Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Locked Out©

Cars. Don’t we just love to hate them sometimes? If you’re anything like I am, you have a vehicle with high miles that you’re trying to have carry you through another 100,000 or so. Maybe that’s a bit too hopeful but in these economic times we try and make a dollar go further and further. Along the way we may have to give up some luxuries. In the case of my car, it seems I’ve given up the luxury of working windows, a quiet ride and a working remote door lock/entry system which is attached to my keys. This later issue has led to the somewhat embarrassing situation of locking myself out of my car, sadly to say, on more than one occasion. It’s likely we’ve all been there at one time or another; peering through the window of our locked vehicle staring at the car keys in the ignition, on the seat, in the purse on the seat etc. We don’t know whether to laugh or cry, sometimes we do both.
I’ve also managed to lock myself out of my house several times. I remember once, just as we were leaving for vacation, I locked all of the windows, secured even the garage door which does not have an automatic door opener, packed the car and the kids only to realize the keys were in the house! How these things happen, I don’t know. I was forced to shove my daughter through a small octagonal window in our dining room that time to recover the keys. Such fond memories! I had to chuckle recently when a friend told me of her embarrassing dilemma when she put in a load of laundry to wash including the clothes she was wearing only to discover her bedroom door had locked behind her. Being a self-reliant person she removed the doorknob to no avail, looked for hinges which were on the inside and exhausted all means of unlocking thesituation. Her washer was in her apartment, so luckily a coat closet and her long raincoat were available to partially ‘cover’ her embarrassment. Still, she had to call the maintenance man and have him come to fix the problem. And so I chuckled, not at her situation, but at the fact that I had yet to find found myself in that predicament.

There are many places we can be locked out of. Cars, buildings, rooms, computers, events, clubs, and even hearts are ‘places’ from which we can be locked out of. Some of these situations are at least partly in our control, others are not. If we don’t bring the right credentials we can be locked out of certain venues or events. If we don’t have a membership we may be locked out of a particular club. If we’ve hurt someone and they aren’t forgiving we may be locked out of their heart and it may not be in our control to change that.

Sometimes being locked out can be a life or death situation. Critically ill or injured people behind locked doors can lose precious time when help from the outside world is locked out. But there is another life or death situation that involves being locked out that I’m most concerned with. There is a very special Kingdom that has a very specific requirement for entry and without it the doors are locked, impenetrable. In this case it isn’t who someone is or even what they’ve done or haven’t done that keeps them from having the proper credentials for entry. It is their belief or lack thereof as the case may be. Luke tells us of Jesus’ warning when He said “Work hard to enter the narrow door to God’s Kingdom, for many will try to enter but will fail. When the master of the house has locked the door, it will be too late. You will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Lord, open the door for us!’ But he will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from'”. Luke 13: 24-25, NLT. The life I speak about is eternal life and it is a gift for all who believe in Jesus and are willing to take the time to know him and accept him as their savior. In this case, we can’t afford to wait until we’ve put a few more miles on these bodies before we decide to believe or not. No one is promised tomorrow. This isn’t some luxury item we can do without for a time. This is a matter of life and death. Membership to this Kingdom is in our control, the decision is ours, yet it is the submission of giving control to Jesus that will unlock the door to an everlasting life with the Savior. That is one place that I don’t want to be locked out of.
by Liz Hall


Reflection. It’s a pretty simple word really. Have you ever stopped to think of the significance of reflection? As I sit here and try to think of what I shall write about, I glance over my blog and think of the reason I started writing it and what I was trying to reveal with it. The blog’s title, Analysis of a Season, contains the key word Analysis. Wikipedia© says Analysis is ‘the process of breaking a complex topic or substance into smaller parts to gain a better understanding of it’. When I think of reflection, or the act of reflecting back on something, I think of trying to better understand it. This type of reflection is called introspection. In my blog I began to look back at some of the things that have occurred in my past and I reflected on how I felt and thought while I was going through them. The reflection lead to understanding, lessons learned, truths discovered and lies unveiled. It is good to reflect, to accept ourselves and our history and understand that these things are part of what makes us who we are. I am a scientist; therefore analysis is part of who I am. It only stands to reason that self-analysis or reflection is also part of who I am.

There are other types of reflection. The sun or a bright light can reflect off of glass or a mirror and be blinding. Reflection of headlights in a rear-view mirror can be distracting and make seeing what is in front of us difficult. This line of thinking leads me to believe certain types of reflection can be dangerous. Is it possible reflecting on the past can be dangerous as well? This is a new revelation to me. How can a reflection on what is behind us become a distraction from what is in front of us? I suppose the answer is in how much time we spend in reflection and take care not to let it become an obsession.
Some reflections are absolutely beautiful. The reflection of a mountainous scene off of a clear lake revealing a mirror image can be breathtaking. Many of us don’t like our own reflection. We prefer not to spend much time in front of the mirror. We might think it vain or just don’t like what is starting back at us. But, perhaps we should spend some time there anyway. Consider that when we look upon our reflection we are looking into the face of someone’s child. Perhaps we are gazing upon someone’s mother, someone’s wife, sister; best friend. As Christians we are called upon to love one another. And we do, we try to. We are often successfulat encouraging someone, making someone laugh, giving a word of wisdom, brightening a day with our smile. The next time we look closely into our own reflection, shouldn’t we see what they see? Shouldn’t we see the friendly smile, encouraging glance, ready laugh? Shouldn’t we see the love that we have for others? And then, if we look deeper still, we should see our Savior. He is our shining example and we are called to be like Him. It is through Him that we can love. As we strive to be more like Him we become the reflection of his goodness, his mercy, his kindness, and his compassion.

I avoid mirrors, but I think the next time I pass one by, I just might stop and gaze for a minute and look into His image and then walk just a little bit taller and shine a little bit brighter.
By Liz Hall ©

Alaskan Pipedream

I had a pipedream for a long time. I wanted to go on a cruise. I loved the water, swam all my life, worked as a lifeguard in high school and college and always took those corny boat trips anytime I was on vacation. I planted the seed in my head and I wanted to go on a cruise. In reality however, I was a single working mom. I had the sole responsibility of raising my kids and keeping a roof over all of our heads. Recovering from a divorce and unemployment took its toll and the dream remained just that, a dream.

Eventually my children matured and seemed less dependent on me and as an empty nest rapidly approached, thoughts of my dream vacation re-emerged. Justification for the extravagant expense seemed plausible as my 50th birthday loomed in the near future. I had visions of inviting friends and family on a short cruise and celebrating my big day with them. Life happened. I had a falling out with my daughter and things didn’t seem so rosy. As time ticked away decisiveness failed me and the half centennial cruise did not occur. I switched gears, literally and bought a car instead, but it did not satisfy my dream of cruising on the open sea amid bountiful spreads of gourmet food and endless activities. Come to think about it, a lot of what occurred the last half of that year did not satisfy me. In fact, it became a pretty dark year. My best friend filed for divorce which became a very contentious issue in our church. My place of solace became a place of judgment and condemnation. Additionally, I was struggling with relationship issues, low self-esteem and a lack of purpose. As I became caught up emotionally, there was backsliding and my relationship with the Lord suffered. I was not at peace. Eventually, being uncomfortable in my skin and with what I had become, I began to attend a monthly women’s bible study. I fought with myself and my worldliness and as the Fall season approached I turned away from what was keeping me in the distance. I repented, I sought accountability partners and I sought the Lord.

As a New Year approached I thought about setting goals and the same itching desire to do what I’d dreamt about for many years came back. There was a difference though, my focus was now on finding a Christian Cruise and thoughts of Alaska were awakened. At the same time there was a new struggle. Excessive legalism in my church had been an issue for me for some time. Women had long been restricted from leadership and teaching positions and my friends’ divorce was causing dissension. Meanwhile, I found the perfect cruise and in February of 2010 I booked a stateroom on the Michael W. Smith and Friends Alaskan Cruise. I was elated, I was in shock, I was nervous but I had done it, I was committed. In July I would board a Holland America Cruise liner and head for Alaska. The future looked bright. My hunger for the Lord continued and my faith was strengthened as I drew nearer to Him. And in the midst, the bottom dropped out once again. My friends’ struggle with the Elders finally came to a climax on Palm Sunday when they publicly removed her membership from the church on grounds of her divorce and plans to re-marry. It was a blow. I left and never returned. My church family of 9 years was now gone and it seemed wrong that just as I was working hardest on my relationship with the Lord my community was swept away. I now look upon that difficult time as one of the greatest gifts the Lord has ever given to me. My thirst for Him was not quenched - it was renewed. Those of us that left that church fellowshipped, celebrated the Lord’s supper and talked about planting churches. I ‘church-shopped’ and I prepared for my cruise. I would travel solo. I knew I wouldn’t find anyone to cruise with me but I didn’t let it hinder my plans. This was, in and of itself, a huge step. Just a couple of years earlier I would not dine in a restaurant alone, felt judged, and thought being alone was not okay. In telling people about my upcoming trip they would ask “Wow, who are you going with?” and my answer would be “2000 family members, members of the body of Christ”. The entire cruise ship had been booked through Inspiration Cruises and it was essentially a private cruise of Christians bound for Alaska ready to take in the beauty of His creation.

And so I stepped out in faith and prayed fervently for God to show me what He wanted me to see and to teach me what He wanted me to learn and on July 11, 2010, I boarded the U.S.S. Oosterdam in Seattle, Washington.

From the onset it was different. Going through the lines having documentation checked was painless. People waiting to board were kind, patient and ready to share a story. I met a couple while boarding and later upon disembarkment they were the last people I hugged before heading home. Once on board we were directed to a bountiful lunch and the journey began. The ship was divided into two groups that dined and attended nightly concerts together. When meeting people we became quick to ask “are you in the red or blue group?” Describing the week in this short writing could never do it justice. The concerts were outstanding and moving as the Spirit of God touched us through song and worship. Listening to Max Lucado time and again during the week was inspiring. Hearing his wife and Michael W. Smith’s wife share their stories was uplifting. Meeting those God sent my way with similar struggles was affirming and yet gave me an opportunity to lift others up. The most profound effect on me was the daily 7 am devotionals presented by John and Beverly Sheasby on his book entitled The Birthright. Throughout the week we learned that we as heirs to God’s Kingdom are loved unconditionally by our Father who sent us His son to reveal his character to us. Through the teachings of Jesus we were shown that God is our loving Father who simply wants to be in a loving relationship with us. He longs for us to tug gently on his nightshirt and ask for all that we need; this will be freely given to us as His children. I became broken on that cruise as I thought of my Father in Heaven watching, as I who had been given all, spent years beating myself up and allowing myself to be marginalized because of feelings of unworthiness and the of pain and damage of years of not feeling validated.

So how, some might ask, is this a story of a positive event in my life? The answer of course, is because there is Victory in the truth! Somewhere between viewing Glaciers and flying over fjords it was revealed to me that I am fully worthy and a legitimate heir to God’s Kingdom. I had been all along. There was nothing that I needed to measure up to, no assurance that I needed to have from a person, a man, or a relationship which would validate me more than I already was. I realized that I could lose the earthly things that I was given but what the Father had given I could never loose. It was mine, my inheritance, my birthright that had been freely given through grace and mercy. I learned my worth is immeasurable because I am an heir to the greatest Kingdom of all. No one can devalue me, but if I devalue myself I am not walking in faith. I may not be perfect but I am perfectly made and all the riches of my Father are mine. I was so humbled and yet so free. I began a cruise as someone wondering who they were and ended it knowing that I was a princess with a Father who has a Kingdom waiting for me. Events just don’t get more positive than that.
by Liz Hall(C)