Thursday, November 22, 2018

Giving My Thanks


So, our house was full.

Walking from the front door to the living room, there were family antiques that Mom taught herself how to restore. Standing in the dining room, there was inherited china on display. If you walked the hall to our bedrooms, you found turn-of-the-century framed photographs of relatives on the wall, next to mid-century school-year photos pinned to a bulletin board. Shelves of scrapbooks and albums cataloguing recent personal history were crammed next to textbooks that spanned a century.

If you sat by the kitchen while the food was cooking, or at the dining table once it was done, you'd hear which relative was known for the recipe. We smelled and tasted their legacy on Sundays and holidays. 

And on any day of the year, we could tour our history – thumbing through the albums, and sitting where our people had sat. Here, an upholstered bench dedicated to talking on the telephone; there, a sturdy hardwood chair reserved for a large-scale relative. In this way, we were trained to never forget the people that we'd never met. 

We knew security and peace because we knew loving care. We knew joy because every season was celebrated. We knew melancholy and grief because of our mother's lament for the loss of youth, and its innocence, and the people she loved in those times.

There was a sense of a people in our home, more than the five who lived there. And Someone more.

There were crosses over doorways. By my father's side of the bed, there was a rosary and a cross made of palm leaves pinned to the wall. And at our table, we bowed our heads and said a blessing.

On New Year's Eve, we'd turn off the TV for a family prayer. Later, we'd turn it back on in time for the countdown. My father would pop a cork with his signature toasts, and we'd hear car horns and firecrackers in the distance.

But first came my mother kneeling with her forehead on the seat cushion of the sofa, praying out loud over us, and thanking God for her family, starting with the loved ones who'd gone on. She would wipe her eyes, and then we would each take a turn praying from our hearts too.

And our hearts were full. 

Now, we pray for God to restore us. To help us know what to frame, what to keep, and when to tell the stories to the next generation. We pray for God to reveal His imprint on our lives through the stories that we tell, about ourselves and those who came before us. To testify how God has preserved us, though we be as fragile as the china, and sometimes as tattered as the photographs. 

We pray for the transparency to show Your hand upon us, sustaining and providing for us in spite of ourselves. To show Your daily transformation of us, and our lives crammed with personal concerns. Help us to dust off the lessons You've taught us, and those we love, and to walk in Your wisdom.

Knock at the door of our hearts with others' testimonies; remind us to listen and learn how You have moved mightily in their lives, and to celebrate Your glory in their stories.

May we meet You in these shared stories. May we know daily family reunion with You. 
Help us never to forget.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

At the Altar

Turn down my performance,
Turn up Your praise!
Turn up Your praise … turn up Your praise ….

It was an amazing program.

I stopped and chatted with some of the people who came together to celebrate the music that my mom had enjoyed, arranged, directed and composed. We were gladdened by the strength of her memory, and the joy of sharing it.

Walk, talk. Swipe through my purse for my car keys. Stop, talk ... swipe. Swipe. Sigh. Swipe … swipe.

As the church was locked up, we stood outside in the darkness, still talking, laughing.

Swipe. Grr. Swipe.

Turn down my performance,
Turn up Your praise!
Turn up Your praise … turn up Your praise ….

I methodically began to unload my record-heavy purse on the trunk of my sister's car.

Two paperback books – check.
(Mom's writing. Great opportunity to share.)

A plate, a dish towel – check.
(Fun skit. You kinda had to be there.)

Usual essentials – check.

Except my keys.

We called my cousin, whose face is pictured in my mental dictionary, right next to the phrase “faithful steward.” Minutes after she'd driven away, she was back to open the church up again. Voiced no irritation. She walks in patience.

I searched the pew where I'd sat. Then I stepped up on the altar, looking around where the microphone had been.
Left, right.

Enough.

Removing the plate and books again, I kneeled and turned my purse upside down, shaking it. Plop, flutter, flutter. Kch, kch.

"I think I hear them,” my son said, kneeling next to me, as I kept peering, not seeing. Not sure I was really hearing.

Kch, kch. He revealed the twisted pocket, the only pocket in the purse. Where my search began. Where my expectations are usually stored. The pocket that still held my keys. Kch.

I made my angry face. He helped me pull them out.

Turn down my performance,
Turn up Your praise!
Turn up Your praise … turn up Your praise ….

My sister told her I've-done-that-too story. My cousin told her I've-done-that-too story. I'm not sure either one ever made someone drive back and re-open a church just for that. But I was grateful for their compassion.

With what I just happened to be carrying at that moment -- doing what I normally do, as best I can, just wasn't enough.

With that particular jumble … ok, and with jumbles I've had before – what I can do and what I can understand just wasn't enough. Not enough to even simply keep moving.

Before my cousin drove away (again), she pointed out something: that I couldn't really have done all that necessary shaking out, to begin to see what was twisted out of place, to get to the bottom of anything, while I was still out in the darkness. I couldn't really even see what I was doing.

But once I was at the altar, I got the help I needed.

OK, yeah. So I didn't leave my stuff there. When I walked from the altar, my purse was still heavy.
But ... I was still so much better off.

In the jumble I carried weariness, aches. So much frustration twining through.
In the shaking out I found relief, fellowship. Unlimited divine intervention flowing through and glorified.

When I emptied it all out at the altar.

Turn down my performance,
Turn up Your praise!
Turn up Your praise!

Turn Up Your Praise!

September 2010 newspaper photo of lunch-hour concerts by my mother Izola Collins on the pipe organ

Lyrics from 'Turn Down, Turn Up' by Cheryl Crayton. Copyright February 2018


Saturday, July 1, 2017

Lightness Of Being




Some said they'd noticed that she seemed to be getting tired.

Others were just amazed because she didn't seem to be slowing down much at all.

Whenever someone shared that they had begun to think it would soon be time, I listened carefully, curious to see what they had seen.

Each time, I heard only those seasonal things – the observations of aging that relate to movement, appearance, etc. The things already familiar to her children; we had been taking note and sharing notes for years.

She had a temper, and folks still called her sweet. I'd seen her fully charged, and I'd seen her weary. And this was true for all the years, traced from my childhood to the current day. I'd seen her revved-up and revved-down. Fragile and formidable.

Many times over the years, she'd share childhood memories, with the joy of remembering and recreating them to share with us. Often, she'd lament that she couldn't go back to the days when she was the baby of the family. What she always called the innocence of youth.

Sometimes the tone of world-weariness puzzled me, because these were my sweet years of early memory. And after the three of us left home and my father passed away, she admitted to some loneliness and depression. These were most visible in the years right before a seemingly destructive storm relocated her to my home. There she became part of my boys' sweet years of early memory. Her distress at being relocated from her lifelong hometown gave way to the affirming thrill of discovery, as she began to navigate a new town.

And when she was able to restore her home and move back, she continued to flourish, her faith deepening as she saw her own restoration and that of her hometown around her.

More and more in every conversation, I would hear her say how blessed she was. All the more after an accident led to long recovery from a broken ankle, instead of a fall that would have likely been fatal. In recent years, when she praised God, she did so with increasing awe that he not only cared for her, but that he still found purpose for her here.

She was childlike joy packaged in a woman who was a walking tour-de-force. That was quite a gift. That's quite a legacy.

Her funeral was amazingly both triumphant and warm, and I was thankful to see each and every one who came to show they cared. My sister and brother, as we loved and lived through this moment together, asked how I was doing. I could honestly say that while sorrow shows up – that each time, it finds my heart filled to standing-room-only capacity with joy. And it is just as quickly crowded out, retreating back through the door.

Joy that so many would celebrate my mom, and celebrate her so well. Joy that I had her so long – long enough to share with my children – and that I had her in the first place. Joy at the forceful impression she made on who we are, those of us in her family and in her community.

So when I asked myself whether I saw any indications right before she died, I only saw … a lightness of being.

In those seasonal changes of aging, I saw the coziness of one who remains warm in winter. She could watch an old TV show and laugh, as though it hadn't been on earlier that day. She listened pleasantly as I thanked her for encouraging me in a work dilemma, even though her pause made it clear she didn't recall speaking into the situation with words graced by God's perspective.

Most of all, each time we spoke, it was how she marveled that she was still here, and that God was so good to her. The words were not new, but the wonder had grown. This was the lightness of being that I saw. And it was the best indicator of a life transition that there ever could be. Because she was genuinely prepared to go home, thankfully more than she realized.

What lightness of being we know, when we allow God to be sovereign. When we begin to trust and give Him glory so.


The lightness of joy.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Turn to dance

On point
Definitions:

1. law --

   Staying on the topic.
2. fashion --
    Perfect.
3. military --
    Taking the lead role.
4. dance --
    Staying on your toes.




Let's turn to dance.

I took ballet as a preteen. After seeing my friend in recital, I got my mom to enroll me in lessons, and soon, I was dancing on Broadway 

-- Broadway Avenue, our city's version of Main Street, two afternoons a week at a storefront school. 

My mishmosh of memories from class include the gleam of tap shoes, doing the hustle (this was the '70s), and the unyielding height of the barre.


Decades later, I still remember the lessons on pirouettes. 


Before the spinning starts, you have to choose a focus, a focus spot where you want to go. And with every turn, you have to refocus. Otherwise, the effort takes you far off course, leaving you disoriented, confused ... sometimes even hurting and ill. But with discipline to refocus at every turn, there's guidance and grace.


Staying on your toes, as defined by a believer in Jesus Christ, is not about mental agility or physical prowess. It means realizing that your statement of faith is a daily necessity, before leaving the bed. Worth interrupting your own agenda setting, grocery-list making, physical assessment and dream analysis -- to seek to abide in God first. Thinking about who God is and why you worship Him. 


Even before we turn our wide-ranging thoughts into requests before God, we need to turn from all that's on our mind, so we can speak directly to Him ... about Him


And long after we've sat up, stood and shuffled from the bed, we need to be ready to interrupt all those things again -- not only to seek God's agenda at every turn, but to abide with Him more and more often during the day.  


We need that, and God delights in it. Reason enough.


Ongoing spiritual warfare provides even further reason.  Before we engage in battle, we need to choose that same focus, and then constantly refocus.  Otherwise, our thoughts, words and actions become confused and take us far off course, stranding us in our pain and hurting others.


Turn, turn, turn. To prayer. To praise. To petition. To devotion.


To stay on point as God defines it, turn often to God's Word -- 2 Chronicles 20:15 b, Ephesians 6:10-18 -- for the battle is not yours, but God's. 


To stay on point, keep your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. Find guidance in grace. God makes it available to you daily, and it was never meant to be hoarded or rationed out. 


To live on point is to live extended to the utmost --  the utmost patience (1 Timothy 1:16; 2 Timothy 4:2); the utmost perseverance (2 Timothy 2:15, Philippians 1:20) and the utmost generosity (2 Corinthians 8:3-15) -- all with a willingness to go beyond your personal resources. 


The history of dancing en pointe traces a movement to a dance style that disregarded the body's natural alignment; it was a way of dancing that followed the fashion of its time. S
piritually speaking, living on point follows an everlasting standard, based on God's nature instead of the stances that come naturally to us. 

Our natures, when placed in God's hands, are redefined and then refined daily. He provides us with extensive practice to develop a strength that reaches beyond our own ability.  


God has taken on our perfection as a lifetime project.

To stay on point, turn and take God's extended hand.
















Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Sharpest Sword



I had seen what it could do. Now it was my turn.

We were at a festival that celebrates the Renaissance period of history, with food and events that match the theme. While chewing on a huge turkey leg and watching a jousting match, we'd gotten a fresh surge of energy, and now we were exploring the shops.

My husband had admired the range of swords, and a worker at the shop invited him to try out his favorite. Behind the shop were bundles of reeds standing up in water barrels. They'd been soaked overnight, and the thick bundles were now dense and heavy.

First, the shop worker took aim. And swung, slicing in one steady, fluid movement. He showed us the swiftly dissected bundle, and reviewed what made the sword so effective and efficient. After giving us a lesson on careful use, he then handed it off to my husband, who readily did the same.

Now I had the sword in my hand.

I'd been fed. I'd been taught. The sword was sharper than we could have imagined. All I had to do was understand what it could do, and then choose to use it.

There's a sword that is so sharp it can divide bone and marrow, soul and spirit. You have this sword. And it's been placed in your hand.

You'll want to be fed first. The good news is that God's Word is a sword, and at the same time, God's Word is a daily bread. You'll want to be fed with that daily bread. Meaning that you'll want to taste and see that the Lord is good, first sampling what God has to say to you, and then coming to savor it. And then, when you're ready to read more than a verse or two, and begin to choose larger portions, you'll want to sit down to make a meal of it, and then another. You'll become filled with His love and His wisdom for your life. And you'll realize with each meal that the joy of the Lord is your strength.

You'll want to be taught. You can get a lesson on careful use of the word of God, if you seek a conversation with God.

Your prayers may begin with seeking God's intervention in the circumstances of your life.
As you pray, you will want to remember how God has already intervened in your life, and take time to be thankful. Not only will gratitude honor God as He is due, but thankfulness will renew your mind as to what God can and will do.

As you recall what God can do, God can reveal to you that what He has done reflects who He really is. As you seek to give God a role in your life, God can help you recognize that His role reaches beyond intervention, to sovereignty; that God was meant to be Lord of your life.

And as you realize, in greater and greater detail, who He really is, you realize that all of what He is, is what you need and want most. Realizing that God himself is what your heart is missing, your prayers can then become about seeking His presence – God himself.

For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Hebrews 4:12 KJV

Understand that God's Word can divide soul and spirit – defining your spirit as your truest self, which is restored fully by your saving faith in Him; and defining your soul as your mind and emotions. Just as marrow gives life and function to the body's joints, your thoughts and feelings were never meant to reign over your life, but to be given life and function by your spirit. Your soul, which needs daily healing and restoration, needs to be led by your spirit, which is the essential innermost substance of your existence. And your spirit by faith has a perfect connection to the perfect leadership of God's Holy Spirit.

In Ezekiel 37, a prophet in ancient Israel shares his vision of what God will do with His people regardless of what state they are in. He gave an eyewitness account of divine restoration far beyond human capacity when God restored dry bones, in a valley of death. In Psalm 23, another prophet named David shares the relationship with God that preserved him and his life, regardless of the valleys he walked through. Here I share my witness to what God can do. I relay to you that hope is never lost, when you place your hope in God.

What happened when it was my turn with the sword? I said I was ready. And I focused – more on what I had learned, than on what was before me.

I took aim, and sliced steady. The bundle fell to the sharp sword.

Take your turn.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Countdown

In the corner of the computer screen, a number starts flashing.

What, 5 minutes? What? Auuggggh!

Stop-silent-screaming-and-start-clicking...and-praying!

Deep breath. Repeat. Again. Click.

Skim. Click! Skim. Click! Skim. Click!! Sk-

“This section of the test has ended.”

That last mutter was out loud. Quiet.

Pray.

Deep breath, sit up, on to the next section.

Once the certification test is over, the one needed to retain my new job, I don't know what number I'd stopped at, only that I'd barely passed the midway point of that section. And that all sections must be passed to pass the test. I ask the receptionist how to set up a retake. She gives me a number to call, and I thank her for her pleasant test-side manner.

I call and get the details for re-registering. But then I remember, this is my opportunity to ask God for more.

“I hope that I passed this test, and I don't have to do this again.” This I make sure to say and pray out loud, and my husband amens.

Funny. Multiple-choice tests used to be like my video game: aim, fire, pkrrr, goal hit!

As a couch potato, I wonder: Is this what it's like to be an athlete, and then one day you're sucking for wind, and the finish line seems farther away than it used to be?

Three days later, I'm clicking online for the score report.

In wonder, I read and re-read. “Passed...Passed...Passed...Passed...Passed.” With a score just above the minimum needed on the section where time just ran out.

Back when tests were my video game, I knew where that ability came from, and prayer was part of test-taking: before, during and after. Prayer was about seeking God's blessing, leaning on Him, and thanking Him then.

It's interesting, though, how much more our dis-ability engages us in seeking God, in leaning on God, and in thanking Him in awe and wonder.

There will be tests in this new year. There will be trials. But the most seasoned of us test-takers will come to know God's providence, and His nature, all the better.

Jesus came to show us how to take these tests, and why. As we do so, and choose to trust God for the results, His nature will become ours, more and more. Like Jesus, we will seek to speak what God has to say, to those around us. Like Jesus, we will expect to be about our Father's business.

Like Jesus, we will seize the time given, addressing our earthly countdown with an eternal mindset.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Receive the Gift

It was ready. Long before I toyed with agnosticism at age 10. Long before I ever chose my adult value system and methodical reasoning as substitutes for seeking, exploring and following singularly triune Truth.

Long before I was lovingly anticipated or lovingly welcomed into the world, and long before I had ever disappointed, hurt or angered anyone, the gift was already ready.

And long before I had a name, my name was already on it.

It was my salvation, prepared long before I entered the world. My salvation came with redemption, justification and sanctification.

Salvation meant I would be freed from ties to sin; I would not be sin's servant. Redemption meant sin would not own me because of my debts, my transgressions, because those were now paid off and forgiven. The wages of sin – death – would be replaced by an inheritance, as a new child of God. And my value, set by God treasuring me, could not be reduced.

Justification meant that long before God's enduring law had defined what I lacked, God was ready to share his holiness with me. Sanctification meant that sharing God's holiness would immediately and ultimately redefine me.

All these riches, gifted to me in Jesus' name, were prepared long before I ever existed. Long before I knew my need, and long before I was ready to receive them.

All these riches are labeled by multisyllabic words. They only begin to define God in the human mind. When all is said and done, we must know for ourselves that God is love. And that He loves passionately and compassionately – long before we ever choose to love Him.

If you have yet to receive them, receive them today. By faith, turn from sin and all its shortages to receive your God, the giver of every good and perfect gift.

If you received these gifts long ago, invest them today. Recall that they were never meant to nestle back in tissue paper, and that the lid will not set back in place. Because these gifts were never meant for storage out of sight, out of mind.

Our actions and words will reflect God's ways, while presenting a reminder that God's ways are not our own – or they will be unproductive, bearing little fruit. We can choose day by day to invest and be further enriched by our gifts, or let distraction and discouragement stash them aside.

You are part of your Father's business. You – and those you either pass or do business with – are your Father's business. When you were commissioned to the work of sharing Jesus and His gospel with the world, you became His empowered hands and feet in the world. With each day, your face continues to take on resemblance to Him, and so you represent Him where you go.


Receive God's immeasurable gifts. Invest them to His glory.