Saturday, December 31, 2016
January of 2016 rolled out of its fresh hay much differently than December of that same year tucked itself away forever to sleep, the stuff of memories alone. Just goes to highlight the ancient truth:
James 4:14 “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”
In the life of this middle aged woman, the wind blew warm from the south as the year 2016 began, never letting on that there would be a hurricane lasting from spring to fall, followed by the uncertainty of an unforcastable winter. Surely, living is fraught with unforeseeable outcomes. And the very fact that I used the word “fraught” uncovers the pessimist in me, that girl with the half empty glass. One man’s “unforseeable outcome” is another man’s wild adventure. As much as I would love to be the metaphorical Magellan of the baby boom generation, alas I admit to being more the “bundled up in a blanket with a good book” sort, a reluctant pilgrim with the love of Christ pressing me onward through the fray.
If the wind hadn’t blow hard, I fear I would have become a spiritual couch potato, too easily satisfied, puffy with superficial religion. I don’t like storms, but they batter the rocky coasts of our lazy, half conscious souls. They wake us up (harshly, but with the kindness of a shot of narcan to a heroin addict). Each year has a story to tell. We wish for easy ones, God crafts good ones. Good, as He defines good. Lasting good. Good that takes patience.
Adventure (if you want to call it that), challenge, an unpredictable road - these I have known well across the waters of 2016. If I’ve learned anything from this 365 days “at sea”, it’s simply been more of what has been abundantly clear for a long time now - I’m not in control, God is, and best policy is to sidle close to Him as we roll over the waves of our days.
I don’t think New Year’s resolutions are a bad idea, it’s just that they’ve never worked for me. I gave up resolving years ago. Precisely because if I’ve gleaned anything from the fickle nature of our pass across the human landscape it is this: flexibility has to be maintained so the boat doesn’t break apart in the storm. The only rule that applies (admittedly a 2 part rule) is to hear the voice of God and do it. Some days He says “Be still and know that I am God.” Other days he says “Run with endurance the race marked out for you”. Both are true, all the time…but in the practical day to day of a year's orbit around the sun, it takes listening and doing to find our way.
So if I had “resolutions” for the new year, I guess they would be listen and live it. Listening comes first, and should be emphasized more. Most of us followers of The Way get ourselves bolloxed up with doing this and that “for God” without really knowing Him for himself, and what the heck He wants us to do after all. And really, what He most wants are not our works, but our selves. That’s the whole point of the years and days and seasons we’re living anyway. This cosmic relationship thing is the point of it all. Every calm, every storm, every providential happening in the life of one of His own is a funnel to The Great Heart of Love. All the unpredictability is completely predictable to Him, who “works all things together for the good of those who love Him…”
So if 2016 was a whirlwind, look at it in the light of eternity and give thanks. Not for the pain, but for the process. Perhaps 2017 will be a mild year. Then again, maybe not. Regardless, before you know it it will be one for the books. Listen and live it. Most of all, love like there’s no tomorrow. Because you “are a mist that appears for a little while…”
Your friend on the pilgrim road,
Tuesday, August 23, 2016
"Rejoice with those who rejoice…sorrow with those who sorrow." Romans12:15
He told the story of his alcoholic son, clean and sober in this present, this gift of now, playing with his beloved granddaughter. The pleasure of watching his child and his child’s child share a bowl of cereal filled W.’s eyes with tears of joy. He had lived years of hell while alcoholism chipped away at his son’s life, but not today. Today his recovering son was in relationship, and not with a bottle. I could barely contain the lump in my throat, so great was the joy in my heart as I listened to this man in his 70’s spill his happy words. I rejoiced with one who rejoiced. This was a gift. A gladness not linked to my own current circumstantial pain, but a true, deep down joy. I was experiencing something outside myself, a pure emotion of happiness that surprised me, delighted me, made me want more…
Social media is bubbling over right now with bittersweet photos of fresh, young college students packing bags, hugging parents, and setting out for school and dreams and a future. Mom’s post their happy/sad pictures of kids waving goodbye, playing one last game of cards, packing their cars. I crack a little, counting losses that I have experienced, missing the rejoicing that can be mine. Self pity begs entry, looking for a way to keep me from the balanced life of Romans 12:15. Today, I refuse to let the monster in.
I think of my dear friend who lost her first-born son at the tender age of 13. Another with a disabled child who will never wave goodbye for a dorm, but to whom she must wave goodbye for a special supervised group home for the severely disabled. My own daughter bends under the affliction of a traumatic brain injury, and the ripple effect of battling her own demons. Making it through another day is newsworthy. But we don’t post these things on Facebook. Some are not buying books, but buying time, sick with cancer, sick with addiction, sick of mind, sick in body, sick and tired. The tentacles of grief threaten. I pray for strength to comfort, to console, to lament in a healthy way. To hurt but also to heal.
It seems strange, these bedfellows of rejoicing and sorrowing, both alive in my happy, broken heart.
The beautiful, the hard, the ugly and the sweet, all these are part of the landscape of a whole life. Jesus loved a good meal with His friends, and agonized under the burden of the rejection of all His friends. He rejoiced at a wedding and wept at a grave. He experienced the full range of human emotion, unfiltered and full on. He did not turn to chemicals, people, food, sex, tv, video games, gambling, or the ten thousand other distractions, numbing agents or addictions to dull the pain or artificially increase the pleasures of life. He lived in perfect balance, rejoicing with those who rejoiced, sorrowing with those who sorrow.
He still does so today. How glad must His heart be to watch as a proud Father when a young man or woman strides into their future, full of hope and promise? How glad I can find myself, rejoicing for my friends whose children are blessed with such possibilities! What a terrible loss, if hell can hold heaven hostage because we cannot sing in the choir of another’s happy day.
And how too must we remember in our rejoicing the sad ones among us. To send flowers,remembering one lost…to call with a memory…to bring a joke with a pie: to be like St. Francis who prayed: “grant that I may not seek so much to be consoled as to console”.
The balanced life of Christ is the example. As usual, His great word lays out the simple but difficult path for a life of love. A trail marked with both light and shadow.
Your friend on the pilgrim road,
Tuesday, May 31, 2016
What is the center of your life...the gravitational pull, the object of your affections, the Sun of your orbit?
It's a tooth and nail fight not to close ranks and duck and cover in an often cold and unmanageable world. Billy Joel once lyricized: "I've found that just surviving is a noble fight." Most of us spend a great deal of our time trying to stay zipped up, put together and armored to go through our days in one psychological piece. The self-centeredness of the human condition in general has collided with an age of unprecedented self orientation. A phenomenal host of technologies assist mankind in the quest to keep itself isolated from pain. (I am, of course, exhibit A...binge watching Netflix in utter avoidance of actually facing down the Spector of my own fears.)
Self must be protected at all costs. Hence the palpable misery of a human race in orbit around itself.
Jesus, in His typical, humble way, demonstrates the way to joy, a way radically at odds with a cultural constellation of self.
At the aptly named Last Supper, the last one He would ever celebrate on the Earth He formed, the One and Only does the unthinkable. Knowing he'll soon be dead, (and getting to death in the worst possible way), Jesus is looking down the barrel at being separated from everyone and everything dear to Him. It is then He blows our minds with this counter cultural attitude and action: He turns His gaze outward.
He holds the flat bread in his hands, food born of the wheat and water He created with a word, and breaks it apart to share. In a stroke of profound and baffling symbolism, Jesus breaks the bread and says "This is my body...".
Nobody got it. Lots of us still don't really get it in a "sophisticated" modern world.
Nobody understood as He served them the broken pieces of the staff of life that this symbol in this moment was about the ultimate breaking; the cosmic opposite of self centeredness - a most beautiful example of humility and grace.
This man was about to give it all, not only to the motley crew at his first century table, but to every lost an broken soul the world had ever known or would ever know. Everyone, everywhere, in every time.
This example of selflessness is the GPS coordinate for the change that brings fulfillment and life. It is not without pain, an it doesn't enhance profit. It's costly. But it does deliver on its promise to satisfy our surly, self orbiting souls. To live is to follow the simple commandment, the 2 for the price of 1 that brings balance and right orientation: Love the Lord our God (the center) with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. And to love our neighbor as ourself.
I'm praying to find my way, one day at a time, to the kind of outward orientation that produces true gain. There's only One Savior, and only His great breaking brings salvation. But we as His current "motley crew" of followers are indeed called to lives of outward orientation and joy. Just surviving may indeed be a noble fight, but it's not enough for the People of The Way. If we're healthy, we long for an abundant life, marked by small, consistent, purposeful, daily acts and attitudes of sacrificial love.
Planets orbit around the Sun: large, powerful, greatly beyond themselves. They circle a star that provides life, light, warmth and the perfect gravitational orientation. They don't take their orbit around each other, or a satellite, or a meteor.
Neither ought we.
Your friend on the pilgrim road,