Redeeming the Time

 

image

“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

IMG_6069

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.

Heart is where the Home is…….

IMG_5593

I flew in last night from spending a wonderful weekend at my cousin and his wife’s beautiful home in Sonoma, the heart of the wine country. The scenery was breathtaking, just as I remembered it when I was there too long ago at their wedding. More than that it was the faces I hadn’t seen, the greetings, the laughter, the joy of surprising everyone by showing up unexpectedly. The look on the faces of my family as they got out of the car and saw me were worth any amount to get there.

As wonderful as it all was, it was tiring. After the planes, shuttles, and rental cars it’s always good to get home. I have always thought being homeless would be the worst, having no place to belong, no place to get out of the storm, no place to call your own.

Scripture has much to say about home. Jesus had no physical dwelling place on this earth. About Himself he said, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has no place to lay His head.” He knew His true home was Heaven, and so do we, if we belong to Him.

As I was meditating on the whole concept of home this morning at 2:30 AM when I couldn’t sleep, I was thinking that as believers, we carry “Home” around in the form of the Holy Spirit, who never leaves us. And since Heaven is our real permanent home, and Jesus continually said that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, right here and now, then it logically follows that our “real” home can never be snatched away. It’s here, it’s there it’s everywhere, kind of like the Beatles song of the same name. (Look it up those of you under 50)

As wonderful as it is to have a physical home right here and now, I know that if I lost it today it would be nothing compared to not having that home that never leaves me. there are few promises in Scripture better than the one that says, “Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you.”

Our future home in Heaven is more real than you can imagine. It’s not a figurative idea, it is a concrete place where nothing ever dies or rusts or wears out. While we are bound to this earth,  we are severely limited in what we can see and touch and feel. Our hope is in that better place. And yet Jesus said in many different ways, don’t just wander around dreaming of Heaven, but instead store up treasure there by helping those in need here. Look for opportunities to show God’s great love for humanity by being a conduit for His love yourself.

I guess you could say, we are all like the prodigal son who finally came to his senses and went back home. As wonderful as this world was to him at first, sooner or later it chewed him up and spit him out. He knew where he had to go. To His father’s waiting arms.

And while he expected to be treated like a servant, His Father ended up treating him like a prince. Listen to what the Bible says about how our Heavenly Father views us, friends:

“So he got up and went to His Father, “But while He was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” Kind of like the greeting I got from my family as they saw me and gasped and then held out their arms open wide.

That kind of love is our real home. That’s the kind of love the Father’s has for us, and all we have to do is turn to Him and receive Him. That’s our hope. No matter how wonderful this world is, we have a better one coming.

You might feel like you are a long way off from God right now. Maybe it’s been years since you darkened the door of a church. Maybe you never have. But all it involves is one small step toward him, and like the father gazing out the window looking for his son (or daughter) He’s waiting.

IMG_5599

Photos from the home and property of John and Jean Painter………I sincerely hope they don’t mind.

The veil has holes

My walk in the woods

Last night was a very strange night. I cried almost all the way home and didn’t know why. I had a sense of foreboding I couldn’t shake. This school shooting has weighed heavy on my soul. Just too much heartache there for one incident. Too much sorrow for one town to carry. So I thought it was maybe that.

Then I thought about Elaine’s folks. I remembered the times when they were healthier and they would go to church with us. I still remember the day we almost dropped our teeth when her Dad unfolded his wallet and put money in the plate. We have both heard them say many times that “churches are only after your money.” Her Mom was even talking Baptism.

I asked God how it is that somebody can get so close to seeing a better way of life and turning away. To stepping all the way up to the river of life and then turning back around….leaving thirsty. 

Then I remembered how many times I had done just that.

When I came through the door Elaine was teary-eyed as well. “I think Mom’s having a heart attack…..what should I do?” She has been through this with her Mom already years ago. And she knew what to do, she just needed someone else to help her carry the load.

“Nothing,” I said….we do nothing because that’s what she said she wanted.

Her Mom’s own words were: “I don’t want to be cut on anymore.” And I can see why. She has been through cancer twice, including a mastectomy, chemo and radiation, 2 heart attacks, and a triple bypass. As a nurse, she diagnosed herself with Alzheimer’s around 10 years ago.

She is done with treatments. And hospitals.

But when you are the one standing there with life and death hanging in the balance, it’s not that easy. Our first instinct is always to do something. But sometimes the right choice is to let nature and God choose. Giving someone what they have chosen is the hardest thing to do because it’s right.

The reason Elaine knew that there was really something wrong was because her Mom didn’t fight her on anything getting ready for bed, and lately that has been the norm.

She went on to tell me that both cats acted strangely all evening. As if they knew something was wrong. Briggs wouldn’t let her Mom alone, he kept following her to her room and jumping on the bed. She finally had to close the door.

So we watched TV and prayed. Elaine had asked her Mom if when the time came, that she would ask God to take her soul. Her Mom said yes. There was no need for a big theological discussion. She knows where salvation comes from, she was raised on it.

And all the while, I remembered how last Christmas was spent in the hospital with her Mom, alone…and I vowed it would never happen again.

Today when I called at lunch she said they were at Subway and her Mom was eating and felt okay, with no recollection of ever feeling bad.

And today, I am feeling how just thin that veil between life and death can be.  Any one of us could be instantly on the other side, and not necessarily who you might expect.

The Flip Side of Sadness

Last night I had some company. First to show up in my dream was my cousin John with the crazy staccato laugh, huge heart and endless pranks. He and his brother George were always up to something. When they were little, they asked my Aunt Esther if they could decorate their rooms for Christmas. After she told them they could they scooped up buckets and bagfuls of brown pine needles and covered the floor and everything else in their room…..Join me here at Bibledude for the rest of the story…..