Open Mouth –
I heard someone say yesterday that; “only a fish with its mouth open gets caught!” I like the saying. It’s similar to the wisdom teaching; “No one regrets a harsh word unspoken.”
One of the key tenets of my job is to ensure each client’s privacy. I am not allowed to talk about conversations, other information, or even affirm a client is a client to anyone who does not and should not know. It’s difficult at times when someone calls from another organization to inquire about a client to say; “I’m sorry. I cannot talk about clients. Period.” but sometimes I have to do it.
Though a challenge I think it would be great if everyone followed the rule of not talking about another without the other’s permission. However, often times it’s the opposite. We hear a juicy piece of gossip, an embarrassing story, someone is facing a challenging situation, carrying the burden of a struggling relationship and we can’t keep it to ourselves! We’ve got to share it. Like fish we’ve chomped down on the bait and once we’re caught we dangle it in front of others to see if they will take a bite also. Gossip turns to rumors and they always come back around to the person being talked about. The hurt they already felt is multiplied. Their burden becomes that much more to bear.
Instead of an open ear and open mouth to hear and repeat innuendos and insults perhaps we can offer the person struggling, a listening spirit and words of comfort and kindness.
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Are You There?
A couple of hours ago a storm blew into our area with winds and thunder but no rain, at least for us. I was on the couch with my earbuds in. This is why I didn’t hear the storm or our Siberian Husky, Trooper, come into the living room and sit down right next to me and stare. Suddenly I had a feeling of being watched and I looked in his direction to find his face a few inches from mine. It startled me! “What are you doing?” When I heard the thunder I realized he was looking for comfort. I patted him on the head, scratched ears and told him it was; “okay.” I guess he heard and understood because he went back to his favorite spot on the foyer floor and laid down. He’s still asleep now.
In times of uncertainty, calamity, unsettledness, and fear, what we want, need to know if someone is there for us. As adult humans, we understand that a person’s presence might not fix or solve the problem but it does remind us we are not abandoned. It is one of the deepest longings at the heart of existence; the assurance that on this journey call life, we don’t walk alone.
Last night I sat in front of a roaring fire outside at our fire-pit. I had cleaned up the yard over the last two days and had limbs and other stuff we no longer needed to burn. I watched as the flames consumed the items and then deposit them in the air as smoke and ash.
I thought about life and all that we hold dear is quickly used up and thrown away. Nothing in this world is permanent. Everything is transient. I reflected upon the life of my friend who is suffering in a hospital holding on to a life which isn’t intended to endure. However, he holds on as tight as he can because he loves his family and his friends. He and we don’t want to say; “Goodbye.” In his weakened condition, he still worries about others and how they will make it without him.
The fire burns down and I start to feel the cold of the evening. I’ve run out of fuel to feed the flames. They get lower, the embers glow less brightly and soon will go out. I get up and move inside. A place of warmth, safety, and comfort. I pray my friend, at the right time, will leave this cold world and find his eternal dwelling place as well.
At a health council meeting today a speaker gave a presentation on going the extra mile. She asked; “Where did this saying come from?” I thought for sure someone would answer but no one did so finally I replied; “Jesus.” She smiled and moved on with her talk. She explained in the time of the Roman Empire there was a rule that if a soldier or other important dignitary asked you to help carry some of their weaponry or baggage you were obligated to carry it one mile. Jesus, however, in Matthew chapter 5, said; “If someone has you carry their stuff one mile go ahead and make it two.” The speaker continued; “The first mile is obligation the second mile is voluntary. It’s the second-mile people remember. When you move beyond your comfort zone, when you give more than what you can afford to, do more than you were asked or expected, offer kindness, grace, and love abundantly, extravagantly.”
As I reflected on her presentation it was a good reminder that what the world expects and usually gets is the minimum, the essentials. When someone digs deeper, cares greatly, meets the greatest of needs, it matters and stays with the one helped and the one helping.
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” #MayaAngelou
For the last few days, we have had a lot of rain. It’s remnants of Hurricane Harvey the horrendous storm which slammed into parts of Texas earlier this week leaving devastation in its wake. Most of the morning and afternoon I have listened to the rain fall on the tin roof of our porch. It’s a mesmerizing and relaxing melody. There is a wisdom proverb which says; “Some people feel the rain other simply get wet.” I am of the former variety. I feel rain, storms, overcast skies. There are times when a rainy day is nourishment to my soul. It’s like the water falling from the sky is landing on my parched spirit and bringing needed comfort and nourishment. In other seasons the overcast clouds and rain dampen my motivation and put me in a trance where I get nothing done.
“Without rain, the flower does not grow.”
Like the flowers, trees, bushes, and grass we need rain in our lives. We need times of growth and blossoming. However, too much rain, as Houston and other Texas areas dealing with Hurricane Harvey’s aftermath, can drown, devastate, and destroy.
Rain, like life, can be beautiful and dangerous.
I was reading an excerpt from a book by #LaurenceFreeman this past week. One sentence has stuck with me; “Answers are not what we need. What we need are questions which cannot be answered.” I read and reread this selection many times.
We live in a world, perhaps humanity is made this way by our cultures and societies, in which answers are what we seek and find. While certainly, we would want answers, conclusions, discoveries, of the sort which would end poverty, crime, diseases, however, the most important answers are the ones which cannot be answered.
This is a paradox. Answers comfort us, direct us, help us find our way in the world. However, answers do not lead us to the most important of all truths. God, for example, is by definition, one who cannot be fully and completely known. The deeper we dig to find knowledge of God the more questions we find. It is the same with our existence, our purpose our place in the universe.
Silence as the answer to life’s biggest questions. Many say if you cannot or will not look for the answer then why ask the question? It is when we are able to be still and silent in our souls with the greatest questions unanswered that we find the path of wisdom.
Don’t Move –
Yesterday, taking a break from yard work on a hot day in May, I sat on the porch wiping the sweat off my brow with a towel and drinking a bottle of water. As I sat there a brown bird, who has a nest in the corner of the porch swooped down and landed on my leg. I froze. A bird landing on me was awesome but I didn’t dare move for fear of scaring it away. Sweat poured down my face, my tired arms and restless legs immovable. It seemed like it was forever but I knew it was only a few minutes until I had to dry the sweat from my eyes and take another drink of water. Predictably, the bird flew off as soon as I moved. For a second, however, I was still enough to enjoy the experience.
It’s hard being still in today’s world. We miss so much because we are so busy. We’ve got places to go and people to see. Schedules have to be kept and filled calendars emptied.
I wonder how many small wonders we miss because life’s most important moments are only ours to experience if we’d simply be still?
When I was a student at Trevecca Nazarene University one of the classes I took was a spiritual formation class. On the first day, the teacher of the class lit a candle and told us it represented the presence of the Holy Spirit, alive, moving and not be captured or coerced. He lit the candle at every class. For some, it was probably hokey but for me, it was my first step into Contemplative Christianity which eventually led me to become a Benedictine Oblate (http://www.osb.org/obl/intro.html).
Another discipline we would learn and one I still do to this day is praying Psalm 46:10; “Be Still and Know I am God.” We would sit quietly and begin by quoting the entire verse and then let a word(s) drop off after saying each phrase multiple times…
“Be Still and Know I am God
Be Still and Know I am
Be Still and Know
When we arrived at; “Be” it was understood we found ourselves, our true selves, only in God. God wasn’t number one, he was the only one and everything else found its place in Him.
I follow this rhythmic prayer, often praying; “Be Still.” many times between rising in the morning and going to bed at night. It focuses, settles and comforts me or rather the words open my spirit and remind me I am because God allows me to be.
It has begun!
Several weeks ago my wife and I hired someone to remodel our bathroom. Today, they started. I work at home and it wasn’t easy to focus on anything with the bathroom being demolished a few feet away.
A safe space is important for someone like me who’s battling a major depressive disorder and a severe anxiety disorder or another who deals with any mental health issues. We need a quiet, mostly uninterrupted space where we can collect our thoughts, process the day that was and prepare for the next day. This week I don’t have that and it has me concerned.
In times and seasons when our rhythm is disrupted, our safe space invaded, what we use to cope is taken away, we need to remember that all outward places we look for protection are not always available. The safest space is in the arms of grace, a deep abiding peace which travels with you wherever you go.
“If, as adults, we are only preoccupied by the security of our borders we have not matured as human beings capable of real freedom, of seeing the happiness of being citizens in the world of virtue – goodness, kindness, humanity, compassion. In this world of grace there are no borders.”
Above is a portion of my morning reading this Lenten season devotional of 2017. It speaks to one of the most difficult battles we fight as people, a nation, and a community of faith.
It’s easy to separate ourselves from the world. To erect borders, laws, litmus tests, even vote for silly ideas such as a border wall which also includes 800+ miles of the Rio Grande river. We pull away from strangers and those different from us because we’re afraid. We’re afraid of losing things, being infected by things, having our normal lives disrupted and changed forever.
The last couple of months I’ve been on a Jars of Clay binge. In the house, on the lawn mower, in the truck, it’s all I’ve been listening to. Moving from one album to another, no particular order. This week it’s been; “The Long Fall Back to Earth. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Long_Fall_Back_to_Earth)” The album is a unique one for the group as they experiment with a break from their usual sound. There is a song entitled on the album; “Headphones” that speaks to the temptation to stay in our own world as the rest of the world goes to hell. Its poignant and has resonated in my spirit the last few days.
I awoke this Palm Sunday to the news that cowardly suicide bombers had killed at least 50 people in two different attacks as they worshiped this last Sunday before Easter. My heart hurt for my brothers and sisters. There are no borders when it comes to pain, empathy, hope and help.
“In the world of grace there are no borders.”
Struggling on Father’s Day-
My heart is heavy on this Father’s day. I have a great dad who has sacrificed much for me and did his best, always, to be a good role model, showing me how to be a good man. I am thankful for the love and support he gives me.
No, my heart is heavy because of a father I know who lost his son this past week. His son, who had just graduated high school, his whole life ahead of him, gone in an instant. My heart is heavy for those men killed in Orlando, Florida a week ago. A community where fathers’ criess of brokenness and loss still fill the air. My heart is heavy for friends and others I know whose fathers have died, leaving a hole no one else can fill. My heart is heavy for the men in my Incarcerated Dad’s classes who want to be good fathers. They want to love their kids but sometimes don’t know how. They long to see their children but mothers, partners and wives choose to keep them away because of the jail environment and choices these men have made. I’ve heard and seen tributes to fathers today in church, on Facebook walls, Sunday television shows and my spirit aches.
Wisdom teaches that our lives are as vapor. A wisp of wind and they are gone. Like summer grass that springs up in the morning but is withered in the heat of the day. I think of fathers gone too soon and children snatched from the clutches of those who loved them dearly and sigh. It may be Father’s Day but for some the day does not bring happiness.
Our Golden retriever, Belle, is almost 15 years old. She struggles with seeing, hearing, walking and a host of other ailments. Recently she’s began to have trouble controlling her bowels and bladder. Our other dog, a Siberian Husky named “Trooper” likes to sleep next to her at night. During the day he hangs out on another rug in the kitchen. Because of Belle’s maladies the decision has been made to shorten Trooper’s inside leash so that he can’t get to Belle’s rug or in Belle’s occasional mess. As a result Trooper is not a happy camper. He tugs, pulls, struggles to get to his “sister” but can’t. He grumbles, fidgets around, scratches on the floor and is in a general state of unhappiness. We know it’s for his own good but this information doesn’t make it any easier to force him back on the rug.
I watched him today and reflected on struggling the same way when life takes away a comfort, eliminates an ease, refuses me relaxation, strangles my serenity, tramples my tranquility. It’s not easy when our leash is shortened, when our path requires us to give up what we hold dear but wisdom teaches it is often the removal of these things that will put us in a better, healthier place.
Today I drove my wife’s car so she could use the truck to pick up a few things in Nashville. My wife’s Honda CRV is a nice vehicle but rides very low to the ground compared to my mine and it takes me a while to get used to how it handles. The steering feels odd turning much easier than my Pick-up, the brakes are more sensitive, it accelerates more quickly, and the windshield is much larger allowing the driver to see more of the road.
Seeing the road from a different vantage point isn’t always easy or comfortable. It takes time to get used to doing things a different way, listening with different ears, seeing with different eyes. However, oftentimes the journey to wisdom and peace requires us to travel away from our comfort zone.
Tonight, after grabbing a bite to eat at Cracker Barrel, my wife and I stopped to fill the car up with gas. When we pulled in we could hear loud music emanating from somewhere. At first I thought it was the gas station’s sound system but it was actually from an S.U.V. parked at the pump in front of me. The door to the vehicle was open, the woman was texting on her cellphone, while the pump was on automatic.
As I stood there I mused; “does she really think everyone needs to hear this?” Then, I remembered a time when I was in high school and pulled into a gas station, started pumping gas with my radio blaring and an “old geezer” asked me; “do we really need to hear that noise?” and it hit me, I had become the “old geezer!”
My wife and I had a good laugh about this on the way to visit a friend in the hospital. My friend is almost 90 years old, in frail health, and coming to grips with the inevitability of death.
I have been reflecting on both the gas station experience, the hospital visit and how life comes full circle. We are born to die. Our first breath of life is one breath closer to death. We are indeed but a vapor, a flower quickly fading, lush green grass that quickly withers. We are…and then we are not.blessings, bdl
“Whatever we are waiting for – peace of mind, contentment, grace, the inner awareness of simple abundance – it will surely come to us, but only when we are ready to receive it with an open and grateful heart.” Sarah Ban Breathnach
This morning I awoke early. This isn’t uncommon lately with so much to do before we move. I try not to let my thoughts get away from me when I wake before dawn in the hopes I can drift off to sleep again. Alas, this morning I could not so I got out of bed and began to get ready for an early breakfast appointment. Part of my morning routine is checking email and when I opened one today I was blindsided by grace.
The message was simple but it included an incredible gift to me and my wife. It was a profound and generous act that took an enormous burden off of our shoulders. It was both unexpected and deeply appreciated and we are very thankful!
At times we can become so focused on a task, an occurring or upcoming event that grace must come out of nowhere and jolt us out of our myopic state so we are able to see the incredible love and compassion that surrounds us.blessings, bdl
There are times in life when instability happens, an event we didn’t plan for, a choice with unexpected consequences, a season which blows winds of transition into our lives and we become blinded by the debris of change.
When we encounter these sections on the path of life it can be difficult to get our bearings and we wonder if we are wandering aimlessly. Will the way ever be clear again? Yes. Seasons come and go, the unknown soon becomes the new normal. The passing of time has a way of revealing what was once hidden.
Patience is required. A waiting for the path to reveal itself again and trusting the path maker watches over our steps.blessings, bdl
Below is the final message I shared with my campus family today. It was a good and difficult time filled with memories, laughter and tears.
Last week we spoke of Joseph, his father Jacob and how Joseph’s entire family came to live in Egypt. Joseph’s generation passed away followed by many other generations. In time a Pharaoh, who didn’t know the story of Joseph, rose to power. This Pharaoh came to fear and despise Jacob and Joseph’s offspring whom had multiplied greatly, became very numerous. The Egyptians began to worry these “outsiders” would someday take over the land. To keep this from happening Pharaoh took away their freedom made them slaves.
In the beginning of the book of Exodus God hears the cry of these descendants, now slaves, known as Hebrews and raises up a servant named Moses. God calls Moses to lead God’s people out of bondage into a new land, a new place where they could worship God and live in freedom.
However, even after God showed his mighty power through great miracles and made a promise the Hebrews would be God’s chosen people they would not listen to God. They would not trust God to do as he promised; lead them to a new place. These people complained about everything! They accused Moses, God’s servant, of not knowing what he was doing. They missed Egypt and wanted to go back. They grumbled in their hearts, became angry, doubted God in times of difficulty, and didn’t believe God could do what he promised. They could not move into God’s future promise because they clung to past familiarity.
Ultimately, their lack of faith, holding on to the past and fears of the future cost them dearly. God led them into no man’s land to meander aimlessly until the first generation died out. Instead it would be their children who would receive the benefits of the new land, the new place God had promised.
After most of this generation passed away a new one stood on the border of God’s Promised Land ready to go, to believe what the former generation could not. To journey on to this new place they had to leave the past behind, which included parents they had buried, places they were familiar with, lands they once called home and step into the next place God had prepared.
As they ready themselves Moses addresses them…
Moses says;…if you’ll follow your God, heart and soul, and listen to His voice and obey His commands and remember His regulations, which are written in this book.
11 What I’m commanding you today isn’t too difficult for you; it’s not out of reach.12 It’s not up in the sky, so you don’t have to say, “Who will go up into heaven and get it for us and tell us what it is, so we can obey it?” 13 It’s not across the sea, so you don’t have to say, “Who will go beyond the watery abyss and get it for us and tell us what it is, so we can obey it?” 14 No, the words you need to be faithful to the Lord are very close to you. They are in your mouth if you will speak of them and in your heart if you will treasure them.
15 Look, I give you two choices today: you can have life with all the good things it brings, or death and all the bad things it brings. 16 If you do what God commands you today and love the Lord your God; if you live as He wants you to, if you obey His commands, regulations and judgments, then you’ll live. He will bless you with a new place, give you a new land.
17 But if your heart turns away and you don’t listen, if you go astray and you bow down to other gods and worship them,18 then today I assure you you’ll be destroyed. You’ll not inhabit this place; this new land will not be yours.
19 The Lord is giving you the choice today between life and death, between being blessed or being cursed. Choose life, so that you and your family may live! 20 If you love the Lord your God and listen to His voice and always remain loyal to Him, for He is your life, then you’ll be able to thrive in this new place the Lord has promised you.
This must’ve been a bitter sweet time for Moses. He is 120 years old but is still very capable of leading. However, Moses is also human and flawed. He has made mistakes and God has revealed to him he will not be journeying with this generation to this new place. Moses accepts this and after addressing the people he anoints others to lead them where he cannot.
God does give Moses the assurances of his faithfulness by taking him up a mountain and showing him the new land, the new place God’s people will make their home.
Moses climbed up from the plains of Moab to the top of Mount Nebo, to the peak at Mount Pisgah on the east side of the Jordan River across from Jericho. The Lord showed him the whole land that would be Israel’s territory: Gilead as far as Dan, 2 all of Naphtali, the territory of Ephraim and Manasseh, all of Judah’s territory to the Mediterranean Sea in the west, 3 the southern desert, and the basin in the valley of Jericho, the “city of palms,” as far as Zoar.
The Lord (to Moses): 4 This is the land I promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob when I told them, “I’ll give this place to this generation. I’ve let you see it, even though you will not be going with them.”
5 So Moses, the Lord’s servant, died and was buried in a valley in the land of Moab. 8 The children of Israel stayed in the plains of Moab and mourned for Moses, until the grieving period was over.
Today, in many ways, we are experiencing this story in the book Deuteronomy. It is a day of decisions. It is a time when we must choose this new way or choose to hold on to the past and what is familiar.
I have served this campus church for 5 ½ years and my history pales in comparison to some of you who have been at Lebanon Valley Nazarene much longer. I can only speak from my experience and from what many of you have shared with me. There have been some wonderful times and some rough times. Moments we’ll treasure forever and memories we’d like to forget! But God has always been faithful.
In many ways we have wandered in the wilderness for these past 8 months wondering where the path would lead us. Though unsure of the way we now stand on the border of something new and unknown.
The choice becomes; do we leave the past behind, the good and the bad, highlights and low times, beautiful and less desirable events and journey into this new place, or hold on to what was, complain, grumble, fear and miss the new thing God wants to do and is doing.
Crossing the border, going to this new place requires leaving some we love behind, familiar surroundings and a place we’ve called our home. It won’t be easy but life rarely is and God is always faithful.
In some ways I see myself as Moses in this story…give me time to explain before you start rolling your eyes and thinking; “The Pastor really does need this sabbatical if he’s comparing himself to Moses!” It’s in very small ways but I maybe sense what Moses was experiencing in this selection of text.
Like Moses, I have set the choices before you today and beg you to choose life.
Like Moses, I ask you to trust God and walk his way. He will not abandon the work of his hands.
Like Moses, I have had a group of leaders and supporters who have walked with me as I have led and who will go with you as we separate.
Like Moses, I stand on the border of this new and unknown territory but cannot go with you.
Like Moses my heart hurts today as I see my dear friends and loved ones prepare to continue on without me.
I wonder if Moses regretted his actions and hasty words which kept him from continuing the journey. I want you to know I regret not being able to do more to keep this campus church open and this from being our last Sunday. I am sorry I could not lead in such a way this could have been avoided and to keep this wonderful community whole and moving forward.
This deep sadness is tempered by God’s assurance that he keeps his promises even through the weaknesses and shortcomings of leaders. I stand here today seeing, though unable to experience, God’s faithful hand which will guide you and lead you to a new place filled with his blessings!
Hopefully, unlike Moses, I will not be buried here today but like Moses I can rest knowing God is faithful.
Today, in the midst of our parting and pain, let us choose to celebrate the future unknown and not cling to the old which is passing away.
The Greatness and the Goodness of God
1 I will extol you, my God and King,
and bless your name forever and ever.
2 Every day I will bless you,
and praise your name forever and ever.
3 Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised;
his greatness is unsearchable.
4 One generation shall tell of your works to another,
and shall declare your mighty acts.
8 The Lord is gracious and merciful;
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
9 The Lord is good to all,
and his compassion is over all that he has made.
The Lord is faithful in all his words,
and gracious in all his deeds.
14 The Lord upholds all who are falling,
and raises up all who are bowed down.
15 The eyes of all look to you,
and you give them their food in due season.
16 You open your hand,
satisfying the desire of every living thing.
17 The Lord is just in all his ways,
and kind in all his doings.
18 The Lord is near to all who call on him,
He also hears their cry, and saves them.
20 The Lord watches over all who love him.
Great quote by one of the Inklings. As a person who gets into hot water frequently I often wonder if this is a result of wisdom or rebellion.
As a wannabe saint/contemplative/wise person you’d think trouble would be one of those things I avoided easily and yet I tend to find myself in tough conversations and situations. Mostly these result from asking too many questions and refusing to believing something to be true just because someone says it is…for some reason this makes people irritated and sometimes gives the impression I’m hard to get along with or have malcontent tendencies.
Maybe this is true. Maybe I enjoy rubbing people the wrong way. Maybe people need to think more and presume less? After all, hot water is the best way to cleanse ourselves of illusions and assumptions.blessings, bdl
The Master said; “One day a man found a treasure in a field. He was so happy that he went and sold everything he owned to buy that field. Another man went looking for fine pearls. When he found a very valuable pearl, he went and sold everything he had and bought it.”
To sell everything one has takes certainty in what is being purchased. To know treasure when one sees it, an object of great value amidst the dirt and grime which surrounds it, takes a trained eye. If we aren’t sure of what we’re buying we could end up with junk and costume jewelry.
On the path of life we will pass many fields and have numerous shiny objects seek our attention. Knowing what’s worth buying and what’s worthless, what is eternal and temporal, wise and foolish, goes a long way in determining whether our life is filled with treasure or trash.blessings, bdl