Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Easily Turned

Matthew 6:30-33 If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.

The weather here has been nothing short of spectacular. For the past week, brilliant sunshine, low humidity, cool mornings, and warm afternoons have been gratefully welcomed. The mood of the people seems to be more positive and upbeat. Everyone seems to be seeking a reason to be outside, enjoying it. These are the days that we ought to remember when the February cold and snow is upon us.

So just as these beautiful summer days turn our hearts upwards, the mere mention of winter and what it holds for us, brings gloom and a downward cast. It is as if something or someone just flips a switch inside of us.

We are so easily turned!

In her book Taking the Leap (2009), author Pema Chodron, speaks of our tendency to escape from our uncomfortable feelings. She says that awareness of our feelings (good and bad) is a sign that we are "fully awake".

"They're fully conscious of whatever is happening. Their minds don't go off anywhere. They just stay right there with chaos, with silence, with a carnival, in an emergency room, on a mountainside: they're completely receptive and open to what is happening." (p 14)

Admittedly, the very last thing I want to do in these days is remain with the chaos. It is not easy to be receptive and open to an unwelcome diagnosis, to chronic pain and suffering, to a problem without a solution, or to the inevitable change looming on the horizon. In an instant, life events can lead to shock, worry, fear, doubt, and discouragement.

We are so easily turned!

Our opportunity is to decide whether or not we will remain "turned". Will the promises found in Matthew 6 become an anchor for us to hang on to in bad times, or will we permit the circumstances of our lives to dictate our faith? Will we choose to be "awake" during times of chaos and stay with our feelings instead of being in denial about them?

In his first chapter, James puts it like this - Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.

Being aware of our feelings and acknowledging and staying with them, standing firm on God's promises in the midst of chaos, not being tossed about by bad news, all seem to be hallmarks of this "mature and well-developed life", that James writes about.

My Beloved and I have had a lot of bad news over the past few weeks. Truthfully this news has spun us around, shocked us, surprised us, and disappointed us. A unfavorable diagnosis, layered on with a nasty virus and unexpected dental work simply laid us out! And so, we find ourselves making choices about how to live with these circumstances. Finding the right medical team has been an extremely positive experience deeply impacting the quality of G's medical care. Seeking the wisdom of others who are skilled in caring for our spirits and souls has provided new perspectives on living with an incurable disease. Being gentle with ourselves and extending ourselves grace has brought rest and renewal.

Our circumstances remain largely unchanged. But a willingness to remain in the chaos has been pivotal in helping us move towards a life steeped in "God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions".

In the midst of it all, our gratitude for your prayers and presence in our lives continues to overflow. Thank you to all near and far who continue to care for us. May we also remember to pray for others in need...grace and peace...

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Generosity of Abundance

Philippians 1:3-4
Every time you cross my mind, I break out in exclamations of thanks to God. Each exclamation is a trigger to prayer. I find myself praying for you with a glad heart.

Just a few short days ago we had the opportunity to gather with long time friends. Our common thread is a heart for God, a love of sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, Young Life, and a deep affection for each other.

For the better part of almost twenty years we were all a community of believers that lived close by. We regularly were at each other's homes. We saw each other weekly if not more. We lived together, worked together, played together, vacationed together, raised families together, sang together, and ate together. Yes, there was always music and food! It was a rich time of growth and maturing. It was a time of feasting on the goodness of life in Christ, immersion in the truths of our faith, and of developing roots that would anchor our souls to Christ and to each other when hard times would come. Come they have.

And then some of us were scattered. We set out following God's call in vocation and in our jobs. Glenn and I were some of the ones that scattered across the world. We have been separated by many miles for more than twenty years.

Every time we get back together for a reunion, I am reminded that time and distance apart are no match for the deep love and affection that is rooted in Christ. We greet each other, maybe need a little help with a name, perhaps have a few more gray hairs (in some cases less hair!), and carry a few more wrinkles, but something stirs deep within us. It is the recognition of Christ incarnate.

Email, social media, and face time have enabled us to connect across the miles and help bridge some of the gap of being apart. There is nothing however that can match the gift of being together. Our time spent together is marked by laughter and of course by some tears.

Then as always, the guitars come out and the song sheets are passed around. Something happens as we begin to lift our voices in a chorus of club songs. The Spirit descends upon us and we recognize that we are in the presence of God. As Celtic spirituality calls it, it is "thin space". "Thin space" is where the spiritual and the earthly seem to intersect and we experience the deep presence of God. It is a place that seems to just happen and when it does, I never want to leave.

In a sense this seems like a little reminder of what waits for us up ahead. Yesterday a friend called it the "generosity of abundance". Not just having barely enough, not just having enough by accident, but experiencing abundance, an overflowing of God's generous provision by his sacred design.

For sure life is hard. However it is made so much better by our coming together in community and fellowship. This day our gratitude overflows as we think of each of you and as you cross our minds.

Colossians 1:27 And the secret is simply this: Christ in you! Yes, Christ in you bringing with him the hope of all glorious things to come.

...grace and peace...

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Present

So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today. (Matthew 6:24)

He sits by the patio door and watches for hours. Nothing can deter him. If you call for him to come to you, he comes but then quickly returns to his post. He watches for anything that moves... a chipmunk, a squirrel. All day, every day, Cooper has a job, watching and living in the present.

The amazing thing is that he seems to not care at all about what happened in the past. He really has very little baggage. We don't know much about his past as he is a rescue dog, but he does have signs indicating that at one point he suffered physical abuse and neglect. We know that when the rescue organization brought him in, he was so matted that they have to shave his fur nearly down to the skin. But in living with him we see very little evidence that he carries his past with him at all.

There is no paw wringing about what might be in the future. He doesn't wonder about where he will sleep or his next meal. He seems perfectly content, right where he is. Cooper is a goofy, happy, joyful dog who lives in the moment, who lives in the present. He doesn't miss much in his attentiveness to present day living.

Being with him is good for the soul!

...grace and peace...

Saturday, May 18, 2013

In The Thick Of It

"Friends, when life gets really difficult, don’t jump to the conclusion that God isn’t on the job. Instead, be glad that you are in the very thick of what Christ experienced. This is a spiritual refining process, with glory just around the corner." (I Peter 4:12-13)

This morning brings grace and blessing in the knowledge that God is with us. Especially in the midst of a very long week, full of both joys and sorrows.
So how does one "be glad that you are in the very thick of what Christ experienced"?

To be honest, I am a beginner at learning to be glad in difficult times. But sitting here, I can't help but wonder if perhaps "being glad" is not about being happy about the struggle or hardship. Seriously...who gets all joyful about cancer or job loss? But rather our joy is in "being in the very thick of what Christ experienced".

What Christ experienced as a human, was God with him. We see evidence of the presence of God when he is ministered to by angels after being in the wilderness. We read about the affirmation of God in his baptism as a voice proclaims that Jesus is his "beloved son". We read about Jesus praying to the Father and then performing miracles.

Perhaps this joy and gladness comes from knowing that God is present in every circumstance...good and bad. His presence is found in the helpfulness of medical professionals. His presence is heard in the encouraging words from a friend. His presence is seen in the tears of the companions who journey with us. His presence is whispered in the voice of a spouse who says, "You can do this". His presence is felt in the nudge from the nose of a faithful dog.

Indeed God has been, is, and always will be present with us! We only have to open our eyes to see it.

grace and peace...

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Of Being Restored

My life He brings back. (Psalm 23:3)

Robert Alter writes about about this verse in The Book of Psalms (2007)..."The image is of someone who has almost stopped breathing and is revived, brought back to life."

I don't know about you, but I have fallen in love with that imagery.

We all have heard someone talk about something in their life that is "sucking the life" out of them. I think this is how we almost stop breathing, and then somehow are revived, brought back to life.

The miracle of being brought back to life is that this is not something we can do in and of ourselves. It requires the intervention of another. Throughout most of night and into early morning, I found myself praying about today's visits with our oncology team. Frankly it is only a short hop from daring to hope to utter despair. But as I prayed, the words of Psalm 23 were re-membered in me. I wasn't sure how, but I knew...I just KNEW that I would be brought back to life.

And there you were.

This day many of you have already intervened, offering encouragement and prayers through social media, texting, and emails. This is how God seems to bring us back to life...through one another.

So thank you...for bringing us back from the edge, for having a role and for doing your part as God brings us back to life. Our gratitude is overflowing...

grace and peace...

photo credit - Facebook Surf Dog Ricochet

Friday, March 8, 2013

Oh, Were You Talking To Me?

Isaiah 30:19-22 (The Message) Oh yes, people of Zion, citizens of Jerusalem, your time of tears is over. Cry for help and you’ll find it’s grace and more grace. The moment he hears, he’ll answer. Just as the Master kept you alive during the hard times, he’ll keep your teacher alive and present among you. Your teacher will be right there, local and on the job, urging you on whenever you wander left or right: “This is the right road. Walk down this road.”

My dog Cooper came to us from a rescue organization. Their mission is to take on dogs that are unwanted or are surrendered by owners that are unable to care for them, address any health issues, and then find them new homes. The new owners are carefully chosen. As a perspective owner you are interviewed, submit to an inspection of your home, and then sign a contract pledging to care for the dog.

But as for the dog...well you get what you get. The dogs often bring an unknown history. Sometimes these dogs live in your home for awhile before quirky behaviors are surfaced.

Cooper has selective hearing syndrome.

Recently he began to ignore the command, "Come". I got louder. I was softer. I yelled. I whistled. I clapped. I stomped my feet. Nothing. Zero. Zip. Nada. In frustration I turned to the Internet for some answers because I am not the Dog Whisperer!

One site put it plainly. Call your dog once, then once more. If he does not come, get the leash and go out and get him. Do not call him again...

He heard you the first time.

I could not help but think about the above verse from Isaiah."Cry for help...the moment he hears he will answer." What a promise! What a comfort. God hears us when we cry for help. No need to yell, or to stamp our feet. In our deepest need he will show us the way to go. He hears us the first time.

grace and peace...

Monday, March 4, 2013

Lessons From The Broom Tree

I Kings 19: 3-7
When Elijah saw how things were, he ran for dear life to Beersheba, far in the south of Judah. He left his young servant there and then went on into the desert another day’s journey. He came to a lone broom bush and collapsed in its shade, wanting in the worst way to be done with it all—to just die: “Enough of this, God! Take my life—I’m ready to join my ancestors in the grave!” Exhausted, he fell asleep under the lone broom bush. Suddenly an angel shook him awake and said, ‘Get up and eat!’

He looked around and, to his surprise; right by his head was a loaf of bread baked on some coals and a jug of water. He ate the meal and went back to sleep. The angel of God came back, shook him awake again, and said, “Get up and eat some more—you’ve got a long journey ahead of you.”

For the second time in two years I had lost my job. It disappeared as the result of a dreaded word that is meant to be “it’s not your fault” word..."restructuring". Truthfully it was not kind at all.

As I walked into the quiet house, I found myself thinking about Elijah and the broom tree. What lessons could I learn from his experience?

1) We all need a broom tree once in awhile.

“He came to a lone broom bush and collapsed in its shade.” Elijah found a place where he felt safe. The broom tree can be our “safe” place to rest and recover. In difficult times, we need a sanctuary.

2) We may be exhausted. Take time to rest.

Elijah literally ran for his life and collapsed in the shade of a broom tree. Like Elijah, we can crawl under the broom tree to rest. There we can take the time to heal and be gentle with ourselves.

3) We may feel really terrible. This too is temporary.

We are told that Elijah wanted “in the worst way to be done with it all” (v. 3) Loss in our own lives, including job loss can take a healthy bite out of our self esteem. In difficulty many of us are just ready for it to be over! As we continue to read the story of Elijah, we learn that this time of trouble passed for him. Our troubles will pass as well.

4) We are free to lament! God can take it.

Elijah told God exactly like it was – “Enough of this God”, he said. As Elijah, we can began a conversation with God and pour out our troubles to him. Weep, wail, and cry out! Often we think we must “suck it up” and not show how we really feel. Elijah was frank about his feelings.

5) We may be afraid.

When disaster strikes, we have a lot in common with Elijah. While most of the time we are not running for our lives, nonetheless, we may still be scared. Like Elijah, can we sit in sorrow and be quiet in fear? Can we welcome fear as we do joy? Can we acknowledge the presence of fear without demanding that it be gone? Are we able to welcome grief as an an affliction that draws us closer to God?

6) We will find provision.

Elijah awoke to find the food that he needed. Likewise, we can trust God to supply our every need. Elijah asked God to let him die, but instead was given food and water. He received so much more than he asked for. We also can experience the miracle of waking up and finding that our needs have been met.

As with Elijah we too can learn the lessons of the broom tree. We can know for certain that our God will provide for us when we are facing dark and difficult times.

grace and peace...

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Give It Up

Come to me...Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly. (Matthew 11 selected verses)

This morning I sat in my favorite chair, nestled in my daily devotions. Cooper our golden retriever came silently padding into the room. Causally he stood in front of me with a wad of paper towels protruding from his jowls. Gently I motioned to him to lay whatever it was in my lap. He deposited his prize which had been fished out of the trash. I smiled.

He rarely searches for treasure in the trash. He rarely takes what isn't his. And he almost never gives anything up that easily. But today he did...and I was amazed.

Lent is usually a season where I am encouraged to let go in order to make space for something new. This Lent is no exception. Trouble is that I don't usually surrender anything as easily as Cooper did this morning. When Jesus said, "Come to me", he didn't say, "Get your act together and then come."

He simply said, "Come."

Today I find Lent beckoning me to come and let go of whatever smelly thing I insist on carrying. No retribution. No harsh words. No accusations. Just come.

grace and peace...

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Lenten Silence

Psalm 62:5-7
For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
On God rests my deliverance and my honor; my mighty rock, my refuge is in God.

This morning it is snowing here. The snow brings a glorious silence. It is clean, beautiful, and still. It is a perfect picture of Lent...a season of reflection, quiet, and silence.

For many, a usual Lenten practice is to give up or subtract. Facebook is full of many posting about what they are "giving up" for Lent. "Unvirtuous Abbey" provides a daily Facebook post from a Jesuit Community that takes a wry approach to religion in America. Their take on "giving up" for lent was pointed in this recent post - "For those who view Lent as a 40 day weight loss plan, Lord deliver us."

But some have taken a different approach...choosing to add in vs. give up.

Some have added silence.

Silence has a way of making room for something else. Silence reminds us not just to listen but to really hear. Silence enables us to give way to others, to give way to their thoughts, ideas, and needs. Silence enables us to defer to another. Silence steps aside to allow others to be first. Silence cares more about another's need versus our own. Silence helps us set aside our own judgemental thoughts and the need to comment on everything we hear.

Silence creates a space where we can hear the voice of God speak quietly in our heart.

grace and peace...

note: I truly wish I could give credit for this beautiful winter picture found on Facebook. Unfortunately there was not a photo credit listed.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

It Is Well

It was the hymn. It was the words of a hymn that made me begin to scan the faces of those in the choir.
"When peace like a river attendeth my soul.
When sorrows like sea billows roll.
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,
It is well. It is well with my soul."

The words cancer, job loss, aging, surgeries, special needs children, financial difficulty, grief, sorrow, pain, fear, doubt seemed to land above each face. And yet many faces were smiling. Many stood straight with the resoluteness of a deep faith. Some bore tears. Some stood with the stooped shoulders that marked them as a caregiver. They sang with strong voices.

In the midst of our adversity, we plead for God to fill us, to satisfy us, so that in all circumstances we would rejoice and be glad in all our days, good and bad.

Psalm 90 puts it like this:

13 Turn, O Lord! How long?
Have compassion on your servants!
14 Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
so that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
15 Make us glad by the measure of the days that you afflicted us,
And the years in which we have seen adversity.
16 Let your work be manifest to your servants,
and your glorious power to their children.
17 Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
and prosper for us the work of our hands—
O prosper the work of our hands!

Did you catch verse 15..."Make us glad by the measure of the days that you afflicted us, and the years in which we have seen adversity."

Matthew Henry's commentary suggests that this is a prayer..that our days of grief and sorrow would be balanced by an equal measure of time filled with the joy and gladness of God's presence.

Somehow the proclamation of that hymn, the words - "It is well with my soul", bore witness to the answer of that prayer in Psalm 90. It is why despite difficult times, that we can sing with certainty that our soul is indeed well.

grace and peace...

Friday, February 8, 2013

Blessed Are the Truth Tellers

We've had a string of storms roll through our community over the past few weeks. Driving has been an adventure as we have had snow, sleet, rain, more snow, more get the picture. As I have made my way down the toll road to work, I have been very thankful to G-man who suggested I get new wiper blades. These new blades work incredibly well but what has been amazing to me is the realization that I didn't know how ineffective the old ones really were! Funny how that happens.

I found myself thinking about how the wipers clear away the slush and slop that block our vision. We are blessed when we have people in our lives that help us clear away our own dirt and grime and help us to see better. These are the "Truth Tellers".

Truth Tellers often work behind the scenes. They don't trumpet their work. They don't advertise. Many times they are under appreciated or not appreciated at all. Truth Tellers are fearless, as they continue to proclaim truth even in the face of our protests. Truth Tellers possess a wisdom about ourselves that we do not. Truth Tellers see that we cannot or choose not to see.

Truth Tellers are the warm sunlight that breaks through our gray, murky clouds of grief and sorrow. Truth Tellers proclaim the beautiful in the midst of the ugly.

Truth Tellers stay despite our hardship. Truth Tellers walk the road with us.

Yes...Blessed are the Truth Tellers

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Were You Calling Me?

Cooper has an obsession...squirrels. His days are spent gazing out the window, watching the squirrels scrounge for seed underneath the bird feeders. When he finally is released to go out, he sprints towards them. As well feed and portly as they are, they are  still faster than he is and quickly scamper up the huge maple nearby.  

There they sit, chattering away. Cooper responds by barking and I often wonder if they understand each other or am I witnessing two creatures shouting at each other in two different languages. Eventually the barking ceases and is replaced by his steely gaze.

Virtually nothing can break his concentration and focus on the squirrels in the tree. In vain I call him.  It is as if he is deaf. He seems unaffected by the coldness of the snow that surround his feet. My only recourse is to go out after him with a leash in hand. Once he sees me (and the leash) he realizes the gig is up and reluctantly comes. It as if he knows that I will clip the leash to his collar and make him come with me. I swear I see him hang his head when sees I am serious about his obedience.

What captures our attention at the cost of everything else? What keeps us from hearing the still, small voice of God in our own lives? What do we long for and gaze after at the cost of hearing the master call our name? What stops us from being obedient?

John 10:3-5

The shepherd walks right up to the gate. The gatekeeper opens the gate to him and the sheep recognize his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he gets them all out, he leads them and they follow because they are familiar with his voice. They won’t follow a stranger’s voice but will scatter because they aren’t used to the sound of it.”

grace and peace....

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Guardians

What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee. (Psalm 56:3)

It's cold here! In fact it is downright cold, dark, and snowy. It's winter... Most days this week the forecast was calling for snow, heavy at times, predicted to start later and persist throughout the day. During my morning commute, driving towards the on ramp of the toll road I saw it...the gi-normus, orange truck with a huge plow on the front, with amber lights flashing. They were waiting...waiting for the snow to begin. Most of us breathe a sigh of relief as we know he (or perhaps she!) is there to help, to protect, and to keep safe, all of us that travel on that road.

Somehow those trucks always make us feel better.

Indeed we are blessed when we have such guardians in our own lives....those who show up when we are afraid, in trouble, or hurting. The ones who protect us and keep us safe. Our friends and family stand as guardians, intervening as needed.

But there are guardians who not only protect and help us, but also call out warnings of impending danger. They are brave enough to tell us of the need to change direction, or perhaps most importantly tell us that our behavior is sinful. These guardians are fearless risk takers who love us too much to allow us to continue down a wrong path. These guardians are truth tellers who persist in their message despite our unwillingness to listen. These guardians rarely need to shout (but sometimes they do!) but rather are gentle and kind, yet unapologetic for their devotion to our well being.

These are the guardians we would do well to cultivate in our lives.

grace and peace...

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Hidden Spring

It's a common question..."Aren't you glad that this year is over?" To be honest, yes and no. I will be glad to see Glenn's physical suffering diminish. I am grateful that his radiation treatments have concluded. Loss, grief, disappointment, sorrow and suffering marked many of our days. But just as many days were marked with joy, peace, contentment, understanding, gratefulness, and blessing. There have been many good things embedded in the midst of the hard days of 2012.

We know the deep, abiding, comforting presence of God as never before. I long for that to continue.

A book that I often return to is Midnight Harmonies by Octavius Winslow, a 19th century pastor. In it he writes of enduring the dark times of our lives, often called a "night season". He speaks of the "Midnight Harmonies" that are found in the dark night. Early in his book he shares a thought that is unusual...

"A saint of God is then a happy man. He is most often so when others deem him miserable...even then there is a hidden spring of joy, an undercurrent of peace lying in the depths of the soul which renders him, chastened and afflicted though he is, a happy and enviable man."

Imagine envying someone who is going through difficult circumstances because of the joy and peace that is evident within them...

Imagine being most happy when others think you have every right to be most miserable.

That is what comes to mind when I reflect on 2012 and eagerly anticipate in the year ahead.

My prayer is that each of us will have the "spring of joy" and "undercurrent of peace" running deep within us in 2013.

grace and peace...