Saturday, March 26, 2016

Resurrection Sunday

I have been a bit down all day yesterday and today, struggling to put my finger on why.  And then I realized.  Tomorrow, Easter Sunday, will be the first time my extended family, my mom, local brothers and sister-in-law, niece, and nephew, has been together since my Dad’s funeral on December 30.  It will also be the first family gathering at my home since Dad’s passing. One of a calendar full of "the first time without Dad" moments and events.  

It still seems surreal that he isn’t with us.  When asked today what we were doing for Easter Sunday, I caught myself telling my sister-in-law that my parents were coming.  It was like a weight was crushing down on my chest when I realized what I said.

Our table will be full tomorrow, thanks to lots of family and my niece’s and daughter’s boyfriends, all the chairs taken, but there will be a gaping space in my heart.
In preparation for tomorrow’s dinner, I decided to keep things really simple, just use paper plates, napkins, cups, disposable silverware.  Made a special trip to target to get something I liked.  But as I looked at the unopened packages on my dining room table, I stopped.  I couldn’t do it.  Paper was not enough.  Somehow it felt wrong.

Let me be clear, this is not about impressing anyone, and I’m all for simple and easy, something I’ve learned well over this past year of chronic illness.  But no.  Paper wasn’t…honoring. 

Here’s the thing.  Easter has always been a holiday near and dear to my heart, for many reasons.  But it rings stronger, pulls deeper within me this year than others past.  Easter is hope of resurrection, life eternal, because of what happened that Sunday morning all those years ago.  And because of that hope, the hope to which I cling and the hope my Dad had, I can KNOW that I will see him again.  I can KNOW that he is with Jesus, celebrating Easter like never before in his Wranglers, cowboy boots, and suspenders. 

So to honor that, to honor my King and to honor my Dad who is with him, I lay out my simple/beautiful white china.  And cloth napkins.  And silverware that won’t be in the trash by 4pm tomorrow.  I honor what Easter is, Who it is, and the difference it makes.  I miss my Dad.  I will the rest of my life, I’m sure.   But I know he’s saving a seat for me at the banquet table.

It is by His great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead.
I Peter 1:3

Friday, March 25, 2016

Fresh Eyes

It started out as a routine Sunday morning.  I woke up slightly earlier than I wanted to because that’s just the way it is, I rolled out of bed, made coffee, read a bit, made breakfast and ate with my husband while our young adults still slept.  Grateful for a later church service time, I went upstairs to do my usual yoga and take a shower (it was a hair washing/blowout day, so I had to factor in a lot more time for this process.  Can I get an amen?), and as I was moving through my routine I remembered with some excitement that it was the day I could put in a new set of contact lenses.  We have to take joy in the little things, people. 

My contacts are monthly use multi-focal lenses, you see, and I love them.  They serve me well, but by the end of their 30-day life cycle, they start to become a little bit uncomfortable.  My eyes start to bother me.  The lenses don’t work as well as the month marches on, especially for reading, and I get annoyed on an unconscious level with the blurriness of my world. 

It occurred to me as I was putting in my exciting new lenses: it was almost like getting a fresh pair of eyes every month.  Fresh view of the world, fresh perspective, new clarity, lifting of the weariness and discomfort I was feeling. 

A fresh pair of eyes.  Oh, how I need this in my spirit as well as in my body.  What if there was a new way to see my world, see my people, see my ministry, see my place in this wonderful madness of life?  What if I look upon what is around me with fresh eyes, refracted through the lens of God’s work and Word in my life, His Spirit guiding me, Jesus’ love and grace as my example? 

Perhaps then I would feel the weight and weariness of carrying regret, or jealousy, or a grudge lift away.  New clarity for my path and in my relationships.  Fresh perspective on issues that challenge me.  A fresh view of the world and how I fit into it.  And how God can change it through me.  With fresh eyes, I could perhaps shed that layer of unconscious annoyance, with the blurriness in my world clarified by a better perspective.  Think of what it could mean, fresh eyes.  A new perspective. 

Where, though, can I get this?  It’s not like going to my optometrist and getting a new prescription, or going on the 1-800-CONTACTS website and ordering new boxes of lenses.  In truth t’s simple, though not easy:  I need to seek more time in God’s presence to see through His lens, more time in His word to bring my heart and my view in alignment with His heart, asking for His view, His focus. 

Speaking to Ezekiel the prophet, God tells His people, "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh."  (Ezekiel 36:26)  When I go to God and seek a new perspective, He will happily, lovingly grant it to me.
But just like changing my contacts, changing my perspective is a choice.  I could decide to keep right on wearing the same pair of lenses, month after month, increasing my discomfort and the distortion through which I view the world.  I could continue to wear them, risking infection and, potentially, lasting damage to my vision. 

By the same token, I could continue to view the world, the circumstances, and the people around me the same way, and become less and less satisfied with what I see.  I could choose that, thinking all the while, “Why should I change?  I’ve been fine with this way of seeing all along!  I’m comfortable.”  Even though I’m not.  

I have to intentionally take the contacts I’ve worn for a month out of my eyes, walk to the small waste basket in my bathroom, and throw them out. 

I have to surrender seeing things my way, the old way, through my tired lenses. And surrender is intentional.  I have to CHOOSE to take on God’s lens through which to view others, view hard situations, view His people, view circumstances.  I must deliberately throw those “lenses” in the trash.  And leave them there. 

I would NEVER pull old contacts out of the trash and put them back into my eyes just because I was more accustomed to them.  I don’t even want to think about the infection that would cause. 

Neither should I retrieve my old way of seeing someone or something, the way without God’s influence and grace, and put it back into my life, back to the familiar.  Think about how that would be toxic, damaging to my heart and my relationships.  Detrimental to my growth. 

But isn’t that easier said than done?  I know I have often drifted back into old habits, old ways of seeing the world, even though the new ways were better.  It takes deliberate choice to change, and it takes deliberate choice to NOT return to the old way of seeing things. 

Seeing through a new lens isn’t just intentional surrender, it’s ongoing surrender.

Fresh eyes.  And a renewed heart.  Thank God for contact lenses that help me see.  And thank God for His lenses that help me see His way..

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Focus: Choosing where to Gaze

I recently heard a Christian speaker and writer, Karen Ehman, say that you can choose where you glance and where you gaze.  This really resonated with me, this description of choosing your focus in life. So let me share a story.

I used to hike.  A lot.  My husband and I went on some grand and somewhat hard-core adventures a few years back.  We enjoyed many beautiful high-altitude day hikes/climbs together in Desolation Wilderness near Lake Tahoe and in Yosemite, eventually ascending the top of Half Dome.  Yep.  I did that.  Wasn’t my natural habitat, but it was glorious to be out in nature and doing something out of my comfort zone with my beloved. 

However, I as recently recalled, when I first started doing some of these more challenging hikes, my tendency was to keep my eyes glued to the trail.  The rocky, unpredictable, steeply ascending path was fraught with potential rolled ankles and falls (in my then-inexperienced hiker brain), so I would spend literally hours looking down.  Making sure I was stepping where I needed to, fueled by fear of a misstep or of hurting myself in some way or hurtling off a cliff. 

In all of these excursions I followed my more-experienced hiker/Eagle Scout husband and watched where he was stepping, doing my best to do what he was doing.  All the while asking myself why was this something people did with their time. 

On one of many quick breathers/water breaks on one particularly hot California-in-July afternoon, I took a moment to look up.  And I was amazed.  The scenery around me was truly breathtaking.  Soaring pine trees, sheer granite, brilliant sunshine in lacy patterns filtered through tree branches.  None of which I had seen while staring intently at dirt and rocks. 

All day I had I followed my guide, but didn’t see the beauty around me.  I labored along, without the joy of the journey.  I chose to gaze where I should have glanced. I don’t mean I should NEVER look at where I’m putting my feet, that would be dangerous and foolhardy, but neither should I do that exclusively and miss all the grandeur of my surroundings. 

Glance at the dirt, gaze at the majesty of God’s creation: the lesson allowed me to truly LOVE hiking. 

But isn’t it easy to do that in life?  We slog through our days, doing our best to follow Jesus, but our gaze is fixed on the ground, on the hard things in life, rather than the beautiful things with which God surrounds us.  But we have a choice.  We just have to choose to look up. And be amazed. 
Even on the rockiest path, there is beauty and blessing to be found.   Glance at the hard things,  as we have to keep moving on, and gaze at the splendor God is putting in your life. 

Sometimes, though, we don’t feel like we have a choice, that we are forced into our focus.  My sweet 87-year-old mom shared an experience with me recently.  She described a very elderly woman who came into a restaurant with a couple of her friends helping her.  She said this poor woman’s spine was so bent that her shoulders and head were practically a right angle from her torso, forcing her to look at the floor at all times.  The woman was not able to raise her head to look around her, and had to rely on her friends to get her to the table. 

Have you ever felt stuck in your focus, unable to see anything but the dirt, the hard things in life?  Let me tell you, I have felt EXACTLY that way.  The woman in the restaurant physically had no choice but to gaze at her feet, at the ground, but sometimes I can feel so trapped in the overwhelming nature of the tough things of life, of my disappointment, of my pain, of my sadness, that I feel unable to look up, without a choice of where to focus, as though I can’t even begin to glance and see the good. 

Psalm 121: 1-2 says “I lift up my eyes to the hills- where does my help come from?  My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” 

When you are oh-so-stuck, can’t seem to get your eyes off the dirt and rocks, don’t miss it.  Don’t miss the opportunity for the Maker of heaven and earth to show you more.  There is so much more that He has for you than the path, rocky as it is.  He is your help.  He surrounds us with beauty in the pain, we just have to look up.

Lift up your eyes; don’t give up.  Choose, as Karen Ehman writes, where to glance and where to gaze.