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

 

Morning Journal, October 12

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Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, I took the one less traveled by and that has made all the difference…….Robert Frost.

I walked out with blank pages but somehow I knew that words would come. They usually always do when I am outside under the sky. I have kept a journal for years and years now. I quit for a while when all the days started to sound the same and it was more like me whining. When I started again it turned into more of a prayer journal. I started it because I didn’t want to forget all those little miracles that happen in a day. I wanted it on record, my way of thanking God on paper. Now when I go back and read all the answered prayers, all the big and little moments I smile and remember just how big He is and how small my little worries were.

Where does the time go? Now the morning air is cool–a co-worker joked, here the leaves don’t change, the license plates do. He and I both got a kick out of that one. I do miss seeing the leaves turn. I miss the red, yellow and brown spiraling to the ground, tossed by the wind. But I always feel them in my heart just the same.  Up North they are turning and we don’t go to see God’s spectacle. There always seems to be something pressing here.

Had the first fire in the fire-pit. That means fall here in the valley of the sun. My friend at work will be in Yosemite today. I remember fall there–the big gold leafed oaks in the meadow, standing like sentries there in the sun. I remember the crunch of leaves mingled with pine-needles underfoot. And the smoke from campfires filling in all the crevasses way up amongst the tall pines. I remember the one year we got snow.

We all went out to the edge of the meadow to watch it settle on the granite cliffs like a master baker somewhere up above was sifting powdered sugar down. So many good memories.

Too doves are resting on the wall soaking in the early sun, one just now came to drink at the fountain. The all made it through dove season and that’s a good thing.

Another good thing. When I was just writing these words, I wasn’t worried or stressed about anything at all. That is some kind of a small miracle.

Thank you God, for such a good start to the day. It always amazes me that I can go through a dry spell for weeks and have no words at all, but then I get two or three blog posts one right after the other.

That’s how writing is, it’s like faith. Somehow you know the words are there somewhere and that maybe right now you have nothing, but tomorrow or the next day you will. Always there.

River of life or stagnant pool?

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Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.'” John 7:38

Those who live in the desert especially know how crucial fresh water is for survival. Right now California is experiencing a drought. Growing up there, I lived through one back in the seventies and I’ll never forget it. Every drop was precious then and now. Can you imagine being lost in the desert, your last drop emptied from your canteen a day ago and coming upon what you thought was a fresh body of water, only to find it stagnant and undrinkable?

How about the kind of water Jesus was talking about? If you know Him, you have that living water. It’s a fresh and inexhaustible supply flowing out of your heart that’s available to anyone who asks. Can someone expect to come to you and hold out their cup and be refreshed or do they find water as bitter as the water of Marah?

When the Israelites came upon Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea and they went into the Desert of Shur. For three days they traveled in the desert without finding water. When they came to Marah, they could not drink its water because it was bitter. (That is why the place is called Marah. So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What are we to drink?”

They were extremely disappointed after being in the desert 3 days, that the water they finally did find was undrinkable. After Moses cried out to God, He directed Moses to a stick on the ground. When Moses threw it in the water it became fresh. I was thinking about that…….one commentary said that the piece of wood represents the Cross. I would agree, since it’s Christ’s work on the cross that makes those rivers of living water flow out of our hearts.

So the question remains. What about you? What about me? Can someone hold out their cup expecting to receive words that will give life? Can they expect refreshment or after tasting what you have to offer will they turn away in disappointment. Do your words edify and lift up or do they tear down? Are people drawn to you because they see the living water flow out through your easy laughter, soft words, humility of spirit and all around likeability?

Are you easy to be around or do people have to watch everything they say around you for fear of being judged or condemned?

Are you a good listener or are you already forming your own words even as the person across from you is still speaking?

I think Jesus was incredibly easy to be around, that’s why crowds followed Him everywhere He went. Of course we aren’t Jesus. We aren’t perfect. But He does expect us to display the fruits of His Spirit. (Galatians 5:22,23)

How willing are you to be a peacemaker? Are you willing to sacrifice your need to be right in order to make peace?

Are you willing to apologize even when you and everyone else in the room knows you had your facts right because it’s what God would have you do? My precious friend did this the other day and I am not so sure I would have been obedient to the Holy Spirit like she was in this instance. Nobody could understand why she was doing it but she said, “Because it’s the right thing to do.”

She was being nudged by the Holy Spirit to make peace in a situation even when she and everyone else in the room knew that she had been in the right and the other person clearly in the wrong. It reminded me of the scene in “War Room” when Tony gives back those drugs to the company even after he’d already lost his job. As Christians we are asked to do certain things that just don’t make sense to the world. Those are the hard things.

Being that living water isn’t easy. Being that living water means you have to be readily available for those who are thirsty. It means you are a peacemaker and think of others as better than yourself. It means you have to love the unlovable in your workplaces, homes, in the parking lot. It means you can’t put a stopper on your own supply because you’re afraid you’ll run out.

Jesus invitation stands open.

Someone is thirsty for what we have today.

Please Lord:

Help me to be a fountain of cool clear

refreshing water to offer hope and help

to the thirsty wanderer.

Help me not be a stagnant pool but a living supply

of what Jesus gave to me freely.

Help me be easy to be around.

And help me be available and ready

to give an answer for the hope

and joy that lives within me.

And help me always strive to do the right thing.

No matter what.

Amen.

Easy to Believe

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It’s easy to believe in Heaven on mornings like this one……

when the air is sweet and the stars are still winking but

just about to depart from sight.

I walk on tasting the day, knowing how sweet and precious it is.

How fleeting each moment and how important it is to think of time how God does.

Like each day is as a thousand years and how a thousand years a day.

Weightless and free and yet bound to this earth.

I walk on and I flush out a dove, startled from her place.

In wonder, I pray in my place of silence

I wonder at how I can cry the tears of the bitter waters of Marah

and in the next breath have streams of living waters to

flush out my sorrow and replace it with joy.

I marvel at my God.

Whatever happens here:

I have at the very most 35 years this side of Heaven

and then a permanent vacation where peaceful waters flow

and there is no crying only endless joy

a ribbon of eternity stretching out further than my eye can see.

Yes, I grab my cup of coffee and settle in my chair.

I can see it from here.

Miracle at the DMV

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Yesterday we went on a little “adventure” at the Arizona Department of Motor Vehicles. I volunteered to go along with Elaine as she attempted to straighten out her CDL license paperwork which was mysteriously “not in the system” even though it was mailed on time. I don’t think anyone should have to go to the DMV alone, so I went along for the ride. Well, actually I went along for the “wait.” As it turns out, the computer system goes down quite regularly there, especially on Mondays and Fridays, which would explain why her paperwork was somewhere floating around in cyber-space.

We walked down a little hallway into the “CDL” section which was a little room filled with plastic chairs which had seen better days. They needed a good scrubbing with bleach which they had never seen, and there were odd marks on the walls. The line was already forming but there were a few chairs left so we took the two available and settled in for the wait. About 20 minutes in, they announced that the “system was down” and it could be anywhere from 20 minutes to 6 hours.

They offered to hand out some slips whereby we could go to breakfast and come back, assuring our place in line but we opted to stay for the long haul and I began praying that the system would come up sooner rather than later. Well, I should say most of the time I was praying, some of the time I was commiserating along with everyone else. We got a little ticket that said we were number 25. The little display screen that showed the number being served was miserably dead. We waited for a flicker of life.

Meanwhile the poor lady that was behind the counter (I wouldn’t have wanted that job for all the tea in China) was displaying an enormous amount of fortitude and goodwill. Not to mention patience. We sat and played Trivia and Words with Friends back and forth and I in turn observed, as I always do, the people around me. It never fails. There’s always one in the room who isn’t clear and doesn’t listen to the announcements. And there is always at least one who constantly questions the whole entire system.

As I looked around, I thought, these are working people who just want to do their jobs. None of them were being paid to be there and probably most of them couldn’t afford to be off work for the day. But there we all were in earthly purgatory, helpless and at the mercy of the SYSTEM. The guy sitting in front of us was alternately looking at scantily clad women on his phone. The other guy, mister “stand up and sit back down” was reading a book called, “I hope they have beer in Hell.” I wanted to tell him I was almost positive they didn’t and that he most assuredly didn’t want to go there even if they did.

As I looked around, I found myself thinking, each life here is precious to God. None of us looked like anything close to miraculous but as we live and breathe we are. I wanted to stand up and tell them all that Jesus loved them. From the one speaking in broken English, to the one who looked like he just crawled out of bed, and the one wearing the T-shirt that said, “Beer is proof that God loves us.” And everyone in between, even me.

Then, to make things even more bizarre, they made another announcement that it had started to rain and that, “Due to the rain, there will be no road driving tests.” What?? Don’t people drive in the rain? We all looked at each other with a sense of bewilderment. If that were the case in other states, such as Oregon or Washington, then nobody would ever be granted a driving license.

I leaned toward Elaine and whispered, “At least this time there is no pesticide guy.” No joke, last time we went to the Apache Junction DMV a guy came in with one of those pesticide tanks on his back and proceeded to spray the entire room, including and around people’s feet where they were standing at booths taking the written driving tests! The bizarre thing was, no one paid much attention as the smell wafted around us.”

After about an hour, a miracle occurred and the system blinked to life. They made the announcement and the display screen flickered to life. It said now serving “1.” Number one went back into another room and we didn’t hear anything else for an hour. Then they started calling more numbers. They skipped a bunch, and finally they called Elaine up, gave her a gold stamp of approval and said three magic words, “You’re all set.” Apparently, once the system came back up it found her in it. And no payment was needed to have it reinstated. (Miracle number two.)

We thanked the lady profusely for how she handled the customers, and the situation at hand and she beamed in gratitude.

Everyone waiting seemed to be happy for us, all those nylon short clad, dirty Levi, greasy haired clan of men collectively clapped and cheered when Elaine announced, “Since we are all friends now I guess I can leave.” I gave the victory sign, smiled and said, “Good luck.”

And peace be with you……….

Meet me at the Cross

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One of the most unifying factors of our Christian faith is the simple knowledge that we’re all failures at it. And directly on the heels of that thought comes another, that God loves me anyway. That failure, that weakness, after all is what drives us again and again to the cross. He has promised that He will never leave us. He’s there in the morning and He’s there at night when I whisper my thoughts before welcoming the great eraser that is sleep.

I am reading Madeline L’ Engle’s book, “The Irrational Season.” In it, she describes how against the backdrop of her faith there is doubt and anger at times at why God would seemingly direct and allow evil things to happen, and yet in the midst of that doubt and anger is the bright ring of hope and assurance that yes, God does know exactly what He is doing, even if she doesn’t always understand His ways.

God is not surprised or threatened by our doubt or our anger because it’s also that same doubt and anger that is also an expression of our faith, for you can’t doubt someone you don’t believe in in the first place. You can’t be mad at someone who is not there.

The fact that we are driven again and again to the cross allows no room in our faith for pride. You can know the Bible backwards and forwards, but until you find yourself driven to your knees in humility at the misery of our human weakness, you will be separated from the world, the people whom Jesus most wants us to help.

One of the most confounding and misunderstood paradoxes of our faith is that even though we fail, even though we are weak, God still considers us Holy. When He looks at us, He sees us washed in the robe of righteousness because of Christ’s redemptive work on the cross. That should not make us proud, it should make us more humble. That God would grant us with the stamp of His approval by indwelling us with His Holy Spirit is a staggering thought that must never get old. Our faith and the miracle of it, should never be old hat.

We should wake up each day in astonishment that He has forgiven us yet again. And yet, time after time, I have taken that fact for granted……stepped over it on my way to something I feel is more important. That is why I feel so strongly about giving God the first few moments of our day. It’s a way to say and acknowledge all over again that yes, I am grateful beyond measure for the grace I never deserved.

The Apostle Paul perfectly describes our imperfect weakness here: “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.” Romans 7:24,25

Are you going through something today that is an extreme test of your faith? Right now, stop what you’re doing and hear God say: “What part of always do you not understand?” Remember when your parents used to say, “What part of no do you not understand?” God has promised never to leave or forsake us and He never will.

Love is in His limits, for He gives us exactly what we need to know in the Scriptures, the rest we must take on faith.

I get like the Israelites wandering in the desert, complaining and grousing despite the pillar of smoke by day and the pillar of fire by night. Instead, all I can see are the hordes of people contentedly settled in the land He has already promised me. I used to blame them, I used to say, “I would have believed God if I had seen those signs.” God smiles and says, “No you wouldn’t.”

Because if I really and truly had a perfect faith, I would look back at all the times in my 56 years that He has provided for me and never failed to be there for me, and that fact would erase every last fear. And yet, I can truly say that I am getting closer to the goal than I was before.

“but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Corinthians 15:57

Pressing Pause

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I’m here marveling that yet another work week has come and gone, here standing on the shore of another 4 days off and the first prayer out of my lips when I awoke in the early dawn was, “Where are you Jesus?” And this is the miracle of it all. He spent the next hour announcing His presence in a myriad of little ways.

My God is an action word. I guess you could say if God were a state He would be Missouri. God is a “show me” God. I puzzle at people who ask for proof. The proof was in the sky last night and the moon this morning. It was peeking out at me from between the palms, all yellow and present.

The God of the old Testament was bigger than life, I don’t think anyone could deny that. And Jesus……I don’t think you can get bigger than coming out of the grave and revealing yourself for 40 days. And the Holy Spirit transformed a handful of cowering men and women into a church that changed the world.

And God hasn’t changed. He took my question seriously this morning and proceeded to take pleasure in cracking little doors of joy open everywhere I turned. He is the God of undoing just as much as He is the God of doing.

You can get up slogging in your slippers toward the coffee pot, with only the whisper of hope on your lips but God can do something with that. He rewards an attitude of expectation however small, and hopelessness can turn into hope when it runs in tandem with gratitude.

God holds all of time in His hand. I was thinking a lot about time this morning. How it seemed like just yesterday I was staring down the tunnel of a 48 hour work week and now I’m looking at 48 hours of me time. How will I use it?

I’m thinking of my Dad who is facing time in much more of a monumental sense in the beating of his own heart. Nothing makes you more aware of the ticking of time than a heart that is fluttering out of control. Right now he is aware of little else than slowing his wildly beating heart down. He has a procedure tomorrow to do just that. Because of him, we are all just a little more aware of time today than usual. His and ours.

The thing about time is that it has a beginning and an end. We are never not conscious of it. It never speeds up or slows down and yet it seems to. It rolls out wildly out of control like a spool of yarn rolling down a flight of stairs, and sometimes it sits like a car tire stuck in the mud, spinning madly but going nowhere.

There are wild exultant joys in life and there are times that are so low we don’t see how we will ever get out the other side. And there are stretches of time where there are no big joys just lots of little joys and that’s okay. Some might call that complacency or settling but I call it contentment of the kind the Apostle Paul was talking about when he said, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”

The other thing about time is that we have a choice as to how to use it. We can squander it, waste it, use it wisely, cherish it, or use it up until we look around and it’s all gone. I believe the best way to honor the time God has given us is to be fully present in it. Sometimes I succeed at that but many more times I fail.

But when you realize just how precious of a commodity it is, it changes how you live. You learn to look for the little things.

This morning one of the little things was pausing to watch a hummingbird take a bath. It’s not everyday you see that. He was only there for about 30 seconds, but if I hadn’t been staring at the fountain right at that moment I would have missed it. But I think God wanted me to see it. He likes giving us little surprises that make us smile.

He is after all, a “show me” kind of God.