My Star Word* for 2019 is “growth” and I don’t know whether to be excited or terrified.
The last year has been a difficult one. I don’t want to give the specific reasons air time right now, so forgive the vagueness of this post.
I know that I did the right thing by showing up and standing up for the right reasons, but the “nasty-grams” I got because of doing that really hurt. Learning to walk with integrity, and not cave from pressure and criticism was tough. I’m limping, and learning to forgive… but God’s faithfulness has carried me through.
I asked my beloved spouse what he thought my Star Word would mean. (I confess, it was in a little bit of a whiny way!) He said, “Maybe this is the year that you consolidate from all of the growth from last year.”
If you still want a star word, make a comment, email me, send me a text, or catch me on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr or Instagram. I’d be glad to draw one for you. There’s plenty left. Oh, and if you’re curious, they aren’t “churchy” words. They are everyday words offered for anyone who wants to meditate on a word for the year. That’s it!
I’m so tired of ugly words and mean people. Really ugly words. And really mean people. And I’m using vague and trite-sounding words because I can’t write the string of profanities that would flow from my mouth and melt my keyboard.
I’m not kidding. That ugly. That @#*$!!! is mean.
Here’s reality: hard things come into our lives. Here’s hope: these hard things don’t have to define you.
I’ve seen it over and over… from my work in hospice and in hospitals, in churches, in schools, in non-profits, and in corporations. Some people define themselves by the worst days of their lives. And others use those experiences to sharpen their goals and trudge on, trying again. It is so easy to be negative and complain. It’s hard to try again when you’ve failed… (Especially with the nay-sayers commenting, “Well you can try, but you know, it’s really not going to work.”)
That’s what I call “concretized thinking.” A mindset that is so determined that nothing will change, and the end result is inescapable. All possible alternatives are dismissed. Admitting you are struggling is a sign that you either “aren’t really trying” or “are a whiner.” Serious questions are ignored.
Most of what we bitch about is small potatoes. It’s inconsequential. It is not life-threatening. I confess I get caught up in this… and that I have to reboot now and then… like I did this evening.
Tonight I focused on a piece of music, with its haunting melody and lush harmonies… I listened to it with my headphones on and soaked in the beauty. I invite you to do the same!
There is tension in our world. There are unanswered questions. But… there is a way through the discord, the dissonance, the unresolvable. There is a way to breathe, dream, persevere and join with others on the same path.
Not just any rock pile. Oh, no! It’s taken years to get this pile of rocks.
There was a decent start to the pile when we moved in 22 years ago. As I dug new garden beds, I’d find rocks and add them. When we added a retaining wall, the landscape crew added to the rock pile. When we did a major remodeling of our home, the builder found even more. And when I installed a simple spiral labyrinth in the back yard, there were incredible amounts of rocks to toss on there, too.
Everyone was glad to have a place to discard the rocks. It was a lot easier than taking them to the landfill. Each contractor looked at me askance (at first) when I said, “if you find large rocks, I want them.” But since it was cheaper to reuse rather than remove them, there were no arguments!
I learned a lot along the way because of these rocks. Patience. Perseverance. Techniques of rock removal (yep! there are some!) Reality checks. And seeing progress and naming it for the hard work it takes.
Some of these rocks made my new landscaping projects very frustrating. At the start of building the labyrinth, I bent every single hand tool I owned because they were not up to the task of chiseling large rocks out of clay!
So now… those rocks are no longer discards!
It was with a bit of irony that I had to haul loads of these rocks back down the hill to grace the edges of a water feature we just installed this spring. Three wheelbarrows of rocks. (Yes. I counted.) And as I heaved and hauled and placed them, I had to laugh. Here they are. Being put to good use. Finally in their right place.
It made me ponder a perverse truth about Calling and ministry…
For any of us who battle ourselves, our environments, our churches, our relationships to be finally FINALLY brought to just that right moment of ministry… it’s seems like it will never work. We interview. We candidate. We preach. We study. We try to do our best, battling the odds like rocks in hard clay. We set things aside for another day, making a muddy hillside into a landscaping feature of a retaining wall of cast-off rocks. We try to see the beauty in what we do. We keep adding to the pile. And then… and then!!!!
Those rock piles of ministry are put to use. Those mossy, ignored, strengths that we have set aside in obedience, or sometimes, out of necessity and not by choice, they suddenly become relevant. And they are beautiful, in their right setting, at the right time.
I hear you, friends. I know your sense of relief. And a bit of wonder, too, that though we felt like we were forever gathering moss, perhaps even feeling useless, we will one day see a change! For now… NOW is the appointed place and time God has for us. There’s stuff to do – even on a rock pile. And greater things are ahead.
And if you are still waiting, like me, marking time on the rock pile with a prayer of fatigue and longing, know this…
Tears on her face, she would curl up against us, while we tried to soothe her. She didn’t want to sleep WITH us, as much as she wanted the dragons to ‘go away.’ We had little success in persuading her the dragons had left until she fell back asleep.
This happened on and off for a couple of months. It was exhausting for all of us. Nightlights. Music. Aroma therapy. Stuffed animals. We would go a couple of nights and then… BAM. Her pediatrician noted it and said that it was a part of brain development. She wasn’t sleep walking. It wasn’t night terrors. It was probably just “bad dreams.”
Except, these were not dreams from her perspective. There were dragons under the bed. And they hid when we came in the room. And they only came out at night… At one point, I even tried opening the window and shooing out the dragons before bedtime. (Yes. I was desperate. And pregnant.)
Funny thing, there’s nothing in parenting books about “dragons”…
Finally, I had a fit of inspiration. It was after we had come back from a camping trip and we used a lot of insect repellant. And there were no dragons. Hmmmm….
Before bed one night, I produced a can of “Dragon Repellant.” (It was actually a room deodorizer spray with a conspicuously hand-written label on it. Whatever. She was 3 and a half. It worked.) I sprayed the room and then under the bed and announced that the “Dragon Repellant” would keep the dragons away.
And, it did!
Since those early days of parenting, there have been other fears and tears that no amount of “repellant” would keep away. Gradually, we have all learned a lot about conquering fear. Or rather, allowing the Spirit of God to be a source of confidence, courage and coping. We read verses and learned songs. And mostly, we admitted when we were afraid and needed God to help us.
Isaiah 41:10 (Common English Bible)
Don’t fear, because I am with you;
don’t be afraid, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you,
I will surely help you;
I will hold youwith my righteous strong hand.
Joshua 1:9 (CEB)
I’ve commanded you to be brave and strong, haven’t I? Don’t be alarmed or terrified, because the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.
Romans 8:14-16 (CEB)
All who are led by God’s Spirit are God’s sons and daughters. You didn’t receive a spirit of slavery to lead you back again into fear, but you received a Spirit that shows you are adopted as his children. With this Spirit, we cry, “Abba, Father.” The same Spirit agrees with our spirit, that we are God’s children.
There is a healthy kind of fear. It allows us to retreat and evaluate our safety. That can be healthy and life-sustaining. The fear that God battles for us is very different. It is the kind of fear that paralyzes and causes us to retreat from growing, or pushing past personal pain.
The fear that God conquers is a fear that limits us.
It is a fear that binds.
It takes away our willingness to try something new.
It puts up artificial boundaries.
It creates barriers between us.
It’s been a constant growth experience as I face fears of different kinds. Of learning what kind of courage it takes to speak my mind. (Or to be silent and pray.) To express an opinion. (And to stand up to opposing ones.) To ask hard questions. (And to accept that we won’t agree on the answers.) To take a risk on a new venture. (Or use wisdom and decline.)
What’s so funny about all this as I face my own fears is that people have told me that I inspired them to try something new. And I laughed. Because, well, in the back of my mind, I am quaking in fear, praying, and fearfully spraying “Dragon Repellant” at all of the things that worry or scare me. I’m trying to have faith that conquers these fears.
And even in my fears, God hears and answers. In the saddest, angriest, darkest, most fearful moments, God has been there. I am grateful.
The Light dawns. Hope returns. Blessed be.
Matt Redman wrote a worship song years ago that reminds me…
Blessed Be Your name When I’m found in the desert place Though I walk through the wilderness Blessed Be Your name.
Every blessing You pour out I’ll turn back to praise. When the darkness closes in, Lord Still I will say
“Blessed be the name of the Lord…”
We recently went through ten weeks of a major home remodeling project. We are thrilled with the outcome — all bathrooms are updated, and more importantly, repaired. (There are no more leaks into my living room. This is a good thing.)
There is a problem with having a shiny new space in our home. Everything else starts to show its use and wear. The comfy couch in the basement has accumulated cat hair. And clutter. The countertops in the kitchen have crumbs and piles of… stuff. And the patio furniture shows the results of my very amateur use of spray paint. There’s spray that “traveled” from what I was painting to nearby grass and lawn furniture. Oops.
(Here’s a tip: Use lots of plastic sheeting to protect a large area around where you are spraying. LOTS.)
As I go about my work and home routines, though, I keep seeing the logo of a local home improvement store and their new tagline: “Never stop improving.” And I sigh. I’d love to work on several projects (there’s an ever-growing list) but I resist. And clearly, this is a “first world problem.”
You gotta hand it to these home improvement stores, though. They know how to feed an itch. Looking good is never good enough. You need to be magazine perfect. You need to look like the glossy photos of a “PinterLUST” pin.
Spiritual growth is not like this. It’s not driven by lust, by greed, by wanting more “stuff.” It is cultivated by tending to the qualities and attributes of Christlikeness, building them in to one’s life and heart. Though it is a continuous process, the reason why it is never complete is far different than a home improvement project.
Consider the words of Peter (I Peter 1):
3 By his divine power the Lord has given us everything we need for life and godliness through the knowledge of the one who called us by his own honor and glory.4 Through his honor and glory he has given us his precious and wonderful promises, that you may share the divine nature and escape from the world’s immorality that sinful craving produces.
5 This is why you must make every effort to add moral excellence to your faith; and to moral excellence, knowledge;6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, endurance; and to endurance, godliness;7 and to godliness, affection for others; and to affection for others, love.8 If all these are yours and they are growing in you, they’ll keep you from becoming inactive and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Yes, I’ll “never stop improving” in the way I live my life and reflect God to others. But not to make myself look better than you. Instead, it’s a result of wanting to BE the Love I have experienced.
I think a truer statement is actually “Resistance is NECESSARY!”
During the warm-down period at the end of my deep water work out class on Monday, I was thinking about this concept of “resistance.” (I have these profound thoughts as I paddle, lunge, kick and plunge from wall to wall during my deep water running class. )
Water workouts are based on resistance training. Resistance builds and maintains muscle mass. Resistance helps strengthen muscle groups and this takes pressure off of your joints. Resistance is also part of that load-bearing work that keeps your bones stronger, and is good for your cardiovascular system. (I’m sure my doctor does a little jig every time she hears that I really, truly AM doing regular exercise. See? I WAS paying attention!)
In my personal and spiritual life, resistance challenges my resolve. It forces me to prioritize and decide if I really want to do something. And it shows the depth of my dedication. Whether it’s exercise, personal challenges or spiritual discouragement, I have to confess that when I meet resistance, I either push too hard (because I’m being stubborn) or I give up way too soon (because it’s a convenient excuse.)
But resistance also came to mind as I pondered the verses that we studied this week:
From 2 Peter 1 (Common English Bible):
3 By his divine power the Lord has given us everything we need for life and godliness through the knowledge of the one who called us by his own honor and glory. 4 Through his honor and glory he has given us his precious and wonderful promises, that you may share the divine nature and escape from the world’s immorality that sinful craving produces.
5 This is why you must make every effort to add moral excellence to your faith; and to moral excellence, knowledge; 6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, endurance; and to endurance, godliness; 7 and to godliness, affection for others; and to affection for others, love.
8 If all these are yours and they are growing in you, they’ll keep you from becoming inactive and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 Whoever lacks these things is shortsighted and blind, forgetting that they were cleansed from their past sins.
There’s many places where I find it “easier” to reflect “life and godliness” and many (MANY!) places where I struggle. But rather than cataloguing my weak areas, perhaps the best thing to remember is that it is not by my own efforts (in either passive or active resistance) that changes can come.
No, it’s in the first four words of this passage… BY HIS DIVINE POWER… we have been given everything we need. This isn’t some kind of feel-good juju mama magic. It’s the work of the Holy Spirit. It’s not the ecstatic, whooping, barking, hooting, dancing work of the Spirit. It’s the day-to-day grind it out business of loving and serving God. Hefting some spiritual barbells, if you will…
That gives me a whole different perspective. It gives me a little more courage to try again and again. It reminds me that when I face opposition, I can base my resolve not on my own knowledge or intuition or sheer guts, but on knowing that I’ve got God’s power behind me. And my resistance to getting personally, spiritually and morally side-tracked will grow.
This is a life-long challenge. The road goes on, seemingly forever, with constant challenges on the road of resistance. But I’m ready for another lap.
The weather service just issued our first “Freeze Warning” for the season. Time to fire up the furnace, (we haven’t yet), cover the plants and find my fleece socks and fuzzy slippers…
Interestingly, the cats were warning us of this a few days ago. They were always finding snuggly places and warm humans. Fleecy blankets which were ignored a month ago are prized landing zones. And don’t leave anything wuzzly on a flat surface or you will have a cat holding it down for you.
But what started this post was actually a phrase in the email “ALERT” that just popped in…
“The first FREEZE WARNING of a season usually signifies the end of the annual growing season for the warned area. A freeze warning is issued when below freezing conditions are imminent. These conditions will kill crops and other sensitive vegetation left outdoors.”
A lot of my studies this semester have been focused on creating a climate for spiritual growth. Preaching. Teaching. Small groups. Pastoral care. “Disciple-making” and “leadership development” come with a lot of early warning systems for the “end” of a spiritual growing season. At least, I think that there are some “freeze warnings” for our hearts. Simple things like…
Lowered commitment (in time, talents or treasures)
Lack of follow-through
I look at my own “growth curve” and my own cycles of growth and struggle. There’s times of amazing growth and lush development of my gifts. There’s the fruit-bearing and harvest times. There’s also the pruning and ‘die-back’ season when things seem fallow and dead. And then, the time again for buds and promised change.
Where am I now? Where are you? I think that as we ask each other these questions, we all become more fruitful for the Kingdom’s sake. Even in the coming “FREEZE”… God is there.
But as someone who is committed to seeing others grow spiritually, there is also a lesson in this. I can’t make anyone “grow.” And I am not responsible if they choose not to. And… perhaps the most important… the climate I set and maintain is only the setting, not the reason for their growth.