Cincinnati Zoo and Your Brain

This quote is taken from Streams in the Desert. I visit this devotional year after year. Not every day every year, mind you, but often enough to say I have used it for years. In fact, Linda Werner gave it to me a long time ago because she did not care for it. I on the other hand, can never get too much of it. I like the older edition without the updated language. You can read it for free online at https://www.crosswalk.com/devotionals/desert/streams-in-the-desert-september-18th.html

There is hardly ever a complete silence in the soul. God is whispering to us well-nigh incessantly. Whenever the sounds of the world die out in the soul, or sink low, then we hear the whisperings of God. He is always whispering to us, only we do not hear, because of the noise, hurry, and distraction which life causes as it rushes on.

–F. W. Faber

So this would bring up the question have you made an effort to quiet the noise, hurry, and distractions of life? Are you truly TRYING to listen or giving up after a half-hearted attempt. There is nothing simple about this.

Just imagine, instead of the 1,000 thoughts of criticism and judgement that go on in our brains, there is the constant whispering of God, if we would only make it our practice to turn the volume down on the other noise and listen!

The buddhists call the incessant noise “monkey mind.” We each have chattering minds. The Gibbon Island at the Cincinnati Zoo is a perfect example of what goes on in our brains without the discipline of the Lord.
Here is a less than 2 minute example!

The practice of stilling the sounds of the world that clamor for your attention can create a greater capacity for hearing the whisperings of God. Remember He is “ALWAYS WHISPERING TO US.” In 2 Corinthians 10:5b (NRSV)we are told to “take every thought captive to obey Christ.” We can ask for God’s help and strength to quiet the noise and listen more closer for His voice daily.

The sources of the noise like chattering, sometimes screaming monkeys all clamor for our attention. Then imagine the peace of God which passes all understanding. I would rather dwell in His peace. So I make the effort to daily quiet that monkey mind. When it is really noisy I try to remember to make the effort more than once a day.

Annie and Me

Christians who write poetry always interest me as that is my bent also. Christians who have chronic illness and write poetry interest me even more! Recently on a radio program I heard Ravi Zacharias quote a poem by Annie Johnson Flint and was moved to look up her biography. One story is told that “She had been brought up with a sturdy independence. She still struggled to make ends meet. She still sought to cut down expenses in order that she might be able to pay as she went. The thought of charity was obnoxious to her. She loved to give to others and help those who were in need, but to receive from others—that was quite another matter. The breaking down of her prejudice in this sphere came about in a very simple way. One of the boarders staying at the house where she lived, when saying good-bye, tactfully slipped into her hand a gift of money. This was the first time such a thing had ever happened, and Annie’s pride was up in arms at once. The woman evidently noticed a difference in her manner and explained that she wished to leave some remembrance with her, but not knowing what her special need might be, thought it better to let her choose. Then she added something which went home. Annie never forgot it. She said, “You know Jesus Christ said ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive,’ but how can there be any givers to whom the blessing can come unless there are those who are willing to receive? It takes two halves to make a whole” Then she appealed to Annie and asked if their positions were reversed and she had the means, would she not be glad to give? This turned things around so completely that she had to admit that she had no right to withhold from others the blessing of giving. She took the gift so kindly meant, and tried to be a willing receiver if that would help some giver to obtain a blessing. Her life was lived, as someone has said, from hand to mouth, but as she liked to have it expressed, the mouth was hers, and the hand was God’s and His hand was never empty.” https://www.preceptaustin.org/annie_johnson_flints_biography

When I was very a very young Christian with a very young child I suffered a back injury. The women of the church decided to come and help me. It was difficult for me to receive from them. They mopped my floors, changed my daughter’s diapers, brought in food, tried to encourage and comfort me. My mother had drummed into me about “more blessed to give than to receive.” I had to learn how to receive thankfully and humbly. It was a very difficult lesson for me. I stumbled again and again over my pride.”The thought of charity was obnoxious to her.” In this Annie had to learn the same lessons God asked me to learn.

Pride © Molly Lin Dutina Pride – oh that hateful force which comes from the heart of man and defiles him (MK 7:22). The pride of life is not of the Father, but it is of the world (1JN2:16). When a man is lifted up with pride he falls into the condemnation of the devil (1 TIM 3:6).

                Jesus gave himself fully and willingly for our sakes. He didn’t die to wash away just part of our sins. He was God’s complete and thorough sacrifice. Are we fully committed to Jesus for the sacrifice He made for us?              

                God has given us gifts to use and jobs to do to further His Kingdom. We are to try, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to do our best in all things as unto the Lord (EPH 6:5-6). However, it is difficult to render service when the service is unwanted or denied. It is equally difficult for our Father to give to us if we refuse to receive.

                 “You will never wash my feet—ever!” Peter said. Jesus replied, “If I don’t wash you, you have no part with Me.” (JN 13:8 HCSB)  From this we know that if we do not let Jesus help us, wash us, and enter every part of our lives, then we are keeping apart from Him.

                “I assure you with all truth, a slave is not superior to his master, nor one who is sent to the one who sent him. If you know these teachings, blessed are you if you practice them.” (JN 13:16-17) God has a plan for each of us to follow in serving Him. That plan includes other people. In His service, we can learn the Lord’s consternation as He stands at the door and knocks. It is impossible to help or serve other people if their pride refuses to let us enter.

                Our pride, (which is of the world) has taken Scripture, (which is God’s Holy Word) and twisted it to the point where many of us fail to recognize and receive gifts from our heavenly Father. Acts 20:35 states, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Oh, how many of us have been brainwashed with the abuse of this Scripture, heading worldly doctrines of pride, to the point where we can’t receive from others? Jesus also said, “Freely you have received, freely give.” (MT 10:8) We aren’t taught very much about the Lord’s attitude in this age. In fact, we are skeptical of anything given without cost.

                Do we receive freely from our Heavenly Father? Have we taken Him up on all that is offered to us? Do we receive freely from our brothers and sisters in Christ? Or do they and the Father have to stop just short of our pride, knocking humbly at the door, wanting to freely give to us and provide that which will help further the kingdom of God? Are we slowing His progress by being too proud to receive?

                “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” (PROV 16:18)

“Continue your love to those who know you, your righteousness to the upright in heart. May the foot of the proud not come against me, nor the hand of the wicked drive me away.” (PS 36:10-11 NIV)

Is the thought of receiving obnoxious to you? “How can there be any givers to whom the blessing can come unless there are those who are willing to receive ? It takes two halves to make a whole.” If you remain unwilling, how then will you ever receive the good your heavenly Father has in store for you? Open your hands, your heart and your life to His giving. He most often does that from one person to another!

Broken by Nouwen

To continue my review of Henri Nouwen’s book Life of the Beloved, Spiritual Living in a Secular World I want to look today at the concepts of Broken. Ann Voskamp has also written a terrific book about Brokenness entitled The Broken Way.

I learned from Nouwen to tell others that we are all broken, (with my addendum), some just hide it better than others. Nouwen writes: “You are a broken man. I am a broken man, and all the people we know or know about are broken. I am more grateful for a person who can acknowledge that I am very alone in my pain than for someone who tries to tell me that there are many others who have a similar or a worse pain. Our brokenness is truly ours. Nobody else’s. Our brokenness is an unique as our chosenness and our blessedness.”

She is so right!

Nouwen worked for years in a community with severely handicapped men and women. He learned “It is much easier to accept the inability to speak, walk, or feed oneself than it is to accept the inability to be of special value to another person. We human beings can suffer immense deprivations with great steadfastness, but when we sense that we no longer have anything to offer anyone, we quickly lose our grip on life.” This concept was also addressed by Viktor E. Frankl in his work Man’s Search For Meaning. Whether severely handicapped or newly diagnosed with a limiting physical problem, we need to realize that God’s ability to use us in His work never ends. Nouwen continues, “Instinctively we know that the joy of life comes from the ways in which we live together and that the pain of life comes from the many ways we fail to do that well.”

He posits two responses to brokenness: “first, befriending it and, second, putting it under the blessing. My own experience with anguish has been that facing it and living it through, is the way to healing. The deep truth is that our human suffering need not be an obstacle to the joy and peace we so desire, but can become, instead, the means to it. The great secret of the spiritual life, the life of the Beloved Sons and Daughters of God, is that everything we live, be it gladness or sadness, joy or pain, health or illness, can all be part of the journey toward the full realization of our humanity.” Wow! Isn’t that what Jesus calls us to? The full realization of our humanity and His indwelling power? I am amazed every single time I review the material in this book.

The second response is “the great spiritual call of the Beloved Children of God to pull their brokenness away from the shadow of the curse and put it under the light of the blessing.” This can make it “an opportunity to purify and deepen the blessing that rests upon us. Physical, mental or emotional pain lived under the blessing is experienced in ways radically different from physical, mental or emotional pain lived under the curse.” To understand his teaching more fully, please read his book.) “What seemed intolerable becomes a challenge.And so the great task becomes that of allowing the blessing to touch us in our brokenness.”

He also points out that different twelve-step programs are all ways of putting our brokenness under the blessing and thereby making it a new way of life. “All addictions make us slaves, but each time we confess openly our dependencies and express our trust that God can truly set us free, the source of our suffering becomes the source of our hope.” Below are the first 7 steps…

  • Step 1 – We admitted we were powerless over our dependencies – that our lives had become unmanageable
  • Step 2 – Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity
  • Step 3 – Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  • Step 4 – Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  • Step 5 – Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  • Step 6 – Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  • Step 7 – Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

Next entry I will address the concept of Given.

Henri J. M. Nouwen

I have learned so much from reading Henri Nouwen and practicing his truths. One of his books that impacted me deeply is “Life of the Beloved.” He subtitled it “Spiritual Living in a Secular World.” He based his discussion to his friend Fred upon the principles of being taken (chosen), blessed, broken and given. I re-read this with some regularity.

I am certain you can obtain it new, used, online, as audiobook and/or at your local library. My copy is 119 pages. A rather easy read, but teaches deep wisdom it may take years to grasp for your own life.

If you are familiar with Scripture, you likely already know 1 Corinthians 11:23-25 (NRSV)  For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread,  and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”  In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” These words are often repeated in Communion. Nouwen says we too, are taken (and he means chosen out of the world), blessed, broken and given.

“The Lord Jesus took a loaf of bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it”

I am uncertain how much I can quote without infringing legally, but here are a few of his ideas. “The great spiritual battle begins – and never ends – with the reclaiming of our chosenness. Being chosen is the basis for being the Beloved. It is a lifelong struggle to claim that chosenness, but also a lifelong joy. ” He stresses that this is not a competition or one upmanship over others. This is the work of God, not men. We are taken by God.

Blessed: “I know how moody you and I can be. One day we feel great, the next we feel miserable.These mood swings show that we no longer hear the blessing that was heard by Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob, Leah and Rachel and Jesus of Nazareth and that we, too, are to hear. …When we continue to hear the deep gentle voice that blesses us, we can walk through life with a stable sense of well-being and true belonging.”

“The feeling of being blessed is not, it seems to me, the feeling that we generally have about ourselves.” He suggests “claiming your blessedness by cultivation of presence. By presence I mean attentiveness to the blessings that come to you day after day, year after year.” There are entire movements now supporting this practice. Nouwen was on to it in 1992 when he published this and likely for years before! I must say it helped when just a few moments ago I was measuring bleach for the laundry load and dropped the entire bottle of bleach into the washer. First off, I was so grateful the clothes were not yet in the washer and I could simply set it to rinse and drain! Second off, it would have been so much worse had I dropped it on myself or the floor!

I will address his concepts of broken and given on another day.

Pescadero and Streams in the Desert

In 2016 we visited my husband’s family in California. His brother and sister-in-law told us about a place called Pebble Beach. Not the place in southern California where they play golf. This is a special attraction like no other beach in California. They warned us that collecting was prohibited there.

My husband found the location with no trouble. As we approached the walkway down we noticed two women coming up from the beach. One had a large 5 gallon bucket with a lid from the hardware store. She immediately put it down and sat on it. Her friend continued on to their vehicle with a small shovel. We wondered to ourselves if they had been collecting pebbles?

Was I ever surprised at the sight!

Yes! A close up of the same rock because it is so amazing! Those are tiny ocean formed pebbles in the openings the ocean carved into the larger rocks!

“When My glory passes by, I will put you in the cleft of the rock and cover you with My hand until I’ve passed by.” Exodus 33:22

I have been reading the devotional Streams in the Desert for many, many years. Originally published in 1928, it has been reproduced in many forms including an online format. I was astounded this morning when I read this entry from July 7th and realized I knew exactly where they were writing about! They record the experience this way: “There is a very famous “Pebble Beach” at Pescadero, on the California coast. The long line of white surf comes up with its everlasting roars, and rattles and thunders among the stones on the shore.

“They are caught in the arms of the pitiless waves, and tossed and rolled, and rubbed together, and ground against the sharp-grained cliffs. Day and night forever the ceaseless attrition goes on – never any rest. And the result?

“Tourists from all the world flock thither to gather the round and beautiful stones. They are laid up in cabinets; they ornament the parlor mantels. But go yonder, around the point of the cliff that breaks off the face of the seas; and up that quiet cove, sheltered from the storms, and lying ever in the sun, you shall find abundance of peebles that have never been chosen by the traveler.

MIND YOU in 1928 and before, there was not a prohibition against collecting. For more information about this beach, actually called Bean Hollow State Beach, see https://www.californiabeaches.com/beach/pebble-beach-at-bean-hollow-state-beach/

It explains in some detail the tree like formation in the tafoni rocks in first photos published here.

Oblique, Obscure, or Transparent

Oblique has many definitions including misleading or dishonest, not direct. Obscure can mean out of sight, hidden, not readily noticed of seen, inconspicuous, not clearly understood or expressed, ambiguous or vague.

Lord, I do not want my writings to be oblique or obscure when it comes to my relationship with you. Help me bring You into the foreground! You kept us on that journey of 7,000 miles and even more so this journey of almost 49 years of marriage. And You have definitely kept me on this journey of almost 69 years of life. I want to declare Your glory and Your hand in my life!

Song of Songs 6:2-3 (NRSV)  My beloved has gone down to his garden, to the beds of spices, to pasture his flock in the gardens, and to gather lilies.  I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine; he pastures his flock among the lilies.

Day 14th on the road: We drove from Nevada into Arizona and what a blessing! After all the junk of Las Vegas, after Hoover Dam, we entered a seeming wonderland as roadside flowers burst into bloom before us along Route 93! Not the deadly poppies of the Wicked Witch in the Wizard of Oz, but natural beauty brought about by God’s grace. There had been significant snowfall and the abundance of flowers reflected it! What a delight. We stopped at a tourist information stand place in Kingman to see if they had a folder on spring blooms. They did not but the lady at the desk was eager to assist us. She called up a website on her computer. I knew a few of the flowers, but here is the listing she showed us: California poppy, lupine, desert asters, penstemon, scorpion weed, globe mallow, brittle bush and Indian paintbrush. Enjoy!

Song of Songs 2:12 (NRSV)  The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.


Matthew 6:28-29 (NRSV)  And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin,  yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.

Lord, instead of only having these grow in hidden places where few would get to see them, You let them grow and bloom right along the roadside for travelers to enjoy. I thank You. Help me remember that my journey here on earth is only for a short time, just like the flowers.

1 Peter 1:23-25 (NRSV)  You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.  For “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls,  but the word of the Lord endures forever.” That word is the good news that was announced to you. (also Isaiah 40:7-8)

My Head and My Ears

Someone asked me recently if I found it difficult to make a silent retreat. Frankly, I find it more difficult to keep a daily time of quiet.

In Scripture it says Jesus often went to pray at the Mount of Olives. It also mentions praying at the Garden of Gethsemane. http://israeljerusalem.com/garden-gethsemane-mount-olives.htm says “The Garden of Gethsemane is located just east of Jerusalem, across the Kidron Valley, at the foot of Mount of Olives.” Either place, it was a place of prayer and surrender. Help me abide there, Jesus, even when It requires suffering as You did, Lord. Help me, Lord, to yield gracefully to You.

He went to the Mount of Olives, to Gethsemane, as was His custom, to pray. I want to enter into Your Presence with all of me and receive everything I need from all of You.

The mountain signifies? Well, any mountain can be remote, removed from daily human life. Take me Lord to Your mountain. Lead me, speak to me. Help me to do Your will. I wait for You in meditation and peace, listening and trying to only listen … not plan or use words, just listen for Your voice.

Listening is hard work. Silencing thoughts is extremely difficult and it takes practice. Hundreds if not thousands of judgements, decisions, conclusions per minute occur in our brains and per half hour is an equally ridiculous number. So to be still is almost beyond us in 2019 without practice and discipline.

Your ear canal is small. I once broke off a pencil eraser in mine, As a child, I found math excruciatingly hard. My father died of heart disease when I was eleven. He was the family member who always helped me with my math. Working at math homework sometime after he died, I was so frustrated, I stuck my pencil in my ear and before I knew it had broken off the eraser in my ear. I feared to tell my mother. Within a few days my ear told my mother. The doctor looked in my ear, saw it was blocked and prepared to suction my ear out. Eventually, we heard a “Pop” and the tiny eraser bounced across the floor. Yes, I had some explaining to do! You know the approximate size of your ear canal if you ever tried to find the perfect fit of earbuds for music. Notice most are sold with various sizes of interchangeable tips!

Now I find my ears are too clean (according to the ENT specialist) likely because I have slept with ear plugs for years. When I focus on my challenge of getting quiet, the trouble is not with my ears so much as in my head.

Imagine this familiar image with ears!

My head ( my home) is clogged with all those thoughts, judgments, etc. per minute. Slowing down the tide, clearing the channel bed, aiming for listening and inner silence is hard. I am not talking about vacating my soul – just getting still as God commands us in Isaiah 46:10 “BE STILL and know that I am God.” Can you be still? Not more than a moment without the discipline of practice. When you turn off all of your devices, you still have to quiet your mind. Good luck with that!

Practice! Practice! Practice!

Me, GE, Whirlpool and Maytag

As a nanny, helping with infant twins and a four year old I learned to do laundry by rote. Then moved on to help with a family with infant triplets. Three loads a day seemed to be the minimum amount. I called it bringing order out of chaos. Doing laundry for our family of four was relatively simple after that.

Then our family dwindled to three and eventually just the two of us.

I found when my adult kids were behind in their household affairs or in crisis, I could always do laundry for them.

When my son faced a recent health crisis, on many levels there was little I could do to resolve the situation. But I could always do laundry. Load after load, seemingly endless amounts of underwear then britches, a few shirts, and bed linens. I can always do laundry.

The rhythm of sorting, loading, changing machines to dry the fabrics, then the meditative process of folding and sorting into piles. Yes, I can always do laundry.

Stain treatment is likely to involve the pent-up energy of other unresolved situations, but the stains eventually yield, if not totally, then enough to reflect my efforts.

Yes, I can always do laundry… and when I am too old or frail to do laundry, hopefully my children will do the laundry for me. May I not prove to be a burden to them or crisis for them to resolve.

The Holy Wild

Mark Buchanan wrote a book called The Holy Wild. Mine is copyrighted 2003. Ann Voskamp refers to it in 1,000 Gifts. I finally bought it and am loving every chapter!

holy wild

He mentions that God makes only three promises with a guarantee. He guarantees that If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9

Also 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 (NIV2011) “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it. “

And he says God is faithful to get us home to Him citing, Luke 10:20 that our names are written in heaven. He writes, “It’s written there, not by your hand or by your work, but by God alone. None of it depends on you. It all depends on the God who promised. And He is always true to Himself.”

All of this was rolling around when I wrote about my house of cards augmented with Lotions and Potions. Psalm 71:5-9 (NRSV)  For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O LORD, from my youth.  Upon you I have leaned from my birth; it was you who took me from my mother’s womb. My praise is continually of you.  I have been like a portent to many, but you are my strong refuge.  My mouth is filled with your praise, and with your glory all day long.  Do not cast me off in the time of old age; do not forsake me when my strength is spent.

The Lord did take me from my mother’s womb. My parents told the story that I was a “blue baby.” When my lungs began to work my Dad wanted to call me “Cherry”. My mother compromised with Cheryl. I began seeking the Lord as a child, especially after my Dad died when I was eleven years old. At first, I was likely trying to find a father-figure replacement. And wow, did I! The Father of Lights, holy and almighty. He assures me in Psalm 71 that he will not leave me now that I am aging.

I have been reading a book by Maeve Binchy entitled Echoes. In this book set in the 1950’s there is a character whose mother has crippling arthritis. I am thinking likely rheumatoid, because I have osteo and have some different symptoms. As my hands get weaker and lose their flexibility, I am comforted that so far, typing does not cause the discomfort that writing by hand does. Bob reminds me that there is software for dictation and typing out there, encouraging me to keep on with this writing discipline.

Though many times I write about “circumstantial, the insubstantial, the ephemeral. Do not rejoice in what can be here today, gone tomorrow, in things whose roots are in thin soil, whose footings are in sand” as Buchanan says. Though I sometimes write like that, I am hearing the Lord in that lovely bird chirping outside my window. The one I can hear but not see whose chirping seems to fit perfectly with the recording of “Verdi Without Words” that I am listening to as I write.

Do not cast me off in the time of old age;                                                         do not forsake me when my strength is spent.

Psalm 71: 9 New Revised Standard

And so my life goes forward, I am spending my writing life trying to put into words my life with God, the Holy Wild One, the God who walks with me on “My Companioned Way.” And as Kari Jobe sings so beautifully ..

Her lyrics are “You amaze me, redeem me and call me as Your own” and I would add “You amaze me sustain me, and call me as Your own!” The lyrics were written by Austin Davis, Ben Davis, Dustin Davis, Dustin Sauder, Grant Pittman, Kari Jobe, Marty Sampson and Mia Fieldes! That is a bunch of inspiration and input!

At Times, I Can Feel Him

On rare and holy moments, I can feel God rushing over me. There is a sense of something other than myself at work. Acts 2:1-4 (MSG) says  “When the Feast of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Without warning there was a sound like a strong wind, gale force—no one could tell where it came from. It filled the whole building. Then, like a wildfire, the Holy Spirit spread through their ranks, and they started speaking in a number of different languages as the Spirit prompted them.”

You know they had to FEEL something with all that movement. I recently bought the new Toby Mac recording called “The Elements.” The lyrics to this song caught my attention the other day. Hope it blesses you, too!

Advent Illustration

“Here am I, stuff of earth” is what I posted yesterday.

Today I’d like you to see illustration I made to go with the poem.

advent

When our Savior was born He was placed in a manger where the animals usually fed. The manger might have been a wooden log that was hollowed out to hold the feed and hay. A humble beginning and the place where I await Him. Thus the overall shape above.

But the figure is me. Awaiting the Lord’s coming, His fresh in-filling, His power from on high. My heart is marked with the symbol of the cross: I am His forever. I am placed there as an infant. I am His child. I do not have the answers to anything. Receptively is how I am yielded for His will and ways for me. His power, courage and propulsion to fill me in making His dreams for me come true. May my very life be a gift to Him this Christmas and always.