Sunday, July 20, 2014

I Can Do It Myself

Friday 7/11/2014 5:07 AM
Today I read two excerpts from different authors that caught my attention.  The first was by Charles de Foucauld in his book Meditations of a Hermit.  He writes, “You (God) give your help, not in proportion to our merit, but to our needs.”  I thought about a lot of people who I know who say that God has never done anything for them.  I usually want to argue with them that God has given them life, their abilities, their health, their upbringing, etc., to remind them that God has really done everything for them but they generally do not see it, or they refuse to acknowledge it.  There is a common saying, “God helps those who help themselves.”  But de Foucauld would argue that if I can help myself I have no need, so God would not help.  If I never acknowledge my need for God I should not be surprised when he fails to show up in my daily life.

The second quote was by Phillips Brooks, who exclaimed: “God’s mercy seat is no mere stall set by the vulgar road side, where every careless passer-by may put an easy hand out to snatch any glittering blessing that catches his eye.  It stands in the holiest of holies.  We can come to it only through veils and by altars of purification.  To enter into it, we must enter into God.”  When I was growing up I remember talking about “cheap grace” in my catechism classes.  It is a term used by Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his book The Cost of Discipleship.  He says that cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without repentance.  Sometimes I am too nonchalant about sin in my life.  I realize that I do things that are not pleasing to God but I am quick to remember that God forgives sin.  God wants to mold me into the image of Christ, which requires a change in my lifestyle and in the way I treat others.  If I am constantly consoling myself with the truth that God forgives sin, but do nothing to ask God to change my actions and thoughts, I need to question my faith.  My life should be in a constant state of flux, moving me from introspective self-centeredness to a life of freely serving others, and that requires God’s intervention and my obedience.

Coyotes

Tuesday 7/8/2014 5:08 AM
Three seems to be a number that plays a prominent role in my life, and others feel the same.  Bad things seem to happen in groups of three.  If I feel God is calling me to do something it usually requires three separate calls before I will respond.
This morning as I ran I saw a pack of three coyotes.  I have seen a single coyote before but never a pack.  As I ran I began to wonder if a pack of three coyotes could take me down and have me for breakfast and realized that they probably could do so.  That was when the worry set in.  Fortunately the pack split up as I neared them and, while two ran past me on the other side of the road, the third ran away from me about a block ahead.  As I ran I kept turning around to see if the two that had run past me were going to change direction and begin pursuing me from the rear.  I ended up cutting my run a little shorter than usual, not wanting to run down my normal dead end road by the park.  Dead end seemed to have a bit of a different connotation today.
After the coyotes left I began wondering if they were an omen and started to think about what three bad things might happen to me.  Would there be illness for me or for a loved one?  Would I, or someone I love, be involved in a serious accident?  All sorts of calamities came to mind, so much so that I was almost ready to start planning a funeral for me or someone else.
God knew I needed reassurance so the first words I read for my devotions today were from my assigned psalm, Psalm 46:1-3, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.”  God’s love for me and his protection over me are not determined by my circumstances, even if they come in groups of three.  He is an ever-present help in trouble.

I also read an excerpt from The Soul’s Sincere Desire, by Glenn Clark.  He relates a story from Greek mythology about Hercules wrestling with Antaeus.  When Hercules would throw Antaeus to the earth Antaeus would rise with renewed strength because the Earth was Gaea, his mother.  Hercules ended up prevailing by holding Antaeus high in the air, away from his source of strength.  Clark likens this story to our lives and writes, “We, who are not children of Earth but children of God, could learn much from the lesson of Antaeus.  We too, whenever troubles cast us back upon the bosom of our Father, rise with renewed strength. …  Troubles, misfortunes, disappointments, and handicaps, if they but throw us back upon God, if they merely give us opportunity of bringing into play our God-directed imagination and our heaven-blessed sense of humor, may become converted into marvelous good fortune.  For trouble, if it merely turns us to God and hence renews our strength, ceases to be evil, and becomes good; it becomes the best thing that could possibly come to us, next to God himself.  For our growth in power and happiness depends upon the number of seconds out of each twenty-four hours that we are resting in God.”  Calamities need not be feared if they but drive me into the arms of my loving Father rather than cause me to question God’s love for me.  I pray that the coyotes of life cause me to run to my Father instead of away from him.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Herald or Hoarder?

Sunday 6/29/2014 5:08 AM
Jaci and I spent the last five days in Phoenix with my brother, Rod, and sister, Miriam, visiting with Mom and going through everything at Mom’s house, saving what we wanted, throwing away things no longer needed and getting the house ready for an estate sale in a couple of weeks.
Mom saved everything.  She had tax records for every year since 1961 with all supporting documents.  She saved medical receipts, including medications, since the 1960s.  Since Dad and Ruth had substantial health issues there were plenty to go around.  She saved the owner’s manuals to every appliance she ever bought.  All were in pristine condition.  She saved used rubber bands, paper clips, stubby pencils, dried out ink pens, empty Band-Aid containers, old razors, and more.  She had the labels from her mattresses warning that, under penalty of law, they could not be removed, except by the owner, all carefully arranged in order from oldest to newest and stapled together.  The list could go on.
For me, the saddest things were the new items we found that had never, or seldom, been used.  There was a set of dishes I only remember using one time for a Thanksgiving dinner.  We found a beautiful, well-made tablecloth that had the label still attached, probably a gift from a friend.  There was a pitcher and a matching set of juice glasses decorated with hand-painted flowers that would have been perfect for serving lemonade to friends or family on a hot summer day that had never been used.  There was an Annie Rooney and Zero children’s tea set, still in the box, that Mom had played with as a child that had been stored away, too precious for her own children or grandchildren to play with.  The list could go on.
Some of the most precious things were the boxes of pictures, hidden deep within the bowels of the closet, of Mom and Dad in their younger years when we were little or before we were born.  In all of my childhood memories Dad was sick and unable to play or move about freely.  He spent much time in bed or sitting in a chair recuperating from some illness or simply trying to catch his breath, a difficult thing when one has emphysema, as he did.  My childhood memories of Mom were of someone who was constantly caring for Dad before he died and caring for Ruth, who has cerebral palsy.  Things always seemed serious and there was little time for frivolity or fun, understandably so.  But the pictures revealed a different side I never knew existed.  In one Dad’s arms were wrapped around Mom who was leaning back into him, young lovers with smiling faces.  There was a picture of them together under pine trees in the mountains and with friends on the beach in Chicago, places I never knew they had gone.  In one photo Mom was enjoying a picnic with her children, sitting on a blanket under a tree in the front yard, seemingly without a care in the world.  It would have been nice to have been a part of that side of Dad and Mom.
The safe deposit box at the bank also contained precious things.  The jewelry included Dad’s ruby ring Mom gave him as an engagement gift, his wedding band and high school class ring, his watch, the bracelet he wore in the hospital after he was born, a string of pearls Dad gave Mom as a wedding gift, Grandma Bandstra’s mother’s ring, Grandma Hugen’s locket, and Great Grandpa’s cuff links.  There were also the letters my Dad had written Grandma Hugen that usually described his current health and the accomplishments of us kids.  Because of his poor health they were often quite serious but the letters were punctuated with occasional jokes and puns, showing Dad’s dry wit and humor.  Interspersed in the prose of the letters were constant references to God’s provision for our family through the generosity of our church family and friends and through the forgiveness of a substantial loan by Grandma Hugen.
All of those things were hidden away in closets or safe deposit boxes.  I have always felt loved by my parents and I recognized God’s provision for the family over the years but it always seemed as if I did so as an individual.  Things were seldom recognized or celebrated as a family, much less in the broader Christian community.  It is easy to be critical of people without walking in their shoes but it seems like the difficult circumstances of Mom’s life overwhelmed her.  I envision her going to her closet or safe deposit box when she was distraught in order to remember the good times and to remind herself of God’s provision through the years but she didn’t share it with me and my siblings or with anyone else of which I am aware.  Perhaps she was ashamed that she couldn’t provide everything she wanted for her family or she couldn’t deal with all the adversity she had to face on her own.   It seems as if she hoarded both the joy and the pain of her life, afraid to let others into her private world for fear of what they might think or say.
I wonder how different her life might have been had she chosen to herald the joy and pain of her life rather than to hoard it.  Imagine what would happen if she wore her double strand of pearls, Grandma’s mother’s ring and locket and people asked her about them.  She could share with them the joy of her wedding day and the love she had for my dad.  She could share the joy of being loved by her mother and the pain she experienced at her mother’s untimely death three weeks after the death of my dad and on the eve of the day we were to fly back to visit her.  She could have related God’s provision for our family throughout the years by the loving acts of family members and the church.

I want to live my life more transparently, sharing my joys and difficulties with my immediate family and with the broader community.  I want to herald both God’s goodness to me, and his grace through the times of trying circumstances, so that I can be supported in the difficulties and others can be encouraged in theirs.  I pray that God will give me grace to be a herald and not a hoarder.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Solstice

Saturday 6/21/2014 5:18 AM
Today is summer solstice, the longest day of the year.  Up to this point the length of the days has been increasing but, beginning tomorrow, the day length will start to decrease.  Yesterday the rate at which the length of the day is changing was positive, tomorrow it will be negative but, for today, the rate of change is zero.  In other words, today is a turning point.
A few days ago I expressed my frustration with having no movement in my spiritual life, feeling as if I am in the doldrums.  I want to see some progress in my relationship with God but there seems to be no movement whatsoever.  In his book, The God Who Comes, Carlo Carretto writes about God’s silence and seeming lack of movement.  “For much of my life, I asked myself why God acted in such a strange way.  Why is he silent so long?  Why is faith so bitter?  He can do everything, so why does he not reveal himself to us in a more sensational way? … But it seems that God does his best to remain silent, as if to demonstrate that he does not exist, that it is useless for us to follow him, that we would do better if we went all out to possess the earth. … If God exists, why evil?  If God is love, why sorrow?  If God is a Father, why death?  If I have knocked, why has he not opened to me?  I used to think all this and more, when I was new to this school.  But then, walking patiently, … I began to see the way things are, I began to discover how God goes about what he is doing, I began to distinguish his stealthy footsteps ….  It was for him to open it, not me, always in a hurry.  Sin lies in Adam’s haste, and my lust for possession is stronger than my true love for him.  Wait!  Oh, the anguish of that ‘wait,’ the emptiness of that absence!  But then, little by little, I began to understand, as never before, that he was present in the emptiness, in the waiting.”  I tend to think that if there is no movement in my life then God has abandoned me, he is tired of working with me, but Carretto suggests that God is in the middle of the silence, in the lack of movement.  He hasn’t given up on me.  He simply says wait.
I guess there is a sense in which I am experiencing a solstice in my walk with God.  In the context of day length, a solstice represents a turning point, a time when things are about to change.  Perhaps I need to spend my time looking forward with anticipation to the changes that God is about to make in my life rather than bemoaning the fact that there seems to be no current progress.  Maybe God knows I need to rest before the ride that is about to commence.


Thursday, June 19, 2014

Dust Lover

Thursday 6/19/2014 5:06 AM
For the past three months I have been experiencing pain in my left shoulder.  It has been getting progressively worse in spite of taking some prescribed anti-inflammatory medication and doing some physical therapy.  It is surprising to me how much I use my left shoulder without really thinking about it in spite of the fact that I am right-handed.  As I age my body seems to be wearing out and this is simply another reminder.  This morning I am scheduled to have an MRI of my left shoulder.  I hope they are able to diagnose the problem and that it is correctible.
My psalm for the week is Psalm 103 and it includes these verses, “…for (God) knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.  The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.  But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children – with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts.”  These verses are a good reminder for me.  I might be surprised and disappointed by what I see as a decline in my physical abilities but God certainly isn’t surprised.  He knows how I was formed and is aware that what Carl Sagan called stardust is the building material of my body.    He also is keenly aware of my mortality.  Even though I may not like to think about it, God knows that one hundred years from now, at the most, only one or two people will even be aware that I lived.  The good news is that God loves me anyway.  God’s love for me is not determined by my usefulness to him; God’s love is unconditional.

I’m quite certain the MRI I have this morning will show a pinched nerve or something like that.  But even if the results would result in a more serious diagnosis one thing will not change; God loves me regardless of the outcome.