A Thing of Beauty…

Sunset 8-27

“A thing of beauty is a joy forever,” so said Mary Poppins. Well, she borrowed that line from John Keats who wrote a poem about “A thing of beauty…” Many nights I get the privilege to drive by the ocean. Each time I am overwhelmed by its beauty and majesty. Tonight’s sunset was especially beautiful.

One of the wonderful things about beauty is its ubiquitousness, its omnipresence. It’s everywhere. You just have to look for it. The flowers blooming along the path, the smell of newly cut lawns (not much of that now though), someone’s kindness, a favorite song, sound of water rippling over rocks, I could go on and on, so could you. Even Goethe said: “A man should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day of his life, in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul.”

When I drove by the beach this evening, I stole some glances at the lovely sky, I wanted to fly into it, embrace it. That impulse reminded me of something C.S. Lewis wrote: “We do not want merely to see beauty…we want something else which can hardly be put into words – to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.”  And from beauty, we get joy.

Through beauty, joy is always available to us. If we take the time for beauty, we will have joy, even in difficult seasons of life. But for believers we have much more. We have Him. George Mueller exclaimed about his relationship with Christ: “Oh be not satisfied until in your own inmost soul you can say, God is an infinitely lovely Being!” We may experience beauty in our relationship with Jesus Christ. I agree with George that Jesus is an infinitely lovely Being. Even in the midst of a “dark night of the soul”, we have beauty at our fingertips in the presence of our Lord.

Don Miller in Blue Like Jazz relays a story:

A guy I know named Alan went around the country asking ministry leaders questions. He went to successful churches and asked the pastors what they were doing, and why what they were doing was working. It sounded very boring, except for one visit he made to a man named Bill Bright, the president of a big ministry. Alan said he was as big as life, and listened to his questions without shifting his eyes. Alan asked a few questions-I don’t know what they were, but as a final question, he asked Dr. Bright what Jesus meant to him. Alan said Dr. Bright could not answer the question. He said Dr. Bright just started to cry. He sat there in his big chair, behind his big desk, and wept.

When I read that, I could relate to Dr. Bright; often when I think of Him, I will cry. His beauty of character, his beauty of kindness, patience and love is simply overwhelming. I think Dr. Bright cried because of the beauty of the Lord. And the subsequent joy is deep and abiding.

One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life,

to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple. Ps. 27:4

daffodils2

God’s Teardrop

sea

I had one of those tempest-tossed nights awhile back. Some issues weighed heavily on my mind as well as an intermittent struggle with various fears and doubts. And there was a loud party three cabins down the road. I thought that I would sleep like a baby this night because I had little sleep the night before; but, alas, no. I dread these nights.

The minutes ticked by as if they were hours. I longed for the chirping birds, not the chirping crickets or robust revelers. Also, various noises in the night heightened my stress. I prayed for Jesus’ countenance that enabled him to sleep in the storm driven ship. But, I could not apprehend it. As soon as my mind settled down, a new squall would arise. I could not find peace nor slumber.

In a desperate measure for relief, I renounced all the ideas that brought me to this place. I decided that I would stay where I was, and I would run to my refuge: the ocean, and mingle my tears with this great body of salt water. As I envisioned myself so doing, I likened my salted tears with the brine, and the idea that the ocean is a teardrop of God’s came to my mind. I imagined this great body of salty water was His teardrop. Not the culmination of all His tears, not the cistern of sorrow from the sufferings of centuries, although that’s an interesting thought, too. But the ocean as a single divine teardrop.

His teardrop. One single teardrop put the perspective of God’s greatness in new light. I know the heavens are unfathomable, even contemplating the immensity of the sea overwhelms me, but just trying to understand the ocean as a single divine teardrop is almost a tangible thought even though I know he is  greater than that. As I thought that in the midst of my stormy night, I wanted to write the idea down, but there was no pen or paper nearby, so I fumbled with my phone and emailed the thought to myself.

Eventually I fell asleep and faced the next day. However the issues work out, I know I know a great God, one who has my tear drops bottled up, and when I look at this vast body of water I live next to I will remember that night, that night of struggle, that night of illumination when I caught a glimpse of His greatness.

The Family Dinner

Rockwell

If I ever get my own kitchen again and can have family dinners, I will institute a hard and fast rule. ABSOLUTELY NO TALKING AT DINNER! Now, this mandate is for the physical and emotional health of the participants. I know it runs contrary to popular practices of benign, pleasant family conversations around a home cooked meal. But, I must put my fork down.

Recently, (like ten minutes ago) I was eating a nice plate of mac and cheese while trying to watch the 45 second intervals of tv shows that are being flipped through on the TV by a family member who shall remain nameless. This family member asked me a question:

Unnamed Family Member: What does Ellie do at your friend’s house?

Donna: (with mac and cheese in her mouth) Slave labor.

UFM: What?

Donna continues to masticate her mac and cheese, but tries to answer in the 3.8 seconds allotted before the question is repeated.

Donna: She helps her clean.

UFM: She does what?

Again, the 3.8 seconds tick away….

Donna: She helps her clean.

UFM: She helps her sleep?

Donna quickly eats, but tries to answer. She inhales a piece of the mac and cheese and begins coughing uncontrollably.

UFM: OK, here we go again.

Donna, regaining her breath:  CLEAN, SHE HELPS HER CLEAN!

UFM: Why are you yelling?

Donna: BECAUSE YOU’RE DEAF.

UFM: I’m dead, that’s right, that’s what you want. It’s not far now.

Donna: That’s right, be prepared.

UFM: Did you hear that, Liz, she wants me to die.

In light of this recent conversation, which is a daily occurrence, I will institute emphatically that there will be no talking at the dinner table. This will eliminate unnecessary choking hazards as well as the inevitable family fight.

Silver and Gold Have I None…

“Then Peter said, Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk. Acts 3:6

My son told me a story once. He was showing a friend some pictures of when he was a kid. Emilio said, “See we were ghetto poor.” His friend looked at him, then at the picture and back at him, “That’s not ghetto poor, that’s third world poor.” We all laughed when he told us that story. I laughed for awhile until the tsunami of mother guilt swept over me.

I don’t know about others, but I feel guilty a lot. I feel guilty the most about the things my kids went without. Fancy things definitely, but, at times, even the essentials like plenty of food. Third world poor may not be far from the truth. We moved to San Pablo into a one bedroom bungalow. The four kids shared a bed in the little bedroom while their dad, the new baby and I slept on a sofa bed in the living room. It didn’t seem so bad at the time. They were little. But they grew, the family grew and what little we had was stretched way too thin. I could have done more to provide for them. They are not ungrateful to feel deprived. Times were tough.

I wish I gave them more, but like Peter, and even now, silver and gold have I none, but….

I hope to give them something though, some intangibles that I truly believe are far more important than silver and gold. Things I didn’t need money to buy. Happily many things came our way serendipitously, and I tried to underscore those moments of providence.

I hope they will always remember when we didn’t have enough money for our homeschooling books and a local Christian school gave us all their used PACE’s. We had a van full of them, we just erased them and reused them.  I hope they remember the time when I was worried about not having enough bread for lunch and Mr. Gracias appeared at the fence with a bag full of breads from the senior center. (That happened a lot.) I hope they will always remember how God opened the door for us to leave our house in San Pablo and spend three great years in El Sobrante without having any wants.

I hope to have somehow shown them an authentic Christian life. I hope both my humanity and my faith have been visible to them through this fragile earthen vessel. I hope that my life, far more than my words, has borne witness to the living God. And from that, I hope and pray, they rise up and walk in Christ.

Finally, I hope that their pasts will not cripple or hinder them in their lives. I hope they can glean compassion, gratitude, peace and contentment through the things they’ve lacked. I hope they will have compassion on the untold masses of people in other lands that go without far more than we did. I hope they will have gratitude for all that comes their way either through hard work or simple providence. I hope they will have peace, that no lasting bitterness or hatred will take root in their hearts. And, I hope they will always be content with what they have. So often we pine for things we don’t have only to miss the opportunity of gratitude and joy for those things we do. So many of these lessons I’ve learned later in life, I hope they learn them too and when they look back to their “third world poor” childhood, I hope they find some other world nuggets of joy, gratitude, faith and wonder amidst their memories.

“All your children will be taught by the LORD, and great will be their peace.”

Isaiah 54:13

Three Sisters

GRAD

I was saddened to hear of Elisabeth Elliot’s death in June. Many of her books brought me comfort in difficult times, inspiration for ministry and guidelines to live as a single woman. Another favorite author from the ’80’s that I enjoyed was Ann Kiemel. Sadly, I recently found out she passed away in the spring of 2014. Another author, Joyce Landorf Heatherley, who I was delighted to learn is alive and well, wrote about the irregular people in her life, and helped me learn to live with and love my irregular people.

Back in my Simpson years, I spent a lot of time in its wonderful library. My favorite section was the Missions section. I took out books about the ministries of Hudson Taylor, Samuel Zwemer, C.T. Studd and Amy Carmichael. Of course, I also found Elisabeth Elliot’s books about her time in Ecuador. I, as well as countless others, were introduced to the five men who lost their lives to the Auca spears. One of these men was Elisabeth’s husband, Jim. I remember clearly having his quote: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” boldly written on my school binder. I was profoundly moved by Elisabeth’s story of how she came to connect with the Auca’s and bring the gospel to them.

Later in my life, her books on loneliness helped me through some dark times. In one of her books, she quoted an old Saxon poem “Do the Next Thing”. For me during my dark times and even now, I remember to do the next thing. As a dyed in the wool hare and with many kids still at home, I can hardly keep my head on straight, but when I lose focus and begin to despair, I remember, “Do the Next Thing”. Elisabeth was a towering figure and her influence will continue for many generations.

Ann Kiemel was the enthusiastic “I’m Out to Change the World” author who in her everyday friendly manner set out to tell the world about Jesus. She wrote books, ran marathons and spoke to thousands. I didn’t read many of her early books, but became acquainted with her when I read “I Gave God Time”. I had waited a long time to get married, and longed for marriage. When I read her book, it did give me hope. Her new life with her husband was my dream life, and perhaps, for me, was out of reach.

In her works, I stumbled on a quote that I used for my senior picture at St. Mary’s. “To be a pilgrim on the right journey, to never lose sight of that one quiet Star on the horizon.” These words have helped me through my dark times as well. In 1985, when I first started St. Mary’s, I remember seeing a bright star hanging over the hills making its way to the horizon. That quote reminds me of those times, knowing, the Lord will continually guide me, even despite my shortcomings. Even when I moved here, and could see the same star over the ocean, I tried to remember to never lose sight of the One who created the heavens and the earth.

Finally, I don’t remember when exactly I read Joyce Landorf Heatherley’s “Irregular People”, but I remembered its impact on me. There are a few folks in my family that are hard to deal with. I am sure I am hard to deal with to some as well. But I had tried everything I could to make peace, find common ground, concede defeat and even to this day, I am estranged, unworthy, not good enough. I am in my fifties, and I think it’s high time to move on. Joyce’s book helped me realize theoretically that some folks just don’t change. This past decade, I have learned practically that this is true. I am operating in the “My grace is sufficient for thee” mode. I am learning the love that covers a multitude of sins.

When I learned of the deaths of Elisabeth and Ann, I thought of Joyce. I searched online for any new update on her health or writings. I couldn’t find any. I called her publisher, Balcony Publishing, and spoke with a nice man, who I think is her husband. I told him I was interested in doing a blog that included Joyce and was inquiring to her health. He said she is well, but isn’t really doing interviews. I said I wasn’t looking for an interview, but just wanted to know if she was well. He offered to send me some of Joyce’s talks on CD. This was about a month ago, and I forgot all about it…..until Friday. When I came home from a couple days away, there was a package with the CDs and a book with a note from Joyce. I was beyond delighted, I was moved and grateful to this sister who reached out to say hello to a fellow pilgrim.

These three sisters in various ways profoundly influenced my life and my soul. I am indebted to their work, to the very words they wrote from their hearts that touched me personally as well as our generation of believers.

Joyce edit

Do it immediately;

Do it with prayer;

Do it reliantly,

casting all care;

Do it with reverence,

Tracing His Hand,

Who placed it before thee with

Earnest command.

Stayed on Omnipotence,

Safe ‘neath His wing,

Leave all resultings,

DO THE NEXT THING.

“And Peace Came Back Again.”

I have been reading Mrs. Loretta Cowman’s devotionals for many years now. I finally bought two new used ones from Amazon recently. My first copy of “Springs in the Valley” had fallen into the bathtub so many times it was turning to pulp. I am on my second copy of “Streams in the Desert” with a third copy stashed away (I’ll probably give it away before I need it) when that one finally bites the dust.

I have read these individual devotions at least a dozen times each. I have dog-eared my favorite ones, the ones that have fallen on special dates. Even though I have read these every year, every year I receive a new message, a new encouragement, and a new insight.

This past year was very difficult at home and at work. Severe personality clashes on top of hormonal upheaval made peace scarce and chaos king. At work, personality dynamics changed and I found myself in an uncomfortable work environment that I was unable to fix or escape from.

As each situation escalated, I was perplexed how to relieve the stress at home and at work. I am non-confrontational and going to my boss regarding an issue was very hard for me. Mrs. Cowman included Dr. Pardington’s admonition in her “Springs in the Valley” October 7 devotion:

“….When you run into a spiritual fog bank, don’t tear ahead; slow down the machinery of your life if necessary, anchor your bark or let it swing at its moorings. We are to simply trust God. While we trust, God can work. Worry prevents Him from doing anything for us. If our minds are distracted and our hearts distressed; if the darkness that overshadows us strikes terror to us; if we run hither and yon in a vain effort to find some way of escape out of a dark place of trial, where Divine providence has put us, the Lord can do nothing for us.

The peace of God must quiet our minds and rest our hearts. We must put our hand in the hand of God like a little child, and let Him lead us out into the bright sunshine of His love. He knows the way out of the woods. Let us climb up into His arms, and trust Him to take us out by the shortest and surest road.”

I printed out this quote and read it nearly everyday at work. I eventually spoke with my boss, but the atmosphere did not change. So I began to learn to trust God. It took awhile, but by the beginning of the year, I was learning to let it all go. Things had not changed, and, in fact, got much worse for a month or two. I made some difficult decisions regarding one of the kids, which turned out to everyone’s benefit. My boss ended up leaving his position and the difficult employee was in charge for a short season. But he abruptly quit.

When the Lord does a work, it is mysterious how the transformation takes place. I am the typical hare…the one who “runs hither and yon in a vain effort to find some way of escape”, but the Lord has taught me to “simply trust” Him. My work and home environment has completely changed; perfect, no, manageable, yes. I know where to go when I “run into a spiritual fog.” Below is a poem from today’s devotion from “Streams in the Desert”.

“There was a scar on yonder mountainside,

Gashed out where once the cruel storm had trod;

A barren, desolate chasm, reaching wide

Across the soft green sod.

But years crept by beneath the purple pines,

And veiled the scar with grass and moss once more,

And left it fairer now with flowers and vines

Than it had been before.

There was a wound once in a gentle heart,

Whence all life’s sweetness seemed to ebb and die;

And love’s confiding changed to bitter smart,

While slow, sad years went by.

Yet as they passed, unseen an angel stole

And laid a balm of healing on the pain,

Till love grew purer in the heart made whole,

And peace came back again.”

Don’t Rain on Our Parade

Twitter/Daniel Bru

Northern California has been experiencing a drought for several years now, so a little real precipitation would be welcome by the celebrants in Oakland this morning. That would be the icing on the cake. But, good news, we might be having an El Niño winter, so hopefully that drought will become history like the basketball drought that ended on June 16, 2015 when the Golden State Warriors knocked down the Cleveland Cavaliers in an exciting NBA Finals jousting match that went to game six.

Props to the Cavaliers for being a tough and resilient competitor, the Warriors certainly had to work for their title. However, there are a few naysayers out in cyber world that are diminishing the Warriors’ victory. Really….what’s with these folks that can’t just say, “Congratulations!”. Come on. The Warriors have played great – and I mean great – record-breaking basketball all year. Steph broke a couple records, Klay had that super-sized quarter where he scored 37 points – 37 frickin’ points – in a 12 minute span. It takes me about 12 years to hit that many baskets. They have had a great season. Listening to these sourpusses, you’d think the Warriors stole the title from an eighth grade girls CYO team; now if they played my daughter’s 6th grade CYO Blazers, they’d have some work to do.

Anyway, you gonna tell Conley and the Grizzlies they didn’t play their hearts out. They did, I saw those games. Oh, and Harden. He just tiptoed through the tulips, huh; he wasn’t being serious. Yeah, right, he was one fierce contender, he wasn’t MVP runner up for nothing. The playoffs were brutal. Each of those teams played hard to stop the Warriors. The Finals were just plain painful.

Not only did the Warriors have to stop LeBron James, the greatest player in the known and inhabitable world, but they had to contend with a group of hungry players that wanted the title just as much as they did. Cleveland’s drought has been longer, and they were really thirsty. Yeah, Love was out, and Kyrie got sidelined in Game 1, I was bummed because he is a great player to watch. But, other players stepped in and made the Warriors work for that title. It was no picnic, it was physical, ugly and draining. You’ve got to give the Cav’s credit for finding the Warriors’ Achilles heel by neutralizing Curry and Thompson. After Game 3, I was worried. Will the Warriors get their groove back? Will Achilles fall? Nope, because the Warriors aren’t just Curry and Thompson, they are also Livingston, Igoudala, Lee, Bogut, the Brazilian Blur – Barbosa, Hannah’s Harrison, Draymond Green, Ezeli, Holiday, Kuzmic, McAdoo, Rush and Mo Speights, all thirsty guys too, with a coaching staff led by Steve Kerr. They were able to adjust to the brilliant coaching of David Blatt, wear down the greatest player in the known and inhabitable world, and win the series.

Don’t rain on our parade. They do deserve it, not just a happenstance win, or a lucky season, but a crown to an awesome and record breaking year. Is this the beginning of a dynasty? Who knows? Let’s enjoy today. Omar Khayyam wrote, “Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life.” Let’s enjoy this wonderful moment and leave tomorrow’s moments for another time. Congratulations!!