacked mess that is my soul.

Remodeling - new article at Kyria.com

 

Last week, Kyria published another article, this one about remodeling my house alongside my dad. Check it out!

Speaking a new language

A couple months ago, my third-grade son went through a phase in which he incorporated his “Caesar’s English” words into his conversations. Even though the words were correct, it was strange to hear such big words come out of his mouth. During the high school honors night, which was three hours long, he leaned over, sighed, and repeated over and over, “This is tedious.” And in spite of the fact that the kids being honored were amazing and impressive, I had to agree. A few days later, he talked about what would happen “if the anger pervaded his body” and about how languor creeps over him at night. As a word person myself, I love the way he plays with language, tries out the words, sees how they sound and how they work together. The “new” words sound funny to us — very conspicuous and out of place because we don’t hear them very often. But they’re right, accurate, and appropriate. If we know what they mean.

However, sometimes people use words we don’t know. Have you ever suffered through a conversation in which someone uses the same word, over and over, and you have no idea what they’re talking about? But you feel too stupid to ask? When a whole lesson or conversation hinges on a concept that you don’t understand, it leaves you feeling angry and frustrated and embarrassed — and convinced you’re in the wrong place.

Many of us try out a new language when we get into church. We talk about our Christian walks, say we’re children of the King, that we’re born again and saved and were lost in sin before we found Jesus. There’s nothing wrong with that. And if you know what those things mean, the expressions are entirely accurate. But if you’re not immersed in the culture of the Christian church, the words and phrases jump out at you, awkward and obvious. In our effort to show that we belong, I think sometimes we unintentionally push away those who don’t go to church. They don’t have a clue what those words actually mean (covered by blood? — yuck!), and at face value they sound downright weird (if you found Jesus, was he lost?). Because of the confusion the words create, they become more and more convinced they don’t belong. So they decide to stay far away.

It’s good and right to talk about the ways our lives have changed since God became a part of them. And it’s wonderful to tell people how real He is and who He is. But just remember that not everyone knows the language. Don’t talk down to people, just think about what you’re saying. A good friend talks about, not when she was saved or born again, but when she started to fall in love with Jesus. Instead of pushing me away, that makes me want to know more. I want to hear the rest of her story. And I hope I can phrase things in ways that make people want to hear mine. Because each one of our stories is also His story, and those are the words people long to hear.

Writers group

I've put this on Facebook and emailed a few people, but I thought I should mention it here, too. For information about a writers group starting in August in Crawfordsville, please go here:
http://oksowrite.wordpress.com/

No more false advertising

Many years ago, I worked in an advertising agency in Indianapolis. One day, my fellow art directors and I were eating at Wendy’s. I distinctly remember the moment one of the guys unwrapped his sandwich, a look of disbelief and disappointment on his face.

“Does this look like that?” he asked, pointing to the large color poster covering the window next to us. No, not even marginally. The chicken patty was smooshed flat, the bun crushed on one side and wrinkled where it had been too tightly wrapped; the lettuce was a tiny piece of off-white, limp iceberg lettuce; and the tomato was the palest of pinks, drooping halfway off the bun. The photo on the poster showed fresh, plump, thick, mouthwatering chicken with a glorious red tomato and deep green, ruffly-edged lettuce. There are rules in advertising about showing the actual product you’re selling, but there are also people called food stylists who know how to make ice look like it’s exceptionally cold and the produce look like it’s glistening with moisture, freshly picked from the garden out back. The bedraggled sandwich sitting in front of my friend was a pale, poor substitute for what he thought he was getting.

Sometimes I think I do a similar thing when it comes to God. Oh, I mean well. I want to present Him with the best I have to offer — worship that is sincere and authentic and passionate, writing that is for His glory, prayer that never ceases and always seeks His will. But instead, I find myself throwing up a quick prayer before being distracted by the busy-ness of life. Or I come into church to worship, freely and gladly, but because I haven’t sought Him in prayer yet that day, it takes me a while to focus. Or, worst of all, I write an essay or prepare a lesson and when I get praise, I chalk it up to my own abilities. I know He inspired it all, but sometimes I want part of the credit. So what I end up giving Him is like that sandwich at Wendy’s, a second-rate, disappointing substitute. Yes, I’m still offering Him something, and in His goodness and mercy He always accepts it, but deep down I think He must be sad not to get what I’d promised.

We are called to offer ourselves as a living sacrifice — and that means our whole selves. If we take credit for some of our abilities, or if we offer not our first fruits but our second (or third or last) fruits, we’re trying to pass off a mealy slice of tomato for the lush, juicy, nourishing one we promised. Our sacrifice is no longer complete, but something less. What we bring to Him doesn’t have to be perfect. It can be sloppy or small or faulty, as long as it’s the best we have. If it is, He will turn it into something beautiful. No more shoddy replacements for the real thing. I want to see His eyes light up at what I present to Him, knowing I’ve truly offered it all.

Inner tubes

Swimming pools and me... two things that don’t go together. As I lie in the sun, I’m conscious of the sun sizzling my pale, unnaturally white skin. I feel the freckles forming on my face, popping out in the heat like popcorn on a stove. My body just wasn’t made to comfortably withstand heat, so I inevitably end up in the water — even though I’ll have to put on more sunscreen later. Unfortunately, I’m not much of a swimmer, either, so I prefer to lie on top of a raft or inner tube, dangling my feet and hands into the refreshing water but staying safely, for the most part, above it. (The splashing sounds in the pool help drown out the sounds of my skin turning crispy.)

My husband has always been a strong swimmer, and he doesn’t see much of a need for a floatation device. He will hop out of boats in the middle of the ocean to snorkel, diving down to look at the bright colors, coming up occasionally to check on me as I hesitantly float on the surface, life jacket and goggles and all. He dives into pools, swims along the bottom, and feels no fear. Not me.

I’ve been reading a lot lately in Christian publications about how churches fall short, about how “church” and “religion” have gotten in the way of so many people’s relationships with the Lord. Some people are turning away from church and trying to find God on their own. And if that works for them, that’s great. But I think the church is a lot like that inner tube I hold onto for dear life in the pool. Sure, if you’re a great swimmer, maybe you can navigate through life’s stresses on your own and still stay afloat. And for short distances, you might be more efficient and agile on your own. But sometimes, life is not full of sunlight and happiness. Sometimes there are storms. Bitterly cold rains. Churning, turbulent waters. And sometimes you’re not in a friend’s small pool, but in bigger waters — ponds, rivers, oceans. The distance might overwhelm you. You might be in over your head or choke on water or be knocked down by the waves or even find scary predators hiding below the surface. And when those waters get rough, or when your arms get tired, that’s when you need the security of the church. That the point at which an inner tube just might save your life.

Not every church can be everything to every person, and it shouldn’t be. The church cannot create or maintain an intimacy with God for us. But until we get there on our own, or when we can’t do it on our own, we can depend on the church to help hold our heads above water until we find firm footing again. And when we find ourselves lucky enough to be in a sunny swimming pool, we can focus on improving our abilities so that we’re strong, ready to help the next person who feels like he’s going under.

The force behind the words

The jam session ended with Brad singing a quiet, acoustic version of "Daggers," one of his best songs. When it was over, he said, "That's the first song I didn't write." It came to him... in a burst of divine inspiration. "It belongs to God," Brad said. "But I get to carry it around for a lifetime."
~from O Me of Little Faith, by Jason Boyett

Readers, I'd love to hear your stories of when this has happened to you (if it has), whether it was in your writing or speaking or music or art or...

And since I've been asking for input but not offering much myself lately, I'll just tell you about one small instance. I've kept a journal for years, starting seriously and regularly shortly after I "discovered" God. Without fail, writing to God and for God brings my life back into order. I remember sitting on the front porch, back when we had a lovely front porch with a purple porch swing (which my friend Rosanne enjoys now). I was writing in my journal, and I decided to flip back a few pages and read what I'd written. I remember getting chills all over as I read the words, in my own handwriting, in my own journal, from two weeks earlier... and not having ANY recollection whatsoever of writing them. It didn't sound like me. It didn't feel like me. My only conclusion was that it wasn't me. I was awed and humbled and amazed. From that point on I knew, without the slightest hesitation or question, that I could never stop writing, always hoping and praying that He will take over. It sounds rather presumptuous to say they're His words, to claim that the holy, divine God would deign to speak to me or through me, and I promise I don't mean this to elevate myself at all. Not at all. I know much of what I write is mine. But I long for the moments when the words that come are no longer mine. When I feel Him take over, when the words tumble out, complete, correct. When certain words are the only ones that will do. When I try to change them only to know that the original word must remain, only to know that the rhythm, the meaning, the thoughts, everything is already done for me. It doesn't happen all the time, but when it does I don't want to move or lose the moment. And when it does I thank my God, in tears, for being so real, so personal, so present, so so amazing.

It doesn't matter

My lack of does not diminish His greatness. None of my failings can change His essential character.

It doesn’t matter what I do, Lord. You’re still able to work in spite of me.
It doesn’t matter how I fail. You still succeed.
It doesn’t matter how incapable I am. You’re still able.
It doesn’t matter if I have nothing. You’re still everything.
It doesn’t matter if I’m broke. You still provide.
It doesn’t matter how alone I feel. You’re still there beside me.
It doesn’t matter what the news says, or doctors, or anyone else. You’ve already proved victorious over the world.
It doesn’t matter who I am. You’re still who You are. You’re still all in all. More than enough. Effortlessly, elegantly enough.

And the winner is...

Joyce — which seems right she was the first one to clue me in to this holiday. (And no, the drawing was not rigged, and I would have been just as happy had any of the others of you won instead.) And since you're local, Joyce, I'll get them from Pastries Plus. I'll email you to work out the details. Thanks, everyone, for participating. Now I have some writing to do.

National Donut Day Giveaway

I didn't know until the day after, but yesterday was National Donut Day. Seems like a date that should be commemorated on this blog. How did I not know?

According to Wikipedia, National Donut Day is on the first Friday of June each year, succeeding the Donut Day event created by the Salvation Army in 1938 to honor the women who served donuts to soldiers during World War I.

So how does this holiday affect you? Leave a comment with a suggestion for some topic you might like to see discussed, or some aspect of Christianity that seems confusing or gets in the way, or just say hello. I'll send a gift certificate for a box of Dunkin' Donuts (or buy and deliver a box from Pastries Plus if you're local, and maybe even a cup of coffee) to one winner chosen at random (names in a hat). Your odds are good — I think I only have about 10 readers :-). I'll post the winner next week. Thanks!

Putting the action behind the verb

There used to be a clear distinction between nouns and verbs. Nouns are people, places, and things. Verbs are words that show an action. Simple, right? But in the past few years, our society has switched things around. Developments in computer technology have given us new abilities, and instead of creating words to mean what we want to say, we’ve simply “verbed” the nouns. It used to be that I would send [a verb] an e-mail [a noun]. Now we’ve changed it to a verb — I’ll e-mail you. When I highlight something and color it pink, I say, “I’ll pink that.” When I want to send you a message, I message you, and of course we text each other. We’re all familiar with Facebook — a website [noun] — but now, it’s also a verb. He facebooked me. Or he friended me.

Ironically, when it comes to many things in the Bible, we’ve done just the opposite — we’ve taken words meant to be active and converted them into static, dry, abstract concepts. When the Bible tells us to love one another, it doesn’t mean to write romantic letters or daydream or evaluate the nuances of that love to determine how it makes us feel. It means to show love. Feed the hungry, clothe the poor. When it tells us to have faith, it doesn’t mean to spend months hypothesizing about the relative truths of Jesus’ claims and trying to figure out if or how they apply. It means to walk in faith. Act as though we believe it. Proceed as though it’s all been proven, even if it hasn’t. Even if we have doubts. Even if we aren’t 100% sure. The actions transform the motions into beliefs. The gestures evoke the feelings. And then the words mean what they are supposed to mean.

I don’t know about you, but I think I’ve been missing the point. Have I been so concerned with my own abstract “spirituality,” so focused on how I feel about God and so intent on discovering what purpose He has for me, that I’ve neglected to do what God wants me to do? Do my prayers focus on my own needs and neglect those of the community of believers? Have I changed faith from a tangible, concrete belief that makes a difference into a vague concept that means virtually nothing? Go. Do. Preach. Teach. Clothe. Feed. Help. Follow. In the Bible, Jesus’ disciples didn’t sit around waiting, unless Jesus specifically told them to. They didn’t have to earn a degree to be qualified to talk about God, or talk about whether they’ve been suitably empowered by the Spirit to be able to serve, or wonder which song would inspire people to kneel at the altar, or look at their watches when “worship” lasted too long. Their lives changed. They watched others’ lives change. So they went. Baptized. Preached. Made disciples. Shared their experiences. Obeyed. Prayed. Worshipped. Believed. Inspired. And loved. In the most active sense of the word and in the simplest of languages, they had faith. And so will I.

On writing

Found this today on Max Lucado's website and just had to share. So beautiful and inspiring to a writer who wants to be all he says we need to be. Some of my favorite excerpts:

They also wrote with their lives first. They lived the message before they scribed it. ... He [Paul] responded to a real world with real words. Let’s do the same.

Let your life be your first draft. Shouldn’t Christian writers be Christian writers? Love grumpy neighbors. Feed hungry people. Help a struggling church. Pay your bills, your dues, and attention to your spouse. You’ll never write better than you live.

And:

And isn’t that our aim? The best book possible? We need good books. We need your best book. Don’t give up. Be stubborn with your standard. Stay faithful in prayer. Don’t begrudge the hard work. Peter De Vries said, “I write well when I’m inspired and I see to it that I’m inspired at nine o’clock every morning.”

A framed quote greets me each time I sit at my desk. “You wanna write? Put your butt in that chair and sit there a long, long time.” Writing is not glamorous work.
But it is a noble work.

There is a single mother who, tonight, is utterly exhausted. Three kids and long hours have taken their toll. She keeps a book on her bedside. She has only a few moments to read. She just needs a word, a phrase, a refined sentence to lift her heart. Would you write it?

Tomorrow a businessman will follow his daily routine. He will turn from the numbers on his screen to the words on a blog. He doesn’t need much, just an anchor-point, a reminder. Would you write it?

A teenager is looking for a book. Her friends fill their minds with stories of vampires, magicians, and goblins, but she wants more. She wants truth, creative truth. She wants hope. Hope on a page. Will you give it to her?

We need you to do this. We need your best work and it is work. But it is a valued work. A worthwhile work. A holy work. May you do such a work.

May you, like John, depict the heavens. May you, like Paul, love the churches. May you, like John, connect with a Theophilus in your world. May you pick up their pens and write for the soul.

Internet Cafe Devotions

I'm thrilled to announce that I'm being featured as Guest Barista today with my essay "Just Keep Drivin'". Check it out (if you haven't already read it here before).

Skip the small talk


I have breakfast most mornings in a local coffee shop. A long, narrow historic building on the corner of Main Street, the café has a long counter, several tables lined up on a scuffed wooden floor, painted two-story-high tin ceiling, big glass jars full of glossy coffee beans, and the best bagels in town (cooked on a grill, smothered in real butter). Anna has my Americano ready in my regular mug by the time I get to the counter. I usually sit near the back, wedged in a corner at a small table with my laptop (or Bible study book, or journal, or a friend). I’ve been doing this long enough and routinely enough that people know where to find me any given weekday between 8:15 and 9:30. At least a couple days a week, one of my girlfriends will show up and plop down across from me, coffee (or mocha or iced chai) in hand. But whether or not someone shares my table, I’ve noticed that nearly every day three or four different people stop to ask what I’m writing, comment on my Facebook status from that morning, show me pictures of a daughter at prom or discuss their latest run or vent or ask advice or laugh and tell stories or even hold hands and pray. I know them by name, or at least by sight. I have some idea where they work or what they do or if (and where) they attend church or if this is their normal day to come in (and where they normally sit). I know who’s working on a sermon, and who’s doing schoolwork, and who hangs out together on weekends. I’m comfortable there, in “my” coffee shop. It feels like home. I know these people.

But do I really? Settling in to pray the other morning, I found myself feeling uncomfortable. The words were stilted, the conversation seemed awkward, and I was self-conscious. I pray, and I study, but my life has been out of control for several weeks and I haven’t given God the time He deserves. I felt like I’d been away for so long that I didn’t remember how to be with Him. At that moment, God brought to my mind these relationships. They seem real, and they are in fact genuine friendships with really great people. But do we know how to go deep? Small talk is fine, and easy, in a large room full of people. But what would be it be like if there were just two of us, sitting alone in a room, trying to express our most private thoughts? It hit me that I’ve become guilty of letting my relationship with the Lord become superficial. I’ve been doing the social thing, talking about Him, saying hi when I happen to bump into Him — but claiming He’s my dearest friend. He has been that before, and He is willing to be that again — when I’m ready to sit down with Him and close out everyone else. When I’m willing to go deep, expose my emotions, and confess my secrets. When I want to spend time getting to know Him again, not in a public way, not in the way everyone else knows Him, but in my own way. When I want to be a true friend, and not just an acquaintance. When I’m ready to drop the small talk and meet God Almighty face to face. He’s already waiting at my favorite table. All I have to do is sit down.

Writer, writer and writer

On Friday night, my friend Lisa and I had the chance to hear Elizabeth Berg speak, read from her latest, The Last Time I Saw You, and sign our books. She was as delightful in person as her writing, characters and observations are in her books. Of course. Someday maybe someone will show up to hear me do a reading from my latest book. It could happen.

It was also the night I found what may very well be the perfect journal. A new kind. The brand name is ecosystem, and it's approx. 7.5 x 10", about 1/2" thick, in an obnoxious watermelon pink color with a matching elastic strap, quirky patterns printed in the same color on the inside front and back covers, wonderfully smooth paper with narrow, delicate lines, and it even has a pocket in the back. The cover is flexible and satiny-feeling. Oh, and the pages are even (very subtly) perforated. It just feels good to hold. Even though it's not green (either it doesn't come in that size or they were just out at the moment), I think they've achieved journalistic perfection with this one. Trust me, this is a spiritual thing for me.

So now... well, I guess I need to get busy writing.

Something to think about

I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ. ~Gandhi

Shoes

I, like many women, love shoes. Unfortunately, I’ve reached a point in my life where comfort matters. But that doesn’t mean I can’t still find cute shoes. My husband doesn’t understand why I have so many, or why I need more. To him, black shoes are black shoes, end of story. (He has one pair.) But to me? The black high-heeled mules go with many of my suits. The Land’s End black sandals have a wonderfully comfy sole and are great to wear with jean shorts in the summer. The black flats with the pewter trim are good for dressing up jeans but still staying comfy, although if I’m going to do a lot of walking I switch to the worn-out black Skechers with Velcro straps. The black and gray slip-ons are kind of quirky; the black sandals with the ankle strap are professional-looking but cool and I can walk miles on the flat 2” heel; and the black sandals with woven straps and wedge heels are great with summer dresses but kill the balls of my feet if I wear them too long. The black Clark’s Mary Janes with the colorful stitching and leather flowers are my most fun (but almost too small) pair. And I haven’t even mentioned the four pairs of black boots — knee-high with spike heels for wearing with certain dresses; ankle-high with pointy toes for certain slacks; casual, cowboy-boot-style for jeans; and warm, soft cable-knit winter boots. My house slippers are even black.
    
In the natural world, I can justify the “need” for a bunch of different pairs — as long as buying them doesn’t take the place of food or paying bills or providing the needs of my family. But in the spiritual realm, I’ve noticed many of us put on shoes that were never meant for our feet. We put on shoes of unbelief; strap on division and strife and disloyalty; walk around with unforgiveness or resentment or untruth or deception or hate. We put on all these shoes, but we really only need one, for the Lord says we must shod our feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace (Ephesians 6:15). We need to let peace carry us through our days — without pain, without blisters, without vanity. The footprints we leave behind should be gentle and unobtrusive, yet distinct and memorable. The shoe may not be what we’re used to wearing, and it may take some time to break it in. But when we put these shoes on, we discover something surprising — there is no longer a need for any other pair. No matter how much we try to justify it. Not even if they’re on sale.

A tribute to Mah

I wanted to write something about her — not filled with platitudes, and not pretending she is suddenly a saint because she is no longer with us — but simply with a whole lot of love and sadness for what we’ve lost. People use many words to describe her — feisty, spunky, witty, independent, stubborn, strong-willed, interesting, forthright, bright. All those things are true, but she was so much more than the woman we saw these past few years.

She loved to play games. When I was younger, we would sit at her dining room table, kitchen lights off, dishes washed, with Jeopardy or the news on TV. We’d probably had catfish and macaroni and cheese, or cheese soufflé and chipped beef gravy (Kerry’s and my favorite) for dinner. Dutch apple pie for dessert. And after bowls of grapefruit and orange sections, meticulously peeled the night before, we would have homemade mush and bacon for breakfast, or maybe cowboy coffee cake, baked in metal ice cube trays. Lunch might be hunky noodle soup, or maybe grilled Havarti sandwiches on thinly-sliced Pepperidge Farms bread. With cut-glass trays of celery and carrot sticks, and big glasses of milk. The chairs we sat on had flowered needlepoint cushions she’d made herself. Moose and Jet, two sweet-tempered, loving black labs who slept under the dining room table, occasionally woke and snuffled our bare ankles. She played Solitaire after she’d worn us out playing Kings in the Corners or Yahtzee. Always frugal, she hated to roll a Yahtzee with sixes. She thought it was much better to get the 50 points from 5 ones, or to roll a large straight in a single roll, but if we happened to get lucky and roll one she wouldn’t hesitate to call us, emphatically, a fink!

The whole time I was growing up, when she lived in her house in Decatur, she was always hot, probably because she worked so hard. All the time. She wore lightweight cotton sleeveless dresses in colorful patterns – flowers and vegetables – that she made herself. She wore many of the same dresses my whole life — they still held together, they still fit, and they still suited her.  Mah hated my long hair being in my face – the very sight of it made her too hot. She fanned herself and pulled her dress away from her body to cool off, but she rarely slowed down. Mom says she used to dread her mother’s visits because she knew how much work they would do — cleaning windows with ammonia, conditioning her antiques with linseed oil, scrubbing and planting and cooking.

Unlike my mother growing up, we didn’t have to wear homemade clothes, but instead got to shop for school clothes with her every summer. We would have to squat, showing the corduroy pants weren’t too tight to sit in, and button the scratchy wool coats, stretching out our arms to show we wouldn’t outgrow the sleeves anytime soon. Dot would sit in his wheelchair outside the entrance to the dressing room and give us a thumbs up or thumbs down, and when we got back to their house we’d put on a fashion show for him.

Mah had pantyhose that were older than I was. She had a penchant for costume jewelry that featured fruit and vegetables (when she wasn’t wearing beautiful “real” jewelry, custom-designed as a gift from her husband or bought in some far-off, exotic locale), and she gravitated towards sky blues and colorful patterns to fill her home. She loved to garden and hated the animals that nibbled on her plants and burrowed under her grass, and went to great lengths to try to foil them. In spite of the animals, the plants would survive, and she would slice bowls full of thin cucumber slivers fresh from the garden, soaked in vinegar with onions, and fill antique pitchers with red, orange, pink and yellow zinnias.

She taught me the difference between the words lay and lie and didn’t hesitate to correct my grammar. (The writer in me thanks her today.) She taught me the Lord’s Prayer one summer when I stayed with her and told me to pray it every night before I went to sleep. I still do, because she’s a force to be reckoned with. She made sure I washed my hands before dinner. She sent me care packages at college, boxes packed tightly with homemade lemon bars and lace cookies and wonderful peanut butter buckeyes. She wrote me long letters on legal pads and encouraged me to do my best (and in Dot’s later years, he signed them after her with a big, scribbled, laborious, emphatic “dot” in place of his name). There were no limits to what I could do, as far as she and Dot were concerned. They managed to make me believe that. And they were so proud of their grandkids and great-grandchildren.

They served as a real-life example of living the American Dream. They grew up in the Depression and had to borrow $50 to start my grandfather’s medical practice. But they were smart, and frugal, and they worked hard to save and invest. She did her nurses’ training at IU, and she defined herself by that, in spite of working very little in that role professionally. But she showed her abilities when she nursed her son Mike throughout his long battle with brain cancer, and again during the 13 years her husband suffered from ALS. Her determination could be seen in the way she got him in and out of bed several times a day, sat him at the table to read the paper (and turned pages for him), cooked for him, fed him, took him places, turned him, bathed him, deciphered his words, and showed her love for him in a selfless, committed way. And she did it all on her own, by choice, because nobody else could do it like she did. Her force of will probably added years to his life. He was strong and loving and wonderful, but she contributed a fierce determination that very few could top.

Which brings me to her marriage. As a granddaughter, I confess to being oblivious to the state of their marriage. As an adult looking back, though, I’m awed by the depths of love that were there. All I truly know, though, is that the force of their relationship was so strong, that to this day, whenever I talk about “her,” I find myself instead talking about “them.” I’ve been doing that here. My grandfather has been gone for 21 years, yet – partly because of her – he still remains somehow present. Just as she will remain present in our thoughts, opinions, and actions.

She taught me a lot about family, about the importance of building a life for them – about loving them, yes, but even more so about giving them the tools they need to succeed. She valued hard work above all else. She was content only when she knew that her family was all safely where they were supposed to be. She could relax when she knew what we were fixing them for dinner. She was one of the most patriotic people I’ve ever known, always mentioning at the top of the list of things for which she is thankful that we get to live in this country. Her husband served as a surgeon in WWII and her son served in Vietnam. She was fascinated by American Indians and I think felt a personal responsibility for the injustices they received. She fretted about politics because she wants there to be something left for her great-grandkids, a country to be proud of, a country that is not in debt, a place to live safely and with the freedom to be educated and to work hard to achieve success. She knew education made a difference in the quality of their lives, so she and Dot helped send people to school (we got a letter last week from another doctor we didn’t know they’d helped), sponsor students overseas, and donate generously to educational institutions. They established college funds for their grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and she set up a scholarship at Southmont High School to benefit students entering a medical field.

She lived through many hard times, but also good times. I’ve heard stories of tent parties in their yard, scrapple breakfasts, good friends, dancing, dining, entertaining, organizing the medical auxiliary, visiting the nuns at St. Mary’s, and going to the country club. They traveled extensively themselves — to Ireland, England, Scotland, Italy, Hong Kong and the Far East, among others — and she traveled to the Holy Land. Her life had been lived, and she was ready to go. I can’t tell you how many times I heard people try to inspire her with stories of Aunt So-and-So or a father-in-law who lived to be 96 or 103 — and I watched her shudder and say how sorry she was. So even though we’re sad today, we rejoice that she finally got her wish. She’s with One who adores her, One who will keep her free from pain, and she is probably dancing with her beloved Willie right now. And I’m so glad for her.

Her daughter and other granddaughter became nurses, I’m sure in part because of the example she showed them. I didn’t get the nursing gene, but I’m realizing I did get something – a dubious honor, maybe, but one I won’t deny. When my friends are frustrated by my independence, my stubbornness, my strong opinions, or my political leanings, well, maybe, just maybe at that point Mah is living on in me. Because she taught me to use my mind. I do have opinions, and they are usually strong ones, and I reserve the right to tell you what I think. On the other hand, I also want to be informed. I may not be the cook she was, and I’m not a gardener or a canner, but I can appreciate a good meal as much as she did. She helped plant in me a love of giving and a desire to help people change their lives. I have a good education and want that opportunity for others. I understand the value of family, and I’ve seen how a strong, determined woman can make a huge difference in many people’s lives. So, although she may not have been perfect, she was an amazing woman, and I’m proud to say I’m her granddaughter.

Louise Walsh Smullen

July 11, 1915 - April 4, 2010

As much as I rejoice that she is no longer suffering, I'm sad that I lost my feisty, strong-willed, interesting, bright, witty, opinionated (but loving to her family) 94-year-old grandmother.

It's been a strange, sad week, just knowing she's not there — here — any more. My sister says she pictures her dancing with our grandfather, because they always loved to dance. (That reminds me of another photo I found yesterday, which I'll also attach.) I think she's busy looking around up there, thrilled to be able to walk again, full of life, healthy and strong, being led around by Willie, her husband who died in 1989, laughing all the way. At least that's what I believe.



**


Life is a wacky combination of sadness and joy, all mixed up together. And God is good, no matter which phase you happen to be going through at the moment. But I'm thrilled to also be able to report the wonderful news I got today — Mom's latest scans are clean! She's been in remission for about 4 months this time. I'm so thankful that even though I've lost my grandma, my mom is still in good health. God has already taught me that I can't believe numbers and statistics, so I say with much faith that I believe she'll be around for a long time. And that makes me really glad.
 
(P.S. The little one in the sunflower hat is my daughter Katie, who is now 16.)

Drink deeply

And he went a little farther, and fell on his face,
and prayed, saying, O my Father,
if it be possible, let this cup pass from me:
nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.
~ Matthew 26:39

In the Garden, Jesus prayed, “Let this cup pass from me.” Much has been written about the cup, and what it entails — the suffering involved with taking on all of mankind’s sins. But one day, as I was listening to one of my favorite worship songs, God showed me something new. In Kari Jobe’s song “The More I Seek You,” she says, “I want to sit at your feet, drink from the cup in your hand, lay back against you and breathe, feel your heart beat…”

Drink from the cup in your hand. It could mean many things — spiritual nourishment, for example. But the “cup” Jesus refers to is about suffering and temporary separation from the Father — in other words, the critical purpose of Jesus’ life. In order for us to come to a place so intimate that we can rest at the Lord’s feet, we need to be willing to drink from the cup He has for each of us. That doesn’t mean that we will necessarily have to suffer — some of us might, many of us won’t. But it does mean accepting what the Lord has for us.

He made each of us for a specific purpose. No one else could have fulfilled Jesus’ purpose. I can’t fulfill yours, and you can’t fulfill mine. But if we draw close enough to the Lord — if we offer ourselves to do God’s will, as Jesus did — then we will be drinking from the cup He has for us. We’ll be using our talents. Raising our kids with gentleness and kindness. Singing if we can sing, writing if we can write, loving, nurturing, praying, worshipping, hoping, helping, showing, shining. We’ll be drawing closer and closer to God, feeling more and more thankful that He drank from that cup 2000 years ago, understanding more and more clearly just what that meant. When He drank, He knew all that you would do, but He also knew what you are capable of overcoming. And who you are capable of becoming. He thought of you that day, overflowing with an unbelievable love for you. Yes, you. Honor Him today by accepting. Say, “Yes, Lord, I want what You have for me,” then drink. Deeply and fully and thirstily. Every last drop. You'll be glad you did.

I'm published... finally!

A couple months ago, a dear friend said to me, "Do you think God gave you your talent? Do you think He made you to write?" Then she said the most profound thing ever: "What other justification do you need? WRITE!"

So I am. So I have been. And today my first article appears at Inside Indiana Business. The first of many, I hope... I have three faith essays that have been purchased by Kyria Digizine (one for the magazine and two for the website portion), the first of which will appear in May. And I've had an article accepted by the Upper Room devotional, and one by Internet Cafe Devotions.

Thanks to all of you who have encouraged me. It's happening :-).

Eraser


Pastor Nathan mentioned something last week that has really stuck with me. He said to look at the end of a pencil. Someone had the foresight to know we were going to make mistakes, so they put an eraser right there on the end of the pencil, nice and handy, ready to use when we mess up. God gave us an eraser, too — it's called repentance. Repent, and our sins are gone. Blotted out, erased, as if they were never there in the first place.

Leave it to God to use office supplies to speak to me.

Color-coded Christians


When I was in high school, I hated P.E. in any and all of its variations. Running? No thanks. Archery. Not my thing. Square dancing? Don’t even ask. But the worst segment of all? Swimming. What evil tyrant decided it was a good idea to put developing teens of both sexes in the same room, half-naked and dripping wet? It wasn’t an attraction issue – I don’t remember thinking anyone looked particularly good. All I remember is fretting that I looked really bad. And I’m sure I did. Insecurities run high, especially in women, and particularly in young, hormonal girls — and in any female in a swimsuit. To add insult to injury, my school provided the swimsuits. Color. Coded. By. Size. As if I didn’t feel self-conscious enough, I had to request a red suit – which meant extra large. (To be fair, one of the small sizes was also red, but there was a substantial enough difference that no one would confuse the two.) And to add insult to injury, most of the suits were outrageously stretched out from the other extra large parts most of the bigger girls had. Unfortunately, I did not, so I had to tie the straps together in back with my shoelace to keep the suit from falling off.

Some people dread coming to church as much as I dreaded swimming class, certain that everyone can spot their sins, convinced that the “churchy folk” are pointing at them saying, “She had an affair,” or “He was arrested,” or [fill in the blank]. We have trouble believing that our sins wouldn’t matter. We have trouble seeing ourselves for who we really are because we have accepted the enemy’s lies about us. We say we have faith but perhaps we don’t really believe God forgave us as He said He would. When we allow our self-identities to be defined by what we’ve done wrong, we’re essentially walking into church in color-coded suits. Adulterer? Scarlet. Addict? Green. But that’s not what church is about. As a member of God’s church, we must be careful not to “color code” those who walk in the door. It’s not our place to assign someone a category, to assume we know who they are because we know what they’ve done.

And, more important, it’s not how God functions. He says though our sins are as scarlet they will be white as snow. When we repent, when we truly understand that our behavior is preventing us from being as close to God as we could be, when we are willing to turn away from what is hindering us, then we can be confident when we approach the Lord. We can come together with God’s people, free of judgment, free of condemnation. Knowing we’re clothed in garments of righteousness, assured of our identities as children of the King, and able to stand tall and confident and without shame before Him.

Soaking in the sunlight


It seems like winter has lasted forever. I’m tired of scraping the windshield of my car every morning. I’m tired of taking off my wet shoes and then stepping, sock-footed, in a puddle of melting snow tracked in by someone else. I’m tired of not being able to tell what time of day it is because the view outside my window, all day long, is dreary and gray. And when the weather is like this, not only am I tired of it, I’m just tired.

But this week the sun has been shining, bicycles and running shoes have been dusted off, and people have gone outside. Neighbors walking past smile and wave; convertible tops and car windows are rolled down, music blaring — just because they can be. It’s still cold in the mornings, almost freezing, but by afternoon we’re stripped down to t-shirts, if not shorts and flip-flops. It’s probably really not warm enough for that, but it feels so good because we’ve suffered through months of cold and darkness. I normally don’t mind winter, but even I took advantage of the sunshine this week.

One morning as I prayed with the other women at ladies prayer group, I felt the Lord shining down upon us. I raised my face up, towards the warmth and light. And He showed me something. In the sun, we soak up vitamins and feel our health being restored. But, by basking in His light, our spiritual selves are restored. Our bodies get the nourishment they need. Our hopes are renewed, our attitudes are rejuvenated, our anger and sadness disappear. It’s even better than the way the sun feels falling on your bare, pale skin. It’s even better than getting off an airplane and heading to the beach to have the sun warm you all over. Because we don’t have to wait for the weather conditions to be just right, and we don’t have to travel to a specific tropical location. We can find this wherever we are, whenever we need it. Whether it’s sunny or gray, warm or cold, whenever you’re lonely or sad or tired or hurting, just turn your face to the Light. And let Him shine.

What a friend we have in Jesus

Good friends are hard to come by, but I’ve been blessed. I’ve had many friends, but they’ve not all been constant. Each phase of my life has brought me into contact with new people. The girls I ate lunch with and passed notes to in high school knew every detail of my life — who I liked, what I wore, who hurt my feelings. But we lived in different places after high school, and as they got married and had kids and I didn’t, we grew apart. In college, it was a new set of friends, people who had similar goals and dreams, people who also wanted to break free of the rules and constraints of the places where they’d grown up. My friends and I stayed up all night talking and studying, amazed by the things we had in common, helping each other map out our futures. When the “future” arrived, we all went our own directions and got busy. The phone calls and visits became farther and farther apart. The early years of my career were also the early years of my marriage, so I didn’t do much with anyone but my husband (and most of my friends were busy doing the same thing). After my children were born, I found myself moving in different circles, resuming contact with friends who also had kids, meeting people at preschool open houses and school music programs, bonding with women who, like me, jumped at activities that offered child care. Along the way I’ve found women who will share rides and pick up my children, women who like to read like I do (or shop or eat at the same Italian restaurant), people who attend the same church, people whose kids are involved in the same sport or band or play as mine.

In each stage I’ve met some amazing, bright, witty, vivacious, fun, caring, good people. But I’ve learned that even though the friendships were real, many times they were based on a shared experience — and once that experience ended, so did the relationship. Most of the time, good memories and feelings remained; we just didn’t have a whole lot in common anymore. We’d run out of things to say.

But there’s always something to say to the Lord. He doesn’t get bored hearing the same old things. Even if we run out of words regarding our own lives, there are never enough words to describe Him. To thank Him. To remember what He’s done. As long as we’re wanting to be friends with Him, we will have plenty of common ground. He doesn’t outgrow us or move into another phase; He walks right next to us wherever we are. He holds stubbornly onto us, no matter how much we do change. Because He never does. And if we’re walking with Him, trying to be more like Him, any changes we make will actually bring us into closer communion with Him. He is unlike any other friend we’ll ever have, and no matter what, the friendship will endure forever. He puts no limits on it, no length, no breadth, no height, no end. He offers it all.

Just keep drivin'

A couple weeks ago, it was one of those breathtakingly beautiful mornings with fog everywhere — white snow, white sky, crisp frost on the branches. I was heading to Indianapolis so I grabbed my camera to try to capture some of this beauty. Unfortunately, as I drove along 32, I could never find a good place to pull over to take pictures. Frustrated, I vowed to take the next side road I came to. It snuck up on me in the fog, and I swung onto it... and, moments too late, noticed it was a rutted, muddy dirt road. Not even gravel, just dirt. Great. My clean white car...

I hadn’t gone far before I regretted my decision, but there was no place to stop and nowhere to turn around. There was not a single house or lane to be found. At first it was just messy and bumpy, but before long, I started composing in my head the words to explain to Tim how I got stuck in the middle of nowhere and needed to be rescued. The muck was deep and sucked at my tires. My car was sliding from side to side when it wasn’t bogged down by the deep wet earth, and the tires were spinning and spewing mud up to the top of the side windows. I didn’t care how clean my car was; all I could do was pray out loud and focus on not stopping. I knew if I so much as slowed down I’d never get moving again. The sludge in the road pulled the car from side to side; my shoulders were tense from gripping the wheel, and I repeated over and over, out loud,“Lord Jesus, please. Lord Jesus, please. Lord Jesus, please!” After two miles, I came to a crossroads (thank you, Jesus!) and the road was paved (thank you, Jesus!). With a deep breath of relief, I turned onto it, feeling stupid and annoyed with myself. I headed right back to the main road, making sure at each turn that the road was solid asphalt before me, and went directly to Indy and the nearest car wash.

Sometimes we’re faced with situations we don’t want to be in — usually because of choices (or stupid decisions) we’ve made. Those are the times we need to look for a side road and turn around, or look for the earliest opportunity to get off that path.

But once in a while, we’re in circumstances that are out of our control. A relative is very sick; we lose jobs or friends or money; we’re misunderstood or unappreciated or wrongly treated. Some of these predicaments are small, but some are all-consuming and life-altering. We may think we can’t bear it. We don’t have the strength or energy or desire to patience to get through, and our hearts are broken. But more than that, we don’t know how to keep going. We’re being pulled down into a quagmire, under the sludge and muck, trapped and unable to find a way off that path. Those are the times we need to keep the pedal to the floor and just keep going, praying all the way. It may be ugly, and it may be messy, and it may even be a little bit scary. But if we can just keep moving forward, and ask God to help, we will get past the place we’re in.

Feeling especially thankful



What I sent to my clients today... but I have all of you to thank as well for the friendship and encouragement you give me. Thank you.

Transformed


This time of year in Indiana isn’t always beautiful. When the snow drifts just right, and the winter sunlight glints off the snow-covered branches, and when you take time to notice that the shadows from the corn stubble left in the field are a lovely bluish-purple, then yes, it can be called pretty. But much of the time, our winter landscape consists of drab browns — grass and weeds and plants that are dead and dry and crumbly, washed-out gray skies, and the stark pointy shapes of tree branches, bare of leaves, silhouetted against the sky. But the other morning, the scenery was breathtaking.

A dense white fog had settled onto the ground in the night, and though it had cleared in most areas, it left behind a beautiful white frost. Everything was covered. The crystals outlined each and every blade of grass, the fence posts and wires, the individual pine needles, the bushes and the plants and every single delicate branch of the trees. It was breathtaking. Suddenly, the blah landscape was transformed into a thing of remarkable beauty. Everything was a shade of white, with the lightest, purest white coming from the sun, trying to burn through the fog. Bluish-whites and grayish-whites and dull whites and sparkly whites; it was like looking at a magical, make-believe world. It was the same view that had been there the night before, the same as it had been all winter — except for one thing. The frost. That one little touch — that specific combination of temperatures and humidity and cloud cover and air pressure — made all the difference in the world. Suddenly, we were able to see everything in a new way.

We’re all products of our environment, if we let ourselves be. How quickly we pick up the prevailing mood or spirit — when good things happen, our outlook is positive and hopeful; when we’re confronted with trouble or anger or hatred, we respond in kind. In other words, we are changed, just as the landscape was — but are we changed in a good way? If we soak ourselves in the glory of God, if we let Him saturate our days, our minds, and our spirits, then His beauty will cling to us. His magnificence will outline our very beings, and we’ll walk around transformed, and people will see our individual attributes and formerly hidden beauty. But if we don’t surround ourselves with His presence, if we don’t immerse our lives in His grace and mercy and love, nothing will change. We’ll still remain drab, dull, and (frankly) not all that interesting. When Moses went up on the mountain to receive the Commandments, the glory of God settled like a cloud. When he came back, he wasn’t the same because the Spirit of God changed him. Next time you draw close to God, you have a choice to make: will you stay the same, or will you be transformed by His touch?

Turbulence


I like to fly, but nearly every flight has those moments, those heart-stopping moments of fear. I hate those moments. Cruising along, finally able to turn on portable electronic devices (and listen to music on my iPod, tuning out the conversations all around), I get comfortable and open my book and, all of a sudden, the airplane bumps and bucks. We all look around, trying to gauge by the flight attendants’ expressions whether we should be worried. The plane hits more turbulence and we look out the windows, having trouble believing that we’re not actually hitting something. It feels just like a car running over something. As hard and violent as the bumps seem, it’s hard to believe there’s not something physically in the way. But to the naked eye, the air looks clear.

Air turbulence is caused by air masses traveling at different speeds. The “bumps” occur when an airplane crosses over the point where two different speeds of air meet each other. We can’t see these spots. Much of the time the pilots can’t predict or avoid them. But visible or not, they’re there. They cause the plane to suddenly accelerate or shake or dip or bounce. If you’ve never had that experience, if you’ve not been jolted around by those bumps, if you’ve not grabbed your armrest and wondered if you’ll make it home, you may not really understand. But once you’ve experienced that kind of turbulence, you know it’s real.

So many people have never had an experience with God. They may know of Him, and they may even believe in Him, but they haven’t felt him. Without personal experiences, it can be difficult to believe, and I understand that. But once you have experienced Him? You’ll feel a jolt more powerful than the air turbulence. You’ll marvel at how real He is, even if others can’t see Him. You’ll understand that experience triumphs sight — if you’ve felt Him, you don’t have to see Him. If you’ve had a run-in with the Almighty, you will know. You will feel the effects of it. You might even be a little scared. You will definitely be changed. You might even change directions. You might accelerate down the same path you were already on. You might fall down. But no matter what your personal experience is, you won’t want it to stop, because going on a journey with our Heavenly Father is like nothing else. You’ll reach new heights, and you’ll probably end up going places you never imagined. So when you feel that bump, whether it’s big or small? Don’t fight it. Don’t try to get away from it. Just close your eyes and hang on, because you’re in for the ride of your life.

A new kind of currency

As I was trying to “justify” taking time out of my busy schedule to have quiet time with God, He revealed a remarkable concept to me: I need to start dealing in other currencies. Money is not the only resource of value that He has given us, and it’s not the only currency that matters to the Lord.

The Bible is clear about the importance of tithing, or giving back to God a portion of what He has given us. I remember going through different stages before I fully accepted the need to tithe, from thinking a few dollars a week was good enough, to wanting to give more, to wanting to show how much He meant to me, to trying it to see if I could afford it, and finally, to willingly and gladly giving, without question, knowing I can’t afford not to tithe. I no longer feel like I’m giving away my money to the church. I believe I am simply returning to God what was always His as a way to show my faithfulness.

Now that the commitment of tithing is deeply ingrained in my soul, God has thrown a new twist at me. It’s time to tithe on all my resources. All of them. My health. My family. My talents. My time. Especially my time. No, I don’t think God is up there with a stopwatch checking whether I give him 2.4 hours of each day. No, I don’t have to sacrifice my first-born son (although there are times I’d consider giving him away to the first taker). But I do have to remember this: It all belongs to Him. Every bit of it. Every thing of value I have came from Him. Every ounce of ability, every loving relationship, every moment of every day. So when God wants me to spend time with Him, I need to understand that I shouldn't be looking at my schedule and deciding when I can pencil Him in. I’m not picking how much time I can spare, or which part of my day I want to donate to Him. Instead, just as I do with money, I’m simply handing back to Him the part that was always His.

Same goes for every other aspect of my life. It’s not about determining exactly how much of any given thing is 10%, but it is about setting aside a portion for God. If I’m not using my talents for Him, they’re being wasted. If I’m not taking care of my body, I’m squandering the health He gave me. If I’m not using my money to further God’s kingdom, it has no lasting value. And if I’m not honoring or recognizing the Lord during my day/week/life, then it’s really not worth anything. Only when it is by Him and for Him and filled with Him does it — does anything — have value. I don’t get to decide what belongs to God. I only get to choose the attitude of my heart when I return it to Him.

Gotta love this


I checked in on Dina, my favorite blogger (maybe because she seems fond of me in return) and found that she was awarded a Kreativ Blogger award. After listing five things about herself, she was to nominate a few more blogs. I'm touched that I was on that list.

So here goes... five random facts.

1) I would leave my husband for one and only man... Colin Firth... but ONLY IF he's appropriately dressed, dripping wet, and speaks as though he really is Mr. Darcy.
2) I didn't like coffee until a client of mine, who owned a gourmet coffee company, personally fixed me mochas at every meeting to try to get me hooked. Eventually the coffee taste wasn't strong enough and I graduated to coffee. Now I drink a Cafe Americano every morning (two shots of espresso and hot water).
3) When I sit down to design a new logo, I start with -- not a drawing -- but a list of words I want to describe it. (And my friend Lisa, a writer, starts with sketches instead of words.)
4) I have never watched most classic movies (shame on me) and I could never bring myself to actually read Shakespeare. Or J.R.R. Tolkien.
5) As a child, I always wished I could bring Laura Ingalls into the future and show her all the way cool things we had nowadays, like cars and TVs and refrigerators.

And now some of my favorite creative blogs (I'm only sorry I couldn't re-nominate Dina)...

the mcg family - inspiring words and the best eye. I know they're mostly of her kids, but she knows how to take an amazing photo and they're beautiful enough that I, too, love them (although I've never met any of them!). I love the way she sees the world.

Where am I wearing? - He's a published author and way beyond this, but I still love reading his perspective. Kelsey Timmerman wrote a book about going on a "global tour to the countries, factories, and people that make our clothes." What an idea!

Scott Flood Writing - I worked with Scott years ago and have always loved his sense of humor -- and his matter-of-fact approach to solving creative problems. Don't get me wrong -- he's still very creative -- but unlike so many people in the advertising community, he believes the approach should always make sense. Gotta like that.

And lastly, my friend Corinne is perhaps the best storyteller I've ever known. Sadly, she puts most of her posts, comments and observations on Facebook and has sorely neglected her blog (hint, hint)! But you'll enjoy the few posts that are out there.

Thanks again, Dina.

Questions


In response to some thought-provoking discussion going on at one of my favorite blogs, Causerie, I posted some questions and responses of my own. I love these kind of discussions, so I'm putting my reply here, too... so, if I have any readers out there, I'd love it if you'd throw in your own two cents' worth in the Comments below this blog post. Respond to any of my comments or any of the ones found at Causerie. I'd love to know: What do you think about it all??

OK, I’m not sure if this is exactly where you were going, but this discussion brings to mind a question I’ve pondered for some time now. If I am a Christian, and if I believe the Bible to be true, then I am told that it is my responsibility to share God’s love and preach the “good news”. If I love my neighbor, and if I have found something that has transformed my life, and if I believe with all my heart that God is real and living and true, then I am supposed to tell people about it. But the difficult part is that many who do not consider themselves Christians are REALLY turned off by Christians talking about “their” God. Or they’re offended by the implication that if I believe this to be true and if I believe they need to know about it, I’m conceited and assuming that I am correct (which implies I think they are “wrong” or I am trying to change them because they’re not “good” enough). But I’m just trying to do what I’m told to do by the God that has transformed my life, and I don’t mean any judgment by it.

I’ve met many people who are not Christians (and those whose beliefs are Christian but who don’t associate with a formal group or church) who truly seem to “know” God. They are spiritual, they have faith, but they have unconventional “religious” views. But the Bible I believe says Jesus is THE way, the only way to God. Yet in spite of my belief in the Bible — because I do believe it is truth — I can’t bring myself to believe these other people don’t know the same God I know.

Sometimes I think having faith means choosing to recognize that sometimes we just don’t know. Sometimes the questions are too big for us to get our heads around. In spite of any apparent contradictions, I believe that God is real, He is alive, and He is bigger than all of my questions. He has the answers, and if I don’t know what those answers are, it’s because I don’t need to know. My questions and doubts don’t keep me from believing. I may not get it all, and I may not have all the answers, but I know that I know that I know that God is real and that He loves me. There are many areas we can debate -- most of which have to do with “religion” or “church” and very little to do with the relationships I believe God wants to have with each of us – but to me it comes down to this: what can I do to best represent the God I want people to know? How do I let Him shine through me? How do I communicate that He is all about love and not about division and estrangement? How do I show people the way He can change lives without offending them? Again, I don’t have these answers, and every time I seek answers I discover more questions. But I find it all fascinating and wonderful anyway.

Resolutions


I don’t know about you, but I don’t believe in New Year’s Resolutions. They’re almost a joke. Nearly everyone makes them, but very few follow through. Maybe they should be called New Year’s Intentions. We intend to make changes, but we rarely have the fortitude to stick with it. But we try, because a new year seems like a great time for a fresh start. We are filled with hope. We are inspired by the thoughts of renewal. Christmas isn’t the only religious holiday. God is in all things, especially the business of renewal. And God is the author of hope.

On New Year’s Eve, I got a mailer from Weight Watchers because they know that this time of year everyone vows to lose weight. It’s a universal thing. People decide to start exercising, to drop 20 (or 30 or 40) pounds, to drink more water. There are other resolutions – to stop smoking, to stop spending money, to stop drinking. But mostly, we focus on earthly things, battles of the flesh that we need to overcome. We always start with hope that we can finally conquer these issues. This will be the year! But the problem is we’re focusing on the flesh, not on the spirit. Each of these items has a spiritual parallel, so maybe that’s where we should begin.

Are we carrying around too much weight? It’s not just an extra 20 pounds that makes us unhealthy. It’s the excess baggage. The resentment that festers and damages our hearts. The hatred. The judgment. The fear. All the ugliness that holds us hostage, keeps us in bondage, and breeds even more fear. Maybe the most important weight to lose is that. And maybe, once our spirits are right, our bodies will follow suit. After all, we will no longer eat out of desperation or loneliness or depression, because we will have allowed God to fill those holes. We need to take control of what we feed ourselves. Does it nurture us or simply temporarily fill an emptiness?

Going along with weight loss is exercise. It’s not enough to control what goes in; we also have to strengthen our hearts, lungs, muscles. In order to function in the way God designed them, our bodies need regular workouts. So do our spirits. Just like physical exercise, sometimes it is hard to get started. It hurts, because we’re not used to doing these things. We need to pray until it becomes natural. We need to expose ourselves to the Word until it becomes familiar. We need to make a concerted effort to work at it, and when it becomes easy, we need to step it up a notch and push ourselves even more.

Years ago, at a New Year’s Eve party, several of us declared our resolutions. Every one of us vowed to drink more water — it finally became a joke. But isn’t that what we all need? Not just any water, but living water. The water of eternal life. The water that finally quenches our thirsts, that finally satisfies. The water promised by Jesus. So this year, go ahead and make resolutions if you must. But maybe the best way to start is by drinking deeply in the Spirit. Then the rest will come.