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Jan 25, 2016

Whose Lead Do I Follow?

My devotional this morning was about how to discern that you're being led to do something by God and not your own mind.

This is a concept I have always wrestled.  With all of the decisions I make in a day, all the diverging, swerving paths there are to take in this world, how do I know where God wants me to go?

Common sense dictates that, obviously, God would never lead me to do something harmful or hateful or degrading to myself or to others - something that, as the devotional calls it, is inherently wrong.  I guess this seems obvious to some, but many "Christians" out there do God-awful things in his name.

And that must really piss him off.

Do they honestly believe that God led them to create and picket disgusting and contemptible signs at a soldier's funeral or an abortion clinic or a gay pride rally, for example?  When people are at their lowest and/or most vulnerable, they're going to spew hate at them "in God's name"?  When Jesus was on earth he walked beside us, dressed like us, suffered with us, talked to us, forgave us, loved us - prostitute and martyr alike.  What kind of Christianity are these people following?  I can only conclude that they are grossly misled and confused as to what our faith means.

Actual Christianity follows Christ and his teachings, which are above all else to love God and to love each other.

Bam!  Jesus dropped the mic on that one.

But beyond what I consider to be rational common sense, how do I distinguish what comes from me from what comes from God?

The devotional said that "the voice of God will always validate your being, affirm your belonging, and remind you of your origins."  It also requires a quiet spirit and an awareness of the now.

My old pastor, Derik, added once in a sermon that the best way of discerning God's path from our own is, when an idea surfaces in our mind, to talk to God about it and to talk to trusted friends about it.  Soon you'll feel the answer.

It has been a struggle for me to put this into practice throughout my life.  Giving up control, praying about something and handing it over to God is a tall order!

Sometimes it comes easy, like with marrying Rich and joining the church band and moving to our current home.  These big decisions were most definitely God-led.  That's not to say they weren't hard decisions (except marrying Rich - that was the easiest big decision I have ever made).  But God's presence was undeniable in each circumstance and his nudges were clearly felt and heeded.

Sometimes God nudges blindside us like a divine tackle.  Rich and I were not planning on having kids.  We thank God now that he knew better than us and that, when we weren't  listening to his whispers and nudges, he pushed us in the right direction, like a good parent should.  It was certainly an adjustment for us, but from the depths of my soul I know that our lives and the world at large are better places because our two God-pushed stinkers are in it.

Sometimes I know what the right decision is and I can feel God's whisper, but I fight it.  I remember times when I have felt the wrongness of a situation in my gut, but I haven't listened.  I have hurt people I love, hurt myself, and acted like an ass.  I could blame it on the human condition, that after so many denials of earthly things I was bound to slip up, but that's bullshit.  I was just selfish and stupid and I own that.  And I will no doubt do more selfish and stupid things as the years tick by.

But the idea I'm holding close, and the crux of this devotional today, is that I need to be more aware of God's voice.  I need to be more attuned to the feeling his whispers and nudges stir in me.  And, if I spend more time with him, I'll have a fighting chance at distinguishing his lead from my own.

That's the path toward Jesus living.

That's the path I want to travel with my family.

That's the path that, at the end of my time here, I'll hopefully have made wide enough that my kids can see it and be able to hear God's whisper to follow.

Jan 21, 2016

My Boy

Sam had a busy day of school and an evening full of homework and piano lessons and a boy scouts event that ran past bedtime.  I had already put Lena to bed when Rich and Sam got home from scouts.  I was waiting with a preheated bed and his pjs in hand when they walked in the door.  He asked so nicely if he could stay up for a few extra minutes and, since he had been fairly well behaved and I hadn't seen much of him all day, I didn't mind breaking our bedtime rule just a bit.

He cuddled with me on the couch and we watched American Idol.  That's when he melted my heart.

There was this blind guy auditioning for the judges.  He had a great big smile and spirit that filled up the room.  But his voice wasn't great and the judges did not let him through.  Dismayed, the guy took off his glasses and, heartbroken, he began to cry.

Sam asked me if I would have let him through.  I said no.

He said, "But he's blind, mommy.  Shouldn't they give him an extra chance?"  I tried to explain how people with disabilities should be treated with the same respect and candor as everyone else and that, even though our reaction is to absolve them from sometimes harsh realities, patronizing that person is unfair to them and the other singers.  "Plus", I told him, "that guy has other amazing gifts he should be proud of.  Singing's just not one of them."

Then Sam looked up at me with his big blue eyes and said "I feel like I might cry for that man".

Oh, my heart swelled for my son in that moment.  "I love your soul, buddy.  You're so kind and caring.  What a lovely soul you have."  I asked him if he knew what a soul was and he said, "Kind of like my heart?"

"Yes", I said, "It's kind of like your heart and your mind and your spirit all together.  If you think of your body as a car, then your soul would be the driver.  Without your soul, your body would be empty and you wouldn't be you.  It's more important to have a good soul than anything else in this world.  And son, you have a good one.  I'm so proud of you."

Then he smiled his toothy wide smile and hugged me.

That's my boy.

Jan 19, 2016

Books and the Pursuit Greatness

I've been reading a lot.

Well, actually listening a lot.  

Overdrive's library of e-audiobooks is my favorite technological discovery.  I've listened to an embarrassing number of books on Overdrive during my commutes and the brainless data entry part of my job.  To the point where I am having a hard time getting into the several hardbound books awaiting my attention on my nightstand and end tables.  (Side note: Why must I always have at least three books going at once?  It's a thing with me.  Counseling may be in order.)  

Through this period of winter reading binges, I've come to a few realizations.

Neil Gaiman is my spirit animal.  

I wish I had a British accent.

Stephen King's books, as well as his book recommendations, are unwaveringly amazing and never fail me.

It is still my favorite book of all time - the characters, story development, nostalgia, scares and weirdness speak to my soul.  But American Gods now runs a very very close second.  

I'm actually starting to enjoy biographies.  This must be a symptom of me "being in my 40's".  Great.

Another symptom of me "being in my 40's" is a heightened appreciation of and attraction to authenticity in all its forms.  I dig people brave enough to bare their souls, to be true to who God made them to be, with all their pecadillos sticking out and their freak flags flying through the waves of mainstream.

That's real.  That's life affirming.  That's greatness.

I'm tired of trying to live up to the image of my 41 year old self that my 16 year old self (who evidently had a dangerously inflated sense of reality) dreamed up.  This doesn't mean that I have given up.  I still have goals and dreams and continue to strive for them.  But I'm not a famous singer or an acclaimed writer living the fame and fortune life.  I haven't unlocked the secrets of the universe.  I'm not and never will be a size 2 or somehow miraculously continue to grow to achieve my ideal height of 5'8".  And I have not stumbled across a magic item/substance that will gift me telepathy or the ability to fly.

To my 16 year old self I say there is nothing wrong with striving for greatness.  We all should hold ourselves to a high standard and push ourselves to try harder.  But my youthful dreams of worldly greatness have been replaced by internal, soul and God-honoring greatness.

Authentic greatness.

I have moments of authentic greatness.  Like when I light up my husband's eyes.  Or when I fuel my kids' imaginations or catch glimpses of goodness in their souls.  Sometimes I write something that sparks someone.  Sometimes I sing something that moves someone.  I always listen to a friend.  And sometimes I hold my tongue against all urges to yell (this is a significant achievement of greatness for me).

When I was 16 years old I thought greatness was a sustainable degree of being that, once achieved, would remain and life would sail smoothly along.  But greatness is actually much smaller, more precise moments weaved throughout someone's life.  Good decisions made. Selfless actions given.  Using the gifts God has given only to you to make changes in the world, in one life or many, that only you can make.

This kind of greatness is internal.  It's harder and smaller in scope than you anticipate.  It's clumsy and ungraceful.  It's soul filling.

That's what makes it authentic.