Consider the Lilies

Fire daylily1jpgThere is something magical, God-breathed inspiring, about day lilies. For just one day, a bloom is magnificent and break-taking, then each lily shrinks and shrivels into nothing but a memory as a fallen bloom.

Yet, each day, when I wake up, I can’t wait to see which lilies will grace my yard with their glory. They require very little upkeep, and they propagate without my help. All I offer is a bit of weeding and fertilizing, and nature supplies the sun and soil weaving a tapestry of beauty. I don’t have a special macro lens for my camera so this is the best I can do as far as photography will allow me to capture the day’s offering.

perfectly pink

mild yellow daylillies

pale orange2

 “So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin;  and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not [l]arrayed like one of these.  Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Matthew 6:28-

Searching for Rachel Held Evans

Today marks the one year anniversary of the death of Rachel Held Evans. She was a Christian columnist, blogger and author. She wrote two New York Times bestsellers, Searching for Sunday and A Year of Biblical Womanhood. She was 37 years old when she died from a reaction to medication for an infection.

I only recently discovered her writing. I am about halfway through her book, Searching For Sunday: Loving, Leaving and Finding the Church. I don’t agree with everything she writes, but agreement isn’t the point. As she says in her book, “I am writing because sometimes we are closer to the truth in our vulnerability than in our safe certainties.”

Rachel Evans possessed the ability to use her life’s struggles with Christianity to challenge the American church to get past black and white thinking, the tiresome culture wars, and the Christian tendency to shut out others, rather than invite them in. Even though I just started reading her book a week ago, I identify with her writing. I’ve lost a lot of my earlier fervor for the church in recent years.  Like Rachel, I have sat out Sunday at home for a season, rather than attend church. And like Rachel, I am back in although with reservations.

I never lost my faith in God, but I have had my doubts about his church. However, I have found that I need the church with all of its blemishes and faults. To quote Rachel from Searching For Sunday, “They (church friends) reminded me that Christianity isn’t meant to simply be believed; it’s meant to be lived, shared, eaten, spoken, and enacted in the presence of other people. They reminded me that, try as I may, I can’t be a Christian on my own. I need a community. I need the church.”

What I like about her writing is how she continually points out Jesus’ tendency in the Gospels to break tradition, to invite the marginalized and challenge the religious mindset of his generation. Christianity isn’t supposed to be a place where we fortify our mindsets against the world, secure a battlement against society, and keep out the impure. So many times, that’s what has happened as we have devolved into a self-righteous camp of naysayers.

This is my favorite quote thus far by Rachel Evans, “This is what God’s kingdom is like: a bunch of outcasts and oddballs gathered at a table, not because they are rich or worthy or good, but because they are hungry, because they said yes. And there’s always room for more.”

On this day, the anniversary of her death, I hope I can honor her life with remembering I am an oddball at the table, hungry for something more, and leaving room for one more.

 

 

Rest

The year of the plague is upon us, but I need a rest. Rest from newscasts, cooking, cleaning, eating, binge-watching Netflix, Zoom calls, and everything else that I use to try to cope with my thoughts that sometimes won’t quit. These activities are helpful, but they can be just another way of blocking out being in the present moment. 

I snapped the shot below last week while walking with my foster dog in Fontainebleau Park in nearby Mandeville, Louisiana. The dog is gone. I regret to say I am a foster failure. She really was not all that much trouble, but I was concerned about the accidents, daily, in the house. Since the bedrooms are carpeted, I closed those rooms to her. But, I was careless with closing doors, so she left stains. She went back to the humane society for an appointment with prospective owners who wanted a forever dog. 

I hoped it worked out for the dog and the prospective clients because I didn’t take her back home with me. I might try another foster dog, but I have to better prepare myself and the house for a nervous, confused animal to be with me, being a somewhat nervous, confused human in these times At least, though, not yet anyway, I am not yet staining the carpets. 

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When I look at the photograph above, it reminds me of words from Eugene Peterson’s Bible translation, “Learn the unforced rhythms of grace,” from Matthew 11:29-30. I need to establish a rhythm of grace: doing things, yes, but sometimes, just being present in the moment.

 

Palm Sunday Meditation

Staying home sucks. I live alone so it super sucks. Truthfully, I am restless. I am yielding to temptation too often to get out more than I need even as Louisiana’s governor urges us to stay home as much as possible.

I am finding it’s hard to change my behavior. I want to leave my home, going wherever I want, whenever I want. I want to live my life on my terms.

When Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the people welcomed him loudly with praise. They expected Jesus to be a real king. They thought he was coming to unseat the Romans who controlled Israel in that time. No one expected him to end the week by dying on a cross.

Their thoughts about Jesus had to change. He wasn’t going to rule as a literal king. Change was in the air, but not the change they expected

The religious leaders were on high alert as Jesus entered the city. They didn’t want change. They had power, which they shared with the Romans. Jesus represented a real threat to their way of doing things. They would plot and succeed in getting Jesus killed a week later to preserve their way of doing things so as not to change. They didn’t realize that in killing Jesus, they fulfilled the prophecies of his death and resurrection.

In the coming days, I can choose to embrace change. The coronavirus is here, and I can’t change that. I can find ways to live my best life though as I adapt and live life with the changes happening around me.

So, yes, it sucks. I am going to exercise more, be outside more, work in my yard, read and write more. As needed, I will help my mother with her needs in this time of sheltering in place. Generally, I’ll do my best to adapt to the change forced upon me.

I think of the song, The Times They Are A Changin’ by Bob Dylan.

Come gather ’round, people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth savin’
And you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’

Maybe Palm Sunday represents a religious and outdated celebration to most of the world today.  For me I am going to let Palm Sunday be a celebration of change. I am choosing to this day as a reminder that changing my life and way of thinking is the best thing I can for myself.

The times they are a-changin’.

 

 

Breathe

The weather turned unexpectedly cool yesterday. March had been very warm in south Louisiana. Much of the month had days reaching the upper 80s, shattering records. It felt more like early summer than early spring. Then, yesterday, I woke to a morning in the 40s here on the northern shore of Lake Pontchartrain. I opened up windows, and let the cool breezes blow in. I breathed in the fresh, spring air.

IMG_0266
These clumps of grass have small lavender blooms. Does anyone know what it’s called?

I spent a fair amount of time outdoors enjoying the mild day yesterday. I pulled up clumps of flowering grass that are threatening to overtake portions the flower beds. I don’t know the name of the plant as it was planted by the former owners of my house, but they produce precious little in way of flowers, but rather spread in large grassy clumps, crowding out my spring bulbs and rose bushes.

I wasn’t able to dislodge much of the roots. A shovel and a strong back will be needed to stop the spread. I’m hoping my yard guy is not afraid in this season of social distancing to tackle the aggressive grassy clumps. I texted him earlier this morning.

Sitting outside early this morning, drinking a cup of coffee, I breathed in the cool air once again. There was a sense of peace and calm, as traffic noise on the nearby highway has lessened considerably in the past few weeks. Some of my neighbors are home all day now, so the neighborhood is quiet.

I thought about the words from a Facebook Live message I heard last night. How am I going to use this time of an unexpected sabbatical of sorts? Do I want to fritter it away with anxious thoughts and actions? Can I dig deep and find peace? What about seeking the presence of God in the mundane tasks of the day? What good can come from this unprecedented time in our nation and world? Will I emerge with a stronger sense of purpose? That’s my hope.

I don’t want to spend my days endlessly scrolling on social media, or mindlessly filling up on snack foods or media binging on streaming shows. I want to emerge with something better. Because one day, the pandemic will pass.

I leave you with a song and lyrics. The worship song, Peace by Casey Corum ends with a chorus that enjoins us to breathe in positive attributes and breathe out negative ones.  You can find the song on YouTube.

Breathe in peace, breathe out strife,

Breathe out death, breathe in life,

Breathe in love, Breathe out hate,

Breathe out fear, breathe in faith.

It Will Be Alright

Several years ago, I downloaded and read A Journal of The Plague Year by Daniel Defoe. Defoe wrote a fictionalized account based on his early childhood memories of the plague that swept London in 1665, claiming over 67,000 lives. It was a memorable read. I never expected to write, or contemplate, even facetiously, about a plague in modern times.

Of course, our plague year cannot compare, even in a joking manner, to the Black Death. Mainly, it’s just quiet around here as the schools and most businesses are closed. The nearby city of New Orleans is emerging as the epicenter of the Louisiana outbreak. It seems like Mardi Gras was our undoing, causing the city and surrounding parishes to give rise to a troubling number of afflicted residents. Currently the state has over 1,700 reported cases and 65 dead. In the city of New Orleans, 827 cases are reported, and thirty-seven have died from the virus.

I’m introverted by nature, so solitude hasn’t been a hardship although I haven’t taken the warnings to stay home that seriously anyway. I find reasons daily to get out and about, whether it be to our local small market, the drugstore, or the post office in my small town. While I am not hoarding food or supplies, I do tend to buy stuff almost every time I venture out. My cupboards are overflowing with soup cans, pasta and lots of dairy creamer among other things.

Last night, I participated in a Zoom telecast with a group, Seeds and Souls, for an Ignatian Meditation. The idea is to listen as a moderator reads a passage of Scripture repeatedly and slowly. After the readings with pauses to reflect, participants reflect on what stood out from the reading.

Last night, the leader, Brian, chose verses from Matthew 6. The theme was not to worry about tomorrow. What stood out to me as he read from the Message translation of the Bible was the phrase, “What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax.” In my mind, I pictured Jesus gently chiding me and offering me the chance to relax. I don’t need any more soup cans, nor do I need to worry about getting paper towels. I am worried, you see, about paper towels as I only have one extra roll in reserve. The local market doesn’t have any in stock. Neither does Walmart or Costco, at least according to their online sites.

Where will I get paper towels? I don’t know. When the time comes the store may have some or not have some. I can always clean spills with a towel I suppose if none are available. Funny thing is, I don’t use paper towels very often. That’s why I have only one extra roll in the house. I prefer to mop up spills with rags or a mop. So why worry about it? As Jesus’ words say in the extraordinary Message translation by Eugene Peterson, “What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax.”

Early this morning, after my 5:30 am coffee and 6:00 prayer service online, I took Daisy, my foster dog, for a walk. We took it slow, as she is recovering from a hip injury. I gave her ample time to put her nose to weeds and flowers growing along the ditches that line our streets. I gave myself time to notice the beauty of the wildflowers, some white, some yellow, and some a beautiful shade of lavender.

In the same batch of verses that Brian read repeatedly last night, he said, “walk out into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They never primp nor shop, but have you ever seen color and design quite like it? . . . If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers . . . don’t you think he’ll attend to you . . . do his best for you?” 

I am going to do my best to avoid looking for paper towels today.

Nonessential Services

I am normally involved weekly in a number of endeavors: tutoring kids at Sylvan Learning Center, teaching English as a Second Language, and volunteering weekly as a receptionist at the local food bank. None of these are considered essential in Louisiana right now. The food bank is still serving clients, but the lobby is now closed. Instead of having a bevy of opportunities to serve and work during each week, I now face an empty calendar because everything I did is now considered nonessential.

What can I do then? I am filling my time with walks in the neighborhood, weeding my flower beds, and catching up on household tasks. Yesterday, I brought my bicycle to a bike shop for a tune-up. I can ride the pathways on the Tammany Trace, a dedicated hiking and biking trail that was once a railroad line throughout the parish.

I can read the book that I can’t return to the library. I checked out A Lesson Before Dying by Earnest Gaines before the tsunami of state closures shuttered the library system. I planned a few reads by African American authors for the month of February. The Gaines book was on the list but I didn’t check out the book until March. Last month, I read Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neal Hurston and Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave by Frederick Douglass.

Since I live alone, I thought it would be a good time to share my house with a pet. I planned on fostering a pup from the Humane Society, but I haven’t received a call back from the good folks there. Repeated phone calls go unanswered. I may drop by later today, and I can ask if my help is needed at this time.

I don’t think I am overreacting to the situation at hand. If anything, I have been somewhat lackadaisical in my response to the virus. I was eating out the very day that the state closed restaurants, limiting them to takeout and delivery. I am still visiting my eighty-six year old mother, despite my misgivings. I get out nearly everyday, interacting with the public in some way: getting groceries, visiting the hardware store, etc. It’s been nearly impossible for me to spend an entire day at home.

The governor of Louisiana, John Bel Edwards, shared news and advice in a one-hour broadcast last night. He has been active in directing the state response to the corona virus. As of yesterday, there were 1,172 positive cases of COVID-19 in Louisiana. Most of Louisiana cases, 562, are in the city of New Orleans, 562 cases. Louisiana is one of the leaders in the country with infection rates when the number is case rate is considered per 1000 people. Louisiana only has about 4.5 million people. The city of New Orleans has about 400,000 residents

Governor Edwards shared that today he would be in fasting and prayer for the state. I can do that. I suppose something I do today will be essential as I join many in Louisiana in prayer.  Here’s the Bible verse that Edwards used to end his remarks:

I am the Lord your God,
    who holds your right hand.
And I tell you, ‘Don’t be afraid!
    I will help you.*

I suppose I can feel like I am doing something essential today. I am joining the governor of Louisiana in prayer and fasting. What could be more essential than a moment or two of meditation and asking God for favor in these times?

*Isaiah 41:13 Easy to Read Version

 

Love in the Age of Covid-19

The new coronavirus, also called Covid-19, is drawing comparisons to the flu pandemic of 1919 as well as, gasp!, the bubonic plague in the Middle Ages. I’ve never heard it compared to cholera, but the title is apropos. You must admit my take on the title is catchy.

With non-stop coverage by the media of the worldwide pandemic, it’s hard to escape the barrage of messaging: wash your hands, keep your distance, don’t panic, but do be prepared for a host of issues. Prepare to stay home for 2 weeks or longer, get sick, lose your 401k in the stock market crash or die. All are cast as possible if not probable. Above all, don’t panic. Imagine that? Don’t panic.

I lived through Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. I remember those dark days. I’ve lived through one of the worst natural disasters in this hemisphere. What did I learn? I recall that during the weeks and months preceding the Cat5 hurricane that swept in from the Gulf, I had two songs that were always in my head: Dwell by Casey Corum and The Times They are A’changing by Bob Dylan. When the storm had passed and we were in recovery mode, I reflected on those songs. God’s presence was dwelling with me and yes, times had definitely been a’changing.

Now in the time of Covid-19, I have to remember that God is always with me, and times have surely changed in just a few short weeks.  Another thing that stuck with me in the weeks and months following Hurricane Katrina was that serving others become a way of life for me and my church community. We fed the community, first responders, and later, teams. There were scores of volunteers who needed shelter and food as they came to help our neighbors with flooded homes and businesses. I had no time for anxiety. I was too busy.

So how do I love in the time of Covid-19? Here in Louisiana, all restaurants were closed last night until further notice. All schools, colleges and universities are closed. Gatherings are limited to 50 people or less. In New Orleans, the limit on social gatherings is even more restricted. A certain level of anxiety hangs in the air.

A few days ago, I talked for a bit with an anxious neighbor. Mary is an older lady who lives in a home without electricity, running water. She doesn’t have a car. She rides her bike to get groceries or to the gym for showers.  I can be kind to all my neighbors, including Mary.

My little town, Abita Springs, is collecting names of folks in our town who need help with meals, groceries or lack of transportation. They want to help. I can make donations or deliver groceries for my neighbors.

In the big city of New Orleans, a hotspot for the virus, my former church is serving today as a site for grab and go meals for children. New Orleans is a locale not only filled for music and  good food, but also a place rife with poverty. With all the schools shut down, a meal is a good place to start.

So, that’s what love looks like right now. It’s about having hope and sharing hope. We can all do that, can’t we?

Sugar and Amazing Grace

IMG_0209It’s that time of year again when chocolate, candy and flowers become the language of love. As a sugar junkie, it’s a dangerous time of year for me. I love sugar. Not so much in candy, but I can’t say no to chocolate, ice cream or cookies.

I volunteer at the local food bank as a receptionist. Last week, a lady came in to donate  food. She had 2 packages of frozen cookie dough that was calling her name. She had an urgent need to get the stuff out of her house. I understood her pain. One pack was open as she admitted to eating some the night before. Of course, we couldn’t accept an opened package. She was desperate to not go home with the cookie dough. She wanted me to take it home. I declined. I did, however, accept the unopened package to give to one of our clients. 

This weekend I purchased a small heart-shaped box of chocolate, and on a whim, frozen cookie dough. I guess the ladies’ plight at the food bank was somehow buried in my subconscious. I ate all five pieces of chocolate from the heart-shaped box in one sitting.  Then, I ate five squares of frozen cookie dough too before I put it in the trash. I eat certain types of sugary stuff like an alcoholic needs a drink. I can’t stop myself. 

This morning I have been thinking about Jesus’ words that are sometimes called The Beatitudes. In the Message Bible, the passage starts, “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.” 

I am pretty much at the end of the rope when it comes to sugar. Sometimes, I feel like there’s no hope for me when it comes to maintaining a healthy weight and a healthy relationship to food. If I understand Jesus’ words, then I am actually blessed by knowing I’m at the end of my rope. 

Jesus fills in the cracks left inside me from the self loathing that drains me. That’s how it works. So in the upside down way of God’s kingdom, I am blessed when I am feeling the least amount of confidence in myself. 

That’s the kind of grace that makes me shake my head in amazement. It’s why I posted the quote by Brennan Manning on the sidebar of my blog. Brennan Manning’s life, when examined, makes one wonder anew at the centrality of grace. I don’t want to detail his life’s path in this blog post, but know that he didn’t lead a perfect life.

Jesus comes not for the super-spiritual but for the wobbly and weak-kneed who know they don’t have it all together, and who are not too proud to accept the handout of amazing grace. Brennan Manning

This week I won’t buy any chocolate, cookies or ice cream. I’m going to walk wobbly and weak-kneed through the Valentine’s aisle at the supermarket.  I am not too proud to accept the handout of amazing grace. 

 

Was Your Life Changed By A Book?

Last week, a friend wrote on Facebook about a challenge from the New York Times. The Times is asking for entries to answer the query: Was your life changed by a book?  Readers are encouraged to submit an entry of 200 words or less about a book that has influenced your outlook.  I’ve been thinking about this question. What one book would I choose?

On my bookshelf there are many books that helped shape my way of thinking. I thought about Rich Thinking about the World’s Poor by Peter Meadows which helped shape my views on poverty and missions.  I considered a humorous book of short stories by Bailey White, Mama Makes Up Her Mind. Or, perhaps I would select a book from my childhood enticing me to enjoy novels. I particularly recall my delight at ten years old reading The Three Musketeers by Alexander Dumas.

My mind kept returning though to the obvious book: The Bible, the book of books. I could write paragraph after paragraph about the dramatic, inspirational, and practical dynamics of the sacred book of books. The Bible has inspired multitudes of persons in its uniqueness among books. But let’s keep it short.

My first true encounter with the Bible was almost absurd. I was probably eleven years old at the time that I read excerpts from another book, a bestseller at the time, The Exorcist. My oldest sister had a copy, and I glanced a bit too long at it.  I was scared, maybe even scarred,  by the story of the demonic possession of Regan, an eleven year old girl. I had trouble sleeping for fear that I would share the fate of Regan.

At this time, in the early 1970s, the movie was released, too. I felt like I even resembled the actress, Linda Blair, who portrayed the demon-possessed girl. I was doomed.

My sister assured me that it all was a story, make-believe if you will. However, I knew just a smidgeon about the Gospels mentioning demons. So, I looked up instances in the Gospels of demonic possessions.  Not only did they exist, but they had the power to possess the body and mind. I was terrified even more than before I read the Bible’s accounts.

Demons existed!

So my first forays into reading Biblical texts made me a believer, not of the love of God, but in the power of the devil. If the Bible had accounts of demonic possession, then I could not idly dismiss the existence of such evil personified. I felt terribly hopeless.

My heightened fear of potential demonic possession eased, but a general malaise stayed with me. I had no hope. All life seemed purposeless. It wasn’t just the specter of Linda Blair that frightened me. It was just life in general. What meaning did my life have?

Then, I heard something when I was around 12 years old.  I heard a man speak at my  church who seemed to have an unmistakable sense of the divine about him. It was as if he spoke from a different perspective, not his perspective but from God’s.

I was convinced that the man in the front of the church had something more powerful than words with him that night. He offered me Hope. And I, like John Wesley, felt my heart strangely warmed. I reached out and took hold of Hope.

After that day, the Bible was no longer a book that just offered evidence of the power of the demonic. It offered a story of the One who was more powerful than any demon. I read the Gospels with new clarity. How had I overlooked it before? You see, Jesus did indeed confront demons but he had power over them. People were liberated from the power of the devil.

Since then, I see the Bible in so many ways. It’s not a book to condemn but to set free. It’s about light, not darkness. It’s a book of hidden treasures, with new insights to be gained daily from its reading.

I am certain that the New York Times is not looking for essays on the efficacy of the Bible in influencing a preteen girl both towards fear, and later, freedom. We, in the United States, live in a post Christian world. That great and glorious best-seller, the Bible, has been relegated to a place where it’s influence can be explained as a history lesson, a cultural milestone of years gone by. Current Bible enthusiasts are regarded as oddities, stuck in cultural backwaters that is being swept away by the modern cynical age we live in.

I remain, though, convinced of my convictions. The book that has changed my outlook more than any book I’ve ever read is the Bible. No matter how trite or how inane it sounds, the Bible remains my bedrock and foundation as the most powerful book in my life.  It’s words are like my daily bread, new every morning.

See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? 

Isaiah 43:19

If you want to submit your entry about a book that has shaped your life to the New York Times, you must do it now. Entries must be submtted  by 10:00 a.m on January 15.