Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Unanswered Prayers

I love country music, partly because I can decipher the lyrics, but also because the lyrics actually make sense to me... they tell a story, and often, they express my thoughts and feelings in ways that are much more eloquent that I ever could.

For the past few days, I've been reminded of a favorite Garth Brooks song, which says that "some of God's greatest gifts are unanswered prayers." Sometimes I just shake my head when I think of the boyfriends that I couldn't live without, the jobs I just had to have, the houses that were built just for me, and the winning lottery ticket that I'd use to help change the world. If God had given me half the things I prayed for, my life would have been an even bigger mess than it was. I'm so glad that He is in control, and not me, because He sees the bigger picture, He understands how and where all the pieces fit, and He knows the ending of the movie that is my life before I even get through the opening credits.

If you've been following this blog for a while now, you know that I placed a contract on a beautiful B&B to use as a permanent retreat for women who have been victimized by sexual assault. You also know that I underwent an intensive and aggressive fundraising campaign to raise the funds to purchase the property. The closing was scheduled for today.

You may not know that I've never prayed for anything so hard in my entire life, or been so confused about how I could have so completely missed the boat in thinking that the funding would be there. Yet here I am, on the night that I should have been celebrating the purchase of the property, celebrating something else instead, the clarity of knowing that some of God's greatest gifts are indeed unanswered prayers.

Over the past few weeks, I've really gotten honest with God about this ministry, being as honest as I could with Him about my thoughts, my plans and my fears. I've also prayed for His guidance and wisdom to help me understand why things weren't working out the way I thoughgt they *should*. What I've learned has been amazing. Sometimes when we think God is saying "No", He's not. He's saying "Not yet"... "Not here"... or "Not this way." I have a much clearer vision of the direction this ministry is to take now, and it should come as no surprise that God's plan is much bigger and better than any I could have imagined! Rather than investing the time and energy in *running* a B&B, the retreats are to be held in existing B&B's around the country instead. The benefits are so obvious that I can't believe I didn't think of this... the financial savings are tremendous, more women from different parts of the country can be served more easily, Grace Bay Charities can focus our energies and our funds where they need to be - with the women we are being called to serve, rather than being bogged down in the day-to-day challenges of running a B&B.

During what can only be called a "divine appointment" with a gracious and wise woman that I met on my last trip to the Shore, I came to understand that although the outcome of my efforts over the past 2 months are not what I'd originally thought they'd be, that time was not lost. God knew there were things I needed to see, people I needed to meet, lessons I needed to learn, and a lot of things I needed to get done, and everything worked out as exactly as it needed to for those things to happen.

So, here I am, facing not a disappointing ending, but an exciting new beginning. I thank God that He loves me enough NOT to give me everything I ask for!

I'm Thinking Pink!

More beautiful pink scarves are arriving daily, boxes of them! Since I updated the Think Pink Challenge blog on Sunday, I've received 17 more scarves. Keep those scarves coming ladies, we have about 4 weeks to go!

In case you missed it at the other site, here's a picture of some of the scarves. I'm about to start a new shelf. Aren't they beautiful? Thanks to everyone who's helping to make this project a success.

Berroco Rocks!

Thanks to Berroco for donating a HUGE box of absolutely beautiful yarns to help support our ministry. Not only did they send some of their top of the line yarns, but they sent several skeins of each... Softwist, Suede, Optik, Zodiac, Chinchilla and more. These yarns are absolutely stunning! Please be sure to visit Berroco's website!

Thank you Berroco!

Saturday, August 26, 2006

A technical question

Now that the summer slackfest is almost officially over, it's time to get back to blogging. I have several updates that I'm hoping to post this weekend. But in the meantime, can anybody help me figure out how to get the sidebar items (scroll down to the bottom) to appear at the top of the blog the way they used to? I've removed everything that I thought was wide enough to cause a problem with the margins, but with no luck. What's the point of putting all those great links off to the side if no one can see them, eh?


Saturday, August 12, 2006

Spiritual Feminism

I do not consider myself a feminist in the traditionally political sense of the term. With the exception of a slightly militant run in my early 30's, I've never been the activist type. However, I've noticed a subtle but significant shift in the last year or so, which seems to be shaping a new purpose, a new passion, for the rest of my life.

In trying to summarize this paradigm shift, the term "spiritual feminism" comes to mind. The focus is on the spiritual and emotional empowerment of women, particularly but not exclusively women who have been bruised, battered or broken by the wounds of sexual violence... hence the birth of this ministry as well as Grace Bay Charities. I feel a sense of urgency, perhaps expectancy is a better term, to help propel this movement forward.

I believe there is a growing battalion of women who are yearning to be warriors for Christ, but who simply don't know how to enlist. Many of these women are like me, in their 40's and 50's. (Did you know that 40 is the new 35? I remember a time when I thought "middle age" began at 35. Now 65 seems more like it.) This seems to be the time in which women begin to assess the first half of their lives and begin to ponder how to spend the latter half. Many come to realize that much of their early adult years were spent living by society's rules and expectations and success was measured by the world's standards. Our "value" was measured by our professional success, our mothering skills, our outward appearance, our marriages or other significant relationships with others. Notice a theme here? Each of these roles involves, to varying degrees, how we are perceived by others as a function of how we address the needs of others. It's no wonder that we're waking up now wondering where all the years went, often feeling tired and unfulfilled.

Perhaps our children have left the nest. For some of us, our significant others have left as well (not always a bad thing!), those jobs that nearly drove us insane with anxiety, stress and bone-rattling fatigue don't seem quite as important any more. Many of us even shocked our families, friends and co-workers by deciding to step (no jump) off the treadmill and opt for a saner, simpler life.

So what now? We're standing at a cross-roads. There are choices, finally. We are no longer on auto-pilot, blindly forging ahead in the roles that others have set for us. Now the choice of who we want to be, and how we want to spend the rest of our lives is up to us. Yes, our past (warts and all) have brought us to this place, but they are behind us now and our focus is forward. Which way do we go? Which life do we choose? There may never be a more important choice than this.

Dale Hanson Bourke describes the energy of this time in our lives better than I ever could in an absolutely phenomenal book called, Second Calling. If any of what I'm saying here even remotely resonates with you, I HIGHLY recommend it! In talking about the shift from "success to significance" for the second half of our lives, she says that...

Almost twenty-two million [women in the U.S.] are between the ages of forty and fifty, with another twenty million joining their ranks in the next decade... We also represent an unprecedented level of health, education, and wealth in this country...
Many of us are looking for something more than a job to fill our days. Even those of us who work find that we invest less of our identity in our job and more in the rest of our life. Many of us are seeking deeper spiritual roots...

If all the Christian women aged forty and older got truly serious about seeking God and letting him use us in amazing ways, we could completely change our world... But our incredible opportunity would come with a few challenges. We would have to know God well and seek him as if our lives depended on it. We would have to eliminate the frivolous time wasters in our lives and focus on what was really important. We would wake up each day and ask God to show us what he wanted us to do. We would have to believe that God wanted to use the second half of our lives with more purpose, power, and passion than anything we ever achieved in the first half... If millions and millions of women listened to that whisper and followed their second calling, it is simply breathtaking to think of what God could do."

Wow! That's Dale's dream and I share it. And for those of us who believe that the "sins of our past" make us unlikely and unworthy candidates for this crusade, she offers these words:

... God wants to redeem all of the broken heels, chipped nails, dead-end jobs, broken marriages, less-than-perfect children, bad perms, fad diets, lost friendships, and PMS of the first half of our lives. He needed us to get those things out of the way. He was with us then, but he wants us to really be with him now. He wants us to trust in something so much bigger than the best diet, the most wonderful sale, the biggest house on the block, the finest china, the top title, even the perfect husband. He wants us to know that just as he can take a woman who feels bitter and empty to being full to overflowing [Naomi from the Book of Ruth], so, too, can he transform even our best lives into something so much more.

I can't think of a better way to spend the second half of my life. Can you?

Friday, August 04, 2006

When God makes us wait

I'm an impatient person. I want what I want when I want it... and that usually means NOW. I accept responsibility for this weakness in my character, but I also recognize that the world we live in encourages impatience in nearly every aspect of daily living. Look at the way we eat - we've gone from fast food restaurants to drive-through dining, from quick-and-easy dinners to complete dinners in a bag or box that we simply pop in the microwave. There's instant messaging, at-home pregnancy tests, nearly instantaneous news alerts 24 hours a day, and the list goes one.

Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against technology. I'm just saying that instant everything isn't helping me practice my waiting skills. One of the most striking examples of this is a phone conversation I had not too long ago while doing some contract work at a diabetes call center. I was speaking to a customer who was complaining that the 5 seconds that it took to receive her blood sugar reading was too long. My goodness! If I'm not mistaken, it used to be that diabetes patients would have to go to the doctors office, have their blood drawn, have the sample sent to the lab for analysis, the results returned to the doctor's office and then receive a call, days later with the test results... and now 5 seconds is too long?

How about people who complain about how long it takes to fly across country, particularly if you have to change flights in another city somewhere along the way. Imagine how whiny we must seem compared to the settlers who spent months making the same journey... Compare our challenges in a crowded airport with theirs and it doesn't take long to realize how spoiled we really are. Our perspective on time is being manipulated by the times we live in.

God knows this, and despite our impatience, our need for instant gratification, He loves us enough to encourage us to wait. Sometimes we listen to His gentle leadings. Sometimes more drastic measures are required to get our attention. Whether we're attuned to the gradual slowing down, or only respond to the grinding halt, when God says its time to wait, it's time for us to listen.

Why does God make us wait? There are many answers to that question. Some of those answers may be found in asking some of these questions of ourselves:
  • Is this really want I want... not just at this moment, but in the long run?
  • Are my motivations sincere and consistent with God's word?
  • Is what I want consistent with God's plan for my life?
  • Is now the right time?
  • Am I ready for the responsibility that comes with getting what I want?
  • Have I sufficiently prepared myself for this blessing?
  • Why is it so important to me to have this blessing right now?

I'm in a holding pattern for God and I think I'm beginning to understand why. I'm being forced to wait for something really big. As difficult as it is on some days, I'm choosing to walk by faith, not by sight, and to believe that God is moving heaven and earth on my behalf, and that even though I may not see anything happening, that doesn't mean that it isn't.

So instead of worrying about the wait, I've been praying that God will show me what I need to be doing during the wait. Perhaps these instructions will be helpful to you too:

Pause. This one may be obvious, but then again, if you're like me, stopping to be still is very difficult. But it is critical. It's impossible to know where you are if you're moving so fast that you can't even read the road signs. If you think you may be lost, you can't continue to drive and read your map at the same time. Sometimes we really do need to stop, take a look around, figure out where we are relative to where we want to be, and at least ask ourselves whether or not we're on course.

Pray. Another no-brainer, but one that sadly is easy to overlook when we're caught up in a whirlwind of anxiety, worry, self-doubt, anger, depression because we're not receiving the blessings we want when we want them. Of course it's important to ask God for the desires of our hearts. I think Joyce Meyer said it well when she said that "Prayers that aren't prayed will never be answered." But that's not enough. Supposed what we want simply isn't what's best for us? We may not know that. But God does. If we've been praying and praying for something and it hasn't happened yet, perhaps we should consider praying for God's will rather than ours. That's hard, and sometimes it's scary, but it helps to remember that God will not ask us to do anything or give us anything that He hasn't also given us the ability to handle.

Plant. The concept of seed faith is a fascinating one to me. I grew up believing in the Golden Rule, but I wasn't aware of the principle of planting seeds as a necessary prerequisite to receiving blessings. Those of us who want to reap extraordinary harvests (blessings) must, I repeat, MUST, plant extraordinary seeds in the lives of others. The gardening analogy is a perfect one to help understand this concept, particularly in the context of waiting. A gardener would never expect her crops to grow without planting seeds first. Once those seeds are planted, the don't grow into fruits, vegetables or flowers overnight, and rarely do they grow without significant help from the gardener. Those seeds require fertile soil, fertilizer, sunlight and water to grow. Our spiritual seeds are the exact same way. I've learned that the best way for me to receive a blessing is to be a blessing to someone else. Even if it's not a one-to-one exchange (and it usually isn't), I feel so much better than I do when I'm sitting around feeling sorry for myself.

Prune. If you've ever grown flowers, you know that pruning or dead-heading is important if you want to maximize the growth and bloom potential of your flowers. When I first started growing flowers, it was hard to cut back anything but the deadest of leaves. I couldn't understand how cutting my plants would results in even more blossoms. Once I decided to give it a try I was amazed at the results! It's the same principle that applies to getting deadends trimmed from our hair. Tell a woman who's been trying desperately to grow her hair that in order for it to grow she's going to have to get it trimmed. That's the last thing she wants to hear. But once she does it, she'll realize that those dull, dead split ends were depriving the rest of her hair of the nutrients it needed. Once the split ends are gone, the rest of the hair has room to grow!

So what does this have to do with our lives? If we look closely, each of us is likely to see dead or dying areas of our lives that are sucking the energy out of us (spiritually, emotionally and physically). Trust me, it is extremely difficult to welcome new blessings into our lives when our lives are already full of old habits (and perhaps people) that are sucking us dry. Take an inventory of your life while you're waiting. See if there's anything or anyone there that's displeasing to God or that simply no longer works for you. Think of it as cleaning your closet. It's hard to justify buying a great new wardrobe for the new you when your closets are full of old clothes. If you can no longer wear them, or no longer want to, let them go and make room for some new ones!

Prepare. If God were to give you that blessing right now, would you be ready for it? My guess would be that for most of us, the answer is "No". Perhaps we're praying for a bigger, nicer house. Are we taking care of the house that we have? Is it neat, well-maintained and clutter-free? Are we praying for more money? Are we tithing, paying our bills on time, and otherwise being wise financial stewards of the money we currently have? Think about it, if your children were always breaking their toys, leaving them around the house, or throwing them in a closet and never playing with them, would you be more or less inclined to buy them bigger or more expensive toys whenever they asked? I imagine that God feels the same way about us. Before asking for more, perhaps we should evaluate how we're using the blessings that God has already given us.

Praise. This is another one that is so important and so often overlooked. Many times we get so focused on what we want next from God that we forget to thank Him for what He's already done for us. No matter what our current circumstance, or how far we are from where we want to be, there still isn't enough time in the day to thank God for all that He has already done for us.

So there you have it... next time you get anxious in the wait, try a few of the suggestions here. It'll make the wait more worthwhile.