Time Passages

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I love the title of Al Stewart’s song, Time Passages.  It describes so well the amazing gift of time that we have on this earth.

My dear mother passed away in early January.  A parent’s passing is always a defining moment in a person’s life.  My mother was blessed with time.  She was 96 when her time came to pass on.  Although she had been afflicted with some type of dementia for several years, she was still cute, sweet and at times downright funny.

However, it wasn’t always so.  Helping to write her obituary, I realized a lot of things about my mom and ever since her passing, there have been conversations with siblings about her life and reflections on what she accomplished in life.  One single life on this earth is so complex and so precious.  Each life has a myriad of experiences to go through and so much to learn from those experiences, taking each lesson learned on into the next experiences.

Mom had a lot of challenges in her life.  She had a fairly controlling mother, eight children and not much money.  She lived through the depression years, World War II and the shocking 60’s when all societal rules seemed to fly out the window.  She spent hours dealing with her own mother when she herself had small children to take care of as well and later, when her father and her mother-in-law were old and needy, she spent all of her days caring for them and taking care of those needs.

My mother was an overcomer.  She met all of those challenges with grace and dignity.  Sometimes she had reactions as anyone would, but she did what she needed to do without complaint.  As we were writing our mother’s obituary, we realized that we couldn’t make it so flowery that she would seem to be a saint from the moment of her birth.  It wasn’t that way.  It never is, right?  Isn’t it more real, more adventurous, and more challenging to have a life long parade of situations that, through the passage of time, shape our nature?

Mom always had her own personality, but her character developed as she aged.  She became more patient, a better listener, more concerned with others.  As those qualities increased, others decreased: less anger and less worry.

Enhancing the positive qualities and diminishing the negative ones is what this life’s journey is all about.  We are all born with issues and we all encounter troubles along the adventurous road of life, but what an exquisite testimony there is when one of God’s children is at the end of their journey here, giving those who knew them the opportunity to look back at all the hardships along their route and to witness firsthand the growth of God’s life in that person.  What a solid evidence, sure and positive, that we can do the same in our lives.  Our situations may be different, but we have the same potential that they did.

When we witness a wonderful life, we don’t have to stand far off and feel dismal about our own existence.  This person was an ordinary person, just as we are, and he or she began his/her life with the similar challenges and similar skepticism about the possibilities of ever changing them.  Because we, like them, are born into the human condition, we too can allow our circumstances to mold our character and improve those things that require either a bit of touch up or a major overhaul.  We too can experience time passages and watch God’s handiwork in our lives.  Day by day, step by step, we come up a little higher and when time has finished its passages in our lives, hopefully others will say of us that we were overcomers and will, in their time, find inspiration to do the same in their lives.

Verses and a verse: Courage

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**Sandinista Avioncitos

The little airplanes of the heart

with their brave little propellers

What can they do

against the winds of darkness

even as butterflies are beaten back

by hurricanes

yet do not die

They lie in wait wherever

they can hide and hang

their fine wings folded

and when the killer-wind dies

they flutter forth again

into the new-blown light

live as leaves

–Lawrence Ferlinghetti

 

These are difficult days that we are experiencing.  Sometimes, it feels as if we are buffeted by the winds of the hurricanes that have recently traversed our world or by the flames that scorch our west coast.  We need to take heart in the Scriptures that uphold the righteousness that God has planted in us.  We need to surely know that righteous lives soften the paths that others must follow in the future.

Deuteronomy 31:6 Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the LORD thy God, he it is that doth go with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.

** Although this title seems negative to me because of the reference to Sandinistas, I have chosen to leave it in so that the poem can be properly identified.  The poem itself is very sweet.

Memorial Day Freedom

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Memorial Day. In memory of those soldiers who died in the service of their country.  There is a boulevard in my small town called Memorial Boulevard.  Along this boulevard are several memorial statues dedicated to city soldiers who lost their lives in various American wars.  There are also oak trees planted along this boulevard and next to each oak there is a marker with the name of a city soldier lost in World War I.  There are about thirty such markers, a huge toll for such a small town at the time.  It has been nearly a hundred years since they died on foreign soil fighting for freedom.

So, what freedom did they fight for?  One hundred years ago, the average citizen had less freedom than modern young people in regards to his or her family.  It seems as if young people had certain obligations towards their families that young people today don’t have.  To a large degree, today’s youth can choose the career of their dreams, move to the location they desire and marry whom they choose.  They can make a life for themselves, but is that freedom?  At the same time, we have lost other kinds of freedom that people one hundred years ago took for granted.  Today, we owe much to our government.  More and more, our government decides what is appropriate.  We have lost the right to pray in our schools, to put the Ten Commandments in public places and even to display a creche at Christmas time on the town green.  The people of one hundred years ago would be surprised at what we can no longer do.  Are we now “free?”

What makes a person free?  We would all agree that a  person who is addicted to alcohol, smoking or to internet porn is not free.  He/she is a prisoner to that habit.  Just as an addict is not free from his addiction, I am not free if I freeze in fear each time I face a large crowd in a public speaking situation.  I am a prisoner of that fear.  Or perhaps each time I open a package of cookies, I eat the entire thing.  I am a prisoner to that craving.  Both situations create a negative result for me.

So, on this Memorial Day, as we honor those who died to preserve our freedom, what makes us free?  Freedom in regards to our family or our government increases or decreases and yet still we find ourselves not one hundred percent free.  The only real freedom we can enjoy is freedom inside of ourselves, in our souls.  Only the truth can make us truly free.  If we live that truth and free ourselves from those things that hold us prisoner, then we are free indeed with a freedom that no one can take away.

We are truly grateful for those soldiers who nobly fought and died to preserve our natural freedom.  It gave us the opportunity to find and live our spiritual freedom.  Thank you to those thirty young men who died one hundred years ago.  Thank you to the men and women who have died before then and since that time.  The most deeply felt thank you must be reserved for Jesus who most nobly fought and most lovingly died that we each might find our true freedom.  Thank you Jesus.  We remember you this Memorial Day weekend.

Listening!

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At the botanical gardens – quietness enters my soul.  Without the external hustle of this world, God’s Word comes more easily.  Listening.

This morning I was reading a passage from the Psalms.  I like to read a different translation from time to time.  Sometimes it gives me a new perspective on a topic.  The passage was Psalms 81:8 – 16 in the Smith and Goodspeed translation.

“Listen, O my people, while I warn you; if you would but listen to me, O Israel!  There would be no strange god among you; nor would you bow down to a foreign god.  I, the LORD, am your God; he who brought you up from the land of Egypt.  Open wide your mouth that I may fill it.  But my people did not listen to my voice; Israel would have none of me.  So I gave them over to their own self-will, that they might follow their own devices.  If my people would but listen to me, if Israel would only walk in my ways, I would quickly humble their foes, and turn my hand against their enemies.  Those who hate the LORD would fawn upon him, and terror would be upon them forever; but he would be fed with the finest of the wheat, and with honey from the rock would I satisfy you.”

Self will or God’s will?  It’s either one or the other.  They both cannot exist in the same space.  These two wills are constantly at odds.

It has to be a deliberate choice to stop the self plans and let God lay out his plans.  To get God’s view for this moment or this day or this life, I have to lay aside my self-will.  Forget about it.  Let it go.  See what God has in mind.  Let’s make a deal.  Self will is only going to get us in trouble anyway.  Let’s really listen.

Listening naturally to the world around us, we surrender our own thoughts to hear the sound of birds chirping, little bees buzzing and light breezes passing through.  Such wonderful music for our ears!  Listening spiritually to our Father, we surrender our own will to hear what he has to say.  A reverential symphony for our soul!

Love is contagious

Yesterday, on the way to work, the finale of Les Miserable came on the radio.  This song always puts me in a mood of contemplation and profound reverie.  It touches us all on a deep level of the simple love that we have for our Father.  That love resides somewhere in all of us, though it may be covered up and rusty in quite a few.  We all desire in our hearts for a world where we can live in peace, where all men will put away the sword.  We long for such a place for our children and for their children as well.

Our present world bears no resemblance to that apparently far off desire.  Today’s world is more a world of the barricade than a world beyond the barricade.  We struggle with news reports of far off wars, local crimes and sad stories of corrupted officials that make us lose hope that such a world of peace could ever exist.

It does exist.  We can achieve it.  I, as an individual, cannot force anyone else to want or create such a world.  I can only look inside of myself and eliminate the hate inside of me.  I may proclaim, “but I am not a hateful person.  I’m a nice person!”  Wait a minute!  What about that annoying person in the next cubicle?  Do I hate him?  What about the person that always rubs me the wrong way?  How about the guy that cut me off on the highway this morning?  Do I hate him?  Or did I pray for him as he was speeding off?

There is a solution to hatred.  Instead of avoiding that person, hoping that he or she will go away, think about his/her life for a while.  What would be something that he/she would really like?  Not a big flashy gift, but something small and simple, that shows you’re thinking of him or her.  Maybe a cup of coffee or just a kind gesture.  Something that would touch his/her heart.  He might end up hating you for doing that, but you will have taken one further step toward eliminating the hate from your heart.

People don’t respond well these days to words and doctrines, but love, they can’t resist that.  The song ends with the words, “to love another person is to see the face of God.”   Love grows.  Love is contagious.

A Crystal Stair in Disguise

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This is one of my favorite poems by Langston Hughes, Mother to Son.  When one of my daughters was young, she changed it to Daughter to Mother and recited it to me at a time when my life seemed really as if it had been no crystal stair.  Quite a few years and experiences have passed under the bridge since then.  The poem is perfect as is, but as life’s struggles add layers of richness to one’s wisdom, I think that I would add onto this poem some kind of little postscript to thank God for every one of those difficulties: the bare places, the splinters and the places where the boards had been torn up.  Each one of them was leading me on to the next landing, the next summit where there would be a new panorama view on life and truth.  Thank you, Lord.  Life did not seem like a crystal stair to me at times, but although it was in disguise, it truly was a crystal stair leading to you.  That’s what life is all about!  Something to remember when you’re going through tough times.

Mother to Son

BY LANGSTON HUGHES

Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
Bare.
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

Langston Hughes, “Mother to Son” from Collected Poems. Copyright © 1994 by The Estate of Langston Hughes.

A simple hike leads to this stunning panorama

I’ve changed the picture at the top of my page.  There is a little story behind the photo.  Recently, my husband and i went camping for a week in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.  We love hiking but at the outset of our vacation our hiking legs usually need an upgrade.  On the first day, we went on a lovely and not too demanding hike to the top of Mount Willard.  The view from the top is outstanding and I recommend it highly.  The second day we went to Arethusa Falls.  It was about as demanding as the first day’s hike and the beauty of the falls was incredible.  On the third day, we just began hiking without really knowing our destination, but God knew where we were going.  After about an hour and a half of hiking we had to choose: continue upwards to the summit of Mount Jackson or head downwards to see another falls?  Well, we prefer to do our hard work of upward climbing first, so we headed up.

The description of the “moderately difficult” climb did not prepare us for the rest of the hike up the mountain.  It was NOT moderate, at least not in my definition of the word.  Very near the end, we met a man with a young boy coming down and the man encouraged us to go on because, as he said, “It’s only a few minutes to the top.”  I thought, “If a kid can do it, I can too.”  Hehe.  Those few minutes necessitated scrambling over enormous boulders with only a few small branches on the sides to hang onto.  But then … we reached the top.  John went first and told me to try to make it.  He said it would be worth it.  At the top was a panorama perhaps a hundred times more beautiful than the picture you see at the top of my page.  There were no trees, so you could see 360 degrees around.  Mount Washington rose in the distance and the valley that we had come from meandered much further below us than I had imagined.  We took a lot of pictures and gaped in awe of God’s creation that remains so beautiful in spite of what man has done to it.  The wind began to whistle and the clouds foretold a possible change in the weather and so we had to tear ourselves away from that gorgeous spot.  I think that it will always remain in my mind as the most amazing and beautiful view I have ever seen, the view of a lifetime.

A simple hike on a normal day.  We started out, not knowing where we were going.  Life is like that.  We start out not knowing our path or where it will lead us, but we keep on climbing.  I would like to encourage everyone out there to keep on climbing.  Choose the way up.  It may be difficult, even more difficult than you had anticipated, but when you get to the top, the view will be more beautiful than anything you could have imagined.  God can show you things in this life that will stay with you forever.  Those views will encourage you through the hard times and lead you onward.  Take the risk.  God is so worth it.  He is the summit of all summits, the panorama of all panoramas.