How Lent can Lift our spirits

As a Southern Baptist, I am not accustomed to celebrating Lent within the corporate body as our liturgical brothers and sisters do.  But this does not mean that I am not aware of it on their calendars, and what this season means to every believer.  It is a season to reflect on our humanness -- that our bodies are“ashes to ashes and dust to dust”.  And I am reminded that each and everyone of us will die as well, unless the Lord should interrupt this earthly life with His return.
This thought led me to a blog by a Rev. William Cwirla, https://thefirstpremise.wordpress.com/2012/02/20/why-we-dont-do-ashes-on-ash-wednesday-by-rev-william-cwirla/   a Lutheranwho opts not to paint the sign on his parishioners, due to solid biblical reasons which he cites (the words of Jesus to not flaunt our piety) , but encourages folks to reflect on their own sinful mortality/ death to sin/ resurrection as a new creature.  The ashen sign of the cross needs to be painted on our mind, soul, and spirit.
So I enter a new time of repentance, self-reflection, and commitment to holiness, similar to the one I sought last year.  I know I will fail in some ways.  We do not attain sinless perfection in this earthly body.  But we never give up on seeking His likeness and living under His authority.
It’s a wonderful season, Lent.  Let us, as Evangelicals and Baptists not overlook the benefits of it in our private, if not corporate, lives.  While I have not yet practiced the giving up of food, I have fasted from practices that may lead to temptation and wasteand even today I don’t  know that traditional fasting is what I will do. Maybe I’ll fast from social media or television. Maybe I’ll delete all shopping except groceries and necessities. I don’t know.  But I do know I will spend time and effort to dig deeper into how He wants to continue to mold me into His image.  
More of Him, less of me . . . 
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Loss, Lessons, and Living Strong

Here, at the close of 2015, I stop to think what these last 12 months have brought.

They brought me to a very low valley of watching my father, the man who gave of himself to enrich my childhood in innumerable ways, descend into the darkness of dementia, depression, and eventually death.  I watched this progression, or rather regression, of this once vital and quick witted gentleman with a gnawing angst and sorrow -- I felt an obligation to do something for him -- but what?  Nothing could be done but the that which the caregivers -- is wife, and hospice-- could provide.  

There was no reaching inside his head, his heart and showing him how much I loved the many decades of memories we shared.  How I valued all he instilled in me.  How I regretted my many lapses of reaching higher on that bar he silently set for me.  During his last week he said to me, “You have important things to do.  Go do them.”  Lord Jesus, help me be faithful to that admonition.

There was no turning back the clock.  There was no un-doing anything.  There was only the facing of the inevitable and the mundane efforts I could make in helping his household to run -- small things, but motivated by a very big love.

His last moments on this earth, he opened his eyes and looked at the gathered family surrounding him.  He had an expression of childlike wonder on his face.  Was this surprise at seeing us,  or was he seeing beyond this veil into the heavenly realm -- perhaps seeing the angel band sent to carry him to the Land of No More Tears?  A few moments, and all we had was his outer shell.  It looked like him, but he had flown.

Then came the dark valley of realization that my world had changed.  And through God’s help, I began to change.  It is with no shame that I say yes, I was very, very depressed.  I had the pent-up anxiety of myriad failures.  I walked through a fog of sadness and sudden bursts of tears, wondering who I was, and what was I doing here.

Yet Hope stood beside me.  I turned to the Word of God, and spent maybe 10 days barely getting out of bed, just reading the precious words of the Psalms.  Reading about how those who trust in Him, when walking through the Valley of Tears, will find it a spring.  Yes, a spring of rushing water where Deep calls to Deep.  Where we move from Strength to Strength.  Where the Carpenter takes the hammer and the chisel and sculpts us into souls that more closely resemble him.  Where we become less and He more.  Where the things of this world begin to fade, and we realize we are nothing without him.

No, I didn’t get a lot of measurable work done in 2015.  But I got some immeasurably rich lessons from the Master Teacher.  I got some strong medicine from the Great Physician.  And I will never be the same.

Barbara lister Williams, December 31, 2015

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In Memory

 Today we celebrated the life of my beloved Daddy, Mosie Lister, who passed from this life into the next at the age of 93.  Here are a few words I was honored to share at his Home Going celebration:

Dad was a public figure, but to me and my sister, he was much more. He was our father who left us legacy of faith and values. Here’s a glimpse into that part of his life.

He gave us a love of books long before we could read. As we grew older, many of his afternoons were spent walking us to the neighborhood library, patiently wading with us through the vast sea of choices, and heartily endorsing the fine art of reading. This pleasure, along with piano practice, was probably the only thing that could be pressed into service to trump the doing the chores. I can’t even walk the dog in the cool of the day without visiting this memory.  And I ache to go back there now.

Through our high school days, homework was priority, again, slightly ahead of chores.  And we knew we had Carte Blanche to walk into his inner sanctum and ask for help.   His reply was never “go look it up”,  but “lets look it up”.  We’d break out the old World Book or Britannica and peruse until the question was answered.  Today, I go to Google, but it’s still the same.  Do your research.  Know you’re on solid ground.

He taught us biblical values.  I remember distinctly an incident involving a birdhouse.  He had hammered one together for us, we were maybe 10 years old, and invited us to paint it.  Each was given a brush and a small container of paint. Now Dad was a good teacher, and spent some time showing us exactly how to dip the brush into the paint and how to spread it evenly, using the proper grip and wrist motion.  He was actually very good at this.  Anyhow, we each had our side to paint.  I remember painting diligently on my side, and then took a break to inspect Brenda’s.  I saw runs and drips.  Not pretty.  I made several snarky comments, and Dad walked over to inspect mine.  He quoted Jesus’ admonition to remove the beam from your own eye before addressing the one in your sisters’.  To my shame, the evidence was clear.  Those drips and runs had invaded my own side, too. If you catch me being snarky, remind me, okay?

Our Daddy had a kind and gentle spirit that could diffuse tension, and put teenage angst in its proper place.  He had a humor that could ease the torture of early mornings -- instead of an alarm, we had an intentionally abrasive tenor rendition of “Wabash Cannonball”, complete with bone-shaking volume on an old Martin guitar.  And through life’s storms, his faith held strong. Even as he breathed his last, I believe we saw in his wide-eyed wonder the unseen heavenly attendants prepared to usher him home.  So I leave you with this reflection of his journey here, and his journey into eternity:

He had tasted life’s troubles. its pain and its glory

Yet seen no glory like this at the last--

the song of the angels,  heaven’s morning light resplendent

earth’s boundaries lost in the past

For triumph will come when the battle is done

and  midnight gives way to the dawn

Then to rise, bursting forth, to life evermore

Incorruptible, vibrant and strong.

 

We do not grieve as those who have no hope.  We’ll see you, Daddy, on the other side.

Less is More

 

I went into my room today

        and simply closed the door.

            Walled in, waiting quietly,

        because I wanted MORE . . .

           Less of noisy clutter, More serenity,

                       but mostly more of YOU, Jesus,

                   More of You, and less of me.

 

I closed it on the darkness--

         the chilling creep of night

              where shadows grow so tall and high

                    they eclipse the morning light--

                         

                       

Then, leaning closer to that sound,

               Hope within me grew

       I knew your strength  would hold my spirit

                      lifted now to You

     Where the sky is the limit,

             earth but a waiting room

 

 That's why I closed the door today. . .

                    I needed You

 

What You Can Learn From Your Dog

Do you have a dog? 

No doubt you've made a study of how to train your furry friend.  But have you thought about what your dog is teaching you?

Max, my schnauzer, has set me straight about life.  He has a no-whining attitude.   The pulse of his happiness can be measured by the wag of his tail and the sparkle in his eye.  He expects to work for a living.  He’ll play fetch longer than you care to pitch. He diligently keeps watch over the real estate for which he is responsible.  He flushes out wild vermin, and if dogs or humans invade, he sounds an alarm that would wake the dead. He sits by during desk work (just in case he’s needed) and will follow his master anywhere. He absolutely lives for an off-leash romp in the park, and yet, when Master says “come”, he presents his neck for re-tethering.  When the day is done, he obediently goes to his quarters and gets his ZZZZZ’s so he can live to revel in another day.

He's illiterate by human terms, but doesn’t care.  He’s been neutered.  That has effect on neither his strength nor his confidence.  He can’t get a drivers’ license, but hey, he’s oblivious.  He’s not the biggest canine on the block, but he remains content with the package he was dealt.  He has the face of a wise old professor, the heart of a champion, and the indomitable spirit of the Energizer Bunny.

He makes no demands, but he gets two square meals a day.  All the fresh filtered water he desires.  Bones.  Toys.  A nice place to sleep. Music and lively conversation.

Somebody walks him regularly.  Plays ball.  Scratches him on the head and calls him “buddy”.  His humans even brush him daily, well almost, and once in a while he gets the dreaded bath, but he just shakes himself and goes on with life.  He has no worries.

You see, he lives to please his master, and his master gives him everything he needs.  And his master takes great joy in his company.  His master delights in his obedience, and laughs with sheer delight at his spunk.  

Why can’t our life be more like that?  Don’t make it so complicated.  Trust the Lord. 

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You’re in good hands.

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. . . In the Dry Places . . .

Yes.  There is water.  Even in the driest places . . .

Recently, I drove through the Mojave Desert with my daughter.  I was stunned by the apparent bone-dry desolation that stretched as far as the eye can see.  Quite literally, a picture of thirst.  Stark sand interrupted here and there with scrubby low foliage, desert willows, and the Seuss-esque Joshua tree.  It's like we had been beamed to a distant planet.

Here and there, we crossed a wash.  In an area that normally gets only about 2 inches of rain annually, the run-off rushes like a flash flood to low ground.  Best not build your house there.

Along the horizon, or up by the road, we saw barren, towering, rocky formations looking as if a giant hand had pushed them skyward or dropped them in clay-like fistfulls back to the earth.  I didn't realize we were climbing until my ears popped and we glimpsed some heart-stopping overlooks.

Regaining a perspective of this barren land, I could begin to fathom that even here, the hand of God has etched out a picture of Providence.  In this arid wasteland, so near Death Valley, bits of green do exist.  They persevere through the drought.  Desert wildlife -- coyotes and spiders and such -- forage through life with a combination of determination and sheer grit.  Above all, I was awed by the singular beauty of the place.

I thank my Lord for giving this soul, so accustomed to the green of Middle Tennessee, a glimpse into the desert life -- into the hard-knock kind of school Moses and the Hebrew children endured.  Not unlike the geography where John the Baptist and Jesus prepared for ministry.  The seminary of growth . . .

When life drains us parched and weak, we serve a God who sees.  Who opens eyes.  Who sustains.  And, like Hagar, we can go on.  Like the Samaritan woman, we find Living Water.

Jesus is the Living Water . . . . and He is good.

You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you;

I thirst for You, my whole being longs for you,

in a dry and parched land where there is no water.

I have seen You in the sanctuary and beheld Your power and Your glory.

Because Your love is better than life, my lips will glorify You.

I will praise You as long as I live

and in Your name I will lift up my hands.”

Blessings on your life’s journey,

Barb
— Psalm 63:1 - 5 NIV

The Source

Our world is a noisy place.  Sometimes our ears are so full that our minds are empty.  There is only One who is the source of my music, who directs the key of my life.  In solitude and silence His glorious music swells in my soul--

Amidst the cacophony, come.
Take up the baton
In those hands, strong and nail-scarred.

Tune and refine,
Direct and orchestrate--
Set in motion every fiber of my being.

With soaring crescendos
and with gentle whispers,
blow Your sweet breath of life.

Round out the stridence,
Steady the tempo,
Shape, Mold, and caress.

My eyes are fixed
On You,
O Conductor of My Soul.

        Barbara Lister Williams