Nature’s Hymn

img_6712

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

 

cropped-img_4716.jpg

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

image

“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.

The God of Everything

A2DA5E0E-C3A6-4423-82AF-B185C2EDA829

God is never complacent, or nonchalant, or middle of the road like I am. I look out at the world and His creation and I see that nothing ever stays the same. God is always doing something miraculous. Recently I went back to Yosemite again, the place where I spent so much time as a kid and young adult. I missed it as I missed an old friend and it was a bit emotional with all the memories tied up together with it.

Yosemite is one of those places with WOW factor and even though the falls were just a trickle compared to the tumbling cascades of summer, the leaves made up for it. They were shouting. On the way into the park we gasped at the bright yellow and red splashes at every turn. In all my time there I had never seen it quite so brilliant.

I remembered when my Mom used to send me leaves from there in the fall when they would go and so I collected some for her to place on her table. Yes, we are leaf crazy.

C4A6EC77-02D9-4DD4-84F9-6D58F13C16C7

It was a great day and I was awestruck once again by the grandeur of those granite peaks that rise from the floor. I found myself praising God for His marvelous works, for creating all this beauty for us to enjoy. When you look at nature as an extension of God, you see that He is never not doing anything. The earth is a stage and no matter what we create as humans, we can never match the ocean, or the moon, or a place like Yosemite.

Do you ever feel complacent? Like you are just not doing enough big things for God? Ever sensed you are outside the circle? That somewhere out there in the world of faith is a ring of fiery people doing wonderful things for God and for others and here you are doing nothing in particular but trying to live your life the best way you know how? I know exactly how you feel.

But here is what I have learned from nature:

God is God of the big and the grand, but He’s also the God of the tiny and minuscule. No act or creation or person is too small to escape His notice.

Yesterday I found a little leaf. I almost sat on it it was so small, but there it was. A perfect replica of the big oak leaves that are fluttering to the earth right now. I think He let me find it to remind me that I am just as big a miracle as that big oak standing in the middle of my Aunt’s yard.

He whispers things like that to me.

And when we praise Him and thank Him for being fearfully and wonderfully made, something is set right within myself and the world me. My perspective changes. I find that gratitude and praise are the steps that bring us close to a God who has already proven how much He loves us; a God who has always had His arms open to us.

He accepts stumbling, halting, half-hoping words, in fact He loves them. Prayer can be a cracked window in our hearts that reaches all the way to Heaven. “If you are there” prayers, can sometimes start the mountains moving. He is waiting to hear from you!

Blessings on your Sunday today, friends.

 

 

heart leaves

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain……..The Apostle Paul, Philippians 1:21

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.

That 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.

On a final note, I wanted to address those who seem to think the California fires are the result of God’s judgment due to the fact that sin is so rampant in this state. My God doesn’t go around setting fires and starting earthquakes and floods. That’s Satan’s job (if you believe in him and I do because Jesus certainly did).

To some, California may be an example of what they feel is wrong with the world, but no state or geography has cornered the market on evil; that territory starts within the heart of us all and there is only one cure:

Jesus himself. He’s our only prescription with a permanent cure for heart trouble:

Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have not told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?” John 14:1,2

Please join me in praying for all those who have lost homes, businesses, and lives in this beautiful state I call home now.

When even the ocean is not big enough……..

image

Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.”

I stood at the shore and waited for that feeling……..that eraser, elixir that would make all the present circumstances melt away. But it occurred to me that sometimes even the ocean is not big enough to do that. Even if it were fresh water and we were dying of thirst, it could save us but we would still thirst again, just as Jesus explained to the Samaritan woman at the well:

………but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.

But nature has always had a way of making God close for me, and I relaxed and let it do that. I looked hard at everything, and we ate good food and had some wine too. I foraged for shells and saw some magnificent patterns in some sand dollars and drew them in my book. For me, the ocean is God’s way of saying, “Here you go……explain this one.” And all I can say is that He is bigger than everything, even anyone’s problems including my own.

Even when it feels like the small things you do are like dumping a cup of water into an ocean of grief, God is the multiplier. When it’s all you can do, He makes it more than enough.

I am finished with my one year commitment to LOEL center and this weekend is the start of a little break before I begin the next phase of retirement. I am still a little ways off from Social Security and so I work for at least three and a half (counting) more years.

Sometimes I close my eyes and remember how my room looked from the right, and from the left. When I felt like everything in my life was secure and I had the umbrella of a big company over me. But maybe that was an illusion. I still have God over me, over us.

And this place by the river is truly a tremendous blessing. It is feeling like home  I am learning here to take one day at a time and receive it with a grateful heart. Maybe that’s what God is trying to tell me, that I don’t have to have everything mapped out and planned. How many people can walk down to a river in the morning after all?

The four days at the beach did its magic. I will remember the boat ride through the slough and our walks and so many birds this year, more than we’ve ever seen.

For a little time we were suspended:

It’s easy to think that at 3:19 AM it’s just us here alone in this place and I want to remember the peace of this moment. The staccato seal barking on the pier, the seagull I just heard. Even though it’s chilly I always crack the window to stay in touch with the ocean so big and still out there like God. Each drop of time is precious. An engine starts nearby, a night fisherman going out or coming in. You fighting off a cold nearby, fighting for breath and Briggs purring in my ear with his paw on my shoulder. Just is just us down here God, don’t forget us. Just beyond, over the bridge is where we left some of E’s parents ashes. The ocean breathe in and out, until God says “No more.”

And when we pulled back into town we put everything back on like a heavy pack and I have to remember Jesus other words, just before He went to the cross:

I am leaving you with a gift–peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.

And I think of Him on that terrible cross taking on my sin and the sin of the whole world and I know I can trust Him.

 

Hard Stop

house in reflection

Funny how things can come into focus when you’re still. When you’re quiet enough to let that stillness wrap itself around you and you start to believe that it really will be okay. There are those today reeling from loss, whose homes are no longer a reality, but only a reflection. I identify a little bit. I miss my home and the security that went with it every day. And yet I know that my true security lies in God and nothing else. Homes will come and go but He stays forever.

Last Friday I sat by the river and thought great and wondrous things. At least five of them. Later when I tried to capture them I couldn’t remember one, but the feeling of peace stayed behind. I was so grateful for that because there have been times this year when scenes of great beauty bounced off my soul like teflon and that troubled me. For I’ve always been able to find my way back to God through His beauty in creation.

We slip and fall headlong into our worries and problems and then He wakes our soul once again and I think it’s because He wants us to feel the gift of Gratefulness again.

All around us, nature is enfolded in a great drama and it never stops. She invites us to partake and be more than a bit player, and the rules are simple. We have to do a “hard stop”

curly leaf on water

A hard stop is when we allow our worries and cares drift away like this leaf who fell twisting in the wind. It didn’t think of falling, it didn’t even try to fall, it just fell. And in that simple act it had a power it didn’t even know it had. Its little presence announced that a change is coming, the first of many reds and golds and browns that will rain down in the coming months.

taking flight

Psalm 55:6 says: “Oh that I had wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest.”

I have a friend who used to say that when he flew, his problems seemed smaller. They weren’t really, but from the air his perspective changed. My flying usually involves driving to the beach. We all need a place where we can see clearer, feel calmer. But we can do that from anywhere with prayer.  Jesus has the peace we so deeply crave. It’s His free gift…….though it cost Him plenty He was happy to do it.

heart leaves

And when we accept it by stopping our striving and wrestling and open our hearts to His love He is honored. When we do that, It makes Him feel like it was all worth it. Like a parent who has had to sacrifice so many times they feel their battered ripped to shreds heart may just give way this time. Then the child realises he or she is not the only one in the world, that someone loved until it hurt for them. When that love is released, hearts can start to mend.

Do you see a heart here, or just a dead tree?

crane 3

Accept the invitation that God sends through His nature friends. I can assure you of a reward. A wise man named John Muir said this:

Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.