The Strain of the Moment

“If you are a child of God, you will certainly encounter adversities, but Jesus says you should not be surprised when they come and there is nothing for you to fear. God does not give us overcoming life–He gives us life as we overcome. The strain of life is what builds our strength. If there is no strain, there will be no strength. God never gives us strength for tomorrow, or for the next hour, but only for the strain of the moment” (Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest).

That’s what I need– strength for the moment. Strength to live in the moment when I’m constantly tugged in two different directions. I always feel the pull to look back in nostalgia (which can be good at times but can also distract me from the present) and to look ahead (to what might or might not come to pass).

Right now, I have a very sleepy kitten on my chest. She’s purring contentedly, not worried about what will happen tomorrow or the day after that. I need to be more like her.

As I recall, when God made Himself known to Moses to lead His people out of Egypt, it wasn’t as “I WAS” or “I WILL BE” as much as it was “I AM.” God never speaks to us in our past or our future but always in our present, always where we are.

I can’t worry about what I forgot to do earlier today or what good or bad might happen tomorrow. I can breathe deeply and trust that God is with me to handle whatever comes or has come.

By the way, this sleepy kitten is seriously putting me to sleep. She has a very calming effect like that.

May you know God’s provision for your daily bread as each day comes and trust Him in the moment as each moment comes. Amen.

 

Back in Time

Earlier tonight, I was watching Batchelor Mother, an old movie starring Ginger Rogers and David Niven from back in 1939. Sometimes when I see an old film like that, I wish I could step back into the time of the movie. It seems to me that that era was a lot less complicated and dangerous than the times I live in.

Have you ever felt that way? Maybe I’m the only one who wants to go back to a time before they were born. Most likely, what I want didn’t really exist even back then. Maybe what I want is to live inside the artificial world of a movie.

I’m still finding out that the best place to be is in the center of God’s will under the watchful care of His eye. Right now in this present moment is where God is speaking to me, not in my past failures or my future uncertainties.

I remember Midnight in Paris, where the main character obsesses over going back to Paris in the 1920s until he gets there (via some kind of time travel) and finds out that the people then weren’t any happier.

Maybe the best place for me to be is living in the present moment with gratitude for all that I have instead of envy over what I don’t. Maybe the key is to slow down and pay attention to where I am and Whose I am.

I’m not always the most observant person in the world when it comes to really and truly seeing my surroundings and what God is trying to tell me. I think that anxiety can keep you from really being in the moment and keeps you from seeing what’s in front of you.

God, bring me back to where you are, here in this moment. Remind me that there’s nothing in my past, present, or future that you haven’t already overcome through Jesus on the cross. Keep telling me that I’m secure in Your love and grace and that You will finish what you started in me.

 

 

One of Those Nights

“When trouble surrounded me, I cried out to the Eternal;
    He answered me and brought me to a wide, open space.
The Eternal is with me,
    so I will not be afraid of anything.
    If God is on my side, how can anyone hurt me?” (Psalm 118:5-6, The Voice).

So here I am at 10:30 with a mild headache and absolutely no idea of what to write about. It happens on occasion. So I supposed I’ll just make stuff up as I go.

It was a good night. I visited my usual favorite places in Franklin: McCreary’s Irish Pub, Kilwin’s, and St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. I got my 10,000 steps in. I took in all the fresh night air allowed by law and then some.

In St. Paul’s, I set the timer on my phone for 15 minutes of silence. I didn’t check my Facebook feed or any of the NCAA scores. I prayed some and sat in the dark some. It still amazes me how long 15 minutes can seem without some sort of distraction or amusement.

I walked down my favorite street and once again wished I could win the lottery or run into an inheritance so that I could buy one of those old houses. I just love old houses with character. Plus, I’d be so close to all the aforementioned favorite places.

It’s comforting to know that there’s nowhere I can go where God is not already there. There’s nothing that I can confess that He does not already know. There’s no fear or regret that He isn’t already aware of. There’s no future possibility that God can’t turn to my ultimate and lasting good. There’s not a time even in the darkest places and the loneliest times where God does not see and know where I am.

That’s a good thought to end this Saturday night.

 

 

 

One More Letter to My Future Wife in 2016

So, here I am again, writing to you. It’s been a while.

I confess that sometimes I wonder if you aren’t a figment of my imagination, if you really do exist out there at all.

Still, I keep holding out hope and praying for you.

I pray that you won’t let discouragement overwhelm you.

I pray that you know that the love of your Abba Father is exponentially greater than all the romantic loves in all the books, songs, and movies combined.

I pray you know your worth isn’t based on whether or not you have a ring on your hand or children in the back seat of your car. It isn’t based on your income or job title or net worth.

The Father has declared you to be priceless. Jesus has shown tangibly that you are worth dying for. That is your true worth, and I hope you remember it when every other voice tells you how cheap you are.

I hope and pray that you know that the waiting will be worth it. I know in my own heart that in my waiting I have come to see more and more that God is truly enough. I’ve come to know and understand that I won’t need you to complete me and you won’t need me to complete you. God is truly enough for both of us.

I also hope and pray you will treasure each day that you’re alive as a gift. I hope you can learn to be fully present to the present and not fixated on what’s past or what may yet happen. I pray you will find all that God has for you right here in this very moment.

Keep praying for me as I will keep praying for you. I still can’t wait to meet you one day.

 

All is Still Grace on a Monday in January

I had the good fortune to run into a friend I hadn’t seen in a while. We were greeters together at Kairos for a few years and then her life took a different path than mine and I hadn’t seen her in a long time.

I seriously doubt that she was as excited to see me as I was to see her, but it was a nice, brief reunion. It was another of those God-winks that I keep seeing when I look through the lens of gratitude instead of seeing through fear or despair.

I also got to see a homeless deaf man signing with a woman via Skype over his iPad. It was a beautiful moment that made my day.

I look at it this way– the worst day ever still only lasts 24 hours. No matter what happens, there will be a sunset and a sunrise, followed by a fresh morning with new mercies and grace. For that I will always be thankful.

I did have a caramel macchiato from Starbucks and sipped it while watching The Wonder Years on my antique iPad that I traded for at McKay’s a couple of years ago. I think that qualifies as a Monday win.

So there it is. A full work day, Starbucks, a good conversation with my friend that I see every Monday, serving at Room in the Inn, and good music in the Jeep to make the driving in Nashville traffic bearable.

I realize that there are a LOT of people out there around the world who would trade anything to have my problems (as well as my blessings). There are many much worse off than I am, many of those who are way more grateful for what little they do have.

It’s still a process. I have spells of envy and anxiety like anybody else. I have moments where I can’t see the good in the moment because I’m too wrapped up in reliving the past or worrying about the future.

But right now, by the grace of God, I am thankful for where I am right now, because that is exactly where God is and where God is working on me at this very moment.

The end.

 

 

 

The Crud Life

I have the crud.

It’s the official term for when your allergies go nuts and you have that sneezing/coughing/runny nose/itchy throat/fuzzy headedness that goes along with it.

I’m there. And I’m not loving it.

So brevity may be the soul of wit, but it also may be due to hay fever.

Remember, God loves you the way you are, and not as you should be or wish you could be. He is looking at a future you that only He can see and it is better than anything you can imagine.

That’s it. Nothing exciting and nothing new. Just some old reminders from one tired Ragamuffin with the Crud.

 

 

Out Among the Stars

“Oh, how many travelers get weary
Bearing both their burdens and their scars
Don’t you think they’d love to start all over
And fly like eagles out among the stars?”

I had Johnny Cash keeping me company on my drive home from work today. Not literally, as that would be a bit creepy.

I had a CD of his that I checked out from the library. It’s an album of previously unreleased material that Cash recorded back in the early 80’s. I don’t know why these songs didn’t see the light of day until recently. I’m not a music exec.

I do know that the song “Out Among the Stars” spoke to me, particularly the chorus.

How many out there are carrying burdens and scars from a lifetime of things they did and things done to them? How many cry out incessantly for a chance for a do-over?

The beautiful thing about the Gospel is that it is the Gospel of Second Chances and Do-Overs? When you belong to Jesus, what you did in the past no longer matters. It’s who you are now that counts. It’s WHOSE you are now that really counts.

Sure, past actions have present consequences. But those actions don’t have to define you or the choices you make today. They don’t have to determine your future.

There’s a line in an old Switchfoot song that I love: “Every breath is a second chance.” That’s what Jesus offers. Not just one second chance, but multiple do-overs. In fact, each new morning is a clean slate filled with God’s new mercies and lovingkindness.

That’s what I cling to these days. That’s what I hold on to on those dark and dreary days.

By the way, that Johnny Cash CD is worth picking up if you haven’t purchased it already. Just follow this link:

http://www.amazon.com/Out-Among-Stars-Johnny-Cash/dp/B00H5D52VC/ref=sr_1_1?s=music&ie=UTF8&qid=1444098675&sr=1-1&keywords=johnny+cash+out+among+the+stars

All Those 10,000 Maniacs and That Toasted Graham Latte

cd-10000-maniacs-mtv-unplugged-13654-MLB189732027_6669-F

“These are days, you’ll remember
Never before and never since, I promise
Will the whole world be warm as this and as you feel it

You’ll know it’s true that you are blessed and lucky
It’s true that you are touched by something
That will grow and bloom in you” (Natalie Merchant, Robert Buck).

Maybe I look at music a little differently than most, but it seems to me that certain kinds of music lend themselves to certain seasons of the year.

Obvious example: listening to The Beach Boys conjures up all sorts of images of summer. For me, a lot of 90’s alternative music makes me think of cooler temperatures and fallish weather. Don’t ask me why. It just does.

My soundtrack for the drive from work to meet my friend at Starbucks was the fantastic 10,000 Maniacs compilation, Campfire Songs. It covers the Natalie Merchant era and makes me want to wear a sweater. PS Maybe I’m old, but most of the new music I hear doesn’t even come close to the likes of 10,000 Maniacs or Natalie Merchant as a solo act. And it’s sad that it takes 8 songwriters and 3 producers to come up with something that pales in comparison to what guys like Freddy Mercury or Brian Wilson could do all by themselves.

I had every intention of enjoying a pumpkin spice latte, but the new toasted graham latte called out to me. Not literally, because that would have been super weird. More like a metaphorical kind of calling.

 

I’ve found that for me, the best kind of therapy is a good song at just the right moment. Music has a way of bringing me back from obsessing over the past or fretting over the future. It forces me (in a non-violent way) to be completely in the present.

Maybe that’s why I nerded out a bit when I found Patty Griffin’s newest album, Servant of Love, at Best Buy. It truly made my heart happy and immediately went into the CD player in my Red Sled aka my 1997 Jeep Cherokee with almost 293,000 miles on it.

God speaks to me most through music, and it doesn’t always have to be overtly Christian music. Sometimes a song that’s not even remotely about God can be a vehicle through which God speaks directly to my need.

God is good like that.

The end.

 

A Prayer for the Longsuffering

The Eternal will finish what He started in me.
    Your faithful love, O Eternal One, lasts forever;
    do not give up on what Your hands have made” (Psalm 138:8, The Voice).

Lord, don’t give up on us. And don’t let us give up on us.

Sometimes, it seems like day comes after day with no change and no hope for tomorrow. It seems like a weather forecast for more of the same for the foreseeable future.

Help us to remember Your works in days past.

Help us to recall how many times You have delivered us when we have forgotten.

Remind us that Your promises are truer than what our eyes can see, what our hands can touch, what our minds can comprehend.

Your faithful love will last forever. Longer than our doubts. Longer than our fears. Longer than situations we feel will never get better.

Even when we feel like giving up on You, You still hold onto us and keep us safe.

You will finish what You started in me. And it will have been worth the wait.

Amen.

 

It’s Summer Solstice Again

“It must have been the summer solstice
When I first gave my heart to You
The first day of a brand new season
In a fevered passion for Your simple truth
It was the longest I’d ever felt for anything
And it gave my soul a song to sing . . . .

And with the spring comes the thaw
Melting my heart reviving all
It comes full circle and then
It’s summer solstice again

So can You throw Your arms around me and walk me home
I’ve wandered off way too far for way too long
And standing broken in this wilderness of shame
I have found my only strength is in your name
Oh, Father please can You undo what I’ve done
And get me back to square one

Back to the summer solstice

Take me back

I wanna go back” (Wayne Kirkpatrick, recorded by Susan Ashton).

Yes, it is summer solstice again. It’s officially the longest day of the year in terms of having the most daylight.

This one was hot. As in even standing in the shade, I was still sweating like the pig that knows he’s about to be bacon.

It felt like I was standing in front of an oven, only there was no aroma of anything baking, except maybe me.

Summer always makes me nostalgic for days I can never get back. It makes me miss people I will never see again in this lifetime.

I’m thinking about all those Johnson family reunions we used to have where all the cousins would make the drive down to Christiana, Tennessee and bring buckets of fried chicken (along with a multitude of casseroles and other foods) and tell stories of yesteryear. I miss those.

It’s easy to want to look back when you can’t really see what’s ahead, to long for the past when the future seems uncertain and scary.

That’s where a lot of us are right now. We’re holding on to what we know, what we can feel with our hands and see with our eyes and make sense of with our minds. We cling to the tangible, even if it’s what’s holding us back from becoming what God destined us to become.

Maybe faith is letting go of  those things and reaching out into the unknown with only the assurance that God will be there.

I love what G. K. Chesterton said: “Hope means hoping when everything seems hopeless.”

So here’s to hope, which is possibly the best thing going right now.

Hope is a good thing.