Welcome to “Life in the Zone!”

We are ALL a work-in-progress! Whether you feel like someone who is “under construction,” “being remodeled,” or “a renovation project,” each one of us is a piece of work (isn’t that the truth)! God’s workmanship, to be precise (Ephesians 2:10).

Having just spent an amazing retreat weekend with the lovely women of Mt. Vernon Presbyterian Church, perhaps a picture is actually worth a thousand words…

May your own Life in the Zone be filled with blessings this week and always!

 

Interested in bringing a Pink Shoes Ministries women’s retreat to your church? Contact Brita for details: brita@pinkshoesministries.me

 

Keeping the World at Arm’s Length

It’s good to get away by yourself now and then, if only to remember why you chose the life you live.

From my chair under the pines I had a bird’s-eye view of Willow Creek as it gently flowed over smooth rocks into a tiny pond beyond an outcropping of granite. A bench sat empty at water’s edge, save for the sole man and his Golden who visited the spot once – two days ago.

Wild-looking, pointy-eared squirrels darted from tree to tree and across the large rocks between which the water flowed, along with something like a large rodent – which I was more than happy to observe from a distance.

A chorus of birds sang overhead, some of which I can say sounded less bird-like than the sounds on my son’s electronic keyboard at home – who knew those sounds actually originated in nature?

A gentle breeze played with my hair, which tickled my face while I sat smelling grass and moist soil and breathing deeply out and in and out again. I closed my eyes and wondered what it would be like to stay right here, under my blanket on this canvas chair in the woods, where the only sound of human life was the distant hum of a jet in transit.

The life of a hermit has its appeal, where the only drama in the past three days was caused by the mouse who got into my food bag overnight. An easy routine of eating, sleeping, writing, praying could make for a peaceful “normal” out here, where keeping the world at arm’s length is much, much simpler to do.

No TV. No internet. Poor cell coverage. Distant neighbors.

No coffee with friends. No spur of the moment conversations. No shared laughter – or tears. No one but bugs and cobwebs and God to hear me when I open my mouth to speak.

Part of me argues: What a perfect scenario for a world-weary woman who is pulled this way and that from the moment the alarm signals morning! But the part of me whose bags are already packed and ready to load into the waiting car says, “Nah!”

 

Hair Gel in the Holy Water

Last week I sat across a (very short) table in the church nursery from a mother and her son. As the staff member who is tasked with preparing families for baptism, this meeting was unique by virtue of the child’s age: Justus is eleven.

Of course, for many of you, this is not unexpected; but for those who worship in denominational churches like mine – you understand. Most of the time, when the baptismal waters part in our congregations, the candidate for baptism is an infant – presented by faithful parents with a future Confirmation class in mind. Sitting with me at the table, however, was a mischievous middle-schooler with an infectious enthusiasm for life and a smile that cannot easily be described but which most certainly takes place not at the lips, but at the cellular level.

Our “splash class” proceeded as you might expect, with myself and mom doing most of the talking while Justus’ eyes danced with anticipation. We talked about what to expect at the baptism. We discussed our understanding of what “happens” in the water, when the Spirit of God hovers over the face of the deep and resurrection-life springs forth. We wondered out loud about how much of this baptism was a profession of faith by Justus in God, and how much was God’s own pronouncement that Justus belongs to Him.

I described the upcoming event in detail so as to dispel any possible trepidation on the part of either mother or son, but the look Justus gave me when I described how the water would be splashed onto his head made it abundantly clear that this guy wasn’t nervous about baptism day; instead, he seemed ready to take on some water, and something told me that Justus had never met a puddle or swimming pool he didn’t like.

Sunday came, prayers were offered, and water was poured over Justus’ bowed head in triplicate, “in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.” A candle was lit, a faith chest presented, and the family of God cheered him on.

After the service, I ran into Justus, whose grin betrayed his feelings about the day. Even as I write this now, I’m not sure what I expected to hear when I told him what a great morning it had been. “Yeah,” he chuckled easily, as he reached up with one hand to pat the hair on the top of his head, “and I got hair gel in the holy water!” He was giggling (and so was I) as he turned toward his friends and walked away.

Hair gel in the holy water.

Isn’t it just like God to meet us where we are? For Justus on his baptism day, a holy transaction took place in the water; something human met Someone holy in the process, leaving a swirling residue as proof in the baptismal font. God made His mark on Justus, and the hair gel in the holy water goes to show that God is ready to deal with the consequences of calling imperfect, mischievous, in-progress people to life in the community of His Son; He can handle the messes we make. In fact, He expects them.

Of course, Justus may not have realized all of this at the time, but that doesn’t make it any less so – or any less perfectly beautiful.

The end of one road (and the start of another)

Friends! We arrive at the manger tonight, but our adventure is not over! May the light you have absorbed during our Advent Trek to the Manger continue to leak out through your life in the coming New Year! 

I would love to hear about your Trek! Email me at: 

brita@pinkshoesministries.me

Watch for Brita’s second devotional book – Want What You’ve Got! – which will be available in 2016 on Amazon.

Merry Christmas, my friends!

the Call

Ezekiel Saw the Wheel, ca. 1944-1945

Ezekiel Saw the Wheel, ca. 1944-1945 (Photo credit: americanartmuseum)

 

“Stand up, son of man,” said the voice. “I want to speak with you.” The Spirit came into me as he spoke, and he set me on my feet. I listened carefully to his words. “Son of man,” he said, “I am sending you to the nation of Israel, a rebellious nation that has rebelled against me. They and their ancestors have been rebelling against me to this very day. They are a stubborn and hard-hearted people. But I am sending you to say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says!’ And whether they listen or refuse to listen—for remember, they are rebels—at least they will know they have had a prophet among them.”
Ezekiel 2:1-5 (New Living Translation)

There is a big message in this small text…

When God asks something of us, He gives us the means to do it!

Our callings are not to show God – or anyone else, for that matter – how well we can come through for God, but to show others how well God can come through in us.

Ezekiel is asked to stand up, but God doesn’t wait for him to gather up the strength to do it on his own. Instead, God puts His Spirit into Ezekiel and that Spirit puts him on his feet!

As God speaks words of calling/sending/purpose over you and me, His Spirit inside of us is already equipping us to follow through! He is the momentum and energy needed for us to start down the dusty road of ministry, and He will be the One to keep us going when the going gets rough (and believe me, the going is going to get rough).

What this short text says to us is this:

God’s call on my life isn’t about me – it’s all about God.

God’s  STRENGTH.

God’s  PLAN.

God’s  POWER.

God’s call on the lives of His people doesn’t require us to be anything other than fully human. Our flaws, our weaknesses, even what we might call our failures, somehow become irrelevant when we are filled with His Spirit and set on our feet to answer His call.

In this prophecy and call on Ezekiel’s life, the phrase ‘son of man’ or ‘mortal’ is used 95 times. According to Wesley’s Notes, this was done intentionally to keep Ezekiel humble. After all, he was standing in the presence of the glory of God, experiencing fantastic revelations connected to the work God was preparing him to do. If that had been me, I admit that I could easily have been thinking – WOW! I must be pretty special for God to choose me to experience this!

But Ezekiel wasn’t chosen by God for this great calling because he was superhuman or something awfully special. Ezekiel wasn’t chosen by God in spite of his humanity; he was usable because of it.

And his success, according to God, wouldn’t be measured by whether or not Ezekiel got the Israelites to listen to him and change their ways, but simply by letting them know that a prophet had been there, among them.

And what is a prophet? Someone who is so filled with the Spirit of God that when he opens his mouth, God speaks. And when she reaches out to help others, God’s touch is felt.

Let’s go and be prophets today!

Want What You’ve Got! (bunk)

Homeless

Homeless (Photo credit: Hanibaael)

This post is from Brita’s devotional series, entitled “Want What You’ve Got!” Well… do you? Want what you’ve got?

This re-post is dedicated to those who are trekking toward the manger and who may or may not be (spiritually) homeless.

I spent two nights last weekend sleeping on a bunk bed at camp. Squeaky, slippery, plastic-covered mattress. Solid wood bed frame with absolutely no give. Piles of blankets and extra pillows from home. Three roommates with different sleeping habits, body-clocks, and anxiety levels. Down the hall – twelve more ladies. Great event! Less than ideal sleep. Bunk.

Today I’m on my way to visit my daughter at school. For the next couple of nights I will be sleeping on her lofted dorm bed on the tenth floor while she sleeps on a mat on the floor (at least, that’s what I’m anticipating I will be in the bed, right, Peanut?!). Crunchy plastic mattress covered in layers of down-alternative mattress pads in an effort to make this temporary sleep-space feel a bit more like home. Down the hall in both directions – dozens of students. Can’t wait to see my daughter! Exhaustion ought to help me sleep. Dorm.

A few days ago one of the families in our faith family group had the children make a utility tarp to send to typhoon victims in the Philippines. They cut the handles off of hundreds of plastic grocery sacks, layered them three thick, and ironed them together as if they were quilt squares. Once the tarp reaches its desired size and a plastic drop cloth is ironed on to make it waterproof, the edges will be finished off with duct tape and grommets put into place. This incredibly resourceful cover can then be used to make a tent or windbreak for a family… Or it can be folded up and used on the ground as a mattress. Tarp.

Not all of us are going to lay our heads down on a soft, specialty pillow atop a pillow-top mattress tonight, but all of us will (try to) sleep. Even under less-than-ideal conditions, even under a makeshift-grocery-bag-quilt, people will rest their eyes, recount their day, perhaps count their blessings, and maybe even… Want What They’ve Got.

It’s one thing, though, to lay-me-down-to-sleep on a piece of furniture – an investment – and quite another to settle in for the night at tent city, under starry or stormy skies. On top of rocky or muddy ground.

If you find yourself today among those who Want What They’ve Got, maybe you can find a way to extend the gift of rest to another whose sleeping (and waking) situation is closer to nightmare than dream.

Daily Questions: Think about the worst night’s sleep you have ever had… What conditions were you in? Who was with you? What got you through it? What made it bearable? If you knew that someone was suffering as you did, night after night, what would you want to do for him or her? Will you do it?

Construction Zone

Even those on a Trek to the Manger can expect to encounter a Construction Zone now and then…

I know all about Construction Zones. As the wife of a road builder, I have been to and through all sorts of highway and bridge Construction Zones over the years.

I know the difference between concrete and cement, and I can tell whether a road has been paved in concrete or bituminous asphalt.

I’ve seen road surfaces being milled and bridge decks being poured.

I recognize a core sample when I see one and I know that when testing with a nuclear density machine, you’re supposed to wear a radiation-detection badge (I know, because a few of those have ended up in the laundry by mistake).

I’ve seen roads and bridges in various stages of a contract, and when it comes to Construction Zones, well… you might say I know just enough to be dangerous.

In Bible study today we agreed that our group gatherings look pretty much like a Construction Zone. In various stages of construction, each one of us is a distinctly unfinished project (some of us might even say we’re a real piece of work).

Some of us are entering uncharted territory. The road God is building in us doesn’t even exist yet! We might be able to see the bright paint sprays of the utility companies who have marked what’s hidden underground, but where we’re going, there have been no roads before.

Some of us are freshly graded earth, ready for the Paver to make us into a usable roadway.

Some of us are being resurfaced – getting a face-lift, you might say – because the years have left their mark, but there is so much more life left for us to live.

Some of us are all rebar and concrete forms – not looking so much like a road just yet, but being equipped with a solid foundation so that when the deck is poured, we’ll be able to handle any load God might bring our way.

Some of us are being signed and striped. We’re looking pretty darn good, but there are directions we still need and pavement markings that we require in order to continue safely down the road God has put us on.

The thing about Construction Zones is that, with very few exceptions, no one likes them.

Seriously.

It’s messy. It’s bumpy. And it’s really, really slow.

I suppose those doing the work itself would disagree, but for those who just want to pass on through, Construction Zones stink.

This is not unlike what happens in our Bible study group, or in any group of those whose lives are perpetually under construction. With very few exceptions, watching the construction of others is like driving through the Zone…

It’s messy. It’s bumpy. And it’s really, really slow!

Sometimes we get impatient and take a detour, to avoid the construction (and those being constructed) altogether.

Sometimes we wait for what seems like forever in order to move past the Zone that others are in, because when one life gets messy in a community of believers, everyone feels it.

Sometimes the Construction Zones of others keep us from doing things we want to do, on a timeline of our own choosing. This can frustrate, anger and disappoint us, no matter how understanding we try to be.

Today, try to think about those whose work is the Construction Zone… What they do while we’re feeling inconvenienced is to create something new.

Something better. Something more efficient. Something safe.

God Himself is in the Construction Zones of our lives, making something better. Something more beautiful. Something He can use. Something others need.

Yes, the Zone irritates those who navigate it during construction, but for those who are hands-on in the mess, the progress being made is measurable and significant.

We are becoming more and more like Jesus with every pass of the Paver, with every passing day.

No matter how you feel about what God is constructing in and around you, rest assured – the finished product will be well worth the wait.

Resolving to MAKE ROOM

“Sprinkles” (Trek to the Manger, chapter 12) may look lovely on cupcakes, but they can be a real obstacle to peace and faithfulness for the follower of Christ.

Typical America 'Two-car Garage' (detached type)

Image via Wikipedia

In one gloriously productive day, my husband and I succeeded at clearing out one stall in our garage. It wasn’t the first time we had spent hours in pursuit of empty space, but we were thrilled to finally be able to park a car INSIDE the garage (it did help that we finally have a car small enough for our modest space)!

We hauled away a van load of cast-offs to Goodwill that day – things which we had accumulated over the years that had long since either lost their usefulness or had simply been outgrown. Some of what we gave away hadn’t done time outside of the garage in an embarrassingly long period of time.

We piled up a lot of trash during our cleaning frenzy. Some we can recycle. Some cardboard boxes we gave away to a friend who needs them for an upcoming move. Tomorrow a whole bunch of bags and boxes will find their way to the curb for the garbage truck to haul them away. Some of the things that have taken up space in our garage for years are good for nothing but the trash heap.

We filled up one box with items that should have been in the house, being put to good use. I brought in a collection of home videos filmed over the past 17 years that had been quietly collecting dust, some office supplies that will save a trip to the store, a few books worth adding to the keepers on the shelf and some brand new toys that we had never given as gifts. Some of what we hold onto gets lost in the graveyard of useless things when we amass large quantities of stuff that we just can’t keep track of.

More isn’t always more. Sometimes more is just too much.

I don’t always subscribe to the tradition of making promises to myself in the New Year. Resolutions, in my limited experience, tend to guilt me within weeks of making them rather than spurring me on to good works.

I had no intention of falling into that trap again – that is, until I pulled my car into the garage for the first time last week. The timing was incredible! Our work day was terrifically warm for December, and dry so that we could spill out into the driveway as we sorted and stacked and separated our excesses. But even as we turned the key in the ignition, snow began to fall – softly at first, but eventually resulting in an uncharacteristically messy winter storm. A winter storm that my little car didn’t have to endure because we had made room for it in the space where it belongs.

So I’ve decided that there really is just one thing tugging at me as the New Year looms again. I’m tired of seeing so much stuff crammed into places where it simply does not belong.

Trash and junk and outgrown toys in the garage, where the car ought to be.

Unworn and poorly fitting clothing in the closet, where the things I actually will wear ought to be.

Calendars and schedule books littered with tedious meetings and pointless commitments, where satisfying and rewarding activities ought to be.

Worries and stressors and disturbing emotions taking up head and heart space, where joy and direction and clarity most definitely ought to be.

This year, I’m resolving to pass along to others the things that I have that they need.

This year, I’m resolving to throw away those things that are not worth keeping and are not worth giving away.

This year, I’m resolving to put to good use those things that I knew I would need someday.

This year, I’m resolving to MAKE ROOM in my house, in my head, in my life for that which really ought to be there instead.

And who knows? Maybe God has been patiently waiting on me to do just that.

After all, how can He pour new life and living water into the space within when it’s already jam-packed-full of something other than His very best for me?

A car belongs in its garage. That’s what the space is for.

I can’t wait to see what God has in mind for the space we’re about to create… in me!

Statues

Anticipating tomorrow’s Trek to the Manger (chapter 10), I am channeling my inner child by remembering what it was like to play a favorite, childhood game… It’s good to remember! Take time today to feel like a child again; then give some much needed grace to those around you who would be better served by “growing down” – instead of “up” – today.

 

I close my eyes and I’m there, on the front lawn, at dusk.

Giggling girls, tired of straining to defy gravity (some of us just weren’t made to be gymnasts), have traded cartwheels and handstands for a wild game of Statues.

And there I am in the center of the yard, outstretched arm grasped by two small hands, ready to be spun at speeds faster than my mother would approve. On the verge of dizziness, I feel my arm fly free and momentum carry me around the yard as if I’ve been flung at full speed from a merry-go-round. Slowing down, eventually I land in an awkwardly triumphant pose, which I hold as best I can while fighting the pull that threatens to take me to the ground. Hardly breathing, I wait like a statue as the girls circle me, prolonging their decision in order just to see me sweat; and then, the naming.

Rock star! Sasquatch. Basketball player. Ballerina. Darth Vader.

Breaking pose, I fall laughing to the ground before another round begins.

The game of Statues.

Have you ever played? It’s not unlike the way I feel inside as I close my eyes tonight, tired of straining to defy gravity and entropy and the clock that ticks this day into the next at a speed I don’t approve. Today life has spun me around and around, and although I’ve a sense that it ought to be fun, it isn’t and I’m dizzy and I just want to make it stop.

The release. Tightly wound now, it’s as if life has flung me from one corner of the ring to the other, and I’m bouncing off the ropes and grasping at the air, and grasping at the air…

And slowing down. Gaining some control, I try to stick the landing, fighting the tug that wants to see me hit the ground, that wants to see me fail and fall to pieces – but I land on my feet. I land on my feet in a ridiculous pose, which I hold as best I can while waiting breathlessly for the naming to begin.

The names I expect, considering the shape I’m in, are names like:

Wannabe. Just-shy-of-the-goal. Maybe someday. Maybe not. Poser.

I’m sweating it now (just a hot flash?). I’m doing my best just to hold it together, to keep from collapsing into a puddle of tears, when the Voice speaks an unexpected name over me. And then another.

Beloved. Child of Promise. Masterpiece. Forgiven. Set Free.

Spun, flung, landed and named, the statue breaks pose and I fall, laughing and crying, into the arms of the One whose healing Presence strengthens me for tomorrow.

Another round begins.

Desensitized & Dangerous

After reading Trek to the Manger chapter 8, and after reading just about any newspaper in America, this post seems… timely. Because human lives matter.

An image of the Wii remote (with wrist strap) ...

Image via Wikipedia

I started thinking about the effects of video games on the way kids think as I listened to my son interact with the Wii one recent afternoon. Having always been particularly strict about what he can and cannot play, we have firmly planted our feet in conservative soil and allowed only E and E10+ games to be played in our home. After all, how controversial and damaging can a game that says ‘Lego’ on it be?

On this day, hearing the game-playing insults and animated threats as they spewed from my sweet 12 year old’s mouth, I was open-mouthed stunned. As I paid attention to his interactions with people over the next weeks, I was struck by the number of times this video game language spilled over into real-life conversations. Prompted by this realization, we began to make changes in our game playing and movie watching habits. To my great relief, good progress has been made, and yet I’m horrified at how easily such behaviors were able to take root and spring to life in our conscientious Christian home.

Many studies have been performed that point toward television and video games to explain the violent culture our children are immersing themselves in. While I realize it probably isn’t that simple, I was taken aback by this comparison made in Lt. Col. Dave Grossman’s article, Trained to Kill:

“The result is a phenomenon that functions much like AIDS, which I call AVIDS–Acquired Violence Immune Deficiency Syndrome. AIDS has never killed anybody. It destroys your immune system, and then other diseases that shouldn’t kill you become fatal. Television violence by itself does not kill you. It destroys your violence immune system and conditions you to derive pleasure from violence. And once you are at close range with another human being, and it’s time for you to pull that trigger, Acquired Violence Immune Deficiency Syndrome can destroy your midbrain resistance.” (Christianity Today, August 10, 1998)

If the violence that our children are exposed to on television and in video games is affecting their naturally adverse responses to acts of violence in real life… Houston – we’ve got a problem.

We’ve got a problem because, according to Grossman, the average preschooler in America watches 27 hours of television each week.

We’ve got a problem, because the average child gets more one-on-one communication from TV than from all her parents and teachers combined.

We’ve got a problem, because Americans spend over $100 million on toy guns every year (What Counts: The Complete Harper’s Index © 1991).

It’s easy to jump on the anti-tv bandwagon right about now, waging war on the producers and promoters of shows and games with inappropriate content for children, but it seems to me that this is an exercise in futility. An exercise in missing the point.

What is the point, you ask? To which I reply with these words of the Apostle Paul, as found in Ephesians 6:12:

“Our fight is not against people on earth but against the rulers and authorities and the powers of this world’s darkness, against the spiritual powers of evil in the heavenly world.”

You and I are watching Paul’s words play out on the big screen of everyday life. Satan has effectively dulled our senses through the world’s use of violence and dehumanization, creating a world crawling with bullies and terrorists that can be found on every playground and in every community across the globe.

Does the enemy always use video games to tap into our violent responses? Of course not. But our enemy does generally choose the way of least resistance when it comes to weakening our resolve to value what God values; things like human life, relationship and love.

We’ve made it awfully easy for God’s enemy to have access to our children. It’s time we rise to the occasion and heed Paul’s teaching, putting all of that Armor to use on behalf of the Kingdom of God (Ephesians 6:13-18).

About the time my son was emerging from video game mentality, his school was visited by Stephen Nasser – a holocaust survivor. Parents were cautioned that his story may be graphic, and of course we had the opportunity to opt-out for our more sensitive children. We didn’t opt out.

On the day Mr. Nasser came, I picked my son up after school and proceeded to ask him a few questions about the talk. He wasn’t very forthcoming, seemed almost nonchalant about it, so I backed off and decided not to push for details. As the evening unfolded, we began to hear more and more about the stories and events that had played out in the concentration camps, as told by Mr. Nasser. We learned that some of the stories had been quite graphically painted by the words of this man who was the sole survivor of his family. We found out that some of the adults and students in the room had cried as the stories were told. And our son asked if we could buy Mr. Nasser’s book, My Brother’s Voice.

By bedtime that night, I could see just how much my son’s heart was wrenched by the horrifying stories this elderly man had told. These were real people. Real people who had been really wronged. Moms and Dads and brothers and sisters and grandparents whose lives meant less than nothing to an entire army of violent men.

So, we bought the book. My son finished reading it today. His heart will never be the same (and that is very, very good).

Sitting in the doctor’s waiting room last week, I watched a newscast about an anti-bullying program that is being tried out in at least one school setting in America. Perhaps more accurately described as a sensitizing program, they are attempting to help young children connect with their feelings of respect and empathy for human life by having each classroom ‘adopt’ a baby for the year.

Over the course of a school year, a young family will visit multiple times, each time creating an opportunity for the students to watch and interact with a baby and her family. The facilitator talks through what the baby is doing at each visit and how that makes the students feel.

At first, I admit it seemed rather corny to me. What I’m left with, however, after thinking it through, is the sense that this type of education just might work in light of the ways in which we desensitize our children by exposure to violence and the dehumanization of those who become targets of real-life brutality and aggression. Maybe we can sensitize our kids by exposing them to caring parents (even if those parents aren’t theirs) and innocent babies, allowing them to feel concern and maybe even feel protective of those who are unable to stand up for themselves in this world. At least it’s worth a try, right?

I’m not sure where we should go with this, but I’m sure that we should go somewhere.

Maybe we should champion the stories of those who have been bullied and wounded and all-but-destroyed by real-life violence (like Stephen Nasser).

Maybe we could work to create sensitization programs in our local schools, bringing the joy of life into the classroom for children whose lives are remarkably joy-less at home.

Maybe we can get creative in our own homes, finding ways to value our family’s time and resources outside of cable tv and the purchase of yet another video game.

Maybe we ought to do our homework and pray for Spirit eyes to see where God is already at work all around us, freeing the captives, fighting injustice and proclaiming the Good News to the poor and the blind and the outcast.

On our own, we might make a respectable dent in the lives of the desensitized and dangerous.

However, I’m much more interested in finding out what TWO (or more) can DO!

Will you join me?

To read Lt. Colonel Dave Grossman’s complete article, click here: http://www.killology.com/print/print_trainedtokill.htm