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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.

Kinda like Heaven

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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

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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”

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

Resting on one leg……

Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we may boldly say:
“The Lord is my helper;
I will not fear.
What can man do to me?”
I took a photo of this little duck as we were walking past the marina in San Diego. It struck me as precious…..here she was, seemingly unconcerned about all the people walking by……all the noise that may have caused her to be frightened or uneasy. But no…..she was perfectly at peace. Napping with her little head tucked under her wing…….and on one leg, no less.
If only I could be like that little duck. Perfectly calm and at peace, knowing my Father has me in His sights and that anything that happens to me will have to go through Him first. Sometimes it seems like God comes back to us, but really, it’s us who leave. Never Him. He is always there standing in the wings like a concerned parent just off stage at their child’s first performance….first play…..all the way to the final scene of our lives.
This life is hard, no mistake. Things happen that are just not fair at all. At times like that it’s easy to think God has His eyes closed, but He never does. We look around and see evil prospering right and left. Like the Israelites of old, we say…..”How long Oh Lord?”
And all summer it seems there were disasters everywhere we turned. The terrible forest fires, and the Texas flooding and now Irma bearing down on the poor folks in its path. It seems we can’t catch a breath before the next thing hits. Every day I have prayed for everyone affected, thanked God that I am warm and dry.
I complain from time to time that all the stuff that used to be so tastefully arranged between the walls of the home I loved are now sitting in storage collecting dust, nevertheless I am safe, we are all safe.
And what about those Hurricanes of life? In any situation we have a choice to evacuate the scene, get the heck out of dodge or hunker down and ride it out. Whatever your disaster today, there is only One choice that will make a difference.
Pray to the One who commands the wind and the waves for peace. The One who can calm your turbulent mind, body and soul. He may not remove the situation, but I can attest to the fact that He will come and meet your need.
And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:19
He said, “I cried out to the Lord in my great trouble, and he answered me. I called to you from the land of the dead, and Lord, you heard me. Jonah 2:2
He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along. Psalm 40:2
Today, my prayer is that he will rest like that little duck in God’s promises that will never be broken. May we all rest in Him and have true peace…….Thankful today for peace…..the kind that passes all understanding, guards our hearts, keeps our minds and hearts on Jesus.
Thankful for a day in the future when true justice will be done…….the calm assurances in Scripture, that book that has the power….to mend hearts…..lives……thankful for God giving me that little duck, I will try to think of her my brain runs rampant with worry.
May it be well with your soul today, friends.

Be still my soul

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But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me. Psalm 131:2

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices. Psalm 37:7

My prayer this morning:

It’s been too long, Lord since I have prayed like this……. walked down intentionally and lit my little candle and sat in this stillness. I have missed it, missed You. You deserve my praise in the morning, because you are Love first and foremost. And out of that great love comes your justice. Whatever happens out in the world is something that doesn’t have to make our soul turbulent. This time is precious.

You have created all this beauty and each day, you sustain it and make it all happen again because of your great love. You keep it going and no one else. You create the storms that seem to come from nowhere, the thunder that crashes and lightning that touches down to scorch the earth. I sit here and watch little things make ripples under the water and I wonder at your creative power and imagination……I watch the  fish jump up to catch the water bugs, confidant and totally at ease in their world.

Everyone is gathering Lord, ready to watch a spectacular event in the heavens soon, but I watch awestruck at what you do every single day just by leaning in close to Your marvelous works of creation.

Here by the still waters, where you give rest to my soul.

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Chess, old cars and a reunion

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Two things I don’t know much about: Classic car engines and chess. But yesterday I learned a little about both. I learned that it’s a common thing for chess players to set up a board and wait for an opponent to show up. I had no idea. That’s so cool.

I learned about these types of engines…..

 

A friend’s husband and son had a couple corvettes at the local Car Show downtown so we decided to go see what was what. I was staggered at the amount of classic cars buffed and polished, lining the street like artwork. I snapped way too many pictures. It was hard not to, they don’t make these beauties anymore. As we passed by the different engines, Elaine was explaining how they worked. (She inherited her Dad’s talent for engineering and making anything run.)

The one on the left in her words:

“Three two barrel carburetors which in the car world is called a six-pack (more power, hence more fuel to the engine) The 442 Oldsmobile Cutlass with a Dynaglide transmission which was patented by Oldsmobile.”

And the one on the right:

“A 496 cubic inch twelve-hundred horse power turbo charged engine.” Very fast. (Most cars today maybe push 200 horse power tops.)

We looked at cars in between ducking into some local antique shops for about two hours when we saw the little Cellar with tables that looked very inviting right on the street. It was a perfect place to rest awhile and another excuse celebrate my Birthday early. We sat there enjoying Champagne like rich people who don’t have a care in the world. (Is that ever not true!) I wondered out loud about the Cheese Shop next door, but they didn’t have anything ready-made, so Elaine ventured further down and brought back a wonderful appetizer plate with meats, cheese and crackers which was perfect. She was like an explorer coming back from an expedition.

So now for the story about the Chess guy. He was an older gentleman who came walking up to the table adjacent to ours with his duffel bag in tow. He proceeded to set up his chess board in preparation for a game, as if waiting for some competition.

While we were sipping and talking I asked Elaine if that was something chess people did and she said yes. Sometimes whole mini worlds open up to me that I never knew existed. I love when that happens.

We noticed a young couple walk by and make a comment to the elderly man, it sounded like a throw-down to me. I kinda thought it was all in jest, but by and by they came back and the young man sat down facing the elderly man on the “white” side of the chess board. He said with a smile, “Do you remember me?” Turns out, years ago the kid’s father thought it would be a good thing for him to get his hands dirty harvesting potatoes on this farmer’s land and this elderly gentlemen was that farmer!

Well, then he said his name and his eyes lit up in disbelief and ours did too. I was thinking that we were witnessing something really special. They commenced to play, but not before I snapped this photo. I will treasure it and the memory of that day.

When we had champagne and cheese in the middle of the afternoon. And for a little while, all was right with the world. We had witnessed a Divine connection, what can really happen when people choose to reconnect and remember a simpler time and bring it all back to the present.