Lessons from the ‘Hood

Sheep & baby

This post originally appeared at www.inspireafire.com/lessons-from-the-hood.

I wanted to hear from those who have been there. Not just read about, visited, or studied it, but those who have lived it.

So I pulled up the contact list on my phone, fingers flying over the keys. Yes, I’ve got some friends in the ‘hood. Motherhood, that is.

I sent an impromptu poll: What’s one thing you’ve learned from motherhood – first thing that comes to mind?

Geese and baby

Lessons from Motherhood for all of us.

Within moments a flood of text messages came back. And one of the most remarkable things is how many of the responses are relevant not just to motherhood, but to all of us.

We may not all be mothers, but all of us – young or old, male or female, married or single – can learn important lessons from those who are. I am reminded of the time Jesus’ mother came to visit him and he said to those around him, “Who is my mother? Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

There is no doubt that mothers have a special calling, and the experiences they’ve had hold lessons for all of us. Here is some insight from those on the front lines:

  • Everyone wants to be heard, no matter how small they are. Take the time to listen.
  • There is more than one right answer.
  • Patience!
  • If you knew everything that motherhood entailed, you would never willingly choose it. Once you have it, you can never imagine life without it. A nice conundrum!
  • Make sure that the first face you give your child in the morning is a positive face so they know they are loved and safe.
  • Nothing is impossible.
  • Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today.

Love-never-failsReflecting on these thoughts in light of the scriptures I couldn’t help but see similarities. We know from God’s word how Jesus encouraged the little children to come to him, and how he listened, cared for, and encouraged “the least of these.” He mystified the scribes and Pharisees and enthralled the crowds with his teachings and wisdom. He taught that with God, all things are possible.

Love, we learn, is patient and kind. Love trusts, protects, hopes and perseveres. Love willingly lays down one’s life for another and counterintuitively finds joy in some of the hardest places. And love beckons us, not to wait, but to act now. “Encourage one another daily,” we are told. “As long as it is called today.”

Whether you’re part of the ‘hood or outside it, you too can put these lessons into practice. Within our own special calling, we should all go and do likewise.

Have more lessons from the ‘hood? Add them in the comments below!

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The Joy of Yoga

I recently started a yoga class that should be described in the brochure as “death by planks.” The instructor initiates each class session with the statement:

“My goal is to make you all sore tomorrow. And I love planks.” Followed by a long, cackling laugh.

A plank, if you’re not familiar, is essentially the “up” position of a push-up – arms and toes extended against the floor, back straight, pain searing through the abs. Most instructors consider the plank to be a strenuous pose to hold for 30 seconds and then release. This instructor considers it a resting pose.

“Now come back to plank for a few resting breaths,” she’ll say. Or, “Rest in plank position for a moment while I change the music…. Hmmm. Where is that song?” (Long, cackling laugh.)

I did well for the first set of plank exercises. I was “pressing strong against the floor.” I was “feeling the heat rise within my center.” I was “toe tapping” and “stretching my intercostals” and “maintaining my shoulder position.”

By the second set I lost all will to continue and collapsed into face plant position.

“Remember to do what is comfortable for your body,” the instructor continued. “You can drop down one arm and thread the needle if you’d like a deeper pose…”

A deeper pose?

By the time we got to side planks, I had modified my pose to the twitching log. Across the room I saw another participant curled in the fetal position. This gave me hope. I was pretty sure the class would end only when we were all collapsed on our mats. I tried not to look at the lady across from me who was still soaring like a carnivorous bird on a magical updraft of hot yoga wind.

That is not normal.

Speaking of carnivorous birds, as a break from planks we entered into the eagle pose, which the instructor described like this:

“Stand on your right leg and wrap your left leg around your right leg about three times. Now slide your right arm under your left elbow and intertwine—“

At which point I went into the toppling tree pose. I also learned yelling “Timber!” in the middle of yoga class is not appropriate.

The peace and the light within me greets joyfully the peace and the light in you. It does not topple with a death crash onto the floor. Ever.

We continued with the chair pose, which makes me understand why chairs were invented. And the hoverboard position, which requires you to somehow scrunch up your abs enough to levitate your entire body off the mat. I can tell you there was lots of scrunching but very little levitating on my mat.

“Notice how your breathing may have changed,” the instructor said.

Yes, my breathing had changed. I think it had stopped altogether.

“Try to return to the same gentle flow you had at the beginning of class…”

Right. I returned to a modification of the twitching, gasping log pose.

“There is so much more we could do, but I’m sorry our hour has come to a close,” the instructor finally said.

There were general sighs of relief and one chirpy voice that suggested a two hour class sometime. “Wouldn’t that be fun?”

I hope my grimace looked like a smile.

I slowly rolled my mat and hobbled toward the door. I am so into this yoga thing.

What’s your new thing for 2017?

See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland (Isaiah 43:19).

Don’t Miss the Disguises of Jesus

This post originally appeared at http://www.inspireafire.com/dont-miss-disguises-jesus/.

In the dream, we had to shepherd all the kids inside, because there was a strange man outside trying to lure them away from the house. And not just with penny candy or puppies. He was setting up extravagant bounce houses right in the front yard. Tall ones to climb, and sturdy ones to jump inside, and long ones to race through and slide down. This was a serious threat for even the most stranger-wary child.

bouncehouseOnce safely inside we pulled the curtains. The kids were playing happily since none of them had noticed the extravagant playhouses just outside our door; I stood guard at the window. I watched the man move from one brightly colored obstacle to the other. It was an entire playland, just waiting for someone to join the fun. Each time he glanced at the house his whole face lit up with a beaming smile. Then when no one appeared, his face fell into such a deep sadness that I felt my own heart twist inside me. Again and again this happened until someplace in the recesses of my subconscious another idea knocked against the dream. I jolted awake with the realization that it was not a scary man after all – it was Jesus, waiting for us to come out and play.

Jesus comes to us in many different disguises. Mother Teresa talks about serving Jesus in the distressing disguise of the poor. Jesus himself said whatever we do for his brothers in need we do for him (Matthew 25:31-46). But service to Jesus is not limited to those in need. Sometimes Jesus comes to us simply to have fun. Sometimes He flings open the door to the banquet hall (or bouncy house) and invites us to join the party. We should ask ourselves how often we choose to stay behind a locked door, peering through the window, and mis-judging his intentions.

Jesus wants more than anything else to be with us. We know this truth especially well during this time of year when we celebrate Jesus’ most famous disguise of all. A little more than 2000 years ago He was born into the world, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and laid in a manger. Herod tried to kill him, the magi came to worship him, and the shepherds praised God for him. He was so well disguised that it is likely no one, even Mary who pondered all these things in her heart, really understood what the birth of this infant truly meant. Jesus came to be with us. And He went to the cross so that we could always be with Him.

desert hills

In moments of quietude, God is there.

Today, don’t miss the many disguises of Jesus. Don’t miss Jesus in the poor and downtrodden, but also don’t miss Jesus in the joy and the fun.

Jesus is the Prince of Peace. See Him in the moments of quietude.Jesus is the Light of the World. See Him in the brightest of moments.

Jesus is the Wonderful Counselor. See Him in all wisdom and knowledge and truth.

Jesus is Love. See him in the love of your family and friends.

two friends

In the love of family and friends, God is there.

 

Take some time, this Christmas season, to have fun. Have fun with your family. Have fun with your coworkers. Have fun with your friends. Have fun with Jesus. He may be setting up the most fun activities on the very doorstep of your heart.Jesus is Emmanuel: God-With-Us. See him, even when you can’t actually see him.

Don’t hide inside.

Connected

Colored Pencils

This post originally appeared at www.inspireafire.com/connected. 

It was a long day of travelling followed by a harrowing drive through an unfamiliar city. I arrived at the hotel with thoughts only of food and sleep. Too spent to venture far, I ordered a cheeseburger at the hotel bar and sat down to wait. I was counting the minutes until I could retreat to my room when a man grabbed the chair next to mine and called for a menu.

“Where you from?” He asked.

When I responded, he proceeded to explain that he was from Nebraska and was travelling back and forth every week for the next couple months to a job site here. I never did determine exactly what he did, but I was surprised when a few minutes later, after he had placed his order and departed, I felt my spirits lifted. Sometimes the simplest of human connections can make you feel less alone.

The next couple days contained more driving, meetings, presentations. But, I’ll never forget when I finally arrived at the main event, and one of the organizers introduced herself.

“I am your buddy. I am here to make sure you have everything you need,” she said.

She escorted me throughout the day. She showed me to my presentation room, joined me for lunch, checked in on me during my meetings. What a simple and powerful message that sent to me: I’m glad you’re here. I’m here to help.

I was starting to sense a theme of this trip, but God wasn’t done with me yet.

I was safely through airport security and standing gate-side when a mother with two little girls laden with luggage hurried by. A dozen feet from me, a container the little girl was carrying sprung open, and markers flew through the air. Dozens – I mean dozens – of markers. They clattered to the floor, bounced on the tile, rolled in every direction. The look on the little girl’s face was one of complete shock; the look on the mother’s one of complete helplessness. I barely had time to register what had happened when the scene was nearly lost from view for all the people who rushed forward to help. Other passengers who had been standing nearby bent down. People who were walking by stopped. A pilot who was waiting for his gate stepped forward.

“Thank you,” the mother kept saying.

Within moments, the case was filled, the cover was snapped shut, the flow of people was moving again. The mother and little girl vanished from my view.

cleaning-cart

Every time I pass a cleaning cart I am reminded: God has connected us for a reason!

I made a last trip to the restroom before my plane started boarding. I was in the stall when I heard someone on the other side say: “Thank you for keeping this restroom so clean for us. You are doing a great job. I really appreciate it.”

I could almost see the surprise on the worker’s face through the bathroom stall.

Okay God, I get it.

All around us are a million ways that we can reach out to another. It’s so easy for me to focus on myself and the thoughts that preoccupy my day, but it’s not much harder to shift that focus ever so gently outward. It can be as simple as a casual conversation with a stranger. Or the comforting presence of being nearby in case you’re needed. It can be a physical act of helping when things come crashing down around someone. It can be a word of appreciation.

Look around. In the next few minutes, someone is going to enter your sphere of influence. A stranger on the plane. A coworker in the office. A family member on the phone. A friend who just popped into your mind.

Don’t let this moment pass. Give an encouraging word, a friendly smile, a pat on the back, or a quick note to say “I’m thinking of you.”

God has connected us for a reason.

The Blog Challenge

This blog was many months in the making. You might think that means it’s going to be brilliant, but you’d be wrong.

It started last November when a friend sent me a blog challenge. Considering my severe lack of regular blogging, this challenge was needed desperately. Unfortunately, she didn’t give me a deadline. So the challenge sat in my inbox along with several hundred other “to-do someday soon items.” Which reminds me of a great poster I saw today: Each week contains seven days, none of which are called “someday.”

Hence, several months later, it was still sitting in my inbox when I sat down to my Thursday writing session and the severe temptation to nap instead.

“I will let myself nap if I write for one hour,” I said.

Then I procrastinated nearly 30 minutes trying to find the email that contained the ancient blog challenge. This left me 30 minutes to write a blog containing the words cactus, friend, hike and a reference to Psalm 42:1.

Done.

I’m pretty sure this wasn’t what she had in mind, but I’m telling you, naptime is calling something fierce. You might even say that as the deer pants for streams of water, so my eyelids pant for sleep.

That, in case you missed it, was a bonus reference to Psalm 42:1. The proper translation goes more like this: “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.” And I have perfectly and unwittingly just demonstrated my personal struggle with this verse. Let’s explore.

I’m more familiar with the well-watered deer of the deep woods or prosperous farmland, but I can picture a desert deer panting in the shade of a cactus. I can feel the dryness on the tongue, the burning of the sun, the blowing of a scorching wind. I’ve lugged enough bottles of water on dusty hikes to appreciate how sweet those cooling streams can be. So I can appreciate this image and the deep need and longing that is being depicted here.

The conviction comes in the rest of the passage. When I consider the things I long for deeply in my life.

I long for friendship. I long for love. I pant after peace and rest. This makes me question where I place God. Do I chase down time with God as dearly as I chase down time with friends and family? Do I crave time with Him as deeply as I crave time with a good book, or a good friend, or even a good bowl of ice cream?

I do, I realize, but only after all the other longings have left me wanting. When relationships let me down. When I hunger and thirst again. When I realize that even sleep doesn’t truly bring rest. Then I start craving for God to come and piece me back together.

Jesus knew what He was saying when He said “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst” (John 4:13).

There are temporal needs in this world that can be met in temporal ways. We need water. We need food. We need friendship. But our deepest needs are not met by a reliance on the things we crave. They are met through a recognition of and a relationship with the One through whom these blessings flow. The difference is like repeatedly asking for a glass of water instead of asking for the wellspring.

I need to recognize amidst my scattered needs that there is an all-surpassing need that girds my pursuits. I need to recognize my longing for God. Then I need to spend time reading my Bible, praying, walking alone, or inviting God in for a bowl of ice cream. (I’ll help Him eat His.)

I need to recognize within my longing for that nap, that there is also a deeper longing for true rest.  Both are important.

Which reminds me, I’m well past my hour of writing, and still in need of that nap.

Undebatable

I love to participate in a good debate. When I’m in the right mood, the topic doesn’t even matter.  Like the other day when I somehow ended up in a heated discussion over Spam and the definition of the word tangent. I launched into an elaborate discourse that wove intricate circles through miles of linguistic terrain in a manner sure to baffle even the most adept navigator. I was rather pleased with my performance, but despite the maze of rabbit holes I repeatedly laid down, my friend kept coming back to the one tiny flaw in my otherwise airtight opening statement.

I think that means she won, but I won’t ever tell her that.

Truth is hard to argue with, but that doesn’t stop me – or many others – from trying. In today’s culture it’s very much in vogue to not only argue with truth, but to argue whether truth even exists. As the saying goes, if you ask five experts the same question, you’re likely to get at least seven different answers.

Jesus said something very different. He claimed not only to speak truth, but to be truth (John 14:6).

People of His day tried to joust with Him, too. There was the time when spies were sent to verbally trap Him by asking whether it was right to pay taxes to Caesar. Jesus saw through that ploy, giving them a succinct answer that ended the discussion and amazed everyone within hearing (Luke 20).

Another time the Jews demanded that Jesus tell them plainly whether He was the Messiah, but Jesus wasn’t interested in fruitless, insincere discussions. Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe.” (John 10:25)

Jesus carried himself different from other men. He did not speak like the other teachers spoke; He spoke as one who had authority. He did not debate to prove His points or to enjoy the thrill of the verbal competition. He spoke to spread the message of truth to those who would receive it.

“I am the way, the truth, and the life,” Jesus said. “No one comes to the Father except through me.”

There were critics in Jesus’ day who debated who He was, just as there are critics today. But Jesus has never been interested in a debate simply for the sake of a debate.

Instead, Jesus engages with those who come with sincere questions and with those who come to test all things to see if they are true. He is willing to answer questions, explain parables, and provide evidence. To the doubting Thomases, to the Nicodemuses, and to the large crowds of today, Jesus still speaks through the words recorded in the Bible. These words were written that we may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing we may have life in His name (John 20:31).

You can try to debate it, but you might be better served to simply listen, question, and consider.

“I did tell you,” Jesus said.

 

Break Time

 DawnToDusk

This post originally appeared at: http://www.inspireafire.com/break-time
And yes, that moon photo is one I took recently on a drive through IA. Isn’t it amazing?

I was walking through the Wal-Mart parking lot when three individuals stepped out of their separate cars. They unknowingly fell into step with each other and headed toward the entrance. I watched in amazement as they reached out their left arms with the precision of synchronized swimmers. They moved like extensions of the same organism: first extending, then bending, then bringing their cell phones to their ears.

I don’t think any of them noticed the others. I wouldn’t have noticed them either, except for once I was not on my cell phone. I was not talking with a friend, checking messages, or otherwise engaged. I was simply walking my dog on a shortcut through the parking lot and toward our favorite park. As I went, I realized it had been a long time since I had simply walked and looked – I mean really looked – around me.

computers

All of this convenience, and yet…

There was a time when walking my dog was how I sorted through my day, just me and God and the occasional squirrel who rudely interrupted my ruminating by dashing a fluffy tail under my dog’s nose. There was a time I could say hello to the Wal*Mart greeter without him wondering if I was talking to him or the person on the other end of the line.The convenience of phones not tethered to walls means that I can squeeze in my verbal correspondence almost anyplace. With the advent of smart phones, I can even squeeze in my written correspondence while waiting in line or sitting on a park bench when I should, perhaps, be watching the sunset instead. All of this convenience allows me to connect with those whom I otherwise could never find the time to connect with. And yet…

Somewhere along the line my schedule got a little tighter. I joined this group, then that group, and worked late “just occasionally.” I volunteered for this, signed up for that, and was recruited into oh-but-you’d-be-so-good-at-this!

All of it was important. Most of it was fun. None of it could be dropped. Except of course, it could.

I’m not even sure how it happened, but it was gradual. I didn’t sign up for the next session. I stepped down for a term. I didn’t renew my membership. And suddenly I found myself walking freely across a parking lot, watching the ballet of the synchronized cell phone users and thinking: Sometimes freedom in Christ means giving Him the freedom to act in my life.

sunset road

Freedom means giving God room to act in our lives.

It’s a stunning thought, but I can hinder my own freedom by not giving God the necessary space to act in my life. When I have every minute of every day packed with activities, I am blocking God’s plans. Oh sure, God can and will use the activities I am part of, but I’m talking about that dawn to dusk treadmill that has me running so hard I might not even notice God is there. Heaven forbid He suggest I put my cell phone down and say hello to the cashier. I don’t have time for that!

It’s easier than I realized to become a slave to a schedule of my own creation. And there is more freedom than I ever imagined in letting it go… even for a short time.

It won’t be long before my little cushions of time get filled again. I’ll sign back up for this and return once more to that. But in the meantime, I am pierced by this probing question: How might God have used that time I filled with classes, sports teams, even church activities? While I am free to do as I choose, will I be even freer if I leave a little space for God to do as He chooses?

I’m taking a little break to find out.

MeOnBreak