Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Term of Endearment

Favorite Proverbs: #38 Term of Endearment

My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline, and do not resent his rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in. Proverbs 3:11 and 12

What does God’s discipline look like to you?

To me, God's discipline often looks like coaching.  A good coach can look at your form and tell you how to correct it.  They know when to push you, when to hold you back.  Most importantly, they know how to draw the best from you, and can somehow see your potential long before you know its there.  While it might catch you by surprise, it's like they knew it was there all along.

They make you pay for it when you mess up, but in a way that makes you stronger for it (and hopefully in a way that helps you learn from your mistakes).  They're not afraid to sit you on the bench if you're not ready (or if you need to be held accountable), and but they're also not afraid to give you your chance to shine.

A good coach will say the hard truth, but there's also nothing quite like a coach's pep talk either.  How many great sports movies feature those locker-room or final-moment-of-the-game speeches that remind you of who you are and what you can do, making the hair on your arms stand up, and your inner conqueror rise to the challenge?  And as someone who grew up playing both sports and music, I can testify that those speeches don't just happen in locker rooms either.  They take place backstage too.

So yeah, maybe it's because I've been blessed to have wonderful coaches cross my path, but When I read "discipline", that's often the imagery that comes to mind.

Two roads

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood...

Thus begins one of the most famous poems of all time.  Most people key in on the last few lines.

and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Those words are captured in art, featured in speeches, and posted on knick-knacks of all kinds.

But I find myself captured by Frost's opening words:  Two roads diverged.


I'm a thinker. A weigher. A contemplator. An overanalyzer. An agonizer.

And it doesn't always stop after I make a decision.  Whether it's something small like posting to Instagram (yes, I overanalyze my Instagrams), or something big like contemplating a career change (who wouldn't agonize about that?).

Frost's simple opening line speaks to me.  Two roads diverged.

Look before you leap, but once you choose a path, stop agonizing.  The time for wonder and worry is past.  It's time to be committed.  To move confidently forward.  Don't look back.

Two roads diverged.  That makes all the difference.

I've been mulling the line of that poem for over a year now.  I can't tell you how...."inspirational" isn't the right world..."supportive" might has been in regards to my family's decision to move forward with the brain surgery that ultimately extended my Dad's life.  We were faced with a pretty major two-road situation.  Once we leaped, there was no looking back.  But that jump, and the dedication to the path afterword, really has made all the difference.

In the early days of recovery, I know we all wondered "what if" we had chosen the other way.  But Frost's poem reassured me.  The roads diverged.  There's no use worrying or daydreaming about what might have been.  And as more information came in, it turns out that mysterious other road would have been a bleak indeed. So I'm glad we took the road we did, and that lesson to weigh but then let go has stayed with me.

Two roads diverged.  It's a powerful truth.

I wonder if might ever catch on in the knick knack world.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Good Fruit

Favorite Proverbs: #39 Good Fruit

The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and the one who is wise saves lives. Proverbs 11:30

What has God planted inside you that’s ready to bear fruit this season?

Relentless optimism.  That's been my motto and my mantra this past year.  It's been a doozy for sure, and I've been honored to be the cheerleader of my family. Something Liz said in her post really resonated with me. "God calls us not only to bloom where we’re planted, but also to bloom where we’ve been transplanted for the sake of others."

That's something I think I was doing pretty well through the summer, and even the fall...but then winter hit.  Somewhere in the midst of the short days, cold weather, being cooped up in the house, and weathering the emotional chaos of the season, my optimism lost it's edge.  It was still there, but maybe more weary than relentless.

But I feel that changing.  And not just because of the weather.  I can feel the seeds of joy and kindness growing once again, bringing with them a renewed sense of purpose in the role I've been called to serve.

Bloom where I'm transplanted.  I'm definitely going to take that thought to heart.


Favorite Proverbs: #40 Surrender

There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the Lord. Proverbs 21:30

Even living inside the castle walls, we may still harbor rebellious thoughts. What is God asking you to surrender this day?

I can't help it.  Mulling over this proverb has me thinking of another:  Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails. (Proverbs 19:21).  In my early 20s, I went through a period where God seemed to take every plan and dream I had dreamed for myself and systematically dismantled them.  I don't know that I've ever fully recovered from that.  But I don't know that that's a bad thing.  I tenaciously hold onto the words of Jesus: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself." So yeah, surrendering life plans.  Good there.

What I'm not as good at is surrendering my friends.  What I plan and scheme about is how to live this whole Jesus thing out in a way that draws other people to him...and to the hope and life and grace and joy and wholeness I've found.  It's hard for me to remember that it's not my job to connect the dots for people.  Does he use me?  Yes.  Absolutely.  But am I in control of the process? No.  It's just my job to, well, to love Jesus with everything I am, to show it by loving other people, and to surrender the rest. 

Surrendering the rest.  That's the hard part.

Courage of Gideon

Before the fleeces. Before the whittling down of an army. Before the torches and trumpets... God asks Gideon to do something audacious: Tear down his father's alter to Baal and the Asherah pole (which honored the pagan goddess Asherah), then build a proper alter to Jehovah God and use the wood from the pole to offer a burnt offering.

Radical stuff. And Gideon does it. But not the way I want my Biblical heroes to go about their escapades.

He doesn't storm the castle at dawn. He doesn't go to the town square and take a stand before a crowd. He doesn't boldly stare down a giant or defiantly stand before a king. "Because he was afraid of his family and the townspeople, he did it at night rather than in the daytime." (Judges 6:27)

I want to criticize him for doing it at night. What kind of bravery is that?

But isn't character defined as what you are when no one is watching? Isn't it wisdom to know “when” and “how” in addition to “what”? And isn't bravery taking action despite the fact you might be terrified?

The bottom line is, he did it. He was scared. But he did what the Lord asked. (And he didn’t put it off. While we waited for night, he waited for that night.) And it turns out his previously noted fear turned out to be well founded. When the townspeople found out what he did, they demanded for him to be put to death. Scripture describes them as “hostile.” It wasn’t pretty. They were riled up and ready for combat.

Where's Gideon? Proudly standing by his actions? Delivering a charismatic message communicating why he did what he did and turning the hearts of the crowd from Baal and Asherah to Jehovah God?

Nope. He's offstage somewhere hiding. For some reason, I can identify with that. With doing the right thing, and the hard thing, and then bracing for the ramifications and not really knowing what to do next. Have you ever been there too?

Feeling deeply passionate about something, but not having eloquence to explain it? I can identify with that too. Can you?

He’s just destroyed his father’s idol, publically defying him. So you might imagine his father would be the first in line to root him from his hiding place and turn him over for punishment. Instead, he’s the one standing between his son and the angry horde. (Way to go dad!)

Why is that? He should be the angriest guy in the town.

Perhaps it’s because he knew what it had cost his son to do what he did. It brings to mind Pride and Prejudice, when Lizzy talks about the reserved nature of her sister Jane. To the crowd, Jane’s countenance might just communicate politeness. But Lizzy knows her sister. She sees every nuance that shows how deeply Jane loves Bingley. Others might not see it, but to Lizzy it’s loud and clear.

Maybe that’s why Gideon’s dad has just a great change of heart. Because he knew his son’s personality, and understood how deep his convictions must be if he felt driven to destroy the idol and the Asherah pole. He knew how much it meant for Gideon to do what he did. Or maybe he just realized he loved his son more than he loved his idol. Regardless, there he is. Not just keeping his son from harm, but standing up for him too. (There’s the movie-ready speech I was looking for!)

So yeah, I want to criticize Gideon for doing his task at night. I want to change the story to have him boldly facing the music instead of hiding in his father’s house. But not all courage is the mid-day duel. It is doing the right thing and the hard thing, even when you’re scared. Acting on your convictions even when there might be hostile repercussions come morning…

Especially if what you’re doing has never been done before. (While Asherah poles are mentioned several times in the Old Testament, this is the first time in scripture anyone is mentioned taking a stand against one. And Gideon goes straight for the jugular and cuts it down, then uses the wood to burn an offering to Jehovah God. Like I said, pretty radical stuff.)

Gideon didn't know how to stand up for himself. But what matters is he knows how to stand up for God. He might not be the poster child for it, but he’s a trailblazer nonetheless.

And his methods didn’t make the outcomes any less epic. At the end of this story, the town is idol-free, his dad has a change of heart (and an awesome speech), and Gideon has a new reputation (complete with a new nick-name). That will come in pretty handy down the road.

His story shows me not all courage is facing a crowd, or being the voice that rises above the din. Sometimes it’s about feeling small and scared, and doing the right thing when no one is looking.

His story also shows me an advocate might come from the place you least expect it. Sometimes it’s about opening the eyes of the right person.

Maybe Gideon’s story makes me uncomfortable because it hits close to home. I can relate to him. I want to criticize him. But if I’m truly honest, I want to be like him too.