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Still More To Do

Ash Wednesday, 2018

Joshua 1:9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. 

Day One of Brave Faith hits home right away, “As a middle-aged woman, my days of being daring seem to be slowly waning.” She’s got that right. What could be next? Retired from full time work, the last thing I expected six months ago, would be me sitting here in Zambia, Africa at the Villages of Hope. It doesn’t feel particularly brave or courageous to travel here and spend six weeks. Not now, but it did at first.

I am seeing a change from within. It’s not me being more spiritual or praying more or hearing the voice of God speaking of great things to happen. It’s a kind of walking, step by step. It’s being present with the Presence of God. Here or at home. Here. Now.

Being afraid is a mental box in which we can choose to live . . . or not.

A pastor friend of mine once told an allegory of a man (or woman, of course) who was confined in a cage for some long time. At one point, the cage door swung wide open and the prisoner was free to go, but did not. The cage was safe and familiar, though confining. Outside, anything could happen. Wild animals might eat you. The wind might blow and the storms could come. Lightning might strike. And yet, what was really there? A meadow, as far as the eye could see.

Fear keeps us in the cage.

I am no longer young, but I am saying this today : I do not want to live in a self-imposed cage or box of fear or disappointment or “if only’s.” I am a child of God.

 

You Make Me Brave

When my husband died in December of 2014, one of the songs that resonated deeply within me during those initial months of grief, was “You Make me Brave.” I didn’t feel so very brave, but I believed God’s Presence was the core of whatever courage I could muster.

So it’s no mistake that I was drawn to the devotional book, Brave Faith : A 31 Day Devotional Journey, by Mary Geisen which I discovered at LifeLetterCafe.com.  It’s a year old or so, but I think I’m finding it now for a reason. You are welcome to join me in this journey, the first 31 days with the author, and the final days of Lent on my own.

What does it mean to be brave? Or How do we become brave? Can anyone be brave? Is brave faith Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious? Or normal?

One thing Mary G. prepares us to understand in this study, brave faith is not a one time deal, it’s ongoing. It is us. It is you and it is me. Let’s look and see.

Resentment

There is no redeeming value to resentment. From hate to exasperation to wrath, there’s not a synonym in the group that I should want to practice. And yet. . .

But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife. And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient . . . [2 Timothy 2:23-24, NKJV] In the NIV in verse 24 says, “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.

I have discovered that resentment is right up there with disappointment. They have the same root in the heart. They are both married to expectations and ultimately “control.” I am resentful when things don’t go the way I expect them to go. I am disappointed when things don’t turn out the way I had dreamed they would. As though I know what is the best way, the best time, the best outcome.

There is nothing wrong, I think, in dreaming and hoping for a particular end result or a good conclusion, but the trick is integrating the reality that does not line up with the dream.

We all want perfect children with straight “A’s” and exquisite manners. We can model these behaviors and teach and tutor and guide. But guess what? Things don’t always work out. And if that child/spouse/friend/colleague does not perform accordingly, what is our response? Resentment or patient love?

Patience is love. And love is patience. [Love is patient, love is kind. I Corinthians 13:4]

I can remember other believers warning me (jokingly – sort of) never to pray for patience for God will allow all kinds of challenging events to come along to “try” this patience, to grow patience, to practice patience. But never did I think about patience as love itself. Of course, we should ask for/pray for/practice patience in the same way we ask to love, to forgive, to be compassionate etc.

In the last year or so, I have been indulging a boatload of resentment for my circumstances. I live in a small house and have very little personal space. My adult daughter and her 21 month old son live with me. They dominate the environment. I love my family, of course, I say, but I also resent their habits, their noise, their choices, their impacts. So, is that love?

Resentment is a nice word for hate. And that is unacceptable. Ever. Lord forgive me.

Boom!

But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. [Matthew 6:6]

It’s only taken 30 some years for me to understand that prayer is mine. I mean, it’s between me and God and there is no “right” way to pray. Only if I pray as “me” can I ever hope to achieve the “pray without ceasing” intention. This discovery came out of my conversation with a spiritual director.

For too many years, I have placed prayer into a silo. This is my prayer time. These are my tools for prayer. These are the books I’ve read. These are the suggestions, instructions, recommendations on prayer.

I would never say, I need to get better at eating nor would I think I need more practice in sitting or standing or talking (my gift and my undoing). Historically, I have placed prayer in the arena of learning how to knit or play the piano or walk on stilts. I’ve allowed myself to believe that prayer is a skill. That is not the case. And with that understanding, a freedom descends upon me like a cool breeze.

I am already good at prayer. I just didn’t recognize it. I have all that I need to pray. I have all my imagination and breath and soul. I am a complete person. And for this reason, I am a praying being.

During that same conversation with Lorie, I kvetched about having a sweet time in prayer some days, but then I have to get up from my chair and enter my regular life. Good Lord Almighty. How has it come to that? This is me turning off the spigot.

Lastly, I believe I am seeing that any intentional time with God is a way of sending myself forward into the experiences of the next moment. It’s a springboard that can ground me.  “. . . in all I do, direct me to the fulfilling of your purpose, through Jesus Christ, our Lord.” Vaya con Dios.

 

You’re lying. And so am I.

“The Mighty One, God, the Lord, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to where it sets. From Zion, perfect in beauty, God shines forth. Our God comes and will not be silent; a fire devours before him, and around him a tempest rages.” [Psalm 50:1-3]

That’s right. God is never really silent. God is speaking through every atom of every living thing in Earth. God is speaking within each and every one of us. This is not a speaking problem, this is a listening problem.

Me and the Silence by
Stefano Bonazzi

I have been silent for some months. I have not written because of an inner vacuum, not an experience of peace and harmony, but a hollowness of spirit. I have gone through a lot of the motions; I have read the Word and I have pondered; I have attended worship services and I have sung the songs. I have engaged a spiritual director. I have hit a singing bowl and followed its vibrations. I have listened to music. But my mind remains a maelstrom.

The mere chaos of our age is a clanging cymbal. The incessant drone of news and tweets from the White House, always a shock that fuels dismay, chills my heart. The cry of sorrow as the rains engulf our Texas cities is loud and persistent. The anger and violence of Charlottesville clamors like a great cloud of bees, buzzing in swarms and demanding attention. The petty annoyances of broken things and the drama of relationships twang and clunk and slam.

And yet, God is speaking too. God is Present. It is not an either/or proposition. Cannot be.

God is in the terror as much as God is in the peace. Can I live in that paradox long enough to trust and learn and discern? God does not change but is the constant to which I am invited to cling. When Mike died, this was clear to me and I was able to stand. But this external chaos has proved to be my master, a master I must shed. For there is only One, whose love and strength and assurance is is promised and waiting.

With whom will I engage this day? In which river will I suspend my heart? The waters can be

gentle but obstacles will always remain.

I must choose to acknowledge God. In the moment. Discipline is a choice. Awareness is a choice. And somewhere along the way, they can become a habit, a norm.

Right now, I hear God in the dripping of the soft rain outside my window. I feel God in the fur of my fat cat. I hear God in the contented sigh of my sleeping dog. And because the view from my chair in my bedroom snags my shoulda gene (wash my clothes, wipe the mirror, make the bed etc.), I close my eyes and look there, in the wonder of my imagination (that great gift of God) where I can see anything I choose to see.

 

21 Days

Today is the last day of my 21 day full fast (or juice fast I should probably say) and tomorrow I will transition to the Daniel Fast, basically a vegan diet through the end of Lent. It has been an illuminating time. We humans spend a lot of time dealing with the business food: planning, purchasing, preparing and finally eating, but then cleaning up and storing what’s left. My days were less preoccupied. My time in prayer was without hurry. Being faithful to alone time with God was much easier. The discipline was worth it.

My challenges in walking out God’s truth have not changed as much as I had hoped. But I have been more aware of my choices and tendencies throughout the day and for that I am grateful. My heart has been open and quicker to forgive. It’s a process.

“Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. “But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” [Matthew 6:16-18]

Today is a day for giving thanks. Spring is upon us. As the shoots begin their journey upward, so does my soul climb.

 

Self Absorbed

It’s a confession. Self-absorbed says it all. Not so much that it’s all about me, just spending way too much time and energy on how “me” is doing. How do I look? How’s my weight? Should I cut my hair? Should I meet a man? How will I support myself? Worries and questions are like a drumbeat within.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? [Matthew 6:25-26] 
My prayer time has been wrapped in the structure of the Lord’s Prayer. It keeps me on track and gives more focus to my time alone. But if it is true, that I am committed to “Your will be done,” then one would think I’d have a freedom. And for the time I sit in my chair and keep my eyes and heart on God, I feel it. But then I have to take a shower and feed the dogs and cats and clean the cat box and get dressed for the day and and and and. Your will be done loses resonance. The old “honey-do” list is a “me gotta do” list. “Martha, Martha, the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one.” [Luke 10:38a, NIV] 
I know. I know. But like Yoda says, I do not do.
Practicing the presence of God is a discipline. But I’m pretty sure my self-absorption gets in the way. It is a choice, a conscious one, that must be exercised throughout the day. Can I teach myself to be absorbed with the Presence instead? Can I look for Jesus in the eyes that I meet, look for the Holy Spirit all around me?
Breathe.
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