Friday, July 31, 2009

Hiding in the Harem

Catchy title, right? (I borrowed the phrase from Pastor Steve. He’s a clever guy.)

The past few Sundays, we have been studying Esther’s story. One week, Pastor Steve talked about how Esther had no idea what was happening outside of the palace. When Mordecai was mourning outside of Esther’s window, she had to send a messenger to find out why he was so upset. Can you imagine how her stomach must have dropped when she discovered an edict had been issued to destroy all the Jews in the kingdom? She had no idea this was going on. She was safe in the King’s house. Granted, she hadn’t seen him for over a month. But she was there, safe in a place of plenty, while her people were living with this terrible and impending crisis.

It made me think of a passage in Amos: “Woe to you who are complacent in Zion, and to you who feel secure on Mount Samaria, you notable men of the foremost nation, to whom the people of Israel come!... You lie on beds inlaid with ivory and lounge on your couches. You dine on choice lambs and fattened calves. You strum away on your harps like David and improvise on musical instruments. You drink wine by the bowlful and use the finest lotions, but you do not grieve over the ruin of Joseph. Therefore you will be among the first to go into exile; your feasting and lounging will end." (Amos 6:1, 4-7)

I’ve been pondering about Amos’ message and Mordecai’s mourning. Am I in touch with the crises outside the palace? Am I grieving over the ruin of Joseph? Or am I hiding in the harem? When was the last time I truly took a petition in front of the king and risked everything to stand up for something I believed was worth fighting for?

What gets me about Esther’s story in particular is that her life was in danger and she was completely unaware. And probably just because of the normal demands of her schedule. I’m infamously busy. I wonder if the blur that is my life is blinding me from something much more important. It’s a good reminder to heed the ‘Mordecai’s in my life, and to remember to venture both out of the palace, and into the presence of the King.

If I lose my relevance because I’m blinded by my place of blessing, if I stop grieving over the ruin of Joseph, if I don't find ways to share the hope I've found...God just might send some "exile" my way to wake me up. And he would be completely justified in doing so. Does that make sense?

What inspires me about Esther: Ok, so she needed a wake up call. But once she knew about the problem, she did something about it. She wasn't fearless. She was nervous. But she risked everything. And she found favor with the King and saved her people from destruction. May I have the gumption to do the same.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Barefoot Firefighting

I tease my mother about her shopping habits. She likes things…big. For example, when we brought home a new washer and dryer, we had to cut away the lower wall of the pantry and install new doors so they would 1) fit and 2) you could open the doors. It was pretty funny. After that, dad and I decreed that she wasn’t allowed to go car shopping. Expanding the garage would be a bit more…complicated. *wink*

I was getting ready for a book club gathering (towel-drying my hair actually), when I heard a knock at my front door. A quick glance at my phone told me it was too early for the girls to be arriving, so I was just a little curious to see who was at the door. It was my neighbor. And in a hurried voice she said, “Do you have a hose? Because there’s a fire out behind the house!” I ran out to the back of the house and spotted our hose. I also spotted the flames in the woods behind the houses, so I was motivated to move quickly. The hose is in one of those space saver contraptions, so I just started pulling to see how much hose I was working with. I pulled, and pulled, and pulled…and the hose just kept coming. I felt like a magician who is pulling a colorful string of hankies out of his sleeve, but this was much more important. I still hadn’t reached the end of the line when I decided to pull it out and see if I could get water on the fire.

I had enough hose to stretch across the length of the house, the rest of yard, over the fence, and 15 feet into the brush. By this time the flames were a good 25ft by 15ft across and 12-15ft high. And in my hurry to solve the problem, I hadn’t even stopped to pull back my hair or put on shoes. But with our super-long hose, and my wave of fearlessness, I was able to keep the fire from spreading (and even put a good deal of it out) before the firemen got there.

Needless to say, this is one time when I’m supremely grateful for my mother’s shopping habits. Sometimes those old adages are true: “You never know when you’ll need it” or “It’s better to have too much and not need it than need more and not have it.”

So thank you mom, for empowering me to be a Barefoot Firefighter.

I hope I am always ready and prepared to fearlessly fight the fires that spring up in the underbrush of my life. I hope I keep that “get up and go” mindset and remember that shoes are ideal…but sometimes you have to hit the ground running with bare feet.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

In the way

I was playing on the worship team, minding my own business, when one of the lines of the song suddenly commanded my attention: “Or we’ll walk by his side in the way.”

It made me think of being a little kid, and wanting to help my parents, especially my dad while he was building or fixing something. But instead of actually contributing, I’d just end up being in the way. In his patient way, he would tell me, “I know you want to help, but you can’t work in the same place I am. You need to go over there.”

My thoughts then switched to one of my earliest memories. It was when we lived in Seattle, so I was probably right around 4-years-old. I got to tag along with my dad as he helped a family move from one house to another. And while I was old enough to know that I wanted to help, I was small enough to not really be a contributing factor.

Once again, my dad had a wise moment. While some big strong men were working to pack up the bedroom, he grabbed the plunger from the pile of bathroom things and said, “Can you keep track of this today? I need you to make sure that this gets to the new house. It’s very important.” I remember my little heart filling with meaning and determination. Yes! I can do that! And I did. I proudly tracked that plunger and triumphantly escorted it to its new home.

It didn’t matter that I was too small to do the heavy lifting. I didn’t even realize at the time just how small my task was. But you know, that doesn’t really matter either. My heart was in the right place, and I was part of the process.

All of those thoughts flashed in my mind over the course of just a second or two. And I once again heard those words: “Or we’ll walk by his side in the way.”

I know that when I see God working, I want to be a part of it. Or sometimes I see the good that other people are doing, and it’s exciting, and it’s building or fixing something….and I want to be right there helping to make it happen! And I can just hear God patiently reminding me, “I know you want to help, but you can’t work in the same place I am.” This thought is especially crazy when it’s a situation in my own heart and life. What do you mean I can’t fix that? It’s my mess! It’s my project! What do you mean I have to go work over there? But it’s true. Sometimes I just need to stay out of God’s way and let him do what he needs to do.

As for the plunger: The good that I do, and the triumphs that I experience, may be little more in the grand scheme of things than carrying a plunger from one house to another. But you know, that doesn’t matter. Because I couldn’t handle the heavy lifting anyway. What matters is that I’m involved. My task is small. But without it… let’s just say, one never knows what mess is prevented by the small thing that you do.

And if you walk by his side, you’re not in the way. You’re on the right path. (I think that’s what that line means in the first place *wink*)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Driver’s Tan

I looked down at my crossed arms a few days ago, and noticed that my left arm is a tad darker than my right. “Driver’s tan,” I thought to myself. It made me think about influence.

I didn’t set out to get a tan. I didn’t even notice it was happening until I sat still long enough to compare one arm to another. But quietly, simply through the time I spend driving my car to my day-to-day activities, the sun’s influence worked its magic.

Sometimes, small, everyday things have more influence than we realize. The attitudes of people at work, the values of our favorite TV shows, the music we listen to, the inner monologue running in our minds, the tone of our voice as we speak to our family, the character of the people with whom we spend our time, the things that make us laugh, the things that make us snarky… they are subtle things, and they fly beneath our radar because they are part of the normal landscape of our life.

But before you know it, you’ve got a tan going on.

Of course, this isn’t necessary a negative thing. For example, running has become a part of my normal landscape. I didn’t notice my “tan” until I missed two weeks and was still able to run 5 miles in less than an hour. When did that happen?

It also made me think about the “driver’s tan” I may be giving to others. Influence doesn’t have to be loud or dramatic. Sometimes, it’s just being faithful. The sun shines every day (even if there are days when it’s hidden behind the clouds). So don’t worry if you feel like your efforts aren’t being seen. They’re working.

What’s flying beneath your radar? Do you ever sit still long enough to check out your tan? How are your rays impacting the arms of others?

Don’t underestimate the power of the everyday.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


My Bible study friends got to see my brain in action last night. We were studying part of Isaiah 61:1, “He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted” -- keying specifically on the phrase “bind up.” The Hebrew word here means “to bind on, wrap around; bind up as a wound, bandage, cover, envelop, enclose.” And the author of the study painted a mental picture of Jesus with his keeping his nail-scarred hands, keeping pressure on the wounds of our heart to keep them from bleeding.

By this time, my brain was already whirring and my one friend asked, “You look confused. What’s your crazy thought?” (Obviously, my reputation precedes me.)

I answered, “Isn’t there a movie where there’s someone who’s been hit by a car? And they can’t move it because if they do she’ll bleed out?” This seeming non-sequitor threw us all into a ponderous frenzy, and it was the light bulb in my sister’s head that went off first. It’s a scene from the movie Signs.

One of my fellow studiers observed, “That’s a bit more violent that the picture here on the page.” And it is…it’s violent, intense, and irreversible. But when I think of times that have rended my heart and life in two, that’s the picture I get.

In many ways, Jesus is my car crash. Both from the standpoint that his presence keeps my wounds from bleeding out, but also from the standpoint that he crashed into my life and I’ll never be able to disentangle myself from the wreckage.

“Wham!” …forever changed.

I don’t know that I can answer “why” – why does he allow me to get wounded, why did he choose me to crash into… But I do know that his presence keeps me going, and I pray that my wrecked, broken life can inspire the faith of others.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Bug Bites

Ever spend a nice evening outside, then the next day notice a bug bite or two…right on your ankle or something, where a normal motion sets you into an itchy frenzy? Bugs like to take advantage of that twilight, grayish part of the evening.

It made me think of biting words. Sometimes things said in conversation can really end up itching later. Biting words can hide in many places: the twilight of a grey issue, the cover of sarcasm, or the swarm of an argument. And just like a sneaky, well-placed bite…words that hurt have a way of coming back to bother someone long after the initial nip.

I can think of words that have left a mark on me. And just like a bug bite, an ordinary situation can trigger the memory of what was said and that wound starts to itch all over again.

I can also recall a few times in my past where I’ve hidden a true bite in the middle of an otherwise lighthearted exchange. My mother told me once that I was the master of the hidden correction. I’d say something in passing, and hours later the person would register what I was *really* saying. Sometimes that skill is useful. But sometimes it’s just little more than a bug bite.

It makes me want to guard my words, so that I don’t take advantage of the cover of twilight to get in there and draw blood.

“One great use of words is to hide our thoughts.” Voltaire

“I will watch my ways and keep my tongue from sin.” Psalm 39:1

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Flying Darts

Since I have to use a beer commercial at least once a month as a post inspiration:
(I’ve been sitting on this thought for a little while. Partially because I can’t remember what brand of beer was featured in this particular commercial, so I can’t give you a link to let you know where to find it. Boo!)

The setting is a happily busy bar. A couple of guys are throwing darts, and one of them stumbles just as he makes his throw. You don’t really take notice because right then time slows down, the camera pans to focus on a man holding a can of the featured beverage, and a narrator steps forward to talk about the glories of said beverage. But as he’s talking, you can still see the happy can-holding man…and the dart….heading right for his blissfully ignorant noggin.

Here’s where I turned into my mother. I couldn’t focus on anything the narrator was saying, because I kept thinking “My goodness. That dart. It’s going to hit that poor man. Wrap it up already Mr. Narrator!” I was actually cringing and worried about the potential gruesome conclusion of a random beer commercial. Sad. I know. But already admitted to turning into my mother, right? Ok, good.

The narrator wraps up his pitch, reaches back, grabs the dart, and moves it a little forward. Then time resumes. The dart lodges into the beer in Happy Can-Holding Man’s hand. He’s really bummed, until the narrator pulls the dart out and the tasty beverage fountains out into an empty glass. (I can’t remember if it was randomly waiting on the table, or if it was conveniently placed somewhere by the narrator. But that’s not really important. It’s important that no drop was wasted. The drink was safe!)

It got me thinking. The world throws a lot at us. How many times in my life have I been the blissfully ignorant man? Unaware of danger headed right at me, then, ironically bummed when I look down and see a dart sticking out of the can I hold in my hand. If only I knew.

Thought #2: Why *does* the narrator move the dart just a little bit? He could have spared both man and can. But he doesn’t. Can I submit this thought? I truly believe God is there, making sure that darts don’t hit our blissfully ignorant (or even slightly freaked out) heads. But sometimes, he’ll let those flying darts puncture the preverbal cans we hold in our hands.

It’s startling. It’s not what we planned. But as the narrator, God’s not caught off guard. Some of us may not even be aware of the treasure we have inside. It’s thirst-quenching stuff, and we live in a very thirsty world. But that liquid goodness can only be enjoyed if it’s poured out. Sometimes it may just take a well-placed dart to start the fountain.

Just a thought.

Monday, July 6, 2009


I went to First Friday in Annapolis yesterday. I thought it was to be part of a lindy bomb, but I got there at 3:30 only to discover that the band left at 3:00. Bummer! Now what? I perused some of the craft and vendor tables, knowing that I didn’t want to spend money, all I wanted was a good swing out. And then…it happened. I passed a booth filled with books and promptly got lost in conversation with the two women running it. Anyone surprised? No? Yeah, me either.

One of the many things we talked about was joy discovering new writers. The publisher running the table said, “A lot of times, an author’s first book is their best book.” I quickly chimed in and said, “That’s probably because they don’t know any better.” To which she replied, “Exactly.”

It got me thinking. When I first started this blog just over a year ago, I didn’t know any better. Then the comments started coming, and I started realizing just how far and wide my ramblings were making ripples. And then all of a sudden, when I didn’t get feedback on a post, I started getting worried. Was it lame? Was it off base? Did no one care? Oh no! I haven’t made people happy!

I started feeling all this pressure to be inspiring, to be wise and insightful, to be humorous and intriguing… and I promptly gave myself blogger’s-block. (Is that even a real term? It is now.)

It doesn’t help that I’ve started grad school and feel genuine pressure to perform on the discussion boards and in my papers. Some of my fellow students have impressive careers and even more impressive vocabularies. Every time I post, I have to muster up a bunch of courage and remind myself that even though I may not be in the same place they are, I still have something to say, and it has value. I digress…

Lately I’ve had the most brilliant thoughts when I’m away from my computer. They would make great posts. But when I get to the keyboard, everything goes blank. Instead of the steady stream of inspiration running through my mind, all I can hear is crickets. Maybe a dog howling in the background. And the occasional shutter banging. But the eloquence hides somewhere else.

It’s been pretty frustrating. But after a few conversations (the one on Sunday was the straw on the camel’s back), something clicked into place.

Let’s see if I can communicate this correctly. I play on a praise team. I don’t have notes, I just ad lib and worship through my violin. There are services when the notes just click together and everything is beautiful. And there are services when a bizarre thing happens. I play into the microphone, and everything is a mess. So I step back to reset and truly just play in the background, and then the most beautiful melodies and harmonies soar from my strings. So I think, “Great! I’ll just step back up to the mic now.” And it all falls apart again. It’s like God is up there saying, “Nuh uh. Tonight’s just you and me kid.” Which, is uber frustrating…until I realize that playing for an audience of One is my entire purpose for playing. It doesn’t matter if I’m heard or not. I’m there to give an offering, to set an atmosphere, and to stand in the gap for those who may not be able to pray or praise on their own (because they don’t have the words, or the burdens they carry are too big for their shoulders alone). My playing is a love song, an embrace, a dance, a conversation.

Maybe, my Heavenly Father is reminding me that for as much as he wants to use whatever talent and insight I have for his glory…he wants to keep me to himself every once in a while too.

And perhaps it’s the same way with this new blogging talent/adventure of mine. Maybe sometimes our dialogue is just for us. Not that I can’t share it again later. But for that time and moment, we need to have an inside joke, or quiet talk. Does that make sense?

I need to recapture the freedom of not knowing any better. I need to remember that it doesn’t matter if I feel particularly brilliant or out-of-the-box, nor does it matter if there are 20 comments or none. It doesn't even matter if I post twice a week, or twice a month. Like my header says: I'm just trying to live every day... to make good memories, share the hope I've found, and love people without getting tired. The only pressure I should feel is the pressure to write from my heart. I have a feeling that when I do that, I won’t have to worry about all the other stuff …it’ll just happen.

If I haven’t lost your attention yet (pretty long post for someone with blogger’s-block huh?), let me pose a question to you: What are the blogs and violins in your life? Do you have a talent that you enjoy? (It doesn’t matter if it’s seen or not. Talents come in all shapes and sizes.) Take a minute to remember why you love it, and why you do it. Recapture the joy of not knowing any better.