Reinventing Self

reinventThere comes a moment in a our lives when we just know that something has to change. The same choices are no longer working and circumstances are fraying the edges of what has been familiar for so long. Sometimes, it’s a dramatic event that calls us to lay down our cards. Other times, it’s recognizing ourselves in someone else. And still other times, it’s a slow descent until the bottom looms large before us, sure to cause a crash and burn.

That, however, is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. [Ephesian 4:20-24, NIV]

Before Mike died so suddenly seven months ago, after thirty-two years of marriage, we had fallen into a rhythm of the good life. We had figured out who did what and when; we had quietly negotiated the battles worth waging and those that time would address. We had learned to let go of the “small stuff.” We were committed to both our church and our faith and each other. We were comfortable. We were planning our retirements. We were launching our adult children.

Then everything familiar stopped. Oh, there was some semblance of the old life: the house, the dogs, the young people, the work, the church, and the ever present grass needing to be cut. Dishes and dust and laundry  accumulated faster than I could sweep them away.

transformBut eventually, I began to see that I couldn’t keep trying to keep the old life. I had to allow a “me” to ev0lve that was not defined by the old parameters. I needed to try on some new clothes; I needed to experiment. I needed to move the furniture.

In my case, this has all been about grief playing out and my moving on. But I’m not so sure it’s dissimilar to someone who has yet to consider relinquishing his or her soul rights to God, to the Christ. We can keep on going for a while, but eventually, the tally sheet of good choices and bad choices is weighted to one side or the other. To move into a life of faith takes some reinvention, some experimentation, some practice.

Change comes from within. Change comes with discovery. Change comes with acceptance–of what is now, so that what could be has a chance to grow. But change also comes with stepping onto the stones of the creek, testing the stable ones and skipping over the wobbly ones. I’m just glad I have that Jesus to grab my hand when I lose my balance.

The Heart as Gut

God does not participate in Valentine’s Day. God is not particularly interested in the hearts and flowers of young lovers wooing one another. God is not about Cupid and arrows and online dating. God is about our innermost being, the center of ourselves, our gut, our center, our soul and spirit. Our identity. That heart.

You desire truth in the inward being;
    therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.heart of the matter
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
    wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
    let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins,
    and blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
    and put a new and right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
    and do not take your holy spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
    and sustain in me a willing spirit. [Psalm 51:6-12, NRSV]

Anything else, and we are lying to ourselves and to God. We could be living a myth of faith if our “hearts” are not in it. If all we have is a semblance of faithfulness, a Sunday morning piety, a “Praise the Lord” verbiage, we are missing the depth and breadth and length of God within.

The heart of a matter is the crux of it, the most vital part that implies the rest is totally dependent upon it. Is your faith totally dependent on the presence of God in the core of you?

It is from this center that decisions are made and hunches are formed and hope is nurtured and sin is birthed. But it is also here that faith is planted, where God manifests as the Holy Spirit, where change begins.

Oh yes, “create in me a clean heart, oh God.”

God’s Command

listentogodIf it’s true that God commands at all, then it would behoove us to know what that would be like. How do we hear or see God’s commands?

Yet he gave a command to the skies above and opened the doors of the heavens . . . [Psalm 78:23, NIV] ; And he [Jesus] continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! [Mark 7:9, NIV]

On a recent NPR broadcast, they were discussing the evolution of hearing in medicine. For so long, all diagnoses were based on what a physician or healer could see in addition to the report of the patient. However, with the advent of some basic technology (the stethoscope), a doctor could not “hear” inside the body. In fact, they posited, that sight is like a movie screen, ever before us, but sound is like a swimming pool, all around us. The trick is to learn to discern what we are hearing.

Sounds are everywhere. We tend to tune out most of them. Even in the “silence,” there is sound. And certainly, inside the body, there are a multitude of noises and vibrations.

In the midst of all the clamor, we are told, there is also the “still small voice” of God.

There are many recorded commands of God in the Bible. For this reason, this book guides believers. But I believe there have been interpretations and assumptions about the commands: which are truly the commands of God and which are the fabrications of humans? Which are culturally grounded and which are unbound by time or space or geography?

We are also faced with the mystery of the law articulated through the Jewish history and God’s commands in the Old Testament and the power of grace with the appearance of the Messiah in the New Testament and Jesus’s commands.

It is for this reason that we must look within and without. We must read and contemplate and engage in conversation. But we must also pray, meditate, and spend time within the secret places of God alone.

Thanks Always Works

thank youIt’s pretty simple really, and repeated throughout scripture, from the Old Testament to the New, we are encouraged to “give thanks.” It’s a natural response and when it’s genuine, it’s the cinch to a bow or knot, those words wrap up the exchange. . . for that moment, for that day perhaps. But it’s never too late to reopen the conversation and it’s never too late to give thanks, whether it’s to God or to a stranger. The words carry power, the sentiment carries humanity and when thoughtfully given, recognizes the I-Thou in the other.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. [Psalm 107:1, NIV]
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. [I Thessalonians 5:16-18, NIV]
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. [I Chronicles 16:34, NIV]
Where human thanksgings, one to another, are considered polite and, unfortunately, in many cases, somewhat rote and even cavalier, the command to give thanks to God is fraught with much more weight. This is increasingly clear when life becomes overwhelming. But Paul, in I Thessalonians, admonishes us to give thanks in ALL circumstances (both delightful and dreadful). Well, we might think, “surely God doesn’t mean I am to give thanks for illness or corruption or betrayal or sorrow?”

Yes and no. I am not giving thanks for the situation itself but I am giving thanks that God is still in the midst of that state of affairs, and because God is there, I am promised that I can have confidence in the outcome, which will be God-covered (one way or another, sooner or later). I can, if I so choose, rest in this truth. I am given the opportunity to trust God again and again. I am given the chance to confirm my faith, my commitment, my relationship with the Godhead. It is a choice to give thanks. It’s not that the world will come to an end if I don’t, but I can improve my relationship to challenges, in that simple expression.

I am the Lord, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me? [Jeremiah 32:27, NIV]

Thanks. Yeah. Just sayin.’ Thanks.

Worries of This Life

kudzu chokesThe parable of the sower still resonates despite our modern culture. It is a simple tale and yet each of us can probably identify with one or more of the seeds in the story. In fact, I’m beginning to believe that I have lived them all at one point or another. And not necessarily in the order told.

Still others [people], like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.  Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.” [Mark 4:18-20]

The worries of this life and the desires for other things are the most insidious traps, for they absorb the brain’s thoughts. Like any computer, the RAM can only handle so much at once. And when I fill my head with tapes of concerns, old conversations, looped memories, overdue notices, commercials, and Facebook pictures of all the “other” happy people, there is no room for the workings of Spirit. I crowd out Spirit. It’s not that I don’t trust God in theory, but I don’t leave enough space for God to work.

The good seed hears the word but then “accepts” the word before crops can spring forth. Accepting is a process the involves the conscious as well as the unconscious mind.

In the same way that I have been simplifying my house, it is time to streamline the mind. Set aside what I cannot change and give God the room needed to cultivate a better way.

Fruit At Any Age

palm treeSometimes it’s hard to believe that there is still life in a thing, in a situation. As people grow older and face their own mortality or, as in my circumstances, walk through the death of a loved one, time seems to be a kind of betrayer. We no longer appear to have the time to do anything new or worse, the energy to even begin, to try, to initiate. And when that happens, we go from stasis to decline. Unless–

The righteous will flourish like a palm tree,
    they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon;
planted in the house of the Lord,
    they will flourish in the courts of our God.
They will still bear fruit in old age,
    they will stay fresh and green,
proclaiming, “The Lord is upright;

    he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.” [Psalm 92:12-15, NIV]

What is bearing fruit at my age? Generally, it’s a metaphor for having children, but what else? I had an evangelist friend who maintained that bearing fruit meant bringing people to Christ. His quiver then, was full of “saved souls” [Psalm 127:3-5]. Others focus on the fruits of the spirit  [Galatians 5:22-23a]: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, looking to improve their characters through acts of generosity toward others, for truly, these fruits are mostly relationship-based. Still others interpret fruit as prosperity, bringing forth a cornucopia of wealth and plenty (aka, fruitfulness).

For me, today, I put forth a very simple meaning: fruit is the natural outcome of any living thing. We are all bearing fruit, all the time, whether it is physical, mental, emotional or spiritual. The nature of this fruit depends on our make-up, our beliefs, and our intentions.

seeds in the wind“A good tree doesn’t produce bad fruit, nor does a bad tree produce good fruit. Each tree is known by its own fruit. People don’t gather figs from thorny plants, nor do they pick grapes from prickly bushes. A good person produces good from the good treasury of the inner self, while an evil person produces evil from the evil treasury of the inner self. The inner self overflows with words that are spoken.” [Luke 6:43-45, CEB]

Today may be the result of my decisions made in my past, but tomorrow has the potential for anything, and depends so much on my choices today. And so goes the cycle, I learn to walk the day I made while at the same time, I can blow seeds into the days to come.

I have a future. Today I can plant a dream, still.

See Your Dove

Mourning Dove

Mourning Dove

Today I am the dove who asks for God’s strong hand to carry me, to disentangle me from the barb wire of my current circumstances, to confirm my faith in the Way and to show the doubters how God provides. I know my afflictions are minor compared to the great tragedies of the world, so I claim the dove as my emblem.

Remember how the enemy has mocked you, Lord,
    how foolish people have reviled your name.
Do not hand over the life of your dove to wild beasts;
    do not forget the lives of your afflicted people forever. [Psalm 74:18-19]

I am looking for a confirmation or perhaps I should confess, I’m looking for a sign. That’s so childish, I know. But if I am honest with myself, that’s the truth. I am quieting myself as much as I can in the midst of a very busy week, each night a program or meeting or work that requires my attention. In between, keeping the house impeccable for showings as well as taming the flourishing vegetation after our heavy rains. Calling in repair men and dear friends to do those things I cannot do. And prepping for book group and writing for writing group and volunteering for church and Opera House Foundation. All the while, looking for a place to move within my new, much smaller budget once our house does sell. And then, balancing the adult kids, one pregnant, another frustrated with me and my “needs,” and another out of state. Yada yada yada.

Hear my prayer, Oh Lord. Keep me mindful. Help me practice your Presence in the cracks. For this reason I fast, to step away from the daily preparation and consumption of food at the least. People spend a lot of time on this, I see, from planning a meal to purchasing the ingredients to preparing it, eating it, and cleaning up.

The tears come easily. I am at the six month mark this weekend of losing my husband. The time is harder now than it was before in many ways. This grieving thing is a harsh and unpredictable road. It’s so much more than simply loss of a loved one, it’s the transitioning to a new lifestyle, a new identity, a touchless world, an aloneness, and a limbo, always in doubt of the future.

Despite all the idiosyncrasies of Mike, he was a rock to our family, a given in the midst of change. Not that God is not a rock, of course. But I am not so full of the Christ Spirit that I do not need or want the comfort of my mate. We survived a lot of troubles and disappointments together. We stood the test of time, half my life.


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