Do You Wonder As You Wander?

“Outside almost any door, miracles abound. Yet do we stop and recognize them, capture them, embrace them, celebrate them? Or do we just
plow through, getting to the next dot on our connect-the-dots calendar?” Laurie Beth Jones

When I read this, I found the first sentence hard to believe. I find miracles in many things, sure. The sun dipping into the ocean during a
sunset leaves me speechless, for instance.
The sweet and unique fragrance of a mighty magnolia makes me stop whatever I’m doing outside and take notice. A centuries-old oak tree with its huge trunk and craggily branches spreading far and wide against a blue sky makes me think about its strength and history, but everyday life…most of the time I’m just trying to get through it.

Summer is here, finally. I adore spring and summer for not only are the days longer, but the fruit and vegetables are scrumptious. Recently, I had the best corn-on-the-cob I’ve had in a year. Sinking my teeth into the cob, its little kernels popped with juiciness. We cut a fresh pineapple today and its fruit was alive with sweetness. Summer with all its bounty is enjoyable and welcomed, but it brings with it drought, both literally and figuratively.

I’m in education, so all means of employment stops or dwindles to a slow, steady drip. Looking for other work requires joining the ranks of fellow high-schoolers, which is degrading on two counts: salary and the age gap. Time on my hands brings boredom and boredom brings a robotic movement through life, pausing only for summer events, like vacations and family get-togethers. Every day is a sort of Groundhog Day, with one day oozing into the next and the next. There’s no wonder in any of this only low expectations.

So maybe I’m a glass-half-empty kind of person. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, as they say, for I come from a long line of glass-half-empties, but seeing each day with hope and wonder seems impossible. “You should be grateful,” you’re probably saying, and I am. I’m grateful for my health—extremely grateful. I’m grateful for the people who love me, and I’m grateful for my Lord, who keeps me in His embrace when life squeezes too hard, but to see wonder or miracles in the everyday? That’s a tough one.

So how do you do it? How do you see wonder in your daily life?

“Doubt” Gives Way to Truth in a Marriage

We sat and watched “Doubt” last night. In case you haven’t seen it, it involves a priest (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who is wrongly or rightly accused by a nun (Meryl Streep) of an impropriety with an altar boy. In the movie, Father Flynn (Hoffman) gives one of two short sermons, during mass. The second one is about a parishioner, who is having trouble with a gossipy tongue. Likewise, Sister Aloysius Beauvier (Streep) gossips with Sister James about a doubt she has about Father Flynn. Together they blame him for something they think he may have done.  The doubt grows and festers and eventually takes over the life of Sister Aloysius. She simply can’t quiet the doubt until it brings the results she wants.

Doubt, gossiping, blame: those are some interesting bed fellows, aren’t they? They have wreaked havoc in my own life and marriage. I have doubted my husband and his love for me. I have talked over this doubt with others. I have strung the pieces of doubt together, like a poorly-made garment, called them facts, and then blamed him. The doubt took over my life as well, causing sleepless nights, and depression. During this period of ugliness, our marriage suffered, and my husband suffered. He took my blame on the chin and never retaliated, which is his nature. Then it occurred to me, “Perhaps, I am partly to blame.”

In a poignant scene, Father Flynn and Sister Aloysius were in a similar situation. He asked her if she had ever done anything of which she was ashamed and if she had asked for forgiveness. She said that she had. He responded with guarded enthusiasm that this made them the same. She said that it did not and continued with her campaign against him. Some marriages can play out like this with one giving into the lure of self-righteousness at all costs. Sometimes the cost is high.

The relationship doctor, Dr. David B. Hawkins, speaks to this in a letter entitled, “The Futility of Blame.” In the letter, there is an email from someone whose marriage was torn apart by blame and how the husband wisely chose to step away from the battlefield. Like him, I have made the same choice. I no longer share with others the ups and downs of our marriage and I have given blame a rest. Today, our marriage is better. There are still problems and, occasionally, Doubt will come pounding at my back door. Instead of letting him in, however, I don’t answer and trust that my Savior will fight those battles.  God is love, afterall, and who among us is better at creating and mending love than He? No one.

Are You Good?

I weighed in on a discussion online with a mom, who was choosing to raise her daughter without the influence of the church. She, along with her husband, had been hurt by religion and chose to reject that path for their family. They were basically good people, she said, and could adequately teach their child right from wrong or how to be good. But can they? I’m not saying that this couple isn’t nice. I’m sure they are nice law-abiding people, but are they good?

As I read the comments from others about this topic, many admitted also to being good and that they didn’t need God or the church and were going to let their children grow up and choose a faith on their own…or not. Their reasons were that they had been hurt by religion and, as a result, had either chosen no faith at all or had chosen something like agnosticism. Many encouraged this young mother to keep her daughter away from the church and choose, instead, another community, like a mom’s group of some kind, say one that meets at a park regularly.

I know that this is the way of contemporary society and I think it’s sad. There are countless people who have been hurt by religion, I was one of them. My parents used religion to discipline, invoke fear, and squelch self-expression. Too, I once worked for a Christian company and was betrayed by the same people who said that they “loved” me. But, you know what? I now know that that is NOT who God is.

For me, God is loving and forgiving prone to jealousy, yes, but always has my best interest in mind. This doesn’t mean that I will not face hardships or that people I love will not face hardships, like death, addiction, divorce, betrayal, but it does mean that God is there waiting for me, always, to come to Him, abide with Him, and seek comfort in His care. It’s not an easy relationship, and it’s confusing, and it’s often not what I want, but it’s reliable and steady.

I think I’m a good person. I volunteer, I give to charity, I tithe, I obey the laws, but that’s probably a few hours out of my week. What about the rest of the time? The rest of the time I have, on occasions, been spiteful and mean to the people close to me. I have rejected those who needed my friendship. I’ve succumbed to road rage. I have lusted and have wanted to leave a loving environment to “find myself,” I mean, come on people, are we really THAT good. No, we’re not and we can’t possible teach another how to be good, especially a young, impressionable child.

The BEST that we can do is to teach a child in the ways of his Creator, to teach him or her about His church and its people, and pray for forgiveness for the rest. Without that, what do we have to offer our children…really?

Live Like You Are Small

Occasionally, I have the opportunity to substitute teach in the public school system. One day I was standing at the door greeting the children and one precious little 2nd grade girl with strawberry curls looked up at me and said, “I like your clothes, and your belt, and your necklace, and your (painted) toes, oh, and your eyes.” I blushed a little, smiled and thanked her, then began my day.

I thought about that little girl later and how loving she was and without any apologies. Then, I thought, she, along with her classmates, will grow up. They’ll grow up, become adults, and look the other way when they see you coming down the hall, just to avoid speaking. They’ll talk to everyone at their table but you. At a lunch outing, you’ll share with one of your “close” friends an intimate moment about your life—a struggle you’re having—because that was the topic of the day and then you won’t hear from her for months. All attempts to email or make additional lunch plans return to you void. Sometimes, they’ll profess their admiration for you and how much you mean to them and how glad they are that you are friends, and then they’ll never write or keep in touch. All attempts to stay connected are up to you.

Like the little girl in curls, I’ve had similar encounters with boys. They don’t really notice the appearance thing, but they will hang around my desk. They’ll ask me if they can help with anything (on a good day), tell me stories about their weekend, each competing with their buddy to tell the better story, ask me to come and see something they have built with blocks or Legos, ask me to help settle an argument between friends, and so on. Then they grow up.

They grow up and become men. They become men who will also profess their love and adoration for you, and then never call or come by again. They will do something nice for you, without being asked, but then will point to their “selfless” act later and want recognition for it. They’ll offer to do housework, which will spark much pride and love in your heart as you see them vacuuming or washing the dishes, only to find out later that they forgot your birthday.

Don’t get me wrong, I have had many cherished moments with adults, but what if we could love like little children. What if we could walk up to anyone and say, without apologies or wanting the compliment returned, “I like your voice, your eyes, your concern for others,” etc. What if the men in our lives would tell us something intimate about their own life and without shame? What if they would ask to help with housework not because they want a “trophy” for it or because of guilt, but simply because they love us?

I think that is why Jesus loves the little children, because their hearts are big and full of love. They trust without suspicion, they’re curious and full of wonder at the world around them, they’re eager to help with anything or to lend a comforting pat when we are sad.  They’re truly interested in us and our lives. What if we all would take a cue from them? How much better our lives would be if we would live like we are small.

No Safety in Fear

I have a lot of fear in my life. Its grip has been fierce and unrelenting. Fear has maintained its power over me by reminding me of past mistakes, failures, setbacks, betrayals, which, like a hamster on a wheel, have kept me in the same spot…just to be safe.

Trying something new or out of my “normal” has been out of the question or only vaguely considered because of how it could turn out—like the other mistakes and setbacks in my past. I have recently discovered a funny thing about fear, however. It does not provide the protection that it promises. Mistakes, failures, setbacks, betrayals still occur, sometimes in the area of my life I was trying desperately to protect. In other words, there is no real safety in fear.

I was in a discount CD store recently and struck up a conversation with the girl behind the counter. We began talking about the recent flood. She asked me if I had been affected by it to which I responded no. When I asked her the same question, she responded yes but supplies left over from hurricane Katrina had helped her protect her home. I completed my purchase and left, wondering the obvious, “Did that young woman flee New Orleans because of Katrina only to be threatened by flood waters again?”

I receive frequent emails from Beverly Ryle—a kind of prophet to the unemployed. This week’s newsletter was on fear. She mentioned that when we experience failure, we often put Fear in the driver’s seat of our lives. She went on to provide tips on how to know when Fear is ruling you, rather than the other way around, and how to combat it.

I read another article on fear and failure this week and how famous people overcame it. It mentioned Colonel Sanders, Chuck Colson, and Madeline L’Engle, author of A Wrinkle in Time. I found the last one particularly interesting. Ms. L’Engle had written three books by the time she was thirty and then nothing with any success for decades. She wrote in her diary, “I am a writer. That’s who I am, even if I’m never published again.” She went on to publish her famous, award-winning piece.

Like so many of the things we “hook our caboose to” thinking that it will provide direction, purpose, fulfillment, fear is also a lie. All-encompassing fear doesn’t protect us or provide us with anything. It only leaves us feeling empty, alone, adrift.

The message then is to live our lives with conviction. Follow our dreams…live the life we’ve imagined (Thoreau) and fear…well, fear be damned. “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7).

The Kingdom Within Us

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well (Matthew 6:33).

The command seems easy enough, right? I think all of us who think along these lines would agree that we should seek first his kingdom and his righteousness. I am learning, however, that it is not so easy. For years I’ve been giving a nod, if you will, to the first part of this verse in order to get to the second part–the goods–but if we take a closer look we will see that the beginning of the verse takes more than just a nod.

We know, for instance, that once we belong to Him, His kingdom then resides in us (Luke 17:20-21). I think, then, that seeking His kingdom and His righteousness means among other things to become the person He intended us to be—for us to reflect His kingdom. This means then that we cannot remain covered over with sin and shame. The shame that comes, say, with living in addiction be it the obvious like drugs or alcohol or food or porn or the less obvious like people-pleasing or anger or greed. We must then be free from this; we must become new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17). How do we do this? I wish there was an easy answer—a magic wand, perhaps, that we could wave and our addictions would be a distant memory. I am learning, though, that it takes work…a lot of work.

One of the most important requirements to becoming that new creation is a daily dying to self, so that when the Self calls and says, “Hey, I’m hurting today and need you to soothe the pain—temporarily—by taking a drug, having a drink, eating a package of cookies, visiting an Internet site, seeking approval from a friend, boss, or a stranger, picking a fight with someone, adding another task and paycheck to your already heavy workload, so I can feel better” then I can say “not today, Self. Today I’m going to ignore your yearnings and, instead, stop, count to ten if need be, and put my trust in God. Today I choose to look to Him for hope and for a better tomorrow.” Only then can we/I arrive at the second part of the verse which states, “and all these things will be given to you as well.”

I don’t think God is saying here, “Nanna nanna boo boo, you can’t have this until you trust Me,” although, admittedly, it has felt like this at times. I think, instead, that He is saying, “I love you, I know you, I created you and knew you even before you were born (Psalm 139), so let me show you what I can do for you. I will do for you something that is beyond your own efforts and beyond your wildest dreams” (Jeremiah 33:3). So, all those dreams that I dared to dream while cleaning a park restroom or sitting alone in an office hour after hour working on some mundane task will finally make their way out of my hazy dream world and become a reality. I don’t think it will happen for me, though, until there is a constant flow from myself to my Creator. As long as that “artery” is clogged with the above then I will remain in this place of drifting, marking time, settling.

Anyone who said that the Christian walk is easy did not give it their best effort. The idea is simple enough: give your life to Christ, but the daily implementation of it is much more difficult. It is a daily, sometimes hourly, undertaking. I like a good challenge, though, and this has been the best challenge so far. For even as I struggle, I feel God’s presence and His gentle, capable hand leading me on.

Two Worlds Collide

I’ve had the fortune to travel frequently. I say fortune because I have discovered that I really enjoy this unique diversion from routine. The change in scenery and environment is like witnessing the arrival of a best friend after a long absence. Training and “tours of duty” have taken my husband to various cities this year and I have had the grand opportunity to accompany him. The experience can be and has been a lonely one, however. While he has been away with the car and working, I have been left with the challenge of finding entertainment in a strange city. Long walks, photos, reading, writing, answering emails (when Internet is available), and exercising have made up most of my days. Recently, we visited Orlando, FL.

Our hotel was situated in the heart of downtown. With camera in hand, I began the usual task of exploring the city. After taking pictures of some wonderful architecture and manicured city streets, my adventures soon led me to the public library. I adore books, so I was happy to see this building appear around a corner. I was unprepared for what I saw inside.

The automatic doors opened and I walked into the cool air with the familiar and welcoming smell of books. I browsed the new releases on some tables and then studied the map of this old, three-story building. I walked up a flight of stairs, pulled some books from shelves, and then found a seat, enjoying the crack of a book’s spine as I opened the first one. Then I heard another sound—a terrible cough. It was low and deep and contagious. I looked around and noticed an unsavory character, leaning on one hand, clothes disheveled, and a decrepit backpack on the floor. Being the perpetual dreamer, I was glad to see that he was reading and imagined him finding a new passion in life that would take him off the streets. I went back to my reading.

Next, I was interrupted again by the sight of a policeman and a librarian quietly escorting another character out of the building. I began to really look around and wondered where the real patrons were…was I the only one on this floor? Later, I decided to find a more comfortable chair on another floor.

The next floor was set up for a book signing by Dara Torres, the 40-year-old Olympian, who was to appear later that month. There was a small stage and about 30 chairs stationed for her book talk. In the chairs, however, were seated about ten homeless men. They had that tell-tale exterior—one leg crossed, hands folded across the lap, head down. It was and is the appearance of someone who has been beaten down by life, has temporarily or not, lost a battle, given up, lost hope.

Walking back to my warm hotel room, I pondered with dismay my own struggles with employment, among other things. Consequently, I do not feel that far removed from their particular lot in life. It is a sad one and unsolvable. This community of the ignored is a constant reminder to us of how quickly the comforts of life can be taken away. Their appearance in “our world” is a nuisance, their clothing repulsive, but their message to us is loud and clear–be thankful.