Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Not the End of this Story

Our walks throughout our neighborhood usually (depending on the route) require walking uphill for most of the first mile and a half. At the top of the climb I pause and look out toward the ocean. Sometimes the marine layer lies waiting just off the coastline, hovering out over the Pacific Ocean. When the marine layer comes in the early evening it brings the cool air and blocks out the evening sunlight. It’s a bit like pulling down a shutter to block out the sunset.

There are times when the marine layer comes like bits of fluff torn from a pillow, disguised as clouds. The pieces eventually join together and form a great, gray mass dulling the light. This misty May gray quietly moves off shore before I have taken my last sip of coffee in the morning. It is a bit unusual for May to be so sunny in southern California. Usually the morning feels sluggish as if the sun had overslept. But it hasn’t, it never does. The sun climbs high above the cool, gray warming the air and pushing the marine layer back and out over the water until it looks like a great gray wall floating over the ocean.

Things aren’t always as they seem, are they? Though I may not see the sun until late morning, it rose above the marine layer hours before. Nothing is as it seems. Even when we move through life with great certainty we are in control, we are not. God is in control. Things don’t always go as planned. God’s plans are good and perfect, and we stand in the midst of it all without seeing – like the sun behind the gray. But we must hold onto hope – hope in the midst of uncertainty, in the midst of confusion and in the midst of a darkness blocking the SON. Keep looking up; He is always there.

Leanna Tankersley described hope this way in her book Brazen, “The invitation I kept hearing over and over was to identify an area of my life that needed a resurrection and then BELIEVE that a resurrection could be possible. In other words, hope. Not the noun hope, the verb hope. To hope. Actively. The ability to hope comes from the idea that what we believe is the end may be only the beginning.”

Some days the light seems snuffed out. But His light is never overcome by the darkness. In the Gospel of John chapter 1:4-5 we are told, “In Him was life, and that life was the light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
The Light of Christ always shines in the darkness. We may not recognize His light. We may not see how any of this can be under His control. We have doubts but His plans “stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations” (Psalm 33:1).

We may wonder how God will manage the insanity of this world and how things will come right in the end. But remember Jesus’ words in John 16:33, “I have told you these things, so that you may have peace. (Oh, do go back to John 16 and read all those things He told them.) In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
It may seem everything has gone all wrong but remember things aren’t what they appear to be. “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our ‘God is a consuming fire.’” It will all come out right in the end. We have not been forgotten and His Kingdom will not be shaken.

I choose to believe the Word of God. Are you with me? How much more life-giving is His truth than the words of man. I choose to keep turning my face back towards His when I get side tracked. The darkness cannot overcome the Light no matter how dark it seems. And those who believe in Jesus are always in the Light even when surrounded by darkness. Hold onto hope!

I love these hope-filled words spoken by Samwise the Brave:
“I know. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. It's like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were, and sometimes you didn't want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it's only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. They meant something. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn't. Because they were holding on to something. That there's some good in the world, Mr. Frodo, and it's worth fighting for.” – J. R. Tolkien

I am writing today to encourage you to fight for the good. You and I have a choice. You and I can choose not to despair, be angry, bitter or to fear. Of course, we’re human and we all become afraid now and then when we forget Who is really in control. I encourage you resist giving your energy to the confusion, the fear, the darkness, the hopelessness. This is just a rumbling, it’s a reminder that things aren’t what they seem. God has a plan and He claims victory over the end of the story. We don’t know the outcome of our current troubles but we do know the end of the story. Pray, absolutely. Pray for the lost to be found. Pray for courage and reorient your thoughts toward the Light.

In her book Begin Again, Leanna Tankersley writes these words, “Luckily, our image-bearing soul cannot be crushed in the same way other parts of us can. It can’t be wrecked—by us or by others. It’s that part of us that God ‘created . . . godlike, reflecting God’s nature,’ so pain only serves to wake it up, if we will allow ourselves to awaken to the discomfort instead of dulling it.

“We are allowed to escape. We are given the freedom. But those who have sat in the discomfort and listened and waited know that an even deeper freedom awaits those who will discern an ending instead of devise an escape.

“Escapes are almost never in our best interest (unless we’re talking about a burning building or an abusive relationship). Endings are about surrender. Escapes are about control. Discernment is belabored and holy work. Devising is a quick-fix territory.”

You and I have a choice. Whether or not we believe the sun is above the dark clouds doesn’t change the fact that the sun still shines. And whether or not we believe God’s got this; He does and He has even given us a hopeful ending. Hold onto hope and fight for the good.

In the words of Dallas Willard, “The gospel means that this universe is a perfectly safe place for you to be. It means that the soul is simply not at risk. Not even from cancer (or pandemic, etc). What else could Paul have meant when he said nothing can separate us from the love of God? Why else would Jesus have advised us not to worry?”

Worth considering.

Friday, May 1, 2020

Changing My View

A streak of light slashes across the ceiling. A small spider travels around the light. This is my view as I lay on the floor nursing my tired back. I landed here on the living room rug weary; I’ve spent the whole afternoon working with people via the phone and computer. It is a privilege to pour into others and it is a necessity to take and receive these few moments of rest.

In my reading this morning I came across a portion of the essay “Sacraments” written by Andre Dubus. Andre lost both of his legs in a tragic accident and his daily tasks were accomplished from a wheelchair.

Each moment is a sacrament, this holding plastic bags, of knives, of bread, of cutting board, this pushing of the chair, this spreading of the mustard on bread, this trimming of liverwurst, of ham. All sacraments, as putting the lunches into a zippered book bag is, and going down my six ramps to my car is. I drive on the highway, to the girls’ town, to their school, and this is not simply a transition; it is my love moving by car from a place where my girls are not to a place where they are; even if I do not feel or acknowledge it, this is a sacrament. If I remember it, then I feel it too.”

I have been thinking a lot about what it means to shelter at home. Here’s the number one thing I recognize: I have the luxury of always sheltering at home. I have a home. This is not true for everyone.
Here is how sheltering at home for me during the pandemic differs than any other time. I do all my work at home now, not just a portion of it. I don’t eat in restaurants or go shopping unless it is for necessities. I am unable to be with my church community in real time with actual bodies but I do have access to the Internet and can join church activities a number of times each week. I deeply miss being in the presence of people but I am so grateful for the luxury of having a number of ways to make contact.

The topic is redundant; I can’t seem to write about anything else right now. It is the main topic of conversation these days. It has taken over everyone’s lives and lots of people’s businesses. We are living dramatically different lives than before the pandemic. It has been tempting to wonder about what life will be like when we come out of this but I can only guess. I find I am doing better when my thoughts are pulled in closer to home and nearer my heart.

I was challenged by Louie Giglio’s question: “What are these days going to make of me?” How am I being formed by this event? I have a choice, you know. I don’t control most outcomes in this scenario but I do control whether or not I allow myself to be formed into the likeness of Jesus as I release life before pandemic.

That being said, here are some things I have discovered. In spite of the abnormality of the days in which we are living, I am learning to live more in the moment. In anxiety, I go from thing to thing, lost and without purpose. But when I choose peace the moments are enlarged with the invitation to let go trying to control and accept what is. These moments are filled with appreciation for little gifts around me. These are real time moments savored from day to day until we are free to roam the earth and congregate once again.

  • Recognizing and enjoying the sound of lawn mowers. It’s a common thing but I am enjoying the sound of people doing yard work. It seems so normal. I am enjoying working in the yard more these days. Usually this task falls to Jim; I tend to find other things to do. It’s not like we aren’t busy but I find myself needing to connect with the natural world of my own yard more so right now. Being outside, weeding and planting, is a good break from sitting at my desk. There is great satisfaction at the end of the day seeing things taking shape and plants looking healthy. The joy of gardening.
  • I smile at the sounds of children next door. The family east of us consists of a single mom, an adult daughter, a teenage daughter, an older uncle and an older aunt. The single mom just adopted a 3 year old boy and a 10 month old boy – brothers. Her niece was unable to care for them. All day long I hear children being taught, played with and calmed. All these grown-ups loving on two little boys, who nearly fell through the cracks of the system, and meeting their needs. I delight in hearing the joy of nurturing little lives next door.
  • Noticing beauty. Making simple meals from whatever we have available. Scattering bits of joy via mail or home made baked goods hand delivered. Listening. This has become more important sans body language. Listening. People need to be heard. People need other people to care.
  • The 3,000 piece puzzle my husband spread all over the dining table wasn’t a bad idea after all. At first I groaned. For days I gave up in frustration attempting to find pieces that went together. We are in a groove now and it is the place we go when we need a little down time.
  • I see eyes. Masked up for shopping, when we look at one another, all we see are eyes. I want to remember to look other people in the eyes. I want them to know I see them.

In the strangeness of our days, in the hardship of our limits, we can find the sacraments Andre Dubus wrote about. When we pray and breathe in the peace of God we find something worthwhile in the moments while confined. When peace washes over us and we choose our thoughts well, we can then see with great clarity the good in our limitations. We begin to recognize the sacraments of love when we shop, deliver, listen, let go and rest while we wait. Then we can make space to be present to God, ourselves, our people and to the gifts tucked into the moments. Truly there are losses but we have an opportunity to look for what we gain; to see the sacraments of love.

Friday, April 17, 2020

The Days of Small Things

The limitations put upon my small life, making it seem even smaller, has me thinking a lot about how I thrive day to day on our little plot of earth and my six circular feet of space in public. I have read many posts about how others are getting up each day and making a life while social distancing. I have been intrigued and impressed by how many people are thriving. My own life has remained quite busy, stitched together with a number of small details. The fullness of life altered, a seemingly diminutive version of itself, by a slow release, like air from an air mattress until it can be folded and shoved into a small pouch. Bit by bit I let go of the form my life had taken while remaining in contact with my ministry and work via technology and the Internet.

I recognized early on I needed to maintain a routine or would be tempted to slouch in a chair and read myself into oblivion, only to surface disgruntled recognizing I allowed confinement to turn out the lights on my life. I am not saying there is no need for such moments of self-indulgence. Absolutely, one must have some time to soothe the shell shocked soul. But once I became reacquainted with the small delightful details threading my days together I respond to this unique season. I am being invited to explore the parameters of a down-sized life and to pay attention to what God is doing.

For who has despised the day of small things? But these seven will be glad when they see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel – these are the eyes of the LORD which range to and for throughout the earth.” Zechariah 4:10 (NASB)

To Judah’s enemies, the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem seemed completely unnecessary. And to those who have seen the house of the Lord in its former glory, this new building seemed dishearteningly small and inconsequential in comparison. However, God promised in Haggai 2:9, ‘The latter glory of this house will be greater than the former . . . and in this place I will give peace.’ The important point is this: God longs to dwell among His people and work through us in awesome ways. We should never despise the tasks that appear minor or ignore the assignments He asks us to do. Others may deem them as being insignificant, but the Lord knows the priceless value of a willing heart and a surrendered life.”
The footnote of my New American Standard Life Principles Bible says this in reference to Zechariah 4:10.

I spent time considering gifts discovered in my small world while sheltering from the hot breath of the COVID-19 virus. There are gifts to be discovered in the small spaces in which we find ourselves; God wastes nothing. When I feel the limitations constricting my desires and leaving me slightly off kilter, I hold onto the hope that I will be more fully formed into His likeness at the outcome of this trial. It is up to me to consent to the difficulties and this smaller way of living. I am drawn to the viewpoint of Marlee Ledai from Living Spaces. “[It’s] not about finding the right home or being at home as much as it is about being a home. Home happens when you hang out with yourself. . . . Home implies shelter – from the elements, strangers, and our troubles.”

Not only am I spending more time with myself, I am spending more time being present with Jesus. What is home becoming for you? What have you learned about yourself by being home more – being with yourself more? Of course many of you are not hanging out by yourself. Home day after day with the whole family can feel like living in a camper. How are you learning to thrive together – make home together?

What have you observed about being home that inspires you to make changes in your life? What have you appreciated about your family, your home, your spouse, and your life that you had not appreciated before the mandatory social distancing? Have you learned to appreciate home in a whole new way?

I’ve become more aware of decisions I have put off. We have a small house and garage. I became more aware of how crowded I felt regarding excess items I couldn’t seem to let go. I am embarrassed to mention this but I have lugged around two heavy old director chairs I bought at a garage sale for $1.50 each about 26 years ago. I truly believed one day I would repaint them and sew seats for them. They are now quarantined in the Salvation Army donation section of the garage. These chairs and several other items will vacate the garage as soon as thrift stores reopen. I need more elbow room if I am going to be segregated from the world outside my house.

Since technology allows me to work from home I don’t have excessive free time. Many of you are in the same predicament but with different challenges. You may be working from home with kids running around the house asking why you won’t take them to the park or beach. You are home after all! The joy of still working is we get paid and feel a sense of purpose while we wait. But there are other small, sweet amenities. One, I have gained the time I would lose driving to work for other endeavors. Two, I can be in comfy clothes all day long (not pj’s of course).

We’ve no idea the full affect this pandemic will have on our communities, not to mention the whole world. Recovery and rebuilding will be required to some degree or another for most. As we reenter the world bit by bit the template our lives were built upon will be changed. Reentering fully may require small steps. Breathe. Yes, we must remember to breathe. Trust. Historically many people have gone through strange and scary times – times that felt ominous – but eventually a scab formed and the world began to heal. Oh there will be scars but when we place ourselves and the situation in God’s hands we will discover the changes gave us opportunities to live a truer life.

Hold onto the words Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, “That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.” (NLT)

Keeping an eternal perspective and our gaze on Jesus is our only hope. Followers of Jesus, we are kingdom dwellers. Our earthly life is just a portal leading from conception to eternal life. Remember:

You are the one in whom Christ dwells and delights. You live in the strong and unshakable kingdom of God. The kingdom is not in trouble and neither are you.” – James Bryan Smith

The One who created the universe dwells within His followers and His followers are sheltered under His wings. He has armed us with His power and given us the grace we need to stand firm and live with hope. And while we wait, take time to explore all that is wonderful about your people and your home. Think upon the freedom home offers by considering these words written by G. K. Chesterton 100 years ago. How apropos!

For the truth is that to the moderately poor the home is the only place of liberty. Nay, it is the only place of anarchy. It is the only spot on the earth where a man can alter arrangements suddenly, make an experiment or indulge in a whim. . . . He can eat his meals on the floor in his own house if he likes. . . . A man can wear a dressing gown and slippers in his house (I might add: all day long if he wishes.) . . . It is the one wild place in the world of rules and set tasks.”

Monday, March 30, 2020

Expansion Through Limits

The sea gulls have been driven inland by the storms. While we are corralled by an infectious virus and sent home to camp within our own walls, upon our own little plot of earth, the sea gulls are being pushed inland and away from home. We make due with simple meals and reduced essentials, the sea gulls scavenge through the neighbor’s trash can, too full to close the lid. A misplaced opossum was out in the morning light scrounging around the wood pile for a meal. While we hide, nature pushes out.

Lately, even before the virus, I have been thinking about limitations. It began with a recognition of how much of my life I spent feeling embarrassed and ashamed by my limitations. I am that person who needs regular sleep. I get over stimulated by too much noise or activity. I need more time alone to renew than most of my friends. And so on. I don’t know why I struggled with shame and embarrassment over these, but I have. There is a clear need for me to more fully consent to the way I am designed, my limitations and my need to depend on God. In a very short time the reality of limitations took a giant leap from personal to shared worldwide. The limits on my life, and yours, are greater than any of us could have imagined only a week or so ago. As I write this I am reminded of Romans 8:22-28.

“All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it’s not only around us; it’s within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us within. We’re also feeling the birth pangs. These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance. That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy.

Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.” (The Message)
Our personal worlds have shrunk to the smallest I have ever experienced. People are afraid and confused. It’s understandable. Can we expand in the diminishing? Can we find ourselves growing as people while waiting in fear and anxiety? People say, “I can’t wait until we get back to normal.” Will we get back to normal? If we do get back to normal, will we have learned anything? Can we surrender and trust God, consenting to what is today? When our focus is on our Heavenly Father and not the circumstances we can be enlarged in the waiting – faith grows in the tension of the unknown.
Of course we do not know the extent of this pandemic, nor the outcome. Like Alice in Wonderland we may find, “It’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.” What sort of life will we go back to when all is said and done? Some will have lost a lot in the process. Author Friedrich Von Schiller wrote, “What’s old collapses, times change, and new life blossoms in the ruins.” So much of the time we don’t like change. Some will face greater ruin, while others will appear to have barely been affected. Will we be able to see new life pushing up through the ruins, like a wild plant presenting itself through a crack in the sidewalk?
I do not have the answers, nor do I pretend to know what you need, but I find it interesting how two desert Fathers handled waiting and hard times.

“It was said of Abba Theodore and Abba Luscious of Alexandria that for fifty years they encouraged each other by saying, ‘Once the winter is over we’ll leave this place.’ But when the summer came, they would say, ‘We’ll go once this hot spell is over.’ This is how they always spoke.” (Found in Lent with the Desert Fathers by Thomas McKenzie)

Can we handle this hardship for 5 more minutes, 1 more hour, or 1 more day? We can. We are doing it, we must. We can choose to live with these limitations for one more hour, not planning for the next week or the next month. As we are discovering we do not know anything for certain about tomorrow, let alone next week. I like Mary Englebreit’s rephrasing of Charles Dicki

nson’s opening line of The Tale of Two Cities, “Whether it’s the best of times or the worst of times, it’s the only time you’ve got.” How can we make this time count for something? We are required to be socially distanced from one another but we are not alone. All of us are going through this together. How can we spur one another to hold on for 5 more minutes, 1 more hour, or one more day? So many have posted beautiful and encouraging words. Others have offered free classes for creatives. People are showing up.
We are all doing without something, some more than others. There are those who are going without enough sleep and protection to keep hospitals open. Others going without their usual income. The list could go on and on. As of today, my losses have not been so great. So I look around and consider what I have gained and pray for those who are suffering greatly.
I have gained more time to connect with others. I can do this by calling, texting, writing, emailing or using Google Duo.
I have gained time to weed. Our yard is out of control from the rain.
I have gained time to complete projects for which we have the supplies.
I have an opportunity to be creative and resourceful.
I have an opportunity to connect with and care for neighbors, though not too close.
I have an opportunity to be enlarged in the waiting – to see up close what I have and didn’t notice when my world was large.

These are difficult and challenging times. Ask for help. Give help wherever you can. We are in this together. We can decide whether to do social distancing only, or isolate. There is a difference. Here are a few links I found encouraging this week.

How are you making sense of your day to day existence as your social world shrinks? What is helping you? I would love to hear from you. Share with others in the comments below what you are discovering about yourself, others, God and His grace.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

A Moody Sort of Day

The weather was moody at the beginning of the week. One minute it was dark gray, then sunny, then gray again. It couldn’t seem to make up its mind and neither could I. I sat looking out the window at our tangerine tree and my heart was filled with a longing to write but uncertain what to offer up. My mood seemed as fickle as the weather. I thought it was the dark clouds of a moody Monday but today is a bright, sunny day and I still feel a little off. It makes no sense.

Ever have one of those days or weeks when your mood is off and you aren’t sure what is going on? I am not talking about depression, just a mood. It is important that I first recognize this is a feeling, not my reality. The mood might not lift right away and it may be more difficult to stay focused on projects at hand. It’s the mindless tasks I can get through on days like this. Tasks like laundry, chopping vegetables, cleaning, weeding, etc. – ordinary, everyday chores keep me tethered to life giving activity. The sluggish pull of moodiness has the greatest impact on my writing, listening and studying.

A funny memory just popped up regarding being stuck. When I was in early elementary school we lived in a new house and there were places in the yard that were just dirt, no grass. A good downpour turned parts of our backyard into a grand mud puddle. The sight of it drew my brother and me out to explore. We put on our rain boots and marched outside as if we were joining Pooh Bear and Christopher Robin on an expedition. Soon one of us would completely walk right out of a boot. The mud had latched onto the boot sucking it down into its gooey grasp. The bootless child would stand on one foot, wobbling like a drunk pelican (never saw one but I can imagine) trying to free the boot from the mud. The sibling would try to help but usually we would find ourselves standing on each other’s feet. Then we would yell for Mom. She’d put on her boots and rescue all mud trapped boots and the two children struggling not to put their unclad feet down into the squishy mess. Sometimes Mom would get stuck too but eventually we were all free because Mom knew how to deal with mud.

Christopher Robin was sitting outside his door, putting on his Big Boots. As soon as he saw the Big Boots, Pooh knew that an Adventure was going to happen, and he brushed the honey off his nose with the back of his paw, and spruced himself up as well as he could so as to look Ready for Anything.”
A. A. Milne

Even though Mom may not have been able to keep from getting stuck too, she knew how to get us all free. Sometimes I need to look for a more able bodied person(s) to show me the way of getting unstuck. Like the four friends of the paralytic in Mark 2:1-12. The paralytic was at the mercy of his friends. Four of his friends carried him to a home where Jesus was speaking. It was crowded. Elbows everywhere blocked the way. So like any reasonably desperate friends, they made a hole in the roof above Jesus. It was a hole big enough to lower their friend down through, mat and all. Don’t you think there was a bit of a commotion below as the roof was being removed? Everyone must have looked up in surprise as the man was lowered down through the hole. The faith of the paralytic and his friends resulted in forgiveness and healing; the paralytic was able to pick up his mat and elbow his way back out through the crowd.

One thing I noticed when I am a bit moody is I often haven’t had enough fellowship with friends. I am an introvert who is involved in ministering to others, so I come home and renew in the quiet. But sometimes I don’t recognize my need to hang out with my friends – the people who know me well, make me laugh, challenge me to go deeper with Christ, and help me with hard things. Introverts need people too and when I forget to make time for friends I can get moody.

When you feel sluggish and moody what do you do to move past the mood and live in the reality of today? Here are a few practical things I need to check when I feel this way:

  • How long have I been sitting? Do I need a walk?
  • Do I need to find a quiet place and have a talk with Jesus?
  • Am I drinking enough water?
  • Have I had too much sugar today?
  • When was the last time I had an uplifting talk with a friend?
  • When was the last time I took a play break? A play break will be different things for different people. Playing, for me, usually means doing something creative without a driving purpose.
  • Am I in need of a healthy, home cooked meal? Curried Pumpkin Sweet Potato soup, a comfort food with a touch of the exotic, fills our home with the spicy scent of a far away place. It makes me smile.

Mini mood lifters

  • A stroll around the yard to see what’s blooming.
    Today I took a cup of tea and wandered around the back yard. The Michaelmus Daisy bush, which nearly died last summer, is bursting with cheery dark pink blossoms. The Sweet Pea bush I got for Jim in memory of his Mom the Mother’s Day after she died has grown and is covered in small purple and yellow blooms. The Jasmine and Wisteria smell lovely. And the most amazing thing: the Sweet Peas I planted from seed are growing and I hardly ever get seeds to produce plants. That little stroll lifted my spirits and filled my heart with gratitude.
  • A delicious cup of tea. I like French Vanilla with creamer. Good Earth tea not only tastes good but fills the room with a warm, spicy scent.
  • Spend a few minutes reading an encouraging passage of Scripture or a nice bit of poetry.
  • Listen to birds, wind chimes or classical music.
  • A few minutes of silence with my heart inclined to the Holy Spirit.
  • Giving thanks and offering up praise to God.
  • Write a haiku. This doesn’t have to be professional. It is a fun way to describe the day.
  • Turn on music and dance. Movement helps make a shift in the brain and lightens the mood.

Moods come and go. Sometimes a mood is just a mood. Other times a mood comes over me because I have neglected to have a necessary hard conversation with someone, or I was hurt earlier in the day and ignored it. When the mood is tied to a neglected responsibility it is important I take steps to face it. If I have been hurt I may need talk to the person who hurt me or I may need to find a healthy way to process it. Journaling, praying, and talking to a safe person are all good ways to process hurt feelings. I certainly don’t want to stay stuck in a bad mood because I didn’t take responsibility for myself.

Today I just needed a walk around the yard and take a nice, long walk through the neighborhood. I also scheduled a couple of dates with friends for the weekend. So if you are like me and you sometimes have a moody Eeyore sort of day try something different. Make a list of things that work for you and share it with the rest of us. Like Eeyore, someone might find one of your ideas will work for them too.

But, Eeyore,” said Pooh in distress, what can we – I mean, how shall we – do you think if we – "
Yes,” said Eeyore. “One of those would be just the thing. Thank you, Pooh.”
A. A. Milne

*Photos by Jim Joiner and edited by Julie Joiner

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Living Truth As A New Creation

The body is important, but the mind is all-important. And the most important thing about your mind is what it is fixed upon. . . . The focus of your thoughts significantly affects everything else that happens in your life and evokes the feelings that frame your world and motivate your actions. Thoughts are where we make our first movements toward God and where the divine Spirit begins to direct our will to God and his way. We have the ability and responsibility to keep God present in our minds, and those who do so will make steady progress toward him, for he will respond by making himself known to us” Dallas Willard, Life Without Lack.

The neighbor’s tree is tall and willowy. I do not know the genus or species of the tree. The thing I do know, from observation, is that it loses its leaves gradually. Old leaves fall off as buds form and new leaves redress the branches. The branches are more exposed in the process but the tree is never completely bare. The old is dropping off while the new is coming on. I am fortunate to watch this process beginning late January into February.

It makes me think of Paul’s words: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24).

When we choose to actively participate in this transformation of taking off the old and putting on the new it can be a bit like the transformation of my neighbor’s tree. The exception is when we choose to follow Jesus we are fully covered in His righteousness while being transformed. This is one of those great mysteries of the kingdom of God I do not fully understand. You and I are wholly covered in His righteousness while being transformed into His righteousness.

Spiritual formation in Christ moves toward a total interchange of our ideas and images for his. . . . And after he has implanted new life from above in us by Word and Spirit, we can (and must) also begin to take initiative in progressively retaking the whole of our thought life for God’s kingdom. His grace will accompany us every step of the way, but it will never permit us to be merely passive in our spiritual formation in Christ” Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart.

The process of taking off the old life and putting on the new life leaves a recognizable change; others begin to notice how different you’ve become. My teacher Nancy Kane says, “You should see a noticeable change every three months.” How are you measuring up? Do others see changes in you?

In his book, Renovation of the Heart, Dallas Willard writes, “As we first turned away from God in our thoughts, so it is in our thoughts that the first movements toward renovation of the heart occur. Thoughts are the place where we can and must begin to change. There the light of God first begins to move upon us through the word of Christ, and there the divine Spirit begins to direct our will to more and more thoughts that can provide the basis for choosing to realign ourselves with God and his way. The ultimate freedom we have as human beings is the power to select what we will allow or require our minds to dwell upon.”

Let’s start with the mind and the story you are telling yourself. I talked about this a little in the last blog post. Draw a silhouette of a head. Make a map of your thoughts by jotting inside the drawn head what you are thinking. Add to this throughout the day. I think you might be surprised how often your thoughts are based on lies. I am.

What are your thoughts saying about you, about your life right now, about others and about God? Recently I was sharing with my spiritual director about a struggle I was having with a schedule change to one particular portion of my week – a change that occurred nearly 9 years ago. This one particular addition to my week is a good thing, and as I described it to her I began to recognize it as such. She said to me, “It sounds like you need to find a new way of looking at this.” Before we ended our session I realized I had been seeing this commitment through an unhealthy role I learned as a child. I had been experiencing it as a time to do my duty for others, not from a sincere place, but a place of obligation. A remnant of fear left over from the past resided inside me – a fear I would be lost if I opened myself to this change. My thinking was skewed by a past experience and I had delivered an unhealthy belief into this beautiful opportunity, tainting it and forfeiting joy.

As I prayed and meditated on this the past month, I realized I could choose to see this commitment differently. God gave me a different lens with which to view this commitment. Have you ever looked through the wrong end of a pair of binoculars? Things are small, very small, and not seen in all their glorious detail. I am choosing to let go of my small view, distorted thinking, and allow God to show me a clearer, up close view – changing my thoughts to His way of thinking, from a lie to truth.

Our thoughts most often run on the rails of fear and negativity. When they do, we are looking through the wrong end of the binoculars and focus on ourselves and our situation. When looking through the correct lens our focus is on God; our thoughts are riding on the rails of truth – His Word. Oh I know how hard it can be to leave the ruts of old thinking but we do not do this on our own. Our Lord and Savior takes us by the hand and empowers us on this journey of leaving behind the old and putting on the new.

In 2 Corinthians 10:5 Paul tells us, “We demolish arguments and every pretension (a synonym of pretension is artificiality, which is something not true or real) that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every though to make it obedient to Christ.”

The footnote of my NIV Study Bible says this about “every thought . . . obedient to Christ.” “The center of man’s being thus becomes fully subject to the lordship of Christ.”

The NASB Life Principles Bible (Charles Stanley) says this in the footnote: “Paul speaks a great deal about training the mind to think in a way that honors God because the mind is the primary battlefield for spiritual warfare. Remember, what you focus your mind on has lasting ramifications. This is because a thought reaps an action, an action reaps a habit, a habit reaps your character, and your character reaps your destiny. Therefore, we must reject anything that does not honor Christ in our thinking (Phil. 4:8. 9; Col 3:2)”.

Where are your thoughts taking you? Have you spent years, like me, setting up a barrier in your mind against something God has allowed in your life? We’ve taken a look at the stories we tell ourselves, our slant on ourselves, our realities, and God. What are some steps we can take to change the neural pathways in our brains – to get off the rails of “stinkin’ thinkin’”? Let me say this first: We have a responsibility to take action, the Holy Spirit heals and delivers us. We cannot fix ourselves but our willingness to step out in obedience is essential.

Let’s begin with the spiritual disciplines. Adele Ahlberg Calhou, author of Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, writes, “A spiritual practice isn’t magic. It won’t change you by itself, but it puts you in a place to partner with the Holy Spirit to become an ever fresh eik┼Źn [likeness] of Jesus.” Here is list of some of the more commonly known spiritual practices. You may do some of these already. You do not need to be doing them all at once, but to choose a new discipline can help you get past going through the motions and truly being transformed.

  • Accountability partner – to be accountable to one who is honest and will point you to Christ – sharing temptations, challenges, problem thoughts, etc.
  • Bible study – to know God better and to recognize the relevancy of the Bible to my life as a disciple of Jesus. Can be done alone and in community.
  • Confession and self-examination – allowing the Holy Spirit to show you weaknesses and faults you need to confess and surrender. This is not for shaming but for freeing and transforming you (Psalm 139:23-24). The baseline for us is the Scriptures. How are you doing in light of the Ten Commandments, the seven deadly sins, David’s confessions in the Psalms and the rebelliousness of the Israelites? Do you see yourself reflected there?
  • Gratitude – when we live in gratitude our thoughts are turned from circumstances to the Savior.
  • Fasting – denying our cravings for a time in order to seek God.
  • Journaling – a way of reflecting on how you have experienced God’s presence and what He is teaching you. Looking back over old journals one can see patterns in behavior and identify changes.
  • Meditation – to slow down and mull over a passage, to let the passage marinate in your heart, and listening to the Holy Spirit. Through meditation you can gain a greater depth of insight and understanding.
  • Memorization – Adele Ahlberg Calhoun says, “developing a habit of remembering anchors your life in biblical truth.” It is worth the effort to memorize passages.
  • Prayer of lament – to lament is to express great sorrow, sadness or unhappiness. A prayer of lament is bringing your heartache to God – grieving in His presence.
  • Praying Scripture –praying meaningful passages will help shape your thinking.
  • Silence – to let go of the addiction to noise and distraction, and to listen to God.
  • Solitude – making space and time with God away from others. Calhoun describes solitude as a “‘container discipline’ for the practice of the other spiritual disciplines.”
  • Worship – an act of responding to God with our whole being, delighting in God, being fully present to Him, loving and enjoying Him.

That may seem like a long list if you are unfamiliar with spiritual disciplines. There are more. Again you do not do these all at once. Choose one or two and practice them consistently. Pray and ask the Holy Spirit to show you where to begin. You will be less likely to take your relationship with Jesus for granted. I am being challenged by practicing silence and the examen of myself through the lens of love, humility, purity and honesty. It has been challenging and eye opening.

The more you come to know God truly as He is through His Word and time spent in solitude with Him, the more you will love Him, and the more your thoughts will be drawn to Him. When you choose to be vulnerable with God your intimacy with Him will deepen and your trust will increase.

And so we must apply our thinking to and with the Word of God. We must thoughtfully take that Word in, dwell upon it, ponder its meaning, explore its implications – especially as it relates to our own lives. We must seek the Lord by devoting our powers of thinking to understanding the facts and information of the gospel. This is the primary way of focusing our mind on him, setting him before us. When we do so we will be assisted by God’s grace in ways far beyond anything we can understand on our own; and the ideas and images that governed the life of Christ through his thought life will possess us” J. P. Moreland as quoted by Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart.

We must choose change. It doesn’t happen magically. To be changed happens when we put ourselves in a posture to allow change, to show up and to surrender to His Spirit. What’s working for you? Which of the disciplines do you practice? Is there a discipline you have never practiced that you are considering? I would love to hear about how God is working in your life to form you into the likeness of Jesus.

Friday, January 31, 2020

A Story Within A Story

Everyone has a story. Your life is the story you’ve lived. But there’s more going on in your story than you may recognize. There are three stories fighting for space in your life. You have the story you’ve lived, the story you tell yourself and the story God’s designed for you. God’s story has the story you’ve lived already factored into His story. But what about the story in your head competing for story space?

You have been affected for better or worse by the story you have lived. But the story you tell yourself affects the story you’ve lived and may be limiting how well you live the story God has written for you. I feel no need to delve into your past right now; God is the healer of our pasts. My question for you is this: what is the story you tell yourself? What do you say about you? What do you say about your life? What is it you believe about the reality of your life?

Here’s a simplistic example. For a significant period of time I was unusually tired. I repeatedly said to myself and others, “I am so tired.” One day I began to wonder what would happen if I just stopped telling myself, “I am so tired.” Would I be so tired? You guessed it. Over time I was not so tired. I was tired at times but not day in and day out. Telling myself and others over and over how tired I was made it more real and it became my story.

In our over-stimulating, social media driven world many of us are telling ourselves we don’t measure up. Measuring up involves updated decorations, a new house, a successful book, a million likes (OK that may be an exaggeration), trips around the world, or anything, big or small, that’s different (and presumably better) than the life we have right now.

The stories most of us tell ourselves are false narratives and some of us are telling ourselves detrimental stories. Do you find your false narrative in the following lies?

  • I can’t celebrate Christmas without drinking. Everybody is drinking and having fun. I won’t have fun if I don’t drink.
  • I am such a loser; my family has problems. All my friends on social media are so happy. They do things together all the time. I am too busy surviving work and managing home to make time for fun.
  • I cannot thrive in this job. Nobody talks to me. The boss expects perfection and I will never be able to get it right.
  • Life is just too much for me. I am not wired to handle raising kids, running a house, and going back to school. I just don’t have the stamina some people do.
  • I don’t have any choices in my life. I always have to take care of everyone in my life and no one is every happy with me. I don’t even know who I am anymore.
  • I have to be the best, nothing else will do.

Recognize yourself in any of these? When I think of these false narratives, as well as the ones I tell myself, there are a few threads (in my husband's words) of stinkin’ thinkin’ woven throughout each. These stories rattle around in our brains convincing us we are helpless and other people have it all figured out. We become victims of our thinking while we think we are victims of life.

These false narrative statements are full of never, can’t, everybody, all, nobody, I am not, I have not, I must, etc. I want to leave you with a challenge to pay attention to the stories you tell yourself. Write down what you have come to believe about yourself, God, and others as a result of what you tell yourself about you and your life. Next time we will begin challenging these types of stories with the truth – God’s story for you.

While paying more attention to your thinking, mull over these words written by Jacques Philippe in his book, Interior Freedom.

One of the most essential conditions for God’s grace to act in our lives is saying yes to what we are and to the situations in which we find ourselves. That is because God is ‘realistic.’ His grace does not operate on our imaginings, ideals, or dreams. It works on reality, the specific, concrete elements of our lives.”