Pilgrim

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The country
versus
The city
city

How interesting to consider that the pilgrim feels welcomed and safe in the wilderness, and an anomaly and a target in the city.
How those in the countryside will minister to a stranger in pilgrim’s clothes – feeding, first aid, a drive to a hotel or a dentist – yet those in the city will harass or rob the same person.
How in the countryside the biggest danger is a pack of wild dogs or thunderstorm, but in the city it is people.

People in the city see pilgrims as weak, as helpless, as fools – as relics of a bygone era. They are mocked at best. Assaulted or robbed at worst. They are looked at as the strangers they are and ignored – while in the country they are sought out. The best food and entertainment is provided even if they do not share a language or the same culture. There is respect, admiration.

I had thought that the country would be a problem – no amenities, no resources. A long walk without access to food, water, shelter. I must carry everything and trust in the providence and mercy of God. Yet I read that you can relax in the country as a pilgrim. It is the city where the danger lies. While it has food, water, and shelter, it also has people. Perhaps those in the city live there because they have lost faith in God – they think they must provide for themselves, while those in the country are reminded of God’s grace and mercy every day.

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Poem – Our daily bread

“Give us our daily bread”
isn’t really about food.
It refers to manna.
Heavenly bread, spiritual sustenance.
Just enough for today,
only one day at a time (Like AA).
It says
“Help me appreciate right now
– no worry about the future.
Help me trust that
You
have that under control.”

When we worry about our future
we are forgetting
the sovereignty
of God.
We are saying that
we
are in charge. We are making idols
of ourselves

God gave us the test
of the manna,
to see if we would gather
just enough
for this day,
to see if we would
walk in his ways
and trust him.

Eternal God, honor us
by giving us this day
our daily bread,
and may we
honor You
by gathering only enough
for today.

Amen.

Starter marriages

So many people seem to have starter marriages, the same way that people will get starter homes. When you have a starter home, you have it with the idea that when things change, you accumulate too much stuff, or when you have a child, you’ll get a bigger home. It’s what you can handle and afford at the time but you understand that you could always sell it and get another one.

People have marriages in the same way these days. When they get to be too big or too much they get divorced and move on.

What about the marriage vows? What about the idea on ‘till death do us part’? What about ‘for richer or for poorer’? What about ‘in sickness and in health’? Maybe people can’t handle the “poorer and sickness” parts, and were hoping they’d luck out and get the “richer and healthy” part. It is a package deal, and a crapshoot. You get both, in unequal proportions.

These vows – which are made in front of friends and family and sometimes a minister – don’t seem to mean anything anymore. These are legally binding vows. There’s a document that is signed for the state as well. This is a legal contract.

Perhaps what people mean is that they say “I’ll stick with you as long as things are good. I’ll stick with you as long as you suit my purposes. I’ll stick with you as long as I like you.”

Marriages aren’t about convenience or comfort. Marriages are about committing for the long haul. The other person may drive you completely up the wall but that doesn’t mean that you get to get divorced. The bliss that you have at the beginning of your marriage doesn’t last long. What do you do after that fades?

I’m not quite sure about people who get divorces. Now if you’re on the receiving end of a divorce that’s different. If your spouse initiates it and will not reconcile you don’t have much of a choice. But if you initiate then what do your vows really mean? How can you be trusted to say you’ll do anything? If you can’t honor your wedding vow, then why can you be trusted at work? Why trust you with a home loan? What does your word mean?

Marriage is kind of like buying a present with someone and you’re drawn to the pretty wrapping paper. But once you open the box and start looking inside, you realize that it’s a machine that has a bunch of pieces. They are all jumbled loose in the box, and there’s no instruction manual. You have to figure out how to put it together along with the other person. You both are pulling out pieces and you’re wondering how they go together to make this machine work, this machine called marriage. Since you both come from different backgrounds you both have different ideas about what parts go where and what parts are more important than other ones. But you still both have to work on this thing to make it go. You can’t just throw it away once it gets difficult. You can’t just keep looking at the pretty wrapping paper and wondering why it doesn’t match this difficult thing that is on the inside.

Gold as God? Good as Gold?

Many of us are familiar with the story of the golden calf. This is what some of the Israelites had talked Moses’ brother Aaron, the high priest, into making for them to worship. A lot of time had passed from when Moses went up Mt. Sinai to get the tablets from God, and they wanted something to worship.

But notice what happens when Moses comes down from the mountain. He doesn’t just get angry and smash the tablets.

Exodus 32:19-20 (HCSB)
19 As he approached the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, Moses became enraged and threw the tablets out of his hands, smashing them at the base of the mountain. 20 Then he took the calf they had made, burned it up, and ground it to powder. He scattered the powder over the surface of the water and forced the Israelites to drink the water.

He made them drink the gold. It became part of them. How long does that last? Does it pass on, from generation to generation? What does it mean to have this reminder of not having faith in God as part of you, in your body?

In what other ways have people in Biblical times not trusted in God?

What God says is going to happen always happens – but it rarely happens quickly. God’s timetable is not the same as ours. God told Abraham that he was going to be a father in his old age, and Abraham believed him for a while. Time passed, and still Sarah wasn’t pregnant. She gave him her handmaiden as a surrogate, and he got her pregnant. They took matters into their own hands, and trouble resulted. They didn’t have faith that God was going to do what God said. It was over 12 years later that Sarah got pregnant by Abraham and had Isaac.

King Saul didn’t wait for the prophet Samuel to make the proper offering, and did it himself. This caused God to get very angry and remove the mantle of kingship from him.

What ways do we not wait and trust in God? Is the gold in us? Is taking matters into our own hands just hardwired into our DNA?

This is a test. This is something we can overcome, but not on our own. If we give it to God and ask for the aid of the Holy Spirit, we can overcome our basic tendency to rush things and do things on our own. We can overcome if we yoke ourselves to God.

In God we trust

This is been a crazy time, just like when everything broke a few years ago. In 2008 everything broke at our house. Everything that was really expensive broke. The water heater broke, then the battery died in my car, and then the air conditioning broke. I thought that was it. Then the roof needed to be replaced. Everything had to be replaced. We had to sell a lot of things and go without. We cut out cable TV and got rid of the home phone. I sold my car and got a cheaper one. And then we had to get a second mortgage on the house.

I didn’t have anybody who could help me. I couldn’t call on my parents and my relatives were of no help. But somehow we made it through. And we learned how to take care of ourselves. It’s nice not having to rely on other people especially when money is concerned. That can ruin friendships and strain families.

Now is a very similar time. My car had to be paid off a few months sooner than I planned. And then there was an unexpected repair expense on it. Sometimes the check engine light is something simple. And sometimes it is something that costs a lot of money. This was one of the latter times. And now the washing machine has broken. That was another three hundred dollars.

I’m thinking of the serenity prayer – that if it is something I can control, I should. If it isn’t something I can control – trust that God has got it under control.

Because all of this was out of my hands, I trust that God is behind all of this. But it is still one of those times where I don’t want to have to trust. Since we are refinancing the house we will have a little extra money in our account very soon. And since the cars are paid off we will have a little more. But we don’t have it yet.

I was looking forward to saving up that money, or even using it on a home repair project. There are a number of projects that have had to wait because we haven’t had the money to do them. Sure, I’ve had some money saved up, but savings is really for emergencies.

We certainly have had our fair share of emergencies recently.

It feels like I never am able to save up extra money for us – that a windfall will happen but then an unexpected expense will happen. We always seem to stay even. I’m grateful for that, but I’d like to not cut it so tight.

Jesus tells us to not worry about anything – about our clothing or our food or where we live. He points to the lilies-of-the-valley. But then he also tells a story about the handmaidens who were waiting. The ones who have oil in their lamps and have their wicks trimmed are the ones who succeed.

He also tells the story about the talents. There are three people who were given money and they have to take good care of it. They have to be good stewards. If they don’t do anything they fail and they get cast out.

So are we supposed to worry or not? Are we supposed to exert ourselves or not? This doesn’t make any sense. Surely we have to take care of ourselves and look out for ourselves, but we’re also supposed to trust. How much is our responsibility and how much is God’s responsibility?

God tells us that God’s ways are not our ways. Why am I trying to make any of this make sense? It won’t add up, because I can’t see things the way God sees them.

So meanwhile, I’ll pray through everything and feel it out – do this, or not?

The prophet Isaiah says –
21 And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left. (Isaiah 30:21 RSV)

No matter where we go, God is there with us.

Family honor

My brother used to push the idea of family honor on me. He seemed to think that it was my responsibility to keep up the family name and family pride. And yet he was the one who changed his last name and who got two women pregnant without being married to them. He is the one who got divorced four times and who got himself a quarter of million dollars in debt.

So I’m not really sure why he thinks it is my responsibility to keep up with family honor and pride. Perhaps it is my responsibility because he realized that he had failed at it. Trying to make his problems my problems isn’t acceptable.

I have felt like I have failed the family for many years but I’ve gotten over it. He really did a number on me. Because he was older than me, I trusted him. He imprinted me. I finally realized that their madness isn’t my madness.

If you work for a company, everybody should work together to make a good product. But if you work really hard and no one else does, then you will lose your sense of loyalty towards the company. You feel like it doesn’t matter what you do because no one else is pitching in nearly as hard as you are.

The same is true with my family. I feel like they aren’t doing anything for me so why should I do anything for them? In fact they seem to think that it is my responsibility to care about everybody else’s feelings, when they don’t bother with mine. That is the very definition of codependency.

In “Anatomy of the Spirit, Caroline Myss talks about how our first loyalty is to our tribe – our family, our culture, our country. Whatever we are born into and is impressed upon us. Problems occur when we disagree with it and realize that its goals and values are not the same as ours.

She talks about our family of origin as being Divinely chosen. So this means we should accept it.

That isn’t so easy.

This happened with Jesus in the Garden at Gethsemane – 39 And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.” (Matthew 26:39, RSV) He was about to be crucified, and he knew it. He was about to suffer a very painful and humiliating death, one that he didn’t deserve. He knew that he was going to be resurrected, but getting to that point was going to be ugly.

He didn’t want what was going to happen to him. He was asking God to let it not happen.

I was angry at God for letting things happen to me. I was angry at God for the abuse and neglect. I was angry at God for it all – not having a better family then and not having a better family now. I didn’t pick these people.

I felt pretty ugly for thinking these thoughts. But if even Jesus can think stuff like this, then I’m in pretty good company. And Jesus says, not my will, but yours, God. It isn’t what I want, but what You want.

I’m trying.

Myss says that problems with this area tend to manifest in the lower back and knees, and that is where my pains are. And from my prayers before I read this, I knew that I needed to let God be in control. It is good to get confirmation, but still hard to do.

There has to be a reason what has happened and is happening to me is going on. God made it happen and is making it happen. It is a way to open up, to learn, to grow. It is a test, a trial. Somehow I doubt that the world will be redeemed through my sufferings, but I might be.

Gift

I’m trying to see every experience as a gift, as something special. I’m trying to trust that God is in charge of everything and that everything is going as planned.

It isn’t easy.

I feel trapped in someone else’s madness right now. Some dumb decisions have been made by others and it is affecting me. It is only going to get worse. I want somebody to take over, take charge. I want somebody to rise to the occasion and be an adult. I’m not seeing it happen yet.

And then I remember how much I love the story of Jonah, praising God in the belly of the whale. While in the middle of the problem, Jonah praises God.

And I remember Jesus saying in Matthew 5:43-48
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (RSV)

I’ve come to understand this to be about everything – situations, feelings, ourselves – not just people. We are to act in a loving manner all the time.

And I remember Job saying that if he only loves God when he gives us good things, then he doesn’t really love God. His wife has just told him to curse God for all the afflictions that have happened to him.

Job 2:10
10 But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips. (RSV)

OK, so what do I do about all these feelings? How do I handle them? How do I act in a loving way towards my anxiety right now?

I was talking to a friend about all of this and she told me about this quote from Thich Nhat Hanh. “Breathing in, I calm body and mind. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment I know this is the only moment.” (Being Peace)

Sometimes this feels like AA. “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference” (Reinhold Niebuhr)

If I believe that God is a loving God, and that God is in charge, I have to trust that everything that happens is part of God’s plan, and that it will all work out for the good.

The problem is trusting that.

I feel like I did when I was in a river rafting trip with a boyfriend many years ago. He was a guide, and we’d taken a raft with some friends down the Ocoee River in the off season. He knew of a spot where we could “surf” – we could ride the river, sort of stuck in this one area for a bit. Some of the water started to come into the raft. I started to get terrified and went to leap out of the boat. My boyfriend knew that would be a terrible idea – I’d get stuck under the raft in that area. Unbeknownst to him, it really would have been a terrible idea – I wasn’t a great swimmer either. All I knew was that something bad was happening and I wanted to get away. He held my shoulders down so I couldn’t leave the boat. He explained it all when we were away from that situation. He didn’t have time to explain it then.

I want to get away from this situation.
God is holding down my shoulders.
It will all make sense later.
Breathe, trust, and give thanks.