Posts Tagged ‘blessings

19
Jul
18

Unedited You

Writing is hard.

WritingWriting well is harder. (Or should that be “Writing good…”?)

Yet, in spite of all the hurdles and pitfalls involved, I would much rather write than talk.

The problem with talking is that it is so… INSTANT. A situation arises… words are called for… they spill out of your mouth in some kind of order… and then all sorts of conclusions and assumptions begin congealing around them.

There was that time – for example – when I decided to break the ice with a complete stranger over the cold cut tray at a friend’s Christmas party. “So…” my chatty banter began, “Are you one of Fred’s neighbors who are part of the effort to fight that nasty development the ABC Real Estate Company is planning for the neighborhood?”

“Well, no,” the stranger replied… very deliberately. “I am actually on the board of directors of the ABC Real Estate Company.”

Or then there was that other time when a 50ish couple was leaving the worship service with an uber-cute six-or-seven-year-old boy in tow. I had not recalled seeing them before, so to make a little friendly conversation as hands were being shaken I smiled and said, “Oh! Is this your grandson you’ve brought with you to church today!”

Their smiles suddenly faded, replaced by a now frosty façade as the man replied, “No. This is our SON.”

Strangely I don’t think we saw them too many times in church after that.

But when I am here at my keyboard, I enjoy an INFINITE number of chances to start… stop… correct… erase… edit… and perfect my words before they ever cross your radar screen. If something looks even the slightest bit askew, POOF! Away it goes into the electronic ether.

When I write, I can look back and notice that I have used the word AMAZING five times in a row. Then I can simply mouse over at least two “amazings”, right click to pull up the thesaurus function and replace them with “startling” and “remarkable” and end up sounding a little less dull and unimaginative than I really am.

Writing takes a lot more work than talking, to be sure. But I really prefer presenting the world with EDITED Russell vs. UNEDITED, raw Russell.

EDITED Russell is smooth and articulate. He uses the right word at the right time. His conversation is sprinkled with texture, nuance, and wit. Heck, he can even be called borderline witty and wise now and then.

UNEDITED Russell can be downright clumsy. He hesitates… uses the wrong word at the wrong time… offends people – always unintentionally, of course. He often lets emotions rather than cool, thorough thoughtfulness shape his words. In the right situation, he has even been known to let a profanity escape his lips.

People find edited Russell likable… but they admit unedited Russell can often be more than a little annoying.

All of which makes God and God’s assessment system a marvel that most of us will never even come close to wrapping our minds around.

That’s because – as I read the words of scripture – God not only LOVES unedited Russell, and (insert your name here…) – God actually PREFERS the unedited version of each of us. God’s emissary, Paul of Tarsus, tells his church in Rome, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.”(Romans 5:6, NRSV).

King David was a big advocate of coming to God with one’s complete, unvarnished, unedited self and just laying it out there in its most raw form. At the time of one of his deepest funks, he wrote, “The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”(Psalm 51:17, NRSV).

And apparently, God doesn’t want us to edit ourselves OR our prayers. That’s why there is such a thing as the Holy Spirit. Romans 8:26 reminds us, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.”

So I’m sure I will probably continue to edit my writing. I will make every attempt to edit my speaking, thinking, and acting… especially when you and I are together.

But let’s just all take this moment to rejoice at the reminder that God’s nature is to open his arms wide and give a big ol’ godly bear hug to the real, unedited YOU.

18
Jun
18

In or out?

Apologies in advance to the comedian who said this originally, because I thought it was really funny.

But as much as I would like to give credit where credit is due, I can’t remember your name.

Commenting on the popularity of the cross as an item of jewelry, your line was something like: “I am pretty sure that when he does come back again, the absolute LAST thing Jesus is going to want to see is a CROSS! He’ll be like, ‘Is this somebody’s idea of a cruel joke! That thing gives me NIGHTMARES!’”

It’s a funny line. And he (the comedian) is probably right.

But that doesn’t keep me from getting up every morning, reaching into the miscellaneous whatnot keeper on my closet shelf, and grabbing for the cross necklace lying there.

As you can see from the photo here, it’s a pretty nice one.My cross

It was a seminary graduation present from my loving wife.

No, it is not raw, roughhewn wood, stained with blood and pockmarked with nail holes. And yet, attractive as it is, I am sure it would still give Jesus the heebie-jeebies.

There is never a question about whether I will wear my cross on a given day. But there is ALWAYS the question – IN? or OUT? As in, “Will I wear the cross on the inside of my shirt or on the outside?

For me, each of these alternatives has both an upside and a downside.

The upside of the choice to wear the cross inside my shirt is that it becomes a gently thumping form of personal reminder. As I walk, I can feel it lightly tapping my chest as if to say, “Hey, buddy… don’t forget. You decided to give your life to Christ and to speak words and do deeds that are consistent with who He is! Represent well, homie!”

The downside, of course, is that wearing the cross inside the shirt sometimes feels as if I am HIDING my faith… you know, chickening out and keeping it under wraps.

Wearing my cross on the outside of the shirt, of course, solves that problem. It puts it right out there for all passers-by to see. It becomes a walking proclamation that declares, “Hey! Check it out! Jesus follower here! Anybody want to hear a little Good News? I’m your guy!”

The downside of outside is that very visibility. It can feel a little “holier-than-thou” at one end of the spectrum and “intolerant-of-thou” at the other… neither of which – I believe – is helpful to the cause of Christianity.

Most of the time my default is “inside.” This is mainly because I feel as if need to be reminded of my faith decision MUCH MORE OFTEN than others do.

And also because I do not believe Bible scholars have yet discovered a heretofore unseen coda to Matthew 28:20 that says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit… being sure to wear all the cross jewelry and Christian fish symbols you can in the process.”

And finally, I guess I default to “inside the shirt” because, even though I was only six years old the first time I sang it, I still hold fast to the wisdom of that camp song that reminds us that, “They will know we are Christians BY OUR LOVE…”

… and not by the crosses we wear, or by the ecstatic hands we raise in worship, or by the fish symbols on our bumpers, or by the way we vote, or by the number of times we say, “Father God…” when we pray out loud.

Please understand; I am not judging you harshly if you are a person who has decided to wear the cross visibly as part of your daily wardrobe. In fact, I actually admire the boldness of your witness.

I am just saying that the challenge I seek to rise to is the challenge of allowing my life to demonstrate my faith… and not to be bad advertising for it when it doesn’t.

 

So… what will it be today?

In? Or out?

05
Jun
18

Be Like Rosie

Rosie mopingMeet Rosie.

Rosie is our nearly eight-month-old Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier.

And yes, it is perfectly OK for you to say what you’re thinking right now: she IS, in fact, the cutest dog in the world.

Rosie is very high-spirited and energetic… which is exactly why we chose the name, Rosie. Think of it for a minute: every human named Rosie I have ever known has been spunky, high-spirited, and energetic… for example,

  • Rosie the Riveter
  • Rosie O’Donnell
  • Rosie Perez, just to name a few.

Rosie under chairRosie came to us in early December and is the first dog my wife and I have raised from the puppy stage. I will admit to being more than a bit nervous whether I was up to the task, or how badly we might scar her. But I have to give her credit; Rosie has responded remarkably well to our admittedly erratic efforts at training during this past six months.

And so it was with no small degree of surprise when I was struck earlier today with this sudden realization: as much effort as Joan and I have spent training Rosie, it seems that all this time Rosie has also been working on training US.

I am not sure how many of her lessons we have mastered yet, but here are some of the things I believe she has been trying to teach us since December:

  • THE VALUE OF SPONTANEOUS PLAY. For Rosie, there seems to be no time and no place that is not PERFECT for breaking into a rousing game of “fetch the tennis ball,” or “tug the squeaky toy,” or “chase me around the living room with your shoe in my mouth.” I believe she wants us to know that play can happen ANYWHERE, under any circumstance. She has probably observed that Joan and I seem to spend a lot of time with our heads burrowed into our laptops, or the morning paper, or engaged in somber-toned conversations with one another and wants to shake things up a bit. Even now as I write these words she is eagerly baiting me with a bit of knotted rope she likes to tug.
  • NAPS ARE GOOD… OH SO GOOD. The only thing Rosie does better than eating or playing is napping. She can nap anytime, anywhere, in fair weather or foul, at home or on the road. Her favorite places to nap are tile or marble floors where it is nice and cool. But when push comes to shove, she will nap on any available surface.
  • AN UNABASHED LOVE OF NATURE. It does not matter how long or short the walk is, whether it is raining, snowing or bright and sunny if Rosie wants to stop and sniff a flower, she stops. And sniffs. And sniffs some more. She is also now strong enough to resist my tugging at the leash when I decide she has taken enough time with THAT flower and it is now time to move on. Rosie appears to believe that each flower was carefully crafted by its Creator and deserves her reverent attention.
  • LIMITED SOCIAL MEDIA ENGAGEMENT. It may be that – as a dog – Rosie lacks the necessary opposable thumbs, or intellectual bandwidth to know how social media forums like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or SnapChat work. Or it may be that by eschewing them she is trying to help us see the potential of these applications for the stunting of rich, authentic, and complex relationships with others.

    But I trust Rosie and know she is a lot brighter than she seems. So I am going to go with the latter explanation.

There are certainly others, but I believe this one is Rosie’s most important lesson:

  • UNCONDITIONAL LOVE. Of course, Rosie loves Joan and me, her human caretakers, without pretense or condition. But every time we have guests over, or just happen to pass another person on the walking trail, she is absolutely DELIGHTED to see them! Even if she has never met them! She bounces up and down on her hind legs as if to say, “Hi! How are you? It is SO GREAT to see you! Come pet me and play with me!” She shows no willingness to grasp the concept that some people are cranky or odd or even devious. She seems to want to teach us that every person God created (which is all of them) is each an AMAZING, WONDERFUL, UNIQUE creation, worthy of love and respect.

    In that sense, Rosie comes much closer to being an actual Jesus-follower than I am. And I’ve had many more years to work on it!

Needless to say, Rosie has done a LOT better job of learning the lessons we are teaching her than we have done at learning what she is trying to teach us.

Thankfully she is patient and understanding and willing to forgive our shortcomings. I just hope she understands when we gently – but firmly – refuse to learn about the fine art of sniffing other people’s butts.

Abundant blessings;

07
Apr
18

James? or David?

James TaylorWhat do you do when your world is out of whack?

This morning I woke up with a nasty head cold. It feels like someone snuck in during the night and stuffed my head full of cotton while I was sleeping. My thinking was so hazy I struggled to tie my shoes correctly.

PLUS… while the calendar says it is April, the weather outside clearly reads “January.” A 19-degree air temperature and frozen puddles outside greet the eye.

To add to the overall disorientation, my wife (a.k.a. confidante, companion, sounding board, lover, friend, anchor, muse, support, reality check) is 1,200 miles away enjoying some sun and sand with her daughter.

My energy is utterly sapped… and it is only 10:00 a.m.

HELP! All of my touchstones have deserted me.

I need a toehold! I need a solid piece of ground to hold onto and get my bearings.

I am sure you remember a time in your life that felt like this. Or worse.

I’m sure each of us has felt ourselves spinning a little out of control now and then.

Where do you turn when your altimeter is whirling like a top and your compass is in the middle of an epileptic seizure?

James Taylor is one option. “When you’re down… and troubled… and you need a helping hand. And nothing, whoa nothing is going right. Just close your eyes and think of me, and soon I will be there… to brighten up even your darkest nights.”

So I tried it! I closed my eyes… thought about and visualized sweet baby James… and waited.

And waited.

And waited some more.

I’m still waiting for James to make good on his promise.

Today I thank God for the mentors in my life that introduced me to ANOTHER resource… that taught me how to connect with the reliable, unchanging, solid Word of God in all circumstances.

King DavidSomehow the 18thpsalm of David seems like the right place to turn. After a long, long period of being harassed by King Saul, David finally defeated his adversary. And in the moments following his victory, David knew instantly where to turn and give the credit: “The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my rock in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” (Psalm 18:2, NRSV).

No doubt if God can deliver David from an entire army of enemies, he can surely deliver me from a head cold, freezing weather, and from missing my sweetheart.

Ahh! That’s better.

Sorry, James.

16
Jan
18

DANG!

freezing-manWhen my cheeks first began to sting, we were at the exact halfway point of the walk.

Prudence told me it was time to turn around and head back. (And yes, prudence and I do talk occasionally). But at the halfway mark, turning around and heading back and carrying on and finishing the walk amounted to exactly the same thing

So we finished the walk. And my stinging cheeks got even stingier.

Rosie the puppy did not seem to be bothered at all by the eight-degree temperature or the 15 mph wind. She was all like, “Hey… I’ve got this fur coat! What’s your deal?”

And I used Rosie as my excuse when I walked back inside and my wife asked, “What were you thinking, going out on a day like this?”

Rosie close upI said, “Well, you know… Rosie has been cooped up inside all day and I thought she needed a little bit of a walk. Hey… we were only gone like 20 minutes!”

Later, on the evening news, the weatherman told us in grave and serious tones that in these conditions, frostbite can set in in less than 30 minutes.

Dang!

And so I did what I can do. I put on another layer, cranked up the thermostat a degree or two, lit the fire in the gas log fireplace, and pulled the afghan up around my ears.

And there I was… all toasty, comfy, and warm. Can someone just hand me the TV remote now, please?

And then I thought about Tom. And Kevin. And Jim. And others.

Tom is a cattle rancher. On mornings like this, Tom has to go out to his farm pond with a big, heavy axe. Tom has to chop away at the ice until there is a big hole in it. Then he has to go around to the other side of the pond and chop the ice and make another hole.

Tom has to do this so his cows will have access to the water in the pond.

If Tom didn’t go out and chop the holes in the ice, the cows would probably walk out onto the ice in search of water. They would then likely break the ice and fall in. And likely be stuck. And probably die.

So Tom really has no choice about getting out in this weather or not.

Tom is also 76 years old.

Kevin is a lineman for the public electrical utility.

Kevin’s phone often rings at 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning on a day like this.

Kevin is dispatched to a remote location where the electrical power has gone out. Either a transformer has overheated and blown up, or ice has caused power lines to break or something else has gone wrong in the grid.

If Kevin didn’t go out in the dark and bitter, biting cold, people might freeze to death in their homes.

So Kevin really has no choice about getting out in this weather or not.

Jim lives on the outskirts of town. It is a generous use of the term to refer to his residence using the word “house.”

Yes, there is a roof. Yes, there are walls, and windows, and a door, and a floor.

But Jim has no electricity. Jim has no running water. Jim has no heating system besides the wood he can find to burn in his fireplace.

Jim walks the four miles into town and back wearing shoes he has made himself… stitching odd pieces of leather together with a large needle.

I don’t know anything about Jim’s story or the circumstances that led him into this situation.

I just know that Jim doesn’t really have a choice about being out in this weather or not.

And so – huddled up here under my afghan in my toasty home – I give thanks. I give thanks for this shelter. I give thanks for the random collection of circumstances that gave it to me. I give thanks that the only frostbite I face is that which I decide to foolishly visit upon myself.

But in my thanksgiving, I also realize the need to be careful. In my thanksgiving, I need to take extra care about my use of the word “blessings,” conveying, as it does, the gift of a divine measure of grace… somehow dispensed to me but not to Tom, or Kevin, or Jim, or the EMT responding to the scene of an accident, or the police officer, or the single mom with no car and no job.

So yes… I am blessed.

But just like Abraham of the Old Testament, I am called to remember: I am blessed. But I am blessed for a reason. I am blessed to BE a blessing. (Genesis 22:18).

Could we even go so far as to propose this blessing formula: The more blessed, the more blessing required?

Why not?

Stay warm, friends. And while you’re at it, find a way to bless according to your blessing.

22
Aug
17

Everyday Miracles

  • Eclipse friendsIt happens every time a microscopic seed grows into a brand new, fully functioning human being.
  • It happens every time this relentless muscle of my heart sends blood coursing through 60,000 miles of tiny vessels coiled inside my body.
  • It happens every time this precious blue pearl we live on spins soundlessly and perfectly along its path through space.
  • It happens every time a long dormant image from the past is retrieved from the dim recesses of my memory and comes to life again in the light of the present day.
  • It happens every time colors and sound and light merge in a way that stirs profound emotional responses within all who see and hear it.

And yes… it happened yesterday at approximately 1:03 p.m. Central Standard time. That was the moment we saw the miraculous intersection of our moon with our sun… a satellite 400 times smaller than the sun, and yet 400 times closer to us than the sun… intersected in a way that allowed the one to perfectly blot out the other.

Every single one of those things listed above can only be described with one word: miraculous.

But it seems that only when something truly rare and extraterrestrial happens – something like yesterday’s total eclipse of the sun – are we likely to raise our heads and hands to the sky exclaiming, “OOOH! Ahhhh!” and use words like, “Incredible!” and “Amazing!”

My wife and I traveled to St. Joseph, Missouri to see the Event of Totality with a small group of friends. We drove up the day before, trying to avoid the hundreds of thousands of people on the roads that the Missouri Highway Department predicted.

It was a cloudy day when we awoke and then started pouring rain as we ate our breakfast. In spite of all that, we were fired up for this rare and unusual phenomenon of nature. “What do they know, anyway?” we asked, in reference to the local weather forecasters who predicted cloudy, rainy skies at the moment of totality.

Turns out they knew a LOT.

 

Eclipse clouds

Our actual view of the sky just before totality.

It was a pretty dismal, gloomy day offering only the occasional glimpse of an actual sun through our special eclipse glasses.

 

As the moment approached, it got darker and darker. But hey… it was a cloudy day. Cloudy days are always darker than sunny days! Big, flipping deal!

Just as we were wallowing in our disappointment and self-pity, preparing to fold up our chairs and trudge home, IT HAPPENED!

TOTALITY!

True night-like darkness suddenly descended on us. Automatic headlights on cars came on. In a heartbeat, it became 10:30 at night, in spite of the fact that it was actually 1:03 in the afternoon.

It was amazing, exciting, spooky, and thrilling all at the same time.

And utterly, completely miraculous.

Psalm 8 came to mind… “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?” (Psalm 8:3-4, NRSV).

I thought of Isaiah 55:9, “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts…”

The only appropriate response to an event of this cosmic magnitude was the guidance provided by Psalm 46:10, spoken by God through the psalmist, which urges us to, “Be still and know that I am God.”

The dictionary defines a miracle as “a surprising and welcome event that is not explainable by natural or scientific laws,” but I must respectfully disagree. I don’t think a thing has to be unexplainable to be called a miracle.

You see, miracles happen all around us, every day. Really smart people can explain the why and how, but I am not sure even the brainiest among us will ever be able to fully grasp the sheer amazingness woven through the fibers of this life we meander through every day.

Sometimes you just have to shake your head and say, “Oh my God!” followed very quickly by “Thank you… thank you… thank you.”

 

Abundant blessings;

07
Aug
17

BEHOLD!

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERASTOP!

SEE!

Now pause… and REALLY see.

Today, as I write these words – August 7, 2017 – I possess the gift of sight. It is a gift I take remarkably in stride, not offering a fraction of the gratitude this gift truly deserves.

Over this past weekend, two oddly disruptive and enlightening events happened that helped me recalibrate my regard for this amazing gift.

As a result of these two wildly dissimilar events, I was given the gift of discovering the difference between seeing and REALLY seeing.

EVENT #1: I was the officiant for a small wedding that was being held in the ballroom of a local hotel. The groom, his six groomsmen, the on-site wedding coordinator, and the guests were all awaiting the appearance of the bride. It was supposed to be a 4:00 wedding, yet here it was 4:25 and no bride or bridesmaids in sight.

They’re just putting the finishing touches on her make-up,” the coordinator told us as he hung up his cell phone. “… Just a couple more minutes.”

As I was pacing back and forth in the hallway outside Salon F, fuming and being annoyed at their lack of punctuality, I suddenly noticed a conversation happening to my left. Tonio, the best man, was sitting down and chatting with one of the hotel’s banquet waiters.

The waiter was an older gentleman, but still quite energetic and vigorous in his work. Tonio noticed the waiter’s energy and was telling him how impressed he was by him. It was a short, but delightful interaction.

EVENT #2: Since my wife was out of town for the weekend, I was dining alone. As a bona fide sucker for barbeque, I had ordered a half slab of ribs. When the ribs arrived (sadly, a little dry and overcooked), they were heavily slathered with barbeque sauce.

I tore into the ribs with gusto, pausing now and then to clean my fingers and lick my lips as needed.

My very pleasant waitress stopped by a couple of times to ask if everything tasted alright, refill my water glass and tend to any other needs I might have had.

Finally, I finished the meal, received and paid the bill and prepared to leave.

On the way out the door, I stopped in the restroom to wash my hands, still a little sticky with barbeque sauce. As I stepped in front of the mirror, I was stunned to look up at my reflection and see a big blob of barbeque sauce smack dab in the middle of my chin!

It was a genuine shock to see this classless unkempt doofus staring back at me from the mirror, barbeque sauce dripping down his chin. “How long has that been there?” I wondered. “How many times did that waitress walk by and look at me and think, ‘What a goof! Can’t he even feel that sauce on his chin?’”

Together, both events helped me realize that there is a big difference between SEEING and REALLY seeing.

In the wedding scenario, I realized I was so busy being annoyed with the bride and her make-up artist that I was unable to see what was happening around me. Tonio had obviously decided that all the fretting and fuming about the delay would do no good whatsoever, and so was content to really SEE the events and people around him.

In the restaurant, I was handicapped by the lack of my faithful, loving dining partner. I know that as soon as the barbeque sauce appeared on my chin, she would have leaned over with her napkin and gently wiped it off.

The point is every day God spreads a banquet in front of us; a banquet of sights and sounds and smells and people and moments and meaning. God’s table sags under the bountiful weight of this feast. The psalmist implores us, “Come, behold the works of the Lord…” (Psalm 46:8, NRSV) to coax us to open our eyes to the richness of the fare.

And yet, most of the time we can’t be bothered to look up – even for a moment – to truly see and truly appreciate what is right there in front of us.

Battered STOP signThis photo of the battered stop sign was a first effort of mine at repentance. I almost breezed right by it on my morning walk, but something about it made me stop (I mean, something besides the fact that it says, “STOP”) and look at it more closely.

I saw that it was quirky… beat up… that it had character. And so I photographed it!

May God help you really SEE the feast spread before you today.

It won’t take but a moment to pause… take it in… and give thanks.

 

Abundant blessings;




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