Memories. And a Net of Thanksgiving.

This post first appeared at http://www.inspireafire.com/casting-a-net-of-thanksgiving/

Memories can turn bittersweet in a second.

I can be happily following the rabbit trail of my thoughts, hopping between afternoon plans and pleasant reminiscing when WHAM!

Thoughts in a rabbit candy dishIt’s like a hole suddenly opened up beneath my feet, or a rock slammed me back twenty yards. Use whatever analogy you want – perhaps you’ve experienced it too? – but a wave of sadness, or anger, or fear (or all three) has me pinned and wriggling beneath its weight. My happy little thought trail just turned deadly.

Maybe it’s the loss of a loved one, or a struggling relationship, or a transition you’re trying to navigate. There will be a time when memories bring you joy and comfort, but not right away. First, they hurt. They hurt like a red hot poker you can’t get near enough to touch. And so you stay away. But eventually those memories start to sneak in. A familiar location, a familiar scent, a familiar sound. Between the red hot poker phase and the happy memory phase there is this in-between time. A memory starts out so innocently that you glance its way. And then it pummels you.

I’m navigating that in-between time right now. Trying to learn when it’s okay to look, and when it’s not. When it’s safe to let my mind wander, and when my mind is about to turn against me. It is a journey by trial and error. But it’s a journey I have to take. If I never touch the thoughts, I never progress. I would simply harden my heart, withdraw, turn cold. But on the other hand, if I move too quickly, I will drown in the floodgates of emotion.

I am learning to walk my thought trails with a weapon at the ready, and the weapon I have found most effective may surprise you. There is a fraction of second, a space barely the size of the gap between two thoughts, when I feel my thoughts turning against me, swinging me over a pit of grief.

TrailAnd in that thought gap, that fraction between thought and emotion, I throw a net.

A net of thanksgiving.

“I am thankful for this memory,” I say. And then I transition immediately to the present. “I am thankful that God is continuing to take care of me and preparing new moments for me to enjoy. I am thankful God is restoring old relationships and bringing new relationships. Thank you…”

The secret to success with this weapon is three-fold. First, I have to throw the net the milli-second I feel myself being swung over that pit. I can’t test the thought to see if it’s really turning on me; I can’t think a little further to see if it’s really all that sad. I lose that battle every time, and once I’m on the way down, it’s much harder to grab a handhold.

Second, I have to move away from the memory that threw me over the pit to begin with. Too many times I’ve tried to weave a net of thanksgiving by stringing together everything I’m thankful for in that old memory. The problem is that while my brain is saying thank you, my heart is feeling the loss of every one of those old memories. Before I know it, I’ve used my net to climb down into the very pit I was trying to avoid.

View from hammock.Third, this is a safety net, not a hammock. This strategy disrupts the spiraling thoughts just enough for me to get back to safer ground. Whatever train of thought brought me to the edge, now is not the time to hop on board again. Too many times I’ve swung myself out of the pit just to ride my thoughts right back down into it. If I can’t lead my thoughts elsewhere on my own, I need to turn on music, a podcast, or call a friend. Anything to move to a new location in my mind. I can go visit that train of thought some other day.

Memories are finicky things. They don’t always announce whether they are friend or foe, whether they carry joy or sadness. Often they carry both. Memories allow us to learn, to grow, and to relive moments. But their power should propel us toward our future, not hold us mired in the past. There are times we need to thank them for their service, and walk away.

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Waiting Patiently – A New Understanding of Rest

I originally shared this post at http://www.inspireafire.com/waiting-patiently-a-new-understanding-of-rest/. I hope you enjoy!

Hammock

Fall always seems like the busiest time of year. School is back in session. Work emails quadruple. Outside it’s the season of harvest – that narrow window where all the accumulation from the summer sun must be bundled in before the winter. And just the other day I heard a flock of geese sounding their way south. Already!

Despite the bustle of the changing season, I’ve found myself staring out the window and thinking not about all I have to do (though there is plenty). I find myself thinking instead about the exact opposite.

Autumn orchardI’m thinking about rest.

Perhaps because I’ve had more changes at work and home than I generally care to tackle all at once, but summer seems to have slipped by without me noticing. I’m staring into the tumult of fall and yearning for rebirth, for regeneration, for the hope of spring.

It seems a long time away.

I find myself gravitating to scripture passages like “He gives to his beloved sleep.” And “Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.” Not my typical “no time to be idle” fall verses. But I pause when I study Psalm 37:7, which in the King James Version says, “Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him.”

At first reading, this verse has the same soothing balm as the others. Then I look up the original Greek.

The word translated as “wait patiently” is not the wait-in-this-sunny-meadow kind of waiting that I first assumed. It isn’t even the cast-your-cares-upon-the-Lord-and-stop-worrying kind of waiting. The word actually means to writhe in pain as in child birth.

I do not like this.

I want to think about waiting patiently as something pleasant. Something I can meditate on while drifting off to sleep. I don’t want nightmares of writhing in pain.

But the more I’ve thought about this, the more I see the hope embedded in the words. The connotation is one of enduring, with the promise of a joy so complete as to make the pain worthwhile. “A woman giving birth has pain,” Jesus said, “but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy.” (John 16:21)

View from hammock.Waiting patiently for God is sometimes hard work. Resting in the Lord may not always mean peaceful slumber. God’s transforming power in our lives may in fact feel like our insides are writhing. But this transformation also comes with the promise of a peace and joy so complete as to make our current trials seem light and momentary, even if they don’t feel that way right now.

The springtime regeneration I am looking forward to actually begins now. Now – as I snuggle into the fall season, holding onto God’s promise that He will never leave me nor forsake me. I can trust that He will bring to completion the good works begun in me. He will give me the strength, courage, and wisdom to walk out the path He has laid before me. He will restore my soul and make my joy complete. He will do all this, as I rest in and wait patiently for Him.

Resting in the Lord and waiting patiently for Him may not be the lazy summer day kind of resting that I first envisioned. It might be more of a fall activity after all.

And it might be exactly the type of rest I am actually yearning for.

Delayed. A story of fun things.

This post originally appeared at http://www.inspireafire.com/delayed-a-story-of-fun-things/.

I hope you enjoy!

Plane

It wasn’t the dinner-with-family I had envisioned.

I should have been there by early afternoon, but after a series of delays, cancellations, and rebookings, I found myself with an extra seven hours at the Charlotte airport.

Seven hours is a long layover.

Fortunately, there were two pieces of good news. First, I could still get out that night, so my long-weekend was still intact. Second, I’m a writer. Writers know exactly what to do in situations like this.

We go looking for something interesting to write.

My first stop was a model airplane mobile circulating above a sushi bar. I had already walked by this spot several times, but I never noticed it until I started looking. The slowly moving aircraft were mesmerizing, and all different. People rushed by me en route to their gates, but I stood so long staring over the heads of the diners that one lady finally got agitated and left. I took her seat.

Plane mobile

After this I strolled through a line of fake trees. It wasn’t exactly Sherwood Forest, but with a bit of imagination and the cute little directional signs I could almost pretend I was in a quaint English village. Almost.

Inside Trees

One entire terminal was open during construction. They weren’t kidding about the construction. Exposed wires, cardboard floors… I didn’t stay down there very long for fear that I might plummet onto the tarmac. But I did stay long enough to snap a picture of this exposed ductwork that I thought looked a bit like a silver saguaro cactus. Don’t you agree?

Exposed duct work

Throughout the Charlotte Airport are these fantastic seating areas filled not with the traditional bolted down airport seats, but with sparkling white rocking chairs. (You’ve got to love southern hospitality.) No matter which terminal I went to, these special rocking chairs were almost always filled to capacity, but one advantage of a 7-hour layover is you can outwait almost every other passenger. I did eventually get my turn to rock. Twice. And it was quite nice.

Rocking Chairs

Down what I dubbed the digital terminal, there was a fascinating display screen that constantly morphed into different colors and shapes. I stood amongst shrieking children pointing and exclaiming at the wall. I’m pretty sure more of the nearby adults would have joined in our jubilant awe, but they must not have had a long enough layover to shake off their layers of self-consciousness.

The nearby sign explained that this wall was a visual representation of all the data flowing through Charlotte International Airport at that very moment. Something in my brain does not allow me to understand how data punched into a computer morphs into something visually cool, but that’s okay. I decided to spend my time enjoying it rather than figuring it out.

Digital display

From there I wandered down countless more corridors, jumped on and off moving sidewalks, and ran up and down some stairs just for fun. I danced to oldies music outside a burger place and mariachi outside a Mexican cantina. I enjoyed some Carolina Pit BBQ with collard greens because it seemed like the thing to do. And then just like that, it was time to head to my gate and fly away.

Perhaps you’re also finding yourself someplace other than your intended destination. Maybe family vacation plans got rerouted, or maybe life threw you a curveball. Let me encourage you to take the time to explore where you are. Don’t compare it to where you’d rather be – of course it won’t measure up – but you might be surprised how God shows you some interesting things right here until He is ready to move you on to the next leg or your journey.

That Still Small Voice

Fire

Happy Father’s Day! This post originally appeared at http://www.inspireafire.com/still-small-voice/. I’m re-posting it here in honor of my dad!

“Let your conscience be your guide,” my father used to say.

Compass

Let your conscience by your guide.

I don’t remember him ever telling me what my conscience was, but somehow I knew. It was that still, small voice that stopped me when I was tempted to go along with the wrong crowd. It was that slight, uncomfortable prodding when I was tempted to take the easy way out. It was the seed of something beautiful that would grow with me and become at times the clear, almost audible voice of God.

Sometimes that voice needs to work through a lot of tangle before I can hear it. I am reminded of this when I read the story of Elijah in the cave (1 Kings 19). There was a great and powerful wind, followed by an earthquake, followed by fire, but the Lord was not in any of those things. Instead, these cataclysmic events were contrasted with the gentle whisper of the Lord.

The thing that struck me recently about this story was not the contrast of catastrophic power with gentle instruction, but the fact that the catastrophic power came first.

We read this story in a few lines and it seems like Elijah waited only moments before he could walk to the opening of the cave and talk with the Lord. When my life is in cataclysmic upheaval I wish that I, too, could wait for just a moment and then walk out of the devastation and into gentle instruction. I yearn for God to say to me: “You are not the only one left. Come out of there. Let me tell you what to do.”

But we don’t know how long the winds blew as they tore apart everything that once seemed secure. Or how long the earthquake rooted everything into upheaval. Or how long the fire burned to rubble even what little remained. What we know is that even after all of that, the still small voice was still there for Elijah.

And that still small voice is still there for us.

Footsteps

He is guiding our steps.

Sometimes we have to go through wind and fire before we are in a place where we can hear His voice, but we have a promise from God that even when we cannot hear Him over the tumult, He is still by our side, guiding our steps. He is still stopping us, prodding us, growing us, until we come to a place where we can hear Him more clearly again.

I recently asked my father what lessons he hopes he passed on to his children.

“Integrity,” he answered. And in that one word he summed up a multitude.

Integrity is how you treat people. Integrity is how you do your work. Integrity is when you listen to that still small voice…  and let your conscience be your guide.

I have more than one Father teaching me that lesson.

Pentecostal Listening

Fifty days after Passover, Jews from all nations gather in Jerusalem to celebrate Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks, also known as Pentecost. On one very special Pentecost a little over 2000 years ago, the gathering Jews witnessed a never-before-seen event. With a sound like rushing wind and a visual of leaping flames, the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles. They began proclaiming the wonders of God in different languages. Some of the gathering Jews were amazed – “How is it that each of us hears them speaking in his own native language?” – while others laughed at them, thinking they were drunk.

Fire

How is it that such an outpouring of power could be witnessed by some as a great miracle and by others as drunken nonsense? The answer, I think, is that they heard different things.

God’s spirit has been poured out on all people, but not all people recognize the voice. Jesus gave the analogy of sheep that follow their shepherd when they know his voice. To the unbelieving Jews He said, “You do not believe, because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:26-27).

Likewise, on the day of Pentecost, God sent His Holy Spirit to speak through the apostles. From the gathering crowd there were those who recognized the voice. They heard, each in his own language, the wonders of God being proclaimed. Astonished, they looked around, and in the neighboring faces they saw similar amazement. This divine encounter was not happening to them alone, but to everyone who connected with the words being spoken.

But there were others in the gathering crowd who did not share this amazement. Perhaps they did not press in close enough to truly hear. Perhaps they had hardened their hearts to not recognize God in their midst. Whatever the reason, it is not hard to imagine what they heard: the sound of eleven men shouting in multiple languages could easily be confused with drunken gibberish. They turned away from the presence of God and scoffed at the apostles, saying, “They are filled with new wine.”

The outpouring of God’s spirit at Pentecost was an inaugural event, but the outpouring of God’s spirit has never ceased. When the crowd asked Peter what they should do, he replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

Bible1Did you catch that? The gift of the Holy Spirit was for them, and their children, and for all who are far off, including everyone whom the Lord our God will call. In other words, this promise is for us, too.

Whether the entire Christian faith is foreign to you, or you are a believer who struggles with confusing elements, don’t be too hasty to mock. If it sounds like gibberish to you, press in closer. Listen more intently. Read God’s written word, and listen to biblical teachings. You may be surprised to discover that through the tumult around you, God is speaking directly to you.

He is waiting to pour His Holy Spirit into every area of your life.

A Whole New World

NewWorld

It’s been a long time – too long! – since I shared some of my writing. Here is a recent post I wrote for www.Inspireafire.com. I think it speaks to the deep feeling of struggle we all must walk through… and the new place God is trying to take us. It is, indeed, a metaphor that at times feels very real.

“You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’” (John 3:7)

The birth metaphor is more than a metaphor.

Yes, the process of birth is a beautiful picture of God’s grace and sovereignty. Grace because He is bestowing new life. Sovereignty because it is God who bestows it. Just as the baby does very little to usher himself into the world, so we do very little to experience rebirth. It is God who takes away our heart of stone and gives us a heart of flesh. It is God who calls us and leads us forth.

But that doesn’t mean the journey is easy. The metaphor, my friend, gets real.

Butterfly in Hands

Once the process begins, there are only two options. (Photo by J. Canino)

Physical birth changes the most fundamental aspects of your existence. The way you breathe. The way you eat. The way you engage with the world around you.

Spiritual birth is just as shattering. It may be true that the transformation is the result of something happening to you, but the effects demand a response from you. Once the process begins, there are only two options. You can push forward into new life, or you can retreat. The journey forward leads to life. The path of resistance leads to death.

Sometimes the path forward doesn’t seem like the best way. The journey itself is so dark. And every comfort you have ever known lies behind you. There is a loneliness and a disconnection you have never felt. You are being pushed and pulled and twisted until it feels like your insides are spilling out. What has happened? Everything was just fine! If you knew how to scream, you would, and your scream would be a cry of “Help me!”

The response is one of greater pushing, greater darkness, greater aloneness.

The path out, my friend, is forward. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know the way; it turns out there is only one. And once God has gotten ahold of you, He will never let you go. He will push you and push you and push you until you feel your insides coming out. He will twist you and turn you and flip you upside down. He will cut you off from the very things that seem to sustain you. And all of that, all of that, is the path forward.

Desert flower

Just because you cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel, doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

I don’t know what happens next, but I’ll tell you what I think. I think we come into a whole new world we can’t even begin to imagine. It may be a long journey, or it may be a short one. It may come in a single arduous stretch or a series of sharp contractions. The journey is not really our choice. But eventually the new world comes. We take our first breath in a way we didn’t even know we could breathe. We feel things we didn’t know we could feel. We see things we didn’t know we could see. How small and dark is the place we come from, compared to the place we go! In this new place we learn and grow and live in a way we could never imagine.

God will bring us there. He may be bringing you there right now. And if He is, if you look around and all you see is darkness, remember: Just because you cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Your eyes may be closed to the fact that an entirely new world is just above the crown of your head.

“How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked.

Oh, Nicodemus, Nicodemus. You will find out. You will feel it. You will feel what it is to be born even when you are old.

You don’t even know what it is to breathe. Until you take your first breath.

 

Lessons from the ‘Hood

Sheep & baby

This post originally appeared at www.inspireafire.com/lessons-from-the-hood.

I wanted to hear from those who have been there. Not just read about, visited, or studied it, but those who have lived it.

So I pulled up the contact list on my phone, fingers flying over the keys. Yes, I’ve got some friends in the ‘hood. Motherhood, that is.

I sent an impromptu poll: What’s one thing you’ve learned from motherhood – first thing that comes to mind?

Geese and baby

Lessons from Motherhood for all of us.

Within moments a flood of text messages came back. And one of the most remarkable things is how many of the responses are relevant not just to motherhood, but to all of us.

We may not all be mothers, but all of us – young or old, male or female, married or single – can learn important lessons from those who are. I am reminded of the time Jesus’ mother came to visit him and he said to those around him, “Who is my mother? Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

There is no doubt that mothers have a special calling, and the experiences they’ve had hold lessons for all of us. Here is some insight from those on the front lines:

  • Everyone wants to be heard, no matter how small they are. Take the time to listen.
  • There is more than one right answer.
  • Patience!
  • If you knew everything that motherhood entailed, you would never willingly choose it. Once you have it, you can never imagine life without it. A nice conundrum!
  • Make sure that the first face you give your child in the morning is a positive face so they know they are loved and safe.
  • Nothing is impossible.
  • Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today.

Love-never-failsReflecting on these thoughts in light of the scriptures I couldn’t help but see similarities. We know from God’s word how Jesus encouraged the little children to come to him, and how he listened, cared for, and encouraged “the least of these.” He mystified the scribes and Pharisees and enthralled the crowds with his teachings and wisdom. He taught that with God, all things are possible.

Love, we learn, is patient and kind. Love trusts, protects, hopes and perseveres. Love willingly lays down one’s life for another and counterintuitively finds joy in some of the hardest places. And love beckons us, not to wait, but to act now. “Encourage one another daily,” we are told. “As long as it is called today.”

Whether you’re part of the ‘hood or outside it, you too can put these lessons into practice. Within our own special calling, we should all go and do likewise.

Have more lessons from the ‘hood? Add them in the comments below!