Faith…or Memories Make the Heart Grow Meek

Faith – confident belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing.

Faith – the evidence of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

If I could, I’d add something to the definitions of faith —  faith is renewed  and strengthened by remembrance.

Sometimes when I start to have doubts or questions about the things I thought I’d already “figured out”; when I’m struggling with an issue or a belief or an emotion; something comes to mind that seems to settle those doubts — I’ll remember an event or a time in the past that long ago settled whatever my struggle is at the moment — and my anxiety or doubt or question will wane for a time. Until the next time I question or doubt.

Then I’ll remember again.

I’m not sure why all of this brain schizophrenia goes on, but since there is nothing new under the sun, I shouldn’t be surprised. Or maybe it’s more of a heart thing…maybe our memories, good and bad, are there to help guide and lead us — and if we learn from them, ultimately soften and gentle us as people.

It could work the other way, too; our memories could harden us and make us angry and bitter. Sad. But I think anger and bitterness are choices we make that harden our hearts.

I love a definition I heard once of the word Meek: controlled power. Hearts made strong and powerful, but soft. Meekness. Strength. Tender hearts. Faith. I’d rather choose Meekness and Faith over doubt and anger and bitterness any day.

So when those days come — and they do and they will — I’ll sit down awhile and remember why I have faith in the first place.

If we truly learn from the things in our past and remember those lessons from time to time, especially when doubt blows our way, then we become people who grow stronger with those doubts and questions, and hopefully our hearts grow softer toward God and others.

And it’s those times when I remember the goodness of God and His mercy and grace and work in my life that I also remember to be thankful — for the evidence and strengthening and confidence and softening that are truly part of the fabric of my faith.

Faith — remembering all we have to be thankful for and walking in that truth. It won’t make the dictionary definition, but it works for me.

Will I Ever Learn?

One of my former professors asked me once what the greatest thing was that I learned in college. After thinking about it for a short time, my response was that I still had so very much to learn. Just when I think I have everything all figured out, when I just know I’m finally right about something, life seems to jump up and knock me off my feet…one more time.

I used to be so much more opinionated than I am now; I guess I really truly thought I had everything figured out. Or maybe I just felt the need to speak my opinions aloud, I don’t know. But whatever the case, as I’ve gotten older I’ve begun to realize that most of the time, my opinions just aren’t that important, because there will always be others who can out argue me, out prove me, or out think me. And do you know what is really, truly important? Not what I think — shocker! — but what God thinks.

I know that we always grow and change, and I hope I’ll continue to realize my need to be teachable. At my new job, I’m still wearing the ‘I’m in training’ badge, and when people ask how long I’ll be in training, I usually tell them “always.” I’ll always have something to learn — from those who think differently, who look different, who are different.

One of the things that showed me just how much I needed to look outside my comfortable box was when I read Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz.  We were on the threshold of sending our oldest daughter to college in the northwest…the crazy, liberal, ungodly northwest. Eeeek!! As I read it, I loved it and I hated it at the same time. I didn’t want to think about seeing my faith from a different angle — it was just too scary and unsure. I was spiritually raised in the south, in the Bible belt, so reading something like that really challenged my faith and I had to ask questions. Yep, QUESTIONS! Sending my baby to the crazy NW, where I wondered if they even spoke English, just seemed like an equally crazy thing to do and had a huge question mark. How could a mother send her daughter straight into a den of wolves? A huge den, at that? What kind of mother would do something like that??

What I started to learn then was something about trust. Wolves are everywhere, even in the Bible belt, and I was over confident that my children, that we all, were “safe” there. I had to come to a place of trust that what she had learned from us would take her into the world (where I know we are supposed to be) with love and respect for others and differences, and yet keep her grounded in who she was and who God was making her.

Now, years later, my sweet girl actually lived through college in the northwest, and I actually lived through her going to college there. She still lives there and is alive and well, and I know she’s being a blessing to those who know her.

But most recently, I’ve begun to question more than what my kids are doing — whether they’re ok moving here or there, or having this relationship or that one. Or even if they’re thinking the same, believing the same, as I do. Not that I don’t look at those things…I always want the best for my kids. But that’s just it. What is best? Where and Who is best? How should I know? I don’t. Yes, I believe God gave these kids to us and us to them. And yes, we have a responsibility to raise them in light of eternity and with wisdom given to us by God. And yes, we spent many hours in prayer for them (and still do). But none of that automatically gives me an enlightened understanding or vision about what they should do or about how they will live. Whenever they struggle or question life or God or what is right, I struggle with them.  I know without a doubt that God can handle their struggles, way better than I can. But then the questions start to come back: questions about my own faith and understanding of how I’m supposed to live and love.

And now I’m at a point where I’m having to trust that what God has done in my own life, with my own faith, will keep me grounded as I learn to appreciate people right where they are – and for who they are. That over-confidence I had with my daughter, and that at times I’ve had with all my kids, that ‘safety zone’, I’ve also had with my own way of thinking. I thought I was good at loving others; and it’s easy to do when most of them think the same way I do. But I’m beginning to learn that there is a difference between what I thought about people, how I thought I loved them, what I secretly expected of them, and what is truly true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy. I see and work with people everyday who are very different from those I’ve chosen to shelter myself with. And I really really want to love them, right where they are, in that Philippians 4 kind of way.

I’ve continued to ask questions and learn to love others who are different than I am… a lot different. And that is a good thing. Thank heaven they aren’t all like me…oh the thought!

I’ve begun to question what I’m doing…and why I’m doing it. Not question the validity or importance of what I’m doing — but how to be truly honorable — toward God and others, and why I’ve been placed where I am. And tying it all together is tough; learning how to stand for Truth in a completely non-compromising way while loving and accepting others right where they are – no judgement, no requirements, no expectations.

I wouldn’t trade any of my life, because I know without a doubt that God has orchestrated every corner, every situation, every person. If I could, I might change some of the things I’ve done, that I’m not proud of. Because I know I could have been kinder, more merciful, more loving, more graceful. Those are the virtues I learn again and again every day, and I hope I’ll be worthy of them and able to impart them to those around me – today, with whomever I may meet, with those I work with, with those I’ll run into at the coffee shop or at work or at church or at the food bank.

And I hope I’m worthy of what they have to teach me, because I still have so, so much to learn.

People-purpose

For the first time in a very long time, I’ll be starting a job away from home. A real job, working with the public. Working with other people who are working with the public. Oh, I’ve done a few jobs in recent years that I did away from home, but the schedule was completely flexible, my ‘office’ was small and quiet, and I was rarely away from my kids. Home schooling didn’t go down the drain, my family didn’t fall apart (although there were times I did), and life pretty much went on as usual. But now we’re in a different season; our ‘normal’ is going to change. Yep, there will be times when these people who live at my house are going to wonder what hit them – and times when I’ll wonder the same.

There will be a learning curve, and I think I’m up for it. But it will mean more than just learning about a new job – it will mean learning again how to interact with the zillions of personalities out there, the good, the bad, the ugly, and everything in between.

And it’s one of those times when I’ll need to remember where to put my trust. Whether I know someone well or have never laid eyes on them, I need to remember that I don’t see the big picture. Not at all. I don’t know what others are going through or what kind of day they are having – what crisis is taking place in their hearts or lives. So I hope and trust that my responses will be the kind that could make a positive difference in their day – that maybe they are the reason I’m there, working with or talking to them. And that is true about the customer or the kids, the co-worker or the husband. I need to remember, daily, that I am where I am for a purpose – a ‘people-purpose’ – and I need to trust, for that moment in time, that I may be standing in part of the picture that may change the perspective for the person in front of me.

Isn’t that what life is about? Relationship. So often, relationships are hard work – some more work than others – and if we’re honest, some we’d rather not do at all. But when they’re right in front of us, it really isn’t our choice; we just try to make them work the best way we can. That means with those we see often and those we may just talk to on the phone. Family, friends, co-workers, regular customers, or people only needing a refund. Relationship looks different with every person.

Those I’ve had a long time are always changing, and hopefully growing; those that are new are sometimes uncomfortable, sometimes intimidating, sometimes comforting and encouraging, sometimes challenging. Sometimes they’re downright scary! But I know we’re all in this world of relationship for a higher purpose, and the way I choose to interact and respond could be the difference between grace and peace or confusion and pain for the one standing there.

Relationship is what we were made for. So as I walk through each day, I pray I’ll be faithful to keep my eyes focused on the One who sees the whole picture – that I’ll be a blessing to someone each day. Because we all have a place in eternity, and our true job, whether at home or in the local retail store, is to shine a light on the picture and trust the One who knows where we belong in the canvas.

Sensitive and Deep

“I should have been a great many things, Mr. Mayer.” Jo March

Sometimes, I think I missed my calling.

Actually, maybe I missed more than one:

  • In 6th grade, I was going to be an actress.
  • In 9th grade, I was going to be a singer. And I fell in love with Dan Fogelberg.
  • In 11th grade, I was going to be a philosopher. No, I was a philosopher. I wrote “poetry” and prose and recorded all of my save-the-world plans. I even wrote down in numerous journals all of the emotions and oh so deep thoughts that I just knew very few people had ever had in the history of the world. I even sat in a tree with my guitar and sang John Denver songs for hours at a time. IN A TREE! JOHN DENVER! (My mother loved that one and told that story for years).
  • At one point, I even had the idea that having a nudist colony would be the answer to ridding society of shallowness. Oh brother!
  • In college, I was going to work with special needs children. (Looks like I’m making progress on saving the world here).
  • Later in college, I wanted to work in the inner city with the poor. Not only work with them, but live there and love them to Jesus.
  • After college, I came really close to working in a school in Belize, ministering to and teaching children in a poor village. (Getting closer!).

A lot of years have come and gone since my aspiring actress days and those sensitive and deep high school journals. I’ve been so busy doing so many other things than what I thought I’d do that I haven’t had time to regret not following through on all the things I dreamed about. I ended up working at a camp, loving on kids and seeing their lives changed. (I also worked with horses, but their lives didn’t change very much). During those summers, I acted, sang, taught philosophy, cried with and hugged children who were rich in material things but poor in spirit. I met the man I married. I had five children, began homeschooling, built and lived in a country cottage, and learned how to garden. I delivered meals to shut-ins and volunteered with a local food and assistance ministry.  I went on mission trips to poor villages and helped build houses, community centers, and a school.

So I guess all in all, I have been a great many things. My calling didn’t change, and I never missed it. I changed and began to live what I was truly called to, without even knowing it.

My heart-song is of gratefulness  – thanksgiving for all the challenges, laughter, tears, late into-the-night discussions about life, all that I’ve taught, all that I’ve learned, and all that is still out there for me to learn. I know we are always called to be sensitive to the needs of others, to praise of God, to learn and grow in grace, to give those around us a taste of beauty. To share the depth and breadth of God’s love.

I still listen to Fogelberg – but I’m so very thankful that I didn’t try to follow through on the nudist colony. The world is a much, much better place because of it!

Dedicated to Sue, my dear friend and one of the most sensitive and deep people I know.

Saying goodbye…

I went to have a cup of coffee with my mom this morning; instead, I said goodbye—for the last time. I went to see her, knowing that she hadn’t been well, and when I arrived, she was unconscious and couldn’t be roused. I know she could hear me, because when I called her name, she tried to answer—and when I told her to “wake up” she groggily said “I’m awake.” But she couldn’t open her eyes or even move her head. I didn’t know at the time that she was saying goodbye to life as she’d known it for 90 years.

The other day, a friend asked me how I want to die. I hadn’t expected the question, so my answer was somewhat thoughtless; “Quickly” was my response. Not that I necessarily want to die soon—but when it’s time, I want to go quickly, not linger knowing what’s inevitable. He gave us (his class…I was visiting a favorite professor from college) a challenge by telling us the story of his dad—how when he found out that he had only a couple of months to live, he decided to spend the time “saying goodbye” to friends and loved ones, drinking coffee, catching up—maybe doing whatever was necessary for him and the others to feel as if they were finishing well with their relationships and enjoying what time was left.

I thought about that a lot, and I like it. I also thought about my response to his question, and I think I’ll stick with my answer. But I think I’ll amend it a bit and take up his challenge this way: I hope that before I die, whenever that is, I’ll feel as if my relationships are healthy and enjoyable and as caught up as possible in today’s fast-paced world. I hope I can be a blessing to those around me, and in turn be blessed because of others, whether I see them regularly or never again. I hope I’ll be able to live and finish well with each of them, whether they’re a mile away or a continent. And I hope I’ll feel “comfortable” with death knowing that I’ve lived as unto the Lord and that I’ll go to a better place.

I guess I just want to have the confidence of knowing that all is right with the world in my relationships. I want the people I love to know how grateful I am for each of them and that I cherished every minute with them—and that those cups of coffee we shared meant more than just having a hot drink.

So I said good-bye to my mom…not over coffee, as I would have liked—but I hope she was ready, with enough pots of coffee behind us to know that we were all caught up and finishing well.