No Anchor But Jesus {{#backtochurch}}

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Crocosmia in my front garden

“Where do people put such things when they live by Plan? Our entire plan is simply Miscellaneous.” -Gladys Taber, Stillmeadow Seasons, 1950

Last Sunday was our first time back in a building to gather and worship for church since March of this year. I refer to that time as “2020 B.C.” as in Before Coronavirus.

Guided by our pastor and staff, we were properly spaced in family or couple groups, masked up and elbow-bumping our hellos to one another. It was….. weird. And it was somehow wonderful at the same time. Why? Because we were together again with our brothers and sisters, standing in the same room with live music. No more screens with live streaming church services…the body of Christ was re-membered–put back together again.

But yes, it was weird. Not the church part, but the whole year part.

For instance, how is it almost July?

It seems like 2020 should only have two months–January and June. Or better, just two parts–Then and Now. The plans in my Daytimer were thankfully in pencil (I’m old school like that) and erased easily enough. But instead of checking off or crossing out events and tasks, January through June just became one gaping hole.

Weeks have turned into months, days are jumbled together in no particular order. I wake up nearly every morning and wonder, “Now is it Tuesday or Friday?” Without Sundays set aside to be in fellowship and worship, weekly anchors that held my life in place disappeared almost overnight.

Yes, there has been little to plan on in these days of #coronavirus. Facts change overnight, what was for sure and for certain and familiar has vanished. I have been forced…. goaded? nudged? into facing the one fact that remains–God’s word is the only anchor I can count on. His truth centers me, His spirit fills me and His daily faithfulness in the world around me has continued to save me.

I am forever grateful that this pandemic and isolation came when Spring in our corner of the world was just waking up. Now here we are in the thick of Summer and flowers and trees are lush and vibrant, my potato vines are flourishing, the bees are busy in the lavender. Life continues in God’s creation whether there’s lockdown or not. You can’t quarantine nature, that is for sure.00100lrPORTRAIT_00100_BURST20200629121951486_COVER

The nudges I feel in this season were summed up beautifully the other morning when I read in Psalm 143 during my quiet time.

Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you.

Show me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul. Psalm 143:8

I so wish I could actually make plans in my Planner. That I knew what was going to take place in the next month or two. But the Holy Spirit is continuing to remind me that we are only given one day at a time and our days, whether we acknowledge it or not, belong to God.

I can’t think of anyplace safer to be right now than listening and looking into the coming year one day at a time. That is God’s saving grace.

Tell me, what’s saving your life right now? I’d love to hear in the comments.

Contemplate {a #poem}

I’ve no chisel but this pen
chipping at paper like stone,
carving words, not to build but bend
graphite like steel, curve the bones

(Dear God, not break) but lay in place and then
form a space to hold a new edifice,
sculpt and rest and tap some more
while You hand me bricks to begin, restore.
***
The word contemplate is from the Latin, and literally means to carve out a temple, from the two parts-‘com’ and ‘templum,’ i.e. an “intensive space.”

Words are swirling everywhere lately and the voices are l o u d. Seems no matter where I turn there is something to fear whether it’s danger, discord or disease. I feel helpless and wonder if my words will matter, whether what I have to say makes a difference when people are actually dying. 

Then I pick up my pen to pour my heart out on the page. God’s quiet whispers remind me to use what’s in my hand. So I “chisel” away the best I can, carving out time and space to hear Him in His temple, this world right where He is.

Celestial Bodies {a #poem}

My weary eyes need reminders to
view the galaxies aright. Focused on
the sliver of moon, they forget an
entire orb hides in the dark.
I gaze at dull concrete, traipse
around the observatory, past
an entrance where God stands in the
doorway beckoning me to peer,
Galileo-like, past roofs, across
trees, into velvet sky.

As feet pause on sure ground,
a whisper beckons to dream
above, beyond to distant beauty.
Consider the immeasurable
heavens inside, reckon my
need as I’m handed a telescope.

Brightened eyes rest and remember.


This poem was written as part of Poems for Ephesians, an online project of D.S. Martin at McMasters Divinity College. I was particularly taken by Eugene Peterson’s rendering of these verses in Chapter 1: 17) “I ask the God our master, Jesus Christ, the God of glory – to make you intelligent and discerning in knowing him personally, 18 your eyes focused and clear, so that you can see exactly what it is he is calling you to do, grasp the immensity of this glorious way of life he has for Christians, 19 oh, the utter extravagance of his work in us who trust him – endless energy, boundless strength! 20 All this energy issues from Christ: God raised him from death and set him on a throne in deep heaven, 21 in charge of running the universe, everything from galaxies to governments,” 

How appropriate this passage is for these times, #lifeinthetimeofthecorona, where we cling to the truth that God is “in charge of running the universe, everything from galaxies to governments.” And, that as believers in Jesus, we would be urged to “grasp the immensity of this glorious way of life.”

I want to reckon my need as I’m handed a telescope, to rest and remember the power of Jesus in me and on display in the world, from the particular to farflung planets. He is over it all.

Book Review: In a Strange Land-Ten Kingdom Poets

 

The kingdom of God has been compared throughout the Gospels as everything from a pearl of great price, to a vineyard, a man going on a journey, a mustard seed, a field of wheat and many more.

And if the Kingdom of God had poets, which I’m sure it does, then you’d find their work in the slim volume “In a Strange Land-Introducing Ten Kingdom Poets” from Poiema Poetry Series (ed. DS Martin). Editor Martin explains the occasion of this printing, “This poetry collection gathers into one volume works by ten talented poets who…each (are) well deserving of having their own full-length poetry books, but as of April, 2019 have not quite reached that milestone.”

The Poiema (Greek for ‘a made thing’, or ‘workmanship’) Series is all about “providing a home for the finest poetry by people of Christian faith.”

Contributing poets include: Ryan Apple, Susan Cowger, Jen Stewart Fueston, Laura Reece Hogan, Burl Horniachek, Miho Nonaka, Debbie Sawczak, Bill Stadick, James Tughan, Mary Willis

Until these writers each have their own books, you can find this poetic gathering  and enjoy all ten. The selections are rich and varied, as each writer renders from their own perspective a fuller vision of what God’s kingdom looks like. By turns amusing, descriptive, thoughtful and downright take-your-breath-away, we are handed a lens to view a particular version of faith experience as they see it.

On Prayer, Potatoes and Pulling Weeds

I have two garden beds in my back yard—one a perennial bed of flowers, the other a 12×6 rectangle of mostly weeds. The flower bed is behaving as expected this time of year–peony shoots with their magenta spikes heading skyward, the clematis tendrils beginning to twirl up and around the bird gazebo. A ‘Sombrero’ Echinacea (bright orange) is just beginning to sneak back through the dirt and the columbine leaves are unfurling.

The other space is a mostly weed bed formerly known as a vegetable garden. I have absolutely no illusions about actually planting a real garden this year, although I gave it a try. I recently impressed my friend Natalie by telling her about all the lettuce and green pea seeds I planted a few weeks back. She can’t see the weed-infested dirt around those sprouts so she doesn’t know how far from Martha Stewart-y my urban spot of green actually is.  Half of the peas were dug up and gnawed on by squirrels and about 10 of the sprouts have survived.

The lettuce has yet to be seen.

We had some nice-ish weather the other day here in Seattle so I went outside to pull weeds in the, ahem, vegetable garden. I had no grandiose ideas about making any kind of dent in all the volunteer greenery out there, I actually just wanted the therapy. Pulling weeds and praying is one of my favorite things to do. I pray out loud or sing while wielding my handy digging tool. I love it.

Imagine my surprise when I found next to the Mint that Would Not Die four potato plants sprouting through the dark earth. I thought I’d dug them all up last year, but there they were next to the stray sweet pea vines and self-sowing sunflower seeds. Like an invisible surprise, they’d been growing all this time. They’re Yukon Golds—yum.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

It made me think about how often when we are despairing that God will ever answer our prayers because we don’t see anything happening. But underneath the surface of our lives, often in the dark, His power is growing and moving on our behalf. There is life about to happen and we just don’t know it.

Flower and vegetable seeds have a necessary process for producing a new plant—they must shed a dead layer, a shell, then push roots down into the earth then force their brand new leaves up through the soil. It takes time and patience and a lot of energy. God has all the time, certainly all the power, but sometimes we are short on the patience part. Or the faith part. “God, why is this so hard right now???”

We have to hold on for the right season and trust God’s timing. When you have a new opportunity to see growth or change in your life or a need for provision, close your eyes and imagine what God might be doing behind the scenes. Maybe there are some weeds to pull, some things that need to go before you’ll be able to see what God is doing. If you feel weary of waiting for an answer, take your eyes off the soil and look up.  When we least expect it, God is often working invisibly on our behalf, waiting to bring surprises our way.

And they might look like gold (potatoes).

Summer is for Listening

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“My soul, wait silently for God alone; for my expectation is from Him.”

Psalm 62:5

“How slow many are to learn that quietness is blessing, that quietness is strength, that quietness is the source of the highest activity–the secret of all true abiding in Christ! Let us try to learn it and watch out for whatever interferes with it.  The dangers that threaten the soul’s rest are many.”  Andrew Murray, “Abiding in Christ”

I suppose it is a foolishness to think things are quieter in the Summer–school is out and children romp and play outside my window, noise floats in as games are won and lost in the streets below our house. But Summer vacation also means less push and stress, less have-to and more want to. My want-to includes some quiet (er) time of listening to God in this season.

The push back is all the noise–even good “Christian” noise.

Don’t get me wrong but I think we (by “we” here I’m including myself) are quick to crank up the praise music before we spend time with our own words praising God in the silence. Bible studies and Christian living books are a way to learn, but sometimes I think we lean on them instead of the Holy Spirit to speak directly to us.  The internet is a 24/7 stream of everybody else’s opinions on what is godly, but it often draws us away from the Source–the voice of Jesus and God’s word.

Why not, instead, make this season a time of doing nothing, reading nothing (I know–sacrilege!) and just spend time listening and recording in a journal what you hear God say?

There might be revelation or resolution of an issue percolating below the surface that you’ve carried around and worried about for months. Years.  Perhaps there will be a healing touch from God’s Spirit, or simply a wonder-filled moment as you catch the joy of God in His creation.

Perhaps they will help you discover some glory of your own in God’s word to your heart.

Listening as a spiritual practice (inspired by “God in the Yard”, L.L. Barkat, TSPoetry Press)

Stop and make a space to listen 2-3 times a week, 20 or 30 minutes—start small  NOTE: Listening as a Spiritual Practice or Discipline is really about letting go & making room, more about absorbing & receiving from God than about my outcome or producing something. More being, less doing.

  • Examples of Spiritual Practice
  • PERSONAL WORSHIP, PRAYER, praying in the Spirit, BIBLE READING
  • SIT where your eyes can be still, preferably outside with a view to something living; resting your eyes brings peace to your mind and soul and you can LISTEN BETTER
  • Don’t Read your Bible-this is not devotional time, it is time to listen…you can talk to Jesus, sing, but resist the temptation to DO SOMETHING; just WAIT
  • Remember: You have the Holy Spirit as your teacher and guide (Jn. 14:26)
    • If you ask God to speak, He will. If you ask Him to show you something, He will.
  • Here are some prompts for thought:
    • What is your deepest source of current pain, and how is God trying to meet you there?
    • Where are you finding joy with God?
    • What does the world around you say about God’s relation to you and your relation to Him?
    • Here’s what the Holy Spirit might do as you listen:
    • First, you’ll discover something—(see it—‘wow, I didn’t know I felt/knew that’!)
    • Then uncover it—(name it—‘oh, THAT’S what that is…’)
    • Then recover it—(live into it, like new skin) NOT fix it (as in patch it up)

      Don’t worry about what to do with your discoveries. Simply listen to what the sounds are telling you and offer them as an expression of truth to God then write them down.

      If you are not a person who keeps a journal, this might be a good time to start.

Writing down your story can bring healing to you and life to others. Our stories are a way for others to hear where God is meeting us now & where He has met us in the past, especially when we share them.

And most of all, when you look back over the entries, whether several weeks or several months or years, there is powerful encouragement of God’s faithfulness and care to you as His child.

      I hope you take the time to get away from the noise and ask Jesus to speak to you in way that’s like no other. He is so happy when we ask!

Writing Exercise {a #Poem}

“Stretch” must be a biblical word, regardless of one’s age
(an extension, a straining) like a two-year-old
reaching on tiptoes towards her Father, not unlike
the discomfort of unfolding old bones and well-used knees,
joints so stiff they’ve forgotten how to bend.

I want to stress and press past the comfortable,
groan with the growing, the knowing that daily
I must reach, pushing back against all that stagnates and stifles
learn to lean, in, out, up, force myself to taste the hard that makes

me healthy like a spoonful of unwanted needful medicine,
and hold on, taut as elastic, grow with each reach,
a creature who craves comfort but who knows in the end
it’s creating I need. I need making.

I need my Maker.
So I flatten palms against wood,
face towards the carpet and breathe,
count 15 and slowly rise, praying for muscle memory
to travel past the limits of flesh and into my soul, where lazy lives,
snap me out of my haze, like a rubberband
rebounding from a l o o o n g pull.

I rise and rest at my desk, write the word “stretch”

in the Webster’s margin on the “S” page.

A fitting Biblical addition, I notice.
It’s right above the word “surrender.”

 

The Joy of Waiting

My husband loves to fly kites.  We recently spent four days at the Oregon Coast and he was very much looking forward to getting some ‘air time.’

Not much you can do, though, if you have no wind.  

So we just waited.  And while we waited we sat in our beach chairs and read books.

We threw sand in the air a few times to see which the wind was blowing.
Sand up, sand down.  No wind blowing.

No matter, we were at the beach. The sun was shining, people were laughing.  The waves were invigorating, calling and diving birds put on a show.  There were kids and sandcastles….

 

There was great joy in just waiting.

I have been reading Andrew Murray’s classic ‘Waiting on God’ since October of 2012.  That’s almost two years.  The book consists of 31 devotionals on prayer….  Thirty one. So I could have been done in November of 2012. But it’s August 2014….and I’m still reading.

Each and every selection is deep and rich and full and takes me a week or two to digest.  I camp in each one for awhile, meditating on the words before I continue.
I thought when I began this book I was waiting for something.
Something to happen, something to come together, something big, maybe?

I found out I’m actually waiting for Someone.

From Day 22:
“Even as the sunshine enters with its light and warmth, with its beauty and blessing,
into every little blade of grass that rises upward out of the cold earth, so the everlasting God meets,
in the greatness and the tenderness of His love, each waiting child, to shine in his heart
“the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (II Cor 4:6).
“Who can measure the difference between the great sun and that little blade of grass?
And yet, the grass has all of the sun it can need or hold.
Do believe that in waiting on God, His greatness and your littleness suit and meet each other most wonderfully.
“Bow in emptiness and poverty and utter weakness, in humility and meekness,
and surrender to His will before His great glory, and be still.
As you wait on Him, God draws near.”
And that kite?  The next day we got all the wind we needed.
It was a beautiful sight.
Who (or what) are you waiting for? Be encouraged–God is there already.
~~~~~~~~

Sabbath Equation in the Garden

my perennial bed

I drag my green plastic chair across the lawn out to the garden.  The orange bucket is upended and covered with an old towel–my ‘end table.’  I place my fresh cup of warm coffee on top and settle in with my camera over my shoulder.

I am waiting for the hummingbird.

I’ve noticed her from my kitchen window, stopping at tall spikes of Cardinal Flower, relishing the nectar feast as she drinks from red trumpets.
I am determined to capture this in a photo.

There are so many other things I could be doing–organizing papers and kid files from school, entering the obligatory data in the computer program for teachers.  Computing, typing, printing, copying.  Necessary school tasks that have spilled over into the weekend.

However.

However, it is an amazing, glorious, sunny last day of summer day.  And there is this book, ‘God in the Yard’ by LL Barkat–which I’ve written about here and here.  Because of what I read…because I am learning to slow and listen, I hear a still, small voice say, “just stop.”
Get off the wheel–savor this Saturday sunshine, sit and soak in the sights and sounds. The work can wait.

The hummingbird never comes.

But oh, there’s a show–chickadees swimming through the air, breast stroking their way from the trees to my deck.  Clusters of busy bees swarming the purple asters, feasting and gathering, doing their bee-like job.

purple asters

A dragonfly zooms close to the ground, his right angle flight pattern cutting the empty space above the grass.  He’s landed and I lose him….probably on the rhododendron.

From this vantage point I can easily glance up at the trees.  My eyes register movement.  There are two young gray squirrels playing trapeze with the clusters of maple tree “helicopters.”  The seed pods provide handy hanging places for playing.  Suddenly the young’uns are stopped and stretched on a branch, their feathery tails at rest in the shadows.

My eyes drink it all in–I snap photos up close and personal of the summer-end colors in my yard.

Not once do I think of the work I must do that awaits me inside.

coreopsis (tickseed) and seed pod

 

borage

 

cotoneaster berries
I am fully in the moment, confident this Sabbath time is the rest and refueling I need for the task ahead.

There’s an equation in LL’s book which makes no mathematical sense but works ‘on the Godward side’ (Spurgeon? Murray? Edwards?).

“In a way, this is how Sabbath works.  One day out of seven, or 1=6 is an unexpected equation,
but it seems to work miracles in our lives.  Still, many of us have difficulty
granting even one day of rest to our six days of work.
Just why do we shun giving up one day? 
Are we in need of claiming all the accomplishments for ourselves,
when Sabbath suggests they might come from God and open space as well?
Sabbath relieves us of our illusion and burden
that we are the center of all our accomplishments.” “God in the Yard” p. 79

So how did all that weekend work work out in with this new math? Tasks accomplished? Jobs completed? Welllllll….
Pretty much all the t’s were crossed, all the i’s were dotted, AND I had time left over. I found the equation held true with God in my yard….and my Sabbath stop was the proof text.

How about you?

A (Very) Long Obedience in the Same Direction

I’ve been been making time lately to re-read my journals–sort of taking inventory of God’s words to me as I read His Word throughout the past year during my quiet time.

First of all, it’s very encouraging.  To look back over the year I can see that many of the God-thoughts I wrote down have come to pass. Joy and miracle. Yay.

As I read I couldn’t help noticing the repeated theme of obedience. I read Eugene Peterson’s book, “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction” last year, his study of the Songs/Psalms of Ascent.

God was speaking to me over and over again about this subject using this book. Yes, God usually has to repeat something to me over the course of many months to make sure I’m getting it.

Lately I have struggled with falling into discouragment about my behaviours, attitudes and actions, particularly with those whom I love.

“Be more gentle here, Jody.  Watch your tone of voice….” Ack–I often fail miserably.
But God, but God……..the Holy Spirit reminds me.  His mercies are new every morning. Exclamation point.
Thank GOODNESS for Jesus’ reminder in Matthew Chapter 6, that ‘each day has enough trouble of its own’.
In other words, “Take each day as a fresh start from me, and don’t be burdened down by the ‘what if’s’ and the ‘but I didn’ts’.” 

I wrote this in my journal:

We cannot let ourselves be held captive to the disastrous ways we’ve failed
and let that dictate our tomorrows. Our tomorrows belong to God and rest on
His power and provision, not my performance.

Peterson talks extensively about failures and obedience when he discusses Psalm 132 in “Long Obedience..”
This Psalm is full of ‘remembers’, the Psalmist reminding God about his promises to King David.

“God, based on the history of what you’ve done for us, we’re planning on a future restoration of your kingdom and your temple, a place where you can dwell. We know you’ll come through.” (my paraphrase).
Peterson continues, “The traveler/psalmist is not…”reveling in the past for its own sake , but a traveler using what he knows of the past to get to where he is going–to God.”
“The past is not,” Peterson says, “for the person of faith, a restored historical site that we tour when we are on vacation; it is a field that we plow and harrow and plant and fertilize and work for a harvest.”
“If we define the nature of our lives by the mistake of the moment (oh God, I make so many!) or the defeat of the hour or the boredom of the day, we will define it wrongly.
We need roots in the past to give obedience ballast and breadth;
we need a vision of the future to give obedience direction and a goal.”
“What we require is obedience–the strength to stand and the willingness to leap,and the sense to know when to do which. Which is exactly what we get when an accurate memory of God’s ways is combined with a lively hope in his promises.” (LOSD, pp. 169-171).

My journal notes continue, “just like a treehouse in a tree: the tree is firmly planted–solid in the strength of the tree and its roots. And when you climb up high in the branches into the treetops, you can see the view.”

Next time I see a treehouse, I’m going to remember that….Roots in the past reminding me of God’s faithfulness,
a vision from on high of the future He has planned for me.

Tree photo, New Orleans, LA, jlc, April 2012