Meanderings on Comfort…

We used to jokingly call him King Henry The First. He died on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, a cat’s life, well lived.

I never felt right feeding birds while he was around; scattered bird seed was limited to very heavy snows when Henry was kept inside.

So in December I bought a small feeder, some suet and black sunflower seeds. I hung everything outside the mud room window where Henry had once liked to lurk in the bushes. It took the chickadees a few days; the juncos were next; and then a band of blue jays appeared and I knew we were in.

 

I stood at the window often in the early winter trying to get some good bird photos with my iPhone, but it made them nervous each time I moved, so eventually I gave up and just enjoyed watching them and keeping track of who visited. There was no Henry to hog the chair by the window, only the two humans who politely take turns…

 

Lately I’ve had time to stand quietly at the window again. Spring is here and the birds still seem delighted to be fed. Earlier this week I transplanted a dozen sunflower sprouts to a spot in the sun. Spring has come. Flowers are blooming. Fruit trees are starting to blossom. I have started seeds in eggshells and planted some peas and lettuces. The rhythms of nature have not changed, though the human world is now a discordant bang.  Or perhaps a better analogy is the door to the world we knew slammed shut.

Where is your comfort when so much has been taken away?

Cat lounging on porch swing

My big physical comfort was Henry. There’s nothing like a warm cat cuddling on your lap, purring at you, touching your cheek with his gentle paw… We decided to not get another cat until we came back from our ten day Scotland vacation in June… Yeah, that’s gone too… And now I have no cat to physically comfort me, and no Scotland to look forward to. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not much; I know that. 

We all have lost our comfort-able-ness, haven’t we? Some of us have lost more than others, but we all can lament on what’s been taken from us. We can mourn (it’s okay to mourn our losses, no matter how small) and then we must find new ways to regain our comfort. (Just as an aside, I looked up ways, and the online definition is methods of reducing damage...) 

The word comfort made me pause the other day, as I considered where my comfort comes from…

And what came into my head were the words to one of the best loved praise songs ever written:

My comfort, my shelter,

tower of refuge and strength,

Let every breath, all that I am,

Never cease to worship you…

Shout to the Lord by Darlene Zesch.

If our comfort is in work, family, health, money, entertainment, friends, houses, skills? It’s all up in the air, isn’t it? On hold. That’s not to say, those aren’t good things, but they aren’t the best thing. Earthly treasures disappear. Quickly, as we have learned.

I don’t write about faith often. It’s a tricky thing, and one that I denied for much of my adult life. It’s an unseen, not-easy-to-prove way in our modern, rational world that needs proven science to be considered authentic.

Cat in window

But sometimes the mystery is what we need to cling to when other idols have turned to clay. (That’s a biblical metaphor, by the way…)

I know believers aren’t supposed to quote scripture to prove their beliefs, because what non-believer cares about the Bible? But this quote on faith is one that I’ve grown to love: Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.–Hebrews 11:1. Faith is so personal, yet those of us who have it long to share it with those who need it. Because we know how it has changed our lives. For good. For better. For best. It doesn’t eliminate struggles or pain; it simply reminds us of God’s promises, reminds us to be grateful, reminds us to love, and reminds us that dying as a believer is not the worst thing — it is simply the beginning of a new journey.

Kitty looking over back porch

These days, if your comfort is cold, and you are thinking hard on what is important in your life, give faith a chance. Not all Christians are looney-toon right wing nut cases. :-) Some of us are probably your friends. We are struggling to make sense of all this too, but the three things we do have are comfort and hope and faith–the assurance that things unseen are truths we know in our hearts, our minds, our souls. And it gives us a glimpse, a gift of peace that’s not present in this earth-bound world.

 

Here are some places to meander:

Read this: The Gospel of Luke in the New Testament; Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis; Letters from a Skeptic by Gregory Boyd, Corona Virus and Christ by John Piper; Be Still and Know that I Am God

Watch this: Hope in Times of Fear by Tim Keller;  A moment of Comfort by Kathy Troccoli;  Choose Faith, not Fear, a sermon by Nicky Gumbel

Listen to this: Shout to the Lord, sung by Darlene Zesch; In Christ Alone by Celtic Worship; No Longer Slaves sung by Jonathan David and Melissa Helser;  Finding God, sermon by Timothy Keller

 

 

 

 

A Parable for the Hour: jumbled thoughts on reading Luke 8 for morning devotions, Jan. 31,2020

Truth revealed or
Truth concealed?
Heart is hear with a ✝.

The shape of the cross
His story across history.
We might ask, like Pilate,
What is Truth?

The world is scorched and barren
and thirsting for truth to fall as dew
on the parched ground.
The seeds need truth to
blossom and grow into fruit.

But the seeds have fallen among the thistles,
and truth is concealed
by the thorns and in the shadows
what passes  for truth has congealed
into a mass of lies.
Is a deal with the devil
worth the compromise?

Fruit without a ✝
is easily turned into ruin.

Stand is sand
without a ✝.

Here is Luke’s Parable of the Sower.

The unexpected, unwanted lesson — Learning and letting go

This is a sermon I’ve been writing to myself. It may not apply to you. Just saying…

Silly me. I thought at my advanced age, lessons in life were already learned. I’m old enough now to be the one offering sage advice rather than stressing over just what this lesson is supposed to teach me.

I know better than that really. The road we travel is never guaranteed to be smooth no matter how new or old your vehicle, no matter what season. It is the season of potholes after all.

And the journey we’re on is always guaranteed to teach us something–if only we pay attention to the curves. Interstates are boring after all.

But this one — it was tough. I was blindsided by it and maybe still haven’t recovered. So I’m writing my way through it and trying to see it through a mirror of objectivity, which might be an impossibility since mirrors are reflections of what we ourselves see.

I try to believe the best of everyone. I try to be kind, and in turn, I think others should be kind. I try to deal with those who aren’t on a limited basis. Life is too short to be bothered by unkind people, don’t you think?

In February I took an online writing course. I was looking forward to it and eagerly did the first few assignments. And then…

The instructor sent me back a detailed critique. I wanted critique. Tell me that the scene didn’t work because the dialogue was unrealistic; tell me that there was too much description, not enough description, whatever specific critical analysis you’ve got. But don’t say general ugly words. When I read them, I was stunned. They had no purpose except to insult. I read them again. I was not only astonished that an instructor would write such things to a student, I was crushed.

eat your wordsI know that I should not care what some unknown person wrote to me under the guise of criticism. But I did.

Suddenly I doubted whether I should even be writing. I had been praying for answers as to whether I should continue writing this already-overlong piece of fiction; perhaps this was the answer? I put down my pen and unplugged my keyboard. I didn’t open WordPress. I didn’t open Scrivener. Instead of writing on a blog, a fiction project, and a non-fiction project, I wrote nothing.

And during this six weeks of quiet, I rediscovered that I do need to write. The writing may never turn into a novel. It may never be published. Yet whatever our creative outlets are–writing, art, music, storytelling, sewing, gardening, woodworking–they are neglected at peril to our own well-being.

I have been trying to banish the fear and ugliness that instructor dumped on me. I don’t know why the words were so unpleasant, but I have used prayer to try to forget them.  It isn’t easy for me to let things go; I’m a dweller. I dwell on what I should abandon and leave behind. Conveniently, the sermons at church these past few weeks have been walking us through the book of James, and I have listened with my heart to his apt words:

Consider it pure joy my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.  –James 1:2-4 (NIV)

Trials of many kinds. That means trials of all sizes and extents — from the huge life-altering events to the smaller every-day grouches that throw off one’s plans for the hour, day, or week. And please note what perseverance does — it makes us mature and complete, not lacking anything. What would be without trials?  Spoiled children, selfish and demanding, lacking character and wisdom. In just a few more verses, James tells us what will happen when we do persevere:

Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. — James 1:12 (NIV)

Having passed the test by not giving up, brings us God’s approval; not necessarily human approval, because human approval passes away with the seasons. It’s your fifteen minutes of fame, and pretty much only serves your pride; God’s view of our perseverance is like snow on daffodils– they droop in the snow, but when the sun comes out they stand taller and appear more golden than ever before. (Yes, there’s been a lot of snow on daffodils around here lately.)

That brings me to human approval. I’m guilty of wanting it. I’m guilty of being very unhappy when there is discord between humans I am close to. Heck, I’m even guilty of disliking it when people I don’t like dislike me. Or something I’ve done. Or something I’ve written.

But we can’t allow meanness or unkindness to win, and by dwelling on it, or taking it too seriously, we allow it too much power over our lives. By listening to churlish words, I allowed my own confidence to be shaken. I gave those words power.

Yet the truth is that words do have power, and if we read further in the book of James, he tells us that:

the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. — James 3:5-8 (NIV)

James doesn’t mince words. Our tongues are small, but vile, and cannot be controlled; he compares our tongues to a fire that can set the entire forest ablaze. We’ve all set wildfires with words; just because I was on the burnt end this time, doesn’t mean I can forget the times when I lit the match.

There are several lessons here.

1) Don’t let others’ words or actions derail you from your own goals or make you lose confidence. Be not afraid.

2) Don’t dwell on it; move on. Know that your perseverance will bring you maturity and strength.

3) Aim to please God, not humans. Forgive the imperfect humans that surround you, for you too, are imperfect.

4) There will always be curves ahead and potholes in the road, no matter what season. This journey is a pilgrimage and the way we travel is the substance of our lives. The words we say, the kindnesses we do, the love we show–that’s what counts. Those potholes will always be there — the significance is in how we deal with them.

5) Pray. We aren’t meant to drive off into the sunset alone.