Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Meditation And Prayer

When I was a child growing up in a southern town of less than two thousand humans, I never heard the word, "meditation." When I did start hearing the word in a fashion that was memorable, I was a teen. At that point, the practice of meditation was utterly described to me as a middle-eastern religious activity, far outside the safety of God's ordained lifestyle. As a Christian who believes in the supernatural, I stayed FAR away from such a practice. 
1 John 4:1
Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.

As an adult I began to deal with the natural result of womanhood; a brain that ponders too much simultaneously. I read about "quieting the mind," through the practice of meditation. But because of my wary introduction to meditation I kept my guard up about the practice. 

However, as a staunch Christian, the Bible has always had a heavy influence in my life. I hadn't realized it, but scriptures were all along showing me what meditation was, and how to do it. 

Here's ONE such scripture.
I'm going to insert a list of verses after this blog.
Philippians 4:8
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things [are] honest, whatsoever things [are] just, whatsoever things [are] pure, whatsoever things [are] lovely, whatsoever things [are] of good report; if [there be] any virtue, and if [there be] any praise, think on these things.

To sit in a quiet place (or a noisy place if a quiet one isn't available) and to meditate on the goodness of God and all that He made is a very important practice that we should most definitely be engaged in. Scripture encourages us to practice meditation. 

When we are going through dire situations, our thoughts can run on a very negative track. But, if we'll begin to think about the miraculous deliverances of the Lord, we'll begin to be able to see a more positive outcome for ourselves. Our thoughts DEFINE us. If we will shut down the negative thoughts by flooding our thinking with victorious thoughts, we can live out a lifestyle of FAITH! It's amazing! 

The scripture let's us know that every good and perfect gift is from God to us. To quiet worrisome thoughts with images of the lapping waves of the ocean, or flowers in bloom, or green meadows, all of which are creations of God, we can find comfort and peace in the midst of raging storms.

I often quiet my mind simply by repeating the phrase a few times in my mind, "I am complete in Him."

In my personal meditation I end up smiling so BIG! In a day I smile at people on purpose, no matter what I feel like. I make myself smile. But when I meditate on all God has made, on all he can do, on his love and kindness I end up smiling irresistibly! I'm sure I look silly just sitting in a room all alone with my eyes closed, and a big grin plastered across my face!

I have found that meditation is not enough. Meditation is all about me and my health. Mediation is to quiet the storms of my mind. Meditation is to incite peace, faith, and hope. Prayer is the second, necessary arm that helps us be successful overcomers.

Meditation is all about calm. 
Prayer is all about CHANGE! 

Prayer is the activator.
Prayer gives hope a pair of feet.
Prayer brings the miraculous of ancient occurrences in scripture to happen in our present day.
Prayer takes the meditations of victory and makes them reality.

While I encourage biblical meditation, I must enlighten with the understanding that it doesn't take the place of travail and intercession. Meditation can't take the place of praying in the Holy Ghost. Meditation cannot do what prayer does. Just like prayer cannot do what meditation does. 

We need both to be balanced, to be equipped, to be all God needs us to be. 

Thrive in a lifestyle of meditation and prayer. 

And now for those verses about meditation I promised. These are a simplified short list. There are many more! 

Genesis 24:63 (KJV)
And Isaac went out to meditate in the field at the eventide: and he lifted up his eyes, and saw, and, behold, the camels [were] coming.

Joshua 1:8 (KJV)
This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.

Psalm 1:2 (KJV)
But his delight [is] in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.

Psalm 63:6 (KJV)
When I remember thee upon my bed, [and] meditate on thee in the [night] watches.

Psalm 77:12 (KJV)
I will meditate also of all thy work, and talk of thy doings.

Psalm 119:15 (KJV)
I will meditate in thy precepts, and have respect unto thy ways.

Psalm 119:23 (KJV)
Princes also did sit [and] speak against me: [but] thy servant did meditate in thy statutes.

Psalm 119:48 (KJV)
My hands also will I lift up unto thy commandments, which I have loved; and I will meditate in thy statutes.

Psalm 119:78 (KJV)
Let the proud be ashamed; for they dealt perversely with me without a cause: [but] I will meditate in thy precepts.

Psalm 119:148 (KJV)
Mine eyes prevent the [night] watches, that I might meditate in thy word.

Psalm 143:5 (KJV)
I remember the days of old; I meditate on all thy works; I muse on the work of thy hands.

1 Timothy 4:15 (KJV)
Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all.

Changing Hands

Being the mom to a grown up is weird. 

I've always tried to be one step ahead of every stage my kids came to. When they were toddlers, I read about parenting school-aged kids. When they were in elementary school, I studied how-to parent teens. When they were teens, I looked into how to parent young adults. And now I'm trying to search out my best role-play for our next stage of life; being the parent of parents. 

There is very little direction for this. There's a lot of instruction and guidance for being an adult child of a senior citizen. But not much info is out there for being a parent to grown children who are the heads of their households. I want to know my place. I don't want to be "done," just because my kids no longer need my supervision. I want to be a mentor, guide, and help in a respectful way that honors that stage of life. 

I'm at a fun place in life at forty-three years of age. I still feel my youth. The lessening restraints of responsibility to my young adult kids has added vibrancy to my days. My hours that used to be spent homeschooling, washing piles of their laundry, cooking their meals, driving them places are now free to pursue MY goals. And yet, I'm NOT finished parenting. I am still yet (at least partly) responsible for their moral behavior. I am still the authority they must adhere to. I am still the guardrail of their life. As long as I am financially responsible for their welfare, I will be that voice of obedience that they must comply to. (Please, tell me you know this. Please, tell me you've not wimped out on parenting your teens. You still have so much to offer. They still need SO much.) 

For we parents who are still very active in our parenting role, our role as boss-of-their-lives, we must accept that unity and peace will only be maintained if we figure out how to play a drastically different role than we do now. 

Now our teen/young-adult kids are an extension of us. We've trained them to get along in life. We've trained them to do their own laundry We've taught them to clean a house We've taught them to drive and get about town. So many things we've made sure they know how to do so that they're capable of functioning as an adult, living on their own. But, something else has simultaneously been going on while we've passed on the knowledge of these responsibilities; our children have become a huge help to us!

It is a HUGE blessing and help to me that my kids can go grocery shopping for me. It's a huge help that my kids can drive me places, clean the house for me, help me with the yard, and on, and on the list goes. Granted, I'm not sitting in a recliner with a slave fanning me whilst my kids run about doing these jobs. I happen to be making money for them to spend on their phones, and clothes, and education, and dry cleaning, and food. My stress load has lessened because they are my extra pairs of hands. We are definitely scratching each others' backs in this scenario. But, I have sensed something to watch out for in the future. 

There will come a required change of hands if I am to stay actively involved in my kids' lives. So far, life has naturally unfolded in such a way that I am leading my brood, therefore as soon as they've been old enough to contribute to our family's progress, my eyes and voice have dictated our moves which get us from Point A, to Point B. But soon they will be the head of their brood, and if we are going to enjoy each other's company I must become THEIR hands.

As I've pondered this required change of hands I am reminded of my maternal grandmother, *Nellie Mae Butler.

My grandmother birthed fourteen children. No duplicates. Just one after the other. Consequently, she had a LOT of grandchildren and great-grandchildren. (At least one of her kids had fourteen children as well. Another had twelve. You've got to read the book about her. Details at the end of this blog.) She managed to make each and every grandchild feel they were her favorite. She lived in San Jose, California, I lived in central Florida. Even with that distance I felt like her fav! After she retired, she would travel from child to child, visiting her kids and grandkids. She brought the most wonderful experiences with her! It was like a fairy came to visit! I'm not sure how many grandma's visits in the world feel like this. But she didn't bring out "the worst" of my parents. Her presence didn't add stress to my parents' marriage, or to the atmosphere of our house. Had she been a pill I would not have these beautiful, lasting impressions of her visits.

As an adult looking back I can find two main keys that unlocked the beauty of her visits. I feel that her visits were not dreaded by her adult children because...
1. She came to them and didn't expect their lives to pause for her benefit. 
2. She was a help to their lives and not a burdensome weight of personal needs. 

I want to figure out how to do this before I get to this stage. I remember clearly that my mom remained queen of our home when grandma visited. Grandma wasn't a snooty guest criticizing mom's housekeeping. Grandma babysat us while my parents took care of business. She cooked, cleaned, and made life easier on my parents. She became my mom's extra set of hands. She took all of the little things off mom's plate. Granted, I don't remember mom being hyper-picky and telling grandma how to fold the towels. She just let grandma fold the towels! 

But, if grandma's visit would have been a power-trip, where grandma needed to be head of mom's brood, just as when she was head of her own brood, those visits wouldn't have been so lovely. If grandma had been all about feeling like a queen, insisting her adult-kids and grandkids obeyed and served, those visits wouldn't have became transfixed in my mind as magical. 

And it's especially important for me to note (and hopefully remember when my grandma stage comes!) that grandma came to US. 

We also went to her part of the world for three weeks every summer. But we weren't in her house, or even with her for three solid weeks. Again, she served my mother by allowing us to "base" out of her house while we travelled all over California and Oregon. She didn't insist to travel with us. She didn't complain that we were "hardly there" when we were in her neck of the woods. If she had, my parents wouldn't have been able to continue to vacation there. Vacations are for restoration and rejuvenation. If my grandma had made our trip a guilt-trip, it wouldn't have been wise to continue to go there. But she didn't. She watched us grands while my parents took day trips. She kept the light on when we came back to her late after visiting the redwoods, or touring San Francisco. She didn't make my parents feel like jerks for leaving her at the house.

Maybe I'll learn enough in my search for the kind of parent of parents I want to be that I'll write the book myself! But in the meantime, I'll keep my eyes open and my prayer request for wisdom active. I've already learned two things from open eyes! 

Someday, help will change hands, I will become my daughter's and son's laundress, I will become their babysitter, I will be their house tidier. And in these acts of service I will have the opportunity to make memories with my kids and grandkids. I want my presence to feel craved, not depraved.

*If you haven't read my mother's book about her life and conversion, get a copy by calling 352.245.3227. It's so inspiring to faith!

Monday, April 25, 2016

Right Behind You

Watch this 99 year old run!

I take this opportunity to say, "Thank God for YouTube!" Granted, it's got it's extreme and serious dangers. But, it seems I'd have to search those dangers out, because they just don't show up in my feed. Due to YouTube's algorithms, that beautiful piece of software knows I want historical documentaries (let's hear a cheer for, Time Team!) quirky facts (this award goes to Mental Floss On YouTube!) and finally, prodigies. 

I can't get enough of those little four year old's banging out some Tchaikovsky piece on the piano. Or how about those little three year olds who can recognize all of our President's, plus some facts?! (I can't even remember which president was so fat he got stuck in the White House bathtub, but he knows!) Those singers, and dancers, mathematicians... They are mind boggling! 

Why? Why are these little geniuses so inticing? Besides the fact that they're so CUTE, they're exceptional because the population of them is so small. Just like rare gems, the less available something is, the more valuable it is. So, we watch these little big shots (head-nod, Steve Harvey) with great interest and delight. But we lose interest in the masses. When you have a classroom of fifty geniuses, we don't generally find a camera crew in there documenting the brilliance. 

Why? Why aren't we as captivated with a room full of sixteen year olds doing complicated maths and sciences? Because it's "a room full," that's why. The  shift in age puts even the exceptional ones in the masses. They haven't lost any value, they're just not in the minority any more. 

The older I get, the more I'm looking for aged, mature examples of goodness and fulfillment for my senior years. And I've discovered something...

I have found that the aged who have purpose are as attractive & remarkable as the four year old piano prodigy.

I am aware that age brings aches and pains that cause life to be uncomfortable. (I am not looking forward to that.) I am aware that "the empty nest" brings a sense of loss and loneliness. (I push down panic at the mere thought.) I am aware that a lessened income brings more worry about bills, not the least of which are medical bills. (Well, I've managed to write myself into a hole of doom!) I am aware that aging is not awesome. 

But, I want to know how and why some aged people present themselves so well. I know some sixty year olds who feel bed-ridden, and other sixty year olds who are world explorers. I know some some fifty year olds who insist that they're "old," and others who feel like they're still thirty. 

It seems to me that one of the glitches in this aging-with-purpose thing is appearance. It seems that as long as a person feels they can control their appearance of age that they feel in control of other aspects of life. This is a trap of destiny-less vanity. I truly know the sickening thud in the gut at the realization of "age" in the form of wrinkled skin and greying hair. But just as its a trap for a twelve year old girl to dress, fix her hair, and make up her face to look like a sixteen year old, it's equally damaging for a fifty year old to do so. She's NOT sixteen, she's twelve. The fifty year old is NOT twenty, they're fifty. 

Acceptance of self is HUGE in presenting the most attractive appearance. If a sixty year old is more interested in what they can DO rather than how old they "look," then they will attract people to their purpose simply in their behavior. Because this behavior is so rare, the ones who are filled with purpose over appearance keep us spell-bound.

One of a couple of people who have inspired me of late is a lady who's husband died. She hadn't worked outside the home in years. Her late husband was a pastor, which made her a shoo-in to jobs and departments in the church, such as "ladies director," or "decorator," not to mention that all-powerful title of "pastor's wife." (Yes. I hear you pastors' wives laughing at the idea of "all-powerful.") She suddenly found herself, not only a widow, but position-less. With the death of her husband came the death of her jobs. On top of all of that, to allow the incoming pastor's family the freedom to awkward growth without the added strain of the former pastor's wife always present, she relocated to her daughter's home. My sympathies give this woman a pass on purpose. I fully understand her spending her days in a fetal position in a dark room. Fully. But, she didn't allow herself that.

She began to notice a convenience store en route to her new home. It seemed to be the depot for immigrant farm workers to pile into the bed of a work-truck to head to the fields together. She also noticed they had no gloves. This lady suddenly saw a purpose she could fulfill! She went to the local dollartree and bought gardening gloves. She says she chose the dollartree because she could buy all she needed, but also because she knew they'd fall apart soon, giving them need of her. Which, of course, wasn't at all about needing "her," her purpose in giving them work gloves was to woo them to Christ. She wanted ongoing connection with these people. What an amazingly purposed woman! She was so beautiful to me; wrinkles, grey hair, plumpness, and all! 

Another aged inspiration of mine is a retired pastor. After many years of preaching the gospel to large and small crowds, traveling all over the world to minister, being admired and respected the world over, he found himself... Old. Unable to drive, unable to live without  medical attention, unable to fly to the places he loved. He asked to be dropped off in the mornings at his local Starbucks. He made "available to the youth" his job. He taught Bible studies, he had thousands of conversations about life. So many young businessmen have never had a conversation with a guide of that caliber. I would have given him a pass to relax in the comfort of his bed every day, all day. But he chose a purpose that outshone his frailties. His purpose made him so strong and appealing.

In conversations about the olders romping and stomping with purpose, I'll never be able to leave out Caleb, in scripture. The man was eighty years old and ready to strap on his armor to take a city! He couldn't have been an easy tiger to live with.

I can't read enough articles, or hear enough stories about people over the age of fifty who are writing books, traveling, swimming, running, volunteering, blogging... They are so beautiful and attractive to me. Their skin isn't wrinkle-free, but they're beautiful with purpose. Their hair shimmers with silver, but it's not a deterrent as it matches their shining example. They've got their age-spots, but they're eclipsed by their drive. Their purposes, their behaviors make them unique, rare, and SO attractive. 

I don't know what separates the old from the young, but it's NOT a birthday. Someday I will get to discover for myself if I get to choose between a bed or a cafe table. Until then, I will keep my eyes on the ones who are like Caleb and actually believe they are no more feeble at eighty years old than they were at forty years old.

As of this writing I am forty-three years old. (I just had a birthday last week!) I send out a reminder to everybody who thinks you're "old," that I'm right behind you. And I need you to show me how to match age with purpose. I need you to show me how to get out of a recliner and into a passion. I need you to show me that while my appearance can't be in my control, my behavior is in my control. 

You have my support. I've got your back. I'm right behind you. 

Let's do this!   

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Be the Storm

After a tumultuous life upset we have a tendency to crave peace incessantly. Throw in multiple life-storms and you've got yourself a Professor of Peace, graduated from the School-of-Hard-Knocks.

Our favorite verses to teach the masses are...
"Be STILL and know that I am God."
"WAIT, I say, upon the Lord."
"Peace. Be STILL."
"He was not in the earthquake, he was in the STILL and QUIET voice."
(Oh, glory! I get chills at that DOUBLE emphasis on "still AND quiet." Yessss.)

Truly, in our age of instantaneous food, instantaneous information access, instantaneous problem solving, we expect instantaneous magic for our problems. As a whole we have too hard of a time chilling out in a peaceful, still demeanor. If God doesn't provide for our need immediately, we end up attempting to rig the solution ourselves. Then, like Abraham with Haggar, we end up in troubles and heartache God never intended we bear. We hurt other people with our fumbling attempts to accomplish a thing. When all along the solution was ALREADY worked out, it simply wasn't time for us to know what His solution was. 

But there's another kind of "wait on the Lord" we need to also master...

Isaiah 62:7
And give him no rest, till he establish, and till he make Jerusalem a praise in the earth.

In the scripture we find a famous story where a storm blew in while Jesus and his disciples were on a boat. I completely understand the tax collector being afraid of the storm. But that the well-trained and experienced fishermen were afraid tells us a lot about the ferocity of that storm. I have never been able to understand why Christ was asleep! 

Well... Actually, I personally sleep really well on trains, and other vehicles with rhythmic movement. So, I can understand why he was able to sleep on the rocking boat. Plus, as a Florida girl, I sleep particularly deeply in thunder storms. The bigger the storm, the deeper my slumber. But, since my perception of Christ is that he knows all, is incredibly concerned for humanity's well-being... WHY WAS HE ASLEEP?!

I want Christ to present that first-time-mom behavior. The mom who awakens every few minutes to go check on her baby. The mom who leans close to the baby's chest and face to feel the rhythms of life. I suppose that image would actually be symbolic of The Church, since The church is our "mother." And since Christ is the husband...

Oh, the suppositions of this story...
We draw conclusions based on our experiences. His experiences are not ours. Which is why we've got to TRUST His plan, and refuse to meddle.

The problem of the sea did not bring Jesus out of his sleep. The disciples brought Jesus out of his sleep. And they didn't approach him with tact and ritual either.
They were PANICKED.
In an emotional state they asked, "Do you not care that we perish?!" 

In our trials, and fires, and struggles we cannot blow it by trying to fix matters ourselves. But neither can we fail to seek the Lord's intervention either. Praying in desperate appeal is not what God is opposed to. Meddling while we wait is what messes up His plan. 

We are instructed time and time again through example and direction that our emotional expression is to be TO HIM, not to the people around us. But it's an emotional expression, indeed...

The FERVENT prayer of a righteous man avails much.
The prophet prayed EARNESTLY.
Pray with GROANING, minus words.
Jesus instructed that we pray as insistently as the widow's consistent approach to an unjust judge.

When impossible situations come to our lives, our correct approach is to become the storm that gets Jesus up. Throw etiquette and ritual out the window! Bench the appropriate societal acceptances! A desperate storm demands a desperate voice! There are many explanations as to why an all-knowing God "needs" humanity to approach him in this no-holds-bar method of prayer. Including the insight of Daniel's answer to prayer being halted due to an angelic struggle. I don't know exactly why we need to be the storm, I just know that sometimes we do.

Give him no rest until he has given you a reason to praise! 

Monday, April 11, 2016

Practice For the Big Game

My brother tells a story that brought inspiration to the power of habit. He tells of standing in a sports' complex, having a conversation with a man, when out of nowhere a ball came careening toward them. My brother's response to the unexpected projectile was to flail his arms in a panicked attempt to cover his head. His friend's response was very different. 

My brother's friend had spent the bulk of his elementary, middle & high school years playing soccer. He'd gone to college on a soccer scholarship. (Or "football," to every other human on the planet outside of the U.S.A.) When the unexpected came at my unprepared brother, comedic chaos ensued. To the trained soccer player it was second nature to smoothly lift his ankle and easily bat the ball back to the amateurs who'd sent it eskew to begin with. 

I've played soccer. 
Even after an afternoon of balls being pelted at me, on purpose, with me fully aware they were coming, I still couldn't resist my eyes blinking as if I were experiencing some kind of horror and impending doom. My body couldn't help it's instinct to duck and cover! 

It's possible to get past that instinctual defense mechanism, however. Through a daily practice, one become the relaxed, no-worries bystander, and react to surprise without the slightest bit of panic of the unknown. And truly, this freedom from the fear-instinct is necessary to be a good athlete. An athlete doesn't train in these ways to be good in practice, but to be ready for the big game. 

This "training" can occur spiritually, emotionally, and mentally as well. I've written in my blogs about my creation of a "Happy Habit." After a traumatic experience in life, which had caused me to create habits of grieving and negativity, it took some WORK to get my behavior out of the gutter. Daily I felt hopeless and faithless. Going to work was nearly impossible. Spending time with my children was rare as I was in bed most of their waking hours. 

After reading a book called, "Happy For No Reason," (a title that amped my bitterness, as I WANTED a reason to be happy again) I saw some physical behaviors I could adopt that might make breathing easier. Anxiety is a heavy weight on one's chest, and it takes deliberate action to relieve oneself of it.

I set alarms on my phone for the top of every hour, from 9am, to 2pm. Every hour I'd smile, stand from my desk, close my door and do some type of exercise, like touching my toes, or push-ups. After a while, I even brought a hula hoop into work with me. I also would say out loud some things I was thankful for. After a five minute exercise, I'd say a word of prayer. That prayer eventually grew from always being about myself (it's not selfish to pray for yourself. Your family, friends, and whoever else God has given you to minister to need you to pray for yourself.) Then I'd sit back down at my desk and resume work. I found discreet ways to accomplish this "Happy Habit," even with other people around.

It's been around five years at this point, and I do not perform this ritual every hour anymore. My phone's calendar is still set to alert me every hour, but it turns out I perform these tasks all day, every day. If you follow me on social media you'll discover this to be true. I don't sit around conjuring positive things to write. I don't have to wrack my brain to dig out thoughts and feelings of goodness. Goodness is naturally my first response now. 

I've learned through this re-training of myself how important the spoken word is. I am much more careful with my words these days. When I feel a negative emotion, I've learned to be still and quiet and evaluate if it's a legitimate cause for concern, or if it's simply someone's unplanned "ball" that's gone askew into my life. I've learned to distinguish the differences between a real game, and practice. 

This is vital knowledge for the health and well-being of our lives, as well as the lives of those around us. When we've delevooed habits of thanksgiving and humility, we can properly respond to whatever comes our way. 

If we live a lifestyle of thanksgiving, then when projectiles shoot our direction that knock down something we cherish, we will respond quite naturally with an eye to find what is about us that we can still be thankful for. If we live a life of humility, then when something amazing comes our way that raises us up, we will respond to the blessing with meekness.

King Hezekiah's response to blessing is to be noted; 
“About that time Hezekiah became deathly ill. He prayed to the LORD, who healed him and gave him a miraculous sign. But Hezekiah did not respond appropriately to the kindness shown him, and he became proud. So the LORD’s anger came against him and against Judah and Jerusalem.”
2 Chronicles 32:24-25 NLT

Aarrogance was Hezekiah's response to God's hand of mercy. It cost him and those all around him dearly. 

Good and bad are going to come into our lives. Whether the good and bad is from God, Satan, or repercussions of those around us, the events have nothing to do with the long term outcome. But, our RESPONSE to the bad or good determines everything.

In the bad, stay thankful.
In the good, stay humble.

Create these habits during the mundane, nothing-ever-happens days. Practice every day for your response during the big game.