The Power of Memory

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Prayer for today: Oh Lord, help. I have no idea how this year is going to go, but thank you in advance for blazing a trail before us…….You have never let us down yet. Amen

This morning in prayer it struck me that one of the best gifts we can hand down to our children and others in our lives is to provide them with good memories. Kids will forget the gifts they unwrapped in a few days time, but they will never forget the times you spent together whether good or bad.

This weekend, I had an occasion to relive some old memories and add some new ones to the collection. My cousin and her husband came for a visit, and so did Elaine’s nephew. We had a great time reliving all those old times, in fact they surrounded us as our companions as a backdrop as we laughed and talked and filled each other in on the past few years.

I guess maybe you don’t think too much about memory until you care for someone who has had theirs stolen like Joyce had. What would it be like to lose those memories that make up a life? Wouldn’t it be like losing your life? Memories make up so much of who we are. Memory is the sum of what makes us individuals in many ways. You and I might hear the same song and that same song conjures up altogether different images in our minds.

While you might think of a pleasant time growing up in a little Spanish village, maybe images of little old men and women opening their shops, sweeping in the warmth of the sun. I might borrow a memory from my Mom in the 1940’s when she told me about going out to meet the trains and wave to the soldiers as went off to war. And what a powerful thing, when we share those memories, they mingle together like a little bit of magic and yours become a little of mine and vice versa.

If you share a life with someone then you share a wealth of memories and moments where you might look at each other at the exact same time and say, “Do you remember that time?” Those same memories that can bring such sharp grief after they’re gone, can turn soft and healing with time and provide great comfort.

Memories have tremendous power to grip us for good or ill. Sometimes holding us hostage for years. Sometimes sending us to rehab or the psychiatrists couch. Sometimes they’re the only thing that keeps us from losing our grip.

A further thought is that worry is like a perverted form of memory because worry conjures up things that haven’t even happened yet. It’s borrowing negative from a future that may or may not even come to reality. It is tiresome and burdensome and renders you useless to the present and unable to be fully there for those around you.

It’s why Jesus cautions us so often about worry. He knows how destructive it is. It never leads to peace. He beckons us to turn and look back down the road He’s already led us, so our minds can settle again. He has promised everything we need for today, He only asks us to keep walking in His direction.

I am thanking Joyce today for the gratitude I have for my memories. Elaine has her remains now. It’s a very odd thing to see them on her shelf, someone I knew so well even though I know she isn’t there. I also know that someday I will come to the same state, unless Jesus comes back before that happens. And I hope that I will still be teaching someone something, like Joyce continues to teach me.

We are all in this together, thank God.

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

Advent: Peace in the Chaos

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Even youths grow tired and weary,
    and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
    will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
    they will run and not grow weary,
    they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40:30,31

December 1st is here and it arrived with everyone breathless and scurrying. This morning my heater gave out in the shop so my prayer time was shortened. I know it shouldn’t have been but I am a fair-weather pray-er and it was 50 degrees out there. My blood is thin, accustomed as it is to the sun and warmer temps. So the tree was in the living room all decked out in lights but no ornaments. Elaine has been frantically going from work to the Carehome since her Mom fell and broke her hip. There was simply no time. So this morning I drug all the boxes in and set to work. I had a deadline to meet since her brother was coming and I wanted to be available if I was needed.

At around the 4th time going through both the Easter and Christmas portions of Handel’s Messiah, it was finished, bedecked in all it’s glory. I had fun doing it. I felt pretty good considering I slept fitfully as usual and awoke at my usual time of 2:00 am. When I saw Elaine briefly later at noon she said, “Why didn’t you come in my room, we could have had coffee and talked.” Seems we were both awake at the same time.

Sometimes, Advent comes whether we are ready or not. But ready or not, it’s always a blessing.

And this road we’ve been on has been so long. Ever since her Mom has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s to now, it’s been about 10 years. I think of everything that has happened since and it’s staggering that Elaine’s been able to do it all and work too.

It’s late and I really need to go to bed. My brain feels like scrambled eggs. And my dear niece is turning 13 tomorrow and soon I will see her.

And it’s life and death and the cycle of it all……And He is here and if not for Him in the midst of everything, where in the world would any of us be?

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

 

Those “little Gethsemane” moments

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“Now my soul is in turmoil, and what should I say—’Father, save me from this hour’? No! It was for this very reason that I came to this hour.

“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”

No doubt about it, Jesus had the real Gethsemane moment. None of us will ever come close to going through what He did that awful night in the garden. And even though He knew that all that suffering would be over in 3 days time, even though He knew that Heaven was just on the other side of it:

He still wrestled…….He still struggled…..He still resisted. But ultimately He trusted in His Father to see Him though.

What about you? You know you are headed for Glory eventually. You know where your real home is, but does that minimize the Gethsemane moments while you are going through them? I admit, knowing that the end of the story is victorious takes the sting out, but when you’re in the dark groping around, the pain is real. It feels like your own personal mini Gethsemane.

Wednesday was a day like that for me. It felt like God was hiding behind a cloud all day. I knew He was there alright, but I couldn’t feel Him. The night before I had slept fitfully. Taunted by the worry demons, they danced around my mind like shadows. I tried to recite the 23rd Psalm but I could hear Satan whisper…..”There are no green pastures or still waters for you….” He’s such a liar.

Right now it seems ridiculous. Yesterday and today I felt like my old self again, but Wednesday was a battle. I went out to my car during break to get some alone time with God. I had visions of playing some quiet music as the breeze wafted through the car windows, but when I got there someone was sitting in the car right next to me with their window open. So much for that.

I even moved my car to the next shady spot, but lo and behold, there was another person in the car next to me again with their windows rolled down. I know God’s sense of humor well enough by now to know that He was playing a little private joke on me.

Guess He didn’t think I needed any alone time.

Sometimes, God likes to play a little hide and seek with us. He hides Himself for just a little while, and it’s good for us. Those times stretch our faith like nothing else can.

Awhile back I was talking to my Dad, who was going through his own mini-Gethsemane moment at the time. He has a lot of those lately. He is 87 and dealing with all the changes that go along with that. He needed some bolstering up. Thinking to be helpful, I started to tell him about someone else who I felt was in a much worse situation. He told me something that I will never forget. He said, “Hearing about someone worse off doesn’t help me because my situation is what matters to me.

It’s my pain that’s real.

He’s right. There are times when it does help to talk or hear about someone worse off than you, but there are other times when you desperately need a loving ear with an open and sympathetic heart. And here’s the thing:

Anytime you hold out your heart to someone you are taking a risk. You hold it out with trembling hands with the hope that someone will treasure it and take it from you gently and treat it with care, instead of dismissing it or ignoring it altogether.

That was an important lesson that I needed to learn and I thank Him for trusting me enough to speak the truth and speak it kindly. I truly believe the best lessons we can learn are the ones we can learn from each other. We’re all still learning.

None of us is perfect and very few are actually out to get us. The best thing we can do is to ask the Holy Spirit to make us humble and able to receive the lessons He wants to teach us through the classroom of each other.

Love consists in this, that two solitudes protect and touch and greet each other.

A person isn’t who they are the last conversation you’ve had with them, they’re who they’ve been throughout your whole relationship. 

Rainier Marie Rilke

Casting our care……..over and over again.

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On my recent vacation I took a walk one early morning in the mist by the sea and I found that all along the pathway someone had left stones. On each stone was scrawled a message, or a date.  Some had paw prints and a name, memorial to a beloved pet, and some had Scripture. Part of the wonder of that walk was that those little stones added something. Those stones served as a marker in my heart, so that I will always remember it.

Jesus mentioned stones too as He rode into Jerusalem. “Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!” “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” Those Pharisee’s were such killjoys.

On that walk, those little stones were crying out to me in their own way. Well, it was more like whispers of hope. But sometimes whispers cry out the loudest, don’t they? I wonder about who painted the words on those stones and the rest of them I saw that day. I wonder what cares they had that they wanted to leave there, along that path?

Last night it was one of those tossing and turning nights. I was bogged down in my usual worries that played over and over like a needle stuck in the groove of an old 45. And this morning when I awoke, I decided that I needed to do what this little stone said to do……I needed to cast my care where it counted. To the One who could actually do something about it. And my prayer was simply for God to put the song back in my heart. Just that.

And as I thought back to when I first started my early morning prayer times, I realized that through these few years, my relationship to God the Father has changed. I always talked to Jesus, I always told Him I loved Him, but I never really told God the Father I loved him. Now I do. It’s because of the approachability of Jesus that we can take the blinding Holy brilliance of the Father, even though I know all the Holiness of the Father rests on Jesus as well.

What a perfect plan, what a perfect God.

Somewhere along the line the message has sunk in that God is not out to get me. He already has proven His great love for me even while I was sinning. Even as I disappoint Him again and again even now.

As I open the words to my devotional this morning I read these words:

Where shall I go from your Spirit?
    Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
    If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
    and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
    and your right hand shall hold me.
 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
    and the light about me be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
    the night is bright as the day,
    for darkness is as light with you.

Psalm 139:7-12

He is faithful friends……..He is the redeemer of days, and comfort in the night. Every hidden thought, and action is exposed to His Holy light and even then, He draws close. He is not surprised by anything we do. And the great miracle and joy of this life is that He cares enough to make a garden out of the wilderness of my heart. Over and over again.

His words fall like rain on my parched and weary soul.

In the light of eternity, where all will be well forever, nothing is a problem down here.

Deep calls to deep

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Some people think nature calls in a soft voice. I think it shouts quietly. There’s a difference.

What’s it shouting you say?

Things aren’t always what they seem…….like this bloom from a lowly thistle we know as the artichoke plant.

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Do you see the bee? I almost missed it, and I took the picture a year ago.

There is a whole universe wrapped up in your back yard.

Just step out the door and open your eyes.

And you will see God.

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He is waiting to fill us……so that we may never thirst for anything else. He calls us to the deep end.

It’s easy to tread water when you know you can touch bottom.

He’s calling us to swim further out.

Better yet, just jump.

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He has never once failed to catch me.

Tired of treading water in the cesspool of worry?

Stop treading and float, my friends.

I took my troubles to the LORD; I cried out to him, and he answered my prayer. Psalm 120:1