Presence

My word to focus on, to keep me grounded throughout 2017 was HOPE.  I started the year with a very selfish focus on Hope.  I wanted the year to be about achieving dreams, hoping in getting what I wanted for my life.  As the year unfolded I learned that Hope isn’t about me.  Through scripture, devotionals, songs, books, mentors and friends I slowly learned that Hope is about healing, reconciliation, redemption.  Our Hope is in Christ.  Romans 5:5 says, “and Hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” To believe in healing in a broken world, reconciliation in a fallen world, and redemption in a sinful world seems futile, but Christ shows us that Hope is not futile.  Hope is not ridiculous, or chasing dreams, or frivolous; it isn’t child’s play believing in Santa Claus.  Hope will not leave you empty, it will not be an embarrassment, Hope does not put us to Shame.  Healing will come, Reconciliation has happened, Redemption is ours.  What we dream, what we desire — is ours through this Hope, this Christ, the Savior.  Anchor yourself in Him and Hope is never futile.

For 2018 my word will be PRESENCE.  Gary Chapman is a counselor and author who promotes the idea of there being 5 essential love languages that we speak and receive.  My top love language, by a large margin, is Quality Time.  For me that simply means being present.  I understand the value of time, effort and energy so receiving gifts of time, effort in being present, and expending energy on me are overwhelmingly appreciated.  Many circumstances in my life leave me feeling overlooked and unnoticed, so occasions where someone clearly notices me and wants to be present with me speaks volumes of love in my life.  I know that those I want to be present with the most do not always have the ability to physically be present with me.  My preference is physical presence but short of that a phone call or well timed text can also speak presence because it takes thinking of me and acting on that to make a call or send or text.

Those who have heard my Cajun Jesus story or who have read several of my posts may know that I struggle with connecting to an invisible God.  I have a hard time with God not being physically present in my life.  I want him to show up at my house, come in for tea and cookies, give me a hug, sit with me; but I know that is not going to happen, so I need to become more aware of the times God is present with me in other ways.  As I’ve contemplated my word for the year over the past month I have been overwhelmed with the number of times I have heard Emmanuel – God with Us spoken, sung, or written.  Yes, it is Christmas and Emmanuel is as popular a Christmas word as Noel, Silent Night, and Santa Claus, but this year I’ve really paid attention to it, taken it in, been overwhelmed by the enormity of what that word, concept, reality means.  God showed up on a doorstep (manger) and had meals with people.  He even left snacks for us to remember his time with us.

I want to be present with those I love and care about.  I am the show-up person.  If there is a Bible Study, meal, event, or activity that I have committed to be at – I am there.  I am always physically there, but I am not always emotionally, mentally, or Spiritually there.  I want to be better about that.  When the Israelites were wandering in the dessert God told them to build a tent to place in the center of them and He would preside there.  God tabernacled among them.  He was PRESENT with them.  He is PRESENT with us.  I want to be aware, I want to see, I want to engage with God’s PRESENCE.

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Legislating Love

I’ve been thinking all day about responses to comments and concerns around recent violent acts in the U.S.  I will not comment on social media sights because people don’t read those to learn or be enlightened and I do not want to be attacked or asked to defend myself.  I am not a debater and cannot eloquently supply support for my thoughts and opinions so I do not want to wade into those waters.

I am greatly concerned for the decline in the moral character of the U.S. Society as a whole and the resulting consequences of this moral decline.  The acts of violence are only one visible outcome of this decay.  In my search for words to understand or help others I came to my blog site and as I contemplated words to type I perused old posts and found this gem: https://bikegirl2.wordpress.com/2015/06/26/morality-laws-and-rights/

It is impossible to legislate morality as I stated in that previous post.  People who will live moral, upright lives of integrity will do that whether there is a law about it or not.  Those opposed to a given standard will push back and rebel whether it is a custom, practice, or law.  Therefore, it does not truly matter what is legal or illegal when looking at the extremes of right and wrong.  Laws will help keep those in the middle who wander to close to an edge in check.  Times of indecision, anger, or confusion might find someone daring to test the waters but a law and fear of the consequences could keep someone safe from going too far adrift.

Now just like morality cannot be legislated neither can love and kindness be legislated.  I know that no one is looking to pass a law mandating a love your neighbor behavior but maybe that is what we should be debating.  We are debating gun laws, immigration rights, and fighting terrorists.  Are these not the distractions stemming from lack of love and kindness to your neighbor? A quote I saw today was, “it was not the gun in his hand but evil in his heart.”  That is absolutely true but we are discussing the gun and not the evil.  How do we change an evil heart?  We try by wanting to change the legal standing of a tool used in an evil act.  An act that is already illegal.

We have legislated the act to be illegal and that hasn’t stopped the behavior.  Now we want to add legislation banning or greatly restricting the tool used in the act.  That will have no greater effect on the curbing of evil acts than the already illegal act has had.  We need to get at the root of the issue.  We need to get at the heart.  And heart issues cannot be solved through legislation.

Morality will only be addressed when Christians and places of faith become the place of meeting needs.  We cannot depend on a corrupt immoral government to provide an avenue of morality.  Faith tribes must meet the needs of our neighbors in order to right the moral compass of our nation.  In this same vane, Christians must lead the way in living lives of compassion, kindness, and love to fight the evil fabric working to destroy what is good around us.

Christians living as the world lives will not bring about the change in a moral righting and pure of heart cleansing that we need in society.  We must be set apart as Holy as God’s righteousness among men.  When we live in such a way as to preach the morality we want legislated and live daily the love and kindness we need fighting back evil hearts and minds then, then we can stop mass shootings, violent protests, riots, fear, and division.

We don’t need more laws because we can’t even enforce the ones we already have.  We need a change much deeper than behavior in order to stop the violence we dread hearing about in the news almost daily.  We need a change of heart.  Recently I saw a statement asking why advertisers will spend millions of dollars on a 30 second to one minute commercial believing it will influence behavior to make money, yet we do not believe that images and ideas consumed in hours of video games, TV, and movie watching will not influence our thinking and behaviors related to violent and hateful tendencies?  That is a very valid question.  What you take in changes you and then comes out of you.  Be careful what you take in.

They will know you are Christians by your love not your pop culture prowess.  Be in the world and not of the world.  This will change the world.

 

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Space

I just finished re-watching Contact.  In this movie Jodi Foster plays an astronomer seeking life on other planets.  She became interested in astronomy as a young girl and she asked her father if he believed if there was other life out there.  He responded, “If we are the only ones then it seems like an awful waste of space.”  This line is repeated two more times in the movie making it the underlying theme of the search for other life.

I like making fun of a key part in this movie because the idea of how that had to be filmed really cracks me up.  It is one of those inside jokes between me and my sister that doesn’t take much for me to reenact and for her to either roll her eyes or crack up laughing.

This past week I was at a conference in DC and the opening keynote speaker was Dr. Mia Jaimeson.  She was the first black female astronaut having gone to space in 1992.  Currently she heads up a project that hopes for interstellar space travel in 100 years.  When I saw that bio on her I was skeptical about her talk because I think it is crazy to be talking about interstellar space travel.  Don’t get me wrong, I love a good Star Trek episode or movie but to me it is all science-fiction.  Dr. Jaimeson was a very engaging and dynamic speaker so I was willing to listen to her tales of going into space already (which I think is way cool) and her dreams of humans achieving interstellar travel – some day.

At first I gave her credit for projecting out 100 years rather than saying something really unrealistic like, “in my lifetime.”  Then she started talking about the real goal of her dream – to promote a complete shift in how we do research and think about life here, now.  I was intrigued, she’d peaked my interest.  What she is talking about is actually brilliant.  To get a multi-disciplinary team together to think about “okay, if we were actually going to travel to another solar system what would we need, how would we get there, who would go, and basically how would they survive?”

These questions and ultimately their answers can change how we live now.  When you ask, “will these travelers be meat eaters or vegetarian?”  You have to think about what is sustainable, what impact it has on the body, and what type of waste it will produce.  I am a meat eater and would initially want to say no to forced vegetarianism but thinking about the other aspects of the question I would say it isn’t feasible.  You can’t load a bunch of animals onto the space ship like an outer space Noah’s ark, so any meat eaten would be packed, processed, non-meat looking substances.  They also asked, “what would these travelers wear?”  A textile expert went through different fabrics and the effect of time and travel might have on them and surprisingly polyester came out as a viable option.

She went through a few more examples and some thinking behind them like would they travel awake or in some type of unconscious state?  The control freaks in the room like me said awake but that requires more resources and impact on psychological health.  Those who wanted to sleep through the journey wouldn’t be able to make any repairs or changes due to what we didn’t foresee or plan for.  She pointed out that we have become a nation of doing and not seeking.  We are building, planning, and living today on research from 40 and 50 years ago because we are not producing new research or implementing outcomes from what we are learning.  Thus the drastic dream to create a new way of thinking now, a new way of visualizing and implementing so we can survive the next 100 years.  We may not make interstellar travel happen by then but we would benefit greatly from the change in thinking it started today.  “Aim for the stars and if you fall short you will still hit the moon.”

Also as part of this conference we went to the Air and Space museum.  We were there after hours and had buffet tables for dinner set up around the atrium, free access to the flight simulators, and Imax.  It was a really cool event.  But something that struck me as odd was that among all of these historical objects chronically our progress in flight and space travel there was a replica of the Star Ship Enterprise on display.  That is a fictional ship from a made up TV show/movie franchise.  What place did it have among the real flight travel timeline?

These activities and movie watching have me thinking about space.  In a house it is the blank space among the furnishings that give livability to the design.  In music it is the rest among the notes that makes music worth listening to. In precious moments of life it is the breath you take to draw in and savior the memory that makes the time special.  It is the space in our lives that give definition to our life.

Space allows us to appreciate the places, people, and things that fill in the non-space, the occupied.

So, I don’t know if there is life anywhere else in our universe, but if there isn’t and we are all there is I don’t believe it is an incredible waste of space.  I believe God is showing us how incredibly special we are in our occupied portion among the space.  If we are all there is out there then God created a lot of space to make us the focal point.  The vastness of space often makes us feel small and insignificant.  I say it should make us feel honored and prized.

Out of all of space – I am, I exist.

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Weary

After a week long bike ride I would expect to be tired and I was, but the tired has turned to weary.  I got home late Saturday and was exhausted Sunday.  I went to church and lunch then home for a nap.  I made myself get up and go back for a Sunday afternoon special service at church but I could have stayed in the bed and been just fine.  Well, until I tried to go to sleep that night anyway.  As it was I slept very well Sunday night and was late to work Monday morning.

Monday was a long day with Bible study after work so I went straight to bed when I got home that night and again slept very well.  My Tuesday plans got cancelled so I graciously went home and lounged on the couch until a decent time for bed so I would sleep through the night.  Wednesday was church after work and then again with the straight to bed after getting home.  I am catching up on sleep slowly and feeling much better each day.  I haven’t been sore from my ride just tired.

Along with the tired is being overwhelmed with the volume of work I have to catch up on at my job.  I do not do overwhelmed well at all.  When I feel overwhelmed I want to shut down.  I want to hibernate, hide in my bed, not think about or do anything.  This of course would make the overwhelmed worse because nothing is getting done.  So, I trudge through, slowly at times but moving forward.

The tired and overwhelmed take a lot of energy to combat (counter-intuitive I know). This energy drain leaves me vulnerable to negative thoughts, self-deprecation, and doubt.  I battle these things on a normal day with full strength but the fight doesn’t seem as difficult during those times.  The problem here is that I am tired, overwhelmed, and now emotional so I have become weary.

I keep scripture posted on my computer monitors for such a time as this.  I’ve been reading all of them multiple times today, sharping my sword in this battle.  I even picked up my pocket Bible sitting on my desk and went in for more.  As the weary weighed heavy and cut into productivity I stopped and prayed.  I called out in my fatigue and asked God to carry the load of my mental and emotional demons because I couldn’t fight them today and I’m really kinda done with fighting them any day.  Same battles day in and day out, same longings unfulfilled, same cries, same pleads, same, same, same.

Then I saw this comment from someone I’ve never heard of before but a friend “liked” her page so it showed up on my fb timeline.  “You’ve gotten weary and worn out with the situation that is in front of you. God says ‘BE FERVENT IN PRAYER! Take your authority and believe even when you can’t see!’ Don’t faint before your harvest! Right before breakthrough darkness and confusion come in like a flood BUT GOD will make a way!” (Sandi Krakowski)

This reminds me of those long gradual climbs last week in Iowa.  I would do okay for a little bit with those and then I’d get tired of them.  Just seeing one in the distance made me weary and I’d slump my shoulders and drop my head but I knew deep deep down inside that I could get up one more climb and then one more climb and then one more climb until I got to where I was going.  I would hold onto this thought and the tighter I could grasp it the faster my legs would turn.  Once I could get a bit of speed back in my spin I would be moving again not slodging through.  When I crested one more hill I could hold tighter and get up the next one with my feet moving just a little bit faster again.  My shoulders would lift, my head would come up and I could feel the power of mind over muscle reversing and getting me there.

I had literally hung my head at my desk, took off my glasses and held my hand over my eyes to just breathe.  When I made myself look back up trying to muster some energy to go on I read, “Don’t faint before your harvest!”  And with that I’m slodging through.

When you are weak, tired, overwhelmed, —– weary – look up and know that God will get you through.  Scripture helps, community reinforces.

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Training – Performance

Most people are familiar with the verse, “Train up a child in the way he shall go and when he is old he will not turn from it.” Prov. 22:6.  People also know the old adage, “Practice makes perfect.”  Athletes know about muscle memory but don’t really understand the lengths and depths that it works.

The common thread to all of this is repetition.  When we do something over and over again it becomes a part of us, either mentally or physically.  In law enforcement training we did drills over and over again until they became 2nd nature.  This is important because the times in the life of a LEO that those skills will be needed you will not have time to think but to act and you need to act in the way you were trained.  And you do, it is a weird phenomenon when your body/brain kick into autopilot and you do what you already know and not what you can think of in the moment.

This past week I did something I should have not have been able to do.  I did it better than I thought I would. I’m still amazed that I went, accomplished what I did, and came home feeling better than ever imaginable.  What did I do?  I rode my bike across the state of Iowa (253.2 miles).  Long time readers here are thinking, yeah, you do stuff like that so what’s the big deal?  The big deal is that I did maybe half a dozen training rides with the longest being 30 miles before I went.  I haven’t done any serious cycling in the past 2 years.  It is suggested that you have a minimum 1000 miles of training in your legs before attempting RAGBRAI (the ride across Iowa).

I fully intended to suffer on the bike.  I went knowing it was going to hurt. I was going to be slow, I would possibly walk the hills, and I would be worn out at the end of the day.  Even with that knowledge I went because I miss seeing my teammates. I love having 7 days outside.  I enjoy hearing and sharing cycling stories.  It is good to be where people speak the same language as you, bike talk.  The suffering was going to be worth it for all of that.

What surprised me was how well muscle memory kicked in.  I have a lot of cycling miles in my legs from years past, so my legs know what to do.  My hands know when is best to shift gears. My body knows the best posture (even though I don’t hold it well).  My bike knows what it is doing on the road.  I rode well.  I rode stronger than I could have ever imagined.  I was slow but I did not suffer.  The rides felt long but I was not weary at the end.  The hills were long or steep but I didn’t walk a single one of them.  I came home tired but not exhausted, not sore.  I came home invigorated, excited, dare I say a little bit giddy.  It is day 3 of being off the bike and I still feel the positive effects of having gone on this trip.  I keep waiting for the negative stuff to happen but it just hasn’t, isn’t, probably won’t.

There is no way that my body stepped up to plate in this big and overwhelming manner.  My friend Cajun Jesus had to have been along for the ride.  Holy Spirit was out for a bike ride again.  Many times I thought about my elephant on a bike pillow, not because I thought I was turning elephant legs (heavy and slow) but because I could feel and hear my companion whispering, “ride on.”  I found myself smiling, laughing, dancing to the songs as they passed me by on someone’s bike radio.  The corn was sweeter, the people friendlier, my teammates more inspiring than ever before.  There were times I was overwhelmed with emotion while riding just taking it all in.  The sunrises, the sunsets, the green grass and tall corn fields.

Somewhere in the middle of Iowa I found myself again.

It might have been Ionia.  Their town t-shirts said, “Some call it the middle of nowhere, we call it I own ya.”

I rode through Ionia on Wednesday after riding 75 miles already.  25 of those miles were in the rain.  Some of that rain was heavy, stinging, cold rain where I could barely see where I was going.  The last 12 of those miles were long gradual climbs that were wearing me out, inviting the negative thoughts and self-doubt to flow through my mind.  But then there was Ionia.  Probably the smallest of all the pass through towns.  It was quiet when we came through because we were there a day early.  The town folks were getting ready for the big crowds to come the next day.  They were excited.  They were chatty.  They were incredibly friendly.  Their spirit was infectious.

I used the Kybo (Iowa’s term for a port-a-potty), sat on the curb a minute, ate a whole pack of shot bloks, drank some water then got back on the bike for the final 8 miles into New Hampton where we were staying for the night — in — a — pub.

When I arrived in New Hampton I was cooked.  I was so done I only wanted to sit or lie down forever.  My teammates had other plans.  I walked in the door, found a chair, and was greeted with, “welcome, Renee, what can I get you?  Do you want a beer, water, gatorade, soda, chocolate milk?”  I couldn’t think at this point so gatorade was all I could say.  Another teammate came up and said, “I got one of the hotel rooms next door so let me know when you’re ready and I’ll give you the key so you can use the shower.”  The massage therapist said, “I have 2 openings left if you want to sign up for one.”

I learned out on the road that I can do harder things than my brain thinks I can.  I learned in the pub that I don’t have to do those things alone.

I’ve done a lot of 80 mile rides in my life, but not any in the past couple of years.  To have done 83 with rain, wind, and hills and still be able to walk afterwards and get on the bike the next day for more is unfathomable.

“Good comes from a good man because of the riches he has in his heart.  Sin comes from a sinful man because of the sin he has in his heart.  The mouth speaks of what the heart is full of.”  Luke 6:45

And the body does what the body has been trained to do.  Be mindful of your training.

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Mouth of Babes

It has been so long since I’ve been here I wasn’t sure I would remember how to get here. But here I am, so here goes – – –

Last week I was home in Louisiana for my youngest brother’s high school graduation.  He has special needs which allowed him to stay in school until age 21.  He has aged out of school now and must move on.  He was allowed to participate in the graduation ceremony just like any other Senior.  It was so precious to watch.  His teacher sat with him and guided him through the ceremony.  Oh what a sweet man with a good heart.  He took good care of my brother an I am eternally thankful for his work.

Being home isn’t the topic of this post but it was what happened while there that I want to share.  While home I got to spend a lot of time with my 5 year old nephew.  I love being an aunt and enjoy this ball of energy so much.  One of our favorite things together is the way we give hugs.  I can’t just hug him, I have to squeeze him until he goes Pop.  He will ask, “do it little.”  I have to barely hug him and eventually he’ll say Pop.  Then he wants, “do it big.”  That is mostly a normal hug with a little squeeze at the end when he Pops.  Finally, he wants, “do is huge.”  This means I have to wrap my arms around him as tight and hard as I can and in his gasp for breath he squeaks out a tiny little , pop.  This wears me out so when he asks for another one I usually say no.  I mean you can only squeeze the breath out of your nephew so many times in one day, right?

Well, being the kind-hearted soul that he is, there were times throughout the week that he would walk up to me, give a quick normal hug and say, “Aunt Nea, I love you.”  Awwww.  “I love you to buddy.”  The first time this happened it took me by surprise and melted my heart.  As it happened more often throughout the week I was touched and left speechless.  Every time it melted my heart.  So random, so unexpected, so needed.

As I was driving back to Tennessee at the end of the week I was fighting rain, fatigue, and sinus drainage.  I was a mess.  In a tired, frustrated state it is so easy for me to let my guard down and allow all the negative self talk I fight off everyday to just take over.  A 9 hour car trip alone in dark rainy conditions is a prime opportunity for the dark thoughts to penetrate every fiber of my being.  The “I’m not enough,” “I’m not lovable,” “I’m not desirable,” “I’ll always be alone” thoughts become so believable, so all-encompassing.

Then in a quiet almost inaudible whisper I heard, “Renee, I love you.”  If I hadn’t spent a week listening to my nephew reassure me with hugs and random “Aunt Nea, I love you” statements then I would have missed this one.  Since being back in Tennessee I’ve tried to be intentional about seeing and hearing the moments in each day that God wants to reach out to me and say, “Renee, I love you.”  That is hard for me to hear and believe.  I’ve not ever considered how God loves me, not in a tangible or audible way.  I know he loves me and sent his son to die for me.  I mean that phrase rolls off the tongue like I’ve heard and said it my whole life.  But to hear and know that God “loves” me, you know LOVE-loves me – like squeeze ya till ya go Pop kinda loves me, it so unfathomable.  It blows my mind and melts my heart like the first time my nephew said it to me.

I’m really enjoying looking for the signs and listening for the prompts when God uses something in my day to say, “Renee, I love you.”

This new experience has been going well this week.  It has been a fairly easy week.  Then a moment, a statement, a void, or a longing hits hard enough to rattle my defenses and I’m back in the negative dark thoughts and missing the whisper.  This morning as my defenses were shaken all I could do was gasp out a tiny little breath prayer, “God is enough. God is enough, GOD IS ENOUGH.” Pop.

At the end of the “do it huge” hug when the Pop is gasped out with your last breath and the hugger lets go, you inhale a big deep lung filling breath.  I hit that last breath way too often, gasping for the breath of Heaven.  In my breath prayer, “God is enough” I’m saying Pop so the hold of lies will let go and I can breathe in that big deep life filling breath of Holy Spirit.  Bring the light so the darkness will flee. Fill me so it will not return. Convince me of your truth so the lies lose their footing.  Let me hear, let me see, let me feel – “Renee, I love you.”

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Messes

I’ve been catching up on email after being out for the holidays.  When I am multiple days behind like this I don’t go through all the daily devotional emails at one time I just let them come up in the list as I get to them in all the other stuff.  I enjoy having one pop up in the middle of a stream of work stuff because it provides a refreshing mental break.

Occasionally I’m more receptive to their content and the pop up provides more than a break.  That just happened so I wanted to share the thoughts the devotional brought to mind.

I just spent a lot of time at home with small children all around as usual.  With small children come occasional messes.  These messes are not easily cleaned up by the mess maker, so we adults (typically a parent) comfort the child letting them know everything is okay then we clean up the mess appropriately.

This is what God does for us.  When we make a mess of things, our lives, our finances, our relationships, our emotional/mental/physical being, our hopes, our dreams – whatever it is we can’t get right; God steps in and comforts us to say it is alright.  Then he cleans up our mess with the blood of his Son because that is the only appropriate way to clean up what we are too small, too weak, too sinful to clean up for ourselves.

God is better than the Brawny man when it comes to our messes.

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