Turning on the porch light yesterday I spotted a basket with a beautiful bouquet of flowers and fruit. This was one example of the flowers and plants that have been delivered, brought to the memorial service, delivered by courier to our family over the last several days. Each one comes with heartfelt condolences, sweet words, kind thoughts, and prayers. We have appreciated and placed every one of them in a prominent place in the house. I told my wife and mom today the living room looked like a botanical garden.
What’s interesting is many of these plants and flowers are in the process of dying. They are eye-catching, smell wonderful, and fill the house with color, but make no mistake, they are dying. From the time the designer cut the stems on the roses, carnations, lilies, sunflowers, and many more, they began to die. They were placed in water and other sponge-like materials to make them last as long as possible but eventually, they will wilt and be thrown away.
This happens to all living things. There is the moment of birth, growth, blossoming and adorning the world with beauty and life. However, as soon as each living thing is born it begins to die. It can be from lack of care and pass sooner or it can receive lots of attention and adoration and hopefully live a long fruitful life. However, either way, its time will come when it will be no more.
This last week has been a reminder of how soon things pass. On the way home from the memorial service for my dad yesterday I remarked to my mom; “No matter who you are or what you are going through, you always think you have more time than you do.”
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.
The fellowship hall which belongs to one of the two churches next to our house had a new roof put on yesterday. As I was doing yard work they were working under the hot sun with no hope of shade. A truck pulled into the parking lot full of shingles and the driver began unloading. After he finished another man grabbed a bundle of shingles, positioned them on his shoulders and carried them up the ladder to the workers on the roof.
Watching this man and the way he handled the shingles and the ladder you might think he would be broad and muscular but actually, he was smallish in size. However, the way expert way he handled the shingles let you know he’d been doing this type of work for a while.
Impressed with his agility and strength I reflected on the burdens that people carry. Mother Teresa once famously said; “I know God says; ‘He wouldn’t give us more than we could handle.’ I just wish he didn’t trust me so much.”
Size, age, education, talent, and all the accolades the world holds dear doesn’t necessarily equal great faith or perseverance. It’s the elderly woman we pass in the grocery store, the young man with the earring in his nose, the middle age woman with a tear in her eye, the man holding the door open for strangers, who carry burdens too heavy for most of us.
They are able to do this not because they are stronger but have been doing it longer.
How we see ourselves is one of the most important roles of self-awareness.
I am amazed at two things; one is how un-self-aware some people are at times and how un-self-aware I am most of the time.
Last week an event happened which caused me to look at myself and see how petty I had been about a situation. I wish this awareness had happened during meditation, scripture reading, prayer or a time of reflection but it didn’t. I am thankful for not making a fool out of myself in front of anyone.
I wish it wasn’t so, that many times in life we didn’t have to gain a measure of self-awareness, wisdom, in such jarring and shameful ways but at least we learn and hopefully never repeat the mistakes, stubbornness, perhaps sinful behavior again.
Truly seeing ourselves for who we are can be painful and regretful. It can also be a relief and bring freedom to our spirits, chained by obliviousness, to who and what we are after seeing ourselves in the mirror of self-awareness.
Last night a fierce thunderstorm passed through the area and downed a huge branch off a tree right outside our bedroom window (see photo). The size of the damaged area leaves doubt as to whether the tree can be saved or if we will have to cut it down when removing the limb. I love trees, flowers, grass, spring, and summer, nature at its absolute best. It hurt my heart to see the beautiful tree, which is much older than I, with such a gaping wound.
I spent the week helping friends whose world, like the tree, has been torn apart. Two months ago everything seemed on track and then one of life’s damaging storms ravaged their lives and left them in doubt and afraid. They are looking at incredible odds against survival itself. They stand in the midst of what used to be their normalcy and are surrounded by debris, devastation, and the possibility of death.
Life is never predictable. It doesn’t have a reset button, can’t go back and fix things or jump forward to see how it ends. We weather the storms of life, pick up the pieces and pray for the strength, stamina, and the will to survive.
What is Prayer? –
Last week someone asked me to pray for them. They explained what they were going through and I told them I certainly would remember them when seeking wisdom, peace and grace for those on my prayer list. Yesterday, someone told me they were praying for me. I know this person and many others pray for me regularly and it brings me a sense of hope.
The best definition of prayer I’ve ever come across is from Eugene Peterson; “Prayer isn’t getting God to do something but getting in on what God is already doing.” This to me is a powerful reminder that we’re not the catalyst to God acting. It’s also reflects the thought that God is present, knows our circumstances, is on our side and nothing escapes his attention.
Prayer comes in many forms and folks have countless views of how prayer works. I think what’s important is that prayer puts us in the position of humility, admitting we’re not in charge, have little, if any, real power. Pure prayer, for ourselves and others, is to want, desire the best but at the same time realizing we don’t know what’s best but trusting that God does.
Good and Bad –
Earlier this week a link to an old style entertainment wrestling video appeared in my Facebook feed. I recognized the wrestler and I admit succumbing to the temptation to click on the link. Watching it I was taken back to my childhood and enjoying these entertainment wrestling shows. My parents weren’t fans so my brother and I made sure they weren’t aware of what we were filling our brains with on the boom tube.
These wrestlers were incredible. They wore flashy clothes, had muscles everywhere, took a beating, kept on going and most of the time the good guy won the match. One of the reasons I liked wrestling as a kid was because you knew who the good and bad guys were by the way the dressed, talked, wrestled (good guys never cheated) and behaved in and outside of the ring. As a kid these were real life heroes and villains fighting for right and wrong, good and bad, justice and injustice every Saturday. Back then I didn’t know it was a lot more entertainment than wrestling. As I grew up I came to realize it was athletic acting, a male dominated, sports soap opera.
Someone asked me a few days ago who they should vote for in the upcoming presidential race. “Both candidates have tremendous flaws! As a Christian, how should we vote?” I shook my head and simply said; “I think you should pray.” “About who to vote for?” they asked. “No,’ I replied, ‘I’m not sure as a Christian you can, with a Holy conscience, vote for either one. But you can pray.”
The older I get the harder to tell who the good and bad people are anymore. Our world is so full of mixed signals, compromise and confusion. I don’t think its going to get any better. Prayer, humility, serenity of spirit is what it takes to survive and hope in times and seasons such as these.
The other day I heard someone tell a group they were an anxious person. They then spoke of a recent meeting with a friend who prayed for them stating; “their anxiety wasn’t from God, to believe His word (Bible) and replace the anxious thoughts with ‘God’s truth.'” The person telling the story then declared she was thrilled with this revelatory prayer and her belief in the power of God and His word.
I was thankful for the woman’s relief from anxiousness and a friend who cared enough to listen, empathize and pray for her. I also thought about people I know who suffer from anxiety disorders, clinical depression, post traumatic disorder and other mental health issues. They pray, believe, hope, trust in the promises of their faith and scripture but permanent relief seems elusive.
For those who carry the burden of persistent mental health issues, stories of quick, permanent healing can be discouraging. Others who speak to them of; “having more faith, claiming the victory, believing God’s Word, praying until healing comes, be stronger, don’t let yourself be a victim of the devil/satan,” may be trying to help but often this type of advice does the opposite.
People with long term mental health issues often struggle with feelings of loneliness, doubt, self worth and long to be free of the struggle of dealing with basic existence. They may wonder; “Why have others received release and not me? Am I doing something wrong, being punished? Does God hear or care?”
Some of the hardest places and groups for people to share their struggle with mental illness can be churches, other faith communities, or with believing friends. Whether it’s a fear of being judged as weak willed or lacking faith, a misunderstanding of the reasons and causes of mental illness, or the stigma mental health issues sometimes engender in people, it’s a risky move to share such a deep, intimate issue.
Finding the balance of rejoicing with those who’ve experienced healing and relief while being mindful of those who continue to struggle is the middle way of grace and thankfulness.
This morning was communion Sunday. At our place of worship we celebrate it monthly. This sacrament is special to most believers and specifically for me. Normally, communion is held on the first Sunday of the month, however, the pastor was on vacation last week so today was when the elements would be served.
I’ve been fighting a sinus infection the past several days and the symptoms that go with it. Being sick is never fun and meds plus mucus can equal bad breath. Fearing someone might collapse as I was talking with them I’ve been keeping a supply of breath mints with me this week.
Coming into the sanctuary this morning I popped a large spearmint candy into my mouth. About half way through the service, and my breath mint, the stewards were called forward and began distributing the wafers and grape juice (our denomination doesn’t use wine). “Uhoh,” was my first thought. “What do I do with the too big to swallow, don’t want to break my teeth trying to chew it, piece of candy?” Finally, I surreptitiously removed it so I would be able to; “eat the bread (body) and drink the juice (blood.)”
After reflecting upon the symbolism of the Last Supper, prayerfully considering and confessing the state of my spirit and life I ate and drank. The taste was odd. Unleavened bread, Welch’s grape juice doesn’t mix well with spearmint. Slowly, the strange flavor faded and the taste of the elements was all that remained.
As the worship service continued I thought about the breath mint and what to do with it. I decided to discard it. I preferred the new taste was better and wanted it to last as long as possible.
I spent most of the morning building an Adirondack chair and putting a temporary finish on an outdoor project.
About 1:30PM I went in for lunch and when I came back outside it began raining and hasn’t stopped yet. At first I was frustrated because my “to-do” list became a “won’t be done” until tomorrow list but the irritation quickly passed because we’ve had a very dry summer. Any rain is appreciated even when it’s unexpected and not completely wanted.
Listening to the rain does wonders for my spirit and as I listened to it I reflected on how prayer is like rain.
I’ve heard farmers pray for rain and to stop raining. I’ve heard others pray for no rain when traveling or going on vacation and for rain to avoid work or a dreaded outdoor event. I often question how God chooses which to answer; the prayer of the farmer for rain or the little league baseball team players who don’t want their game rained out.
I don’t know the secret to prayers being answered. Truthfully I don’t think anyone does and am very wary of those who claim to have the formula, secret, special language or know the certain scripture verses that, when read in a particular order, repeated the right number of times leads to success.
Answered prayer, like rain, often comes when we don’t expect it and doesn’t come when we are desperate for it. It can be frustrating, exhilarating, confusing and disheartening.
Our hope remains in the One who sends rain, and answered prayers, on the good and the bad, the just and the unjust, the believers and those yet to follow in the way.
Yesterday afternoon I sat on our front porch and read a few Psalms. When I had finished I closed my eyes, stilled my thoughts and sat quietly. Centering prayer is a discipline which requires very little in the way of doing but can be incredibly difficult; especially when you live in the country, it’s five o’clock and every good ol’ boy with a modified exhaust system is driving down your road.
Finding places of stillness and silence seems to be increasingly more complicated in our loud, obnoxious, “look at me” world. We’ve forgotten how to sit, to breathe, to be alone and touch the One who never leaves us.
“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
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
Patience is a hard discipline. It is not just waiting until something happens over which we have no control: the arrival of the bus, the end of the rain, the return of a friend, the resolution of a conflict. Patience is not a waiting passivity until someone else does something. Patience asks us to live the moment to the fullest, to be completely present to the moment, to taste the here and now, to be where we are. When we are impatient we try to get away from where we are. We behave as if the real thing will happen tomorrow, later, and somewhere else. Lets’ be patient and trust that the treasure we look for is hidden in the ground on which we stand.
—Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey
There are days when Henri Nouwen speaks directly to me, this is one of those days and I hope his words touch some of you as well.blessings, bdl
I have a scar on my left knee that reminds me of the difficult task of learning to ride a bicycle. The scar is from a large rock I discovered when I fell on my grandmother’s semicircular, dirt & gravel driveway.
Once you learn how to ride a bike they say you don’t forget and so far, so good, but occasionally I still take a tumble. The bigger, faster, mountain bike I now ride is more fun but can also be more dangerous depending on what’s around the next curve of the trail.
Life is like riding a bicycle. Learning balance, staying upright, keeping your bearings, is hard and sometimes no matter how much experience you have you’re going to take a tumble.
Each of us bear the scars of this wild ride called life. It seems about the time we think we’ve figured it out is about the time we take the next spill. When, not if, we fall what do we do? We get up. We might be dirty, bleeding, hurt and tempted to quit but we refuse to surrender.
from The Lion in Winter:
Prince Geoffrey and Prince Richard are confined in a dungeon, the end seems near as their father, the enemy, approaches:
Richard: He’s here. He’ll get no satisfaction out of me. He isn’t going to see me beg.
Geoffrey: You fool… as if the way one falls matters.
Richard: When the fall is all that’s left, it matters a great deal.
This is either going to be a huge success or an unmitigated disaster!
Ever put two things together and bad things happen? Two good friends, you know will hit it off, end up not liking each other? A blind date which goes horribly wrong? Hired for your dream job and it ends up a nightmare? Vacation with family…
Not everything goes together, not everyone gets along.
Last night, on my way to the campus, I was thinking about a new situation I will soon find myself in. It will combine people and places I love but there is an uneasiness in regards to putting it all together. This uncertainty of mixing several ingredients and what will result had me feeling apprehensive.
However, after more reflection, I realized my anxiety was in not being able to predict the future. I do not have the ability to foresee if the upcoming situation will be a success or failure, good or bad, mistake or sound decision.
What I can do is allow the path to unfold in front of me, walk it, and carry as little baggage of expectation and worry as possible. Wisdom tells me this is how we are to live life, always.blessings, bdl