Thursday, January 27, 2011

There's No Gray

I've just started a wonderful Bible study by Priscilla Shirer on the book of Jonah. I was fascinated to take this study because I've never heard of a study on that book, and because Priscilla's anointed teachings during last summer's Anointed Transformed Redeemed study were so inspiring.

But I didn't expect to relate to Jonah so much. The study is all about how we think God's "interruptions" mess up our plans, yet actually these interruptions give us the opportunity to partner with God in the plans He specifically designed us for. So far, the lessons have challenged me to examine my life for areas where I'm running from God, areas where I've been disobedient.

Today's lesson really hit home: "There's no gray area in obeying God.... You don't have an array of options to choose from on how you will respond.... Choosing to 'do nothing' is really a decision to delay obedience--and the word for delayed obedience? Disobedience."

When I read that last sentence, my mind went back to the instructions God had given me a couple of days ago--which I still hadn't obeyed. And then I thought back to the first time He had given me those same instructions, a couple of weeks ago.

I was listening to a Christian radio station while I worked one day, and they were conducting a drive to raise funds for Compassion International's Water For Life program. For $55, you could provide a family in Haiti with a water filter that would produce clean water for life. I learned that in Haiti diarrhea is the leading cause of death in small children, and my heart went out to these families. I pictured my little Allyson suffering chronic diarrhea, dehydration, and malnutrition, and it broke my heart.

I should give, I thought each time the promotional ran again. But I didn't do it. Maybe I'll look at the budget later and see where I can fit it in, I thought. Then again, we were already supporting our church, and we had recently started sponsoring a little Indian girl named Saniya. Wasn't that enough? Sure this was a good cause, but you can't give to every good cause, right?

Fast forward to this past Tuesday morning, when I woke up at 5:00 with severe diarrhea and nausea. I spent the entire day and evening propped in a chair, perfectly still, trying to avoid throwing up--when I wasn't on the toilet. As soon as I realized I was sick, I reminded God I was supposed to be leading the first Bible study discussion at my table that evening. "I really need to be there, God. Please, please make this go away," I prayed. But I soon realized I needed to find someone else to lead the study.

It dawned on me that this was an interruption to my plans, just like Priscilla was talking about in the study. "What is the purpose in this, God? Why did I have to be sick today?" I asked. The answer came to me that night as I squirmed in my chair and tried to settle in for the night. I thought back to the children in Haiti and around the world who are DYING from diarrhea. Here I sat, moaning and whining over one day of discomfort while they suffered on without relief.

"Okay, God," I said. "I'm sorry I didn't obey when you first laid it on my heart. I'm going to get up tomorrow and find that Compassion website and send the money." It occurred to me then that I should write a blog entry about the experience, but I shrugged it off. No one wants to read about my diarrhea revelations, I reasoned.

So why am I talking about the unmentionable now? Because Priscilla got me again this morning. Immediately upon sitting down to enjoy my quiet time, I realized that more than 24 hours had passed, but I still hadn't obeyed God and sent that $55. "I'll do it!" I assured God, and I kept reading. At the end of the lesson, I had to talk with God about which ambitions, goals, people, and ideals have claimed more of my commitment than He does. One of them was our budget.

"Oh, forgive me, God!" I prayed. "I don't ever want to say I can't give because I have other priorities for the money you've given us."

I determined to find that website as soon as I finished with my quiet time. But then Priscilla's words echoed in my mind: "The word for delayed obedience? Disobedience."

So I went straight up to the computer and sent the money via a link on the Compassion International website. Take a look for yourself, and if God lays it on your heart, maybe you'll want to send a filter too. Just don't wait for a bout of diarrhea to help you make up your mind!

Monday, January 17, 2011

If I Could Turn Back Time

Yesterday afternoon while I was unloading the dishwasher, Allyson remarked, "I sure wish we had a time machine."

"Yeah, baby," I replied absently as I stretched to place a mug on the top shelf.

"'Cuz if we did, we could go back to see that animal I was afraid of," she went on.

I paused, holding a plate in mid air. What on earth could she be talking about? "Oh, do you mean dinosaurs?" I asked finally, reasoning that she must be wishing she could meet a pterodactyl.

"No! I mean that animal Savannah had yesterday. Remember, I didn't hold it because I was afraid it would bite me."

"Ah, you mean Oscar the ferret!" We'd seen Savannah's new ferret, which Allyson called a garret, the night before at my sister Emily's house. It was surprisingly cute for a rodent, but I kept my distance too because I remembered being bit (hard enough to bleed) by a ferret in science class when I was about 12.

My Niece Savannah With Oscar

Allyson With the Closest Thing She'll Ever Have to a Ferret

"So you want to go back in time to YESTERDAY?" I asked, unable to control my snickering.

"Well, yeah. Then I could hold Oscar."

I started to tell her I wished I could go back two hours in time and rethink trying to force her to have a nap [so that at least I could have had a nap while she played], but I bit my tongue. It's bad enough to lose a power struggle with a four-year-old without reminding her of her victory afterward.

I thought about the whole time travel thing for quite awhile, and I decided I like Allyson's thinking. You see, if I could turn back time, I'd surely go back and undo all my regrets, which would  of course make me into a completely different person. But Allyson doesn't have any regrets--aside from passing up the opportunity to hold a ferret. In fact, she doesn't even keep a catalog of past mistakes.

When I recounted the story to Bill at bedtime last night, he didn't see the philosophical side, just offered some practical advice. "You should have pulled a hat over her eyes and told her you were putting her in a time machine, then driven back over to Emily's," he said.

Now why didn't I think of that?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

What Am I Waiting For?

On our recent visit to Vancouver, Bill's mom kept asking everyone if we were making resolutions for the new year. No one took her up on that. She said her resolution is to learn to relax, to go with the flow. She followed through with that by serving us store-bought lasagna one night (three kinds!) so that she could go to Capilano Suspension Bridge with us that day instead of slaving in the kitchen. The lasagna was quite tasty, and we all had a wonderful time at the bridge.

But I didn't give resolutions another thought--until a few days after we got back home, when I was suffering from a bout of insomnia. As I lay awake for hours, I pondered the three types of people: 1) People who aren't afraid of anything and will try everything, 2) people who are afraid of everything and won't try anything, and 3) people who make themselves try things but then are tortured by fear.

Can you guess which group I belong to? Yes, you're right. Group 3. I'd love to belong to group 1, but if that can't be arranged, I'd rather belong to group 2. Because group 3 is such a frustrating place to be. I'm afraid of so many things, but I'm even more afraid of missing out on things. I'm afraid of big things and little things, important things and trivial things. Things like phoning a friend I don't know well yet, or breading and frying eggplant by myself (Bill usually does the frying on those rare occasions when we fry things in our house).

One of the things I'm most afraid of is skiing, and it seems to get worse every year even though my skills are marginally better each time we go. This time, it had been two years since our last ski trip, and I had a jumpy feeling in the pit of my stomach all the way to Mt. Baker, in Washington. I was dreading the cold, and the achy muscles, and the humiliation of tumbling end over end and landing on my behind, with snow creeping up my sleeves and down the back of my pants.

Although I said nothing about my fears, Bill remarked that maybe I'm getting to the age when I should just stay behind, that there's no point doing something if you're not going to have fun. This rather hurt my feelings--I'm only 40!--but I think it hurt more because he was echoing my own thoughts. "No!" I protested. "I want to be there when Allyson learns to ski. I want to see how good Ethan's getting on the snowboard."

As it turned out, I really didn't see all that much. Bill spent all morning on the bunny hill with Allyson, who barreled fearlessly down the slope but just couldn't get her "pizza" stance down. "Sorry! Sorry!" she'd say, just before she plowed into another hapless bystander. Bill said if she couldn't stop, she couldn't go up the mountain.

Rather than stand in the cold and watch Bill trudging up the hill over and over with her, I decided to ride the lift up with the rest of the family. "Is it a green slope?" I asked anxiously.

"I don't know," my nephew Kurtis (age 11) replied. "They don't really have colors. But it's pretty easy."

Kurtis (Age 11) Making a Glass Ornament at Capilano

"Yeah, come with us, Auntie Sarah," said his sister Katie. "Will you ride on the lift with me?"

Katie at Capilano (Age 7)

"I might knock you down," I warned, so she rode with her dad.

The scenery on the way up was breathtaking, awe inspiring. Or it should have been, but I was too busy worrying about how all four of us (Kurtis, my sister-in-law Lisa, Ethan, and me) were going to get off that chair at the same time. I probably said a prayer about it, and I guess God was listening because we all managed to get off pretty easily.

Lisa's husband Cory pointed the way to the "easy" slope, but I wasn't sure I understood his directions.

"Just follow Katie," Lisa said. But Katie zipped down the slope and out of sight before I had completed my first wide turn. All of them were gone, including Ethan, who thought he might not remember how to snowboard.

All except Lisa, who was following behind me, I guess to make sure I didn't get lost.

With superhuman patience, she talked me down that mountain. "Now go over toward that tree. Okay, turn! Turn again. You can do it! Perfect turn!" she hollered.

"Thank... oof!" I cried. My center of gravity had shifted too far back, and down I went onto my behind. "I'm okay!" I said, using the pole to push myself back on my feet.

Over the next 20 minutes or so, Lisa continued to coach me down slopes that seemed steeper and steeper. She said I was doing great, but not once did I relax. Instead, I spent all my energy trying to stay alive.

At last I crested a hill and saw the rest of them waiting at the ski lift. I made it! I exulted. I'm alive! Now I could go and check on Allyson. But where was the bunny hill?

"Get in line," Kurtis said right after I slid to a somewhat smooth stop next to him and Ethan.

"I don't think I want to go up again yet," I said.

"Oh, but we have to. That's how we get back down to the lodge where we were."

Ah, so this was a different lift. "Is it a green?" I asked hopefully. "Because I think that last slope was probably a blue."

"They don't really have colors," Kurtis repeated. "But this next one's pretty easy."

This time I rode with just Kurtis and Ethan, and we went way, way up to the top of the mountain. My hands were burning with the cold despite two layers of gloves, and the drips from my nose felt frozen. The view from up here was indescribable, and I tried to admire it, but my thudding heart drowned out my silent praises to the Maker of all this beauty.

Do not be anxious about anything, but pray about everything, I reminded myself. I prayed all during Kurtis and Ethan's chatter. I prayed while we dismounted from the lift--again with no problems. And I prayed when I saw an even steeper slope waiting for me.

Once more, Lisa stayed with me and helped me pick out my path, and she waited with me when I had a big wipeout, the kind that makes your skis pop off, and then you have to stand on a ridiculously steep hill and try to clip your snow-covered boots back into them.

But I made it down alive, and you can imagine my relief when I spotted Bill and Allyson at the bottom of the last slope--just before a snowboarder knocked me down right in front of them. (Only my pride was hurt.) 

And that was the end of my big, fun day of skiing. Under other circumstances I would have forced myself to go up one more time, and I might have had a little fun on the parts I knew were safe, or maybe I would have found the real green slopes and tried those. But Bill had been with Allyson for hours, and I wanted him to have a chance to use his $50 lift ticket, especially since I knew he would actually enjoy himself, which he did.

Meanwhile, I had fun getting warm in the lodge and drinking cocoa with Allyson. Maybe Bill was right, I thought. Maybe I am getting too old for this.

The Resolution
But I thought about it some more on that night of insomnia, and it made me mad. Why do I have to be afraid all the time? Why can't I let go of control and trust that everything will be okay? Why can't I have a little fun now and then like everyone else?

What bothers me the most is the way I'm afraid about my novel. I should be having so much fun writing that first draft, but instead I spend most of my time worrying--that it won't be good enough, that no one will want to read it, or that they'll read it and they won't like it. It's enough to make me want to quit, and I probably would have if it weren't for the encouragement of friends and family.

I don't know how it's going to happen, but I've decided that 2011 is going to be my year for letting go of fear. I think the key will be my new memory passage, the one about being rooted and established in God's love.
According to 1 John 4:18, perfect love casts out fear. So I'm betting that once I begin to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, I'll be able to start enjoying that abundant life He wants to give me.

What about you, which group do you belong to? Are you fearless, fearful, or in between? How do you deal with your fear? Can you have fun doing something you're afraid of?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

She's a Style Girl

Today was the day Allyson had been waiting for for the last six months: her first day of preschool! Despite her excitement, Bill still had a tough time dragging her out of her warm, comfy bed--out of OUR warm, comfy bed, to be exact.
Anyway, once we got her up and managed to get some breakfast into her, she was positively glowing with anticipation. Here she is with her brand-new Hello Kitty lunch box with matching Thermos, which coordinates quite well with her Disney Princesses backpack:

When I asked her to look over her shoulder at me so I could get a shot of the backpack, she obviously thought I expected a model's pose:

"I'm a style girl, aren't I?" she asked.

"You've got style, all right," Bill answered.

We both drove her over to the school, where we met her new teacher.

"We're so happy you're joining our class. Are you excited?" Ms. Robin asked.

Allyson clung to the back of my leg. "Kind of," she mumbled.

But then one of the little girls came up and took her by the hand. "Wanna play?"

"Okay," Allyson agreed, shrugging off her pink backpack and settling down onto the play mat with the other kids.

"Bye, sweetie. Have a good day!" I called from the doorway after Bill made me stop taking pictures. She didn't even hear me.

Bill and I thought about her all day, and I was so excited to pick her up at 2:00. She was beaming, and Ms. Robin said she had fit right in.

On the way to the car, though, Allyson confessed that she had not done so well with spelling. "I was the worst kid," she said, with a puckered mouth but dry eyes. "I got all the words wrong but one."

"It's okay, honey. It's only your first day."

"But one of the other boys got to move to level two. I'm still on level one."

"Don't worry. You'll get it," I promised.

When we got to Sonic and ordered the obligatory first-day-of-school sundae, all her concerns melted away--just like the ice cream that dripped all over her carseat.

While she ate, she told me all about her day. When I asked her about the little girl who befriended her, she said, "She was kinda 'noyin. She kept hugging me all day."

"It was very nice of her to welcome you to class like that."

"Still, it was 'noyin," she said.

But it must not have been all that bad, because all evening she kept saying, "Two more sleeps until I go back to school!"

She's offically a schoolgirl now (and a style girl, too).


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