Winds of Change

 

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I laid in bed listening to the hum of traffic out on the road. I wanted to revel in the sameness of things the way they’ve been for the last 11 or so years for a few more minutes. To let the cocoon of the wonderful comfortable rhythm of days the way they’ve been wrap itself around me for a little while longer. I am aware that today is different. Today my retirement may be accelerated. The plan might be kicked up a notch. 

Today is the day the email will drop, the one everyone at work has been waiting for. The one that will announce the changes and what if anything it means for us here in Arizona. What it might mean for me. My work phone is on the charge by my bed. Usually I shut it off all weekend. But this morning, I wanted to see the message first thing.

Funny isn’t it? How you can pray and pray for something and then when it comes down to maybe actually having it answered, you dig your heels in at the last and a little part of you is afraid that it may not happen and also afraid that it will.

This is what I saw when I finally opened it:

“You are eligible to participate in the Enhanced Retirement Program (ERP).” And then a long explanation about restructuring and reinvesting and growth in the company.

All I kept thinking is how amazing God is. Just when I decided to retire at the end of year, this comes in. And it’s a good offer. The timing leaves me in awe once again of how He works. All the times I prayed, and cried and wondered if I was doing the right thing by staying. And later, in prayer in my little shed, this is what my devotional said:

“Circumstances are in flux, and the world seems to be whirling around you. The only way to keep your balance is to fix your eyes on Me, the One who never changes. If you gaze too long at your circumstances, you will become dizzy and confused. Look to Me, refreshing yourself in My Presence, and your steps will be steady and sure.” Jesus Calling April 25

All day long the wind howled between the houses as if to mimic change blowing in. It picked up strength mid-morning and never wavered. My allergies kicked up something fierce. Elaine came home looking like she’d been in a war. She said driving the bus was like wrestling all day. And then she had to wipe boogers off the seat and window…….

At the end of the day, the wind finally stopped. I sat out for a little while on the little deck, wondering about the road ahead. I can relate to Mary in Scripture when it says, she “treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” I spend a lot of time pondering things in my heart. I guess that’s what writers do before the words make it to the page.

Today, I stand amazed at all He’s done and continues to do in our lives. I may not know all the ins and outs of how it’s all gonna play out, but I know He’s with us. And I know He’ll never leave us. And He won’t leave you either, my friend.

He’s in it for the long haul.

“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 Reluctant Prophet

 

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It was one of those mornings…….the dawn was bursting over the Superstitions and the birds kicked up their chorus a notch as those rays touched earth.  We had some rain recently and they were celebrating what the earth had brought forth. God always births new days and each one is miraculous. Yet some come and go with little celebration, or I am too busy or overwhelmed to notice. Others however, like this one are like the hosts of Heaven are all raising their glasses in a toast to the new day.

At every turn in this life there are moments that breathe life and death. They reside side by side like the wheat and the tares growing in the field together waiting for harvest at the last day. God in His grace and mercy raises us up to resurrection after sleepless nights of worry, out of those times of deep disappointment in ourselves and others, times where it takes all we have just to get out of bed. Sometimes that’s the greatest miracle of all.

But today, this morning, God’s mercy and love take my breath away. When I opened to the words in Jeremiah tears immediately sprang to my eyes.

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
    before you were born I set you apart;
    I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

I read the words again and again………”Before I formed you, before, before……….” the words echoed and lodged deep in my soul. I know this verse refers to the prophet Jeremiah, but it also applies to us. Those of us who know Him. There is something of the ancient in that verse. Almost as if I can imagine what it must have been like in the dawn of Creation when the morning stars sang together.

This world and the people in it can do its best to steal our joy, but the joy God gives is eternal. It springs up from somewhere deeper and older than we can imagine. Circumstances might snatch it away momentarily, but this joy that springs up at unexpected places and times is God giving us back what has always been ours. In those moments of extraordinary grace we experience our Redemption all over again.

They called Jeremiah the reluctant prophet. He said he was too young and couldn’t speak well. Aren’t we all just as full of excuses? But God stood by his side and protected him when the news was anything but good.

Like Jeremiah, God wants to use us. He speaks out of the deep eternal today. He says, “Tell others of My joy, give them a reason for the hope that lives in your heart. Be my love for them and my mouthpiece not so much in your words, but in your actions.”

The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.” Jeremiah 31:3

Choosing life again and again

It’s been three days and at night I can still hear, “Move your arms like Henry….” and “Dorothy, Dorothy…..would you like to dance with me.” And that’s okay because at 13 she still loves the Wiggles. I love that they are not afraid to include “Away in a Manger” and call it Christmas. She has a mad crush on Murray Wiggle who she says is her boyfriend. He might be a Grandpa by now in real life and no longer on the show, but she doesn’t know and I would never tell her. I want to cry when I hear the songs because I miss her.

We got to celebrate my Mom’s 87th Birthday wearing clown noses during the Birthday song and lit a cake made from scratch by a dear friend who whispered “Do you think she would mind the Dinosaurs on it?” I said no, she’d love it. She did.

We also got to attend church, Mom and Dad and my brother and I on Palm Sunday, something we hadn’t done together in a long while. That was a blessing.

As with every family visit, there are people left out and things that go awry. Some things don’t go as planned. Mom’s heartbeat was erratic and she was not feeling well some of the time. Dad’s knee was flaring up and I went with him to the Doctor to get a shot and it was better by the end of the week.

There was talk of a “last trip” here or there. They talked too much like the best of their life is over and at 86 and 87 I guess that’s normal but I’m not ready to lose them. There was a moment when my Dad and I walked into Barnes and Noble together where it felt like old times and I wanted to sit there in that moment for a while.

Earlier today in the laundry room, I folded the gloves I took to the snow. I remembered her laughter as she threw snowballs at me and at her Dad. And I remembered my Dad and I, wedged in the backseat started laughing at my seatbelt that was stuck. That was like old times too. We always got in trouble in church for laughing. It strikes me that laughter is one of the things that has kept us all from losing our sanity over deaths and goodbyes and sickness and aging and everything in between. Laughter is one of the things in this life that will follow us to the next, thankfully.

As I write this, I hear it come down just now. The thing I was praying for this morning when I saw the cloudy skies. Just a little sprinkle, I said. Just a little pitter-patter on the roof. And now I have it. Healing for me, rain is. It says that God is still in control, He still cares enough to water the earth and so I have renewed assurance He still cares for us all.

Each day gives us a choice. At every turn in this life there are moments that breathe life and moments that have the foul smell of death. They reside side by side like the wheat and the tares. Each day there are moments bursting with life and moments that threaten to choke it right out of us.

The Bible says, “Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live!” I want to continue to choose life.

I also want to choose love. “Help me Lord to try to see beyond what’s on the surface. Help me to see people how You see them so I can love them better.”

People (and life) will try to steal our joy, but the joy God gives us is eternal and comes from somewhere deeper and older than we know or understand. It was there before all things were set in the act of creation. That joy is real and it’s our gift at redemption. He gives us back what was always meant for us in the first place.

Thank you God for the brief time at the beach. When I am there somehow I get the assurance that things will be okay. They really will.

 

 

My review: “Coming Clean” by Seth Haines

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When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he had already been a long time in that condition, He said to him, “Do you wish to get well?” The sick man answered Him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, but while I am coming, another steps down before me.” 

Here’s what I am not supposed to say: sometimes I do not see an active God in the world around me. Sometimes the realities of the world are not ideal; sometimes nature’s contours are not so supple. Sometimes there are no good metaphors. In the last year, I’ve hoped to see God active, even struggled to write it as if it were true. Instead, I have the dreadful feeling that God set all things in motion and then walked away. Seth Haines: “Coming Clean”

This is really not a review at all, for reviews are supposed to be somewhat analytical based on some kind of technical knowledge on the reviewers part of what makes a book worth reading. I have no such skill, but what I do have is my impression that this is a book meant for everyone. This is one of the most honest books I have ever read and many parts of it resonated with me, powerfully. If I weren’t giving my copy away I would be curled up somewhere quiet, highlighter in hand, reading it all over again slower this time.

This is Seth’s personal account of his first 90 days of sobriety, and yet I felt that it’s really a story that belongs to all of us. For who among us hasn’t felt themselves in the grip of something way beyond our control? Who of us Christians, if we were really honest hasn’t asked God to show Himself in the tossing and turning wee hours of the morning?

Who of us hasn’t thought, as the sick man beside the pool of Siloam, “If I could just get down to that pool then I could get healing and all would be well, my life could be good again.”

It all really comes down to one thing as Seth expounds so truthfully: “I found myself dependent upon something other than the God in which I professed faith.”

Well, isn’t that any one of us, on any given day or moment? The power of this book for me rests in its honesty and ultimately its victorious message of healing. For we are all wounded souls looking for healing or relief wherever we can find it. For those of us who call ourselves Christians, we know where that healing comes from and yet, at times we don’t reach for Him. When the way is dark, it’s easier to reach for the easy fix, the quick relief, the instant salve, whatever it is.

We all have our story, and this book has a universal message. Jesus asks us with outstretched hand: “Do you want to get well?” In other words, are we ready to do what it takes to get the kind of healing Jesus offers, the kind of healing that lasts? So many times, I have expected living water to flow without reaching to turn on the spigot. Healing starts when I act by faith and turn the faucet a little to the left. Sometimes that one little act is the bravest thing we can do but also the scariest.

I remember one particular night at around sunset, about 11 years ago now.  I had just decided to abstain from wine for 3 weeks after hearing from the Holy Spirit that I was lying to myself about how much I was drinking. Out there in the corner of the yard under the mesquite tree, I asked God to fill up that empty place in me and replace it with His Presence. Sitting out there with Tux, the Oreo stray we had taken in, the cat and I watched the sunset. All around us the sky swirled in peach and orange and pink. I never forgot that moment. At that moment I knew that He would always be more than enough to fill any emptiness. This promise rang true:

The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”

This is what I also know, each day is enough trouble in itself, and each day we need to reach again for the healing that lasts. It’s a life-long process, and thankfully, God is with us for the long haul. Over and over again, He has proved faithful in my life.

In the book, Seth talks about a time when he was a boy and he heard the whisper of God in the mesquite groves where he lived in Texas. He goes back to that time again and again where God delighted in making Himself real to a little child. As someone who has long heard and seen God in nature, this spoke to me.

Finally, this book challenges us to go back to our own personal “mesquite grove” where we first felt God’s presence, heard His whisper. He’s there. Has been there waiting all along. Only then will we be strong enough to venture into the dark cave and face our fears, knowing He will walk beside us every step of the way.

This book is eloquent, poetic, real, beautiful and also in a way terrifying the way life can be sometimes. Ultimately though, it’s filled with a message of hope. It holds a bold message for each one of us who desires to live openly and honestly before our Father who loves us and will never turn us away.

 

Days when you feel stuck

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Sometimes, when we are in the darkness or someone we love is, we feel paralyzed. We wonder what to do. When it’s someone we love, we reach back into the wellspring of our own memories and remember how it felt being in the bottom of that well. It’s not a good place, we don’t want to go back there.

I remember that a miracle started my walk back to the Lord, and I also remember that even though He provided that huge first step I needed, He taught me that I needed to keep on walking toward Him, no matter how I felt. In my case, I needed to heal my mind before I could cooperate with God in healing my body. I needed to get up and take a courageous first step.

I remember those early days, exercising in the dark of the morning so no one would see me. Faithfully, I went out, day after day. Finally, my body started to reward me by showing me results. My mood improved, my confidence increased, and I started to attend classes with other people. I traded in my baggy clothes for bright colored leotards (and leg warmers, yes forgive me…….after all, it was the 80’s!)

God has never let me forget how it felt to be in that place of darkness and I am grateful for that, for now I can be empathetic to those who are there now. My advice might seem meager and overly simplistic, but there is great power in it. Because I’ve been on the road, I know the road out.

These days when I feel paralyzed, I stop and seek the Lord. I pray. The beauty of prayer is that you can stop and pray anytime and anywhere.

Then I thank God for the new day and I thank Him simply because He is with me in it. It’s a process of reaching for the light, sometimes over and over again throughout the day. That process alone is a conscious effort of choosing joy. Light over darkness. There is plenty on any given day to feel hopeless about, all we have to do is watch the news.

After I pray, I open the Word and ask God to reveal the power and hope in its pages. I always find what I need there. Satan will try his best to keep me from doing that, because he knows once I start giving God gratitude in the midst of my circumstances and opening the Word, he knows he has lost the battle.

Then, I just start moving around in the day, starting with little tasks like cleaning the cat box, starting the laundry, emptying the dishwasher. I have found that Holiness resides in little tasks when it costs you an act of faith just to take that first step.

Then I start looking for the light. In every little thing I can find…….from the frozen bird bath, to the sun shining through Mr. Briggs whiskers……….

There is a darkness called depression and it’s very very real to many people. When you are there in that place, there is nothing anyone can say that will make a difference. Those easy platitudes will only make a depressed person feel worse, almost like its their fault. Believe me, they are usually kicking themselves around the block and back, wondering what is wrong with them.

In those instances, it may be that medication is needed, or counseling, or both. But in all those situations, God is there ready to meet you. If someone you love is in a dark place, pray and keep praying. If you are that someone, know that hope is near. And it’s for you, not for everyone else.

Look to the Light today, take just one step forward and I will stand with you. Together we can walk out of the land of the shadows.

Because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us   from Heaven…..Luke 1:78

 

 

Advent Idea: A Prayer Closet

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“But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.  And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words.” Matthew 6:6,7

This morning I had to hastily arrange a different place to pray because “someone” has a secret project going on in the shop. First I tried my bedroom…..that didn’t work, it was too open. Then I tried another place in the living room and it didn’t feel right either. E said, “Why don’t you go in your closet?” Well, my closet had become a disaster zone since all the Christmas stuff had come out of hiding. But, as I traipsed from room to room feeling kind of disoriented I pushed open the door and entertained the possibility of my bedroom closet.

First, I got a chair out of what used to be Joyce’s room at the Care Home thinking that might work. I had forgotten they had a dog at the place for a while and there were smells, lots of them  on that chair. Briggs the cat wandered in the wouldn’t leave, those smells on that chair were just too intriguing. Remove chair. Sit on floor.

It was actually kind of cozy in there. I could still hear faint outside noises which I find an agreeable backdrop…..keeps me in touch with what’s going on outside. And when I took this picture I had to smile……the baby doll on the shelf in the background reminded me of the baby Jesus, wrapped in swaddling clothes. Actually, it’s my very own baby blanket that my Mom wanted me to have. It’s the one they wrapped me in on the way out of the hospital. All 3 pounds of me. The doll is a Thumbelina. Those of us in the older range of middle-age will remember who she is. I just Googled her, she still comes up!

Anyway, here is the final result. It works……..

I find that any space will do as long as it provides an atmosphere of peace and quiet where you know you will not be distracted or interrupted.

I have been plagued by distraction and unease lately. I sense a big change coming in my life and my soul is not at rest, so I knew this morning it was expedient that I find a place to pour out my anxiety to the Lord. I realized that on some level I didn’t even want to pray because I didn’t necessarily want to hear what the Lord might place on my heart.

And you know what? That is the time you need prayer the most.

Run to Him friends. He will satisfy your every need and quiet every fear.

The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.” Zephaniah 3:17