Doing what needs to be done

Most of the things I would currently like to improve in my life require $0 and major amounts of commitment.

I need to be more organized. I need to learn how to keep plants alive. I want to read more classics so I can keep up with my kids. I ought to finally do that capsule wardrobe, but I would like to lose 10 pounds first.

On and on and on.

The disciplined person is the person who can do what needs to be done when it needs to be done.  ~ Richard J. Foster, Celebration of Discipline

Sometimes doing what needs to be done means nothing new, but something old. I don’t need any new gadgets to get organized, just some black garbage bags mostly. I don’t need new houseplants to experiment on, new clothes to make me feel better, or new books to read.

Doing what needs to be done means going back to what you know, being faithful in those little things, and doing the hard work of the right thing now – regardless of what you’ve let slip by.

Take parenting, for example. Let’s just say that one day you realize you’ve let too much line out at once and beneath the surface of that still life, you’ve got a coiled up mess of fishing line that has to be reeled in.

Going backwards is not usually a good thing.

It’s also not well-received.

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Let’s just say you do, though. Let’s pretend that you do reel back the extra line and you meet with not a little resistance. You meet with all the energy of someone who feels just as strongly about things as you do, only in the opposite way; as in, strongly opposed to your apparent back-peddling.

My husband bolsters me with this new motto: “It’s never too late to start doing it right.”

It’s not too late, but it’s certainly not the easiest route – this way we have of learning as we go, making amendments, feeling our way through.

Parenting by braille.

When it needs to be done. Those seem like the heaviest words and the key to the disciplined life. Doing the right thing too late is possibly as bad as doing the wrong thing, isn’t it?

But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy.” ~ James 3:17

When I’ve done the right thing too late, I need the gentleness of perspective and the willingness to yield to something new.

Like Pavlov’s dogs, I also need to see rewards along the way.

All the reassuring words of scripture come alive when my child chooses to sit next to me and share a story or a picture or something silly from Pinterest; when one of them comes at me with a bit of wisdom; when they pick up someone else’s garbage or ask if I need anything or stop an argument by responding gently.

It’s not the biggest moments.

It’s not a landmark repentance or confession or a suddenly compliant child that gives me hope. (I mean, those things would be great. I just know that this parenting thing is a long-haul and if we held our breath for the high moments, we’d be very light-headed.)

It’s the little things, and the moments when doing the right thing at the right time is a choice you see your child making.

This is it: we are always wanting to improve – on our parenting, our living, our following Jesus in a way that is worthy of His calling – but I’ve forced my own improvements and they just don’t last.

The long obedience of parenting is a road with landmarks few and far between. Sometimes we circle back. Sometimes we erect our own altars. Sometimes we do the right thing too late and we need large amounts of grace.

God has always honored the flawed who follow Him. Read Hebrews 11 and find one hero in that list who was without a major flaw.

Then add yourself to that list. Add your children. Live by faith that a heart after Him is a heart that continually starts to do the right thing, on and on and on, because it’s never too late.

 

 

 

 

 

Give me the morning

Mornings may not be more spiritual, but they are quiet – and quiet is the background music for my soul.

If there’s one thing we need before the day of reckoning, it’s the morning. We need the tune of tiny birds and light coming closer and everything yesterday becoming too far past to worry about.

We need the gradient light, the gradual rise.

The crack of dawn can set your day aright and bring the scales into balance, leveling out the chaos and endless wash cycles and troubled turmoil of people who are still sleeping.

There are no crises while the house sleeps.

I wouldn’t miss it.

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But I do miss it sometimes.

When my morning is sucked dry by too late or too much or too many things that pull my mind from being at rest, I miss the true wealth of the morning. I miss the point completely, with distractions and shiny things, with rabbit holes of interesting tidbits, with broody to-do lists and that inane snooze button.

I’d rather take the dawn by surprise than snooze into the day by accident, because who ever slept well in the continuing 10-minute intervals between the first alarm and the last? The oops of the snooze and head-rush of glowing red lights, blinking numbers, blood thrumming in the ears – accidental sleep makes the whole day your master.

Give me an insanely early hour for coffee and stare time, for meandering thoughts that don’t require gathering and flapping wings that return again.

Give me the morning, where words are only written, not spoken.

Give me the morning as a landing for the dreams and buffer for the day.

Give me the morning, when all my prayers grow bolder and closer to the limits of all I could ask or think.

*****

Morning Poem by Mary Oliver

Every morning
the world
is created.
Under the orange

sticks of the sun
the heaped
ashes of the night
turn into leaves again

and fasten themselves to the high branches —
and the ponds appear
like black cloth
on which are painted islands

of summer lilies.
If it is your nature
to be happy
you will swim away along the soft trails

for hours, your imagination
alighting everywhere.
And if your spirit
carries within it

the thorn
that is heavier than lead —
if it’s all you can do
to keep on trudging —

there is still
somewhere deep within you
a beast shouting that the earth
is exactly what it wanted —

each pond with its blazing lilies
is a prayer heard and answered
lavishly,
every morning,

whether or not
you have ever dared to be happy,
whether or not
you have ever dared to pray

Off the Cuff

It’s May and I can’t even believe it. These months keep sneaking up on me and it’s no wonder I have to stop and think about how old this April birthday made me.

Thirty-nine, that’s how. And my aunt made it plain when she told me you’re only one day older than you were yesterday. 

Just one more day.

That seems like a good perspective, but when you lose track of months, lose track of time, lose the margins to life-sucking details and distractions, it feels like 39 could be 60 tomorrow.

I’m not actually complaining about my age – I’m good with 39 and every year I see 70-somethings in our church doing inspiring things and I don’t lose heart. There’s time enough. This is just my lament of slippery-time and flying-months and my inability to juggle everything I want to do with all the things I have to do.

I feel like the days fly by but I know people who count time like molasses running slow, dripping monotonously and dragging with a dull ache.

time

Last week my husband and I seated ourselves on a bus with 50 other people from area churches and we slept in fitful, balled-up spurts for 10 hours until the bus stopped. We spent Friday and Saturday in the jails, prisons, treatment programs and juvenile facilities of the Fresno area, listening to stories and sharing good news with people who had mostly lost hope.

In front of us on the bus to Fresno sat two newlywed 18 year-olds. Towards the back of the bus, with the rowdies, was a couple married 52 years.

Time means different things to all of us, according to our perspective. Time to the newlywed 18 year-old means dreaming of children and a home and all the future plans. To the couple married 52 years, time is what you have spent and how much is left and everything important, rising to the top.

To the inmate, time is the 17 months you’ve spent without the sunlight and birds, without a fresh breeze, without privacy, without your child. Time is what you serve and the number of months or years or decades left in a place where serving time is your punishment.

I don’t want to live as though I serve time.

*****

Feeling overwhelmed is often just a sign to me that I haven’t made good plans. My husband reminded me of this when I was ready to back out of the Fresno trip because of a number of our children’s events that I would miss over the weekend, and the fact that there were no grandparents available to be with them.

Between the three teenagers we knew things would run okay without us, but there’s just something about having someone that’s not your child, be in charge of your children, because….siblings.

You don’t have peace about going because we haven’t made a good plan, he said. He was right dangit. So we made a plan, and because we have good friends we were able to hook someone at the last minute to be the adult-at-home for our children.

I don’t know why I put stuff off. I let time sabotage me because I don’t take charge of it, and time should not be the boss.

I spent the weekend with people who had stories to tell me, prayers to plead, challenges to my faith, and tears. Our time served each other and these girls made me a mess of thankful and sad and hopeful and responsible.

Time is serving Jesus and the most amazing thing is to see hope through a sentence – five years or five words or five more months without sunlight. You meet some of the most hopeful and joyful brothers and sisters behind bars, those who live off the cuff and don’t let time rule them. They challenge me.

Free on the outside is no match for breaking the chains inside your soul, and that’s what I learned again in jail.

 

What matters this side of the rainbow

I wrestle between a despairing view of things and an optimistic, over-the-rainbow sentiment that things will be better someday. I think this way of living in the world and trying not to be so caught up by it, captured and caressed by its cares, makes me cynical sometimes.

I want to hope for the best and pray for an improved state-of-affairs, but I also know what’s in me, in you, in this population of wayward children. I know what we’re all capable of, for better or worse.

I protect myself from disappointment this way because I don’t expect much.

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There are many who want to save the planet from self-destruction, who see the natural order of things spinning out of control and who fail to accept the way of a world marred by sin.

All the effort to make this place into Eden again seems futile.

But does that mean we throw our trash out the window and burn our plastic? Do we let go the laws of justice and build more prisons?  Are we supposed to wash our hands of ever trying to improve on “the way things are” and quit struggling for paradise lost?

That’s the friction. Going against the flow means rubbing constantly against the sharp elbows of the natural order of things – the flow from organized to chaotic, perfect to imperfect, Eden to our present world.

Just trying to organize my own home reminds me that we bring so much garbage into our own lives with our own greedy, grubby hands.

It all feels like it’s flying apart sometimes but the rainbow-side keeps calling me.

Out of their place of captivity, the Israelites stumbled into a desert wandering with all the riches of Egypt, all the blessings of this world and the freedom from futile toil, and right into a circling captivity of doubt.

We like to belittle their long-way-home and wonder at their timidity – I mean, God just parted the waters to give you safe passage! How could they still doubt? How could they hesitate? How could they fight and bicker amongst themselves?

But they did and we do, too; and hindsight may look at us and wonder how?.

Being given a promise doesn’t make you a believer.

If everyone is fighting some sort of battle then it doesn’t matter that I can’t make a difference on the other side of the continent or the opposite arc of this globe. It doesn’t matter that I can’t go there and I can’t change that.

It doesn’t matter that I live in a nearly all-white community and what can I do about race; that I live in a gospel-encrusted town and who can I tell; that I am insulated by an easy life and how can I know.

It only matters that I help the ones closest to me, wherever I am.  And in steadying them, I am steadied. In teaching, I am taught.

It matters that I encounter injustice in my own home and counter it with grace. And in giving grace, I receive it.

It matters that we teach our children – the world is not fair and when I say, “Deal with it,” I mean deal with the injustice in our own hearts.

It matters that we all store up beauty for ugly days and the sinful ways our lives are insulated from the pain of others.

Being given a promise doesn’t make you a believer, but living day in and day-washed-inside-out can take hold in your heart, can make you want to believe, can make solid the hope – I hope. 

Help the one. Help the next. Help yourself to hope for someday and hope for this day and the hope of glory, Christ in you.

 

 

The Cost of Important Things

He keeps coming to my table.

He lands himself on the edge of a chair, leery of perching too close. He’s all feathered and fluffed and I know he’s just visited the feeder. I know he’s not here because he’s hungry. Just curious.

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I’m curious about him. In fact, he could be a her but I’m not adept enough at this bird-watching to know. But he seems like a he, all jaunty and proper but a little bit edgy. I wonder where his home is. I wonder if he knows that I keep my windows dirty just for him and his posse – really, I do.

I want to put a plate of seeds out for him, right there on my patio table the family gifted me several birthdays ago. I want to offer a place to him. I want to give him an all-you-can-eat buffet, while others grovel over falling sunflower seeds and cajole for top spot on the feeder. I want to make a special place for him.

He’ll poop on my table, you know.

If I put that plate out he’ll extend his uninvited-self further into my area, my bubble, my very own outdoor-living space I share with my family. He’ll poop all over it.

Already, he’s pooping on my chairs.

The choices are 1) shoo him away from the table and the chairs and back to his area – the feeder. 2) Let him remain perched on the chairs, curious and bold. 3) Invite him right onto the surface where my people eat their meals, and let him poop all over.

He’ll bring friends and it will be a raucous eating-and-pooping-fest, all over my table.

Is it worth it?

It’s always a matter of deciding, of remembering again, what I love most and what’s most important.

My statement of faith on homosexuality

There are bad guys and boogeymen and monsters under beds. There are criminals looking for victims, and those who rush to do evil. There are haters. There are souls hell-bent on destruction.

And then there are really nice people with whom I don’t agree about some very important issues.

Timid me, the one who wants peace and quiet and everyone-just-get-along, gets called out. Silence is seen as assent. Not speaking truth is tantamount with believing the lie, and I feel compelled to make a statement here because this is our space, the table where I welcome the handful of you that come.

This table may be the dividing line for me. This may cause me to lose that imaginary contest for likes we engage in, the hope of friendship enduring and the fellowship of long tables beautifully arrayed.

Whether you think people are born homosexual or choose it for themselves, homosexual acts are a sin.

This may be the dividing line because so many nice and friendly and intelligent people see it otherwise.

Also, so many mean and repugnant people are loud about this truth – as if being right was all the permission a person needed to be rude.

Homosexual acts are a sin, just as lying and adultery and bowing down before the gods of our own making is sin.

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The problem with calling this a sin is that real people are attached, real people who’s lives have to be wrecked in order for them to acknowledge that truth.

I see nice people, friendly people who do good things. I see people who may be first responders in life’s crises and I know that bludgeoning them with truth will leave bloody, pulpy messes. I realize that, and the nice-me wants to smile and find common ground because I’m shaky.

Jesus is love I want to remind myself.

Jesus is gentle and lowly.

Jesus rebuked the religious people for their exclusivity and abundance of rules. Processed with VSCOcam with t1 preset

I expect the world to take their own version of what’s true. I expect those who don’t claim Christ to pick and choose from the smorgasbord and have their ala carte truths.

But my brothers and sisters, co-heirs with Christ, adopted by grace, redeemed from the snare – where is the solid ground for us? If there are some things in the word of God that we are not to take as truth – how do we decide?

Do we throw out the part about by grace you are saved? 

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her?

I am a simple person and I trust that God has left His word to the ordinary as well as the extraordinary. If it’s not inspired and infallible, what’s the point? What has been the point all these thousands of years?

Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth.

I did not come to bring peace but a sword. ~ Matthew 10:34

*****

I’m running full-bore and free through the church foyer when the glass door confronts me, hard and unyielding. I’m embarrassed and surprised, but at the same instant I remember that I knew it was there. I’ve always known, and it hurts, nonetheless.

*****

It might feel to me like the dividing line is between love and judgement, and I always want to side with love. I want to be your friend and have you be mine and love you for all the things that make you unique.

But that’s not the line. The line is truth – has God indeed said…?

I want it to be always beautiful but sometimes truth smacks us hard, like clean and clear glass.

It’s also logical – that as male and female we are both in His image yet created for specifics, and when Paul says in Romans 1 that they left the natural use for what is against nature, it speaks of shame and penalty.

I want love and rejoicing and sometimes truth is at odds with the table I want to set for all. How do I love everyone? How do I live a welcoming life? How do I stand for truth and sit at a table with those opposed to the truth?

That’s how I feel about it, but you may argue with Scripture and authority and culture and the times we live in. I want to welcome everyone, but Truth must be seated with Love. The two will simultaneously occupy the fellowship hall and I’ll figure out seating arrangements as we go, I guess.

But please, if you don’t feel welcomed here, let it be the dividing line of a truth you don’t buy and not for a lack of love.

“Let the righteous strike me; 

It shall be a kindness.

And let him rebuke me;

It shall be as excellent oil;

Let my head not refuse it.”

Psalm 141:5

*****

Because I feel strongly that questions are good and that the truth can handle them, I’m sharing some links for further consideration on both sides of the issue. There are thousands more. I’m no expert and my goal in this post is not to teach, just simply to be open with you and state my position.

This issue will separate Christians, my friends, and that thought kills me. Let’s not be so dogmatic that we forget the real people being wounded on both sides, nor so soft that we compromise the integrity of God’s word.

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