Invited In

Last year about this time I had the privilege of spending the weekend with five of the most amazing women I know in a beautiful cabin in the mountains of NC. We spent the weekend shopping, eating (there are some fabulous cooks in this group, you should really be jealous) and laughing, at everything! To keep the weekend interesting our hostess asked each of us to bring an activity to do together. Great idea!

One of our group, my precious friend Pam, is a wonderful artist and on Saturday afternoon she invited us to walk in her shoes and taught us how to water color.

My first reaction was, “Oh no!” I have never been successful at making things with my hands (in fact, even my handwriting is horrible) and the truth is I don’t really enjoy it. I am also not a big fan of trying new things in front of others, especially if there is ANY possibility I won’t be good at it – embarrassment is one of my worst nightmares. But I put on my big girl panties, realized it wasn’t about me, took a deep breath and started laughing at myself before anyone else could. I committed to the process and gave it a really good try.

Admittedly my finished product was no surprise to me, it was pretty bad. I was, however, shocked at how many artists there were in the group. Several of the pictures were really good, and I mean frame-it-and-hang-it-on-the-wall good. Mine is hiding out in the bottom of my sock drawer.

After it was all said and done, I loved that experience. It gave me a window into who Pam is that I had never seen before. We’ve been friends for about 18 years and in all that time I had only seen the beautiful, finished product of her work. But that Saturday afternoon I felt invited into a very special part of her life. I had the opportunity to see her create art.

It was much messier than I imagined. Sometimes it looked like way too much water was on the paper, sometimes the colors weren’t quite right, but then she would work her brush and move some of the paint around, then she would add more color. At several points she had to stop and just let what was already on the paper dry before adding anything else. She so enjoyed the process of creating and teaching that I couldn’t help but enjoy it too.

Watching her create added so much more value to the end product. She wasn’t just trying to finish a task and check it off her to do list. She fully engaged in the process and invested herself in it. She wasn’t watching the clock, she wasn’t worried about following “10 Great Steps to Successful Water Coloring” or “How to Paint the Perfect Picture.” Her goal wasn’t even necessarily to just paint a pretty picture, it was to create something that expressed her. In fact, that’s what she said to us when she pulled out her supplies, “Come on girls! We’re going to create something. It’s what we were born to do!” I have to say, I think I agree.

Lord, work through me to create a life that brings glory to You. Help me to let my guard down and invite people in. Free me from living such a highly edited life that people only know about me and not the real me. I want to be truly known. Help me to share my messy life with others, not just the finished products. Perfection is way too elusive and extremely lonely.

The Deceitfulness of Fine

I am learning to be honest (primarily with myself) about my emotions. I’ve actually been in denial most of my adult life that I even have emotions! Somewhere in my southern, Steel Magnolias upbringing I bought into the lie that we (Bible-believing, genteel, southern women) aren’t really supposed to express our true feelings. If we did it might hurt someone’s feelings or worse make someone look bad. This may actually be a chemically induced problem by all the lipstick and Aqua Net I grew up with, but that’s a whole other issue. The result is that when I am asked how I am doing most of the time my answer is, “Fine.”

F-I-N-E…a potentially deceitful four letter word. On the surface those four letters seem quite innocuous. When used appropriately they convey the correct message. According to “Webster’s 1828 Dictionary” (available free online and in my opinion the gold standard of dictionaries), fine (adjective) is defined as follows:

1. Small; thin; slender; minute; of very small diameter; as a fine thread; fine silk; a fine hair. We say also, fine sand, fine particles.
2. Subtle; thin; tenuous; as, fine spirits evaporate; a finer medium opposed to a grosser.
3. Thin; keep; smoothly sharp; as the fine edge of a razor.
4. Made of fine threads; not coarse; as fine linen or cambric.
5. Clear; pure; free from feculence or foreign matter; as fine gold or silver; wine is not good till fine.
6. Refined.

When I limit the state of my well-being to simply “fine” then I take away the full dimension of who I am. I reduce my life to small, thin, slender and minute. I give it the appearance of being clear and pure and free from foreign matter and refined.

To be honest about how I am would be to admit that there is a LOT of “foreign matter” (I think that is a polite way of saying dirt) in my life and I am not refined. It would mean that I am not perfect and in dire need of help! In fact, I am often common or worse, vulgar and rough around the edges, even though I try cover it up with lipstick and hair color.

What’s wrong with admitting we have dirt? What’s wrong with being common, rough around the edges? Absolutely nothing! Those are the things that make us human. They give dimension to our lives. They make our lives less, “small”, less “thin”, less “tenuous.” They also demonstrate our need for Christ.

When I pretend I have it all together I am telling the world and God that I can take care of myself and I don’t really need a Savior.

To admit that I have dirt in my life, that I am not always (in fact most of the time) fine invites people to see who I really am. It opens the door to relationship. Who wants to be friends with someone who always has it together, or at least appears to (because we all know they are faking, right)? Grace says it is ok to be honest. Grace says I am loved and accepted even when I am not fine. Grace invites me to freedom from the confining prison of fine.

And the next time I ask how you are, I am expecting more than fine. Wear all the lipstick you want, but answer me truthfully.

How do you respond when people ask how you are? Is there anything that keeps you from being honest? What do you expect to hear from others when you ask how they are? How do you invite others to be real with you?

A New Man in My Life

Our Bible study class has just begun a four month journey through the book of Jeremiah.  I love the beginning of a study.  To me it is like the beginning of a new relationship.  You spend time with the person, you get to know their personality, and at some point you start to feel like you understand them.  After doing inductive Bible studies for over four years (we use Precept Ministries materials) I know that by the time this study ends I will be so attached to Jeremiah that it will feel like moving away from my best friend.  I love the daily, systematic time in God’s Word. I would probably go so far as to say that I crave it.

Because of the time it takes to study and prepare for class each week it is very likely some of my thoughts about Jeremiah (the book and the man) will leak out here in this space.  Since our class meets on Thursdays I will try to hold back my Jeremiah overflow until Fridays, but I can’t really promise anything.

I do consider the overarching theme of this blog to be about grace.  The truth about grace, how it affects me, and how it then impacts those around me.  So my partner in crime teaching partner and I have been discussing grace in the book of Jeremiah.  If you haven’t read the book, let me summarize:

“I love you.  You’ve been disobedient.  Repent or destruction is coming.”

I don’t want to minimize the importance of studying all 52 chapters of this book (I am in fact the LAST person who would minimize the importance of Bible study), but if you could boil it down this is God’s message to His people.  So why did He take 52 chapters to say it?

Consider the opening verses of Jeremiah 1:

“The words of Jeremiah the son of Hilkiah, of the priests who were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, 2 to whom the word of the Lord came in the days of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his reign. 3 It came also in the days of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, until the end of the eleventh year of Zedekiah the son of Josiah, king of Judah, until the exile of Jerusalem in the fifth month.”

I believe the grace of God and the reason it took 52 chapters are hidden right there in those first three verses (the one’s we usually gloss over quickly because we don’t recognize or can’t pronounce the names) and all you need are a couple of cross-references (Hint: 2 Kings 22 and 2 Chronicles 34-36) and probably a timeline to decode it.  If you translate the reigns of the three kings mentioned in the first three verses to dates in history what you find is that Jeremiah’s prophetic ministry lasted over 50 years.

The 52 chapters of Jeremiah were over a very LONG period of time.  It is God’s grace that He repeated His call to repentance over and over and over again, in many different ways.  His desire was that Israel return to Him, not that they would be taken captive.  There is also grace in the life of Jeremiah.  In many ways he laid down most of his life for a message that no one wanted to hear and openly rejected.

Today God’s message is the same, repent and return to me.  His desire is that none should perish.  Isn’t this essentially the call to follow Christ?  One question for us to consider is, “Am I willing to obey God and be a Jeremiah for the sake of others?”

Living the Dream

The Bible tells us not to despise the day of humble beginnings.  I know this is going to sound a little dramatic (and probably slightly ridiculous since I’ve only been blogging for a few short weeks), but writing is a life long dream of mine and even though for the most part it’s primarily me and my four closest friends hanging out here in this space, I am so loving every second of it.

When I was a little girl I was a huge Nancy Drew fan.  My grandparents would give me and my sister $2 each week as an allowance, but Nancy Drew books cost $2.95 each.  So I could only buy a new one every other week. Incidentally, I used the leftover $1.05 less tax to buy 10 cent pieces of fudge in the cafeteria at school every day.  Even back then, chocolate and books were my favorite things!

I remember the excitement of going to the bookstore with my mom, also a lover of books, and spending what seemed like hours picking out the best one to read next. Remember the Intimate Bookshop? Loved that place! Because I could only get one book every other week I actually read them VERY slowly.  I savored every word.  I hated finishing one and not being able to go on to the next one immediately.  The wait was excruciating.  I would lie in bed at night and think about how eventually Nancy and Ned might get married.  Then they could drive around together in her blue convertible, her titian red hair blowing in the wind.

At some point I actually began dreaming about how I would write a Nancy Drew novel.  I spent hours trying to come up with the perfect mystery, the right amount of danger, the logical explanation for seemingly other worldly phenomena, and of course the appropriate cast of supporting characters.  I even wrote letters (that never reached the mail) to Carolyn Keene to ask permission to continue the series on her behalf in the event of her death or inability to continue her reign as Mystery Writing Queen.  Since we didn’t have internet back then I had no idea Carolyn Keene was a pseudonym used by numerous contract authors to write the series anonymously. I was disappointed greatly by that piece of information. 

All that to say, a dream was birthed in my heart and at different times over the years it has surfaced in different forms.  Never though, did I see a day where I could write and hit Publish and immediately send my written offerings to the world.  This writing journey is definitely not what I envisioned as a young girl, but the truth is, it is so much better!

For me every time I write something it is a bit like fighting the natural urge to run and hide from danger and instead running headlong into it.  There is risk involved, but there is huge reward here too.  I unreservedly say that nothing in my life has been as exhilerating as seeing a dream beginning to come to fruition – no matter how small that fruition might be.  The only appropriate thing to say is, “Thank You heavenly Father for loving me so much, for delighting in me and for bringing me to this season in my life.”

The world has enough Nancy Drew and Carolyn Keene, it needs more of us.  It needs more image bearers of Christ uniquely reflecting Him to the world. 

So how about you?  What dreams are you holding onto in your heart?  Have they materialized the way you expected?  Are you willing for them to look different than what you imagined?  If you are living your dream, how does that make you feel?  If your dream hasn’t materialized yet, is there a place you could start, right now? Are you hiding from danger or are you willing to run headlong into it?

This post inspired by The Nester’s http://www.thenester.com/2013/01/i-played-with-barbies-when-i-was-15.html and Bilbo Baggins in “The Hobbit.” I am profoundly grateful to you both.

Did You Really Just Ask Me That?

Inspired by my success in changing cable and internet providers and feeling liberated from fear (fear of my cable company? See the last post.), I got brave and called around to shop for a better deal on car insurance. I know this sounds ridiculous.  It is something that grace-filled people do all the time…shop for what they need, at the best price without being encumbered by fear and guilt.  I just hated the idea of the inevitable conversation where you have to fire your old insurance company.  Not only do I not like conflict, I go to great lengths to avoid it.  When you’ve spent your entire life trying to cover up who you are, conflict is your worst nightmare…it might actually expose you as the failure and fraud you think you are.

Back to car insurance…so flying high on the cable episode, I spent four and a half hours on the phone calling three different companies and comparing quotes.  It really takes a lot of time when you own six vehicles, but the six vehicles are a whole blog series on their own.  At the end of the process I made a decision that would save us $65 per month, almost $800 per year.  I was so excited I was almost giddy.

The next morning I called my current car insurance company to let them know I needed to cancel my policy.  The conversation went something like this:

Me:    Good morning.  Yes, you can help me.  I need to cancel my current car insurance. 

Car Insurance Lady:         Well we are so sorry to hear that you are leaving us.  May I ask why?

Me:    Well, I called around and was able to find the exact same coverage for almost $800 per year less. (It took me an hour of prayer and rehearsal to get that sentence out on the phone without hyperventilating).

Car Insurance Lady:         Wow, are you sure the coverages are the same because I know that our rates are pretty competitive?

Me:    Yes, my coverages are exactly the same.

Car Insurance Lady:         Well, did you speak to someone here to make sure you are getting our best rate?

[Eyeballs popping out of my head, steam coming out of my ears, blood pressure rising]

Me:    Are you actually telling me that I have been a good customer for five years and I have to call you and ask to get your best rate?  Why wouldn’t you be giving me your best rate to begin with?  Why would anyone have to call and ask not to be overcharged?  Who would sign up to be ripped off???? 

This conversation happened a while ago and I am still steamed.  However, the more I’ve thought about it the more I’ve asked myself, do I only give the people in my life my best when it is profitable for me?  Do I force them to come to me and ask for my best?  What level of “service” do I provide when it actually costs me something to serve other people?  What does that do to the people I love?

What’s That?

I’ve noticed a pattern in my life lately.  The more I explore and experience this idea of grace, the more willing I am to try new things.  When you are bound up in the fear of the consequences of every decision you make it is much easier to live with a lot of things the way they are.  Change, even small change can be very difficult, exhausting, and overwhelming. 

For instance, I have had the same cable, and later internet, provider for about 20 years.  And for about that long they have been the only game in town.  Even when satellite TV became an option I was interested, but I was too afraid to try (I know…it’s insane).  But a few months ago I heard a neighbor go on and on about this new option we have in our neighborhood.  So I hopped online and did my research.  I found out I could get more service for less money.  Less money…that sealed the deal for me…I am always looking to save money.  Many times I am trying to save money out of fear, but this time was different.  I actually felt exhilarated trying something completely different.  Something my friends don’t have.  And (gasp) something even my parents don’t have.

So I went through the online order process, set my appointment date and three short days later two kind installers showed up at my house, in the pouring rain exactly on time.  One of them went outside to do  whatever has to happen out there so I have internet and cable in here.  So I showed the other gentleman around so he could see where everything needed to go.

When we got upstairs to the master bedroom (yes I have a tv in the master bedroom, please don’t judge) he looked to see where the lines came into the room and where they fed into the cable box and internet modem.   As he’s following the cables he said, “Well you won’t have to deal with that anymore.”  Me:  “Deal with what?”  Kind Installer Don:  “That huge cable running through the middle of your bedroom floor (unspoken: with that ugly rug over it).”  Me: “I won’t?”  Kind Installer Don:  “No ma’am.  That’s ridiculous.  They never should have installed it that way.”

Do you know that “ridiculous” cable has run across the middle of my bedroom floor since 2001?!?!  The sad and interesting thing is that it NEVER occurred to me that it shouldn’t!  A kind, unassuming stranger walked into my bedroom and immediately noticed the problem.  Then my mind went to, “How many other things do I just trip over in my life because it hasn’t occur to me that they were in the way and ridiculous?”

What about you, have you ever had an “ah ha” moment when you saw something for what it was?  Have you ever ignored something that should be considered a problem so long that it becomes part of your landscape and you don’t even see it anymore?

Father, show us the ridiculous things in our lives that you want to remove so we can walk freely in Your grace.  Open our eyes to the things we’ve just chosen not to see.

Paul, Again

One of the many things I always think about in the New Year, but usually don’t do is memorize Scripture.  This year over on Ann Voskamp’s blog, www.aholyexperience.com, she decided to memorize three chapters of Romans and invited her blog community to join her.  I wrestled with this for a few days because I didn’t want to decide to do something and then not do it because I didn’t count the cost.  But how could I turn down one of my favorite authors (Paul) and one of my favorite letters (Romans)?

I quickly got to work on the first verse, because I hate being behind and I started a few days late.  Here is how Paul begins, the first chapter, first verse of Romans:

1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, (ESV)

The more I type it (Ann recommends a GREAT site www.ScriptureTyper.com), the more I read it out loud, the more I meditate on it, I am stunned by what Paul says about himself or rather what he doesn’t say.  He doesn’t introduce himself in terms of what he does.  He introduces himself in terms of who he is.  He tells us who he truly is at the core of his being.  He doesn’t talk about how he makes money (tent maker), where he lives (homeless as far as I can tell) or where he went to school (Gamaliel School of Phariseeism).  He doesn’t talk about how successful he his (how many came to the last class he taught at the synagogue) or how unsuccessful he is (how after his last class at the synagogue they beat him).  He strictly focuses on his identity in relationship to Jesus.

Could I do that?  Could I introduce myself to people as Kim, slave of Christ Jesus, called to equip others to study God’s word for themselves, set apart for the gospel of God? Could I say just that, nothing more, nothing less?

A few weeks ago someone I don’t know very well asked if I work.  For what seemed like hours but was in fact just a few seconds I really searched for the words that would adequately express what I do.  I realized though I was searching for words that would somehow justify me and my life.  It didn’t seem enough in the moment to say, “I drive my kids to school, cook, clean, study and teach Bible study, and otherwise serve Jesus.” 

But why not? The things I do are natural expressions of who I am.  Being a wife, mother, Bible study teacher – they don’t help me climb any ladders; they don’t earn money; they don’t make me famous. But they demonstrate who I am. Why do I (or can I suppose we) think what we do gives us more worth than whose we are?

I love an author who can really drive home a point in just a few words.