Seeking: Jeeps, Molecules and the Goodness of God

21 Dec

I guess you could say I’ve had Coronavirus on my mind. Who doesn’t these days? Not the actual virus, praise the Lord, but the molecule artwork….and I’m seeing it everywhere! It started when the cute Christmas card below ended up next to a Covid Home Test Box and I noticed a similarity in the spiky, spherical illustrations. Now I can’t unsee it. And I am seeing more resemblances everywhere.

A neighbor’s tree light sphere? Coronavirus molecule! Holiday fireworks? There it is again! A cranberry-inspired decoration I’ve had for more than a decade — yep!

It seems I’ve got a bad case of Baaden-Meinhof Phenomenon. It sounds serious, but unlike said molecule, no zinc or vaccine needed. Also known as frequency illusion or frequency bias, it’s what often happens when, “after noticing something for the first time, there is a tendency to notice it more often, leading someone to believe that it has a high frequency of occurrence.”1

Has that ever happened to you? Maybe a friend tells you they are looking to get a new car you’ve never heard of, and then, suddenly, you see a Jeep Renegade at every stoplight.

So, what if we looked for God in this way? It’s probably not the first time, but we might have gotten out of the habit, what with world news being what it is. What if, instead of focusing our thoughts on what’s wrong, we began to search again for the good things of God. Unlike the cars and the spiky spheres — there’s no frequency illusion when it  comes to the Creator. He is in everything and everywhere. We just don’t always see Him.

So how do we begin to change our frequency bias? To wake up and put on our find-God goggles? Seems obvious that it starts with morning time spent with God. Adding to that, in Philippians, Paul tell us to be in prayer, yes, but with a thankful mindset, to allow Jesus’ peace to “guard our hearts and minds.” And then, to get us on the search for the uplifting, we are to think about “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy….2

So, we start the day with thankful hearts, and then we set our intention: look for the good stuff! We vow to find Him in the hectic moments, the trying moments. Even when our hearts are heavy, when lines are long, traffic is jammed, everyone seems angry and the world seems lost, we keep looking. Let’s seek Him out, to find the lovely, the pure, the small act of kindness between strangers at the supermarket, rather than focus on the shallow inventory or the slow service. Perhaps it’s time to look with admiration at someone who we envy, and thank God for what we have rather than marinating in jealousy over what they have. Maybe, especially in the difficult moments where the good is exceedingly hard to find, we turn our hearts toward thanking God that the trouble we see in this world has been overcome by our Savior. 3 Now that is praiseworthy.

Prayer: Father, may our hearts — and our eyes — be set on finding You. Help us to see You on every street corner, in every sphere, as we praise and celebrate the birth of our triumphant Savior Jesus Christ.

1 Wikipedia

2 Philippians 4:6-8  “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your mind in Christ Jesus. Whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about these things.”

3 John 16:33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

#Jesus #omnipresent #covid #frequencyillusion

Rest for your soles, rest for your soul.

15 Sep
Toes at rest after a polished year and a half.

I hardly recognize that foot. No Polish! First time in 18 months! But the nail beds needed a break. They were showing signs of underlying damage — spots, ridges, scratches. I’ve been aware of that troubling development for the past few months. But, it’s summer in So Cal where, for better or worse, everybody sees everybody’s feet. I just set aside the issue and polished away. There were sandals to be worn, people — gotta put my best foot forward!

Ever done that in life? Ignored some cautionary signs — of fatigue, of exhaustion, of fragility, or just plain not feeling well — in order to do what needs to be done? I certainly have. There’s definitely merit in rising to the occasion, donning the best face, and focusing on the positive so we can serve, minister, bless (or just get through the day!) In defense of pressing on, honestly, if we let every fear or worry trip us up the past year and a half, we would have done nothing at all (except, maybe, our nails!) 

BUT, putting on that “everything is awesome” facade so much that we continually overlook the “cracks” can break us. Without the occasional step back, even those things we love to do, the things that make us feel alive and in control and accomplished and allow us to bless others, when done while ignoring underlying troubles, can bring us down. How do the cracks show up for you? For me, signs that trouble is afoot (ahem) include grumbling internally when I serve. A bitterness when I step to the front “yet again” (that’s bitter me talking) to lead, or host or organize. When I’m short-tempered, resentful, seeking to numb out….Did I miss any of your go-tos?

So, what are we to do? It’s mid-September, for goodness’ sake! Agreed, not exactly known for restfulness, the start of fall can be busy. But what if the cracks are already starting to form? Where will you be come Thanksgiving? Christmas?

It doesn’t even have to be an acetone-fueled hard stop. Perhaps a step back from going above and beyond (store-bought baked goods…a house that’s not perfectly decorated or clean…a quiet moment with the Lord even though the to-do list is looming large…a coffee break with a friend where you can bare your soul (if not your soles)…an afternoon off of work to spend quietly and reflectively. Maybe, for you, just a trip to the nail salon. 

Even the Triune God takes breaks — both in Heaven and on Earth — not out of need, but out of wisdom. (See God’s calendar for the seventh day.) So us mortals? Yeah, even the most can-do spirit needs room to say, “Today, I can’t.” A moment, or a day, or a season, to rest. Simplify. Strip down the veneer. Replenish. Breathe. And then come back stronger, with a facade that is matched by the inner beauty and high polish of a well-rested soul.

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Flushed with Forgiveness

8 Jun

I’ve had my mind in the toilet lately — but to be fair, my phone took me there (after I took it there). Perched in my shallow jacket pocket – a risky choice but I popped it in there “for just a sec,” a quick pitstop as I headed out to meet a friend.
After said pitstop, I pivoted to flush, but before I reached the handle, my phone belly flopped into the unflushed pee water. 😭
Phones costing what they do, and instincts being what they are, I immediately fished it out with my bare hand. My bare hand. Then I took action:
Washed my hands; rinsed the phone; bathed it with a Clorox wipe, and another for my hands. Removed the case. Washed the case in hot, soapy Dial liquid. Then rubbing alcohol. Wiped it again with a new Clorox wipe. And then more rubbing alcohol. And then a soapy rag. And then another alcohol swipe. Then repeated Dial soap hand washing.
I grabbed the phone to text my friend “running late!” and I thought “ick.” I wanted to wash my hands. Again. I couldn’t wrap my head around the lingering thought that it was still dirty, tainted, and in need of decontamination. I knew intellectually, but couldn’t forget.
And then, NATURALLY, I thought of sin and Jesus (who wouldn’t, right??!)
Seriously, though: When we come with our tainted selves to Him, asking for forgiveness, He gives us the ultimate Clorox wipe swipe. Irrevocable.Yet we sometimes let our minds and the whispers of an unseen adversary make us doubt that cleansing, make us feel inadequate, not clean enough, tainted, despite what we know is true. Even when we edge a little too close to temptation “for just a sec,” and we fall out of the pocket of safety into a murky, sinful habit, we are STILL worthy of His love, STILL able to confess and come clean, to talk back to the thoughts and say, “I am forgiven. I am purified. Those actions do not define me, nor disqualify me!”
While my mind may be in the toilet for a few more days, that sanitized phone of mine will remind me of the forgiveness I find in Christ, despite my imperfection.
1John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

#Jesus #sin #clean #purified

A Blessing in the Mess

27 Apr

At the end of a meandering, choppy day, do you ever feel as if nothing you did made a difference because you never achieved that magical moment when you felt accomplished and “got something done?” I’ve had some days like that recently. Even when there are bright spots and a few fits and starts to projects, some progress here and there, often the overwhelming take-away is that I didn’t do enough. That often leads to a regretful mental spiral that starts with “Should have…” Nothing worse than that remorseful refrain. It drowns out the quiet list of “I dids.”

Such was last Thursday. I’ve been out of town a lot, tending to my parents’ moving process, and so I had big plans for my full day at home. It began promisingly — a trip to the market to replenish the fridge and prep a couple of days’ worth of meals.

But then, the wheel-spinning started. I lost my mojo. No focus. I can’t tell you what I did or didn’t do, or what exactly led to the derailment. There was a text exchange that got in my head a good deal more than it should have. A work meeting with sad news. Pain in my hip that hi-jacked my walk and had me limping home less than half way through my circuit, defeated and exhausted. There were fits and starts on a blog post that remained unwritten. A garage in sore need of attention as the bounty of donation items stack up, staring me down — when will you take us to Salvation Army?

I recounted this to my husband and son over the shrimp risotto dinner I had prepared, remarking that it was kind of a wasted day.

“Dinner sure is good,” said my son. Hubby concurred.

I thanked them, and added, “There was one bright spot.”

I shared: Looking past the overwhelming stack of items to be sorted and hauled, late in the day I decided that at the very least, I could clean out the back of my SUV (which has lately served as a refuse transport).

As I opened the garage and got started, my next door neighbor stopped by and asked if I had a minute to talk. “Actually, to listen,” he said. “And really I need 10 minutes.”

For the briefest moment, I was a little frustrated. Not even this task was going to go smoothly. And, honestly, I wondered if perhaps our perennially-wonky sprinklers were spraying their house, or if our barbecue grill had been wafting mahi-mahi smoke into their house, or our palm tree was dropping seeds into their gutters. (Honestly, they are the best neighbors. This was just me being grumbly.)

He walked up to the garage, notecards in hand. 

And then he asked if I would give a listen and help him hone his Father of the Bride speech. 

His Father of the Bride speech!

He wanted the content of the speech to be a surprise to both his daughter and his wife. “But my wife wanted me to run it past someone. She suggested you.” (Not entirely random, as she has attended women’s events at our church where I was a speaker.)

So here’s this esteemed father of three adult children, a retired OB/gyn, sharing his tender heart for his baby girl, right there in my driveway on an otherwise unremarkable overcast Thursday afternoon, our only witnesses, an overflowing Waste Management bin and a pile of discarded home goods.

And the speech — It was touching and precious. We both had a “little something” in our eyes by the time he was finished.

After telling him how beautiful it was, he asked if there was anything he could cut out to reduce the time a bit (as his daughter had asked). I gave him one suggestion, and then another to punch up a funny line.

“But really, it would be perfect just as you’ve said it,” I told him. “No one will have a stopwatch on you.”

As I finished relaying this story over dinner, I said, “So, yeah. A bright spot, but kind of an unproductive day otherwise.”

Hubby jumped in: “Wait a minute. Do you think he would feel that way? I bet he thinks you had a very productive day. And you were there when he needed you. And what a compliment to you that they sought you out!” 

Did I mention I have a wonderful husband?

I paused. He was right. I was focusing on all I hadn’t done that day. All the ways I had fallen short of expectations (mine and others’). And yet, because of my thwarted plans, I had time for my neighbor when he needed an assist for, in his words, “the most important speech I will ever give in my life.” 

If I had been busily typing away in my office, or running up and down the road, or walking purposefully on the street, I would have missed this opportunity — this blessing — to serve and do God’s work. To “love our neighbors as ourselves,” is straight from the mouth of Jesus when asked what’s most important. It came right after, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.” (Mark 12:30,31)

I was focusing on the undone, rather than the done. I know to my core this is destructive thinking — heck, I coach this in my wellness workshops — but it’s so much easier to recognize it in others than in myself. In the long years of parenting young children, going to bed, exhausted, but still with a messy house and wet laundry in the washer, I would pray that God would help me “sense that my gain was good,” from Proverbs 31:18 (ESV). I love The Message translation too, about this amazing Proverbs 31 woman. “She senses the worth of her work.”

Incidentally, my neighbor, who is Jewish, had chosen to include a reading from that very chapter as part of his speech. It was my favorite verse, as I told him. We both laughed when he said, “Oh that’s right. You guys (Christians) read that too.”

“Strength and dignity are her clothing; and she laugheth at the time to come.” I shared with him that I especially love the translation: “She smiles at the future.”

I’m thankful for the nudge from my husband for helping me to shift my perspective to see the beauty of that moment, the weight and importance of it to my neighbor and me, even in the midst of a messy, chaotic season where the checklists are long and the checkmarks are few. To smile not only at the future, but also at the past.

Do you sometimes struggle with the habit of magnifying your shortcomings and diminishing your triumphs? What — or who — helps you to flip the script?

In closing, I offer a prayer for us who struggle to focus on the “dids” instead of the “didn’ts”:

Father, help us to let go of the false hope of perfection. Help us to find the sweet spot between being productive and being available, flexible and open to the people around us who need us a little or a lot. Help us to see ourselves as You see us, with love in Your eyes despite our inability to do it all. And help us recognize when something that seems random and flukey can turn out to be the moment when we truly walk as you would have us walk, and be blessed by it. Amen!


Crossing the Jordan from the 5 to the 405 to the 10

16 Apr

Genesis 32:10 “I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two camps.” — ESV (emphasis added)

I was 23 years old, backing out of my parents’ driveway in Northern California in the photo, headed to a poor-paying writing job in L.A., where I knew no one, with not much more than a shoe rack, a splashy supply of sass, and a wardrobe of severe suit jackets with giant shoulder pads. And that-Patrick Nagel-esque hairdo – the female mullet!

Goodbye family home — off to L.A. Spring 1986

Not visible: a truly skewed, hedonistic worldview and a deep unquenchable yearning that, I didn’t know at the time, could only be met by God.

I drove away from familiarity of the suburbs, through the vast farmland that anyone not from here would swear was Iowa or Mississippi, save for the mountain range on the horizon. Then, just before I bumped my head on a sheer wall of rocky terrain, the road led up and up, the 18 wheelers groaning to my right, up and over the snaky Grapevine (no grapes to be nibbled nor peeled), then down, fast, depositing me suddenly and rather ungently into the blooming red-taillight flats of the L.A. Basin. 

With this “staff” — in my Datsun Maxima — I crossed the Santa Monica Mountains, Annie Lenox and Aretha Franklin providing the woman-power soundtrack via cassette.

All sharp angles and sharper attitude, how did God possibly knife through the bright lights of a really big city to find me? Why would He? 

I don’t know why — for like Jacob, “I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant,” — but I am thankful He did.

With gratitude I look around at my L.A. “camp” today — my kind and generous husband of 32 years. Our incredible sons, solid men like their father. My parents, who arrived in So Cal 20 years later, still with us at age 86. My church family, my friends and neighbors, those people who add so much texture to my life, even in a partially virtual world. Our financial stability, our solid church, our comfortable home, open wide (in usual times) to entertain and host, to connect with our “camp.” My health and strength, the richness and depth of wise teaching available to me, the opportunities to share hard-earned wisdom through the written and spoken word, and the desire and ability to learn, still.

My So Cal Camp today

This abundance is staggering, visceral.

And just 35 years ago, “with only this staff” I crossed the “Jordan.”

I am warmed by the memory, I smile at the naiveté, and I nod sweetly to that younger version of me, who, despite an incorrect assumption that every single thing she thought she knew was true, kept her mind open enough to hear the Truth of the Gospel message, and to (eventually!) accept it.

I am thankful for the patience of a loving Father who blessed me in that Truth and continues to grow my “camp” in light of eternity.

I will always remember, and give thanks to the Lord.

—Shout out to Pastor Joe Hellerman for his 4/11/21 sermon and a fresh look at Genesis 32

Already Missing Christmas Parties Past

14 Dec

Truth: I have fantasized about not having our annual Christmas Eve Open House. This rebel thought roars sometimes about mid-December when I am paralyzed by the sheer number of trips to Costco and BevMo, appetizers to prep, RSVPs to count, glasses to polish, furniture to move, and, oh yeah, gifts to buy, to wrap — after I finally figure out what the heck I’m giving people!

It’s delicious to think: Let’s just not have it this year. We’ll be like the Kranks in the Tim Allen/Jamie Lee Curtis flick — but we’ll actually skip it.

In the past 20-plus years, we’ve skipped only one. That year we spent the entire two week Christmas break in Lake Tahoe. Otherwise, it’s Christmas Eve at the McMahons! It requires the planning of a shuttle launch, running around of a scavenger hunt, cost that would count as a month’s rent in Mississippi and lists as long as Santa’s. And we love it. I love it. I. Love. It.

But this year, yet another cruelty of Covid, it will not happen. I was quietly holding hope that we could somehow pull it off. Maybe all outdoors. Maybe a smaller guest list. Masked up. Maybe?

But today, as I face the news of single-digit availability of ICU beds in LA County, new record upon new record of infections, we just cannot risk it. Not with my 85-year-old-parents joining us. Not with friends who have medical issues. Not even with the healthy and robust among us who we would first send in to battle . The risk is too great.

We will not be having our annual gathering. There, I said it. Like many things we fantasize about, reality is a disappointment.

I am lower than the South Pole about it.

Oh! What an event it is! Despite planning for weeks, it’s always an all-hands-on-deck effort around here on Christmas Eve day. The McMen move furniture to the garage for better crowd flow past the bar, they set up coolers and wine tables in the back yard (to lure my girlfriends to the Rombauer), my dad decorates individual wine and champagne flutes with ribbon, my mom serves as my sous chef and kitchen tidier (man, we miss the dog) as I pull together the baked meatballs, the cheesy crabby bites, the baked brie, the dips, the mini-quiches. Maureen my bff brings over a party platter of ham sandwiches mid afternoon. There are post-it notes on all my favorite serving dishes, serving spoons and the feed-an-army box of silverware. 

Oh, and the desserts….my mom brings her bourbon balls, which seem to get stronger every year! She makes fudge too. I bake Symphony Bar layered Brownies and, with our friend, Mark, in mind, create a giant Banana Pudding for the annual appearance of my trifle dish. I assemble a platter of all the fantastic morsels that have come my way as gifts (although I save out a few chunks of Teri’s English Toffee for myself!) 

Sometime around 1 in afternoon, the guys make a run to In-N-Out to pick up our traditional Christmas Eve lunch — burgers, fries and shakes — enjoyed in the backyard in the sun if God is smiling that day.

We try to do as much as we can to prep the bar area, but guessing what’s best to put out is still a mystery. There’s something that becomes the popular “drink of the night.” And yet I can never predict it. One year I set out a bottle of on-sale-at-Costco pomegranate liqueur next to the prosecco, and voila! a bubby blushing favorite was born. The next year, I did the same, but after a collective shrug from the party-goers, the liqueur was still around for the following football season (it was Roll Tide Red, so it worked!). One year red wine will go go go, and the next, someone will be asking if there’s more chardonnay (how we possible go through all that Rombauer?), or digging deep in the cooler of craft beers. 

Occasionally, it’ll be hard booze that hits— there was the hilarious year that Whisky was the go-to libation of choice. There were a LOT of laughs to be had that year, a few heartfelt speeches by guys who looked like they could handle booze and would never make a heartfelt speech. Lots of laughs, yes, although perhaps fewer ho-ho-hos on Christmas morning. One particularly chilly year, Fireball made an appearance. It hasn’t been invited back!

I don’t recall what the drink of choice was the year we ran out of ice, but within 7 minutes of that announcement, three different neighbors had run home and brought back their actual full refrigerator ice compartments to dump into coolers and buckets. Clutch!

Despite floors that grab the bottom of your shoe the next day, we set up a self-serve sparkling cider table for the kids. There are soft drinks and coffee too (someone has to drive these people away from my house before Christmas Eve pushes into Christmas Morning!) 

By five in the afternoon, we’ve got it pretty well set (although I can always find something else that needs to be done…). Hence, Joe has taken to volunteering to help at our church’s 5:30 service. Either he has a Servant’s heart, or he is wise enough to know that if he stayed around, I’d discover some new idea (hey, what if we had a craft station for the kids?).

I set to mopping and tidying and we all clean up and dress fancy – and by fancy I mean our best jeans and maybe a Christmas sweater or boots. By 6:45 Joe is back. We all bundle up and load into the car to head down to the beach for our Church’s Candlelight Pier Service. In the early years,  I was sure one of my boys would light my hair on fire while I was holding them and they were holding a candle. In later years, we’d look around for them and see they had been waylaid by church friends welcoming them home from college. My parents used to come until recent years, when they opted instead to go with Joe to the indoor church service. 

The Pier Service has always been deeply touching. Familiar faces, lit from below by candlelight, family by family smiling in the similar manner of those related by blood, nestling close together to see the words to the Christmas story songs. The waves are crashing, and the night is usually crisp but not too harsh. Well, there was the year the wind was so strong it blew one of the large amps off the side of the pier into the water — but generally, the weather has been manageable. 

After 45 minutes of singing about the coming Christ, and short words of wisdom in between the hymns from one of our pastors, we adjourn. I’m the first out, hurrying to the car (no stopping to chit-chat family, the ovens are on timers!) trying to beat the Rouvieres and Andersons to my house. Rarely do I win! But they, like family, can be found lighting candles and pulling appetizers out of the oven by the time I make it into the house if I am too far behind them.

The always expanding and or shrinking (depending on the year) guest list is a beautiful meritage of human beings. We include some of our neighbors, our local circle of friends, members of our church family who we’re close to, that year’s Bible study group, anyone the boys want to invite, folks we haven’t seen in awhile that come to mind as I prepare to send the evite. Maybe its the physical therapist one of us has been seeing to get us back from injury, or a coach or teacher that has been especially helpful.  We can’t get crazy zealous with the number of invites (ask me how I know!), so sometimes we have to stop the inviting just shy of the number that would require the fire department to be alerted. It’s a different mix, never exactly repeated. One year we even had a young NHL player and his family as they were living locally and Christmas orphans. 

I love that the conglomeration of bodies is such that it takes me half an hour to make a pass through with appetizers, or to make my way out to the backyard to the wine. Those precious little conversations along the way are priceless — those with the college kids who are home for the holidays, or the grandma of one of my boys’ friends who is flushed from a little bubbly, or the neighbor that we have somehow not seen for a few months because of travel, or the 20-year-old who explains that next year, she’ll be trading her sparkling cider for champagne ( Sorry, Abbie…this would be your year.)

It is awhirl with happy conversations, the younger kids are making a mess in the pool table room, or playing corn hole or ping pong out front. The laughter drowns out the Christmas music. It is Merry Chaos indeed. 

One night a friend came to me while I was doing a mid-party tidy at the bar and thanked me for inviting his family every year even though we were not really in the same circle of friends anymore. Normally a jokester, he looked at me seriously and said, “Take a moment right now. Just a beat. Look around. Look at the faces. Listen to the laughter. Look at the life and the community you and Joe have built with all these beautiful people.” His words brought a tear to both our eyes.

I did as he said.

I drank it in. The smiles, the giddiness. The stories being told. Heads thrown back at the punch lines. The toddlers with chocolate rings around their mouths. The friends making an effort to seek out and visit with my parents. The hugs. The shared laughter. I vowed to do this “pause” every year and thank God for the richness of our family of friends. It is my favorite moment of the night, a true blessing.

Perhaps my second favorite time is late in the evening, when but a handful of folks remain, and all my “work” is done. These core folks don’t need hosting at this point. I take off my shoes, pour a last libation, sit down and chat. We fix another plate. We talk about the night, and our plans for Christmas Day, and the new year. We mark time together, gathering in the comfort of familiarity, with joy and anticipation of tomorrow, in honor of the birth of Jesus Christ, the Messiah.

This year on December 24, we will still gather to sing — although distanced around an outdoor tree at church rather than with a large tight crowd on the Pier. But we will say our masked, six-foot goodbyes there. Our Christmas Eve will not be as full, nor as rich, as in these decades past. It will be quieter, full of love still, and allow us time to reflect and look back.

What a blessing we have had all these years to be able to host such a gathering, to turn on some carols, get a fire going, light a few candles, throw the doors open wide and invite our loved ones to celebrate together. Had it not been so special, it would not be so deeply missed.

Yes, I miss it already. I promise, regardless of overbooked schedules and tight deadlines and tasks, I will never, ever fantasize about skipping Christmas Eve again.

God bless you, friends. Until we toast again,



“With Thanksgiving?”

26 Nov

We were in the middle of a major home remodel, living in a rented house in a nearby neighborhood. The boys were in 5th and 8th grade (the “senior years” of elementary and middle school), and had scores of practices, lessons, meetings and hockey or baseball (or both) games every week. I was relishing the stay-home mom life, and was active in PTA, Education Foundation, art programs at both schools, church service, home-making. Life was full.

Well, we thought it was full. Meaning, we can’t add in a single other thing.

And then, half way through the 7-month remodel, along came a single other thing: a cancer diagnosis for me.

Sorry, God. No time for this!

As we adjusted to the news, learning everything we could about papillary thyroid cancer, I relied heavily on God to make it through every day, specifically, Philippians 4:6-7:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition, with Thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

The italics are mine in that verse. With Thanksgiving. Paul’s exhortation to the people of Philippi, acknowledges that there will be rough times in this life — real challenges that produce anxiety. In the midst of those, as you turn to God for help, however, he instructs us to include gratitude.

Gratitude in the midst of struggle? What’s this you say?

We know so much about the brain these days, with research proving what the Bible proposed two thousand years ago: we can renew our minds by changing our thinking. (I highly recommend Jennie Allen’s “Get Out of Your Head” to dig deeper). The impact of gratitude is huge in redirecting our thoughts. It literally alters your brain and produces lots of feel-good chemicals that you don’t have to “Break Bad” to get!

Honestly, we didn’t have to look too deeply to find things to be grateful for during that challenging half year. With Jesus as our anchor, and overwhelming help from a loving community of family, church family, friends (nothing says love like volunteering to substitute teach art to 8th graders or to moderate an elementary school Student Council meeting!), brilliant doctors and a compassionate contractor, we navigated that time period like champs despite the many challenges. We were so thankful in the midst of it!

As I reflect back on that winter-to-spring of 2007, I view it fondly, with a sweetness. With my mind focused on the Lord during that crazy era, and that daily intention of seeking graditude as I laid out my heart’s desires to Him, my perspective shifted. Some days it was deep — thank you Lord your forgiveness and a promise of eternal life with You. Thank you for the doctor that discovered my cancer and for those who cured it. Other days it was a little less, uh, profound: I am so grateful that the orange marker the dog chewed up on the carpet was water soluble (it was a rental, remember?)….I am so grateful that the contractor team was able to rectify my measuring mistake in the master bath….I am so thankful for my new jammies so I don’t have to expose my backside in a hospital gown as I scuff my way to the bathroom whilst dragging an IV pole. 

Today, as we turn our attention toward this Thanksgiving holiday in a time that may be our most challenging yet as a nation, there are plenty of very real things that can produce anxiety, fear, worry and doubt. Where can we find the gratitude in this? Let us take a cue from Paul’s wisdom, and offer up our prayers of thanksgiving, and turn our attention to his very next verse:

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things.”

That sounds like good advice, yes? I’m in!

At the top of my thankful list today: family — unconditional love despite trial, mishaps, differences of opinion, distance. That gets me started!

May your day be filled with deep gratitude that strengthens your faith and gives you the resilience to press on with a peace that truly defies comprehension.

God bless!

—Cindy, 11.26.2020

Swim toward the Light, Follow the Fun…and write!

7 Oct

Have you ever been praying about clarity, about discerning God’s will for you in a certain arena of your life, and felt like you’re not getting an answer?

I have been mulling over a decision about my writing — Specifically, deciding what to write about.

I’ve been praying for focus, for answers. I’ve had fits and starts and a bazillion first chapters, but I just can’t seem to hit my groove. 

I’ve joined a writing group — Hope*Writers — for accountability, guidance and inspiration. One of my first “nuggets’ of wisdom came from H*W founder Emily P Freeman: when writing, follow the fun. OK. Two of the myriad ideas currently fit that description.

I joined a smaller group of H*W women to pray weekly about our writing and encourage one another. After listing out my numerous book ideas to the facilitator of the group, out of all those ideas she chose one of those two “fun” ones.

Really? Lord? Surely, You haven’t brought me through the fire and given me first-hand experience in all these heavy topics so that I could write something FUN!? I’m in a writers’ group now. This is serious!

During one of my swim workouts this week I was again praying for clarity, to be able to see His vision for my life, my next steps in writing.

As I prayed, I began to notice the sunlight pattern on the bottom of the pool. Ethereal, it’s like a prism-thread fishing net, splayed out and shimmering gloriously across the cool depths. I then noticed that I could only see it when I was swimming in one direction. Curious! When I turned back to swim the other way, it was just a pool bottom. No glimmering light.

As it turned out, when I was swimming the eastward lap, toward the morning sun, I could clearly see this gorgeous tapestry. Westward, though, away from the sun, I was throwing shade on that light. I was out in front of the light. I was in the way.

Oh. Wait. Is there some kind of metaphor thing happening here?

The “God is light” analogy is one that has always spoken to me: His illuminating nature, how even the darkness is not dark to Him, how if feels to have the sun on our face, to walk in the sunlight, to really see. All good stuff!

And of course, therein lies the lesson: when I get out in front of God, setting out on my own path, as if I’m in charge of the trip, I can’t always see His will for me, nor hear His communications, nor discern His direction because I am casting a shadow over His indicators. I’m pretty sure He said, “Follow Me,” — not “Hey, wait up!” (Yep, checking scripture. No “Hey, wait up” passages)

So, Lord, I asked, what am I overlooking because I’m between your light and my path? What am I missing or ignoring because my back is to you and I’m trying to lead? I reflected on the fun-following directive and feedback from my H*W colleague. Maybe it’s time for that project? But then I started to get in the way again, reasoning, it’s Covid-time, we’re still semi-quarantining, the friend who I would work on this project with has a new job, is busy, has probably forgotten about it….and so on.

And then, a few hours later, she popped up in my Facebook messages. She’s ready to work on this project. 

Face toward the sun, I replied immediately in the affirmative.

Sounds like fun, doesn’t it?

Safe Vector

2 Jul

“Flight attendants, take your seats.” 

Not the phrase you want to hear when you’re thousands of feet in the air, still an hour away from your Atlanta destination. 

The seat belt light illuminated as the crew scurried down the aisle with the beverage carts. They had not made it to me yet. Oh, boy. This is gonna be fun.

From my window seat, I could see the rain flowing sideways on the glass. Occasionally, out in the endless dark, light flashed, briefly illuminating thick clouds as we began to dip and sway.

Immediately I regretted not taking anxiety meds for the flight. (Never one to mix drugs and alcohol, earlier, at LAX, I had opted for wine instead. Stupid, stupid choice! The calming effects of that fruit of the vine had long since evaporated.)

The plane did a deep plummet. It bounced, shuddered, rattled. It was like I could feel the plane struggling against the volatile, unstable air. I closed my eyes and prayed the crazy silent prayers of the fearful — please, God, please, God, please, God! The man in the seat in front of me was throwing up, hopefully into a barf bag. A few people screamed out every time we fell like the bottom had dropped away. Tower of Terror ride, anyone? Then, a bright light that illuminated the dark cabin, accompanied a percussive sound. The plane lurched and dropped even more violently.

Did we just get hit by lightening?! Could I reach my anti-anxiety meds? Could I move at all?

I flattened myself against the seat back, and crazy-prayed for the next hour. Finally, mercifully, we hit air smooth enough to begin our descent. It was one of those landings where everyone cheered.

Thankful and relieved, I dashed off the plane, certain that every second counted if I was going to make my connection to Jackson, MS. I hurried into the tram before the doors closed — a man squeezing in right behind me. 

“Whew! Cutting it close,” I said, adding, “I’m not sure why I’m in such a hurry to get on another plane after the crazy flight I just had.”

“From LAX?” he asked.

I nodded.

“I was on that plane,” he began, his face clouding. “That was ridiculous. I’m a pilot, and that was just dangerous. There’s no <expletive> way they should have sent us along that vector. <Expletive> ridiculous.” 

Oh, boy. He was furious. And me? Just thankful!

What was the difference in our mood? What made him angry and me relieved? 

Control — my friend. Or at least perceived control.

He was accustomed to being in control on an airplane — accomplished, trained, having all the information, and expecting a certain outcome. He probably would have been in communication to the air traffic tower, demanding another vector (I’ve since looked it up — basically it just means a directional heading). He was angry and resentful he had to go through the storm. Certainly it could have been prevented!

Meanwhile, from the back of the cabin, I knew I had no control, and I was in communication to the only One who did. From my perspective, it was a win — I was so thankful to survive that storm!

And of course, that’s the lesson. 

How often do we look back at difficult times with bitterness — even blaming God for sending us through the rough vectors. Why did you let me suffer, Lord? We think we know best, and that He made a mistake, if we acknowledge Him at all. When the air is rough and the journey is perilous, do we think He has overlooked us?

It so happens, the Bible has addressed that. I am in the early weeks of a 30-day covenant with God that includes, among other intentions, ending each day with verses from James 1. “…Consider it pure joy, my brethren, whenever you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4, NASB)

That harrowing flight was more than two years ago, and my realization of the parallels arrived just this morning as I pondered God’s guidance in these volatile times. Sometimes it’s difficult to “count it all joy,” as another translation has it, when I am facing difficulties. Sometimes the hardships of life are as palpable and unignorable as that bucking aircraft. Certainly, it could have been prevented!

But if we focus on the outcome, with thanksgiving, we can marvel that He carried us through it all, or that He IS carrying us through it all. We can embrace the lessons — sit down, fasten your seat belt and hold on to Me — and marvel in His faithfulness to deliver us safely, increasing our resilience. 

Too often I am like that dead-heading pilot. Grumbling. Wanting to do it my way. Convinced the Control Tower has made a mistake — give me a new vector! I’m taking charge! I am struggling here! How can I stop this?

I am so thankful that He doesn’t hold that against me. And even when I try to burst into the figurative cockpit and sit in His seat, He calmly guides me back to coach. He settles me in, and turns my face toward the window of His might. He promises to bring me safely through the pummeling wind of these trials, shaping me, perfecting my faith along this earthly journey to my ultimate Destination — an eternity with Him.

With seconds to spare that night, I made my connecting flight — but my luggage didn’t. For two years, the story of I’ve told about this trip included the rough flight, yes, but was mostly about the inconveniences of arriving in already-balmy Mississippi without a change of clothes, and buying shorts, a t-shirt, a sun hat and flip flops at the Dollar Tree the next morning so I could watch Day 1 of my son’s track meet in something other than my straight-from-work dark slacks, black sweater and slept-on hair. It made for a funny story, sure.

But now, as I mull over God’s provision for my life in seasons both shaky and smooth, I see the Big Story on that plane, this metaphorical illustration of my own futile but furious struggle to control my circumstances and my outcomes. Me in the cockpit? Y’all better look for parachutes! 

Today, I will acknowledge that God is in control. I will choose to do my part — follow directions (listen!), buckle up (pray!), and take more than a casual glance at that Safety Information Card (the Bible!) Today, I will trust Him.

Wheels up, Captain!

—Cindy McMahon 7/1/20