What Chapter Are You In Right Now?

There was never yet an uninteresting life. Such a thing is an impossibility. Inside of the dullest exterior there is a drama, a comedy, and a tragedy.  – Mark Twain

 

Everyone’s life is filled with chapters of joy, sadness, triumph and tragedy.  The trick to surviving it all is to keep reading your life, a new chapter is sure to arrive before long.

Every night I read before going to sleep. Sometimes, if I’m especially tired or the book isn’t as interesting as I had hoped, I will start to flip through the pages to see how long I have until the end of the chapter. This is where short chapter books become most enjoyable.

Have you thought about your life like chapters in a book? Are you on an adventure, mystery or a self-improvement manual right now?

What chapter are you in right now? A short one that gets right down to business or full of action with over the top characters? Maybe you’re ready to start turning the pages to see when the next chapter gets here?

I’m living through a long chapter right now. But there will be another one sooner or later. The point is to not get stuck in the chapter you’re in today. Keep your eyes open for what might lie around the next corner. Never turn loose of hope.

The chapter you’re living in right now, whether it’s exciting or full of despair, isn’t your life. It’s just one chapter. Keep turning the next page.

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
By Robert Frost

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Don’t you feel like there are still too many pages ahead of you? Why stop right now and feel defeated, scared or stuck? This is just one chapter. There are miles and miles to go.

Don’t put the book of your life down and stay stuck in that chapter – keep turning the pages!

“The greatest hazard of all, losing one’s self, can occur very quietly in the world, as if it were nothing at all. No other loss can occur so quietly; any other loss – an arm, a leg, five dollars, a wife, etc. – is sure to be noticed.” – Søren Kierkegaard

Time passes quickly. It’s when I stop and brood that I feel like I’m in an endless chapter. I can’t even remember the endless chapters of years ago in my past. What’s important is not to lose today by being lost in the past or worrying about tomorrow. When I lose the days like that, I’m losing my self.  I’ve got to remind myself to stay in today and make it count.

Keeping reading your life, one page at a time.

“So do not worry about tomorrow. Let tomorrow worry about itself. Living faithfully is a large enough task for today.” – Matthew 6:34 (The Voice)

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Ready to Listen

There is so much more I want to tell you, but you can’t bear it now. (John 16:12)

Jesus said this to His disciples as He was preparing them for the end. His arrest, crucifixion and resurrection were coming next. Events they were completely unprepared for.

When I read this short sentence this past week I stopped in my tracks.

When I am reading my Bible, especially the words of Jesus (in red), I am looking for a message, something I need to hear right now. I always want to be careful and not end up talking to myself, hearing what I want to hear. I want to learn more and more to trust in the Holy Spirit to guide me as I read, be still, and listen (John 16:13).

So, when I read this sentence I stopped and had to think and pray about what it meant. I had read this larger story many, many times before. This time, the sentence jumped out for several reasons.

There is so much more I want to tell you, but you can’t bear it now.

  1. What if this is still true about the way God relates to his followers today? Does He still want to communicate and tell me things? Jesus said, “My sheep hear My voice…” (John 10:27). He is like a shepherd guiding, guarding and caring for his flock (us).
  2. What if God’s message to me is waiting for me to get caught up? What if I’m not ready? What if He’s waiting on me, not the other way around? “The Lord is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him. For he knows how weak we are; he remembers we are only dust” (Psalm 103:13-14).
  3. What if God is preparing me in so many ways as I follow Him (stumbling and bumbling), to be able to hear even more from Him? What if He has a message like this one Jesus gave to His disciples for me? What if my Heavenly Father has much more that He wants to tell me? “Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets. And now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son” (Hebrews 1:1-2). God isn’t holding back his love, grace and knowledge from me, he’s caring for me and telling me exactly what I’m ready to hear.

What I learned this week from this single sentence is that God has heavenly things to share with me but that his revelation is always measured by his care for me.

So many wonderful things to hear and learn as I walk every day in friendship with Jesus. That relationship is the source of revelation for me and all of us.

“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.”  ― Henri Nouwen

Does Church Attendance Matter?

“The church is like Noah’s ark. It stinks, but if you get out of it, you’ll drown.” ― Shane Claiborne

Church attendance among younger adults is on the decline

Attendance typically dips at this time but has historically increased once people marry and start families. But today, that number – the return to church – is also on the decline. People are waiting later to have children and more people in America today are living together, not married. Most Americans believe in cohabitation.

This means church attendance is declining in young adulthood and doesn’t seem to be bouncing back.  Add to this an increase in the number of young people in our society who claim to have no religious belief at all. This means that church attendance is on a general decline.

“When introverts go to church, we crave sanctuary in every sense of the word, as we flee from the disorienting distractions of twenty-first-century life. We desire to escape from superficial relationships, trivial communications and the constant noise that pervade our world, and find rest in the probing depths of God’s love.” ― Adam S. McHugh

But every indicator we have has always demonstrated that church attendance has tremendous benefits for both individuals and society. In an effort to spread the word, here are some of the personal benefits of attending church.  These aren’t religious or spiritual reasons – just physical, emotional and social benefits that help to explain why attending church is still a good idea.

  1. People who are a part of a church report that they experience better marriages in all kinds of ways
  2. Longer life (here on earth, even longer in heaven!)
  3. Lower blood pressure – religious practices and beliefs reduce stress and have a measurable effect on overall health
  4. Managing your daily time and overall life is easier for people who are a part of a church community. The routine and the commitment help with life management.
  5. Less susceptible to depression and suicide – especially when you get involved in helping other people through the ministry of your church
  6. Better sleep (not during the sermon!)
  7. Drink less, smoke less, use fewer recreational drugs and are less sexually promiscuous
  8. More friends and a larger support network – wait long enough on this earth and you’re going to desperately need this!
  9. Teenagers who attend with their family (or even on their own) do better in school both  academically and socially
  10. Getting up and going to a worship service and/or a Small Group each week provides a routine in your life, something that helps you to manage all of the unexpected chaos that comes your way.

“Then the singing enveloped me. It was furry and resonant, coming from everyone’s very heart. There was no sense of performance or judgment, only that the music was breath and food.” ― Anne Lamott

What’s on your list of why attending church is good idea?

Sources:

Aleteia

Tyler VanderWeele and John Siniff

Peter Haas

T. M. Luhrmann

The Health and Fitness Revolution

 

 

Waiting Always Matters

“For a while” is a phrase whose length can’t be measured. At least by the person who’s waiting.” ― Haruki Murakami, South of the Border, West of the Sun

Waiting is a necessary part of living. How well have you mastered the skill of just waiting? Usually I’m very impatient. Sometimes, when I’m more thoughtful, I can sit down and wait for what I know will surely come (one way or another).

Think about all the waiting you have to do while you live your life…

  •  Waiting in line at the grocery store too long because you still can’t pick a fast moving line (there’s always someone ahead who’s going to dig out her checkbook, right?)
  • Waiting at the doctor’s office. Why did I schedule this appointment so late in the day when every other appointment is backed up?
  • Waiting in traffic, welcome to Houston. Hasn’t that road been under construction since Dolph Briscoe was governor?
  • Waiting for that baby to walk his first steps. What’s the hurry? He’ll be gone one day too soon. Enjoy every minute that he has to be carried about.
  • Waiting for an answer to that prayer you’ve been asking again and again. Makes you wonder, is God even listening to me anymore?

“I hated waiting. If I had one particular complaint, it was that my life seemed composed entirely of expectation. I expected — an arrival, an explanation, an apology. There had never been one, a fact I could have accepted, were it not true that, just when I had got used to the limits and dimensions of one moment, I was expelled into the next and made to wonder again if any shapes hid in its shadows.” ― Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping

I don’t need to remind you that you are living in the fastest society in the history of the world. We are bathed in fast information, fast work, fast food, fast schedules, fast relationships, fast transitions into adulthood and even fast thinking.

This world we’ve made has probably produced in us a razor thin tolerance for waiting. What’s the value in waiting and the time it takes from the fast life we think is normal? Psychologist Stephanie Brown has come to believe that we even fear waiting (slowing down).

“Waiting turns men into bears in a barn, and women into cats in a sack.” ― Robert Jordan, The Fires of Heaven

So often there are big things in life that we can’t fix ourselves. These are matters that must be left in the hands of God. Anyone who has waited on God knows how  agonizing, frustrating, and discouraging these times can be.

“One of the greatest strains in life is the strain of waiting for God.”  ― Oswald Chambers

When I’m in a situation that calls for a time of waiting for God’s will to come about there are a number of things to remember:

  1.  I really do want God’s plan and not my own.
  2.  Waiting can bring out the better in me. Sitting still, praying, reflecting and putting things into their right perspective always bears fruit.
  3.  Waiting calls for action on my part. When I wait on God I work with great effort at praying, writing, reading and reflecting. There is much to do while waiting.
  4.  Often, while waiting, I realize that what I thought I needed from God was a mistake. After serious spiritual reflection, I misunderstood my situation and what God was already busy doing.

I’m sure there are other great lessons that could be added to this list. I’m not there yet. I’ve got more waiting to do.

What about you? Are you waiting these days? Do you need to stop what you’re doing right now and start waiting? That’s where I am at this point in my life.

“Wait on the Lord” is a constant refrain in the Psalms, and it is a necessary word, for God often keeps us waiting. He is not in such a hurry as we are, and it is not his way to give more light on the future than we need for action in the present, or to guide us more than one step at a time. When in doubt, do nothing, but continue to wait on God. When action is needed, light will come.”  ― J.I. Packer, Knowing God

What Will Change You?

“If we don’t change, we don’t grow. If we don’t grow, we aren’t really living.”
― Anatole France

A new year is a good time to try something new. Typically, people decide to lose weight, exercise more or even stop smoking when they start a new year. If carried through, these new habits would certainly bring about dramatic changes. Some reports indicate that less than half make it past six months with these resolutions.

Is a New Year’s Resolution really going to change you?

Maybe change isn’t a once a year decision. Why not think about changes in your life as a daily way of living? Always in transition. Each day becoming a newer version of yourself.

We Americans can trip ourselves up too much with our thinking that change has to be absolute, it always between polar opposites and it’s got to be done right away to really count. We get discouraged too quickly.

God is also involved in this process. He is always faithful to bring about the transformation in us that He has promised. Often despite our own obstinance.

 I pray with great faith for you, because I’m fully convinced that the One who began this glorious work in you will faithfully continue the process of maturing you and will put his finishing touches to it until the unveiling of our Lord Jesus Christ!  (Philippians 1:6, The Passion Translation)

Does change for you have to be now or never?

Instead of thinking about change in your life as a quick fix, why not think about it as a slow turn in a better direction?

What kind of transformation is God is bringing about in your life? What are you resisting? Who are you becoming each day as you live like a disciple? I’ve got to carve out more time in my own life to pray for others. This has been an ongoing change for me for many years. It’s not a one time and it’s done decision, like getting a tattoo. I wake up each day and have to make choices. So do you.

I recently read about the Japanese philosophy called Wabi Sabi. It’s basic principles about life can be summarized like this:

  1. Nothing lasts
  2. Nothing is finished
  3. Nothing is perfect

The world all around us really is in constant change. Trying to get everything all nailed down and permanently fixed is an illusion. We grow, make mistakes, take wrong turns, learn, develop, and figure it out bit by bit. And then there’s all the other people we live and work with who are also experiencing constant change in their own lives. We are all floating down a churning river together. There’s something new around each bend.

Are you limiting change in your life to behaviors?

Maybe your attitude about something is a good place to start thinking about change?

“We cannot change our past… we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it. And so it is with you… we are in charge of our Attitudes.”  ― Charles R. Swindoll

What do you think?
Does this sound true?
What’s your attitude like when you run up against something impossible? A person who’s out to bring you harm? Too many mistakes that have caught up with you?

“Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” ― George Bernard Shaw

Finally, and you already know this, change isn’t always pleasant.

  • We welcome change easier when we can see more clearly the end result. Shut down the negative self talk and replace with hopefulness.
  • Thinking about your future self is the flashlight that can lead you through discouragement. Imagine yourself as the person you want to be. That’s the most important step in becoming.
  • Rome wasn’t built in a day, be realistic with yourself. Surround yourself with others who will help give you a real picture of who you are becoming.
  • Think about change as a way of living, not a one time accomplishment. Keep a journal so you can map your journey.

“Why do you want to shut out of your life any uneasiness, any misery, any depression, since after all you don’t know what work these conditions are doing inside you? Why do you want to persecute yourself with the question of where all this is coming from and where it is going? Since you know, after all, that you are in the midst of transitions and you wished for nothing so much as to change. If there is anything unhealthy in your reactions, just bear in mind that sickness is the means by which an organism frees itself from what is alien; so one must simply help it to be sick, to have its whole sickness and to break out with it, since that is the way it gets better.” ― Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

What’s Under Your Tree?

“In the old days, it was not called the Holiday Season; the Christians called it ‘Christmas’ and went to church; the Jews called it ‘Hanukkah’ and went to synagogue; the atheists went to parties and drank. People passing each other on the street would say ‘Merry Christmas!’ or ‘Happy Hanukkah!’ or (to the atheists) ‘Look out for the wall!” ― Dave Barry

“Peace is the only battle worth waging.” ― Albert Camus

Sometimes getting prepared for Christmas seems like waging war. There are gifts to think about, purchase, wrap, hide, remember and haul around. All that beautiful wrapping paper and ribbons to wad up and push into garbage bags. Dinners to plan, prepare and clear up (10 minutes later). So much decorating! Why is there all this traffic on the way to every social event?

I’m a professor, and in my house getting ready for the holiday season also means ending a semester with exams, papers and grading. So many loose ends to tie up. Why did so many students not worry about their grade until the last seconds? Happens every year since Plato I guess.

“One of the great disadvantages of hurry is that it takes such a long time.”  ― G.K. Chesterton

Our American version of Christmas can mess up your mind and heart if you’re not careful. Keep watch over your mood, how you treat others and what’s really important. Go to church, hear a Christmas musical, remember again what this all really means.

Loving others the way God loves us, every day, is the eternal gift that people never outgrow.

Are you starting to get every name checked off your list? Isn’t shopping online a wonderful new invention? Drawing names in a family also works well – dispersing the thoughtfulness more evenly and keeping the extravagance in check. I hate running around trying to fill up a bowl of obligation. Be certain to take the time to place under your tree gifts that matter. Something that conveys your own devotion not just a duty.

“Oh look, yet another Christmas TV special! How touching to have the meaning of Christmas brought to us by cola, fast food, and beer…. Who’d have ever guessed that product consumption, popular entertainment, and spirituality would mix so harmoniously? ” ― Bill Watterson (Calvin and Hobbes)

Steal a few moments from all the commotion around the table and tell each other something important. Pray out loud. Hold hands. Go over and sit next that aunt with the funny hairdo. Ask her to tell you about her favorite Christmas memory. Before it’s too late, think about the people on your list who are alone during this time of year – and do something about it. Make sure that your tree of blessing is seen and shared by others.

“Are you willing to stoop down and consider the needs and desires of little children; to remember the weaknesses and loneliness of people who are growing old; to stop asking how much your friends love you, and to ask yourself if you love them enough; to bear in mind the things that other people have to bear on their hearts; to trim your lamp so that it will give more light and less smoke, and to carry it in front so that your shadow will fall behind you; to make a grave for your ugly thoughts and a garden for your kindly feelings, with the gate open? Are you willing to do these things for a day? Then you are ready to keep Christmas!” ― Henry Van Dyke

It really isn’t that complicated, it’s not hard, but it is like shoveling snow (I imagine). Buried beneath all the clutter are the simple gestures of kindness, humanity and love. Just open the gate of your life a little more this month. Let the peace on earth and good will toward all run out like escaped pet dogs. This year, let’s all look at our trees as if they were our last. Let’s not take anything for granted. Let’s number our days and make each one count.

“For many of us the great danger is not that we will renounce our faith. It is that we will become so distracted and rushed and preoccupied that we will settle for a mediocre version of it. We will just skim our lives instead of actually living them.”  ― John Ortberg

Stop every day during this season and wait, watch and listen. Find a corner to hide  in and reflect. Make sure that you don’t miss the train. There’s meaning all around you, but it can speed past if you aren’t watchful and mindful. Turn off the technology! Look carefully at your tree, is it ornamented with meaning? With objects of love and memory that you can share as often as anyone passes?

You remember the classic Shaker song (a dance number actually) that teaches so much about how to live in this world we’ve built for ourselves. It’s hard to imagine what the Shakers who first sang this in 1848 would think of today’s pace of life.

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gained,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come ’round right.

Be sure to save a simple moment today and be free from your busy-ness and everything that doesn’t really matter.

Free yourself to make this Christmas count.

 

Who Are You When No One is Looking?

And you, beloved, are the light of the world. A city built on a hilltop cannot be hidden.  Similarly it would be silly to light a lamp and then hide it under a bowl. When someone lights a lamp, she puts it on a table or a desk or a chair, and the light illumines the entire house. You are like that illuminating light. Let your light shine everywhere you go, that you may illumine creation, so men and women everywhere may see your good actions, may see creation at its fullest, may see your devotion to Me, and may turn and praise your Father in heaven because of it.
                                                                                    – Matthew 5:14-16 (The Voice)

At the football stadium this year, before the game, the camera operator puts people’s images up on the giant screen. People are selected who are busy and not paying attention. It’s called the “oblivious camera” – with a timer ticking off how long it takes these unsuspecting “victims” to notice their images and actions projected on a 5000 square foot screen.

I often wonder if the camera operator is given any limits on who or what he can put on the screen during this little game.

As I sit here and watch students in class taking exams it’s always interesting to see what kinds of actions some do when they believe they’re all alone (in their head) yet sitting in a room full of others. Some will rub and scratch out of nervousness. There are all sorts of grooming rituals that take place, just mindless activity some do while thinking real hard. Cracking knuckles very loudly (mostly females), sniffing and snorting (no tissues), and so many different ways to stretch and yawn!

Did you know that yawning is contagious?

Since no one was taught handwriting in school anymore, it’s gruesome to watch all of the ways that students hold their pens and pencils while writing on an exam. It’s as if many had their hands broken and wrongly reset. Most are perfectly legible but there’s always a few examples that need to be sent over to the hieroglyphics department (we don’t have one of those, by the way).

Do you honestly believe that there’s any part of your own life that goes unnoticed by someone?

  • Parents with young children are always warned that little eyes are watching everything that goes on, be careful about what you say or do.
  • You just haven’t lived long enough if you haven’t heard a younger person telling you of some word or deed of yours they will never forget (I sure have!).
  • There are security cameras everywhere, monitoring most public locations.
  • What about that camera lense in your computer screen that’s aimed at you right now?
  • Sometimes, when it seems safe, I will walk past a screaming child in the store and say with much confidence, “Santa Claus is watching…”

When all goes haywire or you feel down in the dumps – just stop, sit still and repeat the truth to yourself, “God is watching me.” Don’t get up and run back into the fire until you’ve awakened to this truth. Let it be a light on each step you have to take.

His Eye is On The Sparrow (1905), Civilla Durfee Martin (1866-1948)

“Why should I feel discouraged?
Why should the shadows come?
Why should my heart be lonely
and long for heaven and home?
When Jesus is my portion?
My constant friend is he;
His eye is on the sparrow,
and I know he watches me.” 

God isn’t watching you in order to make fun, to find out what’s wrong, or to make you feel shame. He’s watching you because he loves you. When you decide to believe in Him and become His child, there’s nothing you are going to do that will drive Him away. Even as oblivious as you are at times, He is forever watching and caring for you.

“Should we not invariably act in this life as though the God whom our heart desires with its highest desire were watching our every action?” ― Maurice Maeterlinck