Prayer Journal: August 11

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Rain slammed down hard last night, awakening me from sleep. It was a welcome sound…..something I had been hoping and praying for. And in between the silences thunder rolls this morning.

Here amidst the boxes in the shop, the Trinity and I are having our coffee communion. There are different types of communion you know. There’s the church kind and then there is this kind. Where we invoke and invite the Presence of God into our moments.

Thunder amplifies the Holiness of the hour, and I think about that Day.

When the sixth hour came, darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour. Mark 15:33

At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.

When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!” Matthew 27: 51-54

Some standing around finally got that they had killed not only a completely innocent man, but God Himself. Even nature reeled from it, punctuated the awful truth of it with darkness and an earthquake. The prophet Amos predicted it in 750 BC……

It will come about in that day,” declares the Lord GOD, “That I will make the sun go down at noon And make the earth dark in broad daylight. Amos 8:9

We, all of us want to know we’re going in the right direction. But sometimes, despite our best efforts, all the signs along the way, we get lost. Or feel lost. Ever made a mistake of epic proportions or feel like you did something irrevocable?

Few things can’t be reversed, forgiven or undone. That’s the Good News I bring today. And some paths you have to turn into on faith, knowing that the only way is to walk it for a while to know if it’s right.

With God there are no blind corners, He knows exactly where we are and what’s beyond the next bend. I just have to pick up my walking stick and follow.

Know this for sure, that uncertainty…..the dread of what might happen……the icy fear that slips in during the night? None of that came from God. 

I can assure you that if you are wondering where your happiness went? It wasn’t God who stole it. But I do know that He can bring it back.

Let the life-giving Holy Spirit breathe fresh life into your weary heart and soul today. And know that if you are living and breathing, that it’s a good day.

Letting God

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“My little story, which was like a fairy-tale, has turned into a prayer.” St. Therese

It’s nine thirty and by now I should be fully immersed in the business of life and ticking things off my to-do list. Nothing on my mental or physical list is done, unless you count morning prayer and devotion time and you can’t really check that off as a task. The whole point of prayer seems to be to never, ever have it completed. It’s an impossible task anyway, for I find that no sooner do I get off my knees, either figuratively or literally, that my next breath becomes a prayer again. Lately, it seems I need it to move from one thing to the next.

I ask God for the thousandth time to direct my path. Right now I am a stubborn leaf clinging to a rock in a fast flowing current. This home has been my monastery, my hermitage…….my refuge and place of peace for the past 10 or so years and part of me is fighting leaving. I look around and see everything placed just so, I see all the work, all the love, all the things we’ve done to make it home. So much life is in these walls. So many battles, joys, heartaches, sorrows, and always at the end of the day a sweet place of light and welcome.

It’s been a place to wipe the grime of the world off our feet and leave it behind on the other side of the threshold.

Each time I think of packing, taking anything down off the walls a little voice of rebellion screams, no. It’s change, and change is what I have always fought. At my job I was forced into it, and it was good for me. And I know change is necessary and healthy. Do I have the strength to start new?

I sit quiet, acutely aware of every little sound, not wanting to leave the peace of this moment. I hear the scratch of the pen, Briggs soft snore, Pandora filtering David Nevue’s piano as my backdrop. I hold my breath and it feels Holy.

My tears fall as I read once more from The Cloister Walk, a favorite I read long ago. This little home has been my Cloister like no other home has ever been. Do I have the courage to leave? Do I have what it takes to beat back the fear of the unknown?

I think of that little leaf, I see it as red somehow, scarlet against the gray stone. Something about it is fierce and brave and I admire it, I want to tell it to hold on and yet I know the current is part of the big picture and it has its place in the universe too.

Maybe, when it all comes down to it, this is why writers write, painters paint, restorers restore. It’s all about freezing time and a process of letting go again and again. We push words out like breath in order to keep from being overwhelmed and pulled under the current.

It’s a way of saying “this little moment is important” and the moment that comes after is just as important.

To God, time doesn’t matter. To us, it is everything. It’s all we have, right here and right now. It’s what we are guaranteed. There are really only two things in life that are guaranteed.

The here and now. And eternity. 

And I understand more the older I get that those two things are what Jesus meant when He said, “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” By His coming, He made the here and now collide with Heaven. And ultimately, it’s why I can step forward even with trembling knees and shaky feet.

It’s why I can step into the future and whatever it holds with hope. Because after all, “Letting Go” is only one letter away from “Letting God.”

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

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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

Spiritual Amnesia

My favorite Bible

Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear! Those who hear and don’t act are like those who glance in the mirror, walk away, and two minutes later have no idea who they are, what they look like. James 1:22-25

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. Thomas Merton

I decided I needed me some Thomas Merton today. He brings me close to nature and seems to have his finger on the pulse of what really matters. Because don’t we all suffer a little bit from Spiritual amnesia? That’s why church, that’s why Scripture, that’s why going out into the yard, gazing up at the moon at night. This ‘ol world just gets too noisy, too outlandish, too filled with things that really don’t matter.

You see, I am guilty. I am guilty of putting myself, my problems, my train wreck, my dysfunction on the throne where God belongs. And in doing so, I steal the joy that resides in every day, the joy that is rightfully mine as His child, the joy that the Holy Spirit longs to lavish on us. I am guilty of making myself God every time I am overwhelmed by my circumstances and give in to fear.

So for this day, I will remember how big God is. I will remember how He holds the moon and the stars and me. And in each and every little thing I do, I will bring Him into it. He’ll be there when I’m washing my car, and going to Costco. What a thought! At work when we wanted to get down to the heart of a problem we used the term “drilling down to the root cause.” Well, when we drill down to the root cause of discontent it’s because we’ve lost sight of how big God is.

I challenge you today to open the Scripture and see where it leads. I can guarantee that it always leads to life, just give a listen:

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change and though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea; Though its waters roar and foam, Though the mountains quake at its swelling pride. Psalm 46: 1-3

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. 1 John 3:2,3

Lord, I pray for all those today who are overwhelmed with the world, with the mess outside and in, I pray for peace for turbulent hearts, peace in dysfunctional families, and the assurance that God is still in control of everything and that He has a plan and it’s a good one. Amen

I’m telling you these things while I’m still living with you. The Friend, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send at my request, will make everything plain to you. He will remind you of all the things I have told you. I’m leaving you well and whole. That’s my parting gift to you. Peace. I don’t leave you the way you’re used to being left—feeling abandoned, bereft. So don’t be upset. Don’t be distraught. Jesus

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“I’m Right Here”…….God.

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“I’ve been working my heart out for the God-of-the-Angel-Armies,” aid Elijah. “The people of Israel have abandoned your covenant, destroyed the places of worship, and murdered your prophets. I’m the only one left, and now they’re trying to kill me.”Then he was told, “Go, stand on the mountain at attention before God. God will pass by.”A hurricane wind ripped through the mountains and shattered the rocks before God, but God wasn’t to be found in the wind; after the wind an earthquake, but God wasn’t in the earthquake; and after the earthquake fire, but God wasn’t in the fire; and after the fire a gentle and quiet whisper. When Elijah heard the quiet voice, he muffled his face with his great cloak, went to the mouth of the cave, and stood there. A quiet voice asked, “So Elijah, now tell me, what are you doing here?”

Morning Prayer:

Lord, I’m so tired of trying to figure things out in my own head. I want to work on your time-table not my own. Drop it in quietly like a feather–drop it in like a pin on a wood floor. Let me hear it like Elijah heard Your still small voice in the mouth of the cave. That voice that came after the fire. And let me not ignore it. I wonder, how many times in my life have I heard it and brushed it aside?

These quiet times in the morning are rewarded by your great mercy just about bowls me over. Each time I end up praising You. Oh God, how you have blessed us through the years. I look back and am amazed at how far we’ve come, how far you’ve brought us. We are rich…..blessed beyond measure because we are acquainted with Your ways.

Even in the midst of anxiety and turmoil, you reward us with joy and laughter. You’ve even provided us with the answer to the question of pain and suffering. You answered it from the cross. Oh Jesus, you were “unfairness personified” dying a death meant for us, the worst kind of death. I can never say anything in my life is unfair, because each time the thought wells up, I hear Your voice from the cross saying, “It is finished.”

Everything that has ever been unfair or will ever be unfair in this life is null and void.

Going under the water was a burial of your old life; coming up out of it was a resurrection, God raising you from the dead as he did Christ. When you were stuck in your old sin-dead life, you were incapable of responding to God. God brought you alive—right along with Christ! Think of it! All sins forgiven, the slate wiped clean, that old arrest warrant canceled and nailed to Christ’s cross. He stripped all the spiritual tyrants in the universe of their sham authority at the Cross and marched them naked through the streets. Colossians 2:14 The Message

I begin and end my days with praise for you, always for you, because we can always have hope. Thank you Lord, for your life-giving word. And for your Living Water that never fails to quench the deepest thirst of our greedy soul.

Thank you for these morning times of quiet spent with You………they are precious to me. Like any parent, you are honored when we want to sit in your Presence. What a thought.

 

The Greatest Generation

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I wrote this after a phone call from my Dad. He had just visited his old football buddy (he and his friend are the last remaining alive on their team). His friend and wife are now in separate elder care facilities and not long ago he visited them in their home……

A phone call from my Dad last night gave me pause to consider what will happen when the last of what they called “The Greatest Generation” takes its final leave of this place we call home. I wonder at the changing face and shape of a town, a smallish town like Lodi. What does the gradual taking leave of an entire generation look like? I am afraid that unless we keep their stories alive, they will slip away graciously the way they lived, with seemingly little impact.

Can a town remember? A town whose streets hold the footprints and buildings that years of blood, sweat and tears have produced? I believe it can, for the conversations that took place in grocery stores and downtown corners, over meals and glasses of wine will still be here in the words and voices of those of us who’ve come after. But only if we don’t forget. For the best way to show our gratitude is by keeping those memories alive. It’s the least we can do for them.

For these were a people who stepped up for the nation and the world at a great time of need with little thought of what it might cost them personally. Young men climbed into rickety planes were given no guarantee they would even make it across the ocean. Young women stepped into roles and jobs they had never had before and proved themselves beyond capable. My own Mom had shoes thrown at her as a teen when the shoe store she worked at ran out of shoes by the end of the day.

What will it be like to look around someday and hear only echoes of these voices without their graceful presence? These are the questions I ask myself. And I’ve asked myself something else too. Could I live as selflessly as this courageous generation has done? Could I make the necessary sacrifices they did by going without for years, so that I could have more? What lessons might I have learned if I had saved more and spent less?

Things are changing, that’s for sure. The service station my Dad frequented for years recently stopped accepting his checks for gas. He went elsewhere. Trust and integrity are precious commodities. Back in their day, a word was as good as a contract, and a handshake was enough to seal a deal.

There is something unique about this particular generation in that they not only make me want to do better, they make me want to be better. A better customer, a better neighbor. I think of my folks who at one time knew just about every business owner downtown. This past year they had their 63rd Class Reunion. Turnout was incredible, though no one is quite as mobile as they were in years past, quite an impressive number turned out. That says a lot.

It tells me the best way I can honor them is by letting their values and their legacy live on in me. To keep on trusting even as the world seems to turn more jaded and cynical. To know the name of my neighbor and wave, even if they don’t wave back. To never give up on humanity and believe that there are still many good people out there. Because there are.

Today, if you are blessed enough to know or love someone who was alive back then, call them up and ask them to tell you a story of what it was like in those days. Make the time…….You are not too busy, I promise.

And most of all, think of each day as a gift from God. None of us has any guarantees of how much time we have left, but waking up with gratitude is the only way to start.

Peace……

Believing in the Big Buts

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“So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows”……..Jesus

The past two weeks have been unsettled……..for my household, for the world. It’s easy to be dismayed when you look at the events unfolding all around us. Have you ever talked to someone and even as they are giving you a compliment you can feel the “big but” coming? I hate that. It’s like giving someone a gift and then grabbing it out of their hands  and saying, “Just kidding!” Why say anything? It’s really horrible conversation etiquette. The Bible puts it this way:  “Let your yes be yes and your no be no.” 

Coordinating conjunctions aside, there is one occasion where I love the word, “but” and that is when God says it. That’s because when He says it, there is always a wonderfully encouraging promise attached to it. There are probably hundreds of places in the Bible where this phrase is uttered…….”But the Lord.”

But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one……2 Thessalonians 3:3

But the LORD has become my fortress, and my God the rock in whom I take refuge. Psalm 94:22

But the LORD is with me like a mighty warrior; so my persecutors will stumble and not prevail. They will fail and be thoroughly disgraced; their dishonor will never be forgotten. Jeremiah 20:11

The lot is cast into the lap,  but its every decision is from the Lord. Proverbs 16:33

I decided last week to break my “not until Thanksgiving” rule and put up a couple of Christmas decorations in my room. One string lit up and the other didn’t, but the little tabletop tree fired right up, just like it does year after year. It made me happy. We all need a little more happy. So this weekend I plan to do some more. I intent to light up the whole house and proclaim all over again that in our dark world a Bright Light has dawned and never dimmed. And I will have overwhelming moments of that peace that passes understanding in every little thing I lift out of the dusty storage boxes. 

I will remember that Heaven touched down for a brief moment in time and all the shadows in this land sprang for cover, for good. He ended this shadow-land living by paying our ransom once and for all. We have a living Hope that no one and nothing can ever snuff out.  Not isis, not boko haram, not Alzheimer’s, not unpaid bills, not stress or fatigue or anything else under the sun.

It’s crazy. We have Christian refugees who have been bombed out of their homes and lost everything but each other, yet they found their everything in Jesus. The spark of Holy Spirit Hope in their eyes makes them our brothers and sisters. And I am burdened for them.

But God……..He watches over the sparrows and He keeps count of every single one.

Clinging to the big Buts today.