A Year of Listening – 2013 in review

I dubbed 2013 “A Year of Listening”.  The idea was to pay attention to what was being said around me and to me.

The most important listening I wanted to do was to listen to God. No, I’m not saying that God speaks to me in an audible voice, but He does speak through scriptures, and I often think the little nudgings on my heart are from Him.

One scripture that I pondered in 2013 was Genesis 3:9 – 10, the conversation is between God and Adam.

But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?”

And the man answered, “I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.”

Over the course of the year, I began jotting down times that I heard God.  I used the format that Adam used.  “I heard the sound of You (fill in the circumstances), and I was (fill in how I felt), because (fill in why), and I (fill in my response).  Here are a few.

Early on, I wrote this:

I heard the sound of You whispering in my heart, and I was surprised, because it was unexpected, and I listened.

Make no mistake.  God is alive and well;  He does speak to us.

One day, I had some terrible ugly words spoken to me, and a friend spoke words that were a salve on the wound.  I wrote this:

I heard the sound of You in a friend’s words, and I was comforted, because I was hurting, and I was blessed.

Contrary to the face we put out to the world, sometimes there is friction and contention in our family.  In the context of that, I wrote this:

I couldn’t hear You when there was arguing, and my head hurt, because of the discord, and I was grieved.

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sisters

One of this mother’s greatest joys is hearing her children having fun together. I don’t remember exactly what was happening when I wrote this one because, thankfully, there are many such occasions.

I heard the sound of You in laughter, and I laughed too, because You are Joy, and I was cheered.

One of the things I re-added into my life in 2013 was playing my flute in church.  As long as the choir director doesn’t get tired of me sitting beside her and playing the hymns, I’ll keep doing it.  I feel like it’s my way to worship.  I think I wrote this, however, after riding in the car alone one day, blasting the music and singing along with it.

I heard the sound of You in music, and I sang out loud, because You love a joyful noise, and I love You.

Last night, Bud said, “2013 has been an odd year.”  I looked at him because I wasn’t quite sure what he was getting at, and then he elbowed me with a smile, “Get it?”  Bud doesn’t always play with words, so I wasn’t prepared.  I guess I need to listen for that.

It hit me as I was writing this, that one of God’s most important messages to me is one He delivers nearly every day through my youngest daughter.  She wraps her arms around me and showers me with kisses.  When she’s done, she turns her cheek to me so that I can kiss her too.  She leaves notes on my pillow and sends me email messages.  They all say roughly the same thing.  Here’s one exactly as she sent it.

I LOVE YOU AND DAD MORE THAN ANYTHING IN THE HOLE WORLD!!! 
:* :* :* AND I KNOW YOU GUYS LOVE ME TOO!!!! :)
Sent from my NOOK

I can just imagine God saying those same words to me.

All in all, 2013 has been a growing year for me. Listening is an art, and listening to God takes special ears.

Surrounded by Holiness

I’m in an on-line book group reading Robert Capon’s book, The Supper of the Lamb.  Ostensibly, it’s a cookbook. He tells us how to cook “lamb for eight persons four times.”

The book is subtitled “A Culinary Reflection.”  That may be more accurate.

Truth be told, I don’t even like lamb.  My mother used to fix it on occasion as leg of lamb, or try to trick us into eating it by making lamb-burgers.  No matter what trick she used, I could always taste and didn’t like it.

You might think it was the fact that I watched the sheep loaded into a truck on four hooves and come back in white paper packages destined for the freezer.  A good-sized animal fit in a rather small box.  But knowing the animal before and after never stopped me from liking chicken, and those were dispensed of right at home.

My father once had a box in his office of newspaper clippers and other assorted papers.  I asked him about it and he said, “This is what’s left of a man’s life,” because they were the essential papers saved by my grandfather.  That box and the box that the lamb would come home in were about the same size. I still don’t quite know what to make of that.

I’m only half-way through The Supper of the Lamb.  The book is not really about cooking lamb.

He spends a chapter on cutting an onion, but it is not so that we will, in the end, cut our onions differently, but that we will see our onions differently.

The fit, the colors, the smell, the tensions, the tastes, the textures, the lines, the shapes are a response, not to some forgotten decree that there may as well be onions as turnips, but to His present delight — His intimate and immediate joy in all you have seen, and in the thousand other wonders you do not even suspect.  With Peter, the onion says, Lord, it is good for us to be here.  Yes, says God. Tov.  Very good.

I wondered, after reading that chapter, if I would ever be able to quickly cut an onion again.

IMG_2715[1]Then yesterday I read his chapter on knives.  I had a lot of cooking to do yesterday. My two favorite knives both have plastic handles, and would probably not come anywhere near his description of fine cutlery.  Yet, for me, they suffice.

It hit me, purple knife in hand, the book really isn’t about cooking lamb, or cutting onions, or the importance of good knives. It’s about the holiness that surrounds us.  It’s in everything we do.

Early on, our moderator had asked this:

What do I know about (because I care about) to this degree of detail/expertise? What does “knowing” to that degree require?

That question has been at the back of my mind for weeks.

God has given each of us a passion for something or things.  He who is the God of the Onion, is also the God of the Water, something I think about each time I slide into the pool to teach swim lessons.

“In Him we live and move and have our being…” (Acts 17:28)  Just as I teach children how to move and breathe in the water, God calls us to move and breathe in Him, in a new way.  It’s a spiritual concept that would have been lost on me had I not looked for the holiness in a swim lesson.

Holiness surrounds every day.  In onions.  In knives.  In swimming pools. In birthdays, and adoptions, and challenging jobs, and folding laundry.

The world may be broken, but it is also holy.

Look for it today.

Beauty in the Storm

Several years ago I left a comment on someone’s blog about Alzheimer’s being a gift. It led to a flurry of comments about how awful a disease like Alzheimer’s is and how it cannot possible be perceived as a gift.  Alzheimer’s is indeed a horrible devastating illness that whittles a person in so many painful little knife-nicks.  Slowly the person you love disappears.

Yet I stand with my original assertion. Alzheimer’s was a gift to me.  It gave me the opportunity to love my mother in a complete way, forgiving any little hurts and rifts that may have existed between us.  It gave my father the opportunity to proclaim to anyone watching, “This is love.”  He did it — no, he does it –  not with words, but with actions.  It is a beautiful thing to behold.  A gift.

This morning, when I looked at the news, I saw a picture of the typhoon hitting the Philippines.  It was one of those satellite images, color-coded to show wind strength. It was beautiful.  TYPHOON-HAIYANI shook my head at myself.  It seemed wrong to think of a destructive typhoon as something beautiful.

But there is a strange wild beauty all around us.  It is in the storm, and it is the rebirth after the storm.  It is in the ravages of illness, and it is in the healing that comes, in this life or the next.  It is in the struggles and the contentious relationships in our lives, and it is in the working through of those very relationships.

It is God, the not-tame Lion, who gives, not always what we want, but always what we need.

If we look for Him, He is there.

God’s Arm

O Lord, be gracious to us;  we wait for you.
Be our arm every morning….

Isaiah 33:2

Behold, the Lord God comes with might,
and his arm rules for him….

Isaiah 40:10

In 2003, Jenny Thompson, the Olympic swimmer, came to Cooperstown.  She was in medical school at the time at Columbia University, but their students often come to Bassett Hospital in Cooperstown for a rotation.

The kids from the swim team, my own children included, would gather on the balcony to watch her swim during the adult lap time.  Sometimes they would sit outside the weight room and watch her train on the elliptical or the step machine.  It was an amazing experience for everyone.

Jenny was so patient with her stalkers.  She just went about her business, as if she were no different than you or I.

Toward the end of her time in Cooperstown, she came to swim team practice one day to talk with the kids.  About twenty kids sat adoringly at her feet while she told a few stories about her experiences and then answered questions.

One of the girls from the high school team asked her if she would “flex” for them.

“What?” Jenny asked.  Obviously this was not a question she got every day.

“Will you flex for us?” Becky asked again, a little embarrassed that maybe this wasn’t the sort of thing one asked an Olympic swimmer.

“Why don’t you come on up here and we can flex together,” Jenny responded.  She was definitely a class act.

And they flexed.

That was the picture that came to my mind this morning, thinking about God’s arm.

Can you imagine what it would be like if He flexed?

God — who is Creator, Redeemer, King.

God — who is immortal, invisible, God only wise.

God — who is Idea, Energy, Power.

I cannot imagine the ripples across the universe and time if He chose to flex, but He is our arm every morning.  How amazing is that?

Advertising Slogans

I found a paper my mother had saved entitled “God is like…”  It’s a little trite and a little silly, but it has that ring of truth to it.

Here is what it said:

God is like Coke… He’s the real thing.

God is like PanAm… He makes the going great.

God is like General Electric… He lights your path.

God is like Bayer Aspirin… He works wonders.

God is like Hallmark cards… He cares enough to send the very best.

God is like Tide… He gets the stains out that others leave behind.

God is like VO hair spray … He holds through all kinds of weather.

God is like Dial soap… Aren’t you glad you know Him… don’t you wish everyone did?

God is like Sears… He has everything.

God is like Alka Seltzer… Try Him, you’ll like Him.

God is like Scotch tape… You can’t see Him.

Obviously the list is outdated.  PanAm ceased operation in 1991.  Bayer Aspirin is no longer the go-to for fever, aches, and pains; acetaminophen or ibuprofen now fill that role.   Sears is on the verge of bankruptcy.  Will they even be around in the future?

So I tried to think a few more current analogies.  Feel free to suggest others.

God is like Altoids…. He is curiously strong.

God is like Orbit gum …  He gives you a good clean feeling — no matter what!

God is like Allstate… You’re in good hands with Him.

God is like Travelocity… With Him, you’ll never roam alone.

God is like Energizer Batteries… Nothing outlasts Him.  He keeps going and going and going.

God is like a DeBeers diamond… He is forever.

God is like Maxwell House coffee… He is good to the last drop.

God is like McDonalds… I’m loving Him.

Accepting God is like Geiko…. So easy, a caveman could do it.

Here’s a few things He is not.

God is not like Hulu… He is not an evil plot to destroy the world.  (He is the way to save the world.)

God is not like the SyFy channel… I cannot imagine greater.

And one last advertising campaign that has affected my spiritual life, because I think about it when I feel like the way is too hard -

Living for God is like wanting a Klondike bar…  What would I do for Him? 

The answer is always a sobering, “Anything He asks.”

On Becoming a Christian

“I’ve heard that phrase — ‘becoming a Christian’ — a few times lately,” my father said as we were riding in the car to the cemetery after my uncle’s funeral.  “What exactly does it mean?”

I was sitting in the backseat.  My brother, Peter, was driving.  I sat there, silent, trying to come up with an answer.

I know, I know, we’re supposed to be “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” (I Peter 3:15)  I have no excuse.  I was just tongue-tied.

Before you judge me too harshly, bear in mind that this was my father — my father!

Peter answered, “It means asking Jesus into your heart or something.”  He paused, then added, “Right, Sally?”

I stammered out some something about recognizing that Jesus was God incarnate and accepting the fact that he died for us, but it was so incomplete, so poorly said, so not how I would have liked to use that opportunity that I’m asking for a Mulligan.  Can I try again?

What does it mean to become a Christian?

First, I can tell you what it doesn’t mean.  Becoming a Christian doesn’t mean raising your hand in response to a sermon.  It doesn’t mean saying “magic words.”  It doesn’t mean joining a certain political party or having certain political ideas.  It doesn’t even mean joining a church.  It doesn’t mean carrying a Bible everywhere and spouting out Bible verses.  It doesn’t mean dressing a certain way, eating a certain way, speaking a certain way, acting a certain way, or hanging out with a certain group of friends.

What it does mean I can tell you from my own experience.

Remember, Dad, when I was a teenager and I was so rebellious?  Remember when I was making all sorts of bad choices?  There were times I felt like I had totally screwed up my life beyond repair.  In the midst of all that, someone starting talking to me about Jesus.

I know that you and Mom faithfully took us to church every Sunday.  We went to Sunday School.  We went to youth group.  And actually, it was a conversation with our minister, Mr. Herst, that helped me really become a Christian.

Mr. Herst talked about a lot of things.  I remember sermons on Jonathon Livingston Seagull and Hope for the Flowers.  But I don’t really remember many lessons from the Bible.

So, one day, after someone had started talking to me about a relationship with Jesus, and after I had attended another church a few times, I had a conversation with Mr. Herst that I will always remember.  I think I must have just heard (at another church) a sermon on Jesus feeding the 5,000.  I asked Mr. Herst about it.

He said, “Oh, that’s a story about sharing.  You see, when that one little boy brought forth his loaves and fishes, all the other people there, who had been holding back, got out their lunches and shared them.”

“You mean it wasn’t a miracle?” the teenage me asked him.

“No,” he answered quite decisively.  “It’s more a lesson on how we need to freely share what we have with other people.”

I left that discussion much troubled.  While sharing is a nice sentiment and an important practice, it clearly wasn’t what the Bible story said.  If the Bible wasn’t really saying what it appeared to be saying,  if it was just a bunch of nice stories, then it really was no different than Jonathon Livingston Seagull.  And if the Bible wasn’t true, then the things I had been hearing about Jesus weren’t true.  And if Jesus wasn’t who He claimed to be, then why bother with any of it?

I wrestled around with that.  My life was a mess.  As a teenager, when your life is a mess, you feel like there is no hope.  You’ve started out life and ruined it.  Why bother?

But Jesus said that He makes all things new. (Revelation 21:5)  Oh, my goodness!  How I wanted that!

The Bible says, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation…” (2 Cor. 5:17)  I could start over.

So I had to weigh out the whole matter.  If Jesus is who He says He is — God, in human form, come to earth to pay the price for sin, so that I wouldn’t have to, so that I could enjoy a relationship with God — then I need to begin a relationship with Him in earnest.

And I chose to do that.  I suppose that’s when I became a Christian.  I chose to believe that the Bible is the Living Word of God and true.  I chose to believe that Jesus was God and He performed miracles, like feeding the 5,000, and that He was betrayed by one of his followers, and He suffered unimaginably in His death on the cross.  I chose to believe that death could not hold Him, and that He rose again, and He lives today because He is the Eternal God.  I chose to believe that his death paid a penalty I could never pay, and that it allowed me take the ultimate Mulligan.  I could become a new creation in Him

What does it mean to become a Christian?  It means recognizing that we need a savior, and that we have a Savior, Jesus.

Today we sang in church, “I have decided to follow Jesus.”  That pretty much sums up how to become a Christian.

Some 36 years ago, I decided to follow Jesus.

And, in the words of Robert Frost, “that has made all the difference.”

Wrestling with God

Please forgive all the poetry these days.  I’m having trouble finding words.

I re-read the story of Jacob wrestling with God this morning (Genesis 32:24-31).  As Jacob limped away from this all night wrestling match, what was he thinking?  Was it about the pain in his hip?  Or was it about the blessing he had received?

We can focus on the pain or we can focus on the blessing.  The choice is ours.

And sometimes life just hurts
We wrestle in the dirt
With something
(Or is it Someone?)
We can’t see.

Who are you? I want to know –
And yet I can’t, and so
I struggle -
(Or am I yielding?)
Let me be!

Let me be in Your Arms –
So safe from all harm
Harbored in
(Or am I adrift?)
I rest in Thee.

I rest a restless calm
I can’t tell bomb from balm
Safe at last
(or is this un-?)
Set me free.

The other wrestler is God.
Doesn’t that seem odd?
He hurts; He heals
(those scars are real)
A limping thankful me.