Sunday, January 23, 2011

Warning - this is a tough one...

Radical by David Platt

There is a problem with this book – I want to put it down,,, but I cannot! It challenges me in ways that few others have ever done. It is not a feel good book, it is not a ‘great, you are on the right track, keeping doing what you are doing’ book, it shook my world, it forced me to take a real close, hard look at how we live, what we do, and where we spend our time, money and energy.
David Platt is showing me the idols that so stealthily crept in to my heart and life, the ones that seem so innocent, so good and so pleasing – yet if they walk like a duck and talk like a duck it is a duck no matter how much it is dressed up.
Platt is confrontational in the questions he asks the reader to consider, and the answers are not easy to face – giving up the comfort, the conveniences, the security for the sake of Christ…. Yet, he is not condescending, not judgmental, not patronizing; he is honest about the struggle that I and probably many other American Christians are facing today: The Gospel and the Great Commission versus my comfortable, convenient, practical, safe life in suburbia America. He challenges me to live out the Gospel DAILY, not just on Sunday mornings. God is not a check in the box that is complete on Sunday morning and now I can go on with my life, God is Life, He is ALL and when I surrender to Him completely there is a transformation that is indescribable, one that takes me life in a completely new direction.
David Platt encourages me to take a fresh look at the Gospel, not from my comfortable American suburb point of view but really, fresh unadulterated look at what Jesus is calling me to do. I cannot imagine what would happen if the Christians would take this challenge to heart, it would be not only miraculous but also transformational. The world is ready for the real Jesus, not the one that sits in a pew in church and waits to be entertained, served and taught.
I could not wait to take on the Radical Challenge – pray for the world, read the entire Bible, sacrifice my money for a specific purpose, and spend time in another context. It will not be easy, but Jesus did not come to offer the peace of this world: Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. John 14:27.

Do not read this book unless you are ready for a change, it will change how you think about your faith! He rocked the foundation of my faith and forced me to see where my blind spots in a new light. It brought me back to the True Jesus, the Author and Perfector of my faith – not the one that I had made him out to be. It is encouraging, exhilarating and refreshing to meet Jesus anew, fresh through the pages of David Platt’s book. Thank you David Platt for the wake up call!

I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

What I learned from a toddler

The other day I saw a little girl at the play ground. She happily toddled around and then all of a sudden the joy turned to sadness as he stubbed her toe trying to navigate the stairs that would bring her to the slide ride – her favorite part of the park. This little girl was surrounded by many willing to help, but she resolutely walked by the other Moms’ caring hands, her big sisters offer to pick her up, her doting grand father’s strong embrace and headed straight for Mama. At that moment, nobody could comfort like Mama, and she was not at all distracted by nor convinced by the poor imitations of comfort, she wanted Mama. Not long after she found comfort in her mother’s loving arm was she off to play again, attempting to scale the steps once more.

That scene made me think of myself and how I handle hurts: the harsh words that slice through the heart like a newly sharpened knife, the unkind look that drills a hole in my soul, the perceived snubbing that causes my self confidence to crumble, the list goes on and on. So where do I turn when my soul is crying, when my heart is aching? Am I easily distracted by the comforts of the world: food, shopping, activities, the latest exercise regime, etc? Watching the drama play out in front of my eyes made me stop and reflect on my own behavior. The little girl may have been really hurt, but from the looks of it, it was probably not severe. Yet, she was hurt and she knew where her true comfort would come from – Mama.

I realized I could learn a valuable lesson from this little girl. Maybe I would stop hurting faster if instead of trying to anesthetize myself with counterfeit comforts, I would walk straight by and right in to the loving, kind and comforting arms of my Father. The things of this world provide fleeting, ephemeral incomplete and conditional comfort. He is the only one that can provide unconditional, lasting comfort, and complete healing. Next time I am hurt, I am going to be like that little girl, and run straight to God.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

What I learned gardening

Spring was in the air, it was warm, and the recent rains had made the soil moist making it easier to pull out weeds and weeding is what I needed to do, so I donned an old pair of pants, garden gloves and headed outside. I stopped at the top of the stairs, overwhelmed by the immensity of the project, wondering how soon we would need a machete to cut a path in our way. How on earth would I ever tame this yard, I wondered silently. What ever little energy and enthusiasm I had had for gardening quickly diminished like ice cream on a sunny day. Not that I had much to begin with, gardening is not something I know much about, and I can think of a thousand things I rather do. However, the yard needed care and it was a good excuse to be outside and soak up the first rays of spring sun.

The former owner of our house spent a lot of time and love on the yard, there are beautiful plants, trees, flowers, bushes and roses galore everywhere. I am sure that at one point this garden was a pure delight. But years of neglect is showing, dead limbs, old roots, withering plants and weeds too tall to measure all contribute to the abandoned look.

Almost paralyzed by the enormity I suddenly remembered advice offered by a professional gardener: “Just take a 2x2 area and make it look pretty. Don’t look at the whole lot, just that small piece. When that one is done, pick another 2x2 area and begin all over, before you know it, the entire garden will look wonderful.” In business we used to call that chopping up the elephant in to bite size pieces. Since both Lukas and Noah dream about picking fruit in our yard, I decided to start around the one and only fruit tree we have – a neglected lime tree.

I had to duck and crawl, step and climb to get to ‘my’ area but I was determined to keep my focus and make this one little piece look nice; and once cleared of weed, I could feed the tree in the hopes of gaining some fruit for the boys to pick later on. As I kneeled by the tree, pulling long limbs of ivy, yanking thick deep rooted weeds out of the ground and cutting dead branches of the tree, I began to see the similarities between this garden and my spiritual life. Ouch…

Years of raising young boys with little time for personal reflection, neglect of my spiritual growth, allowed sin to creep in, take root and take over. The fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of Christ (Ps 139), Christina, was covered in a tangled web of sin. Nothing earth shattering, front page worthy, but the hidden sins, those that feed on very little and seem to take root rapidly; just like the vines of ivy that creep, crawl and spread with lightening speed if allowed. As I pulled and tugged on the ivy, and dug deep in the ground to pull out the entire root it became clear that I needed some weeding in my life as well.

Although long neglected, our yard at a quick glance did not reveal its true state. At a first blush all looks well, it is lush, it is green and there are plenty of color and blooms to feast the eye upon, if it just wasn’t all weeds all would be fine. Weeds are not necessarily ugly, as a matter of fact Noah often picks it and proudly brings it to me as a beautiful gift, yes the flowers are pretty, almost dainty, but still it is a weed. Sin is not always appearing to be ugly, it has so many clever disguises just like these blue dainty flowers, yet the roots are deep, and it crowds out the other plants, choking the life out of anything in its path. Pretty on the outside does not always accurately reflect the inside. And the opposite is true as well. Last fall, with expert assistance, I pruned the dozens of rose bushes scattered throughout the yard. When the work was done the bushes looked anything but pleasing or pretty, yet now a scant few months later each is blooming and blossoming with vigor.

The large, deep roots left big holes in the moist soil. If I did not fill those in, there would be large unsightly holes starring at me every time I walked through the garden. Must the same, I realized that not only do I need to take out the sin that has rooted itself in my life, but I need to ensure that I fill the hole left behind with something else. Time spent pursuing these activities must be filled with something of meaning and purpose or I will quickly fall back in to old patterns and habits.

Nobody could see me under the tree as I pulled and tugged allowing me precious silence and contemplation. Just like the garden overwhelmed me with its immensity of work, I can at times feel dejected and immobilized by my sinful nature. There are so many areas needing improvement, so much to work on, and no matter my resolve and resolution, it fades quickly and I am back where I started. Sanctification is simply too big of a job for me to handle on my own and all at once. As I thought of the advice from the gardener I realized that could easily be applied to me as well. Don’t worry about all that has to be done, simply focus on one thing and work on that – pulling out the sin, getting every last bit of the root out, filling the hole left behind. The heaviness in my heart I felt for some time, the condemnation that I had carried around suddenly lifted and I felt as if I had lost at least 10 lbs, My heart was light and my spirit invigorated, I can do this. I can focus on one characteristic and master it well. The work under the tree was almost done.

Finally, as I looked at the retaining wall behind the tree I saw remnants of the ivy that I had pulled out, still clinging to the concrete with all its might. It is not enough to pull out the roots of sin, it is not enough to simply sweep around the immediate area, but it is vital to look all around for places where the sin I am tackling has crept in, it is amazing in how many places in my life I can identify the same sinful behavior – and if it is not dealt with it will graft itself and take root again. I have worked all too hard on my 2x2 area to allow any weeds to remain, it has to all come out, every little bit.

An hour later, my knees soar from kneeling in the dirt, my back hurting from bending over, my arms and hands raw from pulling, I was done. The work was complete and I could put down citrus food to hopefully nurture the lime tree back to health and fruit bearing.

Although my body was physically tired from the work, I was light in heart and encouraged from my encounter with God in the garden. I now look forward to my next 2x2 square and for what God is going to teach me next. Until then I am busy tending to one habit/characteristic in my life that needs to go. I am armed with the right tools, and I am ready to reclaim my soul.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Just different

One of our favorite things to do here in Monterey is to go to the beach in Carmel, armed with a dinner picnic basket, shovels, firewood, chairs and lots of extra clothes. We haul what seems like too much gear down the winding stairs and then scout out the perfect spot for dinner, fire, digging and sunset watching. Most of the time we bring along out of town guests or friends to join us in the fun, and it does not take long before everyone is skirting the edge of the ocean, trying to run away from the waves as they break on the long sandy beach. Children and adults alike laugh and giggle even when they get wet and the extra clothes or towels come in handy as everyone settles in for fire, hot food and chat. Noah who typically wants to be in the 'thick' of any action will almost always set out to dig his way to the center of the earth, hardly having enough time to stop for a bite to eat much less time to gallivant and frolic in the water. By the time we leave, he has usually dug himself a hole deeper than he is tall and at times wide enough to fit a few kids in for a final photo op. The walk down to the perfect spot seemed a bit arduous because of all the gear, and the walk back to the stairs and the car, although only a few 100 feet seems even more challenging; by the time we leave it is pitch black, the sun has set long ago, there are no streets lights in Carmel and everyone is carrying at least another pound or two of sand in their clothes, shoes and hair making the trek seem soo soo long. By the time everyone is in the car, shivering, sandy and dead tired all energy is gone, yet it is always unanimous that it was a wonderful time.
I also enjoy the Carmel beach during our early morning beach walk. I meet up with friends and dogs, ladies and our two boys take off for the beautiful ocean view walk to catch up on news, gossip, and exercise. We frequently stop to catch our breath - not because we are out of shape -but because of the amazing, gorgeous and incredible view.
Two weeks ago, we had an incredible storm come through - no not the kind that the East Coast is experiencing with snow and bone-chilling temperatures - but a storm worthy of its name for this area. The wind whipped around and blew over trees as if they were match stick, the rain pelted windows and if there ever was a crevice to seep through the water found it. Some even lost power, and Highway 1 car speeds topped out at 25 mph, and at times came to a complete halt.
When the sun came out again, the trees were cleared off the roads and cabin fever had gotten the best of us, we headed to our favorite beach - Carmel. Words could not describe the change, locals and visitors alike stood in stunned silence as they surveyed what was left of the beach. Initially all access to the beach

was prohibited, but it did not take long before the die-hards found a way down to see first hand what the storm had done. The long, soft, fine sand beach was gone, the waves even at low tide covered almost all of what was left of the beach, 'our perfect spot' from just a few nights ago was completely under water....

It has now been a few weeks and the new reality is setting. I still have a hard time comprehending what happened, but it is true, the beach has changed. What was is no more, and I am not sure when we can come back down to do fires and eat chili out of plastic cups... Noah will not have to choose between frolicking in the water and digging his hole because it will only take him a minute to reach solid rock as he puts his shovel in the sand. There is no need to bring extra clothes, nothing on the beach will remain dry. Yet, despite all the changes, the beach is still amazingly beautiful, it still takes my breath away as I join my
friends for beach walks, or take the boys for an outing after school is done.

What was may never be again, and I miss that; but the new reality is here and it has cast its on spell on me. As I reflect on this, I sense God's teaching me - a gentle nudging kind of teaching , more than a hit me over the head lesson.

Last year my dear friend MaryJo passed away after a valiant battle with cancer. She was someone I leaned on for much, and never did she let me down. Her faith, her strong convictions and her moral character always guided her response. I miss her, and I miss her a lot. Life with her was beautiful, fun and enjoyable. Life without her has to go on, even though we are many who miss her dearly and long for the day we will once again be together in Heaven. It is hard at times to see how life can go on when we lost someone we love.

The beach provided a loose metaphor for life with and life without MaryJo (and other losses I have experienced) The beach was so much fun and so gorgeous before the storm and I miss that now. Yet, the new beach has a different kind of beauty to it, there are things to discover that I had not noticed before. It is still an amazing beach, a beautiful place to spend some time by. The new beach is what I have and what is here to enjoy, the old one is gone. I can spend all my time reminiscing and longing for the old beach, but no matter how much and how intensely I long for it, it will not come back. I have a choice - stay in the past and miss all the present beauty, or live in the present and enjoy God's creation in this new form. I have a choice as I miss my friend, stay in the past or learn from MaryJo and live in the here and now, for that is all we have.

This is a recent photo of the 'beach' - "our spot" is located almost dead center of the photo...

Monday, February 8, 2010

What a great read!

It was with trepidation that I picked up Mary DeMuth’s Thin Places as I rarely enjoy reading biographies. I find it of no interest to read about narcissistic self promoting individuals, rarely having accomplished much note worthy, and frequently settling what would best be described as highly personal family matters in a very public manner; and not seldom leaving me wondering what is truth and what is simply exaggeration for the sake of publicity and an attempt to achieve victim status. Had the author been anyone but Mary DeMuth I probably would not have given the book a second look, but since I have enjoyed every book Mary has authored I wanted to give this one the benefit of the doubt. I am so glad I did, what a treasure This Place is.

Mary is a fantastic writer, and her way with words and language is amazing. The reader cannot help but feeling pulled in to the pages, smelling, and hearing, seeing and feeling as if the words came alive – it is live theater on a page. Few authors can achieve this feat but Mary mastered it; one of the many reasons her books are such a pleasure to read – it involves all senses.

Mary shares her early life and struggles with the reader in a beautiful, caring, yet sensitive manner. There is no self aggrandizement, no exaggeration for the sake of hype and fame, no name calling to hurt and offend. At times, I think she is even a bit too nice to those who hurt her, allowing her deep faith in the forgiveness and grace of Jesus Christ to shine through.

She details her experiences in a way that helps the reader relate to the pain, suffering and offense; for hers unfortunately is not an unusual story and I suspect many are we the readers who have similar stories buried in the depth of our hearts and minds. She uncovers the truth, exposes the pain for all to see and demonstrates the far reaching impact and consequences in the present of offenses of yesteryear. For those who have walked in her shoes she puts words to feelings, pains, and struggles in a way that validates the reader. For those fortunate enough to have experienced a safer childhood, her descriptions will help put words to the pain so that as one encounters someone with a difficult past one may be able to better comprehend the immensity of the pain and offer a shoulder to cry on, a ear to listen and a mouth to pray for the sufferer.

Mary talks freely about her life, her challenges and her every day struggles as a young girl, teenager, college student, wife, mother and friend. Her writing is so vivid, her description so telling and her honesty so real; at times it felt as if she had written about me, and my challenges – I finally realized I was not alone in thinking these thoughts, acting in these ways or feeling like I feel. Her words were like a soothing balm on open wounds in my heart and soul. Mary offers hope to the hopeless, and points her readers to the one and only one who can heal the wounds of men - our Lord and Savior.

There is only one problem with this book – it is so good it is impossible to put down; causing me to stay up way too late at night!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

A New Normal

It began with a kind email from my father in law, Tom: Would we like a Christmas wreath for our front door? As I read his generous offer, I was struck by the new normal that our lives are beginning to take on.

Life is changing once again and what we have become use to is now a thing of the past, and what we have in front of us is our new normal.

New - Attending the same church every Sunday, getting to know people, beginning to recognize faces and starting to feel at home.

New - Routine, a white board with chores and tasks, a schedule and things that has to be done.

New – A place for each thing, and the place is not a suit case or a brown paper box, it is a shelf, a closet or a table.

New – Regular play dates with the same kids every time, familiar faces and good friends, not having to make a new acquaintance each time we stop in a park.

New – cleaning, bed making, grocery shopping, meal planning, take out the trash, no longer are these things taken care of by others in hotels, motels and restaurants.

New- Hospitality, we now have a place to call home to where we can invite people to come and join us for a meal and fellowship, and although we do not have real plates just yet, we are learning that china and crystal is not necessary for a fun time.

New – Time apart, and how precious and wonderful the reunion is at the end of the day when Daddy comes through the door after a long day at school.

New - A place to call home, a place to decorate for the seasons, a place to hang a live Christmas wreath!

We have done so much in the last 11 months, and learned so much, and although we are a bit sad to give up the freedom, the fun and the adventure, we are excited about this new normal here in Monterey, California.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

How Do I Know?

How do I know that the large, beautiful, shiny diamond on the pretty girl’s finger is real, and that she therefore is rich? Maybe it is a synthetic bought in the QVC clearance store, and the girl saved for a long time to buy it.

How do I know that the little boy who is sucking on a sucker on a Tuesday morning is ‘always’ eating candy and that he has a bad mother who ‘lets him eat candy all the time?” Maybe he has not had a sweet treat in weeks, maybe he never or rarely gets treat – a truth just as possible as ‘he always’ gets sweets.

How do I know the little girl in the Walmart cart with a pacifier in her mouth is too old for that? Maybe she is not as old as she appears, maybe she just got hurt and needed to be soothed, maybe she……

How do I know the heavy set woman in front of me at Safeway with a cart full of ‘junk food’ is buying it for herself? Maybe, she is having a party, bringing snacks to a party, office get together.

How do I know that the ‘perfect’ looking house, with the pretty fence is lovely, warm and inviting on the inside, and something that I covet? Maybe, it is a beautiful fa├žade, like the gorgeous Trompe D’oils we saw covering up the dusty renovation work of castles in Europe?

How do I know that my fellow airline passenger, dressed like she walked off the pages of Vogue is so confident in herself? Maybe she is covering up her insecurities, her loneliness, and empty life?

How do I know that the couple that sits behind us at the restaurant is truly happily married? Maybe this is the first civil conversation they have had with each other in months.

How do I know that she sales clerk is mad at me, when she snaps at my request? Maybe she had a sleepless night, maybe the bills are stacking up and no way to pay them, maybe it had nothing to do with my request

How do I know that someone intended to hurt me with actions or words? Maybe there is a true intent veiled behind how I received the interaction, maybe even bathed in good intentions?

How do I know that the child acting out in the store is due to poor parenting? Maybe the child is facing the imminent death of a parent and the shopping trip on the way to the hospital is to find the ‘right card’ for Mommy so she will bet better.

How do I know that that the decision that someone made was wrong and foolish? Maybe there are more facts than I have been aware of, maybe there is information that is not shared, maybe from the other point of view it appears to be a great choice.

How do I know… the list goes on and on. My brain makes judgments constantly and the outcome affects how I see and interaction with people around me. Maybe I am wrong in my judgment, maybe I am too quick to judge, maybe it is time to give people a chance to show me who they are without coloring their presentation with my snap judgments.

Thank you Lord for your gentle teachings, for helping me be more compassionate and less critical Lord give me the courage to not judge, the patience to uncover all the facts, and the grace to love everyone I encounter .