Break Time

 DawnToDusk

This post originally appeared at: http://www.inspireafire.com/break-time
And yes, that moon photo is one I took recently on a drive through IA. Isn’t it amazing?

I was walking through the Wal-Mart parking lot when three individuals stepped out of their separate cars. They unknowingly fell into step with each other and headed toward the entrance. I watched in amazement as they reached out their left arms with the precision of synchronized swimmers. They moved like extensions of the same organism: first extending, then bending, then bringing their cell phones to their ears.

I don’t think any of them noticed the others. I wouldn’t have noticed them either, except for once I was not on my cell phone. I was not talking with a friend, checking messages, or otherwise engaged. I was simply walking my dog on a shortcut through the parking lot and toward our favorite park. As I went, I realized it had been a long time since I had simply walked and looked – I mean really looked – around me.

computers

All of this convenience, and yet…

There was a time when walking my dog was how I sorted through my day, just me and God and the occasional squirrel who rudely interrupted my ruminating by dashing a fluffy tail under my dog’s nose. There was a time I could say hello to the Wal*Mart greeter without him wondering if I was talking to him or the person on the other end of the line.The convenience of phones not tethered to walls means that I can squeeze in my verbal correspondence almost anyplace. With the advent of smart phones, I can even squeeze in my written correspondence while waiting in line or sitting on a park bench when I should, perhaps, be watching the sunset instead. All of this convenience allows me to connect with those whom I otherwise could never find the time to connect with. And yet…

Somewhere along the line my schedule got a little tighter. I joined this group, then that group, and worked late “just occasionally.” I volunteered for this, signed up for that, and was recruited into oh-but-you’d-be-so-good-at-this!

All of it was important. Most of it was fun. None of it could be dropped. Except of course, it could.

I’m not even sure how it happened, but it was gradual. I didn’t sign up for the next session. I stepped down for a term. I didn’t renew my membership. And suddenly I found myself walking freely across a parking lot, watching the ballet of the synchronized cell phone users and thinking: Sometimes freedom in Christ means giving Him the freedom to act in my life.

sunset road

Freedom means giving God room to act in our lives.

It’s a stunning thought, but I can hinder my own freedom by not giving God the necessary space to act in my life. When I have every minute of every day packed with activities, I am blocking God’s plans. Oh sure, God can and will use the activities I am part of, but I’m talking about that dawn to dusk treadmill that has me running so hard I might not even notice God is there. Heaven forbid He suggest I put my cell phone down and say hello to the cashier. I don’t have time for that!

It’s easier than I realized to become a slave to a schedule of my own creation. And there is more freedom than I ever imagined in letting it go… even for a short time.

It won’t be long before my little cushions of time get filled again. I’ll sign back up for this and return once more to that. But in the meantime, I am pierced by this probing question: How might God have used that time I filled with classes, sports teams, even church activities? While I am free to do as I choose, will I be even freer if I leave a little space for God to do as He chooses?

I’m taking a little break to find out.

MeOnBreak

 

Green Blessings

In celebration of St. Patrick’s Day I had the brilliant idea of taking a picture of every green thing I saw today. I quickly learned 2 things:

  1. I apparently really like the color green, because there are a lot of green things in my apartment, and
  2. God has blessed me with many wonderful things that happen to be green.

Here are some examples:

daffodils

Daffodils! It was still dark on our morning walk, but I know even in the dark that these brave flowers have some green beneath that yellow blossom. Like the birds that sing before sunrise, this early flower lets us know that good things are coming soon!

 

SewagePipe

Okay, so I’ll admit I wasn’t quite as excited to see this sewage pipe as I was the daffodils, but let’s face it. I do like indoor plumbing. (And for that matter, I like heat and hot water and electricity, too.) I’m also grateful for all the utility workers that recently put this in. That’s certainly outside my skill set.

 

doingwellsticker

This sticker greets me every time I enter my apartment. It reminds me of friends, and that no matter what I might be facing, I’m doing okay!

 

Leash

Even my dog’s leash is green. And what can I say about that? I love long walks and soft fur and the friends I have made through various canine activities. This green leash has connected more than me and my dog all these years – it has connected me to many wonderful friends and adventures!

 

dish soap

I also have a green dishtowel and green mop and green toilet brush. I can’t say that I particularly enjoy using these items, but I do always appreciate the result!

 

ovenmitts

Ahh, oven mitts. We may not live on bread alone, but a nice warm loaf that’s still fresh and crusty from the oven is a blessing I’m not going to pass up. That scent that lingers in the air… I think I can smell it…

 

addressbook

For those of you in the electronic generation, this is a paper version of your smartphone’s contact list. It comes in handy when your battery dies. I’m grateful for a handy way to organize important addresses, and most of all for all the people that fill this book.

 

safetyshower

I pass by several labs on the way to my office, and I couldn’t help but pause today at these brilliant green signs. May God shower us all with the safety of his presence today and always.

I could go on, but I think it’s your turn. What green things are all around you? You may be surprised just how many green blessings God gives you today… and every day.

He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside waters of rest (Psalm 23:2).

Think Light

I was reminded the other morning of a time when I was little and hiking through a meadow of snow with my mother. The snow was deep – at least a couple feet – but had formed a top crust hard enough to sometimes stay afloat. Especially for someone as little and quick as me.

“Think light!” I called as I ran ahead, giggling.

I didn’t stop to consider that my mother was twice my height, or that my boot print barely filled half of hers. I knew only that if I imagined I was as light as the wind and stretched my mittens far out from my sides then I could run across the top of the snow. But if I stamped my feet and hung my head and concentrated on being heavy, then I broke through with a satisfying crunch. The powdery snow underneath would swallow my legs until I was practically sitting in the snow, even though I was also still standing. I repeated my light and heavy game all the way across the meadow, calling to my mother who seemed, no matter how hard she tried, to repeatedly be sinking to her knees.

“Think light!” I encouraged her again.

And then (to my now adult amazement), she did. She rose up out of the snow with a giant leap and came running across the top. Two, three, four steps before the crust gave way and she sank back down, both of us laughing.

I was reminded of that time just recently as my dog and I made our way across the snow covered yard on our morning walk. The crust was just thick enough for her to bound along on top, while every one of my footfalls cracked through. She bowed and pirouetted and bounced back and forth, not understanding why I labored so slowly. She knew nothing of the fact that she was less than half my size. Or that her paw print barely filled half of my boot print. More importantly, she knew nothing of how weighed down I was with sleepiness, with the pile of work that awaited me, with the thoughts that ran incessantly through my head.  She knew only that the stars were still out and the air was crisp and quiet. She knew that if she jumped hard enough she could crash through the snow in a pillowy poof. Most importantly, she knew if she was light and quick on her feet, she could dance spinning circles around me, tongue hanging out and laughing eyes clearly coaxing me on. I could almost hear her say, “Think light!”

How easy it is for our foot steps to feel so heavy. And how much I needed the reminder that it is possible to raise up out of the wallow and run lightly on the surface. If I just start thinking a little lighter.

“Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest,” Jesus said. “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. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

God promises that his burden is light, which means when it starts to feel heavy, I’m focusing in the wrong direction. Just like that crusty snow, as soon as I start looking down, I feel myself struggling through knee-deep mire. The good news is that it is possible to shift my attention outward and upward. Like the mittened hands of that little girl of my memories, I can feel myself being lifted up. I need only to remember to lift my head and my hands. To focus my attention outward. To call out to help another. And to think light.

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. (Isaiah 26:3)

Come

Another of my posts recently made it onto another Christian devotional website.  You can start reading and link to this post below!

The best running advice I ever received was given to me before I became a runner.

For years, I secretly dreamed of being a runner. I wanted to be one of those people who could jog down the street while simultaneously talking to a friend. Some folks made it look so easy. Fun. Meanwhile, I had trouble holding a conversation just walking up a flight of stairs.

I had friends who were runners. Sometimes I even tried to follow their advice. Still, I failed. Until the day I received the ultimate running advice…

Continue reading at http://www.christiandevotions.us/viewblogentry/88.

Wild Trek

For many years now I have had this mental image from a favorite childhood book.  I would think of it at odd times while lying in my dorm room, or in my first apartment, or in all the apartments that came after.  It was an adventure novel of two men, braving the wilderness and struggling to survive against daunting odds.  It was the type of rough-hewn, straight-talking, no-holds-barred kind of wilderness adventure that – to the extent possible for young readers – lacked any hint of sentimentality.  Here were two men calling upon every shred of human ingenuity to survive against savage beasts, fierce elements, and harrowing terrain.

And then it happened.

One man was left waiting in a cave while his companion scouted ahead.  Despite all the hardships he had already endured, this man suddenly realizes that loneliness is the worst.  He manages to trap a snowshoe hare for food, but instead of killing the rabbit, this survival-toughened mountain man builds a small cage and gathers blades of grass.  This is the image that has travelled with me: even more than food, companionship is the greatest human need.

I recently endeavored to find this story.  I was pretty sure who the author was, and although I couldn’t remember exactly which book, I thought I would know it when I saw it.  I pulled all of Jim Kjelgaard’s books from my shelf – I even reread a couple – but the one I was looking for was not there.  I went to the library to expand my search, and as soon as I cracked the cover, I knew I had found it.  A couple hundred pages later, I was reading the words that had left such a powerful image all those years before.

“It seemed that anything was bearable as long as somebody or something was present to offer companionship.  No man was really sufficient unto himself; this loneliness was far worse than the hunger that gnawed at his belly.  Antray pulled his belt in, but he could not alleviate the gnawing in his mind as easily… Night came and he looked again at the rabbit.  He was hungry, hungrier than he had ever been before, it seemed, but he wasn’t lonely.  He’d save the rabbit…” Jim Kjelgaard, Wild Trek1

The Bible tells us that a cord of three strands is not quickly broken (Ecclesiastes 4:12).  This passage undergirds numerous spiritual lessons, from an understanding of the Trinity to the strength of marriage vows bound between husband, wife, and God.  But here’s a more general underpinning: It is not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18).

God has sent each one of us on a rough-hewn, straight-talking, no-holds barred wilderness adventure.  But He never intends for us to travel alone.  The truth of this statement is what burned this story’s image so indelibly into my heart.  Haven’t you, too, experienced the power of companionship?  Haven’t you yearned for it, been blessed by it, shared it?

Thank God for the blessing of companionship.  Then look around you, and seek out opportunities to spread this blessing to others.

“But if we are the body, why aren’t His arms reaching?  Why aren’t His hands healing?   Why aren’t His words teaching? And if we are the body, why aren’t His feet going?  Why is His love not showing them there is a way?”  ~Casting Crowns “If We are the Body”

 “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:36)

 

1Kjelgaard, J. (1950.) Wild Trek. New York: Bantam Books

Pursued

Earlier this week as I was passing through the student union, a lady suddenly came running toward a student walking just ahead of me.

“Ma’am, ma’am!” She cried.

I stepped to the side, as startled as the student who looked up from her cell phone. As I walked by, I heard the lady say:

“I will buy you your coffee.”

Apparently the student had forgotten her wallet and was unable to purchase the coffee from the little store we were walking by. This lady had noticed, and had not just offered to help, but had literally chased the student down the hall to do so.

Several days later, I keep replaying the incident in my mind. When was the last time I chased someone down in order to be kind to them?

Do good, seek peace, and pursue it, the Psalmist wrote (Psalm 34:14). Pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, Paul told Timothy (2 Timothy 2:22). Do not be overcome by evil, Paul wrote to the Romans. But overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:21).

On this day 2000 years ago, Jesus Christ pursued us. He did not just casually intervene. He purposely chased us down so that He could lay down His life in our place. On this Good Friday day of remembrance, I wish you the peace and contemplation that comes with knowing that God never gives up in his pursuit of you. He has pursued you; He has overtaken you; He has laid down His life for you.

Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends… I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you (John 15:13,15).

Journey Home

One of the best parts of any journey is returning home.

There are a few exceptions.  When I’m travelling with family and friends, I sometimes wish the trip would never end – or at least not yet.  But more often than not, by the time my plane, train, or automobile is pointed home, I am ready. I am ready to pet my dog, stand in my own shower, sleep in my own bed, be surrounded by things that are known and comfortable.

Most of my trips these days are solo sojourns.  If you’ve never travelled by yourself, let me tell you what it’s like.  It’s stressful.  And the stress is compounded if you’re travelling someplace where you don’t speak the language.  You are wholly dependent upon strangers.  (Very patient strangers!)  You have only yourself and your instincts to know which way to turn, how to find your way out, and how to find your way back.

But the curse of solo travelling is also its blessing.  You experience everything around you more deeply.  You pay attention more wholly and you interact with people you never would have interacted with.  I have had some of the most amazing personal encounters when travelling alone. I have banded together with people who, for a few intense hours or days, became my companions or my guides.

When it comes right down to it, we are all travelling alone. The Bible tells us we are like travelers in a foreign land; our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20). We band together through different seasons of life, but we are all trying to make our way home. There are moments when we wish the journey would never end – or at least not yet.  And there are other times when we cannot wait to have the worries of this journey behind us, and to breathe a sigh of relief to at last be surrounded by things that are known and comfortable.

True, our Father did not send us on this Journey entirely alone.  Jesus promised that when He ascended into heaven He would send the Holy Spirit to be our companion and our guide.  It’s not just our instincts that prompt our next steps, but the loving presence of God prodding our conscience, clearing our path, and always watching over us.  The strangers we meet along the way are never accidents.  They may be strangers to us, but no one is a stranger to God.  The Lord watches over the sojourners (Psalm 146:9a).

Where are you on your journey through life?  Are you experiencing the thrill of something new?  Grasp onto it with both hands.  Are you clawing through turmoil, exhaustion, or fear?  Keep pushing.  Are you pausing, reflecting back or planning forward? Take three breaths in, my friend, and go.  This journey isn’t over yet.  God has got a thing or two for you to do along the way.  Trust in Him.  Isn’t that what He told us?  “Therefore do not be anxious saying ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you (Matthew 6:31-33).

God’s blessings on the new year, as you continue your journey home.

 

And [Jesus] said to them, “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics…” And they departed and went through the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere (Luke 9:3,6).

Points of Music

I distinctly remember the first time I heard a bell choir.  I was at a church in southern Illinois when half a dozen ringers stepped to the second floor railing and raised their bells.  I watched, dumbfounded, as first one and then another flick of the wrist sent forth a stream of intricate notes.  Until that moment, I had never considered bells to be a musical instrument.  Bells to me were a cacophony of random sounds strung to a winter sleigh.  But here were these tiny domes pealing out a melody.  I’ve been a bells’ fan ever since.

I recently attended a concert.  The singers were good, but the highlight for me was the bells.  I sat in the darkened auditorium and smiled in anticipation as two rows of ringers walked onto the stage. I was not disappointed. In perfect order the arms came up and out and the notes began to peal.  From one end and then the other, singly, in pairs, and then together – notes chimed a ribbon of music.  How was this possible?  How was it possible for so many disconnected metal pieces to chime in such unity?  It seemed like magic.  Even thinking about it now, several days later, it seems like magic.

I understand that any band needs to work together.  There has to be teamwork.  And practice.  But the coordination of a bell choir seems to take teamwork to a whole different level.  A bell choir isn’t just blending instruments. They are the instrument.  It’s like sitting a dozen people at a piano, giving them each a single key to play, and watching them belt out Beethoven.  Each note is clearly and separately rung; there’s no hiding a mistake.  I imagine it only starts working when the ringers don’t merely read the music; they become it.

It would be easy to let Paul chime in here with 1 Corinthians 12:12.  Bell choirs seem like a custom-made analogy for the importance of individual effort and team coordination, right up there with Paul’s analogy of the Church being a body made up of many members.  Everyone has a different part. (A choir of bells all with the same pitch wouldn’t be very interesting). And everyone has to act at the right time. (Can you imagine the sound if everyone rang their bells whenever they wanted?) But the true joy of a bell choir is not the mechanical precision.  It’s the transformation from inanimate metal into something mysteriously alive.  You can talk about rhythm and tempo, pitch and melody, sharps and flats and notes. But you will never be able to capture what actually happens when dozens of bells are carried into the spotlight.  When the notes are struck, something beautiful comes into being that was not there just moments before.

We are entering into the season of bells.  Jingle bells, caroler’s bells, church bells.  Bells rung over red Salvation Army buckets and bells jingling on shopkeeper’s doors.  Many of these bells are reminiscent of daily life – rushed and discordant.  Even as we prepare for Christmas, most days feel more like clanging gongs than melodious music.  We need a Great Conductor to step in and teach us when to chime, when to remain silent, and how to rest in God’s love.

We could try to study Christmas in the same way that we could try to study a bell choir.  We could consider science, history, philosophy… but none of these can ever really capture what happens when Jesus walks into the spotlight.  Something even more beautiful than the most amazing bell choir was born into the world a little over 2000 years ago.  Out of God’s love for us, Jesus Christ came to heal the discordant pieces of our lives and to envelope us in His song. When we pause to listen, we will find that His Spirit is still chiming quietly within us. 

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal (1 Corinthians 13:1).

More than Decoration

I love my home church; it’s my local family.  But I also enjoy visiting other churches during my travels – seeing other sanctuaries, experiencing other worship styles, meeting other congregations within our extended family.

Not too long ago I had the opportunity to visit St. John’s Church just outside St. Louis, MO.  The people were welcoming and the teaching was great, but the lesson God sent home with me had to do with… are you ready for this?  The building.

My first impression was that the building looked more like a convention center than a church.  There was nothing overtly church-like about it.  The sanctuary itself was expectantly large, but the thing that struck me the most was the giant wooden cross at the front.  Even though it was the largest structure in the room, I almost didn’t notice it.  It was integrated into the framing of the room in such a way that at first glance it looked like nothing more than a supportive cross beam.  It seems like that should be more prominent, I thought.

Crosses framing a window

Crosses in the window.

I should have known right then that God had a lesson for me.

It’s easy to think of the cross as an important central feature of a church.  After all, the cross is the primary symbol of the sacrifice Jesus made for us.  It is a tangible representation of our connection back to God.  But in its original form, the cross was never just a symbol.  The cross was real.  Jesus was real.Cross in the glass.

Sometimes we hold out the cross as something separate and shiny to be given a place of prominence, and to some extent it is.  But Jesus does not want to be merely placed on a shelf to be worshipped from afar.  He could have stayed in heaven for that.  Instead, Jesus came to us, becoming fully human, so that He could live among us.  He took our sins upon Himself and nailed them to the cross so that He could live with us.  He sent the Holy Spirit so that He could live within us.  Jesus and His cross are more than decoration.  They are structurally essential.

There is nothing wrong with shiny crosses; it is good to have Christ’s cross before us.  But what’s more important is that we have Christ’s cross within us.  When others look at us, do they do a double take, suddenly recognizing the reflection of a cross?  Within our own lives, do we merely wear the cross as a decoration, or do we cling to it as our main support?

Crosses in the building.

The cross is the support beam in everything we do.

Indeed, the cross is more than a decoration.  It is functional, structural, and actionable.

Thank you, St. John’s architect, for that lesson.

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. (1 Peter 3:15)

The Trail

Take a moment and think about a trail.

What comes to mind?  I immediately think of a wooded hiking trail, but when I stop to think about it, that’s only one small facet of the term.  There are a lot of note-worthy trails.  In the United States alone there are trails shrouded in historical tragedy, like the Trail of Tears.  Or trails commemorating pioneering challenges and triumphs, like the Oregon Trail.  Or trails established to display the natural grandeur of our country, like the Appalachian Trail.

And in the state of Indiana, there is a trail of…. Are you ready for this?

Garfields.

Yes, Garfield.  You know, that irascible and nap-loving cartoon creation of Jim Davis.  Apparently Jim Davis was born in Indiana, and in commemoration there are, scattered throughout his home county, a dozen Garfield statues.  The tourism bureau has put together a map so that easily entertained tourists like me can drive along the Trail of Garfields.  Even better: there is a cell phone tour along the way.

Three Garfield statues

 

This got me thinking about trails.  The fact is our path through life covers a lot of different trails.  There are happy trails, scary trails, sad trails, fun trails, hard trails, easy trails, and yes, even Garfield trails.  Trails can be both exciting and scary, and for the exact same reason; you never know what you might find.  Some trails are clearly marked.  Some trails are so elusive we might wonder if we’ve lost our way completely.  But every trail we travel has one thing in common: We are not the first to travel it.

The very definition of a trail indicates that someone went before us to mark it out.  And the existence of a trail suggests a purpose.  After all, no one puts forth the effort to create a trail to nowhere.

The Trail of Life is no different.  Our trail has both a purpose and a destination; it’s leading us ever closer to God.  God himself marked out our trail, and He knows everything about it.  He knows every twist and turn, every unforeseen adventure, and every peak and valley.  He may allow us to be surprised by the circumstances of life, but He himself is never surprised.  He has walked this trail already.  He created this trail.

Whatever section of life’s trail you may be travelling, know that you are not alone.  The Creator of the universe Himself also created this trail you are walking.  He will guide you through.  He will guide you home.

And a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Way of Holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it.  It shall belong to those who walk on the way; even if they are fools, they shall not go astray (Isaiah 35:8).