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Giving it up…

Two men were discussing their pastor’s sermon on fasting during Lent. One asked the other, “What are you going to fast from during Lent?”

The second man thought hard for a moment and then answered, “I’ve decided to give up television.”

The first man’s eyes widened at the thought. “You’re giving up television for 40 days? Wow!” Thinking about it further, he asked, “What are you going to do with all of your free time?

The second man shrugged, answering, “Probably watch Netflix.”

What is it about the word fasting that makes people uncomfortable? With today’s technology, where food, drink, entertainment, etc., is only a fingertip away from us, why do we shy away from the thought of giving up even one of these luxuries, even for a short time?

Pope Francis offered his views on fasting for this Lenten season. Quoted from an interview with Time Magazine, Pope Francis suggests if we’re going to fast from anything this Lent, that even more than candy or alcohol, we fast from indifference towards others.

In his annual Lenten message, he writes “Indifference to our neighbor and to God also represents a real temptation for us Christians. Each year during Lent we need to hear once more the voice of the prophets who cry out and trouble our conscience.”

Describing this phenomenon, he calls the globalization of indifference, the Pope writes that “whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades.”

It’s easy to do…to become so engrossed in our day to day lives that we fail to see those around that are suffering. Every day, the newspapers and television are filled with so many stories of tragedy and despair that it can be overwhelming to take in.

This week, it was here…in our backyard. With the storms that marched across the mid-west this week, death and destruction fell upon several communities close to us, including Crossville, Illinois. The pictures were heartbreaking…the stories of loss even more so.

But these storms did more than wreak havoc. The families interviewed are already telling stories of the outpouring of love and support from family, friends, neighbors and from total strangers. These storms turned communities upside down, making some unrecognizable, even to those who lived right there. But they also allowed for God’s grace to abound.

It’s not hard to imagine, in these circumstances, giving up a few luxuries to help those who have lost so much. So then, why should it be harder when the only one seeming to benefit from our sacrifices, during Lent, our ourselves?

Remember, the gift of fasting, is a gift we not only give to God, but to ourselves. While offering Him a sacrifice of time or possession or attitude, we are also asking Him to fill that void with something else: His presence. We are asking him to give us a deeper taste of his love and a deeper sense of His comfort and healing.

What are you willing to give up this Lent? A past hurt? A grudge? An attitude of indifference? Look beyond the coffee, the candy and the video games. Pray about what type of fasting God is calling you to. And do so with an open mind and heart…so that He can fill it with the blessings He has especially for you.

 

 

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Fallen walls and open doors
We are not bound any more
We must follow any cause
To open doors and fallen walls
-Keith Lancaster

The Lord, your God, will bless you in the land you are entering to occupy.
-Deuteronomy 30:16

Growing up Baptist, I don’t remember giving any thing up for Lent. But I can remember classmates that did. It was a big deal to them, having to sacrifice candy, soft drinks, chips, etc. for those 40 days. How do I know? Because they talked about it. They knew exactly how many more days they had to do without whatever they had given up.

To some, the season of Lent is just another way God “imposes” His will…His authority over us. By making sacrifices, we feel “the eye of God” upon us, waiting for us to falter and stumble so He can point a finger and say, “Ah-ha! Gotcha!”

Today, day two of Lent, I’ve fallen already. Jim and I decided we would read together the daily mediation from The Word Among Us and pray together to start our day. It’s something we have done off and on throughout our marriage but not for a while. What better time than Lent to turn over a new leaf and begin again?

But this morning, my mind was filled with other things. Getting a turkey into the roasting pan, going through paperwork to take to the tax preparer today, etc. I can’t speak for Jim, but the thought of reading and praying together slipped through my fingers until he was well on his way to work.

And guess what? There was no “Ah-ha!” or “Gotcha!” from above. Lightning didn’t strike and I was not “called on the carpet”. There was a gently stirring within me that made me stop what I was doing and remember. Did I feel guilty? Yes…but that was self-imposed…and, thankfully, short lived.

Reading the above scripture and mediating on God’s word dispelled the guilt and filled me with peace, knowing that above my obedience, the thing He most desires, is a willing heart. God knows it is my desire to fulfill my Lenten “sacrifice” to grow closer to him and closer to Jim.

So if you have decided to sacrifice this Lenten season, whether through giving up a material item or sacrificing some of the precious time we have each day to spend with God, don’t let a slip up, or several of them, derail you. Don’t think of your sacrifice as a “wall of constraint”. Open your mind, tear down the wall and see the big picture…all of the blessings that God surrounds each of us with daily.

Fallen walls…and open doors. We are not bound anymore. We must follow any cause…to open doors and fallen walls. These lyrics by Keith Lancaster took on new meaning for me this morning. Because, before God can use me to knock down walls between myself and others, I must first knock down the walls I build between me and my God.

Even Now…

Every blessing you pour out I’ll turn back to praise.
And when the darkness closes in, Lord, still I will say,
Blessed be the name of the Lord…
–Matt Redman

Today is Ash Wednesday. The beginning of Lent. For the next forty days, Christians are called to prayer, meditation and fasting in preparation of Easter. But why?

Joel 2:12-14 “Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart,
with fasting and weeping and mourning.”

Rend your heart and not your garments
Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate
slow to anger and abounding in love,
and he relents from sending calamity.
Who knows? He may turn and relent and leave behind a blessing.

Even now. Now. How often have we heard that word? It’s a word that is urgent and doesn’t allow for delay. I know as a child, that if I hesitated to obey my parents when told to do something, the next word was usually, “Now!” And I knew, by the tone of the word, I’d better move!

But God isn’t saying to us, “Do it now or else.” He’s telling us that if we will return to him now, He is waiting, eagerly, to pour his grace on us.

It’s important to know this as we begin this season of Lent. If God is so eager to bless us, why do we need Lent?

Because, while it might be now that God is ready and waiting, it might not be now for us. In our lives, so filled with the daily struggles and pressures, we need the structure of seasons like Lent to get our attention.

I’m reminded of something my mother did for my brothers and me when we were children. We had chores that we were expected to do each day. But it’s the same for children as adults. Whether it’s chores at home, school or work, we can become complacent through the mundaneness of the tasks. To get our attention when our minds would wander, my mother would occasionally leave a small gift on our bed for us. It wasn’t every anything expensive…but it was always a surprise. I remember one time finding a kite on my bed. My brothers each received one as well. I can still picture all four of us with those kites, running into each other, laughing as they became as tangled up as we were.

Forty days, set aside to help us slow down, simplify our lives and clear our minds of the things that keep us from connecting with God. Through prayer, meditation and fasting, we refocus our attention, giving God the opportunity to do what He so wants to do: be a real presence in our daily lives.

Now is your time…what will you do with it?

“Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart…”

Test

Test

The attack

I’m under attack.

I don’t usually post things like this on Facebook or my blog…but I don’t feel like I can be quiet one more minute. I mean, if it was just me coming under attack, I might be able to shake it off a while longer. But it’s not…

I try not to air my grievances in public. I try not to be that person that puts every intimate detail of his/her life out for everyone to see. I’m not doing this for personal gain or attention. I’m doing it so my friends and family will know that, when I see in them what I see in me, it hurts me and I care.

This attack is like none other. And, no, Derek, you can’t come to my rescue and “end someone”, though that’s the best offer I’ve had in a long time. No, no one can help, although, God bless him, Jim tries his hardest to.

This attack…this assault…it’s coming from my own body.

It’s coming from inside of me, isn’t that a laugh? It sneaks up on me, disguised by the promise of feeling good. It attacks without warning and doesn’t care what I have planned or scheduled. It is a demanding, whiny child…to ignore it is not an option.

Because of it, I lose hours…days…weeks. Because I can’t defend myself, it always succeeds. It reigns like a tyrant…controlling and oppressing me at every turn.

Today, it sucker punched me. I was in control, so I thought. I was up and feeling good. The sun was shining and it was going to be a great day.  I planned my day, hit the ground running, ready to be free of the tyrant and accomplish so much…until the brick wall arose in front of me and I slammed into it. The tyrant raised his hand…and I had no choice but to submit.

It started out as a twitch. A simple eye twitch…but it didn’t stop there. It drove from the back of my head to the back of my eyes, feeling as though it was going to push them out from their sockets. The pain spread, my vision dimmed and soon, it had total control.

“No!” I said, stomping my foot like a three-year old…I wanted to throw a fit. I wanted to shake my fist and yell. But experience has taught me that doing those things only brings more pain.

So I laid my head and my pillow…and cried.

It’s not fair…not just to me. It’s not fair to Jim, who works so hard every day. It’s not fair to my family and friends, whose important events I miss because of this tyrant in my body. It’s not fair to my family and friends who have their own tyrant ruling their bodies.

Many people think, “Migraines are just a headache…what’s the big deal?”

It’s not a big deal…it’s the only deal…when it controls your life.

the sad garden…

A few nights after the loss of my father-in-law, I lay awake in bed, verses running through my head. I’m not a poet… but I couldn’t sleep until I wrote them down.

I ran across the yard tonight, my heart heavy from the pain.
It mattered not the hour, nor the gentle falling rain.
I paused before his garden, grief flowing down my face.
And watched with awe and wonder, as his garden did the same.

Every stalk was bent like a sorrowful head, each blossom closed up tight.
The leaves they clung like praying hands, in the quiet of the night.
It was here I knew I’d find the gardener, in each plant and inch of soil.
For it was here he loved to labor, here he’d sweat and toil.

They say the trees and rocks cry out to God, if no one will praise.
But does the soil weep for one, though mortal, just the same?
Will it mourn the loss of the one who knelt and worked with loving hands?
And cry because the life that cared, has met its earthly end?

I stood beside the garden, tears flowing unashamed.
And thought about the gentle soul, now released from hurt and pain.
He’s past from our eyes but not our hearts…our sight but not our souls.
And though we miss him greatly, we are glad that he is home.

And now the two of them shall walk, in gardens in the sky.
The Maker and the gardener, strolling side by side.
One day I’ll go to join them, one day, I too will be free.
But for now, whenever I need them…in the garden they will be.

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Hanging’ around. Nothing’ to do but frown.
Rainy days and Mondays always get me down.

I remember, as a child, loving a good rain. It was the best time to curl up with a good book. Back then, I could spend hours solving a crime with the Bobbsey Twins or crying with Jo over a sad story or even wading in the creek with Mary and Laura.

But now…rainy days mean something else. The last two days, I have lain in bed, lights off, blinds drawn, with no sound, save the rain and the wind, rattling the chimes outside my window.

It was miserable.

Migraines have taken the joy out of a good rainy day for me. Because they affect my vision, reading or watching television is out of the question. Listening to the radio, even softly, sounds like someone pounding a drum in my head.

And so, I lay for hours in that dark room…waiting.

But, the one “silver lining” of my migraines is the amount of time I have to pray and meditate. Nothing is so comforting than reflecting on an old hymn like Great Is Thy Faithfulness or Old Rugged Cross or to say the Our Father or Hail Mary, slowing, over and over until I feel my body relaxing.

Sometimes I’m able to lull myself to sleep, to escape the pain radiating through my head. Other times, it serves to draw my attention away from myself, to lift family and loved ones up in prayer.

No matter how bad my days get, I know the migraines will pass. The pain will subside and I will be back to doing the things I love. Working around the house or in the yard, writing on my blog and books, spending time with family and friends…and fishing with Jim. I always know those things are there, waiting for me.

Others are not so fortunate. And so, I try to keep my “thorn in the side” as Paul describes in the Bible, in perspective. Not only will my headaches pass, I’m surrounded by family and friends who love and support me.

And so, as much as I dread rainy days, I’m grateful for them as well.

Lord, thank you for the rain that we all need. I pray for those who are suffering from flooding and those who are in need of clean water. I thank you for a yard full of plants that need every drop of precious rain you bless us with. I’m grateful for the beautiful flowers to see and smell; the wonderful fruits and vegetables to eat.

Most of all, Lord, I’m so blessed that you have given me this little piece of your beautiful world to love and care for. Thank you.

As I reflect on my life, I realize through seasons of love and pain, although it hard, each soul must allow, a time for sunshine and rain.

~Sonia Keepes 3.11.16

 

 

 

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