"What He ordains for us each moment is what is most holy, best, and most divine for us." Jean-Pierre de Caussade

Monday, June 23, 2008

Go ahead -- Do It!

Marynan and I went for an evening walk last week. We like to do that. After we got about half a mile from the house, she threw her arms up in the air and burst into song: "Fairest Lord Jesus!" To which I added, "Ruler of all nature!" And then we made our way through the remainder of the verse. Awhile later, she did it again, and I followed suit. Hear me when I say that this was no singing under the breath either. We were praising loud enough to keep the rocks from crying out. It's our duty as believers, you know.

Actually, Marynan gets this trait honestly. I think I started that whole singing bit when I was very young -- almost too young to remember. Many, many mornings, probably before the sun barely had time to peek over the horizon, I'd go out to my swing set in the backyard, swing as high as it would carry me, and sing "Jesus Loves Me" to the top of my lungs. Morning after morning would the neighbors wake up to my serenade.

Speaking of neighbors, when Marynan and I got home from our walk, I looked at her and said, "You want to go jump on Annette's trampoline?" She looked at me like I was crazy.

"You serious?"


"Well, sure." And off we went to the neighbor's yard.

Needless to say, we were already giggling before we got there. I cannot tell you the last time I got on a trampoline -- 35 years or more -- so my first problem was remembering how to actually get on the thing and do it gracefully. I finally forgot the graceful part and just sort of rolled on, and that's all it took to really get the tickle boxes turned over. The first few moments were precarious -- somewhat like balancing on a highwire, I'm thinking. I grabbed onto my daughter's arms and dared her to move. But jumping on a trampoline is much like riding a bike again after several years -- only a little more dangerous and a little bit further to fall. But it all came back to me and we had a ball. I'm not sure which we did more: laugh or jump.

At one point, I said, "Okay, try to sit down and bounce back up." To a 19 year old, that's obviously not very difficult, because she did it on the first try. But then she said, "You try it now." For a 49 year old, it's a little more tricky. But I almost made it! And then she encouraged, "Try it again!" And that time I came back to my feet! Yippee!!! She got especially tickled when I clapped for myself. We jumped higher; laughed harder; and even took a video of each other with my camera phone -- just to prove we did it.

As we finally climbed off -- though I don't think that's what one would call what I actually did, I made the comment, "I know your daddy is so embarrassed." (He'd been working in the yard; and as far as I could tell, acting like he didn't know who we were.) But you know what? We had a blast! It was thrilling to jump and play.

In the Amplified Version of Romans 5:2, Paul says, "... And let us REJOICE and EXULT in our hope of experiencing and enjoying the glory of God." According to Websters, that word exult means "to show or feel a lively or triumphant joy... to leap upward." In other words, to exult is a jump up and down kind of joy.

Where was it we thought that when we grew up we quit getting excited or expressing joy by singing to the top of our lungs or doing cheerleading jumps on a trampoline? Where was it we thought that when we grew up we got over childish things? Was it when people started making fun of us -- or thinking we were idiots? But more importantly, when did we stop thrilling in the Lord Jesus and His so great a salvation and of experiencing the hope of His glory? What makes us think that the more mature we are in the Lord, the less we sing and the less we thrill? Because what Paul is saying is that the one who is most mature is the one who can jump the highest. Let's never get over getting silly with joy over what He has done for us -- or because He loves us so.

And if we have gotten over it, then for crying out loud, let's take off our shoes and socks and climb up on that trampline and jump, because that is the intrinsic right of a child of God -- not just a brand new baby believer.

And maybe it wouldn't hurt to sing a little, too. You choose: "FAIREST LORD JESUS!" or "JESUS LOVES ME -- THIS I KNOW!" Either one of them will keep the rocks from crying out and it might even put a little pep in your step.

Go ahead. Do it!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Living Sacrifices or Fluttering Roaches

Not that I'm into killing God's creatures, but when they're in my house, I do feel that it's my prerogative if not obligation to escort them out by whatever means I choose. This morning it happened to be with a good swat.

I was having the most wonderful devotional time with the Lord. Sometimes it's just better than others, and this morning it was GOOD! The kind where God's presence is so real and tears are washing the eyes as the Word is washing the soul. And then I saw it, a very large and ugly roach, strolling (as if it owned the place) behind my St. Francis of Assissi! So using a book that was close by, I squashed it and then proceeded to pick it up with a fly swatter. (I'd been using the personal pronoun "him," but that gave it personality, so I changed "him" to "it." If nothing else, it makes me feel a little better about killing the thing.) Now don't go and ask me why I didn't use the swatter to kill the thing in the first place, because I just didn't. At the moment, it seemed the book was the best tool. Well, when I got it up on the swatter pad, the thing began to "flutter," and then it fell off and lay dead. I picked it up again, it fluttered, fell off, and lay dead. This must have happened a dozen times. It'd be as dead as a doornail, I'd pick it up, it'd flutter, and jump off the the swatter. Finally, I hit it about 3 times and from there on out it stayed where I put it.

So why in the world would I post a blog about killing a roach? Have you ever tried to lay that thing down that has gotten between you and God? I believe Paul calls it in Romans a "living sacrifice." Well, as my friend Vicki always says, "Living sacrifices have a way of crawling off the altar," or according to my most recent revelation: "Living roaches have a way of jumping off the swatter pad." We lay down that sin of anger, and before we know it, we're at it again. We sacrifice that habit, and off it crawls -- just like that stupid roach. It wasn't until I had beat that thing until it was dead did it stay on that fly swatter. Only then could I dump it in the trash where it stayed.

Maybe the reason I struggle so much with the fluttering roaches in my life, spiritually speaking, is because I really don't kill them. I keep some life in them. So when they come under pressure, they just jump off the pad. And then I go through the process again ... and again ... and again.

By the way, the book I used to swing the first blow? "Seeing the Holy in the Ordinary."

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Thunder and Lightning, Oh My

Anybody but me awakened in the middle of the night Sunday evening by the storm? I had heard rumbles of thunder when getting in bed but it was nothing compared to what woke me up about midnight. Laying on my side, I wrapped my arm around my head and placed my hand over my ear in an attempt to muffle some of the noise. Like that would have helped. And then I became aware there was a presence in the room with me; my daughter standing right by my bed. She wanted me to know that a tree had fallen somewhere nearby -- she had heard it. I thought maybe she was really scared and had come to get in bed with her daddy and me, and so I offered: "Do you want to crawl in here with us?" After all, that's what she's done all of her life. Was I really disappointed when she responded, "No, I prayed and asked God to protect our house"? And then she turned around and walked out of the bedroom. She's getting married in 5 months for crying out loud! Couldn't she afford me one more night of snuggling through a storm? [sigh]

Anyway, about that time, a bolt hit so close that I was sure we had been the target. It even blew the night light out in the bathroom! Sandy got up to check the place, just to make sure all was okay. After all, lightning was the culprit of Saturday afternoon's downtown fire which damaged a number of buildings. But God had indeed protected us just as Marynan had prayed. (And, no, the close bolt did not make her run back to her Mommy. [another sigh])

By this time, I was sitting straight up in bed wide awake and "capturing a moment, " if you will. The two most fearsome displays of power known to the Hebrew children were thunder and lightning. They associated the two with the Lord's coming to bring about either redemption or judgment. Oh, how I hoped Sunday evening's storm was about redemption! I couldn't help but be reminded though of the children of Israel "standing from afar" and hearing God "speak" through the thunder on Mt. Sinai. For a moment, I tried to place myself in their shoes. I imagined the fear, the awe, the reverence it must have provoked.

An interesting portion of Job 26 reads, Thunder crashes and rumbles in the skies. Listen! It's God raising His voice! ... And this is only the beginning, a mere whisper of His rule. Whatever would we do if He really raised His voice! I sat there for a few moments, not really afraid, but fully aware of the power of God and majesty that was at work around me -- knowing that this was not a full display but only a small portion of what He could do if He "really raised His voice." It became a sacred moment for me; one in which I felt fully alive -- not to mention fully awake!

Some storms give us warnings with rumbles of thunder and others wake us up out of a hard sleep. Some are just tenacious enough to get our attention; others violent enough to awaken us to new depths and strong enough to shake us to the roots. The question is are we going to marvel in the majesty and power of God in our storm or just lay there with our ears and eyes covered? Are we going to worship God on the mountain or are we going to worship Him from afar. One is safe. The other is living.

Friday, June 13, 2008

For Daddy

As Father's Day approaches, I'm keenly aware that not all daughters or sons "remember with fondness" their fathers. In fact, for many the day holds pain, regret, loss, or maybe even anger. And for so many in this generation, it just punctuates the absence that has caused years of suffering. But for me, the day provides an opportunity to reflect on a father who gave me a healthy view of my heavenly Father.

I was sharing that very thought with someone recently. When I was in 6th grade, I obviously hit "the age of accountability" that we hear so much about but on which we really can't put our finger or explain. I think I had used a bath towel and put it back in the cabinet wet. Of course, Mom found it and wanted to know who did it. "Not me!" Well, it wasn't long before the first-time guilt hit. I knew I had lied and it bothered me greatly. That very night, I crawled up in my daddy's lap back in his bedroom, and I confessed every known sin to man -- or at least to me: from sneaking the frozen cake squares out of the freezer and eating them behind closed doors (not that that one wouldn't have caught up with me down the road) to the pack of crackers I stole from the "Sing," a local rippy mart. (I think my friend jokingly commented at this point that it sure was a good thing my evening of confession happened before I got too old and REALLY had something to confess.) My daddy didn't berate me or punish or scold me, he just gently let me tell all, get it out of my system and come clean, and I'm sure he must have encouraged me to "go and sin no more." I don't remember that part. I just know the sense of relief I felt having bared all and the security I found in my father's lap.

Of course, I didn't realize it until many, many years later, but Daddy was sitting proxy for my heavenly Abba that night. When I think of mile markers in my faith journey, that was definitely one of them. I was so fortunate to have a daddy that was available, but most of all, forgiving.

And that wasn't the only time his presence was big to me. Each afternoon at 5:30 (except on Thursdays, because that was his day to drive), his carpool would drop him off at the end of the driveway and I would fly out to meet him. He would swing me up in his arms -- always as delighted to see me and I was to see him. Oh, the day, though, when I went running out and he tried picking me up -- and I was too heavy!!!! Oh, the pain of that even today... But we little girls do grow up.

Daddy was a storyteller, too. Another Jesus quality. When nighttime came, Daddy would see to it that prayers were said and then we would turn out the lights; I would pull the covers up and Daddy would tell me a story (sometimes my brother Chip would be in there with me) . Seems like time was all he had. I know he was making some of them up, but I have a feeling most of the stories were true. Quite honestly, I can't remember them, but I do remember laying there listening and never tiring of hearing them. Sometimes, I'd have requests. Other times, it was storyteller's choice. Both were special.

But one of the richest memories of Daddy is catching him on his knees. Every night, Daddy prayed -- and he did it the old-fashioned way: at the side of his bed, on his knees, hands folded. (Oh, no doubt, Mom prayed for us children, too. But I think she did it the only place she could find some quiet -- behind the locked bathroom door.) Surely the weight of the world was on Daddy's shoulders as he raised us four children on limited means. But I have a feeling he found the strength on his knees. As for that image, it is etched in my mind for all eternity.

I credit much of my faith to my parents, but I certainly know that my healthy view of God stems from my father. So, thanks, Dad. You took some of the faith struggles out of my life by being such a positive influence to me. I realize very few can give that kind of testimony in today's society where so many homes are absent of a father figure. These are different days we live in, but I hold tightly to the treasure you gave me. Happy Father's day, Daddy. I love you so much.

I would love to use this space for readers to comment on a father figure in your life: a dad, a stepdad, Boy Scout leader, uncle, brother, pastor, teacher, etc. Who made your view of God the Father a little stronger because of his influence in your life? Let's honor them.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Ordinary Moment? Hardly.

My only daughter and my baby of three siblings walked into the den Saturday night, hands clasped behind her back, and said, "I've got something to tell you." A grin played on my lips because I knew what was coming. The glow on her face gave it away. She held out her left hand and said, "Todd proposed tonight and I said yes." Ordinary moment? Hardly. Surreal? You bet. Sacred? Absolutely.

They grow up way too fast.
(The announcement "Congratulations Todd & Marynan" was posted on the sign at Chick-fil-a.)

Friday, June 6, 2008

Letter from a friend

One of my favorite books is Macrina Wiederkehr's A Tree Full of Angels. She begins the chapter entitled "Finding God in the Mailbox" like this: "Letters are the stories of our souls. Unlike a telephone call, a letter can be picked up again and again. It can be deeply pondered. It can be eaten. Always serve letters with a cup of tea and a footstool. Celebrate 'the reading' slowly. It is irreverent to read a letter fast.

"I treasure my letters like early morning sunrises. I see the rays between the lines. I hear the dreams and yearnings, the gratitude and the delight. I hear the questions and the musings, all coming from the heart of this newly published author. A letter bears its own copyright. Standing before my mailbox holding an original very limited edition in my hands is like standing before a feast."

I wish I had written that; it's certainly my sentiments.

I think we've lost the art of letter writing. Of sitting still and penning our thoughts, of neatly folding and placing the freshly inked paper in the envelope just the right way so it comes out perfectly, of personally addressing and stamping it, and then actually going to the post office and dropping it in the slot -- all the while thinking of the one to whom it's destined. No. Now we just sit down quickly in front of the screen, type our 60 words a minute and hit "send." I'm guilty as the next guy.

What has me thinking about Wiederkehr's chapter is the letter I received this morning from a dear friend who was such a large part of my life many years ago. He wrote of a quiet morning, a Sabbath rest, and an evening planned with some close friends. He spoke of an upcoming time of renewal -- personal, spiritual and professional; of underestimating the power of presence and of Christ working through him as he plans for a trip to Liberia. And, yes, he even spoke of missing a southern accent.

No, it wasn't hand written; it, too, showed up in my inbox. But it really didn't matter. It was the heart of a friend and a very holy moment for me. I sanctified it by going to my music room and sitting at my piano for awhile. You see, I was his hands and he was my voice. Together we made music and worshiped our God.

It was just a letter -- an ordinary moment. But I think I'll pour myself a cup of tea and pull up a footstool.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

There's Never Nothing Going On

At the encouragement of a friend, I finally rented and watched a movie this week entitled "Peaceful Warrior." I was told it would offer me some good material for the Romans class I'm teaching on Sunday mornings. Offer it did -- and so much more. Whereas I'm always careful to endorse any kind of movie due to questionable content, I really did like this one. It's dubbed "Like 'Rocky' for the Soul." As the cover says, it's "an inspirational and triumphant film about the power of the human spirit." Nick Nolte plays Socrates, a "mysterious stranger," and Dan Millner, the gifted young athlete bound for the Olympic gold, is played by Scott Melchlowicz.

The story revolves around Dan and this mystical sage of a man who works at a gas station. Because of his inability to sleep, Dan shows up at the station night after night to try to figure this "Socrates" out and glean his wisdom. When Dan sarcastically asks Soc why he's still working at a gas station "if you know so much," he replies, "This is a service station. We offer service; there's no higher purpose." "Than pumping gas?" "Than service to others." So He got up from the meal, took off His outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around His waist. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash His disciples' feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around Him (John 13:4-5) Soc's right -- there's no higher purpose.

When Dan agrees to be "trained" by Socrates, Socrates has the boy meet him in the park. Upon doing so, the old man tosses the younger one over the bridge into the creek below. Enraged, Dan chases after Socrates and yells, "You're out of your mind!" To which he responds, "It's taken a lifetime of practice." What Socrates was doing by throwing Dan over the rail was trying to get him to experience the moment by getting everything out of his mind. And for that split second as Dan was flailing in the air, his mind was cleared of everything -- except for the fall.

When Socrates pointed out that "you're missing out on everything that's going on," Dan yelled, "There's nothing going on!" And then we're allowed to see (in slow motion) 3 men in the park heartily laughing; a woman throwing a frisbee, her dog catching it and the subsequent loving of the pet as it returns the toy; we hear the pages turn as a man sits under a tree and reads a book and the crunching sound of a ladybug eating a leaf.

After an accident leaves the young gymnist encapable of competing again, Socrates throws him back into training by sitting him outside on an old, broken down Plymouth to think. He instructs Dan not to return until he has something of value to tell him. Finally, after one attempt after another of coming up short with any kind of widsom, Dan finally comes up with, "There's never nothing going on. There are no ordinary moments."

Dan is right. There are no ordinary moments. With God, every moment is sacred. But due to the reality of our terribly distracted, cluttered, and noisy existence, to experience it as such is not easy. But I'm trying to make a concerted effort to know that "there's never nothing going on" -- and to know that holiness indeed comes wrapped in the ordinary.

At the end of the movie when Dan is on the rings in a hand stand high above the floor, we hear a conversation going on in his mind.

Socrates: Where are you, Dan?
Dan: Here.
Socrates: What time is is?
Dan: Now.
Socrates: What are you?
Dan: This moment.

These are no ordinary moments after all. So let's start harvesting some treasures.

Monday, June 2, 2008

All roads lead where?

Sandy and I celebrated our 29th anniversary a couple of weeks ago. He gave me a trip to Savannah, and I gave him a GPS system for his truck. I figured with all the traveling he does, it might come in handy -- especially if he was trying to find his way out of the woods somewhere.

On that Sunday morning after receiving the gift, the two of us decided to take in an early morning breakfast at My Sister's Cafe before heading to Sunday School and church. So we got in his truck and he turned on the system. It immediately told us which way to go. "How cool," I thought. Of course, we knew how to get where we were going; after all, we frequent this place every Saturday morning we're in town. But then he informed me that it wasn't set for My Sister's but rather my mother's, for when he was playing with it the night before, he put my parent's address in the box. So we were eager to see what happened when we made the right turn to the cafe. I thought surely the woman's voice was going to say, "Wrong way. Turn around NOW!" But, no, she paused a moment, and then said, "Recalculating. Drive .8 miles and turn left." The thing had just refigured our position and was going to take us from our new location to my mother's by a different route. Of course, we threw it off once again when we turned left before the .8 miles into My Sister's parking lot.

After our biscuits and sausage gravy, we headed to the church -- once again in the correct direction of mom and dad's. And again, I thought when we failed to make the right turn as directed, it would say, "You missed it!" But again and again and again, the voice said, "Recalculating," and then would give us the next best possible direction. I kept expecting to hear, "You idiot! Can't you follow directions?" Or even a very frustrated "I give" would not have been surprising. But, no, just, "Recalculating." Of course, we were dying laughing by the time we reached the church, totally convinced that all roads lead to "Mimi's" house.

If you think about it, we all have an internal GPS system. We might call it God's Positioning System. When we were born, our lives were mapped out for us, according to Psalm 139:16. The psalmist says, "You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in Your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed." And then we go and mess up. We take a wrong turn here. Miss a landmark there. Sometimes it's by mistake; other times it's pure rebellion. And then that voice says, "Recalculating." He does not call us an idiot. He does not say, "You're on your own on this one, buddy." He does not even say how bad we've messed up, for there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. He just says, "Okay, let's acknowledge you've made a wrong turn, and now let's move from this place and go in this direction."

Wouldn't it be best if we would just carefully obey the voice? Not turning to the right or to the left unless instructed to do so. But that we would hear, "This is the way. Walk ye in it." and then follow that direction. Joshua 1:7 says that to do so, we would find success wherever we go. I praise God that He has chosen not to give up on me, not to forsake me, but to love me enough that He would recalculate my direction and turn me toward home. All roads do lead to Him as long as we're following His voice.