Take Time to Give Thanks

It is an absolutely. Gorgeous. June. Day. And yes, since it’s the weekend, I have a ton of chores to do. It’s also still the busy season at work, and it won’t take much for my mind to wander to all I haven’t done yet there, as well. But you know where I am right now?

20170604_155713Yep: my backyard hammock, enjoying the soft breeze, the high-80s warmth, and a chance to reflect on what’s going right, instead of obsess (as I always do) about what’s not. A partial list:

  • There’s two racks of ribs in the smoker that will be absolutely delicious later this afternoon.
  • It’s Pentecost, and we had a spirit-filled service this morning, welcoming Tim back off the mountain and celebrating his Emmaus walk.
  • My high-school daughter passed her state Chemistry test, despite much angst, and she says her first SAT this weekend felt good too.
  • Both the kids participated in the (school-)year-end lock-in at church last night, reconnecting with people of Christ.
  • Twenty-four years of marriage–to the same wonderful woman, no less.
  • Being done with the lawn earlier than I’d feared it would take.
  • Making plans with my college roommate for a guys’ weekend golfing and etc. together this September, to mark our respective birthdays, and being able to grace him with free airfare (yeah, I had a ridiculous amount of miles).
  • My own connection with the Emmaus community, which I got to celebrate yesterday.
  • A roof, food, and love…what more, really, do I need?

And yet, how often do we actually stop to thank God for all that’s going right in our world, instead of just bringing to him our concerns? As Garrison Keillor wrote: “Thank you, dear Lord, for this good life, and forgive us if we do not love it enough.”

Jesus, you are amazing, awesome in power and love, and I start by celebrating you. But I also celebrate all that’s going right in my life, and I thank you for your hand behind me every day. Forgive me for the times I overlook your grace and your bounty. Free my heart to rest in those times that your love surrounds me, those times that things are going well, and leave me reminders often of how to turn back to you. In you precious name…Amen.

Expanding the Kingdom Through Emmaus

I’ve written previously about my amazing Emmaus experience, which was only about a year ago now…how time has flown….

Last weekend, I had the chance to introduce another brother to this experience, when I sponsored my friend Tim from church on his own Emmaus walk. It did my heart such good to see another heart opened to Christ in a whole new way; in so many ways, even just as a sponsor, I felt like I was walking again with Tim at his closing worship.

It’s led me to reflect on the growth I’ve enjoyed over the past year. Before my walk, I knew Christ was after my heart, not just my mind; since then, I’ve seen it over and over, how absolutely central the heart is to Christ’s kingdom. I’ve started teaching a Sunday school class for adults seeking their first steps in a deeper connection with Jesus, and I know I’d never have done that if I hadn’t had this experience of his love last spring.

The point of an Emmaus weekend is not only to grow in one’s own appreciation of God’s love, and to experience him in perhaps an entirely new and fresh way, but also to create disciples: people willing, or even on fire, who will go back to their home churches and help make a difference. In that regard, I’m already seeing changes in me, and I pray I will in Tim as well. At the monthly Emmaus gathering that occurred while Tim was “on the mountain,” I put in my first teaming application, with an eye towards perhaps guiding other men through their weekend this fall: something else I’d never have thought of before.

Who knows what the next set of Fourth Days will bring? Jesus does, and I look forward to seeing what he has in mind for me!

If you’re interested in taking your own walk with our local chapter of Emmaus, let me know!

Happy Mother’s Day?

My mother has had Parkinson’s Disease since she was 42. For the most part, the last three-plus decades were fairly benign to her, but this year finds her in a nursing home and wheelchair-bound. In photos from her high-school days in the late 1950s, she sits demurely, legs crossed at the ankles; today, that lifelong habit means she trips on trying to stand up, or walks unsteadily instead of with a firm base.

Each year for the past few, our Mother’s Day tradition has been to go out–I’ll take her clothes shopping for a new summer wardrobe, then we’ll get lunch or dinner out. And each year, it’s gotten progressively more challenging to accomplish: first adjusting to using the wheelchair, then, as her voice has gotten softer and her words less distinct, trying to listen for what she wants among the racks of clothes at Kohl’s.

This year’s wrinkle was that she hasn’t been as hungry, and so she didn’t want to get a meal after shopping. And while we never did anything extravagant–maybe just going to a diner, or out for a burger–it was still something I missed being able to do this year, and one more piece of evidence of how her long, slow fade continues.

Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely. (1 Corinthians 13:12)

With each passing year, my mother becomes more a reflection of her former self. It’s painful to her, and to me, to know she is fading. And yet I can take heart, that while outwardly she is wasting, one day, Jesus promises, he will make all things new, and all the brokenness will be stripped away, and she will be like that teenaged girl once again.

Until then, we wait, we help her in and out of the car, we struggle to maneuver, and while we are sad at what changes each Mother’s Day brings, we can at least take some joy in being able to share one more holiday with her.

Who’s In Charge? (Hint: Ain’t You.)

As I mentioned last time, my daughter and godson have the chance to walk on Chrysalis weekend C-94. In fact, we all drove up last night, and so they’re 24 hours in on their adventure with God. I’m so excited for them!

I’ve found myself thinking about them a lot today. I’ve been wondering how various events have gone; I’ve been thinking a lot about how powerful my own Emmaus weekend was last spring, and I’ve been really, really wanting the kids to have that kind of amazing experience of God’s love that I had.

And then it hit me: that’s what I wanted to have happen. It’s not my weekend; it’s not even the kids’ weekend. It’s God’s. The way he came into my heart that weekend–well, that might not happen for either of them. Because the way he touched my heart–to reassure me of his unending love–might not be the same way either my daughter or my godson need to be touched.

I was busted. I had dropped off the kids, but I hadn’t let go: I was still trying in my heart to stage-manage their experiences, to tell God what I wanted to have happen for them today and this weekend. How the Spirit and Jesus show up in their worlds isn’t for me to prescribe, and if I tried to make it into my own weekend, it would fail. It’s one more lesson in the (seemingly never-ending) course of learning to let go, and to place the whole thing, not just the parts I want to give up, in God’s hands.

Come, Holy Spirit; come, Lord Jesus. Come into the C-94 weekend and fill the hearts of your children. You alone know what it is each heart needs, and you alone are capable of binding their wounds and restoring them to what you would have them be. I quit trying to manage the weekend on your behalf; I let go and I let you come into their lives as fully and as much as you know you need to. You know what will most powerfully affect each life up there on the mountain, and I know in your own time you will make yourself known as each one needs you. Forgive me my arrogance, and let me pray for them all in your mercy. Amen.

Hearing From God

As Christians we are called to be in a relationship with God. And any successful relationship I’ve ever been in means both sides get to talk.

It’s true, isn’t it, that for the most part our prayer life is a monologue? And a needy one at that: we pray for this, for that. But how often are we able to actually shut up and listen for the other half of the conversation?

I confess I’m as fallible as the next man in that I still need to develop that listening skill more. My bride will tell you that too. But sometimes, if we allow ourselves, we can hear God’s word for us. Sometimes it’s in music, even.

Case in point: lately I’ve been kinda preoccupied with the health of both my mother and my daughter, and the effect each is having on their place of residence and schooling, respectively. Yesterday was a very tense day, with one path seeming to close for where Mom might be able to move next, and frustrations with my daughter’s progress mounting in me as well.

This morning, however, I kept hearing two songs alternating in my head: Jason Gray’s “Sparrow“:

You can’t add a single day by worrying
You’ll worry your life away
Oh don’t worry your life away
You can’t change a single thing by freaking out
It’s just gonna close you in
Oh don’t let the trouble win

You may feel alone
But you’re not on your own

If He can hold the world He can hold this moment
Not a field or flower escapes His notice
Oh even the sparrow
Knows He holds tomorrow.

And Ryan Stevenson’s “Eye of the Storm“:

In the eye of the storm
You remain in control
And in the middle of the war
You guard my soul
You alone are the anchor
When my sails are torn
Your love surrounds me
In the eye of the storm.

And when I stop to recognize what it is that’s going on in my head, I recognize it as God’s voice, telling me to let him be that anchor, and that I’m not alone in this–that he’s got my back, and will see me through. That’s powerful! It was so reassuring to know that even this sparrow isn’t outside God’s notice, and that he will guard my soul with all that’s coming against me right now. In those little moments, sometimes, we hear his voice. And we are in awe at how much we’re loved, even, or especially, in the eye of the storm.

The Call of the Water

I just love being able to get away and go down by the water. Whether it’s a river or, ideally, the ocean, there’s something calming and peaceful about a gorgeous sunny day and sparkling water drifting by.

This weekend my bride and I celebrated our anniversary at a waterfront inn in Maryland. It wasn’t long at all before all the stresses of the workweek, and the life we left (temporarily) behind, could all fade away to the gentle sound of the lapping of the Chesapeake Bay.

On the two-hour drive here, Mary asked, out of nowhere, if I’d ever contemplated getting a vacation home. It turns out we both have: someplace we can come to again and again to recharge and to retire to, perhaps, in several years. As we talked, we discussed the pros and cons of the beach versus the mountains, both of which we enjoy. Later, at the water’s edge at the inn, I commented that I think the beach is the better choice.

I think I’m drawn to the water because I need that peace. I spend ten hours a week just commuting, plus another fifty at the office, and that’s before the time required to be any sort of dad to two teens. The world gets hectic, it pulls us in, it pushes our eyes down to just what’s in front of us instead of the majesty around us. And being able to spend a weekend down by the water often is enough to let me face a few more weeks of the world. The soft clanging of sailboat lines on masts, the bell of a boat heading out, the waves…I can feel my blood pressure dropping by the minute.

Water feeds a spiritual need. It speaks to me in a different language than the mountains do: to be honest, it’s a more fundamental one. In our baptismal liturgy we speak of Christ having been born in the water of a womb and then baptised in the waters of the river, to become the living water that he promised the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4:14. When I’m connected to the water, I’m not only able to relax, but I’m also reminded of that living water and what it can mean to me in my life. It also reminds me, visibly, that the things that are won’t always be: I can’t look at the always-moving, always-changing surface of a river or the ocean without being reassured that whatever “the world” screams at us is transient, impermanent, and I can let it all go.

Jesus taught all around water, and used water frequently in his teaching. He called fishermen to his side, he walked on water, he calmed the sea. And when he had returned from the grave, he met his disciples by the shores of the sea, to connect with them one more time. “Let’s go down to the river to pray,” the old spiritual goes, and for me, there’s plenty of healing there, plenty of renewal, plenty of strength to lift my eyes past “the world” and back onto Christ again.