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Posts Tagged ‘faithfulness’

JR at OBX

JR meditating at the edge of the ocean
Outer Banks of North Carolina

Why, I’m wondering, is it so difficult to.  just.  stop.  We’re winding down our wonderful vacation week on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, and I’m finally winding down myself.

Our very first morning, waking up to the sun rising over the crashing blue and white surf just off our bedroom deck —  I quickly wrapped myself in a soft fleece blanket against the brisk dawn ocean breeze, grabbed a pair of binoculars and plopped myself down on the deck, watching the gulls & pelicans & willets along the shore.  There was one figure – a man I think – with two dogs, far down the beach.  I watched a small doe, likely whitetail, make her way along the dunes until she gently ambled out of sight far to the south.  My heart skipped when I glimpsed a plume of spray offshore –  first thought = Whale!!  But then realized it was simply a pelican, dive-bombing for breakfast.  As I watched the big bird on the water through the binoculars, my eye caught a playful pod of dolphins, also cruising for their meal.  The sun, rising higher, spread gold across the misty morning horizon.  What else, what else?

I was watching all this quiet liveliness against the backdrop of constant ocean roar, and suddenly realized how busy I was inside — seeing, naming, scanning, searching ….

How automatic and natural that internal pace:  Looking for the next thing before I’m done noticing the present.  Even remembering ‘I’m on Vacation!  Time to quiet down inside!’  only underscores the reality.  I recognize that this internal pace is my own creation — my response to always more that needs/should/can/ought  to be done.  My list is long, my obligations scattered among the many hats I wear in our unscheduled, people-oriented life, not to mention caring for an old rambling farmhouse and keeping up with overflowing gardens.  Internally, I’m usually two steps ahead of myself, organizing and anticipating and tryingtogetajumponthings in my mind.  Funny though, that in the land of the living I move slow, quite slow, and transitions and disruptions are unsettling set-backs to my careful order.

Bundled on the  deck with my blanket in that early warming sunshine with the sky and the sea spreading out forever, I didn’t realize how thoroughly I carry my internal channel with me until I tried. to. stop.   And just be.   And not process anything, but simply pause, present to the unfolding day.

In the middle of the week — during one of our unambitious strolls down the endless and nearly deserted beach, there was a young family out for the day.  Dad was building sand castles with one small male child, while the other – a skinny, dark-haired boy of 5 or 6, was playing at the edge of the surf, mother nearby watching with protective amusement.  This seemed to be the boy’s first encounter with the sea – he was giddy with excitement – squealing and dancing and skipping and charging the waves and darting away again with screaming delight.  He was absolutely and thoroughly absorbed in the thrill, oblivious to mother, father, brother, seagulls, us, as he pranced on his tiptoes chasing back and forth the foaming edges of the surf.

I thought, how long has it been since I’ve been like such a child….abandoned to the simple, profound joy of being alive?  I can’t recall such a thing.  Perhaps never.  Certainly not in my anxious and terrified childhood.  Even now, strolling along the beach with nothing to do but breathe in the glorious fresh air, I can’t seem to resist the compulsion to stoop and pick up and organize the smooth, pretty bits of shell that catch my eye.  White ones today; purple and gray ones tomorrow; then pale orange ones next.  The black shells, I’ll wait for another year.  (Right.  I really think like this?!)  I certainly can’t enter that precious, un-self-conscious freedom while rabidly organizing my next task.

The struggle surfaced again while lazing in the hot-tub that evening.  Now — this is the first time, ever, that JR and I have intentionally taken such a vacation, with one goal:  To Relax.  We deliberately chose a place with no family and few people; lacking touristy attractions; miles of nothing to distract or stimulate; with broad expanses that invite rest; and with a hot-tub overlooking the ocean.  The plan was simple — sleep, eat, soak, walk on the beach, and sleep some more.  So, soaking there in the hot-tub at sunset, sky turning pink and lavender and waves glowing peach as they tumbled with lazy reach onto the shore, we mused together about faithfulness and idleness.  Relaxing in that hot tub, with NO ministry objective, felt unfaithful, self-indulgent, too close to sinful in fact.  Using up resources just to pamper ourselves, total unproductive idleness, especially when there is so much need in the world …. this is supreme selfishness, right?  This mantra is a relentless master.  And an unhelpful one.

For over the course of our short week at the beach, slowly opening ourselves to be aware of the present moment only and allowing ourselves to sink into the enjoyment of that as a gift, we began to discover, both of us, the response to our inner quieting was a deeper sense of worship.  There was no effort for ‘morning devotions’ in order to draw close to God; the growing stillness and presence in my heart seemed enough to allow more room for Him.  And we learned, JR and I together, the beauty of that kind of faithfulness.  For it takes a far greater Trust and Dependence to allow the ‘Blessed Controller’ to actually be in charge and to intentionally receive each moment as a blessing.  The temptation is to try to wrest satisfaction, safety and sense of purpose from life as if that were faithfulness.  The quiet and peace in my heart, today, is very different from the frenetic joy of my first morning at the beach.

Now, re-entering Real Life, taking up again the lists and obligations, we are gently trying to remind each other that it is really OK to continue breathing deeply, and to let each moment unfold.  My challenge will be to remember to abide here.  A handful of bits of colored shell, memories of the hot-tub and dancing at the edge of the surf  will be happy companions on this journey.

hot tub at the OBX

Ahhh

glass of shells=1

Just a bit of the beach

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Lovely, brilliant Joni Mitchell had us going ’round and ‘round in a circle some decades ago.  Today I’m on another carousel, of sorts.

last of the sunflowers left for the winter songbirds

Today, I’m watching my brother-in-law suffer with an advanced, aggressive lymphoma.  He was diagnosed suddenly last week after a trip to the ER, and pumped full of all manner of drugs in an attempt to keep him alive.  They are now awaiting results of the node biopsy, which was a mystery to the pathologist, and had to be sent across the country to the top specialists for confirmation. This doesn’t look good.

We made the 10-hour road trip to be with my sister-in-law as they begin to absorb and manage this devastating news.  SIL herself has type-1 diabetes and is recovering from a stage-4 cancer and chemo over the last two years.  Her battle was a mighty one; she put up a heroic fight, not only to survive the massive surgeries, but also to survive the violent, toxic poisonings from her chemo, which landed her back in the hospital many times. She is a conquering hero to all who knew and prayed for her healing, and we rejoice that she lived to see her son married, and to delight in her grand-daughter.

And I am ever, ever grateful to yet another dear friend who valiantly faced her breast cancer, withstood the assault of the surgeries and treatments, and continues to live a strong, brave life.

Maybe this stirs the same questions in you as it does in me:  What in the world would I do if I learned that my body was wracked with a deadly cancer?  How would I manage the assault?

So here am I… confused and wandering in circles in my own brain.  I am unashamedly an Anabaptist Christian, and try to live out Jesus’ teaching of non-resistance, non-violence and peace-making, in all the forms that this takes: in the working out of all relationships – whether inter-, intra- or non-personal.  Even, just a little bit, with bugs.  I prefer to hand pick the insects in my organic garden rather than spray pesticides.  Sure, I am destroying them one way or another, but as I drop them in my sudsy bucket, we have an understanding – a peaceable one, I believe – and it is not indiscriminate.

I pray that – according to the always-asked-question when someone learns that I am a non-violent non-resister: “so what would you do if someone came after you (or a loved one ) with intent to harm?” – that I would have the strength and grace of the Holy Spirit in the moment I needed it, to never do violence to an attacker but to respond, instead, with love and peace. Even at the risk of losing my own life, or God forbid, a loved one.  Most of all, taking another’s life, for me, can never be justified.  God created the blood and breathed the same life into another as into me, no matter how violent or unjust the other might be. Now, I agree, this doesn’t make any sense in rational, human terms; it only makes sense in the context of a faith that declares God to be the One in control of every breath, and He is the only one who gets to say which one is the last.  And how that last breath will be drawn.  I pray mine will be in absolute trust, peacefulness, strength and joy, even if I am facing an enemy.

Which brings me to my dilemma: we all talk about horrible, dreaded cancer as a great Enemy.  We talk about Fighting Cancer.  The War on Cancer.  Winning the Battle against Cancer.  The weapons of that warfare are biochemical: toxic poisons and cell killers.  How is a non-violent non-resister supposed to respond?  Of course I immediately reason – in my head, in the conversation that goes around and around and I play both sides – How is fighting cancer any different from taking an anti-biotic to fight an infection?  Which I have never had a problem doing.  I have been very grateful for medicine many times in my life.  But perhaps that sort of medicine is more like picking bugs….

Yet, this idea of battling against cancer – I only mean the potential that someday I may have to face this decision for my own life – creates such confusion for me!  My faith and confidence in God tell me that my life is in His hands and to engage in such a battle would not be living out peaceable faith for me.  I can imagine for myself the peaceableness of relinquishing that battle to God alone and finishing my days with the strength and joy He allows; relishing the opportunity to focus whatever energy of life I might have left with my family, instead of necessarily applying all my stamina to simply survive the treatments in order to stay alive longer.

But we value life, and adding every possible year to a lifespan seems to be our cultural goal.   I think of my family, my husband, my children, my friends, and wonder if a decision NOT to battle a cancer would be a selfish one.  Irresponsible.  Do I owe it to those I love to enter that war?  Would it be a true reflection of my love for them, and an embracing and receiving of their love for me, to fight that battle?  To try to give us a few more years together, time and memories to treasure?

Then the circle in my brain comes ‘round again.  Is it sincerely love, and sincere faith and trust in God, if I put them through the anguish and cost of that great battle so that we can enjoy a bit more time?  I’ve seen the devastation that chemo can do, it eats up the joy and everything else like a big black hole; for it’s time being, it becomes the miserable center and hope of existence for the entire family.  I’ve also witnessed the miracles that it provides.  But surely if I declare that God is in control of my life – the gift of my being alive – isn’t He also in control of my years, and my death?  Scripture seems to tell me so.  If I end up with a terminal cancer, isn’t it something He already knows about and for some reason has allowed into my life?   Isn’t HE the One who gets to decide my life span, and allow me a few more years – or not?  Shall we not say instead, ‘If God wills it”, and let that be medicine enough?

Now, for those of you who are ready to pounce to send me an email to correct my faulty, irrational thinking and point out my inconsistencies, I want to say I recognize that this is not rational, nor is it an argument for anything.  It is a faith thing, and I am really trying to sort it out….

In the end, in the very end, exactly what is it that matters most?  More years on this earth, enjoying, savoring love and life; or a shorter life that is lived truest to one’s heart of faith….   This is my circle game today as my dear sister and brother-in-law are entering their Great War….

Stone feet of 'Angel of Grief' in the Protestant Cemetery, Rome

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