Saturday, March 27, 2010

If Life Is A Maze, How Do I Get To The "ing"?

Everybody loves Ziggy. Round, bald, trouserless and barefoot, Ziggy is always a step behind, out on a limb, a day late, a dollar short, and one lane away from the fast lane. But we love him because at some point in life everyone feels like Ziggy.

Last week while sorting through the snippets and scraps of my life collected along the way I uncovered a comic of Ziggy standing in the middle of a maze. Next to him a large X marks a spot that says "You Are Here". At the exit of the maze is a wedge of cheese. As is the nature of mazes, there are a number of hallways leading to dead ends, with only one passage way to the cheese. 

I sat in repose for a few moments recollecting the number of times I felt just like Ziggy in that comic. To uncover it now seems fluky. Once again I find myself in the center of that maze called life. I am in the middle of something, somehow, somewhere, but walled corridors keep me from seeing the cheese; the "ing" in a maze.

On one hand I could set off in any direction like a ZhuZhu pet who would be inclined to roll down the aisle, squeaking and cooing while bumping into obstacles along the way. Then with an adorable "uh oh" the cheeky critter would back up and head in another direction only to end up right where she started.

On the other hand, given a pointy snout, small rounded ears and a long, hairless tail I might be better geared to succeed. Like a muffed, miniature maniac I would sniff and scurry down the right corridor toward that curd of milk separated from the whey, seasoned and aged to a delectable delight.

Being neither mouse nor ZhuZhu, I am more like Ziggy. Standing in the middle of life's maze contemplating how I can get to the "ing". What is the "ing" you ask. The "ing" is simply what you've been chosen for, conscripted, or called to do. It could be a dream or an idea, a new direction for your life, or a grand decision. Whatever it is, it is uniquely your th--"ing".

To others the "ing" might seem eccentric or exceptional. X might tell you, "You are here", you've arrived, this is all you're gonna' get. But the pursuit of "ing" tells you to keep sniffing, keep scurrying. You might bump into a few walls and even end up back where you started but "ing" at the end of a maze is worth it.

By the way, on your "ing" pursuit have a little faith in God and in yourself. Faith will give your heart direction when all your eyes see is a maze. At the same time while you're rolling along take every opportunity along the way to mark your memories on a sign post and drop a few joy crumbs. You may be able to help a few others on their a maze "ing" journey.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Midnight Traveler

He was the most magnificent stallion a little girl could conjure up in her mind. A little more than a yearling and yet his coat glistened radiant ebony like black marble rubbed to a glossy shine. His long, slender legs held him well above her head. When he moved he danced gracefully on delicate hooves, with the proficiency of a well trained performer. His tail flagged attention while his luxurious mane hung in fine strands of onyx thread. Peeking through a forelock that coyly covered one eye he gestured a dare to harness his power.

The girl saw many horses come and go. It seemed to be a pass time for her father to trade one for another but never really taking an interest in any of them. Unlike her parent, "Peanut" had a gift. She was born with horse sense. To her, looking into the eye of a horse was like gazing into an oracle, a divine communication between the two. 

This stallion revealed fathoms of beauty, grace, and spirited gentleness that coursed through his veins like whitewater. Never before had she glimpsed such a beautiful specimen of equine profusion. In her heart she immediately claimed him as her own. She hoped her father would see her excitement and give in to her requests to keep him, if she could conjure up the courage to do so. That night, snuggling deep in the covers of her bed she prayed for ownership. Drifting off, she dreamed of the midnight horse and rider thundering over the turf with synchronized movements like that of a fine old timepiece. 

It was an obtrusive commotion that woke her the next morning. A cacophony of shouts, snorts and curses. She leaped from the bed and pulled cowboy boots over bare feet. Yanking a light jacket over pajama tops she raced out the door. The ground, still mushy from the spring thaw sucked her feet into the mud threatening to trap her wherever she stepped. But she was stalwart. Her young legs toned from riding, were no match for the gripping ground. 

 She raced toward the small red building. In her thoughts she condemned the structure. The construction was sound, the paint tolerable, but the stalls were anything but desirable for a sublime stallion such as Midnight Traveler. She slowed her advances as she approached the back quarter of the barn. 

The cursing was more raucous now. Cautiously peering around the corner she caught a glimpse of Midnight straining against the irate, familiar man who constrained him. With head raised, the whites of equine eyes were clearly visible and terror spread his nostrils to receive great gulps of air. The girl wanted to run wildly into the fray and rescue the panicked yearling. But cruel consequences taught her not to interfere with an angry adult. 

Helpless, she stood wide eyed and worried. A blur of ebony rose on hind feet, spiraled his head in the opposite direction of the tether and catapulted his forelegs into the air, nearly striking her father's skull. But in his gallant battle to be free of the abuse the juvenile stallion threw himself off balance and pitched toward the ground. Landing with a thud a fatigued horsey groan escaped his throat and he struggled to his feet. He stood level headed and confused. His once shiny black coat was caked in earthy matter and inky threads dripped with a miry mix of manure and mud. 
Peanut's heart wrenched within her and she threw her hand to her mouth stifling sobs of sorrow. Turning, she ran to her secret place and wept until the tears would no longer fall. The pain she felt for the stallion's bruised spirit mingled with her own wounded one. She wondered if she would ever escape this horrid nightmare. Still, she felt compelled to ask for the midnight beauty. But she would wait yet another day. 
Past sunrise the next morning she pulled herself from the warmth of her bed and scurried into her barn clothes. It was Sunday and silently she hoped this was one of those days when she would not have to attend Mass. Most times her father was in no condition to go to church. This day she would spend whispering secrets to the horse she desired more than any other. 
Sliding open the stall door just slightly she peered into the darkness. Good morning Midnight she cooed keeping her voice soft and subtle. Then ever so slowly she made her way into the shadowy darkness to coax the nervous colt to be her friend. He twitched and snorted but she stood her ground gazing deep into the kindred spirit. After a few moments she extended her hand and unwrapped her fingers. A sugary white cube lay tantalizingly sweet in her palm and before long a velvety soft muzzle lipped it into his mouth. She reached to lay the softest breeze of a touch on his cheek when the stall door crashed open and an angry arm pulled her from the sweet caress. 
Fear gripped her heart, tears pooled and rolled down her cheeks. She gazed into the bitter face of her father and forced the request from somewhere deep within her heart. But she could already read the answer in his eyes. The dark Traveler would never be hers and the bond she already possessed with him was rent from her. She felt her heart crack and the wedge in her spirit dived deeper, wounding her even more. By sunset the stall was silent and empty like her soul. The midnight she felt within would be with her forever.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Snow Flakes and Sparrows

They fell from the sky in legions; tiny sentinels covering the ground in crystal armor. I scooped them up by the shovel full and dumped their wee bodies in a mound. Most years I enjoyed a good Wisconsin winter. I loved watching the snowflakes cascade from the sky coating the trees like Crisco and quilting the landscape in patches of immaculate frost. Hot chocolate and a captivating book in front of a cozy fire warmed my hands and my heart, but this year the snow was just another weight to bear. I leveled the shovel and pushed my way through the cushy white powder. 

Up to my knees in ivory flakes I felt buried by life’s storms and lost in the white out. There was no escape from the fury of adversity that swept in like a gale and in the backwash left only loss and despair. I was a wounded warrior with no more to give but an empty heart.

My mind rolled back the laments of my agony like a heavy velvet curtain and a rush of tears stung my eyes and froze on my cheeks. I wailed and railed at God as if pummeling His chest for an answer. I cried out in anguish, "It's been long enough, God! You've ignored me and refused to hear my cry. How long must I carry this sorrow in my heart?" I spent every emotion within myself. There was nothing left but soft sobs and then silence. Then a tiny tweet softly called to me.

It was faint at first, like a whisper laid on a pillow and then it crescendo-ed into an elaborate symphony. There, above the high rise drifts, was an orchestra of sparrows playing just for me. Those little winged creatures, whose worth is considerably less than a penny, performed an elaborate composition of far grander proportions than the Philharmonic. They followed the lead of the Great Conductor and His interpretive decisions. Slow, fast, soft, loud, smooth, energetic; all communicated through the baton and gestures of the Master.

Their euphony of sound echoed God's love to me and the backdrop of unique confetti snowflakes made it all the more beautiful. I felt my heart lighten and my spirit rise. In that moment I knew, God's eye was on the sparrow and He was also watching over me.

We all experience loss, destruction and hardships in life. We might feel hopeless, helpless, or worthless; that life is too painful, our will to fight is gone, and we don't want to go on. We might feel that we are of low degree, and of little value and our heart and flesh cry out for something better.

Don't give up! Like each snowflake we are created with a unique design. We are made in the image of The Great Designer, and with a specific purpose. You may feel as if you've been pushed aside, left in a mound of forgotten flakes. But God has not forgotten you!

He is big enough for you to beat on His chest and pummel Him with your questions. In the quiet He will surround you with His love and sing to you with the sparrows; those tiny creatures, so plentiful that they are considered of little value. Yet, not one falls to the ground that the Father doesn't care about. Though they are small they are not forgotten. Even the sparrow has found a home in the altar of God. YOU are worth far more than a sparrow!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Scattered Pictures and Cow Tipping

"Scattered pictures of the smiles we left behind. Smiles we gave to one another of the way we were." It all started out so good. It was a beautiful spring day just after Easter 2007. We just settled in for the 700 mile return trip to Wisconsin from Kansas. Then it came. The perky ring tone of Rick's cellphone. I could hear a man's voice on the other end. It was unfamiliar to me. After a few comical grunts and uh-huhs of vocal utterance from my husband, I was even more curious as to who was on the other side of this conversation. Rick finally flipped the gadget closed and laughed out loud. A quizzically optical glance on my part indicated he had my attention.

"That was the interim pastor of a church in Iron River, in the UP."
"Upper Michigan? That's off the map." I joked.

The idea of pulling up stakes, leaving our children, grandchildren and lifetime home seemed like a stretch. It wasn't in our plan to pastor a church in Iron River. We wanted to be sure to make the right decision so we asked God for a sign. If this was His plan for us we needed a 100% vote in our favor from the leadership. That was the beginning of some scattered pictures we choose to tear up and some smiles we left behind. This is about one of those smiles.

Cow tipping according to rumored accounts, happens when a group of friends for lack of entertainment in the countryside head out to the nearest Holstein field to have some fun. Once there they converge upon an unsuspecting cow and turn the poor animal hoof over udder. Much to the relief of dairy herds, the sport of cow tipping has been debunked.

However, the sport in some form seems to have made it's way to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Such was the case one Sunday in August of 2007.

A number of people had come forward to the altar expressing a desire to be prayed over as is the custom in many Assembly of God churches. On this particular Sunday I didn't want to interrupt their personal fellowship with God so I stood behind them to pray. I gently laid my fingers on the shoulders of one woman. God's power surprised us both and sent her crashing to the floor.

In that split second I realized she was going to take me down with her. Now, before I go on I want you to know I am short in stature and light in weight. I knew I was outranked. This was no lamb, but I did my best to break her fall. Down we went sheep and shepherd.

My life flashed before my eyes complete with scripture verses. A good shepherd lays down her life for her sheep. Greater love has no woman than she lay her life down for a friend. The angels broke out in chorus singing, I lay it all down again. And I sang I'm forever grateful I wore gauchos.

My tush hit the floor first followed by the rest of me. There I was spread eagle, both legs in the air, cradling the woman's head in my lap. Struggling to my feet I felt much like one of those poor unsuspecting cows.

Just a word to the wise. Although cow tipping has been debunked, it seems that pastor tipping has made it's way to the UP. If you're traveling through the area watch out for one an udder.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Adversity, Who's to Blame...Part 3 of 3

Life is short. It's the next one that lasts forever. Adversity can make our days feel like eternity. For Joseph, adversity lasted years. In the end he triumphed, and his family was saved from certain death. He accepts the fact that God had a plan. On the other hand, Job's family was wiped out. Yet he says it was only a test.

Let me get this straight, Job. You're saying that God's purpose in testing you was to find out where you stood with Him?

Yes, even if He killed me I would still trust Him for my deliverance. That is why I said it was good that He tested me. I would not want to be a godless man standing before Him.

So right you are, Job!

David, are you saying that if God sends adversity, we should ask for more?

Hast thou lost thy marbles? No one is going to ask God to send more pain into their life. But we do make mistakes and God uses adversity to set us straight. I'm telling you, God corrected me severely, but He didn't take my life. He could have put me through hell but He didn't. In the middle of His discipline was love. I went down the wrong path. He was there to steer me in the right direction. When adversity comes from our mistakes there is hope. If we're honest and admit that we messed up we can find the strength to get up and go on.

Dave has a point. When I was in the middle of that drought I didn't ask for more dry weather.

What did you ask for Elijah?

I asked people how long they were going to sit on the fence. I challenged them to make a choice. Adversity helps to prepare our hearts for what God wants to do in our lives. It helps to get us off the fence, and find purpose.

That's right! We can be more than conquerors.

What do you mean, Paul?

Winning doesn't always mean walking away with the gold. Rather, it can be the ability to endure; having the courage to go on. Sometimes, it is just standing firm in the middle of the storm. If we stand in the strength of the Almighty God, then we can know that adverse circumstances do not have control over our lives. God has control over our lives.

In this world you will have adversity. But I will not abandon you. I want you to be unshakable and assured. I want you to have peace.

Lord Jesus, please continue.

I want you to learn to trust me. I don't want you to think that I have lost control when adversity comes into your life. I will try your heart and test your faith because Father requires it. But I will personally see to it that you are able to bear it. I wish I could convey to you how desperately I want you to know me, to understand how precious you are to me. That is why I willingly walked through the deepest pit of adversity. A pit filled with wrath and judgment. I, who knew no sin, became sin to save you. When adversity comes your way it is not because I don't love you, but because I do. I know it may be hard for you to understand. My ways are not your ways. But if you trust me just a little, I promise I will walk you through it.

To sum things up, adversity is a reality we cannot escape. It might come to us in the form of trials for our good and the good of others, or tests of our faith, or even tribulation brought on by our own mistakes. I hope we have learned a few things from our guests.

1. Focus on God, no matter how awful things get. We may not be able to find it within ourselves to trust God as Job did. Not many of us can say, "Even if He kills me I will trust Him". But be honest with God and tell Him how you feel. Trust is not something we muster up inside of ourselves. It comes from God. He puts His arm around our shoulder and says don't be afraid. I am with you. I will keep a firm grip on you and hold you up.

2. Focus on the adversity as something that comes from God. Follow Joseph's example. Tell yourself this is from God and He is using it to bring a greater good, a pronounced purpose into my life. God knows the plans He has for your life, to prosper you, not to harm you; it is a plan to give you hope and a future.

3. Focus on being a winner. We can expect to come out on the other side of adversity as a winner because God has everything in perfect control. More than conquerors means just that, more. We will have more fortitude, more character, and more hope than when we went in. The world says, run. God says stand firm and see the deliverance of the Lord.

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