Saturday, March 31, 2012

Broken Screws

"You've had an Iowa license before, right?" The lady in the DMV office compared my birth certificate, Social Security card, Washington driver's license, and Iowa bank statement.

I nodded. My first driver's license had come from Iowa. When I traded it in for my Washington license at age 18, the friendly DOL man had punched a W-shaped hole in my Iowa license and given it back to me. I glued it fondly into my scrapbook, expecting it to be my last Iowa-issued form of ID.

Now I found myself in the county courthouse, trading in my Washington license. Not only that, but this time, I had license plates to swap, as well. So, $91 later, I walked out of the office with my temporary driver's license, Iowa vehicle title, registration paper, and license plates.

Washington license plates stay with the vehicle, even when sold—for as long as it remains registered in The Evergreen State. Apparently, every 7 years, the state issues new license plates to make sure they're still reflective. However, because of my history with vehicles (think: snowy, muddy, deer-infested mountains), that never happened to me. Hence, I've never had to change the plates on any of my vehicles.

Until Thursday.

I had a busy week, between work deadlines, college deadlines, and midwifery appointments. Although I actually brought the plates home on Wednesday, I put the job off until Thursday evening—and I only did it then because I needed to drive the vehicle on Friday. I expected this to be a quick job, that even a mechanically disinclined, domestic and desk trained little woman could accomplish. After all, I know how to use a screwdriver.

But Queen Vashti proved quite unwilling to change her identity.

The front plate unscrewed without too much hassle. When it came time to replace the grand sketch of Mount Rainier with a peaceful, pastoral farm scene, though, I had to take a cue from the previous owner and get a bit creative with duct tape. (Nothing fraudulent here, mind you. The tape held the washers and nuts in place long enough for the screws to bite in.)

The plastic screws in the back, however, spun and spun and spun—in both directions—to no avail.

So now Queen Vashti had divided allegiance. I could just picture myself explaining these incorrigible screws to an officer.

I must have twisted those screws 10 minutes before my parents came back from their evening walk. Just the opportunity I'd awaited. Giving my distress call, I perched on my heels and waited for Papa to come and show me the easy, obvious solution.

Instead, he walked me through a difficult process: sticking our hands into a cramped space up behind the bumper, grasping the nut, and unscrewing. Well, that worked for the bottom two—but there was no getting even my little hand up to grasp the nuts behind the top two screws.

So he broke the heads off.

Next came the most difficult portion: again wiggling my hand up behind the bumper—but this time hanging onto the nut all the way. Finagling it into position, and keeping it steady while he screwed the Iowa plate on. By the end of the evening, I had tiny fiberglass splinters in my hand.

For the top right corner, Pa found a screw in his workbench that bit in just right without any nut behind it. The top left...well, it's true. My car now has a missing screw. But let's be optimistic. After 50+ miles, the license plate is still on and doesn't appear to be loose. Vashti has been forced into Iowa citizenship.

She's just a car, and doesn't have a choice. And yet at the time, it surely seemed she was putting up a fight. "No! Take me back!" she screamed through her unwilling screws. "I am a Washington car, and I want to stay that way!"

I've heard a few other screams like that, this week—coming from within. Sorry Northwesterners, but I'm not actually talking about wistfulness to move back to the mountains. I'm thinking more of my eternal citizenship.

By birth and by choice, I became a citizen of Earth. But I have an invitation to immigrate, and I'm working on my "papers." I've told the Master that I want to be a citizen of Heaven.

Sometimes, though, when He turns the screws, so to speak, without even realizing it I start resisting. I freeze up and say, "Nope, this screw doesn't come out, Sir. I have this way of thinking, this desire. I really want it, and it's not changing. Sure, go ahead and put in Your new screws. I want to integrate them, but I'm sure that You'll see they don't fit in the hole where You're trying to place them."

The Master pauses. "I thought you wanted to be a citizen of Heaven."

"Well, hmm. I thought so too. But are you sure about this screw? It wouldn't budge even if I wanted it to."

Maybe I should be specific, since this week I encountered a very specific "unwilling screw." I've been hung up on the concept in this brief thought: "There is no love greater than Mine in earth or heaven. [Your] greatest happiness will be found in loving Me."*

Really? But I really want an exclusive love. God has six billion other people plus millions of angels. Doesn't that make me less special? After all, I'm one of many, many daughters.

I wrestled with it, grappled with it, turned it around and looked at all the sides I could find.

In the end, I realized I had a simple choice: Believe Him that His love was the greatest I could ever find, and that I would never be happier than when worshiping and loving Him. Or keep insisting on a specific kind of love I want—and if God isn't lying, never be satisfied.

Trust Him that He's God and can love me like there is no one else, even though there are plenty of others—that He can love me and His others better simultaneously than anybody could love me with their complete, undistracted focus. Or keep searching.

Rest in Him. Or keep striving and wearing myself out.

Keep myself in the immigration process—or drop out and remain subject of Earth.

"OK, Father. Go ahead and break the screw."

* The Desire of Ages, page 57.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Rearview Reflections

The sun shone hot last Sunday afternoon as I turned the key in Queen Vashti's ignition. It had been a fun and refreshing weekend at Lydia's, but I had studying to do at home. For now, though, my biggest decision was whether to run the AC or open the sunroof.

Easing out of the tight parking slot, I craned my neck to be sure not to hit the electrical pole smack behind me—or the neighbor's car in the driveway next to it. They really didn't leave much room in this alley...or this parking had to turn the wheel just right....



In concentrating behind me, I'd failed to check the front corner of the car. Judging from the dents in the downspout on the corner of the garage, I was not the first to make this mistake. Thankfully, the damage to the pipe was negligible, and Queen Vashti's could have been much worse. Still, she did have a white bruise on her bumper. Not a dent (phew). Her own paint seemed mostly intact, but a bit of white paint from the pipe had rubbed off onto her. Nothing big.


Well, no sense crying over scraped bumpers. I enjoyed the sunny ride, alternating between AC and open sunroof.

Back home in my driveway, I peeled off as much of the white paint as I could. Then I scraped at it with my fingernails. Then I rubbed at it with a rag and some mild solvent.

My efforts greatly diminished the damage. But I'm afraid I can't undo all of it.

As I scrubbed, scratched, and peeled, I thought about how much of my life I'm spent looking behind me. Looking back on the trail to see how far up the mountain I've come. Looking back to relive happy memories—sometimes to long for the "good old days." Looking back to examine my childhood through adult eyes. Looking back to remember how God has led me. Looking back to find the roots of my present thoughts, feelings, and behavior. Looking back to recount to others the lessons I've learned along the way. Looking back with remorse, confusion, or sorrow. Looking back with nostalgia, delight, and contentment. Sometimes, looking back with bitterness. Other times, looking behind me with deep gratitude.

Looking behind us has useful functions. If I had a bogey man behind me, I'd want to know. If a child is following me, I need to keep track of her. When I'm in reverse, I want to know what's behind me. (Honestly, I'd rather have scraped the corner than hit the pole!) Sometimes, we need to look backward, even move backward, before we can move forward again.

Someone wise has said, "We have nothing to fear for the future except as we shall forget the way the Lord has led us."

"And you shall remember that the Lord your God led you all the way . . . to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not" (Deuteronomy 8:2).

Sometimes we need to look back and remember. We need to see our mistakes, feel our pain, understand what went wrong—and see God's faithfulness, how He's cherished and led us. We need to learn from what is behind us so that we can use the lessons as we move forward.

But it is possible to look back too much. If I'm living in the past instead of the present—it's too much. If I'm looking back so much that I'm not looking forward, it's too much. "I press on . . . forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal" (Philippians 3:12-14).

As the wise man wrote, "To everything there is a season" (Ecclesiastes 3:1). We should make time for reflection—but not to the exclusion of projection! Tears have their place; so does laughter. Today must be a mixture of yesterday's experiences and tomorrow's dreams.

A little white bruise on my car will remind me.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Beautiful Choices

Breezes drifting in my window.
Turtles sunning themselves on the edge of the pond.
Crocuses, hyacinths, and daffodils blooming.
A Labrador dashing up and down the flowing creek.
Trees budding and leafing. Seedlings growing in the greenhouse.
Puffy clouds in a clear blue sky.
Green grass. Lettuce in the cold frames.
Birds chirping and frogs peeping.
Pussy willows budding and fuzzing out.

Welcome e-mails from cherished friends.

Skyping in to Melissa's birthday party.
Meeting new friends and strengthening bonds at the midwifery association meeting.
Evening worship. Discussing life in the kitchen with Mom.
Talking with church family at Friday night vespers.
Prayer and meditation. An excellent new book.
Lying awake talking to God.

Short sleeves and bare feet.
Jumping in a friend's pond and swimming across.
Good scores on Western Civilization I practice tests.
Catching mousy invaders in my car.
Writing letters long overdue. Perfecting a song on my guitar. Progress on memorization goals.

Beauty. Relationship. Adventurous achievement.

Purpose. Worth.

Priceless to my feminine soul.

Not everything I experienced this week was lovely.

Twinges of loneliness at such short contact.
Frustration with not accomplishing everything I'd hoped.
Cliquey politics and illogical discussions.
Tiredness. Battles with the enforced circadian shift.
Temptations and emotions.
Cuts, bruises, splinters, and thorns.
Painful reflection on lies I've accepted from hurtful experiences of the past.
Pimples. News from family and friends who are struggling.
And, most infamously, a frightening run-in with a big, ugly hognose.
(Is it OK to turn and run away from scary snakes?)

Reminds me of a profound statement I read last night:

You really won't understand your life until you understand this:

You are passionately loved by the God of the universe.

You are passionately hated by His Enemy.*

The God who loves me puts beauty, relationships, and adventures in my path to show me His love and teach me who He made me to be.

He wants to experience His beauty with me—to let it inspire my soul and nourish my heart. He wants to be my chief love, to let all my relationships model His unselfishness, to add richness and depth and companionship to life.

He wants to lead me through all my adventures, to teach me to trust Him in ways I have yet to fathom. He wants to create beauty, tenderness, and courage in me.

He wants to give me every good and perfect gift.

The Enemy wants to distort God's beauty and make me altogether unlovely.
He wants to mar my relationships and use them as a razor and a trap.
He wants me to fail and give up, or to strive after unworthy goals.

I get to choose where I'll place my focus. I decide who gets my faith and my trust. I pick who I will believe.

My permission determines who controls my thoughts and my life.

Who and what I turn to in those yucky moments slowly molds how I think and who I become.

And that moment-by-moment choice changes my world.

*Eldredge, John & Stasi, Captivating:

Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman's Soul, page 91.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Thanks for the Pain

Being an effective writer means being vulnerable. It means delving deep into the inner realm of human emotions and putting to words what everyone feels but few express. It means opening our secret chambers to view to let others see that their eccentricities, awkward thoughts, and inner agonies do not isolate them from the rest of humanity. Writers unlock the vault of emotion and allow humanity to feel united through our common, unspoken struggles.

Still, it is more comfortable to share through the voice of a third party—a story of someone else's experience. Sharing other people's struggles still makes us dig within ourselves to find and express the unspoken thoughts and feelings of humanity—but without the incrimination of its being our story. If we must share our own, the most comfortable choices are historical events far enough behind us that we can laugh, shrug, or at least assure ourselves that we have since grown.

But nobody's experiences are finished up and neatly sealed off. (We call those memories, and even most memories have unresolved threads.) It's what we are experiencing that creates our need for help.

When I was a toddler, my dad dubbed me "the one who admits it." As it turns out, he made both a descriptive and prophetic statement. I hereby publicly accept the calling.

I had a crazy week—and by that I mean that I felt loco. I only left the 40 acres once, but my emotions sang the scale below Middle C almost all day, every day. I went to bed burnt out and woke up wishing for bedtime—or at least my afternoon walk. I fought tears and lost three or more times most every day.

There's a big problem with this. It isn't me. I'm the girl who laughed, smiled, and acted normal enough the day after a major break-up that my closest girlfriend wondered if the ordeal was still bothering me. (It was, of course—but the tears of my soul often flow inside sealed chambers.)

This Monday morning, I found myself kneeling in prayer and sobbing. Now, usually, I would pray it through, tell my face muscles to smile, start singing Steve Green's "Always", and go have a great day. Or at least pretend to have a great day.

This time, as I prayed, the still small voice seemed to tell me to go ask my mom for a hug.

I didn't exactly want to. I knew Mom would be tender and understanding, but it isn't my style to ask for emotional help. Still, the thought persisted, so I dragged myself to her room.

When Mom saw my tears, her mouth dropped open. "What happened?"

That was the problem. "Nothing," I had to whimper. "I just need a hug." I clung to her and sobbed on her shoulder for quite awhile before I could admit that my tears had been caused by something that had happened 51 weeks before. Humiliating—but I learned something. Compassion doesn't put people through an application process. When people are hurting, I shouldn't judge if they have a legitimate reason, and give them a glorified "move on and get over it." I should take the raw pains of years gone by just as seriously as yesterday's wound.

The week continued, and I just kept struggling. I'd think of my dog's death, and the tears would well up. I would try to study for my Western Civilization I CLEP exam, and feel like the biggest history dunce ever. I'd remember a friend in Washington, and cry just for missing them.

Then I'd send up a prayer and claim a promise. I'd choose to be happy. Get a drink of water. Have a happy mealtime conversation. Go for a walk. It wasn't that the usual fixes didn't work—they just didn't work for long. Sooner than I wished, I'd be standing in the need of prayer once again.

On Tuesday I roamed the woods like usual, talking to God about how humiliated I felt to be struggling with...should I call it depression? Had this ever happened to me since I'd learned about choosing to be happy? And since even this week I'd repeatedly claimed and reveled in His precious promises, why would this ache not go away? What was going on with Cheyenne? I want to be who He is making me into, I let Him know; but I really did like the way He'd had me before.

Or did I? Hadn't I been praying for compassion?

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God" (2 Corinthians 1:3, 4).

A strange awareness welled up inside. Could it really be?

"God," my voice quivered, "thank You for the pain. Thank You for allowing me this unexplained struggle so that I can sympathize with others who are struggling."

Thursday evening. Crying into my pillow. Mom came in for worship, and began telling me other friends' sorrows. Big things. Bad things. Recent things. Not the historic drama causing my tears.

"Oh, honey, are you crying?" Mom's face melted in sympathy, and she laid her head down next to mine. I could see the pain in her eyes just from seeing mine. I hadn't even started talking yet.

When I did, she listened and helped me sort out what's really going on.

Today on my walk, I thanked God for the pain again. I really do want that compassion He's teaching me.

Even more, I want helpless reliance on Him. I want to know to the core where to hang my soul—and how.

So, in the sea of seemingly silly sorrows, I have kept afloat through the power in prayer, sympathy, and the Word. "I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth.... I sought the Lord, and He heard me, And delivered me from all my fears. They looked to Him and were radiant, ... This poor [woman] cried out, and the Lord heard [her], And saved [her].... There is no want to those who fear Him.... Those who seek the Lord shall not lack any good thing" (Psalm 34:1, 4-6, 9, 10).

Jesus chose to be brutalized by human pain so that He could understand me and test the strength of His promises. Now He offers me the same blessed experience.


Thank You.


Saturday, March 3, 2012

Daring Dreams

Perhaps it's because I opted not to put up curtains, and the moon shines through my windows freely. Or maybe it's because my major current occupation is thinking (in several variations). Or perhaps it's because my social life has been quiet, and my mind likes to hatch up plots. Anyway, lately I've awakened remembering more dreams than average.

Usually, I've been glad to end the involuntary imaginations. For instance, I dreamed that my late (yet still beloved) dog, Kodiak, had been kidnapped and needed rescue. I dreamed of learning a dark secret from a good friend's childhood. I dreamed that a hiker buddy died. I dreamed I went back to Inchelium, WA, and didn't quite fit in anymore. (I dreamed plenty of less dramatic plots as well. I'd tell you about them—if I could remember.)

I dream in the daytime, too; but daydreams are merely the products of ordinary wistfulness. Conversations I'd like to have with friends. People and places I'd like to visit. Hugs. Special events. How to get to know people better. How to heal from hurts and frustrations. What to do with the rest of my life.

But dreams differ significantly from goals. Dreams can be ridiculous, emotional, over-sized, lofty, or repining. Dreams are fairy tales you wish would just happen. Goals are determinations you intend to make happen.

The non-traditional, accelerated college program I'm enrolled in* starts out every student's studies with a Life Purpose Planning workbook, with pages full of exercises to help young people answer the question, "Why am I here?"

I'll admit it. I was skeptical at first. I'm 26, and I think I have a good idea of who I am, what my interests and passions are, and what I'd like to experience and accomplish in life. But, since I also enjoy healthy introspection, I plunged in. I answered those questions about my strong and weak points, activities I enjoy, how I learn and relate, people who have influenced me, callings I have accepted for my life, lifelong dreams & aspirations, and who I feel particularly drawn to minister to. I thought about failures and successes. I pinpointed the "biggest need" I see in the people around me, and how to model my life to address that need.

Then, I wrote out a "life purpose statement." Mind if I share?

I am resolved to live in total surrender to God and to let my heart be immersed and satisfied in the truth of His love—and to share this fulfilled experience with all who are hurting and longing for something better. Through writing, speaking, friendship, teaching, listening, and mentoring, I seek to influence, encourage, and disciple children, teenagers, young adults, and women in all walks of life (but especially the abused, oppressed, and forgotten) so that they too can find in Jesus the fulfillment of all their needs, and reach their own full potential. I want to share with all I can influence that the Lord heals the broken-hearted, that He satisfies the needs and longings of the heart—but that we need to be real, candid, and honest with ourselves and Him for this to happen. I want to help others see that they have an incredible worth—an unshakeable worth rooted in the love of God for them—worth that can't be annulled by the careless and uncaring people around them. I want to exemplify a life totally set apart for God, totally willing to follow and obey (wherever He sends me), and totally willing to share my own deep experiences for the enrichment of other lives.

A lofty dream. I found myself enamored. My college coach responded: "Pure beauty. . . . How?"

How. A question that pulls us down from the euphoric heights of daring dreams, to the human reality of finiteness.

I had two choices: allow my dreams to remain beautiful, untainted, unfulfilled dreams—or to turn them into goals.

Goals are practical. They aren't always glamorous. Goals can be simple, plain, and unsung. But goals propel us toward our dreams, and because of that, goals are priceless.

I took my daring dream to the God who gave it to me. I asked Him how to make it realistic. Then, together, we started breaking the dream down into strategies, large and small.
  • Pray & study to understand God's love and my worth to Him.
  • Memorize texts on God's love & human worth.
  • Intercede for people I know are hurting.
  • Write articles that are relevant to people's lives.
  • Blog.
  • Send encouraging letters.
  • Deepen superficial friendships, seek out new friends, and take time to listen to friends who already trust me.
  • Seek personal healing through the Word, books, DVD series, etc.
  • Minister through tangible acts of service.
  • Study great communicators.
The list goes on. But even these items can be a bit too lofty for real, nitty-gritty, everyday life.

So (with the help of the workbook), I've made a calendar. By the end of March, have Psalm 34 memorized. In April, do Psalm 37. In March, start re-reading The Desire of Ages. Start writing weekly notes to encourage friends and acquaintances (I've even got specific names on the docket). Observe the people I associate with at midwifery study groups and try to pinpoint in what ways they are hurting. Read a new book a friend recommended, about finding our worth in God. Pursue a friendship with a girl I've just become reacquainted with. Make a prayer list. Pray for compassion.

All of these items have dates and deadlines attached to them. They are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-sensitive (S.M.A.R.T. goals). They may not be dazzlingly romantic, or even the essence of the "pure beauty" reflected in my life purpose statement. But they are threads in the tapestry. They are pieces of the picture. They are steps up the mountain I seek to climb. They are things I can work toward today.

Because of this, I can look at even my little goals as daring dreams. Except these dreams I know how to accomplish.

Some dreams (like the ones I wake up remembering each morning) are better discarded. Some are sentimental, wistful, even silly. But a golden few are just too good to not come true—especially when we can choose and determine to make them happen.

Will you dare to make your dreams come true?

*College Plus. See