Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Looking for Spring

My daffodils covered with snow -- mid-storm.
I wasn’t – am not – so convinced, even though I do know better.

Two days after the official arrival of Spring per the calendar, blowing snow and frigid temperatures dropped in for a visit.
And stayed.
That was one week ago, yesterday.  This morning the thermometer still read in the low twenties when I woke up.  It’s been like that all week.
Technically Spring. Visually Winter.
The 8 + inches of snow that fell during the snowstorm has hardly melted at all. Things appear to be a standstill. The daffodils out my front door are fighting it out with Winter. The trees are nurturing their buds still within their branches.  The first birds of Spring who arrived two weeks ago, are now cocking their heads in confusion, as they flock together, wondering if they miscalculated their flight plans.  
Winter, with its cold claws around Spring, seems to be trying to hold back all things Spring. Rather bold. Rather disappointing. Rather annoying.
I’m asking the Lord to remind me that despite outward appearances, He’s always at work. I’m trusting that Spring will come.  It has year after year, eventually.
So it is with life at times.  Things aren’t always clear. It can get confusing. Maybe even annoying and disappointing. Or more.
I have lots of questions, and I’m asking them – not so much about the weather, but more about Him and about me.   
And I’m also asking the Lord to help me understand and to help me grow. 
These are times to trust. Times to remember what the Lord has done before. Times to believe, not always what we see, but Whom we know.
Like my little daffodils, I’ll persevere and continue to believe --  looking for Spring.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Wondering How You Can Help? Check this Out -- Women At Risk International

A message came in to my inbox from Brenna. Would I be interested in sharing more about their organization Women At Risk International? If so, she would send me more information by mail.
The timing was interesting.  I just finished two books Half the Sky and Global Soccer Mom, and God was growing my passion to help women and children oppressed and at risk around the world.
Brenna didn’t know what was going on inside my heart. Only God did.
I’m not sure where my journey of learning and loving those I do not (yet) know will take me.  Only God does.
A package arrived with facts and stories about WAR International and the women they are serving worldwide. Enclosed with the brochures was also a small, delicate tear drop pearl pendant – a “Pendant of Hope” – representing the tears shed for the suffering women at risk and WAR Internationals commitment to give voice to their silenced cries, while empowering them to walk with dignity as they were created to.
The little note attached read, “For centuries the peal has symbolized unblemished perfection and has been considered the most valuable.  The Latin word for pearl means ‘unique.’  Women At Risk International gives women a safe haven to turn their stories of risk into unique stories of hope like the pearls of great price and deep beauty.”
The creating of this pearl pendant is just one of the ministries that WAR International is involved in. An abandoned woman, whose husband left her and her two children, ran a pearl shop in Thailand.  WAR International partnered with her and sells her jewelry in the United States .  Her business expanded and she now hires more women – women at risk – to work in her shop.  Through the involvement of WAR International, is able to help women grow and become strong, safe and independent in their trade, helping them to not fall prey to sex-trafficking.  They are able to work with dignity.
The stories, sadly, are abundant worldwide of abuse, oppression, sex-trafficking, honor killings, children orphaned, female genital mutilation, and more.  But there is hope.  WAR International is one of the many organizations that is coming along side of the women of the world (both across the world and next door in our communities) and making a difference. 
From selling of the crafts that women make, to rescuing them from oppression and teaching and training them, to scholarships for education and micro-loans, WAR International is involved on the ground level, helping to change lives in the name of Christ.
And we can be involved, too.  I want to encourage you click here and review the Women At Risk International web-site .  You will find stories of women whose lives have been changed and opportunities you can be involved in  from hosting a jewelry party featuring the items crafted by hand worldwide, to going on a mission trip or having a prayer circle in your home.
Can we really make a difference? I think we can. I'm wearing the pendant. It reminds me to pray for women worldwide. I'm also asking the Lord to continue to show me how I can be involved in His work. Only He knows.

Friday, March 18, 2011

A Refining Silence?

“Who has God been to you this week?”
That was the question the teacher asked at our Women’s Bible Study this week.
I gazed down at the long list of Names and Attributes of God printed out on the paper that she shared with us.
·         He is my Hope (Psalm 71:5)
·         He is my Restorer (Psalm 23:3)
·         He is my Stronghold in the day of trouble (Nahum 1:7)
·         He is my Refuge from the storm (2 Samuel 22:3)
·         He is my Shade from the heat (Isaiah 25:4)
·         He is my Refiner (Malachi 3:2-3)
In my mind the font seemed to change, the words grew bold, and the size increased by 20 points.
Why "Refiner"?
I wouldn’t have necessarily chosen it off the top of my head.  I knew Him to be the others (and so much more) but as I straightened up and froze, I thought, “Refiner? Could that be what He is doing now?”
As I shared in my last post, with the exception of the conversation that we had in the kitchen a few days ago, the Lord has been terribly silent to me over the past few weeks.   
I’m trying to read His Word and seek Him in prayer. I find myself pitched forward, listening and looking for what He is saying and for His direction – but nothing. Am I not hearing or is He intentionally being quiet for a reason?
I have felt His refining hand through trials and heartache, but could this be His refining?  Is it a refining silence?
Is He speaking to my heart in a new way?
Is He saying:
Will you trust me even when I am quiet?
Do you believe I care about you, even when you cannot feel me?
Do you believe I love you even when you cannot see me?
Do you believe that I am here?
Do you believe?
Do you?
A refining silence?  Maybe this is it.  I am trying to trust Him in the process, knowing that He knows best and knows what needs to be refined in me.  I believe that He loves me enough to shape me and mold me, in His perfect way. Perhaps a "refining silence" it is.
How about you, dear reader? Have you ever experienced a refining silence?
Who is God to you this week?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Pondering -- for WHOM do I do what I do?

I’ll be straightforward and honest with you – I’ve been struggling. I’ve been wrestling it out with myself and God, wondering if this whole writing and teaching thing are really for me.  And even though my friends (well, some of my friends) and seasoned writers are encouraging me to persevere, I just can’t seem to shake it.
And to top it all off -- God seems to be terribly silent of late … until, yesterday.  When, for a brief moment, He caught my attention.
At a most unexpected time, in a most unexpected way, I heard His familiar whisper in the center of my soul. 
“Andrea, I see you that you hung a new picture on the wall.”
“Yes, I did, Lord.  Lily painted it! I love it and I just had to put it in this special place.”
“Tell me about it, dear.”
“Well,” I said in my head with delight, “I watched her from across the room. I saw her get on her over sized art smock and prepare her paints, squirting them out on her palette and mixing them together.  I watched her as she took the plain white canvas and began to create with freedom and joy. I saw her sketch out what she envisioned in her mind, thoughtfully and intentionally. I admired the way she smiled as she cocked her head back and forth and I loved watching her delicate hands grip the paint brush, as little by little she laid down color next to color, forming the pretty picture of the Easter egg.”
“And then what happened?”
“Then she gave it to me, Lord. She said, “Here Mommy, I painted it for you! I hope you like it!”  I wrapped my arms around her and hugged her and hung it in a place where I can see it all the time – in my kitchen – because it brings me joy and it is a representation of her love.”
“I see,” said the Lord. “Are you disappointed in it?”
“Why, of course not, Lord. She made it and I love her.”
“Are you sad that it is not in the Louvre?”
“Well, no Lord. I like it right here. It does not matter to me whether it is in a museum or not. It came from her heart and it is beautiful in my eyes.”
“My  dear child, Andrea.  This is how I feel about you and how I look at what you do for me.   I know that you are concerned about your writing and teaching, what I may be doing in it and through it and what I may not. I know you are concerned about what you should do next, where you should submit, and how you should write differently.  Indeed, you are concerned about the what, the where and the how of your writing, and I understand that, but – listen carefully -- for Whom do you do what you do?”
“You see, Andrea, I think what you write is beautiful. I watch you when you write.  I see how it brings you joy to take a blank piece of paper and color it with words and phrases. It pleases Me when you take My truths and write them.  It doesn’t matter to Me whether they are in a book, in a magazine, on your blog, or read by your Facebook friends. It really doesn’t matter to Me how many followers you have or how many hits are on your site – all of which I do control, by the way.
What matters to Me is you and that you are writing out of your love for me – for I love you very much.
What you do for Me is special. You placed your daughter’s painting on the wall; I place what you write close to My heart. If and what others say is not what is important.  It  does not give what you write value. What you do for Me is valuable  – what matters is that you do it for Me. I will take care of the rest. I know the what and the where and the how."
“Yes, Lord. You have my attention. I’m listening and I’m trying,” I replied, humble and thankful for our conversation, ”For Whom do I do what I do?  I do it for You.”
Dear Lord, I know I am prone to forgetting. It is not that I don’t try to write for you, it’s just that I tend to base my value or the value of what I do on what others say. I know it is not true. Please help me to let go of what others think, and only focus on you. I trust you to do with it what you desire.  Help me to have the courage to continue. Thank you for breaking in to my day and loving me enough to show me your tender care.  Amen.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Gossip Good? Oh! Please! -- I Don't Think So!

“Listen to this,” I said to my teenage daughter, as we sat waiting in the doctor’s office, as I read to her from a magazine article on gossip.
 ‘It’s a way to navigate our social networks … we also gossip to let others know who we are.  Say you pass on a juicy nugget about a neighbor’s infidelity.  Offering your opinion about it lets you show off your own moral fiber. In return, you find out whether the person you’re dishing with agrees with you. As you tsk-tsk together over the details, what you’re really doing is saying ‘We’re better than that,’ says Dr. Fisher.  “You’re reaffirming and sharing your own values.”  (Rebook. Feb 2011.  “Have You Heard? Admit it, you love a good piece of gossip.  Here’s why it’s not as bad a habit as you may think” pg 24).
Oh, please!  Gossip is good? I wanted to throw up.  Were they serious?  That article made me mad – and deeply sad.
Then I had a flashback of a memory. 
Several years ago, I received a phone call from a friend of mine.  It was during a very challenging and pain splattered time for our family.
“Andrea, this is hard for me to tell you, but I think you need to know.  This afternoon I was having lunch with two other friends. While we were sitting at the table, we heard two women at the table next to us talking about you and your family.”
My friend went on to share with me the very hurtful details that these two other women were saying about my children, about me and about my husband -- details which I’d rather not even repeat here.
I listened, speechless, my heart splayed out on a platter. 
“Well, Andrea, we were quite upset by what they were saying about you, and so we stood up and approached them at their table. We said, ‘We just want you to know that we know that family and you have no right to talk about them in that way.’  The 2 women just stared at us and we sat down.  We left shortly after that, very upset, but had to return to get a coat that we forgot. When we went back in, we took advantage of one more opportunity and said to the women, ‘Let this be a lesson to all of us. We should not talk about other people.’”
I thanked my friend for her call. I appreciated her honesty and her willingness to share with me when I knew it was hard for her to do. She knew it would hurt me, but that it was important that I know.
Gossip. Despite the author’s opinions from Redbook, I would disagree. Does gossip really show off our own moral fiber, revealing what we believe (in a positive light)? And as you put someone else down, are you really reaffirming and sharing your own values?
Well, I suppose it does show off our moral fiber—it shows that our moral fiber is frayed and dirty.   It shows that we are a superficial people who are bent towards self, easily tempted to put others down and elevate ourselves.  It says that we do not honor the value of others.  Gossip destroys.
Gossip is NOT good.
I was hurt by the gossip, but it did teach me a lesson.  I’m not perfect at it, but when tempted to gossip, I remember the pain that I felt when I heard what these women were saying about me and my family in public and I remember what the Lord says, “Love one another.”   
I am thankful for my friends who stood up for me. I know it cost them something. They were brave. They loved me. And I'm also thankful for an opportunity to talk to my teenage daughter about the destruction of gossip. It was good for us to look at the article and discern what is truth and what is a lie, and it was good to be able to share with her a story from my life.How about you?

Have you ever overheard gossip about yourself? Have you ever been told that someone is gossiping about you? How did it make you feel?  How did it change how you behave?

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Making and Naming of a Waterfall

When we were in Costa Rica we hiked up in to the rain forest.
Along the way, we witnessed incredible beauty.  Tall, strong, green trees and delicate ferns, flowers of every color and fruits hanging from vines and sprouting from branches surrounded us circumferentially.
It was lush and moist and green – and it was alive. And then ...
... we entered a place of desolation.  Unexpectedly, we came around the corner and stepped out of the beauty of life and onto a path – that was not really a path at all -- over rocks and dried out dirt.
Three months prior, during a very rainy and stormy time, a mudslide powered down the mountain.  Rocks and debris, slipping from the mountainside,  tore through the forest, plowing over and through trees, flowers, and plants – destroying the beauty.
The contrast was obvious.
“Do you see that waterfall?” the guide said, as she pointed to a small stream of water, in the distance, that flowed over the cliff. 
“It was not there before the mudslide.  The storm and the damage created a new waterfall for us.  We would not have had it if not for this mudslide. It once was an underground spring, now it is a waterfall.”
Hmmm …. the damage created a new waterfall for us.  I love waterfalls.
Mudslides occur in our lives, too, at times.   Rainy seasons and stormy seasons result in the ground underneath us slipping away and we find that a vein of destruction tears itself through our otherwise green, living life.  The boulders, rocks and dirt of uncertainty, fear, and sorrow are scattered on the hillside of our lives.  Little sign of what once was remains, and what does remain seems to be knocked over, tangled and ugly.
But if we look carefully, in time, we just may see something new, like the new waterfall that was created as the mountainside exposed a spring.  Now, instead of the water running deep within the mountain, it flowed down the side, bringing refreshment and life -- and a new sort of beauty.
So, too, the Lord creates new streams and new waterfalls in our lives. It is hard to see – or even believe –  but if we look, we see what God has done.
 A new waterfall. A new stream. A new opportunity. A new source of refreshment. A new provision for life. A new strength. A new dream. A new kind of trust.
“You’ll have to name this waterfall, just the like the others,” I said to the guide, smiling, as I thought of the some of my mudslides and began to see more clearly some of the waterfalls that resulted.
What would I name them? I’m not sure, yet -- maybe “He Makes All Things New, ” or “The Value of Learning to Wait,” or “A Spring of Strength”
What about you? Can you see the waterfall of life that God has brought or is bringing out of a time of trial?  What would you name it?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A Sneaky Chunk of Cheese

 (((( tee -- hee ))))
My status on Facebook yesterday read like this …
“Found a box of Velveeta in the back drawer of our fridge with an expiration date of August 2005.  Seriously … what have I been doing?”
This sneaky little piece of cheese keeps on coming to mind, as the comments role in.  I think that most of us can relate.  We discover expired things, at unexpected moments in time, tucked deep in the recesses of our cabinets and fridges, to then be almost archaeologically dug out and ... 
It’s funny, really.  At least it is to me, and some of my FB friends, as they wrote:
·         It’s probably still good!
·         That’s some old cheese!
·         That’s nothing. In our past 3 moves, I packed and moved expired can/box goods to 2 different homes.  Fortunately, I have thrown them away in prep for our next move. J
·         Aged cheese is supposed to be good, right?
·         Hee – hee! We ate tilapia last night (out of the freezer) that was dated July 2009!  What they didn’t know didn’t hurt ‘em!
·         Don’t be so hard on yourself – it’s not like you fed it to anyone … right? J
·         I’m not sure why, but hearing this from you relaxes my shoulders a bit. J
The thing is – believe it or not, I actually do clean out my fridge. I tend to be organized (yet, easily distracted), and although not a full blown germaphobe, I do keep an eye on molds accumulating and half-and-half creams congealing. I don’t like old yogurt, soft potatoes, dried out tortillas or bruised apples. 
But somehow this sneaky chunk of cheese got past me.  As I reflect back, I do recall noticing it in its undisturbed box at the back of my cheese drawer. I think I just kept on thinking, “Oh, I’m sure it’s fine. Someday, I’ll use it for a dip.”
But, I never did. I knew it was there, it appears that I just I avoided it.  After all, it looked okay from the outside. I guess.
Well, nearly 6 years later, with an expiration day of August 2005, this chunk of cheese has got me thinking, not just about the possibility of other things lurking in the dark corners of my fridge (I’ll work on that), but some of the things that I am sure are lurking in the out of the way places of – me.
 I know they’re there. I just choose to avoid them. It’s not that their bad, it’s just that they’re past their expiration date. I can’t use them anymore – don’t need them anymore.  I’m sure there are some chunks of “this” and chunks of “that” which I can --  well, chuck.
In addition, I am smiling at the fact that God does not stamp an expiration date on His grace.  It’s not hidden away for us to find, but right out in front where we can see it, taste it, feel it, rejoice in it. It never gets old. Never needs to be replaced.  
Funny how a sneaky chunk of cheese can get in my head and stir up some thoughts. 
Still laughing about it today.  We promptly threw the cheese away, but it did cross my mind – could there be a market out there for “Aged Velveeta?” And if so, should I have tried to sell it on e-bay?

Monday, March 7, 2011

A Cup of Cold Water Calling

A small, striped cat wove itself between the pool deck chairs, peeking out from time to time to see if it was safe.  It occasionally, hesitantly meowed a feeble cry for help. It skittered when anyone came near.  As I observed more, I noticed a red, raw wound on the side of its neck.  It was injured, scared and in great need.

I sat at a distance from the cat, watching it and then watching a fair skinned woman, wearing a hat and speaking English approach it.  It ran from her, hiding once again.  She asked someone to bring her a cup of water.

She placed the cup of water on the patio and knelt down to care for the cat.  It responded, and eagerly lapped up the water from the plastic cup. 

The woman spoke to the pool boy who brought the water.

“Is there a vet nearby?  How can I find one? Can I take this cat there, if I pay for a taxi? And then pay for the vet?  This cat is sick and needs help.”

The cat was sick. It needed help. It could not help itself. 

“Yes, ma’am.  I can get you the number. I can get you the address, and I can get you a box to carry the cat in” the pool boy, answered, apparently sensitive to the request of the woman and the plight of the cat. 

The woman hugged the young man, thanking him.

The kitten was helpless. It did not know it was sick. It was scared. It was alone. It did not know there was such a thing as a veterinarian. And even if it did, it could not get there on its own. It was helpless and hopeless.

I turned my attention back to the book I was reading about global poverty, worldwide oppression of women, HIV/AIDS and other humanitarian issues. Issues plaguing precious people – God’s precious people – who are injured, hurting, helpless, scared, without resources, perhaps even without knowledge that there is help out there for them. They often – most often -- are hopeless.  They are in great, GREAT need.

My passion has long been for women who are hurting and in need of encouragement, but this was a new spark in me that the Lord was breathing upon, igniting it in to a flame.

Part of my “considering the clutter” is asking the Lord to show me more of my heart (the heart He formed and impassions) and more of His heart.

So, I’m asking myself, “What is God calling me to do?”  That is what I’m seeking and praying about. Who is He asking me to reach out and give a “cup of cold water” to? What does that “cup of cold water” look like?  When? How?
“And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward”  (Matthew 10:42).
Stay tuned for more information, more thoughts and more resources … and may I challenge you, too?
Who may He be asking you to reach out to?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A Timely (but Embarrasing) Lesson from Speeding (UGH!)

I shook my head back and forth, disappointed in myself. I knew it. I just knew it.
The unmarked police car pulled out from its discrete hiding place behind the fence.  I didn’t need to look down at the speedometer. It was too late. I slowed down, my foot resting on the brake, just as the red and blue lights flashed in my rear view mirror.
((((sigh)))))  I knew better, but I was in a hurry. I needed to have two people in different places at the same time. I had at least a thousand things on my mind. I was tired, and probably hungry, although at that point the only real feeling I had was a combined sinking feeling of my spirit and a sickening feeling in my stomach. 
I pulled over. The police officer approached my car. I handed him my driver’s license, humbled that a forty something mother was pulled over for speeding.  My teen age daughter sat in the back seat, “Mom, this IS embarrassing.”
 DIdn’t I know it.  “Sorry, honey. My fault.  I guess these things happen.”
“Do you know how fast you were going, Ma’am?” the officer said, rather kindly, I must admit.
“I’m not sure,” I responded, guessing at a number that I feared was lower than I wanted it to be. Sure enough, I was wrong. 
“No, Ma’am. You were going faster than that. And, did I just see you put your seat belt on when you came  around the corner?”
Blow number two. Guilty.  I wasn't but a few blocks from home, but I had forgotten to "buckle up" as I should have, before I even put the car in drive. Not good.

“Yes, sir. I did.  I’m sorry,” I said, now doubly humbled and overwhelmed with honesty. I preceded to explain to him the details of where I was going and why, as if he really cared.
“I know they aren’t great excuses, "I concluded.  "I was in a hurry. I really am sorry. ”
To make a long story (or so it seemed at the time) short, I got off with a warning and no points deducted from my record. It had been a long time (10 years?) since I had been stopped for the same offense.  However,  did get fined $10 for not wearing my seat belt.
I actually thanked the man as I sheepishly pulled away, eyes darting between the road, the speed limit signs and my speedometer.  The police officer (and the Lord) were gracious to me. I am grateful.
And I said to the Lord, “Yes. I am listening. I hear you loud and clear. ‘Slow down.  You don’t need to hurry. Stop rushing here and rushing there.  Just slow down.’”
So, in addition to trying to consider and clear the clutter per my last post (incidentally, this happened the day after I wrote that story), I’m also working on slowing down.  I must admit, there is something about a warning that does really work. My foot is lighter on the pedal and my seat belt is clicked in to place like it should be. Furthermore, I find myself intentionally trying to slow down in other areas of life.  
It doesn’t take much for a vision of the flashing lights to show up in my mind, when I feel myself hustling about and overwhelmed, whether in body or mind. And I quickly remember, “Slow down. You don’t need to hurry. Stop rushing here and there. Just slow down.”
Another timely reminder from God in the everyday occurrences of life. 
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