he/she?

For many years there has been conversation about assigning the male gender to God. Some say it’s a hold over from the male-dominated world that, thankfully, is changing. I can only speak for myself.

For as long as I can remember I had called God “Father”.  And yes, when I pictured God, He was a Gandalf-like figure, warm and wise with a long white beard. That view brought me comfort during countless difficult times, a father-figure I could always count on. I have long recognized the female side of God, using She for the Holy Spirit, the Comforter. But when others referred to God as She and Mother, I was quite uncomfortable. Whether it was because I still felt I needed that father-figure, or simply that it challenged me to look beyond my long held belief, I struggled with the concept.

But recently, I realized that I was limiting God by assigning such human attributes. God is more than I can imagine in every way. More loving, more nurturing, more supportive, more present than my mind can possibly comprehend. And suddenly, saying He or She became wholly inadequate. Just yesterday, working on a letter to Sunday School parents, I typed He when referencing God and it didn’t feel quite right. As I reread the letter, I had to change the He to God. That’s when I knew, I can never place those human limitations on God again.

He? She? No more. From now on – God!

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lessons from a pencil box

I realized the other day that I have a lot to learn from the colored pencils I keep in a simple plastic box to use with my mandala coloring books.

I watch as those colored pencils make a dramatic difference on the pages as I color, yet they seem to lose little if anything of themselves. The various colors make the page come alive, but I only have to sharpen them occasionally. I need to remember that the next time I’m faced with the opportunity to make someone else’s world a little brighter. Do I moan and complain about what a sacrifice it is, how it drains me? Or do I follow the example of the colored pencil and quietly apply myself to the situation and give that little bit that makes such a difference? And when I truly have given a lot and have become dull and unable to make that difference, I can head to the one place that will bring me to the point where I can once again give – God. God is the one place where I know I will be nourished and strengthened to once again be able to share the beauty of God’s love.

Then I started thinking that if I was a colored pencil, what color would I be? I decided I would be red-orange. The blend of the two colors keeps either one from being too much – too hot, too bold, too “in your face”. Yet it’s still warm and comforting. And it works well with the other colors, often drawing out undertones that might be otherwise overlooked.

As I thought more about it, I came to realize that at various times in my life – sometimes in the course of a single day! – I have been many of these colors.

The barely-there peach that relieves the blandness of a blank page, though often only if you look closely. But that peach can sometimes be so light that you can’t see the missed spots, or opportunities, until you look back at the page from a different angle.

Bold red? Oh yes, I’ve been that hot color, on the verge of too much, demanding attention, upset if things don’t go the way I think they should have.

How about purple? Certainly. From soft gentle shades that comfort, to attention getting violet, capable of showing beauty in unexpected places like my beloved wild violets.

Orange? With the ability to warm, but harsh and jarring if used with too heavy a hand, I’ve been that one as well.

Thankfully I can also say I’ve been the calming, soothing greens of plants and trees; the inspiring blues of sky and sea; the sturdy, grounding browns.

Yet, I’ve also been white, the absence of color. Literally just occupying space without contributing anything. So too, the grays and blacks that represent the stormy unsettled times. Regretfully sometimes so intense I managed to blot out the colors of those around me.

Fortunately, I now recognize those times when my mood/attitude veers toward those harsher tones. My prayer is that I will remain aware and always strive to be my orange-red — warm, comforting, able to work well with others and bring out the best in them, things that might have been overlooked before…

tuning in

I read an interesting article yesterday, and the author talked about her experiences with a self-imposed 1 year shopping ban. What really caught my attention though, was her discovery of extra time each morning when she stopped the emails she regularly received from different stores and shopping sites. She went on to explain how she now uses that time to journal, read and pray.

Well, that got me thinking about how I spend my early morning time on my days off from work. Typically, as I’m enjoying my morning coffee there’s a morning news show on in the background. Most of the time I’m not really watching, but that sound is always there and obviously a portion of my brain is tuned in, because I will stop whatever I’m doing to watch a segment if the intro catches my attention.

So yesterday, I intentionally turned off the tv, and instead quietly worked in one of my adult coloring books. (Sorry grandkids, no Avengers or Hello Kitty in these!) I was a bit worried, because I have an ongoing, low level of ringing in my ears and I was afraid the absence of external white noise (the tv) would make my internal white noise too distracting. I’m happy to say that the parts of my brain that were engaged in selecting the colors, deciding where to use them and the physical act of coloring were enough to keep the part of my brain that registers the internal white noise occupied enough that I could ignore it.

And as I lost myself in the picture unfolding under my hand – rather than in some random news story – I relaxed, and was able to open myself to God’s whispers. I found inspiration in the picture, the colors, the colored pencils themselves. I even found inspiration in the sound of the pencils as they forever changed the page in that book.

I realized then, that I too often tune into this world, which means I’m tuning out God. What else have I missed while I was focused on that external white noise? What messages from God have I tuned out? What messages from family and friends? What opportunities to share love and compassion have I ignored, have I tuned out, while I was tuning in to things that really don’t matter? It’s not just the tv, though for me that’s a big culprit. It’s the word games on my phone, the solitaire games on the computer… Who could I have prayed for if I hadn’t played that game of solitaire? Who might I have contacted with a quick message of love and support when I opened my phone if I had tapped on text messages rather than a word game?

I know that God is always calling to me, offering inspiration for ways to share God’s love. I pray that now that I’ve taken this first step, I can stay tuned in to the Good News of God, rather than the world’s news that draws me away from God. And not just for 1 year, but for all the days of my life.

punctuation

My 5 year old granddaughter gave me a heart-shaped sticker that said “Love God”. As she’s just learning to read, she asked me what it said. When I told her, it got me thinking about how different punctuation can change the meaning of that simple phrase.

Love God. – A gentle reminder that I am called to love the God who loves me. The relationship I have with God is one of mutual respect and I’m grateful to be able to give love back for all that God has given me.

Love God! – How can anyone demand love from another person, even if it is for God? That emotion is a personal choice. And demanding anything from someone else is disrespectful, definitely not what God wants from us or for us. God wants an honest relationship with us, not something that we do because we feel someone else expects it of us.

Love God? – For those unsure of their relationship with God and perhaps exploring their faith. How blessed we are that God welcomes us where we are, as we are. Questions and doubts are not only okay, they are welcome. God knows we have difficulty accepting things we cannot understand and recognizes that questions are our way of working our way closer to God.

Love God… – Not the end point, but along the way of our faith journey. Love is an ongoing process, it grows and expands as we learn more about God and God’s love for us.

Love, God – My personal favorite. God writes us a love letter every day. From sunrise to sunset, God paints our days with beauty, offering tangible reminders of how God loves us and cares for us. The sun and rain, the moon and stars, flowers and smiles, hugs and kind words – these are God’s palette. I am so grateful for these gifts, and that God understands that I may need daily reminders.

whatever?

I was visiting with a friend recently and the conversation turned to the subject of how we look at things that are going on in our lives. We talked about how our perceptions are colored by our expectations – if we are expecting to find something wrong or bad or irritating in a situation, then that is how we will likely see it. If I think of someone as irritating or annoying, then even their most benign and innocent comments will irritate me.

That conversation reminded me how a few years ago many people used the term “whatever” in a dismissive way, as if to say that people’s feelings and opinions didn’t matter. At that time, if I heard someone say “whatever” in that way, I tried to always think of Philippians 4:8 “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” NIV (emphasis mine).

That helped to strengthen my efforts to see the best in people and circumstances – to color my expectations so that my perceptions are more positive. Because even though all of us can behave in irritating and annoying ways, that does not define us as people. We all have good days and bad days. We all have times when we speak first and think later. After all, we are only human.

Now, imagine what might happen if we try to follow Paul’s recommendations to think about things that are excellent or praiseworthy, to see the best in people and their circumstances. Our lives could be more pleasant, we might stop wasting time looking for bad intentions, we might treat each other a little more kindly, our relationships might improve. I for one, would much prefer to color my world this way…

the choice

I was watching The Lord of the Rings – Fellowship of the Ring the other day, and once again I was struck by Gandalf’s profound words near the end of the movie as Frodo, with tears silently coursing down his cheeks, contemplates the ring in his hand and the choice he faces.
Frodo recalls saying to Gandalf “I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.” and Gandalf’s response, “So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All you have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to you.”
On this World Communion Sunday, Frodo’s dilemma strikes a chord in my heart as it reflects the choice Jesus had to make so many years ago. He too wept as He faced the choice of moving forward to difficult times and certain death. Jesus also wished that His painful situation could be taken away.
Now, many books and articles have been written on the correlations to Jesus’ life that can be found in J R R Tolkien’s books. I in no way claim to have the knowledge to make detailed comparisons. I can only relate how the story speaks to my heart.
Jesus accepted the path He was called to, and so does our small hero Frodo. Not without sadness, not without fear, but most definitely – on both their parts – with resolution and the understanding that the actions they were about to take would have a profound effect on their world that day and on into the future.
So I would like to take a moment to thank Jesus, and the “Frodos” all around the world, and down through all the years who have resolutely wiped away their tears, took hold of their courage and stepped out to do as they were called.
May we all have the courage to do the same when we are called…

attitude adjustment

It all started the other day when I was looking in the mirror and realized the totally inconsequential fact that depending on how I part my hair determines how much gray shows. Please don’t get me wrong, I’m proud of those grays. As my mother said when I was a kid, I earned every single one of them! But on a day when I was tired and feeling old, it wasn’t a pleasant discovery.
But as always, God had an answer for me. The devotion in the Upper Room that day referenced Matthew 18:3 where Jesus tells the disciples that unless we become child-like we can’t enter heaven.
Now I believe that Jesus didn’t mean that we need to sit in a high chair or go back to elementary school or have to take a nap every day to make it into heaven (though I have to say that is a very tempting thought!). I believe that Jesus meant that we need to look at the world through a child’s eyes. To smile when someone smiles at us, to be amazed at the beauty of a flower, taken aback by the power of a thunderstorm, fascinated by new discoveries – even ones we’ve made before. I think of my 5 month old grandson who is just learning to follow things with his eyes. He gets excited to see a toy and watches as you move it back and forth. But if it moves out of his field of vision, it’s like it was never there. But if it comes back into view, he get so excited to see it. In that moment it’s the greatest thing in his world. In his way he’s seeing it with new eyes and that’s what I want to do. To stop being jaded, to stop taking things for granted, to stop assuming that all things are there just for me and my use.
And I think that’s what Jesus meant about being child-like. It can be a simple adjustment in my attitude, in the way I look at things. Am I tired many days? Do I feel old a lot of days? Yup, and yup again. But I can choose to focus on the tiredness or I can focus on the reasons I’m tired – the blessing of a family I love, a job that allows me to help others, a church where I am blessed to be able to share the gifts God has given me, course work that is helping me develop those gifts and expand my knowledge. Kind of like the way I part my hair. If I move the comb a little left, the grays are not quite as visible. And if I shift my attitude a little to the side, the tiredness is not so prevalent. The grays are still there and so is the tiredness, they’re just out of my field of vision. And when I’m not focusing on the tiredness, I’m able to be more to open to that child-like wonder and excitement when good things come back into my line of sight.
I believe that is what Jesus meant, and I pray that each day I have the wisdom to follow through on that adjustment – regardless of how many grays are showing.