Tuesday, July 17, 2018

A Little C.S. Lewis Wisdom

I've been re-reading the book "Mere Christianity" to my youngest son. He does not remember a lot of the books I read to them when we home-schooled  because he was so young. It is one of my all-time favorite books of C. S. Lewis. I keep saying  "Oh this is my favorite part" over and over. I just love the way he explains things and the analogies that he uses. We are on the final two chapters and I just don't want to finish. I want to linger and take it in for a little longer.

In the chapter I just read tonight (Counting the Cost) he talks about how God warns us to count the cost before becoming Christians. "Make no mistake," He says, "if you let me, I will make you perfect. The moment you put yourself in My hands, that is what you are in for.  Nothing less, or other, than that. You have free will, and if you choose, you can push Me away. But if you do not push Me away, understand that I am going to see this job through. Whatever suffering it may cost you in your earthly life, whatever inconceivable purification it may cost you after death, whatever it costs Me, I will never rest, nor let you rest, until you are literally perfect-until my Father can say without reservation that He is well pleased with you, as He said He was well pleased with me. This I can do and will do. But I will not do anything less." He goes on to say that He will also be delighted with the first feeble, stumbling effort made to do the simplest duty for Him.

I like that He says to not be discouraged at our own attempts at striving and even our own failures. He reminds us that each time we fall, He will pick us up again. These can seem and feel like such trite words. At least it can feel that way to me sometimes. But this chapter is encouraging in that God the Father does not give up toward His goal of perfection in each of us. Whatever that looks like.

It reminds me of the conversation I had with my sister the other day on the phone. She has epilepsy and it has cost her a lot of freedom in her life. For the safety of others as well as herself, she cannot drive; she has to rely on other people to get her where she wants to be. She has very little freedom because of her condition and because she has had so many incidents, she does not usually even walk at the park by her house alone. Her husband gave her some much needed freedom with a backup plan of calling him after every lap around the park. This worked well until recently when she had an episode while walking at the park. She is out of it after an incident and when she came to there was a nice, caring woman asking her if she was okay. She turned out to be a nurse that found my sister after she had fallen. My sister recovered and made it back home safely. She told me how she laughed at herself when she got a look at herself in the mirror because she looked like she came out of a horror movie with blood on her head and shirt. She ended up getting two staples to the head with no numbing and this is not a lone incident. My sister is one tough cookie! She inspires me so much. As she was telling me about this and then sharing a quote from a book she had read about getting knocked down but getting right back up again. I was humbled by her persistence and courage. She would really like God to heal her, to take away her affliction and I do not blame her one bit. I ask for many of the same. Yet, in her battles He is doing something in her.

My sister never wanted or never asked to be made into the sort of creature He is making her into, (as C. S. Lewis puts it) and neither do I. God seems to be forcing us on or up, to a higher level: putting us into situations where we will have to be braver, or more patient, or more loving, than we ever dreamed of being before. "It seems to us all so unnecessary, but that is only because we have not yet had the slightest notion of the tremendous thing He means to make of us.....The process will be long and in parts very painful; but that is what we are in for." He is somehow making us perfect. It's just not our idea of perfection, or the way we would like to get there. I had tears in my eyes as my sister described this incident to me. I wish she did not have to go through this. I am so afraid for her safety and her health. I do the same thing that she does, I wrestle this out with God, wondering why??? I know the "why" questions don't usually get answered, but this chapter gives at least a hint that it is not in vain, the sufferings of this life.

They somehow can be used to either aid or prevent His perfecting work in us. I would rather lend to the aiding than preventing, even if I do it kicking and screaming. For the result of all this can be "the making of the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, a dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly His own boundless power and delight and goodness." So let us press on, and remember to encourage each other, because we all can get a little weary with the struggles of this life and we all need courage to not give in to despair and discouragement.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Treasury of Friends

The older I get, the more I treasure my friendships. Being in a state with no family and a single mom at that, my friendships give my life the connection that it needs, that we all need.

My dear friend Melanie is one of them. I met her years ago when she came out and did worship for a the kick-start of a Bible study on a weekday morning at Cornerstone Christian Fellowship, a church I often did Bible Studies at. I had signed up to do a Precept study on the wonderful (and my all-time fave) book of Romans with a friend. I filled my plate with the offered refreshments and sat down to hear the announcements. Then out came Melanie, she was so filled with God's love and warmth as she lead us into worship. She began to share about the importance of worship and how her husband had died on stage worshipping the Lord. I don't remember anything else about that morning except thinking that I loved Melanie, just instantly loved her and her beautiful heart.

I'm not sure of the exact timeframe, but many, many months later I found myself starting a new job at Apple. This was a huge deal for me in the first place, another God-story for sure, but one evening I was talking to one of my new co-workers, sharing a little about ourselves and this young man named Michael told me that his dad had died on stage worshipping the Lord. My mind immediately remembered Melanie and I gushed at him "Does your mom go to Cornerstone?!!" and when he affirmed that yes, she did I told him I needed to meet her, that I loved her. I'm glad he did not look at me like I was a crazy-person! He may have thought it, but his expression did not let on if he did. So that began the start of our friendship. Michael gave me Melanie's number and we got in touch and met for coffee. She's been a widow for 15 years and is a testimony of God's provision and love. I knew that our meeting was not coincidence.

She is a music teacher, teaches voice and piano lessons and continues to lead worship. We share a love for God, music, prayer, our boy(s), movies, and people. We saw "The Greatest Showman" twice together and both said we could even go back to the sing-along version, but instead I bought it on DVD so I can sing-along in the privacy of my own space and when my boys are not around (!).

I always have fun on an outing with Melanie, whether it is meeting up for a meal, a glass of wine, seeing her son's band or daughter-in-law, or a meal at Taco Bell. She has a big heart and is an overcomer. She inspires me and is a testament of God's provision. Recently she was in a car accident where her car was totaled. She had to recover from the physical pain of the accident and also figure out how to work out her limited budget with a replacement vehicle. The Lord provided another car for her that works amazingly well with her finances and she gives the credit to Him. He takes care of her.

That Romans study was a life-changer for me in more ways than one. It was video-taught by Wayne Barber and I've never tried to write as fast as I did in trying to take notes on his insights and chewing on the meanings of the Book of Romans was the biggest breathe of fresh air I have ever tasted in a Bible study. So try to take time for friendships, I know it isn't easy. I wish I could pack more friendship-time into my schedule because I have lots of amazing friends, but busyness, chronic pain, and poor time management sometimes keep that from being a priority. It is never time not well spent when making time for a friend.  I am thankful today for Melanie, a friend God knew I needed.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Death of A Ragamuffin

My all-time favorite artist, Rich Mullins, died 20 years ago this month. I love music and have quite an eclectic taste in music. But he was no ordinary artist, his song writing was sincere devotion to the God that he loved, that he wrestled with, that he pointed us all to. I quickly became a fan of not only his songwriting but his unique communication style and boldness. I just loved his heart. The years before he died he gave up much of his earnings to live on an Indian reservation, teaching the kids music. He played the hammered dulcimer, along with guitar, and piano and there was just something special about his songs. As I got full into fan-mode with him I began looking forward to his monthly editorial columns in a music publication I would get just for his articles. He would tell of stories from his childhood, growing up on a farm in Indiana. Being a sensitive creative type with a Dad that was hoping for just a good masculine farm worker. Stories written from his unique perspective on life that made him Rich Mullins.

I got to see him first in concert on My Brother's Keeper tour. He came out barefoot in a pair of ripped up jeans and a plain white t-shirt. There were no fancy lights, no fog machines, no glitz or glamour, but what we got was even better, a man that was not afraid to ruffle feathers of the contemporary church, to tell of the hypocrisy of religion, and lean us into the purest devotion to the reckless, raging fury that he called the love of God. I don't know which I enjoyed more, the performance of his songs or his commentary between songs. Both were meaningful and inspiring. He left us on the last song caught up in focused devotion to that God he loved so much, that he inspired me to love that much....with hands raised and eyes closed, leaving the attention where it was due which, he knew, was not on him.

I continued to be a big fan. One day, almost 20 years ago, I was on vacation in Colorado on a drive to see Pike's Peak and listening to the radio in the rental car. They played one of his songs then said at the end: "by the late great Rich Mullins". The air escaped from my lungs in a gasp, my mind was racing to grasp the news that my favorite artist had died. The next song they played was "Hold Me Jesus". The tears flowed as I thought of the words to the song he had penned, realizing he was being held by Jesus at that very moment. 

I got a little obsessive after his death, reading everything I could find, listening to all the tributes and even making a scrapbook of all his articles from the magazines. I joined an online forum where many of his fans all grieved and shared our favorite things about his music and life. It was so hard to believe there would be no more of his music, this amazing song writer.

I turned my mom and sister into fans of his and less than a year from his death, my mom also died. I had beautiful memories of playing his songs for my mom, one in particular was playing her "The Love of God" and seeing the tears stream down her face. She had hard things to deal with and his music resonated to her like it did with me. So at her funeral one of the songs we chose was Awesome God.

After that I could not listen to his music for awhile because it reminded me too much of my mom. I went years not listening to it. Then in due time, it called me back. His music is such a huge part of my life. The rawness and realness of his faith, his devotion to knowing he was loved by the creator of the universe, to spite his failings.  I introduced my kids to his music and read them his biography, and other books that were inspiring to him like The Ragamuffin Gospel, a book that calls to the "bedraggled, beat-up and burnt-out". It's a meditation on grace and mercy because "He shall rescue the poor man when he cries out, and the afflicted when he has no one to help him. He shall have pity for the ragamuffins, the lives of the poor he shall save." (Psalm 72:12-13)

I'm a self-proclaimed ragamuffin. I have that on my Facebook banner because it describes me well. I take up the cross of my wounded self each day, battle fatigue, loneliness, failure, depression, rejection, and the sting of discovering untrustworthiness, but travel that same ragamuffin road which Rich walked on. He was not perfect and never claimed to be, but he allowed God to move into his insufficiency, and for that I will be eternally grateful.

Here are some of my favorite Rich moments and a tribute video I made of my mom with his music:

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Six Months

I have been living in Phoenix for six months now. It has been so much…..a transition….a shelter….a place to hide out and heal…two doors down from a very dear friend. I'm going to miss our frequently convenient get together's. The house has a beautiful backyard and pool that I will miss. I was just starting to venture out more and get to visit some of the trendy Arcadia hotspots. My friend and I had many great walks through these beautiful unique neighberhoods. Some day I wouldn't mind returning here to live in one of the houses that have so much personality. This area reminds me of the midwestern neighborhoods where every home has their own distinct style and personality. It has the feel of a small hometown but with the hipness of places like Sip Coffee and Beer Garage not far away. 

Phoenix was always something I was sort of afraid of, all the one way streets and traffic, and downtown busyness. It struck me as ironic the other day that I was living in a place I used to be so afraid of. I still am not entirely comfortable driving around and just the other day I thought I was going to be the victim of road rage when I inadvertently got in the middle lane to turn and was confronted head on with a driver that wanted to use that same lane to go in the opposite direction. I am sure he was using a few choice words that I am glad I didn’t  stick around to hear. 

It’s been a special time filled with so many raw emotions. I’ve had some of my darkest hours wrestling things out, trying to untwist the truth that had been bent into lies. My journal is my sanity and it has been used well in this house. Now that I’m on the verge of leaving it, I already know it will always hold special memories for the uniqueness of my season here. Six months of sanity saved, a faith tried and tested, over and over again. It will always stand in my memory of a place of great provision and generosity that always brought new mercies each morning and an abundance of lavish grace. A grace I appreciate now more than ever. So even though this time here is coming to a close, I will cherish these last six months as the gift that it was. 

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Hometown Blues

Just got back from a trip to the midwest. Spent some special time with my sister in northern Indiana, then took my three sons to see my hometown. My mind and heart feels like they're still there. I've made many a trips to my hometown, and I always returned with a pulling on those heart-strings. It's part of who I am. I appreciate my hometown more and more as I grow older; the simplicity of life, the rugged beauty, the everyone-knows-you feel, the lack of traffic and waiting... Familiar places of long ago that stir up a rush of memories, both good and bad. 

It's a simple town filled with childhood food favorites I had to re-taste to see if I still liked them. I did, a lot. It's a good thing I wore leggings that allowed some breathing room! Pizza burgers, breaded tenderloin, local Pizza, favorite desserts... I only wish the local bakery I used to frequent was still open, and the cute Mayberry-type country store that was conveniently located right on my path on my walk home from elementary school where I would stop and for just change- come home with a bag of Jolly Rancher stick candy, six-lets, sweet tarts or maybe a orange dreamsicle. It was fun to relive my taste-bud memories. 
Pizza Burger from Lawrenceville Drive-In

Bobe's Pizza

Lic's Chip from LIC'S (Lloyd's Ice Cream Shop) in Vincennes

My boys enjoyed the food too.

Hoagy House in Lawrenceville

Coco's Wine & Espresso Bar in Lawrenceville
Loved this new place!

 The ride there was a three hour drive, made more fun by the 80-song playlist I made from a myriad of past albums. I was surprised when we drove up to downtown Vincennes to see The Record Cellar still open. We eagerly went in, and were even more surprised to see the original owner, who recognized me. I had spent a small fortune there in my teens and was so impressed to see it be one of the last music stores of it's kind.

We went into the library that has a soft place in my heart for the story time hour and a memory of those wonderful sugar cookies with the pink icing! We walked through the doors of the church I grew up in, visiting the old stale rooms where Sunday School met, walking around the sanctuary and up into the balcony to get a birdseye view of it all. It was breathtakingly beautiful.

Snuck into the Post Office to see the plaque there of my grandfather who was the local Postmaster for a time.

 We went to the cemetery on the first full day in town and the last day. I find this cemetery peaceful and calming. I have much family buried here and as I walk around I remember the residents who resided here. It's important to remember them too, reading their tombstones, looking at the dates, knowing the loss and pain that was left behind, the memories.  The last grave I visited was my mom's. I had warned the boys of the ugly cry that would happen. It did, it needed to. Healing happens a little bit more through the tears. I have never known a more loving person than my mom and the ache for her will never completely go away and it shouldn't. They never got to know her, that's the hardest part.

It was a rollercoaster of a visit, but I'm so glad for all of it. The food, the fun, the fellowship, the nostalgia, being a tourist at George Roger's Clark Memorial which I don't remember ever visiting before.

I'm thankful that I grew up here. Thankful for the memories, good and bad, it's part of who I am.

Old High School

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

My Strange Addiction

 I'm in a season of transition. Looking at my own issues head-on and battling the uphill challenge of un-doing well-established patterns. I remember listening to a message by Adrian Rodgers about changing these patterns of thought. It was helpful to visualize trying to reestablish a new groove in thinking. Like a rut in the road, it takes much effort to get out of the rut.

One of my main hard issues is co-dependency. I read books about the subject in my 20's so it's not that I have not been aware of this bend I have, still, it's been a hard struggle of change. Lately one of my sources of support provided a definition of co-dependency that was a light bulb moment for me. She stated that it was really a lack of relationship with self. Wow. 

I am realizing the best thing I can do moving forward, learning from my mistakes, is to to learn how to appreciate myself and not look for validation in outside sources. To rely on a power greater than myself to place my burdens on.  I started that specific journey back in 1989 when I started attending my first 12-step group. That was the year I started seeing a counselor, a very good friend recognized my need for it and booked my first appointment, as well as accompanying me to that first scary visit. The counselor highly encouraged me to attend these groups and after much procrastination I got the courage to go. 

I found it to be refreshing and invigorating. They assigned us all a 12-step workbook that became my due diligence. I loved the self-reflection and the realization of my own powerlessness. That was Step 1 - "We admitted we were powerless over the effects of addiction - that our lives had become unmanageable." I took my workbook material seriously and applied deep thought to it all. I still have this workbook, it was the first of many workbooks. It's funny to read my answers now, in my 1989 handwriting. 

I took six months in between step 1 and 2, wanting to be all in. Step 2 - "Came to believe a power greater than ourselves could restore us to wholeness." The first question of that step asks "Describe the fears that block your acceptance of a Higher Power?" My response: "I'm not real religious. I have sometimes felt angry at god and that he didn't care about me." This was an honest start to my spiritual journey. 

I took Step 3 seriously and it is here that I stopped writing in this workbook. The "higher power" term did not ring as true. I started reading the Bible and went to the downtown Chandler library, walked directly to the "religion" section and scanned the shelf for a book to help me understand what I was reading. The book that caught my eye was a wonderful book called "Ask Him Anything" by Lloyd John Ogilve. I devoured this book, writing most of it in my journal. It was an absolute game-changer.  

It was around this time that we received a flyer in the mail about this new church starting near our neighborhood. I was living with my dad and step-mom at the time. I liked the idea of attending "church" in a movie theater, less intimidating. I was raised going to the Presbyterian church where my grandfather was an elder, but stopped going once my mom no longer forced me to go - somewhere in my teens. I just went down some wrong paths.

I felt strangely compelled to go and arrived solo at one of the first meetings of this little church that is now quite large, Sun Valley Community Church. I loved it and marked on the bulletin that I wanted to accept Jesus as my Savior, even though I did not fully grasp what that meant. I met with the Executive Pastor and his wife. They walked me through the Four Spiritual Laws Pamphlet, and the wife began discipling me in the Bible. This would become my new higher power, the God of the Bible.

I continued attending 12 Step groups and at one point, was going as many nights as I could. I knew I was at a changing point and did not want to lose momentum. I was getting away from alcohol being my crutch. My hunger for spiritual things grew and I was told about a new Christ-centered 12 Step group that was starting at Grace Community Church. I was there from Day 1 and many years after that. That is where I began work on my next 12 Step workbook. I finished that one and another one after that. I eventually started facilitating a growth group for people that had worked through the 12 steps but wanted continued growth. 

I thought I was in a healthy place and in some ways, I was, but in other ways, I was only beginning to apply the wisdom I was learning about. I stopped going to 12 step groups and got involved with Bible studies and church activities and serving there. This continued the growth process, but there were many set-backs along the way. I hadn't yet grasped the importance of boundaries, defining mine and enforcing them. In 2013, I returned to the support group setting. It had been 18 years. I went through a step group at a church called Celebrate Recovery, not a 12 step group per say, but the same concept. 

All these workbooks and groups have been steps in my journey. I don't discount them. I've heard criticisms of this type of help, they are not for everybody, but I think they served a purpose for me. They have been an important part of growth, but like anything else, they are not magic. I have to continually apply truth to my sometimes distorted thinking. I still tend to bend codependent-ly. 

Two years ago I went through another support group called Mending The Soul. It brought a lot of healing to some very painful wounds and gave me fresh understanding of the connection between my past and my present. It connected the dots so to speak. I've gone through the facilitator training and am waiting for the right opportunity to put the facilitator hat back on. It will keep me in the material, facing truths about myself, God and others and learning to trust again, after brokenness. It will use everything I've been through, for good and I'm excited about helping others get to healing, and on the road to spiritual freedom.

I guess you could call it my strange addiction, whether it be a workbook, Bible study, counseling, or support group, I am addicted. I don't want to be short sighted in dealing with my own issues and I am committed to continued growth and learning from my past. So my spiritual journey continues, I wrestle out my wrong choices and God's sovereignty that somehow intertwine and make up my life..... so far. My name is Karen and I am addicted!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

My Mortifying Morning

I had a challenging morning. Yesterday my van broke down and a dear friend loaned me her car because I had an interview scheduled this morning. As I was on my way to the interview I realize the address I had for the interview location is not correct, my GPS was not finding it. So I'm starting to get a little nervous. As I'm scanning the road, I hear this strange sound coming from the back of the car. I look in the back seat and see a Madagascar cockroach crawling along on a paper grocery bag. You might wonder how I knew what it was. . . . years ago I had taken the boys to a week long Science camp and one of the activities at this camp was that the boys could let these Madagascar cockroaches climb on their hands. I don't think my boys did that, and I for sure know that I did not, cockroaches top my list for most disgusting critter. They make me a little crazy, I am not sure why, but I have such a fearful reaction to them. Thankfully they do not reside in our house so it's not usually a huge issue. Seeing this humungous roach almost did me in. I'm thankful I did not swerve and crash on the road as it sent me into an even greater panic. I quickly pulled over and called a friend that had referred me for this job, and he was able to give me the correct address so I was able to quickly find the location. I bolted out of the car as soon as I possibly could and went in for my interview, distracted. . . thinking of the car ride home. I managed to get through the interview and told her about the incident for some comic relief. She told me there was no way she would get back in that car if it was her, but it was me and I had the dilemma of figuring out how to get that gross thing out of the car.

I opened the driver side car door and immediately saw it crawling along the bottom rim. I slammed the car door, hoping it does him in, but it doesn't and it's still crawling along. I tried a few more times when the thought entered my mind to open the door on the opposite side. When I had bolted out of the side of the car that I saw the first one on, lo and behold I saw the original guy, realizing the one on the driver door is critter #2! Now I have two Madagascar cockroaches to contend with on opposite sides of the car. At this point, prayer is happening, and I need a way out of this situation which feels like a total nightmare! If I was on any type of surveillance camera it would be pretty comical. I kept going back and forth and slamming the car doors. Amazingly I was able to get the one on the passenger side to fall off onto the concrete. It flipped on it's back, but quickly recovered and crawled under the car. Continued fervent prayer. Have I mentioned how much I completely hate roaches of any kind?

With added determination I open the car door on the driver's side to see the guy continuing to saunter along the rim. I walked around the parking lot looking for a stick to flick it off, but all I could find were flimsy twigs that were of no use. I spotted a discarded windshield wiper in the parking lot, picked it up, and folded it in half to get some leverage. It took me a few try's but I was finally able to flick it out onto the pavement to join his counterpart. Wondering if there were any more in this roach coach, I did a quick scan and did not see any so I hopped in and headed home as fast as I possibly could. It was a very long drive, much longer than the way there. I drove the rest of the way home hunched against the steering wheel and praying. I could hear more ruffling so I was pretty sure there was more. . .  . I was so done when I got home and it was only 10:30 a.m. I sent Jacob, our resident critter catcher, out to investigate for me. We scoured the car and found a dead one and another live one. Using a garden glove, he was able to get the hiding roach out and put an end to it's life. I paid him to vacuum the car out for me, just in case.

I texted my friend that had so graciously loaned me the car and she immediately called me back apologized profusely and realized that another friend of hers had returned the car to them this week. He leads Science camps and uses the roaches, just like the one I had taken the boys to years ago. In fact, he was the same teacher of this camp I had taken them to so long ago.  I guess he forgot that he had them in their car. Yeah, we got a good laugh about the irony of it all.

It was a morning I will never forget (it probably took a few years off my life) but it also showed me that fear does not have to get the best of me. When I was driving home and praying that none of them would fall or crawl on me, I told myself that they would not hurt me if they did happen to get on me. I survived and learned a lesson in fear. So how was your morning?