Five Minute Friday: In Between

This morning I’m joining with a wildly creative crew of writers (yes, I said it.  I’m a writer.) for our regular Friday morning date over at Lisa-Jo’s place:  www.lisajobaker.com.  This is where we are set free to write on a one-word (or, apparently, two-word) prompt for five minutes – no over editing, no backtracking, no perfectionism allowed.  And then, the best part.  You get to go visit all the other amazing blogs out there and leave them some love.  Because that’s what makes the world go round.  (forgive me, I haven’t yet had my coffee)

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I know some people consider in between to be a scary place, full of the unknown and unpredictable.  It can be.  When you’re in between jobs, or homes, or safe places, it’s a place full of worry and uncertainty.  I’ve been there.  Between jobs.  Between houses.  Between marriages.  For a control freak like me, not knowing what the future holds can be incredibly humbling and frustrating, all at once.

So instead, I choose to look at the in between as thrilling.  It’s a place of possibilities.  There is freedom in the in between.  You’re not tethered to one thing or the other, and you’re not limited by one or the other.  I dislike driving long distances but I enjoy the journey, if that makes any sense.  The newness of the scenery, the novelty of the road signs, the fascinating shops along the way.  If you choose to see it as an adventure, suddenly a long drive is anything but boring.  And if you’re in between you can always choose a different route if necessary.  There’s more than one way to get to where you’re going.   If you don’t like the road you’re driving, take a detour.

You and I are a different kind of in between, every single day of our lives.  As Petra sang, “We are strangers, we are aliens.  We are not of this world.”  We’re between two worlds.  We’ve living our lives on this Earth, but we don’t belong here and we’re not supposed to get too comfortable here.  That’s because our true home is in heaven although we’re not there yet.  It’s being prepared, we’re storing up our treasures there, but it’s not time for us to arrive.  And there is tremendous freedom and possibility here in the in between.

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”  Romans 12:2

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And now I am going to spend some time reading the lovely words of my fellow FMF writers.  And drink my coffee.

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Behind the Scenes: Exceptional

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In our family we believe that every child should have some sort of physical outlet.  We encourage (some might say insist) our kids to try different sports and activities until they find one that they really enjoy.  My oldest daughter went through basketball, soccer, and cheerleading before she decided to stick with the first sport she tried:  softball.  She ended up playing softball all the way into her college years.  My baby girl has tried several sports and at this point is doing competitive gymnastics and some softball.

This is my middle daughter, K, a few years ago when she was on the swim team.  She had already done two years of softball, some cheerleading and a couple of seasons of Upward soccer and hadn’t found anything she wanted to continue.  Because she loved the water and she had/has some powerful upper legs, we thought swimming might be a good fit for her.

This picture was taken at her very first swim meet, a low key event where the swimmers on the team basically competed against each other.    She’s in between events and she was cold, hence the towel around her shoulders.  What you don’t see in this picture is the wrestling match it took to get that swim cap on her head.

You see, this is my exceptional child, as in “the exception to the rule”.  She’s an extremely picky eater and has been since she was a newborn, which resulted in many months of worry from yours truly and many visits to the pediatrician to find out why she wasn’t growing properly.  She has never been what you’d consider a “good sleeper”.  Her senses are very acute and can detect odors/sounds/tastes/sensations that most people can’t, and they bother her.  A lot.  Too much sensory input can literally drive her to distraction, which I am sad to say resulted in her being labeled ADD at one point.  (We know better now)

See the edge of that swimsuit peeking out?  See how loose it is?  That’s because she couldn’t stand the feel of a skin-tight swimsuit, even though that’s better for swimming.  And the cap?  They were new, and they smelled of kerosene or some other petroleum based chemical.  The other kids all put their caps on with maybe a wrinkled up nose to indicate the bad smell, but not my kid.  It took a looooong time to convince her to wear it, because she wasn’t going to be allowed to compete without it, and you can see from the picture that she still has a distracted look on her face.  That’s because she can still smell the cap, even after swimming 2-3 events.  And it’s not only the smell that bugs her, it’s the skin tight fit.  As soon as she swam her last event, she ran over to me so I could pull the cap off.

I love this child as I love all my children, but this one seems to need a little more protection from the world.  In many ways, the world is a harsh place for her, with bright lights, loud noises, foul smells, gross tastes/textures, and uncomfortable clothing.  It wasn’t until last year that she would wear jeans – until then she wore sweatpants or yoga pants.   Brushing her hair takes an act of Congress.  As she’s getting older and nearing the teen years (!!) she is better able to handle things on her own but it can still take her a long time to get used to different sensations.

Had she been born to a different kind of person, life might have been even more harsh for this child.  However, I understand what she goes through because I have some of the same issues.  I am a very picky eater, for instance.  I’ve gotten better as I’ve gotten older but there are some things I frankly will never eat, like seafood.  The smell is too nasty for me, and even if you say there’s not much of a smell, I’ll notice it.  There’s more but you get the idea.

The end of the story:  she finished up in the top half of all but one event that day but she didn’t continue with swimming after that season.  (She is now fencing and loving it.)  I showed her this picture and asked her what she remembered about that day and the first thing she mentioned was the cap!

Lydia

Linking up today with It Just Takes One (http://onegirl-itjusttakesone.blogspot.com/) for her Chasing History series.  We’re learning about the women of the Bible and how their stories can impact OUR stories.

There is no way that the Bible can include the names and stories of all those early believers who chose to follow Jesus and had an impact on their world.  The book would be enormous!  But I find myself fascinated by those whose names were mentioned in passing, because we all know that God doesn’t do anything by accident.  What can we learn from these people who merited a mention in God’s Word?

When I thought about writing a post for this link up, Lydia is not the woman of the Bible I was considering.   I just happened across her name while I was turning pages, and when I stopped to read her brief story, I immediately felt a kinship with her because we seem to share the spiritual gift of hospitality.

In Acts 16, we meet Lydia as she’s part of a group of women gathered on the Sabbath near the river.  Luke says that they expected to find a place of prayer there, so maybe the ladies were having a prayer meeting.  Paul began to speak to the gathering.  Here’s how Luke describes Lydia:

“One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.”  Acts 16:14

Purple dye was expensive in those days, so if Lydia is a merchant selling purple cloth it’s safe to assume that she is not a poor beggar woman.  Most likely she had enough money to get whatever material goods she desired.  She’s also not from this town, because Luke tells us she’s from Thyatira.  Lydia was already a worshiper of God, but God opened her heart to hear Paul preach the gospel. (Can I interject here that I think it would be simply marvelous to be known as a “worshiper of God”?  )  Despite all her worldly wealth, Lydia knew there was something missing, and maybe that’s what drew her to the river that day.

My church’s mission statement is that we are to be “missionaries where we live, work and play”.  It sounds like Lydia would be right at home in my church because the next thing she does after she hears the Truth preached by Paul is go home and convert the members of her household.

“When she and the members of her household were baptized” v. 15

I think that’s what all God-fearing mothers want – to see the conversion of their households.  I know I do.  I have seen two of my three children choose to follow Christ and be baptized, and the youngest one is asking some questions that lead me to believe she’s on the way.

It’s the next thing that Lydia does that really makes me feel like we would be friends.  She invited Paul and his companions to come stay at her house.  Not come for dinner or coffee, an event with a defined ending.  To stay.  Have you ever done that – invited people you didn’t know well to come stay or live at your house?  Or even people you DO know well?

A few years ago my husband and I welcomed into our home a friend who was going through a rough time.  He and I share the gift of hospitality so to us it was a no-brainer.  She’s in trouble and needs a place to stay?  She should come stay with us!  And so she did, for four months, along with her three children.  So many people would tell us that they could not imagine taking someone into their home like that, and what good people we were to do it, etc., but we didn’t do it to show how “good” we were.  We did it because we couldn’t imagine NOT doing it, and I’m not saying it that to brag.  It was fun being together and it was very difficult sometimes, but if I could go back I wouldn’t do any differently.  The way my husband and I see it, God gave us this home and we want to use it for His glory.  With her three kids and our three (at the time), it would have been easy to get sucked into worrying about the damage that was being done to the walls, carpets, etc, but a house is just a building.  It’s walls and floors and a ceiling, and all that can be repaired if necessary.  People and relationships and what goes on inside the walls are far more important than the structure.

The next part of this chapter describes Paul and Silas being thrown into prison. (and includes one of my favorite verses, Acts 16:25)  Finally, in verse 40, there is another mention of Lydia:

“After Paul and Silas came out of the prison, they went to Lydia’s house, where they met with the brothers and sisters and encouraged them. Then they left.”

When they’re released from prison, where do Paul and Silas go?  They go to Lydia’s house, where they felt welcomed and safe, like home base.  They took the time to encourage their fellow believers before moving on to spread the gospel into Thessalonica.

Lydia may not be as well known as some other women in the Bible, but there are no bit players in God’s kingdom.  We all have a part to play and all those parts fit together like pieces of a puzzle.  We may not think our invitation to have a friend over for coffee matters much, but maybe it means the world to that friend.  And maybe seeing that you take the time to welcome in a friend will encourage someone else to do the same.

Less: Six Months In

So this year I decided that I would be a part of the One Word 365 movement, where you pray about the one thing in your life that you will be intentional about during the year.  If you’ve ever done this project, you’ve no doubt noticed that many people have nice words like “rejoice”, “joy”, “prayer”, or something easily recognizable like “intentional”, and so on.  The word that chose me this year was “less”.  Less.  I say it chose me, because frankly I was hoping for one of those “nice” words, or even something fun, like…  “fun” or “laugh”.  But every time I thought about One Word 365, or read something about it, or visited a blog with that button on it, the word whispered to me:  less.  It sounds odd but it didn’t really surprise me.  I live a life of excess, at least when it comes to activities and household “stuff”.  I’m also easily distracted from things I should be doing by the chaos around me that demands my attention right now, like straightening that toppling stack of magazines or making yet another trip to the store for something I forgot earlier or driving my children to yet another activity.  And we are a busy family.  I’m not even going to attempt to describe an average week, because most people don’t believe that we actually do all that stuff.  In the midst of all that bustling around, I rarely found time to sit down and study the Word, or pray with any sort of intentionality.  My children and husband weren’t getting much “real” attention from me either.

One thing that became immediately clear when I embarked on my journey of “less” was that I had to reduce the number of obligations in my life.  Basically, I’ve had to learn how to say “no”.  I’m not good at that at all.  I like to be needed and to feel useful, and I’m a firm believer that if you want something done right, you’ll have to do it yourself.   I have resigned from two positions I held within my church and handed both of them over to individuals who have proven to be far more talented at those jobs than I was.  I should have done that so much sooner!

I’m spending far less time worrying about all the things I need to do but haven’t done.  And because I’m not spending time doing that I have rediscovered the joy of getting into the Word every day (or nearly every day) and I’ve been able to work on this blog.

And then there’s the “stuff”.  I like my stuff.  My general rule is that if I can’t find or afford to buy another one, I’m keeping it.  If I can watch an episode of “Hoarders” and feel a little bit superior because at least I’m not that bad, then I must be doing okay, right?  Well, not anymore.  I’ve been cleaning out my kids’ closets and giving clothes and shoes away to friends whose kids can use them.  I’ve been getting ruthless about donating things to charity.  Just last weekend I was cleaning up from a rained out garage sale, and normally I would have boxed it all up and saved it for the next garage sale.  I was aiming to do just that, when it came to me that I should just donate it all to Goodwill.  All of it.  Before I could change my mind, I had it all bagged and boxed up and loaded in the back of my van.  My inner hoarder was protesting, “But, but…that might be worth some money!  But what if you need those 27 black purses someday?”  (As a side benefit, my garage was available to be used for its intended purpose once again)

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God has shown me that for me, my tendency to hold onto things is evidence of a lack of faith.  I don’t trust God to provide for me, so I keep everything I think I might need or want some day down the road.  It’s greed.  It’s holding onto things of this world instead of storing up my treasures in heaven.

So whenever I shop, I try to really evaluate if that thingamajig I’m looking at is really necessary for me to live a full life.  Do I need one more pair of shoes?  Can I live by the one in, one out rule?  (so far the answer is no, but it’s only halfway through the year so there’s still hope)  I don’t have to buy something just because it’s on sale and it’s a great deal.  I can only wear so many pairs of flip flops, even though I live in the South and we wear them just about everywhere and they can be worn about 9 months of the year.

And less can be applied to so many things.  There have been occasions when I let anger get the best of me, or sarcastic words fly from my mouth, and I hear, “Less of that”.  Less babying my children.  Less wasting time watching television.  Less bad attitude.

I feel like God has only just begun this exercise of stripping away the excess until all that remains is what is needed.  It’s scary but oh so liberating!

“He must become greater; I must become less.”  John 3:30

Rhythm

Today’s the day I hook up with a lovely group of writers who take one word and write bravely, with no editing, for five minutes.  Want to play along?  Check it out here:  http://www.lisajobaker.com.

It never stops.  I always think that soon, someday soon, there’s going to be time for me to slow down and think, but it never happens.  It’s like there’s a bass drum line to my life, with a relentless beat that keeps me moving.  School, work, home.  Summer, fall, winter, spring.  Laundry, dishes, vacuuming, mopping.  Life doesn’t slow down, it marches forward.  With apologies to Sonny and Cher, the beat goes on.

As a child I thought myself the center of the world.  If I died, surely the world would just stop, right?  I couldn’t imagine the world going on without me in it.  And yet….it would.  Just like it has gone on through generations from Adam and Eve until now.  The beat goes on. 

And there’s security in that rhythm.  God’s directing the drum line and choosing the time signature, and He’s got it all figured out – how long the song goes on, how fast or slow it is.  I like knowing that all I have to do is match the beat He’s already sounding, just keep in  step with His rhythm, and He’ll work the rest of it out. 

(I wasn’t sure where I was going to go with this one, but hey, my 5 minutes are up and I’m not supposed to tweak overmuch, so it is what it is. )

Behind the Scenes: Virtual Coffee Break

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We were made for community.  God put the desire within each of us to find our tribe, that group of people we can relate to, a circle of friends where we feel like we belong.  For some of us that means we never leave the town of our birth and we have a six-or-less-degrees-of-separation relationship with most everyone we meet.  That was me.  I lived more than 40 of my years within a 30 mile radius of the hospital I was born in, and I couldn’t go into a store without seeing somebody I knew.  Until 2006.  That was the year we moved 3 hours away from everything familiar, to South Carolina, and I had to start building my tribe all over again.

When we first moved I couldn’t remember how the process of making friends worked.  I hadn’t had to do it in so long!  Was it like dating?  (Yes, a little)  Was it OK to approach a stranger in line at Target to make a new friend?  (Fine for light conversation, but not generally a socially acceptable way to make lasting friendships)  Where do you find friends??

In time I did manage to make a few friends who were not scared off by my quirky personality and screwball wit, and some of them even lived in my very own neighborhood.  (The neighborhood pool turns out to be an excellent place to make friends, assuming it’s summertime) One dear neighbor and friend, Sylvia, shares (among many other fine qualities) my love of “the bean” (the coffee bean, that is) and one of our very favorite things to do is drop in on each other and sit around chatting over a good cup of coffee.  The cleanliness of our homes is not a factor, nor is the state of our faces and hair. Considering that we’ve been on vacation together several times in our 7 years of friendship and seen each other with early morning bed head and in swim attire too many times to mention, worrying about whether or not we’re made up properly is way down on the list of priorities.  It’s the community that counts. (I say Sylvia and I have been friends for about 7 years, although if you ask her she’ll probably tell you it’s been 5 years because we have a little difference of opinion on when we met and became friends.  It doesn’t matter, except that it gives me something to tease her about.)

The photo above was taken in January of this year on a particularly cold day, one of those days when you just want to stay in your pajamas, cover yourself with blankets, and watch movies all day.  In fact, I’m wearing my pajamas in the photo, not that you can tell.  I was on the phone with Sylvia and we were talking about how we’d like to get together for coffee but quite frankly, neither of us was willing to leave the comfort of a warm home to walk/drive to the other’s house, and there were children to consider.  And did I mention that it was really, really cold?  So one of us (ahem, that would be me) thought it would be cute to have a virtual coffee break together.  I used my phone to take this picture of my unadorned, uncombed self drinking coffee out of my favorite Dayspring mug and post it on Facebook.  Then Sylvia took one of herself in a similar pose and posted it, so we could see each other.  It sounds a little corny, but you know what?  It mattered to us.  Posting pictures on a social media site of ourselves in similar poses may not sound like much to most people but for us it was just one more thread in the tapestry of our relationship.  One more story in the collection of stories that we share.  One more “Remember when” that we can talk about when we’re rocking in our chairs on the front porch, two gray heads leaning close to share a giggle over times past.

I have a theory that friendships aren’t built on the big things, the crises that rise up from time to time.  Oh, those situations will show the true colors of a friendship, for sure, but I believe that the strongest friendships, the lasting ones, are built on the little things, all stacked up like Lego blocks.  It’s a phone call just to check in, or a morning spent drinking coffee and dissecting middle school social politics.  It’s having dinner together and not bothering to make the house spotless beforehand.  It’s being real and allowing someone to see what’s behind the well-dressed, made-up outer shell, and it’s making time to be together.  It’s the first time you admit that you don’t know how to get your kids to behave, and then all the times after that when you admit it again and again.  It’s speaking grace into one another’s lives because we are none of us perfect.  And it’s doing something silly like taking a picture of yourself drinking coffee and posting it so you can see each other and drink coffee “together” online.

Listen

It’s that time again – in the very best of ways!  Time to join up with some of the bravest writers I know and write freely, off the cuff, for five minutes.  If you want to play along, visit http://www.lisajobaker.com for all the details. 

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I’m a pretty good listener.  I talk a lot but I know how to stop and listen to the other participant(s) in a conversation so everyone has a turn to speak.  I can read non-verbal clues, and I know how to listen to what’s not being said to get to the real message.

Except when it comes to my conversations with God.  All too often, they are one-sided whine-fests.  Or I’m giving Him a to-do list, a veritable Christmas list of the things I’d like to see happen.  It’s far too rare that I shut up, stand back, and give Him a chance to speak.  I think it would be so much easier if God spoke to me over a bright red speaker so there could be no mistake, but instead He usually chooses to speak to me through circumstances, other people, His Word, and my own intuition (for lack of a better word).

So you’d think that because He has proven Himself to me so many times, I’d learn that listening to God leads to wonderful things and it’s worth the time it takes to hush and be still, but I’m not there yet.  Listening to God led me to my husband.  Listening to God gave me the wisdom to seek adoption, and direction on where/when/how to move forward, which led me to my third child.   

And it’s in those moments when He cups my face in His hands, turns it to Him, and whispers, “Listen…”  that I find the greatest peace. Oh that I would always have ears to hear His voice!

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