Psalm 61:1-3–Lilly’s Amplified

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Hear my cry, O God;

my cries wet with tears,

sometimes quiet, sometimes raging, but always desperate.

listen to my prayer.

Let not my feeble words fall on deaf ears;

let not my groanings fail to rise higher than my ceiling.  

From the ends of the earth I call to you,

wherever I am, and every situation,

in the light and in the dark.

I call as my heart grows faint;

as discouragement eats away at my resolve,

as pain thunders across my body and mind;

lead me to the rock

Jesus, Rescuer, Savior,

that is higher than I

stronger and wiser, eternal,

not tied to this fallen flesh. 

For you have been my refuge,

ever present, even when I didn’t know it,

a safe place to run to and hide from the night of soul,

a strong tower against the foe

against evils without and within,

hear my cry, oh, God.

 

“Cats in the Cradle” and Other Untruths

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Sandy and Harry Chapin wrote a song in the 70s called “Cats in the Cradle,” which told the story of a parent too busy to be involved in his child’s life; then, when the parent is retired and free of obligation and wants to get together with the child, who has since grown up with responsibilities of his own, the parent is filled with regret because the child gives the same excuses that he once used for not spending time. 

I remember being impacted by the weight of the message; and though it in no way was the situation in my own home, I knew it probably applied to others who were so into themselves and their careers that they did not meet their children’s need for relationship and connection. And I knew that would be a very bad thing: tut, tut. So the lesson is a good one–to make use of the time you have because soon it will be gone.

Implied, though, is that if you invest totally in child rearing that the relationship with an adult child will not be distant and will be satisfying for all. Except that is not always the case. A parent can be totally present, involved, and committed with time, energy, and money; and yet, the adult child does not take the time and effort to connect consistently and stay close.

My experience: Even after a long, hard day working the fields, milking cows, and in the winter, driving the snowplough, my dad always took the time to watch cartoons with us or play a round of softball. Mom was a stay-at-home mom and was always present–too present sometimes because being present meant if you did something wrong, you got caught immediately.  They were our biggest fans–always at our performances or games or whatever we were involved in. They drove us on long trips to church camps and gatherings when it would have been much easier (and cheaper) I’m sure to stay home and rest. They were present and involved both physically and emotionally.

So when I, who had a bad case of wanderlust, thought going to college at a school much further away than my sisters and brother was a superb idea, they supported me and all of my dreams, though looking back, some were definitely a bit squirrely. They were in my corner 100%.

When I moved to California, even though I wrote and performed songs about them and our close relationship, I seldom called because it was too expensive for me. Of course, I didn’t write either, though there was nothing wrong with my arms. It was more a case of living life with zest and knowing my folks were there somewhere in the background rooting me on–though without any updates on my exploits, they had no idea what I was doing or whom I was with. (I didn’t either all the time, which is rather terrifying to look back on.) Sometimes, I would get lonesome and call home. I would let it ring, but then I would hang up before they answered because I couldn’t afford the call. Somehow that felt like I had touched home; but obviously, it was more than lacking on both our parts and especially theirs who had no idea what I was doing. Dad told me later when I confessed to that practice that I should have called collect. And yes, I should have.

Mom and Dad visited out here in CA once, and our family drove back to Canada every so often; but now that they are gone, I regret how much time I let slip by without contact. I felt close to them, but in many ways, I was living off old memories rather than creating enough new ones. They raised us kids to be independent, but for some reason, the busyness of career and raising a family crowded out what I see now as a lack in my devotion to my parents and my obligation to give back. They were always there for me, and even though far away, I could have done much more to stay connected.

So the “Cats in the Cradle” guilt trip may apply to some who neglect their kids and are not involved and present, but there is just as much guilt to go around for some of us who got it all and still went traipsing off, living life, without looking back–at least, not often enough.

Maybe I shouldn’t be too hard on myself. My parents would not have wanted me tied to their apron strings, and they were proud of my traveling music ministry, my family, and my accomplishments, but when I re-evaluate the “more” that I could have done to stay connected, I have regrets.  

My Book of Uncommon Prayers: Approval Pending

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Recently, I started a couple of stock photography accounts to try and generate some passive income from the myriad photos I already have on my hard drives, as well as to be an impetus for continued creativity in my now retired life. (Notice re-tired means that you get to recycle all the “tired” you have felt for years!)

When I first started submitting images, I had more accepted than rejected; and yet, any rejection was a bit of a pinprick to my sensitive artistic self. How dare that anonymous reviewer not see the value in my work! After a while, I came to terms (kind of) with the idea that even though I might like an image enough to put it on my own wall, it was not necessarily going to conform to the criteria set forth by the agencies for products made available to their customers. Okay, got it. It’s just “business.” (Read that with a Corleone accent.)

I have submitted a lot of work over the last few weeks and have a lot of images in my portfolios. I have even sold quite a few, mostly for .25 a pop. Wow! Big stuff! But every so often, a particular reviewer rejects all or almost all of what I have submitted; and it is very deflating, making me doubt my photographic skills, my imaginative vision, my raison de vivre—okay, that minor depression is momentary, right before it turns to anger. Who are these nameless people hiding behind my computer screen anyway, who can deflate my ego with one keystroke of their preprogrammed criticisms? Dolts who fail to see the inspiration in my work! Sigh.

It takes a few moments, but I usually land back on my feet. I regroup my thoughts and fractured ego, realizing that I must try to be more detached about this process, not deriving my worth from what image gets accepted and what doesn’t. The reviewers are not uniform in their approaches to critique—it is not a totally clinical review process. They can be very subjective. At times, I will be uploading photos, and the reviewer, who is apparently on line at that moment, will be accepting everything as quickly as I post the items. I dive into a frenzy of uploads because I have a live one! One who gets me!

They like me, they really really like me!

But every so often, I will check on my uploads, and the reviewer has rejected every single image, some of which were already accepted in another agency. And I think: Okay, I will punish you. See, I am not going to upload for at least two days! That will show you!

Or not.

It doesn’t always take much, but that got me thinking. One of the agencies has pictures awaiting review in a file called “Approval Pending.” And I think for many of us, that is how we live our lives. In our work, our relationships with our family and friends, we live with approval pending. Our sense of value, our acceptance of person as well as product is fragile, contingent on the compliment, the Like on social media, the sacrifice of time spent, the nod of affirmation that contradicts our self-doubt and our feelings of a lack of significance. The Like is life! The affirmation is worthiness! And if we don’t get enough of it, if approval is forever pending, we spread the net wider and wider trying to find the thing that will for once and for all validate us. As if affirmations could erase betrayals or Likes could in any way be substance to build a life on.

As a person of faith who has placed her life in God’s hands, I must realize not only in abstract theory, but also in concrete practice, that my Approval Pending category is always filled with Yeses, always filled with acceptance. If I look to anything or anyone other than Christ from which to draw life, I will always be working on a deficit, always needy, always disappointed.

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God, thank you that Your acceptance is enough. You have not rejected me, but have drawn me into Your forever family. I cannot do anything to earn Your love, nor can I miss any arbitrary standard of submission that would cause You to reject me. When I am tempted to draw essential life from any other person or thing, when I am tempted to run after the newest illusion with a promised reward, would You remind me that approval is not pending, but is already mine because of the cross. There is no need for Likes when in You I have all Yeses.

Displaced–Blessing or Curse

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In Henri Nouwen’s book called Seeds of Hope, he writes that “displacements threaten us and give us feelings of being lost or left alone.” He goes on to say the following:
“Displacement is not primarily something to do or to accomplish, but something to recognize. In and through this recognition a conversion can take place, a conversion from involuntary displacement leading to resentment, bitterness, resignation, and apathy, to voluntary displacement that can become an expression of discipleship [. . .] To follow Jesus, therefore, means first and foremost to discover in our daily lives God’s unique vocation for us [. . .] our concern for a career constantly tends to make us deaf to our vocation [. . .] God calls everyone who is listening” (144-148).
And I am listening.

It is perhaps normal to wrap purpose up in accomplishment, to wrap acceptance in a profession up in calling, but a person’s worth and calling ought to be separate from all the doings, otherwise when the doings are done, there is nothing left in the identity we have so carefully created for ourselves. Is God in the midst of all that process? Is not at least part of working and the creating of identity led by more than just human inclination and desire? Of course—mixed in with His will, my will, the will of others, this crazy combination of spiritual and carnal. And unraveling all those threads, well . . . who could ever?

But the truth is that when you think you know, at least in part, who you are and what role you currently play in the world, you want to be the one to decide when and how that role should be redefined. There have been many times in my life when that decision was taken out of my hands. I was younger, and I grieved, but I adapted. I found a new path forward. A new open door. Why this latest displacement hurts so much, I am not sure, except that because I am much older maybe it feels like there is no other door to walk through now. Maybe it feels that a forced retirement underscores that I am past usefulness more so than a voluntary exit from a job would have felt, even just one or two years later.

It has been a painful few months, having lost my job. The grieving and reorienting have provided rather a topsy-turvy emotional ride. Regarding Nouwen’s “displacement leading to resentment, bitterness, resignation, and apathy,” well, I am somewhere between bitterness and resignation, I think. My desire is to skip apathy and move right into seeing this as freedom—a freedom to zero in on vocation, stripped of career obligations. Can my involuntary displacement become voluntary as it pertains to my following Christ? I hope so, but I am not quite there yet. That will perhaps be the determinant of whether displacement is a blessing or a curse.