In Praise of Light — SheLoves, October 2017

The theme of the month at SheLoves is ‘LIT.’ This is what came to me as I reflected on that interesting word.

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I love lights — strings of lights. I have about four long ones, composed of large, clear globes in three colors, strung across the arbor outside the back of our home. Every day at about 5:00 p.m., I turn the switch so that their blue, green and white sparkles can be enjoyed as the evening covers the day.

My sister-in-law gave me a string of lights hidden inside colorful paper umbrellas. I loved that little string so much, I immediately hung it above my baking counter in the kitchen.

Just last month, I found a new website that specializes in inexpensive strings of solar-powered white lights. I have woven 5 strands through the low hedges that demarcate the back edge of our property. Every evening, I wait for their twinkling to begin and every evening, I smile as I see them.

Don’t even get me started about Christmas lights, okay? I’ve got bits of light spread all around my house from early December through Epiphany — on the tree, to be sure. But also? Across the mantle, on a smaller counter-top tree, stretched along the top of my china cabinet, around my front door.

Yeah, I love lights. They make me smile, they lift my spirits, they give me hope when I’m feeling down, they remind me that the darkness does not and cannot win, even when all around me says otherwise.

I want to be a person of light, too. Someone who shines, even in the darkness, who holds on firmly to hope and joy, no matter what set of curve balls are being tossed at my head. I want to be someone who is lit from within, someone who carries light with me into every dark and difficult place life’s journey brings my way.

Sometimes I succeed. Sometimes, not so much. I wrote last month about lament and I sometimes think that I could write about that topic no matter what the theme-of-the-month might happen to be. After all, life is hard, people get sick and die, relationships fall apart, addiction is real and sometimes deadly, failure is endemic to the human condition. And our scripture gives us a language for these seasons of sadness.

But.

It is also important and necessary to acknowledge the flip side of that language of lament. It is good to sing songs in a major key, too, and doing so can help us acknowledge the presence of the Light, even in the midst of some dark and scary times.

So today, I want to sing a song in praise of light, to say thank you for the people and places, events and circumstances that have brought light into my life:

To see my list (and to add some of your own, in the comments) please follow this link and join the conversation over there.

31 Days of 5 Minute Prompts: Day Twelve — WRITE

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Writing is a craft. Maybe sometimes, an art. It takes time and it takes practice. Most of all, it takes desire and it takes will. I am sadly lacking in those latter two these days. I think I have mentally decided that I am too old to be doing this. Hence the sunset picture of old boats, above! I’m late to the game, even though I’ve written papers, newsletters, exams and sermons for a long, long time. I once thought I might write a book. Now, that seems not only impossible, but not particularly desirable.

I don’t have what it takes. I don’t want to sell books, to market myself, to impose upon my friends to sell my stuff, to sell me. And who needs one more book anyhow? There are SO.MANY.BOOKS. So . . . I occasionally challenge myself to an everyday write here — as in this 31 day challenge, or Advent and Lenten devotionals. And I continue to write monthly over at SheLoves and bi-monthly for our denominational magazine. But that last one seems to be on its last legs. Yet another revamp for the magazine, this one without regular columnists, or so they tell me. And I’m not sure how much longer my voice will be welcome at SheLoves as the writing staff over there gets increasingly younger and more activist than I am or ever could be again!

So. . . what to do with God’s call to ‘write my stories down for my grandgirl?’ When that call came, I only had one and she was a newborn. Now, almost twelve years later, there are two grandgirls. Maybe I’ve already written enough of those stories?

Time will tell.

31 Days of 5 Minute Prompts: Day Eleven — REMEMBER

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Do you see all that stuff up there? We put it out on the curb about six weeks ago, relieved to have our garage looking neater, waiting for the local thrift shop to pick it up on their rounds through our neighborhood.

I must admit that I still get misty-eyed when I look at this picture. These were my mama’s things, you see. I had sorted them soon after she died in April. I put a few things in my house, let my daughters and my niece look through them to see if there was anything they wanted, and then I bagged up all that was left. It all sat there until about the middle of September.

It felt odd to see her life reduced to a curb full of leftovers, but that’s what happens to us all, isn’t it? Every time we moved her, life got smaller. From their retirement home to a retirement community. From their shared 2-bedroom to her 1-bedroom. From there to assisted living across the street, and from that place, 100 miles up the coast to a dementia unit near us. Last of all, there was that hard, hard day when she and I slowly walked down the long hall from her lovely 1-room home for the past 4 years into the skilled nursing facility to which that unit was attached. “You are hastening my death,” she moaned to me — the first sensible sentence she had uttered in months, at least the first one that wasn’t a part of her increasingly limited ‘script.’

And her words devastated me.

They proved to be prophetic. She was gone two months and two weeks later.

31 Days of 5 Minute Prompts: Day Ten — LISTEN

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This is where I do a lot of listening these days. This is my small study and these are the chairs that I use for spiritual direction appointments. I sit in the one on the right, my directees in the one on the left. And together, we listen.

We listen to his or her life, we listen for the whisper of the Holy Spirit, we listen to the silence. Listening is a tough thing to do well in today’s world. We love noise, don’t we? We like being busy, getting up and getting going. We distract ourselves in all kinds of ways. We all do it, and none of it is terrible. In fact, reading, watching well-done television or movies, napping, talking — these are good things to do. But I wonder, how well are we learning to listen while we live these busy lives of ours?

It took three years of special training for me to learn how to do this kind of listening and I’m still learning about it, every time I sit in that room. It takes time, patience, intention. And it takes skill, which is something that only comes with time and experience. This ministry is very old, having been a part of the more liturgical wing of the Christian church for centuries. But about midway through the last century, the rest of the church began to catch on. Learning to listen to our lives and to discover God speaking through them is a great gift; I love the privilege of doing it with others who desire to go further up and in.

31 Days of 5 Minute Prompts: Day Nine — PLAN

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The guy in the sailboat didn’t plan to get stuck. No, he did not. I’m sure he had high hopes of being blown gently into harbor at the end of his late afternoon sail. But something went wrong, something got stuck, or something got broken. I haven’t a clue what happened, but we could watch the crew flailing around, trying to get the sails to billow in the direction they had chosen. 

No luck.

No luck at all. Then a small powerboat made a beeline for that sailing vessel. We recognized that boat — it’s the one the local sailing instructor uses to corral his young charges when the tiny teaching boats are all out on the water at once. Maybe these folks were having a private lesson? Who knows?  All we know is that we were immensely relieved to see that small, silver craft pull up alongside the floundering sailboat. Almost immediately, the sails began to fill and the boat began to tack.

Sometimes even the best laid plans can’t happen without a little help from an expert, you know??

31 Days of 5 Minute Prompts: Day Eight — TRUTH

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I’m taking my truth in small slices these days, looking for the narrowest places to land. And here is one: this beach. It is gorgeous. The cliffs add color and interest, the harbor is just around the bend, the next point along the California coastline is visible just up the way a bit, and the seaweed is almost gone.

Even a tiny window into beauty is healing me right now, just a little peek, now and again. Beauty and gratitude are the only cures I know for a broken heart, and mine is in about a million shards these days.

So I walk.

Usually, my husband comes with me. We choose from a list of about a dozen walking routes around our town, most of them beaches, and take a vigorous 45 minutes almost every day. Just moving our bodies lifts our spirits. Couple that with beauty on every side, and the recipe is complete: heartbreak momentarily assuaged. Thank you, Jesus.

And that, my friends, is the truth for today.

A Prayer for Communion, Written for People in the Midst of Real Life

I record all my public prayers in this space, which means there will be an extra note from me in your inbox today. For that, I apologize. Maybe there’s a way to post without sending an email to subscribers? If so, I have yet to discover it. This is the prayer from last Sunday, when our new pastor and his wife had to leave unexpectedly due to a family tragedy and our associate stepped in at the last minute and asked me to assist him at communion and to offer the pastoral prayer for the morning. This is that prayer.

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Gathered as we are, Lord, around this table, this place of remembrance and celebration and recognition, it seems natural for us to talk to you about how we are, and who we are, and where we are.

And yet, as Pastor Jon has so powerfully reminded us, it’s really all about grace, isn’t it?

It’s not about us so much as it’s about YOU and how you love us.

This is hard for us to believe, Lord, we’ll admit that. We look around our world and see disaster, illness, death, and loss upon loss being suffered by good and innocent people. Ugly politics and greed-disguised-as-business-as-usual seem to rule the day, and we wonder,

“Where are you? Who are you?”

If we’re honest, that’s a primary reason we’re here today, Lord. There’s something about being together to worship you, and to ponder your word, that helps us to remember the answer to those questions of“where” and “who.”

You knew this truth about us, Lord Jesus. You knew that we would need to remember that we are joined together by “ligaments and sinews,” as the writer of Colossians put it. Yes, even when we’re not thrilled about it, even when we’re not sure we even like each other a lot of the time, even when we forget — we still belong to one another.

And we belong to you — all of us together — we belong to you: we are joined to you, for you are our head.

That’s where you are. That’s who you are.

You are the God who is with us, the God who is one of us, the God who calls us to live together in ways that are new and life-giving and graceful. The One who says ‘yes’ over us! Thank you!!

As we prepare ourselves today to receive these elements — the bread and the cup — we begin by agreeing with you that we get it wrong a lot of the time. We misread your call, we sully your design. We try to go it alone, we close our hearts to one another, and to you. Forgive us, we pray.

Remind us that we are better together.

Remind us that you put us together in the first place. Remind us that even when the world gets ugly-looking and the people we care about are struggling and everything seems to be heading to destruction with increasing speed — even then, Lord, remind us that you are good.

That you are the Ever-Present One, that we don’t walk through the tough stuff by ourselves.

And some of us are walking through some pretty tough stuff these days. Many of us are grieving, right here, in these pews. We’ve lost people we love, relationships we care about, our health, our job, our hope. Comfort us, we pray, and use us — each of us and all of us — as members of your body — your arms and legs, your hands and feet — to do that comforting.

We pray particularly today for Mindy Noyes and for her family, in the loss of her twin sister, Mara, this past week. It’s been a long and difficult journey and now a loving husband and two young children are without their wife and mom. Yes, we take comfort in knowing that Mara is with you, restored and rejoicing. But oh, Lord. Those who are left behind are struggling.

You’ve promised that you will walk with us through the valley of the shadow, so we are bold to ask you to do that in ways that are unique and personal to each member of the extended Noyes family. We also ask that you do that for each person in this room who has lost someone they love in recent months, and for each person we care about in our city and beyond, who is facing uncertainty and confusion in days ahead. There are quite a lot of us, Lord. Hear our prayer.

As we make room in our hearts for lament this day, we also want to acknowledge that lament is not the only song we sing. We sing a song of thanksgiving and we sing a song of praise. We sing a song of beauty and we sing a song of joy. We sing a song that includes both dirges and dances, a song that weaves its way into the very sinews that connect us. We sing a song of YES. Help us to sing it well, O God. Help us to sing it true.

For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

 

 

 

 

31 Days of 5 Minute Prompts: Day Seven — HOLD

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There are seasons in this life where it is hard to find something firm to hold onto. This is one of those seasons for me. Hit by loss after loss, suffering after suffering, I too often feel rudderless, like clouds adrift in the blue expanse of sky. I flutter from pillar to post, searching for something, someone, someplace to anchor myself, to stop that feeling of being caught in some kind of cosmic pinball machine. 

Dear Amy died on Thursday morning. Her heart just stopped beating at the age of 46, leaving a husband, parents, brother and friends gasping and bewildered. How can this be?

Boing.

And this is just the most recent hit, the latest big bounce in our circle of family and friends. Oh, Lord, give me a handhold, give me a place to stop, to breathe, to reflect. Yes, to weep, but also? To see beauty, to grasp permanence, to find sustenance that will help carry me through whatever tomorrow might bring, for good or for ill.

I will anchor myself in Jesus, the one who never had a safe place to lay his head, and yet managed to exude life and hope and peace. Anchor me, Lord. Anchor me in you.

31 Days of 5 Minute Prompts: Day Six — STORY

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There’s a story to this necklace. I’ve worn it quite often since the 19th of April, the day my mama died. The pearl and opal drop was a gift from my children, one Christmas, over a decade ago. The small ring was on my mother’s finger until just a few hours before her death, when I gently twisted it off and dropped it into my pocket. I knew it would not be long now, her breathing was labored, her cheeks were sinking. And I wanted that precious ring in a safe place, somewhere far away from death and dying. I wanted it as close to my own beating heart as I could get it. So it went on the chain, next to the gift from my children.

That seemed fitting to me, an inclusio, a circle of life, if you will. A continuation of the line, a union of my beginning and my continuation, a reminder that we belong to one another, even across that final demarcation line called death. My mother is forever and always a part of me and a part of my children and my grandchildren. Somehow, keeping the gift from my children and the gift from my mother connected is important to my own story, to my understanding of who I am and how I, too, will be remembered some day.

I also happen to find if beautiful.

31 Days of 5 Minute Prompts: Day Five — TRUST

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Ah, yes. Trust. 

An ongoing challenge for me. How about you?

Will I trust that, ‘all shall be well, all shall be well, all manner of thing shall be well?’ no matter what is happening around me and around the world? Or will I allow myself to spiral down, in unending cycles of worry, frustration, anger and angst? 

It comes back, of course, to trusting in the goodness of God, despite what might appear to be evidence to the contrary. It comes back to trusting in the people I love, to be there when I need them to be there. It comes back to trusting myself, and all that I’ve learned over this long life of mine. It comes back to trust when the crunch times hit. 

And, of course, the crunch times hit on a regular basis, don’t they?

Why, yes. Yes, they do.

Will I remember to use the tools I’ve gathered around me when anxiety builds and hope disappears? Will I remember the words of scripture, the prayers I’ve memorized, the breathing and exercise that have helped me learn to center myself in goodness rather than fear? 

Sometimes yes, sometimes  . . . not so much. But I’m learning. I’m growing, even though slowly. Even though aged and tired and saddened by so much of what I see and experience in this crazy world of ours. 

Even so.

I will trust. I will lean. I will let go.