Monday, March 31, 2008

Oh, thank you, but...

A couple of years ago I worked through the Network spiritual gifts course. The curriculum was interesting as it provided several different exercises and processes to help identify your own spiritual gifts. I enjoyed working through it with a class because it was fun to see other people begin to discover their own gifts and to learn more about them.

One of the exercises was to have three people close to you fill out a survey about you. There was also a 130-question inventory exercise to personally complete. Everything my three surveyors said about me was in agreement with the results of my own personal inventory. For me, the results of all the exercises were pretty consistent and clear.

My top spiritual gift turned out to be 'Word of Knowledge'. Words the Network study used to explain that are: inquisitive, responsive, observant, insightful, reflective, truthful, and spiritually sensitive.

Earlier this month I worked through Tom Rath’s Strengths Finder. It doesn’t have anything to do with spiritual gifts. Its focus is more on natural talents. The concept of this book is that we spend too much time trying to correct and make up for our shortcomings and not enough time focusing on and developing the few things we are really good at. The personal benefit this book offers is an accompanying online assessment which results in identifying your top 5 strengths out of a well researched list of 34.

My top strength on the Strengths Finder assessment: 'Intellection'. Words used to describe that are: thinking, mental activity, time alone, introspection, writing.

That’s pretty much in agreement with my spiritual gift. There’s no escaping it.

Here’s the thing….this may sound crazy, but knowing what my spiritual gifts and natural talents are doesn’t make this whole business of living out my faith any easier. Once those things were confirmed, I immediately saw the responsibility that went with them and felt grossly inadequate to fulfill it.

It’s intimidating.

Is that really ME? It’s hard to believe sometimes.

It’s like that birthday gift that you’re not sure you like when you first open it. It’s too big. Or too much. Or too expensive. Or too “out there.” It takes a while, for me anyway, before it can become that comfortable old threadbare sweater I'll always reach for first.

I just have to keep telling myself that the one who gave it to me knows me better than anybody else. He knows me better than I know myself.

"I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!" Mark 9:24

Friday, March 28, 2008

Marbles, my little curry fritter

When my in-laws came to visit, they typically stayed at least a week. Often they were here up to 10 days. They always brought their Chinese pug, Curly, because they couldn’t leave him at home alone that long, even with the automatic feeder. He was an outdoor dog and we do not have a fence, so while they were here Curly stayed tethered with a chain and a stake in our back yard. They had done this several times and it seemed to work fine for Curly and for us.

During a visit back in July of 2004, very sadly, Curly met a tragic death with that chain and stake in our back yard. He’s now buried in the same spot where he met his demise. That very same week while my in-laws where here, maybe even the same day, two scrawny stray cats showed up on our front door step. I ignored them. I was not a pet person. I had never owned a cat or a dog growing up. As a married adult, I reasoned that Scott’s allergies were way too sensitive to bring any hairy animals into my family. I had survived successfully this long without any kind of animal attachment and I certainly did not need one now.

A couple of days went by as we mourned Curly. One of those two cats was still hanging around. I was still ignoring her. I thought she was ugly. She wasn’t a pretty orange color or a satiny solid black. Her fur color was all mixed up with wide stripes on one side but not the other. I could not figure out what her attraction was to my front porch. It wasn’t until several days later that I learned that someone else in my house had been feeding the cat Curly’s dog food. Well, no wonder.

I’m not sure if they were trying not to waste the food or if they truly had compassion on the pitiful little kitty, but either way, we couldn’t just quit feeding her at that point. I made a few contacts trying to find a good home for her but none worked out. We asked all around the neighborhood to see if she had gotten away from someone. Nothing.

Finally, a week or so later on a trip to the grocery store, I bought her her very own bag of CAT food. And a little toy. It was official. She belonged to us.

We eventually gave her a name. Marbles. Originally it was her ears that inspired the name. They look like marble, the rock/granite stuff that floors and counter tops are made from; all pinkish and veiny. Now, however, she more often makes us of think of the little round things you play games with, or the things you lose when you’re going off the deep end.

It took about 6 or 8 months for Marbles to realize that we were more than just a food source and that we could also provide her with a good scratch on the head and rub under the chin. I think even today she still has a few abandonment issues leftover from her life prior to our front porch, but she has come a long, long way.

We took Marbles to the vet yesterday for her annual check-up and shots. We’ve taken her every year since 2005, and a couple of times in between. The first time we took her she was afraid of everything. Even us. Yesterday was different. In that little exam room she huddled up to my chest and let me hold her close while she curiously looked around. That is not typical behavior for her. She’s a little ADD and usually has to go do something else after little bit of snuggle. Unless, of course, it’s nap time. Which it wasn’t. Besides, who can nap in a vet’s office with dogs barking and birds chirping and no telling what other kind of animal it was emitting that smell?

Change. It can happen. Marbles has gone from wild, scared, and homeless to seeking out security in my arms. I have gone from thinking of animals as annoying allergy aggravators to actually loving one. How did that happen?

Cat dander. Walking around outside in the dark calling her when she’s not curled up in the rocker on my front porch by a decent hour. Those and several other feline-friendly fumblings that stretched beyond the limits of my control, that’s how it happened. I had to relinquish a little bit of being “the boss” in order to find the blessings in something that God said was good a long time ago.

Even though Marbles likes to be in charge sometimes too, I’m sure she would agree.

God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. Genesis 1:25

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

I've got my eye on you

First, let me say that I am not one to indulge in extravagant beauty treatments. I don’t use many cosmetics and the ones I do use, I buy at the corner drug store (or, gasp, Wal-Mart). Granted, I’ve looked at every single wrinkle cream on those drug store shelves. I can’t ever bring myself to buy one because they cost so stinking much.

I’ve never had a professional manicure or pedicure. I always wait way too long between haircut appointments. So long, in fact, that I have usually taken the scissors and given myself a little trim a time or two before I ever make a salon appointment.

I think it might have something to do with my propensity to fall into an anxiety pit when I spend more than $25 on any one thing, and especially something that is only temporary.

Now that you know that about me, let me tell you the rest of the story…

Scott and I were both overdue for an eye exam. We both needed new contacts and/or glasses. We were able to get appointments together at the same time last week.

I told the doctor about this twitch that I’ve had in my left eye. It’s been going on for several months now. It doesn’t do it all the time, but it does twitch at least a little bit every day. The doctor diagnosed blepharospasm and offered a prescription of Botox injections.

My first question was, “Is it going to make me look any different?” I mean, after all, the most common use for Botox is to flatten out wrinkles, isn’t it? I can’t even bring myself to buy drug store wrinkle cream. How was I going to handle this?! They assured me I would still look the same and that my medical insurance would cover the cost of the procedure. And, Scott was with me to hold my hand. I supposed with all that in my favor that I could manage to stay out of the anxiety pit.

They spread some kind of ointment all around my eye that left the area numb. Then the doctor stuck me 4 or 5 times with that needled syringe. I left the office looking like I’d been stung by a bee. It didn’t take long, however, for the puffiness to go away. Later in the day I thought a noticed a little twitch, but Scott said it was probably just the numbness wearing off.

After a couple days I realized the twitch had indeed gone away. Funny thing, though, so had the ability to close my eye. And it really is kind of funny. I lay my head back and close my eyes and in just a few seconds, my left eyelid drifts open involuntarily. I step out in the sun and my right eye squints, but my left eye doesn’t. It’s like winking without scrunching up your face. I must look really silly to anybody who might be paying attention to my facial expression. I look at myself in the mirror and try to make my eyelid move. It just makes me giggle.

And you know what? I still have all my wrinkles. Not one of them went away.

It wears off in about 6 weeks. Until then, if you see me on the street, just smile and wink back.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. Psalm 139:14

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Seeing Red

It’s been another one of those weeks where something’s been on my mind and I can’t seem to shake it. It started last weekend when we went to see the Passion play at a nearby church. It brought back some of the same unexpected emotions that surfaced when we saw Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ movie four or five years ago. I was angry.

Both the play and movie emphasized harsh beating of Jesus and blood flowing with every blow. I once again became enraged at those Roman soldiers. How could they have been so cruel and hurtful? Every time they hit or whipped Jesus, I saw red - literally and figuratively.

My modern sensibilities were offended and it sent me back to the scriptures to read it for myself. What I found was also a little unexpected. Although I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

The only thing I could find in any of the four gospels’ depiction of the crucifixion story was that Jesus was flogged. That’s the only word they use. They do mention hitting him in the head with a staff, but there is not one mention of the word blood relative to any of it. There are a lot more details included about the ridiculing and humiliation they inflicted on Jesus than any of the physical wounds he suffered.

In the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John the word blood is only mentioned about 20 times. Matthew records a conversation between Judas and the chief priests about the blood money paid to betray Jesus. Matthew also records Pilate’s claim, “I am innocent of this man’s blood.” Dr. Luke recorded Jesus’ sweat drops of blood. The last mention of blood in the book of John describes it flowing from Jesus when his side was pierced with a spear. All the other times the word blood is spoken in the four gospels, it comes directly from the mouth of Jesus.

That’s what I’ve been thinking about all week. Beating and whipping Jesus until the blood flows. Seeing red. I think God must have known that people like me, living in this day and age of being saturated with gory horror movies and sensationalized news reports, would probably have a tendency to focus on those kinds of things if they had been included in the scriptures and then probably miss the rest of the story.

So, here it is, resurrection day and I don’t want to miss the rest. When Jesus spoke of blood, he wasn’t thinking about his wounds. He was thinking of me. I know there are some things I’ve done in my life that might deserve a beating and many more things that I’m sure could make him angry, still, he didn’t see red when he thought of me. All he could see was how clean and white I could be.

“This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.”
Mark 14:24, The only mention of the word blood in the book of Mark

Sunday, March 16, 2008


This time last week I was having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. Yes, it was just a passing thing. Today, however, as I reflect back on the days between then and now, I discovered that I have more blessings than I can count. Just this week...

Monday I called Pat to tell her not to come to Bible study that night. I had to cancel it because I was miserably ill. Just a couple of hours later she was on my doorstep with a container of hot homemade soup. I don't think she knows that tomato soup is my ultimate comfort food.

Barbara, as a ministry wife, has and understanding and empathy about things that many others do not. She became aware of a struggle in ministry that Scott and I have been dealing with lately. Actually, she knew what it was before I ever gave her any details about it. Not only did God give her discernment about the situation, He also gave her scripture for it. She called me this week just to share that scripture with me. I don't think she knows what a treasure she is to me because of how she leads me to God's presence.

I got an envelope in the mail that was postmarked from Georgia. I wasn't expecting anything and was curious when it arrived. I opened it up to find a copy of the article about me that was in our local paper a couple of weeks ago along with a handwritten note from Steve that reminded me that my real value comes from what God thinks of me, not anyone else. I don't think Steve realizes what an impact his words have had on my life.

I'm always calling Jimmy for something. Whatever Jimmy attempts, he gives it his all. He's a pilot and a photographer. Sometimes he does both at the same time. That's not his day job, it's just what he does for fun. Our office has contracted him to do some aerial photography before and he always delivers just what we need. This week he sent me an aerial photograph he took of a land project our office has an investment in. The project had been completed and I hadn't had a chance to even think about asking for pictures of it. He took the picture and sent it to me because he knew it was important to us. That's just one of the multitude of things Jimmy's done for me, and for Scott. I don't think I'll ever find the right words to tell him just how much I admire his commitment to excellence and how much we appreciate his friendship.

Several weeks ago Rosalind asked us if we wanted to go to a Passion Play that was to be presented at a nearby church this weekend. She really wanted us to experience it and she got the tickets for us as soon as they were available. Yesterday, six of us loaded up and made our way over there. I know that when she got the tickets, she had no idea how much I would need something like that on that very day. There was just something about seeing a visual depiction of Jesus on his throne that set my heart on eternity and turned my thoughts to the true reason for Easter. Rosalind really made a special effort to get me there and I don't think I expressed adequately how grateful I was to have been blessed in such a way.

These people are my friends. These people help me to be a better person. I am inspired by them. I am amazed by them. I am so thankful for them. I pray that God will bless their lives as much as they have blessed mine.

I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread. They are always generous and lend freely; their children will be blessed. Psalm 37:25-26

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The crowd, the cough, and the couch

When it comes to following the crowd, I'm usually way behind. By the time I've done my over analyzing about what the crowd's doing, they have already moved on to something else. Scott is just the opposite. He's probably already thought about doing it or at least read something about it long before the crowd ever catches on.

Not so this time. This weekend we both joined the crowd. We got the nasty bug that everyone else seems to have. Together. At the same time. We went home Friday afternoon and craweled into bed. Saturday, we stayed in bed. Sunday, I moved to the couch. Monday was a little up and down. Mostly down. We tried everything in our medicine cabinet to find some relief. Advil, Sudafed, Dramamine, Robitussin, Immodium AD, and between the two of us we finished off two bottles of multi-symptom liquid ZiCam. Then I dragged my drugged self to the store to buy Mucinex. Today, I think we're on the back side of it.

I can't remember a single time when Scott and I have been sick with the same illness at the very same time. And as long as I have known Scott, other than his surgery, I don't think he's ever missed church on Sunday morning due to illness. Since we missed being there, we watched several other church services on television. Dozing in and out of my medicated consciousness, I caught bits and pieces of sermons by Charles, Ed, T.D., and old man named Ephraim, Joel, Joyce, and several others whose faces I did not recognize. I think the illness and the medication caused all the messages to jumble up in my head because the only words I can remember from them now are something about changing the way you think about yourself, something about fire dancing on their heads, and something about running the race. Actually, I think that last one was from the other religious broadcast that comes on Sunday afternoons, NASCAR.

Somewhere through it all, my perspective began to shift. I began to feel so small. There is nothing like sickness to make you feel small and helpless. Isn't it funny that a tiny little bacteria you can't even see can beat you up and make you think it's so much bigger than you. Lying there on the couch, I felt like Alice in Wonderland. I drank the magic potion then felt like I was shrinking but nothing else around me was. The couch just kept getting bigger and bigger and I began to feel like I might not ever be able to get off of it.

That's the way Satan works. He tries to entice us into believing we're too small or powerless to fight whatever it is he's thrown at us.

Yes, I've felt physically powerless the last couple of days, but it's OK. I've put myself in God's powerful hands. No matter how big the couch looked or how heavy the pressure in my head was, God is bigger and heavier. God can do what ZiCam can't.

Again he said, "What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade." Mark 4:30-32

Friday, March 7, 2008

Setting the table of grace

A couple of years ago we had a yard sale. In preparation, I went through all the closets, an outside storage building, and the attic taking stock of things to sell, keep, or throw away. I used my living and dining rooms as the staging area for the big day and began to corral all the ‘sell’ items there to sort and price. It wasn’t long before there was no room to walk in my house. There were six coffee makers, four bedroom comforter-dust ruffle-sham sets, a stack of board games, and several shelves of books. There were three or four sets of decorative glass bake ware that were still in original boxes. We received those as wedding gifts 20 years ago. Never used. There was an extra computer, a couple of radios, and all kinds of electronic gadgets and toys. And of course, there were all the clothes that had been shrunken by the dryer. Oh, and a car.

The more I piled up, the more mortified I became. How can two people have this much stuff that they don’t use? It was ridiculous. I became embarrassed about having so much. I kept thinking about all the other people in the world who had to live on so much less. I was all the more ready, then, to just get rid of the stuff.

The reason we wanted to have the yard sale in the first place was to make a little extra money. We wanted the extra money to buy more stuff. What in the world?! When it was all over, we made about $1,400 but I honestly can’t remember how we spent it. What I will never forget is the impression God made on my heart to loosen my tight grip on the things of this world. He’s given me his priceless kingdom and that’s what I want to cling to.

I still have some work to do in that area, but I’m getting there. Last week when I broke my lilac Fiesta pie baker, I was sad. A couple of years ago I would have bawled like a baby about it since a replacement would be hard to find and expensive. At least this time there were no tears.

For a place at His table, I’ll trade all of these:

Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Luke 12:32-34

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

My Need for a Deficit in Attention

Our community newspaper comes out twice a week, Tuesdays and Fridays. Last Friday’s edition included a supplement that I think is a semi-annual publication. While it didn’t really come out and say it in a headline or descriptive article, the theme of this particular supplement seemed to be ‘people behind the scenes’. A portion of one sentence pulled out of a paragraph on the front cover read, “meet your neighbors.”

It featured articles about people whose job responsibilities are important to the success of their businesses. However, it’s the results of their work, not the individuals themselves that are more likely to be the topic of newspaper articles. There were interviews with a coach, band director, and assistant principal from the local high school. They also covered the local elections director and the Democratic and Republican Party chairpersons. There were several others included as well and one of them was me.

Now, in case you didn’t know this about me, I am not comfortable with very much attention. I prefer the quiet bliss of anonymity. I was a little concerned when a SPORTS editor called me to conduct the interview, given my unchallenged (mostly by me) athletic prowess and all. Plus, I also have a few personal issues with our local paper. I read every issue that comes out, but sometimes the ‘opportunities for improvement’ in it are so blatant that it forces the small but powerful gene of perfectionism in me to spasm. The combination of all of these things caused an accumulation of dread in me until the day the article actually hit the newsstands.

Many of my friends have told me that it was such a nice article. Some of them have teased me about it because they know how I am about such things. Oh, and there were pictures too, of which my friends were also complimentary. I was just glad to see that Mr. Sports Editor included my comment about there being so much more to my life than my nine-to-five job.

Someone asked if it was rewarding and vindicating to finally get some recognition. My response to them was that there are so many other things I would rather have. Taking pride in someone else singing my praises is not one of them. It’s not that I’m all that righteous, because I’m not. I still struggle with lots of other issues--like selfishness. I’m just scared to death of pride. I don’t really know why. It was never something that was encouraged in the household I grew up in. I guess I’m afraid that if I take pride in and am recognized for my accomplishments, then that fills up the space where something more important should be.

I want people whose paths I’ve crossed to remember how and when their lives were changed for the better. I don’t need them to remember me. I need them to see Jesus. My prayer is that if there is anything I can do to make that happen, that I will not be too proud to do it…or to step aside and let someone else do it. That’s the legacy I want to leave.

The last sentence in the news article quoted my boss saying I was the glue that keeps things moving. Most of the glues I’ve been acquainted with are characteristically sticky and if you leave it alone long enough, it completely stops things from moving. I’m really not sure WHAT that says about me but I think it’s more of something to laugh about than to be proud of.

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Colossians 3:23-24