The Gift

The house that Solomon and Hiram built

This morning during our pre-service prayer time, one of the leaders brought a word about gifts.  He read out of I Kings 9.  Let’s set the scene.

King Solomon, when he had peace on every side (I Kings 5:4), had it in his heart to build a house for the Lord.  He propositioned King Hiram for help. King Hiram of Tyre, when he heard his good friend David’s son was now king, graciously supplied building materials and men for Solomon’s new temple.  In exchange, Solomon agreed to provide food for Hiram’s household.  Hiram sent builders and cedar and cypress trees.  Between the donated materials from Hiram, gold and silver and precious stones David gathered before he died, and Solomon’s wisdom, the temple was built, splendid and majestic. There has never been another one like it.

The labor of designing and building two houses – King Solomon’s palace and the Temple – took 20 years. To thank King Hiram for all his good will and bounteous generosity, Solomon gave Hiram 20 cities, perhaps one for every year Hiram labored alongside him. The twenty cities were in the land of Galilee.  Hiram himself came out and surveyed the cities Solomon gave him.  He was not pleased.  He said, “What are these cities worth which you have given me, my brother?” (I Kings 9:13).  He called them cabul, which means unproductive, worthless. And, to show that it was okay and Hiram wasn’t insulted despite the poor quality of the gift in his eyes, he sent Solomon 120 talents of gold.  That’s about 9000 pounds, according to Wikipedia. Now that’s a nice gift! No question there.

What the leader was trying to say is that sometimes we have gifts God has given us, or talents in the sense of skills and abilities, and we don’t see their value.  We want what someone else has.  We overlook their potential as raw material.  We might even compare them to someone else’s finished product.  But we shouldn’t do that.  We  need to look soberly at ourselves and yet celebrate what we do have – abilities, skills, friendships, family, etc.

II Chronicles 8 opens with Solomon taking back the cities Hiram refused.  He rebuilt and fortified them and made it habitable for his people.  He didn’t see them as worthless or cabul. He realized those cities’ potential and capitalized on them, using his prodigious wisdom and wealth.

The other thing I thought about was our children.  They come to us as babies, the ultimate in limitless potential.  They’re not complete tabula rasas, as philosophers would have us believe.  But their future is unknown to us.  We work with their emerging abilities and try to curb their negative qualities.  We put the time in to shape and guide, knowing that the outcome is not entirely up to us.  We can look at them as burdens or as amazing blessings just waiting to discovered.

I know for years I didn’t pay much attention to certain skills I had.  I kinda neglected them and let them lie.  I could not see their true value, like being able to organize. Now, sometimes there are seasons to put things down, and you must have discernment about that.  But other times, we need to resurrect the gifts and use them to bring money to ourselves and to serve others.

Now I’m on the lookout.  What untapped gifts or abilities am I sitting on?  How can I help my kids and husband reach their potential? What about you? What have you looked down on that is a great, unrecognized gift?

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Belated Blessings

Today I reached the New Testament in our Bible reading plan.  Reading chronologically has been a bit of a challenge as we skip around in the Old Testament based on when the books were penned.  It was weird to read Job long ago and then read more of the Pentateuch.  But I digress.

Today, friends, we started in Luke and John.  Apparently they were written concurrently since I read both Luke 1 and John 1 today. John picks up right at John’s (the Baptist’s) ministry with nothing of his history. But I want to look at John’s history today. Luke 1 focused on the miraculous birth of John.

John was born to Zachariah and Elizabeth, Mary’s uncle and aunt.  They were elderly and had no children of their own. Zachariah served as a priest and, according to Jewish tradition, on this day, the lot designated him to be the priest to enter the most holy place.  Luke 1:10 says a throng of people were outside the curtain in the court praying while the incense burned.  An angel appeared, and Zac started to tremble with fear. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zachariah!  God has heard your prayer.  Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John.  you will have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the eyes of the Lord.  He must never touch wine or other alcoholic drinks.  He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth.  And he will turn many Israelites to the Lord their God.  He will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah.  He will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord.  He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and he cause those who are rebellious to accept the wisdom of the godly” (Luke 1:13-17).  Tall order, but how exciting!

The account goes on to say that Zachariah questioned the angel, wanting to know it would really happen. Maybe they’d gotten “words” from well-meaning souls before about having children and they didn’t pan out.  Perhaps Zacariah was just plain weary.  “Now, Lord, really?!” Zac cites the fact that he and his wife are old now.  The angel seems to take umbrage at the questioning: “I am Gabriel!  I stand  in the very presence of God.  It was he who sent me to bring you this good news!  But now, since you didn’t believe what I said, you will be silent and unable to speak until the child is born” (1:19-20). Ouch!

What hit me today was Elizabeth’s reaction.  Her husband questioned the angel and so was struck dumb the entire length of her pregnancy.  Ladies:  don’t pray for that, tempting though it may be!  I guess she made all the layette decisions herself, as well as the room’s decor.  The only thing she probably knew for sure was that the baby would be a boy named John, according to the angel’s instructions.

Elizabeth might have known something happened with Zachariah.  But perhaps he wasn’t able to tell her exactly what went on the holy of holies.  I bet it was quite a surprise when she discovered she truly was pregnant. Biblical Tradition says she was somewhere in her 60s, well past childbearing years.  I’ve heard of women having false alarms and symptoms of pregnancy; she might have experienced those along the way as well.

But, as they say, if it walks like a duck…and I bet she did after a time.  Luke 1:24 says that Elizabeth secluded herself entirely.  What did she feel?  Had she miscarried in the past and so wanted to save herself any possible speculation or extra exertion that might bring on early contractions? Was she afraid maybe she’d imagined the whole thing?

Barrenness in Israelite culture was considered a curse. Elizabeth said, upon learning she was pregnant:  “How kind the Lord is!” she exclaimed.  “He has taken away my disgrace of having no children.”

Wow.

She didn’t complain about the indignities of being pregnant as an old woman.  Varicose veins *and* stretch marks?!  Unfair, unfair!  Not to mention thinking ahead to midnight feedings and nappy changes and nursing…Can you imagine being in your 70s with a teenager in the house?!  No. All she could see was the great goodness of  God who granted her lifelong dream of a baby. Her words set the tone for John’s birth, childhood and later ministry.  She spoke life.

Are we like this?  Do we grumble when the blessing finally comes because it wasn’t on our schedule?  Or are we grateful it came at all?

The Beauty of Forgetfulness

Trying to remember what I wanted to say here…

Ah!  Yes.

I”m finding, as I mature and age, that there’s a certain wonderful quality to not remembering everything.  In my 20s, with my hard-core, detail-oriented job, I probably would’ve been fired for not remembering which version of the air handling unit spec to pull.  Not to mention how to slip-sheet documents to get them to copy correctly. Tis a dying art, I fear.

Now where was I?  Oh yeah.

Today, I was ironing.  Just call me June Cleaver.  I don’t much like to do it, but it needs to get done.  My husband wears buttoned-down long sleeved shirts with ties almost every work day.  I’m not paying somebody else to do it, being a tad frugal, and the kids and I sometimes have things that need to be ironed, too. So I screwed my courage to the sticking place and jumped in.

I was on to the first of Jonathon’s shirts when I heard it.

“M-WAO! m-WAO!” Our cat, Rex, a shiny black 20-lb. mass of feline power, had caught something.  And he wanted me to come and see!  Right away!  He has a very distinctive meow when he’s captured something.

I quickly finished my portion on the shirt and strolled to the back door.  I’d opened it and left the screen in place to let in the early fall sunshine and sweet breeze.

Rex, bless his heart, had caught a Nerf dart.

Lest you think Rex mentally challenged in any way, this is not the first time he’s done this.  Oh, he catches mice, rats, snakes and once a HUGE cricket.  He promptly ate it.  The Nerf darts appear to be special, however.  He bites them, tosses them in the air and rolls around on the ground with them.  It’s all very undignified; they appear to affect him like catnip.  He seems to think of them as living organisms.  Which might explain why they never seem to get lost permanently, but only to multiply.

I stepped outside and petted Rex’s round head.  He purred contentedly, all the while looking triumphant.  I stepped back inside to finish my job.

I completed the yellow shirt and was on to one of the gray ones when…

“M-WAO! m-WAO!”

Sigh.  Really?!

I marched to the back door and peeked through the screen.  Rex crouched, patiently waiting.  In front of him sat an orange Nerf dart with blue rubber tip.  Again.

Somehow, in the few minutes it took me to press a shirt, he’d forgotten he’d caught that particular dart already.  He wanted me, his human mommy, to acknowledge his kill.  Being a kind person, I did.  Again.

As I continued through the never-ending parade of dress shirts, I contemplated the virtues of forgetfulness.  Ruby sometimes forgets something she desperately wants to do – like get a dog tomorrow.  I encourage that. I don’t bring it up to remind her of her impossible desire.

I also think of God and how he forgets our sin. Psalm 103:12 says:  As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.  That’s pretty far. Paul says in Phil 3:13…forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.  That means we forget our old ways and the offenses of others.  It’s an active forgetting and letting go, forgiving and moving on. Pretty powerful, forgetfulness.   I could use some more myself.

Missing Portland

Did I mention Portland’s interesting architecture?

Today, for some strange reason, I’m missing Portland.  Yes, I grew up there.  Ruby was born there.  We lived there for several years before moving up here.  We’ve lived in Shelton for 6 years now.  Yikes!  Where does the time go?

I was chatting with a friend about it, and I got a little nostalgic.  Here’s what I miss:

  • Our friends and family. You know who you are!
  • Downtown Portland.  Our office was kitty-corner from Nordstrom and across from Pioneer Courthouse Square.  Always something going on, great people watching. The music was especially entertaining for this musician. I’ll never forget the guy standing on the corner in a dirty orange shirt and cargo shorts playing the same 5 notes over and over on a Pan flute.  Classic!
  • The hum and buzz of a thriving, creative city.  It fills me with anticipation. There’s always something going on.
  • Our great big yard.  We had a small house there on NE Killingsworth St.  But the backyard was 1/3 of an acre, unheard of in inner Portland.  We had an 80-foot cedar (full of bats and squirrels, by the way), mature raspberries, blueberries, grapes and a weathered old black walnut tree.  Pink peonies in the front yard and a hedge of squared-off rhododendrons. Did I mention we had grass, too?  Yeah.  Not much in the way of grass here with our weird lot.
  • The view of the Willamette and Mt. Hood.  On a day like today, it would be stellar. “Flashy sparkles in the water…”
  • People watching.  The guy in a skirt.  The gal with the rainbow mohawk.  Folks whose gender I cannot discern. 
  • The leaves changing colors on those big old oaks and maples downtown.  So pretty!

But all good things have a downside.  What I don’t miss…:

  • Traffic.  I-205.  I-5. On the many bridges.  In town.  Everywhere! Traffic in Shelton is 7 cars.
  • Public transportation.  Portland has a pretty good system.  But I can live without ever smelling patchouli again!
  • Waiting in the rain/wind/ice for said public transportation.
  • Oil tank heat.
  • The cost of living.  Our house up here was much less expensive than our house in Portland.  Just saying.
  • Bicyclists.  Apparently, traffic laws don’t apply to them.  Just ask the one who mowed me down in a cross walk.
  • Crime.  Our street was closed down for police action twice in the 3 years we lived in that house.  Once, the police commandeered our phone line to wire-tap a guy who was holding a hostage in a nearby home.  Good times. I won’t even mention the drive-by shooting.
  • No real neighbors. We lived on the edge of the ‘hood, and that’s about the size of it. Here, the kids can walk to their friends’ houses and the library without risking life and limb.

All things considered, I think I’ll stay.  I can always watch “Portlandia”. No commuting necessary.

So Long

So…another first, after yesterday’s post on firsts.

Today I got laid off from my part-time bookkeeping job at Harmony Hill. I’ve never been fired and this was my first time being laid off or “let go”, ever.

Meh.

I’m a bit sad, though I probably won’t show it on the outside. I guess I’m not entirely sure how to react. It’s never easy to experience the “they don’t want/need you anymore” scenario.  But in this case, it’s a money issue for the Hill. My boss there had been doing my job for several months before I came along.  After the latest budget review (and possibly my poor payroll performances?) they decided they could just have him suck it up and do my job as well as his own.

It’s a little ironic in the sense that only last week I had asked for more hours.  It seemed a bit wasteful to me to drive a half hour to work 3-4 hours and then drive the half hour home again.  Especially when gas has been hovering around $4/gallon out here in the big woods.  I contemplated moving on for that reason as well as the fact that I didn’t ever really get fully trained on this job. My boss never had time to finish it. He was too busy.

But I met some great people.  I will miss the office manager, a great gal whose office I shared on the days I worked.  She was helpful, funny and like a twin in a lot of ways.  We shared some good times.  I know I would never have figured out the combination lock to the file cabinet without her!

I am grateful for the experience. The scenery fed my soul and the drive cleared my head. I learned some new functionality in QuickBooks by doing payroll and how to get rid of bats.  But that’s another story.

As I drove in to work this morning, the sky was overcast.  It drizzled off and on.  The low-slung clouds obscured the Olympics and the fir-covered hills that slope down into the canal.  The tide was out; all was like a temporary barren wasteland, stark and ominous.  All was silent. A lone blue heron fished for his breakfast.  Now it seems a fitting goodbye.

Firsts

 

Everybody wants to be first.  First place gets the prize.  Gets the gold medal, the brass ring, the raise.  But what of the other finishers?  They get mentioned, their names pronounced incorrectly or spelled wrong.  They might get a little bit of cash.  Sometimes. What of them?

Saturday, I ran 18 miles for the first time.  I’ve run 18 miles and more over the course of a week before but never all in one shot. I have to go slow, but I will make it.  Thank God for audio books. I am ready now. 

Today, I drove to Seattle so my boss at the shelter and I could meet with the architects and a low bidder on the impending building project.  We talked about value engineering challenges and other possible outcomes for this project. This was the first time I’d ever driven to Seattle , or sat at the project table feeling more like an equal than a lackey.  I had some questions and some input on the project.  And it was a sunny day, with no traffic!  Woot!  It felt really good.

Sometimes, it’s enough to be open to a first. Yesterday, I started to think anew about the vision for my life, for our lives. I’ve been so focused on the one thing I thought I was supposed to be doing I missed thinking new thoughts about what I could be.  It’s time to lay down the old and pick up the new. We prayed and sought God.  What are the possibilities, Lord?  Cause right now I can’t see them. I am open to a first here.

Our firsts help us to get to the next thing.  We may not always win the race or get the enormous fake check.  Sometimes, it’s enough just to do something.  It was enough for me to take notes at the first PAC.  My employer there expects better notes from me each time because my skill and ability grow with each conference.

Firsts build confidence building blocks we stack to negotiate to our next goal. They can be extremely critical, like potty training or telling time.  Still working on that last one with the kids…

I realize I will not win the marathon. I’m not fast enough; nor am I fast enough to qualify for Boston.  I probably won’t place in my age bracket, old as I am!  And yet now, I feel prepared to do it. Firsts have a little thrill attached to them, too, and a sense of accomplishment.  That’s their real prize, whether you or not you garner any recognition. After today, I know I can get to Seattle without playing bumper cards on the freeway or getting lost in a sea of one-way streets.  And I can’t wait to hear God’s voice for this new “first” of purpose.

Friday Frolic

This is how I feel!

I wasn’t going to post today at all, seeing how much time I’ve spent interfacing with this machine in the past week…

But…

I finished the notes!  I edited 107 pages in 8 hours over 3 days.  It’s a record for me!  The first time I did this, I think it took around 16-18 hours to edit everything.  I was so afraid of making mistakes and I was new to the whole laptop setup.  I kept erasing paragraphs with the side of my hand. I treaded water in a sea of Microsoft-specific acronyms. In addition,the formatting was unfamiliar and I wanted to make sure I typed things (mostly) correctly.  Grr! My shoulders felt attached to my ears. Writing this blog has helped.  I can make all the mistakes I want – and fix them – on my own time.  Huzzah!

Fall is sauntering into Shelton on soft padded feet.  The sky is clouded over and it’s drizzled a bit already.  We never hit 60 degrees today.  Sigh. I am a little sad, as the transition is on.  Summer is my favorite season.  We had a particularly nice one this year. My run yesterday morning featured the fresh air of late summer, laden with the aroma of blackberries, petunias and cut grass.  Glorious! And now, time to start to think about pumpkins, turning the gas fireplace on and layering. Oh, and baking, my favorite! So it’s not all bad.

And now, the weekend is straight ahead, no work to weigh me down.  Even after all these years, I *still* heart Fridays. Ahh…

Happy weekend, everyone!