Monthly Archives: April 2020

Follow Through

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When I was a little girl, I played with Barbie dolls a lot.  I brushed their hair and dressed them in their clothes, including outfits my mom had sewn for them.  I rearranged the furniture in my Barbie Dream House, set the table, and even decorated for Christmas.  All the while, I told their story in my head.  Sometimes they were going on a date or getting married.  I thought through all aspects of where they would go and what they would say. I would place them in their house or their car, and that was it.  Most of the time, I wouldn’t actually act out the story with the dolls.  I didn’t physically move them or zoom them around the room in the car.  Once I’d finished their preparation and created their stories in my brain, my play time was over.  I was done, and I left.  My follow through was lacking.

I realized later in life that my Barbie play was a precursor for my writing career.  An occupational hazard of being a writer is that I do a lot of pre-writing in my head. I can spend hours spinning a yarn in my mind, but it won’t make much of a difference, as in, no one else can read it, if I don’t follow through and commit the story to paper or computer. And that part is harder.  I’ve heard other writers discuss how they can tell beautiful tales in their minds, but struggle to convert the story to the written word.

Not that my lack of follow through is limited to writing.  I’ve had grand plans to create scrap books and photo albums, organize closets, exercise regularly, cook delicious meals at home.  Do more, try harder, be better….  Big plans that I don’t manage to bring to fruition.  But it’s not because of a lack of time or opportunity, it’s the lack of motivation and inspiration.  I abandon projects with reckless abandon.

Throughout my life, I’ve worried about God’s plan for my life.  Living in my head and overanalyzing things as much as I do, I’ve often wondered if God has a specific, detailed map set out for my life. And I spent a lot of time trying to figure out the steps of that potential plan.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to believe that God has general plans for all of us that mirror the themes of the Bible: love one another, love yourself, do good, take care of others, don’t be afraid, follow God.  But in addition to the overarching plans God has for us, he also has dreams for us.  He has given us talents and ideas, and like any good parent, he has hopes for how we might use those gifts in our families, churches, and communities.  Praying and inviting God into our lives helps us tap into God’s dreams for us.

But God doesn’t just think about us and then leave us all alone.  God is not just a planner or dreamer who walks away after he comes up with a brilliant idea.  He’s not like me with the myriad stories and ideas in my head that never materialize. God follows through.

While God’s dreams for us may change over time as our realities unfold, he never gives up dreaming and hoping for us.  Even when life is difficult and we wonder where God is, he is in the mix with us. He does not drop us when his dream for us comes crashing to a halt.  He does not abandon us when we make a bad choice.  He promises to stick by us no matter what.

I don’t believe God writes a script for us that we must follow line by line. But I also don’t believe God leaves us to fumble around figuring out our lives without help.  God is good at the follow through.  He is ever present in our lives with his enduring love.

 

 

 

 

Connected

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When Ben and I are both at home, our cell phones connect so that if someone calls one of us, both phones ring.  I will glance at the phone but won’t answer if I think the caller is seeking Ben. This strategy works fine when the caller is a work colleague of Ben’s, but not as well when it’s someone we both know. At times, Ben has answered and been greeted by someone who is confused about why I didn’t pick up.  A couple of times Ben’s mom has asked, “why are you answering Tina’s phone?”  We both find it mildly annoying that the phones sync at home, but not enough to find out how to fix it.

Recently though, this cell phone connection reminded me of another connection. In the Bible, Jesus says, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”  Matt 18:20.  This verse usually provides encouragement to me, but I’ve also found it somewhat confusing.  I believe that God is with each of us all of the time, individually, in our hearts, minds, and souls.  So, if God is with each of us, why did Jesus also note that he would be with a couple or group if they were gathered together in his name?

The other day, during this time of social distancing, I was feeling blue. While most days have been fine, I’ve found that some days leave me feeling down due to missing friends and activities.  In an effort to feel a little better, I decided to search for a box from one of our church’s annual women’s retreats.  We cancelled the one scheduled for this March because of Covid-19, so I thought that perhaps this old box would give me some comfort.  We’d created and decorated these particular boxes to hold lists or items for “In Case of Emergency” situations.  In the box, I’d made a list of things to do when I wasn’t feeling my best, which included writing, taking a walk, or getting rest.  I’d also made a list of people for whom I was grateful. I didn’t think it had been that long since we’d had this particular retreat, but much to my surprise it had been many years as evidenced by the fact that my seven-year old son Alex hadn’t even been born yet.

As I dug through the box, I found notes from women of the church who’d attended that retreat.  These notes were encouraging, sweet, and full of kindness.  They lifted my spirits all these years later.  A couple were written by friends who’ve since passed away.  I miss them and cherish these tangible reminders of our friendships.  Most of the women are still in my life and others have come along side us in the last few years.  We live in community with one another as part of the church. We teach Sunday School and Bible studies for the adults and the children; we worship and sing together; pray for one another; help each other during times of need; laugh and cry with each other; we invest in one another’s lives.  My life would be less rich without these women.  Thankfully, I also retain similar relationships with others whom I’ve met at churches or church related organizations in other places where I’ve lived in the past.

When Jesus talked about being present for people who gather in his name, I think he meant the types of relationships I have with my church friends. He is the overarching connection between us like the invisible force that synced Ben’s phone to mine.  He is the reason that most of those women and I know each other.  He is the tie that bound us together initially, and he helped us deepen those relationships over time.  There is something special that grows from God’s presence in these relationships.  And the wonderful truth is God can form those bonds for any of us, whether we are entering a church family for the first time in our lives or have been attending churches for years.

God is with us individually, yes, but he also forms the connection for his faithful community.  I miss my Church family during this time of isolation.  But because I know our connection was formed while we were gathered in God’s name, I know we remain connected during our physical absence from one another.  And we will rejoice when we can gather once again in Jesus’ name.

 

 

Easter – This Year

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Easter will not be the same this year.  At least not in terms of the modern American celebration of Easter.  Our church is pretty casual compared to many, but even we dress up a little fancier, sing a traditional hymn or two, and have an Easter egg hunt after worship.  But this year, in the midst of the Covid-19 mandated social distancing, we will not be together with the larger church family.  We will watch our worship service from home with our immediate family and miss being in close contact with our community.

This time in which we find ourselves is strange and disorienting. It is also scary and anxiety producing. Trying to protect ourselves and our families from an invisible germ that can sicken and even kill is a terrifying prospect.  As we should, we isolate, stay home, and try not to let the stress overtake us.

But we will not be the first group of people who were isolated and scared on Easter.
Our focus on Jesus’ resurrection is joyous, and we sing hallelujah in response.  But on that very first Easter, Jesus’ disciples had no certainty how the story was going to play out.  All they knew was that Jesus was dead, and they were now targets.

In John’s narrative, Jesus’ follower and friend Mary Magdalene visited the tomb early on Easter morning while it was still dark and found the tomb empty.  John 20. She hurried to Peter and John who also ran to the tomb.  Upon finding Jesus gone, Peter and John returned home.  Mary Magdalene stayed, distraught and weeping.  The women who followed Jesus were seemingly able to move more freely because they were probably not on the leaders’ list of Jesus’ compatriots who could cause trouble.  The men who closely followed Jesus gathered in a house with the doors locked because they feared that the leaders who killed Jesus would kill them too.

Later that morning, Mary Magdalene encountered angels and then Jesus himself.  She was the first to meet the risen savior.  She told the disciples all that she’d seen and that Jesus was alive.  But by the time Easter evening came, the men remained behind locked doors, huddled together, worried, upset, and scared.  When we talk about the disciples being afraid, we often view them with disdain: if they just had a little more faith, they’d have taken to the streets and freely exclaimed their friendship with Jesus.  Looking at their situation now, I feel more sympathy for the disciples.  They had every reason to be concerned for their safety. Actually, they were smart to stay under cover until they thought the threat was over.

At some point that night, Jesus suddenly appeared to the disciples in the midst of the locked room.  Jesus proclaimed, “Peace be with you.”  Depending on the gospel account, the disciples were terrified because they feared Jesus was a ghost and then overjoyed when he proved it was him (Luke 24:36) or simply overjoyed (John 20:19).  But either way, Jesus made his way into their place to lessen their fear. Jesus’ purpose was to make his presence known and to comfort them.

This year, we will miss out on the trappings of our normal Easter gatherings. Instead, we will be more like the original disciples isolated in their room.  And, we will continue to do the smart thing and stay in our homes until the threat is over.  But just as Jesus wanted the disciples to feel his presence in order to ease their fear and give them peace, he wants us to feel comfort and peace in our hearts, minds, and spirits.  Jesus was with his disciples on that first Easter, and he is with us today and always.

Constant Conversation

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Riley and I were on a girls’ trip, walking down a street in San Francisco, when she started to tell a story.  She was providing the context when she said, “Who was I talking to?  I can’t remember.”  She thought for a minute, mulling over the circumstances of the previous conversation. Then, she said, “Oh yeah, I was talking to myself.”  We both laughed pretty hard.  She proceeded to tell me about a discussion she’d had with herself about where she might live when she got older.

I, too, talk to myself – a lot.  Sometimes out loud, most of the time, inside my own head.  Constantly.  I narrate what’s happening.  I analyze. I debate.  I talk to myself about things I’ve done or said in the past and engage in imaginary conversations with others.  I dwell on the logistics of the day ahead and the length of my to-do lists. I figure out how to navigate future events, both those I excitedly anticipate and those I dread.

Honestly, I get tired of hearing my own internal voice.  Mostly because I’m not always nice to myself.  In fact, I can be downright mean.  I make a mistake, I call myself “stupid.”  I’m not getting much done, I’m “lazy.”  I may be a loser, failure, or bad mother, before noon on any given day.  I’ve read articles that ask if I would talk to a friend like I talk to myself.  Of course not!  I try not to be so nasty to anyone else.  Part of the problem is that I believe the things I tell myself and any failures provide evidence to confirm my diagnosis.  The other part is that I’m in the habit of berating myself.  The negative refrain has become automatic. Talking down to myself is a hard habit to break.

I frequently conduct internal conversations with God as well.  My stream of consciousness includes a lot of pleas: “help me,” “be with me,” and “give me strength.”  I pray about my anxieties and express my fears.  I don’t clasp my hands or fall to my knees, but this is my version of the Biblical suggestion that we “pray without ceasing.”  While I may not pray every moment of the day, my running discourse with God never truly reaches an end point.

I admit that I felt good about my non-stop prayer until I looked up exactly what the applicable verse said.  “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  Thess. 5:16-18 (NRSV).  My self-congratulatory attitude on the “without ceasing” part faded as I realized that most of my prayers involve requests and complaints, and some begging and whining. I may have the talking part down, but I’m not as good at rejoicing and thanking God.

And then I realized that talking to myself in such mean ways is the opposite of rejoicing and thanking God.  Instead of expressing gratitude for my abilities, talents, health, and blessings, I spend my time tearing myself down and complaining to God about my shortcomings and failures.

I don’t think God minds hearing my constant ramblings (at least I hope not), but I suspect he might prefer a little appreciation thrown into the mix.  And I believe it hurts his heart when we treat ourselves horribly.  Running ourselves down is not what God wants for any of us.  My internal dialogue with myself will never be perfect, but when I place it in the context of my greater, ongoing conversation with God, I want to try to be better.  Not only to myself, but even more importantly to God.