Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Not My Way, Lord, but Your Way!

"Do you remember when I was in middle school and I was tormented by some kids at the lunch table?  Well, back then, I had all kinds of thoughts in my mind as to what to do to them in revenge; but I decided to lock those thoughts in a vault and pretend I tossed that vault into the ocean.  Then, later, when I was calmed, I would revisit those thoughts.  In your case, I think it would be best if some of those thoughts you just never revisit."

Sigh...

Yep...my 16 year old son told me this a couple of days ago while I was torturing him about something...I can't even remember what it was. 

I am a pushy Mom...wife...teacher...friend...etc...

I have issues.

I want things to go my way and people to do what I say...

I push and push and push people, mainly my most beloved ones, until they have nowhere else to go but down the cliff.  Grant has become very skillful at pushing back.  I can't blame him.  The alternative is the pit.  So, in his very interesting way, my son was trying to teach me that I need to let go!  I need to stop torturing him and myself, and just go with the flow.  There are things that are just not meant to be, and I need to learn how to discern that.

Sigh...

I need the Holy Spirit to teach me how to stop wasting my time on worthless and unrealizable pursuits and, instead, focus my energies on what God does want me to accomplish.  I think my problem is that I have a hard time distinguishing between my own goals and God's.  Often, I find myself chasing after ideas, causes, things, people who are just not supposed to be part of God's plan for me.  But I am just too dense to realize it...until I hit a wall.

Today, I pray that My Heavenly Counselor who Dwells in me would make His presence completely known to me.  I pray I can finally become clay in His hands.  I don't want to continue this trend of wanting my way at all cost.  I want to seek His way.  I want to accept His plan, for His Way is the right way and His Plan is the only one perfect.

May the Holy Spirit give us what we need in order to lock away useless pursuits and grant us the ability to choose His way over any other way.


Monday, May 14, 2018

The Lifter of My Head

Those who knew my Father could probably agree in the assessment that he was a tough figure, an oak of a man, not very flexible, strict, and rather scary.  As the youngest child, however, I had the privilege of seeing the tender side of my Dad.  Even in his old age, he was still a commanding man, don't get me wrong.  But I was able to glimpse at the softer version of this amazing individual.  I remember how he could perceive something was not quite right with me only by the way I'd say hello on the phone, during our weekly conversations.  

When I was still at home, he would know that something was bothering me as he'd see me walking up the driveway after school.  The thing is that our High School got too big for the infrastructure, so they made certain grades and groups go on different shifts.  I was in the group that went in the afternoon shift, so I wouldn't get back home until 6:00 p.m.  By then, my Dad would be back home from work, so he'd sit at the front porch to wait for me.  I remember, very fondly, how he would stand up and meet me half-way on the driveway.  And on those days, when life had hit me hard at school, he'd notice, and he'd cradle my face in his big hands, forcing me to look up at him, only to smile and give me a couple of gentle paddings on my cheeks.  

Long gone are those days when I found comfort in my father's hands...

Life hasn't gotten any easier...

I often feel inadequate...not good enough...which causes me to walk around with my head low.  Fear of not being what I am supposed to be...fear of disappointing those who count on me cause a dark cloud to follow me wherever I go.

Sometimes I want to run away in shame.  I want to hide, where the enemy cannot find me. But I can't, for I fear I carry my worst enemy in my mind.  My thoughts entangle me.  They slip out of my control, and I'm left in the confusing corner of my misguided imagination.  

But you, LORD, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high. Psalm 3: 3

And this is the good news!  Even in the midst of my darkness, when my mind wanders into places it need not to enter, the Rescuer of my soul comes in, shattering walls, planting His Shield around me, and tenderly lifting up my head.  

And, unlike my earthly father who is no longer around to offer me the comfort I so desperately need, Our Heavenly Father is Faithfully and Constantly here.  He will not leave us nor forsake us, and He will even fight our battles for us.  All we have to do is cry out to Him, and He will deliver us from our trouble.

I will always carry the memories of my Dad in my heart.  I pray that when I get to Heaven, I am able to express how much I love him and how much I missed him the years we were apart.  But I rest in the knowledge that I have a Father who is Good, Who Answers my prayers, and Who Makes my face radiant with His Light, even in the days when darkness seems to take over my life.

I will extol The Lord at all times;
His praise will always be on my lips! Psalm 34: 1

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Lord Willing...

"Lord willing..., you always say that...maybe I can get an XBox for Christmas this year???" said Dylan to me the other day as he came home blabbering about this game that all his friends are playing and apparently he is the only child on the entire universe that doesn't have it...

Sigh...

He made me laugh, not just because the thought of buying an XBox for Christmas in early May is hilarious, but because he began his plea with the expression "Lord willing..."

This past week has been one of trial and craziness.  I have no clue where time has gone.  I am so busy.  There is so much I still have to do to wrap up the semester.  I am teaching an online course that starts on Wednesday.  The school year is ending for the boys.  I'm going on a trip in a week.  And, on top of it all, I lost a dear and special friend a few days ago...the thought of redeeming the times, needless to say, has been in my mind with renewed intensity.

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.  James 4: 13-17

In the NIV, this passage of the Book of James is prefaced by the title: "Boasting about Tomorrow."  It hit me specially hard today, as I'm remembering a friend that departed way too soon from our midst.  

Sigh...

We are, indeed, nothing but a mist...a vapor...here today, and gone tomorrow, like the song says.  Plans for the future are left in the dust, for time doesn't belong to us.  It is all in God's hands.  And, while the thought might be terrifying for those of us who rank high on the controlling scale (I'm all the way up on the "control freak" category), it is actually comforting to know, to realize, to accept that someone else is in charge.  I mean, isn't it?  After I think about it, I most rather have the One Who Designed it all being behind the wheel, than me!  

I don't know what the heck is going on with anything!  Why do I think that I know how to manage time!?

"If it is the Lord's will..." I am learning to introduce all my plans with this phrase.  I am trying to teach my boys to use it...I am please that the words are resounding somewhere in their brains as even Dylan, Mr. I-Don't-Care-To-Listen-To-Anything-You-Have-To-Say, Mama, has noticed.

I want to be intentional about it.  I want to put God first in everything I plan, for all plans belong to Him.  

I also want to make sure that I do the "good I know I have to do" while in the present moment.  We are not promised tomorrow...just the now.  So, I don't want to wait to share my most prized possession: my time, doing what I am called to do:  share it with those God has placed in my scope...until it is too late.

Some of us who are mourning the passing of our dear friend are feeling guilty because we didn't dedicate enough time to our friendships.  That has inspired me to reach out more and spend more time with those I love, without waiting to express my feelings and my availability.  

No regrets!  That's what I want to feel when it is my time...Maybe we will get the XBox after all for Christmas...not sure yet...but I am sure I don't want to continue to hord my time...which I often feel I do...I want to invest it in the business of the Lord and His beloved!

May the Holy Spirit guide us as to how to best redeem our times so we can do the good that we ought to...for as long as we can...Lord willing...

Friday, May 11, 2018

Random Thoughts of a Churning Mind

The chaotic spin of the end of the academic year came to a sudden stop, mid-week with the news of the passing of an unforgettable friend, only to resume again propelled by the fury of facing my own mortality and the fear of things left unsaid or undone...

Time...what is it?  Where does it go?

Twenty seven years ago my parents were visiting me in Clarion, where I was attending college.  They came to spend a couple of weeks with me and travel around a bit...little did they know that they were to meet their future son in law who was then graduating from the university this very day all those years ago...

Today, the sky is full of wonder as it seems to not be able to make up its mind as to whether it should rain or shine...and so it's my soul...caught in between mourning, melancholy and joy. 

Sigh...

All these thoughts churn in my mind, agitated by the question, "am I redeeming the times"?

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Ephesians 5: 15-17

How does one become wise and stop being foolish?  How do I make the most of every opportunity?  How do we ever come to an understanding of the Lord's plan?

I strive to achieve all of these, but I can't help failing at every turn.  Just when I think I have arrived at a place of knowledge...it all crumbles and I'm left standing on rubble.  The truth is, there is much we are not meant to understand while on this shore of eternity.  The mystery of God's ways are to remain a mystery as we dwell on this earth.  We are not to create a comfortable image of the Most High, for as soon as we are finished crafting it, He shows us how little our human brains truly know.  He is the Lion of Judah!  He is not a tamed one.  Why do we insist in making Him into a domesticated kitten.  It is precisely such wildness what makes Him inexpressibly beautiful and inexplicably amazing!

May the Holy Spirit bring order to our thoughts, quiet to our souls and peace to our hearts as we continue the spin of life.  May our churning be purposeful.  May we not get dizzy by keeping our eyes focused on His Face.  May our days not be idle as we pray He helps us redeem the moments while we still perform on this stage.  May we remember that even though He is the Lion, He is also the Lamb that died for us...His beloved.



Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Do Not Seek Heaven on Earth...

What is life, but a collection of moments...

Some moments mark us forever, like the moment someone communicates to us with words or actions that we are not worthy.

Some others are full of bliss and joy, like the moment we first lay eyes on the person we know is "the one" we are meant to be with...or the moment we first meet our children.

Some moments make us sprint into action, like when we hear someone calling for help.

Some, yet, paralyze us...like when we learn of a loved one's death...

In my opinion, loss is the hardest thing we have to experience while walking on this valley of tears...but sudden loss is even worst.  Today, I lived the petrifying effect of finding out that a dear friend passed away... He was a friend I graduated from High School with, but whom I didn't really get to know well until we were thrown together in a mix of around 60 young adults when we all won the scholarships that brought us to the United States about 30 years ago.  As life would have it; after spending a full year together in a dorm in Panama learning English, most of us were sent to different places around the United States and we lost track of each other.  Except for a handful, I hadn't known from the majority of them over the years...until early in 2017, when an online/private chat room was created so we could reunite, even if virtually with one another in anticipation to an actual, live reunion that is going to take place in Panama this July.

In this chat we have shared what happened with our lives since we last were together and the experience has been truly rewarding and enjoyable.  About 40 of the original 60 have kept exchanging messages for over a year now, picking up where we left off all that time ago.  This one friend, was the soul of the group.  His wisdom was evident back when we were nothing but a bunch of clueless kids; but now it was confirmed.  The characteristically long messages analyzing anything and everything from politics to gardening drew lots of friendly teasing from everyone, but deep inside, all consciously admitting even if not to his face, the admiration for all his depth of thought and insight.

He was a devoted Father, Husband, Friend, Follower of Christ who was not afraid to disagree and express his point of view; which could never be taken lightly for we all knew it was backed by long and profound consideration before expressing it.

This morning...as I was trying to juggle a million things at work, I, as I have gotten in the habit of doing since the chat began last year, grabbed my phone and scrolled through the messages in search of a way to take my mind off the stress...only to come face to face with the news that he had collapsed and died at his home in Panama this morning...

That moment...you know?  The one that takes all the air out of your lungs... the one that leaves you inmovil... the one that steals all the words... the one that your mind just cannot process... that moment hit me.

I didn't know what to do.  My first reaction was to think it was a joke... most of the other members of the group thought the same thing... but the reality was too brutal... and I began to shudder.  Not able to burst out in tears for I had students stepping into my office, I tried to put the thought aside; but the crashing gong of the words kept haunting me.

Life is so fragile.  Let us not waste any more moments in useless pursuits.  Let us not waste another moment and tell our loved ones they are special and that we carry them in our hearts.  Let us not waste another moment and go share hugs with the ones you love. 

We wonder why is this life so hard...and it is so, exactly because it is this life...it is not heaven.  And, for as long as we remain here, we will have trouble and tribulation...but, we are also to take heart, for we are under the wings of the One Who Has Overcome the world...and because He has overcome, we shall do so as well.  There is a time for every moment under the sun...and today is a time to cry.  But Hope continues; and one day...He will wipe away every tear and these moments won't even be a memory when we bask in the Glory of His everlasting moment!


Saturday, April 28, 2018

A Million Dreams

I saw the movie The Greatest Showman for the first time last night.  I know...I finally moved out of the 1% group ... the percentage group of people who haven't seen this movie... anyway...

The thing is that I enjoyed the film way more than I ever thought I would.  I am particularly in love with the scene where the main characters, P.T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman) and his wife, Charity (Michelle Williams) dance and sing the song "A Million Dreams."

I think that is such a beautiful scene...flawlessly performed.  It is so amazing I had to research whether the actor/actress duo had really done it or if it was all computer design and animation.  They actually danced and singed the whole scene, much to their credit.  The thing is...what truly enraptured me and causes me to replay this particular scene over and over and over again tirelessly is the fact that it illustrates the freedom one finds in love.

The daring dance moves, the pure joy, the carefree and total abandonment seen in Charity are a perfect visual of how love can set you free!

Of course the scene is about romantic love between husband and wife.  Of course the scene is about how the wife is completely in love with her husband.  Of course the scene is about the exhilarating joy that overflows one's soul, heart and body when we have found the one we want to share our dreams with...of course the scene is about the fact that she fully and totally trusts him...enough to feel as if she can fly!

She trusts him enough to know that she is, indeed, free enough to attempt gravity defying jumps...because she knows he will be there to catch her if she falls...or rather, because she knows he will not let her fall...

However, the more I watch that scene I realize there is only one love like that:  the love of Our Lord!  There is no wonder one of the most common analogies of the love of Christ for the Church is that of marriage.  The often imperfect love and bond between husband and wife is the closest we can get here on earth to the relationship between Jesus and us...the good news is, that whereas earthly marriages fail and crash miserably... the marriage established in the Bible is the one that is meant to be forever...the one for which a man will leave his mother and father to join his woman until death causes physical separation while at the same time, bonds them together in spirit for all eternity.

Christ loves His bride so much He'd rather die for her than let her fall and be lost.

That's the kind of love that makes us light as a feather.  That's the kind of love that makes us dance on the ledge of a building and jump into His arms.  That's the kind of love that makes us spin around without getting dizzy.  That's the kind of love that breaks our chains and frees us to be who we were designed to be.  That's the kind of love that tears down walls and lets the light shine in!  That's the kind of love that rescues us from the pit.  That's the kind of love that pulls us out of the depths of the sea into the surface so we can finally breathe!

That's the kind of love that sets us free so we can fearlessly and courageously do His work, accomplish His purpose, walk along His path, fulfill His plan until we finally jump into His loving arms.

I will continue to have "a million dreams" about this movie and its magic; but I pray that each and everyone of those dreams guide me to the kind of love that leads to perfect trust in the One who gave it all...for me.


Friday, April 27, 2018

Mama Dieter

The Band
Me:      "Where do you guys want to go? I've been asking you for like a month and you haven't told me anything!  We are leaving in a few hours, c'mon!"
Grant:  "I don't know."
Me:      "Please, talk to your friends and tell me where you want to go.  I don't want to be in the middle of Time Square with a bunch of teenagers not knowing what or where we should go!"
Grant:   "I think they all want to go to the Nintendo store."
Me:       "Ay, Dios mio!..."

The weeks, days and hours leading to this year's Band trip were full of anxiety for me.  The moment I saw the final itinerary I began to lose it.  "What does this mean?  We are going to be let loose in Time Square in the evening?!!!!  I am so NOT going to survive this trip...sigh..."

I was SO nervous about that "adventure" in Time Square I didn't know how to get a grip.  I am not fond of New York City...so the thought of me leading a group of teens around the congested and colorful streets of Midtown Manhattan was giving me indigestion and heart palpitations.

When the moment for our "free time" in this novelty-filled, billboard lit part of the Big Apple came, I was a wreck.  By then, however, I had had more than 24 hours hanging out with the kids.  Therefore, I had discovered that I was surrounded by a crazy, goofy, fun-loving bunch.  And, although I didn't realize it at the time, I had even had sparks of pure glee in the middle of the mahem.

A rather large group of kids wanted to go to the Nintendo store by Rockefeller Plaza, so we headed that way only to realize, by the time we arrived there, that it was closed!  I mean, REALLY?  I guess they DO sleep in New York City after all?  So after that fiasco, the large group split into several smaller sections, and the Band Director and I stock together with 11 or so kids...wandering into over-priced stores, admiring the lights and crowds, and looking at street performers, hoping some of the jokes would go over the kids' heads!  As the time went by, and I became aware that we were not going to die... I was able to relax and actually enjoy myself...WOW!  But it wasn't until I heard one of the boys from the group, running to me, down the sidewalk, calling me "Mama Dieter, Mama Dieter!" that I realized I was actually loving life!

I don't think he will ever know how much of an impact him calling me "Mama Dieter" had in me.  As I remember the moment, I want to cry of joy...but that was the moment I was able to understand that God is in charge...all the time...even when we want to keep a tight hold of our circumstances...for a good cause: like not losing any of the kids I was chaperoning in NYC!  He's got it.  He knows what He is doing.  If I'd only let go and let Him be God...I could have such an easier and smoother ride...sigh...

We came back to the hotel and shared our chaperoning stories in our room.  That night, I couldn't sleep.  The bright lights of Time Square were still shining inside my eyelids.  The sights, the smells, the action were still too vivid in my mind...as it was the sound of that teen boy calling "Mama Dieter."  In the quiet hotel room, after my roommates had long fallen asleep, in the midst of the hectic pace of my thoughts, ...I praised the Lord for keeping us safe and for allowing me to see His hand in the chaos... steeding me...giving me peace and quieting my fears...for with Him, even the craziness of New York City is tamed by His loving presence and His comforting guidance.

We did make it to the Nintendo store the next day, when we had a bit of time back in that vicinity in the morning before heading to the Lincoln Center...I hauled by myself 11 kids there in record time...after all, I had promised, and they were grateful for it.

Grant loving every minute of it!



NINTENDO STORE TRIUMPH!