Stillness in trials

A young friend is dealing with harsh realities and the changing of her normal.  She is learning stillness in this trial.  Her email revealed her pain but it could not hide her faith.

As I consider her place, my thoughts go back to the year 1982, the Thanksgiving when my mother’s cancer diagnosis tookMother in 1982 over our lives.  She sat at the table that year barely eating anything because she had trouble breathing, but she didn’t want us to know it.  She didn’t want to spoil our holiday.  That was my mother.

Before the weekend was over, she was in the hospital having fluid drained from her lungs, the first of several times during the coming holidays.  It was the beginning of the end of her earthly life.  And it was the beginning of the changing of my normal. The changing of my world.

I could not imagine my life without my mother.  I was 32, and he was still my best friend.

That Thanksgiving ushered in a change in me, and it sent me on a search. I had to face all the things I thought I knew about prayer and faith and believing.  My mother was dying, and I could not change that no matter how hard I tried.

It was a journey of several months that took me to God’s words about faith, about trusting Him even when I don’t get what I desperately want.  I learned in that process that the greatest faith is trusting Him even though.  Even though the fig tree is bare.  Even though the cattle stall is empty.  Even though the fields do not produce a crop. Even then, He is God and He is good and He is deserves my worship.

It was one of the hardest trials of my life and a lesson of stillness, resting the results with the Father who loves me and knows what is best for me and for those I love.

I try to figure out what others need and pray that for them.  I ask for my needs when I pray.  I am specific and sometimes I am vague.  I often feel like my prayers are feeble.  Yet I find peace in this: God knows what I need before I ask; the Holy Spirit intercedes for me according to the will of God; and Jesus my Great High Priest, has gone beyond the veil of the Holiest place to provide mercy and grace for every need.

One of my favorite authors, Jan Karon who writes about a small town called Mitford, often quotes in her book about “the prayer that never fails.”  She is referencing these simple words, “The will of the Lord be done.”

Some may disagree, that instead we should utter commanding prayers and believe to receive what we want.  I think the pathway to stillness is trusting a mighty God who can do the impossible and who will do what is best for me, for Sweet William, for my Tulsa family too-far-away, and for other family and friends.

I still get specific when I pray.  More often these days, I finish with “Your will be done in all of it.”  In my feeble way of expressing myself, God sees the deeper needs and knows how to accomplish His purpose in it all.

Your will be done, Father.  If it was good enough for Jesus, then it must be good enough for me.

Today  I am listening to this:

Stillness

Lord, teach me that stillness is more than just a place where no troubles exist.

Help me learn that stillness is possible even in the worst of scenarios, even in the horror of persecution or death.

Teach me that stillness can be in me even if it is not in others.

And in my learning stillness, let me know You.

Be Still, My Soul”
by Catharina von Schlegel, 1697-?
Translated by Jane Borthwick, 1813-1897

Be still, my soul; the Lord is on thy side;
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain;
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul; thy best, thy heavenly, Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

Be still, my soul; thy God doth undertake
To guide the future as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence, let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul; the waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below.

Be still, my soul, though dearest friends depart
And all is darkened in the vale of tears;
Then shalt thou better know His love, His heart,
Who comes to soothe thy sorrows and thy fears.
Be still, my soul; thy Jesus can repay
From His own fullness all He takes away.

Be still, my soul; the hour is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord,
When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul; when change and tears are past,
All safe and blessed we shall meet at last.

Learning to be still

We spoke it last night and then again this morning as I sat with four precious Christ-sisters digging into what Matthew had to say about Jesus.  It is the challenge of being still.  Jesus had that quality about Him.  He was never intimidated by Pharisaical questions or attitudes.  He was never deterred from his course.  He was never flustered in the middle of the unexpected.  His was not a reactive lifestyle but a purposeful mode of living.

In a chaotic world, how do we learn to live like that?  How do we still ourselves?

I am typically not a still person until lights are out and my head finally rests on the pillow.  I am moving and shaking most all day.  Let me clarify that I am not necessarily being productive in all that moving around.  Sometimes I’m just here and there, flitting from one small project to another, cleaning up one mess then another.  And if my body is not moving about then you can be sure my mind is going 65 miles an hour.

I wonder if I know how to be still.

I learned to do things.  Pick up my toys.  Put away my books.  Clean my room.  Iron my clothes. I was taught to work hard, finish the project, study to get good grades.

Who taught me to be still?

Growing up I was taught and observed Christian disciplines.  When I visited my aunt and uncle’s house, I saw my Grandpa Lockard in his bedroom sitting in a comfy chair reading his Bible.  My mother gave me devotional books to help me cultivate a daily connection with God, and my dad was an example of praying every single day no matter what.

I have learned that I need a quiet time with God every day, and I have chosen the mornings.  But how do I practice being still all day long?

As my sisters were preparing to leave this morning after our study, we determined to practice being still. We are on a mission to learn stillness.  It will be quite a challenge as we enter what is for most of us the very busiest time of the year. The Thanksgiving-Christmas Rush starts like a slow-moving locomotive around October then picks up speed and barrels down the track at breakneck speed and nobody better get in the way. Because this train’s moving!

Wouldn’t it be different to spend the next few weeks with patches of stillness thrown into our days? Wouldn’t it be peaceful?  Wouldn’t it change things?  Wouldn’t it change me?

I am determined to learn how to be still before the Lord, to know even more than I do now that He is God, that He is in control, that He has a plan for my life and for those I love, that He will redeem the ugly and make it beautiful, that He does hear prayer, that He is more than enough for whatever I need.

“Be still and know that I am God,”   It’s an invitation from the Ancient of Days.  “Come and know me.” What God is like that?  What kind of God made Himself small enough for Mary’s womb?  What kind of God put on skin like me so that I could be transformed into being more like Him?

Yes, what kind of God is this, calling my name, bidding me to come?  This is an invitation I cannot refuse.

Will you join me?

Counting down

Thanksgiving is less than a week away, and already I’m feeling the crunch of time.  Not about Thanksgiving because it is my favorite time of year.  I’ve already shopped for my non-perishable food items at Senior Day.  I’ve planned my special recipes preparation and marked my calendar for next week.

 

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It is not Thanksgiving that overwhelms me.  It’s Christmas.  The season, not the reason.

I normally don’t watch commercials on TV.  They are my chance to get a snack or change fresh-washed laundry to the dryer or take little dog out or any number of quick tasks that can be completed during that three to four minutes of time.

I prefer to DVR programs and zip fast-forward through commercials.  Because they entice me to do something I don’t need to do, to buy something I don’t need to buy, or to be someone I am not.

However, last week, I sat through several commercials.  It was a mistake.  I saw perfect Christmas ideas on display at every flash of the next advertiser.  Perfectly decorated homes.  Perfectly dressed hostesses, husbands and children. Perfect table settings with perfectly garnished food presentations.  Perfect families all gathered for the perfect holiday.

And suddenly I am overwhelmed.  My opportunity for a perfect holiday season is flying away like the last few leaves on the trees.  Time’s a’wasting and I am not ready.  My relaxed anticipation of Thanksgiving around the table is stolen by someone else’s expectations.

And I know that expectations can be deadly.

I’ve glimpsed into the arena of what it takes to pull off a movie or commercial.  My one and only son has worked on both.  We talked about the process and how people work and plan to make something look different from what it really is.  Make something new look old and worn.  Make something small look large.  Make something fake look real.  It’s all a facade to help the viewer see something that is not.  It’s an illusion.

Christmas can be an illusion.  We try to make it all just right, the house, the food, each other, to present the facade that we are happy and put together.  If we are not exactly perfect then at least we are OK, with a happy smile and a big red bow.

Yet Christmas came because we are not OK.  None of us are OK.

We all need a Savior, one who is more than OK, One who is perfectly complete and mighty to save.  He is the only One who can paint the Christmas picture  His message is reality not illusion.

God sent a tiny helpless infant to a man and woman who struggled to cope.  They were surrounded with criticism and unbelief.  They traveled a long hard distance and not in a one horse open sleigh with bells ringing happily.  Their only shelter was a foul-smelling place, and dirty shepherds would be their surprise night visitors.

This is not a Hallmark card.

So how do I round the corner after Thanksgiving and enter the Christmas season with joy instead of dread, with patience instead of frustration, with grace and peace and joy instead of high expectations of perfection?

I’m not sure I have all the answers to that difficult question.  I do know I need to turn to the original story and remember what this holiday season is about.

I think Linus, a favorite little Peanuts character, had it right all along.

Linus at Chrismtas

Linus’ Christmas monologue 

Slow day

100_3270100_3254 100_3257 100_3266We awoke to snow on the ground in mid November.  It was predicted but a surprise to me.  A nice surprise.

I love the first snow of the season, the white covering everything to make it look clean and fresh.  Even the ugly looks pretty.  Little dog is not so fond of snow when we go outside, but he endures and we both breath in the crisp coldness and beauty of the early morning.

It seems a special day, one to be cherished and celebrated.  So I fix homemade drop biscuits, something Sweet William and I don’t eat so often ever since Weight Watchers became part of our routine.  The fresh sausage and tomato omelet taste delicious. I dribble honey on my hot buttered biscuit.

The day seems to slow.  Music plays on the CD player.  I am not in a hurry to get to my list of things to do.  Dishes still soak in the sink.  I am just enjoying the snowflakes falling outside my window and the warmth of the fireplace and the company of loved ones near.

Every day does not have to be a race.  As Ann Voskamp says so wisely, “Life is not an emergency.”  There are moments to be tasted, experiences in which to delight, sights and sounds to feed my soul.  If I will slow myself down long enough to see the gift and receive it as it is, then life really can be abundant.

I’ve been given so much.  Richness is at every turn.  Beauty is free for the taking.  Love is all around.

What shall I do with it?  Ignore it in my hurry to get from here to there?  Glance at the faces in front of me while I look for other faces to connect with?  Take for granted what is here and now?

Dear Lord, forgive me for doing that too much, for not appreciating your daily bread and good gifts.

Today, I enjoy the slowness of a snow day.  Perhaps I will learn the lesson and practice it tomorrow also.

Sunday thanksgiving

November, the month of giving thanks, is a reminder.  And I need to be reminded that every good and perfect gift is from a Father and great God who eternally loves me, is completely unchangeable, and is forever faithful.  While His gifts are always good, I may not always perceive them that way because my perspective is small, mostly self-focused, and limited to this moment of discomfort.

So I give Him thanks today as I should upon every waking morning.  It is good and right to give thanks. For everything.  In all circumstances.  For the Almighty is working out His will in and through me, to conform me into the image of His Son, Jesus. And that, my friends, is a long and slow and sometimes painful process.

Giving Him thanks is making me a little more like Christ Jesus.

4367 – For morning light breaking the darkness.

4368 – For food cooking on the stove

4369 – For fire that warms me

4370 – For little dog asleep and content

4371 – For Sweet William shaving in preparation for church and Sunday school

4372 – For warm coats on this cold day

4373 – For pastor and teacher who studied last week in order to teach me what is looks like to be a Christ follower

4374 – For a friend who said she prayed for me last week (oh, how I needed that!)

4375 – For the Bible on my lap and in my hands, His very Word to me

4376 – For music to usher me into the throne room of worship

My list could go on and on because the gifts go on and on.  Giving thanks makes me feel better this morning, proof once again that God’s instructions and commands are for my good.  And that is something to be thankful for.

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Come to the table

Have I mentioned that my favorite all-time holiday is Thanksgiving?

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No trying to guess the perfect gifts to buy.  No struggling with a tree to put up and decorate.  No ladders and lights on the house.  No obligatory cards with expensive postage stamps to send.  (Sorry, sometimes I am a bit bah-humbug-ish about all the trappings of Christmas.  I will most likely write about that in December.)  Thanksgiving is just a much simpler holiday.

At Thanksgiving, we come to the table, and there is more going on then just filling our tummies.

I have fond memories of childhood table times when my family gathered to share a meal. Laughter and story telling were as regular as mashed potatoes.  Pastors and their families, soldiers far away from home, missionaries often sat with my parents, aunts, uncles and cousins.

We miss a lot by driving through for meals.  We eat on the run on our way to some place else.  Or we sit in front of the TV so we can catch up on the pre-recorded programs we just can’t miss while we scarf down our food.  All eyes are glued to a screen – instead of each other.

I’m as guilty as the next person so please don’t think I am throwing stones.  I live in a glass house myself.

But I am learning to value the ministry of the table.  With Sweet William and me confined to the house a lot lately, our coming and going is limited.  What we can do is invite people to come sit at the table with us.  It might be a home-cooked meal or simply store-bought muffins and coffee.  Either way, there is something precious and meaningful going on, and we are the richer for it.

So I look forward to the Thanksgiving table.  The food will be wonderful of course, more than we will be able to eat.  The special recipes we’ve been enjoying since our parents were the primary cooks will be there along with new and fresh dishes from the younger generation.  We will come hungry and eat too much.  After the main meal and the sampling of several desserts, we will settle back with cups of coffee, looking through Black Friday ads as some plot the course for shopping.

At the table we will reminisce and catch up.  We will laugh and maybe cry a little.  We will share ideas and opinions.  We will find our hearts longing for those not with us this year, and we will treasure each person who is present.

At the table I hope we accept one another with our differing opinions and gifts and strengths and weaknesses.  It is the way Jesus sat at table with such a variety of people.  Scripture records Him often enjoying food with disciples and friends.  He always brought His most tantalizing dish, His love for those sitting close.  He offered them a taste of abundant life and deep drink of living water.  Some partook.  Others went away still hungry and thirsting for things that cannot satisfy.  Still Jesus offered.

While our table setting is different, the principle remains the same.  Sharing the table is a way we share ourselves.  And we hope others accept our gift.

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The table gives us time to sit and just enjoy, not just the food but one another.  We don’t always allow ourselves that luxury in the busy world in which we live.

I will soon be making my grocery list for Thanksgiving, ingredients for my own special dishes, my standard repertoire.  As I cook I will remember other years and rejoice in the gift of time to enjoy family and friends.

This year I will linger at the table and will remind myself to treasure these moments.  We never know if it will be our last time to be with the ones we love.

So no matter how far or how much effort it may take this Thanksgiving, come to the table.  Take time, my friends.  Sit awhile.  Relax.  Love those around you at the table.   There is ministry going on.