Monday, September 26

The spiritual discipline of noticing small things

I have a problem with wishing.

These days, I wish that the last vestige of summer would be gone and the crisp, cool days of Autumn would begin.

But before long, I'll be ready for Autumn to be over and I'll be wishing for the Christmas season to arrive.

Then it will be Winter, and I'll be wishing mightily for Winter to be past and for Spring to arrive.

Spring will come, but with it will come lots of pollen and probably lots of rain, so I'll start wishing for the blue-sky days of Summer.

Summer will linger, and I'll wish for Autumn to come quickly.  And it'll start all over again.

Another year will have passed, long on wishing but short on savoring.

Lately I've felt that God sees me wishing the days away and wants something different for me. I've heard Him inviting me simply to rest in His presence every day and to enjoy the gifts of each season.

The trouble is, I tend to think of God's "gifts" in broad, expansive terms, often forgetting to look for the small, specific gifts that might fill my days. And while I'm looking for universal beauty, tiny treasures can go unnoticed. Do you know what I mean?

So right now, in this no-longer-summer-but-not-quite-fall season,  I'm practicing the discipline of keeping my eyes open, of noticing small things. Turns out that there is beauty everywhere if I just have eyes to see it.

Like these mushrooms growing in the damp soil right next to my driveway.

Or this tiny frog perched on a basket on my front porch.

Can you see him?

Dear Lord, forgive me for going through my days with my eyes closed to the beauty around me, never seeing what is here while I wish for the next thing! Help me to notice the small things so that I can rest in Your presence and enjoy the gifts of this season with You.

Lord willing, the next season will arrive soon enough; I'll be savoring this one while it lasts.

What about you? Do you struggle with wishing the seasons away? Want to join me in the discipline of noticing small things?

Sunday, September 11

The spiritual discipline of remembering

Throughout the course of human history, there have been days that have rocked the world--days that stood out with such significance as to be unforgettable. For citizens of the United States and many others, September 11 is such a day.

The nefarious deeds of a band of terrorists 15 years ago seared September 11 into our consciousness. Cries of "never forget" what happened on that day are unnecessary. We cannot forget. We will always remember.

As we reflect on the past, we can choose to cultivate a redemptive memory.

But there is another kind of remembering that I need. On this day when I so easily remember the infamous acts of a few, I must work to remember the heroic work of many. I must remember the bravery, the selflessness, the kindness of those who banded together to love and minister to the wounded and the grieving. In the midst of great evil shone the light of great goodness, and that is what I choose to remember.

As I read the scriptures, I am struck by how many times God admonished his people to remember. Over and over He commanded the people of Israel to remember all that He had done for them. David sang, "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and do not forget all His benefits" (Psalm 103:2). As Jesus shared the last supper with His closest followers, He exhorted them, "Do this in remembrance of me" (Luke 22:19). We must remember.

Unfortunately, with our ability to remember can come a difficulty. Our minds can retain the bad as well as the good. We can cling to memories of suffering all too easily. Not just monumental evil occupies our thoughts; pain of any degree can come to mind with disturbing ease. We remember our wounds, the hurt we've suffered, the slights we've felt. And very easily--sometimes most easily--we remember our own sins and mistakes, the pain we've inflicted on others. Indeed, each of us sits beside our own pool of tears.

I am tempted to remember only the suffering, to focus on the pain. One of my greatest needs, then, is the process of developing a memory of redemption. I think of this as the spiritual discipline of remembering. A key practice for me has been looking at my own history from the secure place of knowing that I am God's beloved child, purposefully recognizing that He always has loved me and that He always will love me. If I start from that place of security, I can recall even the times of greatest suffering and see that God has always been present. I can see that His goodness has been constant, His love for me unwavering, His work in my life unending.

I believe and trust that if we start from a place of security as beloved children of God, "our remembering of past pain takes place with a hopeful heart. Christ, the crucified One who both understands and shares our suffering, lives beyond crucifixion. His living presence is constantly at work in every painful memory from the past, seeking all the time to bring forth another little Easter" (Trevor Hudson, Discovering Our Spiritual Identity, p. 42).

In remembering God's faithfulness throughout the past, I gain confidence in His continued faithfulness. Without God, facing the pain I've suffered and the pain I've caused can be crushing. But realizing that God has been present with me in every circumstance calms my mind. Recalling that God's love for me has never wavered comforts my heart. And knowing that God can redeem even the most difficult of circumstances gives me confidence to face the future. Looking through the lens of redemption, I can see that nothing is wasted.

As I think of the horrific events of 9/11, I remember the goal of terrorists is indeed to inflict terror. They seek to disrupt the lives of their enemies, to create chaos, to force people to live in fear. In short, they seek to drive us to our knees, thinking that will lead to our surrender to them. Instead, we can choose to be on our knees, surrendering to the Lord of our past, our present, and our future. Whatever comes, we can choose to remember and to remind one another of God's goodness and faithfulness.

Then, today and every day, we can say "Blessed be the Lord, who daily loads us with benefits, the God of our salvation!" (Psalm 68:19)

What about you? Do you need to practice the spiritual discipline of remembering?

Tell His Story at Jennifer Dukes Lee
Thought-Provoking Thursdays at 3D Lessons for Life

Wednesday, September 7

Choosing to celebrate

I just had a birthday.

I love birthdays. Call me silly, but I always hoped that my children would be born in different months of the year, so that we could sprinkle the family celebrations throughout the calendar. The stork obliged me by delivering my three bundles of joy in separate months. Those baby bundles are mostly grown up now, but I still keep a supply of birthday candles ready to go.

I think of my own birthday sort of like my own personal New Year's Day--a time to reflect on all that the past year has brought and to plan and dream for the next year.

This year felt a little different, though. I turned 53 on September 5. As I was thinking about my birthday, I realized that in all my life, I had never really planned to be 53. What's special about 53?

Turning 53 isn't a big celebration like turning 50. I've been in my 50's now for awhile, but am I in my mid-50's? Surely not yet.

All my life I've heard people say, "Today is the first day of the rest of your life." You've heard that, haven't you? I think the saying even made it into a couple of commercial jingles when I was a kid. Well, let me just tell you: that statement sounds better when you're 23 or 33 or even 43.

Then it occurred to me that turning 53 is a gift. It might not be a "special" year, but it's my year. It's the year God has given me. Right here, right now, I can choose how I will react to being 53.

I can choose to wish I were in a different place, or I can choose to celebrate where I am.

I can compare my place in life with that of everyone around me, or I can embrace this spot and be thankful for it.

I can regret the years that have slipped by and worry about the years still to come, or I can rejoice in the time given to me today.

By the grace of God, I'm choosing to celebrate, to be thankful, to rejoice.

What about you? Are you at a "special" age? Do you think every age is special? Care to join me in choosing to celebrate?