I AM

This past Friday, I went for a mammogram—my first since my lumpectomy surgery last May, and almost a year from the first one that began my walk down the Cancer Highway.  Initially, I was anxious…more than anxious, terrified.  I felt a heaviness wrapping itself around my chest like a python, squeezing and compressing me in a vise-like grip.  I woke up early that morning, hoping I would get back to sleep, but knowing that was not to be.  I knew I needed to get up and start developing a strategy to get through the hours before this process.

After a friend’s recommendation, I downloaded an app called “Pray as You Go.”  It’s an app developed by Jesuit Media Initiatives which is based in London.  The Jesuit practice of contemplation is, to me, an amazing way of combining prayer and meditation.  It’s a path to “Imaginative Contemplation,” found in St. Ignatius of Loyola’s Examen, as described by the app:

“Saint Ignatius believed that God could speak to us just as clearly in our imagination as through our thoughts and our memories.  In his Spiritual Exercises, he writes of contemplation as a very active way of engaging your feelings, emotions, and senses to place yourself in the scene described.”

Each day, the app provides a reading from the daily lectionary, some brief commentary of the scripture presented, and some ideas to contemplate.  Along with the scripture and contemplation prompts are musical selections that highlight the themes of the day.  Each daily exercise is short—around ten minutes long, but there are other longer ones from which to choose.  I have loved utilizing the app, as it allows me to jump off the merry-go-round of my day and rest for but a moment.

Friday’s reading was from Isaiah 58:5-9a. The prompt asked me, the listener, to hear the scripture and to focus on one phrase that drew me in.  The phrase I needed came so suddenly that tears began to brim in my eyes:

9Then you will call, and the LORD will answer: you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

Here am I.  I love this phrase because of the elegant simplicity of who God is:  I AM, the God who is not a noun, but a verb.  It is how He introduced himself to Moses, and the weight of this statement never ceases to overwhelm me.

So, I went to my appointment, knowing that no matter what the mammogram revealed, I was ready.  The mammogram that began my walk last year brought about powerful changes in me, and if God had something else in store for me, I knew I could take it.  No big deal.

The results? The mammogram was clear, so I felt granted a little more time to do whatever I’m supposed to do with the next bit of my life.  B-Flat Christian, you are held by the great I AM, a God who is a verb, who exists, but who DOES things. Join me in fighting the energy-sucking tides of complacency, and let’s DO something with the time we have.

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Remnants

 

Reading Time:  Approximately 3 minutes

This past December, our Christian Education committee lead the way towards congregational inclusion in creating a collection of Advent Reflections. Members of the congregation were invited to read the Bible scriptures for the day, to spend time with them, and to write a short reflection. I looked forward to reading each day’s reflection, so much so that, sometimes, I would peek ahead to the next day. I even played a little game: I would cover up the name of the author, read the passage, and guess who wrote it. I am proud to say I even figured a few of them out without looking!

I enjoyed reading each reflection so much because I felt like I was hearing each person’s voice. In fact, I could imagine hearing those individuals reading their reflections. It was like having all of my church friends sitting with me sharing their personal thoughts and feelings.

Each day, I underlined phrases that jumped out and grabbed my attention. I decided to write them all out, and in doing so, I noticed some phrases that seemed to naturally go together. What I am offering is a final Advent reflection—one that snips out a “remnant” of each one (thanks, Rosemary!) and sews them together to form a new reflection quilt.

Thank you for sharing your incredibly articulate thoughts with me, all of you B-Flat Christians.

  • Are we ready? Are you ready…not for Christmas, but for Jesus’s return?  He is coming soon…”Come Lord Jesus!”

  • Even today, God often speaks through the gentle and obvious rather than the spectacular.

  • So silent, so humble was the advent of the Messiah! Long awaited and expected; yet totally overlooked in the crowded city of Bethlehem.

  • God with us, Emmanuel, born into this world through God’s own hand and the humility of one of His faithful servants.

  • Through the joy of the Christmas season, it is easy to forget that Jesus was sent to address the shortcomings of humankind—our sinfulness. Jesus delivers the ultimate redemption.

  • From Sunday morning sermons and regular Bible studies to congregation-generated Advent messages and outreaching mission work, the message is a loving pressure to rise up and “live lives worthy of God.”

  • Stitched, knit, or woven together by the body and blood of Christ is the firm foundation of the Church and its community of believers.

  • “Whatever will come our way, Through fire or pouring rain,  No we won’t be shaken.”

  • In our families, in our church, in our community and in our nation help us to beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks by acknowledging Your sacrifice and by recognizing and commemorating the baby in the manger.

  • “There is hope for the helpless,

  • Rest for the weary,  Love for the broken heart,

And there is grace and forgiveness, mercy and healing,

HE will meet you wherever you are.

Cry out to Jesus!”

  • Religion in form and practice is man-made, Christianity is a relationship with Jesus Christ!

  • It has been said that we, as Christians, may be the only bible some people will ever read.

  • Take your love of Christ and pour it out for others to see.

  • Have we ever turned on what we know as true and right in order to keep the crowd from turning on us? Have we ever played innocent for our own gain?

  • For Micah, this best life is sitting in your own space, outside, under your own tree or vine unafraid of threats from your enemies.

  • Take a moment to consider what God is doing in your lives and see what parts of your life he would like to restore this season, and then take a further moment and dare to dream!

  • He is moving in such a way as to reveal himself whether it is at the height of our ability to follow and worship, or entering into rebellion against Him.

  • Lord, in the midst of this world’s chaos be with us!

  • Lord, teach me your ways that I may walk in your path.  Wake me from sleep.

  • Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.

  • Help us learn to retain our own imprint of your glory, and to share the best of ourselves with a world that so desperately needs hope.

  • Heavenly Father, cleanse us of our ugliness, rid us of our inhumanity, bring us humbly into the Kingdom which you have prepared and over which your Son reigns now and forever.

  • And so grant that in searching the Scriptures we may find life for ourselves and for others.

  • “I haven’t learned all I should even yet, but I keep working toward that day when I will finally be all that Christ saved me for and wants me to be.”

  • “I’m asking God for one thing, only one thing: To live with him in his house my whole life long.”

  • “I believe that I shall see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; Wait for the LORD!”

  • I cannot help but think in this Advent season that God patiently waits for what every parent longs for, that moment when the child turns back, looking and catching sight of the one they know, the one they love, the one they belong with.

  • “He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives, and release from darkness for the prisoners…to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those to grieve…”

  • Please keep everybody warm if needed, and let the food nourish our minds and souls.  Amen.

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Love Wins

Reading time: 2 minutes.

As I was stopped at a traffic light a few weeks ago, I saw a bumper-sticker on the car in front of me.  It was, as far as bumper stickers go, quite small, with tiny black words written on a white background.  I squinted and read out loud “Love Wins.”

Love Wins.

I giggled and said it again, louder, “LOVE WINS.”

What a wonderfully defiant little bumper sticker.  It didn’t have bright, neon colors, a flashy picture, or a trademark brand icon (though I’ve seen some others on-line that do).  It was the simplicity of the statement that made it so powerful, and it has stayed with me ever since.

Love Wins.

Every day, we are told and shown the contrary, of course—watch the news (or pretty much any TV show) and see in technicolor the tragedies that stricken our communities.  Go to an elementary school playground and listen to how children taunt each other.  Even our churches, the very places that should be filled with graceful actions, are decidedly graceless sometimes.

Our world isn’t full of hatred, but its people certainly are–they express it openly to each other, almost gleefully.  As Americans, we revel in the joy of the First Amendment and the rights it grants us, as well we should; yet, does this mean we can say anything we want simply because we have the freedom to do so?

This conversation is going on around kitchen tables, water coolers, and Keurig coffee makers across our country, and it is a good thing. We should be discussing the delicate balance between words we think are hysterically funny and edgy, but which are perceived as cruel or racist to others.  I keep hearing people say, “I am so tired of everyone trying to be so politically correct all the time!  It’s so stupid!”  I agree, it is hard to know what someone else may find offensive, as it’s possible to be offended by just about anything.

That said, I also think we must not give up on trying to speak words that lift others up.  As a Christian, I know I have to do this, and it is one of the most difficult tasks given to us by Jesus himself.  It is, therefore, not a task we can take lightly.  We should always be making that attempt, and when it backfires, we should have the courage to apologize for our words and actions.

I believe in the ligaments, tendons, and bones of my being that “Love Wins.”  It wins because, unlike hatred, it is in it for the long haul.  It is an out-laster, and is, frankly, a stubborn so-and-so.

B-Flat Christian, you were made for higher ways of thinking and being. Hatred might sell news coverage, magazines, books, movies…it will inspire millions of Youtube videos and tweets for a moment. Do not accept hateful words from yourself or others; do not let them suck you in to their vortex. Instead, make it a certainty that “Love Wins” with your words. You were born to “Speak Life.”

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Blessing for a New Year

Reading time: 1 min.

From a benediction offered by Pastor Ronald Higdon.  Read it, and dare to believe these things could come to pass in your life.

May the Lord bless you and keep you.

May the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious unto you.

May God give you grace never to sell yourself short;

grace to risk something big for something good;

grace to remember that the world is now too dangerous for anything but truth

and too small for anything but love.

So may God take your minds and think through them;

May God take your lips and speak through them;

May God take your hearts and set them on fire.

Thank you for all who have responded to my blogs, either on Facebook, or on the blog itself.  I have appreciated your company so much.  Continue on this journey with me, B-Flat Christian.  We have lots more matches to light.

 

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Mary: One Tough Chick

Reading Time: 2 mins.

After hearing all of the scriptural readings up to today, I have come to this conclusion (and perhaps one you’ve already thought about, too):

Mary was one tough chick.

No, really.  I have been pregnant, and let me tell you, it was not pretty.  I have friends who did the whole “glowing” thing while they were pregnant, and who rhapsodized about how much they loved everything about the process.  I was not one of those pregnant women.  I was a grumpy pregnant woman.  I did not glow.  I did not rhapsodize.  I was roughly the size of Idaho with hemorrhoids that would make even the most macho man weep in pain and irritation.  I was large, unwieldy, sweaty, and exhausted.  I was also a bit of a whiner (startling, I know).  Yet, I had a “smooth sailing” go of things, while it seems that Mary’s road was bumpy, both figuratively, and literally.

Every time I read the Christmas Story in Luke, I am astonished by Mary’s raw strength and dogged perseverance. She is not flustered by a visit from a fiery angel.  She is not shaken by the angel’s news about her coming pregnancy.  She is not cowed by the blatant stares of others as she walks down the street, or by the look of deep disappointment in her parents’ eyes.   The worst was Joseph’s incredulity, then utter silence; but even that did not deter her from accepting her responsibility.

What I admire most about Mary, however, is her sheer physical strength. At nine months within her pregnancy, she walked from Nazareth to Bethlehem, which is around 96 miles according to Google.  That’s nearly 100 miles.  She rode a donkey some of that time, more than likely, but she probably walked some, too. Once she got to Bethlehem, the situation only got worse.  Her labor pains started, but there was no Super 8 in sight, no hospital with doctors or nurses ready to deliver her baby in a clean, germ-free room.

Having a baby is not only excruciating; it is messy.  There is a lot of pain, a lot of screaming, and a lot of blood.  The Bible doesn’t talk about the graphic part of delivering a baby, but giving birth, even when it is a “normal delivery,” requires every ounce of resilience one can summon up.  I think most women—including me—would have broken under the hardships Mary had to endure.  Not Mary, and God knew she wouldn’t.  He knew she was tough.

When I see ancient paintings of Mary, her face often looks serene, calm, and infinitely nonplussed.  In my imagination, Mary does not look like a passionless beauty with perfect hair.  She is wiry, scrappy, and her eyes sparkle and challenge you. She squares her shoulders and says, “Alright.  Bring it on. I’ve got this one.”

Be grateful this day, B-Flat Christian, that Mary was one tough chick, and celebrate the struggles she was willing to endure to give—even you– The Light of the World.

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The Song of Zechariah

 

As we’re in the Advent season, I knew the story of Zechariah’s muteness would be part of the liturgy at some point.  The story is told in Luke 1, and Zechariah’s silence held special significance for me this year, because I, too, lost my voice.  After getting a respiratory infection, I could feel my throat beginning to close up. A few days later, my voice was entirely gone. I could not even whisper. For three days, I could not utter a sound. This made not only my professional life a tad difficult (I am a voice teacher), but basically EVERYTHING difficult. While my family thoroughly enjoyed teasing me for not being able to nag them, I was despondent.  (Those of you who know me personally know that I am a bit of a talker.  Okay, I talk a lot.)

As my silence persisted, I began to notice things—things I’m sure Zechariah noticed, too.  Here’s what I learned.

1) When you can’t talk, for some unknown reason, people whisper to you. Because you can barely speak, they answer you quietly, and speak slowly to you.  They pat your arm, and make tsk, tsk sounds. This is simultaneously annoying and endearing.

2) When you can’t talk, you hear more, because you don’t have a choice. I realized I was unable to jump in and give an opinion or throw in a sarcastic retort in conversations. Instead, I listened to what those around me were saying—really listened, without preparing what my next witty comment might be…because I couldn’t comment anyway.  It was actually very freeing, as I didn’t feel I had to entertain everyone around me.  (This desire to entertain is self-induced.)

3) When you can’t talk, you hear more, because you are listening more. No, hearing and listening are not the same thing. Hearing involves your ears, but listening involves your heart and mind.  I especially was aware of this during Thanksgiving.  While I had my voice somewhat back by then, it still wasn’t strong and I couldn’t talk without coughing.  I knew I needed to remain quiet and to not engage with everyone as I usually do. It was very enjoyable to sit in a room full of chattering people and to simply listen to them and laugh with them. I realized I miss a lot of this by trying to contribute—or even monopolize—the conversation.

4) When you can’t talk, you hear God more. I often pray out loud, as I find my mind wanders when I pray silently. I have animated conversations with God, which probably can sound a bit disturbing to other normal people who don’t know who I’m talking to. I often forget, however, that conversations are about communication, which is a two-way endeavor. Every day, I pray that God will open my ears, open my heart, and close my mouth. Getting laryngitis is a great way of closing my mouth, as the choice is no longer mine.  I can then allow God to get a word in edge-wise.

It is 4) above that I think created the story of Zechariah.  Some might view his story as yet another “God smiting a poor unsuspecting person.” After all, who wouldn’t pause and ask the angel Gabriel, “My wife is having a baby? We’re going to be parents?  Do you know how old we are?”  Yet, retribution for questioning God is not entirely the crux of this story. I do not believe God was taking away Zechariah’s speech; I think God was giving Zechariah the gift of listening.

Because he couldn’t speak, Zechariah had nine months to receive well-meaning advice on child-rearing from his family, friends, and neighbors. He had nine months to listen to his wife’s complaints about her swollen feet and aching back, and to then massage those tender areas of her body.  He had nine months to ponder what this special baby, to be named John, would truly mean in this world.  He had nine months to foster a hope that the Messiah just might be coming in the near future.

Perhaps some would be angry and bitter after being struck dumb for nine months. Not Zechariah–for when his voice was finally freed, all of his pent up emotions were finally released into a powerful narrative ballad.  This ballad, often referred to as a “song,” concludes with these beautiful phrases:

Luke 1: NRSV
78 
By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon[h] us,
79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Advent is here, B-Flat Christian.  Listen, truly listen, to all those who surround you, and cultivate your own seed of hope…maybe even burst forth in a song of joy.  Use your words to lift up, to soothe, to strengthen those around you. Believe that hope is coming.

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Hats

Reading Time: 2 minutes

 So, just when you get a really good pity party started for yourself, isn’t it amazing how God smacks you right upside your hard head? (Hey, I can’t help it, I’m from the south, and that’s what we would say.) Often, He adds a little “Snap out of it, you idgit!” (Yet another southern endearment.)

I got one of those a couple of days ago. Work was exhausting; my students were whiney; I was pulled apart at the edges with no hope of covering all the empty spots I needed to cover; and to top it all off, I could feel my throat starting to get sore. Great. Just great. My family had already had a monolithic cold, and I was the only one who had yet to succumb. Succumbing was on the horizon.

I pulled up to our house, shuffled slowly to the door, and took the mail out of the box. In it was a cardboard mailing envelope addressed to me. The return address was from the state of AK. “Huh, maybe our friends from Arkansas sent me something.” I sauntered in the house and decided to open it up. Inside the envelope was a pretty wool hat, seemingly made from the color palette of a fall day. Blues, purples, teals, earth-tones—it was clear that someone had made it lovingly by hand. There was a short note enclosed inside:

I’m so sorry I didn’t get this sent sooner. I did finish it a couple of weeks ago but then life happened and things get crazy as I’m sure you know! I can imagine the stress from health issues and the unknown and I only have MS. Hope this little present fits and offers some warmth and comfort with my prayer along with it. <3 Kelli K.

“Wait a minute,” I thought. “I have no idea who this is! Could it be from a former student who has a different married name now?” Even more baffling was the fact that I realized AK is actually the abbreviation for ALASKA, not Arkansas (duh). I could not think of a single person I knew in Alaska who would send me such a beautiful hand-made gift, and who sounded as if they knew me well.

I decided the answer could be found on Facebook, the Wonder of Our Existence (or the Bane, depending on the day. That day, it was the Wonder.) I found Kelli and sent her a message, apologizing for not knowing who she was, but thanking her for the gift. She responded, saying that she is part of crochet group on Facebook that makes hats for family and friends of people who have cancer. Somehow, I ended up on that list, so Kelli made a hat for me. For me. For someone across the country in an utterly different time zone.

I was stunned. I had my breast cancer lumpectomy last May, radiation all summer, and had been feeling like life was getting back to normal. My cancer was “over,” in the past. This hat reminded me that my experience will never be in the past, and the things I learned about myself will remain branded on my soul forever. I do not want to forget that time in my life, even the really painful moments.

Getting this hat also reminded me of why I am a Christian. You see, when you become a Christian, you become part of a network, or a hive, if you will. That network is connected on city, state, national, and even international levels. Christians all over the world pray for each other, simply because it’s what they do. They pray because they are told to pray in the Bible, but that’s not the only reason they do it: they pray because it feels good to focus on the needs of others instead of themselves for a change. Prayer is more about awareness, compassion, and hope for the well-being of those who need it; it is both an outward action and an inward action.

We Christians pray for friends and family who need help, and then we pray for people we don’t know—like the people in Puerto Rico, or the people suffering from the recent mass shootings in Texas or California. What is so amazing is the realization that people are praying for me all the time—people I don’t even know, who have never even met me. When I am eating breakfast, someone is praying for me. When I’m folding clothes, someone is praying for me. When I’m at the grocery store in the frozen foods, someone is praying for me. And you know what? I can feel those prayers. How humbling is THAT? How comforting it is to feel held in someone’s heart. I am embarrassed to continue fussing about things in my life that don’t really matter. Also, I have come to the realization that, as cliché as it sounds, it’s the small things we can do for others that can be the most meaningful.

B-Flat Christian, try to find one of those small things today that you can do for someone else that just might brighten someone’s day—or even change someone’s life. Whether it is praying for someone, writing them a card, calling them on the phone, or crocheting a hat, do it.

P.S. Kelli, I’m praying for continued strength and courage for you as you deal with M.S. Thank you for being so kind and thoughtful to someone you don’t even know.

I Thessalonians 5:

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

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Awe

Reading time: 2 minutes

 

Psalm 90  [NIV]

A prayer of Moses the man of God.

Lord, you have been our dwelling place
throughout all generations.
Before the mountains were born
or you brought forth the whole world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

This verse was part of the Bible readings today in church and immediately called to mind my day yesterday.  Because it was the first weekend in November, I longed to see some of the fall foliage at its peak before it began to fade. This was the last Saturday I would have free for a while, now that the holiday whirlwind has already begun.  My family and I decided to go to Hawk Mountain for the day to celebrate the final days of fall by hiking the rocky trails and possibly glimpsing some raptors soaring in the mountain air.

Hawk Mountain is an amazing place to visit. It is one of the major migration routes for raptors travelling between North America and South America.  On clear days during migration season, you can see falcons, hawks, vultures, and even bald eagles while sitting at one of its many scenic overlooks.  It is one of my favorite places, as it makes me pine a bit for my beloved Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia.

It was a glorious, sunny day, and the leaves were as beautiful as I had hoped. Unfortunately, nearly all people in the northeast had the same idea as my family, so it was very crowded up on the mountain. It took about twenty minutes to find a parking place, but we finally created one on the side of the twisting mountain road.  Walking slowly up the road, we were amazed to see license plates not just from Pennsylvania, but from New York, New Jersey, and other states. We walked to the visitors’ center and could barely get in due to the crush of people there.  It was amazing to think that all of these people, from babies to folks walking with canes, were there to experience the wonder of the outdoors.

My husband and kids had gone ahead of me to climb the more challenging trails, and I decided to rest at one of the overlooks.  I nestled myself between some rocks and marveled at the sight spread out in front of me.  Bright reds and golds mixed with burnished copper, the valley floor resembling a furry quilt resting upon its bed of mountains.  As I sat quietly, others came to my spot at the overlook. I quickly found myself growing irritated as my peaceful atmosphere was interrupted over and over again by noisy onlookers.  Two couples stood beside me for at least twenty minutes with their binoculars, discussing not the birds they were seeing, but the unusual names their daughter-in-law was considering for their grandchildren and how unhappy their nephew was in his job.  Another young family made it up to the overlook point and immediately opened up snacks and began feasting on Fruit Roll-Ups and nuts.  A group of teenagers came and inevitably began taking selfies, laughing at each other and making faces.  One even called someone on his phone, saying, “Yeah, we’re up here at the overlook at Hawk Mountain.  It’s really cool…”

I realize everyone comes to places of nature for different reasons, but I always wonder why people seem to be afraid of silence, afraid of being awed.  I use the word awe not in the way we have come to know it in its overused form today—“awesome”—but in its definition as “a feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder” (according to my google search).  It is the feeling of witnessing a place or event that looms, huge and  consequential, and finding oneself small and insignificant in its shadow.  As humans, we tend to be uncomfortable in such situations, so what do we do? We act to assure ourselves that we matter, that we aren’t a speck standing on the side of a mountain. We talk. We eat. We laugh loudly. We take pictures of ourselves in front of the majesty as a way of mastering it by capturing it on the tiny screen of our cell-phones.  That way, we can make ourselves look bigger in front of it somehow.  “See? All of that is in the background, but I’m in front of it!”

Eventually, I decided being angry was pointless.  These people were there to absorb the beauty of the day just like I was, and instead of celebrating it quietly, they were choosing to do so in a different way.  I pulled up my hood, both because it was getting chilly, and because it allowed me to feel more isolated from the voices around me.  I settled in my chair hewn from the rocks, breathed deeply, and smiled out over the majesty before me. I found it comforting (and, yes, awesome) to think that all of these wondrous things are not held or controlled by me; they have been here for millennia, and they will still remain for millennia, “from everlasting, to everlasting.”

What places or situations inspire awe in you, B-Flat Christian? What makes you “live in awe”?  Share your thoughts in the comments on this page.

 

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Lucky Leaf

Reading time: two minutes

 

Several years ago, I remember being out on a walk with my daughter.  She was still small, and her little legs were a blur as she tried to keep up with my longer legs.  We clasped hands, swinging them forward and backward in time with our steps.  It was a splendid day—a “Blue Skies” fall day, the sun’s warmth still bright, with a slight tinge of chill to come in the air.  The wind blew the leaves all around us and swirled them around our feet in tiny tornadoes.  We felt them falling on our heads and shoulders and crackling in our hair.

“Look, Mom!  Watch me!  Grab a Lucky Leaf!”  She dropped my hand and stretched her arms toward the sky at a leaf that was riding the wind.  Just as she almost caught it, it shifted suddenly to the right out of her grasp.  “Missed it!” she cried.  She tried again, but the same thing happened—the leaf she reached for dodged her hand.

“What are you doing, honey?” I asked her curiously.

“It’s good luck to catch a leaf when it falls in the air!” she answered, jumping for another one.  “You try to get one!”

So, I saw a possible target and reached for it.  It, too, danced just out of my reach.  I tried again and again.

“Got one!” crowed my daughter.

“Hey, good job!” I said, laughing.  “Boy, that’s a lot harder than I thought it would be.”

“That’s why it’s a Lucky Leaf.  You have to catch it before it can get away.”  She put the leaf in her pocket, and we continued out walk.  We shuffled through several leaf piles, kicking them gently aside.

I recalled the “Lucky Leaf” game today while I was out walking my dog.  Once again, it was a gorgeous fall day and leaves were falling gently on the ground.  I looked up just in time to see a leaf flying straight toward me.  I reached out and grabbed it, and instinctively, I said “Yes!”  I was so pleased to have caught it, and with little or no effort on my part.  I put it in my pocket, my mind suddenly thoughtful.

How often do we walk through our lives jumping, reaching, striving for the “leaves” we think we want?  That’s what we’re supposed to do, right?  Go after the things we want, putting our whole selves into it?  Demanding the blessings we think we deserve, without seeing the ones that might be flying right at our faces?  Kicking the blessings that litter the ground around us out of the way scornfully, because they weren’t the ones we wanted?

I always go back to the story of Jacob grasping the angel in hand-to-hand combat, begging to blessed, fighting for God’s favor (Genesis 32:22-32).  Perhaps we should stop our mad jumping after the “leaves of blessings,” and end our pointless battles to impress God and make Him listen to us.  Instead, let us simply pause and watch for the Lucky Leaves that are there just waiting to be plucked out of the air…Lucky Leaves like:

  • Enjoying a beautiful fall afternoon with a child

  • Sipping a really, really good cup of coffee

  • Feeling the steady breath of the dog lying on your feet, or the cat warming your lap

  • That hug that you needed from the friend who knew you needed it

Feel free to add your Lucky Leaves to the “pile” by commenting below, B-Flat Christian. Go to the top of the page and click on “No Comments,” then add your comment in the box provided below the post.

 

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Morning Glory

 

 

This past summer, my dear friend Lynn gave me a morning glory flower to brighten my spirits.  I was beginning my cancer journey, and I was admittedly scared out of my wits.  “Here,” she said.  “Take this—morning glories helped me heal after I lost my husband.  I hope it will bring you joy.”  Thankful for her kindness, I dutifully planted it.  I knew morning glories are climbers, so I put it right up against our backyard fence.  I decided to name it “Ed” in honor of Lynn’s husband.

For a few weeks, Ed stretched his tendrils up and around the fence happily.  Eventually, he reached the top of the fence.  As he gained confidence, he explored more of the fence.  One day, I noticed some of Ed’s leaves were curled and brown.  Several days of extremely hot weather had perhaps taken their toll; I promptly grabbed my watering can and gave Ed a drink. “Come on, buddy,” I whispered.

Ed continued to sag wanly on the fence.  I watered him again, hoping it would revive him.  I watered him a few days later, noting that some of the leaves remained fresh and green, while others continued to shrink and turn brown.  I took one of the brown vines in my fingers and carefully followed it all the way back to the ground where it was supposed to be rooted. I noticed with horror that it wasn’t in the ground—it was hanging limply just above it.  More than likely, the lawnmower had accidentally severed it when I mowed the lawn the previous week.  I had killed Ed, or at least, part of him.  I tried to pull off some of the dead vines and leaves, but they were so intertwined with the ones still growing that I decided to leave it alone and hope for the best.  “Come on, Lord,” I muttered.

Recently, I have had conversations with several friends facing grim life struggles; subsequently, the not-so-articulate, tad-bit grumpy prayer “Come on, Lord,” has passed through my lips more than I would like to admit. These friends are good people facing tectonic shifts in their lives and could use a dash of hope—but nothing happens. God is being annoyingly circumspect in His response to all of our prayers. I read a prayer that encapsulates my own thoughts in Ann Lamott’s brilliant Help Thanks Wow: The Three Essential Prayers (NewYork: Riverhead Books, 2012).

 Hi, God. I am just a mess. It is all hopeless. What else is new? I would be sick of me, if I were You, but miraculously You are not. I know I have no control over other people’s lives, and I hate this. Yet, I believe that if I accept this and surrender, You will meet me wherever I am. Wow. Can this be true? If so, how is this afternoon—say, two-ish? Thank You in advance for Your company and blessings. You have never once let me down. Amen.  (p. 34)

Praying such a brutally honest prayer is so freeing because it sets all artifice and superficiality aside. It is admitting that we think we know what’s best for us, but have to trust that He’s got it all covered, as agonizing as that can be. This is what faith is about. Faith is making assumptions that are true because of past occurrences.  For example, we know the sun will more than likely rise tomorrow morning.  Our world will continue to spin in its galaxy, probably. Winter is on its way, though whether it’s next week or next February is anybody’s guess.  We don’t know, but the chance is high that hope is on its way because we have seen it blossom in our lives before.

Even plants that were partially run over by lawnmowers can suddenly blossom. One morning, I looked out the back door and saw a bright blue bloom. “Ed! Look at you!” I cheered. When I rushed out to investigate, I realized he had several blossoms. Today, he is covered with them, and every morning, they gladden my heart. Pray those grumpy prayers, B-Flat Christian. You need them, perhaps even more than God needs them.

God, help me….Plumb

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5wRpTySE_8A

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