Singing in the car wash

Three full days of speakers, workshops, book-browsing, ruminating, walking, talking, listening – Calvin’s Festival of Faith and Writing motivated and inspired me to return to writing once again. But isn’t it easy to slip back into the same daily patterns and let the same old soundtrack repeat in your head? Just a few days after the conference, I felt like I was beginning the procrastination plan all over, in spite of Anne Lamott’s advice to just sit in the chair and stay there, and Richard Foster’s admonition to just yell NO! to all worthy distractions.

I had been thinking about how I wanted this post-mountain-top-experience to be different and in my ordinary, errand-filled, task-driven day, I drove my car up to the car wash and heard singing. My radio wasn’t on and I thought it strange that the car ahead of me would have its window down as the attendant sprayed it with water. Then I realized that the young man with shoulder-length dark hair was rhythmically fanning the water hose while singing aloud. Enthusiastically, he circled the car in front of me, spraying and singing in his beautiful baritone voice.

He stopped for a moment to wiggle his fingers and guide me forward when it was my turn. I showed him my receipt, he smiled and said, you’re all set, and off he went to spray my car and sing some more. As my car began to slowly glide through the swirl of foam and the swish of soapy water, I smiled too. He was practicing his art. Doing the mundane didn’t keep him from music-making and spirit-lifting.  Fear or embarrassment didn’t stop him from doing what he obviously loved to do.

Why did he make such an impact on me? I wasn’t sitting in an auditorium with a notebook on my lap, but his passion spoke to me and I took note. Practicing one’s art isn’t selfish at all, especially when it’s shared with the world around you. I wanted to go back and thank him for sharing. Maybe I still will.

Here I am…again

A funny thing happened on the way to this blog post. Actually, many things happened, and not all of them are funny. You may laugh if you wish, though, because the circuitous wanderings are ludicrous. It’s taken many months to come this far and the encouragement to travel to this point has come from many directions, including my loving daughter, many friends, and fellow writers. I even made a promise to a dear “accountability” friend to write 5 blog entries before Nov. 5. (Yes, I’m well aware that date is drawing nigh.)

I’ve written some articles, but never revised or posted them. That’s kind of like mapping out your journey and then spontaneously choosing to go a different route. One topic I addressed was on “The Writer’s War.” Shortly after that, I heard about Steven Pressfield’s book, “The War of Art,” which is now on my to-buy list.  Truly, I feel like I’ve been in a war, but how much of it is self-induced, I wonder as I wander. 

Today, going through cyper-space on my way to WordPress, I read and replied to several emails about piano lesson rescheduling, looked over and printed a 23-page paper I have to edit, read a few other people’s blogs, purchased a Groupon, renewed my membership to a professional organization, read some more emails, and oh yes, took several side trips to the kitchen (refilled my coffee cup, crunched some chips, finished the vanilla yogurt – with added coconut and sunflower seeds – yum!), and even traveled to the bedroom closet for slippers for my chilly feet!  It was quite a journey, all these side trips and delays at scenic points along the way. 

Somehow, all of the writing ideas I had after my devotional time this morning have disappeared. (Picture a car-top carrier that wasn’t securely fastened, releasing its contents to the wind while the car blithely rolls along.) I will go back and find them, rescue the thoughts when I see the underlined words, but meanwhile, I am here, typing, putting sentences together, trying to move forward.

I also watched an author’s interview video this morning (Pete Wilson, promoting his new book about hope). He commented about the past, and letting it be the past, not impacting today. It occurred to me that hope does not look back, only forward. So I will be grateful for this moment, this feeling of freedom and release that accompanies the act of writing, without judgment, regret, or fear of failure. Getting to this point is the difficult part. Being here feels great. So I hope to be back again soon, maybe with a more direct route to the right (writing) place.

A mother’s sacrifice

Part of the message at church this morning flicked on a light switch for me. It was on the topic of “Tabernacle,” not exactly a typical Mothers’ Day focus. But one of the passages was from Exodus 26, “Make the tabernacle with ten curtains of finely twisted linen and blue, purple and scarlet yarn…”

Immediately, a poem came to mind, one I wrote years ago, about Hannah and the sewing she did for Samuel, the son she prayed for and then gave away. (You can read about this amazing mother in I Samuel 1 and 2.) The part about the fine twisted linen and blue, purple and scarlet yarn used for the curtains reminded me that I had used similar words to describe the robe Hannah made for Samuel every year. The Bible doesn’t say what color it was, but in my mind, I saw her using these royal colors.

This story fascinates me because I cannot fathom the sacrifice she made when she gave up her son to Eli the priest when he was only a toddler (my Bible’s footnote says it was customary to nurse children for three years or longer and she gave him away right after he was weaned.)

When I wrote this poem, I was trying to imagine what it would be like to “raise and release” a child before he turned five. It’s hard enough to release your children when they’re adults! This telling detail kept coming back to me, “Moreover his mother made him a little coat (some translations say “robe”), and brought it to him from year to year…” (I Sam. 2:19)

So in honor of all mothers, whether you’re still raising or in the process of releasing (it’s an ongoing struggle for me), here is a look at Hannah’s promise.

A Promise Kept

This fine-twined linen of
gold, blue, purple, scarlet,
simply sewn, skillfully embroidered -
a perfect garment for my child-priest.

I fold it carefully,
one sleeve over the bodice,
then the other directly on top.

If only I could watch him, day after day,
watch as these sleeves shrink
and the hem shortens,
follow the flow of this garment
as he rushes to his duties,
see him obey with youthful energy,
pleasure, pride.

Instead,
his visage is etched on my mind.
And imagination must conjure up
his features’ subtle changes.

Over the long trek to and from the temple, I continue to wonder,
Will he realize
this perfect linen,
hues of gold and blue and purple and scarlet
is my tear-stained watercolor,
a rainbow stitched with trembling hands.

Actions that counteract fear – Gen. 26:24

Genesis 26 reads like a little novel, full of plot twists and intrigue. It begins with “Now there was a famine in the land…” Included in the story are accounts of conflict, deception, ruined relationships, relocation, revenge, jealousy, fear.  Much of the conflict in Isaac’s life revolves around water and wells. In that arid region, water was essential for survival. Without it, flocks and herds and crops would die, and eventually, so would the people.

After digging two wells which were basically taken from him (one well’s name meant “dispute” and the other meant “opposition”), he finally digs a well that no one quarrels about with him, so he names it “Rehoboth,” saying “Now the Lord has given us room and we will flourish in the land.” (Gen. 26:22)  It’s at this point that God appears to Isaac at night and says, “Do not be afraid, for I am with you.”

I find Isaac’s response both interesting and inspiring.  He took four actions: built an altar, called on the name of the Lord, pitched his tent, and had his servants dig a well.  Rather than wallowing in disappointments and fear, he responded by calling on God and worshiping Him with an altar. It was also his father Abraham’s tradition to build an altar wherever he had a memorable spiritual experience.  God spoke and Isaac replied with worship and prayer.

God promised to bless Isaac and increase his descendants as he had for Abraham, and in belief, Isaac pitched his tent there and dug another well. I’m sure it was difficult to live in a hostile environment with hostile neighbors, but Isaac didn’t let that scare him off.

We shouldn’t either.  Government leaders, society, secular culture – they may be hostile to the Christian cause. But how are we building our altars, calling on the name of the Lord, pitching our tents and digging in?  Positive action trumps negative criticism, in my opinion.  I’m wondering what actions I can take today to counteract fear?  I’ll start with worship and prayer.

God Hears Our Kids, Gen. 21:17

This morning I read about NaBloPoMo (Nat’l Blog Posting Month, not to be confused with NaNoWriMo = Nat’l Novel Writing Month, which requires 50,000 words in a month – whew!), and decided that I needed this extra push to get back at it.

I’m going to “re-begin” in Genesis and the first verse I came to with “Fear not” in it deals with the very thing I’ve been struggling with for weeks.  On my cupboard door is a laminated verse that I received from our Moms in Touch leader years ago which is from Lamentations 2:19, “Pour out your heart like water before the face of the Lord, lift up your hands toward Him for the lives of your children.”  I’ve been doing that, but with some anxiety and fear attached, I have to admit.

So Gen. 21:17 made me stop the worry train and think about how I’ve been listening (or not) to God lately.  The scene is in the desert. Hagar and her son Ishmael have been banished with only some food and water, which is now gone. Hagar puts her son under a bush and walks about a “bowshot” away, thinking “I cannot watch the boy die. And as she sat there nearby, she began to sob.” (Gen. 21:16)

This is true of mothers, yes? We cannot bear to see our children (both little and not-so-much) experience any kind of lack, whether it’s lack of food, friends, finances, whatever. It’s our responsibility to provide for them when they’re young. But in doing this job right, we eventually work ourselves out of the job. The transition is not easy.  There are other aspects of parenting that make us cry, like Hagar, even though we most likely don’t have to worry about their starvation. Still, we want to provide for them.

God’s response to Hagar’s sobs: “God heard the voice of the youth, and the angel of God called to Hagar out of heaven and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the youth where he is.”  God knows. God sees. God hears.  Not only does God see and hear us, but he hears our children, both young and old.

Do we fool ourselves by thinking we are the sole providers of what our children need? I have done this. What God does for Hagar next is revealing. “Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink.”  (verse 19)  God provides the Living Water.  We can bring our children to His never-ending spring, point them to His all-sufficiency, but as the old horse saying goes, we cannot make them drink.  When they’re thirsty, they will.

Instead of fretting and being troubled, I need to go to the well myself.  I pray for God to open my eyes so I can see His daily provision. Do you have children with extraordinary needs, or ordinary children with extra needs right now?  God wants to know what’s troubling you and wants you to “fear not” because, not only does He hear you,  He hears their voices too.

“…do not be silent…” Acts 18:9-10

Guilty. Of being silent. Many times I’ve believed that this was a strength. Doesn’t God’s Word tell us in several places, “Be still…”? Isn’t it good to think before speaking? But sometimes I think about a response so long that the thoughts never materialize into “a well-spoken word.”  I come from a family line of stoics and “strong, silent types.”  Recently, the death of an uncle reminded me that when his first wife, the aunt I adored, was killed in a car accident, he had told his young children they shouldn’t cry and they weren’t going to talk about it. Big mistake! Devastating consequences. Even in my immediate family, there are topics we simply don’t touch. Why is this? Is fear at the root of this kind of silence?

I read something recently that described fear’s disguises. It masquerades as procrastination, shyness, protectiveness, and other “not-so-bad” behaviors.  I might have to address those in future posts. But hesitating to speak up is what this verse in Acts. 18:9 deals with: “One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: ‘Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.'”

God was telling Paul, “Who is going to reach all these people if you don’t speak up? I’m with you. I will protect you. Don’t worry. You’ve got this.” I recently drafted a three-page letter, but did nothing with it until God gave me the boldness to email it to a person who immediately sent it to, of all places, the Pentagon.  It was, for me, an act of breaking the silence. I felt a bit like Moses when he argued with God about his lack of speaking ability.  God didn’t accept that as an excuse, though, because His people needed deliverance.  Same with Paul here in Corinth.  Because God was with him, his words would save “many people in this city.” Paul stayed there for a year and a half, teaching the Word of God.

I’m just beginning to realize and accept both the challenge and comfort that God gives in this verse.  A friend reminded me of the saying, “The pen is mightier than the sword.”  Words, spoken or written, have influence beyond what we can imagine.  Knowing that God is with me, I will “keep on speaking.”

Is there a situation in your life where God is saying, “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent…”? Together, let’s trust that He is with us, protecting us and providing the words we must say.

He’s Holding My Hand ~ Isaiah 41:13

For anyone reading this post who doesn’t know me very well, I should share some background info first.  On June 13, I had wrist reconstruction surgery, along with carpal tunnel release. It’s been a long and painful recovery process, one I didn’t fully anticipate as I have never dealt with any health issues prior to this. Being without the full use of my right hand for almost three months has been exhausting, frustrating, and yes, even fear-inducing!  There were and still are some unkowns about how “normal” my hand will (n)ever be. By the way, I’m a pianist who loves to accompany for worship, choirs, soloists, instrumentalists, weddings, and funerals. It’s been my primary occupation for over 30 years.  At this point, I can’t play like I used to. Perhaps this skill will return but meanwhile, I struggle.

That explains some of the long absences in the blogging department. I am, however, typing this with both hands (even though I should have my brace on….)!  Maybe it was pain meds, maybe fatigue, maybe stubborn disobedience, maybe the enemy, who knows what else kept me from pursuing this writing endeavor.  But I have had more time to read and ponder, especially books like “Unleashing the Writer Within,” by Cecil Murphey and “You Are a Writer,” by Jeff Goins. Magazines like Writer’s Digest and Poets and Writers have encouraged and inspired me.  But reading about something is soooo much easier than actually doing it! Do I hear an Amen? :)

Then yesterday I read a recent blog post written by Ann Voskamp about fear and in the comments were the words to this verse from Isaiah. Tears filled my eyes as I realized they were from God Himself. “For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.”

My right hand? The discolored one with incision scars on both top and bottom, the one that still aches and requires daily pain meds, the one that won’t work like it used to?  Yes, that one, is what I heard Him say. Fear not.

Last weekend, my husband and I walked along the beach. He tried to hold my right hand for a little while, but eventually I switched sides so he could hold my left hand instead.  I have probably been doing this with my Father God, too. I haven’t really let Him hold me and my hurts like I should. Isn’t it so much easier to avoid the things that hurt and try to compensate in our own independent ways?  I have complained far too often, instead of giving Him my hand to hold.

I’m pretty sure I will need more reminders, but rereading this verse will keep me going. Along with my physical hand, I will “hand over” my future, too. Whatever happens, His Word is clear and comforting, “Do not fear; I will help you.”

What are you going through today, dear reader? Whatever it is, let our Father hold your hand and help you.