Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Do you hear it?

Just before the sun climbs Hatchet Peak behind our house, songbirds announce the pending dawn and cows call their calves from grassy beds.

Such a chorus greets me each morning that I walk. It’s an hour unlike any other – cool, for one thing, not yet drenched in the greater San Joaquin’s triple-digit heat.

Campbell Creek meanders through the lower ranchland, past massive oaks and shady willows. Bullfrogs bay from their pond-side hideaways, and I imagine the unusual cacophony as a chorus of praise, wondering if God understands the language of His creation better than we do.

“Give thanks to the Lord,” trills the high-pitched voice of a red-winged blackbird.

“His love endures for ever,” drums a deep-throated bullfrog.

Could it be that we humans don’t take time to listen to the song of nature around us?

Could it be that we are missing out on creation’s ultimate worship music?

But what if you live in the city? What if you can’t walk where there is no traffic to clutter your eyes and ears and lungs? What if all you hear is the noise of people and their busy-ness?

Then find a place.

Find a place in the bedroom with the door closed and no sounds coming through. Find a place on the living room sofa while the kids are outside playing.

Go to the park, sit in the backyard in the shade, drive to the country in the evening after sunset, but wherever you go, quiet yourself and listen. And see if you can hear an anthem of praise, whether it is the voice of nature, the song of silence, or the simple offering of your own grateful heart.

Worship Him, and let His presence surround you.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Too busy to hear

He wasn’t exactly the type of employee I expected to see at the neighborhood nursery – a tattooed giant in dark glasses and a big straw hat – but he seemed to know all about ice plant and aptenia and what drought-resistant groundcover would work best for my hillside landscaping project.

He also had great hearing.

While I pointed out which flats I wanted, a young boy peddled down the lattice-covered patio path and stopped next to us. The man greeted him cheerfully while continuing to wait on me, the paying customer.

“Look at the new bike seat my dad bought me,” the boy said proudly. He followed us to the cash register where the man took a moment to admire the gray and white camouflage-patterned seat and comment approvingly. Then he pointed out a bottle of anti-pet spray that might keep my dogs and cats out of the new plantings.

I hadn’t expected this giant of a man to be so gentle, thoughtful or adept at multi-tasking. He didn’t hurry me through the shopping process, nor did he brush off the child or speak to him in a harsh leave-me-alone-can’t-you-see-I’m-busy tone. The little boy was so at ease around him, I began to wonder if riding into the nursery was a daily ritual.

I like to think of myself as a caring, child-friendly person. After all, I’m a schoolteacher and – oh, yes – a Christian. However, my demeanor isn’t always what it should be and I know for a fact that I would have been more inclined to tell the little boy to come back later when I’m wasn’t busy with a customer.

I might not have heard his heart.

The disciples of Jesus, in their sincerest efforts to provide their leader with a break from the pressing crowds, scolded parents trying to get closer with their clinging toddlers and wailing infants.

“Go away,” they said. “Can’t you see he’s busy?”

Jesus also had a keen sense of hearing, not to mention impeccable timing. “Don’t prevent them from coming to me,” he said. “God’s kingdom is made up of people like these” (Matthew 19:14 The Message).

I need better hearing. I need to stop and listen to those who call out for attention, affirmation or affection. I need to be more like Jesus when others intrude on my hurried life – whether they are my own children or my spouse or a stranger who just needs a friendly greeting.

I need to be more like the tattooed man who wasn’t too busy to let a child know he was just as important as a paying customer.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Managing stress without stressing

“I don’t know how you did it,” she said. “With everything you had going on, I never saw you stress out.”

My friend was referring to the biggest event of my life in the past few months – my daughter Amanda’s May wedding – planned and carried out in tandem with a full time teaching job, full time position on our church’s worship team, full time calling as wife and mother, and on-the-side writing career.

Wonder Woman I am not, but I had a strategy for stress that saw me through those busy days.

Begin before the beginning

It started with a plan. As a teacher, I’m a binder freak when it comes to organization, so creating a tab-divided binder for the wedding was cake.

As soon as groom-to-be-Brandon ringed Amanda’s finger in diamond and silver, I printed out full-page calendars for each of the next five months. On the calendars, I notated all major steps leading up to and including the wedding, such as, “Order Invitations,” “Bridal Shower,” “Meet Photographer,” etc.

Tab dividers for Flowers, Food, Rentals, Site, and other items helped me record information in easily retrievable fashion, and pockets on the front and back cover held every single receipt for every single penny spent. I can tell you exactly what it all cost, but I won’t. Let me just say, don’t be dismayed by the national average of what “experts” say a wedding should cost, because it doesn’t have to be even close to that.

However, this column isn’t about planning a wedding; it’s about not stressing under stress. Having a frame in which to work helped me keep mishaps to a minimum and, at the same time, see where I was going.

Balance - it's not an act

It’s easy to let something take priority in your life, especially if it’s a very important event. But there’s a critical difference between a priority and an important event. Our priorities are important, but not every important thing should be a priority.

Having a workbook let me see where I was headed, but keeping my priorities in line helped me keep my balance. And for me personally, a time of quiet and prayer every morning is a priority.

Not everyone is a morning person. Not everyone craves quiet as much as I. But I have identified quiet morning time with the Lord as a critical part of my day. It helps remind me that regardless of what is going on in my life, God is still in control. And I’m encouraged by learning of others in similar situations who let God work things out for the better.

Ever read in the Bible of the parent who invited party guests that didn’t show up? Or of the wedding in Canaan without enough wine? What about the great feast called the Marriage Supper of the Lamb? By looking into all of these, I kept my balance by realizing that God cares about such events – even my daughter’s.


And finally, my escape. Immature? Irresponsible, you say? Childish to run away in the face of overwhelming responsibilities?

Absolutely not, if the escape takes you closer to the One who gives balance.

I am a fan of award-winning novelist Lauraine Snelling. She has written more than 50 books, fiction and nonfiction, but I am particularly fond of her historical novels dealing with the Red River Valley of Dakota Territory in the 19th century. Every evening after a day of teaching and an afternoon of shopping – whether on the web or at the mall – I retreated into a Lauraine Snelling story. For an hour or so, I escaped to the golden prairies of the north, the challenges of my favorite character, Ingeborg Bjorklund, the sites and smells of food prepared on a wood-burning stove, and her hard but simple life lived without electricity and television.

The books are not Snelling’s most recent releases, but they are dear to me for how they provided a critical mental escape during a stress-filled time. Amanda read them also, and we discussed plots and characters and surprises. I even gave her Ingeborg Bjorklund’s Red River Cookbook, and tucked it into the big crockery bowl I passed on to her at the bridal shower.

But it wasn’t just the escape to a different landscape and a different set of problems; it was how Snelling’s characters faced those problems, how the women in those books looked to the Lord in a matter-of-fact way for their strength and protection – their balance.

Mornings in the Lord’s presence with his word, and evenings relaxing with a Snelling novel gave me the mental and physical relief I needed to think clearly when it came time to pick up the binder. I was tempted to believe that I didn’t have time to spend praying and reading, but thank God, I didn’t fall for that lie this time.

As it turned out, I didn’t have time not to.

Learn more about Lauraine Snelling’s books at http://www.laurainesnelling.com and