A moment/A gift

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Jacob said, “No, please; if I find favor with you, then accept my present from my hand; for truly to see your face is like seeing the face of God—since you have received me with such favor. Please accept my gift that is brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me, and because I have everything I want.” So he urged him, and he took it.  Genesis 33:10-12 (NRSV)

I celebrated my 50th birthday this month.   I don’t like making a big deal of my birthdays.  And, though this was a decade birthday and I passed the half-century mark, I thought it would be no different.  But, somehow in spite of my determination to minimize it, this birthday, even as it approached was actually a big deal to me. My mom passed away at 50 from cancer.  I don’t think of myself as a person who worries or frets about things,  but it is interesting how our minds don’t always cooperate with our wills. As I approached my 49th year, I became fearful.  I was afraid for my health and started imagining illnesses. I was worried about my children if they were to lose me too soon, as I lost my mother.  Then, as time went on, I began to accept my vulnerability, and my heart opened to it. I thought of how difficult it must have been for my mother to tell her children goodbye and trust that we would be okay.  I thought of many other relatives who have loved me in my life and are now gone.  I began to ask myself some big questions.  What have I done with my life?  What do I want to do differently, better, or not at all in the minutes, days, weeks, months, or years to come. My 49th year was a bit selfish as I asked myself these questions, but my boundaries became much better defined.

As a result of the past year, the day I actually turned 50, I was overwhelmed by how much I still felt the love of those who have come and gone from my life; grandmothers, aunts, family friends.  In the days around my birthday, I decided to spend time cultivating love within myself and sharing it with everyone I encountered.  Imperfectly, of course, we cannot always be at our best.  But as my intention to love was increased, the love I felt increased.

One of my favorite things to do is taking a hike in the mountains.  With a dear friend and the gift of good weather, I embarked on a walk that took my breath away.  We were surrounded by God’s presence and the beautiful gift of His creation.  It was a perfect day!  Every bend in the path revealed a new breathtaking view.  The longer we walked, the smaller I felt in the vastness of the mountains.  And yet, God’s love for me and all His creation to the most minor detail was more evident than it had been in a long time.

All this is the backdrop for the gift I was given two days later.  My husband, knowing how much I don’t like too much attention, wanted to do something special for my 50th.  A sweet friend shared an idea, and my husband pulled it off.

At lunch with family and friends, he presented a wrapped shoe box.  If you have ever tried to gift wrap a shoebox you know this in itself is impressive!  When I lifted the lid and lifted the layers of tissue, I was overwhelmed.  The box was full of cards, notes, and emails.  The first was a copy of the email he sent to many of our friends and family explaining why I wasn’t having a big party, and requesting that they share a birthday note to me.  I couldn’t even finish the email request without tears, and in a restaurant by the way.  My husband kindly took a handful of the funny ones, and we passed them around the table with laughter.  Thank you to all my friends who understand and appreciate my humor and who in turn share theirs!  It has been two weeks, and I have not yet made it through the whole box.  I read one at a time allowing a moment for the tears of joy and for the love of friends and family to soak in.

I share all this as an expression of gratitude to my dear friends and family.  I would be lost without you!  Thank you for your gift to me!  Also, because I know it is not easy, I share this to encourage those who are afraid.

Love.

You are beloved.

Be vulnerable.

Allow love to soak in deeply.

Love heals the past, enriches the present and is our greatest gift to the future.

Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart,
and the pleasantness of a friend
springs from their heartfelt advice.  Proverbs 27:8-10 (NIV)

 

​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 to measure

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This must be “the pearl of great price.” To the extent that our soul is alive and connected, we are satisfied with the “enoughness” of who we are and the “more than enoughness” of many present moments.  Richard Rohr

As I begin to meet with the Joy team to plan and prepare for The Joy Retreat 2019, I realize I need to recall my personal ups and downs regarding Joy 2018.  looking back and recognizing the places of growth and the places for new growth is a beneficial exercise for me.   This exercise brings to mind my strengths, which give me confidence, and my weaknesses which give me the desire to do better.  It brings me to a place where I can recognize my success and with humility begin to embark on a new adventure.  I am also reminded that the practice of recalling my ups and downs has not always been healthy for me.  I have been known to spend more time on my weaknesses than my strengths, and to beat myself up to the point of paralysis.    Learning to give equal measure to both, and limiting the amount of time spent on recounting events has turned this act into a starting point rather than the stumbling block it used to be.  What a gift to let go of regret and disappointment and make room for more gratitude and grace.  I am grateful to have the opportunity to share God’s grace and guide others toward a new experience of joy as it is by the grace of God that I am being led.

But by the grace of God, I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect…  1 Corinthians 15:10

Every day offers us the opportunity to look back for a moment and see where we have grown and where we would like to see growth.  How can you use yesterday’s moments today as a starting point toward becoming more polished?  You are already priceless!

A moment in summer

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I don’t know about you but, the “lazy days of summer” does not apply to me.  Summer is full of fun,  good times with friends and family, and a hefty dose of chaos.  This summer, we traveled for swim competitions, college tours, and to spend time with loved ones we don’t get to see often enough.  This means a lot of packing and unpacking in addition to the usual chores of life.

…but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else.  Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances… (1 Thessalonians 5:15-18)

This is all good stuff, but for an introvert, who cherishes time alone, it can create quite a challenge.  I didn’t have time to sit in my favorite room in the house to pray, contemplate, imagine, and write.  I didn’t have much time to work through the joys and sorrows of life.  I was in a sprint.   These are the times when pray continually is the only way to have time for prayer.  For me, it feels a bit like telling God, “I am not sure why you gave me so much to do. I don’t have time to sit with you right now so come with me!”  I grab his hand and drag Him through my days.  When I have a moment alone, it is brief and the moments of prayer are quick, “Thanks, this is awesome!”, “Wow, that’s a beautiful sunrise!”, “Help, this is not going well.”, “This is a perfect moment, thank you.”  Often it feels like I am holding fast to His hand to make sure He is with me, sometimes squeezing tight, pleading for help, in the midst of the chaos.  I am suddenly reminded of Jacob and his moment in honest conversation with God in which he won’t let go until he is blessed.

That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”
But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
The man asked him, “What is your name?”
“Jacob,” he answered.
Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.  Genesis 32:20-28

Do your moments of chaos include moments of blessing?  Do you demand a blessing?

Be Blessed!