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 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.

 

Patty Griffin and the Long Ride Home

  
“I’ve had some time to think about you
And watch the sun set like a stone
I’ve had some time to think about you
On the long ride home” (Patty Griffin).

So, here’s the deal. The Red Sled has a pooped-out transmission. Thankfully, that means rebuilding and NOT replacing (which is apparently about $1400 more). That got my anxiety up a bit.

But on my ride home, I had Patty Griffin’s A Kiss in Time to keep me company. To those who only know top-40, Patty Griffin is an astoundingly amazing artist who has the rare combination of angelic voice and keen songwriting ability. This particular album captured her in a 2003 live performance at the Ryman Auditorium (the same place where I saw her live in 2011).

There’s something about music that forces you to be present in the present. You can’t daydream about the past or fret about the future when a good song is playing. You can’t help but notice the music. At least I can’t.

Music is a reminder that you can’t change the past or control the future. All you can do is to live in the present and receive it like the gift it is. Each moment is a package waiting to be unwrapped by those not enslaved to their smart devices.

So I go to bed tonight knowing that in the end everything will be fine, because God’s already there and He’s promised me that He’d take care of the details.

Hopefully, I won’t keep myself up half the night coughing out my lungs like I did last night. That’s not my idea of fun.

Here’s hoping you find something to smile about and celebrate about God in the days and weeks to come.

My celebration will be my head hitting the pillow as soon as humanly possible.

 

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.

 

Words of Wisdom

hemingway

As you can see, I posted this way back in 2013.

I can’t say that I’ve always lived to the fullest, but I can say those were by and large the best moments that I can remember.

This is the only present you will ever have. There will never again be a moment exactly like the one you’re in now.

Even in those bad moments, there is always something good to be found, something to be thankful for, and something to learn from.

It’s hard to keep from looking back into the past or looking ahead into possible futures, but the best life is lived when you’re fully present in the moment, taking in all of your surroundings, i.e. not with your head buried in a smart phone, tablet, or some other kind of electronic gizmo.

You may miss out on what’s trending on social media or the big announcement your friend just posted about, but the gain is so much more than what you lose. You get to see sunshine, breathe in fresh air, and see the glory of God cascading down all around you. You get to live.

My recommendation (weather permitting) is to have a meal at a restaurant that has outside seating. If you can, go the whole meal without using any smart media. Maybe even journal about who and what you see. Take it all in and try not to miss a thing. And yes, order the dessert.

 

Summer Nights in Franklin

“My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength—that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:17-19, The Message).

I love those summer nights, partly because of that song from the movie Grease and partly because that’s when the humidity becomes slightly more bearable. Plus, there’s something about the nocturnal breezes that stirs up a multitude of memories for me.

I visited all my usual Franklin places– McCreary’s Irish Pub, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, and the Frothy Monkey. I walked up and down Main Street and noted that there were three houses for sale, though one has a contract pending.

It was about being in the moment, not anxiously obsessing over an unknown future and possible scenarios that may or may not come to pass. I remembered that God’s love, while it is omnipresent, can only be experienced in the present. I can’t plumb its depths or rise to its heights if I am dwelling on the past or focused on the future. Especially not if my head is buried nonstop in my smart phone.

God knows the future, because He’s already there. It’s not like anything that happens to me is going to take Him by surprise. Jeremiah 29:11 says that God knows the plans He has for me, and that they are good plans. I can trust not only those plans but also the Planner with full confidence.

I still prefer autumn. With the way I sweat in all this humidity, I’m sure everybody around me prefers it, too.

 

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Epiphany

sbemh

“There’s no present like the time” (a great line from The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel).

My life hasn’t gone the way I planned. In fact, for most of my life there really hasn’t been a plan. My first job when I moved to the Nashville area fell into my lap in a stroke of providence and blessing.

I can say that while I haven’t always gotten what I wanted, I find I always got what I needed just when I needed it.

Tonight, I saw the Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, the sequel to . . . you can probably figure out the title to the first movie. It was just as good and clever as the first.

I remember when I heard the line that I quoted, my brain wanted to reverse it and have it say, “There’s no time like the present.” That’s how I’ve always heard it and that’s what I hear when people are wanting you to act NOW and buy NOW and decide NOW.

But truly, there is no better present than the time you’re given. There’s no better present than the present. You only get one today and never a do-over on yesterday (unless you happen to live inside the movie Groundhog Day).

So take it all in. Be sure to pay attention. For me, it means noticing the beautiful cloud formations in the sky on the way to work and actually paying attention to the scenery on the drive. It means stopping for a moment to breathe a prayer along the lines of “Thank You, God, for this life, and forgive me if I don’t love it enough.”

I’m still learning never to take anything (or anyone) for granted. I hope I wake up tomorrow, but I can’t guarantee that I will because it’s not promised. The same goes for all my family and friends. Even my cat Lucy.

Savor your life while you live it. Don’t waste your time during the week pining away after the weekends and holidays and summer vacations. Each day is a gift that is good for only 24 hours and has a no-return policy. Open it.

 

No More TNT?

It was weird not having my usual TNT discipleship class tonight at Brentwood Baptist Church. I’d gotten so used to these Wednesday nights as part of my routine and now, once again, my routine has been changed.

I’d willingly go through all of it again if I could. Even the public speaking part, which is definitely NOT my forte.

It’s also funny how something I was a part of for only a year became so ingrained into my life that it almost feels like withdrawal not going anymore. Relationships are the same way. When people move off, it seems strange not to see them around anymore, even if they weren’t in your life for very long.

I used to say how much I liked change and how exciting it all was. Now I’ve experienced quite a few changes and it doesn’t seem so exciting anymore. Scary? Yes. Thrilling? Not so much. Unpredictable? Absolutely.

What I love now more than anything is the God who stays the same amidst all the constant changes. It’s true that the only constant is change. Well, it’s mostly true. The only constants are that God remains God and that everything else changes. Except His Word and His promises.

Sometimes I think it’d be nice to have a heads-up on some of the upcoming changes so I could prepare physically, emotionally, spiritually. You know, bring an extra pair of underwear along for the special occasions where it gets really exciting.

But only God knows. I may not trust what tomorrow will bring but I can trust that God will orchestrate it for my good. There’s nothing so bad that God can’t use for good and eventually turn it to the best possible outcome.

God knows the future because He’s already there. God knows my past because He’s there now, healing those wounds of mine so that they no longer bleed into my present (stolen from my pastor). He’s also right with me right now. That’s the best part.