Wednesday, December 31, 2008

End of Year Reflection

So I end 2008 eating chocolate for breakfast, spending the morning playing on the computer, and putting off my quiet time until noon. Does not augur well. Lots of fodder for New Year's resolutions here, but I probably won't make any. My dreams for the new year are always pretty much the same: to see Him more clearly, to love Him more dearly, and to follow Him more nearly, day by day.

I see little progress from year to year. Maybe it's there but just invisible to the naked eye. I hope so. But it is good to stop now and then and give the Lord a chance to lead me into more of what He wants so I will do that for a moment now. I suspect He wants to do more than I can imagine. My heart longs for Him. I want to reach out for that "more."

So if I were to pick a keyword for my goals for the coming year it would be TRUST. I want to consistently, joyfully, confidently trust Him with things I can see and those I can't. To trust that He remains unchanging and faithful, that His love endures forever, that I am His forever. I want to trust Him for blessings I can't even imagine, to step out into the unknown courageously, to fling myself into His arms the way a trusting child would reach for a good Father.

That probably involves putting away the chocolate and opening my Bible every day before I turn on my computer. For starters. I think I'll try that.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Deep POV and Real Life

Thinking about deep POV (see http://www.something-about-the-writing-journey.blogspot.com/) has drawn me into a deeper contemplation of my own life, and the way we human beings view ourselves and our world, and even--or especially--how we view God.

In writing, "deep POV" is point-of-view, or perspective, written from deep inside the POV character. It gives readers a view, not only of the character's thoughts, but of his emotions and his physical sensations—what he sees through his eyes, hears through his ears, and feels in his body. It brings readers as close into the character's reality as the character is. Readers become the character while they are reading.

But it's possible for a writer to write from a character's POV and still keep readers at arms length. The character's thoughts are expressed, but the reader (and the writer) are viewing the character from outside his skin. They're reading his mind, but not fully sharing his experience. That's a shallow POV. Deep POV takes the reader closer into the experience of the character.

This distinction applies to life on a broader scale. It has occurred to me that I often view my own life from this "arms-length" perspective. I watch my life as an outsider. I live analytically, thinking about life more often than living it, detaching myself from my world and thus never deeply experiencing it. Does this make sense? Even when I go for a walk by a river, I'm sometimes not there. I'm thinking, not feeling--thinking about things outside my body, things in other places or other times--past or future. I'm not living in the present, feeling the warm air on my skin, hearing the birds chirping, smelling the pungent scent of sun-warmed pine trees.

I don't think I'm the only one who lives this way. I have a friend who is going through a great hardship right now. She feels, rightly, I believe, that distancing from yourself is sometimes a necessary coping mechanism. When life is too painful, we have to detach to survive. But as the pain begins to heal, we need to make sure we don't remain in this detached state. We have to move back into the experience of life. Often the move has to be deliberate. Otherwise the coping mechanisms become castles with high stone walls that keep out, not only the pain, but the joy of life.

Zinovy, the main character in my novel, lives in this kind of castle. The pain of seeing his mother brutally murdered when he was five, spending his childhood in an abusive foster home, and growing up as a teen in a Russian military orphan camp has driven him deep into an analytical mindset and locked out the possibility of all emotional involvement with the world around him. There is no room in his worldview for non-rational reality or for personal, subjective experience. His redemption from this self-imposed prison/fortress constitutes the main theme of the book.

In my own experience, I wonder where this tendency comes from. I think much of it is in my genes. I'm naturally an analytical person. But the deep pain of losing my father when I was seven definitely drove me more deeply in this direction. I remember moving out of my body when the grief was too hard to bear, and I lived that way for years. Even as the intensity of the grief softened, I don't think I softened. The coping mechanism had become a part of who I was, and it has only been recently, in my old age (!), that I feel I'm finally able to recognize the problem and overcome the tendency.

My deep personal relationship with God was a part of the healing process. But even so, I know I've done this kind of withdrawing from God, too. I read the Bible and learn about him. I think about him. But I suspect my analytical approach often gets in the way of my actually experiencing him. God doesn't want to be simply thought about. He wasn't meant to be known analytically. The purpose of thinking about God is to bring us into relationship with him--to bring us to the point of experiencing him.

Experiencing God, I am learning, can even be wordless. That realization is a shock to my system. I'm a writer. Words are important to me. But more and more I'm discovering the limitation of words, particularly in growing deeper in my relationship with God. Yes, words are necessary in our understanding of who God is and who He isn't. There are proper limitations. He is Good. He is not bad. He is Eternal. He does not change. He is Faithful. He does not abandon us. He is Righteous. He is never unholy. I'm glad those words about Him are in my mind. But I want, more and more, to be able to sit in His presence, letting the knowledge of who He is penetrate beyond my mind into my heart--letting myself feel his love around me, hear the whisper of his truth brush past my mind and into my spirit.

I think we're all on the same journey as Zinovy. We all begin at different places, and the path is more difficult for some than for others, but God's purpose in life is to move each one of us toward a full and deep and glorious experience of Him—of His truth and his love.

It's a wonderful journey. I'm glad I'm on it. But I long for the destination. I know the end will be pure joy. Yes, I’m into happy endings. I believe in them. Whoever said the truth had to be miserable? That just doesn’t make sense. What's good makes sense. This is where the analytical and the experiential come together: God is Good. This is the rational reality. But I want to know that truth on a continuously deeper level. So the journey continues, and I'm glad the Good God goes with me.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Inspired Writing

God's purpose for inspired writing is not to inform us but to change us.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Road of Life

At first I saw God as my observer, my judge,
Keeping track of the things I did wrong,
So as to know whether I merited heaven or hell when I die.
He was out there sort of like a president.
I recognised His picture when I saw it, but I really didn’t know Him.
But later on when I met Christ,
It seemed as though life were rather like a bike ride,
But it was a tandem bike, and I noticed that Christ was in the back,
Helping me pedal.
I don’t know when it was that He suggested we change places,
But life has not been the same since.
When I had control, I knew the way.
It was rather boring, but predictable. . .
It was the shortest distance between two points.
But when He took the lead,
He knew delightful long cuts, up mountains,
and through rocky places at breakneck speeds.
It was all I could do to hang on!
Even though it looked like madness,
He said, "Pedal!"
I worried and was anxious and asked, "Where are you taking me?"
He laughed and didn’t answer, and I started to learn to trust.
I forgot my boring life and entered into the adventure.
And when I’d say, "I’m scared," He’d lean back and touch my hand.
He took me to people with gifts I needed,
Gifts of healing, acceptance, and joy.
They gave me gifts to take on my journey,
My Lord’s and mine.
And we were off again.
He said, "Give the gifts away; they’re extra baggage.
Too much weight."
So I did, to people we met, and I found that in giving
I received, and still our burden was light.
I did not trust Him at first, in control of my life.
I thought He’d wreck it.
But He knows bike secrets, knows how to make it bend to take sharp corners,
Knows how to jump to clear high rocks,
Knows how to fly to shorten scary passages.
And I am learning to shut up and pedal in the strangest places,
And I’m beginning to enjoy the view and the cool breeze in my face
With my delightful, constant companion, Jesus Christ.
And when I’m sure I just can’t do any more
He just smiles and says. . . "Pedal!"

Author unknown

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Stormy Weather

I'm struggling right now. Are you? It seems every time I turn around I find others who are perplexed also--dealing with excruciatingly painful and unsolvable problems. It causes me angst. I'd like to fix everything, in my life and in the lives of people I love. But I'm learning something through this difficult time.

Oswald Chambers says it well:

"We have an idea that God is leading us to a particular end, a desired goal; He is not. The question of getting to a particular end is a mere incident. What we call the process God calls the end. . . .His purpose is that I depend on Him and on His power now. If I can stay in the middle of the turmoil calm and unperplexed, that is the end of the purpose of God. . .that I see him walking on the waves, no shore in sight, no success, no goal, just the absolute certainty that it is all right because I see Him walking on the sea. . . .God's end is to enable me to see that He can walk on the chaos of my life just now." (July 28 reading from My Utmost For His Highest)

This realization doesn't make me feel any better. I still want everything to be fixed, right now. But I think God is working on that in me. I have to get over my idealistic preoccupation with "happily ever after." That "happily" will come, in the end, but for now, God has other plans for me, and for my loved ones. They are good plans, but they aren't always easy or comfortable.

I am choosing to submit to those "higher" plans--to let go of my selfish desire for immediate gratification. I still groan, and my stomach often clenches, but little by little my spirit is being lifted. My eyes are moving from the turbulent waves to the One who walks in triumph on top of them. I'm still too timid to step out of the boat and join him, but it's a comfort to see Him out there, and a small joy is beginning at the bottom of my heart.

Today I want to visualize Jesus walking serenely on the waves and rest in that vision.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

God's Whisper

I used to think that conversation was all about talking. To "con-verse" means "to speak words with." Two people speak words with each other, and that’s conversation. Some time ago it began to dawn on me that if two people did nothing more than speak words with each other, there might not be a lot of communication going on. Someone needs to be on the receiving end of the words.
And so I grew to understand that conversation was made up of two parts: speaking and listening. Ideally, each participant in the dialogue would do both. Give and take, fifty-fifty, like in a good marriage. I learned this important truth, but it took me a while longer to put it into practice.
In conversations with friends, though I was careful not to talk more than my fifty percent, I wasn’t so good about listening the other fifty. I’d be making eye contact and nodding intelligently but my mind was usually on the future—what I was preparing to say during my upcoming 50% talk time. I’m a slow learner, but eventually I realised something might be wrong with this picture. The technique wasn’t working. Conversation was stressful, and it wasn’t very rewarding either.
I remember the exact moment when the light dawned. I was talking with a friend about religion, and I was beginning to think the dialogue wasn’t going anywhere. Maybe we should just agree to disagree and leave it at that. Then another participant entered the discussion, whispering in my ear—in a deep place where I sometimes hear God’s voice. The input came in the form of a question, as God’s input often does. He said, "Are you hearing what Simon is saying to you?"
I began to listen, and a strange thing happened. I discovered we were talking about some of the same things and we agreed on many of them. I was able to take ideas he was giving and hand them back in a meaningful way—a way that was a blessing for both of us. I had a sense I was entering into his heart and finding treasures that I wouldn't have discovered anywhere else. Our conversation became rich, refreshing and enjoyable.
Since that day my conversations with others have changed dramatically. I sometimes even abandon the 50/50 ratio and listen 90% of the time. Consequently, I’ve learned so much. I’ve had the opportunity to get out of myself more often and into others, and my world is now that much bigger.
My current challenge is to apply this life lesson to my relationship with God. I’m reading a great book called The Papa Prayer, by Larry Crabb. He says what’s important about prayer is not getting what we ask for but relating to the One we’re speaking to, and relating is more about listening than talking. In fact, I’ve decided listening is so important that if I don’t have time to both listen and talk to God I’m going to leave out the talking part. His whisper in my ear is always life-changing. I want to hear it more often.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

On My Personal Library

I'm coming to believe that culling books from your library is like losing weight. You want to do it but you don't want to give up anything.

Monday, April 21, 2008

On Death and Joy

Dear Karin,

We got your note yesterday, with the news you’d already given us by phone of the return of your cancer. I’ve been praying for you since you called. I’m encouraged, as I always have been, by your strength (even when you feel weak), and courage (even when you feel afraid), and optimism (even when there are things in your life that might make others with less character see only gloom and despair). I know you will probably have your times of feeling all of those negative things, but I also know you will face them and overcome them.

I love the questions you ask! I know the hunger for God that drove you to ask those questions has made it possible for Him to stretch you and grow your faith. I’ve seen that growth happening in the questions, and the decisions you have made, especially lately, about how you will live your life.

I love that your main question in all this is how you can serve God and fulfil whatever purposes He has for you. Your heart is so much in the right place. God delights in you—in your desire to know Him and your constant questioning and reaching out to Him, even when it feels like you’ve been groping in the dark. This world is a dark place sometimes, but you are a bright shining star in that darkness and my prayer is that you will keep shining here for many years to come, for the world’s sake.

But I also know that sometimes God’s best for the ones we love is higher and more glorious than the things we ask for them. We long for present happiness and health, but God sees above our shallow desires. He has plans for eternal joy and delight—freedom from pain and grief—the wiping away of all tears, past, present and future. It may be that God has these higher blessings in mind for you at this stage of your life. He may be preparing to take you home more quickly than we would like to let you go.

You asked if we could give you any words of hope. Words are so inadequate, but I do know that there is great hope for you. Your future, no matter what, is going to be full of exciting wonders and great joy. It may be the exciting wonder of experiencing God’s miraculous touch in physical healing. If so, we will rejoice with you and thank God. But it may be the wonder and joy He plans for you is in heaven. If it is, that future is unbelievably and unimaginably wonderful.

This kind of hope is not wishful thinking. It’s joyful anticipation. I often think of heaven as being like that good book I have on my bedside table. Every day I look forward to nighttime when I can read some more. I have the same feeling (on a larger scale!) about heaven. Our unimaginably wonderful future is a firm and settled fact because of Jesus, and we can count on it. It’s waiting on the bedside table for us.

I am especially comforted to know that I will be sharing that future with you. It’s very possible that I will get to heaven before you do. We never know when God plans to take any of us home. But it doesn’t really matter, because once we’re all there it will be one great eternal party and the fears and pains we experienced down here will be absorbed in the joy. There are some days when the anticipation of heaven’s joy is the greatest hope-producer in my life! I so look forward to it—maybe because the older I get the more friends and family gather there. I have a whole stack of good books on that heavenly bedside table by now!

I know the doctor has not given you much hope, but doctors are in the business of looking for disease, not miracles. I’m praying, first of all, for a miracle of physical healing for you—for God’s special touch on your body that will free you from this awful disease. That’s my heart wish. But if He takes you home sooner than I would like, I KNOW, with all my heart, that it will be better for YOU than if He leaves you with us longer.

I am so convinced that we have nothing to fear and everything to hope for when God takes us home. I know I will have feelings of fear when the time comes for me (if I have any warning at all!), but it will be the kind of fear I feel at the top of a very large roller coaster just before my car starts down the highest hill! It’s going to be the most amazing ride ever. I would be really afraid if I didn’t believe the Lord was going to be sitting beside me in that car, but I’m sure He will be.

He's with us both, in this life, and the next, and it's so comforting. I pray that comfort will be with you every day as you continue to walk with Him.

I love you.