Keep calm and trust in God

I was reading this passage from James 1:2-6

2 Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing. 5 Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without criticizing, and it will be given to him. 6 But let him ask in faith without doubting. For the doubter is like the surging sea, driven and tossed by the wind. 7 That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 An indecisive man is unstable in all his ways.

I was really struck by the verse that says the “doubter is like the surging sea, driven and tossed by the wind.”

It reminded me of these stories from earlier in the New Testament –

Matthew 14:22-33
22 Immediately He made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side, while He dismissed the crowds. 23 After dismissing the crowds, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. When evening came, He was there alone. 24 But the boat was already over a mile from land, battered by the waves, because the wind was against them. 25 Around three in the morning, He came toward them walking on the sea. 26 When the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost!” they said, and cried out in fear. 27 Immediately Jesus spoke to them. “Have courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” 28 “Lord, if it’s You,” Peter answered Him, “command me to come to You on the water.” 29 “Come!” He said. And climbing out of the boat, Peter started walking on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the strength of the wind, he was afraid. And beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31 Immediately Jesus reached out His hand, caught hold of him, and said to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 Then those in the boat worshiped Him and said, “Truly You are the Son of God!”

Note verse 30 in particular. Peter becomes afraid – and THEN he begins to sink. He isn’t afraid because he’s sinking. He’s sinking because he’s afraid. The fear came first.

And there is this, an earlier story. This story is in Matthew 8:23-27, but I like the version in Mark 4:35-41 better.

35 On that day, when evening had come, He told them, “Let’s cross over to the other side of the sea.” 36 So they left the crowd and took Him along since He was already in the boat. And other boats were with Him. 37 A fierce windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking over the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38 But He was in the stern, sleeping on the cushion. So they woke Him up and said to Him, “Teacher! Don’t You care that we’re going to die?” 39 He got up, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Silence! Be still!” The wind ceased, and there was a great calm. 40 Then He said to them, “Why are you fearful? Do you still have no faith?” 41 And they were terrified and asked one another, “Who then is this? Even the wind and the sea obey Him!”

Is it possible that the storm came about because of the disciples fear?

Is it possible that if we keep calm, the world around us will keep calm? I feel that the politicians want us to be afraid. When we react in fear or anger or disgust at their actions, they are controlling our behavior. They are calling the shots. They are leading the dance. We are Re-acting, instead of Acting.

Be calm, trusting in the One who is in charge – God. Not a politician. Listen to the still small voice of God to tell you what to do – not the shrill shouts of politicians.

I leave you with these words from the prophet Micah (in Micah 6:8) to know how to act in these difficult times (and every other time)

“Mankind, He has told you what is good and what it is the Lord requires of you:to act justly,to love faithfulness, and to walk humbly with your God.”

If we do these things, we will be fine.

(All Bible verses are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible)

Turning water into wine.

Early on in Jesus’ ministry, there was a wedding in the village of Cana in Galilee. Jesus was there with his mother and his disciples as invited guests. When the wine ran out too soon, Mary told him about the problem.
“Why does this concern you?” he asked her. “It is not the time yet for me to perform miracles.” However, Mary told the servants “Do whatever he tells you to do.”

There were six stone jars filled with water at the wedding. They were intended for the Jewish purification ritual. Each jar could hold at least 20 gallons of water. Jesus told the servants to fill the jars up to the brim. Then he said “Ladle some out and take it to the headwaiter.”

When the headwaiter tasted the water that was now wine, he was amazed. He did not know where it had come from, even though the servants did. He called the groom to him and said “Normally people put out the best wine first, then after people are drunk they put out the cheap stuff. But you have saved the best for last!”

This was Jesus’ first public demonstration of his God-given abilities. His disciples believed in him. Afterwards, he departed for Capernaum with his mother, brothers, and disciples and they stayed there for just a few days.

JN 2:1-12

The beginning of the ministry of John the Baptist

God sent John to serve as a witness to testify about the light that is Christ, so that everyone could believe through that light. John himself was not the light, but he came to tell others about it. The true light, who gives enlightenment to everyone, was about to be revealed to the world. Christ was in the world and the world was created through Christ, yet the world did not recognize him. He came to those he was called to and yet they did not welcome him. But to those who did welcome him, he gave them the honor of being the children of God. Those who believed in Christ were born out of the will of God and not by way of genealogy or human desire.

The word of God that is Christ took on human form and lived among us. We saw his glory as the only begotten Son of the heavenly Father, and that glory was full of grace and truth.

John testified about him by telling people “This is the One I was talking about when I said ‘There is someone who is coming after me, who is greater than I am because he existed before me.’ Indeed we have all received blessing upon blessing from him, because even though the Law was given through Moses, Christ has brought us the grace of forgiveness. No one has ever seen God, but he has been revealed to us through his one and only Son, who is at the Father’s side.”

JN 1:6-18

God’s word came to John the son of Zechariah while he was in the wilderness. This was in the 15th year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, while Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea. At the same time, Herod was the ruler of Galilee and his brother Philip ruled the region of Iturea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruled Abilene. Annas and Caiaphas were high priests during this time as well.

John went out into the wilderness of Judea and everywhere around the Jordan, preaching about a baptism to forgive sins for those who are repentant. He was saying “Repent, because the kingdom of heaven has arrived.” Everyone from the countryside of Judea and the city of Jerusalem came to him and he baptized them in the Jordan River while they confessed their sins.

He is the one the prophet Isaiah spoke about when he said –

“Look! I am sending my messenger ahead of you who will prepare the way before you. He is a lone voice crying out into the wilderness, saying ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make his paths straight!’ Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, the crooked path will straighten, the rough path will become smooth, and the entire world will see God’s salvation.”

MT 3:1-3, MK 1:1-5, LK 3:1-6

John’s clothing was made of camel hair and he wore a leather belt around his waist. He ate only locusts and wild honey.

MT 3:4, MK 1:6

When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to be baptized by him, he said “You are a nest of snakes! Who warned you to flee from the wrath that is coming? You need to act in a way that proves you are repentant. Don’t think you can get away with saying ‘We have Abraham as our father’, because God can produce children for Abraham from the stones that are here! Even now the ax is poised to chop away at the root of the tree! Every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.”

MT 3:7-10, LK 3:7-9

The crowds asked John “What should we do?” He answered “Anyone who has two shirts should give one to the person who has nothing to wear, and if you have extra food you should give it to those who are hungry.” Tax collectors came to be baptized by him and they asked “What should we do?” He answered “Collect only what you are required to by law and nothing more.” Soldiers questioned him in the same manner and he replied “Don’t use force or false accusations to extort money from anyone – be satisfied with what you get paid.”

LK 3:10-14

All the people were debating amongst themselves if John was the Messiah or not. Priests and Levites were sent from Jerusalem to ask him “Who are you?” John said “I am not the Messiah.” Then they asked him “Are you Elijah?” John again said no. Then they asked him “Are you the Prophet?” John again answered “No.” “Then who are you?” they asked. “We have to give an answer to the people who sent us. What do you have to say about yourself?” John said “I am a lone person crying out in the wilderness – Make straight the path of the Lord – just like the prophet Isaiah said.”

LK 3:15, JN 1:19-23

Since they had been sent from the Pharisees they asked him “Why do you baptize if you aren’t the Messiah, Elijah, or the Prophet?”

John said “I baptize using water, but there is One coming after me who is more powerful than I am. I am not even worthy to take off his shoes. He will baptize you using the Holy Spirit and fire. He stands among you but you don’t recognize him. He is ready to separate the good from the bad, just like how a farmer gathers the good wheat into his barn but burns the chaff in an unending fire.”

He used many other similar warnings to announce the good news of the kingdom of heaven to everyone. All this happened across the Jordan in Bethany, where John was baptizing.

MT 3:11-12, MK 1:7-8, LK 3:16-18, JN 1:24-28

Poem – the low places

I asked Jesus to come soon,
to fill the hearts of everyone
with unity and love,
so we would work together.

And he said
that “Just like water
cannot easily
get to the top of a mountain
because it is so high,
people must
lower themselves
so they can receive
the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

And then I said
“But there is rain
which covers
all things
equally.
Can’t you fill them
with yourself
that way?”

And he said
“Yes, but it won’t last.
Rain is there and gone.
People have to have a way
of holding it,
of keeping it.
They have to make
cisterns in themselves,
to be vessels of love.”

In dry lands,
in areas without worship or observance
people must dig deep,
make wells of themselves.
They must be like
carrots among the vegetables,
deep-rooted.
Not like the oak, which falls over,
exposing all its roots
in a messy storm.
With deep roots
you can withstand
any storm.

We must grow our own roots.
We must dig our own wells.
We must lower ourselves
to be able to let God in
and not just in for a moment
but to stay.

What “altar” really means.

The Hebrew word for altar is
מזבח

Mem, Vav, Vet, Chet. (read right to left)

Each letter of the Hebrew alphabet has a meaning, and if you string those meanings together, you can understand what the word truly means.

Mem means – water with no boundaries, chaos.
Vav means – “and”, hook, nail
Vet (also Bet) – means tent, house, enclosure
Chet means – fence, separate, a new beginning or new creation.

Together, this can be taken to mean “From the waters of chaos I have rescued you and brought you into a new life.”

It refers to the waters from the beginning of time – when “God moved over the waters” to create the world. It refers to the waters of the Red Sea, through which God sent Israel to escape from slavery in Egypt. It refers to the waters of the womb, where God creates us by dividing us, dividing the cells into their individual roles – an eye here, a stomach there…

God separates us, divides us to form us, to make us unique. God “hooks” us, grabs us, takes us into the tent, the house of God. The tent can be seen as the tabernacle, the same temporary house of Sukkot, the temporary dwelling of our bodies.

Poem – water on the stone

You know how
if a bit of water
drops on a stone
every single day,
the stone wears away?

There’s nothing left.

It isn’t something hard,
chipping away.
It is something soft
and it wears away
something hard
drop
by
drop.

Good habits done daily
are like water.
They wear away
our hard outer shells
and make us
softer
and yet
stronger
at the same time.

Everything we do every day
towards our goal
builds us up
and makes us stronger.
The efforts don’t seem like much
when we do them.
But every day
they add up
more
and
more.

Drink more water

I have discovered that water fixes a lot of problems. Two of the biggest ones that I have discovered are headaches and asthma.

If you have a headache, give water a try first instead of taking a pain reliever. Don’t have just a sip of water. Have at least a full glass of water and then wait 20 minutes. Then, if you still have a headache you can take a pain pill.

It is easier on your stomach and on your liver. There are no side effects to water. And, if you were to take a pain pill you would have to wait 20 minutes anyway in order for it to start working.

I wonder if the trick with pain pills is that you have to swallow them with a liquid and it is doing the work and not the pain pill.

I have noticed also this works with asthma. When I feel a twinge of asthma coming on I drink a glass of water and within five minutes the twinge of asthma goes away. It isn’t that water cures asthma, so much as asthma is a sign to me that I am dehydrated.

We need to drink at least eight glasses of water every day. I mean water – not sodas or tea or alcohol or coffee. Water. If we do this, then we will prevent a lot of problems.

Our bodies are made up of three quarters water. We need to replenish it regularly. We need to drink water throughout the day and not do it all at once. Even drinking tap water is better than taking a pill because the pills have dangerous side effects. Water also has no calories so if you are watching your figure it is one of the best things that you can do for yourself.

I have found it also helps with aches and pains and depression.

Don’t ask your doctor if water is right for you. Your doctor can’t make any money off you drinking water.

Memory Postcard 2 – My Mom and me.

Mom and me

I decided to make another memory postcard, but this time with a picture of my Mom and me. I find it interesting that in both of these memory postcards my face is hidden, and water is involved. In the one with my grandmother, my hair is wet because I’ve been swimming in the pool at the Holiday Inn. In this one, I’m totally wet because I’d been swimming in the ocean.

More like near-drowning instead of swimming. I wasn’t a very good swimmer. I’m not a great one now, but I know enough to swim only in pools with lifeguards nearby.

This picture really tugs at my heart. It is really hard for me to look at, because of the look of love in my Mom’s face. I can tell that all of her being is locked right into me in this moment. It has been twenty years and I still miss her.

I felt like I had a great childhood. Some anomalies are rising up, though, that let me know it wasn’t that wonderful. I obscured a lot. I forgot a lot. I also didn’t know what I was missing.

What I was missing was some education. My Mom didn’t teach me how to take care of myself. Gardening, cooking, keeping house, sewing, – she did it all and kept it to herself. I don’t know why. Some of it might have been her attitude of “It is easier to do it myself”. I have some of that attitude. I need to work on it.

I’ve started to talk with my Mom and make peace with her while I bake. I bake banana bread every week as part of our breakfast. We connect this way. It is our time together. In a way, I’m teaching her what I needed to know. I’m becoming the Mom to my Mom, while re-parenting myself.

I mounted it on art paper that was made using dried flowers. I’ve had this paper for at least ten years. This is the first time I’ve used it.

Here’s a shot of the stamps.
mom2

I used a lot of stamps because I feel like it is a long way between her and me, and it needs a lot of postage. I put the one with the Queen first, because Mom was English. I like this one especially, because the building looks like it is Mont-St.-Michel, which is the original of St. Michael’s Mount in Cornwall. I visited there when I took Mom’s ashes to scatter. She couldn’t decide if she wanted her ashes in the backyard in her garden or in England. Cremation is easy. You can do both.

I’ve since moved, so I can’t visit or tend her garden. I have only visited England that one time.

I put a rose stamp because her ashes are mixed with the ashes of her parents and grandparents in a rose garden in Manchester. I put a morning glory stamp because it is beautiful and temporary, and they grow wild in my yard. This links there and here, where I am. This also reminds me to appreciate beauty wherever I may find it, and right then, because it won’t last long.

Here’s a close-up of the two of us together.

Mom3

Such a shining smile she was giving me. I probably didn’t see it at the time. I was probably freaked out by the ocean. There are way too many experiences with me, my Mom, and uncontrolled water in my life.

Top left corner –
Mom6

“A fond memory will soon lead to a renewed old friendship.” – I’m learning how to see my Mom as a friend and a guide. I’m learning, slowly, how to forgive her.

Lower left corner.
Mom4

“Rely on long time friends to give you advice this coming week.” She advises me, now.

Lower right corner.
Mom5

“Now is a good time to call a loved one at a distance from you.” You can’t get any further away than where she is, yet she is as close as my thoughts. I have to remind myself to keep the connection open.

“A friend will soon reveal an exciting secret to you!” – I felt like this was relevant. Perhaps prophetic?

Poem – purify

Fire purifies,
the same as water.

Both clean away the dirt
both inside
and outside.

Yet both
unchecked
can lead to
erasure-
removal-
destruction.

A glass of water
isn’t the same
as an ocean wave.

A campfire
isn’t the same
as a wildfire.

We need both elements
to be alive,
to be human.
Yet both can reduce us
to nothing.

Without both
we are nothing.
But with both
we are the same
sometimes.

Control is part of it.
Water needs a bucket
or a glass.
Fire needs a ring of stones.

Both can quench the other.

Pick your poison
but really your cure.

Risk of drowning

My parents were constantly exposing me to risks. Really dangerous risks. Lethal risks. Many of them involved drowning.

They thought it was a good idea to take me to the site of a local K-mart that had gotten flooded. This was before the levees were put in place in Chattanooga, and the entire store and the parking lot was flooded. My mother held me in her arms and waded into the swirling waters. I was a toddler, maybe three. I can remember trying to claw my way out of her arms to get away from those turbulent waters, those unpredictable waters. I didn’t know where I thought I was going to go, but I knew I needed to get away.

They thought that it would be a good idea to tell six-year-old me that the train that we were going on in New York was going to go under a river. They somehow thought that was something I needed to know. I remember, almost forty years later now, being terrified of this idea. What if the walls broke? All that pressure of all that water. It would come in, on top of us, and kill us. We’d die slowly because we were in a subway train. But we would die, certainly. The water would seep in, if it didn’t crush us first. I can remember nothing more of this experience, because apparently the idea of it simply short circuited my brain and I went to sleep. I woke up at the end of the journey.

They thought it would be a good idea to tell me that the wall that I saw when we were in New Orleans meant that we were twelve feet below sea level. That wall was the only thing that was keeping the water from engulfing us. From engulfing me. That wall was all that stood between me and a watery death. That death would have been faster than in the train, but still terrifying. I was twelve, and not past the idea of irrational fears. The wall had held this long. Surely it would hold longer. Surely it wouldn’t cave in just at the moment I was there. Surely.

My parents kept exposing me to these risks, these dangers. They kept thinking that this was a fine way to parent. I thought that they were good parents, and in many ways they were. They tried their best. They did the best with what they had. They meant well. But they weren’t ideal. And the fear of water stuck with me for a long time.

I can remember one time when we were on one of our last family vacations. I was around six, and we were in Florida. I don’t know why we stopped going on vacation. There were twenty more years of sullenness and sulking that happened after that – and that was between them. I’d expect that from teenagers, but not from middle aged people. Perhaps we didn’t have enough money. Perhaps they didn’t like to spend that much time together anymore. Perhaps they were just going through the motions.

It doesn’t matter.

I remember going out into the sea and getting turned upside down. I remember the water was all around me. Perhaps a wave had engulfed me. Perhaps I’d wandered out too far and lost my footing. All I remember was that I was in the water and I didn’t know which way was up. Somehow I didn’t worry about it at the time. It seemed normal. The next thing I know, my Mom grabs me by my foot and pulls me out of the water.

They didn’t teach me how to stay safe in the water then. They didn’t teach me any survival skills in general. Perhaps they didn’t know them for themselves. Perhaps they didn’t think that was their responsibility.

I took swim classes later, when I was probably eight. We went to the Cumberland Y at the time. I faked learning how to swim. I didn’t know I was faking it. Turns out that I could move through the water, but I didn’t know how to breathe at the same time. I was really good at holding my breath.

My Mom had told me that as soon as I learned how to swim I could get my ears pierced. I swam one day, and she thought I was fine. I wasn’t. I was still in the shallow water, and I still was faking it. In that swimming test I was allowed to stop and touch my feet to the bottom of the pool twice. I did. I caught my breath and went on. My Mom was so proud of me, and I didn’t know why. I got my ears pierced that afternoon. I still didn’t know how to swim. Water still was winning that battle.

When I was offered the chance to take the deep water class I freaked out. I knew I couldn’t fake it there. I knew that there was no way I could make it. I knew that was a death sentence for sure. I said no to the class and never went back there. My Mom didn’t understand my terror, and didn’t question it.

Years later I took a swimming class when I went to my first college. That school had a policy that everybody had to know how to swim by the time they graduated. Some benefactor had a son who had graduated, but had died in a boating accident because he didn’t know how to swim. The benefactor was overwhelmed with grief that his son had graduated with honors but didn’t know this basic life skill. He donated a lot of money to the school with the stipulation that everybody had to know how to swim, at least in a basic way, by the time they graduated.

I took the class the first semester to get it over with. I took it, and I took basic swimming. I learned how to breathe. I learned how to turn myself over to rest. But most importantly I learned how to not freak out in the water. I didn’t learn this from my parents, and I’m sad. I’m sad for them that they taught me to fear water rather than to respect it. I’m sad for them that they never understood the damage they did to me.

I now take water aerobics for exercise, and I’m grateful for it. I actually do it in the deep end, with a flotation belt. I’m glad that I’ve gotten over my fear. But I don’t think I’ll ever get over wondering what other psychological damage my parents wrought.