Monday, November 29, 2010

Sleepwalking Through Life

Sleepwalking is an interesting slice of human behavior. We may find it both amusing and confusing to be in a netherworld of apparently conscious awareness and sleep at the same time. I have only observed sleepwalking twice: when a sibling stepped into the bathtub fully clothed in pjs and proceeded to lie down comfortably with a glazed look on her face, and when a child awoke and walked into the kitchen to carefully wash hands for a long time.

Both were well after bedtime and both seemed to walk as though they knew where they were going. Both seemed to be on autopilot, doing something they had done many times before. But they did so with little expression and little recognition of interacting with others. Sleepwalking interests me. Is it like dreaming in that we do it even if we do not remember doing it?

There was a 1959 hit, "Sleep Walk," on steel guitar and guitar with a rather peaceful if whiney tune that I associate with the subject. It hit number one on Billboard and was a gold record, back when they had records. The piece's longevity in the hands of an impressive guitarist earned Brian Setzer a grammy on an album in 1998, and it is still played today. Pretty amazing for a little tune with no words...over fifty years and counting...*

And it is the counting part that brings this topic to mind. I am learning each day how to value time and to invest in what is important - in people, in relationships, by doing an honest job in exchange for confidence placed in me, in working together for the kingdom of God in ways big and small, among others. I understand that in our English language we have one word for time viewed chronologically and in measureable units. This approach seems normal and necessary for us, and we do not typically question it. Other languages vary. German has another word, DER TAG, an expression for a specifically appointed time calling for a decision.

In Greek, as my friend, Connie, said yesterday, there are at least two words for time: KRONOS (the measureable calculation of time) and KAIROS (the quality of time - not quantity - or 'God time', as some say). Kairos refers to the moment in between the moments, as I see it. It can be that in-between condition that happens while we are doing something else. Kairos also refers to a broader way of seeing 'the times', but is not about viewing time sequentially - that would be kronos, from which we get our word 'chronological.'

It is in experiencing life in both dimensions - living within the chronological passing of time as well as participating in Kairos time where we glimpse the moving of God in our midst - where we find ourselves. As Christians, we live in both the temporal and the eternal reality. It is one of life's mysteries and one I am contemplating, but just brush the subject here.

The point I hear clearly is: Do not just sleepwalk through life. Do not move mechanically through the motions of this precious gift we have of LIFE and TIME. Let God bless our time and our times with God's Presence, and let us live into our time fully and meaningfully!

"So teach us to number our days that we may apply a heart of wisdom." Psalm 90:12

*Because you asked: for a piece of the original, though shown here on 78 rpm vinyl.

Memory Lane Note for the ipod owner viewer: That machine playing the record is about the size of a chest of drawers. It held dozens of vinyl records and mechanically lifted and played each one in sequence after users inserted a coin (3 for a quarter?) and pressed the button (such as A-3 or J-5) corresponding to the location of the desired track. This one was a little before 'my time'. I never saw a 78 Wurlitzer, only 45 record players, commonly called a juke box since these things were not in homes, but in commercial establishments or 'juke joints', or in my childhood, in The Spin-a-Cone in Monticello. There. Cultural history and devotional thought in one entry!

In 1988, on Garrison Keilor's show, Chet Atkins and Leo Kottke play Sleep Walk:

And plenty of options in the 21st century with Joe Satriani and Brian Setzer. Here's one: Just a few seconds will yield a recognizable version of the simple 50's theme.

That's a long way from a 1959 vinyl record to your personal phone or laptop. Amazing the times we live in!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Seeing the Invisible

Lately I have been reflecting on how we see things. How we see we see we see God - all of these figure largely into our outlook on Life.

If we ever find that we are spending a little too much time contemplating ourselves, there is an effective antidote: Do something for someone else. I had several such moments today.

Today our church hosted a Thanksgiving Feast and worship service downtown for those who call the streets of this city home. Men and women of varying ages who are homeless and likely have no family around whose table to gather Thursday, made their way to festively decorated tables. Volunteers had prepared abundant food and served plates to each one individually. Moms, dads, children, grandchildren, college students, retirees, single adults - the host of servers defied categorization.

This event is not a one hit wonder, a tip of the hat to doing a good deed for the homeless that pays some collective guilt dues for proximity to a growing homeless population in this capitol city. Grace Place is the ongoing ministry that provides a place each day for homeless men and women to get a hot meal, shower, get in from the weather, and exposure to new skills and hobbies ranging from rooftop gardening to produce food for meals, to art, music, personal management, and counseling. After another center closed this fall, Grace Place attendance jumped from 30 to 100 overnight, I was told.

One artist-dad member who is an exquisite portrait painter and his five year old son volunteer each Thursday at Grace Place. They paint and do art projects with the guests of Grace Place. One man paints with dots. Painted dots beside painted dots adorn his paper. He calls them 'skittles'. The young boy, at first tentative when accompanying his father in this new venture, has developed his own confidence in connecting with the people. Today little Ren brought a pack of skittles to give the man; A simple gift from a young child said, "I notice you."

One man joked with me to put that plate of food in his friend's drawstring bag so he could eat it later. They laughed that hearty cackle-laugh they must have done many times and pulled out the only contents of the bag: a yellow polytarp with grommets for tying a shelter. That was all he had on his back. A rather haunting sight lingers as I reflect and end the day in my comfortable home.

Another church member/volunteer with distinctive British accent was sitting at the table next to a homeless man (even the way I write that looks as impersonal as it is, doesn't it?). My friend said, "This man has the bearing of one who could be a CEO of a company. Can we not make some connections between him and others and see how to find him some mentors and perhaps help him find a job?" He was not content merely to serve a few plates and go back to work. No discharge of a duty for this man. He was ready to dig a little deeper and help find solutions for challenging problems. All this from a man who has faced the death of his son a few months ago and who now is trying to reach out to others to keep them from dying inside from the painful malady of hopelessness.

Cicero, a poet in residence at Grace Place who is a self-described recovering drug addict, gave a poem he had written as a part of the worship service, "How Can You Say 'No' to This Man?" referring to the love of Jesus.

A choir of voices - homeless all - sang a medley of praise songs and hymns that they had only rehearsed four times. Though they had folders with sheet music, I'll wager that not all could read. But they sang their hearts out, ending with "We Are an Offering." They were.

And at the end, my daughter exited quickly and, before I knew it, was bending beside Cicero seated in his wheelchair, to talk about his poetry and thank him. My heart was strangely warmed.

Food and homemade desserts were abundant. No one was turned away. Refills and seconds continued to bless the hungry and the filled alike.

Some of us will have another Thanksgiving feast on Thursday with warm kitchens and fragrant aromas,traditional dishes, family favorites, and someone who cares enough to make special desserts and prepare your sweet potatoes with marshmallows or cinnamon pecans depending on how you like them. But I met some folks today who will not have that option. No one has the porch light on for them.

Thanks be to God for willing hearts and hands who notice those who are invisible to some people every day among us....who can see through the street dirt, the brokenness, the hard edges sometimes... and who find beneath it embers of life that are not yet extinguished and a shared humanity that needs a second chance. We love and serve the God of second chances.

"I never give up on anyone, because God never gives up on anyone." Rev. Dr. Ross Olivier

And I'm thankful for folks like Sally and Leslie, who may not have eyes in the back of their heads, but the eyes of their hearts are open wide, and they know how to see rightly!

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Invisible Made Visible

Someone wrote who had just seen the Hubble/NASA IMAX show over the weekend and said it was fascinating. It is worth a drive to see it if you can. The show is a film of the space shuttle voyage to repair a critical part of the Hubble space telescope and includes dialog of the astronauts living and working together on the vastly larger-than-life screen.

Among the most memorable to me is a segment on the star nursery, * a place where stars are born. Beginning with a bright star in the night sky that we might see from Earth, the film moves in for closer and closer shots, zooming in as only Hubble can do. Breathtaking camera work and never-before-seen photos fill the expansive screen as they drive the camera deeper into the nebula to let us, too, discover this place beyond our sight. Through this lens, we have the means to view this heretofore invisible world--a world completely unlike the the one we inhabit on Earth, but real just the same. We just cannot see it with our eyes, unaided.

How like the things of the Spirit this is! I stand amazed at this reminder. We are indeed blind to so much that exists in our world, both physically and spiritually. Through the lens of Hubble, we have the means to view a small portion of the majesty of this physical world that otherwise eludes us. God allows us glimpses of a spiritual reality as well that exists beyond the capacity of our sense of sight . Such glimpses of God's Presence transcend our physical senses. Is this other reality a function of our heart or mind or soul? Some profess an easy answer, but I cannot pinpoint precisely where this vision is processed. I only know that it happens.

Open the eyes of my heart, Lord, I pray - imploring God to grant a vision far beyond our own limitations.

This star shot is described as the “largest stellar nursery in our local galactic neighborhood.” The image, taken in ultraviolet, visible, and red light by Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3, spans about 100 light-years.
According to experts, this group of stars is called the R136, which is only a few million years old and resides in the 30 Doradus Nebula. This Nebula is a “turbulent star-birth region in the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), a satellite galaxy of our Milky Way.” The 30 Doradus Nebula is the largest and most prolific star-forming region in our galaxy.

Many of what we see as diamond-like icy blue stars are massive constellations that can only be seen in the 30 Doradus Nebula since it is the only nebula that can house such amazingly large group of stars. These “hefty stars,” are believed to transform as supernovas in the coming years.
This shot of the R136 were taken between October 20 and 27 this year by Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3. The blue lights are from the hottest and biggest stars, the green lights are from oxygen and the red lights are from hydrogen. Hubble /NASA photos are in the public domain.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

More than meets the eye

I love the night sky. In sixth grade I determined to become an astronomer. (That later changed to a spy, but I can dream.) Hubble telescope photos intrigue me, and the Hubble IMAX NASA voyage is not to be missed, if you can find it.

The cosmos is too grand to comprehend in distances and measurements of time. Human brains cannot grasp extremely large and extremely small numbers; we have no frame of reference for them. But there are small lessons to be learned even from things we do not fully understand.

The photo above tells me that even when all we see above us night after night is a canopy of black sky with varying degrees of sparkling lights of starlight...or changing phases of the moon...or changing cloud cover, there is infinitely so much more beyond our limited view. Who among us would know of the swirling displays of light and blasting energy showing forth just beyond our sight were it not for scientific confirmation through recent technology? Even with the most sophisticated 'spyglass' we cannot peer into the sky and see fully what is there. We still 'see into a glass darkly' ( 1 Corinthians 13:12) with imperfect images, but one day we shall see face to face. I believe God allows us to glimpse a world and a life that is bigger than a one-dimensional, provincial, status quo substitute for the abundant life in Christ.

Leave room for the mystery of God.
Allow for the majesty of the cosmos to teach us something of the magnificence of the Creator.
Consider an ancient source for reflection:

The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard; yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world...
The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the decrees of the Lord are sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is clear, enlightening the eyes; the fear [awe and respect] of the Lord is pure, enduring forever; the ordinances of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.

July 6, 2010: Like a July 4 fireworks display, a young, glittering collection of stars looks like an aerial burst. The cluster is surrounded by clouds of interstellar gas and dust—the raw material for new star formation. The nebula, located 20,000 light-years away in the constellation Carina, contains a central cluster of huge, hot stars, called NGC 3603. Star clusters like NGC 3603 provide important clues to understanding the origin of massive star formation in the early, distant universe.

This Hubble Space Telescope image was captured in August 2009 and December 2009 with the Wide Field Camera 3 in both visible and infrared light, which trace the glow of sulfur, hydrogen, and iron. Photos in public domain.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Fret Not

Following up on the points about worry and anxiety recently, I offer some thoughts from this reminder which is dear to me. Psalm 37 is the Fret Not psalm - a good one to mark if worry is a constant companion.

"Trust in the Lord, and do good; Dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness. Delight yourself in the Lord, and he shall give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord, Trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass...Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him...Do not fret - it only causes harm." Psalm 37:3 - 8

1. The first word is hard enough: TRUST. Trust not in our own abilities and instincts, but in the Lord. Trust in the Lord, and go about doing that which is good....pleasing to the Lord. It suggests both attitude and action.....outlook and activity. There will come a time - or many of them - when we have to decide how to answer the question, "Can you trust Me with your life?" (or with your child? or with your future? or with your money?).

I have chosen to answer that with a Yes. Not, "Yes, if you will protect them..." Or "Yes, but you owe me..." It doesn't work that way. I'm all in.

This 'yes' does not come with an insurance policy giving a force field of protection around those I love. Storm clouds will gather, and we will suffer casualties that I do not want to imagine. We live in a broken world. But we do not live life alone. So I want to learn how to trust.

Yesterday I heard two TV commentators discussing salaries. One was talking about how much money he has been giving away: "You know what I'm doing: I'm trying to buy my way into Heaven!" The other man nodded approvingly and said, "Haven't we all."

That exchange revealed both their attitude and their action. They were trusting in their generous distribution of wealth to secure a post in the hereafter. "Doing good" is a worthy directive to follow to be sure, but we must not leave trusting God out of the computation.

2. Dwell in the land and feed on His faithfulness reminds me that we are to be in a place of God's provision. God does provide. Jehovah Jireh is my beloved Hebrew exclamation when God provides, and is a very name for God, since the ancients approached YHWH with such respect as not even to speak the name aloud - barely brushing by the designation - even writing it so that it was incapable of being pronounced.

How far we have come from that stance! As a society, we have blasphemed and mocked the name of God, stripping it bare of respect and awe. To feed on His faithfulness is to remember times in the past of God's faithfulness, and to tell the story again. Write it down. Memory fails. Keep it fresh. Note when it happens again. And again. This present tense verb indicates continuous action.

"Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father. There is no shadow of turning with Thee. All I have needed Thy hand has provided, great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me...." *

3. Delight yourself in the Lord, and you will receive the desires of your heart. That was how I recalled this verse from memory, even writing it down that way recently in a journal. It would be easy to loosely translate this statement, "If you act like you are delighted in the Lord , then you will get what you are hoping for." That approach is even preached in some churches. However, when I went to the source to find the cite for Psalm 37, I found that it was not written as I had recalled.
"Delight yourself in the Lord,
He will give you the desires of your heart."
Do you catch the difference? God does the giving! God plants the desires into our hearts! God is able to establish what it is that we long for...what we love....where our heart's desire is. God is able to change our minds and hearts, to do miraculous things in our lives, to recalibrate our very thinking when we live with delight in the Lord.

Are you out of love? God can sow a fresh desire for your spouse or loved one when you think there is nothing left to breathe life into. Out of resources? Let the One who owns the cattle on a thousand hills and created all that is show us how to manage or create in another way. Out of time? God does His best work in tight spaces. It is only the 11th hour to us; God has all the time in the world!

Our part is to 'delight ourselves in the Lord' and leave it to God to give us the desires of our hearts. I believe it is then that a circle of sorts completes. We may find that we desire the things of God....that we delight in the things of God....and discover a unity of Spirit and purpose as we live life with the Spirit of Truth abiding within. (See John 14 for more on the Spirit.)Blockquote
4. Commit your way... Trust in Him. He shall bring it to pass. Our part is to trust. God does not owe us anything. We do not contract or bargain for God's provision. This is not Let's Make a Deal. We often get hung up on the 'it' part, above. Some think that means that God shall bring to pass 'what we want.' I disagree. I believe God is sovereign and eminently trustworthy.

5. Rest in the Lord. Wait patiently for Him. Resting can be hard and waiting patiently harder still. We are people who do not wait well.

In making small as well as big decisions, use the time to contemplate and pray. Usually our decisions are made out of habitual responses or because we are seeking to please ourselves. Allow space for God to influence our responses. The more we delight ourselves in the things of God, the more we come to know the mind of Christ and to tune into the Spirit that God has allowed to dwell within. This is not a matter of how well we manage to do the task of 'delighting' (which would make it all about us), but is a matter of God's gift of faith allowing us to trust all the more.

6. Fret not. It only causes harm. Not only is worry not helpful, it is counterproductive - even harmful. The connections of worry and tension to physical maladies are clear. Worry does absolutely no good.

Look at the worrisome situation so as to break it down into smaller pieces. Identify those parts that we cannot change. Some things are outside our control or influence to alter. Acknowledge it, and begin to let it go. It may want to 'fly back home' out of habit, perhaps, and stay with us when we are accustomed to ruminating and worrying as a default setting. Changing such a pattern may take time and intentional effort, but we can learn to deliberately set aside the things we cannot change. We then begin the process of acceptance.

The Serenity Prayer is aptly named:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can, and
Wisdom to know the difference.

Next, we take up the parts that we can change. Name them. View them one at a time. See what comes to mind in reliance on our skills set and experience as well as the creative capacity and wisdom of God who inspires and encourages us in all things. Most things we worry about did not get in the worrisome condition overnight, and will not be resolved instantly. This life is not a sprint. We need endurance for the journey.
Delight yourself in the Lord, and he shall give you the desires of your heart.

Pray that you will be strengthened with all of God's glorious power so that you will have all the endurance and patience you need. Colossians 1:11

* Hymn, Great is Thy Faithfulness inspired by Lamentations 3:
"I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. I say to myself, 'The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for Him'" (Lamentations 3:19-24).

photo by Rob Kiser

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Security and Acceptance

Security is that safe feeling that comes from knowing that what you need cannot be taken away from you. Dr. John L. Cox

I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over
you. Psalm 32:8

I have had several conversations recently with friends who worry. Fears and free floating anxiety cripple their minds, and the bent toward worrying weighs them down. Others live in the grip of fear -- paralyzing fears that make no sense, but are real just the same. Even those with common fears people learn to live with, can remember what it is like to perch in that place of anxiety, wobbling a bit and wondering if we can make it through. The times we live in may contribute to this anxious state of mind, whether fears stem from economic uncertainty or they are derived from other relationships. We are wise to let these concerns air out in the light of day. Sometimes exposing them to light and air by uncovering them with a trusted friend helps greatly to reduce their impact and to minimize their strangehold on us.

Another key coping skill calls us to live in the moment. Being attentive to the present and living in the 'now' are ways of bringing one's self back to the present when fear spirals outward and anxieties threaten to derail us. To live in the now is to say to the swirling, out-of-control fears: "No, that is not happening to me. I am here, and this is now..." or some such mantra that fits. Many attest to this exercise's power to reel back in a fearful mind and set our feet securely on solid ground.

To be anxious and insecure is not a comfortable place to be. Even the most sure-footed among us may find herself or himself there unexpectedly. What are some lessons here? The way of wisdom teaches me that when we look outside for things to bring us security we set ourselves up for failure.

In fact, our culture fairly well demands the result of failure if we buy into its system of defining success and significance with outward stamps of approval related to a combination of financial standing/youth/beauty/fitness/killer wardrobe/expensive toys/high powered job and education (and apparently both of the latter can be dispensed with and eclipsed by income alone if it is sufficiently large or comes with a professional sports contract), and other regional requisites that dominate in parts of the country. People are busy collecting stamps or branding themselves with the stamp of someone who gives a seal of acceptability or achievement. Logos and brand names come and go through the decades but keep changing often enough to always leave some on the outside wanting in and some in last year's model needing an update. We can always find a fix it up chappie who can, for only a few dollars more, hook us up with a stamp of acceptability. See Dr. Seuss's Sneetches, while we're on the subject.

Being in the cool crowd (or not) may have made initial impressions in junior high, but we did not leave peer pressure there. Adults continue to use membership in 'cool groups' of many kinds to display the stamp of Arrival. And this equal opportunity venture is not limited to women: Men have their own stamps that either whisper or shout, "I am Somebody." We like our stuff! Toys for men of any age, hunting clubs, golf clubs, associations for business transactions, cars, even clothing, travel, their hobbies, and sports -- all are ways of asking and answering the big question in one's search for significance: Do I have what it takes? Do I Matter? Am I somebody? We as a people seem to keep looking outward in ever-widening circles for someone's stamp of approval to say, "There now! You've done a great job!" Certainly there is space for merely enjoying hobbies and pursuits of happiness in this life. Everyone who does so is not scrambling to impress another, but the allure is there, nonetheless, to draw us into a lifestyle punctuated and defined by our stuff. For too many, having the right stuff equals success.

It is complicated to know what drives people's anxious moments and deep fears. As long as we continue to be led around by what Dr. John Cox calls the harness of external security, we will live anxiously trying to be connected to the external things that may shore us up in the eyes of others and perhaps even make us acceptable to ourselves. But this is a losing battle. Valuable time -- a commodity that cannot be generated again -- is lost while chasing after this phantom of acceptance and significance.

Some of our fears are not related to striving for recognition or acceptance, but reflect our yearning for protection and provision for those we love. How do we live in the tension of this world where this is danger, disease, evil and distress, and yet, we want to experience God's peace in the midst of it? It is as though we have one foot in this world and one in another, trying to bridge an ever-widening chasm so we can have it all.

Can we learn to accept the truth that God's love for us is not based on our performance? This understanding runs counter to everything we absorb from our American culture, so while we may give nominal assent to it, we refuse to alter our thinking or behavior in response to God's moving in our lives. Our bedrock upon which all other security is built is that God loves us and has redeemed our lives because God loves us, not because we earned a spot on the list.

No, this understanding does not magically erase the worry-habits we have formed so well for decades, perhaps, nor does it makes us bulletproof for temptations and fears. In fact, I think it makes us all the more a target - a target for the enemy's attack on our faith and commitment to live lives connected to God. But when we live with an increased awareness of God's Presence with us in the present, strengthening us for whatever we endure, and when we can allow God's Spirit to permeate our being with the Peace of God's making which far exceeds the breadth of any accomplishment we can generate on our own, we can experience security in a profound way. This is a security that cannot be taken away from us, no matter our circumstances.

Tell that grip of fear that you are unavailable - that the One who speaks and all creation listens abides with you, giving power to the faint and strengthening you for fear's onslaught. Speak boldly, and back it up with prayer that keeps you connected to God.

Speak the same truth into anxious moments and doubts. Speak from that place of knowing that you are a beloved child of God who has inadequacies and frailties common to humanity. Feed Scripture in your heart, allowing God to refresh your weary self with fresh springs. Put yourself in a place to listen to God and to receive these good gifts.

What we need as the basis of genuine security cannot be taken away from us. We are accepted and loved! Even if that fundamental need was met imperfectly by others in your life, do not lose heart. We have an identity that is not dependent on our record of success or on our accumulated belongings. Let it go. Even if we lose all the stuff of this world, we have not lost who we are: beloved child of God, beautiful to behold!

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish:neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.

John 10:27-28 is a good reminder that we are held by Jesus, cradled securely. Can there be a place of greater safety and love? I don't know it....Praise God for this picture to counter the fleeting images of fear and insecurities that cloud our minds and threaten to define us in terms of anything but our relationship with the One Who first loved us.

Dr. Cox is a clinical psychologist practicing in Jackson, MS and Atlanta, GA.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

All Through the Night

Someone asked me recently, "What is this Night Watch?"
Simply put, it is nighttime, but there are different ways of understanding night.

The ancient Hebrews, like the Greeks and Romans, divided the day and night into segments - shifts if you will - for determining who would be on guard and serve as sentinel or watchman for the protection of the community. Some say the proper Jewish division originally was for three watches: first watch 6 p.m.-10 p.m., (Lamentations 2:19); middle watch 10-3, (Judges 7:19); and morning watch 3-6 a.m., (Exodus 14:24).

One of the results of Roman domination of the region was that these designations changed to correspond to the Roman order of four watches.
The first watch of night corresponds to 6 p.m. - 9 p.m. (Even); 9 - 12 midnight (Midnight); then 12 - 3, and fourth watch or morning watch 3 - 6 a.m.

The key thought to me in the past and the present is that somebody's watching. That's what the night watch is all about. People were most vulnerable to attack at night and depended on one another to stand vigilantly, watchful for anything that was out of order. So it is with each of us. We have our neighborhood lampposts with names like Silent Sentinel purporting to offer security and peace of mind. Sophisticated alarm systems line our windows and doors and send signals via fiber optic cable to command stations and calling centers linked to the local police and fire departments. So the simple night watch system has developed into various industries as we have responded to the same bundle of anxieties 'fear of the dark' brings in our day.

But it is not just darkness itself that is fearful anymore. Darkness is not limited to nighttime hours; rather, darkness is that place where people can be alternatively alone....fearful.....confused.....tumultuous of spirit....unable to rest well.....conflicted..... in danger. The 'dark night of the soul' has become shorthand for a state of intense personal turmoil and suffering. And so it gives comfort when one is in that place to know that we have the companionship of the One who never slumbers nor sleeps. God still keeps watch all through the night. (This was my favorite lullaby for my children, "...sleep my child and peace attend thee, all through the night...") The Holy One of Israel continues to speak, "Do not fear" through the ages.
Do not be afraid, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. When you go through deep waters and great trouble, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown! When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior... you are precious to me. You are honored, and I love you. Do not be afraid, for I am with you." Isaiah 43:1-5

If you find yourself in the dark, take heart. When you awaken in the night, know first that you are not alone. If you need insight into a problem you are facing, or seek discernment, or just need to be refreshed in your spirit, take these things up with the Lord at night. There are no business hours posted with God. Let your 'heart instruct you in the night seasons' as referenced in the psalm, as much as during intentional prayer during the day. Meditate on God in the night watch if you lie awake. For me, this opens an entire segment of the day that had lain out of bounds previously, as though God were off duty if I were asleep.

Delight yourself in the Lord in the night watch. May it enrich your day and night to contemplate the vastness of the Creator God of the universe.

New Testament references include these time periods as well: See Luke 12;38, Matthew 14:25, Mark 13:35.
Photo: NGC 6934 and NASA/ Hubble

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Southern Women's DNA

There's no denying it - we know we are different. The rest of the country always thought so too, but we did not know why until now. I read it in the paper: It's all about the funeral response.

"It comes from a spontaneous response and subconscious call to arms that is buried deep within the Southern woman’s DNA. It is a single strand of genetic code that, when isolated and deciphered, uncovers a lengthy and complicated mathematic equation..."
The writer suggests it is this programming that enables the Alpha Funeral Female to move into action with precision, guiding the ranks of troops to action, and maintaining the starch -to- entree-to-desserts ratio at acceptable levels.

But don't take my word for it. Read the author himself, a colorful and celebrated writer about food and all things southern. Find Robert St. John's column at

And - because no funeral food article would be complete without it - it comes with its own recipe for potato salad, the time-honored accompaniment to the ubiquitous funeral ham. (Is it any wonder we are killing ourselves?)

photo above is labeled 'grief food' - you gotta love it - and among listings for resources such as Being Dead's No Excuse, The Official Southern Ladies' Guide for Hosting the Perfect Funeral a clever look at our own traditions and quirks.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Last Words

Today I prayed for a man who is only in his forties and nearing death. He is blind and in kidney failure. It will not be long, they say. His family suspects he has given up. Facing the end of life with no wife and no children, there is only one thing he responds to: the voice of his mother.

As I prayed it came to me: This same voice that was the first to be heard in utero may speak the last words heard as her son departs this life. There is such intimacy in that realization. My heart was heavy for them both.

How powerful this voice of a mother is in our lives! How beyond comprehension is the connection to heart or soul or spirit - not merely to our ears - is this voice of a mother. Do we appreciate the opportunity that is ours to speak words of wholeness....of loving...of forgiving...of encouraging into the lives of those who have been given to us?

This is not just my hunch. Scientists found the link between a mother's voice and the 'hug response' indisputable. U.S. endocrinologists' findings earlier this year at the University of Wisconsin Madison and published in a U.K. journal, showed a mother's voice had the result of calming teenage girls whether heard in person or on the phone. Her voice alone was able to lower elevated levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, and boost levels of oxytocin. * And the benefit continued after the stressful encounter of the testing was finished; there were lasting benefits in keeping cortisol lower, it said. I hope we are listening.

I know moms who recklessly assail their children with barbs and caustic remarks just as toxic as drain cleaner, leaving them raw and wounded for a long, long time. Not surprisingly, these patterns tend to repeat in families. We never know what happens in the homes of others and what hurt children carry with them from damage inflicted carelessly from mothers and fathers. You may be the neighbor, or the teacher, or the best friend's mom, or the coach, or aunt who will be the one to step into that place of loving affirmation and offer another model for a child whose mother could not or did not live into her highest calling. Being a birth mother is not the requirement. There are adoptive moms who have embraced motherhood as the gift it is and bridged a gap making a new way of life possible for a child.

Do not wait to have the last word to speak words of healing and love and wholeness of spirit. Live with as few regrets as possible. Lord, let us seize that privilege while we can.

* and

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

At the Wheel

"I Can Do It All By Myself!"
Little Will and Uncle Tom

This photo captures something for me: From the child's point of view, he is sitting high in the seat, driving the tractor solo. And yet, unseen, there is the roll bar high above him and the strong arms of someone who loves him enough to let him experience the thrill of doing it all himself. Never mind that someone else powers the tractor, and has set the gearing, and is ready to offer help if needed, the child thinks he is all on his own.

How like each of us this can be in a way: All too often unaware of a loving Heavenly Father who is closer than our next breath, we sit, figuratively, within the wide embrace of One who blesses us with opportunities and life experiences. This One offers guidance and longs to protect us from the consequences of our own choices, yet we have the wheel and are free to choose.

Life is what it is largely because of the choices we make along the way.
May they be wise ones today.
May we desire to experience the Presence of God close to us.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Quite the Personality

A young mother replied last week to her husband who noticed her fatigue and exasperation at the end of day bewitching hour with three small children at home:
"You should see me earlier in the day: I am quite the personality between ten and two! I really am a lovely woman!"
So cute, that Jenn. Quite the personality between ten and two... We do have some good hours in the day when we are at our best - before the internal corrosion and external erosion do a number on us. This is especially common among young moms.

I have long lamented the structure of our society which sets up busy couples and families to leave home early in the morning, pour their time and energy into the job to be done all day (with and for someone else), then return home at the end of each day spent physically and emotionally with nothing but remnants for those dearest to them. Think about it. We are our most presentable and perhaps kindest to everyone else we encounter all day, then our mates get the leftovers.

The way of wisdom teaches me to prepare and to conserve so as to preserve what is important.

I began to understand and prepare for this home dynamic when I was still a single young lawyer practicing with all men in a firm. One young man had just arrived at work, leaving his wife and new baby at home. He made some (unfortunate) comment about how nice it is to get to work and see someone fresh and dressed up first thing in the morning, while his wife is still in her bathrobe with a spit up on it. (I know: GRRRRR, right?) His remark was not any kind of pitch to me personally, but it did reveal a vulnerability in marriages I knew nothing about at my young age. His gross insensitivity to the immense life change his post partum wife also was experiencing notwithwstanding, he had put his finger on a soft spot no less real than that of his newborn son: the way we act and present ourselves to our mates matters. I was only 24, but I was adding to my knowledge base about marriage.

Since that time, I have been that young mom with babies and bathrobes and sweat pants. I know there are days when we can hardly see beyond three or four hour feeding intervals and naptimes! "You do the best you can do," is the motto I recall. I also know how easy it is for a woman to become so absorbed in the life of her child or children that her husband is relegated to a houseguest or distant boarder. That is a pitfall for many young moms today, and the chasm doesn't become readily apparent until empty nesting reveals a dearth of relationship between husband and wife.

But I also remember the example of my mother and have learned from her vast storehouse of knowledge and experience. I once questioned why she would have us clean up toys and turn off the t.v. and straighten up from the activity of seven children plus ever-present friends at the end of the day before our daddy would come home: "Because I want things to be in order when he comes home after a busy day." Every day. What I learned over time was that she knew how important it was to take steps to create harmony and order in a home - not based on a panicked, 'hurry up, Daddy's home!' - but consistently making the effort to honor him, them, and create space for family time together at the end of the day. Somebody has to usher this into play; it will not just happen on its own. It made her day smoother as well that she had a method for shifting gears and transitioning, as it would be termed today. It mattered that he was home. And we also learned that the marriage was central; we children were not in control.

Honoring and preferring one another as husband and wife are not words we hear too much about these days, but more on that later...

Forty-plus years later, the picture is different for many of us, but the point is the same. Both mom and dad are likely coming home tired at the end of the day, perhaps after picking up children from day care on the way. One may not be there much ahead of the other to 'head chaos off at the pass', but the desire to do so can still drive us to help create space for rejoining one another. Every day. In fact, it is precisely that desire to love and to serve and to please another that makes all the difference. It's all about the attitude we bring to the task. This may call for a change of attitude to make that step if it presents a different pattern. It takes a certain amount of energy as well, and we need a reserve tank for that purpose. There is a take off and landing in each day, and we do well when we learn allocate resources all the way through. Every day.

Just as a pilot must conserve fuel for a long journey and manage the ascending and descending speeds, we must conserve our energy so that we do not repeatedly burn out by two or five p.m. and run on fumes the rest of the day, as is often the pattern. I say 'repeatedly' because there are surely some days where we just can't get it together. Like my friend's comment above, I, too, have many of them. Let it go! Be gentle on yourself.

Here are some of the ways we can conserve and generate a bit of renewed energy for the balance of the day. Not surprisingly, there are no secrets; you've heard it all before. Look first to the basics when addressing any problem, I always say, then...throw a lot of love at it.

1. Don't forget to breathe. Breathe deeply. Specifically, inhale through the nose to the count of five, and exhale through the mouth, blowing air out through pursed lips. Repeat for several minutes.

2. Palms up. Know the power of posture to signal a return to your center from the frenzied outer spirals of anxieties and worries. You can cue your own attention this way. Bring yourself into the present moment. Relax for a few minutes at your the car....pick your spot. Do this with hands open in front of you, palms up.

3. Pray. Don't know what to pray? Just come in silence. Even a heartfelt 'Gentle Jesus...' will help us center before the One who can give us a respite while in the midst of the busiest day. Draw yourself up to healing springs of Living Water and ask to be refreshed.

4. Take a nap, if possible, for no more than 20 minutes. The power nap can do more to clear a tired mind and weary body than we ever knew. I can almost hear you saying, "if I had the luxury of taking a nap I would not be in this state!" So it may not be in the cards right now, but one day...or year... it might work.

5. Drink water. Addressing an often overlooked deficit, staying hydrated is of utmost importance. If you've had coffee and tea during the day, drink twice as much water. And while you are wondering if you want to drink water, drink some water. Late afternoon or evening sparkling water with lime slices or splash of cranberry juice is a welcome change too. My friend, Julia, keeps a pitcher of water with sliced lemons, oranges, limes, carrots and cucumbers floating in it. Anything for variety helps.

6. Tend to basic needs. If you have young children, remember they are likely hungry or tired at the end of the day as well. Be prepared with something to eat, or a healthy snack, so that you do not erupt in frustration and fatigue at their whining when they are merely hungry and tired themselves. So have a plan for supper. Online emealz and other resources are plentiful! Dust off the crock pot. Pick up something healthy. Suppertime comes around every day, so we need to plan for it. That's part of being the grown-up: we must step up to the task.

7. Consider a change of attitude. Invite a new spirit of desiring one another, a new way of relating to one another, to replace tired habits and broken routines. You know what they say about doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Make a move toward sanity.

8. Go for a walk/exercise as a part of the day or week. Do I do this? Not nearly enough. But I know it to be important and cannot avoid mentioning it. Exercise presents a connundrum, because we think it requires more energy than we have, yet it actually is energy-giving!

Others will come to mind when I put this to bed, and I will gladly add yours when submitted.

A 1950's article made the rounds on the internet, and I was in the company of women who ridiculed and mocked its suggestions to the homemaker to help create an atmosphere of calm in the home at the end of the day. There were lines such as, "take your husband his slippers while he relaxes in his easy chair" which were met with guffaws and near-hysterical hoots, and I can see why! I recognize that the tone of the piece sounds as foreign in 2010 as a Leave it to Beaver rerun. But, that homemaker was my mother, married in 1952. I might disagree with the suggestions of the piece, but cannot find fault with her desire to honor her husband - and he honored her - or to teach her children to clean up and prepare for a nighttime routine. Fifty eight years later, they are still each other's dearest friends and soulmates. She is a wise woman...

I have lived long enough to have seen the difference in homes with unadulterated chaos and those with some form of harmoniously living together. I choose to take steps toward serenity and joy in the home - even though there will be times of chaos in the best of plans. There is grace and forgiveness along the way; nobody does it perfectly! But we encourage one another to present our best selves to the homes and loved ones waiting for us at the end of the day.

Lord, Indeed you have bestowed each of us with quite the personality by day, but somehow we lose it by night. Restore unto us the desire to please You, to honor You and those You have given us to love. Renew our calling and refresh us as we seek to live into what You would have us do. Help us preserve the sacred commitments we made to one another and to you - to love, to honor and to cherish each one in our families. Amen.

header borrowed from, a site I discovered when trolling for an image, and one of many seeking to give support and tips for life in 2010.