Thursday, April 28, 2011

Taking Wings of Faith

Soaring looks easy from a distance.

Ornithological cruise control.

The trick is to trust the rising thermals to invisibly carry birds from here to there. People find this more challenging--like walking in mid-air without a net. God proves trustworthy and sufficient each time we step out in faith.
We rise each day with the chance for a fresh start--a new way of orienting ourselves to our circumstances and to God.

How do we put away what is past and step into this new day, confidently trusting in God's Presence to accompany us into the decision-making that the day demands?

As we focus on God-with-us, we gain a different perspective. We need greater vision than our limited view allows.

To have hope in God is not
wishing something were so, but is trusting...having faith in...waiting on God as God leads--a very different thing indeed.

The way of the world is wishing.

The way of wisdom and faith requires the active verb, trusting.

Nothing soft or passive about it. That kind of trust takes all we can bring to the task.

I have heard it said, "It was not my plan, but it is my portion..." It takes great courage and strength to live into our portion. That's the
taking flight part. It's not running away, but living into a life of faith.

Spirit-empowered wings of eagles veritably beat the air in surging bursts, giving flight as we rise above our circumstances. Can you hear it?

Only then do we soar.

May we trust God with this day as we receive grace for the journey.

He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.
Isaiah 40: 29-31

Your mercies are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”
- Lamentations 3:23-26

Hawks fly in a kettle, geese in a flock, and we need one another. Whether it is for aerodynamic advantage or support from others on the journey, it helps to have a journey partner.

I find great inspiration also from Ann Voskamp and other friends who share on a holy experience and Walk With Him Wednesdays.

Photo by Rob Kiser, red tailed hawk. Used with permission.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Tea Cups on the Shelf

I am a china junkie, I confess.

Do you have cups or plates you rarely use? What happens to those pieces on the shelf or packed away in boxes? While the risk of damage and chipping from use is minimized, they age in time just the same -- only without any enjoyment of them in family mealtimes. So, of what value are they, really?

The passing of time and changing temperatures affect even sturdy, furnace-tested china and porcelain. Cracks appear on the most prized pieces. Their beauty emerges notwithstanding these traces of use and age. Crazing appears as fine, spider-web lines on the surface of porcelain, leaving it with a beautifully crackled finish. Some so-called imperfections can actually increase the value of a piece.

We, too, assume a well-worn patina as we move through life.

There glows a beauty all its own in a peaceful, gentle countenance, a loving voice and a kind gesture, no matter what age we attain. So maybe we trade youthful sparkle for a mature luster. And on the days where we neither feel nor see much gleam on the surface, hang in there. Don't focus on the cracks.

Though imperfect, we still remain more than fit for our purpose in this life.

I do not want to be wrapped tightly...put on a high shelf...packed away safely from light and heat. I would rather be brought into service...put on the front lines...and used up for this thing called life.

I'll take the cracks and crazing, the inevitable chips and dings, and risk the painful breakage that occurs when we live with abandon. Crazing and wrinkles most surely accompany life and experience. May we learn how to age gracefully, and take a lesson from a tea cup overflowing with blessings.

My cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life... Psalm 23:5

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Blessed Easter!

"He is not here, he has risen just as he has said!"
- Matthew 28:6

"He is not here. He has risen."
- Luke 24:6

" 'Don't be alarmed,' the angel said. 'You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified. He is not here! He has risen! Look at the place where they laid him!' "
- Mark 16:6

What wondrous Love is this, O, my soul...

John 20:1-10

Friday, April 22, 2011

Bridge Over Troubled Water

"I'm a worrier," she said frankly. "It's what we do. My mother was a worrier, and I come from a long line of worriers. I don't understand how you can change that."

Does this ring true for you?

Recent conversations with friends remind me that fear and worry bear down on us, young and old. The worry spectrum spans from mild apprehension to anguish; it moves from irritation and vexation all the way to inconsolable distress. One person's experience of mere annoyance will be another's churning misery. At some point we all need help with worry.

Paul Simon's 1970 "Bridge Over Troubled Water" offers a visual image. We don't stop the tumultuous water when we experience life's deluge, but we can use a bridge. Sometimes we can even be a bridge as we accompany another during a hard time.

This song was inspired by a single line from the Negro Spiritual, "Mary, Don't You Weep," about Mary (the Mary and Martha duo of Bethany) pleading with Jesus over the death of her brother Lazarus:
"I'll be your bridge over deep water if you trust in me," is the portion ensconced in Billboard history after Simon and Garfunkel's version hit number one.

A single line can provide a powerful nugget for us to help focus.

Without dismissing the seriousness of one's worries, how can we be encouragers and hold the light up for one another -- and for ourselves -- as we navigate the choppy water?

  • When fears sets in, begin by turning that cyclic worry into prayer. Let the things that would take us away from God move us toward God.
  • Talk truth to yourself. Even if no one has ever whispered these words into your heart or ears, hear them now: Tell that fear that holds you in its clutches 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 the onslaught of worry and anxiety.
  • Speak the same truth into anxious moments and doubts. Doing so may not remove the circumstances, but it will change the stranglehold circumstances can have on our lives. From this point, we can breathe.
  • Know the importance of living in the present. Stay in the 'now.'
Remind yourself: You are a beloved child of God -- one with inadequacies and frailties common to humanity, but a child greatly loved nonetheless.

This understanding does not magically erase the worry-habits that hold some of us captive, nor does it makes us bulletproof for temptations and fears. 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, we can allow God's Spirit to permeate us with the Peace of God's making which far exceeds any confidence we have from our own accomplishments.

This bridge comes with an invitation from Jesus: "I will be your bridge over deep water if you trust in me." He will make a way for us.

1958 Swan Silvertones version of the Spiritual, "Mary, Don't You Weep"

Monday, April 18, 2011

Be Watchful


Not a word we use much anymore. Perhaps that is our loss.

Palm Sunday marks the big Hosanna day on the calendar -- a remembrance of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem. "Save Us Now" is the message of the exclamation; Jesus, the object of the message, bears the weight of the adulation coupled with the knowledge of the unfolding events. We have played the scene out in our collective minds for centuries. We know how the story ends. We risk rushing headlong into Easter Sunday without so much as a glance into the events of this week.

Holy Week slowly unfolds before us like flowers in time-lapse photography.

We've heard the story before; we know the characters.

Sometimes old, old stories need a fresh look to see something we do not expect to see.

Be watchful.

Look closely this week. Look into the eyes of those you may pass without intending to fully communicate -- the cashier at the grocery whom you may not expect to know. If you look closely, she might just be someone you've known all her life. That happened to me yesterday.
She has a name and a story. Pay attention.

Greet your loved ones like you mean it when you see them. Be done with perfunctory, mechanical movements and habitual auto-pilot actions. Let your send-off and welcome-home -- if you have that option -- be a genuine moment of joy.

Reclaim a little joy in each day.

If you have someone to hug, hug like you mean it.

Hosanna means to me this week: Save us from weak resignation.

Save us from adulterated, watered-down living: one part faith and two parts worldliness.

Save us from an anemic, white bread life when God offers us a feast for the journey.

Save us now!

Friday, April 15, 2011

High-Performance Culture

We do love a trophy and a medal! We are a society of aspiring winners, if not always high achievers.

When 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 pull-ourselves-up-from-our-own-bootstraps-mindset in American culture. While many may give nominal assent to it, we find it difficult actually to alter our thinking and behavior in response to God's invitation to us. A bedrock belief 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. Call it grace.

The truth of our identity transcends our imperfections and cannot be taken away from us, no matter our circumstances.

What we need as the basis of genuine security comes in this truth: we are accepted and loved! Even if that fundamental need was met imperfectly by others in your life, do not lose heart. We are not dependent at the core of our identity on our record of success or on our accumulated belongings.

Free yourself from this world's shackles to the performance-driven model for life. Let it go. Even if we lose all the stuff of this world, we will not have lost who we are, beloved child of God, beautiful to behold!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Living with the Classics

My friend shared an amusing exchange with her college-age son.

"Mom, it must have been so cool to grow up at a time when every song you listened to on the radio was a classic!"

"Well, we didn't know they were classics then; they were just the songs of our times," she replied.

Perhaps those of us of a certain age will go out of this world still listening to classic hits of the 60s and 70s rock era as successive generations appreciate the music of that time. Will the Muzak of the nursing homes still be playing Oldies? Probably so.

This conversation reminded me: it is hard to see a thing for what it can become when we are merely looking at it for what it is. Vision is funny that way.

Similarly, I notice that historical church literature includes the writings and prayers of those who have come to be called "classical women mystics." These women did not start out as anything other than ordinary people who sought to have intimate, meaningful experiences in their relationship with God and to share something about pursuing wholeheartedly new ways of appreciating our majestic and undefinable Creator. They longed to explore the Tremendous Mystery that is God. They were open to seeing and hearing from God in fresh ways. It was in the doing of common, everyday tasks of life that they discovered the sacred: God is present. They tried to share these experiences in writing. Contemporary writers still commend to us the power of awareness in the 'now' in being able to experience God.

How do we see glimpses of God? How do we get a sense of God's communication with us? Do we hunger and thirst to know God? Are we open to receive instruction from the Holy Spirit through a gift of discernment? Prayerfully thinking on these things will place us in a position or posture to experience God, perhaps in a different way.

God's love continues to reach out to us for intimate relationship. Such is the redemptive story of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. As pastor Adrian Rogers frequently said, "It makes all the difference in two worlds." Sometime we focus on the future and neglect the power for living that is Gift in the present.

Some experience mystical moments of divine revelation in the ordinariness of our days when we have deep, inner longings to enter into a closer relationship. Most of us, I would imagine, may never have chart-topping visions or be able to communicate the unexplainable vastness of the majesty of God. We are no less valued or chosen because of the way we experience God's presence. We remember:

"My thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts." Isaiah 55:8-9

Each of us, as a believer, is living with the power and promise of the Presence of God. Some of us just do not know it for what it has the potential to become when fully formed, perhaps because we are limiting our experience of God to that which is manageable or comfortable. May God grant insight and vision to see and ears to hear the impressions of God in the everyday, mundane chores of this life.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

So Beautiful...

He is going on 70 and still changing the world - one song at a time.

The sepia-toned photo on the front page of yesterday's paper with Paul Simon caressing a Gibson acoustic stopped me in my tracks. Peerless folk poet, they call him. Contemporary musician without equal, I think. Paul Simon has been my favorite since Bridge Over Troubled Water 42 years ago. We've grown up together, so to speak. Through this tapestry of life, his music has been weaving in and out, creating the soundtrack of living and loving life. Whether played on vinyl, cassette, cd, ipod or laptop, he is still writing the music of our times.

"So Beautiful or So What" is his 12th solo album which debuts next week. I can't wait. We are tipped off that this collection explores the relationship between humankind and God and the nature of love and immortality. With characteristic intricate melodies, we can listen for gospel-flavored harmonies, African night sounds he captured from a family stay in Kenya (faint tones of a wildebeest?), and his pure tonality mingled with blues and nimble guitar work.

When he came to the end of the project, he said, when confronted with "the enormity of God and infinity...beyond the grasp of human capability, there's nothing to say. It's too much."

Indeed. We are left speechless. Maybe the best thing we can do is to make music.

In "So Beautiful", he responded to the scene in Heaven in one song with the lyrics of an old rockabilly tune from 1956. I do not take it as sacrilegious, but as a reminder that our own responses daily when confronted with the enormity of God can be alternately humorous, honorable and oddly out of place. That is part of learning how to live in the present with the awareness of the Presence of God. We fumble our way through life, making mistakes, making amends, and sometimes making them all over again.

The joy and miracle of it is: there is Grace. God's grace and love does cover a multitude of sins. We do not enter in the Presence of our creator God having to stand on our own merits as 'good enough'. Thanks be to God for that unspeakable gift.

Paul Simon's "Graceland" from the 80's still rings in my heart for its sonorous melodies, rhythms and landscape-changing music that accompanied our growing family through the years. But more than than, I love the title. All of this life is Grace Land to me. Not Elvis's home place, but that place each of us can know as home -- a place where somebody knows our name and has set a table before us with a cup overflowing with blessings.

God of Grace and God of glory, inspire us in our response to You. If there are streets of gold, may we walk them with diamonds on the soles of our shoes!

1964 Gibson guitar courtesy of My dad bought a 1964 gorgeous tenor guitar at Johnson Music Store in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, which reminds me of this one.

Friday, April 8, 2011

April Smiles

Energy abounds in the springtime! I love the chance to dig in the dirt, see the hydrangeas bud, clip the first giant rose bloom and bring it inside. I also love the infusion of energy that young moms add to my day when we share the week's joys and struggles together as we did yesterday.

Today's moms have abundant resources that overflow with fingertip accessibility. At-home moms need never feel isolated when there is such a supportive community available at the drop of a few keys. Making connections has always been important, and the possibilities are limitless as we are encouraged and inspired by new friends - even those we have not had the chance to meet face to face.

Hundreds of talented writers await at 5 Minutes for Moms' Ultimate Blog Party through this week of April. I have found some great articles and fabulous tips. (See button on the side bar for more info.) Sometimes that is all you have - about five minutes! - to take a moment for yourself. Make it count in any way that you need.

And that may be a prayer.....or it may be a NAP.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Heart and Soul

The first piano duet I learned is one I never tire of hearing. "Heart and Soul" by Hoagy Carmichael makes me smile anytime I hear a novice pecking out the familiar tune and delights me when a real pianist plays an improvisation on that simple theme. This song is part of my childhood memory bank. The title teases out a little theology as well. What are we? Heart or Soul? How do we satisfy the many longings of our hearts?

In an ongoing quest for living contentedly - not to be confused with living complacently or with mediocrity - we learn to live with gratitude and with open hands, not clinched fists. We learn to focus not on what we lack, but on what we have. The key word here is focus. We train the eyes of our soul to look upon our blessings, rather to fix our gaze upon any deficiency we could enumerate. Such is not easy in contemporary American culture where entitlement colors our desires, and expectations expand with the national debt. When we feed on the word of God, we find that God's provision is more than enough. God's Spirit nourishes us in ways we cannot do for ourselves. Sometimes the blessings come through others on the journey.

My friend affectionately known as Mother Jenn has provided food for thought on many occasions. Her family is reading through a meaningful series of books that has captured and fed the hearts and souls of countless children of all ages. Here is a morsel which addresses who we are at our core:

Quoting Aslan, the wise character C.S. Lewis brings to life in The Chronicles of Narnia series, we read:
"You come of the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve," said Aslan. "And that is both honor enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor on earth. Be content."
(Prince Caspian, C.S. Lewis)
C.S. Lewis further underscores who we are at the center of our being in Mere Christianity:
"You don't have a soul. You are a Soul. You have a body."

The One who created us body, mind and spirit loves us heart and soul. Let those words remind us who we are, even as they remind us to live contentedly.