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Help me to remember
that the greatest cave formations
come together drop by drop,
rivulets of water
through the soil.
Drop by drop,
human hearts can be worn down
or built up
in much the same way.
Help me to hear You
throughout my busy days
as I encounter those
in need of building up.
Help me take advantage
of these opportunities
to show Your love
in small ways,
building up lasting testimonies to
Earlier, I blogged about praying for something to help me get through our church choir’s summer sabbatical. As I wondered what God would find to fill my spiritual time, I was asked to teach the adult Bible study. I happily accepted, but then almost didn’t do it. What happened to change my mind?
One chance comment.
I was practically dancing with joy when I told a group of friends about the invitation to teach. Then one of them shrugged. “They asked me first. I told them I was too busy.”
I tried to shrug it off, but the comment continued to bother me. They didn’t want me. They wanted someone else. I was the also-ran. Just how many people had they asked first? Were they scraping the barrel when they asked me?
It bothered me while I picked out which parables to cover. It bothered me while I wrote my first lesson. It really bothered me when I found out that my husband had to be somewhere else that night. Who would be my support group?
I managed a few quick prayers but I felt a bit foolish. Hadn’t God sent this my way? Wouldn’t praying about it sound . . . desperate?
That first night, I barely managed to look up from my notes. Instead of looking at each person in the room, which is what I try to do when speaking to a group, I picked a few “harmless” souls to focus on. When the class was over, I gladly sent every one on their merry way to craft class. But wait. One of them, a retired teacher, was still here. Why wouldn’t she shoo?
Instead, she came up to me. “Do you know what an honor it is for a teacher to sit in a class taught by one of her students,” she said. “And your mother would be so proud of you.” Then she gave me a big hug.
That poor woman almost ended up with a shoulder full of tears. Just a moment and a few kind words were all it took to buoy my confidence but to also bring home the lesson from the parable of the Good Samaritan. The Samaritan had helped one man. His actions wouldn’t dull the prejudice the Jews felt toward the Samaritans. He hadn’t done anything about the harsh Roman rule. He had helped one man. I had compared this to Mother Teresa. She believed that by helping one person here and one person there, her work was but a drop in the human ocean. But she acknowledged that by not caring for that one drop, the ocean would be diminished – one drop less here and one drop less there.
Human emotions are such fragile things. We women seem to feel our inadequacies so intensely – as you can surely tell by our posts this week. When you feel God nudge you to say something to someone, don’t resist. Add that one drop to the ocean of human joy. It may be the drop that makes all the difference.
I just read my dear friend, Lori’s, post and it really moved me. It reminded me of a strange thing that happened to me and, of course, relates to my recently-passed pooch! Doesn’t everything?
Last fall, I had a dream that my dog, Sheena, was talking to me. Oh, what a sweet little breathless voice she had! She said, “You resty? Get uppy.” Then she walked around the bed and said, “Mine end parts.” Okay, crazy dream. I got up and she really was walking around the room, waiting for me to “get uppy” and feed her.
As time went on, she developed serious issues related to her inner ear, got arthritis in her back legs and went blind in one eye. So I took her to the vet frequently, but never asked them to actually investigate her “end parts” based solely on this crazy dream I had.
Then two weeks ago when she had trouble doing her business in the yard, I took her to the vet and they said she had a massive tumor in her rectum. It was aggressive and there was nothing more that could be done. In mere days, it was over.
So now, I’ve been reliving the day of the crazy dream, telling myself, if only I had listened. My dog was telling me her “end parts” were hurting. I should have told the vet to check her out.
But the fact remains: I didn’t know what I was listening for. I heard what I knew in my heart already, that I should do my best to take care of my dog based on what seemed to be wrong. So I can berate myself for what I missed, I can wish that I truly was a mind reader, or I can realize that all God really asks is that we do the best we can. And that will have to be as close to “comfort” as I can achieve right now. We can’t actually move mountains or see into the future. If we could, we would actually be God. And that job, as we all know, is already taken.
My friend Alice (see “Mind the Gap!” on this blog) mentioned that she’d hosted a group of spiritual people at her home the other night, and the discussion had turned to listening…really listening. “We have to learn to be vulnerable in both our talking and our listening,” one man astutely observed.
Sometimes I think I’m too vulnerable in my listening. I soak up other people’s worries, panic, stress and grief like a sponge. This causes me to make errors in judgment: I am not objective enough to analyze what was said and really understand it. Sometimes it takes days for me to understand what was really being communicated, underneath the distorting blanket of emotion. To borrow a phrase from The Little Prince, I see the hat, not the boa constrictor swallowing the elephant. Maybe I’m just slow that way.
Or is it the other way around? Am I not vulnerable enough in my listening to hear the truth, the single caesura in the parade of iambs and trochees? Is this a skill I can even learn given my tin ear?
I am agonizing over a stupid thing I did recently, a blunder that directly resulted from my failure to hear, really hear, what was being said. Do I get any points for having good intentions? Not if I believe the axiom that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, and I do. And if good intentions don’t count, how is a Failure any different from a Sinner? It’s all very murky, leaving little light to guide me out of my wallow of self-castigation.
I remember back in grade school, we had a unit in Reading class all about listening skills. This consisted of hearing a story and correctly identifying its details afterwards. I was very good at this, perhaps because these stories (and the attendant answers) were uncolored by emotion. Which brings me back to my central question: If I can’t hear through the fog of feeling, what’s wrong with me? And how do I fix it?
God only knows.
Today’s post is by guest blogger Alice Sherfick Shelton. Alice and I do a little radio show on BlogTalkRadio (Wed. at 3:30 CST). In her regular life, Alice works at Marian University in Indiana.
And so what does it mean to “catch up” with/to God? We are behind God in our understanding of “things,” and that is necessarily very good because it means we have room to grow, and change, and learn and celebrate all of that! But it also means that we can tend to see life as difficult, glasses as half-full, people as broken — and then we allow our focus to drift into negative and destructive spaces.
We let the eye go away from the prize and forget about the ultimacy and eternal nature of God and God’s goodness! God has created this gap! Let’s be mindful of that — and because we believe that God is all good and all purposeful — let’s know that this means that God has, with pointed intention, created a big space in creation for human life! God has created a wonderland and filled it with people who have varied gifts and talents. God expects us to use the whole package as we move to catch up.
I like the gap — I like the space it creates to be inclusive of people and their various journeys and pathways. The space between the creator and the created is a creative space. Our Creator wants us to play, to paint, to imagine, to dream and soar and be open and be positive…and God wants us to love the heck out of one another! Even the crusty parts of one another. God wants us to use this time and this space to soften down the edges.
This particular hymn has been rolling around in my mind today. Enjoy!
Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be posting some things that I learned while teaching an adult Bible study on parables. But today I wanted to share a poem that one of the men shared. Definitely some food for thought.
by Jo Emefo
I dreamed death came the other night.
And Heaven’s gate swung wide;
With kindly grace, an angel ushered me inside.
And there to my astonishment
Stood folks I’d known on earth.
Some I’d judged and labeled,
As unfit, or of little worth —
Indignant words rose to my lips,
But never were set free;
For on every face showed stunned surprise–
No one expected ME!
This one really makes you think, doesn't it? --SueBE
Wouldn’t it be nice if we had all the answers to every question about life right at our fingertips? A kind of cosmic search engine connected directly to the Maker of Mysteries? Well, I was asking for answers last week as my faithful four-legged companion neared the end of her life, and while I didn’t get specific answers, I did find that a message was laid on my heart: I’ll get over. I don’t mean I’ll get over the hurt of losing a loved one. But I will “get over.”
“Getting over” means being sustained by faith even in the midst of a storm. There’s a gospel song called “How I Got Over.” Not how I got through it; for some of us, whatever’s vexing us is still going on. How I got over is a different matter altogether. Let me explain.
I got over the need for every detail to be displayed to me. I got over the idea that if I’m doing the right thing and have my heart in the right place, nothing bad will ever happen. I got over the idea that I can pray while sitting on the couch and not walking toward whatever goal it is that I’m praying about.
How I got over is by opening my eyes to reality but opening my heart to possibility at the same moment. How I got over is by leaning on the Source of my Strength while building up my own fortitude and faculties.
How I get through is not entirely in my hands, but I will tell you till I’m blue in the face: you can get over, even before you make it through. You think you can’t just because times are tough? Get over it. Yes you can, especially when you look over your shoulder and see Who’s got your back. You’ll get over, and someday, you’ll get through. Trust me on this one. I know.
A guy knocked on our door a few days ago. “I was working in your neighbor’s yard, and I noticed your oak tree,” he said. “It looks bad. Needs to come down. I’ll do it for [insert reasonable price]. Also noticed you don’t have a chimney; I’ll haul the wood away, too.”
“Just a minute,” I told him. I called my husband.
“Honey,” he said, “the tree is fine. That guy just wants the wood so he can sell it.”
There you go. That’s my life. I’m cursed with gullibility; I believe what people tell me and don’t look for hidden messages, hidden agendas, hidden emotions. It causes me no end of trouble. I once complained to a psychologist that one of my co-workers had deceived me; I hadn’t expected it at all. “Are you stupid?” she asked.
Maybe I am. Or maybe I’m honest and expect others to be so, too. If you say you’re my friend, I believe you. And it will take many metaphorical strikes over the head with a giant mallet to change that status. I guess, in the end, I want to believe people. I want them to be honest. I want them to be better than perhaps they really are.
That doesn’t seem so stupid…does it?
I’ll admit it – that phrase makes me cringe. I’m very comfortable not knowing just how much I can handle. Seriously. Its not like I don’t push myself, but I prefer to choose when and how far.
Last week when my husband and son were at Scout camp, I worked on refinishing a dresser. I did this in spite of my distrust of power tools – that’s my husband’s turf. But before they left, he showed me how to use the sander. I actually discovered that I enjoy sanding.
See? I can push myself.
Sunday when they left town, I went out on the patio and sanded. When I came back in and pulled off my dust mask, I detected a certain funk. I quickly found the kitchen trash can complete with a wrapper for the chicken we’d had two nights before. Problem solved.
But Monday the funk was still there and it was strongest under the kitchen sink. I found our drip jar complete with mold. Out it went.
I’d been careful not to think about the mouse traps. Our town is over-run with mice and voles. Cute, cute, cute but I do not share kitchen space with rodents. Not a chance. But the one thing that I hate more than a mouse in my kitchen is a dead mouse in my kitchen. Not once had I ever dealt with a mouse trap which is obviously also my husband’s turf.
I vaguely recalled my husband telling me that there was a trap under the sink. I looked but didn’t see it. I worked one shoulder through the door. Ack! I’d found both the trap and the smell.
But I’d found it at midnight. Who in the heck was going to come out and get a mouse out of my kitchen at midnight. My husband was two and half hours away. My brother-in-law would do it but not til morning and I wanted that thing out.
“God, who should I call?
“Come on, God. There has to be someone.
“I’m counting on You!”
And then it popped into my head. God never gives you more than you can handle.
“You have so got to be kidding!” I shouted at kitchen ceiling. “I have never one time in my entire life dealt with a mouse trap. Not once.”
But apparently God was not kidding, because a plan started to come together. I clipped back my hair, put on my bandana and got the dust mask I used for sanding. Then I put on my husband’s jeans and went to the garage for a shovel. Yes, a shovel. God might not give me more than I could handle, but no way was I going to touch it.
It took three tries to snag the trap with the shovel but I finally saw it from my peripheral vision. One turn of my wrist and it slipped into the kitchen trash can. Back out on the patio, where I left the can with the bag tied shut, I did a victory lap. I’d done it!
At camp a day later, I told my husband about my not-so-close encounter. “You can’t fit a shovel under the sink!”
I can and I did. All it took was a substantial nudge.