Flexibility

Don Fladland, one of the staff members at Lutheran Bible Institute in Seattle beginning in the 1960’s, was the first person to teach me the importance of flexibility.  I was a part of Impact Teams which travelled to churches throughout the Northwest and Don taught all of us the need to be flexible when we were to go to a church because we might not know what would be in store for us.  Flexibility.

My next teachers of flexibility were all the people I met in countries abroad. While traveling abroad, especially in developing countries, one learns, or had better learn, to adjust to what is, not expect what one wants.  Flexibility.

As I have become older, my flexibility teachers have become legion, including my physical therapist who is working with all my rigid muscles so that I can once again begin kayaking in these beautiful bays around Sequim.  But perhaps the One behind all my teachers is the Spirit of God, who is the Master of flexibility and the best teacher of all.  Life seems to be one series of changes, u-turns, detours, adjustments.  All these changes demand flexibility.

On October 9, 2017 my life was somewhat scheduled, than my cell phone range at 9:30 a.m. and by 9:50 a.m. I was headed from Sequim, WA across the state to Spokane and then back again that same night.  Flexibility.  As I drove I was so full of joy that God had given me this opportunity to be there for my son Peter and daughter-in-law Paulie.  When life changes, when God calls we are to flexibly adjust and joy was the by-product for me.

My guess is that Mary’s life was somewhat planned, that is until the angel Gabriel announced to her God’s new intentions for her life.  Her response “Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word,” began a journey that demanded a great deal of flexibility.  Then there was the shepherd Moses whose life took a major detour back to Egypt after God spoke to him from a burning bush.   I could continue to name scores and scores of Biblical personalities who demonstrated the virtue of flexibility.

But life changes are not always manifested by such a direct encounter with God.  Ask anyone who has experienced the sudden death of a loved one.  Perhaps the living blame God for a while, but, hopefully, ever so slowly, one begins to understand that life happens and so does death.  Flexibility or the need for flexibility is suddenly thrust upon the living.  Flexibility.

As we get older it is often harder to change, especially quickly.  When we think that we are in control of our lives, unexpected change is an unwelcome reminder that we are not as much in control as we might think.  But our Life Teacher, the Spirit of God, is always at work within us seeking to exercise our heart muscles, our mind muscles so that we will be open and available to God’s movement in us, a movement that demands heart flexibility.

 

 

THE SPEECH OF SILENCE

Catherine de Hueck Doherty begins the book Poustinia by quoting another author: “Retreats are out…deserts are in!”  She then wrote, “I haven’t noticed too many other people on the North American continent writing about deserts or going to them….It seems strange to say, but what can help modern man find the answers to his own mystery and the mystery of him in whose image he is created is silence, solitude–in a word, the desert.” (p. 18 and 20) (The word Poustinia is Russian for desert.) Silence, or metaphorically the desert, is what we all need, though we might not know it and we definitely do not want it.

I abhor the vacuum of silence, emptiness.  I immediately seek to fill the empty time with activity, even good, positive and sometimes needed activity.  Oh, there are things that I have to do…work on getting permits for building and getting estimates, etc and the things that I have to do are, in fact, God’s will for me at the given moment.  No problem with those activities.

It is the emptiness that I immediately seek to fill, the silence.  Put on the TV or music, try to problem solve the struggles of daily decisions or even world dilemmas, go to a movie, go shopping, sweep the floor.  JUST DO SOMETHING.  Don’t allow myself to get bored, to have too much time to think, to be still, to be present with God.

I am always concerned for lovers who have to fill every moment of their time together with activities, for the depth of speech for lovers is found in the speech of silence together, where true intimacy is found.  It is this speech of silence that I desire with God, for it is in the silence that the fullness of God, the infinite love and fire of God can fill my very being.  That is what I desire.   So, Lord, help me not to run from the empty times, the silent times, the vastness of the void.

DEATH TO LIFE, RECYCLED AGAIN

With the signing of one’s name on a piece of paper, or more correctly, on a ream of paper, a house is sold or a piece of land is purchased.  It is the death of one thing and the emerging new life of another.  It is the termination of one phase of life and the pregnant conception and anticipation of another phase of life and like pregnancy itself, the next phase of life does not happen all at once, but is a slow, sometimes painful, sometimes questionable process.

Wth every ending, with every death, with every loss there is pain and grief, uncertainty and a sense of stepping off a cliff into the unknown.  Some events which cycle us through death to the newness of resurrection are unwanted, unanticipated and unwelcome, such as the death of a spouse.  Other death to resurrection events are thoughtfully, prayerfully considered, such as selling a home and moving to another location.  Yet all death to resurrection cycles carry with them a potpourri of emotions, emotions that are to be experienced and not avoided.

Even as I was journalling this morning about yesterday’s signing the closing papers on my Algona house, I was also reading my old journal about Diane and my last days in Mexico.  Leaving Mexico in 2010 to be the care-givers for Diane’s mother Hazelle meant the death of a life-long dream for me, but it also meant the closing chapter of a tremendously hard journey in Mexico just as the sunrise of resurrection had begun to brighten the horizon.

As Diane and I headed north out of Mazatlan on that very early January 2010 morning to drive straight through to Nogales, AZ USA, I had no idea of the resurrection life awaiting at Grace Lutheran in Des Moines, WA.  Neither did I have any indication of the pain and grief that would attack four and a half years later.

There is no question in my mind that life is hard and the pain of life cannot be avoided.  One cannot detour around death and loss, pain and grief, but with death there is also resurrection and new life.  Resurrection can only occur after the cycle of death and what awaits in the dawning of a new day on the other side of eternity as well as on this side is to be received with gratitude and with faith.

The Second Half of Life

I met a man today.  We were sitting on a bench at Salt Creek County Park west of Port Angels over looking the Strait of Juan de Fuca.  What a wonderful day to be by the salt water, watching the freighters and a cruise ship, the ducks, a turkey vulture and three deer drinking salt water and eating kelp.

The man told me a lot about his life and his experiences traveling the world scuba diving with a large scuba club of which he is a member.  What he didn’t say screamed loud in my soul.  He spoke of travels, the friends he is with, the beauty of the oceans, and the warmth of the southern seas, but he said nothing about the Creator of the Oceans or about the people of the countries to which he travels, only about the fun that he has had scuba diving.

I am presently reading a book called FALLING UPWARD by Richard Rohr.  He speaks about the first half of our lives as “largely concerned about surviving successfully” (italics are his), while the second half of our lives “is to find the content that the container was meant to hold.”  I am sure that the “content of our lives” is not simply to be pleasure and happiness.  The late Thomas Merton identified that so many people spend their lives climbing the ladder of success, but only to find out that the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall.

I am not very far into Richard Rohr’s book yet, but at this point the content of my life starts with the adventure inward, of discovering who I am at this point in my life.  As I was asked by a friend, “Who are you now, Stan, when you are a pastor with no church?”  The journey of discovery is not found on the outside of me, but deep within, when God dwells.  As I continue to discover myself, I discover God and as I discover myself and God, I discover the joy of what I still have to offer the world.

 

A WORD TO THE PARALYZED

I have been spending some time pondering the story of the paralytic who was dropped down through the roof of a house onto the lap of Jesus.   Now that I am retired I can spend time thinking/praying about Scripture that is not assigned to me so let me share some of my thoughts and see if the Spirit speaks to you through this story in new ways.  You might want to look up Mark 2: 1-12.  The following are my notes from my journal:

I am the paralyzed man-unable to go forward, stuck, incapacitated.  I am the man totally dependent upon others, being carried by others in prayer.  I am carried, not only to Jesus, not only in and by the faith of others, but I am also dependent on others in this building/permit process.

I am brought to Jesus.  What does he say, what does he do?  First, he says, “Stan, my son, my child.”  Jesus speaks to me, not those carrying me but he calls me by name.  It is a welcome, a warm welcome.  He is not tired of my coming, my complaints, the intercessions of others on my behalf.

And then what does he say/do?  Does he say?  “Your sins are forgiven?”  I ask myself, “What is my deepest need, not my presenting issue?”  I know that my sins are forgiven.  That is not what I hear Jesus say to me.  I hear him speak to my deepest need: “Stan, you are my Beloved; you are not alone.  I am with you and am sufficient for you.”

My presenting need is for Jesus to deal with is my paralysis of the permit process, but rather he speaks to a deeper need.  What I think I need from Jesus is often not what I need at my deepest level.

And what is my response to his word to me?  At one level there is in me a longing to the answer (MY answer, the answer I want to hear) to my paralysis, but within me there is a great sigh of peace.  I have deep within questioned: did I strike out alone, my own decision to retire, to move to Sequim, to buy property, to build with HiLine Homes, to live in a trailer?  Did I do it on my own, am I on my own?

Jesus says, “You are my Beloved; you are not alone.  I am with you and am sufficient for you.”  That is what I needed, not wanted to hear.  Now it is as if my whole body settles into, relaxes into Jesus.  THANK YOU, JESUS.

And then he looks at me in my eyes, still while I am laying on my mat of paralysis and he says to me, “Stan, which is easier for me to say ‘You are my Beloved, you are not alone; I am sufficient for you. Or to say ‘Stan, your paralysis of the permit process are healed, dealt with–trust me and you will walk forward again?'”

Jesus says the later to me and he calls me once again, always, to trust, without seeing, step forward without certaintude.  Step forward in trust, and I say THANK YOU, JESUS.

 

 

 

TODAY, NOT TOMORROW

Those who know me know that I journal and I would like to share my journal scribblings of September 2, 2017.

As I read my old journals from 2009 from Mazatlan, Mx there are similarities and differences in my life then and now.  Wait  was the operative word for me in Mexico and impatience was my routine response.  Even as I was called upon by God to wait for him to open ministry with people, I was also called upon to be active, to do by way of studying Spanish , something I questioned if I would ever learn.

Right now, these many years later, I am again called to wait-wait for my home to be built, but I am also called upon to do, by being active in all the pre-building responsibilities that are required of me.  These are responsibilities that I do not really know how to do, for they are requirements outside of my life’s experience, so I am called upon to trust, to trust God to lead me step by step and show me how to do that which needs to be done.  Now, what is my response?

At times my response is fear and concern, at times frustration, but there is also trust-trust that I am in Christ and Christ is in me and that his faithfulness is good and is constant and is sufficient.

Actually, I am not called by God to wait, but to live.  Today and what is is in front of me at this moment is my life.  My life will not start when my home is completed; it is not something in the future.  In my old pattern of living, my old life, I always longed for the future to be the present.  Somehow I always thought that real life, exciting life was around the corner, but that was not, nor is not the case.

“Today is the day of salvation,” Paul wrote.  Today is the day of wholeness, opportunities, challenges, adventures, difficulties.  I am not to live as if life happens tomorrow.  No, God is inviting me to live today, to live in his immense  love and faithfulness today and that means both waiting and also doing, doing the tasks that are before me at this moment.   The daily task set before me is the will of God for me NOW, not tomorrow.   Thank you, Lord of Love.

Mole Hills, Not Mountains

From CONTENTMENT to the irritation of mole hills…. but they are not mountains!  Oh, at three in the morning the mole hills could very easily have turned into the emotional impasse of mountains, but they did not.  Mole hills, all the challenges of camp trailer living and adjustments that need to be made, and then at that ungodly hour of 3 a.m. remembering something that I was supposed to do nearly two or three weeks ago concerning the house I am selling, and the final battle ax of the mind turned to the old, but reoccurring nightmare of concerns over finances.  In the darkness of night, one never knows how the Enemy can attack and how the mind can become paranoid.  These irritations the size of mole hills could have very easily have become the arduous climb up a full scale mountain, but they did not because of one little word repeated numerous times until I finally fell asleep.  The word: Jesus!  

Mole hills and even mountains are all a part of life.  We cannot escape them.  They are not punishment.  They do not come our ways because we have done something wrong (at least most of the time), but they are a part of life and they become the ingredients that God uses to shape us, mold us, transform us.

The following morning during my quiet time, looking at the above mountains, the following was God’s word to me from his written Word:

Though the Lord may give you the bread of adversity and                                                 the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide                                                    himself any more, but your eyes shall see your Teacher.                                                  And when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left,                                            your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying,                                                                “This is the way; walk in it.”                                                                                               Isaiah 30:20-21

 

New Beginnings

    My “New Home.”  No, it is not mine, definitely not mine, but rather Jim and Becky Grall’s from Grace Lutheran in Des Moines, WA.  It will be my home, located in the back yard of my sister and brother-in-law’s in Sequim, for quite a few months while “my new home” is being built.

Some people do not like change at all.  They will fight it, avoid it at all cost, and so they stay cemented, hopefully happily cemented, in their routine and in their location for most of their lives. Other people long for change, would “give anything” for the opportunity for a change in their lives, but for whatever the reason they remain wedged into the puzzle making no movement.  For other people, such as the millions of people in Texas, change has been forced upon them, and it is an unwelcome intrusion, disaster.

I have stepped off into the unknown and uncertain future and for me it is a somewhat radical change.  My home of seven years is now identified as “Sale Pending.” My trailer home” is temporary, but so is life itself.  It feels as if I am just learning how to walk for the first time…exciting but scary, uncertain but hopeful, anticipatory.

One might think that I have stepped off the cliff into the future because I was unhappy with my previous life, but that is not so.  Logic and comfort and even family circumstances  would have dictated “stay put,” but the inner spirit said “It is time,” and so I stepped into the future.  For me, faith and life is a journey that propels one into the future, often times an uncertain future and yet there is another word that is imprinted in my mind: CONTENTMENT.

Yes, contentment in the face of uncertainty,                                                         contentment in the face of the unknown,                                                                  contentment in the face of feelings of dis-ease and even confusion,                       contentment no matter what life might bring.

Why?  How can that be?  Contentment is not based on external circumstances but rather the sure and certain trust that my life is more than the external, it is a life lived in the presence of our Triune God, and that is enough.

I hope to share my thoughts, my life, my journey through this blog on at least a weekly basis.  I welcome comments.