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.

 

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.

While you were away

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I checked “find friends” on my phone while you were away and it said you were “home.” That wiggled me because in many ways I still think of Arizona as our home. A chunk of your heart stays places. I gazed at the screen that still said home and I retraced all those streets, all those places I knew so well. I think about the things I miss and constantly compare. This was cheaper, this was cleaner, this was nicer. I miss my Mall. I miss my mountain. Of course it wasn’t my mountain at all, any more than this river is mine.

I am still finding my way. Like this little snowflake hurtling from Heaven to earth, isn’t that what we’re all doing? God breathes life into us, incredible beauty and potential right from the start, and even as we are hurled down to earth, we start losing sight of the One who created us. The light of Heaven grows dim and circumstances threaten to melt us.

Our home sold and it feels strange. I close my eyes to sleep and I can still see where everything was in my room. I think of everything piled in storage and I hope it’s okay. I know God says to lay up treasure in Heaven but I admit I have a few things I really like down here. Home is a place we carve out. But more than a physical place, it is the place we started out and the one we are going back to. We are all just about as temporary as this little snowflake. I think that’s why my heart lurches a little when I see it.

What did the Angels talk about when Jesus vacated the throne to fill up a manger? What did they talk about while He was away? I wonder.

This journey we’re on will one day lead us to our final destination. I can’t tell you how glad I am that Jesus made the journey here for us so that we could be together with Him in our forever home. That thought makes the whole thing worthwhile.

That thought led me to say absolutely nothing in prayer this morning. I sat in silence and one quiet thought dropped in, as quietly as a pin.

Seek peace and pursue it. This is the whole verse from Psalm 34:14 “Depart from evil and do good; Seek peace and pursue it.”

It’s time to drop our weapons folks. It’s the season for love, and forgiveness and an innocent little baby who made Himself nothing so that we might live. It’s time to lay down our verbal assault rifles against each other.

It’s time to seek peace and pursue it. It’s time to look forward to going home and taking as many others with us as we can.

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.

No time to say goodbye

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Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Ephesians 1:10

It’s a snapshot in my mind that will never go away…….a pickup driving by, a friendly average, innocent wave, nothing more. He was the guy, a friend of a mutual friend, who did some work on my brother’s rental house. For one holiday we parked the Motorhome there in the driveway. We talked and visited, and he volunteered to put our new vents on the roof, since neither one of us was eager to climb up there. So he did it, and he and Elaine talked and visited, and she volunteered to pay him, and he refused. Finally he accepted money for lunch.

He smiled and waved from his truck later that day.

Shortly after we got back to Arizona the phone rang and it was my Mom telling me that he had taken his life. Our friend went to pick him up for church and he found him. And last night we got another call, another person, also a Dad, reached the unthinkable place where it seemed the only option. Elaine and I talked to him on the porch for 20 minutes or so on Halloween night when he brought his young son Trick-or-treating.

And all I keep thinking about, praying about, are the kids, the wife, the people left behind. And I also keep thinking that we are all so breakable. We can only take so much.

I couldn’t really pray this morning, I just went out by the river and listened until the sounds of humanity started to intersect with the sounds of nature as God intended. I listened hard for any answers when I first went out, and all I heard was the owl. I heard the “Whoooo-whoo-whooing”……I thought I heard it repeat “Why……” instead.

Seemed the only think we could do this morning was head out on the river to see if it had any answers. It didn’t. But there’s something about being on the water that stills the soul. Seeing trees and clouds upside down changes your perspective. We paddled slow, meandered, both of us lost in thought.

The harsh reality is that there is no guarantee in this life that we will get a chance to say goodbye. I know that more than most. Another reality is that try as you might, some people, some situations just aren’t fixable. Not in this lifetime anyway. Life is short, we say. But why don’t we live as though we really believe it is? We waste so much time on anger, worry, little irritations that won’t matter a hill of beans in eternity.

Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadth, and my lifetime is as nothing before you. Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath! Selah Surely a man goes about as a shadow! Surely for nothing they are in turmoil; man heaps up wealth and does not know who will gather! Psalm 39:5,6

I need to get dressed……the day is already slipping away. Looking up, I see the bright red stickers that Mike left on our vents before he installed them, and I never want to take them off. I don’t want to forget his life. Because his life mattered to God and to his family. He left an indelible snapshot in my mind and now I have another, of someone else I exchanged words with however briefly. My Mom tells me that he was the only neighbor to ask how she was when she was sick, to tell her how happy he was that she was outside again.

And yes, you can say the most selfish thing in the world you can do is take your own life and I believe that. But I also believe that like the sticker says, we are not “guaranteed unbreakable.” Even God Himself had to be breakable for a time. Shortly before the cross He said, “This is my body, broken for you……..” Thankfullythe difference was and is, He had the power to put Himself back together which allows Him able to put us back together as well.

Please join me in praying for this dear family who is broken right now beyond my imagination.

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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.