Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Secret Super-Power

I savor the moment like dark chocolate slowly melting on my tongue. 


Mmmmmm…. Quiet… on the outside …I linger immersed in this silence which is followed by a startling discovery: 

And it's quiet on the inside too!  I can get used to this.  I think. I feel so… soooo…. The feeling is terribly unfamiliar it takes me some time to rake my brain before I find the right word:

Unrushed! That’s it.  I feel so unrushed.  The sensation is off-the-charts energizing, that I think I can paint the entire exterior of the house in an afternoon.

I can’t remember when was the last time I felt energized and for a brief moment I consider whether I should in fact pick up the paint and the brushes. But since brush rhymes with rush, I dismiss the idea.

I wish I could swim in this ocean of rest for the rest of my life.

God? Is this... You? I whisper lest I disturb the peace of the moment.

Suddenly I don’t care what happens with the yarn and the needles, the failures of my past and failures of my present swallowed up by a loom much bigger than either. As long as I can remain in this…peace-rest-unrush-Presence that both brings me to my knees and lifts me up at the same moment.

It’s in that very moment that our door bell rings and I jump startled so high, I almost hit the ceiling.

For thus the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, has said, In repentance and rest you will be saved, in quietness and trust is your strength. Isaiah 30:15

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Everybody Needs a Miracle

Surrounded by tangled, knotted, shreds of a mess of my own best-effort making,  I feel doubly dead.

Doubly-dead seems worse than once-dead. 

If I hadn’t given it such an all-out personal excellence endeavor I could have had a back door.  

Or at least a back window.  

Or a tiny crack between the window and the wall. 

But now I know without a shadow of a doubt what a pathetic failure I am with nothing left.  Nothing, that is, short of a miracle.

The thought of a miracle reminds me of that prayer, and something akin to shame pokes me in the ribs. 

God? I whisper.  Are You still there? I wait.  The room is full of silence.  I lower my voice I can hardly hear myself.  Jesus... Can You hear me?  I wait some more, the silence feels more articulate than the last night’s State of the Union address.  I proceed with extreme caution one word at a time.

If… You… hear… me…








I hesitate for a moment before I decide that’s all I need to say.  

The silence all around seems to have begun to seep inside me. This is very unusual because even when my mouth is not moving there is always some chattering going on inside my head.

Suddenly I realize that I have all the time in the world to wait for God’s help… because I had nowhere else to go. 

There is no timetable. 

No prescribed choreography for His appearance. 

No conditions and no demands.

For a control freak like me, this is extremely… weird.  But good kind of weird.   I am tempted to call it a miracle. 

Monday, January 27, 2014

Suicide by Knitting Needles

I give God a snowball chance in hell to respond to my rapid-fire ontological interrogation:

Are You there?

What are You doing ?

Don’t You care?

Is there any bloody mercy?

The-Ghost-of-Unmet-Expectations-of-the-Past-meets-the-Ghost-of-Unmet-Expectations-of-the-Present weighs on my shoulders like a supersized North Face backpack of an American college student touring Europe.  But I am not a college student touring Europe on cheap Euro-rail pass anymore and the weight is too much for my middle-aged sagging shoulders. I need something like an emergency alert reaction from God but even the woefully slow neighborhood Domino’s pizza delivery guy has better response time. I feel an irresistible urge to take things into my own hands and do something – anything - myself.

And do it immediately.  

I will not disappoint my daughter.  Never.  Ever.  Again.

Fueled by this noble determination I start with what I know.  

The books!  

I scour the dusty shelves of the local library and ferret our every knitting book published since Gutenberg invented the printing press.  I order all the instructional videos and DVDs and spend all my waking hours poring over them.

I feverishly surf the DIY blogs, websites, Facebook pages,  and review every last one YouTube video on the beginner knitting for dummies, idiots and the like.
I have recurring nightmares of giant knitted bunnies chasing me through the woods with knitting needles in their paws until I reach a barren rocky clearing and tumble headlong off the cliff. 

I am stabbed, poked, pierced with the knitting needles until I bleed.  The polyester thread has cut into my finger-flesh exposing my brittle bones. 

On the day when I almost strangle myself with the darn yarn,  I know that’s it. Its all over.  The end. 

Saturday, January 25, 2014

How to Jumpstart the Dead Battery

I tend to be quite content with my daily reading routine. Over the years I developed a system that works for me and most days I stick to it. But, every once in a while, (or more often than that!), I notice I am falling headlong into a rut. 

The fist indicator of this is that I think I already know what God is going to say (?!!). 

Suddenly all the fun is taken out of reading His written word, all the vital signs go flat and it's just dead words on a page that begin to sound something like 

Yada, yada, yada… 

When that happens, I know I am in trouble. 

Obviously, there is a heart issue with that kind of attitude which I need to first recognize and then acknowledge.  But sometimes, getting out of a rut can be as simple as reading God’s Word in a translation different from the one I am used to.  Reading familiar thoughts packaged in a radically different way can be quite refreshing and insightful.

So, the other day I decided to pick up a copy of The Word on The Street by Rob Lacey

Reading it was more than simply ‘refreshing’ and ‘insightful’.  It was…how shall I describe it?  Well, I am not even going to try. I think I’ll just let you decide for yourself.  

Here’s a small portion from one of my favorite books, 2 Corinthians. Apostle Paul is describing his recent missionary trip to some close friends:

You are like brothers and sisters, so you need to know the score. 
The West Turkey trip was a total nightmare!
Everything hit the fan;
our eyes flashed before our eyes;
we were comparing notes on our funeral services.
End product?
Well, what d’you do when your battery’s flat,
your tank’s empty,
 your engine’s splurging out gunge and
there’s still a mountain to drive up?
You phone God’s personal breakdown service.
You know he is the only one who can get you going again,
even if you’ve died
(he’s done it before!).
 He got us out of schtuck, and
 he’ll do it again –
‘cos you keep on nagging him to.
The end product is this:
loads of people are well happy ‘cos
God’s response record is top.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

When the Stitches Come Apart

I would like to learn to knit.  She responds calmly. NOT astrophysics, and not speaking Chinese – at least not yet.  I don’t want to learn to play oboe. However…

The little 'h' word brings a whiff of hope into my shattered world … before it’s shattered again:

However, she continues, I might be open to learning how to thole my way out of my mother’s antediluvian diversion tactics.  

She waits for the last sentence to work its coup de grace magic before she concludes:

The question is, are you going to help me or not?

It’s that nightmarish moment when your colossal failure of the past meets your colossal failure of the present.  
In this split-second instant all the unmet expectations of my parents crash into the sure-to-be-unmet expectations of my children.  And I realize I am doomed. I am an impossibly failing parent just as I was an impossibly failing child.  I watch in horror as my life unravels in both directions and there is no hope in sight.

The no-hope-in-sight place reminds me of something I tend to forget every day. 

And need to learn and relearn anew every single day.

God! Are You there? What are You doing to me? Don’t You care that my stitches are coming apart? I am unraveling from the front and from the back. Is there any bloody mercy here? 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Stop the Inevitable!

I respond the same way I always do when I feel like I am holding a dragon’s egg ready to hatch.  I employ every effort to stop the inevitable, which namely means, I engage in the lost art of negotiation.

Hmmm… knitting… I start again, this time slowly.  

That’s so... sooo… WONDERFUL! 

I pause strategically, allowing the word ‘wonderful’ to work its softening magic before I begin shredding. 

But… isn’t that a bit… impractical... and outdated?  Something old grannies with nothing better to do with their time do seated in a rocking chair, a crotchet blanket warming up their skinny legs…? 

I know I’ve gone way too far when I get to the ‘skinny leg’ part because her expression has shifted from calm patient determination into a thunderous scowl shooting lightenings in my direction.


The sour grapes methodology proven not just ineffective but quite counterproductive, I regress into diversion.  It used to work like charm when our kids were toddlers.

How about astrophysics?  So much to explore... Or speaking Chinese? You know the future belongs to the Chinese...they are brilliant! Or playing oboe? Or, if you are not up to the challenge, you could choose something easy, like learning a new word every single day! ‘Antediluvian’ for example, or ‘thole’.  Do you even know what ‘antediluvian’ means? I can help you use them in a sentence!  

I am actually getting excited now. I can’t stop myself.

Or, coding! How about coding? If you want to learn something new, why don’t you try coding? Don’t you want to create your own video games?!!!   

Bringing up video games into the argument impresses even me. 

I am convinced it’s the coup de grace to this ridiculous knitting notion.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Hatching a Dragon's Egg

I scramble for a way out.  I guess Learn Something New Every Day rule applies to all of us unless, of course, we are faced with something extremely unpleasant, or extremely difficult, or really extremely impossible.  Like learning Hungarian. Or learning to knit.

I know because I tried both. 

Long time ago.  In a kingdom far far away. And it didn't work.

I actually grew up under the roof of the Queen of All Things Domestic, including the Our Majesty of Knitting and the Royal Highness of Crocheting who could actually speak Hungarian! 

I know, it’s disgusting.  Just one of these would be enough to push a person over the edge. 

My very own mom taught the entire neighborhoods to knit.  She knitted socks and sweaters, scarves and hats, jackets and blankets. She could have clothed the entire Genghis Khan army from head to toe.  If you can dream it up, she can make it.  She tried teaching her offspring this dark Masonic skill, to no avail.  Eventually we've all resigned to the fact that the knitting gene hasn't been passed on and my mom’s glorious legacy will dwindle into moth-eaten oblivion because of the exceptional incompetence of her two left-handed daughters.

The science of genetics, though, is a funny thing.  Genes seem to have a mind of their own, showing up out of nowhere, skipping generations, disappearing and reappearing of their own random will. Making our lives difficult when we least expect it.

Apparently, my mom’s knitting gene has skipped a generation along with her cooking gene and her cleaning gene, and landed full force on my unsuspecting brood.

I look back at my child’s guileless face, feeling like I am holding a dragon egg ready to hatch.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Learn Something New Every Day

I want to learn to knit.  Announced my eleven year old, her big eyes glued on me with the determination of an old mule.

All these years I’ve been taking great pride in my Learn Something New Every Day motto.  Most of their young lives my children have heard me say the phrase, punctuating little and big surprises that pop up during homework, schoolwork, yard work, housework, reading, writing, music practice, you name it.

It’s a daily exercise of recapturing the wonder of living, the joy of discovery and a healthy dose of humility. I am a die-hard learner, sold-out on the process, age never a factor. There is always something new to unearth, something hidden to disclose. Life is a treasure hunt, and each day carries a promise of fresh findings, for the young and old alike. If mastery creeps up on you,  and you get stiff, and dogmatic and set in your ways, just switch a field and there awaits for you a whole new world to explore! It truly is a fail proof approach. 

There is absolutely no limit to this delightful journey….until, I guess, you reach your own personal absolute limit.

You want to learn to what?!!! I exclaim in horror.

I would like to learn to knit.  She repeats a bit confused by my deer-caught-in-headlights facial expression. 

You know, yarn and long needles, stitches and stuff.  She explains patiently, the mule gaze still on me.

You are serious about this?

Do I look like I am joking?

I guess not.


I desperately scramble for a way out, but I see none. 

Saturday, January 18, 2014

What's Your Seasoning?

I picked up my daughter's copy of Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein earlier this week.

It was during the time I was reflecting on my bread-baking fiasco and other life fiascoes that seem to happen on rather regular basis - some of our own and some of other people's making. Often resulting in a quite distasteful slop we feel we are forced to eat by spoonfulls.

Clearly, God's written word re-spoken to us by the Spirit of Christ gives us incomparable frame of reference, a text that brings God-sense into our often nonsensical world. A swooping panorama that speaks eloquently and with authority on everything concerning life and godliness.  But sometimes poets in all their quirkiness have a unique ability to lighten up our load, season our soup and bring smile to our faces.

Hope you enjoy the old classic as much as I did:

Sky Seasoning

A piece of sky
Broke off and fell
Through the crack in the ceiling
Right into my soup,
I really must state
That I usually hate
Lentil soup, but I ate
Every drop!
Delicious delicious
(A bit like plaster),
But so delicious, goodness sake--
I could have eaten a lentil-soup lake.
It's amazing the difference
A bit of sky can make.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Think Outside the Loaf - The Epilogue

Every day I am tempted to quit, leave the bread-baking to skilled professionals who regularly deliver with dependable results. I am tired of risk and comparison and being evaluated based on the quality of my performance. Countless bakeries provide tasties much better than anything I could ever offer. Part of me wants to retire to the safe world where I am the expert consumer, not the dilettante creator exposed to failure and condemnation of the relentless critics on the inside as well as on the outside.

Just as I am about to throw in the kitchen towel, a chorus of troubleshooters starts pelting me with their suggestions. I think they are brilliant!

How about if we make some French toast with it… add some extra salt…? It’s been a long time since you made French toast…

Yea! That’s a great idea.  Or we can make some salted butter garlic bread…

Or even Italian seasoned croutons…we have all this Romaine and we are way overdue on Caesar salad…

You guys need to stop. I laugh.  I don't think we have enough sea foam bread to make all of that!

Well, you can always make another epic failure loaf...

I sit back in my chair, sensing gratitude bubbling up from somewhere deep down.

As much as I might be tempted, I don’t think my family is going to allow quitting as a viable option.

Rising to overcome? 



Unequivocal no!

And I thank God for His grace and His marvelous creativity to scoop up all our epic fiascoes and with a little love and a little magic transform them into a feast for the mouth as well as for the heart.

It’s a wonder God didn’t lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us. Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us. He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ. He did all this on his own, with no help from us! Then he picked us up and set us down in highest heaven in company with Jesus, our Messiah. Ephesians 2:4-6

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Bread of Life

The piece of warmed up sea foam, the glob of plaster still in my mouth, I reflect on the eloquent message the now soggy bit of French bread  speaks to the rest of my life.

The little details I leave out as I rush through my distracted days.

Those pesky hows as I am busying myself with the seemingly important whats.

The shreds of love that get slaughtered under the dagger of truth.

The voice of truth that gets suffocated under the blanket of ‘love’.

When mercy is severed from justice, and justice from mercy.

My tendency to skim over the ‘recipe’, since I already know what it says...

When the Bread of Life came down, when the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, His presence among us was like no other.  

The One and only, who came from the Father…

The Bread and the Baker...

Full of grace and truth.

Full of grace.

Full of truth. 

Nothing was sacrificed.  Nothing skimmed over and skipped in the rush to 'get things done'. The Whats and the Hows. The Mercies and the Justice. .

The full cup of love.  The full measure of truth.

The Word written… the Word spoken was – is – the Word lived out. In its fullness. 

And the taste?… 

Mmm... oh, so good!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Tiny Detail Big Difference

Even before the bread came out of the oven, the house was filled with familiar mouth-watering smell of heavenly yumminess. When the slender loaves popped onto the kitchen counter, they were absolutely gorgeous. Beautifully shaped with maidenly blush along their gently rounded tops.

Before we could dig in, we had to wait for the results of our usual crust-crunchiness test, monitored by the only musician in the family. He gave his thumbs up to an already drooling crew. We were bowl-full of expectations that the taste would if not exceed, at least meet the excellence standard of all the other measurements.

We all got our first bite around the same time.

In an instant, all the crunch-crunching of the crust was stopped. And there was deafly silence.

We looked at each other, unsure how to respond… somewhat like the stunned crowd in the Emperor’s New Clothes. 
It’s… it’s so… so… bland.  

The first polite comment opened up the dam and picturesque realty flowed in.

Bleuh! This taste like warmed-up sea foam sponge!

Or baked chalk and plaster…

I never tasted warmed up sea foam sponge and never had baked chalk and plaster. But, the piece of my mouth... I roll it around, waiting for some magical improvement. But, there is no magic and no improvement.  I am so confused.  How could something that smells so good, and looks so good, and sounds so good taste so awful?!!!

Salt! No salt at all.   You left the salt out.      

It was just a tiny teaspoon of salt… I mutter. A negligible smudge on the page I swiftly ignored. … Who would have guessed that it could make such a big difference?

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Genesis of the Epic Fail

I am at a point where it is becoming increasingly clear to me that the whole thing isn’t  rocket science.  I have a simple, easy to follow recipe with just a handful of ingredients that yield apparently predictable results. Only an idiot could mess up…

So, how did you manage Mom? How did you manage this epic fail with just three ingredients?

I ask myself the same question.

How DID I manage?!!!

I know it’s not an excuse but I realize now that there were tiny red flags waving at the back of my mind at each step.  I could have stopped.  I could have evaluated.

But as they say, hindsight is 20/20. And now I get to see what I didn’t see back then.

There was rush.  It didn’t dawn on me until early in the afternoon that we were out of bread and I have just enough time to squeeze a batch so it’s ready for dinner. I knew that the timing was tight yet not impossible. But, I am a die-hard optimist.

There were interruptions.  The door bell rang just as I mixed the first couple of ingredients and then it rang again about ten minutes later. Interruptions are a way of life. We may avoid some but there will always be interruptions. I thought one little interruption won't make a big difference.    

My interruptions led to distractions. One conversation led to another which led to a really quick rabbit trail to the South Pole.

If there was any time to spare, it evaporated and the rush on the outside seeped into rush on the inside. 

Then, there was a swift glance at the splattered recipe page and even swifter dismissal. 

I already know it.  I’ve done this a million times. I don’t have time to read it - I've practically memorized it! I don’t need to double-check the recipe every single time to bake stupid bread! 

Apparently, I didn't memorize it as well as  I'd thought I had.

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Making of a Fiasco

This is the WORST  thing you’ve EVER made!

I admit I have a long rich history of culinary fiascoes of every kind, but I had to agree with the harsh pronouncement of my gastronomic connoisseurs.

It’s been over a year now since I started learning to bake bread.  During that year our family consumed with more or less grace (or grumbling) about a ton of misshapen loaves each reaching a different degree on the edibility scale.  General consensus has been that overall I am slowly improving. 

I know I am improving. I troubleshoot my failures and with each batch, I learn something new.  

Eventually the elusive crunchy on the outside, soft and fluffy on the inside texture became a part not only of our table conversation but also consumption.  When words like Panera and Truckee Sourdough started being used in the same sentence with the homemade slices dripping with butter in our hands I begun daydreaming of a new career path beckoning me into a bright shiny future.

With my surprising success I sense that I am more comfortable, more at ease with the whole process.

Take mess for example.  It's what got me hooked to the bread-making in the first place, nutrition being just a side benefit. Sticky mess is my personal specialty. 

Sticking to the recipe is a  bit different story.  But with time I actually acquired taste for it, and  learned that even I can stick to a recipe like splatter of batter to a page. The recipe box has become my new best friend.

I also noticed that my confidence begun to rise along with the dough inside the bowl.  Here's one area - tiny as it may be - of my life where I am finally experiencing consistent, predictable success. No one can't beat that!

Saturday, January 11, 2014

What's for Breakfast?

For two long days now I've been sagging under a weight of some words.  Seemingly innocent, somewhat truthful words that sat heavy on my shoulders. I tried to shake them off.  I tried to analyze, rationalize and downsize their effect on me.


I prayed and journaled and prayed some more.

Their grip only seemed to squeeze tighter around my neck.

This morning, as I listened to my children prepare breakfast, I pick up Eugene Peterson’s Eat This Book.  With food preparation well on the way, I found it quite appropriate

What I found there on page 10, I share here with you:

“Words spoken or written to us under the metaphor of eating, words to be freely taken in, tasted, chewed, savored, swallowed, and digested, have a very different effect on us from those that come at us from the outside, whether in the form of propaganda or information. 

Propaganda works another person’s will upon us, attempting to manipulate us to an action or a belief. Insofar as we are moved by it, we become less, the puppet of a puppeteer writer/speaker. There is no dignity, no soul, in a puppet.

And information reduces words to the condition of commodities that we can use however we will. Words are removed from their originating context in the moral universe and from personal relationships so that they can be used as tools or weapons. Such commodification of language reduces both those who speak it and those who listen to it also to commodities.”

Wow, I say to myself, rubbing my neck, the propaganda/commodity chain of words finally off.   And I thank God that no matter what anyone  might say, His word to us is never propaganda reducing us to a puppet. And never tools to manipulate or weapons to force His will on us.

His Word is the food not forced down our throats but freely taken in and tasted, chewed and savored, swallowed and digested  by those who know and love Him.

And it that gives life to our spirit, soul and body.

It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. John 6:63

Friday, January 10, 2014

The Icing and the Cake

I put away most of our Christmas decorations yesterday.  The artificial greenery. Fake snow. Shiny ornaments.  Glistening angels.

The house is stripped down to bare essentials.  Well, there is definitely more – a lot more - than bare essentials, but we have gained some space and lost some clutter.

It actually feels good to have room to breathe.

I hold a beautiful ornament and admire its intricacy and design.  There is a time and a place for its presence in my life. But I realize that I don’t want my life to be just about nice pretties. That there is so much more to life than nice pretties.

Joy and happiness, peace and comfort are fierce contenders for the top of my priority list. Sometimes, I pigeon-hole the life’s entirety into their narrow confines. But, when I step back I realize that God’s design includes but doesn’t revolve around these.

They are the icing on the cake, but not the cake itself.

The cake asks for the bowl and the beater. The timer and the heat.

The making of the cake includes some unglamorous, boring ingredients – like flour and oil, water and eggs, baking soda and salt. Vanilla extract and sugar.  

The making of life is not much different. It takes patience and kindness.

Faithfulness and respect.

Forgiveness and hope.

Love and grace.

The words of truth.

The Spirit of God.

The Master Cook Himself in our midst.

And the icing?

Sure! Lather it on!

But, it’s all of it together, timed and measured, mixed and balanced that goes into the making of a great cake.

Now bring in the fork!

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Conjoined Twins

I wasn’t expecting that.

I wasn’t expecting to find sorrow and joy so intimately intertwined.  Conjoined twins so to speak. But, it was reassuring to see it put in such a hopeful way - that sorrow is not an end in itself.  It’s a preparation for something… something better.  There is, there will be an end to it.

I also never realized to this extent how instrumental experiences of grief and suffering are to our experiences of joy.  I didn’t really understand that without sorrow our capacity for joy either stagnates or is diminished. As long as we are on this earth and in this body, perpetual happiness - joy upon joy upon joy - actually causes our internal joy-processing organ to atrophy. In this world, sorrow helps our heart grow so it can embrace even more joy - not just quantitatively but also different kinds of joy.

I know this is a very old truth.

James says,

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials… James 1:2

But, I argue with it because I hate being in pain.  

I dread watching those I care for hurt. 

I super-dislike what seems to me as meaningless suffering.  

Sometimes I catch myself hard at work, trying to eliminate, sanitize, scrub out of my own and my loved ones’ lives all sorrow.  Futile attempt, of course, nevertheless one I gravitate towards whenever I encounter any kind of affliction.

Given that suffering in this life is unavoidable I need a new set of lenses to view it when it comes my way.

I am not necessarily going to enjoy it… better choice of word would be endure, but I can endure it without resentment, in confident hope that it is doing its important job of preparing me for and enlarging my capacity for future joy.

... fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:2

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Who Wants More Joy?

Most would agree that we all want, maybe even need, more joy in our lives.  No surprise then that the peddlers of joy abound, as do the suckers like the yours truly who fall for their slick marketing and the promise of an easy kill. 

Part of me feels I should know better. That fullness of joy is a bonus, a side-benefit of our relationship with Christ, and should not be pursued as an end in itself. That there is a vast difference between genuine joy and a cheap knock-off.  That separated from the relationship, our desire for joy easily corrupts into joy-lust...

Being the cerebral type that I am, when something baffles me, I go to my library.  Since English is my second language, I have tomes of dictionaries of all kinds. And it’s never too much trouble to get up and look up words, even the familiar ones (not everybody in our household shares this opinion!).  

The other day, as I was chewing on this joy-conundrum, I got the Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words off the shelf and looked up  JOY.

We just came off a joyful season of celebrating  the birth of Christ.  There were undeniable moments of joy. There was the passing store-bought happiness But, now we are in frigid January, and all joy seems frozen in the past  and what is left behind is a lingering question begging for an answer:

Is there…anything else… Is there something… more? Something  that I am missing?

I. read the dictionary description and the meaning, scan over the references. And then, tucked in a note under the third definition I stumble upon the following sentence:

Experiences of sorrow prepare for, and enlarge, the capacity for joy.

I zoom back to the beginning of the sentence and read it again, this time slowly:                                                             
Experiences of sorrow…

Prepare us for…and...

Enlarge our…

Capacity for Joy.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Better Artist

As much as I try to put my own brushstrokes on the canvas of my life… as insistent as I may be to choose my own key for the melody… more often than not I find I am on the dance floor with the music I didn’t expect… handed down a brush dripping with paint not of my own choosing.

Every day, people and circumstances of my life bring an element of surprise which in some way challenge what I think I know.  They call me to go deeper. They force me to step back and evaluate. Realign. And, then, realign again. And again.

This realignment (some call it ‘repentance’) doesn’t happen in the vacuum. For I have the vast solid frame of the written Word of God to keep consistent structure. Psalms and Proverbs. Gospels and Letters. Moses and Daniel. James and Paul. But, even as I find stability in the familiar words, I must watch so they don’t become mechanical…. so I don’t turn them into monuments, or even worse, mallets to hammer people around me with their absolute truth.

Every day I am aware of my desperate need for the Spirit of God to breathe afresh off those pages and fill me from within, satisfying the depths and bubbling up to overflowing with His life.

This brings a truth into focus that is both utterly terrifying and most delightful. For I realize that my life is not a canvas I own on which I finger-paint my own scrawny stick figures.  My life is a canvas that belongs to Him.  This canvas of moments and days, places and people, gifts and abilities, epic failures and blunders - it's all His along with everything else. His paint, His brushes, His image.  

And knowing that He is indisputably superior Artist to any one of us, we can trust that whatever masterpiece He is working on in our lives - messy as it may appear at the moment - it will be awesome in the end. 

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. Ephesians 2:10

Saturday, January 04, 2014

Security in Uncertainty

I peek into 2014 from the doorstep of its Day Four.  Which, I can’t help but think, is Day 369 of 2013.  I bring Content into this new year.  For better or for worse, I gift 2014 with the sum total of all the moments and days of the decades of my life leading up to this 'Now'.

I don't want to forget the past.  But, I don't want the past to hold me back from what God wants to do in my life in the future.

Part of me feels at a lost. 

Like an artist with a brush in front of a white canvas.  

Like a writer with a pen and a blank page.  

Like a gardener with a wide-open landscape waiting to be parceled out and planted.

Like a composer looking at the lines laid out for him, unmarked by notes and rests. Undetermined key. Trying to listen in to the music only he can hear, capturing the melody one note at a time.

I don’t really know where I am going from here.  I don’t know what I am getting myself into.

And the path isn’t clear.

There is uncertainty in the walk of faith. If it was completely certain, it wouldn't be faith. The lack of clarity reveals my need to lean in and listen - daily, sometimes moment by moment, to what the inaudible Voice, what the Word of God is speaking to me today. This might be my life, but I recognize I am not fully in charge - nor do I want to be - of either the canvas or the brush. The pen and the page.

There was a time when Thomas, the doubting disciple felt the same:

Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?  John 14:5

...Lord, we are kind of lost here. We have no clue either where You are taking us nor which way You are going to take us...

Jesus’ response to him is,

You already know the way, Thomas.  For I AM the Way.  I AM the Truth.  I AM the Life. John 14:6

There is security in this uncertainty.  For I do know who the Bookends is.  The Alfa. And the Omega. The Beginning and the End.

And, before and after all, that is all that matters.

This is eternal life, that they may know You the only true God and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.  John 17:3

Friday, January 03, 2014

The Tricky Business of New Year's Resolutions

We made the discovery that our capacity for joy had already reached its puny limit exactly 30 minutes too late.  About the same time when the ‘grand finale’ fireworks fizzled out and  approximately three billion other ‘pure-joy’ seekers were forced to leave the park all at the same time.

We spent the first hour and a half of 2014. next to the Cat in the Hat Row 606 sign on the top floor of the Universal Studios parking lot stuck in an epic traffic jam with the rest of our pooped-out new friends and their feral children and grandchildren. Together, we all had ample opportunity to grind our teeth along with the car gears and meditate on the fickleness of all human joy.

Our nosedive into the New Year had one side benefit though.  It clearly showed us the futility of all our human efforts to ‘make it good’ in any lasting way. Now that that burden was off our shoulders, we felt strangely light and feathery.

Suddenly it begun to dawn on me that we might finally be able to beat the system.

We can forgo making those oh-so-sweet-and-wonderfully-sounding New Year’s resolutions which will cackle in our faces by the end of January (if we are really really lucky or really stubborn); those innocent and harmless-looking sneaky little tripsters that stab you in the back on the morning of January 4th, just as you are getting out of bed.

I thank God for the New Year’s nosedive and the epic early-morning fiasco for it helps me realize I can finally make a resolution that I know I will be able to keep.

I resolve NOT to resolve.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Pure Joy

Our timing was impeccable.  Or so we thought.

There were compulsory naps that afternoon to ensure maximum endurance for the late night ahead. We arrived at the park shortly after 8 PM and immediately located Hogwarts on the map. Why waste time on anything else?

We made our way to the back, the closer we got the harder it became to keep up with the kids. And then, we were there!

There was Hogwarts Express to the right. And Hogsmead. Ollivander Wand Shop. Everywhere we looked, there was something or someone we recognized.  So much to take in. Absorb. Touch and examine.

Our resident Harry Potter expert suddenly stops, spins around the middle of the Diagon Alley, hands outstretched, head tossed back, announcing both to no one in particular and to the entire world:

 This… this is… pure joy!

I look at her, and can’t agree more.  In that moment, she, herself, is the embodiment of pure joy.

We all savor the moment… a tiny glimpse, a shadow, a mouthful of what heaven is going to feel like when we finally, finally walk through its gates. For real. Stammering wonder-struck into this incredible world that is being prepared for us All the battles with Voldemort and Death Eaters behind us. All the mysteries unfolded. All the loves purified. All the fears and tears erased forever.

We marinate in this foretaste-joy for the next couple of hours. Total of about 120 minutes. And then we realize our capacity for enjoyment has reached its limit. 

Alas, this discovery was made about 30 minutes too late. 

Don’t let this throw you. You trust God, don’t you? Trust me. There is plenty of room for you in my Father’s home. If that weren’t so, would I have told you that I’m on my way to get a room ready for you? And if I’m on my way to get your room ready, I’ll come back and get you so you can live where I live.  John 14:1-4

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

The Making of a Surprise

The surprise was years in the making. It all started long before our children were even born.

I was the first one to get hooked.  Then, several years later, when our son was in fourth grade, he followed in my footsteps. He didn’t just read the books.  He inhaled them.

Not being the one to lag behind her older brother, our daughter trailed right on his heel.  The first time around, she devoured the books one after another.  Then, she did it again and again and again.  She blazed through the entire series four times.  Memorized lines and chapters. Identified with various characters at various seasons. Passionately debated obscure details of the story line with anyone who would pause long enough to listen.  She became our in-house expert par excellence on all things Harry Potter. Our family conversations suddenly included James and Lilly, Dumbledore and the Dursleys as if we shared some long-forgotten blood line. 

Then the movies came out, and the wizarding world became all the more real.  When we heard that the local theme park was building Hogwarts in our back yard, we knew that from then on, it was all simply a matter of timing.

One day… some day… we will go there…

Of course, to our kids it felt like eternity… waiting, hearing the thrilling reports of the eyewitnesses, fortunate enough to go there and experience the magic first-hand.

Describing the taste of frozen butterbeer…

Explaining the moving portraits in Gryffindor common room…

The thrill of being called by Ollivander and chosen by the wand…

For everyone knows that the wand chooses the wizard, not the other way around

In the course of time, the doubts crept into their hearts that they would ever live to see it with their own eyes, touch it with their own hands, set their own feet on the pavement of Diagon Alley… Other people may be lucky enough…

It’s not as if the written words weren’t magical enough… as if it wasn’t more than enough to simply be immersed in the magic of the J.K. Rowling’s universe within your own imagination, recognizing the connections, sharing them joyously with friends and family, neighbors and strangers-turned-friends by the common passion…

But, being immersed into it with your entire being… heart and mind, hands and feet… touching it with your fingers… for real… ? It just seemed too too  much to ask… way waaaay beyond their reach...

Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard,
And which have not entered the heart of man,
All that God has prepared for those who love Him. I Corinthians 2:9