Sunday, January 24, 2010

Spiraling Through Sunday

This morning, I was waiting for a ride (since I am in the US and don't have my own vehicle, but that's another story) to take me to church. The time had been set for pick-up at 8:30, but there was no "hooting" of a horn, no ringing of the doorbell. I was apprehensive. I don't know the driver well. I was wondering, "Is this person dependable? Do I need to call my contact at the church and explain?" Many questions rolled through my thoughts. In the process of waiting, I began to straighten my room. I sorted receipts, put shoes and clothing away, threw away trash and WAITED. Waited. Finally, I called the cell phone number I had been given. No answer. Oh. Now, there's a problem. Has there perhaps been an accident? Is this person really coming to pick me up?
The room was all arranged, as it should be. Half an hour late. I called the cell phone again. Still no answer. I'm really concerned. Where is this person?
At 9:05, I heard a car pull up by the mailbox outside. My new friend jumped out, rang the doorbell. I grabbed my bag and ran out the door.

You know, sometimes, things are not like we think they are. It turned out that the problem of her lateness rested squarely on my shoulders. I had given her an incorrect house number. She had been driving around the block, knocking on doors, asking for me, for the entire time I had been waiting.

Can I learn anything from this experience? I don't want to learn anything today. Well, yes. I can learn this: Sometimes while we are just about fuming, or we are worried sick about some situation, we need to stop and think. It's not always like it seems. Sometimes, the frustrations in our lives are a result of our own error.

I'm sorry, dear new friend. I accept my responsibility for the fact that you drove around in a looping spiral this morning. And thanks for continuing to search until you found me. But wait. Why didn't you answer the cell phone?

What? You locked it inside your friend's apartment, didn't have a key to get back in? Oh. Well, then, sometimes things just aren't what we think they are.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Stuck in a Closed Spiral

I've escaped . . .
For more than a year, I haven't been here to write. Last night, the decision was made: Get back to blogging, to writing, to creative and critical thinking. So, here I am.

I've been working diligently in Africa since November 2008. Yes, the internet connection there in Kenya is slow. Yes, I am often exhausted. Yes, to all your questions. However, there is no REASON for my not having written. I just stopped writing.

Recently, my computer has been near-fatally ill. Since I am technology-dependent, I suffered withdrawal. Typing on strange keyboards in Cyber-Cafes wasn't fulfilling. Clicking, pushing, flipping an external mouse belonging to some other writer creeped me out. When my grandson restored my wireless ability yesterday, excitement - adrenaline - rushed through my body.

MY OWN COMPUTER, yippee, can now take me surfing. I can use GoogleEarth and follow footsteps: my own, and YOURS, too, if you tell me where you've been. I can read email in less than a minute. I can post on Facebook and CHAT!!!!

The urge to post a blog entry overcame me this morning. I traced the forgotten password and my tingling fingertips began to dance.

Hoorah!!! I've escaped from my closed spiral! Watch me dance!!!!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Is Running Around in Circles the Same as Spiraling?

Here I sit before my computer, fingers on the keyboard, eyes on the monitor. If you could see me, you would not notice anything specifically different. There is, however, a GREAT DIFFERENCE! After having my house on the market for more than 15 months, we finally received an offer last Friday. All weekend, we countered, they countered, and, and, and . . . It looks like my house may not be my house much longer! Because of this possibility, I am excited. And I wanted you to know. I'll bring you up to date after I sign the papers.

Here's a hint about what to expect in the next posting: Departure for Africa is tentatively set for the week of November 1.

Gotta run, now, the busy-ness has set in and there is much to be done in the next six weeks! Just before I log off, will you join with me in a loud shout of gratitude? Hallelujah! Praise the Lord!

I'm just going to dance my way into the other room and get busy! Check back soon for more details!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Dancing in the Spiral of Grace

I want to dance. Bend, spin, skip, twirl, step. I want to dance. My dancing is done as an offering to God in Heaven. An offering lifted up in gratitude for His Amazing, Infinite GRACE.
Wait, I'll be back. My feet are itching to shuffle around on the carpet while my arms are outstretched. I call it The Crazy Neda Dance. Here I go, head nodding, hands clapping, feet sliding. Ah, yes.
What other way is there to show my gratitude for God's rich gift of GRACE in my life? Think about this:
God, in the Trinity, lives in perfect harmony. When the Father moves, the Son and Spirit move with Him. Yet, there's even more to this harmony. When the Godhead moves, you and I are involved in that movement. Yes. It's true. Just think about it. If we are inscribed in the palms of God's hand (Isaiah 49:16), doesn't it make sense that in His harmonical movement, He is moving us along in His own dance? Yes, again. There is a word for this. I learned it at Seminary years ago. It's a Greek word: perichoresis. It means the dance of God.
Dancing is graceful. Oh, my heart is leaping within me. God dances; His grace includes us in His dance. Grace pours upon us and the need to express joy, peace, gratitude rises in our hearts.

A few days ago, my friend Sara gave me tickets to a women's conference. She bought them for herself and things didn't work out for her to attend the meetings. My schedule allowed me to attend every session of the conference. I cried. I laughed. I sang and I danced. More than all these, I learned about God's Infinite Grace. Grace. What is grace anyway?

My pastors have taught me that grace is unmerited favor. I have heard other definitions, closely related, but I love the idea of being blessed with unmerited favor. I stumble around, making mistakes right and left; grace rains into my life. I am weak, discouraged, downhearted; grace flows through my being. Circumstances seem difficult, obstacles loom large on my horizon; grace - sweet grace - clears my vision.

I appropriate grace. I welcome grace. I plead for grace. So I was surprised to find myself selfishly believing God's grace had covered MY disobedience and stubborness, but had not done the same for one of the speakers at the conference. This speaker was involved in a scandalous relationship several years ago. After the scandal was made public, there was a divorce and a remarriage. This speaker also appropriated grace into a difficult situation. Obviously forgiven and full of gratitude, she sang and told the story of her pain. As she spoke, I realized I had not allowed for the possibility of God's grace falling into her life as it falls into my life.

As she sang, she cried - the same hot tears I cry. Suddenly, I was struck to realize SHE KNOWS GRACE INTIMATELY, the same grace I know.

Compelled to repent for having judged this child of God, I bowed my head in sorrow. While I prayed, a flash of insight burst into my thoughts. If she, and I, have experienced grace, why - it's available to all of us. Who am I to decide if a person is worthy of grace? No. That's God's place.

The world looks new to me since that flash of insight illuminated my thoughts. Grace, God's grace, is free to all. What I want to say here, I think, is this:

Grace makes me want to dance. Would you care to join me as I whirl and bow? We can exult together in His Infinite Amazing Grace. Can you hear the music? It's spiraling around our heads. Shall we dance?

Thursday, July 31, 2008

My Head is Spinning, Does That Mean I Am Living a Spiral?

When I look at this new picture my son Travis sent by email this week, my head spins. What happened to the quiet little curly headed boy who spent most of his time playing with Lego toys? And who is that man wearing goggles while strapped to a seat in a Blackhawk?

After Travis graduated from college, he joined the Air Force. "Good," I thought. "he will have good benefits and stable employment with a regular paycheck. He won't have to live on the street; there will always be a room in the barracks or a place in base housing." That was in 1992.

His superiors recognized leadership qualities in my son. They encouraged him to attend Officers' Training School. He completed the grueling course in 1994. I was happy for him and his family. An officer earns more money than an enlisted man. "They'll manage much better now," I thought.

North Dakota, New Jersey, The Azores (Lajes), South Carolina, Florida, Japan. Travis and his family have traveled, experiencing a variety of cultures. In the meantime, he has continued to move up through the ranks. First Lieutenant, Captain, Major . . .

I continued to be happy for him and proud of him. But it wasn't until September 11, 2001 that I understood how much I OWE him. When the Twin Towers fell, Travis was stationed in South Carolina. I lived in Louisiana. We watched the horrors and talked on our cell phones. Then the War On Terror began. Now people in the Air Force not only had steady jobs with regular income, they began to travel frequently to places with unfamiliar names.

Travis moved to MacDill AFB, Tampa, Florida. He worked with a group whose responsibilities included setting up tent cities in the deserts of several far away countries. He went TDY several times . . . to Afghanistan, to Saudi Arabia, to Iraq.

I realized at some point that Travis was not just my son in the Air Force. Travis had become, in a very real sense, my protector. He regularly laid his life on the line as he fulfilled his duties as an officer in the US Air Force. And he was laying his life on the line to protect my life. Not just my life, but the lives of all Americans. Because he is MY son, I take his work seriously. He took an oath to protect us. And I am part of that us, so he is MY PROTECTOR. Now I am not just proud of him; I am in his debt.

His time at MacDill came to an end; he and his family moved to Yokota AFB, near Tokyo, Japan. His job was at the base airport and involved few TDY's. In my mother-heart I relaxed a little. He would probably not be traveling to the "-stans" or worse places. I remembered an occasion when he had been to Afghanistan for several weeks. He was able to return home a few days before we expected him. Everyone knew he was coming home except me. He wanted to surprise me. One afternoon, my doorbell rang. There stood Travis, home early from Afghanistan. I couldn't breathe. I thought I was seeing a ghost. He grabbed me, hugging me tightly. I knew he was real, and really home. I sobbed. His being stationed in Japan would give us no cause to experience such anxiety, we thought. He has a calm job in a calm place.

Early one morning last spring, while I was dressing for work, my phone rang. Nobody calls me at that time of the day to chat. With apprehension, I answered. I heard Travis' voice.

"Mother," he said, seriously, "I have something to tell you. Can you talk for a minute?"

A mother always has time to talk with her son, especially when his voice has such grave overtones.

"I'm being deployed to Iraq."

With restraint, I questioned him while my heart was screaming, "NO!" My mind began to whirl. Easy job, calm place. No traveling to the "stans." Few tdys. What is happening here? All the while, my spirit was searching, searching, searching. Finally heart, mind and spirit united and I could speak.

"Son, wherever you go, you go in the palm of God's hand. He will guide you and protect you. I don't want this for you, but we are no different or better than the thousands of other families whose children, parents, siblings, or relatives are being deployed. If it is our lot to send you into the thick of the fray, then God be with us. I am at peace."

I heard Travis repeating my sentiments. The conversation was over. That was last spring. Today Travis is in Baghdad. I am still proud of him. I do not worry about him. I do realize that he has once again laid his life on the line to protect mine. Regardless of whether we agree with the reasoning behind the conflict, we are involved in the conflict. He is responsibly doing his job as assigned by his superiors. And I rest assured while he is protecting me, our God is holding him in the palm of His hand.

This thought makes my head spin. I think my relationship with Travis could be representative of all our relationships. We are all here for a purpose. And each of our purposes is part of a tightly woven web. We are here for each other. I am for Travis; Travis is for me; I am for you; you are for me.

Let your mind spiral around this idea for a while: God is for all of us and we are all for each other.

Thanks, Travis. I am indebted to you, and all the others like you who demonstrate selflessness while reflecting God's protective Hand in our lives.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Friendship Spirals Through the Years

As a missionary-under-appointment, raising support is high on my list of priorities. As a relational female, maintaining friendships is also close to the top of the priority list. When I realized I could combine the two, great joy arose in my heart!

June 27, I drove 12.25 hours, alone in my 2003 Toyota Corolla. Wait. I wasn't truly alone. Andrus and Blackwood, Michael Card, Michael Omartian and Willie K. were with me. We sang and rejoiced, worshipping together all the way from Plant City, FL to Spring Valley, AL.

On July 22, my faithful little white Corolla found itself parked again in its place in my garage.

In between, I visited nine churches. Each church has now agreed to partner in ministry with me as I work in Africa, inviting Christians to follow the Great Commission and MAKE DISCIPLES. Without exception, the pastors and congregations I visited received me with Christian warmth and promised to support my work, with both prayer and finances. Every service brought new and fresh blessings to my heart. The family of God is a vital part of my life. I don't know how I could function without this family.

In addition to visiting nine churches, I was privileged to sleep in a wide variety of beds. Two nights, I slept in motel rooms. Here's a list of the other places I slept:
In my niece Cheryl's house.
In my sister-in-law Jackie's house.
In my brother Stan's house.
In my brother Richard's house.
In my friends Tommy and Gladys' house.
In my friend Joette's house.
In my friend Susan's house.
In my friend Loretta's house.
In my friends Steve and Sally's house.
In my friends Roland and Carole's house.

Each home offered particular treats.

At Cheryl's house, I ate SNOW ICE CREAM! In July!!!
At Jackie's house, there was white syrup and butter with biscuits.
At Stan's house and at Richard's house, we devoured roast beef and all the fixings.
I didn't EAT at Tommy and Gladys' house. I didn't eat at Joette's house. But I practically drowned in affection at both places.
At Susan's house, I played with grandchildren.
At Loretta's house, there was a sense of having come home after being away for more than 30 years.
Steve and Sally poured love and kindness over me.
Carole and Roland shared their farm animals with me as well as their grandson.

This trip was about more than developing a support base for my missionary budget. This trip proved to me (beyond any doubt) that once two hearts are bound together in sacred Christian love, nothing can break those bonds. Years may spiral 'round and 'round. Vocations may lead friends to far away lands. Children grow. Dear ones are called up to Heaven. Yet the bonds of Christian love hold us tightly.

As I try to recount the blessings showered down upon me while I drove those 3500 miles, my mind and heart are overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude. Joy continues to bubble in my soul. I find myself remembering a few lines I scribbled on a wrinkled piece of notebook paper several years ago. I had attended a 40th birthday party for a man I had known since childhood. The sense of loving and being loved by this man and his extended family was almost tangible. In the dark of the night, while my husband drove us home, I tried to express the comfort love brings to me.
My Everlasting Support

I have felt myself surrounded by love.
Its strands weave themselves tightly
So that I find myself not only surrounded,
But also supported:
Love is the scaffolding
Love is the structure
Love is the strength
Upon which I stand.

When my muscles have grown soft
And my joints lose their power,
Love will hold me
Until I breathe no more.

I will slip from its grasp
And I will be buried
But the covering of love that I wore
Will stand forever.

Is that what scripture means?
“Now abide these three – faith, hope and love.
But the greatest of these is love.”
There is nothing to add to these lines. And there is no spiral strong enough to destroy love. No time spiraling from calendar pages, no spiral of change, no spiral of distance - Love abides. And I am most grateful for it. Grateful for the love that I receive as a precious gift from others. Grateful for the love that flows from my heart like water over Victoria Falls. It's love that holds my world together.
Thank God for the blessing of love.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Complacency: A Dangerous Side-Spiral

Tomorrow I will, God willing, fly to New Orleans to attend a wedding on Saturday. On Sunday, I will address a congregation seated in a sanctuary for the first time in more than three years. There's a lot to think about, a lot to do in preparation; but I haven't packed yet.

I mentioned my embarrassing time-management behavior in my last post. This afternoon, the theme rose again to the surface of my thoughts. Why do I struggle so with using my time wisely? Maybe the answer has come to me. I am almost ashamed to write about this answer. Still, it should be written. In my writing and in your reading, I (and you) will be forced to confront this idea head-on.

While I was receiving chemotherapy treatments, I was forced to accept my own inevitable death. When my husband died suddenly before my eyes, I was forced to accept the sure deaths of those who are my most beloved. For months, the road ahead of me seemed to be headed straight for a dead end (pun intended). There were no spirals, not even the tiniest hint of a curve in that road. I could see the signs reading "Road ends here. Be READY to stop." The road was arrow straight, narrow and seemed to be downhill. I couldn't see anything except that brilliant sign at the end.

Gradually, I became accustomed to the speed of my travels and the straightness of my road. I began to notice things: people, places, events all around me. As my awareness of my surroundings increased, my focus on THE END grew less - well - focused. Now, the chemotherapy treatments are rarely in my thoughts. I don't think about my husband's funeral every hour, or every day. I have awakened anew to the beauties of LIFE. I find my head less filled with the certainty of death and more with the details of living. Consequently, I ignore the sign; or worse, I couldn't see it if I tried, for my path no longer seems so straight. There are wonderful byways to appreciate. There are loops and switch-backs. Shrubbery, trees, blossoms catch my attention. I am diverted.

In Spanish, the word for "fun" is "divertido." We use "diversion" to indicate participation in activities outside our ho-hum, mundane daily lives. Yet, being diverted can be dangerous.

My "diversion" has caused me to forget the brevity of life. Subconsciously, I have again fallen into the common pattern of believing I have "all the time in the world." I don't feel any urgency to accomplish any particular task. After all, there's plenty of time. How quickly I have allowed myself again to join the procrastination club. After having been compelled to put these thoughts into writing, I think I must drop my membership.

Bible verses about man's limited lifespan roll around in my head. Years ago, as a young Pentecostal, an I'm-looking-for-Jesus-to-come, Rapture-ready Pentecostal, I learned "No man has the promise of tomorrow." We lived on the brink of being taken away, of hearing the sound of the trumpet of God, and the shout of an archangel. There was no time to waste. What happened to my sense of urgency? Weeks, months, years . . . decades were torn off our calendars. The steady rhythm of morning and evening, sunrise and sunset rocked me into complacency. Cancer and death stung me. I awoke. I'm feeling drugged again. And I don't like it.

I need to be busy. I need to remember the sign flashing on the horizon. "The End Is Near." Yes, I need to be busy. And the first thing I need to do is get that suitcase packed.