New Perspectives on Old Hates

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Gentle Reader,

January.

How I hate this month.

Two seasons have depressed me ever since I was a child: the long, intense days of high summer and the first weeks after Christmas. In this part of the world, January is always gray, mushy and slow. When I was in school, there was always the stress of the semester’s final exams. As an adult, tax documents start trickling in, reminding me just how much I still owe on my student loans. (Seriously. Do they even count the payments I send in every month)? Usually I can’t wait to flip the calendar page.

Rolling into 2018, I resolved to attempt to see these drab days from a new perspective. I asked God to grant me the eyes to see all the little beauties, the delicate blessings, scattered throughout the hours. Instead of staring at the disgusting, muddy slush that lines the street in front of my house, I gaze at the deep teal afghan draped across the back of the couch, a gift from my husband. Instead of wishing time would move faster and I could start playing in the dirt, I remember that the soil needs rest in order to produce the flowers and food I love. Instead of allowing cold temperatures to lure me into total hibernation, I keep struggling to get up at a stupid hour to exercise. (Some mornings are more successful than others).

Many look at January as a magical time, filled with the wonder and possibility of moments yet lived.

Me? I’m just working at not being a complete curmudgeon.

The other day, my eyes fell upon these words:

Let your eyes look forward; fix your gaze straight ahead.

– Proverbs 4:25 (CSB)

As if I was being introduced to the concept of looking forward for the first time, my mind whirled. I fired up my new (and very exciting!) Logos software (a free download!) and plugged in the verse reference. Jamison, Fausset and Brown comment that this chunk of a larger proverb (vs. 20-27 are to be taken together) directs the reader to:

…pursue a sincere and direct purpose, avoiding temptations.

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (via Logos; volumes available online here)

John Wesley adds:

Direct all thine actions to a right end, and keep thy mind fixed upon that way which leads to it…

Wesley’s Explanatory Notes

Pursue. Direct. Fix. In my mind’s eye I watch these words tumble around, as if tucked inside a clothes dryer next to the sock that’s always missing its mate.

To shift to a new perspective is no simple task. We are creatures of habit, even the most Type B, laid back, go-with-the-flow folks. Our minds get stuck in loops. Because a thing was a way at one time, the thing, and similar things, will always be that way every time. Breaking out of those thought patterns requires real effort.

The key to victory?

I asked God…

This January is really no different from any other January that has come before in my nearly-34 years of living. The snow is dirty, the skies are heavy, the glamour of winter has worn off. But instead of hanging my head, pressed down by the weight of cabin fever (even those of us who prefer the indoors are susceptible), I am learning to lift it. Instead of looking to the left, wondering why she has it so much better, or to the right, longing for what he has, I am learning to look forward. There, right in front of me, drawing and empowering me in every step, is Christ.

The sincere and direct purpose, the right end, is the Savior Himself. Not what we think He should give us. Not the temporary things we think will make us happy. Not name, fame or acclaim. God, Lord of All. Him. Just Him.

This January may, in the essentials, be no different from the others, but my experience of it is. The world is a slush-ball, but I don’t mind it so much. A cloak of depression still flits around my shoulders, but it doesn’t consume me. I’m looking at Jesus. He is beautiful. Radiance and mystery.

I sit quietly, waiting for Him to point out the things I so often miss by looking down or off to the side. And I begin to see, to really see, that, no matter what, no matter how bad the day, He is always there.

That is enough.

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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