When You Feel Like a Wanderer

ruthie-163318

Photo by Ruthie on Unsplash.

When I was about eleven years old, I was given a special task.

My older sister Becky handed me a small, black book. Most likely this is how my instructions were given:

“I need you to keep the bus mileage log,” she said. “Enter the city or town here, the starting mileage here, and the ending mileage here.”

And so, I did as I was told.

The odometer was not situated in front of the driver’s seat, like every other normal vehicle. No. It was a small round object attached to the hub of the right rear tire, where it mostly stayed level as the wheels turned.

I meticulously recorded our arrivals and departures. Every time we stopped to fill the tank with diesel, I trotted outside with my little black log. Sometimes I carried a small piece of paper instead and hurriedly dashed notes.

Come hell or high water, I was faithful.

If the weather was freezing, I bundled up and fulfilled my mission as quickly as possible, scrambling back to the heat. Those were the worst days.

If it was hot, I was there. Often we traveled through the night, and if we stopped for fuel, I roused from my stupor, stumbled around, scribbled.

I am not sure how many years I did this, but I know recording the mileage was my job for a long time. The job gave me an appreciation for recording notes and taught me to be consistent.

Some of those small towns stuck in my head for years. If we stayed at some random campground or church in the middle of nowhere, the name would come back to me. Where had I seen that name on a highway sign before? Oh, yes, it was the one I wrote down when I was half asleep that one night we got diesel ten years ago.

The other day I read Psalm 56:8. The first part of the verse struck me.

“Thou tellest my wanderings.”

Have you ever read a verse before, and the words stopped you in your tracks? That’s what happened to me as I read this verse.

The word “tell” has several meanings. It can mean to give a detailed account of; narrate. To make known; to disclose or reveal. My favorite is to name or number one by one.

Essentially, that’s what I was doing with those cities and towns and numbers. I was recording a diary of sorts, a log of our journeys back and forth, here and there.

This verse says that God had done the same thing with my wanderings. He is doing the same today. He is numbering the wanderings, one by one.

Often over the years, I have felt a bit lost in the wilderness. I remember days when it seemed like our family was just driving from one meeting to the next, going through the same motions, setting up the P.A. system, tearing down the P.A. system, recording another CD, smiling and singing the same song for the one hundredth time.

Even now, life can feel a bit like a wilderness. I wonder if I am making a difference, if my life counts for anything. But when I think of the little black mileage book, I can rest assured: every part of my journey has been recorded. Every step I have taken down the long, dark paths or the cheerful, sunlit trails. Not one path or trail or city or town has God forgotten.

Nor will He ever forget to record them. Not one.

 

 

Advertisements

The One Who Knows My Name

jake-givens-576

Photo by Jake Givens on http://www.unsplash.com.

One part of the Resurrection story has always filled me with wonder.

In the quiet of that early morning, Mary stands weeping in the garden. Jesus appears in His resurrected body, but she does not notice Him at first.

“Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou?” He asks.

She turns. Assuming he is the gardener, she addresses him. “Sir,” she says, “if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou has laid him, and I will take him away.”

“Mary,” He says.

And instantly she knows. “Rabboni,” she gasps.

How did she know it was Him? Did she recognize His voice? Look into His eyes?

Maybe it was when He said her name.

After all, she had heard His Voice before, telling her that her sins were forgiven. She had listened to Him teach for weeks on end. No doubt she had memorized that voice.

And now, in the midst of her grief and emotional turmoil, He spoke her name.

One word. But she knew in that moment that it was Him.

Something about this moment in the story is so personal, so touching. The fact that Jesus stopped to talk to Mary for a few minutes on His way to ascend to the Father is enough to amaze me. But that He spoke her name, He knew her heart’s ache and responded to it, that makes me want to weep. He took a moment of His time and stopped to give her words of peace and victory. 

If you know Jesus, then certainly you have heard His voice. In the midst of our busy lives, He speaks to us. But at times we need to hear Him say our name.

I have heard that the sweetest sound to our ears is someone saying our name. I am certain this was true for Mary that morning.

The God of the universe knows each of us by name. He knows who we are and where we are. He knows our unspoken needs, our fears and hopes and joys.

He speaks to us. He calls us by name.

And if He knows you by name, surely He cares about the struggles you may be facing today. 

Remember that, dear friend.

When People Say You Are Quiet

IMG_20161107_234924242

Quiet Power: The Secret Strengths of Introverts by Susan Cain.

Have you ever had someone say, “You’re too quiet. Don’t you ever talk?”

I understand.

As a young girl, I could usually be found in a corner somewhere with a book.

I also loved staring out the bus window for hours, watching the scenery change gradually from the mountains to the plains to the ocean. I was not concentrating on any one thing. I was enjoying the view, soaking it in.

I found conversation with complete strangers difficult to maintain, and I often dreaded church potluck dinners (there seemed to be a lot of them when I was growing up). My worst fear was sitting next to someone I knew nothing about and trying to come up with questions to ask them. After asking their name and age, I gave up. My other sisters, especially Joanna, could somehow dream up the most amazing questions and keep the flow of conversation going. Not me.

I have grown out of much of this (just ask my sisters or my roommate), but I still find myself needing quiet moments of reflection now and again. So when I read Susan Cain’s book Quiet Power: The Secret Strengths of Introverts, I felt like I was coming home. This was her teen and kids version of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.

Here was someone who understood my need for quiet introspection, for calm moments with a book, for escape from big parties and loud conversation. She wrote about all of the struggles that introverts face and how they can leverage their personalities in a world that never seems to shut up.

In her book, Cain uses “A Manifesto for Introverts” to show how the temperament of an introvert is actually a superpower. She writes that “there’s a word for ‘people who are in their heads too much’: thinkers.” She also says that “most great ideas spring from solitude.”

Not everyone is content to sit quietly at home or watch the sunset for hours or dive into a book. But if you do, you will receive no judgment from me. And if you don’t, I will still talk to you.

The more I study about introverts, the more I am learning that I do not need to be ashamed of my temperament.

Over the last few years, God has been teaching me to be thankful for the personality He gave me.

He created me with a quiet personality, so of course He knows my tendencies. He said He has “searched me and known me” (Psalm 139:1). He is “acquainted with all my ways” (Psalm 139:3). Nothing about me is a surprise to Him, although I often surprise myself.

But that does not mean I cannot have an influence with that quiet streak. He wants me to keep learning about the ways to use my personality to help others, not merely to dissect my own inclinations. I believe in reading books that help me grow and expand my knowledge of how to improve myself in weak areas. But ultimately, I am thankful for the truth of God’s Word that reaches beyond what I find in self-help books. His truth is the ultimate truth.

If you are an extrovert, take a moment to learn something about that quiet person next to you. If you are a quiet soul, learn to appreciate your strengths.

And if either one of you get the chance, read Cain’s books. 

 

How to Teach Your Child to Love Music (Tip #11)

kane-reinholdtsen-145944

Photo: Kane Reinholdtsen (www.unsplash.com).

Tonight was my debut.

Three or four of my older sisters would play instruments and sing alto and tenor, but I was going to sing all by myself on one part of the chorus of a song called “I Know It Was God”. At 8 or 9 years old–I don’t recall how old I actually was–I would finally show everyone that I could sing a solo.

My older sister Joanna had made a name for herself. She sang like a lark and usually garnered rave reviews. My younger sister Monica had sung her first solo at 2 years of age. She had an indomitable spirit that scorned stage fright.

But finally, after all this time, I was getting my chance, a chance that seemed to be a long time in coming. After all, I was the Marshall who could not naturally carry a tune (inside or outside the bucket–it did not matter) and had to stand next to my younger brother so he could sing louder than me and cover my out-of-tune singing. And my microphone was usually turned off when I first began joining the family on stage.

The verses of the song we had prepared asked the questions: who put the stars in the sky? who made the universe? who made me? The first part of the chorus simply said, “I know it was God.” The rest of the chorus went on to say that there was “no such thing as Mother Nature” and that “I know in my heart” that God created it all.

My part was to sing the first part of the chorus twice. “I know it was God, I know it was God.” That was a total of ten words. I could do this, couldn’t I?

The church we were ministering at was meeting in a basement. I distinctly remember that the ground and sky were barely visible at the windows. We sang on a small stage set up near the back wall, damp cinder blocks behind us.

This was it–my moment to shine.

 

When we reached the chorus, I began singing, but my courage failed me. I broke down, tears spilling. Ashamed, I stood in abject misery on the stage for the rest of the song. I don’t remember if I continued singing.

After my debut, a consultation was held. The verdict: this song would be a “girls only” song, and the rest of my sisters would sing with us. Monica would sing with me on my part.

I had failed. Somehow I had not held up the Marshall name, and was now relegated to anonymity.

My melodrama is laughable now, but it was no laughing matter then. I felt sure I could never sing another solo. I had a few other smaller solos here and there . . . a verse or two. But I left the star solos to Joanna, Monica, or my brothers.

Not until I was around 12 or 13 did I get the chance to sing lead on a song, and it was many years before I felt comfortable doing that. I was in my twenties before I actually sang a real solo. My family tried to encourage me over the years, but I had to learn for myself what it means to conquer fear of the church special, fear of the stage, fear of so many people staring.

Your child may have the same fears.

 

Some fears may not go away easily. In fact, they may linger for years. But you can help your child overcome much of the stage fright represented by church specials.

Here are a few ideas:

  1. Encourage your child. Although it may seem silly to you, never mock your child’s fear of the stage. Their fear is real and valid. Instead, help them see that the fear of standing in front of people is natural, even normal. Help them see that others have the same fear, but that they can learn to control fear with God’s help.
  2. Let your child talk about the fear. If they know you will listen to them, they will feel more confident to overcome stage fright. Even if their fears are unfounded, help them work through them and find ways to fight fear. Find Scripture verses on fear that include a Godly response to this emotion.
  3. Pair your child with another confident child their age or an adult singer. Give them the feel of being on stage without the pressure of facing the crowd alone. It’s fine if they want to share a microphone with a sibling or stand close to you.
  4. Practice, practice, practice. The mind is a tricky thing, and at the last minute may blank or freeze. The last thing you want your child worrying about is a fear of forgetting words or their instrumental part. Build stage presence slowly.
  5. Keep working with your child. The goal is to help them become more comfortable on stage, to the point where they have learned to manage their fear. This may take a long time, but you will eventually see progress.

Stage fright is real. The good news is, your child can overcome stage fright–and learn to rely on God’s strength.

When the Door Slams in your Face

martins-zemlickis-4739

Photo: Martins Zemlickis (www.unsplash.com).

 

You know that feeling.

The sound of the door slamming echoes up and down the hallway, ricocheting off the walls and ceiling.

This is it. The end. Nothing else you can do. Oh, you have tried. Again and again, it seems. You have pushed and pushed on that door. Banged on it. Yelled. Tried every key you can think of, but it’s still locked.

A hopeless, nameless dread overwhelms you as you stand there staring at the door handle. What now?

I think it’s safe to say that every person, at some point in life, has experienced the “slamming door” effect.

Another “No” in your quiet time with God.

Another polite, “Thank you for applying for this position. This letter is to inform you that this position has been filled.”

Another doctor saying, “There’s nothing more I can do.”

Another cold shoulder from that one person you want to reach for Christ.

Another no from your spouse. Your child. Your friend.

When God says no, what do you do?

 

I have been asking myself that question. How well do I respond to the “no” in my life, no matter what that may be?

Lately I have sensed that He is not asking me to give up completely. What He wants me to understand is that when the answer is “No,” when the door is slammed shut, and I stand there wondering why–He is still here.

I am learning that–

  • He may be opening another door. Oh, it may be not be the door I was wanting Him to open right now, but He does not want me to sit and pout.
  •  He wants me to see Him standing there, waiting. This is not really about the door, is it? He wants me to fellowship with Him while waiting.
  • He wants me to go on hoping and wishing and praying. To keep trusting that the right door will open for me at the right time.

What is the “no” in your life? Do not give up. Trust that He will either open the door someday, or lead you to another door, wide-open, waiting just for you.

The 7 Club

breather-168754

Photo: Breather (unsplash.com).

The name was not very original, but the meetings were memorable.

“The 7 Club” consisted of five sisters (Deborah, Sharon, Joanna, Jessica, and Monica) and two brothers (Jonathan and Matthew), and was a monumental effort to foster unity and peace and goodwill among them.

The club met every few weeks and discussed important matters like cleaning jobs, future activities, family celebrations, and Christmas plays. Sometimes the discussion dissolved into more pressing matters, such as throwing a football around.

I have fond memories of “The 7 Club”. I was elected Secretary (somehow I always end up with this job) and carefully recorded suggestions and topics discussed in the meetings. My older brother Jonathan was elected Treasurer.

The other day I found the minutes from those long-ago meetings. They included, but were not limited to, the following:

Meeting #1: June 22, 1994, Wed. night, Wallingford, CT

Deborah talked about cleaning the bus, dish teams, Hippie (the name of one of our motor homes, a 1972 beast of a vehicle). Jonathan and Deborah goofed around. Laughter and such.

Matthew: suggestion for Cedar Point.

Sharon: exchange letters.

Monica: picnic, raise money for food.

Joanna: P.O. (Post Office. We shipped packages of CDs weekly, so this was a valid point.)

Jonathan objects to the whole club!

Sharon: a paper.

Joanna: singing cheers.

Sharon: prayer meetings (1 hour straight).

Matthew: mow lawns for old ladies.

Deborah: amount of tracts given out each week, etc.

General discussion followed about sign language and Spanish.

Sharon: rules, equal rights. Save money ($1/week per person).

Discussion about Christmas and sign language. (Apparently we were stuck on sign language. We did end up performing a Christmas play and Deb signed during one song.)

Jessica: at each meeting, wear 1 piece of matching clothing.

Think on a name all week. Discussion about next meeting.

Encouragement from Deborah.

Various chores were listed, with our names included.

Meeting adjourned (without prayer).

Clearly, the club was tolerated by my brothers. I find it humorous that each comment reflects something of that sibling’s personality.

Deborah, as the oldest at home at the time, was spiritually minded (at least more than the rest of us) and loved clean motor homes. Sharon was the eternal organizer and was particularly concerned about equal rights and rules. Joanna loved parties (and the Post Office, apparently). Jonathan could care less. I was quiet (typical), and I loved wearing matching clothes. Matt really wanted to go to Cedar Point, or any place other than the meeting–but he seemed to have a deep concern for old ladies who needed their lawns mowed. And Monica was wise beyond her years.

Unfortunately, “The 7 Club” lasted for only three meetings. Although I appreciated Deborah’s ideas to draw us closer, the club failed to meet regularly and eventually fizzled out.

Something about the tight quarters and the amount of time spent together forced us to find a way to work together, but we were just as normal as the next person.

We had moments when we wanted to punch a sibling rather than see their face one. more. time. Occasionally, a fight would break out: for my brothers, this usually was resolved with a few well-placed blows; for my sisters and me, this necessitated long conversation (especially from me) and many tears.

Looking back, I know that I am thankful for this forced comradeship. Nothing like living in a bus to make all of the bad attitudes and selfishness rise to the top, where you had to deal with them. You cannot be unhappy with the other person for very long–that is, if you want to maintain sanity in that kind of space.

Dad and Mom encouraged us to resolve differences quickly, to not let “the sun go down upon your wrath.” The joke was–as we had no real doors in the bedrooms of the bus–we could not slam a door in anger, even if we wanted to.

Although I am still working on this area, I am grateful for those old days where I first learned that I needed to 1) discuss problems and differences openly and honestly, 2) listen to the other person’s side, 3) do my best to resolve issues, and 4) learn to live at peace with others, or at least as much as humanly possible.

That little notebook reminds me of a simpler time in life.

The notebook also reminds me to keep working on important things, like unity and kindness and consideration of others.

 

Today, it’s a tangible reminder of siblings and rivalry and irritations and annoyance. But it’s also a reminder of love and unity and selflessness and connection. After all, the club was really about the big picture: working together, serving others. Not about family gatherings or chores or activities.

And the big picture for me today should be the same as it was twenty-three years ago.

Learning to Read: A Journey into the Literary Life

annie-spratt-66442

Photo: Annie Spratt, www.unsplash.com.

Ever since I was a little girl, I have loved words.

I used to sit on the couches in our bus during lunch time, dreaming of words and phrases, rolling them around in my head, “tasting” them. . .just like I tasted Mom’s potato soup.

My guess is that these words and phrases–these bits of dialogue–were hybrid lines and impressions from movies my siblings and I had watched. Or autobiographies and fiction books I had read. They certainly were not original to me. Nevertheless, they persisted in planting themselves in my mind and taking root.

Even now, words captivate me with their strength and beauty. Currently, I am fostering a love of poetry, of creative nonfiction, of self-help books–genres I never considered when I was a girl busily reading Nancy Drew or the Mandie books or Janette Oke (all of the important authors a good Baptist girl reads).

My years at Pensacola Christian College taught me one thing: I was not as well-read as I believed myself to be. For someone who adores words, I had only a basic knowledge of the classics. I found that I was sorely lacking when it came to reading deeper, more challenging books. I had made a habit of looking up any word I encountered that was new to me, yet I had not enriched my reading experiences by delving into more substantive titles.

The faculty at Pensacola Christian College carefully taught me the definitions of good and bad literature and gave me the tools to discern between the two.

 

The literature classes I sat in mesmerized me. Quietly, I listened and pretended to understand as other students discussed various literary themes and ideas in the books we read. They brought up topics that had not entered my tired brain at 10:42 p.m. the night before as I hurriedly scanned the required pages for the next day’s quiz.

“Notice how Hawthorne used the idea of shame in this passage,” our teacher would say.

I flipped to the page he was indicating. Yes. Hawthorne apparently did use ideas of shame, of forgiveness even.

Then the students around me would impart their knowledge.

“When he wrote about the light shining in the window, it was then that I thought of. . .” one student would start. And next would follow a wonderful monologue of context and emphasis and deep thoughts. (Actually, I cannot think of a scene in The Scarlet Letter where light shined in the window, but. . .)

I would stare at them, wondering how on earth they managed to drag that idea out of the passage. I would stare at the page, then blink. What am I missing?

“I wonder if he meant this about the passage in chapter 13, where he states. . .” another would add.

Didn’t catch that, either. How do these people do this? I guess I am just not as intelligent. Yes. That must be it.

I read books with 500-600 pages. Never in my life had I read so many pages in a book. What was Dickens thinking, anyway? I read books that presented new ideas and theories. We traced a line of British writers, of American novelists, and of the ways the literature reflected a subtle downward shift. And all the while, I realized how woefully illiterate I was. Oh, I could read, but had I ever really read?

I studied Creative Writing and Advanced Creative Writing. I had always loved poetry and had even tried my hand at free verse and blank verse. But I had not learned to read poetry and to appreciate it, nor had I studied its many styles and nuances. I took to poetry as if I had found the correct way to breathe.

Creative Nonfiction opened up another world to me. I was unaware that such a genre even existed. I devoured writing by Annie Dillard (possibly my favorite). I followed my reading assignments carefully, discovered the pull of memoir, and added selections to my personal library.

Even as I started down new literary paths, I became increasingly aware that reading, once a favored hobby for most adults, is losing popularity. The Pew Research Center’s 2015 survey reveals that 72% of adults read only one book a year in any format. According to the Statistic Brain website, 50% of adults read at levels lower than the 8th grade. And 57% of books are never completed.

Our pastor consistently encourages our church to stop, to think, to turn off the TV and grab a book instead. Although statistics in church culture may reflect a better reading trend, I know that all too often, I find myself opting for a movie instead of a book. Reading makes me think, and sometimes I do not want to think anymore.

But reading also enlarges my world. Reading delights and envelopes me. When I have found a good book, I feel like I have made a new friend. And when I finish a good book, I struggle saying goodbye.

Despite statistics and trends, I have decided to continue cultivating a literary life.

 

Reading may not be as popular as it once was. Reading may require me to stretch myself. But the benefits are enormous–and I cannot resist the magic of fine writing.

This is my journey. This is my literary life of words.