Another Gibbs-Slap

I’ve written before about how sometimes the Spirit has to flick me behind the ear, or Gibbs-slap me, or use a two-by-four, or otherwise get my attention, because hey, I’m not always the quickest on the up-take. Had another one of those experiences recently.

I think it was a couple of Fridays ago; I walked into Michelle’s office to visit, and plopped down in a chair. She started telling me that since one of our offices will be involved in managing any early-retirement process for our whole Division, they have a list of all those who are or could be eligible. List One is all those who are of sufficient age and years worked that they could retire immediately, but haven’t. List Two is all those who are over 50 and who have at least 25 years in, and who therefore can be offered an immediate early-retirement package. List Three is all those who will move onto List Two in the next three years.

She told me I’m on List Two. At that, the Spirit started pinging me: “You listening to this? You paying attention?”

Wow. I’d been in some discussions about the possibility of early retirements being offered, but I hadn’t really, really considered that I could be eligible. As you know, since mid-2017 I’ve been pondering what “next” will look like, and meeting with financial planners and finding out that, basically, if I can keep my benefits into retirement, I can pretty much do whatever I want from that point. Or, to be more accurate, whatever I’m called to do, without worrying about money and insurance and etc. So there’s something appealing in the idea.

Still, very quickly I went to, “There’s no way I’ll be offered this. They’ll get enough people in List One, or in other positions on List Two, that they won’t offer it to me.” But all I kept hearing was, “You listening to this? You paying attention?”

Obviously, I have no idea what may, or may not, be on offer for early-retirement this year. But there’s times when, wow, wouldn’t it be wonderful?

For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. (Jeremiah 29:11 NLT)

All right then, Jesus. You got my attention. Your move.

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The Lord Will Provide

This coming weekend is a Chrysalis weekend, C-97. Just a year ago, my daughter and godson were getting ready for an amazing experience of Christ on their own weekend. Now they’re both part of the team putting on another weekend so 16 more teens can get an intimate view of God’s love in their lives up on the Mountain.

Last Friday, I get a text from her. Um, I may have forgotten to tell you, but Michael from church is going, and I agreed to sponsor him. Wait: Michael, from church, is YOUR sponsee? So now I’ve got a week to arrange everything for him to go? Uff! Yeah, that definitely hadn’t been communicated to me.

We go by a pay-it-forward rule, so the pilgrims walking don’t pay for the weekend, the sponsors do. Now, I readily admit, that isn’t a show-stopper for me. I confess to being blessed to where having to scramble to find $200 to pay to sponsor someone for the weekend won’t break the bank. But still, yeah, I was mildly annoyed that she had made the commitment and hadn’t asked me about it…right as we’re paying off Christmas. Uff! Mind you, that’s on top of her own teaming fee, which I also think was $200 that I had to pay recently.

One day later, I’m bringing in the mail, and there’s a letter from our mortgage company. Didn’t look like the usual mail from them, or even a sales brochure for taking on even more debt, so I opened it. They had done the annual recalculation of our escrow account, and for the first time in f-o-r-e-v-e-r, we were actually over in our account this year. So here’s a check for $363 in overpaid escrows.

You could’ve knocked me over with a feather. Here I am mere hours away from harrumphing about having to pay for ANOTHER fee, and now I have an absolutely unexpected windfall that not only allows us to sponsor Michael, but almost entirely covers my little teamer’s fee as well.

The Lord really does provide.

In fact, he promised it back in the very beginning: Abraham named the place Yahweh-Yireh (which means “the Lord will provide”). To this day, people still use that name as a proverb: “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.” (Genesis 22:14).

On the mountain of the Lord, it will be provided. And even BEFORE we get to the Mountain, it will be provided! And in such abundance as to pay for TWO people to make the trip!

O me of little faith. I’ve heard it said, you can’t out-give God. He’s bound and determined to prove it to me, it seems. This is another holy moment, another holy lesson for me, in a life that keeps needing reminders of God’s absolutely, completely, unending grace.mountain

2017 in the Rear View Mirror

It’s typical, I think, that as each year closes, we spend time reflecting on the year gone by: what worked, what didn’t, where we grew, where we fell. With that in mind, let me offer a few thoughts on my own 2017. I will completely set aside politics, and instead focus more on what the year meant to me and how I grew. In no particular order:

  • Brought four people I love to an even closer experience of Christ. I sponsored my wife, daughter, godson, and a brother from church for their own Emmaus or Chrysalis walks, and they have each become involved in the community and experienced a deepening commitment as a result. I really celebrate that!
  • Began earnestly praying and listening for God’s guidance about what “next” looks like. In just under seven years I can be retiring with full benefits…then what?
  • Began responding more to God’s call in my life. Applied to team (and will team on E-185!) in Emmaus, and met with a giant in Christ to learn more about getting involved in Kairos prison ministry in 2018.
  • Celebrated my daughter’s start to senior year in high school, with a strong start much better than last year. While she’s struggling now, I remain faithful that God has a story in mind for her, and I put it all in his hands!
  • Celebrated my son’s excellent terms at college…finished fall semester with a 3.94 (*ahem*)! He’s really blossoming–see again, the fact that God has a story in mind for him and all I need to do is get out of his way.
  • Turned fifty, without much fanfare or fuss–and without health concerns, and in fact, lost about 20 pounds this year. (Thanks, sweetie, for the inspiration!)
  • Redid the kids’/guest bathroom and the powder room…looking sharp, on to the kitchen next!
  • Survived an insane year at work, with the administration transition throwing all the usual schedules out the door and requiring a new level of energy. Will be happy if 2018 features a more typical schedule…
  • Began downsizing and simplifying life: admitted to myself (OK, got my ego out of the way) that I’ll never get Uncle Albert’s trains running; also got rid of bags and bags of clothes and household stuff that we just won’t need. Someone else can make use of it!
  • Published my first book, Waiting For Life, in April, and since then have sold literally dozens of copies (!). Never figured anyone would actually read it…thank you!

Oh, sure, if I think about it I can come up with lots of challenges in 2018 ahead: caring for Mom as she fades, applying for Medicaid for her, getting my daughter off to college, adapting to the empty nest, dealing with work, etc., etc… But I’ve heard so many people whinging about how horrible their 2017 was…let me tell you, mine wasn’t half bad, and certainly a lot better then 2016!

Was 2017 perfect? Aw heck no. But there is beauty in the promise:

No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:37-39)

Farewell 2017…and Happy New Year 2018!

Twice In One Day

Tuesday morning I woke up from a dream. I don’t usually remember my dreams: maybe you do, but come the morning I tend to be dimly aware that maybe I was dreaming something, and can never remember the details. Tuesday was different.

In my dream, I was talking with a woman, one of our family’s financial planners. We were talking about plans for the future, most of which I don’t remember now. But where the video recorder in my brain really started was when she started advising me–no, urging me, passionately–that I really need to decide what it is that I’m really supposed to be doing next. I can’t remember her exact words, but it was along the lines of, You need to be doing something that you really, really want to do. And in my dream, what came to mind was Matthew 28:19, the Great Commission: “Therefore go and make disciples of all the nations.” That’s the last thing I remember before waking up.

Flash forward about twelve hours: we had finished our office holiday party, and I was talking with our administrative officer in his office about his new Mustang on order, and how good it was that he hadn’t put it off but that he had followed his dream of getting a gorgeous new car. That’s when he said almost the exact same things to me: Don’t wait, life’s too short, if there’s something you really want to do, you should just go for it.

Talk about being hit upside the head with a two-by-four!2x4

Journaling

This is a post partly about journaling, and partly about practicing listening to God.

For my birthday recently, a brother in Christ gave me a lovely leather-bound journal with one of his favorite scriptures embossed on the cover: I can do everything through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:13). That’s the straw that broke this camel’s back, and I’ll be starting on a course of journaling now.

This has to be at least the third time in recent weeks that the topic of journaling has come up in an encouraging way: in other conversations, in podcasts I listen to, I’ve been getting The Nudge that perhaps this is something I ought to do. And so when Tim presented me with this book, well…call me simple, but I finally took the hint and listened to what God was saying.

To do journaling will be a different experience for me. I’ve kept a “journal” before, but it was more of a diary–more of a recounting of the day and what happened, and less a reflection time. This kind of journaling would be different, more of a spiritual exploration than describing my days, and so I would need to approach it differently. As I head into it, I need to set out some of my ground rules (and I’d welcome others that you might have from your own experiences, dear reader!), often around what would be different:

  • I give myself permission to be incomplete, rough, unfinished. The writer in me–nay, the perfectionist in me–thinks, ponders, casts and recasts, until the final words that come out are just so. But this is to be an unpolished set of reflections, not something ready to turn into a blog post or an essay. It can be the partial, not the whole. And that’s OK.
  • I give myself permission to not write. When I was keeping my other journal I would feel guilty if I hadn’t summarized each day, regardless of whether I felt like it. This time, I need to let God move me. He might do so every day, every other day, or not for awhile, or several times in a day. And that’s OK.
  • I give myself permission to be vulnerable. That one’s harder. I didn’t tend to be very expressive in my diaries, and I don’t think that same style will work here. And that’s OK.

What other things do I need to bear in mind when I start journaling?

Get Over Yourself

Each of us, I suspect, has something that consistently sets us off. There’s something that, whenever it happens, is most likely to bring out the worst in each of us. And when it’s over, we’re left feeling confused–what the heck was that about?–and maybe more than a little guilty. Let me share this story, and see if it rings a bell with anyone.

We’re in the midst of renovating our kids’ bathroom upstairs and the main-level powder room. In an effort to save some money, I agreed with the contractors that I’d undertake some of the work myself. I’ll handle the painting. I’ll install the new towel bars and shower curtain rod. And I’ll swap out the bathroom ceiling fans, one in each room.

Shouldn’t be too hard to swap out a ceiling fan, I thought. Alas. I started on the first one and it became an exercise in frustration. Removing the old fan was a stubborn exercise, as it had become so dust-encrusted that getting to the screws that held it in was nearly impossible, and then learning that the screws were rusted, and stripping as I tried to get it out, made it even worse. Finally it was out, but what was billed as a fan that didn’t need any wallboard trimming was anything but, as I had to saw away another inch of my ceiling to get it in. Now how do I attach the exhaust port to the vent pipe? That’s about when I dropped the fan, and broke the exhaust port…which meant I’m heading back to Home Depot for another one, just before closing time. And trying to screw in the metal housing around the fan became the ultimate straw: the screws just would not go into the wood well, and quickly I found I had stripped those too.

All the while, at each stumbling block, at each frustration, something is screaming at me that I’m SUCH a failure. I manage Federal budgets worth billions of dollars, I have a master’s degree…and I can’t get a simple ceiling fan out? I can’t install a ceiling fan without breaking it, and ruining the screws? Now I’m going to have to call in A Guy to do this right, and it’ll cost me, both dollars and humiliation as he sees my inadequacies. There is NO way I’m going to pay for this! This isn’t rocket science, it’s pretty basic home remodeling…and I’m a failure!
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Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. (Isaiah 41:10)

In retrospect after each such occurrence, I’m always amazed, and yeah, a little convicted by my response. There’s so much wrong with how I approached it. I was already apprehensive when I started, and then each little defeat magnified for me. I started to listen to the voices that tell me I’m not good enough, the same ones that try to tell us we’re never good enough for Jesus. And I certainly didn’t take the problem to Jesus.

It started again a few nights later when I went to work on the other one. This one, too, started to be frustrating from the get-go. This fan’s mounting box wasn’t attached to the rest of the house in the same way that the first one was, at all: it looks like it was attached from the outside, not the inside, and then the ceiling drywall was installed over it. So I’d have to hack apart more of the ceiling to get at it.

This time, I stopped. This time, I said, “It’s not worth it.” This time, I didn’t listen to the voices. This time, my evening didn’t end in frustration.

My bride is always perceptive about these sorts of things. She asked later, “Do you suppose God was trying to get your attention?” Yes, I think he was. I think he wanted me to get over myself: to get past whatever I think I should be able to do, and to recognize what gifts he has, and hasn’t, given me…and to learn a little more humility, to ask for help.

The handyman comes next week to install the new fan.

Thanksgiving

We were talking about how it’s Thanksgiving this week in the office, and someone made the observation that this year has just been so nuts, so nonstop, that it’s hard to believe it’s late November already. Wasn’t it just April, she wondered?

Yes, it was. Yet here we are. But, of course, it shouldn’t come as a surprise; it’s not like they’ve moved Thanksgiving suddenly. It’s right where it always was.

I am sure some of why we feel this way is down to The World, the mad pace we all keep trying to satisfy it. But I think as well, there’s a sense of being caught off guard: what do you mean, I have to power down and be thankful? It jars us slightly, especially if we don’t live from a place of thankfulness. It’s interesting to see people’s reactions when you ask them what they’re thankful for–and they can’t answer in general platitudes, like just “my family.” Ask someone to get specific: who? Why? What in particular are you thankful for? That’s when they start looking up and away, trying to rack their brains for something specific. That’s when the pause starts coming into the conversation.

It’s an indictment, really, of our failure to live in a spirit of thanksgiving with God on a daily basis. But that’s not how we’re called to live:

Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

In all circumstances? Yep. When you’re overwhelmed at work, be thankful for the skills God gave you to handle the job in the first place. Frustrated that the car needs another repair? Then be thankful for having been given the resources even to have bought it in the first place. Disappointed by something your child did? Then for just having that child in your life to begin with: so many would-be parents ache at each miscarriage or stillbirth.

For many, our prayer life is lacking in thankfulness. We have our long lists of things to ask for; how much of our conversation with God is just telling him “thanks” for all that’s actually going right?

After Thanksgiving, we will begin moving into Advent, and we begin to turn our hearts back towards the manger and the One who came to show us the way. Look at the fact that at least five times in the Gospels, Jesus directly and publicly gives thanks to his father in heaven (Matthew 11:25, Luke 10:21, Luke 22:17-19, John 6:11, John 11:41), and then take that as a new direction in your prayer practices. Work more thanksgiving into them, and then I promise you, you won’t be surprised by the fourth Thursday in November any longer, because you’ll be thankful the whole year round.

Happy Thanksgiving…