Hold Still

When Bob was hospitalized and almost died my journal from 2018 reads,

Someone wrote: “I had to accept myself in all my gory glory. Sometimes rage, sadness, and a myriad of other strong emotions will be part of your experience, too.” And so it was with me.

Tired. Too tired to read. Often too tired to even eat. Numb with fatigue of body and emotional shock.

Feel. Express. Accept. Move on. Get up. Do it again. Find a way to cope with the shock.

“You can’t be any other place than where you actually are!”

My spiritual discipline for years has been to read the Word, study and pray. Repeat. When our lives hit this huge crisis and he almost died it was difficult and practically impossible to hold to any discipline. I was upheld by the prayers of the church, but my study time failed completely. And then the Lord would drop a line here or there into my mind and spirit to encourage me. “Show us Your mercy, O Lord,” from the morning prayer suffrages, Book of Common Prayer. And I would go forward with whatever the day held for us. Often I prayed the full armor of God from Ephesians 6 as I drove to the hospital or dressed in the hospital bathroom after spending the night with him.

I began to approach the situation with stillness but no presumption that I in any way knew the ultimate result. Though I was often unconsciously holding my breath, there was a stillness in me. The stillness came with a peace that I recognized as coming from God. Reporting the day’s events and blood work results to prayer partners via email, without forecasting the next step or event or outcome was about my only “productive” output.

The stillness was related to Habakkuk 2:20 NRSV “But the Lord is in His holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before Him!”

Part of my struggle was yielding to the facts and in stillness letting my wishes die, placing my hope in the plans of the Almighty. I could not see the outcome at all, but I trusted His goodness and His love for both myself and my family. I learned that crucified you must hold perfectly still.

I repeat all of that because the lesson came to mind again this past Sunday. A Pastor was teaching from Galatians 5. He said when we come to verse 19 listing some of the works of the flesh we should only think of ourselves, not others. We should hold still, let God point those things out and help us remove them from our lives. We should hold still.

Crucify my flesh.

Those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”

Galatians 5:24

The Pastor pointed out that being too busy, busy-ness, is a popular American form of running from God. Perhaps you could try for one week the practice I have adopted lately when I am consumed with busy-ness. Taken from John 3:30 breathing in I pray “Lord, You must increase.” Breathing out I pray “I must decrease.” And I continue to consciously breathe and pray until I am centered in Him again. Yielding more of my life to Christ is never time ill spent. Holding still so He can have His perfect way in me is the highest form of living.

Crucifying my flesh is expected of me. If I truly want Christ to live in me through the power of the Holy Spirit I must be willing to put down my passions and desires and pick up His. Not easy, but neither is that impossible. “I will, with God’s help.”

What I Learned Though I Fear Heights

Ever since sliding to the garage floor on an unsecured ladder at about age 6 or 8 I have feared heights. When I heard on the news in 2017 about this guy climbing in Yosemite National Park without ropes to secure him I was terrified on his behalf. Bob had taken me to visit Yosemite on one of our many trips to California. I knew the height of those summits. In my eyes he attempted and accomplished the impossible. In this short but entertaining eleven minute talk you can learn more about him in his own words.

Wikipedia reports that “In 2016, he was subjected to Functional magnetic resonance imaging scans that revealed that, unlike other high sensation seekers, his amygdala barely activates when watching disturbing images. He however confesses feeling fear occasionally. Through imagination and practice, he has desensitized himself to most fearful situations.” MacKinnon, J. B. (June 28, 2018). “The Strange Brain of the World’s Greatest Solo Climber”Nautilus. Retrieved May 11, 2021

He said, “Doubt is the precursor of fear.” On the video I watched as he climbed Half Dome inch by inch. I remembered Peggy Snapp telling me ‘Life by the mile is a trial. Life by the inch is a cinch.’ In the documentary Alex told how he practiced for years. He practiced the handholds going up the rock face with ropes before he tried the free solo ascents.

Before trying the most sensational solo climb he literally practiced for ten years. And now, my challenge is becoming more clear. Am I willing to practice letting pain draw me into God’s Presence even if it takes ten years to feel as if I have accomplished that? Am I willing to return to the Lord over and over again, asking forgiveness for complaining and grace to begin again? The Benedictines say, “Always, we begin again.” They put that truth in a minimum of words and I thank them for that reminder!

Through imagination and practice can I desensitize myself to the disappointment of returning chronic pain? Am I willing to try? Discipline and practice. Oh those do not come easily. Can I become as unflappable and steady as Pat M.W.? Will I push back on the gloom laden cloud of discouragement that often threatens to enshroud me? Am I truly willing to let Jesus in me increase and ask that I decrease, making more space for His rule and reign?

In Full Catastrophe Living, Jon Kabat-Zin writes about the research and findings from teaching heart patients and cancer patients the practice of mindfulness for pain relief and stress relief.

I have the meditation recordings from this book. I used to own the book, but when we moved I let it go. Will I choose to listen to these recordings and bring myself from the panic of nerve pain to the centered life of returning and rest?

Lord, I do not expect to be a world record breaking solo climber. I do not seek any recognition at all. I simply want to live for You, to love and serve You and not be consumed by the physical sensations of my aging body. Help me to, like Paul, choose to “boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

Watch and Pray

 “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth. Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”

Luke 21:34-36 NIV

You do not have to be carousing or participating in drunkenness for your heart to be weighed down. The anxieties of life will do that. Man, don’t I know it’s so!?

Gratefulness does not come easy to us. “First world problems” can invade and weigh us down without our even being aware of it. Suddenly there is no joy, no lightness to life. Everything seems to be going wrong. Nothing is positive. Why do we let this happen to ourselves repeatedly? This was a battle I had to fight as we relocated. Then one day I realized that we were going to “Platform,” ‘our forever home.’ We talk about adopted dogs being given their forever home. Bob and I decided this house will be our forever home unless, God forbid, one of us has to go to a nursing home.

This Platform is where I hope to encounter the Lord in my final years on earth. This Platform is where I hope to graduate to be with Him forever. I am told to “Watch and Pray…” will I be faithful to do that little bit?

The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke all exhort us to watch and pray. In Colossians, Paul tells us to devote ourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.

Sadly we are like the dog character from the movie “Up” who flips his brain and attention every time he senses a “Squirrel.”

There is more at stake here than pleasing an old man who is his master. This discipline will help us to escape all that is about to happen. When Peter lost his focus upon Jesus he began to sink in the stormy water. If we want to ‘be able to stand before the Son of Man” at the end of our earthly life, we must take this discipline seriously. I am not preaching at you. I am reminding myself, too. Nothing good comes from negative, ungrateful thinking; only trouble and the possibility of going under when we should be walking on the heights.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.  Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.

Ephesians 6:10-13

Verse 18b reads “With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying …..” Will you take your stand today, keeping on watch and praying? We can choose to let prayer occupy our minds. I have one friend in her 80’s who prays the instant you tell her about something that has you ill at ease. Instead of commenting “Oh dear me” she just out loud goes to the Lord right then in prayer. Sometimes I get annoyed by her behavior, but gradually I am learning that she is exhibiting what I am called to. My annoyance is driven by my failure to do the same. Oops.

Lord, help us to take Your Word seriously. Open our hands to lay down the petty first world problems that want to take over our minds. We need Your help in order to devote ourselves to You. Be the first order of business in every hour of our lives. Help us to honor You, our Risen Lord, with our lips and with our lives. Amen.

Chronic Pain Coping

Around 2013 I copied this from a library book. I have tried to find the title and author online and cannot, thus I have no author to credit.

These are not based on 12 Steps, but steps for coping.

  1. Accept the fact of having chronic pain. (That is enough to make one gag.)
  2. Set specific goals for work, hobbies and social activities toward which you will work.
  3. Let yourself get angry at your pain if it seems to be getting the best of you.
  4. Take your analgesics on a strict time schedule, and then taper off as directed until you are no longer taking any.
  5. Get in the best physical shape possible, and keep fit.
  6. Learn how to relax, and practice relaxation techniques regularly.
  7. Keep yourself busy.
  8. Pace your activities.
  9. Have your family and friends support only your healthy behavior, not your invalidism.
  10. Be open and reasonable with your doctor.
  11. Practice effective empathy with others having pain problems.
  12. Remain hopeful.

My first response after typing these steps is “I will with God’s help.” Over the years (since diagnosis in 1990s) I have tried to learn and practice these things. Would love to brag I have mastered them all. I have NOT!

Yep, something like this during a fibrmyalgia flare!

Like Paul I continue to try to learn to yield myself to God and stay responsible to bring my flesh under control. God will not magically take care of this for me. He requires my cooperation.

But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.

1 Corinthians 9:27 NKJV

Along with my body, I must discipline my mind, my will and my emotions to bring honor to God as long as I live!

In the Episcopalian Book of Common Prayers you can find the Baptismal Covenant. After each declaration the congregation says, “I will with God’s help.” I believe that coping with chronic pain requires my focus upon the goals of this covenant too if I am to be truly successful.

Celebrant	Will you continue in the apostles' teaching and
fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the
prayers?
People	I will, with God's help.
 	
Celebrant	Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever
you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
People	I will, with God's help.

Celebrant	Will you proclaim by word and example the Good
News of God in Christ?
People	I will, with God's help.
 	
Celebrant	Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving
your neighbor as yourself?
People	I will, with God's help.
 	
Celebrant	Will you strive for justice and peace among all
people, and respect the dignity of every human
being?
People	I will, with God's help.

May the Lord bless you as you face your own struggles. We are all broken and need His help!

Consistent self-care is not selfish. Consistent self-care for me is a holy obligation. "These skills protect us by building inner resilience that shields us from most problems and enables us to bounce back from the rest."  Just do your best and lean hard upon the Lord.

So we moved and by the second day, May 13, I had trashed my back. Really did it the worse than ever before.  That slowed down unpacking for certain! I had lots and lots of help, but I did not pace myself well, I did not remember not to bend over. I did lots of things wrong. Degenerative disc disease is one of the reasons we moved. On June 15 I had another epidural. Trying to behave now. Time will tell if that is all the treatment I need. Please pray for me!

Hope those coping steps help any of you who also suffer from chronic pain. Twelve step programs often repeat, "It works if you work it!"

Hearing Spring

Sometimes my husband asks me if I am writing poetry recently. Well, actually, yes. Here is one!

21-4-6 Hearing Spring © Molly Lin Dutina

Under the bird song
Below the raucous calls of mating
Rhythm of tree frog
Melody of spring peepers
Ah breathe in spring
Through your ears

Hmmmmm they seem to say
This is lovely
Exhale on their melody
Inhale during the chorus
Slow your breathing 
Tempo of April

There are pauses
In their score
Wait for next stanza
Focus here now
Find your center
Cadence does not vary

Catch the next bar
Tame frantic monkey mind
Bring all to peace 
Lower your shoulders
Tiny amphibian power
Tames futile mind race

7:27 and song seems to cease
I listen and recall
I have this power within 
Enter center down silence
Direct me Lord
On cusp of next breath I am led

Swinburne Who?

According to https://www.best-poems.net/algernon_charles_swinburne/index.html he was a popular English poet and writer. His life was 5 April 1837 – 10 April 1909 and evidently he wrote about many off color topics, but I like his phrase about spring. Wikipedia says: “Swinburne was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature every year from 1903 to 1907 and again in 1909.”

For winter’s rains and ruins are over,

And all the season of snows and sins;

The days dividing lover and lover,

The light that loses, the night that wins;

And time remembered is grief forgotten,

And frosts are slain and flowers begotten,

And in green underwood and cover

Blossom by blossom the spring begins.

Chorus
by Algernon Charles Swinburne

Here are some of the images of ‘blossom by blossom’ from our neighborhood!

Certainly a favorite of early pollinators!
I thought it was barberry, but it is not. Neighbor’s shrub. He is Nepal, so I do not know identification.

Old, untended crab apple.
Oh, so fragrant in the evening especially!

Thanks, Lucky, for continuing to get me outside and looking for those treasures in plain sight!

Just Like Heaven

If you are a regular reader you know that the Lord often stirs me with music. Various phrases of this song have been rolling around in my head. I finally tracked it down through lyrics and then YouTube. What a blessing! I played it for hours as I ran around doing grocery shopping and was blasting it all the way home down the road while surrounded by huge trucks and the windows open to the spring air.

I think this is more than fitting for Easter Monday or perhaps Pentecost Sunday? Maybe just any day that you are longing to be closer to Jesus. Seems to me this is some of the best new church music!

The Lord your God is with you,

    the Mighty Warrior who saves.

He will take great delight in you;

    in His love He will no longer rebuke you,

    but will rejoice over you with singing.”

Zephaniah 3:17

I put the lyrics below the song in case you want to follow along. Brandon Lake wrote the song and posted this comment on YouTube.

“Just Like Heaven” was written after I had a very simple but powerful revelation that when we’re in the presence of God we’re getting a taste of what heaven and eternity is going to be like. When you get a taste of heaven, you will want more. We were made for eternity. That’s where I want to live. We don’t have to wait until heaven to experience it — God wants to bring heaven to earth. This song is my personal journey of crying out for more of His presence.” Written by Brandon Lake, Jeff Schneeweis, and Jacob Soote

Isn’t it just like Heaven
When You walk into the room?
There’s not a thing that’s hidden
When every eye is on You
Can’t get enough of Your presence
It’s the perfect point of view
Isn’t it just like, just like
Just like Heaven?

Ooh
Come a little closer, stay a little longer
Ooh
I can’t get enough of You
Ooh
Come a little closer, stay a little longer
Ooh
I can’t get enough of You

Doesn’t it sound like Heaven
When You’re singing over me?
There’s not a voice more constant
Your melodies they never cease
Here I will stand in Your presence
In my true identity
Doesn’t it sound like? Yeah, it sounds like
Just like Heaven

Chorus repeats: Ooh
Come a little closer, stay a little longer

Holy, You are holy
You’re such a perfect Father
I’ll worship You forever
Holy, You are holy
I’ll lay down any treasure
For us to be together
Holy, You are holy
You’re such a perfect Father
I’ll worship You forever
Holy, You are holy
I’ll lay down any treasure
For us to be together

Chorus repeats

Oh, enough of You, oh-oh
A little more of You
I just want more of You, Lord
I just want more of You, Lord
I just want more of You
I can’t get enough

I can’t get enough of You

Easter Excitement

I am not talking about peanut butter eggs or jelly beans. I am talking about the Christian Easter morning excitement. Some church folk declare to one another, “He is risen!” Others recite, “The Lord is risen.” “The Lord is risen indeed, alleluia!”

I have one friend who before Covid could barely attend Easter services because the tremendous number of flowers set off his allergies so bad he practically cried through the service.

I am not talking about the flowers, the greetings, or the candy.

 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which He has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance in His holy people,  and His incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength He exerted when He raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms,

Ephesians 1: 18-20

“THAT’S what I’m talkin’ about! ” Are we excited about the power God has placed in us because of the resurrection? Do you participate in that power under the Father’s direction? Are you yielded to His inspiration and leading? Are you willing to let Him use you in any way He sees fit to further His kingdom? Are you excited that this power is available to you 24/7-365? Have you asked for the baptism in the Holy Spirit? Would you trade your chocolate rabbit for it?

Celebrate the real reason for our joy as Christians. Jeremy Camp says it SO well!

Why is it Good Friday?

Jesus said in New Revised Standard version of John 15:12-15

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.

NRSV John 16:7, 22 Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.

So you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.

He went to the Cross for a multitude of reasons, not the least of which was to fulfill the promise of the Holy Spirit indwelling us. The same Spirit that inhabited Jesus.

Friday was brutal suffering. Unimaginable anguish. But He knew, Sunday was coming!

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,  fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” Hebrews 12:1-3 NIV

Holy Week – What is A Christian To Do?

I have spent most of my life following Jesus. One of my greatest Christian teachers was Francis of Assisi. He chose to be stripped of possessions and riches and to follow Christ unhindered by things. For several years I was a Third Order Franciscan through the Episcopal church. Recently my friend, Bonnie, reminded me of a quote from Francis on his deathbed. He is purported to have said, “I have done what was mine to do. May Christ now teach you what you are to do.”

How might we go about doing that? The Book of Common Prayer Morning Prayer Rite 2 in the general thanksgiving says “…show forth Your praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up our selves to Your service ….”

On Monday and Tuesdays when I do not “feel” like writing I am reminded that I give up myself to His service by writing this blog. It is mine to do. I pray what I write will encourage others to follow Jesus. I pray the things I tell about will inspire others to pull down strongholds and walk on with the Savior of our souls. I pray I might amuse others and help lift them from the doldrums of the daily grind. I struggle to put into words my relationship with a Holy God through the power of the Holy Spirit given as a result of the life, sacrifice, resurrection and then ascension of Jesus Christ.

So what is Christ asking you to do?

I have found over the years that if I feel stuck spiritually I need to go back to the last thing the Lord asked me to do, and be certain I did that.

Francis also said, “Start by doing what is necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”

So there were things like: volunteer at the homeless shelter. Try to help organize the shelter donations. Set up the construction of a new donation out building. The Church carried that out.

Bonnie also quoted these steps:

  1. Do what is necessary.

2. Do what is possible.

3. Let God take care of impossible details and do as He leads.

Carry on!

But Samuel replied:

“Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
    as much as in obeying the Lord?
To obey is better than sacrifice,
    and to heed is better than the fat of rams.” 1 Samuel 15:22