Running Out Ahead

The husband keeps repenting of “running out ahead” of God. He is a problem solver and problems drive him crazy – it always seems to him that because he is aware of the problem, it is his to solve. He is not comfortable waiting for God. It’s usually in retrospect that he realizes his “running ahead”.

I am not saying that I condone inaction, waiting on everything because one is too lazy to address issues. That drives me crazy. When a problem is there to be solved, I am willing to pray about it and do whatever comes to mind in a reasonable fashion. Do something, do one thing and see what happens next…

Lately, almost daily, new problems are coming up on Dennis’s radar. He thinks about them obsessively. When there isn’t an actual problem, he thinks of a possible problem. He comes to me three or four times in the space of an hour, with more to say about the developing structure of the problem. It grows, takes shape in his mind and is often described as a dangerous situation, not just to him but to others as well. He must figure out what to do and intervene. He must convince others that action is required because he is not physically capable of doing what is needed by himself. What a dilemma. His world has a lot of anxiety in it.

The basement where his stuff is stored is likely going to flood because there are springs on the property.

The coming trip back home is dreaded because something in the truck is messing with his eyesight and making him sleepy. His wife will fall asleep and there will be an accident.

He hasn’t heard that the AC in his daughter’s house has been serviced in the two years she’s lived here. Danger, danger…

He might run out of vitamins, or pineapple on the trip home and his whole health regimen will go down the tubes.

There must be a reason he’s had the word “Fabian” given (by God) to him to investigate. Who is Fabian Farrington and how can he discover why he needs to know?

How can he keep from being further brain damaged while his wife is using the hotspot to access the internet?

How can he convince the code officials of the need to reverse their thinking about grounding rods in duplexes? People’s lives are at stake.

Who wouldn’t be anxious? It seems to me that the challenge is to be aware of possible problems AND aware that someone more capable than one’s self is working out the solution. Trust someone else. Trust God. Learn to wait without stressing out. Like the sign I saw yesterday in the barn I was in – ” Remember stressed, spelled backward, is dessert”. Yes it is, just sayin’…

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Psalm 139:23

Another Day in Which I Played Piano, sort of…

I’m pretty sure there is an adventure of some kind in every ordinary day. This one was not hard to find. It involved a bit of adrenalin…

On Sunday, I got to play piano alongside a real concert pianist. What an adventure!
Huntley Brown was someone I had not met or heard of, but he was playing a worship service (actually three of them) at our church. He has played for audiences all over the world, including the Summit for the Persecuted Church. He and the pastor were alone at the front of the church when the husband and I came in and took our seats.

He came over to greet us. He had questions.
“Do you play music by ear?”

“Yes, kind of. I can pick out melodies, but perhaps not perfectly the first time. I can follow most chord structures.” I answered him without fear, without apprehension, without suspicion. After all, we were just talking music.

“Well, what hymn do you know? Tell me one.”

I’m getting just a hint of foreboding. “I don’t play any of them often without the music in front of me. I can’t really think of one I KNOW by ear, not really.”

“No, you can do one, which one? Just name one that you like…”

“You’re the one giving the concert. We came to hear you.” (Nervous laughter, greater foreboding. He’s being so nice and encouraging – if I keep refusing, I’ll look really lame.)

“What shall we play? Just pick one.”

I know pretty much any hymn in any hymn book, having played them in one church or another since I was 15. For some reason, my mind was blank and I couldn’t remember the name of a hymn, not one. Oh, wait…

“Amazing Grace.” That was a hard one to think of. Where did I come up with that?

“Okay, do you want to play the top or the bottom part?” He was leading me up on stage to the piano. Apparently this was going to happen so I was trying to get my wits about me.

There were hardly any people in the audience yet. Probably no one would notice what was going on. I took the bottom part. He was between me and the people. I could hide. We played Amazing Grace. It only has three chords but I still got some of them wrong.

“That’s good. Let’s play it again. We’re doing the prelude.” This he said to the man in the sound booth who was doubtless wondering what was going on.

I think we may have played Amazing Grace three times before he asked me to think of another one. Still couldn’t remember anything I could play.

“Do you know What A Friend We Have in Jesus?” I did know that one and we played it a couple of times.

“What else? One more…” I couldn’t get the name of the one I was thinking of but I played the first couple notes of the tune and he took over from there. We finished our prelude with that one.

There were a lot more people in the audience by this time. I could see that they were enjoying him interacting with me, one of their own. The hymns were not the point. My musical skill was not the point. The point was that someone so accomplished in their talent was not afraid to come alongside someone of lesser ability, to be humble and gracious in sharing what they could do, to start a relationship in a small but significant way, to have fun, to encourage. I actually think it was a genius way to demonstrate how a believer follows Christ’s example.

I played piano with Huntley Brown as he demonstrated how Jesus does things. It was a good adventure.

Why?

Why?

Do you ever wonder why you are drawn to adventure? Even if you only like to read about adventure, discovery, exciting lives and times, have you stopped to think about why those stories are appealing? Why do we have bucket lists? Why do we purposely choose some challenges and count them worth the pain they may cause? Why do I want to sleep on the ground for five nights, hike 20 miles up and down a distance greater than four Empire State Buildings, in uncertain weather with only what I can stuff into one duffel bag, and do all this with 7 strangers who might snore even worse than I do? Why?

My thinking – it’s because we are made in the image of an adventurous God. Big plans, big ideas, a view of existence so broad and all encompassing that we can’t begin to understand it, all that starts with him. It’s mystery and we are made to be curious and to seek it out.

The Grand Canyon is a project on a scale bigger than we can imagine, yet the processes that formed it were designed and patiently overseen.  Colin Fletcher in “The Man Who Walked Through Time” was trying to wrap his mind around the length of time represented by the Grand Canyon – millions of years.  He had this to say, and I quite agree.

 “Most of us, when we first think deeply about such time spans, tend to draw back in fear from their brink, just as we tend at first to draw back in fear from the brink of anything so immense as Grand Canyon. But it is worth remembering, I think, that some element of fear probably lies at the root of every substantial challenge. And it makes no difference at all whether the challenge is to your mind or to your body, or whether – with richer promise than either, alone – it embraces both.”

The Man Who Walked Through Time, p. 4 by Colin Fletcher

That fear thing! I will admit to being drawn to things that are capable of frightening me.  Isn’t that the essence of challenge? I am habitually choosing challenges, small, large, and in between, because I want to know if I can prepare well enough, mentally and physically.  The prospect of seeing and experiencing wonderful things that I would otherwise miss pulls me into adventure.

My adventure is somewhat ridiculous when compared to Colin Fletcher’s goal of walking the Grand Canyon from one end of the park to the other, but another quote from him resonated strongly with me.

 “I looked east and west, as far as my eyes could strain, until cliff and terrace tapered way into hazy distances. It was mysterious and terrible – and beckoning. And some time during the afternoon, as I sat on the rink of this strange new world, it came to me that if a route existed, I would walk from one end of the Canyon to the other. Once the idea had crystallized, no hideously sensible doubts reared up to plague me.  And I did not need such fragile props as “reasons”. The only question I asked myself was whether the project would turn out to e physically possible. Perhaps it is in this kind of simple certainty that most of the world’s ridiculous and wonderful dreams are born.”

The Man Who Walked Through Time, p. 6 by Colin Fletcher

Hmm… I know what he means by “hideously sensible doubts” and from time to time they may plague me.  But sometimes, like with this Grand Canyon thing,  a challenge just comes to me, from out of nowhere, and if it’s physically possible to do it, I don’t need reasons. Just sayin’…

A Place to Practice

I remember when I was in my teen years, sitting in church, and feeling great discomfort as the pastor asked if anyone wanted to give their “testimony”.  I should have a testimony, I thought. Other people have testimonies, and they sound so glowing and spiritual. I would scramble to think of something to say and hope that the time allotted would be done before I got myself together to volunteer.  And then I wouldn’t think about it again, until the next uncomfortable time, when I would also not be ready again. So went my first uncomfortable church experiences.

Since then, I am happy to report, I’ve discovered a new way to deal with discomfort in church (other than staying away from church – not the best solution). This is partly due to training I’ve had in Bible Study Fellowship, where they taught me to think about my own spiritual experiences, beliefs, and even feelings ahead of time.  We have a somewhat “churchy” language when we call it a testimony, but it really is an explanation of what I experience, believe and feel about my relationship with God.  And how odd was it that I had never realized I could think about those things ahead of time?

 The last two weeks in church, the pastor has offered an opportunity to practice being vocal about our relationship with God.  Last week he asked for examples of God’s faithfulness during the week. This week he asked what thanks we had for God.  Such general questions are great nudges for us to practice speaking about things that are important to us. Church gives us opportunities and a safe place to practice in order that we grow and improve. Speaking these things gets easier the more we do it.

In this day of TED talks and podcasts, people are all over the place, talking about what is important to them. Not everyone is meant to be a public speaker, but it looks to me like God gave most of us mouths and the ability to speak. He is faithful to us, blesses us with things to be thankful for. Every week he makes it possible for us to be back in church in front of a friendly, compassionate audience of friends and neighbors. I should be the first on my feet. That’s why I am.

Being first up is my philosophy of the last few years. It really cuts down on anxiety, vacillating on whether to speak or not, those moments of racing pulse and stage fright. I don’t always know exactly what I’m going to say, and sometimes I say something a bit strange and wish I’d said it differently. But overall, the practice has been worth it.  The Bible says that when we are brought before authorities to answer for our faith, that God will give us words to say. Somehow, I don’t think it’s saying that should be the first time we’ve ever opened our mouths.

I’m just sayin’ this because I know others have this same discomfort at times and I want to encourage, if this is you. Think of something to thank God for each day, and be ready to say it.  It’s really that easy.

The Grocery Walk

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One of the nicest things about living in a small town is how close I am to almost any kind of service I need or want. In the few months I have lived here I have thought on this many times. Take today, for instance. And honestly, you could take today, because it was almost a waste for me, due to a headache that hijacked my afternoon. If it had not been for my evening grocery walk, I wouldn’t have much good to say about this Monday.

I emerged from “headache fog” late in the day to be reminded by the husband that we had no milk. I thought of a few other things that should be on the list and decided to go shopping after supper. Walmart is literally in our backyard, and a second grocery store is about a half mile away, so I took my back pack and walked in search of food.

The store farthest away had one of the items I most wanted to get, so I went there first. The cool air and the act of moving myself rhythmically felt very restoring. It reminded me of the “contemplative walking” I had heard about in doing research for my upcoming Grand Canyon hike. Walking does give me time to think, and thinking makes the distance go so fast. There is also the benefit that I see things with time to look at them, unlike when I’m driving past.

I walked past Lake Hayward where a pair of Canadian geese were already looking for a nesting spot on the small area of open water.  The sidewalks and roadsides were covered with dirt left by the melting snowbanks. I passed numerous office buildings, my favorite clothing store, and Dairy Queen.  I wondered if an ice cream would be good for someone who had just had a headache for hours…

It didn’t take long to make my purchases at Marketplace and load up the coleslaw dressing, the organic bananas and the oatmeal in the backpack. It is a good thing that I’m carrying some weight on my walks because I’m supposed to be training that way – again for the Grand Canyon hike.  (Can you tell that I’m getting a little obsessed with this hike? It’s a bucket list item and I want to do it right.)

Passing Dairy Queen again, I decided to check the DQ app on my phone and, sure enough, I had a coupon for a $.50 cone.  I was feeling kind of guilty for not having change with me and having to use a credit card for that small amount, when I checked in my pocket and realized the credit card was no longer there.  By now I should realize that when I pull one thing out of my pocket, the phone, more than one thing sometimes comes out – it’s not the first time this has happened to me.  I knew it had to be a few yards back, on the sidewalk, but even so I was surprised to find it.  It’s a strange feeling to see something you normally guard with your life, glinting in the sun in the distance on the dirty sidewalk.

I thank God, I did get my $.50 ice cream cone and it was good.

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The last stop, Walmart, added milk, celery, and raspberries to my pack. A short distance later I was home again.

Why am I writing about this? Because it amazes me and makes me feel noticed when God allows a simple thing to come along and brighten my attitude.  Often, he uses a change of scenery, getting outdoors and doing something active to restore and help me feel better when I’ve felt miserable.  There will always be times in my average life that are not so great, but God balances them and somehow leaves me feeling blessed and aware of his kindness towards me. It doesn’t take much.

Not Tired of Winter (yet)

Not really tired, no. It’s still fascinating that snow comes in so many forms. Last week it came with wind, and was in fine, round particles that stung when they hit my face. A couple of days later it fell straight down out of the sky, so slowly you could watch a single snowflake on its way.

The snow on the ground this morning is definitely flaky, intricate, lightly and loosely stacked, and reflecting the bright sunlight. Beautiful.

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This beauty and variety is stunning, and straight from the creative genius of God. He allows me to observe it scientifically with my mind, that he also created. He allows me to enjoy it with senses that he created.  That is a large part of why I am not yet tired of winter.  I’m actually thankful for it.

Things to wonder at are everywhere outside.

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I could not begin to pile snow 3 feet high on a table and have it be done so neatly. Notice the line showing two snowfalls.

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It’s just a bush, with an artistic hole in the center. But how curious?

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Bedtime Thoughts: God

What does a spirit look like when you finally see it? I don’t know. But I think about it a lot, usually at night before I fall asleep.  Maybe it will be strange and scary to see God. He must have thought so because there were times he told people not to look.

But when I say “I’m putting something in God’s hands”, I’m not thinking of a scary God. I’m thinking of Jesus – God, who gave up being whatever unusual, powerful, and possibly scary thing he was and became like a man forever.

Jesus had hands. He could hold things.

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A Song of Intent

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Song 1

A song by Shirley when things weren’t going well with the sale of their house.

In the style of David

 

My hopes were high.

 I have waited for your help,

asking over and over for you to finish what you have started with me.

One minute I was excited and feeling like you had blessed me,

and the next minute unexpected circumstances dashed my hope.

It looked like you had been toying with me.

It looked to some like I was foolish to depend on your goodness.

Why would God care about the sale of a house in Florida?

I would be wiser to acknowledge “chance”

or ask “the universe” to work things out.

 

But today, the sun slowly appeared on the horizon.

That sunrise!

Light shot straight up into the clouds and turned so many beautiful colors.

The clouds filling the skies glowed rose gold one minute and royal purple the next,

going through their changes like a kaleidoscope.

Even as I looked to every corner of the heavens,

 my eyes were drawn back to the center of light,

that blazing circle of fire.

As you have promised, it is there every morning

to remind me of your faithfulness, your creative power,

 your intent to make a world perfectly designed for me.

You even took care to make it beautiful as well as functional.

 

As you are faithful in these large things,

I will trust you with my own small concerns.

I will acknowledge your demonstrations of love and care.

I will wait for what comes next with interest.

There is no one who cares for me better than you.

My Uncomfortable Life (and how God uses it)

I love to play the piano.

I am not a virtuoso, but I have played enough over the years, that I can relax and enjoy expressing myself through music.  I’ve played hymns in churches most of my life, and always offer to do so when I move to someplace new.

And so it happened that I offered to play for the church that I am attending here, “up north”. and am collecting quite a collection of piano stories with a common theme. Embarrassment.  It’s got me thinking.  But, as always, what I let myself think is important. Humility and embarrassment are related, but not quite the same and that is where the importance starts.

This morning I arrived early enough for church that I could make sure the electronic instrument, a clavinova, was plugged in, turned on and sounded appropriate for the small early service. I only had to play for the communion portion of the service – one hymn.  All was set.  The service went well, the message was moving and the invitation was given for communion. To my surprise, when I started to play there was a pop drum beat and a very weird bass thing going on with my reverent, calm hymn.

I hunted for any button on the control board that had STOP written on it, and tried several times to make the hymn sound like a hymn, but no. What finally came out of the machine was barely recognizable and was probably more distracting than having no music at all.  Stuff like this is a musician’s nightmare.

This particular service is early, 8 am, and has small attendance, so the music crew does not do a lot of practice for it.  Other times when I’ve participated, I have played the wrong song at the right time, played the right song at the wrong time, and played when I was not supposed to play at all.  I suppose the regular attendees are getting kind of used to me and my uncomfortable adventures.

I am filled with mixed emotions. Why do these things keep happening? It always takes a bit of courage to put myself in a place of service to others where what I do is noticeable if I do it poorly. I am aware that music sets the mood and can influence people. I desperately (yes, desperately!) want to not distract people from their worship, or make them uncomfortable because they are worried about me.

On the other hand, I realize that music is not what it’s all about.  Worship is not about me at all and how I respond when things go poorly is what God is probably watching. What does my embarrassment lead to? What discouraging messages am I giving myself about my performance, my usefulness? Will I be intimidated and unwilling to serve again? Those would not be good choices. However, I have to consider that God might be telling me that my time playing for church is finished.  Maybe I am to move on to something else, and it would be okay.  It has to be okay. Kind of makes me look at my pride issues and wonder what God wants to teach me next.  That is always a good thing.

This morning, the pastor asked me what I was going to write about next.  I had no idea then, but God inspires in strange ways and look what happens. Just sayin’…

 

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Bottom line – I can always make music in my heart, and maybe that’s the best place for it…

I Sang in a Chorale

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I am small, but I am there. Second row from the top, just to the right of the soloist’s head.

It’s the kind of song that sticks in my head once I start singing it, so much so, that it’s in the background as I fall asleep at night, and it’s still there when I wake up.  It was complicated to learn, but after much repetition, I’ve fallen in love with it.  It’s a chorale experience I won’t forget. The last performance was this afternoon and I’m sad because I don’t want the song to go away. I guess it’s one that’s been around for a while but this was my first meeting with it.

How Can I Keep From Singing?

My life flows on in endless song above Earth’s lamentation.

I hear the real though far off hymn that hails a new creation.

Through all the tumult and the strife I hear its music ringing.

It sounds an echo in my soul. How can I keep from singing?

 

No storm can shake my inmost calm, while to that Rock I’m clinging.

Since Love is lord of heav’n and earth, how can I keep from singing?

 

Although the tempest round me roars, I hear the truth. It liveth,

And though the darkness round me close, songs in the night it giveth.

 

My life flows on in endless song above Earth’s lamentation.

I hear the real though far off hymn that hails a new creation.

No storm can shake my inmost calm, while to that Rock I’m clinging.

Since Love is lord of heav’n and earth, how can I keep from singing?

 

Singing these words, I realize how closely they express my feelings about life’s storms, about truth, about hope for the future. I do hear that “far off hymn” that says everything is going to be made new and good. I don’t believe that we are going to figure out how to do it ourselves. Don’t get me wrong – I am amazed at what we have discovered, what we can do, what we call science. But amazing as it is, the things we discover always seem to end in a question, not an answer.  We discover things that have already been put in place. Science doesn’t tell me who put things in place. My faith tells me that.

God can be mysterious, hard to understand, and his sense of timing can be annoying to me because I am a limited, fairly clueless being when it comes to knowing what time is really right.  But I am won over, just by looking at the choices in front of me. I choose God because he is a communicator – through what he’s created, the historical record of what he’s done, and the experiences he takes me through. He is all about communication when I see it for what it is.

That’s a good question – how can I keep from singing? It’s very much like the question “how can I keep from writing?” I can’t, at least not for long.  I have to respond in hope to the future as God lays it out, as he promises. My everyday life goes down in writing in these posts, mostly because of this hope. I am loved, relevant, made on purpose and designed to know God and love him back. Like a witness in a courtroom, I tell my story, usually in 600 words at a time, right here. I can’t help it.

He who was on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”  The Revelation from Jesus Christ to John, chapter 21, verse 5.