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.

 

 

Trust in the gray areas

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“Uncompromising trust in the love of God inspires us to thank God for the spiritual darkness that envelops us, for the loss of income, for the nagging arthritis that is so painful, and to pray from the heart, “Abba, into your hands I entrust my body, mind, and spirit and this entire day—morning, afternoon, evening, and night. Whatever you want of me, I want of me, falling into you and trusting in you in the midst of my life. Into your heart I entrust my heart, feeble, distracted, insecure, uncertain. Abba, unto you I abandon myself in Jesus our Lord. Amen.” Brennan Manning, Ruthless Trust: The Ragamuffin’s Path to God. 

Faith is not only the belief that God is waiting on the other side of the foggy shore of whatever murky stuff we are going through, it’s the certain knowledge that He is there, and will be there walking through it with us. Forever. Unless He takes us through those times where the path is obscured and the way seems blocked, we won’t experience the stretching of our faith whereby we can encourage others.

I find that when things are exceedingly dark, it can sometimes be easier to trust Him. It’s a natural reaction to grope for a comforting hand in the dark. And when things are going well, it’s also easy to trust Him, why shouldn’t we?

For me, its those gray areas that get to me. When I can’t see the road ahead. I like to see what I am getting into so I can mentally prepare. I don’t like being blindsided.

I remember the fog in California, when it would last for days. People would head to the foothills just to get out from under it and see the sun. But some of the most beautiful views are found in the fog. I got a picture of these roses taking the family dog to the vet one morning. And on the way out I got a cool picture of a turkey perched on a fence, his body outlined through the mist.

In fact, now that I think about it, three of the most powerful and comforting Spiritual experiences of my life occurred on foggy days.

Lately I have been grasping onto the familiar, the known. With both hands. And digging in with my feet. I am a person who burrows like a hermit crab into predictability and security. I like to see exactly where I am going and the year ahead will be a year of uncertainty, a year of change. Yet in this fog I am learning to trust Him with each day.

And here is one thing I know to be more true than anything else. That on the other side of anything and everything this life has to offer, Jesus offers life more abundantly. Whatever we give up for Him will be replaced by something better, something only He can give. I also know that my true security rests in Him alone. He is my provider. There is not one time I can look back on and see that He has failed to supply my needs.

Joy starts when we thank Him in advance for what we know He’s gonna do.

Grab onto the abundant life Jesus offers today, right now. Especially you there, standing in the gray areas of uncertainty. The way may not be easy, tears may have soaked the pillow the night before, but ours is the hope of joy in the morning. The joy of the Resurrection, His and ours.

The Son is coming out.

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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.

 

We are all One in Christ Jesus

Love one another

But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise. Galatians 3:26-29

I remember when the Berlin wall came down. It was a historical moment. Here is a little snippet of Reagan’s infamous “tear down that wall” speech:

General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!

I understand the fear of war and the pain of division that afflict this continent– and I pledge to you my country’s efforts to help overcome these burdens. To be sure, we in the West must resist Soviet expansion. So we must maintain defenses of unassailable strength. Yet we seek peace; so we must strive to reduce arms on both sides.

Jesus was the original “wall leveler.” He smashed walls right and left, and it got Him into a lot of trouble. He addressed women, as equals, he ate and drank with tax collectors and sinners. He mingled with the rich and poor and he approached lepers and the outcasts of society. He never refused anyone who came to Him.

It’s been said that the ground is level at the foot of the cross and I believe that. There are no levels in Christianity, you either are or you aren’t. We are all clinging to the cross each and every day if we are to be honest with ourselves. I don’t know why, but we tend to grade each other and ourselves, but Jesus never does. God really doesn’t care how many times a week we go to church. He cares about the motives of our hearts. This needs to be said.

Paul spoke about walls and divisions when people in the church were starting to break themselves up in different “camps.” And we tend to do the same thing with our Pastors and each other. It’s just human nature I guess.

But this is the truth…….we are all in just as much of a dire and desperate need of Jesus as when we first believed. If we think differently, then we are deceiving ourselves. Most of the time, we fall somewhere between Billy Graham and Mother Theresa and the prodigal son and Peter when he hacked off the Roman’s ear. They were all in different places in their journey throughout their lives and so are we.

Christianity is simply this, that each day we come anew to the cross. Each day we celebrate a new Resurrection from death to life. Each day we try our best and admit our utter failure in ourselves and our utter belief in Jesus.

Jesus is praying for unity. He is praying that we love, and forgive. We are all on a journey to meet Jesus face to face someday. This means you, if you have ever said yes to Him. Look around, there are no “Super-Christians” here. Just people who have humbled themselves and responded to the Invitation.

In the quiet of night when only God saw.

In the middle of a church service.

With your arms around a fellow believer.

Even after you said you never would.

You get up, and you go. Against the odds, with all eyes upon you.

This means you, if you’ve ever felt the lump in your throat and tears spill over at Amazing Grace, or How Great Thou Art.

If you’ve ever known the unmistakable tug of the Spirit in the middle of the day.

This means you, even if you haven’t darkened the door of a church in a while. He knows you’re His and there is nothing you can do to change that.

You, who no longer have to be judge jury executioner of your own life, that’s so exhausting isn’t it?

I love how the Message puts Romans 3:21-24:

But in our time something new has been added. What Moses and the prophets witnessed to all those years has happened. The God-setting-things-right that we read about has become Jesus-setting-things-right for us. And not only for us, but for everyone who believes in him. For there is no difference between us and them in this. Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ.

I like to think of it like this. When you are out on a hike, there is a kind of rule. It’s unspoken but it’s there. I like to call it the grace of the trail. We are all on different levels, but we respect each other just for being out there under God’s blue sky. We give each other grace, we step aside so the faster ones can pass. Always, we try to greet each other with a smile of encouragement.

This is what we need to do as for each other as believers.

So grab a walking stick and come along with me. Extending a hand of Grace is a lot easier at the foot of the cross, the trail-head always starts there.

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She Waits

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It’s a glorious thing to watch the waking sky glow peach and fill up with birds. I saw that this morning, and thinking back, I remember a time when such a sight left me unmoved due to depression. I never forgot those times, for they make these times so appreciated. Maybe that’s what the the dark teaches us.

This morning my prayer began simply enough…….”Settle the flutter and static in my mind Lord, turn the world down and You up.”

It is still deep winter in the woods I imagine. I am thinking of snowbanks and quiet clearings even though here in the desert it is promised to warm to 70 today. I long to hear the whisper of falling snow as it covers the ground. Sometimes I ache for that deep quiet like no other.

Nature waits at the edges of our whole busy world yet why don’t we make enough effort to join it? To immerse ourselves in its magnificent beauty?

Winter draws her cloak around herself and stokes the fire and embers shoot up toward the morning star……..She settles in for the long wait. Part of the peace of Winter is in the wait. The world lies quiet under wraps waiting the grand rebirth of itself in the Spring–it mirrors a bigger action. A much bigger waiting.

One day the Grand Master will take up His brush one final time and the world will watch in stunned silence as the Earth and Heaven are reborn one final time, restored to its former glory when the morning stars sang together and the Angels joined all of creation in rejoicing.

That day, He will say “It is finished” for the last time.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.  For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons and daughters of God.  For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.  For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. Romans 8:18-22

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding, Who set its measurements? Since you know. Or who stretched the line on it? “On what were its bases sunk? Or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy? Job 38:4-7

The Afterglow

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One day into the New Year and my mind races ahead plunging full speed into it, that is, my mind and not much else. I am already borrowing trouble and worrying about events that have yet to happen, but I am getting better about that. Now when I sense myself doing that, I pull away and find that quiet place in my soul that’s been hollowed out by His Spirit and I try to rest in Him until my mental wheels slow and eventually stop. Most of the time, I have a peace about the coming year.

I was reading something yesterday that said none of us are made to stay the same. God made us and everything else  in this universe to change, to transition into something else. New seasons, new growth, parts of us die and are reborn. Change is good. It keeps us alive, on our toes and yet I am a creature of habit and I don’t like being out of my comfort zone. I have found security in my routine, my job, my little corner of the world. But true security is found in Christ and nothing else. As my old Pastor used to say, it’s Jesus plus nothing.

So I take a deep and thankful breath as I look back and see where God has taken us and brought us. And I look even further back and I know I have no reason to fear anything. He has always been there and He always will. That part will never change.

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Sometimes you just need to take a step forward in the fog, and soon things will begin to take shape. You’ll see the splashes of color and miracles along the way if you just keep walking.

It’s the last day of  four 12 hour shifts and I feel a little like how Tolkien so aptly described it when Bilbo Baggins said: “I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.” Yep. That’s the feeling. I am looking forward to being huddled in the shop tomorrow in the early morning darkness folded around me.  I need my battery charged and that’s the best way I know to do it, that and being in nature.

This is a new stage for Elaine, and I want to help her through it. Before, every spare minute was filled to overflowing when her Mom was still alive, especially at the last stages. Now she’s finding big pockets of time and feeling like something is missing. When you have been a caretaker so long it’s hard to know what to do when it’s over. No one ever prepares you for that.

I am ready to close out the week, and start a New Year.

I will end with one of my favorite poems of all time……..

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening 

By Robert Frost

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Resurrection in the Desert

There was a chill in the air this morning that sparked a feeling of being awakened to new life. It conjured all kinds of memories of fall and the holidays and warm socks and pumpkin pie and sugar cookies at Christmas, and Bach playing while fire-colored leaves twist and fall like rain to the earth. There were a few days earlier this fall where it was chilly, but we knew those times were flukes fashioned to tease us, because we still had a few triple digits to come after.

Now, however, the chill and the hope are real because we know that the monstrous heat is gone, having released its death grip on us until next year.

While most of America turned their clocks back, our clocks remained steadfastly fixed where they were. Arizona is one of a few rebel states that doesn’t participate in daylight savings time. There is a little self-satisfied pride that comes with this I think. A kind of thumbing our nose at everyone else, because it’s the one little independence we still have to separate us from the status quo. Maybe that’s just me.

 This morning I walked in the dark with a sweatshirt, a welcome change. Fall here means that life begins again. Winter visitors come back and spruce up their yards and repairs are made to bicycles and fireplaces and BBQ’s alike spark to life. Everyone comes outside.

Advent feels closer. Even saying it conjures peace. Soon I will put my little Christmas tree in the shop so I can have my quiet time with its cheery brightness sparkling from the little shelf where it shines to remind me of when Christ came near, when He touched down on this earth so long ago. And how He prays for me from the depths of the unapproachable Light of Heaven even at this moment.

Yes. It’s good, this time of year.

We Arizonans know it maybe more than most.

I turned Christmas music on today but it felt like betraying Thanksgiving, so I settled for some David Nevue on Pandora. It fit.