Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Take Heart, Nothing Is Wasted

This past Sunday, I both needed and wanted to get out for a longer-than-everyday jaunt on my favorite city/riverside trail/park route.  I couldn't waste the beautiful fall afternoon.  As I was plodding along through the leaves on the sidewalk, over the river and through the woods;  I had flashbacks of various scenes come to mind.  As faces and scenarios crept into my thoughts,  I found myself combating feelings of regret, hurt, disappointment, confusion and anger while trying to breathe and keep pace.   

I realize that that the heaviness of world events, excessive binge watching of a certain tv drama, poor choice in eating fast food the night before, and an excessively angst-y running playlist all played into this particularly emotionally charged and difficult time on the pavement.  Plus... like everyone else,  I'm going through my own personal stuff.  Go figure.  Thankfully,  I did have the beauty of the trees and river to distract me somein the midst of the inner shouting... and a final whispering in my ear.

"Nothing is wasted."

After I spent most of that hour being accused by my own thoughts  lies like: "You always...", "You Never...",  "See you were right...", "See, you were wrong..."; Finally, as I rounded the corner for my last half mile or so, those three words came out of nowhere  were spoken to my heart, and they were just in time:

"Nothing is Wasted".

Not those hurts, not that battle, not that surgery, not that life so much shorter than seemed fair, not these tears, that relationship,  not this super slow run, or caving to those french fries or anything else...  even the leaves that have fallen from the trees have purpose. 

There is a bigger picture.  There are things I cannot or should not know.  There are whys, whens, hows, wheres, and who's that I could never understand.  I can be alert, wise, grow in depth of understanding and insight,  become stronger and hopefully not repeat the things that are mistakes.  

Really, my heart has actually been VERY encouraged recently.  I am seeing God answer lots of prayers and keeping promises made.   I have seen hopeless scenarios somehow turn out for the good.  I am mostly joyful, hopeful and excited about life in the every day.  Yet still, those accusations return.  When they do, I am thankful to be armed with truth including all that is wrapped up in the words of Romans 8...  no condemnation, freedom,  Jesus, life, hope, intercession, salvation, victory, love.   I am thankful for that still small voice. 

None of this is wasted.  Take heart oh my soul.  Take heart brothers and sisters.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Choosing to Take a Fresh Look: Perspective Can Change Everything

The other day was a breezy and grey sort of day... leaves were blowing around and it might have been a little damp out.  Looking out my bedroom window at the limited view I could see across Franklin Street;  it seemed like kind of a blah day.   How quickly my perspective changed as I started meandering through the streets and saw the vibrant shades of yellow, orange and red that seemed even brighter against the grey sky.   I realized it was actually an unusually beautiful day.  It even took my breath away for a moment when I ran back onto my street and saw 3 or 4 different colors of trees all in a row right in front of my house!  

There are some pieces of art that can appear pretty blah and boring from one vantage point, but if you get closer, or back off, look from the top down or from a different angle,  something new and beautiful is exposed.  Imagine if we never cut into a watermelon, only looked at that big green oval and never saw or tasted the bright pink inside.   If we only ever sat behind the most beautiful person on the planet ... or never spoke to the wisest one, would we ever know that beauty and wisdom even existed?

Life definitely has times of miserable darkness.  There are days that are just plain hard and painful, even whole seasons of life that can feel almost unbearable.  I am not pretending that is not true.  Just yesterday I was driving back to work from an errand to the bank with tears streaming down my face because of some situations in life that hurt like hell and I wish were different.   But I also know when I step back and take a look;  there is beauty and something better coming forth from even this.

There is a picture so much bigger than what we see in this moment.  I can find rest in the knowledge that my God has so much more going on in the picture beyond what I can see.   If I can fathom even a fragment of His great love for me, or recognize the depth of his creativity in this story He is writing it changes everything.   When I look back at some of the moments in life that had seemed ugly and unnecessary, there is beauty exposed from this new perspective.

Once we can shift our gaze,  get out of our chair,  climb the mountain, walk outside... just change our point of view; there truly is something beautiful to be seen, even on the greyest of days. 

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Thanking As We Go

It is good to give honor where honor is due.  All too often we wait until someone has passed from their mortal flesh or are nearing the end of their life to express gratitude and acknowledge them.   What if we were  more generous with our thanks and recognition along the way ... for the little and the great.  Are we keeping our eyes open for those kinds of moments instead of the ones that we complain and grumble about?  We can be quick to be snarky about annoyances, but are we giving shout outs just as freely?  I have a feeling we would have a healthier and happier community if we moved in that direction. 

As a Christian, I want to be the same way with my God.    It doesn't take me long to cry out a request when I am in need, pain, disappointed, etc... but am I acknowledging the beauty, the progress and the good things just as much... ?  I have found that when I start focusing on what I am thankful for, things change.    Last night while doing this thankful thing,  I started to have moments come to mind that had seemed like insurmountable boundaries for me emotionally/physically, etc... and I began to give thanks that I am on the other side... and then found hope arise within me.  Wow.

Who has done something meaningful in your life recently (or in the past)?  Have you told them?  What has God done in your life that you haven't remembered to thank him for?  Let's share our thanks and celebrate life along the way! 

Monday, November 02, 2015

Running the Race With Others

I have a tattoo on my foot that says "I will run the race set before me"  based on Hebrews 12:1 and also lyrics from a Misty Edwards song.   I got my ink as a celebration after running my first half marathon and reminder to keep going both physically and spiritually.  It also didn't hurt that tattoos in OBX are a steal in their off season and I had wanted one forever, just hadn't found the right one or right time. 

Yesterday I had the opportunity to go for a run with my friend Denise.  We have wanted to run together for a while, but our chances are limited to times that we are in the same state since she lives in NC and I in PA.  I was thankful that we finally made it work during this visit.

Typically, I run alone.  I enjoy that because I get my exercise and training in, but it's also good quiet time, too.  However, it's also good for me to run with others from time to time for the comradery and  also to be pushed.  I am not super competitive with myself or with others, so I know that I don't always go as hard as I should on my own.  I'm working on that though.

So, Denise has been training for the OBX Half Marathon which is the same one that I have run twice in the past.  It's coming up next week.  I had hoped to run it this year, but got debunked from my training and then lost focus and motivation.  So, it had been 3 weeks since my last run.  UGH.  So, it was a bit humbling to go for a run with my well trained friend.

What was awesome was that Denise was willing to go at a pace that I could handle.  Her training is essentially done and she just needed and wanted to put in some miles and run them  with me. Though she encouraged me to keep going and motivated me; she did not expect me to run at her pace.  I was thinking about it today.   We are all at different places in our journeys and have different goals and callings.  In life the "race and it's pace" for me is much different than it is for someone else.    There are many times that cheerleading our friends in their races and running alongside them unites with our purpose. 

Denise will be running HER literal race on Sunday,  but she was joining me in mine in a sense as we ran together yesterday and she encouraged me through conversation and a healthy run   We should not be afraid to spur each other on and encourage each other, and even slow our pace for a time in wherever our journeys our taking us while keeping sight of our own paths.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Pictures and Prayer

For the past 8 or so years I've been involved with Gateway House of Prayer.  It's a place that is open 24/7 for prayer, worship and intercession.  Many different churches and denominations are represented there.  Because I believe God is worthy, because having a set apart place is something I appreciate, and because I like the opportunity to join with others,  (and many other reasons) I continue to be committed to at least one 2 hour period per week.

Last night while we were praying and singing; I had 2 different images come to mind.  Sometimes when I am "listening" for what God might be trying to say to me;  an image will come to mind, which most of the time I attribute to a picture given from/inspired by God.

As someone was reading from Ephesians about the height, depth, and breadth of God's love for us;  I pictured a thermometer busting out at both ends and also one  exploding from side to side.    This image came to mind and shook me with a reminder that God wants to basically blow the roof and walls off of our expectations and limits that we put on his love for us.  We think we can grasp it.  We believe we can frustrate him to the point where He gives up on us ... or we put this limit on others.  It seems like a simple thought but in that moment it was an overwhelming realization.

Later,  I was thinking about distractions in life.  I pictured a stairway cluttered with children's toys and thought about how easy it is to slip up on those little things we don't even see.   I prayed that God would help us to see even the tiny marble sized things that are easily overlooked and could become a bigger problem/cause us to stumble and fall.  I started out thinking about distractions in my own life but then ended up also seeing how this happens in marriages, churches, etc etc.  Again, it seems simple but God was speaking important truth to my heart.

God loves us enough to use the language, visuals, dreams, music, nature, stories, friends ... whatever means necessary to speak to our hearts.  I think all too often we miss those moments because we aren't creating space or acknowledging His presence. 

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Am I Stopping?

Stop, Look and listen.  Every child learns we should act in that order when planning to cross the street.    All the looking and listening is pointless if one doesn't first stop, right?  I guess that's why I was pulled over a couple of months ago for rolling through a red traffic light at the Landisville exit ramp of Rte 283 ... oops.  Thankfully the officer was gracious with me and I pulled away without a ticket.  Lesson learned, though.

Recently I wrote a blog about listening and then followed it with some thoughts about looking. A couple of weeks ago I taught the 1st and 2nd graders at church about our Sabbath day of rest.   It got me thinking about stopping and how that worked/should work in my life.  (I had not planned for this to be a series)

Our lesson plans for the kids included playing some simple games to evaluate what is work, what is rest and what is play.   What makes us tired?  Can we help someone and still worship God?    We found that for each of us different things fall into different categories.  For one of the games, as I listed different activities, we all jumped to one side of a tape line for things we thought were work and the other side for things we viewed as restful.    Not everyone agreed on what activities were work and what were rest; and that was ok. We talked about it. 

I thought about it, too.  Walking in the woods or going for a run or a long drive can be a perfect scenario for me to focus my heart on God.   I could find it restful spending the day helping out at a farm or even cleaning my room..    But can I do "x" and FOCUS on God?  I am well aware that it's when we truly stop and then rest that we remember that we belong to Him.  Our Sabbath rest reminds us that we need His strength. 

I chat with God throughout my day,  but this is something different ... this stopping.   It's making a time set apart and holy.   I have to consciously be mindful to do this.   It should involve getting out of the daily grind, unplugging, stepping away,  just being.  Worship, Rest.  Engage ... but first stop. 

I often try to switch gears from a busy day into some sort of intentional time with God ... usually I read a quick something or other from my Bible App.  Sometimes I journal.  Sometimes I just start listing off desperate cries of prayer or intercession.   Engaging with God on any level is good ... but that stopping and resting is so important and so key.  I have learned so much about the value of the secret place and that set aside time.  I know I must stop before doing the rest.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Am I Looking?

A few weeks ago at church we were challenged to set aside time in our schedule in the weeks ahead to look at people.  As in, intentionally schedule time to go to a busy place and just sit and observe,  to take notice.  We were to just watch and listen and be awakened to the people around us. Shouldn't we be doing this on a daily basis?  Well, yes, of course.  We don't, though, do we? 

Just like we can hear without listening, we can look without really seeing.    I can so often buzz in and out of stores, the gym, church, or the market  and not really take in a single thing because I'm on a mission or have that next thing on the schedule to get to.  Meanwhile,  I will have walked past a struggling mom who needs a hand with her stroller,  someone digging for that last 5 cents of change or maybe I could have noticed a glance, a tear or a smile and acknowledged it.  There are people I see every day... people whom I genuinely love and care for... that I have missed noticing when something is not quite right because I am focused on my own agenda. 

I'm not getting all guilt trippy here... but I am realizing and wanting to remember that there is so much pain, there are so many stories and so many needs.  Sometimes just a smile, nod or kleenex offered will be enough.  Aren't we all aching to be seen, heard, noticed, offered hope or even acknowledgement that we exist.  I sure need it.  God help me to be aware and to be looking. 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Am I Listening?

Lasting friendships require effort, interest, grace, patience, consideration and balance (and so much more).  Communication is so important.  Conversations that bounce back and forth as we balance sharing, inquiring, listening and hearing are the ones that result in true and deeper relationship. 

It can be easy to lose balance.  In the current culture in which we are constantly supplying the world with notifications, blogs, tweets, and commentary on our own lives ... we need to remember that true communication and conversation involves taking the time to go deeper, ask questions and gauge responses.

Of course there are seasons where one person is the listening ear for the other.    We should never keep score.  We ought to remember, though, to show that we care enough to engage beyond ourselves.   I have become more and more aware of my shortcomings in this area.  Though I can be a very sympathetic listener... am I a good listener?  Not always.  I want to be.  I also want others to take interest in knowing me, too.  We all want to be heard.

If my friend asks me about my day, am I careful to reciprocate?  If we have a long conversation about a situation in my life and run out of time ... do I at least make a point of saying "I want to hear what's going on with you next time"? 

Am I listening? Am I drawing my friends out with questions that show I care?   I am trying to improve.  I want to become more aware and be a better friend.  

Friday, September 11, 2015

Awkward Expressions and Remembrance

When I was a child I attended more than my fair share of funerals.    I came from a big family in a small town.  We also were a generation that suffered a horrific number of alcohol related deadly accidents.  There was a season when I was all too familiar with Kidders Funeral Home in Swanton, Vermont.

I have a vivid memory of being at the services for my Aunt Donna ... one of the first and closest ones for me.  I was in 4th grade, I think.   When I walked into the Wake with my family;  I did not know how to act.   I was afraid I would do the wrong thing.  I remember that I smiled or laughed and then felt an extreme sense of fear and guilt.  Thankfully, my Uncle John pulled me up on his lap and told me that there was no wrong feeling or emotion when suffering loss.  That it was ok to be awkward and that Aunt Donna knew that I loved her and would want me to be ok.  He told me I didn't have to be afraid or put on a brave face.  It was so comforting and has been impactful even in recent years.   In the face of death it is ok to live.

Today we remember the tragedy of September 11.   Earlier this week the memes and posts started on social media reminding people to remember ... and in some cases challenging people to feel guilty and ashamed for "not remembering enough" or to follow a certain political agenda if they truly cared.

I feel compelled to remind that we all remember, reflect and honor in different ways.   These may be manifest in actions both seen or invisible.  They may be awkward.  While some may gather around the water cooler and remember where they were,  others are meditating privately,  many will attend a public service or prayer meeting,  others are posting photos and thoughts on facebook,  or may decide to gather at a pub with friends.  Feelings vacilate from shock, anger, sadness and fear to hope, resolve, pride and honor.

Some people celebrate their birthday on September 11th, or  their anniversary,  or an unrelated loss of family.  Maybe today is the day to celebrate a childs first words or a promotion at work.   You may find a really funny comic to share or recommend a movie online.  It's all ok.

I think it's important that as we remember to remember, that we remember to live and have grace for each other.  We remember to show and extend this grace by recognizing that an expression of grief or remembrance may be awkward or it may be internal. 

I still can't see 911 or 9/11 or 9:11 or September or  planes in the sky, the New York skyline, the American Flag,  a firetruck or a beautiful September blue sky without remembering.    My expression of that may not look like yours, but I remember. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Run and the Stretch

Last nights run almost didn't happen.  I was feeling digestively challenged and could have skipped it without being truly just lazy... but I also knew that I had to get the miles in.  I already had missed my scheduled 2 miler on Monday and this weekends longer run is going to be hard to fit in as it is.   My Tuesday and Thursday runs have to happen and be an extra mile longer than planned.  I'm on a training calendar working towards another half marathon in November.  It's important to me that I don't get off course; especially since I'm not back to where I was in past years training.   So ... tummy rumblings aside; I got myself out on the road right around 6:30.

I made the choice to run without headphones this time, which was a little unusual for me on a longer run.  I followed one of my fairly regular and favorite 6 mile loops that goes around the city on my end of town,  along the trail by the river and through the park and then up Chesapeake Street and back up through the center of town.   It was a nice change to run and enjoy the peace.  I was able to reflect and pray with only the sounds of the cars, crickets, river and my heartbeat to keep time to.   I was racing the sunset so I also had the motivation to at least get out of the park and up the hill to Queen Street before dark.   I found that I ran a bit more consistently and for longer stretches without feeling it, though there were plenty of forced pauses/stops at stoplights downtown between miles 4 and 5.

It was amazing to me that after feeling so yucky all day; I was even physically capable to get out there for this one.  In actuality,  I felt better while out there.   Two moments caused me to pause and catch my breath for a moment due to feeling a bit sick,  but otherwise it was the best I have felt in a couple of days.  Strange that I felt better running than I do event right now or last night when I was trying to sleep. 

So many times I put my perceived comfort before what is actually the better choice.   More often than not, I am finding that the best moments are the ones just beyond my own expectations, involve pushing through the pain and silencing distractions.  Moments like these are reachable, but sometimes I need to stretch for them. 

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Smelling the Everything While Getting Where I'm Going

I've been doing a lot of pet sitting lately and loving it.   Pet sitting is s fun for a while because I get to love and cuddle with some great animals without the long term responsibility of ownership.  

Tumnus, a golden retreiver, is the dog I have watched the most.  He was my first nephew, in a sense,  and is my sweet buddy.  When caring for a dog,  there is of course more activity involved.  They need more attention than most cats,  and especially like to go for walks.    When pet sitting for a dog,  I know I will need to set aside at least some time in my schedule to walk the dog.

The walk is the dogs time.  It's something I do for the dog; yet I kind of have had my own agenda:  We're going to go this direction, move at this pace, and for goodness sake we are not going to keep STOPPING all the time.  I call Tumnus: "Sir Sniffs A Lot" because he smells EVERYTHING, seemingly even more-so than other dogs.   The last couple of times I've watched Tumnus,  I challenged myself to let the walk be his time and to let him sniff, stop and even choose the direction we go when it is safe. 

Today I was thinking about how the whole joy and purpose, even destination of his walk is to stop and smell everything.  He learns about his environment, greets passers by (usually making someone smile), and finds tasty morsels along the way.   So many times I am so propelled by my destination that I miss so much.  Even on days that my destination is rest and enjoyment;  I still blast past people, places and opportunities because I "have somewhere to be".   Today, I am challenged to be a little more like Tumnus and to smell the everything on the way to getting where I'm going... and sometimes let that be the destination.