The Whistler's Dream

Everybody needs a dream...
Mine is to go to Oklahoma and play whistles for The Pioneer Woman. (Having been invited, not in a "creepy stalker" kind of way, for the record.) Heck, I'd play in a pup tent in the backyard for the joy of the cows and critters. What can I say? I'm a fan.
Everybody needs a dream...

Random Fluffy Foto!

Random Fluffy Foto!
Writing in bed, and Beka editing by ear. Really. The ear typed some letters. Really.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

From The Advent Writings, Day 6: Temporis

Blessed Advent, and Merry Christmas my friends...

Temporis - time, condition, right time; season, occasion; necessity.
(Source: William Whitaker's Words)

We are a time-conscious people. Clocks in our vehicles, on our cell phones, in our computers. Places that we spend time or just hang out, we're always aware of the clock, and we keep an eye on it. Alarms,  reminders, beeps, blips, or cool ringtones - we find all sorts of ways to be mindful of time. If you use it efficiently, that's good, but if you're watching the clock, you're just killing time until you get to split, and that's bad. Planners, Palms, PDAs, smartphones, apps, tablets, netbooks, calendars - all sorts of ways to divide time, to account for it, to "spend" it, as if we had the ability to hold it like currency or control where it goes like a budget.

Or lack thereof.

So from our limited temporal view, trying so valiantly to corral time, to break it and domesticate it, God's abundance of eternity seems like... well... actually, we don't have any way to even begin to comprehend it. Our whole existence is made up of start and stop, of beginning and end, green for go and yellow for punch it, 'cause it's gonna turn RED!

So no wonder God's schedule eludes us. I mean, just thinking of asking God to check His calendar? Forget about it - a Day Timer the likes of which we'd never be able to lift. To understand His view of how sometimes it takes an entire human life for one lonely soul to finally turn to Jesus? Or how a faith begun at 5 years old can grow so beautifully through teen and young adult years, only to turn cold and bitter near the end, just at the doorstep of "faith made sight?" A young man, heart set on ministry with youth, steps into eternity the night before spring semester of his freshman year of college?

(And yes, that last young man was a friend of mine... we were freshmen together at GR Baptist College in 1977.)

Why do some lives, filled with such hope and promise, seem to get shortchanged on number of days, yet some lives, filled with bitterness and regrets, go on and on?

How can we understand God's timetable? We can't.

Think of the centuries of waiting, the looking and hoping for the deliverer. Seeing (or hoping that we are seeing) signs of His appearing, only to remain alone. Believing that things can't possibly get worse, and this must be the time when the redeemer will arrive, only to see things indeed get worse, and no relief in sight.

"O come, O come Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lowly exile here until the Son of God appears..."

Now, maybe like me your longing hasn't lasted for centuries, or even decades. Maybe your season of suffering, of change, of upheaval, of uncertainty has been relatively short in the scheme of things. Yet the depth of that season is just as deep for you as it ever was for the ones who waited long and weary years for the promise to be fulfilled.

To you, as to them, He gives Advent.

Advent isn't just longing, not just preparation - Advent is hope of a promise fulfilled, and remembering that He who kept His promise by sending the Messiah is the One who promises that He will wipe away all tears, that death and sorrow will be no more, that He is coming and will make all things new.

Advent is the sure and certain hope that the One who gave His Son as a gift to us all keeps His word; that He remains faithful and true; that He understands us in all our sorrow and hardship; He understands us in our joy and delight; He knows how to laugh and He knows how to weep. He knows fellowship with friends and He knows how to endure loneliness, the kind of deep loneliness that we can't begin to understand.

And He knows the proper time for all of them. He not only knows the "what," He knows the "when," the perfect "when," the time when the season or event or trial or blessing or joy or sorrow will accomplish exactly what He intends. There's never an interruption, never a delay, never a little glitch, never the blue screen of death. (Of course not - God uses a Mac.)

** Sorry - couldn't resist a little Microsoft baiting. Besides, the Linux folks are smugly saying to themselves, "we KNOW what operating system is the OS of the Throne..." **

** Wouldn't it be funny if when we tour the IT department of Heaven, that all we see are the names Atari and Commodore? Hee hee hee... **

At the right time, God spoke to Abraham.
At the right time, God spoke to Moses.
At the right time, God introduced Ruth to Boaz.
At the right time, God raised up David.
At the right time, God spoke through Isaiah.
At the right time, John was born.
At the right time, Joseph met Mary.

In the fullness of time, God sent His Son.

So as we count down time to the holidays, as we struggle to find enough time for all the preparations we think we need, when we run out of time for last-minute shopping, when we wish for more time to spend around the tree or table, when we hope for more time with loved ones, or wish we had spent more time while they were here...

As we try to slice and dice time like a crazed Japanese steakhouse chef to make everything fit; as we stuff and cram and juggle to fit in all the celebrating with as much wild abandon as our overburdened lives will allow; as we work hours upon hours to have minutes upon minutes to spend on Christmas day...

And when we get to January 2nd and wonder where it all went...

It's good to remember that He who sent His son has all of time in His grasp. None of it escapes or eludes Him. He gives us exactly as many days, years, hours, minutes as we need for what He has in mind. If our lives are cut short, it's no shock to Him - they lasted as long as He intended. We react with human emotion, with dismay and sadness, but He remains in control. When a dear saint finally says goodbye, and closes their eyes here in this world, they open their eyes before Him exactly at the time He knew they would.

Perhaps this Christmas season, it would be a good thing to let our fast-paced plans go for a while, and adopt a bit of God's view of time. To slow down, mindfully approach the season with a sense of longing, quit trying to fill every nook and cranny of the calendar and instead thin out the thundering holiday herd to have some significant time and memories for the days / months / years ahead. To have time to allow Advent to grow, to see it bloom in its arrival on Christmas, and to enjoy its beauty into the new year.

Yeah, it might make us feel like we're missing out on things. It might drive the kids batty to see so much going on around them only to be doing less at home. Maybe comparing a meager, reduced Advent season to all the hyper-jingling-jangling-multidimensional-overstimulating-flashy-shiny-impact-of-a-bullet-train festivities we see in media will make some feel like they got robbed. Maybe you thrive on the full-impact assault that is your major holiday celebration - maybe the only way to get your jingle on is to hit it full throttle, take no prisoners, go big or go home, and wring every drop of jolly out of every day, so a reduced calorie Advent ain't how you roll, baby.

Fair enough. It was just a suggestion.

As for me and my beloved, a quiet Christmas is a better one. A mindful Advent is the way to make sure that I'm very aware of what God did when He showed us what giving is really all about. Personal, intimate connections in this season remind us that God made the most intimate, personal contact of all - Himself. So I think I'll follow, ever so slightly and imperfectly, His example. I want my Advent to be one of connection, of intimacy, of contact. And in that way, I can establish a pattern that can continue into the new year, walking with Him each day.

Temporis - time, condition, right time; season, occasion; necessity.

"A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices. For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn..."

Friday, December 20, 2013

Throwback Thursday: From The Advent Writings, Day 10

Here's another little nugget from The Advent Writings. Merry Throwback Thursday!!

Sorry about the power lines... That's why Herself usually take the pictures...

Magnificat: esteem greatly; praise, extol
(Source: William Whitaker's Words)

How often do you use extravagant language? I know I don't hear a lot of it, except in commercials or spam emails. The words we tend to use in daily life seem to be of a smaller scale, don't they? "And I was, like, really? And she was all like, yeah. And I was like, whoa. And she was like, yeah."

Thus endeth the deep conversation. And yes, I've found myself saying "like" in that context. I've also taken to using the word "dude," which no self-respecting 52 year old should be caught uttering. (*ahem* I'm now 54, heading toward double-nickels rapidly, and I still utter that word...)

But, as I totally lack self-respect, I guess it's fair game for me.

Just kidding. At least, in this present life, I mean.

Texting seems to be leaking into our conversation and condensing everything into the correct length for a Twitter feed or a Facebook status and making it seem to be the norm. We pare back, we consolidate, we boil down, we cut to the chase, get to the bottom line, cut out the middle man, and damn the torpedoes - full speed ahead! We git 'er DONE, dude!

Uff da.

Extravagant language becomes suspicious - trying to truly praise someone is saved for an awards presentation or is considered flattering or buttering them up.

"Buttering them up." Sounds like the prep for Christmas dinner. Or Christmas baking. Or Christmas breakfast.

Can you tell I'm a little hungry?

When Mary comes to visit Elizabeth, there's a passage we call the Magnificat, or the Song of Mary (Luke 1:46-55). And you won't find any economy of language there, no pulling back, no wondering what Elizabeth will think, no attempt to preserve dignity. When Mary lets loose with praise, she brings it!

Sorry... Mary brought it. I dump it.

The sad thing is when our language conservation extends to the One who truly deserves all the extravagance we can muster. He is worthy of all of the depth and breadth the limits of language can push against, and He deserves every bit of honor and praise we can wring out of mere words. Yet, as with much of our daily conversation, we dial it back. If we ever do let fly with the kind of praise our soul would bring forth, people look at us as if either we just stepped out of the Way Back Machine from the distant past, or as if our elevator no longer reaches the top floor.

("And the things that he said made the people assume there wasn't too much left in the upper room." - my favorite line from Jesus Freak, DC Talk)

We were watching a DVD with our worship team at church, featuring an interview with Bob Kauflin, when, as he was talking about worship, he said this about our God:

"He is exquisite."

Bob said this short phrase with such love, such passion, that it stopped me in my tracks. When have I ever used that kind of language to describe my Lord? When have I ever heard that kind of language outside of a diamond commercial, thus producing feelings of guilt that I've never actually given my beloved the gift that she really desires, the one that shows I really do care, the one that every kiss begins with?

Why doesn't that kind of language come immediately to my lips when speaking of my Father? What happened to me that dialed my expression back to zip, so that to try and communicate the depth of my love for Him in deep, deep language seems clumsy, archaic, or just plain dumb? I mean, if I were to stand up in church Sunday morning, and start shouting "Holy, holy holy is the Lord God Almighty! The whole earth is full of His glory!", well, just imagine the kind of response that would bring.





As you might imagine, I have mixed emotions about it. (And for the record, my dear First Cov family, no amount of double- or triple-dog daring is going to persuade me to give it a go.) But in Isaiah's vision, we're told of the beings that spend night and day crying that to each other in the presence of God. In Revelation, we're told that the living creatures cry something similar and, when they do, the 24 elders drop to the ground and worship, laying their crowns at His feet.

And we're not talking an old English language thing here... Read some of those passages in The Message or the NLT, and you get the same sense of no-holds-barred, full-tilt, all-in, total-access, no-punches-pulled, full-contact praiseapalooza.

Go here with me for a bit, kids...

Imagine your gang from Sunday morning busting out in the sky over a bunch of guys in flannel bathrobes holding sticks and hanging out with sheep. And the mighty host of your own congregation bursts out in:

"Glo, o-o-o-o-o, o-o-o-o-o, o-o-o-o-o, ri-a, in excelsis Deo!"

Did the shepherds fall down at that mighty wall of sound? Or did they stand there, checking their watches? Um... sundials.

Is our praise extravagant? Do we launch into it with all our hearts, with our whole beings, and with all the resources and language we can muster? Do we let fly with everything, holding nothing back for the sake of what the people next to us might think or (more correctly) what we think or imagine the people next to us might think?

(Cal's honest response: I am guilty of sometimes not putting my whole heart and being into worship. At other times, I make the folks at First Cov grin from ear to ear, as the artist formerly known as the Fat Man dances with his bass, grooving with all groovedness.)

He IS exquisite. He IS worthy. And when He came to this world in human form, the praise that burst forth from the angels put the shepherds on their faces. But it didn't stop there. They went, they saw the child, they worshiped. And I'm quite sure their worship wasn't limited to "Whoa, dude." The Magi, when they arrived, worshiped the child. Again, I don't think we're talking about some basic King James phrases here - I think that when they saw God incarnate, deep and heartfelt worship was the only response they could make.

And nothing has changed between now and then. Except, of course, our level of distraction has gone way up, while our level of comfort with expression has gone way down. Our concern of status and what people will think has hit critical mass, while our level of abandon to love and praise is in the basement. We've drawn back, closed up, shut down, toughened up, and somewhere along the way lost our sense of wonder when we consider our Father God.

Do you, like me, need to get that wonder back? This is a great season to find it. Look at all the children around you, wide-eyed and eager. See the lights, hear the music, remember the story. Wonder surrounds us during the Christmas season so what a great time to start seeing the rest of the year with the eyes of a child!

Advent is about preparation - preparing for the arrival of the King. For me, it's also about preparing to walk with Him every day of this new year and beyond. And I think part of that preparation has to be about praise - learning to worship Him with my whole being. Just as people will bust out in Christmas songs with total abandon, praise should flow out of me just as readily, anytime, any season. No holding back, no worries about what others will think, no other thought than offering myself to my Father.

In short, I ought to be ready at all times to knock a bunch of shepherds off their feet. With praise. Just so we're clear.

Magnificat: esteem greatly; praise, extol

"Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and worship Him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say:
'You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for You created all things,
and by Your will they were created
and have their being.'"
Revelation 4:8-11 (NIV)

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

PeopleWatching: Lessons from a Madman

Here's another one of them there thingies I'm calling PeopleWatching - making note of people in my life that influence me. It's a way to be mindful of and thankful for the folks God places along my path to help me learn.

Such a person, such a folk, such a dude is Madman.

I at least attempt to protect people's identities when mentioned here, but folks who walk in some of the circles I walk in will instantly know who I'm speaking of. There's no way to hide it completely, because he of whom is speak is unique. Very unique.

Madman is the son of two longtime and dear friends of ours, and he's been playing drums as long as most of us can remember, having gotten an early start sitting on his dad's knee and holding the sticks while dad used the pedals.

And awesomeness ensued. He hasn't just grown into his gifts, but rather exploded into them.

The best part of all? Along with his musical skill, he is a man of God, walking in His ways. Incredibly gifted, and learning to walk in true faith and humility.

And he both inspires me and kicks my hiney. Totally. And makes me want to throw my bass under a bus. A little. In a good way. Sort of.

I'll get specific about that kicking thing, since it was a very recent Sunday morning where the aforementioned hiney assault did in fact take place. Madman was doing the drum thing that morning, and I was doing my bass thing. Madman's dad is my favorite drummer to work with - we've been playing together for many years, and I've enjoyed every minute of it. Madman is right up there with his dad, and I love it when I'm teamed up with either of them.

Why all the reverence for the drummers? Because together, bass and drums make up that most awesome force of groove - the Rhythm Section. In order for the music to live, breathe, and rock your socks off, the bass and drums have to lock down the groove - working together to make a tight foundation that the rest of the band builds on.

It is a true saying that "Nothing derails a groove faster than a bass player who's not taking care of business." The same can be said of drummers.

So, the two of us are listening to each other intently, to find the groove and lock it in. And that's when Madman done took me to school...

He intensely listens, pursuing his role in the music with full creativity and full intensity. And should I forget what I'm supposed to be playing at a certain place, he's listening, notices, and will try to adjust so we lock it down once again.

He doesn't hold anything back. He doesn't "phone it in." He approaches every gig, every song, every moment as a new, living, wonderful thing to savor every moment of.

The same cannot be said of me. And yet, it should.

Whenever I put on my bass, place my hands on the strings, and begin to play, I'm taking my place as a leader of worship. Part of a team, but a leader still. And way too often, I'm not listening. I'm not bringing everything to my part. I'm too passive, not actively participating.

I'm doing something I've done many, many times before, and perhaps that's the danger - too familiar, too used to how it goes. I'm not seeing every gig, every song, every moment as the rare gift it is.

And so, a morning of worship with Madman reminded me to bring it - bring my whole attention, all my passion, all of my giftedness, and put it out there. He challenges me to go all in with the music...

Which is how every part of my faith-as-life should be lived - all in.

Any of this ring a bell with you? Or, as the Bible puts it, anybody else need a reminder to return to your first love? That place of passion and intensity where every moment seems brand new?

Anybody else need a challenge from a Madman? I know I do.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Throwback Thursday: From The Advent Writings - Day 2

Another throwback from the Advent Writings - obviously not written anywhere near today, in 2013...

Day 2: Consideratus

Consideratus - examine/look at/inspect; consider closely, reflect on/contemplate; investigate (Source: William Whitaker's Words)

What an amazing day! What was supposed to be 1-2 inches of snow turned into a blazingly sunny, chilly but beautiful day. A day when Grand Rapids bid farewell to Fred Meijer. A day when I left the car parked at home, and rode the trike to my Biggby office. Light, marvelous light, brilliant light, abundant light.

I think introspection and deep pondering is best saved for sunny days. Grey days, when one would think it'd be best to curl up with a book and some cocoa in front of a fire, don't make the best pondering days for me. The grey outside tends to call up the grey inside, and it all goes south from there. Do your pondering when the sun is shining, and the light within tends to rise up and join it.

Why yes, I do struggle with Seasonal Affective Disorder - why do you ask?

So what do I see?

I see brown all around, the leaves having long left the branches, the world shutting down for a chilly nap. And yet I see people, almost as if they're picking up where nature left off, putting up lights and trees and other shiny bits. Bringing out red and green and gold, wrapping and stars, snowmen and reindeer.

And lights. Lots and lots and lots of lights.

Cozy Christmas sweaters, some of which are so horrible that they should never see the light of day (which is exactly why they get trotted out every year...), make their appearance. We show our willpower and restraint to not hit the Christmas playlist on the ol' iPod until 12:01 on Thanksgiving morning, while at the same time getting disgusted looks on our faces when the seasonal offerings get thrown up on store shelves at 12:01 on Halloween morning.

In some ways, we charge into the season, and can't get there fast enough. In some ways, we dig in our heels and try to keep the days from flying by. And in some ways, we get ready for the letdown that we know is coming, 12:01 on the morning of January 2nd, when the bullet train of the holidays vanishes over the hill, out of sight until next year. The 2011 edition of the Greatest Show in December is a wrap.

What about Advent?

If the season is indeed about preparation, looking forward to the arrival of the King, why does it sometimes feel that when He gets here, we hit a wall at 60 mph - all that rushing force meets the immovable object of the new year. What good is all that preparation if we don't do anything with it after the calendar turns over? We go from Advent to what? Do you know? The Church year is about moving mindfully through the seasons, so what happens next? What are we preparing for?

Not so fast, Grasshopper - we'll turn that page later.

Anticipation, preparation, excitement - not just for the purpose of celebrating one day, or even one week, but for a greater purpose: making the coming of the King a reality in our lives all year long.

What if we go through Advent mindfully aware that all this preparation is not just for celebrating the arrival of the King, but preparing to step into this new year having restored Him to His proper place in our lives? What if the point of this is getting ready to see this entire year as an opportunity to live as people of the King?

What if this year the decorations, the shiny bits, the songs, the celebration... what if the whole point is taking that light and joy and making it an everyday thing, because the King has come? He is here, He is with us, and we don't ever have to live in the darkness alone again.

To take an idea from a song by Sara Groves ("I am the moon, with no light of my own. Still you have made me to shine..."), what if we become the shiny bits, to reflect the King's light all through the new year? What if we ARE the Christmas lights, not to be taken down and stuffed away in a box marked Christmas decorations, but left out to glow beautifully the whole year long? The celebration never ends, never gets swallowed up in the mundane, because He never ends, and He never gets swallowed up in the mundane!

I think my focus through this Advent season is going to be preparation for the year that is coming. I want to mindfully note the joy of Christmas, the way that we all put aside so much of the "same old same old" and embrace the different schedule, the additional gatherings, the busyness, the craziness (much different than madness, by the way) and all the extra good stuff that we cram into this season. Then I want to take that excitement and keep it to sprinkle through the year to come.

We'll celebrate the arrival of the King, but the greatest news is that He stays. He's here. I'd like to see what this new year could look like if I try to live in that reality. To be shining all year with Christmas light.

Instead of dreading the train disappearing over the next hill, taking Advent promise and Christmas joy with it, I want to eagerly climb on board and ride that bad boy into the new year, shining with light that's not my own, looking forward to the adventure that He has waiting for me.

And for each of us.

“Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the LORD rises upon you."
Isaiah 60:1 (TNIV)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Obsession 2: The Guardian

"It's an obsession, it's my obsession..."

So I'm thinking through obsession - allowing myself (or yourself... or other personselves...) to go "all in" for certain activities, pursuits or tasks.

Or are those three things all the same, and I'm once again obsessively redundant?

Giving everything to something we love, something that's worthwhile, or something worthy of our whole being is totally fine... as long as balance is maintained.

And there's the rub, so to speak.

For the other side of the issue, in my case, is the dangerous side of obsession - when you can't dial it back and walk away from immersion in whatever it is that you've plunged into. 

(And if your plunge involved obsession with a plunger, I don't want to know about it, 'k? Unless there's video with a potential of going viral. Then I'll be happy to help you ride the wave of infamy. I've always wanted to write a soundtrack for the story of plumbing gone wild, because inside every grown male is a junior high boy who still laughs at potty humor.)

(I'm sensing a whole lot of eye-rolling from any number of females reading this. Sorry, gentlepersons, but it's true. Show most any guy the campfire scene from Blazing Saddles, and you'll have them laughing. Those that don't laugh need to loosen up and get in touch with their inner immature kiddo, commune with not-so-elusive barking spiders, or at least get back in the habit of blaming the dog. Perhaps watching a Three Stooges or Looney Tunes marathon will help. Then go watch Down Periscope - especially the "We are now going silent!" scene. If none of that works, you must turn in your male card immediately. Amen and amen.)

Having danced down that obsessive bunny trail, I return to our regularly scheduled programming...

I am capable of obsession - of throwing everything over for one thing, be that focusing on writing something because, as I write, it's making me laugh; being engrossed in a book, a video, or listening to something; or getting lost online, in essence trying to read the whole internet in one day.

(And yes, I'm serious about that last. More than one time, I've lost a  whole afternoon because I felt the need to read someone's blog. The whole thing. Every post. In one sitting.)

In the world of bipolar, obsession is a part of the extreme called mania. When the blinders go up, the world steps back, and one thing fills my whole world. Everything else fades away, except a little tiny voice telling me that this really is wrong, that getting lost like this is dangerous, and that I need to step away, move on, and let it go. But if I've plunged deep enough, the undertow takes hold and I'm lost. It can be hours before I surface again.

In my world, obsession has a dark side, a dangerous side, and can lead to loss and regret.

So, since I spent time in a previous post, Obsession 1: For Those About To Obsess, We Salute You, discussing where obsession is good, is allowed, and can produce deep joy, why am I now pontificating on the dangers therein?


Actually, I do. I was just messin' with you. 'Cause saying things like "just messin' with you" makes me feel cool, hip, and totally down with my bad self.

Word to yo' iguana.

The balance for obsession is a schedule, a routine - something that helps overlay a structure of reality onto the bottomless pit (or soaring height - because it doesn't always lead to darkness) of obsession.

I need a guardian. Somebody who's got my back.

Being definitely right-brained, things like lists, structure, deadlines or requirements are a little like math to me... utter lack of comprehension.

Ok - not quite as bad as math. After all, I have the ability to be places on time, to follow through with things that must be done, and to finish things. Usually. Sometimes. 

But, as all the world knows, I don't speak math. Or numbers, for that matter.

Often, when I try to put structure and organization into my life, I get all excited with a new program, planner, list, or device, work it hard for two or three days, then get bored and throw it under the bus to languish with all my other bright shiny toys that were the perfect thing to bring order to my chaotic world.

If you were to see the rotting cesspool that is my house, you would have a new understanding of "chaotic." 

Aye, right-brained are I. Driven by perfectionistic tendencies, but lacking the horsepower to actually make them real.

Thus, the guardian.

Now, the guardian is not some new whiz-bang cool tool. It's not a program, a planner, or a doodad. Rather, it's a shift in my attitude.

It's a realization that if my fragile mental balance is to be maintained, I need help. I can't do it alone, and nobody can do it for me. Without a shift in my thinking and a true desire for change in my heart, nothing will make a difference. Systems become boring, so I drop them. Accountability partners become task masters or slave drivers, so I turn into a spoiled brat and dig in my heels, screaming, "YOU CAN'T MAKE ME!!"

Nobody who is trying to help me deserves that kind of grief. Especially my beloved.

What I'm saying is that nobody can steer this ship but me. 

** Yes, you'll notice that I'm leaving the most important factor out at this point, best summarized in these words: "I can do all things through Christ, who gives me strength." Don't worry, saddlepals - I haven't forgotten. I've just got to lay some foundation stones, then I'll go to the only One who can help me make REAL change - the TRUE Guardian. **

So getting my noodle around this is essential - I think in pictures and see in stories, so seeing a routine and schedule as a friend, as a guardian to help me stay sane and live without loss and regret is a huge step.

I don't think the system or method matters - I have any number of things around that could do the job, or a combination of them. But the schedule, the routine - that's the key. That's the guardian, to watch my back and keep a leash on obsession.

I know that whatever I use to help me "see" the schedule has to be simple, has to be flexible, and most of all has to be bright, shiny, and fun.

I are right-brained, after all.

But the shift in my attitude - welcoming the structure as a lifeline in a deep ocean - there's the key.

How do I know that will work? Because I did it once before. On March 30, 2010 - the day my old life dropped away and I was ReBorn.

If I hadn't shifted my perception, worked my attitude, and seen the surgery as a gift and a blessing, I never would have been able to comply completely with all that's required for my second life. (Not that I haven't had some stumbles and misses, for the record...) But that powerful picture - this gift, this blessing - is what allows me to accept the requirements and restrictions, knowing that by doing these things to keep it, this gift sets me free.

And so, in a flash of Divine insight, I see another one of those gifts on the horizon - the guardian.

It's going to take some preparation and effort, a lot of discipline and sacrifice, and many, many reminders along the way that the guardian is for my protection, to set me free. The structure and routine will form a protective wall around my mind, so I can concentrate on being fully present in those things I love and want to give my attention to, without getting lost in the stuff that only leaves me with loss and regret.

Now, here's where the true Guardian of my soul comes in... only He can help me do this - to do something so contrary to my nature that it seems impossible. Only He can give me the determination to work through this and find the path He's already laid out, seeing the steps at the exact moment I'm ready to take the next one. Not a second before, not a moment late - exactly when I'm ready to move.

Shifting my perception and thinking - step one.

Finding the tools that help me bring the thoughts into the tangible - step two.

Staying on the path, seeing it not as bondage, a hassle, or boring, but as a precious friend that guards my mind - step three.

Rejoicing in Him, relying on Him, walking with Him... every step of the way.

Obsession before me, the guardian behind me, my Father beside me holding my hand.

I think this is gonna be a fun ride...

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Throwback Thursday: From The Advent Writings - Day 5

For Throwback Thursdays this month, I'll grab a few posts from the series I started a couple of years back called The Advent Writings... 

The Advent Writings, Day 5 - Deliratio

Deliratio - delirium/madness
Source: Oxford Latin Dictionary, 1982

When the Lord used a friend to nudge me into blogging, He made it pretty clear that I wasn't supposed to hold a lot back. Graphic and unlovely details, yeah. But things that might be embarrassing or deeply personal? No. Sometimes I look at what I've written and think, "holy cow - do I really want this out there?" I consult with the Master, I think, I re-read, and most of the time it stays. He doesn't let me hide a lot.

And yes, sometimes my beloved (the Proofreader) reads the words and thinks, "why in the world did he have to write that? Why do people have to know that about us?" And yet, they don't get edited out. She understands the need for transparency that God has laid before me.

As always, give her a hug today if you see her, or send her one via email or Facebook - she always needs extra hugs. :-D

These are two very personal stories from my life, so I beg those who know of what I speak to not take offense. The stories relate to my own mental workings, and not anything about the events they reference. It's my issue, not anything external. And as always, there's a point to this wandering.

Ok, "always" might be a stretch. How about "usually" or "sometimes" or "even a broken clock is right twice a day." That's probably more like it.

When madness invades Advent, scene 1:

There is a yearly event, a holiday tradition, and something that many would consider an essential part of their Christmas celebration. It's a biggie (for the folks involved or with personal interest therein) and is always a labor of time, sweat, effort and love.

And no, it is not egg nog, fruitcake, the Fifth Third Holiday Pops, or the annual playing of "Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer."

This event drove me nuts every year. I'm ashamed of that - it speaks about many layers of me and how I used to view the world. My part in it was very, very small, very easy (for one with my particular gifts), and not a big deal. Yet the mental angst and stress over it would smolder through the rest of the holidays. In short, my issues with this particular event would yank the rug right out from under Advent for me, every year.

For a number of years, it was related (as were most things) to my weight and self-image. My world was pretty pathetic, my response to most things selfish and impatient, and my field of vision limited to what I could see around my ponderous bulk. So this particular event would bring out EvilCal in the most profound way, and it would take the rest of the season to jam EvilCal back into the box.

If he ever actually got stuffed away at all.

It was madness, to get that worked up about something so small, yet I did. Every year. Why didn't I just stop participating? Not sure - I could try and peel back the layers to explore that, but there's no point.

Last year, (that year being 2010) well on my way to my present size, you would think that things would finally change. That I'd react with grace and patience, with all that newfound energy running around in me. You'd think that NewCal would triumph, that all would be well and jolly, and that angels would sing joyfully as peace and harmony ruled within my mortal frame.

And you'd be oh so very wrong.

Same piddly little stresses. Same overreactions. Same lack of patience and kindness. Same madness.

Sometimes kids, you hit a wall you just can't ride around. You can't go over it, you can't dig under it, you can't rewire how you perceive it, and you can't sort out why it summons your inner beast.

And that's when it has to go. Not just for the sake of your own happy little world, but more for the sake of those around you who receive the poison of your fractured heart.

Why relate this to Advent? Because I think there's so many more of these opportunities for an express train to madness in this season than other times. So many activities, so much stuff, so many expectations piled on one little holiday, and so many ways to experience madness on a personal level.

If you're a happy soul, well-adjusted and stable in all your ways, you have no grid on which to reference this. It's a foreign concept, one you simply can't wrap your head around. If that's you, bless your heart. Go forth, celebrate with your entire being, and don't get stuck with the fruitcake.

But if any of this rings a chord of familiarity in your heart, read on...

When madness invades Advent, scene 2:

In the last few years of my mom's life, we spent each Christmas in Oscoda, never knowing if this was going to be "the one," the last one ever.

Stressful? Oh yeah, you might say that.

Know this about my mom - she was the heart of Christmas for my family. I didn't realize this until she was gone. She was the one who made our season bright.

I remember one year, the one before the real "last" one, when mom was so sick. She'd always make stockings for each of us. Not just a few little things stuffed in a sock (not, for the record, that there is ANYTHING wrong with that - she just took it way over the top... and sides... and bottom... and everything...), but all kinds of things - toiletries, goodies, useful stuff, fun stuff, all individually wrapped, and put into something unique. Tupperware. Rubbermaid. A hand-woven basket. A garbage bag. My stocking has been in all of these. The rule was, if there was a picture of a stocking on it, it was a stocking.

This year, Mom had been trying very hard to do the stockings, but had no strength to shop for things as she would do every year. She ended up ordering some things (gotta love QVC), picking up others the rare times when she could get out, and had piled them all in bags in the spare bedroom. I remember helping her look through it all, and the sadness and confusion on her face. She had no idea what she had bought, how much she had, or who it was supposed to go to. This tradition, this fun thing that always brought us so much joy was so far beyond what she was physically capable of, and that came crashing down on her. I remember helping her sort through it, separating it into bags, no wrapping, just going through the motions, and I wished that I had understood just what this meant to her, so that I could have helped her more.


That was the year that we all tried so very hard to make it "the" Christmas - the one to remember. We honestly thought it would be our last together, and that desperation took hold big time. I was sick with a cold, we were all exhausted, and so we bustled around, trying to do the things we always do to make it feel more like how we all remembered or thought it should feel. I remember baking sugar cookies and decorating them at midnight Christmas day - because it wasn't Christmas without sugar cookies, so we HAD to have them so we HAD to get them done. We all tried so hard that we ended up with one of the most miserable holidays we'd ever had.

And on the way home from that sad time, Ezzie the Wonder Dog ate the two cookies my Beloved had especially decorated and saved for herself. I took over driving, as she wept - the cookies were the last straw, and we felt broken. My most vivid memories of Christmas with my mom are the year when we tried so hard to make it Christmas, and we left brokenhearted.

"Gee, Cal - just when I thought you couldn't put much more 'blue' in a 'Blue Christmas,' well, you proved me wrong. Well done, Grinch."

My dear ones, this season of joy can turn to a season of madness in so many ways. We can pile up expectations, we can bury ourselves in activities, we can spend well beyond our means to try and use stuff to create meaning, we can numb up and dive under work or obligations to keep away the lonely...

Or we can recognize it for what it is: madness.

We can choose to set some things aside, to close the door to madness - activities that cause us nothing but angst. Demands that place the weight of the world on our shoulders. Expectations that no sane person would try and meet. Schedules that rob us of time and strength and meaning.

And we can choose to embrace the only thing about the season that matters: the gift of God. We can restore Him to His right place, as the only One who gives meaning and clarity to this world.

As I said, if in your happy world, everything fits and makes your season bright, blessings to you. Enjoy your celebrations with a glad heart, cherish your loved ones, and celebrate Jesus.

But if the season brings too much stress, too much busy, too much excess without enough meaning, consider lightening your load.

The event that causes EvilCal to take over? I'm typing this as it's going on, staying away from it. For my heart's sake and for the sake of my beloved and my dear friends, I have to step away.

All the memories of Christmas as my mom declined toward eternity? Or the gleaming ones that proceeded them? Those shadows have to be set aside as well. Nothing will ever be like that again, no Christmas will ever feel like that, and I can't live my future shackled to that past, no matter how wonderful or horrible they were.

This year, I'm working toward a clean house, using the preparation time of Advent to sweep the floor of old dust and memories, and taking some things away, getting rid of them because they just shouldn't be here anymore. Polishing and cherishing some things from the past, while realizing that I'll never see their kind again, and that it's madness to try and make my present live up to their real or imagined memory. Raising my vision from the distractions all around me to the One who it's all about, and rearranging my celebration around Him. I lay down the past, the good and bad, the bitter and sweet, the treasured and the stressful, and realize that it was never about any of that in the first place.

Away from madness, into clarity.

Away from stress, into peace.

Away from unfocused busyness, into single-minded purpose.

Away from everything being about me, and making it all about Him.

"For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father...

Prince of Peace."

Isaiah 9:6 (TNIV)

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

The Humility Vow

"Monk Habits For Everyday People" by Dennis L. Okholm is one of those books that has rocked my world, and verily continues to rock my world, alleluia, amen.

Get ye down.

The summary of one of the Benedictine vows did mess with my head a bit when I first read that book...

And by "mess with my head," I of course mean, "pulled out my brain, put it into a blender, set it for 'churn, mangle, and generally splatter,' and dump it back into my head."

But, of course, you knew that's what I meant. Didn't you?

Of course you did.

The summary phrase for the vow of humility kind of goes like this, knowing full well that I'm probably remembering the spirit of the quote, and not the actual thing... Which is why when I refer to something, you can pretty much rest assured that I took it, put it into a blender, set it for "churn, mangle, and generally splatter," and served it up on this here blog.

And, of course, you knew I did that sort of thing. Didn't you?

Of course you did.

So, in a nutshell, the vow of humility says...

"I am not unique."

Some folks read that and immediately get their hackles up... Visions of "Fearfully and wonderfully made" dance through their heads, mantras of "You're something special, you're the only one of your kind" spring to their lips, and all they've ever been told about their own uniqueness and awesomeosity wraps around their psyche like feel-good armor.


That has nothing to do with it, by the way - I sometimes blurt out random phrases that I wish I had a place to use, but don't. Alas.

Other folks, who've been waiting patiently through the previous babble and rambling for their moment in the sun, respond, "Darn tootin'. You're just like the rest of us, Bucko - no better. So get off yer high-falootin' pedestal and come down where us regular folks live. Yee haw!"

I have no idea why I tend to hear that voice in Yosemite Sam Speak... Maybe it was Foghorn Leghorn. Hmmm... Nope. Definitely Yosemite Sam.

As one of my favorite pictures from Facebook says, "I may be schizophrenic, but at least I have each other."

Ha ha hee hee ho ho *snort* woo! *sigh*

I crack me up sometimes...

So, my take on the vow? How do I internalize that phrase? Kinda like this...

I am not unique.

- I am blessed, as is everyone else, equally.

- I am amazingly gifted, as is everyone else, equally.

- I am a recipient of such boundless grace that I can't describe it, as is everyone else, equally.

- I am broken, fallen, and have depths of darkness within me so deep that they horrify me, as does everyone else, equally.

- I am redeemed, set free by Christ and made new, as is anyone who accepts the life He freely gives.

I am a mixture of dark and light, of brilliance and despair, of joy and sadness. I have been blessed in a tremendous way, a very visual picture of how God's hand pours blessings abundantly to all of us, and I am also broken, unworthy of such boundless grace and mercy.

As are you. As are we all.

Look around, because the light and dark you see in yourself is the light and dark everyone sees in themselves. Know that in your giftedness, you are not alone. And know that in your brokenness, you are not alone.

When you are tempted to look down on someone else, consciously or unconsciously placing yourself above them, stop, pause, and remember... I am not unique.

When you are tempted to see others as so much better than you, that they have it all together, are gifted so much more, or have so many less issues than you do, stop, pause, and remember... I am not unique.

I am as gifted as anyone else. They are as gifted as I am, all made by a creative Father who loves His kids.

I am as broken as anyone else. They are as broken as I am, all cared about by a Redeemer who loves His kids.

I am not unique.