A Balm for the Scorched Soul

Watch out for this peeled door light! Here without rain, without shame my noonday dusk made spots upon the walk: Tall drops pelted the concrete with their jewelry belonging to the old world’s bones.

Owning this view, in the air of a hermit’s weather, I count the fragmentary in drops as blue as coal until I plumb the shadows full of thunder. My prayers supervise the atmosphere till storms call the hounds home. Thomas Merton, “In the Rain and the Sun”

Last evening as I alternated between nodding off and cradling my phone by the blue glow of “Blue Bloods” on TV, I was following the weather. Waiting for when to turn the air off and open everything up. I held it up, “Look, it says possible thunderstorms!” She then went to her satellite weather ap which did indeed show a small front moving through.

I have been missing all the Arizona monsoon action, all the crashing and brilliant skies that are part of every July-August there. The one thing I most looked forward to over the course of the relentless heat of summer. It was always like a balm for the scorched soul.

And we were treated last night to a light sprinkling of blessed rain. I ran outside to feel the sweet little cold needles pelt my skin. And later, after this side of the world had fallen asleep, the flash of lightning and rolling thunder came. It was nothing like the ferocity and power of Arizona storms which can leave you breathless with simultaneous wonder and fear, but God’s hand was in it just the same.

It was a gift. And here and now I am listening to the earth’s noises in the quiet of morning which is really the same as a prayer without actually speaking the words. A nearby train is rolling through and the dust is settled. I breathe thanks for the doxology of coffee…….”Praise God from whom all blessings flow……..”

Whatever happens in my life I have been given the best possible gift, or I guess I have been able to receive it. We’ve all been given the gift, everyone who has ever taken a Heavenly breath, for all breath does come from Heaven. It’s just that knowledge alone, that God is here and I never remember not knowing that. For some reason in my mind and heart it was settled long ago.

And yes, there have been many times I have wondered at His methods, even as I felt the world as I knew it drop out from under me. Even when I was too tired to believe or pray. And it’s not about simply putting on a happy face, it’s about knowing that something was carved into your soul that was there even before you were born.  And that someone is a God who loves much more than we can possible imagine. Enough to sacrifice Himself to win us back.

This is the whole crux of the Christian Faith:

It’s simply this: I was born, and that alone proves I was meant to be here. And if I was meant to be here, that proves the bigger thing, that God wanted me here. I am here because He was here first. “We love because He first loved us.” 1 John 4:19

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The Way Home

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“Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home” Matsuo Basho

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.” Melody Beattie

“The beauty of inviting Jesus into our heart and life means we carry Him with us into every circumstance of our lives, essentially He becomes our home wherever home is. Knowing Jesus is returning to our original home.” Me

It was hot out and I had been cooped up since I got home, moldering in my cave/chair with a book and my phone. Finally I had to take a break from the inside and step outside. You know how when you’ve been in a building for too long and you go out and it feels a bit like Narnia just to be out? I used to feel like that at work. We had no windows to look out. I would go out and feed the sparrows in the patio and reset my compass.

I was met by my the feline comedy duo who zigzagged across my path vying for attention. They followed me to the feeding station and then I was surprised by a dash of pink behind the shrubbery. My Aunt informed me they called these lilies naked ladies. (Come to find out, Elaine has been watering it)

I have come to realize in this place we have carved out here, that you can have a little piece of domesticity and it can feel like home, even when you are between homes. I sat with a glass of wine as I watched the cats roll in their own little piece of heaven and felt peace settle around my shoulders. I breathed deep…….it was a welcome feeling and I felt gratitude fall around me as I  aimed my camera and clicked away.

When you know who Home is and that every step you take is leading back to Him, you can rest assured that all will be well wherever you land. Basho was somewhat right, the journey can be home when you know where you’ll end up.

And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. Jesus…….John 14:3

Peace be with your weekend friends………enjoy your journey.

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Under the Grace

Green hills

Today I want to showcase two older songs I have on my playlist. The first, by Phil Keaggy I had to scour the Internet for. Phil is a world-renowned guitar player but in his early years he had a couple of albums where he sang. I went on a Phil Keaggy buying frenzy a few years back and bought about 5 of his guitar CDs…..what a tremendous talent.

The second is by Wayne Watson whose music I first had on cassette (so was Phil’s actually). His music and messages are timeless though. I hope you enjoy these lyrics and I encourage you to listen to the songs on the Internet. I have listened to them countless times when I feel like I’m grappling for answers and they always give me comfort. When you are homesick for Heaven and wishing you could make everything right.

Under the Grace

Phil Keaggy

I lie awake in the middle of the night again
I try to make some sense of it all rushing in
There’s so much I feel within this heart of mine
I well up inside and my eyes, they overflow
For I know it is grace.

The look of love in the shape of your face I have known
It speaks of this deep sacrifice you have shown
And the wonder of it all is I didn’t deserve this, I couldn’t have planned it so right
And so my eyes, they overflow, let it rain, let it pour, let it go
For I know this, yes, I know, it is grace.

And the hungry in heart seeks for its place and a home, mmm
But it may tear you apart when you see what this grace here has done
Fly, fly all you burdens, go fly away
It’s here I remain, under the grace, the grace.

It seems there’s so little time to make amends here
If not for you, well, then I’m without a friend here.

And the hungry in heart seeks for its place and a home
It may tear you apart when you see what this grace here has done
Fly, fly all you burdens, go fly away
It’s here I remain, under the grace, the grace.

I lie awake in the middle of the night again, again.

Home Free 

Wayne Watson
I’m trying hard not to think you unkind
But Heavenly Father
If you know my heart
Surely you can read my mind
Good people underneath the sea of grief
Some get up and walk away
Some will find ultimate relief

Home Free, eventually
At the ultimate healing we will be Home Free
Home Free, oh I’ve got a feeling
At the ultimate healing
We will be Home Free

Out in the corridors we pray for life
A mother for her baby, A husband for his wife
Sometimes the good die young
It’s sad but true
And while we pray for one more heartbeat
The real comfort is with you

You know pain has little mercy
And suffering’s no respecter of age, of race or position
I know every prayer gets answered
But the hardest one to pray is slow to come
Oh Lord, not mine, but Thy will be done

Let it be…

Home Free, eventually
At the ultimate healing gonna be Home Free
Home Free, oh its more than a feeling
At the ultimate healing
Gonna be Home Free

 

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.

 

While you were away

Snowflake

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.

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

The Halls of Heaven

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God is our refuge and strength,
    an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
    and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
    and the mountains quake with their surging……Psalm 46:1-3

Sometimes Jesus sneaks a quiet thought in when you aren’t expecting it. He does that a lot. I always know when they come from Him because they just make so much sense, and most of the time, I don’t have that much. This is the kernel of wisdom He gave me:

I never asked you to do or be everything, I only asked you to follow me.

I have been racing around, trying to learn a new job and run over and do things for my folks which is part of why I came. There hasn’t been much quiet time, but as my other wise friend said, “You have to make the quiet time, it doesn’t come and find you.”

This world has really turned up the noise lately. I am so done with politics. Really, it means so very little. In ten or so years (or maybe one month) we will have forgotten why we got so upset about it all. There are a few things that come with a guarantee in this life. One of them is that as I grow older the halls of Heaven are getting more crowded. This world in my circle is shrinking as it will continue to do until such time as I join them.

A death of a friend will bring that home quicker than anything. We lost a dear friend shortly after we moved here. We passed their house on the way out of town and it haunts us both that we didn’t stop. I first met Ruby when I ran out of Mary Kay, back when we lived in Payson. I called the number because I ran out of Mauve Elegance lipstick. She and her husband Ron lived in a big house at the top of the hill. When she answered the door what struck me were her green eyes and striking smile. Her last name was Green. As was the carpet in their beautiful home.

She became like a surrogate Mom to us both. We were invited to home cooked meals and always laughter, always laughter. She was one of those people who could be working out in the yard without a stitch of makeup, sweat rolling down her face and then disappear in the bathroom for an hour and come out looking like Fifth Avenue. And she loved the Lord. Years would pass sometimes between the time we would see them again, but it never mattered. It was always like old times when we met again.

I miss you Ruby. Our loss is indeed Heaven’s gain.

This world can stomp us into the ground if we let it. Sometimes I just want to shrink myself down until I all but disappear. But the problem with that is, you disappear for those who need you. Who are counting on you. It’s all about balance. Jesus had to retreat to quiet places time and time again.

And so do we. And what a place I have now to do just that. We all have a challenge to keep that spark from blowing out. Each day we have a choice to fan that little spark. I think of when Ruby and I used to sit at the piano, “C’mon and let’s sing!”she used to say. She loved that song, “Pass it on.” She loved the lyrics, “It only takes a spark to get a fire going, and soon all those around will warm up to its glowing…..”

This world is increasingly not my home. The time we have down here is precious. No doubt about it, this world is enough to make us rock back on our heels with our hands in our faces, but it can also make our hearts split in two with the joy of it.

Today I opened my devotional with Numbers……..‘ “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”

I got a flashback because that’s the verse my Mom used to pray over my niece, Lauryn before she left for school back when she reached down to put her loving hands on her head. Now she would have to reach up……they don’t take her to school anymore, but the prayer is always there, will always be there.

Both down here, and ringing in the Halls of Heaven.

The Lord bless us all. We sure do need it right now.