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

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Way

My husband and I took a little road trip on Saturday. He had business which to attend and I had a mission. When one normally thinks of a business trip, one might imagine nice khakis and a dress shirt for the man and a cute sweater and nice slacks for the woman. But I'm married to a forester and this was my attire.
The walking stick was for picture purposes only. It was HIS stick.

He assured me the trip to the water was only about as far as our house to the neighbor's across the street. Which isn't far. What he forgot to mention was what we'd be walking through to get there.
Yes, that's my dear husband blazing the trail for me. And he kept assuring me there WAS a trail. Now tell me, do YOU see a trail???

He also gave me some pointers. Like "Try not to breathe." Why?
Meet Mr. Ragweed. And this was a smaller bush! The only reason I took this picture is because it was actually in a clearing and I thought it looked pretty. The rest of the journey, I was actually pushing it out of my way just to get through. (If you look closely in the previous snapshot, you can see its bounty.)

Another time he suggested I keep my eyes looking up because I might see a deer. A deer? I'm sorry, but I was going to have to wait and just hope one crossed the road while we were in the truck on the way out. At the present, I was too concerned with snakes and briars. Speaking of which, one should never wear expensive jeans to the woods -- nor new turtleneck sweaters. While he had donned Carharts, I had gone for "cute." And cute doesn't cut it in the thicket. Forgive me if I don't mention the blood. I had really hoped not to draw any, but those briars were unforgiving.

I'm a novice rock collector, and at one point in our trek, we came across these small boulders. I felt it best not to ask if I could take them home with me. If we had found a puppy, there wouldn't have been any question. He would have just followed us back to the truck. These babies would have had to be toted.

Finally, we came upon a clearing and our destination could be seen in the distance!
Yes! I had run the race! I had fought the good fight! I had won the prize! "But wait. Why are we turning? The water is in that direction and isn't the water our purpose and intent?"

"Yes, but we can't get down at that point. The hill is too steep. We have to go over there where the footing is better," he said, pointing in the distance. And thus, we continued our journey.

But finally, we made it, and Lord, have mercy, right there where we came out on the landing, my soul had found a resting place!
And so my husband did what he came to do ... survey;
and I did what I came to do ... find mussel shells.
We walked the shoreline filling my bag with shells and acorns, and all too quickly, it was time to go. The only difference now was that we'd be walking UP hill instead of down. And so we did.
My husband pointed out this tree to me saying, "If I didn't know better, I'd think that was one hellacious hog that did that."
HOG??? I've got to ward off snakes, briars, and now wild hogs? But noticing the bulge in my eyes, he quickly and wisely retorted, "Or just a massive deer."

I certainly didn't remember walking through this burn pile earlier...
It's because we didn't. We had taken a different route "home." And, yes, we walked right through it, being very careful because "the footing isn't sure."

And then, lo and behold, I saw it! Rising in the distance like a mirage in the desert...
The truck! This walk from "our house to the neighbor's" had taken almost 3o minutes, my "cute" had worn off and the very chilly weather had turned near hot under all those layers. But I had done it and the victory lap was ready to be taken.

As I was bending over unlacing my boots, my dear man of some 31+ years said, "What are you doing?" I said, "I'm taking off my boots and putting on my tennis shoes."

"But we're not through. This is just the first track. There's another one."

I slowly raised myself and turned around. Eye-balling him, I said, "You ARE kidding, aren't you?" No, I'm afraid he wasn't....

The truth of the story is this: while I was following my husband through that dense thicket, I thought how fortunate I was that I didn't have to be afraid. Yes, I kid about snakes and hogs, but the walking stick he carried was a ready-made weapon and he could and would wield it in a heartbeat to anything or anyone who he perceived as a threat. And maybe I watch too much NCIS, but I also was made acutely aware that day that I never need to be afraid when I'm in his presence in a desolate place, because he would never physically harm me or leave me. But I think what struck me the most on this particular morning turned early afternoon was the way we moved through the brush. Not once did I know where I was or in what direction I was moving. My husband was my only way in and he was my only way out. Without him, I would have been utterly and hopelessly lost. But I was completely confident in him.

For thousands of years, people searched for God, yet were never able to come close enough to truly know Him. And then one day, the Word of God -- His very thought -- became flesh. And in the midst of our searching and our doubts and our fears and our just plain "lost-ness," we hear Him say, "I am the Way." He didn't say, "I am a way." Nor did He say, "I'll show you the way." He didn't hand us a creed as a roadmap, nor did He did say He had the answer. No, He simply said, "I am the Way," and He meant it. In a world where so many ways beckon and so many voices clamor for our attention and allegiance, I'm grateful for a Savior who is THE Way; One who will never harm me nor lead me astray. And One who will get me safely home to my Father.

Just an ordinary moment...

Sunday, November 28, 2010


Before my sister-in-law and her family left this week to return home from their visit with us, they brought in presents for our family that would be opened on Christmas morning. As I took the gifts to an appropriate holding station, it was everything I could do not to shift the paper around in the bags and take a peek as to their contents. No doubt there was a conflicting twinge of frustration laced with eager anticipation.

Waiting. It's not something I do easily or that comes naturally to me, though I've had ample opportunity of late to hone my skills. I've been waiting on cakes to cook and cakes to cool. Waiting on family to arrive. Waiting on the phone to ring for a long anticipated call. And may I just say that waiting in line at the bank drive-in last week nearly put me over the edge. Of late, there have also been the true "waiting room" experiences -- in doctor's offices, in hospitals, and in labs. And of course, my most on-going waiting involves the upcoming birth of my first grandbaby. Waiting. It's a way of life. But I know I'm not alone in it. I read recently that people feel wronged if they have to wait for more than 24 hours to receive a reply from an email. No doubt, we have become accustomed to immediacy, and we just plain don't like to wait.

Having made the proper arrangements last night, I woke this morning to my Advent wreath and its 4 candles (3 purple and 1 pink) on my coffee table awaiting their first light of the season. Given to my inability to wait, it almost seems ludicrous that I would still engage in such an activity. But I find it necessary -- almost like waiting to open those gifts from my sister-in-law. If nothing else, Advent evokes anticipation. But in a world that demands for Christmas to come earlier and earlier every year, what do we do with such a season as Advent? Do we just abandon it altogether? Or do we relearn how to wait, finding meaning in the act?

I've discovered that pregnancy is a great teacher for waiting. For one thing, waiting is not just about passing time. Not only are there the necessary outward preparations of buying baby furniture and stocking the drawers with tiny items, but there are the more inward workings. Each week my sweet daughter-in-love sends not only a picture of her developing tummy but an update as to what's going on inside with our "Little Hoot." Every week, our little love is developing or growing something new that is absolutely essential for his/her life. outside the womb. And I don't care how impatient I am, the last thing I want is for that baby of ours to come early. The waiting is an absolutely invaluable part of the process. It is not passive like I've often assumed. It is a nurturing time, priceless in its own right. Advent does the same thing. You can surely agree that there's no busier season of the year than the one that stretches from Thanksgiving to Christmas. But Advent does not demand passivity but activity: a vigilant internal waiting that, as we wait, forms new life in us.

I'm convinced that Advent is not a cultural dinosaur. It is an event to be cherished and re-learned if necessary. And quite frankly, it is not so much a season as it is a way of life. Of stopping, of entering into a deeper place with God, of being present, and yes, of anticipating. Without it, our journey is impoverished.

And so this morning, as the rest of the congregation sings "Joy to the World," my heart will be crying out, "Come, Thou long expected Jesus. I'm anticipating ... and waiting."

Just an ordinary moment....

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Just One Thing More....

I never make it through a Thanksgiving Day without remembering a particular incident that occurred some 12 years ago. In fact, I pray I never forget it. Here is my journal entrance dated 7/10/98...

I glanced around the room and thought to myself, "How sad." Though she lives in a huge antebellum home, her world exists within the confines of this small, square space. I had already noticed that when I drove up to the side of the house and got out of my car that the black shudders were barely hanging on their hinges, weeds had all but overtaken the yard and the house and that the steps were rotting. When I knocked, she didn't approach and let me in. I just opened the door and called her name. She heard and gave me entrance. This particular day, the curtains were drawn, lights were off; just a few rays filtered through whatever slits in the drapes they could find. It took a moment for my eyes to adjust. Attached to her small room was an even smaller kitchen/porch that had been added for convenience, I'm sure. A caretaker comes once a day to cook a meal for her and see to her needs. A portable toilet sat directly next to her bed. Sitting slightly angled to one other, we occupied the only chairs available. Two little bowls of candy, one with peppermint and the other with chocolate, rested on the small, round table that separated us. She confessed that cheese straws were kept hidden under her chair for really special guests. Her television set with a Bible and a magnifying glass tucked up under its stand completed the circle and seemed to make up the 3rd guest at our little party.

And so we visited. To be 96 years old, her mind is really quite sharp. She reminded me much of my own grandfather with her ability to remember details. She said she was watching the Braves tonight, able to call many of their names, but that there were several shows on CNN she enjoyed, too.

Because her eyesight is now so poor, she admitted to me that she cheats when she reads her Bible. "Cheat? How do you cheat when you read your Bible?" I questioned. "Oh, that's easy," she said. "I just 'read' the passages I know by heart. " I asked which ones that might be and she named Psalms 1, 23, and 100.

She talked about her family -- past and present. Both her dad and her husband died when they were 51 years old and she has lived as a widow for 45 years now. She has also lived in this same house all of her 96 years -- except, of course, when she went to Wesleyan College some 80 years prior. And though a staunch Baptist, she was quite proud of the fact that she is a direct descendant of Susannah Ansley Wesley! Quite a heritage, I must admit.

Living right across the street from the local United Methodist Church, she loves hearing the carillon bells chiming. She told me that one particular day, "Count Your Many Blessings" rang through the air, and so she decided, "Well, I'll do just that. I'll count my blessings -- I'll name them 'one by one'." And then she added, "However, I have so many, that by the time I got to 87, I was tired and just quit counting."

What a humbling moment for me as I sat there with this nanogenarian (and, yes, that's a real word -- I looked it up). Here is a woman whose entire existence is all within a 20 foot radius; whose only contact with the world is through a house phone, who cannot even walk outside and get her morning paper, and SHE tells ME she had to quit counting her blessings when she got to 87 because she just had so many.

O God, have mercy and forgive me for my murmuring and my complaining. Forgive me for my ingratitude and thanklessness. You have indeed given me so much! I ask for just one thing more: a grateful heart.

Just an ordinary moment...

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Gift of Presence

I found myself in an unusual place last week. All normal activity had stopped and I was temporarily deferred in a hospital waiting room while a loved one was having surgery. I've sat in such spaces on numerous occasions, but never in this role. I've been a daughter, a sister, a friend, even a Sunday School teacher; but last Friday, I was a wife. And what was suppose to be a two hour procedure ended up being more than five. Thankfully, the OR nurses were good about keeping me informed -- that "everything's going well but that it would be awhile yet."

In the meantime, family and friends came, sat, and waited with me. My own sweet daughter was there from the time they rolled her daddy out of the room until they rolled him back in almost eight hours later. But each person who came, regardless of how long they stayed, offered me what I knew in my head but not yet in experience: the gift of presence. Every last one of them had put aside all other activity of the morning, and just come to "be" with me. No one brought an agenda. All came empty handed. Their presence was enough.

And so on this dark and chilly November morning, I pull my warm legs from under the covers and place my feet on a cold floor. And with nothing more than a cup of hot Scotland black tea with a little cream and sugar warming my hands, I offer to Him my presence. Nothing more -- for the presence IS the gift.

Just an ordinary moment...