Friday, September 30, 2016

Comfortable in a canter

Canter: a three-beat gait of a horse or other quadruped between a trot and a gallop.

Nearly every sweeping image of horse gliding across the earth in a fluid motion is capturing that horse mid-canter. The canter is a smooth, graceful movement. The horse's hooves meet the ground in a steady beat more akin to floating than pounding. The image is breathtaking as the mighty steed's power and majesty is on full display. 
For the horse back rider, the canter can be a challenging rhythm to master. The speed alone can cause the body to tense and the hands to clench around the reigns with rigidity. Although the horse may be yearning to run with seamless, free-flowing ease, the ride is halted and stiff. The horse struggles to maintain his cadence with an anxious rider at ill-ease on the saddle. 
With the right rider, a rider experienced and comfortable on the horse's back, makes for a beautiful image of the unity between man and animal. As the horse moves, the advanced equestrian relaxes into the saddle, their body moving in perfect synchronization to the pace of the horse. The shoulders are loose. The sit bones glide up and down with an effortless lightness. The hands rest comfortably as the reigns slide easily against the horse's mane. The whole motion looks effortless. The meeting of the majestic horse with the delicate frame of his rider is a glorious sight to behold. 
This is the only way the canter can look beautiful. The horse must be strong and mighty; the rider relaxed and at ease. As the two travel along in unison, the canter, three powerful, rhythmic beats, is an experience and a sight of wonder.
It isn't ironic or a coincidence that God made the canter to be this way - three beats, majestic, powerful and only beautiful when it is done with a relaxed and comfortable unity. That is precisely how God has intended man to ride along the trail of life with Christ as the Mighty One. Men and women, you and I, are to be the at-ease rider. Like the canter, to ride with God through this life with beauty worthy of an illustration is to relax into the saddle placed along His back. It is to connect with three essential beats, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. 
God's canter is more majestic than the horses and more challenging to master. Riding with God requires a trust that surpasses understanding and a willingness to release the hands and let Christ's movement take the lead. The rider will look pained and anxious with hands taut and shoulders tight. The movement won't look fluid, beautiful or enjoyable with a face filled with fear and a back stiff scared as the speed increases. Balance will be challenged but it need not the throw the rider off the course or separate him from God's security. 
A canter at the speed, pace and gait of Christ can be the most glorious, enjoyable and peaceful ride imaginable. The saddle of the Lord is secure. His feet will never fail. All that is required to enjoy His ride and master His canter is to sit back and relax. Simply trust and obey the gait of the Mighty and Powerful God.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Comment-less Cards

Daisy went to her doggie grandma's while Treza went and wandered around the mall. I set stage - read counter - with farmer's market cookies, fall decor and a basket for the gift card giveaway. For days I prepared for my very first agent only open house. Knowing that I wouldn't be tehre to talk up my very first listing and sell the house with my words I did my best to show the home well from behind the scenes. The sellers washed the windows, vacuumed the carpet - twice - and left the home looking pristine. I sent out e-mail blasts to all of the agents inviting them to visit the home from eleven to one. I even promoted a gift card giving for visitors who entered the drawing with a business and comment card.
From eleven to one I watched the clock like a hawk, waiting anxiously to receive the feedback from my visitors. Would they think it was overpriced? Would they be thinking of which buyer to bring through first? How many cards would I find in my "home sweet home" basket promising one lucky winner a gift card to a local coffee shop? Would a rush of requests for showings soon flood my email inbox?
At one thirty I hurried into the home with excited anticipation eager to count the cards and read the comments. I made my way to the kitchen counter and reached into my special "home sweet home" gift card giveaway basket. And there it was. One singular piece of paper with one solitary agents comments.
My heart sank. My spirits were crushed. I had such high hopes for my very first agent open house. I never doubted for a moment that many agents would attend. I pictured a steady stream of guests pouring through the door for two solid hours. But there in the basket reality hit like a ton of bricks. The house, so lovingly staged and meticulously cared for, had sat for two hours fully lite and completely empty. The only agent who had come through, turns out, came through at one o'clock, just minutes before the open house has ended.
Feeling utterly dejected and disappointed, I pulled the comment card out of the basket. I'll be honest I didn't even want to read it. I feared a scathing review. "Over-priced." "A tough sell." "Sorry, no buyers for this house." Or worse yet, "Who do you think you are trying to sell this house for this ridiculously high price?"
With a deep breath I unfolded the solitary comment card and read two short, incredible, sentences. "Great house and well staged. Shows beautiful and is well priced."
Suddenly it didn't matter that only one agent came to my open house. Numbers and foot traffic didn't matter. I had feedback and it was good. The house, my very first listing, had approval by another agent - and not just any agent - but the top producing agent in the office.
My second empty open house provided another valuable lesson. Approval isn't about quantity, it's about quality. You can have the approval of the world and yet never make a sale. All of your buyers can be "just looking" for the fun of it. Every agent through the house can be there simply for the cookies. But if you have a quality visitor, well that's what makes all the difference. Having the approval of someone who is there to truly know the market, preview homes for clients and know the new inventory is the approval that matters.
And so it goes with God's approval. I can seek the approval of the masses but that kind of approval won't do me any eternal good. The approval that matters and counts is the approval of one, the approval of THE One. I can't earn that approval by staging my personal house, my life, with the best furniture. Heaven knows I can never have clean enough spiritual windows. Thankfully, God's approval and validation isn't contingent on how well my house shows. Approval in God's sight comes when I have a surrendered spirit and humble heart. It is what is going on in the deepest corners of my house that garners the most encouraging comment cards from God.
So to all of the agents that didn't come to my agent open house today, thank you. I learned a lesson from the blank comment cards you unknowingly left behind. God reminded me that I am here to live for His approval alone. The way in which I order my life and stage my internal house should always be to please and honor Jesus Christ first and foremost.
When God leaves a comment and encourages me with feedback such as "shows beautifully," I will know that I have something better than a sold sign and hefty commission check coming. I will know that I have eternal life for the future and a life that shines for the glory of God in the here and now.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Objection VS Obedience.

"I object!"
Every fiber of my being was dying to shout and raise a gavel in adamant protest. What was I internally protesting, you may ask? Everything. Everything about my life, my illness and my loneliness. I wanted to stand up and shout that I did not approve of the lot I had been dealt. It was unfair. It was unjust. In that moment of angst and frustration I wanted to take a megaphone to my grievances and demand a new set of circumstances, a new set of cards or at least some form of compensation to make up for the damages of my very existence.
But I stopped short of filing the complaint or picking up the closest, reachable thing that could serve as a gavel. I didn't even fill out a post-it note and stick it in a "suggestions box." Nor did I write a scathing review of God on the internet. I didn't even make a peep in the quiet of my own room with the door shut and house empty.
Although my ever emotional whim wanted to shout, my spirit wouldn't succumb to the temptation. Finally, after years of trying those failed, childish tactics, I realized that my breath would be wasted and my objecting would be in vain. I've come to learn tat God doesn't take kindly to His children protesting because, quite frankly, He isn't running a democracy. He doesn't take votes and rule based on majority opinion. God doesn't change His policies or His timing based on the indignation of the dissatisfied.
For far too long I didn't want to accept this part of God's governing structure. I can blame being American and valuing the right to vote but that would be a lame excuse. Patriotism can never justify disobedience. The truth is I didn't want to accept God's governing structure because I didn't want to accept that I wouldn't have a say in His laws, ways and decrees. I didn't want to give up my say in my future, my health, my love life or my career. But God has yet to ask for my opinion or my vote. He hasn't asked me to check a box next to the time table I find most agreeable. I've opened God's good Book thousands of times and never once found a ballot inside.
And then a truth, the truth, finally dawned on me. God doesn't value my opinion. He values my obedience.
I can object to God's rulings in any number of ways but no matter how I protest it will never change the verdict. The outcome is predetermined. God already decided. The ruling always come down in favor of His will and ways. God always, ultimately, wins.
To object is to waste my breath. To throw a fit is to tell God that His way is wrong and my way is right. To protest is to deny God His perfection. To claim righteousness indignation is to insist that I know better than the Creator of the Universe.
So finally this little fit throwing, protesting child ceased to raise her emotionally charged objections. This time around I stayed in my seat and let my gavel rest on the bench. From my seat I still wondered about the whys and ways of God's verdict for my life but I choose to trust instead of protest. Instead of raising an objection I lowered my head and heart in obedience and when I did the Holy Spirit brought peace to my emotions and stillness to my heart. Although I don't understand what God is doing today, someday I will and then I will understand that His rulings are always perfect and His ways are for my good.

Monday, September 19, 2016

An empty house

For two hours I sat alone in three thousand square feet of emptiness. The home has been on the market for over a year and vacant for most of that time. The owners have moved on. Their lives have taken them away from their custom built home on the hill with perfect views of the sunset and soaring twelve foot ceilings. Maybe it was a job transfer or an unfortunate end to a marriage that cut the family's stay in their dream home short. Or maybe their dream just changed, grew bigger or shrunk smaller, switched locations or shifted to the city. I'll never know. All I will know is that they left an empty TV mounting system on the living room wall and the kitchen with a refrigerator still sticky from life's messes.
After a year on the market all interested parties have, presumably, seen this home. They have clicked through the pictures online, taken a tour and attended one of the many open houses. At least that's what I assume since not one person came by the open house I had for the home over a year after it first hit the market. Not even one single car slowed down at the "open house" sign predominantly displayed in the front yard. Inside I baked cookies and set out marketing materials, business cards and a sign-in sheet complete with a Howard Hanna pen for guests. But two hours later not one signature was on the sheet and the cookies were untouched.
For those two hours I stood inside the house, pacing about, doing yoga poses to kill time and filling out announcement cards to prospective clients. I flipped through a free local publication, "The Erie Reader," that I had picked up at a newspaper stand a few days prior and scanned upcoming events and strange news facts from around the world. I diligently watched my cookies as they baked in the oven and was able to complete all three batches without burning a single tray, my most impressive accomplishment of the day.
As I stood in the empty house without a chair to sit on or TV to turn on for background noise, I couldn't help but laugh out loud at the irony of my Sunday afternoon. There I was in a big house, cleared out of every piece of furniture and every spec of clutter. The home was and is completely move-in ready, just sitting there waiting for its next inhabitants. But no one even came to take a look. A big, expansive house with four bedrooms, three garages and two and half bathrooms couldn't spark the interest of even one casual house hunter or a single noisy neighbor. A house perfectly suited to house a family with kids and a dog didn't have one visitor walk through the door.

The non-existent turn out might have not hit me so pointedly if it had not reminded me of myself. Completely alone. Like that house I feel ready and prepared to not be lonely. I'm ready to invite life, love and laughter into my own little world. I want to be home for someone. I want to be security, safety and sanctuary to someone. I've spent years getting ready for a special someone to come and take up residence in my life. Like that house sitting vacant on the market, I've had my inner house cleaned out. God has been busy removing all of the unnecessary baggage of my past. He's hauled out so many habits and misguided dreams that don't glorify Him. He's scrubbed my spirit and left everything empty so that He can refurbish my life with all that is beautiful and bright. And yet no one has come to share in this life with me. God has yet to bring a buyer or even a casual looker. For six long years I have been sitting vacant, as it were, on the romantic, life-partner, companionship market. 
But as I sat in the empty house surrounded by silence and filled with my own thoughts, I remembered that in another way I am just like that house. Someday someone will buy that house. Someone will move into the area or maybe a family will move in search of a bigger house and more bedrooms. Who the next home owners will be only God knows but I know this for sure, someday that house will sell with or without the buyer having attended a single open house.
And so it will be with my heart. Someday someone will come along and join me in this journey of life. He may not come along in the way I assume. In real estate terms, we may not meet at an open house. But we will meet in God's time and in God's way - the perfect way. Our lives will join together and the furniture will fit just right. There will be life and laughter in the now still and silent places of my heart. All of the preparations I have made for this special someone will not be in vain. All of the work God has been doing in my heart and all of the planning I have been doing in my mind will prove worthwhile in the end.
Today my open heart is empty and vacant. There is ample space but the right buyer hasn't come walking through the door. Someday he will but until then I'm going to enjoy the serenity of an uncluttered home. I'm going to bake cookies, practice my yoga stretches and keep sending out cards to clients because my house doesn't have to be physically full of stuff to be of value and worth. God has plans for me while I wait in my empty open house. He has things for me to accomplish, ways He intends for me to grow and blessings for me to experience.
I couldn't bring a buyer for the home on the hill. I couldn't even bring a prospect or a solitary name on the sign in sheet. But in my heart God accomplished something much greater than any real estate sale. He brought me peace, serenity and joy in the stillness.
A successful open house, indeed.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Fifteen years stronger

Fifteen years ago two American jet liners were hijacked by evil and used to kill thousands. That day is seared in the mind of every one old enough to remember the horror. Victims jumping from the burning towers. Survivors fleeing the towers were covered in ash, others covered in burns, some actively covered in flames.
After the towers fell New York City was unrecognizable. The landscape of the city and the lives of every resident forever changed. Fear flew into New York City and fell on it with a weight more gigantic than a million tons of steal and rubble. Routine, cross-town, travel came to a halt. People were paralyzed by confusion and uncertainty. Families were ripped apart. Businesses laid to waste. A collective grief covered the city.
The city that never sleeps wasn't asleep. How could they sleep? But how could they laugh at a Broadway show or stroll carefree and easy down Fifth Avenue? How would the subways and transit ever return to normal operations? When businesses reopened would there be any customers? Could air travel be trusted? Could the city be salvaged? Could spirits rise above the rubble and the unspeakable loss of loved ones, friends and security?
Someone had to stand in front of those questioning faces and thousands, millions, of broken hearts and promise that there would be a way back. This wasn't the end. It couldn't be the end. There were still people alive, people being saved in the rubble and an entire city and generation to protect. The terror wouldn't win. The righteous couldn't let it.
The city's mayor, who would soon become America's mayor, Rudy Giuliani took the megaphone and used it to project a message of resilience in the face of ruin. When no one knew if recovery was possible, Giuliani decided to declare it. Terror had ravaged the city and shaken the entire country yet the memo from New York's leader was, "you are going to be stronger than this." The strength of freedom and goodness is going to defeat evil.

The same message needs to be shouted from megaphones and microphones in big cities and small. In every nation, among every family and to the deepest recesses of the human heart, victory must be claimed because evil is attacking. Satan is busy spreading terror in the form of illness, lies, cruelty, injustice and hatred. Satan uses more than planes. He uses rebellious people. He uses false religion. He uses words and troubles. The devil is determined to spread his reign of terror despite increased security scrutiny in airports and reinforced steel buildings. Satan's terror slips through walls, comes silently in the night and requires no fire or physical destruction. It starts in the darkest places of the heart and spreads like a raging inferno.
And like the grieving in New York City fifteen years ago today the spiritually terrorized ask, "how can I overcome this?"
You don't need a mayor to come into your home with a declaration and an economic plan for recovery. You need Christ and His plan of salvation.
There is only one way to beat terror. The hijacked heart can only be reclaimed through the Holy Spirit. There is no other way. The enemy will win without God. Satan will have His way if we aren't letting Christ have His.
There is one sure way that the soul can climb out of the rubble caused by evil. Redemption and sanctification through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He has already climbed out of the darkest tomb. The evil of death overcame Him and yet He beat it. He can do the same for you and I. He will defeat every evil plot of Satan and give us eternal victory. Evil can take down buildings and temporarily separate families but it cannot kill spirits. Christ has declared that and claimed it. Now it is up to us to join His cause and daily choose His overcoming strength.
Because of Christ we have the promise of resilient hearts and strong spirits.
Because of Christ we can be stronger than every evil.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Bees sting

I stood outside in the driveway, waiting for the arrival of my company. I was busy clicking through my phone, lost in the all-consuming world of technology and email, when a buzzing sound caught my attention. In my distracted daze I had completely missed the wall of greenery lining the side of the driveway. Dotted all over the green leaves were purple, white and yellow flowers in varying stages of bloom. Some were wrapped up in a tight cocoon of pedals. Most were withered, scorched in the hot summer sun and heat.
My gaze wandered along the expanse of the greenery to the source of the buzz. That's when I saw a clump of vibrant, colorful, healthy flowers in full bloom. In the midst of the rich purples and bright oranges I saw the buzz maker, a bee who was busy feasting on one of the last blooming flora.
As I watched the bee going about its natural work as God intended, I became captivated by the irony of the bee's life and purpose. The bee that sucks the nectar from the center of the bloom is the same bee who pollinates crops and maintains the life of the wildflower. God's tiny winged, buzzing creation avoided for fear of its stinger is the same creation that produces the sweetest honey. As I watched the bee at work I saw an irony that had never occurred to me before. God's character, the sting and the sweet, the taking and the giving, are on perfect display in the life of the bee.
By watching the bee God provided me a picture of how he works in the lives of His cherished flowers - you and I. At times His work can feel like a draining experience. God sucks the nectar right out of us. The sapping experiences of trials and struggles threaten to deplete the soul of its spiritual stamina.
And then comes the sting. The sting of loss. The sting of disappointment. The sting of failure. The sting of abandonment. The sting pierces with such intensity it makes the heart recoil. The unsuspecting soul winces in pain. How can a person recover from such agony?
God has a way of buzzing into life in such a way that the heart wants to run and hide. Like a child running from a bee, no right minded person wants to be stung. No one asks to be sucked dry.
And yet that is how God often works. Just like the bee, God uses His stinger to save. God uses the painful circumstances and the most trying seasons of life to bring renewal and abundant life to our spirits.
In the end it is the God who stings who ultimately saves us with His sweet mercy and grace. God, the producer of beauty and maker of the bee, has a plan for life's most intense pains. They help us bloom. They keep us rooted in the Lord. They keep us vibrant, beautiful, healthy and alive.
At all costs I've tried to avoid God's sting but He hasn't let me escape His winged plans. God has allowed me to feel His stinger in order that He could produce in me the sweetest of honey. There may be pain today but I know the sting isn't the end of the story. God is working just like that bee. He is producing in me a garden full of flowers and a storehouse rich in honey. It is by His sting that I am saved, changed and made beautiful.
So bring on the bees.

Friday, September 2, 2016

In my MS saddle

"Now go ahead and relax your hands." That might have been a simple request had I not been atop Dazzle, a milk chocolate brown quarter horse traveling along at a steady trot. Every step Dazzle took sent me bobbing straight up, uncontrollably might I add. I just recently took up equestrian lessons and my balance and control is still lacking. I fatigue easily in the saddle and find that keeping myself stable is a challenge.
My uncontrolled buoyancy certainly isn't Dazzle's fault. She's a stellar horse - as is evidenced in her name - but my riding skills are less than dazzling, at least at this point in my equestrian training. With my light weight, shaky balance and newbie status behind the reigns, I'm like a popcorn kernel in an air popper. Every galloping trot sends me shooting straight for the ceiling of the cavernous arena.
As a result of my instability my hands tend to clench the reigns. In an attempt to remain in control of Dazzle and aid in my own balance I grip the leather bands with too much force. The result hasn't achieved either aim. The reigns are still too taut to keep adequate control over the steering and directing of Dazzle and my balance has remained unchanged.
As I trotted along in the arena with my hands in a death grip around the reigns and my little legs fighting to keep steady around my saddle I heard the words of my trainer instructing me to relax my hands. In that moment the directive seemed impossible. How could I relax my hands with all of this bouncing taking place? If I relaxed my hands I feared I would fall off the horse at worst or at best end up straight atop her neck reaching for the long locks of her golden mane. But I wanted to heed the command of my instructor so I thought about my hands. With deliberate effort I breathed relief into my knuckles and purposeful relaxation into my palms. I let my grip loosen and when I did something remarkable happened. My body began to sink into the trot. Muscles I didn't know were clenched released. My focus suddenly switched from balance to rhythm.
With my hands relaxed I was still going up and down but I had a new level of confidence in the saddle. I stopped focusing on balance and stability. Instead of fighting against the bouncing I started learning how to match it. I stopped trying to control the movement and started unifying with it instead.
And then it dawned on me. That is why equestrian training is so good for MS. That is why people with MS take to horses like a fish to water. We have already had to learn how to work in harmony with ups and downs. We have had to learn through relapses and remissions the agony of bouncing out of control and instead of falling off and getting trampled, we've learned to stay upright. Those of us with MS who refuse to get out of the saddle have had to learn through trial and error, success and failure the art of moving in unity with our chronic illness. Through the sorrow of remitting symptoms we've learned that we can't make the progression cease but we can learn to travel with it without letting it defeat us.
Staying upright in the MS saddle takes more than relaxed hands and the right shoes, it takes a relaxed heart and the right spirit. If there is one thing I've learned from my six years of chronic illness and two years of diagnosed MS it is that I can't control the course of my health. I can only choose to match its rhythm and learn to ride comfortably on the journey. A firmer, harder grip on the reigns won't help my heart or change the course of my condition. Fretting about the next relapse, the next fall into the mysterious world of unexplained symptoms, won't protect me from an attack of lesions on the brain and spine. The only control I have over my disease is how I respond to it and how I relax into it.
I'm sure when my trainer called out to relax my hands she had no idea what she was really asking me to do. She was asking me, reminding me, commanding me, to relax my heart of its grip on my health. Let MS take me on its ride and let my body match its pace - steady or not. Bounce up and down with all of the grace of a seasoned equestrian. My trainer was reminding me that God is going to allow movement in my life that I can't and shouldn't control. To try and clench the reigns won't help. Only relaxing, releasing and resting my heart in His hands will I remain stable and upright in the saddle of life. By trusting in the perfect rhythm of God's dazzling design I can and will enjoy this crazy, unpredictable and glorious MS ride.