The Loneliest Moment

“The loneliest moment in someone’s life is when they are watching their whole world fall apart, and all they can do is stare blankly.”  ― F. Scott Fitzgerald

But there is something else that the believer can do…

  1. Realize that this earthly world is supposed to fall apart – nothing, including frail relationships can last.
  2. Put faith in your Heavenly Father who has promised to take you through these kinds of disasters, giving you more courage, hope and love in the process.
  3. Open your eyes to the disasters all around you – be present in the lonely moments of even strangers who are watching their own worlds fall apart. Provide an end to loneliness. Be a part of the rescue effort of others.

So when the troubles begin, don’t be afraid. Look up—raise your head high, because the truth is that your liberation is fast approaching. – Luke 21:28 (The Voice)

This kind of liberation is the eternal kind. What we get so distraught about are all the little things that weigh us down and eat us alive again and again. Raise your gaze above all of these kinds of problems and look for what’s surely come – your certain hope.

Remember what hope really means for the Christian, it’s not wishful thinking. It means a confident assurance about what has been promised. Hope in our future draws us through the deep valleys and dark forests of our lives. We know that we never travel alone and what awaits us – a certain deliverance from every tribulation and trial.

Paul prays for the Christians in Rome like this, “I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13)

What’s it like when you overflow? According to this prayer request, it’s a supernatural effect, not something we can generate with the right amount of positive thinking, mindfulness and extra yoga… The presence of God in your life gives you hope, confident hope. So much that it flows out of you and touches the lives of everyone else in your life. What’s the evidence? Joy and peace are the fruits of hope. It doesn’t matter how close the fire comes, there’s a song of joy and an unexplainable peace of heart and mind.

Do you feel alone sometimes? Look up. Even if it’s only to notice that bird singing on the fence.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.     
– Emily Dickinson
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Always Remember

“The time is ripe for looking back over the day, the week, the year, and trying to figure out where we have come from and where we are going to, for sifting through the things we have done and the things we have left undone for a clue to who we are and who, for better or worse, we are becoming.” – Frederick Buechner

 

Another Memorial Day is behind us. Not just a long weekend and the start of summer fun. No, this is a time to remember our fallen heroes and those that wear uniforms and serve us still. It’s a weekend for the flag, visits to the grave stones and hearing stories that will soon be gone into the mist of memory.

Remembering isn’t confined to just special weekends like this one. It can become a very healthy and liberating practice.

Too often we remember with regret. We think about the past and filter out all but the fun stuff. There are depths to our lived experiences that only bear fruit in years and generations to come. As we remember the details, the filed away emotions and the unresolved situations, we continue to build our self of today. Those days of long ago still work even now, they still have power to change us, to nourish our souls and to bear something meaningful for others.

Remember when you failed, crashing down in flames.

These seem to be the easiest memories that our fragile egos clutch in so much desperation. Failure is a part of everyone’s story. Failure is only half of the story. Too often, we leave our failures to rot in the grave of our memory and they end up doing nothing but bringing us harm. Failure, taken to it’s end, can liberate us. We learn from failure. We grow resilient from failure. We grow up and mature when we fail. All of these are like forks in the road of failure, chances to go right or wrong. Too often we take the wrong fork, or worse yet, become paralyzed and stop moving forward altogether.

“If we will be quiet and ready enough, we shall find compensation in every disappointment.”  ― Henry David Thoreau

Remember when you offered that helping hand, when no one else even noticed.

There are secret memories that are really no one else’s business. Private words of encouragement and comfort that are said quickly or spoken with great care. Only you were able to help and so you did. Maybe it was something you could do in secret and not even the one being helped would ever know. These are the memories about yourself that are too often crowded out by all the mistakes from your past. It leaves you with a memory that forever limps with an imbalance.

Remember when you didn’t think you were going to make it another step, your heart was too broken to go on.

These are hard memories to dig back up. They’ve typically been buried away, deep in the ground of forgetfulness where they can no longer cause pain. But so often it is out of this same brokenness that our next layer of wholeness emerges.

“Nobody had forgotten anything here. In Berlin, you had to wrestle with the past, you had to build on the ruins, inside them. It wasn’t like America where we scraped the earth clean, thinking we could start again every time. ” ― Janet Fitch

Remember, as you pack away that box, what all that stuff symbolizes to you. A box full of meaning from so long ago.

Are you an organizer? Do you collect all the debris from the journey of your life? Are there boxes of photographs, old journals, mementos from long ago – all piled up in top of your closet of pushed under your bed? Our memories are filled with symbolic meaning – a smell, a location, an article of clothing, etc. But those meanings are not just trapped in our past. It’s possible to look back and discover memories and assign new and powerful meaning to them.

I ran into a friend from twenty years ago. We talked about our shared past and remembered together a number of common experiences we had forgotten. Getting together, renewing our friendship and then sealing it with these memories bound up with meaning was a brand new and liberating experience that we built from our shared memory.

Remember those dreams you once had, stolen away by time and replaced by duty and necessity.

Keep them alive and beating away in your heart. Don’t put a timer on them. If they have to wait, let them wait until their time has come. Don’t live a life without the memory of all your hopes.

“Hold fast to dreams,
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird,
That cannot fly.”
― Langston Hughes

Let your dreams themselves, not the long wait for their arrival, keep your life filled with that longing for the next sunrise.

Remember all those people along the path of your life as you dig through the Christmas card photos from years gone by.

I tend to keep Christmas postcards with family photos way too long. I’ve got them all over the house. They remind me of childhood gone so quickly. I am nudged to pray for people all around me and far away. Those smiling faces that peer out at you, day after day, are a reminder of friendships and families that keep us grounded, connected and safe from loneliness.

“There’s a loneliness that only exists in one’s mind. The loneliest moment in someone’s life is when they are watching their whole world fall apart, and all they can do is blink.” ― F. Scott Fitzgerald

Remember yourself, someone who has been different at each stage of life, there’s someone who could really use what you know now.

When you talk with people, especially people who are at the stages of life that you have already passed through, remember you own life back then. Remember the encouraging words that helped you all along the way – or the words you wished you had heard. Be that person who lights the way for others. Use your own life, with all the mistakes and victories, to turn back and give others a hand up. Remember that you are not alone, that all kinds of people were there in your life – determine to be there for all those people passing by you. Use your past to enrich someone’s future. Be intentional with your speech, your actions and your prayers.

But don’t forget to help others and to share your possessions with them. This too is like offering a sacrifice that pleases God. – Hebrews 13:16

(Your memories are a possession too)

 

Magic Moments

“To love means loving the unlovable. To forgive means pardoning the unpardonable. Faith means believing the unbelievable. Hope means hoping when everything seems hopeless.”
― G.K. Chesterton

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My wife is hollering at me (still) because I won’t answer her question (still). She’s holding the SUV door open and trying to get some information from me. I’m listening to a song on the radio. It’s a familiar song with some powerful lyrics that poetically capture my state of being. I’m having a magic moment. I am vaguely aware that there’s this woman yelling at me, trying to get my attention, asking a very simple question over and over and I’m just trying to ignore her hoping I can stay in the magic until the song ends.

“It’s just a song on the radio!” my wife tells me as she marches off to get me something from Starbucks. She’s right. These days I grasp for those magic moments just like I used to reach for that inner tube racing past me while I rode the rapids down the Guadalupe. There may not be another one coming for a while.

“My soul is in the sky” – William Shakespeare (A Midsummer Night’s Dream)

There is nothing but the mundane all around us every minute. And then something breaks through and there’s a magic moment waiting. That student across the desk last night who needed to hear from someone a word of hope. He has tasted so much failure. His whole life is ahead of him. He thinks what really matters right now is his final exam. But there’s so much more he needs to believe. I engineer a magic moment and there are tears in his eyes as he hears some truth he hadn’t expected.

“There are no words to express the abyss between isolation and having one ally. It may be conceded to the mathematician that four is twice two. But two is not twice one; two is two thousand times one.” ― G.K. Chesterton

The phone in my pocket rings and I answer it. That in itself is a magic moment. I don’t like to talk on the phone. It’s usually turned off because I don’t want it ringing in class or meetings. I fight an endless battle with my students who are hopelessly addicted to their phones.

I had just finished signing a stack of legal documents. My mind had been drifting and dreaming about the here and now and days to come. As I walked out the door, my phone call came.

It was a magic moment. A friend from far away in the desert called. He just wanted five or ten minutes. That’s all I had. We talked for about thirty. We caught up a little, laughed and shared some information. It was over before it started. I sat out in the parking lot for most of it. It was one of those timing experiences, when everything seems to fall into place and you look back and wonder, “how did everything I didn’t even know I needed happen just like that?” Magically, a book he had sent and inscribed was in the mailbox the very next day.

“To live a spiritual life we must first find the courage to enter into the desert of our loneliness and to change it by gentle and persistent efforts into a garden of solitude.” – Henri Nouwen

The Apostle John wrote, “If a person owns the kinds of things we need to make it in the world but refuses to share with those in need, is it even possible that God’s love lives in him?” (I John 3:17, The Voice). In my world one of the most valuable things that people give up is time. These days, one of the things I need “to make it in the world” is a magic moment on the phone out in the parking lot.

“The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.”  ― W.B. Yeats

“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened…”  – Ephesians 1:18

Where is Jesus When You Need Him?

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“The loneliest moment in someone’s life is when they are watching their whole world fall apart, and all they can do is stare blankly.”  ― F. Scott Fitzgerald

We can’t live very long and avoid the disasters that await around the corners. Sometimes they hit us quick and leave before we can even get our breath. Some catastrophes seem to hang on and take up residence.

I think I can face almost anything when I have someone else right there beside me. It’s brutal when I have to walk that road all alone. I have read about the lives of others and experienced for myself times when I’ve felt like I’ve even been left alone by God. I think most people feel like this at times. This is when we get to push out on our faith and see how well it floats.

“Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.” – Hebrews 11:1

Sometimes my faith starts to sink because I’m too often looking at the world around me, the situations I’ve stumbled into, the tribulation that fell on my head and I’m seeing it all with the eyes of my heart and not the eyes of my soul. Then I read an encounter like this and I’m ready to pick up that shield again…

“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat. But I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon, that your faith should not fail. So when you have repented and turned to me again, strengthen your brothers.” Peter said, “Lord, I am ready to go to prison with you, and even to die with you.”  But Jesus said, “Peter, let me tell you something. Before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny three times that you even know me.”  – Luke 22:31-34

We spend so much attention on the failure of Peter. Perhaps because it sounds so familiar. We have so much hope, yet our flesh is still so weak.

But look at what Jesus told his friend he had been doing for him. Pleading in prayer for him. Praying for his faith to withstand the bitter and heartbreaking experience of personal failure. Peter will soon commit an act of betrayl he can’t even imagine at this point in time. He will publicly turn his back on his dearest friend.

Where is Jesus when we need him, when we falter and fail? When everything we thought we could count on was ripped away? Even when we lose every drop of faith we ever had and walk away into the cold night? Where is he? He is pleading in prayer.

He lives forever to intercede with God on their behalf.  – Hebrews 7:25

Who Am I?

Sometimes you have days, weeks, months (even years?) when you feel like an outsider, as if you woke up in a strange place and didn’t belong anymore. It passes. But when those periods of time last too long, doubts start to creep in. You wonder if you’re on the right road, if you’re making the right decisions, if your life is turning out as it should. As I think about all of this, I am reminded of some “handles” that I often  grab hold of to keep me steady when I’m feeling so uncertain about everything.

Do you remember the book, play and then film, Les Miserables? There’s a great song in the play sung by the lead character who has been redeemed to start a brand new life. But he’s dogged by shadows from his past who want to remind him of his guilt and drag him back.

hugh jackman eyes

Who am I?
Can I condemn this man to slavery
Pretend I do not feel his agony
This innocent who bears my face
Who goes to judgement in my place
Who am I?
Can I conceal myself for evermore?
Pretend I’m not the man I was before?
And must my name until I die
Be no more than an alibi?
Must I lie?
How can I ever face my fellow men?
How can I ever face myself again?
My soul belongs to God, I know
I made that bargain long ago
He gave me hope when hope was gone
He gave me strength to journey on

Who am I? Who am I?
I am Jean Valjean!

 I had a great friend who used to remind me of this scripture: So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. – Romans 8:1-2

What a wonderful truth to repeat over and over again. Especially when the road is lonely, dark and you begin to doubt. One thing that I don’t have to fear is any punishment from God because of all my mistakes. I’m not on the outside of God’s forgiveness.

Remind yourself again and again that you’re free. Forever free.

Nouwen

Over the years, I have come to realize that the greatest trap in our life is not success, popularity, or power, but self-rejection. Success, popularity, and power can indeed present a great temptation, but their seductive quality often comes from the way they are part of the much larger temptation to self-rejection. When we have come to believe in the voices that call us worthless and unlovable, then success, popularity, and power are easily perceived as attractive solutions. The real trap, however, is self-rejection. As soon as someone accuses me or criticizes me, as soon as I am rejected, left alone, or abandoned, I find myself thinking, “Well, that proves once again that I am a nobody.” … [My dark side says,] I am no good… I deserve to be pushed aside, forgotten, rejected, and abandoned. Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the “Beloved.” Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence.
Henri J.M. Nouwen

I’m always inspired when I read Henri Nouwen. He keeps my mind and spirit from wandering off into the brush. When you feel like an outsider within your world, and sometimes it’s not your imagination you really are on the outside, it always helps to keep this truth clearly in front of you: See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are!  – I John 3:1

No matter how much rejection you feel (real or imagined), you’re never going to be rejected by your Heavenly Father. You’re his child forever.

Today you may be on a dark and lonely part of your journey. It may last a long time. But what’s also true is that you are free and you are God’s child. These truths are a part of your identity now and no one can steal them from you. Another great friend gave me a third great handle, endure