The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Thankful

Many of the Samaritans from that village committed themselves to him because of the woman’s witness: “He knew all about the things I did. He knows me inside and out!” They asked him to stay on, so Jesus stayed two days. A lot more people entrusted their lives to him when they heard what he had to say. They said to the woman, “We’re no longer taking this on your say-so. We’ve heard it for ourselves and know it for sure. He’s the Savior of the world!” John 4:39:42

All of us long to have our story told, and not just the good parts, the whole story. Somehow I feel like that woman must’ve run away from Jesus lighter in heart, unburdened, free. Aren’t we all walking around with burdens we wish we could throw off? Oh, we share…..but we share just what we want others to know, the whitewashed versions.

Secretly, don’t we all fear that if we told everything, it would confirm the fact that we are all just a little insane? What things do you tell Jesus just after you lay your head on your pillow each night?

Some mornings lately, I feel like I just crashed landed on the earth. Delivered fresh from the jaws of night, coughed up on the shore covered with whale spit, just like a bewildered (but thankful) Jonah. I’ve just retired from a job I’ve been at for 20 years. I am still trying on the feeling of not having a plan. I can’t say I am too crazy about it.

I have a feeling the reason the woman at the well ran away bursting with joy was because she finally got rid of the baggage that was her life. (5 husbands and one live-in boyfriend later) She just met someone who knew her whole life story, recited it back to her in fact. Not only that, instead of shrinking away from her, He gave her a new life of freedom. A second chance. And because of her testimony, many in that town were saved.

My words aren’t many today and that’s okay. I will close with Buechner who says it better than I ever could:

He said, we all got secrets. I got them same as everybody else–things we feel bad about and wish hadn’t ever happened. Hurtful things, long ago things. We’re all scared and lonesome, but most of the time we keep it hid. It’s like every one of us has lost his way so bad we don’t even know which way is home anymore only we’re ashamed to ask. You know what would happen if we would own up we’re lost and ask? Why, what would happen is we’d find out home is each other. We’d find our home is Jesus that loves us lost of found or any whichway.” Frederick Buechner, The Book of Bebb

Lord: Thank you for interceding for us today. You know our needs, our individual burdens and heartaches. Help me to unburden myself and maybe someone else today too. Beat back the darkness in our lives and let Your light shine our my path. Thank you in advance for directing my steps. Amen

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

Wholly Holy

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This morning, I found it impossible to go to my usual place of prayer. I had to go out and greet the day, be there before the sun crested the Superstitions. I was on the search for a whisper of air and I needed to be physically present when the day began. I crumbled up some bread and left it in the usual spot. The grackles were the first to find it.

I wandered out front and swept the area in front of the doorways, part of my Holy ritual….I would have been a good little oriental shopkeeper, part of the morning should always be spent setting things aright…..making the bed, sweeping the porch. After I did that, I cleaned the cat box, not so Holy but just as necessary.

I went inside then, and grabbed my mug of coffee and three little books, journal, Jesus Calling, and Frederick Buechner’s Sacred Journey. When I went to go outside I noticed that around 20 assorted quail and dove had found the bread. Being me, I couldn’t disturb them so I quietly took the “prayer chair” from the shop and brought it around the other side so I could be outside and see them but they wouldn’t see me.

I finished Sacred Journey……I heartily recommend it. I highlighted many places in the book that I know I will go back to. As I sat there listening to quail and dove cry, I watched the clouds turn pink from the blush of the sunrise.

An hour of worship outside, though it’s not a substitute for church, I find it just as meaningful and just as necessary a part of our walk with Christ. And as I sat there, another Holy thing happened. A hummingbird came to the red yucca I was sitting right next to and took his time going from bloom to bloom, even stopping the beat of his wings to light on the branch as he drank. As I looked at his little curled feet as he hovered there, I thought what a little gem of a bird he was.

And I thought, if I had been in my usual spot, I would’ve missed him.

How incredible are God’s works; how wondrous His eye for detail in every little thing. It’s the day before my 56th Birthday and I can say that out loud. In reverence, praise and gratitude I thank Him for bringing me thus far on the journey.

Wholly Holy.

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No more goodbyes

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“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Revelation 21:4

When the girl at the airport hears the announcement that her plane is starting to board, she turns to the boy who is seeing her off. “I guess this is goodbye,” she says.

The noise of the traffic almost drowns out the sound of the word, but the shape of it lingers on the old man’s lips. He tries to look vigorous and resourceful as he holds out his hand to the other old man. “Goodbye.” This time they say it so nearly in unison that it makes them both smile.

The poignancy of “Goodbye.” Frederick Buechner captures the tragedy and sadness of it beautifully in today’s reading from “Listening to Your Life.” I remembered this one as soon as I flipped the page, because at some point I had circled the date on it. It always rocks me to the core, because this is the essence of what it means to feel the sorrow of the fall.

We were never meant for death or any kind of goodbyes for that matter. He never desired it or designed us for it. That all came when we presumed to know better  and went for that one forbidden thing He knew would separate ourselves from Him forever. And this of course, is the whole reason Jesus came. That we might be able to banish that word from our experience and vocabulary forever. In His great mercy, He has given us a second chance to trust His love.

The swift passage of time startles me into the realization that I don’t have much of it left. I am ready to be done with coming and going. Regularly, I have to board a plane and leave one home for another. I have done it for years now, and it only gets harder. I pray that God will grant me this one wish. Because goodbyes are like a little bit of hell, over and over again. Selfishly, I want everyone in one place. There, I said it.

And yet, it would be wrong to describe the sorrow of goodbye without the Heavenly joy of the greetings I cherish on arrival. If I never have to board a plane again, I will always remember the hopeful joy in their faces, the shriek of delight at seeing me grinning my way down that escalator jostling my luggage. The arms held open……..Yes, that right there is a little bit of the sweetness of Heaven.

And always someone on each end to welcome me home.

The Miracle of Belief

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I live and move and believe in a state of Grace, each day. The fact that I believe is a testimony to God’s great mercy and each day I am awed and greatly humbled by that fact. What makes one person believe and strive to live out a faith and another not give it a thought? I have always thought that people usually die just the way they lived unless a miracle happens. We are all born under the same stars but under many different sets of circumstances. I have seen people make it out of unbearable conditions of life and come to belief in God and salvation in Jesus. And I have seen others with seemingly every opportunity crash right through life, leaving all kinds of destruction in their wake and not ever look up and the sky and wonder “who put all that there.”

It’s amazing really.

We went to visit Joyce at the Care Facility yesterday, and it’s always a grim reminder of mortality. Two ladies were sitting out in the patio in 100 hundred plus degrees puffing away on their cigarettes. Both their lips were moving, cigarettes bobbing up and down, spilling ash as they talked. There but for the grace go any of us……….I always find myself praying a lot when I go there and the prayer is just under my breath………”Oh dear Jesus don’t let me live this long.” What I really mean is, “Don’t let me end up in a place like this.” It’s tough to visit, and I can imagine it’s tough to work there too.

But Joyce is blessed, she has a good daughter, a Grace-filled light in the window to come bring her treats, to do things for her that otherwise don’t seem to get done. It’s hard to visit because there is not much conversation to be had anymore, but this is the tough part of a real and living faith.

Who is your light in the window today? We all need to recognize these gifts from God and look up awestruck and thank Him each and every day. His gifts come in all different forms. I pray that I will always be able to see what’s standing right in front of me as His grace…….His love……His mercy.

I have recently restarted Frederick Buechner’s “Listening to Your Life” again. It is a gem of a book……I don’t know how many times I have read through it, but each time I pick it up again I find I’m reading it with new eyes. He is one of the writers I reach for when my feelings are too deep for my own measly words.

Add to that list, Thomas Merton, Henry Nouwen and C.S. Lewis.

A final thought from today’s devotional:

“The idea of the immortality of the soul is based on the experience of man’s indomitable spirit. The idea of the resurrection of the body is based on the experience of God’s unspeakable love.” Frederich Buechner, Sept 2, Listening to Your Life

We are all hurtling toward either Heaven or hell. Jesus said that, not me. Each day there is a new chance to change your direction. “You must warn each other every day, while it is still “today,” so that none of you will be deceived by sin and hardened against God.” Hebrews 3:13

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I give you Buechner……I give you today.

 

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Reading from the devotional book, “Listening to Your Life” by Frederick Buechner:

September 1

It is a moment of light surrounded on all sides with darkness and oblivion. In the entire history of the universe, let alone in your own history there has never been another just like it and there will never be another just like it again. It is the point to which all your yesterdays have been leading since the hour of your birth. It is the point from which all your tomorrows will proceed until your death. If you were aware of how precious it is, you could hardly live through it.  Unless you are aware of how precious it is, you can hardly be said to be living at all.

“This is the day that The Lord has made,” say the 118th Psalm. “Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Or weep and be sad in it for that matter. The point is to see it for what it is because it will be gone before you know it. If you waste it, it is your life that you’re wasting. If you look the other way, it may be the moment you’ve been waiting for always that you’re missing.

All other days have either disappeared into darkness and oblivion or not yet emerged from them. Today is the only day there is.

Whew…..few writers like that guy. Even when capturing the beauty of the moment, he comes off a little fatalistic, but then again, life is pretty fatalistic. The point is to treasure each day as if it’s the only one you have, for it just may be, and then eternity awaits. Embrace the joy of this new day, because there is always reason to hope…..to dance.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good!
    His faithful love endures forever……….Psalm 118:29

photo taken in Moss Landing, California

 

 

Listening to my life…….

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He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle. He will bring justice to all who have been wronged. Isaiah 42:3

I have abstained from writing about all the current events because I wanted to let my thoughts settle. Listening to all the recent events my mind has felt like an unsettled pond and at the end of a long work week I feel like I can finally take a deep breath and let it settle somewhat. Between the horrific events involving the Islamic militants, Robin Williams, and Ferguson, Mo. it was like my mind just couldn’t keep up. There were plenty of other better writers and bloggers editorializing and I didn’t feel like I wanted to throw my voice into the ring. The ring was noisy and crowded and so was my mind.

Sometimes a writer has to know when it’s right to jump into the ring of fire or stay on the perimeter looking in for a while.

Last night we had one of our summer storms that are common for Arizona but never common for me. Storms are natures way of breaking loose, of showing us we are not in control. I went out to the freeway just before it hit and took a few shots and felt rewarded. I found the Superstitions veiled in a cloak of dust and clouds and God’s promise.

On the other side of the overpass, the sun was making her exit amidst the backdrop of clouds………

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When I got home my Dad called, “I was reading Listening to Your Life, he said, do you have it?” I said yes……..then he paused and said, “I wonder if any of us really understands the Bible? We think we do, but sometimes I don’t think we have a clue what it means.” He went on the describe the passage he had read from the entry on February 8 and when I hung up I read it. Here is a partial reading:

When you find something in a human face that calls out to you, not just for help but in some sense for yourself, how far do you go in answering that call, how far can you go, seeing that you have your own life to get on with as much as he has his?

I thought of the sermon by Charles Stanley that I listened to that morning. He was talking about missed opportunities and how many pass us by each day. Then he went on to talk about Peter and how he could easily have said no thank you to Jesus offer to follow Him. After all, he had a livelihood, he had a life, he had a family to support. But something about Jesus made him realize that this offer was not like any other. As a result, Peter is one we recognize as being one of Jesus closest friends and followers. The rock on which the Church was built.

Parallel his life to that of the rich young ruler who had everything. He clung to his life and turned down Jesus’ offer. We never hear what happened to him but the Bible never says anything more about his life.

I believe it pays to listen to those closest to Heaven, children and old people. It pays to listen to your life and those around you. I am listening to mine today as I ask myself how far I am willing to go for Jesus. I give my allotted time and money and sometimes not even that. I don’t always focus on Him while I pray, I miss the Holy moments far too often and I tend to avoid people if I have a choice.

I am that weakest reed, that flickering candle. But my prayer today is “Thank you God, for not letting me go.”

Despite everything, He loves me. He strives with me. He sees me, the girl who gazes on His world with wonder and it makes Him smile that I notice.

God keeps a tally, the scales of justice are in His hands. He’s the one who will set things right ultimately, and that’s a promise. It doesn’t mean we stand back and do nothing, but it does mean that we can’t fix everything. Maybe we just fight the injustice in our own little corners for a start.

As for me, I went as far as that windy street corner up around 120th street and Broadway, and I can see him standing there as in some way he is standing there still. He is alone and making the best of it with his thin, church rummage overcoat flapping around his legs. His one free hand is raised in the air to wave goodbye. It was the last time. “Here and there in the world and now and then in ourselves,” Tillich said, “is a new Creation.” This side of glory, maybe that is the best we can hope for. Frederich Buechner, Listening to Your Life.