God’s Timing (MerryChristmasHappyNewYear)

The Undoing Steffany Gretzinger (Frizzell)

This was my playlist over the summer, and I recently rediscovered the album.  Appropriate.  And comforting as I move into another season of…wait for it…waiting.

Even though I’m a couple weeks late, I’d like to share my Christmas message about God’s timing…God chose a man to become a family to become a nation that would be His people and bear Messiah into the world.

400 years of slavery, and still God waited.

40 years in the wilderness, God waited.

400 years claiming the promised land or rather letting it claim them, worshipping false gods and repenting, ruled by judges, still God waited.

400 years of Kings.  God waits.

200 years of exile and return and restoration.

400 years of silence.

Finally, at the fullness of time, Messiah came.

God’s timing is perfect.  And sometimes perfectly confusing because as far away as the stars, that’s how much smarter He is than us.

Recently we have been studying Pentecost, and I am again touched by God’s people in the waiting.

Jesus spent 30 years growing up.  3 years in ministry. 3 days in the grave.

40 days the resurrected Jesus walked with his friends, ate with them, helped them to see, believe, and understand the resurrection.  And then he went into the sky.

He left them with lots of instructions, but one directive for the moment.

Wait.

Wait here for the promise of God.  Wait for the comforter.  Wait for the power.  This is going to be better than ME.

What must have those 10 days been like for them, staring at the sky?  Could they have known what He meant when He said they would do everything He did and more?  Could their aching hearts be comforted in the waiting when the gift of the Holy Spirit was not yet manifest on the earth?  Could their clay hearts endure all the emotions of six week’s time: the confusion and dark hope of the Passover that year, the deep pain of the crucifixion and it’s waiting, the 40 days with their resurrected Lord and his exhortation to go to the ends of the earth, but first, wait.

10 days they waited, and then at the festival of the harvest, Holy Spirit came.  We have never been the same.  The same Spirit which raised Christ from the dead now dwells in every believer.  Roughly 1840 years waiting on the promised Messiah.  10 days waiting on another promise, and the entire world changed.

Rest in the Lord, wait patiently for Him. Psalm 37:7

Wait: wə·hiṯ·ḥō·w·lêl

It’s my favorite word in any language ever.  “Chuwl“…to bear.  To whirl, to dance, to writhe in pain; to be in anguish, in anxious longing; to travail, birth, bring forth; to be brought forth, to be born; to be tormented; to wait; to hope.

Rest: dō·wm

It means to fall.  Fall into God.

It’s the only way to survive the waiting.

It literally means to die, faint, go completely limp.  It has the connotation of a trust fall.  You have to let go of everything, fall without looking, and trust that He will catch you.

I don’t always.  I have to talk myself into it…into trusting Him.  I have to remember and declare His faithfulness.  Only then can I let go of my presuppositions and control and truly fall into Him.

We can trust Him.

דֹּ֤ום ׀ לַיהוָה֮ וְהִתְחֹ֪ולֵ֫ל

An Artful New Year

From time to time I make three cards. This is a spiritual discipline involving laying down control and allowing yourself  to stay in the question. 
First you write three questions, one on each card. One question is for God; one question is for your heart; one question is for God and your heart.

Then you shuffle the cards, question side down, and tape them to your tray.

Next is the color which you add to each card. 

  While the paint dries, you choose magazine pictures, words, and other clippings. You’re looking for things that draw a strong emotional response.

Finally you create a collage on each card. When you are finished, you may look at the questions. It never ceases to amaze me how insightful this time could be for me and how God speaks through this activity.

  
I’m thinking I may do this the next few weeks to start out the new year. Other people are fasting, and this just seems to be the direction that God is taking me for the first three weeks of 2016.

 Thank you Tara at Anam Cara for introducing me to this discipline many years ago!

    
 

Wait for the Mystery

Mystery – Sara Groves

I keep hearing this line: My body’s tired from trying to bring you here.

You see, I love the presence of God.  Some people feel goosebumps.  I feel like I’m standing in the ocean and waves are crashing over me.  Some people feel a deep sense of peace or joy.  I like that.  I like how encountering Jesus in this way changes me: my mind and ways of thinking, my heart and my emotions, my will and my obedience to God.  I’m not saying that I’m looking for an emotional experience.  I am saying that when I get before God and worship Him, no matter my emotions, my emotions change and I like that.  In fact, sometimes when I worship (almost every time these days) I can feel it in every pore in my being: something other than me, something Holy, transforming my life.

In my circles, we have all kinds of silly ways we talk about this.  We say God came to the meeting, when we know He was already there before us.  We say Heaven Opened, which seems a little more accurate.  We say we experienced His presence, which is probably the truest way of saying it.  We were walking about, doing our thing, putting together music and chairs and lights and Bibles and kleenex boxes and people and loving God and God became evident in a way we were not previously aware of.  I don’t know what happened, or why sometimes it is thicker or stronger than others, or why some people go all jelly kneed and others feel nothing.  I just don’t know.

And that’s where I keep hearing Sara’s song about “trying to bring you here.”  We have all sorts of wacky theories about how we can invite the presence of God.  Actually, they are nice sounding religious ideas.  I call them wacky because the truth is: God is God.  He goes where He pleases.  He does things how He likes.  He is bigger, stronger, wiser, and completely other than we are.  That is what Holy means: other.  He’s not like us.  He is a mystery.

There is nothing we can do to bring God here.

When we were dead in our misdeeds and sins, He decided to come.  He decided to sacrifice His life so that we could be with Him.  So that we could be like Him.

The same way we came into the Kingdom is the same way we live in the Kingdom.

We see His goodness.  We confess our lack.  We admit that there is no other way to be like him; no way but the cross.  We ask Him to come, forgive, transform, renew, and empower.  We fall into Him, knowing He will catch us.

And that’s just it.

In order to fall, we have to let go.

We don’t get to decide what it will look like when He catches us.  We only know that He will.  We wait.  We hope.  We let go.

There is no other way.

Sleep, glorious sleep!

It is in vain (pointless) that you rise up early
    and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil (stress);
    for he gives to his beloved sleep.  Psalm 127:2 (parentheses added)

The importance of sleep is a perennial theme for me.  Now that I’m working at a cognitive tutor (programs based on neuroscience), this theme is more important than ever.  We need sleep for our brains to reorganize and absorb all that we have challenged them with throughout the day.  Your brain is part of your body, and to function properly it needs adequate water, calories, nutrients, oxygen, and SLEEP!  Three things I am doing to help me get my beauty rest:

  • Getting proper nutrition and hydration in the morning and throughout the day, so that I’m not famished when night comes around.
  • Exercise.  Even a light walk every day.  Gym membership coming soon!
  • Cutting caffeine 12 hours before I want to be in bed.
  • Turning off the screens one hour before I want to be asleep.  I’ve heard upwards of three hours, but I’m starting with one and I’ll let you know how that goes.  The blue light from our electronic devices tricks our brains into thinking it’s daytime.  So, no more Pinterest right before bed.   The computer, iPad, and phone must go to rest before I do.  It’s back to paper books for me.
  • Some evenings, even when I’m alone in my house, I need to pull the curtain and effectively close the door to the world.

Finally, a note: there are many things that interrupt our sleep and our ability to sleep.  Many of them are out of our control, or take a long time to resolve.  I know how utterly helpless it can feel when you are doing everything right, and it still doesn’t work!  I suppose this is another area where we do the possible and trust God to do the rest.

In peace I will both lie down and sleep;
    for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety. Psalm 4:8

Here

Maybe it’s the rain in California.

Maybe it’s the peace Ms. Grace saw washing over me.

Although I was born in November, I have felt more like Janus, looking forward and looking back.  This year is different: I just want to dwell here, to tarry a little longer in my 34th year.  No looking back.  No need to know what’s next.  Just to be here.

Here is where the people are: the unusual, unexpected, and sometimes unruly people.  They live in the present, doing unusual, unexpected, and sometimes unruly things.  I want to be with them.  I want to be surprised.  You cannot laugh if you are not willing to be surprised.  You cannot live in the present if you are not willing to be surprised.

I want to be surprised.

In my circles, we like to hear from God.  Sometimes someone will get an insight into your life that only God could have shown them, and then they will share deeper insights He would want you to know.  We call them “words”, because there is a Bible verse that says, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word from the mouth of God.”  I like to get words.  Of course I do.  I wanted to understand the past.  I wanted to know the future.  Words are a beautiful and helpful gift.  Lately I’ve been thinking: what if instead of revealing something about me in a word, God revealed some mystery about Himself?  What if a minister stood in front of me and said, “Beth, God loves you, and He wanted you to know that…” and then proceeded to unveil the mysteries of the stars and the universe.  Or the human mind.  Or the nature of love.  Or why He made giraffes so tall.  Or what he was thinking when He created eyes.  Nothing about me, all just about Him, because I wanted to know.  Wouldn’t that be fun?

Happy November.

Desert

Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the desert, and speak tenderly to her.

God is speaking to the prophet Hosea about the people of Israel. Between their time in Egypt and arrival in the promised land, the Israelites had wandered in the desert and lived on manna from Heaven. In that context, the wilderness was a place of complete dependence on God.

Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her on a road trip, and speak tenderly to her.

Nothing heralds the start of summer like 12 hours on the open road, two round trips from the coast to the valley, culminating in a starlit return. The last couple weeks of the school year over extended me, and it must have been months ago I became a hurried person. Hurried people hurry people, you know.

Somewhere between Monday and Friday, Newton’s first law of motion sent everything crashing around me. The burdens I had been packing for a semester came down on my head. My dogged fear am-I-doing-something-wrong? stirred around with perfectionism and a fear of failure. My realization that I cannot justify myself only gave way to the insatiable need for approval I am sure we must all face from time to time. I know my approval comes from God, but I could not remember how to find my way back.

A dear friend reminded me that He who supplies all our needs is the One who is able. It’s not up to me, and it never was. If we don’t quit we win. I began to remember, with great relief, that it’s not about me. It’s not about my strength, neither is it about my weakness. I do not have to prove anything because I am not here to be approved. I am here to love.

I thought I needed a week strait of sleeping, but I was wrong. I needed to remember my priorities, like the importance of ribbons in a girl’s hair, or the independence of a young man with new wheels. I needed to sit in the presence of true greatness, like the strength of my friend who cares for her mother and grieves her daughter and keeps company with Peace. I needed to be among people who care like I do and build their plans on hope. I needed to plan. I needed to hope.

A funny thing happened on Friday on a visit to the zoo. As I stood there in the in the valley heat looking at the sea lions and watching tiny waves crash against landscaped rocks, I remembered the ocean. I remembered that I love to watch the ocean roll. Sometimes you need to drive 450 miles to remember you live 3 miles from the beach. Sometimes you need to drive in the desert at night to see the stars.

What No One Sees

My friend over at Roman Hokie’s Tracks recently asked, “What kinds of things do you find are important to do in your daily life but nobody sees them being done and everyone assumes it’s just magic?”

I have taken this opportunity to reflect on my own work.  I have two jobs, one in the public school system, one in people’s homes.  In both positions I work primarily with kids who have autism, teaching them appropriate behavior and developing the skills they will need to maintain that behavior without me.  I love my job, love the kids, love learning with them.  I also find the work more challenging than anything I have ever done, which may be one reason I like it.  So where does the magic happen?

Roman was talking about paperwork in his post.  Of course I have paperwork in my behavioral support position, but most of that falls to supervisors and teachers.  I take data, sometimes I graph it, and I pass it on to my friendly neighborhood Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA).  The BCBA creates programs based on how the students have responded to the interactions I documented.  I enjoy the data because it shows if what we are doing is making a difference.  I have an ongoing conversation with the BCBA and classroom teacher regarding what is working and why.  A few minutes here, a few minutes there, they give me pointers and feedback.  I process this information and develop my response to each of the student’s actions, based on a series of priorities: safety, meeting basic needs, communication, behavior for learning, and the actual skills.  

The skills my students are learning can be very different from the general population.  They might be learning to sit in their seat or initiate a social interaction.  They might be learning to use their words instead of a tantrum to get their way.  We are fortunate to have a series of experts who help advise us about their needs: occupational therapists, speech pathologists and the like.  I like to pull on their expertise any time they are visiting the classroom.  Quick pointers are incorporated into the body of information I use to interact with our students.  We also have monthly trainings, and other periodic meetings which help me understand the science and theories behind our programs.  

Finally, I am learning through observation.  I get to work with a team of incredible people, each with different strengths.  As I watch, I learn, often things which cannot be explained.  Our students depend on us to be consistent, so I must develop my own style in a way that meshes well with the others on the team.  

At any given point in time, I am assimilating this information to determine my own responses.  Pushing a child on the swing?  I’m also thinking about what the BCBA just shared with me about communication and behavior; I’m drawing out concepts I can generalize to interactions I will more than likely need in the next hour.  The child just screamed and hit me?  In my mind I am running through the events that lead up to the outburst, the child’s specific behavioral plan, the instructional methods utilized in that particular classroom, the needs of the child in the moment, and our general training for responding to a child in distress.  

I am also calming myself, assessing my own needs, and resources to get support.  A child acting out aggressively will spike your adrenaline the same as any other.  Different situations affect us all differently, and there are some things I have gotten used to.  Some things you cannot help, it simply is a physiological reaction to stress, so being able to take care of yourself is essential.  

I think I don’t always respond as quickly as others would have me do.  Perhaps they were watching and saw something I didn’t.  Perhaps they were not watching and simply think I should react like they would.  Other times, people come along side me and ask, “What are you thinking?” or “What do you need?”  I learn more from these interactions than anything else.  My gratitude to the instructors who have taught me by supporting cannot be measured, and I hope that as I grow and develop I can establish and maintain a similar culture of support in my work.  

I go home and rest or run or talk with friends or dance or pray.  I make art, make music.  I veg out and watch TV (Bones or Sherlock).  I keep the routines that keep me going.  I have learned to be honest when I am spent, learned how to say “no” by necessity, and how to adjust when things get off kilter.  I am blessed with friends who can respect these needs, even if they don’t entirely understand.  

And of course, I care deeply for the kids.  Sometimes I think that’s the actual magic.  I find out what’s important to them and meet them where they are.  It’s worth it to me.  They’re worth it.

Members of One Another

“Is this one better, or this one?” the eye doctor asks as she flips between lenses.

“I don’t know,” I finally admit.  One lense has clear, crisp lines, but a shadow to each line.  Another lense has no shadows, but fuzzy lines.  The lenses can assist my imperfect eyes to see, but ultimately they cannot fix my eyes.  Aging eyes need different lenses for different situations, reading glasses are good for close work, but miserable for driving.  Glasses help us to see some things, but blur others.

The same is true of culture: we see God through our cultural lenses, and while some things are clearer, some aspects are blurred. If we are not aware of our own culture, we may find ourselves trying to “drive with reading glasses”, so to speak.  Because of our individual culture, some values stand out more.  We give more weight to one ideal, while forgetting or neglecting another ideal.  In other instances, our cultural ideals dress themselves up as Godly and go masquerading into our thoughts as impostors of the truth.  What needs to change is our eyes.

Christians in my culture, the self-made American culture, cherish the idea that “God is all you need.”  I have been wrestling with this “only God” concept, presenting it to my friends on Facebook, and finally resolving to read through the entire scriptures in search of God’s heart.  It has been only a week, and I have made it through the first five books.  My theory, in the beginning, was that the “God only” concept is favored because our culture is so independent by nature.  What I found is that this thinking is borne of something far more universal than the spirit that won the west:

betrayal.

Experience speaks, “God is the only one who will never fail you.”  Of course this is true.  My limited study of Genesis through Deuteronomy agrees.  However, I am greatly alarmed by the foregone conclusion that if God is the only one who will never fail you, then He is the only one you need.  

After fleeing Sodom and Gomorrah, losing his wife to her own regrets and backward longing, Lot concludes he cannot live among people.  He takes his daughters and goes to a cave.  Betrayal drives him to isolation, and he concludes not only to trust in God alone, but to need no one but God.  His daughters determine they need someone else to help them carry on the family line, and seeing their father as the only man left, “lie” with him.  Ew.  Just ew.  (Genesis 19:30-38)

Do you see why I’m alarmed?

In defense of my friends who shared the sentiment “to only trust God is to need only God”, I know from their lives that they have followed God back into life-giving community in the midst of recovering from deep betrayal.  They may speak with their words to need only God, but with their lives, they speak the truth of the Kingdom.

God, in his own perfection and self sufficiency, chooses to bind Himself by covenant to a man and a people, knowing full well they will fail him.

What?

Knowing full well they will fail Him, God binds himself to a man and a people by covenant.  Binds Himself.  By covenant.  To a man who lies, laughs at the promise, and then connives with his wife to fulfill the promise on their terms.  God is still faithful.  God.  Binds Himself.  By covenant.  To a people who will break His heart, as he tells Moses in Deuteronomy, “will rise and whore after the foreign gods” (Deuteronomy 31:16)  Knowing all this He still chose them and bound Himself to them, and through them blessed all the nations of the earth.  Through this people, God shows His power, His love, His glory.  Through this people, God brings the family line of Jesus.

While WE were still far off and hostile to God, he chose US, Jesus died for us.  Betrayal tempts us to forsake community, but the way of the Kingdom is forgiveness and reconciliation.  To trust God is to embrace our need for others, for community, despite their obvious lack, because He is strong in our weaknesses.  God is not only strong in my weakness, but in my neighbor’s weakness.  Like our Lord, we are bound to His people.  We are members of one another.   For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. (Romans 12:4-5, ESV) In 1 Cornthians 1, when Paul talks about the Corinthians having no lack, he is talking about the community.  We as a community have everything we need.  To receive the fullness of the gifts God has for us, we must overcome the fear and pain of betrayal, and receive the gift of relationship.

 

There is hope for the lettuce

A couple weeks ago at church I shared what has become one of my favorite passages from the Bible.  “For there is hope for a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that its shoots will not cease; yet at the scent of water it will bud and put out branches like a young plant.”* I think in context that Job’s point is that he’d rather be a tree, but my point is that we are like that tree. At the scent of water, we will bud and put out branches.

It’s been a while since I made the first-fruits salad for the church picnic, and taking two classes in addition to my two jobs, my gardening (as well as housekeeping) strategy has been to walk by and feel guilty on my way somewhere else. After arguing with it all summer, the lettuce finally shot up flowers and went to seed, the tomatoes died with fruit on the vine, and the chard began to whither. My birthday came and put an end to all this with the tiny potted roses from my co-workers.

The roses started to die, so I set them in the window sill where they contracted tiny yellow bugs. I have a house rule against anything harboring bugs, so I took the blessed little gift and it’s yellow colony to the patio. One thing lead to another and suddenly I was adding the failed compost canister, previously banished for similar infractions, to the now-empty tomato bag-planter. I would post a picture, but my old coffee grounds had turned the color of baby poop (which has to be a good sign, right?) As I rummaged around I discovered that although my carrots had not grown long roots, the tomatoes’ roots extended out the bottom of the bag, coiled beneath their planter and empty neighboring planters, and the three wee chard had filled their interior with nutrient seeking webs.

The fallen lettuce, my greatest source of garden-induced guilt, have hidden from sight the most treasured secret of my winter garden: all manner of sprouting things, including 10 head of lettuce.

My friend Diane always says, “Water it and see what comes up.”

As I poke seeds into the November dirt, I think about how hard it will be to leave the Central Coast for school. Learning to surf and garden, this place has finally gotten into my heart, and it’s possible my roots have grown deeper than I realize. I’m a lot like that fallen lettuce, harboring a host of seedlings, but what and where and how my seedling dreams will grow is still mine to discover. Until then, I will have to see what grows this winter in the Central Coast.

*Job 14:7-9 ESV

Listening

If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame. Proverbs 18:13

I’m trying to recall something that was once very important to me…how to truly listen.

I found this quote on Pinterest yesterday:

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to respond.” Stephen Covey

Remind me, God, how to listen well.

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