Clouds

image

I live in a valley on the leading edge of a mountain range. Clouds are ubiquitous in my world. We learned the basic types in school and I never gave them much thought again. Clouds are so common as to pass my notice.

This summer my apathy began to change. The first alteration occurred when I began to learn to paint watercolors. I discovered that there is not really white paint. White is the absence of color in watercolor. I stopped and looked up one day and pondered. How would you paint a cloud if you cannot paint white? I admit my prior ignorance here. I did not realize until that moment that clouds are not simply white or grey. Each one is an array of delicate and complex coloration. Even the typical clouds are far more than white.

I must have been looking up in awe. It attracted the attention of all those who were standing beside me. They couldn’t understand what was surprising about the sky. I had to explain about the white being an absence of color. Soon we were all projecting ideas about the clouds. That was the second revelation to me about clouds. Everyone has ideas about clouds. They are universally intriguing.

I used to view clouds as a negative. Clouds were a hinderance to sunlight. Clouds were the reason that my area experiences only a couple dozen sunny days a year. It takes my breath away when I hear about locales that have three-hundred sunny days a year!

Along with the clouds I regarded traffic as a nuisance. The clouds and traffic came together for me one day. It was a “mostly sunny” day for my area. The only clouds were cumulus and decidedly pretty. Not that I was looking up. I was driving around town on errands, running late. Red lights were not desirable, when every traffic light turned red, tension mounted in the car. In a spark of Divine inspiration, I turned my eyes off the red light during the wait for green. I looked up through the windshield so I would not need to stare at the annoying red. All that I could see was blue sky and a pretty cloud. I was momentarily arrested by the beauty of the cloud. My eyes darted back to the light several times in the course of that red light. I saw beauty and remembered God’s grace and providence. The fact that California is enduring a much publicized drought caused me to recognize how the unfailing clouds provide plenty of rain to my location. It was the first time I consciously remember thanking God for clouds.image

I began a new tradition that busy afternoon. Whenever I hit a red light I take time to admire the clouds while I wait for the light to change. Since the clouds are plentiful I simply look up through the windshield of my car on the lights and inevitably see at least one cloud. These momentary pauses are a welcome relief from the pressure of daily life. I am amazed by how many colors are present in even a cursory glance at a cloud. I am discovering that clouds are full of color. They are not basically white! No one has honked a car horn at me for dawdling over the clouds. It doesn’t take any time to notice beauty. What it requires is an intentionality. Clouds are no longer a negative fact. They are becoming welcome friends. They are friends with an infinite gallimaufry of colorful clothing.

Advertisements

How Fast is Time Flying?

imageWhat make time fly swiftly at some periods of life and crawl at others? This is one of the enigmas of time that we all recognize and ponder on some level. As a young lady I was fascinated by time and eternity. In my twenties I wondered why forty-year-olds didn’t know twice as much as twenty-year-olds. I concluded that it was a matter of constantly learning. I defined it as, “falling into a rut of sameness.” I vowed to keep my spirit hungry for learning and thereby to ensure a life well-lived.

My goal became to always keep growing and learning. I promised to never stay static. I recognized that life challenges us and encourages those who fall into being busy to the point of barely holding-on. Through the last decade I have witnessed an extraordinary push in our culture for people to overschedule themselves to the point of exhaustion. I am not sure if it is really more prevalent in our society or if it is a matter of the demographic that I am part of. Are we actually more stressed and overcommitted or is it generation-x coming into middle age? I suspect that both factors prevail. I know that I have been stretched so thin that I collapse exhausted into bed at the end of the day and rise eight hours later to start the whole run-until-you-drop all over again the next day. What I think may be new is that I consider myself lucky that I actually have the privilege of eight hours in bed. Notice, I did not say that I get eight hours of sleep a night. Like most of my contemporaries I battle insomnia.

We have lost our connection to the natural world. I managed to take my dog to the park three times this spring and summer. I did not go to the park without her. I do not have useable outdoor space at home. Three times I went out into nature! Perhaps this is part of the struggle to sleep. Our activity has nothing to do with the seasons, the sun, the wind, growing things.
image

image
If I am going to be true to my youthful promises to myself I need to consciously re-orient myself to the fact that the possibilities are indeed endless. I love to learn. Learning something new has always been refreshing and restorative for me. This summer I am learning to paint watercolors. It has been something I have wanted for longer than I remember. I never painted. Well, not on paper or canvas and painting a room isn’t nearly as enjoyable. No matter how much I want to paint it takes careful planning to achieve time. Time that we do not view as productive is the rarest commodity in our culture. I cannot help but believe that this is one of the reasons that all community groups and church groups are desperate for volunteers. We have become a culture that views anything that doesn’t produce an income as a time-waster. We all have a bucket-list of activities that we are going to pursue, “when we have time.” The reality that we do not allow ourselves time to continue learning doesn’t dawn upon us until it is too late.

My mother was going to write a couple of books. All my life I knew this fact. Someday. She was healthy until she was in her sixties and then developed cancer and went home to the Lord fast. When she turned sixty-five I asked her if she was going to write. She told me she was too tired. She never wrote her books. We have all lost out on her words. I cannot write her words. God gave them to her alone. It is ever thus for each of us.

What gifts has God given you? What have you always longed to learn? Why are you too busy to become a full person? In my early journal I vowed to never stop growing up. I have learned many things in my life. One of the more important is that God wants us to use our time here well. A life well-lived that makes the most of our God-given talents and dreams and is within reach of each of us. It is assuredly a matter of priority. A half-an-hour here and there really does make a difference.

I had a dear friend who was active well into her nineties. She always introduced me as her “youth leader” and I told everyone I wanted to “grow-up” to be like her. She never lost her love of learning and shared my enthusiasm for technology even though she did not personally have a computer. When I bought a new computer with a touch-screen I took it with me on a visit and she happily played along with me, writing with a stylus, taking and editing digital photos, etc. She entered into other people’s joy and love of learning. Need I say that she was a teacher and wherever she went, people would come up to her and say, ”You were my favorite teacher.” Each one of us is demonstrating what we regard as important everyday with our actions. What do your priorities teach? Is your bank account your value as a person? How important are your relationships? Are you growing or are you withering?

The Sweet Stuff

I like a good salad in the summer. June strawberries are unlike strawberries of any other season. There are and endless variety of tasty garden treats available in the summer. I change my salads with the season choosing whatever is fresh and well-priced at the market. A salad in our household can take on an amazing variety of dishes. The primary request to have a salad enjoyed is homemade dressing. I once ate a salad without dressing. It was at a church function and those who were working in the kitchen were somehow under the false impression that everyone like Italian bottled dressing. Well, it actually tasted good. I had consumed the above mentioned bottled dressing at a previous event. It left me hard. It didn’t leave me, would be more accurate. I endured two days heartburn from that encounter and promised myself not to make the mistake twice. I ate a salad without dressing. Once. So that totals two times I ate a salad made a particular way at church before I decided to skip the tossed salad. A more prudent decision would have been to buy a reasonable bottle of salad dressing and keep it in the church refrigerator. I wonder how long it will last? I noticed there are a fair number of people not eating the tossed salad at church suppers.

I like a good salad dressing.
I make my own at home. It is astoundingly simple. Some lemon juice, vinegar, oil, salt, sugar (or honey) are all that are needed. You can make a good dressing plenty of other ways, but those ingredients make a delightful sweet dressing.
The key to making salad dressing is that you must mix the vinegar and oil thoroughly. It is really simple. A wire whisk will mix a creamy dressing in no time. You can pour the ingredients in a jar with a good lid and shake to achieve the same results.
The reason the mixing is key lies in the fact that vinegar and oil do not like to mix. You shake a bottle of salad dressing before each use because the oil and vinegar separate, quickly, on their own.
You may think I have changed the focus of this blog.

  
Did she convert this to a cooking blog?
No, friends. I am just keen on analogies for talking about the things of the Spirit. Eternal things are hard for me to get my brain around without an analogy or as Jesus used a parable.
Salad is like the Word of God. There is much good fruit in the bowl. You get different good things the savor overtime you come to the table. My favorite part is the sweet stuff that binds it all together. God is like a sweet salad dressing. I fear I may have shocked some of my readers. The law bites like vinegar and the gospel soothes like oil.
I once served salads at t church dinner sprinkled only with balsamic vinegar. I read that you could do this. I did not make the idea up. It was in a cooking magazine. They must have anticipated a really good balsamic vinegar be used. It did not work very well for me. We cleaned quite a bit of uneaten salad off the plates at the end of that meal. It seemed like a good idea. It came from a fancy magazine. We were pressed for time and help. I’ve been to worship experiences that tried the same thing. The law and our sinfulness is important. But without the gospel mixed in it is also depressing. Some people think that you can scare people into religion by drawing attention to sin. You can frighten people into a religion, but not into a relationship with Christ.
Another group runs the opposite direction and fears the mention of sin. They hold that all we should talk about is Christ ‘s love. In this congregation you will never hear sin mention. Sin is viewed as too harsh and discouraging. As an enlightened group they postulate that right and wrong are to vague and variable to quantify. 
Yet another segment of Christians believe that the most effective message is focused on other people’s sin. This group focuses intently on specific sins, particularly those that the majority have no desire to commit. In this church you will never hear a word about selfishness, greed, gossip or over-consumption.

In my humble opinion the best salad dressing is well-mixed. A good blend of all our shortcomings along with a hearty dose of forgiveness through Jesus Christ. We need reminded that there is definitive truth and that it is Christ who should judge, not us. A summer fruit salad is best dressed in the “sweet stuff”, the loving, valid Word of God.

Listening For God

Look up 1

You feel the beat of my  heart, Lord.
You hear the sounds of my doubts.
You overhear the words of my mouth,
Before I say them out loud.

You know what I really feel
When I have buried it deep.
You see the show from the truth,
What I truly believe.

You know all that I want,
My secret hopes and dreams.
You read the depths of my doubts,
What things are not as they seem.

Look up 2

You say that I am enough.
You listen to my ardent dispute.
You have compassion for me,
Lord, you lived here too.

You sing soft songs to my heart.
You say, “Be still, my dear.”
I tell you, “I’ve  got a plan.”
You quietly hold me near.

You say, “I’ll fight for you.”
I beg for more strength.
You conquered death for me.
You’ll go to any length.

Look up 3

You won the battle with sin.
I fight my own way.
You plead, “Please, be still.”
You defeated the fears I can’t name.

I give us lists for each day.
You wait quiet for me.
I implore, “Lord, just speak!”
You whisper my name.

Look up 4

Like Mary, I’m stilled.
For a moment fear fades.
“My Savior, He lives!”
You won’t go away.

We sit in silence a time.
My attention, it fades.
I run off chasing the mist.
Why can’t I remain?

#anythingproject

You Are Safe

Psalms 91:1-10


Assurance of God’s Protection

  

​You who live in the shelter of the Most High,
who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress;
my God, in whom I trust.”
For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
and from the deadly pestilence;
he will cover you with his pinions,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
You will not fear the terror of the night,
or the arrow that flies by day,
or the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
or the destruction that wastes at noonday.
A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
You will only look with your eyes
and see the punishment of the wicked.
Because you have made the Lord your refuge,
the Most High your dwelling place,
no evil shall befall you,
no scourge come near your tent.

I never tried to paint before. I have always been a seeker of beauty, a lover or art and a wondered at God’s glorious creation. I look at a tree or the sky and think about all the colors it would take to paint the scene, but I have never lifted paint to brush. 

In the book study on Spiritual Whitespace, author Bonnie Gray encouraged followers to pick a favorite verse write it on the page and illustrate it with watercolor. To be daring I tried this. I was inspired by the image of an eagle protecting it’s young. There was a now famous pair of eagles in Pennsylvania who valiantly protected their young through the winter snows. 

With no experience I did not consider that the paint of the eagle would cover over the verse beneath it. When I copied back over I transposed the terms Most High and Almighty. 

Anyway, I am sharing this because for me trying to paint was similar to other people jumping out of airplanes, or BASE jumping. I survived! I am using the fun of painting as a witness to God’s grace and goodness. What daring thing can you try to proclaim the glory of The Lord?

Worry

Worry is one of the most fundamental human emotions. From the beginning of time people have  resorted to worry about what we cannot control. Too much of human history has been damaged by the ugly culprit of worry. If we were not worried about our neighbors or enemies we would never go to war. I believe worry is one of the most effective tools in the enemy’s arsenal. Jesus repeatedly cautions His followers to avoid worry. 
In the Sermon on the Mount, His most famous sermon, Jesus specifically warns us not to worry. The New Testament Greek word used is merimnao. This is translated as worry, anxious or take no thought of in English.  
Matthew 6:25-34

Do Not Worry

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

“So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”

I read this passage and I am very convicted. I worry. Frequently. Daily. I worry about things like: what can I make for dinner, what do I wear tomorrow, how do I regain some of my lost stamina? Jesus said to seek first His kingdom. There have been more mornings where I began with my To Do list and followed it with prayer that God would bless my endeavors. I recognize that this is backward, just as so much of what He taught is counter-intuitive. First I pray. Second I prioritize while considering the Gospels as my filter. For years I have felt the need to triage my agenda, as I learned that I can never accomplish all I wished. Jesus gives us the primary focus in this passage. Seek His kingdom. First serve the needy, the left-out, the lowly. Feed them food and the Word. Love His people. Do not worry about yourself. Trust God to care for you. Do I trust God to care for me? Or, do I seek first to maintain control myself? If I trust God I can take no thought for myself. If I really trust Him I am free to serve. He doesn’t tell me that I will have no trouble. Jesus tells me repeatedly that I will have trouble. Everyday I will have trouble. Trust is bigger than trouble.
Merimnao is used nineteen times in the New Testament. In Matthew’s gospel it is used again in 10:19 when Jesus instructs His disciples not to worry about what they will say when they are brought up on charges before the authorities. “Don’t worry, friends. You will be arrested.” Luke uses this word when Jesus tells Martha that she is distracted by merimnao/worrry about many things, while her sister, Mary has chosen the better part in sitting and listening to Him. Paul uses this word several times in his letters. In Philippians 4:6-7 he writes, “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
We are called to love and listen. Trust in God’s goodness to triumph in all situations. We all suffer, but worry need not cause us pain. Jesus said that there is enough trouble and pain in each day without our adding to the difficulty. The fact that something so logical and simple is so profoundly complex and difficult is I believe directly tied to our extraordinary difficulty in letting God be God. Human beings instinctively try to maintain control over our own circumstances. Life is a long process of learning to let go of control. If God, who is all goodness, is really in control of my life then I have nothing to worry about. Though trials assail me, He is for me. I do not fear, because He is near. This is why the peace of God is so elusive and hard to maintain. Peace only comes from letting go of control.
Do you struggle with worry? Do you think that worry is a waste of time? If you released control of your life and let God be in charge do you think you would find more peace? What have you learned about letting God be God? How have  you grown in your spiritual life by putting God first? Share what you have learned with us, as we all struggle to grow-up  into the people God created us to be, people of faith-people of peace.

Define Success

imageI am thinking that how we define failure and success tells more about our faith and character than we like to admit. It is relatively easy to say that we are followers of Jesus when times are stable, but it is another thing altogether when it will cost us significantly to behave in a meek way. How do we define success? Is it a nice house, a good job and others treating us with respect?

As Christians we are called to view success as following our Servant-King and responding with gentleness even when life-changing issues are on the line. Failure would be recounting who did and said what, and when. Assessing the situation from a worldly, get-ahead viewpoint would be failure. It should not about us or our feelings. It is all about glorifying God. Contributing to dissension and conflict would be putting ourselves first.

If our job as the Church is to demonstrate Christ’s teachings, then we are required to turn the other cheek. Human desires include slamming the door on our way out to shake things up a bit. That is not what our Savior taught.

A friend once told me they worried about me being such a “gentle person.” They feared that others would take advantage of me. After the conversation I pondered their comments and realized that by the Christian definition  for success, they had paid me a very great compliment.

It is surprising what incidents linger in our long-term memory. When I was interviewed for my job in the Church I was asked one question that startled me. I had been asking and answering questions in the appropriate college graduate manner when I was asked how I saw myself leading. I paused because I felt an answer jump up in my heart that did not seem an appropriate response. I felt the answer driven to my mouth by a force too great to resist. It was a Church so I replied honestly with the truth I couldn’t contain. “With great love, I hope.” I never forgot that part of the interview and I have unceasingly endeavored to live up to the style of leadership I believe in.

I have loved the Lord in the good times and the hard places. To love is to put the beloved ‘s best interest ahead of our own wishes. I will always have great love for my congregation. I have done all in my power to serve and please them all. I have fervently sought to share the love of the Lord and His Word.

This is a season where my health has become an insurmountable problem. My chronic health problems have been exacerbated by trying to remain upright for too many hours a day. My body withstood over a month of the new schedule, but I became ever weaker with mounting tachycardia and fainting. In the end I had a second full outbreak of chickenpox, which is not healing as it should. I am being forced into a period of rest.

To the core of my heart I am grieved that we have come to the end. As an optimist, I cannot help but add that according to 1 Corinthians 13:8, “Love never ends.”

How do you define success? Please tell us about a time of transition that you have experienced. Share with us what you think are some of the hallmarks of a life well-lived.

April Breeze

I love to hear the wind whistling with a whoosh and howl and a thud.

As April trudges across the landscape leaving daffodil and mud.
I pause and listen to the birds their carols with rapture sing,
As they gather the last of the dry twigs and take to their wings.
There is a palpable excitement carried on the breeze 
That bends low each blossom-encrusted tree.
The thrill is whipped on the wind, roaring all around town,
The scent of earth reviving our hills of grey-brown.
It blows through in such a hurry, these breezy April days
With Easter and First Communion flurry, we scarce notice spring’s ways.
Too soon the heat will reach us, new flowers rich will bloom,
Before I know how it happens we will pass from May to June.
I won’t pass this way again, I want to taste the season’s joys.
I’ll have to pause and ponder, plug my ears to the noise.
Today I will listen closely to the wind rattle the old window-frame,
Speak soft, whisper slowly, and hear the melody in the rain.
  

 

 

   

Growing Up Into My Three-Year-Old Self

Three-year-old joy

Three-year-old joy

At the end of each of the hardest physical crashes of my life, I realized that I had been pretending to be someone I am not. I was pretending to be strong. Perhaps it was an unconscious attempt to fool myself into ignoring the physical symptoms of the fatigue. At any rate, I had to do some soul-searching each time and recovery included not only rest but a deliberate attempt to reconnect with my gentle, authentic nature.

Right now I have a picture of myself at age three on my inspiration wall. She had such an enthusiastic smile that little girl. What became of her? At that age I radiated joy because I still knew pure love. I had experienced cruelty from the neighbors, but I was so young that I didn’t know it would continue. I loved everyone and I still believed that everyone loved me. All people and all of God’s beautiful creation was filled with love. My Mommie told me that Love (that was God Himself) made the world go around. I believed it. I thought everyone knew God was all loving. I thought everyone knew Agape love. I could not have articulated these beliefs at three, but that was the world that I knew then.

My life is a process of growing back into that innocence. God is love. He has made everything good. All creations will one day be restored to what it was meant to be. We are here in this brokenness to learn to be our three-year-old selves in spite of the evil still prowling the world.

Leaning into JESUS, not our own strength, is the only way to grow a strong spirit. Meekness is the opposite of weakness. We can only be meek when we learn to let love grow stronger than fear. No one can be meek when they are operating out of fear. It requires the option of retaliation and we choose forgiveness instead. When our response is based on fear we are listening to the evil in the world not the love that comes from God.

Actual strength and wisdom only seem to occur when we go through the fires and the floods of this life and remain our gentle, loving, authentic selves and survive to reach the other side of one adversity after another. We spend so much time relying upon ourselves that we can lose touch with who we really are along the way. Learning to trust God enough to be our original selves in a harsh world usually involves much physical suffering and loss of strength. I wish I knew an easy way to reconnect with that three-year-old joy again. I will keep the picture up for a while as a reminder that the world is a glorious place full of wonder and awe. Love made the world. He is all good and we are His children.

What I know

I’ve been thinking about what I know and questioning almost everything. Just now, a savvy debater could push me into doubting my own name. There is one thing that I KNOW. God is good and loving all the time and I am His beloved child because of what Jesus did in taking my whole, messed-up, confused, human sin to the cross. Period.

I don’t believe this. I know this. I cannot define why I am so certain. The conviction comes from somewhere beyond myself. Faith is a gift from God. Despite the constant barrage of signs to the contrary, I have the assurance of God’s love from the Holy Spirit.

The certitude strikes me forcefully enough share it with you. Over and over I have planned what I wanted to tell you. Over the last month I have written several brilliant blog posts in my mind. Somehow every time another demand on my time caused me to see to more pressing needs. God is who He says He is in the Bible. Jesus Christ is the invisible God made human and the Gospels and New Testament are lenses through which the whole of human history makes sense. Everything else can slip though our hands like sand. 

Truth is very hard for a grieved soul to hang on to. Truth is the reason I am rambling online at a moment when I am least myself. Pontus Pilate, the epitome of the educated cynic, asked JESUS, “What is truth?” Philosophers have argued about truth for millenia. In this dark moment I know truth.

It does not come from my degrees. It does not come from my family, although they are very faith-filled. Truth is not dependent upon my church, which I faithfully serve. Truth is a gift from God. It is a knowing too deep for words. The Holy Spirit utters our prayers for us with groans that exceed words when we cannot pray ourselves. We can only receive truth, we cannot find it ourselves. We can spend our lives in study, search with unquenchable vigor, but we cannot discover it of our own making. Science cannot prove truth. Human endeavors are all in vain. Truth is not beyond the human grasp, however. I have witnessed little children innocently uttering truth that startles the adults.

Truth does exist, Pilate. It belongs to God. He was right in front of you in the flesh! Faith does not depend upon us. It is certain. It is eternal. Faith, truth and knowing are gifts. All I can do is open my hands to receive today’s portion, like manna in the desert. Thanks be to God. Amen.