Monday, May 02, 2022

Winter and Spring are Arm Wrestling




 It snowed on Easter and understandably this makes New Yorkers grumpy. The other day when I was working on writing a sermon, I had such a delightful sunny perch. The barista named Carlie is a chalk artist putting this "note" to winter on the blackboard. She also picked that great "the earth speaks in flowers" mug from which I enjoyed my coffee. I felt a bit like a cat sunning myself in the window.

Flowers bring a delightful aroma. The wind is like a bouquet bringing the sweetness of daffodils, hyacinth, tulips and flowering lilac shrubs into our nostrils and our experience. During these weeks of winter and spring arm wrestling, I'm struck not only with severe seasonal allergies, but also by the "full strength" of how spring comes in other places than here. The crocus flowers are often snowed on several times before spring truly arrives in western New York. 

Considering the different ways that spring comes depending on where you live strikes me as a great comparison with how God is revealed to us in our lives. It is not surprising that for some people there has always been a subtle awareness that there is a God who loves and cares personally for them. There are many others with whom I have conversed who give testimony to God showing up in an explosive pop similar to spring blossoms. This is also not surprising.

Regardless of these varying experiences of God, when we finally come to "know" God in a personal way there is something is unmistakable about it. The fragrance, aroma, smell or whatever you want to call it finally makes its way into every fiber of our being and we are changed by it. The wrestling is over. We are each and all created by God. We are each and all created for a walking and talking interactive life with God.

It is not surprising that God uses us, feeble and weak and imperfect as we are, to reveal the truth to others. In 2 Corinthians 2, one man who was also an imperfect follower of Jesus, Paul, put it like this: "Through us, he brings knowledge of Christ. Everywhere we go, people breathe in the exquisite fragrance. Because of Christ, we give off a sweet scent rising to God, which is recognized by those on the way of salvation....This is a terrific responsibility. Is anyone competent to take it on? We stand in Christ's presence when we speak; God looks us in the face. We get what we say straight from God and say it as honestly as we can...we always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body" (the Message, paraphrase, 2 Corinthians 14ff and 2 Corinthians 4:10).

Is your life speaking the truth to others? Does it have an aroma of authenticity? Does it bring God's perfume of grace, mercy, and love? If you know that you currently do not show this, would you like it to and if so, what is God's invitation in this.

Assignment: take a walk outside somewhere near or in a bed of blooming flowers and talk to God about the fragrance of your life.

 

Saturday, April 30, 2022

Pandemic Ponderings, part 1



https://youtu.be/2hvdvsEn7KI

I often wonder how many things in our world are shifting. So much seems to be "on thin ice." It could be that these shifts have been happening for a while, but now that a full world-wide pandemic has thrown us all into a chaos, it is impossible to come back from. 

Shifts in my own life, personally and professionally, have opened up so many questions. Pondering such questions can be scary and exhilarating all at the same time. 

This really great short film was part of the 2019-2020 Banff Mountain Film Festival. It captures one of the new (or RENEWED) messages that I heard loud and clear at the beginning of the pandemic. Maybe you also have heard it. It is the message that so many moms have said: "Go Outside!"

"We need to be outside."

 

Thursday, April 07, 2022

Every good gift

Over the last month, I have been in New York, Texas, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina. I swam in the Atlantic Ocean (again!) 

I have also spent time dog sitting for some friends. These friends, old and new, two legged and four-legged remind me of a simple truth that is worth keepin near to the heart. We all have friends. We all need friends! Treasure the friends in your life. I am counting them as some of the greatest gifts nowadays. 




Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows



  



 

Thursday, March 10, 2022

Jesus - song lyrics by Rich Mullins

 

Jesus - by Rich Mullins

"Jesus, write me into Your story
whisper it to me
And let me know I'm Yours"

The walls seemed to echo back to us these words penned by Rich Mullins. The story as told in the movie Ragamuffin (available on Prime and other sources for movies) features Rich taping the "demo" version of the Jesus record in an abandoned rural church such as this one. Levanna Community Church is on Levanna Rd. near Aurora, New York on the east side of Cayuga Lake. Folks gather about once a month except when it is too cold. The building does not have electricity or indoor plumbing. The dear servant of God who serves as the pastor of the congregation gave us all the details as we visited with her.

The saints of every generation need to have their identity as the people of God whispered to them. The world needs more ragamuffin saints such as Rich and this pastor to live as salt and light...to help us all see how Jesus is indeed writing us into His Story.

Monday, March 07, 2022

Denial and Other Waters, part 3

 Streams, reservoirs, lakes, rivers....these are a few of my favorite things!

As I scroll through pictures to show others a few things from my life over the last couple of years, my response to this picture is "this is me and the St. Lawrence river...the only body of water I didn't swim in on that trip." I know that I will return to that river and swim in it. I have to because, in my very bones now, I am a swimmer. (Disclaimer: this does not mean that I am fast nor does it mean that I can do anything beyond the basic freestyle-crawl move!)

This is a fairly recent development. Until 3 years ago, I would casually swim as a low-impact option for cardio exercise. I didn't crave it and I didn't even really enjoy it until I started swimming outdoors (another aside that I will write more about in the coming weeks and months is that during the pandemic, I became a triathlete!).

Pool swimming was definitely my comfort zone. Growing up in New Mexico, I joke that I had only swam in open water 3 times in my life. "You can't see the bottom!!! Where are the lines? What is that rubbing up against my legs?" So many potential dangers just below the surface of the water.

I am really good at denial. I refuse to admit the truth sometimes. This can work in my favor when I am approaching different waters in which I might want to swim. My aunt Becky joked about becoming shark food as I put on my wet suit on Monday, January 31 for a nice swim in the Atlantic Ocean at the Jacksonville Beach. Sharks are real and there have been shark attacks in those waters. But, no I have to swim in that water! No matter that it is 63 degrees and all the locals have on their snow boots and puffy coats. No matter that it will not be a full mile swim that I am used to. No matter all the potential risks and challenges. I did not "feel" afraid. I told myself that the swimmer in me would be angry if I didn't do what swimmer do....swim! (More on cold exposure in upcoming posts)

Denial does not always work in my favor. Sometimes it is just stupid! Sometimes it is what I do to protect myself from harsh realities with which I just do not want to deal. But if it is true that reality is what you run into when you are wrong, it helps to come face to face with truth even when it hurts.

At the core, though, I am most fundamentally a daughter of the King of the universe. I have been created, redeemed, and given a joyful present and future by God. So many of the labels that we use for ourselves do not get at the core of who we really are. For instance, I may call myself a swimmer nowadays, but what if I injure myself and am no longer able to swim? It is an aspect of my life and something I very much enjoy, but I would not cease to be me if I were not able to swim. 

It could be that some of us at least some of time struggle to anchor our lives in our real identity. I live in denial as a way of remaining in control. Letting go of all the partial definitions of who I am requires a fixed gaze on the true me as seen through the eyes of My Heavenly Father.

I no longer need to swim in the waters of denial if I am "hidden with Christ in God" (Colossians 3) as the apostle Paul writes. In the New Testament, there are 164 times that the words "in Christ" or "Christ in me" are used. I can trust that this is my true identity.  

Wednesday, March 02, 2022

Denial and Other Waters, part 2

There is no denying that we live where winter abounds!

I have always loved winter and this is what I told people who would go on and on about how dreadful the winters are in western New York. It is true that it takes longer to do everything in the snow. For instance, you have to plan ahead, know how long it takes to put on your snow boots, your multiple layers of clothing which needs to include gloves, hats, scarf. There is some art and science involved in layering! Also, it is important to plan for snow removal before it happens. It is also good to learn and practice winter sports. There are also things to consider when winter starts again after a few sunny days. A long winter can have impact on all of us, not to mention those that suffer from seasonal affective disorder. 

We are adaptable creatures. God made us that way. This means that if we move to the artic north, we learn to love winter. We learn to snowshoe! We practice making the best out of even the winter that lasts too long.

In a similar way, we learn responsive obedience to God by taking small and incremental steps. Now, we are embarking on Lent. It is a season of the Christian year. If you are new to this idea, I recommend you read this great article "What is the Meaning of Lent..." (https://www.christianity.com/wiki/holidays/what-is-the-purpose-of-lent.html) 

It is a time when we practice things because we want to grow in intimacy with the Lord. 

To specifically address my denial, these are a few practices that I am going to focus on from now until Easter:

  • "confess" more which means that I will be having more frequent conversations with God asking for Him to search me and show me areas of my life where I am prone to get stuck in denial...confession really means "owning our junk."
  • "repent" in the company of others, see where I need to listen more, cultivate curiosity, ask for more information, and ask for others to forgive me when I am in the wrong.
  • "listening to my body" which means taking care of this most precious gift of God, my body...paying attention to getting enough sleep and rest, experimenting with different ways of exercising so that I steward the gift of my body well.
A Lenten Prayer (St. Ephrem, the Syrian)

O Lord and Master of my life!

Take from me the spirit of laziness, faintheartedness, desire for power, and idle talk.

But give your servant the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love.

Yes, Lord and King! Grant me to see my own errors and not to unjustly judge my brother (or sister) for you are blessed, now and forever, Amen. 



Saturday, February 19, 2022

Denial and other waters, part 1

When I was in my twenties, a mentor of mine said to me, "Denial is not just a river in Egypt!" I'm not sure what our discussion was about, but clearly this person thought that I was not fully acknowledging some important portion of reality. 

Honestly, this year, my fiftieth year of life, I am now ready to acknowledge some things that are true. This post could also be titled, "Dear younger me, learn from Moses already!"

The Nile is a powerful force. The Red Sea is also a powerful force. Denial is also a powerful force. On one hand, denial is a healthy (though temporarily so) mechanism to navigate the stressful situations in which we find ourselves. Denial, like a lot of good things (like winter), must eventually end so that something else, something with more force and more eternal endurance can come.

Moses, Aaron and Miriam hear the Almighty, the God of the universe call them to lead their people out of Egypt. The overwhelming series of events including 10 plagues with the climax being the "saving" of the firstborn babies and the parting of the Red Sea. (For a refresher, read Exodus 1-15 and just for fun watch this clip from the movie The Prince of Egypt: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CeJSvgq6Dxo)

In Exodus 7:6, it states that Moses is age 80 and Aaron is age 83. For the purposes of keeping this post on the short side, let's decide to take these ages at face value. These folks were not spring chickens. They had some seasoning on their skillets. They knew a thing of two by then. They had learned by lived experience to trust that the Almighty God who had led them to the border of the water would provide a way forward. God did just that.

Moses' words to the people as they are facing the desert and the sea which were both very fierce and powerful forces is a good one for me during this season of transition and uncertainty: "Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you...the LORD will fight for you; you need only be still" (Exodus 14:13-14).

You may be facing some pretty uncertain times as well. You may be facing some scary things that make you want to live in denial or cower and run away. You may be tempted to think that taking refuge in the past would be safer or at least more comfortable. Yet, perhaps, the Almighty God is inviting you to live facing the scary future with openness to whatever God is doing.

Dear younger me: The way will open before you as you put your confidence in the LORD!