Purpose

(I wrote this during Lent in 2009. Even more true today)

For a while I thought I was depressed.  Life changed drastically for me when I lost my job.  In part, I think the trauma was due to the to the fact that I found my identity in what I did.  The challenges of the work gave me purpose.  I felt vital and alive.  Losing my job meant I lost my sense of purpose.

I used to teach groups of people how to write their mission statements.  We didn’t start with that.  We would back up and talk about finding their passion in life and for life.  When it came to putting that passion into a working purpose or mission statement, I would teach to the difference between a goal (short term) and a mission statement (life- long driving force).  A mission or purpose statement is something you can see devoting your whole life to.  It is true now and will be true in twenty, thirty, even fifty years.

Reflecting on this, I wasn’t really depressed.  I was just adrift and going nowhere because I had taken my eyes off the map.  I thought that without the job I wouldn’t be able to follow my purpose and mission.  I forgot that the job wasn’t the only vehicle to get me where I needed to be.  I forgot that the whether I’m teaching or cleaning toilets, it is the purpose or mission God has for my life that matters and he will provide me with the opportunities I need.  I forgot that it is God who gifts me and directs me to use those gifts.  

I was reading about John the Baptist in Mark’s gospel.  I don’t think there are many who would sign up for John’s job—especially if they knew how it was going to end for him.  Yet, even in the briefest of ministries, John paved the way by preparing the people for the emergence of Jesus’ life-changing ministry.

It reminds me of relief pitchers in baseball.  They will never pitch a whole game.  That’s not their job.  It’s not why they were hired.  Some of those guys will only throw a few pitches and the next thing we see is the coach headed to the mound.  Those couple of precisely placed pitches are what the reliever gets paid the big bucks for.  It’s their purpose.  

Now, dust off your imagination and try to picture this: your favorite baseball team has made the playoffs!  They did this not just on their bats, but because of their pitching.  But now that they’ve made it to the biggest games, the team’s relievers and closers have decided they want more playing time and have threatened to not play at all if they don’t get the opportunity to pitch a whole game.  How crazy is that?  How dare they hold the game hostage for their whims?

The apostle Paul, in his discussion of gifts, makes this statement: But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it (1 Corinthians 12:18, NLT).  Right there with the assurance that we all have a part, we’re told that we are placed right where He wants us. 

That’s why we really need to bloom right where we’re planted!

Prayerfully ponder: How’s the soil where you are? Are you focused on how you want to use your perceived talents? Are you more concerned with what you want than what God needs from you? Are you discouraged because you feel like you’re riding the pine and you can’t understand why God is wasting your abilities? Are you aware of what God’s doing around you so that when the time is right (God’s specialty) you’ll be ready to pitch your inning?

Monday Morning Magic

My alarm went of at 5:15AM. I leapt up, made my bed, grabbed a shower, dressed in the clothes I set out the night before, and raced out the door. Between getting dressed and dashing out the door I did pause to make sure that Mom’s meds and breakfast were set out exactly the way she likes them.

Once out the door I headed for the the place I love to be on Monday mornings: The Animal League of Green Valley. Choosing to volunteer on Monday mornings is the best thing I ever done. My week starts out with lots of wags and puppy kisses. I walk whoever I can, and love every moment whether I’m being pulled along or stopping to smell every leaf. Then when every dog is walked by all the volunteers, we hang out for socialization and some training.

There are times when I ache for my dogs back in Ohio. I would rescue in a heartbeat, but Mom can’t handle the stress or the dander. I’d volunteer every day, but Mom can barely handle me being gone for one day. So I suck the life out of my time away and give thanks for this respite that feeds my soul.

As I was reflecting back on my morning doggy therapy session, I had a pang of sadness. For a brief moment I was reminded of the Syrophoenician woman who had a conversation with Jesus. It went like this:

Jesus went away from there, and withdrew into the region of Tyre and Sidon. And a Canaanite woman from that region came out and began to cry out, saying, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely demon-possessed.” But He did not answer her with even a word. And His disciples came up and urged Him, saying, “Send her away, because she keeps shouting at us!” But He answered and said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and began to bow down before Him, saying, “Lord, help me!” Yet He answered and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” And she said, “Yes, Lord; but please help, for even the dogs feed on the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus said to her, “O woman, your faith is great; it shall be done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed at once (Mark 15:21-28, NLT).

I love this story. She wasn’t asking for the world. She was, in her own mind, willing to settle for “crumbs that fell from the table.” The scraps. The castoffs. Jesus commended her for her persistence and her faith. The Apostle Paul said it this way: little is much when God is in it.

So while others are dreading Mondays, I’m ready for the “crumbs.” They more than satisfy.

Stepping Back on Goals

My mind is churning on creating goals. I’m feeling good about it and then I read this in my morning devotions: “Have you ever “gone out” in this way? If so, there is no logical answer possible when anyone asks you what you are doing. One of the most difficult questions to answer in Christian work is, “ What do you expect to do?” You don’t know what you are going to do. The only thing you know is that God knows what He is doing. Continually examine your attitude toward God to see if you are willing to “go out” in every area of your life, trusting God entirely. It is this attitude that keeps you in constant wonder, because you don’t know what God is going to do next (Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His Highest, Special Updated Edition, edited by James Riemann).”

So I sat there on the floor of my bedroom wondering. Maybe I struggle with setting goals because I’m a very strong P on MBTI. (If you don’t know MBTI, that means I “fly by the seat of my pants.” This also describes my writing preference: I’m a ‘panster’ not a ‘plotter.’)

What if I’m not wired to map, plod, plan, or calendarize everything? Oh, don’t get me wrong, I know how to do those things. I can keep a calendar, sort of. I can function on a schedule—I have to work harder at it, but I can do it. I don’t like it. I feel confined, and like I’m not at my best. I resist and procrastinate until I have no option but to capitulate…so I do.

Serendipitous, free-floating, unscheduled, unplanned, unfettered. The very words make my heart happy.

I can teach others the steps to creating goals, and writing vision/mission statements. I can help them peal back the layers and really get to the heart and meat of their goals—who and how they want to be and function. But I suck at it for myself.

For example. Yesterday I mentioned in my worksheet the goal of riding my bike 50 miles a week. It’s a totally SMART goal. If goals were attractive to me at all. The problem for me is that as soon as I quantify and feel I have to measure up, bike riding loses all it’s joy for me. It’s a job. It’s something I have to check off my list and resent it. (Okay. Right now there are tears in my eyes as I think about this—I must be getting close to my truth).

That takes me back to the OC quote and something I talked about in my message last week. One thing. In the Bible there are 5 places where we’re told that God seeks one thing from us:

One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple (Psalm27:4).

Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me (Mark 10:21).”

“…but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better and it will not be taken away from her (Luke 10:42).”

He replied, “whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see (John 9:25)!”

Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called heavenward in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13-14).

Matthews George in an internet article (Five One Things in the Bible, mathewsgeorge.medium.com, April 4, 2017) shows how these 5 verses help us know God: Psalm 27:4 helps us know God through a heart of prayer; Mark’s verse helps us know God through a heart of surrender; Luke’s helps us know God through a heart of service; John’s helps us to know God through a heart of witness; and Paul’s directing us to a hear of ambition.

What if (I’m doing a lot of that right now…) my goal is to focus on having a heart for God and to do that I’m to incorporate prayer, surrender, service, witness, and ambition. And to do this intrinsically—to come from within instinctively and naturally. Instead of having x amount of goals ranging over an array of time, to live daily. Live with eyes wide open for how and what God wants to teach me, or use me. Then at the end of the reflect, thank, and rest.

Okay, I’ve meandered and pondered enough on this for now. More to come.

Continuing the Work of Jesus: Simply, Part 1–2020

This month I begin a series on the Simply component of one of the banner statements of the Church of the Brethren: Contnuing the Work of Jesus…peacefully, simply, together.

In today’s blog I’m going to invite you meditate on a scripture and then ask you to consider a question. The goal of this activity is to set your heart and mind in the right direction for the week—a good exercise for a Monday morning…don’t you think?

So here’s the text: (and I’m using The Message unapologetically so that you could read the text with fresh eyes)

“Has anyone by fussing in front of the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch? All this time and money wasted on fashion—do you think it makes that much difference? Instead of looking at the fashions, walk out into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They never primp or shop, but have you ever seen color and design quite like it? The ten best-dressed men and women in the country look shabby alongside them.

“If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. (Matthew 6:27-33, The Message).”

Here’s what I saw:

I looked at the text with my American 21st century eyes. Is that where you start?

Tomorrow, lets look at the text with the eyes and ears of those who were living with and listening to Jesus.

Soggy Pages

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“They” tell us to bleed on the page. That somehow if we will let our pain ooze out onto the pages we write that we will draw readers in—because everyone is bleeding and looking for healing. If we bleed, our words will release a relatedness that will draw others in.

I have no blood today…but I have lots of tears.

This morning my husband video called me. He was on his way to a friend’s house with our little dog. Our lives are in such a state of upheaval with me here and him there emptying our home of years of collecting, that the pup wasn’t getting the attention he needed or deserved. We came to the painful decision that he would be better off in a more attentive home. So Nelson called so I could say good-bye.

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I haven’t been able to stop crying.

The lesson I continue to learn: what’s best is not always easy. (The second lesson is to keep a tissue/hanky close by because tears aren’t the only thing that leaks.)

I came out to the patio to read and write after I ended the call with Nelson. I could barely see the iPad screen through my tears. My heart was aching and I just wanted pick up the stones in the yard and just start throwing them.

But I knew I couldn’t. Mom would have a cow. My mother cannot tolerate or handle intense emotions. I guess I know where I honed my skill at encouraging people to move beyond pain to healing. Like ticking items off an emotional checklist. Can’t let them get stuck in the anger…or the grief. Move along. Keep moving.

But today no amount of self-taught and practiced platitudes is unsticking me. I’m tired of rushing myself through hurt to healing.

I read a bunch of scripture. Nice as it was to know I wasn’t alone, that I could trust God’s presence and his promise, it just didn’t bring me the comfort I hoped for. The ache didn’t go away.

I feel the need to apologize here. I’m not meaning to be a Debby-downer (and sorry to all the Debbys in the world—you don’t deserve that moniker). I guess I’ve just realized that I had been pushing down all the hurt. Ignoring all the grief. Doing other stuff to keep from acknowledging how mad I am that I have to be the one making sacrifices…again.

Everything inside me wants to delete that last paragraph…at least the last line. It sounds icky. It feels selfish. I don’t want to be a petulant child, pouting about not getting my way. I realize being a servant comes with sacrifice. Today just brought it all to the surface as I saw that scruffy little face being driven out of my life.

I bristle when I hear people say, “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.” I don’t believe it. I don’t agree. In fact, the Bible teaches just the opposite. There are two passages I need to be reminded of when life gets painfully soggy for me.

First, Paul writes to the Corinthian believers a very clear lament. You will find it in 2 Corinthians 1. He tells them that life was so bad, that he was “crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it (2 Cor. 1:8b-9).”

Of course the main reason Paul was writing this was to share the lesson learned: that we are not to rely upon ourselves but God who will continue to rescue us…again and again and again.

In our pain, loss, and overwhelming times God is with us, he is reliable, he will rescue us.

But even if he doesn’t…that leads me to the second text. It’s tucked away at the end of Habakkuk’s prophecy. In Chapter 3 we find God getting good and mad. The prophecy scared even the prophet. But in the end his faith enables him to go to difficult place. He says: “For even if the fig tree doesn’t blossom and no fruit is on the vines, even if the olive tree fails to produce, and the fields yield no food at all, even if the sheep vanish from the sheep pen, and there are no cows in the stalls; still, I will rejoice in AdonaiI will take joy in the God of my salvation. Elohim Adonai is my strength (Hab. 3:18-19)!”

Even if everything I hope for is gone, or doesn’t happen, I will rejoice int the Lord. Several translations insert a “yet.” It’s the same concept as nevertheless. That’s what Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego said when they faced the fiery furnace. They fully believed God would save them, but even if he didn’t they still believed, and wouldn’t change anything. It’s the same way Jesus prayed in the garden: “Is there not another plan? Nevertheless, not my will but yours be done.”

These are overwhelming days. Loss comes in waves. We will have our soggy days. We don’t have to ignore or deny our hurt. Jesus felt the pain in the garden so intently that Luke says he sweat drops of blood. Jesus never faked “fine.” When he was sad, he wept. When he saw injustice, he got angry.

Feel the anguish…but keep your “nevertheless” (and a box of tissues) close. That’s how we find healing. That’s how we keep from being stuck.

In the Midst of the Storm

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I came out to the patio to write. I swept the patio. I fussed around the table. I decided to work on worship music for tomorrow’s online service.

I was doing everything but writing.

I pulled up the song, “Fear No More by building 429.” I found something to write about. I love this song. It fits my current situation. The lyrics of the song contain an image of Jesus holding us in a storm not of our own choosing. “This isn’t what I planned…” Chaos is all around but Jesus is with us in the storm.

As I listened my mind drifted to the passage where Jesus and the disciples are in a boat and a strong storm happens. Mark records Peter’s recollection: On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:35-40, NIV)

Jesus is not holding the disciples when the storm crashes in on them, and they are terrified they are going to die.

Jesus is there. He’s been there all along. He has the power to still the storm around them…and within them. Their fear brought them to Jesus, but not for an answer. They came accusing him of not caring. They are angry because while they’re consumed with and by their fear Jesus is curled up, cozy on a cushion. They are infuriated at his selfishness: this is no time to sleep, man! Do something for us. NOW!

In Mark’s account, Jesus rebuked the storm. What an object lesson. Storm, be at peace. Be still. Jesus may have addressed the storm, but his message was for the disciples. And it’s for us also.

Do you feel like there’s a storm all around you? Are the walls closing in? Do you fear for your life…or your way of living?

Here’s my confession: I’ve been really mad at God. Life was going pretty sweetly for me. I was achieving goals. I was about to start my D.Min (or finish it). Nelson was finally getting some of his medical issues addressed. We were happy. It was sort of like a Sunday boat ride on the lake on a wonderful summer day. Weather perfect. Floating along. Cozy. Relaxed. Happy.

Then bam. And nothing was comfortable. I couldn’t find happy anywhere on my radar. Ripped from the familiar. Life as I knew it…as I wanted it…was gone.

And this isn’t the first time in my life. I don’t want to re-rehearse the litany of what I saw as injustices perpetrated by God upon me. Why give it to me just to yank it away?

Selah. (Period of reflective silence.)

Job: shall we take the good and not the bad?

Paul: I have learned whatever situation I am in to find contentment.

Jesus: I’m right here. Be at peace. Be still.

Paul again: God puts us right where he wants us. (1 Corinthians 12:18)

Me: okay. I will trust that you are with me—even in the storm. I may not be in school for my D.Min, but I have a lot to learn. Right here. Right now. (That’s my prayer, so Amen.)

Second Glance, Second Chance

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I read a post this morning by my friend Tammy Whitehurst (look her up on Facebook, she’s an awesome communicator). It made me cry. Happy tears. Finally, I found someone who’s Easter experience resembled mine.

Most of what I’ve been reading since yesterday is more lament. Sadness over what we missed: big choirs, lots of celebration, surrounded by a warm sense of community, family feasts—all the good stuff Easter evokes and offers.

I had very little of that. But what I did had touched my heart deeply. Please don’t miss the blessings that came while you pine for what wasn’t.

The message that was laid on my heart to share from the Easter story was the word of the angel to Peter…including Peter. The Easter message is a message of hope and restoration. Peter’s story is our story. Peter, after his pathetic personal performance (aka betrayal) was being offered a second chance.

Don’t miss the second chance you’re being offered.

It seems to me that when the people of God have gotten too comfortable, God shakes up the pot. Ask Job. Check with David. Look at Paul. And don’t forget those wandering former slaves who just couldn’t get it right…take another lap around Mt. Sinai.

Before this current pandemic went down. Before you were ordered to stay home. Do you remember wishing you had more time to read your Bible? Do you remember wishing you could have more time to dig deeper, move deeper spiritually?

How’s that working for you? How much TV/movies etc have you binge watched? I’m not saying it’s bad but I wonder how good it is for your spirit?

Confession. I found I was reading “news” articles on line far more than I was reading things that would encourage my faith and spirit. I felt myself sliding down a slippery slope into cynicism and despair.

Fortunately, after a long conversation with a friend (face to face and safely distanced, thank you Louise Waller) I was able to pull myself out of the nose dive. But I’m going to tell you, it was like what you see in the movies when the pilot is pulling back on the control with all their strength—not sure if they’re going to make it.

I made it.

You can too.

But second chances, like what Peter got, like what God has for each of us, are a gift we have to receive. Intentionality is involved. Want to is mandatory. We may not be able to choose your circumstances or situation, but we choose our response.

Peter could have heard the message and not believed it could be true. “Yeah, right. Maybe for someone else—not me.” Or like the rich young ruler in Jesus’ story (see Mark 10:17-31) walk away empty handed, empty hearted.

If all we see is what we didn’t have this Easter…then we walk away empty handed.

What did I learn? You take away all the trappings. All that is familiar and comforting. All that I count on. And I can still find so much to be thank-full for. So much room for praise. And a joy this world cannot take away.

What blessing did you receive in this unusual, but very special holy season?

Strength For Shaky Times

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Psalm 121 1-2 I look up to the mountains;
    does my strength come from mountains?
No, my strength comes from God,
    who made heaven, and earth, and mountains.

3-4 He won’t let you stumble,
    your Guardian God won’t fall asleep.
Not on your life! Israel’s
    Guardian will never doze or sleep.

5-6 God’s your Guardian,
    right at your side to protect you—
Shielding you from sunstroke,
    sheltering you from moonstroke.

7-8 God guards you from every evil,
    he guards your very life.
He guards you when you leave and when you return,
    he guards you now, he guards you always. (The Message)

Negative news. Fake news. No news. Too much information. Confusing and conflicting words coming from sources that should encourage us, solidify us, comfort us…direct us. Who do we believe? Who can we believe? What do we want to believe?

If my peace, my strength, only comes from external and world-based sources, I will always be tossed about, unsettled, and lost.

My strength, my peace comes from a source that is consistent, unshakeable, and always right on time.

The One who is my strength will not allow me to stumble, not from weakness nor in the dark. None of the confusion swirling around me occurs without the awareness of the One who created everything and promises to make all things new.

This One, this creator, is also the shield providing relief and protection. The promise rings true: God is not going anywhere—whether we are close or running, struggling or resting. This One who knows us best and loves us most guards us now and always.

Find your peace there. Find your strength there.

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More Bubble Thoughts

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I love bubbles. And I love the thoughts that bubble up with them.

This morning when I closed the Dawn bottle at the end of dishwashing, I watched to see if I would be rewarded with a few bubbles. The smallest bubble I’d ever seen escaped from the bottle.

It was a baby bubble. And while some may have groused at it’s minuscule size—bemoaning not only it’s quality, but lack of quantity—I giggled. And then I became thank-full.

My itty-bitty friend reminded my of my least favorite hymn: Showers of Blessing. I loathe the chorus: Mercy drops round us are falling, but for the showers we plead.

I prefer a different hymn and way of looking at things…like my tiny bubble. In the hymn, Great Is Thy Faithfulness, we are reminded of the words from Lamentations: “Morning by morning new mercies I see; all I have needed Thy hand hath provided.”

Big or small, all good gifts come from the One who loves us and knows what we need (see James 1:17).

So today, let’s not miss the smaller blessings that come our way while beg and expect great things to happen.

 

Valley of Shadow

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So on my walk today, I was thinking back to the Living Stream service from Sunday evening. The couple that brought the message shared about their CPE (clinical pastoral education) experience. I could relate because of my own training (10 quarters in KC, MO).
 
Their words, my walk, and my current situation, brought to mind the words from the Shepherds Psalm: Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. (Psalm 23:4)
 
Until my walk this morning, I always associated this verse with someone getting ready to die. Or for the family of someone who just passed.
 
But what if, we see it more as a verse that stays with the theme of provision. What if when we feel like we’re walking in the dark, into the unknown, we choose faith over fear, trust in the provider instead of our own wits and abilities?
 
Or…what if our training and experience prepares us to walk with others into their dark valleys. What if we are called to be their light and their comfort. Not everyone can do it. But if God calls us, he will equip us, and he will use us.