The Glorious Muddle
glimpses of grace in the messiness of life

February 14, 2017

Singing in the Dark

This morning, when I read my man Oswald in My Utmost for His Highest, I saw a connection with the day. Valentine’s Day. I’m sure Mr. Chambers did not intend this when he wrote his message back in WWI, but I love the timeliness of his timeless words.

Song birds are taught to sing in the dark, and God puts us into “the shadow of His hand” until we learn to hear Him (Isaiah 49:2)….

When you are in the dark, listen, and God will give you a very precious message for someone else once you are back in the light.

Today can feel like a dark place to many people. It can remind the Have Nots of what they have not.

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The greeting card and florist industry made a huge leap when they started marketing this holiday. Its beginning was far from happy. St. Valentine was tortured and murdered for his faith, which he refused to denounce. While suffering in prison, he healed his blind jailer’s daughter and won her over to Christ, which does infer love, but not romance. He was decapitated on February 14 in the year 207. Somehow, we’ve stretched the anniversary of his martyrdom into a day of fattening up your sweetheart with chocolates and going into debt over the roses you buy.

A few years back, when I was freezing on a vacation, I was tempted to buy a tourist sweatshirt reading “I HEART _____   _____.” But I didn’t love the place so I shivered instead. However, if I had bought the sweatshirt, I decided to paint over the heart with black fabric paint when I got home. That’s what today feels like to many among us. A blacked-out heart.

I’m not a fan of any of the sickeningly sweet invented holidays. Call me crazy, but I just don’t see the fun in excluding people and making them feel sad. Those who have romantic love often flaunt that fact in front of friends who are single, widowed, divorced, or in a relationship that’s not a good one. Usually this is (merely) a matter of being insensitive, not investing the effort to see life and feel things from another’s viewpoint, but the flaunting can feel like it’s intentional.

During my single days, of which there were many, I remember going to a dinner with teammates one Valentine’s Day. All were married, happily so, except for me. We had to go around the room and share how we fell in love. Really? It’s not like I just showed up, unannounced. They knew I was coming.

Maybe you’ve decided to try a little empathy and you’re putting yourself in my husband’s place right now. Probably, you feel sorry for him. What a fun dinner date you’ll have tonight, you may be thinking. But that’s just it. The dinner or cards that we share is just between us. He knows I love him and I know he loves me. Our daily actions bear that out, so we don’t need to broadcast it.

If the Haves see their loved one as a gift, and realize they did nothing to earn this gift and the Have Nots did nothing wrong to deserve their “punishment,” maybe they can start to see the singleness as a gift, too.

All you have is a gift from God, coming from his character of grace and mercy. He has a purpose in every gift, asked for or not, which you just may not see for a while, if ever. You don’t choose what you’re given but you can choose how to respond to it. When you’re in those dark places, he speaks to you. Just listen. And find your voice for the song you’re given.

Can you sing in the dark place?

What do you hear in your dark place that can help the rest of us?

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January 27, 2017

Give Kindness a Chance

10609552_10152371455635267_7734501041205609994_nDon’t you wish we could erase last year and have a do-over? Aren’t you tired of all the contempt spewed, from both sides, regarding politics?

I’m not just referring to the politicians. I’m talking about my friends.

People who I like and respect, who used to keep their politics to themselves, now feel free to express their opinions with such hatred toward anyone who dares to think differently. What happens if you disagree? Have you lost the friendship? Half of America thinks one way and half thinks the other way. Are we really willing to cut ourselves off from relationship with 50% of our fellow Americans?

Isn’t their room anymore to agree to disagree? I mean, isn’t a democracy supposed to be made up of a variety of viewpoints? I used to live in an oppressive place where there was only one way to think, to speak, to do. Variety can add texture and depth and richness to who we are.

Besides, it doesn’t seem to me that anyone’s opinion ever changes if you just amp up the volume and the vitriol. People don’t tend to warm up to someone who yells at them, and calls them stupid, or racist, or immoral, or whatever. That kind of action causes a reaction of digging in your heels and becoming more firmly entrenched in your ideas than before.

Think about St. Paul’s words in Colossians 3:

Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.

Make allowance for faults. Forgive. Love. What? This is radical.

The more I hear, or read on Facebook, the more I want to put my hands over my ears and scream, “Time out!” I’ve set a lifetime record for the number of videos of fuzzy kittens that I’ve watched lately.

For me to say this, well, my natural (not always popular) bent leans toward stirring things up. I’m the one who points out wrongs and gets them righted. Ask my family or my former teammates if you don’t believe me. My husband, the middle child, grew up smoothing things over. He got his work cut out for him when Peacemaker married Troublemaker. One of the first verses I memorized was Ephesians 4:32. I wish I could say I’ve always lived up to it.

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

During my missionary days, I often bemoaned the fact that the people in my life were all the same. They looked the same. They had the same values. Now I have friends, dear friends, on both sides of the Great Divide. That makes me happy, but it also makes me feel torn in two.

So, my post today is to encourage all of us to try to find ways to be kind, especially to someone who is not of your ilk. Reach out in friendship and see where it goes. Reflect on these words from Philippians 2:

Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

We could all use a little kindness. A little forgiveness.

For ideas, google Kindness Experiments or Random Acts of Kindness. There’s even a World Kindness Day, on November 13 each year (oddly, just after our election).

One idea that I’m trying to implement is to hand-write 52 thank-you notes this year. That’s only one per week.

Let’s give Kindness (or Peace or Love) a chance!

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December 16, 2016

Graduation … for real!

Finally, after 3-1/2 long years, I graduated. Didn’t you just do that, you may ask? This time it’s for real.

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It’s official. The asterisk beside my name in May, when I walked in the commencement ceremony in Asheville, has now been removed. Last night, as I stood for two hours in an open doorway, blasted by arctic air while I handed out graduation programs (part of my job), I was so thankful I’d chosen to walk in the ceremony with perfect weather and a livelier atmosphere.

For the finishing touch to complete my degree requirements, I turned in a 277-page Young Adult novel. The feeling of accomplishment was made a little bit sweeter since I turned sixty a few weeks ago.

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No degree comes without a whole lot of help from a whole host of people, and I am thankful to all of them. My professors. My fellow classmates. The university where I work. And especially my husband who’s put up with me doing homework again, after a thirtysome-year hiatus. I feel blessed by God, humbled to have had this opportunity that many people much smarter than me never get, and expectant about the future.

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December 5, 2016

My Unusual Christmas Ornament

002Every year I treat myself to one new Christmas ornament. I love collecting unique pieces, especially international ones. This year I bought the most unusual one yet. I bought a brass menorah. And I’m not Jewish.

For many years now, I’ve wanted to find out more about Old Testament traditions. What better time to do that than this season, when Hanukkah and Christmas perfectly line up. As I studied, I learned that Hanukkah is rich in symbolism. And that symbolism points to Jesus.

My menorah helps me celebrate the birth of Christ.

Read about it here at the December issue of The Redbud Post.

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November 28, 2016

Grateful for the Smallest Things

Most people post gratitude-inspiring messages before Thanksgiving. But I’ve been much too preoccupied with my mounting and all-important list of things to do. I had a goal for the weekend and I wouldn’t let anything get in my way. After digesting our take-out dinner from Cracker Barrel (yes, really!), I planned to knuckle down and work on my final project for my final class, before the turkey even got cold. Thanksgiving was to take a back seat to school work this holiday.

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I let other stuff obstruct my vision from what really matters. Thanks to two people and two simple sentences, it all came into focus for me over the weekend.

A friend who is preparing to say good-bye to her husband of sixty years, said this:

“I’m thankful to hear him snore.”

I appreciate a lot of qualities about my husband, but snoring is not one of them. And yet my friend is thankful for the smallest thing. However waning, she clings to any sign of life coming from her beloved. As she looks ahead to life without him, every little thing grows in significance. A breath. A snore. Eyes that are open.

If I look at small things through a different lens, turning it like a prism so the light reflects from another angle, I can see that much of what I grumble about is actually a blessing. While the significance of those little things deepens, my irritability over those same things lessens. People who have lost what tends to frustrate me know how precious, and fleeting, it really is. They have come to learn what those things represent.

I want to appreciate the true worth of the smallest things while I can. While I still have them. Because you never know how long that will be.

At my own Thanksgiving table, we all said the traditional One Thing We’re Thankful For. My eyes were turned on myself. I said I’m thankful that I’m nearly finished with this master’s degree. And I meant it.

But then my husband’s turn came last. He looked at my aging parents.

“I’m thankful you’re here.”

He went on to say that it’s been 26 years since his mother died, and because of my Mom and Dad, he has had parents again. And he’s grateful to God for that gift.

Most people merely tolerate their in-laws. But Steve is thankful for his. It isn’t a small thing to him to have a second chance at parents.

Through misted-over eyes, I started to see clearly. Sometimes I take my own parents for granted. They’ve been a constant in my life my whole life. And yet I know some day I won’t be able to say that. I need to appreciate them while I can.

This Thanksgiving, I learned that what I have is a lot.

And I’m grateful. Finally, I’m grateful.

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