Friday, March 27, 2015

Filling In The Blanks

Two years ago I had a small area just outside my kitchen window fenced in.  The white lattice work fencing framed with redwood turned out very well, creating a charming view. But as is often the case in life - or at least in the gardening life - as soon as the fence was finished I realized that the space it enclosed had some major blank spots.

Of course, you might logically ask, had I not noticed this previously?  Actually not.  This area already contained a fifteen feet tall mock orange shrub, a large oleander and two big lilacs, one with white blossoms and the other one with lavender.  Thus, I had four large shrubs in the space, and I had thought that those would suffice as "anchor plants" (I am learning all this gardening vocabulary from my garden books) while I studied which plants to use to fill in the rest of what I was now calling my "kitchen garden."

I must woefully acknowledge that my gardening rhetoric gets ahead of my green-thumb skills.

Many dozens of plantings, and two full growing seasons later, I am still trying to fill in the blank spots.  I've thrown zinnias, candy-tuft, columbine, coreopsis and anything else I could lay my hands on, into the gaping void.  I still see bare spots when I gaze out my large kitchen window.  Phooey!
Selecting Plants for a Small Garden - Photo: © Marie Iannotti
This is not a picture of my garden - just an ideal to which I wistfully aspire.
God placed man and woman in a garden from the get-go to bless them.  But once disobedience happened, well they left the rest of us struggling with thorns, thistles and blank spots ever since.  What were they thinking?
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Then day before yesterday I came up against an entirely different kind of blank spot.

It was Wednesday, so for me that means I am at the local women's community Bible study, teaching a class.  They are such a good group of women, and I enjoy their company more than I can tell you.

We were sailing through the Jennifer Rothschild study on Walking By Faith:  Lessons Learned in the Dark when suddenly I came upon a ____________ that I had neglected to fill in.  I paused to glance down at it as several class members were participating in a discussion of the previous point.

The room became quiet as they looked at me to begin the next discussion point.  But I was having a senior moment.  So I just said, "I don't quite know why, but I didn't fill in this ... this ... what do you call those?"  

Puzzled looks and more silence.

"You know", I said pointing to the empty line on the page in my workbook, "these lines like this one."

One really feisty little lady with a wonderful sense of humor and a ready laugh responded with a big smile, "Marsha, do you mean blanks?"

"Yes!  Just like I am now." I said laughing.

Then we all laughed... and laughed and laughed.  We guffawed and belly-laughed.  We chortled and chuckled.  We laughed until we cried, and then we mopped our eyes as we settled into those snuffly little hee-hees you just can't help after a good long laugh.

Oh, by the way, did I mention that the lesson title for this week was "Remembering God's Word"?  Seriously, I cannot make this stuff up.

 Not exactly comedy central material, I'll admit.  But oh, the shared sense of "me too - I do that all the time" was soooo refreshing.
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Whether it is filling in the blanks in the garden, or filling in the blanks in a workbook or in our memory banks, God is still the answer to the bare spots in our lives.  He laughs with us not at us, and he weeps with us, too.  

So let's remember (when we can) and just trust (when we cannot remember) that:

Strength is for service, not status. (Romans 15: 2 - The Message)

and even more importantly

Remember, you aren't feeding the root; the root is feeding you.
(Romans 11:18 - The Message)
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So whether you are gardening, teaching, or relaxing today, may you rest in His strength and be fed from the Root.  Until next time, Marsha - your grateful gardener

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Does Your Life Attract or Scare People ?

Hymnal in Church - Open Hymnal inside of an austrian ChurchLast week was decidedly not a routine one.  And I am one of those who loves a good solid routine.  So comforting, the familiar ebb and flow of daily tasks done with a sense of peaceful appreciation.

A long-time friend of mine once said to me, "Marsha, you and I have lived enough trauma / drama to last us both a lifetime."

She spoke the truth, despite the fact that at the time we were both still in our late thirties.  It had been a tough decade for us both.  She had become a premature widow, I had sustained multiple losses; and we were both more than a little road-weary.

To her observation I responded, "So true.  I am ready for about five straight years of monotony."  We both laughed, but it was rueful laughter.
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I now think we must first travel a little further along what is called the "time / life continuum" before we realize that nearly everyone has a good deal of trauma / drama to deal with.  Some encounter it sooner than others; but it always seems to show up eventually.
This week I attended the memorial service for a former colleague of mine.  It was not just called a "celebration of life" - it actually was one.  Another friend said to me as we exited the church where it was held, "Now I feel like I have been to church!"  And she said it with a genuine grin.  

The woman whose home-going we celebrated had left her loved ones much too soon; but oh, what a legacy of love, laughter and inspiration she had left with them.  Her life and influence was variously described as "transparent, honest, occasionally stern, always straightforward, laughter-filled" etc.  There were eulogies from at least three different generations, and all seemed equally glad to have known her.

Clearly her life had been one that attracted others to her.
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Sunday I was sitting in a pew singing a hymn with which I was unfamiliar.  It was not my home church, and thus I was paying close attention to the order of the service, the songs being sung, and to the homily as it was delivered.  All were uplifting.  But one song in particular struck a chord with me.

It was called "The Summons" and the lyrics included the question, "Does my life attract or scare?"

As some modern preachers might say, "Now we need to unpack this."  Indeed.  There is so much potential baggage, misunderstanding, and self-recrimination in that question that we could easily become discouraged with our efforts to be a positive example to anyone at all.

That is just when we need to remind ourselves that Christ's example is the only perfect one.  And Jesus did both.  His life attracted the multitudes in some cases - but it also scared the bewillikers (that's a technical theological term) out of many of his listeners.

We can, after all, be attracting people for the wrong reasons; just as we can scare people for the right reasons.  What?

Here is what I am getting at:  if we attract others to our life because we are closely following Christ's example, that is wonderful.  If we are attracting people to us simply because we are clever, or manipulative, that is not good.

If we scare others because we are rigid, self-righteous, know-it-alls, well, common sense tells us we will quickly have very few people in our lives. But if we scare someone off now and then because they are uncomfortable with our efforts to follow Christ as closely as we can - perhaps that is a case of "no good deed goes unpunished."

In such an event I suspect God may be pleased with us.  So I ask myself today, does my life attract or scare?  Hopefully both, for the right reasons, at the right times, and in the right ways.
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How about you?  Are you attracting people to your example or scaring them away?  Perhaps a little of both?  No one said life was simple, or if they did - they clearly didn't know what they were talking about. Just saying ...

Looking forward to a routine week. Until next time, Marsha

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Character for the Job - Courage for the Journey

Job Interview - Young woman having a job interview in a...She walked into my office with a bounce in her step and a twinkle in her eyes.  She was smartly dressed and her attitude seemed to transmit the following: I'm ready and I'm up for it.  What have you got for me?                        
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There were a lot of days when I loved my job as a senior HR executive in a tech company.  Places to go, people to see, mountains to move - these were my daily routine.

It was sometimes my privilege to be able to offer a position to someone for whom that chance meant everything. I was often humbled by the responsibility of impacting a complete stranger's life in such a deeply personal way.

There were other times, however, when interviewing candidates was simply a chore.  It had to be done.  

It was on one such day that I first met W.  She interviewed professionally and her preparation showed in the careful but confident answers she gave to the standardized questions.

Thus W. and I hummed along through a smooth interview experience and as we neared the end of it, I realized that I was about to do something I had done only a handful of times in over twenty years:  offer someone a job on-the-spot, before completing the background checks, prior job references, and mandatory drug test.

It was legally risky, professionally ill-advised. W. (an experienced interviewee) recognized all the signs and gently said to me, "May I tell you something personal, before we go any further with our conversation?"

This was highly unusual.  Personal is exactly what you must try to avoid in a job interview.  It is about skills, knowledge and abilities. Personal is hazardous to your job chances.  

"Certainly, you may" I said, "But please keep in mind that I will have to take into consideration anything you choose to tell me."

W. said she understood this and then added, "I feel it is only right to let you know that I have recently had cancer.  I am just finishing my final course of chemotherapy. I am in remission and I can do the job.  I am confident of that.  But I did not feel it would be fair to not let you know of this issue."

I was stunned.  There she sat, calmly putting it all on the line despite the fact that she clearly wanted the job, very much.

After taking a deep breath to recover, I basically told her, "W. , if you have the courage to show up for work, I have the faith to hire you."
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We worked well together for several years.  She did not report directly to me, but her manager did. Still, I made it a point to sometimes sit in on one of her training sessions.  I monitored the employee feedback on her. It was all good.

Last year she called me to discuss her retirement plans.  I have been retired for a few years and she thought she was about two years away from that momentous life change.  She wanted to talk about negotiating the challenges - and she laughed about the travel plans she shared with her husband.  It was a lovely conversation.  We hung up with plans to meet for lunch "one day soon."

Last week I received the news that W. died peacefully at home, having just finished yet another round of treatment for her recurring cancer.  She did not get the retirement she hoped for.  Her travel itinerary changed completely in a moment.

But this one thing I believe; W. is now enjoying the reward she so richly deserved.  And I, and all those with whom she served,  are richer for having been witness to her courage and her character.  
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Until next time, Marshal my hopes on the line in order to maintain my integrity?  How about you?