An audience of One

IMG_0024 (2)Mom says she could always tell when I saw her in the audience at one or another of my elementary school concerts. A smile would spread across my face and I would relax, knowing my biggest fan was there. And so it was with my daughters and now my grandchildren. Indeed, wise directors of lower-school productions allow a few minutes before commencing for their performers to connect with those who’ve come to watch. Exchanging waves and grins makes for a cheerful beginning all around.

Truth be told, Mom is still my biggest cheerleader and encourager, the one I can always count on to be in my corner. From her fervent prayers to her interest in every post on this blog, her support is unwavering. I hope my daughters feel that same constancy of care from me.

We never outgrow our need for unconditional love or the assurance we’re accepted, short-comings and all. It’s a rare person who’s immune to the opinions of others, especially those we’re in contact with most. We prefer to be viewed positively by our neighbors, work colleagues, fellow church-goers, classmates and friends. Yet, given our fallen natures, opportunities to reject others and be rejected abound from our earliest years. Childish name-calling and shunning give way in later years to backbiting and various forms of adult exclusion.

We were made for relationship with God and each other. Our innate desire to connect and be well-received may lead us astray or cause us to hide parts of ourselves. Rejection hurts. Misunderstandings wound. If only I could explain – my tribulations, my perspective, my hopes – maybe then they’d comprehend.

No one can fully understand another. At times even our own hearts deceive us.[1] Yet there is One who knows me even better than I know myself. The One who knit me together in Mom’s womb, who wrote each of my days in his book before any came to be, who never loses sight of me.[2] Not only does He know me intimately, He purposed to save me by sending his Son to die for me – the epitome of unconditional love.[3]

Isaiah 53 describes the suffering Savior as “despised and rejected”.[4] Not only did those closest to him misunderstand his mission, hoping for an earthly kingdom, they abandoned him in his darkest hours, first by falling asleep, then by fleeing.[5] Truly, He understands our sorrows.

I recently came across the phrase “audience of one”, as in “Jesus, the One and only, Savior and Lord.” It resonated deeply with me. Even though I would like others’ approval and affirmation, his “well done” is not only sufficient, but supreme.[6] In fact, pleasing the Lord above all others is so important, the Apostle Paul includes reminders in several of his letters. Whether eating, working or serving, whatever we do is to be done for his glory.[7]

When plagued with self-doubt or troubled with a nameless sense of disquiet, I often pray David’s prayer: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”[8] Though we may be pummeled by differing opinions and challenged by clamoring voices, we have the assurance that his sheep hear his voice.[9] He will show us the way[10] and lead us on level ground.[11]

As we journey forth, precious are those who come alongside to encourage, support and cheer us on, for they give us a glimpse of God’s unconditional love. I am immensely grateful for the life-givers He’s placed along my path. They are among his greatest blessings.

“May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage (our) hearts and strengthen (us) in every good deed and word.”[12]

[1] Jeremiah 17:9

[2] Psalm 139:1-18

[3] Romans 5:6-8

[4] Isaiah 53:3

[5] Matthew 26:36-56

[6] Galatians 1:10

[7] See, for example, 1 Corinthians 10:13; Colossians 3:17,23; Ephesians 6:7-8

[8] Psalm 139:23-24

[9] John 10:2-5

[10] Isaiah 30:21

[11] Psalm 143:10

[12] 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17

Always remember

When anniversaries of momentous days come around, I find I’m able to recall the events in great detail. For example, my wedding day, the birthdays of my daughters and grandchildren, and the day Ray was called Home are all etched in my mind . . . .

. . . as is the day I learned my job had been eliminated.

January 26, 2011 was overcast and chilly, a typical mid-winter day. I was anticipating my annual review at three o’clock that afternoon. My emotions went back and forth between calm and concern throughout the day. To say things hadn’t been going well in the year since I started reporting to a new manager was an understatement. In fact, the situation had deteriorated to the point I told my family I expected to be put on probation or terminated. I’m sure they felt my statement was hyperbole, a by-product of the stress I’d been under. I, however, was most sincere. In looking back, I believe that premonition was a gift, God’s way of preparing me for the news I would hear.

I went to the appointed conference room at the scheduled time. A few minutes later my manager entered, accompanied by her boss. His presence was my first clue this wouldn’t be a normal review. My suspense didn’t last long as my manager said, “I know you’re expecting to have your annual review, but you won’t be having it because your job has been eliminated.” My first thought: “This is real.” My second: “Thank you, Lord, for giving me an absolute answer.” Indeed it was a clear, decisive response to all the prayers for wisdom I and faithful friends had been praying, as I wondered if I should continue working or resign.

I was told the HR manager would be in to explain the details of my termination. Within the hour I’d turned in my computer, my badge and my company credit card. As I drove home, a protective numbness settled in. Just like that, my 30-year career came to an end. I wasn’t even able to say goodbye and there was certainly no opportunity for a retirement party.

The next morning I awoke to a familiar feeling and realized I was in a mild state of shock, not as deep as the one I’d experienced when Ray died suddenly, but a surreal sense of loss nonetheless. A significant part of my life had ended abruptly and was no longer accessible to me.

12-17-2012-me-and-joshua-at-graduation-3-2But my story was far from over. On January 28th, a mere two days after that fateful meeting, I contacted the admissions office at a local technical college and started the enrollment process to study horticulture. Six months later, my first grandchild was born. Joshua was present when I received my Environmental Horticulture diploma in December 2012. Two more grandchildren, Lyla and Emma, have joined our family. My days are full and my interests are many. I am blessed to have meaningful relationships. I am thankful.

When I awoke this morning, there was a tinge of sadness. I wish my career had ended differently. There are co-workers and customers I still miss and remember fondly. But, most of all, on this beautiful sunny day, I hark back across six years and praise God for working all things together for good.[1]

On multiple occasions, God commanded the Israelites to remember what he’d done for them, to tell their children, even to set up memorial stones so they wouldn’t forget his mighty deeds on their behalf.[2] Last week I had the pleasure of a lengthy phone call with a dear friend. Our relationship stretches across 35 years. We’ve known each other long enough and well enough to compare notes on dating, marriage, motherhood and, now, grand-motherhood. We’ve prayed for each other and watched as God’s plan has unfolded for us and our families. And we agree that one of the best things about getting older is having more and more instances to look back on to remind ourselves of all God has done. He is faithful. He keeps his promises. He never forsakes his own.[3]

At three o’clock this afternoon, I recollected how it felt to sit in that windowless conference room and receive the news of my termination. But those memories were quickly eclipsed by recalling all God’s done since. What an adventure he had in store for me!

Though there are times we can’t understand his ways[4], we can always trust him to have a plan – a good and perfect plan.[5]

[1] Romans 8:28

[2] See, for example, Deuteronomy 4:9, Psalm 103:2, Joshua 4 and Deuteronomy 6

[3] Deuteronomy 31:8

[4] Isaiah 55:8-9

[5] Jeremiah 29:11

Clutter

There’s something about starting a new year that makes me want to clean out and move forward with a lighter load. This year, my desire has been further fueled by the efforts my daughter Mary has made to shed stuff and redecorate her lovely home. It may be her nesting instincts spurring her on or the urgency of needing to help 2-year old Lyla settle into her “big-girl” room before baby Emma arrives. Regardless, seeing what she’s achieved while 7-months pregnant has both inspired me and put me to shame.

I’m a keeper by nature. I find it difficult to part with things that may be useful at some point in the future or were given to me by loved ones. Ok, so that covers a lot of territory. It also explains, for example, why you’ll find lots of buttons in the bottom of my sewing basket – you know the ones that come on shirts, jackets, pants, etc. in case one of the originals ever falls off – and the fact I have every birthday card my girls have ever given me. In spite of my tendency to hold onto things, I don’t consider myself to be a hoarder. After all, there’s plenty of room to walk around in my house without bumping into stacks of old magazines and I’m able to use my garage for its intended purpose.

Nevertheless, every now and then the results of my being a keeper start to wear on me, especially when I get to experience the positive effects of someone else’s house cleaning efforts.

Our living environments aren’t the only thing that can become cluttered, as many of us feel weighed down, even overwhelmed, by to dos associated with the demands of daily living. Joanna Weaver addresses our plight in her book, “Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World”. IMG_0367The story of the two sisters, recorded in Luke 10:38-42, resonates with modern readers even though the events it relates happened almost 2,000 years ago:

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (NIV Bible)

A cursory read might lead one to conclude Jesus was condemning Martha’s Type A personality and it’s tempting to stereotype the two sisters, labeling one driven and the other laid back. But our temperaments and abilities are God-given and it takes all kinds of people to accomplish his purposes. No, Jesus wasn’t chiding Martha for her work ethic. He wanted her to realize her focus was off, a message quite similar to the one in Matthew 6 when Jesus told his listeners not to worry about what they would eat, drink or wear, but to seek first his kingdom and his righteousness.

Of everyone who’s ever walked the earth, Jesus alone was capable of “doing it all”, but he didn’t. Instead, he sought to do his Father’s will in all things and to finish the work he’d been sent to do. In Ephesians 2, Paul says believers are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Isn’t that amazing? Even though God could accomplish everything himself, he allows us to participate in achieving his purposes and equips and enables us to do so.

Too often my mind is cluttered with the demands of the day and my thoughts race from one task to another wondering how I’ll ever get it all done. But more and more, God is reminding me to focus before doing. To seek him and his righteousness. To be still so I can hear him when he says, “This is the way. Walk in it.”

And when I do, He’s faithful to help me determine what is the better part.

Ask

When I came downstairs this morning, there was a squirrel wrapped around the bird feeder, trying to figure out how to get to the precious sunflower seeds within. The spring-loaded feeder was doing a good job of protecting its contents, the weight of the squirrel having caused its outer sleeve to drop and close the openings. I raised the window over the kitchen sink and shooed him away, but the sleeve didn’t pop back up. Closer inspection revealed the squirrel’s determined efforts had unhooked one of the springs. I was NOT happy since this had happened once before and I remembered all-too-well how difficult it had been to reattach since the outer sleeve covered the hole where the hook resided when the spring was attached. Furthermore, I knew my feathered friends would soon be arriving for breakfast and I didn’t want them to be disappointed to find their source of food unavailable.

I brought the feeder inside and began to work, discouraged that my initial efforts to reattach the spring proved unsuccessful. As I tugged and fumbled with the hook, I prayed, “Please, Lord, help me fix this! It’s so hard. The birds count on me to feed them. I don’t want them to go hungry.” And then I saw the obvious solution which I’d completely overlooked when the spring was unhooked months ago and again this morning: the hook at the other end of the spring was exposed. All I had to do was unhook it, reattach the one at the end that was covered when the outer sleeve was raised and then reattach the hook at the lower end! Within minutes I’d refilled the once-again-fully-functioning feeder, returned it to its hanger on the deck and watched happily as the birds came for their morning meal.

As I turned to making my own breakfast it hit me: Too many times when faced with a challenge or a problem to solve I launch into self-initiated, self-sustained efforts that often prove frustrating and futile. Yet I have a Father who’s told me to ask when I lack wisdom, when I don’t know which way to go or what the best course of action is. He’s shown me time and again that his promise to instruct me and teach me, to counsel and watch over me is trustworthy.

More and more, may we begin by coming to the One who tells us to ask . . . taking time to be still before Him instead of heading off on our own . . .  confident in the assurance that He always hears us and will lead us in the way everlasting.