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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

What I Take for Granted

The snow mounds were perfect.
Not a shoe print in sight.

With white snow glistening everywhere—from the trees on the hill behind my house to the creek far below—an excitement to accomplish an outdoor task pulsed through me.

I took shovel in hand and began breaking a trail from the house to the car. The snow was light and easy to plow. It was like a child driving a matchbox car through sand. There I was, driving my shovel. Push. Lift. Throw. The path turned into an open area where I would need to park my car later. So I tackled it. The snow was light and the job wasn't difficult. I plowed across the expanse of fluffy white snow, heaving, throwing, twisting to the music of swish, scrape, whoosh. After 45 minutes or so had passed, I took a break. Happy to be working in the crisp winter day, leaning on my shovel, I stared all around me at the gorgeous white-washed beauty. Perfection like a Christmas card all glittered and new.

The break should have made everything right. I was rested, renewed. I was all set to continue plowing with my shovel.

The next section to work on was directly around my husband's parked car. Here the snow was dense. Not thinking much about it, as before, I bent over and scooped. Pow. Pain arched across my lower back. I shoveled into the mound again. Yikes. That really did hurt! I paused, then turned around and glimpsed the driveway and all the snow left to be shoveled, and I decided right then and there that I was going to finish the task I'd started. Sheer stupidity or gritty determination? Either way, onward I went.

Now I couldn't scoop the snow like I had been doing. I couldn't bend in the same way. Stubborn girl that I am, I found I could stand very straight and plow the snow, running the shovel into the bank. Then I could lower myself a little and do a funny little toss and the snow would sort of glide off my shovel. It worked, and I kept going for another half hour. However, when I reached the last six feet of the driveway where the road grader had thrown snow, and it was much more condensed, my aching back compelled me to stop. Realizing that it was too much, I had to quit.

It's funny, but even then, I wanted to finish.

Here I'm tempted to describe the pain, but I'm not going to. However, on the humorous, but humbling, side, when we were getting ready for church on Sunday, I could not put my socks on. I couldn't bend over and I couldn't pull my feet up. So like I was a child, my husband bent down and tugged my socks on my feet and tied my shoes. What a nice man, huh? Oh, I laughed. I couldn't help myself. The situation was just so bizarre—and new.

The thing that really gets me is that many people live with pain all the time. My heart goes out to those who are hurting today.

I tend to take a healthy body for granted. I felt that ping in my back and I continued working regardless. I ignored it. I didn't take into account that I can't push myself like that anymore or I will suffer the consequences.

Last week I made a list of twelve things I'm thankful for as a reminder to be thankful all year and not just on Thanksgiving Day. When I first wrote the list I had ten items, then I thought of two more things. One of those last-listed items was good health. Yes, now I'm rethinking its importance. Maybe I will rewrite my list and put the blessing of good health closer to the top.

For anyone who lives with back pain—or some other activity-hindering ache—may God touch you and heal you today. I feel for you. I ache for what you live with each moment.

Today, as I think of things I take for granted, I ponder being able to put on my own socks. Such a little thing, really, but oh so important in this cold weather. Maybe tomorrow I will feel good enough to put on the Christmas socks I love to wear in December—the cute ones a student gave me for a gift.

Well, maybe...

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Doing What I Hate

I must confess. I hate cleaning the toilet! Give me a sink full of dirty dishes or a load of wood to chop, and I will gladly do either. In reality, the task of toilet cleaning is not difficult, I just don't like doing it.

What task do you dislike?

When I face a disagreeable task and dwell on how much I hate it, the doing of it seems way more difficult. Remember that homework assignment you sat in front of for a really long time? It didn't go away, and the more you thought about it, the worse it became? That's how it is for me and toilet cleaning.

If only I could do the things I love, everything would be so much better. But someone has to clean the toilet, right? Someone has to clear snow from the driveway--and at our house, that means with an old-fashioned shovel and a lot of muscle work. Someone has to clean up the yard after the dog--another yucky job. (I'm always thankful when my husband does this task.)

In every occupation, in every household, in every form of service, there's going to be those things we don't enjoy. Recently, my pastor has been preaching on service--in the church and in the community--and he's listed things people can do to serve God and others, including cleaning the bathrooms. Now, does anyone actually like cleaning bathrooms? Probably not too many of us, and certainly not me. But if someone asks, "Who likes a clean bathroom? I would shout out loud and clear, "ME!" There are certain businesses where I actually avoid using the bathrooms because...well, let's just say, I appreciate the clean ones. So, to all who willingly and voluntarily clean bathrooms in churches everywhere, "Thank you!" You truly have a servant's heart.

A couple of verses to consider...

  • And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Col. 3:17.
  • Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men. Col. 3:23
  • Be joyful always. I Thes. 5:16
Through these verses, I'm reminded that I can do everything in the name of the Lord, and it becomes service to Jesus, and hopefully, others too. I can serve my family through cleaning, doing the laundry, and cooking. On a job, I can work faithfully, and by doing so, I am serving Jesus and my employer. In church, I can clean a bathroom, pass out bulletins, or shovel snow with a great attitude and heart for service. In my everyday life, I can write, direct, smile, live, and everything I do can be as "working for the Lord, not for men."

Sometimes, even in the things I love to do, there are parts I dislike. I love writing, but editing can be an arduous taskmaster, and I'm the slave. I love gardening, but the constant upkeep is difficult. I like a neat house, but I don't enjoy housework. (Ironic, isn't it?) In the areas that I don't care for so much, I need better focus on doing these things with a good attitude and a heart of service. My heart must align itself to joy--just like the verses above suggest. 

It's so much easier to have a positive attitude when I'm doing a task I love, but doing something I dislike--as unto the Lord--with sincere joy in my heart is even better. It changes my day, my life, my world. A heart for serving and a grumpy attitude just don't mix. It's like oil and water. I have to chose one way or the other. For me, I chose to serve--even if it means cleaning the toilet--with a happy heart.

When I change my internal attitude, the job I hated so much doesn't seem quite so bad after all.

How do you tackle disagreeable tasks?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Just Start Writing!

Write now—fix it later!

With an assignment due the next day, my son would ponder the opening sentence for a long time. Sometimes, two hours would pass before I'd check on his progress only to find him sitting in front of a blank screen.

When he said he didn't know what to write, I would say, “Just start writing.” He would look at me with a glazed look, like I had lost my mind. He didn't agree with my write now—fix it later philosophy.

If I asked my son to tell me about his subject, especially if it was about history, he could talk for an hour. He's a history buff, and he can go on and on about the Civil War. But that first sentence stumped him when it came to writing out his ideas.

I've had young people ask me what to do about writer's block, and my answer is always Just start writing!

For me, sometimes I feel a special inspiration for a project and the writing comes easily. But if I don't feel that unction, I write anyway. It's kind of like cooking. Sometimes nothing sounds good. I open the fridge, see the package of chicken, drag out a recipe, and cook. It's yummy and everybody eats, but it wasn't particularly fun to make.

Writing can be like that sometimes.

Think about the college research paper we all struggled to word oh so perfectly. It was due on a certain day, a specific time, and we had to do everything in our power to make sure it was ready. Were we inspired? Probably not. But we wrote it anyway.

I picture my writing at its very best when I have a heart for the story. But if I sit around waiting for that special spark to strike, I won't write very much.

A few years ago, following a tragedy in our family, I thought that perhaps I would not be able to write again for a long while. For several years previous to this, I had been writing and directing two-act plays. Spring was coming and with actors and parents expecting a production, I had zero ideas. One day someone asked if I was going to do a play. Well...I hedged, then I told her about my lack of inspiration. My thoughts were leaning toward definitely not doing a play—unless God gave me an idea.

Not long after saying those words, a story tumbled through me so fast I was amazed. In two weekends, I wrote the entire play of The Island of Shalamar, a medieval allegory about a king and his son and how evil was sneaking into the land. I didn't have a lot of time for revisions, but the play turned out to be a blessing, a tender story that I looked back on for quite a few years as my best writing ever.

However, since The Island of Shalamar, I have written plays that I would consider much better writing. I spent more time editing and improving word choices. I created stronger characters with unforgettable traits and flaws. I wrote and rewrote.

Through this journey, I've learned that writing with inspiration and God's anointing is a wondrous experience, but even if I don't feel that driving force, I still need to write.

And who knows? That spark of inspiration might be just around the corner.

How about you? Do you write whether you are inspired or not? What do you do when you don't “feel” like writing?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

At the Potter's House Again

Do you ever feel like you've been in the very same spot before? That you've already visited this situation or trial? Will the outcome be identical?

Jeremiah went down to the potter's house to watch the potter at his wheel. I can imagine what he saw—the potter bent over his work, sweat glistening on his muscular arms, intensity lining his face, his brow furrowed as he worked to form the clay in his hands into a perfect creation.

I've never sculptured clay—other than tinkering with playdough—but I have created some interesting paper mache objects. One summer, I labored over a four-feet-tall George Washington for an American Revolution theme. Another time, I made a life-sized Seaman, the dog who traveled on Lewis and Clark's journey across America. Each project involved shaping a figure with my hands, working in a gooey mixture, smoothing out the surface over and over, and letting it dry in the sun. Having done this quite a few times, I can relate to the potter. How difficult it would have been for me to look at George and suddenly think—oh man, I really need to start over!

On this particular day in Jeremiah's life, he was sent to the potter to receive a message from the Lord. He was about to learn a lesson he would never forget.

At the potter's house, Jeremiah watched the artist at work. He saw the clay maneuvered between the potter's fingers, watched as a wet mass was shaped into a definable object. Then something happened. A frown puckered the potter's face. Something was wrong. What? Was the piece cracked? A weakness, perhaps?

Suddenly, the potter took the clay in his big hands and squished it firmly between his fingers. Jeremiah must have gasped. The beautiful pot that had looked so perfect was now completely ruined. What had gone wrong? Was the clay too dry? Was there a pebble? A flaw?

Then, before Jeremiah's eyes, the potter began all over again. With the utmost care and concentration, the clay was squished once more beneath his strong fingers. A new shape emerged. Stronger. Better. A vessel for use.

Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand... Jer. 18:6

What did Jeremiah see? Surely, he saw a picture of hope. For him. For Israel. For believers everywhere. A hope that God could change simple clay into a vessel that could be used. Honorable. Perfect.

Sometimes I am that lump of clay. Not quite ready for the kiln. Not quite ready for use. I need to be reshaped. Molded into something different, something better.

As clay in a potter's hands, so we need to be formed in the Master's hands. Sometimes it hurts. Sometimes it's not an easy process. The rough places must be smoothed out. Worked. Softened. And sometimes we find ourselves back on the potter's wheel again. Will the outcome be different this time? Will I be different? Yes, if we allow the potter to work. Breaking. Remolding. Changing us.

How much better to be on the potter's wheel than to be a broken vessel, hard and unusable, sitting on a shelf somewhere.

 Oh, to be clay in the potter's hands.