Be bold!

“And now, Lord, look at their threats, and grant to your servants to speak your word with all boldness . . . .” Acts 4:29

What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?” This is the question that greets me every day on a little sign in my kitchen. Some days I hardly read it, some days it stops me in my tracks and I wonder, “What would I like to do with my life?” One recent morning I allowed myself to admit that I’d really like to pursue inspirational writing – really pursue it, not dabble in it once every few months – and I was overwhelmed by a sense of God’s presence, a feeling of awe and gratitude. God’s spirit seemed to be saying “Yes! You can do this. You must do this.” Later that day I received an invitation to write a series of devotionals for a Presbyterian publication. When I described to the person who had sent the invitation what I had experienced that morning we both were amazed at the timing of God’s grace.

I invite you to contemplate, prayerfully, your response to that question. Let God work in your heart to reveal hopes and dreams you haven’t yet discovered, or been willing to admit. Be bold, shutting down the voices of doubt that immediately will crowd out any timid response. It may take some practice, so go ahead and make your own sign and put it in a place where you will see it every day. And let me know what happens!

Lord, thank you for your awesome, amazing grace. Amen.

Beware

“[The scribes and the Pharisees] tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.” Matthew, 23:4

Last week I was in Florida, sitting along the shore of Lake Pierce, at the Future Farmers of America Leadership Training Center, an educational retreat center where I was leading a workshop for faculty members and administrators from Florida Southern College. It was a gorgeous day, sunny but not humid, with a light breeze. I watched an egret on the shore and a great blue heron that was chasing the egret from place to place along what must be good fishing grounds. There were occasional splashing sounds in the reeds and water in front of the dock on which I was sitting. Those sounds made me a bit uneasy, thanks to the big sign warning about the alligator. By the time I heard the splashing and looked in its direction I couldn’t see any movement, not even ripples on the water’s surface. I wondered if the sign meant that there is one alligator to beware of and I doubted it. In this context I’m guessing that “alligator” is the plural as well as the singular, similar in an odd way to “moose.”

Beware of alligator sign

What were my “take-away” thoughts from this peaceful-although-occasionally-anxious setting?

  1. Danger is a part of life, whether we can see it or not. Depending on the kind of danger (an alligator) we can take preventive measures and be pretty confident that we will be safe. Other kinds of danger (illness, loss of income) can arise regardless of what we do or don’t do, and their unpredictability brings its own anxiety.
  2. Some people have more resources to deal with danger and its accompanying fear and anxiety than other people, depending on the form of the danger and the type of resource.

I should add here that I’m reading David K. Shipler’s book, The Working Poor: Invisible in America, a very sobering account of Americans whose lives are different than my own. My parents remain married to each other (and celebrated their 63rd anniversary this year!), still are healthy, and both earned bachelor’s degrees before they had children. My dad had a steady job as a teacher and my mom was a full-time mom for my brother and me. We were well cared for and loved, got great educations, and were raised with a Christian faith that emphasized God’s love and minimized God’s judgment. I could believe in the American dream because that was my family’s experience.

Given what I’m reading, I have to acknowledge that for me to write about danger in life is like me writing about playing football – I’ve sat on the bleachers watching many games but have never played the game. So I’ll bring this essay to a close not by providing a happy, Pollyanna-type ending, but by being thankful for what I have been given in life (lots of advantages, including good health); praying for peace and justice in our country and our world; and committing to take action, in addition to prayer, for the same.

God, thank you for your loving grace, freely given and not earned. May all your children experience it every day. Give me humility and compassion, and the courage to work for justice for all. Amen.

Lake Pierce

Photo of Lake Pierce

Pushing the pause button

Pushing the pause button

“In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.” Mark 1:35.

I am reading An Altar in the World, by Barbara Brown Taylor, a book given to me by my dear friend Carol. It is full of meaty phrases and ideas, such that as I read I am sticking my fingers between the pages that I want to go back and reread right away. “Wow,” I think, “that is great. I will come back to it as soon as I read this next amazing description!” By the time I stopped to go back I had read four more pages of pithy insight.

The irony here is that I was reading about the practice of paying attention, of being immersed in the moment, rather than looking past this present moment towards the next moment. Taylor describes this as a way of being reverent, and thereby honoring the people and things around us. Fortunately, I did go back and relish the points I wondered at, and I marked up the page so that I can go back and find them again more easily. It took a little time to do this, but not much.

Call it what you will – stopping to smell the roses, pushing the pause button, practicing reverence by paying attention – doing so this morning allowed me to soak in the thoughts that caught my attention rather than having them ricochet off me before I could grasp them and  hold them and truly appreciate them. I will not spend my whole day this way, pausing to see or hear and appreciate the people and things around me. I wouldn’t get out of my house and yard if I did! But it is good to pause for five or 10 minutes to soak up the rain of blessings that bombard me daily.

Thank you, God, for the wonders of your creation that stop us in our tracks. And thank you for people whose gifts to help us appreciate your creation all the more.

Changing plans

Changing plans

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.” Jeremiah 29:11-12.

How important it is to stay flexible and fluid, especially when it comes to driving in winter! My plan for this morning was to pick up my son from the bus in New York City, spend time with him, and then hit the road to Maine where I will spend Thanksgiving with my “Maine man” and his kids. As of last night the impending nor’eater was putting a crimp in those plans, with its rain projected to turn to snow, steadily precipitating throughout the day and into tonight. I was thinking that it would be smarter to stay put today and make the 400 mile drive tomorrow, still arriving on Thanksgiving day.

The phone call last night, an update from my son about a mix-up with the bus ticket, meant that I’ll be driving to Philadelphia today to pick him up. Weather forecast: rain, no snow south of here. Good news! I’ll get to spend more time with my son, and Plan B (drive to Maine tomorrow) still is in place. No worries, no upsets, and (I hope) no accidents along the way.

I am well aware, however, of the saying “When we make plans, God laughs” so I know that my plans may have to change yet again. Like trees that bend in the wind but do not break, being both flexible and steadfast today will help me to weather this storm. I will pray for safety for everyone who is traveling to spend time with loved ones, whether their travels take them on plane, train, bus, car, boat, bike, or on foot.

Lord, today I will cherish the journey and the destination, blessing the strangers along the way as well as my loved ones at the end of the road. Amen.

A direct connection

A direct connection

“Word of God, speak, would you pour down like rain, washing my eyes to see your majesty, to be still and know that you’re in this place . . .” – from the song “Word of God Speak” by MercyMe

[This post was written Oct. 11, 2014] It is a dark and rainy morning in New Jersey. I have an unscheduled day and am enjoying a slow morning – reading the Bible, reading Anne Lamott, listening to the rain and a bird chirping. The rain is a gift, slowing me down and canceling my plans for yard work. I can be still for a while and let the beauty of nature and the love in the words sink into my heart. I thank God that I can pray right here where I am sitting, without having to download a new version of a prayer “app”, without having to sign in to my account, and without first having to charge my phone or tablet or other device. Prayer is an opportunity to connect with God and get my batteries charged, drawing on the food and power of God’s Word and Spirit. “Give us this day our daily bread” is for me today, “Give us this day our time with You, Lord, so that we can get grounded, centered, and ready to be compassion and action in the world.”

Lord, I praise you for your creation, for your nourishing rain, and for the direct connection of prayer. Amen.