Posts Tagged ‘joy

18
Dec
18

The Empty Chair

Empty Chair pictureIt is hard to miss… sitting there over on the left side of the family dining table.

The empty chair.

A silent witness to a place that will never again be filled… a testimony to the part of our story that will remain untold except in our hearts.

How is it possible to so desperately miss the predictable comebacks and cornpone comments that once came from over there?

What I wouldn’t give to be able to roll my eyes in mock anguish…

One. More. Time.

Of course, the empty chair is there every day. But it somehow looms larger this time of year… the time when traditions are unpacked and festive gatherings abound.

My eyes search that place, aching to see the face that once sat there,

Yet seeing only the emptiness.

Today I pray the empty chair might coax me into stillness,

Might encourage a silent conversation with a realm too often ignored,

Might help me see the bridge that stands between my solitary island of grief and yours,

Might somehow weave us invisibly together.

Will the day ever come – I wonder

When I am able to see and give thanks for the strange gift

Of the empty chair?

Jesus said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”                        (Matthew 11:28, NRSV)

May God’s peace enfold and surround each of you who approach the Christmas season with an empty chair in your lives… whether it is for the first or the 50thtime.

 

13
Dec
18

Christmas Present

It is one of the hardest questions I ever have to answer at this time of year. I puzzle over it for hours and still really don’t ever come up with a good answer.

Christmas listThe question in question is, “So, Russell… what do you want for Christmas?”

My wife asks me… my kids and stepkids and their spouses all ask me… beginning usually before Thanksgiving.

And yet somehow every year I continue to respond with a big, blank look and a sentence like, “Ummm… let me think about that and get back to you.”

And then I never do.

There could be a couple of reasons I might struggle so much with this question. It could be that my Christmas wishes include too many things that are huge and expensive and beyond anyone’s gift-giving budget.

For example, I would LOVE to attend the Kansas City Royals Alumni Fantasy Camp in Arizona some year. The price tag, however, for the five-day trip is a mere $4,000. Not including transportation.

I also don’t think it would be right to tell my son I’d like a 12-string guitar for Christmas… Or that the model I would really love to receive is the Taylor 956 CE, priced at an entirely reasonable $5,399.

That’s just not the kind of thing a loving father does.

Clothes are always a good gift to give me… mainly because I never buy them for myself. But if you start asking questions like, WHAT KIND of clothing, I freeze up and begin to stammer and stutter. The most detailed guidance you will get from me will be something like, “Uh… something nice?”

But there might also be a positive reason I have a hard time with this question. It might be that I feel so grateful and blessed with what I already have in life that I can’t think of a single thing that I want or need.

I may also have learned the lesson that adding more “stuff” to one’s life does not increase anyone’s level of happiness. I might have learned that additional “stuff” usually only increases the recipient’s hunger for more and more “stuff.”

And yet… the Christian faith tells me “it is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35, NRSV) Consequently, if I can’t come up with any concrete gift ideas for myself, maybe I am thwarting my family’s opportunity to be blessed through their giving!

Of course, I am kidding. No matter what our net worth is or how much we have in our bank account, we have God has enriched us each more than we can possibly imagine.

Today I count you as one of my richest blessings and look forward to celebrating the miracle of LOVE INCARNATE with you throughout the Christmas season and beyond.

 

Abundant blessings;

10
Aug
18

A Supernatural Stillness

PhonelessnessOh, the horror of it!

Honestly, I’m not sure how I made it through. It was without a doubt the longest 35 minutes of my life.

Thankfully though, I am still here to tell the tale. Shaken, but not overcome. Tested, but still standing.

What was this baptism by fire I was forced to endure, you might ask… this supreme challenge… this Waterloo of the soul?

If you’re ready, I’ll tell you. Brace yourself: Yesterday, at about 4:30 p.m., I left the house to take Rosie on her afternoon walk… AND DID NOT TAKE MY PHONE with me!

There I was, with absolutely NO ability to pull up the weather radar and check on the progress of the approaching thunderstorm.

  • … Completely cut off from access to the Royals’ starting line-up for that night’s game.
  • … with NO WAY to look at vital emails that might have arrived in the last 10 minutes that – no doubt – might have had the power to change my life…
  • … NO HEADPHONES piping music into my skull as I walked.
  • … ISOLATED from the power to send or receive texts from friends or family. Or complete strangers, for that matter.
    • I mean, honestly… what if during that time my wife had paused her shopping cart and texted, “Hey, just finishing up here at Target. Do you need anything?” What then smart guy??

It was an eerie reminder of what life in the dark ages of the mid-90s was like.

How did I handle this frightening situation, you no doubt are wondering. What kind of coping skills did I draw on?

At the risk of making this episode sound a whole lot less heroic than I want you to believe, I am forced to admit that it was actually kind of nice.

  • I found myself taking a much closer look at the rich variety of weeds, plants, and trees growing by the side of our path.
  • I made actual eye contact and offered a greeting to other people out enjoying their own afternoon strolls.
  • I was able to listen to the mid-August song of the cicadas trilling their monotone notes.
  • And – wonder of wonders – I was prompted by the silence to pause in prayer and thank God for the rich palette of life spread out there before me.

I am not really sure I would call yesterday’s phoneless moment an epiphany by any stretch. But it was definitely a moment I wanted to repeat again… SOON.

It was one of those (sadly) rare, unfiltered, uncurated times when I found myself freed from my customary layers and layers of digital buffering.

It was a moment when I inhaled pure life and exhaled gratitude.

It was also a moment that brought me into close contact with a necessary humility, reminding me of my status as CREATURE, not CREATOR.

In spite of all of that, it is highly likely that when I wake up tomorrow I will still be the guy who loves to listen to music, look at weather radar, sports results, emails, and texts from friends on my phone.

But hopefully I will also be a little more of the Psalm 46:10* guy I was there for a brief moment.

 

Abundant blessings;

 

 

* “Be still, and know that I am God…”

27
Mar
18

My own Facebooklessness

Facebook iconSomething had to change. And it had to change soon.

I would compare the feeling I was dealing with to the very earliest nibblings of an oncoming head cold… you know; those times when you know something is a little out of kilter but you’re not entirely sure what it is.

I looked and saw my normally puckish, buoyant outlook on life taking on unfamiliar, churlish overtones… I noticed my already woefully short attention span getting even shorter. I noticed that I seemed to be more reactive and less thoughtful and deliberate.

The guy looking back from the mirror didn’t seem nearly as likable as he did a few short years ago.

Alarmed at where symptoms like these might eventually lead, I did my own armchair diagnosis.

The diagnosis? Acute Facebookitis!

The cure? Phased withdrawal from the social media miracle known as Facebook.

According to the Facebook stats page, I have been a part of that universe since 2008. (Is that really possible?)

And for the most part, I have really LOVED it!

  • Where else can one find a platform from which to dispense one’s own slightly off-center commentary on the world and know that many more than two or three people sitting around your dining room table will hear it?
  • Where else can you go and regularly see pictures of family members who live 2,000 miles away from you?
  • And where else – pray tell – can you go and take a quiz to clarify which month you REALLY should have been born in?

But it was becoming increasingly clear to me: ever since entering semi-retirement, I have been spending waaaay too much time Facebooking. One sure-fire indicator (to me) that I was overdosing on this form of social media was my belief that posting my calm, rationally composed political views on Facebook would actually change someone else’s opinion!

I know… right?

And so… I started cutting back.

The first step was to remove the Facebook app from my phone. YIKES! That step was HUGE. I had no idea – until after the fact – how much time I spent every day mindlessly picking up my phone, tapping that friendly, blue icon and peeping in on the spiffed up, sanitized lives of a whole bunch of different people.

I didn’t realize it at first, but I soon became aware that I usually came away from that time feeling somehow “less than”. Studies have now shown conclusively that people who passively scroll through Facebook are more prone to depression than others. Psychologists theorize that this is because we look at the exciting and glamorous posts from our friends and judge our own lives to be rather shabby in comparison.

And let’s not even get started on political “discussions” on Facebook. Treading onto this turf guarantees one of two things will most certainly happen: 1.) You will be loudly affirmed and encouraged to continue holding the views you now hold, or 2.) You will be ridiculed, mocked, belittled, and condemned to hell for those same views.

And honestly… I am not sure either of those results helps me grow as a person.

I am pleased to tell you that removing the Facebook app from my phone brought an unexpected level of tranquility into my life. Since it was no longer there to check, I was instantly cured of the twitchy, impulsive practice of taking out my phone and “just checking.” I was actually free to lift up my eyes, talk to people around me, and notice the subtle shadings of spring beginning to appear.

And then came the season of Lent… that great time of self-denial and reflection on the Christian calendar. Could I go completely cold turkey and even give up Facebook on my laptop?

Here we are, in the last week of Lent, and I am happy to report that the withdrawal has been (mostly) painless. Since February 14 I have not maligned or been maligned by political adversaries. I have not tested my I.Q., or found out my celebrity crush, or investigated the amazing array of skin rejuvenation products available. I have not snarked or jeered at the fates of the basketball teams of my friends.

And not once have I pined for a life other than the one I am living right now!

On the other hand, I have also not congratulated anyone on their son or daughter’s piano recital, seen the photos of my siblings’ European vacation, told a high school buddy “Happy Birthday” or marveled at the wit and faith of one of my pastor pals.

In the end, I guess I have to conclude that Facebook is a lot like fire; kept under control and used judiciously and carefully it has an enormous capacity for good. Used mindlessly it can cause enormous harm.

Facebook – and all other forms of social media – are tools. Nothing more. Nothing less. It is up to you and me to use them wisely.

09
Mar
18

The Child Within

inner childrenHe sees so much, sitting there
Perched on the edge of my soul.
An avalanche of wonder cascades
On… in… around his open, receptive eyes.

He misses nothing.
He is a bridge.
He is a lighthouse.
He is the key to the door of secrets.

His hand outstretched
E.T. glowing white fingertips
He invites me to “come”
“Learn”
“Listen”

“We should climb this tree
And sit silently
And watch.” 

“We should dive into
That pile of leaves…
And roll around.”

In his hand, a wrapped gift appears.
Open it,” he sings.
And so I open it
And I weep.

The gift pulses, shimmers, purrs
It glows a deep, satisfying blue.
It is the gift I have always wanted
But could never speak.

It is the gift of my life…
Whole
Affirmed
Holy.

Mine to cherish.
Mine to own.

I love you,” he says.
And smiles.

05
Sep
17

Caught in the rain

caught in the rainIt happened again.

We got caught in the rain.

For the second time this week, my wife and I decided we would go ahead and take a hike… even though the weather forecast said rain was likely.

And for the second time, the local weather forecasters proved to be annoyingly accurate. (When I want them to be right, they are wrong. And when I want them to be wrong, they are right. What’s up with that??)

In both instances the skies got dark, the temperature dropped dramatically, the winds started whipping the trees around, and the heavens opened up almost EXACTLY halfway through our hike.

Forge ahead? Turn back? Zero difference.

In neither case were we adequately prepared for the rain… despite the forecasts and my trusty weather radar app.

On the first hike we each had hoodies in the backpack; nice, long-sleeved fleece hoodies… with zero water repelling qualities.

The second time we didn’t even have those.

(Isn’t there a saying that begins something like, “Mad dogs and Englishmen…”?)

If something like this has ever happened to you, your reaction might have been similar to ours. We started out by shaking our fists at the storm… exasperated by its mean-spirited decision to ruin our outing.

Because, you know… storms are like that.

Next, we tried to hide from it. On the first hike the woods were pretty thick, so the tall conifers provided a measure of shelter. We hung out for a while under a particularly dense patch but then realized the storm was NOT going to blow over anytime soon.

Our next approach could best be described as “dejected trudging.” It was a kind of, “OK, this thing isn’t going to stop, we need to get back to the car, so let’s just grit our teeth and slog it out.”

Squish… squish… squish we went one unhappy step after the other.

Then it happened.

At some point, on both hikes, in the middle of the dejected trudging, a switch flipped; for both of us. A moment of awareness dawned, right there in the middle of the pelting raindrops. In nearly perfect synchronization, we looked at each other, started to laugh and said something like, “Well this is certainly an adventure, isn’t it?”

Our “moment” certainly didn’t make the rain stop… didn’t make our shoes less squishy, or warm us up at all. But it certainly did impart a different spirit to the remainder of the hike.

It made me wonder if there might be any rich veins of metaphor “ore” to be mined in this experience.

Like, for example, might there be any parallels between our experience of these actual, meteorological storms and other “storms” of life?

Such as; is it ever my tendency to start out denying the possibility of storms… to embark on the journey without paying any attention to the clouds gathering on the horizon?

Maybe.

Or to react initially with anger when the rain actually does arrive… to see it as a very personal, vindictive attack on ME?

Hmmmmm…

And then, is it possible that I might ever try to find some kind of silly, inadequate shelter in which to hide from the storm’s relentless presence? Or that I might then turn from my “hiding strategy” to a grim, teeth-clenched trudging acceptance of it?

Yes… it is entirely possible.

The real question is: do I ever arrive at the last stage – the stage of embracing the rain-soaked moment and seeing it as a kind of adventure? Am I ever able to shift gears and see the new outlooks and skills required of me by this downpour… skills that might have been needed, but were lacking heretofore?

In terms of a goal, “laughing in the rain” might be a little excessively Pollyanna-ish at this point. Some rainstorms (both the literal and metaphorical kind) are truly life threatening and dangerous.

But based on our recent hiking experience, I pray I will be able to spend significantly less time in the denial and angry fist-shaking stages and move more quickly to something hopeful and productive.

 

Abundant blessings…

01
Aug
17

Judgment Day

Judgment“You’re too…”

Have you ever been on the receiving end of a sentence that began this way?

If so, you know that there are an unlimited number of adjectives that can follow. Almost all of them involve some central element of your identity, measuring it against an understood standard of acceptability.

You might have heard, for example:

“You’re too short.”

“You’re too tall.”

“You’re too fat.”

“You’re too skinny.”

“You’re too weak.”

“You’re too liberal.”

“You’re too conservative.”

“You’re too country.”

“You’re too city,” or many, many other versions of the same idea.

Unfortunately, I doubt there is a single person alive who has not heard at least one “You’re too…” in their lives. The world seems to be well stocked with folks who are willing to judge and assess others.

And even though these one-liners usually maim and wound, I have received a few that I have considered helpful. In a quiet restaurant for dinner, hearing my wife say, “Honey, you’re too loud,” is of benefit to me and the other diners. “You’re too hard on him,” is useful feedback when I am being overly critical of one of my children.

But helpfulness is not usually the outcome. Most of the time, “You’re too…” comes off as an attack on a fundamental component of the divine wiring of one of God’s beloved creatures.

When you hand out one of these “scorecards” to someone, you might think you’re being helpful – like that time you told the girl she was too short to be a dancer or told me I am too goofy and irreverent to be a pastor – but it is more likely the case that your “open, honest” assessment serves only to bolster your own (perhaps) sagging ego while tearing others’ down.

But here is the question I really want to ask on this whole topic: given the fact that each of us has been stung by one of these “You’re too…”s at some point in our lives, how do we deal with them?

My personal tendency is to give them too much credence. My Myers-Briggs ENFJ personality type (Extroverted-INtuiting-Feeling-Judging) leads me to place a HIGH value on the opinions of others. I know I have blind spots concerning my own behavior and feel like I want to stay open to points of view that might be more objective than mine.

In practice, I have a really hard time hearing a “You’re too…” and blowing it off.

You might be like that, too. Or you might be exactly the opposite. You might be like our current president, for example. You might treat every word of criticism as “fake news”… not worth the air it takes to speak it.

Somewhere between those two extremes – I believe – lives a healthy “middle place.” It is a place that doesn’t brush off every critical comment as useless and irrelevant, but at the same time, is not crushed by them.

I believe there is such a place. And I further believe we arrive at that healthier place when we realize the true source of our worth. You see, when we lean toward believing that our worth comes from living up to the expectations of other people, we tend to give those opinions too much weight. We empower THEM to define US.

Conversely, when we see our intrinsic worth as completely self-generated, we seek no higher authority than that one that stares back at us from the mirror. We’re like, “Hey… whatever he says, goes.”

Grasping our worth as something bestowed upon us by a wise and loving Creator helps us keep the slings and arrows of criticism in their proper place. It helps us consider the value of each criticism… helps us graciously receive the stuff that applies, dismiss the stuff that doesn’t, and altogether avoid the temptation to “kill the messenger.”

The psalmist reminds us of the enormity of the miracle of human existence when he says this about people:

“Yet you have made them a little lower than God,

    and crowned them with glory and honor.

You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;

    you have put all things under their feet,

all sheep and oxen,

    and also the beasts of the field,

the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,

    whatever passes along the paths of the seas.                        Psalm 8:5-8, NRSV

Wow! Really? Can that be ME he is talking about?

Yes… yes, it is. And you know what else is cool? He is also talking about YOU!

 

Abundant blessings;




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