Family Grace

Today I was privileged to attend the celebration of life for a friend’s husband who passed last year. Due to COVID concerns, the family put off holding a gathering until now. I had only met her husband once that I recall, so I was attending purely to support her. I have found that when I attend such gatherings without much history with the deceased I actually walk away with more to think about. No exception today.

The top thing that struck me was an admittance from the youngest son. In his sharing about his dad, he spoke transparently stating that they hadn’t always had the greatest relationship. He said he didn’t want to go on about that. Instead he said this:

As an adult I’ve come to realize that parents are people to. My dad was a person. We all mess up.

He then went on to tell terrific stories of how he relied on his dad in many ways and will miss his being there to give advice and fix his mistakes. He gave a terrific image of how he remembered feeling like his dad would be behind him watching him do something and sensing that his dad wished he could wrapped his arms around his sides in order to fix what he wasn’t doing right. He said he imagines that his dad is still doing that.

This husband/father/friend was loved. And it appears he was loved because he accepted everyone’s humanity including his own. Could that be the answer to a tight family? Each one receives and shares grace out of their acceptance of their humanity?

As I listened to this son laugh and cry talking about his dad, this passage came to mind:

As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children-with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts.

Psalm 103:13-18

May families remember that they are dust.

May families receive and share grace.

May families bask in the everlasting to everlasting love of the Lord.

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

Yesterday’s Manna

“Yesterday’s manna is no good for today.”

Read this quote recently from a pastor. His spin on this Old Testament fact is memorable. It’s also a practical guide.

10 Illustrations:

Yesterday’s sleep is no good for today. Do your best to have consistent sleep.

Yesterday’s calories are no good for today. Manage your eating habits well daily.

Yesterday’s exercise is no good for today. Commit to an ongoing exercise routine.

Yesterday’s fun is no good for today. Laugh every day.

Yesterday’s reading is no good for today. Always have reading material with you.

Yesterday’s affection is no good for today. Those closest to you thrive off your expressions of love.

Yesterday’s prayer is no good for today. Connection with God depends on frequent communion.

Yesterday’s kindness is no good for today. Share kindness every opportunity you can.

Yesterday’s confession is no good for today. The daily screwups are best handled with immediate acknowledgments.

Yesterday’s work is no good for today. Our community thrives as we each provide our daily contribution.

As you meditate on yesterday’s things, what else would be helpful to state is no good for today?

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

Into the Silent Land (a book review)

A few days ago I included a reference to Into the Silent Land in a post. When I heard about this book, I thought it was going to be about the spiritual discipline of solitude. To my surprise, it turned out to be much more than that.

Laird shared in the introduction that his objective was to examine two contemplative practices: the practice of stillness (meditation or contemplative prayer) and the practice of watchfulness or awareness. He had my attention.

I won’t be able to compact his descriptions of these practices with justice. What I can do is relay that if you believe you’ve read or heard all there is to know about prayer, you might want to make sure by reading this book. What I thought I knew about contemplative prayer has been deepened. What I practice in meditation has been retooled.

The meat of the book is chapters four and six. Chapter four introduces and outlines what Laird calls the three doorways of the present moment. He describes a method of praying based on utilizing a prayer word. I found it familiar but not. He was putting words to my novice practices and revealing how to mature them. Then in chapter six-my favorite-he makes it real by sharing three overcomer’s stories. Their struggles include fear, pain, and compulsion. The victory in these three human stories support his label of their moving from victim to witness.

You may be wondering if this book is for you. Here are three descriptors to try on for size:

  • If you wonder if the practice of meditation carries value, this book is for you.
  • If you wish your prayer life to be more relational and not just petitionary, this book is for you.
  • If you are looking for a spiritual discipline challenge, this book is for you.

Laird doesn’t write to be quoted, but here are a few highlights worth sharing:

If we are going to speak of what a human being is, we have not said enough until we speak of God.

God does not know how to be absent.

There is a certain wisdom that settles into a life that does not attempt to control what everybody else ought to be thinking, saying, doing, or voting on. Wisdom, health, life, and love cannot be found in trying to control the wind, but rather in harnessing the wind in the sails of receptive engagement of the present moment.

It is very liberating to realize that what goes on in our head…does not have the final word on who we are.

If you want to make fear grow, run from it.

Fear, anger, envy-any afflictive thought or feeling-cannot withstand a direct gaze.

We commonly meet our wounds in temptation and failure.

Divine love doesn’t have to decide whether or not to forgive. Divine love is forgiving love.

Photo by Adam Rhodes on Unsplash

I-35 Lesson #4

Have you ever finished something that you started with dread or uncertainty or self-doubt and thought, “Well, that wasn’t so bad”?

Maybe you jumped out of a plane only because your friend coerced you.

Or you survived the dreaded public speaking gig you just knew would end your life.

Or you breathed in relief after that forever-avoided conversation with that family member.

I was surprised at the frequency of the question “would you do it again?” once someone heard of my completing the I-35 Challenge. The answer is, probably not. But that answer has nothing to do with the experience. It has more to do with how completing a once “questionable something” turned “not so bad something” impacts your mindset.

I-35 Lesson #4: Achievement reveals there’s probably something more

Making the photographer’s job easy (early on Saturday, before I’d hit double digit miles). Photo by @sportsphotoscom.

I’ve experienced it, and I’ve observed it. The lack of confidence at the start line of a race is always alive and well. And for the first-time runner or the first-time attempt at a distance, it’s as much about your mind as it is your legs, your shoes, or your sunglasses.

But somewhere along the journey to completion, the thought crosses your mind, “I’m actually going to get this done. I can’t believe this.” And for many of us, maybe even most, another thought crosses your mind at some point when it’s all over, “I wonder if I can do more.”

Yes.

Yes, you can get that degree.

Yes, you can get that promotion.

Yes, you can climb that mountain.

Yes, you can get completely out of debt.

Yes, you can be a great step-mother.

Yes, you can switch careers in your 40’s.

Yes, you can _____________________.

Yes, there’s more.

Would I do it again? Probably not. There’s something more.

I-35 Lesson #3

My best reading happens on planes. This past weekend was no exception. The book I was reading was a find from listening to the Being Known Podcast. They had referenced it too many times for me to ignore, so I got it. I read the majority of it on this trip. The book is Into the Silent Land by Martin Laird.

I’ll post another blog about this book later, but here’s an excerpt that applied to my running experience for this I-35 Challenge. In it, he is describing a patient who was living with a rare, auto-immune disease.

Health-care professionals, family, and friends arrived to help her and left feeling helped by her. They would end up bringing up their own problems, their own life pain. She would say, “Don’t think about the pain. Be still before the pain.” She didn’t mean to give, and they didn’t intend to receive. But the more she was able to surrender to the loving silence at the center of her pain, the more she was a vehicle of this loving silence.

Medical writer Steven Levine observes “true healing happens when we go into our pain so deeply that we see it, not just as our pain, but everyone’s pain. It is immensely moving and supportive to discover that my pain is not private to me.” This is precisely what Elizabeth discovered about pain. If she could be silent within herself, in the midst of her pain and not get caught up in commenting on the pain, she saw her isolation vanish and what she found, even in the midst of this pain, was communion with all people in the silence of God.

I didn’t come close to Elizabeth’s status while putting myself through self-inflicted pain, but I caught a glimpse of what being still before the pain was like. My quads were already in pain before we started the half on Sunday morning. But as I ran, I focused less on my pain by noticing others who seemed to be dealing with their own that was greater. Communion happened.

This one runner in particular that I came upon around mile 7 got my utmost attention. She may have been 5 feet tall. From behind, it appeared she ran as if one leg might have been shorter than the other. For whatever reason, she seemed to run leaning to her right side. And she ran with a limp. Was it painful? I don’t know. It appeared it was a chronic condition that she lived with every day. And yet, here she was running a half marathon. There we were, fellow embracers of pain.

I-35 Lesson #3: Be still before the pain.

There’s more to see past your pain. There’s more to experience through your pain. Communion. Humility. Maybe even peace.

I’d say I’ve been on this lesson journey all summer. The result: Rather than avoid or complain about pain, embrace it. In the embrace, communion with your fellow embracers is found, and together you experience the presence and peace of God.

I-35 Lesson #2

This photo is a description of a marathon training plan devised by the Hanson brothers. I came across it years ago and loved it the first time I followed it. This plan, in many minds, is not conventional. Why? One main reason is that you never run more than 16 miles. Most plans and trainers would include running at least one 20-miler.

This summer, I had to take an even more unconventional approach to preparing for the I-35 challenge. If you count the number of runs in this plan that are at least 10 miles, there are 21 over the 18 weeks of training. Here’s my total of 10+ mile runs in the five months before race weekend: 4. And the longest…11 miles.

I-35 Lesson #2: Convention may not be necessary.

Summer heat kills any conventional sense for my training for a Fall race. In previous years, I’ve curtailed the summer heat by running on gym treadmills. Due to bad habits forming from too much treadmill running, this summer I swore off treadmills forever-dropped the gym membership completely. Big step.

That step led to figuring out how to train in the heat. And unfortunately for me, that meant running more days and less miles. Even less miles than the Hanson brothers designed. So I knew going into a weekend of 39.3 miles, my approach to getting to both finish lines couldn’t be what I’d prefer.

What’s the lesson here? There is a way to get to the finish line. In fact, just like driving from my home to the office, there are dozens of ways. If you are okay with slower, longer, pauses, breaks, you have many choices. In the end of these choices, you get there.

The majority of us are not elite. So does it really matter what we do to get there? Does it not count if we finish 3,009 instead of 309 or 39? Of course not. What counts is that you did what you could to get to the start line…and then you did what had to do to cross the finish line.

Convention is good, but it’s not necessary.

Somewhere in Kansas City. Photo by @sportsphotoscom

I-35 Lesson #1

This past weekend included many firsts. Seven of them were…

  • Flying Southwest out of Sarasota
  • Visiting Kansas City, St. Joseph, and Des Moines
  • Renting a Truck
  • Buying a Garmin watch
  • Touring the Glore Psychiatric Museum
  • Running a full marathon one day and running a half marathon the following day
  • Driving I-35

These firsts were part of attempting the I-35 Challenge: Run in Kansas City on Saturday then run in Des Moines on Sunday. Looking back on this trip, I have takeaways that I wasn’t even looking for, not expecting, didn’t know was coming. I’m calling these the 1-35 Lessons.

I-35 LESSON #1: Inspiration comes in many forms.

If you’ve never ran a race or had the chance to be a spectator, I encourage you to make it a goal. Whether it’s in person or virtually, you’ll see things that make you turn your head, raise your eyebrow, clap your hands, maybe even shed a tear. If you look long enough, pretty good chance you’ll find inspiration. For example…

In Des Moines, there was a team of runners who stood out because they were wearing red. But the real reason they stood out was because they were all pushing a wheelchair carrying a disabled person. That’s no joke. They are called My Team Triumph. Check out their mission from their website.

Then there’s this guy. I passed him during the race, but didn’t know his story until hearing him talk about his hobby of running when we happened to be on the same flight the next day. Take a guess how many marathons he’s ran. If you guessed 10…nope. 100…not even close. Try over 700.

These images and others will be in my mind for a long time. These runners showed up. They didn’t settle. And if they had supporters like mine following them virtually and freaking out from home, they didn’t disappoint.

Lesson: Inspiration is around us every day. Take time to reflect, acknowledge, and follow. It may lead you to many firsts of your own.

Crossing the start line in Des Moines…26.2 down, 13.1 to go

It Will Be

Today is World Mental Health Day. And unintentionally, this afternoon I finished a book on the subject of overcoming grief. As I reflected on the book, the intersection of those two moments didn’t go unnoticed.

Pastor Wright gifted his book to me about this time last year. It’s his personal story of moving through the grief journey after losing his 32-year-old son in an accident. Knowing that context, it’s not a book you just read for fun.

It sat on my desk for much of the year, waiting for the right time to read it. I can’t say what that trigger was, but it came. Sixty-five chapters later, I’m glad it came now. I could make a lengthy list of reasons why, but here are a few:

  • Just last week I sat with a couple who will soon be experiencing the second anniversary of their son’s passing. Listening to them, it feels like it was only last week. Pastor Wright’s book helped me help them. And now I’m passing the book on to them for their journey to hope.
  • Speaking of sitting and listening, although I knew this already, this book has shown me how much room I have to grow in being empathetic. It’s probably true we never arrive at showing empathy right all the time, but I’m not where I want to be either.
  • I may not be where I want to be in the empathy realm, but I can say that I am much better in the grieving realm. In the last year, I’ve engaged grief-some by force and some by choice. Embracing communal grief due to the pandemic and other happenings along with the loss of a friend to suicide has deepened my appreciation and desire to let grief do its work.
  • In June I blogged about Ungrieved Loss. As I read this book, I engaged my own ungrieved losses. Some as far back as childhood and some as fresh as 2021. Some I didn’t know needed grieving; some were top of mind.

What I believe with Pastor Wright is that those who mourn are comforted. The timing will be what it will be, but it will be. On this October 10, if you find yourself in the throes of grief, know that hope is possible. And I echo Pastor Wright’s prayer to end his book:

Dear God, it was only through the dark night that we came to find your light. Had we not stumbled through the cold dark, we would not have come to the warmth of your hearth with frozen hands and hearts. We are grateful for your comfort especially as we have experienced your love through those who have journeyed with us. May your grace and compassion fill us. May we sense your hand in ours. May your tears blend with ours. May we be willing to walk alongside others. Thank you for the promise that one day you will wipe away our tears and that death and mourning will be no more. Amen.

Groaning (Part 3)

In Parts 1 & 2, I shared that we are all born groaning and how that viewpoint can encourage grace giving to ourselves and to one another.

That grace choice isn’t always natural. In fact, it goes against our groaning nature. Left to our instincts, we reach for anything to ease our groaning without considering the impacts of that reaching. Grace isn’t natural.

So back to those four verses that started this series, when you finish reading the rest of that chapter, which I’ll include at the bottom of this post, you see how hope and grace are made possible. They are both made possible by a supernatural grace choice-a choice only explained by love.

God saw his creation groaning. He was there for the first groan. And in that moment, he offered grace. He made a plan. He made a choice-the only choice available to stop the groaning. He chose to enter the groaning, to embrace it in order to crush it.

Chilling. There isn’t a human groan God didn’t feel and now doesn’t remember. He saw them and chose to experience them in order to redeem them…forever.

As you read the rest of this chapter, pause after each verse. Consider a prayer of thanks between each verse. Voice a prayer of adoration, of worship, of awe, of victory because you do not groan alone.

Romans 8:26-39

26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[a] have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;
    we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”[b]

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[c] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Photo by Pinakeen Bhatt on Unsplash

500, working on 1,000

Yesterday morning I had a minor fall while running, so I’m sidelined for a short time. In my world, that means it’s time to hit the pool.

My pool routine is pretty basic-30 minutes of laps in the community pool where I live. Usually no one is there, so I have it to myself.

About 5 minutes into my lap routine, I see a neighbor, who I guess to be around 80 years old, heading up the parking lot to the pool entrance. She casually enters the pool area, but she appears to also have a routine. Like me, she’s here to get to work, not socialize. We’ve never met, but we greet one another and go about our routine.

At the time, I didn’t know what hers was. She did her thing while I did mine, opposite sides of the pool. Twenty minutes later, she was done and heading to the gate to leave.

She wished me a pleasant swim to which I replied, “Five more minutes.”

“I do 500 strokes. I’m working on getting to 1,000, but I’m not there yet,” she expressed peacefully but with a little excitement. Then off she went.

I smiled as she walked away. Several thoughts rushed through my mind. “How sharp…Good for you…Did you really just count to and swim 500 strokes…So that’s your secret.”

Thanks for the life lesson, neighbor.

Have a plan. Have a goal. Be happy where you are. Strive to improve.

Photo by Thomas Park on Unsplash