Monday, January 31, 2011

Waters of Baptism: Gratitude 22

Yesterday we witnessed and celebrated the baptism of 15 new followers of Christ.  It was a joy and delight to behold.

Afterward, I noted to A., "I haven't seen that many baptized at once since..."

"I know," he said. "I was thinking the same thing.  When I was walking out to get the car, a boy complained to his dad about how many were baptized today and how long it took, and I remembered and wanted to tell him he had no idea what long was."

(I think that means we're getting old.)

Our common memory was our last mission trip to country X, 11 years ago.  Our brothers and sisters in Christ there commonly faced fines and imprisonment if their worship assemblies or ministry attracted government attention.  On that particular journey, a guide took us to a rural village.  The believers there worshiped in a home, a home with false interior walls.  When the community gathered, the walls were pushed aside to create one big room.  Children served as scouts near the site; if they raised the alarm that police were approaching, the crowd dispersed and the walls were replaced.

We were permitted to observe a few minutes but not to share their worship service.  Caucasians visiting a home in the countryside would too quickly attract attention they did not want.

They did, however, invite us to join an outdoor baptism service later.  A cement cistern was filled with well water, the water chilly despite the hot and humid climate.  One after another after another, new Christ-followers climbed into the water and were immersed by the pastor in the name of the Triune God.  The rest of the church encircled the humble baptistry and sang Anglo-American hymns translated into their native tongue.

I'm not sure how long we stayed.  Perhaps half an hour.  The baptisms were already in progress when we arrived and continued when we were led away.

Our guide told us that such services could last three or four hours, and the pastors developed respiratory infections afterward from standing in the chilly water so long.  "What would really help them," he said, "is a wet suit.  But no one can afford it, and we are far from the water."

Do I even come close to understanding what it is to suffer for the gospel?  We had traveled to the other side of the world to teach Bible and theology, but these men and women had much more to teach us about life in Christ. About real joy.

Upon our return home, a string of providences, like a toppling row of dominoes, provided a cast-off wet suit and a way to transport it to those shivering pastors.

This was in my husband's mind and mine yesterday.  What great grace that would allow us, me, to be in one body with Christ and with such noble saints! What a blessed reminder of our unity with believers around the globe and through two millennia. With all the variations in practice, water baptism in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit remains a visible bond of the unity of the invisible body of Christ.  For that body and the privilege of my participation in it, I am thankful.

There is one body and one Spirit--
just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call--
one Lord,
one faith,
one baptism,
one God and Father of all,
who is over all
and through all
and in all.
-Ephesians 4:4-6, ESV-

How does He love me? Let me count the ways. . .
3566. Flock of sparrows feasting amid the horticultural cornmeal in the rose bed
3567. Grey winter sky preparing for storms ahead after a weekend that felt like spring
3568. Good coffee on Monday morning
3569. Shared memories
3570. Past opportunities to serve brothers and sisters in Christ overseas
3571. The unity of the body of Christ
3572. The courage of those who trust Christ in environments of aggressive persecution
3573. The freedom to assemble for Christian worship
3574. The beautiful suitability of a cistern baptistry for followers of the Jesus laid in a feeding-trough crib
3575. Wet suits for cold pastors
3576. The mysteries of God's providence
3577. Grace to learn at our own pace, in the Lord's patience
3578. Outgoing mail
3579. The joy of a good book

Friday, January 28, 2011

Cultivating Celebration: Transformation

When my inner radar detects a storm cell forming in my circumstances, an icy blast of arctic air on the way, I fear.  Beneath the fear, if I dare to look, lies rebellion, a digging in of my soul’s heels in refusal of what I sense is coming.

Orienting myself toward celebration, the present moment, and the extraordinary ordinary fuel delight in God; that rebellion strangles it, like plaque on spiritual arteries restricting the flow of joy and praise.  The converse is also true, though:  surrender and obedience energize celebration.  As we grow in holiness, which Elisabeth Elliot used to define in her radio talks as “a whole-hearted ‘yes’ to God,” our countenances as well as our characters and actions are transformed.

Celebration and transformation are dance partners of sorts.  Celebration and praise can prove means as well as results of our deliverance (2 Chronicles 20); celebration can be an instrument as well as the song of our transformation.  Richard Foster notes that obedience leads to joy, but joy also lubricates the gears of obedience.  Instead of a vicious cycle, we have a gracious cycle; instead of a downward spiral, an upward.

Celebration may begin as a practice, a choice to obey the call to gratitude and delight in God, before it becomes an orientation.  In this sense, spiritual practices are not unlike a musician’s scales and arpeggios, prerequisite to the grand works of repertoire we want to play. Just so, we have to choose to exercise our faith muscles before our hearts will sing. However, Christian spiritual practices are just that: spiritual, or should I say Spiritual?  God’s Spirit in us prompts, enables, and sustains what seems to begin with our choice.

As I practice turning from rebellion and towards obedience, as I accept what Providence brings and choose praise and trust that God is good and gracious in the hard as well as the happy, grace moves me to a place of readiness to receive Jesus’ promise of joy unlike the world’s joy.  His Spirit produces His fruit in me, including joy.

Foster describes the process this way:
Joy is found in obedience.  When the power that is in Jesus reaches into our work and play and redeems them, there will be joy where once there was mourning. To overlook this is to miss the meaning of the Incarnation (Celebration of Discipline, p.193).
I am still very much a kindergarten student in this, practicing daily and stumbling often.  Remembering to celebrate the small moments and smooth days builds the holy habit for the harder celebrations.  That’s why I keep a gratitude journal; noticing the small ways God loves me and remembering them long enough to write them down focuses my attention on good.  Jesus’ Gethsemane prayer also helps me, especially in the shift from rebellion to obedience: “Not my will, but Yours be done.” Lifting my voice can help my heart to feel what I believe: “Give thanks to the LORD, for His lovingkindness is everlasting.” I say it out loud, sing it, listen to others sing it, and counter the lies that kill delight in God and His gifts.  Like Jehoshaphat, I, too, can send the worship team ahead of the army and watch the Lord fight for me.

As I practice and grow in celebration, turning my face to the Lord and learning to delight more in Him, He will transform and produce more celebration as His joy, the joy of Christ Himself, grows in me.  This is the witness of those wiser in the discipline than I, and I believe it will be so.  Right now, though, I’m still practicing.

May the Son of God who is already formed in you grow in you—so that for you he will become immeasurable, and that in you he will become laughter, exultation, the fullness of joy which no one can take from you.
-Isaac of Stella, quoted in Adele Ahlberg Calhoun, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, p.26

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Martha, Martha: A Poem

This week I've been very aware that my own restless choices have been keeping me from the best uses of the time given me.  I've started pushing through discomfort and fatigue again, even though I know that's a recipe for disaster for me.  This old poem came to mind and spoke to me, so perhaps someone else needs it, too.  It derives from Luke 10:38-42.

Martha, Martha

Sit still, My child; no need for haste;
Still, at My feet, shall be thy place.
Thy strength lies in that quietness;
My daughter, return to thy rest.

Through rest, not toil, the victory’s won;
Only through Me, thy work is done.
Come, weary one, and know thy best:
To lean thy head on Abba’s breast.

~crm, 2000 or so

Monday, January 24, 2011

Simple Goodness: Gratitude 21

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things (Philippians 4:8, NIV).

"God has established a created order full of excellent and good things, and it follows naturally that as we give our attention to those things we will be happy.  That is God's appointed way to joy.  If we think we will have joy only by praying and singing psalms, we will be disillusioned.  But if we fill our lives with simple good things and constantly thank God for them, we will be joyful, that is, full of joy.  And what about our problems?  When we determine to dwell on the good and excellent things in life, we will be so full of those things that they will tend to swallow our problems" (Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline, p. 195).

He [the LORD] remembered us in our low estate
His love endures forever.
and freed us from our enemies.
His love endures forever.
He gives food to every creature.
His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of heaven.
His love endures forever.
Psalm 136:23-26, NIV

From my gratitude journal, #3468-78:
~Cotton-candy sunrise backlighting living sculptures of bare trees
~Simmering hot cereal on the stove, with apples, instead of in the microwave
~Tea in my favorite china cup, just because it's Wednesday
~Beginning to read the new book by my favorite online author and finding it as beautiful as hoped
~A surprise gift in the mail from a friend of my youth
~Receiving words of encouragement from an unexpected source
~Seeing a neighbor at church
~Gracious burger-shop staff cleaning up my spilled water with smiles and, "Can I get you anything else?"
~Falling asleep under love's wing
~The scent of sleeping puppy
~Hot water from the tap

Friday, January 21, 2011

Spring Is Coming

What appears a pruning unto death
May not be,
But the shearing of the old, the spent,
That new blooms may blossom forth.

Take heart;
Green canes, though bare,
Proclaim good news:
Winter will not always last;
Spring is coming.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Cultivating Celebration: The Extraordinary Ordinary

If I remember my Temple Grandin reading right, animals have no difficulty staying focused on the present moment.  That is their innate design, though, and no moral virtue.  (They don't have to get to choose like we do.) Even so, not all animals seem to enjoy the present moment.

We've had three dogs in our home over the last 11 years, and our current buddy, Ebony, is the only one who consistently, habitually seems to exhibit joy.  Countless times every day he perks up his ears and wags not just his tail but his whole body in enthusiasm.  No great variety of activity or stimulation is required to provoke his happy dance.  Most of our days conform to a pretty consistent routine, in fact.  However, in Ebony's world there are no ordinary days.  He likes his routine, revels in it, and never seems to grow tired of it.  He is my paragon of celebrating the present moment.

His day starts when ours does:
"Oh, goody! The alarm!  Now Allen-Honey and Sweetie will snuggle with me on the couch while they drink their wake-up juice!  My favorite!"

"Oh, goody! Walkies!  My favorite!"

"Oh, goody! Peanut butter and allergy medicine!  My favorite!"

"Oh, goody!  My morning nap!  My favorite!"
"Oh, goody! Lunch in my treat ball! My favorite!"
"Oh, goody! Another nap and the blankie! My favorite!"

"Oh, goody! Time to patrol the yard for signs of the nefarious Dr. Miao and her evil henchcats!  My favorite!"

"Blech! Pollen decontamination wipedown!  Not my favorite! NOT MY FAVORITE!!!"
(OK, so that's an exception.)

"Oh, goody!  Allen-Honey's home! My favorite!"

"Oh, goody! Supper! My favorite!"

"Oh, goody! More snuggles! My favorite!"

"Oh, goody! Bedtime and my Kong! My favorite!"

(Adapted from

See what I mean? Nothing spectacular or exceptional marks our daily liturgy, but Ebony has a loving family, a safe home, adequate daily food, and more napping spots than he knows what to do with.  In these daily delights he finds joy.

How much more should I, a Christian, celebrate God's daily grace in the ordinary?  Is there any ordinary day, really, for a Spirit-indwelt child of the Most High God?  Or am I just too dull, too calloused, to recognize the extraordinary embedded in the mundane?  Is that why I need hardships that disrupt the routine? To wake me up to the glory I would otherwise miss?

The ordinary, messy, beautiful physicality of daily life has been three times hallowed: by creation, Incarnation, and redemption.  Surely this is cause to seek and find ways to celebrate God's involvement in this day.

In chapter 4 of his classic book OrthodoxyG. K. Chesterton even suggests that quotidian delight reflects the very character of God.
      All the towering materialism which dominates the modern mind rests ultimately upon one assumption: a false assumption.  It is supposed that if a thing goes on repeating itself it is probably dead; a piece of clockwork.  People feel that if the universe was personal it would vary; if the sun were alive it would dance.  This is a fallacy even in relation to known fact.  For the variation in human affairs is generally brought into them, not by life, but by death; by the dying down or breaking off of their strength or desire.  A man varies his movements because of some slight element of failure or fatigue. . . .  The sun rises every morning.  I do not rise every morning; but the variation is due not to my activity, but to my inaction.  Now, to put the matter in a popular phrase, it might be true that the sun rises regularly because he never gets tired of rising.  His routine might be due, not to a lifelessness, but to a rush of life.  The thing I mean can be seen, for instance, in children, when they find some game or joke that they especially enjoy.  A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life.  Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged.  They always say, "Do it again"; and the grown-up does it again until he is nearly dead.  For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony.  But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony.  It is possible that God says every morning, "Do it again" to the sun; and every evening, "Do it again" to the moon.  It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them.  It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.  The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical encore.
O Father, I am so far from this joy.  Make me, us, strong enough to exult in monotony.  Work Your delight out in us today; catch our attention with the daily beauties we miss because we are all too grown up.  May we lift our hearts toward you each day with a smile that says, "Do it again, Lord. Encore!"  In the name of the Christ who welcomed little children, in His name we ask this.  Amen.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Words and the Word

This post accepts Holley Gerth and Ann Voskamp's invitation to share in community about the Christian's words.

The Lord GOD has given me
the tongue of those who are taught,
that I may know how to sustain with a word
him who is weary.
Morning by morning he awakens;
he awakens my ear
to hear as those who are taught.
The Lord GOD has opened my ear,
and I was not rebellious;
I turned not backward (Isaiah 50:4-5, ESV).

These words from the Servant section of Isaiah have long guided my prayers for my own words.  Whether writing a blog post, poem, e-mail, text, or letter, I want given, taught words, an ear awakened to hear truly, and sustaining words for the broken and weary.  (The desire applies to spoken words, too, but I confess I pray less often about those.)

Such words are sourced first in a listening heart, one oriented towards Him and opened by God's grace to hear His voice. 

Sustaining words also are rooted in His Word, written and living.  Through God's words all creation came into being.  His words alone are assured of bearing fruit (Isaiah 55:10-11).  When my words are full of Scripture, grafted into His, they also bear good fruit.  In another sense, the living Word, the Lord Jesus Christ, is the one truly able to sustain the weary in body and spirit.  My words cannot effect such sustenance by themselves, but only as they connect the hearer to the living Word who is the true satisfying bread, life, and light, the One in whom all things hold together.

Finally, in order to speak sustaining words, what I learn must move from my ear to my tongue.  This requires that I not be rebellious or turn back from God's direction.

Why would I shrink from something as simple as speaking or writing what I learn from the Lord and what gives this weary soul sustenance?  

First off, because of laziness.  For me, it takes considerable thought and energy to move something from my ears to my tongue or fingers.  That process of shaping ideas into words, words into sentences, sentences into paragraphs, paragraphs into posts, continues my own learning process and so benefits me, but it's also work.  It's all too easy to convince myself that it doesn't really matter, and then the inertia wins.  In that sense, the hardest sentence is the first one.

Secondly, I turn back because of fear.  Sustaining words are costly words.  It's a bit scary for this shy girl to put my heart on paper for others to see.  Our words reveal our hearts, and what if you reject mine when you see it without makeup?  Sometimes the word I hear nudges me to write a note, maybe to someone with whom I've lost touch.  Obedience means they might think I'm as odd as I am, and then maybe they wouldn't like me any more.  Or maybe the sustaining word is a challenging word, the kind no one really wishes to hear but sometimes needs to.  Again, obedience means risking human disapproval.

And so I pray.  I can't do this word thing on my own.  I need the tongue of a learner, an awakened ear, soul-sustaining words, and courage and strength not to turn back from honoring and obeying God with my words, which ought to be full of Him.

May God fill our hearts and speech with His life-giving words.  May we learn to build up and not tear down and to ask quickly for forgiveness when we fail each other.

You may also like "A Blogger's Prayer" at and this site's post on the Day of Encouragement 2010.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Startitis and Stick-to-itivity: Gratitude 20

Lately I've developed a case of startitis.  Usually I've heard this term used to describe a knitter's or crocheter's compulsion to begin a multitude of projects, say, a dozen, in an impossibly short time like a couple of days.  When the attack passes, the victim's home is cluttered with UFOs (unfinished objects), many of which the crafter doesn't even like when sanity returns.  Still, no one seems to have found a cure for this malady, although a straitjacket and temporarily freezing the bank accounts of the sufferer hold some promise.

My current case of startitis, however, does not involve yarn but books.  Suddenly I have a stack of seven or eight books, all of which must be read. Right. Now.  The oddity is that the compulsion to choose the books and obtain them from library or friend or shop does not extend as much to the actual reading of them.  Because I want to read them all immediately and cannot do so, I find it nearly impossible to commit to just one (or two or three) and get to reading.  It feels like rejecting all the others, but really it's just impatience.

In contrast, in my Bible reading so far this year, the repeated pattern of delays has struck me.
  • Most Sunday school children know that Noah's flood lasted 40 days and 40 nights.  It surprised me to notice that Noah, his family, and all the animals but the scout birds actually stayed in the ark for a year and 10 days before God said, "Go out."  Talk about cabin fever! (Genesis 7:11, 13; 8:14)
  • Abram had waited 10 years from God's promise of land, seed, and blessing before he and Sarai implemented the surrogacy plan resulting in Ishmael's birth a year later.  They endured 13 more years of waiting before God spoke again promising Isaac in another year's time (Genesis 16:3, 16; 17:1).
  • Abraham and Isaac persevered in obedience 3 days up Mount Moriah before seeing the lamb God provided (Genesis 22:4).
  • Isaac and Rebekah waited through 20 years of infertility before the twins were born (Genesis 25:20-21, 26).
  • Joseph waited at least 20 years between the dream-promise of honor among his family and its fulfillment (Genesis 37:2-11; 41:46; 41:53-42:3).
The Lord tells us in Psalm 105 that the word of promise tested Joseph during the delay (Psalm 105:19). Might we say the same of the other patriarchs and even of ourselves when we choose trust as we live in the gap between promise and fulfillment?

Until the time that his [God's] word came to pass,
The word of the LORD tested him.
Psalm 105:19

In that light, I see startitis as a temptation.  It's easy to make plans and gather ideas; the challenge and the honor lie in sticking with the plans God sets until His timing for their completion.  In the mean time, the word of the Lord tests us: do we really believe He is faithful to keep His promises and good in His timing?  How does such belief manifest itself in behavior and attitude?

Gentle reader, if this day finds you discouraged in your waiting, in indeterminate delays in the dreams you thought God had given,  I pray Paul's words to the Colossians for you:
May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy,  giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light (Colossians 1:11-12, ESV).

And since it's Monday, here is a glimpse of my gratitude list, #3365-3375:
~Red roses still pretty on the table after two weeks
~Birthday balloon still afloat in living room
~Nephew-made art on wall
~Snugged up in warm house during days of chilly grey weather
~Greeting cards in mail
~Ability to contribute to the needs and desires of God's servants around the world
~A good report from the cardiologist last week
~A referral for possible treatment of persistent non-cardiac chest pain  (praying about this)
~A wealth of reading material
~God's abundant and gracious promises
~Our Father's perfect timing

Friday, January 14, 2011

Winter Storm: A Poem

This week's three-inch snowfall has put me in mind of the two record-setting snows north Texas experienced in 2010.  Contemplating the damage wrought by such tiny things as snowflakes produced this poem.

Winter Storm
 On Record Snowfall, 2/11/10

                                                Stealthily overcoming lawn and leaf,
                                                                                            Roof and roadway—
Transfix attention with their delicate beauty,
Microscopic bits of Irish lace.

Floating down irregular as feathers,
Deceptively light,
Multitude on multitude inexorably accumulate.
Boughs bow
Beneath the weight
Of dusty anxieties.

What does not bend,
Shed burden to strong, waiting earth,
What does not bend must break,
Though strong live wood
Thick as Jacob’s thigh,
Joint sundered with a touch.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you (1 Peter 6:6-7, ESV).

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Cultivating Celebration: Present Orientation

The resources I've examined regarding celebration as a spiritual discipline unanimously agree that the holy habit of celebration requires full attention to the present moment.

Worry inhabits the future;
regret and resentment inhabit the past;
celebration inhabits the now.

This challenges me.  It is more comfortable, safer somehow, to ruminate on either past or future.  To abandon myself to this moment feels risky, out of control, vulnerable to whatever danger lurks around the next bend.  Worry, at least, grants the illusion of preparedness and security.  Celebration might mean catching the first snowflakes on my tongue instead of getting to the store in time to stock up on food staples in advance of the calamity of 24 to 36 hours housebound by an ice storm.  Delight in the now, then, requires trust for the not yet.

The other risk in celebration is the certainty of its passing.  Sometimes it's easier to walk in the known discomfort of anxiety or grief now than to risk a joy that will never last in this world.  To this fear, Adele Calhoun writes,
The world is filled with reasons to be downcast.  But deeper than sorrow thrums the unbroken pulse of God's joy, a joy that will yet have its eternal day (Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, p.27).
The Christian, then, of all people, has the reason and resources to risk joy now in the confidence that God's joy abides always and will someday be our full experience, as well.

As I said, this is not my strength.  What practical steps can I take to move towards celebration and inhabiting the present moment?

Richard Foster's suggestions in Celebration of Discipline include singing and dancing, exercising imagination, and laughter.  It's hard to worry or repine when playing a Bach prelude or reading the Narnian stories or being silly with my dog or family.  Furthermore, he suggests cultivating an appreciation for the simple goodness of God's created order:
God has established a created order full of excellent and good things, and it follows naturally that as we give our attention to those things we will be happy.  That is God's appointed way to joy.  If we think we will have joy only by praying and singing psalms, we will be disillusioned.  But if we fill our lives with simple good things and constantly thank God for them, we will be joyful, that is, full of joy.  And what about our problems?  When we determine to dwell on the good and excellent things in life, we will be so full of those things that they will tend to swallow our problems (p.195, emphasis mine).
The apostle Paul said it this way:
And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise (Philippians 4:8, NLT, emphasis mine; see also 1 Timothy 4:4-5 and  Ecclesiastes 8:15, perhaps?).
Once again, I learn I am what I think about.  If my mind dwells on God's excellent and praiseworthy character and gifts and my heart and voice respond with gratitude, I may be beginning to learn to celebrate.

In the comments: no doubt some of you Crumbles are better at this than I.  If you are so led, I welcome your suggestions of actions that ground you in the present and in joy.

In the next post of the series, we will learn from the Wits' End resident expert on living in the joy of the moment.  How's that for a teaser? [Smile.]

Monday, January 10, 2011

Desire Fulfilled: Glimpses of Gratitude 19

On the Monday and Tuesday after Christmas, I had a case of post-party depression.  The month preceding the holiday was full of eager anticipation and hopes of seeing family I'd missed since our last visits in May and the shrinking radius of my world over the summer.

Big Al asked what was wrong, and I said, "All that excitement looking forward to Christmas and God gave me everything I asked for and now all of a sudden blink and it's over and what's next? There's nothing to look forward to on the near horizon and that makes me sad." ( Apparently, emotion makes me talk without punctuation.)

"But what about your birthday? That's just around the corner."

"Well, yes, but that's not really anything to look forward to anymore."

I didn't elaborate, and he prudently decided to put down the can of worms and walk away from the pantry.

What I thought but didn't say was that, in the first two decades of life, birthdays are exciting.  Friends, cake, gifts, cake, rites of passage, cake, . . .  Every birthday marks one year closer toward desire fulfilled.

At a certain point, for me about the time we returned ignominiously from a year on the mission field, birthdays began to mark one year farther from the desires and dreams of youth, one year closer to . . . what? Being with Jesus fully and forever?  Wonderful as that is, somehow I don't see it selling a lot of greeting cards.

When I stopped pouting and quieted myself enough to listen, I heard my Father gently challenging my thinking.  "Yes, I gave you everything you asked for the Christmas celebration.  What's stopping you from asking again?"

Um, okay, I guess I could do that.

So I asked.  In my journal, I listed out my requests for my birthday, the kind of wishes Amazon doesn't sell.  Among them was the improbability that I would get to celebrate with both my sisters.  Really, I wanted the whole immediate family, including littlest nephews and brother-in-law, together but scaled back what I put on paper.  Mustn't be greedy, and I did see them at Christmas.  Also, I noted the vague but important wish for "a good surprise."  In some seasons of life, a cycle develops in which "surprise" means, "Oh, no!"  I was asking for the opposite and expected I would know it if I saw it.

What did God go and do, then?  Saturday night at the family party, which was a quiet supper at my parents' house with them, my husband, and the older of my sisters, a knock sounded and in walked my youngest sister with her family.  Two prayers in one answer!  A surprise and the whole family together!

What's more, He gave two answers to the one prayer for a good surprise.  The bonus guests at the party were a surprise to me; that was the first.  For the second, one of my dearest friends, who lives in Mexico, had sent my parents a party kit to use in a celebration for me.  Through her gifts (planned months ago!) of a banner, party napkins, invitations, gifts, card, and the makings of a cake, her love was a real part of the celebration even though she could not be present in person.

All in all, it was a lovely weekend of being enfolded in the love of family, friends, and my Father, and I am so very aware this morning of the multitude of God's good gifts.  There's no accounting for grace.

Gentle reader, if today finds you feeling sad or short on hope, may God's kindness to this slow learner encourage you to go to your Father and tell Him what you want.  His throne room has an open-door policy for His children.  If your desire is good, He will surely give it in the best way and time; if not, He will still give Himself (even better) and the mercy and grace to help us in our time of need.

From the gratitude list, #3254-3270:
~Freedom to present all my requests, big and little, silly and serious, to God
~Desire fulfilled
~One year closer to Jesus
~Balloons and butterflies
~Love it when the fam comes together :-)
~Phone calls from grandmother and second parents
~Three inches of birthday snow!
~Relatively low pain level for a weekend
~Corporate worship and restaurant lunch with my beloved yesterday
~A week of roses on the table
~Deciding to move a string of Christmas lights to the kitchen window, just because fairy lights make life more beautiful
~Quiet, buttercream-frosted Monday morning
~Birthday leftovers for supper tonight
~Ebony swaddling himself in the blankets on the couch to the point he needed help getting unwound
~The wise, gentle physician who has been managing my asthma and has agreed to assume care of my sinus issues, as well, until I can see the university specialist next month
~Feeling affirmed, listened to, and wholly, thoroughly cared for at the end of a medical appointment

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Cultivating Celebration: (Re)Orientation

Delight yourself in the LORD,
   and he will give you the desires of your heart.
-Psalm 37:4, ESV

Over the closing week of 2010 and the opening days of 2011, one word kept appearing all over my reading and listening: "delight."

My childhood was no stranger to delight.  My mother has always possessed a knack for celebrating the small victories in life.  So often she has written a note or provided some small surprise to mark a project completed, challenge met, difficult doctor's appointment done.  At least once a week over these last 6 months, she has called me to offer to bring me a treat while out on her own errands.  

My dad excels at little attentions that show me he values me and our time together.  When I worked for him in the summers during high school or studied near his  downtownoffice on school breaks, he would give me special consideration in the choice of lunch spot, focused conversation, and sometimes a little extra walking-around money.  

My grandmother's forte is creating special traditions, especially around holidays.  For the first two decades of my life, Christmas Eve at Nonni's was full of joyful, predictable ceremony, from the lunch and dinner menus to the hanging of the grandchildren's ornaments to the annual height check to the giving and receiving of savings bonds.

Somewhere in the last dozen or so years, though, I've started thinking like a grown-up.  The endless to-do list became the measure of my day's success, and acts of celebration seemed easy to prune from it.  They took energy and effort, and when I was the one creating those moments, they suddenly seemed frivolous.  It was all too easy to write them off as wastes of time, money, or calories.

As I've pondered how God might be calling me to respond to the current motif of delight, my thoughts have turned toward the spiritual discipline of celebration.  (Yes, that is considered a spiritual discipline, a holy habit of the heart; all three of the books we own concerning spiritual disciplines include it.)

As a Christian practice, celebration does not mean the pursuit of pleasure for its own sake or looking to the satisfaction of material desires as anodynes for the soul's ache.  This is not hedonism in the pagan sense but delight in the LORD.  Adele Calhoun's Spiritual Disciplines Handbook describes celebration as the overflow of the desire
to take joyful, passionate pleasure in God and the radically glorious nature of God's people, Word, world, and purpose (emphasis mine).
 Furthermore, she defines the practice this way:
engaging in actions that orient the spirit toward worship, praise, and thanksgiving. Delighting [there's that word again!] in all the attentions and never-changing presence if the Trinity fuels celebration (emphasis mine).
Thus, God Himself is the focus of our celebration.  In a world where sometimes it seems the only constant is change, we can celebrate His constancy and character.  In radical contrast to Christless attempts at joy, true celebration gazes not at self but at the Sovereign God of all that is, seen and unseen.

As I read the handbook's guidelines, my heart says, "Yes! I want to go there, be that.  Teach me how?"

For me, 2010 (or at least the second half of it) mostly trained me in endurance and trust, and I still have far to grow in both; the new year's circumstances are no different so far, but I can be, by God's grace. Daily, hourly, I am beginning to move toward celebration and delight, beginning to turn my face towards the joy of the Lord.  This means the prayerful consideration of what actions orient me toward worship, praise, and thanksgiving and the appreciation of His inconceivable delight in me.

For starters, making or listening to Christian music needs to become a daily part of my life again.  Silence and spoken-word audio have dominated, and I've gotten out of the habit of choosing music every day.  This has already changed and radically raised the reading on my joy meter.  Also, as I continue gratitude journaling, I'm seeking to celebrate (more than simple thanks) the markers of God's activity each day.  Participation in corporate worship when and where strength permits remains important, and I value it all the more after weeks last summer of inability to attend a church service.

Whether this is the tone of the whole year remains to be seen.  For the current season, it seems to be God's leading.  I welcome your prayers and fellowship in the journey towards cultivating a heart that habitually celebrates the Lord.  Kind reader, however He is leading you to grow in Christ this year, may He "fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by His power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in Him" (2 Thess. 1:11-12, ESV).

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Glimpses of Gratitude 18: Blessed New Year!

A blessed new year to you!  Thanks for your visit in this place and for grace to accept a Monday post on a Tuesday.

If you were praying for my ability to spend time celebrating Christmas with family, thank you!  The Lord granted my desire for visits with my Nonni (grandmother) and my youngest sister's family, neither of whom I had seen since May.  He also gave icing on the cake by way of strength to attend a Christmas Eve worship service and lots of attention from the nephew who has previously been most shy with me.  I trust the Lord made Himself known to each of you in your celebrations, as well.

As to this year so far, yesterday we received the pleasant surprise of a day off for Big Al (in compensation for a working weekend) and the less pleasant surprise of another doctor for my medical roster.  The former explains the delay in this post.  On the latter point, when I called my ENT to request a prescription refill, he referred me to a different ENT at a major university hospital near us to see why I still need so much sinus medication after surgery last April.  In other words, I think he fired me as his patient.

I hung up the phone gobsmacked and discouraged at starting over with a new physician once again.  Allen understood and sympathized with my frustration.  My mother, on the other hand, greeted the news with the exclamation, "Fantastic! Those doctors are the best, and you can only see them with a referral!"  I'm seeking to embrace her perspective, especially since I'd been praying only yesterday morning that if my previous ENT was no longer the right match for the complexity of my overall health picture, God would make a way to change without him losing face.  I read You loud and clear, Lord.

The new doctor has no new-patient openings until February, so this is not an immediate solution, but the Lord is driving the timetable of my recovery, so I'm trusting/asking Him to provide the support needed during the gap.

Thank you for sharing your day and your prayer support with me.  I'm grateful we can start this new year together.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13, NIV).

from the gratitude list, #3167-3181:
~the first chapters of this year's Bible read-through
~the Lord's mercies still new, still fresh, every morning of this new year
~the first sunshine and birdsong of 2011
~the first rose bouquet of the year from my husband
~the first prescription filled
~the first new doctor
~the first celebration when my parents' alma mater, also my grandmother's hometown team, won the Rose Bowl
~the first phone visit with my grandmother
~the first memory verse (in progress) of the year
~the first answered prayers
~the first good coffee of the first day of a decade
~the first worship service of the first week of the first year of the decade
~the first nap of the year, all snuggled up with my Ebony-dog
~the first book read this year (started, I confess, last week)
~and, of course, the first blog post of 2011