Tag Archives: light

Subtle and Simple

Redundancy alert! For those of you who have been around me a while or follow my blogs, articles, sermons and rants over the years, I’m going there again, to my favorite holiday topic. I almost didn’t bring it up this year but I felt like someone out there might just need to hear this, said in just this way, right now.

Jesus taught us many things. He said he is the “way, the truth and the life.” John 14:6 He said “Whoever wants to be first needs to be last.” Mark 10:44-45 He said to follow him and fish for people. Matthew 4:19  He said “Don’t worry.” Matthew 6:31-34 He said “Let the little children come to me.” Matthew 19:14 He told us to let our light shine. Matthew 5:16 He asked us to love our neighbors and our enemies. Matthew 5:43-44 He told us with God all things are possible. Matthew 19:26

What he never once said was “Celebrate my birthday with as much food, partying, overspending, over scheduling, over decorating and stressful hoopla as you can manage.” He did not say, “In fact, celebrate my birthday so hard and so big that you have to begin in September or October to cram it all in.”  He never said, “Exhaust yourselves, fall off ladders putting up lights, go into debt and over indulge for me.”

For years, I’ve been preaching about this and talking mostly to myself about slowing Christmas down, simplifying it, letting go of pointless traditions, habits and the too muchness of the season. I’ve taken some flack for it. I’ve been called Scrooge. And, honestly, I don’t mind.

When Jesus was born there were no decorations. The only light was the subtle light of a star. The Christmas card was only sent to the lowest ones, shepherds out in the dark fields minding their own business. The gifts, if you recall, were simple ones for the baby, not for you and me. It was subtle, low-key and simple. And, it was enough to change the world forever.

I say all that to say what I always say at this time of year. It is okay if you do less. It is actually Biblical and theological to do less. If you love doing more, do more. If it is not serving you or others, then be brave enough to stop.

Years ago, our family started simplifying Christmas. Our breaking point was that year when we had only 30 minutes to pick out a live tree, rope it to the top of the car, screech home and literally throw it in the yard before our next activity.  That was the year, I woke up and said, “What in the name of Christmas are we doing?”

Slowly, we just started subtracting. We learned it was fine. We learned Christmas still came and in fact we enjoyed it more every year.

Our Christmas, like yours, was so over the top that we’ve been able to subtract some every year and still have more to subtract.

People who are grieving, sick or suffering life challenges of some kind this year need to hear what I’m saying the most. It is OKAY to do less. If you can’t bear the thought of facing the season’s challenges, expectations and traditions, then trim them down.

Maddie in San Angelo taught me this. I was a Hospice Grief Counselor and she invited me to her home in December after her husband died. She said she wanted me to see her decorations. When I arrived there was a votive candle flickering on a small table. She said, “That’s my decoration. It’s all I can do.” We hugged and agreed that her one candle was enough.

Yesterday, I received a sweet text from my sister-in-law. It said, “My co-workers were lamenting the fact of all the gifts they had to purchase for so many factions of their family and how much money they were spending and how little time they had to do it. It reinforces my thankfulness to you for saying several years ago that we should simplify. My holiday is so much more relaxing now….”  

What is important here is that it is not easy or popular to be the one who suggests doing things differently or who says out loud “this is all too much.” Sometimes it takes a lot of angst and tries before something actually changes.

If your family won’t do it. You can. You can say no. You can leave some boxes up in the attic. You can buy less. You can be Biblical instead of commercial. You can do less instead of more. You can simplify something.

When you do turn down the brightness and glitter of the season, I pray you will notice  more of God’s subtle starlight  When you have more space and less noise, I pray you will hear the coos and tiny cries of a newborn. When you buy less, you can give him a gift that honors his real teachings and his life. Be brave enough to light one candle this season and just see what God will do with subtle and simple.

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Infuse Me With Peace

I walk every day. It is partially for physical reasons, partially for spiritual and emotional reasons and partially because my dog is addicted and will not let me do otherwise. She does not understand the concept of a day off from walking or rain or hot or cold. So, we walk.

Sometimes when I walk, I listen to silence. Sometimes, I listen to podcasts. Sometimes, I listen to Christian music. I can always get a soul-read on myself by paying attention to what I listen to. Lately, my soul has been thirsty only for music.

I’ve needed the music of my faith to guide me, to anchor me, to answer my prayers, to provide leadership to me in these trying times.

Our world is in conflict. Our country is in conflict. Our political system is in conflict. Many of our churches are in conflict. We are craving leadership, but who can we trust?

Sometimes I think it might just be me. Maybe I’m interpreting “how things are” in an overly negative way.  This morning however, even my local newspaper had a picture of the events of the weekend along with the headline “A Nightmare Scenario”.  Maybe it’s not just me.

I also know people who are personally going through difficult and trying times. They are living nightmares they did not choose to be in.  Other people, myself included, are just riding out normal life rites of passage that are not easy.

All these reasons are causing me to drink in the songs of my faith.

Everyone seems to be calling for statements, guidance and reassurance. I’ve tried to imagine if I had to issue some kind of statement right now, what it would be. No words seem adequate for all that is happening.

So, instead of issuing statements, I pray, for all of the above.

God, your ways are higher than my ways. You see all things and you know the layers, the complications, the history of all.

Help me now to be a loving, light-bearing citizen of this planet, this country, my family and friendship circles. Remind me again of what Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble…but, take heart, I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

God, have you overcome hate? Because it seems to still live here. I don’t want it to live in me, but it does. Have you overcome racism? I see it and feel it and know it lives in me as well. I know darkness lives in our systems and that I’m a part of those sick systems. Have you overcome disease? Because it still seems to be attacking people I care about.  

It feels like too much. It feels like more than my heart can bear. It feels out of control and wrong.

And so I lift it all to your Light and ask that you guide my feet, my actions, my words.

This morning, on my walk, your song penetrated me, “Peace, peace be still. And like a child my heart obeys.” Infuse peace into my heart, O God. Give me an iv of it if you have to…not the kind of peace the world gives, rather, your kind. These nightmare days require your supernatural peace. I know I absolutely need it. Amen   

 

Your Face is Shining

I hope life isn’t a big joke, because I don’t get it. (Jack Handey, American Humorist) I agree with Jack, I don’t get it. The older I get, the more I don’t understand…like politics, plumbing or why bad things happen or even why good things happen.

I’m home today with a plumber and he’s helping me see how much I don’t know about my home’s plumbing needs. He’s telling me in big long paragraphs about water minerals and I’m wanting him to condense it to 140 characters or less. Finally,  I ordered a new toilet and he seemed excited about that and stopped trying to teach me things. Clearly,  some things I’m not meant to understand.

But, I’ve never stopped trying to learn more about faith, life and our purpose here. I don’t believe at all that life is a big joke. I do believe it is a fleeting gift. I believe some people squander it and some people savor it.

I believe the key to it all is light. Yes, light. It’s why I’m slightly obsessed with sunrises and sunsets. That whole twice a day phenomenon is about light. Sometimes I’m watching a sunrise that seems unspectacular when something tells me to wait for it and all glory breaks out. Sometimes a sunset is plain and then you look at the sky all around it in a panoramic view and that’s somehow where the color has gone. I like light through the trees, seasonal light changes, candlelight, starlight, moonlight.

Scripture is full of light images too, like it’s trying to tell us some truth we need to know. Do a Biblical word study on light and you will see. My favorite images are the ones that try to tell us about God’s light glory. Arise, shine; for the glory of God has risen upon you. Isaiah 60:1 I love scripture about God’s radiance rubbing off on us like this blessing, May the Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you….Numbers 6:24. Read the 34th chapter of Exodus where Moses comes down the mountain after talking to God but doesn’t realize his face has changed because of God’s light.

Once upon a time, as a very young pastor working in a small west Texas town where female clergy were unheard of, I visited a local nursing home for the first time. I do not wear a clerical collar, carry a big Bible or wear giant crosses. Nothing about me says “pastor”. As I entered the facility there was a collection of residents dozing in wheelchairs near the door. One woman woke up when I entered and called me over. She said, “You are one of God’s pastors.” I was blown away. “How did you know that?” I asked. She said simply, “Your face is shining.”

Later, I was told she had dementia and not to make too much of what she said. I disregarded that advice and consider it to be one of the highest pastoral comments I’ve ever received. Twenty eight years later I remember everything about that encounter.

I don’t know the meaning of life. But I think it is about light. God is light and we are to reflect that. Whenever there is darkness we are to be light. Watch the light places and you will see God. Watch the light faces and you will see God. Watch what God does with light every day. Study it in nature and in scripture and in the ways people love each other. If life is confusing or hard or bewildering for you right now, my advice is to go toward the light. Look at it. Bask in it. Fill your heart with it. Do light affirming activities.

I’m clearly not good at plumbing, but light I can do.

It’s Always Been About the Light

In my new, slower life, I pay more attention to the light. I somehow feel like that’s my job now: Light Watcher. This morning it started with a pink and blue light show sunrise, horizontal stripes alternating boldly across our January sky. It changed the light everywhere. Even when I looked in the opposite direction, the air was lit up pink, just for a few minutes. Then, it changed.

When I walk every day, I watch the light. I pay attention to how it plays on the fallen leaves, the water and bounces off trees and the pathway.

In my house, I now know the difference between the morning light and the warm way the light falls in the afternoon.

My dog always gravitates to the light. She will give up her dog bed if there is a just right golden light radiating on a rug, on the deck or in the yard.

Christians are now in the season of Epiphany. It is one of the more low-key, least understood of the Christian observances. I love it because we don’t over do it, over decorate it or over sing it. It’s more like every year we arrive at Epiphany and have to teach ourselves all over again what it means.

Epiphany reminds us that it has always been about the light. Starlight that leads us to something new and just born. Aha or light bulb moments that reveal something to us.  Epiphany is a manifestation of the divine. I find that often those manifestations are subtle, elusive, there and then not…like light playing off of the leaves, the water, the sky or our path.

We find ourselves saying, “Did I just glimpse God?  Was that the Divine in that pink sky? In that ray of sun, the moonlight, the starlight?  We love holding our candle of light on Christmas eve but its more than that, it’s about light all day, every day and through the night.

I find myself praying light for people I love…healing light, awareness light, comforting, warm light. I’m praying light for our country in these uncertain, uncomfortable times of transition. I pray to be the light. I pray to be aglow with it.

One time I was trying to describe to someone the essence of Christianity. I found myself fumbling for words. In the end, all I could tell him was this: “You know how it says in scripture that Jesus is the light of the world?” He nodded and said, “I’ve heard that.” I told him falteringly, “That is it…the whole thing. I don’t know why it is not in all caps,  boldface type, highlighted. It is the whole thing. It’s always been about the Light.” He looked at me confused. Light is so elusive, so changing, so real but words seem inadequate to capture it.

For Christians the season of Epiphany continues until Lent begins. Watch the light with me. Speak of light. Pray for light. Be light.

Amenities, Not Necessities

“Be glad you exited your ministry job right now,” the voicemail from my pastor friend said.  “…It is really hard to know what to say as a pastor when every time you go to church there has been a new tragedy.” I could hear the pain in her voice and I feel it in my spirit too. The last two tragedies in Nice, France and Baton Rouge; I haven’t even been able to assimilate into my soul yet. It is too much.

About a year ago, when something absolutely unimaginably sad happened, I remember crying out to God, “I cannot bear this.”  And then, God silently whispering back, “Don’t bear it. You can’t. Just hold it in my light.”  That is all I know to do right now with the string of violence in our world. I’m lifting it to God’s healing, transforming light. I’m praying for peace in my spirit because I need it. If we all prayed for just that, surely things would be better for all, right?

Meanwhile, the way life is unfolding for me now, I keep learning lessons. I’m in a season of release and being stilled. I let go of a ministry job. I fell in a hole, broke my ankle, lost  mobility and the ability to drive.  I went from an important set of keys to no keys.  Something also happened to my phone in the last weeks and I lost all calendar events. My contacts quit showing up as names only numbers. It created a season of adding back and reflecting about what things to put on my calendar and what contacts did I actually want or need. I told a friend, “I’m in this season of being kind of downsized and stripped down…and it is actually okay.”

This past weekend, our family headed to our friend’s lake house for an annual gathering of two families. Packed and on the road we got the call. A big storm had passed through the area.  Power lines were down.  Trees were down.  Likely, there would be no power for days. We stopped the car and talked it over. If we went it would be more like camping. No air conditioning, no electricity, no hot showers or lights or refrigerators or freezers or kitchen appliances that work. Our vote was “let’s go for it.” I surprised myself and everyone else with my good attitude.

Since my breast cancer diagnosis five years ago, the medication I’m on has made me perpetually very hot (temperature-wise that is).  Once, in a meeting, someone asked me if I thought the room was too warm, before I could answer a colleague said “You’re asking the sun if she is hot?”  Yes, I’ve become the sun. When I cleaned out my office, there were 10 fans in there. I’m not kidding. So, subtract the ac, the lights, the ceiling fans from my life and what do you have? Lessons learned.

I learned that the things I think are necessary are really not. It was fine.  It was fun.  It was bearable. Even I don’t need everything I think I do.

I became grateful…for a breeze, some shade, a passing cloud, cold water, an unexpected cooling rain shower.

When I thought I might not make it, I changed something, like my location or my clothes or my activity. It helped.

We got creative. The gas grill became our friend. We made Monkey Bread and coffee on the grill as well as pancakes, breakfast tacos and other foods you would not expect to see grilled. We were proud of our ingenuity.

We let go. My high school son, his friend and I all lost all our cellphone charge the morning after we arrived. We had no phones and no way to plug in those chargers we brought. We had to do something different with our free time. We had to tell time a different way. We couldn’t check the radar. We had to look at the sky. Guess what? That works. It was nice. It was freeing.  So was not worrying about how we looked or what we wore.

The power never did come back on. We had a most memorable, sweaty time. On the way home yesterday, soaking up the ac in the car, I realized I have been guilty of making amenities necessities. They are not.

Recent events show us, if nothing else, that life is so fragile, precious and fleeting. Our moments are so short. I pray I will keep learning what is truly necessary and stay grateful for all the amenities and blessings I have. I pray for peace in my spirit and yours.

Stilled, stripped, downsized, humbled, grateful. I wonder what else this new season holds?

 

Light in the Darkness

A couple of nights ago, it was cold and rainy here…and dark too.  Our family was snuggled up by the fire watching a Christmas special and making our holiday to-do lists.  Actually, it was more like a to-do chart.  Our doorbell rang and we looked at each other, startled.  It seemed too late for our daily package delivery but what else could it be?

It was Christmas carolers.  Carolers!  I’ve never had actual carolers at my actual door.  I’ve seen them on tv and in the movies or at the mall but not at my door.  They were young 20-somethings.  They sang a few songs, in the rain, and then one of them read some of the Christmas story from Luke’s gospel from his I-phone.  At one point, his I-phone dropped the scripture he was reading.  He floundered for a minute and then one of his buddies finished it by memory. “…for to you is born this day, in the city of David, a savior, who is Christ the Lord.”  I thought I was going to weep right there from sheer delight, wonder and surprise.  They said a prayer for our family and were on their way.

Light.  You never know when or how it will come only that God promises it and promises to find a way to deliver it right where you are.  Imagine, carolers!

Radiance

It’s been on my mirror for almost a year now; in pink script letters, the word “Radiance”.  It is there to remind me that in 2014 my one word was radiance.  I chose it because I wanted God’s light to shine in me, through me and reflect off of me.

I was inspired by the book, My One Word: Change Your Life with Just One Word by Mike Ashcraft and Rachel Olsen.  The book challenged me to choose just one word to focus on throughout the year.

As I focused on that one word, some amazing things happened.  I became increasingly aware of how many times scripture speaks of light.  Like in Psalm 34:3-5, Oh magnify the Lord with me and let us exalt God’s name together.  I sought the Lord and the Lord answered me and delivered me from all my fears.  They looked to the Lord and were radiant…. Or, Jesus words in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 5, The Message translation: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God colors in the world.  God is not a secret to be kept.  We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill.  If I make you light bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you?  I’m putting you on a light stand.  Now that I’ve put you on a hill-top, on a light stand–shine!  Keep open house; be generous with your lives.  By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God.

 I noticed that focusing on the word radiance started shaping my other goals. It transformed me physically, emotionally and spiritually.

My prayers changed.  I stopped asking so much for what I wanted and started asking God just to let me shine.

People started encouraging me.  Friends found out about my one word and gave me little gifts, a trinket for my desk, note cards and a bracelet that says “shine.”

I met a new friend in 2014.  Her non-profit business is called “The House of Shine.”  She is all about helping people discover their strengths.  We partnered together on a project writing curriculum to help middle school students shine for God.

I started being able to see how God shines healing light on each of us and asks us simply to share that light with someone else.

Albert Schweitzer wrote, “At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person.  Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame in us.”