“Waiting on a hurricane is like being stalked by a homicidal turtle!” I read this statement the other day and thought it was humorous and true. My wife and I have friends up and down the east coast and they are preparing for the worst and hoping for the best with Hurricane Florence looming as she’s still deciding when and where to make landfall. The slow-moving storm has people on edge. There’s something to be said for a challenge or difficulty that comes out of nowhere to cause chaos in life and then goes as fast as it came. It’s hard but at least one doesn’t have the agony of waiting.
I was talking with a friend last night about depression and anxiety and the way they steal the joy out of life. It’s a dark storm that hovers filling you with dread as you prepare for the full brunt of the fury. You wait, you pray, you look for signs of the storm passing but it stays in one place and never gives you a true moment’s rest. Your strength is sapped by the anxiety of the approaching darkness and when the storm finally hits its wave and winds batter and beat you into submission. Rest is elusive when something is stalking you, wearing you out with threats and anticipation, and finally, when it strikes, you’re too weak to fight back.
Be kind to each other. You never know the storms that are brewing in each of us.
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Not so Fast –
Today, after a busy week indoors, I was looking forward to a day doing yard work outside. A good way to tell you’ve been inside too much is anticipating mowing grass and trimming. I ate my breakfast waited for the sun to begin to shine and then headed outdoors. Unfortunately, it was at that time the skies opened up and it began to rain. It wasn’t a sprinkle but a downpour that soaked the grass and the ground enough that I’d have to wait until tomorrow to try again.
One of my first thoughts this morning was; “It’s only Friday.” Most weeks Friday is a happy day or at least one of relief. However, this has been a long week and to know it wasn’t quite over yet was disconcerting. I sat on the couch and listened to the rain bounce off the tin roof on the porch. It is a beautiful sound. I felt myself relax and remember; “all shall be well.” It didn’t take long to realize a day of ease would do me good even if it was forced upon me.
Life for all of its chaos can also be the reason we stop, breathe, listen, sense, the miracle of life and doing nothing.
Be Still and Wait –
This morning our Siberian Husky Trooper was ready to go outside. Getting to the door to open it he was dancing in circles! I opened the door to the house and the screened in porch and he darted out. Almost immediately I noticed a big rabbit in the field adjacent to our home. My eyes grew big wondering if Trooper was going to see it. The rabbit was still. I thought to myself; “Can you stay that still with danger lurking that close to you?” I watched intently as Trooper began sniffing the area and the bunny watched and didn’t move. After what seemed like a lifetime for me and the rabbit Trooper lumbered back to the porch and the rabbit was safe.
Many times in life we face trials and temptations, difficulties and decisions, choices and complications. Our instinct might be to take immediate action, react in the ways which seem best, hurry up and solve the problem. However, wisdom teaches us that when the way is clouded and we can’t see or crowded with chaos and hard to move the best we can do mentally, emotionally and spiritually is to be still and wait. To breathe, close our eyes and find our center. With a hectic mindset, we can focus on the immediate and “fix it” at the expense of the future. We can also become reckless running around trying everything at once and creating more hardships for ourselves and those we love.
A great master was asked one time by his student to help him solve a problem for which he could not find the solution. “I’ve gone over it a million times, looked at every angle, and can’t seem to see the way. The master told him; “When you step into a stream your feet muddy the waters. Only when you are still will the waters clear.”
Stillness, the quietude of the mind, is underrated. Pause, rest, be still, and the way will reveal itself.
Sounds Like –
Twenty years ago this week an F3 tornado tore through downtown Nashville, Tennessee (http://www.wkrn.com/news/f-3-tornado-hit-nashville-20-years-ago_20180416214213/1126239206) We weren’t living in Tennessee at that time but we happened to be in Nashville chaperoning hundreds of teenagers at an annual talent and skills competition on the campus of Trevecca Nazarene University. When the announcement came down that all were supposed to seek shelter several of us ran to the different ball fields, tennis courts and other places where events were being held. Making sure to get everyone we saw to safety without a lot of chit-chat was important, however, one young teenage girl stopped and with fear in her eyes and voice asked me if we were in the path of the tornado? Guiding her inside as I answered; “I don’t know.” “How will we know?” she inquired. Not being a meteorologist I repeated what I once had been told; “A tornado sounds like a train!” Unbeknownst to my inquisitor, there was a set of railroad tracks behind the campus of Trevecca. At the exact time, I told her a tornado sounded like a train a train going past the school sounded its horn. “I hear the tornado! I hear the tornado!” I peered into her fear brimmed eyes, smiled and said; “Sweetie, tornadoes may sound like trains but they don’t come equipped with horns.” I got her with the rest of the students in a basement, shut the door and stood outside watching, listening for the tornado and laughing, thankful that even in this storm of chaos a light of joy can shine through.
I listened to a conversation this week where the person told another, to their face, that they hated them. “I hated you when you left,” they said. “It took a long time to not hate you anymore.” It was an honest and startling admission. Most times people are adept at not showing the person they hate their true feelings.
It left me with a question; “Have I ever, in my life, hated someone?” I define hate; as the inability to see the good in someone. As I reflected on the question a person came to mind. If I’ve ever hated someone, according to my definition, this man fit the criteria. I had the hardest time seeing the good, the light, the benefit of his existence, the unique expression of God in him. It was, at times, impossible to not be suspicious of his motives, think of the worst outcome of his decisions, belittle his beliefs and talents. Then, one day, ranting in my head about something he had done the question came from out of the blue; “Can you see any good in this man?” My mind stopped dead in its tracks. The answer was “no, I couldn’t.” It was then I realized the problem wasn’t him it was me.
I’d love to post about how this moment fixed everything but it didn’t. However, it did give me a new way of looking at this person and my role in the frustration, anxiety, and chaos within me. It took me a long time to forgive the hurt and betrayal he had caused but I began focusing on what was going on inside of me instead of what someone was doing on the outside. This made all the difference.
“You will never see God until you can see Him in every next face you see.” #SaintMotherTeresa
Today I had the privilege and duty to be a part of the memorial service for my father. It’s been surreal the last few days. So many errands to run, items to check off on a list, places to go, people to see. There’s been a sense of urgency, a nervous energy, a controlled chaos, riding a wave of sorrow and speed. Because of the hectic pace of the last several days, I stood on the stage behind the pulpit at the service this afternoon with no notes, and no structure to the stories and experiences I wanted to share.
Words, they’ve flooded my mind and soul since Dad passed. Words from family and friends who care and are sorry for our loss. Words that go into an obituary, on a card for flowers, in a service program and used in phone calls, emails, and texts. So many words used to describe the love a family has for one who is, was, the central fixed, point.
Now, standing behind the pulpit at the memorial service today, I had no notes, no words written, no solid ideas, memories swarming in my head but none coming in for a landing. How do you choose the right words to convey the meaning of a life which impacted many people? In the pantheon of phrases, how do you pick out those which will express the purpose of a life lived well?
A deep breath, a small prayer, and … share my heart, open my lips, loosen my tongue and let the words come. No, they will not be adequate. No, they will not be perfect. Yes, there will be second-guessing and memories that are forgotten to be shared.
Words. They are not, and cannot contain the heart’s cry of longing and loneliness or succinctly express the fondness, the love, the good of being apart from a person you love. This is okay. Living, being, existing, is more than words, deeper than condolences, greater than expressions of sympathy and sadness.
Living should be beyond our ability to communicate it easily if it is done well.
Messy Good –
Today I sat on a stool in the kitchen while my wife cooked a dish for the family Thanksgiving meal. I watched her boil noodles, crack eggs, mix in cheese, add milk, thick whipping cream and whip all of the ingredients into a thick bowl of mush. It didn’t smell, look, or appear appetizing at all. She then poured it into a large glass casserole dish and slide it into the oven. About an hour later out came one of my favorite dishes, “Nana’s macaroni and cheese!” It looked great, smelled even better and, when it cools off, I will have a large serving and enjoy every bite.
It’s amazing to me how something so messy and chaotically made can turn into something so tasty good and wonderful. This week has been rough! Someone close to me is going through hell and the only thing I can do is pray and offer words of encouragement. One of the hardest experiences to endure is knowing you’re powerless to stop someone else’s suffering. Pain, medicine, bad reactions, heartache, death. Life can be messy, unseemly, and at times unbearable.
However, there is a light which stirs in us a hope that the chaos, the turmoil, the misery, somehow, someway, will be made into goodness and worth the messiness life can bring our way.
This afternoon I received a cryptic message about meeting someone. I read it, checked my calendar, read the text again and checked my calendar again. I had no meeting scheduled. I went back into my emails and did a search and still couldn’t find any messages regarding the meeting and still couldn’t find anything. The sender of the message, however, had a picture of her calendar with my acceptance! There was no doubt the meeting was scheduled and I was supposed to be there. Unfortunately, I was in another county so was unable to make it. We rescheduled but I don’t like missing appointments whether they are or are not on my calendar.
It’s bothered me all afternoon. When I got home I checked my emails and calendars again but still didn’t locate anything regarding the meeting. The only thing I can figure is I have a new work phone and the first couple of days I was messing with it, trying to figure it out, I accepted the meeting and then somehow deleted it. I don’t know if this is happened and might not ever know.
Schedules, calendars, planning out our days is a necessary discipline. If we don’t at least attempt to live in an ordered manner the chaos of everyday life will take its toll. However, no matter how much control we think we possess when our calendars and schedules are in sync life has a way of surprising us with events and experiences that don’t fit our schedule and forces us to accept and adjust.
Life is full of ups, downs and sideways. When we think we have life figured out it has a way of reminding us that it is never controlled or predictable. The question becomes; “Will we accept life as a constant state of change and challenge or continue to try to manipulate it to fit our needs?”
I was talking with someone yesterday about; “what is normal?” As we conversed back and forth there was agreement that there is no true normal. We spend our lives adjusting to the everyday small and sometimes huge changes that happen. The little tweaks are hardly noticed while the bigger adjustments are much more difficult to handle.
Accepting the transience of life is a necessary step on the path of peace. Only within, deep down, can big and small changes not move us. What is outside of us is always in flux but our inner selves can stay solid and still.
to Listen –
Today I unloaded on someone. It wasn’t in an angry way but therapeutically. I talked about all that’s been happening in my life and in the lives of the people I know and care about. It was almost an hour of pouring out my heart into her listening ear. She asked a few questions but mostly let me vent about things that I’m worried about, some of which I can take some kind of action but mostly things in which I need to accept the situation and my powerlessness over it.
At the end of our conversation, she didn’t tell me what to do or not do. She didn’t give me a list of positive affirmations or ways to avoid the situations. She listened and that’s what I needed her to do. After we finished I said; “Goodbye” and went home. Yet, somehow, I felt better, lighter, more stable in a chaotic season of life. Her listening ear was most welcome.
Many times we think of listening as the pause between what we want to say to the person who’s talking. To truly listen is not planning our next comeback, advice giving, compliment or criticism, it is having an open ear and sensing the moment as sacred. We receive the words with reverence and speak as if we are on Holy Ground.
Each Decision –
One of the hardest disciplines to commit to in life is letting go of things, places, and people who are not good for us.
Wisdom teaches us that to have an ordered life, one that is not torn between calm and chaos, requires us to evaluate all that we possess, or possess us. In an examination such as this, we decide what is holding us back and what will allow us to let go and find serenity.
Google defines serenity as; the state of being calm, peaceful, and untroubled (“an oasis of serenity amidst the bustling city”). As I read this definition and it’s example, I was struck with the image. As OASIS in a BUSTLING city. The place of peace and stillness is not found in the desert, on a mountain top, a cabin in the woods but in the midst of the hustle and bustle of today, this moment.
Letting go or being dragged comes down to how we want to exist in our physical, emotional and spiritual being. It is the choice we make as each second ticks by leading us to the destination that is dictated by our most important decision.
Accepting Both –
This morning I was trying to explain to the dog that; “sniffing” was not the point of him being outside. Realizing, again, our Siberian Husky doesn’t speak English I felt something buzz my head. It sounded like a huge BumbleBee (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bumblebee), flinching I tried to spot the culprit and instead spotted a Hummingbird (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hummingbird). It was fluttering from one plant to another looking for nectar. I was mesmerized by its quick, sporadic, movement and “invisible wings.” I know that a Hummingbird’s wings are not transparent they just flap them incredibly fast and they are amazing creatures to watch. I forgot about the dog and watched the bird until it landed on a branch and began watching me. I was still as possible but Trooper had finished, came running back, and frightened it flew away.
A few hours later I mowed, weeded, the yard and after I finished I sat down outside drinking water and trying to cool off. I enjoyed the shade and a nice stiff breeze. I watched as the wind blew limbs, petals, leaves and grass. I thought to myself; “This is the second time today I’ve watched the effects of something I can’t see; the wings of the Hummingbird and the wind.”
I reflected on the invisible forces which move in our lives, propelling us on our path. There are seasons when these unseen powers blow chaos, difficulties, and tragedies and like the leaves and grass we are helpless to stop it. Other times, like the Hummingbird, with great effort we can choose to move to the rhythm of goodness and light.
True wisdom is not knowing how to avoid the hard times but accepting both with grace and humility.
Drowning Out –
One of my favorite sounds is rain on a tin roof. One of my least favorite is the tail pipe extensions folks are putting on their vehicles. These extensions turn normal sounding cars and trucks into loud, ear-piercing, window rattling, jet planes driving by.
This past weekend we finished placing a tin roof on our porch. Last night, around 5pm, a thunderstorm brought some much-needed rain into our area and I went outside to sit and listen. Often, around this time each day, drivers of the above mentioned boisterous vehicles have gotten off work and are driving by the house.
Yesterday evening, however, I noticed the rain on the tin roof drowned out all other noise. The trucks and cars I recognized as being converted were no longer obnoxious. My closeness to the tin roof protected my ears, my nerves and the stillness of my spirit.
Wisdom tells us that presence is influence. The closer we stay to our source of comfort and peace the less distracted and deafening the chaos and craziness of this world can can be.
dandelion, sitting on a hill
rooted, grounded, in place, until
a mighty force arose and lifted
carried your essence far from home
floating in all directions at once
never letting you settle
dropping and raising
bouncing between stillness and gales
yet in the chaos, swirling turmoil
your beauty decorated the wind
the gift of recognized breezes
making that which could not be seen
now traced over meadows, fields, hills and valley
where you take root again is unknown
until then your untamed spirit
alights upon my shoulder for a glimpse
of what it means to be unleashed
“Drip, drip, drip.” For a homeowner there aren’t too many sounds which make your anxiety and frustrations rise. This morning, after washing the dishes, I began to make a pot of coffee and heard a noise which sounded like water splashing on a surface. I began to look around and finally noticed liquid coming out from the dishwasher. Our old farmhouse has lots of eccentricities and one of them is the dishwasher leaks occasionally when the clothes washer and sink drain at the same time. We’ve had a plumber look at the problem and, while aggravating, will require a significant undertaking and monies to fix the problem. Until we can afford it we try our best not to let the bottom of the dishwasher fill up and begin to spill over to the kitchen floor. I grabbed every dirty towel I could find in the laundry room and cleaned up the mess.
Afterwards I thought about how life can be similar. Most days difficulties and problems spill into our lives and we’re able to deal with and dispose of it. However, there are seasons when chaos, hurt, doubt and confusion rush into our lives like a torrent and we are overwhelmed. We feel helpless as problems and pain seemingly flood every corner of our existence. Wisdom tells us there’s no shame in admitting life can sometimes be too much for us to handle and, with newfound humility, begin cleaning up the mess.
A starry night thousands of years ago. The fire cracks, the smell of smoke in the air, an elder stirs the flames with a stick watching his young audience as they sit anticipating the stories that always accompany these times. The story teller looks them over, clears his throat, looks them each in the eye and begins…
“When on high heaven was not named, And the earth beneath did not yet bear a name, And the primeval Apsû, who begat them, And chaos, Tiamat, the mother of them both, Their waters were mingled together, And no field was formed, no marsh was to be seen; When of the gods none had been called into being The epic names two primeval gods: Apsu, the fresh water, and Tiamat, the salt water.
Several other gods are created (Ea and his brothers) who reside in Tiamat’s vast body. They make so much noise that it annoys Tiamat and Apsu greatly. Apsu wishes to kill the young gods, but Tiamat disagrees. The vizier, Mummu, agrees with Apsu’s plan to destroy them. Tiamat, to stop this from occurring, tells Ea (Nudimmud), at the time the most powerful of the gods, who, using magic, puts Apsu into a coma and kills him, and shuts Mummu out. Ea then becomes the chief god, and along with his consort Damkina, has a son, Marduk, greater still than himself.
Marduk is given wind to play with and he uses it to make dust storms and tornadoes. This disrupts Tiamat’s great body and causes the gods still residing inside her to be unable to sleep. They persuade Tiamat to take revenge for the death of her husband. Her power grows, and some of the gods join her. She creates 11 monsters to help her win the battle and elevates Kingu, her new husband, to “supreme dominion.”
Ultimately, Marduk is selected as champion against Tiamat, and becomes very powerful. He defeats and kills Tiamat, and forms the universe from her corpse. The gods confer kingship on Marduk, hailing him with fifty names.”
This is a rival story of creation told by the ancient Babylonians. It reflects their idea of how humankind began. The Earth, humanity, was created, not by a loving god but from the corpse of a dead god who was slain in the chaos of battle.
Another creation story told by other wise elders to their children and children’s children…
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was [a] formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be……and God saw that it was good. Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, in our likeness…So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. 28 God blessed them…God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.
The creation story found in Genesis is not the oldest of creation stories and found its most complete form while the people of God were in captivity in…you guessed it, Babylon. They needed to know if This chaotic god of the Babylonians, this warrior god who beat down these other gods, was now in charge?
So the Hebrews told their creation story to their children. There are many differences in the two creation stories but the resounding one is that even though we are slaves, captives, victims. When looking around all we see is chaos and defeat. Always remember that our God never vied for power, never battled for control, there is no chaos within God and with just his words he can bring order, new life, balance, an end to the storm.
The chaos of our world and life at times can be a hurricane whipping and turning, tossing and fighting. It is not easy to remember that order and balance exist. When chaos comes, tearing up our world we ask “is the storm all there is…? Does it make a difference if there is balance and order when life is blowing, battering, battling and beating me down?”
Yes, it does make a difference and the difference is all the difference.
peace and grace