The breakfast parable

Thank you so much for your responses! I am in email dialogue with a few of you.

Computing… Computing…

Compiling…

Soon, some more thoughts on blogging. For tonight, Jesus is telling me to publish this, for one of you.

*****

What does complete surrender look like?

I always thought it meant an open book. An empty plate. A flat hand. The flip of a coin. I can do this, or I can do that. Yes, Lord, yes.

The problem is, I am rarely in such a position. In fact, in all areas of importance that I can think of, and many of unimportance, I start by CARING. Whom will I marry? When will I have another baby? What job shall I pursue? What church should I attend? What book shall I read next? What will I eat for breakfast?

I care!

(We will follow the breakfast analogy; it is less painful than the others.)

How I care!

Whether or not there is a distinction in God’s Will For My Life concerning scrambled eggs versus oatmeal with cinnamon on the morning of March 26th, there is certainly a distinction in my own.

a. I love scrambled eggs.
b. I woke up hungry for them.
c. I’m pretty sure God wants me to eat oatmeal with cinnamon.
d. I just have this feeling, you know?
e. And now I checked in my refrigerator and I’m all out of eggs, so…
f. I guess I will make oatmeal.
g. And He wants me to add cinnamon! Good grief. Nothing like spelling it out…
h. I wanted eggs.
i. I really wanted eggs.
j. Now that I have discovered the complete impossibility of eggs, it has become absolutely necessary for me to eat them. Now.

I used to think the only way to be completely surrendered was to achieve a spiritual state of neutrality. Well, Lord. I see that oatmeal with cinnamon is on the plate for the morning, so… I mean, I do LIKE oatmeal, and lots of people around the world are starving, so I gotta be grateful. (I would not admit even to myself that oatmeal tastes like sawdust to a mouth that’s watering for scrambled eggs.)

More difficult still is the morning when there is no breakfast in the cupboard at all, when, George-Müller-like, I sit at the table praying for provision, longing for eggs, trying to reconcile my mind to the possibility of oatmeal OR eggs OR nothing at all. There is a knock at the door. I jump up and open the door to discover it was my dog wanting in. I sit down and pray some more. A real knock this time, and I open the door to discover a plate of hot, creamy, aromatic breakfast on my mat.

It’s oatmeal.

With cinnamon.

It’s the cinnamon that gets me: God rubbing it in.

I have lived just long enough to discover one thing: It is no sacrilege at this moment to sit down upon the mat and cry—to take the plate upon my lap and baptize it with salty tears of loss and grief. It will become holy food.

That, more than anything, is complete surrender. Sitting on the doormat of miraculous provision, eating the first bite of tear-salted oatmeal

and letting it nourish.

Yellow light etiquette

Confession: I am very fond of yellow lights.

I mean traffic lights, of course, the ones that come between green and red. I like yellow lights. Red lights are annoying because you have to brake so hard, you know; and green are tricky because you can’t actually look at them as you approach or they’ll turn on you. I know they do it on purpose. You have to sort of keep a green light in the corner of your right eye while pretending to be entirely occupied with scanning local restaurants along the berm.

And sometimes they change anyway.

But yellow. Yellow is nice. Yellow is wiggle room: a little bit of grace to squeeze by in time. Or to brake calmly. I am not much good at braking; I tend to hammer down in a manner that makes my mother-in-law (or whoever is riding shotgun) place a gentle hand on the console items careening toward the dash. Especially on snowy November mornings.

Yes, yellow is good.

Once I visited a country* where they had a different traffic light sequence: green-yellow-red-yellow-green. I liked this even better, and I think it is truer to life.

*It might have been somewhere as prosaic as Canada. It might have been Haiti or perchance Austria; I tried to research it but I got stuck here and my brain started buzzing; the page might have come from Austria too for all the sense it made me. So. It was somewhere. Unless I dreamed it.

You know life rarely gives you a red or a green. A lot of life is yellow, and you just ease forward.

Whom to date, and how long? What to cook for supper? Whether or not fostering is right for us? Whether God will bless our endeavors to move to another country or buy that lovely house or borrow money for a business or get further education?

You just ease forward. You can get an awful lot of mileage out of yellow lights. More than half the time they’re not a caution but an opportunity – a brief opportunity requiring forward momentum. God steers moving vehicles.

We’re all afraid of getting stuck in the middle of the intersection when the light turns red, our faces flaming to match, impaled on the dilemma of backing up into the horns behind us, or jolting forward into the horns before us. (There will undoubtedly be horns.)

It’s called a venture; you just gotta pretend you do it every day. If in doubt, ease forward.

You’ll be that much farther along when the next green comes.

To nestle in his presence

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.
Do not be like the horse or the mule,
which have no understanding
but must be controlled by bit and bridle
or they will not come to you.
Many are the woes of the wicked,
but the Lord’s unfailing love
surrounds the one who trusts in him.

Psalm 32:8-10

God loves to talk to his children, though to some of his best friends he is inexplicably silent for most of their lives, and their roots grow deep.

Some of you have cried for years for God to speak to you and heard little, while others seem to keep up a daily correspondence. Some of you feel a ‘sense’ that comes over you, while others quote him verbatim and affirm he said it That Way.

Some of you have been hurt by people who used God’s voice as ammunition in an argument, or a shouting fest, or a church split. Some of you are afraid to repeat anything he told you because—what if it was just your imagination?

Did I mention that learning to hear God is a journey?

My dad was right; it takes time to learn to hear him. And you will make a lot of mistakes. It’s okay. Keep listening. He is so good.

I have missed him often, disobeyed him often, and still he offers me the precious gift of his voice. Sometimes it comes in power; sometimes in quiet sweetness. Sometimes it makes me weak in the knees with glory; sometimes it is the most natural, simple thing in the world, when he helps me learn what to cook for lunch, or how to get started on a project, or not to forget that item at the store.

His words do not come to me in English, but in a shape. Each time I speak them to someone else, I am conscious that I am decoding and must be careful; I can never say them quite like he did.

He speaks in so many ways. Only once in my life do I remember begging God for a sign—one dark evening when I was a teenager, facing a nearly insignificant decision that I knew would have bearing on all the rest of my life. He gave it to me in the stars. Once he showed me a woman with the saddest eyes I’d ever seen: showed her to me so sharply that I stopped walking in the middle of the fairgrounds and knew I was to speak to her. It has haunted me always that I walked away. (I disregarded his voice and he didn’t give up on me; can you believe it?) Once he lifted a taboo, and then spoke to me the sweetest words of my life.  More than once he’s made me laugh aloud—like the time I went to him with a decision and he said “What are you asking me for? Your husband already told you to go for it.” More than once he’s wakened me from sleep when I asked him to. Many, many times he is my reminder, the quiet voice intruding on my thoughts to tell me what I must learn or do. Many times his words are simple joy, and leave me smiling. Many times they are so sharply sweet they leave me weeping and worshipping.

He is so good.

How to hear him?

I can’t sit here and tell you “Now if you just open your heart wide and say the right words and clear your mind of all distractions… If you want it bad enough… If you persist in prayer until he answers…”

No. In fact, trying to completely clear our minds can result in the most ludicrous of ideas. Anything pops into them when we try so hard to empty them. And if we succeed in shutting down all thought, we are simply caught in a great paralysis of holy nothingness. Sometimes our silence shuts him out.

Other times our noise takes over. We are so desperate to hear from him that we cut ourselves off from him—screaming into the sky while he stands waiting at our elbow.

If you can, start your conversations with him by bringing your mind to rest on this simplest of truths: He is right here. Otherwise your spirit is still on the wing, flitting about trying to locate him. Let your heart return again and again to nestle in his presence. God is delighted with the smallest of faith, and loves to reward it.

There is much of his voice that you’ve already heard. Start there.

I like what came out repeatedly in your stories. While you are thinking, he speaks to you. While you are moving, he steers you.

There may be times you will need to hear specifically from him before you act, but may I suggest that they are few? He has given you everything you need for life and godliness. He already told you how to love him supremely, how to love others sacrificially, how to conduct yourself in relation to friends, enemies, difficulty, celebration, government, ill health, an evil world, hard work and joyful play.

Live. Act. Walk forward—always listening. He will be with you and teach you everything you need to know.

*****

I am grateful to have said all on the subject that I feel I ought. I am tired. I feel a great need to grow in Jesus—and though I have told the truth as clearly as I know how, I know that some of what I say is slanted because he is not done teaching me.

Hope and courage!

Shari

On the myth of true love

Confession: Sometimes I am tired of hearing about this “true love” bit. I suspect the way we talk about it is all wrong.

We talk about it as the one true path amid a host of bunny trails. We say that it’s waiting, that it’s out there somewhere. We say that we found it, as though after trying many times, we finally hit the nail on the head. This is it—the perfect match for me.

I don’t believe it. I think the perfect match is a myth, a hybrid legend born out of Disney and a poor understanding of predestination.

I used to think it was so—that my true love was a person out there waiting for me, and I was waiting for him. And then I found a very nice boy and he asked me to marry him and I said yes and we promised forever. So I thought okay, this is my true love. He came.

But the very nice boy turned out to have serious issues…

!!

(True love doesn’t have serious issues, does it?)

And, surprisingly enough, I turned out to have serious issues myself… cartloads of them.

(My happy dreams of effortless harmony took a little tumble. Had I got it wrong? What if we weren’t compatible after all?)

News flash: Compatibility is overrated.

Now before you start bridling about where you think I’m going with this: I’m not here to say you can’t make a reckless decision and suffer for it. Obviously there are many people in the world who would be horridly ill-suited to you, people whose values, beliefs, and lifestyles would be nearly impossible to mesh with your own.

But true love is not a reward for those who get it right. It’s not a mystical something that happens to a few, who marry the right boy at the right time for the right reasons and consequently have everything go right. Everything doesn’t go right. Life happens.

And you are not perfect for each other.

So you are a neatnik and had no IDEA what his office was gonna look like.

So you love classical music and he really doesn’t get into that high-falutin stuff, even though he sort of did while you were dating.

So you are a foodie, passionate about flavor and texture, and his favorite dish in the world features ground-up hotdogs.

So your idea of rising at the crack of dawn is 8:30 sharp, and he’s got a game plan starting two hours before that…

Rest assured. It’s okay.

It’s more than okay. It’s infinity to the power of ten okay. Conflict and difficulty do not signal a lack of true love, but an opportunity to grow in it.

The problem with believing you married him because he’s the right one is that at some point, you will encounter an obstacle so nearly insurmountable you’ll wonder if he’s the wrong one. Just don’t even go there. True love isn’t roulette, maybe you got it and maybe you missed it. True love is not about getting the right person, finding the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. True love is not back there with the old boyfriend or down the road with the next cute guy. (In fact, the idea that true love might be found with someone new is a paradox in itself.)

The thing about true love is, you have to be true. If you married him, he’s the one; there are no dead ends and no blue screens, short of heinous sin that destroys the marriage on its own.

(Him drinking his coffee in richly acoustical slurps does not qualify as heinous sin.)

True love is a continual state of being, like sanctification: you are in it and getting in it and about to get in more of it and not yet fully in it, all at the same time.

That’s why “It wasn’t true love” is such a dumb thing to say. It could have been true love and if it was you wouldn’t be talkin about it in the past tense, honey.

In fact, the only difference that I can think of between true love and not-true-love is that true love wakes up the next morning and loves again. And again. And again. Despite the morning breath and the end of the honeymoon, despite the messy office and the shrieking classical, love just doesn’t give up. And about the time you think you can’t keep dishing it out when he doesn’t deserve it, you’ll find he’s been serving it back to you, most truly. And guess what? You don’t deserve it.

Love begets love begets love begets love and the last love of all is the true.

I speak for the trees

I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues.

Dr. Seuss

*****

Dear Ladies,

Having written a note to the other half of the species, I would like to direct a comment your way as well.

Once upon a time I tried to convince my four-year-old son Aarick, who was in danger of wishing to be a girl like Mommy, that boys have way more fun. I touched on sports, on career options, and on authority, concluding with a clinching argument: “And you see, when a man loves a lady, he can ask her to marry him; but a lady has to wait and it’s hard.” My son thought about that for a while and said, “When a lady asks, does a man say ‘Yes, but don’t do it again’?”

A man was created to initiate. When he does it (her acceptance: his bliss / her rejection: his agony), he’s entering into his birthright, which cannot quite be taken away no matter what her reply. A woman was created to respond. It’s pretty hard to respond to silence, and her birthright is in danger at every moment: from his reticence, his indifference, and his rejection.

Single men may grouse about uninterested women as they wish (and with good reason), but single women have not yet found a platform from which to grouse about uninterested men.

I speak for the trees.

I confess it: I still argue that a greater percentage of single men than single women are single by choice, but I do see that Percentage and Choice have little comfort to offer a broken heart. No one chooses rejection. Or silence. Or no.

We are, in fact, trying to understand a most mysterious dance, similar (if you will forgive me) to the problem of a job for every worker. Here are the jobs. Here are the workers. Why can’t we match them up?

Well.

Even if the supply exactly matched the demand (a sanguine hope in this fallen world), someone would end up being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Someone would say no to the job so freely offered; someone would hanker for the job not meant for him; someone would try to work a second job on the swing shift; and some would be too lazy to pursue even one. And then imagine a world in which the jobs were given their druthers as well! “Nope, don’t want that guy; nope. Nope.”

Because in the end, very few of us just want a match. We want The One.

So.

To you dear ladies, whose side I am on… and to you … uh… men… whose side can fight for itself… If you and The One have not yet found each other, remember that you face more than a simple problem of information. (If he just knew that you wanted a man…! Or if she just knew how many women you’d asked already…!) You face a more complex situation–and a more competent God–than all that.

Take heart. Be strong. Step forward in faith.

But let those of us who are already dancing with a partner put in a little plug for you now and then.

Love,

Shari Zook