My Book of Uncommon Prayers: Phantom

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I was a pebble, small but strong.

From where I sat, I clearly saw my place, and

those around me knew me, as I did them—

as light as song and as sure as breath.

It was community,

communion,

a fixed place in a wide world of opportunities.

But time went on, moment after day after year, and the view widened ever more.

It became harder to see the edges as light blurred.

Waves beat and wind blew.

Some pebbles shifted right and left, front and back, up and down, and soon

familiar was a memory and

distance seemed farther away.

Did I get smaller and smaller, or did context get bigger and bigger?

The bigger has swallowed me up—my pebble self is a grain, unimportant and invisible in this big, wide world. And I thought all along I mattered.

Maybe I was never important.

Maybe there never was a mission, because for now I have become a mere placeholder that no one sees anymore.

I am but a breath—a grain of shifting sand, a whisper on the wind, a phantom in the land. Show me, oh my Lord . . .

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Psalm 39:4-7 (NIV)

“Show me, Lord, my life’s end
    and the number of my days;
    let me know how fleeting my life is.

You have made my days a mere handbreadth;
    the span of my years is as nothing before you.
Everyone is but a breath,
    even those who seem secure.

“Surely everyone goes around like a mere phantom;
    in vain they rush about, heaping up wealth
    without knowing whose it will finally be.

“But now, Lord, what do I look for?
    My hope is in you.

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Psalm 90:12

12 Teach us to number our days,
    that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

 

 

The You That’s Me

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There is a grieving for opportunities past, opportunities lost. It’s like the world moved on when you just stepped off momentarily to take a quick look—and it’s gone. Not the world,

but the world you thought you knew.

There is a grieving for the identity you had carefully (or maybe not so carefully) nurtured—okay, it kind of just happened,

but the happening seemed real and sure until one day you woke, and you realized you are not important anymore. Well, maybe you weren’t before, but at least you thought you were. Didn’t the world somehow revolve around you?

You are patronized that you can do some things well—and at your age!

When you are young, those things you do well are fuel for an ever expanding future—the first step to a waiting, dazzling world, begging for your grand entrance with its greatest hits.

But those same skills and gifts at 60-something are quaint, anomalies in a fading body and aching mind.

You have had to step aside for all the young, pushing from the rear—

because the utilitarian you is now seen as an impediment to the dreamers closing in.

And you are known more for your aches than your art—

more for your halting step than your racing mind.

Wisdom is underrated by the young; but

for all you have lost, that you have indeed gained,

but there is something muddled in this system when you finally have a substantive message but have lost your audience.

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II Corinthians 4: 7-8, 16-18:

We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.

We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair.

 That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day.

For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!

So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.

 

People Don’t See You

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People don’t see you; they see

your cane,

your chair,

your walker.

They see your tremor and your white hair, and

the you you used to be and

the you you are

are supplanted by images and stereotypes and judgments.

You were young once.

You had dreams once. You have dreams now.

And momentary kindnesses feel patronizing, just putting a round peg in a round hole

because

they think they know all there is to know about you.

This weakness snuck up with little warning, and there you were full speed ahead—and your life blended in with all the other capable doers, even though you were ever trying to stand out—

be different.

And now you are.

But you don’t want to be this different—so different as to not be seen

or listened to

or valued.

Because people don’t see you; they see

your cane,

your chair,

your walker.

And they judge you as you pull into the handicap spot; but

when you peel yourself out and start to hobble, there’s the momentary tut-tut of support before you become invisible once again, and all that is left is

the cane.

——————

I have been hobbling around lately because of a knee injury, and it got me thinking as I relied so heavily on a cane (resisted the walker). Often when we view those with health aids, we see the disability as the person. Somehow it is hard to look past the device. The personhood of the individual becomes invisible to the predominance of the device. The handicapped become a category; and unless you push in and get close, it is easy for their personalities to disappear in the disability.

I felt this somewhat a few years back when I used a motorized cart in a store when I was first getting out again after breaking a rib. It was an odd experience to feel some people were looking down on you literally and in other ways, too–judging your need, assessing your worth, pitying you. And in those moments, I felt a lesser version of me to these strangers than I would have before.

When we meet people out and about, when they roll or hobble in to our churches and our places of employment, do we go out of our way not just to perhaps help or make a broad path; but do we see them as people worthy of getting to know–people with personalities and worth who stand apart from their weakness?

I am going to try harder.

Weighted on the Front End

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Life is weighted on the front end.

Summers are longer, winters wane, and dreams seem attainable but far off.

School days flow like lava—heavy and slow—

not the steady stream of the middle years, and

certainly not this rushing torrent at the far end of it all.

When you are young, 25 is old.

When you are young, you can’t ever imagine not succeeding.

Summer vacations are so long you actually start to miss school.

The sun rises slowly, then creeps along at a snail’s pace,

beating down on young ones running barefoot from shade to shade to avoid the burn.

Reaching graduation, jobs, independence, marriage, and kids—it all seems like a lifetime away when you are plodding through the lazy, long days.

Christmas is a forever away. Presents lie wrapped and examined beneath the tree,

trying the patience, feeding expectation.

And winter drags its icy feet, sowing doubt that ever there is a spring.

But then

it accelerates.

Without warning.

At the far end of things, one day bumps so quickly into another—whiplash.

And springsummerfallwinter

becomes one brief season.

ThanksChristmas is a breath that exhales like mist, and

some years now we don’t even get the decorations down.

Life is weighted on the front end, and the only thing that still takes forever is a dental appointment.

 

A Forever Fluid

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The creeping darkness—really a creepy darkness, and

it smothers my horizon with narrowing view,

pressing smaller and smaller; and I wonder how it happened,

when years that seemed to stretch before me in a flowing forever

now shrink back on themselves,

time compressed in evanescent days.

And my pace seems almost as fast, this running to be productive and survive,

to live purpose, to live meaning, to live obedience;

but my pace is outpacing the sliver of light.

What is beyond this shrinking window,

this forever window

that one day I will skinny through?

Do the praying and hoping moments just stop and does a new now begin?

Or does the now spread wings and seamlessly blend with the eternity I have been living,

a fluid forever?

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For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.

II Corinthians 5:1

Here in the Middle

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Somewhere, somehow,

I lost my purpose. Maybe

it is mixed in with my busy schedule or underneath the weight of these obligations.

I know I would recognize it again if I could catch just a glimpse of its shining.

It used to be easy to carry,

easy to store—always at the ready.

And even in storms and on rough paths, I tucked it carefully away

next to my heart for safe keeping, and it never failed to arrive with me at my destination.

But it is lost.

And I am not even sure how to retrace my steps.

Where do I begin to look for it after such a long time and such a long path?

Maybe my children took it with them by mistake when they gathered together their belongings and moved out.

Maybe it got lost in unrenewed contracts and the transition from vinyl to CD.

Maybe it is just out of sight, hidden in this life accumulation of trinkets and treasures.

I used to be so sure of why I was here; and though my path was not totally clear, I knew which direction I was headed and where to begin.

But I am here in the middle,

and where I have come from is murky, swallowed up behind in misty memory; and

what lies before seems just as murky.

The end destination may be sure, but each faith footfall seems planted in air.

There are no cleared paths,

no signposts to reassure me that this is the way—

only recollection of what was once so sure.

It could be that surety was arrogance and that I only had this one shaky step all along.

But the hard thing

is the knowing that I don’t know and

that my trust is the blind forever kind.

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We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. ~II Cor. 2:7

Us Who Wait

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An expanding universe, contracting lives,

bigger and wider, yet smaller and narrower

in influence, thoughts and deeds,

possessions divvied up, a lifetime of accumulation;

and the years slip by faster and faster, passing planets, suns, and stars,

leaving far behind us who wait.

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