Sanity Restored

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I wonder. Is it possible to miss the days you never knew? It’s like stories you’ve been told so long they become a part of your own memory. They make my heart ache for what we’ve all lost. I don’t recognize my own country anymore. I wake hopeful. So very grateful for what I can restore, for what is still here that is good. I reach for peace and I am relieved that the unmovable things are still here.

God’s creation is still good. There are books, endless books full of messages of hope that I rest in. And I open once again to my bright highlighted passages and read again the old, old story about how God became homeless for just a little while for us all. So we could have a happy ending.

I start a new book this morning and feel that spark of recognition that comes when you know you’ve met a new author and it’s one you’re gonna like. (And I’m only on page 5.) I liked her name right off, Ruta Sepetys. Thank you Betty for the recommendation!

Oh Jesus, my prayers have become so simple. “Fix what’s broken, in our world and in me.” There is so much broken. So much we’ve left far behind. I want it all to come back. I want the shrieking and the lying about how terrible our country is to stop.

I want those simple times I got on the tail end of in the sixties and seventies, back before everything went crazy. When you could buy a home and only one person had to work. Back when we all played outside until dark without fear, and when there were corner grocery stores. And yes, when people still had their babies, unplanned or not.

I’m tired of sides. I remember when Americans could disagree but still come together because we had already fought all the battles and won. We can all vote, we can all aspire to any job, there are more opportunities than ever before. But there are those who are very loud that are saying that isn’t so. And it’s tearing our country apart. 

I remember, reaching back through the years of summer evenings when I really didn‘t want to go to church but now I’m glad I did. I miss Altar calls, I miss the Grandpa I never knew, asking everyone he camped around if they knew Jesus. And I can imagine my Mom and Sisters embarrassed.

There is still so much good here folks. It’s morning, and afternoon and then evening, and God still calls it good. And it is. And behind the scenes? He’s still making all things new. 

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The morning is quiet and the mockingbird sings, picking up the same endless melody he closed with last night.

David Nevue hymns play softly in the background and I am praying for my nieces little cat who is very sick. Seems to be something she ate. There are little teeth marks in the interlocking rubber floor mats in the bedroom. And now there is a big bill, but that pales in comparison to a girl who is heartsick. Oh Lord, sometimes we just get tired of all the sorrow. The world is weary. We are weary too. 

As I sit here amidst my tears there is a joy deep down resting at the bottom of my soul, in a feathered nest. It’s that quiet peace God gives. The living promise that He will never leave us or forsake us. That there is still joy for the taking. The assurance that in the end, all will be well.

I walk outside and see yet another mangled baby bird that will never sing a note. This is the fourth. Why do things have to die? I guess sometimes things can be rescued and sometimes they can’t. I think of the little mouse I saved one morning. Two bluejays were attacking it mercilessly. They would pick it up in their sharp beaks and then drop it to the ground. The mouse was terrified and when I went to pick it up it squeaked in fright. The poor thing didn’t know I was trying to save it.

I could feel its little heart beating in my gloved hand, and then it was my turn to be a little afraid. What if it ran up my sleeve? I hurriedly carried the stunned little creature to safety and settled it beneath some shrubs. I wonder if that’s how God feels about us? We fight so hard when He’s only trying to save us from ourselves. 

He looks down at the way we’ve chosen to mangle our world, our lives, and then He watches as we walk right past the gate that would swing wide and welcome us in.

He longs to pick us up and settle us in the only place we will only ever find peace and safety? “Rest my child,” He beckons. Finally, exhausted by all our own efforts, we collapse at His feet. He welcomes us, takes us as we are.

He’s the God of second, third, seventh, one-thousand chances. This morning I didn’t think I had any words at all. But God supplied a few, as it turns out.

The  train sounds in the distance, life propels forward. And the joy outweighs the sorrow once again. Despite everything, we have hope.  Pray with me friends? That a little cat a girl loves will be okay today.

What’s in your cup?

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Dad called, “We just have too much,” he said, “We cleared out the shelf where we keep the coffee cups, and there’s only two of us here now…..” When I got there they were all over the table, stacked two deep. He wanted to throw them all away. There was a sense of urgency about it, like so many things he is wanting to clear out lately. I said, “Well, let’s just sort through them and see which ones you still use. We agreed that they had to keep the ones from the Ahwahnee in Yosemite. And the one to Grandpa and Grandpa from Lauryn. We narrowed it down to 5 or 6 out of 20. 

Clearing out things can be a lot like clearing out a life. An acknowledgment that an excess is no longer needed. It can be liberating but also diffused with a sense of finality. Memories are attached to things and that’s where it gets tricky. There are hoarders who have a mental condition that prevents them from throwing anything away. I guess they find a kind of comfort in all those piles of stuff. And then there is the opposite, throwing away everything and then wishing you hadn’t because you realize there is still life to be lived.

When life spirals out of control I guess you feel you must do something about the things you can control. Little things become paramount. You can’t control getting older, or change, or a ravaging disease, but you can control the things you see in the immediate space around you, so there’s a sense of haste.

I kept the best ones and took them to a local cafe where they accept everyone’s used cups. It’s a cool thing I think, like drinking out of someone’s history. I find comfort in knowing some of their coffee mugs will live on in our community. I like to think the many prayers and all the laughter shared while using those cups and the hands that held them over the years will somehow pass a little peace and grace on to the next user.

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For so many years, their home was where everyone came. There was always a knock or a hello through the screen door and the phone was always ringing. “I’ll just put on a fresh pot of coffee,” my Mom would say. Even now, I can see shining eyes, and ringing laughter over those cups. The walls hold the memories even in the silence. The winding down of life.

The Bible speaks about our bodies being living vessels. Far too many years I tried to fill it with things it was never meant to hold. The Christian life is a series of emptying and filling. Sometimes this life just empties you out. People and circumstances can leave you feeling that way. Maybe that is Jesus’ way of getting us out of the way so that He can fill us with Himself.

Jesus once had to drink from the worse cup ever. But drink He did, to the bitter dregs. He did this so that we wouldn’t  have to. Has your coffee gone cold? Are there only the bitter grounds of yesterday? Pitch it into the bushes and refill from a fresh cup of Grace today. Jesus stands ready. The campfire is warm and the coffee is hot. 

“You prepare a table before me in the Presence of my enemies, you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” Psalm 23:5

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A World in Pause Mode

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Life has been suspended and I can’t help feeling that for once, on this day it feels right. I remember as a kid when things closed and everyone flocked to church at noon on Good Friday. I also remember being glad when it was rainy or cloudy because that also seemed right on this day of days.

“Oh Jesus, what you went through so that we could have forever with You. When the shadow of the cross fell it reached all the way to Heaven and even silenced the Angels. They had never seen the Father hide His face from the Son. Ever. But that day was unlike any other day that will ever happen again.”

This shutdown has not been without benefit, in every adverse situation the good arises like a sweet perfume. The weeds grow along with the seeds, it’s just that the weeds are visible right away. But the good seeds are working their magic down below where we can’t see.  I believe we will have a lasting benefit from this time.

We will remember the quiet times, the books we read. The times spent talking, learning new games, getting to know each other again. Maybe all this family time, cooking and eating together, stretching our imaginations and praying more will have a lasting effect. Not to mention going a little bit crazy. 

What I’ve been learning from all this is what I have taken for granted, the simple little things. I have always been a person who has been intentional about not doing this and yet, I have realized that to some extent, I have. Who ever thought hugging someone we love would feel like a luxury, a risk, something forbidden.

Each morning. I have tried to go outside at first light and celebrate a little resurrection. I close my eyes and concentrate on all the noises I hear. It’s a blessing to have these mornings at home. Not having to get ready for anything. Downtime. Then there’s the downside.

Honestly some days it feels a little bit like the shadow of death is hovering all around us. Seeing loved ones only from a distance. Not being able to go, to help, to do. So close, so far away.

I’m thankful I have had someone (thank you E) to laugh and cry with during all this. It’s been a blessing to help those in our circle who are alone. 

I’m reminded in Scripture that this is only a light and momentary affliction. The other side of eternity stretches much further than we can see right now, but it’s still there, waiting for us. Because of the horrible, awfulness Jesus went through for us. Because He loves us.

The Trinity worked a beautiful plan my friends, and we can all partake of it. This pandemic will pass, but what will not pass is the empty tomb. It stands open and glowing with hope. Today we remember how our Savior was battered and bloody beyond recognition but on Sunday we remember how Satan was defeated.

Death has indeed lost its sting. Again. Thanks be to God.

Waiting for normal

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In every crisis situation there is a paradigm shift. You look around at your world and it’s different. The birds are still singing, flowers are still in bloom. The hummingbirds still come to the feeder and the geese still honk their way through the sky. Nature never stops. But we’ve stopped. That is, what we always thought of normal has stopped.

I’m sitting here waiting for the 7 o clock train, “Soft Hands” we call the conductor, because he does soft little puffs on the horn. I wait with an over-exaggerated impatience. It feels a little bit like panic, which I know is ridiculous but I want to hear it because that feels normal. But he doesn’t come. It’s 7:32 and I wonder where he is.

I feel a sense of unreality like the day after 9/11 when there were no planes overheard. Trying to describe it to my Aunt, I said, “I feel like the rapture came and we were left behind, but I know that’s not true.

It’s like a Stephen King novel that we’re all playing a part in. The other day we stood in the Geezer line at Costco to get supplies for my folks and Aunt Mayvis and it was like the zombie apocalypse. Gloved, masked elders (us among them) shuffled forward, hundreds of us towards the door. We waited over an hour.

A local nurse has passed away from the virus and now his wife tested positive. And an employee of one of our favorite wineries also tested positive.

And no one knows quite what to do. Our homes have become bunkers. The downtown area is quiet. Schools are closed for the rest of the year. They made that announcement yesterday. And yet, people are finding creative ways to stay in touch.

Writing letters, notes, leaving food on porches. And speaking of porches…..I have seen actually seen people sitting on their porches again. There will be some good to come out of this. Never again will I take hugs for granted. I will hug a little harder after this. Maybe we all will. I believe good always comes during times like this. Even as my heart aches to physically hold my folks and family close. 

Maybe when we finally leave this new normal behind, our old normal will feel like new again. Once more my friends, we will stand close, breathe each other’s air without fear, enjoy each other’s company, have community. It will be a little like being born again. And the sooner we do what we have to now, the sooner we can get back to that.

Easter will be different this year but one thing is for sure. Nothing can stop the King from coming, again and again into our lives.

As I drove Downtown these past few weeks I’ve been thinking lately of the words to that old Gaither song, The King is Coming:

The Marketplace is empty

No more traffic in the streets

All the builders tools are silent

No more time to harvest wheat

Busy housewives cease their labor

In the courtroom no debate

Work on earth has been suspended

As the King comes thro’ the gate…..

Even so come Lord Jesus…….we need you, our world needs you.

 

Songwriters: Charles Millhuff, Gloria Gaither, Bill Gaither

 

 

 

It’s still Lent

One good thing about all this rushing about, worrying about this virus, being selective about where we go and listening for new updates is that sooner or later we get tired of all that. We settle in, we tune out, we get creative about the things we can do instead of what we can’t.

And when we stop, something very Holy happens. We start paying attention to other things. We start talking more, we find closeness of a different kind. It looks like calling people. We are checking on each other more. We are remembering what it looks like to be a true neighbor.

Nothing like a pandemic to bring us closer. To make us realize we are all really one big family across the globe. 

The most important things are still ours. It’s still Lent. Just underneath all the hubbub is a Spiritual pulse that beats stronger than ever. It’s the 25th Day of Lent. We are still leading up to the horrible awful (Good Friday) and the unbelievably wonderful (Easter).

And the best thing of all, is that in every challenge, every crisis we hear the thunderous echo of His last words. Those last words that changed everything, made restoration between God and man possible again. “It is Finished.”

That means everything is still possible. God is with us. I think the phrase I love most in the 139th Psalm is:

Your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be. That one wiggles me every time.

Use this time my friends, for the good. Get outside where we can still go, marvel at nature. Learn something new. I was challenged with Suduko. I was always afraid of it but Elaine was patient. She kept telling me I could do it and now I find it extremely relaxing. She did scold me when I was talking out loud trying to figure it out. She said the rule of Suduko is the silent working of numbers. I laughed.

This morning I walked down to the river and watched the tops of the trees fill with light. I also saw the two wood ducks greeting each other. Two “V”s in the water merging as they traveled together.

And God saw all that He had made, and it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning–the sixth day. Genesis 1:31

As long as the earth endures, seed time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease. Genesis 8:22

Peace, I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful. John 14:27

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So yesterday was the first day of my two weeks off school. And it was one of those “perfect” days. My mood was buoyant, like a ship sail catching the wind. I read “Before We Were Yours” through 3 cups of coffee and then took a walk through the nearby neighborhood. Only a very few walkers were about. 

There was a gentle rain that started later in the day and that made everyone happy because it’s so needed. It was one of those magical March days I remember from growing up here. All of the fruit trees around town are in flower. Popcorn in shades of pink and white. Then the wind comes and it rains blossoms and you feel like you are inside a Haiku. The real rain comes and the poor daffodils try so very hard not to bow to the ground with the weight of the water.

Good News! We finally found an elliptical that was in really good shape not too far away so we put all the seats down in the car and drove to get it. Once there we wrangled it into the back with one bungy cord and packing tape. I climbed in the back and held onto it the whole way home. It wasn’t going anywhere.

I felt like we really pulled something off and we did. This thing sells new for $600-$800 and we got this one barely used for $200. I feel 15 pounds lighter already.

Now it’s the next evening, Sunday. I have felt off all day. Not like the “Golden Yesterday” But it’s still good. Part of what happens in this life. Some days you just feel off, like the stillness before an earthquake or a tornado. You brace yourself for something but you don’t know what it is. 

But this is the wonderful and weird thing. All day, and I mean literally ALL day, this Mockingbird has been singing and I feel like it is trying to sing me through the day. And this is what God does. He tells us that we will always be okay by giving us little signs. If this bird can sing all day, then I figure he must be right.

There is something to sing about, always.

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This is the mysterious thing about prayer.  It often happens even when you’re not intentionally trying to pray. It’s like riding a bike. If you thought about everything that goes into it you would probably not get yourself down the road. It’s like the other morning, wide awake at 2:00 AM. “I should pray,” I thought. “Why can’t I be more like those “Holy” people who get up and pray and seek God in the middle of the night instead of finding something to eat or drink or read?”

And this is the crazy thing. I got up and started talking to God about just that. Sometimes the best prayer sessions start when you’re not even trying. You’re just talking to the God who created you. Who knows us better than we know ourselves.

It’s reawakening to the knowledge that as believers, we stand saturated by Grace.  And that Grace never leaves us. Not even when we feel undeserving of it. We know we are undeserving and that leaves us breathless with thanksgiving once again.

This is the intimacy the Psalmists knew:

In the morning O Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation.” Psalm 5:3

But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.” Psalm 13:5

For you, O Lord, have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling.” Psalm 116:8

And my favorite:

O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thought from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down. You are familiar with ALL my ways. Psalm 139:1-3

I like to think prayer is what happens while we’re making plans to pray. You don’t have to have just the right setting or the right moment. The time is right now, today. In every moment; every time we thank Him for the weather, the birds, our health. Prayer is giving words to our very breath, as Acts 17 says: “In Him we live and move and have our being.”

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted and it feels good. If I can only move one person closer to knowing God with my words, then it’s all worth it.

I Choose Happy

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That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. Then he told them many things in parables, saying: A farmer went out to sow his seed……” Matt. 13: 1-3

There is a little kitchen towel I have. It used to be very bright orange and sunny yellow. Because of my old bug yellow will always be a happy color for me. On it are printed the words, “Choose Happy.” Lately there have been things pressing in on me. School starting again, the future, the transitory nature of where we are living, Mom’s illness.

And currently we are facing a homeless/drug element in our town. Transients are camping by the river and there are pictures of feces and you name it on the shore. They clean it up periodically and then they all come back. That has made me extremely upset and restricted my activities on the river this summer. I’ve been wondering why the environmentalists so prevalent in our state are not coming out of the woodwork on this issue. I feel robbed. Cheated.

The thief (Satan) comes only in order to steal and to kill and to destroy. I have come that they (we) may have life and have it in abundance. John 10:10

Everything in this world was set in motion and created by God. Perfectly in balance. The effects of sin have tarnished it. The evidence is all around us. Jesus came to counteract the eternal result of that destruction.  He also makes it possible to supersede all the negativity around us and still embrace life, and beauty, and hope and joy. We don’t have to let the world steal it. It is a choice we have.

It was with that attitude I awoke yesterday morning with a defiant stubbornness to  “Choose Happy.” I shook out the towel from the cabinet, hung it up and claimed Jesus promise. I took it into my heart and prayed it as a mantra all day. And you know what? My attitude changed.

This morning I walked down to the river and saw the magnificent beauty that was there all along. A gift of joy returned. I choose life. I choose gratitude for where we are now. I choose thankfulness for the beautiful message my Mom left me on the phone. That she loves me and glad that I am her daughter.

You see, when I read the parable of the sower and the soil today I realized that while the seed started out good, it was the conditions of the ground it fell into that varied. Each day we are given a choice and each day we live for Christ the choice can only be life. Because He died and rose again to give it to us.

It’s an old old story, but one I never get tired of telling.

Be at peace with your life my friends. He’s got this. He’s got you.

Of Dads and Grandpas

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“What marvelous love the Father has extended to us! Just look at it–we’re called children of God! That’s who we really are. But that’s also why the world doesn’t recognize us or take us seriously, because it has no idea who He is or what He is up to.” 1 John 3:1 MSG

God loves families. That’s why He found it necessary and important to start one. He certainly didn’t need us. It’s hard for us to imagine what it must have been like before the creation, but we know it was a perfect union. Father, Son and Holy Spirit…..They could have gone on that way forever.

But because God is such a creator and a giver, He decided to spin out galaxies, and planets and stars and angels in the blackness of eternal space. And then, out of His vast storehouse of love He created all the animals and this home of ours, and us. I wonder…….I’ve always wondered, how much time passed in that perfect fellowship.

How many walks and talks were taken in the cool of the evening before it all went south? Before we decided to listen to the cleverly woven lies that turned God-perfection on its ear. I wonder.

Families are messy and God knew that. Even the angels argued amongst themselves about who was greatest. He created us at great risk, but He felt the risk was worth it. We were worth it. And we fell, as He knew we would in time. Since that time we have never stopped falling. Thankfully, He has never stopped trying to get us back.

When my Dad was a kid, my Grandpa left the family. After my Grandma passed away he remarried. My Dad and Grandpa did some bridge building through the years. As a result I have good memories of him. I passed the house on my walk just the other day. I remembered Christmas at the Elks Lodge and going through his box of rocks and staring at his geodes in the lit up cabinet. And ice-cream socials at the Methodist Church and picnics at the lake. 

I never knew my Grandpa on my Mom’s side but I hope he is one of the first people I meet in Heaven. We lost him to cancer when I was only two. I have a dim memory of him holding me up to his grapevines. He loved roses, and he had a cat named Fritz and he called me his “blond-haired angel” in German. I always wonder if when he held me he was thinking of Annie, his 4 year old daughter who was accidentally shot and killed by a neighbor boy. My Grandma never built that bridge of forgiveness back to him for leaving the gun out. My Mom heard him say quietly one day, “She has never forgiven me.”

I like to think of the three of them together in Heaven, all forgiven, all forgotten.

Sometimes the most important thing in life and also the hardest is to build a bridge back to someone who has hurt us. It’s a huge risk, and it’s scary and most times we don’t know what the outcome will be. It’s exactly what God did with Jesus. It cost Him everything, but to get us back he felt it was worth it.

It’s what good Dads do.