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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In 2018

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

Not going to lie: 2017 can leave. Get out. I’m done. #dumpsterfire

There were good things. I’m two-and-a-half days away from reaching my goal of no surgeries this year. (For real. I had surgery in 2014, 2015 and 2016). Ate my first mug brownie last night. Returned to a regular writing schedule after four months of silence. Deep cleaned my house. Began pecking away at a novel. Went to the Oregon coast for my anniversary. Dabbled in graphic design. Saw Star Wars: the Last Jedi.

There were a lot of hard things. The small group I led for two years disbanded. Quit my job of 17 years. My time as a chaplain at the women’s shelter ended. Church stuff was chaotic. Three rounds of blood work (possibly four, I can’t remember). Long stretches of bad liver pain and and nausea. An awful ultrasound. Increased headaches. Friends and family members battled cancer. The circus that is American politics.

The good and the bad, the ups and the downs.

Life.

Perhaps I would deal better with the twists and turns if I was not such an intense and sensitive person. There are days when I wish that that the “poker face” my therapist tells me I have reflected what’s really going on inside. I don’t know how you emotionally expressive and explosive people do it. I hate having the feels.

There’s a reason I go to therapy and take medication.

Over the next few days, the bloggers you love will publish lists and tell you what they learned in 2017. I haven’t got a list for you. It’s not that clear-cut and organized for me, which I loathe. Things should be neat and tidy. And perhaps that is my lesson. Neat and tidy are categories that can be applied to housework, not emotions, experiences and relationships. It’s all messy.

Because we’re all messy.

And yet – God remains. Steady, true and good.

I look at the calendar, ready for the page to change. There’s nothing magical about January 1. What was on December 31 will still be when the next day dawns. And yet, something about the first day of a brand-new year invites a deep breath. A little thing we call hope tingles in the back of our minds.

The Holy Spirit is in that tingle, beckoning us to renewal and refreshment.

To change.

2018 marks a decade in the blogging world (more on that Monday). An author at 33 is far different than she was at 23. I look back, amazed at how God has so kindly continued to save me and how He has graciously given me this platform. I look forward, wondering what the next 10 years will bring.

So, a few changes around here. Some new things. What you can expect:

  1. Beginning January 9, my regular posting schedule will shift to Tuesday and Thursday.
  2. The Wednesday Writers will start sharing their words on January 10. (More on that next week).
  3. I am launching a weekly(ish) newsletter, Rest Stops Along the Way. (Click the title to subscribe). Ponderings and puppy videos delivered to your inbox on Saturdays, starting January 6.

Lord, as we close out what has been a difficult year for many of us, we ask for the grace to see the good. We ask for faith to step into a new year, confident that You are already in each and every day. Remind us that we are never alone. Teach us that there is nothing we can do apart from you. Help us to rest in Your grace and truth. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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Five Minute Friday: Discover

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com (2)

Gentle Reader,

Chop the zucchini. Beat the egg. Sift the flour.

Form into patties. Hands drip with moisture and yolk.

Ssssssssssssssss. Hot olive oil and even hotter skillet. Crackling, bubbling.

Sounds and scents all humans recognize.

Kate says: discover.

Go.

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

– James 3:13-18 (NKJV)

Sometimes, probably more often than not, we don’t know what’s in our own hearts. The bitter envy, in our eyes, is nothing more than wanting “better” for ourselves. The self-seeking is just “not understanding” why someone else got that job or that thing. We’re so good at rationalizing and justifying and explaining.

We’re so self-deceptive. In fact, we’re masters at it.

Because we deserve what others have. It’s not right or fair that they have it and we don’t.

But the Holy Spirit, He just doesn’t let us get away unconfronted. He pokes and prods and shines His brilliant flashlight into the dark corners. He consistently, unendingly points out the things that don’t please Him, don’t honor Him.

And then we discover the things we rather wouldn’t. That the envy chokes relationships. That the self-seeking is really self-destruction, no matter how successful we might look outwardly. That the self-destruction reaches out and destroys others, even the others that we don’t envy.

It’s all very ugly and painful.

We can choose to sit there in the stink and throw a fit. We can turn away from the evidence that’s plain as day. We can, in essence, tell God that’s He’s stupid.

Or we can ask Him to scrub us clean. We can ask Him to give us new hearts. We can ask Him to give us the kind of wisdom that is always loving, always peace-making, always life-giving. We can swallow our pride, eat the humble pie and do whatever needs to be done to make things right.

Justification happens in a moment. Sanctification takes a lifetime. It’s a journey of discovery, of learning that we really are what Scripture says we are – sinners in possession of corrupt hearts that we can never understand on our own. But it’s also learning that God really is who Scripture says He is. Infinitely patient, completely kind, always doing what is best for us, His children.

In knowing who we are and who God is – there’s freedom. Because we don’t have to make ourselves great anymore. We don’t have to step on others. We don’t have to worry about reputation and success and followers and fame. We can settle into the arms of the One whose Name will last forever, long after ours has faded into dust. We can melt into Him, become consumed by Him, live to glorify Him.

And there we’ll discover all we truly want.

Stop.

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Five Minute Friday: Team

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

There’s a battle raging today, between taking a nap and having coffee in order to power through the afternoon and evening. (And by “power through,” I mean, “stay awake until 8:30 p.m. if possible”). Wonderful as a nap sounds, I think coffee is going to win. It’s mostly hot chocolate, which is very much on the “no-no” list when it comes to my eating and exercise regimen. But you know what?

Sometimes you gotta.

Kate asks us about our: team.

Go.

Your team changes.

I used to have this idea that as I journeyed through adulthood I would have one consistent set of close friends. Not a huge group. Not people who would demand I interact with them every single day, because #intj and that’s not going to happen. Just the kind of tightly knit group that would eventually sit around a beat-up kitchen table while adult children rustled about with their own kids, reminiscing about shared stupid things, meaningless to outsiders.

That’s what we all imagine.

The truth is that closeness waxes and wanes. Some people are in your life for a short season. Others float in and out. As you get older and hopefully become more like the person God intends you to be, you find that perhaps you just don’t have as much in common with that person anymore. Or you go through a crisis and find the last person you’d expect to show up is there every step of the way.

Over and over we hear in songs and sermons or read in books that relationship is vitally important. That we weren’t created to do life alone. That’s true. But really, we wind up slipping into idolatry. We worship an ideal, then feel massive disappointment when it doesn’t turn out the way we planned.

Preachers and authors point to David and Jonathan, going on and on about their relationship and how wonderful it was. While they were good friends, the best of friends (no, they were not gay), they were in each other’s lives for a relatively brief amount of time. David spent more nights in the hills tending sheep or on the run from King Saul than he did hanging with Jonathan, jamming on harps or seeing who could shoot an arrow farthest.

We have to learn to be willing to go with the flow. (How I loathe typing that. Give me control or give me death). I associate with basically the same group of people that I have for the last 5-8 years, but the way it is now, at 32, is different from the way it was when I was 25. I’ve made new friends. I see some old friends less. I have a deeper connection to others than I ever thought I’d have. This doesn’t mean I’ve ceased to care about any one person. It just means that the shape of your team changes.

No longer do I picture that gathering around the table. Or if I do, the faces are blurry. I don’t know who might be there. It makes me a little sad. At the same time, letting go of what I thought adult friendship should be like and embracing the what-is brings with it a sense of freedom. I don’t have the first clue what God has in store for me. I’ve got to enjoy the ride instead of clinging to an illusion that will leave me discontented.

Life, I think, is a constant stream of celebration and mourning, often mixed together. Much as I am a creature of habit, there isn’t really any such thing as routine. Things are always shifting. It’s tough even when it’s good.

Blessedly, there is the One Who Never Changes. The Constant in the midst of chaos. Do we ever truly pause to think about that? If the day utter aloneness comes, when this earthly team abandons ship and there’s nobody to hear the cries or see the tears – it’s not utter aloneness at all. In the invisible, just beyond sight, sits the King of Kings. Remarkably, He bends near. Gathers us close. Listens well.

Forever the Captain of the team.

Stop.

My journey to faith. (15)

Photo Credit: Matthew Wiebe