Friday, February 24, 2012

Living Well (despite Nabal)

Welcome if you are stopping by after reading my devotion about Abigail. Let me tell you how I first "met" her.

When I first came to Christ, I found a small mom & pop owned Christian bookstore around the corner from my apartment. It had been there all along, but I'd never known quite what it was. Its name, Fishers of Men, sounded like a seafood market to me. Which was odd, I thought, for a city in the mountains.

And I didn't eat seafood then, unless hush puppies count.

Once I understood the name's reference, I spent a lot of time and money in that shop, reading nearly every book they had. At one point the owners invited me to just sit on the floor and read - I think they were afraid I'd spend my entire college-girl budget there and not have any food to eat!

One of the books (I bought this one) was called All the Women of the Bible. It was a reference book of sorts, listing out each biblical woman, telling the meaning of her name and the highlights of her life. It was in these pages I first met Abigal - I was taken by her story.

My new-to-Christ, state college attending, liberal arts learning, steeped in plenty of feminist thought self couldn't believe how she acted. It wan't that I was amazed that he was so kind, but that she was ABLE to be that nice to that man in those circumstances.

I was pretty sure I couldn't have acted like Abigail had I wanted to. And, for the record, I didn't want to. I wanted her to clobber her no-good husband Nabal!

And yet I was impressed that she didn't. How could she not?

My tendency back then - and sometimes even now - is to withhold love, help, forgiveness or grace unless or until the other person deserves it in my eyes.

And that's a choice that I make. Abigail's life teaches me that I can be the sort of woman - wife, mother, daughter, friend - that God calls me to be, despite how others around me behave.

I can be who I want to be - who I am in Christ - even if that lets them off the hook in some way.

Let's look at it this way...

Did Nabal benefit from Abby's goodness without being deserving of those benefits? Yes. But isn't God often good to us without our deserving it? And isn't God deserving of our obedience to be kind and to love our neighbors and enemies, even if those neighbors and enemies are jerks? (Yes.)

And here's another one to consider, don't we deserve to be women of virtue despite how others choose to see us or treat us?

The answer again is YES.

We deserve to lead God-honoring, bless-worthy lives regardless of our circumstances, income level, marriage status, crazy partner, physical flaws, lack of stable upbringing, wayward family members, or anything else. We can make Abigail's same choice to rise above our circumstances and live well.

Because choosing humility and wisdom allows God to shape our character and our circumstances.

If you'd like to enter to win a signed copy of my book It's No Secret leave a comment this weekend. I'll draw and announce a winner on Monday.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Feverishly typing

FYI : This week I am in the throes of completing a book manuscript for my publisher. So I may be a little quiet around here.  All my creative juices are going elsewhere. I know you'll understand. And I hope you'll pray for the project.

If you are local and you see me with my keyboard this week in the public library, the Salt Shaker cafe, Port City Java or Barnes and Noble, please don't interrupt. Unless you come bearing decaf. Or chocolate. And you are ready to read drafts of my chapters and give me feedback. :)

But if we're at the public library, don't offer a latte or to chat about my chapters - I understand they highly frown on both of those things there. Nonetheless, it's my current "happy place" to write from.

Hope you have a great week! And I've love for you to pause and say a little prayer for this project.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

To be the created

On Wednesdays I post something related to My One Word for the year. This year that word is CREATE.

Early this morning during my quiet time I was huddled up on my bed with all my favorite blankets and pillows reading my large print (in other words way huge and way heavy) Life Application Bible in the New Living Translation. 

I was in Isaiah 45. And the words create, creates, makes, created, and Creator were all over the passage.

God is addressing a ruler named Cyrus - the only Gentile ruler in the Bible said to be anointed by Him. God tells Cyrus that He is using him and orchestrating Cyrus' life for His own glorious purposes. Indeed, Cyrus - gentile ruler of a vast empire - allowed Jerusalem to be rebuilt and allowed the exiles to be set free with no strings attached. That was unheard of. Few kings of Israel or Judah had done as much for God's people.

Then God "has a talking to" as we say in the South with Cyrus in this chapter. It seems God was intent on shushing any of Cyrus' complaints about why he was created, or how he was created ... why he was used or how he was used ... or the circumstances of his life both good and bad.

Can't we all use a talking to like that from time to time?

Read Isaiah 45:1-15 online or in your Bible. Here's some excerpts:

vs. 7  "I create the light and make the darkness. I send good times and bad times. I, the LORD, am the one who does these things."

vs. 9   "What sorrow awaits those who argue with their Creator. Does a clay pot argue with its maker? Does the clay dispute with the one who shapes it, saying, ‘Stop, you’re doing it wrong!’Does the pot exclaim, ‘How clumsy can you be?’"

vs.10  "How terrible it would be if a newborn baby said to its father, ‘Why was I born?’ or if it said to its mother, ‘Why did you make me this way?’"

This is one of those passages that reminds me I am the created.  It reminds me that God has a total sovereign right to do anything He likes with my life. And I have exactly no rights to complain about it. My pastor and current co-author Mike Ashcraft is fond of saying, "If God created life, He alone gets to define it."

This is one of those passages that shuts my mouth - which is a really good thing. It's centering to be still and quiet before your God - receiving His loving reorientation (a "talking to") and reaching a place of peace about your lot in life. 

Which for Cyrus was a really good lot all in all. 

And for me it is as well. I am humbled and even slightly teary cocooned here in my blankets as I reach that conclusion. It is good and freeing to be the created - in the hands of a merciful God.

After all, in Isaiah 44:21-22 He says:

“Pay attention, O Isreal, for you are my servant. I, the LORD, made you, and I will not forget to help you. I have swept away your sins like the morning mists. I have scattered your offenses like the clouds. Oh, return to me, for I have paid the price to set you free.”


Do you have someone that holds you accountable for spending time reading the Bible regularly?  I have a group of three gals that do this for me. Meet one of them here and learn more about how that works for us.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Caution: Pink Dog on Board

My middle school daughter will wake up today to find a big pink stuffed dog clutching an "xoxo" bone in it's mouth sitting on her dresser.  It's super soft and super cute.

When she comes downstairs she will find another giant pink dog - this one a long "wiener dog" that says, "I love you this much" down the side. It will be sitting in her seat at the kitchen table. In the bay window that's currently adorned with Valentine clings.

She'll find a total "sugar cereal" as I call them sitting on the kitchen table beside her bowl. Beside it will be a heart-shaped card and a pack of gum. And she'll find a Valentine cupcake packed in her lunch bag today.

None of these things are things I would normally do. I don't let my kids have "sugar cereals" before school. And I rarely pack desserts in their lunches - I'm kind of a stickler about good nutrition, especially during the school day. (I do let them have dessert after dinner though!)

When she told me she wanted a big stuffed animal for Valentines, my knee-jerk thought was, "Really? That's the last thing I need to buy you."  She already has a lot of stuffed animals.

But then I saw it from another angle. I can refuse to buy her the giant stuffed animal she wants, deeming that frivolous or unnecessary. But I have distinct memories myself of wanting to win the giant stuffed animals at the amusement parks. What is it about people-sized plush bears? And what is it about adults that forgets what it is about giant plush bears? 

And from yet another angle, I don't want her to feel she needs a boyfriend in order to receive Valentine's gifts.  And sure I could let Valentine's go by without packing her a pink sugar-sprinkled, white sugar-iced chocolate cupcake in her lunch. Tell her she can have it at dinner. But then she'd watch all the other kids eating their red dye #12 treats today and she would feel deprived. Maybe one of her friends would share their heart-shaped cookies with her but that's not what I want either.

I want to be the one who surprises her and satisfies her wishes. I want her to feel no need to look outside our home to feel fully loved. And so, I drove home yesterday accompanied by two giant pink dogs. And I couldn't have been more thrilled.

Sometimes you have to buy twice as many of the thing you didn't want to buy in the first place because that's what you really want.

What Valentine suprises are up your sleeve today?

Friday, February 10, 2012

To the point of tears

My One Word for 2012 is CREATE.

Hence, this quote:

"Men must live and create. Live to the point of tears." ~ Albert Camus

Men must live. No argument here. We come into this world not of our own volition. But with a will to live that is innate and strong.

Men must create. The premise is we are all born with a creative drive. With a desire to make something of ourselves, of our lives. With our hands, or our imagination. Or our DNA. To make something out of steel, or wood or words. Or fabric or ice. To build a car, make a home, write a novel, start a company, set a record, or bake cupcakes that look like owls. What? I've made those.

Image from Harbin Ice & Snow Festival in China

God is a creative being and we are made in His image, so I can accept that premise. We must live and create, yes.

"Live to the point of tears," says Albert next. Whoa. The two sentences he has linked together here captures me today. Plus, he went all "brainy quote" on us with this part.

If you've ever studied Aristotle's notion of the enthymeme (I realize that's probably only .02% of you) you know that syllogistic arguments lay out all of their premises and the conclusion explicitly. (Stay with me here and you will learn something they teach in grad school. You'll feel so smart!) But ethymeme arguments leave at least one premise or the conclusion unsaid. Generally the assertion left unsaid is intended to be so obvious as to not need stating. But sometimes it's worth stating it.

Albert left his conclusion unsaid. Let me show you the enthymeme in Albert's quote.

Premise one: Men must live.

Premise two: Men must create.

Stated Conclusion: Live to the point of tears. (in other words, live all in - even when it gets hard ... because you must)

Unstated Conclusion: Create to the point of tears.

So the second youngest recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature gives us this message: Create all in. 

Do your work, or your craft all in. Don't hold back. Don't quit. Stay in it to the point of tears. Stay in even when it gets hard or exhausting. Even when you can't seem to produce what is in your mind's eye, stay at it.

Keep creating. Because you must -- it's in you.

I needed to hear that today. I'm at the difficult part of a huge creative project. This is the "to the point of tears" stage. But I'm staying all in and excited to see what will eventually come out of it.  

What are you currently creating? Are you all in? To the point of tears?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Chasing the Muse

Some seasons of my life are fast-paced, bustling, and packed with people and activities. There are times when I'm juggling multiple projects, and/or jumping planes every couple weekends to go somewhere and speak. And I like it that way.

If you peered onto my official personality profile you'd see it says I work best when I have (among other things):
  • A lot of interaction with people.
  • Freedom from routine.
  • Opportunities to meet new people and make friends.
  • A fast pace with a lot of variety.
  • New environments in which to work and/or play.

Even so, sometimes during my bustling seasons I long for an extended block of time to pull in and fully focus on just one thing. To settle down single-minded and delve deep into something. This month I get that chance.

My February calender is nearly clear this month, except for the course I'm teaching at the university and just a few social dates I've made with friends. My calender is cleared but it's far from empty. 

I'm writing a book.

That means this season is rich and full of ideas and words. My days are spent chasing thoughts and studying scriptures. Trying to nail concepts down with letters. It is hard work, much harder than one would think. Much harder than even I expect.

Some days it's slow and plodding work as I struggle to grasp the tiger by the tail. Other days fly by in a flash with a gasp of motivated longing for more time to do this gloriously creative task. 

When the plodding days come I tend to analyze what made the flying days fly, and I try to recreate that. Fix the same drink. Return to the same coffee shop. Put on the same music.

Ah, but it can never be recreated. It can only be called. Even then, it doesn't always come.

She's fickle that way, my muse.

Nonetheless, to chase her is a noble endeavor. And I'm grateful for this extended opportunity to do it. Even if it does leave me feverish, with little time to cook. What are you working on at the present?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Uncommon Life

We've been talking here lately about "feeling a little off," feeling like something is missing.  About striving to create a life for ourselves, only to find the outcome - not to mention the process - just isn't as satisfying as expecteded.

Don't 'cha hate it when that happens? 

Me too. That means we have to go back to the drawing board and rethink our answer to the question, "How can I find contentment, satisfation or joy?"

Max Lucado writes in The Cure for the Common Life, "God grants us an uncommon life to the degree we surrender our common one."

And I write in It's No Secret, "When I stop striving to create a life for myself, I find the life God creates for me."  Max calls this an act of surrender. I call it an act of abandon. We speak of the same thing.

Also in It's No Secret I wrote about the parables of the treasure in the field and the pearl of great price. Both of them teach me to surrender to God. To sell out to Him and His plans for me with abandon. That it will be worth any sacrifice.

The thing is, I find this is a decision I have to make over and over. And over, and over ...
What do you have to choose over and over?

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Perfect on Paper

This post picks up where my last one left off so if you missed "Why Does Something Feel Off?" pause and read it real quick. I'll wait.

"Feeling something is off" can mean different things to different people: I feel tired or unfulfilled. I am bored, restless and want an exciting challenge. I feel far from God - spiritually dry. I wonder if there is suppose to be more to life than this? I just don't know what I need ...

The woman who originally asked the question - giving voice to so many of us -  described her current life as really good. In many ways it was all she could or had ever asked for. She even felt a little guilty at times for how well things were turning out for her. Yet contentment proved elusive.

I wonder if that isn't because we tend to have a mental list of "I'll be happy when _____."

For many the list goes something like this. I'll be happy when I lose 10 lbs, get a great job, get married to an adoring husband who earns enough money that I can quit my great job while we have a couple of  kids, and raise them together in a really nice house that the housekeeping service cleans once a week for me.

Maybe your list is different. Maybe you are certain you will be happy once you get rid of your job, or your house, or your spouse. Maybe you don't want any of those things. Maybe you want to move to Paris where you will sit in French cafes and write best-selling novels - and then you'll be happy.

My point is, we imagine certain circumstances will be our happy points. Some of us are fortunate enough to get most of the things on our happy list, or on the culture's happy list (otherwise known as the American Dream).  And when the contented bliss we expected doesn't roll in with the reaching of those circumstances, we're left confused. Feeling a bit disillusioned. Something seems "off" here.

And we wonder with a slight sense of panic, if I am not content and happy now - with all of this - will I ever be? Can I ever be?  Is this as good as life gets? Or have I missed the boat somewhere? Should I have pursued another career? Should I become an outdoorsy travel adventurist? Would I be happier if I took up yoga, ate granola and went green? Or maybe if I moved to the beach ...

I call this mental happy list achievement followed by letdown the "Perfect on Paper Syndrome." On paper - if you were to list it all out like a resume - your life looks pretty good. (Especially if someone mentions starving children in 3rd world countries.) So, therefore, you should be happy, right? Only you aren't quite. And you're not sure why that is or what to do about it.

I know what I speak of. I've fallen prey to this syndrome too, and found myself in a mild depression like a constant low grade-fever.

A couple years ago I went on a quest through the scriptures to find out what the Bible says about a good life. What is pleasing to God? What does He say will please me? What does He intend me to be pleased with? Are you able to answer these questions?

After that I settled on a mission for my life: To craft a life that is pleasing to me and to Christ. I want to conform my mental happy list to God's mental happy list for me. Hence the motto in my devotion last weekend: When I stop striving to create a life for myself, I find the life that God creates for me.

CREATE, by the way, is my one word for 2012.

So what's on your mental "I'll be happy when ..." list?

It's vital to realize what's on your list. Write it down and examine it. Because it is driving you. It's driving your expectations and (re)actions. It's determining your ability to find contentment and gratitude in today - whatever today looks like.

There's nothing wrong with having goals. In my last post I said it may just be that our "little bit off friend" now has too much free time and not enough challenge in her life.  I'm not suggesting we abandon planning or goal-setting, hobbies or even dreaming. But when things feel "off" we have to examine what is going on beneath the surface.

I like to ask:

1) What expectations are driving me? Are they realistic? Can I expect to get this from that? Are they biblical? Because our expectations - for what we need and how we should get our needs met -  affect our emotions.

2) What's the current status of my soul? Have I been neglecting it? When did I last connect with God? Am I remaining in Christ? Am I engaging in any spiritual practices? Because we often mistake spiritual issues for material ones.