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

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.”

Open Field. A Poem.

The clouds tucked and turned southwest,

a direction they rarely float,

bringing a cool stream of air over

the back fields.

 

The repentant sky cap

chills weighted thoughts,

and drags me into the undertow

of humility and regret.

 

Humilty, common and unnoticed,

like the spaces between the tall grass,

keeps the silence safe, smooth,

secure for a moment.

 

Regret, staunch, abrasive as nettles,

scratch at the ankles

while I pace the fields

like a labyrinth.

 

Come, lay me down,

cover me with your kindness

as the dew.

Until then I walk the fields.

Perch, Hmmm, Fish Sounds Tasty, But This Isn’t What This Is About.

Surprise

 

 

See. There. Quick.

The hummingbird

motionless

on the dead spruce branch

above the bee

balm flame.

 

She is no blur

of wings.

 

And look.

Her long nectar-

loving beak—

She has tucked it

in the feathers

of her breast.

 

John Leax

Recluse Freedom Poems

 

I read this poem aloud this morning. Never have I seen a hummingbird perched. Surprise would be my response as well. No time to reach for a camera. Just enough time to file a few words.

Anyone who knows the life of the Barrett house knows it is like a hummingbird. Much movement. Little perching. Twelve chickens, eleven children, five ducks, three dogs, two cats, two turtles, a bass, and one mom and one dad make for a lot of molecule dancing. I imagine a butterfly deep in China’s interior being pushed around by our movement here in Michigan.

I have been thinking about focus and purpose and time management lately. Some of these thoughts come from Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts. Listen to this:

“I speak it to God: I don’t really want more time; I just want enough time. Time to breathe deep and time to see real and time to laugh long, time to give You glory and rest deep and sing joy and just enough time in a day not to feel hounded, pressed, driven, or wild to get it all done—yesterday…who actually knows how to take time and live with soul and body and God all in sync?

I just want time to do my one life well.” Pages 67 and 68.

Did I just see you nodding? Yeah, I nodded too. Come here a sec. Let me tell you that I perch every morning. The first thing I do after I wipe the sleep out of my eyes and put on a pot of coffee is sit out on the back deck. I have three or four books. A bible, some books of great inspirational writing, and a book of poems are set on the picnic table. It is there I ask God to come to speak to me while my wings aren’t flapping. I read out loud to quell any A.D.D. tendencies. The reason I share this with you is because we aren’t designed to hover around this gift of life of ours. We need to perch on a regular basis. Hey, even God took a break after six days. Rest. It’s in the design.

“Be still and know that I am God.”

“Lead me beside the still waters.”

“Restore my soul.”

Are you making time to perch? The flitting will come soon enough, eh?

https://i2.wp.com/images.nationalgeographic.com/wpf/media-live/photos/000/128/cache/greenish-hummingbird_12890_160x120.jpg

 

Redemption: The Hope for Transformation.

Abused freedom holds within in it the seed of redemption.

Depravity holds within it the seed of redemption.

Redemption’s necessity is only because things go awry, mostly humans go awry.

I think it was in Ravi Zacharias’ book Why Jesus that one communist/atheist country is allowing Christianity in to quell the instability and in fighting. The concept of redemption was the catalyst they put their stock in to stabilize their country.

The more that time goes by, the tighter I embrace the concept of redemption. Without it humanity is in utter despair; not to mention utter disrepair…I am humanity. Christianity’s unique element is redemption. The absolute center of the faith is the hope of redemption. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ continues to echo off the mountains, even though the characteristic of echoes are their fading decibels.

I recall a time in church years back where a young lady was singing “I Know My Redeemer Lives”. This girl started the song with the charisma of Nicole C. Mullen herself (The artist that sent this song to the top of the charts.) and as she continued she either forgot some lyrics or went off key and she struggled to get back on track and ended up stopping. She apologized. I shouted from the back “No! It’s okay. Keep going.” This was in a pretty subdued church where cat calls rarely or never happened. My passion got the better of me because of the huge epiphany. She was singing about redemption and I saw that God could even redeem her situation. He already had, in my heart anyway.

Is there a situation that you feel is irredeemable? Let me throw some hope your way. Redemption is more than an idea. It is emanating from the Christ. Jesus oozes restoration. Without Jesus the redeemer I am a man most miserable.

This song remains one of my favorites and gains more depth as my earthly journey continues…

Neo Narcissist

I bowed down to my reflection.

It was fractured

in the disturbed waters.

I had lost sight of the One

who said “Peace, be still.”

There were ripples

in my consciousness.

Then his hands

spread out the waters

like clear linen.

“You are beautiful,” He said, “see?”

I saw myself more clearly

next to him.

 

We sat beside the still waters.

 

The fear of allowing others in

or coming out of myself

smoothed into a lapping of our souls.

Soul waters on the shore.

 

 

“He leads me beside the still waters, He restores my soul.”  Psalm 23

Enlarged Heart

It is a muscle that flexes,

always.

 

It is toned

but rarely down.

 

When it is pulled and

ridden like a Charlie horse,

 

I pray for the hands of a masseuse

and elbows of grease.

 

I break open her chest

with the sign of the cross

 

and knead gently between

the calcified beats.

 

I search for the pressure points

and work on the knots,

 

my praying hands,

the only conversation between us.

 

Every fiber is stretched

and the blood that flows

 

through the squeaky ventricles

is the same that restores them.

 

A mother’s heart rarely

skips a beat,

 

but at times carries a murmur,

a fluttering through each chamber.

 

A mother’s heart enlarges

and at times adopts an arrhythmia.

 

I pray for a peace-maker

to be sewn in to set a new pace.

 

I pray for the steadiest of hands

and the guidance of the Great Physician.