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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.

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.

 

Sacred Moments

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In the light of all that is happening in Texas, I sit here in the quiet; I realize again that the Sacred comes many times in the ordinariness of the start of the day.

I see the flooded homes, see the panicked people and animals clinging to each other and it doesn’t seem real. Too terrible to watch and yet I owe it to them to not turn away.

It’s the first communion-like pour of the steaming cup.  The old faithful senior cat who has been through so much with us, resting on his post after his breakfast. If I lost everything in this Motorhome and had him safe in a carrier I could be okay.

I see the two dogs in the row-boat, and them trying to save the horses, and I see 5 cats shivering in a basket with 4 strong heroes carrying them to safety.

David Nevue’s peace floats through this little space we call home this morning and I am praying for the flooded people, and thankful that someone I care about is safe in the other little room playing with her phone, I hear a video and it’s comforting. And that my family is too across town. This is the sacred part:

It’s in these little moments before the day starts to crash through my brain and everything starts all over again that I feel that just maybe everything really will be okay because He said it will. 

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. John 14:27

Be with them all Father. Bring your comfort to the shelters and the roads and the rooftops where people are hunkered down, waiting for rescue, for the next step. I pray for all the organizations going over to help, all the individuals and groups taking boats and supplies and love. May your grace wrap itself around them all. Amen

And be with us too, Father, because some of us have disasters right here.

A new day has dawned, and as long as we have Him, we have hope.

A Million Avenues

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“Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people He has chosen for His own inheritance.” Psalm 33:12

“After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.” Revelation 7:9 

It’s a miracle really that any of us seeks or knows God. Navigating this faith journey is a great mystery. What makes some of us look up, look in, look outside of ourselves to something or someone bigger than we are? God placed within each of us that need and desire. What do we fill the vacuum which C.S. Lewis so aptly describes as “God-sized?”

He calls us, each of us, if we listen. He uses a million avenues to do it. To me the “no-brainer” is nature, but that doesn’t work for some. They can explain that one away, but I can’t. To watch the redwoods glow red as they filled up with sunlight this morning was Holy and I can’t deny it. I don’t want to either.

The nation God is talking about is not any country here on this earth. It has no boundary or border or President. Its origin and beginnings were already established in the mists of Creation as God’s Spirit moved along the waters. He already had me on His easel. There was a place for me there. That astounds me.

This year has brought big changes in my life. I am continuing to deal with anxiety and clouds of depression that come. There is a weight on my soul such as I have never felt before. I am no longer fighting it, but am trying to rest in it. I don’t know why but I somehow feel it is a necessary season and it will pass.

I am very blessed to have a wonderful confidant (Elaine, yes you) and support here on earth and I know God hasn’t left me. I stand on His word and the Holy Spirit who resides in my heart. I am sealed for the day of redemption. (Signed sealed and delivered, but still a work in progress.)

I rest between the brilliant flashes of beauty He gives when He knows I need them most. They leak into my soul and reassure me that all is well and all will be well. They are like the stones you use to cross a body of water, you don’t look at the swirling water but give your concentration to the individual stone.

Life continues to be good.

As I listened to David Nevue this morning in the quiet hour of 6:00 I saw a spot of sun rest right on the doorknob of my Aunt’s house and it reminded me of the verse where Jesus says He is standing at the door of our heart knocking to come in. If my writing causes even one person to look toward Jesus, then I know I will have used my gift right.

Look up friends. God never disappoints.

Tea and toast and self preservation

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Yesterday I fought through my route, feeling sick. I felt better at the end of the day but today I awoke still feeling puny. I needed a day for tea and toast. I am washed out, washed up. Stressed. I am so very blessed. Elaine made me scrambled eggs and bacon and my Zen tea. The kind I used to get at the Intel cafe when my life was ordered and predictable. Today I am missing my old uncomplicated life. From a distance the stress I had there seems minute.

It was a beautiful weekend at the ocean, in one of our favorite places. It didn’t disappoint…..it never does. Moss Landing is a little fishing village along the Pacific coast by Monterey, California. There is no shopping, and only one hotel. Nothing to do but eat at Iconic Phil’s Fish Market and walk for miles on the beach. It was just what we needed.

And, after hemming and hawing with my finger on the “Book Now” button on my IPhone for an hour, I decided to do something I have wanted to do for years, I went on a whale watching charter. After I got over the strange reaction from the motion sickness patch the night before, we headed out at 7:00 AM the next morning. And we were rewarded with whales! They didn’t get as close as I thought, but we saw them. And I didn’t get sick. On the way out I wanted to hear John Denver’s, “Calypso” played loud over the speakers.

The sea was rolling and some fog swallowed us up for a time, but it was magical to be in their playground.

Our last day we had another lunch at Phil’s looking out over the Pacific. We collected a few shells and bits of seaglass before packing up and heading home. We were greeted with warmer temperatures when we got there. At last we were settled in. I called my Mom and her voice was tight with stress.

Then I got the horrible text that I didn’t deserve and that I wasn’t expecting. Welcome home……Can I go back to the ocean please?

And I have been sick for two days. Yesterday, I quit fighting and took a day off  and went back to bed. Some days you have to take care of yourself and let others take care of you. Last night I crawled into the peaceful magic back space in the Motorhome with my book and fell into a dreamless sleep. I awoke to “Dinner’s Ready” and the sound of Amazing Grace playing on the smooth jazz station where we have never heard it played before.

Sometimes God gives you exactly what you need right when you need it.

I am guarding my heart today and yet I hope God will show me how to keep it open enough to extend grace. I am learning that protecting myself is okay.

 

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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It’s Friday but Monday’s coming….

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Philippians 4:6-7  do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Last night was Friday and now I join the throngs saying, “TGIF.” After having spent years doing 12 hour shifts and enjoying a string of 3 and 4 day weekends at the end, I am now working a five-day week. I do have to qualify that by saying it’s only a four-hour day. Before you laugh yourself silly at my puny four hours, let me tell you that I lost sleep, cried, prayed, and worried myself sick for the first two weeks I was there.

There is a truth about me that surprises some people because I can come off as being very mellow, relaxed and easy-going. The truth is that I can tie myself up in knots over things that someone else may not spend even two minutes worrying over. Even things some people consider fun, I can turn into a turmoil of gut wrenching anxiety. It can be crippling.

It has taken me 57 years to realize that the only thing (person) big enough to handle my anxiety is God Himself. Trying to smother it or medicate it doesn’t work for me, it just comes back bigger than life after the haze wears off. For those of you taking medication prescibed for anxiety or depression, this does not mean you. There are times when this is needed.

This is what I think…….That we are all of us in recovery in some form or another, and I think it starts at birth. From the moment we are pushed into this life, it starts.

What are you in recovery over today? I have learned to embrace my need for help with this thing. I got help. I had five free sessions of counseling when I left Intel and it’s the best thing I ever did. That lady “got me” the very first session. I think God sent her.

Please don’t ever let anyone tell you it’s weak to get help. It’s the strong who realize when they need it and take the hand of support that’s offered.

I am learning not to live for the weekend, but live for the day because sure as anything,  I know that these two days will fly by and I will be set down smack dab in the middle of Monday before I know it. And God will meet me there too. That is what He’s been trying to tell me for 57 years now, and I have made some progress. There was a time in my life when I would have walked, no……run away from anything that put me way out of my comfort zone.

But God waits outside your and my comfort zone. And He’s here on a beautiful Saturday too. Live in the here and now, where Jesus tells us He is.

Forgive me, Father for putting other things on the throne of my life. Things like worrying about my own failure. You have already given me the tools to complete the tasks I need to do. Reel me back in from myself. You are all I ever need. Thank you for a friend who looks out for my good. (Elaine) Everyone needs someone they can spill their worries to without fear. Now I do the same to You, Lord.

Thank you for this good day that You have made. How dare I look at how you hung the moon, placed the stars, keep everything in motion and still not trust you! 

And thank you, Marty Unruh for your artwork, my friend. We did pick the right verse!