Friday, April 18, 2014

The Mystery of the Cross







This is the marvelous mystery of the Cross:

WE ARE FULLY KNOWN, YET FULLY LOVED.


God knows every single secret sin of our hearts.

He knows that we miss the mark each day of our lives on earth.

He sees the lack of love… the loss of empathy. He sees the spirits of judgment and criticism and prejudice. Our inability to forgive. He knows all about our addictions and lusts. He weeps as He witnesses the self-destruction, self-pitying, self-absorption, and narcissism. He is well acquainted with our hypocrisy.  He is saddened by our envy and avarice, and stricken by our sick self-righteousness and self-justification.

He grieves over our pathetic attempts at medicating the pain of living life in a broken, bleeding, hurtful world. He sympathizes with our doubt, defeat, despair, and lack of faith.

Above all else, He is brokenhearted by our great and fatal pride, which keeps us from seeking the help that we desperately need.

Yet…

He loves us just the same.


Listen to this (almost) unbearably Good News:

“He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross, so that we can be dead to sin, and live for what is right. By his wounds, you are healed.” (1 Peter 2:24 NLT)


All our past failures, indiscretions, and humiliations…

All our current inadequacies and insufficiencies…

All the future faux pas we've yet to make on the path of pilgrim’s progress…


Have already been carried in His body to the cross!

Where they have been put to death for once and evermore.


He gladly took all of my sin and shame upon himself, and paid the price for it in order to purchase my eternal freedom.

(He did this for you as well, if you believe it and receive it.)

It’s that simple.


"Amazing love, how can it be
That you, my king would die for me..." (Chris Tomlin)

A mystery, undecipherable on earth.

But it is true.


The Good News is just too good to be true.

But it is.


Truly.


***************

 A Russian Orthodox Easter Greeting:
“Христос воскрес!”  (Christ is risen!)
Воистину воскрес!”  (Truly risen!)


***************


The picture at the top was taken by my husband in our back yard. It reminds me of this scripture: 

"Let the trees of the forest sing, let them sing for joy before the Lord..." (I Chronicles 16:33)


(This one's for A.)



Thursday, April 25, 2013

K.I.S.,S.


(Backyard visitor wants to stay South for the summer.)



Life is complicated now.

I woke up and hit the ground running with anxiety.

Which situation needs addressing first?
Which phone call is most urgent?
Which plans need rearranging?
Should I do A or B or C?

I’ve had too much coffee.

I feel so confused.

Unfortunately, this is a state in which many of us have a home address.

Instead of “Hi, my name is Kim and I’m from Georgia,” I could say “Hi, I’m from the state of Confusion.” Or “Hi. I’m from the lovely state of Anxiety.” Or “Hey. I’m from Discombobulation.”

Where do you come from?

The world swirls ever faster and more violently, it seems. Yet I long to inhabit a state of Peace. A state of Simplicity. A state of Trust. A state of Joy.

But there are so many choices and options. So many issues. So much stimulation. So many distractions.

Mainly, there are so many Situations.

I am weary of dealing with situations, aren’t you?

And that is the problem.  That’s what makes everything complicated. I am “trying to deal.” Doing instead of being again. Spinning wheels instead of stillness. Noise instead of quiet. Complexity rather than simplicity.

‘Tis a gift to be simple…

I force myself to sit down. Close eyes. Be still.

Trust me, it’s not easy.

Squirmy kid in the time-out chair at first. Gradually, deep breathing quiets. Birds sing spring joy outside the window. Listen. Slow. Receive. Hear.

Finally, a dialogue:

But everything’s so complicated. (Sniff, sniff, nose-blow.)
It doesn’t need to be.
How can it not be?
Keep it simple.

It used to be so simple. I think back to carefree childhood days. Dressed in starchy petticoats and patent leather mary janes, hair curled on socks overnight. Sunday School. A little pink paperback book.

We would be tested later, to make sure we were serious about “joining the church.” I’m not sure I had a clue what that actually meant at the time.

More than 50 years later, these words come back to me:

What is the chief end of man?

To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.*

That’s it???

Two things, that encompass all.

Two things to do…


glorify

and

enjoy.


That’s so simple.


Or is it?


***************


What state do you live in most of the time?

If I can manage to “keep it simple” for a while, I’d like to explore what those two verbs mean in days ahead.


           (*Westminster Confession)
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           NEWSFLASH! Granny's getting hip!

           Follow me on Instagram at kimberlytarnold.

           (I don't begin to know how to tell you to do this if you don't know already.)

           Photo at the top was my first offering. It gets cuter after that. 


           Sometimes I feel like a goose, too. (But with its head cut off.)

Monday, April 1, 2013

Because He Lives...







Francis Chan (author of Crazy Love delivered the sermon at the Hollywood Bowl)
Hallejuah!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Stories of our Seasons




The darkness of this past winter delayed me from writing of its highlight. (At least that sounds like a good excuse, doesn’t it?)

But, in reflection, perhaps the darkness only served to make this particular experience stand out more vividly against the dreary backdrop. Light in the darkness seems a more brilliant illumination.

Seasons Weekend at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs stands out like a bright beacon of hope and inspiration.

Seasons is the brainchild of best-selling author and dramatist Nicole JohnsonThe weekend is an artistic spiritual retreat designed for personal growth and replenishment. Intentionally intimate, it is a feast of music, art, drama, and learning for those wishing to go deeper in their faith journeys. It is a special time of rest and renewal…peace and healing…awakening and illumination.

Katherine and Jay were honored to be among the speakers. (We kept pinching ourselves and saying Why are we here? Too good to be true.)

But that’s the way the Good News seems isn’t it?

Too good to be true… but it is!

In additional to the wildly creative and talented Nicole, other participants included renown psychiatrist Dr. Curt Thompson, author of The Anatomy of the Soul, and the brilliantly gifted Sara Groves, one of my long-time favorite singer/songwriters. (Our whole family is in love with her.)

The other speakers and performers were equally amazing. It was intense. At one point, as Sara sang and played the piano, tears came to my eyes. I’ve been listening to her music for years, since I first heard her song Conversations on the radio. She holds a unique place among Christian artists, with her soulful melodies and way-deep-beneath-the-surface lyrics. And here she was, in the flesh, pouring out her beautiful, pure notes just for us in the room.

The whole weekend was like that. The intimacy of the group made it feel like a personal banquet for each participant. That was one of the main points.

I’ve attended many large Christian conferences, such as Women of Faith and Living Proof Live with Beth Moore, with thousands of participants. They have all been wonderful, enriching, faith-building experiences. There is an electric energy in these large gatherings of believers from all walks of life. Nicole performed with Women of Faith for years, but eventually she was drawn to the idea of a smaller, more personal retreat. Thus was Seasons Weekend born.

At first, the menu seemed a little random. Actors? A psychiatrist? Musicians? And my child and her husband?

What’s the common thread here?

They were all there to share their stories with us.

It was beautiful to see the way God wove it all together… perfectly.

Every story was totally unique, yet analogous. Pain. Defeat. Redemption. Victory… through the One who defeated death.

In an elective session, Curt Thompson discussed the power of story.

Obviously, I love stories.

I have always loved them, since earliest memory. As a child, I forced my parents to tell me story after story every night until I finally fell asleep.

I love listening to other people’s stories, and I often feel compelled to tell mine. I believe it was C.S. Lewis who said that we share our stories in order to know we’re not alone. I concur.

But Curt took it further, from a neurobiological perspective.

He told us that our stories begin generations before we are born. They are first told by someone else. (Do I actually remember being in a horse stampede when I was two, or do I just remember the story of what happened so vividly that it seems like reality?)

Curt said that we come out of the womb looking for someone who is looking for us. We scream as we leave the dark, warm comfort of out mother’s bodies; we are consoled in her arms. We begin telling stories because we have a need to be heard and to be found.

Our stories are told in fits and starts. For the most part, they are messy. Moments of triumph are mingled with slips and slides and falls. Paths are wide and winding, not straight and narrow. Sometimes none of it makes any sense. But we are most creative when we are most messy…and vice versa. Life, according to Dr. Thompson, is about being creative with our messes.

Because of the messiness of our stories, tentacles of shame are wrapped all around them. The physical effects of shame turn us inward and away from other people.

But we must be heard in order to be found.

We cannot tell our stories as individuals. Our story-telling is collaborative. The listener actually becomes a part of the narrative. This creates new neural pathways in the brain. Every time the story is retold, the teller’s mind is renewed. And the listener’s mind is changed… expanded… in some way.

I need someone else’s brain to complete my story.

Serendipitously, the more we tell our stories, the more they are redeemed. Given back to us in a more complete way. Even a seemingly tragic story may be used for great good.

Sara Groves shared a very personal experience with the group. Her openness touched my heart and moved me to compassion. I entered into her story and responded to it.

After she finished speaking, Curt announced, “In listening to Sara’s story, we have been changed. Now our brains are actually different!”

“Redemption,” he said, “is never individual.”

I ponder that statement.

Two of the nuances of the verb “redeem” are

 1.  to recover possession or ownership of by payment of a price or service; regain.

        2.  free, liberate, rescue, save.


The act of telling our stories is freeing to us and to those who listen to them. Confession is healing. By liberating even our shameful secrets from the dungeons of our minds, they come out into the light and are redeemed. In the sharing, they are purified and lose their power to control.

We regain rightful possession of our true stories when we share them. Even the messy ones.


Especially the messy ones.


I thank you all for being a part of my story. It is a privilege.

I hope I am a part of yours, as well.

Keep telling it.

***************

A few scenes from Seasons...

(Babysitters fell through, so look who got to come!)


We took turns babysitting.
This is most of the incredible Seasons team. (Minus Sara)
(I am so mad. First I left the camera in Cali; now I've left the cord in GA, so I can't download the best pictures from the weekend. Maybe later.)

But enough of winter!

It's a time of new life and fresh beginnings. It's not too late to sign up for the Spring Weekend in Washington, D.C., April 12-14.

It's a wonderful gift you can give yourself. You are worth it.


Tomorrow it's Easter Service at the Hollywood Bowl! 

Praying you have a joyful celebration of the Resurrection, wherever you are.


He is making all things new! Hallejuah!


****************

Sara Groves performs "Eyes On The Prize"



(Granny can't figure out how to embed.)

Monday, March 4, 2013

Out of the Fog



What a long, hard winter it has seemed.

Has it to you?

Lousy weather, a string of overlapping sicknesses, chronic pain, and caring for a loved one with rapidly advancing Alzheimer’s is not the best recipe for success in the pursuit and procurement of happiness during the physically darkest months.

(Always winter, and never Christmas, as C.S. Lewis described Narnia.) Just cold and dark and dull. Nothing to look forward to.

I feel like I’ve been wandering in a dense, chilly fog of unanswerable questions and unanswered prayer.

Oppression.


Sometimes the faith thing is hard.

I wish it were easier.

I wish God would just slice through the veil and let us SEE.

“Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.”

But I can’t see his face through the fog.

***

Last Sunday morning, I was cozy in bed with my coffee and devotional book.

“Kim! Kim, come down here,” my husband called.

“Is it mandatory?” I whimpered.

“Oh, never mind,” he gave up.

So of course I stomped downstairs.

Frigid air was pouring in the front door. My husband was out on the porch, looking at this:




 As we watched, thick yellow bands of light pierced through the heavy fog. It had been rainy and overcast for days on end. 

Then, this:




These iphone pics don’t begin to do the sight justice. They don't capture the vivid contrast of color.

It was intense.

A day or two later, I ran into a friend who’s battling a debilitating illness. In spite of a daunting diagnosis, she is bravely hanging onto faith. Actually, her faith is growing stronger and stronger in spite of it.

When I asked her how she was doing, she told me that she wished she could still do something she did before her illness. (Go for a walk.)

But then she immediately shifted into telling me about what had happened to her on Sunday morning. She, too, had been in bed with her devotional book, when she glanced out her bedroom window. She said, ‘I’ve never seen anything like it. Big yellow beams of light were streaming through the branches of a bare tree, as if God were above with his hands outstretched.”

“We saw it, too!” I told her. From several miles away. A completely different vantage point.

A sign.

Later, we exchanged pictures. She had drawn this in her journal:





Sometimes it’s hard to see God. Where are You in all of this mess? we cry.

God seems silent. The fog of unknowing remains. We stumble along in the dark, tripping over our doubts and fears.

It is hard to keep looking up into impenetrable leaden skies.


But, in an instant, God breaks through.


He always breaks through.

The light of His truth slices through the darkness like a saber, scattering the obscuring fog of uncertainties.

I AM.

***


“Jesus knew that they wanted to ask him, so he said to them, “Is this what you are asking yourselves, what I meant by saying, ‘A little while and you will not see me, and again a little while and you will see me’?  Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”                 (John 16: 19-22)

“A little while longer and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me.
 Because I live, you will live also. At that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you." (John 14:19-20)



(This one's for Karen. See the last comment on previous post.I needed a little encouragement!)

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Habits of Happiness


so...

the following was written on January 4. (See previous post to understand why it's being published today.)

Now I'm back in LA after the Seasons Conference. (It was transformational.)

More on that later, GOD WILLING.

In the meantime, 

here's Part 2 on Happiness...

(Please read Part 1 here, if you haven't already.)



***************


Our Very, Very Imperfect Christmas Mug Shot, 2012.


Let’s face it, folks:

 It’s just NOT the most wonderful time of the year!! for everybody.  Nor the happiest.

I have many friends who consider Christmas the most difficult time of the year. They speak of “just trying to get through the holidays.” (I’ve written of my own feelings about it previously. At least I didn’t post any Grinch pictures this year.)


 But the “holydays” (??) are over now. Ours were perfect(ly imperfect.) There were moments of joy and laughter sprinkled through times of tears and turmoil. There was drama. There were hugs. There was sadness. Fun. Exhaustion. Inspiration. Closeness. Chaos.

And there was love. (Which hopefully covered a vast multitude of sins.)

I’m wiped out. We’ve just returned from visiting my husband’s family in Florida to face a house still fully adorned for Christmas. Dead greenery is depressing. I’m going to deal with it slowly. I will be gentle with myself as I shift into this new year.

Things happened over the holidays that made me very unhappy.

Perfect! I thought, after the initial reaction. Now I’ll really be able to test out the new happiness habits. I’ll conduct a personal experiment.

As I wrote here, the latest research in the field of Positive Psychology indicates that 40% of our “Happiness Quotient” is up to us. (50% is determined by genetic predisposition; only 10% is actually determined by circumstances.)

I’ve long believed the maxim that “Happiness depends on what happens to you, while joy is not dependent on circumstances.” I still wholeheartedly believe the second part, but I’m not discussing Christian joy here. I’m just talking about plain old earthly, biochemical happiness. Well-being. The newsflash is that it turns out that happiness does not depend only on what happens to you, after all. I’m glad to find that there is truth in the Abe Lincoln quote, “Most people are just about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”  (This from a man who suffered from severe, debilitating depression before there were effective pharmaceuticals!)

So, what are the “happiness habits” that come up most frequently in research? What intentional life practices or activities might we adopt or intensify in our pursuit of happiness?

1.)  Pursue Variety:

Evidently it is the spice of life. Humans get stuck in ruts. We tend to adapt to our circumstances and fall into mindless, habitual ways of doing things. But in order to break the “hedonic treadmill,”* it’s important to ‘mix it up.’ Vary what we do and how we do it. We need to expose ourselves to new and different experiences in order to keep those brain chemicals hopping. It can be something as simple as running (walking!) your usual path in the opposite direction. Trying to write with your left hand if you’re right-handed. Going to a strange new restaurant, studying a new language, traveling to a place you’ve never been, listening to a different genre of music. We human beings need to change, grow, and continue to be shaped by new experiences throughout our lifespan.

2.) Exercise:

Trust me. This isn’t my favorite part. I do it because I have to. I developed osteoporosis, degenerative disk disease, arthritis, and fibromyalgia before menopause. (And I have scoliosis.) It’s genetic. So unless I want to undergo 6 or 8 spinal surgeries, as my father did, I have to hit the gym a couple of times a week. I don’t love it, and I rarely get any kind of exercise “high.” But here’s the thing: the research shows that we lose dopamine synapses as we age. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is commonly associated with the reward system of the brain. It affects emotions, movement, and sensations of pleasure and pain. Low dopamine levels are associated with depression. Exercise increases dopamine concentration and the number of dopamine receptors as well. So we need to get out there and move it! In a variety of different ways… two birds with one stone.

3.) Get “In The Flow”:

‘Flow’ is the enjoyment derived from being engaged in an activity that is challenging, but not frustratingly so. It’s an activity so intensely fulfilling that you forget yourself in the process, yet experience a sense of well-being and excitement when the goal is finally reached. Of course, experiencing “flow,” or being “in the zone” means different things for different people. Some might experience it while gardening or knitting. Some from cooking or cleaning. Try to think of times you’ve experienced the sensation. I have felt it when I’m teaching. Sometimes I experience it when I’m writing. (I’ll think a few minutes have gone by, but it’s been an hour.) I feel it when I’m behind the wheel of a boat. When I’m serving others in a new way. I’ve felt it when I’ve pushed myself to do a sports activity that’s outside of my comfort zone, such as horseback riding or water skiing. I love that feeling of being so in the moment that you lose all sense of self-consciousness. Bliss.

4.) Set Goals:

According to Dr. Cloud, happy people set and reach goals. They have a plan. Of course, things don’t always turn out as planned. But it is psychologically rewarding for human beings to establish reasonable goals and attempt to accomplish them. Dr. Cloud reminded us that God has created us to be purposeful creatures. We are created in the image of the Creator Himself, who imagines things that don’t exist and brings them into reality. We have this nature within us. It requires vision and tenacity to live a life of purpose. Because of my health issues and life circumstances, I’ve learned to set little baby goals. The years of carrying around a legal-pad-sized To-Do list are long gone. For instance, my goal for the day could be working out. Or going to the grocery store. Reaching out to a friend who’s hurting. Today, it’s to finish writing this blog post, by golly!** Anything I accomplish over and above the primary goal is gravy. (Of course, it’s also critical to set long-term lifetime goals. I do this, and then pray If it’s Your will, please help it come to pass.) Who knows? Maybe I’ll write that book one day.

5.) Connect:

It is not good for man to be alone.” (God.)  “Or woman.” (Kim.)

We are created to be in community. Social interaction is programmed to be intrinsically rewarding to humans. We need connectedness with other people in order to survive and thrive. As Dr. Cloud stated, “Happy people connect in a way of exchange. Relationships create transformational experiences. We need life to flow into us. There’s no such thing as a “self-made man.”” A sense of community focus makes people happier. We need to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. To care about others as much as we care about us. The dopamine release from cooperating rather than competing with other humans is “just as good as drugs,” according to researchers interviewed on the Happy movie. Ironically, depression creates a cycle of isolation. The more depressed (and/or stressed) a person feels, the less likely he is to connect. (“I don’t want to inflict myself on anyone when I’m like this.) That is the time to push yourself out there. Pick up the phone. Neuroscience reveals that isolation actually suppresses the immune system. We don’t want to be sad AND sick, do we? Not moi.

6.) Give:

This one is huge. If I make only one change this year, I hope and pray that it will be to become more giving. It is astonishing what the act of giving does to both brain and body. Studies have shown that an act of intentional compassion causes brain waves to come on fire. The left prefrontal cortex lights up. There is a change in the gross structure of brain. God wired us to be givers, in imitation of the Ultimate Giver. I think it is actually our ultimate purpose: to give from the store of whatever we’ve been given. Random acts of kindness are the most effective in firing up the happy hormones… when there is absolutely no expectation of reward or recognition. Dr. Cloud shared that the amount of dopamine released in the act of giving is the same as in food or sex. Wow. Putting change in a stranger’s expired meter might save you a pound or two! Let’s try it. Seriously, we all have something to give… whether it’s money, time, a kind word, a shoulder to cry on. A smile. As Dostoyevsky said, “If all you have is an onion, then give an onion!”

       7.) Count Your Blessings:

This one is so trite.  And so very, very, very true.

Sad to say, enumerating my blessings is not usually my first impulse. It is a spiritual discipline that must be developed by repetition until the muscle grows. Ann Voskamp has been hugely influential in my thoughts on this. She also experienced a terrible tragedy as a child. As in my case, it changed the colors of her world growing up. Shades of gray and black might waft in at any moment, like a trail of dense smoke in a Carolina blue sky. A spirit of fear… actually, a spirit of dread… could invade the merriest day without warning.

As an adult, she has (she and God have) unlocked the secret of being thankful in all circumstances. The practice of eucharisteo is setting her free. I gave myself her One Thousand Gifts Devotional book for Christmas. The practice of writing it down in black and white is bearing rich fruit. (If you haven’t read the original book, put it on your bucket list.)

To see the effects that gratitude has on the brain, please click here:


(I’m getting tired of writing.)


Okay, so wind it up, Mama!


I wonder: Why are Americans so unhappy when we have so much?

We live in a sick society that increasingly emphasizes self-aggrandizement. I fear for this generation of First World children, growing up in a world of burgeoning social media self-promotion. It’s all about image: “Look at Me! Notice Me! Envy Me!!!”  On Facebook. Twitter. Myspace. Instagram. YOUtube. Facetime. Whatever-they-come up-with-next-week-as-a-vehicle-by-which-to-display-yourself-to-the-world.

Stagnating self-absorption is toxic. Yet so many of us are unable to see beyond the tip of our own noses. Difficult life circumstances, daily stresses, hard adversities may keep us so focused on survival that we forget to really live.

Pursuit of happiness not wrong; it’s just that we think the wrong things will make us happy. We pursue the things that don’t satisfy… accumulating more and more of them until we drown in them. Yet still we feel empty.

This new information on the Neuroscience of Happiness is useful to me. We are not merely victims of either genetics or circumstances. We have a choice to pursue the things that will make us truly happy. And, of course, they are not things.

Because we are all interconnected, I believe we have a responsibility to others to practice the cultivation of happiness. There are skills we can develop that can help us to restructure our lives into new patterns. I believe that change is possible at any age. (Even mine!)

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. But I’m putting Being Happier at the top of my rather flexible To-Do list. Although there’s no rigid formula for developing new Happiness Habits, these are some of the things I’m going to chant to myself in days to come:

Get out of your box. Get out of the house. Get out of yourself. (Get over yourself.) Get involved, engaged, connected. Make a difference. Pursue your dreams. Work hard. Play hard. Love hard. Learn hard. Give extravagantly. Choose a different path. Try something new. Transcend. Expand. Open. Appreciate.

Live.

Really live.

Abundantly.


hmmm.

Don’t you just love it when modern science “discovers” what God’s words have told us all along?


***************

I'm fascinated by this idea of "Flow." Have any of you experienced it? If so, how?



"Give up yourself, and you will find your real self."

 C. S. Lewis


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