Monday, December 31, 2012

Listening to God Giggle

Remember just a few weeks ago, when I was complaining about waiting? God has such a funny sense of humor! He must have read my post, giggled and thought, "Hmmm...tired of waiting, are we? OK then, try some extreme multi-tasking for a while! See how you like that!"

On December 21st (seriously, 4 days before Christmas!) we closed on The Oasis ranch property, David sold his car, and I got a confirmed date for my Ordination!  (January 12 - more on that in a bit)

We have also received many donations and offers of volunteer help for The Oasis, and began the daunting tasks of demolishing some of the unneeded walls and closets in the house, and launching our remodeling plan. (The photo above is the half-wall in the living room coming down, thanks to Tanner and Jake.) Then I noticed the after-Christmas sales, and began to think about furnishing and decorating....

All of that sounds like fun, right? It sound wonderful and downright amazing! The problem is that while we were waiting...and waiting...and waiting...we felt a little stuck. Now that the waiting is suddenly over, it seems like everything has to be done right now, and I feel like I'm herding cats! It's been a bit overwhelming to have to coordinate renovation materials and crews, file our our zoning application, write my Ordination service, and still maintain my focus on celebrating Christmas in a reverent and meaningful way. (I can hear God laughing and slapping his knees at that one!)

Please understand that I am not complaining. I am overjoyed - and very humbled - by how lavishly God has blessed us this year! In fact, I simply stand in awe at how God has pulled everything for The Oasis together in the way that He did. Just six months ago, we were still trying to discern in which part of Arizona our retreat center would ultimately be located. And now I'm comparing prices on wood flooring. Meanwhile, God has been taking care of all the details. 

Which brings me to my Ordination service. It will be held on Saturday, January 12, 2013 at 5pm, at Longview Community Church in Phoenix. Afterwards, there will be a casual reception with refreshments. I'd be honored by your presence. 

I know that God called me to become a Minister of Word and Sacrament within the RCA. The road has been long, with several detours along the way. I mean, I graduated from seminary in December 2006, for Pete's sake! Silly me - I thought I'd graduate, find a church, get ordained and start full-time ministry within...I don't know... a month? 

Now here it is, six years later... And I can hear that giggle starting up again...          

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

My Christmas Personality

I’m not sure why, but every December our personalities change. At least, they do in my house.

Eleven months out of the year I avoid the kitchen like the plague.  I am allergic to housework. (A domestic diva, I am not!) And I Do. Not. Sing. I can’t carry a tune in a bucket, as they say.

But when Christmas rolls around, you will find me in the kitchen, covered in flour, baking cookies and Nisü, (a Finnish coffee bread, sometimes called Pulla) and maybe even fudge! You will hear Burl Ives’ songs in the background, because I will have Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer or The Little Drummer Boy playing on the TV. Yes, I’ve seen them before. I watch them every year! And I sing along with all the songs. Loudly.

You see, I love Christmas! I love the twinkling lights; I love our gigantic artificial tree, even though it takes a 12’ ladder and three people to put it up, and the lights never work right. I love putting the ornaments on, and remembering where or when we got each one, or who gave it to us (even the one from Lisa, one of my husband’s high school girlfriends, whom I did not like very much).  I love shopping for all the presents, and I love the special foods we eat only once a year. I love setting up my porcelain Nativity scene with the king riding on a camel, and the donkey which is missing an ear because my kids were little once. I love going to church on Christmas Eve and tearfully singing Oh Holy Night by candlelight.

My husband David, the man I love and adore; the man I’ve been married to for more than eight years, loves to cook, and is the most giving man you will ever meet. That is, for eleven months out of the year.

During the twelfth month, my husband turns into a Grinch. He seems to hate Christmas. He doesn’t like any part of it.  He hates the gift wrapping, the abundance of food, the glittering decorations; even the family gatherings. I think this is partly due to damage inflicted during his first marriage.  He tells a story of being up on a ladder with the flu and a fever of 102°, putting lights on the second story eaves during an ice storm when the wind chill was 23 below zero; because his then-wife insisted the lights go up THAT DAY. I’m sure there is more to it than that, but something sure puts a damper on his attitude around Christmas.

So every December, I put up the tree and the lights, by myself or with the kids.  I set up the Nativity scene by myself.  I bake cookies and Nisü with the kids.  I shop and wrap presents by myself. I watch Rudolph alone. And my hubby hides behind his laptop screen, or buries himself in a novel. If I ask what he wants for Christmas he always says, “Nothing.”  And when I ask if he wants to help with any of the Christmas preparations, he just stares at me blankly.  I figure having a husband who is near perfect in every other way and loves to cook during the rest of the year, is a reasonably fair trade, so I don’t force the issue. And to his credit, he always manages to sneak at least one perfect gift under the tree.

Christmas does funny things to people. It’s never perfect. It’s hardly ever what we expect. It can be messy and noisy and crowded and it can change our personalities for a month!  But Christmas is always a reminder that God came to earth dressed as a baby and that is enough for me. 

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 10, 2012

They Don't Understand the Way You Live!

I love that commercial for an insurance company, that ends with the tagline: "There are people who don't understand the way you live." I can totally relate!

I tend to fall into this category myself. I don't understand the lifestyles depicted on Keeping Up with The Kardashians, or Jersey Shore, or The Real Housewives of Atlanta, (or New York, or Dallas, or Beverly Hills, etc.) I don't understand the appeal of TV shows that glorify family conflicts and dysfunction (Sister Wives, Dance Moms, or 16 and Pregnant), or "game shows" on which people embarrass themselves with bizarre challenges (Fear Factor, Wipeout, Hell's Kitchen, or Survivor) And don't even get me started on Honey Boo-Boo!

The rise of reality TV has given us a fascinating peek into the lives of people we might never meet otherwise. It has given us a glimpse into careers that we may never have thought of: like driving a big rig with Ice Road Truckers, tuna fishing a la Wicked Tuna, or helping people dig out from under their clutter in Hoarding: Buried Alive. And reality TV has proven that most of us are living in denial and we are apparently doing everything wrong: (What Not to Wear, Kitchen Nightmares, The Biggest Loser.)   

Don't get me wrong. I am not judging here, I just don't understand the way those people live! And I don't understand the appeal of watching the way those people live.

There are people who don't understand the way that David and I live, either. We get it. 

There are people who don't understand what we are doing with The Oasis. They seem to think that following God's intention for our lives is bizarre. They don't understand why we don't "have real jobs" or why we aren't worried about money. They don't understand our desire to move to a rural area and open our home to strangers. They don't understand why anyone would want to go on a retreat to experience a closer walk with God. They don't understand that prayer and worship can change, and vastly improve, their lives. They just don't understand the way we live! And they probably don't understand why I watch the TV shows I do (Doctor Who, Falling Skies, Haven, The Walking Dead, and yes, I'll admit it: The Simpsons).

So here we are. I do not understand the way other people live, and they do not understand the way I live. However, I do understand that we are all beloved children of God. And He understands everything. 

"Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 
For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, 
and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." 
(Mark 7:1-2) 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

"I hate waiting!"

One of my all-time favorite movies is The Princess Bride. There are so many great lines from that film, but the ones are resonating with me this week were spoken by Inigo Montoya, as he not-so-patiently waits for the Man In Black to climb the Cliffs of Insanity, so that he can kill him. 

"Whoever you are, you know...when you reach the top, I'm only going to kill you..." Inigo yells over the cliff.

"Well, that does put a damper on our relationship..." replies the Man In Black, clinging to the side of the cliff.

"I don't suppose you could a-hurry things along?"  asks Inigo.

"I don't suppose you could throw down a rope or something? That might speed things up a bit."

Inigo sighs, paces, and mutters, "I hate waiting." 

Like Inigo, I hate waiting. I think we all do. We live in an instant society; microwave meals in minutes, instant internet access, and 4G (whatever that is). We don't like to be kept waiting. 

So when God called me to open The Oasis Renewal Center,  I admit, I had the expectation that things would just roll right along. And for a little while, they did! David and I prayed hard and worked hard; we got our business plan written, went scouting for locations, published marketing materials, gathered a Board of Stewards, sent in our 501(c)3 application, arranged support and financing, found the perfect property, and made an offer (which was accepted!)....and then suddenly we found ourselves in a place where we had to wait

"I hate waiting."

That phrase has been stuck in my head - in Inigo's Spanish accent - for two weeks now.  

Please understand, I am generally not an unrealistic dreamer, or a Pollyanna. I have spent a lot of time studying theology and the Bible, so I know that God's timing and my timing aren't always going to be in sync. "With the Lord, a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day..."(2 Peter 3:8) I get that. And yet...

"I hate waiting."

This brings me to another scene from The Princess Bride. Westley and Princess Buttercup are finally reunited 5 years after she has been told that Westley was kidnapped and probably killed by the Dread Pirate Roberts who never leaves survivors. It is the day after Buttercup agreed to marry Prince Humperdink. The Man in Black has revealed himself to be Westley - very much alive.
"Why didn't you wait for me?" asks Westley.

"Well..." replies Buttercup, "You were dead."
 "Death cannot stop true love," replies Westley, "True love is worth waiting for."
So, even if I hate waiting, I can learn something during this time. I can keep myself busy, I can concentrate on what's really important in life, and I can discern what God has in store for our next step. Because, as Westley points out, it is worth waiting for.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Silence and the soul

One of the headlines in this morning's newspaper was "Wired world thwarts true solitude." That was followed by an article about how plugged in we are in America (well, duh!), and how we share a compulsion to check in on social media, via computer or smart phone, constantly in order to let our friends and family know what we do 24/7, as if the world will stop turning if we don't. (The irony is not lost on me that I will deliberately share this blog post on social media.)

The article went on to lament the fact that Sabbath is now an antiquated concept to most of us, and we are surrounded by constant noise in the digital world. Happily, some mavericks are doing something to change all that; such as turning OFF their computers after work (gasp!), or leaving the cell phone at home while on vacation. 

It seems strange to me that silence is a foreign concept to people, but think about it: when was the last time you spent more than 1 minute in silence? 

Parker Palmer, in his lovely book, A Hidden Wholeness, writes: "The soul loves silence because [the soul] is shy, and silence helps it feel safe."[1] 

We spend our days at work amidst the noisy demands of computers and cell phones (beep beep...answer me NOW - I might be urgent...while you're here, check your Twitter feed!), then we drive home listening to music or talk radio, walk in the house and turn on the TV, we even wear ear-buds while working out or walking in the woods.... So I repeat the question: when was the last time you spent more than 1 minute in silence?

Our souls are shy. We cannot expect our souls to come out to play if the world around us is a cacophony of incessant, demanding, noisy obligations! The only way to reconnect with our inner self is through silence. 

That is what we aim to do with The Oasis - to offer a place where people can go to find silence. What they do in the silence is up to them. Some may seek the silence to renew, to rest, or to just be still. Some may find inspiration in the silence. Some may find God in the silence. And for a special few, their souls will come out to play.

1. Parker J. Palmer. A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life (Kindle Location 1555). Kindle Edition.


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

One Step at a Time

"Faith is taking the first step, even when you don't see the whole staircase." 
~Martin Luther King, Jr.
I have to keep reminding myself of that insightful quotation. There is so much to do when launching a new ministry; things I never even considered! This week I sent off our 501(c)3 application to the IRS, so that The Oasis Renewal Center will qualify for tax exempt status, and be able to take tax-deductible donations. It was just one more step on our journey. A complicated, time-consuming step; but just one step.
The journey can often seem long, especially when the destination isn't clearly visible from my particular vantage point. I am keeping in mind that God called me to launch this ministry, and He is in charge of how it develops and grows. He knows the final destination, and He knows how many steps need to be taken before I get there. He hasn't given me a complete picture of the final outcome, but He keeps me moving in the right direction.
So I keep putting one foot in front of the other, moving forward.... one step at a time.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

There's No Place Like Home

This past weekend my husband David and I drove to Sonoita, Arizona to search for properties for The Oasis Renewal Center. We absolutely love the area, and as you can see from the photo, it is just gorgeous. We know that we are meant to develop The Oasis in that area.

The search for our new "home" has been really interesting, as we look at houses and ranches. Some were so run-down and dilapidated that it surprised us that they were trying to sell them and not paying someone to take it off their hands! One ranch house had a large family of ground squirrels living in the bedroom and several black widows in the bath. And another had great views, lots of solitude, a nice house...and a 7 mile unpaved, rutted, dirt "driveway."

Of course, as a non-profit, we're only able to afford so much. Unless we win the lottery, we aren't going to be able to afford a multimillion dollar property. And that's OK! We know that God has already set aside a property for The Oasis; we just have to find it! And I know that once we set foot on it, we will know we are home.

" What a beautiful home, God-of-the-Angel-Armies!
    I’ve always longed to live in a place like this,
Always dreamed of a room in your house,
    where I could sing for joy to God-alive!
 Birds find nooks and crannies in your house,
    sparrows and swallows make nests there....
 How blessed they are to live and sing there!" 
(Psalm 84:1-4, The Message)

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Living in the moment

I live in the desert. In Arizona, to be specific. When I moved to Arizona, people asked me if I missed the seasons. But I don't, I tell them! We have seasons here, they are just not on the same schedule as the rest of the world. For instance, today it is autumn, and in Arizona that means the temperature has cooled a bit and we are surrounded by colorful fall foliage.


Yes! It is autumn, which in Arizona, means the temperature has cooled down to only 97 degrees (yes, really!) and we are surrounded by a surprising, glorious riot of color in the form of blooming cactus. There are about 100 types of cacti that bloom at this time of year. It's our version of fall foliage.

So I am choosing to live in this moment of "Arizona autumn." I notice that today I am surrounded by bright splashes of color, and above me is a sky that is such an amazing shade of blue I can't even describe it!

All of this reminds me that God is the consummate artist. So enjoy your moment. Breathe deep. Look around. What is God showing you in this moment?