holding faith

I was flipping through a catalog of Bibles and spiritual books the other day and the title of one book, Holding Faith, struck me. I didn’t read the description, so I don’t know who the author is, or what the book is about. I just keep retuning to those two words, looking at them from various sides. Holding faith. Two simple words with a world of possibilities…

Holding faith. Do I hold it close in for myself? Yes, I do. By holding my faith I am comforted and strengthened. By holding my faith I am able to do so much more than I ever thought possible. By holding my faith I am able to see and understand as God would have me see and understand. By holding faith, my faith grows and and I grow along with it.

Holding faith. Do I hold it close in for others? Yes, I do. I can hold faith for others when they are unable to hold their own faith. I can comfort them and help them find their strength again. By holding their faith, I can help them when they feel like they have lost their faith. I can offer God’s words and the reminder of a Brother, Jesus, who has walked the path of pain and suffering. What power is available to us when we turn to our God who is intimately familiar with all we face on our journey here on earth. By holding faith for others, I may help them understand as God would have them understand. And then return their faith to them.

Holding faith. Do I hold it out for others, those seeking to grow in their faith? Yes, I do. If I can help others see where God is calling to them, I hold faith for them. If I can share words that God has given me to help the Holy Spirit move and work in another, I hold faith for them. And then we can grow in faith together.

Holding faith. Do I hold faith for the world at large? Yes, I do. I actively seek to see the good in all people and situations. I see God at work in the kindness and generosity of people around the world. Doing and being so much more than we might expect, but certainly not more than God sees in them, in us.

Holding faith. Do I hold faith for the future? Yes, I do, I really do. By holding faith today, for myself and for those around me, both near and far, I am growing into the future God is offering us. A future of love and understanding, of caring and support. A future of faith.

he/she?

For many years there has been conversation about assigning the male gender to God. Some say it’s a hold over from the male-dominated world that, thankfully, is changing. I can only speak for myself.

For as long as I can remember I had called God “Father”.  And yes, when I pictured God, He was a Gandalf-like figure, warm and wise with a long white beard. That view brought me comfort during countless difficult times, a father-figure I could always count on. I have long recognized the female side of God, using She for the Holy Spirit, the Comforter. But when others referred to God as She and Mother, I was quite uncomfortable. Whether it was because I still felt I needed that father-figure, or simply that it challenged me to look beyond my long held belief, I struggled with the concept.

But recently, I realized that I was limiting God by assigning such human attributes. God is more than I can imagine in every way. More loving, more nurturing, more supportive, more present than my mind can possibly comprehend. And suddenly, saying He or She became wholly inadequate. Just yesterday, working on a letter to Sunday School parents, I typed He when referencing God and it didn’t feel quite right. As I reread the letter, I had to change the He to God. That’s when I knew, I can never place those human limitations on God again.

He? She? No more. From now on – God!

lessons from a pencil box

I realized the other day that I have a lot to learn from the colored pencils I keep in a simple plastic box to use with my mandala coloring books.

I watch as those colored pencils make a dramatic difference on the pages as I color, yet they seem to lose little if anything of themselves. The various colors make the page come alive, but I only have to sharpen them occasionally. I need to remember that the next time I’m faced with the opportunity to make someone else’s world a little brighter. Do I moan and complain about what a sacrifice it is, how it drains me? Or do I follow the example of the colored pencil and quietly apply myself to the situation and give that little bit that makes such a difference? And when I truly have given a lot and have become dull and unable to make that difference, I can head to the one place that will bring me to the point where I can once again give – God. God is the one place where I know I will be nourished and strengthened to once again be able to share the beauty of God’s love.

Then I started thinking that if I was a colored pencil, what color would I be? I decided I would be red-orange. The blend of the two colors keeps either one from being too much – too hot, too bold, too “in your face”. Yet it’s still warm and comforting. And it works well with the other colors, often drawing out undertones that might be otherwise overlooked.

As I thought more about it, I came to realize that at various times in my life – sometimes in the course of a single day! – I have been many of these colors.

The barely-there peach that relieves the blandness of a blank page, though often only if you look closely. But that peach can sometimes be so light that you can’t see the missed spots, or opportunities, until you look back at the page from a different angle.

Bold red? Oh yes, I’ve been that hot color, on the verge of too much, demanding attention, upset if things don’t go the way I think they should have.

How about purple? Certainly. From soft gentle shades that comfort, to attention getting violet, capable of showing beauty in unexpected places like my beloved wild violets.

Orange? With the ability to warm, but harsh and jarring if used with too heavy a hand, I’ve been that one as well.

Thankfully I can also say I’ve been the calming, soothing greens of plants and trees; the inspiring blues of sky and sea; the sturdy, grounding browns.

Yet, I’ve also been white, the absence of color. Literally just occupying space without contributing anything. So too, the grays and blacks that represent the stormy unsettled times. Regretfully sometimes so intense I managed to blot out the colors of those around me.

Fortunately, I now recognize those times when my mood/attitude veers toward those harsher tones. My prayer is that I will remain aware and always strive to be my orange-red — warm, comforting, able to work well with others and bring out the best in them, things that might have been overlooked before…

tuning in

I read an interesting article yesterday, and the author talked about her experiences with a self-imposed 1 year shopping ban. What really caught my attention though, was her discovery of extra time each morning when she stopped the emails she regularly received from different stores and shopping sites. She went on to explain how she now uses that time to journal, read and pray.

Well, that got me thinking about how I spend my early morning time on my days off from work. Typically, as I’m enjoying my morning coffee there’s a morning news show on in the background. Most of the time I’m not really watching, but that sound is always there and obviously a portion of my brain is tuned in, because I will stop whatever I’m doing to watch a segment if the intro catches my attention.

So yesterday, I intentionally turned off the tv, and instead quietly worked in one of my adult coloring books. (Sorry grandkids, no Avengers or Hello Kitty in these!) I was a bit worried, because I have an ongoing, low level of ringing in my ears and I was afraid the absence of external white noise (the tv) would make my internal white noise too distracting. I’m happy to say that the parts of my brain that were engaged in selecting the colors, deciding where to use them and the physical act of coloring were enough to keep the part of my brain that registers the internal white noise occupied enough that I could ignore it.

And as I lost myself in the picture unfolding under my hand – rather than in some random news story – I relaxed, and was able to open myself to God’s whispers. I found inspiration in the picture, the colors, the colored pencils themselves. I even found inspiration in the sound of the pencils as they forever changed the page in that book.

I realized then, that I too often tune into this world, which means I’m tuning out God. What else have I missed while I was focused on that external white noise? What messages from God have I tuned out? What messages from family and friends? What opportunities to share love and compassion have I ignored, have I tuned out, while I was tuning in to things that really don’t matter? It’s not just the tv, though for me that’s a big culprit. It’s the word games on my phone, the solitaire games on the computer… Who could I have prayed for if I hadn’t played that game of solitaire? Who might I have contacted with a quick message of love and support when I opened my phone if I had tapped on text messages rather than a word game?

I know that God is always calling to me, offering inspiration for ways to share God’s love. I pray that now that I’ve taken this first step, I can stay tuned in to the Good News of God, rather than the world’s news that draws me away from God. And not just for 1 year, but for all the days of my life.

the comfort of three

I wear three bracelets on my left wrist and during a quiet time the other day, I was contemplating why I feel so strongly that I need to wear all of them. And I realized that the comfort they offer goes far beyond the habit and the physical sensation of having them there. Each bracelet is different and each represents important, even vital, aspects of my life.
One is a cuff bracelet with the phrase “always in my heart” engraved on it. I’ve worn it every day since I purchased one for myself and both of my daughters after my mother-in-law passed away last November. I’ve come to see it represents not just my mother-in-law and her loving heart, but all those that have come before me. They are the foundation I have built my life on, and without them, I would not be the person I am today.
I also wear a beautiful double strand braided gold chain bracelet that my husband gave me in honor of of our 25th anniversary. In the 11-plus years I’ve been wearing it, it has come to represent the interweaving of our two lives. Each visibly separate, but intricately connected. It is my present, the circle of love that surrounds my daily life.
And “last but not least” is an expandable bracelet with a charm that says “Nana”. I received it as a Mother’s Day gift, and I proudly wear it in honor of my grandchildren and my children as well. Because without my daughters and sons-in-law, I would not have this amazing blessing of being a grandmother. They are the future, not just my future, but the future of the world. I pray that at least a tiny part of my love will live on in them and perhaps be the foundation of their lives…

banana bread

Sift together: 1 3/4 cups flour, 2 1/4 teaspoons double acting baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Blend until creamy: 1/3 cup shortening, 2/3 cup sugar. Beat in: 1-2 eggs and 1 – 1 1/4 cups mashed banana… Who would have thought that a batch of banana bread could have brought along insight to the way I should try to live my life? But that’s what happened this morning.

Sifting the dry ingredients together didn’t seem to make much difference. They started out looking the same and the end result didn’t seem much different, until I took a closer look. Then I could see there was space added to the ingredients, it seemed lighter. Kind of the way my days can be if I break up my routines and allow more space for time with God.

Then came the sugar and the shortening. Very different in appearance and consistency. At first glance you wouldn’t think that they could be incorporated. And when I started to mix them together with the hand mixer, they were next to each other but not really combined. And that’s the way it seems when I take a step to be closer to God. I may start praying in a new way, and it’s a part of my day, but it’s something I have to make an effort to remember to do. And just as the sugar and shortening begin to combine and the texture of the mixture changes the longer I use the mixer, the longer I practice the new way of praying the more it becomes part of my day. And eventually the sugar and shortening become a new thing, and so do I once the new practice is completely incorporated.

But that’s not the end. This creamy white substance changes as the eggs are added. And then again as the mashed bananas are added. Just as my life continues to change as I grow in my prayer practices. Now as I look, the batter is nothing like it was at the beginning and neither is my life. In the batter, everything is mixed so completely it’s hard to differentiate the individual ingredients. So too with my life.

Then I need to add the dry ingredients. Because the batter as it is, will not become banana bread without the flour and the leavening agents. And neither will my life be complete if I leave it as is.

These ingredients need to be handled differently though. I can’t just dump them in like I did the wet ingredients. I need to add the dry ingredients a little at a time, just like I need to work to incorporate a more difficult faith practice. And when I start up the mixer, I need to start slowly. (We all know what happens if you turn the mixer on high with the dry ingredients sitting on the top of the batter!) Gradually, gently, bit by bit, like the flour mixture, a new faith practice is blended into the life that was already changed by the addition of the first faith practice. And life, like the batter, will never be the same.

Then comes the oven – 350 degrees for approximately one hour. The batter will remain batter, unless it is baked. And my new faith practices? Unless they are tested by the heat of my everyday life, they remain only practices, not the habits I need them to become if I am to live a changed life.

The recipe says I can add additional things, like lemon zest or nuts or dried apricots. I don’t usually add those things, because they’re not my taste. Sometimes I substitute 1/4 cup of wheat germ for a 1/4 cup of the flour. So it is with faith practices. Not every type is to everyone’s taste. And sometimes you might do something a little different, even if you don’t do it every day.

And in the end, if I have followed the recipe, measured correctly and mixed as I should, those seemingly random ingredients will be banana bread. And my life, if I am diligent and add the “ingredients” needed for a life of faith, will rise like the banana bread and be able to give nourishment. And hopefully, not just to me.

(Thank you Joy of Cooking, 1975 edition, for the banana bread recipe that has pleased and nourished my family for over 35 years!)

bring them home

On my way home from my daughter’s this afternoon I experienced a new (at least new for me) way of praying. I was listening to the song “Bring Him Home” from the musical Les Mis, written by Claude-Michel Schonberg. This song has always spoken to me, and for some reason, I felt pulled to play the song over and over on my 30 minute ride. Since I was alone in the car I felt free to sing along (often quite loudly, but I had the windows closed, so I wasn’t worried about torturing anyone around me with my singing!) and today, I heard in the words of the song words to an unspoken prayer of my heart.
In my church, we are dealing with the effects of too few people to do too many jobs. And whether this is an effect of the falling numbers of families with children and youth, or the cause, our Christian Education program is struggling. This is certainly not because of a lack of effort on the part of a group of dedicated volunteers. Their perseverance and willingness to give their hearts and time for the children and youth is truly a blessing. But we seem to be at a crossroads, and this is the basis of that unspoken prayer. Where, and how, are we to go? What am I, as an individual, being called to do with my God-given gifts?
I was about halfway home when I realized that I was praying with/through the song. And as I continued to listen to “Bring Him Home”, I heard the answer to at least part of my prayer. When I take the song and apply it to all the children and youth of my church, rather than just the young man Marius that Jean Valjean is singing about, I hear the direction I am seeking.
I’d like to share what I heard through the simple yet powerful words of Claude-Michel Schonberg…
“God on high, hear my prayer. In my need, You have always been there.”  
I couldn’t agree more. God has always been there for me, even when I didn’t know I needed God.
“He is young, he’s afraid…” 
Even with my years, and the wisdom I’ve  gained from many struggles, there are times when I am afraid because of things going on in our world today. I can only imagine how much harder it is for the children and youth.
Let him rest, heaven blessed. Bring him home…”
How will the children know that God is their fortress, their hiding place in times of trouble, if no one will tell them? How can they begin to understand the blessing of having Jesus as their close, personal friend and the Holy Spirit as their constant companion and guide, if no one shares their own experiences with them? And if they don’t know those things, how can they rest, how can they come home?
“The summers die, one by one. How soon they fly, on and on. And I am old, and will be gone.”
There is no way to know how long I, or any of us, have on this earth. Time passes so quickly, each day that I hesitate to speak of my love of God, the joy and blessing I receive from my friendship with Jesus, the security and peace from the Holy Spirit, could be one less day for the children and youth to know that joy and blessing.
“You can take, You can give, let him be, let him live. If I die, let me die, let him live…”
If giving more of my time can help the children and youth come to know God, can help them understand more fully that they are truly beloved children of God, then let me die. Die to the time I spend on the computer or waste watching TV. Let me die, so that they can live. Live in true relationship with God.
“Bring him home, bring him home…”
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me” (Matthew 19:14). Not standing in their way isn’t enough. I, no, all of us that know and love God, need to do our part to share God with the children in our lives. Because that is the only way we can bring them home, home to God.