Monday, June 27, 2016

Longing in Exile

After almost three years in Texas I have found a Saturday morning running group that meets relatively close to where we live and runs through a nice area, with small-town charm, finishing at a sweet little coffee shop.  Among these folks I can talk easily about various things that runners talk about without getting blank stares or being mistaken for a show-off.  I am, after all, the slowest person out there each Saturday to run the four-mile loop, but I can converse knowledgeably about running gear, various races, and the pros and cons of pre-run breakfast choices.  Runners don't care if you are fast or slow; they are a friendly and welcoming bunch.  When we are standing around afterwards, sweating profusely, having covered the same pavement and been cheered in to the finish by those who arrived first, we have that much in common, and it's enough.  I belong. 

And yet, this past Saturday, after I finished, purchased my post-run iced-Chai latte, and pulled up a chair to join the group, I sat in a tiny island of isolation.

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Have Thine Own Way, Lord!

I have a hymn winging through my heart as I go about my several quiet tasks at home.  Of course, I can't remember all the words, but the refrain and the first line are running on repeat.

"Have thine own way, Lord!  have thine own way!
Thou art the potter; I am the clay.
Mold me and make me after thy will,
while I am waiting, yielded and still."

This past Lord's day our Sunday school class opened with prayer requests for various concerns among our group, from church members suffering and near the end of life due to cancer, to one who attended a funeral for the child of a friend who lamented that it was the child who ought to be burying the parent and not the other way around.  We then shared praises, and several of our friends told how the homes from which they had moved in the recent past had sold in, for some, a timely and, for all, a financially beneficial manner.

And at the mention of another being blessed with the quick selling of their home for the asking price, my heart sinks just a bit and whispers, "Why not me, Lord?"

My mind naturally turns to our own beautiful home in Pennsylvania, which did not have such a happy outcome.  Having been on the market for three years as a short sale, we finally had to turn it back over to the bank in a move just shy of straight-up foreclosure.  While that is a severe blow to our credit, and buying any home in the foreseeable future is now out of the question, the hardest part of the whole ordeal is the fact that we loved that house.

The home and the property were a blessing to us and we opened our doors to others as often as we had opportunity.  Hospitality was our near-constant theme as we built a guest room and had space for group camping in the backyard.  The fire pit saw almost constant use in the Summer and Fall as we shared the yard with the church youth group and friends from near and far.  Ping pong, foosball, air hockey, and darts in the basement were available in case of inclement weather and upstairs there was plenty of room for dinner parties and sleepovers.

Our open and spacious kitchen meant we could enjoy each other's company from one room to the next even as we sliced and diced, simmered and stewed and prepared our meals, and then washed up afterwards.  A group of Kate's friends once entertained us with show tunes as they danced around the kitchen, cleaning up from Sunday lunch.

Besides the joy of sharing our home with others was the sheer blessedness of living there.  We had 2 acres of yard and woods with gardens and flower beds scattered all around the property.  There was the tree fort that Jim and the kids built, as well as neighbors who became friends.  Secluded on top of a hill, the drive just to get home was a feast for the eyes.

I still daydream, at times, about the renovations we hoped to complete....

Returning to Sunday school and our topic of discussion, the final verses of Psalm 27, we read David's pleading with the Lord to lead him,

"...on a level path because of my enemies.
Give me not up to the will of my adversaries; 
for false witnesses have risen against me, 
and they breathe out violence."

By the time we got to this portion of the Psalm it was clear that many of us in the room were applying David's petitions to our own circumstances in which we are each experiencing difficulties, trials of faith, and uncertain, even fearful outcomes.

The question was raised in class that since this Psalm is addressing David's desperate need during a time of apparent warfare, when others were attempting to take his very life, can we presume to apply it to our own lesser circumstances?

In this modern age, and especially in our privileged nation, there are few occasions to cower in battle.  I have never had someone actually shoot at me, or attempt, in any fashion, to take my life.*  Yet, while I do not know this particular fear, I have known loss.  I have experienced pain.  Even excruciatingly sharp pain.  I have found myself pressed under trials so great as to bring me to the end of myself.  I have at times questioned whether God is really and truly good to me. (And, just so you know, it wasn't about the house.)

 There do arise plenty of circumstances which try those of us who are in Christ and many of these can bring us to the brink of the abyss of unbelief.  The temptation to bitterness is ever present for those of us who have lost something dear, only to watch others receive that which we were denied.  Oh, how the taste of that gall focuses the pain and rolls it around and around, examining it from every angle, tainting everything else with the flavors of disappointment and envy.  Do not be deceived, bitterness itself is a trial which takes on a life of its own and can grow until it pushes almost all hope out of the confines of a heart.

You see, my greatest enemy resides within me and I carry it about with me every day.  My greatest enemy is my own indwelling sin, and it knows my every particular weakness.  John Owen, in his Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers, first published in 1656, describes the actions of this sin upon the soul of a believer:

"It is a cloud, a thick cloud, that spreads itself over the face of the soul, and intercepts all the beams of God's love and favor.  It takes away all sense of the privilege of our adoption; and if the soul begins to gather up thoughts of consolation, sin quickly scatters them..."
Jesus' death on the cross released from the bondage to sin all who, by grace, through faith, would believe on him for salvation.  Sin is no longer my master; I belong to Christ!  but I carry around in me this nature which is so habituated to my patterns of sin that when it calls to me to return to my former servitude, I am faced with the choice to surrender or to fight.  Therefore, as Owen so neatly puts it, I must take up the battle daily.

"Do you mortify;
do you make it your daily work;
be always at it while you live;
cease not a day from this work;
be killing sin or it will be killing you." 
And in this, I find that I am indeed involved in a deadly battle.  Again, John Owen tells us,

"...sinful habits impel with violence and impetuousness; whence lusts are said to fight or wage "war against the soul" (1 Peter 2:11)—to rebel or rise up in war with that conduct and opposition which is usual therein (Romans 7:23)—to lead captive, or effectually captivating upon success in battle—all works of great violence and impetuousness."
 So, yes, the battle scenario which David is describing can very well be applied to me today.  I am facing an enemy from whom I cannot hide, an enemy who seeks my destruction. I therefore believe the answer found in the final verse, where David turns from addressing God in prayer to preaching the gospel to himself, is also applicable to me.

"Wait for the LORD;
be strong, and let your heart
take courage;
wait for the LORD!"

The only remedy for my bitterness is the gospel.  The most effective weapon for this fight is faith in the One who set me free.  I must drag my eyes from my loss and gaze intently on my gain: Jesus Christ, my Savior and Lord.  I must drag my eyes from those blessings which I covet and focus on the life I have graciously been given in him. and the blessings without number, hidden in Christ, which will take an eternity to unpack....  The Psalms are filled with encouragements to take up arms against this foe.

"Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God."
Psalm 42:5-6

And as for how the Lord chooses to deal with others of his children, it is ultimately no business of mine.  When Jesus was telling Peter what was to come for him, and how he would die a martyr's death, Peter saw another disciple following them and asked, "What about him?"

"Jesus said to him, "If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?  You follow me." -John 21:22.
 The Lord has a plan for each of us, and how he measures out the blessings and trials in another's life relative to my own is none of my business.  I am to love my brothers and sisters in Christ, to share in their joys and their sorrows, to laugh and to cry with them, and to uphold them in prayer as we walk together in the way.  And so, regarding my own particular joys and my sorrows, as well as those of my brothers and sisters, I can sing:

"Have thine own way, Lord!  have thine own way!
Thou art the potter; I am the clay.
Mold me and make me after thy will,
while I am waiting, yielded and still."

*{For the record, the reason so many in our class were even needing to sell homes is because we live in an area with several military bases, which means a lot of cross-country moves, and then a lot of military folks retire here.  So, frankly, some of the men in that classroom may well have known battle and the fear of losing their lives.  But I'm talking about me here, and an enemy common to us all.}

Monday, October 19, 2015

Oh, my Brain.....

Oh, hmmm,... how to begin?

I have taken a mostly-unintended hiatus from writing.  Not that there haven't been things to write about—which there have—and not that I haven't had the time—which has become increasingly rare—but that I haven't quite known how. 

You see, I have dedicated this blog to primarily my own story.  Or, rather, how I have seen God writing his story of my life through the circumstances which he has placed me.  In the past months, however, my own story has interwoven with the stories of others which I do not at this time feel privileged to tell.  Unraveling the strands has simply proven too difficult as my own time and space for carefully considering what I am writing has dwindled to practically nill.

And now I feel a swell building for something which I desire to share.  A story of God's mercy and grace through a painfully tender cross which he has asked me to bear.  But I simply can't find the words.

Have you ever felt—physically felt—yourself growing stupid?  I sit here and stare at the screen and it's as if my brain has melted, or atrophied, or... something.  I don't know.   I've walked away and pursued other tasks around the house, come back, and still,... nothing.  There is a wet and heavy quilt muffling my thoughts and I can't budge it to save my post.  Part of it is the pain, part of it is the untangling, but most of it is the wet blanket.

So here's what I'm going to do.  I'm going to write anyway.  I'll write about the construction workers next door hammering down shingles rhythmically all day to the point where I pause if I don't hear them.  I'll share that my creative slump isn't limited to writing this blog, but I am cooking meals on autopilot which means... blah.  I'll confess that I haven't run in weeks and besides my jeans getting tighter (arg!) I know this is a piece of the puzzle to my writer's block. And yes, I'll say it right here: I do believe that Facebook is sucking my life away...

(Caveat: That is, besides the links to really good articles and the communication with my daughters who all live entirely too far away.)

So I hereby pledge (plan, hope, choose) to re-start my running routine, play more music when I am home alone, and severely limit my Facebook usage.

Perhaps this will draw the quilt away from my brain and allow me to think clearly again.

And, oh, the construction workers must be done for the day.  Silence.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

In the Beginning: Happy New Year

Welcome to a new year, 2015, freshly hatched and full of possibilities.

As with most years in the past twenty-or-so years I am beginning with the good intention of reading through the Bible.  The whole Bible.  After all, it's what Christians do, right?  And I am a reader.  Anyone who knows me knows that I love to read; anyone who has been to my home has seen the plain evidence that I love to read in the vast shelves of books that fill our living room. 

So in the past twenty-or-so years how many times do you suppose I have accomplished this feat?


Friday, December 05, 2014

Comfort, Comfort Ye My People

After reading a blog post by Thabati Anyabwile a couple of days ago I have been challenged, in light of current events, to look past the distractions of looting and pillaging mobs (which are still a serious issue, yes) and to examine the root issues through the lens of the gospel.  Behind the sensationalism brought to us by the media lies deep pain and sadness, even fear.  A mother has lost a son.  A wife is now a widow.  The very institutions put in place to defend and protect are feared by an entire segment of our population, many of whom are my brothers and sisters in Christ.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Worldview Miscommunication

Because I'm not so good with the putting-the-words-together-thing in real-life with real-live people, I often wish I had a pause button so that, when stumped with a question or statement that demands a clear and thoughtful answer, I could step away from the conversation and give more thought, prayer, a bit of research, and perhaps find a pithy quote from someone—anyone—profoundly wiser than me in order to contribute intelligently to the exchange of ideas.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Ballad of the Unborn

Last October our friend, Ernie, stopped by a yard sale.  While browsing, he spotted a mug which appealed to him and picked it up for a closer inspection.  The mug was in great condition, but inside he found a folded piece of paper.  He carefully opened the lined paper, yellowed with age, to find a poem written in beautiful handwriting.  When he showed it to the seller she said he could take it with the purchase of the mug.  

When he showed the poem to me I couldn't get past the first stanza without tears.