Life is a journey

A television morning show co-host shared with her audience that she has a rare blood cancer. She will be undergoing a bone marrow transplant and will be away from the show for some time. All along, from the diagnosis, through the initial treatment and now with the impending transplant, she has kept a smile on her face. She says life is a journey and her health troubles are part of it, so she intends to carry on with courage and poise.

Even though the phrase is a little over used and can seem trite, it is true. Life is about the journey. But I wonder what people imagine is at the end? Can you really think of life as a journey and not give some thought to the destination?

Some believe this life, this journey, is all there is and the light will simply go out at the end. Others fear what will happen after death. Some come up with religions and theories about reincarnation or becoming part of the universe. Some have no idea and live their lives without any care about what’s next. They decide to cross that bridge when they get to it.

Bicycle Lane
(Photo credit: snofla)

When I ride my bicycle, I travel my usual route or I might take a detour if a side road looks interesting, but either way I arrive back home. The joy is in what I see along the way, from birds, squirrels and the occasional coyote, to the people I meet. They can be other cyclists, walkers and joggers and sometimes, the woman who drives the animal control truck. I enjoy the changing weather, the daily challenge of making it up the hills and the cool breeze when I race down them. I occasionally grouse about bad drivers or people cycling the wrong way in the bike lane, but I always enjoy the ride.

Our journey of life is the same. We’re meant to enjoy it, to live each moment, relishing the blessings and all the people who cross our paths. And just as I always end up at home, when our hope is in Christ, we know our final destination will be at home with God. Some of the details are unclear to us, but we know enough not to fear. We know God will give us new bodies, just like Jesus’ resurrected body; we will be with him forever and will never die again. We know we will be with our loved ones and all the saints who have ever lived. The future will be amazing and surprising in ways we can’t imagine now.

The morning show staff is supportive of their ailing co-host and has done a segment on her journey. I suppose it’s not politically correct to talk about her final destination and audiences don’t want to hear about failed treatments and death. But it’s encouraging to know that after the hard parts of life, climbing the steep hills and riding through the rough patches, we’ll all make it home in the end.

Engage!

When Star Trek Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the USS Enterprise points his finger at the view screen on the command deck and says “Engage!” the whole spaceship springs into action. The navigator sets the course, the engines come to life, the crew occupies their stations and the ship speeds away to some faraway destination and a new adventure. With that one word, a huge vessel and hundreds of people go into motion.

We use the same word to describe someone fully involved in an endeavor or a conversation. If you’re engaged in conversation, you are in the moment with the person, looking in his or her eyes, listening intently and even physically expressing yourself with gestures and facial animation.

Being fully engaged in a relationship means being with the person in every way—mentally, emotionally, spiritually and physically. Sometimes relationships aren’t easy, but we can understand how they work on the human level. With God, it’s a bit more difficult. How can we be fully engaged with someone we can’t see, hear or touch?

The usual methods of connecting with God are prayer, Bible study, meditation and the various other spiritual disciplines. But it’s possible to do those things and still not be fully engaged with God.

If all we do is talk during our prayers and don’t pause to listen, we might as well be talking to ourselves in a one-sided conversation. If we read the Scriptures without considering what God may be saying to us personally, it becomes a collection of interesting stories. If we see him as a casual observer in our lives, who only checks in occasionally to see if we are toeing the line, God becomes like a distant relative we don’t know well and perhaps even fear. We certainly don’t relish his visits.

Engaging with God in a meaningful relationship isn’t a weekend thing or a morning quiet time encounter we forget about for the rest of the day. We engage 24-7 with him, mentally, emotionally, spiritually and physically (we honor him with our bodies, the temple of the Holy Spirit) as we get to know him better and grow in grace and understanding, which is a lifetime journey. That’s why it’s called practicing his presence. Some days we’ll do better than others, but as long as our faces are set toward him, we’ll be moving in the right direction.

The disciplines are still the foundation of spiritual formation. They help us learn to be continually aware of his presence. Our one-sided conversations turn into listening prayer, with times of silence and reflection. Lectio divina, an expanded way ofreading the Bible (praying, reading, silence, journaling and more reading, silence and more prayer), turns our relationship with God into a deep meeting of the minds.

We don’t have to worry about whether or not God is pleased with our progress. As a loving dad is happy with each baby step of his child, our heavenly Father is happy with our baby steps as well. His grace permeates everything we do and teaches us to be more fully engaged with him.

Engage! And may his grace be with us all.

A Lesson From Laundry

Laundry is one of those things everyone has to do, unless you can get someone else to do it for you! As you know, the clothes must be sorted—dark colors separate from the whites and lighter colors. (Some of us learn this the hard way, like I did in college: I put my new red gym clothes in with my whites and everything came out pink.) Some items have to be washed in the gentle cycle with a different detergent. And we all know what happens when you forget and put a delicate item in the dryer!

We take special care of our clothes, but we sometimes forget people need the same consideration. We don’t have too much trouble with the obvious, such as illnesses, handicaps or difficult circumstances, but we can’t see inside and know what people are thinking and that’s when trouble comes.

It’s so easy to look at someone and make judgments. The story of Samuel going out to choose a new king from the whole pack of Jesse’s sons is a classic. Who would have thought God had David in mind? Even Samuel had to learn this lesson: “The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7, NLT throughout).

With people we’ve just met, and even with ones we’ve known a long time, we have to be careful not to make assumptions. We don’t know what they’ve experienced and have no idea how those experiences have affected them.

In Colossians 3:12-14, we are reminded of how we should treat one another: “Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.”

The New Testament has many “one another” statements, including Ephesians 4:31-32: “Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.”

How we treat others is important for many reasons. As believers, we are part of the body of Christ. No one hates his or her own body, but cherishes it (Ephesians 5:29). We are made in the image of God, so when we mistreat or dishonor others, we are dishonoring God. The Golden Rule isn’t a cliché. We need to treat others in the same way we would like to be treated, remembering we all have our own struggles, some apparent to others, many hidden deep inside, known only to us and God.

Next time you’re sorting laundry, take a moment to think of the people in your life and the special consideration each one needs. God already does this for us, treating us as individuals deserving of his own special care.

Emmanuel, God with us

This article I wrote back in 2009 goes along with the verse from yesterday.

Anyone who has been to my home knows I love flowers. They are everywhere—in the backyard, in the front yard and in pots wherever I can find space. I love everything about them from planting them, watching them grow, and enjoying their fragrances and colors, to how they attract butterflies and hummingbirds. I wait all year for spring bulbs and I’m sad when they finish blooming. When a piece of a plant breaks off, instead of throwing it out I stick it in dirt and hope it grows. I talk to my roses.

I’ve always thought my love of flowers was genetic as my parents came from farming backgrounds. My dad was an avid gardener who also loved flowers. My mom’s yard is full of them and she loves them as much as me, or rather, as much as I do. I read a booklet by Baxter Kruger that changed my perspective on my passion for flowers, as well as my other hobbies and predilections. The booklet (available in e-book form on his website,www.perichoresis.org) is titled The Secret, not to be confused with the new age book of the same name.

Kruger tells the story of his encounter on a plane with a biologist. This man was enthusiastic about plants, so much so Kruger received an impromptu botany lesson. That prompted him to ask the biologist where he got his passion for plants. The man said he’d not really thought about it, so Kruger showed him a diagram depicting Father, Son and Holy Spirit and explained that his passion came from God’s passion. He didn’t say what the biologist thought, but I know what my reaction was: Aha!

That’s why I love flowers so much! That’s why artists paint, musicians play, singers sing, architects build, athletes play and compete, writers write and pilots fly. Our passion and creativity come from the passion and creativity of God, through the Son, in and through the Spirit. I was right, my love of flowers is genetic, but it’s DNA passed on to me through the shared life of Father, Son and Spirit.

So when the biologist who loves plants goes on a research trip or I plant yet another bulb or a poet writes a poem, we are expressing the image of God. Why is this important? It means, as many of us have suspected, our lives are not separate from God. As Paul said in Acts 17:28, “In him we live and move and have our being” (NIV). In Christ, all of life is shared life with the Trinity.

As I write, occasionally looking out the window at my flowers and fruit trees (and running out to chase the birds away), I am living “in the circle of the Triune life of God” (The Secret). All people, as we live out our passions or dream of living them, participate with God as he lives in us. He is Emmanuel. Our lives are in him. He is with us in everything we do. I think I’ll go plant something in celebration of God with us!

Lessons from a bicycle

Today instead of a verse, I’m sharing one of my articles. I’ve been writing them for several years and posting them on another website (http://women.gci.org/).

Lessons From a Bicycle

My poor bicycle had been in the garage for several years, collecting dust. I’ve loved riding since childhood and missed it, so I pulled my bike out, pumped up the tires and started riding again. It’s true, you don’t forget how, but I had to work up to riding more than a couple of miles. Now I’m riding longer distances and loving it even more. It makes me happy to be out enjoying the fresh air and freedom, and the exercise is great too.

I’ve learned some lessons from riding and even found insight for our spiritual lives:

Don’t be in a rush; you might have to start slow to build strength and endurance. When riding a bike you don’t expect to be able to go a hundred miles the first time out. Why do we think we’ll be spiritually mature immediately? Becoming a Christian happens instantly but being one is a lifelong process.

Don’t compare yourself to others. Your bike and clothes may not be fancy but don’t let that keep you from having fun. We are unique and special. God works with us according to our individual personalities.

You might hit some bumps and even fall. It’s OK, just get back on. Life isn’t easy but God is there to help us keep going until we get home.

If you ride with someone, stay together. Look out for each other. We don’t go through life alone and need to help one another through the rough spots.

Going uphill is hard. If you have to walk partway, don’t worry about it. You are still moving. The extra effort we put in during the trials and problems makes us stronger and helps us trust God more. It also makes the smooth parts more enjoyable.

Enjoy the downhill parts but remember to hold on tight and watch for rocks. Be thankful and keep trusting God through the good times.

Always wear a helmet. Wear all the armor of God from Ephesians 6: “the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (NLT).

Drink lots of water—before, during and after. Rely on the Holy Spirit to continually refresh you.

Keep your eyes on the road, but take time to notice the wildlife and flowers on the way. Life is meant to be enjoyed. Live in the moment and enjoy the blessings of grace.

If you have bugs in your teeth, it just means you’ve been smiling a lot.

Are you inspired to get back on a bike? If you do, you’ll work off some calories and maybe add your own lessons to this list. If not, next time you see someone on a bicycle, give them room and thank God for the ride of life.

Bicycle Party
Bicycle Party (Photo credit: Where is Clifford The Big Red Dog?)