Moving

Bruce and I are old hats at moving. Because of the particular industry he works in, we’ve moved several times: Michigan, Illinois, Colorado, northern California, Colorado, southern California, Colorado. And now, the northwest.

Going forward, checking behind
Going forward, checking behind

If you’re the adventurous type—which I am—then you might find several aspects of a new place exciting:

  • New areas to explore while driving, hiking, walking.
  • New restaurants, shops, other places of business. (Oh, if we had the time and you were willing to listen, could I tell you stories about my explorations!)
  • New local culture.
  • New friends.
  • New house. (New neighbors)
  • And a new church.

But it’s hard to say goodbye to familiar and comfortable places. Hard to say goodbye to friends. It’s hard to realize that I won’t see my family quite as often.

In every new exploration there are always two viewpoints we need to continually assume:

  1. Looking forward…
  2. While checking behind.

As I travel forward, what have I learned from my past that will help me negotiate the suspense of a new place?

  • Surely, the advice of friends over the years will help me when I forge new relationships.
  • The ministries I have participated in during the past forty years will lead me to new areas of service at my new church.
  • The confidence I have gained over the years as I have taught, performed, written, spoken, participated, helped, counseled, listened…

will accompany me as I open new doors.

It’s a little scary facing the unknown of a new town and a new state.

But for the past few months my greatest prayer for my husband and for me has been: “Lord, please prepare our path. Please guide us to every new friend and every new situation.”

Knowing the Lord is surrounding us and will guide us is the ultimate comfort.

I’m trusting Him for the next great adventure!

“Trust in the Lord with all you heart and lean not on your own understanding;

in all your ways submit to Him, and he will make our paths straight.” (Prov. 3: 5,6 NIV Bible)

God’s Travel Mercies

I don’t like traveling alone. It’s—well—lonely.

Bruce had a couple of business trips he needed to do the same week, so I made all my reservations: plane, hotel, car for one.

I asked my friends to pray for me as I flew out to the northwest and looked for new digs.

God was gracious to me the entire trip. A clear, dry day, and a window seat afforded me a spectacular view from Denver to Seattle. No turbulence, either.

I hate turbulence.

The second leg of my flight was on a prop plane. That, too, gave me spectacular views.

After making a wide arc over the city of Bellingham, the little commuter touched down and parked about a hundred feet from the teeny, tiny airport. Once inside the terminal, the baggage claim and car rental company were just steps away.

The nice people at my motel had given me a nice suite on the far end of the building. Yay! I didn’t have to use earplugs to drown out the sound of rowdy, inebriated guests.I shared the salt-water indoor pool with a few other guests, and they were nice, too. And the front desk people were more than nice to help with faxing, directions, and finding my lost sunglasses.

For the next four days, I took care of banking, toured homes and selected the perfect house for Bruce and me.

My last day in Bellingham was all for celebration of accomplished goals. I took a drive east of town and ate lunch in the tiny town of Acme. If you’re ever in the area, I recommend the Acme Diner. Food’s great, service is friendly, and they play pop music from the 50s and 60s.

I also took the Chuckanut Drive (Hwy 11) which skirts the mountains above the Salish sea. Gorgeous! I passed a fish and oyster restaurant and vowed to return some time later this summer.

I walked along the pier at Old Fairhaven and watched the touring boats come in and out of the harbor.

Back at the little airport, the guy at the car rental company took my word for it that I hadn’t damaged the car, July 2010 Vacation 103 and that I had indeed filled the tank.

The guy at the ticket counter for my airline showed up about half an hour before boarding. He seemed relaxed and jovial, even joked with me and some of the other customers.

Around the corner, an older man sat at the security counter, half asleep. When he saw me coming, he said, “We’re closed.” Another joke. We both laughed.

The two TSA ladies looked so happy when we showed up with our shoes, belts, purses, and laptops. It must be pretty boring at an airport that maybe has one flight per hour.

The plane that would take us back to Seattle was delayed, and we all worried that we’d miss our tight connections. But—never fear—the lovely lady at the gate called SeaTac and informed them.

When our plane arrived, the same guy that had checked in our bags also went outside and directed the plane into position. Then he greeted the travelers and helped direct them. Just the way the man smiled and laughed with everyone made me feel that everything would be okay.

A sweet old lady sat next to me on the plane. She told me she didn’t know what she’d do if she missed her connecting flight to Montana. I listened with sympathy, then prayed for her.

When we arrived at Seattle, there were people on the tarmac waiting to escort her to her connecting gate.

During this entire trip I saw and felt God’s hands, guiding, protecting, providing. I believe He protected me while I drove a strange car in a strange city. I believe He provided just the right house for us, and directed all the financial decisions. I know that He filled my anxious heart with encouragement and peace.

Thank You, Lord!

Seven Benefits of Disappointment

I entered a writing contest a couple of months ago.

The results came in the other day and I was disappointed.

My scores were a 95 (out of 100), 98, and……..a 52.

The high-scoring judges recommended that I send off my manuscript without delay to publishers. The low-scoring judge’s critique advised me to change my novel’s concept.

What?!

How can there be such a huge discrepancy in judges’ viewpoints? More important, what can I learn from this experience?

After a cooling off period—every writer needs a few days to get over harsh critiques—and some prayer, self-examination, and further examination of my contest submission, I gained some insights:

1. God is not surprised at the outcome of this contest. He’s not taken by surprise by anything that occurs in my life. He knew about my score long before the judges even saw my submission. He knew that I would have two enthusiastic judges, and one who simply didn’t like my submission.

2. God is not disappointed with me. I am His child. He knows my heart and that I want very much to please Him. He knows my current state of maturity, knows my current stresses, my deepest desires, my most fervent prayers, my most acute wounds. He views me as I was, as I am, and as I will be. And the days of my life are not measured by my timeline of achievements, but in terms of my relationship with God, built on ever increasing faith.

3. God is in charge. Though I rail at Him sometimes at the the slowness in coming of all things I pray for, I know that He is a wise Father. He is not so much interested in satisfying my temporal appetites as He is in bringing me into alignment with His perfect will.

4. Immunization. A contest, followed by a critique is kind of like going to the doctor to get a shot. You know it’s going to hurt, but the shot will prevent something worse father on down the line. Over time, and after several rounds of shots, You get pretty blasé about the experience.

5. Education. Each critique gives me bits of information to help me improve my craft. I paid money to receive critiques, so I should get my money’s worth by heeding the critiquers’ advice.

6. Perspective. There will always be readers who won’t like my story or my writing. I need to get over it. I cannot be all things to all readers.

7. Focus. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the criticism, but I need to force my mind to focus on the positive comments so that I don’t become discouraged.

You may not be a writer, but I’m sure you have experienced disappointment. I hope that my “seven benefits” are an encouragement to you today. Keep on keeping’ on!

“A fool spurns his father’s discipline, but whoever heeds correction shows prudence.” (Proverbs 15: 5 NIV Bible)

Antelopes and Suspense

32nd wedding anniv 225

One of my favorite things to do while traveling through Wyoming is to search for and keep a tally of the pronghorn antelope that graze near the highway.

Pronghorn antelope spend most of their days in a leisurely stroll from one delectable sage bush to another. Mothers keep their babies close by. I’ve often spotted them lying  in small groups, and at other times, drinking from streams. But one of the group is always watching for danger. They don’t laze among trees, but are always out in the open where they can quickly spot a predator.

Their pace is unhurried. But I suspect that God has built into the little antelope the wisdom of conserving energy for times of threat or danger. When I’ve seen the critters actually run, its pretty thrilling, for pronghorn are the fastest land animals in North America, reaching speeds close to 60 miles per hours.

But if the pronghorn was always running, I’m sure it’s speed would one day fail to wow me.

Because of its conserving of energy, the pronghorn makes me think about the writerly craft of building and sustaining suspense in stories.

I once read a suspense novel where every scene was so packed with action that I grew annoyed. Has that ever happened to you, too? Each new chapter dunked me into the dark water of crisis— assaults, break-ins, phone threats, chase scenes— and gave me no time in which to process the high action of the preceding scene.

I’ve had some well-meaning writer friends advise me to keep each chapter “hopping” and to never let the reader catch her breath. This is advice I fully plan not to take.

The most effective suspense and thriller stories weave back story and relationships and motivations into a strong braid in order to build fascination and tension. This takes time. Just like the antelope who doesn’t always run. Oh, the speedy little antelope might run a few yards at the clap of thunder or the shadow of a hawk, but he saves his biggest race for the biggest danger.

In a delectable and suspenseful read we need some down-time. Not every scene has to give the reader a heart attack. Here’s what I love:

  • It’s the writer’s dropping of what seems inconsequential bits of information during a relaxed conversation. Later in the story you—the reader—smack your forehead and say, “Oh, that’s why he mentioned the snake!”
  • It’s the setting-up of a seemingly decent relationship between friend and friend, or business associates, or girl and boy, but with little expressions or movements or phrases between the two that clue you in to, “Something’s not quite right, but I can’t put my finger on it.”
  • It’s letting the reader know that the threat is real and it’s coming, but when?
  • It’s delving into each character’s history so we gain empathy.
  • It’s the occasional scary scene that makes us think, “This is it.” But it’s not. Yet.

And when the threat turns into imminent danger, the characters—like the antelope—begin their real run for their lives.

But if everything—for the antelope and the writer—is a race?

Ho hum.

The Glory of Small Things

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I love the mountains, and I’m blessed to live at the eastern foot of the Rocky Mountains.

For years we’ve hiked at high elevations so we could admire the spectacular snow-capped “fourteeners,” the big, blue skies, cascading rivers and towering spruce.

But after years of admiring the big things, I’ve lately found myself drawn to the little things along the trail. The exquisite columbines, wild rose, cinquefoil, asters, the way moss clings to rock, the tiny, beautifully shaped leaves of the various plants that cling close to the ground.

I used to pass these little things by. They didn’t seem significant in comparison to the majesty of the mountains.

Perhaps the reason I now notice these small aspects of the mountains is because I’ve grown in my ability to appreciate beauty in all its forms.

The mountains are wonderful, but we miss much along the trail if we only notice their lofty heights and fail to look closer.

I think my Christian faith is a lot like this. When I first professed faith, I was impressed by the bigness of the Gospel. That God should love me so much He’d sacrifice His one and only Son.

But later I began to notice (and praise God for) the beautiful, tiny things along the Kingdom “trail.” Not only the bigness of God, but His smallness, too:

  • A single word or phrase in the Word that turns my sour mood into one of rejoicing.
  • Answered prayer.
  • The assurance that He is near—always near.
  • The knowledge that little occurrences such as a random phone call, a chance meeting, discovering just the right article on the internet, are God’s call for me to revise, repent, or re-deploy.

These little daily things make me aware of God’s handprints all over my mind and heart.

The majestic “mountains” made me a believer in God’s Greatness. But it is the small things at the foot of the mountains that give me glimpses into His Glory.

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory. (Is. 6:3 NIV Bible)

Safety In Numbers

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A long, long time ago, groups of people huddled around the fire at night.

The fire gave protection from the elements, protection from wild animals, light for those who stayed close.

The comfort and light of “the fire” became the place for fellowship. Stories were told, songs were sung, encouragement bestowed, instructions given, plans formulated.

Children learned the ways of the clan by watching and listening to their elders.

It was a sad and usually tragic thing to be excluded from this comforting circle of warmth, protection and fellowship.

Sadly, today, we Americans have dispensed with the circle of fire of both family and community. Sometimes, we avoid the circle of fire of our church, as well.

The reasons are varied: Too little time, hurt feelings, an independent spirit, a feeling of invulnerability within an economic system that provides never-ending safety nets, and so on.

How sad that technology has replaced fire for our daily comfort and fellowship.

How sad that we have so much that we feel no need to tell our stories and sing our songs to a broader audience.

And how sad that we sometimes fail to recognize that a part of us sickens and wilts when we avoid the circle of human companionship.

About ten years ago, when I lived up in the mountains, I found this pottery sculpture of friends standing around a fire. I call it the “circle of friends.” Their arms are intertwined and each member gazes into the fire. When the candle in the center is lit, the light reflects warmly on the faces of the five compatriots.

This is what God made us for: for fellowship both vertical and horizontal. We are not meant to be alone. Indeed, we are not safe in a lifestyle of aloneness.

Many Christians today think that fellowship and church attendance is optional. As if it is man’s idea, not God’s.

But right from the start, God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone.” (Gen. 2:18)

We have been fashioned by our Creator for fellowship. And even though there are challenges and headaches involved in relationships, the consequences of aloneness are far worse.

By and large, people live longer and lead more satisfied and fulfilling lives when their faces are turned in the direction of others.

Oh My Sinuses!

I’d never had one.

“A sinus infection,” is what the doc said I had after I told her about my raging headache, hacking cough, fever, awful sore throat, general malaise, blocked ears, and…aching teeth?

How can one’s teeth ache?

And the sounds, oh, the sounds that came from me. Surely no human has ever made such sounds. Rrrschpooot! Harruf, hoaoooooooorgh! That was me, trying to clear my throat.

The infection started out so innocently. Mild, transitory headaches and a feeling of not being quite healthy. I was eating right, getting plenty of exercise, downing the right supplements and a daily dose of probiotic. Surely, my body would fight this mild nasty thing off.

But the “nasty” would not go away. So I tried to ignore it.

Weeks of the following passed: “I feel better. I’m gonna take a walk. Oooh, I don’t feel right. Maybe if I lie down for a bit it’ll go away. My teeth hurt. Maybe I need to start using Sensodyne when I brush. They say your teeth can develop sensitivity when you get older. Why can’t I throw this “nasty thing” off?”

The “nasty” waited until Bruce and I were on the road, driving to Illinois, to transform into NASTY. (Why does that always happen?)

By the time we returned home I was sick, sick, sick. The next day I visit the doctor and she gave me an antibiotic.

If I’d been smart, I should have seen her weeks earlier. But I thought if I ignored it, the Nasty would eventually go away.

I think we can all relate. We can also draw a parallel between ignoring a little infection and ignoring other things in our lives that seem minor.

Lesson here for me: take care of the problem (health, work problem, relational challenge, bad habit) when it’s small. More often than not, the problem will not go away, and will get worse if I don’t take care of it. So, Dena, stop procrastinating and do what needs to be done!

Seeking the Creator in nature and the arts

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