Saturday, May 16, 2020

If I Have To Be Lonely

For some reason a common theme surfaces early in the morning when I am able to sit a while and mediatate on the goodness and mercy of the Lord in my life. Relishing His presence, I long for deeper and more meaningful time with Him. As the sun rises and the birds begin their chorus, the stillness of the moment hangs in the balance. Soon life will begin and chaos will likely storm into the moment. Chaos refuses to carry a pattern. Any disruption to solitude can be chaos. Even pleasant disruptions break the calm, and in an instant, chaos, whether managed chaos, organized chaos, or hot mess chaos forces the quiet away until another time. The calm hides while the chaos hurries in, and the common theme hunts for a bridge between the two. Folks I hear from feel it. Articles are being written about it. COVID 19 has made the subject even more popular. Some seek help, and others send messages. Some choose to avoid the feeling with substance or suicide. Both are happening in greater numbers lately. The emotional pandemic fights against discrimination and affects families and individuals from all walks of life. Economic status? No discrimination. Race? No discrimination? Religious background? None here either. Christ follower or not? Nope, the pandemic doesn’t discriminate even at that deepest level.

Loneliness invades our being and does things to our emotions and bodies that even the best psychologists are still trying to understand. While scientists work to understand the various effects of a virus, loneliness travels deeper and deeper into our core and wins battle after battle in a world where many are forced by fear or caution or sickness or compassion to be alone. The lonely know a secret about the virus. Loneliness can be asymptomatic at times. In a crowded grocery store, a jammed theme park, a full worship gathering, a classroom, or a senior prom people are infected without others knowing it. Loneliness doesn’t pass from person to person in the same form it holds within us. Usually loneliness passes to others as anger, bitterness, harshness, aloofness, shyness, quietness, or any other “ness” you can think of. Loneliness remains, often, undiagnosed because it is so well disguised.

Reba McEntire (you knew she had to surface again at some point, right?) sings a song with this lyric, “If I have to be lonely, I’d rather be lonely alone.” Most who suffer from this emotional weight agree with her statement. Being lonely in a crowd intensifies the pain. Better to be alone and have a reason for the feeling than surrounded by activity and beat yourself up about why you can’t seem to enjoy the moment, right?

During my time with the Lord this morning, I was reading one of Max Lucado’s books, Traveling Light. As he always does, he brought Psalm 23 to life. One part in particular he focused on was “for you are with me.” That’s when he talked about loneliness, and the Lord reminded me that as a Christ follower I am never really alone. Perhaps I feel alone. Maybe physically I am alone. With the Holy Spirit, though, I am never really alone. Now that truth doesn’t always make everything okay. Don’t be tricked into more shame for not being able to “snap out of it” just because some author reminds you of God’s presence. Likely, you already knew in your mind that God is always with His children. What we know in our minds does not always connect with what we feel in our souls. What the truth does, however, is point us to a raft. Perhaps it’s a tiny, poorly built raft, but the raft floats. It’s a little far on the ocean of our pain, but if we can just draw from His strength for a moment perhaps we can get to the raft. Give it a try. Breathe deep and make some movement. It can be like treading water at first. If that is all you can muster, then tread like never before. Treading will keep your head above water. Now begin to move forward. No need to go too fast. We aren’t swimming in the Olympics here. We are just swimming to survive. Once you get to the raft, hold on. No need to climb yet. Baby steps. Now climb on. The raft reminds me of the cross. Jesus gave His life on a rugged (not so tiny and unfortunately very well built) cross so we could have something to see in the middle of our loneliness that could bring us hope. Where will the raft take us? Likely somewhere different for each of us, so at this point the blog becomes yours. How does your story continue? Maybe take a minute and journal some thoughts about your loneliness, your raft, and the rest of your journey.

I’m on my raft. I see some others. Paddling along moving somewhere. Anywhere. Do you see others? Alone, but also together. Working to get to the arms of Jesus and suddenly realizing that we aren’t the ones paddling the raft. His arms are doing the work for us. Be encouraged today.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Thrown In

Rarely in our lives do we have the chance to watch history unfold and to recognize that we are part of something that will change the world forever. Sometimes we live in the moment and later come to understand the impact of the experience on society. Other times the dramatic impact slows down the pace of life and forces us to stop and consider what the future will hold. We are living in one of those times now as the year 2020 enlightens us with a reminder that we are not in control of much in this world. As human beings, we boast of our intelligence and our might. We live in the worlds we have made and convince ourselves that we are in charge. This COVID 19 crisis requires us, however, to embrace a new way of thinking and to adapt to a new way of living. How we choose to respond will in large part determine the quality of our lives moving forward. What will we do? Will we resist the pull of the future or will we jump in and engage with what lies ahead?

John 21 gives life to an experience that some men had thousands of years ago after they experienced an event that would change the world forever. The death and resurrection of Jesus brought their world to a screeching halt, and they spent time considering what their future would hold. These men found themselves pondering whether they would embrace a new way of thinking and adapt to a new way of living or if they would, rather, resist the pull of the Holy Spirit in their lives into a whole new world.

Seven of the remaining eleven disciples decided to go fishing for the day, and like many fishing excursions, they caught nothing. As they were about ready to give up, a man called out to them from the seashore, inquiring about their catch. As they relayed their sad story, the man suggested that they cast their net on the right side of the boat. They did so, and a miraculous load of fish filled their nets. John realized the man was not just any man, but instead, they were seeing Jesus for the third time since his resurrection. He looked to Peter, and he said, "It is the Lord." The narrative reveals that Peter immediately threw himself into the water to get to Jesus. He jumped all in, embracing the future like never before.

Many interesting thoughts surface as I read this chapter. Questions like, "what is the significance of Jesus' third appearance to them?" Raised after three days. Peter's third denial before the rooster crowed. Questions like, "what prompted them to go fishing this day?" Just looking for something to do. Going back to the comfort of the familiar. Another interesting thought circles my mind when I visualize Peter throwing himself into the water. Rash behavior characterized Peter's life from the little we read of him in the gospels. His boldness often got him into hot water, but this time he literally chose to dive in.

When Jesus called Peter to follow him, Peter threw himself into the miracles and the mystery of Christ. Peter's experience with Jesus opened his eyes to a world he had never known before. A relationship with God filled with more than religion captured his heart, and he found himself following with reckless abandon. When soldiers arrested Jesus, Peter threw himself into a mess of confusion, at times fighting back while at other times running away. This day on the sea introduced a new opportunity for Peter. This time he threw himself into the mercy of Jesus. For the first time since his denial, Peter would spend significant time with Jesus over a meal. The other appearances allowed the disciples to see Jesus alive, but this appearance would allow them to see Jesus live - and would allow them to decide if they would live with him or without him. Peter threw himself into the mercy of Jesus not knowing what the future would hold. Seemingly, he decided the only hope he had was Mercy, and if there was no Mercy from Jesus there would be no meaning for his life.

How is your time alone panning out? Are you anxious or restless? Have you filled your days with virtual work and extended your hours into the evening? Eating more and exercising less? Have you taken the time yet to stop and to reflect on Jesus? This COVID induced retreat allows us to ask ourselves some challenging questions about our walk with the Lord. What have we thrown ourselves into? Miracles, mystery, mess? Or Mercy? Could I invite you to consider along with me using this next week to bathe in the Mercy of Christ? At this point we all could use His Mercy. At this point we all could share His Mercy.

The nets are empty. Loneliness, job loss, financial stress, health issues. Empty. Listen ..... "Cast your night on the right side ...... that's where you will find Mercy." Overwhelming mercy fills the net. "It is the Lord!" Will you throw yourself into the water and swim to the feet of Jesus?

Thursday, April 16, 2020

The Heart Of Worship

Do you remember the song, Heart Of Worship? It first appeared on the worship scene late 1990's and early 2000's. Maybe you've never heard the song at all. If you are interested in listening, click on this link. The song takes us into a reflective moment of what worship truly means. Romans 12:1-2 come to mind.

"I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect."

A contemporary worship service introduced me to the song, Heart of Worship. Lights, cameras, and staging surrounded the band, and as they went from upbeat sounds into this thoughtful tune, the lights dimmed to prepare our senses for what would come next. A quiet space encompassed the crowd as coffee cups settled nicely onto the floor. Hands began to be raised as voices lifted words of praise and affirmation to the God of Creation that our worship was really about nothing other than being in His presence. Pure intent tells me the song was meant to create a movement among God's people of focusing more on the Creator than the created environment in the room at any given moment. What happened?

History certainly repeats itself, and the historical struggle in the church over worship provides another example of the cycle. Over the last twenty years, we as God's people have been blessed with worship music, creative arts, and powerful messages that engage our minds, our bodies, our emotions, and sometimes our souls. Crowds gather regularly to connect with one another, to join in singing, and to hear challenging teaching from God's word. Or at least they used to gather. That was before COVID 19. The way things used to be. One generation's story to tell a new generation. A front porch pondering as folks remember what it was like "in the good ol' days." Large buildings turned into convention centers or museums much like we see when we travel to Europe - or when we used to travel to Europe. We are at a moment in time that will be a pivot point, a reference point, a new chapter in the virtual school books of the future.

Could the introduction of the song Heart of Worship during another pivotal time in history (Y2K) have been a prophetic foreshadowing or even a warning that we as Christ followers desperately need to connect with the Holy Spirit on more than a physical and emotional level? Could the Spirit have been calling us into a deeper relationship with Him that we somehow missed? Instead of letting the music fade and all be stripped away, we created flashier sets, bought more lights, tuned more instruments, added more flair. Instead of bringing messages from God's word that helped us grow deeper, we filled the space with words about happy marriages, fulfilling our dreams, fighting against society's evil. What if we heard the call for a more intimate relationship with Christ and have settled for a pornographic mockery of what it really means to worship Him?

Our time at home during this pandemic and economic shutdown challenges our belief system. John 20:24-29 tells the story of Thomas wanting his own experience with Jesus. He refused to settle for the experience of his friends. Jesus received Thomas and allowed him into his personal space. Oh I long to be in Jesus' personal space. From posts on social media and comments in other places, many in the body of Christ are waiting for the gatherings to resume before engaging with the Spirit. Many spiritual journeys are on hold. What could happen if the Lord allowed this shutdown to continue until He got our attention? What if gatherings were closed until we realized that worship is not about where we gather or who we are with? What if the music, the media, and the messages are more of a distraction than a help? What if the Lord is wanting to speak into our hearts and is trying desperately to get into our lives through the noise? What if we lived in a place where worship gatherings were always prohibited? Are we only able to worship because we were born in a free country? Would we be able to know God if we lived in Asia or the Middle East where the noise would invite possible death?

Working from home, schooling from home, and finding ways to occupy our time during this stay at home part of our lives does not always mean quiet time. We still may have to work to find time to be still. Now is the time. Revival and renewal can start today right where you are in your chair, on your porch, by your pool, in your yard - wherever you are. If we would pour ourselves into being living sacrifice and meet the Lord in a personal way without the distraction of everything else around us, revival would begin. And then what if your neighbor did the same thing? And then her neighbor? And then his neighbor? Now it's your neighborhood. Then your community. Then your church even in various places. Perhaps this time in history can become known as the Bug That Brushed Casual Christianity to the Curb.

Romans 8:28 "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,[a] for those who are called according to his purpose." (ESV)

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Blessings

Several years ago, Laura Story recorded a song called Blessings. Feel free to take a moment and click on the word "Blessings" to hear the song again. The chorus resonates in my heart. 

'Cause what if your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You're near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise
Parenting discovered me unprepared for the task ahead. Ideal dreams and hopes for what family could be like were much like The Andy Griffith Show and The Waltons. When we would watch these shows as a family, I would wonder how Andy captivated Opie to the point of doing his chores willingly. I would ponder how the Walton children could have so little and embrace life so wildly. Now that I'm older I realize that scripting, directing, and television salaries contributed to much (ok, to all) of the world we entered as Mayberry burst into our home and as Walton's Mountain beckoned us to a quieter time. 

We used to partner alongside other parents and study the lessons of James Dobson, Chip Ingram, Ted Tripp, and The Rethink Group to train us to be better parents, engaged in our kids live, and teaching them to love the Lord with all their heart, their soul, their mind, and their strength. We had big plans that somehow never played out as well in our family room as they seemed to play out on screen.

Insert COVID 19 into our lives a few weeks ago. Everyone gathered at home leaving middle school, high school, and college behind. Online classes became the new norm. Virtual teaching took the place of the kitchen table, and virtual coaching with business planning dominated my home office. Life got very interesting very quickly. 

One of the blessings of living in Florida during this time of Stay at Home orders commands our attention. Sunny weather, warm temperatures, and steady breezes paint the day and find a way to help us relax outside for what often becomes extended moments in time. Our back porch has become our new place for meals, and in addition to some other ideas we have instituted, we have shared practically every meal together as a family for the last several weeks. Talking to one another has become comfortable again. Sharing about our time with the Lord has become encouraging and challenging. Laughing together, watching someone's favorite movie, and talking about what we are learning during this time highlight blessings that we somehow had forgotten. How often had I taught and been taught that having family meals around the table was paramount to a healthy family? How many times had we actually made that lesson a reality - until now. Until a tiny bug sent everyone home and pushed us to do what we should have been doing all along. Connecting with each other about things that matter. Eating together. Relaxing. Celebrating that the "trials of this life" may really be just "mercies in disguise" after all.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Solo

Names of friends surfaced in our household over the last few days. Our family seized the opportunity life thrust us into recently as we adopted new practices of sharing meals together outside on the porch, watching favorite movies, working on projects together, exercising together, walking the dog together. These engagements opened space in our minds for conversations about folks in our lives who are special for many reasons. This unique frame of our lives sparks moments of nostalgia and longing for those we miss seeing and talking with, even when we may not have realized we missed the same people long before the rules of social distancing became the new normal.

Among the friends who came to mind, some are with family and some are alone. Being alone comes in many forms, as we all know. Some are alone in a crowded room. Others are alone by choice. Still others are alone by life's pattern of giving and taking away. The ones alone because of life's pattern come to mind more often during these days as we talk about the need to connect with those around us and the importance of getting to know the family in the walls of our homes. For many the stay at home orders quickly become a solitary confinement filled with empty days and meaningless racket from a square talking box in the center of our living spaces.

This morning during my time alone with the Lord, the word "solo" came to mind. Memories of my daughter singing rushed back with tremendous enthusiasm, bringing a smile to my face and to my spirit. The innocence and beauty of her voice resonated in my being for a time as the Lord reminded me of the blessings He so graciously gives as well as the lessons He so eagerly teaches. Caroline enjoys sitting at the piano to play and sing songs of worship to God. As she finds the tune with her fingers, her heart fills the room with melody. She could sing for hours in her world with the Lord and the piano or her ukulele. The accompaniment enhances and strengthens what is already a brilliant display of God's grace and mercy in her life.

I wonder if those who are living solo during this time will find their accompaniment. Volunteering at a food bank or counseling center, reading in a local school, quilting with friends, serving foster families accompanied many lives prior to the last few weeks and even the last few days. Listen carefully to notice the quiet that the lack of instrumentation brings. The soloist still sings, but the singing has become a capella. Where will the voice find a chorus to lift her? Where will the music find a chariot to carry him? What accompaniment will surface? Will the soloist become more comfortable alone?

In Psalm 63, David wrote about his time in the wilderness. He painted a verbal portrait of longing and seeking. His thirsty soul praised God based on the Lord's steadfast love. He sang out of the abundance of his soul from time spent with God, and he celebrated in praise from beneath the shadow of God's wing. From our knowledge of David, we could surmise that during these times David used a harp to aid his praise. Even in the wilderness David had his accompaniment. Would you take time now to pour over Psalm 63 asking the Lord to speak to you in some way with truth you can hold onto?

For me, the Lord whispered a couple of insights. Your insights possibly differ greatly from mine. The Spirit helped me see from this passage that the Lord himself can be the accompaniment of our lives when we "meditate on [Him] in the watches of the night; ..." and "cling to [Him]". Many who are living solo find deeper and more intimate ways to commune with the Creator as they meditate on and cling to Him. The second insight the Lord offered reminded me that even from a distance we can assist those who are living solo with accompaniment in their lives. This time could be the perfect time to sponsor a child from another place together through an organization like www.onemorechild.org. Work together with someone to change someone's life forever. Facetime with someone who lives alone. Sing together. Laugh together. Tell stories. Read a chapter from a new book together. Send a letter. Do a bible study. Families can connect from a distance with those who have given their lives to help others yet are now learning new ways to offer their worship and praise to the Father.

What did the Lord share with you from Psalm 63? Consider writing the thoughts down. Even better, consider reaching out to someone who might need some fresh accompaniment in his or her life. New life music birthed during this time offers excitement and richness that we often miss when the accompaniment comes too easy. Let's be artists for each other and see what the Lord provides.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Why Haven't I Heard From You

Some of you recognized it immediately. It's an old Reba song, not a lament as to why you haven't called or written. Actually people seem to be working to keep in touch now better than before. If you haven't heard the song in a while (or ever, however horrific that might be) could I suggest you give it a watch on this world class video link? https://youtu.be/-d7vAbKTmus

I could humor myself for a moment and pretend that everyone took time to listen and watch the Queen of Country Music. Instead I will simply continue .... Deep Sigh ....


Our world has entered a new era. A time of reprioritizing and refocusing. More people are taking walks. More people are looking for creative things to do at home with people who live in the same home, but are rarely together. We can look at our current situation through many lenses. One lens I have been considering this morning brings clarity to what I have longed for in our family. Time to really be together and to learn how to interact in ways that bond us rather than break us. Activity and assignments often give us a false sense of togetherness while at the same time blocking the deeper intimacy that we are created to experience.

Social distancing has forced us into our homes and has created chaos for many. What if we looked at the situation differently? What if, instead of being forced into our homes, we see this opportunity as a gift to connect with those we say are most important to us? Granted, some in our society are fearful of being home because of abuse and other poor living conditions. I pray for safety for the battered spouse, the abused child, the neglected parent. We have to find a way to intervene in those situations, as well. For a majority of us, though, our biggest challenge surfaces when we realize that we have connected physically through hugs, roughhousing, and sitting on the couch watching a movie as much as we possibly can stand. We have connected emotionally through tears and/or outbursts of anger. What do we have left? What we are faced with is moving into the part of our being activity and assignment allow us to ignore in our daily walking around with each other.

Each of us has an inner spirit that longs to be known. At some point in our younger lives our spirits get wounded, and when that happens the rest of our being finds ways to adjust and to adapt. Our physical reactions and emotional responses build walls around our spiritual core that keep everything safe. What will happen if we don't find a way to live in these small group family units at a deeper level once we have exhausted the routine relational rodeo of our previous daily existence? Some will self destruct. Others will separate into deeper shells. Many will surrender to depression and anxiety. Who among us will accept the challenge to go deeper with one another? What if our inner spirits are crying out "why haven't I heard from you"? The journey won't be an easy one. We will need each other to make it through. Community and support will look different, but connections are still possible.

I'm hoping that this week our family can embrace the now and swim in deeper water. I pray that we can answer the question that our spirits ask of us as individuals and of each other. "Why haven't I heard from you?" This deeper spiritual place is the place of peace that makes up our core being. Why leave that space in our lives untapped when we are living in a world that has made it acceptable to be still?

I hope you will join me tomorrow at this same place. I was reading this morning and found some other insights that were helpful to me about other spiritual connections. What if April showers (the time of our continued social distancing) could really bring May flowers (the result of our inner efforts during these next thirty days).

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Shelter

In my home office, I have a painting of the Hundred Acre Wood. For Christopher Robin and friends, the Hundred Acre Wood provided a safe place for adventure and relationship. A new world opened for Christopher Robin as he left the cruel, lonely, grown up world and entered into a relational calm filled with life, love, and laughter.

As a child I would sometimes build tents in my home with blankets over tables and chairs. This tent served as my version of your treehouse, or your clubhouse, or your bedroom. A shelter to think in, to dream in, to live in, even if just for a few brief moments in time. Because the tent was not a permanent structure and had to be put away a few hours after construction, I learned to find another shelter to shield me from the world around me. At an early age, I built a shelter in my own mental and emotional world where I could experience a life that made sense to me when the life around me seemed to be spiraling out of control. This inner shelter soon became an outer shield where I lived much of my life in two worlds. Behaving and talking and performing in the physical world became common place for me as I lived and breathed another existence under the hard shell I crafted to keep my true self from exposure.

The new era of COVID-19 has forced many into their own shells. Six foot distancing, stay at home orders, lack of medical supplies, suspicion over a neighbor's cough. All of these have created communities that are behaving, talking, and performing in the physical world, yet living and breathing another existence trying to adjust to a new normal. We fill our shelters with physical supplies that will far outlast the crisis. We find ways to connect with one another via chat rooms and online communities. We use screens to hide ourselves from family members that we are now forced to spend time with in close quarters. Shelter pulls at us while reminding us that having a place of protection from the outside world remains a basic human need.

Psalm 91:1 says, "He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty." The reference leads us to a spiritual shelter where we find hope, peace, comfort, love, and security. We struggle to find the shelter because the journey of our lives has taken us other places far from our spiritual anchor. We each possess a spiritual place where we can be one with our Creator. Physical and emotional experiences steal the keys that lock the spiritual self away to keep us from getting into the depths that God has provided for us as a safe shelter. Physical trauma and emotional trauma come in many forms. I would encourage you to research where trauma comes from and broaden your mind to the ways the enemy twists our lives to prevent us from knowing solitude and peace.

This week has been a week of adjustment for our family, and I am sure that the week has been one of adjustment for you. Everyone is home now, and we are figuring it out. We could choose to retreat into our worlds or we could choose to let our worlds collide into new adventures and journeys that will keep us connected for years to come. Even as we find ways to interact and know one another, we still must find our shelter, our safe place, our version of the Hundred Acre Wood. We can go for a moment and relax, laugh, live, but we can't stay there. Somehow these worlds have to collide, too. Somehow we have to find a way to break through the physical and emotional mess that is keeping our spiritual selves locked away. Meditation can help. Music can help. Reading can help. Resting can help. Recreation can help. All of these tools are useful, and for me these tools, guided by the power of God's Spirit, can help me find the security I need to bring all of my worlds - as messy as they may be - into focus. Will you join me on the journey? Let's make these next few days and maybe weeks the most significant weeks of our lives. Don't let a small virus destroy your inner being. Society may struggle and possibly crumble. Who knows? I do know this for sure from my own experience with working through personal trauma. "... Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning." (Psalm 30:5, ESV).

https://www.amazon.com/Trauma-Heart-Wounded-Heal-Stories-Survival/dp/0757319815