Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Cookie Cutters

I LOVE COOKIES!

I don't necessarily have a sweet tooth. I don't even sweeten my coffee or tea. There are three sweets, however, that I simply cannot resist. A good ice cream (Yes, there is such a thing as bad ice cream! Come to Europe and try the rum-flavored stuff - it's enough to change your view on evil in this world!),homemade dark-chocolate brownies, and a well-baked cookie. Oh, let me say it again.

I LOVE COOKIES!

Since the practice of making cookies is foreign to this land like many of our other American traditions, I had to bring back whatever Christmas cookie cutters I had from the States. I found myself this year trying to be slightly creative with the baking along with my kids who get into the process a little more fervently now themselves. Being a little older, they all have their ideas of what they could do with the yummy morsels before them. One problem. I only have one set of cookie cutters that leave little to the imagination, and squelched the creative vibe going on at our house.

Though we used the cookie cutters for some, we tired quickly of them and got out a glass and began cutting circles to build upon. WHAT FUN! Though I still plan to buy some more cookie cutters once we visit home again, it brought about some major reflection. You see, we baked these cookies and treats for the church staff and close family friends. Going along with the holiday traditions of this land, we are around our church family often this time of year, and as such get into church, religious, theological, and holiday-inspired conversation. I chime in on occasion among the group, but as you would with any gathering of Baptist minds, you have vast and varied opinions on certain subjects, so I limit my input greatly. However, I for one, was tiring of a certain view on tradition at Christmas.

I found myself astonished at this revelation! I love our family traditions! We have many. One of my favorites, is opening a gift on Christmas Eve. Just one. Mom always saved out socks or pajamas for us to open on Christmas Eve. I do the same with my own three. One small gift to whet the appetite of the children. This year was no different. Then on Christmas morning, we all come down to the smell of my homemade cinnamon rolls. We read a passage from Luke chapter 2 and then the 3 children begin their search for the "special ornament" I have hidden as they all lay fast asleep. He who finds the glass ornament, opens the first gift. Again, our tradition was enjoyed and the gaiety lived on.

So why in the world was this opinion about carrying on the proper Christmas traditions getting under my skin? I sat silently and listened as the discussion was about the true meaning of Christmas, and how we must hold true to its real meaning and tradition, and I bit my tongue. Later, I poked fun at my husband about the root of the reason we celebrate Christmas this time of year being pagan, but that at the risk of offending the "brethren" would continue to keep my mouth shut. He smiled and thanked me.

But seriously, I thought of my cookies. The cookies I had just given them on this Christmas day. The unique, mouthwatering yumminess that passed from my hands to theirs with a purpose. That they may enjoy the purpose for which the cookies were made. I truly wanted to stand up and shout to the entire table "But I'm NOT a cookie-cutter cookie!"

Yeah, that would have made things a little awkward. Pastor George would have had a few problems, I think. So, at the risk of sounding like a raving lunatic, I sat in my chair and grinned at the thought of my own reflection.

I asked the Lord to remind me to have a celebratory spirit about his coming to earth for me, every single day.



Nope, I'm no cookie-cutter cookie. Although those cookies are beautiful and uniform, they are not how God made me. He took the time to mold each edge of my being and carefully planned the recipe to his own liking.

Though I will go on having my own Christmas traditions, I hope and pray that my children will not take only what traditions we had here to their own homes, but have the tradition of what makes them unique and special, and exactly what the Master Cookie Maker had in mind. That they would see how traditions are simply expressions of how we enjoy serving and loving him. Oh, may their expressions be most beautiful in his sight! That's the tradition I hope most that they will carry on. In whatever form it may be.

And I hope that anyone who may read this will bask in the joy of knowing that the sweet hands that molded them, eagerly await the form of expression their "tradition" might bring him. He delights in us. What a thought!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Dream a little dream of me

I have three fabulous children.



They make me smile. As the ray of sun brightens this picture while I stood conspicuously behind them; so they light up my life.

When I became a young mother at the age of 22, I got all the books I could. I read. I formulated plans. I implemented strategies. I found every answer I could. Though the days were sometimes long and hard, by the time I was a mother of three at age 26, I had my philosophies in place. And they worked.

For the most part, I had children who listened quickly, were obedient, sweet-natured and kind. I would tell them, much like I had been told when I was young, that they were created for something special. Anything they put their mind to, they could do. I reflected little on my past or how my dreams as a child would go from being a musician to lawyer-no, movie star- no, teacher all in an afternoon.


Yet now, as a mother of a teenage girl, I find myself in constant reflection. I had dreams of grandeur and fame, modest philanthropic dreams, and just plain simple dreams too. That did not stop as an adult, except these dreams took on a new identity. I began to dream for my children. I still do. I don't think that I was (or am) wrong to do so, but in my state of reflection I find that my premise may have been skewed.

You see, I remember distinctly how my dreams of "being anything you want" quickly became "being what you want within the parameters of what we think you should be". And I could see myself doing the exact same thing. Those dreams I had for my kids were just that. My dreams. And it's not extremely easy to relinquish that desire to not only want them to do something, but to push them toward it, or away from something else, as the case may be.

So, I have been dreaming a little more. Shocked? Don't be. For as I see that my dreams may not be their dreams, I have learned something. I listen to them. I hear their dreams, and I dream with them. Sometimes it seems so silly and unlikely, and even unorthodox or taboo in this world of "nothing is acceptable outside of what I tell you". But I realize that as my dreams changed from the nearly impossible to what became a reality, those dreams will most likely change for them too.

I am learning, don't get me wrong. I will be pleased to see my kids in some areas, and probably disappointed if they choose others. But my dreams will be that they find whatever it is that God has in store for them. He may choose to fulfill his plan in a way I could have never imagined. And most likely that will be the case; he's funny that way. But for me, I am renouncing my dreams. My dreams are no longer dreams of them and what I see for their future. No, their dreams are now mine. No limits.

The sky's not the limit. Nope. God is limitless. Think of the possibilities!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Fallen

This is the lake where I jog. Okay jogged. Past tense verb needed here because I am such a baby when it comes to being cold. I get about 20 minutes into enjoying the beauty of the snow, and jogging is not enough to keep me warm. But yesterday I figured I could walk at least once around the snowy path, and take some pictures before it all melted away.




Everything is cold.
Freezing.
Frozen.
And somehow there's life. Somewhere underneath the frigid surface is a breathing, living thing.




Frozen soldiers defy the tempests and stand. Long and strong.




Fences confine the wandering from distracting their concentration.





But one has fallen.





Passersby turn not their heads. No stopping. No helping. No lifting up the fallen.





And there she lies. Wounded.




But though her hurts are heavy, her roots are strong.



We load on our own burdens, and carry on.




Build our bridges.




Mend our fences.




We go home.





And the sun sets.




Sometimes I wonder what would happen if we really lifted up the fallen. I mean, for real, no holds barred, non-judgmental help. I don't mean hypothetical theological answers that the fallen will ignore because it wounds them deeper. I'm talking about true love. Compassion. Nurturing. What would happen if the church truly reached out in love? No backbiting, no expectation of perfection, or quick remedy, no sweeping the ugliness under the carpet, but a willingness to embrace the seemingly unlovable. Those whose roots are strong will survive. But what happened to making this world a place where we should THRIVE? Not just expecting the church people to stand like silent, frozen soldiers fulfilling their duty so the picture looks pretty.

We are alive! We can move! We could be the one who picks up the pieces!

We can't prevent the storms. We can't handle the weight of the trials of their lives. Only God can. But we can use the broken pieces and mend the wounds. Maybe even help them find a fresh, fertile ground in which they might live again. Breath again. Bloom and flourish again. What would a church-goer like that look like? How would the world see us then?

And maybe someday when we fall(Proverbs 24:16), we'll find an outstretched hand like the one we often extended.

1 Corinthians 13:4 "Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,

5 Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;

6 Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;

7 Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things."

Monday, December 6, 2010

Covered



This weekend it snowed. Oh, and then it snowed some more. And more. We probably got a foot in just a couple of hours. The kids had fun, and I loved taking their pictures in the fluffy white gift from the sky. I love the way snow makes things look. I love how shiny and bright it is. I love the pictures you can get in it! Don't get me wrong. I love enjoying it from the comfort of my own home! I'm not a snow bunny by any stretch of the imagination. I love flip-flops, cotton tops, sunshine and warmth. But I'm not complaining. It is December, after all, and if there's anytime for snow; this is it. But I'll enjoy it while I sit by the fire, thanks.

So, as we ventured out Sunday morning after the big storm, I was feeling very "not in the mood" to get out in the frosty weather and go to church. But, I fulfilled my pastor's-wifely duty and went. As we began Sunday School, I got my cup of coffee and sat in my regular seat. Our assistant pastor teaches the class I attend and I missed last Sunday because George was speaking at a different church. So, he was catching us up on the events of the previous week, and I was trying to follow along as he quickly spouted out the points, but was more concerned with warming my hands with my coffee cup until he entered into this Sunday's lesson.

"The church just breeds liars".

"Here in the church, we're trained to be fake".

"You're not accepted here until you meet the requirements".


Yup, he had my attention now. He went on to explain how the purpose of our meeting in this casual Sunday School format, was not even being reached. We want to break down the walls of the facade we put on in our Sunday clothes and sweet smiles, and delve into the Bible together to find truth. Truth for your life. Truth for mine.

But a cup of coffee and a few sweets to make you feel more at home will not accomplish that.

We are afraid of the true "us" that lies beneath the pretty Sunday picture, and more afraid of what someone else will think of it.

I began to wonder where he was going with all of this. He did tie it together with his previous points of what it means to "grow" as God intended it, but my mind stuck on one simple statement.

"All that's broken, ugly, or unworthy about you is covered in God's grace."

Covered

Wow! As the shapeless crown of a tree that has lost its leaves is gloriously covered in a blanket of shiny white snow, so am I covered in God's grace! And what's more as the lesson went on, we talked about how a measure of grace is given to each one of us (Ephesians 4:7) . And the real reason we meet is because I need some of that grace that you have received. And you need some of the grace that I have received, because no one man receives it all the same. Your experience demands some measure different than my own, and vice versa.

Oh that we could be gracious!

I sat and wondered at the thought. Oh to be gracious! Oh that I would see my brothers and sisters as lovely creatures covered in the beautiful blanket of his grace! Oh that they would see graciousness in me!

Covered in grace.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

"Enough" is enough

This blog for me has become a source of therapy. I know a few of my friends asked me to start blogging probably because they wanted to see cute pictures of my kids. Sorry, that's what's Facebook is for, so if you want to see pretty pictures of my gorgeous children by all means, Facebook is where it's at!. Here, I share my heart.

A few months ago I became acquainted with a Christian author named Kary Oberbrunner who has written a new book entitled, Your Secret Name.

He sent me an email this summer, before his book was released, and invited me to submit a song that I had written to be used in his promotions. I have yet to finish the recording of the song, even though my plans are still in the works. Musicians are a shady lot, I tell ya! But this book, song, and idea of my very own God-given secret name has been transforming my life. I have yet to read the book, and plan to treat myself to it as a Christmas gift. But the concept is, as I said, life-altering. His premise is Revelation 2:17 "... To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it."

As I have heard more and more about the book, and more importantly, the concept that God has a new name for us, I have become so intrigued. But that led to frustration. You see, there's a test you can take on the book's website that gives you a list of things from which to choose. You can choose things like "Abandoned", "Lazy", "Ignorant", etc. All labels that the world has put on people, their names, if you will. I didn't truly identify with any name but one: "Misfit". That's how I feel most of the time. Just a little bit out of place. The name they suggested for me, as an example of what God might call me was "Welcomed". hmmm...

Not so much. Welcomed, that's okay, but my name? I was a little irritated by the thought of others finding their names and myself being stuck with Welcomed. The stories others would tell said things like "I found the beautiful name God has given me, and I totally identify with my new name: "Hope", "Beloved", "Free", etc. I didn't "feel" it. I became a little frustrated and even irritated at God for not showing me my own name. I didn't like "Welcomed", I didn't FEEL welcomed even if I knew that He'd never shun me, I didn't want that to be my name. I chose "Misfit" and I wanted something like "Perfect Fit For My Plan"... but that's impractical, now isn't it? I mean, we've given up names like Sitting Bull or Shining Star in the Night when our ancestors decided to marry the British who frowned upon such things!

You see, a few years ago, I began to pray very candidly. I begin to tell God that he's just got the wrong girl for this job. I wanted to move. I WANT to move! I don't fit in here by any stretch of the imagination. I have found my niche, don't get me wrong. I love working with my kids and my husband. I love teaching. But rarely a day goes by where I am not reminded that I'm the foreigner in this foreign land! And that feeling of discomfort and just not fitting in nearly drove me insane. I tried to conform. I tried to please if not one side, the other. If not all, some... and I failed miserably and literally lost the essence of who I truly am along the way.

In the past couple years, however, I have begun to skip all the politics, and ask God if at least he still wanted me. Could I fit in to his plan still? Because I sure wasn't feeling cut out for the stuff I thought that I was supposed to do.

And so, you see, this book - this concept - caught me along my soul-searching journey. Along my road to finding out who "Shelly" is. But that's not really what matters, I have found. It's what God knows me as that matters. About two or three weeks ago, God was so gracious to understand my frustration and hear my cry. I was asked to do something I am not completely comfortable doing and I automatically said "yes" without hesitation. I don't know what I was thinking! Oh the battle that went on within me, trying to find an excuse to get out of it!

The excuses didn't come, so the prayers increased.

I just ended up telling God, "But I really don't think I'm good enough to do this without being ridiculed AGAIN!"

And then, in that inaudible, lovely voice, He spoke ever so clearly.

"You're Enough for me!"

That's it! That's my name!

ENOUGH

Maybe it isn't something you would choose, or even identify with. Maybe it wouldn't speak to you like it did to me. Maybe it isn't fancy, but it's me.

It wasn't about taking a test, though it works so well for some. What a help it is to see the opposite word of how the world sees you in bold print, right in front of your face! God sees you like that.

But for me, it was more than the test could give, and I am sure exactly what the author had in mind! It is a personal realization that God sees you in a way only he can. It is as unique as your own fingerprint.

For me, "Enough" is MORE THAN enough!

What's your name?