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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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breathofGod2Life is in the breath of God. And that breath is for all living things, whether creature or human, the sustaining power of Spirit makes the difference between life and death. And who are we, then, to understand such a thing?

When you send your Spirit, they [the creatures] are created, and you renew the face of the ground. [Psalm 104:30, NIV]
Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. [Ezekiel 37:4-5, NIV]

Yesterday on NPR, I was listening to an interview with a brain surgeon and he spoke at length how mystifying it is that the soft tissue of the brain holds so much power over the body and mind. The smallest nick could be the difference between health and disability. And although doctors know much about the brain and can see it’s shape and identify its areas, what ultimately make it work, is a mystery.

This is the realm of God. For, human knowledge reaches far and will continue to explore both the farthest point in space and the smallest particle in existence, but there will remain the unknown bit which is God.

Several of our contemporary worship songs speak of “knowing God” but truly, that is not possible. If anything, we might be better in longing to simply recognize the hand of God, the Presence of God, the essence of God in ourselves and the world around us. And to breathe.

Like the life-giving plants around us that give off oxygen and help sustain the circle of life, so does God breathe out what we need. Breathing is one of the foundations to many different spiritual practices for good reason. Breath brings with it a calm and a centering and a silence in the midst of a harried life.

Bring me back to the life You intended. Take these dry bones, these broken pieces, and put them back together again. This is my prayer.

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Pooh loveFew us willingly embrace paradox: loss for gain, death for life, serve to lead, and so on. Each and every type is repeated throughout scripture and our first reaction is reason: that is contradictory, that is not possible, that is absurd. Even faith itself is a type of paradox, to believe in what cannot be seen or proved rationally. Paradox is simply inevitable within the Way of Christ. And those who dismiss it, miss it.

But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned. [John 16:7-11, NIV]

And so I wonder about my own loss. I cannot help but read this passage and wonder, is it the same for the death of a loved one? Will there a come a day when I can look back and see, if Mike had not died, we would have missed this other event, this other understanding, this other transformation? I can almost imagine Mike, in his final moments, seeing our future more clearly than we ever could. And perhaps he also thought, I go that they might live in this other way, within this other road.

Mike’s faith was unshakeable and his mantra was that God would provide [Jehovah Jireh]. And he calls me to do the same. Trust God. Let go of what was freely. All will be well.

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confessionA “good confession,” as a phrase, has been pinched by the Catholics and any Internet search will teach you how to make a good confession in the confessional and thereafter make penance etc. But in this case, Paul is referring to a “confession of faith” which has been appropriated by yet another clerics to represent a formal statement of beliefs by one denomination for another. They are crafted documents and in most cases, cover a wide range of potential controversies discussed by believers through the centuries. But honestly, the confessions of Timothy and the Christ were much more personal. They simply acknowledged who they each were and to whom they belonged and gave fealty.

Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you [Paul to Timothy] made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. . . .  I command you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and Christ Jesus, who made the good confession [Paul about Jesus] when testifying before Pontius Pilate. [I Timothy 6:12-13, CEB]

There are people who get all “hinky” about the term, saved, as in “Are you saved?” But I think it’s really just a shortcut question about one’s confession. They are asking, “do you profess the Christ?” Do you follow the One God? Do you believe that Jesus was God in the flesh during a particular period of history and yet died and resurrected into a different kind of “body” and heretofore communes intimately with the God of the Universe to this day? Or, even this, do you believe in the Presence and transforming power of a Holy Spirit who lives within, upon invitation, and opens a Way to heaven on earth in preparation for eternity?

What do you believe? What is real to you? Who is this Jesus to you? Whom do you confess?

“This is also why I’m suffering the way I do, but I’m not ashamed. I know the one in whom I’ve placed my trust. I’m convinced that God is powerful enough to protect what he has placed in my trust until that day.” [II Timothy 1:12, CEB]

 

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enticedWhat does it mean to be enticed to turn away? Intellectually, of course, I understand that to be enticed is to lured or beguiled by an expectation or hope for something better. But this phrase comes at the end of a long list of plentiful promises including a “land flowing with milk and honey” in which generations would experience fertility in their families and their land. They were promised a win-win. And yet, the warning came too and in the end, proved to be on target. Never enough.

 Observe therefore all the commands I am giving you today, so that you may have the strength to go in and take over the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, and so that you may live long in the land the Lord swore to your ancestors to give to them and their descendants, a land flowing with milk and honey. . . . Be careful, or you will be enticed to turn away and worship other gods and bow down to them. [Deuteronomy 11:8-9, 16, NIV]

Human beings are notorious for never being satisfied. Most of us who live in the West are prime examples. We have more than we need and we want more still. I am no stranger to this dis-ease. I am living within the norm of this culture and mind-set. Only until we travel to other countries where people walk to a pump for their water or eat the same staple food every day or die of an unchecked pandemic, do we have our eyes opened for a season.

We have it all and yet we are enticed away by the “other gods.” Do we really imagine that the mere facade of better, faster, or bigger will be the antidote to what ails us? I am ashamed at the number of times I have allowed myself to covet what others appear to have, to know, to enjoy.

Not today then. I choose to wrap myself in the armor of God’s contentment. If only for a little while, I will be mindful of “Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise, Christ in the heart of every man [person] who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me, Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me.” [St. Patrick]

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christingardenNo matter how much time is lost or mistakes made or fears given into, God’s love remains available to me . . . to you. The days have been very hard, the stress like a heavy weight upon my heart, and even then, more challenges have come, yet God calls me to come beneath the wings of safety, into the protection of holiness, and grounded by the promise of healing and wholeness. I come.

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. . . . “ [John 15:9-12, NIV]

Snapshot: This week will mark only the fifth month of Mike’s passing. Forever and yet only yesterday. But the realities of life move forward and after much consultation with professionals, friends, and family, it’s evident that I must sell our house and downsize into something more affordable for me, and ultimately, whatever twenty-somethings come along. The house is listed, the “huge” yard sale is done, and the hunt is on. Each day, a little more must be done to spruce up the digs in hopes that the potential buyer won’t notice that gnawed off window sill by big dog or that crack in the wall through a settling foundation. The weeds continue to sprout no matter how many times I tell them to stop. We are all trying our best to be neatniks for the sake of show. And still life goes on.

All during this time, I am hearing the voices of Simplify (Hybels) and Essentialism (McKeown) and 168 Hours (Vanderkam). What is essential? What is important? What is long lasting? Where is my true treasure? What is needful?

I believe remaining in Christ is part of the simplify message. For, it is only in Christ, that I can let go of the other stuff, both physical and emotional.

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cornerstone[Peter said] “. . . then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. Jesus is ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.’” [Acts 4:10-11, NIV]

This is the gate of the Lord
    through which the righteous may enter.
I will give you thanks, for you answered me;
    you have become my salvation.

The stone the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone; . . . [Psalm 118:20-22, NIV]

gateOriginally, a cornerstone was foundational to the construction of a building because all other stones would be laid out in reference to it. Later, this stone became more ceremonial with inscriptions and time capsules and the like. I am sure that both Peter and the Old Testament writers were referencing the Messiah as a cornerstone to the faith in its most traditional sense. For the disciples, Jesus was the cornerstone for something very new upon which believers would build a church–a force of change. For the psalmist, the prediction would be that the One Messiah would be rejected (unrecognized for his assigned role to humanity) and despite being a way to God, the way would be closed. And yet, despite rejection, the foundational stone would remain and the “building” would grow.

We are living the outcome, for good and for ill. The “house” is still standing, rooted and grounded by the cornerstone. And inexplicably, this structure is also a gate. As soon as anyone links up with the cornerstone, that person becomes a “gate” for the next person to enter, to connect.

holdinghandsIt’s a strange metaphor when combined, and yet, I get it. In this picture, the gates (the people) are transparent but linked up. We are transparent because we want people to be able to see inside, to behold the glory as it were, the spark and flame of life.

Jesus, the cornerstone of the Church as it was meant to be. Jesus, the cornerstone of my life as it is meant to be as well. Come in. The way is open; the gate is open.

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