Just Enough

Have you ever had one of those days (weeks??) when you’re up against a wall? When it seems that everything’s going awry? When the simplest task—or what you thought would be the simplest task—throws you up against that wall? That brick wall. For me it often involves the inability to talk to the right person for what seems to be a simple answer. Or TECHNOLOGY.

It’s the latter that’s kept me paralyzed for the last four hours. Actually it started over a week ago when I was disconnected from the expert who seemed to be on the path to resolving my situation. I couldn’t follow through just then because of “mitigating circumstances”…the kind that blocks progress…so returned to the problem today. After scouring several leads for the solution, I finally found a site that promised resolution. AHA! Help is on the way. And…for the last hour a little blue ball continued its hamster-wheel circuitous route as a message on my computer announced: Your current position in line is 1.

Yes, I’d prayed for resolution. And patience. An end to frustration. And a Christ-like attitude. And patience. And one last “it’s-up-to-you-God” plea. Finally, in desperation I tried to see if I could connect through the “back way” (something I tried countless times earlier) and… The problem disappeared!

WHY??? Think of all the writing I could have done, the book I could have read, even the household tasks I (maybe) could have accomplished.

All the paragraphs above to describe a situation that, in light of unresolved social and world problems, illnesses, death, broken relationships, carries little to no weight. I don’t do well with unanswered questions, and I am forced to live in this world with a long list. And wait.

This past week I’ve been living—waiting—in the Land of Remembering. I remember Bob’s 86th birthday one year ago. I remember that only a few days later his unexpected—though not unanticipated—death rocked my world. I don’t have answers to computer issues, and on the cosmic scale, I don’t have answers to people gun downed in shopping centers and parks and schools. Or bloody war in Ukraine. Or disease. Or…

I have absolutely no answer to my frustrations today. Or why death, disease, dying surround the—my—world. My feeble choice is to live with weak, but growing, faith. To keep walking with my hand in the hand of the One who promises to never leave me. And that’s just enough.

What’s Your Purpose?

This morning a friend quoted Mark Twain: “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” Although Twain was no friend to the Christian faith, his words are wise and to be contemplated.

We often ask small children what they want to be when they grow up, but seldom do we explore with them the deeper meaning and importance of purpose. And I wonder how this question would stop, or divert, conversation in a small group: “What have you decided is your purpose in life?”!

A respected mental health group adds these thoughts: Your life purpose consists of the central motivating aims of your life—the reasons you get up in the morning. Purpose can guide life decisions, influence behavior, shape goals, offer a sense of direction, and create meaning.

Tomorrow (March 8) we celebrate International Women’s Day and as I’ve spent time doing a cursory search of women—religious and secular—who have made their mark on the world, one common thread surfaces. They were all women of purpose. What do you know about these women: Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Kate Bushnell, Rosa Parks, Eleanor Roosevelt, Shi Meiju (English name Mary Stone)? Some names are more familiar than others, but all had something burning inside that drove them to purposeful action. (Take time to look them up on the internet.)

We’re all familiar with the line, “the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world,” but I’m afraid we Christians have sometimes latched on to those words as a reason (excuse?) for not searching for another—or additional—purpose that God is waiting to burn into our souls. While we know Susannah Wesley as the mother of 19 children (records disagree but it seems only ten or eleven survived infancy or childhood), do we know that she wrote extended commentaries on the Apostles Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments? The Jewish and Christian worlds celebrate the life of heroic Esther and I’ve been haunted through the years by the question asked of her, “Who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” A purpose that rescued a people.

I’m not encouraging every woman to look for some “larger” purpose, to move from the daily life as mother, teacher, corporate leader, but to spend time in thoughtful, discerning prayer, asking God to affirm—or maybe disclose?—his purpose for your life. You may discover that the nursery, the classroom, the business world is exactly where he wants you. But you may also make a discovery that will surprise you and perhaps be the beginning of something you never dared believe.

(I apologize for my long absence from this site, but a combination of computer issues and “life” have kept me away. Maybe this is a new start??)

The Order of Advent

I admit: I like order. Though there may be dust on my kitchen cabinets, inside them I know (usually and mostly) where I’ll find the serving spoons. I may have to search for a can of tomatoes, but (usually and mostly), my spices are in alphabetical order. Although choosing the right greeting card may take time, I (usually and mostly) know where to find the postage stamps.

Just before writing these paragraphs, I sat with Christmas tree lights glowing and a small candle shimmering. This year I’ve chosen two sources for my Advent meditation—one supplied by my church and another written by women and men from across the Christian spectrum. I’ve been both comforted and challenged in mind and heart.

I didn’t grow up with the Advent tradition either in family or church. We seemed to race from Thanksgiving to Christmas with abandon, but I’ve come to claim it as my own ritual drawing me deeper into scripture, experiences, truths that have come down through the ages. I like the order of Advent. While I can be tempted to put off a daily “quiet time” in the rush of holiday activity, if I miss the daily Advent meditation, a nameless kind of void descends. I need whatever God wants to speak to my soul.

Order has been somewhat blurred for me since last May when my husband died. First came grief in its many forms. People beautifully moved—usually without any kind or order!—in and out of my life. Then there was and is what I call the “business of death.” All the forms and files and appointments to begin surviving the practicalities of life without Bob.

But the day after Thanksgiving I began following our custom—our order—of decorating the house for the coming season. Nativity scenes are settled in their spaces, the four Advent candles are in place although I’m flaunting tradition by using battery operated ones—too many distractions to trust myself with all that fire! The tree is filled with ornaments, each telling a special story of people and places. Order reigns.

if you don’t have a special Advent order, I encourage you to find a book or online site with ideas to fill your soul during these busy days. Just before writing these paragraphs, t opened my laptop to KeepingAdvent.com and found this prayer that exactly fits into this day’s need for order:

“Unexpected God, your Advent alarms us. Wake us from drowsy worship, from the sleep that neglects love, and the sedative of misdirected frenzy. Awaken us now to your timing , and bend our angers into your peace. Amen”

Good words to bring order to this day.

Yesterday, Today, and Forever

It’s been three months since I last posted in this space. On June 11 I wrote about changing seasons and as the last tomatoes now ripen on the lone patio plant, and a few leaves begin to lose their green, I reflect on the past weeks and anticipate the future. 

Instead of trying to write new thoughts, perhaps it’s best if I simply copy some of what I wrote to friends after Bob’s memorial service on August 10th:

I repeatedly heard these words: “It was a ‘Bob service.'” I’m interpreting that to mean he was “present” and giving his approval (and perhaps a little surprised?) as children and grandchildren expressed in their own words how they saw and experienced Bob. Words that repeatedly surfaced: irrepressibly happy; filled with joy, humility, bombast, gratitude, heavy love—for God, family, strangers; adventuresome, curious, generous, a listener… We cried and laughed. We listened in awe to a men’s quartet enthusiastically sing Bob’s request: “Wonderful Grace of Jesus,” and the haunting, magnificently sung solo, “I Can Only Imagine.” We were comforted by the tender words of Rev. Dr. Jennifer Holz.

But that was then and this is now. Without too badly denting the bank account, I’ve handled computer issues and car problems. I’m (usually) preparing nutritious meals-for-one, and looking forward to a few lunch and coffee dates with friends. A Wednesday evening class at church on the works of C.S. Lewis stimulates the brain and provides fellowship.

Two words leapt off the page as I recently read the familiar verses of Isaiah 43: But now… After chapters describing judgment and war and disease, God reassures his beloved people of their future—that they are redeemed, loved, and protected. However, it was those first two words that resonated: But now… After the past six years of living with Bob’s health challenges, I am hearing But now… I cling relentlessly to this promise: 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 (Deuteronomy 31:8).

Perhaps you, like me, face coming days with more questions than answers. Stepping into new groups, eating alone at a restaurant, hearing only my voice cheering for the football team, plus scores of other new experiences are indications that I am entering yet another a new season. 

Although the days here are still warmed by leftover summer sun, I know that the inevitable wind and snow and storms lie ahead. It will be—it must be—during those days that I will need to remember that the God of past seasons is the same “yesterday, today, and forever.”

Another Season

I began writing this about six weeks ago during a relatively quiet few moments. Little did I know just how thunderously my new season was about to begin.

Is it just me or do your thoughts also turn to the seasons of life as nature introduces change? Here in Colorado we’ve learned to never pack away the sweaters just because spring has been announced. And never plant those flowers before Mother’s Day…or later. Summer sneaks in with howling wind or tempting breezes. Autumn leaves swirl to the ground, trees only recently fat with green seem as gangly as a teenager’s legs. Winter’s arrival here can be quirky—blowing snow or warm enough to fire up the grill. Some people—especially my friends in the American Midwest!—escape their season of winter by firing up not the grill but the van or RV: “Gotta’ get out of here and head to Florida!” sums up many of their remarks.

Although some may escape the weather, none can bolt from the seasons of life. They arrive with varying intensity. Little ones kept snugly at home walk into kindergarten. A strapping young man enters the college dorm miles away from the safe family circle. A friend’s life was recently tossed into the dark, roiling ocean of grief at the unexpected death of her son. An aging, but previously healthy, man is only now arriving home after five long months in hospital and rehabilitation. The creeping tentacles of dementia steal the person we once knew.

Even without events such as these, as I step off the merry go round of modern life long enough to be quiet, I realize that my own seasons are passing. How I approach that change will deeply affect how I live in the season. An honest look in the mirror or the annual physical exam, starkly reveals that “a person’s days are numbered.” Denial is useless, retreat leads to apathy, resistance can hurry us along toward frustration and anger. So how can I live—truly live—in new seasons? 

That’s when I stopped writing, probably to begin supper prep or…? Although I’ve been living in the season of my husband’s battle with failing health (pulmonary fibrosis) for just over a year, we’ve adjusted quite well to a fifty-long oxygen tube, wheelchair transport, medical appointments, etc. 

Until Saturday morning, May 7th, when Bob’s earthly life suddenly ended and he stepped into the presence of the God he loved. Although death is, perhaps should be, always expected, I was surprised by the sudden intrusion of this enemy as there had been no unusual precipitating symptoms.  Rapidly I was surrounded by efficient and profoundly caring emergency and police personnel and others well trained to care for my husband’s lifeless body (but so overwhelmingly alive spirit and soul) as they helped me take baby steps into this new season. I was unprepared for how perfectly peaceful and unlined was his face in death—and new life—as I for the last time kissed his cheek and said a final, “I love you.”

I’m into only the first month of this season, and I’ve been surrounded by love of friends and neighbors and family. The “business” of death is filled with details but thankfully Bob and I had done much planning so I am better prepared than many. I’m finally experiencing solid, refreshing sleep. Weeping comes and goes. I’m learning (key word) to quickly acknowledge and take note of changing emotions, then openhandedly give them to the One who understands all aspects of grief, asking him to let me feel deeply yet also walk into and through this season with the peace he has provided so often in other seasons over the years.

Every season in nature brings its own uniqueness especially here in Colorado: the heat of summer with a few unexpected hailstorms; the cold and snow of winter; blooming tulips in spring; and vibrant colors of autumn. And now I live in another season of my life. There’s no one here to share the unexpected joy of deer wandering onto the lawn, the fun of a Rockies baseball win, a new recipe to tempt the tastebuds. But the Creator of all seasons loves and sustains me, the Holy Spirit lives within me, Jesus’s life and words encourage me. I want to live well in this season, reflect on the past, live peacefully in the present, and be alert for God’s plan for my future.

What Do I Actually Believe?

Hiatus: a pause or gap in a sequence, series, or process. Hiatus isn’t quite strong enough for the “gap” in My Monday Moments postings; it’s been over two months since the end of Advent and here I am into the second week of Lent, a time for self-examination, repentance, and intentional contemplation of Jesus’ forty days before the cross.

My daily life and activities continue to center on my husband’s pulmonary fibrosis condition. His positive attitude persists, his sense of humor unexpectantly erupts, his curiosity peaks while watching the feasting finches outside the window on these wintry days. We live with frequent oxygen level checks, attention to healthy diet, awareness of danger signs, and an eye on the calendar for medical appointments in addition to the “ordinarys” of daily life like cooking, housework, etc. All this leaves few moments for what is optimistically called “margin time,” but I’m (slowly!) learning to carefully measure my days. And hours. And minutes.

But how does all this relate to the question posed in the title: What Do I Actually Believe? I’m thinking of the Apostle Paul’s words: “Do not be anxious about anything…” What about when I feel anxiety tightening its bonds around my heart in the dark night? What does it mean to then “present my requests to God” so that the “peace of God which transcends all understanding” can “guard my heart and mind”? For me that “presenting” often means constant whispering the name “Jesus” until sleep comes.

For others the belief sticking point may be “In everything give thanks.” What exemptions do we offer when a relationship disappoints, when the job just doesn’t get better, when gas and grocery prices continue to rise? When not only does the washer/dryer expire, but four tires—count them!—need replacing as does the starter on the same car! Are we (am I) in essence saying, “Straighten all this out, God, and then I’ll awaken each morning with thanks on my lips?”

My heart breaks these days when sisters and brothers in Ukraine* are driven to examine what they believe as they flee all that was comfortable just days ago, as they watch elderly grandmothers hide out in damp and dark cellars, as children are sent off to safety not knowing if they will ever reunite, as war and death hover like impenetrable thunder clouds. Do I blithely quote Romans 8:28 or do I lament evil and weep as I pray Psalms 30 and 31, asking God to intervene, strike down those who wield deadly earthly power over people and places? It’s a small thing, but I bought a sturdy plastic sunflower to fasten to our patio railing as a reminder to myself to pray, and to our neighbors to not forget the people of Ukraine. (The sunflower has been—sometimes unofficially—the national flower of that country, ironically as a symbol of peace.)

In times of peace and prosperity, when illness doesn’t take up residence, when relationships are sweet, when life’s details fit nicely into our prescribed plan, it’s during those times that our “beliefs” seem sure and we quote them with composure–and perhaps with less than proper humility? But is God asking me, especially during these days of Lent, to examine what I believe? To shut my mouth until words align with mind and heart?

God’s grace and mercy surrounds me—and yes, even infiltrates me—as I present my weak self to him. I live in the midst of 1 Corinthians 10:13 (The Message): No test or temptation that comes your way is beyond the course of what others have had to face. All you need to remember is that God will never let you down; he’ll never let you be pushed past your limit; he’ll always be there to help you come through it, and Romans 15:13 (J.B. Phillips): May the God of hope fill you with joy and peace in your faith, that by the power of the Holy Spirit, your whole life and outlook may be radiant with hope.

May these words bolster you—and me—as we together examine what we believe.

*Ukraine has a personal place in our hearts as Bob walked the streets of Kiev during the early 90s while planning for CoMission teams. And my paternal grandfather emigrated from there!

New Year Thoughts

“The wrong shall fail, the right prevail…” So wrote Henry Wadworth Longfellow during the blight of the un-civil Civil War in the United States in 1863. Today, living in similar incivility when raucous bluster replaces intelligent discourse, when innuendos are swapped for thoughtful factual investigation, when pursuit of personal “blessings” supersedes Jesus’ call for humility, peacemaking, thirst for all that is God-good and holy, yes, even when right standing that frequently brings persecution is accepted with grace, even now we who claim to be Christ followers must with clear eyes and dogged determination proclaim “the wrong shall fail, the right prevail.”

This isn’t blind pie-in-the-sky, sugar-coated, always smiling “faith,” but firm reliance on God’s ultimate plan, purpose and love. And that reliance gives me courage to act hand-in-hand with him to bring about the right even when such actions seem futile and misplaced.  I’ve learned not to blithely misquote Romans 8:28: “God works out everything for (my!) good…” instead slowly trusting God’s benevolent, just, gracious, merciful hand mysteriously operating—usually behind the scenes—to bring about the ultimate end when “at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord” and all will shout, “Hallelujah! God Almighty reigns” (Philippians 2:10-11 and Revelation 19:7).

Yes, to some it sounds like pie-in-the-sky, but Longfellow got it right and we, often with faltering faith, agree, “The wrong shall fail, the right prevail.”

Advent Thoughts

Friday, December 24
Luke 2:19

Imagine overhearing the conversation between Luke and Mary as she relived those Bethlehem events. The trek to Egypt lies ahead, pre-teen Jesus in rabbinical Temple discussion will be mystifying. But now she remembers only the precious infant softly swaddled in the manger, the shepherds bowing, the innkeeper wondering what all the excitement is about. She tells Luke that hard, mysterious days lay ahead but in those first hours, she just rested in the now.

But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. Most versions begin this passage with “but”–Luke contrasting the shepherds’ response and ensuing action with words about Mary. She does’t jump into action to deliver the message, nor does she engage in debate about the meaning of the events.

Interpreters use several words to understand the verse: Mary gave careful thought; she put the events together in silent heart-pondering; she compared and interpreted the events; she weighed (original meaning of pondered) everything, turning the events over and over in her mind.

There are times when we are to follow the shepherds’ example to spread the word. But it’s crucial that we just as often take time to treasure and ponder which, in my experience, is a much more difficult practice. The cries of the world–strident, wretched, heart rending–rightly call us to action. Cries of my world–indecision, discomfort, pain, grief, weariness–easily leave me immobilized. But this Christmas Eve I need to ponder. Action may or may not come. Solutions may be delayed, detoured, or denied. But just now it’s time for pondering.

Advent Thoughts

Thursday, December 23
Luke 2:17-18, 20

As we near the end of Advent, two responses to Jesus’ birth and events surrounding his birth capture my attention. First, let’s look again at the shepherds. Can you see them approaching the animal shed where they seek a manger? The hymn writer says, “Haste, haste to bring him laud…” but I see their steps slowing as they near their destination. What will they find? Who will they find? Luke’s concise words again demand us to fill in the blanks: When they had seen him… Did they look confused at this baby who looked just like any other Jewish baby but according to the angels was anything but ordinary. Did they possibly see with eyes enlightened by the Spirit?

Second, it’s interesting that when the shepherds left the manger they didn’t announce the infant’s blue(?) eyes, nor how perfectly formed he was, nor Mary’s peaceful gaze, nor Joseph’s stalwart protection. Instead…they spread the word concerning what had been told them about the child…

What was the essence of the message they’d heard?

Don’t be afraid
This is good, joyful news
This news is for everyone (even shepherds)
The long-awaited Savior has come

The response to the shepherds’ message? …all who heard it were amazed… When we share how the good news of Bethlehem has changed our lives, are people amazed? When you tell people about Jesus, are the shepherds’ “four spiritual laws” what you communicate? Do people hear that God’s love conquers fear; God’s news is good, without condemnation; God’s news contains no exclusion clause; God keeps his promise–the Savior has come.

The shepherds see, believe, and tell. Has that been my role this Advent? How can my message more align with the angels’ message?

Advent Thoughts

Wednesday, December 22
Luke 2:15

Luke is again spare with his words, leaving the scene to our imagination, perhaps encouraging us to fill in the blanks. When the angels left them… My questions: Were the sheep (or the flocks’ predators) aware of the angels? After rising from crouching fear, did the shepherds gaze into the sky as the disciples would more than thirty years later? Shepherds are entrusted with the sheep in their care. Who protected the flock when their protectors went to Bethlehem?

Many students of Hebrew history and prophecies, especially the words in Micah, believe that these shepherds were specially chosen to watch over lambs that would ultimately be offered as temple sacrifices with their fields about one mile from Bethlehem. Trained according to rabbinical rules, the shepherds had small stalls to protect and raise raise these lambs to be without blemish.

Earlier I wrote that Luke determined to record an orderly account…carefully investigating everything from the beginning. Many speculate that details of the birth narrative–from the Elizabeth/Zechariah events through the birth of Jesus to the visit of the wise men to Jesus in the Temple at age twelve–came from the lips of Mary herself. Did Luke also find one of those shepherds who “lived to tell the tale”? How fascinating must have been that conversation.

Nothing and no one is left to chance in the birth story. Nothing and no one is left to chance in our stories. The promises in Psalm 139 have always been important to me: Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? …if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast…

The angels left the shepherds, but the Spirit of the always-guiding One would forever be present. Remember that this week when you wonder where he is. Reach out for his hand even when you can’t see it.