I’ve come to realize that there are some photos that you love, and you don’t really know why. This photo from the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh is one of them. Every time I’m flipping through my photos and I see this one my soul smiles. I love the simple joy lying on the grass, napping in the sun. I love the way Wendy and Taylor are placed in such natural, beautiful surroundings. I love the blue of the sky meeting the green of the trees and the lawn. Of course, I loved experiencing that morning in the gardens when it happened and perhaps that is the most powerful attraction the photo has for me.
Anyway, I hope it makes your soul grin a little too.
I’ve never been a great sleeper. I’ve blogged about this in other posts over the years. I have an active brain that spins and mulls on all sorts of things in life at all times. So, after a couple of hours of REM sleep I will regularly wake and begin thinking about all sorts of things. At that point, getting back to sleep is out of the question. It is frustrating, and it has its ill-favored consequences.
I will admit, however, that along the journey I’ve come to recognize that my insomnia is not without it’s benefits. It will often happen in the nights before I’m scheduled to teach a class or give a Sunday morning message. In those watches of the night when every thing is quiet and my brain spins in the no man’s land between deep sleep and clear consciousness, I often find the words, themes and illustrations coming to me. Solutions to perplexing questions strike me. New creative ways of looking at things are revealed.
Throughout time great inventors, thinkers, and creatives have kept paper and pencil near their bed to capture thoughts, dreams, and revelations that come to them in the night. It is a fascinating and mysterious thing which I believe God can and does use if we learn to tap into it. In fact, my most fruitful period of spiritual growth came when I applied a disciplined approach to writing my early morning thoughts. My local gathering of Jesus followers is exploring the idea of hearing the voice of God, and this Sunday morning (1/25/2015) I’m going to be sharing the morning message about my lessons and experiences with early morning journaling.
Which likely means I’ll have a sleepless night or two later this week.
“Oh, for the days when I was in my prime, when God’s intimate friendship blessed my house, when the Almighty was still with me and my children were around me….” Job 29:4-5 (NIV)
I had to be careful when I came up to my office this morning. Madison flew home yesterday for a brief pre-Christmas visit (she has to be on-call for work next week), and both bedrooms upstairs across from my office are occupied with sleeping angels. As I tip-toed up the dark stairway my mind was occupied with thoughts of the days when that was a regular morning occurrence. I remember going through a period of grief right after Madison moved out and the nest was truly empty.
And then, in a moment of vague synchronicity, I get to my office and open my MacBook to read Job’s words pasted at the top of this post. I get that Job is lamenting a loss that was far more extreme and infinitely more dire. That’s the cool thing about God’s Message. It meets you where you are in the moment.
In this moment I feel the bitter-sweetness of aging.
I watch my girls riding the roller coaster of young adulthood. One moment they express to me the excitement of independence and adventure that accompanies that stage of life’s journey. After years of parental guidance (and/or repression), they are living their own lives. They can go where they want and do what they want, whenever they want to do it. And, they can legally drink adult beverages while doing it (except for our acquired young adult, Suzanna, who still has a year or two for that one!). And then, the next moment they express to me the terror, doubts, and insecurities that accompany the realities of finishing school, finding jobs, navigating the health care system, and making ends meet. Welcome to life, sweetie.
For the record, I look at my life currently and realize that I’m on the same roller coaster ride. My car is just over-the-hill. One moment I express the excitement of independence and adventure that accompanies this stage of life’s journey. After years of parental responsibilities with children and teenagers, Wendy and I can once again go where we want and when we want whenever we want to do it. We even have the added blessing of financial resources to enjoy a few things for the first time in our lives. And, we can still legally drink adult beverages while doing it. And then, the next moment I experience the terror, doubts, and insecurities that accompany the realities of a body that doesn’t work the way it used to, hanging onto a job, and planning for retirement that suddenly doesn’t seem so far away. I carry concerns about the parents ahead of us on life’s road, and carry more concern than I thought I would about those young adult children following behind.
C’est la vie. It is what it is.
On this particular December morning, however, both rooms across the hall from my office are occupied with sleeping angels. And, while I miss the one angel who slumbers across the ocean, this morning feels a lot like “old times.” And, for that, I’m thankful (and hanging on for that next hill).
I was standing in the hall of the Pella Community Center looking at an interactive map of the world. This is funny since the only interactive things in the Pella Community Center are flush toilets. Anyway, I was standing there thinking I was looking at a street in London and realizing it was a golf course in New York, when Robert Redford walks up to me and says, “Hey, Tom.”
“Hey, Bob,” I answered. Crap. I just called Robert Redford “Bob.” I don’t know him, of course, but he just addressed me on as if we were on a first name basis, so I just went with it.
“The men’s club would like to come see the show you’re directing, ‘Best Christmas Pageant Ever.’ We would need, like, 500 seats. Can you make that happen?” he asked.
There are two problems with this question. First, I have no idea what men’s club he’s talking about. Second, the Joan Kuyper Farver Auditorium in the Pella Community Center only seats 330 people max.
“Sure, Bob. I can make that happen,” I answered calmly.
“WHAT?!” My ego screamed at my super-ego deep within REM sleep as it frantically accessed all sorts of hidden synapses in my brain trying to figure out how on earth I was going to get an extra 200 seats in the auditorium in the next four weeks.
“Hey!” my super-ego snobbishly retorted to my critical, moralizing ego. “When ROBERT REDFORD addresses you on a FIRST NAME BASIS and asks you for a favor YOU DON’T SAY ‘NO!!!'”
It was then that my id graciously woke me up to pee. I was angling towards one helluvan anxious nightmare.
Sea storms are up, God, Sea storms wild and roaring, Sea storms with thunderous breakers. Stronger than wild sea storms, Mightier than sea-storm breakers, Mighty God rules from High Heaven. Psalm 93:3-4 (MSG)
Of the 17, 260 days I’ve woken up on this earth the vast majority of them have been in Iowa. Iowa is a beautiful land. I love living here. We have rolling waves of grain (mostly corn), but there is a serious lack of ocean waves. I can speak of wild thunderstorms and tornadoes, but raging sea storms are scarce in a landlocked state without a sea.
When I married Wendy, I quickly discovered that she sleeps with a sound machine. In particular, she sleeps to the sound of ocean waves. And, now, so do I. In fact, I’ve gotten so used to the sound of giants waves breaking onto the shore at night that I have audio tracks of ocean waves on my cell phone, iPad and computer so that when I’m on the road I can sleep to the sound of ocean waves and try to pretend that I’m home.
As I read the lyric of today’s psalm I came across these verses linking the ocean breakers to mighty God, I was instantly reminded of the ocean waves that lull me to sleep each night. What I have appreciated from our sound machine and from my too few experiences at the ocean is the constancy of the ocean waves. So constant, in fact, that you begin to forget that they are there. They become white noise in the background of our minds. Ever present and totally forgotten.
God is like that in my life far too often. Almighty, powerful, and majestic, yet the constancy of His presence becomes white noise which recedes into my subconscious and I fail to recognize and appreciate it.
I lay down and slept, yet I woke up in safety, for the Lord was watching over me. I am not afraid of ten thousand enemies who surround me on every side. Psalm 3:5-6 (NLT)
I’ve never been a great sleeper. When I was a little tike I was that kid. At 5:30 a.m. I was at my parents bedside.
Come on. Mom? Dad? I’m awake. Somebody get up.
I remember my dad marching me into the dark living room. There was an antique mantle clock on the shelf. It chimed the hours. My dad pointed to it.
“Until that clock strikes six. I don’t want to see your face!”
But, it doesn’t change the fact that I’m awake at 5:30.
And, you didn’t say I couldn’t get up. You just said you didn’t want to see my face.
So, I would get out of bed each morning and scamper down the steps to the dark living room where I hid behind the gold rocking chair in the far corner (you never know if Dad might get up early; Can’t let him see my face). From there I could peek around the chair and keep my eyes glued to the mantle clock. I could listened to it tick…tick…tick…tick. I waited…for…it…to…chime…six.
I’ve gotten better about sleeping, though I still have bouts with insomnia. I appreciate the blessing of a good night’s sleep. This morning’s chapter makes me think about the millions of people who sleep each night in terror or in hunger or in anxious thought for how they will survive another day. I think about waking in safety and hope of a new dawn and a new day of uncounted blessings. I think about the joy of seeing the faces of those I love and through whom I am loved (after six o’clock, of course; well, with Wendy make it seven o’clock…or eight).
Today, I’m grateful for sleeping in safety; God watching over me. I’m thankful to be able to enter the day with hope and assurance.
"God's Message: "Guard my common good: Do what's right and do it in the right way…."Isaiah 56:1 (MSG)
Along the journey, I've faced certain crossroads at which I had to make a difficult decision. Often, the decisions were difficult because the consequences of the choices I made would be relational and or financial and the impact of the decision would follow me one way or another.
Part of the decision making process for me has been to ask "What's the right thing to do?" With it, I tend to ask myself "What decision will allow me to sleep better at night?" There is something to be said for a clear conscience. To sleep peacefully at night knowing you've done things right and in the right way.
Looking back, I know that I haven't always made the best choices. But, as I progress in life's journey I like to think that my batting average has improved. I've learned that the choice which immediately satisfies my pride and hubris is usually the one that haunts me in the wee hours of the night. The choice that forces me to humbly submit, follow Jesus, and take the narrow, more difficult terrain (a.k.a. the high road) is ultimately the path which afffords me the best night's sleep.