Then and Now

Happy Fourth of July! I hope you celebrated in a safe and distant way yesterday, if you did celebrate. There were lots of fireworks in our neighborhood last night, but it seemed a bit calmer and less loud than previous years, which was a welcome change. As you probably heard, especially if you were planning to join us for the Friends Together call on Zoom Wednesday night, I had a mishap late Wednesday afternoon, when I caught my shoe in a looped rug in my office and fell into a metal bookshelf, breaking my collarbone. I clearly remember thinking as I was falling, “Oh no, not again.” And I prayed, “God, please let me not break anything…that would just be cruel!”

It was just two years ago—also during the summer—that I wiped out playing tennis with my grandkids and badly broke my wrist. Recovery that time took about three months from the initial injury until the the splint and support wraps went away for good. It took another six months to regain my full range of motion, and another six months for me to basically forget it ever happened, and return to my normal life of gardening and hiking, kayaking and more. Not long ago I marveled that that whole experience—and the huge trauma it had seemed like at the time—faded so easily into the past, leaving barely a ripple on the normally smooth surface of my life.

But, here we are again. I don’t yet know whether I will need surgery. The occupational health doctor thinks so. I will get definitive word when I see the specialist this week.

Thank you so much for all of your wonderful messages and your faithful prayers of support. I texted Jean Ann when I was in the ER and asked for prayers and I know they made a huge difference in comforting and calming me and lessening my pain. And over the last few days many of you have checked on me and encouraged me to take it easy. And I know I probably concerned a couple of you by wanting to have meeting for worship today. But on Friday morning, the scripture and title for the message bubbled up, so I felt that was God’s encouragement to carry on.

And here’s the thing. God is in this with me. God is present with us in everything, always. In days we feel on top of the world and days when we have pain and can barely get out of bed. God is loving us, encouraging us, leading us forward, and crying with us when times are hard. That’s the tender, present God we worship. So it feels really important to me to be here and worship with you this morning not because everything is great but because everything is not. Whatever the state of our bodies, our nation, our world, God is here, faithful, present, loving us beyond anything we can truly comprehend. That’s something worth celebrating, a love and faithfulness worth worshiping.

It’s God’s strength that carries us when we’re feeling weak. God’s light lifts our spirits when things feel dark. Our lives teach us, over time, that our hope is well-founded, not because we will figure things out or our families or communities or nation will figure things out, but because God is right here in it with us—whatever it may be—right now, and we can trust that. God is our constant, continuous source of wisdom, truth, comfort, and peace.

Have you ever noticed a pattern in some of the happenings in your life? I hope your happenings weren’t big falls and broken bones, like mine, but maybe you see similarities in relationships—where a certain personality type you meet over and over again always seemed to cause you trouble or bring you pain. Or maybe you were treated unfairly at work, and that happened in other jobs, too. Often people have repeated financial setbacks—just as they are getting ahead, something comes along to mess it up. That can become a cycle of never quite making it to security.

Being curious about those patterns—things that happen over and over in our lives—can help us learn more about ourselves and see how God is leading us to heal old hurts and grow in grace. Noticing the difference between then and now can help us get a glimpse of the progress our souls are making, to see how we’ve grown and changed. I like the way author and psychologist Clarissa Pinkola Estes puts this. She writes,

“The doors to the world of the wild Self are few but precious. If you have a deep scar, that is a door. If you have an old, old story, that is a door. If you love the sky and the water so much you almost cannot bear it, that is a door.”

Last week if you remember I shared what a wonderful time I had on my stay-at-home vacation. What made it so wonderful was that I had all the time in the world to just let the day unfold and stay I touch with God. God’s presence and peace were so evident to me I just wanted to be able to stay in that feeling of peace all the time.

Maybe you’ve heard the old saying, “If God seems far away, guess who moved?” This is what I think Dr. Estes is pointing to and it puts a frame on my experience last week as well. All the moments in our lives are full of God, and our experiences—good and bad—are the doors that can takes us back into uninterrupted connection with the present source of our love and peace.

What does that uninterrupted contact with God feel like? Psalm 19:7 says it this way: “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.” God’s gift to us—the gift of life itself, the gift of God’s presence, the gift of the clarity of the promise of truth—all freely available to us when we simply open the door of our experiences to meet God there.

When I look back at my situation two years ago and contrast it with where I am today, I can see how far God has brought me in the meantime. Instead of reacting to my injury with resistance and denial, frustration and struggle, like I did last time, this time it feels easier to accept what’s going on, take time to rest, trust God to lead the way through my healing. I think in the interim, God has been helping me learn to allow room for more grace in my life and to rely on him more fully, moment by moment. It feels like a big change. I’ve always loved God, but I feel today I trust and rely on God much more. I struggle less. God feels closer than ever, in big moments and small. In painful moments and not.

In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he is explaining the importance of putting what we learn from our past experiences into practice today. He writes that the scriptures offer and encouragement and hope toward steadfastness in faith. He then writes, “May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The God of steadfastness and encouragement, who is with us in all our experiences, whose law of life is perfect is continually working to help us find harmony with each other. We need that the whole world over. And we need to let God teach us how to hear the beauty and truth in every voice, in every experience, good and bad, because we will find God there if we are willing to look.

It’s perhaps the greatest comfort of all that God is with us every step of the way , every day of our lives, loving us when we fall short, helping us see what we’re blind to, teaching us to open our hearts to grace and truth and hope. All along, God works in his steadfast way, leading us toward harmony, toward unity.  That’s the kingdom of God in the here-and-now.

Yes I know we seem far from that ideal right now. But look back at the experiences of your life. What evidence do you see of God’s grace and guiding? In the perfect time, in the perfect way—because the law of the Lord is perfect—we will be able to see clearly how God is gradually transforming us in love. As Saint Therese of Lisieux (leez-ya), a nun in France in the late 1800s, said,

“Just as in nature all the seasons are arranged in such a way as to make the humblest daisy bloom on a set day, in the same way, everything works out for the good of each soul.”

RESOURCES

  • OT Psalms 19:7
  • NT Romans 15: 4-6

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