Pragmatic Communion

pragmatic living in the presence of God

oil and water. anxiety and faith.

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
Psalm 139:23-24

I’m anxious. Yet at the same time at peace. Trying to figure out what I have to do. Waiting on answers from other people. At the same time I’m literally OVERwhelmed with a sense of “it is what it is” and a profound belief that God has a reason for allowing this in my life.

I’m not clear on the meaning of the Subpoena Duces Tecum sitting here on my desk, but my accountant tells me I’m being audited by the Florida Department of Revenue. It seems the payroll service hired to file my quarterly taxes . . . didn’t.

It started last Friday when my husband got a call on his cell from a gentleman at the Department of Revenue. The message? Copies of my quarterly tax documents needed to be faxed to him by Monday or a lien would be filed against my company.

Let the phone calls begin. Accountant. Payroll service. DOR Representative. Can’t reach the accountant, payroll service wouldn’t talk with us because technically, the accountant was their client, not us and the DOR representative interrupted my husband explaining this to say, “I don’t care about any of that, I just need the documents by Monday.”

Anybody know me? How do I handle it when a problem that needs fixin can’t be fixed? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it the rest of my flippin life: “I don’t do “nothing” well.”

FirstHusband prescribed a day on the boat Saturday.

Monday. Let the phone calls begin again. Accountant is reachable. Payroll service rep is not. (at the time of this writing – Thursday – I have no idea if a lien has been filed against my company.)

Tuesday. We wait. Payroll service is figuring things out. I’m scouring (for HOURS) the entire house for any tax paperwork I might have missed. Nothing. I’m scouring my accounts to find the tax payment that the payroll service was supposed to automatically withdraw. I have no date of withdrawal and no amount. I finally found it. January 8th. For $0.00. No. That’s not a typo. The automatic withdrawal was for ZERO.

Wednesday. Accountant faxes every tax document that exists for my company to the DOR. The DOR rep, finding my accountant’s phone number on the fax coversheet, calls and asks for the UTC-6 form, which was included in the original fax of 24 pages. That particular document is faxed again, this time alone. The Payroll service finds the error and assures that they will refile and cover any delinquencies.

Thursday. I call the DOR rep to ask him to please clarify that the appearance time on the Subpoena is a typographical error, that the time of appearance should be 2 P.m., not 2 A.m. I also ask him if there are any other documents I need to bring other than copies of the ones already faxed to him.

Now I wait. Did I mention that I don’t do “nothing” well?

Friday. Tomorrow. I hope the DOR rep, currently in possession of all the documents he’s asked for, does not require me to personally deliver additional copies of them tomorrow. I’ve got rides and childcare covered for now, but I’ll need to pick FavoriteSon up by 4pm or his sits on the curb at school and waits after basketball camp.

it is what it is.

I’m looking at it this way. Either God is allowing this situation so I can learn something from it or God is allowing me to be used so He can work in someone else’s life. If the lesson is mine, here’s what I’ve learned:

I can do everything I know to prepare, but in the end, the result is not up to me. I did the right thing. I don’t know diddly or squat about taxes, so I took trusted advice and thankfully outsourced those responsibilities to professionals. One of them made a mistake. I’ve made what I see as a much bigger mistake in my business before. Their mistake was just a clerical error. Like the a.m./p.m. typo on the subpoena. Hopefully the DOR rep will see the parallel.

I need to take action, to do what I can do, but in the end, GOD is all powerful and nothing happens to me that he doesn’t allow. Sometimes he allows stuff I don’t particularly like. Sometimes he affords undeserved blessings that blow me away. I don’t sit around and wait on God to serve me like I’m at Olive Garden. I need to get off my butt and cook my own dinner. And even then? The couscous could turn out lumpy. Cause I don’t control how water seeps into a grain of couscous.

I can pray and ask God for what I want and/or think I need, but in the end, He is all-knowing and all-powerful. I either trust that in EVERY situation or I don’t. No middle ground. He knows what is best for me and He has the power to make ANYthing happen in my life. When I ask Him to allow me to serve Him more, when I ask Him to “SEND ME!!” I have to trust that sometimes He sends me and doesn’t let me in on the reason why. Sometimes, I get exactly what I’ve prayed for – He allows me to serve Him more – and I don’t even realize it. He may allow me to be a part of His story while not allowing me to read that part of the book. Since I don’t know the ending, prayer is the FIRST thing I’m to do, not the last resort after I’ve tried everything else first.

This perspective permeates my life.

My husband and I can work as hard as we want to make a life and a home for our family, but in the end, GOD is in control. Every time my husband arrives home from a business trip, it is because God kept him safe and returned him to us. Every time we leave the house, it is by God’s grace that we aren’t involved in the accidents we see as we rush from one place to another. Every time my son steps out onto the football field or the basketball court or the track, he walks away uninjured because of God’s mercy. Every time my daughter sings I hear God’s gift to her. Every time I arm our alarm and our family curls up in our beds in an air conditioned house I am trusting God for another night of safety and rest. I know how fast a home can be lost, a person can be taken and safety can disappear. It is by God’s grace that we are undeservedly blessed and unconditionally loved.

As I raise my kids, I can make the best choices I know how, actively seeking to learn more as I encounter problems and decisions along the way. I try and equip them spiritually, emotionally, intellectually, physically, relationally . . . but in the end, GOD loves them more than I do. He knows what they need to experience so they will grow into the people He knows they can be. I can pray to be a good steward of these precious gifts in my life, but in the end, they belong to Him and everything that happens to them passes through His hands first.

I have an opportunity to record two songs next month instead of just one. I can rehearse and go to voice lessons and listen to harmonies and work out what I’m going to sing and where . . . but I canNOT control when my voice cracks. or when I become too tired after hours of singing in that little booth. I can select a song I like or I can pray and ask God to lead me to the song He wants me to record. He knows if and when that song will reach out and meet a need I may never know about. He can use the recording of that particular song to speak to the heart of one of the guys working in the sound booth. I can’t control whether I get the harmonies right when it counts, no matter how much I rehearse. The end result is up to GOD. HE gave me my voice. He can do with it what he pleases.

I can market my business as much as I want, but in the end? The phone rings because He allows it. The prospective client emails me because He allows it. The clients cancel because He allows it. An opportunity to sing or speak is offered to me because HE allows it.

But still after writing all that, there is anxiety. It causes my husband to say “stop eating rope.” when I tell him my stomach is in knots.

It takes conscious, continuous effort to trust God sometimes. Like today.

Today, I’m doing nothing. Another word for that? Abiding.

“Like others, I have prayed for healings, for miracles, for guidance, and for assistance.
Frankly, there were times I was sure God would answer me because I had mustered strong feelings of faith. But many of those times nothing happened – or if it did, it was entirely unlike what I had anticipated.”
Ordering Your Private World
by Gordon MacDonald


This was dual published on my Pragmatic Compendium blog.

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June 17, 2010 Posted by | christian living, faith, god's will, grace, patience, prayer, spiritual growth | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

pruning produces “much fruit”

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”
John 15:1-8 (NIV)

A few weeks ago, I pruned my rosebushes. I HATE doing it. It just seems so wrong. Inevitably, I end up cutting off what I would call – from my immediate perspective – perfectly good, nearly blooming rosebuds. But I know it needs to be done, so I just man up and do it. As I was pruning, I started thinking about the book Secrets of the Vine by Bruce Wilkinson.

Long story short, for about two weeks (during which time the scratches on my forearms have healed), I’ve been praying for God to prune me. I’ve been asking him to remove everything from my life that keeps me from bearing “much fruit.” I’m praying for God to take away everything that distracts me from what He wants me to be doing. I’m offering up everything in my life – the things I hate (easy), the things that I just do because I just . . . do (indifferent) and the things I love (not so easy).

On Tuesday, of last week, right in the middle of my prayer time, four things happened within a matter of about 30 minutes:

1. Full Sail called to see if I could have another song ready to record by Friday, May 7th.
2. I received an email message from my vocal coach offering an open spot.
3. I got an email telling me praise team wasn’t singing this week. (nothing to rehearse)
4. A client canceled a new hire computer training session, choosing to skip training for the new hire “this time.”

I have no idea what this means. If anything. Did I just lose a computer training client?

I went back to my prayer journal:

“Lord, please use me. Big or small. Now or later. Individually or as part of a group. Please allow me to serve you. Show me where to focus my energy . . . Please prune me – whatever that means. Lord, please comfort me and give me hope if you prune the things I love and/or the things I think I need. I trust you.”

I do trust Him, and when I prayed for pruning, I intentionally included the possibility that He would prune things I love . . .

eek.

But look:

“Change always takes much longer than we expect because to make room for the new, we have to get rid of some of the old selves we are still dragging around and, unconsciously, still invested in becoming.”
Working Identity by Herminia Ibarra


This devotional was dual posted at my main blog, Pragmatic Compendium.

May 6, 2010 Posted by | books, christian living, faith, god's will, spiritual growth | , , , , | Leave a comment

a loving God. evil and suffering.

But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.
1 Peter 3:14-15

I’m reading The Case for Faith by Lee Strobel. (Click HERE for his youtube testimony.) In this book, Strobel attempts to “investigate” the most common obstacles to the Christian faith. He calls these obstacles “the Big Eight.” I’m reading about Obstacle #1.

“Since Evil and Suffering Exist, a Loving God Cannot.”

Why am I reading this? I was led. Compelled. There are so many struggling. Suffering. All ages, genders and walks of life. Suffering physically, spiritually, emotionally, financially. Children died this week. Children die every week. A young mother at my church lost her battle with cancer the day before a friend who defeated stage 4 breast cancer got her breast reconstruction.

I pray. For people I know, and people I don’t. I pray for strength and comfort. For peace.

I pray because I personally believe a loving God does exist, despite the evil and suffering in the world. But in my prayers, unspoken, was always “Why?”

My auto-pilot answer was “Have faith in God.” But in truth? I had nuthin. Except that whole “then we shall see face to face” thing. (1 Corinthians 13:12)

If there is a loving God, why is there pain and suffering in the world?

I’m 44, for crying out loud. I’ve been a Christian for nearly 30 years! I should to be able to ANSWER THE QUESTION instead of mumbling words like “sin” and “test of faith” and “God’s will” and “free will” or quoting scripture to Christians, agnostics and atheists alike. Scripture. Not a credible resource for agnostics and atheists. Quote the Bible if it makes you feel better, but when I’m talking to someone who doesn’t believe the Bible to be the Living Word of God, or to a person who doesn’t even believe in God, I need to approach the conversation in a different way. God can use other books and resources besides the Bible. He can use a sunset, a song or an impossible coincidence. He can even use my personal experience and fallible human intellectual understanding. He is that good. (I just need to gain some intellectual understanding and identify my personal experience.)

Besides not being able to intelligently articulate a reasonable response when talking to others, I personally didn’t like not having answers to the “why” question and the “how can there be a loving God” question. And I believed there were answers. Just because I didn’t know what they were, didn’t mean there weren’t any. This week, I found myself no longer comfortable just believing and trusting in God and accepting suffering without question. (Which I did, by the way.) For some reason, I’m at a place in my life where I want to know WHY I believe what I believe about this issue and be able to explain myself to Christians and non-Christians alike.

Wait. Don’t go off and comment yet, telling me “the” answer. Bear with me. I want to work through this one pragmatic step at a time. I’ve had discussions with “strong” Christians, “longtime” Christians, pastors and FirstHusband. I’ve read the Bible, commentaries, and books. Nothing seemed REASONABLE. The Christians were often patronizing and/or vague, attributing my doubt – or questioning or whatever you want to call it – to a lack of faith or an immature Christian. Because they really believed I lacked faith or was immature? Or to cover up the fact that they themselves weren’t able to effectively articulate an answer either? Back then, I believed it was me. After this week? Not so much. Because I found two authors who were able to articulate their reasoning in a way that resonates with me. It’s not that they “told” me the answer to these questions so much as they rounded up many of my thoughts on the matter (conscious and not) and were able to lay them out in an organized, reasonable way.

Let me back up a bit, before the resonating, and answer a likely question. What have I been doing all these years, with this seeming contradiction between suffering and a loving God?

Years ago, FirstHusband gave me the thought that allowed me to let the contradiction rest – until now. In discussing why a loving God allows human suffering, we had a lot to talk about. In the end, it was this:

Could it be (I said COULD) that one (I said ONE) reason people suffer is so the world can see the difference between how a Christian and a non-Christian deals with the suffering? The theory is that Christians have a hope, strength, peace and comfort that comes from God. Now THAT, I’ve seen. On more than one occasion. And so have you.

But what about non-Christians who approach adversity with a seemingly positive outlook? What about non-Christians who overcome obstacles to make things better or inspire us? Randy Pausch never professed Christianity. Neither has John Walsh. Both remarkable men, who, when faced with tragedy, responded much like we expect Christian men would. And what about the Christians who react to tragedy with anger, blame God or who fall apart and shut down? Non-Christians blame God, fall apart and shut down. It can go both ways.

So I personally choose to believe that there IS a loving, all-powerful God despite the seemingly contradicting evidence of evil and suffering present in the world. For years, I’ve been able to fumble around the God-speak, quoting scripture and using words like faith, free will, sin, and God’s Will, but I’ve never before formulated an intelligent response which adequately, logically, PRAGMATICALLY addresses the question AND the objections to the pat, theological answers.

Faced with the multiple tragedies of the death of her uncle and and her aunt’s diagnoses of Alzheimer’s disease and terminal cancer, Lee Strobel’s wife said:

“If someone thinks he can wrap everything up in a neat little package and put a fancy theological bow on it, go somewhere else.”

I don’t want to be “someone” or “go somewhere else.” I need to be prepared to answer.

To read Part 2, CLICK HERE

[This devotion was prompted by THIS post on my Pragmatic Compendium blog.]


“But faith isn’t always easy, even for people who desperately want it. Some people hunger for spiritual certainty, yet something hinders them from experiencing it. The wish they could taste that kind of freedom, but obstacles block their paths. Objections pester them. Doubts mock them. Their hearts want to soar to God; their intellects keep them securely tied down . . .

. . . If doubt and faith can co-exist, then this means people don’t have to fully resolve each and every obstacle between them and God in order to have an authentic faith.”

Lee Strobel
The Case for Faith

April 19, 2009 Posted by | apologetics, books, comfort, faith, god's will, strength, suffering, witnessing | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

be strong and courageous.

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”
Joshua 1:9 (NIV)

This is PinkGirl’s new memory verse. Not assigned by school, mind you, but given to her by her brother when I asked him if he knew of a good verse to help her with her fear. (I told you he was a walking concordance.) Her fear was born the night of Hurricane Charlie as our family sat in our laundry room with flashlights and no power, listening to the storm and the local Christian radio station, which was reporting on the storm. When we ventured outside, this impressionable four year old discovered that her house wasn’t as strong as she thought. And the fence around her backyard playground wasn’t as strong as she thought. And the giant tree, which landed on her swing set, wasn’t as strong as she thought. Fortunately, the daddy-built swing set WAS as strong as she thought or the back porch would have had a big hole in the roof.

So last weekend, she came pounding down the stairs, “MOM! There’s a storm coming! I heard it on the radio!” She was not calm. She did NOT want to leave the house and we were supposed to go to church. So, I made a decision. We stayed home and did a family devotion on fear. And then FavoriteSon led another devotion on not giving up. And PinkGirl read a poem and explained her interpretation – that being a Christian doesn’t mean you’re perfect, but covered by grace, and then I led a devotion about generosity and giving to others. (FirstHusband was at work or he would have gotten one too.)

So we didn’t go to church. But what an amazing time together, listening to my children talk about their faith they way they never do when we are rushing through our day and our week. PinkGirl even forgot about the storm. Now, we can say: “Have I not commanded you . . . ” and she will repeat it and continue through the end of the verse.

I need that verse too. I mentioned that I am FINALLY going to get rid of my fibroids by having a hysterectomy this year. Things are progressing and the realization that I’m going to have another surgery and go under general anesthesia – which is scarier to me than any pain resulting from the surgery – is settling in. I HATE going under. See when I’m under, I have NO control over what’s happening. I have to trust OTHER PEOPLE with my LIFE. I’m continuing through the process, taking action one step at a time, but I know the night before the surgery is going to come with some Ambien.

What I need to see is GOD working through those people. Let me tell myself that again. I need to see GOD working through those other people. He’ll be there in the operating room with me because he loves me. He’ll be there in the operating room. He’ll be there in the operating room. He’ll be there . . .

What I also need to do is to stop feeling guilty about having this surgery. Thoughts creep in and out of my day – I could just live with the daily iron pills and frequent bleeding. It’s not like I have a “real” problem. I’ve had a pap smear, an internal and external sonogram, a cervical biopsy, and two different kinds of endometrial biopsies. There is no cancer, there are no polyps, nothing suspicious. Just annoying bleeding and low iron that can be treated with a daily supplement. But. I know that life will be better if my iron levels are normal. I know I will be more active if I don’t have to deal with the bleeding. I KNOW the surgery is the right thing to do. My hormone levels are completely normal – no sign of menopause. So if I wait for menopause to stop the bleeding, I’ll be waiting a very long time.

“Have I not commanded you . . .”

So here’s the step of faith. I’m going to have the surgery. Because He’ll be in the operating room with me, guiding the surgeons, the anesthesiologist, and the nursing staff.

And since I’ve decided to have the surgery, I decided to have a consult with a plastic surgeon to discuss removal of the pannus I’ve had since PinkGirl was born. The crease is right at my c-section scar and it’s very uncomfortable, especially during the summer months. FirstHusband is very supportive of both surgeries. He knows what I deal with.

I originally asked my GYN if she would consider working with a plastic surgeon to remove the pannus and she immediately said yes, that she had done it before and gave me a referral. I was very surprised because she is over the top conservative. I called the referral and he was no longer doing “tandem” surgeries, but his son would consider it. His son. But. That’s not the referral I got. I was nervous. His son doesn’t have as much experience. I researched the son and his credentials are impressive, so I went to the consult, praying all the way there: “God I want to do this if it is okay with You. Please guide me by either easing my fears or making me even more nervous.”

I get to the plastic surgeon’s office and discover it is located INSIDE the hospital. I walk into the reception room and there are two people seated in the waiting room, one scheduling another appointment and one waiting to pay. I waited less than 5 minutes to turn in my paperwork. The receptionist validated my parking ticket, I sat down, pulled out my book and was called back before I even put on my glasses. I went into the examining room, explained my situation to the nurse, she left and I changed into my paper dress, sat down, pulled out my book and the doctor knocked before I even put on my glasses. He spent a good 20 minutes with me, first listening, then explaining everything. He suggested a full abdominoplasty and showed me that my rectus muscles, were separated. He said he could tell they were strong (all that ab work is paying off), but that no amount of crunches would ever bring them back together. All in all, I left feeling very confident in him. On the way home, I prayed, thanking God for easing my concerns. When I finished praying, I didn’t turn on the radio. In the silence of the car, I consciously asked for and then listened for God’s response. A few minutes later, I glanced over at the car next to me and read the bumper sticker:

“Gene’s Law: If anything can go well, it will.”

Thanks God. I don’t know who Gene is, but I get the message.

Then yesterday afternoon, I had a flash of fear again. Strangely, the fear was about the hysterectomy, not the plastic surgery. The hysterectomy is the more invasive surgery.

“Have I not commanded you . . . ”

So I continue. My iron levels are still low and my GYN changed my iron supplement to something stronger. I’m supposed to take it for 1 to 2 weeks, bank a unit of blood, wait 2 weeks or so, bank a second unit of blood and schedule the surgery. Right now, looking at FirstHusband’s work schedule, mid to late April seems good.

“Have I not commanded you . . .”

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Reinhold Niebuhr

March 4, 2009 Posted by | god's will, prayer, strength, women | , | 2 Comments

i want no regrets.

I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back. So let’s keep focused on that goal, those of us who want everything God has for us. If any of you have something else in mind, something less than total commitment, God will clear your blurred vision—you’ll see it yet! Now that we’re on the right track, let’s stay on it. Stick with me, friends. Keep track of those you see running this same course, headed for this same goal. There are many out there taking other paths, choosing other goals, and trying to get you to go along with them. I’ve warned you of them many times; sadly, I’m having to do it again. All they want is easy street. They hate Christ’s Cross. But easy street is a dead-end street. Those who live there make their bellies their gods; belches are their praise; all they can think of is their appetites. But there’s far more to life for us. We’re citizens of high heaven! We’re waiting the arrival of the Savior, the Master, Jesus Christ, who will transform our earthy bodies into glorious bodies like his own. He’ll make us beautiful and whole with the same powerful skill by which he is putting everything as it should be, under and around him.
Philippians 3:12-19, The Message

“Dear Eliot, today you went to be with Jesus. An undeveloped lung, a heart with a hole in it and DNA that placed faulty information into each and every cell of your body could not stop God from revealing Himself through a child who never uttered a word.” Eliot lived 99 days.

Sweet Tristan went to be with Jesus today. He was 56 days old.

“The Lady had hit a cyclist before she hit our mailbox. But nobody had seen the cyclist and the lady had no clue she’d hit him. She just knew she was sleepy one minute and hit our mailbox the next. This biker was just out on his bike and he got hit. They pronounced him dead at the scene. He died! O my gosh I cried and cried. My heart not only was crushed for the lady but now for the guy and his family!”

“Empty shell are the words that came to my mind today as I laid my eyes on Julian’s so very still body. It made it so real, so final… I felt like I was at the wax museum, it looked like Ju but it was just a cold, hard ,wax copy of Julian . It wasn’t him , how could it ? Surely I left him at home playing with the boys… Seeing him laying in his casket was unbelievably painful, my heart cracked a little more, a little deeper. I won’t EVER get to hold my child again, EVER… Nothing is more final than that.” Julian was 4 years old.

As a Christian, what I do with these stories? Stories. It makes it sound like fiction. Literature. My sister, a writer, once told me the difference between fiction and literature. In literature, there is always an obstacle, a tragedy to overcome. But this isn’t literature. It is real life. These things actually happened. As a Christian, what thoughts do I wrestle with?

I don’t know these families personally. I’ve only read about them. But I question, if I did know them personally and was involved in their daily life, what words would I speak? What actions would I take? What possible comfort would I be in the face of such senseless tragedy? Senseless to us. But not to our Lord. The promise is, that one day, we will understand. One day. Eventually.

But what about TODAY? What do I do with this in MY daily life? What does God want ME to do? HERE, in my circumstance. NOW, in this time?

I doubt I understand all that God is saying to me right now. I’m still working on it.

But I do understand this: I need to live with intention EVERY DAY. I know it sounds pious – and impossible – but the truth is I have an acute awareness that life is short. There’s an actual urgency in my day sometimes. I understand my priorities. I strive for no regrets. I don’t want to waste a moment of this gift of time that I’ve been given. When I begin to get overwhelmed with the mundane, I am humbled and reminded when I hear of what we here on Earth regard as such senseless tragedies. But again. Senseless to us. But not to God.

Today, we have faith and comfort in the knowledge that there is a Master who will provide all we need. We need to live in the world, not of it. Today, I will hug my 7 year old daughter a few more times than she thinks is reasonable. I will read her a bedtime story when I could be loading the dishwasher. I will walk around the block with her (again) as she rides her bike and sings her happy songs, stopping to look at every acorn, pet every cat and collect every leaf. I will listen to my preteen son and accept his thoughts and feelings as valid – even when they differ from mine. I will toss the football with him instead of read a book. I will have a night time devotion with him when I could be checking email or blogging. I will scream with excitement at every basketball game and take hundreds of photos to get one “great” shot. I will understand my husband’s travel in the private defense industry as our family’s small contribution to families of those serving in the military – those making a much greater sacrifice. I will forgive him when he’s late without calling, encourage his stress-relieving diversions and love him unconditionally.

I want to see the bigger picture. I want to choose on purpose. I want to respond, not react. I want to show grace, not indignation. I want to spend time making memories, not beds. I want to notice the silent boldness of a sunset, instead of the back end of the car in front of me. I want to try out the possibilities, instead of complain about the obstacles. I want to be still and abide instead of filling my entire prayer time with petitions and thanks.

I want to live intentionally, making the most of this precious, precious blessing of time.

The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.
The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference.
The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference.
And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.
Elie Wiesel, October 1986

January 29, 2008 Posted by | comfort, god's will, gratitude, moms, spiritual growth, women | 1 Comment

learning in flux


For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding.
And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. Colossians 1:9-12 NIV

I don’t know about you, but change is very difficult for me. I call it “flux” and I HATE flux. You’re not where you were, but you’re not where you will be – and you don’t even know where you will be. When you combine that with God’s will and all the current emphasis on God’s “individual will” for your life in contemporary Christian writing these days , it can be paralyzing. I’ve been going through that for a few years now (my husband calls it my mid-life crisis) and am just coming to peace with it. (Not all the way there yet.) I’ve spent so much time in my life focused on gaining knowledge and achievement, that it’s a very new place for me to realize I’m now more interested in significance. I love June Carter Cash’s quote: “I’m just goin through life, trying to matter.”

If you’re like me, you seek knowledge in decision making. And for me, that always means books first. I’ve found a few recently that have really made me think. One is written by Garry Friesen, called Decision Making and the Will of God. It’s not light reading. It’s a very big book. I got it at the beginning of my search for significance.

Throughout my life, I’ve often abdicated “big” decision making to God, thinking I was seeking and submitting to his will. Often, I would pray and “lay a fleece.” Now this is weird. When I took a moment to look up “lay a fleece” on the internet so I could better explain it, this is what I found first – an example from Decision Making and the Will of God by Garry Friesen:

“We all know this one. Heck, we’ve probably all done this one in some way or another. When we “lay out a fleece” before God, what we are doing, essentially, is seeking to know God’s will in a matter by asking him to arrange circumstances to indicate his answer to our question. In his book Decision Making and the Will of God, Garry Friesen uses the humourous example of the “phone fleece”: Suppose you want to ask Gladys out, but you don’t know whether it is God’s will that you do so. You decide that you will call her up. If the phone rings and someone answers (and you hope it’s Gladys), then God is telling you to ask her out. On the other hand, if you get a busy signal, God is telling you that Gladys is not for you. (She might be accepting a date from someone else.) If there is no answer, then you will try again later. Now, be honest: This is silly. Yet you’ve tried something like this in the past, haven’t you? I have.

The idea of a “fleece” comes from the story of Gideon, which involved a literal fleece:

And Gideon said unto God, If thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said, Behold, I will put a fleece of wool in the floor; and if the dew be on the fleece only, and it be dry upon all the earth beside, then shall I know that thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said. And it was so: for he rose up early on the morrow, and thrust the fleece together, and wringed the dew out of the fleece, a bowl full of water. And Gideon said unto God, Let not thine anger be hot against me, and I will speak but this once: let me prove, I pray thee, but this once with the fleece; let it now be dry only upon the fleece, and upon all the ground let there be dew. And God did so that night: for it was dry upon the fleece only, and there was dew on all the ground. (Judg. 6:36-40)

And so, we are told, once Gideon received the sign from God that he and his army would surely save Israel, he went out and did so. We too display Gideon’s exemplary faith when we follow his example. It sounds so pious, so spiritual, so faithful. But is it? Is this story about Gideon intended to authorize the practice of laying out fleeces to determine God’s will? I think not. Here is why the context of this story militates against the practice of laying out fleeces:

1. Gideon already knew what God’s will was. In fact, God had even sent an angel to tell him that he was God’s chosen instrument to defeat the Midianites (Judg. 56:13-16). In fact, when Gideon requested the sign of the fleece, he acknowledged this: “And Gideon said unto God, If thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said . . .” (Judg. 6:36, emphasis added). He wasn’t trying to find God’s will, he was trying to find a way out of it.

2. Gideon’s fleece was motivated by doubt, not faith. Already knowing what God expected of him, Gideon apparently didn’t believe it though the message came directly from an angel. So he requested a sign. Then he requested a second sign (Judg. 6:39), perhaps realizing that the first sign was rather stupid (there is nothing remotely miraculous about wool remaining wet after the ground has dried, after all).

3. Gideon must have realized he was trying God’s patience. He pleads with the Lord not to be angry with him for making yet another request for confirmation (Judg. 6:39).

4. Gideon still wasn’t convinced. In fact, after explicit instructions from an angel and two confirming signs, Gideon still needed to hear from the mouths of the Midianites themselves that they feared him (Judg. 7:9-15). Spying in the bushes accomplished what three supernatural events couldn’t.

In short, this idea that Judges teaches us to lay out fleeces before God to know his will turns the meaning of the text around 180 . This is a classic example of misappropriation. The point is not that we should seek God’s will by praying for signs. It is that God, in his grace, can use even his weakest people to accomplish his plan. Laying out fleeces in fact comes dangerously close to the pagan practice of augury – telling the future through signs and omens – which Scripture forbids.”

http://mcclare.blogspot.com/2004/08/fleece-peace-and-still-small-voice.html

<span So there's an example of what I was doing – right from Garry Friesen's Decision Making and the Will of God. I read the first part of the book and got completely depressed, realizing the way I’d been handling decision making was . . . not supported by scripture. Unfortunately, I abandoned the book, mid read. After months of not making any “big” decisions because I felt my process was flawed, I finally went back to the book to find out how Friesen interpreted the process of biblical decision making. The short answer is wisdom. Gaining and applying biblical wisdom. Which takes time. I’m still learning how to do it. It feels like I will never get it.

Another book I’m reading is Goal Free Living by Stephen Shapiro. He talks about living life following a compass instead of a map. Decisions aren’t necessarily “wrong” or “bad” they are just decisions and the outcome of those decisions lead us to the next ones. If a decision leads to negative consequences, we learn from that and use the experience to make different (we might say better) decisions in the future. Shapiro doesn’t profess Christianity, but filtering his words through my perspective as a Christian, I can see how biblical wisdom can be applied in this process. As a Christian, I would say that within the moral will of God decisions aren’t necessarily wrong or bad.

My poor son (and husband), I’m always inflicting my learning upon them when I’ve read something which impacts me. In trying to explain it to my son (and truthfully, myself in the process) I used an example (I think it’s from Friesen): We (my husband and I) haven’t decided what you (my son) should be when you grow up. There isn’t one specific thing you are destined to do. We pray that you grow to be a god fearing, faith filled, honorable man who makes choices based on biblical wisdom. Within the moral will of God, whatever you decided to do, will be equally pleasing to us, as your parents. And equally pleasing to God.

It has been so liberating to come to this understanding. Whatever I choose to do – choose to do, will be equally pleasing to God. I get to choose!

I have to choose.

And again, with the “it takes time.”

I’m also reading Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad, Captivating by John and Staci Eldredge, Ten Minutes from Normal by Karen Hughes, and about 10 others, so basically, I’m A.D.D. bibliophile. But it works for me.

“I am learning all the time. The tombstone will be my diploma.”
Eartha Kitt

October 24, 2007 Posted by | books, god's will, patience, pragmatic presence, spiritual growth | 3 Comments

I’m not willing to trade


Happy is the man who finds wisdom, And the man who gains understanding; For her proceeds are better than the profits of silver, And her gain than fine gold. She is more precious than rubies, And all the things you may desire cannot compare with her. Length of days is in her right hand, In her left hand riches and honor. Her ways are ways of pleasantness, And all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her, And happy are all who retain her.
Proverbs 3:13-18, NKJV

Last time, I wrote about my realization that this season of my life is “next” and about my decision to stop actively pursuing whatever may come after that. The reason for this post is to expand on one thing I wrote: “Continuing in a great career which still allows me to be engaged in my family’s daily life is NEXT.”

I do have a great career. While working a full time job, I started as a part time independent computer consultant and trainer in 1994 and incorporated as Pragmatic Computing (PC, Inc. – isn’t that cute) in 1st quarter of 1996. Then I rode the Y2K wave all the way into the new century. As companies upgraded their time and billing software, they upgraded their productivity software – and I did everything I could to make sure I was there to help. Monday through Thursday I scheduled classes for staff in the mornings and afternoons and for attorneys in the evenings. Fridays would usually be spent “floating” around the company assisting and troubleshooting. Countless hours at home and between classes were spent creating curriculum, arranging facility and computer rentals, learning every nook and cranny of the software I was teaching and preparing books and handouts for in class time. I longed for the weeks when I trained at companies other than law firms, because I got the evenings off! I had thrown myself into my career and achieved things I never thought I could. I generated an income I never thought I would. After a few years, I was physically and emotionally worn OUT and missed my family. I had discovered the price for all this “success” was too high and that I had defined success by worldly standards that I didn’t really buy into. My journal entries from that time in my life spells it out. This demanding, consuming schedule was NOT something I wanted for my family.

So, rather than ramp up our lifestyle to match our income, my husband and I stayed steady, made what we hoped were wise financial choices and prepared for me to cut back at work to focus on our family. I was able to cut WAY back on my business for the last five years. I retained a few of my favorite clients and only accepted new clients by referral. On average, I worked 10 to 20 hours per month. It was the right decision for our family at the time.

Last month, my daughter entered kindergarten and, armed with my family’s support, I believe we all are ready for my business to constitute a larger percentage of our lives. This time, I have a very different idea of success and have defined limitations for work which I fully intend to keep. So, I’m putting more time and effort into my existing business. But this time, I’m not willing to sacrifice what is important to my family for financial gain or career advancement. While those things would be wonderful, I’m not willing to trade my life (and my family’s life) for them. I’m still only accepting new clients by referral. I’ve gotten some new referrals and some of my current, but inactive clients have been calling. My hours are picking up, seemingly all on their own, but, barring a RARE exception here and there, I limit my work time to Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, while my kids are at school.

We’ll see how I do. I’m very determined now, but I haven’t had to turn down any work yet. That will be the real test of my resolve.

The scripture at the beginning of this post was from the NKJV. But I also like what “The Message” has to say:

You’re blessed when you meet Lady Wisdom, when you make friends with Madame Insight. She’s worth far more than money in the bank; her friendship is better than a big salary. Her value exceeds all the trappings of wealth; nothing you could wish for holds a candle to her. With one hand she gives long life, with the other she confers recognition. Her manner is beautiful, her life wonderfully complete. She’s the very Tree of Life to those who embrace her. Hold her tight-and be blessed! Proverbs 3:13-18, The Message

September 11, 2006 Posted by | god's will, moms, professional growth, spiritual growth | Leave a comment

what’s next?


To everything there is a season, A timefor every purpose under heaven.
Ecclesiastes 3:1 NKJV

Last year, I led music and one of the sessions at the woman’s retreat for my church. It was . . . comfortable. Time consuming, but not difficult. It was a natural expression of combining my work experience, my music and my faith.

So the big question: Is this “next” for me?

Do I begin speaking and leading music at retreats? Just women’s retreats? Pastoral retreats and seminars? Church staff retreats and seminars? What about Christian parenting? Do I limit myself to a certain religious denomination? When do I work? Weekends? Week nights? During the day?

I spent months bench marking existing speakers and vocalists, working on topics and outlines, recording songs for a possible CD, asking friends and fellow Christians for advice and opinions, learning, preparing and just praying for guidance. I developed my topics, modified my website and updated my mission statement. But I hadn’t really answered the one big question: When? When would I actually do this?

Then I had surgery and a week later, led music at this year’s retreat. I left home on a Friday afternoon and returned Sunday afternoon – and I realized: This is not what I want. Not now. Maybe later. But not now. This is not “my” time. This is my family’s time. My kids missed me. My husband missed me. I missed the whole weekend with them. I missed them. When I say this is my family’s time, I mean my whole family – myself included. I’ve been talking about being in “flux” and wondering what was next. I’ve been whining about how I hate being in flux and wishing I knew what was next. Maybe it was the surgery. Maybe I had a heightened awareness of what’s important in my life. But Sunday afternoon, I realized:

I’m an idiot. THIS is next. Raising my children is NEXT. Supporting my husband is NEXT. Doing devotions with my children every night is NEXT. Helping my children with their homework is NEXT. Listening to them is NEXT. Continuing in a great career which still allows me to be engaged in my family’s daily life is NEXT. Learning is NEXT.

NEXT is NOW.

Thank goodness I’m not just starting now. I’ve been doing these things for years. I’ve just finally realized that I don’t need rush this season of my life or add more to it that will take away from my goals as a mother and a wife. It will be over way too soon anyway. I remember being terrified at the thought of being responsible for another human life. Terrified at the thought of active parenting. Active parenting requires effort. Seeking knowledge. Trying different parenting techniques. Failing, even when trying my hardest.

What kind of character will my children have as adults? Will they remain faithful to God? I’m excited and scared to see how this turns out. In the meantime, I’m committed to giving my family the best of myself, not the leftovers. So rather than adding more stuff to my plate and hats on my head, I’m strengthening my core. (Not pilates, although I probably should do that too.) I’m stripping away all the things that are counterproductive to my goals as a wife and mom – NOW.

June 3, 2006 Posted by | god's will, moms, patience | 1 Comment

why now?


When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child, but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
1 Corinthians 13:11 NKJV

So why now? Why, after decades of compartmentalizing my life, do I decide to remove all the structural lines separating my professional and personal life and see what I get? If I combine so many seemingly unrelated aspects of my education, skills, work (and life) experiences with my faith, won’t it make me appear unfocused? Will it make me appear as if I’m trying to do so many things at once that I couldn’t possibly do any of them well? Will allowing current and potential business contacts to see my personal life (and my faith) make them uncomfortable? Will exposing my personal life (and my faith) damage my credibility as a business woman? Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to stick to the old adage? Business is business.

I stopped talking openly about my faith at work in the 1980’s when I got my first “career” job. I was young, surrounded by people who were more educated, more sophisticated and more wealthy. Lacking a formal education, with minimal skills, I wasn’t confident in my abilities in the workplace and was new to my faith. I was intimidated. I remember asking to take vacation so I could chaperone a youth mission trip and becoming engaged in a conversation where I found myself defending my faith when faced with the opinion “You’re young! What are you doing wasting your vacation time?” Over time, I learned to avoid conversations in which the intellectually minded attempted to convince me that my faith was idealistic and . . . wrong.

Later, as I began my career in information technology support, most of my colleagues were men. I found I was more comfortable adopting a typical masculine communication style – mostly report talk, not rapport talk. Business is business.

Over time, I let my guard down and have engaged in many workplace conversations about faith in God – but only with clients and colleagues with whom I had an established relationship.

So why expose my faith so openly now? I’ve been thinking about it and believe there are a number of reasons – some I’m not even sure I know yet.

  • I’m more educated now and the journey to attain the degrees was more life changing than the actual papers I received when I graduated.
  • My skills and experience in the workplace have increased and expanded. I’m more involved in training now, which required developing more diverse interpersonal skills.
  • My role as a wife and mother have taught me more than I ever imagined.
  • Years of teaching business and professional communication at UCF facilitated practical application of so many communication theories in my daily life.
  • I’m more confident now, not afraid of what people think and not motivated to gain approval by meeting someone else’s expectations when they are counterproductive to my goals. I understand that I will never get everyone I meet to like me and I’m okay with that. To each his own.

The bottom line is: This is me. All of me. Combining ALL my education, skills, experience ( in work and life) and goals (personal and professional) with my faith is having unexpected and interesting results:

  • I’m finding new ways to apply my formal (and informal) education across all areas of my life.
  • I’m motivated to learn even more while actively looking for ways to incorporate new knowledge in both my business and personal life.
  • I’m identifying skills I’ve not recognized before because they weren’t practical or necessary when my life was organized in neat little boxes. (Okay NOT so neat, but still – boxes)
  • My faith is growing stronger as I recognize more and more practical applications of biblical truths.
  • I’m gaining wisdom and making better decisions because I’m developing a conscious understanding of my personal, family and professional goals and mapping out the steps I need to take to achieve them.

So why now? Synergy.

What is synergy? Simply defined, it means that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It means that the relationship which the parts have to each other is a part in and of itself. It is not only a part, but the most catalytic, the most empowering, the most unifying and the most exciting part.

The creative process is also the most terrifying part because you don’t know exactly what’s going to happen or where it is going to lead. It takes an enormous amount of internal security to begin with the spirit of adventure, the spirit of discovery, the spirit of creativity. Without doubt, you have to leave the comfort zone of base camp and confront an entirely new and unknown wilderness.

Stephen Covey
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

November 10, 2005 Posted by | books, god's will, professional growth, spiritual growth, witnessing | Leave a comment

nosebleed


Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct your paths.
Proverbs 3:5-6 NKJV

Last month I shared my prayer as I seek God’s direction in my life:

“Lord, please use people, circumstances, your Word and your Spirit to guide me in the direction I need to go in order to glorify you . . . and please, please, please SLAM the door in my face if I even BEGIN to move in direction you don’t want me to go.”

I got a door slammed in my face.

I’ve been teaching Business and Professional Communication at the University of Central Florida since the Fall of 1998, so when I received my contract for Fall of 2005, I signed it and mailed it back – no big deal. After 7 years, it’s routine.

Two days later, the phone rings. It’s my “boss.” He’s the guy who handles the scheduling and staffing for the Organizational Communication courses. He’s new to the job this semester, taking it over from my old “boss” who recently retired. He’s nice. Friendly. Turns out, he was one of my instructors when I went to UCF.

In a nutshell? UCF is going through the re-accreditation process and he needs to “confirm” my “credentials” before he finalizes the schedule. So, we go over my resume, I tell him some recent work history and then there’s the teaching of this class for the last 7 years. Twice in those 7 years, I’d been asked to allow new instructors job shadow me. So, it’s a nice conversation. I’m confident I’ve highlighted my qualifications for the job. He thanks me and tells me he’ll let me know.

I spend the next 24 hours thinking about the possibilities. Will they offer me a full time associate position? A visiting professor position? Do I really want to work full time? How would it impact my family’s life?

The next day, the phone rings and he greets me with:
“Julie, the news isn’t good.”

(“The news isn’t good?” Wait. That wasn’t one of the scenarios I’d been playing in my head for the last 24 hours.)

“It turns out you’re credentialed to teach in the Business Department, not the Communication Department.”

“I’m not qualified to teach in the Communication Department?”

“No, no, no, no, we both know you’re QUALIFIED, you’re just not CREDENTIALED. You have an MBA and to teach in the Communication Department, you need 18 hours of Master’s level work in the Communication Department.”

“Oh.”

So he fills the awkward silence with an encouraging monologue.
(I think – I wasn’t really listening.)

Finally, I say, “You know, it’s okay. Really. I don’t know you very well, but I’ll just tell you – I’m a Christian and I’ve been praying for God’s direction. This means I’m supposed to be doing something else with my time and energy.”
(WHERE did THAT come from????)

“I’M A CHRISTIAN TOO! Julie, this is going to turn out well for you. I really believe that!”

wow. i do too. really.

So we spend a few more minutes talking, he tells me I can call him if I need a reference, we hang up and I no longer teach for UCF.

Excuse me while I tip my head back for a while.

October 14, 2005 Posted by | god's will, patience, witnessing | Leave a comment