The Thrill of Hope

 

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The rain is watering the earth and I can almost feel it breathing a sigh of relief. You have just left and it’s the cat and me for a few days. There is a vacuum in the space where you used to be. Sometimes it’s those small things you take for granted that are the most keenly felt when someone you care about is no longer there.

Things, life, the world goes on even in the wake of losses great and small. All over the world and in many different situations people are waving goodbye; all kinds of faces tinged with emotions reflected in retreating tail-lights. Psychiatrists, counselors and ministers devote much of their time helping people deal with it. That monstrous thing we call loss.

It is raining harder now and the air grows colder inside my space. I see your handiwork wherever I look, traces of you and how you always make things work better. I open the pantry and see the motion light you put there, and everything is just so.

You are going back to a happy place and to see friends. Old friends, old footprints retraced. Everything will be clean and bright the way I remember and you will have sun and that makes my heart glad for you.

It was quite a life we had there and a good one. It was like a foreign land at first, that desert. But it turned into a place that folded itself around us, comforted us in the loss of both your parents and all we went through with Alzheimer’s and Dementia and the grief that went with it.

My words seemed to flow more freely there in the little shop, my first prayer closet. A blog was born there to the backdrop of doves cooing, roosting on the rooftops next door.

Almost from the time we are born, our hearts and souls are acutely aware of a sense of loss and the fear that stems from it. Life at its most painful becomes synonymous with loss. Loss of a job we loved, loss of a loved one, death of a marriage, physical loss, loss of a home. Sometimes one loss turns into another. Such as when a deep loss turns into a bad habit. Then we have to kick the bad habit and we have that loss to deal with too.

But here is the big hope rests within and through all this. Here is where the story gets happy. That at the other end of this spectrum of loss, there is gain, without which we wouldn’t know loss at all. And that little word, gain, is what God is, and has always been concerned with.

For at the cross, His loss became our gain.

When we were determined to ruin ourselves and each other, God said, “No, I won’t let the story end this way.” He didn’t just write a happy ending. He came in physical form to become our happy ending. He came to fill that, as C.S. Lewis so rightly said, “God sized vacuum” in our hearts.

Thank you God. Thank you Jesus. Thank you Christmas.

The Weary World Rejoices

 

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“The thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn…..” O Holy Night (circa 1847)

Maybe this morning you are reaching for the hope of that “new and glorious morn” the song speaks about. Maybe for you it is nothing but a song lyric, or a hope so distant you can barely see it through the weight of your present circumstances. The world Jesus came into was certainly weary, no different than today. I see just how weary as I pass the homeless each day, making camps wherever they can out in the cold. I even see it in the eyes of shoppers who get to go back to their warm houses after the mall. I see it in the gratefulness of the elderly whom I deliver meals to each day.

I slogged and shivered my way down to the river this morning juggling cups and a spare tank of propane for the heater. I settled in my chair and my breath puffed out warm into the cold air and I promptly spilled hot coffee all over my robe. I barely felt it. My morning prayer routine here is a bit different. Used to be, I took about 5 steps out the front door into my little shop. Here it’s a little walk and I bump into several things getting ready in the motorhome before I head out the door. The neighbor cat greets me at the end of the step. We have started feeding she and her brother since he is seldom home.

Walking along, I was pondering several things. There are many things I don’t know the answer to. I don’t know why I thought I would feel perfectly settled here, since I don’t feel any more settled here than I did in Arizona. I thought I would be able to make things better for my folks, but it turns out I can’t fix the fact that they are growing older. I can’t make them young again and able to do all the things they did before.

I also don’t know why it is that I am smack dap in the middle of all this beauty and it doesn’t seem to penetrate my heart. Nature has always been somewhat of a cure for me, and the fact that it’s not the healing balm it usually is has me unsettled. But here’s the thing about God, Christmas, Advent and the hope that it brings. I don’t need to know all the answers. I really don’t need to know any answers except Christ and Him crucified.

And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God. 1 Corinthians 2

So, turns out I can’t fix broken situations or people, or even myself, but I can hope and trust in the One who can. This is what real faith is. It means that someday I will know the answers to these questions if God in His own good time reveals them to me. And if He doesn’t, that’s okay too. I hope in the One who does know all the answers. Who wasn’t afraid to come down in the weakest form imaginable, and start out knowing nothing. That’s enough for me.

We all have our seasons, the important thing is to keep walking through them with our eyes and our hearts lifted up toward Heaven. Peace be with you all.  I will leave you with another bit of comfort I read down by the river today:

“When the Time Is Right: December 7

There are times when we simply do not know what to do, or where to go, next. Sometimes these periods are brief, sometimes lingering. We can get through these times. We can rely on our program and the disciplines of recovery. We can cope by using our faith, other people, and our resources. Accept uncertainty. We do not always have to know what to do or where to go next. We do not always have clear direction. Refusing to accept the inaction and limbo makes things worse. It is okay to temporarily be without direction. Say “I don’t know,” and be comfortable with that. We do not have to try to force wisdom, knowledge, or clarity when there is none. While waiting for direction, we do not have to put our life on hold. Let go of anxiety and enjoy life. Relax. Do something fun. Enjoy the love and beauty in your life. Accomplish small tasks. They may have nothing to do with solving the problem, or finding direction, but this is what we can do in the interim. Clarity will come. The next step will present itself. Indecision, inactivity, and lack of direction will not last forever. Today, I will accept my circumstances even if I lack direction and insight. I will remember to do things that make myself and others feel good during those times. I will trust that clarity will come of its own accord.” Melody Beattie, The Language of Letting Go.

Going Deep

 

Let your light so shine....

Usually that refers to a football move, but each Advent that rolls around I think of it. When everything starts to turn crazy and drivers honk and jockey for parking spaces and people turn ungracious my thought is to “go deeper.” Jesus was born into a world filled with pushing and shoving and strife. He was also born into a world with a deep chasm between the ruling Superpowers in Rome and the common people just trying to get by.

Yesterday morning I sat huddled with my first cup of coffee, and gazed blearily at my phone for a connection, a signal of life out there. The little candle flickered from where it sat on the Motor-home console (we call it the fireplace).

Lately I have been feeling like part of my creative soul has been snuffed out. The words that used to flow freely have fled and I have missed them. Earlier I had fallen asleep and dreamed of buried things. I awoke feeling smothered.

As I rested there in the pre-dawn hour, I heard a ping from my phone and saw a friends post and as I read the words, tears came along with them. You can read it here.

Do you ever feel as if God answers prayer through someone else’s words? I felt as if someone had just leaned toward me in church, holding out their advent candle to light mine.

I wasn’t happy about the sorrow in his message, but I did identify with it. No, it was the hope he held out. The light that came along with it. His words reached across several states and touched a chord in me. “He feels it too.” And just at the precise moment I needed to hear it. Jesus said that only an adulterous generation needs a sign, but He also knew a sign was necessary. “Behold, a virgin will conceive…….”

This to me is the hope of Advent. That somewhere in the cloisters of our hearts there is the reality of deep peace. That is the reason Jesus came. Reconciliation and the promise of peace. The Holy Spirit resides in each of us as believers, but I believe it is possible to stifle Him with the residual refuse in our minds and hearts.

Advent is cutting through all that and clinging to the miracle. Throw the trash out! Lay it at the curb, better yet the cross! God is doing a work in each one of us. He has taught me this year that prayer is not the prescription that insures circumstances in my day will all fall together perfectly. In fact, sometimes the days where I have prayed most earnestly I have had the worst days on record.

The more important thing is that prayer has a bigger effect on the long term. It goes beyond the surface where we can’t always see, digging trenches in our hearts that change us for eternity. God doesn’t wait around to answer our prayer so that events conspire to work out for our benefit, but rather, He hears our every prayer even before we pray it. Even the ones as small as a breath.

When Jesus came, He was the universal “I understand and hear you” answer for all time, for all of us. He came almost unnoticed into this world yet Heaven couldn’t keep from a birth accouncement puncuated by miracles. This Christmas I pray we can set aside the stress and clamor of the world in the quiet moments and remember the miracle.

Let every heart prepare Him room, for He made room for us.

“And He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us.” Acts 17:26,27

Unwrapping Christmas

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Each year at Christmastime we exchange things………..gifts. Excitement builds as we eagerly present them to those we love in anticipation of their joy in receiving what we have so carefully and thoughtfully chosen.

Just for them.

But I believe, the real unwrapping doesn’t end, until every last memory is opened and reopened once again.

Those that memory leaves behind are what we take out through the years and cherish. Long after each purchased gift is worn out. So today, in the quiet of year’s end. This is what I do. As these I hold dear take their own gifts out as we all hold them up to the Light.

A walk by the lake with my Dad. Enjoying the nature and the snap of morning’s cold. Talking about this flower another walker guided us to…….and the detail hidden within, and about the God who loves detail, even in a little flower. We never would have found it hidden along the fence from our path. We were turned away at the gate because the nature trail was closed that day. But we found nature anyway, because we were looking.

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All these moments held in the grip of eternity. To be shared by each other, and the Lord. Each and every one I count as jewels……..and as we walked along, it looked like others wanted to do the same. A little table arrangement left behind for someone else to find…….we are all creators.

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Just like our Father…..

This year, as I unwrap Christmas again.

Count some more memories with me won’t you? And then add your own…………

Last year the baby Jesus flickered and went out, and this year the whole scene went dark, so Mom and Dad let one of Lauryn’s spare dolls stand in for Jesus and put a spotlight on the whole scene. My Mom said it was more beautiful than ever.

Everyone I hold most dear together on Christmas Eve, that was my best gift.

Playing rounds of Candy Land with Lauryn and seeing her so excited to see me.

Elaine, Heather and Me at breakfast at Denny’s Christmas morning before we all went our separate ways for the week.

My brother and I baking in the kitchen for the first time ever.

Mom and I bunking together and giggling like teenagers before we went to sleep, then later hearing her whispered prayers when she couldn’t sleep. I heard her say, “Jesus” about 10 times.

The road trip from Arizona to California, where Elaine and I talked all the way and didn’t miss any turns.

And this one is bittersweet, Elaine’s Mom last road trip before she goes into a care home.

The last is what I will hold onto for the coming year…….Mom combining both of her Nativity’s together on the coffee table like one big happy family. And of those, one lamb had a broken leg and one had a missing ear, but they were both still standing. And like those sheep, we all come to Jesus with all of our baggage and missing limbs dragging behind.

We bring them to the stable, and He heals every wound, every heartache, wipes every tear.

Every Christmas brings its own unique challenges and this year was no exception, yet when we have Jesus, we have everything.

Merry Christmas and a very Happy and Hopeful New Year from my Prayercloset to yours!

Nativity missing leg 2

 

Gratitude tips the scales

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O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good: for his mercy endures for ever. Psalm
107:1
 
We had our gift exchange last night, Elaine and I. It was our little window of opportunity for some Christmas quiet time and we took it.  Her Mom had gone to bed early, as she has done ever since winter has brought early darkness. It was a touch and go day yesterday, the Alzheimer’s was kicking in and she was a bit combative.  
 
At one point, Elaine peeked in the door and found that she had taken every last pair of pants out of her closet and piled them on the bed. Then she opened Elaine’s jewelry box and had the contents spread all over the bed. She said, “I don’t know where all this came from.”
 
And she has been going through other things in the house.  I guess that is common at certain stages of the disease, along with not wanting to bathe and the rocking and pacing.
 
It has been a very challenging year no doubt about it, and yet last night Christmas came there in our little island of peace by the tree. And all I kept saying over and over…”This is just too much, this is too good…..I don’t deserve it” and I was feeling it on the inside as well as the outside.
 
And it wasn’t just the gifts, it was everything that went behind the gifts. Because I know the giver. I know her heart, and I have never stopped seeing it give giving this whole year. That’s why it matters. 
 
And when you know the Giver of that most perfect gift the world has ever seen?
 
Only Endless gratitude can be the heart’s right response, no matter what the world throws your way. Gratitude tips the scales when you know God has already given you everything He has to give.
 
Today, I drove on an almost deserted freeway to put in my last day of work, but  in my heart, I am bearing treasures too many to count.
 
Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! 2 Corinthians 9:15

When the soul quiets

Small Miracles
 
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. Thomas Merton
 
By this time in December you are in one of two places. You are either madly scrambling around because you just realized that Christmas is less than one week away, or you have conceded that whatever has not been done up to this point will not get done and you can begin to relax and really enjoy pre-Christmas.
 
I am at the latter stage.  True Christmas can only be ushered in when the soul quiets. The world is outside and it continues to spin wildly out of control, but I try to back off. I try not to call people on the freeway names, although this time of the year it is increasingly difficult, even with the Jesus sticker deterrent on the back window.
 
This falls under the: “I am a Christian, but I am still human category.”
 
I daydream by the tree before the light of dawn creeps over the Superstitions. I realize it will soon be packed away along with the nativity scenes, but Jesus will stay.
 
In the quiet of my soul I imagine sitting by a window with big, fat flakes of snow falling outside and a fire on the hearth inside and the peace that happens when all the clamour and noise of life is far away.
 
That’s when you can hear God.
 
I look around and I realize how much I dearly value the people in my life, here once more with me at the close of another year. When you can look in their eyes and see eternity reflected back it’s not just a silly jewelry commercial, it’s why God came to this earth.
 
It’s the seeking and saving of that which was lost, all of us, and not only us, the whole creation. 
 
Just imagine if you will, alongside myriads of angels and us bowing before the Throne, the giant redwood and the smallest of woodland creatures doing the same. And why shouldn’t they? They will once again know a world without fear. The one Sin stole.
 
And all around us, while we see evidence of the brokenness of creation, we also see its mending. People who will not give up. People who will continue to risk their own lives for the poor, the broken, the weak.
 
The defenseless. The ones too weak and powerless to do anything about their own condition.
 
It’s God paying ransom with His very own Son. 
 

Trying to make sense of it all

God is in control......

Today, we are all shell-shocked and  scrambling for answers. We are desperately looking for someone or something to blame, some solution. We think there has to be a way to define, identify, fix the problem, because that is the only way we can find some peace in something this horrific.

I don’t even want to watch the news at this point. To be honest I don’t want to know about the shooter and what traumatic events of his childhood might have led up to him doing this. I don’t care about his disease or his personality profile. I have heard it all before.

All I can think about are the children that are gone and the parents who are facing the deepest grief they will ever know upon waking up this morning. I paused before I went into work today, to pray for the families. But what to pray? All I got out was….”Oh God, the parents, the parents, the parents…..”

In the wake of this tragedy, the debate over gun control will ignite once again. And good people on both sides of this issue have their facts, their statistics, their arguments. And both sides feel they are one as right as the other.

You can take guns away from law-abiding citizens, but the criminals will still get guns. Illegal gun and drug trade is out of control and the doors to our borders are standing open. Some of our cities, such as Stockton, California…..right next to my hometown,  are bankrupt due to gross mishandling of funds and greed at the top. I just read this report today:

Bankrupt Stockton, Calif., faces a “mass exodus” of police officers in the midst of a crime wave if it is forced by creditors to slash pension benefits for current and retired employees, its city manager said in a letter to Gov. Jerry Brown. Source: Huffington Post

In some cities, there are barely enough police to actually fight real crime, let alone provide schools with the extra security they need.

The truth is, we can pass all the laws we want to, but there is one thing we will never be able to do and that is legislate morality. There is only one solution to the heart problem we all have and it is found in the person of Jesus Christ. He is the final answer for this world today.

That’s why the Manger means more than ever right now.

And God is watching this world. Nothing escapes His notice. While people have free will, they will use it to exercise all kinds of atrocities and evil against other people. And free will is one thing God will never take away from us.

But until we choose Him, our hearts will remain broken beyond repair.

One day He will put a stop to all this craziness, for He is a just and Holy God, but until such time as He does, he has given us a job, a high calling, a command:

Love one another as I have loved you.

The solution to all our heart problems can be found by looking back to the manger, forward to the cross, and beyond to that future time when…..

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. Revelation 21:4