Sunday, November 27, 2011

Battling Unseen Demons

If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me fast Psalm 139: 9-10.

There is no place we can flee from God's presence, though often we try.

We who are built for fight or flight either lash out or run when faced with a foe. Perhaps the obvious enemy is easier to attack than the subtle interference of an unseen foe. The events of this past week confirm that we never know what is going on in the heart and mind of another. Many are battling unseen demons. Others have a target in the cross hairs and long to eliminate the unwelcome intruder of disease, death, accusation, and unfaithfulness among them.

At this writing tonight I join hearts with dear friends who are grieving the sudden death of loved ones and planning funerals, reeling from dreaded diagnoses and facing the decisions ahead with courage and grace, facing a literal trial with lifetime penalties hanging in the balance, struggling under the weight of depression, and living with weighty grief and loss in the approaching holiday season.

The demands of living through such stark rawness of life drive many into despair and hopelessness. "Makes you want to go and hide out 'til its over," one friend said. "The problem is, it's never over."

Whether we are intentionally hiding or just dwelling in the deepest pit feeling abandoned, we are not abandoned. We are held fast--securely--in the hand of God. Attributing hands to God who is spirit need not be a stumbling block, I pray. The expression occurs frequently in scripture and is merely an acknowledgment of God's power, authority and exalted position as we imperfectly describe the One who defies our human description.

There is a memorable song by Natalie Grant, "Held" which I love. The chorus reads:

This is what it means to be held
how it feels
when the sacred is torn from your life and you survive.
This is what it is to be loved
and to know
that the promise is when everything fell,
we'd be held.

This is what it means to be held...

We will have occasions to think of that often. Life doesn't grant a reprieve from pain and loss because we profess faith or belong to a particular house of worship. We know that the rain 'falls on the just and the unjust.'

But we can know the companionship of the One who will not leave us alone nor forsake us.

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed 2 Corinthians 4:8,9.

(excerpt from a previous post)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

In Our End is Our Beginning

The stone above anchors the contemporary entrance to the Facade of the Suffering Way, or the Passion Facade of La Sagrada de Familia in Barcelona. The Greek letters alpha and omega are carved in stone, showing that the beginning and the end are linked inextricably and represent Jesus.

In our end is our beginning...

Gaudí designed the portal during a serious illness in 1911, and it was in his own suffering that the last weeks of the life of Jesus were told. Another sculptor was charged with the task of creating the sculptures in 1988, and the impressive artistic and theological wonderland is still progressing toward completion. It is a glorious undertaking!

We rarely notice the connection between suffering and glory
until we either are walking through it ourselves or with someone we love. In the midst of the dark night of the soul it is hard to perceive glory. We can't make out hope among the shadows. It looks too grim. Where is the glory and goodness in this, we implore?

It is significant that it was precisely in his own suffering that he identified with Christ. May we, too, find a way to live into the mystery of God's presence and promises when we experience life-threatening challenges, and as we long to be faithful companions to others on the journey.

A favorite hymn reminds me of this truth:

Hymn of Promise
In the bulb there is a flower; in the seed, an apple tree;
In cocoons, a hidden promise: butterflies will soon be free!
In the cold and snow of winter there’s a spring that waits to be,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

There’s a song in every silence, seeking word and melody;
There’s a dawn in every darkness, bringing hope to you and me.
From the past will come the future; what it holds, a mystery,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

In our end is our beginning; in our time, infinity;
In our doubt there is believing; in our life, eternity,
In our death, a resurrection; at the last, a victory,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

By: Natalie Sleeth and Copyright © 1986 Hope Publishing Company

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Majesty of the Moment

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, even though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea...Be still, and know I am God Psalm 46:1-2, 10.

Let the truth of these verses find a home in your heart now.

When life gets busy or chaotic, it’s easy to get distracted. We wind up focusing on problems instead of the One who holds the answer to our problems in God's hands. When that happens, stop. Focus on who God is and how much God loves you. Share your heartfelt psalm of prayer with the God of power and compassion.

Be still and know God is near. The words of Psalm 46 hold incredible power when it comes to knowing God is near in any and every situation.”

(From The 100 Most Important Bible Verses, 1996 Tyndale House Publishers, pg 43 via Moms In Touch)
Photo unedited or adorned, taken in La Sagrada de Familia of breathtaking shafts of light.

And then it hit me: when I encountered the beauty of the sight in the photo above, I stopped in my tracks. There was nothing to do but to be still and take in the majesty of the moment. To have conceived and designed and built an edifice such as this one that would cast golden light beams and cause visitors to draw in a breath and hold it? That was amazing to me. I had to stop and acknowledge that I was in the presence of a thing of great beauty.

How much more so, then, would we not stop and be still at points during the course of our day, when we are encountering DAILY the beauty we pass on the streets and in the world about us.

Recapture the majesty of everyday moments. Let's begin today!

Monday, November 14, 2011

From Russia with Love

Христианская не прощаемся, мы говорим: "Пока мы не встретимся снова." К. С. Льюис

(Christians do not say 'goodbye'; we say, 'until we meet again.' C. S. Lewis)

"The Church is not a temple or a building. The Church is a community of God's people."
Rev. Ludmila Garbuzova, pastor of the First United Methodist Church of Moscow upon visiting Mississippi again this week.

My heart is filled with her music and that shared by Valentina, as well as folk tunes with Ivan and the two Elenas. Russian music is filled with both power and tenderness; such darkness and richness in minor keys fill in the spaces where lilting tunes might prevail in North America. My untrained ear tells me that even in familiar music, she changes chord structure to create more depth and intensity in the accompaniment, though the melody line is the same.

She says it best in a beloved Russian-tinged expression: "It is AMAzink." Amazing Grace indeed.

My daughter and I took conversational Russian language and culture a few years ago, and I at least had been exposed to rudimentary phrases for travel and greetings, but upon meeting our guests this week, I suddenly forgot anything I might have known and stifled the broken Spanish phrases that dared to surface. How embarrassing! I had to laugh at myself. My one chance to show a touch of hospitality and kindness to visiting Russian friends, and I blew it.

But warm hugs work in any language, no translation needed. Eyes speak when words do not flow. There is a language of the heart all its own. Why do we not used it more often? Sometimes our words just get in the way. There are those beautiful moments that come to us in life when we get to be present and connect with others on a plane that transcends conversation. This weekend was filled with a string of those beautiful moments laced together in memory.

Ludmila speaks lovely English and shared the amazing story of a dream that would not die. Stay tuned....I can't wait to tell it.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Living Into Our Vows

I am part of the fellowship of the unashamed. I have Holy Spirit Power. The die has been cast. I have stepped over the line. The decision has been made. I am a disciple of Jesus. I will not look back, let up, slow down, back away or be still.

My past is redeemed. My present makes sense. My future is secure. I am finished and done with low living, sight-walking, small planning, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tamed visions, worldly talking, cheap giving, and dwarfed goals.

I no longer need preeminence, prosperity, position, promotion, or popularity. I do not have to be right, first, recognized, regarded, or rewarded. I now live by faith, lean on God’s presence, walk with patience, am uplifted by prayer, and labor by power.

My face is set, my gait is fast, my goal is Heaven.

My road is narrow, my way rough, my Guide reliable, my mission clear. I cannot be bought, compromised, detoured, lured away, turned back, deluded, or delayed. I will not give up or let up. I will go on until Christ comes, and work until Christ stops me.

I am a disciple of Jesus.

(Offered as the Zimbabwe Confession and attributed to an unnamed man whose faith was tested to the point of death.)

Photos: La Sagrada Familia Barcelona

Monday, November 7, 2011

Passing It On from Elizabeth

She says it with a conviction born of experience. She shares personal thoughts from a perspective many may not understand or agree with, but I think she is onto something at the core: There is no fixed if/then formula for raising children.

There are those who want the play book, the recipe, so parents can turn out the product of our hearts' desire. It doesn't work that way.

Parenting books abound today with 10 Point Plans and promises of a new kid by Friday, but few will honestly share the pain of estrangement from children when life choices cause division in families. I talked with a mom last week who gripped my hand and said through tears, "Twenty years. Twenty years! That's how long I have been waiting and praying for my son to come back."

Elizabeth, cancer survivor and mother of nine children, knows a thing or two about parenting. I found her writing link on Ann Voskamp's A Holy Experience site who has energized the practice of living with heightened gratitude daily. Because I have enjoyed Ann's inspiring writings about giving thanks, I am inclined to have her inform my day on other topics as well. The title alone caught my eye: What I'm Never Going to Tell You.

At some point in the process of maturity--or lack of it--our offspring will make their own choices. Some of those choices may send shock waves through our homes, shaking the very foundation of identity for parents who think their work product is a reflection of them, and it is so easy to do this in our culture. My generation did it too. In fact we think we started it all in true ego-centric baby boomer fashion.

We lived the generation gap and made such sweeping life choices over a period of time that our collective parents must have been dismayed at the social upheaval that changed the landscape in America. So I totally understand a young adult's desire to make his or her own decisions and to do it their way. I get it. It helps to have an elastic waistband, so to speak, in parenting to allow for a little discomfort when parents and kids butt heads over predictable issues because conflict is going to happen.

Yet, there are often  points in families where even the most elastic band fails to contain the teen/adult child whose own declaration of independence severs ties we thought would be unbroken as mothers.

I meet with young moms each week who yearn to pour themselves into this parenting role and give their best to the privilege of raising faithful, healthy children. I understand the desire to give this vocation our best shot. We don't get the chance to do it over. I also hear in Elizabeth's writings a word of comfort, a healing balm, to the moms and dads who, having done the best they knew how to do, then watched in dismay as children renounced their faith, rejected those who love them and separated themselves from their families. The heartbreak is palpable. Some have reconciled; others have not.

We pray for God to inspire, sustain, and accompany us on this journey, because parents need all the help we can get.

Sometimes the inspiration comes to us from one another, and so I offer Elizabeth's own honest words in case you are in a place of estrangement or pain as a parent. It is from Nov. 4, 2011:
What I'm Never Going to Tell You.

Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. And let perseverance be perfect, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. But if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God who gives generously and ungrudgingly, and he will be given it James 1:2-5.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Pass It On

The recap of this fall football weekend includes the announcer's summary of big games all over the country. Beneath the hype and heap of players is almost certainly a video replay of a crucial dropped pass, a game-changing play that airs too often to the utter embarrassment of the miscalculating player.

One of the songs of my life comes to mind when I hear them say that he almost had control of the ball, but couldn't hold onto it. Now he gets charged with the dreaded dropped pass.

"Pass It On" by Kurt Kaiser is what is now known as vintage music, believe it or not. It only takes a spark, to get a fire going opens the song that was popular in the 60's and 70's. My children, too, sang it at camp when they were coming along in the 90's, so it has spanned generations.
"That's how it is with God's love, once you experience it. You spread His love to everyone, you want to pass it on..."

When I think on this title, it occurs to me:
Sometimes we choose to pass it on, and sometimes we say, "I'll pass."

We say it in our actions if not in words.

"I'll pass on it." Not interested. Put somebody else in, Coach.

Tiny words shuffled make a big difference. Let's not fumble this one. Pass it on. We will not have a perfect record of completions in this life, but we can hold fast to the faith we've been given. (I know this post is evidence that I've read too many college admission essays on sports as a metaphor for life, but please permit me this one.)

Hold on to instruction, do not let it go;
guard it well, for it is your life Proverbs 4:13.

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful Hebrews 10:23

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Of Capes and Mantles

What is it about capes that fascinates boys and girls? We know how they love to drape themselves in a towel or sheet, and suddenly they become taller...braver....and boldly step into the persona of Superman or current superhero complete with sound effects? I witnessed it just this week with trick-or-treaters appearing at the front door.

I recall my cousin Clay's six-year old birthday party offered a garage filled with a dozen boys decked out in superman capes, exhibiting all their superpowers in the simple red capes his momma had zipped out on her machine. Etched in my memory, this scene is unforgettable in its simplicity and endures through the decades as I have watched the heart of his momma weave as a shuttle in the lives of her three sons, all grown, Godly men now with children of their own. There is something about that mantle that, when donned, gives them the confidence to step out as somebody other than who they are at the time. Imagination is invigorating! We can help children see beyond the limitations they face, or appear to face, each day.

I am suggesting that we give them an invisible mantle--one that doesn't come untied and will grow as they age-- an amazing mantle! Where do you get a cape like that? You can make it yourself, no sewing machine needed. I believe the daily prayers of a momma for her child availeth much, an old fashioned way of saying they are effective to provide clothing for the heart, growing soul and expanding mind of a boy or girl whose needs we cannot fully know, though we think we know them inside and out. There is, however, One whose Presence will serve as a shield and buckler, as a sure defense and strong tower--One whom they can learn to trust in time as much as a young child trusts the heart of his momma. Fathers and grandparents as well are capemakers to the little ones in our lives, daily bestowing the mantle that will clothe the interior life of a child.

We keep praying for God's shaping of the frame, God's instilling of dreams and desires, God's bringing to bear fruit in its season. It's not about us, though it is a steep challenge to extricate our identity from our children in this performance-driven society. It is also not about perfection, but you've probably already let that one go.
It is the task of a lifetime, if you ask me. It will take everything you have to give. Praying for and with them models a life dependent on God to supply our deepest needs. I'm still doing it, even as I am delighting in a man-son who is grown and bearing witness in his own faith journey and see our daughters likewise living into their pursuit of God's call in their lives. God is faithful even though we are not.

Wow. This began as an early morning email to some young mothers I meet with weekly, but I thought it suitable to share with others. God works like that sometimes--stops us in our tracks while we were busy doing other things and brings to mind a new thing. I hope you find beauty in a new thing today!

(image credit: capes pictured are made by Erin of