Five Minute Friday on a Monday: Return

Unknown

Gentle Reader,

I was cranky last week. Anvils hammered in my head. Had a “crying mad” moment over something. Opening the laptop to chat with my blogging buddies simply didn’t happen. That’s life, I suppose. And so, this late entry.

Kate says: return.

Go.

I haven’t shared much about my attempt to read through the Bible this year. There’s the fear of sounding prideful – “Well, look at what I’m doing…” – and the fear of somehow jinxing the project – “Well, I told them about it and now I’m three weeks behind so I suck.” And to be real: I didn’t read my Bible last week. As stated above, I was in and out of a wicked headache and what I was feeling kept me from reading. Because that’s a spot that Satan loves to press; I’m feeling angry, condemned, so don’t read Scripture because that will make me feel worse because God, in reality, probably doesn’t like me very much.

Yes, I still struggle with that. Not as much as I used to, but I’m not yet free. I’d like to claim that I was, but does the world really need another liar?

Anyway, I’ve made my way to Job’s story, which I love. Many hate this book because there are no answers. We don’t get to know why God allowed Satan to wreak havoc in Job’s life. We don’t get to know why God chose to test his servant like that. Job is a mystery to us and we don’t like it. We want to be able to unravel the strands of human responsibility and Divine movements. We want to be able to say, “This is what and where and when and – most importantly – why.”

And he said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, And naked shall I return there. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

– Job 1:21 (NKJV)

That’s a profound statement. This man has just lost everything. He doesn’t know why. He maintains his innocence and his devotion to God. He puts up with his probably well-intentioned but ultimately idiotic friends spouting hot air at him. In the end, he encounters God, who gives him no answers, instead expressing His majesty and sovereignty. In short and amazingly simple language, the message of Job’s life is: We don’t always get to know.

Will we keep trusting God?

Will we return to Him, over and over?

Stop.

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And Now, The Fish Slapping Dance

Giggles

Gentle Reader,

My house is a disaster. Really. We’re down to the last room in the Grand Epic of Replacing the Floor, which means everything in my bedroom has been shoved into the guest room and everything in the guest room has been shoved into what passes for an office (that nobody ever uses) and there is detritus everywhere. The dogs can’t figure out what’s happening to their environment; in protest of the disruption, they knock over bathroom wastebaskets and generally behave badly.

I don’t know whether to laugh, cry or decamp to the nearest cheap motel.

Attempting to see the humor seems the best choice.

Did you know that Christians aren’t supposed to have a sense of humor, though? I didn’t until recently. Again, belatedly I learn that I have been doing my life all wrong. Must have lost the instruction manual. Apparently we are supposed to be deeply serious people, always and ever concerned with ruining everybody’s good time.

How sad.

Jesus went to parties, you know. As in, He was invited to parties all the time and saw no need to avoid them. Heaven certainly sounds like it’s going to be a gigantic, forever-long party, full of light, laughter and good food. For what is being in the presence of God if not happiness? If not constant smiling?

Is life serious? Of course it is. It’s also absurd. A friend texted me a couple of hours ago, relaying a story she’d seen on the news of a man who broke into a house and began doing laundry. Not his laundry. The laundry that belongs to the people whose house he broke into. Yes, theft is a sin, but that’s funny. What sort of burglar thinks, “You know, I’ll just do some washing up for these fine folks that I’m robbing?”

There are two sides to my personality; one is very serious, dark and afraid, the other ever-amused and struggling to hold back giggles at inappropriate moments. This particular blend is what it is. At nearly 34, I’ve about given up on attempting to reconcile how I can, at the same time, be both numbingly anxious and laughing so hard tears spring to my eyes. That is, I suppose, humanity.

I believe in learning, study, contemplation. I also believe in a good pie to the face. I don’t think God minds a good joke. In fact, I think He laughs. Give yourself permission to do the same. Allow yourself to see the funny, the farcical. Perhaps, in so doing, the proverbial silver lining is found.

William Makepeace Thackeray (one of the best names ever) wrote in his novel Vanity Fair,

The world is a looking-glass, and gives back to every man the reflection of his own face. Frown at it, and it will in turn look sourly upon you; laugh at it and with it, and it is a jolly kind companion.

When I frown at the world, when I dwell on all that makes me sad and scared, I find more things to be sad and scared about. When I do the work of looking up and smiling (for it is work, as all choices are), I find more things to smile about. That’s not pop psychology or self-help babble, nor is that a substitute for medication or therapy, if needed. (Real talk: I am beginning to become annoyed at having to place this disclaimer in my writing so often. I wish that anyone who ever reads here would simply, somehow, know what my position is and that I’d never have to state it again). It’s taking ownership of our thoughts an attitudes, something we are advised to do throughout Scripture.

And now, The Fish Slapping Dance. Not because it means anything. Not because it must be analyzed. Because it’s 17 seconds of sheer, unbridled silliness. It’s okay to giggle over this and promptly replay.

Bonus content: The Spanish Inquisition compilation. (Yes, I love Monty Python and yes, Michael Palin is my favorite. Some of my fondest memories involve acting out absurd, stupid sketches with old friends, both original and ones that we blatantly stole from this British comedy troupe. Please don’t sue us, gents. We have no money).

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Just Like an Israelite

Smad

Gentle Reader,

He is a boil on the butt of humanity.

– Ouiser Boudreaux, Steel Magnolias

Do you ever wonder why other people exist?

I do.

Because I am a ray of sunshine. I never do anything annoying. I am never ungrateful or ungracious. I am the epitome of all that is good and lovely. Polish my halo, nominate me for sainthood.

Eyeing the sky now, waiting for that lightning bolt.

Of course I’m just as irritating to others as they are to me. That’s who we are, what we do. All knocking against each other. Bouncing and pushing and poking. God, in His infinite wisdom, works in the midst of that jostling, patiently shaping us into the people He wants us to be. Easy to forget when we wake up on the wrong side of the bed. Hard to see when our eyes are clouded by the anger that always follows being mildly inconvenienced.

One day the Israelites started complaining about their troubles.

– Numbers 11:1b (CEV)

It’s funny, how we read the Old Testament and wonder how those people could be so stupid. They saw the sea split, the food fall from the heavens, the cloud and the fire. They experienced the Lord in great, mighty and amazing ways. The evidence of His existence and role as ruler was before their eyes each day. How could they complain? How could they doubt Him?

I wonder if we ever have the clarity to see ourselves as we really are.

We are no better than the Israelites who lived so long ago. They had the chance to step out in faith. The choice to live each day in the midst of mystery, trusting that He would always protect and provide. And sometimes they did so. Sometimes they got it right. Yet an entire generation died in the desert because the sometimes became rarer and rarer. That doesn’t mean that none of that group experienced the forgiveness of God. Scripture tells us that He always responds to sincere, heartfelt repentance with grace. That does mean that they didn’t get to experience all that He had for them.

Me today.

I’ve been cranky for awhile. Could be the weather. Could be the not sleeping well. Could be because I can. Really don’t know. All I could do today was complain. And complain. Ugh, I have to take care of this? I have to go do that? I’m so annoyed. I don’t want to. Stupid person on the road in front of me get out of the way. Mumble, grumble, definitely not feeling humble.

I wonder what I missed today. Since I kept my eyes down, on my problems (that aren’t really problems), it was impossible to see anything good. Impossible to notice the little drops of grace and peace that I know are scattered throughout the hours.

The Lord heard them and became so angry that He destroyed the outer edges of their camp with fire.

– Numbers 11:1b (CEV)

That’s something, isn’t it?

We don’t talk too much about God’s anger. It’s uncomfortable. If God can be angry, then that means we have some responsibility in this situation we call living. We make choices and they have consequences. While I truly believe in the love of God and will preach it until my dying day, part of that love is His anger. Not the reckless, fickle kind of anger we feel because we have to run an errand and we’d really rather take a nap. His anger flows from love. His affection for us is so fierce, deep and unending that He roars when we reject Him. He convicts us when we stray not because He delights in it but because He wants us to be safe, happy, fulfilled.

He’s destroying the outer edges of my camp with fire. My soul is squirming under His gaze because I know. I know I’ve been selfish today. I know I’ve focused on the wrong things. I know I’ve been whining about the provision and opportunities He has placed in my lap not because I’m amazing but because He is. I have dared to think that there could, perhaps, be something better.

When the people begged Moses to help, he prayed, and the fire went out.

– Numbers 11:2 (CEV)

Beautiful.

At any time, we can turn around. We can talk to God. We can say, “Lord, I know I’ve been an idiot today. Please forgive me. Please help me.” And He will. As quickly as the fire begins, it dies out. The hand of conviction becomes the hand of mercy. Really, it always was, for conviction is a mercy in and of itself.

I am just as they were. I really can’t say that I wouldn’t have complained about manna or longed to go back to Egypt and slavery. I’d like to think that I’d be just like Caleb and Joshua, confident and brave in their faith, but I know myself. As I sit here, eyes heavy because I am writing this later than I usually do, I am hit once again by the enormity of God’s grace. He could have wiped me clean off the planet today and been more than justified (not that He has to justify any action, because He’s God). But I’m still breathing. I get another chance.

May I learn to never take that lightly.

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Content Yo Self

Along theWay @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

I love Parks and Recreation.

Chris and I watched the show as it aired live. We’ve watched it completely through several times on Netflix. We can quote entire scenes word-for-word. Chris shares Ron Swanson’s love of woodworking and breakfast foods. At any given time I can be heard singing Jean-Ralphio’s classic, “Technically I’m homeless!” Both of us appreciate the beauty that is the Knope/Wyatt relationship. If we believed in spirit animals, mine would be April Ludgate and his would be Andy Dwyer. Chris Traeger and Ann Perkins are amazing land mermaids. Tammy 1, Tammy 2, Jeremy Jamm, Bobby Newport, Lil’ Sebastian…

Don’t worry – I didn’t forget the joy of Tom and Donna:

We are lit-er-ally P&R super-fans.

“Treat yo self” is a wonderful idea. In a culture that’s all about work, work and more work, as well as remaining constantly connected through social media and smartphones, it’s important to build a little space in our lives for relaxation. Eat a cupcake, see a movie, buy an expensive pair of shoes (that you’ve saved money for. Hashtag Dave Ramsey). In moderation, there’s nothing wrong with “treat yo self.”

But you know humans.

We just can’t seem to do anything in moderation.

In our Western, industrialized, competitive context, we swing from frenetic labor to “I’m going to go into major debt because I want that boat” without much thought. We are always striving, in work and in play, to keep up with…someone. Something. It’s rather ill-defined. We know for certain, however, that we are always and inevitably coming up short. Nothing is ever good enough. We are never good enough.

So onto the next deadline so we can get the next iPhone that we’ll have to make payments on by logging more hours.

Strangely, despite all the overtime and the missed vacation days, we lack discipline.

Really, we do. It’s not good that 40 hours a week is often understood to actually be 60, with little to no overtime pay. Or, if overtime is given, a tongue-lashing from the numbers guy comes along with it. “Yes, we need you to do this project that requires 87 hours of work but you have to get it done in 39.5. Kthanksbye.” There is no satisfaction accompanying a job well done, because the job is never done.

No discipline Monday-Friday equals no discipline on the weekends. Stay up too late, sleep too long, spend too much, drink too much, eat too much, shop too much. Hungover, emotionally or physically, we head back into the workweek, the ever-revolving hamster wheel of tasks and expectations.

On and on it goes.

Paul wrote:

…I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.

– Philippians 4:11b-12 (NKJV)

We don’t know how to do any of that. We don’t know how to be content in plenty. We don’t know how to be content in leanness. We don’t know how to be content, period.

Because we’re looking at the wrong things.

The big house isn’t going to silence the soul-gnawing sense of desperation. The corner office isn’t going to make the sacrifice of family and friends worthwhile. The string of letters on the parchment paper won’t bring peace. The money in the bank won’t achieve security.

Paul goes on:

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

– 4:13 (NKJV)

We quote this verse out of context all the time. I know I have.

Paul is grateful, and in spite of periods of difficulty, he has learned to be content (v. 11). Note that he learned this! He did not rely on favorable circumstances for his joy and strength. He found these in a higher source: in Christ (v. 13).

Asbury Bible Commentary

Doing “all things” isn’t about achievement. It’s about facing whatever the day holds in the knowledge that Chris is always present. Does that mean we deny problems? No. Force ourselves to shun treats? Of course not. Put simply, “all things,” for the believer, are mere things. Seasons. Times. Moments that pass. Christ is the end-goal, the treasure.

Knowing this is the only way that we can be content, and out of that contentment arises the ability to set boundaries. I don’t have to do the work of three people. I can say “no.” I don’t have to buy this thing that I don’t have money for. I can enjoy what I already have. Understanding that Jesus is King and that we are His children means that we don’t have to strive. We don’t have to get caught in the rat race or possess all that is shiny.

Of course, we cannot attain this perspective on our own. We’re not amazing like that. The only way we can conclude that this life, this world is not all there is and that something else matters a whole lot more is through the power of the Holy Spirit. We have to ask for His eyes. We have to ask Him for faith.

So, yes, work hard. And treat yo self. Just remember, neither in the working nor the treating does contentment lie.

Find it in the arms of Jesus.

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