Turn Your Eyes upon Jesus

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Now and then, when I was a teenager back at St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, I was given the honor of turning down the lights in the sanctuary just as the congregation got to the last line of this great hymn. Picture this: The pews are filled at the Sunday night service. It’s dark outside, but bright inside, as the final hymn begins. Then the lights go down just as all in attendance sing, “And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of his glory and grace.” The backlit cross at the front of the church now stands out in stark focus as a hush falls over the room. A little dramatic? Maybe, except that I still see that cross in my mind’s eye and feel that hush in my heart, often just when I’m about to forget about God’s glory and grace.

We can’t dim the lights on the rest of life as easily as I could turn that rheostat back then. Would that we could! Maybe instead, we need to shine greater light on the glory and grace that surrounds us. He is everything. Our full supply. That’s what Helen Lemmel was trying to convey when she penned these lyrics.

O soul, are you weary and troubled? No light in the darkness you see? There’s light for a look at the Savior, and life more abundant and free.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus.Look full in His wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.

Are you, like so many of us, troubled by “the things of earth” today? Is your heavenly vision a bit blurred? Take a breath. Take a moment. Remember whose you are and who He is. Enjoy the right you have as a child of God to fellowship with the Creator of the universe. And let those things that trouble you fade in the light of his glory, with the realization that, while you may not be able to see how right now, his grace is and always will be enough.

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Mindfulness

brain-2062057_1280 mindfulness pixabay 12 14 17On Christmas day, were you present for the presents—really there, consciously engaged in the moment for the whole event? Psychologists Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert of Harvard University studied 5,000 people and concluded that adults only spend about 50% of their time in the present moment. Ugh! That leaves many of us severely distracted half of the time.

 

Furthermore, according to Killingsworth and Gilbert, we’re generally happier when we are fully engaged than when we are mentally checked out, even if the activity at hand isn’t one of our favorites. The good news is that our mental wanderings can be curtailed. The more we practice awareness, the more it will become a habit.

So, how do we practice awareness, being present in the moment?

For starters, consider wearing a watch! How often have you pulled out your smart phone to check the time and then decided to “take a moment” to check the news, your text messages, your social media outlets…Suddenly checking the time has taken a lot of time. The average American teen, according to Time, sends and receives more than 3000 text messages a month. Too many of us are letting too many moments slip away via those electronic rectangles. And when we have our eyes on a screen, we are no longer fully engaged in our present time and place. Perhaps we all need to scheduled screen-free breaks in our busy weeks.

Next, stop buying the lie that multitasking is the path to a productive life. When we mentally lean into the next task, (for example, sweeping the floor while composing a memo or mowing the yard while reviewing the day’s to do list) we lay ourselves open to anxiety  and stress while forgoing the happiness of completing a task. Boy am I guilty of that! Emma Seppala, PH.D., author of “The Happiness Track,”[1] teaches that multitasking, rather than helping us accomplish more things faster, actually keeps us from doing anything well.  Undivided attention, on the other hand, brings greater efficiency and a higher level of enjoyment. Worrisome thoughts may be one of our chief distractors, and Jesus plainly said, “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?…Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.[2] Instead, we are told to pray. And that’s where we’ll pick up next week.

[1] HarperOne, © 2016.

[2] Matthew 6:27, 34

Rain

Dagny cookies

It was raining as we drove to Charlie’s birthday party, but first birthday parties are a rare and beautiful thing, never to be missed on account of moisture. We ran through the puddles and up the walk to join a festive crowd feasting on loaded platters of goodies and snapping enough photographs to keep Facebook happy for days. The first thing I noticed was the cookie tray, because Charlie’s mom is an ace in that department (see above). Then I noticed the sign (see below).

dagny sign

I thought, “I should blog about that one day,” took a photo of those thought provoking words, filed it away, and never got back to it.

Then Harvey came, and I wondered if those same words sounded too light and trite, too “just smile and bear it and move on.” I don’t believe God ever means for us to plaster a fake smile on our hurting selves and pretend there is no pain in this life. There is pain. Why else would there be so many Bible verses about comfort? We wouldn’t need comfort if we didn’t have pain.

I do believe the words, “Don’t worry. Be happy.” Don’t worry. Don’t look into the future and assume that all will be forever lost. God is on our side and has the power to do all things, to provide even beyond our asking. Be happy, or joyful if that makes you feel better about the word choice. Underneath all the present pain or rain, we know the One who makes the sun shine is still in charge.

Still we cry, we suffer, and we struggle to tap into the truth, to draw strength from that which we cannot yet see. Harvey wasn’t the only storm many of us will face this year. And when those storms come, it won’t work to hold our breath until they pass. We have to keep going, keep walking, keep working. And when we are truly trusting, maybe we can even allow our hearts to dance. 

           

Hakuna Matata

hakuna pixabayYesterday I saw a bumper sticker that said “Hakuna matata.” That’s it. No warthogs, no lions, just the phrase. (But, Iris, if you’re reading this, I can hear your voice singing in my head!) Perhaps that Swahili phrase, roughly translated “no worries,” should be singing in my head all the time.

“Hakuna” means “there is not here,” and “matata” is Swahili for “problems.” I don’t think we live lives free of problems. Worry, though, is another matter—the matter of what we do in our minds with our problems. I love this quote from The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren (Zondervan 2002).

“When you think about a problem over and over in your mind, that’s called worry. When you think about God’s Word over and over in your mind, that’s meditation. If you know how to worry, you already know how to meditate! You just need to switch your attention from your problems to Bible verses. The more you meditate on God’s Word, the less you will have to worry about.”

I’d like to add that the more we think of our problems in light of God’s word, the more convinced we can become that we have no worries after all. Consider these four familiar passages:

  • “Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you” (Psalm 55:22).
  • Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6).
  • What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31).
  • So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?’” (Hebrews 13:6).

While not scripture, these wise words, attributed to Corrie ten Boom, call us all to peace and trust as well:

“Worrying is carrying tomorrow’s load with today’s strength- carrying two days at once. It is moving into tomorrow ahead of time. Worrying doesn’t empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.”

And so, instead of losing any of your strength to worry today, I hope you will remember the awesome love and power of our God. Then you can shout within your soul, “Hakuna matata!”

 

Unsettled

cloud

After nearly 30 years in the same house, I am moving. I’m not sure precisely where or when just yet. I don’t know who will buy our present home, nor which furnishings and possessions will “make the cut” and come along with us. I could spend another paragraph detailing the myriad of other uncertainties in my life. But then, you have a list of your own, don’t you?

You may, like me, sometimes be tempted to say, “I will be at peace when _____.”  Perhaps you would fill that blank with, “when the doctor gives me a clean slate” or “when my baby is born” or “when my next job review is over.” Of course, that will never work. By the time today’s list of uncertainties have cleared, a whole new crop of them will be headed our way. Our only hope for pervasive peace is to maintain our trust in the Lord within uncertainty.

I was thinking about my uncertainties as I washed the dishes this morning. (That’s usually Steve’s job. I don’t remember where he was!) Somehow, my thoughts landed on the Israelites. As they traveled the wilderness, they never knew what the next day would bring, whether they would be traveling or staying put.  If the cloud of God’s presence moved, they moved. If it settled, they settled. (See Numbers 9: 17.) But what of it? Their hope, their peace, was not in knowing what tomorrow would bring. It was in believing, believing that God would lead, provide, and protect.

Should we be any different? Do we really need to know what’s coming next in order to be at peace? Surely not, as that would mean we could never really be at peace. Today, I am looking squarely at my uncertainties and proclaiming, “I do not need to know. God knows. And that is enough!” I pray that you will do the same.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).

 

And Then We Danced

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Just 24 hours after “the call,” we were on a plane to my niece’s wedding in South Florida. What a gamut of emotions assailed me as we traveled! Sometimes I felt out of breath, as if my body just couldn’t acclimate to the news of pending change. I called my brother and sister-in-law to tell them the news. Their response was, as expected, loving and compassionate. The surprise was my brother’s closing words, “I feel led to say this to you. Allow yourself to have human emotions as you go through this.” My siblings and I don’t often say, “I feel led to say…” Yet that was just what I needed to hear. How easy it is to think that a life of faith means a life of stoicism. Untrue!

Two days later, I realized I was breathing normally and, most of the time, keeping in tune with the activities and conversations around me. Then came one of many shining moments. Steve and I were on a dance floor crowded with other wedding well-wishers, and I realized I wasn’t worried. I was happy. Now, truth be told, when first hit with the news of cancer, I was in a place of “Don’t Worry. Be at peace.” Happiness was still a bit out of reach. But here I was, just a few days later, truly back in a place of joy. This was a miracle, God’s grace in action, another reminder that the One who loves me most was and would continue to be carrying me through the hard times ahead.

Soon thereafter, I called my sister. Sympathy and compassion flowed through the phone. Then she, like my brother before her, ended her call by saying, “I think I am supposed to say this to you.” Her message was a different one, though, “Stop taking care of anyone else. Take this time to take care of yourself and to let other people take care of you.” Those of you who know my personality know that these words were spot on. They replayed in my head many times during the days of preparation, treatment, and recovery. But on that day those words also reminded me that we serve a supernatural God, one who gave both of my siblings words of advice that I needed to hear. I received them as a precious gift.

Then I told my parents. Dad, now 82, is a two-time cancer survivor. The first time, half a century ago, the doctors told him to get his affairs in order. They told my mom to take comfort in the fact that the disease would progress quickly. When they heard my news, they were well qualified to offer encouragement, “God wastes nothing. You are dearly loved. This can turn out well.”

Next Week: Careless