I stare at the beautiful tree in front of me and I have to admit, I don’t want to pack it up. Could it already be over — having everyone under one roof again, the shopping, the food, the beauty, the crazy? For one magical month, I look forward — to hopes, dreams, mysterious mornings, and wonderous nights. Then, in the blink of an eye, it is over, behind me, and a new year replaces it.
What will this year hold? There are 365 days of possibility in front of me — Possibilities for new work, new relationships, new places to visit, and a new me. There are also possibilities for deeper meaning in what I do, deeper ties with those I love, deeper exploration of places I have already been, and a deeper understanding of who I am. The new year is a new opportunity for growth, movement, and change.
Maybe I don’t want to pack up Christmas because I do not want to unpack the new year. I don’t want to open myself up to the hurt that can come from another year of rejection. I don’t want to live into the mystery of not knowing and not controlling the outcome. I don’t want to put myself out there for a whole nother year. I am exhausted from the pandemic: Two dog years of life. Will this be an additional year under mask and under vaccinated? God, I pray not!
Do I look at this new year with eager anticipation for what might be or do I look at the year ahead with dread based on what has been? As I get older my years become less clear. What do I know?
I know that despite my inability to make sense of what has happened in this world over the past two years, I have signs and sightings of a Savior. There has been provision in the form of people who brought the right word at just the right time, bonuses to cover shortfalls, and wisdom that, while it might not make sense of events, does make me aware I am not alone.
So maybe it is going to be ok to pack up Christmas for yet another year and open this new year filled with hope, dreams, mystery, and wonder. I can’t grow forward without packing up what is over and done.
Here is to a marvelous, mysterious, hope-filled, wonderful New Year!
Lately, during my transitions, I feel like I am falling apart. My daughter is headed to college, so our tightly knit family unit will never be the same. I am looking for a new job, so I stumble and fall as I search for my identity apart from my work. I also am growing older and my youngest child is taking driver’s training so he soon will not need me to take him places anymore. He is falling apart from me as he gains his own independence. It has me thinking, “might there be some good that happens when I fall apart?”
We typically define falling apart negatively, as an experience we want to avoid. We want to be in control, on top of things, and all-sufficient. Falling apart demonstrates our weakness, our inability to hold it all together and appear to be without need. But, think about all the good that can come out of falling apart. In fact, I challenge us to fall apart more often. Let me give you some examples of when falling apart is a good thing and maybe you can provide me with some more.
Acts 2:1-4says, “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues[a] as the Spirit enabled them.”
Once this chaotic event happened, some observers made fun of those “falling apart” suggesting that they were intoxicated (v. 13). But, Peter understood what was happening, because he knew scripture. He was able to make sense out of the situation. He said, “We got it wrong. Led by some evil men, no doubt, but we put to death through our unified chants someone who did not deserve to be crucified.” And some in the crowd heard his words and were convicted that what they did was wrong. They asked Peter what they should do about it. Peter responded they should repent and be baptized. Out of this event of falling apart, each speaking a different language, not understanding one another, being out of control, and seeming to act crazy, 3,000 people came to believe and were baptized that day.
When I don’t have the language to describe what I am going through without a job, when I lack the identity I want my work to give me, I need to remember these words of Peter “Repent, be baptized — for the forgiveness of your sins, and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit”(v. 38). I need my falling apart to be something that reminds me to go to God for my identity. Could it be that God wants me to recognize that I am not in control? He is. We all might need to fall apart a time or two to see this truth.
Another time when falling apart is good is when a mother labors in birth. She does not care what she screams. She is literally falling apart from the child who has been in her womb. I would argue that again, falling apart is a good thing in that it results in two lives, instead of one. The mother will continue to care for her child, but it is now outside of her. The new life is separate and distinct. No new mother desires to shove the baby back in once it is delivered. Falling apart has been a good thing. This is the way forward.
In nature, when a pine cone drops from a tree it begins to fall apart. I think this is a simple example of when falling apart is good, because as it separates from the tree, it begins to dry up, opening its layers to the elements, and out of its once tightly bound cone, seeds emerge that will bring new life. The pine cone has to fall apart in order for the new life to come.
Politically, I think it is good when tyranical regimes fall apart and democracies replace them. I think it is good when ideologies are questioned, requiring critical thinking instead of blind faith. I believe we need to welcome those who fall apart from what they once took as gospel truth and now realize was not the gospel at all, because once they fall apart, it might feel very lonely and they will want to feel a part of something again. Being open to those who have fallen apart might be the path to greater peace and reconciliation.
And alas, it is good that my daughter is going to college and it feels like we are falling apart. I have to trust that our tight family unit, like the pine cone, the womb, and even our political system, prepared her well for the growth she is now going to experience apart from me. She is going to become her own person. No doubt I will still care for her, but I need to let her go and do this on her own. She needs to begin life apart from me, if it is going to be her life. So, I am falling apart, just a little, and I actually think it is good thing.
What can you think of that is better because it has or is falling apart?
Do you believe in coincidence? This morning I needed a little encouragement, so I looked up Romans 8:28 “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” That’s what I need to hear this morning. That is what I need to believe. And then, when I look at my phone, I see the time is… you guessed it… 8:28. I feel like this is the Spirit of God saying, remember this today. Romans 8:28. 8:28. “And we know that in all things God works for the God of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
So, I think it is more than a coincidence. I think God wants me to dwell in this scripture for today. I think God wants me to remember that he has this and that it will be ok. I have hope that this is what I am supposed to believe, read, and rest in, assured. Indulge me today in reflecting on what it means to have hope during times of transition, by reading and reflecting on Romans 8:1-30.
First, I woke this morning after beating myself up, condemning myself, during the night thinking that my delay in getting a job interview is because I am too old. At 54, I don’t feel too old, but I picture a young recruiter thinking that 54 is ancient. “What does a Generation Xer have to offer millennials?” Romans 8:1 says, “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” “You are proof-texting,” my fellow theologians taunt my mind. “You are taking the scripture out of context. Condemnation in this context is not talking about your job situation. It is talking about our sin nature and not being held accountable to it because of the blood of Christ.” I get that. But even in hearing your words, my mind is condemned. I am held slave to my flesh, to your thoughts, and not to God speaking to me.
Romans 8 says that I should live according to the Spirit, because the Spirit gives life, peace, and belonging. If I live according to my flesh, I can feel like there is not any hope. Romans 8 says living by my flesh is hostile to God and God’s law. My flesh does not submit. I cannot live by my flesh and please God. So, when I take matters into my own hands and I say, “this is hopeless,” I am not living by the Spirit of God. I am living according to what the world is telling me. I am living by my flesh.
I have an obligation, according to Romans 8, to live by the Spirit. This morning I am convicted that when scripture says “putting to death the misdeeds of the body,” it is not only talking about what I have done wrong, my misdeeds, but also what others have done wrong to me, their misdeeds. Yes, I know that is a mouthful, but I have to write it down. Put them to death. Bury them. Leave them. Don’t pick them up again. Live by the Spirit.
If I am led by the Spirit of God, as opposed to the flesh, I see myself differently. I see that I do not have to fear being unemployed. I am already employed. My identity is not in what I do, but in being a daughter of God. I am God’s girl. I have a retirement account because I am an heir to all God has. It’s not all mine, mind you, I share it with my co-heirs, including my oldest brother, Jesus. But having a job and a retirement account does not mean my life is without suffering. This scripture says that I share in his suffering, that I may also share in his glory (vs. 17). So, there will be rough days, seasons, experiences, moments, etc. This morning being one of them.
But, this is nothing, according to Romand 8. My present suffering is not anything compared to the glory that will be revealed in us… In me. This morning I wrote down and circled these words in my journal: “Creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed” (vs. 19). What is creation hoping for? As forest fires burn across the west, record highs plague the northwest, drought ravages the water supply in my nearby mountains, and torrential rain pelts the east, I hear the frustration of creation…”It isn’t supposed to be like this.” As I reflect on this, I wonder what I can do for creation. What is my job, as a child of God, to care for creation, especially while it is hurting in this way? I have this in common with creation. We are both groaning. It isn’t supposed to be like this. And this is where hope comes in, because hope is waiting for something we do not already have.
And sometimes, when I am living in the flesh, and not by His Spirit, I get weak waiting. Like this morning. I become hopeless, and I give up. I don’t know what I am supposed to pray, or do, or even hope for anymore. Then, this verse touches my heart, “We do not know what we should pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans” (v. 26). I kind of like that the Spirit does not intercede for me through articulate, accurate, eloquent words. Groaning, in this instance, captures the depth of emotion with the request. “Oh God, this hurts.” The Spirit of God comes between where I am at and where God is at and the Spirit makes sure that our differences are being reconciled — the perfect with the imperfect, the complete with the incomplete, the ruler with the slave, the whole with the empty. The Spirit fills the void, the chasm between what is and what was never meant to be. I smile thinking this is not a new conversation I am having with God this morning. The Spirit has been groaning on my behalf since God and I last talked. So, when God searches my heart, he knows my mind, the mind of the Spirit.
The end of my pericope this morning is Romans 8:28-30. God is working for my good because I love him and I have been called to something… his purpose. That is my purpose. That is my job. Do what Jesus would do. Be conformed to the image of Jesus. I, of course, do not conform perfectly to the image of Christ. But, this is where Jesus’ sacrifice comes in to make me look perfect in my efforts. I have been called and I am being called. I have been justified and I am being justified. I have been glorified and I will be glorified. This present darkness will not last.
There is so much more to say about being a conqueror and an overcomer, but I don’t want to go any further this morning. I want to linger on Romans 8:28 a bit longer. I want to taste and see this verse today and all that goes with it. Tomorrow or next week I can go on. Today I have hope that God is with me, working for my good. I will choose to live in that Spirit.
Pain courses through my body as my feet precariously navigate across an unrelenting landscape. You would never guess I chose this path, putting myself in this position, in pursuit of a precious find… Petoskey Stones. The beach is replete with sandy shore, but I prefer the rocky patches, because that is where I find them… Three hundred and fifty million-year-old fossils, patterned by six-sided, skeletal remains of once-living coral.
There is something very soothing as I hunt for these stones. The best days are filled with calm water and a breeze. The calm water ensures that I can see the stones, while the slight breeze keeps the biting flies at bay. If it is too calm, the flies land on me, biting into my skin, challenging me to choose between avoiding them or keeping my eyes in pursuit of my prize. I usually have to give way to the flies, because they are so unrelenting…Give up! Give in! Go under!
When there is a slight breeze and a gentle surf, I soak in the sound of lapping waves, the feeling of cool, cleansing water, and the gentleness of the air circling around me. It makes me think of Psalm 23, “He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul” (2b-3a, NIV). My mind becomes so focused on finding these stones, I forget every other worry that has kept me up at night, woken me with negativity in the morning, or plagued my peace. I am in the moment and I am finding stones with my creator, their creator, the creator of us all.
And when I find one, out of the million of other stones that litter the shore, I delight with childish glee. “Look at this one!” I exclaim to my sister, children, or anyone else who knows the joy of finding these elusive treasures. They know how hard the search has been. They know how precious the experience of finding one is. We revel in the fact that what was lost has been found. We ooh and ahh over the intricate design. The ancient origin. The story each stone must hold. Then we begin again, to search for others.
My soul is at rest when I search for Petoskey Stones, because I feel like I am working in sync with my Shepherd. I want my life to be one that is in alignment with those things I value. I want to be searching for experiences that are not necessarily easy to come by, but when they do, I know they are precious.
28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Matthew 11:28-30, NIV
Each day I come up with a list of approximately 10 to-do items so I do not waste the time I have in front of me that day. I typically finish a few of the items I have on my list, and I have the rest in process. Sometimes I don’t get to some items at all, and they are moved to the future. Or, I completely forget about them.
This morning, as I sit in the dentist lobby, waiting for my son’s appointment to end so I can go into mine, I am thinking about my to-do list. I have already journaled my three pages, and asked the questions, “Lord, what do you want me to do next?” “What is your plan for me?” “What is the next step?” As I write about these questions, and reflect on God’s word, the passage that comes to mind is Matthew 11:28-30, especially the part that says “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me…”
It strikes me that if I am wearing the yoke of Christ, it is his pace and not mine. I picture the yoke as this big, clunky, wooden structure that goes over my head. It is not flexible. I cannot make it do what I might want it to do. I know from scripture it is easy to wear this yoke and it will not create a big burden for me to have it on. I also know, from my Google search, that the yoke is “…fastened over the necks of two animals and attached to the plow or cart that they are to pull.”
I hadn’t thought about the two animals before reading this definition. I wonder who has the yoke on next to me? Who am I working alongside? Is it Jesus, or is it a friend, co-worker, fellow believer, who is also doing the work God has called me to do? If it is Jesus, fastened alongside me, then he is not leading me. However, he could be alongside me, showing me what it is like to follow his father, God. He could be saying, “I’ve got this. I’ve done this before. This is how it looks. This is how it feels to be led by my father…not my will, but yours be done.” I like that image, that Jesus is walking alongside me.
I also like the image that Jesus is leading me and he has a friend in the yoke alongside me. I know when I went through a very difficult time at my work, my co-worker was in the yoke next to me. She ate lunch with me, when the lunch room seemed an intimidating place. She would talk to me and encourage me when tears filled my eyes. She even met me on the last day when it was time to turn in my technical equipment, and she walked up to the desk with me and stood by my side as I turned it in, tears again in my eyes. I told her often, I felt God had given her to me to help carry my cross, but this morning I see her as in the yoke next to me, learning from him.
I think about the many examples there are in the Bible of someone who is called to do something really big, and God gives them a friend to go with them, at least for a portion of the journey. Adam and Eve, Moses and Aaron, Debra and Barak, David and Jonathan, etc. Even the apostles team up, so they do not need to always go alone. We are perhaps emotionally stronger when there is someone who can go with us. There is nothing wrong with having a fellow traveller. Jesus asked his disciples to go to the Garden at Gethsemane with him to pray. At least we feel stronger when there are other like-minded individuals around. In reality, we are probably just as strong, if our strength comes from the Lord.
So, today, I would love to hear who you think is in the yoke next to you. What does this scripture mean to you? Are you willing to go at God’s pace, and not the pace you have set for yourself? Does it bring you comfort that you do not need to accomplish everything on your list, as long as you are attending to His list… His leading… His yoke?
I wonder if my writing sounds too depressed. Too challenging. Too convicting. “Please don’t give me another thing to do,” my readers quip. So, today I am going to write about joy.
James writes in his first chapter:
“2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,[a] whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything”
(James 1:2-4, NIV).
There it is again… In the midst of joy, trials, testing, perseverance. Yipes! I promise I am going to focus on the joy part. The great thing about joy is no matter what I am going through in life, it is movement, if I see it that way.
Richard Rohr, in his book “Falling Forward,” says the first half of life and all the experiences we have, are not about climbing ladders so we can coast the second half of our lives. Rather, he suggests, the first half of life is all about preparation for the second half of life. This is revolutionary for me to think about.
I have to admit, I thought I finished most of my productive years, and now I would invest in the lives of others and they would be my legacy. Since losing my contract at Valor, I can no longer invest in the lives of others directly, at least in the way I was doing it, — in high school, through women just beginning their high school careers, helping them chart their courses for success by seeing who they are, bringing what they have to the table, and looking ahead to fully invest in the time they have in front of them.
I can remember becomming a bit grouchy while recently filling out another job application. I didn’t want this to be my fight anymore. Why couldn’t this issue already be resolved? Why did I need to keep speaking into the situation? And then I remembered that my past prepares me for this future. James reminds me to not give up or avoid trials. He doesn’t want me to consider them someone else’s battle. He wants me to consider them “pure joy.” Through this trial my faith is going to be tested, but it has been tested before. The first half of my life tells me this. And when it is tested, I know I can persevere that testing, because I have done so before. And, when I have persevered through the trial, I am going to be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If I read on in the chapter, I also see that through the trial, if I ask for it, I am going to gain wisdom. I am going to experience abundant life. I am going to bear fruit. This is why I know I can consider each trial in my life pure joy, if I choose to think of it in that way.
So, this morning, I am going to see my trials, whatever they may be, as opportunities to apply what I have learned from my past; to trust God in new ways; to ask for wisdom in situations I can not handle on my own; and to keep growing. This attitude does fill me with joy. It’s going to be a good day!
Remember the childhood game, “What Time is It Mr. Fox?” In it, Mr. Fox stands with his back to a group of young children, who gradually approach him, step by step, each time saying “What time is it Mr. Fox?” Mr. Fox replies with a number like 6 o’clock, 2 o’clock, or 1 o’clock. Children then, in response to his words, take the corresponding number of steps toward the back of Mr. Fox. But, at any point, Mr. Fox might say, “Time to eat you,” and turn around, chasing all the kids back to the original starting line. If tagged at this point, you are considered caught and out of the game. I don’t know why this game is coming to mind for me this morning, but I wonder how often I let other people determine for me whether it is time to speak.
In the book of Ecclesiastes 3, the author says there is a time for everything.
A Time for Everything
3 There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:
2 a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, 3 a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, 4 a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, 5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, 6 a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, 7 a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, 8 a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.
My question this morning is who determines what time it is in my life? If I go with the traditional game of life, the time is quite often when someone else invites me. I wait to be chosen, called on, recognized, etc. When I speak without being spoken to, I risk violating a social norm or expectation. But I have been thinking a lot this week about how many terrible things have happened to people because those around them remained silent. Examples as big as the holocaust to as small as the workplace make me wonder what it takes for those of us witnessing injustice to speak up.
An old adage for children is they should be seen and not heard. Perhaps this serves to keep order and maintain the established social hierarchy. We certainly have seen instances where it is all about our children, and adults take a back seat to that attention. Still, who says children should be seen and not heard? Jesus said just the opposite. He said, let the little children come to me (Matthew 19:14). So, the practice in some ways runs counter to what Jesus says. This is a good litmus test for when it is time to speak and when it is time to remain silent. If remaining silent runs counter to what we know to be true, we should speak.
That’s where I think I need wisdom this morning. I do not want to go with worldly wisdom for when to speak up and when to remain silent. I want to hear the Holy Spirit’s guidance. As a child, I was keenly aware of the underdog and the need to lift him or her up. As an adult, I have a strong propensity toward justice. I will admit it is hard for me to remain silent when someone is being unjustly accused, targeted, bullied, beaten, etc. I know words carry power and God has given me the ability to use my words to bring about change. I wonder how many of us share the sense that things are not right and someone needs to say something. I encourage you, as I encourage myself, to speak. Maybe now is the time to move forward and say “I will stand for this no more.”
I perform for likes, loves, and hugs. When I do not see them, I feel what I have written does not resonate with my readers. This seems to be a new phenomenon, with the advent of social media, but if I read Corinthians, I quickly come to see it is not. Paul prefers to be an encourager, and to be received with likes, loves, and hugs. However, he has come to realize that God’s power is not about feeling strong in his own abilities.
This morning when I revisit 2 Corinthians 12 and 13, I am reminded that Paul asks for a thorn be removed from him. In fact, he experiences this thorn three times, each time feeling like it is Satan getting in the way of what he wants to accomplish. I experience a thorn in my life as a lack of approval. I wonder what it is for Paul? Many theologians have considered a number of possibilities of what Paul’s thorn might be, but whatever the cause, he says it makes him feel weak and conflicted in earthly terms.
The story does not end there for Paul — in the conflict. The story has a resolution. The thorn makes him feel weak and he asks for it to be removed. God’s answer is “No!” So, as I relate to Paul’s experience, I say “If people like what I write and respond with likes, loves, and hugs, then I will keep writing,” and God’s answer is, “No!” Paul learns that even if the message he has to deliver does not result in the embrace of the Church at Corinth, he must still deliver it. What is more important to God, and to Paul ultimately, is that the Church at Corinth operates out of truth. So, Paul knows, having experienced it during two previous visits, that going to Corinth and speaking to them God’s truth may result in insults, slander, gossip, hard hearts, arrogance, etc. He comes to terms that their responses to him do not ultimately matter. He will be made small so that God’s power may be seen through him. He looks to Christ as his example. Christ’s weakness, through his crucifixion, ultimately results in God’s power being revealed.
It is so hard to get past this, but it is not about me. I want my reassurance to come through others, but I have to find it in God. I may not say everything as eloquently as I wish. It may be difficult to read some of my thoughts clearly. What I write might be convicting or not. If God puts a thought in my head, I feel like I must try to express it in writing. That is how I process. That is how I respond to his truth. To be honest, it does make me feel humble sometimes. I am opening my thoughts to the judgment of others. If there is no response, I want to take it down, because it is not resonating with my readers. But, I must trust that some of my words will matter and will make a difference. Some of my words will bring truth for my readers and will convince them. God has gifted me with the ability to write and speak, and so I must be faithful no matter what the response of my audience. That is my conviction for today: Keep putting yourself out there. When I am weak, God’s power is revealed.
“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Corinthians 12: 9).