Don’t Let the “Stuff” Distract You from the Substance!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo here we are on the cusp of Thanksgiving Weekend with the Black Friday/ Cyber Monday sales ads hitting us from all sides… Distracting aren’t they?  After awhile the deals do start looking too good to pass up– even when we KNOW we don’t need that new outfit or electronic “toy”. Don’t buy into the hype!  If we had all of the stuff in the world that tempts us, it still wouldn’t come close to God’s true abundant life.

For those of you unfamiliar with my blog, God’s word for me this year was Abundance, and I’ve written several posts exploring this theme.  While mostly, I’ve gained a deeper understanding of what is meant by this “Zoe life” from spiritual, emotional, and intellectual lessons,  I’ve recently also had the opportunity to look at physical abundance  (wealth as recognized by the world).  Now here’s the fascinating thing– money and possessions do not, in and of themselves, make a rich, full life. Those who experience God’s true abundance “get it” no matter how light or heavy their wallet.

I took this picture in the Hall of mirrors in the palace of Versailles.  Can you even imagine what it would have been like to actually LIVE in this unforgiving environment? Talk about being constantly reminded of our flaws, hmm?  On the tour, guides told stories of the unhappy queen Antoinette.  Despite her uncaring reputation, she sounded like a really good mom who fought to raise her children with some privacy and sense of normalcy in their lives. While I snapped pictures, gawked at the paintings, the gold leaf furniture, and the crystal chandeliers like everyone else, I also couldn’t help but think of a certain English princess not too many years ago with the same sadness, and desires for her sons.  Life in a palace with priceless treasures might seem to be the height of elegance and prestige, but how many of us would really want to live in a glorified cage?

Americans (yes pretty much ALL of us) are very wealthy by the world’s standards.  Travel makes this so clear. So how come so many of us look around at this time of year and think we’re missing out?  It seems when someone places all of his/her attention on enlarging the bank balance and acquiring the stuff of life, they will never feel that it is enough… I was amazed at how many well-off travelers complained when they compared their “poor” circumstances to those with even greater financial fortunes. REALLY??  Where I would expect gratitude and joy at being able to visit all of these amazing sights, there were those who chose instead to be unhappy and bitter the whole time. You know there’s more to “abundance” than you once thought, when you find yourself feeling sorry for the wealthiest traveler on the tour.

Another way that our stuff can get in the way of living the full life Jesus promises is when we get so focused on the minutia, we miss God’s blessings.  Picture a tourist constantly looking through her camera lens.  While she concerns herself with aperture openings in low light, and how to keep her camera steady while we’re moving, she completely loses sight of the fact that she’s on a glorious moonlit gondola ride. In my book, capturing images of living abundantly is nothing compared to experiencing it!

Wishing you all a wonderful time of THANKFULNESS this holiday weekend! (and shopping experiences that don’t pull you away from the true, rich life God has in mind for you.)

I have so enjoyed learning about abundance this year from the Holy Spirit!  I can’t wait to see what He has in store for me next year!

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Would You, Could You, on a Train?

One of my prayers for our trip-of-a-lifetime to Europe was that I would have opportunities to meet real people in authentic, non-touristy situations.  My Heavenly Father answered this request in a multitude of SURPRISING ways…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABefore we traveled to Paris I poured through guidebooks that spoke of the sites, the museums, the city’s highly developed public transportation system, and certain cultural norms.  I also knew that Paris would be a very busy city with crowds.  As an American from the suburbs in the Pacific Northwest what I didn’t realize was how little personal space the Parisians are used to as part of their daily lives.Seriously! I couldn’t shave my legs in the shower without accidentally turning off the water! (But I digress :-))

On the day we were heading to meet a local guide in the Montmartre District, our tour leader gave very specific instructions for using the metro.  “Spread out” (We all wouldn’t fit in the same car), “Don’t be timid; use your elbows” (I never literally elbowed anyone out of my way, but I did learn to be a lot more assertive)  “When the warning bell rings, get through the door right away!” (Metro train door closures do happen, and apparently they can be quite painful.)  As we made our way  through the maze of tunnels and platforms, I felt pretty confident. After all, I’d taken the New York Subway, San Francisco’s BART, and the Chicago El without mishap.  None of those previous experiences prepared me for this. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There had been some delay along on the line, which made the trains run every 5 minutes instead of every 2 minutes.  I couldn’t believe what I was seeing… Well-dressed professional people were absolutely crammed into the cars as train after train passed by. Our tour leader told us not to worry even if it took 7 or 8 trains for us all to arrive on our destination platform.  My husband and I paired up; the first train came and I hesitated.  We missed it.  Another train arrived and there was no room for my husband’s other foot. We missed that one too. Claustrophobic in crowds, I was getting really nervous, but refusing to miss out on the adventure, I steeled myself for the inevitable. A third train arrived and we pushed ourselves right through the open doors & into the thick of it. We literally stood shoulder to shoulder with strangers, with backs and chests touching, and I was relieved when the doors closed.  But not for long…

When we arrived at the next station, no one got off, and 4 people crowded into our car!  I remember gasping in surprise and “sucking in” and then wondering if I let out my stomach if it would just pop the last rider out of the car 🙂 Now every inch of me was next to every inch of someone else.  It was like sitting on laps, only standing up.  I also became concerned for two shorter women crowded face first into my armpits.  At least I could see over the group and know I was getting air.  I leaned over each one asking, “ok?” But they took it in stride.  It was almost as if, they were used to this.

At the next station a couple of passengers did manage to disembark with cries of  “Laissez descendre” (loosely translated, make room so I can get the heck out of here!) and I happily obliged them, hoping for more wiggle room. “Bon chance!”. Well right there, in the midst of the the absurdity of this very non-touristy gathering of the locals, God arranged something even more remarkable. A Parisian gentleman entered the car, 1/2 suspending himself on top of the folks closest to the door, and then he immediately struck up a conversation with me, wanting to know about my “unusual accent”. We spoke (in French) all the way until the next station/my destination, as he regaled me with stories of his travels in the U.S., and do you know, I forgot all about my claustrophobia? 🙂

Somebody, Pinch Me!

GOD GIVES US THE DESIRES OF OUR HEART (Ps 37:4)– even when our dreams are extravagant, and even when we don’t deserve them…In fact, not only does our Father want us to enjoy the gifts of answered dreams, but He goes further– fulfilling them beyond our wildest imagination. 🙂 The interesting thing of course, is that we can get so conditioned by problems and failures, so used to disappointment and sorrow, that we stop believing the good times will be coming for us too.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’ve just returned from three incredible weeks in Europe and I can only begin to tell you of the ways God met and surpassed this lifelong desire to travel!   Highlights include a romantic gondola ride on a warm moonlit night in Venice, taking a cooking class in Florence, standing inches away from the greatest art in history, & exploring the ruins of ancient Rome and the specialty markets and cafes in Paris.  Here I was, actually experiencing things I’d only read about or seen in movies, and then it got even better!  In His infinite goodness, God knows what makes my heart sing, and wouldn’t you know He would arrange for a variety of divine appointments– opportunities to really talk with people and learn about their lives! (But this will be a subject for another day :-))

Our vacation will be remembered as one of my great milestones– one of those life-altering events that forever changes the way I view the world. However, while stories which refer to some of these adventures will undoubtedly continue,  I don’t foresee this blog ever becoming about travel.  Whether in France, Italy, or home in the Pacific Northwest, I remain drawn to the same kinds of themes and lessons about life itself.  I’m fascinated by the unique qualities of individuals AND by the commonalities we all share.  And I celebrate finding God at the center of all of it!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe first of these “lessons” I nearly missed.  In fact as I contemplated what I would share in my first posting after Europe, it didn’t even occur to me to look at my pre-travel thinking.  Now, reflecting back, I am struck by how often I thought the trip might not happen– despite the years of dreaming and  the months of planning. Up until the very end I would imagine an accident or illness, keeping us from going.  Perhaps the trip would be cut short by a delayed flight, lost luggage, or terrible weather… I thought I was being realistic in my faith– knowing that God is good but trying to keep open if His will was not for me on this trip.  People would ask if I was excited and of course I was, but I also remained pretty guarded, as though waiting for the other shoe to drop. See, somehow along the way, I came to believe I couldn’t really have the whole dream, that good things are always tarnished by the darkness of our world– but that tells you more about me than about our loving God!  It’s the voice of the enemy that brings doubt and fears; why are we so willing to agree with the idea that something will go wrong and our desires will go unmet?  The ABUNDANT life is also about living it without future tripping about what may or may not happen to disappoint us!  It’s about living in the moment with gratitude and yes, a certain joie de vivre!!

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Timing is Everything

after color runThis summer marks 30 years since my car accident and the near loss of my right leg at the knee.  (Feel free to read my earlier “Walking Miracle” posts for greater context)  This Mother’s Day I participated in my first 5K- the Color Run :-).  Believe me when I say, no story is ever really over while we’re still living and breathing on earth, but timing really can make a huge impact on our lives!

Consider people you know who had really early successes– the high school football heroes and cheerleaders, for example.  While of course many go on to continue living full, rich lives, there are a few who seem to have been marred by this premature thrust into the spotlight. They’re easy to spot at reunions and hometown community events– doing everything they can to relive the glory days.  The years following these early victories didn’t stand up to their once promising potential, and now sadly, a few of the former high school “stars” seem to be permanently stuck in the past.

Another way we see the impact of timing is when we push ahead, perhaps before we’re really ready for something, so anxious to achieve our goals that we miss important steps along the way.  (Don’t tell me I’m the ONLY one who ever did this!) The result of all of this striving to fulfill our own agenda, is that even if things go the way we’ve planned, we’re not yet fully mature enough to appreciate it.  Instead we’re stuck looking to future milestones and hurdles, never really appropriating the beauty of the present.

Then there are those perfectly timed chance meetings and opportunities in life–the miraculous “coincidences”– though we often recognize them instantly, they absolutely amaze us later when we reflect back on them.  You know the ones I mean– meeting your future husband at a party that neither of you were going to attend, finding your dream home in a turbulent real estate market where both the seller and you needed an extended escrow, having your new ministry unexpectedly given a leg up by a law firm’s pro-bono offer to help with the 501(c)(3) paperwork!  These kinds of events happen for everyone, and the world loves to chalk them up to kismet or serendipity.  But what if these “coincidences” are actually divine interventions by a loving God?  More importantly, what difference would it make in our lives if we recognized the beauty and intentionality of God’s timing? 

I have really enjoyed exploring many of God’s promises in the last few years, and I am eagerly anticipating some amazing surprises and aha moments as I find myself transitioning from one decade to the next.  Opportunities only imagined in the past are suddenly opening up, and I can’t help but wonder at God’s faithfulness and absolutely perfect timing!  This fall I’ll be traveling to Europe for the first time, and while I’m so grateful that my Loving Father is giving me my heart’s desire, this trip isn’t just about me as it might have been, had I traveled there in years past. I’ve already been able to share stories of His goodness while in the planning stages, and I can’t wait to see how He divinely appoints “chance” meetings and circumstances along the way that allow me to both encourage others, and learn from them!

Moment by moment and day by day, our story goes on… How will you live yours?

A 3-Year-Old in Big Girl Panties

There are times in life when we just have to own up to our stuff. It’s embarrassing of course, and I may even feel absolutely horrified by my own childish behavior. Yet the only thing worse than knowing I’m being completely irrational and acting like a 3-year-old, is to know all this and still  never come forward with an apology for being an idiot. Somehow we think if we just ignore our feelings and deny our behavior, it will all magically go away, don’t we?  The reality however is that once triggered, we continue to act out with hostility, or we withdraw, wallowing in our guilt. Then, relationships suffer as the person on whom we unleashed our inner 3-year-old wonders, what went wrong?

The good news is that something wonderful happens when we face our garbage. With confession comes forgiveness, and with forgiveness comes true peace and freedom. 

Recently I had to deal with my immature, irrational self when I was sidelined by jealousy.  Now for the most part, this isn’t an emotion I typically experience.  (I’m not saying my life is perfect; it’s just that because I regularly spend time thanking God and practicing gratitude, my “green-eyed” monster is kept at bay.) Then IT happened… my husband was sent on a business trip to Europe.  Let me say that again… Europe–as in FRANCE AND ENGLAND while I remained at home.  Grown Up Me intellectually realized that he couldn’t help the circumstances. This was an unexpected, very sudden trip, and it certainly wasn’t his choice.  It didn’t help that when we looked into the possibility of me tagging along we realized the expense for us would be astronomical– what with a departure scheduled for the following week and the Olympics going on!

Grown Up Me sucked it up and played nice. My husband is my best friend; I was genuinely happy for him– I praised him for his needed expertise, encouraged him about travel, and celebrated the adventure to come. During the week he was gone I thought I had conquered my jealousy because I so looked forward to each Skype conversation and to hearing his travel stories. But when he returned home a week later, Big Baby Me started creating problems. Traveling to Europe has literally been a dream of mine since childhood… and then life got in the way.  Besides, I married a man who didn’t want to go there; I figured maybe we’d venture out in our later years…This was so UNFAIR!

So what did I do?  I welcomed my wonderful husband home joyfully and then threw myself a pity-party while he slept off the jetlag. I brought it all out to God–about how I knew I was being irrational and childish & I asked Him to help me understand the root of my jealous feelings.  Emotionally however, I still stewed, determined to be a “silent sufferer” and not upset my husband over something for which he had no control. Of course my inner child leaked out in passive aggressive behavior and when my husband asked me flat out if I was still “angry about the Europe thing”, I finally confessed to him.  Did I make a fool myself? Absolutely! Yet it was so worth it… Without the festering poison of jealousy, peace has returned. I’m really glad I put on my “Big Girl Panties” and owned my stuff– And extra blessing–now that my husband has become more comfortable with the idea of travel, we’re planning to go to Europe sooner rather than later. 🙂