Sunday, March 30, 2014

An Oasis of Silence

Note: I wrote this last night but didn't get a chance to type it up and post it until today.

I had four hours to myself today to spend alone in my house.  I wish I could say the house was perfectly clean and organized and chores were all done and it was four hours of quality writing time in which I wrote blog posts to schedule and more of my novel--but it wasn't.  I wrote a little--I made an outline for a writing project that I want to start in the fall, and had an e-mail exchange with a friend about it.  I made some soup for a fellow church-member (he'd bought it at our auction fundraiser and it was time to collect).  I did some laundry, delivered the soup, rested on the couch for a little while with one of the cats, looked at Pinterest, slept for a few minutes, then wondered when my husband and kids would be getting home.  

Those four hours were so relaxing and restful.  In addition to somehow managing to sleep for 10 hours the night before, it was a short period of time that was like an oasis in the desert.  It was like a mini Sabbath (and how nice that it was on the actual Biblical Sabbath day).  It was a rest for my body, mind, and soul.  I don't take the time to do this regularly.  There is always something going on.  As an introvert, the busyness and noise of the children are wearying and overwhelming at times.  In silence, I feel recharged; I feel more alive.  Yet, silence is almost always elusive.

As I write this, my kids are in the bathtub, being only moderately noisy.  I'm sitting on the bathroom counter, watching the sky turn pale pink as the sun is setting.  I can't actually see the sun from where I sit, but I know it is there; I can see its effects.  The sky above the pink is blue, streaked with thin white clouds, and the fields I can see beyond my own yard are still and silent.  

I am reminded of my verse from last year from Psalm 62: For God alone my soul waits in silence (verses 1 & 5).

Even though my boys are having fun in the tub and the ceiling fan is making noise, out the window is the promise and hope of silence and renewal. t will come again, as surely as the sun sets and rises again.  I may not know when, but for today, I have experienced its effects on me, and for now it is enough.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Book Review: Clout by Jenni Catron

I received a free copy of Clout by Jenni Catron from the publisher through the BookLookBloggers program.

To get to the point, I think any Christian leader would benefit from reading this book, so go buy it.  

In Clout, Jenni Catron encourages people to "discover and unleash [their] god-given influence.  Part II of the book is dedicated to cultivating what makes one influential:
  • Discovering Your Identity
  • Discovering Your Confidence
  • Defining Your Mission
  • Determining Your Passion
However, Part I of the book is so incredibly important because even if you can master Part II, there are what Catron calls "Clout Killers", those things that will stunt one's influence and leadership and will pop up at any time.  They are:
  • Fear
  • Comparison
  • Jealousy
  • Scarcity
  • Insecurity
  • Pride
  • Control
These "clout killers" can be insidious, sneaking into our lives without us really being very aware of it, and Catron gives us ways to think about how they might be affecting us.  The questions at the end of each chapter are very introspective and practical.  For example, at the end of chapter 1 she asks "What fears make you think that you can't handle it? Take a few minutes to write them down."  Facing our fears is scary business, because we don't want to admit we have them; we think we will be seen as weak or ineffective.  Catron writes in that chapter that "fear tends to coerce its tentacles into all our issues" (5).  And it does, doesn't it?  Catron writes that fear hides, isolates, and paralyzes.  It is scary how much control fear can have over our lives, and I think that by putting this chapter first, she helps us to face it head on and keep thinking about it throughout the rest of the book.  

Fear has far-reaching repercussions, and Christian leaders and organizations are not immune from it.  For anyone who is struggling with it, or any of the other clout killers mentioned, this book will help one find healing and encouragement.  It could help people who are struggling with their leadership get on a more clear path, and it can help people who may not even know they are struggling or have problems with fear or insecurity or pride.  Those clout killers will affect others in your organization, so it would be good to be prepared to know what they are and how to face them.

If you plan on reading the book, I'd love to discuss it with you, and even post your story of how you have benefited from reading it.  Please contact me if you've got something to share.  

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Ancient Words & New Beginnings

Last night, I logged into a language program called Mango, which is offered through my library.  I selected Biblical Hebrew as the language I wanted to learn and did the first lesson.  At the end of the lesson, I was able to read and say Genesis 1:1 in Hebrew.

Beresheit bara Elohim et hashamayim v'et haaretz

Genesis 1 has always, always been a favorite of mine.  I could read it over and over.  Even in English, it is beautiful poetry, but there's something about being able to even just barely understand it in Hebrew that has made me feel a little emotional.  I've always thought that by learning Hebrew and Greek it would make me feel more connected to the words of the Bible, but *thinking* that and then *feeling* it --even though it is only one verse-- makes a big difference.  I had no idea that learning one verse would affect me in this way.  It's  nothing compared to how many verses there are and how much there is to learn, but it is making me feel things that I can't quite explain.

There is something special about being able to read and say those words, something that reminded me of how ancient they are, how they have been passed down for thousands of years, how the words of God brought life to creation.  It was a brief moment in time when I could sense more deeply that the Kingdom of God can break into our world at times when we do not anticipate it happening.  

It made me think of the lyrics to "Ancient Words":
Holy words long preserved
For our walk in this world
They resound with God's own heart
Oh, let the ancient words impart

There was life in those words that I said.

I've been wearing my chai necklace for about two months now.  When I first wrote about it, I wrote " There's something about knowing how ancient the words are, how the word chai takes us back to both creation stories in Genesis: living creatures, every living thing, the breath of life.  It's more than the use of the word there, though.  When I look at the first creation story, when "the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep" (1:1), it is as if everything is asleep, waiting silently for God to wake it up and help it to come alive and realize its full potential."  I reread that last night, and was aware of just how perfect my word "alive" for the year has been.

I have felt more alive in the first couple of months of this year than I have in a long time.  In addition to what I have already written in my #ComeAliveSeries, I have had another experience lately that has given me hope and made me feel alive: I've applied for a part-time job.  If it works out, it'll be a great fit for me, and I'll be working with a friend that I think will be a great boss.

I have written before--multiple times--how I believed that God was behind the move to this town more so than any other time in my life.  I couldn't explain it and have spent just over the last two years waiting and wondering and praying.  At times it has been difficult.  After all, I loved my last job and was sad to leave it.  When I mentioned the way that opportunities are coming up to my "The Story" discussion group the other night, it was amusing, because someone said "well, you've been asking for this, why are you so surprised it is happening?"  I really don't know why I am, or if surprised is even the right word.  Maybe it is awe, or thankfulness, or joy.  I do know, though, that God's plans are much better than what I can come up with on my own, and I hope that I will continue to seek God's guidance.

The Mango program told me that beresheit actually means "in beginning"; there is no "the".  In beginning God created.  We all have to start somewhere; we all have to create new beginnings at different times in life.  We begin life as babies, when we start school, when we learn new things, when we have new life experiences.  Life is a series of creative beginnings, and something new is beginning for me now.

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Sunday, March 02, 2014

For Such a Time As This

As we drove home from church tonight, a tiny sliver of the bottom of the moon was showing, and the rest was slightly visible, as if it was just barely outlined.  It was present, but not in an obvious way.  There was a beauty to it, an awareness that there is more to what we see than we might think.

This morning, because we are going though "The Story" at church, the topic was Esther.  Esther, whose identity as a Jew is hidden.  Esther, who ends up in such a position as she does through various circumstances that she is able to save her people from being annihilated.  Esther, one of only two women who books of the Bible are named after.

The story of Esther, and the idea of God working behind the scenes both there and in our lives today, is almost too much to comprehend.  If Esther had not been living in Susa...if she had not listened to Mordecai's advice...if she had not been attractive to the king...if she had not found the courage to approach him...if, if, if.

I have written before that more so than any other move in my life, I have felt as though God was behind the move to where I now live.   But it also has included a lot of uncertainty and waiting, waiting, waiting, wondering why, and wondering what's next.  And it has been only recently that the path I am on has started to become more clear.  

As I listened to the sermon this morning I began to wonder...if I had not moved here...if I had not attended this church...if my husband's job didn't require moving every so often...if the seminary I wrote about last week hadn't decided to offer an all online Master of Arts...if, if, if.  

Do you see what I mean about it being too big to really comprehend how God has his hand in all of this?  In my mind, I picture a large three-dimensional puzzle with the pieces all moving around, looking for the spot in which they belong, trying different places until the right fit is found.  I think there is a puzzle to each of our lives, and yet each one is incomplete because we are all connected to each other's puzzles as well.  But in end, it will be a big, beautiful, breathtaking, creation that we can only imagine right now. 

It's not without frustrations, doubts, and fears.  When Esther hesitates about what Mordecai wants her to do, he tells her "For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father's family will perish.  Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this."  (Esther 4:13-14).  I imagine Esther was terrified. When she first approaches the king, she requests that he and Haman attend a banquet, then, once there, she requests they attend another banquet.  It seems that it takes her some time to work up the nerve to expose Haman's horrific plot.  

And life is like that.  We may experience God's calling to us as something scary and uncertain and with no knowledge of what it will bring. Sometimes we ignore it.  Sometimes we postpone it.  Sometimes we do it immediately.  Regardless of when we do it, the calling is still there, and God is still there, though sometimes barely seen, like the moon tonight.

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