Posts Tagged ‘writing’

Back in April (remember April?…seems a long while ago, for some reason) I started off in a challenge to write and post, consistently, for one month; sadly, I did not succeed. I didn’t run out of ideas (indeed, my Drafts folder glares at me sullenly every time I open my dashboard); neither did sudden catastrophe strike…I just got busy and got behind, and so “failed” to live up to the expectations of the challenge. With an eerie sense of the familiar, I followed this “failure” with another, even more tragic: I continued not-writing, at least in this place, for an entire month and more…with only the pitiful excuse of guilt as a reason for this “failure echo”. This cannot be allowed to continue. I have learned to see this as a metaphor for how I always have dealt with my shortcomings: I give my yesterdays power over my tomorrows…I accept that “Past performance is the surest indicator of future behavior”, and so my choices become scripted by “what has been” instead of  “what should be”…I deem myself “unworthy”, and then earn that designation. It’s deeper than the way I write, it goes into every aspect of how I live; the writing is only one way that the life I live on the inside expresses itself on the outside. Come, I’ll show you what I mean.

I recently observed my third anniversary of employment with the company; this marks the longest time I have worked anywhere in my entire life or career. (Well, I attended the same high school for 4 years, does that count?) This has been, by every measure, the best place I have ever worked. I have survived a corporate merger and downsizing, brought on by two years of downturns in the local economy, while watching my salary increase 25%; upper management is very encouraging and supportive of me, allowing me to grow and expand my skills and my role. At the same time, they have stood beside me as I serve in ministry, scheduling my workload around the twice-annual visits to the prisons on Kairos teams; stood beside me as I cared for my wife during her year-long battle with breast cancer treatment, guaranteeing a minimum weekly paycheck (and continued insurance benefits) whether I worked or not, long after I had exhausted my personal time off allotment for the year. The level of mutual respect among my co-workers exceeds anything I ever imagined that “a job” could provide. Yet, earlier this week I came within hours of losing my job, literal hours, because I fell short of MY expectations, and nearly allowed the “failure echo” to unravel everything. I’m still too close to spell out the step by step of what happened, perhaps in a later post, perhaps not…but the details are not as important as the big picture – I allowed pride and fear to rule over me, instead of accepting that I have been set free; I looked forgiveness in the face and screamed, “I don’t deserve you!” – which is completely true…and completely the amazing message of God’s grace.

Long story short, and the reason I posted this: in my desperate hour I cried out to the Lord, and by the power of prayer, I was able to hear that message clearly despite my despair…and respond to it. I am on the way to restoring my relationship with my employer, but there are others I also need to restore…including the one with you, my readers. I bailed out on you, with no warning or explanation…left in mid-conversation, with over half yet unspoken. I am sorry, and I will make the effort to be better…or at least, more honest, OK? and I can do another thing – I can post the rest of the Challenge! I have most of them written, but a bit of polish before release is needed, so look for one or two a week. The ideas are worth their moment in the light of day, and I will enjoy the privilege of sharing them with you. See you again very soon, may you remain aware of the blessings you enjoy!

Nicky

The structural arrangement of the Bible is not commonly discussed, except in the most scholarly of venues; but there is oneunfortunate consequence which must be diligently avoided: modern readers have a tendency to treat each book as a discrete story, more like an anthology rather than chapters within one narrative. This causes us to miss the simultaneous occurrence of some key events in God’s history with His people. The ministry of the Old Testament  prophets is a good example. In the previous post, for instance, we saw Isaiah speaking the Word of God to King Hezekiah; but that was only one of four kings during whose reigns he served The Lord (Ussiah, Jotham, and Ahaz came before), and other biblical prophets  – Amos, Hosea, and Micah – were his contemporaries. These facts make the stubbornness of the people, their refusal to repent, all the more damning…they could not claim ignorance, the news was on every channel!

The Book of Isaiah is by far the longest and most extensive passage of prophecy we have in Scripture, and the most revealing of Jesus. I have seen some commentators call this book “the Gospel of Isaiah”, so accurate are the details about the coming Messiah. Yet about the man himself we see very few details. The title above is used nearly every time he is introduced; this sparse answer to the questions, “Who are you, what is your job, where did you come from?” is apparently all the information we need; much like John the Baptist, who quotes this prophet when asked to identify himself, Isaiah is content to be nothing more than –

A voice of one calling:
“In the wilderness prepare
the way for the Lord;
make straight in the desert
a highway for our God.”

So many preachers today (in my opinion) make themselves the center of attention. I live in Houston, Texas: home to three of the ten largest “mega” churches in this country, and I can tell you far more about their senior pastors than any of their ministries; their names and photographs are on all the billboards and websites (often with a link to their newest books), but sometimes you have to scroll around or read a little to find the name of Jesus…and I have to wonder at that. Isaiah and the other prophets lived to speak God’s words to God’s people, or anyone else who would listen, for that matter; it was not in the least about themselves – how far we have strayed in these days!

In an earlier Challenge post, I referenced the fact that at times I have been guilty of “lightly” reading the Scriptures, i.e. turning the pages but only skimming the text; not really paying attention to passages (or books, in some cases) that did not seem relevant to me. As I also said, we do ourselves a gave injustice when we undervalue the Word of God.

Another example I have recently unearthed regards the parallel books of Kings and Chronicles (and portions from several of the prophets), which detail the history of the twin nations of Israel and Judah, following the division which arises from the sins of God’s people, in general, and King Solomon in particular. Solomon prayed for and received an enormous gift of wisdom, to lead the people and prosper as their king, as well as carrying out the commission of building the Temple. Yet, he married incessantly and politically, drawing wives from all surrounding nations (in conflict with God’s commandments) and as a consequence being led to compromise his worship, going after other gods as the behest of his wives.

Once the kingdom has divided, it seems the decline into unrepentant sin becomes irreversible…so much that the northern Kingdom is carried away into captivity, and Judah is attacked and threatened repeatedly; King Ahaz goes so far as to begin worshiping the gods of his enemies, in an attempt to fend off disaster. (Spoiler: it doesn’t work.) He goes so far off the plan of God that his own subjects cannot bring themselves to bury him with the kings of old when he dies; instead he rests in the tombs with the common people, and the throne passes to his son, Hezekiah.

According to the account in 2 Chronicles, Hezekiah wastes no time putting things right. He orders the Temple to be cleansed and re-consecrated; he finds priests and Levites worthy to serve before the Lord; and he restores sacrificial worship, making sin offerings and burnt offerings on behalf of the people; once again Passover is observed, which (according to the story) had not taken place since the time of Solomon, a span of twelve generations. I cannot imagine how they could let such an important practice lapse…or can I? Perhaps I have been equally negligent in some aspect of my own worship, and have suffered an equal decline? Have I fallen out of fellowship with other believers, or spent insufficient time reading and studying the Bible, or allowed my prayer life to grow stale? Perhaps you have as well?

The good news, both for us and for Hezekiah, is that we serve a God of second chances; and third chances; and thirty-third chances, if necessary. The title of this post appears 8 times in Scripture, and every time Hezekiah prays to God, he is answered with something positive: rescue from his enemies, forgiveness for his people, even a reprieve from death. Likewise, God yearns that we would pray to Him, call on His name in our distress, and trust that He will save us, bless us, preserve us. The way God treated with His people in the Old Testament is the same way He will treat with us…we know this to be true, because He is the same…yesterday, today, and forever, AMEN!

In Genesis, the book of Beginnings, we see the continuing development of the covenant between God and Abraham, Issac, and Jacob; in each generation, the promises made by God to the father are repeated, renewed, and refined for the son, in the form of a blessing at the end of each father’s life. Traditionally, the father’s blessing would confer favor to the eldest son above any younger brothers – yet God remains sovereign in the affairs of humans, and will overrule our conventions for His purposes, despite what we think or do about it – let’s look at the record.

When Abraham tried to provide his own heir by lying with Hagar and fathering Ishmael, God superseded him by giving Issac to Sarah; Abraham recognized this by sending the older boy away and placing his blessing upon the younger. In his turn, Issac fathered twins, Esau and Jacob; Esau was the firstborn, but even in the womb the Lord had promised that Jacob would inherit the promise; this came to pass when Esau sold his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of stew, and then it was sealed when Rebekah assisted Jacob in deceiving Issac, so that he received his father’s blessing – just as God intended.

When Jacob, now renamed Israel, came to the end of his life and prepared to pronounce his blessing upon his sons, the same pattern repeats itself, with one unique and significant exception – there are two sets of blessings delivered, foretelling the two nations which would arise later. In Gen 48, Jacob calls Joseph, his favorite son, to his side to make his dying request, that he not be buried in Egypt, but returned to the land of Canaan.  He then blesses Joseph’s sons, Manasseh (the elder) and Ephraim (the younger), even before blessing his own sons (see Gen 49, and notice that the three oldest are likewise passed over in favor of Judah, from whom our Savior Jesus is promised), crossing his arms to place his right hand upon the head of Ephraim when he does so. Joseph tried to switch the blessings, believing that his older son should receive the greater promise, but Jacob demurred, insisting that he knew what he was doing; this was obviously so, for in fact the descendants of Ephraim became the kings of the northern Kingdom of Israel, while the sons of Judah ruled over the southern Kingdom, following the line of David. In all the acts of men, we must remember that God has see the end from the beginning, and His will shall always prevail – if you ever wonder what the “will of God” was in any historical event, just look at what happened…you will see exactly that which God intended.

There are those who who teach that women should not have a public role in Christian leadership; surely these people are not reading the same Bible I am? Scripture is rich in wise, powerful, inspired females used by the Lord. We find a particular example in the book of Judges, chapters 4-5, in the person of Deborah. Now, I must admit, the first few times I read through the Bible, I skimmed over this section, in a rush to get to King David. We do ourselves (and the glory of God) a grave disservice if we do this…ALL of Scripture is inspired by God, we should try to take all of it in, as best we can. I had always assumed that the Judges served pretty much the same purpose as a Sheriff in the Old West – keep the peace, administer the Law, maintain order; but that is not at all what they were doing…there is barely a consistent character trait between any of them – other than one very important one: they listened to God, and as best they could, they obeyed what He said. Some served as leaders, some as warriors, some as prophets – but all served God, not the people.

Deborah is listed as the fourth Judge in Israel, but to me she is more of the classic OT prophet: she hears the word of the Lord and pronounces it to the people. I imagine her administration of justice resembles that of Moses – people realized that she is not following her own standards, or those of the world, but only those of God, which provides the wisdom and correct moral compass to steer the people. Her other function as we see it in chapter four is to reinforce the commandments that God has given to the leaders of Israel; when she confronts Barak, she is reminding him of what God has already said…metaphorically tugging his ear to get him to obey. I believe this is what inspires the description she uses in 5:7, when she calls herself “a mother in Israel”; “mother” here is rendered from the Hebrew as “one who provides what is needed” – the people (and Barak) had gotten off course again, following after false gods, and needed a swat on the backside to remind them whose they really were!

One version of the old saying goes “Behind every great man stands an ever better woman.” In this case, perhaps the man isn’t so great, but God raised up a mighty woman indeed to stand beside and behind him. Maybe we should take a minute and consider the Godly women in our lives, and praise Him for the Deborah’s He has provided for us.

Cain rose up…

Posted: April 3, 2013 in A to Z Challenge
Tags: , , , ,

Many times in the Old Testament, characters and themes are introduced with little fanfare, and often dispatched just as quickly; the “trick” is to discern the meaning inherent in even these briefest of encounters. We see one such example in Adam and Eve’s first son, Cain, who appears and is gone in less than 20 verses. Yet, there is a wealth of truth revealed in this scant space – let us examine this together.

Some context: Genesis 3 ends with the “first family” being driven from Eden after their Fall into the knowledge of sin and death. Chapter 4 begins with the birth of their son Cain, whose name can be translated as “Here he is”; perhaps Eve considered this child to be the fulfillment of the promise made by God in Gen 3:15 of a Seed, One to deliver them from their doom. He is quickly followed by his brother Abel (breath, something transitory, quickly dissipated…names have significant meaning in Hebrew) We fast forward to find them mature and working hard at their professions: Cain is a farmer, while Abel is a shepherd; at some point, they bring their respective offerings to God, and it is here that we find the lesson.

Scripture tells us that God accepted Abel’s offering, but Cain…not so much. We are not given any specific reasons for this, (there may be some clues in the description of their offerings) but I think it is more significant to examine the reaction that Cain has to God, and to his brother, and to then attempt to relate it to ourselves. This is, I believe, one of the primary purposes of Scripture – to reveal the nature of God to His creation, and then by this illumination, point to where we deviate from His design, that we may know best how to pray for His grace and forgiveness. (Sorry, I’ll get off the soapbox now.)

Cain reacts with anger and disappointment at the fact that his offering was not accepted; at no point does he inquire about the nature of his shortcoming – instead, it seems that he is offended; after all, he brought an offering…isn’t that enough? God isn’t having any of it, and calls Cain down for this rebellious self-righteousness, warning him where his attitude will lead him, but Cain cannot hear – he is too filled with his pride to listen…echoes of how God warned Adam and Eve about the consequences of thinking of themselves more than of God. Sure enough, Cain’s anger leads him to commit the first recorded murder, and suffer his own consequence, becoming an outcast among outcasts, and fathering a legacy based on vengeance for slights real and imagined (see Lamech in Gen 4:23-24).

So where is the parallel, what in us does this light of truth shine upon? What, indeed? I would venture that the vast majority of conflict among humanity is rooted in the notion that anything I offer to another should be deemed worthy because I gave it; any failure in this relationship is a reflection on them, not on me. The “problem” is that God is worthy to be worshiped, and anything offered to Him must be worthy of Him; He is the standard, not me. Cain had a problem with that, and it cost him. Guess what? I have a problem with that, too, and so do you; that problem is original sin – when Adam ate the fruit, and learned what right and wrong were, he took that knowledge with him out of the Garden, and passed it down to all of us, along with the overwhelming tendency to choose wrongly.

We are blessed that the same love that God showed when he promised Eve a Seed is still in effect; that Seed is Jesus, who became the new Adam, and overcame that first wrong choice – He chose to obey God, and every act He does is worthy of the Father. In Him, we can find acceptance; by submitting to His Lordship, we can find peace, and once again have intimate fellowship with God, in the cool of the evening.

In the book of Ruth, we meet two people listed in the genealogy of Jesus, as detailed in the first chapter of Matthew: Ruth and Boaz. Ruth is the daughter-in-law of Naomi, whose husband and sons had died while residing in Moab. This circumstance had forced Naomi to return home to her family in search of support, as the culture of the times held little hope for widows with no sons to care for them. Ruth had been married to one of Naomi’s sons, and in a rare display of loyalty, had left everything she had known and returned to Judah with Naomi.

Boaz was a relative of Naomi’s husband, and he was a wealthy landowner and respected member of the community. As a means of supporting herself and Naomi, Ruth asks for and receives permission to glean the fields belonging to Boaz, as provided by Jewish law. But Boaz, upon learning who this young woman is, and hearing her back story, makes extraordinary provisions for her well-being. When Ruth reports this to Naomi, she identifies Boaz as a relative, and “one of our redeemers.”  A redeemer was a person who had the right and obligation to re-purchase a parcel of land that had been sold away from a clan by its rightful owner. Naomi’s husband had indeed sold his land, and the deadline for repurchase, or redemption was drawing near. Naomi sends Ruth back to Boaz to request that he perform this duty on her behalf, which she does. Boaz tells her that he is blessed by her request, but there is another with a better claim, who must be appealed to first. He goes the next day to present this appeal.

When he learns of the opportunity to acquire the land, this other man is eager, but there is a catch: if he takes the land, he also must take the responsibility of caring for the deceased man’s women, including giving them an heir – passing all the privileges on, and sacrificing his own rights in the process. While the short term gain is inviting, he has no interest in getting a wife and losing his own fortune in the process. He defers the honor to Boaz, who promptly accepts, receiving both the land, which he really did not need or want, and Ruth, which was his entire desire; in a sense, he bought the land to gain the woman. They are married, and the child Ruth bears is Obed: father of Jesse, grandfather of Israel’s great King David.

In Matthew 13:44, Jesus relates a parable which mirrors this story:

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”

For Boaz, Ruth is the great treasure hidden in the field, and he gives up his inheritance – “all that he has” – to get her. So how does this apply to us? To Jesus, we are the treasure hidden in the field of the world. Our field was sold to Satan when Adam chose sin over obedience to God; but Jesus comes to repurchase the land, by paying the price for our sin with His blood; and in the process, we are redeemed. He is King of kings and Lord of lords, and has no need of the earth, but as it says in Rev 5:9-10:

“Worthy are You to take the scroll and to open its seals, for You were slain, and by Your blood You ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and You have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”

Jesus is our kinsman-redeemer, paying the price to buy us back from sin and death; Boaz serves a type of Jesus, an example to aid in our understanding of the eternal plan of God to save His people. Blessed are we to be covered by the blood of the Lamb!

Most of us are  familiar with this guy: according to the bible, he and his wife Eve were the prototypes for the human race, created by God in His image and His likeness (and yes, those are two different things – one speaks to appearance, the other to characteristics, but that is a topic for another time).  Sometimes Christians can be harsh and judgmental towards this “first couple”, which is a shame; in truth we are not really very different, and certainly not any better!

The bible tells us that from the very beginning, God’s plan was that His creatures were integral elements of His plan; as we read the first two chapters of Genesis we see that Adam and Eve lived together in this perfect world, with all their physical needs met; their roles and purposes established; and enjoying the companionship of their Creator. So what went wrong? Adam did, that’s all…he did what came naturally to him, even though he knew better.

Adam was given power, and authority, and above all else, the one thing that separates humanity from the animals: free will. With this gift came an opportunity to either succeed or fail, of his own volition; to submit himself to the commandment and intentions given to him by God (remember, at this point there was only one explicit prohibition – to not eat the fruit of one particular tree), or to set out on his own path, contrary to the wishes of the One who made him. We know which path Adam chose, and the consequences of that decision, and it is easy to blame him for all that has happened since – I have heard more than one person joke that the first thing they wanted to do upon reaching heaven was to kick Adam in the shin! But what makes us think we would have done any differently? How many of us have been given everything we ever wanted or needed, at the cost of simple obedience, and yet cannot maintain this minimum standard? No wonder we needed a Savior, a new Adam to replace the original and restore humanity to the original purpose, free from original sin.

Jesus, in His incarnation, was also given power, and authority, and the same free will as Adam – yet He consistently chose to submit His will to the will of the Father; there are dozens of verses, but allow me to quote one of my favorites – John 6:38-40:

For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will but the will of Him who sent Me. And this is the will of Him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that He has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

As we approach Easter, I am reminded again that I am grateful that Jesus came to be the New Adam, and that by Him, we have opportunity to be restored to our original place and purpose in God’s plan. This wonderful gift is available to any who will acknowledge the grace of God which supplies our need, and accept the words of Christ right above,  and receive eternal life.

Liebsteraward 1While I have been writing here at “Sharper Than…” only since Labor Day 2012, I’ve been dipping my toes into the blogosphere for about three years now, in fits and starts (I’ve abandoned more blogs than many better writers have ever started); so naturally I have seen lots of nominations for awards being discussed. In all honesty, I never paid much attention – to me, an award is something you work for, a prize for competing; with this blog I have tried to move away from being competitive and towards being competent. Then I signed up for the A-to-Z Challenge this year, and something wonderful happened – I was nominated for an award! Specifically, my new friend Rebeccah Giltrow over at Rebeccah Writes has nominated me for a Liebster Award, and I owe her a special “Thank you!” for doing so!!

For those unfamiliar, the Liebster Award is a way to help expand the community of connections among bloggers from all over the ‘Net, by bringing the “smaller” sites (like mine) to the notice of more people, in a “pay it forward” system that shares the love and recognition with others, according to these conventions:

  • Post the award to your blog.
  • Thank the person who nominated you and post a link to their blog.
  • Post 11 random facts about yourself.
  • Answer 11 questions that have been set by the person who nominated you.
  • Nominate 11 bloggers with fewer than 200 followers to accept this award.
  • Ask your nominees 11 questions.

So with the first two items complete, here goes the rest – enjoy, and be sure to visit and show some comment love to Rebeccah and to my nominees!

11 Random Facts About Me:

  1. I have a terrible memory for names, so I routinely make up names for people that nobody knows but me.
  2. So far, the only food item I have ever found that I do NOT like is liver – no style, no way, never again.
  3. My wardrobe consists of 80% t-shirts and jeans, and 20% everything else.
  4. Of the four children my wife and I raised, only one shares my DNA, but everyone tells us how much they all look like me.
  5. Every vehicle I have ever owned was at least ten years old, and all but two cost less than $1,000.
  6. I have worked in commercial air conditioning for nearly twenty years, but my house does not have central heat or A/C, and probably never will.
  7. My jeans are the same size today as they were when I graduated high school in 1986.
  8. I never have less than three books which I am reading at the same time, sometimes as many as five.
  9. I can use any tool I own in either hand, but otherwise my left hand is truly my “dumb hand”.
  10. I failed the test for my SCUBA dive card because I cannot tread water – I sink like a rock unless moving forward.
  11. I don’t really listen to the lyrics of most songs, I just kind of bop along to the rhythm of the words; I am often surprised when I learn what they are saying.

11 Questions from Rebeccah:

1.Where in the world are you right now?

I live in Houston, Texas – born and raised, and except for 2-1/2 years in college, never lived anywhere else.

2.What has been your best gift?

If you define “gift” as “something given by a person”, it was when my employer offered to pay for my dental reconstruction because he thought I was “worth investing in”. (Botched dentures several years ago left me missing 2/3 of my natural teeth, with all the problems you can imagine go with that.)

3. Can you play a musical instrument?

Sadly, no…I have taken piano and guitar lessons, but not with enough consistency to actually learn anything. I did learn to sight-read music singing in the church choir, so it’s not hopeless!

4. If you could time-travel to any period in the past, where would you go?

Torn on this one – United States, end of 19th century, at the birth of the Industrial Revolution; or 1st century Judea, to experience the earthly ministry of Jesus first hand

5. What’s your favourite dessert?

No contest – my own recipe: Harvest Spiced Cornbread Peach Cobbler

6. Who was your favourite teacher at school?

Ellen Farrell, 5th grade at Dechaumes Elementary – she was the first teacher to challenge me to be to do more than merely pass, but to excel…I didn’t know it then, but she was teaching critical thinking before it was a “thing”.

7. Do you have any pets?

Yes, we have a pair of rescue dogs we saved right off the streets – a 4-yr old American Pit Bull named Cinnamon, and a 9-month old Pit/Boxer mix named Li’l Girl; and we just recently lost our 12-year old chow-chow, Ginger, who came to  us as a 2-month old puppy.

8. Where did you go on your last holiday/vacation?

We drove across Texas to Waco to visit my daughter at the birth of my granddaughter, and then stopped in Austin on the way back to meet an Internet friend in person for the first time – both wonderful experiences!

9. What languages can you speak?

I have a semi-functional command of Spanish (useful on the jobsite, in restaurants, etc) but I am working to improve.

10. What’s your favourite word?

“accoutrements” – gleaned from a Daffy Duck cartoon as a child

11. If you could exchange lives with anyone, who would you choose?

I would not; each of us is a unique creation, shaped by our experiences…dropping into another’s life would not be the same as living it, and so it would be a disappointment at best, and a waste in any case.

My 11 nominees:

11 Questions to Answer:

  1. What is your favorite candy/sweet treat?
  2. Where is the farthest from home you have ever traveled?
  3. Name one book that you have read at least twice.
  4. Breakfast, lunch, or dinner – which is your favorite meal?
  5. What modern “convenience” would you gladly do without?
  6. Which is your favorite holiday?
  7. How long has it been since you climbed a tree?
  8. Have you ever had an unusual or exotic pet?
  9. What sports or games do you participate in?
  10. What movie have you seen more than five times?
  11. What place in the world would you most like to visit?

Thanks again for playing along, and be sure to pay this forward. See you all in April!

Many of you may be wondering why, after finally finding a nice steady pace, I suddenly stopped posting…yeah, there’s been the  occasional re-blog, when I see something I find especially moving…but no writing. And isn’t that the whole reason I started this blog, to give myself a forum to practice my art? Well, that is an interesting question, so let’s examine this idea.

I must admit that I have let myself become pretty divided lately…after all, I am just a guy, and I have trouble doing more than one thing at a time very well; multi-tasking has never really been one of my spiritual gifts. Here lately, I have reached critical mass – taking care of Karen as she slogged through cancer treatment; handling an enormous level of responsibility trying to drive the design process on a complex construction project at work; helping to kick-start a prayer-and-share ministry at a halfway house; and “standing in the gap” at the church while we struggled through the transition period without a pastor, or much of a leadership team at all, for that matter. The Lord has been with me, and these things have prospered…I have been blessed to have been a part of it all. But even seasons of insanity come to an end…and strangely enough, that has been the problem!

Karen has finally reached the end of her regimen – only two more radiation treatments and one more follow-up, and she will be done, hallelujah! The project has been designed to a fare-thee-well, and actual construction begins next week. A new crop of volunteers has been trained for prayer-and-share, and a routine has been developed, duties spread around. The church has merged with another fellowship, so we have a pastor, and a staff, and budget, and a vision. Suddenly, I don’t have a gap to stand in, and it has left me off-balance and questioning  my role, and in fact my value, because that is just how I am wired.  I have a lot of trouble functioning well unless there is a crisis going on…smooth seas and clear skies leave me twitchy and anxious, and I have never really understood why; in truth I still don’t. But that doesn’t mean that I have to accept that as a healthy or right way to live, because I can recognize that it isn’t…it’s just a matter of learning a new way to behave; substituting better habits in the place of bad ones, and rediscovering passions from my past that I have allowed to wither under the weight of “busyness”.  I have been working on that very thing for a few months now, with success, and so I think I can expand this behavior into other realms of my life.

Back on New Year’s Eve, I made two  life-changing decisions: I stopped smoking cigarettes, and I started distance running…something I really enjoyed back in high school, but allowed to die out.  I also began blogging about the journey, at the suggestion of a friend, who reminded me that accountability and support from others in a similar situation are invaluable for making commitments stick. She was right, and I have so far succeeded: I have not smoked for nearly 12 weeks; I have run almost 80 miles this year; I have completed one 5k race, and and I’m signed up for a 10k in May; and my running blog is doing quite well. So, let’ s apply some of these principles to my current issue: how to spend less time in agonies of doubt, and more time pursuing my God-given art of writing (the reason I began blogging, remember?) Here’s what I came up with:

I have registered for the Blogging from A-to-Z in April Challenge, as a way to encourage myself to write something every day for a month. I will focus on themes relevant to Christianity (my own unique spin on the challenge) and in the process, try to recover some of my joy and wonder at the purpose God has placed in me – to express in writing how great He is, and yet how accessible He is to any who will seek after Him. THIS is my role, THIS is my value to the kingdom of heaven…and I am grateful that the Lord is patient, and continues to minister to me and encourage me. He has done this through many mediums – the sermon series our pastor is doing on how God’s plan for humanity has always been that we are blessed to serve Him and to serve others for His glory; the brothers at the halfway house and at the prison where I serve, who are constant examples of how God’s grace extends to “the least and the lost” of this world, and that our worth in His eyes is in no way dependent on how the world sees us; and by a book I finally picked up off the shelf and started reading: Quitter, by Jon Acuff, who tells how finding fulfillment of our dreams is more about recovering than about discovering…a message I really needed to hear! (Jon also recently reminded me that artists are specially blessed by God, and that writers are artists.)

I welcome your comments, and pray that God will lead me in finding 26 creative ways to write about Him in April. I have heard that once you do something 21 times it has become an ingrained habit…let’s put that to the test again, shall we? Stay tuned, spread the word, I believe some wonderful things are about to happen!