Thursday, March 25, 2010

Revisiting Rome

I’m not gonna lie to you. I love Rome. I love the food, the irresistible aura of the Italians, the fact that you stand at a bar and order espresso and drink it while still standing there, the tiny little back streets that are just oozing with character, and the gelato- oh the scrumptious gelato! My stomach is grumbling now at the thought of it and I can almost taste it. Creamy, cold & fresh. Yum.

I will revisit Rome one day. I promise. For now, I’m content revisiting Rome at the time that Paul was writing letters to the Romans, trying to teach them about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, about God, and about the Christian faith. About how to live life as a Christian. I’ve blogged about it before, and I guarantee you that I’ll blog about again, but the Book of Romans truly inspires me. And I’ve decided that it’s time that I revisit Rome. Please join me on this journey….

So what brought all of this up?

I’ve been reading a daily devotional book about praying (as I think this is one area of my Christian life that I particularly struggle with), and it’s been surprising to me what I am learning. On one hand there is a “formal” method of how to pray (look at and dissect the Lord’s prayer), and on the other hand, God wants you to talk to Him freely, to have uninhibited conversation with Him, and to tell Him what you need, what you are struggling with, praise Him, and the list goes on. So which way is right?

I’m no expert, but I think the purpose of prayer is to acknowledge God: His power, His strength, His abilities, His perfect love for each and every one of us, and His complete and utter devotion to us, and to develop and enhance our personal relationship with Him. Prayer evidences our faith in Him (who would pray if they didn’t believe that something could actually happen as a result?) and helps us connect with Him on a personal level. And that’s what He’s really after in the end. And that’s also how we find out His will for us.

I’ve been having many conversations with people and with myself about this topic lately, and the consistent message that I am hearing is, ask God, talk to God, and believe that He can help you and has your best interests at heart. Ask. Talk. Believe. I can do that! So can you!

Let’s get in the Word.

So I’ve concluded now that I need to ask, talk, and believe. Totally doable. But what am I going to ask for and talk about?
One of the Bible verses that has struck a chord with me lately is my favorite verse (if it’s even really possible to have only one favorite verse of the Bible). I’ve included below both the NIV and The Message versions, because I think it’s important to see the similarities and distinctions between the two (I like The Message version for its layman’s terminology and straight shooting):

Romans 12:2 (NIV)

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Romans 12:2 (The Message)

Don’t become so well adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

If you’ve read my blog over the past month or so, you’ve seen a constant theme……Losing My Way……Judgment Day….. I’ve been struggling with being in my happy place with God. I’ve become unfocused and feel that I’ve become so well adjusted to my culture that I fit into it without even thinking and at times have been dragged down to my culture’s level of immaturity. But I want to have God bring out the best in me. Luckily, I have certain people in my life who are very good at pointing me in the right direction when I need them to; people who have been there, and who know what a struggle it can be to get out of a routine that it takes a while to even realize that you’re in.

You’ll be happy to know that I have been to church AND to Sunday School very recently (which is a start to accomplishing my goal of finding a church home), and it completely refreshed my spirit. I could tell that God was happy to see me there. I was happy to see me there. I remembered that I actually have a spirit – and a strong one at that!

So all of these things have led me back to Romans 12:2. I think deep down we all want to know what God’s will is for our lives, but I don’t know that many of us are willing to do what it takes to really find out what it is, and then actually listen to Him when he tells us. I know I tend to have a bias towards what I want to believe is God’s will and can analyze the heck out of something just to make it fit.

This brings me to my next Bible verse of the day, which in perfect timing, was brought to my attention by one of my favorite people recently:

James 1:5-8 (The Message)

If you don’t know what you’re doing, pray to the Father. He loves to help. You’ll get his help, and won’t be condescended to when you ask for it. Ask boldly, believingly, without a second thought. People who “worry their prayers” are like wind-whipped waves. Don’t think you’re going to get anything from the Master that way, adrift at sea, keeping all options open.

Now I don’t know about you, but sometimes I feel like when I ask for help from people, I get condescended to. And expecting that may prevent me from even asking for help in the first place. Is it the same way for you? The good news, is that God WANTS us to ask Him for help. How great is that! But we have to believe that He will answer our prayers, and believe it wholeheartedly. We have to really & truly think that He will show us His will for our lives, and be willing to accept it even if we don’t like it. Are you still on board?

Good. Because I think that this is very exciting. It’s like having your fortune told by the one person who knows everything about you; by the one who actually created your fortune. But unlike a hokey fortune teller, He is not getting paid. He just has the good intentions of any father who wants to keep their kids on track in life. And He has great plans for each of us, and if we just listen to Him, we will come to know what those great plans are. It’s not to say that they are what we would’ve chosen for ourselves, but they are His plans, so they have to be better than any earthly plans that we have for ourselves.

Bringing it back to music.

This discussion reminds me of a favorite song of mine that goes something like this:

(Excerpt from “What It Feels Like” by FFH)

This may not be the road I would choose for me
But it still feels right somehow
‘Cause I have never felt You as close to me
As I do right now

So this is what it feels like to be led
So this is what it feels like to just fall apart
To be totally unglued
Find out that if I accept my brokenness
I get more of me, I get all of You

So this is what it feels like to just walk away
From everything I thought kept me safe
To depend just on you for every meal
And find that it’s better this way

Can I do it? Can YOU do it?

Wrapping it all up.
So what does all of this mean? Well, for me, it means that I need to prepare my heart for accepting the will of God, and continue to pray about it. George Müller wrote, in reference to determining God’s will for making decisions: “I seek at the beginning to get my heart into such a state that is has no will of its own in regard to a given matter. Nine-tenths of the difficulties are overcome when our hearts are ready to do the Lords’ will, whatever it may be. When one is truly in this state, it is usually but a little way to the knowledge of what His will is”.

I’m going to give this a shot. And I’m going to continue to go to church and to Sunday School. And I’m going to become best friends with my God. I'm going to ask, talk, and listen. I’m revisiting Rome and I have a feeling that this is going to be a life-changing trip.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Making Wise Investments

I just returned from a girls’ trip to San Francisco and the California Wine Country – the Napa Valley to be exact. I needed a little break from work since I just finished busy season and my mind needed an escape. Throw in a couple of good friends, some wine tasting, and sunshine, and it was just what the doctor ordered.

One evening at our hotel in Napa, I was sitting by myself in the lounge area that’s covered, but still outside, so I got the benefit of the cool, fresh air, but was also warm and protected from the wind. I was a happy camper as I had my book and glass of wine, and had just completed a self-guided tour through the vineyards on the property. Next to me was a group of about eight people – I think four different couples. They were considerably older than me, but clearly they were in Napa for the same reason: some wine tasting with friends and an escape from the real world. As I listened to the deep, hearty laughter radiating from their table and heard snippets of their stories, it became wildly apparent to me that they are how I want to be when I’m their age. Not obnoxious (ok – maybe slightly obnoxious on occasion), but joyful, happy, relaxed, and at ease with the people that they were with.

When we are young, we can make investments in lots of different things: investments in our health, investments in stocks & bonds, investments in a house, investments in our career. There are plenty of options, and we each have the liberty to invest in whatever we choose, but ultimately, don’t we all put in the effort with hopes for a positive return of some sort? There are some investments that are meant to be short-term, but I think of those more as business decisions. What I don’t think of as a business decision, is an investment in people.

Although everyone comes and goes into our lives for a reason (and I truly do believe that), there are some people who are worth the long-term investment. They are the people who give you the positive return, because after all, an investment is give and take right? They are worth the time, energy, effort, and sacrifice. They are going to be the people you sit with around a table at a hotel in Napa when you’re 50 years old, sharing a bottle of wine, remembering old stories and creating new ones, and radiating laughter. That is a great return on an investment. It’s a wise investment.

So what do we do with the rest of the people out there? The ones who are good for short term benefit? Those people are important too. And I emphatically do not believe that they are not worthy of time and energy and effort. We all need different relationships at different points in our lives. Every year I meet a new person who may or may not become a staple ingredient in the basic recipe for my life. If they do, they become a long-term investment. They have potential to be sitting around a table with me in Napa sharing stories and radiating that laughter that I keep talking about. But some may just be entertainment. And I’m okay with that as I like to be entertained. The trick is, where do I invest my time and my energy? That’s the lingering question.

I don’t want this to sound snooty at all. And I certainly don’t want people thinking that they are not worthy of being one of Lisa’s long-term investments. I know that I’m a short-termer for many people, and I’m okay with that! It’s fun, it’s living in the moment, and there are some great experiences that come out of it. But the reason I even wrote this blog, is to really remind you of the long-term investments that you have made. You may not have known it at the time, but since you started investing in someone years ago, they have become very valuable to you and have, and will continue, to give you a return on your investment like no other. They are the truly special people, the foundation, the basic ingredients to the recipe for your life. So think about those people often, make the effort to call them, or better yet, write them a hand-written letter and send it United State Postal Service. You’re helping the economy that way too!

And then next year, or five or ten or twenty years from now, grab together those long-term investments that you’ve been building up all these years, and reap the benefits of them. Cash them in. Sit around a table together, radiate laughter, make fools of yourselves, and tell the stories of today. That's when you know that you've made a wise investment.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Judgment Day

My blog post last night got me thinking……

When I write blogs, I sooooo believe everything that I say and am encouraged and excited about what I write. I get caught up in the moment and have all engines fired up. I love it! I feel powerful and armed with a purpose.

Then, the unthinkable happens. I get caught up in the other things. I get distracted. And those ideas and revelations that I’ve had in the past and blogged about, well, they sound good, but I have a hard time turning them into real life; a hard time converting them into truth.

I’ll give you an example:

I was re-reading some of my recent blogs, and the one that struck me the most was my Breaking the Mold blog from early December. I love that blog, and I remember exactly how I felt when I wrote it. I still get encouraged when I think of that day. I was sitting on my couch on a Saturday morning when I was supposed to have gone to a conference in Oklahoma City that weekend, but it snowed in Houston and we couldn’t get out. A lot happened that morning, and my blog was purposeful; I was going to make a difference in my life; I was realizing things that I had not realized before. And if you go back and re-read it, you’ll notice that I had Action Plans set for myself on what I wanted to do in response to my revelations. Here’s a summary of those Action Plans:

Action Plan #1: Break the mold. Be the puzzle piece that doesn’t fit. Find my own purpose and way to do God’s works through my life.

Action Plan #2: Break the mold by finding a church and diving below its surface. Don’t value it for its entertainment factor, but determine what qualities of a church are important to me and seek those instead.

Action Plan #3: Break free from the idea that I should wait for God’s will in my life to make daily decisions. Live my life for now, for today, and not for what I’m waiting for in the future, all the while glorifying Him, listening to Him, and continuing to learn from my mistakes.

So what is my progress? I’m ashamed to say, not much progress at all. It really does hurt me to say that. It bothers me that I can’t follow through with things that I was truly so passionate about, and that made a difference in my life, even if just for a day or a week. How am I supposed to grow and become more purposeful in life when all I can do is write about things instead of actually doing them?

I’m angry with myself! Well and truly angry. And I’m not real sure what to do about it. I think I need a watchdog; someone to judge me; someone to keep me accountable. I don’t know. Ugggh! But one thing I do know, is that something has got to change.

Now don’t get me wrong. I haven’t been living this heathen lifestyle for the last three months. To be honest, I’ve barely had time to do anything of my own choosing. But I do know that I have not been committed to finding a church and have come up with every excuse in the book to use. There are no more excuses. I need a church, and I need one now.

And I also know that I haven’t been truly seeking God’s purpose for my life lately. I’ve just been going along, taking what I’m dealt, and not seeking what He would have for me. I haven’t been listening for Him, or really talking to Him for that matter. And I can tell. I can tell in the way I interact with people, I can tell in the way I approach each day, and I can tell when I start worrying about things that are really not under my control. That’s not what I want for myself.

So today, it’s judgment day. I’m judging myself, and I want YOU to judge me too. Maybe that will ignite the fire beneath me to start doing things that I know, that I need, and that I crave. Judge me against the goals that I have set for myself. Judge me against the things that I need to do to accomplish what I have set out to achieve. Tell me when I’m not focused and need to divert my eyes back to what is real, and honest, and good. I want the verdict to be good and I P-R-O-M-I-S-E you that I will get there. Cross my heart! You just wait and see, and have faith in me! Then judgment day will come again, and I will be in a better place.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Losing My Way

Lisa, it’s okay. Life sometimes gets in the way. Don’t beat yourself up. Just get back on track. Pick up what you know you need to be doing, and everything will be just fine.

Yes, I talk to myself on a regular basis. I think I keep pretty good company with myself. I know you do it too. I think we all do. Sometimes we need that little conversation that only we can give ourselves at just the exact moment we need it.

This time of year, I always find myself in this situation. Life happens, and I lose my way. I get distracted by things that have to get done and are seemingly more important than anything else. My schedule becomes the schedule of someone who justifies to themselves that they don’t have time to take the extra 5 minutes in the morning to pray, that they don’t have 10 minutes to call someone who they’ve been meaning to call for days or weeks, and that they can’t take 20 minutes to relax at home to catch up on the news and perhaps have a glass of wine. I’m accustomed to this lifestyle, it happens every year at the same time, but that doesn’t make it any easier. I still lose my way.

I think that everyone likes to have some sort of normalcy in their lives. At least during the work week. But why is it that when work gets crazy, our normalcy becomes dictated by it? Shouldn’t we weave in other things that come up in our lives with what we know as normal? I really admire people who are able to stick to their guns and keep some consistency in their lives when things start getting hectic. I tend to get all wrapped up in those things that are making me feel out of whack. Those things that are making me get off track. I tend to not find time to do my laundry. Or take out my trash. Really you ask? Yes, really. It’s horrible, I know. But I get sucked in by this twisted, windy road to nowhere. I need a compass. But I don’t have time to look at it once it’s given to me! I’m walking blindly down a path. And I lose my way.

I recently heard a new song by Tobymac that goes something like this:

We lose our way, We get back up again
It's never too late to get back up again,
One day you will shine again,
You may be knocked down,
But not out forever,
Lose our way, We get back up again,
So get up, get up,
You gonna shine again,
Never too late to get back up again,
You may be knocked down,
But not out forever

So why is it, that in the midst of going through all of this, that I can't do something about it? It seems so simple! Make yourself do it Lisa! Make yourself. Don’t give yourself another option. But it doesn’t really work that way. If I took the extra 5 minutes in the morning to say my prayers before leaving for work, I’d be blabbering some words, but they wouldn’t be the heartfelt words that I really would like to say. They would be rushed, and hurried, and just enough to tick the “to-do” of praying off of my list. That’s not how praying is supposed to be and I know that! And why can I not let myself have 10 minutes at my kitchen table in the morning to eat breakfast? Why must I insist on having an instant oatmeal while sitting at my desk checking emails in the office? Is it really that important? No, it’s not.

I’ve decided that I’m not going to let this knock me down. I will shine again. I will find the way back to my life. I will not be out forever. I am going to grab my compass and point it north. I will find time to do laundry, make my bed, take out the trash, enjoy breakfast at my kitchen table, read the fabulous book that I’m half-way through, pray, and by all means, blog. Oh how I’ve missed all of this.

I know that there are times that I have to sacrifice normalcy, and I'm okay with that. But I need something to keep me on track. I need one of those pocket compasses that will always be with me and help me remember what my life is and what my priorities are, no matter what I'm going through . I need to always remember to put God first, let Him lead the way for me, so that I don't end up on the twisted, windy road to nowhere. So that I have His light to follow, and to help me shine in my world. So that I don't lose my way.