Everything, Everywhere, All at Once

The Winner of Best Picture at this year’s Academy Awards has a title worth pondering

Everything, everywhere, all at once
is crashing in on me.
My world is spinning out of control.
I’ve lost my grasp.
I’ve lost my confidence.
Hope is slipping away.

To quote the psalmist
(just like Jesus did),
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

In this chaotic universe,
cursed by sin
and broken by self-destructive choices,
everything, everywhere, all at once
derails my dreams,
drains my energy
and robs me of my faith.

Still I will cling to You.
I will cast myself upon You.
With what little faith I have left
I will leap into arms I cannot see
but trust are there.

Lord, You are my everything.
You are everywhere all at once.
There is nowhere where You are not.
You are ever-present.
You are all-knowing.
Nothing escapes Your watchful eye.
You are all-powerful.
Nothing is too hard for You.

Because you are my everything,
everywhere all at once,
you know what I need.
You know what I lack.
You know what I long for.

Carry me, Father in Your everlasting arms.
Hold me close to Your beating heart
that I might hear the pulsating reminder
of Your never-ending love.

Don’t Let Balance Die!

A grave marker in a Chicago cemetery is a call to keep balance alive in our lives during this hectic holiday season

Earlier this fall I was attending a leadership summit in a suburb of Chicago. Following our sessions one afternoon, I went for a power walk before dinner. Adjacent to the conference center was a cemetery.  Because reading old headstones in a graveyard is one of my favorite pastimes, my aspirations of getting my heartrate up gave in to my curiosity as I looked down at the markers.

One tombstone in particular captured my attention. It marked the final resting place for a family by the name of Balance. Balance? Really? I’d never seen that word as a name before.  For one whose mind delights in word play and double entendres, I had to smile. Balance was dead.

Before me was living proof that balance had been a casualty of life. What was relationally true for this Chicago-area family, has been emotionally true for me at times in the past when my schedule was out of control. And I know I’m not alone. Balance is that easy-going, less-than-obvious, reality that doesn’t call attention to itself. We tend to take it for granted. We don’t realize how key it is to a happy life until it’s gone.

When balance bites the dust, panic thrives. Life becomes chaotic. A kind of grief sets in. Inner peace plays hide-and-seek.  When balance has ceased to be a reality in our lives, the consequences are endless. They include debt, illness, depression, a short temper, drug use, alcohol abuse and over-eating.

If ever there is a time when taking urgent care of balance is critical, it’s now. This is the season of the year when maintaining a healthy balance between demands and desires is at-risk. Advent, Hanukkah and Christmas can easily find balance on life-support.

Just looking at my own schedule at work is enough to rob balance of its breath. There is a tree-lighting ceremony, a St. Lucia breakfast, a poetry reading tea, four holiday concerts, three Advent lectures, two staff parties and an all-campus carol sing-a-long. (Were you expecting a partridge in a pear tree?)

And then there’s my own personal calendar of writing the family Christmas letter, addressing the Christmas cards, shopping for family members and workmates, wrapping those gifts and helping my wife decorate the house.

Add to all of the above the fact that Christmas Day falls on Sunday this year. Bah! Humbug! Once again, a day meant to be spent with family is threatened by the demands of the church calendar. Without an infusion of creativity, balance is definitely headed for the intensive care unit.

Your schedule is likely just as complicated. The commitments on your calendar may be different than mine, but the outcome is equally as stressful. With apologies to Dr. Seuss, it’s not the Grinch we have to worry about. It’s the lack of balance that threatens to steal Christmas (and ultimately our health).

To that end may I suggest reflecting on the lyrics of one of my most-loved contemporary carols. In “Breath of Heaven” (written by Chris Eaton and recorded by Amy Grant) there is recognition of the weight waiting for Christmas finds us carrying as well as the pressures that cause us to stoop navigating life in a less-than-perfect world.

I am waiting in a silent prayer. I am frightened by the load I bear, In a world as cold as stone. Must I walk this path alone?  Be with me now.

In silent prayer and honest reflection, we just might find guidance in how to reduce the activities that typically define our December. We just might discover that Immanuel (God-with-us) is with us providing us the means to keep balance alive.

In the case of Christmas Day being on Sunday, for me there is hope. Balance will not succumb this year to the life-threatening complications with which I have to contend every six years. With the concurrence of colleagues, we decided to pre-record our Christmas Day worship service and broadcast it on our closed-circuit television channel a few times on Sunday. A hack we discovered during COVID proves helpful once again.

Now, what other ways can I simplify this season?

The Black Dog Bites Again!

The “black dog” of depression robbed these two daughters of their mother

She sang about the good old days.
With love she built a bridge
that helped her run away from the “black dog.”
She knew where she was going
when her day for dying came.
Naomi (from her youth) reached out to God.

“Don’t be cruel!” she prayed intently
as she’d cry herself to sleep.
“Your Baby’s Got the Blues” was in her head.
The rhythm of the rain drowned out
the morning birds who’d chirp.
A change of heart is what she daily pled.

But still this mother languished
from depression’s dreaded spell.
She verbalized her pain most publicly.
Her country music lyrics
often called to mind young love
as she dreamed of joy and freedom. “Why not me?”

This Mother’s Day two daughters
will be grieving for their mom
who couldn’t bear the torture one more day.
May Ashley and Wynona
recognize love is alive.
Please carry them, dear Father, this I pray.

** My introduction to The Judds came as I was spinning records as a deejay while working at KICY radio in Nome, Alaska. It was the summer of 1987. I had just turned thirty-five years of age. My wife and I along with our children accepted an invitation to serve as short-term missionaries at a radio station owned and operated by our denomination (The Evangelical Covenant Church). Much of the music played on the station that served the rural villages of Western Alaska was country/western.

“I Know Where I’m Going” by The Judds was on our play list. I loved the harmony of the mother/daughter duo. I also loved the title. Although the song was not spiritual in the least, it was an invitation to trust the Lord to lead me to a future of His choosing. While I didn’t know the details to what my life and ministry held in store, my Father knew. He knew where He was going with my life. He invited me to come, too.

Curiously, I just turned seventy. As I look back it’s hard to realize that experience in Nome was half my life ago.

In the Bleak Midwinter (revisited)

A hymn for the hum-drum days of winter

As we face the bleak midwinter
and the angst of sunless days,
dark emotions drain our joy ducts
when depression stalks its prey.
Lord of light please shine upon us.
Bathe us with Your warmth we pray.

As we navigate the puddles
in the place where joy once played,
it is hard to sense Your presence,
when our hearts are cold and gray.
Lord of light please shine upon us.
Bathe us with Your warmth we pray.

As we wait with hope for springtime
when joy blossoms day by day
we acknowledge our dependence
on Your knowledge of our way.
Lord of light please shine upon us.
Bathe us with Your warmth we pray.

Tune: Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence

The Longest Night

Longing for a new day to dawn

It’s the longest night.
It’s a night that accentuates the loneliness I feel.
Bitterness and sadness share my (otherwise) empty room.
Forgiveness and happiness
can be heard knocking at my double-locked door.
I would welcome their company
but my faith is too weak to let them in.
I am paralyzed by the emotional parasites
that have devoured my peace of mind.

A candle in the corner flickers.
I catch a glimpse of the darting flame.
Starved for light,
this miniature blaze is a beam of hope.
But the shadows it casts on the wall
are merely silhouettes that mock my dreams of dawn.

Will this night ever end?
When will the haunting beats of my tired heart subside?
When will my suffocating restless mind begin to breathe again?

O God of the future,
be present with me now as the past casts my life’s drama
with memories that know their lines by heart.

Walk with me through the never-ending hours of this night.
Stand beside me as I surrender my fears, regrets and grief once again.
Sit with me in my sorrow until the morning comes
and the days become increasingly longer 24 hours at a time.

Loving God, remind me of the meaning of Immanuel.
That You are with me.
That You never will forsake me.