45 Days and Counting – Words

What words shall we choose to tell our stories? As our team prepares to make our way to Rwanda and Kenya, we’ll be spending a good portion of the next 45 days thinking about words.

In our everyday lives, the grand majority of our words flow easily. We don’t really have to think about what we say. We open our mouths and thoughts flow. Admittedly, many of us have times when it would have been better if the flow had been slowed to a trickle. Then, perhaps, we could think a bit about what we were about to say and the effect our words might have.

Last Saturday, as Allison and I were discussing our topic for the training, “Spiritual Insights,” we were looking at some lessons I had put together for other gatherings. As I told her about one particular lesson, I was feeling a little proud about just how good it was. As I made point after point, I felt a knot come up in my stomach. This wasn’t going to work for our audience in Rwanda. These words were all wrong. Finally, I stopped talking. And fortunately, Allison began sharing. As she expressed things from her heart, I could tell that these words would connect.

As we’ve worked in the last few days to commit words to paper for the training manual that will be given to the participants, I think I’ve used the “delete” key more than usual. Thinking about the right words. Searching for the right words. Writing the right words.

While some of our audience will understand our English, many will be listening in their native tongue through an interpreter. To be effective, we must trust that the words from our mouths carry enough meaning — enough heart — that they speak in any language and take shape in proper form through the massaging and molding of translation and culture.

I can’t speak for the whole team, but that frightens me a little. Being able to communicate fully and completely brings a certain energy to a relationship. Those who communicate well have a power that gives them some control. But on this trip, much of what I communicate will be subject to the power of others to listen and to transform my words into something meaningful.

While that is a little scary, it also is empowering. I’ll do my best to choose my words. Yet, there is a greater plane of understanding that’s beyond my ability. It happens when people come together to listen and to wrestle with the thoughts of others and seek to understand them as fellow travelers in this life’s journey. Our team will have a front row seat to see that happening.

Words simply can’t express.

Good Advice – Distilling the Voices

Dreams are strange. I woke up this morning with a great feeling of fulfillment and satisfaction. Although my sleep had been hijacked by a complex and strange dream, I opened my eyes with a sense of peace for my day. I had received good advice through the night.

As I dressed for my morning walk with Togo, I kept going back to that sensation of calm. But then, my rational voice grew stronger and I began to ask myself, “Who were these people you talked with? What do you know about them? If you don’t know them, who do they represent? What exactly did these dream people tell you?”

Those are all good questions. The same ones I would have asked my clients when I was practicing law. “You need to consider the source,” I would say.

I remember the dream vividly. I was at an encampment. I had obviously been there a week or more and I was preparing to leave. As I gathered my belongings, I was delayed by the realization that I didn’t know how I was getting home. Dreams are chock-full of such odd occurrences. So I joined a group of campers on the long porch of the dining hall and listened in on their conversations.

In a few minutes, the circle of talk pulled me in and there were questions about my work and what sort of life I was returning to. I shared a little, not wanting to dominate . . . still feeling like a bit of an intruder.

Then it came. Advice on how I should proceed to fulfill my destiny. Little details and long brush strokes flooded my mind. Some of it profound and some of it mundane. Some of it opening doors to opportunity. Some of it describing obvious paths I had tried before.

My response in my dream was surprising to me. I just sat and listened. No response. No pushback. I just sat and listened. I felt no challenge from their recommendations and took no offense at their observations. I allowed myself to commune in thought without worry. I knew that regardless of their advice, ultimately the decision to act would be mine.

And I woke up with serenity.

On my morning walk with Togo, we talked a bit about the dream. I talked. He sniffed and explored the treasures of sight, taste, and smell he found along the way. His calm manner of hearing my voice and determining which bits of almost incomprehensible human language to pay attention to brought my thoughts to focus.

Ironically, from the moment I woke, I could not recall the specific advice I had received. I could remember only the voices of those who spoke. I could feel their eyes on me and I could sense that, in those few moments, they cared for me. So, even though I don’t remember their words, I think of them warmly.

Much of life is like that. I’ve had thousands and thousands of conversations. I can remember the particular words that were used in some. But for most, I remember the tone of the visit and I’ve distilled the voices into a memory that will prompt my return to these people for guidance. Some of those voices are long gone from this earth. Yet others are nearby.

I doubt I will never know who the people were in my dream nor the good advice they provided. But I will know their voices. I have a feeling that I will find peace in their incomprehensible language. And, like Togo, I will know when their voices call me to action. For today, I’ll settle for the peace, I’ll listen for more voices, and I’ll be calmed by the knowledge that one of the voices, God’s voice, is always speaking — whether in my dreams or through the tones of strangers and friends who share my journey.

A Better View

No matter where I am, it seems I am always trying to get in position for a better view. Whether I’m at a movie, a sporting event, or even church, I often find myself in the exact spot . . . I cannot see.

Sometimes, a good location for observation just isn’t available. I am only 5’5″, after all. There are, evidently, some things that God didn’t want me to see.

Then there are those times that I have the perfect spot and someone bigger, taller, broader — or just naturally gifted at being in the wrong place — blocks my vantage point.

We learn to deal with that frustration. We know that this world is a place we share and that every one will not have the same opportunity to experience the same things. A natural part of life, this truth adds to the richness of our existence through diversity and can also build resentment when we desire what others have.

On a recent vacation, Nancy and I were driving the Road to Hana on the windward side of the island of Maui. We were first-timers to Hawaii, so we were relying heavily on a guidebook that pointed out literally hundreds of things that we likely would have missed on our own. That is the story of this picture.

In the guidebook, the writer talked glowingly of a spot in the long and winding road where we would see this scene. He couldn’t rate the beauty high enough. Yet, after a wonderful description, he pointed out that there was no legal place to park at that particular spot. And he warned that others would disregard that safety factor and try anyway. True to his word, that was what happened.

As we came around the corner, we saw half a dozen people out on the road, clamoring for a safe place to take pictures and enjoy the view. Had it not been for the cars coming by, they probably would have been successful. We pulled past the bend of the road and the scattering tourists slowly and Nancy announced that the book told of another spot where the same scene could be taken in if we were patient.

Moments later, we found a small turn-out and parked the car. We crossed the highway and found that spot. And as we watched the road for cars, we ventured to a place to take the perfect picture on a small overlook safely tucked behind the guardrail.

I don’t know if those people who stopped up the road were able to get their pictures. Sometimes people get by with breaking the rules and probably scoff at those of us who don’t. Yet, in the face of seeming inequity, we most often find a moment to grasp the opportunity we need.

Listening. Patience. Persistence. The perfect perspective on a beautiful possibility is often well within our grasp.

The Keyhole

This early post from Distinct Impressions is a bit more cryptic than most of my work. I remember writing it, but I can’t for the life of me remember why I wrote it. I hope The Keyhole  speaks to you.

Photo Credit: Megathy on StockImagine

I have stared through the keyhole of the door to hell.

And, just as a frightened traveler might gingerly touch his hotel door to determine if there was fire on the other side, I have reached out to test the temperature of the portal leading to Purgatory.

Perhaps it’s a reaction born of curiosity.  Or maybe it’s because my human nature requires that I find absolute boundaries.  I guess that’s why I’m the first person at the table to touch the plate at the Mexican food restaurant.  Yes, I did hear our server say that the plates are hot.

The fascination with the forbidden can be addicting.  Good sense and rational thinking tells me to move away from the door.  Yet, I am drawn there to peer through that keyhole.

Do I love God any less because of this attraction?  No, I really don’t.

Do I feel separated from him when I stand at the door?  Yes, I really do.

So then, really, why do I choose to bend down and eavesdrop on Satan?  Why do I risk being swept inside should the door swing open suddenly?

Because I have not chosen to do otherwise.

It is a matter of choice.

It is a matter of choosing between a view of the world that is narrow and dark and painted with pain and suffering and a view of the universe that is wide and clear and where good glows so warmly that the shadows of evil pale.

How can I move away from the keyhole, its limited outlook, and its immediate proximity to doom?

By blocking the opening with the key that God gave me.  Jesus is not only my mediator and high priest with God, He is my shield and rescuer from evil and temptation.

And once the key is in place, I must allow Him to lock the door.  All of this time, I thought that the door and the keyhole was provided by Satan as an entry to hell.  On closer examination, I find that the door was of God’s craftsmanship and the keyhole is my heart.  God has given me the means and the strength to bind that awful door forever.

With my life thus secured, I can turn away from the keyhole to enjoy the panorama of beauty God has given.  Still, I do have one fear — that I will return to the door tomorrow to test the heat on the other side and perhaps to jiggle the key.

Dear God, give me strength.  And thanks for the key.

Prayer Does Nothing . . . Prayer Does Everything

I pray every day. I talk to people who pray every day. I talk to people who have trouble praying every day.

Photo Credit: Susan Noyes Anderson

Some ask, “Why doesn’t God answer my prayers?” Others exclaim, “Isn’t it wonderful how God steps in and meets my needs!?”

Not a single view is wrong. Not a single view is right.

Today is a day that I’m praying a little extra. A friend of a friend is in surgery. My friend is one who prays every day. She has no lack of faith or failure of moral fiber. At this moment, my friend is not questioning the need for prayer or its power. Yet, she has appropriate fears and concern for her ailing friend.

If we have any experience in this earth-bound life, we know that God’s answers to our prayers aren’t always fashioned to our exact specifications. As a result, we have some anxiety as we wait for those answers. And, honestly, we feel some disappointment if things don’t turn out like we wanted.

So, what are we to believe? That prayer does nothing? Or that prayer does everything?

I’ve never been particularly satisfied with the answers I’ve been offered. They range from the “you must not have asked with enough faith” to “God has a higher purpose and plan in mind.” Perhaps one or both of those is true. But neither is particularly satisfying in a time of need or despair.

Obviously, I’m no theologian. However, I choose to believe that prayer does everything.

In my thinking, prayer is a vital piece of my relationship with God. It is the moment that I am most aware that He is holding me close. Whether I am peaceful at that moment or railing against injustice, I know that God is there. He may be very quiet or he may be speaking in

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distinct dialect. But His arms are around me, no matter what will come.

So, today, while I pray for a friend of a friend — plus all of the other joys and burdens upon my heart — I am able to bear the anxiety and the unknown because He holds me close and because I know, at least for me, prayer does everything.