Thursday, March 31, 2022

A Blessing for Days Like These

 

Bless this present moment. It is here You are working in our lives for our good and the good of Your kingdom. Whether we find ourselves captives longing to return to normal, wrung out by pain and loss as stability crumbles beneath us, or finding a way to remain rooted in the Living Hope, may we stay focused on the Light in the darkness. The darkness cannot overcome the Light of Christ. Help us keep our eyes fixed on the Light of life.

Bless this present moment. It is here You are working in our lives for our good and the good of Your kingdom. The present has its own kind of hardship and hope. Help us soak in the truth of Your Word so we will not grow fearful from all the outside influences. May our ears be tuned to the voice of Your Spirit guiding us in the way of Wisdom.

Bless this present moment. It is here You are working in our lives for our good and the good of Your kingdom. You invite us into the ministry of reconciliation. In this place where we often feel rattled concerning our purpose, as we experience an overwhelming helplessness, may we be willing to bind the wounds of a world reflecting our brokenness one person at a time.

Bless this present moment. It is here You are working in our lives for our good and the good of Your kingdom. Give us courage to go and be light in the world remembering You have overcome the world. You told us not to fear. You gifted us with Your peace. Envelop us in the peace that passes all understanding. May we be faithful to bring all our worries to You with praise on our lips for Your faithfulness.

Bless this present moment. It is here You are working in our lives for our good and the good of Your kingdom. Enlarge our understanding of the Eternal Now. May we hold to the truth that as followers of Jesus we are eternal. Give us boldness to stand strong in the Truth.

Bless this present moment. It is here You are working in our lives for our good and the good of Your kingdom. Let us be diligent to put down markers as reminders of Your faithfulness now and forever. This is not the end of our story though we may feel overwhelmed with dread. The saints of Christ are overcomers and our story is victorious. Make us strong warriors of faith. Help us hold onto hope. Empower us by Your Spirit to “shine like stars in the universe” (Phil. 2:15). May our eyes be fixed fast upon You, forgetting ourselves, as we “hold out the word of life” (Phil. 2:16) to everyone around us.

Monday, March 14, 2022

Cultivating Hope

 

In March of 2021 on Episode 281 of “That Sounds Fun Podcast”, Annie F. Downs talked with John Eldredge about trauma. One of Eldredge’s statements, written in my journal, is still applicable a year later: “Hopelessness is the real pandemic.” Tears well up in my eyes when I consider the hopelessness of people around me. I even hear it in the voices of fellow believers.

We are bombarded with information about hopelessness. Do these stories that feed our prayers drain our souls of hope? How do we mere humans hold so much sorrow and pain in our fragile bodies? We are slowly being crushed by the weight of it all until hope leaks out of our souls, our spirits are withered, and we are given over to anxiety, fear and unbelief.


Why do I use the term unbelief? It is good to care about the world around us. It’s not all bad to be in the know. The Bible tells us to bear one another’s burdens in prayer. If my thoughts are more fixated on the chaos and trauma around me than on the One who has overcome the world, I not only lose hope, but peace as well (Phil. 4:6-7; John 6:33).


There is an underlying message in the news and it always brings into doubt the power of God. There is this unspoken question: What are the odds? We look at our lives through the lenses of the political climate, the economy or anger, and wonder what are the odds of this turning out well? In the Kingdom of God there are no odds. Life is not a gamble. God is in control. And hope does not disappoint (Romans 5:5, NASB).

Yes, we live in a world where sin seems to be in control. The reality of life on earth is that sin has consequences and the people of this world suffer from acts of darkness rooted in the hearts of humankind. We often blame God for what emerges from the dark corners of our hearts. We fill up before breakfast on the voices of those divulging news pieced together with the intent of influencing our views and responses. We are gassed with fear grenades. One. After. Another.

T. S. Eliot, who died in 1965 before the World Wide Web and cell phones, asked, “Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?” What would Eliot think today? We are inundated with multiple views of what is going on in the world. The Bible tells us “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (Proverbs 4:23). Let’s back up a bit and begin in verse 18 of chapter 4.


The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn,

shining ever brighter till the full light of day.

But the way of the wicked is like deep darkness;

they do not know what makes them stumble.

My son, pay attention to what I say;

listen closely to my words.

Do not let them out of your sight,

keep them within your heart;

for they are life to those who find them

and health to a man’s whole body.

Above all else, guard your heart,

for it is the wellspring of life.”


Some things that stand out to me: the righteous bring light, the words of wisdom give health to the whole body, and our hearts are the wellspring of life. Each of us must know our limits of being informed – the balance between news and the Gospel (Good News). When I can no longer bring light and life to the conversation then I have ingested too much news or traumatic information. Hope is necessary for thriving. I long to hand out hope. To know the truth of the Gospel is to know that we have hope.


What are you putting your hope in?


How do you cultivate hope in your life and your community?






In Philippians 4:8 Paul tells us to think on these things: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.”


When I am tied in knots about what’s going on the world, feeling fearful, and losing hope then I know I’ve overindulged on the darkness. I care. I pray. I break from listening to the media. Do you find it challenging to guard your heart above all else? What are some ways you are intentional about guarding your heart and holding onto the hope of the Gospel?

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

A Creeping Gloom

 

It came right in the middle of a good day. I was caught off guard. There it was, a gloominess I didn’t understand. Gloom crept out from the corners of my experience and gradually crawled up my back and clung to me. It was like walking into the edge of a large spider’s web. At first you are wildly brushing it off only to find you have been taken over by the whole of it. I tried to retrace the steps of this gloom mood to discover where it came from. What triggered this icky grayness? Over the weekend there were wonderful experiences – times when I forgot all about it, as if it had crawled off to find another victim. But during the lull of a quiet moment it would edge back towards me holding on tight.


My mind scrolls through lists of what may have sent gloom an invitation to join me. There were little losses and limits in life; but I don’t think they invited the weight of this gloom. Sometimes – no, often – we live in the middle of hard things and do not recognize their impact. I find it easier to look for a scapegoat or find an escape route through Pinterest, Instagram, and books. These are not soulful routes.


So this morning I prayerfully reclined before the Lord. He gave my gloominess a name. It is sadness. Yes, I have reasons to be sad. Living daily in the presence of dying is sad. I am not talking about death in general; it is the daily watch of a life shrinking. It is witnessing the energy of life ebbing out of a loved one. It is knowing what approaches but swinging back and forth on the rope of in-between. There is daily tension carrying with it weariness and sadness. The soul leaving the finite for the eternal finds it’s body broken down bit by bit on the way. We are witnesses to this in care-giving.


This is hard on the passenger. And it takes a toll on care-givers as they watch the body let go while they wait. Yes, the gloom grows and shrinks and grows again. Sitting in the quiet of the morning with the Lord sharing in my sadness, I recognized He is the One who holds all of our feelings. And He is the One who made us able to hold sadness alongside other feelings. I do not need to allow the sadness to consume me; I am held by my Creator even in sadness. And because of this I still encounter beauty, joy, laughter, hope, love, peace, and so many other life experiences. I am not just experiencing sadness. I love that God made us able to hold both uncomfortable feelings and hard experiences alongside comfortable feelings and lovely experiences.


Each care-giver witnessing this decline deals with it differently. Not everyone wants to talk about it. I am learning how to process my own feelings. First I had to identify and name my feelings. The gloomy mood clinging to me felt vague and unnecessary. Sadness makes more sense and I am okay letting sadness ride along in the process.

Let’s not forget how this observation of one finishing up this life on earth shakes up my thinking about my own ending. I am in the Autumn of life. In my maternal grandma’s family Autumn can last a long time. But the length of this season will not be known until I am finished here. I am in a good place in life. I have a truer sense of who I am in Christ and the gifts He has given me to serve. I am excited about the work I do with people and about writing. But I tire out quicker at 62 than I did at 22. Our bodies change. I don’t want to run down before I have run out. Or I should say I hope to run out in doing what I love to do before my body completely runs down. None of us knows when that time will be.



So here I am talking about something many don’t like to talk about. Maybe you don’t like this conversation. I am sorry if this is uncomfortable. I need to talk about it and prefer preparing. I like how Jean Fleming writes about this time of life in her book, Pursue the Intentional Life. “This can be my time of greatest growth in Christ, the final stretch to the finish line, a time to put away every stale and self-protective barrier and make a dash for the tape. My best years, my richest insights, a time of quiet fruitfulness, various and ripe – my deepest experiences of Christ are still ahead of me. This is my eager expectation. This is my time of ripened fruit and flight, living increasingly in the reality of the resurrection life, my heart and mind set on things above, earnest and ready, expectant and alert” (p. 37).





Invested in the care of one whose last thread of life is about to break and release him into eternity prompts me to think about how I want this season in my life to look, to make it count for all its worth, and be intentional in the way I live and love. Care-giving is an opportunity to pause on the precipice of this assumed season in my life and plan for how I want to live it and how to prepare that I might die well, whatever it looks like. And in between here and there I want to be conscious of spending my time on the best things and not on the lesser.

Friday, January 28, 2022

You Can Walk On Water Or You Can Panic

 

Have you ever nearly drowned? If not, I imagine you can bring to mind times when you felt yourself drowning in emotional pain, care taking, big changes, loss, etc. What distracts you from gazing on the fullness, peace and grace of Jesus which keeps you from sinking? Have you ever seen Yongsung Kim’s painting, “Calling”? If you have not, I encourage you to look it up online. The unique view of looking up from beneath the water and seeing the hand of Jesus reaching down to save fills me with hope.


A couple weeks ago I spent time reading and meditating on Matthew 14:22-33. Jesus just fed 5,000 men along with their families by multiplying 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. Immediately following this miraculous meal, Jesus made the disciples get into a boat and sent them off to the other side of the lake. Jesus remained to dismiss the crowd then climbed the mountain for solitude and prayer.


I wonder how the disciples felt being hustled off onto the boat. Imagine you in their place. How would you feel and what would you say or do? I would offer to stay and help. That’s a lot of people to dismiss alone. Hear the pride? It is possible Jesus was protecting His disciples. The crowd wanted to make Jesus king and resisting His direction to get in the boat would be to miss out on His protection from the disciples’ wavering idea of Him.


One summer while on a family camping trip in Colorado, I rafted down the Poudre Canyon River. Someone had signed me up for this white water adventure. I don’t blame him for my experience. I had never gone white water rafting nor had most of the others. We were signed up for level 4 rafting. Level 4 is for experienced rafters with strength for paddling through rough waters and narrow passages. I was afraid and uncertain but didn’t resist going where I was not prepared to go.


In Matthew’s passage, we see Jesus on the mountain in silence and solitude juxtaposed to the disciples in the boat “buffeted by the waves because [of] the wind.” Rowing against the tempestuous waves required great strength. They were a long way from land. Not all the disciples had been fishermen and it was quite possible a number of them were inexperienced rowers and little help.

 

Inexperienced, we sat in our rafts buckled up in life jackets being quickly schooled on what this experience would require of us. Though we were warned of the possibility of going over and the need to stay calm and let ourselves be carried by the current, in my naivete I didn’t expect anything to go wrong. We began slow and easy. I learned quickly to keep my feet tucked in under the inside lip of the raft; the bumpiness of the smaller rapids could easily propel you out of the boat. About halfway through the trip the guide warned us we were going to enter a narrow space between a rock wall and boulders in the river. The water rushed between the two. As we entered the curve of the river, the rapid was intense and we needed to tip up on the right side to get through. If we did this well we would come out of the tight corridor right side up. We did not do well; we tipped over completely.


The disciples were still struggling in the early morning hours when Jesus came towards them, walking on the water. They were frightened; they thought He was a ghost. Jesus spoke to them saying, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Each of these short, complete sentences have something to say to us. The shorter version is that Peter believed – he believed enough to say, “Lord if it is you tell me to come to you on the water.” If you’ve read this passage, you know what happened to Peter. First, Peter accepted Jesus’ invitation and he climbed out of the boat. He miraculously walked on water toward His Lord but then became distracted by the waves. He became afraid and in that moment he went under.


The raft seemed to tip in slow motion. My son-in-law had the presence of mind to take a deep breath. I still hadn’t accepted something could go wrong and did not prepare myself to go under. I was completely taken by surprise. As soon as I submerged in the intensely agitated water, I panicked. I thought for one second, “It’s not good to panic.” But I couldn’t get hold of myself. I was reaching and grasping for anything and gasping for air. I bumped into the bottom of the raft and hoped for an air pocket. The rushing water filled every inch of space. The second time I bumped into the bottom of the raft was the same. I thought to myself, “I might not make it.”


What did Peter do when he found himself going down into the rough water? He cried out to Jesus. In desperation he refocused on the Lord. Jesus in His tender, loving mercy “reached out a hand and caught him.” And he asked, “Why did you doubt?”


Though nervous, I had taken the warnings lightly. I just didn’t believe anything would go wrong on my trip down the river. Why did I panic when I knew it was the worst way to handle the situation? Where was my faith? Just as suddenly as I considered not making it, I bobbed up out from under the raft, the last person to surface. The current pushed me toward the other rafters waiting along the edge of the river. Looking up at my son-in-law I said, “Get me out of here!” He reached down and pulled me into the raft. I was shaken. I was coughing. I was gasping for air. The guide handled me with gentleness and offered me an out but strongly urged I complete the trip. I knew if I quit, I would forever be afraid of any water sport.


I wasn’t sure I could continue. My family had watched and waited for me to emerge from the water alive. They were now watching to see what I would do with my fear. I was free to get on the bus alongside the river and mosey down the mountain whimpering. I chose to finish the trip and was grateful I did. But I could not shake the fact that I gave into panic. I don’t recall how I prayed during my panic. I wasn’t thinking clearly at all.


When have you been overwhelmed with fear? Were you able to call out to Jesus? How long did you struggle before you remembered He was there? I was desperate under the water. When I take my gaze off Jesus and give into fear, I am paralyzed to trust or do what is best no matter what is taking me under. We had instructions on how to handle a spill in the river. We were to relax and float with the current. The guides would have rafts on the side of the river where the current would carry us. Like Peter looking at the waves instead of Jesus, I let the fear of the river keep me from trusting in the guidance I had been given.


Maybe you are overwhelmed by circumstances in your life. What is God’s invitation to you in the midst of your turmoil? What helps you return your gaze upon Jesus? Peter was right there with Jesus and yet he looked away. We do this sometimes; we get distracted by the things larger than our abilities to handle. We forget who invites us to walk on water and makes it possible.

Sunday, January 9, 2022

The Aha of Epiphany

 

New Year’s Eve is not something I celebrate. I don’t stay up until midnight. Some may find me a bit boring but since I was a young teen I’ve been more inclined to get up early on the first day of the new year and reflect. I am not one to make resolutions. I like to look back over the year: the highlights, the losses, the lessons, etc. Every morning is a chance to begin again. Reflecting on the whole year helps me remember what happened in my life when it became a blur. It’s a time to make lists, journal and pray. It’s a time to listen for God’s invitation on how best to invest my life in the days ahead. This can be a lovely time but it can also be convicting and lead to some necessary heart cleansing. It often takes me several days.


January 6 was Epiphany*. I did not grow up in a church culture that followed the Church calendar. I did not know Epiphany was a special day; I thought epiphany was an aha moment. It turns out it is both. So on the day of the Feast of the Epiphany I had an epiphany. Earlier in the week I had some news – news that sparked a bit of envy in me. I was confessing this to the Lord on January 6. While I was lamenting over my struggle with envy the Holy Spirit prompted me to remember Isaiah 43:18 – 19. I picked up my Bible and flipped to the passage. Someone else is getting what I have longed for but in Isaiah I am reminded that God is now doing a new thing in my life.


Forget the former things;

do not dwell on the past.

See, I am doing a new thing!

Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?

I am making a way in desert

and streams in the wasteland.”


Now. In my circumstances right now He is doing a new thing. One day over lunch with a friend I shared this. Her eyes widened. The same verse has been speaking to her. She told me that God made it clear to her that the “new thing” is internal. I needed that reminder. Often I am looking for the next thing, a new thing outside my circumstances, but God is always working a new thing inside me in the place where He has placed me. He wants to do a new thing for you too.


In the book Living into Community, Christine D. Pohl shares the words of Kevin Rains, Vineyard pastor, “How many times have I wished I were somewhere else where God was REALLY moving? How many times have I longed to be in a more beautiful place (with mountains or an ocean) and abandon the urban neighborhood where I live? How many times have I fantasized about the perfect fellowship where everyone got along like a perfect family.” Rains calls this type of longing “spiritual pornography” and declares it poison. The truth of this is jolting! It can be hard to break free of creating an idol of an imagined perfect life. Yet one must break free or be sucked into the deep muddy mess of this lie. Anyone else raising a hand here?


It reminds me of when I was a little girl and we moved to the country. Our house was newly built so the land around was a bit torn up – no landscaping, just dirt and trees. When it rained there would be big muddy patches throughout the yard. Of course, my brother and I had to go outside and explore wearing our galoshes. It wasn’t long before one of us would be helplessly standing on one foot while one boot was left behind stuck in the mud. We would try to help one another but inevitably ended up yelling for mom to come to the rescue. That picture pops into my mind when I think of Kevin Rain’s longing, so often matching mine, for a ‘perfect life’ and leaving the one I am living behind.


I have moved a number of times. Some of you have moved much more than I. If we are honest with ourselves, we have yet to discover whatever it is we long for with envy when we are looking for something better than this. Every place I lived or church I attended had challenges but there was also great good. Once I wrote down all the places I remembered living and made a list of what I appreciated and missed about each. Places I longed to leave at one time left imprints of beauty and joy in my life, I just had not appreciated them as much while living there.


This year I want my greatest longing to be directed towards God and the new thing He is doing in my life here and now. I leave with this verse from Ezekiel – a reminder that God deserves more than a divided heart. Ezekiel 11:19, “I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.” The note in my Bible says, “God offers holiness to his rebellious people: a new heart wholly devoted and faithful to him alone and new spiritual empowerment to live only for him.” Anyone else want to celebrate 2022 by living into a new spirit with a heart of flesh? Would love to hear what you left behind in 2021 and what you hope to bring into 2022. He goes before us!





*“Now the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6”, writes Bobby Gross in Living the Christian Year (pp 83, 84), “brings this theme to culmination – the light of Christ made manifest to the whole world as symbolized by the Gentile Magi from the East. Thus the day of Epiphany and the season that follows complete what is sometimes called in the liturgical year the Cycle of Light.” He explains how this manifests in our current culture. “Epiphany is a season for seeing more of Christ’s glory by focusing on his life and mission. Simultaneously, it’s a time for making that glory better known to those around us. We bear witness to what we have seen and learned and experienced.”

Sunday, October 31, 2021

No DYI Necessary

 

We entered the shaded path under coverings of Jeffery Pines and Cedar trees. Our bodies and minds unfurling, leaving behind weeks of tension. The scent of pine and soil enriched from the life-giving decay of dying plants invited us to slow down and pay attention. We found no trail map at the trail head. No problem, we hiked this trail before. Our joy of being in the woods was enhanced by moments of complete silence and photo opportunities. At the back side of the park the trail was suddenly unfamiliar; it had been altered and we weren’t sure which way to go. Occasional signs with the trail name haphazardly pointed us forward. We stood in a parking lot looking up in the direction of one such sign.


By this time my back and hip were aching from the rugged tramping over roots and up and down on rocks; I was weary. Two ladies came over and we asked about the climb. “Yes,” they said. “That’s the right trail. It goes up 800 feet and there’s a beautiful view.” For one minute a wrestling match ensued between my FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) and the limitations of the body. I know how long it takes to recover from pushing past my limits so we opted out of the beautiful view. I can’t say the other option was an easy one. We turned around and went back the way we came; our bodies had already measured the length of the trail; it gave us joy while siphoning our energy.


The turn around wasn’t so delightful. Another sign directed us back to the Nature Center. If we followed that sign we would end up back on the road leading to the parking lot. That seemed like a good idea but in truth it first lead us to the other side of the 800 foot ascent. We either had to climb over that peak or go back. We turned back. This year my lower back has required extra care. I confess towards the end, of a not so difficult hike, it took real effort for me but we made it.


I am reminded of a conversation I had recently with a close friend. We were sharing our hearts when the topic turned to one in which we both could relate: fixing ourselves. It is so much like starting on a trail without a map. Do you ever find yourself working hard to right something inside yourself or bullying yourself into letting go of the past that shaped you? There have been times, too many to count, when my need to calm down after someone rubbed up against an open wound in my spirit would send me on a search. Did I crawl up next to my Heavenly Father and pour my heart out to Him? No. I went scrambling around the house for a book that spoke into my hurt or lifted me for a moment. Nothing wrong with reading these types of books but I’ve left the most important One, the One who made me, out of my pain and longing.


When I see myself as a project to fix instead of God’s creation being transformed by His Spirit I have to ask some questions about my beliefs. Do I believe God’s Word and what is written in passages such as:


Romans 8:25-27

But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do no know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself interceded for us with groans that words cannot express.”


2 Corinthians 12:9-10

But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”


Do I remember I can trust Him to work His Word into my soul while I go about ordinary tasks?


1 Thessalonians 2:13

And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe.”


Do I accept the reality that He is making me new and I can do nothing without Him?


John 15:3-4

You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can bear fruit unless you remain in me.”


I could go on. You see, we not only have a map (the Scriptures) for our lives but we also have the perfect Guide. Our Heavenly Father doesn’t want us to rely on ourselves. He doesn’t leave us to our own devices. If He were to do so we would be like sheep cast down, turned over on our backs, unable to get to our feet. Our limbs would go numb. We would lay there and die without the Shepherd righting and stabilizing us until we could walk again. God created us to depend on Him.


This morning I read this post on Instagram. Oh how it speaks to me in moments when I am busy searching for a good fix instead of the One Who made and redeems me. “We don’t pray because we don’t think God can do anything more for us than what we can do for ourselves.” --Valerie Woerner on IG #wellwateredwomen


It is not above me to, on occasion, grab at things in hope of making me into a better person. I search for just the right book or podcast to soothe me whenever a deep ache has woken within but this is but a band-aid to put over a gaping hole. I can even read Scripture looking for a fix instead of for the One Who transforms me and makes me whole.


In the conversation with my friend I challenged her current intensity to find the next study, layering one on top of the other, believing she will eventually be fixed. I recognized what she was doing because I have done it myself and found it less than satisfactory. I know, and she knows, deep down that she isn’t her own transformer. Christ in her is the One transforming her and He has given her a new self.


2 Corinthians 5:17 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.”

Reflection of God Study Bible (Zondervan Publishing House) footnote: new creation. Redemption is the restoration and fulfillment of God’s purposes in creation, and this takes place in Christ, through whom all things were made and in whom all things are restored or created anew.”


You and I are not projects. We are God’s creation made in His image. And for followers of Christ we are His children and He has given us new selves. His Spirit teaches us how to walk in this newness day by day. Jim and I never did find a detailed map for the hiking trail but we made it back to our car. I am certainly glad my husband was willing to turn back instead of continuing to try and figure it out.


Jacques Philippe writes in his book, Interior Freedom, “First of all, the most important thing in our lives is not so much what we can do as leaving room for what God can do. The great secret of all spiritual fruitfulness and growth is learning to let God act. . . . Yet 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, the concrete elements of our lives.”


Do you ever find yourself wandering around looking for answers to right yourself without first turning to God? Or is your first response to go to your Heavenly Father? Either way we can go to Him and confess when we have left Him out and invite Him to help us with our messy selves. He is not surprised or shocked by us; He made us human and He made us to need Him. That is a very good thing.

 

Jennifer Dukes Lee wrote these encouraging words in her book Growing Slow (p 152), “My best efforts don’t fix broken things. Only his brokenness does. My manipulation of circumstances won’t fix broken things. Only his brokenness will. My frustration can’t fix broken things. Only his brokenness can. Jesus won’t always take away the brokenness, but he will cover it with himself. He will cover it with his cross. Brokenness isn’t intended to break us. It’s intended to heal us by leading us back to the cross. Brokenness leads us back to our need for Christ, our need for rescuing, and his ridiculously wonderful and unfathomable decision to save us all.”

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Living into the Hard Season

A note before you begin: In this writing I wrestle with finding goodness in this difficult season.

Rethinking it, I was tempted to delete the whole post and start again. I already rearranged and deleted thoughts, then turned it over to my husband to read. It is what it is. I do believe God is with me and working in me in this season. This morning a heavy reality pressed upon me. Everyone in the world is in a difficult season – has been since the global pandemic. This means many of you are dealing with multiple crises in your difficult season. I am not alone. You are not alone. And so as I share how I am seeking to see God in this season, I hope you experience a deep knowing within: you are not alone either.



The day I began writing this a sea breeze whispered through the palm branches in the neighbor’s back yard. Today as I rewrite and edit we had an unexpected rain shower with thunder and lightening. A rare treat in Southern California. The leaves of our pomegranate tree are fading while the blush of the fruit deepens. It’s a beautiful, comfortable day. September slipped in while I was in Texas helping my Mom. On the first day of the month a dear friend passed from this life into eternity. I find myself mourning the loss of her and feeling a bit glazed over after the whirlwind summer. When I feel frayed I start looking for a hideaway – a place where I can control what’s happening. The reality is I will not find one. Have you found that to be true for you too?


Of course I set boundaries and I say, “No”, but the truth is I don’t control everything that enters and dominates a season of life. I can choose to embrace the season as is and look for the little gifts it hands out. Even in dark seasons it is surprising what pushes through a hard bit of earth. As I shared in an earlier post this summer, without any help from us, a wild sunflower came forth and sent out several cheery blossoms. It was a lovely addition standing next to the bird feeder.


I came across this poem by Wendell Berry. It speaks to my heart – a heart that is comforted by God’s goodness in creating the beauty of the earth.


When despair for the world grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of the wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought

of grief. I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

waiting with their light. For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and I am free.”

Wendell Berry


What kind of season do you find yourself in right now? Are you in the beginning, middle or end of a season? What surprising gifts are pushing through the hard soil of this difficult season? Most days I feel just fine considering all I deal with alongside carrying burdens for so many others and their sorrows. Then there are days when deep weariness sets in and I don’t want to decisions about supper or what to do for a date day. You know those kinds of days; we all have them.


In the midst of a challenging season there are others being hit hard – like waves crashing over them each time they attempt to stand. Some are assaulted by horrific crises. Monday last week I received two phone calls, people in their darkest moments needing prayer. My own difficulties, though real, don’t compare. There are people who are facing worse. I want to keep things in perspective without ignoring the effects of our experience on Jim and me.


Though our trials don’t compare, we feel the weight of our experiences; bodies and minds get worn down. How do we keep a reasonably good outlook when three stress-filled challenges overlap in one season and on top of it all there is no peace and quiet in the neighborhood? And how do we bear it all when the whole world seems to be in a crisis? How do we continue to walk in grace and compassion for self and others?


And more importantly how do we keep our gaze on the One who brings life where there is death? Paul writes in Romans 4:19-21 concerning Abraham: “Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead – since he was about a hundred years old – and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God has power to do what he had promised.”


Abraham believed God. He believed God’s promise. Abraham believed God could bring life where there was only death. Are you weary? Are there areas of your life that feel dead? Do you believe that even in the most barren, dried up place within you, God can breathe new life? He can and He will. This is my hope in the middle of this multi-layered challenging season.


When I feel dried up, the Breath of Life is the One who fully rejuvenates me. As I wait, I can invest in caring for this temple – the dwelling of the Holy Spirit. In this season with its hardships, I am often reminded of the speech given on every flight about the oxygen mask: the parent is to put on their oxygen mask first before assisting the child. If a parent runs out of oxygen what happens to the child? I am a helper, so even when I am in a hard place it is hard to say “No.” But like the truest version of Autumn, I am learning to let go. I am turning more towards the needs behind my front door. This does not mean I am not showing care for others, but I see the need to pour more care into our little family so we can carry on with the work God has allowed in our current season. It is a real discipline for me.


Self-care – putting on my oxygen mask first – is necessary for going the long haul in being there for one another while weathering rough days, weeks or years. Here are a few practices I find necessary and life-giving for me right now.


  • Daily time with God is most significant. There are days I would buckle under if I were not intentional about reading the Bible, praying and meditating on God’s truths. This is my lifeline.

  • Thinking about Jesus, my Shepherd, Who leads me and tends to my every need. I find thoughts of Jesus the Good Shepherd so comforting. I hope soon to share more with you what I have been learning about the significance of Jesus as our Shepherd.

  • Exercise, practical, but essential. I don’t exercise as consistently as I would like but keep coming back to it. I feel better emotionally and physically when I make time for exercise. The very best exercise for me is walking outside.

  • Accepting my limits. No surprise there but how often do you push past your limits, not paying attention to what your body, mind and spirit need? God has been reminding me He made me human with limitations. I need to recognize those limits and lean on Him. We are in a season unlike any we have ever been and perhaps I need to let go of some things for a season.

  • Consent to the current season. Embrace it. This is harder said than done. Sometimes it feels unfair but seek God’s invitation in this season. I want to trust God is with me and will bring good from a hard season.

  • Create life-giving rhythms for circumstances and don’t rely on what worked before. Let go and simplify how I move through the days. This isn’t simple nor can I say I do it well; I am learning. What does it look like? It is learning to say “no” to things I always do, things that will wait well. It means focusing on relationships close to home more than ever. It means making simpler meals whether for us or for someone else.

  • Find time for life-giving activities. When a season is full of life-draining activities, it is important to replenish joy with activities here and there that lift my spirit. Sadly, these are the things I have the most difficulty weaving into my life. I need time in nature, creating, and reading. I also need time with a few close friends – long distance friends on Zoom and friends nearby for a walk.

  • Give myself grace. Often in challenging seasons, we don’t know what is the best thing to do and need lots of grace for navigating uncharted territory with a bit of humility to learn from others who have traveled a similar road.

  • For those of you with noisy neighbors – a place where quiet is hard to find – keep a good supply of earplugs and use them even during the day.


My brother often says, “You are either in the middle of a crisis, entering a crisis, or leaving a crisis.” I consider this a season, not a crisis. Some seasons are harder than others. I hope and pray your season is one of delight and hope. And if you find yourself in a challenging season, I pray it is coming to an end. These encouraging and beautiful words from Hebrews are a lullaby to me. I pray this for you now, my friend, and may you experience His comforting presence wherever you find yourself this moment.






May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” – Hebrews 13:20-22


I wonder what He is working in me. How about you?

Friday, July 23, 2021

A Season of Reflection

 


Last week we parked our camp chairs in the shade at a nearby lake. It was a time for connecting, relaxing and reading. I went prepared (this is unusual) with a few questions for the two of us. I wanted to hear from my husband’s heart. I didn’t want us to just talk about work or the heavy stuff we carry, which we often do. It was nice. These kinds of conversations really help me feel connected to our being a couple, being best friends. We can get lost in care giving and in ministry. Those are things we do but not who we are. My questions were designed to reconnect with forgotten places within ourselves and to hear my husband’s heart.


  • What has been life-giving for you in this season of life?

  • What has been life-draining for you in this season of life?

  • What are you longing for?


After sharing we both tucked into our books but I found myself watching birds, listening to their conversations and reflecting on our season of life. I suggested to Jim we should come to the lake once a month for a year and document the changes. When we first arrived we saw 3 osprey circling. One eventually perched in a dead tree – we have often seen one there – while the others disappeared. We saw numerous red-winged blackbirds flying from one location to the next. Before their shift was over we saw a flock of 40 or 50 red-winged blackbirds. I enjoy taking notice of the natural world around me and am always mesmerized by the variety of flora, fauna and wildlife God created.


In my relaxed state while enjoying nature I wrote down a few questions for processing in my journal when I got home. Here are the questions.


  • What season of life do I (we) find ourselves in right now?

  • Are we in the beginning, middle or end of the season?

  • What are my feelings about this season?

  • What are some limitations of this season?

  • How might I welcome this season and lean into what God is teaching me?

  • What matters to me during this season?


And I think I would add: What gifts have turned up in this season?


Some of my responses were quite personal but here are a few things I recognized: we are in a season of care giving. Actually my husband is in a season of care giving and I am in a season of taking care of the care giver. Both are a privilege and both are challenging. My husband has a hard time not doing everything else as usual even when he is in a significant season of transition – a change that requires so much more of you than the everyday, ordinary responsibilities. And this season was plopped into the middle of his cancer season, which has ended except for the intense side effects.


I am very much a part of his seasons but I have a little season of my own sitting alongside the bigger transitional season of care giving. I am in the beginning of some portions of my season and the middle of others. The beginning is a little nerve wracking. Well, sometimes a lot nerve wracking. You, the reader, are a big consideration for me during this season. I show up to encourage you and help you find God in your everyday life. I am very interested in what season you find yourself in and how you are being effected. What are you needing in this season?


Take some time to consider the questions regarding your season of life.

  • Do you find yourself in the beginning, middle or ending of a season?

  • What is sustaining you?

  • What is draining you?

  • What’s God’s invitation to you?

  • Have you made plans for something to look forward to in the not too distant future?


I am in the beginning to middle phase of considering how this blog might serve you best going forward. How can I best support you? I want to bring a sharper focus to the things I write for you. I am also considering an email list so I can offer a newsletter for people interested in something more than a personal essay, and with a deeper spiritual challenge and a few reflection questions to help deepen your connection to God. Another consideration, scarier, is I do short talks on Instagram. What is your preference: reading or listening? I would really appreciate your feedback.