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

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Dog House

On Saturday, we visited our local Adopt-A-Pet. The plan was to find a dog to add to our family, Ruby’s dearest prayer. Since our move into a large house on a main road, I leaned towards a dog with presence. I really wanted a German Shepherd. Ruby wanted a puppy, any kind. Actually, she liked all kinds of dogs. If we weren’t careful, we’d adopt ‘em all. Jonathon, not an overt pet person, wanted a mellow dog.

We visited with Dakota inside a gated yard. The sun shone down on all of us, potential family members. We watched Dakota chase balls. She avoided the ramps and open tubes parked in the matted grass. She’d race after any thrown orb. She’d grab it up, sometimes in mid-air. Then she’d take it to a corner and chew on it. She got the fetch part down. She just didn’t give the ball back.

She dashed over to a covered area. A kiddie pool half-filled with water beckoned her to jump in. She sat down for a moment, cooling her heels (literally). Then she bounded out again to slurp up some water in a metal dish. Ruby tossed a ball across the area. Dakota caught it on a dead run. She turned and watched us with amber eyes.

“She also digs up rocks,” the volunteer told us.

“She carries them around in her mouth.”

Great, I thought. Our yard is bounded by several rock walls. Would she destroy the landscaping? Could we ever teach her to fetch and return a ball? Would Zac like her?

We looked at one other dog, a brindle Pit Bull/Boxer mix. She was nice, but rather boring. She greeted each of us. I threw a ball. She couldn’t be bothered with chasing a it. She nosed around the yard, marking choice spots.

Somehow, with all her quirks and energy, Dakota won us over, even this cat person. She had lived with another family for a year before getting returned to the shelter. Dakota and the original family dog couldn’t get along, so the owner brought her back. I can’t imagine how that must have crushed Dakota’s spirit.

The original plan was to have the shelter keep her until we returned from an over overnight trip this weekend. But we couldn’t leave her. We crated her up and drove her straight home. She’s been chasing balls and not giving them back ever since. She’s barked at strangers as well as family, a powerful, self-assured bark. She means business. She’s 3 years old. She only weights 60 lbs., but she pulls me up hills. I don’t know who originally gave her up, but they put some time into training her. She is house-trained. She comes when called, knows “sit”, “lie down”, “outside”, “ball”, and “treat”.  We are blessed to have her in our family.

Rex perturbed

Knee Discipline

woman-kneeling

(source)

I ran today. Confession: I haven’t been running as much as before I went on vacation. I had an ache in one knee, then the other. I decided to slow down a bit and rest. So I did.

As I headed uptown into the early morning, I thought of this scripture:

So take a new grip with your tired hands and strengthen your weak knees.  Mark out a straight path for your feet so that those who are weak and lame will not fall but become strong. – Hebrews 12:12-13

The first half of Hebrews 12 is all about God’s discipline and how it means He loves us. Frankly, I’d rather get flowers and dark chocolate, plus backrubs. That’s my kind of love. But you don’t grow to maturity when life comes easy. It’s when you’re down on your knees, seeking God for help, that you start to get somewhere.

Life’s afflictions can wear us down. We find ourselves in a sort of fog. We encounter the same people with those ridiculous beams in their eyes that we want to pluck out. With extreme prejudice. Yet we have beams, logs really, of our own. The discipline comes when we keep on living where we are, loving and serving, and trying to keep our 2 x 4s from ramming into others.

Maybe our circumstances don’t seem to change, no matter how hard we pray. Houses won’t sell. Money won’t magically jump into our bank accounts. Kids do whatever they want, despite our kind admonitions. But we don’t give up.

So, I’m holding on with my tired hands. I’m doing some lunges to strengthen my knees, as well as continuing to petition.  I will strengthen the spiritual and the physical parts. I don’t want to become one of the weak or lame. I need to press on and keep a good attitude as I do, every day, the things I know to do. I don’t want to be the reason others stumble. I can wait for God to move. He has all things in His hands.

Thinking Prayer

the thinker

(source)

I like to lump myself in the category of thinking people. I consider options. I can see several perspectives on an issue all at once. I don’t speak without weighing my words, most of the time. But sometimes, this works against me.

I don’t speak up when I should. I let intolerable situations go on too long. I sit, uncomfortable and squirmy, when I should speak up and say something. I want to spare the feelings of the other party/parties. Well. Maybe I’m not a fan of confrontation, either.

On the flip side, I’ve been told I’m direct, a “black and white” type of person. I tell it like it is. I don’t hold back when I feel strongly about an issue. This is also true, for better or worse. I freely admit this creates a bit of a split personality at times. And gets me into trouble. Ahem.

Yet timing is everything here. I pray about what – if anything – to say. This doesn’t mean lengthy prayers full of pleas and platitudes. Often it’s “Lord, help!” So many in this life dwell in the valley of decision – stuck on what to do about marriages, schooling, parenting. My heart aches for them. I only want to make it better.

However, I’ve found that problems don’t belong to me to solve, more often than not. I want everyone to get along and be happy. Is that so much to ask? Of course, this implies that *I* have all the answers. Perhaps I should start my own “Save me, Susan!” hotline.

Insert sarcastic laugh here. Not happening. Nope. Nuh-uh.

I write this to say I want to help. I will pray about your situation, definitely. But I might not be able to give you the answers you seek. I only know one all-wise God. I’m not Him. I talk to him regularly. I know His ear is always turned toward us. Give Him a try.

If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. – James 1:5

 

 

 

 

Ruby Bloom

Photo by hdwpics.com

                                             Photo by hdwpics.com

Ruby sat at the table, She slouched over her cereal bowl.

“What’s wrong, sweetie?” I asked.

“I don’t have any friends.  I’m the only neighborhood kid left.  All my other friends have moved away for the summer,” she said, brown eyes sad.

I know this.  It makes me sad, too.  Growing up, I can’t ever remember not having kids to play with wherever I lived.  In Portland, it was the next-door neighbors.  In Clackamas, it was a friend across the street.  Sure, they took vacations and went away for awhile. But they didn’t move.

“Have you prayed about it? Jesus said we don’t have because we don’t ask.” A lot of times we whine and complain instead of seeking God about stuff.  Not you, of course. Just hypothetically.

She nodded.

“Lots of times,” she said. She slurped up another sludgy bite of cereal.

“Have you gotten an answer?” I asked

She shook her head.

“Are you mad at God about that?”

“Yes,” she admitted.

Well, that was easy. Now what?

“Sometimes we don’t get what we want right away.  Remember when I told you about how your dad and I wanted a baby?”

“Yeah,” she said, bored. “You prayed about it and poof! there was Zac, then poof! I came along,” she said.

It took a little more than poof, mind you, but that’s the general idea.

“God didn’t deny us children.  He just waited for the right babies to come along.  Sometimes when our prayers don’t get answered right away, it isn’t no.  It’s not yet.”

She looked at me. She didn’t like that suggestion.

“How about we pray about it?  The Bible says where two or more are gathered together, God is in the midst of them.  You and I are two.  Chloe makes three,” I said, petting the muppet-cat at our feet.

I took her small hand. We prayed.  We asked for little girls Ruby’s age, 8-10, with nice families, to move into our neck of the woods.

Now, we wait.  What to do in the meantime?  Make the most of what we have.  In Ruby’s case, that means writing stories, making up songs, playing in our “cool” tub (the unconnected hot tub), planting flowers, building with legos, drawing, riding her bike and enjoying the sunny freedom of summer. It’s time to get to know her dad and Zac better, maybe even learn to make jam. We can bloom where we’re planted even as we wait for the good things God has for us.

“For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them.” – Matthew 18:20

Living on the Prayer

Image by www.wattpad.com

    Image by http://www.wattpad.com

I stepped out into the pearl-blue dawn.  The air, scented with fragrances of many flowers, flowed over me like a divine breath. Purple lilacs waved at me. Dogwoods fluttered their white blossoms in the early breeze. It felt like a prayer, one God was praying over me.

I knew my attitude needed help.  I was cranky.  This whole “being in pain” thing left me with a bit of a crusty demeanor.  Despite my shoulder feeling better, I still braced for the pain.  I’d iced it for 2 hours last night. Would it be enough?

Peace.  Be still.

I ran-stomped up the hillside.  I knew I would run out of time before I got too far. It frustrated me. Birds greeted the morning with glorious, spontaneous melodies.  I left my mp3 player at home in order to better hear them.  Not even birdsong cheered me.

Let it go.

I reached the turnaround and retied my shoe.  By this time, it was nearly full daylight.  I picked up speed.  On my right sat a stump.  I could’ve sworn it was flipping me off.

Attitude check.

After that, it was all downhill.  I found myself smirking at my own ridiculousness.  Really, Susan?!  The tree has it in for you?! The helmet of the negative mindset shattered around my feet like so much glass.  Who knew it was so fragile?

God did.

Thanks to all who prayed.  I visited the chiropractor today and he tortured me a bit in order to help speed the healing.  That is knightly, too.

Sweet Discipline

Last night, our pastor preached out of Matthew 6.  If you recall, this is the chapter containing the Lord’s Prayer. I’ve included it in the New King James version, the closest to my Episcopalian roots:

Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
As we forgive our debtors.
And do not lead us into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen. – Matthew 6:10-13

This scripture has been put to song and everything.  I remember reciting The Lord’s Prayer, kneeling on a fold-out blue velvet bench, at Grace Memorial on 15th Street.  We intoned it together, and instead of “evil one”, we simply said “evil”.  Covers all the bases.  Debts and debtors became the less-wieldy “trespasses” and “trespassed”. Not as musical, that. However, I detest the song, so I’m not posting it.  You can look it up on YouTube.

Pastor pointed out that Matthew’s gospel covers spiritual disciplines.  Jesus starts out the chapter talking about doing charitable deeds. He warns of avoiding hypocritical behavior, in other words, doing things for attention or pats on the back. Jesus states, “Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.”  The “atta boys” and public praise constitute all the thanks they will get. The infamous “do not let your right hand know what your left hand is doing” written here speaks of doing good as secretly as possible.  Generally, my hands have no knowledge of anything, but I think you get the idea. The Father sees all, and will reward openly (Matthew 6:1-4).

Jesus needed to recalibrate the Jews’ former training. Prayer, long the purview of bloviating elite, had to incorporate into the disciples’ daily life.  This second, longer section starts out with instructions on how to pray.  Again, he admonishes them to avoid hypocrisy by praying loudly with many words in order to be seen. Lots of words don’t help God hear better, either.  Again, the “assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.” He tells them to go and pray in secret, at home behind a closed door. Again, the encouragement:  “your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you openly.”

Then Jesus gives an example of how to pray (see above). I liked that our pastor explained it’s a model only, with places to add our particular needs and expressions of thanks.  Memorization, while nice, isn’t necessary.

Lastly, Jesus spoke on fasting.  He pointed out how the hypocrites made themselves visibly disheveled and despairing in order to gain sympathy and yet more accolades.  Don’t do it, devout dozen!  The same warning that hypocrites “have their reward” and “do it in secret as normal folk and let God bless you” apply here as well (Matthew 6:16-18).

Now that you have the basic outline, I’ll tell you what caught my attention.  Pastor said in this portion of the word, prayer is like the meat or “guts” (his word) of the sandwich.  The bread or two outer sandwich layers are good deeds and fasting. Jesus’ teaching on how to pray covers 10 verses. Prayer holds it all together. Prayer feeds us.   Prayer sustains the ability to give and the passion to fast. That intimate time with Jesus, the two-way conversation that is prayer, drives the believer.

Our other pastor closed the service with this scripture: But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. – Hebrews 11:6. Prayer time with God, speaking and listening, is never wasted.  In fact, it’ll feed your spirit.