This is the Day

exploring the soul's quest for joy

Tag: trust (page 1 of 3)

Keep Alert for Changing Conditions

 

I became an empty nester in the middle of a January snowstorm.

 

The snow began falling thick shortly after midnight. Plenty of time to turn black asphalt into a sloppy white slippery mess by 9:00am. Despite the thermometer reading 16 degrees and the sky reading more snow to come, my calendar read drive my daughter back to college.

 

And so, today was the day.

 

Regardless of the road conditions.

 

Or the condition of my heart.

 

I had expected my empty nest to come last fall. My emptying was delayed by 5 months due to my son’s unexpected health challenge. But with his return to college last week, today, the emptying has come.

 

Just as it should.

 

Driving straight into a snowstorm is not my idea of a good time. Don’t get me wrong – I love a good snowstorm. It is my favorite excuse to hunker down and get cozy. When my children were small I would take full advantage of their snow days and not move from the house until they returned to school.

 

But drive in the white stuff? Don’t even think about asking me to do that! I have spun 360s on too many patches of ice driving my children to and fro to ever again relish the idea of driving in the ice and snow.

 

And so I clutched the wheel tightly, my white knuckles matching the sea of white all around me.

 

Emergency road signs blinked their warnings: Slow down, hazardous conditions ahead.

 

How fitting. Here, on the cusp of living life without my children around me for the first time in 24 years of motherhood, I too had better slow down. Slow down and reflect on the joy of having taken them this far. Slow down and be thankful for all that they are becoming. Slow down and recognize that there will indeed be hazardous conditions if I don’t release my children to God, in trust, knowing that he loves them more than I ever could.

 

And perhaps most of all, on this day of letting go, I must slow down and recognize that God will also care for my mama heart – the mama heart that longs to nestle my children in my arms just a little longer and protect them all the days of their lives. God has my heart too as I release my children to their adult lives and to his care.

 

*

 

I heard it before my eyes understood what was happening. The sound was like a truck horn, but longer, deeper, strangely distressed in tone. The sound of a semi-trailer truck blaring its horn, the noise reverberating through the nearly 1-mile long tunnel. Was he trying to communicate with me? Was he getting closer and closer to me? Yes, the horn was his way of saying, I can’t slow down. I can’t change course. Get out of my way or you’ll get hurt.

 

How often have I been like this with my children as they grew into young adults? Unable to slow down and walk by their side, without feeling compelled to tell them which steps to take. Unable to change course and offer them support in the decisions they have made rather than offering them criticism for not making the decisions I would have made.

 

The thing is, our children do grow up, and they will change. They need us still, but they need us less. And they need us differently. They ask us in a million ways to slow down, to change our course. To love them still, but to love them differently. It’s time to pay attention to the changing conditions, or someone will get hurt.

 

Ignoring the double yellow line, I change lanes just before the 18-wheeler barrels past me and out through the tunnel, with two other semi-trailer trucks right on his tail. Sometimes, we just need to get out of our own way.

 

*

 

I ascend the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania, the gray-white of a snow-laden sky rising up before me. Everything my eye can see is shrouded in white. Forests of sugarcoated trees emerge from a thick layer of white icing coating the ground. It is a vision taken straight from Candy Land, or perhaps Elf’s journey through the seven levels of the Candy Cane forest, and in a blink the sheer beauty of the scene has transported me back to the sweetest memories of long ago days spent with my young children.

 

Interrupting my reverie, another emergency road sign catches my attention. Keep alert for changing conditions. Another fitting reminder for this mama on Emptying Day.

 

Everything about the condition of my home is about to change. I will return to empty beds. Empty dinner chairs. Rooms will remain tidy days after I put everything in its place. The silence threatens to be overwhelming.

 

The boots lay strewn on the laundry room floor, as if she’ll come waltzing in the back door and slip right into them. His bed left unmade, with only the coolness of the sheets beneath my fingertips to remind me that he hasn’t just emerged from them, his long lanky frame sauntering into the kitchen to bid me good morning.

 

There will be holidays spent without my precious children by my side. There will be holidays spent together but shared with their new loves by their side.

 

At the crest of the hill, the white road seems to disappear into the white sky, leaving me no choice but to trust that there is indeed a road ahead on which I may safely travel.

 

I don’t know what lies ahead. Will I enjoy my new freedom? What new activities will occupy my time and attention? How will my man and I rediscover a love that was originally shared by just two? Stretched to encompass the dimension of five, it will of necessity find a new shape when it is once more shared by two.

 

The wise King Solomon once said, There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.

 

Today I enter the time between two seasons, a time to keep alert because the conditions are changing. These are the days to pray for comfort as the tears fall when I long for what used to be. These are the days to offer prayers of thanks when joy fills my soul for all that will be new in the days ahead of me. And these are the days to receive God’s grace as I accept the moment I am experiencing, irrespective of my emotional response to it, and know that I am exactly where I should be.

 

 

 

Come, O Light, Come

 

A heavy blanket of darkness envelops our world on this the darkest night of the year. For those of us living in the northern hemisphere, this winter solstice, this stopping of the sun, heralds the end of the disappearance of light and the beginning of its return.

 

But all we notice is the dark.

 

Today in Philadelphia, we will turn our faces upward to catch a slim 8 hours and 20 minutes of light. Barely enough, but far more than our Alaskan compatriots who will wait to see a mere 3 or 4 hours of sunlight this day. During the deep midwinter, most of us long for greater illumination from this most-treasured of celestial orbs.

 

Most of us don’t typically like the dark.

 

Unless we are dining by candlelight in the cocoon of darkened walls, enhancing the glow on friends’ faces, on fine china, on elegant crystal. Unless we are nestled around a roaring fire, whose radiance takes the chill out of a winter night laden with stars.

 

In the dark we are always searching for the light.

 

The darkness awakens in us a sense of foreboding. It disquiets our soul and awakens in us the knowledge that we are no longer fully in control. In the dark we realize how much we walk by sight, taking steps forward only when we can see the road ahead. The dark swallows up our assurance, leaving us with a choice to make.

 

Stay still, or begin to walk by faith.

 

O come thou Day-Spring,

Come and cheer

Our spirits by thine advent here

Disperse the gloomy clouds of night

And death’s dark shadows put to flight

 

How we long for the light. This third stanza from the haunting Christmas carol, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel reminds us that it will not always be night. As surely as the dawn follows the dark, we can be assured that the true Light will spring forth like a new day.

 

Like a light into all of our darkness.

 

And so we wait. But like the awakening of a new dawn, it may take time. At times we too live in a bleak midwinter season, where our own piece of earth stands hard as iron, water like a stone, and we struggle to glimpse any beam of light at all.

 

What is your present darkness that you are plodding through in hopes of making your way forward to the light?

 

This time last year I had no way of knowing I would bury my father in one month and my mother in two. This time last year I had no way of knowing the new medical challenges that would stalk my family this year. I lost count at 66 medical appointments for two of my kids and me this year. You can do the math. That’s more than one medical appointment per week; that’s a high number.

 

But to me, it’s more than a number.

 

The number represents loss. A loss of time. Time scheduling appointments. Time researching options. Time driving. Time waiting. Time conferring with doctors. Time paying bills. Okay, let’s just say it…time worrying. And at the end of all this time, when there is still little resolution to some of these concerns, it all feels a bit like I’ve been wandering around in the dark, bumping into unseen obstacles in my path, and wondering when the light will break through and show me the way forward.

 

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great Light.

 

Perhaps I’ve been looking for the wrong light. Perhaps I’ve been confusing resolution to long-prayed prayers with moving forward. Could there be a journey in the dark whose worth far exceeds any journey we take in the light? It is in the dark that I must yield my need for control to the practice of trust.

 

Trust not that I’ll get the answers but that God is the answer.

 

This is the kind of trust that makes room for hope, and hope always welcomes the Light and prepares it a way.

 

Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel

Shall come to thee, o Israel

 

We can choose to move forward in the dark, in steadied hope that the light will indeed come. Waiting in the literal dark of this Advent reminds us that no matter how dark a season of life may seem, light will always break through, for the Light has surely come. When we wait in faith, we can catch glimmers of light before the dawn, before the Day-Spring, that invite us to step further into the light.

 

The world lays still tonight in darkness, but things will not always be thus. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it!

 

Advent Hope

 

I’m wrestling with Advent this year.

 

I desperately wanted this Advent to be a season of peaceful reflection and soul gripping hope, but to be honest, hope feels especially far beyond my grasp this year. All the Advent talk of desire and anticipation, of waiting and watching, of hoping and dreaming has seemed to shine a spotlight on all that I am still waiting for.

 

On all that I have just about given up hope for.

 

I didn’t grow up in a tradition of marking time through a church calendar. For me the month of December meant one thing and one thing only – Christmas! Christmas and all that went with it – the lists, the gift buying and giving, the lights, the cooking and eating, the carols, the laughter, time spent with those we love, and most of all, the Nativity. The birth of Immanuel, God with us.

 

There’s nothing wrong with this approach to December and Christmas. But for me, it was almost as though December was about my getting ready for everything I had to do, and then on Christmas Eve I would prepare my heart for the coming of the King.

 

When your heart is as prone to wandering as mine is, perhaps 48 hours just isn’t enough time to prepare for the arrival of the King of Kings.

 

For the past several years I have been worshiping at a church that celebrates the liturgical calendar, and with it, Advent. And because of that, I now have a slow four weeks to prepare my heart and mind for the coming of the King.

 

In the Advent scriptures and devotionals, I keep reading about hope. And that despite all the turmoil we see around us hope still wins because our hope is to be anchored in Christ’s having come and in his coming again. And while I believe all that to be true, this year my heart whispers, but what about all my hopes for today? For this one life you’ve given me to live today? Am I not to feel the least bit sad when the same hoped for, prayed for desires still go unfulfilled at the end of another year? Am I allowed to even voice that kind of disappointment in the presence of the King come as a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes?

 

It’s not that everything in my life has gone wrong this year. I don’t want to give that impression. There have been plenty of joy spots this year. But the deepest desires remain unfulfilled.

 

Where in the Advent story of optimistic waiting and watching and hoping is there room for my still unfulfilled hopes for unanswered prayers? Does Jesus really say that because Advent contains the promise that he will return one day, that I have no business feeling sad about my unanswered prayers?

 

I don’t think so.

 

Jesus’ ancestor, the wise King Solomon, declares in Proverbs 13:12 – “Hope deferred makes the heart sick; but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”

 

Can I just be brutally honest with where I am right now? Saying my hope is in Jesus’ return and therefore that should make everything else okay just won’t cut it for me this year. It’s another year of waiting for healing. Waiting for direction. Waiting for a doctor to have an idea. Waiting for release. Waiting for real hope. Waiting for human dignity to be restored. Waiting for some semblance of peace on earth. My hope has been deferred again and my heart is, well, frankly it’s sick. I love Jesus with everything within me, but waiting thru Advent with only the certain hope of his return just isn’t enough hope for me. Not this year.

 

Is there a remedy for this sick heart of mine? This sick heart that cries out for real answers to hard prayers. For fulfilled longings? This year all the talk of waiting and watching and hoping has fallen flat. I want to experience hope fulfilled.

 

Come desire of nations come.

 

 

I long to have the deepest desires of this earthbound journey met. I long to have my sharpest hungers satisfied. Could there be another hope for me this year? A different type of hope? A hope that comes not from the satisfaction of an earthly desire, or the knowledge that Jesus will return, but from the assurance that Jesus has never left me?

 

I stop dead in my tracks. Right there in those first six words from Proverbs, hope deferred makes the heart sick, the God of the universe, the God of Advent has given me permission to feel the full weight of all my deferred hopes.

 

Yes. They make me feel sick. Sick at heart.

 

And they make him sick at heart too.

 

But because he is the God of resurrection and redemption, and because he is in the business of bringing new life out of dead things, he doesn’t want me to remain stuck in the dead place of deferred hope. His promise is his name, Immanuel, the God who stays with me. And he draws me deeper into his name, deeper into his promise.

 

A new hope emerges – a hope that even in all the mess, God is still at work. Even in all the sorrow and pain, nothing is ever wasted. Not one tear. Not one more disappointing doctor visit. Not one more dead end. Nothing is ever wasted. It may not all work out good, but God is still working good thru my unanswered hopes.

 

The baby born in the manger, this Immanuel, God with us, is the very tangible reminder that I do not walk through the pain of deferred hope alone. This God with me sees the sick of my heart and promises that none of my pain is in vain, none of it is wasted when I offer it back to him, trusting that even these ashes he can transform into beauty.

 

This is not an easy offering to make. This is the hard work of offering a sacrifice of praise when I would rather utter a howl of complaint. Offering God my unanswered hopes can only be made from a posture of trust. Trust in the God whose name is Good. Trust in the God who promises to do all things well. Trust in the God who took on flesh so that he would know my pain, because his name is Love.

 

 

 

 

In Search of Perfect

 

It’s quite possible that fall is everyone’s favorite season. Not too hot, not to cool – in the immortal words of Goldilocks, it’s just right. Never mind that the calendar year begins in January, instinctively we all consider fall to mark the real beginning of the year. Inscribed in our minds from our deepest childhood memories of new teachers, new classmates, and the latest back to school fashions, fall will forever mark the beginning of the new year. Following the rest and renewal of summer, fall is a time for new beginnings and new possibilities.

 

Fall is a time of harvest when we celebrate the work that our hands have accomplished in prior seasons. Winter may have its blanket of soft white, spring its explosion of every pastel hue available to the finest impressionist painter, and summer every shade of green and the brilliance of a hot ball of fire to light our days. But fall…oh fall. In you we savor the final explosion of the Creator’s paintbrush before the whole earth goes silent and hibernates in its covering of grey and white.

 

My soul longs to imagine that this is the perfect season. My critical eye scans the landscape as I walk, when I drive, seeking out a flawless grove of trees where no barren limbs can be seen and all of summer’s green has turned into a blaze of reds and oranges and yellows. I hunt for it as though, once found, I could gulp it down and hold it locked within me to warm me forever.

 

This is the season I feel I must protect. I fret that the color show hasn’t begun on time. I fret that the trees won’t turn brilliant in a tidy and orderly fashion. I fret that an untimely storm may come and wash it all away before I’ve had my fill of its splendor. And I fret about the new season that will replace this one when all this beauty is but a distant memory.

 

I imagine perfection is to be found tangled in the beauty before me. And so, my mind’s eye erases what it does not want to see. If I squint just a little bit, the reds and oranges come into relief and the bare branches recede into obscurity. But the camera tells a different story.

 

This has been an unusual fall for us in the Northeast. With temperatures still in the 60s most days, fall emerges for a day or two and then retreats again under the cover of lush greenery. Impatient, many trees have dropped their leaves before others have even begun their annual autumnal show. Our locust trees have long ago shed their lacey golden crown. Most of the sycamore and English plane trees have suffered blight this year that has singed their leaves brown, causing them to curl inward, dry and decaying before their inevitable descent to the ground. Their grand trunks, clothed in mottled white and army fatigue gray bark, stand sentry, bare, with no blanket of golden yellow to shelter them. And all the while, the proud maples stand tall and green refusing to let a few cooler nights coax them into revealing their majestic hues of crimson, burgundy and pure fire.

 

The trees have not turned brilliant in a tidy and orderly fashion this year.

 

 

My search for perfection is not limited to my visual appreciation for autumnal splendor. If truth be told, I seek perfection in the seasons of my own life. My heart longs to discover perfect moments, perfect days, perfect seasons and settle right in, imagining that all will go according to my tidy organized plan, and that no storms will come to wash away the splendor of that perfect season of my life.

 

I seek out moments when all of my children are healthy and content, where marriage is sweet and friendships are honest and life-giving. Where work is fulfilling and we can taste the financial security that comes from a job well rewarded. Where academic pursuits are enriching and doctor visits are few. Where our cars run smoothly, the hot water heater hasn’t exploded, and there are no sudden trips to the ER.

 

I seek out these moments as if by capturing them I could hold onto them like so many lightening bugs captured in a glass jar. But perfect moments can’t be frozen in time any more than lightening bugs can light up the night forever. Their glow only lasts so long before it flickers out and all we’re left with is a bug in a jar.

 

Is there a lesson for me in the perfectly imperfect autumn display of 2017?

 

The natural world tells us that nothing is perfect, that beauty and decay co-exist side by side in every landscape, in every season. I would do well to learn from nature’s example and not to keep seeking out that one perfect season. Every season of our lives is filled with joy and pain, light and dark, growth and decay, ascent and descent.[1]

 

It is in accepting the decay that I am better able to see the beauty.

 

Fall may be my favorite season, but it is not a perfect one. How could it be? No one season, no one event, no one person is capable of containing all the fullness of perfection. Only God can do that, for God alone is pure and lovely, perfect and filled with light.

 

And so I open wide my half-slit eyes and gaze in wonder that any of this beauty is mine to behold at all. And I see it all for perhaps the first time. The mops of green remind me of the sweetness of what was, while the bare branches prepare me to accept what will be. And in the reds and oranges and yellows I am thankful for the joy that comes in appreciating what is.

 

[1] With special thanks to my friend, William Butler, whose painting series Ascension has helped me better grasp that all of life involves simultaneous ascent and descent.

Lessons From the Sea

 

I raise my hand to my face to brush aside a tendril of hair that had come loose from my hat in the sea breeze. The fragrance of the sea – salt, fish, sea water – escapes from every pore in my ten fingers and two palms, a pungent reminder of the lobster I had just devoured on the harbor wharf. It doesn’t matter that I had washed these hands several times already. The scent insists on lingering, a potent reminder to this island visitor that life here is inexorably connected to the sea.

 

We walk the little sandy path, dunes to our right, harbor to our left, pressing ever forward until we reach the beach. The sand stands sentry, guarding our approach to the sea as it rolls back and forth, back and forth, preparing to catch the great ball of fire as it descends. We are travelers on a pilgrimage, seeking a greater glory, a transcendent experience that will at once show us more about ourselves and more about the Divine.

 

Sunsets at Menemsha are serious business, where spectators evaluate, rate, and compare the colors illuminating the evening sky like they do fireworks displays on the Fourth of July. And we too have come to see. And to measure and compare the beauty of this sun as it sets, yielding the night sky to its lesser orb, the moon.

 

They arrive in pairs, as families, and as small gatherings of friends until the entire beach is littered with beach chairs and blankets. With goblets of wine, tall glasses of lemonade, bags of pretzels, and tins of biscuits, the spectators settle in, facing the skyline screen before them as movie goers in an expansive theatre. There is no need to read the storyline; the plot is the same every night. The Great Star that warms our earth and gives us light will bid us farewell and leave for us a parting gift of the most magnificent spectacle of iridescent color.

 

 

The gulls are there in abundance as well. But they are not here for the light show. Their proliferation signals the presence of something my eye cannot see. We humans rely far too much on our eyes for knowledge when we were given five senses and the possibility of faith to help us experience and know. The natural world teems with proof of the existence of things our eyes cannot behold. My dog smells things I will never know are really there, and these gulls swoop and dive for the school of small fish I cannot see, yet believe is there.

 

Just below the surface of what I can see.

 

Those truly in tune with nature and the sea rush to get their fishing poles. They know a greater reality – where there is an abundance of small fish, there will be an abundance of bigger, more desirable fish, even if you can’t see them. Within moments the fishermen are on the jetty, throwing in their lines where no fish can be seen, but the birds have signaled to them to trust and know, not with their eyes, but with their full senses.

 

The sun descends a little closer to its sea foam bed. One of the teenage fishermen reels in his line. Wriggling at the end of the line is a 15” flounder. He has caught and brought into the light what could not be seen in the dark of the sea.

 

 

The soundtrack to our evening at the seaside is of course the lapping of the surf on the shore. Can one ever really grow tired of this sound?

 

Breaking in over the steady rhythm of the sea is the percussion beat of the buoy bell. It rings out like church bells inviting us to come and worship. The buoys that are moored at the entrances to the harbors of Martha’s Vineyard are surmounted with a bell that is sounded by the motion of the waves. The bell buoys are essential to sailors and boaters trying to safely navigate their way back through the harbor.

 

But where the coastal lighthouses require navigators to depend on their vision to guide them safely home in the dark of night, bell buoys require the navigator to listen. And to trust.

 

The tones that ring out from these floating bells carry for a great distance over water, and most have their own distinctive mix of tones for easy identification even before the navigator actually reaches them or is able to see them. Bell buoys are essential in the dark of night and when the coastal fog rolls in.

 

In our own journeys through life, fog is sure to roll in. The dark of night will take its turn with us, settling in, and during the winter seasons of life, envelope us for longer, deeper stretches of time than we feel we can survive. These are the times that we cry out for the light of day. For clear skies and warm, bright sunshine to light our way.

 

Oh how happy we are during the long sunny days of summer when we can navigate life with our eyes, through the light of the bright hot sun. But just as night belongs to day and the two form one perfect whole, fog and darkness are a part of life.

 

These are the times when we need to know that we have a bell buoy to guide our way. These are the times when we need to listen to the sound of the Master’s voice guiding us through our dark, uncharted waters. These are the times when we need to trust what we have experienced of Him and what we know to be true, even if we can’t quite see the way forward just now.

 

 

The moment arrives. Like clockwork, just as the tide charts said it would. The Great Star makes its final bow, and like the finale of a Broadway play or a live music concert, the audience erupts with applause. Yes Lord, I say to him quietly. Yes Lord, this applause is all for you, maker of heaven and earth, the dry land and the sea and all that is in them.

 

I came seeking a greater glory, a transcendent experience that would show me more about myself and more about the Divine. And the evening did not disappoint. All of my senses were awakened – the taste of the exquisite lobster, the jewel of the sea; the scent of the sea permeating every layer of my skin; the feel of the sand beneath my feet; the sight of the gulls beckoning me to trust what I could not see; and the buoy bells reminding me that there is One I can trust to guide me in the dark, stormy seasons of life.

 

I came seeking a sunset. I left having encountered God.

 

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