A Place To Call My Own

The New Office
My new office space / spare room.

There is something about having a room to call my own.  For the past many years, I’ve either had a desk in a dark corner of a busy room or in the middle of the chaos and hubbub.  However, this past weekend we claimed my sons’ room and turned it into a space I can finally call my own.

Grandpas Chair
Made by my great-grandfather, this chair is passed down to the first Austin son of the next generation. It will stay in my home for a very long time.

In this space I will study my class work.  At this desk I will write my novel.  On this couch I will read devotions.  In my grandfather’s chair I will sit quietly and pray.

This is a holy place.  It is a holy space:  Set aside for a purpose, this room will speak to my soul and allow the creativity of my inner being to flourish.

Who knows?  I might even pick up the guitar from time to time.

 

Think Positive Thoughts

Another beautiful sunset in my back yard offered an evening of peaceful reflection.
Another beautiful sunset last night offered an evening of peaceful reflection.

I tried my first “Mindful Meditation” today.  I liked it.  I liked it a lot!  The gentle voice, the quiet moments, the guided imagery were all a good start to my day.

I always believed meditation to be similar to the scene in “What About Bob” when he is walking down the street, trying to reassure himself that all the world’s chaos and dirt won’t affect him.  Over and over he repeats the phrase, “I feel good.  I feel great.  I feel wonderful.  I feel good. I feel great. I feel wonderful.”  His tension rises, despite the self-talk.  Rather than convincing himself of his own  security, the phrase reveals his true anxiety and high level of insecurity.

To my surprise, today’s meditation was nothing like the movie.  It was less about me and the process of easing my tensions and anxiety, and more about others and their well-being.  I was guided to think about someone for whom I have warm, tender and compassionate feelings.  Immediately, my wife’s smiling face appeared in my mind’s eye.  The guided meditation led me to repeat four phrases to my loved one throughout the fifteen minute session:

1. May you feel safe.

2. May you feel happy.

3. May you feel healthy.

4. May you live in ease.

While the meditation asked me to extend these feelings to the other, “like a golden ribbon unfurling”, I really saw it more as a prayer, lifted to heaven for my wife, and then to my friend Dave, and finally to all those I know and love.

I thought this was wonderful.  After all, isn’t it our greatest desire that those in our lives might feel safe…and more importantly, BE safe?  Don’t we desire that they will feel and be happy?  Don’t we hope that each and every one will both feel and be healthy?  Of course we do.

But I kept landing on that last phrase.  May my wife live in ease.  I’m sure this doesn’t mean a life of wealth surrounded by footmen and maids.  It has nothing to do with power or possession.  It has everything to do with living with a heart filled with peace; each day a burden-free step along the journey of life.

And when my time was over, I really did hope these things for my loved ones.  I really did wish that each person would find safety, happiness, health and ease during their days.  I prayed that their hearts would be light, their souls free of care, their minds clear and filled with purpose.

At the end of the fifteen minutes, I opened my eyes and determined that, as much as it is in my power, I would continue to make these desires come true in their lives.

And oddly enough, when it was over, I did feel good. I did feel great.  In fact, I felt wonderful.

The Start of Something Good

Houston Sunrise 2013.03.31Every so often you need a break.

This week will be one of those breaks as my son and his best friend and I travel to Houston, Texas for six days of fun.

We’ll see the Space Center (Thanks Katie).  We’ll experience the Aquarium.  We’ll be terrified by the traffic and thankful for green grass and flowers already blooming in March.

Most of all, my son and his friend will be thankful for their time with on-line friends seen face-to-face for the first time.  That’s really the reason we are here in the deep south.

My joy is found in getting to spend time with two great young men for six warm, sunny days.

We all need a break from time to time.  But the break doesn’t always require travel to distant places.  In fact, there are times when the break can be as simple as finding a respite during the hectic day, discovering a quiet evening during our busy week, experiencing time with dear friends that renews and rejuvenates our souls, rekindles our spirits, refreshes our souls.

What will you do this week to enjoy a break?  Will you attend a yoga class?  Will you enjoy a cup of tea in a quiet corner of your house?  Will you go for a short walk away from your desk?  Pet a dog?  Listen to a child laugh?  Marvel at a sunrise or sunset?

What will you do for a break?

 

Analog Message in a Digital Age

I’ve been leaving uplifting quotes and positive messages on the kitchen white board.  My family is compelled to respond with their own pithy sayings and last week I received the greatest compliment that can be offered in this Facebook-dominated world:  One Like.

Hey, I’ll take it any way I can get it.

A Prayer for Sunday, August 5, 2012

The first day of school is always a picture-worthy event.

Dear God,

As school begins, as the summer winds down, as our children return to their books and study, as our schedules find more events and less free time, bless them all.

Give us knowledge so we can help our 4th graders with their math problems.

Give us creativity so we can help with science fairs and bake sales.

Give us patience so we can wade smoothly through the preteen episodes of angst.

Give us understanding so we can help our teens navigate the complex social world.

Give us peace at the end off each day that the decisions we’ve made, the words we’ve spoke and the actions we’ve taken reflect your love and grace to these precious gifts.

AMEN.

 

A Sunday of Rest….Truly.

Yesterday was a much needed day of rest.  Anita woke up early with me and we drove up to Strawtown to do a little walking and a little birding at the Koteewi Park.  If you haven’t been and you live in the area, it is well worth the time.

On one of the most beautiful days of the year, we strolled along wide paths along the river and across Indiana meadows with sounds of song birds ringing in our ears.

Anita spies another Song Sparrow along the path!

Let’s be clear:  Birding is not walking.  Birding requires a short walk and a lot of standing.  Anita is a walker, she isn’t a birder.  But she journeyed with me into the park and quickly fell into the rhythm of looking, listening and spying the winged wonders.  In only a short hour of walking we were able to hear or see the following:

Robin, Blue Jay, Song Sparrow, Lincoln Sparrow, American Tree Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, Indigo Bunting, Red-headed Woodpecker, Downey Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Blue-gray Gnat Catcher, White Crowned Sparrow, Baltimore Oriole and several birds we were unable to accurately identify.

Courtesy allaboutbirds.org.

But the highlight of the journey was the new life-bird I identified.  It was first time I’d ever seen a Yellow Throat Warbler.  We were standing in a clearing, watching a half-dozen Indigo Buntings chase one another when this beautiful warbler alighted on a low branch.  The sun was shining over our shoulder and lit up the breast of this fantastic bird.

It sat completely still, allowing us to view it in an unhurried fashion and even seemed to give us a wink when we’d made the correct identification.

The morning could not have been more pleasant.  The birding could not have been better. The company and the walk back to the car (yes, we did finally walk) was ideal.  The perfect way to spend my Sunday morning.

A Sunday Shout-Out

I’d like to give a little “shout-out” to all my pastor friends today. Some serve in little country churches and some serve in mega-churches.  They ALL have the same job.  No matter the size, the job is the same.

These pastors are the people who work hard to prepare a sermon each and every week, find topics of interest and words of challenge that will captivate, stimulate and motivate.

They often are the first in the building on a snowy Sunday morning and still take time to visit the sick and shut-in late on Sunday night.  They are called to the funeral home and the hospital with little or no advanced warning.  They minister to the homeless, the helpless and hapless without any thanks.  They care for the spiritual giants and the social outcasts often within the same hour.  They are gracious to both the lovely and unlovable because they were first loved.

They worry about the sanctuary carpet and this week’s bulletin.  They manage petty squabbles and turf wars.  They select Sunday School curriculum and next week’s hymns. They invest countless hours in administrative meetings and the business details of the church building, all the while trying to keep our hearts and minds focused on the spiritual truth that reaches beyond the church walls.

These men and women have great jobs.  But they also have very difficult jobs.

God Bless them today.   Amen.

Where has the week gone?

Dear Lord,

What did I do with my time this week?  Where did my days go?

I started my Monday with hopes serenity and meditation.

I planned a time of reading and devotion for Tuesday.

I desired a spirit of charity on Wednesday.

I expected to live a life of graciousness and forgiveness on Thursday.

But here it is, Friday and I have yet to live my life in a way that honors your good works, your loving kindness or your compassion for others.  Instead, I filled my week with activities, television, blind ambition and selfish gain.  I’ve put myself above others.  I’ve met my needs without giving one thought to the needs of those around me.

Forgive me for my failure and renew my heart for the challenge of the weekend and the week ahead.

Amen and Amen.

THE CHANGE CHALLENGE: A Bag of Groceries

When my wife and I first married we were very poor.  We were both students, working part-time jobs, eating lots of noodles, beans and catchup. We were so poor that there were more than a few times when we had to choose between a box of cereal and a roll of toilet paper while doing our grocery shopping.

Our friends knew our financial situation and every so often, we would open our apartment door to find a bag of groceries.  No name.  No idea who dropped it off or who to thank.  There were more than a few times that we sorted the bagged items on the kitchen table with tears of gratitude rolling down our cheeks.

We’re doing better now.  But in today’s economy, many have been forced into that same situation.  You might know one of those people.  You might BE one of those people.

But if you have a job and you have pantry shelves lined with food, you know that you have the means to give to someone else.  Whether you donate a single can or an entire bag of food to another who is struggling, it costs you only a few dollars.  And that gift can make a life-changing difference in a man, a woman, a family, who is wondering how long their meager supply will last.

Being Nice, another step along the Change Challenge, requires looking beyond our front door into the eyes, hearts and lives of others; and responding in simple ways that will change their lives, and ours.

My wife and I will never forget the anxiety that comes with wondering what tomorrow might bring.  We will also never forget the kindness of unnamed strangers who fed our stomachs and our hearts.

A Prayer for More (satire)

Dear God,

Thank you for your abundance and love.  You have always taken care of me and met my every need and I know, because I’m an American, that you will continue to do so.  You are such a good God:  One of the best.  You are the creator of all things and I know you want me to have as many of those created things as possible, pressed down and shaken together (as it says in your word).

I don’t want to be negative but I want to share the pain in my heart.  I know you can see it from where you sit and it is certainly obvious to anyone who passes by that our home needs new siding.  Of course, with the restrictions of our home-owner’s association, it cannot be a  vinyl, not that I would chose this but I’m simply reminding you.  So, I’m praying for a high quality fiber board or real cedar with a dark stain, if at all possible.  We can talk colors later.

And Dear Lord, I noticed the other day that my shoes were scuffed on the toes.  I am embarrassed to wear them in public…I now know what it must have felt like to have all those people looking down on you while you were on the cross; mortifying, isn’t it?  I’ve been through my closet and ALL of my shoes are in this shape.  Of the 12 pair I own, not one is truly in step with today’s fashion.  A new set of black dress shoes would be lovely.  Thank you, God, in advance of your generosity!

Thank you, Jesus for knowing the condition of our shoes.  You even know the condition of our water and while we are on the subject,  please remind the delivery service that the salt should be placed BESIDE the furnace and not in front of the water softener where everyone can see it.

It says in your Word that we are to lift up all our cares and burdens because you will take them from us.  I know you hear my prayer and will meet my needs.  And so, I thank you for the abundance with which you have blessed us.  But honestly, God, it has caused quite a dilemma.  With so much food on our pantry shelves, we have to remodel that space.  And so I ask that you will give me wisdom as I pick out the correct carpenter to remodel the pantry.  And PLEASE help me find someone who will not suggest that horrible wire shelving!  As a child of God, I know you want the best for me and my family.

Thank you.  Thank you.  You know these burdens of my heart and I’m so thankful that you will hear me and answer.  I always feel so much better when I can just give these concerns up to you.

I can’t wait to talk to you again tomorrow.

AMEN.

A Prayer for All Saints Day

Dear Lord,

On this day, All Saints Day, we lift up those who have gone before.  In truth, we know that they weren’t all Saints.  We know that some were rough, some were gruff and all were in need of your grace and mercy.

Even the great men and women of the faith stand as giants because of your love and power.

And so, on this day, we thank you for those who were examples, those who led the way, those who taught us how to live lives that reflect your gentle, loving spirit.

AMEN

Ringing In My Ears: Hope & Thin Space

I am not a music critic.  I don’t know a pop song from Jiffy Pop.  I can carry a tune but it DOES require a bucket.

But I know what I like and Eric Baker’s newest release, Hope and Thin Space is something I like very much.

Perhaps it is because I know Eric and hear his life through the lyrics.

It might be because I have the privilege of hearing him play live quite often.

I might like this album because I know that most of these songs were written to move people’s hearts and lives into a better place, a closer relationship with those around them and an Almighty, loving God.

Hope & Thin Space provides a wide variety of music styles.  From the driving, rhythm of the opening track, “Kingdom Breaking Through” to the easy sway of “The Chair”, each song has its own strength and quality.

My favorite track on the album is the last cut, “Have You Been To The River”.  Written and performed for baptism services at Grace Community Church, this song touches the very heart of Eric and each one of his listeners. I am quickly taken to the edge of the water and relive the joy I experienced nearly 30 years ago.

I’ve listened to this CD several times this week and each time I am amazed at its quality, clean production and soulful presentation.  It often reminds me of another great artist.

Shortly after the CD was released, I had it playing in the car.  As we drove along, my son turned his attention to the radio and asked the name of the artist.  I said that I was sure he knew who it was if he paid close attention.  He closed his eyes and allowed the melodies and words pour over his mind and heart, soaking in the keys, the drums, the smooth voice.  After a short time he opened his eyes wide and proclaimed with confidence that it was James Taylor.  “But I didn’t know James Taylor played piano!” He reported.

“He doesn’t,” I replied.  “But if he did, he would sound just like this.”

The Change Challenge: The Power of Silence

When was the last time you sat in silence?

I don’t mean that you locked yourself into a closet and wore ear-plugs to block out any noice.

I mean, when was the last time you kept your mouth shut?  When was the last time you sat without saying a word and just listening?

Try it some time.  Sit in a corner of your yard and listen to your family laugh in the house through open windows.  Listen to the birds in the trees.  Listen to the neighbors talk in their front yards.  Hear the breeze blow through the leaves as they rustle in the branches above your head.

For a real challenge, sit with your hands folded in your lap during the weekly team meeting at work without giving your opinion or input.  Listen to the blow-hard spout on with his opinion.  Watch the office flirt trying to climb the corporate ladder.  Hear the tremble in your bosses voice.  Try it.  It is quite a challenge and quite a joy.

With each passing minute, you will discover a whole new world.  People’s motives become clear.  Relationships come into focus.  Power struggles become evident.

If you are successful, you will feel your heart pounding in your chest and the tension draining away.  You will discover a quiet place and in the process you will experience a peace you’ve never known before.

And, oddly enough, without saying a word, you will find more power than you’ve ever known.

A Prayer for Our Teens

Dear and Mighty God,

You are bigger than the mountains, more powerful than the rolling tide, greater than any army.  But there are times when a parent has to wonder if you are capable of moving the hearts and minds of the teenagers.  These young people are a force of nature equal to a planet’s gravity, greater than solar winds, as powerful as black holes.

So many parents have given up any hope that their child will graduate high school, complete college, move out of the house, get a job, become a productive member of society.

So many teens struggle to find purpose in their lives.  They desire so much more from the world and themselves.  But rather than being proactive and look for work, volunteer where needed or develop a plan to stop world hunger and water shortages, they sit for hours playing video games, texting and watching YouTube.

We believe you can move the mountains.  We trust you will move the children.

You gave Solomon wisdom to rule his kingdom.  We pray that you will give parents a small portion of that insight.

Save us from this generation and their lack of direction and purpose.

Move them to greatness, we pray with all our hearts.

AMEN.

A Prayer for the Hungry

Dear God,

My stomach is full.  My pantry over-flows. And yet, there are people in my community who are waking up each day with pangs of hunger in their gut.  Their children are looking forward to school because it is there that they receive one good meal.  The parents are worried about what they will eat tonight and tomorrow.  Their pantries are nothing more than empty shelves.

My jowls are saggy and my belly is padded with fat from years or excess.  Yet, there are people in Somalia who are traveling for days and weeks in the hopes of finding someone who will give them a cup of rice.  Mothers carry dying children, praying that someone will be there, waiting with medicine and food.

Dear Lord, thank you for the blessings you’ve poured out on my family but forgive my sin of selfishness.  Open my eyes to the needs of others in my own community and around the world.  Direct my life in a way that can bring change to a hungry and hurting world, one meal at a time.

AMEN.

A Prayer for the Hurting

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/24/hurricane-irene-path-maps_n_935195.html

Great and Powerful God,
The winds haven’t stopped blowing and the rain hasn’t stopped falling.
News men and weather forecasters continue to closely follow the weakening storm.
Roads have washed away and piers have fallen.
Highways are shut down and airports are closed.
Travel is impossible and millions are without power.
Many are injured and several are dead.
The power of the storm has been the constant focus of every person on the eastern seaboard but we know your power is greater than any storm.
Your ability to heal is greater than any injury suffered.
The order you bring is greater than the chaos of any hurricane.
And so today we pray for peace for those who stand in the rising waters.
We ask for the safety of those who have abandoned their homes in search for shelter.
We ask that you would be a guiding light for all who face the long dark hours ahead.
AMEN.

A Prayer for Monday

Psalm 121

A song of ascents. 1 I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
   where does my help come from?
2 My help comes from the LORD,
   the Maker of heaven and earth.

Dear God,

Another week is underway and there are a few things that I would like to ask you about.  There are several things happening in my life that are bigger than my own abilities and strength.   I don’t have the intelligence or wisdom to work through the mounting problems lining up to face me in the coming days.

You know the hurdles I will face.
You know the challenges in my way.
You know my limitations. 
You know each one even before I ask.  And so I turn my eyes to you and pray.


I pray for the grace needed to run this race.
I pray for the strength to stand strong in the face of difficulty.
I pray for humility when I want to be proud.
Most of all, I pray for your love.


Thank you for what this week will bring.  I know you will walk with me, each step of the way.


AMEN