Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Pink One

My newspaper reading habits probably say as much about me as anything else. (I'm afraid to guess at exactly what, but I'm sure someone like Patrick Jane of The Mentalist or to the Criminal Minds profiling team could tell you.)  I never start with the front page -- in fact, I rarely ever get to the front page at all -- but instead, mumble each a.m. to St. Michael in my grumpy morning voice, "Gimme my section of the paper," which he knows refers to the Houston Chronicle's "Star" section (it has a big yellow Texas star top-center, duh!).  This is where one finds the comics, "Dear Abby" (or is it Ann Landers?), and the daily crossword.  (Obviously, I'm a lot shallower than I like to think.)   I only venture from this routine on Saturdays, when "my section" includes the "Religion" insert, as well.  

On the Saturday before Christmas, "A Blue Christmas" caught my attention in the "Upcoming Events" listings of the "Religion" section.  A Houston church was advertising a special Monday evening service for those who were experiencing loss of, or separation from, loved ones or just the plain ol' holiday blues during the Christmas season.   I seriously contemplated going.  I could only remember one other Christmas when I'd felt as un-Christmasy as I was feeling now, and that was over thirty years ago when my parents were in Iran and I was a just-turned-twenty-year-old, home by myself, state-side.   Despite a last-minute flight to Atlanta to spend the holiday with a favorite aunt, I don't know that I've ever felt as alone and utterly forlorn as I did that Christmas.  Ironically, the differences between my life in 1987 and my life now are too numerous to list, and yet the overwhelming sadness that wrapped itself around me by mid-December 2008 felt remarkably the same.   Different time.  Different circumstances.  Same darkness.

The first two Sundays of Advent found me lighting the fat purple candles of hope and expectancy that sat on our family room coffee table.  I was right on schedule, echoing the lightings taking place at our local church.  As the third Sunday approached, however, with its pink candle of joy -- usually my favorite one to light -- I wondered how I'd manage to flic my bic when the time came.   You see, I'm not one of those people who likes ritual for the sake of ritual.  (In fact, that's one of the reasons I flinch when I hear someone describe me as religious.  I don't see myself as religious at all in the sense that so much of religion for so many is wrapped up in meaningless rote and ritual that has very little, if anything, to do with a growing, dynamic relationship with Jesus Christ.)  I tend to shy away from doing the usual if it has no meaning, even the "usual" that would normally be meaningful.  Anything that's supposed to be worshipful has to be real for me; I don't want to get in the habit of faking it -- it's too hard a habit to break.  Thus my dilemma:  How to light the joy candle when Casey has struck out.  When there is no joy in Mudville.    

I began to talk about this with Papa-God.  I began to review what joy was supposed to mean in the context of the believer's life, in this believer's life.   Round and round we went.   Sunday Number 3 came, and I did not light the pink candle.  

Monday.  I surrendered.  I chose to practice what I preach.  I chose joy.  And I lit the pink candle. 

In the days prior to and in the days since lighting the joy candle, more than ever before I've been reminded that joy is not happiness.  Joy is not related to my circumstances, to my relationships, to what's going on  or not going on in what I call my outer life.  (My outer life being those things, people, and circumstances over which I have no control but which impact me because they venture into my space.)  Instead, it's about my inner life and what's going on, or not going on, there.  And that's where choice comes in.   I may not have many choices when it comes to my outer life -- very seldom can I control what others think, say, or do.  (Instead, their thoughts, words, and actions stem from the choices they make in their inner lives and how those choices work themselves out and then spill over onto me).  I do control, though, my inner life.  There is where my choices come into play.  I can choose to allow Holy Spirit to take control of my thoughts, words, and actions, or I can let my flesh take over (foolishly thinking that's the real me when it's really not since I'm a "new creature in Christ.")  

Holy Spirit will always walk me in paths of righteousness with an deep, not-depending-on-the-outer-life, abiding joy, while Flesh Woman will consistently look for paths of least resistance leading to momentary, fleeting, flash-in-the-pan happiness, at best.

Hmmm, tough choice?  Not really.  No, YES, really!  I'd be lying through my teeth if I didn't admit that for whatever reason, on some days the choice is tough.  On some days, I shallowly want only the Star section of life;  I don't want to see the front page or the business section or even the "Outlook" section of life.  On some days, like a two-year-old, I just want what I want, how I want it, when I want it, and at that moment, to heck with the cost. 

But for Christmas 2008 and, I pray, for the entirety of 2009, I choose to count the cost, and I choose joy.  
I choose to remember that the foundation for my joy is Jesus Christ.  Therefore, I will choose to stay connected to Him, doing whatever it takes to grow deeper in our relationship.

I choose to allow Papa-God to use difficult times to strengthen my joy, remembering that regardless of the circumstances of my outer life, there is always room for joy in my inner life.  (And I'm a firm believer, if you haven't already guessed, that whatever's going on in my inner life will bubble up and spill over into and out onto the outer life.)  

I will also choose to serve others, knowing that few things bring greater joy than doing something that brings joy into someone else's life.  (Ah, that spilling out thing!)  When we serve others in the name of Jesus, we honor Him, and we experience joy.

And speaking of choices, I will remember that Papa-God chooses ordinary people with ordinary talents and equips them to do extraordinary things and to experience extraordinary joy . . . for this is the life He has designed for us.

[A special thanks to the preaching staff of Church of the Woodlands 
for the principles shared in those last few paragraphs.] 

Here's to lighting the pink candle.  Each of us.  Every day.  

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Jaja is Freakin' Super Woman!

Jaja is freakin' super woman!

This is the text I sent to my grandbabies' dad and my husband. I had just successfully dropped off my two-year grandson at his preschool on time. Being on time any where is a big thing for me, but I not only got Michael to the Purple Bears' room with his nap mat, his backpack full of Michael-marked diapers, his sipi-cup, and the class snacks (okay, so I forgot his lunch, but a quick trip to the local Food Mart for a Lunchable solved that problem, and no one was the wiser), but his five-month-old sister was with us, too, dressed, fed, and happily gurgling. All due to Jaja!   

I know I used to do stuff like this all the time twenty-something years ago when I was the mom of THREE under five years old, but dang!  I'm glad this is now the norm for Laine and not the norm for me . . . 'cause I am whooped!


There will be days when, no matter how late you got to bed or how early you got up, you will need time with Jesus more than you need sleep.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Hairy Situations

I recently began recording in a pink faux-leather-bound book all of the random thoughts and pearls of wisdom I thought I should put in writing for my daughters. (After all, mothers aren't around forever, y'know.) I was reminded of the power of the written word while reading back through some of my ramblings. I feel somehow obligated to live out the ideals I've put down on paper, and in that sense, I guess you could say that my writing makes me a better me. (And since there's nobody else I'm qualified to be, I should take advantage of any tool that does that.) Thus, I will continue to write not only for my babies, but for myself . . . I'll jot down the brand of candle I think lasts the longest and smells the best -- not just so they'll know but to remind myself that the cheapest isn't always the best -- and sometimes I'll pour out pages sharing with them what I consider to be the essentials to becoming and living as the women God designed us to be -- again, not just to let them know, but to remind myself of how I want to be walking on a daily basis. Yep, everything from the silly to the sanctified. And perhaps it won't be just my babies and me who laugh, muse, and cry; perhaps my sista-friends and sista-friends-to-be will join us on the journey. (And who knows, maybe even a brotha-friend or two!)

An entry from September of this year:

Always keep at least one set of crummy clothes for painting in, doing other nasty jobs in, and to wear when coloring or highlighting your hair. (An old T-shirt with the original neck cut out, wider, for more comfort and "easy on and off" works great as a top.)

Speaking of coloring hair . . . going super light on your own is not always the best way to go. (As I write this I look remarkably like a woman who has two dozen baby chicks nesting in her hair. Papa Muz is NOT happy. Let's hope Clairol's "Natural Instincts" can help.)

Regardless of the outcome, freaking out over one's hair is not an option for the woman who knows who she is and is comfortable in her own skin. After all, hair is only hair -- it can be re-colored, re-cut, or just plain re-grown should all else fail. Life is too short and too precious to do much else other than laugh or simply shrug and say, "Oops!" and then laugh. (So what if Halloween comes early one year.) To be honest, I've had phases in my life where I actually looked in the mirror and said to myself, "Well, it looks like I'm going through a homely phase right now. Not much to do but ride it out and use this time to focus on other things!" Of course, I know that's easier said (or written) than done, but the bottom line is that it can be done -- the choice is mine. (I truly never loved anyone more or less because she had fabulous hair or hideous hair or because she came otherwise beautifully wrapped or in a brown paper bag. If someone overlooks me because I have baby chick hair, the loss is theirs.)

I'd be less than honest if I didn't admit that, yes, -- I have cried over a bad haircut, but I regret it. And I hearby resolve to never do that again. (It's much more fun to laugh.)