Weekend Meditation: Let the Earth Be Opened

Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above,
and let the clouds rain the just:
let the earth be opened, and bud forth a saviour:
and let justice spring up together:
I the Lord have created him.
Isaiah 45:8 (Douay-Rheims Bible)



“So are we actually going to do something on spring break?” he asks, as we sit on sun-warmed concrete.

“What do you mean, ‘Are we going to do something?’ We are doing something; this is something,” I reply as I dislodge a pebble with my foot and watch it roll down the embankment into the culvert stream below.
“No, I mean do something exciting, like go somewhere,” Noah persists. ‘We’re not really doing anything fun.”

“Yeah,” Rowan chimes in. “We’re not doing anything fun!”

I admit, my kids are more than a little entitled. They are used to adventure, to being on the go. They fly to destinations like the Florida Keys; they spend weeks on the North Shore of Lake Superior. They swim in my sister’s pool and build sand castles on the beach of Long Island Sound. They aren’t accustomed to a vacation at home, in Nebraska, in March.

We sit on the concrete culvert on a warmer-than-usual March afternoon. It’s a favorite spot, below the bike path and just before the stream widens, trickling beneath the A Street bridge. Earlier this winter I had to drag them away from this very spot, so content were they in their “job” of breaking up ice chunks in the frigid water.
But now they are restless and agitated.
“Come here,” I call to Rowan, “I want to tell you guys something,” and he climbs the hill to stand next to me, squinting in the bright sun.

“We don’t always have to do big, exciting things, you know,” I begin to explain. “Sometimes it’s fun to find joy in the small things, too.”
“Is this some kind of prayer or something?” Rowan interrupts.

“No, it’s not a prayer, I’m just saying,” I laugh. “I’m just saying that it’s a beautiful day, and we’re at your favorite spot, and the sun’s out and there are rocks to roll into the stream, so why don’t we just enjoy the moment for what it is, instead of wishing for something else.”
The kids don’t say much in response. Rowan looks at me skeptically, still leery that this might be a prayer masquerading as a speech.

I lean back on the steeply angled pavement, the crook of my elbow over my eyes. I hear Noah get up, and a few minutes later, the boys’ voices echo off the concrete over the din of the traffic. Opening one eye, I turn my head and look down at the stream. They are piling rocks next to the water, deep in conversation. It looks like they are building a dam.
Do you find you have this same restlessness, too - the need to always be doing something big or important, exciting or productive? I admit, I do.


The Ungraceful Graceful

I had one of those gut-clenching moments a few days ago. You know, like when a pit the size of the Marianas Trench yawns open in that hollow right where the two halves of your rib cage meet. Yeah, one of those moments.
As I hopped over to Emily’s place and scrolled down to catch up on her last couple posts, I glimpsed a sight that took my breath away: the image of her soon-to-be-released book. It’s called Graceful, and when I saw the beautiful cover design, the word Graceful spelled out in delicate script, tears instantly sprang to my eyes.

Because, you see, the book I wrote (yes, the one I’ve been known to refer to as Stupid Book from time to time) was originally called Graceful. In fact, that’s what I still call it in my own mind, even though I changed the title to Leap Year right before I queried Rachelle. That’s the reason this blog is called Graceful – I launched the blog after I wrote the book.
Now, let me preface this sob story by clarifying that my personal Marianas Trench is not in any way a reflection on Emily Freeman. I love Emily’s writing, I loved her first book, Grace for the Good Girl, and I love her (because I tell you, if you read her blog, it's totally impossible not to love her). Furthermore, I have absolutely no claim on the title Graceful, nor did Emily even ever know that my book was originally titled that. Nor, frankly, does it even matter, since my book is not contracted and is still unpublished.

But still. To see the image of that beautiful cover, to see what my dream might have looked like, had it played out as I had imagined and hoped – well, it was painful.
So I did what any woman in her right mind would do. I emailed my good friend to whine and lament.

And that’s where I found God’s good grace in all this. Because when I wrote to Deidra and admitted that it pained me to see that cover, I knew I could tell her the bitter truth because I knew she would still love me anyway, right in the midst of my big, fat, ugly moment. And that’s exactly what she did.

“I love you I love you I love you! Yes!” she emailed right back in a matter of seconds. When I saw those words relief washed over me like a cool mist. And even though the pit was still lodged squarely beneath my rib cage, I felt better. Much better.
“That’s why I love you so much,” I wrote back to Deidra, “because you forgive me for being human sludge.” And it’s true. Deidra lavished grace on me when I was decidedly ungraceful (maybe that’s what I’ll title my next book), and when she did, I somehow understood exactly how God loves me, too.

When's the last time someone lavished grace on you? And isn't it a beautiful thing?!


Hear It on Sunday, Use It on Monday: Treasures and Hearts

When I announced to my kids recently that I would be leaving my part-time job at Nebraska PBS/NPR to pursue a freelance writing career, Rowan’s first question was, “After you’re done being a writer, will you become a veterinarian?”{perhaps some projection on his part there}

After I assured my children that veterinary science was out of the question, especially considering the fact that I find cats creepy and am genetically programmed to abhor dog hair, their next question was this: “So are we going to have more money now so we can go to Florida and buy more stuff?” When I explained, in fact, that not only would we not have more money, we would undoubtedly have quite a bit less, at least for a while, they seemed almost panicky.
I can’t blame them, really. They hear Brad and I talk frequently about money – what we can and can’t afford, the status of our savings account, how our 401(k) is weathering the volatility of the stock market. They listen to us explain to them why we won’t be purchasing the Nintendo 3DS Portable Gaming System or a new flat-screen TV, or why, just because they break a favorite toy, we aren’t going to zip over to Target and replace it with a new one.

But what the kids don’t hear us talk a lot about is the reasons why we’ve chosen the professions we have, despite the fact that there are more lucrative options out there. That, I think, is a grave oversight.
Truthfully, the day-to-day reality of Matthew 6:21 isn’t always easy. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” looks great on paper, but is remarkably difficult to live out in real-life.

The fact is, sometimes I want more money, a bigger paycheck, a nicer house with a master suite in which I don’t have to share a bathroom with two toothpaste-globbing boys. Sometimes I want to shop something other than the sale rack. Sometimes I want to plunk down the Visa card without a second thought.

The other night at dinner as we discussed what my move to freelance writing will look like for our family, Rowan asked Brad, “So why do you work part-time?” Brad and I laughed hard at that one, because, in fact, as an English professor, Brad does work full-time.
We explained to the kids that the flexibility of Brad’s schedule – that he doesn’t teach during the summer, that he’s home every day in the late afternoon, that he’s able to attend virtually all of their games and extracurricular activities, picks them up from school several days a week and even volunteers in the classroom from time to time – is one of the reasons he chose that career path (that and the fact that he loves literature and enjoys conveying that appreciation to others). That flexibility enhances our quality family time, we explained, and is even more valuable to us than a bigger paycheck.
They looked unconvinced.

Later, after the kids were in bed, Brad wondered aloud whether they realize or will ever appreciate what a rare gift they’ve been given. Honestly, I don’t know. What I do know is that even if they don’t consciously realize the benefits of quality time versus a heftier paycheck, on some level I think they’ll understand that their parents’ hearts and treasure were in the same place.


Weekend Meditation: Every Morning


One Small Thing

I changed the password on my work computer last week. It feels like I do this every eight days or so. I power up, and sure enough, there’s that annoying pop-up box again, the one that inquires with feigned politeness, “Your password will expire in 6 days. Would you like to change it now?”

I know there are probably very good reasons for the changing of the password (which in reality occurs every three months, not every eight days, although it sure feels that fast). Still, I can’t help but assume that not every malicious hacker is standing poised to break through my firewall to get a glimpse of the latest ad copy or the fundraising letter sitting in my drafts folder.
But I digress.

My previous password until last week was StupidBook.
Why yes, I was feeling a hair frustrated over all things publishing-related one morning, and I did have myself an itty-bitty tantrum as I was greeted by the password change pop-up box.
As a result, I typed StupidBook into my computer four days a week, no fewer than 12 times a day (because, of course, if I step away from my desk for more than 10 minutes, my computer automatically logs out – hackers poised to snatch my ad copy, you know – and when I return I am required to re-type StupidBook in order to log back in) for the past three months.

So last week I changed my password from StupidBook to GodisGood (with some additional numbers and symbols that I will not reveal, for all you poised hackers out there).

Let me tell you, typing GodisGood instead of StupidBook 12 times a day is a game-changer. Seriously, people. You wouldn’t think something so small and insconsequential as two (or three) simple words would make any difference at all, but it does. I feel so much better.

Now, every time I type in my password, I'm reminded not of my big, fat failure to publish my book, but of the fact that God is good, no matter what.

No matter what, GodisGood.

It just goes to show you: one small thing can make a big difference {and now I’ve got a whole new plan, because that Bible is chock-full of password possibilities. Bring it on, password changer pop-up box.}
What’s one small thing that's making a big difference in your daily life these days?

Linking my gratitude list with Ann {on Monday}:

955. Red flags flapping on the golf course
956. First butterfly of the season
957. A male and female duck, sitting at the top of the honey locust tree
958. Homemade Irish soda bread from Mrs. Long's recipe
959. A fluffed up mourning dove in the rain
960. Morning dew on the golf course
961. Little girls walking hand in hand
962. Writing with the back door open
963. Planning summer vacations
964. Planting pansies in the windowbox and remembering Janice
965. A new password


God-Talk in the Office

“Someone asked me an unexpected question at work today,” I mention to my husband, Brad, as we stand in the kitchen with our backs to one another. He stir-fries chicken at the stove; I chop broccoli and scallions at the counter, the chef’s knife tapping the wood cutting board like a woodpecker against an oak tree.

I describe how a colleague, someone I’d seen around the building but never met, had popped her head into my office that afternoon, how she’d hesitated at the doorway, blushing and shifting from one foot to the other.

“She told me that she had an awkward question,” I say, turning to face Brad’s back, “and then she asked me if I love Jesus.”

...I'm writing over at The High Calling today. Will you join me there?


Hear It on Sunday, Use It on Monday: Shards

Rowan dropped the sugar bowl yesterday morning about 15 minutes before we left for church. The full-to-the-brim sugar bowl. As he kneeled on the counter to reach for the box of Life, he knocked the covered bowl from the shelf. It bounced off the counter, hit the floor, broke into 9 pieces and spread a swath of sugar halfway across the parquet. Then he burst into tears, because he knew what I was going to say. He knew because I tell him nearly every day: “Don’t kneel on the counters. If you need to get something use the stool or ask me.”

“I’m sorry,” he squeaked, his face scrunched scarlet, tears rolling down his cheeks as I flung open the cabinet to grab the dustpan and broom. “Are you mad?” he asked, as I tossed ceramic shards into the trash and shook sugar granules from the bills strewn across the counter.
“I’m highly irritated, highly irritated,” I muttered, teeth clenched as I brushed the grit from the bottom of one bare foot and then the other over the open trashcan. “Highly, highly irritated.”

Forty-five minutes later I saw in the pew as Pastor Greg preached on Acts 1:1-11, which includes these verses about being God’s witnesses:

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8).
I admit, I felt pretty good about myself when I read that verse: “Hey, I’m a blogger; I write every day about God and faith. I write a newspaper column about faith. That’s witnessing, right? I’ve totally got that one covered.”

That is, until Pastor Greg mentioned that our first priority as Christians is to witness to those closest to us. Oikos, he called it, the Greek word for “household evangelism”:
“Witness starts in your smallest circle of family and friends, with the people in your own home and those closest to you. And then it ripples out from there.”

That’s when I remembered the sugar bowl.
Why, I wondered as I sat in the pew with my arms crossed over my chest, am I much more willing to offer grace and forgiveness to acquaintances and even strangers than I am to my own family members – my own children and my husband?

Why is it so easy for me to let a stranger off the hook and not my own child?

What kind of message about love, forgiveness and grace do I send when I don’t willingly accept my child’s sincere apology?

What kind of oikos is that?

What if a co-worker or a neighbor had knocked that sugar bowl onto my counter and strewn sugar across my kitchen floor? Would I have muttered, “Highly irritated, highly irritated,” through clenched teeth while I cleaned up the mess? Would I have ignored her apology? Would I have turned my back when she expressed her sorrow and remorse?
Of course not. “Oh no, no, don’t worry about it, don’t worry about it all,” I would have consoled. “It’s fine. It’s just sugar; it cleans up easily. No problem at all,” I would have said.

I would have handed out the grace card without a second thought, the grace I didn't offer my own child.

Yesterday morning I missed an opportunity to react as Jesus would have. I missed an opportunity to demonstrate love and forgiveness and to teach a lesson with kindness.
Yesterday morning as the sugar bowl lay in fragments and my son cried tears of regret and remorse, I missed the very best opportunity to serve as God’s witness, right in the middle of my own kitchen.
What about you? Are you more willing to grant grace to strangers than you are to those in your inner circle? And if yes, why do you think that's so?

Welcome to the "Hear It on Sunday, Use It on Monday" community, a place where we share what we are hearing from God and his Word.

If you're here for the first time, click here for more information. And if you are a new participant, would you leave me a comment or send me an email to tell me it's your first time here, so I can be sure to stop by and say hello at your place?

Please include the Hear It, Use It button (grab the code over in the sidebar) or a link in your post, so your readers know where to find the community if they want to join in -- thank you!

Please also try to visit and leave some friendly encouragement in the comment box of at least one other Hear It, Use It participant. And if you want to tweet about the community, please use the #HearItUseIt hashtag.

Thank you -- I am so grateful to have you here!


Weekend Meditation: Heaven

With Deidra...

And Sandra..


You've Got God-Given Strengths...Yeah, YOU!

image from Dayspring
When Holley Gerth mentioned the StrengthsFinder test in her new book You’re Already Amazing, it prompted me to dig out my profile sheet again. Years ago I took the StrengthsFinder test at work as part of a management initiative to encourage team-building and productivity. Last week I grimaced as I reviewed my top five categories: Achiever, Competition, Discipline, Focus and Responsibility. I remember feeling sheepish when we revealed our results in a staff meeting. My officemate, Michaella, had scored high in categories like Empathy, Fairness and Inclusiveness. I was concerned that my co-workers might think I was out to steal their jobs.
I’ve always been efficient, organized, deadline-driven and punctual, but I also always considered those qualities personality traits…or flaws. I certainly didn’t consider them strengths, talents or gifts.
That’s one of the reasons I loved You’re Already Amazing: Holley reminds me that what I consider as mundane and somewhat annoying personality traits are actually strengths, gifts really, given to me purposefully by God:
“It turns out that God has physically wired me with strengths that let me fulfill his purpose for my life. And he helps me do so by strategically creating certain weaknesses, too. It gives ‘power made perfect in weakness’ (see 2 Cor. 12:9) a whole new meaning. Our divinely created strengths (fueled by God’s power) are actually supported by our weaknesses, because if we were good at everything, we wouldn’t focus on anything.”
{Phew! So there’s a divine explanation for why I can’t keep the checkbook balanced!}
Holley also reminds me that just because I have certain God-given strengths doesn’t mean I have to be perfect:
“The goal is not perfection. It’s simply to be in an intimate relationship with Christ each day, to fully embrace who he created us to be, and seek to fulfill the purpose he has for us.”
I also loved how concrete and practical Holley’s book is. Right out of the gate she asks, “Who am I, Really?” and, instead of writing around the answer in eloquent but ultimately not very helpful prose, Holley gives readers the tools to figure out the answer. (She’s a counselor, you know – and I love me a good counseling session!).
You’re Already Amazing is filled with questionnaires, interactive tools and exercises to help the reader discern everything from her strengths, her skills and her social comfort zone to her approach to emotions, where she is on her life map (Egypt, encamped, setting out or the Promised Land) and how she can figure out her next steps.
Here’s a snapshot of what I learned:
My strengths: capable, determined, efficient.

My skills: communicating, maintaining, organizing, writing

My emotional style: head (hands-down, as opposed to heart)

My social comfort zone: One-to-one or one-to-few {as opposed to one-to many – this would have been good to know before I went to the Relevant conference last year and had to retreat to my hotel room a sweating, knee-shaking bundle of overwhelmed nerves!}

My current place on my life map: moving out of encampment (never thought that would happen) and setting out
I just love this stuff!

Really, Holley Gerth’s book You’re Already Amazing is chock-full of wise, graceful advice and hands-on exercises to help the reader explore, discover and grow. I learned a lot about myself and how I might grow in my relationship with God, and I know one thing for sure: you will, too.  
You're Already Amazing by Holley Gerth is on sale right now at Dayspring for $9.
Disclosure: You're Already Amazing is published by Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, which provided a free copy for my review. The opinions expressed here are my own. This post contains no affiliate links, an I do not earn any compensation for purchases of this book.


In Real Life: Saved

In Real Life blogger friends Nancy Franson, Deidra Riggs and Mary Bonner
 It took two towers crumbling into a heap of soot and tangled metal, one wailing baby and acres of waving grain for me to pick up the phone that day and call for help.

My oldest son Noah was just four weeks and one day old on September 11, 2001. We had moved to Nebraska nine weeks prior, and as I stood in my living room and watched the Today show in disbelief, the Twin Towers tumbling straight down, I paced the living room with my screaming infant as the tears rolled down my cheeks. Never had I felt so alone or afraid. My entire family and everyone I called a friend lived 1,500 miles away. My husband was at work at his brand-new job. I didn’t even know the neighbors’ names.
Later that afternoon, before Brad cancelled the rest of his classes for the day and came home, I called the hospital where Noah had been born just a few weeks earlier. I talked to a pleasant, remarkably calm – given the day – receptionist, who referred me to a group called The Mom’s Club. They met every Wednesday morning at the Lutheran Church on South 27th Street, she told me brightly.
I didn't know it at the time, but my life had just been changed.
The next week I showed up at the church, the car seat carrier hooked into the crook of my arm, bumping against my thigh as I walked down the stairs into the basement. I stopped at the end of the hallway, my shoes planted on the linoleum like feet in wet concrete. From a room around the corner I heard voices – women laughing and talking, kids chasing each other, a baby fussing, the scrape of metal folding chairs against the floor. I didn’t want to go in. I didn’t want to enter this room full of strangers, all women who knew each other, all women who were already friends.
The chairs were arranged in a circle. Boxes of crackers, bottles of juice and a plate of homemade brownies were spread out on a long table against the wall. I set the car seat carrier on the floor, hung my jacket on the back of the metal chair, sat down and fidgeted with Noah’s blanket, tucking it around his legs and arms, pretending to be preoccupied as the women chatted in couples and groups around the room.
“Hi, I’m Karla. Is this your first time at the Mom’s Club?” I glanced up to see a woman with long brown hair and blue eyes standing in front of me, her hand extended. I stood up, smiling, and took her hand.
: :
Finding the Mom's Club saved me when I first moved to Nebraska 10 years ago. I simply don't know what would have happened had I not called the hospital that day and discovered that community of women, many of whom are still my dear friends today.
In a lot of ways I feel similarly about this online community here, too. Nothing has surprised me more about blogging than the fact that real friendships can and do form across cyberspace. I used to roll my eyes when someone mentioned that social media could represent real life in any way - I'm so glad I was proved wrong.

By now you may have heard about the (in) RL meet-ups taking place nationwide (and worldwide!) on April 28. If you haven't, please do pop over here to read more about it.
In short, these meet-ups offer the opportunity for women to connect in real life, right where they are -- to come together to enjoy community (and snacks, of course). Deidra, Erin and I are hosting a meet-up right here in Lincoln, but even if you're not in Nebraska, there are tons of meet-ups happening in every state, so you are sure to find one near you.
I encourage you to register - (just click on the button below; it's only $10 and you get a super-cute t-shirt!). I promise it's going to be a lot of fun, and if you can make it to the Lincoln meet-up, I would love to meet you in real life! Whoot!

{While you're at it, stop by The Diaper Diaries tomorrow - Jill's writing about (in) RL over there!}


Hear It on Sunday, Use It on Monday: What, Me? A Royal Priest?

When I was a kid I viewed the priest in my church with awe and reverence. He was clearly special, draped in ornate vestments, sitting solemn and statuesque in a throne behind the altar. He was mysterious, too -- a shadowy figure cloaked in dim behind the confessional screen, bestowing God’s forgiveness on me and wiping my soul clean with a few words and the sign of the cross as I kneeled next to the red velvet curtain.
I considered my priest powerful and authoritative, but also distant, set apart from us ordinary people. I remember asking my parents once if the priest was allowed to drink beer or smoke cigarettes. They shocked me when they answered, “Of course,” looking surprised that I’d ask such a question.  But I’d assumed our priest was above such common practices. I pictured him alone in a stark room, sipping water and eating leftover Eucharist wafers. Beer and cigarettes, even fun for that matter, didn’t jive with my picture of priesthood at all.
I think that’s why I am always surprised when I hear myself – regular old flawed, foibly, loudly guffawing me -- described in the Bible as a priest, like we heard in 1 Peter yesterday:
But you are God’s chosen and special people. You are a group of royal priests and a holy nation. (1 Peter 2:9).
What, me? You’re talking to me? A royal priest? Yeah, I don’t think so.
After all, being chosen as one of God’s priests is special. It means I am important in his eyes, that I am connected directly and intimately to him.  It means that I am set apart, and that I have a special role to fulfill in his kingdom – a role he created solely for me.
Feels like a lot of pressure, doesn’t it?
Truthfully, I don’t feel cut out for this job of “royal priest.” I’m too irritable. Too impatient. Too self-centered. I’m not solemn enough, or wise enough. I gossip from time to time and complain regularly and am short-tempered with my kids. I’m not priestly at all.  
Of course, I’m forgetting one important fact: that the priests of my childhood were flawed, too. Though they wore fancy vestments, they still battled sin and despair, just like me. Though I thought they bestowed forgiveness on me, in reality, they, too, had to ask God for forgiveness just as often. Turns out, they weren’t much different from me.
What I’m learning is this: God chooses each of his people to serve as royal priests. Some of us wear ornate robes, stand behind church altars and lead congregations through worship. Others of us wear jeans or suits and work in offices or herd kids. But we all share something in common: God chose each one of us as a royal priest, to carry out unique and important work in his kingdom on Earth.
How does it feel to consider yourself as one of God’s royal priests?


Weekend Meditation

Be sure to stop by Deidra's place for some Sunday solace:


Love Your Neighbor

When I crack the front door to frigid air, I see her standing on the front step, parka buttoned to her chin, hat pulled snug over ears. She clasps a bowl wrapped in a faded dish towel, steam curling from a hole in the cloth. I stand back, holding the glass door open with one arm so my neighbor Karna can step across the threshold.

"Mexican stew tonight," she says, setting the bowl on the table and pulling a loaf of hot, buttery garlic bread wrapped in tin-foil from beneath her arm. She lingers just long enough to get an update on Brad's dad as we lean against the kitchen counter. Then she squeezes me in a tight hug -- “a transfer of energy,” she says -- and steps into the cold, pulling on mittens as she walks up the icy sidewalk to her home.
...I'm writing about my wonderful neighbor Karna over at the Lincoln Journal-Star - will you hop over to read how this friend lives out Jesus' commandment in the every day?


The Ring

This is not my ring...but it's similar to it!
I drop a full can of Folger’s onto the kitchen floor, and the kids giggle as I sweep brown granules into the dingy dustpan, muttering on my knees about parquet floors and cracks and coffee.
That's when I first notice it’s gone.

My wedding ring. The one I never take off, not even to knead bread or bleach the sink or bag leaves. It’s gone.

My mom dons yellow rubber gloves and combs through the wastebasket while the kids bend low, cheeks to floor, to shine flashlights beneath the refrigerator. I walk back and forth to the trash barrel at the end of the driveway four times, scour the mini-van and pick dirty shirts and underwear piece by piece out of the hamper.

And I remember: Rowan and I racing down the sidewalk, dribbling the basketball from the gym to the car that afternoon outside the elementary school. On the other side of town.

"I think you should go back and look for it," says my mom. "I think you should go right now," she says, peeling off the yellow gloves one finger at a time.

Brad pulls into the driveway just as I’m leaving, and he jumps into the passenger seat. "We parked so far away from the school, and I don't even remember exactly where, and don't even think of buying me a new ring. We can't afford it, and this is it. I'll buy a cubic zirconia and that's just the way it's going to have to be." I rattle on like a crazy lady and I’m driving too fast.

"It's just a thing, you know." He says it gently and quietly, and I know it's just a thing, especially when his dad is dying, but I can't help myself, I'm raving. "I know, I know, but it's the very most important thing there is, it's my wedding ring! It's everything!"
We ride in silence the rest of the way.

"I think it was here, but I'm not totally sure," I say, squinting toward the elementary school up the road and pulling the van to the curb, trying to remember exactly which house I'd parked in front of four hours earlier. "I have no idea, this is ridiculous, I'm never going to find it. I can't believe how stupid this is.”

I slam the door and retrace my steps across the street, over the snow bank, onto the sidewalk. "Try not to step on the snow. You could press it down, and then we’ll never find it," Brad calls after me.
A streetlight casts a weak pool of light on the cement. The wind bites my cheeks and my eyes blur cold tears as I swish the flashlight beam over snow and gravel. Everything glitters in the cold night.

The last basketball game is just getting out, the remaining spectators trickling through the double doors.
"Lose something?" asks the man with the Husker baseball cap, and when I tell him yes, my wedding ring, he whistles low under his breath. "You hear that?" he turns to a kid in a skimpy mesh tank, a boy wrestling sweat pants on over shorts in the corner. "The lady lost a diamond ring. If you find a diamond ring, you give it to the lady." I nod and smile, trying to look appreciative, but his flippant attitude irritates me, and I just want them to leave so I can search the wood floors of the gym alone.

The YMCA employee jots my name and telephone number on a scrap of paper. "Do you want me to call you even if I don't find it?" he asks earnestly. "No," I tell him, smiling. "No, no. Only if you find it - that will be fine." He stuffs the slip of paper into his pocket as I push through the doors into the deserted parking lot.

I see Brad down the street, shoulders hunched in his black pea coat. The beam of his flashlight bounces off cement and bark, like a spotlight circling the sky from a distant fair. I try to remember exactly where I crossed the street to the sidewalk, at exactly which point Rowan and I had raced, dribbling the basketball and whooping into the cold hours before.
The snow on the lawns has frozen into a hard coating. Ice crystals glint like ten million diamonds.
"I think maybe it was here that I parked," I say to Brad when I catch up with him, pointing at the curb next to the barren oak tree. "Yeah, I'm pretty sure it was here."

We search for another few minutes, Brad on the street, me on the sidewalk near the driveway.

"What do you think it's worth?" Brad asks, and I laugh bitterly. "I don't know, honey - you bought it," I reply, my chin tucked into my jacket. We both conclude that we probably don't have the paperwork anymore, and we can't recall if it's insured. After all, I’ve worn the ring on my left hand for fourteen years, fifteen if you count the engagement year.

It's so cold. So dark. The search feels so futile, so stupid. I see that Brad has turned back toward the car. He's walking slowly, flashlight beam on the ground, but he's walking back toward the car.

I turn to follow. Halfway around, out of the corner of my eye, my light catches a flash in the snow.

Linking up with Jennifer's community this week, because I truly believe that finding my lost wedding ring on a snowbank at the edge of a driveway two blocks from the school in the dark of night was a gift straight from God. Somehow, finding that ring just four days before my father-in-law died gave me a breath of hope...and the knowledge that all was not entirely lost in the world.

And at these lovely spots this week, too:




Hear It on Sunday, Use It on Monday: More on My Big, Fat Idol

We talked about idols yesterday in church, and if you’ve been reading this blog for even a few weeks, you already know that I struggle with a big, fat idol: the writing life. I’ve written about this struggle before, but the long and the short of it is that my deepest personal desire and ambition is to become a full-time writer and a published author, and sometimes that ambition takes priority over just about everything else in my life. Including God.
I didn’t recognize my big, fat idol for a long time because it cleverly masquerades as something positive and good. After all, I reason, I write about God and faith – how bad can that possibly be?
Inherently, it’s not bad at all. A passion, an ambition or an enjoyment only becomes a problem, an idol, when it begins to dominate everything else, and most especially when it begins to dominate God himself. I’ve learned recently that even though my passion is intricately connected to God, it still has the capacity to displace God if I let it…which I often do.
Yesterday in his sermon Pastor Greg suggested that once we recognize our idol, the key to remedying the problem is to replace the idol with a new passion, specifically a passion for God. “To replace your idols, Jesus must become the master of your heart,” said Greg.
The problem, I thought immediately when I heard his suggestion, is that my idol is appealingly concrete. Creating a writing life seems doable, attainable, but cultivating a passion for God? That feels too amorphous to me. Exactly how does one “cultivate a passion for God” or “allow Jesus to become the master of your heart?” It sounds great on paper, but a little loosey-goosey when I actually think about making it happen in my everyday life.
I should have known Pastor Greg wouldn’t stop at the loosey-goosey, and yesterday’s sermon was no exception. He wasn’t about to let me off the hook.
“How do you make God the central passion of your life?” Greg asked. “You work at it.”
Turns out, I don’t need to look any further than my church’s own mission statement for a list of concrete steps:
Worship. Grow. Serve. Give. Invite.
It’s true. When I slack off in my pursuit of God, when I let any of these areas slide, my focus easily shifts from God to myself, from his needs and desires to my own.
Honestly it’s frightfully easy for me to get lazy in my pursuit of God. I’m inclined to skip my morning Bible study after I’ve watched one too many episodes of House Hunters and stayed up too late the night before. I’m tempted to sleep through Sunday service when from beneath the cozy comforter I hear the Nebraska wind howling. I reason that I’ve “served enough” lately or that I’ve “given enough” for now. I get squeamish when offered the opportunity to talk about God outside my faith community.
Yet when I consider these five steps I clearly see how they all contribute to cultivating a passion for God:
Worship keeps me actively praising and thanking God.
Growing through Bible study, morning devotions and my small-group study keeps God’s word front and center in my life.
Serving my community places others’ needs before my own, and reminds me to be grateful for the many blessings in my life.
Giving shifts my focus from my own wants to the needs of someone else.
Inviting encourages me to step out of my comfort zone to express how God impacts my everyday life.
It’s work, sure; honestly, it's a lot of work. But if these steps can help me keep my big, fat idol subdued and God in his rightful place, then I say it’s worth the effort.
What about you? Do you have any tips for keeping your idols at bay?

Linking with Jen and the the Soli Deo Gloria Sisters:


Welcome to the "Hear It on Sunday, Use It on Monday" community, a place where we share what we are hearing from God and his Word.

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Thank you -- I am so grateful to have you here!


Weekend Meditation

With Deidra...

And Sandra...


For Those Precipice-Clinging Times

My church has a lovely tradition on each Ash Wednesday. We list on small slips of lavender paper the sins we want to hand over to God in repentance, and then all those hundreds of papers are gathered and emptied into cylindrical glass vases that sit on the altar throughout Lent until Easter morning, when they are burned in the bonfire at sunrise service. The ashes remaining from the burned papers are used during the following year’s Ash Wednesday service to mark the sign of the cross on our foreheads. I love rich symbolism like that, don’t you?

So last Wednesday I sat in the pew and listed my sins on a slip of paper. Honestly, I needed about eight slips of lavender paper in order to squeeze them all in, but I only had one in my hand, and it felt awkward to ask the teenager next to me if I could have his lavender slip (he sat slumped in the pew with splayed limbs, clearly sinless and not attempting to write one word. I know, because I was watching him out of the corner of my eye). In the end I made do with my one slip and wrote in tiny script.

This year at the Ash Wednesday service Pastor Greg preached on the Lenten practice of sacrifice – the ritual in which Christians give up, or sacrifice, something important to them during the six weeks of Lent.

For some it’s chocolate or alcohol (notice how I say “for some,” not me), for others social media (Two years ago Pastor Greg gently suggested I give up all social media. I complied, which resulted in near catatonia). Last year I unsuccessfully gave up multi-tasking (note to self: do not sacrifice a trait deeply ingrained in your personality). This year, however, Greg suggested we stretch this notion of a Lenten sacrifice even further and give up a sin.

It sounds a little odd, doesn’t it – to give up a sin? In fact, it doesn’t sound like it would be all that difficult. I mean, it’s a sin right – it’s not like giving up something we actually enjoy, like Modern Family or House Hunters or freshly baked pecan orange scones or shoe shopping. A sin is something we want to be rid of anyway, how hard can that be?

Turns out, pretty hard.

I knew right away what sin I wanted to give up. And, because I’m difficult, it wasn’t a tangible, concrete sin, like gossiping or complaining or yelling at my kids (although those would have all been good choices, too, and, truth be told, were listed amongst the other sins in tiny script on my lavender paper). The sin I chose to give up was distrust.

Yeah, you read right – as in distrust in God.

Sounds terrible, doesn’t it? I mean really, who distrusts God – our loving, compassionate, forgiving God? Maybe it would be more accurate to phrase it as “lack of trust in God,” but when it comes right down to it and we iron out all the wrinkles and wiggle around the euphemism, it really is distrust, plain and simple.

Don’t get me wrong. I trust God…sometimes. Like when the road is clear and well-traveled, and I know exactly what I need to do – I trust him really well then.

It’s when the road starts to wind precariously, and dangerous precipices plunge on either side and a murky fog descends that my trust in God begins to flounder. I grasp the steering wheel white-knuckled and fight with all my might to retain control because in the end, I’m more leery of surrender than I am of the exhaustion and panic that inevitably come with the refusal to let go.

So here we are, more than a week into Lent, I’m still not sure how I give up the sin of distrust. Or, to phrase it more clearly, how I learn to trust God. I’ve told myself, “Okay, just do it. Just trust him.” But honestly, that doesn’t feel like it’s working so far. My mouth and my brain may say I trust, but my heart knows better. My heart is holding out.

I’d love to tell you that in the past nine days I’ve uncovered Six Simple Ways to Learn to Trust God, but this post doesn’t have such a neat and happy ending (although if anyone has such a list handy, please do send it along). Rather, it’s more an admission that I am floundering and is perhaps a call for assistance.

So let me ask...do you have any suggestions for how one learns to trust God in times of uncertainty, change, looming decisions and overall precipice-clinging periods in life? I’d really love to know.

All material and photographs copyrighted Michelle DeRusha 2012

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