Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year!

I wanted to take this opportunity to wish each of you a Happy New Year.

For many of us the end of the year is a time to reflect on where we have been and to contemplate where we will be. If you will, it's an excuse to weigh ourselves, to size up our victories and our failures, our weaknesses and strengths and to determine our self worth.

We all do it... whether we admit or not. We look in the mirror, we look in the checkbook, we look in the driveway, we look at our kids, dogs, homes and jobs and then more often than not... we sigh... and start beating ouselves up. I should've done this, I could've done that, I need to lose weight, gain muscle, lose grey, find green etc etc etc.

I want to encourage you NOT to look at or into any of the afore mentioned things this New Year. I want you to bypass all the crap that your mind is telling you and I want you to see your heart... the real you. Your mind compares you to the computer & media generated life styles of the rich & famous. You can never live up to that... it's not real.

You on the other hand are quite real and quite valuable. You are absolutely wonderful and that is the truth regardless of what your mind is telling you. No one else cares what size your pants are, how many wrinkles you have, what kind of car you drive, how much grey is really there or if you have money in the bank. Most of us, and your friends and family just care about you. We love you, we like you and we want to hang out with you... not your stuff.

During this season of reflection I want you to reflect on and agree with this... I am wonderful... I am special... I am beautiful... I am accepted... and I am loved! If you disagree... that's ok... but you are wrong! I see you that way and most likely many others see you that way as well... and whether you can hear it or not your heart is saying, "Yes, yes yes!"

My hope and prayer for 2009 is that we will each see ourselves as we really are and love ourselves more than ever before. If that sounds selfish... it's not... you see we love others the way we love ourselves... so if we are not patient, kind, forgiving and longsuffering with ourselves... we won't be that way with others.

Happy New Year to each of you and may the eyes of your hearts be opened to see how wonderfully loved and accepted you are!

I leave this quote and challenge with you for 2009...

“Love yourself — accept yourself — forgive yourself — and be good to yourself, because without you the rest of us are without a source of many wonderful things.”
—Dr. Leonardo Buscaglia (1924-1998); professor, author

Monday, December 29, 2008

Driving Blind!

Do you ever just complain to God? I do, as well I should, life for a blind sheep is totally unfair!

I told Him just this morning that I was tired of not knowing where I was going or where my finances were coming from. I want to know what the plan is. I want to know where this path is leading. I want to know what that noise is and why in the world I should move closer to it. I also want to know what that smell is… and don’t give me that old ‘he who smelt it dealt it’ line or any wisecracks about 'wet wool'!

I just want to know… is that so wrong?

But you know what he does? He starts asking me questions. I hate when he does that.

“Are you tired of trusting me little sheep?”

“Well yes, as a matter of fact, I AM!” I mean we might as well be honest!

“What do you want me to do for you?”

“I want to see the path in front of me.”

At this point I felt like He gave me a choice. He could open my eyes to see the path ahead and let me make my own decisions or I could remain blind and trust him to lead.

YOU KNOW... It's just not fair! Like I really have a choice! It sucks having to trust. It sucks not knowing where your next meal is coming from...or when... and yet as I look back... everywhere I’ve been and everything I’ve done has been directed and provided by Him.

Suddenly He 'highlighted' my past course with a marker and I could see each step and each turn that I had made blindly... in the dark. I wasn't able to make decisions with my physical eyes so I had to rely on Him.

Do you ever wish you could map out your own story? I do... if I map it out then it will be perfect… No suffering, no torment, no problems! As I contemplate this thought a verse comes to mind…

"Who is among you that fears the Lord,
That obeys the voice of His servant,
That walks in darkness and has no light?
Let him trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God.

Behold, all you who kindle a fire,
Who encircle yourselves with firebrands,
Walk in the light of your fire
And among the brands you have set ablaze.
This you will have from My hand;
You will lie down in torment"

Isaiah 50:10, 11

So the choice is to trust… not knowing what my next step will be... Or choose my own path, light my way and open my own doors. One satisfies my mind with an illusion of control and the other brings peace to my heart… a peace that by passes my understanding.

My problem is that I want to be in control. I want to have all my ducks in a row and I want to say when and where certain things are going to happen. That’s the way most of us ’blind sheep’ feel.

I think I can identify (just a little) with how David must have felt in the wilderness. His songs... like mine... were the mercy drops from God that kept him going. They were the cry of his heart as he listened and followed a path he could not see or understand.

I don't think anyone in the Bible chose to be where they were. It's all a paradox, when you're weak you're strong, We always want to know and to be in charge... but we always screw it up and end up trusting God because it's really the only choice.

Jesus asked the disciples "Are you going to leave too?" It wasn't that they didn't want too, it wasn't that they didn't occasionally catch a glimpse of where things were headed... it was just that they knew "Only YOU have the words of life".

That's where I am. I can't trade LIFE for income. I can't trade LIFE for anything. Pretty simple huh?!?! Yeah right... Dying is never easy or simple. He who looses his life... finds it... and he who saves it... loses it. That blasted paradox again.

SO... once again here I am... my game plan develops after the fact... in retrospect… I see what God did. The story is His... not mine. It’s like driving a car with the windshield painted black. All you can do is listen and respond.

As you look in the rearview mirror you are amazed at the skill with which you have navigated through twists and turns. You know you could not possibly have pulled that off… you know it’s Him. So you enjoy the moment, looking back at how faithful God has been and you entrust tomorrow to Him.

Does this sound easy to you? If you said yes… you’re crazy! The truth is... it’s unbelievably hard.

I still want to know what comes next. I want to plan it out and be able to look good as I share it with others. I want to have a monthly and yearly planner all organized and be able to check off my little boxes as each task is accomplished.

I mean, why shouldn't we be able to say, "I'm going to such and such a place and I'm going to accomplish this, this, and that"? Yeah, I know it's a verse from somewhere. Sorry about all the rambling. I'm really not frustrated or upset.

Actually I feel pretty good as long as I focus on what God IS saying and what He IS doing. I loose it when I want to KNOW as He knows… When I want to know exactly how my life is going to work out!

For the moment I guess I’m ok. I will put the razor blades, screwdrivers and various other tools away. But one of these days I’m going to find a way to get that black paint off the windshield… then watch out… this sheep will be flyin’!
Sheep S

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Sheep M: Is the grass always greener?

     As the year draws to a close, I've been drafting letters to my children.  I say drafting because I want to write freely and then re-read what I've written to make sure that the words I say are uplifting and not condemning.  I, in no way, want to hand them something that makes them feel like they've missed the mark or that I expect a level of performance from them.  They are each so unique, wonderful and special. I feel honored to know them and be a part of their lives. That, more than anything else, is what I want to convey to them.

     Each letter is as unique as the child for whom it is meant. Yet I see a pattern emerge as the letters reach their final draft. As I speak of their strengths and struggles from the past year, I also caution them.  Asking that they examine all things. Test each encounter-be it with a person, book, idea, etc.  There is so much information available to children today. To all of us actually, that I feel it's important to just stop every once and awhile and sift through the wheat and chaff.  Keep and hold fast to those things that lead to the best life has to offer. Let go of that which ensnares and weighs you down. For each of us, those categories will be different.

     How exactly does that lead to questioning fences? The adage that the grass is always greener? Without giving away too many details, my adult child has struggled in this area this past year. Sheep C and S have patiently listened to me pour out my despair at the choices made by this child.  I'm not talking about right or wrong, but choices that have run contrary to what I've tried to instill in all my children.  At one point, I found peace in releasing this child to be an adult. It was no longer my job or responsibility to 'fix' whatever was going on. 

     So as I wrote to this particular child, I found my mind wandering to those choices I'd made at 18, 20, 25, 38, 40... How and why I'd made them. The rebellion in my own past and my 'return' to the flock.  Why do we have fences, rules,etc?  I can tell you that the younger me thought it was all a vicious plot to keep me from having fun.  I just knew that if only I could (fill in the blank) I would be so much happier and life would be wonderful.  It didn't quite work out that way, but that yearning to get outside of the norm, to be free, spurred me in many directions that weren't always the best for me. Even now, I am still having to 'unlearn' the lessons learned outside the flock.

     I've come to appreciate fences. Not as means to keep me from fun, but as loving boundaries that give me opportunities to grow. Inside the fence, I don't have to be in control. I can relax knowing that the One who set up the boundary is watching over me, protecting me.

     This is a facile example, but one that makes the point. We all teach our children to not play in the street. Simple-yet by setting up that rule, we've somehow made the street a fascinating place.  I can't even count the number of times I've made mad dashes to get to my children before they could step foot in the street! Why did we make the rule in the first place? To rob the child of fun? NO! To give them the chance to grow older, a chance at life.

     So too are the fences in my own life. Yes, they at times offer a form of restriction, but in the end, they have been the means to a fuller life. I've jump quite a few only to find that the greener grass was simply astro-turf or that the once beautiful, sunny path entered a dark wood just out of sight.  

     At the end of another year, this blind sheep appreciates the boundaries that make it possible to enjoy my current life. I'm old enough to know that what I have today may not last until tomorrow. So I am thankful! -Sheep M 12/28/08

And for those who care to know, my child is returning to the flock. Aware now that I wasn't trying to control  life, but enhance it.


Friday, December 19, 2008

Sheep S Ponders: Why struggle?

I desire to see buds bloom...
to see cocoons open...
and to see wings struggle to unfold.
Why would I want to see them struggle?
Without the struggle to open and unfold they would never have the strength to fly.
What could be sadder than a freshly bloomed butterfly lacking the strength
to display the glorious wonder of it's wings to the world?
Welcome the struggles...
for in them you find the strength to fly!
-Sheep S 12/19/08

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Even the Blind Need Beauty

Beauty is a foreign language we all understand.

I've always believed that I had an artistic streak. Not that I claim to be an artist. Sometimes, I am able to express, through various mediums, the concepts I see in my head. Sometimes I'm not. That hasn't stopped me. Beauty is, quite simply, a life force for me.

Has it always been this way? I'm not sure. I just know that during the season of my son's illness, beauty has had a deeper impact on my psyche. In the depths of my fear, beauty alone could bring a glimpse of hope. Beauty to me is a reminder that I see imperfectly the circumstances of my life. There is more to life than pain, disillusionment, fear...There are also budding roses, the swelling ocean, glorious sunrises and sets, a child's delighted laugh...The list goes ever on. Each of us could write a book on the big and small things we consider beautiful.

Currently, I am being blessed with beauty by my parents. Let me explain. In my divorce, I was granted the family home. It was a fixer upper when it was purchased, and as my then family was a single income, the fixing up was rather limited. Two years ago, when my son was very ill, my parents modified our downstairs bath to make it easier on my son. It was functional and much appreciated. Now they are back to make the same room over. Only this time it is to bless me with a beautiful room. A few weeks ago, my parents took me shopping at a large home improvement store. You know the kind, you can get everything from construction materials to the finishing gloss. Up and down the isles we went. As I would stop to choose between two items, one of them would remind me this was their gift to me and to get what I wanted, not what I thought would work. Counting pennies has just become a way of life for me!

We are in the construction phase right now. There is mud dust all over. Left over sheet rock is piled in my den along with all the other left over bits and pieces. I'm trying to be as helpful as possible, but as I work from home, I am dividing my time between the two projects. My son is following his grandfather around learning about measuring twice, cutting once. They banter back and forth as the work progresses. This can get extremely annoying, but I love it! The easy manner of their camaraderie is a beauty in and of itself. A reminder that each day is packed full of beauty if we could but see clearly.  -Sheep M 12/17/08

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Sheep C: A Peek Inside the Cote

I hosted a slumber party this weekend for eight of my favorite Ewes. Sheep M was there, too, so there’s a clue for those of you wondering who the male member of our trio is. Most of us were fifty-somethings, Sheep M being the young chipper of the crowd, and we had the distinct pleasure of an eighteen-year-old who joined us for dinner and breakfast.

We had the best time! We ate a wonderful dinner, had rich desserts, got little gifts, and lots of wine and cranberry/pomegranate martinis. We stayed up late, late, watched Where the Heart Is, identifying with Novalee’s and Lexi’s poor choices of men, and generally were totally hedonistic. We crashed all over the house about 3:00 a.m., sleeping in every available space, including the couch and two cots.

When the breakfast hour came, we all trailed sleepily into the kitchen for coffee, settling around my breakfast table for biscuits, bacon and fruit. After a night of light-hearted fun and, I think, bonding, it was amazing to me that talk on its own shifted to the serious. It wasn’t planned, and it wasn’t a downer. It was just where everyone wanted to go at the moment and, as I said, it was amazing…

I don’t want to disclose the nature of the troubles, because the subject of those worries might just peek into this blog (we hope so), and the Sheep’s Cote is a sacred thing. It is a place of safety, somewhere to come into during the dark night of life. (Oh, my, am I waxing poetic here!).

Quite literally, we talked through present life for several hours. Each one of us has either gone through some life-devastation or is going through it right this very moment. We were able to vent honestly, to ask “What am I to do?,” to share what we have done in similar situations in the past, and to say, “Well, I know what I would do—I wouldn’t put up with that, not one more minute” (Tuff Talk!)

This last strong outburst made us laugh (Confession: it was me, the "Tuff Talker" who said this). We all agreed that it was the right advice; we also all agreed that we can sure talk tough when it’s someone else’s life. Execution of same was going to be much harder than speaking it! So, we head-on talked about whether we should even have been spouting this tough talk when we all knew that dealing with a loved one is a complicated task. What we came to was this: Yes, we should issue this sound-but-hard advice within the fold, but we also needed to give grace to the Ewe involved as she faced this serious situation. One of us spoke up with this wisdom (borne of her own similar past pain): “You are just going to have to move as God speaks to you.

In the end, we knew that we had not actually solved any of the problems presented, but we sure had allowed for honest airing. We had given each a safe place to which to return for support and the benefit of hindsight on our own past messes for guidance.

I was reminded of how our ultimate source of both guidance and comfort is God Himself, and how we are supposed to share those gifts of help from above with others:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. Corinthians 1:3, 4 (NIV).

And this is exactly what was happening around my breakfast table! It was a natural, non-contrived occurrence because this is just what happens within the fold. It is one of the great purposes of the flock. – Sheep C, 12/14/2008

Ewe Party- A Gathering of Sheep

This past weekend I was in the company of a group of wonderful women. I've written about the importance of belonging before, so you won't be too surprised if I continue with the theme. There is something deep within each of us that compels us to find the place where we are safe. The 80's had a show that centered on that idea-Cheers.It sold itself on the idea that it was a place where everyone knew your name. Doesn't your heart just leap at the idea of something like that being possible? A place where you are not invisible?A place in which you are known?

Something amazing happens when women gather. We talk! At first it's surface information. Similar to sticking your toes in water to test the temperature. On finding that to our liking, we plunge in! The talk moves from information gathering to the common place we all inhabit-our doubts, our fears, our deepest heart pains. We turn to each other to find validation and acceptance. Our hearts and lives are lightened by the sharing and the laughing that gently flows over us, healing us in gentle waves as we realize we are not alone in our struggles.

We in no way solved any problems this weekend. We shared, laying our burdens aside. We invited each other to be a part of our own personal journey.

Times like this are an oasis in the wilderness. A place of rest for the weary traveler. In gathering we share and discover that we are not alone in this. Others have trod similar paths. They offer encouragement that the current troubles are not the final destination. They are temporary and will pass. New strength and courage are found to pick yourself up and go at it again. Shored up with the knowledge that others know and care about your journey. The journey isn't over at this point, but the loving Shepherd has provided a safe place to rest and relax.  Sheep M 12/15/08

Friday, December 12, 2008

Sheep C: Shower Wisdom

Why is it that the shower seems to stimulate my brain waves? I suppose it's that the every-morning act of showering is so ingrained in me that I go on auto-pilot, freeing my brain to roam wherever (hair drying is the same). I find myself going over the day ahead of me, which is understandable, but I don’t stay there very long. At some point my brain wanders and, I think, connects with my heart. Together they come up with stuff I never knew was even on my radar screen. And there are times that I accuse God of getting into this mix. This morning was one of those times.

As I showered, I began to sing an old Peter, Paul and Mary song. Some of you older folks out there will recognize this folk music trio (“Puff the Magic Dragon?”) The refrain of this song (writers, Farina/Marden) goes like this:

Well, if somehow you could pack up your sorrows,

And give them all to me. You would lose them,

I know how to use them, Give them all to me.

Well, the Lord knows that I have had my share of sorrows the past two years. Certainly I wish I could pack them up and give them away. This reminds me of the Scripture where at 1 Peter 5:7, which speaks of:

…casting all your cares upon Him, for He cares for you.

This verse has always conjured up a picture of me moving that monkey of trouble off my back and right onto Jesus’ shoulders, whereupon He would walk off, carrying my sorrow, and I would walk off with no worries!

Now, I don’t know about you, but my experience with what that verse says has been very frustrating, and what I have found is: First, I don’t have a clue about how to cast cares on Jesus. Are there instructions somewhere? And, second, when I have tried (oh, yes, I have tried), it just hasn’t worked. I still had my troubles after the effort. I might feel better about life, in general, having my heart lightened as it always is after an exchange with God, but those pesky troubles were still there, and, doggone it! I wanted them gone—carried off by Jesus so I no longer had to contend with them.

Well, this morning, as I began to sing this refrain in the shower, what I began to think is that God was showing me something about casting cares. “You would lose them…” You bet I would! I would let You take that monkey off my back! But then, “I know how to use them, give them all to Me.”

I’m thinking that I have the picture wrong. He’s not going to relieve me of my circumstances but what He is going to do is “use them,” for me. I began to think of what the Bible teaches about trouble. We are even told to rejoice (!) in suffering (I’m not there yet)

Not only so, but we also rejoince in our sufferings, because we know that
suffering produces perseverence...Romans 5:3

So, on reflection I believe what God is saying is not that He is going to relieve us of our worldly troubles. He just wants us to know that He knows how to use them—to shape us, to help others. When we cast our cares on Him, we are really just stepping back and letting him achieve through our travail.

Of course, I’m blind, so who knows…I don’t like the suffering, that’s for sure. What I do like, however, is believing that it is accomplishing something in the hands of someone who cares a great deal for me. – Sheep C 12/12/08 PS - I know "troubadour" is misspelled, but it's there, and I'm not going to redraw...!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Blind Sheep's New Lenses-part two

As a general principle, I don't like sequels. They rarely measure up to the first installment. That being said, since the last post, I've indulged in two of my holiday past-times. I've re-read Charles Dickens and re-watched "It's a Wonderful Life".

I love these two treats during the holiday season. December is the only month I allow myself to read/watch them. I confess, that they are as much a part of my holiday traditions as the tree, home baked goodies and all the rest.

Here in the south, winter can mean cold and rain. Snow is a rarity and definitely an out of doors occasion. We had rain this week. So I pulled out my copy of "A Christmas Carol" and snuggled in as I lost myself in the beautiful, old fashioned story. Tiny Tim's, "God Bless us, everyone," reminded me of my last post. Hence the part 2 I'm about to indulge in.

Seen through a blind sheep's new lens, Scrooge and George Bailey aren't all that different. On the surface, the men are completely different. One is self sacrificing, the other is self absorbed. Yet neither is completely free to be who they really are, who they were created to be. Both need a little help from above to show them how special and important they are. One gets an angel. Oh how I love Clarence! (Ring a ding! Another set of wings for an angel!) One gets three ghosts. I wonder if that's because his heart was so hardened by the burdens and pains of life that his need was greater?

In the end, both are shown their own importance. That in the big and small ways, their lives have touched so many, impacted the way others live their lives. Their lives, their stories need them. Fully alive to themselves and those around them.

This holiday season, make time to be with those you love. Recognize the blessing of loved ones. Honor those who have impacted your life. And ring a bell or two for Clarence!-Sheep M 12-11-08

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Sheep C Finds a Silver Lining

Last July, being newly-single yet again for about six weeks, I came home one afternoon to find that a storm had knocked out the power. I live way out in the country, and we have power outages far more often than do my city-slicker friends. It’s a rather serious thing because not only do I miss out on lights, I have no water with no power to the well pump.

I sat alone on my back porch because it was the place with the most light and cooler than my now-non-air-conditioned house. I saw more rain clouds over the trees, and the wind began to stir. Clearly more rain was on the way and I groaned, thinking how this might delay the restoration of the power and how dreary the rain would make me feel—I was already depressed, coming home to a dark, empty house.

And, sure enough, the rain began. That’s when a totally amazing, totally unexpected thing happened: The temperature began to drop; everything began to smell cleaner, lighter; there was a cheery radiance given by the end-of-day light through the shower as the rain fell. I, myself, began to feel light and refreshed. I actually began giving thanks for the cooling rain that I had initially cursed.
The following thought came to me: “Fear and anticipation often cause us to avoid the very instruments of life and freedom.”I had dreaded the rain. I had feared and anticipated that it would keep the lights off (it didn’t--they soon returned); I had anticipated and feared that it would depress me even more. It didn’t; it made me feel better, more refreshed as I never could have predicted. My fears were not well-founded. In the end, I was glad for the rain I had dreaded.

I think this realization can be applied to my broader life. Understand that I am not advocating divorce; I would have done a lot (did a lot!) to save my marriage, but since my husband has left, a whole new world is beginning to open up to me. I have the freedom to make some choices that would have just been out had he been here. It hasn’t been all bad, as I had feared and anticipated.

So, what’s a blind sheep to do? Do we resist and avoid things which loom in our future and look like trouble? I think so. I can’t advocate giving up one’s brain and common sense here. We have to live life according to some of the rules of cause and effect that experience has taught us. Hopefully, we seek guidance from above in doing so.

And, yet, there is another, almost other-dimensional (spiritual?) aspect of this thought. We just trot through life, blind sheep that we are, living according to those rules of common sense. But, I think the backdrop to it all should be the understanding that we are, indeed, blind. We are simply not wise enough to have God’s perspective on our lives. So, when we play by those life rules and it seems that life does not, we have to learn to rest in the knowledge that God has our refreshing and renewal on His mind. And He knows how to get us there, whether we recognize the means or not. I think this is called "faith."

No, I have not perfected the art of living with constant awareness of this backdrop, but I do have these flashes of insight that get me by. And when it seems that I just can’t parse out the silver lining to the rain cloud, I try to remember that there is yet more in the background, always, and it’s summed up with God saying this:

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you
and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." Jer 29:11 (NIV)

It may be that I am trying to avoid the very thing that will set me free or bring me life. I just have to trust Him, for certainly I can’t always see!

To the flock, all sheep matter

"Up, up and away in my beautiful balloon..."

I wanted to chime in on what Sheep C wrote.  Not in the way imagined. I wanted to tell a personal story and share with you a gift my children blessed me with.  For my 4oth birthday (and I won't be telling you how long ago that was!) my children arranged for me to ride in a hot air balloon. They did a wonderful job of keeping it a secret. They enlisted the help of friends and family. It was the perfect gift! Little did they know what they had gotten themselves into-

Arrangements made, we awaited the day of the ride. All of us would be going together. It was no longer just a celebration of my day, but of our lives, our family.  We would be doing this together and we were like children on the night before Christmas.  The morning of our ride, we were all up before dawn driving to the field where we were to launch.  Our first surprise awaited us. There was no majestic balloon hovering over the ground. All we saw was the man and his truck. The balloon, he told us, was waiting for us to breathe life into her. The first order of business was to help the pilot unpack the balloon. This may seem like a fairly straight forward affair. Not! There is so much that must be done just so. The basket is attached in just the right way. (Who could argue with that. Once air born, that's your safety net, so to speak.) The the balloon is laid out on the ground. Guide ropes separated from the basket attachment ropes.  At this point we began to divide the labor. Some of us were at the basket end holding it in place as the balloon inflated. Others were using the guide ropes to hold the balloon and prevent it from rising before being fully inflated.

Once all the preparation was complete, we all boarded.  Oh the lurch to my stomach, the thrill of lift off! There is not enough space or words to convey that single moment. No longer was I tied by gravity to this spot of earth. I was air born. A freedom one cannot experience in a plane. I had a panoramic view of the sun rise that morning. How perfect was the timing that let all the work be finished just as the first rays of the new day were creeping across the horizon!

There is more to this memory. So many lessons were engraved on my heart that day.  The one that had the most immediate impact, however, was the crash landing! Yep, we crash landed. One of the oversights was not having a landing crew. Apparently, you need at least one person to remain on the ground and track your flight. When you are ready to land, this person will be  waiting until one of the guide ropes in within reach (this requires expert skills on the part of the pilot as the warm air in the balloon in cooled thus sending the balloon closer to earth), grab it and in concert with the pilot, guide the balloon in for a landing. Without this person, crashing is the only way to land.

As odd as this may sound, crashing seemed the perfect way to end this ride of a life time. We were all in this together and I could just imagine the stories I would be regaling my friends with.  But like every other aspect of this ride, there were rules to follow.

The pilot explained that the heat to air ratio had to be calibrated to (blah, blah, blah...I enjoy the stories of science, it's just that the practical side of it has always sounded like a foreign language to me) Suffice it to say that we were told to hold on.  If one of us were to fall out (never thought that was a possibility!) it would endanger all of us. We were all needed to land the balloon safely.  To lose the weight of one of us, would shoot the balloon back into the air and the pilot would not have control of the flight.

Whoa! Instantly as we prepared ourselves for the crash, I thought of the parable of the sheep. (See, even then I was being primed for this blog!) The shepherd left the 99  to find the one lost sheep. Why? Because we all matter. We can't do this alone.  Suddenly a story I've known since childhood blossomed into a beautiful truth.

I matter to God in a way that until the crash prep, I couldn't take in. Just as a puzzle isn't complete until all the pieces fit together, God's world, His plan included me.  I wasn't just some biological result of my parents. I hadn't been born at a random time in the history of the world. My place, my belonging, my purpose had been established before the first word of creation was spoken.  I mattered! And so do you! This life, this moment in history requires all of us. No matter the circumstances of our individual lives, they/we are all intertwined, woven into a beautiful picture.  The loss of one, endangers all the rest.  Sheep M-12/10/08

Monday, December 8, 2008

C Sheep: If We're All Blind, What Good is the Flock? (Answer: Plenty!)

I am probably going to take it on the chin for this post from M and S because of the countless times they have urged me to heed just what I am saying here, but it's truth, so here goes:

Coming up in the church, I have often heard the admonition against turning to God only in time of need. I must be weird. As counterintuitive as it seems, in the time of my deepest hurt, I actually seem to forget to do the simple things, like praying for guidance and help. Finally, after struggling by myself for a while, it does hit me: "Oh, yeah! I could ask God about that!"

Pain and depression also cause me to leave the flock. I don't know why I do this, just that I end up holing up. "Going into my cave," we have come to call it. I can pretty much function fine on my job through most anything, but when I am really down or upset, it is my friends, family and church that I eschew. I have heard over and over testimonies of how the church family had been support and comfort for those in distress. I like to think I have been part of that comfort at times for others. But when it came to me, church was the first place I fled from when times got dark. My inclination is just toward isolation; I think that is natural. When we are injured, we have an innate desire to go off alone and lick our wounds. We see this all across nature. The intellectual part of me knows this is not healthy, and I believe that the Scriptures, too, tell us to hang together and not be Lone Rangers.

Throughout my ordeal, God has been with me. He was palpably present at the moment I learned of my betrayal, steadying me, guiding me while I was on the auto-pilot of shock. Through numbness I was patently aware of His presence.

In the months that followed, God continued to be there for me; even when I ignored Him in my self-absorption (recall that failure to remember Him, I mention above?) He would push into my life at intervals, making His presence and compassion unexpectedly known; knowing that I was only just getting through the days and would not turn to Him without His intrusion. But really “hearing God,” is not something I have done much of lately. During my “dark days,” while I have been alone, my hearing of God has been limited. We were in survival communication mode, He and I. He understood fully that coping was all I could really manage and, in His wisdom and Love, He limited His speech to me. He comforted, encouraged, gave me signs, but He did not “speak.” He kept to the practical--no lofty theological insights. I did not care; I was just surviving.

I was gone for a good while, and it was hard to return to church, even though M and S and so many other loved ones were there and urging me to return. So much of my former life was entwined in church, and coming back alone was a dread. I knew that I had never really left and my fellow church members struck exactly the right chord of leaving me to my healing and letting me continually know I should not think of myself as “separate” in the permanent sense. I, too, knew that I was still a part of that flock, although temporarily apart.

But the day came for me to return. And what I found was a body so ready to have me back that I did not feel strange at all.

But, back to the value of the flock and the “hearing God” thing: Not only did my church welcome me back, God put on a big welcome for me, too! It was a surprise to me. When I returned to church, God began to “speak” to me in a way He has not done (or I have not heard, at least) in almost two years. It was like He was saying, “Now that you’re here, focus on Me and listen to what I say! Let’s get on with it!” The subsequent Sundays brought God’s voice to me again, and although He has started speaking to me elsewhere (while I dry my hair, for example), His voice is loudest, clearest when I am at church. Being in church is like I am on a hill with my antenna trained to God. Like the blind sheep of the congregation are a collective radar dish, amplifying the voice of God for me.

And, so, I have learned some things during my dark days and in coming out of them, both spiritual and practical. Those lessons will forever impact my professional and my personal life. I am working now on exercises to make those impacts positive, rather than negative. But among the most important lessons I have learned are that: God is always with us, even when we ignore Him; and there's no place like the home flock. Yes, they may be blind, but they are God's conduit to reach down to us, comfort us, and teach us even if it is just by trusting us to watch their own dramas unfold.

And, isn't that just like God? He makes the first last and he lets the blind lead! -C 12/08/08


The one thing I'm learning in this journey, is that sometimes we have to be taken out of our comfort zones to appreciate the fullness of our own lives. We have so much, even when we struggle to make ends meet, there is an abundance that we too often over look. The wilderness forces us into a place of deep focus and appreciation. The friends on this blog with me are a prime example. We've been friends for years- yet the truest expression of that friendship was not seen until one of us was dealt a whammie! Not just any whammie, but one that struck at the core of who that person had always seen themselves. It was a difficult time, yet the richness of the stories, the closeness, the vulnerability was the genesis of this blog. A few years later, yours truly was plucked from her own personal comfort zone and dealt a set of circumstances that completely knocked me for a loop: End of marriage, end of thinking my children were safe and healthy (my son has leukemia and residual effects of a chemo induced stroke), the end of so many things. The beginning of so much more! Then there's the last in our trio. She too was plunked into the wilderness setting. It's not a new story, but painful to all of us who experience it's like or who watch a love one suffer through the disillusionment of a divorce.

So why do we call ourselves sheep? Because God calls us that, lovingly. And we need each other. In the good times we tend to forget that. In the bad, it's our flock who keep us sane.

Blind? Can any of us really see? As my story unfolds, you'll see that what I saw in the beginning of the mess, isn't and wasn't the whole truth. For now we see in part, as through a mirror darkly. Sometimes we need our friends to help remind us of that truth.- Sheep M 12/9/08

Sheep C Discovers We are All Sheep and We are All Blind

Yes, I know, I am not an artist. But you have no idea how therapeutic making these little drawings were! For years I was "on top of the world," knowing that I lived a charmed life. But the year 2007 brought with it the yank of the rug right out from under my feet, and life has never been the same since. (Please forgive...I know the rule against all those metaphors, but I like my little pix, and I'm trying to tie them in here).

In the Book of Revelation, 3:17, God says to the church of Laodicea:

You say, "I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing." But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked...

That was me, pre-2007. Oh, I knew that verse was lurking there. Our church had heard this taught many times. Our pastor realized that this was not just Laodicea He was talking about; it was us all. I knew that, too--intellectually at least. I just did not really realize it applied to me!!

But, I'm here to tell you, that we are all blind. Jesus wasn't kidding when He admonished us that we don't have any control over our future (Matthew 6:25, et seq). I don't have any handle whatsoever on the "don't worry" part of that passage, and if you read this blog regularly, you are sure to see signs of worry, I guarantee you. But these past two years have brought me to realize that life happens. We are just along for the ride.

The two other sheep who write in this blog have had similar experiences, although I was the last one to be dragged into the Trouble Fold. They were dear friends to me before my life fell apart, and so they remain. We encourage each other and, in watching each other's lives take hits, too, have come to understand that God is not picking on each of us particularly, although sometimes it sure feels personal to me.

And I think that's what this little blog is about: Our blind helplessness in life's turmoil and the importance of the flock and what little insights we have gleaned from it all (realizing all the time that insight is chancy--we are, after all, blind).

But I don't think you should look for only "woe is me" in these writings, because we have a whole lot to be joyful over, and I'm praying you'll find that here, too! But for now I'm thinking of an Isak Dinesen quote from her wonderful book, Out of Africa: "Maybe God made the world round so that we cannot see very far down the road..."

Certainly I've been blindsided, and I'm trusting God just a bit more now, understanding that I'm just not very wise! - Sheep C, 12/8/08