Dragon Repellent (And other ways we face our fears!)

Many, many years ago, one of our daughters would wake up in a full-blown panic, calling for us:

Mommy! Daddy! Dragons! Dragons!
Mommy! Daddy! Dragons! Dragons! 

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.

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The fear that God conquers is a fear that limits us.

It is a fear that binds.
It blocks.
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.

Blessed be the Name...
Blessed be the Name…
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…”

“Never Stop Improving” – When life is more than a home improvement store

photo 3We 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):

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. 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.

This is why you must make every effort to add moral excellence to your faith; and to moral excellence, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, endurance; and to endurance, godliness; and to godliness, affection for others; and to affection for others, love. 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.

And that’s all Grace.

The last days of Lent

It is only mid-April. We have the hints of spring here and there. Last night we had a hard freeze, which meant that the most vulnerable of my plants needed protection from the cold. While I could move the planters into the garage or cover window boxes, I couldn’t move my prize peony, one that is from a start from my grandmother’s garden. (I admit. I baby it!)  Since the peony has just sprouted, it is a little more vulnerable to the frost. I put a box on top of it, weighted it down with large rocks, and hoped for the best.

This morning, I checked the plants, and they are all fine. But the rocks, frozen solid into the top of the box, were stunning. It looked like a modern art piece. You know. Something like “Rocks on a Box.”

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It was lunchtime before the ice had melted enough that I could pry the rocks from the ice. We’ll have to set the box back over the peonies tonight, but for now, the plants are enjoying the sunshine of a fine spring day.

I thought about the changes that have come over my yard since Lent began. When I first walked my labyrinth in the early weeks of March, there was snow…

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In between snow storms, there was a fine sea of mud…

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And now we have the hints of green. It’s time to brush away the leaves, pick up branches and start really looking for signs of spring. Like the forsythia. And the vinca. And the daffodils. And the oak and maple trees.

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Life and growth return slowly when things have been dormant. This is true in the cycle of winter to spring, and it’s true in my own spiritual life.

Change and growth never seem to be fast enough, at least, not for me. The process is not a linear one, it’s more in fits and starts. And it is only looking back, thoughtfully and kindly at ourselves and others, that we see change.

In my Lenten disciplines, I’ve tried to be more intentional about what I eat, and how I spend my time. I’ve worked on mindfulness of my self care and my awareness of God’s work in my life. The changes are slow, but they can be seen.

Thanks be to God.

New life, New growth
New life, New growth

Love lives again, as with the dead has been. Love will come again as fruit that springeth green.

Resistance is… Necessary

'Janeway & Borg Queen' photo (c) 2011, frankula - license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

The Borg say, “Resistance is Futile.”

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!)

'' photo (c) 2009, ashleigh290 - license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

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.

photo   © 2013   Frédéric BISSON , FlickrThis 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.

Life’s an Edit, and then you publish.

This week I’ve spent more hours than I want to admit reading, writing and shaping a paper on Baptist history and polity. (Ain’t gonna lie, some of the brethren and “sistren” write some mighty dull stuff!) It’s been important reading though and worth every moment.

The formal writing process is always humbling for me. While I like to dabble with composing the occasional blog post, I struggle mightily when it comes to this synthesis of information in an orderly and scholarly way. Sometimes, I just want to throw up my hands and say “Here! Read these books and then we can talk!”

...and that's only half of them...
…and that’s only half of them…

As I struggle to articulate principles and concepts relating to theology, I’m drawn back to two things on my desk:
my Bible
and my highliter.

The Bible because I keep looking up verses that others quote to see if that is what they really say in context. And the highliter because as I read, I find gems that others have crafted and want to find them again and ponder them some more.

Phyllis Tickle wrote in Emergence Christianity,

In our times of dual and triple citizenship, how can one live as a devout, missional, practicing Christian in a civil polity made up of devout, missional, and practicing members of other, and often antithetical, faiths? How can one do that responsibly without either creating civil unrest and strife or else curbing the full expression and exercise of faith?

The questions mount up, all of them but variations on a theme, and the theme is, “How now are we to understand religion? What is its place in human salvation?”

And I say, EXACTLY!

In hindsight, I can condemn those who were insisting that a slave hold was within his rights. I can heap blame on German churchgoers who turned their heads away from a train bound for Auschwitz.

And then I realize that I have not found it within my priorities or my budgeting to care for those in my own zip code (let alone my region or my country) who are homeless and hungry.

I can’t define for you what you “should” do or believe. But I can understand more fully where God has placed me in this world, and where, bit by bit, I walk “completely in my own Gospel shoes” as my mentor Estrelda challenged me to do.

I keep going back to these verses, ones that were part of my ordination service…

The Lord God has told us
what is right
and what he demands:
“See that justice is done,
let mercy be your first concern,
and humbly obey your God.”

Micah 6:8 CEV

That’s a good place to start. And there’s plenty left to do. My friends who are in recovery talk about the step of “Willingness”. It is indeed apart of every obedient and focused life. As Martin Luther said, “Prayer is not overcoming God’s reluctance, but laying hold of His willingness.”

Edit after edit, phrase, paragraph and page — it’s a constant process of adjusting, correcting, reviewing, and refining. Just like life… if you are willing to admit you don’t have “the last word” on a topic, but want to make it better.

So may it be.

Thanks be to God!

A Psalm of New Growth

One of the reasons I love spring so much are these days of fast growth and change in my garden. Things that were brown vines and naked trees are shoving out new growth. This vine for my trumpet vine was literally brown and dead-looking a week ago. I walked out onto my back patio this morning to pray and saw a sudden burst of green!

New life, New growth
New life, New growth

Over the last several days, as I watered, weeded and mulched, I wonder if it “hurts” to have this new growth come so quickly. And I’ve decided, based on my own life, that it just might.

Today’s post is a Psalm of praise to God in days of growth, challenge and beauty. May it nourish and encourage you in your spiritual “growth spurts.”

A Psalm of New Growth

by Deb Vaughn

Lord of the roots and vines
Lord of the skies and trees and birds
Lord of the wind and thunderstorms
Join us here
On this tender plot of our lives.

You have guided us
You have prepared us
You have nurtured us
You have turned us back to the Trellis of your ways.
We praise you.

Spirit of transplanting
Spirit of fertilizing, pruning and mulching
Spirit of weeding and clipping
Meet us here
As leaves unfurl and blossoms dance.

You have guided us
You have prepared us
You have nurtured us
You have turned us back to the Trellis of your ways.
We praise you.

Redeemer of the healing rains
Redeemer of the land and heart
Redeemer of the luscious harvest
Join us here
On this tender plot of our lives.

You have guided us
You have prepared us
You have nurtured us
You have turned us back to the Trellis of your ways.
We praise you.

Even when the blossoms fade
Even when the harvest is stolen
Even when there is an early frost
Even when we long for your healing rain
We praise you.

You have guided us
You have prepared us
You have nurtured us
You have turned us back to the Trellis of your ways.
We praise you.

You are welcome to use this Psalm with credit to the author, and to God.

When You Missed Your Cue… A Transfiguration Moment

Luke 9:28-36 (Contemporary English Version)

About eight days later Jesus took Peter, John, and James with him and went up on a mountain to pray. While he was praying, his face changed, and his clothes became shining white. Suddenly Moses and Elijah were there speaking with him. They appeared in heavenly glory and talked about all that Jesus’ death in Jerusalem would mean.

Peter and the other two disciples had been sound asleep. All at once they woke up and saw how glorious Jesus was. They also saw the two men who were with him.

Moses and Elijah were about to leave, when Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here! Let us make three shelters, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” But Peter did not know what he was talking about.

While Peter was still speaking, a shadow from a cloud passed over them, and they were frightened as the cloud covered them. 35 From the cloud a voice spoke, “This is my chosen Son. Listen to what he says!”

After the voice had spoken, Peter, John, and James saw only Jesus. For some time they kept quiet and did not say anything about what they had seen.

Did you see it? This inner circle, this trusted group of disciples missed an opportunity. When Jesus invited them to come and pray up on the mountain, they fell asleep.

THEY FELL ASLEEP!!! (Pardon me while I laugh at myself.)

It would not be the only time they would fall asleep when Jesus asked them to pray with him. But think about what they missed…
By sleeping, they didn’t see the change in Jesus from his everyday earthly appearance to a transfigured one.
By sleeping, they missed out on the conversation — one that centered around the meaning of Jesus’ death in Jerusalem. They didn’t grasp the significance of Moses and Elijah being with Jesus.
In waking, they were disoriented. They had an incomplete understanding of what just went down. Then Peter, bless him, tried to pull the same stunt I would – he tried to cover the fact that he had been asleep. (Quick! Think of something!) And Luke records that Peter “did not know what he was talking about.”

How often do I miss the message? How often do I try and cover for my lack of diligence or ignorance? And why do I think that I have to reduce spirituality to a competition, a sort of “spiritual contact sport” where there are winners and losers, and no one wants to be a loser?

When my kids were very young, I found it hard to pray. Heck, I found it hard to do anything that required stringing two or three linear thoughts together. I managed to keep everyone fed and clothed, but in the early days of “baby haze” I found myself nodding off, time and time again, when I sat down to pray and read my Bible.

It was embarrassing. It seemed that every Christian woman I met had amazing “quiet times” and shared their insightful revelations during Bible study. I felt it to be an accomplishment to be dressed with matching socks. So I pretended. And the great cover-up began. The guilt was high, you see. It was a conspiracy, I thought. How could it be otherwise? There were sermon illustrations, vignettes, and story after story of amazing women of God, who got up before the chickens and prayed and had their quiet times before the rest of the household. And then they raised godly children who set the Church ablaze, becoming missionaries, planting megachurches, and so on. I just had to get up early and pray! What godly mom didn’t want to do that?

So I would try again. Set my alarm. Creep downstairs to a chair, wrap up in a blanket… and fall asleep with a Bible in my lap. After a few days of this routine, I would shrug, reset my alarm for a saner time, and sleep. I learned to talk to God and pray as I worked, played, cleaned and cooked. I carved out little moments here and there. But I felt guilty. So I performed my spiritual cover-up like it was some great performance art.

It took several years (I’m a slow learner) to figure out that I am not a morning person. The time of day that I read my Bible really did not matter. The time WITH GOD did.
Being alert to God’s word.
Being tender to hear God’s heart.
Being aware of God’s work around me.
Being ready to care for the needs and hurts of those I met.

Like Peter, I miss the mark all the time. I want to make a “holy place” or find some kind of “marker” to show that I get the significance of my time with God — but that is not the point. I don’t think God wants any more “places” built. I do think God wants me to take the transforming power of God and DO something with it.

The lesson of the Transfiguration is one of awareness, being prepared for what God might do next. There’s a sense of “God in the wings,” with the Spirit sending cues to my ClearCom. There’s foreshadowing — do I see it? Do I get it?

It really didn’t matter WHEN I stopped to listen. I just needed to do it with my full heart and mind engaged.

It’s not easy. Some days, in fact, it is impossible. I’ll miss out on many other Transfiguring moments in my life, I’m sure. But instead of trying to cover up, I’ll try to regroup, listen harder, and seek to hear what God has in mind.

And then go do something with what I hear.