Nature’s Hymn

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Most mornings now when I walk down, the river has taken to wearing a silky wrap as if to ward off the cold. The temperature drops just before the sun makes a welcome appearance. The buzzards are holding court up high in the trees, waiting for the sun to warm their wings. Sometimes if it’s dark and they haven’t yet taken their place in the trees, the white egrets are there. All I can usually see is their white shape against the pre-dawn foliage.

Sometimes hymns have words and sometimes they don’t.

It strikes me that Nature is something we can all get behind. In this world of war and argument and discord, we can all still stop in wonder for an eclipse. I capitalize nature because to me it’s synonymous with God. However you explain it or Him away, the beauty disarms us just the same.

David Nevue fills the background as I settle into the warmth to tap these words out. “How Great Thou Art” comes on and I sing tangible words of worship and I feel again the wonder and miracle of what we celebrate this season. He……came……for……us. Count them all with me:

Heavens opening to the Shepherds watching their flocks in the dark

A baby announcement that came in the form of a sign in the Heavens that wise men followed for months.

A baby named John filled with the Holy Spirit even before birth.

Animals blowing frost in a sub-zero stable and a young girl giving birth to God.

I could go on and on and on………..what’s your particular miracle today? Each day does have several if we only stop and reflect in the quiet pauses that God wants us to take. Each moment can become a “Do this in remembrance of me.”

Moment upon moment until we reach Eternity that’s within our grasp right now today.

I know your seasons may be hard, but know this today: Jesus went through the hardest one of all so that ours might be more bearable. He is praying for you even now my friend. And so am I. This world needs Him more than ever.

 

God’s Lost and Found

 

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The fire of the wild white sun has eaten up the distance between hope and despair. Dance in this sun you tepid idiot. Wake up and dance in the clarity of perfect contradiction. Thomas Merton, “A Book of Hours,” Thursday. 

This is why I love Thomas Merton. This little book has been a constant companion for several years and I am glad I reopened it today. It spoke to my heart which has felt a little forgotten by God lately. I needed a reminder and maybe you do too. It’s possible to know, really know that you are never forgotten by God on one level and on another feel like you’re six years old again feeling uncertain and lost, looking for your parents.

Ever feel like you ended up in God’s lost and found bin?

But no matter what the enemy whispers in the dark, I have the light of truth ever before me. It’s everywhere. In what I see around me, in what He’s done before, in how I can know through the word that His promises are true. In the quickening of the Holy Spirit which resides side by side with all the other garbage I subject Him to on a daily basis.

I like to imagine His face as He assures His disciples from the mountain just before He goes back Home, the last part of Matthew 28:20, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” I love how He uses surely and always…….He knew these times of uncertainty and fear would come. I can also imagine the faces of the Disciples as the clouds swallowed Him up.

I can imagine it felt like when I was a kid and I saw Mary Poppins say goodbye and lift off. The emotions were so real to me. I remember the sadness, the emptiness. The what now?

There goes the best friend I ever had, there goes the magic, the goodness, the music, the love.

When God made a surprise visit on Pentecost, all the magic, the joy, the music came back like a flood. The hard times didn’t disappear, but neither did God. And so shall it ever be until He comes again.

When I hold all the impossibilities He’s brought me through up against the Light, it no longer matters that I can see all the way to the end. I may not be able to see around the next bend, but I know the road is secure. I know the builder.

Responsory:

O great God, Father of all things, Whose infinite light is darkness to me, Whose immensity is to me as the void, You have called me forth out of yourself because you love me in Yourself, and I am a transient expression of your inexhaustible and eternal reality. I could not know You, I would be lost in this darkness, I would fall away from you into this void, if You did not hold me to Yourself in the Heart of Your only begotten Son. Thomas Merton:  “Book of Hours” 

 

What Nabeel taught me

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“If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday……” Isaiah 58:10

Nabeel Qureshi 1983-2017

I read this book several years ago and since then I have followed Nabeel Qureshi’s podcasts and speeches via the RZIM website. (On the bottom is the tribute written by Ravi Zacharias who knew Nabeel very well).

I write this today because as many others who followed this young man via social media, I was deeply saddened to learn of his cancer and subsequent death earlier this year. Nabeel taught me something very important, and that is that a part of me needed healing. Through his actions of love toward everyone, including those who intended him harm and even rejoiced in his death, he reminded me of how Jesus wants us to love and that I needed more of that in my heart. Even love for the most radical, the most hateful.

The kind of love Jesus had even as He was being nailed to that ugly cross.

Nabeel taught me that as much as I might want to, I can’t use a wide brush to cover over a certain religion or people group. He loved until it hurt. He always debated eloquently but always answered hate with love. He met people on their terms, where they were. Nabeel allowed me to get past my hate of what Islam stands for and see the person behind the religion. The person as an individual.

There is a big old house that I used to pass by on my way to work. I am sure at one time it was a beautiful building, but now it houses a large group of Muslim men (I never see any women). Every now and then I see them gathered on the front porch. It’s a sad-looking building, neglected.

Usually the windows are closed, shades drawn. I found myself wondering what was being planned, talked about behind those walls. I found myself resenting their presence in our country. I thought of my Grandmother’s family who came here as immigrants with nothing. They asked for no healthcare or handouts, they just wanted to come here and make a positive contribution.

And then the day before I was going to post this, there was another incident. That kook in the truck yelling, “Allahu Akbar” mowing down innocent people on the bike path at the World Trade Center. I refrained from posting this. I couldn’t.

I returned to listening to Nabeel’s messages and then to his beautiful wife Michelle, who is carrying on his legacy since his death. I felt something break free in my mind and heart. I no longer felt the old ugly feelings. It’s no longer my battle who is supporting who. God is fair and just, and He is the one who blesses me so that I can pay my bills.

What Nabeel taught me is that there are hurting and lost among all people groups. What we all need is Jesus. Nabeel believed when it cost him his whole family. He believed and followed when the stakes were highest. And he never wavered.

Nabeel is missed by many people, including his wife and little girl. I don’t understand why such a bright shining star would blink out of this world so young. I don’t think God needed him in Heaven. I hate when people say that. But someday I know the picture will be complete and we will have to answers as to why some people leave this earth so soon. Until then, we can try to learn the lessons others teach us by their legacy of love and forgiveness.

Thank you Nabeel……….until we meet in Heaven.

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2017/september-web-only/ravi-zacharias-nabeel-qureshi-apologist-rzim.html?start=1

******Further resources: I have recently finished another book called “Standing in the Fire: Courageous Christians Living in Frightening Times” by Tom Doyle. I feel it’s a must read for every Christian in America.

Kinda like Heaven

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My brother and I with Thunder, circa 1965 or so……

There used to be a row of houses on the next block over from where I lived. We knew every family that lived there very well. The houses were owned by the adjacent hospital but I never knew that.  About 10 or 15 years ago now, one by one all the current occupants moved out and the houses themselves were physically moved to a neighboring town.

Growing up, I spent hours inside every one of those houses. Some of them many, many hours. Starting from left to right, there were the Meier’s, then the Matsumoto’s, (whose kids were almost part of the family since my Mom watched Rhonda and Jeff when their Mom went to work.) Next to them were the Merry’s, then the Dillon’s. It was quite a spectacle to watch those houses be readied for a move.

I was reminded of all this yesterday when I took Mom to the store and saw Harriet and Sam Matsumoto. Sam has cancer now, on chemo. I can remember when he used to drive Rhonda and I to school sometimes, he would turn on the vents and stuff would fly out.

I was thinking of those houses, those people, this morning at 3:00 AM when I couldn’t sleep. In my memory I see every house, every family. I remember the night our dog got hit by a car and we mourned the loss sitting in Rhonda’s room. I remember the day I was swimming in the back yard of the Meier’s when the Dollinger boy came with a boa wrapped around his neck. I remember Todd Dillon running home when he cracked his chin in our driveway. So many memories.

I was thinking that in those days I could have knocked on any one of those doors and would have been welcomed. Offered a cooky or ice-cream bar. I would have listened and respected those parents like my own.

It struck me that must be a little of what Heaven is like. Being able to knock on any door and be welcomed. Now it seems few neighbors know each other. My folks just about have to flag the younger people down to talk to them before the garage swallows them up in the evenings. It’s sad.

I am not in John Lennon’s camp, even though I loved the Beatles back in the day.  I love to imagine Heaven because for me it’s just as real as this world, more real in fact. The Bible says in Heaven we will be fully known.

No worries about money, no mortgage, no war, no death, no homelessness, no crime, no pain or sadness. No loneliness or heartache for what might have been. No disease or any kind.

And God will wipe every tear. That sounds pretty darn good to me right now. Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of good still left in this world, and much to celebrate. But I don’t think anyone would argue that it needs some redeeming right about now.

What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love Him…….1 Corinthians 2:9

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

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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