When God seems distant

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There are times in every believers life when God feels distant. I have described this feeling in some previous posts on this blog. It’s a season I am going through, nothing more, but it’s disconcerting to me. My thoughts run something like this:

I used to talk to you God, and tell you everything. I used to enjoy the glow of Your Presence in prayer and while sitting in silence. I used to feel your Spirit leap for joy within me while out running and listening to music, or even doing simple chores like vacuuming. What’s different now? Is it me? Am I doing something wrong? I feel as if a scoop of something has been taken from my soul and I want it back.

For some reason, words seemed to come much easier when I was in Arizona, but then I had more time to reflect as well. I worked long hours when I worked but I was off 3 and 4 days at a time. Circumstances aside,  this lack of flow has been disturbing. I used to talk to God with the familiar and easy relationship of a father to his daughter, but now there is a blockage and I am navigating through it the best I can. Maybe it’s simply this:

When God seems distant, maybe He is asking you me stretch my faith. Maybe it’s just that easy. He wants me to ride it out, knowing that the Bible assures me that others have gone through these times as well. I can rest in my assurance that God hasn’t gone anywhere.

In times such as these I draw strength from King David. Listen to his lament in Psalm 13 verse 1:

How long Oh Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day?

But David knew His God. Though His feelings were valid; people were searching him out to take his life after all, He knew in His heart he was not forgotten. Listen to what he says in verse 5.

But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because He has dealt bountifully with me.

He had the key to success. He drew from the well of experience and memory and remembered all the times God had been there and he knew that God hadn’t changed. Can it be that it’s as simple as continuing to draw on all those answered prayers, all those times of closeness? More importantly, that God is who He says He is and will never leave His children behind.

This morning as I stepped down my little road to the prayer shack, I heard not one but two owls calling back and forth. Thank you God, that’s a gift.  Another gift He presented me with was the honor of having my photos shared on another blog today. I never expected that and it was a very good day to start my day. You can see them and also have the pleasure of some wonderful works shared by the talented Glynn Young here.

I am grateful this moment as I type these words. The sun is partially shining today and that’s another blessing. We have waited all week for this. Maybe today I will go the used Bookstore and turn in my CDs and get a little credit. It’s a good day God.

I thank You for it. I rest today in Your sovereignty, Your love, Your gracious Presence. This daughter loves you.

 

The Gift of a Good Day

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I may not always be able to find joy but I can always find gratitude and that makes me grateful.

Yesterday was a good day. Elaine’s brother Bobby came with his truck and trailer and we got to clear a path down by the little Art Gallery/Prayer Closet. The downed tree made such a mess, and it is still laying there like the dead tree it is but at least now with some of the wood hauled off and branches cleaned up we can sit in our chairs and enjoy the fire pit (which the tree also managed to miss except for a small dent in the screen which E pounded out). It was a very generous thing he did and we all had fun working together. Aunt Mayvis and I worked on the hill and Bobby and Elaine worked down below with chainsaws. Then we went to the Dump which is always an adventure. Afterward we went to Der Weinerschnitzel and put back all the calories we burned off I’m sure. (Maybe not)

At around 4:30 I rushed to the library before it closed and got the next two books in the “Time Quintet” by Madeleine L’Engle. They have provided me with just the escape I have needed the past week. A nice kid let me right to them. Afterwards I went to the new little neighborhood grocery we found and I got some Blue Moon beer, because sometimes you just need a beer after a good day’s work. They have a little of everything in that store and the clerks are friendly.

At around 12:30 this morning my mind was running like a Superhighway. All the tasks for the coming week were on parade, and all my fears and anxieties marched right along behind them. I got up to read “A Wind in the Door” awhile until I could get back to sleep.

Shortly after 6:00 am I crept out in the cold and dark to pray and just sit in the silence. I sat and listened to the hiss of the little heater with the sound of the river as the background. I have found that when you don’t know how to start praying, the best place to start is gratitude. So I listed my thanks. The challenge of the past year has made a dent in my joy but to my relief I still can always manage to find my gratitude.

On the way back up, the neighbor cat waited and watched for me and I paused on the step and listened to a beautiful bird call I have never heard before. I wish I knew what kind of bird it was. Maybe there is a phone App for that, like Shazam for birdcalls.

Now the sky is coloring like those plastic play balls you see at the grocery store in the bins. Briggs is sleeping contentedly at my side. He has rolled right along with us the past year and adjusted very well. We have asked a lot of him.

My coffee has gone cold. Time for a reheat and then it’s a new day.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow.

Storms

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Finding God does not mean building a house in a land of no storms, but building a house that no storm can destroy. Author Unknown

Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. Matthew 7:24

The first tree toppled when nobody was home. It was down by the river and we were shocked to see it laying there like the dead thing it was. On further investigation, we saw that it did hit the little Art Gallery aka Prayer Closet but absolutely nothing was damaged. This was the first miracle.

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We have managed to move back to California during the wettest year since the drought started and the soil just can’t soak up the rain fast enough. It is desperately needed so no one was complaining……at first.

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Here’s another view:

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Over the next several days, torrential rain beat down on the already saturated ground. Then the winds started and that was the scary part. We were all sitting in the living room while the storm raged outside and we heard an ominous sound directly in front of the house. My Aunt’s dogs went crazy and all three of us leaped to the window and couldn’t believe what we saw. This was the end result. The tree was between 80 and 100 feet and it was down. We were in shock. It broke a water line but thankfully, someone came out that night and capped the line. A friend to the rescue. We had been nervous about that tree because it was very top-heavy. That day no one could get in or out of the driveway, but the house was not hit. Miracle number two.

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By then we were all shell-shocked. And the rain continued. Trees fell all over town, fields flooded, the river was rising……we went down each day to watch its progress. Usually it just meandered along silently but now we could hear it. We took all the safety precautions, prayed, pulled the slide-out in on the motor home to try to save the canopy but we all felt like sitting ducks. No one loves trees more than me, but now every sound of the wind moaning as we lay there trying to sleep was nerve-wracking. The trees almost felt treacherous.

Around 3:00 Sunday morning everyone was awake. Power was going out all over town. Transformers blew, we could hear them like fireworks. Sleep was impossible. Elaine had turned her phone off and had just happened to look at it when the call came through from my Aunt. Another tree had fallen in front of the house. It grazed the windows coming down and she had just checked on the dogs who were restless and barking when it fell. She was in the exact spot in the house where it came down, but thankfully, miracle number three, no damage! Here’s the neighbor cat checking it out.

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Yesterday after it happened, the neighbor came with his chainsaw and started cutting. Then he called for reinforcements and we experienced what good neighbors can do when they all work together. It was a beautiful thing. They cleared us a path, and by the time they were done it was pouring rain again.

Today, the tree guys came and then cleared out the remainder of the mess in the driveway. They came in like gangbusters, those guys. The had the chipper and blower working and everything cleared out in no time.

And today we were blessed with a little blue sky. I slept better last night than I had in awhile, because even though there was rain, there was no wind. During all those storms, we were praying so hard for calm. Just peace.

For now, it’s over. We count ourselves extremely fortunate that nobody was hurt and there was no damage to the house, but sadly for others across our nation this is not the case. Tornados, snow, ice, loss of homes and lives, heartbreak and destruction. I pray for them all. And not only physical storms but the ones that take place in our hearts and lives.

We all just want the same things, calm and peace. I have a feeling we will remember this for the rest of our lives, and there have been good things come out of it too. We have stories to tell. And in the chaos, a balloon stuck to the fallen tree reminded me that Birthdays are still being celebrated. Life is still being celebrated.

After these storms, I will never forget how deep the silence felt.

Good day, still no Sunshine!

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Trust in the Lord, and do good;
Dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness.
Delight yourself also in the Lord,
And He shall give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:3,4

It’s been a good two days, I’m on a roll. Let’s make it three! There is a reason and a time for everything says Ecclesiastes. The not so good days make the good ones shine forth like gemstones and there have been shining moments in the last 2 days. I like to call them everyday miracles. The absence of worry and anxiety, if only for a day is cause for celebration for me. A big praise was that everything in storage is dry. After all the buckets of rain we weren’t sure. We have been watching the river rise and the power and strength of it is surely something to behold.

Friday we went to dinner on the gift certificates we got for Christmas (thank you niece Lauryn and Carolyn, what a generous and thoughtful gift). What a treat! We will go back to this downtown jewel. On the way out we saw an old friend and talked for about 15 minutes on the sidewalk.

Yesterday morning I went to breakfast with some old friends from long-ago and some new people I had never met. The cafe was bustling with activity and I also got to seek out and whisper some words of encouragement to the waitress there whose son took his own life not long ago. I had my friend point her out to me so I was sure I got the right person. In the face of such horror, it’s not much but I wanted to let her know something about her son, something that was good. A memory she could have as her own.

After that Elaine and I went to Junkin January 2017. It was foggy and cold and I was shaking by the time we were done looking but we did see an old vintage shopping cart that was very cool. They wouldn’t come down on the price though. From there we went to an antique shop on a side street that had mucho stuff. I walked around dialing old princess phones (love that sound) and in a corner Elaine spotted an old Lubester for 40 dollars (a steal) She has been looking ever since she restored that last one. Here is the before and after in case you are under 50 and not into antique gas station stuff.

It was cold as an old barn in there and I was shaking, so when I rounded a corner and saw this wonderful coat hanging up with a price tag of 60 bucks on it I decided to try it on and wear it around the store. That made Elaine’s lip curl up (she was sure it had lice) I was sure it wasn’t old. It fit perfectly and matched my hat. I asked if he would go 40 on the price, and he agreed on 45. As if that wasn’t enough, he said he had 2 more Lubesters at home and he would go 30 each for all three. Wow! Eureka. We both hit the jackpot on this excursion! I happily wore my coat out and next Saturday the rest will be picked up.

When we got back into town we stopped at a local diner and as luck would have it, in the booth next to us were longtime friends Norman and Patsy Lithco. We reminisced about the Earthquake of 89.When it hit, Patsy was doing my hair in her dining room. We laughed about how Patsy ran to her Hummel cabinet when the room started shaking. After that we dropped my coat off at the cleaners where my Mom goes. (I have to part with it for 3 days.)

We stopped to see Mom on the way home and visited by the fire which was cozy. She was feeling pretty good so I was happy about that. When we pulled into the driveway at home, Aunt Mayvis was just leaving for coffee so we tagged along with her.

There is something to be said for this whole community thing, I think. It was a full day, and a good one. I will add this to my collection of good memories.

Looking Up in 2017

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Hope in Me, and you will be protected from depression and self-pity. Hope is like a golden cord connecting you to Heaven. The more you cling to this cord, the more I bear the weight of your burdens; thus you are lightened. Heaviness is not of My Kingdom. Cling to hope, and My rays of Light will reach you through the darkness.” Sarah Young, Jesus Calling

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13

As Jesus and His disciples were walking by the temple one day, one of them remarked on how beautiful it was. I can see Jesus glancing at it, maybe nodding in agreement, then saying (Message version) “All this you’re admiring so much–the time is coming when every stone in that building will end up in a heap of rubble.” Then He goes on to explain just how bad things will get before He comes back and sets everything to rights. At first glance that might seem like a real joy-killer, but then He says at the end of Luke 21, “Look up, for your redemption draws near.”

It’s easy to despair looking at the events of the world around us. And I’m only thinking of the things that happened this past week! It’s easy to forget how to look at the world through the lens of  wonder, filtering out all the anxiety and dread about what will happen next. But Jesus doesn’t just tell us to buck up, or think beautiful thoughts. He points us to Himself. He is our ultimate hope and the hope of the world.

Sometimes He reminds us of this in the simplest of ways. The other morning I took a walk down by the river and the neighbor cat decided to tag along. I watched as she sprang ahead, leaping with a wild joy as she chased blowing leaves. She high-stepped it, and shaking her feet at the wet grass she almost tripped me by running across my feet. I have to admit, I got caught up in her playfulness.

Why do we humans complicate everything so much? Why do we eat ourselves up with worry? On Friday night I lamented that I was worried about finding a new stop on my route. My wise friend said, “You’re not driving it today.” Then I said something else and she repeated, “You’re not driving it tomorrow either, or Sunday.” I was robbing my moments of peace which I do repeatedly.

As I continued my walk, camera in hand, I got several cute shots of the cat comedienne. I laughed and caught the wonder again through my camera lens. I looked up at the sky peeking through the trees. I need to do more of this, I thought. I walked back up and then smiled all over again when I downloaded the pictures to the computer.

This quote by Frederick Buechner kind of sums up my thoughts today:

Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and the pain of it, no less than the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis all moments are key moments and life itself is grace. Frederick Buechner, Now and Then: A Memoir of Vocation

I plan on re-doubling my efforts to keep looking up during the course of the coming year. I plan to remember how to live in wonder at the world around me, and letting Jesus be my filter. I will fail sometimes, of that I have no doubt. But sometimes I will succeed.

One thing I’m sure of

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“A life is either all spiritual or not spiritual at all. No man can serve two masters. Your life is shaped by the end you live for. You are made in the image of what you desire.”

“By reading the scriptures I am so renewed that all nature seems renewed around me and with me. The sky seems to be a pure, a cooler blue, the trees a deeper green. The whole world is charged with the glory of God and I feel fire and music under my feet.” Quotes by Thomas Merton

I thought it fitting to start the New Year with quotes by one of my favorites, Thomas Merton. The second quote echoes what I was feeling as I walked down to prayer this morning. The thought that wouldn’t let itself go was this:

Whatever I do this year or any other, without God it’s a wasted trip.

I was thinking of Merton as I always do when I am close to nature. This morning as I sat down by the little river shack, I thought I heard the owl. I don’t hear it often and when I do I make myself completely still so I can hear it. What it is about nature that makes one lean in and listen? I guess that’s how I stay in touch with the Holiness of God. There is a purity in nature that this artificial world just cannot duplicate.

“Help me to love better this year,” was my prayer as I read over 1 Corinthians 13. It was a deeply humbling experience when my Pastor friend once encouraged me to lead the Bible study on these verses once. I never forgot it. We’ve all read those words so much they’ve become like a nursery rhyme. Just about every Christian wedding we hear it. But when I studied it, I saw how incompletely I really do love.

I see Jesus staggering with the cross up the hill. That is 1 Corinthians 13 personified. I saw Him forgive the mockers. I saw Him return from the dead and ask Peter if He still loved Him. I saw true love. And someday, I will see it radiating from His eyes when He looks at me. How can I not try to love better?

I see this past year and it’s staggering how far we’ve come, what we’ve been through. How I struggled with this move and now we are on the other side. It’s been a year of joys and turmoil. Equal parts fear and faith. Equal parts stress and anxiety, but also resounding love because we know who is on the trail ahead of us. We carry our home with us, in more ways than one. He is our true North. This year, and every other.

So it’s on to 2017 with Jesus. We are heading to the coast to bring in the New Year. I see hope ahead.

Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

 

Someday

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As in every year leading up to Christmas, I don’t take nearly enough time for reflection. Somehow even when I don’t mean to, it gets swept away by all the other things that we have made Christmas into. And yet, and yet. Jesus is born once again in our hearts and in our remembrances. Despite our best efforts we can never ruin it as the great Frederick Buechner says:

Christmas itself is by grace. It could never have survived our own blindness and depredations otherwise. It could never have happened otherwise. Perhaps it is the very wildness and strangeness of the grace that has led us to try to tame it. We have tried to make it habitable. We have roofed it in and furnished it. We have reduced it to an occasion we feel at home with, at best a touching and beautiful occasion, at worst a trite and cloying one. But if the Christmas event in itself is indeed – as a matter of cold, hard fact – all it’s cracked up to be, then even at best our efforts are misleading. Whistling in the Dark

Dear Lord:

I am a deeply flawed and it’s not a stretch to say that I am sometimes a dark-hearted, selfish and sarcastic individual. I spend money on things I don’t need and toss my leftovers into the collection plate. I pray to be more like you but too often I’m not willing to do what it takes to make that happen. I pass what could be angels (or maybe even you) in disguise on the street, dirty disheveled, shopping cart piled high. Too often I fail miserably, and yet you continue to pile mercy on my plate. I need to love better.

I wonder if all of us knew each other’s insides like you do, what would happen. I think the world would be transformed by love. We would see each other the way you see us. This I believe is possible since as believers we have your Holy Spirit inside us. So if I have any goal at all in the coming year, it should be to walk not in someone else’s shoes, but to ask the Holy Spirit to reveal how someone else might be hurting, or alone, or joyful. And then show me how I can enter other’s lives the way Jesus would. That’s what you talked about the Kingdom of Heaven being here and now. That’s what Scripture means when it says that someday we will fully know you and each other. That’s how we will know we are in Heaven.

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 1 Corinthians 13:12

Thank you to those who have been patient with me this year. Thank you, Elaine for bearing with me as I went psycho over this job and for all you’ve done to keep everything running while I go different directions. I love you.

Thank you to my family, who I am very grateful to be with this year. I love you.

Thank you dear readers, those who are still hanging in with me and this blog. I love you too.

Thank you Jesus, for never loving halfway. You proved that with the Manger and the Cross. You are still proving your great love to me each and every day you crack joy into my heart in all the little everyday moments. I am trying to love You better.

Merry Christmas all, in Jesus name.