Redeeming the Time

 

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“Jesus often withdrew to lonely places to pray………” Luke 5:16

“Our conditioning as members of a consumer society prevents us from abandoning hope that, with sufficient planning, we might yet be able to see and do everything. To move slowly and deliberately through the world, attending to one thing at a time, strikes us as radically subversive, even un-American. We cringe from the idea of relinquishing, in any moment, all but one of the infinite possibilities offered us by our culture. Plagued by a highly diffused attention, we give ourselves to everything lightly. That is our poverty. In saying yes to everything, we attend to nothing. One only can love what one stops to observe. “Nothing is more essential to prayer,” said Evagrius, “than attentiveness.”
― Belden C. Lane, The Solace of Fierce Landscapes: Exploring Desert

I read this wonderful book years ago and it has remained with me ever since. I believe it holds a very important message for our times as the world and the people in it seem to be moving at a faster and noisier pace than ever before. What does it mean to be fully in the moment of our lives? Do we skim over our days not fully touching down until we collapse in bed and wonder where the time went?

Do I treat people like things to check off my to-do list or do I give them my undivided attention?  I don’t know much but there are certain things I am absolutely sure of. I know that one day, I will give absolutely anything to hear a story I have heard a million times before and the voice I love telling it. I will hear the silence where they used to be and maybe my heart won’t be able to take it.

Listen to the stories, look into their eyes. Hear what they are saying, the desperation and earnestness behind it. Slow down long enough to honor them as individuals the way we would like someone to do for us. We don’t get to decide who’s worthy, God says we all are. That’s what real love looks like.

What makes a good day for you? For me it means that I was able to keep my finger firmly on the pulse of the day most of the time. I felt it from the time the sun came up until it went down. It made for a happy day, a fulfilled day. I rode my bike over ground I covered in childhood. I felt the bumps in the streets, I saw things, beautiful things. I took pictures so I wouldn’t forget.

I took care of Elaine who is recovering from carpal tunnel surgery. It was a joy to return a gift she has given to me many times. I got to go to the store with Mom and Dad both, one to the grocery and one to the pharmacy. I went to Lowe’s to look at flowers with my Aunt.

I was in the moment most of the day. I  wish I  could say I have this  down, but too many times I  fail miserably.  But that’s why God knew we needed  days.  They are strung out like pearls until this life ends and eternity begins. The thing is, we can  never be sure when one ends and the other starts.

I like how the King James Bible puts it here:

Walk  in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming  the time.  Colossians 4:5

And this one:

Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due when it is within your power to do it. Proverbs 3:27

And just maybe I can try to repeat today what I did yesterday.

 

A New Season

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For behold, the winter is past; the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. Song of Solomon 2:11,12

The last time I wrote (if I remember correctly) I was in a bit of a funk. I was missing the doves that were a regular background noise of my prayer/meditation times in Arizona.  I had seen them in the area and wondered why I never heard them. I discounted it as part of a necessary season I was going through along with everything else. Now, it seems I hear one several times a day. God has given them back to me, along with Spring and flowers everywhere. The sun has touched down and the earth is truly full of His glory. As I write a Mockingbird is singing its heart out, so loud it almost comical.

I am happy to say, my heart feels lighter. Maybe it’s as simple as the weather. We walked to the lake today. That even sounds amazing doesn’t it? As much as I have whined and groused about all the things that bugged me about my home state since moving back, to be surrounded by all this beauty (and of course being close to my family) balances things out quite nicely. When weather permits I go down to the little river shack to pray. My old faithful LL Bean robe gave up the ghost and I had to throw it out. That’s what I would bundle up and walk down in, but my friend found another online and surprised me with it. I think it must have cost her a bundle, it weighs 5 pounds!

Now that the weather is warming up, I will go down more mornings before work. We have had some BBQs here lately and that is a very welcome change, to be able to cook outdoors is something we missed so much. Here is what Elaine made for my Aunt, her old sink washstand was rotting so she rebuild a frame and added a little cooking space which works great. The old wood is in the wheelbarrow!

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There is something Holy about creating something, isn’t there? It is truly a blessing to be able to work with your hands and make something better, give it a new life. After all, we are created in His image and God is the ultimate Creator. During Lent, we remember God’s great work of redemption, His greatest and most awful gift. Awful because it cost Him everything, great because it was the greatest act of Love He ever did and will ever do again.

He is our hope, our joy…..now and for all eternity. Nature reflects this, especially at the turn of the Seasons.

You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Henry David Thoreau

Life is grace. Sleep is forgiveness. The night absolves. Darkness wipes the slate clean, not spotless to be sure, but clean enough for another day’s chalking. Frederick Buechner

 

 

The Gift of a Good Day

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I may not always be able to find joy but I can always find gratitude and that makes me grateful.

Yesterday was a good day. Elaine’s brother Bobby came with his truck and trailer and we got to clear a path down by the little Art Gallery/Prayer Closet. The downed tree made such a mess, and it is still laying there like the dead tree it is but at least now with some of the wood hauled off and branches cleaned up we can sit in our chairs and enjoy the fire pit (which the tree also managed to miss except for a small dent in the screen which E pounded out). It was a very generous thing he did and we all had fun working together. Aunt Mayvis and I worked on the hill and Bobby and Elaine worked down below with chainsaws. Then we went to the Dump which is always an adventure. Afterward we went to Der Weinerschnitzel and put back all the calories we burned off I’m sure. (Maybe not)

At around 4:30 I rushed to the library before it closed and got the next two books in the “Time Quintet” by Madeleine L’Engle. They have provided me with just the escape I have needed the past week. A nice kid let me right to them. Afterwards I went to the new little neighborhood grocery we found and I got some Blue Moon beer, because sometimes you just need a beer after a good day’s work. They have a little of everything in that store and the clerks are friendly.

At around 12:30 this morning my mind was running like a Superhighway. All the tasks for the coming week were on parade, and all my fears and anxieties marched right along behind them. I got up to read “A Wind in the Door” awhile until I could get back to sleep.

Shortly after 6:00 am I crept out in the cold and dark to pray and just sit in the silence. I sat and listened to the hiss of the little heater with the sound of the river as the background. I have found that when you don’t know how to start praying, the best place to start is gratitude. So I listed my thanks. The challenge of the past year has made a dent in my joy but to my relief I still can always manage to find my gratitude.

On the way back up, the neighbor cat waited and watched for me and I paused on the step and listened to a beautiful bird call I have never heard before. I wish I knew what kind of bird it was. Maybe there is a phone App for that, like Shazam for birdcalls.

Now the sky is coloring like those plastic play balls you see at the grocery store in the bins. Briggs is sleeping contentedly at my side. He has rolled right along with us the past year and adjusted very well. We have asked a lot of him.

My coffee has gone cold. Time for a reheat and then it’s a new day.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow.

Looking Up in 2017

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Hope in Me, and you will be protected from depression and self-pity. Hope is like a golden cord connecting you to Heaven. The more you cling to this cord, the more I bear the weight of your burdens; thus you are lightened. Heaviness is not of My Kingdom. Cling to hope, and My rays of Light will reach you through the darkness.” Sarah Young, Jesus Calling

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13

As Jesus and His disciples were walking by the temple one day, one of them remarked on how beautiful it was. I can see Jesus glancing at it, maybe nodding in agreement, then saying (Message version) “All this you’re admiring so much–the time is coming when every stone in that building will end up in a heap of rubble.” Then He goes on to explain just how bad things will get before He comes back and sets everything to rights. At first glance that might seem like a real joy-killer, but then He says at the end of Luke 21, “Look up, for your redemption draws near.”

It’s easy to despair looking at the events of the world around us. And I’m only thinking of the things that happened this past week! It’s easy to forget how to look at the world through the lens of  wonder, filtering out all the anxiety and dread about what will happen next. But Jesus doesn’t just tell us to buck up, or think beautiful thoughts. He points us to Himself. He is our ultimate hope and the hope of the world.

Sometimes He reminds us of this in the simplest of ways. The other morning I took a walk down by the river and the neighbor cat decided to tag along. I watched as she sprang ahead, leaping with a wild joy as she chased blowing leaves. She high-stepped it, and shaking her feet at the wet grass she almost tripped me by running across my feet. I have to admit, I got caught up in her playfulness.

Why do we humans complicate everything so much? Why do we eat ourselves up with worry? On Friday night I lamented that I was worried about finding a new stop on my route. My wise friend said, “You’re not driving it today.” Then I said something else and she repeated, “You’re not driving it tomorrow either, or Sunday.” I was robbing my moments of peace which I do repeatedly.

As I continued my walk, camera in hand, I got several cute shots of the cat comedienne. I laughed and caught the wonder again through my camera lens. I looked up at the sky peeking through the trees. I need to do more of this, I thought. I walked back up and then smiled all over again when I downloaded the pictures to the computer.

This quote by Frederick Buechner kind of sums up my thoughts today:

Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and the pain of it, no less than the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis all moments are key moments and life itself is grace. Frederick Buechner, Now and Then: A Memoir of Vocation

I plan on re-doubling my efforts to keep looking up during the course of the coming year. I plan to remember how to live in wonder at the world around me, and letting Jesus be my filter. I will fail sometimes, of that I have no doubt. But sometimes I will succeed.

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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I made my way down to the river even though I knew I wouldn’t be there long. It was early morning, still dark as it usually is when I go. I didn’t need to see it as much as I needed to feel it. Kind of like I feel about God. I needed to thank Him for the good day I had. A big gold star was shining overhead and the crescent moon was on the other side, peeking through the bare branches with a star right next to it. There was a Holiness to it.

There in the little river shack, I knelt and thanked God for the good day. Lately I have felt something like Plexiglas around my heart, or maybe teflon. Nothing has quite reached me, call it a form of depression or unease. Whatever it is, I felt the platelets shift yesterday and it felt really good to feel some joy leaking in. It was that thing with feathers that Emily Dickinson so eloquently wrote about:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.
I had a good day at work the day before, and later that night we went to a local place, the place where I got married so long ago. It’s changed greatly, now it is a full fledged spa, with a vintners room and additional rooms. When I was married there almost 40 years ago now,  it was a little old Victorian country house with a garden and that part of it is where we listened to a three piece ensemble. I distinctly remember the day Mom and I went there to discuss the ceremony. It was a fall day and windy, and I remember how the leaves looked coming down. It was a special memory between she and I. I will remind her of that when I see her.
We sat and sipped wine and met some lovely people, one of whom auditioned for the voice. The other two, a couple sat down next to me and the lady explained she was an author and historian and they were there to interview an owner of the Inn and write his life story. So we talked about different authors and she said she liked my hat. We exchange cards, I dug my homemade crumpled Staples version, and she her crisp eloquently done one.
As we stepped outside I heard a commotion, which was Santa’s firetruck all decorated with lights. I wrote another story about this on Dan King’s “Bible Dude”blog which you can read here. I jumped up and down like a kid and cried…….”Santa, Santa!!!” They drove right past us and we waved and they honked and we all shouted our Merry Christmases.
What are the odds, that it would be coming by right then? Does God mind when we indulge in a little fantasy about Santa? I don’t think so. I actually think he sent it for us because we needed it.
Just like we always need Him.