Surprise in Color

A couple of weeks ago, we waved buh-bye to the drab tan/brown/yellow paint on every single wall of our home’s interior. The real estate flipper who had purchased the home, refurbished it, and then sold it had coated almost every surface with this mostly nondescript neutral.

We’d considered re-painting for a while, and, after three years, decided to pull the trigger on that idea. So I cut loose. I picked color, color, and more color.

In one bathroom, we have Jargon Jade; in the other, Aquarium. The boys’ bedroom boasts Blue Mosque. The hallway and 2 accent walls in the living area are covered in a more subdued–but very classy–Attitude Gray.

For the master bedroom, we selected Blithe Blue. Take a peek…

ballet program on blue wall

On the wall, I hung the framed cover of the program book from a ballet competition my sister, mother, and I attended (one night of it) back in 1998. Since the time I was a dreamy ten-year-old wannabe ballerina, I’d hoped to visit the International Ballet Competition held every 4 years at the Thalia Mara Hall in Jackson, Mississippi.

During the summer of 1998, Mama, Rachel, and I went to Jackson for a soccer tournament for my sister. After the tournament, we changed clothes and headed to the hall for the event–which happened to be taking place the same week. As a Christmas present that year, Mama had a program book cover framed for Rachel and for me.

And in the kitchen, we have Forever Lilac.

plates on kitchen wall

I hung these plates (two from Spain; one from Turkey) on the lilac background. I chose the purple for these walls because this shade appears in a beautiful framed print from painter Walter Inglis Anderson my parents got us. Anderson, a Mississippi artist from last century, painted elaborate coastal scenes. The print we own features an alligator, fish, butterflies, and plants. I love how the lavender on the walls highlights the same shade in the print. Which I should have shown here, huh?

Purple for a kitchen does seem an odd choice, right? When I saw it on the walls, I thought about Corduroy, the stuffed-bear in the “Corduroy” stories. He says, “Is this a bed? I’ve always wanted a bed!” and “Is this a mountain? I’ve always wanted to climb a mountain!”

I said, “Is this a purple kitchen? I’ve always wanted a purple kitchen!” Only I didn’t know it ’til this month.

Some other color appeared in my life recently–but in an entirely unexpected way.

Garfield has played YMCA soccer this fall, while Woodrow elected to skip this season so as not to miss Boy Scout monthly camp-outs. I carved out a little tradition for us this season. After Garfield’s practice (which Mike coaches), we find a picnic table overlooking the river that runs alongside the park and have a picnic.

During the hour-long practice, Woodrow usually fishes on his own while I walk for exercise. I go miles on my feet and spend time in my own thoughts.

On one of these walks, I spotted in the sky an aqua-colored airplane. I’d never seen one before. I watched it intently, for nearly a minute. It wasn’t a trick of the sunlight, wasn’t caused by the changes of light as the sun set. I had laid eyes on a genuine turquoise/aqua/robin’s egg blue jet liner.

This is my favorite color. I have a board on Pinterest I call “Aqua Love” dedicated to this hue. Seeing that plane in the sky that day felt like a little nudge from God, a wink, even a valentine (had it been February). God seemed to be reminding me of some important truths:

  • He knows me and knows how to encourage me.
  • He takes notice of me. I’m not overlooked or forgotten. I am seen by the Father.
  • He gets involved in the details of my life.

This was no actual miracle, a plane flying in the sky. That happens every day. But the aqua-colored plane, at just that moment, on just that day…I view that as a God-surprise and a cause for thanksgiving.

You can see God anywhere if your mind is set to love and obey Him. — A.W. Tozer

I hope you have eyes to see God and His hand in your life today, however He chooses to grab your attention. 

 

Advertisements

The Value of Simple Obedience

Early last spring, I inadvertently learned of some unsettling, sad news:  A woman I’d met once and long admired had reached the end of her battle with cancer and was moving into hospice that weekend. She would leave behind her husband and their 6 children, all of whom had been adopted.

I read this announcement on Facebook, posted by a mutual friend, and experienced this news like a punch to the gut. I’d never seen, spoken with, or kept in touch in any way with Cathy after our one and only meeting. She wouldn’t have remembered me, not from our one interaction in the summer of 2000 in Chicago.

Back then, Cathy–a single white woman–had embarked on the journey of foster parenting. She had adopted an African-American little girl and was fostering another, going on to adopt three children while single and then three more once she married. I just happened to be along for the ride in this conversation that summer, 18 years ago, tagging along with other people who actually knew Cathy. Then I never crossed paths with her again.

hanging baskets

But her life, her love, left an indelible mark. I spent the rest of my 20’s and almost all of my 30’s envisioning myself as a some-day foster mother, an adoptive mother, primarily because of Cathy’s example–one she never knew she set for me.

Cathy didn’t approach me with a challenge to love the poor or serve the needy. She just lived her life in obedience to God, to the invitation to be part of His work that He’d extended to her.

About five years ago, I gave this dream of fostering, adopting, or both back to Jesus. Those means of caring for children are not part of my life and probably won’t ever be. But Cathy’s influence wasn’t for naught. Over the years, I’ve attempted to serve children in need through supporting orphan ministry in Russia and Moldova; by supporting a child through Compassion International; by purchasing (along with my former women’s service group) over 1000 diapers for a local rescue mission. Taking God up on His invitation to be part of His work to care for those in need. Like Cathy did.

grateful heart

I read the story of Joseph recently, in the book of Genesis. Some of his many brothers wanted to kill him, but Reuben convinced the others not to kill Joseph. Instead, he suggested they place Joseph in a big pit and leave him. Reuben planned to return and rescue his brother, but before he could, the others sold Joseph into slavery. He ended up in Egypt, where later he played a significant role in saving many lives–including those of his brothers.

Had Reuben not persuaded his siblings to leave Joseph alive, Joseph wouldn’t have been in place for the life-saving work God had planned for him. In some ways, this hinged on Reuben’s obedience–on his simply obeying in a complicated, dysfunctional situation. Like Cathy did. 

baby feet with hearts

Today, at church, our body welcomed a handful of individuals into new leadership roles. Before they officially took on those responsibilities, other members spoke in support of these folks. One of the women beginning  her role as deaconess today–a friend of friend–has faced mind-bending tragedy in her life, part of which involves the loss of her husband due to disease. The member sharing about this woman’s qualifications for deaconess spoke some powerful words, so striking that I wrote them down on the bulletin:  He stated that she possessed “strength full of mercy, forged in the fires of pain and loss.”

How did she get there? To this merciful strength after disaster and grief? I haven’t asked her, but I think I know–obedience. I think she must have regularly–perhaps daily–made a choice to trust God more than she could feel, more than she could see, and to keep doing that, over and over and over.

Simple obedience that adds up over time. 

Obedience can preach a sermon, save a life, change the course of history. Let us never discount the value of simple obedience.

“Never doubt that God uses small things for all eternity.”–Jennie Allen

 

Contributions Seen and Unseen

Last week, I detoured on the way home from the boys’ dentist appointment and made a drop-off of donations at Good Will. In this box I’d included all 4 of my college yearbooks. I’d offered them to other people, particularly one woman who creates paper flowers. But she had more than enough paper resources and didn’t want the yearbooks.

Perhaps somebody else will have a creative impulse to make use of those heavy tomes. And perhaps if I’d known at 20 that I’d get rid of them at 44 I wouldn’t have cared so much about how I looked in those pictures.

shoes on street

I wrote a piece to be included in one of those yearbooks–which I always called “annuals” growing up. During  my junior year of college, I served on an honor society as the reporter (or secretary, maybe?) and had the job of composing and printing out the agenda before our meetings. I also had the responsibility of submitting an article to the yearbook staff about what our honor society accomplished over that school year. It would join some photos of our organization on a two-page spread.

So, I wrote it. I described the service projects we’d done, the induction of new members, election of new officers. I handed in the piece before the deadline. Then, at an unrelated reception in the student union late that spring–for a different group; maybe the biology student society? Memory fails me here–one of the yearbook staff found me on her way out of their office.

She apologized and told me that they’d lost the article I’d submitted about our honor society–of which she was a member, too–and said that somebody on their staff had written up a piece to go in its place. But they’d give me the byline, she said, since it’d been their fault that it had gotten misplaced.

Distracted by the biology student event, I think I just said “OK.” I felt touched that the yearbook staff still wanted to credit me with the piece, even though it wasn’t mine. Later, I wondered if I shouldn’t have been willing to take credit for something I didn’t create myself–even if I’d created it originally. When I picked up my yearbook months later, I read that article, the one that carried my byline but didn’t actually get written by me. And I felt absolutely sure I would never again willingly accept credit for something I didn’t do myself. (True confession:  I thought the article was underwhelming and felt my original story was better. Overflowing with humility, wasn’t I?)

On some level, I suppose I thought I “deserved” that credit–but the decision to receive it didn’t feel like integrity. Recently, though, I felt I deserved credit that I didn’t get.

wallpaper and book

At our church, several people have been involved with the Jobs Partnership ministry with which I helped back in the spring. Those people have been acknowledged for their service at our church. But I wasn’t one of them. We’re still relatively new at our church, so perhaps the right people didn’t realize I’d been involved, too.

At first, I felt left out about this, overlooked, wondered if I should contact somebody in leadership at church to set this right. But then I clearly sensed the Lord tell me:  Not being acknowledged for your work doesn’t in any way diminish the value of your contribution. 

He’s right, of course. The joy I derived from participating with Jobs Partnership, the fruit of that labor…that can’t be taken away, no matter who did–or did not–recognize me for that.

Perhaps you, too, have felt your own work and service have been overlooked lately. Maybe you feel devalued in the efforts you make at home or in your office, wondering if anybody notices, if anybody cares.

There is One who sees, and your efforts matter to Him. As His people, when we serve others, we get to be like Jesus–regardless of whether our contributions are acknowledged.

 

 

Walking and Not Fainting is Still Moving Forward

I’m trying something new this school year (which is a term I use loosely):  early morning times with Jesus.

Truthfully, this is an old something new. Years ago, I got up early to have my “quiet time” before starting my day with the boys and school and chores. It lasted a while, then I stopped.

Mornings are hard for me.

Then, in the fall of 2015, I decided to start fresh with morning quiet times. I enjoyed the stillness and the quiet at that time of day, sitting at the kitchen table with Bible and journal, wrapped in a blanket–not because I felt cold but because it felt comforting.

But mornings are hard for me.

blue green clothespins

I persevered valiantly, for as long as I could. But connecting with God felt nearly impossible in those dark early morning moments. I would pray and then forget what I’d just prayed. I’d keep praying but feel that my prayers were scattered, that they needed to follow a more sensible line of thought. I found myself praying and then feeling I’d gotten off track with some tangent (although still prayer) and then try to circle back to the original topic. Sometimes, I just wanted to cry about my seeming  lack of ability to meet with the Lord. I ended those times not feeling fortified for the day but feeling discouraged at having wandered and rambled for 45 minutes. The blanket would slide off my slumped shoulders as I stood up from the table feeling discouraged and alone.

Often, my struggle with a frequently-present sense of defeat, failure, and guilt looms largest in the early morning. And trying to meet with Jesus at that time of day felt like one more failure. Mornings didn’t feel difficult because of the needs of my house or my children or even lack of sleep–the boys have slept through the night for many years now. They felt (and feel) difficult because I often wake up with a vague but genuine sense that I just might (or will probably?) ruin whatever is in front of me:  parenting, teaching, walking with Jesus. {I’m working on this with my spiritual director, by the way.}

Instead of starting my days in the embrace of my Father, I felt instead I started them feeling alone even though I reached out to find Jesus.

And I always felt I was to blame for that.

So I stopped those early morning times with Jesus. I’d still pray as I got breakfast or made the bed, asking Jesus to live His life through me; and the boys and I have a morning time together before we start lessons in which we sing, pray, read verses.

I just couldn’t let time set aside to connect with Jesus be another source of defeat–perceived or real.

So, I would carve out time at night–I’m a night person, after all–or in the early afternoon while the boys had their own “down time.” That worked.

Calvin eating from a bowl

But I want to try again with mornings. I desire to start the day in intimate fellowship with the Savior. I want to take this step of faith–and it’s scarier than you might imagine–believing that the Lord’s victory is for me even when I feel weighed down at the start of another new day.

It’s scary because I don’t want to risk feeling disconnected from the Lord. It’s scary because I don’t want to risk hearing the Enemy’s lies so loudly in the early morning–when I’m at my weakest and most vulnerable–that tell me God just might need to reject me.

So…I came up with a plan. Not a formal check list of must-do items in order to declare I’ve completed a “quiet time.” But a step-by-step guide to help me, to remind me–as I see it in writing–that I AM doing what I need to do to make myself available to engage with my Lord. The real me meeting with the real Jesus. 

I’ve even been so specific as to write down a few short prayers to start the time, just words that express my heart and my needs in something a friend calls a “breath prayer.” Which I suppose means the words we breathe out as prayers…

I found a Bible reading plan to start fresh next Monday morning–a plan to read through the Bible chronologically. I’m looking forward to viewing Scripture through fresh eyes.

This could very well be the most titanic step of faith I’ll take the entire school year. It makes me cry to think of it even now. Not because I’ll need to go to bed earlier so I can wake up earlier, but because I hate the idea of feeling even more defeated by 7 AM because I set out to meet with Jesus and ended up squandering it by…well, by just being me.

The Enemy’s lies are so targeted, aren’t they? So tailor-made to poke hardest at our weak spots.

Recently, my best friend Lynn and I talked about Isaiah 40:31–but those who hope in the Lord
    will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
    they will run and not grow weary,
    they will walk and not be faint.

I shared with Lynn that I feel I’m in a perpetual state of walking and not fainting, that I don’t know if I’ll ever see a time again when I mount up with wings like an eagle. Or run and not grow weary. I know there’s no shame in walking instead of running or soaring. I know I can still obey even if I’m “just” walking.

Know what she told me?

Walking without fainting is not settling. Walking without fainting is still moving forward. It’s still obeying; it’s still following God. It’s still moving in the right direction. 

So, when we start a new school season next Monday morning, my plan is to walk to the kitchen table, to bring my whole self to meet with Jesus, and then to walk with Him throughout the day. Moving in the right direction. 

 

 

I’ve Been Hurt by Christians, and I Still Follow Christ.

When I served in Romania after college, I felt at times that my year had been sacrificed for some leader’s ministry goal. I wouldn’t trade that season of life for anything. Yet two different women expressed to me–at two separate times–that they wouldn’t have placed me on that team had they been part of that decision, a team of two American men, one Romanian woman, and me.

brown eggs in nest

I didn’t expect to have an easy year, but I did feel that what was best for me as a person was secondary to some strategic plan for expanding campus ministry. I’d trusted those leaders, and–although that year shaped me for the rest of my life–I’d been hurt.

The year before I’d gone to Romania, I’d spent the summer in another eastern European country on a summer mission with Cru. A few days after arriving, the director announced he’d be leading a sort of “theology club” during our six weeks. We’d read and discuss a book together, but he’d brought only a certain number of books. For those interested in participating, we would sign up to join the book club and to receive a copy of the book–strictly first come, first served.

I added my name to the list in order to reserve a book. Later, when the director brought out the books after a meeting, those who’d requested a book went to retrieve their copies. A few minutes later, I walked up to the table where the leader stood. While he talked with a few students, I looked into the book box–only to find it empty.

Hmm… I thought. There were X number of books, and I was one of X number of people. By that time, Mr. Director noticed I’d come to pick up my book, only to find none left.

I was confused. “Oh, sorry, Allison; I guess they’re all gone,” Mr. Director said. To the best of my knowledge, he didn’t question the group about who’d picked up a book without having requested it. He didn’t do a re-count of the books that had been claimed, to see if there were actually X number to begin with. He also never offered any solutions–making copies of the chapters we’d discuss, for example.

Once he informed me there weren’t any books remaining, Mr. Director walked away. I assumed he considered the matter closed. I borrowed my roommate’s copy when she didn’t need to use it, so I could read and prepare for the book club.

Later, near the end of our time overseas, I’d been asked one morning to find one of the other students. I asked around, couldn’t locate that person, and then went into the large meeting room where the director led a group of European high school and college students in a conversational English class.

I’d tried to sneak quietly in the back and began scanning the room for the person in question. All summer, as various leaders on our mission project had taught this class, the American students might stay for part of it; some would remain for the entire session. Others would go in and out. The environment seemed casual, so, when I went into class that morning–when it had already begun–I didn’t imagine I was doing anything different than had been done all summer. I didn’t imagine I was being disruptive, either.

Then, Mr. Director spotted me. “Everybody, this person who just came in…this is Allison. See Allison, everybody?” He waited for the group of 40 or 50 people to turn around in their chairs and take note of me. He continued, “I’m punishing her a bit because she came in and interrupted our class. Hi, Allison!”

Stunned. Embarrassed. Humiliated. I gave a half wave to the staring audience and then slunk out of the room.

For the next few days, I wrestled with what to do. Then the time arrived for my team to return to the States. At the end of our final night, I approached Mr. Director. I wanted to apologize for causing an interruption and to talk about how confusing it was that he’d shamed me that way to the class. I’d never known the expectation was that nobody enter the room after class had begun.

So, working up my courage, I drew him aside (no small feat) and told him I wanted to ask his forgiveness. After I’d gotten that out–and was working up the nerve to deal with the rest of it–he brusquely said, “Oh, don’t worry about it!” and walked away.

That situation never fully got resolved, at least not for me, although I feel content with having done the best I could. Sometimes, though, the Enemy of our souls uses this old story to reinforce his lies about my worth.

Maybe you’ve been hurt by Christians, even those in leadership, in far worse ways than I’ve described here. And maybe that’s caused you to turn away from following Jesus Christ, to abandon Him because in some ways His people abandoned you.

If so, I hurt alongside you. Maybe there’s no way to get resolution on what happened. And maybe forgiveness seems impossible. I’d like to ask you a favor, though:  Will you, for a moment, set aside the wounds other Christians have inflicted and consider again the heart of the Savior?

When Jesus asked His disciples if they also wanted to leave him–as others had done–Peter answered, in John 6:68, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of life.”

I believe He still holds the words of life, and, in our hurt, He longs to speak life to us. Bruised and weary brother or sister, may I encourage you to listen to his life-giving words today?

 

My Back Yard Conversation with God

This time, I knew I couldn’t revive it. There would be no rescue, no starting over.

On Sunday, I threw out my sourdough starter–the one I created from scratch, the one birthed in November of 2013, the one that took me 3 tries to get right. The one I’d envisioned possibly even outliving me. Did you know about this 160-year-old yeast in San Francisco? 

When we moved out of our old house in June of 2015, I drove with the sourdough starter in a bowl in my lap over to the home of friends where we camped out for a couple of weeks. Then when we moved from there into a trailer in a 55+ community (belonging to the parents of a friend) for 10 days, I transported that starter the same way.

We finally moved into our new-to-us house in August of 2015, and I tenderly traveled with the starter one more time with it nestled in my lap. I have cultivated and nurtured this starter, of flour and water and “wild” yeast that has risen more loaves of bread over these almost-5 years than I could possibly count.

Last summer, I brought it with us to Colorado. It survived the trip out west fine, but on the way back home, it didn’t fare so well. Perhaps it got too warm, or maybe I didn’t feed it enough during those several days on the road.

The starter had been ailing since last August. Many times, I wondered if it had reached the end of the road, this living, bubbling kitchen pet. But I would scrape away the parts that looked unhealthy and put the remainder into a fresh bowl, feeding and watering it with great attention.

On Sunday, though, as I pulled the bowl of sourdough starter out from under the bag where I had it covered on the kitchen counter, I realized it was too far gone. There was truly nothing left to salvage.

branches

Carrying the bowl, I quietly went outside and sat down on the little square of concrete by our back door. I set the bowl in front of me and just looked at it, aiming to dump the contents in the compost (eventually). But I needed to sit for a minute. To grieve, I guess.

Something I’d nourished and built, given time and attention to, created with my own two hands, had come to ruin. I figured the moment called for prayer.

Sitting on the cement, listening to our air conditioner whir, I thanked God:  for all the bread I’d made for my family from this starter, for how many years I’d gotten use from it. I told Him I remembered–and was still trusting–that He’s still good and in control, that He nourishes and nurtures me with time and attention.

I keep a scrap of paper scrawled with the words Whatever comes, I will praise the Lord on a kitchen cabinet door. And I will praise Him, even when something good dies.

Long ago, I heard a pastor teach about trusting God when circumstances don’t make sense. Trusting God in the darkness, I believe he called it. And he said sometimes the darkness just looks like not being able to find your car keys when you really need them.

I thought about that darkness when I scraped my sourdough starter into the compost on Sunday. But thanking and praising God helped bring in a little light.

Psalm 147:1 “Praise the LORD. How good it is to sing praises to our God, how pleasant and fitting to praise him!”

 

When Shoes are the Way to My Heart

As my new friends and I stepped into the subway car, I felt almost dizzy from our afternoon of drinking in the fashion, style, and funky-ness of New York City. On this afternoon off–early in our summer of inner-city ministry as college students–we’d browsed through upscale retro clothing stores I’d only ever seen in the pages of Seventeen magazine.

I hadn’t bought anything on that excursion, but I remember thinking that I wanted to go back and pick up something. Some item that would impart to me the sense of funky flair that breathed NEW YORK CITY.

Then I saw the little girl sprawled across her mother’s lap on one of the subway seats. Both of them looked exhausted, but what I noticed more were the girl’s shoes:  white patent leather dressy shoes with little buckles and big black scuff marks. I wondered how much her little feet must hurt, how many blisters she must have, especially since she wasn’t wearing socks.

My temporary materialistic insanity wafted right out the open subway door. My daydreams of a cool old-but-new outfit from a cool Manhattan shop seemed inconsequential in the face of…well, real life. Real, hard-working, struggling people and their real, exhausted children with sore feet.

It was the shoes. They got to me.

They aren’t the only shoes that have gotten to me.

The boys and I study 6 artists each school year, and this year we studied works by Rembrandt (among others). One of his pieces we appreciated was The Return of the Prodigal Son. 

Rembrandt_Prodigal-medium
The Return of the Prodigal Son, by Rembrandt. From the Jean and Alexander Heard Library at Vanderbilt University.

We also study 6 composers each year (although last year we studied hymns), and one of those has been Tchaikovsky. In May, we attended a performance of Swan Lake, a ballet composed by Tchaikovsky. At the church where we saw this ballet, we noticed a giant print of Rembrandt’s prodigal son rendition hanging on a wall.

This all probably makes us sound more cultured than we are. We occasionally reprimand our boys about fart jokes at the dinner table, and when they ask permission to wear flip-flops to church, I respond, “Sure! As long as your toenails are clean!”

So…the shoes. Shabby, broken-down, used up. I weep even now when I look at them. Broken-down shoes reflective of this broken-down soul. 

Because I feel broken, stumbling my way toward Jesus, limping along, leaning heavily on what John Piper would call “the cross-shaped crutch of Christ.” 

One of our pastors preached on the story of the prodigal son (from Luke 15) this past Sunday. The image of Rembrandt’s kneeling prodigal came to mind as I listened…the self-indulgent wild child who’d essentially declared he wished his father dead so he could obtain the inheritance early. The father, though, who put together the portion of this son’s inheritance and released him to go and squander his wealth…he was the one who then abandoned decorum and ran–ran–to greet the returning son.

He threw his arms around his son, and he kissed him. Before there was repentance or any apology, the father kissed the son. The son who shuffled and stumbled home in rags and shambles met the love of his father in the arms of his father. Jesus, What a Friend for Sinners. 

A few years ago, we studied the artist James Tissot. He also produced a rendering of the prodigal son’s return.

james tissot return of the prodigal son
The Return of the Prodigal Son, James Tissot. In the public domain.

Tissot depicts the father leaning and reaching and moving toward the wayward son. The villagers may scoff and tsk tsk, but there’s the father, welcoming him home. And the Father welcomes us.

Oh, how I cry in church these days. How can I not? Empty, needy, clinging to the solid rock of Christ for dear life, I show up to be with the Lord but have nothing to offer. No words, hardly any focus or attention. I kneel by the bed at home to pray then stand up and pace the room.

Yet He still welcomes, reaches, and gives the kiss. Right now, I can’t do much more than receive. And He has so much to give.

 

 

 

 

 

 

.