Just What I Need in the Moment

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 69

Save me, O God,
for the floodwaters are up to my neck.
Deeper and deeper I sink into the mire;
I can’t find a foothold.
I am in deep water,
and the floods overwhelm me.
Psalm 69:1-2 (NLT)

It’s been a crazy week, and things are about to get even crazier. Wendy and I are in production week with shows this weekend and next. I have two project deadlines for work this week (one is done, one is not) and have two major client deliveries next week. In the midst of it, Wendy and I had to make a road trip south for two days. You can feel the tension in our house from the sheer anxiety of “Oh my goodness I have so much to do and the task list keeps getting longer while the time gets shorter and I don’t know how I’m going to get it all done and could the phone PLEASE stop ringing because I don’t want to answer it and have MORE things piled on top of the mountain of things that need to be accomplished or I think I’m going to go TOTALLY insane (breathe, Tom, breathe….remember to breathe)!!!!!”

One of the things I love about the Psalms is the way you can read one particular lyric from one particular psalm and it can be packed with so much meaning. Sometimes one line, phrase or a particular verse can speak to you right where you are in a given moment on your life journey. Today is a great example. The first two verses of Psalm 69 leapt off the page this morning because it so perfectly expressed what both my head and my heart are feeling in this moment. It was like a tailor made prayer just for me this morning. I read it and my spirit groaned, “Yes, God, yes. That’s what I’m feeling. I feel like I’m drowning.” [Then, the song Flood by Jars of Clay suddenly became a soundtrack for the rest of the psalm]

The psalm also came with a much needed word of encouragement that is my take-away for today:

The humble will see their God at work and be glad.
Let all who seek God’s help be encouraged.

 

Parade of the Downhearted

English: Christmas lights in Sanok
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 68

God places the lonely in families;
he sets the prisoners free and gives them joy.
Psalm 68:6a (NLT)

“Christmas is such a happy time of year,” Wendy said to me as we drove to rehearsal the other night. The Christmas lights on the businesses along Franklin Street were shining bright in the crisp night air and the Vermeer Windmill was decked out with all of its holiday decorations.

I wasn’t trying to be a Scrooge, but the first thought that came to my mind and my response to Wendy was “It’s not a happy time of year for everyone.” I know that the holidays can be incredibly stressful for some. For those who have lost loved ones or who struggle with loneliness, the holidays can be a time of increased anxiety and depression.

I can tell in the quiet this morning that my heart and mind have made the turn toward Advent. Advent comes from the latin term meaning “revealing.” It is traditionally the season followers of Jesus prepare their hearts each year to celebrate the birth of our Jesus on Christmas Day. Psalm 68 is a song of procession and was meant to be sung as people paraded to the temple to worship. It made me think about all of us who are making a procession towards Christmas. As I read the lyrics of the opening stanza of Psalm 68, I found it interesting those whom it describes in this processional to praise:

  • Fatherless
  • Widows
  • Lonely
  • Prisoners

How appropriate, I think, for the downhearted to be called out for this parade. The whole reason for Christ to come as a baby, to live among us, to die for our sins, and to be raised back to life, is that which is broken in all of us might be healed. Consider that in His first public message, Jesus proclaimed his personal mission statement when He quoted these words:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

This morning I’m thinking about the upcoming Christmas holiday in relation to the downhearted, the lonely, the grieving, those in bondage to their destructive thoughts and behaviors, and those who are suffering emotionally and physically. As we proceed toward Christmas, I’m praying that those of us who are suffering. Instead of experiencing increased levels of loneliness, isolation, anxiety and pain, I’m praying for us all – myself absolutely included – to find the healing and hope which can be found wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

A Father’s Face Shining On Us

Madison’s graduation from NLSW. Can you see my face shining? 🙂

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 67

May God be gracious to us and bless us  and make his face shine on us—
Psalm 67:1 (NIV)

The other day in random conversation a friend showed me his scar. It wasn’t a physical one, but a relational one and an emotional one. His parents never attended his school activities. When there was a sporting event he was playing in or a performance of a school play, his parents were too busy with the farm or taking care of siblings to attend. Twenty-five years later, the pain of feeling rejected, diminished, less than is scabbed over. My friend is emotionally healthy with strong self-esteem, a genuine faith, and a loving family. But the scar is still there. And I watched it itch when the conversation steered close it.

I can’t speak much into that particular pain. My parents were present and supportive at all my extra-curricular activities growing up. What I can speak into is the joy when a mother’s, and particularly when a father’s, face shines upon you with pride, joy and love. There’s nothing like looking into the face of your folks, seeing the smiles and the shine, and knowing that they are proud of you.

Psalm 67 was a song written for use in public worship and the opening lyric comes from the “priestly blessing” which God told the priests to use when dismissing the people:

“The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace. “

As my friend and I continued our conversation, I thought about the obvious fact that he had not allowed the scabbed over emotional scars he felt from his folks paralyze him into some sort of on-going victim mentality. He’d faced his pain, forgiven his folks and vowed to let his experience motivate him to act differently with his own children. It became clear that part of the healing process was realizing that his Heavenly Father’s face was shining on him with all the pride, joy and love he didn’t experience from his earthly father. By accepting and experiencing the deep, eternal love of God, my friend was able to let go of the pain he’d experienced from his parents’ unintentional mistakes.

May God’s face shine upon all of us today. And, may we all experience the fullness of what it can accomplish in our hearts, our minds, and our lives.

Purpose in the Pain

Joseph is raised from prison to prominence as the biblical story is retold in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 66

You brought us into prison and laid burdens on our backs. You let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and water, but you brought us to a place of abundance.
Psalm 66:11-12 (NIV)

Wendy and I are in production week for Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. The award-winning Broadway musical retells the story of Joseph (Genesis 37-47), the famed little brother who was given a dream that he would rise to greatness and all of his brothers would bow down to him. His older siblings responded to Joseph’s dream in typical fashion by throwing him into a well and then selling him into slavery. Though his father was told he was dead, Joseph was actually taken to Egypt where he was put to work in the house of prominent local official. After a brief stint of success in his job, Joseph was wrongfully accused by his master’s wife and put into prison. Talk about a string of bad fortune.

Through the long weeks of production, Wendy and I have constantly ruminated on the story of Joseph. I can only imagine the cynicism and anger Joseph must have felt rotting in the Egyptian prison. For years and years and years his dreams of greatness had proven to be nothing more than pipe dreams. One bad turn after another appears to lead Joseph further and further away from the dream God gave him as a boy. It seems so unfair for God to give a promise of incredible blessing, then immediately lead Joseph down a marathon road of suffering.

Of course, Joseph’s misfortune proves to be God’s divine providence in the end. In prison, Joseph gains a reputation for having a knack with dreams. Circumstance brings him before Pharaoh who was having some confusing dreams about an upcoming famine. Pharaoh is so impressed with Joseph that he raises him to a place of unparalleled prominence and puts him in charge of getting the nation ready for the upcoming famine. I’ll let you guess or read the rest (or buy a ticket and see the show over the next two weekends). Joseph’s long, hard road was actually preparing him for leadership, honing his character, and putting him in just the right circumstance to save his family.

I was reminded once again of Joseph’s incredible story when I read David’s lyrics from Psalm 66 this morning. Joseph’s biography, along with David’s, remind us that God’s ultimate purpose for us is often at the end of a tough road. Wendy and I can bear witness to this simple spiritual principle as we see it at work in our own lives. The truth is, we want the blessing without the burden. We want the pleasure without the pain. Yet, God’s purpose is for our spiritual maturity and wholeness, and that does not come without a price.

Today, I’m thankful for the hard roads I’ve trekked on this life journey. They haven’t been easy or fun, but they have been both necessary and beneficial. It is what it is.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:6-7 (NIV)

An Iowa Psalm

Iowa annual fainfall, in inches, created in ES...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 65

You take care of the earth and water it,
    making it rich and fertile.
The river of God has plenty of water;
    it provides a bountiful harvest of grain,
    for you have ordered it so.
Psalm 65:9 (NLT)

For the record, I’ve never been a farmer. Though I’ve lived all but four years of my life in the state of Iowa I’ve got the most rudimentary understanding of how farms operate. I was raised in the city and have rarely stepped foot on a farm. Nevertheless, I’ve come to understand that being from Iowa gives you an appreciation for the land and the symbiotic relationship we have with it. You can’t escape it. The land and the people woven together. There’s cadence to life here that begins with planting, leads to harvest, followed by subsequent thanksgiving and celebration of the holidays before it ends in deep winter and the hope of next year and doing it all over again.

I tend to think that this relationship and dependence on the land and the weather is what gives us a rather humble and simple faith. Those whose livelihoods are rooted in agriculture realize our dependence on so much that it completely out of our control. You live life constantly making adjustments to what the earth and sky throw at you and have faith that it’s all going to work out in the end. When harvest does come and the crop comes in, there’s a realization that a large part of your success had absolutely nothing to do with you.

The chapter this morning tapped in to all of those thoughts and emotions. This is an Iowa psalm; A farmer’s psalm. David’s lyrics are full of that humble understanding that God’s creation is immense. No matter how much we strive to tame it, it only takes one massive storm, flood, or drought to remind us how dependent we really are.

Today, capping off a holiday weekend of Thanksgiving, I’m saying Psalm 65 as an extra prayer of gratitude.

Thanksgiving 2012

I must say that Thanksgiving 2012 has been one of the more odd holiday weekends for Wendy and me simply because it’s mostly been a quiet weekend just the two of us. The one family gathering we had was on Friday night when we helped host Wendy’s mom’s family at a potluck. We’d managed to rent some space in our church for everyone to gather and kind of took charge of making sure everything went okay for everyone. It did.

My goodness. It’s hard to believe these two bath rats are celebrating Maddy Kate’s 21st birthday this weekend.

The rest of the family spread out this year. Madison is in Colorado Springs and celebrated her 21st birthday on Thanksgiving Day this year (Woohoo! Happy Bday MADDY!). Taylor flew out to Colorado to spend the weekend with her little sister and to have a girls weekend.

Most of the VW clan were in Chicago at Terry & Bonnie’s for the holiday. We were bummed to have missed it, but having to be home on Friday to help with the Roozeboom festivities would have made it a crazy quick trip. My brother Tim also missed the festivities. He’s been working in Texas and stayed down there to celebrate Thanksgiving with Kumi.

Dad Hall & Suzanna are in Germany to see Josh and Kirtana.

Wendy’s family was also spread out. Her dad and sister flew to Germany to see Josh, who’s serving in the military there. They’re also the first to meet the newest member of the Hall clan, Kirtana, whom Josh married in Nepal back in August. With Jesse still in Germany, Heidi & Sophie in Florida, Luke in Tennessee to see his girlfriend, and Nathan and Bonnie in Oklahoma, there were precious few of the Hall clan around with whom to celebrate.

So, Wendy and settled in and decided to try and be productive on our long weekend alone. We did a massive house cleaning on Thursday and then I put a few steaks on the grill that evening, we opened a nice bottle of wine, and we sat down to a candlelit dinner for two followed by a lazy evening finishing up the first season of Downton Abbey on Netflix.

This is what decorations looked like when we got them out yesterday morning. They still look pretty much the same this morning. I think we’re behind on the task list.

Friday was supposed to be decorating for Christmas Day, but our morning errands to Wal-Mart and Hy-Vee got out of hand. Then Wendy had to bake and prepare for our Roozeboom potluck, the USP Box Office phone started to ring (Wendy and I ARE the virtual USP Box Office), and Mom Hall showed up in time to watch the Iowa State game. Needless to say, the living room is still full of decoration boxes and a half-decorated Christmas Tree is sitting in the middle of the room. We scurried off to an enjoyable gathering with the Roozebooms. It was 10:00 when Wendy and I got home and I made the mistake of turning on the television to find that the movie Moneyball had just started on one of the movie channels. Wendy sat on the couch next to me and next thing you know it was Midnight.

Today we finish decorating and continue on a long list of honey-dos. The weekend is scheduled to be a combination of chores and relaxation. We’ll see how it all goes. I can already tell that we’re not going to accomplish anywhere near the number of to-dos we had on the list at the beginning of the weekend. C’est la vie.

I hope that anyone reading this post has enjoyed a wonderful Thanksgiving with your loved ones wherever find yourself.

The Implosion of Evil

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 64

Their own tongues will ruin them,
    and all who see them will shake their heads in scorn.
Psalm 64:8 (NLT)

Wendy and I spent a quiet Thanksgiving Day at home yesterday, just the two of us. In the morning we found ourselves in a wonderful, meandering conversation. At one point we rhetorically asked ourselves how many people around the country would be sitting down to Thanksgiving meal to truly enjoy a grateful feast and how many would sit down to the same feast to medicate the emptiness and the dissatisfaction I pondered in yesterday’s post. There is a difference between feasting and gluttony. So it is with so many things in life, Wendy and I concluded. God gives us a natural appetite meant for our good, and then says, “I’ve set before you life and death.” We can choose to channel that appetite to things that ultimately bring about more fullness of life and glorify our Creator, or we can channel that appetite into choices that slowly drain life from us, ultimately leading us toward death.

I thought about that conversation as I read the lyrics of today’s psalm which was David’s exploration and meditation on evil people. I found the above verse interesting because it is a theme I see time and time again from Narnia to Middle Earth to Hogwarts and to Shakespeare’s entire catalog of stories. Evil ends up imploding from within. While the forces of good always rise up to combat it, evil tends to get tripped up in its own snares  and to bring about its own destruction.

This is part of the universal Truth of God’s creation. Evil cannot not make, it can only mar. Evil stands in opposition to good just as death stands in opposition to life. Like the wicked described in today’s psalm, evil lies and deceives to further its own ends only to get tripped up by its own lie. At its core, evil is about destruction. It’s no wonder it ends up destroying itself. Good is about creating and recreating life. It’s no wonder it ends up redeeming, restoring and making broken things new again.

I am reminded this morning of God’s words to Moses and the gang in Deuteronomy 30. This is what I’m taking with me into my day:

“This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life….”