Carry-ons and Stiff-arms. A Rambling.

Recently, a friend who was slogging through a deep grief, shared some sermons with me. It caught me off guard, because our conversations during walks or coffee doesn’t usually come to specific points. We usually wander around ideas of faith and philosophy with with subtle ambiguity, and a spritz of a wry humor following close behind.

The sermons were buoyed by poignancy, and filled with slicing truths. What I mean by that is the preacher didn’t play patty-cake with God, but held the tension of life close to his heart. He shared his ubiquitous tight-wire between his pain and peace, failure and flourishing, mourning and comfort. Yet those tensions didn’t excuse him or me from taking action.

They had the effect of a simmered stew of Ecclesiastes, Proverbs, with Psalms of seasoning sprinkled in.  

Quite honestly, when a sermon comes to a close with pragmatic faith choices, as I believe they should, hives appear on my soul. I stubbornly scratch and scratch wishing I hadn’t heard the application points. I suppose it might be the Romans seven syndrome. The Apostle Paul’s word toss. “I do what I don’t want to do, and that which I want to do, I don’t.” Romans 7:15 The old do-do dance I know all too well. But often it is more than that, the floating around conclusions, the avoidance in the void is the road I most travel.

“It’s how I do, Lord.”

“Really, Hmmm. Come out onto the floor. Let Me show you some different moves.”

“But God, look at me! Two left feet time and time again.”

“You do know the music is going to stop eventually, right?”

“Yes.”

“Well, standing, back against the wall, isn’t using the music to its fullest.”

 When there’s a possible “out” or a way of loosening a grip on “my baggage,” stubbornness rises up and I stiff-arm God. We get used to our carry-ons don’t we?

Back to my friend. Any other person sharing sermons with me wouldn’t have the same effect. But his current state of raw grief coaxed an expectation on my mind and heart.

He is ripped open, receive what has spoken to his wounds.

As I listened to one sermon, then another, a vulnerability rose to the surface, and like a steroid shot, began healing the hives. Honestly, I was a bit rattled. Scared of commitment. Afraid of relationship, especially with God. I know. I know. God is love. God so loved. John 3:16. But my experience has its influence on me to the contrary. I’ve pinballed my way through Christianity…hitting bumper after bumper with a reactive-attachment when it comes to God.

In one of the sermons the preacher talks about ‘getting over it.’ At first what seemed like an avoidant approach, an end-around of sorts, turned into ‘getting through it’ to ‘get over it.’ Get it all out on the table. Or—Get out on that dance floor while the music is still playing.

I guess the conclusion is I can’t dance holding the baggage or stiff arming the invitation.

My verse of this year (partial verse, I should say) is “Come unto Me.”

Did you know the first miracle of Jesus was at a wedding? Water to wine. Finer wine. I think there might have been some dancing. Isn’t it funny how the music lasts to the end? Even when the chairs and the gifts are put away there are a few hold outs on the floor begging for one more song.

He truly is the Lord of the dance.

Sometimes how I feel when dancing with God. Not God’s fault. Heh.

R and R

Relief or Restoration?

I rattled through two sleeves of upscale buttery, saltine crackers like a couple of clips from a machine gun. This was after I found an old war flick, A Bridge Too Far, recounting the failed mission of WWII code named Operation Market Garden. I just wanted to veg, find a bit of relief from a busy weekend. Eventually I fell asleep in the glow of sound and fury.

Relief…

Back in the day it was peanut butter banana toast and Gilligan’s Island. It was an after school relief from junior high, that prison of halls and doors and peer pressure positioning. I’d make it home to lounge in the sunporch, give my pimpled persona a rest, and watch the Skipper run into the tree for the umpteenth time.

Such a pattern still exists if I let it. The space is there to get spaced out, relieved of the duty of adult living. I mean don’t we all want to escape some of the realities of the “real?” But is escape and relief the optimal way through?

Right before the Covid lockdowns last year I went to a men’s gathering in the mountains of Colorado. Buena Vista to be precise. Buena Vista means beautiful view, which it definitely was. So beautiful that there were times I wept at the scenery. Throughout the weekend the idea of choosing between a way of relief and a way of restoration was posited. In hindsight, I came away with the realization that I was using.

I began noticing the carbs of comfort, the plopping in front of the T.V., being strung out on the news cycle like crack cocaine and using social media as affirmation of my existence. I had become a hollow man. I was using, and it manifested in–“squirrel!”– and punching new holes near the end of my belt. When my kids had to use my first name to get my attention something wasn’t right.

I needed restoration. Relief serves a purpose, sure, but often it leaves a hole. Escape drops everything for a bit and leaves me empty handed. But restoration, I found, replaces, refurbishes, and refills. It’s not a substance but sustenance.

In that most famous of Psalms it says “He restores my soul.” Don’t we all need that? Not just because of the last year, but because life is edgy, full of wonder and wander, a Tale of Two Cities as it were. Read it here. https://www.bing.com/images/search?q=first+line+of+tale+of+two+cities&id=F2C6F65F1727439F9B7DB0139DAEF5CE23143DAC&FORM=IQFRBA

Our interior life needs consistent restoration. It takes more effort than relieving ourselves. Sorry for that image. But seriously, find the things that restore. Some of you are way ahead of me on this journey. I’m getting there.

Here are some restorative acts in which I engage:

Cutting down on news intake.

            Reading and journaling.

            Praying.

Hugging my wife and maintaining eye contact.

Listening to music.

Hitting some trails with a friend.

Getting out in nature in general. (So thankful for my job in that department.)

I’ll end with this. Over the weekend I went to my mother-in-law’s to pick up a piece of furniture she no longer needed. Walking into her house is like swimming in sunshine. Excess of color, artwork everywhere I looked. I found that when I left I felt lighter, happier, and comforted. I told her so. She is versed in restoration. Her life hasn’t been all bright and cheery, but you wouldn’t know it upon entering her gallery.

I pray you will find the avenues of restoration to fill you. What are some of the restorative acts you pursue?

PSALM 23

The Lord Is My Shepherd

A Psalm of David.

1The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

2He makes me lie down in green pastures.

He leads me beside still waters.

3He restores my soul.

He leads me in paths of righteousness

for his name’s sake.

4Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil,

for you are with me;

your rod and your staff,

they comfort me.

5You prepare a table before me

in the presence of my enemies;

you anoint my head with oil;

my cup overflows.

6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me

all the days of my life,

and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord

forever.

ESV Version

Laying Down Markers

We’ve all done it,

we’ve lain down markers.

We can’t remember everything,

so we recall some things

over and over until

a cairn is placed on our

memory like a now moment

saturated with eternity.

*

She had been gone a while.

I was a punk kid with

a short sleeved sweatshirt.

I saw my Ellen

asleep on the couch;

jean jacket, bell bottom

denims; her lower lip

adrift from the upper.

*

I dropped any hesitance

to interrupt her dreams.

I leapt like a flying squirrel,

draping my body over hers.

No shame. Flawless delight,

and tears bursting over her

like watering an arid absence.

We were we.

*

Markers, like paperweights,

holding down vignettes

that could blow away

with a gust of dementia.

Cairns set like stepping

stones to cross our

stream of semi-consciousness.

The gravity of grace.

*

Honoring the hippy of the long gray hair; my sister Ellen who passed away last weekend from complications of dementia

Sunday Psalm 11/29/2020

I watched the frost efface

as the sun rolled out

like a resurrection.

There is more shine through

the disrobed maples.

Even the burning bush

flamed out, its fires

gathered and sucked

from the curb.

There is a settling into

winter like a turning dog

on his bed.

We sense the withdrawal,

of warmth, of life,

of precious things.

We’re thankful to have been,

we pray to be,

to lean into winter

so spring will eventually

catch our fall.

Thanksgiving 2020 Thoughts

“In everything give thanks.” The Bible

            Everything? No caveats? Splain me Lucy, please…and thank you. Does this 2020 year opt us out of the verse above?

I certainly don’t want to change this holiday to Thanklessgiving. The verse came way before the last Thursday of November was christened a national day of turkey, pumpkin pie, cranberry sauce, and the Detroit Lions. (Raise your hand if you’re really thankful for the Lions.)

“In everything give thanks.”

Does the last ten months provide the perfect-vision-perspective? I think that maybe we have become short-sighted when it comes to hindsight…I know I have. One year? I certainly hope we can find more context than that. In the history of the world, a year is like a penny in an ocean of quarters. Decent context is hard to find these days. A tweet is worth a thousand words. A screen shot is seen around the world. There are not enough soundbites to satiate a soul.

“In everything give thanks.”

What does everything mean anyway? I suspect it might mean everything. Sounds mean. I mean, how the heck does every blinking thing deserve our gratitude? Deserve? Everything requires a grateful response. Now that’s humbling, but not impossible. I don’t think God would ask of us the impossible, if I may be so bold. God is Love, and could be Love says this is the way, walk ye in it.

I suppose we have the option of being all binary about it. Either you’re grateful or you’re not. Oh, if it were that simple. The verse says “In everything give thanks” not “In everything be an ingrate.” God knows.

Maybe it’s because I’m an older, more weathered human. If all of us are honest, the losses are piling up as we live on. 2020 isn’t an exception, it’s a proof of historical precedence. As one author I read has said, “We’re living in a gnarly world.” I might add, we were born into a gnarly world. We bear an entry wound, and certainly will leave an exit wound.

“In everything give thanks.”

I’m smiling as I read what I’ve written thus far. Come on, Jer, get to a point. You’re such a Debbie downer. (Sorry to all the Debbie’s out there.)

This day, Thanksgiving 2020, there is possibility. If God says give thanks, then by golly I will. I’ll start by thanking God for you! I thank God for family. I thank God for the gift of life! Oh, so much more!

You fill in the blanks…

“I’m thankful for ________.”

Prayer:

“Lord, thank you for a pause in life to be more intentional in our gratitude, even when it’s hard. Amen.”

Hugs!

Going and Coming

Never-never mind

the wherewithal.

The acuity wanes,

searching soul-level

perceptions.

Blank stares burning

focal points down.

Unfinished sentences

atrophy further

into the silence.

Their memories left

for us to curate.

We place warm dignity

over the frontal lobes.

Our prayers shape

around a long farewell.

We know them,

and they knew us.

Let us come as close

as we can.

For Ellen, Nathanial, and Oma and all who love them.

“God, my shepherd!

I don’t need a thing.

You have bedded me down in lush meadows,

you find me quiet pools to drink from.

True to your word,

you let me catch my breath

and send me in the right direction.

Even when the way goes through

Death Valley,

I’m not afraid

when you walk at my side

Your trusty shepherd’s crook

makes me feel secure.

You serve me a six-course dinner

right in front of my enemies.

You revive my drooping head;

Your beauty and love chase after me

every day of my life.

I’m back home in the house of God

for the rest of my life.”

Psalm 23 The Message

For Rest

The other night, after my face was warm from the glow of the T.V. I took Apollo for a roundabout. Dog and human under a canopy of a starry starry night. No earbuds. No screen. Simply deep space and fire hydrants to bounce contemplations from twinkle twinkle to tinkle tinkle.

The next morning no word from the burning bush, so I walked to the other one by the garage. The red flamed leafs buffered a cool breeze, but offered not even a whisper. The leaves still spoke though. Color, loud and clear. “Red is our flame,” They said. “Don’t try to extinguish us. We will surrender soon. We will lay ourselves down.”

Then I sat bare foot on the back deck, early, coffee and a small stack of books. Each time the wind picked up the crimson maple leaves fell down. My mind quieted enough so I could feel my heart.

“You are never a great man when you have more mind than heart.” Beauchene

Why is nature so nurturing sometimes? Mother Nature–so apropos I suppose. Like a few evenings ago when we piled into the car for a drive. After a while our breathing found a rhythm. The beauty, deer, and cozy houses dotting the countryside relaxed our shoulders. We got out in it and were the better for it.

I’ll wager that if Jesus showed up and found us overthinking, worrying, and grasping for some sense of control in a schizoid world, he might send us out. I remember my mom doing that very thing, maybe for her own sanity, but nevertheless pushing us out into infinite air to breathe.

The order of the creation story is God saved the best for last. Us. Humans. There was a lot of creating going on before we arrived on the scene. God spoke and bam, out of chaos, order. Out of darkness, light. So much lush, sensual appropriations. It was a set-up–for us.

This weekend I walked nine miles through a forest full of trees. My legs were complaining loudly at the end, but my heart thanked me. Nine men and a cream colored lab hiked the Jordan Valley Trail in the northern Lower Peninsula on a crisp autumn day. The trail’s personality bore resemblance to a thirty-something—just enough weathered skin to settle in, but a passion for what’s next. There were so many metaphors laying around like dead trees. The path, a single rut, wound up, down, and around like a vein, carrying us like platelets as our chests felt both heart and lungs react. Air flow. Blood flow.

We’d ascend to ridges to step along the spine of foothill-like amalgamations, then descend to find the Jordan River meandering, chit-chatting over rocks and weaving through fallen debris.

If a tree falls in the forest… If a rivers babbles in its crevices…? Does anybody hear?

 Again, my heart searched for a baseline—a resting rate. I left much behind for a few days, we all did, and some of it oozed out over the campfire that night, seasoned with a ballad-singing, guitar-playing soul.

The forest was like a bold lettered clarion call to not loose heart. The trees, both fallen and upright whispered, “We’ve been waiting for you. We’re here for rest. We grow and fall just like you. We understand.”

The river had something to say as well. “Eternity is in your heart, like my open-ended flow.”

I know it was really God speaking like a creative via a brush stroke or the rhythm of pedantic pentameter.

“I Am, you know, and here you go. Get out into My gallery, and I will give you rest… Forest.”

Sunday Psalm

With each meandering breeze,

crimson leaves dripped

from the melting maple.

A crowd of color is

forming beneath.

A circular red spread

like a ring, humble,

thankful embers of redemption.

I’ll gather them up

eventually, but for now

I pray for soft kisses

of wind on each

falling flame.  

The Hippie of the Long Gray Hair

On my way into the store for dog food and sour cream I stopped and took in the last call of the sun. You know, when the magnifying glass of the horizon burnishes the great circle before it drops below the surface. A man was trying to capture the image with his phone a few spaces over. Futile. I thought of Elton John.

“Don’t let the sun go down on me.”

Isn’t it funny how the greatest metaphors are so easily dismissed, or just missed? Lately, when the sun is a bit weary and heads under the covers, I think of my sister Ellen (The oldest hippie I know.). She sundowns every evening. Jack, her husband, texts me updates a few times a day. More like downdates after supper. Sundowning is a term attached to people with dementia or Alzheimer’s. Sundowning turns my sister from forgetful half sentences (Of which no two fragmental sentences cohere.) to an obstinate curmudgeon. Curmudgeoness?

When dementia began defacing Ellen’s brain at a more rapid pace earlier this year, it was time to get more help.

“Help! I need somebody! Help! Not just anybody!”

Her kids, my siblings, gave Jack some respite. Needless to say it’s a lotta work to manage a person who can no longer manage. Applause and thanks go out to all!

So, I found myself in the same living room that held my mother sitting in a lazy boy wondering who I was. It’s been almost ten years ago. The other day I stopped by to visit Ellen and sat across from her on the same couch. She says I’m still her boy. I’ll put that in my pocket!

Don’t cry Mare, this was your idea!

The crazy thing about this dementia is the teeter-totter aspect of it. Like my other sister (Mare) said it’s like Ellen doesn’t just become like a little child. In fact, as I’ve observed, a stutter step of doing life took over. Stubborn and snarky. Frustrated and fun. Up, then down. Jack texts me often…”She’s back!” As we come and go, she doesn’t know if she’s coming or going.

“I don’t know why you say goodbye, I say hello.”

Ellen, the hippie of the long gray hair. Those who love her pluck the petals of she loves me, she loves me not. Mostly, Jack wonders what petal is it today, this hour, this moment?

“Love, love me do. You know I love you.”

For now, we who know Ellen hold on to her memory for her. I’ll remember for her the time I jumped on her like a flying squirrel after a long absence. I was just a kid, but the memory is as fresh as dew. Like I said somewhere else, round and round her memory goes, but this time it spins out of control. The centrifugal force peels her fingers off the stories which once were milestones of her identity. We do what we can but still feel…

“helpless, helpless, helpless, helpless.”

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m still calling her Ellen, we all are, for good reason. Her spirit, soul, and body are still spouting her humanity. It’s her mind that has wandered off because her brain keeps misfiring. C.S. Lewis once stated “We don’t have a soul. We are a soul. We happen to have a body.” I wonder if God sent most of her mind on ahead to scope out heaven and left little half thoughts with us to try to decipher. Easy there Jer.

“It’s a long and winding road to your heart.”

The other day I walked in, grabbed the reaching tool thingy, you know, the one with the trigger you pull, and on the other end it clasps things you can’t get at. Anyway, Ellen was wearing her winter hat with the ball on top. She kinda looked like a cone-head. I grabbed the ball with the tool and lifted up the hat to check under the hood as it were. She smiled. I smiled back. Such a simple thing. Showing teeth. Curling the mouth. Revealing dimples. I’m sure Jack would tell you it’s the little things that hot-wire hope in the midst of hopelessness. Small gifts.

“Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, life goes on, Bra.”

I don’t know what a bra has to do with it, but life is going on, even in the small significant world of Ellen and Jack and attendants. I believe a Big God sees what’s going on there. Ever present, maybe a bit more present when worship music fills their little living room. God isn’t watching from a distance.

Back to the sundown metaphor and how it reminds me of Ellen. How about this? The sun can’t set without getting up there first. Up. Down. Just like the hippie of the long gray hair. Life.

Sure,

“Yesterday, all my troubles seem so far away.”

But,

“Here comes the sun, do and do do.”

This has become a song that reminds me of Jack and Ellen

God in the Dock, Again.

Thinking on these things again. Heart abnormalities. Human condition shtuff. Then the argument ensues. Just read an awesome book suggested by a friend that addresses the thoughts in this rambling.
“A Grace Disguised”
“How the soul grows through loss”
By Jerry Sittser

Gerald the Writer

“Just who do you think you are?” I demanded.

“Who do you think I am?”

“You are the God in the dock, often under investigation, especially when things go awry.”

“For example?”

“When plates under the ocean slide, causing a wave to morph into a wall of destruction on innocent people. When tornados twist through towns and suck the life out of them. When land dries up and fails to give sustaining crops to families. Anytime Mother Nature gives humanity a swift kick.”

“Natural disasters.”

“Yes. I struggle with them. Why don’t you give Mother Nature a stiff lecture ending with ‘God so loved the world?’ Sometimes it would be easier to be a deist, believing you set the world spinning and then walked out the door.”

“There are many easier ways.”

“Do tell.”

“You may not like them.”

“Well, right now I don’t really care for what you’re not

View original post 834 more words