Of rocks and “rolls”…

poppin_fresh_pillsbury_doughboy copyright Pillsbury

Oh, drat, a rock in the toe of my Tevas!   Occupational hazard when you’re walking on a street in the foothills in the desert. But instantly a thought flashed into my consciousness, a thought of all the people of old who walked deliberately with a rock in their shoes where it would hurt the most to show God their penitence and piety, to do penance for their sins. I thought of the people I’ve read and heard about who crawled on their hands and knees to a shrine, arriving bloody to show God how sorry they were for things they’d done. And just as quickly I thought of the scornful taunts Jesus endured, the crown of thorns on his head, 39 lashes of the whip that Jesus took for me, the nails in his wrists and feet, the spear through his heart. Who in the world would I think I was to think anything I could do to cause myself pain could in ANY way add to or make more sufficient what Jesus did for me?

Before I throw any of those stones in my shoe at those people, though, Lord knows, and the Lord does know, how quick I am to self-flagellate with regrets, “if only’s,” all too conscious of the mistakes I’ve made even inadvertently. It’s a twisted form of pride masquerading as humility, and it does God absolutely no honor at all for the ALL-SUFFICIENT sacrifice He made for me through Jesus.

“The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. Otherwise, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins. It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said:

‘Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased.

 Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll— I have come to do your will, my God.’

First he said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them”—though they were offered in accordance with the law. Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second. And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” Hebrews 10:1-10 NIV

https://youtu.be/XgjJ_CR9oEY

The Lord is compassionate and gracious,

slow to anger, abounding in love.

He will not always accuse,

nor will he harbor his anger forever;

he does not treat us as our sins deserve

or repay us according to our iniquities.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth,

so great is his love for those who fear him;

 as far as the east is from the west,

so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

 As a father has compassion on his children,

so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;

 for he knows how we are formed,

he remembers that we are dust.

 The life of mortals is like grass,

they flourish like a flower of the field; 

the wind blows over it and it is gone,

and its place remembers it no more.

But from everlasting to everlasting

the Lord’s love is with those who fear him,

and his righteousness with their children’s children—

with those who keep his covenant

and remember to obey his precepts. Psalm 103: 8-18 NIV

 

 

Jesus told us to go make disciples, not penance:

 

 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28: 16-20 NIV

Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give…. And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.” Matthew 10: 6-8, 42 NIV

THAT is my reverence, that is my response, that is my job description now. Soo …I sensibly, gratefully took off my shoe, shook out the pebble, and thought about the responses God does want from me for his freely given totally all-sufficient gift of forgiveness. Stones? I could sweep them from my neighbor’s sidewalk. I could buy some new tennis shoes for a child who has to walk barefoot to school. Crawl on my knees? I could gladly bend down and reach under my car to get the ball the neighbor kids accidentally rolled onto my driveway.

Give a cup of cold water? Here is where the rubber meets the road, the gratitude and freedom sets me truly free. I could take a jug of ice water down to the homeless people in the park, hand out cups of cold water, say, “In Jesus’ name I bring you this water,” as if I, the blessed, was stooping down to them, the oppressed, out of my own magnanimity, and think I’d fulfilled righteousness – but that would be just another disguised stone in my shoe. In truth and honestly, you know what I’ve learned in the last five months? That wouldn’t be the right thing to do at all … unless I sat down with those people, looked them in the eye, asked their names, understood their heartaches and frustrations and their own perhaps deeply held self-condemnation, listened to their stories, ate one of the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches I’d brought with them as I listened, held their hands and prayed with the ones who wanted prayer.

Now, lest you think I am being “holier than thou” here, let me hasten to admit it took me over 50 years to come to this realization. Yes, I pick up math pretty quickly, but in some of the things of God, I’m a terribly slow learner. Fifty years ago I went with the other junior high and high school girls in our World Friendship Girls group, the junior version of the Women’s Society of Christian Service at our church to the Wesley Center downtown. We’d spent weeks blowing out dozens of eggs, dying the shells, filling them with confetti and gluing crepe paper frills on top to make cascarones for people at the center to give out as prizes in the game booths at their fund-raising fall fair. But did I ever strike up a conversation with any of the girls at the center? Yes we put on an overnight slumber party for the girls, but did I ever get the phone number of a girl so I could talk to her again or take her to the movies with me sometime?

It took me over 50 years to finally get it that God wanted me to sit down with Harlan and Betty in the park, learn who they are, treat them as equals, laugh with them, and pray for them as we ate together. I am a slow learner, but I hope, like “Poppin’ Fresh, the Pillsbury Doughboy,” or rather like “Little Poppy,” I’m still soft and pliable enough in God’s hands, even at my advanced age, for the Lord to poke me in the belly sometimes. When he does, I hope I can and will giggle, or at least smile, that God is still concerned about me and loves me enough to keep conforming me more to his heart, his compassion, his truth, his passions, what matters to his heart.

I guess I’m not “done” yet ….

https://youtu.be/RnpoD0hlqpQ “The Scandal of Grace”

 

Grace, what have you done?

Murdered for me on that cross

Accused in absence of wrong

My sin washed away in your blood

Too much to make sense of it all

I know that your love breaks my fall

The scandal of grace, you died in my place

So my soul will live

Chorus:

Oh to be like you

(To) Give all I have just to know you

Jesus, there’s no one besides you

Forever the hope in my heart

Death, where is your sting?

Your power is as dead as my sin

The cross has taught me to live

In mercy, my heart now to sing

The day and its trouble shall come

I know that your strength is enough

The scandal of grace, you died in my place

So my soul will live

And it’s all because of you, Jesus

It’s all because of you, Jesus

It’s all because of your love

And my soul will live

Chorus:

Oh to be like you

(To) Give all I have just to know you

Jesus, there’s no one besides you

Forever the hope in my heart

 

Any rocks you need to shake out of your shoe today?

Need a loving poke in your belly? God, our Father God, gladly, kindly will.

 

A “…BUT…”to pray: Oh, Father God, loving Lord, I see now that I’ve held onto shame, guilt, regret over _______________________________ BUT you truly, absolutely, forever removed that from me when Jesus took it upon himself. Jesus, I won’t minimize what you did for me by trying to ”make up for it” by my own actions, so God, I will thankfully, gladly let you _________________________________________________ in me, through me, for me. yes, please poke me in the belly when I need to be more pliable and ____________________________. I know I’m not ”done” yet, so Holy Spirit, I’m listening _______________. In Jesus’ name, make it so, amen!

 

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Tandem Blessing – No Kidding!

“You have to be kidding me…” I thought when Ken asked me to clip into the pedals on the back of the tandem bike he’d joyfully bought for the two of us. Never more than a casual biker until I met Ken, part of my marriage commitment to him was purposing to get stronger, so fears and anxiety set aside, I clipped in and rode 25 miles – for me challenging and heart-pounding after the first 16 – with him every Friday. “Stoker” is the word for the rear rider, but “blind truster” is more accurate, because where he went, I went; my feet had to go as fast as his, and if he fell down, I fell down too. He did agree to put straight handlebars and a softer seat on the back for me, simply glad I was willing to try to become a fuller part of his world and passion.

 

Eight months later, “You have to be kidding me….” flashed through my mind when the sheriff’s deputy standing in my driveway bluntly told me Ken had been killed just two hours earlier in a cycling accident while leading a group of cyclists visiting from out of state. My world, my new hopes, my life toppled over in the gravel as surely as if ken and I had run off the edge of the road on the tandem. Nothing in my life seemed stable when my heart was torn and bleeding.

 

But, and thank God he always has a “… but…”, four months later my friend Deb’s husband Rob stood in my garage looking over the tandem to buy, I thought, for tandem rides and races with a fellow cyclist. “You have to be kidding me …” I gasped in delight when Rob told me he’d just decided to volunteer for a veterans’ cause and actually wanted the tandem so he could take disabled veterans on bike rides with the group VeloVets, a nonprofit started by Guilianna, a young woman Ken had introduced several years earlier to the cycling club he belonged to.

 

Full circle, I thought. Ken was an Air Force veteran himself, and I couldn’t think of anything that would make him happier than knowing blind and disabled veterans would get the chance to fly down the road behind Rob, wind in their faces, hearts pumping, feeling whole and vital, valued and accepted.

 

“Rob, the bike is yours! Take it, oh my gosh, please take it and know Ken must be beaming in Heaven!”

 

God’s timing was impeccable. Sunday I’d texted Rob about coming to look at the bike, Monday he met Guilianna at his own cycling club meeting and decided to volunteer with VeloVets, Tuesday he drove to my house to check out the tandem, and Tuesday the miracle happened. Wednesday the miracle continued when a local TV reporter heard about the tandem’s donation, and I was able to honor Ken’s generous, giving, encouraging spirit and his deep Christian faith on the local news.

 

Tears of joy still flow when I think about the improbability of all of the elements of this true miracle coming together. I could barely see through tears to mount my bike a few weeks later when Rob and Dr. Les, a blind veteran, took off down the bike trail in the hot summer night with a group of avid riders. The smile Les wore was brighter than the evening sun.

 

Coincidental? Accidental? I can’t possibly believe so. Ken and I were part of something bigger than the two of us. We’d thought so from the early days of our relationship, and this glorious gift of new meaning and purpose poured into my heart with joy that eased the pain of my grief. Ken was still giving joy into my life, and I know he always will. I have no clue what other surprises and miracles of meaning God will reveal to me, but I’m clipped in with him now as I ride into each day, going where he goes, my feet pedaling to keep up with God’s passionate love and value-giving purposes, breathless again for a new reason. No kidding! img_1203

“Leave your table looking like …”

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA(No, I am not scolding him; I’m actually praying a blessing on each child)

Reward, success and insight come in the  strangest places.

In the third week one of my least favorite jobs, I listened to the assistant principal decisively tell the room full of fifth graders that if they didn’t clean up their table and sweep the floor after their lunch period,before the sixth graders came in, they’d be sitting in his office. That went over like the proverbial lead balloon, and I thought, “I’d better find another way to inspire these kids  or it’s  going to be a very, very long semester for us all.” I give the Holy Spirit credit for the  thought that came to me. I began going table to table, cheerfully and positively telling the boys, “You’re young men of valor,courage, integrity, commitment, teamwork, strength, and honor. I know you want to leave your table looking like a man of that true strength was sitting here,” and to the girls, I said, “You’re beautiful young women of honor, virtue, strength, courage, compassion and kindness. I know you want to leave your table looking like that kind of  beautiful woman was sitting here.”

Completely puzzled looks met me, but I simply smiled and moved to the next table,and  repeated the process for every grade level that came into the multi-purpose room for lunch. One eighth-grade  girl had the surprised confidence to respond, “Miss Jackson, nobody ever talks to us like that!”

“Well, I’m going to tell you that until you believe it!” I  replied,  and her face lit up. Encouraged, I repeated the process for the rest of the week, for fun throwing in situations to the boys like, “You’re the pit crew, and you want to take care of  this ‘car’ and leave the pit ready for the next crew, looking like dedicated, capable,  smart, honorable men were just here,”and similar  girl-themed situations for the girls. Table after table, boys raised their hands and asked if they could be pit boss, and girls asked if they could be the head attendant at the coronation.

For three weeks,  grade by grade, twenty-minute lunch period by  period, I repeated character affirmations to the girls and boys, young men and women, from fourth grade up to seniors in high school, and in those three weeks, something wonderful happened: children started asking me for the rags, spray bottles, and brooms.  No threats of detention, no raised voice, no wagging  finger, just an affirming call to be someone higher, greater, and to have the power to lead by a servant-hearted example of true strength and grace. The assistant principal was surprised by how clean the room and tables were, I was enormously glad  that my venture worked, the students  felt good about themselves, and even more importantly and delightfully, I began to develop good relationships  with quite a few of the children.

It occurred to me at the same time that I was also telling myself something important about myself, as well as others: this is precisely what Father God wants for us and from us as His  children: to conduct  ourselves in such a way that  we leave our corners of the world looking like women of inner beauty, valor, value, honor, strength, kindness and compassion were “sitting here,”and men of courage,  strength, integrity, commitment, teamwork,  and honor were “sitting here.”

There was not time and no place in the multi-purpose room for, “It’s not my job. Oooh! That’s yucky! I don’t want to. Somebody else can.” May I propose that there is no time and no place in our  families, friendships, relationships, work associations, neighborhoods, churches, cities or world  for those kinds of self-centered, self-serving, weak, uncaring, and flatly irresponsible attitudes either. God may not call us into his “office” or wag his finger in our  faces, but we can be assured of  this certainty the Apostle Paul wrote to the Roman believers:

You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. It is written:

“‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,
‘every knee will bow before me;
every tongue will acknowledge God.’”
So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God. Romans 14:10-12 NIV

Sadly I see a spirit of taking offense and entitlement rising in our nation, perverting the idea of individual liberty (which ought to include individual accountability and responsibility) into narcissism. This  attitude is nothing new,and sadly, it isn’t limited to immature children. Jesus dealt with this attitude among his disciples.

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”

“What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.

They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”

“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”

“We can,” they answered.

Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.”

When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10: 35-45 NIV

We should take  Jesus’ words very seriously, but can we put the same affirmative spin on this command that I put on cleaning up the lunch tables? Can we live out our lives in the strength, beauty, dignity, honor, commitment, kindness, and courage of  humbled service, knowing how it positively impacts others,  how glad it makes our Father God, and how much  true strength, validation, and outright joy we will find within ourselves when we live our lives with an eager, enthusiastic, “May I please have the rag and spray bottle?” attitude? If it was good enough for Jesus,  theKing of KingsandLord of Lords …. then there is true greatness in  every act of giving, listening, sharing, forgiving, mess-cleaning helping, and walking alongside one another.

And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. Matthew 23: 9-12 NIV

I know the children  at that school with a high academic reputation were and are not  simply brains to be filled, but lives to positively, affirmingly, enthusiastically shape for a lifetime of real valor, courage, strength, kindness, beauty, dignity, commitment, compassion,and serving.

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A “…BUT…” to pray: Father God,I  admit I’ve looked down on people who work at jobs like ______________________ and I’ve drawn back from_______________________ because I thought it would be yucky,time-consuming,  no fun, someone else’s job, beneath, or __________________. I seen I have missed opportunities to rise to true strength and dignity, integrity, honor, courage,inner beauty,commitment, and compassion,  BUT you never tell me it’s too late or I’ve missed and messed up too much. Awaken me to opportunities to live  my life in Christlike ways. Holy Spirit, what could I to today,this week? Where and for whom could I “leave this home,job, relationship, community, world looking like a man/woman of  those  values was ‘sitting here’?” ______________________________________________________________ Please  remind me to pick up the “broom”  or ask for the “spray bottle” where and when I can, and help me remember that bending and sweeping and wiping and serving lifts me up to the greatest I could possibly be within me, not justified by works, but reflecting the character and powerful love of Jesus.

It Will Never Be “Okay”

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I sat in a room filled with deeply shattered people, and though their stories were different, their grief was the same: one loud cry of “Injustice!” Our facilitator brought up the topic of helpful and toxic people when you’re dealing with traumatic, tragic loss. Sadly, it’s the people in closest relationship  with you who can be the most toxic. They mean well, but what they have to say that sounds  encouraging and sympathetic to them rings very differently in the cavity of a needlessly emptied heart.

People look with sympathetic eyes and tell you, “It will be okay. Just move on.God has something better for you.” What those of us who’ve tragically lost someone we love  want to say – but generally are too “nice” to reply, is  the loud anguished cry I heard at the meeting last week through all the pain in the room. “NO! It  will NEVER be ‘okay’!”

Really? Have those of you offering your helpful advice ever had the dearest, most beloved,  cherished person or relationship ripped out of your life by the callous indifference, thoughtless carelessness, complete selfishness, or brutal anger or malice of another person? Would it be okay if a sniper’s bullet just took out the spouse, child, friend sitting next you in your secure home? How about your cherished dog or cat? If the blood of your child spilled across your floor, would it still be “okay” and would you simply wipe up the floor and “move on”?

No, what we  want to say in that moment –  and now I know it’s much the same whether  the loss comes from an unwanted and cruel divorce brutally ending  your marriage or through the homicide or manslaughter death of a loved one – is this: “STOP! STOP THE WORLD! Everyone,pay attention;something horrible just happened! This treasure has been taken,this life  cut short, this family shattered! Bow your head,cry out, weep with me, because this is INJUSTICE!” Frankly, the survivors feel like  the earth should stop turning, everyone in the world should drop their  “to do” lists filled with mundane, routine urgencies, and weep for at least a few minutes over the loss of somebody or someone precious and wonderful, someone whose life held potential and goodness and joy for  themselves and for others,whose absence now means  tragedy, loss, pain,and emptiness for those left behind. Stop,weep,and say, “YES,  it matters! YES, it hurts you terribly!” and allow for the very present and very real continuing sorrow. THAT is what is okay: to grieve,  to feel the hurt, to acknowledge the loss,to allow yourself to care and love  and feel the loss of love.

Trust me, survivors feel guilt and re-run  the tapes of  what could have happened to prevent the loss. Someone should have seen this coming, told me or  told someone who could intervene what he/she was saying, someone should have paid attention, stepped in,  done something, said something, intervened somehow to prevent or circumvent this tragedy.

Sadly everyone seems think it’s someone else’s job, it would be too hurtful to tell you the truth, somehow that person will turn around or get the help they need. After the fact, after it was years too late to change anything or help anything, people told me what “he” had told them or had done ten years earlier. “I didn’t want to hurt your feelings  – I didn’t want to get involved – I didn’t want to upset you” was the common reasoning I heard for  the silence of my neighbors and my family and friends. Last  week we  all listened to each others’   unreported red flags  in  one horrible tragedy after another:  teachers who overlooked a student’s  sudden plummeting grades and changed behavior  but never looked into the reason, bartenders and bar patrons who watched someone drinking excessively and never asked who would be driving them home, bosses and people who looked the other  way when they should have spoken into an addicted life, no one taking seriously the mental illness or emotional dysfunction they saw in a person.

I vividly remember sitting decades ago in  a room with my elderly aunt, who had undiagnosed Alzheimer’s that her neighbors  thought was some form of mental illness. Due to “privacy”rules, she had to be the one to commit herself for observation. Really? The mental health system expects a mentally ill person to have the  sanity and presence of mind to see they need psychiatry?   Isn’t  that  like expecting a bank robber to suddenly realize,”Oops,  I shouldn’t be stealing other people’s money”? My father and I had to, gently and lovingly as we  could, tell her firmly that something was wrong with her. That confrontation was one of the most horrible experiences of my life, but after the fact, we realized she might have seriously hurt herself  or someone else if we hadn’t intervened,and more than that, she wouldn’t have received the diagnosis and care she genuinely needed. We did the right thing.

I  attempted the same intervention many years later  with another loved one, but sadly, that person needed to see the dysfunction, but because of  dysfunction, refused to see or admit it. That story had a tragic ending, a deeply hurtful injustice. God  himself spoke that to me,and though I’m glad God knows it, still that doesn’t diminish the pain. So weep with me,  hold me, rage with me at the injustice, tell me you’ll be here for me tomorrow, but be courageous enough to be here for me three months or  three years from now if that’s how long my  grief lasts.Walk with me. Take me on a picnic, BE  with me in real life if you truly want to help my healing, but  don’t ever judge me for feeling, for crying, or tell me  to cover my scars in your presence so I don’t upset  anyone. Don’t tell me I need to be the nice and thoughtful person mindful of the feelings of others  when someone has dealt me a malignantly ugly harmful, unkind blow. Rather, look into the ugliness of  genuine, tragic loss and marvel that I’m brave enough to  still be alive.

Angry? In my own  situation, when two psychologists and a  psychiatrist didn’t  see his disorder, despite me telling the truth of what  I’d live in, angry? When a pastor saw disorder in the man and simply labeled it ”demons” and gave no direction to help or counseling resources? In a lesser injustice,was I angry when teachers passed on my neighbor’s daughter, struggling pitifully in math, because they “thought” her Hispanic last name meant she had issues understanding English, yet she only spoke English and I saw in one ten-minute session with her that she had no idea of the number line in her head?  You bet I feel angry! You bet survivors  feel angry, but friends and society expect us to be the “nice”  people who “suck it up” and act like  we’re okay when we are anything BUT okay  with the injustice we’ve suffered.

WHY MUST  WE KEEP SILENT? WHY MUST WE HAVE NO VOICE? Does hurting someone else’s feelings matter more than the wrong of taking someone’s life? The wrong of destroying a family and shattering lives?

We know we  have to forgive. Forgiveness is a gift I give myself, to set my own heart and mind  free from, and see I’m not the one to bring, the justice I want and need to right the wrong, but don’t ever think  it comes cheaply or easily. Forgiveness  costs me,  big time, but it’s the price of my freedom from bitterness.  For me as a Christian, forgiveness is the example  Jesus gave, the command – not just the suggestion – to forgive seven times seven IF the one who wronged me repents and asks for my forgiveness.

“If your brother sins,  rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”  Luke 17:3-4

And if the one who wronged me doesn’t repent? I’ve felt the sting of no remorse. The disciples replied to Jesus, “Increase our faith!” I still have to find a way to forgive, to give the anger and hurt over to Jesus, handing him the broken glass to turn into “sea glass” in the ocean of his love, for him to redeem somehow,  to bring beauty from ashes and  meaning from senseless tragedy.  I have to pay the costly price of giving up my right to true justice. For those going through an ugly, unwanted divorce, the only true justice would be true heart-felt reconciliation. For homicide survivors, the only real justice would be their loved one back alive and whole again.

“Just move on”? YOU try it after tragedy, and only then do you have the right to tell me and others  to. Till then, look me, or look your friend or family member,  square in the eye and  tell me/them you can’t imagine how much it hurts.Tell me/them  you’ll be there. Tell me/them  you won’t walk away even when I/they spurt some ugly tears.

No, I can’t “just move on.” Neither could any of the people in the room last week, and the counselors  recognized that hard truth. For us,the survivors, it would have been less painful if we had died; there would have been a welcome end to our grief and agony. No,we don’t need to be committed to an institution: we need to  be understood, heard, wept with, our feelings of loss validated by the people who care about us. We need “the system”  to work quickly  and justly. We will always carry the scars the wounds, and no, my friends, don’t tell me to put on a happy face as “makeup”to cover my scars so YOU don’t have to look at something “ugly.”  In truth, it isn’t “ugly” – it’s the beauty mark of genuine love.

When my father died after a five-year battle with Alzheimer’s, we knew he was free from a terrible disease and, because he loved Jesus as Lord and Savior, Dad was with his Creator, God, King, Lord, Savior, and truest Friend. Same thing when my other passed away 14 years later. She was free from pain of arthritis and vascular dementia, home with Dad and her parents and siblings at that big reunion potluck, and enjoying the blessings and bliss of eternal life with Christ in Heaven. Closure. But truthfully there is no closure with sudden, tragic or traumatic death. There is no real closure with divorce, no “acceptance” except the hard reality that we will have to learn to live with the injustice and the pain and loss. Christians have the certain hope of God’s eventual redemptive justice, though it may well not be the kind of justice, the wrong-righting that we wanted to see. Still, we hold our hands up to receive our ongoing healing and blessings from a good, good Father. Till then, allow us to feel, walk with us, and help us  go forward into  the life we have yet to live, the purposes we can yet find, with our beautiful scars of love.

Then Moses called to Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel, “Be strong and courageous, for you shall go with this people into the land which the LORD has sworn to their fathers to give them, and you shall give it to them as an inheritance. “The LORD is the one who goes ahead of you; He will be with you. He will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” Deuteronomy 31: 7-8 RSV

Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me.
Teach me your way, Lord; lead me in a straight path because of my oppressors.
Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes, for false witnesses rise up against me,  spouting malicious accusations. I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart
and wait for the Lord. Psalm 27:10-14 NIV

“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me. Isaiah 49: 15-16 NIV

I remember singing the song “Lonesome Valley” at church camp. We changed the lyrics a bit to reflect a better truth than the song originally speaks, a truth that the verses above proclaim.

“Lonesome Valley”

You gotta walk that lonesome valley
And you gotta walk, walk it by yourself
Nobody else can walk it for you
You gotta walk, walk it by yourself.

Jesus walked this lonesome valley
And he had to walk it by Himself
Nobody else could walk it for Him
He had to walk, walk it by Himself.

Oh, you gotta walk that lonesome valley
You don’t go there by yourself
For now there is One who walks beside you
You needn’t  walk it by yourself.

You must go and stand your trials
You needn’t stand it by yourself
For now there is One to stand beside you
You needn’t stand it by yourself.

 

Amen, Lord Jesus, walk beside me,  stand with me, carry me  when I can’t go another step, be my light on  the dark path  ahead of me, be  the voice of comfort in my days of pain, be redeeming love in my life, put my broken pieces back together and bring me out into a new, beautiful hope and victory that only YOU can bring.

 

I AmNot the Ocean

surfer-waveSurfing caught on like crazy when I was a teen, and in sand-locked Arizona, how we all looked forward to a summer trip to the California coast. Surfers still wait on beaches all over the world for the “perfect wave” to ride in to shore, proving their prowess over the waves. I remember singing this song when my two sons were in Cub Scouts:

Super California surfer, expert on the ocean.
Even though the most of them
Do not use suntan lotion.
When they hit the waves too hard
They always cause a motion.
Super California surfer, expert on the ocean.

Um didle iddle iddle um diddle lie,
Um didle iddle iddle um diddle lie,

Because I was afraid to surf
When I was just a lad,
My father took my board away
And told me I was bad.
But when I learned the word
That every surfer knows,
The biggest word you ever heard,
And this is how it goes…

Super California surfer, expert on the ocean.
Even though the most of them
Do not use suntan lotion.
When they hit the waves too hard
They always cause a motion.
Super California surfer, expert on the ocean.

But … what would a surfer be without the ocean?

sand-surfing

Woo-hoo! Shoot the, um, dune. Catch a dune  and you’re sitting on top of the … sand.

What possible spiritual meaning can this have?  To my horror, and very likely to all of our collective horror, I’ve watched our culture become more and more narcissistic, everything  drive by MY desires, MY happiness, MY  needs,  MY wants, MY opinion, MY point of view, MY definition of __________, MY success.

Take another look at the  ocean. For  that matter, take a look at  your big toe. Did you create that? Can you in any way cause your big toe to suddenly change shape, size, or by the mere exercise of your will, color your toenail? Did you create hydrogen and oxygen atoms? Did you create a  large spinning rock with molten iron core, cover it with a crust of  decomposed  rocks called soil, scoop out canyons and seabeds? When’s the last time you gave life to a dead ant, much less make an ant and give it life?

If you (and I) can’t create an atom of  anything out of nothing, create by mere though a single grain of sand, give life to a dead ant or make living ant to begin with, then why do you/I/we  feel so powerful when you/I/we ride a board on a wave? Why do you/I/we feel such a need to assert our own desires, “self-actualization,”  MY will MY way in MY time, and reaching for possessions and earthly “happiness” as TRUTH and RIGHTLY DESERVED RIGHT? Who do you/I/we think you/I/we  are/am?

Genesis 1: 1-5 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness [was] upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
And God saw the light, that [it was] good: and God divided the light from the darkness.
And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.

Genesis 1: 13-14 And the LORD said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Shall I indeed bear [a child,] when I am [so] old?’ Is anything too difficult for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, at this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son”

1 Chronicles 29:11 – Thine, O LORD, [is] the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty: for all [that is] in the heaven and in the earth [is thine]; thine [is] the kingdom, O LORD, and thou art exalted as head above all.

 

Deuteronomy 32:39
‘See now that I, I am He, And there is no god besides Me; It is I who put to death and give life. I have wounded and it is I who heal, And there is no one who can deliver from My hand.

Psalm 18:31
For who is God, but the LORD? And who is a rock, except our God,

Psalm 62:11 Once God has spoken; twice have I heard this:
that power belongs to God,

Isaiah 45: 4-6“For the sake of Jacob My servant, And Israel My chosen one, I have also called you by your name; I have given you a title of honor Though you have not known Me. “I am the LORD, and there is no other; Besides Me there is no God. I will gird you, though you have not known Me; That men may know from the rising to the setting of the sun That there is no one besides Me. I am the LORD, and there is no other,…

Colossians 1:15-18 (speaking of Jesus)   He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation, for all things in heaven and on earth were created by him—all things, whether visible or invisible, whether thrones or dominions, whether principalities or powers—all things were created through him and for him. He himself is before all things and all things are held together in him.  He is the head of the body, the church, as well as the beginning, the firstborn from among the dead so that he himself may become first in all things.

Ephesians 1: 18-22 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people,  and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength  he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms,  far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.

Someone I cared about deeply said to me, “I know God hates _______, BUT I WANT _______” and to my abject horror, that sounded all too much like the words of someone else  who was handsome and gifted and honored by God until he wanted things his way:

How you have fallen from heaven, morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations! You said in your heart, “I will ascend to the heavens; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of Mount Zaphon. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.” But you are brought down to the realm of the dead, to the depths of the pit. Those who see you stare at you, they ponder your fate:“Is this the man who shook the earth and made kingdoms tremble, the man who made the world a wilderness,who overthrew its cities and would not let his captives go home?” Isaiah 14: 12-17

I couldn’t do a thing to change that person’s heart or mind. I am NOT the ocean.  I can’t create one  molecule of water. Neither can I save anyone’s soul. What I can do, and what I’m called to do (and so are you if you call Jesus your Lord and Savior)  is  ride  the wave of God’s Presence and His Spirit in my life, speak  what He has spoken to me, share all the  good things God has done for me, and show His love, forgiveness, grace, truth, healing power, compassion, and relentlessly giving heart  to as many people as  I possibly can. That will no doubt irritate the heck out of the one who said, “I will…but I’d rather take  a  spill in the ocean of God’s grace and love than try to surf on the sand in  Hell by pressing, pushing, shoving, and demanding my own  will, way, and  honor.

1 Peter 5: 5-7 And all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, so that in due time He may exalt you. Cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.…

So…Super God, I’m just a  surfer;YOU have made the ocean.
Even though we thump our chests and  make quite a commotion.
Help me ride your waves of love and  show your grace in motion,
Super God,  make me a super servant on your ocean!

 

A “..BUT…” to pray: Oh God, I’ve taken you for granted. I’ve looked and pushed for my own happiness apart from  the joy of simply being yours, I’ve sometimes used others by ________________________________ in order to exalt  or promote myself in ___________________________________. That is wrong, flat-out sin,and I repent of it.  Show me how and where I have offended your sovereignty and will, Father God:_____________________________________________________. Lord Jesus, help me to lift you high above all others in my life, your will above my own. Holy Spirit, open the eyes of my heart and the ears of my spirit to hear  your voice and see your hand in my life. Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life. Rescue me from my enemies, Lord,(including the enemy of  my soul) for I hide myself in you. Teach me to do your will, for you are my God;may your good Spirit lead me on level ground.(Psalm 143:8-10)

Speak to me, Holy Spirit; I’m listening____________________________________

 

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Little Boxes on the Hillsides

IMG_1135So began an irreverent song in the 60’s, but as I walked back down the hill toward my house in the foothills today, a thought I’d had  earlier in the week driving home struck me again. What are the conversations going on in the minds of the people in these  custom and semi-custom houses? In reality, all they are is boxes.

Unvoiced perhaps, but perhaps subconsciously thought, going up from these boxes: “ My box is bigger than your box… My box sits higher up the hill than your box…. I’m glad my box isn’t down there below the river …My box is full of more stuff, fancier stuff than your box… My box makes me important… My box tells the world who I am and why I’m important…” and perhaps some voices  down below the  river: “I wish I had a bigger box up on the hillside … I deserve a better box than this … .” Surely, and true, many people may be grateful for the boxes they have, that they have a box lid over their  heads, that  they have a place to sit and eat and sleep.

Yet up here on the hillside (and even down below the  river)  nobody asks who the real lien holder on the land is, who holds your hill in his hands, who created the minerals in that mine far in the background, who can call in the loan at any time.

Genesis 1:1
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

Psalm 33:6
By the word of the LORD were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth.

Psalm 24:1
A Psalm of David. The earth is the LORD’S, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.

Psalm 50:10-11
For every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills.
I know all the fowls of the mountains: and the wild beasts of the field are mine.

Job 41:11 Who has first given to Me, that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heavens is Mine.

Nehemiah 9:6
“You alone are the LORD. You have made the heavens, The heaven of heavens with all their host, The earth and all that is on it, The seas and all that is in them. You give life to all of them And the heavenly host bows down before You.

Haggai 2:8 —

” ‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the Lord Almighty.”

John 1:3

Through Him all things were made, and without Him nothing was made that has been made.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 — “You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God in your body.“

Colossians 1: 15-17 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in Him all things were created, things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities. All things were created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.…

Walking down this hill that my mind and hand could never make, that no land developer or geologist or  architect or construction engineer could ever create from pre-existing molecules,let  alone from nothing. I bow in holy awe of the One who spoke, “Let there be earth,” shaped these hills, spun the earth to create day and night, gave me cells and DNA and breath and life, because without His Spirit and breath, I’m the same as the sand beneath my shoes.

“Everlasting, Your light will shine when all else fades! Never-ending, Your glory goes beyond all things! And the cry of my heart is to give you praise – from the inside out, Lord, my soul cries out to you… consume me from the inside out.” Be all you are in me,and how totally implausible is that for me to ask of God Almighty? I have no right to ask that, EXCEPT that through Jesus I am adopted into God’s family,called his own,  filled with his Spirit, loved, no matter  what  size or shape box i live in, how it is filled, how empty it may be, or who shares it with me.

And when I stand before Jesus, I wonder, will he ask me how big my box was, how much I had in it, how high on the  hill it sat? Or will he ask me  what I did with the time and the life and resources I had, all that He  gave me, while I was here? Will He ask,”Who did you love? How did you love? To whom did you reach out? To whom did you give a ride to their job? To whom did you give a loaf of bread? Whose child did you clothe? Who did you comfort in their grief? Who did you share me and my love with?”

“‘When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’”

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Matthew 25:38-40 NIV

Jesus speaks a sobering word as I sit in my box and  look out at  the boxes around me down the hill:

Matthew 25:15-29English Standard Version (ESV)

To one he gave five talents,to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’  His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’  And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’  His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’  He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed,  so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’  But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed?  Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest.  So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.

I hope, I pray, I have answers for those questions that  will gladden the heart of God.

Lord God, I am eternally grateful for a roof over my head, a place  to sleep, food to eat,clothing to wear, family and friends  to love, and, improbably, for my very life, a  gift from you. Help me to manage all that you give me with love and faithfulness,  out of love for who you are and all you’ve already given: the priceless blood of your son Jesus as a  ransom for my life and soul, my righteousness, my life  forever with you in your house.

Coming home into my box, I fall on my face on the floor in reverent awe of the Holy One who created, differentiated, gave life to, and sustains it all and us all.

 

A”…BUT…” to pray: God Almighty, I may not have much in the sense of possessions, or I may have more than enough, BUT no matter what I have or lack, I have YOU as my Creator, Sustainer, Provider, Provision, Father,  Savior, Loving Lord,and that give me  value no one can take  from me. You say I am yours, and that alone makes me ___________________________________________________________________ and I thank you for your Spirit within me! Holy Spirit, I’m listening, and who can stop the Lord Almighty?

Available all together

Cover To my readers, with many thanks. I’ve just  published a paperback and e-version of many of my blog posts as a devotional prayer journal, available from Xulon Press, on Xulon, Amazon,  Barnes and Noble,and iBooks.

 

My posts may be sparse for some time, as the wonderful man I wrote about in my Tandem post was killed while waiting at a light, in a bike lane,with 9 other cyclists on March 3 when a DUI driver plowed into the group. A bright hope and joy in my life was extinguished, but he will live always in my heart.  Ken Vieira, you were and will be ever a gift from God!

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