It Never Ceases To Amaze Me

I’ve been wandering around Maine for better than eight years and part time living here for a year and a half. Yet I’m still amazed at the incredible people in the state. As the welcoming sign says, “Maine: The way life should be .” It could also say, “Maine: A step back to calmer days.”

The people here are truly a throwback to days gone by. It doesn’t matter where you go — the gas station, the grocery store, out to dinner — you almost invariably get into a conversation. And it’s not superficial talk. It truly is a conversation. I’ve concluded — as a person with a lifelong reserved personality — there are no introverts in the Pine Tree State.

You never know what’s going to trigger it. Sometimes it’s standing with a glazed look in the grocery store {what’s difference between confectioner’s sugar and powdered sugar?} or hopping up and down to keep warm while pumping gas or a ringtone on your phone. Last night it was deer.

I went to The Red Moose in Brownville for no reason other than I liked the name and had nothing better to do last night. I wasn’t expecting dinner and a show … that expanded into conversation. Seriously, in the middle of dinner a herd of deer — okay, maybe six — showed up at the back window. They sauntered closer and closer to the window, with everyone — EVERYONE — in the place making their way to window to watch the deer watch us. The deer won. We all returned to our dinners, but they stayed there, still as statues with an occasional peck at the snow.

The couple at the table across the aisle and I got to talking as we finished our meals … about the deer, life in Maine, how we got here, winter in Maine, summer in Maine, activities in Maine — well mostly all things Maine.

I discovered Maine winters are cyclical on a three year moderate to normal “whatever that is” to harsh cycle. This year was normal, they cautioned, so next year could be, well, interesting.

I learned these 20 year transplants from Rhode Island came for the wilderness, although logging has somewhat changed the landscape over the last to decades. They explained how four wheel drive is “a must” and trucks and plows are pretty common. But I also learned the town highway departments do  a great job keeping roads clear … albeit sometimes to bare snow. Dave proudly said he has never gotten stuck in the 20 years he has commuted the 20 miles or so from Brownville to Dover-Foxcroft where he works. His wife contributed, “They know how to handle winter!”

My favorite comment of the night, however, was, “When spring comes in May, this snow will be gone quickly.” And the cycle begins again in late October or early November.

In addition to the six at the restaurant, I saw three or four coming up and another three going back home. And they weren’t lightweights. They had some meat on them. My new friends, who live about three quarter mile off the main road, said it was enjoying the deer and moose feeding on their property that gave them hours of entertainment and enjoyment.

And I thought I was just going for a meal.

THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: Being positive in your mind is not enough! Let positivity take root in your heart and let positive things come from your mouth!

 

Posted in entertainment, food, Friends, Humor, Life, Maine, nature, relationships, seasons, spring, winter | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Like Father, Like Son

My aunt died last night. As I referenced yesterday, there is no doubt in my mind she is dancing with my uncle in heaven as we speak.

But I couldn’t help but think there was some snickering going on as well.

After hearing the news, the first thing that came to my mind was a story my aunt told me about my dad — one that was corroborated by him as well. It seems they were at a funeral. I don’t know if it was in the church or at the funeral home, but in the middle of the quiet, dad started a muffled snicker. My aunt, sitting next to him, looked at dad and asked what so funny. He whispered whatever had triggered his amusement, which cause my aunt to start quietly giggling. And before you knew it, there were smiles all around these two characters.

I share the tale because I, too, have been known to smile at less than appropriate times — and I had the bruised ribs to show for it. I trace this levity back to my dad’s genes. He wasn’t a jokester or the life of the party, but was well grounded in the art of seeing the humor and life in life. It’s a trait I proudly wear.

But it wasn’t always so. In fact, as the smartest 18 year old in the world, I vowed I would never be like my dad.

In many ways, we weren’t. He was super organized. I’m not. He planned everything and didn’t like surprises. I tend to wing it and treat each new day as a new adventure. He was always neat with everything in its place. Me? Well, not so much. I don’t mind a little dust, at least it gives me a place to write notes to myself. He was never emotional, to the point I can count the number of times he said “I love you” on less than half the fingers on one hand. I remember him telling me and my family he didn’t expect tears at mom’s funeral. I tend to be emotional, to say “I love you“ and have been known to shed a tear or two, albeit mostly when I’m alone. He lived in one area all his life until his fall. I’ve lived in six states. He would put a couple thousand miles on his car a year. It was just for transportation. The year before he died {2012} I put on 46,000 miles and last year I logged over 32,000 … trends started from my first days behind the wheel. Driving is my therapy, my sanctuary.

But over the years — and especially over the past few years — I realized we are so very much the same. I discovered our mannerisms are almost identical. Our temperament. Our sense of family. Our outlook on life. Our values.

We share the same dry, unexpected sense of humor. Over the years, he would blurt something out of the blue that lit up the room or start a muffled laugh during a serious moment.

As an  example, one day, he blurted out, “I just don’t understand it.” Dutifully I responded, “Don’t understand what?”

“What happens,” he said.

“What happens about what?” I asked completely lost and not knowing where this conversation was going.

“You know, when I die.”

It caught me off guard. I told him I didn’t know, but figured this could be a “faith” moment to discuss ethereal things like heaven and relationships with Jesus. So I started, “Well, you have a deep relationship with God so …”

He cut me off mid-sentence. “I’m okay with God,” he said. “I mean, how am I going to get back to New Jersey?” {He was in a nursing home in New York}

Now, we had been over this about 100 times already, and it was just one of about 100 more. But I pressed on. “The nursing home will let me know. I’ll let the funeral director know. He’ll pick you up, get you ready and drive you to New Jersey. We’ll have the funeral there and you’ll be buried by mom.”

He thought for a minute. “The undertaker will drive me there?” he asked.

“Yes,” I responded.

He had a glazed look on his face, so I asked him what was wrong.

“Nothing,” he said. “I just thought you were taking me down in your truck.”

The spring before he died, I was complaining about gas prices. A couple of days later, he asked if prices were still rising. I said yes and he shot back, “Is that going to make a difference for my funeral.” I didn’t understand where he was going so I asked him what he meant. He said, “You said everything was paid for. Do you have enough to get me back to Paterson?” In one of my flippant moments, all I could say was, “No, we just have enough to get you to the Delaware Water Gap.”

Dad was the epitome of commitment. He wouldn’t quit and he wouldn’t let me quit. He was hard working and the embodiment of blue collar America. He wasn’t a “religious” man but had a deep faith. And he did things quietly. He relished being in the background with the spotlight on others. He passed those values on to me.

As a cautionary tale to my sons, this is your heredity … and your future. I see so many of these traits in you already, although, thankfully, you have a host of mom genes as well. We can argue which ones are better.

As I relayed the information about my aunt’s death to my cousins on my mother’s side, it also struck me there was another trait I shared with dad. Somehow I became the focal point for sharing relative news to family and friends. Dad did it by phone. I use Messenger and Facebook. And he made it a point to contact his brothers and brothers- and sisters-in-law regularly. I try to do the same with my family, cousins and friends. Like dad, I didn’t want to be known as the purveyor of only bad news.

I hope my boys — and girls — continue the tradition of staying in touch with those who have impacted their lives. And, while I’m not adverse to a few tears at my funeral, I sure hope one of you will start a giggling wave — right in the middle of the eulogy.

THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: God promises, God fulfills, but He works on His own timetable — not yours or mine. He is not in a hurry like we are. He is willing to work with His design for our lives (in ways we cannot see) until He has produced that which is perfect in His sight. Slow down … wait … pray … Rushing can be hazardous to your health. — June Masters Bacher

Posted in children, encouragement, Faith, family, funeral, Humor, Laughter, Life, love, Memories, relationships | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Five Minute Friday — Embrace

Happy Friday. Yes, Friday, and here I am posting my contribution to Five Minute Friday! Miracles do happen!

You know the drill. We receive a prompt, ponder it and let our fingers translate the words in our minds and hearts. Then we meet at Kate’s place (http://katemotaung.com/2017/03/16/five-minute-friday-friend/) to link up and share our work with others in the group. There are few “rules” but the most important rule is you visit the blog of the person who linked up before you and leave some encouragement.  That’s the most fun of all, and the heart of this community.

Here’s another take from Five Minute Friday: A Collection of Stories Written in Five Minutes Flat. “Community has been a breath of fresh air in busy weeks.”

This week’s prompt is EMBRACE. The timer is set, so let’s GO …

My dying aunt told her children (my cousins) she had enough and just wanted to dance with her husband again. That’s heartbreaking news for a child … but I know exactly where she is coming from.

We had a similar conversation a few years ago when I visited her. She told me the same thing and I told her I would settle for one more hug, one more embrace. We were speaking not on an aunt-nephew level. We were talking on a widow-widower level. We understood the loneliness, the separation.

Those same conversations always came up with Sonni. We often talked about the “good times” we had with our respective spouses and how much we looked forward to reliving them. Those conversations, sometimes with misty eyes, always ended with an embrace and extended hug.

I truly do miss the embraces, the intimacy, the friendship and the love I had with my wife Karen. It tears at my heart every day, even after eight and a half years.

And some day, I will tell my children I’ve had enough and just want that embrace from my wife again. It’s not fatalism. On the contrary, it is hope. It’s not abandonment. It’s rejoining a new community with the love of your … STOP

… life. I can only hope they will understand.

How I’ve gone through my widower journey — as have all those other widows and widowers I have come to know — is by clinging to the hope in that embrace. And it’s Jesus’ embrace of us that gives us that hope. He may not physically be here, but His arms are wide open, waiting for me to come in and be enveloped in His strong arms. I feel them often.

I know my wife will be waiting for me with a big embrace, followed by hundreds others from family members and friends. And then the dancing will begin.

THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: God’s plans for your life far exceed the circumstances of your day

Posted in dancing, embrace, Faith, family, Five Minute Friday, Friends, heaven, Jesus, Karen, Life, love, relationships, Sonni | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Five Minute Friday — Friend

I have a very busy schedule this weekend — including traveling — so I made sure I could carve out five minutes for this week’s Five Minute Friday exercise. Kate Motaugn (http://katemotaung.com/2017/03/16/five-minute-friday-friend/) supplied this week’s prompt — FRIEND — and turned it over the FMF crew to expand and embellish. And, of course, we meet and greet at her place to share and network. It’s fun, fun, fun and keeps our neurons sharp.

Ready to join in yet?

Okay, here’s another take from Five Minute Friday: A Collection of Stories Written in Five Minutes Flat. Don’t listen to me. Listen to Elizabeth.

“The FMF community is a welcoming, fun and caring group of writers. They have helped me stretch and grow both as a writer and a person. The challenge to write about a single word for only five minutes is an excellent exercise and God has revealed thoughts to me that I don’t think I would have come up with otherwise.”

There you go. Now to this week’s task. The timer is set. Let’s GO…

What a friend I have in Jesus …

That was the first thought that popped into my mind and, yes, I did personalize the lyrics,

Jesus is not only my Savior, but truly is my permanent, never-to-leave-me best friend.

Certainly I have a host of real time friends. Bernie has been my best friend — and was my best man — since the fourth grade … and that’s a long, long time. Although we regularly talk to each other, a 1,500 mile physical separation limits face-to-face time. In fact, we haven’t physically seen each other in about a dozen years.

Karen was more than my wife. She was my friend, soulmate and confidant. She knew where the skeletons were hidden and loved me anyway … for 40 years.

I have a web of close friends I can reach out to at any time for any reason and know they will be there for me. I have hundreds of social media friends who support me with their wit and wisdom {and sometimes lack thereof}.

Friendships are very special. But they have to be nurtured. They have to be cultivated. You can’t take them for granted.

But Jesus is just at a higher level. …STOP

… He’s there 24/7, 365 {366 in leap years}. He chides me. He guides me. He lifts me up. He slows me down {or speeds me up}. He lights my way. He gives me solace. He gives me peace.

And that is the quintessential definition of a friend.

THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: When you come to a wall, you can either climb it or you can simply walk around until you find a door. Don’t make life so hard — look for the doors!

Posted in Faith, Five Minute Friday, Friends, Jesus, Life, love, Music, prayer, relationships, songs | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

I Lost a Sock

I lost a sock in the laundry. Now I know that’s not earth-shattering news … especially among my many Five Minute Friday friends who do laundry a little more frequently than I, like two or three times a week or every day or twice a day. But for me, it was a big deal.

It wasn’t one of my favorite socks. In fact the one I lost had a hole in the heel and another around the ankle, complementing the found sock with a toe hole and frayed ribbing at the top. Maybe I didn’t really lose it. Maybe it disintegrated either in  the washer or dryer.

But it got me to thinking about my wardrobe. I think the last t-shirt I purchased was a “Hail Mary/Aaron Rogers” tee just after the 2015 season. I did buy a new pair of pant about four or five years ago … off the clearance rack for $5 that was about five sizes too big for even my big frame. And it only took me about two years to actually get it fitted. I remember buying a new dress shirt, but I think that was when my Dad died back in 2013. I did end up buying a new pair of shoes at Meier’s in Ohio about three years ago when I discovered — at the last minute — I forgot to pack my dress shoes. My last sneakers were back in 2012 when I joined the gym at the chiropractic college. I wore them once in the gym before delegating them to everyday wear when my other sneakers just plain wore out. And underwear. I did buy a six pack of briefs a couple of years ago because a) I ran out and b) I was on the road. Hey. That was what Christmas was for and my dearly departed wife has been gone for nine Christmases.

I still have a tee shirt given to me when I first came to Seneca County by the United Way — let’s see, that was 1994. And most of my shirts are air conditioned, stained {that’s how I remember what I ate and when — a “remembrance” marker, if you will} or are missing buttons and/or zippers.

I even have a couple of pair of jeans in the closet that have moved from Ohio to Maryland to New York. I’m never going to fit in them again, but, hey, they’re not taking up much room in my closet.

Typically, especially with my sweats or leisure wear, if a hole surfaced in the crotch or side seam, I would hang it up on a hook in the closet somehow awaiting for it to miraculously heal. But I have found a real, live seamstress in Maine, so each time I make the trip, I drop off a piece of clothing for Elaine to work her magic. I am happy to report I  have more usable clothing at my disposal, even if they are from distant decades.

Fashion sense is not one of my strong points. I ascribe to the “next in the closet” theory of dress and could never figure out why my wife, daughters or granddaughters would clean out the closet coming up with just the “right” look. And we won’t even go into accessories.

So, you see, for me to abandon {see how I worked in this week’s Five Minute Friday prompt?} my sock is a big deal. There was a time I would have retraced my steps to find the errant sock. Come to think about it, maybe it’s still up in Maine or in the back hatch of my car.

It’s really a good thing Karen is not around. She had this tendency to rip my ripped shirts — or any other piece of clothing — right off my back. I might be running around au naturel — and that would not be a pretty sight.

THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: The only thing that matters in life is your answer to this question: What have you done with Jesus? What have you done with Jesus?

Posted in clothes, family, Humor, Karen, Life | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

Five Minute Friday — Abandon

Happy Five Minute Friday time. Of course, it’s Saturday. I know that.

Seriously, it’s time to jot down some thoughts on this week’s prompt — ABANDON — courtesy of Kate Motaugn (http://katemotaung.com/2017/03/09/five-minute-friday-abandon/) and the krazy krew of FMF followers. We get the prompt, we ponder, we write, we share … and our ranks swell!

If you’ve followed this blog at all, you know how much value FMF has for me. I’ve asked you to join in [you really, really should]. It’s quick. It’s easy {okay, sometimes not always}. It’s challenging. And it’s oh so rewarding. But don’t take my word for it. Here is what Tammy has to say, taken from snippets in Five Minute Friday: A Collection of Stories Written in Five Minutes Flat. Don’t listen to me. Listen to her.

“As a writer, FMF points me in a direction. There are so many things I’d like to write that I find myself paralyzed and writing nothing. It is also beautiful t see the different perspective on the same word.”

The timer is set so let’s share my perspective this week. GO…

Abandon. That’s not a typical word in my vocabulary. I know people have been scarred by abandonment. I’ve seen abandoned buildings and cars and whatevers. But it isn’t something I can reach back and say I’ve experienced.

No one has ever abandoned me. I had a loving supportive family that reached out well beyond the four walls I shared with Mom and Dad {I was an only child}. I had 40 years of marriage. We may have had our disagreements during that span, but when things got tough we always came together, not abandon each other.

So it’s a foreign concept to me. Even in the darkest days after my wife died, I was lost and unsettled, but I never felt abandoned. I knew all things worked for a purpose and God had a different assignment for Karen … and for me.

Even when it comes time to abandoning projects or personal property, I never quite experienced it. …STOP

… In fact, if anything, I tend to go to the opposite extreme. I rarely, if ever, throw things out (abandon). There are things floating around the house that date back to the 60s. Yeah. Really. There probably would be more but we moved nine times to five different states and Karen didn’t quite share my frugality.

There is one area where I do exhibit abandonment, though. I was reminded about it the other day when someone said to me, “You approach life with reckless abandon.” {Was that a prelude to the prompt?}

Looking back, I do. Life is a gift, but it’s not one to be put on a shelf. It is to be used and enjoyed and shared. Thank you God!

THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: “How do you chase darkness out of a room?’’ Jung asked rhetorically, “With a broom?” Then he answered, “No, you turn on the light.’’

 

 

Posted in Faith, family, Five Minute Friday, Friends, God, Life, love, relationships | Tagged , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Lenten Reflections

I had about 36 hours notice to prepare something for this morning. Steve had asked if I could perhaps give the sermon I gave in Maine, but it was on joy … not particularly relevant for this Lenten season. But I told him I would come up with something. I did … but I really didn’t like it.

So, in the quiet and grandeur of the western Quebec countryside, instead of plugging into the French-speaking stations, my Pandora or I Heart  Radio playlist or my CD … I let nature clear my mind and draft a mental outline.

I mulled over the season and the Scripture (Matthew 4:-11); took a little bit from here and a little bit from there; borrowed some new-found insights and tried and true words previously spoken and came up with this commentary. I apologize if it is a little disjointed, but the final touches came around 5 this morning.

lentSo…

May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in Your sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.

During the Ash Wednesday service in Maine, pastor Mark noted there is no biblical mandate for the observance of Lent. That’s why some of the more strict Bible-based denominations don’t follow a Lenten tradition.

The 40 day observance we follow was first established in the church in the 800s  as a way to persuade Christians of the day to set aside some time for reflection on the upcoming tridiuum — Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday —  repentance, self denial and prayer.

Not all church customs are worth keeping … but this one certainly is.

The discipline, while not explicitly written out is Scripture, is loosely based on today’s reading in commemoration of the forty days Jesus spent fasting in the desert before beginning His public ministry, during which He endured temptation by Satan. It is corroborated in the gospels of Mark and Luke.

I’m going to touch on those four thoughts — reflection, repentance, self denial and prayer.

We all have a purpose. Often, we don’t know what that purpose is or at least, recognize it. But we all have a purpose … something that makes us us, creations of God.

You see, it’s not really our purpose. It’s God’s purpose for us. That’s what we don’t quite understand. He has put us in our circumstances for a reason … perhaps to witness to someone or receive witnessing from someone … perhaps to slow us down or speed us up … perhaps to let us grow or help someone else grow. He has a purpose for us, right here, right now.

I’ll be honest, when I was younger — much younger –I didn’t realize what my purpose — His purpose — was. I generally went through the motions plying my trade and connecting with my little circle of family and friends.

But I’ve learned to recognize there is a greater purpose in play. All the good times, all the bad times, all the laughter, all the tears were designed to hone my spirit into recognizing His purpose for my life.

I still don’t always get it right. I sometimes get the “my” and “His” mixed up, but as I’ve aged, I have come to realize every thing I do impacts someone else. Every thing I say impacts others. Every thing I write touches others — often unknown to me.

It’s our responsibility to use the talents we are given — the talents. There is no job too small done right that doesn’t honor our God.

It’s not just our jobs. It’s our purpose. It’s His purpose. And it isn’t just our work or career. It’s our relationships. It’s how we deal with other people … those we love and those we aren’t quite as fond of.

It’s taken me a while to realize that. We’re all interconnected. Everyone we meet — in person or through the virtual media — is a fellow journeyman (or woman) on this walk through life. We touch each other in ways we can’t imagine. They touch us the same way. We share ideas (or reject ideas) and our personalities shine through. Well, that’s not entirely true. It’s not our personality. It’s the personality forged by the strengths and the weaknesses and the smiles and the tears God has given us.

Be unique. Shine. But also reflect on the thought our mission, our purpose, after all, is to reflect the work of our Creator. It’s not to forge our own path for our glory. It’s to forge a path for His glory.

That, of course, is step one. Step two is change or repentance. As we’re pondering what we do — or don’t do — in our spiritual/communal lives, we must take action. As we become more in tune with God’s plan in us, we have to take the steps to assure we’re marching to the same beat as our Lord.

Let me give you an example. In my wildest imagination, I never would have thought I would be on this side of the pulpit. My faith was a private faith — a one-on-one with the Lord. Sure, I would join in communal events like church, but my solace was knowing I could come to the Lord as a friend any time any where. Faith was incredible personal.

My wife Karen and I came to “faith” from different paths. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t trust in the Lord with all my heart. I made that commitment formally when I received confirmation way back in grade school. At that time, I pledged my heart and soul to the Lord.

Karen’s journey was a little different. While she, too, was raised in the church as a youngster, it wasn’t until March of 1977 when she fully understood and accepted the Lord as her personal Savior.

I traveled the traditional path. Karen enjoyed a rebirth. I focused on the Old Testament as a foundation for the New Testament. Karen reveled in the New Testament as a fulfillment of the Old Testament. I was more comfortable with orthodoxy and hymns. Karen enjoyed good worship music and energized services. I had an exclusive personal relationship with the Lord. Karen was more inclusive. I wasn’t comfortable sharing my faith. Karen was quite comfortable sharing her faith. I was reluctant to lead prayer. Karen was open and willing to lead prayer.

From these two divergent views, we came together with a common purpose. Karen introduced me to contemporary Christian music. I taught her how to discern matters of faith. Karen opened my world to diversity and evangelism. I drew her into a deeper personal relationship with the Lord. Karen showed me how to share my faith. I showed her how to live her faith.

She was supportive as I embarked in my ministry in the Catholic press and behind me all the way when I was became an elder at Tyre Reformed, jokingly referring to me as “Pastor Joe” when I delivered my first sermon. I encouraged her to start Manna, a Christian-based publication in Illinois, and pushed her — without too much resistance — into being active in the church. We were Eucharistic ministers at St. Ignatius and prayer partners for each other throughout the years.

I do remember a “discussion” we had shortly after Karen was “reborn.” We were at a crossroads … she was attending a more Pentecostal church while I was going to the Catholic chapel at the local hospital. Our finances were unraveling. Our 8% ARM was adjusted up the maximum 2%. We got into a terrible argument about something I don’t even remember. I flew out of the house and peeled out, spending the next few hours at the park in Belvidere just reflecting.

When I got back home, ready and willing to apologize, I was greeted with “Do you feel like a man, now?” referring to my rubber-burning departure. The apology went out the window as I simple said, “No,” and went to bed.

The next couple of days were strained to say the least. That weekend she went off to her church and I went off to mine. When we got back I said, “We have to talk about this.” She said, “Yes, we do.”

So we set aside the time to just talk. Neither one of us could remember what sparked the original argument. Instead, the conversation quickly turned to our faith journeys.

I told her I was uncomfortable with her church which, to me, was too Pentecostal and had some questionable doctrines. I liked the pastor and the people, but it seemed too divisive. The church seemed too willing to separate the sheep and to cast non-members as non-believers who should be avoided … even if they were spouses. Karen wanted to be baptized again at that church. I told her I wouldn’t stand in her way, but before she made that decision, she should pray on it and check out its doctrines, especially concerning speaking in tongues as a prerequisite for believers. Just because the pastor says something doesn’t make it true.

She told me she wasn’t comfortable in a Catholic church. “All you do is stand up, sit down, kneel down, stand up,” she noted. “There’s no worship, no songs of praise. Even during the sermons, rarely do you hear a priest talk about Scripture or the plan of salvation. It’s the same thing, over and over. And when was the last time you saw a Catholic with a Bible? They don’t even bring them to church.”

The debate lingered. My defense was simply my faith was in Jesus Christ; I believed Jesus Christ was the promised Savior; He became man and died to free my personal sins; through Jesus Christ I was assured salvation. My religion was an extension of that faith.

But she pressed me further and asked if I was a Christian (remember, she had been “reborn” just a few months back). I answered a resounding “Yes!” but I was taken aback. How could this baby in faith question me … who had walked the walk for years? In retrospect, I felt like the Pharisees of Jesus’ time

“I thought so,” she replied. “But I never was sure.”

It was sobering moment for me. I guess I may have walked the walk, but I certainly didn’t share that walk, especially with Karen.

But the discussion became an opportunity for us to get on the same faith page. We both learned — sometimes to our regret — congregations can become so wrapped up in the form of faith, they forget the substance of faith. Going to church becomes an obligation rather than the celebration it was intended to be … a celebration of praise and thanksgiving to our Father for the gift of His Son through the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives … a celebration of repentance for our transgressions against God and our fellow man … a celebration of prayer and fellowship with others and ourselves … a celebration of our faith as told through Scripture … a celebration of our victory in Jesus Christ through the actuality of Eucharist.

Karen taught me those truths.

Next is self-denial. During this time, it’s traditional to “give up” something — like chocolate, candy or ice cream as a kid (or as an adult). As we matured, it may have been “doing” something like extra devotional reading.

But it brings to mind an incident in my freshman year in high school. After the obligatory Ash Wednesday service, we returned to our classes. In Religion, Father Francis asked us what we were giving up for Lent. We went around the room — there were only about15 of us — and dutifully shared our Lenten sacrifices. “Hmm,” he said as he walked back to the chalkboard. Then, completely unexpected, he flicked his pointer with full force on the chalkboard, the sound reverberating through the old mill turned schoolhouse. He pivoted around and said simply, “Why?”

Well we were moronic freshmen. We didn’t have a clue. We sort of looked at each other and shrugged our shoulders.

“If you don’t know why,” he continued, “why do it at all.?

I supposed there were some in the classroom — I’m not pointing out who (pointing to myself) — who took that as a Lenten ritual pass.

But, seriously, he was right on. Often we do things or don’t do things only because that is what is expected. It becomes rote. It becomes routine. And the intent becomes blurred and eventually disappears.

That’s the danger we face. We don’t look at the whys anymore. We don’t challenge ourselves. Take the time this season to look for those answers. We’re not getting into heaven because we gave up chocolate for Lent. We’re giving up chocolate for Lent to recognize what Jesus gave up just by coming here to save us and allowing a portal back into heaven. Ponder that over the next few weeks.

Of course, our Lord was always in prayer. He was always cognizant of His Father and His Father’s will. And, yes, He didn’t particularly welcome the trials and tribulations He would have to endure during His ministry, but He turned it over to the Father. Thy will be done.

One television program my Karen and I generally tried to watch was Touched By An Angel. It’s nice to think we’re touched by angles and in the span of 47 minutes lives can be turned around. But angels are another topic. What I’m going for here is the transformation process found in our saved soul.

More often than not, at some point in the show that soul she is trying to save tells Monica to tell God to butt out. “Where has God been?” might be the question. Whenever that point in the show arrives, I’m reminded of George Bailey in It’s A Wonderful Life when he gets popped in the mouth after praying.

You know, I think sometimes God must get bored up there in heaven. I know I would, listening to the same old rhetoric over and over … words spilling from the lips, rote-style. “Heavenly Father this …” or “gracious God that …”

I think prayer is something else. It’s communication. It’s simply talking with God … from the heart, not the mind, from the soul, not the lips.

I’ve always had an open line to God. I’m not a “formal” pray-er. In the middle of a traffic jam or when in the solitude of my distress I might internally or externally scream out at God. “What the heck is going on?” I might cry, perhaps not that sedately. I can talk with God one-on-one like a friend … and I know God speaks to me as a friend. And we all know how caustic and sometimes blunt a true friend can be, cutting through all the garbage in our lives and touching our very souls.

This week, stop praying.

Well, that got some attention. In fact, after preaching in Maine I was speaking to a woman about the sermon. She said she enjoyed it. I asked her what was her take on it. With a big smile on her face and an arm on my shoulder, she said, “You told me to stop praying.” Guess I won’t be invited back there.

But I was serious. Stop praying … and start talking to God from your heart. The heart is our emotional fountain. Let God know your emotions. He knows them anyway. He knows our heart. He knows our motives. He knows the truth … better than we do. Don’t masquerade your emotions with platitudes. If you’re angry with God, let Him know. But if you’re happy with God, share that joy as well with words of praise, not because that’s what should be done, but because that’s the way you feel.

A contemporary favorite song of mine is Trust in You by Lauren Daigle. The chorus says it all …
When You don’t move the mountains
I’m needing You to move
When You don’t part the waters
I wish I could walk through
When You don’t give the answers
As I cry out to You
I will trust, I will trust, I will trust in You

Let’s be honest. THAT is extremely difficult. Our faith does get shaken. Our focus does get diverted. We retreat into ourselves or we lash out at others. We get hurt. We get disappointed. We get disillusioned. We can’t make sense of the violence or abuse or illness or even the death of someone close.

Truth is we don’t have to. There is a greater Power who has all the answers. My job — your job — isn’t to figure out the answers. My job — your job — is to trust in the God who has been there through the good and bad times. Isn’t it exciting to know we have an anchor in the storms of life?

And finally, we are told in out Gospel reading how Jesus was tempted after His fasting, reflection and prayer.

Don’t get discouraged when you become tempted after moving closer in step with Jesus. Satan, the great deceiver, doesn’t care about you or me. It’s his goal to derail any efforts by anyone who tries to have a deeper relationship with the Lord or spread the good news of the gospel.

I have learned through the years, the more obstacles we  face when attempting to walk closer to the Lord or presenting issues of faith generally means the devil is working overtime to block the message. That was evident when I had my mini-stroke last fall a week before a three-week date on this side of the pulpit. Something in those words must of had Satan shaking.

Even this weekend, I could see Satan’s gnarled hands at work. Despite the short notice, my confirmation to Steve somehow got lost in the clouds, so I wasn’t even sure this would be delivered. I got in late last night and left my “church” clothes in the car, meaning I had to trek to the car in single digits to retrieve them.  I did some final revisions around 5 this morning only to have the program stop working (my bad, didn’t always save as often as I should have) not once, not twice, but three times. Sometimes, it feels the closer you try to walk with and share Jesus, you feel like you just got punched in the mouth. Remember George Bailey?

But the amazing thing is, we’re not alone. Jesus was tempted too. He was promised the lies of Satan. And we are as well, especially as we come closer to God’s will in our lives. That’s how Satan rolls.

Jesus didn’t need those promises. Neither do we. We have the Light in Jesus. He is the S-O-N shine — that’s S-O-N.

So, whenever you are tempted or discouraged or disillusioned because of delayed prayer, wear the circumstance as a badge. It means we’re on the right track.

God’s will. God’s purpose reflected through us. May it be so this Lenten season and throughout our lives.

THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: The Eskimo craftsmen of Alaska deliberately introduce a flaw into their weaving and sculpting so as not to offend God by trying to produce something perfect.

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