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.

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.

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.

The Still Small Voice

 

14142061_10206911059236978_5951114380666405910_nIs anxiety threatening to run over you like a steam roller today?  Don’t claim it. I prayed this morning for Jesus to take “my anxiety” but then I realized that I was using the wrong words. It’s not “my anxiety.” Anxiety doesn’t belong to you or me. That is not to say we don’t feel it, some of us more than others. The truth is, there are many things in the world today that cause us our stomachs to churn. Just turning on the news does it for me. Some days it seems all we can do to keep tamping it down. I used to feel it as soon as I got on the freeway in the mornings, the hum.

Going, doing, being. It sometimes gets overwhelming. But the still small voice of Jesus reminded me today that He never asked me to do or be everything. He only asked me to follow Him.

One step at a time.

When I think of all the events that have transpired just the past 5 months along, I am staggered by the fact that He brought us through it all.

Retirement. Big Anxiety.

A move to another State. More anxiety.

Getting my Mom through two surgeries and recovery.

Dealing with terrible movers.

The loss of my fur baby before we moved.

And then it seemed like everything was too much and all my words stopped flowing. Who can figure it out? When I lived in the desert, the words seemed to flow effortlessly, then I move on the banks of a beautiful river and my words seemed to flow out along with the tide. But sometimes it’s okay to be still.

And that is what I have done.

I am not the same girl who left this town many years ago. I have done tremendous things with God’s help. And in many ways I am the same, but I have also grown.

No, it’s not my anxiety. And it’s not yours either.

I am taking a step with Jesus today. Together we will walk on water. This is where I am meant to be.

 

What are You Waiting for?

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The end and culmination of all things is near. Therefore, be sound-minded and self-controlled for the purpose of prayer [staying balanced and focused on the things of God so that your communication will be clear, reasonable, specific and pleasing to Him.] 1 Peter 4:7

As I sat this morning in the quiet, my thoughts traveled back through the years to a maroon pew and a summer night. It wasn’t any particular church night,  just a culmination of all of them I guess. I heard the melody of a hymn that I can’t quite place but I wish I knew what the title was. I may have to do a search later, it might be “Calling Today.”  I see the organist at the front, her name was Amy and I see her flowing robes spilling over the bench. I smile when I remember what my Grandma used to say after Amy got her divorce…….”She should be in the back of the church, not up there playing the organ.”

I remember those warm summer nights. The world seemed different then. Across the tracks on the east side, the gangs hadn’t moved in yet. There wasn’t much difference from the east side than the west. The local bakeries were still open. I hear the bell over the door. You could still buy German pastries and fresh sourdough bread that they would bring out in the mornings. The smell was overpowering. I can still see those loaves stacked in the baskets by the cash register, and the trays of long johns and crullers. That was before all the big grocery stores came in.

I long for the simplicity of those times. It seems everyone is waiting for something to get better. Or change. I can see it in the faces of the people. I see it in the faces of some of the refugees on the news. They are waiting to go home, waiting for peace. The world has gone askew. Everywhere, someone is waiting for something, for someone.

If I could just get out of this hospital bed……

If they would just die so I could get my life back…..

If they would just come back to me……

Waiting for birth, waiting for death. Waiting for financial freedom, waiting for the ship to come in. Deep down we sense that things have gone terribly wrong. The whole world is waiting, holding its breath. But here’s what I can tell you for sure. Whatever you are waiting for can be fulfilled in just One person. All of your deepest longings can be fulfilled in that same One person. He came once before and He’s coming again. This is the most important part:

Whatever or whoever you are waiting for doesn’t matter if you don’t know Him.

All the pieces are falling into place just the way He has arranged it. The stage is set in motion. It has been since the beginning of time. But the days are growing darker, even though there is still so much good in the world. Hope remains. Against the backdrop of world events and everything else we see in the news, Scripture speaks with a new authority. Unfortunately, just as many people aren’t listening. Listen to what Scripture says about our times:

Don’t be naive. There are difficult times ahead. As the end approaches, people are going to be self-absorbed, money-hungry, self-promoting, stuck-up, profane, contemptuous of parents, crude, coarse, dog-eat-dog, unbending, slanderers, impulsively wild, savage, cynical, treacherous, ruthless, bloated windbags, addicted to lust, and allergic to God. They’ll make a show of religion, but behind the scenes they’re animals. Stay clear of these people. 2 Timothy 3 (The Message)

It’s time to turn toward the Light folks.

For He says,

At the acceptable time I listened to you,
And on the day of salvation I helped you.”

Behold, now is “the acceptable time,” behold, now is “the day of salvation”— 2 Corinthians 6:2

Whatever you are longing for, He’s the God who can bring it. Eventually, He is coming to restore all things to what they were in the beginning, back before everything went to hell in a hand-basket. This is not a pipe dream, this is a promise. But until then, let God pitch a tent of peace in your heart and know that whatever you are waiting for will indeed come at the right time.

I have a deposit that’s already been put in my account, safer than any bank or savings and loan. And you can have it too.

In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation– having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory. Ephesians 1:13,14

The wait is over.

Faithful Friend

Confession

Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.  You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’  The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” John 3:6-8

I marvel when I think what a miracle it is that You would choose to live within this heart of mine, and even more when I think how long You have journeyed with me so peacefully and quietly, so graciously and so fully that I can no longer imagine a life without Your presence. You have made Your home in me and I know that if You were suddenly taken away I would know a fraction of hell itself. I say a fraction because only Jesus knew the full weight of that when You hid your face behind a cloud those hours on the cross.

I take you for granted, Lord and I know it. How often I have felt your warmth, your candle flicker in my soul as I pray. I have felt the mystery of two total strangers connecting and recognizing that they….we, are already joined as brothers and sisters. We greet each other as family…..connected by the blood of Jesus and union with You. How easily conversation flows, how easy laughter comes and joy leaps as we talk about the things of God.

It humbles me Lord, what you have taken from me. What thoughts and actions that you had to go along with….things that I did and have done that I had no business doing, going through doors you never meant me to go, all the while warning me in your quiet way knowing the sorrow I would have to face. And you faced it with me, truly you have always been my Comforter.

Help me Lord to give you cause for rejoicing in my actions and thoughts instead of grief.

Thank you for the special gifts you have given me, and continue to give. Anoint my writing Lord, and help it to bless and encourage others in their walk with you.

As I kneel at the rail of my heart once more it overflows with gratitude for the Spirit who will never let me go. Who makes me want to stay even after my candle has been snuffed out, even after the chill surrounds me as the warmth from my heater wears off.

I sit back down, longing to hear one more Word lest I miss it as I rush out the door……..

The God of all Comfort

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort,  who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. 2 Corinthians 1:3-5

How big is your God? I know my God is big……He is big enough to heal the deepest sorrow, and repair the most broken of hearts. I know because He’s done it for me.

And even though He’s big? He can make Himself show up in something as simple as a ray of light on the walkway because just now I asked Him to meet me there and He did, I felt Him there. I also prayed that He would meet you in my words.

 And how many have prayed for just that, and have not felt that assurance? He rains His Grace down at unexpected moments. You may not always feel Him, but that doesn’t mean He isn’t there.

He always has to make room for faith to kick in. And faith is always rewarded my friends, that’s a promise.

And the days when you know that prayer is the only thing holding you together? He knows that feeling too. He knows how it feels to not even want to be around a single solitary soul. Honestly, I think there were times He wanted to tell everyone to just go away. Those are the times He went off alone to pray.

He also knows that sometimes the best thing you can do for a friend is just hold them while they cry. Job’s friends did that at first and then they blew it by starting to talk. There’s a time for talking, and a time for just being there.

And no matter what you might be feeling now, you can still have hope. God has an inexhaustible supply.

You can still have hope if you know God.  He is the God of all comfort. He knows how. When our words run dry and crackle in the air and fall flat…..The Holy Spirit speaks in groans deeper than any words straight to the Father.

I believe He is even better at translating the prayers that never make their way into words.

He’s near. Nearer than your own breath.

The Final Answer

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28
I smoothed the sheets on my bed this morning and said a prayer of thanks because I didn’t feel like I did yesterday morning. Yesterday I wasn’t ready to enter into the day and I did something I never do on a day off……I went back to bed. Yet, even as I crawled back under the covers, I was aware that it was a luxury.  Just the fact that I could do it. Most can’t.
I pulled the covers up, curled into a ball and slept until 9. For me, that’s late.
After that I went to Walmart, which is my new place between places. I call it my own personal Bermuda Triangle. I sat with my cart amongst the fake Christmas trees and patio sets and smiled at the irony. The depression snaked behind me, but just then I felt I had outsmarted it. I felt cushioned in an island of peace. Even the pink one didn’t bother me, it stood there innocently wearing sparkling white lights. How could I get mad at it?
I sat there playing my Words with Friends like I had nothing else to do. And it was good.
I got back and put everything away. And Joyce was agitated and pacing. I had closed my bedroom door and I think that threw her off too. Alzheimer’s patients are like Autistic kids in that they like routine and they like normal. They don’t like change.
And she forgets that Elaine has a job now and wonders where she is. Imagine never remembering anything? Your mind would have to work 10 times harder than anyone else’s.
Every time I sat down at the keyboard to clack out words…..she came in or out the door. I gave up trying to write. I felt hemmed in, so I went outside for awhile and watched the birds eat the bread I left. The cactus wrens were up to their usual antics and I couldn’t help but smile watching them.
And later the phone rang and it was a dear blogger friend just calling to say……”I have been praying for you.” Never underestimate how important that is. To me it was grace like spring rain.
He told me his frustration about how some of his young friends just don’t seem to get it. That it’s not all about them, but it’s about us and how we are all in this world together. And about Haiti and a world of people in need. And suddenly my problems felt smaller again. And I was able to write about just that very thing. Thank you, Duane Scott. You are a treasure.
Elaine came home after having to call four parents for out of control kids on the bus. They were new kids added to her route. She was exhausted. It was obvious the other driver had been ignoring the bad behavior. And then she sat in a training class where one of the other drivers constantly interrupted the instructor with unbelievably foul language.
Nobody was saying anything, so she finally did.
Then later my Mom called and told me of her friend’s daughter in law. She is in Stanford right now, a mother of three. They were all camping and she came home with a fever. Now something is attacking her liver. She is in Stanford undergoing tests and they can’t find anything wrong, all those very bright minds.
And it was morning and it was evening and God is pulling the shade down on another day.
And the team we were rooting for last night is going to the World Series.
Each day has its own set of wins and losses. Sometimes people get it but sometimes they don’t. And it’s okay……..We do the best we can any given day. And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness and prays for us with groans that words cannot express.
And in every conflict, as my friend so wisely said, the answer is always the same……Love.