O Joy?

oJoy

There is this strange idea in some strands of Christianity that we will never have problems or have “bad things happen” if we are truly Jesus-loving people. As if.

From the first fig leaf, humanity has seen and known pain, discouragement and doubt. But that’s not what sells, is it?

The kiddie Bible my kids had growing up reinforced this. All the characters (who were remarkably Caucasian looking… which is another essay…) were all smiling and content. There were a few pictures of the Israelites frowning about manna burgers, I guess. And maybe a few tears at the tombs of Lazarus and Jesus, but the Christian faith was, for the most part, this “in-right-out-right-up-right-down-right-happy-all-the-time” religion. (That song still makes me shudder. And bonus points to you if you don’t know it. If I just gave you an ear worm, I’m sorry!)

I’m not suggesting we teach children “life sucks and then you die” either (just to be clear). But there needs to be a balance. Enough of a balance that when the hard times come, there is a reserve of faith that says, “I will get through this… with the help of God and God’s people.”

We live in disturbing times. Frustrating times. Fear-mongering times. Hate speech fills the airwaves.

This should not surprise us. It is as much a part of our Christian lives as walking in joy and seeing glory! A full-rounded faith does celebrate, but it also mourns. We are called to  embracing pain. Accepting change. Finding hope in the unknown. Making sense out of nonsense.

When I was thinking about the world’s events over the last few months, the old hymn by Robert Matheson came to mind. How often do I remember that God is made real in our lives is many ways?

A Love that will not let me go…
A Light that follows my way…
A Joy that seeks me through pain…
The cross that lifts up my head…
(Full lyrics here.)

Yes, it’s a schmaltzy old hymn. But the thread of faith through the verses brings me some comfort and courage. Perhaps you, as well.

O Joy? Yes. Joy. One frustrated, tired, hoping, yearning step at a time. There’s joy.

From my journal recently:

I’d like to know why, God.
I really would.
I could go through the whole alphabet of whys…
And I can say trite words and cheap phrases
to make myself feel better…
But that’s not how faith works.

And every time I think I might understand
A little more
Another piece of insight into Your world,
Some tsunami of stupid knocks me flat.
And here I am
Again.
Asking why.

So there’s doubts.
O God, so many doubts.
And there’s pain.
I’m tired of pain.
But then… There’s beauty and grace and love
And laughter and hope and joy,
so much joy!!
And the Spirit winging me upward
for just a glimpse
for just a taste of Glory.

And it’s enough.
It’s enough to say one more day,
I love you.
Thank you.
Let’s do this thing called “life”
one more day.

SDG

Sept 2017

Photo-a-day: Joy

I love to sit and watch the birds from the vantage point of our dining room. The bay window offers a view of the bird bath, garden and fish pond. Many days in the spring and summer months, there was a long line of birds dropping by to use the bird bath.

Every time a bird hopped in the water, it looked like they are having a party. Dip. Flutter. Splash! (Repeat.)

It looked like full-fledged Joy to me!

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As I write this, I am in the midst of some kind of bronchitis or bad cold. I feel rotten. In fact, I’d like nothing better than to ditch the virus and be back to 100%. (It IS December. There’s a boatload to do, both at work and at home!) But instead, I rest and nap and remember that I am beloved and cared for by God.

That’s joy. To know, deep down, that every moment is in God’s hands, every event is known and in God’s control. To have that sense of delight and well-being.

Brushing up on my rusty Greek, the word for joy, χαρά or chara, is related to xáris (charis), grace. Doesn’t that make sense? The very nature of Joy is wrapped in the gift of Grace. In this season of Advent, I think on the promised gift of Grace, born in human form in the Christ Child.

That’s why, even in this moment of feeling on the puny side, I can still listen and sing — with joy!

This gift of God we cherish well
That ever by our hearts shall fill
How great our joy
(Great our joy)
Joy, joy, joy
(Joy, joy, joy)
Praise we the Lord in Heaven on high
Praise we the Lord in Heaven on high

from How Great our Joy

 

 

 

What I learned building a labyrinth

It's DONE!

It’s DONE!

I finished the labyrinth this week. It took several hours as I dug and chiseled enough dirt out of the way to inset the bricks. I left the paths au naturel with just the usual weeds, grass and dirt. It’s nestled in a part of the back yard that is sheltered by trees and bushes on two sides, and six foot fencing on the other. Now it’s just the finishing touches. As I worked on it, I reflected on what I was learning…

PERSISTENCE

Busted tools! The rocks! The roots! The gnats and mosquitos! The heat! More than once I wanted to scrap this idea and call it a flower bed. But I kept going. 100 bricks to go. 75  bricks to go. 25 bricks to go. And then it was done!

Like so many things in my life, it is this slow process, tedious as it is, of sticking with the plan until it’s done. And then the results speak for themselves.

BEAUTY

windchimeI saw beauty around me every day. Not just in the flower beds, but in the patterns of sun and shade on the grass. Of the gnarled beauty of a tree trunk. Of the sounds of a downy woodpecker tap-tap-tapping its way down a tree about five feet from me. The wind chimes humming in a gentle breeze. The riot of colors in wildflowers growing along the fence. The sound the wind makes through the leaves. The squirrels chittering and scolding as they dash around, always keeping this errant human in view. The way a rabbit hops when they aren’t in a hurry. The keening of a hawk overhead — and the sudden vanishing of wildlife in response!

None of these were particularly earth-shattering. It was the simple process of taking the time to notice them. It is a by-product of walking slowly, listening and hearing the slight tugs on my attention, and letting all the other “stuff” that clutters my life and my calendar sit to one side, if only for a few moments.

FORGIVENESS

Rocks at the start of the labyrinth

Rocks at the start of the labyrinth

I have faced some obstacles lately. Each one is there for a reason, even if I don’t quite see why. They are memorialized by the pile of rocks at the start of the labyrinth, rocks that I uncovered as I inlaid the bricks.

Why does this rock pile represent forgiveness to me? I had to see each rock for what it was – An event. A moment. A person. An imperfection. I dug them out, tossed them in the pile and moved on. I recognized the obstacle for what it was – something to overcome, learn from and then leave behind.

I didn’t catalogue them: “You ROCK, you! You were under brick number 47!” Nope, I don’t remember where each individual rock came from in the spiral. They join the pile of The Forgiven.

Forgiveness is hard when there’s no context or reason. A couple of times a specific event or job prospect came to mind — one where I was, I felt, unfairly judged as lacking. I didn’t belabor it. I didn’t carry the rocks with me, moving them from brick to brick. (That is a lot of what unforgiveness is!) I was supposed to set the offense aside… and press on. Walk forward. Breathe. Pray. Forgive. Release. Move on.

Some of these events have made me cry with frustration, “WHY ME??”

I’m learning that it really has nothing to do with me. It’s more about living with and among imperfect people who are very much like me.

HUMILITY

I can bend (cheap) steel!

I can bend (cheap) steel!

I started building this labyrinth with the wrong tools. Or not enough of the right ones. I had to fess up and buy a new trowel. And I had to go find a better shovel for digging into the packed clay and evening out the soil.

This was something I couldn’t hide. I went about it the wrong way and had to learn from my mistakes.

But I also learned that a companion to humility is compassion, or perhaps forgiveness of self. Giving myself room to try again, to admit mistakes, to find better resources.

That doesn’t work just for bricks, but for everything in life.

THANKFULNESS

Recognize your predecessors

Recognize your predecessors

This is a fun one. I found what could be an arrowhead. (It might not be.) It reminded me that the land where our house is built was a plantation. There’s fencing embedded in the trees along would could have been a road. There’s an old apple orchard that extends across several yards. And there were some brick-shaped rocks that could have been part of the fill dirt.

My predecessors include my ancestors, my mentors, my professors and teachers. People who are a “lap ahead” in the journey. I thought about how much I had been given because of their generous investment in my life.

It’s something to pay forward. Gratefully.

JOY

There have been days where I haven’t been very happy, but I have had joy. Learning the difference has been important for me, whether it’s building a labyrinth, or taking on life, one day at a time. I’d love to say that all of my questions and issues are resolved by walking the labyrinth. Ah, well… no. But I have gained so much. If you’ve ever like to come take a walk, let me know. It’s a lovely corner of God’s earth.

A WORK IN PROGRESS

There’s more I want to do to finish the labyrinth. I have votive holders I want to set in place, and a banner to hang. Somewhere there needs to be benches. And some kind of central focus. There’s landscaping and planting to do as well.

All in good time.

As it is, it’s lovely. And so am I. And so, incidentally, are you.

Our back yard.

Our back yard.

The Third Sunday of Easter: From Doubting to Diving In!

Last week’s Scripture focused on having faith in a sea of doubt. Thomas had tangible proof that his Lord was alive, being raised from the dead.

This week, the Third Sunday of Easter, we see Peter’s response to seeing the physical resurrection of Jesus, as our focus shifts from “doubt” to “diving in.”

John 21:1-19 (Common English Bible)

1 Later, Jesus himself appeared again to his disciples at the Sea of Tiberius. This is how it happened: Simon Peter, Thomas (called Didymus ), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, Zebedee’s sons, and two other disciples were together. Simon Peter told them, “I’m going fishing.”
They said, “We’ll go with you.” They set out in a boat, but throughout the night they caught nothing. Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples didn’t realize it was Jesus.

Jesus called to them, “Children, have you caught anything to eat?”

They answered him, “No.”

He said, “Cast your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.”

So they did, and there were so many fish that they couldn’t haul in the net. Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It’s the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard it was the Lord, he wrapped his coat around himself (for he was naked) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they weren’t far from shore, only about one hundred yards.

When they landed, they saw a fire there, with fish on it, and some bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you’ve just caught.”11 Simon Peter got up and pulled the net to shore. It was full of large fish, one hundred fifty-three of them. Yet the net hadn’t torn, even with so many fish. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples could bring themselves to ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came, took the bread, and gave it to them. He did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.

15 When they finished eating, Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”

Simon replied, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.”

Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 Jesus asked a second time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Simon replied, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.”

Jesus said to him, “Take care of my sheep.” 17 He asked a third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was sad that Jesus asked him a third time, “Do you love me?” He replied, “Lord, you know everything; you know I love you.”

Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18 I assure you that when you were younger you tied your own belt and walked around wherever you wanted. When you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and another will tie your belt and lead you where you don’t want to go.” 19 He said this to show the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. After saying this, Jesus said to Peter, “Follow me.”

Peter: Bold. Impetuous. Brash. A “step-in-it” kind of guy. But also a passionate and a completely “sold out” kind of servant for God. I LOVE Peter. Maybe because I’m a passionate, “step-in-it” kind of woman.

In today’s Gospel reading, Peter left the latest job on his resume, “Disciple of Jesus,” for a job he knew well: “Galilee fisherman.” He and some of the others were back in the rhythm of net fishermen.

Cast the nets.
Pull them in.
Dump the fish in the boat.
Repeat until boat is full…

Except there were no fish. None at all. Jesus appears on the shore and tells them to cast the net on the other side. Grudgingly, they do. But Christ’s command and their response must have triggered a memory. One from an early encounter with the Messiah:

Luke 5:4-11 (Common English Bible)

When he finished speaking to the crowds, he said to Simon,“Row out farther, into the deep water, and drop your nets for a catch.” Simon replied, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and caught nothing. But because you say so, I’ll drop the nets.”

So they dropped the nets and their catch was so huge that their nets were splitting. They signaled for their partners in the other boat to come and help them. They filled both boats so full that they were about to sink. When Simon Peter saw the catch, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Leave me, Lord, for I’m a sinner!”    Peter and those with him were overcome with amazement because of the number of fish they caught. 10 James and John, Zebedee’s sons, were Simon’s partners and they were amazed too. Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid. From now on, you will be fishing for people.” 11 As soon as they brought the boats to the shore, they left everything and followed Jesus.

Maybe it was memory of their first commitment to following Jesus, when he commanded them to lower the nets on the other side of the boat. Maybe it was sitting on the shores of Galilee, receiving bread and fish from Christ’s hands. Maybe it was the overwhelming joy, the realization that what they HOPED for in the empty tomb, the resurrection of Jesus, was true. Christ was alive. He stood on the shores, his wounded body restored to life. Peter’s joy and excitement caused him to respond with his typical passionate abandon.

It makes me think of the scene from the movie Forrest Gump, where he dives off of his boat and swims excitedly to the pier where his friend, Lt. Dan, is sitting…

I can almost hear Peter yell, “HEY!!! WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE??” A look of incredulous joy must have crossed his face as he grabbed his tunic and dived overboard, swimming to shore. The other disciples shared in his jubilation (except that they stayed on board, and the boat didn’t crash!) 🙂

That deep-lying Hope within him, that wounded Faith came bursting out of him in an ecstatic moment. It was the Easter morning moment we celebrated a few weeks ago. That joy, based on faith and facts, is still true.

In those moments of reunion on the shores of Galilee, Christ moved Peter from feelings to faith. From commitments of love to commanded action: “Feed my lambs… Care for my sheep… Feed my sheep.”

A Christ follower’s life is not just feelings. Worship services that only feed our emotions don’t cultivate anything that lasts beyond the glow of Sunday mornings. But intellectual hobnobbing is no more sustainable. Nor does it meet the places of day-to-day struggles in our earthly lives.

The challenge is to keep that “overboard” moment of joy nestled deep in our hearts as we make a slow, steady, daily progress in caring for those God has given us as our “lamps and sheep.”

Thanks be to God.

P.S. Whenever I think of God as my Shepherd, I think of this Bach aria, “Sheep May Safely Graze.” Be at peace. We are cared for beyond all earthly caretakers’ watch.