Friday, May 11, 2018

In the Midst

“You prepare a table for me in the midst of my enemies…” -Psalm 23:5

 Last week I was hounded by fear and anxiety, and at one point, I found myself absolutely crippled by them. I was battling yet another computer issue (do they ever end?) and fighting fear, because at this moment, I’m not quite sure what my future holds. And uncertainty brings all sorts of unwanted chaos into my orderly life. While God has promised to provide for me, and has been exceedingly faithful to His promises, I still sometimes find myself overwhelmed with worry.

So while I did deep breathing exercises in an effort to ward off a panic attack, I thought about Psalm 23. Specifically, I thought about verse five. Maybe it was because of a recent trip to the zoo, but I pictured David sitting there with a lion on one side and a bear on the other, and of course, crazed King Saul behind him, casting murderous looks his way. Then I pictured me sitting in David’s seat and I could feel the hot breath of the lion at my right hand. The bear left and was replaced by a lovely jaguar who eyed me like I was his midafternoon snack. The imaginary animals helped me give a body to the amorphous enemies plaguing me, and I focused on David’s words. While he was hunted by Saul and plenty of other powerful men, harassed by wild animals, and threatened by evil supernatural powers, he realized that even in the midst of this, God was present.

In meditating on David’s experience, I learned not only is God present, He is unperturbed by what my enemies are doing. So much so, that in the midst of  trials, challenges, and pain, He decides to set a banquet table of grace just for me (and you). Anxiety and fear? Trade those in for peace. Sadness? Exchange it for joy. Anger? Swap it for gentleness and patience. Frustration? Replace it with contentment. So today, while nothing has changed in my circumstances, my attitude is different. I am amazed anew that I can sit at God’s table and enjoy His gifts while my enemies hover just over my shoulder, licking their lips and wishing in vain that they could devour me.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Unwanted Anniversaries Still Bring Blessings

My mom’s dad passed away when I was only three. Each March Mom became very anxious and sad as the anniversary of his death approached. When I was a child, her response hurt my heart deeply, but as I grew older I became frustrated that she couldn’t “move on.” In my naiveté, I  imagined she had complete control over her emotions and could prevent herself from getting so upset as she honored Papa Jim’s memory. Time and life are good teachers, though, and I now understand Mom’s reaction much better. While I choose not to succumb to the grief hers and Daddy’s deaths have caused me, I now know how challenging it is to control your response to the unwanted anniversaries of life. Even if I actively try to focus on other things, each August 15 and each April 19 are etched into my heart and soul as the days my parents left this earth. But I try to approach the days with the grace and faith that are part of my parents’ legacy. I offer gratitude for their lives and recall the blessings they imparted into mine.

Two of those blessings are a poem and an allegorical essay Daddy wrote later in his life; the writings reflect his faith journey and his perspective. This year marks the fifth year of his homegoing, and I’d like to honor him and give you a glimpse of his heart by publishing his work “Today I Climbed a Mountain.” The notes in italics are his as well.

Today I climbed a mountain. A mountain all covered with the glory of Autumn, the vibrant reds, the sunshine yellows, the royal purples and even the common browns. The pines’ green mantle reminding me there is Life even among the dead and dying. My path started out well-defined through the trees. Here a proud old oak, its bark scarred with the initials of young lovers long ago, there a towering hickory split in two by a long-forgotten storm, half-dead, half-alive, hanging on to life for all it’s worth. I walked through the forest, my pathway becoming dimmer as the trees gave way to underbrush, little more than shrubs, then weeds. At last I came to my goal, a Rock Wall. I could see a pathway going left where others had chosen to go around it. Some had tried to dig under it. But I Had to climb it.

As I started my ascent, I searched for a handhold here, a foothold there, taking whatever I could find. Then I noticed a trail even here. A trail of sweat, of tears, and as I looked closer—blood. I saw a bush offering its support, but saw in time its shallow roots, which would not have stood the test. Ever onward I climbed, following the blood, using narrow ledges to rest. Upward slowly, a handhold, a foothold, a slip here and there, I dare not quit. I gained the top, surveyed the hills and valleys, covered in the majesty of Mother Earth and gave a sigh as I sat down to rest. I looked up and saw an eagle soaring on the winds. He called to me to join him, but I could not; for I am a mere mortal.

The original ends here, but I feel compelled to add this to it:

Whichever path you choose to conquer your Wall,
I will not criticize or chastise you. I will welcome you with open arms, offer you the strong right arm of friendship, and a shoulder to lean on. I will offer a cup of Water from the Everlasting Well, and have ready the Balm of Gilead to bind up your wounds and soothe your hurts. Then, we can watch the eagle together.


Monday, April 16, 2018

Green is the New Blue, Sort Of

“. . . a sweet friendship refreshes the soul.” -Prov. 27:9 (The Message)

As long as I can remember blue has been my favorite color. There was once in my childhood when I had an internal philosophical debate as to the merits of red vs. blue but the former seemed to have too many negative associations. I still enjoy wearing red often, but for me, blue’s soothing qualities ultimately won out as the color to which I constantly gravitate. This spring, though, something has changed. And I have absolutely fallen in love with green. Kelly green, forest green, grass green. I should’ve seen it coming when a few years ago I painted my toenails the shade of a Granny Smith apple. Now, don’t mistake me. Blue and I will always be tight. We’ve been together far too long now to let green come between us. But green has carved out a little place in my heart and is now my second favorite color.

Maybe it’s in part because this spring, green seems an especially apt motif for me: the color and the season have long been symbolic of renewal and rebirth. New beginnings. And that’s the season I find myself in. Earlier this month I went to the mountains of Georgia on a girlfriend getaway with some cherished friends and was dazzled by the seeming rainbow of greens as we traveled. We took the trip right after Easter, the ultimate season of rebirth, and we spent quite a bit of time enjoying God’s creation. The time spent in nature was rejuvenating, and it helped me focus on God’s gifts, not the least of which are my precious friends who constantly encourage, support, and love me unconditionally. Pastor Charles “Chuck” Swindoll has been quoted as saying, “I cannot even imagine where I would be today if not for a handful of friends who have given me a heart full of joy. Let’s face it, friends make life a lot more fun.” I couldn’t agree more: I am truly blessed to have such friends who bring great joy to my life!

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Sick Days

Jeremiah 17:14: “Heal me, Lord, and I will be healed…”

Sick Days. I think they were more fun when I was a kid. Ok, there was still the sick part. But at least I got to miss school, stay home with Mom and watch tv all day. Except the year I first had pneumonia. That was a nightmare. That’s pretty much how I feel about sick days now. They’re a nightmare filled with wracking coughs and guilt that I’m missing work, even though I can’t even crawl out of bed and change clothes. Plus, it seems any illness I get lasts at least a week and then I’m discombobulated for days wondering how did it get to be the end of the month when the last time I checked the month had just started. I’m sure there are lots of lessons God wishes me to learn during those sick days. Patience probably tops the list. I’m guessing humility comes next, and with it, surrender. As in, surrendering to His will. There’s perseverance, of course, not to mention compassion. But surely there’s an easier way to learn all these things. Then again, maybe there’s not. Job was allowed to suffer considerably as was the woman with the issue of blood who endured her affliction for 12 years. Lazarus’s illness took him to the grave and back for him to fully experience God’s grace. So, besides taking meds and drinking lots of fluids, it seems the best thing I can do on sick days is to seek God and rest in Him.

Rx for Sick Days:
Seek God
Imitate Christ
Cease striving
Kneel humbly in prayer

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Do You Have a Plan?

“We can make our own plans, but the Lord gives the right answer…Commit your actions to the LORD, and your plans will succeed.” –Proverbs 16:1,3

January is the month for dreaming. For thinking about all the exciting possibilities of a bright new year. And so I started 2018 in my usual fashion, pondering what I would like to accomplish in the next 365 days. One thing that is really important to me is maintaining and improving communication with friends and family. I also want to visit loved ones I haven’t seen in a few years. Plus, I want to revamp my exercise program and devote more time to writing. But I know these are simply nebulous goals which I may or may not have some level of success achieving. Then last week a friend forwarded me a motivational email reminding readers that simply having a dream isn’t sufficient to make the dream come true; for that, one has to have a plan. So the email advice was timely and I’ve realized I need to come up with a concrete action plan if I want to celebrate my success next January. For now, the plan is still in the development stage, but I’ve already begun taking actions to make needed changes. Still, as in all things in my life, I am devoting the matter to prayer. After all, what better way to ensure success than to consult the One who already knows what the next year holds for me? So, I am taking all of my heart’s desires to Him, asking for wisdom, guidance, clarity, and a real, executable plan. Ultimately, if I seek Him with humility, forethought, and the right motivation, God will help me align my plan with His.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Silent Night

“And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.’” –Luke 2:9-11

Most every year it seems that one Christmas song each season repeats itself in my life and this year the theme has been “Silent Night.” I’ve always enjoyed the soft, lullaby quality of the carol: it seems to encapsulate the Christmas Eves of my past when my family turned out the lights and lit the tree and all the candles we could find. Then we sat around and shared memories, laughs and hot chocolate. We opened one gift a piece that night, a tradition from my mom’s Granny, and sang Christmas songs. As an adult, the night has changed into one of prayer and contemplation. And I very much enjoy the “silent night” after so much busyness crammed into a few short weeks.

So, the other day I pulled up a video of one of my favorite renditions of “Silent Night,” by acapella group Pentatonix. The arrangement begins as the traditional carol, but midway through, bass Avi Kaplan switches to tenor and the group introduces some poignant harmonies all centered around the word “sleep.” The focus shifts again when Kaplan’s clear voice cuts through the harmony and he initiates a refrain of just the words “silent night, holy night.” It is lovely and moving. But what I noticed as I really listened is that the arrangement seems to change the entire message of the song. The carol begins as an observation of an event, a silent and holy night on which Jesus was born. But when the Pentatonix arrangement brings in Avi’s haunting refrain, the message seems to become a plea to God to provide that silent and holy night the world is still missing. I think the message is indicative of every heart’s longing for and search for peace. The good news is that God has already provided a means for that peace if we will simply accept His plan, His love, and His Son’s atoning sacrifice.

Monday, December 18, 2017

The Lost Art of Christmas Cards

Each Christmas, Mom used to write out and mail dozens of Christmas cards. She’d include an individualized message and sign them, “Merry Christmas! Love, Mike, Jean and the girls.” I guess that’s where I inherited my love of writing out Christmas cards. Even as a teenager, I used to pass them out to friends and I haven’t stopped since. Years ago, more people were like me. I could count on receiving at least two dozen Christmas cards each season. Some had wise men. Some had snowmen. But all came filled with the love of friends and family. Now, it seems Christmas cards have gone the way of the typewriter. And landline phones. Sigh. I miss them, those brightly colored pieces of cardstock with scripture and seasonal sayings. Sure, all through the year I keep up with loved ones via emails, texts, and phone calls, but there’s something special about receiving a card that was chosen just for me and includes the sender’s thoughts in ink. Somehow, their words just seem more permanent that way. So do mine. That’s why last night, I gathered my varied colored pens and boxes of cards and glittery stickers and snuggled up to write holiday messages to some of my favorite folks, some of whom I haven’t seen in years. Others I saw today or talked to this week. That doesn’t matter. What matters is that I let each of them know how special they are and that I send them all the love and joy of both my heart and Jesus’ by simply wishing them a “Merry Christmas!”