Day 17

This is love: it is not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son as the sacrifice that deals with our sins.  Dear friends, if God loved us this way, we also ought to love each other.  1 John 4:10-11 CEB

Alzheimer’s stole everything from my mom but the most important thing.  Until the day she lost the ability to communicate, mere hours before her passing, my mom grew in her capacity and willingness to express love.  People who, in the past, she’d occasionally suggest needed to improve “this” or “that”, she began to say things like, “I really like her.  She is nice to me.”

She forget that a particular family member or family friend might have annoyed her consistently in the past.  Slowly, over time, there were no enemies.  There were no criticisms.  There were no shortcomings.

One of our last full on conversations occurred the day before her catastrophic health event.  She told me how much she loved her life, reminding me of the activities she loved and the beauty of her surroundings.  Much of what she said was factually untrue.  But the heart of the story, the essence of her meaning, was that she was satisfied with her life and even her place in it.  Much had to be overlooked for my mother to get to this point.  She was in constant pain.  She alternately loved and fear my father, calling him “good Bob” or “bad Bob”.  She had the typical anger and outbursts that go along with Alzheimer’s.  But on this day, all she had was love for life and love for Bob and love for her children and their spouses and her grandchildren and her friends.  This was a lovely last conversation for me to have with her, and I am forever grateful.

It has spurred me to consider my own way of living.  I want what she had in those last moments.  I’d prefer to find that inspired way of seeing without it coming with the disease of Alzheimer’s.  And you know what?  I think it is possible, because it is the closest thing to truth we will ever encounter.  We ought to be crazy mad in love with people.  What is standing in your way from finding the love in your life?  Any ideas?

Day 16

Just for today, in keeping with my inspired way of seeing and being in this world, I commit to DOING this one thing:  _______________________________________.

When my mother advanced along the path of her Alzheimer’s most of it was bad news.  But in two ways in particular, I found blessing in the suffering.  Way one.  My mother could be a critical and judgmental person.  People with a little “extra weight” would draw her attention and she’d say things like, “Teresa, why are all these fat people here?”  [Picture her saying this in a really loud voice while glaring at the person who caught her attention.  You think your mom embarrassed you when you were 13?  Woah baby, this is a whole new level.]  Another thing she hated were tattoos.  She thought women who got tattoos were floozies.  When one of my children began dating a young woman with many artful tattoos who was totally NOT a floozy but a wonderful person who we adored, I started breaking out in a cold sweat every time I pictured my mom meeting her.  But the disease of Alzheimer’s is relentless and by the time the two met my mom had lost the word “tattoo” and with it, her judgment of them.  She was fascinated by the “pretty pictures” and thought maybe she would like one too.  Alas, she never lost the word “fat”, but that’s another tale. My mother taught me in her disease that some things are worth losing and judgment is one of them.  She loved activities and people and even tattoos in ways that she had not given herself permission to do prior to Alzheimer’s.  So if your personal improvement project includes anything, it needs to include a commitment to love.  Factor that in today!

This is love: it is not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son as the sacrifice that deals with our sins.  Dear friends, if God loved us this way, we also ought to love each other.  1 John 4:10-11 CEB

Tomorrow, way two of blessing in the midst of suffering.

Day 15

I said at the beginning of this devotional series that my goal in writing was to offer a bit of support and encouragement to those who are taking this fresh start and new year to consider how they might want this year to look differently than the past year.  2016 was not a great year for many of us.  We are hoping for a better 2017.  Can you relate?

Remember that commitment you started the year off with?  

Just for today, I am going to practice DOING this one different thing:  _______________________________________________________.

It’s been two weeks for those of us who are following this suggestion.  Today I want to offer you the opportunity to amend your statement.  What have you discovered about your DOING and desire to NOT DO?  Are you onto something with this practice?  Is it helpful?  Is this a core issue that desperately needs addressing?  Are you beginning to wonder if it Is more a symptom of a deeper problem or suffering than the root issue?

Sometimes figuring out how to tackle our  bad habits is so complicated!  

For today, imagine yourself on a ski slope flying down the mountain with great speed and agility.  You’re enjoying the experience but you know that you are on the edge of potential disaster.  One wrong move and you might end of careening off the slope and injuring yourself.  You’ve skied long enough to know that there are certain habits, skiing practices, that make for a good run or a big fall.  You are practicing the best you know how to put all that knowledge into a good run.  

Now, back to today.  Try to think of your daily life as having some things in common with a wild ride on skis. Think of your DOING project as a skill set that helps you move forward and enjoy the ride.  Are there any adjustments you want to make to your commitment?

Just for today,  in keeping with my inspired way of seeing and being in this world, I commit to DOING this one thing:  _______________________________________

Day 14

Today, take the time you’d normally invest in reading and thinking and instead, sit quietly and listen.  Breathe in.  Breathe out.  Tell God you are sitting quietly as an acknowledgement to him that he is God and you are not.

Blessed breathing my friends.  May God reveal himself and his love for you in ways that you recognize today.  

Day 13

(We know this post went out earlier today but it was mistake ridden.  We’re re-sending it now that it’s been properly edited.)

I have this friend who prefers to live in the future and never think about the past.  She’s fun to be around and the life of any party.  But she doesn’t deal well with problems and she runs from suffering like it’s a contagious disease.  She doesn’t stand still long enough for us to have a conversation and has a tendency to anticipate the next fun thing without helping clean up and do the dishes after the last party.  I think this way of seeing and experiencing life is having some unintended consequences.

The immature will die because they turn away;    smugness will destroy fools. 

Proverbs 1:32 CEB

Last week over a delicious lunch in a new trendy downtown restaurant (my friend rarely eats at the same establishment twice…that would be boring), she told me that her husband was moving on.  When I expressed sadness, she waved her hand at me as if to shoo away a pesky fly, “Oh just DON’T get all serious about this.  It’s for the best!  There are always more fish in the sea!”  

I took the hint and dropped the unpleasant subject of her soon-to-be fourth divorce.  We carried on as if nothing was amiss.  But something is wrong.  This divorce will be painful; children are involved.  

Part of rigorous honesty requires that we practice maturity.  A dangerous roadblock to maturity is taking on a complacent attitude about our part in life circumstances.  Either my friend is the most unlucky person in marriage I know, or she has some part in this revolving door of men and marriage.  Maturity isn’t getting to the point where we never mess up; it is figuring out a lifestyle practice that helps us stay alert to our part in any mess.

Today, inquire of yourself:  is there anything I am avoiding being honest about?  What could I do differently?

Day 12

In college I had a roommate who was always complaining about her weight.  She said she ate like a bird and felt cheated by the metabolism gods.  She was less than rigorously honest.  At some point in the year my boyfriend and I went to Hershey Pennsylvania and brought back a big pack of chocolate and peanut butter Easter eggs.  They were enormous in size.  36 of them to be exact.  They disappeared in one night.  I ate zero of them.  My roommate ate 36 of those things in one sitting.

The next morning I noticed and said, “Hey, what happened to all those Easter eggs?”

“I don’t know what you mean!” She replied, gazing over my right shoulder and unconsciously swiping at the corner of her mouth.  Boy, could I relate to her.  I struggle with honesty on many levels; I am particularly good at self-deception.  But if we are going to make changes, honesty is a required component of any recovery program.  

If we claim, “We don’t have any sin,” we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from everything we’ve done wrong. 10 If we claim, “We have never sinned,” we make him a liar and his word is not in us.  1 John 1:8-10 CEB

Sin is such a big word.  If this word triggers you, think about it like this.  Sin are those ways in which we live independently of God.  What are those character traits, behaviors, and ways of living and loving that do not reflect God of your understanding?  Something as innocuous as eating a bunch of Easter eggs as a way to fill loneliness and then denying the behavior is a form of living independently of God.  It’s not a serial killer kind of sin, but it still distracts us from living a healthy, reasonably happy life.  Notice that 1 John doesn’t say “never sin”; 1 John says tell the truth about the ways we live independently of God and see where that takes us.  My friend and I struggled to tell the truth about ourselves as young women among the first of our gender to attend a highly competitive male-dominated college campus that had just recently become co-ed.  I stopped eating; she did the opposite.  Oh how I wish someone had helped us understand that our eating wasn’t the problem; oh how I wish someone had noticed the toll it took on women to be trailblazers on a campus where the men preferred to fetch their women for weekend frivolties on road trips rather than compete for grades with them in the classroom.  Here’s my point:  often the “issue” isn’t the “issue” and we may need help unpacking what’s really going on with us.

Day 11

God has the power to provide you with more than enough of every kind of grace. That way, you will have everything you need always and in everything to provide more than enough for every kind of good work.  2 Corinthians 9:8 CEB

Pastors are sometimes put in the position of serving as the customer service department for God.  Seriously.  This happens.  I quite appreciate the opportunity to hear people’s complaints against God.  It’s an age-old freedom, we see it throughout the bible, that God is not freaked out when people offer laments that include lines of discontent with what God is up to.  Honestly, I think it is one of the most sacred experiences I have the privilege of participating in – this listening and holding the laments of God’s children.  

Oftentimes, these are best kept as listening sessions.  And I work hard to do that though it doesn’t come naturally to me and I often mess it up by giving unsolicited and mostly unhelpful advice.

When I can remain silent, it is only because on that particular day I have been able to hold onto this idea that we are not a people living in a land of scarcity.  God has power to provide us with more than enough of every kind of grace.

This is no small thing.

Last Thanksgiving, my niece Kaitlin and her husband Brett joined us to celebrate the weekend before the formal turkey day.  It was every kind of grace to have them with us on this first holiday without my mother.  Over the years I have had many holidays without my mother.  She lived in Atlanta; I live in Richmond.  But there is something profoundly different about knowing that my mom is a phone call away and experiencing the loss of my mom’s physical presence on planet earth.  Somehow, by the grace of God, Kaitlin and Brett gave me the gift of their presence.  It was more than enough.  

When we are trying to change a habit, sometimes we can get pretty obsessive about it.  I’d suggest that we figure out a way to practice looking for and appreciating God’s provision of grace.