Choose the Quiet

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

…aspire to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands…

– 1 Thessalonians 4:11b (NKJV)

In 2002, Gary Jules covered the Tears for Fears song “Mad World” for the movie Donnie Darko. While I have never seen the film, the soft piano notes at the beginning of the song are instantly recognizable. I know that a quiet, breathy male voice will soon tell his story, a story that doesn’t quite make sense. Of course, with a title like “Mad World,” it’s probably not supposed to make sense.

I find it kinda funny, I find it kinda sad…

Repeated throughout the song, these phrases could be my anthem. I find it funny, as in odd, how the art of reasonable conversation has been lost. I find it sad, too. I find it odd how impossible it is to turn off the noise. Sad, too. Blame social media, blame news organizations, blame whoever and whatever you’d like to blame, but there is no denying the tension that hangs in the air, thick and oppressive.

No denying that our world is, perhaps, a mad place.

And so my verse for the year.

We have to live here. No jumping on a ship bound for Mars. Nothing would be different on Mars, anyway, because we’d be there. The problem is us. We’re stuck with that fact, stuck with each other. Yet we don’t have to live as though this is all there is. We don’t have to maneuver for the best position, the greatest influence, the largest pile of stuff. We don’t have to scrabble and scrape and step on each other. There is a different way.

That way is hēsycházō.

…to keep quiet; to rest, cease from labor; to lead a quiet life, said of those who are not running hither and thither, but stay at home and mind their business; to be silent, i.e. to say nothing, hold one’s peace…

Old / New Testament Greek Lexical Dictionary

Did you know that you can rest? Did you know that it’s okay to have empty spaces on your calendar? Did you know that you don’t have to speak to or about every single issue? Did you know that it’s okay to unplug and unwind?

Did you know that quietness is a command?

God knows more and better than we ever can. How easily we forget this truth. Our minds can’t handle the 24-hours news cycle, which seems to have shrunk to 8 or less. Our hearts can’t handle the constant stress that comparison brings, an inevitability in the age of Facebook and Twitter. Our spirits can’t handle screaming and straining every moment of every day. We are finite. Fragile. Made from the dust that I am constantly working to banish from my home.

Yes, it is true that burying our heads in the sands of denial and ignorance does no good. We are commanded to be quiet, but we are also commanded to be watchful (see Matthew 24:42-44, 25:13). Knowing what is going on is necessary. Making time to engage with the issues of the day is important. This life of faith does not equal mush-brain and hiding. We have to think. We have to learn. We have to grow.

What we don’t have to do is deny our fragility.

Before God made people, He made a garden. He stepped back and looked at everything – mighty trees, dainty flowers, cascading waterfalls. He heard the snuffling of furry creatures and the fluttering of bird’s wings. He paused, took it all in and declared it good.

If God, who has no need for rest, took the time to enjoy the simple beauty of a garden, then who are we to think we can cope with incessant noise?

There is business. There is work. Bills have to be paid and food has to be on the table. Homes must be cared for and jobs must be done well.

There is also the silence of snow falling at midnight. The rise and fall of a dog’s chest as he naps. The feel of a clean pair of socks.

We need space. We need to turn off the computer and tune out the ping of smartphone notifications. For an hour or two. Just long enough to sip coffee and gaze out the front window. Just long enough to gain control over raging emotions and lashing tongues. Just long enough to keep from gossiping. Just long enough to keep from committing to too many things out of guilt or fear. Just long enough to remember that God carries the weight of the world, not us.

We need to choose the quiet.

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Five Minute Friday: Five

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Gentle Reader,

Tonight for the five lead by Kate, we write on: five.

Go.

Sometimes the crap hits the fan, and there’s no disguising the mess. Or smell.

Car.

Dishwasher.

Dog.

My faithful buddy, the fat and neurotic Benny, has congestive heart failure. He’s somewhere around 12-13 years old, so it’s not entirely surprising. But so hard. So very hard. The kind emergency vet lady gave him lasix pills, which seem to be helping, yet I know that the end of his life is nearer than the beginning. I can’t even start to think about what it will be like without him pressed up against my hip as I sit, curled up in the couch corner, tapping away at the keys.

Blessed are those who mourn,
    For they shall be comforted.

– Matthew 5:4 (NKJV)

This stage of existence is one of steady trouble punctuated by moments, tastes, glimpses of glory. Not one of us has an “easy life,” despite appearances. There is always something. Always tears lurking just beneath the surface, no matter how wide the smile. All it takes is one event or well-timed word to bring them crashing, rolling, down our cheeks.

Christ extends His hands, the ones still bearing the holes. Five fingers on each, wrapping around the back of our heads and pulling us to His chest. His heart and our sobs come together in an silent symphony, a song heard only by the orchestra of two. The lyrics are meaningless to outsiders. The clash of sacred and profane strikes a disturbingly dissonant chord.

Somehow, it is right.

Somehow, there is peace.

We’re trying to set aside just a little more money before we go car shopping, but that’s probably about to fly out the window and into the greedy mouth of a noisy new dishwasher. I can’t stop time’s ravaging effect on the soft, warm little body I see just out of the corner of my eye. I lay my hand on his soft fur, feel the rise and fall of his somewhat-labored breathing that continues only for now. My face is wet. I lean back and imagine myself the Beloved Disciple, reclining on the Savior’s chest that night, in that pause during the dinner, before the horror. He must have known, in that place buried deep in the back of each person’s mind, that the clock was set to shift to a new hour. An unsure hour.

As I know now.

And yet the promise stands,

I will not leave you orphans…

– John 14:18a (NKJV)

I have no solution for this problem, this thing called Pain, that has puzzled the wise down through the ages. I don’t know why things happen when and as they do.

I know only that He has not left me.

Nor has He left you.

Stop.

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Five Minute Friday: Alive

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

Kate asks us, on this Good Friday, to contemplate being: alive.

Go.

I don’t want to sound melodramatic, but confronting mortality changes a person.

Another round of blood tests in a couple of weeks. My hope and prayer is that the effort I’ve put into exercising and the changes I’ve made to my diet across the last two months has made a positive impact. Honestly? I’m not exactly holding my breath. I know that God can heal me through whatever means He chooses in this life. I’ve seen Him step in and do His thing. But just because He can doesn’t mean He always will. That’s part of the mystery. Part of the working out of His plan that we can’t understand this side of eternity.

It’s a strange place to be, this holding on to hope but knowing that the news may not be good.

If I’m going to go down, I’m sure as heck going to go down swinging. This stupid liver is not going to rob me of my joy or sense of identity and purpose. It’s just an organ. Just a ridiculously malfunctioning, swollen organ. Whatever.

And so I move toward the Lord, begging Him for the grace and strength for every step. I fail often. I indulge in crabbiness. I have to apologize. I have to repent. He is faithful. Every day, I see a little more clearly. I’m learning that phrases like “ain’t nobody got time for that” and “do it anyway” pack surprising punches of truth.

I don’t have time for drama. Have lost my patience for histrionics. My focus is drawn elsewhere.

I don’t want to exercise, because it hurts, but I do it anyway. Get out of bed, put on the tennis shoes, move the body.

Being alive means something different to me now. I long both for the problem to be solved in this moment and for that moment when the Lord shall return and I’ll have that new body with perfect organs and two functioning eyes. I want resolution in the temporary but my eyes look farther ahead, into eternity.

I might have five decades left on this earth. I might have five years. I don’t know. Nobody knows. I set my eyes upon Jesus, looking into His beautiful face. And I know that, whatever happens to my body, I will be truly alive with Him forever.

Stop.

We call this day Good Friday, and yet for it to be good we must confront the full horror of the Cross. Of the Man hanging there, pouring Himself out. Becoming the very essence of sin itself. Our sin.

There is no Easter without the Cross.

Sit in that darkness with the disciples for the next two days. Allow the Lord to search your heart and draw to the surface anything that’s holding you back from Him. Let yourself accept the fact that you aren’t perfect and can’t save yourself. You simply are a sinner. Admitting that fact brings such freedom! For this Jesus, this Christ, gave Himself for you. He saw you and did everything necessary to save you. He alone can fix the problem that has plagued mankind since the Garden.

True love died for you.

My journey to faith. (15)

Photo credit: Jean Gerber

Five Minute Friday: Focus

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com
* I realize the spacing is weird. I don’t know why. *
Gentle Reader,

 

Tears in my eyes today.

 

This life of faith? It’s hard.

 

Kate asks us to: focus.

 

Go.

 

Being medically weird plain sucks.

 

Like being a desert and nobody has a map.

 

Blood tests earlier this week. I’m used to the poking and the prodding now. Wasn’t expecting my doctor to tell me that I was completely healed, but I was hoping for progress in that direction. Instead, I got, “Oh, hey, actually everything is a little worse.”

 

Fantastic.

 

Pretty much no improvement across the last year-and-a-half.

 

I had this tumor, an extremely rare side effect of high-estrogen birth control, which I took to address hormonal imbalances. Got rid of the tumor, but that didn’t get rid of the problems. I have Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver disease, which usually arises as the result of “obesity, high cholesterol or Type 2 Diabetes.” Don’t have any of these, and yet the organ is all jacked up and inflamed. I feel nothing but disdain for my liver. It’s stupid.

 

I don’t eat red meat and the meat I do eat is very lean. I’ve limited dairy (but ice cream is a definitely weakness). I go out and take walks as often as the chronic fatigue will let me. I’m doing what I’m supposed to do. Yet Janky McJankerstein is all like, “Nope. Not gonna get better.”

 

I want to punch my liver, except that would just make me fall on the floor and cry. A too-tight hug makes me wince.

 

So, yes. I’ve been discouraged for the last 24 hours. Irritated, too. My first question is, “God, how is this fair?” That’s the question we all jump to, isn’t it? I don’t drink. I don’t smoke. I don’t do drugs. I don’t eat greasy fast food anymore. I have a desk job, so I make sure to get up and walk around every so often, though I know I need to do more of that. I’m making an effort. I’m trying. And just…nothing. Other people walk around this earth treating their bodies with contempt and it’s all hunky-dory.

 

Bah.

 

Thankfully, He has given me a curious mind. My prayers of frustration and confusion give Him the space to begin shifting my perspective. I feel the slightest bit different today than I did yesterday. Still mopey, but now with a side of determination. The doctor is trying something experimental with me. I go back in two months to see if its helped. In those eight weeks, I’m going to do my own experiment: eating vegetarian. It can’t hurt. I want to see if the doctor’s experiment and my experiment come together in a positive way. The worst that will happen is that nothing will change.

 

I’m tired. I’m so tired. Sprawled out in the dust, face covered with sweat and tears. Again, I am faced with the choice: Will I trust God or not? If not, I’m doomed. I will succumb to the suckiness of it all. If yes, He will pour iron into my soul, the kind that strengthens me for one more fight, one more day. One more step up that steep mountain.

 

I’m choosing, right now, to trust. He was there when I was practically sawed in half last winter. Every aching breath. Every medication induced wave of nausea. Every tear, every nightmare, every stabbing, searing pain. He was there, crawling next to me, urging me, carrying me, pulling me through the muck and the mire.

 

I call myself weak, a coward. He calls me a warrior. I say I’m not a fighter, He says it’s time to throw a punch. I say I am finished, He says that by His grace I’m not out.

 

It’s not over ’til the bell rings, and it ain’t rung yet.

 

I pick up my scratched sword and my dented shield. I straighten my dirty helmet. The Devil, oh, he wants to knock me out. He wants me to turn away from all I know to be true out of fear and forgetfulness. I look to my King. I take my orders.

 

I battle on.

 

…so I wouldn’t get a big head, I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me, ‘My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness.’

 

Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.

&npsb;

– 2 Corinthians 12:7-12 (MSG)

 

Stop.

 

My journey to faith. (15)