Losing Time

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance ~ Ecclesiastes 3

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven. But sometimes I step out of that season. When that happens, I lose time. I’ve lost time by mourning when I could have been dancing. I’ve lost time with people I love by dreading their death while they were still living. I’ve lost time anticipating how much I would miss my children when they left for college when they were only beginning high school. I’ve even lost bits of vacation by thinking about how soon it would be over.

I’ve been on a journey to try to live more and more fully in the present. It sounds so simple but sometimes my mind wanders. Last week, for example, I got the unexpected news that my job would be coming to an end. It isn’t a monumental thing. It happens often in this business. I may be without work briefly, but probably not for long. I have enough to get by until a new spot opens up. I wasn’t worried but I wasn’t happy.

I wasn’t happy because I didn’t want things to change. While I was grateful for the present good, I reacted as if I’d used Aladdin’s 3rd wish. As if I’d rubbed out God’s last bit of blessing. I didn’t want anything to change, even if the change was good for me – even if the change might be something better. I wanted what I had to stay as it was.

How easy it is to give up the gift of joy in the moment by giving in to fear or worry or dread or anxiety or sadness or the need for control. I started grieving the loss of what I had before I lost it and in doing that, lost it before it was over. I lost time for a day or two.

There will be a time to mourn, but it isn’t today. It isn’t this moment. This is the time to dance!

Santa God is Coming to Town

He’s making a list,
Checking it twice;
Gonna find out who’s naughty or nice.
Santa Claus is coming to town

He sees you when you’re sleeping
He knows when you’re awake
He knows if you’ve been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake

You better watch out
You better not cry
You better not pout
I’m telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town
~ John Coots/Haven Gillespie

Every year people talk about the need to Put Christ back into Christmas. Sometimes this is in response to materialism and sometimes it’s a reaction to the substitution of the letter X for the name of Christ. Christmas is the day that we’ve chosen to celebrate Christ’s birth. It’s also a day filled with cherished memories of Santa Claus and special treats and gift giving.
And Xmas isn’t a secular conspiracy to take Christ out of Christmas. The first letter of the Greek word Christos is transliterated in our alphabet as an X. The word Xmas (Christ-Mass) has been used by Christians, not against Christians, for hundreds of years. Christmas is a celebration of Truth and traditions.
I grew up loving Jesus and Santa Claus. We lived in such a small town that Santa Claus literally came to my front door on Christmas Eve to ask what gifts I wanted. This happened every year until I was in first grade when Sherry Miller told me the man on my porch in a red suit was her Dad. I quit believing in Santa when I was seven. I never quit believing in Jesus.
But somewhere along the line, I melded together God, Who I knew was real but hadn’t seen, with Santa, who I knew wasn’t real but had seen. I unconsciously carried this concept of Santa God into adulthood.
I pictured Santa God watching to see if I were being naughty or nice. I kept trying to be good for goodness sake and I was, mostly. But when I failed, my failures led to shame. Failing to be good as an adult meant something more serious than no gifts, it meant no grace. None to get. None to give.
I’d missed the message from the very start. I’d overlooked the incomprehensible gift of grace required of God for there to be a baby in a manger.
Christmas seems to be the one day we do think about Him and talk about Him. The challenge is thinking about Him just as much in January. The challenge is to share His message of Love and Grace the other 364 days.
The problem isn’t that there isn’t enough Christ in my Christmas. The problem is that there isn’t enough Christ in me.

Prisoners of War

A group of Navy SEALs were performing a covert operation, freeing hostages from a building is some dark part of the world. They stormed into the room where the hostages had been imprisoned for months. The room was filthy and dark. The hostages were curled up in a corner, terrified. When the SEALs entered the room, they heard the gasps of the hostages. They stood at the door and called to the prisoners, telling them they were Americans. The SEALS asked the hostages to follow them, but the hostages wouldn’t. They sat there on the floor and hid their eyes in fear. ~ Donald Miller

Miller goes on to describe the events that followed. The SEALs were at a loss. The ones they came to rescue didn’t trust them until one of the men put down his weapon, took off his helmet, and curled up tightly next to the prisoners. He softened the look on his face and put his arms around them, something no prison guards would do. He was trying to show them he was one of them. He waited until eventually they began to meet his gaze. Then he whispered that they were Americans and had come to rescue them. Will you follow us? he asked. As he stood, one by one, the hostages did the same until all of them were willing to follow him to freedom.

The soldier had shifted from a position of authority to becoming like the hostages in their suffering. Miller says this is the story that helped Christianity make sense to him. He could see the parallel of God becoming a man, joining us in our suffering so that we would know it’s safe to follow Him.

I think it also applies in another way. We’re often at a loss when those we’re trying to rescue won’t follow. Maybe it’s because of our tendency to storm into the room, armed with all of the answers.

As we seek to serve the One who sets the hostage free, it’s time to put aside our weapons that wound (attitudes, words, actions), soften the look on our faces and the condition of our hearts, and get so close that we touch those we hope to reach. It’s a risky operation, all of that touching instead of just telling. There’s a universal code word for it: grace.

Bactine and Band-Aids

God does not comfort us to make us comfortable only, but to make us comforters. ~ John Henry Jowett

The house I grew up in had a big wrap around porch. I loved that porch. I loved the big swing, I loved the secret side escape route. I especially loved the front steps. There were only 3 but they were deep and wide.

The summer just before I turned 4, I was determined to jump up the steps. Jumping down was easy. A baby could do that. I wanted to go the other direction. I tried over and over and over. I didn’t want to jump 1…2…3.          I wanted to jump all 3 at once. I always fell.

If the scrapes were especially deep, my Mom would get out the dreaded Iodine. She would apply it to my wounds and blow softly until the sting went away.

But most of the time, my knees and elbows, which were in constant flux between scabbing and bleeding, could be patched up with Bactine and Band-Aids. I can’t remember if I finally conquered the steps that summer or if I lost interest or if I grew taller. What I do remember is the smell of Bactine and my mother’s tender care.

I don’t think she ever said: Debbie Lynn, how many times are you going to do that before you learn your lesson? She just held me and comforted me and doctored my hurting parts. I caused my own pain, yet she was unfailingly compassionate.

It’s been a long time since I’ve felt compelled to jump up the steps. When I fall now, it’s my Father that I run to. He tenderly cleans me up and comforts me. Just like my Mom, He’s never withheld His compassion because I’ve caused my own problems or because I keep making the same mistakes.

How often have I heard or even thought:Well, he brought it on himself. Probably true. Does that matter? How often have I refused to forgive myself what God has already forgiven because it was my own fault?

There’s a whole lot of pain in this world. Some of it happens to us, but much we cause ourselves. God comforts me with His mercy and patches me up with His grace, regardless. As I accept that, not only am I comforted, but I become a much more compassionate comforter.

Time Heals All Wounds?

Time heals all wounds. ~ Geoffrey Chaucer

I was 19 0n a beautiful Sunday afternoon when a drunk driver crossed the center line doing 65 mph, hitting my Dodge Dart head on. She walked away with some minor cuts. It took the EMTs and the Jaws-of Life to get me out of the wreckage of my little sedan.

After setting my leg and putting 4o stitches in my knee, the on-call doctor began a crisscross of stitches in my jaw. An EMT who’d never left my side repeatedly told the him that there was still a lot of glass in the wound (my head went through the driver’s side window) but the doctor made quick work of it.

For 25 years, the scar that runs right along my jaw line, would inexplicably begin to bleed and a sliver of glass would work it’s way out. Time scarred over the wound. It didn’t heal it.

I’m mystified at the magical or seemingly miraculous power we attribute to time. Time is just a method of measuring minutes and hours and days and years. Time doesn’t have a will or a way to heal wounds. Time passes, period.

When we’re wounded, it’s tempting to try to make quick work of the stitching up. We minimize and deny; we eat too much or too little; we sleep too much or too little; we get angry all the time or refuse to get angry at all; we drink, repress, project, blame, agrue – anything to avoid the temporary pain of digging out the shards. But if we don’t, the unresolved emotions start bleeding out in other areas.

Time doesn’t heal our wounds but healing does take time. It’s what we do in that time that brings or blocks the healing. We can fall back on our quick fix coping skills or we can lean forward on God and ask Him to guide us through the hard work of acknowledging and grieving and forgiving and repenting and accepting and making amends – in His time.

~For added perspective, check out Jan’s post Does Time Heal All Things – Love and Forgiveness!

What’s Your Tell?

To even get near humility, even for a moment, is like a drink of cold water to a man in a desert.

Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call “humble” nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody.

Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him.

If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all. ~ C.S. Lewis

Looking for a humble person? Look for their tell.

A tell is a repetitive behavior or mannerism or a part of our demeanor that sends out non-verbal clues about the nature of our thoughts or feelings. A tell reveals something hidden. Poker players specialize in learning to read and mislead with tells.

We all have tells. Funny, for the longest time, I wanted my tell to be humility but I couldn’t figure out how to send the signal. I thought of humility as something I could attain by landing midway between self-deprecating and self-promoting.

But humility isn’t a self hyphenated state. The humble person doesn’t think of himself as humble. As Lewis says, the humble person will not be thinking about himself at all.

I doubt if a humble person is often told they’re humble. They’re just thought of as someone who who seems to enjoy life so easily; a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him.

I’ve met only a few humble folks in my life. If they’re reading this, they have no idea I’m talking about them. And that is their tell.

Pray Like the Bush is Burning

The prayer preceding all prayers is ‘May it be the real I who speaks. May it be the real Thou that I speak to.’… If that can be done, there is no need to go anywhere else. This situation itself is, at every moment, a possible theophany. Here is the holy ground; the Bush is burning now. ~ C.S. Lewis

The old Looney Tunes character, Foghorn Leghorn, famously began, ended and infused his sentences with I say… I say…  It’s funny, but that’s come to my mind recently as I’ve considered a peculiarity in my prayers. It happens more when I’m praying out loud, but it’s sometimes also there in the silent whispers of my heart.

Like Foghorn Leghorn’s repetitive I say… I say… I find myself repeating I pray… I pray…

I’m already praying, just like Foghorn Leghorn was already talking. So essentially I’m talking to God and continually interjecting: I pray for… I pray that…. It’s sounds less like the outpouring of my heart and more like I’m giving a speech. I’m not suggesting that there’s a right or wrong way to pray. I think God’s pleased whenever, however we do it.

But I’m wondering if there’s a more thoughtful way for me to pray. When I say Father, I pray… am I saying I’m asking or I’m begging or I’m pleading or I’m just chatting here? God knows my heart, but as a part of this journey in grace, I want to learn to know it, too.

I grew up in the church. I’m very comfortable with church-speak but I don’t think I’d use it with a burning Bush. I might fall on my face or I might argue like Moses, but I’m pretty sure I’d be the real me, aware of the real Thee in that moment.

It doesn’t take a theophany – a burning bush, a cloud by day and fire by night  – for me to pray the prayer preceding all prayers – May it be the real I who speaks. May it be the real Thou that I speak to.

To better know my own heart, I’m working on tossing out my church-speak and paring my words down to their core. This is holy ground and I’m ready to pray like the Bush is burning!