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.”

Why we can’t ever stop loving

Sydney

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken……..” C.S. Lewis

“We love, because He first loved us.” 1 John 4:19

It’s been a hard week, friends. First there was the call from my Dad. I could hear the panic in his voice: “There’s something wrong with your Mom,” he said, “I’m not sure what to do……” Then the texts and reports came back from my brother and my concern grew. I heard the word, “Sepsis” and alarm bells rang inside my head. Elaine’s Mom was in the hospital 14 days due to that condition. That pretty much ended the “should I stay or go” battle.

It was the spur of the moment and the weekend……..flights were few. Elaine said, “I’ll drive you, let’s just get in the car and go. We’ll drive as far as we can and stop and sleep, then keep going.” So we did. We called our faithful friends who have watched the cats for years and they said of course they would. Sydney had not quite been himself but he was still eating and drinking. He was in good hands.

When we got there 16 hours later Mom was just out of the hospital. (One day and one night too long in her words) She was shaky and disoriented and not looking good. After a week’s worth of antibiotics at home due to some pneumonia setting in, she was on the mend and I felt I could leave.

Elaine had turned around and left the same day we got there after having dinner with her brother in a nearby town. She was scheduled to train on Monday at work and she was also worried about Sydney. (She may not have a cape but she’s the closest thing to “Wonder Woman” I know)

She had asked me before we left, “If something happens to Sydney, if he gets really sick, do you want me to tell you or wait until you get back?” I told her to wait until I got back.

When she got back he was still eating and drinking but hiding under the bed which wasn’t at all like him. And all that week, while I was in California nursing Mom, she was nursing my cat. (she loved him every bit as much as I did) Two days before I got back he had some kind of a seizure and it scared her to death. She brought him back from the brink but after that he wasn’t the same.

We had decided after the last vet visit two years prior, no more vet visits for him. It was just too traumatic.

And she never let on how bad he was, how scared she was, because she had made that promise, you see. That’s what best friends do, they keep their promises even if it hurts.

When she picked me up at the airport I still had no clue. I breezily suggested we go to dinner. She didn’t answer right away and then she told me between tears and sobbing……”It’s Sydney……” Then panic ensued and all I could think of was getting home.

Sydney has been my baby right from the start, you see. He chose me fifteen years ago, back when I desperately needed something of my own. I had lost the cat who had brought joy back into my life after great sorrow, and my arms felt empty.

Of all the kittens in those two rooms, Sydney (Sammy then) kept coming up to me. He was God’s gift, an answer to my prayer, I know it. Later, when my niece was born, I remember lamenting that she was so far away in California. Sydney helped me with that by insisting that I hold him. I had never ever had a cat that turned on his back and insisted I hold him like an infant, but he did.

And now he needed me. With shaky hands I filled out the online form to have the vet come to the house the next day.

All that evening I stroked him where he lay under the bed, and held his paws. He was quiet, and he was never ever quiet. I was so grateful I made it back in time. Elaine had been holding such secret sorrow and so afraid he would die before I got back. Unbeknownst to me, she had made all the calls and had already checked out the websites for vets that would come to the house.

That night I made a bed on the floor so he could feel me near; he always slept right by my side or preferably on my pillow, he loved stealing my pillow. And he actually loved to cuddle, remarkable for a cat.

Sydney was my faithful and loyal friend. For 15 years of his life, each time I left for California he would look towards the door and cry and mourn for days. It was so bad that Elaine would have to leave to get some peace. After a few days he would settle down and allow her to be surrogate Mom.

The vet responded the next morning and said she would be in the area the next day, but there was no way I could let him suffer another day so I pleaded our case for haste and she came through. She said she would be here within the hour.

I waited and prayed for strength at my bedroom window and when her van pulled up I jumped.

We had already gotten Briggs out of the room. And she was so kind, so compassionate. I knew we had made the right call. She got everything ready beforehand and we comforted him as she gave the sedative. I held him close for what seemed like forever. Time stopped and I was strong for him as I knew I had to be. I owed him that.

She suggested wisely that Briggs be brought in to say goodbye, for they had never been apart. Elaine brought him in and they touched noses for the last time. “If you don’t,” she said, “he will always be looking for him.” I guess animals need closure too.

I was okay until I put his little body in the box with the shell blanket. I didn’t want to let him go and the dam burst as I pressed my face to his fur, the softest I had ever felt.

I recovered enough to go hug the vet. Soon I will go pick up his ashes so that where we go, he can go. I happen to believe he is pestering Jesus right now with his loud Siamese meow and insistence on lap time. My Mom said she thought that too.

So again, I feel how hard and unnatural it all is. We were never meant for this kind of sorrow. And though Jesus has removed the lethal stinger that reaches beyond death to redemption, we still feel the raw pain of it.

But there’s something else that reaches beyond it. Softly and insistently it flutters its way into our heart. It says with promise. This is not the end. There’s Hope.

So my question is, “Why do we keep opening ourselves up to love?” Over and over again.

The answer is simple, we keep loving because it’s in our DNA because it’s in God’s DNA and we are His children. He loves us and has loved us from the beginning with an everlasting love, even when it hurts.

We love because He first loved us. And despite the pain, we keep giving. He keeps giving. Because without love, life has no real meaning. With every loss, no matter how painful, we are better people for having risked and loved.

And God has a happy ending for us, folks.

It’s all arranged.

Looking for a little Narnia

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Lucy and Aslan

I remember a time when the world felt safe. Oh, I know it has never been totally safe, but in my reality it was. Every kid needs to feel safe so that when they grow up and find they have lost their way and everything looks dark and scary they will be able to pull that memory out. Lately the world doesn’t feel safe or kind. I scrolled through my Facebook news feed today and I swear I could hear it screaming.

I heard from the Anti-guns, Anti-gays, Anti-Gods, Anti-Religions, and Anti-Governments, and Anti-Muslims, and Anti-Christians and mostly everyone sounded angry. I looked around for home and reached back to a time before death and sorrow and misunderstandings and hurt feelings and sadness.

I remembered a world brimming with hope. There are so many things I don’t understand. I wish for a little Narnia, a little Middle Earth. In those worlds everything is cut and dried. Forces of evil are fought by forces of good and good prevails. End of story.

Too often in this world we don’t even know who the real enemy is. Everything is twisted and confused and misconstrued. We look for justice and we don’t see it coming any time soon. Sometimes we even turn on each other out of frustration. We wish for a world where everyone is on the same side. We wish there weren’t any sides.

I don’t understand why evil is allowed to flourish. Yesterday I heard someone ridicule a Christian believer for believing in talking snakes, well I happen to believe that impossible things can happen in God’s world because nothing is impossible with Him. I believe that if He has to use a talking donkey  to scare some sense into Balaam, then that’s exactly what He will do.

Then the LORD gave the donkey the ability to speak. “What have I done to you that deserves your beating me three times?” it asked Balaam.

I happen to believe God wants justice for donkeys and humans alike. You see, the donkey saw an angel which Balaam was too thick-headed to see. Sometimes animals are smarter than humans. I happen to believe in a world where sometimes God produces miracles out of madness.

And the world is more than a little mad right now. We have known terrorists on our FBI most wanted lists planning attacks yet we can do nothing until they kill scores of people. Instead our authorities choose to go after a little boy who shared some Scripture to his school friends. It’s an upside down world. A world where you can easily lose your way.

Jesus asks us to do just one thing each day. To take the hand He offers and find the courage to get up and start walking on wobbly knees just like those He healed. I don’t know about you, but something in me needs healing every day. And the older I get, the more things need healing.

Jesus said, “Get up, take your bedroll, start walking.” The man was healed on the spot. He picked up his bedroll and walked off. (Note that Jesus first asked the man to get up. Sometimes just getting up is the hardest thing to do.) John 16:33

I remember what Elaine always said when she was going through the Alzheimer’s with her Mom, “I just keep going forward,” she would tell me, “Because if I stopped I may never want to get up again.” Because she knew where her help came from she was able to do what seemed impossible at the time.

Jesus answered them, “Do you finally believe? In fact, you’re about to make a run for it—saving your own skins and abandoning me. But I’m not abandoned. The Father is with me. I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.” The Message

There is an end to this race we’re on and the good news is that He’s already won it for us.

Take a step of healing with me won’t you?

The Prayer Jesus Prayed

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“The world is full of so-called prayer warriors who are prayer-ignorant. They’re full of formulas and programs and advice, peddling techniques for getting what you want from God. Don’t fall for that nonsense. This is your Father you are dealing with, and he knows better than you what you need. With a God like this loving you, you can pray very simply. Like this……….”Matthew 6:7-13 The Message

I have come to really love the simplicity of the message version of the Bible. Here is what is says in the introduction of my Message version:

Accurate but readable:

The Message was paraphrased (by Eugene Peterson) over a period of ten years, straight from the Bible’s original languages (Greek and Hebrew). The idea of the The Message isn’t to water down the Bible making it easier to digest. The idea is to make it readable–to put those ancient words that their users spoke and wrote every day into words that you speak and write every day.

To me the beauty of the Christian faith is that we have a free and open relationship to God and that we can pray anywhere and everywhere without worrying about how we sound. I guess I like the Message because it sounds a lot like my own prayers which usually start in the form of one-liners like:
“Oh, Jesus, I’m in a real fix, you gotta help me out of this one.”
I have come to see the perfect beauty in the way Jesus directs us in the Lord’s Prayer. I see it as not something we have to recite each day, but more like a formula to go by. The Holy Spirit breathes life into it and around it and through it. I have added my own words in between the verses.
 Our Father, who is in Heaven, hallowed by Your name. 
Here, I pause……..It’s a good time to just sit in the stillness and reflect on who God is…..His goodness, His fairness, His graciousness. That, in turn flows into a sense of gratitude which is the best place to start for prayer.
Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven. 
Here, I ask myself, how can I bring Heaven into my day. What can I do down here to help others see that the Kingdom of Heaven is in the here and the now. I ask for help in making down here look a little bit more like Heaven and I ask for His help in doing that. And it doesn’t have to be anything huge, we can do this in little ways throughout the day.
Give us this day our daily bread. 
I can’t remember a day when I didn’t have food, so here I focus on asking what I can do to always remember and actively seek people who are in need. I thank Him that there has never been a day where I had to wonder where my next meal is coming from.
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 
Here there is a big opportunity to reflect and ask myself some honest questions. “Who am I withholding His grace from? Is there someone I need to forgive? Am I harboring feelings of resentment with those who don’t have to struggle, who don’t have to worry about bills or debts? What gifts am I withholding from the Lord? It is a good verse for soul-searching and many times uncomfortable, but always necessary for me.
 
And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
This is a no-brainer for me. At any given time there are always several things I am arm-wresting with Satan over. I go down the list one by one. Usually there is one that takes precedence over the rest. It’s important to be really honest here but be careful what you pray for. Don’t pray for God to change something you really don’t want Him to change. If you find you can’t let go of it, then pray that God will loosen your grip and then open your heart to obedience with whatever He says.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.
This to me is the best way to end a prayer, by giving God His rightful place.
Thank you for indulging my lengthy post here. I thought it was important and hope your prayer life is enriched by the Word, which is living and active and has power to change lives, always!

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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What they don’t tell you

My walk in the woods

There’s an opportune time to do things, a right time for everything on the earth…….Ecclesiastes 3:1

Here is what no one tells you about retirement, or semi-retirement whichever the case may be. It’s a little bit like marriage, first comes the honeymoon stage. Everything is exhilarating and exciting with a little bit of disbelief at your good fortune thrown in. Then comes the next phase where reality sets in. Things are still good, mind you, they are just more real. You realize that it takes a certain amount of work.

You realize that with most things, freedom (or bliss) isn’t free. With any kind of happiness, there is a responsibility thrown in with it.

I am finding that in many ways, retirement comes with its own kind of responsibility and that in some ways, working was easier. I didn’t say better, I just said easier. When you are under the “umbrella” of the corporate giant, pretty much everything is taken care of. The devil is in the details and you don’t have to think about them.

All of a sudden someone has just thrown you the reins to the stagecoach, or rather, you took the reins willingly and that can be scary as hell. It reminds me of how I used to feel on a stretch of Highway 87 on the way up to Payson, Arizona. There is a vista that opens up as you round the bend and it used to take my breath away just for a second. I think I’m a little bit Agoraphobic, (that’s the fear of open spaces.)

You have to be okay with owning your own destiny and taking care of all those little details you didn’t have to worry about before. You learn things about yourself. Now I am learning how to appreciate and navigate the open spaces.

I am learning that I don’t do well without a plan. My tendency is to drift. A little bit of that is okay. But then the time comes to get a rhythm going, to pick up the pace. Get the ball rolling. Like right now. I was going to wash the car and it’s already past 10. Soon it will be too hot. My list is sitting where I can see it. Blogging wasn’t on it.

And yesterday, I was in a kind of black hole. My prayer was short right before I sent myself off to sleep, “Jesus, I’m in a real fix here.” Because even though I know that He gave me the definite answer I needed when I was making the big decision, now I feel like I have to make it all work. In short, I put myself on the throne again.

Today is a new day, thankfully. And I am figuring this retirement thing out. I am still oh so very grateful and I know that I know that I know, it was the right decision. And I also know that my prayer life is more important than ever. That won’t change. Now I can start everyday with prayer and that is a great thing.

And this morning, I awoke in a good mood, a hopeful mood. I am thankful for every little thing. I know that I didn’t lift myself out of the funk, it was His grace that did. And that is cause for praise.

He’s here, and He has a plan. It’s working out.

Living and dying and everything in between

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At 3:30 AM the cat yowled to be fed. I am used to it, he is an old man with special needs. I think he might be suffering from hyperthyroidism. He wants to eat round the clock and I let him. I don’t want to put him through all kinds of tests, vet visits are traumatic for him, so at this point I will keep feeding him. After stumbling back to bed I was wide awake. Thinking about mortality. I asked God how on earth I will handle this little furry creature’s death when it comes. Then I asked how I will ever handle Mom and Dad’s when their time comes.

Then I thought, who will be alive to care when it’s my turn? And then I thought about their obituaries and what they will say……then I thought of my own.

And I wrote them all in my head, including my own.

And poor Elaine, I am celebrating her Birthday today, what a morbid post for her special day. But then writers can’t control the flow of thoughts and words that come, so I will try my best to weave all these tangled threads together somehow. She understands me, bless her.

Of course the answer to the question of how I will deal with any of it is: “With God, with God.” Well, He kind of whispered, “With me, with me.” Life is fleeting and oh so precious. People ask why I make a big deal about Birthdays, but I do it because we aren’t guaranteed another one, that’s why. So I try to remember the important ones.

So many people quietly enter and exit the stage door of life every single day. Some with much fanfare and some with barely a parting of the curtain. Like small pebbles dropped into a pond, only a ripple tells you something just happened.

But one thing I know is that God personally celebrates each life. None are more important than the next, all are equal to Him, and all equally worth celebrating.

I am thinking of a dear friend who just passed into Heaven not long ago. She was dearly loved by all who knew her. She loved life and living it. I read her obituary and everything in it was true, and although her family is deeply grieving and missing her, they know where she is and that is great cause for hope.

So today, as I celebrate my very best friend’s Birthday……”Happy Birthday, Elaine!” I am also thinking of our other friend Ginny and honoring her life and her memory. For I know she would dearly love to still be here with her friends and family, and yet even they wouldn’t ask her to leave the incredible beauty that surrounds her now.

It’s a perfectly beautiful day down here, a perfect day for a Birthday. A perfect day to love life and living it. Gotta go and do some celebrating now, and of course, a German Chocolate cake is waiting to be baked.

“Where’s my cake?” The Birthday girl just walked by and asked.

“It’s coming, it’s coming!” I said. But bloggers gotta blog.

She knows me so well.