Friday, September 25, 2009

Choosing freedom

I heard this song on the way to work recently. I’m sure the entire set of lyrics could serve as the foundation of a sermon on their own - course, to keep folks happy, we’d need to toss in a few verses from the New Testament among the lines there!

Although the first verse gets my attention every single time I hear this song, it wasn’t what drew me in today as I was listening to it. It was actually the bridge this time. Although all four lines speak very deeply to AND about my life, it was one line in particular that “got me” today:

“Captured by grace now I’m finding I am free...”

Freedom carries a lot of definitions and means a lot of different things to individuals. National freedom has proven to be costly for some folks, tightly protected by some and taken for granted by others.

You can be free from many things in your life and your environment like sin, substance abuse, physical ailments, or an abusive spouse.

And sometimes you are free before you ever realize you were bound.

One Sunday morning at church we were singing the song “Freedom” and it hit me. I was free! For the first time, I totally understood the verse in John 8:36 (The Message version): “So if the Son sets you free, you are free through and through.”

Another translation puts it this way: “So if the Son liberates you [makes you free men], then you are really and unquestionably free.” (Amplified Version)

Unquestionably free - that has a nice ring to it.

Funny thing about it, though, I didn’t realize I was so bound until God set me free that random Sunday morning. Although there were no literal chains holding me captive, in my mind I could see heavy chains - much like the strong and heavy iron ones prisoners were held by back in the day - dropping from my hands and feet and waist. And I could almost hear the clinking sounds as they fell to the floor our church.

It was a truly amazing moment for me. And one I’m glad I have DVRd in my memory so that I can play it back from time to time.

Although that kind of liberation may not make sense to some folks, it was a literal life-changing moment for me! I can’t begin to tell you what a difference it has made in my attitudes, my actions and my outlook. I literally do praise a little louder than I did before. I jump higher, I love deeper and I worship more freely. Most importantly, I trust more fully than I ever did.

I have been released.

And I credit it all to God’s amazing grace and forgiveness. Although grace and mercy often go hand in hand, they are truly different characterizations. Mercy, by definition, is seen as not receiving the punishment we deserve to receive while grace is receiving something positive that we did not deserve to receive.

It’s arguable whether or not I deserved to be bound. But it’s really arguable when I can admit it was something that I probably allowed to happen even though I never truly realized it had.

Utilizing grace once again, I truly want to do just as the song states, and love God not with just words but with every bit of my being. I want to not only live a life that honors Him and His glory but I want to live in a way that leaves no doubt how much I truly love and adore Him.

And because of that love I give to Him, He will enable me to share His love with those around me.

My earnest prayer for my own life - since I’m instructed to pray for myself as well as others - is that I will remain free and not allow myself to ever become as bound as I once was.

I now know the difference. And I choose freedom.

Everytime I Breathe
(Big Daddy Weave)

I am sure
All of heaven's heard me cry
As I tell You all the reasons why this life is just too hard
But day by day,
Without fail I'm finding everything I need
In everything that You are to me

Every time I
breathe You seem a little bit closer
I never wanna leave I wanna stay
in Your warm embrace
Oh basking in the glory shining from Your
Face and Every time I get another glimpse of Your heart
I realize it's true, that You are so marvelous God
And I am so in love with You
Yeah, so in love with You

Now how could I,
After knowing One so great
Respond to You in any way that's less
than all I have to give

But by Your grace,
I wanna love
You not with what I say but everyday
In the way that my life is lived

Every time I breathe You seem a little bit closer
I never wanna leave I wanna stay in Your warm embrace
Oh basking in the glory shining from Your face
and Every time I get another glimpse of Your heart
I realize it's true, that You are so marvelous God
And I am so in love with You

Wrapped in Your mercy I wanna live and never leave
I am held by how humble, yet overwhelmed by Your majesty
Captured by grace now I'm finding I am free
You are marvelous God and knowing You is everything

Every time I breathe You seem a little bit closer
I never wanna leave I wanna stay in Your warm embrace
Oh basking in the glory shining from Your face
and Every time I get another glimpse of
Your heart
I realize it's true, that You are so marvelous God
And I am so in love with You.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Turbulent learning

I’ve been blessed to travel on commercial airlines quite a bit in my lifetime thus far. I won’t say it’s one of my favorite ways to get from the proverbial point a to point b, but you simply can’t beat it for speed when it works efficiently.

I’ve flown in various kinds of weather – snow, rain, thunderstorms – and on varying sized planes. Whether they were little commuters, with two seats on one side of the aisle and one on the other to make a row, or 10 seats across completed with two rows, all of them have made me feel as if I was being hurled by Hercules through the air in a tube.

Today was no exception.

The commuter flight from Philadelphia to Memphis was filled to capacity. The guy beside me was a bit bigger than me and didn’t have a problem taking up his seat and part of mine (in addition to the arm rest that was supposed to divide our space). Although I was far from comfortable sitting by the window (a spot I don’t normally choose and I wasn’t at liberty to change), I tried to make the best of it by concentrating on the Beth Moore book I had started on the trip up on Wednesday.

Completing the book before arriving at our destination, I was looking out the window at the cloud coverage when our pilot’s voice came over the PA system reminding us to keep our seat belts securely fastened.

Although the pilot was anticipating turbulence the pilot never slowed down. In fact when it did get bumpy, he seemed to be flying wide open through it. The plane weaved and bobbed, but the pilot never seemed to take his foot off the gas pedal (I’m assuming planes have gas pedals like cars – I honestly don’t know). He never slowed up.

I couldn’t see the pilot’s hands at that moment, but I sat there imagining that he was gripping the steering wheel with both of them. I doubt it was a “white knuckle” moment for him, though. I’m certain he had logged some air time in worse weather than we were experiencing on that September Sunday afternoon. Instead, I’m sure his hands were poised in the same sort of confidence he exudes while sitting in that seat on any given day.

Most likely the pilot just placed faith in the aircraft to operate in the manner in which it was built.

In my mind – and a short time jotting it down later in the back of my Beth Moore book (the only paper I had available at the time) – I drew an analogy of our lives and the flight while looking out the window from seat 7A.

I will be honest. I wasn’t totally at ease during the last moments of that flight. But I wasn’t frightened to the point that I wanted to cry out to God to rescue us from the weather conditions although I always tend to fervently pray without ceasing whenever I’m seated in an airliner.

Instead, I thought about some of the bumps I’d flown through in my own life in the past few years. Some of them were truly difficult to maneuver. With some of them I had to rely on skill to navigate through them while others I just had to choose raw courage and strength.

The turbulence affecting our plane Sunday was brief and we were jetting through smooth skies the rest of the way to the airport. I’ve learned to realize the turbulence that rocks my personal world from time to time is often just as brief and I soon find a smooth pocket of airspace in which to set the course of my life on again.

Yep, I honestly prefer the smooth sailing over the bumpy rides in life. But it’s in those rougher times that I recall who truly is piloting the vessel. And I again let go, sit back, relax and enjoy the ride a bit more by allowing Him to have complete control.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Out of the mouth of babes

My sister and I went to visit my nephew and his family up in Kentucky over the Labor Day weekend. While I was putting my stuff in my bag to come back home, my great niece, Taylor, and I had the following conversation. Keep in mind she is just barely 6 - but pretty sharp for that age.

Taylor: "I got you something at a yard sale the other day." (Holding her hand out with an object in it).

Me: "Awww ... that's a cute little cat! Thank you!"

Taylor: "You're welcome. See, whenever you want a baby, all you have to do is look at this."

Me: Speechless at first. "Well, OK. Thank you for thinking of me!"

I tried to set the cat down on the bed where I was going to leave it (I'm not quite convinced it actually belonged to her. She likes to make up stories to go along with objects around her).

Taylor: "You have to put it in your bag and make sure you take it home with you!"

Me: "I will put it in my pocket so it won't get broken." (Planning to leave it upstairs before I went downstairs).

But I forgot. So the cat sits on my desk at work right now. I brought it with me to share the story because I think it is so cute. I don't know what her reasoning is for telling me that when I wanted a baby to look at the glass cat. Maybe she thinks I'm so good with Owen that I need a baby. Or maybe she figures my life is incomplete without one.

Little does she know that I really don't want a baby. Especially not at this season in my life.

I think a few of my co-workers are a bit leery of the little animal. One of them calls it a "fertility cat."

I think I will leave it there for a few days just to make 'em a bit more nervous!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Like a prodigal son

I love a good story. And I come from a long line of good storytellers.

I don’t mean my family members are liars since that’s the mental image that often comes to mind when you use the word “storyteller.” I simply mean that many members of my family have been good at taking words and crafting them into pictures in your head you can almost physically see.

Growing up, I would often enjoy listening to my parents, grandmother and several other members of my family as they would sit around the living room or kitchen table and weave tales about life when they were younger. I was often mesmerized by the things they had done, the places they had been and the tough times they had survived.

That’s probably why I began writing poems and stories at such an early age. I wanted to record things they had told me or things that just seemed to be floating around in my head. It most likely had an impact on the career path I chose in the early part of my life. The newspaper business gave me lots of experiences. Being able to listen to someone talk and then make a creative news story (aka a “feature”) out of it was one of my favorite parts.

The Bible is filled with a lot of stories, too, and many of them are crafted in some of the most beautiful language. There are numerous stories on those pages – or web pages since I use Bible Gateway online a lot these days – I have grown to love for one reason of another.

While doing some of the tasks at home today that I’ve been putting off, I began thinking about the story of the prodigal son. It is probably one of my favorite stories found in the Bible. I’m certain most everyone is familiar with it – younger son gets restless and is drawn to the bright lights and opportunities of the big city, demands his inheritance from his father, moves to said big city, quickly goes through his inheritance and finds himself doing menial labor and eating out of the pigs’ trough.

After awhile, the son realizes that being at home with his father wasn’t so bad and he swallows his pride – which was probably all he had left by that time. The son makes the decision to go back home and beg his father to allow him to become a worker on their family farm.

Although the story in the Bible doesn’t give us a true account of what the father was doing during the time his son was living it up in the city, it would be fairly easy to imagine what the father was doing. Especially since we know the father was probably a good man. Most likely the father was at home spending a whole lot more time on his knees praying for his son and asking God to not only protect him but to bring him back home. I’m certain, too, during his day-to-day tasks, the father would find himself gazing in the direction of the city wishing his son would leave there. There were probably times when the father would think, “I’m just gonna get in my truck and go bring that boy home!” But he didn’t because the father knew the son was learning life changing lessons that he could never teach the son at home.

One of the most beautiful parts of the story to me happens toward the end of it where the son is on his way back to his home and the father catches a glimpse of him walking up the road. Instead of sitting down on the porch and waiting for the young man to get there, the father instructs those around him to call everyone together and get a huge celebration supper ready because his boy is heading home.

Not content to wait for the young man to get to the house to greet him, the father runs - not saunters or walks - toward him. Thinking about the story I can see one of the best examples of what I’ve heard called a “man embrace” ever written. The father doesn’t just pat his son on the back or shake his hand, but he takes the young man fully into his arms and hugs him as he has never hugged him before.

He didn't care where the boy had been, what he had done or even what his motives were for his return. The father was just purely glad the boy was finally home.

I guess I like the story of the prodigal son because I see a lot of myself in the characteristics and actions of the young man. I never packed up everything I owned and left my parents’ home for a large metropolitan destination. Although there was a period of my life that I did want to seek fame, fortune and other things in New York City, I never got enough courage up to go.

Although I hate to admit it, there have been numerous times when I have packed up my life and moved it away from the will of God for one reason or another. Sadly, some of the reasoning behind these decisions seemed perfectly right to me at the time, too.

But just as the father in this story, my Heavenly Father was patient with me each and every time I strayed. I’m certain He didn’t like my actions and didn’t agree with my thought process at the time, but He allowed me to go. I’m almost certain that He watched me as I walked away and shook His head at the ignorance of my decisions. And I think there were probably times when He wanted to rush in and make me change my mind.

He didn’t, though. Instead He waited patiently for me to realize that life outside of Him is really not where I am destined to live. That even though it might seem easier to me to do things my way, He knew I had to come to the realization that His way was the best – and only – way for me to live.

I’ve recently returned from a period of being a prodigal. Just as with every other time, it was difficult and sometimes even dark. But just like every other time, I learned great lessons about grace, mercy and the true character of God.

I have even learned more about freedom.

Although I’d like to say I won’t wander again and that this determination to live my life wholly and fully for Him won’t fade this time, I know myself. I’ve been excellent at failing. But this time seems a bit different.

With all the shifting and change – some that has been so painful I didn’t think I could bear it – I have told several people that I truly believe God is getting me ready for a man, a mission or a ministry.

God does give us direction, yet faith is sometimes like walking with a map written in an ancient language you can't read or translate too easily. You can’t always see the places you’re heading because you can't read them, but you can see the trail to follow marked clearly to your destination.

That’s what life has been for me – I’ve known much of my life that God truly had a plan, I just couldn’t seem to see it much of the time. I have often used the analogy that my life was like a 1000 piece puzzle that was stored in an old shoe box. I knew there was a picture there to be completed, I just had difficulty putting the pieces together since I wasn’t able to see that big picture.

God has recently revealed to me a larger portion of the picture for my life. And it is good. Even armed with that information, though, I still don’t know the timeframe when it will come to pass. He has told me time and time again recently, though, that it’s all temporary. I’ve had to laugh each time I’ve heard Him say it because temporary is one of those words that can’t easily be plotted on a time chart. Temporary can mean an hour, a week, three months, five years or almost a lifetime. Temporary can sometimes feel like forever.

I’ve pretty much decided, though, that temporary in this case simply means soon.

Growing up, my mother would often tell me “we’ll see” when I would ask her about doing something. I learned quickly as a child that “we’ll see” was just her way of nicely telling me it was never, ever gonna happen. I hated that because it seemed to build a feeling of false hope in my life. I grew to despise that phrase so much that I have gotten angry with friends who have responded with it when I’d ask about something we had planned to do or something I really wanted to do.

Ironically enough, God has recently given me the “we’ll see” connected to the big picture He is leading me toward. But I don’t bristle as much now when He says it because I understand that He actually defines the phrase as "wait and see."

For now, that’s what I’m doing - somewhat patiently waiting. Not sitting back in a recliner with a remote control flipping through my life. But actively getting to know Him better and learning to serve Him more while I wait to see the next chapter that He is writing in that epic novel called my life.

All I know for certain is: it’s gonna be good.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

'Here's to the uniforms of blue ...'

Next spring, I will mark a significant passage of time on the campus of Mississippi University for Women. My classmates – or rather those who actually show up for Homecoming – and I will have made it halfway to Golden Girl status. Hard to believe since it sometimes seems like only last year we rambled that historic campus tucked in an area of land near downtown Columbus.

And then sometimes, given the passage of time and the distance time has thrown some of us away, it seems that the years we spent there was just a nighttime dream and never really existed at all. I know it happened, though, because I have the memories – and a few photographs (as well as a few literal and emotional scars) – to prove it.

It’s funny and probably really odd to some folks that I’m already preparing for an event that doesn’t even occur for eight months. I’ve already begun emailing, texting, Facebook messaging and harassing many of my friends and acquaintances from that era of my life insisting they attend Homecoming in April 2010.

Few have committed already to attending homecoming. Some of them have simply replied that they're disinterested in being a time traveler for a weekend, content to live in the present and remaining in contact with those “W Girls” they want to keep in touch with. Others haven’t even responded at all leading me to believe they’re quite happy not spending time reminiscing with old friends they used to sing songs in the CafĂ© Olay with.

I’m not exactly certain why I am more excited about this Homecoming than any others I’ve attended in the past. I’ve been pretty faithful to make the pilgrimage to Columbus – having only missed three or four of the events since the year after my graduation. I don’t really have any bragging to do, per se. Although I’m proud of the work I do and absolutely love my job, I probably wouldn’t be in the Top 10 percent of the most accomplished among my classmates. I opted for the safer route for work and took few risks in life. I feel like I’ve done some awesome work and made some differences through what I’ve done, but I don’t feel what I consider career success measures up to what others might term it.

And that’s really OK.

The thing that makes me most proud is where my life has grown since my junior and senior years at The W. During that time period I made some of the same stupid choices that most college kids make. I didn’t by any means leave Columbus even slightly unscathed – and my GPA reflected my party-loving attitude. I made friends fairly easily for a junior college transfer and seemed to fit in well on campus despite the fact that I never earned any of the accolades those students who spent all four years of their college careers there.

But I don’t feel less of a person today because I wasn’t a Hottentot or named Miss MUW.

It’s a hard analogy to put into exact words, honestly. But singer/songwriter Brandon Heath has a little ditty getting lots of airplay right now that makes me think of the upcoming Homecoming activities at MUW. Although I’ve not looked up the background of this song, I can pretty much guess he is directing it to at least one certain person and trying to drive home a point about how his life has changed. I’m hoping those who see me at The W in April note a similar thing about me.

Here are the lyrics:

I wish you could see me now

I wish I could show you how

I'm not who I was

I used to be mad at you

A little on the hurt side too

But I'm not who I was

I found my way around

To forgiving you

Some time ago

But I never got to tell you so

I found us in a photograph

I saw me and I had to laugh

You know, I'm not who I was

You were there, you were right above me

And I wonder if you ever loved me

Just for who I was

When the pain came back again

Like a bitter friend

It was all that I could do

To keep myself from blaming you

I reckon it's a funny thing

I figured out I can sing

Now I'm not who I was

I write about love and such

Maybe 'cause I want it so much

I'm not who I was

I was thinking maybe I should let you know

I am not the same

But I never did forget your name


Well the thing I find most amazing

In amazing grace

Is the chance to give it out

Maybe that's what love is all about

I wish you could see me now

I wish I could show you how

I'm not who I was

Although my experience was a bit different than his song (and I think there are a few folks who have been mad at me for quite some time rather than me made at them – although hurt would be a more appropriate term to use in my case), I’m hoping that I have some time in April to prove that I am truly not the same person who strolled the MUW campus with an infallible and almost arrogant attitude at times.

I am not who I was because God has been working on me for many years to transform me into the potential that He created. To bring me to a point where I want to be simply me. I’ve not arrived yet and His work probably won’t be completed by April 16. But I’m hoping that enough of it will have been done by then that people will see I have changed.

My prayer is that they will see Him reflected in my face, in my attitude, in my speech … basically in all of me.

I’m hoping that they will realize I’ve matured and in that growth I’ve become more comfortable within my own skin. I’m hoping they see that the arrogance of youth has been replaced by the wisdom of the Word of God and a life of learning from the mistakes I’ve made despite the fact I keep making some of them over and over again.

But I’m guessing that’s where grace fits into Kim Jobe’s life most.

Most of all, I’m hoping for a time to make amends and renew old bonds.

Perhaps my “W Girl” friend Janet Boozer Butts stated it best when we were discussing this blog post recently and I hope she doesn’t mind that I borrowed a few of her thoughts:

“There is just something about it (Homecoming) that draws us … love, sentimentality, memories … plus I think that era of our lives we were just dealing with life the best way we knew how to and now that we are older, we look back and say, 'What was I thinking?' and can’t believe we were that silly and immature (at least that’s what I think and I keep hoping that I’ll find some kind of sense that I might have left up there in my closet or something).

“I want a do-over. I know that I can never go back to the times I spent there, but, for the most part, I want to really experience it all again now that I am more cognitive.

“I wish I had paid attention …”

Me, too, Janet me, too.

And given the chance to share some time in April, 2010, with some of those people who played such significant roles in my MUW years, I’m already planning to pay lots of attention.

Meet ya in Columbus?