Sunday, October 02, 2011

Improved Purple Vision

Currently I'm studying Psalm 119 with several ladies from my church. We're going through the psalm verse by verse with an emphasis each day on one or two words. I'm sure it was a challenge for the writer of the study to pick out just one or two words for each day! I look at the group of 8 verses that we're to study each week and circle the words that really stand out to me and sometimes our lists match! This week, I did pick one of the same words our writer chose. It was the first word of verse 18: "Open" as in "Open my eyes". Open in this verse is the Hebrew word, "Galah" (Strong's #1540) meaning,"To uncover or remove". It's not like simply parting my eye lids; it's the unveiling of something that has been covering my eyes- much like the removal of a cataract.

According to the National Eye Institute of the National Institutes of Health (NIE/NIH), a cataract is, "a clouding of the lens in the eye that affects vision." But the next few words of the definition really hit me: "Most cataracts are related to aging". I guess we all struggle with aging, some (my husband) more than others! But it seemed interesting to me to ponder this association of clouded vision with aging. You'd think that the older we get, the clearer our vision of God and his word and love would be but, you know, I believe that our spiritual eyes are just as at risk for developing cataracts as we age as our physical eyes.

According to the NIE/NIH, cataracts related to aging are caused by the proteins that make up our lenses clumping together. When the proteins clump together, they reduce the amount of light that hits the retina causing vision to become blurry. They can also cause the lens to darken and turn a brownish tint. This brownish coloring of the lens can hinder our ability to differntiate color - especially purples and blues. Things we do to ourselves that are hard on our eyes, like smoking, or illnesses, like diabetes or simply the stresses of daily life- every day wear and tear can cause clumping of those proteins. And there are other causes of cataracts that don't have anything to do with aging. Things like trauma, or things that were supposed to help us like surgery or medications. We can be born with cataracts or we can acquire them from radiation therapy for treatment of cancer.

Maybe it's just me but it seems like all of those things can cause spiritual cataracts just as easily. Maybe an illness or relentless struggle can cause us to see God as brutal or uncaring. Maybe a traumatic past can cause a skewed vision of God's word as meaningless or empty. Perhaps "helpful" words from fellow Christians or even respected pastors can cause deep pain that cloud our vision of the church as untrustworthy or even vicious. Situations we are born into, or marry into, or move into can harden our hearts and prevent us from seeing God clearly. I believe it would require a very introspective and humble spirit for a person to have the where-with-all to ask God to remove these kinds of cataracts. I believe we hold onto them with all our strength if we're concious of their presence at all. But the psalmist does, indeed, ask.
I'm getting old. It's true. And along with getting old, I believe I'm at fairly high risk for developing cataracts. Although I may have some of the cataracts posed above, I believe my cataracts are of the simple aging variety. They're the daily wear and tear of a stress filled life that doesn't have time to spend reflecting on the word of God. That daily grind has clumped all the proteins of my lens til I view God through a hazy mist. The darkened tint prevents me from seeing the glory and majesty of a God who desires so deeply for me to know Him. The Light simply isn't getting through. He's something important, I can tell that. But honestly, He comes off a utilitarian shade of khaki instead of the vibrant purples of royalty.

The good news is that cataracts can be removed. Both of my parents have had cataract surgery and it's been quite successful. Ninety per cent of people who have cataract surgery have improved vision afterward (National Eye Institute, "Facts About Cataracts"). The thing is, you have to ask for the surgery, just as the psalmist does in 119:18. It seems to me that if I ask for my cataracts to be removed, God would be fairly pleased to flufill that request. Just as I'm sure He was pleased when the psalmist asked the same. And I fully expect to start seeing much more purple than khaki!

"Open my eyes so I can see what you show me of your miracle wonders"

- The Message

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Changes and Chances

Today I stumbled upon a blog of a friend's. She journals almost every day of her life with her now one year old little girl. It made me realize that it's been a really, really long time since I blogged. I miss it. I miss the time I used to have to sit and ponder life and process it all for reflection. Something happens in your 40's and life picks up speed. Doesn't seem possible that things could be faster in your 40's than in your 30's but it's true. Right now there seems to be a flurry of wings scattering dust and feathers and somehow, I believe that when the wings stop beating and the clouds settle there will just be Rod and me left in the nest.
Yesterday, our eldest son turned 19. He's a freshman and already 1/2 moved out of the house. For the first time in 19 years, I wasn't responsible for furnishing his birthday cake... a friend of his took that honor.
Monday, our middle son turns 17. He's spending more and more time with friends and less and less time at home. Tonight he made dinner with friends- "Amazing Pasta". I had left over spaghetti. Not amazing.
Today, Molly auditioned for residential high school in Greenville. Residential equals no longer living at home.
While Molly auditioned, I worked on a chapter of a book for Bible study. The author was discussing emotions and cautioning us to not let ourselves be ruled by our unruly emotions. But somehow, that's not what I took home from the chapter. She wrote about women who blame their unpredictable behavior on hormonal surges like those surrounding peri-menopause and such. And in that section, she quoted Francis de Sales:
Do not look forward to the changes and chances of this life in fear: rather look to them with full hope that, as they arise, God, whose you are, will deliver you out of them. He has kept you hither-to,-do you but hold fast to his dear hand, and he will lead you safely through all things: and, when you cannot stand, he will bear you in his arms... The same everlasting Father who cares for you today will take care of you tomorrow, and every day. Either he will shield you from suffering, or he will give you unfailing strength to bear it. Be at peace then, and put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginations.

You know, I don't think I've ever looked forward to the changes and chances of this life in fear. Maybe most women do. It seems that so many books, magazine articles and even sermons seem to assume that we women are terrified of the "changes and chances of this life". They warn us of how terrible it will be when our babies leave for kindergarten and how awful it will be when they shun us as tweenagers. How they'll outright hate us when they're true teens and how devastated and lost we'll be then the nest is "EMPTY". Even St. Francis of de Sales warns us that we may need "delivered out" of our "changes and chances". But what if you don't? What if "changes and chances" are actually synonymous? Why on earth would you want to be delivered from chances? Maybe society (and God forbid- even modern day Christianity) tells us we should be fearful of all that but to me, it just doesn't make sense. Yes, I've devoted 20 years so far to growing up kids. And maybe all that's getting ready to change. But honestly, I'm looking forward to the chances the next 20 years brings.
Hopefully it's more time to do things like Rod and I did today... and maybe even more time to blog!

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Drowning and God's Brilliance

One of the things I love about our new church is that every Sunday, they publish in the bulletin, the scripture lessons for the next week. That way I can read them each day and guess what the pastor might preach on- usually I'm wrong! But that just goes to show you that the word is alive and speaks to each of us differently.

This week, I'm reading Psalm 29, Jonah 2:1-9, Romans 9:1-5 and Matthew 14: 22-33. There's a lot about water this week. Jonah's praying from the depths of the ocean, Jesus is walking on the storm tossed sea, and Psalm 29 mentions floods and thunder. I haven't quite figured out how Paul's burden for the Israelites ties in to all this water (Romans 9). But maybe I'm just overly sensitive to the sensation of drowning lately!

One verse particularly caught my attention this morning; Psalm 29:3
God thunders across the waters,
Brilliant, his voice and his face, streaming brightness—
God, across the flood waters. (The Message)
The whole rest of the psalm speaks of God's thunder and power. But what caught my attention here was the reference to "flood waters". Sure, there's power in flood waters but they bring such devastation, hopelessness, destruction and chaos. And God's face, his countenance, streams brilliantly across this devastating chaos- this depressing, vast hopelessness.

I guess I found it encouraging to know that God could overpower the chaos in my life and shine on it, turning it into a thing of his beauty. Somehow that's even more amazing than seeing him thunder across deserts or set oaks to dancing.

So I'm praying for his beauty to shine across the flood waters of my life and waiting for the strength and peace that he promises.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

What's Your Soundtrack?

Last night as I was driving home from Wally-world with groceries (at ten o'clock at night), I was listening to the public radio program, "Echoes". The music playing was like background music. There really wasn't any meat to it and it seemed quite trivial. The pathetic thing is that as I was listening to it I thought, "if my life had a soundtrack, I believe this would be it." It was a gay little ditty, light and soothing. It would have made nice "hold" music.

I recently picked up a daily devotional by Henry T. Blackaby and Richard Blackaby based on the book Experiencing God. What I read this morning was about "vision". They discussed how vision drives the way we live. I've seen it; I know you've seen it. Vision statements everywhere, work, church, self directed goals. When we can visualize what we'd like to look like, we can set a course for achieving that goal.

The NIV states it this way: "Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint; but blessed is he who keeps the law".

And the Message says it like this: "If people can't see what God is doing, they stumble all over themselves; But when they attend to what he reveals, they are most blessed."

I know it best in the KJV: "Where there is no vision, the people perish, but he that keepeth the law, happy is he."

As I pondered this, I was also reading in Jeremiah 12. And God says to Jeremiah (who is complaining about why the bad guys always seem to win and he always gets in trouble when he does something bad), that if he's whipped by running with men, how on earth can he expect to run with horses? In other words, if you can't play with the big dogs, stay on the porch.

Life is tough. I have friends going through really awful, painful and scary things right now. I continue on in my life, getting caught up in the craziness of it all and it brings me down. What it may be is that perhaps we have all lost the vision of exactly who our God is. Because without that vision, we perish. It says so right there in the Bible. Without a clear vision of what God is doing and who He is, we see the chaos, the defeat, the bad guys winning and we feel hopeless. When is the last time I stopped and really tried to grasp who He is and what He's up to? And if I could only do that, wouldn't my outlook change? Wouldn't I be more likely to be able to run with the horses? Wouldn't the soundtrack be different?

When I went running today, I turned on my beastly red i-Pod (as my kids refer to it) to a little known group of artists called apt.core. They're not my usual fare for running, in fact, I believe this is the first time I've listened to this particular album. The first song was a very powerful piece called, "No Such Thing as Time". The only words are, "I AM the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end, the one who is, who was, and is to come. Almighty." The next piece simply quotes the first four verses of Psalm 19:

1 The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship. 2 Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known. 3 They speak without a sound or word; their voice is never heard.[a] 4 Yet their message has gone throughout the earth, and their words to all the world.

God has made a home in the heavens for the sun.

Psalm 19:1-4 New Living Translation

I think it's time for a new soundtrack.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Questions, Answers, and Obedience

I've been pondering the passage in I Kings 19 this week where God passes by Elijah with the still, small voice and several things have caught my attention. First was the repetition of God's question to Elijah. Before He revealed Himself in the still, small voice, He asked Elijah a simple question: "What are you doing here?" The question in and of itself seemed a little strange to me because surely God knew why Elijah was hiding/sleeping in a cave on Mount Horeb. God Himself had sent an angel to prepare food for Elijah to strengthen him for the journey to Mt. Horeb. Surely God had watched as Elijah ran for his life from Jezebel's wrath. But God is not unknown for asking rhetorical questions! The odd thing to me was that after he asked the question, and Elijah answered, He revealed Himself in the still, small voice and then, He asked the same question again. Was He expecting a different answer this time? Because He didn't get one. Elijah's answer is still the same, "I've been working my heart out for the God-of-the-Angel-Armies. The people of Israel have abandoned your covenant, destroyed the places of worship, and murdered your prophets. I'm the only one left, and now they're trying to kill me." Elijah was in dire straits and nothing was going to change that- not even God passing by!

Perhaps that's why the second oddity that caught my eye happened. I found it very strange that after Elijah first answered God's question, he was commanded to go out and stand on the mountain but he didn't do it. The Bible says, "Then he was told, 'Go, stand on the mountain at attention before God. God will pass by.'" What happens next in the passage is the famous passing of the strong wind, the hurricane, the earthquake, the fire, none of which contained God. But when (and not until) Elijah hears the small, still voice, he gets up, covers his face, and goes to the mouth of the cave. Now, after God's demonstration, Elijah is obedient to go stand on the mountain before God. And the conversation starts all over again with, "Elijah, what are you doing here?"

Elijah was desperate and depressed. He had just traveled 40 days through a desert to hide in a cave. He was running to save his own skin from an evil queen who wanted him dead. He told God he'd had enough. He wanted to die. He knew why he was hiding in that cave. It couldn't be more clear. Yet he was disobedient to God's command to stand on the mountain. Perhaps life was too difficult to be obedient. Perhaps he'd given up hope that even the passing by of God Himself could help him at this point. That's a pretty desperate place to be, especially for one who had seen God do so many wonderful things. Yet God was merciful. If I wanted to teach my child a lesson and asked that they sit up and pay attention and they didn't do it, I'd be tempted to huff out of the room to the tune of, "Well if you won't even pay attention, I'm not going to help!" (Wait, I think I have done that!) But God doesn't do that; He carries on with His lesson and at the end, with Elijah's full attention, He begins the conversation again. But this time, even though Elijah's circumstances haven't changed, even though his answer is the same, God has his undivided attention and now, finally, he is able to be obedient.

It may have been that the thought of God passing by was too terrifying. Maybe Elijah thought he wouldn't survive such a demonstration and that's why he stayed hidden in the cave. Yet the still, small voice, the whisper of God, was undeniable. When he heard it, he couldn't resist. He had to obey.

I guess the point here is that it took that moment of quietness, that hearing of the still, small voice, to give Elijah the strength to pull himself out of despair, to be obedient. Had he only experienced the hurricane, the earthquake, the fire, he would have never had the strength to move past his despair. It made me wonder what we look for in time alone with God. When we leave a church service full of wind and wonders, full of smoke and fire, full of emotional quaking, have we been prepared to be obedient? When we sit in prayer and only focus on the dire straits we're in, begging for a way out, listing our needs, are we any more prepared to be pulled out of our pits? Perhaps after hearing the still small voice, we can hear the reflective question God asks. He doesn't ask, "Elijah, WHY are you here" (which is what Elijah answered). He asked, "Elijah, what are you DOING here?"

It makes me wonder; what are we doing here?

Friday, January 18, 2008

Chicken or Eagle?

I was recently challenged by someone who said I should be grateful for what I had. It wasn't that I was grumbling about what I had. I was simply discontent with the circumstances surrounding what I had. To me, the challenge was silly. A spout-off from someone who didn't know what they were talking about. Someone who didn't have all the facts. But since then, I've pondered the challenge and wondered if perhaps, there isn't something there.

This morning I was reading a "devotional" by Francis de Sales on "devotion" and after taking a brief inventory, I found a dearth of devotion. lists the synonyms for devotion as love, ardor, and zeal. St. Francis de Sales explains that devotion is "true love of God", that devotion is "simply that spiritual agility by which charity works in us or by aid of which we work quickly and lovingly." Now don't get me wrong, I love God. But I'm not quite sure how agile I am in charitable works. To make it easier to understand, he compares people to birds: ostriches (sinners who never fly), chickens, (people struggling to do good but without true devotion) and eagles (devoted Christians who soar). So, in other words, devotion is loving God so completely that it transforms my life from one who struggles to do good works and perhaps grumbles about it to one who soars through life on wings of love, face towards God, good works simply falling in my trail.

The author says that the world sees the devout as "having discontented, gloomy, sullen faces and claims that devotion brings on depression and unbearable moods." And although I at first disagreed with him, the more I thought about my own devotion, I realized many would say (and have said) that about my example! In his view, I'm a chicken! And if the world only ever knows "birds" from the testimony of a chicken, they'd have a pretty skewed view of a bird! I guess if the world sees the devout as chickens, I'm actually part of the problem!

Without thought, I would tell you I'm a devoted follower of Christ. Yet something is wrong if unbelievers look at my life and see a chicken. They say, "Look at the chicken!" and I say, "That's not a chicken! That's an eagle!" Wow... who looks stupid then?

I confess that I have been undisciplined, wallowing in the dust of the fenced-in chicken yard, my head down, fighting over scraps of worms and bits of dried corn. And with all that dust it's hard to look up and see the eagles and the sky where I belong. I need to get up out of that yard; get above the din and dust- but how?

Jonathan Edwards writes in Religious Affections that
The nature of human beings is to be inactive unless influenced by some affection: love or hatred, desire, hope, fear, etc. These affections are the 'spring of actions', the things that set us moving in our lives, that move us to engage in activities.
These affections stimulate our zeal, or our "tireless, enthusiastic devotion" towards a cause. In other words, without stimulation from affections, we won't have devotion. I need to find my affections and use them as a spring board towards devotion.

I believe that the wear and tear on the soul by life causes our affections to dim. And certainly focusing on our disappointments causes us to lose hope, causes us to fear. It's a tool of Satan to make sure we stay chickens. Without affections to spur us on, we will be "content" to squabble in the hen house. But in the Psalms we are taught over and over again to focus on our blessings, the promises of God fulfilled, the power of God, His protective hand. Every time the psalmist's soul is "down hearted", he remembers God's saving power and finds the affections he needs to spring into devotion.

And on the wings of devotion, he soars.

Psalm 42 (The Message)

A psalm of the sons of Korah
1-3 A white-tailed deer drinks from the creek;
I want to drink God,
deep draughts of God.
I'm thirsty for God-alive.
I wonder, "Will I ever make it—
arrive and drink in God's presence?"
I'm on a diet of tears—
tears for breakfast, tears for supper.
All day long
people knock at my door,
"Where is this God of yours?"

4 These are the things I go over and over,
emptying out the pockets of my life.
I was always at the head of the worshiping crowd,
right out in front,
Leading them all,
eager to arrive and worship,
Shouting praises, singing thanksgiving—
celebrating, all of us, God's feast!

5 Why are you down in the dumps, dear soul?
Why are you crying the blues?
Fix my eyes on God—
soon I'll be praising again.
He puts a smile on my face.
He's my God.

6-8 When my soul is in the dumps, I rehearse
everything I know of you,
From Jordan depths to Hermon heights,
including Mount Mizar.
Chaos calls to chaos,
to the tune of whitewater rapids.
Your breaking surf, your thundering breakers
crash and crush me.
Then God promises to love me all day,
sing songs all through the night!
My life is God's prayer.

9-10 Sometimes I ask God, my rock-solid God,
"Why did you let me down?
Why am I walking around in tears,
harassed by enemies?"
They're out for the kill, these
tormentors with their obscenities,
Taunting day after day,
"Where is this God of yours?"

11 Why are you down in the dumps, dear soul?
Why are you crying the blues?
Fix my eyes on God—
soon I'll be praising again.
He puts a smile on my face.
He's my God.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Of Manners and Nursing

I don't usually write about being a nurse but this morning my frustration level demands just that.

Why is it that people have to be so rude to nurses? What on earth did we ever do to deserve being treated like that? Never in your life have you ever met people more interested in being kind and compassionate to someone than nurses- why would we be nurses if we weren't! But more and more, I meet nurses who have a hard time taking the abuse. Some retaliate by being curt; others by being slack or inattentive. Then there are the over-emotional ones (like me) who go home and cry over it. I'm just so tired of being picked on and abused.

We have a nursing shortage. There are many reasons why we have a nursing shortage. But one of those reasons is NOT for lack of people wishing to be nurses. Nursing schools have waiting lists- more students than the faculty can manage. We can't get them educated fast enough! But it's not at the input where the problem lies. We drop like flies. We're not dropping because it's difficult work- don't get me wrong- it's hard work. But we're by-and-large a hard working crew. We leave nursing because we get tired of being disrespected by doctors, patients, families, and hospital management.

As the population ages and technology improves, we are keeping more and more people alive for longer and longer lives and with sicker and meaner illnesses (like heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and a long, long list of autoimmune and degenerative diseases). The demand for nurses and their skills is skyrocketing. Yet many physicians and patients show little to no respect or manners. And do you realize what that will get you? Less and less nurses- when what we need is just the opposite. There is no great schedule or paycheck that is worth being treated like poop. And for many of us simply knowing in our hearts that we're contributing to someone's well-being isn't worth the abuse. By all means, we could all go be belly dancers and contribute to well-being! At least then people would pay attention to you and smile!

The problem is much deeper, I suppose. Parents who don't teach their children to say, "Please" and "Thank you". Television shows that objectify or disrespect nurses as professionals. Hospital administrators who preach, "Physicians First! Physicians First! Because physicians bring patients and without patients you have no job!" When in actuality, if there are no nurses, the hospital administrators have no job (unless they go back to nursing school!) As long as there is life on this side of Heaven, there will be a job for nurses. The problem is as multifaceted as the Epcot ball.

So I guess I'm just saying that if you can't say something nice today, don't say anything at all. Remember your manners and smile occasionally. There may be a teacher, or a policeman, or a bank teller, or a grocery cashier who's feeling the same way as me today. Belly dancing is looking better and better all the time!