A moment for tending

TEND–care for or look after; give one’s attention to

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The Kiss Painting by Gustav Klimt

My daughter decided a couple of years ago to learn bartending skills.  She spent a good deal of time in our liquor cabinet reading and mixing recipes.  While discovering her talent as a mixologist, she came across ” The Complete Guide to Single Malt Scotch.” The book was a gift to my husband our first Christmas together, with of course a nice bottle of single malt scotch. Inside she found the inscription, “Clay,  May all our years together be as they are now.  Alana”.  Touched by the words I had written, she shared her discovery with me.  A book that had long since been forgotten warmed my daughter’s heart as she encountered a moment from the past.

Last weekend my husband and I celebrated 22 years of marriage.  There have been awesome moments, terrible moments and everything in between. When I am asked about marriage and what makes it last there is no simple answer.  However, there are a few things I have learned along the way, from personal experience and the insights of others.

Have faith.  When moments were painful, my faith had a great deal to do with how I handled things.  Maybe not in the heat of the moment but in the moments after I would recall my belief that we were called together for a reason.  All that scripture taught me about love needed to be lived out in my home first.

Take joy in the little things.  Love isn’t always shown in grand gestures, often it is the simple things that happen every day.  Stop and take notice.  When my shoes make it back into my closet from wherever I threw them off, I used to get frustrated that I couldn’t find them.  Now those little things remind me of how our lives are woven together.

Tending to each other and to the relationship matters.  When a couple is committed to attending to each other, it is not always simultaneously happening, and it may often seem like one, is giving in to the other.  I have found that it is important to recognize who has the most sensitivity to the situation and attend to that.  This creates an element of safety and allows for honesty.   The most important truths, in my discovery, are “I need…” and “It hurts when…”.  The environment that allows these truths to be spoken and attended to will be vulnerable and scary but also safe and binding.

Forgive.  We will have moments of selfishness and frustration.  That makes forgiveness a crucial key to marriages that last.  Ask and offer forgiveness often.  Giving and accepting forgiveness will have a much more significant impact on marriage than any other negotiations.

When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind.Dr. Wayne W. Dyer

And when all else fails, laugh!  One of the best ways of coping with the difficulties of negotiating in a marriage is understanding the humor in it all.  Sometimes we are fighting for the most trivial of reasons or in the silliest ways.  Recognize those moments and laugh.  Laughing together is a beautiful thing.

Some time ago I attended a church service where anyone celebrating a birthday or anniversary was invited to the altar for prayer.  A couple who had been married 60 years stood at the altar, and after the prayer, the priest asked them to share something about their years together.  The husband with a happy smile said something like, “Everyday has been wonderful!”  The wife with a surprised look and a chuckle replied, “Well not every day.”  Then they chuckled together.  This moment made quite an impression on me.  60 years and they were still not on the same page and yet, they were.  I think both statements were equally honest and sincere.

Our lives are made up of moments and our moments all together make up our lives.  My hope expressed in the statement, “May all our years together be as they are now.” is being realized.  Those early years filled with challenges were rich in laughter and love, And the years gone by have been richer still.

and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”Mark 10:7-9  (NRSV)

 

A moment with Job

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Are you afraid of the dark?  I am.  Silly, but it is true.  I don’t like turning off the lights at night.  My vision changes in the dark, and I often see things entirely differently and usually not in a good way.  So, in my room, I have several electronics that keep me from being in total darkness.  My alarm clock and my phone charger both give off enough light to keep me feeling ok.

Reading the scriptures about Job feels a lot like being in the dark.  I am a bit afraid of his story.   I have glanced through it, but not willing to look too hard.  For this Sunday’s teaching though, I needed to look deeper.  What I needed was to move into the darkness of it all to understand it better.  Job was a man who was “Blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil” Job 1:1.  He lived a life of wealth and prosperity.  And yet, God wages a bet with Satan regarding Job and suddenly he is found alone, wanting, and in poor health.  For thirty-six chapters we witness the suffering of Job.  Thirty-six chapters!  His conversations with God, his friends, and family offering no relief.  Why was his agony so long?  Why was it so harsh?  The God of my understanding does not play with our lives. Therefore I know he must have had a profound purpose.

In the Gospel of Mark we witness another kind of darkness.  A man named Bartimaeus is blind and begging by the roadside.  As Jesus and his disciples walk by, he calls out to Jesus. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.”  Though the crowd tries to hush him, he cries out again, “Son of David, have mercy on me.”  In the span of one paragraph, Jesus hears him and heals him saying “Go your faith has made you well.”  This seems utterly unfair to me when read alongside Job’s story.  And yet, once again, the God of my understanding would have a profound purpose for this man as well.

This truth for me is realized in the life of Archbishop Desmond Tutu.  He had a distressing youth.  As a young boy, he suffered from polio.  Then, at the age of 15, he was diagnosed with tuberculosis. He noticed that almost all of the patients who started to hemorrhage and cough up blood ended up being wheeled out to the morgue.  When he began coughing up blood, he spoke to God and said.  “God, if you want, if this is curtains for me, Then it’s okay.”  He was surprised by the calm and peace that came over him.  He turned 87 this month.   In 2016 in The Book of Joy, he speaks of death, saying,

“Because God is God, because God is infinite, because none of us who are creatures will ever fathom the infinitude that is God, heaven is going to be forever a place of new discovery.”  The Archbishop’s eyes were transfixed, his gaze distant.  “I would say, ‘Oh, God, you’re so beautiful.’ And I will call, I will call, ‘Come, come and see,’ and this other one will say, ‘Have you seen just how beautiful God is?'” p. 162

Perhaps these stories bound together by dark times are also bound together by the prayers that they have offered and the light that they have shared.  I can only imagine the prayers of intercession the Archbishop has offered on behalf of others in his lifetime.  And how many times he would have shared his vision of the beauty of God.

Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, whose sight was restored in an instant, followed Christ and the apostles whose next destination was to Jerusalem where the progression toward the cross begins.  Perhaps his eyes were opened so that he could see clearly as Christ offered himself for the sins of others.  Maybe he went on to share with others what he saw.

And Job, well Job allowed his suffering to transform his faith. He spoke with God and agreed to listen better.  As a result, he grew even closer to God.  He saw people differently.  He had compassion for the friends who had thrown accusations at him.  And after offering prayers for his friends, his fortunes were restored and doubled.  We know he saw the world differently when he broke social ground, by naming his daughters and giving them an inheritance along with their brothers.

‘Hear, and I will speak;
I will question you, and you declare to me.’
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees you;  Job 42:4-5  (NRSV)

Are you in the dark?  Do you feel afraid?

Speak with God.  He listens.

Allow Him to give you a new vision of things.

Perhaps you need to see a friend differently.

Perhaps you need a new vision for your future.

Perhaps you need to see God for the first time.

Speak, God listens.  Listen, God speaks.

​A moment for questions

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So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”  A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”   John 20:25-27 (NRSV)

As many of us do, I live with a heart like Thomas, asking “show me.”  What specifically am I asking for?  In the Bible, there are many stories where the proof is shown.  Am I asking to see the wounds of Christ? Am I seeking a burning bush, a rainbow or to be swallowed by a whale until I have an understanding?  Maybe really I am just asking for some clarity.  How important is it that I believe in God and Satan or burning bushes and rainbow promises.  It doesn’t seem likely that we will ever have the privilege of the certainty that Thomas received.  So, what can we be sure of?

Perhaps more important than certainty is being able to recognize love and hate and to know that good and evil do exist.  We may never see a burning bush, hear the audible voice of God, or be swallowed by a whale.  But we can recognize the power of love, the peace that comes after a storm, and the push of our conscience to follow our gut.  Sometimes the stories in scripture frustrate me because the literal interpretation makes them implausible.  The intended message, however, is not.

When I see the sadness in the world, I think “There can’t be a God,” and the despair I feel brings me back to the story of Thomas. The disciples gathered in a house after his death.  They were full of the desperation they must have felt for the loss of Jesus and the leadership they had come to rely on.   Jesus entered and in the act of love and understanding showed Thomas his wounds and offered comfort.

The absence of God leaves despair, and the presence of God brings peace.  That is clear enough for me.  God is Love.  Jesus shows us what love looks like.  By our loving each other and bringing comfort and peace and we remove doubt and despair.

A moment for joy

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This evening, I with many others will begin a weekend retreat.  For those who cannot be there tonight, I want to share the opening discussion.  Some of the words are my own, but much credit must go to the books I have read this year. The most influential books are cited below.

The theme of the weekend:

WHOLEHEARTED JOY

Wholehearted  (whole·heart·ed) adjective–showing or characterized by complete sincerity and commitment. Synonyms:  devoted, enthusiastic and unshakeable.

What are we devoted to?  What is the condition of our heart?

The Dalai Lama says love, kindness, and affection are the source of joy.

Archbishop Desmund Tutu says we should have a generosity of spirit, be big-hearted, be broadminded, be forgiving, be kind, be magnanimous, be an oasis of peace.

There are difficulties in life that make wholehearted joy sometimes seem distant or unattainable.  Saturday morning at the retreat we will explore some of the things that fill the spaces in our heart and prevent the fulness of love from entering in.  We will release them as best we can over the weekend to allow more room in our hearts for love, kindness, affection, and joy!

Before we begin this process, we need a solid foundation.  So, let’s start with the solid foundation of God’s love.  We were created by love, in love, for love.  God delights in us.  God wants us to be happy and full of joy.  Until we believe this with our whole hearts, we will keep working to be happy thinking that we must control our lives, thinking it is up to us to make things good.

In God’s story of creation, his love story of the beginning of the world, everything is good from the start.  Take a moment here and read the story.   I am sure you have already read it, but I encourage you to reread it.  Read it as poetry and, listen for the love the excitement and the joy as our creator forms the world and us.

Genesis 1 (NRSV)

What do you imagine God was feeling?  Can you see the care he was taking?  And every day he declared His creation good!  On the seventh day, God rested.  God must have thought his work was complete or he would have continued.  But, God had thought of everything, made provisions for it, and so he rested.

Proverbs 8:22-31  Wisdom in creation joins with God in delight!

The Lord created me at the beginning of his work,
    the first of his acts of long ago.
Ages ago I was set up,
    at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth,
    when there were no springs abounding with water.
Before the mountains had been shaped,
    before the hills, I was brought forth—
when he had not yet made earth and fields,
    or the world’s first bits of soil.
When he established the heavens, I was there,
    when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
when he made firm the skies above,
    when he established the fountains of the deep,
when he assigned to the sea its limit,
    so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
    then I was beside him, like a master worker;
and I was daily his delight,
    rejoicing before him always,
rejoicing in his inhabited world
    and delighting in the human race.

Psalm 104 is a song of praise for God’s creation, and it is full of joy! Can you hear the joy?

Bless the Lord, O my soul.
    O Lord my God, you are very great.
You are clothed with honor and majesty,
    wrapped in light as with a garment.
You stretch out the heavens like a tent,
    you set the beams of your chambers on the waters,
you make the clouds your chariot,
    you ride on the wings of the wind,
you make the winds your messengers,
    fire and flame your ministers.

You set the earth on its foundations,
    so that it shall never be shaken…

In wisdom you have made them all;
The earth is full of your creatures…

Bless the Lord, O my soul.
Praise the Lord!

 

For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, provided it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by God’s word and by prayer. 1 Timothy 4:4-5

In his wisdom, God created us in His image, and he delights in us.  All that we are and all that we are becoming.  He is pleased with the process of mankind being and becoming like him, and he has provided everything for it.  He blesses us from the beginning and eagerly waits for us to rest with him in love.
Take a moment this evening to make a list of all the good things that God has blessed you with, in your life.  Include the good attributes he has given you to share with his creation.  Use this list and write your own Psalm of praise to your Creator who created you; by love, in love, and for love.
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Citations:

LAMA, DALAI TUTU ARCHBISHOP DESMOND. BOOK OF JOY. ARROW BOOKS LTD, 2018.

Benner, David G. Surrender to Love: Discovering the Heart of Christian Spirituality. IVP Books, 2015.

“BibleGateway.” BibleGateway.com: A Searchable Online Bible in over 150 Versions and 50 Languages., http://www.biblegateway.com/.