Tag Archives: spiritual journal

Light Within

Luke 11:35-36

 

Luke 11:35-36

See to it that the light within you is not darkness. Therefore, if your body is full of light and no part of it dark, it will be completely lighted, as when the light of a lamp is upon you.

I spent this summer having eye surgery. I did not get much writing done because my eyes got tired very easily. However, I never lost the ability to see well enough to read music and play piano except for the actual recovery time. For you see, I had developed a cataract in my right eye so thick and opaque light was no longer able to get into the eye. As soon as that was removed, and even before the eye healed, the amount of light that was suddenly flowing through the eye nearly restored my vision to my mid twenty’s level.

I began to have a new idea about the ‘light’ scriptures. This particular one talks about our whole life being lit if Christ’s light is in our life. Another scripture speaks of the eyes being the source of light for the whole body, referring to our soul being lit with Christ’s light results in our whole life being filled with light.

My doctor promised color would come alive again, and indeed it has. “Great vision is ahead for you!” I hardly believed him. But I could begin to believe as the light streaming into my eye for the first time in years became tolerable and vision cleared through healing. Most of that had happened even before I had surgery on the second eye.  

The lessons God has reminded me of start with the fact of my unawareness of what was happening. Quite a while ago, I was informed that cataracts were beginning to form, but it would be decades before I would even know they were there.  It has not been decades, but even at that I could not tell I was losing my awareness of bright colors. Just in the last two years have I gotten worried about my vision. Still I could not believe a cataract of such severe nature snuck up on me.

And the faith lesson is obvious. We drift away from God, really quite unaware our spiritual awareness has dimmed. Then something happens and we turn, hands out and blindly feel for God. Darkness has crept into our lives as we compromise with the darkness around us. What that looks like for each of us is different.  Sometimes we have sunken so low we can no longer believe change is possible. We can’t get a grip on God’s love, presence, and constant forgiving grace. Sometimes we even quit believing.

The light of life is gone.

I had not realized how tentative my life had become as I automatically adjusted to limitations. I no longer enjoyed driving and getting out by myself. I, unthinking, turned down opportunities to play piano because confidence faltered. I assumed it was all stress and the need for rest as my life’s situation had changed. That was partly true, but now I see, I just could not read music fast enough to keep up. God did use that to force me to get very much-needed rest, but once I could see better, confidence returned.

And, as we put out blind hands and encounter God, life slowly returns. Then, one day, full life is again possible. Christ’s light comes back into our souls, and once again we have light to shine onto those around us who look to us for illumination.

Of course, the answer to that is always be aware of and take care of things as they come into our lives. I had indeed taken steps to keep cataract development slow. I addressed the sugar thing that was heading toward diabetes and other physical things that are known to foster eye problems, yet I wasn’t quick enough. And as humans, we get sidetracked, by even good things, so easily. May God help us to identify those distractions as they are beginning to get the upper hand instead of waiting until we have lost the light from our spiritual eyes.

 

God Did it Again

I had taken a year off to work part time because both of us were working full time.

I explored part-time work.

Thought I might contract with a funeral home in OKC.

Everyone was set. They needed no one.

Plan set aside.

 

Loierrty-years  (Hand covering mouth so you won’t know how many) later

God handed me the opportunity to do that very thing.

Go figure.

I’ve just finished the one book I had to write (People of Faith in a Changing World) based on my journals

I’ve gotten health problems solved

And God took care of another dream – to regularly use my piano playing professionally.

 

I told someone just when I face reality and say to myself, “This is it. What is here is what I will be content with.”

God comes along and says, “I’m not done yet.”

“I put this idea in your head a long time ago so when the opportunity came,

You would be ready to accept.”

Same thing happened when my husband had the opportunity to

Move from the pastorate into chaplaincy.

 

It tells me God is a living, active spirit in my world.

It tells me God doesn’t play with my life.

It tells me God is the author of my dreams as well as gives me abilities,

And just because the dream doesn’t happen now, doesn’t mean they never will.

It tells me I will always have something to contribute

No matter what else changes in life.

 

I rejoice as I realize God can and will continue to use me.

I am here, God, take who I am

The abilities you have given me,

For the comfort of others.

May I never tire of service,

May I always rejoice in serving.

So, Remind Me, Why Do I Need God?

 

Psalm 107: 26b-29
…In their peril their courage melted away. They reeled and staggered like drunkards: they were at their wits’ end. Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, And he brought them out of their distress. He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were made calm.
Romans 8:26
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.

“Life is so complicated today people snap.” I’ve said that many times when I have heard some of the awful things people who, otherwise seem normal, have done to each other.
Coping is something we have become masters at. We smile and say we are fine when our families are quietly falling apart. We tell ourselves ‘it doesn’t matter’ when whatever it was matters a great deal. And we go on to the next thing in life without acknowledging, confronting, giving it to God and solving whatever the conflict or hurt or pain was.

Often it’s just life that piles up on us. We don’t feel overwhelmed as we go but and we just let things pile up, accumulating baggage. We continue that way, coping without resolution, until we suddenly find ourselves at wits’ end.  Some people ‘snap,’ some fall into addiction, some become clinically depressed, and sometimes mental instability sets in. Others retreat from reality to lose themselves in music, writing, and other arts. Sometimes we even use service to God and others as coping mechanisms.

However, there are other times when sorrows and life’s problems suddenly overwhelm us. One minute we are coping and the next the phone rings or cars crash and our whole life is never the same.
Either way, the gradual accumulation of baggage or instant sorrow, we end up reeling and staggering under the load at our wits’ end. Simply put, we burn out.

When we come to the end of our wits we most often draw from our own wisdom and strength to gather ourselves as problem solvers. Yet there is a time when we come even to the end of our wisdom.
We need God because everyone eventually comes to the end of our wits and wisdom.

Yes, we like to deny it. Yes, we keep coping, slogging through life, reading self-help books, not sleeping and worrying. And all the time we are complaining about small things, and afraid to address the real cause. We need help.
And the God, who knows us inside and out, who loves us and cares about us, has not left us while we were trying to do it all on our own. When we have tried everything, done everything, said everything, and we don’t even know how to pray, or where to start, the Holy Spirit, who dwells in us, tells God what we need and God goes into action.

What God would really like us to do is turn to him and unburden ourselves as we go, working through the pain on a daily basis. Then when the phone call comes or things crash, we don’t waste emotional and spiritual time blindly staggering around, crying “God, where are you? Are you there?”   We can immediately breath a prayer and God stills the storm to a whisper and makes the waves of the sea of distress calm.

Why do I need God? Because life is full of crashing storms and wild seas.

And so I pray:
God, I want to be so close to you I can just breathe a sigh of a prayer and have given the problems and hurts to you as I encounter them. I realize I am not there. Help me renew my relationship with you every day so it grows to the place my first reaction will be to ask for your help first. Then, with a quiet soul, I can face each new storm.

Lament

As I am writing a 365 day devotional book, I come across some things that signaled a change in my way of thinking. At a time I was angry with God, I discovered I could yell at God and he would not throw me out. That was very freeing. The other thing I discovered at the same time was I could be angry at God, but at the same time realize he is my only place to go for a help. It was odd, but was wonderful. This is from several years back….but I hope it blesses you. Jo Bower

A Lament
Following Jeremiah’s Tradition

Psalm 73:21-26
At one time my heart was sad
and my spirit was bitter.
22 I didn’t have any sense. I didn’t know anything.
I acted like a wild animal toward you.
23 But I am always with you.
You hold me by my right hand.
24 You give me wise advice to guide me.
And when I die, you will take me away
into the glory of heaven.
25 I don’t have anyone in heaven but you.
I don’t want anything on earth besides you.
26 My body and my heart may grow weak.
God, you give strength to my heart.
You are everything I will ever need.

 

I cry to my Lord:  You have shown me your hand. But not the fingers of your blessed caress. I feel the backside of your hand. And it knocked me down.  The opportunity you led me to believe you sent which caused great joy in myself – and all I know as we praised your name – has collapsed.  And you let it collapse.

Through all my prayers and hope and gratitude 0f how far you’d brought me, you still let it collapse.  So be it. But it’s not just all right. I’m not skipping over this with blithe remarks about God’s will be done or it’s fine. You did it And I’m deeply angry with you. What would it have hurt? Just what did I do so wrong?  Yet, hope sneaks back almost undetectable. Then it rushes to the surface. And I resist it. Hope has just led to heartbreak.

Yet I can’t help it.  It has far more resiliency than ever imagined. Why can’t it stay until I’m ready to embrace it?  I’m not yet deserted. God, you are still with me.  It is from that indisputable fact that my hope finds its origin.
Still I hesitate. Questions remain. Was it an exercise of futility fed by my need to be someone? Did I run ahead of you? Am I to pursue the dream, and so, in what direction?

Obviously positive thinking and belief alone does not always bring reality to its knees. It has brought me to mine. So much for motivational speakers.  I can’t help but feel the dream is not dead, Perhaps just postponed. But before I take it up again,  you will have to bring me to full knowledge of your hope.

But strangely, I believe all these things. I’m just fearful of letting go again. Fearful of letting hope poke its head from under the covers I tossed over it.

God, on a positive note, I have been released from a total obsession that had begun to rule my life. I’m not sure what the obsession was, 0r if it was helpful or harmful. But something was pressing down on me.  Was it that I was being driven to work on one activity to the exclusion of joy coming from other activities? Was it the fear of failure, of acceptance and criticism, or the fear of success?  Whatever it was, I thank you for deliverance.

I was down so far only you could rescue me.  Don’t let me fall back into that pit.  Help me pick up, follow the opportunities you do send . . . and know what direction you direct now. Thank you for not leaving me in my time of anger.

I will again praise your name, in a different way than before, but I will praise you.  You enabled my survival.

Sleepless Nights

Sleepless Nights
Luke 8 20 :14
The seed that fell among the thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go their way, they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures and do not mature.

I have been a night person my whole life. In one of the parsonages we lived in when I was a kid the top floor had a little landing, a sitting area, a small office, and one large room that was as large as half the house downstairs. Our parents arranged all four beds and each girl had our own little space. I used to wait until the other three girls were asleep and sit up in bed to play jacks – without the ball bouncing.
Over the years I have followed everyone’s advice: pray, yoga, meditate, create plot lines, deep breathing… you name it. And still I start out praying, but eventually I run out of things to pray for and/or meditate about. And worry moves in.
And so, there I was, again in the middle of the night, awake and worrying: what’s that popping sound in the car’s steering? I can close my eyes and see all the scenarios of what could happen on the roads when the steering goes out if one of us were driving. What is going to happen with the  writing? Can I write anything other people will want to read?
For years I worried about why I couldn’t just quit worrying, be like everyone else and just give it all to God in one big lump. I got very weary of the don’t worry, be happy people. Can it really be that easy? Honestly, I thought I had a spiritual problem.
The idea came to me… I should say, in my seeking, the Holy Spirit prompted a memory from my education. When I ran out of things to pray about, and worry stopped by to chat, I changed tactics.
“Yes, that is a legitimate worry,” I told myself. I thought it through, and then turned to God. “Okay, God, I can’t handle this myself. Heal this hurt.” or “Yes, that person may have misunderstood what I was trying to say. Go between me and her/him and soothe any hard feelings.”  Soon the past had pretty well been dealt with. For a few years longer, I repeated the activity nightly, and now it’s no longer necessary to do that. When worry comes I stop then, examine the worry, dismiss it or take the time to talk to God about it.
In a sense, I did have a spiritual problem, but not the one I thought.  I was trying to be a ‘don’t worry person’ when God was waiting for me to figure out how to and when I was ready for him to help me deal with my ‘worry gene.’
I won’t presume to be the only person who has a worry gene. We all know worry is but one of the non-clinical things that grow into obsessions. This scripture names two more of the common things that become obsessions. Sometimes we hold onto our pain or hurts until we see the whole world through the eyes of hurt and pain. They become an obsession. But we have to keep giving whatever it is to God before it become a life habit or takes hold of us as an obsession. Otherwise it will darken our life, complicate our emotional health, raise our blood pressure and ruin our joyful relationship with God and the people around us.
The scripture ends with ‘And they don’t mature.”  For years worry choked my growth as a person and a Christian, but didn’t kill it. God and I worked through it. God is faithful.
So I pray: God, help me recognize when I am in danger of letting something overtake my life. Help me not to ignore it because it’s easier to suppress than face the unpleasant parts of my personality. Help me not to dwell on it, but give it to you until we have conquered its danger to my spiritual and emotional life.

Post-Resurrection People

In the days following your resurrection you appeared to many different people:

You appeared to Mary Magdalen, The woman of many sins: a forgiven sinner.

You appeared to Peter, The very man who, under pressure, denied he knew you.

You appeared to  the travelers on the road to Emmaus,

Discouraged, sad of heart, defeated of spirit.

You appeared to the disciples in the upper room,

Hiding, frightened because they thought you, their leader was dead.

And even Thomas.

You appeared to him. He who needed proof to believe,

Who wanted to believe, yet was hesitant.

 

One of my novels is a novel inside of a novel. The main character was reading a novel. Both were important to the story line. I tried writing both at the same time, and realized it was impossible, so I wrote the two novels separately, using two different styles and two different voices.  When I spoke of the first novel I spoke as me, and when I talked about the novel inside the first novel, I spoke as the character of the first novel to whom I attributed that novel. My husband would tell me I sounded multi-personality-like.  Even now I sound like two different people.

Indeed, I sometimes think, half-seriously, that there are two people in me. One is the person who loves people and enjoys being with people. The other is the hermit – the melancholy creative person who wants nothing but to be left alone. While not a clinical multiple personality problem, I suspect all of us have distinct sides to our personality.

In fact, as I look at the list of people you appeared to after your resurrection I realized I have resembled many of them at one time or another.

I am a forgiven sinner. Yet a times in my life I struggle with temptation.

I know who I belong to, but at times, by my actions, I betray or even deny my faith under pressure.

I’m often ashamed about how easily I am discouraged, how often I am sad, defeated in spirit. In all the confirmation you send my way in life, one rejection one negative comment sends me down the path of discouragement.

Then there are times I withdraw from the community, frightened I am not equal to the task before me. Doubting I am the person for the job. And I need proof you are with me.

As with all the people you appeared to after your resurrection you come to me in spirit. You forgive, reassure, send people into my life to keep me on track, and by your presence let me know you will always provide the strength needed to live victoriously.

As a post-resurrection person, I learn you are constant in your relationship with me, no matter which of these people I resemble today.

And so I pray:

God, Help me embrace my faith in the power of your resurrection so I become fearful, worried, unsure of myself in my walk with you. Thank you for your constant presence and encouragement. Help me continue growing beyond the pulls of all the  influences around me.

 

 

 

 

Mercy, Mercy

Matt 5:7   Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy (RSV)

Even without religious applications we understand two things about mercy: it is given not earned and it modifies other actions.

We present our case, explain why we did or said or thought what we did, and take any responsibility for it/them. We then ask the other to judge us with mercy, because we did not begin with malice in our hearts.

As a modifier it essentially changes negative situations into positive situations. After all, it is through mercy that I receive forgiveness instead of the punishment justice calls for. God’s mercy.

But mercy isn’t a primary motivator. It begins with love, moves to compassion, and shows up in the action of mercy. With God’s primary nature being love, compassion and mercy are natural components of his actions toward the creation he loves. Whether we are right or wrong in our assumption, we have come to expect mercy from God.

And here is the hard part for humans. Love is not our primary motivation. With humanity’s encounter with and embrace of evil, we are primarily self-centered. So how do we come to the place where we are merciful people?

First, I realize I don’t feel mercy . . . I feel compassion. Mercy is the course of action I follow in response to that feeling. Compassion is born of the love we know as agape love. Devine love. Love that does not seek profit for the giver. Love that is applied simply because it’s part of the giver.

Now where do humans, self-centered as we are, manufacture that kind of love? That’s our first response isn’t it? If I just live right I can learn to love like that. We all are capable of merciful acts, but to become a merciful person, we have to have God’s love in us.

But it’s not exactly spontaneous. We first recognize and face the fact of the wrong that has been done. We admit the deserved punishment, but feel compassion for the wrongdoer, – knowing without God we would be in the same place – God’s love fills us and we understand forgiveness instead of punishment. Now we are capable of showing mercy. And finally, we decide to show mercy. I include the last step because we understand without God’s love in us we can know mercy is called for and refuse to apply it.

It’s fairly obvious, then what we need to seek. The indwelling, to use an old-fashioned but self-explanatory term, of God’s love. To this end we seek the deepest relationship with God that is possible for each of us.

This scripture teaches we receive mercy as we give it. And now it makes sense. Mercy is not an automatic response unless we know God’s love, and because we know God’s love we experience mercy, therefore, we know love and feel the compassion that is the parent of mercy. It’s a circle.

When I break that circle I am acting as if I have not received mercy. It’s like ignoring mercy has been applied to me, and I must return to mercy’s source and ask God to show me the mercy of forgiveness for my hard heart. And the circle can begin again.

And so I pray,
God, I don’t want to show mercy simply to buy my way into heaven. I want to have impact on the world around me. Help me keep my heart and life in constant contact with you. As I experience your compassion that results in mercy towards me, show me the places in my life that call for compassion and mercy.

Come

Come, you who have written off Christmas

As a useless commercial, greedy,

Networking through-giving-the-right-gift-to-the-right person,

And raking in all you can get celebration.

 

Come, you who weary of trying to please,

Or gain approval of the people who depend on you

And who you love with all your heart,

By providing the perfect holiday experience.

 

Come, you who refuse to celebrate because you believe

It’s the wrong time of the year,

Or merely the ancient believers’ redemption of an old pagan worship day

Was merely the early Christians’ effort to wrestle dominance from other belief systems.

 

Come, you who cannot see beyond the secular celebrations

Of Santa, elves, goodwill, and tender made for TV movies.

Who, when you have outgrown those things,

No longer find meaning in the celebration.

 

Come, discover the simple, uncomplicated,

Love motivated, God-initiated gift that began all this.

And as humans, we’ve turned it into madness as we, as usual,

Have gotten things backwards, and put the emphasis on the wrong things.

 

Come, return to the celebration

Of a loving Creator longing for a relationship with the people of his creation.

Of that same Spirit of power and might giving that most precious son

To humanity as the example of God, the Father’s, existance and scope of love.

 

Come to the celebration,

Not of the date, or of merely the traditions, or the giving and receiving,

Not merely the spirit of Christmastide’s goodwill,

But of the eternal love that prompted that first gift of a baby named Jesus.

 

So, come, put it all aside:

The studies that tells us what we’ve gotten wrong,

The disapproval of what the season has become,

And celebrate, with heart, mind, and spirit, the gift that changed the meaning of giving.

Look Up

Isiah 60 and 63

Chapter sixty three verse eight:  He said, ‘They are my very own people. Surely they will not betray me again.” And he became their Savior. Vs 11 Then they remembered those days of old when … they cried out “Where is the one who brought Israel through the sea…Where is the one who sent his Holy Spirit..?”

60:1 Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn! Lift up your eyes and look about you:

 

To me there is a picture here of a people who,

Having neglected the vital relationship with God,

Have become weary, self-absorbed, bent over with cares.

Finally they say to themselves,

 

“Where is that God who used to be with us?“

God hears, says these are my people.

Surely they will listen now,

And prepares a savior.

 

When the people straighten and look up,

God already has the savior ready to send.

For centuries Isiah’s words have been acknowledged

To be speaking of the Christ’s coming.

 

So again, I see the picture of my people who are bent over,

Who are now weary with self-absorption,

Troubled at the chasms that have grown up between us,

Searching for new ways to satisfy the old needs that never go away.

 

And when, or if, we straighten, look up, and ask

“Does it have to be this way?

Is there not a better way?”

God has already prepared the answer.

 

He doesn’t ask us to return to our ancestor’s way of living,

Or an antiquated philosophy –

He calls us to return to his presence.

In doing so, we turn from the negative and begin the journey to wholeness.

 

This time of year most of our moods lighten in the festivity.

Some of us hide behind preparing the season for everyone else,

Hoping for a different outcome that will be more satisfying this year,

While others truly find momentary fulfilment in the preparation.

 

We all hope to carry the spirit with us into the next year –

But too often when the season is over, the joy goes with it.

So why don’t try something new ?

God is waiting for that first realization he has already sent the answer.

 

Look up.

 

Ask, “Didn’t there used to be a different way?”

Let God remind us there is joy in believing he is with us.

Let God remind us he wants to live in us and help carry the load.

Let God remind us when we turn around to look for him,

 

He is already standing there, his face toward us.

Let God remind us of the name of Jesus, Emmanuel – God with us.

He has already sent a savior,

But we call it Christmas.

L

Seeking and Accepting

Acts 17:26-28 NIRV

                    From one man he made all the people of the world. Now they live all over the earth. He decided exactly when they should live. And he decided exactly where they should live. God did this so that people would seek him. Then perhaps they would reach out for him and find him. They would find him even though he is not far from any of us.  ‘In him we live and move and exist.’ As some of your own poets have also said, ‘We are his children.’

 

  • So again I prayed, desperately seeking God’s presence. And in today’s language that is the accepted language and thought pattern. It implies digging through, creating a path, tossing out distractions, and extreme, concentrated effort. So, I approach God that way – as if it is a painful, birth process.

In Acts 17, Paul lists what all God does just to get us to seek him. Somewhere in my reading I came across this idea:

                        Maybe seeking is not just my responsibility alone

                        What if I have taken on a responsibility

                        That is not totally mine to work out?

                        What if seeking is not such hard work?

                        What if seeking God is as easy as turning my face (attention) towards him?

And perhaps the desperate seeking could end when I realize God is seeking me with the same concern I am seeking him. Perhaps I don’t need to seek out the perfect meeting place, find the perfect attitude or create the perfect atmosphere.

Perhaps grace is not so much sought as much as it is applied.

                        Perhaps it’s not so much about desperately searching for God’s will

                        As it is learning to understand our gifts,

                        See the opening doors, and recognize opportunities presented

                        As invitations to fulfill God’s will.

                        Perhaps living a Christian life is about accepting Christ first,

                        Then spending our lives learning to see God at work.

                        Perhaps I do not grow because I do not see where God’s work needs my gifts.

So today I stopped working at seeking and turned my face towards God. And found God looking me straight in the eyes.

“Ah.” He gestured toward the waiting table laden with bread and drink.

“You’re here. Have a seat.

“What’s on your mind?

“Would you like a drink of living water?”

%d bloggers like this: