Redeeming the Time

 

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“Jesus often withdrew to lonely places to pray………” Luke 5:16

“Our conditioning as members of a consumer society prevents us from abandoning hope that, with sufficient planning, we might yet be able to see and do everything. To move slowly and deliberately through the world, attending to one thing at a time, strikes us as radically subversive, even un-American. We cringe from the idea of relinquishing, in any moment, all but one of the infinite possibilities offered us by our culture. Plagued by a highly diffused attention, we give ourselves to everything lightly. That is our poverty. In saying yes to everything, we attend to nothing. One only can love what one stops to observe. “Nothing is more essential to prayer,” said Evagrius, “than attentiveness.”
― Belden C. Lane, The Solace of Fierce Landscapes: Exploring Desert

I read this wonderful book years ago and it has remained with me ever since. I believe it holds a very important message for our times as the world and the people in it seem to be moving at a faster and noisier pace than ever before. What does it mean to be fully in the moment of our lives? Do we skim over our days not fully touching down until we collapse in bed and wonder where the time went?

Do I treat people like things to check off my to-do list or do I give them my undivided attention?  I don’t know much but there are certain things I am absolutely sure of. I know that one day, I will give absolutely anything to hear a story I have heard a million times before and the voice I love telling it. I will hear the silence where they used to be and maybe my heart won’t be able to take it.

Listen to the stories, look into their eyes. Hear what they are saying, the desperation and earnestness behind it. Slow down long enough to honor them as individuals the way we would like someone to do for us. We don’t get to decide who’s worthy, God says we all are. That’s what real love looks like.

What makes a good day for you? For me it means that I was able to keep my finger firmly on the pulse of the day most of the time. I felt it from the time the sun came up until it went down. It made for a happy day, a fulfilled day. I rode my bike over ground I covered in childhood. I felt the bumps in the streets, I saw things, beautiful things. I took pictures so I wouldn’t forget.

I took care of Elaine who is recovering from carpal tunnel surgery. It was a joy to return a gift she has given to me many times. I got to go to the store with Mom and Dad both, one to the grocery and one to the pharmacy. I went to Lowe’s to look at flowers with my Aunt.

I was in the moment most of the day. I  wish I  could say I have this  down, but too many times I  fail miserably.  But that’s why God knew we needed  days.  They are strung out like pearls until this life ends and eternity begins. The thing is, we can  never be sure when one ends and the other starts.

I like how the King James Bible puts it here:

Walk  in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming  the time.  Colossians 4:5

And this one:

Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due when it is within your power to do it. Proverbs 3:27

And just maybe I can try to repeat today what I did yesterday.

 

A New Season

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For behold, the winter is past; the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. Song of Solomon 2:11,12

The last time I wrote (if I remember correctly) I was in a bit of a funk. I was missing the doves that were a regular background noise of my prayer/meditation times in Arizona.  I had seen them in the area and wondered why I never heard them. I discounted it as part of a necessary season I was going through along with everything else. Now, it seems I hear one several times a day. God has given them back to me, along with Spring and flowers everywhere. The sun has touched down and the earth is truly full of His glory. As I write a Mockingbird is singing its heart out, so loud it almost comical.

I am happy to say, my heart feels lighter. Maybe it’s as simple as the weather. We walked to the lake today. That even sounds amazing doesn’t it? As much as I have whined and groused about all the things that bugged me about my home state since moving back, to be surrounded by all this beauty (and of course being close to my family) balances things out quite nicely. When weather permits I go down to the little river shack to pray. My old faithful LL Bean robe gave up the ghost and I had to throw it out. That’s what I would bundle up and walk down in, but my friend found another online and surprised me with it. I think it must have cost her a bundle, it weighs 5 pounds!

Now that the weather is warming up, I will go down more mornings before work. We have had some BBQs here lately and that is a very welcome change, to be able to cook outdoors is something we missed so much. Here is what Elaine made for my Aunt, her old sink washstand was rotting so she rebuild a frame and added a little cooking space which works great. The old wood is in the wheelbarrow!

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There is something Holy about creating something, isn’t there? It is truly a blessing to be able to work with your hands and make something better, give it a new life. After all, we are created in His image and God is the ultimate Creator. During Lent, we remember God’s great work of redemption, His greatest and most awful gift. Awful because it cost Him everything, great because it was the greatest act of Love He ever did and will ever do again.

He is our hope, our joy…..now and for all eternity. Nature reflects this, especially at the turn of the Seasons.

You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Henry David Thoreau

Life is grace. Sleep is forgiveness. The night absolves. Darkness wipes the slate clean, not spotless to be sure, but clean enough for another day’s chalking. Frederick Buechner

 

 

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.

 

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.

While you were away

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I checked “find friends” on my phone while you were away and it said you were “home.” That wiggled me because in many ways I still think of Arizona as our home. A chunk of your heart stays places. I gazed at the screen that still said home and I retraced all those streets, all those places I knew so well. I think about the things I miss and constantly compare. This was cheaper, this was cleaner, this was nicer. I miss my Mall. I miss my mountain. Of course it wasn’t my mountain at all, any more than this river is mine.

I am still finding my way. Like this little snowflake hurtling from Heaven to earth, isn’t that what we’re all doing? God breathes life into us, incredible beauty and potential right from the start, and even as we are hurled down to earth, we start losing sight of the One who created us. The light of Heaven grows dim and circumstances threaten to melt us.

Our home sold and it feels strange. I close my eyes to sleep and I can still see where everything was in my room. I think of everything piled in storage and I hope it’s okay. I know God says to lay up treasure in Heaven but I admit I have a few things I really like down here. Home is a place we carve out. But more than a physical place, it is the place we started out and the one we are going back to. We are all just about as temporary as this little snowflake. I think that’s why my heart lurches a little when I see it.

What did the Angels talk about when Jesus vacated the throne to fill up a manger? What did they talk about while He was away? I wonder.

This journey we’re on will one day lead us to our final destination. I can’t tell you how glad I am that Jesus made the journey here for us so that we could be together with Him in our forever home. That thought makes the whole thing worthwhile.

That thought led me to say absolutely nothing in prayer this morning. I sat in silence and one quiet thought dropped in, as quietly as a pin.

Seek peace and pursue it. This is the whole verse from Psalm 34:14 “Depart from evil and do good; Seek peace and pursue it.”

It’s time to drop our weapons folks. It’s the season for love, and forgiveness and an innocent little baby who made Himself nothing so that we might live. It’s time to lay down our verbal assault rifles against each other.

It’s time to seek peace and pursue it. It’s time to look forward to going home and taking as many others with us as we can.

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.