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Archive for June, 2011

Finding God in a headache

Call me a natural born cynic, but often finding God in one’s day is no easy task. This is how I felt last night as I sat down to write on what is becoming “blog night”. Truthfully, I’d almost forgotten that I was planning to write, and when I did remember, it was with a heavy heart. I didn’t want to write and answer the question of the blog! The week has been busy, but it was a good busy. It’s just that the headache battle has been raging this week, and that has got to be the toughest time to see God, especially when life continues full to the gills with activities. Meds, physio, heat and cold packs are all brought out as weapons in the battle but just plain survival seems to become the name of the game, never mind seeing God. I started noticing a brittle cynicism creeping in around the edges. I notice it when I start to see the worst in students and friends, or that angry impatience while waiting in traffic. I started to write a draft last night. It was all “true” but it didn’t feel like it was coming from the heart, and I gave up. The dramatist in me wondered if I’d ever be able to write another blogpost again. I said a prayer which felt like it bounced right back down on me off the ceiling, and went to sleep.

Went to sleep until 2:30 in the morning that is, when the headache woke me up. This one wouldn’t let me sleep, and I found myself on the couch melting into a puddle of frustrated tears. “God, where are you in this? You gotta show me something here, cause I can’t see You on my own.” After some meds (always taken reluctantly) kicked in, sleep began to come, but it was a “half-awake” kind of sleep. If you see me today, I may appear zombie like!

As I lay there, a snippet of a song came to me, and I’ll tell you, it left no doubt in my heart that God met me in this dark place. They are two verses from the book of Lamentations in the Old Testament:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, His mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning, new every morning. Great is your faithfulness Oh Lord. Great is your faithfulness.” Lamentations 3:22-23

It wasn’t like I was trying to convince myself of this truth and be “preachy” to myself. It’s a mystery to me how this happens, but the verses simply were, and are, true. They were like a medicine or like a balm that washed over my heart and gave me solace. I understood that even in these places of struggle (and

I know many of you reading have it harder than I do), God was with me, and that love and mercy were bigger than this. I felt very grateful, and I feel vulnerable to say it, but I felt like a kid being comforted by a really great parent, remembering that all was going to be ok.

It’s dark when you’re alone at 4 a.m., but I found out that a Hand can extend to me there anyways, inviting me to trust, proof of light beyond my understanding.

 

 

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God gave…

Do you ever hear something that stays with you, weaving like a thread in your thoughts during the week? Last Friday, I heard something that immediately struck me as “the” topic I’d write about on this blog. I haven’t have the time to write it out till now, but the thought has been percolating like that good coffee I love.

Together with my friend Marilyn, we watched a 45 minute interview featuring one of our favorite theologians, a brilliant and wise man named Walter Brueggemann, on the radio show called On Being (a show with podcasts I highly recommend).  What caught my ear and stayed with me was a comment he made about scripture.

The Bible can be a tricky book to understand, considering the many cultures, languages, and histories that are behind it all. It is a rich book, but anyone who has studied it comes up against this struggle. It is a lot like our lives – where is God amid all the very human dramas that mark our days?

Brueggemann said something helpful about meeting God in these pages. Rather than laboring under the thought that we have to grasp it completely,  he suggested to let scripture come to us, as it will, in fragments. I liked that view of how God can speak to us. Since the Bible is such a rich and complex book, it helps take the pressure off of having to “get it all” and leaves God as poet to speak to us in more mysterious ways.

As I listened to Brueggemann speak, a scripture fragment from my childhood came to mind and as if to prove his point, it suddenly burst like a firework into a deeper meaning. The verse was one that everyone and their dog had to memorize when I was growing up. Dutifully, we’d get up in Sunday School class and recite the verse. It became as much part of our consciousness as the Pledge of Allegiance does to Americans. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16

Oddly, it was a story I heard about this verse that stayed in my child’s imagination, a story I must have heard in Sunday School. A child had found a piece of paper with this verse on it, except the paper was torn so all that remained were the words, “God so loved the world that he gave…” Gave what, the child wondered? I became the child as I pondered the question. I don’t remember any answers that I came up with, but the torn paper with its message of generosity stayed with me.

I think this verse fragment is beautiful on its own. God gave. I have often believed the opposite, that God was taking things away from me.  I was terrified of being judged for my sins and being sent to hell as a kid (I don’t know if I’ll ever completely outgrow this one…growing up in church culture can have odd side effects!) Our family lost my oldest sister to leukemia when I was 7. Later, marriage troubles and headaches further led me to believe that God was taking away, not giving.

As I’ve gotten older, I realize a shift has taken place. My view of God has been healing, from God the taker, to God the abundant Giver. The circumstances of my life have not changed, but my perspective has begun to. There’s a story in the New Testament about Jesus turning  a measly 5 loaves of bread and 2 fishes into a feast for thousands. Instead of worrying over scarcity, Jesus always assumed abundance in God’s kingdom. The faith community I hang out with practices assuming the same thing. We do not do this perfectly by any means, but it has been changing the way I see God and the world. God is constantly giving. Even in tough circumstances like ill health, God gives. God perhaps doesn’t give us what we think we need, but always gives abiding love so that a rich and meaningful life with God trumps the circumstances.

And so a list has been forming as I have been thinking this week of all that God has given me. Among them:

  • Parents who passed on faith in God to me, and who I have been lucky enough to know as an older adult, after my own rebel years with them have passed and I am more at peace with them.
  • A faith community which has shown me God’s generosity and love and wisdom over and over in so many tangible ways over many years, and all with a huge dose of laughter. One of the biggest gifts they gave Lyle and I was showing us a way through our early marriage troubles 18 years ago. I don’t know where I’d be without this motley crew of friends.
  • God has given Lyle and I this wonderful son who is now a whole 20 years old, working in Germany for the summer. He constantly amazes us with his exuberant love of life and learning and his unique interests. We miss him dearly but are so happy that he’s happy on his adventure overseas this summer.
  • Despite a somewhat rocky start as a teacher (chalk it up to needing to grow up), I am becoming more, not less, happy in my work with kids. This may sound inconsequential, but I didn’t ever think I’d say it.
  • The battle with headaches has continued, but I have learned that I am not ever cut off from meaning and peace from God no matter what my outward circumstances are. Again, that might sound obvious, but there was a time when I didn’t know that. That’ll probably be a blogpost all on its own sometime.
This Sunday, 5 of us are running the relay in the Manitoba Marathon, our third time around. We called ourselves the KOG runners. If anyone ever asks me what KOG stands for during the relay, I tell them between my panting breaths, that KOG is the Kingdom of God, and I tell them about the 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish that fed 5000 people, and about how our team believes in a God that makes miracles and changes perspectives. I always hope these people don’t think I’m a lunatic! I’m certainly not out to convert anyone, but perhaps a small fragment of what I’ve said will stay with them. A small fragment that will someday perhaps bring hope to a world that so desperately needs it.

One Thing is Needed

I usually pack my weekends full to the gills with errands and “to do’s”. I’m one of those people who can’t quite fathom people like my hubbie Lyle who finds it easy to kick back and relax with a book or even watch a golf game on TV. Groceries, food and school prep, cleaning (this one feels the least important!), running; all these fill my days and evenings. I’m a typical “Martha”, a reference to the New Testament story of the two sisters Mary and Martha. Martha was running around serving food to Jesus, but Mary was just soaking up his company. Jesus gently chided Martha – “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things but only one thing is needed.” (Luke 10:41-42) In the midst of a distracted and busy to-do list, the last thing us Martha types want to hear is “Only one thing is needed”, but this is what my good friends often remind me of. Being distracted by the many things can be a way of avoiding the one true thing, as if I don’t even want to hope that God exists.

Last Saturday was one such Martha day. Sometimes getting a list done is focused and even joyful when my perspective is good, but this day I was distracted by body aches. This can be a fast track to my view of the world getting small and miserly, like Scrooge in the Christmas Carol before his conversion. I might has well been a whiny kid with all the inward discontent rumbling around.

But one event on the to-do list brought me to the “one thing” Jesus reminded Martha of, and that was music practice.

I am blessed to have two friends, Eldon and Marilyn, who love music and who serve as music leaders with me for our house church Watershed.  We honestly don’t do anything fancy, but it’s amazing what two guitars and some heartfelt singing can do for the soul. With Marilyn’s great voice and Eldon’s “melt your heart” guitar playing, more often than not, we end up being met by the music.

Our routine is to get together, read the scripture for the coming Sunday, and figure out what songs would fit with the themes. We are usually three frumpy people caught up in our busy days, but something happens when we begin to sing together. On this Saturday, I couldn’t help but notice how the music became a balm for the earlier discontent.  It is hard to describe exactly what I mean by this. I certainly don’t mean it in a sugary or flaky way. It’s more like I was reminded that there’s a bigger Story than the particulars of how I’m feeling at any given moment, which I know can be as variable as the clouds or sun that come and go. It felt like a relief actually, remembering that my small story is not all there is. My heart grew softer again and the to do list certainly didn’t feel as pressing. Like Mary exemplified, just being is good enough.

Martin Luther, the 16th century leader of the Reformation, once said that when we sing, we pray twice as well. I often think of his words when singing becomes praying for the 3 of us. “Heal the scars of division,” we sang. “Bind us together.” And I was reminded through another of my favorites, that instead of sitting in discontent, I can “cast my cares on God, for He cares for me.”

The criteria for “Where was God in my day?” is that my small world becomes bigger and that peace settles in where discontent used to be. It’s not a peace that is disconnected with the tough things of life, but a peace that comes from knowing that no matter what the weather, there’s a mysterious presence that will accompany me. Being aware of God is the one thing that is needed, but I don’t even need to worry if I mess that goal up, because God always remembers me and keeps reminding me that I’m not alone.

By the way, today’s picture is from http://www.vladstudio.com, a website with amazing pictures.

 

 

 

 

Circle of Grace

I have a story of where God was today, but before I get to it, I wanted to reflect on this whole business of “seeing God”. What exactly does it mean anyways to “see God in one’s day”? Most people would not disagree that we see God in a loved one, in a scene of beauty, a great meal or in the kind acts of others. But if you’re like me, we can be pretty blind when we’re anxious, distracted by some worry or rushing around. Or all of the above!

Seeing God and having our hearts changed involves a certain “letting go” of the way we normally rush around. When my way of doing things leads me to some kind of dead end, my stubborn blinders

start falling off in my need for a better way. The Bible talks about this as becoming “poor in spirit”.  In fact, the Bible says we’re even blessed to be poor. It’s a mystery that I usually resist living into, but it always ends up being true.

On to today’s story.

I start each day with some reading from scripture and today I quickly became aware that I was feeling down because of this crazy habit I have of comparing myself to others. You’d think I’d be grown out of this by now, but even at 50, it still has a sneaky way of wiggling into my thoughts at times! I used to try to analyze it, but over the years I have started to see it just as a weak link in the old DNA (talk about poverty!)

So as I sat down with my coffee and my book, I first realized that reading scripture was the last place I wanted to be. Sometimes misery doesn’t want to be exposed to new possibilities. But, the coffee was so good that I decided to hang in there. I usually read the day’s scripture and see if there’s anything that jumps out at me. It wasn’t long before I saw it, the verse that seemed to be speaking “just to me”, addressing my being. It was in the New Testament and was about how we see ourselves.

“The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him.” Romans 12:3 (Message translation).

How I heard this from God, addressed to yours truly, was this, “Lydia, you so often think you need to do it all, to be capable and good. In some subtle way, you kind of take over the God role and do all the worrying, when really you’ve forgotten there’s a bigger picture at work. Remember you don’t need to be ‘as good’ as anyone, because you’re already accepted and forgiven. That’s what I have already done for you, like the verse said.”

With a prayer of thanks and for continued help, I went into my day, but the down feelings kind of followed me until later in the afternoon when my thoughts searched back to the verse. What was that word I heard earlier? Oh yeah, I didn’t need to earn my way to God’s favor, because it was already in place. Heck, I didn’t even need to try to conquer the down feelings. Maybe I could entrust those to God too.

Reflecting on the verse in that moment was a small pause in the day (done even as I was interacting with my students at the Pow Wow we went to today). As small as the pause was, a while later, I noticed that the down feelings were replaced by a peace, like the clouds that had blown over during our afternoon field trip.

The truth of God’s acceptance of me, “warts and all”, is something mysteriously healing and is beyond my understanding in its power to fix me. Carl Ridd, who was one of my cherished university profs, used to say that to “understand” something meant to “stand under” it. I caught a small reminder today of standing under God’s view of things. My response was gratitude and as we got up to dance in a crowded circle in a hot gym with all the smiling students and teachers, I saw everyone contained in the bigger circle. All of us God’s children, all of us cherished, all of us imperfect, yes, but above all, loved.

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