Martha Stewart does it all. She cleans, she paints (after meticulous preparation), she organizes according to season, and creates perfect parties. She is amazing; we admire her. And, if you’ve ever watched her on the telly, she uses this word: “perfect.” Looking at the televised and internet narratives, it seems an apropos term. Perfect. It’s all truly impressive.

A color coordinated crayon box is as close to perfection as I've ever gotten. A story for another time…

A color coordinated crayon box is as close to perfection as I’ve ever gotten. A story for another time…

My husband has made the point that Martha has things I don’t: years of experience in her craft, a persistent drive toward building a financial empire, and (perhaps most critically) a staff of people to do her bidding. True. (Note to self: Get staff.)

Back to our topic of meditation. I am far from perfect. You are not perfect (I hope). Martha herself is not perfect. And yet, we Believers are called to “enter in” to God’s perfect presence.

So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most. Hebrews 4:16 (NLT)

How does this all relate? I in my imperfection am called to present myself to the Lord, trusting in the grace given me by Jesus. In the act of coming before him through meditation, I’m working out some faith. That inexact effort looks like something like this: sitting on the couch with my Bible after a restless night, I doze off. Jerking awake, there is a bit of frustration that I’m not truly ‘present’ in this effort. Read some of the same Scripture again, ask for revelation, meditate with eyes open. I get up and walk, asking for focus. Sometimes it works; sometimes not.

Another day, I’m sitting in the same place, with the same tattered Bible open. Distracted. Things to do start crowding my thoughts. Right, then. I pick up a piece of scrap paper and pen. “Milk, eggs, cocoa…” “…email to…” “…review J’s history project.” Done. I’ve tried to displace those distractions and turn again to meditate.

The scene is the next morning, back in the same place. A friend’s marriage, our finances, or a child’s distress are weighing heavily. But the God of all creation,

Who made everything I see,

Who created time and space,

Who is beyond able to do more than I can ask or imagine

is waiting there for me. And if I can set all of this down and present this person/situation/weight to Him, I am able to then offer Him my worship.

And meditate, and be changed in His presence.

Do you see? Our perfection in the practice of meditation isn’t really the point. Yes, I do what I know to do to set myself up for success in this endeavor. Meditating day in and day out, sometimes successfully and sometimes not so much, provides opportunities for us to be changed, slowly, into the image of Christ.

“And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” 2 Corinthians 3:18

“Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.” Vince Lombardi

ttronslien-Have you ever seen the play You Can’t Take it with You? There’s a romantic drama wrapped up in a conundrum and all of that, and the action takes place in a large New York City home with a wacky extended family, who are all doing their own thing while taking turns not listening to one another. It’s chaotic and fun, and I’m reminded that my kids have never seen it. (Kaufman and Hart, if you want to look up the play. Or, of course, you could see the 1938 film by Frank Capra. Same name. You’re welcome.)

This is often what life feels like. And here, whether it’s helping with school reports, trying to make a business move ahead, or making sure people are eating more than popcorn and chocolate, there’s never enough time. At least not enough time to sit, rest and breathe.

Deciding to get on this Meditation Train (if we can call it that) means determining to find a place and a time to repose. If you checked that link, you’ll see “to remain still or concealed” from the Latin for “to stop” or “to pause.” Sounds amazing, doesn’t it? “To remain still or concealed.” But in order for that to happen, we have to set aside distractions.

I heard a children’s pastor once telling kids that if a computer or television was distracting them from praying or reading Scripture, they could put a blanket over the item. I remember wondering how many adults would be bold enough to do such a silly thing. And yet, as I sit myself on the couch early each morning, I find myself wondering about email responses and Facebook messages… you get the picture. If I give in, I end up giving quality time to cat videos instead of communing with my Creator. We are truly distracted.

It is a simple thing to do, but sometimes not easy, to put aside the merely distracting, not to mention the truly important. The challenge is this: Will you and I both manage to put the laptop, the phone, the tablet, the tv away from us for a time to repose, to take in, to listen? The choice is ours.

“Help me, O God, to be a still axis in the wheel of activities that revolves around my life. Deliver me from my distractions, which are many, and lead me to a quiet place of devotion at Your feet.”

Ken Gire, Windows of the Soul

Mail AttachmentOver thirteen years ago, I found a sudden desperation to dwell deep, in a spiritual sense. We were walking through a strange crisis – living in the aftermath of 9/11 in a Muslim country. No one knew what would happen, and we hunkered down for over a week. Our email inboxes exploded, full of stressed questions and wonderings from other foreign friends. Gracious neighbors brought condolences, while offering to get us groceries and reporting rumors of happenings as we waited breathlessly for something to give.

With a newborn in the house, there were lots of late nights and early, early mornings. I could, and did, watch tv – admittedly there were a few movies I never would have seen otherwise. But there was an ache of not knowing what form the ominous, warlike specter outside would take next, and this rebuffed any such entertainment as a means of real relaxation. By day we seemed to be surrounded by others with high anxiety, and I didn’t find entering into that mess to be a healthy long-term prospect. The fatigue was overwhelming.

It was time to do something different. To find a way to enter into real peace with such chaos swirling about would take real strategy. I’d tried meditating before many times, with some measure of success for short periods. This had to be radically different, even intentional for it to really work.

This is what I plan to do, both for myself and for you reader friends: to lay out the steps identified that have helped in a personal pursuit of working out meditation as a follower of Christ. It is a practice as ancient as the hills, but relevant for today’s hectic pace. I look forward to hearing your input, as well.

“…little by little, we enter into prayer without intentionality except to consent… and consent becomes surrender … and surrender becomes total receptivity… and, as the process continues, total receptivity becomes effortless, peaceful… It is free and has nothing to attain, to get, or desire … So, no thinking, no reflection, no desire, no words, no thing … just receptivity and consent.” Thomas Keating, Heartfulness: Transformation in Christ

So much has happened since the last, long-ago post that I thought I’d update you. If you subscribed to this during that long-ago time, THANKS!  A few of you have even signed up recently. Know that I’ve appreciated your comments and thoughtful discussion. When I last wrote, my husband was pastoring, which is no longer the case. It was quite a difficult chapter, on many counts, and one that I wish on no one else. But God was and is good, and we persevere.

On a much more pleasant note, I restarted working as a Cultural Anthropologist and trainer in February of this year. I’m currently working with two missions sending groups and several churches in a few different denominations, equipping people for cross-cultural ministry. Some are going overseas to minister, but many are regular folk working with immigrant populations in the US. There are a few possibilities for some other consulting, as well. In some ways it feels like a long drought is over. There is some amazing work going on, and I’m so grateful to be a part of it! That new work means a new blog as well, found at CulturePathways.com. The plan is to make it short, practical, and consistently written. Read, enjoy and sign up, if you’d like. Thanks!

Lotus in Suzhou, China (courtesy Wikimedia Commons)Finding out that a person from another culture has moved in down the street sometimes produces uncertainty. What will they expect? What kind of neighbors will they be? How will I respond if I need to interact with them? Too often, people, including Christians, keep themselves isolated from others, particularly if they are strikingly different.

One of our Chinese neighbors (we have three) has an elderly mother who comes to visit for several months at a time. She smiles and nods, and has learned a few phrases in English, but declined the English lessons I offered her – for free. She’s too old, she told her grandson. He added, “She has trouble learning anything, anyway. You should see her play video games!” Right.

So we have sat, from time-to-time, on the front porch of our place, enjoying a breeze or simple silent companionship. We have a bit of hand motions that aid general communication, but specifics are difficult to broach. The interesting thing is that, despite all the hurdles with this sweet lady, my relationship with her English-speaking adult daughter has been greatly aided by this effort.

Fear is a great immobilizer. I’m reminded of a portion of 1 John 4:18, “Perfect love casts out fear.” My love isn’t perfect, to be sure, but I can model God’s love in small ways to this family, and be open to seeing God use me in it. Getting past the fear may reap rewards.

Are you trusty? Author Seth Godin asks that question. He defines trustiness as the “appearance of trust,” instead of the real thing. We can work to make ourselves look better than we really are. Integrity requires truth, even when it’s inconvenient, or is even harmful to us personally.

We’re in a tough situation as a family, with some serious injustices done against us over the past two months, largely by people we had invested in and trusted. When you hear the truth is being twisted to make people and their past actions look better – noble, even – it can get under your skin. There’s a temptation to get in the game and set everyone straight. Or worse, to join in by exaggerating what you know through extrapolation and presumption. But ultimately, we answer to no individuals and no groups of people. Careful, there. Guard the truthfulness of your heart.

I heard a short part of a radio sermon while away for Christmas. I don’t even know who it was, but it was timely (Hey, God somehow does that coordination thingy when we’re not looking). The preacher talked about church unity, and how disunity is traced back to at least one individual who lacks personal integrity. Integrity is based on personal conviction. How serious is it, really, to please God? Does he truly want our obedience, or is he willing to whistle while we fudge?

“For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding; he stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk in integrity, guarding the paths of justice and watching over the way of his saints.” Proverbs 2:6-8

Keep a trustworthy heart, not one holding to “trustiness,” then. No matter what others choose to do. If we want his hand of favor, and to please him no matter what, we stick to truth.

Over the last year, no – more like the last three years – I’ve started thinking in terms of another generation. Not that I can engage my grandparents in the discussion, as they’ve all passed away. Instead, I’m looking at the way they lived their lives. Patiently, frugally. Not grasping or demanding. There were no expectations that someone else would provide for their needs. They worked and waited, saving toward things they needed and grateful for gifts they were given. Both families, both my mother’s and father’s, had a good number of kids. Dad’s family had ten that reached adulthood, and Mom’s had six. Both mothers lost a baby. There was never an abundance in either household. Dad’s father was a truck driver. Mom’s was a carpenter who was regularly unemployed. Both families managed to send their children to parochial schools. My maternal grandmother babysat and took in ironing for years in order to feed and clothe her children.

There are many, many details, and much wisdom to be gained from looking at their lives. As I’ve talked with my mother and other relatives, I’m piecing together some thoughts, and realizing some changes that we’ve made and will likely make in the near future to our lifestyle that relate to the conclusions I’m reaching. In the coming weeks, I hope to share some of them with you.