Friday, October 28, 2011

Who IS that Voice?

Who IS That Voice?

Soon many of us will open our front doors to characters we do not recognize and hand them treats! In my daughter’s neighborhood, where they have over 200 customers, the trick or treater must DO a trick to earn the treat! So kids sing a song, recite a poem, do a gig or ask a riddle. The challenge is to look surprised when you’ve heard the most popular riddle about 43 times!

Do you notice how, especially if you know the child, [he’s maybe your own] and you say, “Who IS this character? Let me guess!” and you come up with all the wrong answers…finally, when you say his name, off comes the mask or out comes the smile to reward your efforts! Our 4 year old Brooks was all dressed up one Halloween and I could not “guess” this little guy’s name. After a minute, from behind the mask came the whisper, “Listen to my voice, mom!”

Our voice identifies us. On our family cottage telephone I kept one special voicemail for four years. It was my dad’s voice with good news following cataract surgery at age 91! [Mind you, he did not wear glasses and was still reading maps with over- the-counter half- glasses.] My kids think it’s weird that I play this message now and then. The message isn’t profound. It’s simply, “Hi Phyl. It’s Daddy, around 3 o’clock. I’m now back to perfect eye sight. I have a certificate from the doctor that I don’t have to take my driver’s test. I don’t need to wear glasses. So, back to square one. Now if we can just get the body working a little faster, we’d be in great shape! Isn’t the Lord great! Thanks. Love ‘ya. Talk to you later!” I treasure the sound of his voice, which was silenced when he was called “home” to heaven several months later in his sleep.

What is it about a voice that’s so special? You know what I mean. Our voices are unique, so much so that research reveals our “voiceprint” to be as unique as our fingerprint! The implications of that are huge. One day we’ll probably be able to access bank accounts, activate engines and who knows what else with our one-of-a-kind voice. This begs the question, what do you do with the power of your unique voice? Do you bring comfort, speak encouraging words, speak the truth?

The next question is,TO whose voice do you listen? In this swirling political season, voices call to us to do this and think that. If you’re an election junkie you probably hear those voices in your sleep! Whether in politics or in real life, we want to discern whose voice speaks truth, to know who is worth following. It’s a tough choice for some and an easy choice for others. It’s the same in the family, in the neighborhood, at the office. Voices can beckon, urge, sometimes annoy and anger or motivate and inspire us.

Speaking of voices, the Book of John quotes Jesus talking about a voice, namely His own when He refers to Himself as The Good Shepherd. Those who follow Him and live out His teachings are called “sheep.” You’ve heard the song, “I am Jesus little lamb…!” Same deal. Jesus makes a point in the 10th chapter about how His “sheep” know His voice and won’t be led astray by beckoning voices that are not His. Here’s the exact quote. “My sheep know my voice. The watchman opens the gate for him [the shepherd], and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger's voice."

It’s important to follow the right voice to keep from going astray. Get the tie-in with our voiceprint that’s as unique as our fingerprint? It’s recognition! Brooks tells me at age 4 from behind his mask, “Listen to my voice, mom!” He knew I‘d recognize him then! My dad’s 91 year old voicemail still reminds me of who he was, what he stood for, how much he loved our family and how faithfully he followed The Good Shepherd.

Your voice is truly a gift. You use it to lead, to follow, to rebuke and to lift up. The bigger question is, how does your voice respond to The Good Shepherd Who calls you by name? Can you hear Him saying, “Listen to my voice. Come to me, you that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” Do you recognize His voice from all the others? You will when you get to know Him. My son reminded me I knew his voice. I recognize my dad’s voice because we walked together this side of heaven all my life, one way or another. Walking with Jesus is like that. He draws you close through his Word, His Sacraments and through others who know Him. It’s how you literally hang out with Jesus, as He brings Himself, His protection, His wisdom, His life-saving Grace to you!

Who’s voice IS it? No costume can hide it. No others can be as authentic. When you hear His voice, it’s safe to follow!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Win or Lose?

Charles Schultz’s “Snoopy” character observed, "It doesn't matter if you win or lose, as long as you win!" This month's tally of winners and losers will add up to more of one than the other in both the World Series and the political scene. Winners make headlines and begin that uphill climb to deliver their best. What about the losers? What happens to them and to their supporters?

A look at some psychology behind winners and losers reveals the anguish of "Second Place." Close doesn't count, in the eyes of many, who brush aside a lifetime of striving and discipline to idolize the winner. An Olympic athlete, for instance, can come within a hair of taking the gold, stand before the world to receive a medal of another color...and think, "I'm a loser. If only I'd breathed better or turned slightly to the right instead of the left."

There's the classic case of Abel Kiviat who ran away from the field in the 1,500 meter track event at the 1912 Olympics when a British rival pulled ahead in a thrill finish to win by one-tenth of a second. Seven decades later, Kiviat told the Los Angeles Times that even at age 91, "I wake up sometimes and say, "What
the heck happened to me?" It's like a nightmare."

And THAT was before agents, multimillion-dollar broadcast contracts, bonuses and Dream Teams. How do we promote the privilege and thrill of just being able to enter the race, when confronted with that old shoe slogan, "YOU DON'T WIN SILVER, YOU LOSE GOLD!" Or the billboard ad that screams, "CONTEMPT IS A HUNDREDTH OF A SECOND."

No wonder the U.S. team in Atlanta set the Olympic record for the largest psyc squad to sanitize stained egos. The experts LABEL putting yourself down as A LOSER, unless you're absolutely at the very top. It's called "counterfactual thinking." And it's not confined to one area or one age group. How did you feel when your mom looked at the B on your report card and wondered why not an A? Buzz Aldrin, second man to walk on the moon, suffered crippling depression back on earth. You're as qualified as the next guy to get the promotion at the office. How does it feel when you're in the last 3 to be considered and don't get it? You score well on the ACT, your academic standing is excellent, your extracurricular involvement outstanding. You even get the letter from the university of your choice, stating you are a "strong contender." But you don't get in...along with thousands of others who applied. Are you a winner or a loser?

"To the victor go the spoils." Or should that read, "The victor will be spoiled and the loser will be soiled." Psychological evaluations conclude it's actually easier to lose by a lot than by a little. Even the bronze medalists, for example, get on with their lives better than those with the silver. Their reactions are healthier. They seem to retain the thrill of just being part of the event.

I’ll be cheering for the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series, checking the stats, saying “Oh rats!” now and then, predicting and rerunning plays…but always in awe of the discipline each member of the team displays, from the stadium keepers to the managers to the players. They’re all winners, when you come right down to it, even tho just a few will take home the prize.

What do we do when we're the "also-rans?" How do we handle the loss or victory of "our" candidate or “our” team? Do we live the poignant motto, "Humble in victory...Gracious in defeat."

C.S. Lewis in The Screwtape Letters talks about disappointment. The Senior devil, Screwtape, to junior devil Wormwood: "Whatever men expect, they soon come to think they have a right to; in the sense of disappointment this can, with very little skill on our part, be turned into a sense of injury."

What about us? Can we view what we risk, discipline ourselves for and strive toward as part of a "holy experiment," used to serve the Living God with our time, talent and treasure? With that attitude, we can't lose. So work, campaign and pray hard at what you do. It's not time wasted. Christians serve a greater purpose. It's a higher calling than individual "wins and losses." It's ALL going somewhere, cumulatively, as God promises in His Word. We offer who we are, what we have, with the Psalmist, "My times are in Thy hands." Win or lose, they’re times He’ll use.

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Friday, October 14, 2011



For the annual Fall Festival at our kid’s high school my husband, Rich, lugged in a 25 pound Libby's pumpkin. I was pleased. This plump, pale apricot boulder had "pies" written all over it. It was a surprise for my friend's front porch, to be surrounded with October offerings of gourds and field corn. By Thanksgiving it would surrender its throne to be stuffed into pastries, breads and soups. Rich asked, "WHY are we doing this?" I laughed off that reality question as an editorial remark and browsed the booths, challenging him to "dunk the teacher." Then a table full of cookbooks caught my eye.

Rich was headed for the parking lot. He'd paid his dues by appearing at the fund raiser and had that "yardwork is calling me" look. But those cookbooks...the poor mom who'd tried to hawk them still had 150 left. She’d reduced them from $5 to $1. Such a deal. Within seconds I offered to sell them as a fundraiser at my Bible study. I'd charge $2, give her $1 and our group would get $1.

Are you excited yet? Neither was Rich. As he loaded the 150 cookbooks into our car, exactly where the Libby's pumpkin had been, he mumbled, "WHY are we doing this?" At that precise moment a wise friend waltzed by wondering what was IN that big box. He was hoping someone would ask. She sized up the situation, and blessed us with, "Phyllis does tend to go off the end of the scale when it comes to Mercy!" That sweet summary left us both intact and able to get home with a minimum of hard feelings about my typically eager, instead of meager, responsiveness. I can justify my actions faster than any computer can set a margin. But in this case, the good Lord reminded me that not every need is a call from God on my life! Add Rich's query, "WHY are we doing this?" and you get a theological dilemma. What about all the needs I sensed, purportedly with my spiritual antenna? Do I tend to react more than act? This is not a fun exam. Instant replays are indelible in my mind. Wednesday Woman, a Bible study I led for 10 years, is an example. One hundred women from 14 different church backgrounds were empowered by God's Word. Marriages were saved, depressions lifted, confidence restored, faith in Christ increased. Supervising a staff of 24, affirming individuals in small groups and writing the study, eventually began to consume me.

One family night [don’t go WOW, we only had 3 all together] the 6 of us shared observations, all in love. Jennifer, 12, noticed I'd been more of a “Wednesday Woman” than a mom lately. Sarah, 4, said prayers that night, ending with "Make Mommy a good “Wednesday Woman!" A creative “ditto” came the next day when my husband and I attended a funeral. I jotted a note asking what he wanted on his tombstone. “Do you know something I don’t?” He answered, adding "I know what I'm putting on Yours! ‘SHE DIED ON HER WAY TO WEDNESDAY WOMAN.’" Within a year I transferred my leadership to others. That Bible study continues to this day very nicely without me. It was the Lord's work. He gave me the burden and then took it away. His timing was perfect. Next He led me into broadcasting. In fact, He’d been heading me in that direction all along!

If I hadn't listened to feedback, I may have missed that opportunity and continued writing weekly lessons, panicking when childcare staff didn't show up and trying to master the F sharp chord on my guitar. How do we know when to play what role? It would appear far better to seek it, even trial and error it, than to pontificate and debate it. In the Lord's Prayer we ask God to enable us to accept His will AND to DO it. Back to pumpkins. While the Libby pumpkin makes great pies...the other one, called a jack-o-lantern, is good only for eyes! One of these things is not like the other. A face pumpkin tastes terrible. A pie pumpkin doesn't make a very brilliant show.

Are you like the pie or the face pumpkin? One way to tell is to let others taste and see that the Lord is good through you. Their feedback can reinforce wise use of your talents. If folks move away from you in the choir loft, it might signal a misuse of gifts. If people are drawn to you in times of crisis, consider it the gift of encouragement. And don't be DIScouraged if you knock on a few doors that won't budge. It's another way God steers us in the right direction.

Speaking of directions, I have this great idea about opening an intimate little tea room. On the FACE of it, it looks like a golden opportunity: great location, favorite recipes, a friend who can help. But I wonder if I'm confusing pies with eyes in this patch of possibilities? Since there's no way he can fit this one in the trunk of the car, I could ask Rich for some feedback. Or maybe I'll just ask myself, WHY are we doing this?

Friday, October 7, 2011

Baseball Lessons Can Be Home Runs!

With world series drama unfolding, I realize there’s plenty of other drama playing on your life stage…mine too, but hang in there with me as I reflect on a fascinating game with so many apps! I was there this week…in St Louis for Game #4 of the NL playoffs. In anticipation of being there, after watching on TV and catching baseball on radio all season… my mind raced back to 2006.

We had World Series Tickets, because the Cards were down to the wire in that one. We were 10 rows up behind 1st base. These big games can’t be planned in advance, so you don’t know the exact date and time until the last minute. My speaking opportunities, on the other hand, ARE planned in advance with exact times and dates! I was excited about my first in person world series. I hoped against hope IF we got that far in the playoffs, it wouldn’t be a game played in STL on the night I was booked for an event.

But it wasn’t going to be that simple. Our seats were close enough to lipread Albert Pujols in conversation with Dave McKay, the first base coach! Flying back from the east coast, I faced a dilemma. I was lined up for a Friday night-all day Saturday retreat with Seminary wives, just outside STL. I hesitate to admit this, but I made frantic phone calls to see how I could work this out. Actually, to see how I could gracefully get OUT of the Friday night part of the weekend. I’m a woman and I have to use up my words, so I considered advice from strangers, mostly guys, who said, sure, the Sem wives would understand. You gotta GO. This is once in a lifetime! It’s weird, but I wanted to go to that game so much I could taste the peanuts. It was decision time. I decided. My airport advisers were convincing. I COULD go to the game. Someone else could cover for me that night and I’d be with the Sem wives the next day..all day. What Commandment would it break, after all? Opportunities come up!

I’d been asking for God’s input, of course, since He counts sparrows that fall from the sky and in the Greek that means He counts their take offs and landings! He was a bit silent on the issue, frankly. I mean, I didn’t get a call from the organizers to say, “Hey, BTW, if you and Rich have tickets to the game tonight, have at it! We’ll be fine.” For a second I thought, “Well, this is one of those grey areas, like coloring your hair or what car to buy. The women would have been ok and so would God who had a lot bigger things on His plate than whether I spoke to Sem wives or went to a world series game. Besides, there was a big push at that time for women to take care of themselves, as in tell the kids you’ll resurface in 30 minutes and take a bath with scented candles or plan a getaway now and then. So let me think, scented candles & bath, getaway with friends….World Series tickets and a magical chance at winning. Now I had to make the agonizing choice. If we didn’t use those tickets, someone else would.

As I drove into the parking area for the retreat in the woods, my car radio tuned in to the first inning, I learned that our tickets went to Cardinals 3rd baseman, Scott Rolen, for his friends & family. That was nice. But not nice enough to smother the grumbling rumbling inside of me. What good would I BE to these Sem wives from all around the country who were not distracted by the hype? Their concerns were over more “real life” events, like would their husbands pass Greek and Hebrew; when would he put down the books and re-enter the marriage, how would they pay back student loans; were they prepared for the real world; where would their “call” be and how would they like it? I sat in the woods listening on my radio and gradually, the excitement from inside the ballpark, 15 miles across the Mississippi River, seemed even further away as the Lord impressed on me the priceless opportunity right there in that back woods. Who needed cheering on more than THESE women, facing formidable unknowns and knowns?

I walked from the car, asking God for grace to put on the mind of Christ in that place. A few hours later, Friday night’s mission accomplished, I went back to the car radio just in time to hear the final inning. We won, on a sacrifice fly! I was elated and hopped out of the car to run in and tell the others. It turned out there WERE some fans inside after all! So I wasn’t the only one who “sacrificed” my own interests that night! I could almost hear the cheering inside the stadium float across the river and into the woods. I could see the distant sky light up with fireworks in celebration. And in the gentle fall breeze drifting through the trees, I think I heard a whisper, “You take care of my people and leave the final score up to me!” It turns out… Baseball LESSONS can be home runs, too!