Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
By the second afternoon, I felt I had a sense of that direction and was filled with the joy of God’s peace and presence. The sun was shining, the birds chirping, the evergreens especially green, and the scent of pine filled the air. All was right with the world and my soul!
I took in a deep breath, and exchanged the shattered expectation for the humbled contentment of that truth.
This experience has come back to me recently because I feel I’m reliving that retreat in my business life right now. We’ve been steady and had a great year overall. I’ve been filled with joy and gratitude for all God has done, much like the first half of my retreat.
But for the last three months, I’ve been on that hike! I’ve felt lost at times, have had to regroup, have consulted the map of God’s Word, and have been encouraged by fellow hikers. But the trail has continued to be challenging. I keep coming upon bends in the road, and I have no clue how much more of the trail lies ahead before I’ll reach the “destination” I envisioned for this year.
I know God is with me, though. And I know he will lead me to the destination HE has prepared.
But these darn expectations! Releasing them, taking the trail as it comes and staying close to God for direction is not an easy task. In fact, right now I’m aching and tired, (and sometimes I feel like turning around!)
Rather, I’m trying to trust and focus on God so his vision becomes mine.
So don’t worry, saying ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ . . . your heavenly Father knows that you need [these things]. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:31-33)
Sunday, November 22, 2009
Now, I recognize that in this economy you may be saying, “What? Twice? Really?” Let me explain.
It’s not so much that I’m a die-hard Michael Jackson fan. In fact, the first time I saw it was only to be with my two younger sons, and they all but had to drag me. But after seeing it, something about the film touched me. I thought about it for days, hence the second viewing with my sister, who I knew would get the movie the way I did.
What was the impact?
The music was great, of course. I grew up with Michael in the 70’s and early 80’s, and then went through a second round of MJ fever when my sons discovered him in the late 80’s and 90’s. But what hit me about the movie was more than the music; it was watching the man himself, a master at work. From his natural talent as a child, Michael developed his craft, pushed the limits, and was, for many, a genius. But first and foremost he was a man committed to living out his creative core with passion and excellence.
I left the movie feeling profoundly inspired and motivated to excel in my own creative endeavors. I’m not a musician, entertainer, or an artist, but I do have a creative core that longs to find expression. I think we all do. It is part of being made in God’s image. He created and, with joy, declared it good. And deep down, we long to do the same.
When I say creative core I’m not just talking about the arts. I’m talking about any activity where we lose ourselves imagining and inventing ways to develop it, or make it, or write it, or organize it, or promote it, or present it, or assemble it, or plan it . . .
Whatever the “it” is, if the end result is something that was not in existence before, we created it. And if we are passionate and find joy in the creating, we have tapped into our creative core.
But for it to be good takes work.
Even in the biblical creation account, Genesis 2:3 says on the seventh day God “rested from all the work of creating he had done.” Now God would not have been physically tired, so this was probably more about modeling for us. But the point stands. Creating that which is good takes work.
And here lies the rub. We want the good without the labor! We’re usually not that eager to commit to studying, practicing, researching, working with mentors or coaches, failing and trying again, or doing whatever it takes to be good.
This is why people like Michael Jackson are so inspirational. You can’t watch his artistry without an awe-filled sense of what it took him to get there. Remember what Thomas Edison said about genius? It is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. We don’t like to sweat.
Yet, my heart is lifted when I see passion and commitment like Michael’s. How can I dare offer God anything less with the passions, gifts and abilities He’s given to me?
But too often, unfortunately, I’m just not willing to go there.
I’m reminded of a Plaster of Paris sculpture I did in junior high. As other students were finishing, I wanted to be done, too. When I turned mine in, my teacher said she liked what I had done so far, but wanted me to keep working on it.
We had a battle of artists’ wills for awhile, where I would do a little more, only to have her say, “This is coming along great, keep going.”
Finally, I held my ground to being finished, even though I could tell she wanted me to do more.
Now, more than 30 years later, when I look at that sculpture, I see exactly what she saw. I see where I really did stop too soon. It was okay, but not good.
Perhaps back then I needed more inspiration, a rest from it, or maybe I was just too lazy. I don’t know.
But I do know when I see models of passion and commitment today, and resulting fruit that is truly good, my creative core leaps. I want to create; no, I must create, to the best of my ability, that which is good, too. Just like my heavenly Father.
God saw all that he had made, and it was very good…
Friday, November 6, 2009
Those lyrics from Kenny Roger’s “The Gambler” have been playing in my mind all week. And boy, are they true!
Sometimes, I’m guilty of ignoring or missing God’s direction, but other times the opposite is true. I’m trying to hear God and be proactive, but I’m torn about what to do. Usually, I’d like a change, but I try to hold on and be patient for the right time.
For example, I am working on a new laptop computer and I love it! But the aggravation it took to get me here was ridiculous!
For three months, my old laptop had been having intermittent hiccups. That is, showing an error message and then cutting off. For most of this time, it seemed I was able to give my computer the “water” it needed, because after some tweaking, it would work fine. Then the hiccups turned into coughs and I took it to Geek Squad.
They didn’t find any viruses, and suggested a more complete diagnostic. But this would have meant being without computer access for days, which for my work would have been hugely problematic.
My husband had been saying for months that I needed a back-up computer, but it was hard for me to accept this. In addition to the expense, having two perfectly functioning computers in my home office seemed extravagant.
He would just shake his head. “You’ve got to be able to work,” he would say.
After my Geek Squad encounter, I thought I had arrested the problem because the computer was hiccup-free for weeks.
Then, last week, they returned, quickly followed by violent coughs. Five minutes on, cough, cut off. None of the things I had done in the past worked. I resigned myself to the fact I would have to be without a computer for awhile.
“Why don’t we just buy another computer? “ My husband asked again.
The thought was tempting, but I couldn’t get past the fact that it felt like my computer issue was minor. A tweak or two and we would be back in business. Should I really spend the money on a new one? Yes, it was an old model. Yes, I did have a business to run. And yes, it could become a back up. But buying a new one?
My husband walked away shaking his head again.
About 30 minutes after this conversation my phone rang.
“How are you?”
“You don’t sound okay…”
“Well, it’s just that I’m frustrated with my computer.” And I went on to tell him the whole sorry tale.
“Well, Honey, all the time and aggravation you’ve spent so far is costing your company money.”
My Dad always knows how to get to the bottom line. “Not to mention the headache!” He added, and I felt myself beginning to cave. “It’s just not worth it,” he continued. “Why don’t you go and pick up a laptop at --”
“That’s the same thing Al said,” I cut in as the light bulb came on. “Did he ask you to call me?”
“Yes,” he said laughing, “but he didn’t tell me what store to say.”
(God Bless, Al. I know he’s frustrated with me when he appeals to an older authority for support!)
So that’s when I finally folded. They were right; enough was enough.
Hindsight being what it is, I've had to admit that this is an area of struggle for me. I can hang on too long, trying to make something work that I should probably let go; be it a material item, situation or even a relationship.
It’s not just that I’m a creature of habit. I really want to be sure before God that I’m not letting something go too soon. I want to be sure that I’m practicing patience, good stewardship, kindness or commitment, and that I’ve done everything possible before I say enough.
But I believe God is trying to show me that often he's released me long before it clicks for me to let it go.
Sometimes stepping back, I can see more clearly and know what I need to do. But other times, I’m too close. As they say, it’s hard to see the forest…
Thank God for those special ones he’s placed in my life who can see the forest AND the trees, and who can affirm with wisdom and confidence, “It’s time….”
…a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away,…
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Well, I could have done one of those commercials the other week when I saw my bill was nearly triple the usual.
As I reviewed the detail, I saw the conundrum immediately: My internet card had a data allotment of 5,242,880 kilobytes. My usage was 17,970,609, translating into a charge of $500!
After picking myself up off the floor, I called my service provider.
She oozed empathetically about the shock and horror I must be feeling. “I only downloaded an audio book,” I tell her. “And my son downloaded a few songs. I had no idea we had drawn so much data and the ramifications of doing so!”
“Let me see if there’s anything I can do,” she said, and then left me to brood in silence.
A few minutes later, she returns. “Because you’re such a valued customer, I can give you a credit for $125, but that’s all I can do. I’m sorry.”
I was grateful for the token, but that really wasn’t the reason for my call. Primarily I had wanted to complain about the limitations of the card and express frustration around the lack of information about how the card worked.
Still grief-stricken, I thought about all the things I could do with $500, or even $375. I had been deliberately working on being a good money manager and trusting God to provide. But I had just spent $500 on a book and some music! What kind of stewardship was that?
I knew the “Why, God” question was irrelevant because the trials of life happen to us all. They are opportunities to learn, to grow, and to trust him. But in my heart, I also know I look for God to guide me and even to protect me from my own ignorance and stupidity.
As I’m thinking these things, hunched over, head in hands, I whisper more in rhetorical lament than actual prayer, “Why didn’t you warn me?”
I’m completely taken aback when in my spirit I hear, “But, I did…”
My mind flashes back to two months earlier. That month’s phone bill had a $65 charge for data overage. I had speed dialed my service provider then, too. This is when I first learned that my card had a data cap.
That time I had downloaded a number of construction blueprints. I assumed the blueprints were kilobyte-heavy because of the graphics, so it never registered that I had to budget kilobytes usage for what seemed to me to be routine downloading.
This memory reminded me that I couldn’t say that I didn’t know there was a potential problem. In retrospect, it felt as though God had tried to use it to as a teachable (and much less expensive) moment for me to educate myself and use wisdom.
Instead, I had chosen to remain ignorant.
This has led me think about other times God may have tried to guide me. I’m discomforted to consider how often I don’t listen and chose ignorance, negligence or procrastination instead of taking heed. And these are just the times I know about from hindsight. This says nothing of the times God’s grace circumvents my deafness in ways I’m not even cognizant of.
What’s more, I’m aware there are times when God has tried to lead me to serve others and I have not listened. Such as when he drops the name of someone in my head to call, send a note or spend time with. These thoughts lay on the surface of my mind’s soil, but never take root for fruit. I’m saddened to think of the number of times I might have been used for a blessing, but chose to ignore the prompting.
I suspect that if I could view a Divine communication data screen, and see just how often God tries to guide me for my good or for the good of others, I’d be shocked, dismayed, and then disappointed with the me I don’t often want to see.
As a woman under construction, I want to be a better listener. May God forgive me for dropping the ball so many times, and may I learn to focus my hearing so I can recognize him saying, “This is the way, walk in it.”
And then, just do it!
Thursday, October 8, 2009
[10 Minutes Earlier]
I was driving to a church staff meeting, where as the Adult Christian Formation Director I attend whenever I can. It had been a stressful week and I was weighing whether to still go. So I called my dad, the pastor, to discuss what I would miss if I opted out.
“Well,” he began slowly, “It would be kind of hard if you weren’t here since you are leading the prayer service this Sunday…”
“What?” I sputtered. “I didn’t know I was leading it!” [*Gasp, gasp*] “I mean, I only thought you wanted me to write it… I never thought of leading…”
Whatever he said next I missed completely. I was having too difficult a time breathing (literally and spiritually).
A few deep breaths later, I tuned back in.
“We can work it out,” he said. “If you’re able to come, we can discuss it when you get here. If not…”
“I’m coming,” I mumbled.
Normally, that would have been it: A case of misunderstanding that would be resolved within the hour. But that wasn’t it.
Now I am gripping the steering wheel and wheezing a prayer. Lord, what does this mean? Didn't I just recently commit to soaring and taking more risks…
Thoughts of putting my money where my mouth is, the rubber meeting the road, practicing what you preach and a whole list of other cliché’s come to mind. Now don’t get me wrong. I have actually been stretching to greater heights and God has been there every time, but leading the congregation in a prayer service? Now that’s mega-scary!
Driving down the freeway I try to pray, but it’s hard – my knuckles are white now, and I feel like I’m beginning to hyperventilate (literally and …). It’s time to activate my S.O.S. breathing support system. I call my mother.
Talking to her helps me articulate the crux of the matter. What I'm feeling isn’t about a misunderstanding. It's about fear. It's about discerning whether God wants to use this experience to grow me. And if I don’t do it, am I being disobedient?
My mom has encouraging words about God taking me higher and this being an opportunity for me to see him work, but she also feels that if I’m not ready, God will send other opportunities. “This is a tough one," she says. "Only you can make the decision.”
Usually after talking with my mother I have a sense of where God is leading me, but not this time. I’m breathing better for sure, but I’m still quivering. I feel like I’m standing on the precipice of a cliff. In my mind I know I have everything I need to take flight, but I lack the confidence to go for it. And this pains me. Does it mean I don’t trust God enough?
During the staff meeting I’m able to forget my cliff decision as we go through normal business. My dad hasn’t mentioned me leading the service, so I conclude he has worked it out. And then, just as the meeting is winding down he says, “Tammy has something she needs to discuss about Sunday.” [*MAJOR GASP*]
Feeling like a five-year-old in a room of grown ups, I take a deep breath and begin. I quickly explain the situation, how the liturgy for the service is already written, and that I need someone to lead it.
My briefing takes all of five minutes, but it’s excruciating – I feel so naked.
And the whole time, I’m praying. God, am I giving away something that I should be doing myself? Am I disappointing you? Am I failing to avail myself to what you want to do in my life? I’m just so scared…
God is quiet.
After a brief discussion, one of the pastors says, “I’ll do it.” Then others chime in and by the time the meeting is over, it’s decided that various pastors will lead the sections.
As the meeting moves on to another topic without any fanfare around my ordeal, I look around the room. I rush of relief washes over me, and then the most incredible sense of love. I feel God’s tender and warm embrace through my brothers and sisters, whether they know it or not.
And I hear God say: It’s okay, Tammy, I love you. We’ll take that flight when you’re ready.
Monday, September 28, 2009
- Air nourishes our blood, enabling us to function properly.
- We were made to breathe automatically and unconsciously.
- Taking a deep breath, calms, focuses and empowers us.
- The lack of sufficient air can lead to lethargy, drowsiness or headaches.
- The complete lack of air can lead to brain damage or death.
It’s easy to see how prayer is indeed the breathing of the soul. I know this cognitively and even experientially. But I also know there are times my soul experiences shortness of breath and gasps for air. The problem is not so much around the issues that send me to my knees; my prayers are pretty strong then. It is the little stresses of life that can take my breath away.
Recently, I saw a DVD entitled “The Widow and the Judge.” It’s one of the Modern Parables series, based on the story found in Luke 18:1-8 about prayer. The filmmaker did an excellent job staying true to the parable, but one thing that specifically struck me was a prop he used. In the drama, he depicted the widow as being asthmatic. Whenever she felt stress, she would experience labored breathing and need her inhaler.
Now I’m not an asthmatic, and I can’t even imagine what it must be like to have breathing restrictions. It feels scary just thinking about it. But those who have asthma have learned what to do to manage that reality. They know their very lives depend on restoring proper breathing as quickly as possible.
I’ve been thinking about this all week.
During the commentary on the DVD, the pastor noted that prayer is such a private and intimate thing, we can’t see it in others, but we can see the evidence when it’s lacking. He said we see its lack when fear sets in, worry, anxiety, frustration…
These are all words I’m well-acquainted with. In fact, his point hit a sore spot, for these are the very times I can find it hard to pray.
What’s more, thinking about the widow, it occurred to me that in those moments, I’m having a spiritual asthma attack. In other words, I need to proactively restore proper breathing and open the channel to my soul so prayer can flow freely without restriction, as soon as possible.
Just as an asthmatic automatically recognizes symptoms and reaches for an inhaler. I, too, want to recognize when I’m beginning to suffocate my soul with worry, anxiety, or frustration. I’m so accustomed to these symptoms that I have a tendency to wait too long before taking action. But waiting can have drastic consequences to my spiritual health (not to mention my emotional or physical health!)
As I thought about this idea this week, I surmised that learning to recognize and respond to the symptoms sooner would invariably make a huge difference in my soul, and was this ever true.
My personal “inhalers” vary: recalling a scripture passage, singing a praise song, and dispelling thoughts of fear by remembering God’s faithfulness have all served to reduce the negative flare ups that so frequently restrict my prayers. The key has been addressing the symptoms sooner than later.
Saturday, September 19, 2009
My second son and I were on our annual retreat. It’s been a mother-son tradition ever since the FOURCE was young that they had individual time with me. Back then I would take them to breakfast, but as the years have passed the tradition has evolved into an annual (or mini-quarterly) experience, revolving around a point of connection we share.
For the last four or five years, Troy and I have had a “business retreat”. Initially, it was to support our new enterprises. He had started a childcare event agency, and I was doing construction. We’d discuss marketing, client care, finances, program and employee development, and stuff like that.
In recent years, ministry development has become a key component because we both have leadership roles in our churches. We are often up late sharing ideas, brainstorming, and clarifying where we feel God is leading us in ministry and business. And, we always include some fun like hiking or seeing a movie.
Our retreats, while always enjoyable and beneficial, had become a bit predictable. Which is why this past August, I was totally unprepared for what happened.
I guess it began when I told Troy I had been praying about returning to school. I shared that while I loved what I was doing; I felt there was something more. I explained that I wanted to “soar like an eagle,” and actually felt I was capable, but something was holding me back. The more I talked the more the metaphor came pouring out until finally I said, “I feel like an eagle caught in a trade wind!”
Troy was quiet for a long moment, and then he said something that rocks me to this day.
He said, “It seems to me, if you feel stuck in a trade wind, you aren’t flying high enough.”I still get chills thinking about that statement! He said it so matter-of-factly; I truly believe he was just thinking aloud. I don’t even think he thought it was profound, and perhaps you don’t either. But to me, it rang so true, that I was literally stunned for a moment.
This sparked my preoccupation with a question I’ve had ever since: What does it mean to fly higher?
So far, I’ve been reflecting on the times I do feel I’m flying. I may not be soaring as high as I’d like, but it’s high enough to know the freedom, joy and peace of a life in flight. I’ve identified three optimum flying conditions to date.
1. When I’m replenishing my soul. Spending time with God and getting to know him better;
enjoying the beauty of his creation, especially nature, art, and music; and bonding with my family, all lift my Spirit on eagle’s wings.
2. When I’m doing what I feel God has made me to do. Teaching, writing, learning new things, or organizing a vision into a plan, especially one that relates to helping people grow personally or spiritually is pure exhilaration! Not always easy, but exhilarating just the same.
3. When I’ve taken a risk outside of my comfort zone, trusting God was with me. Now this one is tricky because I can have so much anxiety traveling outside my comfort zone that I almost get ill. And risk-taking doesn’t always turn out the way I planned. Still, on those occasions when “I’ve done it,” and see how God has worked with me and through me, even in “failure”-- those are definitely ascension moments.
So now I’m on a mission to find opportunities to stretch my wings. I want to live the adventure God has placed in my heart, take more risks, and experience the delight of flight. For I truly believe that Troy’s words resonated so deeply because this is what God desires for me, as well. And what’s more, I’m starting to realize that the only real trade wind holding me back… is me.
Friday, September 11, 2009
By all practical appearances, today started like any other day. A fluttering of eyelids and blurred vision from absent glasses; the complaints of muscles not too happy about being disturbed from slumber, and the distant sound of a train heralding the morning commute.
Just like any other day, except...
"Happy Birthday, Honey!" My husband murmurs, turning over and kissing me.
Today marks the last birthday I can claim as 40-something. Not calculating for the exact time I was born and leap years and such, I’m 8,760 hours, 365 days, and 52 weeks away from turning the big 5-0.
Turning 50 isn’t particularly scary or off-putting for me. Just… sobering. It’s sobering to note how quickly 50 years have passed, which means the next 50 will flash like lightning.
Even though choices I’ve made set the direction and became the blueprints of my life, each choice also led to new directions, obstacles and surprises that I never could have predicted.
For example, 25 years ago I never would have envisioned that my first born son, who would have been one year old at the time, would later be joined by three brothers, who in their adolescent years would name themselves The FOURCE. (I wanted four children, but the gender mix was never what I had in mind.) And yet, words cannot convey the joy and love my sons, now men, have brought into my life. I’m continually amazed by who they have become and are becoming, and count them among my dearest friends.
Twenty years ago I never would have imagined that I would become a Head of School. At the time I was completing a Masters in Education, with the plan of becoming a curriculum and children’s literature writer. While these two aspirations actually came to fruition, I never suspected my pursuits in education and gifts in administration would synthesize into a 15-year career as a school administrator.
Fifteen years ago I never would have predicated that my first husband and I were headed for trouble. I didn’t see it coming, although I should have. Divorces don’t just happen. But a split after 18 years of marriage was never in my original life plan.
And, 10 years ago I never would have guessed that I would be running a residential remodeling construction company, with my second husband. In fact, I would have laughed out loud at any fortune teller who saw this in her crystal ball. And yet – here I am: a five-year business owner. Enjoying it and relatively successful at it. Who would have thought?
But are these benchmarks, highs and lows the totality of my 49 years? They are the foundation and framing by which my life has been built upon to date, but what about the quality of the infrastructure? Am I in balance and in touch with the real me? Am I living out my purpose? Have I learned anything that can be shared as an encouragement to others?
There is one thing I know for sure. That is, while I have followed my dreams, faced complications and generally found my way in life, I’ve also come to recognize the work of a Master Architect/Builder overseeing this project called Tammy. From the beginning, He’s been putting things together in ways I never could have, with a vision of beauty I’m only just beginning to see.
So what’s next?
That’s what this blog will be about. As 50 moves from distant marker to in-my-face signpost, this will be a year of looking back, living in the moment, and launching ahead to align myself with the Master Plan. Because if there’s nothing else my 49 years have taught me, it’s that I’m A Woman Under Construction and God is not through with me yet!
I invite you to walk this year with me. As I reflect, I would hope that you would do so as well, and join me in uncovering the realities and truths that will resonate with anyone who is Under Construction, and seeking to live out master plans by becoming all God intends for them to become.