Category Archives: Spiritual Disciplines

Blessed Be the Tie That Binds

He arrived one morning in a cat carrier, the last duck at  my son’s farm. His destiny was the chopping block if I did not adopt him. Why could I not make room for one more fowl?  I reasoned with myself. I had three white chickens and a little hen-house.  One more body would fit comfortably, and they could be a family.

Gently placing the carrier on the ground,my granddaughter Lillian suggested that since he had hung out with her chickens, he would feel right at home with my chickens. With trepidation, I opened the door to the carrier. Would he stay here on our little patch of Kansas, or would he go like a homing pigeon back down the gravel drive from whence he came?

Released from his cage and spotting my three white chickens, the newly acquired duck flapped his wings, lowered his head, and charged after them. I watched in amusement. Chickens had imprinted this duck, and for all he knew he was a chicken and those three were his kin. The chickens, however, looking over their shoulders, knew that this strange thing racing toward them was definitely NOT a chicken.

“Oh, help, oh help,” they squawked desperately running from this intruder for all their little legs could go. “Wait, wait!!!” quacked the duck running as fast as his short, webbed feet could go. And the chase was on.

It would take about a week before the duck would be considered an insider in this little band of fowls.

We all yearn to belong, to be insiders.  We overhear three friends enjoying each other’s company,  but we are outside the circle. Laughter floats from the yard next door while we sit on the deck, alone. We listen to someone’s plan for a day-trip, and our big plan is mowing the yard.  Two young women sit huddled together sharing their hearts with each other. Deep in our innermost being is the cry, “Oh, wait, oh wait. Let me be one of you. I want to hang out with you. I want to spend time with you; I want to be known, be loved . . . belong.

Unlike the duck and the chickens, we do  belong to the same species. We were created for intimacy, for friendship, for belonging.

We sing,  “Blest be the tie that binds/ our hearts in Christian love.” What is the tie that binds? Is it real? Is it enough? And if it is, then why do I feel lonely? Is it even possible to be satisfied with that “tie that binds?” Or am I wanting more?

No easy answer here. Or is there? Perhaps a better understanding of that “tie,” (The Holy Spirit, the Comforter, the Teacher) is essential to finding an answer. When we correctly understand the miracle of an “Indwelling Spirit,” we will begin to grow in our feelings of belonging.  The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is the very foundation of our “belonging.”  The rest, that connection with others, will be built upon this  foundation.

“Never alone”; “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”; “Christ lives in me.” (See the link for more assurances: https://bible.knowing-jesus.com/topics/Indwelling-Of-The-Holy-Spirit).

 

Solitude (Part Three)

 

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And so in those first steps on the prayer trail I allow the vestiges of any mask to be gently erased by His love.

A little uneven with a stubble of grass here and there, this trail has been tractor mowed specifically for anyone who would like to be alone with God.  It has been trodden not only by my feet, but by my children, my grandchildren, by neighbors, by friends, by students, by local pastors.  It has become hallowed ground.  We have all met with God, discussed with God, been encouraged by His presence, and dropped to our knees on this hallowed ground.  As I walk, I think of our neighbor who wrote his thesis on the geography of God’s presence.  It was his strong belief that here, where so many prayers have been laid before God, so many conversations have been carried on in that supernatural realm, that God’s presence inhabits this land more palpably than in other places that had been inhabited by godless living.  I believe he is right, although I have no evidence or thesis to present on the subject.  But that is for another day’s consideration…

As I continue my walk I reach the north fence line where the trail bends and turns west.  Buck is still keeping his eye on me while he checks out the buffalo wallow.  He is looking for a few laps of water that may still be lingering in the hole from Tuesday’s rain.  Now my thoughts begin to turn to questions I need to place before God. This particular day, I am feeling troubled.   A friend I love dearly has been wounded… and those wounds have come from me.  Yet, I cannot betray what I truly believe is a biblical position.  And so we sit on the same committee, but our hearts are full of pain and, at times, anger.  ”God, how do I handle this?  What do I do with these feelings?”  I am gently reminded of a quote I wrote in my prayer journal a few days before, “We just have to walk in the kingdom with others, instead of trying to drive them to change their ways and attitudes” (Willard, Divine Conspiracy 231).    My prayer becomes, “Please give me wisdom in our encounters to be able to communicate your love.”  And, I have the gentle assurance that He is aware of this issue, He is teaching me through this, and good will eventually come from it.  Do I feel this?  Nope.  But I know this.

I smile as I round the southwest corner and turn my feet and my face toward the east.  How many times before have I wrestled with my feelings up here on this trail?  How many times has God listened to my tears, my anger, my questions?  Probably the laments outweigh the praises, if I were honest.  How patient He is with me.  So I spend these last few minutes focused on the goodness of my Companion.

Turning my face toward the trail that will lead me down to the farmhouse, I look for Buck.  I see he has found his buffalo wallow and has obviously enjoyed lying in the cool mud because his belly and legs are a nice chocolate brown contrast to his yellow back.

Thank you, God, I whisper.  I now can begin my day with a little more hope, a little more peace.  I have been reminded by the “God Who is There” that He is there and here and in me and above me and around me and inside me.

 

 

Solitude (continued)

 

 

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This “walking-with-God path” I have loved to share with others.  “Go, listen to God up on the trail,” I have said to dear friends and students, fully expecting them to have the same conversations I have had.  But not everyone has been able to “hear” God in this way on this path.  Hard as it has been for me to understand this “deafness,” up there on the trail,  I have come to accept it.  I remember one of my dearest students had been searching for answers, for a sense of God’s presence and I had confidently sent her out to walk and listen.  She was gone for an hour or more and when she returned, we met in the farmhouse. Sitting beside me on the futon in the front room, she had burst in to tears.  “Nancy, I didn’t hear God at all,” she sobbed.  “He wasn’t there for me.  All I saw were trees, and grass, and while I was praying I stumbled into a hole, and my Bible and I went sprawling and I am such a klutz and God is not there, at least for me He is not there.” The words came out in a stream of frustration . I was dumbstruck!  I had no answer.  She was trying so hard and had failed.  Recently, this gal and I  had a conversation about that experience so many years ago.  “I have decided that I just don’t hear God the same way you do, Nancy,” she explained.  She is now a wife and mother, a wise and godly woman.  And I can accept this now.  God speaks to us in our own language, after all, he wrote all of the languages and placed them in our hearts.  This pasture has been one of my strongest languages.

As I stroll along the “prayer trail,” I have no masks before my God.  He knows me, and He loves me just as I am.  I don’t have to pretend that I am worthy of His attention.  I don’t have to apologize for my not-so-perfect face, my stringy hair, and my rather stumpy legs.  For goodness sakes, He is the one who fashioned all of my parts.  And He is satisfied.  He and I can both agree that I have lots to learn and gobs of maturing to do, but He has promised He will not give up on me. For the initial part of my walk, I simply bathe in that love and acceptance.

Celebrating Solitude

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“The aim of God in history is the creation of an all-inclusive community of loving persons, with himself included in that community as its prime sustainer and most glorious inhabitant.”—Dallas Willard  

I believe that building community with Him as our prime sustainer and most glorious inhabitant has at its core our personal communion with Him . . . sometimes in solitude.  The following is from an earlier entry:

I pull my jacket closer to my body and quietly close the back screen door, not wanting to arouse Vince and Tiger.  I consider them my loyal “guard cats,” guarding the farmhouse from any additional forlorn feral cats that would like to call this home. Actually, truth be known, I would welcome more cats into my life, but God seems to have given me a built-in safety mechanism in the garb of Dear Husband that keeps me from over-doing it on the welcome-every-animal-to-the-farm penchant.  This morning the cats stretch and come out from under the porch to greet me, but they will have to wait for their handful of dry cat food because I am on a mission.

I reach the gravel driveway and crunch my way past the little workshop, a converted old chicken coop.  Heading toward the barn I see Buck, our yellow lab bouncing up and down at the end of his chain, excited at the possibility of being loosed from his own particular guard post—the looming door of the old red barn.  Buck’s duties include scaring away any unwanted rodent (although he has been known to spend the winter with a family of skunks  that had sneaked in the backdoor of the barn and  found refuge in the stack of milled lumber being stored over winter.)  Buck’s other duty that he has taken on of his own accord is scaring the daylights out of Vince and Tiger.  To Buck, cats are prey.  Forget the squirrels and rabbits that inhabit the yard.

Buck loves our early morning walks.  What I consider my “prayer walk,” Buck considers as pure adventure and delight.  He sits obediently as I run my fingers around his collar, feeling for the metal snap.  The instant the snap is loosened Buck is bouncing again, this time in a circle around me as together we head past the barn and move toward the stony road to the pasture above.  Finally calmed down, he begins to follow rabbit trails, his nose lightly touching the pebbles and tufts of grass, watching my movements out of the corner of his eye.

We make our way past the old barn.  Ahead on the pathway is the gate to the pasture.  This gate, a gift built by artistic Second Son, has words carved into it that aptly describe my intent for this early morning stroll: “”I will lift up my eyes unto the hills from whence cometh my help; my help comes from the Lord.” Yes, Lord, I am lifting up, not only my eyes, but my soul to you this morning.” The old glass knob, now turned an antique lavender, glistens in the morning light from the dew that has settled in the sharp crevices.  I unlatch the hook, pull the gate open, and walk through onto the tree-lined path.  Ever upward we climb on this surprisingly non-flat Kansas pathway.  The gravel road leads past the outhouse and up a steep incline, through the cedar and oak woods to a high, blue stem pasture. We are now in part of what is called the “last stand of the tall grass prairie.”  These grasslands run from Texas up to Canada in a narrow strip where the land has been unbroken. Less than five percent of the original prairie remains today. Farmer Judd takes great delight in giving tours of this unique pasture land of grasses:  the tall bluestem, the buffalo grass, the side oats, the Indian grass.  This is a small part of God’s great eco-system, and our family has become partners in care-taking this small plot of ground.   My soul begins to drink in the beauty of this out-of-the-way world and I begin my own private time of conversation with the God of all time and eternity.

I call this “conversation” with God, because I do most of the listening up here in this sky-drenched pasture. Having moved from Southern California, now so many years ago, one of the greatest gifts the farm offered was this comforting solitude.  It was not just the chance to be alone, but it was a chance to place my body, soul, and spirit into the presence of God without distractions of noise, frenetic activity, and with no concerns about meeting anyone else’s expectations.  I could simply let God’s presence become a blanket of comfort and acceptance around me.   (to be continued)

Authenticity: From “Me” to “Who?”

 

Children don’t know anything but transparency and authenticity. Their freedom to be themselves is quite compelling.  It is only later that they begin to adapt to the social pressures in this fallen world.

I remember in my wise four-year-old mind becoming aware that the thoughts coming in the form of ideas or conversation with others were actually coming from me.  I remember the awe I would feel when I would whisper to myself, “I am Me.”  Allowing the thought to reach into my very soul, I was overwhelmed with a sense of my own identity, and I marveled at this reality.

But when a child is slowly growing through those formative years, identity can become very confusing, and authenticity becomes less and less automatic.  Little by little I began to lose that ownership of my identity.  In the next half a dozen years, we moved. A lot!  We were always the new kids in the neighborhood, the new students in the classroom.  In one of my first grade classrooms (I think I went to three first grade class rooms in three different states that year) the teacher had given us the wonderful privilege of writing on the chalkboard during the lunch hour.

One noon, I had finished my lunch early and had taken my place beside another little girl who was writing on the chalk board.  I quietly drew some figures on the board, but out of the corner of my eye I was watching this very sophisticated little girl, this  One-who- belonged, write her name.  She not only knew how to write her name, she knew how to write it in cursive!  Surreptitiously I watched and, hiding my work behind my left hand, I wrote it just like she wrote it, Betty.  I went back to my desk that day and continued to practice that special word, Betty.  Throughout my school years and into adult hood, any time I doodled, in the midst of the doodling one word was sure to appear. . . Betty.  In some ways, this was to mirror the loss of that sense of identity that I had grasped so innocently in my preschool years.  I did not consciously adopt someone else’s identity, but I became less and less sure of who was existing at my core, who God had intended me to be.

One thing remained constant, though, in my growing years.  The God who lived up there in those beautiful skies, grew to be my companion.  In so many ways He showed me His beauty, His kindness, His creativity, His protection.  However, He spoke to me most clearly through His creatures. They became His sketch book of every day lessons.  “Look dear child at the beauty of the many colors in that rooster’s tail.  Watch the tenderness with which that momma cow licks and washes her tiny calf; see the devoted look in those beautiful cocker eyes of your faithful dog Winky as she watches to see what you will do next.”  In each creature, I saw characteristics that had been placed by a loving Creator.  But there was more! Each creature seemed to be secure in who/what it was.  God had created it to be a dog, a cow, a horse, a sheep, and it found satisfaction in being, just in being.  True authenticity!  I have watched those creatures almost in awe.  They are content, unassuming, and real!  None of the socialization, none of the pressure that we as humans have experienced in order to fit in, to pretend, to perform.

My natural instinct has been, even as a child, to turn to those creatures that also seemed to accept me just as I was.  At the age of four, I would slip out to the dairy barn after the cows had been milked and had  settled for the night.  In that long old barn, I had birthday parties; I had prayer meetings.  With a little grain in my hand, I would walk from stanchion to stanchion, preaching, singing, and entertaining.  And they accepted me.  They were my adoring audience. I could be free to be me.  Later, after we moved from the dairy farm and began the saga of continual moving, my cocker spaniel, Winkie, was the receptor of my tales of longing, my companion on walks, and my nighttime buddy.  She loved me unabashedly and uncompromisingly.

By my teenage years, I was becoming more and more a creator of my own self.  With deep feelings of not belonging in this world, of watching it as an outsider, I was becoming a young adult.  Unlike that little four year old who was thrilled with the “me-ness of me,” the person I was becoming did not like the me I was.  I did not like the body I had been given, nor did I not like my history.  Instead of accepting my identity, I became adept at covering it, of masquerading it, of working hard to become what I thought I should be.