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Posts Tagged ‘Jesus’

Harry Edenfield, a Christian author, offers a thought-provoking daily devotional for this season of Lent.

Today’s verse is from Genesis 19:16: “But Lot lingered. So the angels seized him and his wife and his two daughters by the hand, the Lord being merciful to him, and they brought him out and set him outside the city.”

Edenfield reflects, “Lord God, your servant Lot lingered in Sodom. Sometimes I love my chosen place too much. You urge me to leave my sin spot.

I linger.

I linger even if it may be injurious to my loved ones. Remember me: I, too, need an escort from the magnet of sin.

As we leave together, Holy Spirit, urge me to have no regret about the exit from sin. Urge me not to look back.”

Amen.

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Tonight our church observed a new tradition, holding a service of the Longest Night, marking the coming of the literal longest night of the season which immediately precedes the coming of the nativity of our Lord.

I’d never heard of it before, but during some of the moments of silence in the service, I reflected how it mirrors other challenging times that precede other celebrations, such as the 40 days of Lent leading up to Easter.

I suppose I’ve had some years of merriment, a seven year Mardi Gras of sorts, leading up to this Longest Night. But through the darkness and in quiet solitude, God is faithful to fill our horizons with bright crimson Sonrise.

This morning’s walk was breathtaking…

Psalm 46 was read tonight, one of my favorites: “Be still, then, and know that I am God…”

I decided to try out the service for 3 reasons: that I lost my mother last year and continue to grieve the deaths of both parents, that I work 70 hours a week helping the mentally ill, the suicidal and others who grieve, have lost, are hurting or are lonely…and that I myself have a fresh loss that has been a long time coming but just yesterday confirmed that it is a forever loss.

And yet, by God’s mercy, all 3 are gains.

Yesterday’s loss was punctuated by the sting of being told that only merry emotions and memories were welcome during this season, that my needs for afore-promised comfort, attachment and reassurance were interfering with the celebration of a dear one’s Christmas…

”So why would I want to be available to your mood swings during these precious days celebrating the birth of Christ, detracting from it?” the email sharply read, banishing me into the land of coal and switches, for even daring to darken the doorstep of one picture-perfect American Christmas. A fantasy blog to which I was apparently, blatantly and abruptly blocked. Unfriended. Unfollowed. Deleted.

My arms got tired holding up the happy mask 24/7. I flunked Christmas Perfection 101. Failed to leave the party while it was still rocking.

My Longest Night had begun, and the service could not have come at a better time.

The intercessor began with, “In the spirit of the season, let us now ask God for what we need for ourselves as we participate in the Season of Christmas as people coping with loss, pain, suffering, loneliness, grief and sadness.

“God, we come to you as Christmas dawns with pain growing inside us. As the nights have been growing longer, so has the darkness wrapped itself around our hearts. In this season of our longest nights, we offer to you the pain in our hearts, the traumas that some of us cannot put into words. Loving God, hear our prayer.

“Compassionate God, there are those among us who are grieving over what might have been. A death or loss has changed our experience of Christmas. Once it was a special day for us, too, but someone has died or moved away or abandoned us. Or we have lost a job, or a cause.

“We find ourselves adrift and alone, lost. Lord, help us find our way.

“The Christmas season reminds us of all that used to be and cannot be anymore. The memories of what was, the fears of what may be can overwhelm us. all around us we hear the sounds of celebration, but all we experience is a sense of melancholy Please be near us this season.

“Compassionate God: You loved the world so much that you sent us Jesus to bear our infirmities and afflictions Through acts of healing, he revealed you as the true source of health and salvation. For the sake of your Christ who suffered and died for us, conquered death, and now reigns with you in glory, hear the cry of your people. Have mercy on us, make us whole, and bring us at last into the fullness of your eternal life.

“Each of us comes bearing our own hurts, sorrows, and broken places. We want to invite each of you to offer your wounds to the God who loves each of us deeply and wants to carry our pain. God waits, patiently, gently calling out: ‘Give me your pain, come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, I will refresh you!'”

We were invited to either stay put and observe silence, come to the altar to receive a blessing or go to the back and light a candle.

I appreciated the options since I could have easily benefited from all 3. But I couldn’t go to the altar because I would have wept openly (what was I thinking, not packing Kleenex in my purse for this?!), and I didn’t want to passively stay put in silence.

So I made my way to the back and lit a candle and said a prayer for my parents and their parents before them, all godly people who fucked up and righted themselves at some point and somehow made their way back to God.

And, after looking around to see if it would be greedy to light a second candle, grabbed another one and quickly lit it, mourning the loss of my bff and noticing the brightness of that candle, there in the darkness, committing it to God and thanking Him for the salvation of a marriage and a family.

I quietly returned to my pew, kneeled in reverence, was washed over with peace and gratitude for God’s mercy.

Thank You, God, for Long Nights, for they signify that daybreak is near.

Thanks God, for Things that matter most. Sometimes the Long Nights are the Things that matter most.

And letting go (of things that matter most) IS letting God.

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil, for Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever and ever.

Amen.

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For all new followers, a warm, sunny welcome. And for my tried-and-trues, a big thank you – without your support and encouragement, this blog would not be turning 2 years old today.

A recent post by our WordPress gurus reminded me that I had gotten too absorbed in catering to what people like instead of why I started the blog in the first place, doing what others expected instead of doing what I might otherwise do best. (Thank you, WordPress, for nudging me back to my blogging roots!)

I noticed readers REALLY like photographs. A picture is definitely worth a thousand words around here, at least for this fledgling blogger. Posts I thought were some of my best work, stats showed otherwise. And things I thought nothing of, garnered the most “likes.” (If you get to the bottom of this one without scrolling fast, I double-dog-dare ya to “like” it.)

In thinking about it, though, I realize that pictures are recognized and appreciated across cultural borders, and, based on some of my new friends from various countries, I can appreciate this. Don’t worry, the photos will still be coming.

I’ve been vaguely aware recently that the subtitle to my blog has always been, “little ponderings with the Big Guy,” yet many of my posts recently have excluded Him. And excluded my ponderings. Not because I quit pondering, but because I got caught up in what I thought YOU wanted. I got sucked up into the world of not talking about God and of posting more pictures. That’s what it seemed people wanted…my posts about faith or spirituality or my walk seemed to give people the willies.

Like a polite group of Southern ladies who quietly stop inviting someone to their gatherings because of some unspoken social gaffe, it was made clear to me that my ponderings about God were not as popular in the blogosphere as were my more worldly wanderings. This came as little surprise to me, since one frequently teeters on thin ice with religion or politics.

So for any who are reading now who are offended by Jesus, go ahead and click off right here, if you haven’t already. Or scroll down to the profound picture below, then click off – that is certainly okay, I understand and appreciate your visiting anyhoo, and I don’t ask that you share my views. Take what you wish, leave what you will – it’s all good.

Some posts ago I described my mother’s decline into dementia as reflected in some spontaneous freestyle painting. It has been just over a year since she tried to run away from her illness by literally running away from her Chicago home of 88 years and coming here to the sea.

Now, a year later, she has come to the realization that she can run, but she can’t hide. Time and her illness march on, and with each week a new limitation seems to be imposed on this fiercely independent woman who lived through the Great Depression, World War II and forty years of wearing an apron.

She later burned both apron and bra and returned to college to finish her degree, going on to do great things outside the home. A timeless Rosie the Riveter, of sorts. She only just retired a few years ago, shortly after she was chosen to display 50 of her best photos in a prominent municipal venue in a major U.S. city. Which she did with zeal and the energy of a 25-year-old. (I’m not into zodiac stuff, but she embodied her Taurus birthday in everything she did with the utmost of bull-headed resolve).

Today, she can’t even operate the children’s camera we got her for Christmas that only has two buttons.

For most her life, Mother shook her fist at religion, although she had her own ideas about God. She stood by her beliefs and scorned those of us who believed in Him. Less than a year ago she stated out loud that she hoped she’d go to Hell before she’d have to suffer the latter stages of dementia. I figured she’d either be a deathbed conversion or that her wishes would sadly be realized.

So last week while decluttering Mother’s room, I came upon this image she had doodled on a random piece of cardboard:

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To me, it appeared to be a self-portrait: all her knowledge tumbling out of her faster than she can control. Desperately trying to scoop up and keep the knowledge… to no avail.

One eye signifying only being able to see half of what she used to (she has a cataract she opted, at the doctor’s recommendation, not to have surgery to correct). One ear, only able to hear half of what she knows is going on (she has significant hearing loss in one ear, and can’t wear a hearing aid because she would surely misplace it).

Half a mouth, only able to speak partial sentences, because nouns, pronouns and adjectives have turned into whatchamajiggers, whoozits and “damn it, you know what I mean!”

To such a bright, creative, independent woman, dementia surely is the ultimate insult.

When I went to see her yesterday, she was nervously flitting around the entryway at her assisted living facility, looking completely bewildered. I could see she was not having a good day. When she saw me, she urgently approached me and said she didn’t know I was coming .

She said she was at a crossroads; twice that yesterday morning she had to be reminded that she had already eaten breakfast, but her nerves and mind kept her worrying that she had missed breakfast – over and over.

Her frantic eyes searched mine as she described what awareness she had left, being aware that she is more unaware than aware. (Reread that sentence if you must!)

She knew that she was slipping faster, and it terrified her. She described being lonely and scared. She clutched a magazine someone had left with her back in January, a copy of LifeWay’s Mature Living which had an article about Alzheimer’s, it’s inevitable course, and how one needn’t be lonely when the Lord is in their life.

Even though she had no interest in changing her notions about God all along, she had been trying to socialize more to keep what mind she has left – going to all the activities, even the Bible studies and more recently, to church at times, but she justified it by maintaining it wasn’t for religious purposes, only to keep her mind sharp. Or to see her grandson play in the church orchestra. Or to flirt with the cute man who moved into the facility recently. Any reason BUT God.

But not today.

Today, all my wanderings away from daily prayer, Bible reading and bloggy ponderings didn’t seem to matter. He called me up when I wasn’t looking, after all these years of wondering what use I am since I’ve never led another soul to Him, never done anything spiritually outstanding, never felt I measured up when it came to All Things Religious. I am just another sinner getting caught up in the throes of the world, flowing toward Him in convenience or crisis, ebbing from Him when the flesh lured me astray.

I never dared suggest to Mother that she reconsider her views about God or life or death – you just don’t do that without incurring her wrath. But yesterday she came to me and asked…despite my recent wanderings instead of ponderings.

She asked where I found my peace. She asked for assurance that she wouldn’t have to face the quickly-approaching end stages alone, when she will someday no longer be able to recognize me or anyone else. She asked me to share what I knew about her Bible-believing parents, against whom she spent a lifetime rebelling. She asked me how I found Him.

After nearly 90 years of hardened disbelief, she asked me to share Jesus.

So I did.

I told her how after years of studying different religions, I finally asked God why there were so many and which one was THE truth; He then introduced me to Jesus Christ, in no uncertain terms.

After over an hour of talking, prayer, weeping, laughing and showing her things in the Bible my brother had sent her, she accepted Christ as her Savior.

I never knew she would do that. I never knew He would call me to do that. I never knew He was saving my first experience in doing so for THE most hard-headed, free-wheeling woman most people who know her would never have guessed she’d ever do.

She was astonished to hear so many people had been praying for her for so, so long, and she took comfort in knowing that God calls us to do these things in quiet privacy, without pressure, without fanfare.

She said for the first time she felt “full,” “complete,” “relieved,” “at peace.” She described how so many things suddenly made sense, as though nothing was a mistake: it was all so very purposeful all along (indeed!), and this excited her.

This reawakened me, as well, so I suppose I should find it no surprise that it coincided with the blog’s birthday – a time of celebration, rejoicing and marking time – His time. A time of thanks – to those who have supported my blogging, to those who have been in the forefront and in the wings, to those who made my mother’s salvation possible. And to those who “get” me and my ponderings, as well as they “get” me and my wanderings. Possibly the best birthday present? You got it!

Never give up dreaming, hoping, seeking, pursuing. Yes, don’t go away!

Just when you think you aren’t looking, He shows you even greater things, like a magnificent sunset distracting us from all our fears.

Thank you SO much – happy, happy birthday – and hugs from the beach ~~

~~ssm

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It has taken this long through Lent to get over my hump of withdrawals. The face of my heart no longer disfigured, I can finally sing the praises of fasting from something.  “Something” being my morning coffee.

The devil has done his level best to tempt me, using all five, and, yes – even my sixth sense –  to get me to stumble. Everywhere I went there were visual and auditory reminders, catching the aroma and even the feel of my eager, needy lips puckering up to the familiar tumbler on my commute, met with green tea instead. It’s better for me, anyway, but convincing my lips and my soul of this was another story.

The usual mental wranglings went on: I can quit anytime! I don’t need it, I choose it at the control of my will. (Then came Ash Wednesday…”). I don’t need it. Bad stuff. Never liked it anyway. Did me wrong. Look at how it wrecked me. Jacked me up, yanked me down, left unsightly stains, cost me plenty, etc. Then…

Okay, I need it. Must have it. Can’t have it. Must avoid it. Panic. Find replacement (green tea). Not the same. I can do this. Not as good. But plenty of antioxidants. Tastes great, less filling. Or something like that. Yeah, it IS simpler. I know I was supposed to know that.

The ultimate devil’s insult was having to share a home with a person who continues to drink coffee. In front of me. And often. Kind of like mounting a staircase up from the water in my town:

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I drew the line at cleaning up the coffee pot for him. I’m done with it now, bubba…if you want to keep drinking the stuff and trying to throw the ol’ pet sin back in my face even though I’m over it, it’s on you. It is now your addiction, not mine, and now I know no matter how many times you brew a nice big pot, I don’t need it, don’t want it, period. (P.S. – let me know when you’re ready to give it up – I’ve got a lot of good tips on Giving Up, when you’re ready. When YOU’RE ready. I’ll be waiting for ya.)

Giving something up forced me to reflect on how something comes to be meaningful to us in the first place. And of the process of letting go, whether it be for self-centered betterment or for the purpose of submitting to a higher authority. Or both. It taught me that we are made to be flexible creatures, the ultimate goal being to evolve for the better.

It taught me to re-question some of the rites in some churches which can give the impression of being outdated, antiquated or just plain silly observances which may seem designed to keep the foolish, unenlightened sheep in line, at the hands of the system. What I noticed was that at whatever point this or that church decided to institute this or that observance, there was undoubtedly some greater purpose behind the rite, designed to draw us nearer to God. SOMEBODY meant it for good.

But it only works if our heart is genuinely inclined to evolve for the better, be it for self or other purposes. No wonder so many denominations are criticized for routines which seem hollow and rote – it is because too often, we become comfortable with rote and lose perspective of our stage of personal evolution. It is only when we are jarred awake that we suddenly realize it is time to let go and move forward (and unfortunately this often comes by way of traumatic life events which trigger the panicked prayer for God to help us after days of not speaking to Him).

Rote rites lose sight.

Most rites won’t change much, and, like God, it’s not Him that needs to change – it’s us in need of focus.

Letting go IS easier than latching on. We latch on without a care, with blissful ignorance and with joyful anticipation. If we did not latch on, we would not grow. Likewise for letting go – for only through the birth and death process of latching on and letting go, the alpha and omega, do we fully grow and draw nearer to God. Only then do we know Him better by having a closer comprehension of what it means to latch on and love, even taking for granted those days, and then to give up and grieve, as Jesus did, as God was well-pleased in His Son for doing the same.

It makes us stronger, fuller and wiser. It grants us perspective we might not otherwise have had, had we been unable or unwilling to fully let go. Giving up is a strength, not a weakness, in most cases.

I am reminded of my friend who was inspired to run a marathon this year, whom I encouraged and edified every step of his training. We ran the half-mararthon last year together, and he realized if he could do that, he could do the whole thing, so he trained all this past year and finally did it.

In talking to him afterwards as he recounted his experience, he said he realized a very critical point he never would have considered had he not challenged himself to this greater height that he always knew was within his capacity, but he feared. He said come mile 20, the bedreaded mile for most first-time marathoners, he began to feel pain. Real, sharp, unavoidable pain. He faced the decision to either keep running and face likely permanent damage/disability, or sacrifice his goal time and walk.

The pain of continuing in folly won out and forced him to walk a mile or more, until he could muster the will to safely finish running. He finished with a time that mocked his original goal, but he was able to heal and to be stronger and wiser in the overall picture of what it means to give up something. That to give up is actually to gain something greater than one is able to see from the perspective of holding on. He finished safely.

What if those who hold hard and fast to their own beliefs were to take a giant leap of faith like that, to consider the possibility that there might be greater benefits on the other side of stubborn clinging?

In my caffeine-free and post-ashes & sackcloth state, I am enjoying life immensely. This was partially captured in the craziness of my last post, and now followed by a weekend of bliss. Bliss was a good book and a tall drink at the water’s edge, a taste of our next-door neighbor’s award-winning bbq after a competition and they had too many leftovers (yowza! we let his kid borrow our boat motor & other equipment today in exchange for their good stuff), warmer temps, and plenty of scenes like the one Spanish moss-draped one below, all weekend long.

Oh, and I shouldn’t leave out the small wonder of stopping by our friendly neighborhood Piggly Wiggly yesterday on the way home to get ingredients for my infamous gumbolaya, bumping into a buggy of marked-down wines from some obscure location (Cave Junction, OR – get thee behind me, Satan! ) and finding out there actually IS a red wine out there that doesn’t betray me. On the other hand, maybe we should have more than one Lent per year. For my next trick, I will try to give up lengthy posts. 😀

Peace be with you…

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It was torturous to have to choose between breathing and hearing.

Without thinking, she lifted her modest dress and, entranced, dropped to her knees to the dirt to more fully inhale the spellbinding aroma of the moonflowers about to bloom. As if on cue with the rising gibbous moon that evening, each flower opened its full face to the dusky sky, casting an hypnotic spell.

Holding her breath to harness silence, she saw and heard each giant flower unfurl. The feel of the rich, moist soil on her knees transported her back to her first garden at age six, carefully weeding around the brilliant zinnias which, when she stood, were taller than she. Those were the days of innocent wonder without the yoke of knowledge and responsibility.

Alternating between dimensions, she suddenly remembered she was here now to learn – not gardening, but the Bible. However, these evening lessons were conducted by the Master Gardener during optimal times of watering, fertilizing and harvesting, so along with absorbing chapter and verse, her thumbs grew greener. As much was learned in shared silence as it was in verbal instruction, as he cultivated, pruned, planted, nourished and admired.

This little child under the zinnias reeled forward twenty years as the audible moonflower blooms yielded to the chorus of crickets. Typical to her style, she had dilly-dallied around the evening’s lesson, leading and being led, asking questions she mostly knew the answers to but for which she sought validation, confirmation.

She saved the best question – the question she really hadn’t thought out or could answer herself (and the one she most wondered)- for very last, just prior to the moment of closure. She dared to ask, and, trusting him to know her heart fully, simply wanted to hear his own crafted answer. She was not testing or playing…everyone wonders, few ask. She had no shortage of nerve.

It was growing late; her teacher was tired, ill and uncomfortable, this once-giant reduced to common human affliction and longsuffering. Surveying his gardening handiwork, his light and untucked cotton shirt gently blew in the evening breeze, bringing stinging to the millions of thorns in his side, eliciting a muted wince. This was one of many afflictions both teacher and learner shared, along with many mutual blessings. They intimately knew each others’ unspoken pains and joys; they shared the same personality and style.

He could not utter of things which brought him pain nor things which brought him comfort, for few could grasp the depths of his being: most were concerned mainly with themselves or their busy-ness, his role in their attainments or advances, or with keeping him in his assigned place in their minds, clinging to status quo. How he longed to cry out! But like Mary keeping “these things” in her heart, much of his true lifeline to the Lord was unknown to most. Hoards assumed, few knew. Yet she knew well.

She did not see him as others saw him, nor did she wish to know him as such. So alike were they, she could not know him as others did, even if she tried. She shunned his limelight, for it eclipsed his soul. To her, he was simply himself and that is how she would ever know him. Life on a pedestal requires a dual persona – that which is seen and is meant to please others and egos, and that which is not, guarded closely at heart and containing the innermost intimacies of the soul…yet both shall be tested by fire.

Love does not fear the burn.

How she respected him for his steadfast faith despite persecution and frailties His will to persevere. His submission to repentance. His noble sense of duty to others. His softened flashes of temper and passion. His allegiance to the challenges and goals he set forth for himself, and the fine line he walked between control and delegation. His fearless protection of all he valued; his humble resolve. His unending quests which both killed and sustained him.

How he loved her spontaneous candor. Her appearance of simplicity peppered with surprising stories of life, like her finds in the Roman ruins in Europe or the blue ribbon she once snagged for her English horsemanship. Her simultaneous love of freedom and enslavement. Her will to poke holes in everything in earnest effort to get to the bottom of Truth, and to question. Her chutzpah to approach the very throne of God and peek her eyes open when others’ shut in fear. Her compulsion to show her true side to those who win her trust, and her ability to intermittently be “appropriate” or raw, taking those around her to the very edges of either side.

Like the contrast of a random expanse of calm, glassy water surrounded by light chop, they were alike in such contrasts in all these ways. A couple of unknown islands, they were.

The same breeze infused moonflower heaven into her being, and, knowing and despising the question would have to be the last one of the night, she quietly asked,

“So…what if Jesus and the Bible are a bunch of hogwash? I mean, what if nothing happens when we die, what if this or that sect is right – or they’re all wrong – and we, too, as Christians, are just plain wrong? What if??”

He paused from snipping dead blooms off the rose bushes and, throwing caution to his side-thorns, gave a hearty laugh and called her by his personal variation of her family-given nickname, his laughter trailing off into the dusk and punctuated with a vocal sigh coming from a tender smile. He shook his head in amusement. At the time she feared he judged her as foolish…later she understood it to be his appreciation for her pioneering spirit, which perfectly mirrored his. No wonder he counted her as daughter and would later entrust to her his records of the evolution of his spiritual walk.

He snipped a few more blooms and, calling her again by his pet name for her, stopped what he was doing, looked her square in the eye and this is what he said:

“Well, then, I guess we were all fooled. It sure makes for a good story, doesn’t it?! But even if it’s hooey, it sure didn’t hurt anything trying to do good..charity, service, love, even learning from our sins makes us better people and hopefully edifies others. At least I’ll die knowing that even though I’ve done a lot of wrong and have a lot of regrets, I’ve done a little good along the way, too. At the very least, believing in Jesus helped me to do better than I might have otherwise, had I not believed…and that makes for a pretty good life.”

She had another burning question, but it was beyond late and would have to painfully wait until God willed…

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