What Season Are You In?

Remember the days when being “color analyzed” was all the rage? It didn’t matter if it happened at a home party, a department store counter, or a fashion expo – as long as you had your color swatches with you, and knew what shades of eye shadow, blush & lipstick presented the best you, you were ready to step out and rock it! Oh, and the best part was being able to toss out that question understood by every real woman in your circles – What season are you?

I actually remember praying before my first color analysis that I would not be deemed “a winter” (my prayers were for such simple things in those days).  I hated the color red for some reason.  It just seemed so basic and plain – my sister who was far more conservative than me always wore red or navy … nope, I wanted to make a splash, not some quiet unassuming entrance into a room – me & my season wanted to be noticed! Praise God, I was an autumn!

As I thought about the next link on the bracelet – Health, and what God may be wanting me to share with you about it, the topic just felt too big.  I mean, seriously, what are we talking here … physical health (ah, yah, that’s important to give attention to), mental health, emotional health (now there’s a cavern to get lost in), spiritual health (nah, always the risk that I’ll come off preachy), so what then? There was a momentary temptation to reverse direction and go the other way around the bracelet .. I mean who says I had to go right?  There’s that catchy song “To the left, to the left …” and everybody knows in a card game or board game, play always goes to the person on your left.  But if you take a look at the bracelet, you’ll notice, I’m sure, what I saw as a clear sign that I need to tackle Health – there is a circular piece of metal with a squiggly line that inexplicably links Serenity to Health.  Take a look!

So what about Health, and what does it have to do with seasons? Ecclesiastes 3:1 has always resonated with me “there is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens”. If you live in the Northeast as I do, you know we are so ready to be done with winter! We are anxious for signs of spring, even as snow blanketed the streets and grass again last night while we slept, and a random snowfall with big cotton ball size flakes surprised us mid-day to taunt the still wet pavement that would not engage & allow the flakes to settle there. But did you know that, despite all appearances, even in the harshest winters, the trees don’t stop growing? Beneath the bark, their sap is silently moving to fortify the tree for the coming months. Life is still in process, but in different ways than during the rest of the year.

“Spring is for beginnings. There’s a freshness, hope and vibrancy to it. So in the springtimes of our life, we have the opportunity to see God initiate new things in us. Summer is a time for labor and growth. Fall is for harvest. Winter is for withdrawal from activity, rest, and even death of what has come to the end of its time. To be fully healthy, our lives require each one of these seasons at its due time. The key is to recognize what season we’re in and then embrace it to the full.

We all know that in nature, sometimes winter seems like it drags on forever. Some summers can seem extremely brief. Seasons vary from year to year. Sometimes God chooses to prolong them to fully accomplish His work. Sometimes so much needs to die in us before we can embrace spring that we need an unusually long winter. We have no idea how brief or long each season will be this time, but we can also learn to embrace and find the good in each season as it comes, instead of being impatient to move on to the next one that we think will be better.”  -Richard Blackaby

This has been a tough winter – not for me particularly, but for friends crushed beneath an all-consuming heartache of loss, unanswered questions, unrelenting pain, and unseen possibilities of hope, believing even the coming spring will be inadequate to mend their broken spirits. This is the perfect season to ask God to take this cup, as Jesus did, but also to remember that in order to accomplish His greater purpose, He may need you to linger in this season of  life, to discover what He wants you to learn, to fortify your spiritual health for the coming season where all things are made new in Christ.  Cry out to Him, confess your need for Him, believe this season of life is charged with divine purpose for you, sing along to Plumb’s song and let the tears wash over you like the waters of baptism.

Need You Now (How Many Times) Plumb

What about you … what season of life are you in?

Pathway to Serenity

I had no intention of waiting so long to blog about SERENITY, but the truth and irony is that I could not find a sense of serenity in writing, and I wanted that, I needed that to feel authentic.  Oh dear sweet, patient, readers, has there ever been a time when you just kept putting something off that you needed to do?  Can you relate?

Maybe a conversation -one of those “truth in love” talks, that you’ve been mentally rehearsing for awhile, or a resume that’s been haunting & daunting you. It might be a decision you’ve made about a relationship that you’ve failed to act on, a choice to do what is right & good and in alignment with God’s desire for your life – to stop enabling, set boundaries, take responsibility for what God has given you to steward & get the heck out of what God has given others to steward for themselves – in other words, land the helicopter, parents!  Whatever it is, if you’re there with me, you know the feeling of angst, the daily awakening of self-disappointment – and even shame, that you have not done what you intended to do for yet another day. Ugh!

My mind is no different than yours apparently as I think of images & feelings of serenity – peace, calm, stillness, a quiet hush that honestly I experience most often in aloneness, not in “the village”. Yes, the beach is there in my mind, too – isn’t it funny how we all think beach or ocean?  I know if I can stand at the water’s edge with waves crashing and the feel of sand underneath my feet, wind blowing across my face so that I have to brush hair back across my face, that no matter what’s going on in my life, no matter what grief or emptiness I’m carrying for a friend, I can let the tears flow, release it all, while feeling grounded and steady and loved and protected in the presence of God’s great creation. But where is the beach in the midst of my work day, in a disconnected relationship, in resounding unescapable grief ? How do I capture peace and calm and stillness and inject it into my day when I wake to a Things to Do list streaming live in my head, when the noise and demands to ready myself for the day tempts me to cut short my much needed time with my Creator, Redeemer & Guide?

I found the answer this week in the familiar – actually, one answer & one key.  The answer – ACCEPTING HARDSHIP AS A PATHWAY TO PEACE … it’s right there in the Serenity Prayer, but how many of us have ever read beyond the “wisdom to know the difference” line? And one of the most “calming” passages people cling to in times of struggle & worry, “Be still and know that I am God” Psalm 46:10  follows verses about God bringing destruction on the world.  Mark 4:39 when Jesus calms the storm, how could I have missed that without a storm, God could not display his mighty rebuke to the wind, He could not have ordered stillness out of chaos and fear and unbelief. So the answer is that we have to walk through the hardships, the struggle, the everyday annoyances in the workplace, in messy unsatisfying relationships, in fears, dashed hopes, unmet expectations, our deepest longings.

But the KEY is to create periods of stillness to bring those hardships to the Lord, to allow Jesus to calm the storm, to receive the guidance, the steps, even the words the Holy Spirit longs to give you on the pathway to serenity.  Stillness begets stillness … you must have stillness with God to have stillness in your life.  Otherwise you might as well take up residence on the beach ’cause that’s the only Way to claim it.

My friend Curt offers this suggestion for reflection: Allow God’s Spirit to speak to you in the stillness of a moment today.  What message does he have for you? What risks are involved in the call Jesus is placing on your life in this season?

There is an important footnote I need to add – it struck me shortly after I hit Publish to send the post your way, but it is more than an afterthought.  It really is the exclamation mark God used to punctuate my path in discovering serenity in blogging … it is the truth that IT TAKES A VILLAGE! I could not tolerate my day after day frustration & self-disappointment at not finishing & publishing a blog post … well, okay, so maybe I knocked myself around for a couple of weeks, and then took it to God in prayer, thanking Him for the gift of writing, asking Him to make me worthy of the influence He has given me, begging Him to reveal what was standing in the way of me getting His messages out.  The daily grind of self-disappointment began to weigh more as I took on the shame of disobedience – God has been very clear about His design & desire for me to challenge women to claim all He has for them, and I was letting Him down; I was being the downright obstinate child of God … pretty tough to write from that posture of failure.

The light went on in my morning prayer time on Martin Luther King Day – a day off from work, as I ask God to bless my friend and I over a planned catch-up lunch, and beg Him in almost the same breath to fill me in on what is keeping me from blogging.  I give God some options (love to do that!) … is it ego – am I afraid it will bring attention to me instead of Him & His message (oh Lord, I desire only to be your conduit), is it fear of failure or judgment, maybe expectation that I have to keep up a level of quality writing (as though that would be a problem for God, right?), am I worthy, do I deserve to have influence in women’s lives when I’ve screwed up my own life so badly in the past?  The soft, calming voice of the Spirit catches me off guard and arrests my high-pitched game of “Is it?” with the Lord … “Kathy will give you insight” I hear – whoa, are you talking to me?

And so it was that I came to this place of finishing & publishing my blog post this morning.  I shared the struggle with Kathy at lunch that day, she has been praying over the issue since, and on Sun. morning she gave me her thoughts – both on my blog and on the reconnaissance mission of the enemy to snatch what God has ordained for me to give to you, she prayed over me with two other sisters that God would release my gift of writing and that I could stand strong against the enemy.  There was that extra burst (oh minty fresh!) of admonishment that sealed the deal and made all things right and possible again in the blogging world when she looked me in the eye with her “I really mean it” pointer finger aglow and said, “You are to get up and have your morning coffee and blog first – nothing else until you have blogged!” Well, alrighty then!

SERENITY = ANSWER + KEY + TRUTH

The Bracelet

I get very reflective at the end of each year, looking back on the best & the worst, the people & events that changed me, the situations and circumstances that shaped me into a different person than I was one year before.  While Hurricane Sandy had the most impact in my community & circle of friends, and the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting troubled me with a level of sadness I had never known, nothing held more power in 2012 than the suicide of my friend’s son.

Nothing held more power because it is where I saw God’s Power firsthand, where I took part in the master craftsmanship of His plan -though I only recognized that in hindsight.  God became real & present to me, His tender mercies evident at work in and among our little Charlie Brown group of women.   We began meeting to walk the pages of a “Parenting Prodigals” study together, became invested in each others’ stories & familiar with the pain and struggle of navigating relationships with our adult children.  When Nick took his life, we all lost a beloved child.

To recognize that if God had not pressed down on me to lead this summer study, that if He had not knowingly given me the exact names of women to invite, even that if I had not been obedient to respond (you all know I have a tendency to argue with God & can easily go rogue) … to think that my dear friend who is now both sister & confidante to me, would have had to walk the grievous unimaginable path alone makes me shake it is so unfathomable.  I only knew this woman for 9 months before the study, and not well at all. But God knew exactly what was to come in her life. He knew she would need us to know her story & guided by the study, that we would be the ones to encourage her to share her heart with Nick & ask for forgiveness for anything that stood between them.  Hundreds of times I have thanked God for the gift of that conversation, that healing grace, between mother & son.  God knew that deepening bonds between us, and a purpose greater than each of our individual selves, would undergird the grieving process, forging sweet & tender lasting relationships for some of us, built for growth and laced with His amazing grace.

So no, as I look back upon 2012 for the lessons God has taught me and ponder how I will apply those lessons in the new year, I will not be making any New Year’s resolutions.  Most of what typically comes to mind anyway is a list of things I will do – like exercise regularly or blog 3 times a week, and then there’s that other list of things I won’t do – like spend money I don’t have, eat junk food or stay up so late.  Nope, I don’t want to be bound by wills & won’ts, by shoulds & shouldn’ts, by what I do or don’t do.  I want to be harnessed into the place of “being” that God has for me in this opening winter season of 2013.

I want to follow the path of “the bracelet” and lean in to all that God has for me in the new year, all that He designed me to be.  And I want to invite you to journey with me. Now hold on girls – I know you don’t know what “the bracelet’ is all about … so cool your hormones & I’m gonna tell you!  I can count 5 influential women in my life right now who were mere acquaintances last year at this time.  Coincidentally, two of them gifted me with meaningful bracelets this Christmas, another with a heart-within-an-open-heart ornament that penetrates my soul, that I will surely blog about at another time because it’s not the kind of ornament you put away with the Christmas decorations.  The other two women in the ya ya sisterhood of God’s blessings in 2012 gave to me of themselves – one was a re-connection clearly orchestrated by God (of course, what isn’t?), & her infectious laughter is all that surpasses the insight and godly wisdom she shares so selflessly; the other, a more recent & concentrated developing friendship, has been a partner in community and in navigating the gaps & spaces left open in mid-life by grown children who have their own lives.

Back to the bracelet and the path I want to take us on!  I am captivated by the cuff bracelet my girlfriend gave me, not surprising since it represents all that I want in my life, but have not necessarily pursued.  It is made up of alternating gold & silver decorative panels with different words and symbols etched into the metal – it is poignant and rich in the invitation to pursue.  I promise to post a picture after we get a few steps down the path, but I don’t want to spoil the journey for anyone by laying temptation to rush to the next panel when the Lord is beckoning us to linger a while longer where we are.

Serenity is our first place to dwell.  What picture, thoughts, sounds does the word “serenity” trigger for you?  What do you imagine the Serenity link of the bracelet looks like?  Just play in it for awhile, stay in it for awhile.  I’ll share my reflections on serenity shortly as we set upon the path of the bracelet together.