Friday, April 19, 2013

Leaning on the Invisible Arms

The other day I was taking Bill to a birthday party at an unfamiliar location and as we drove around looking for the exact spot, Bill kept up a running monologue of doubt and fear: “What if we made a wrong turn? I don’t see any cars – maybe it’s the wrong day! What if we passed it? Maybe this isn’t the right street! What if we never find it? What if we’re late? Mom, you should call Alexander's mom.”

Forget that I had GPS on my phone… forget that being late to a birthday party, taking a wrong turn, etc., are absolutely no big deal… he was panicking. He likes to rest in the knowledge the grownups that care for him are in control and know what they’re doing. Unfortunately for him, I happen to be one of those grownups, and I most assuredly do NOT know what is going on MOST of the time! Especially when it comes to parenting.

What I actually said at that moment was this: “Bill, trust me.” I don’t know where it came from – God, maybe? Of course Bill was full of “but Mom”s. But I was determined that I had hit the exact right vein. I just kept repeating at intervals, “Trust me, honey.” Of course it turned out that we WERE on the right road, it was just farther down than we expected, and we made it to the party with minutes to spare. (And by the way, the place they had the party – a huge warehouse with wall-to-wall trampolines – GENIUS!!)

Anyway, a couple of days later, I happened to read a column by an actual child-raising advice giver, John Rosemond. I’ve heard him called a kook, but anytime I have tried any of his advice it has worked beautifully, so… kook or not, I tend to give some of his views credence. Anyway, in this column Rosemond reiterated his oft-given advice – his recommendation of gratuitous use of the phrase, “Because I said so.”

John Rosemond – 
guru or a kook, 
depending on who you ask.
Rosemond is a firm believer in a kid respecting the absolute authority of his or her parent, so “BISS” is a perfect catch-all response to whining, protesting kids. I personally don’t use it that often, but I’m not afraid to use it. Sometimes it’s the real answer. Rosemond suggests that it is shorthand for, “Because I am an adult and you are my child and it is my responsibility to make decisions of this sort on your behalf and you will not understand my actual reason until you are my age and have a child your age, so there’s no point in my sharing it with you, and whether you agree or not, you have to obey.”

In this recent article, though, he goes on to say, “I have discovered an alternative that is even shorter and, therefore sweeter: ‘Trust me.’” He argues that when I decide something for my kid that is in his best interest, nothing I say will make him agree with me, so I just have to ask him to trust me. He may not understand that request, and he may not be able to do it, but … it’s really all we’ve got… this relationship and its predetermined roles.

Of course, as the trust-ee in this relationship, all this is easy for me to say. You see, this is only the intro to this particular piece… a way to get to this part:

If worrying made one taller, I'd be
taller than my husband... but alas, you
can see that it does not.
You see, I am a freelance graphic designer, as my moniker says above, and freelance means that I have to drum up my own work. Consequently, the amount of work, and therefore money, I have coming in varies from month to month. My favorite thing is a steady client for whom I produce a certain amount on a regular basis… like a direct mail client or magazine that has a monthly printing, or a marketing firm with a constant need for print materials for various clients. 

Even this, however, does not guarantee a consistent income. There are still slow and therefore poor periods. And I’m in one now… with bills due, summer camp fees to pay and high quarterly taxes – because last year was pretty flush. Needless to say I worry about this. A lot. I wrack my brains trying to think of ways to earn extra cash, to make the cash I have go farther, to cut and trim our budget…

And while I was stewing over this ad nauseum the other day – as is my way, I had this overwhelming sense that God was saying to me, “Trust Me.” Oooopsss… And I didn't say it out loud, or even in my mind, but my basic response to this was an attitude that implied, “Do I HAVE to? Must I go through an unsettled, scary time? Can’t I just have the money? And of course it WOULD be easier to just have the money than to have to trust an invisible Being. But I’m thinking that’s not what I’m called to do right now.

Iris Dement does a good version of
Leaning on the Everlasting Arms
No, I’m going to have to “put my money where my mouth is.” That is to say, I talk about God a lot, and my confidence that He and His promises are real, but when it comes to actually having to lean on Him and His promises… well, am I any good at it?

No, not really. Hence all my fretting and scheming. Which, according to Jesus is a huge waste of time:

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life [or a single cubit to his height]? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?  
 “Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. 
Sad to say, the Sermon on the Mount is just about the last thing I am thinking about. No, instead I am praying for a windfall and planning how I would spend it. Nice. (Home repairs, cars to replace our aging relics, school tuition…) Lame, I know.

You know that song Leaning on the Everlasting Arms? It’s a great song, but you have to lean on those eternal arms before you can see them. And sometimes you don’t even see them until later, in retrospect like that gooey Footprints poem. And that’s uncomfortable – stepping out into to what looks like nothing. Ha! They should call it Leaning on the Invisible Arms!

It’s like that old trust game where one person falls back and the other people catch them. You have to actually allow yourself to fall before they will catch you. Of course on the sitcoms the people are standing around talking or arguing and don’t notice the protagonist is falling until it’s too late. In this case, though, God will always catch you. Maybe I just have to believe that the bottom of whatever I am falling into – that is, the grace of God – is the metaphorical equivalent of wall-to-wall trampolines...!

Of course, none of this is to say that God guarantees prosperity. That’s something I have to relax into as well. Knowing that the absence of money does not indicate the absence of God. In my case it’s usually the opposite. My prayer life is rich and juicy during times like these. So, basically, I’m going to have to put my whole self into trusting that He knows what He’s doing, and that His Grace and friendship are sufficient.

So… um… here goes…!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Yeh, I Was Feeling God's Pleasure

The Carolina Theatre
in downtown Durham...
If you know me, or read this blog very often, you probably think that my husband and I (and sometimes our kid) are constantly going to shows and concerts… and you wouldn’t be wrong. I’m thinking about that Toyota commercial where the guy has bought too much car and has to give up his concert tickets and other luxuries. Well, you can bet that wouldn’t happen to us… because to my husband, live music is one of the necessities – like food, shelter and love. So… either we wouldn’t buy too much car, or we’d cut some other thing... like… well, I don’t know. Just not concerts. At any given time, we have around five envelopes on our fridge, each holding tix to a show of some sort.

Anyway, the other night we took in a little show by Brad Mehldau and Chris Thile at The Carolina Theatre in downtown Durham. Now, first off, The Carolina Theatre is a great venue – a lovely old Beaux Arts style building that has been beautifully restored. It makes you feel grand just to be there. Okay, so I did used to make their ads, so I’m a little biased. But it IS cool.

...a great place for a show!
Secondly, they set up folding chairs in front of the regular blue velvet theatre seats and call it “the pit,” and let me tell you, from that front row, it’s pretty hard to dodge the sweat droplets from the performers. Speaking as someone who remembers seeing R.E.M. so close up I could have touched Peter Buck’s boot, this is PERFECT.

Anyway, if you don’t know who Chris Thile is, his Wikipedia page gives a pretty good rundown, although you will want to take into consideration that it IS Wikipedia, and so, questionably accurate. You could also click on some of the links in the next paragraph to learn more.

Tom and I have seen him with his childhood/teenage band Nickel Creek, Punch Brothers, solo, with Michael Daves, and last night’s show with Brad Mehdlau, a jazz pianist who, like Thile, likes to play a buttload of notes.
Brad Mehdlau and Chris Thile –
the show in question

Thile is a charismatic personality who never fails to entertain and impress with his virtuosity. His skill with the mandolin is unsurpassed. I’ve written a whole post about my awe at his prowess. You can read it here. This is not about that, and it’s not really a review – I just wanted to give you a few thoughts I had that night.

Okay, so it's creepy 
for me to say so, but 
Chris Thile is hot!
The two musicians took their positions on stage, and I’m not going to lie to you – when I saw the long, lean, handsome Thile, I completely lusted in my heart. Of course, it’s slightly creepy, since he’s nearly 20 years younger than me… and because I’ve been seeing him perform since he was not even legal, but no one can control those things, can they? I’ve always had a thing for musicians. Everyone knows that. I can’t say it bothers me much, though. It just means I’m alive, right? I remember when I was in the throes of anorexia and about as lusty as a pinecone. Believe me, this is preferable.

And lust like that, after all, is just surface. It’s a fantasy. A guy like that… might be an a-hole, am I right? Chock full of talent and charisma… women probably throw themselves at him. Lusting after the guy is just part of enjoying the performance. (That’s what I like to tell myself, anyway.) It’s not like pledging your life and living through the good, the bad and the mundane with someone. That’s why, at this point, I just snuggled up to my husband, the only male body I have rightful access to… and he’s a tall, joyful hunk of man who more than suffices.

My next observation… I am so not a jazz fan. Noodles? My favorite food! Noodling? No thanks. That said, this show was a nice blend of note-y noodling and actual songs. Thile has a pleasant, expressive voice, but you don’t really need to even listen to the words. I mean, he pretty much uses his voice as third instrument, bending and shaping the sounds to match his musical aims. Not that the words were bad or inconsequential, I just got the feeling they were very much not the point. Even on the crowd-pleasing Dylan song, Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.

Actor Ian Charleson as  Eric Liddell  in 
Chariots of Fire, feeling God's pleasure
On the first Punch Brothers record, Thile worked through the pain of his dissolving marriage, but in this side project, I find his activities to be more about musicianship than self-expression. He’s a virtuoso pushing the limits of his technique, trying something new. Of course, I can’t read his mind, so it’s quite possible that he’s playing out his devils in this too… but not in any obvious way.

Speaking of the devil… While Thile and Mehdlau played they employed maximum facial expressionage. In fact, Thile kind of plays with his whole body… Think about the faces jazz musicians make when laying down funky riffs, multiply it by about ten, then you’ll know what I’m talking about. It made me think of that line in Chariots of Fire where Eric Liddell says, “When I run I feel His pleasure,” to express the joy in the Lord that running gave Him. The movie would show him running down the beach or in a race in those loose white running clothes and at a certain point he’d throw his head back and you’d know that He was feeling God’s pleasure. This clip says it all.

Chris Thile, feeling God's pleasure?
And that’s what I sensed those guys doing… feeling God’s pleasure. So if you’re not airing your devils in your music, maybe just grooving on the fact that there is music and you can play it is the opposite…! I laughed out loud at the show thinking, “Sometimes I feel God’s pleasure when I write.” It’d be funny if I were sitting here at my Macbook pounding this out and making grimmacy "into it" faces?!

Anyway, I don’t know if this was exactly what was happening to Chris Thile, but when I know that when he plays that mandolin – no matter the style… I am most certainly feeling God’s pleasure!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Just sitting here drinking my Wittenberg beer...

Where I worked for
"the man"
I haven’t always been this carefree (ha!) artsy-fartsy, “I’ll just spend a couple of minutes on Facebook, an hour on my blog,” self-employed gal. Yes, that’s right – I once worked for “the man” aka, a big company. I enjoyed great health insurance, a credit union, a “breakroom,” a not-too-shabby Christmas bonus, and the support of wonderful and hilarious co-workers (RIP Nancy Michelle – I miss you!) That said, I now enjoy the freedom to be the aforementioned carefree, self-employed, yoga-pants-wearing work-at-home/own-business-owning mom.

Having been away from the corporate climate for seven years, I am not sure what the new trends in employee betterment are. I have vague memories of completing a group course based on the book, Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson, M.D. Remember that gem? It must still be a thing, because there’s a web site. If I remember correctly it was about some mice in a maze who freak out because their cheese is suddenly not where they last saw it. It’s supposed to help people learn how to deal with change without stressing out. (Come to think of it, when an organization has its employees take this course, shouldn’t that be a red flag that someone's about to start shuffling the cheese around?!)

Another time we were all ushered through a famous course of study called “Covey Training.” Based on the best-selling book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen R. Covey, a self-help book published in 1989. Looking it up on Wikipedia will give you a fairly tight synopsis of the seven habits, which include pithy nuggets like, “Put First Things First,” (Habit 3) and “Think Win-Win.” (Habit 4) 

Who, indeed...
Sitting there in the conference room with people from up and down the food chain at my corporation, I was excited by these easily absorbed and remembered (albeit obvious) concepts, but also found myself kind of surreptitiously looking around the room at the other participants thinking, “Sure I’ll give it a go, but how far will it get me – y’all will still be a-holes.” It’s not a thought I’m proud of…. I’m just saying… Sometimes a workplace seems more like a tug of war between opposing departments than a group of people working toward the same end.

That said, even working for myself sometimes seems like a tug of war… between my clients, their clients, me, and my family… I gotta say, though, it’s still much nicer than putting on an actual outfit and going to a job all day every day.

Anyway, that LONG intro is just to bring us to the point where I can tell you that back when I was coerced into learning to use the seven effective habits, the part I most remember was Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind. As part of working this step, we were instructed to devise our own mission statement, and I was all over that. I was young. Energetic, even. Gung ho. I did a lot of aerobics. I declared (on paper – we didn’t have to share with the group) my grand and lofty purpose to be part of what they call the Shema. It’s in the Bible in Deuteronomy, and then Jesus repeats it in Matthew 22:37, when someone asks him to identify the greatest commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”
Like Jesus said, it’s the greatest commandment, and so, a worthy goal. And being the gung-ho, energetic young Christian I was, embracing this seemed like a perfectly reasonable life purpose. And it was. I’m not saying otherwise… but…

Fast forward about 15+ years… to find me here, still gung-ho in my own way, but … much older, and much tireder. In the intervening years, I’ve moved several times, married, birthed and cared for a child, started my own business and written nearly 200 blog posts. I’ve watched myself, the church and society as a whole go through a lot of changes. In accordance, I have two reflections on my previous mission statement.

First of all, if you read the entire blurb of Jesus’s discourse in Matthew 22, you see that he also mentions the second greatest commandment.
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.””
You can get the Shema on a plate!

You see, besides all these experiences, my extra years have included many relationships – close and loose contact with all sorts of people, and I have learned that the two great commandments go hand in hand. I couldn’t just love God and ignore the people around me (or call them a-holes in my mind or otherwise as I did at the time.) I’m not sure how else to say it, but … God is easy to love, in theory. He’s perfect. He’s not even visible. But to love Him means to love what He loves… and that is everybody.

When I declared my life’s purpose to be the Shema, I didn’t exclude loving my neighbor as myself on purpose, but I think you have to include this part ON PURPOSE… because it’s not always the natural thing to do. Even the best people can be annoying, am I right?

That said, even my new and improved purpose, ie: one which incorporates both love for God and love for neighbor, is no longer my mission statement/motto/slogan. After years of striving and failing, I know that it is an impossible hill to climb. Even at my most buoyant, I couldn’t put a toe on that towering pinnacle.

In keeping with the Martin Luther quote,
maybe my bucket looks like this!
No, knowing what I know now, I find myself desiring to do this, but ultimately having to rest on a different cushion. So… I have a new motto. It comes from 2 Corinthians… In this passage Paul talks about some  hardship he’s going through. 
"Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
 And that’s my motto: “His grace is sufficient.” (2 Corinthians 12:8-9)

Some goals are achievable – lose weight, quit smoking, become a manager, write a book… I guess when I was young and wild, I thought loving God with my whole self was a realistic goal. Now I know that it is not… not without His love and grace.

I guess a good metaphor for this would involve a huge bucket that needs filling. My own efforts to love, work, acheive... sort of dampen the bottom of the bucket – it’s more like a token gesture. God fills the rest to overflowing with his infinite supply of love and grace.

Just this morning I read this awesome quote:
Martin Luther and his little
 glass of Wittenberg bear
"It is reported that Martin Luther once said, 'While I drink my little glass of Wittenberg beer, the gospel runs its course.'* Surely this is one of the truest and most reassuring things ever said about beer and God in the same breath. Our relationship with God is not the result of our efforts. Rather, a loving and gracious God acted on our behalf, granting us a most benevolent gift.” – Fil Anderson, Running On Empty
Anderson refers here to our relationship with God, but I find that no thing that I attempt or achieve in any arena – being a wife and mom, working, just getting through each day - is due to my own efforts, but to God’s grace. And it is sufficient. It kind of has to be... because I am definitely not.