Saturday, June 28, 2014

Strike Up a Conversation Today

I really hate constantly spewing weird confessions about myself out into cyberspace.

But here comes another one.

When I'm talking to a friend or a coworker, I often get all nervous and start to trip over my words or stammer or rush my words together unintelligibly.  Sometimes spittle is involved. Over the course of these many years, I've figured out that it's because I'm subconsciously thinking to myself, "I better hurry up and make my point before this person gets bored with me." I guess there's a shy school girl still lurking somewhere inside me worrying that what I have to say is not worthy of another person's time. At her prodding, I rush, end up sounding like an idiot and never manage to make that point.

Maybe you can't relate to that feeling of being weird, awkward and shy. You're probably poised, eloquent and brimming over with healthy self-esteem.  That's great.  No, really, I'm thrilled for you.

Perhaps you can relate more to this situation. Have you ever been perched on the exam table at the doctor's office and felt like maybe you'd better knock a couple questions off your list because the doctor seems to be getting a little antsy? Or felt like the doctor thought your concerns were laughable? Today, I horrify friends and family with a wrist that cracks every time I rotate it because over twenty years ago some rude doctor scoffed at my suspicion that I had carpal tunnel syndrome. After he dismissed my symptoms, I was too embarrassed to mention it to any other doctor.

What's that you say?  Nothing like that has ever happened to you? 

Well, of course, I'm genuinely relieved to learn that your physician is enraptured by your fascinating recitation of ailments and pleads to hear more. It seems your splendid good fortune has rendered my humble blog post quite unnecessary. (Sorry, reading a Regency murder mystery.)

What I was going to say is that, if by any chance you could relate to sometimes feeling that your conversation might not be worthy of people's time, or that others find your concerns laughable (or maybe even that your readers don't seem to empathize with you) there is Someone who has plenty of time and concern and empathy to lavish on you. 

God doesn't have a schedule that requires Him to cut your session short. You don't have to rush to blurt out everything you want to say before He has to rush off to his next appointment. He has all the time you need. Psalm 46:1 assures us that, "God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble." He is always there to listen.

And when you stumble over your words in prayer or otherwise have trouble expressing yourself to Him, you can relax and just rest in the knowledge that, "your Father knows what you need before you ask him." (Matthew 6:8 NIV)

An occasional rude doctor might walk away from you rolling his eyes, but God pursues you with joy. The Bible is full of beautiful metaphors illustrating how God chases after us, like a shepherd after a lost lamb, a loving father after a rebellious son, a forgiving husband after an unfaithful wife. He is not willing for even one person to miss out on a relationship with him. Romans 5:8 tells us, "But God demonstrates his love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."

You are precious to Him! Psalm 139:13-14 expresses how He has known you and loved you since before your mother started researching baby names. "For you created my inmost being: you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well."  His works are wonderful! That's you! 

You can vent to Him, cry to Him, confess your darkness secrets to Him. You can be honest with Him about your frustrations, your feelings, your failures and sins. He already knows the worst, even the stuff you try to hide from yourself, and He still loves you. (Psalm 139:1-4)

Wait! Wait! Don't walk away! I'm almost finished talking, I promise!

On those awful days, when you feel that no one can know how you feel or understand what you're going through, you can know for sure that God does understand and He hurts with you. In Psalm 31:7, the writer says to God, "I will be glad and rejoice in your love, for you saw my affliction and knew the anguish of my soul."

So that's what I was going to say. God is there for you always and wants to hear from you. You can relax, open your heart to him and be your genuine, imperfect self with Him without fear of rejection. "But if from there you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul. (Deuteronomy 4:29)

Thank you for staying with me to the end. I am sorry if, in my rush, I got spittle on your computer screen. 

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests,
to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
                                                                                                            Philippians 4:6-7

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Confidently Speaking

 I'm not one of those people who says, "The Lord told me this," or "The Lord placed it on my heart to do that." I've never felt comfortable talking like that because I can't trust myself.  I lie to myself and mislead myself all the time.  Not on purpose, mind you (sorry, been reading Agatha Christie.) It's just that we often tell ourselves something is true simply because we really want it to be true.

Here's a very non-spiritual example from my own fascinating life. It's 6:30 on a Monday morning. I am in my bathroom performing my toilette - which on the most delightful of days consists of merely brushing my teeth and slicking my hair down with sink water. With the best intentions, I assure myself, "You don't need to shave your legs in order to wear those capris pants today.  Your leg hair is blonde and fine.  No one will even see it." I really want it to be true. Two hours later, while on cross-walk duty, I glance down to discover that every single individual hair jutting out of my shins is highly visible.

Augh! Betrayed by my own self once again!!

If I could thus deceive myself concerning things seen, how much more so things unseen?

At this point in my life, I haven't had a lot of experiences where I know for sure that God told me a specific something. I might believe it or assume it or feel convinced of it but I don't feel comfortable going around declaring it boldly because it's highly possible my decision to, say, bow out of teaching Sunday School was my own selfish idea. I'm a little slow on the uptake so God has to really grab my attention for me to know for sure it's Him.

One time, God really grabbed my attention.

It happened about 17 years ago when my kids were five and six. I was newly divorced. My former in-laws were kind enough to let the three of us live with them while I did my student teaching. Life was chaotic and stressful but everything was going fine.  That is, until I lay my head on the pillow each night. That's when I uncharacteristically began to worry. "What if I die? Who will take care of my babies?" I knew my ex-husband was in no position to care for them. He's been in recovery for 13 years now but at the time he was not doing well. Staring at the ceiling in the middle of the night, I would plan out my will and who would be responsible for my kids. I ran down the list of relatives: my mom, my dad, my in-laws, my siblings.  All of them were wonderful people but none of them were me!

It was imperative that these cuties be raised by someone who possessed a particular brand of 

As I fretted about possibly leaving my kids orphaned, my body started playing tricks on me. My head started to hurt so I worried that I had a brain aneurysm.  I didn't even know what that was at the time but I was sure I had one. Then my chest started to hurt. I was certain I had heart disease and would promise God I would stop eating potato chips if he let me live through the night. I convinced myself I had breast cancer at one point.  I was a wreck into the wee hours.  But the sun would come up in the morning and my irrational fears disappeared. I never even told my sister or my mother all of my concerns because I completely forgot all about my ridiculous worries during the day.

But my fears returned each night. This happened for several weeks. I lived like my normal carefree self during the day but as soon as the house was dark and quiet I tortured myself with the fear of dying and leaving my children motherless.

One Sunday, I happened to get myself back to church.  I returned to the church my husband and I had attended but things had changed a lot and there were so many new people.  I sat next to a young woman I didn't know. At the end of the service she said, "Excuse me, God is telling me to tell someone something and I think it's you."

I was surprised and very curious.  I said, "Okay."

She said, "He's telling me to tell you that you're not sick. That there's nothing wrong with you so stop worrying about it."

He grabbed my attention all right!  I was amazed.  I was thrilled.

Number one: I wasn't dying and my kids could look forward to being raised by their own loving, goofball mother!

Sorry, you two!  I was your destiny! 

Number two: God had said something to me!!!  How amazing is that?!!

It was like the world's best celebrity sighting. Way better than the time Willie Nelson smiled at me or the time Bono leaned down from the stage to accept the rainbow button I handed him.  The Creator of the universe had just diagnosed me!

I had never told another person about my late night worries.  But God knew.  He was there with me when I was stressing myself out at night. He was paying attention to me and what was going on in my life. And He cared enough to tell me I was okay!

At that moment when the girl at church passed on this message, I smiled and said, "Thank you! Yeah, that was for me!" In my head I was thinking something like, "Oh, my gosh, God! Message received!" I stopped worrying immediately and completely.  That night, I returned to my usual unmotherly, stone-like sleep.

What I got from that experience in the long run, though, was, I think, even more valuable.

I don't know about you, but I sometimes struggle with doubts.  I think sometimes it can be hard to believe in God in today's world. Once in a while, I have a little tiny doubt that asks, "Do you tell yourself you see evidence of God's existence just because you really want Him to be real?"

I mean, doesn't it seem a little too good to be true? A God who knows you inside and out but still loves you, who cares deeply about you and is intimately involved in your life?

When I have these thoughts, I look back on this experience that, to me, cannot be denied. It restores and reinforces my faith in promises that are, yeah, too good for us to deserve, but, praise God, not too good to be true. So if you've been your mind and ask Him to reveal Himself to you. He is there for you.
Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7 

Monday, June 9, 2014

Daily Spa Treatments

Until recently, this was the very view that greeted me when I woke up each morning for much of this past school year. With a self-inflicted eyesore in the backyard, stacks of ungraded school papers lining the baseboards like ankle-high gremlins and the mess of laundry I'd elected to not fold the night before, you might think my bedroom could better serve as the setting of an eerie psychological thriller than a place of relaxation.

What terrors lurked amongst the collective dead?
Did the mysteriously expanding pile of unfolded laundry truly exist or was it
 but a figment that represented her own progressively cluttered, tormented mind?

She had the unsettling feeling that she was being watched.  She froze, her eyes
 sweeping the silent room. Had that stack of ungraded spelling tests crept a few inches closer?

Even worse, let's take this unkempt environment and add to it the fact that I've spent the last three years feeling like the nation's worst teacher. Factor in my legal certification as Subhuman until after 8:00am and you can see the serious potential my bedroom has for feeling as cheerful as a tuberculosis sanitarium when my alarm clock starts its hideous caterwauling at 4:45 each weekday morn.  

So you might be surprised to find out that this place feels like a spa to me.

For the past three years, I had really been wrestling with the desire to leave teaching.  And I was getting my butt kicked.  Oh, this isn't just me exaggerating. Perhaps you've noticed my tendency to do so. No, I was being battered and nearly drowned by all the expectations of the job combined with my own shortcomings. 

So every morning, in desperation I climbed onto the Rock to wait out the storm in safety and comfort.

Funny how God works. For years I had struggled to develop the habit of getting up early to spend time praying and reading the Bible. Suddenly, my feelings of ineptitude as a teacher really began to reinforce this habit as they emphasized my need for it.

I admit that I spent part of my prayer time unloading about my growing itch to leave education. However, I concentrated more on praising God and thanking Him for every little thing, including the stress of my job because I knew it was bringing me closer to Him. This wasn't my clever idea.  I got it from a Book. First Thessolonians 5:18 says, "In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you." Apparently, I was supposed to be in this particular place at this particular time. Ugh. So I semi-reluctantly thanked God for everything that was stressing me out and and waited expectantly.

So as I was praying, I would look out at those awful weeds in my backyard which were green at the time but I didn't see weeds. I saw a little world full of life - plants, birds and insects. I thought about how plants and animals reproduce and grow and how everything is interdependent until I was just amazed and overwhelmed by God's unfathomable creativity and His loving provision for us. Then, looking around my little bedroom, I would see more evidence of God's of my two kids, a ratty old quilt on the bed, a roof over our heads, a freckle-faced dog named Jenny...until I was crying tears of gratitude and joy. 

It was so relaxing, yet thrilling.  I felt rejuvenated every morning.

Ain't gonna lie to ya' now.  'Cause that there would be a sin. I confess that I did not go to work all happy and cheerful. Indeed, sometimes in my weakness, I would unfaithfully lean on the crutch of caffeinated soda to get me through the day. I still hated being in a job that I didn't do well but in the middle of all the turmoil and stress, I knew that God is in control of the situation and that He was up to something.

I can't claim to know the exact nature and complete scope of that something.  I'm still waiting. However, I can feel my relationship with God changing.  He is tending and growing little things.  In the meantime, one thing that God has shown me is that while the temptation to sleep longer on work days is strong, the extra sleep is not worth giving up time enjoying Him. (full disclosure: Sometimes I fall asleep while I'm praying! Embarrassing. Sorry, God.) I am grateful that through my prayer time, in the midst of my stressful chaos, God turns my one-star room into a relaxing, rejuvenating, spa-like environment. It is my favorite time of the day.

In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice,
in the morning I lay my requests before you
and wait expectantly.
              Psalm 5:3  

Sunday, June 1, 2014

I HATED Math But I Loved Algebra Class: Introducing Mike

When I think of strolling down Memory Lane, I always picture a white picket fence planted in rambling clouds of blue morning glories. However, the stretch of Memory Lane I'm visiting today, if I remember correctly, is instead paved with 1970's burnt orange carpeting and lined with orange metal school lockers.  You're welcome to walk down that way with me if you'd like and meet my friend, Mike. 

(ack! I had to make a correction.  I originally said I met Mike in '78 but it was in '79.)

   Photo credit: Mike's best friend, the
fabulous Michele Cook

In 1979, during the second semester of my 9th grade year, I met the person who, for the next thirty-some years, would dazzle me, infuriate me, encourage me, bluntly contradict me, rescue me, zing me, laugh with me and at me, argue heatedly with me and inspire me. This is where I met my buddy, Mike Girard.

Shy and quiet, I tried to enter Mrs. Merrill's algebra class unnoticed, hiding behind a baggy, brown sweater and a stringy curtain of long, blonde hair. Waiting for class to begin, I sat slumped in my seat with my feet, in their nameless blue and yellow track shoes, jammed into the wire book rack under the empty chair in front of me. I have a vague memory of a guy, a tall, thin 8th grader, strolling unhurried into the room just as the bell rang.  He had feathered hair, wore what I assume were Jordache jeans and wielded a disdainful scowl that made me quickly unwedge my shoes from beneath the seat he then claimed as his own.

Any memory of our initial conversation has completely disintegrated into our thirty-year friendship like sugar swirled into a glass of tea. All that's left is a feeling of pleasant surprise, that someone so bold, funny and confident would turn around again and again to talk to me, to share a disparaging remark about Mrs. Merrill's taste in shoes or to laugh at my jokes.

Mike immediately dazzled me with his creativity and wicked sense of humor. He encouraged my creative side and egged on my cruel streak by instigating a series of drawing projects that lampooned our classmates, our teacher and her variety of maternity-leave substitutes.  Much of this activity took place right in the middle of algebra class. No surprise -- I got the "D" I was expecting.  I was stunned, however, that my new friend had earned an "A", apparently without even trying. I hadn't yet recognized his genius.

Shoot.  I've only touched on the first semester of a lifetime of schooling in the ups and downs of a treasured friendship. A simple blog post cannot contain the personality and legacy of Mike Girard. We would need an entire book!  And you likely have a dishwasher to load or a toilet to scrub.  How do I explain Mike sufficiently while keeping it short and sweet?

I can't! So let's do this.  Let's run through some quick examples for now and consider making this an ongoing series later: 

A Mike and Andrea Sampler

(dates are rough estimates)
  • rescued - 1995  Me, newly divorced, back at Dad's, depressed and crying in the bathroom.  Mike, just back in town from some months-long adventure and in possession of two tickets to see the Go-Go's on their reunion tour. Was I the first person he called?  I don't know and I don't care.  I was thrilled. 
  •  dazzled - While living in Hollywood, Mike swept past security to casually crash an Emmy Awards "after-party" and mingled with the likes of Mary Tyler Moore.
  • zinged - 2000?  Me: Do you think I would die if I fell (from this second story balcony)?  Mike: At your weight? Yes.
  • encouraged -  2007  Me: Look, I'll watch you sing karaoke but I'm not going to do it! Mike: Sure, that's fine. Bartender, another drink for the lady.
  • laughed with me - 2000  Mike presented me with this grocery store find and we laughed until we almost peed:                                                                                                                                         
  • laughed at me - 1984 Mike: Do you have a stamp I can use? Me (just arrived home from work, hot and sweaty): Yeah, in my bedroom.  I'll go get you one. (meaning I would bring one back out after I'd changed clothes. Instead, Mike walked into my room the instant I had dropped my sweaty jeans to my ankles.) Mike: (through the door after slamming it in horror)AAAAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!
  • infuriated - 2008  Mike: You need slap therapy!!!
  • contradicted - 2008  Mike: Do you believe (some- thing;  I don't remember what)?  Me: Yes, I do.  Mike: No, you don't.

This is just my little slice of Mike's story.  He had many friends who, just like me, adored him, irritated him and got fed up with him. And we all got a kick out of his flare for comedy and improv.  Mike was a natural performer.  Any place, at any time, was his stage and playground. Didn't matter if he was at the grocery store, in a movie theater, on a crowded dance floor, or walking through a parking lot; the public might be subjected to his accents, his pantomimes, or his impersonations of Pat Benatar, Dodie Goodman, Joan Crawford or the rude cashier he recently encountered. A night out with Mike was a star-studded affair, all much to the delight of his friends.  

Although Mike lived life entirely on his own terms, several weeks before his death in 2010, he expressed that he was angry with himself for not making the most of his talent, for not pursuing his dreams. Those of us who loved Mike and were blessed with his friendship know that his talent was anything but wasted.  He gave us years of joy and fun as well as happy memories that will keep us laughing the rest of our lives. 

Maybe my favorite pic: Mike and me
with the slice of ham he slapped on my wedding
dress as the photo was being snapped.
Looking back at my 9th grade algebra class, though, I realize now that one aspect of my friendship with Mike has come full circle.  In 1979, he inspired me to create comics and song parodies. With his passing, he inspired me to pursue my dreams and write in earnest (me? In earnest? Ha!) This is yet another reason for me to think of Mike with a grateful smile which I do pretty much each and every day.

I could go on with stories of Mike's brilliance, array of talents...oh, and the jobs, the cities, the arguments, the apologies, the re-enactments of Mtv music videos from the 1980's...but you have a bathroom to clean and I can't take up any more of your time! However, I do urge Mike's family and friends to join me in writing down the truth before he reaches folk hero status.  We want people to know the difference between Mike's real adventures and tall tales.  Although, we all know Mike's story needs no exaggeration!

We miss you, Mike!  Can't wait to see you again!  

Here's Mike doin' what he did!

Family and friends of Mike, I know this short post does not do him justice.  I encourage you to help me out by leaving a comment and sharing your own thoughts!