Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem!
~ Zephaniah 3:1
When I was young I used to long for a life of pure joy – day after day with a lightness of heart and a smile on my face. Over the years I lowered my sights a bit, wishing for weeks, then days of pure joy. And now, in the wake of the death of my brother, I’m happy with a moment or two.
Our time under these amazing trees – the Dark Hedges in Northern Ireland – was joyful, but getting to them was less of a delight. We rode through the rain and took several wrong turns on our way to see them. And then we almost missed the spectacle because we stopped for lunch under some much-less-impressive trees a couple miles away, thinking they were the dark hedges. Our time under the hedges was made more joyful by the effort.
Pure joy seems to come only in moments. Perhaps that is what makes it so precious.
ACT: How can you bring joy to someone today? Do something kind and loving for someone who might not expect it today.
The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’
~ Luke 3.4
It’s a mathematical law that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. But that law doesn’t always translate well to other areas of life. Whether it’s pausing to smell the roses or taking a detour on the way to reaching some goal, many of my favorite moments occurred when I got off the most direct route.
It seems humans are the only species that insist on making paths straight, even when it requires leveling mountains and filling in valleys. Animal paths are never straight. They wonder back and forth to find the best route without rearranging their entire environment. Even forces of nature seem disinclined to go directly from one spot to another. Left to their own devices, rivers are notoriously crooked, sometimes nearly flowing in circles as they find the lowest route to the sea.
When we travel, I love finding a crooked road to ride on, like this one in Ireland. It allows me to feel like I am a part of my environment, instead of encouraging me to rush by and miss all the details that make a scene fantastic.
ACT: Take a walk with someone you love. Try going on a path you don’t usually travel. Don’t take the straight path but go on one that is more winding. You just might see something new!
For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus.
~ Philippians 1:
Longing can be a powerful motivator, but it can also encourage us to miss what is right around us.
A few years ago we were hiking in the North Cascades. We longed to see Glacier Peak up close, and we hiked through some very difficult terrain for the privilege. Finally we were within sight of a small mountain pass that would afford us the view we longed for. Fortunately we didn’t rush ahead. We paused long enough to look around us, and we found ourselves in the midst of an avalanche of wild flowers.
REFLECT: What do you long for? What do you really want to happen in your life? Is there someone you really want to see? Is there something you really want to do?
I thank my God every time I remember you…
~ Philippians 1.
These days, I thank God when I remember anything. Well almost.
I remember lots of useless bits, and of course all the worst moments in my life, and every nightmare I’ve ever had. My memory is an expert at amplifying those bad times into something even more horrific. Especially occasions when I did things that I wish I hadn’t. Those all seem crystal clear in my memory.
But I forget so much, especially positive things I’ve accomplished along the way. It was a running joke when I worked at Nordstrom when someone would bring out some document that provided guidance on some recurring issue and I’d ask who wrote it. “You did,” was usually the answer.
Thank God for photos. They remind me of the good times, great adventures, and gifts I’ve been given. All those things that make me grateful for the amazing gift of life, and the times when I truly felt at one with God and my surroundings. Like that moment at 11 p.m. in southern Chile when Jim Ginn and I drank in this view.
REFLECT: A lot of different things can help us remember special people, important places and joyful times in our lives. Maybe it’s something that we smell, like a favorite food. Maybe it’s something we see, like a flower or a sunset. Maybe it’s an activity, like bowling or riding a bicycle. What sights, smells, sounds and activities help you remember?
By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us…
~ Luke 1:7
I’m not a big fan of dawn. Especially now in semi-retirement, I prefer to greet the light of morning from the comfort of my own bed. At our little house in Methow Valley I can literally see the sunrise with my head on my pillow and only one eye open.
Sunsets, on the other hand, are my favorite time of day. Watching color emerge and then fade along the horizon rarely fails to bring peace to my heart, at least for the moments while the light show lasts. In our valley, I find that sunset often enfolds me in peace and tenderness in a way that dawn rarely gets a chance.
WATCH: Have you ever seen a sunrise? What colors do you see? When do you see the sunrise clearly, and when is it not so clear? Sunrises tell us a new day is starting. What new things are starting around you?
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways…
~ Luke 1:7
They say that myths are based in truth, but I wonder about the myth of the “self-made man.” I say “man” because I’ve never heard someone claim to be a “self-made woman,” but I suppose such a person could exist.
The myth is that someone can succeed in life strictly through their own efforts. No one else helps them, and they deserve to be rewarded solely and excessively.
Riding bike across the United States was a great achievement for Jim Ginn and me back in 2004. It took years of preparation and months of hard work. But we didn’t do it alone. Our families and employers enabled us to take the time. Adventure Cycling produced the route that we used. People along the way provided food, shelter, and other assistance when we needed it.
Success or greatness is never a solo act. Even Jesus followed people who prepared the way.
REFLECT: We never go through life alone. Who makes it possible for you to live? What have older people taught you? Who helps prepare you for both challenges and victories?
But who can endure the day of the coming of God’s messenger, and who can stand when she appears? For she is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap.
~ Malachi 3:
When I graduated from Western Washington University I considered becoming a “writer” instead of a journalist. I visualized myself as an artist who would live in a run-down apartment above a store in a sketchy part of town and survive on Cup O Noodles and beer until my first best-selling novel was published. Then I’d live in creative luxury. My practical side won that argument. Over the years I took a series of jobs that allowed me to eat reasonably well and live in not-totally-awful places. Eventually I even earned enough to buy a home and eat out whenever I wanted to. But I never produced that best seller.
We often forget how crucial fire is to the formation of our world. Precious metals must be refined by fire to reach their full value. Much of the beauty of our earth was formed with the help of volcanos, their fires hot enough to melt stone. When on the island of Hawaii we got to witness a bit of that.
It usually takes a lot of heat and pressure to produce the very best in us.
SHARE: Sometimes a difficult choice can be like fire: it can be hot and sensitive and even hurt. But when we make the right choice, even when it’s hard, we can learn something new or find out something about ourselves. Ask a loved one to tell you a story about when they faced a hard decision. Listen with love.
The woods and every fragrant tree have shaded Israel at God's command.
~ Baruch 5:
Most people tend to live more of their lives indoors than I do. I know folks that cancel all outdoor activities if an unfavorable weather forecast is on the horizon. I’ve tended to the other extreme, heading out of doors unless conditions on the doorstep make that extremely inadvisable. I’ve suffered my share of wet and cold and sunburn as a result. But to me the discomfort is worth it to get some fresh air, to feel the freedom of the outdoors all around me.
When we travel by bicycle, we always encounter rain on every trip of more than a couple days. It’s just inevitable. And at times we’ve been caught in deluges, huddling under a tree that offered protection only for a few minutes before water dripped through the leaves and onto us. But bicycle travel, and life, require us to risk a certain amount of discomfort, to leave a protected place to venture out into the world. If we stayed indoors in less-than-perfect weather we would miss so much that life has to offer, such as these wild flowers in rural England that seemed to sing to us when the sun slipped through the mist.
SHARE: Share a story with someone you love about a time when it was hard to see the way forward. Maybe it was dark or foggy outside, or maybe your heart was confused about something. How did you get through the misty time? Who helped you?
Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
~ Luke 21.3
Someday this rock in Utah’s Arches National Park is going to tumble down. I pray it won’t happen any time soon, but it will eventually happen.
The one law of nature is that everything changes. Things are born. They age. They adjust. They morph. They pass away.
But never forget that wonders like this rock only happen because of change. Rocks are shaped by their environments just like we humans are. Wind and water are constantly carving marvels like this. It just takes a long time - longer than most of us are willing or able to wait - for them to finish their works of art.
Heaven and earth and each of us will pass away. And that’s OK. In the meantime, let’s be wonders.
ACT: Use your time wisely. Spend some time reading or singing with someone you love today. Tell them you love them.
There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves.
~ Luke 21.25
In our travels I’ve learned to rarely rely on signs.
If we need directional signs to tell us where to go, we often won’t find one when we need it most.
If we rely on signs to point out the must-see spots, we’ll waste a lot of time and money supporting enterprising folk with marginal wonders to show us. The first time you see a sign for ruins in Ireland the impulse is to pay the entrance fee and see them. But one soon tires of paying to see rectangular piles of rocks that once were buildings. Lots of them are visible from the road.
Signs are all around us. The hard part is reading them with enough context to make sense of it.
REFLECT: What signs do you see in your neighborhood? How are signs helpful? How are signs unhelpful? How can you be a helpful sign to others?
This blog includes thoughts from various contributors at Seattle First Baptist