Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Bread for the Journey

Have courage for the great sorrows of life and patience in the small ones; and when you have laboriously accomplished your daily task, go to sleep in peace.

God is awake.                                   ~Victor Hugo

There is much that happens between sowing the wheat seed and baking the bread.

The seeds turn into kernels before they become loaves that satisfy. There is a time when they are buried underground with no signs of bearing grain. If the story stopped there, we'd have be no bread.

Too often we turn off the camera there. We fold up the tripod, call it a day. We think it's over. In life, as in farming, there are times when we simply cannot see what's going on. We see only in part.

Some things just cannot be rushed. In our haste we dart around searching for a substitute to hedge our bets in case the harvest doesn't come in as we thought. We don't wait well.

We gorge ourselves on frozen waffles rather than wait on rising bread.

It is discomfiting to face that we are not in control. How did we come to believe that we were ever in charge? Perhaps we finally yield in humility and find that we are still within the watchful care of our loving God.

God does not panic. He makes all things beautiful in its time. That part is for our benefit, because God is not bound by time or space.

Courage and patience take time to develop. Surely as night follows day, we will mature in the faith if we do not lose heart. Though we may grow weary, we will be refreshed.

Thanks be to  God.

I will lift up  my eyes  to the mountains;
From whence  shall my help come?

My help comes  from the LORD,

Who made heaven and earth.

He will not allow  your foot  to slip;

He who keeps you  will not slumber.

Behold,  He who keeps Israel

Will neither  slumber  nor sleep.

The LORD  is your keeper;
The LORD  is your shade  on your right hand.

The sun will not  smite you  by day,

Nor  the moon  by night.

The LORD  will protect you  from all evil;

He will keep  your soul.

The LORD  will guard  your going out  and your coming in

From this time forth  and forever.  ~ Psalm 121

Monday, October 8, 2012

Festival of Friendship

“Oh the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all right out, just as they are -- chaff and grain together -- certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and with the breath of kindness blow the rest away.”

~Dinah Maria Mulock Craik, A Life for a Life

born April 20, 1826 in Stoke-on-Trent, The United Kingdom
died October 12, 1887

Dinah's mother died while Dinah was still a teen. At that time, she moved to London to try to support herself as a writer, first of children's literature, than advancing with her pen to a status accorded few women of her day.

The quote is a favorite since about 1974 when my then-roommate, a real writer-turned-banker, and I poured over this one in a book about friendship. Little did I imagine the value true friendships would offer in unfolding decades of life as we feasted on other favorite books back then.

Never minimize such an estate as friendship, my friend urged.

She bristled to hear people dismissively refer to such a relationship as, "...we're just friends." As though that is of no account.

If you are blessed enough to have a true friend, or if you are blessed upon the remembrance of a dear friend, read the passage above and give thanks.

"What sweetness is left in life, if you take away friendship? Robbing life of friendship is like robbing the world of the sun."
~ Cicero

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Glorious Mountains and Valleys

Sunset over the Cathedral Group in the Tetons

Every week needs a day of rest, a time of sabbath. Yet in our quest for productivity or simply in our busyness, we shortchange ourselves and deplete our resources. Our tanks can be empty, and we may not even know it. Running on fumes will not long sustain us. Our bodies and souls break down, tipping us off to the need for rest.

We find rest in many places, physically and spiritually. The beauty of nature holds hidden the ability to astound us when we look with open eyes. Such beauty opens our souls and lets in a vision larger than ourselves and our troubling circumstances. We need frequent reminders to look up and out; the call to take our eyes off ourselves rings out daily. The scenes above serve a feast for the eyes and spirit!

Prayer at Evening Time
You, O Lord, offer renewable renewable resources! You quench soul thirst. You meet our deepest needs, even when we are unable to articulate them to ourselves. So we come to you on this Sunday evening...a rainy September day....at the close of the month that marks a transition into fall..and  we draw near to you. Restore, in your mercy, those who come in weariness. Grant us peace, to those who carry the heavy load of grief. Prompt with your immense love the reminder that we are loved with an everlasting love.

Everlasting God, you are our starting point and our ending place.
We praise you and honor you.

Your are our Rock...
Our hiding place.

You are Jehovah Jireh, the God who provides.

You offer the cleft of the rock as our protector when we need a shield from all that assails us in this life.

You are our solid ground. You offer firm footing when we seem unable to navigate on our own strength for seasons of life.

Then when we thirst and grow weary--for we always grow weary alone--you provide springs of living water...pools of refreshment along the way... sometimes from the most unlikely sources: from a patch of dry ground, from the kindness of strangers, in a loving word spoken in due season...and through the mystery and power of your Holy Spirit.

You are our Healer. We acknowledge our need of you and  bring our cares to you, for you are our Resting Place.

We remember the prayers for others we offer today--not because you need to hear them from us--but because we want to model as a way of living taking all our cares to you, for you care for us. In our doing so, we pray you will set us free from the destructive cycle of worry. 

All glory and honor to you,


Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. Psalm 90:2

You are my hiding place; Psalm 32:7

I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with My hand   Exodus 33:22

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.  I Peter 5:7

Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; Psalm 55:22

He made my feet like the feet of a deer and set me secure on the heights. Psalm 18:33

Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2

Photo note:
A friend sent these photos from a drive through the valley, capturing the vista of sunset in the Tetons and the approach to the lovely little Chapel of the Transfiguration, built in 1925, at Menors' Ferry, just north of Jackson Hole. Photo at bottom is Jenny Lake in the shadow of the range.  What a magnificent sight! Thank you, Chuck.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Seasons of Life for Quiet Works of the Soul

Lookout Mountain winding upwards, September 2012

Winding road to Lookout Mountain after heavy rains, Winter 2011

"A crop is made by all the seasons and the only way to have it all — is not at the same time… but letting one season bring its yield into the next."
Anne Voskamp

The photo above I made Sunday is a stark contrast to the one made one winter after a heavy rain. Same bend in the road, same time of day, but different scene. September marks a transition from summer growth and lush landscapes to autumn's glorious display before winter's starkness. The trickling stream hardly resembled the tumultuous waterfall I had visited earlier.

Sometimes life comes at us with the rushing force of water washing over us as we struggle to come up for air. Other seasons, we thirst, languishing in an inability to move forward at all.

We seek direction.

We need propulsion to move to the next step for we do not even know what that means--the next step.

To grow, to flourish in all the seasons of life means adapting to the rhythm that is inherent in this life. There are periods of rapid growth with spurts and growing pains, and there are times of dormancy.

Times of industry and times of inactivity. Each is necessary for the healthy cycle of life.

It is tempting in our culture to value the industry phases for their productivity and to disdain what appears to be unproductive time. We sell ourselves short when we fail to embrace the opportunities that come to us in times of waiting. The setting of buds for the coming spring happens without any outward sign that work is taking place. We, too, can prepare for the next season by anticipating what is needed and making time to seek direction.

Contemplation and prayer are quiet works of the soul. They are essential to our spiritually healthy lives.  We may crowd them out in times of stress and frenzied activity, for they do not demand their own way; yet, we deprive ourselves of food for our anxious hearts and hurried souls if we neglect them. Times of waiting and discerning the next step--times that may appear to be dormant or inactive for us--can yield a bountiful harvest of grace-filled moments when we choose to invest time and energy in prayerful pursuits.

What looks idle or dormant in one season of life may in fact be a time of surging growth as the heart and soul prepare to thrive in the next step.

“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price." Isaiah 55:1

"To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven"  Ecclesiastes 3:1

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Tiny Dancer

For those of us who  donned layers of tulle--back then we just called it net--and who delighted in the whirr of momma's machine stitching those costumes or the arrival of the recital regalia in a box, there surely is a knowing smile in seeing the photo above. We can imagine so much associated with this pic of the tiny dancer and her beautifully posed leg.

This dancer has a name and a story I'd like to share. Her daughter found the pic yesterday and thought it was her big sister, or perhaps herself, only to discover it is a photo of her mom. Mothers and daughters can be like that: distinct and separate,  yet inextricably linked by a powerful bond and sometimes by physical features as these two share in many ways.

I lovingly offer an update on Cindy's story, previously shared here.  Her Caring Bridge is the site of my writings these days in loving service and prayer.

Hers is the most grace-filled, courageous, unselfish life story in the face of tremendous pain and loss that I have observed. She has taught me much that I must absorb and emulate when I, too, encounter hardship and unimagined difficulty. Too many specifics to share, and I'm not sure I can even express in words...but I am still learning how to reflect this life of profound faith and trusting in God's provision.

I have seen it done.

I know nothing is impossible.

I don't mean miraculous turn-arounds and quick healing as we have longed; I mean living into those  impossible fears and declaring what we can and cannot do in life. We can do hard things. We live faithfully, day in and out, trusting the only one who can support our steps when we falter.

Snapshots of a precious pair whose hearts are forever intertwined offer a glimpse of faces to go with the story.  God bless them both. Dance on!

"Praise him with the tambourine and dancing; praise him with strings and flutes!"
Psalm 150:4

Mercy Me's "I Can Only Imagine" is the desired soundtrack for this right now. It is playing in my head, but I don't want to run afoul of copyright laws. Maybe I can post the lyrics anyway....

I can only imagine
What it will be like
When I walk
By Your side

I can only imagine
What my eyes will see
When Your face
Is before me

I can only imagine
I can only imagine

Surrounded by Your glory, what will my heart feel
Will I dance for You Jesus or in awe of you be still
Will I stand in Your presence or to my knees will I
Will I sing hallelujah, will I be able to speak at all

I can only imagine
I can only imagine

I can only imagine
When that day comes
And I find myself
Standing in the sun

I can only imagine
When all I will do
Is forever
Forever worship You

I can only imagine
I can only imagine

Surrounded by Your glory, what will my heart feel
Will I dance for You Jesus or in awe of You be still
Will I stand in Your presence or to my knees will I
Will I sing hallelujah, will I be able to speak at all

I can only imagine
I can only imagine

[- From: http://www.elyrics.net/read/m/mercyme-lyrics/i-can-only-imagine-lyrics.html -]

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Panting for God?

As the deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.
Psalm 42:1

This was the favorite scripture of a courageous young man who died at age 23 from a relentless brain tumor. I watched this journey up close as his body began to fail him, but his faith was resolute--even growing. In my early twenties myself, I had much to learn about facing such limitations as the inability to walk, then later, to speak. But his eyes--as long as they could see-- fairly glistened with with a life-energy and joy in the midst of intense suffering. 

I had never seen anything like it. I still think of his profound influence.

While hearing and vision remained, he desired to hear from the Scriptures. Yes, at twenty three. A young man, yet his Bible was dog-eared and marked like that of an old sage. Even the Old Testament, I remember. So I'd read through the Psalms, always starting with 42:

As a deer pants for flowing streams,
so pants my soul for you, O God.
2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.

And I believed it was true. Yearning for the Presence of God, intensely.
I'd continue...
When shall I come and appear before God?
3 My tears have been my food day and night,
while they say to me all the day long,
“Where is your God?”
These things I remember,
as I pour out my soul:
how I would go with the throng
and lead them in procession to the house of God
with glad shouts and songs of praise,
a multitude keeping festival.
5 Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.
My soul is cast down within me;
therefore I remember you
from the land of Jordan and of Hermon,
from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep
at the roar of your waterfalls;
all your breakers and your waves have gone over me.
By day the Lord commands his steadfast love,
and at night his song is with me,
a prayer to the God of my life.
I say to God, my rock:
“Why have you forgotten me?
Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?”
10 As with a deadly wound in my bones,
my adversaries taunt me,
while they say to me all the day long,
“Where is your God?”
11 Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.

His was not a faith of posturing, of seeming to pray without ceasing so as to appease God into miraculous healing of this inoperable brain tumor. He was not making a deal with God, not pretending to be worthy while pleading for a cure. He was living out his months and weeks with whatever life and breath was left and uttered praise when physically possible.

Nope, never seen anything like this before.

While the wisdom of Scripture was paramount,  the wisdom from another source was a favorite second. Dr. Seuss's The Sneetches was a favorite book, and in it the author brought to light the human condition in a way I have always loved myself. He gave me his copy, and I have kept it quite visible in the decades since. It acts as a prompt to a remember the things and people who matter and to seek after things that will last.

This young friend died 21 years ago this month, but a legacy of faithfulness in the face of great pain and loss survives. 

May we, too, leave something worth remembering.

With thanks to friend Carla Parris for sharing photo above from The Great Smoky Mountains this summer.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Of Screen Doors and Southern Porches

There is a particle within that magnetically draws me closer to a screen door.
Perhaps it is the proximity to a porch with rocking chairs or a swing hanging low or a kitchen where tomatoes sit upside down on the counter.

Maybe it is the whirr of an oscillating fan co-mingled with the night noises of crickets near the banks of the Pearl River where Susie and I would sleep overnight on Mattie Lou's sleeping porch in junior high school.

Whatever it is, a screen door beckons. Offering more than flow-through ventilation, the creak of a screen door with its thin, worn frame provides entrance to a storehouse of memories in the South.

I do not have a screen door anywhere on my house today. We have heavy doors, weather stripping, a few clad windows that do not need painting, all with a goal of insulation from the elements. Modernity has replaced the screen door with new-and-improved, but something's missing. Something from the past has been shut out.

Today's busy lives without time or desire to sit a spell and enjoy conversation amid the steady rocking of a wooden chair or rhythmic ebb and flow of a swing or aluminum glider are sadly draining our collective cultural memory and depleting our personal batteries, and we may not even recognize it. I sound like an old-timer's misty reflection on the good old days.

I have been reflecting on childhood a bit after my Monticello next door neighbor since 1960 died this week. Nell and homemade divinity were synonymous. She was much more than the sum of her Christmas candy--that picture being but a snapshot etched from the memory banks of the past-- and her passing brought to light dear old sights and sounds. Both next door neighbors have died this summer, actually, stirring the family pot of cross-country reminiscing emails and sharing stories across the miles of the good people who have shared our lives on that plot of ground.  

Reminiscing offers the pause that refreshes.

Telling the stories to another generation or two who come alongside and widen the circle is a part of these present good old days, much like we did with grandparents on their front porch in a glider and rocking chair. How else would we have known about the Preacher and the Bear or Ezekiel and the dry bones? Or about John Henry, that steel drivin’ man, Lawd Lawd? Or how would we know the thrill of hearing Casey at the throttle of the Cannonball Express with harmonic whistle sung by Ned Pace even better than Burl Ives? These are some long songs and stories, I’m telling you. They take time. And what we had as children back then was time. I don’t ever remember being over-scheduled. 

But that was then, and this is now. 

I know much of that porch sitting in the past was necessary because of the scarcity of air conditioning. Far from romanticized magnolia evenings in the South, outside was frankly cooler than inside. The house was a hot box without a screen door.

Today’s screen door may even be reduced to an accessory now with its form of more value than function. Few sit on a front porch anymore anyway, with newer homes favoring outdoor living spaces in what we used to call the back yard.

Still... I’ll take the door and the porch with a side of lemonade and feed the old memories.

Our present zeal to process and to consume--because we can--keeps driving us ever more headlong into a place that is much different from childhood for many of us. That’s not all bad.  But the need to reclaim some essence of available space in our lives for what I can only call porch-sitting remains. Electronic communication is eclipsing interpersonal communication at a speed that would melt iced tea.

Today's lifestyle insulates us from ourselves as well as others.

We don't sit well.

Sitting looks like we're doing nothing which is anathema in 2012 where multitasking rules. Our schedules even crowd out space for thoughtful communion or meditation. We prevent the very flow-through ventilation our hearts and souls need to breathe fresh air, spiritually speaking, in our lives so conditioned to forced air and forceful living.

I do not own a screen door, but all is not lost. We can still make time today to have a virtual visit to a quiet place, porch or not. We can go there anytime because God, who is not bound by time or space or weather stripping, meets us at any place where we may be still and know. God restores my soul and sets my feet upon a wide path whether we are looking toward the future or giving thanks for blessings of the past.

Most Holy One, who fills my life with grace,
Each day and night I remember your love
In my lying down and in my rising up
In life and in death
You are my health and my peace.
Each day and each night
I remember your forgiveness
Bestowed on me so gently and generously
Each day and each night
May I be fuller in love to you.

(Adapted from Celtic Prayers from Iona)

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

We Can't Stop This...

The door opened, and it was as though the curtain parted.

I thought she might be the one, but there was whisper of doubt.

I had not actually met her, you understand; I had only been one of thousands who had prayed for her over a long period of time when she was hanging precariously between life and death. Life lived from a distance creates that cushion that sometimes prevents our bridging a four-year gap. But still....there was an unsettling familiarity when she walked into the store where I worked today.

Something in the way she moves...

I am drawing closer, inexplicably. I step into her space and ask gently, Are you Nicole?

This healthy brunette with deep brown eyes speaks back to me, Yes. Her strong body today stands juxtaposed to the fragile one I had imagined during Nicole Marquez's journey back to the land of the living. Flashbacks to her mother's faithful entries flooded my memory as I remembered Susan Marquez's story of her daughter's most difficult performance yet on the stage of  New York Presbyterian Hospital.

Day after day. Week after grueling week. Then month after month... We have no idea what it was like to live it; I only observed from a distance, never as her parents.

I am especially mindful of similar struggles as we enter into the waiting, suffering and praying with others who are recovering from brain surgery and fighting back cancer among our close friends. To have compassion is to enter into suffering, and nothing parts the curtains like prayer. Prayer exposes suffering

Once exposed and made aware, we have a choice to make: Do we have empathy enough to take on another's burdens,  or do we merely stay informed about their status? Is it all about our convenience or about the others' needs? Compassion enables us to experience a portion of the shared burden when we willingly embrace the journey with another. Compassion is a mystery in the making.

I only wrote. I commented. I prayed. I hugged Larry. But I never met Nicole. I was merely a bystander, one of the masses, and I'm not proud of that as I realize that Nicole is standing with me today.

But there she is before me, and I know: I am in the presence of a miracle! A walking, dancing, speaking miracle of determination, guts and Grace of God.

My children know that I've always wanted to be a dancer. But today the real dancer entered stage right and let me rejoice in her spectacular role in this chapter of Nicole's life. It may not be the life she thought she prepared for, but it is the life she is fully prepared to live. Nicole is still bearing witness to the truth of her original rallying cry: You can't stop this dancer!

The day ends with thanksgiving for healing mercies for Nicole and for others among us for whom we pray faithfully. Let us not be too busy to share what we have, for the Lord God will multiply whatever we offer making it sufficient. I believe it. Our limited resources--time, money, talent--invested in God's economy produce an incalculable yield. There's no stopping it!

Thanks be to God.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

An Embrace That Will Not Let Us Go

This photo posted by a friend reminds me of a place in Mobile Bay I visited from years past. Destroyed by one of a string of hurricanes, the pier on stilts once provided a lovely walk from a secluded bay house out to the water. Ancient oaks would be just outside the frame of the photo, as I remember the scene...

Such a restful spot at dusk or dawn is just what we need on our mental rolodex to transport us quickly to that place of calm. Calm in the storm. Calm before the storm. Calm that follows the storm. Whatever that place is that conjures serenity and peace, let us practice going there in our minds often.

And whatever our physical location, and no matter our circumstances, we can learn to find a center of tranquility and deep peace even in the very center of the storm--the eye of the hurricane comes to mind--when we turn our hearts toward Jesus and lean into prayer.

Earnest, heartfelt prayer. Not the perfunctory recitals we've heard others use, but our own native language, however halting or lumbering may be our speech. Then, if words are an impediment to keep us away from prayer, cut them out altogether. Sit or walk in silence, honoring the One who sits and walks by the way with us.

May we come to yearn for a time of merely sitting on...the dock of the Bay...with a Friend who knows us full well and loves us without ceasing.

"Prayer is a personal relationship in which you move from a hello of politeness to an embrace of love."
~Maxie Dunnam

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Beach Days

Turquoise green surf nibbles bleached sand in the morning. As the sun eases across the southern sky, the wind today whips up white tips in soft peaks: seven minute frosting on emerald waves. I am giving thanks and 'dwelling in the land' of this simple beach. Perhaps somewhat in the manner of Psalm 37, I am definitely heeding the psalmist's admonition to fret not this week.

People find relaxation in different ways, but an uncrowded beach in mild, breezy weather is about as good as it gets to me.

Languishing at the water's edge offers a delightful respite from the rest of life's demands, even if only temporarily. It provides a time and place to pause and take in a different sight. 

Breathe recycled salty air. 

Gaze at tonight's full moon after the Venus-crossing-the-sun episode today. 

Marvel at nature's beauty when seen from a new vantage point. 

No special equipment required; no competitive activities needed by this one to provide a welcome change of pace from weekday routines. I'll leave the games to the laughing, running ones with evenly tanned bodies. I'll be the one asleep with a book in my hands under the shade of a fluttering umbrella.

Having written 'simplify' as a goal recently, I may even take a note or two to share on that point. 


Excerpt from Psalm 37:
Fret Not  was my friend Vicki's sermon title from this passage one Sunday.
When fretting becomes a way of life as it has for so many, this may be helpful to remember. The language is a little archaic, and it speaks too much of evildoers and the wicked for my taste, but I share it as a resource nonetheless.:

Do not fret..... 
Trust in the Lord and do good;
    dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.

Take delight in the Lord,
    and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord;
    trust in him and he will do this:
He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn,
    your vindication like the noonday sun.
Be still before the Lord
    and wait patiently for him;

do not fret when people succeed in their ways,
    when they carry out their wicked schemes.
8 Refrain from anger and turn from wrath;
    do not fret —it leads only to evil.

25 I was young and now I am old,
    yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken
    or their children begging bread.
26 They are always generous and lend freely;
    their children will be a blessing.[b]
27 Turn from evil and do good;
    then you will dwell in the land forever.
28 For the Lord loves the just
    and will not forsake his faithful ones.

29 The righteous will inherit the land
    and dwell in it forever.
30 The mouths of the righteous utter wisdom,
    and their tongues speak what is just.
31 The law of their God is in their hearts;
    their feet do not slip.

34 Hope in the Lord
    and keep his way.
He will exalt you to inherit the land;

37 Consider the blameless, observe the upright;
    a future awaits those who seek peace.
39 The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord;
    he is their stronghold in time of trouble.
40 The Lord helps them and delivers them;

    he delivers them from the wicked and saves them,
    because they take refuge in him.