Monday, February 27, 2012

On Reverence

There is no doubt that the events of the last year in my life have drawn me closer to God.  I know this may sound strange, but when I returned from my mother’s funeral, I was on such a spiritual high.  God had shown up for me each day I was there, giving me much needed closure, giving me strength to get through each day, giving me the words to write my mother’s eulogy and to speak it and giving me insights into my identity that I denied for years.
As I began to accept these revelations about myself, I continued to explore my faith and seek God’s wisdom on how to walk this new path of spiritual growth that He was lying out for me.  Surprisingly for me, this path put me back in the Catholic Church.  At first, I was very confused by all of this.  I grew up Catholic and turned away from the church as a teen when I gave my life to Christ and joined a Protestant Church.  But for some reason, God was wooing me back and His vehicle was the Catholic Church.
This period of wooing and exploration coincided with the season of Lent.  So last year, for the first time in my life, I made several decisions that allowed me to really listen to God and approach Easter with a fully repentant and willing heart.  My main Lenten decision was to attend mass and prayer time every Wednesday in the Catholic Church.  Each week as I left the church, I noticed God giving me some word or insight to cling too.  I also left with incredible peace—a quieting of my mind to the worries of life.  
As I observed Lent from a sacrificial and willing perspective, I also came to enjoy a deeper relationship with Christ and a reverence for the Lord.  Growing up in the Catholic Church, the liturgy and tradition seemed stale and impersonal to me.  But as I attended these services with new eyes, I was able to appreciate the reverence that is demonstrated by the priest and the parishners.
Last year’s season of Lent was so amazing for me as it gave me time to really focus on Jesus without distraction.  I still go the Catholic Church most weeks and definitely miss it when I don’t.  I have met some very devout followers of Christ in the Catholic Church.  It has changed my way of thinking about the Body of Christ.  It has affirmed and strengthened my relation to my Spanish family as well.
Last week, when I attended the Ash Wednesday service at the local parish, I reflected on this next season of Lent and the reverence that I now have for the Lord.  Last year, I was hesitant to have those ashes put on my forehead and a bit embarrassed to be seen.  This year, I attended a ministry meeting at my church and didn’t even flinch when asked about it. 
I know God has wired me differently than other people.  (We all are.)  I’m letting God point me in the direction that I should go.  Do I question it at times?  Yes, but thankfully not as much as I used too.
For this season of Lent, I challenge you to find reverence for the Lord in whatever way God has wired you to connect with Him.  May He create in you a clean heart as you live out these next 40 days and beyond.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Waiting on Pins and Needles

               The days were slowly passing by since I sent my manuscript off to the publisher on December 1.  At first I put the entire idea of being published out of my mind.  I had gone away for a weekend to write the manuscript and put so much of my normal family and life commitments on hold as I worked toward the manuscript deadline.  So naturally after I sent the manuscript into the publisher, I felt a tremendous sense of relief.  I met my goal.  I wrote the story.  I celebrated.  Then I filed it in the back of my brain and jumped into the thick of the holiday season.
                Then one week passed by, 2 weeks, 3 weeks.  As Christmas approached I hoped that maybe there would be a Christmas gift in my email.  On December 22, I did receive an email from the publisher.  The subject line read: Christmas Gift from Cladach.  My heart skipped a beat.  I opened the email with much anticipation only to be immediately let down by the reality that this was a marketing email to announce a free e-book that the publisher was offering.  It was a nice Christmas promotional idea, but my hopes were dashed.
And there it was again—right in the front of my mind.  This email seemed to trigger all of my doubts about going down this path and if I really could be a writer.  I had put myself out there.  I had written what was on my heart to write—the story that I felt God calling me to write—and it came back void.  I felt exposed.  I was already in a writer’s funk and not writing on my blog.  There was nothing I could physically do about it, so I worked on letting go of my fears and doubts emotionally again.
The New Year brought renewed hope for me.  I attended my monthly Christian Writer’s meeting and started to think about setting some writing goals for 2012.  I decided to hold on to the belief that this piece would be published this year—if not by this publisher then by another.  So many people had witnessed this story unfold and told me how amazing it was.  So many people had been inspired by it.  So many people said they couldn’t wait to read about it.  God was definitely telling me to pursue it.  I trusted Him with this story and again put it in the back of my mind.
As a beginning writer, I was learning how difficult the waiting part of this process was.  I definitely wasn’t looking forward to the potential rejection that commonly follows.  I knew that the two month milestone would be pivotal to me.  It is at that point, that a writer usually contacts the publisher if they haven’t heard.
A few days before the two month anniversary, I watched the movie “The Help” again.  The first time I saw it, I was just starting to see myself as a writer, so Skeeter’s journey to become a writer really resonated with me.  This time around I watched the bonus feature about the making of the movie.  The bonus video clip told the story about how the book debuted on the New York Times Bestseller list and the impact it had on Kathryn Stockett, the author’s, life.  She was with friends when she got the news and immediately they marked this moment in time (with a toast) as an event that would forever change her life.  I got goose bumps when I saw this video clip.  I sensed that I was moving toward this event in my life too.  I felt encouraged and wrote about this in my journal.  I felt poised for success.  I was on pins and needles.
The following day, the much anticipated contact from the publisher arrived.  The subject of the email was the reply (RE) to the original email I sent with my manuscript.  I knew as soon as I saw it that it was the long awaited answer.  I let out a scream and held back on opening the email.  I received it as I was on my way to an appointment. I delayed opening the email until later in the day when I wasn’t so rushed.  After I returned from my appointment, I prepared myself by spending some time in prayer and surrendering the outcome to God. 
The email reply was short—just one line.  I immediately thought it was a rejection.  I had a friend on speaker phone with me to share this moment.  I read the line silently and then began screaming—and crying. 
“What, what, what?” my friend asked.  “What does it say”?
“They’ve accepted my story!” I shouted through tears of joy.  “They are sending a contract!”  My sheer joy elicited excitement from her as well.  The house was filled with a mixture of shouts, laughter and tears.  My son rushed downstairs to find out what all of the commotion was about.  He thought that something terrible had happened.  I told him the good news and held him in a big hug for a long time letting all of the emotion release from my body.
This excitement was followed by emails to the publisher, my husband, my prayer partners, my writing teacher and of course, Rosa and Pedro in Spain.  Later that evening, I attended my regular support group meeting and let the tears flow some more.  The timing was so perfect with the anniversary of my mother’s passing just one week away.  This day was also the 8-year anniversary of the devastating event that led me to start recovery in the first place.  God had perfectly redeemed this day for me into something with such a positive nature.
The icing on the cake that night was celebrating and toasting this occasion with my friend at her house.  It was like déjà vu.  Just like Kathryn Stockett, the author of “The Help”, my life was taking a potentially dramatic change.  We were marking this date as a milestone in my life and thanking God for His blessing.

I know my writing isn’t Pulitzer quality and that I am only one of ten or so authors in this book.  I also know that this was only possible because it is God’s will.  My waiting for this news wasn’t just something that was two months in the making.  This is part of the bigger story about how God redeems years of heartache, depression and loneliness.  It is the restoration for the years that the locusts have eaten (Joel 2:25). 
The really cool thing about this is that this story is not done yet.  God is at work in my life.  He is at work in Spain.  He is at work in the Protestant Church and the Catholic Church.  God is at work all around us.  He is for our good if we surrender to His will.  That is the message of this story.
I’m no longer on pins and needles about the publishing of my manuscript.  However I am still on pins and needles on what lies ahead.  It is a quiet tension inside of me that I need to get used to as I live a life where I often struggle to put God first.  When I do, He is graciously waiting for me.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

I Woke The Bear

It wasn’t until we welcomed Pedro, a Spanish young man, into our home for a short term exchange program two summers ago, that I started to notice how much I use idioms in my language.   At first, I just took for granted that he knew what I meant.  I began catching myself immediately after I said one, identified it as an idiom and explained the meaning. 
Pedro loved learning the idioms.  It was educational for both of us.  I had to think about how to explain the meanings of these strange American phrases and it became part of his immersion in the English language. 
After Pedro’s first summer with us, he was hooked on American idioms.  His first year favorites were ‘6 of one, half dozen of another’ and ‘it’s a piece of cake’.  A few months later back in Spain, Pedro reported that when his teacher asked the class the meaning of ‘6 of one, half dozen of another’, he was the only student who did.  Score some ‘brownie points’ for Pedro.  (That’s a new one I haven’t shared yet.)
When we found out Pedro would return the next summer, we prepared for his return by making a list of idioms to teach him.  It became a family game as we all started to notice our idiom usage. 
Pedro returned to Spain after his second summer with a much larger vocabulary of American idioms.  His new favorites were ‘in the doghouse’, ‘not my cup of tea’, ‘don’t rain on my parade’, ‘too many irons in the fire’ and I’m embarrassed to acknowledge that he also learned ‘who cut the cheese?’—but not from me.  Whenever we Skype with Pedro, he always reminds us of his idioms—which is always good for a chuckle or two. 
Although this is all lighthearted banter between us, we really did aid Pedro with his educational pursuit of learning the English language.  In fact, when Pedro sat for the Cambridge Exam to receive his certificate to teach English as a second language, the test even had some questions about English idioms.  We just found out he passed the exam with ‘flying colors’.  (Oops, there’s another one.)
Unfortunately, Pedro will not be returning this summer to our home.  That hasn’t stopped our cultural exchange or communications though.  A few weeks ago while at a scrapbooking retreat, I created a calendar filled with photos from his last stay in our home.  Each month, I inserted text boxes on the calendar with American idioms so he can continue his love of learning idioms all year long.
As I researched the idioms online, I again was surprised how often I use them in my language.  I carefully selected the idioms because I knew I might eventually end up explaining them to him.  In the process, one particular idiom stood out as soon as I saw it—one I knew I had to send him.  It perfectly described a trait that Pedro and Rosa, his mother, have accepted in me over this past year as we grieved the loss of our mothers (Pedro’s grandmother).  It is ‘wearing your heart on your sleeve’. 
‘Wearing your heart on your sleeve’ means to express your emotions freely and openly.  It is a trait that I have become very proud of.  As I have worked through the loss of my mother, I have embraced the more sensitive side of myself.  It was a part of me that I had stuffed for years.  Now I realize that God gifted me with my emotions and sensitivity for a reason.  It is the way I give back to others—through compassion and empathy.  So my exercise in educating Pedro on American idioms turned into a life lesson for myself.  I found an idiom that describes me perfectly. 
But don’t think this idiom exchange is all one sided.  I am pleased to note that I finally learned a Spanish idiom from Pedro a few weeks ago.  The English translation is ‘I woke the bear’.  It means to get someone’s attention or interest.  I’m not sure if it is a compliment, but I think it applies to Pedro’s love of idioms (although that was not the context he used it).  I’ll have to wait until my next Skype with Pedro to get clarification.  Until that time, I think I’m going to ‘stick my neck out on a limb’ and say that I’m ‘on the right track’.