Monday, November 29, 2010

Regardless and Anyway

This weekend I went to church. I didn’t want to go; I thought about staying home. As I turned into the parking lot I considered whipping the car around and going back home.

But I didn’t.

I went in and took a seat. Our crowd was low due to sickness and a four-day holiday weekend. The music did not move me; odd, since there is always one song or one phrase that catches me. Communion did not pierce me as it usually does. My spirit was dull.

I dug in my purse to find a pen to take notes. Not one to be found. I am a teacher and a librarian and no pen or pencil? Seriously? My daughter handed me one, and our minister started to speak.

Here’s the crazy thing. Our minister is one of our dearest friends, so when he speaks there’s an element of conversation—a dialogue of sorts, but I was a little off kilter and so the first part of his message filtered in and filtered out (sorry, Dave). His message was about gifts under the tree this Christmas.

I didn’t want to hear about Christmas. I had had enough of Black Friday (and I didn’t even go shopping) and I had already heard way too much about Cyber Monday. The subliminal headlines in everything I read or heard was buy, buy and buy. So, Christmas was not on my high list of priorities or even on my agenda yet. But here was Dave preaching about the gifts under the tree.

Where are you going with this, Dave? He let me know. He asked, “Do you have peace under your Christmas tree this season?” If you answered the question no then he suggested several things to help you find that peace. Typical message, right?

Nope, not with Dave.

Dave wasn’t talking about world peace. Dave was talking about personal peace, and what we must do to find it.

Now remember I was zoned out during the first part of his message. Little did I know the Holy Spirit was sitting in the row right behind me. As Dave began to discuss this last point, the Spirit leaned forward and tapped me on the shoulder. He whispered in my ear, “Are you listening? You need to pay attention. This one is for you.”

Dave’s final point. If you want peace in your life there are some relationships that must be restored. There are some people in our lives that we just simply have to decide to love regardless. And forgive anyway.

Regardless. Anyway.

Again the Spirit nudged me just to make sure I was taking notes.

I was. Reluctantly.

Dave asked, “Are there people in your life who are just mean? Family members who have wounded you in some way? Is there somebody who makes you want to grit your teeth and clench your fists? If you want peace in your life you got to love and pray for them anyway.”

And the Spirit whispered that somebody’s name in my ear.

I flinched.

I didn’t want to hear this message. Maybe I should have just stayed at home, then I wouldn’t have heard this challenge and I wouldn’t have had such an inner struggle.

Today, the Spirit whispered another name in my ear.

Obviously I needed this message.

Good thing I didn’t stay home.

Lord, please help me with regardless and anyway.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving List 2010

I heard someone say this week that one of their favorite holidays was Thanksgiving; I suppose I was surprised. Of course, being surprised I tried to decide why. Another wise person commented that department stores had not quite commercialized Thanksgiving. And I pondered the truth of that statement.

It is not easy to market thankfulness. Gratitude is a commodity which cannot be coerced; it is either present or not.

I am rethinking Thanksgiving.

I am thankful, so very thankful for:

Mid-term Grades. Posted on the fridge and shouted from the rooftops, in classrooms or across phone towers. More importantly I am so thankful for the incredible minds producing these grades.

Hugs. These have to be one of the best parts of life. When my husband and daughters and best friends hug me I am in a sweet, sweet spot.

Phone calls. My heart is blessed a thousand times over because my grown daughters call me almost every day. What a pleasure. What an honor.

My brother. I am thankful for the letter he carries in his wallet and for his voice on the phone.

Laughter. Absolutely one of the most phenomenal medications in the world. Cleansing, refreshing and invigorating.

Babies. Precious Tatem. Hosea from Bolivia, Silas, Wyatt, Steven, Jude, Olivia and sweet Sinclair. They renew and replenish something old and ancient inside me.

Co-workers. How blessed I am that both places I work are filled with incredible people. Talented, creative, energetic, concerned, intelligent, spiritual, eccentric and beautiful people.

Teaching. What an incredible, wonderful, frightening calling.

Friends. People you love and who love you.

Family. People doing life together—in whatever way you possibly can: emails, letters, phone calls, quick visits in between classes, moments grasped in the oddest of places, after church, sharing of food drawers, watching out for each others’ children, encouragement and accountability shared.

Home. I am thankful for this place I live—these walls and the contents. I am thankful for the three other people who live here. Thankful for the piano room and all the music that comes from it. Thankful for the kitchen—the heart of the house—my favorite space. Thankful that when I walk in and close the door behind me I enter a haven. A perfect one? No. A warm and safe one? Yes.

Prayer. Short cries for help. Long, pleading prayers for wisdom. Breaths and sighings for what I don’t even understand. Frustrated jabs of angst. Weary moans of being at the end of my strength, angry snaps of expectation. He hears and translates them. He answers them all. Yes, I said all. How I always want or ask? No. How I expect? No.

Contentment. Underrated and overlooked. I am content, and it is a delicious place.

Peace. Not as the world gives. Not the absence of trouble or struggle or conflict, but an inner steadiness in spite of these.

Hunger. Both spiritual and physical. I have been both in recent days. I have made myself wait until truly hungry before eating. Food, then, tastes so good. I have been spiritually hungry because I have forgotten and neglected to come to the table. Spiritual hunger is by far the keenest.

Intimacy. I have someone who knows me. Steve anticipates my thoughts and actions. He looks to me and says, “I see you; I love you.” And the statements are powerfully synonymous.

Change. It reminds us we are alive. Keeps us flexible. Enables us to work the muscle of our faith—otherwise, it would atrophy. Change produces a sharp and persistent edge in prayer. Change keeps us awake and alert. Change reduces the possibility of stagnancy.

My list could go on, but I will stop here. My heart is full.

My heart is full.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you.

May our Father pour out his richest blessings on you and yours—and may you recognize and acknowledge that all you have and are is a result of his grace and the abundance of his hands.

Rainy Morning

I woke to the rain yesterday morning—falling steadily on the roof. At first I didn’t know what it was because it hasn’t rained in a long, long time. I relaxed, sinking deeper and deeper into the softness and warmth of my bed. I didn’t fall back asleep, but the rain soothed me. Listening intently I tried to separate the sounds. The rain hit the roof in a hard, rhythmic pattern. It gushed through the gutters and rushed down the drain spout—pouring out onto the edge of the porch below. Lulled by the sound I hovered in a sleepy awareness. I had forgotten what an absolutely incredible place a dark, rainy morning can be.

I wondered what time it was; I really didn’t want to know because I certainly wasn’t interested in rising. I listened more and began to pray.

And the prayers became like rain, coming naturally, forming patterns and gushing and rushing, quietly whooshing as a whisper on the other side of my voice. It was like my breath. Perhaps that is exactly what was happening—breathing in and breathing out—praying is that simple and yet that complex. We don’t need to understand the biological details to know we must breathe.

We just breathe.

Prayer is the same. We don’t have to understand how prayer works, how it reaches the Father’s ears amid millions of others being uttered at the same time, in order to pray.

We just pray.

For a few moments yesterday morning I entered a sanctuary—a holy place. For just a moment I could smell the incense burning and smoldering. For just a brief interlude I could see the smoke rise—curling and wafting upward. (Psalm 141:2)

Then I heard the rain again. I listened to it move down the shingles of the porch roof. My bed was even warmer, the covers and blankets were heavy. Then the alarm sounded; I came out of my sleepy awareness to drowsy alertness and reached for my phone on the nightstand…

Somehow those few brief moments were more real than the cold, wooden floor as I stood to get ready for the day.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

50 Questions

I gave my Humanities students an assignment: create fifty questions. They can be serious and silly—just write. Rarely do I make my students do an assignment that I would not do myself.

Here are my fifty questions.

1. What if I wasn’t afraid of myself?
2. What if I truly didn’t allow what others think of me to sway my choices or
my behavior?
3. What if my love for Jesus actually became flesh?
4. What if I could sing?
5. Why can’t I move mountains? Is my faith too shallow?
6. If I were wealthy would I be generous?
7. Do I really trust God? Really?
8. Why does Ireland call my name?
9. Why can’t I be more disciplined?
10. Is the randomness of my mind an indicator of something amiss?
11. Will I ever learn to say no?
12. What would happen if I stopped second-guessing myself?
13. How would Alzheimer’s affect my family and me?
14. Would I be a completely different person if I had grown up with my dad?
15. What would happen if I told Go he could do whatever he wanted to do in my
life and I actually allowed him to do it?
16. I wonder what would happen if I actually sent a manuscript to a publisher?
17. Will I leave a legacy behind?
18. Why in the world do I have three dogs?
19. Why am I so scatterbrained?
20. Will I be a good grandmother?
21. Will I ever learn to speak the right words at the right time?
22. Will I ever learn to rightly measure success?
23. Is history and time linear, circular or both?
24. How do you decide that you are old?
25. Why are there only three primary colors?
26. Why do I love tomatoes so much?
27. How many times will I fail before I learn?
28. What causes an addiction?
29. Why do dogs turn around and around before they lie down?
30. Will I be able to continue learning?
31. Why do I almost always fall asleep during movies at home?
32. What holds me in bondage?
33. Why do I turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to global pain?
34. I only drink water; why do I love water so much?
35. Will I ever get to the point where I move to a deeper spiritual maturity?
36. Why am I a procrastinator?
37. Why do I drink only out of glass glasses?
38. Why can’t I be more technologically savvy?
39. Why can’t I memorize Scripture?
40. Why do I like the color red?
41. Why am I such a voracious reader?
42. Why do people judge books by their covers?
43. Why do I eat Chinese food only with a plastic fork?
44. How did my daughters get to be so beautiful?
45. Why do I write with ONLY black pens?
46. Why can’t I dance? ALL my daughters can!
47. Why am I mesmerized with thin places?
48. Why do I like peonies better than roses?
49. What if I actually followed through with everything I intended?
50. I am almost 45 years old, what does God have planned for me now?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Let Go.

In worship this weekend we sang about God’s strength. This is a common theme on Sunday mornings and we tend to glide right over the words. We know they are true, but we forget the power of the reality of them. We hope they are true—all the time wondering deep inside why this strength isn’t being lent to us.

As the words began to move out of my mouth other words moved in my heart—into the secret place of me that only the Spirit accesses. He had my attention and I began to hear.

You are depending on your own strength—you are depending on your own abilities to accomplish and achieve what you believe to be spiritual and miraculous. Your abilities and strengths, however, are futile. They are frail and fragile; they can be compromised by circumstances and situations.

You strain and strive in an attempt to repair and fix your and others’ brokenness, and when your efforts fail you either blame yourself or you blame me. You allow yourself to get busier—filling your time with good things, but even the good things will rob you, can distract you. Then you withdraw and retreat. You avoid friends and you avoid me. You are afraid someone will see through your fa├žade of busyness you have built.

Eventually you begin to feel numb. You struggle because you have no place to breathe. Deeply-seated guilt rises as dross to the surface. And no matter how much you skim the residue remains.

Let go. My strength is not dependent on you. My strength and the offer of it are not calculated by your strength’s index or capacity.

Let go. You are afraid to let go. You are afraid to freefall—fearful of whether I will catch you if you just simply let go. Letting go is a surrender of control.

Let go. Let go of all your attempts to fill the silence. Stop avoiding me. Stop ducking around corners when you feel me coming. Stop.

Let go. Open you hands and allow everything in them to slide off into my hands. Don’t curl your fingers in an attempt to catch them. I won’t take them from you. You must decide to give them to me.

Let go and allow me to give you the strength to do what I have called you to do.

Let go and let me love you.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Evening Prayer 3

Thank you for answered prayers.

Today you moved mountains.

Thank you.

The mountains sometimes daunt me. There are moments that the bend in the road ahead causes me to pause.

Thank you tonight that you stay so far ahead of me.
And you reach around and grab my head and pull me along with you.
I am slow, Lord. I stumble over my own feet.

You tell me through Isaiah to watch the signs and to take note of the road I am on, but I forget; I get distracted. Suddenly I look up and I have missed a turn somewhere. One turn becomes two. And I keep trying to make rights to get back to where I started.

Don’t let me go. Don’t let go of my hand.

I can’t navigate this road by myself. I don’t read maps very well.

But you are faithful.

And I am trusting in your faithfulness to get me home.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Evening Prayer 2

My God, you are worthy. Worthy of my full attention. Paul tells us we are to think about that which is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable and excellent. The Hebrew writer tells us to fix our eyes on you.

You are these things, Father.

And yet, I approach you not in the confidence that the Hebrew writer exhorts us, but I talk at you—and my prayers become a rote litany of words. Artificial.

I did this tonight. Someone asked me to pray for them, and I talked at you. I hurled words into the air with little thought to where they were going or to whom I was speaking. And my spirit shrunk and shriveled because I realized the truth of the old adage “familiarity breeds contempt”.

To approach the throne with boldness does not mean to enter in arrogance. Arrogance causes me to approach the throne room on my own faulty merit, my own inflated sense of goodness. I enter using my own name.

And because I come in my arrogance my prayers feel hollow. The disconnect is sudden. I sense the space that looms between us. I feel the awkwardness—and then I am aware of how foolish I am.

Oh God, I am foolish. I. Am. Foolish. Foolish for being too familiar with you. I have mistaken familiarity with intimacy. My contempt is subtle—fed by self-deception.

Forgive me.

Forgive my foolishness and my arrogance. There is no place in your kingdom for either.

Oh my God, teach me to approach your throne.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Evening Prayer

Oh Come, Father.
Come to us.
Hover over us.
Let your great wings move the wind mightily in our direction. May it blow away our complacency and our apathy.

Oh Come, Father.
Come to us.
Expose us.
Let your great light shine in and through us. May it burn away the dross of our self-deception.

O Come, Father.
Come to us.
Divide us rightly.
Let your great sword slice through our very joints to the marrow. May your word point out the discrepancies between our thoughts and our intentions. May your word cut away the excess of our flesh---rightly called selfishness.

O Come, Father.
Come to us.
Abide in us.
Stake the pegs of your tent deep in the soil of our inner terrain. May your Spirit dwell in these limited, finite places.

O Come, Father.
Come to me.
Transform me.
Bend my reflection to match every contour of your beautiful face. Overlap your image on mine so that others see you.

O Come, Father.
Please come to me.

The Thrill of Hope--Jeremiah, Part 1

One April evening in 2017 we reached for your Mama and Daddy’s hands and led them into the stillness of an empty sanctuary. At an altar we...