Distraction-Free Friday

WWF

So I left my phone at home. Plus my head feels like it’s going to explode. When the weather changes in a significant way from sunny and dry to rainy, my head acts like a barometer. I should have very few distractions today. I’m not sure I want the world to go on without me tracking it all; however, it will. Nobody will text me or initiate a Words With Friends game. I can’t text corny jokes to my son. I can’t share my witty insights on the fly, either. Pity. I won’t get any random calls from out of state that I’ll ignore because I don’t recognize the number. On the bright side, I won’t get chain missives on Facebook messenger. Thanking God for small miracles.

I’ve taken two ibuprofen and had a cup of the infamous Dr. J.’s java. The pressure is lessening. That’s good. The sun is up, but not out. The day is gray. Good news: water is back on in the office. It only took a day and a half. Good thing I had another desk to go to at the courthouse complex. See how I’m distracted already? Sigh.

This could be a good thing, living phone-less today. I should have a better attention span. It might be nice to be “off grid” today, too. Free range Susan, folks. Nobody will know where I am!

Okay. Perhaps that’s overstating it a bit. I’ll be at work, then I’ll be at home. Probably not so mysterious after all.

Hmm. I do feel lighter. I remember when I first became a mom. I realized that I would forever be “on”. Nightmare wakes up a kid? Mom to the rescue. Barf event? Mom’s on cleanup duty. No job too large. Of course, Jonathon pitched in, too, but generally, since I was home full-time, I took care of those emergencies. Having a smart phone feels that way to some degree. You’re on an invisible, yet real, leash of sorts. You can always be reached, depending on the cell coverage at your location. Some form of communication will come through. Emails. Group messages on Facebook. Your mother, calling to find out if you need more socks.

It makes me think about how God communicates with us. We get distracted pretty easily. Squirrel! It can take a while for his messages to get through. We spend time thinking about our worries and frustrations. We try to solve them, turning the problems over and over like stones, searching for a way to break the rock open. Worrying stops His hand. It blocks the signal, if you will. We move out of range as we travel on our own trajectory. The Lord coaxes us, drawing the burdens from us. He can carry them.

I expect once I stop looking for my phone, a habit developed over the last several years, I’ll calm way down. I don’t need that instant lifeline to the people in my life. However, I need to keep the line open for God’s voice. Peace and rest and trust will do that.

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. – John 10:27

 

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Thursday Thoughts

I’ve been thinking about what it means to follow Christ, day by day. What if all we’re doing is enough? What if we’re right in the center, dead center, of God’s will? We don’t need to strive and strain, only be led by His spirit. I always want to do more, try and be more. But maybe that’s not the point. I like achievement. I love meeting goals. I’ve written before about how enamored I am of checking boxes.

But if Jesus did it all already, so much so that He sat down at the right hand of God, what exactly am *I* doing? Am I trying to take His place? Do I want a chance to try and earn salvation? That’s gonna end badly, methinks. “Yeah, so I was driving in to work and some jerk in a truck cut me off. I was doing just fine until that happened, Jesus! You can’t fault me for any hand gestures that may have occurred…”

You can see where this will end up.

I can’t do it. I can’t be perfect. I can never pray enough, worship enough, read the Bible enough, love and serve people enough. I can’t. what I can do is listen to His voice and pursue His plan. That’s really all I’ve got. It’s simple, folks, but it ain’t easy. God may call me to pray more, with specific direction as to how and for whom. He may ask me to step up Bible reading. He might even want me to give money somewhere. But I can’t do more good works to earn favor or justify myself.

We need to be very careful, because sometimes we care more about what other people think of us than what the Lord thinks. If I miss church, will the Johnsons think I’m a heathen? What will the pastor say? Somehow, we lose sight of God’s favor. Well, we want to keep assembling together and fellowshipping. That’s a biblical mandate. But if we’re sick or exhausted or on vacation, it has to be okay to miss a service or two. We haven’t lost Jesus, nor he us.

If we are truly servants of Christ, that means we do His bidding, not our own. We’re picking up our cross every day and laying down our own will. If He asks me to rest, will I do it? If He asks me to step back for a season, can I let go? Is my identity in what I do, or whose I am?

I know I’m asking a lot of questions. But as 2017 winds down, i find myself in a contemplative mood. It’s good to take time to consider where we are and where we’ve been. I want to do better next year, but only in His strength.

“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.” – John 15:5

It’s Not Me, It’s You

I watched a Facebook video yesterday. It’s this one. Sorry I can’t get it to link any better. It’s not long. 

https://www.facebook.com/100001282700764/videos/1731994506853289/https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2F100001282700764%2Fvideos%2F1731994506853289%2F&show_text=0&width=560

I teared up. Yes, Lord, where have you been? I cried inside. Why don’t you answer me when I call? On and on the laments went. “It’s not me, it’s you, God.”

Ouch.

Then…God’s response. It crushed me. And it convicted me. Where have *I* been?

Have I been spending the time necessary to maintain the relationship? I think most days I read my assigned portion of the Bible, accepting it’s enough daily bread. I get the box checked. I pray a few token prayers about the top-of-mind needs or struggles, then I’m off to feed the hairy horde and sweat before getting ready for work.  Catch ya later, God!

Obviously, it’s not enough. I’ve coasted. I’ve relied on time in corporate worship at church and fellowship with other believers to fill in the gap. That’s not getting it done. The gap remains. Yes, I pray on the way to and from work. Sometimes, I even sing. Gotta do something during that half hour, right? I pray during the day as needs arise. I thank the Lord for his blessings as they hit me and I search often to verbalize them. I’m not writing this to add one more thing to your to-do list. Believe me, that’s the last thing I want or need for myself, let alone anyone else.

Time. It’s the four-letter word that speaks volumes. If this is going to be a relationship and not religion, I can’t rely on Jesus to carry the whole thing. That’s not a give and take. That’s only me taking. In Christianese, I’ve drifted from my first love. What am I doing to deepen intimacy and strengthen our bond? Tithing is the standard, the beginning of surrendered giving. Attending church helps. Where is the “more”?

I’ve been a Christian for more than 30 years. I know I can’t earn God’s favor or save myself. Jesus died on the cross to reunite me with the Father. I’m already the apple of God’s eye (Psalm 17:8). In the past, I’ve struggled with a performance mindset. Perfection, the carrot just out of reach, drew me to chase. I know now I’ll never attain it, not in this life. So what now? How do I move forward in this new understanding?

I think what the Lord wants from me is just more abiding. I don’t know how (yet) to eke that out, but in any friendship – and Jesus calls us friends – time together enhances affinity. I want to be more like Jesus. I want to be so close we breathe in and out together. But that doesn’t happen by wishing. It takes time.

Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. – John 15:5

Nothing Stays the Same

2017 oregon wildfire

The smoke from all the regional wildfires has lingered in the air for weeks now. A haze, not our customary marine layer, hovers over us. The sun rises, a fiery salmon ball in the sky. The moon sets, an orange eye in the charcoal dawn. Is this what it means that the “moon will turn into blood” out of the book of Revelation (6:12)?

Ash falls from the sky. It’s light, lighter than snowflakes descending. But it coats everything. Hills and buildings in the middle distance seem fogged in. Our lack of rain most of the summer has confused the trees. They’re turning red and yellow. Leaves drift down. Shelton and surrounding areas have an air quality alert. People suffering respiratory problems and small children should stay indoors as much as possible.

I hate to think of the acres of forests and surrounding residential neighborhoods burning uncontrollably. So much beauty destroyed in moments. So many brave men and women risking their lives to keep us all safe. This, in the wake of massive Hurricane Harvey and the impending devastation of Hurricane Irma right behind for Florida. I could blame climate change. I could say we did this to ourselves. It’s probably at least partially true. But I know it’s Biblical as well. Isaiah says the earth shall wear out like a garment. Does this mean we don’t take care of those who weathered significant loss from the storms and fires? Of course not. We grieve with and for them, and send whatever help we can. But we need to get ready for more. We can’t stand around, confused and asking why. We need to be prepared, like Boy Scouts. We must band together and plan ahead, not point fingers. We need each other now more than ever.

The Pacific Northwest is poised for a massive earthquake anytime now. We’re overdue, in fact. We seem somewhat removed, at times, from horrible acts of God. We live in a bucolic world of mountains, forests and nearby sea. Yet what lies beneath can change everything. In big and small ways, the only constant is change. 

I started writing this yesterday, which was Thursday. Now it’s Friday.  It started raining a little last night. Showers fall now, off and on. It’s wonderful. The air smells green and alive, even though it’s muggy. I put on closed-toe shoes to wear to work for the first time since the end of May. It feels strange.

August 1, I started driving to Thurston County for my new job. The drive takes about 25-30 minutes. As I cruise along 101, keeping a steady pace as best I can, people inevitably push me up the road. Trucks. Sedans. Motorcycles. You might think I drive like a grandma (no offense to grandmas out there). I do not. All I can think is, why are you in a hurry to get to work? It’s not going anywhere. It will wait for you.

I got my last paycheck from the City today. It’s all done. Finished. Nothing left to see here, folks. This makes the last of the major transitions in my life. For now.

Now I’m ready. God has been faithful through it all. Help me to be ready for whatever comes next. 

“I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”  – John 16:33

A Little More Chichen Itza

Yes, dear readers, there’s more to the story. I didn’t tell you the rest of the story.

After Chichen Itza – and it seems weird to say “after”, because that was the whole point, right? – we went to another place. Herman, our guide, and Nelson, reminded the group that we had swimming on the agenda next. Swimming? I looked at Jonathon. He shrugged. He forgot to tell me. Plus, we were already swimming in sweat in our clothes.

Herman turned around in his front passenger seat. His eyes glowed with excitement.

“Now, ladies and gentlemen, I will show you one of the great secret places of Mexico. The peninsula has no rivers above ground.These are underground springs on the Yucatan peninsula.  The Mayans found several of them, called them cenotes. They are freshwater running underground. They started to dig wells and found these instead.”

We drove on. The roads became more pothole than pavement.

“This village is a gatekeeper for the cenote. They are Mayan descendants. They take care of the cenote and keep it pure and clean. It’s a treasure.”

The rest of the hour, Nelson and Herman chatted with animation. They enjoyed this part of the tour even more than Chichen Itza, it seemed. On the way, Nelson stopped the van and talked with an older gent selling mango off a cart. The weathered man chopped it up and bagged it. Nelson handed him a few pesos. Hey, a driver’s gotta eat, too. He shared the mango with Herman.

We pulled into a quiet, empty lot. A rooster pecked at a tarp by a building behind us. Herman rose from his seat again.

“This is where you will swim. It’s an underground cave. Blind black catfish swim in the water. Of course, it has stalagmites and stalactites, like most caves do.”

He paused a moment, rubbing his palms together with anticipation.

“All we ask is you shower before you get in to keep the cenotes clean. Enjoy, my friends! This is a great Mayan site.”

We peeled ourselves out of the van. Everyone changed into swimsuits but Herman and Jonathon and I. A Mayan couple sat in front of the changing area, silent behind a stand of bottles filled with green tequila. They spoke their native language, swatting away the never-ending herd of mosquitoes.

The silence of the place was a welcome change from Chichen Itza. Jonathon and I stepped down the path into the cave. My ears filled with tranquillity.

Cenote 1

The air below ground was warm and still. The water, far below, glowed dark blue with ombre tones near the edges. Sounds echoed off the cave walls. A couple of industrial lights brought illumination. A random bird circled the cave, temporarily lost. Some daylight showed through from the original hole the Mayans dug.  A few people splashed around and swam in the water. Two black inner tubes floated on the surface.

We climbed down the carved steps, taking care as everything was damp and slippery.

“Look!” I said.

Black fish swam around near the entrance to the water. We sat down and watched as our compatriots stepped circumspectly into the drink.

Cenote 2

Herman joined us.

“You gonna put your feet in the water?” he asked, his countenance lit up with joy. He looked 20 years younger.

Cenote 3

We shook our heads no. It was enough to sit and take it all in. Despite the anticipation of swimming, the experience still had a hushed quality. Everyone felt the uniqueness of the place and the occasion. Something like this doesn’t happen every day.

I thought about rivers of living water. Jesus talked about them.

Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.'”  – John 7:38

If you have living water flowing from your heart, it’s not only for you. It’s for others. As a Christian, you have something to give this world. You can offer abundant life to others by living like Jesus, serving and loving, where you are, whatever you’re doing. Your life can be just like the cenotes. The Mayans could have kept them a secret from the world. But they shared them, and now everyone who wants to can visit them and enjoy their refreshing  qualities. May we do the same with the underground springs inside of us.

 

 

Guiding Light

guiding-light

Not this soap opera.

I haven’t written much, but I have a good reason. Work has been rough. I can’t say much more, except that’s discouraged me. When I’m discouraged, I don’t write. I don’t eat much either, which can be a bonus in the weight department. Yet getting too skinny sabotages running. Now you know.

I planned a 5-mile run today, since yesterday’s run turned into a walk-run on the treadmill due to 3 hours’ sleep. I started a loop I know well. I ran past familiar landmarks in the pre-dawn darkness. I waited for the light to change at a main artery. I looked across the street. Ambient light from the corner spread about 50 yards onto the paved path. Then…nothing.

I considered taking a shorter, well-lit route. I thought, why isn’t this better lit?  It’s like the stretch got left out of the streetlight budget or something. But I remembered the path to be smooth and mostly flat, curving upwards towards the next intersection. No trees lined it to create root rumples in the asphalt.

I made  my decision. I ran across the street and into darkness. Stars gave pinpricks of light. The watery half moon lay somewhere over my left shoulder, useless for guidance. Cars rounded the curve up ahead. Their headlights shone onto the path, picking up slight divots and variations as they passed on my left. I breathed a prayer of thanks.

But sometimes, I ran by feel in the dark. And somehow, I had enough light and enough balance to keep going. Then it clicked. I can’t fix things in my life, much as I want to. All I can do is keep looking for the light and staying on the path set before me. Somehow, some way, God will show me – show us – how to keep moving, even when all around us grows dim.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it. – John 1:5

Lights On

flashlight

“Mom. Mom!”

Ruby called to me from the bedside, a shadowy presence.

“What? Ruby, you’re killing me,” I said, trying not to groan. Roused from a dead sleep, this made the third night in a row our girl had paid us a nocturnal visit.

“The lights are out,” Ruby said. “I’m scared.”

Indeed they were. No ambient light glowed from the neighbor’s porches. No street lights provided background shadows. Nothing at all. I had to admit it was a little eerie.

“Okay,” I said. I pulled away from the undertow of the flannel sheets and dug up a flashlight for her. She went back to her room, glad for any glimmer of illumination.

I drifted in and out of sleep after that. Finally, a bit after 5:00 a.m., I got up. All was still dark. I felt my way downstairs to my phone. Thank God for battery operated items. I turned on the screen and settled in to read my Bible plan. I realized I couldn’t use the treadmill. Did I mention we’re having a storm outside? Unlike other places I’ve lived, storms here last for several days. We’re on a flood watch again, as the Skokomish River will probably flood again. Which means rain, and lots of it. Oh, and wind. Hence the outage.

Tired from several nights of interrupted sleep and sore from the kettlebell workout yesterday, I figured running could wait. I stretched instead. Realizing I faced a black-out shower experience in the near future, I fumbled around in the flashlight drawer for batteries. I found one enormous flashlight with batteries that still worked. Only problem:  it faded in and out of consciousness. The dim light made it impossible to tell which loose batteries went to which torch. Oh!  Zac’s old Spiderman flashlight. I turned it on. Nothing. Guess I’d have to scrub up with the hit-and-miss light. I’ve done it before. While in college, Bethany had power outages all the time. Redwoods, though majestic and tall, have weak root systems. Every time the winds rose, trees toppled onto the power lines. We’d wake up to blinking clocks and blackness. We shared flashlights among suitemates, using the bathrooms in near darkness. Showers involved bright light reflected off the ceiling. We each prayed we applied normal levels of makeup and wouldn’t scare our fellow students when we stepped out into daylight.

As I sat in the living room midnight this morning,  I recognized how much I underestimate the importance of light. We can’t do much in the dark. The lack of illumination limits our abilities. Our vision is constrained, our movements checked. How we need light of all kinds in our world! Encouragement, joy, understanding, grace and kindness come to mind. Yet there is one ever-present light who puts all others to shame. Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.” – John 8:12