A New Leaf

Ponderings in Changing Seasons


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My Fickle Heart

It’s Wednesday. In what some call the Week that is Holy.

Now back to Sunday.  In what some call the Sunday of Palms.  It was Holy!  The Sabbath.  The day for doing no work.  Yet, here came Jesus, riding on an unridden colt of a donkey.  Low.  Humble.  And the crowds cheered!  “Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the LORD,” they chanted.  Some cut palm fronds and laid them upon the road he would traverse.  Some simply took off their cloaks, their coverings and laid them under His Feet.

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I imagine what that would look like:  the green of the palms, the MANY COLORS of the raiment of the people.  The unison of the crowd calling out their “Hosannas” ~ a sight to behold!

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It was a moment foreshadowed.  Joseph, the favored son of Jacob, had a coat of many colors.  He is famous for it.  But the back story isn’t so pretty!

Joseph was the long-awaited son of Rachel whom Jacob loved.  And Rachel was the long-awaited wife of Jacob for whom he bound himself to Laban, her father, for seven years ~ TWICE!!  You see, Laban’s heart was fickle, calculating.  He promised to give Rachel to Jacob for the indemnity of service for seven years, not uncommon in the days of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  But then he broke his promise, tricked Jacob and instead gave him her older sister Leah in matrimony.  Jacob could not decline this unwed, uncomely sister of His Beloved because of his heart’s desire. He was at the mercy of this merciless one.  And so they were wedded.  And then Jacob worked another seven years for the sake of Rachel.  He obtained the Victory, the Prize for whom he had set his eyes and on whom he had set his heart.

But then, Rachel was barren.  Meanwhile, Leah and her concubine Zilpah were bearing him  sons ~ Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah and eight more.  And Rachel for the solace of her barrenness gave him her concubine, her maid Bilhah to conceive and bear him progeny.  To fill her aching arms with Child.  In that day the child of a concubine was considered the child of the wife.  Still Rachel bore no children.

But one lovely night, deep in the tent of Jacob, love expressed conceived.  And from their union was born the long-awaited child Joseph.  He was to have a little blood brother Benjamin.  Yet Joseph remained the Favored One, the First Born of his Beloved!!  Jacob, his father, gave him a many-colored coat to wear to show Everyone he was SPECIAL!  And he did ~ wear it and wear it and wear it!! (You know how sibling rivalry runs!!  Some flaunt; others become jealous.  And there can be Hell to pay!)

Joseph’s brothers plotted to literally kill him, but Reuben, the eldest, persuaded them just to leave him in a pit to die.  And they told their father a wild animal had killed him, deceived him as he had once deceived his own father Isaac.  (Oh, the generational patterns we weave as we deceive!)

This coat, these colors, these patterns.  Jesus rode a donkey’s colt who trod upon the cloaks of many colors.  He trod upon our jealousies, our deceptive habits, our wanton self-centeredness, our anger and our angst.  He trod upon our depressions and our anxieties.  He trod upon our heartaches, our confusion, our fear.  Color these red and blue and green and yellow and orange and black.  See the green palms ~ LIFE ~ laid in and amongst the many colors.  Hear again the crowd’s loud acclamations of Hope and Hosannas!  Surely NOW! Surely THIS MAN!  Surely MESSIAH had come!

But now it’s Wednesday.  The crowds are silent.  They’ve gone back to their work, their families, their mundane lives.  The Hope has waned.  How intense the passions of the crowd.  It is contagious.  It wanes in solitude.  Our fickle hearts!  My fickle heart!

Tomorrow is what is called Maundy Thursday.  On that day we remember.  We who are Disciples, Christ followers, we take Communion and we remember.  We remember that Jesus washed the feet of His Disciples.  Where the crowds laid down their colorful cloaks, He laid down His Life.

He took the Bread and the Fruit of the Vine of Passover Remembrance and called it His own:  His Body, His Blood.  And He prayed!  And prayed! And prayed!  In the Garden.  It is told that He sweat great drops of Blood as he travailed.  And then:  He was betrayed.  By His friend.

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He was led away without flexing His muscles, without calling all Heaven down in manifestation of His Glory.  He was ridiculed and shamed and beaten and tortured ~ to death!  Where were the crowds then who so acclaimed Him five short days before?  Oh, yes, they still were passionate.  They still cried out in unison.  But now their words were, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” And that generational thing?  These were their words, “His Blood be on us and on our children!”

My fickle heart can quickly change from passionate admiration and loyalty to resentment and resistance.  My fickle heart cries out at one time “Save me! Rescue me from this world of woe. Hosanna!”  Then just as quickly, my fickle heart can switch to “Where are You? Why have You not done NOW what I wanted?” and it bleeds out in moodiness and stubbornness and self-focus. Those around me are the recipients of my angst!

He came to call me from my brokenness into His Wholeness.  He came to offer me Mercy and Grace.

He came to save my fickle heart.  He, the Favored One of the Father, came to give me Favor!

And so on this quiet Wednesday, again I sing:  

Hosanna, Hosanna!   Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the LORD!                                                                                               


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.. 934 .. 935 .. 936!

936 Weeks Gone

GONE!!

Gone are the Putting-on-your-shoes Days.  Gone are the Hurry-up, we’ll-be-late Days.  Gone are the Cheering-you-on-to-victory Days.  Gone are the “Can-I-sleep-with-you, Mommy, Daddy?” Days.  Gone are the first “Hellos” and the first “Good-byes”.  Gone the First Dates, First Dances, First Dalliances.

GONE!

The Days that add up to the Weeks of a the Child.

Nine hundred thirty-six weeks:  GONE!!

Nine hundred thirty-six weeks ~ that sounds like a lot.  Dollars: $936 ~ a lot.  Daffodils: 936 blooms ~ a lot.  People in a room: 936 ~ a lot.  Gum balls: 936 ~ a lot.

WEEKS  in your child’s life to mold and shape and influence and teach:  such a morsel, so fleeting as hours turn into days turn in to weeks turn into years, so quickly GONE!

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Finding the time, redeeming the time lost, saving the time.  It is like water slipping through our fingers.  We cannot grab it back; we cannot negotiate it back; we cannot steal it or cajole it back.  Once the days ~ and the weeks ~ have past, they have passed.  Never to return.

On a wall in an office ~ a counseling office ~ I once saw a framed picture that read:

There are reasons why I do the things I do BUT excuses keep me there.

Lest you think, “Well this is a downer today.  Gloom and Doom.  Frustratingly fateful,” let me go on.

Let us look at this way:  We GET 936 weeks from 0-18 years of age to mold and influence, to love and teach, to encourage and celebrate!  We get to walk alongside our child(ren) intimately acquainted with their likes and dislikes, their faith and their fear, their strengths and their weaknesses.  What parent who has raised a child does not remember those critical teachable  moments when all else in the schedule is discarded because all that matters is the NOW, the OPPORTUNITY to groom and to grace?

I remember a time such as this:  We had just finished a paper drive fundraiser for our church’s Youth Group.  The high schoolers and we, the Leaders, had collected and sorted and received papers of all types for most of a day.  My own two daughters, still grade school age, were circling ’round the truck and the open grounds, entertaining themselves.  Suddenly, I noticed my younger daughter (probably about seven) was eating something.  I knew there were no food or treats around.  When I queried what she had and where it had come from, she avoided, she was vague, she was “slippery” as children are wont to be when they think they’re in trouble.  My concern was that she’d found candy among the donated papers and that it was full of germs.  Who knew where it might have come from or been?

But she continued to resist my questions.  I remember letting it go for the moment; it was already on its way down her gullet.  But when we got home, I pursued.  She resisted.  I had her sit on the couch with me.  And we sat … and we sat … and we sat.  I said little; she said less.  We had a Battle of Wills going one ~ The Battle of her childhood for us as I look back on it now.

On that day she was tested and testing.  How much did I love her?  How much was I willing to sacrifice for her? How much was she willing to risk to find out?  Little did I know then how swiftly the days ~ weeks ~ years would fly.  But, we waited.  Each on the other.  Finally, after more than an hour, perhaps two, she broke.  She told me that she had gone across the way to the grocery and gotten a package of lifesavers.  She told me that she was afraid because she went without permission.  She bought candy without permission.  She knew that eating the candy – the forbidden fruit, if you will – was the path to punishment.

But, it wasn’t – that time!  Because she ultimately told the truth, she was spared the consequence of punishment.  Her penalty was the anguish in the “Wait”.

Did I do it wrong?  Should I have come down hard on her?  Should I have denied her my love and compassion?  Or, did I do it right?  Was the penalty of the interminable Wait, filled with all the thoughts she had, sufficient to build her character and keep her safe?

The teachable moments of Childhood I sensed even then were fleeting.  And when I saw the Weeks of Childhood consolidated, concentrated, confined to a partially filled gallon jar of gum balls, I knew.  I knew that we have to use every single moment, every single opportunity:  every single event, infraction, victory to build into our child(ren).  We have to BE THERE ~ in the hard moments as well as the sweet moments.  All are being committed to memory in the heart of the Child.  Let this be the stuff of Memories:  My Mom was there for me!  My Dad was there for me!  I could count on them!  They challenged and championed me to Victory ~ in 936 packed-full-of-Love Weeks!

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The HeART of Listening

The EAR! What a magnificent instrument!

When still in grade school, we learn about the inner and the outer ear, the cochlea, the tiny cilia that line the outer ear, the ear drum, the snail-shaped cochlea of the inner ear and the fluid that conducts sound waves to the nerves that tell the brain what we heard.  It may be a voice speaking words and tones that lift or deflate.  It may be music that grates and annoys or that inspires to loftier mood.  Perhaps the sound alarms, putting us on alert.  Or, it may lull us to rest.

Ears may be large or small, proportional or ludicrous.  Ears may be just right and, thereby, go unnoticed or they may protrude in a way that one is distracted because they demand notice.  Nonetheless, the ear is a vessel, a conduit first to the brain, then to the heart.

My sister who is in her sixties has had a startling discovery.  The hearing aids she received soon after the New Year began for her a new life!  She had never had them; she never knew what she was missing.  How it is that she has come to this so late in life is for another story time, but suffice it to say she is ecstatic!  She never heard so many birds; she never knew Walmart has piped music.  She has had to ask her husband of 41 years to lower his volume when he speaks because it hurts her ears.  She hears her colleagues at work now with crystal clear distinction.  She hears her own footsteps and she hears herself chew her food.  The mis-hears of her life now make sense.  She would hear “look” for “book” or “stoop” for “loop” as examples and find herself replying to a wrong concept being discussed.  She always thought she was not chosen for games at school.  Suddenly, the anxiety has been lifted and she recalls that her classmates would get in her face and call her name to tell her she had just been called to run over in Red Rover!  She now understands that she wasn’t simply inattentive; she could not hear!  Her memory book full of humiliations and disappointments in a moment’s time has begun to reverse.  Now she can hear!! And hearing makes all the difference!

There is a difference, however, between hearing and listening.  Hearing is what the ear is designed to do; listening is what the heart is inspired to do.  The neural or brain pathways differ according to which occurs.

Lately, I have been practicing my Listening.  I have been practicing my Listening into the silence.  Just yesterday we had a quiet late winter snow.  The large flakes softly fell like feathers drifting on air currents to the waiting ground.  I opened the door to listen!  I heard nothing.   The snowflakes made not a sound.  But when I listened with my heart, I heard music.  The beauty of that pristine moment will forever be etched in my memory!  It was a gift! A gift of a moment of stillness that resonated with meaning!

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It is a difficult thing to be still and listen.  It requires discipline; it requires intention and attention.  The natural bent of 21st Century Westerners is rarely to be still.  We are living in an age of Distraction.  I read once that “clutter is visual noise”.  We live with lots of clutter and lots of noise.  Consider the internet, the “Information Highway”:  FaceBook, email, news, weather, articles, Google, iBooks, Kindle.  No literal screen or screen in the mind is devoid of clutter of some sort.  It can be much like Ulysses’ Sirens of the sea whose irresistible songs lured sailors, who warbled incessantly for their consuming attention.*

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We are enticed.  We can rarely escape into the stillness.

image“Be still and know that I am God” is an oft-quoted verse in the Psalms.**  Oh, how simple the words appear; the doing is not simple, nor easy.  As soon as I am “quiet” I am assaulted by myriad siren-like voices that cry not only for my attention, but for my immediate activity.  Sometimes I find myself unwittingly rising from where I am seated to move toward that activity ~ to call or text someone, to write a list, to throw in a load of wash.  I have to quell within the voices and quash the urge to move ~ out and away from the stillness.

Nonetheless, I find that the more I practice, the more I am making a new channel to first my brain, then to my heart.  The more I dwell in Stillness, the more relaxed I become.  The more relaxed and mindful I am, the more I can truly heart listen and the more I am open to receive from the Holy Spirit what is fresh and new.  I am so often amazed at what He reveals to me.  He innovates creative solutions to complex problems; He inspires hope to replace discouragement.  In listening as a part of my spiritual practice, for part of my time in prayer, I am instructed, uplifted, challenged, loved.  It is so wonderful that I find there is a growing longing in me to spend less time talking in prayer and more time listening for His Still Small Voice, His Heart Whispers.

As you reflect on my words here shared, I extend an invitation to you.  Please join me in this Lenten Season when we are beckoned to separate a bit more from the “Sirens” of technology, busy-ness, distraction, to a more quiet, more reflective Listening posture.  I pray you will find this not merely an exercise for this brief Season, but rather an embarking upon a new spiritual discipline, a new lifestyle of really “hearing” beyond your brain to what has been planted in your heart.

*Homer’s The Illiad and The Odyssey   ** Psalm 46:10

 


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come as you are

An Invitation:  to a Celebration!

A Come As You Are Party

No need to purchase an outfit:  what you have on right now will do just fine.

No need to check your calendar for conflicts: come right now.

No need to find out who else is invited:  YOU ARE and that is all that matters.

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A week ago Wednesday was Ash Wednesday, the start of the Lenten Season for 2016.  It will go on for 40 days.  Many who believe Jesus was and is the Son of God will spend this time in humble gratitude for what Jesus did for them.  They will fast some food or some activity that is significant to them.  Or, they will, as in my case, decide to stop a bad habit and acquire a better habit in its place.  They will allow this “Season” to be one of transformation.  Just as the humble caterpillar enters its cocoon and emerges a graceful butterfly, those honoring this Season hope to emerge a better, more grace-filled version of themselves.

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In many of my former years, I have elected to fast sugar .. or coffee .. or, not just sugar, but  sweet pastries .. or some other exercise in self-denial.  I emerged grateful for the aforementioned, embracing the delectable tastes once more. But, if I am honest, I cannot say I was changed, let alone transformed by the exercise in any discernible way.  Over the years, though, I have to believe that there has been a gradual transformation.  I now am fascinated by the WORD  and the Words of God!  I carry HOPE eternal in my heart that this world of woe belies.  I believe in the Power of Prayer to effect change.  ALL these things ~ and MORE ~ are due in part to my commitment to honor this Lenten Season which leads to the Via Delorosa which leads to Calvary which leads to the Tomb which leads to RESURRECTION MORNING!!!

What Lent requires of us is to Stand before Jesus, then to bow low.  I don’t easily bow low; my natural self prefers to STAND TALL!  But it is only in the laying low of self that the Journey to Truth occurs.  Only the Journey to Truth leads to Redemption.  And who doesn’t want Redemption?

“Taste and see that the LORD is good. Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him!”*

There’s a Party goin’ on .. non-stop!  And YOU – Me – We ALL are invited, “just as we are”!  We don’t have to get cleaned up or prepped in any way.  All that we need do is say, “YES!”  The saying is true that the ground is level at the foot of the Cross.

That means ALL are welcome.

Why not enter into Lent this year, if this is not your pattern?  Even though we are just a bit more than a week into Lent, if you commit the remaining time to draw apart from the usual, to draw in to taste His Living Water,** you will never thirst again!  You will find strength and peace for the day.  Not a placid, no troubles place is this peace.  Rather, it is a peace that looks beyond what sight sees and trusts that there is far more in the Invisible than all that is in the visible.*** It is a peace that endures EVEN in the tumult!

Jesus is the one who invites and His Holy Spirit says, “Come!  See!  Receive!” He was the First to show us LIFE Everlasting.  We, too, can have not only Strength for the day, but LIFE abundant and Life Everlasting.

Jesus says simply, “Just come!”

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*Psalm 34:8     **John 4:13-15; 7:38     ***Colossians 1:15-20


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The Love Language of a Bleeding Heart

Looking over the calendar, doing some planning, finding some dates.  Dates that need to be marked:  catching up on a few dates now past, noting the events that occurred, and adding to future dates both reminders and promises.

As I am flipping the pages forward in this still new-ish year ~ my heart skips a beat!  In the not-too-far-ahead, I see several days that fall clustered and that hold high expectation, joy ~ and just a little sadness mixed in with a dose of realistic expectation.  The month is May ~ a merry month ~ when flowers pop up & out, birthed from rainy wet April.  THAT is a promise in itself fulfilled:  Flowers after rain!

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This May there will be three birthdays for those whose lives are quantified as a product of my own birthing!  My daughter, my younger daughter, turns 40.  My third GrandBoy, her son, turns 13.  My youngest of six GrandBoyz, another of her sons, turns 7.  And in that order.  ‘Twill be a merry, color-filled month, yes, even if clouded with shadows of gray. The living out of our days brings both joy and pain and often the two are so intertwined, we cannot find where one ends and the other begins.  Love does not come sugar-coated.  Love comes with a price; it calls for commitment and sacrifice ~ the decision, the choice, made over and over.

There is a favorite flower of mine that befits this Month of Love, but blooms in that merry month.  It is known as Bleeding Heart.

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It is a beautiful, delicate flower that blooms, then fades as the weather warms.  Even the plant’s foliage disappears by mid-summer.  If you go to tend it, it is difficult to even find its remnants.  But it is still there, hidden below sight, under the warmed earth, watered by the sky.  It lies dormant.  It waits for the cold earth, the April rains, and then the warming of sun for its annual resurrection.

As a perennial, The Bleeding Heart is a picture of resilience.  It proves to fainting hearts that there is growth and beauty after what seems like, what appears like death.  Valentine’s Day for some is painful, lonely, sad.  It speaks of Love All Around, but to the one jilted or the one who has never known a soul mate, to the one who has lost love by death or divorce or mere disinterest, it is a season that bespeaks perhaps shame and certainly sadness.  It is about a heart bleeding.

Yet, as we consider this sweet, obscure plant created by a Creator God whose own Heart Desire is fellowship with His created one, hope begins to rise.  Finding Him means finding that that you ARE loved after all.  Finding Him means finding that you are never truly alone.  Finding Him means that you, like this lovely flower may bleed sometimes, but always there is a Healer for your pain, a Constant Companion for your need, a Lover for your soul.

Valentine’s is a Day to celebrate LOVE.  It is a Day to celebrate that “I am loved”!  It is a Day of hearts and flowers, of candy and gifts.  Above all, it is a Day among Days to KNOW  and to SHARE LOVE with those around you by being attuned to their hearts.  Together, let’s give the Gift of Love to several others this Valentine’s, not just those within our circle.  Share a smile, a kind word, an unexpected remembrance.  Our love, like the bleeding heart, can restore hope and resilience in another.


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WHEN HEART SEASONS CHANGE

This blog, as titled, is about pondering changing seasons ~ both literally and figuratively.  Both have occurred for me since September 2015.

For me, there’s been a seismic shift over the past six months.  In July, I traveled with approximately 2500 other short-term missionaries from around the world to land in the Dominican Republic ~ Dominicana Republica to the Caribbeans.  We were there to answer a Biblical question:  Can a Nation be changed in a Day?  The short-term answer is a resounding “YES”!  The long-term answer has to do with “it takes a long time,” but then SUDDENLY!  

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This idea was answered concerning the nation to which the Scripture applied ~ literally ~ in 1948, May 14, to be exact, when the the Provisional Government of Israel proclaimed the new State of Israel.  The United States was the first nation, through the person of President Truman, to recognize the provisional Jewish government as the de facto authority of the new Jewish State of Israel. Although there was dissension, once the UN declared Israel a Nation, a landed Nation, a “new” nation had been born.

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But I digress.  The shift in national identity can be slow or quick!  The shift in our own identity may be gradual or sudden!  Witness the one who loses a life partner to death ~ or divorce:  there is an immediate identity shift even if the anticipation of this shift lingered long.

When I retired last month, my Season changed.  And my identity shifted!  No longer may I call myself by my former title:  a clinician, a clinical social worker, a therapist.  Rather, being forthright, I am a retired therapist.  I no longer hold the position of trusted confidante for those in pain, those in confusion, those in the morass of their faith.

My skills are still intact.  My heart is still full of compassion.  Still, my art is alive.  My license has not expired.  {Nor have I!} But, in the moment of retirement, I chose to end one Season and begin a new Season.  This Season has yet to be molded. It lacks continuity.  It holds mystery.

This new Season was pondered and prayed over for at least two years.  It was not suddenly thrust upon me, as for some, yet it feels SUDDEN!  One day I had responsibilities; the next I did not.  I no longer had to check my phone messages from clients.  I no longer carried with me the possible call or text at any moment that would demand my care.  Some would say I was FREE! But, though my schedule is freed, my heart is still attached.  My identity is still shifting!

Perhaps you can relate!  Perhaps there is something ~ or someone ~ in your life from whom your life is being or has been severed.  Perhaps you are faced with an identity shift and it is painful.  Or, perhaps the identity shift is liberating.  Or, maybe it is BOTH ~ all at the same time!

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Changing heart seasons can be a scary thing.  It draws us to attention.  Our blood pumps swift from a trembling heart.  Our minds resist the discomfort, the pain of change.  We fear making wrong decisions, decisions that will have long-lasting repercussions not only in our own life, but in the lives of many whom we love.

We pause.  We hesitate.  We quake.

There’s a Scripture way back toward the end of the Bible that says something to the effect that our Creator did not give us a spirit of fear, but that He will equip us instead to be bold and loving and sensible.  We challenge fear with faith; we may move out with a bit of trepidation, but we move nonetheless, in faith believing that there is something new and good just around the bend.

The body is made to regenerate.  A cut to the body first scabs, then heals from underneath the protective covering.  A broken bone immediately begins to draw upon life forces within to mend and heal.   The heart, literally and figuratively, is made the same.  From within a lifetime of living is drawn the lessons and tools that regenerate and heal.  It may be a long time in coming, but one day it will suddenly be all right.  You will wake up, look up and discover that truly a new Season has begun; your heart has been restored.

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* Isaiah 66:8; **2 Timothy 1:7 (The Message)