A Daily Prayer

Faith comes easily to me. For as long as I can remember, I have believed down to my toes that God loves me, Jesus died for me, and the Spirit guides me.

And yet. As an emotionally-driven individual, my attitudes and actions may tell a different story. Too often, I don’t act like I believe a loving God cares about my life and the world I inhabit.

Life is good, and hard. Life is beautiful, and brutal. As Glennon Doyle puts it, Life is brutiful. Faith—trusting that we’re not alone or left to our own sometimes pitiful resources—helps.

But it’s easier declared than lived on the daily.

Of course I try. Yet as I think of seasons in life where we have faced significant challenges—illnesses and injuries, job stress which increased financial stress, losses of one sort or another—I know I prayed, and still what I felt smacked more of grief than hope. (Interestingly, I also recall several people telling me during one of those difficult seasons that I glowed with hope; God is good).

During desperate times, faith can be hard-scrabble, tooth-and-nail dug deep.

When one son vomited for weeks on end, repeat every few months for years, missing school and eluding (for a long while) diagnosis. When another son suffered a severe concussion that not only affected his abilities but changed his personality, again for too long. When help seems unavailable and despair unavoidable, then what?

That’s when I turn to one of my favorite biblical prayers:

Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.

God knows I believe, but I need to grow in asking Him to help me believe all the time, in life’s common nonsense and torrential storms alike. Pray with me?

Dig deeper…

Connect
Share about a recent power-full experience.

Study
Read Mark 9:14-29.
Describe the scene Jesus returns to (vv14-20).
What do you think the disciples and teachers might have argued about (vv14-16)? How might their argument have affected the disciples’ ability to help the child?
How does the crowd respond to seeing Jesus (v15)? How does the spirit respond (v20)?
Who do you think Jesus intends to include in His rebuke of the “unbelieving generation” (v19)?
Put the father’s interaction with Jesus in your own words (vv17-24).
Read Mark 3:14-15 and Mark 6:7, 12-13. Since the disciples have received from Jesus power to cast out spirits and have done so previously, what else might be going on (vv28-29)?

Live
What can we learn from this story about belief, prayer and power?
How do you hang on to faith in desperate circumstances?
How can others’ faith or doubt affect your own belief?
If you can, share about a time when you experienced Jesus’ power.
What might change in your life if you daily/regularly prayed the father’s prayer?
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Ask God to increase your belief.

Family Share Questions
Use these questions to reflect on Mark 9:14-29 individually and with your family.
When you think of someone “powerful,” who comes to mind?
How does Jesus help the boy and his father?
Ask God to help you believe.

 

 

 

Spring

What puts (or keeps) a spring in your step?
What helps you experience flow?
What do you do that prompts bubbles of joy to float to the surface of your life?

I knew one word wouldn’t cut it this year, so I’m playing with words again.

I started January with Create Happiness. That didn’t make January a joyride, but it helped me think through some issues and put some new, at least revised, guidelines in place.

February’s renewed focus on Connecting once again resulted in loneliness (Connect was my 2018 word, and it stunk). For now, I’m sticking with tried-and-true mutual friendships.

March blew in with a soggy, wet mess as a ridiculous amount of rain drenched Northern California. The rest of the country also had its share of unusual weather (thanks, global warming!), but NorCal is my reality. Through the darkness, I cast about for the right word, something that would get me out of my own funk, something playful and inspirational, and pounced on: spring.

Even though spring won’t officially begin until March 20 this year, as soon as I said it aloud, I knew I’d found the right word. Spring is coming, so it’s hopeful. Also, Lent (German for spring) began on March 6, the season in the Church calendar when we observe the service and sacrifice of Jesus, so it fits that bill as well.

Playing with spring makes me laugh. It’s unlike any word or discipline I’ve chosen before, and therefore feels novel.

I want to keep a spring in my step, both physically and emotionally. Which means I need to get up on my feet and move (gym time, dog walks with Guy and friends), and it keeps me mindful of what I put in my mouth that might weigh me down. I’m also aware of what I put in my mind, via books or screens, social media, even conversations that take a wrong turn, so I don’t slog through the muck and mire of unhappiness or worry, gossip or anger. Feeling springy on this clear-sky gorgeous afternoon, I hopped on our front yard swing–perhaps more swing in my seat than spring in my step

I want to flow like a spring. Not like a dry summer creek bed or a muddy winter torrent, but light and easy, conscious of healthy boundaries as I bring life to dry places and parched creatures. I flow best when I’m reading good books, both fiction and non, and when I’m writing regularly. I flow best when I take care of myself: sufficient rest, hydration, and time alone and with God to recharge. Our church has a Lenten focus on Sabbath, prompting renewed attention to what a life-giving rest might look like in my life and our home.

I want living water to spring up in my soul. I hear Sunday school songs from my childhood: “Spring up, o well, within my soul / spring up o well, and make me whole…” (Numbers 21:17) I think of the woman at the well, to whom Jesus offered living water so she would never be (spiritually) thirsty again (John 4). And during my Ash Wednesday personal spiritual retreat, I came across Isaiah 43:13-18 in which God encourages His people:

“Forget the former things;
    do not dwell on the past.
19 See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland.

In these uncertain times, on days when I’m more inclined to stomp than spring, I can drink deep from God’s spring of fresh, clean, living water, then lie back and rest as He floats me through the wilderness on His own currents.

Image by 이룬 봉 from Pixabay

Yonder

The familiar carol rings:

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new glorious morn

A thrill of hope…yet some days hope feels like a discipline, something to hang on to for dear life as we toss, washed and worn, by the cosmic spin cycle.

Still, I think of children on Christmas Eve, hoping for the gifts that will be under the tree when they awake. They rightly hope, because they know they are loved and that their loved ones will make sure there will indeed be gifts, however so humble. Those children, they thrill with hope. Beyond the annual Christmas joy-filled celebration, their hope makes the family Christmas services hum with anticipation.

the weary world rejoices. The weary soul rejoices. Has my soul become too weary to thrill, to rejoice? How many of us slog through the burn-out day after day, attempting to drown out the noise, self-caring and self-medicating by turns, never feeling fully refreshed? When even rejoicing feels like a forced discipline, how do we rest our weary souls?

For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

Yonder: over there, in the distance. At least, tomorrow, after we go to sleep on Christmas Eve to awake to the sure knowledge that Jesus Christ has been born. Or, at least, New Year’s Day with a whole new year stretching before us.

We’ve had a rough go for the, oh, last couple years. For various reasons–political, professional, and personal–each of us (and yes, me me me) has had to work hard to hope, to thrill, to rejoice, to refresh, to wait for the yonder. I’m hoping we can let go of the past and move with increased joy into the yonder of 2019.

I have no idea what that might look like. I’m not one for resolutions, just for taking the next right step as firmly as I can and resetting when that step falters as steps occasionally do. However, I received some end-of-year encouragement from my daily Bible reading:

Sing to the Lord a new song.
    Sing his praises in the assembly of the faithful.

Psalm 149:1 (NLT)

Sing a new song now to the Creator and Sustainer who in the end will make all things new again (Colossians 1:15-17, Revelation 21:5).

Even better:

…she laughs without fear of the future.

Proverbs 31:25b

For now, trepidation comes more easily than laughter. And so I will keep at hope, rejoicing, singing, and laughing, intentionally injecting each day with prayer and love and moments of happiness.

Thankful Thursday – Wassailing

Last night, for the first time, we attended our high school’s holiday concert called The Wassail. When I asked Q14 if he’d like to attend, he asked about the unfamiliar word.

I sang the first line or two of the carol, enough to jog his memory, and explained that wassail is also a drink similar to mulled wine. So wassailing is caroling and drinking and celebrating the season.

In our town, Wassail is a tremendous holiday concert. Now that we’ve experienced it firsthand, I anticipate we’ll make attending it an annual tradition.

Up to 120 high school singers, plus instrumentalists for a few numbers, made unbelievable music like I’ve never heard. During one piece, as vocalists encircled the audience and literally surrounded us with song, I closed my eyes and nearly wept for sheer beauty.

And Christmas arrived. Not the actual day, that’s still next week, but the spirit of Christmas. I always pay attention for that moment when I feel Christmas. Some years it never comes, or comes after Christmas has ended. These talented young people ushered the Christmas spirit into my heart.

When I looked up wassailing, I read that the tradition has pagan roots, that men would put cider-soaked cakes under apple trees while banging pots and pans and singing in order to ward off bad spirits and exhort the trees to healthy production in the next year.

With all the Christmas and end-of-year activities, I’ve been feeling tired. I see it on others’ faces, too: the joy and the weariness. I am still tired today, but last night’s Wassail sure chased away some Grinchy bad spirits. Hearing those young people sing so beautifully, having invested so much of their time and heart into rehearsal, it reminded me that there is hope. We have hope.

This morning I met a friend for coffee. As we waited for our drinks, a man sporting one of those obnoxiously funny Christmas suits held open the front door as 20+ preschool children filed in. They lined up near the counter and started singing Jingle Bells. People got up from their seats to better see and hear them as they continued to sing three songs in all. One couldn’t help but silly-smile at so much cuteness.

Buddy the Elf was right: The best way to spread Christmas cheer is to sing loud for all to hear.

Ted Tuesday – Advent Hope 2018

With all that’s currently piled on my To-Do plate, it seems all I can do to stab a rolling pea here and there with the tines of my fork, barely making an impact. Hope, I remind myself, I cling to hope.

And then I remember, first world problems. Not to diminish the emotional and physical toil of the work before me, but just to put things back in perspective. I have speed bumps, while others have mountains.

Isaiah 9:2 – The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned.

I may encounter some darkness, but others trudge through darkness. So I found this video, this beautiful song inspired by a peace warrior who encouraged: If you’re feeling helpless, help someone. Maybe the video will help someone else today, and maybe each of us will look at others–at the world–with eyes that call us onward to be the helpers the world needs.

The Sad Song

I had a rare treat last weekend: a Barnes & Noble sat across the street from the hotel where we stayed. Since most bookstores in our area have closed, I relished the opportunity to spend an hour meandering, collecting a stack of books that attracted my attention for various reasons, and sitting in a corner with them, slowly turning pages.

One book addressed our fear response to life’s hard times. The author wrote, “We habitually spin off and freak out when there’s even the merest hint of fear. We feel it coming and we check out…The most heartbreaking thing of all is how we cheat ourselves of the present moment” (Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart).

Yes, and yes. Life is hard. We feel badly. We check out and cheat ourselves.

Or we could not. Listen to my friend Mike advocate for a different approach…

re:create recess #19: Mike Loretto

I might be a little bit odd.

I had this thought recently when I was feeling the need for a break–for recreation–and my first impulse was to reach for…

…the saddest music I could put on.

I love sad songs. I love them. And I love them because–hang with me now–they make me feel sad. I actually love feeling sad. I know. It’s weird.

When I’m in the thick of the busyness of life and feel that internal prick of “I need to recreate, to play,” I have learned that some of the things that felt like recreation when I was younger don’t call to me as much. In those needful moments, I still might reach for the remote control, a tennis racket, a video game, a drink, a book, or any number of other things. Some of the time those things are the right decision; some times they’re really not. Most of them have no inherent goodness or badness. They all have the potential to be informative or celebratory or good exercise or just plain fun. They all also have the potential to be avenues for escape.

And I’m prone to escapism. Some combination of my personality, my experiences, and the myriad ways that modern culture offers us to escape our reality have, for me, led to 37 years worth of finding creative ways to escape. To not be present to what’s really going on in my life. To not be attentive. To not, in all honesty, be fully alive in many moments.

Sadness and grief can be paralyzing. Depression is no joke. I say all of this from experience. Intentionally diving into the waters of sadness isn’t always the right move, either–sometimes escape is a survival technique. Everything in its season, and everything in moderation. But I find that my default setting is one in which I’m not really letting myself grieve the big or small rips in the fabric of life that I encounter. The ways I’m broken. The ways the world is broken. The pain of people I love. The pain of people I’ll never meet. And I need regular doses of art, conversation, experiences that will prod me to do that grieving.

That’s where, for me, sad songs come in. A well-written, well-performed sad song has the capability to take me right to the core (or at least to dig into the mantle) of feelings I’ve been avoiding. When I turn on Patty Griffin’s “Rain,” or the soundtrack of the musical “The Last Five Years,” I access the pain and grief of relationships not going like we thought they would, hoped they would, needed them to. When I listen to Jason Isbell’s “Elephant,” I’m seared by the sadness of death and dying and of loving someone deeply. I remember in college listening to David Crowder’s “All I Can Say” on repeat, and feeling the desperation of spiritual longing, of the “dark night of the soul.”

Sometimes the sad song might end on a hopeful note. Many of the best don’t. The hope is found in the alchemy of turning grief into beauty, and in the “Oh, you too?” recognition that breaks us out of our isolation. There is something incredibly moving to me about a piece of art that tells the truth about the hard parts of life and somehow begins to redeem it in the beauty of the telling. The craft of the lyrics, the choices of instrumentation and rhythms and chord progressions, the sigh of a steel guitar line or the weeping of a mandolin, the voice soaked in the waters of experience–the right combination of these things cracks me open and brings me to my knees.

My faith and my experience tell me that the world is (and that I am) flawed and broken, and also that even good things must eventually burn down to let something better rise from the ashes. Being intentional about accessing sadness is, for me, a way of sifting through those ashes and finding the building blocks of new creation. As an (often frustrated) songwriter, I find that listening to a song that gets me in touch with my sadness is one of the best avenues for finding the head- and heart-space in which I do my best creative work. It’s a way of touching the live rail that energizes creativity. It hurts, but the hurt motivates and animates.

So here’s to the sad song. Turn it up and cry it out, my friends.

Mike Loretto (@mikeloretto on Twitter/IG) is a songwriter, worship leader, husband to Sarah, and feeder of dogs Bristow and Jed Bartlet. He and Sarah write and perform music under the name Truesdell and are hoping to release an album this year. (Find Truesdell on Facebook or @truesdellmusic on Twitter). Mike is passionate about the intersection of art & spirituality, contemplative prayer, good food & drink, Kansas Jayhawks basketball, and Kansas City Royals baseball. He almost never blogs at mikeloretto.tumblr.com. Email: mikeloretto at gmail dot com

Phoenix

It can be hard to find beauty as you walk in the wasteland… And some days, seasons, in our lives feel just like that: devoid of beauty, wasted, bleak. But there is hope, friends, always hope. My friend Kristi reminds us to look to the phoenix. Grieve the losses, yes, but look for the new arising from the old.

re:create recess #18: Kristi Grover

Phoenix: a beautiful mythological bird resembling an eagle. It burns to death at the end of its life cycle…and from the ashes another phoenix arises.

As a young child I was absolutely fascinated by the phoenix myth I encountered through story. As an adult I continue to be intrigued by the imagery. I can look back over my life and clearly see many parallels when I consider various eras, relationships, and energies as they emerged, blossomed, and later flamed out—some slowly and quietly and others in a sudden whoosh of flame, leaving behind only ashes.

Yet, each time, those ashes held the promise of re-creation. Ashes are, after all, soil for new growth. They may appear to be a dull, gritty waste but they are in fact rich with nutrients and conducive to vibrant new life. Re-creation.

In the story I read as a child the protagonist is a young boy who has experienced a series of losses. He is lonely, suddenly living in an unfamiliar place, and not clear about what to do next. He strikes out on a solitary, aimless ramble in the woods and comes across a tiny phoenix emerging from what looks like a campfire. They become friends and share wondrous adventures until one day when the phoenix disappears.

The boy’s search for his trusted companion leads him eventually to the same place they first met. He witnesses the flames engulfing his dear friend, and grieves as he accepts that their time together has ended. Eventually he gathers himself to leave until a small sound causes him to look back and he sees a tiny new phoenix emerging from the ashes. Suddenly there is hope and the promise of new adventures.

In my life I have seen this pattern repeat in various ways. A good friend moves away or some other change causes the end of a once close relationship. A dearly loved family member dies. A move severs connection on many levels. A health challenge suddenly arises which effectively closes off meaningful work.

Even good, happily anticipated changes hold some significant loss. I was overjoyed as I anticipated being married to my beloved one, yet also privately needed to grieve significant losses as my life changed quite dramatically. As my children grew into maturity and moved off into lives with their own families, friends, and work, I could rejoice in the new beauty I saw as they grew into the promise of early years, yet there was also bittersweet acknowledgement that a precious window of time closed—family life on this particular level. What helped me in these times, and others like them, was knowing that a new era of life would open up eventually with its own extraordinary beauty.

Each time I needed to accept the change, grieve what was lost, and honor memories. And then I needed to wait patiently until it was time for a new beginning. As a woman of faith, I needed to trust that God was working things out in ways beyond my understanding and that He would bring into my life new relationships, work, or insights which would open the way to new adventures in my life journey with Him.

It is hard to wait, harder still to wait in hope with an open, trusting heart. I have often thought at such times of the answer I would give to young children in my care when, school day over, they waited while all the other children were picked up by a parent or led off to another activity. “When is my mom coming?” they would ask, sometimes with tears. And my answer would always be, “She’ll be here at just the right time.” For young children, waiting is very hard, even agonizing.

Even a two-minute delay feels like forever when everyone else has someone to be with or something wonderful to do. But Mom or Dad or Nanny or Grandparent always did show up eventually and they’d embark on new adventures together, grief eclipsed by the promise of excitement ahead.

In my “wisdom years” now, I’ve lived with chronic pain, cancer, tough challenges to my marriage, deep concerns for my children’s safety as they headed off time and again into dangerous places to do the work they believed God had called them to do, the end of relationships with various family members and friends due to death, moves, changes in work, and many other challenges.

Each loss has needed a time of grieving: remembering the good and trying to learn from the difficult. And always, always, at just the right time—not necessarily the time I would choose but the right time—new opportunities, new challenges, new relationships have emerged. I am given the opportunity to be “re-created” once more. The ashes of loss are real but the promise of new adventures ahead is also real.

I will choose to both honor the beauty of what is gone and welcome the beauty of what lies ahead.

some things that are true about me

My work in life is as a teacher and storyteller.  I take joy in many things – time spent with children and my family and friends, working in various ways for justice, hiking along high mountain ridge lines and walking in the woods and sitting quietly to stare at the ocean, hearing people share their life stories and affirming them, writing and reading, rainy afternoons by the fire with my small grey cat, listening to music and singing and dancing, intelligent conversation and laughter, making a home.  These and other things are true about me but the truest thing is that I am a child of God.