Looking for a little Narnia

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Lucy and Aslan

I remember a time when the world felt safe. Oh, I know it has never been totally safe, but in my reality it was. Every kid needs to feel safe so that when they grow up and find they have lost their way and everything looks dark and scary they will be able to pull that memory out. Lately the world doesn’t feel safe or kind. I scrolled through my Facebook news feed today and I swear I could hear it screaming.

I heard from the Anti-guns, Anti-gays, Anti-Gods, Anti-Religions, and Anti-Governments, and Anti-Muslims, and Anti-Christians and mostly everyone sounded angry. I looked around for home and reached back to a time before death and sorrow and misunderstandings and hurt feelings and sadness.

I remembered a world brimming with hope. There are so many things I don’t understand. I wish for a little Narnia, a little Middle Earth. In those worlds everything is cut and dried. Forces of evil are fought by forces of good and good prevails. End of story.

Too often in this world we don’t even know who the real enemy is. Everything is twisted and confused and misconstrued. We look for justice and we don’t see it coming any time soon. Sometimes we even turn on each other out of frustration. We wish for a world where everyone is on the same side. We wish there weren’t any sides.

I don’t understand why evil is allowed to flourish. Yesterday I heard someone ridicule a Christian believer for believing in talking snakes, well I happen to believe that impossible things can happen in God’s world because nothing is impossible with Him. I believe that if He has to use a talking donkey  to scare some sense into Balaam, then that’s exactly what He will do.

Then the LORD gave the donkey the ability to speak. “What have I done to you that deserves your beating me three times?” it asked Balaam.

I happen to believe God wants justice for donkeys and humans alike. You see, the donkey saw an angel which Balaam was too thick-headed to see. Sometimes animals are smarter than humans. I happen to believe in a world where sometimes God produces miracles out of madness.

And the world is more than a little mad right now. We have known terrorists on our FBI most wanted lists planning attacks yet we can do nothing until they kill scores of people. Instead our authorities choose to go after a little boy who shared some Scripture to his school friends. It’s an upside down world. A world where you can easily lose your way.

Jesus asks us to do just one thing each day. To take the hand He offers and find the courage to get up and start walking on wobbly knees just like those He healed. I don’t know about you, but something in me needs healing every day. And the older I get, the more things need healing.

Jesus said, “Get up, take your bedroll, start walking.” The man was healed on the spot. He picked up his bedroll and walked off. (Note that Jesus first asked the man to get up. Sometimes just getting up is the hardest thing to do.) John 16:33

I remember what Elaine always said when she was going through the Alzheimer’s with her Mom, “I just keep going forward,” she would tell me, “Because if I stopped I may never want to get up again.” Because she knew where her help came from she was able to do what seemed impossible at the time.

Jesus answered them, “Do you finally believe? In fact, you’re about to make a run for it—saving your own skins and abandoning me. But I’m not abandoned. The Father is with me. I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.” The Message

There is an end to this race we’re on and the good news is that He’s already won it for us.

Take a step of healing with me won’t you?

The Power of Memory

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Prayer for today: Oh Lord, help. I have no idea how this year is going to go, but thank you in advance for blazing a trail before us…….You have never let us down yet. Amen

This morning in prayer it struck me that one of the best gifts we can hand down to our children and others in our lives is to provide them with good memories. Kids will forget the gifts they unwrapped in a few days time, but they will never forget the times you spent together whether good or bad.

This weekend, I had an occasion to relive some old memories and add some new ones to the collection. My cousin and her husband came for a visit, and so did Elaine’s nephew. We had a great time reliving all those old times, in fact they surrounded us as our companions as a backdrop as we laughed and talked and filled each other in on the past few years.

I guess maybe you don’t think too much about memory until you care for someone who has had theirs stolen like Joyce had. What would it be like to lose those memories that make up a life? Wouldn’t it be like losing your life? Memories make up so much of who we are. Memory is the sum of what makes us individuals in many ways. You and I might hear the same song and that same song conjures up altogether different images in our minds.

While you might think of a pleasant time growing up in a little Spanish village, maybe images of little old men and women opening their shops, sweeping in the warmth of the sun. I might borrow a memory from my Mom in the 1940’s when she told me about going out to meet the trains and wave to the soldiers as went off to war. And what a powerful thing, when we share those memories, they mingle together like a little bit of magic and yours become a little of mine and vice versa.

If you share a life with someone then you share a wealth of memories and moments where you might look at each other at the exact same time and say, “Do you remember that time?” Those same memories that can bring such sharp grief after they’re gone, can turn soft and healing with time and provide great comfort.

Memories have tremendous power to grip us for good or ill. Sometimes holding us hostage for years. Sometimes sending us to rehab or the psychiatrists couch. Sometimes they’re the only thing that keeps us from losing our grip.

A further thought is that worry is like a perverted form of memory because worry conjures up things that haven’t even happened yet. It’s borrowing negative from a future that may or may not even come to reality. It is tiresome and burdensome and renders you useless to the present and unable to be fully there for those around you.

It’s why Jesus cautions us so often about worry. He knows how destructive it is. It never leads to peace. He beckons us to turn and look back down the road He’s already led us, so our minds can settle again. He has promised everything we need for today, He only asks us to keep walking in His direction.

I am thanking Joyce today for the gratitude I have for my memories. Elaine has her remains now. It’s a very odd thing to see them on her shelf, someone I knew so well even though I know she isn’t there. I also know that someday I will come to the same state, unless Jesus comes back before that happens. And I hope that I will still be teaching someone something, like Joyce continues to teach me.

We are all in this together, thank God.

Advent: Looking toward the Light

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“The Lord is my Shepherd [to feed, to guide and to shield me],
I shall not want.” Psalm 23:1 AMP 

In the deep dark of morning I was reflecting on the events of the past week trying to fall back asleep when I realized my usual method was failing me. I couldn’t get past the first line of the 23rd Psalm. I think that was exactly what God intended.

Sometimes He doesn’t mean for us to jump ahead when He knows that all we need is right there in the first line……”With God, I have all I need.” Stop. Done. Nothing more to say.

It’s been a season of highs and lows this Advent. How do you keep looking towards the Light when circumstances threaten to snuff out the “Merry and Bright” aspects of the season we celebrate? This has been our challenge this year. On the upside, I got to help put on a wonderful party for my niece, it was her 13th, a big one. Everything and everyone worked, even the Christmas lights, both front and back.

Everyone had a great time, adults and kids alike and the highlight of the night was when one of the floats from the Christmas parade pulled up out front complete with music, animation and hundreds of tiny lights. It was arranged through my brother’s friend and it was wonderful to see everyone coming out of their houses to enjoy it.

The downside was that Elaine’s Mom took a turn for the worse before I left and passed away the week I was away. You can never prepare for that. Death might be swallowed up in victory in Christ, but when it comes to call, we are reminded all over again how wrong it is, how unnatural. How it was never meant to be. My heart hurt for her from miles away and I could do nothing but pray.

Then, as we were all recovering from the Birthday party, my Mom fell outside of CVS Pharmacy. I wasn’t with her but thankfully a friend happened to be there, that part I know was Divine intervention. He drove her home. The following days before I left I was able to go with her to the Doctor for wound care.

And the question we ask over and over again in times like this is, what does His coming mean to us in the here and now moments of life?

The answer still lays in the Manger, and in the fields where the Shepherds were watching their flocks, it thunders from the brilliant sky which was suddenly and miraculously lit up by myriads of Angels.

Over and over again, this is the message we live out:

Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men, with whom He is pleased.” 

We hold on to the One who will never disappoint even when everyone else may, even those we love most. In any and every circumstance this life throws at us, we can have hope in the One who will never disappoint.

That is what we cling to this season and every day. By faith we hold up our heads and continue to put one foot in front of the other. It’s why every morning and every evening I flip the switch that lights up the tree and I plug in every strand of garland that hangs.

Those lights represent a hope, or rather a Who, that can never be extinguished.

Because He came and lives today, we can too.

Advent: Peace in the Chaos

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Even youths grow tired and weary,
    and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
    will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
    they will run and not grow weary,
    they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40:30,31

December 1st is here and it arrived with everyone breathless and scurrying. This morning my heater gave out in the shop so my prayer time was shortened. I know it shouldn’t have been but I am a fair-weather pray-er and it was 50 degrees out there. My blood is thin, accustomed as it is to the sun and warmer temps. So the tree was in the living room all decked out in lights but no ornaments. Elaine has been frantically going from work to the Carehome since her Mom fell and broke her hip. There was simply no time. So this morning I drug all the boxes in and set to work. I had a deadline to meet since her brother was coming and I wanted to be available if I was needed.

At around the 4th time going through both the Easter and Christmas portions of Handel’s Messiah, it was finished, bedecked in all it’s glory. I had fun doing it. I felt pretty good considering I slept fitfully as usual and awoke at my usual time of 2:00 am. When I saw Elaine briefly later at noon she said, “Why didn’t you come in my room, we could have had coffee and talked.” Seems we were both awake at the same time.

Sometimes, Advent comes whether we are ready or not. But ready or not, it’s always a blessing.

And this road we’ve been on has been so long. Ever since her Mom has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s to now, it’s been about 10 years. I think of everything that has happened since and it’s staggering that Elaine’s been able to do it all and work too.

It’s late and I really need to go to bed. My brain feels like scrambled eggs. And my dear niece is turning 13 tomorrow and soon I will see her.

And it’s life and death and the cycle of it all……And He is here and if not for Him in the midst of everything, where in the world would any of us be?

The Thankful In-Betweens

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“I call out to the Lord and He answers from His Holy mountain. I lay down and sleep; I wake again because the Lord sustains me.”  Psalm 3:4,5

Sometimes God gives you a little reset button. This morning I had one of those tossing and turning times. For two hours I worried about every possible thing for about 30 years down the road. That always helps so much doesn’t it. Worrying? It’s a useless action. It saps you of strength and leaves you drained. But this morning after I tossed and turned, God whispered a little thought through my cat. No God does not speak through my cat, I am not that crazy, although sometimes I do think they understand what I say.

Here’s the thought that God brought to me as I gazed at Sydney whose face was inches away from mine, (we were fighting over the pillow, you see). As I was worrying my way through the future, God said…..(through the cat) “Look at how safe you’ve kept me all these years. Fourteen of them to be exact. You have taken me to the vet when I have been sick, and you kept me safe through the last move. You made sure I didn’t get out when the movers were coming and going. You stuffed me in that box when I didn’t want to go in, and I fought you all the way because I was scared and didn’t realize you were doing it to keep me safe. But here I am, all these years later, still happy and healthy. I have soft things to sleep on and I have never had to sleep out in the cold like some of my counterparts.

“When I used to go out, you kept me safe too from those neighbor cat bullies. And I never have to worry about where my next meal is coming from because there is always food in the dish. I can relax and sleep because I have total trust in you. I never have to worry about anyone or anything hurting me because you and I have built up that trust. Day in and day out for 14 years you have watched over me, and loved me. Even now, here I am purring with contentment as you stroke my fur.”

And then God whispered, “Yeah, kind of like how I have taken care of you now for what……all these 56 years.”

And you know what happened after I had those thoughts? I fell back asleep in the deepest sleep, and I awoke refreshed. God gave me a reset button.

But here’s another reset button you can use for your fretful mind.  It’s the best antidote I have found to put worry in its place and you can use it throughout the whole day. It’s prayer and gratitude.  1 Thessalonians 5:16 says:

 “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

There will always be another reason to worry, but there will also be more reasons not to, when you think of how faithful God has been over the years. Start counting thanks and see what happens. Thankfulness is real and it’s tangible, because God has really been there, every single time.

Yesterday was a tough day for Elaine. Her Mom hasn’t been doing well for a few days. Yet, in the midst of all the hard questions, the wondering just how much longer she will have to live in this state she never wanted to be in, there were a few times we had to laugh despite the disparity of the situation. Through this whole Alzheimer’s nightmare, we have managed to keep our sense of humor, at least a shred of it, against all odds. And that is a kind of miracle.

After Joyce had all she wanted of the Chinese food Elaine brought, two other ladies circled the wagons and came in to see what it was. One bellied up to the bar and pulled the takeout container over. Elaine fished around for a fork in the kitchen and gave her one. Instead of the fork, she dug in with her fingers. Elaine tried to get her to smile but she wasn’t having any of it. Her Mom sat there looking part disgusted and part, “get me out of here.” We took her back to her room. More happened after that, but that part is better left unsaid. It’s why we had to go to Wal-Mart, which is another bit of crazy on a Sunday.

Ever feel like you are in a little band of crazy and you want to leave the band but you can’t?

We found new flip-flops for 98 cents and took them back over to the Carehome. (The others were no longer fit to wear.) These are the only shoes she seems to keep on now. I was thankful I could go with her to do that, I am always thankful to do it because I know she does many of these things alone when I am at work.

Despite all this, we sat outside the other night after Elaine cooked a meal worthy of a five-star resort and ate. And just as I was about to say the prayer we looked up and saw after effects of the rocket that was launched in Southern California. That was cool. It’s a mixed bag this life, full of equal parts pain and beauty, until we reach the shores of Heaven that is.

And today, now that the weather is blessedly cool, that is always something to be very thankful for here in the desert.

He remembered us in our low estate:

His love endures forever.

and freed us from our enemies:

His love endures forever.

He gives food to every creature:

His love endures forever.

Give thanks to the God of Heaven:

His love endures forever.

Psalm 136: 23-26

 

A Soul Cracked Open

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We tend to think that religion is sitting stiff and antiseptic and a little bored and that joy is laughter and freedom and reaching out our arms to embrace the whole wide and preposterous earth which is so beautiful that sometimes it nearly breaks our hearts. We need to be reminded that Christianity is joy and that laughter and freedom and the reaching out of arms are the essence of it. Frederick Buechner, The Hungering Dark, Listening to Your Life, October 28

I came away from the news with a blackness threatening to cloud my mind as it usually does when I watch it at all now. Inasmuch as I think we all have a responsibility to know what’s going on in the world, here lately a little snippet goes a long way. It confirms what the Bible says: that human nature still hasn’t found a way of redeeming itself. There is a comfort for me in that, for the darker things seem in the world, the more I am finding true comfort from my Redeemer.  The brighter His light shines.

How can I adequately describe the wild joy in prayer when I least expect it? Or how can I describe faith? It’s like blowing on an ember you didn’t think had any life in it, and watching it as it brilliantly flares from within. Writing these thoughts is almost painful because I want everyone to understand and know the hope that lays beyond all the beauty that is still out there. All the things we see and feel and touch……all of this, even if we can appreciate it, means nothing without God’s Spirit to illuminate it.

Beauty is one of the things God cracks our souls with so the Light of Heaven can get in. 

When I think of all the places I have been and the beauty I have seen it almost breaks my heart for those who can’t see who is truly behind it all. Whose Spirit resides as the backdrop for it all, whose unapproachable Light gleams behind every flame colored leaf fluttering against the sky. One whose breath moved along the waters even before the world began. My soul is cracked open at the wonder of it all. That I am here at all.

Without God, and without His Spirit moving through it, all this beauty is dead even while it lives. And that is the weight, the heaviness we carry in this life, the burden we feel to keep it all going. God invites us to step off the carousel, just for a while, so that we can remember that He has kept it going all along. We feel the tiredness of this world because it echoes our own, but even as we share the burden of it, glimmering at its edges we see the brilliance of that other world. The Promise and the Joy of Heaven in the here and the now.

Joy is where the whole being is pointed in one direction, and it is something that by its nature a man never hoards but always wants to share. The second thing is that joy is a mystery because it can happen anywhere, anytime, even under the most unpromising circumstances, even in the midst of suffering, with tears in its eyes. Even nailed to a tree.

Frederick Buechner, The Hungering Dark, Listening to Your Life, October 28

When your cup of sacrifice feels like it’s overflowing

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Sometimes it seems like your cup of sacrifice is overflowing. You want to hold your hand tightly over the cup, never mind that it’s spilling down your arm. You want to say, “When….when……enough already! Those who are caregivers, feel this. They live it daily. I see it. Everyday I see a daughter’s love overflow in terms of sacrifice. In terms of love that hurts.

I see the Walgreen’s bag and I think all these thoughts. I think that most people don’t know the backstory, but God does. He always does. I take the Lay’s potato chips and the Snickers and the coke and put them in their places until her next visit to her Mom in Room 8.

I see that bag and think of all it represents…….I think of about 100 bags just like that over the past two years since her Mom has been in the Alzheimer’s facility and I think of all the in-between years leading up to it. A best friend knows.

The back story. We all have one. Hers was a difficult childhood. I guess you could say that her Mom was pretty much emotionally and many times physically not available. Chicken-scratch poor and married at 17, she was ill-equipped for parenting. She says, “Mom did the best she knew how.” But when best is sorely lacking you grow up with some scars.

You see, her Mom didn’t deal in emotion. You learn early not to cry, to stifle emotion when you’re told “Crying never solves anything.” So you bury, and submerge, and try harder to not mess up, since everything you do is watched with a critical eye and nothing you do ever seems to measure up.

When all the good you do is passed over and the one mistake is brought out into the limelight, you learn to keep trying for that golden ticket of praise that never comes.

But that didn’t put a damper on the bright spark of your personality. Living with a mean brother meant there was always chaos. Yelling and screaming were the norm. It was a fight or flight existence. So you went out and got to know all the neighbors. Did their lawns almost from the time you could walk.

And all along, you dreamed of somewhere quiet, somewhere safe. A refuge to call your own.

Later in life you stepped in front of your older brother when he thought it was okay to start beating his wife and kids, and even his own Mother. You took the blows for that, then your Mom got mad because she couldn’t understand why you didn’t want to pick him up from jail.

When you were 17, before you graduated, they left for overseas and didn’t come back for 13 years. You took care of the bills and the house and the yard, and then got kicked out when your Mom said you had to make way for abusive brother and new wife to move in. After all, he had a family.

You moved into the condo they left trashed and then he had the nerve to ask for rent.

And then there was the money your folks borrowed for the house you both lived in, the settlement money from the terrible accident that broke your back. After the house was sold you never saw that money.

For years you walked around with all that past, until the day you went to that river and held it under along with a lot of other things. You finally found that quiet place of peace in the person of Jesus. Your Mom was there and your Dad too, wondering why anyone would be crazy enough to be baptized in a river. But they were there.

All these years later, I watch you give your Mom back her dignity day after day. You replace incorrectly matched shoes, and 2 extra pair of underwear. You cut her hair and nails.

You learned a long time ago that the best way to heal is by making peace with the past.

Please know this. This post of mine is by no means meant to downgrade or disrespect your Mom, in fact, the opposite is true. For in light of everything else, there is one very important thing which she did incredibly right. She had you.

She had you even when they recommended an abortion. She had you, even though she was sick and they gave her those terrible drugs, even with all the risk,  she still said yes to having you, to giving you life. And for that, I will be eternally grateful; for that she gets my praise.

As your best friend for 26 years now, I stand in awe and amazement at how you have lived your life all these years. How you have lived out your faith by taking care of your family and putting yourself last too many times to count.

I watched as you sacrificed by taking a lower paying job so you could be nearer your Mom and have more time to take care of her. You took that job and made it into a ministry of love for the kids you drive to school every day.

So this is for you Elaine, because you never give yourself credit, I will. It’s what best friends are for.

I dedicate this post to sacrifice in all its many forms. We have a duty, those of us who write, to tell the back stories. All those who died 14 years ago today had back stories too, and we must keep those stories alive for their children and grandchildren and all of us who remain. And to Jesus Christ who paid the ultimate price so that we all might live.