The Righting Reflex

So it’s been a month now and that has given me time to see the humor in what was a really embarrassing moment.  It was OU’s opening football game, and after missing all last year due to COVID, Jerry and I were excited to be back in Norman, and super excited for some football.  Jerry had gone to his seat ahead of me, as the game was about to start, while I stayed behind to chat with our grandson.  So by the time I got to our row, the stadium was filling up.  The Sooners have tried to squeeze as many people as possible into Memorial  Stadium, so the rows are VERY narrow.  I was making my way to my seat, trying not to step on the feet of the people who were already sitting, or knock over anyone’s drink or popcorn, when I felt the rubber sole of my shoe stick.  And that’s when I went down.  It wasn’t just a fall.  As Jerry says, it was a 10!  I went over the bench in front of me, grabbing the shoulder of a man innocently sitting minding his own business (and wearing a back brace!), and finally landed on my two artificial knees!  OUCH!  It was like landing on ground glass!  I know it only took a couple of seconds but it felt like slow motion.  Oh the thoughts that were running through my brain!  People gathered around me saying, “Don’t get up.”  Well don’t worry, at this point I’m hoping the ground will open and swallow me!  I managed to get up with a “Ta Da!” in a “stuck my landing” pose, but oh man, was I mortified!

It was this event that finally pushed me into scheduling a visit with my orthopedist, Dr. Keith Stanley.  I have been having some posture issues, as well as balance and walking problems. There are days when I feel like I need to re-learn how to walk.  After taking x-rays (there are problems), he sat down to talk, and that is when he used the dreaded A word.  Aging.  My spine is degenerating, my balance is not as good as it once was, and my reaction time is slower.  But here is the surprising part: my proprioceptors are wearing out.

I knew what Dr. Stanley was referencing because I studied proprioceptors in grad school, but for those of you who may not be familiar with the term, proprioceptors are the sensory receptors that help the body detect its own position in space.  For example, without proprioception you would be unable to touch your nose with your eyes closed, or to balance on one leg.  Proprioception provides feedback to the brain to enable you to detect whether you are walking on a hard or a soft surface.  It also allows our bodies to perform simultaneous actions without having to stop and think about each one separately, such as running down a football field, scanning for receivers, and throwing a pass.  

That was a bit of an “aha” moment for me, because I could recognize that yes, my proprioception is off.  And that is the last time I will use that word, but allow me to introduce another word that may be unfamiliar.  God in His wisdom created us with a righting reflex, also known as the labyrinthine righting reflex.   This reflex corrects the orientation of the body when it is taken out of its normal upright position.  When I lost my balance and fell, the labyrinthine righting reflex helped me return to an upright position and regain equilibrium.  Humans are not alone in needing righting.  Airplanes and sailing vessels have what is known as a righting moment to help restore them to the correct attitude when they have listed or rotated off course.  

I wrote about this in my book, Season, and here is an excerpt.

I wonder how many of those righting moments in life have gone unheeded.  Those times where we have listed in the wrong direction and have not paid attention to our own righting instincts. We have gotten off course and can’t seem to find our direction.  We have missed our true north.

By looking back at your own unique life story and examining the critical events, you discover how the pieces fit together to define who you are and explain how you got to this point.  Often we see that some of our worst mistakes, our biggest regrets were actually righting reflexes to point us to our true north.  No one likes pain, but if we listen, pain is trying to tell us something.  If you put your hand on a hot stove, pain sensors send a message to your brain that causes you move your hand so you won’t burn your skin.  Similarly, painful life events are sending us a message that we need to move, to change course, to do something different.  We need to be righted.  Some of us learn quickly and can right ourselves with only a little discomfort.  Others of us need a great deal of pain before we finally wake up and decide to take action.  Sadly, some of us stay stuck in pain because we don’t know what to do or don’t think we have any power to change the situation.    

I believe our broken roads get us to the place we were destined to be, if we pay attention to the road signs along the way, the righting moments.  And by the way, God also gave us the Holy Spirit to guide and direct us, and to whisper in our ear when we get off track.  No matter how badly we mess things up, Jesus can use the most broken and damaged pieces of our lives and turn it into something beautiful.  He can turn trash into a treasure.  

I love the song by Rascal Flatts, “Bless the Broken Road.”

Every long lost dream led me to where you are

Others who broke my heart they were like Northern stars

Pointing me on my way into your loving arms

This much I know is true

That God blessed the broken road

That led me straight to you.

 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.  Jeremiah 29: 11-13  (NIV).  

THE SEASON OF LETTING GO

I’m not sure I like my current season.  I am calling it The Season of Letting Go.  My friends, those in my age cohort, understand.  After spending a lifetime of acquiring—family, friends, hobbies, possessions, you name it—we are now having to let go.

This reality has been hitting me hard this month as we have been spending time with our grands before they return to school. Numbers 1,2,and 3 are already out of college and are now adulting, the older two now married with families of their own.  We have been having off-to-college breakfasts with 4,5, and 6 during the last weeks.  It’s always hard to say goodbye, even when we are simultaneously excited for their new journeys.  

I suppose this letting go thing was driven home most sharply when we said goodbye to our Hannah before she left for Nashville last week.  This wasn’t the customary off-to-college goodbye.  Yes, she is heading back to Belmont, and I am so happy about that.  But she is actually moving to Nashville.  I truly believe that Nashville is her place, that she belongs there and will find her true north there.  But it is 600 miles away!  I can tell you I actually have a physical pain in my chest.  But I have to let her go.

I have been incredibly blessed to have kept all my chicks close to the nest.  All of our children live near us, and all but one of our nine grands has attended the elementary school that is a couple of blocks from our house.  This year for the first time in about 25 years, we will not have a grandchild at that school.  The youngest is heading to middle school.  They are all flying away, creating lives of their own.  And even though I know that is how it should be, it is still hard to let go.

The letting go started some time ago.  We Baby Boomers began to lose eyesight, hearing, waistlines, and hair.  Now we are letting go of our houses, downsizing into smaller abodes.  And those moves require letting go of our carefully collected stuff.  We really no longer need the punch bowl and matching cups because now it is our daughters who are hosting the showers, not us.  (And by the way, they don’t want our punch bowls!)  Most of us have let go of careers, and I have seen how this has been particularly hard on men.   There are so many “lasts.”  And the thing is, we might not recognize a last when it is occurring.  A last trip to the beach, a last pet, a last car, and most of all, a last time to see a loved one.  

 I have watched some of my friends let go of life as they knew it to become caregivers to a failing spouse.  More and more, my friends are being widowed.  And all too frequently we are hearing about the death of a high school classmate.  

Even though I don’t like it, I think all of this letting go is necessary.  We must let go of the people and things that keep us tied to earth, because one day we will be leaving.   When God is trying to make a point to me, He often comes at me from different angles.  I often say He is a multi-media God.  So I wasn’t surprised that we sang I Surrender All yesterday in church.  I surrender all.  Do I?  Everything?  I might as well because it all belongs to him anyway.  Even the children and grands.  

We have a friend, a member of our extended family, who is dying.  I have been thinking of all the things he is losing…even the small things.  He will never again go outdoors, or have dinner with family.  No one had to ask him if he wants to let go of his car.  It’s a moot point.  But oh, what he will gain when he sees Jesus!  Who needs a car when you can have wings?  

This is my reminder, what I will gain.  As the old hymn says, “Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also.”  Those children and grandchildren have never been truly mine, only on loan from God.  And the stuff?  I won’t need it.  I will leave this world the same way I came into it, naked and empty-handed.  And the same God who has given me abundantly everything I have needed in this life will give me everything I need in the next.  Who knows?  There may even be a heavenly punch bowl in my future!       

THE PROBLEM OF SHAME

Out of all the problems and conditions I see in my practice, I believe shame is the worst and the most difficult to heal.  Shame is different from guilt, although both feelings are unpleasant.  Guilt can actually lead to good, helping us to change direction and turn from the behavior that caused the guilty feeling in the first place.  But shame is about who I am as a person. Guilt is about something I did; shame is about who I am.  Guilt says, “I did something bad,” while shame says, “I am bad.”  I think of shame as a toxic tar baby that keeps us stuck in self-defeating behaviors.  Researcher and author Brené Brown states that shame is an “intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.” 

There is a field of study that looks at the neurobiology of shame and gives us insight into its origins. From birth we are hard-wired to interact with and depend on our caregivers.  We start learning immediately which behaviors will elicit care and comfort from them.  We seem to know that without a family or a tribe, we will not survive.  When we are shamed we experience a fear of being rejected that behavioral scientists call survival terror.  To defend against this terror, we develop an inner critic, usually in the voice of the critical parent(s), that keeps us in line, and from experiencing more rejection.  This inner voice keeps us behaving in ways that the parent wants, so that we will not get more shame.  By adulthood, that inner voice has become our own, and we take it and run with it.  

Dr. Richard Schwartz, the founder of Internal Family Systems therapy, explains that we carry around multiple parts of our self.  There is the internal critic that tells us how bad we are, and the young part of our self that believes this voice.  Usually there is a third part that will do anything to get away from feeling shame, often engaging in behaviors that bring about more shame.  For example a person who is experiencing what Brown calls a “shame storm,” might get drunk or engage in risky sex to try to get away from the feeling of shame.  Of course that only serves to perpetuate the cycle of shame.

The Bible has much to say about being freed from shame.  It tells in Psalms that God does not want us to live in shame and describes Him as “the One who holds my head high.”  In the book of Romans we are told that when we come to Christ we are no longer under condemnation.  God accepts us unconditionally into His family. 

If you have been living with toxic shame, there is good news.  You can learn to silence that inner critic and see yourself in a different light.  Thanks to neuroplasticity, your brain can learn new ways of thinking and behaving.  A therapist, a pastor, or a good support group can come alongside you in a journey of self-exploration.  You can be set free!    

Little Acorns

I was doing a little work in my flowerbed this morning and pulled up this little Water Oak.  I think people call trees like this “volunteers” because they just sprout up on their own, without being planted.  It is fascinating to see that it is still attached to the acorn.  I was reminded of the saying, “Great oaks from little acorns grow.”  I like this saying, and think about it whenever I am beginning a big task.  But this morning I was thinking about our own little acorns…our grandchildren that are too quickly growing into oaks.

I know I sound really old here, but where did the time go?  It seems like only a short time ago when they were all little, and now the youngest is finishing elementary school this month.  I am especially thinking of the two graduations we will celebrate in the next few days.  

Tomorrow will be Jack Foster Day as he graduates from OU.  Oh how we celebrate this graduation!  The tiny acorn that was once a preschooler has now completed college.  But then overnight he will turn into an acorn again as he begins his working life, and he is stressing a bit about finding a job.  To Jack I want to say, don’t worry about your first job.  Trust me, it will not be your last.  It used to be that people got a job, worked at it for thirty years, got a gold watch, and retired.  But things have changed.  In our current age, people change careers (not just  jobs) three times during their working lifespan.  “Just get a degree,” we told him.  A degree is a ticket.  You will figure it out.  

When I was forty-eight I enrolled in two classes at what was then Tulsa Junior College.  I wanted to get the degree I never got when I was young.  There was a verse from the Bible that was a source of encouragement to me, and I share it today with Jack:

Do not despise these small beginnings, for the LORD rejoices to see the work beginZech. 4:10

My small beginning was a little acorn that grew into a Ph.D.  Jack, just put one foot in front of the other and trust that the Lord will lead you to the place you need to be.  I can already see the might oak you will become.

Our other graduate is Ellie Grace Herrold who graduates from Bishop Kelly next Friday.  We have watched you blossom, Girl!  There are so many wonderful experiences ahead as you enter Belmont University in the fall. You have exciting plans, and I can’t wait to watch them unfold.  I have shared many verses with you in the last days…I want to make sure I tell you everything I am supposed to share with you.  So this one more verse I give you as you spread your wings:

May he give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed.  Psalm 20:4            

We cover all our children, grandchildren, and our great-grands in prayer…even our unborn little girl.  We have a lot of moving parts in our family, and some of our acorns get more prayer than others depending on what season they are in.  I am so grateful that I can trust a God who loves them even more than I do.  To all of them, my prayer for you is to stay in God’s Word.  That is the way for an oak tree to grow and flourish.

But they delight in the law of the LORD, meditating on it day and night.  They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do.  Psalm 1:2-3

PUSHING THE ROCK

Do you ever feel like Sisyphus?  If you have forgotten the Greek mythology you learned in high school, let me refresh your memory.  Sisyphus was an evil king who was punished by the gods with the task of pushing a large boulder up a hill, only to have it roll back down each time he neared the top.  This happened over and over again for all eternity.  Can you imagine the futility?  Sort of like a really bad version of Bill Murray in the movie Groundhog Day.

I imagine most of us have felt like Sisyphus at some point in our lives.  The times when you feel like you keep beating your head against the same brick wall.  It could be a situation that just will not go away.  Perhaps it is that annoying co-worker or neighbor that you keep encountering in different iterations even after changing jobs or moving.  It might be the same argument you have with your spouse year after year with no resolution.  Maybe it is your recalcitrant teenager who keeps making the same bad choices over and over.  

For some of us it might be that thing we resolve to never do again, but find ourselves repeating.  In Christian circles we refer to these bad habits as besetting sins.  A besetting sin is that one (or perhaps more) toward which we are naturally inclined.  It seems to call us…over and over.  For an alcoholic it is just that one drink, for someone who struggles with sexual lust it could be the lure of pornography.  For the one who resolves to pursue a healthier lifestyle it is the call of the bag of Fritos in the pantry or the appeal of the aptly named La-Z-Boy. 

The rock may not be an active sin, but rather the consequences of a sin.  Sin always leaves a residue.  Ironically, it was Ravi Zacharias who said that sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, and cost you more than you want to pay.  The life of David in the Bible is a prime example.  God forgave him for his sins of adultery and murder, and continued to bless and use him, but David had to push the rock of family turmoil for the rest of his days on earth.

Sometimes (or often if we are honest) we want to blame others for our rock.  If only they would change I wouldn’t have to keep pushing that rock!  Blaming others is much easier than looking at myself.  Theologian John Piper took an eight-month sabbatical to do what he called a “soul check.” You can read more about it here:

https://www.epm.org/blog/2018/Oct/12/piper-identifying-fighting-besetting-sins

Piper discovered that the remedy for these besetting sins was to put them in the crosshairs and consciously do battle with them.  Those sin rocks may keep tumbling downhill as long as we are on this earth.  But hopefully as we keep chipping away at them they will become smaller and smaller.

The rock is not always sin.  Maybe it is a situation you are in over which you have very little or no control.  The COVID pandemic for instance.  We have been pushing that rock for a year.  It might be that your rock is a chronic health problem.  No matter how many doctors you see or how many treatments you try, you can’t get that rock over the hill.  I have dear friends who deal with chronic pain…day and night.  But yet they persevere.  It is that perseverance that brings me back to Sisyphus (and how many more times am I going to type that name?)   

The punishment from the gods was all I remembered about this story.  I had to do a little review on Sisyphus to remember the rest.  What I discovered was that Sisyphus never gave up.  He never surrendered to gravity.  He kept pushing, day after day. But he learned to see his condition as his purpose.  And he learned to find joy in it.  As a believer I remind myself that I am not alone in my battles.  God promises to fight with for me, to hold my hand, and renew my strength.  The Bible tells us that Paul also learned to look at his trials through a God lens and find joy in them,

 “…knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame because God’s love has been poured into our hearts…”   Rom. 5:3-5 ESV.

Pushing my rock with joy is all about discipleship.  It is what Eugene Peterson writes about in his book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction We may stumble and fall, but we press on. I am so thankful that God’s mercies are “new every morning” and that he gives us just the right amount of grace and strength for each day.  And He promises to come alongside us and push for us.

THE SILENT YEARS

It had been four hundred years, four hundred silent years.  Four hundred years with no word from God.  We think of it as the intertestamentary period, that time between the Old and New Testaments.  In the last book of the Old Testament, Malachi, we leave the remnant of Israel trying to restore Jerusalem, still under Persian domination and in a fallen spiritual condition.  For all practical purposes, Israel remained in exile.  The book of Malachi is an exhortation to return to the Covenant, with severe warnings for failure to do so.  And then, God quit speaking until the events surrounding the birth of Christ.  

Those were years with no fresh word from God.  It is hard for us to even imagine how that would be, with our access to so many different translations of the Bible and the presence of the Holy Spirit to breathe them alive to us.  But as we enter this season of Advent, let us try to put ourselves in the place of the ordinary Jew at this time in history.  In fact, my Advent challenge is to put myself in the place of all the characters in the Christmas story.  

Advent is a word I don’t hear very much in my Baptist church, but it is something I try to observe personally.  Oh I don’t do the wreath and the candles, but I do Advent readings in my quiet time.  For me, Advent is a time of preparing the manger of my heart for the coming of the Messiah.  Advent covers the four weeks leading up to Christmas, and this year, in 2020, Advent begins today, November 29.  We think 2020 has been a long and difficult year, and it has.  But try 400 long and difficult years!  And we have had the blessing of the Holy Spirit with us to help us navigate this year, to comfort us in our grief and to encourage us when we are afraid.  As we close this weekend of Thanksgiving, I am thanking God for access to His word and for the presence of the Holy Spirit, for the privilege of knowing Him.

Like many believers around the world, I have spent more time in prayer this year than ever before. And like many, I have clung to the words of 2 Chronicles 7:14:  

“if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

We tend to hold on to the promise while glossing over the condition: if my people, who are called by my name.  We want God to heal our land, but surely it is those other people who need to repent.  This year I have repeatedly asked God to show me my wicked ways.  Don’t ask unless you are serious.  He has pulled off layer after layer of wicked ways.  It is a part of making room for Christ.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his Christmas sermons tells us that Advent “is possible only to those who are troubled in soul, who know themselves to be poor and imperfect, and who look forward to something greater to come.”   I know I am poor and imperfect! 

So I put myself in the place of those post-exilic Jews who were waiting, because this has been a year of waiting.  Waiting for the virus to go away, waiting for a vaccine or a cure, waiting for schools to open, for jobs to return, for things to go back to normal.  But more than these things, like Bonhoeffer I am waiting for something greater to come.  I am waiting for a time when there will be no more death, nor more wars, no more hatred in our streets, no more broken families, no more children going hungry.  Though we strive to make these things happen (and we should), I don’t think we will see the complete realization until the Messiah returns.  While Israel waited for His first coming, we wait for Him to return in glory to establish His eternal kingdom.  Advent looks both back in time and forward.  We remember His first coming to earth as we celebrate Christmas.  But oh how we look forward to His second coming as we sing these familiar words:

O come, O come, Emmanuel,

And ransom captive Israel, 

That mourns in lonely exile here,

Until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice!  Rejoice!  Emmanuel

Shall come to thee, O Israel.

GIVE THANKS

I have been doing a little reading about the first Thanksgiving, and I am once again in awe of the Pilgrims.  They endured a harrowing crossing of the Atlantic and after 65 miserable days, two deaths, and being blown about 250 miles off course, they landed in Massachusetts.  The first thing they did was to read Psalm 100 and give thanks to God.  It quickly became clear to them that they needed to establish some type of law in this wild new land.  The Mayflower Compact was written and signed by 41 men (women were not allowed to sign).  There were nine who did not sign and their number included hired sailors and those too sick to sign.  

I encourage every American to read the brief text of the document.  There are two points that stand out to me.  First is the affirmation that the venture was undertaken to advance the kingdom of God and to bring Him glory.  The second was the idea that law is made by the people, not by a king.  

I can’t even imagine the sacrifices the Pilgrims made.  Arriving in a wild and untamed land, they were led by divine providence to a village that had been deserted by a tribe of Native Americans who had been wiped out by a plague.  Here the Pilgrims found buried corn that sustained them during that first winter.  I may be getting lost in the weeds of history, but I am trying to make a point.  Life that first year was incredibly hard.  But still they set aside a day to give thanks.  

This has been a hard year for us, this 2020.  For some of us heartbreakingly hard.  But today we give thanks.  We look for the good in the midst of the bad, and we give thanks to the God who sustains us. We have hope for the future because we know God to be a good God, all the time.  He is good even when we don’t understand, even when our tears temporarily blind us to His great love for us.  We will give thanks today because He is worthy of our praise.  But we give thanks for another reason…because it is good for us.  It is good for us to be mindful of our blessings and to express gratitude to the Source of those blessings.  Psalm 92 tells us that it is a good thing to give thanks to the Lord and to sing praises to His name. 

Give thanks even though there is an empty chair at your table.  Give thanks if you are out of a job, even if the bills are piling up.  Give thanks if you can’t be with those you love this year.  Even if you don’t know what tomorrow will bring, give thanks today.  When you have no words, pray His word back to him with all the gratitude you can muster.  Today is a day for giving thanks.

1Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
    Worship the Lord with gladness;
    come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God.
    It is he who made us, and we are his[a];
    we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving
    and his courts with praise;
    give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
    his faithfulness continues through all generations.  Psalm 100

WE HAVE BUTTERFLIES!

 

Do you feel like 2020 has been a season of waiting?  Waiting for this pandemic to be over.  Waiting for a vaccine.  Waiting to go back to work or school.  Waiting to take a trip.  And waiting for this contentious election to be over.  Waiting.  I don’t like it.  I don’t like waiting in line, waiting in traffic, or even waiting for the clothes dryer to buzz. And I sure don’t want to wait for a Covid test or election results.  I know I can’t be alone in this.  We live in such an instant, fast-paced, everything-at-our-fingertips world that we have become conditioned to expect things to happen on demand.  So even waiting for the microwave to ding sometimes seems interminable.   We multi-task, we check off our to-do lists, and we become human doings instead of human beings. 

This year God has decided to teach me about waiting, about being still and quiet, and how to wait well.  Every year right around the beginning of the New Year I ask God to give me a Bible verse, a scripture that I can hang my hat on.  It is usually something that He wants to work into me, and it usually takes a year to do it.  But this year I got a word: “Wait.  On.  God.”  Emphatic, like three distinct sentences.  Wait on God.  And when God gave it to me, I knew it was from Him.  No, I didn’t hear an audible voice, but I heard it deep in my spirit.  When you have walked with God for a while things like that happen.  

But what did those words mean, wait on God?  I had no idea in January.  But as we all know, 2020 has been a year of waiting.  There have been many lessons for me about waiting.  The first one being it is okay to be still.  When you are a Type A, “Git-R-Done” girl, being still doesn’t come naturally.  But I learned the value in it.  And while the rest of you were cleaning out closets and baking banana bread (and those are good things) I was being still with God.  I spent time in the Bible, time reading, and learned a new way to journal His word.  And I have prayed.  A lot!  I learned that some of the things I thought were important really don’t matter very much.  I think I have grown stronger in my walk with Jesus.  Maybe He is preparing me for a new assignment, or maybe He is getting me ready to meet Him face to face.  He will reveal it in His own time.  The quarantine has taught me that we can spend a good deal of time waiting for the next big thing and miss the precious things that are right in front of us.

So what does any of this have to do with butterflies?  I was on my patio earlier today on a Zoom call (and haven’t we had a lot of those?)  It was a national prayer call, and the devotional theme today was about waiting.  Seriously?  It’s October and we are still working on waiting?  When God wants to teach me something He comes at me from all angles.  While I was on this call I happened to look around and see that we had butterflies.  Lots of them, fluttering around.  You might not think that having butterflies in your yard is very remarkable, but I was excited!  We have worked for those butterflies.  

Our butterfly journey began this spring when I was visiting my friend Sally.  She lives in a rural area, across the road from The Euchee Butterfly Farm and a garden area known as The Tribal Alliance for Pollinators.  Their mission is to restore plants native to the Oklahoma prairie and to establish habitats for Monarch butterflies.  We had already planted one little anemic milkweed plant (which is now flourishing), but after visiting with Sally we planted some Black-eyed Susans and Coneflowers that just happened to be on sale at Lowe’s.  

As I was praying and looking at those butterflies (yes, my eyes were open while I prayed), it occurred to me how much of a butterfly’s life is spent waiting before it finally gets to soar.  It starts out as an egg that eventually hatches into a caterpillar.  The caterpillar eats and eats until it finally quits growing and then forms itself into a pupa or chrysalis.  And there it waits, but not passively.  God is at work transforming it in a process called metamorphosis.  Lots of growing and changing is taking place until finally, the butterfly breaks free and soon flies.  Then the whole process starts all over again when the butterfly lays eggs.  By the way, if you are ever tempted to help a butterfly out of its chrysalis, don’t do it.  The butterfly needs the struggle to develop wings strong enough to fly.  

Sometimes all we can do is wait.  Earlier this year when we were on full lockdown, I certainly felt cocooned.  But if we make good use of that waiting time, God will transform and develop us into the person we need to become for the next chapter of our lives.  Maybe He is developing our trust muscles.  It hit me today, that the God who planned so intricately for something as small and insignificant as a butterfly, has a plan for me.  He has a purpose in this waiting season.  The same God who cares about a butterfly cares for me.  And it is more than okay to be still and know that He is God (Psalm 46:10).  In fact, sometimes being still might be the most important thing we can do.           

HOPE

Is there anything more hopeful than spring?  It is a chilly and rainy March morning here in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  But as I look out my windows I see the promise of spring.  The backyard is filled with jonquils, budding trees, and a few irises waiting their turn.  Cardinals and robins are singing and chirping, announcing an end to the barrenness of winter.  In the front yard, our tulips and hyacinths are blooming amidst their bed of violas and pansies.  Some pink is beginning to pop out on our azalea bushes.  Spring is God’s promise to us that there is life after death, that the cold and barrenness of winter will not last forever.  Spring must follow winter.  The poet Pablo Neruda says, “You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep the Spring from coming.”  

From a Christian perspective spring speaks of the resurrection, of new birth, of life.  We celebrate Christmas in the winter, when everything is dead.  It is a picture of Christ bringing light and hope to a dark and fallen world.  And we celebrate Easter in the spring, a visual reminder of the promise of Jesus: “The one who believes in me will live, even though they die (John 11:25b).”  Spring brings us hope.  

But in order for there to be a resurrection there must first be a death.  For years I have been praying for another Great Awakening, a revival to sweep across America.  I am wondering if this pandemic is it.  Since we are all social distancing, I don’t have a lot of data to support this thought.  We are even having church on line, so I can’t look around and see if we are more crowded than usual.  But if my social media pages are any indication, I would say that people are praying much more, and they are inviting others to join them.  We are all asking God to rid the world of this terrible virus, to save us.  Isn’t it interesting that all our idols are being repudiated, just like the gods of Egypt in Exodus?  The gods of entertainment, sports, careers, and the big god of Wall Street are all helpless in the face of this virus.  Our hope cannot lie in a something it must lie in a someone.  The only “god” that can save us is the capital G God of the Bible, God Almighty. And we are crying out to Him for help.

But there are two parts to a Great Awakening: a turning to God and a turning away from sin.  We are so accustomed to the stench of sin we don’t even smell it any more.  I have found that the more I pray, two things happen.  I get to know God better, but I also get to know myself better.  When I am in the presence of a holy God, I am aware of my own sinfulness, my absolute neediness.  I see myself more clearly.  I am reminded of the prophet Isaiah when he had a vision of the Lord, “high and lifted up (Isaiah 6: 1).”  Isaiah was overwhelmed by his own unworthiness.  “Woe is me!  For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: (v. 5)”

Where is the hope?  Our hope is eternal and alive.  It lies in the power of a good God to keep His promises. 

if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.  2 Chronicles 7:14

Even though we are in the midst of a great and unprecedented challenge, spring is a reminder that God is still on His throne.  He offers hope.  How will we respond?  

Who Do You Trust?

It is very early in the morning, still dark outside.  I am reflecting over the last week.  What a week this has been!  A roller coaster!  A deluge of strange events, dystopian sights, and new words.  Coronavirus.  How it has changed our lives in a week.  People getting sick and people afraid of getting sick.  People trapped on cruise ships.  No one at Saint Peter’s Square or the Eiffel Tower.  Times Square practically empty on a Friday night.  Events cancelled.  No sports!  Store shelves empty and people afraid of running out of toilet paper when there is not even a real toilet paper emergency.  The stock market!  People watching their 401Ks plummet in a downhill slide so rapid it almost gives one whiplash.  And then, after the President speaks in the Rose Garden a 1000-point gain.  What will next week bring?  And the new words and phrases that have become a part of our vocabulary: self-quarantine, social distancing, and respiratory hygiene.  Who knew we needed lessons on how to wash our hands?  Universities sending their students home or putting all classes online.  People working from home.  And churches cancelling services.  Listen, when Disney and Apple stores shut down and Tom Hanks gets sick we know we are in trouble!

In the midst of this wild week, we are dealing with our own personal changes…just like everyone else.  My mother-in-law, Jerry’s 98-year old mom is declining and we need to make some changes for her.  Hopefully she will still be able to live at home, but she is falling frequently and her cognition is not what it has always been.  We spent a few days in Dallas with her…Jerry going to her doctor with her and me researching resources to help her.  I also got a chance to visit with my 94-year old mother the day before nursing homes went on lockdown.  “Lockdown.”  There is another word.

I’m listening to how my daughters and my friends have been affected.  We all have a story.  Everything is changing and the future is so uncertain.  I remember a television show in the 50s that gave a young Johnny Carson his start.  It was called Who Do You Trust?  So this morning in my very early Saturday morning quiet time, God reminds me that I can really only trust Him.  He never changes.  

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  Hebrews 13:8  

Thank you, Lord.  Furthermore, He saw this week coming and He has it under control.  We plan and prepare and think we have our futures all laid out and then something happens to remind us that control is just an illusion.  The stock market can never really provide security.  Our aging loved ones are going to leave us some day.  And some day, other people will be making decisions about us.  In spite of all our preparations, someday our own health will fail.  We will die.  

Where is my bottom line, my investment with a floor, my safety net?  I can plan and prepare (and we should!) but the world can change in an instant.  I keep thinking of Psalm 20:7:

Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we will trust in the name of the Lord our God.  

Eventually I will lose all my chariots and horses.  They cannot protect me from every eventuality.  But God.  God remains.  He is constant.  And He loves and cares for me.

The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.  He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.  Isaiah 40: 28b 

I think I’ll go have another cup of coffee.