Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The writing spider spells a psalm

I know she’s around here somewhere, and beautiful as she is, I don’t want to inadvertently stumble on her. (Why do those adverbs sound better splitting infinitives?)Her fat, globular body splashed with brilliant yellow and black etchings and her long pincer legs give her a fearful beauty—best observed at a distance. She’s called, among other names, a writing spider.

She had strung a huge translucent web from the patio chair to the grill—a web I would have missed, large as it was, if it wasn’t for the concentrated silky “zipper,” a run of zig-zags right up the middle. A wives’ tale warns if she spells your name you’re dead. I know it’s just a saying, but I did take a closer look at those zigs –MMMMMMMM.

The next day it was all gone. Later I found her hanging out her spanking new silks on the opposite side of the deck. According to Internet info, each night she takes the whole intricate webbing down, eats it actually, and starts “writing” all over again the next day.

 All that precision, beauty, practicality rolled up, erased and rebuilt—each day. Unobserved by anyone (except those of us who have this fearful, but not fatal beauty draped across our porch).

As a writer, I see the illustration. Do it again, and again. Find the right word, the subtle illustration, the right tension that will capture that reader’s heart and understanding.

And as person pursuing the praise of God, but so often looking for it from the mouths of friends, and family (and readers), I see the wondrous beauty crafted in the silence of night, noticed only by the One who created it to be so.

I am reminded of a time I was certain I would be given an honor. Without a doubt, I was the next in line, the one who had worked for it, had seen others honored before me. When the notification was put on my desk, I carefully unfolded the paper, expecting to relish seeing my name.

But it was not my name. There was no word beginning with MMMM. I was stunned. My emotions, like a flooded stream, swirled with anger, resentment, and the injustice of it all! It was supposed to be my time of honor, Lord.

Have you ever had a day like that? When you wanted to hear the praises of men only to have your anticipation suddenly deflate into disappointment?

What a comfort to be able to run to the One who sees, who knows. What a relief to be able to let the hope of the praise of men slide through your fingers and instead be able to say:

Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from Him. My salvation and my honor depend on God; He is my mighty rock, my refuge. (Psalm 62)          

Monday, September 26, 2011

Imagine living life as you claim to believe

In response to a sour-faced man who boasted about his many years as a Christian, comedian Ken Davis quips, “Send a missionary to your face; it hasn’t received the Good News.”  

After I laughed, I realized I too, have been guilty of sporting that same joyless face, of forgetting in the midst of trying circumstances or overwhelming guilt that I belong to the One who knows all my broken pieces and dark places. The One who makes beauty from my ashes. The Shepherd who knows my wayward ways, yet loves me and has redeemed me.

Sometimes I need Sheila Walsh’s reminder that, “peace is the presence of Christ, not the absence of trouble.” And Lucy Swindoll’s admonition to take the fast currents when they occur and not live life in the shallows and miseries. To live a life poured out so that even my “I’m nots” become His “I wills.”

Sometimes I need a time of refreshment like I received at the Women of Faith Imagine conference in Charlotte, soaking in stories of lives restored, redirected and refilled—a weekend of laughs, tender testimonies, and corporate worship of the God in whose presence is fullness of joy.

Not even the ADD woman next to me who squeaked her Styrofoam lunch box and came and went a dozen times could steal the joyful reminders that each of the team brought to life through their stories, song, drama and Word of God.

 I appreciate the transparency and truth that come with being with other women of faith.I began to imagine what I had forgotten--a life lived as it claims to believe.

 Sometimes I just need to be reminded. 

Thank you to the team of Women of Faith who put in long hours and grueling travel schedules to be joy and hope to both those who have forgotten and those who never knew.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Smears, Smudges and Masterpieces

Not all women of faith are on the frontlines of rescue missions in danger-ridden countries. Many spend their days washing dishes, changing diapers, and wondering if anything they do even qualifies them as a woman of faith.

In recognition of these women manning the homefront, some of whom will gather in Charlotte at the WOF conference next weekend, I have reposted this essay by Cristina Slattery, a mother who finds that the daily “teachable moments” are not always for the kids.

As the kids watched, I took out four blank canvases, a new set of paints and a myriad of brushes, looked at my four children and said, “Paint.” 

One was pensive, trying to figure out just what to paint.  Another flew right into it, making what she lovingly called a “messed up rainbow.” Another adamantly opposed the idea and walked away.  I knew he would do it when he felt ready and not forced. The last one took a pencil and began to draw.  Parts of his picture were intricate. I told him I was concerned the paint would spread in those areas. He was not at all concerned. He wanted to do it his way. 

My sweet tempered child who finds beauty in most everything she sees finished first. She was thrilled with her creation. “Mommy, don’t you love it?” Of course I did. It was exactly like her, a rainbow of color covering the entire canvas. 

My sulky one still refused to paint. My pensive one finally and slowly began to work on his. 
But my most detailed child started to cry. To be more precise, scream. He was furious. On his perfect white canvas were smudges.  He immediately began to blame everyone but himself. His sister had been too loud, singing while she painted, so he couldn’t concentrate.  His brother was hogging up the green he wanted. Lastly, he took his anger out on me. It was all mom’s fault. “The painting is ruined and it’s your fault because you made me do it in the first place.”

After unsuccessfully trying to rationalize with him, I sent him to his room for yelling at me. Twenty minutes later he came back downstairs and apologized. I decided to talk to him, using an example of something that had happened in the past.

 “Once you asked me to take a picture of you and Lucy. I took the picture, but it didn’t turn out quite right. Now let’s pretend I took that camera, threw it down and blamed you for the bad picture because you asked me to take it. Is that fair?”

 He understood, but suddenly became angry and defensive. I realized his apology was truly not one of the heart.

 I showed him his painting and said there were still many wonderful things he could do with it. The dirty smudges could become trees. The black spots could become birds. The smears in the grass could be painted blue and become a beautiful winding river. As I spoke, he started to smile. He began to see all the possibilities he could create if only he had taken the time to see his picture in a different light.  If only he had been willing to let go of his first concept and be willing to embrace another. 

I thought about how many times I have done the same thing.  How many times I have been angry at the God who placed me on a certain path because the road was not as I had anticipated?  How many times God taken the time to point out the pitfalls, only for me to ignore him?

How easy it is to blame those around us only to realize we were blaming the One who planted us there to begin with. How easy it is to go with a half hearted apology, only to rise in anger again when we feel the need to defend ourselves. 

Yet how many times in my life have those smudges become blessings? The black spots that have marred my soul have often ended up giving me wings to fly somewhere else on this journey of life.  The dirty smudges have become strong reminders of mistakes made that have allowed me to grow and develop in ways I had never expected.  The smears of life have led to rivers of blessings which have winded through this life of mine. 

Until I was willing to let go of the perfect picture I had imagined and accept change, I was never able to enjoy those blessings to the fullest.  One of those blessings was this same child that vexed me to the point of anger with his art, only to show me how so often I am just like him, holding on to a blank canvas with the perfect picture etched in my mind and unwilling to accept the changes that come.

Today, a beautiful picture of a flowery meadow with a winding river, blue skies and a few soaring black birds holds a center spot in our home, a constant reminder of how we can trust God to make all things beautiful in his time, even our messes.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Beatings and bananas: bitterness or blessing?

If someone promises that you will dwell in safety with Him, yet you are lying in a cold, filthy, bug-infested prison cell awaiting your next interrogation by beating, is he who promised still faithful?

Although never having been subjected to such tortures, I’m afraid I’ve been guilty of the terrible-tantrum response when things have not turned out the way I expected, or, worse—when the Lord seemed to be a distant, disinterested observer of my plight. Yet I KNOW none of that is true and I KNOW I do not have days enough to indulge in those unfaithful thoughts.

I believe the time to throw off our fat and start strengthening our spiritual muscles is fast upon us. Each time I read about another country’s abandoning Israel, I fear our own country’s betrayal, and I see that in spite of how horrendously the near future events may play out, the need to stand on the promise that God will never leave Israel, that he will deliver her, is imperative. 

That God is faithful and true; that he loves, cares and graces; that he will never leave his children—easy truths to proclaim in good times and absolute necessary ones to believe in bad.

Darlene Deibler Rose (1917-2004) is another inspiring example of a woman of faith, who in spite of horrific experiences that some would use as proof her God had abandoned her, chose to stand on his promises and see “evidence not seen.”

As a young bride, she went to work with her husband in the unchartered regions of New Guinea, but their work was brought to an unexpected halt by the Japanese invasion of their island. Separated from her husband, Darlene was imprisoned in a jungle camp with other women and young children, some who survived and many who didn’t the mud, cold, wet, forced labor, beatings and mental, as well as physical, degradations.

As I read the accounts of beatings at the hand and cane of the camp leader, Mr. Yamaji, anger welled up in me. I imagined standing up to him and delivering the fruit of my own retributive hate.

Oh, for the grace of God. On the day Darlene was told that her husband had died three months earlier in the men’s camp, she was invited into Yamaji’s office.There she shared the hope that enabled her to bear life’s sorrows. There in the office of that despicable man, she shared the love of Jesus.

Another of the many poignant instances of the presence of God in the midst of the tragic that stuck in my mind was when she, accused of being a spy, was awaiting her death sentence in a prison.

Thin, weak, beaten, she hoisted up to the peer out over the door transom where she could see the others allowed in the outside yard. She watched as one woman slipped up to the fence and grabbed some bananas that were thrust though the thick vine covering, and hid them under her skirt. Although happy for her the success of her fellow prisoner, Darlene was overcome with the insatiable desire for a banana.

But she knew there was no one, no way—not even for God—to get her any.

The next morning, hearing the approach of feet, she expected her executioners, but when the door opened, there stood Mr. Yamaji. He asked how she was and if she had a message for the others back at camp. Shorty after he left, the guard returned, opened her cell door and handed her a bunch of bananas, a gift from Mr. Yamaji—not one, but ninety-two bananas!

Ashamed she ever doubted, she fell to her knees in thankfulness for the One with whom nothing is impossible.

Many years later, Darlene heard that Mr. Yamaji shared the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the Japanese people over the radio.
                               When darkness veils His lovely face,
                                I rest on His unchanging grace;
                                In every high and stormy gale,
                                My anchor holds within the veil.—On Christ the solid Rock I stand

Rose, Darlene Deibler. Evidence Not Seen. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1988.
picture from website

Saturday, September 3, 2011

"I shot an arrow in the air"

                 “I shot an arrow in the air
                  It fell to earth, I knew not where. . .
                  Long, long afterward, in an oak
                        I found the arrow, still unbroke

As I contemplated the curious place I am in right now, the lines from the poem, “The Arrow and the Song”, came floating up from the depths of my high school love affair with the poetry of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. 

The words capture a theme I have seen in the lives of my heroes and have clung to in my own life: When we release something, whether it be an act of service, a book we’ve written, or ultimately—our lives—it belongs to God.

Shortly, I will take down the picture of my book and it will also disappear from Amazon because an arrow I shot in the air landed in a most unexpected place. I know everyone’s’ story is different, but I hope this recap of my particular journey will be an inspiration and encouragement not only to my writer friends longing for publication, but for anyone wondering if their efforts are bearing fruit anywhere.

I am not particularly given to visions, but I believe the impressions I had for this project were God-given as means of encouragement. (I know I’ve told parts before, just in case you’re thinking she’s getting daffy.)

During a women’s conference last fall, the young leader suggested we all take a moment to imagine what we would be wearing at the banquet with the Lord. Not being a woman of fashion or imagination, I moaned about doing her exercise. She sat next to me. “I can see you what you’re wearing,” she said. It’s a sleeveless gown, but it’s your arms I notice. They’re strong arms.”

“Yes. Woman warrior,” I said, raising my arms as if launching an arrow from my bow.

Sometime after that, I saw the Women of Faith/WestBow press writing contest. Although my book had won several prizes at conferences, it had little chance of traditional publication since it was considered memoir. Ironically, the man who is now my agent even turned it down!  Still, I resisted opportunities to self-publish, not knowing why, except it wasn’t time. But this contest felt exactly right.

I submitted my manuscript. Then, inexplicably, I was overcome with a spirit of fear, failure, insecurity, and self-doubt—I even questioned my own faith. In the midst of this troubling time, I came upon Psalm 78:9,11: “The sons of Ephraim were archers equipped with bows, yet they turned back in the day of battle. They forgot his deeds and the miracles He had shown them.”

I knew the Lord was telling me He had equipped me, and that if I turned back it was because of fear and worse--refusal to trust Him--not because I lacked what was needed.

Being equipped with arrows became a strong metaphor, even in my prayer life. I read that before Elisha died, he told fretful King Joash to take up his bow, open the window, and shoot, “The Lord’s arrow of victory over Syria,” (2 Kings 14-17), so whenever I felt that myself or someone I was praying for was being attacked, I opened my arsenal of faith and shot an arrow of victory into the heart of the enemy.

After I found out I was a finalist in the writing contest, I spent a lot of time speculating on my chances. One day, in church, my thoughts drifted to my book instead of God’s Book.  Suddenly, I saw the pages of my book fluttering away (like the file download icon). At first I worried they were being scattered, but then I knew with the knowing that captures your whole being and not just your mind, that I was giving them over to God.

And I would wait and see what He would do.

I have to admit a bit of density here. During this whole process, I never connected my arrow imagery with the publishing company behind the contest: WestBow. In fact, it was days after I saw I had won that WestBow’s logo hit me: an archer.

Isn’t the Lord grand! He gave his woman warrior an archer press!

But as if that weren’t enough, little did I suspect other people were noticing. The people at Thomas Nelson, the traditional publisher I typically wouldn’t have stood a chance with. Not only did they notice, but they bought.

What began as a paper in a writing workshop, became a contest winner, self-publication, and soon to be—traditionally published title.

We never know what He will do with the things we release to Him. They’re His.

Thank you to the fine staff at WestBow who did a great job with my story and cover picture I sent with a hundred sticky notes attached!  Meanwhile Call of a Coward will disappear in its present form until it comes out in 2012 with Thomas Nelson.