Wednesday, September 26, 2007

I Am Blessed

I just spent a wonderful time of laughter with two really great ladies, respectively. First, I had lunch with a woman in my church whom I've wanted to get to know better, but until today, hadn't really had the opportunity. We drove to Tyler and visited over a great Mexican dinner, sharing a little of our pasts, our present circumstances, and even some of our future hopes. I don't think she'll understand how much her outreach of friendship meant to me, especially after this week of difficulty and disappointment, and I look forward to more visits like this one!

The second lady was my sister, Jennifer. We've not been able to be as close as I'd like, due to geography, but today brought her in close to my soul, and I'm so glad. We shared joyfully about about life, the people we love, and even the people that make life, well, interesting. Mostly, though, we celebrated the good things, like my niece, Laura's first birthday, which is today! In fact, Jennifer was at the store this morning, and happened to notice a blouse that she liked for Laura. When she arrived home, the mail came, and upon opening the gift box we'd sent, she found that exact same shirt! I picked a winner! Best of all, she said Laura held onto it like she really liked it. Apparently, we have a shopper on our hands, though. Laura, Jennifer said, squeals when she senses the possibility of new clothes! That'll be fine as long as she doesn't have champagne tastes on a beer budget! That remains to be seen, I guess, she's only allowed juice and milk for now! Ha!

I also got to speak with my nephew Russell, when he awoke from his nap. He'll be three in December, and had a lot to tell me about his trucks and wagon and playing. Most importantly, he said, "I love you." See, I told you I was blessed!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

I'm a Huge Fan

OK, I confess. I'm a huge fan. There aren't many people that I would make a fool of myself to get to meet, but Lucille Ball and Jim Brickman are two of them. And seeing as how Lucy is no longer available for interviews (unless you do the whole seance thing, and that's just creepy weird, and well, wrong), then I'll be happy to settle for Jim Brickman. I ordered his new Christmas CD and it arrived yesterday. Autographed, I might add! Needless to say, I plugged it in immediately, so I've been swinging to the tunes of Silent Night and numerous other Christmas favorites. Yes, I know it's September. But it's Jim Brickman, and it's autographed!

On a more sensible note, I had a great time today tutoring. I worked with some fourth graders in Math (subtraction with borrowing, to be exact), and then helped my third grade friend with some reading issues. We looked at our mouths in mirrors to see the difference between "full, fall, fool" and discussed "want" vs. "won't" and read a book about a mom going on a diet who puts her whole family on the diet with her - kinda funny, actually. The coolest thing is the respectfulness that I saw in several of the kids. "Yes ma'am" and "No ma'am" were commonplace, and we laughed a little while we worked, too. So I guess the truth is, I'm a huge fan of those kids (in addition to Jim Brickman). A big shout-out to Justice Bean, Braden Womack and Chloe Carnes, whom I also happened to see in their classrooms today!

Monday, September 24, 2007

10 Days

10 days. Ten days have passed since I last shared my thoughts, and a lot has happened in those 10 days. I guess the most moving thing is that I have been reminded yet again that Satan sure knows how to "get at" me. We are definitely at war. I know as a believer in Christ that he can not possess what belongs to God, and, knowing that full well, he certainly takes every opportunity to oppress God's children. One of the best ways he can do that to me is by using the opinions of others. When those opinions are favorable, I easily catch myself in the trap of believing all is good and that I am where I am to be, doing what I am supposed to be doing. When those opinions are negative, I easily sway the other direction and ask questions that truly were already answered. Oddly enough, according to Scripture, the opinions of others are not my standard. My allegiance and obedience are to God, first and Darin, second. While others may earn a role from time to time, they never qualify for positions one or two.

I've also been reminded that I have no right to criticize someone else's servant, especially when I have no information about their walk with God in the past or present. And isn't it interesting how most people who criticize the way you serve God truly have no desire of understanding your point of view? Oh, they'll feign an intense listening pose or nod from time to time as though actively receiving your thoughts and words, but internally, they are plotting their next argument and wording their next reply. Most times, talking to these people is a waste of time, and truly not worth the emotion or energy put into any explanations. I know, because I used to be one of those people. To be in a conversation with me was a one-sided monologue. My heart never heard the opinions of others, because I was so sure I was right. And changing my mind was like re-routing the Rio Grande. Being a communication major (instead of music) in college was undoubtedly God-ordained because he used those classes to teach me what it really means to listen, not just hear. It also helped me become a more careful reader of printed word. I learned to be more cautious about reading my own assumptions or points of view into prose and even poetry. A writer has the blessed privilege of expressing his or her perspective, but a reader has the opportunity and even responsibility of meeting that content without presuppositions. The truth is, that's virtually impossible if you know the person, but I'd like to think that in that case, especially if it's someone you like, you'd come to the table assuming the best, not the worst. But, agenda get in the way, and that's where I believe Satan plays the game most effectively. (Especially since he knows how vulnerable to emotion I am as a woman.) Of course, I still fall back into my old habits from time to time, but God forgive me when I do, for it devalues the human being standing in front of me who is made in Your image.

Just as others should not criticize someone else's servant, neither can anyone define what obedience is for me, just as I can't label it for anyone else. The truth of the Gospel of Christ offends, and sometimes, the truths of my heart (when acting in obedience and writing from its depths of love for Christ, in purity and with all confessed sin) may offend, too. Never with malicious intent, though, because that in itself is sin. I am the world's worst when it comes to tact. I am more willing to not state the fullness of what I feel or believe for fear of offending. I all too carefully word my heart's thoughts. To the point, in fact, that I sometimes believe I've been disobedient by not speaking the truth in love more strongly. But it's because I'm so afraid of being the catalyst Satan uses to (1) bring disunity in the body of Christ or (2) drive someone away from the Gospel of Peace. Yet, when I think about the things that Paul wrote to the believers in Rome, Galatia and Colossae, I doubt every sentence was taken with gladness, grace and gratitude. (Imagine how embarrassed Euodia and Syntyche were in Phil 4!) God give me that kind of boldness in speaking truth in love.

If you haven't figured out by now, over the last 10 days there have been some things that have brought hurt to my heart - misunderstandings, etc. But, just as a giver of harsh words can stir up disunity, the recipient of those words can be equally as guilty of bringing disunity when bitterness takes seed. I don't want to be guilty of that, either. I've been so surprised that anyone would assume malicious intent on my part. To my knowledge, I've not given reason or cause for that to be assumed about my character, especially of people I thought liked or at least appreciated me to some degree. So, until this is all resolved, I'll take my grief to God, for I know with complete assurance the purity of my heart's intent, and that what I said and what I did were in direct obedience to him. So, it's his to deal with, as Master of my soul and Lord of my life, even through the last 10 days.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Still So Much to Learn

Just when I think I understand the methods by which God orders his actions, he amazes me yet again. Perhaps that's why even with all the laws and order he put into science and nature, there are still exceptions to be found to the "rules" from time to time. He doesn't need to be "figured out," nor does he want to be. If so, we might believe ourselves to be his equal (see Gen 3). The constant surprise of who he is and what he does keeps us humble before him. Not for his own ego's sake, but for the glory of his "otherness".

Over the last 10 years or so, I've believed with assuredness that God is somewhat democratic in his behavior. Not that he necessarily gives us a majority rule vote, but that he acts for the general good of more than the few. For example, Jesus' sacrifice (one person) offers the opportunity for atonement for the greater good (many). Wednesday night wiped out that theory. We were studying Gen. 21, and I saw for the first time, I guess, God's activity for the sake of the individual over and above the greater good of many--in fact, his own chosen people.

When Hagar and Ishmael were banished from Abraham's presence, God, knowing the enmity that was to exist for millennia between their descendants and Isaac's, might have easily allowed them to die of thirst, heat, starvation or exhaustion in the wilderness. But he didn't. With new eyes, I saw as God acted on behalf of the individual, in spite of the suffering, adversity and destruction that his own chosen people will experience as a result of the survival of Ishmael.

GE 21:15-19 When the water in the skin was used up, she [Hagar] left the boy [Ishmael] under one of the bushes. Then she went and sat down opposite him ... for she said, “Do not let me see the boy die,” ... and lifted up her voice and wept. God heard the lad crying; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter with you, Hagar? Do not fear, for God has heard the voice of the lad where he is. Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him by the hand, for I will make a great nation of him.” Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water; and she went and filled the skin with water and gave the lad a drink.

God provided for their very survival. Did it grieve him to do so? Did he do it with joy? I can't begin to understand his heart on the matter, but the fact is, he saved them. Never mind the human suffering of his own ordained children for generations to come. His created human beings in need and in grief at that moment captured his undivided and unbiased attention.

Here's what blows my mind: He loves me that much, too. Because I am his, when I cry out in need or sorrow, I have his undivided attention. So many times I haven't felt that way. I've thought he had more important matters to attend to first. Not that he didn't care or didn't want to act, just that I wasn't a priority at the moment. I don't think I usually expect him to act immediately when I cry out - as though he is at my beck and call. I think I've just believed that he'd eventually get around to me. Perhaps all this time, he's actually been acting in ways that I can't see, in people and in places that are right now foreign to me, but will one day converge to bring about the answers I'm seeking. Regardless, he's heard me. With an attentive and compassionate heart, he's heard. And whether it's best for everyone in the world or for me alone, he will act.

I've still got so much to learn.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Sitting on a Snake

My parents called on Friday night and as we talked, they shared the good news that my grandfather, who has struggled with illness over the last couple of years, is doing much better lately. He was even able to travel over Labor Day weekend! That discussion about Grandpa has caused me to reminisce about he and Grandma over the last couple of days, and one remembrance in particular came to mind this morning. . .

One Sunday morning Grandma found reviewing her Sunday School lesson to be a more exciting experience that she'd ever known before. Getting up from the couch to grab a quick bite of breakfast, she returned to the living room to find a snake poking up its head from between the cushions she'd vacated only moments before! Screaming for Grandpa, together, they shoved the couch out the nearby front door, and watched and waited anxiously as the snake slowly crawled out of the sofa and into the motor of their pick-up truck. Grandpa jumped in the truck, searched out the bumpiest dirt road in the county, and proceeded to run roughshod in hopes the snake would fall out. Much to his delight, a few miles down the road, the snake fell out onto the ground instead of crawling into the cab with him!

I doubt any of us will ever forget that harrowing morning, and it got me to thinking: Am I sitting on any snakes? Do I have sin in my life that I've stuffed down under cushions, endangering myself and maybe others? Perhaps I've even allowed that sin to invade other areas of my life as it's slithered from one place to another. Am I willing to shake it free? It may mean riding some bumpy roads to get rid of it, a painful and risky process, but isn't it worth the freedom to be found - freedom from its threat, its hold and the danger of its surprise?

From that day forward, Grandma always checked those cushions before she sat down. I want to daily check to see if I need to do any cleaning out. Sitting on snakes sounds like no fun to me!

Worship from the Heart

I have no doubt that worship occurs each week at our church from the hearts of those whose who seek to worship in spirit and in truth, but for me, yesterday was exceptional. The blend of young and old, both in human generation and musical style, was exactly what I've needed to be a part of for several months now. And the opportunity to not bear the burden entirely for leadership by sharing the role with the praise team made the experience even more grand and meaningful. This was particularly important because I've been fighting the drainage in my ears and throat, so my voice wasn't at full strength. God, however, was my strength in my weakness, and I was indeed able to sing without difficulty or strain. The excitement and joy I saw on some of the faces as we sang was evidence that their thirst was quenched, at least for this week. Darin's boldness in leadership made me so proud, too. He spoke with conviction and assurance that I can only believe was confidence in obedient service to the Lord. I guess that's what I felt, too. I've felt from the beginning that the order of worship for yesterday wasn't about my personal preferences, but rather, was given from the Lord - especially since so much of it came together during sleepless nights! When you know you are acting in obedience on what God has given, there is such freedom from criticism or disapproval. I don't really care if some didn't like what happened yesterday, because it wasn't my offering to them. That's especially significant for someone like me who is usually a people-pleaser and seeks the approval of others for validation. It's almost a sacred selfishness! But when you're thirsty and water's been made available, isn't it foolish to deny yourself its refreshment? For me, the obedience in singing those songs, in that manner, with those people yesterday was water to my soul. Thankfully, it wasn't that way for me alone, several others came forward to say that it met their need for worship from the heart, too. Thanks, Lord, for using me to be a part of your work.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Something New

What a day of firsts:

1. I began my new job as part-time tutor at Frankston Elementary School. It went fairly well. I read science tests to half a dozen 4th graders trying to take them. I hope I didn't help more than I should have, but I really didn't have any direction offered to me. I probably wasn't supposed to affirm right or wrong answers, so I tried not to, but a few times, the kids had made mistakes previously that they later realized need correction. I honestly wasn't sure where the line was between proctor and tutor, nor was I sure which role I was actually supposed to be playing.

2. I played for my first funeral at FBC Frankston. Thomas Cook passed away this week, and I played pre-service and recessional music. For the most part, I used the line up for the Lord's Suppers that I used when we were at Memorial. As you might expect, the majority of those songs were subdued and calming. Although, I'm not sure how appropriate the words would have been, had they been sung at the service. No one came storming down the aisles with complaints, so I guess what I did was OK!

3. I began my new tap dancing class. So, I've never had a dance lesson in my life - not surprising as the daughter of a Southern Baptist minister, probably- but, breaking all the rules, I've signed up for tap lessons. At least, for the month of September. We'll see how it goes. I was the only beginner to sign up, so I've been put in a class of advanced students. It wouldn't be so bad except one of the participants used to own and direct a dance studio - really advanced! She and the others were so nice, though. We'll see how it goes. It's being taught by Brandi Johnson, whom I met in the College and Career class when we came in view of a call in April. At least that connection helps me feel a little more relaxed. I think I did fairly well in light of my ignorance. I picked up the first step series pretty quickly, but the second one went really fast!

I guess more than anything I'm proud of myself for trying something so new and well, other, than me. Plus, it's a great form of exercise - I was sweating like crazy! As for the other firsts we'll take those opportunities one day at a time. I'm going to sleep pretty well tonight, I expect!

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Only God

Wow! I just got home from the Praise Team rehearsal for Sunday morning, and am once again assured that only God can do some of the amazing things that happen in life. We were able to get through the rehearsal on time, and what a rehearsal it was. The voices all blended beautifully - this was the first time we had everyone together - and the harmonies were outstanding. I can't wait for the people in my Sunday School class to be a part of worship on Sunday. I hope they are beside themselves with joy; that their thirst will be quenched, if only for a moment; that they hear their language being spoken, and that they can speak in their own words from the depths of their souls. My only fear at this point is that I once again have a throat infection, and without a miracle from God's hand, it won't be any better. I worked my voice hard tonight, and I'm really rather worried. I'm feeling a bit feverish and light-headed, too. Ok, Lord, you did an amazing thing tonight as we practiced and worshiped together, please heal my throat, sinuses, etc. with completeness. Only You can do such an amazing thing.

First Thoughts

This is my first day with a blog. I don't have much on my mind today other than excitement about the Soul of FBC on Sunday. I'm looking forward to singing with the Praise Team - who've been working plenty hard to be ready. We have our final rehearsal tonight. I hope we can get all the sound worked out with no difficulty. And I hope I can shake off the sore throat I'm feeling in time for Sunday, too.

Well, The Beverly Hillbillies are on, and since I've never seen this episode, I'm going to cut things short!