Posts Tagged ‘blessing

25
Mar
20

These Dogs

46AF9FD8-B711-4765-BF2E-A4A1EC6CF51BThese dogs.

They don’t do much, in the grand scheme of things.

Sleeping seems to be very high on their list of “Things to do” every day. (A little too much of it, if you ask me).

There is also eating… barking at any sound, inside or outside the house… wrestling with each other… occasionally cuddling with Joan and I… and, hiding under the table when they hear the garbage truck drive into the cul-de-sac.

They track mud into the dining room.

They (well, the female in particular) steal paper napkins from the table and shred them on the living room floor.

They demand a walk not once, but at least twice a day.

Their breath is a little funky and they seem somehow unable to bathe themselves.

Sometimes they need shots or other expensive medicine from the vet.

Sometimes, when they are not around and when I don’t think Joan will overhear me, I mutter, “What a pain,” under my breath.

And then came the pandemic…

… the time of uncertainty, and of staying inside all day every day.

Then came the time of reading for hours in the middle of the day. The time of searching for new projects around the home. The time of long silences. The time of frayed nerves. The time of rationing our consumption of national news in order to keep our spirits up. The time of checking in by FaceTime and FaceBook. The time of fitful sleep. The time of hand-washing, hand-sanitizing, face masks, and rubber gloves. The time of wondering when things will ever return to “normal.” The time of wondering what “normal” might look like.

And there, in the middle of it all, are these dogs.

These dogs let us scratch and pat and cuddle them for comfort.

These dogs allow us to take them for walks on a day – like today – when the sun is out and the air is warm and springy.

These dogs look at us and somehow sense that things are not quite right… and then lean on us as if to say, “Hey, at least you’ve got me. It’s all going to be OK.”

These dogs provide us with a routine of feeding them and cleaning them.

These dogs bring a smile to our faces while we watch them chase and wrestle and play with gusto in the back yard.

These dogs somehow bring peace and healing to our hearts… radiating, as they do, an unconditional love and assurance.

And sometimes, when they are not around and I don’t think Joan will overhear me, I mutter, “What a blessing,” under my breath.

These dogs…

17
Mar
20

Before and After

Mustang restorationIt was over 20 years ago, but it was a period that still holds the title of “Absolute Worst Time of My Life.”

It was the time when my marriage of 23 years crashed and burned… one hundred percent due to my own immaturity and misanthropy.

It was the time when my struggling advertising and public relations business foundered and then finally ground to a halt.

It was the time when I seemed to be competing with myself to see if the next bad choice could somehow be worse than the last one.

It was the time when I succeeded in not only alienating my then wife, but also both of my sons.

It was a time when I was unable to see any hope or a way out and did not see how it was possible to sink any lower in terms of energy, self-esteem, or faith.

It was the time when I let go any shred of pretense of self-sufficiency, dropped to my knees in anguish, and cried out to God in utter despair.

It was also the time – I now see in retrospect – that my rebirth and redemption began in earnest.

The Bible tells us again and again that God has the desire and the power to redeem… anyone and any situation. Psalm 130:7 says, “O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem.”

114 other verses spread across the Old and New Testaments repeat the same theme.

And yes, I believe this truth because I grant God’s Word supreme authority in my life. As we trace through the narrative of God’s activity in the world, we come across the theme of redemption over and over and over again… from the redemption of Noah and his family from the flood, to the redemption of Israel from slavery in Egypt, to the redemption of the zealot Saul following the death of Jesus, and many others.

Heck, you might even start to believe that communicating the theme of REDEMPTION was one of the main reasons the Bible was written in the first place!

But I also believe in God’s power to redeem because I have experienced it! God redeemed my miserable husk of a life and used it for (I hope) something higher and better than chasing the next sensual gratification.

From my first-hand experience, I have learned that redemption doesn’t mean, “The bad chapter never happened.” Instead, it is God’s assurance that when we lean completely on God, abandoning our own claims to wisdom and nimble adaptability, God gazes on us with loving eyes and says, “I will take this wreckage and create something beautiful and life-giving from it.”

Sort of like the guy who pulled the old, burned-out Mustang off the scrap heap and restored it to better-than-mint condition.

I do not know where the current situation with the novel Coronavirus and COVID-19 is going to lead us. Our country seems to be taking dramatic steps to keep us from gathering in large crowds and spreading the disease at exponential rates. I mean, you know things are bad when major league sports franchises close down indefinitely.

Hopefully, these measures will keep us from overtaxing our healthcare systems, leading to tough decisions about who receives care, and who doesn’t.

As hopeful as I am though, I still fear things might get a lot worse before they show signs of getting better.

But wherever we end up three months… six months… or a year from now, I know one thing with absolute certainty. I know that God will continue to be in the redemption business.

I also know that God will – when we put our full trust in him – take the wreckage that is left behind and make something beautiful out of it.

Always has.

Always will.

21
Jan
20

Soul Winter

Dead leaves 2Yep.

Just poked my head out the window and confirmed something I’ve suspected for about a month now.

IT’S WINTER! (Unless, of course, you happen to live in the southern hemisphere).

And by the looks of things, it plans to continue being winter for quite a bit longer.

And so far here in my part of the country, it’s not that cute, cuddly, Currier-and-Ives kind of winter that looks like a beautiful snow globe someone has shaken up.

No. It is more that kind of slice-through-your-bones, punch-you-in-the-face, steal-all-your-joy-and-your-peanut-butter-and-jelly-sandwich-too kind of winter.

Winter is that time of year when you would swear that a massive crop-dusting plane flew over the whole country and dumped a load of DDT on everything.

In the winter, all plant life is dead. And brown. And gross. Take a look at these… I shot these pictures in our neighborhood while I was out walking the dog this morning. Note the remarkable lack of life in evidence here. Dead leaves 1

As winter trudges slowly by, it is sometimes tempting to look around at the deadness of the world and conclude that this condition will never, ever end. I have to admit… from the vantage point of January 21, 2020, warm weather and green grass seem like an impossible pipe dream somewhere out there on the eternal horizon.

Experience, however, tells us a different story. Experience keeps us from looking at the dead leaves and plunging into deep despair. Today we look at all this brown grass and detritus around but we don’t abandon hope. Even though our spirits might flag at this depressing sight, we grab ourselves by the lapels (or collar. Or bootstraps) and remind ourselves that this dreary, weary season will surely pass.

We have seen it happen before. And because we have seen it before, we are confident we will see it again.

This confidence goes by another name. It is also called FAITH.

In the case of the seasons, our faith has its roots firmly in our experience.

But what happens if we don’t have an experience like the certainty of spring to base our hope on?  What if we look around and see gloom and doom and have strong reasons to wonder if things will EVER be different?

That is precisely when a different kind of faith is called for. That is when we each need to reach a little deeper into our knapsack and search around a bit.

As a Christ-follower, I have the story of Easter to latch onto… the story that provides a graphic illustration of the truth that says, “Even when things look their bleakest, there is still hope. With God, the worst thing is never the last thing.”

As one who strives (and struggles) to live by his guidance, I can also consider myself an inheritor of the promise that Jesus gave the members of his inner circle on the night he was arrested. He told them, “In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!” (John 16:33, NRSV).

In the valleys we each face from time to time, we may lack the kind of hopeful certainty that we get when we watch winter inevitably give way to spring. But God is here to remind us that God’s promise of new life on the other side of something that looks like death is just as sure… just as reliable… just as much of a “lock” as the green crocus buds that will be showing up here in a couple of months.

If you, or someone you know, are struggling with your own version of a “winter of the soul,” take heart…

God’s spring is just around the corner.

23
Oct
19

GLOW

support groupMy wife GLOWs.

Every fourth Thursday of the month.

From 5:30 to 7:00.

And because she GLOWs, we glow (and grow) together as a family.

You see, GLOW is the name of the women’s cancer support group Joan attends at a nearby church. In an amazingly providential stroke, it turned out that there was a GLOW meeting last year on the exact same day she received her cancer diagnosis.

She has been going (and GLOWing) ever since.

GLOW is not necessarily a reference to the fact that many of the group’s members have undergone radiation therapy for their cancer. It is an acronym. It stands for God Loves Outrageous Women.

The GLOW Girls are indeed outrageous. Outrageously optimistic. They are also fierce. They are funny. They laugh together and they cry together. Sometimes they go to lunch together.

They also pray together. A LOT.

When the GLOW Girls gather on the fourth Thursday of the month, they share information with each other. For example, one woman got a lot of relief for the neuropathy in her feet from acupuncture. So she shared the name and phone number of her acupuncturist.

They share their joys, and much too regularly they share their sorrows.

I have never personally found myself on the receiving end of devastating news like a cancer diagnosis like Joan has. I have, however, gone through the devastation of a divorce. I have felt the anguish and soul-searching and the sting of a hundred “what ifs” that are all part of that terrible journey.

Divorce plunged me into moments of searing loneliness… a loneliness so deep I felt like I would never emerge from it.

And because of that experience, I also know what it feels like when someone extends a hand into that loneliness and says, “Hey there. I see you. I know what’s happening. I’ve been there.”

It felt a lot like what I imagine a drowning man might feel when grabbing hold of a life preserver.

At some point along the way, every one of us will have to travel through a dark valley. Those valleys will each be different and unique, but they will share some basic characteristics. They will frighten us, they will arouse anger, they will shake our faith to its core.

They will also try to isolate us and make us feel alone and defenseless.

When the time comes for your dark valley, I pray you will also be blessed by the gift of a supportive community… just like I found with my friend. Just like Joan has found with the GLOW Girls.

Honestly, though, communities can’t cure you. They can’t take your pain and fear away. They can’t magically change the dire nature of whatever it is you are facing.

But they can remind you that you are not alone. They can serve as a tangible, flesh-and-blood representation of the loving Creator who walks beside you through this dark moment.

They can help you laugh. They can help you cry. They can join you for lunch. They can recommend a good acupuncturist.

They can also help you carry your impossible burden, just like Paul tells us we are supposed to do: “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2, NRSV).

 

… and they just might help you glow a little when things get really dark.

11
Oct
19

Celebrating Women in Ministry

Female pastorFrom watching the TODAY Show this morning, I learned that today – October 11 – is the International Day of the Girl. Seems like something I should have known already.

I hope you won’t take offense at being called girls, but to celebrate this day, I want to give a big shout-out to female pastors.

I have had the privilege of knowing some phenomenal women who have answered the call to ordained ministry and who have served Christ faithfully, tirelessly, and creatively… all while enduring challenges we male clergy types have never even imagined experiencing.

  • I, for example, have never had a congregant come through the hand-shake line and compliment me on my hairstyle, utterly ignoring every word of my painstakingly prepared message.
  • I have also never heard the comment – overtly or covertly – that “men just don’t belong in the pulpit.” (And yes, that is still being said in 2019 in reference to female clergy).
  • No one has ever told me that they couldn’t focus on my message because I was “too pretty.”
  • My denomination has not systematically overlooked my leadership abilities when appointment-setting time rolls around.
  • I have never been called “overly emotional” (even though I really am an overly emotional guy).
  • Concerns have never been expressed about how I will balance my parenting responsibilities with my ministry.
  • I have never been “accidentally” groped while serving Holy Communion. (And just to be crystal clear; the quotes there around the word “accidentally” mean there was nothing accidental at all about the groping. And yes, that happened just a year ago to a female clergy friend).
  • And the list goes on and on, ad nauseum

It was only fifty years ago that the Methodist Church (pre-merger) began ordaining women. The largest protestant denomination in the world (the Southern Baptist Conference) still cites 1 Timothy 2:12 (“I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent.”)for its outlandish refusal to permit women to have any position of power in the Southern Baptist Church.

[So just a question for you here, SBC: are you also “all in” with Paul’s instructions on how to treat our slaves? Or on the covering of heads? Or the Levitical ordnances against mixing fibers in our clothing? Just curious…]

Even though I would love to believe that the CHURCH would be the last place we would find injustice, intolerance, and bigotry, it is just not the case.

Even here.

Even now.

So, blessings and much love on this International Day to you Shelly, Gayla, Maria, Kara, Nancy, Barb, Nanette, Libby, Melinda, Trudy, Sylvia, Sharon, Amy, Dee, Anne, Karen, Stephanie, Ally, Shayla, Esther, Joyce, Ashlee, Jada, Lisa, Rebecca, Nadia, and to every woman who nevertheless persists in following God’s call on your life.

We need you now more than ever.

And to the rest of us, let’s do everything we can to support and encourage these women as they lead us in following Christ.

09
Oct
19

One Funeral Too Many

Jesus began to weep. (John 11:35, NRSV)

Hugging menHere lately I have been going to entirely too many funerals.

OK, I suppose you could say this is just par for the course for people in that “certain” age bracket to which I now officially belong.

But it seems that since officially retiring from the ministry on July 1, I have gone to WAAAAY more funerals than in any similar three-month stretch in memory. And only one of these was for an elderly, 90+ year-old man who died of the legendary “natural causes.”

The funeral yesterday was the one that hit me hardest of all. It was a service for the 61-year-old spouse of one of my pastor colleagues who died from a particularly aggressive and fast-moving cancer.

I hadn’t even heard she was ill.

I know I reacted so strongly to Doreen’s service because of the cancer scare we had just a little over a year ago with Joan. As I sat in the sanctuary yesterday listening to the music, watching the slideshow of family photo memories and gazing into the grieving faces of friends and family, I nearly lost it.

It was a great service, as these things go. The pastor (not my friend, her husband) did one of the very best officiating jobs I have ever experienced. And I have seen/officiated at a LOT of funerals. She was tender at the appropriate moments, funny when that was called for, gave comfort and hope to all of us, and was theologically rock solid throughout.

I guess I responded the way I did because right there, in the middle of the whole thing, the utter fragility of life became a little too real for me. My mortality, Joan’s mortality, the mortality of everyone I care about suddenly stood up and slapped me in the face.

HARD!

And as it did, the absurdity of the service came into focus as well. I mean, what are we trying to do here, I asked myself? In a way I felt like a caveman, gathering with other cavepeople around a roaring fire, believing we were safe from evil as long as we stayed within the fire’s friendly yellow ring of light.

When asked to officiate at a funeral, I carry with me the belief that a thoughtful, compassionately conducted funeral service can go a long way toward kick-starting the healing process for a family. My goal has always been to leave folks with some kind of “spiritual lifeline” to grab hold of in the ensuing weeks after the rush of arrangement-making, hosting family and friends from out of town, and all of the administrative aftermath of a death dies down and the quiet finally sets in.

But regardless of how well any officiant does our job, we can’t carry your grief for you. Nothing we say can anesthetize or paper over the hole that has suddenly appeared in the middle of your life.

Funerals, even at their best, are always too brief, too superficial, and too impersonal to permanently stave off the darkness.

But maybe that is not even the outcome we should be shooting for.

Maybe we should ask something higher, better, and more realistic from these ceremonial post-mortem gatherings of ours.

Maybe we could come to see funerals as times to turn toward one another knowingly, and tenderly, and say, “My God this is precious. Forgive me, sister, for ever drawing one breath without exhaling gratitude. Pardon me, brother, for taking for granted any moment, any conversation, any laugh we have shared. Let’s use the holy moment of this dear one’s passing to renew our vow to wrap our arms tightly around each other and around our Creator and to DANCE through the rest of whatever limited time here we have.”

Wouldn’t that be something?

05
Aug
19

Mr. Tidy Guy

Tidy guyI hate messes.

I confess freely and fully to you now that I am a compulsive tidier-upper. Some (such as my loving wife) might even say I verge on being obsessive-compulsive about my tidying.

Things lying around on the kitchen counter that don’t belong there make me just a little crazy. And so… they get tidied.

In my wake, half-finished cans of Diet Coke get dumped (sorry honey!), today’s edition of the newspaper gets recycled (if it is after 2:00 p.m.), dust bunnies get swept away, and aimlessly wandering pens or pencils get returned to their proper homes.

Try as I might, I have been unable to confine my tidying to my own home. Microscopically crooked pictures on the walls of doctor or dentist’s offices don’t stay that way for very long when I am around.

I will also confess that it takes every ounce of self-restraint I can muster to keep from reaching over and wiping that little spot of mustard off a child’s cheek at our neighborhood McDonald’s.

I realize that this behavior is much more an affliction than a virtue, and yet, I persist… neatening up the world, one disorderly trash pile at a time.

I wonder what is really going on here. What do you think the deeper drivers of this neatnik-ness might be?

I wonder if it has anything to do with looking out every day at a world that seems to get messier and messier by the minute… heaping tragedy on top of disaster on top of sorrow, on top of sin?

I wonder if the visions of lives permanently disfigured by violence, addiction, poverty, war, or natural disasters make me feel like I have to DO SOMETHING to bring a tiny piece of order into this landscape of chaos?

I wonder if I am engaging in some kind of silly antidote to my own sense of helplessness in the face of a world that seems to have run a little amok… as if to say, “Well, the politicians in this country might lack the spines to enact any kind of common-sense gun laws that could bring down the epic levels of gun violence we see here today, but at least my living room carpet is nicely vacuumed.”

It is entirely possible.

But then I am forced to reflect on the fact that Jesus didn’t ever promise me that life would suddenly become neat and orderly when I decided to follow him.

In one place in John’s gospel, Jesus promised that life with him would be ABUNDANT. (John 10:10). So I guess it is possible for life to be abundant and messy at the same time, right?

In another place, Jesus is actually on record as promising the continuation of messes and problems; “… in this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NIV).

Today I hereby resolve to try and do a better job of leaving Joan’s Diet Coke cans alone when I find them.

However, odds are pretty good that I will continue to be Mr. Tidy Guy both at home and abroad.

But I will also try to remember – as I look out on the massiveness and complexity of the piles of mess in the world – that those messes do not have the final word. As unsolvable and un-tidiable as they might look, they have already been brought under the authority and control of the One who is far greater than any mess imaginable.

 

So, if you will excuse me… I’ve just spotted an errant scrap of paper on my front lawn.




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