Being the Salt, Continued

Living on the border or coming into contact with decay are images we can rebuff easily. It sounds hard, it sounds dirty, it doesn’t sound like “living on an island” or “handling fresh fruit”. But if Jesus did it, why can’t we? He purposely walked the border, he washed the feet, he gave his life.

But I’m shy.

I get it.

I’m shy too.

I can sit for a whole evening enjoying conversation and not coming out of my shell. Then again, out of nervousness, I could talk your ear off over facts that are a little bootless for the current situation. Surprisingly, even though I am a teacher, a dance teacher no less, it isn’t my first instinct to get up and steal the limelight or make a scene.

So how can a shy person be the salt? Shy or not, how can we, creatures of habit, be the salt? My first excuse as to why I wasn’t “very good salt” was that I’m shy, but then I thought that is a poor excuse, so my brain promptly came up with a second excuse of I don’t have time to break out of my routine. My routine is generally wake up, tackle my to-do list at home, go to the gym some days, then work, then bed, repeat. But, another great book has challenged me the way “The Mercy Prayer” and the Family Talk podcast “Fight for Freedom in a Godless Society” have.

“Be the Gift” by Ann Voskamp is yet another beautifully written book by Ann that brings pictures to life with words and touches the heart. Though an easy read, I can only make it through a few pages before I have to stop and reflect. As it suggests, she challenges that we bring ourselves to be the gift, to give of ourselves, even through the brokenness. I could go on all day about her writing and this book, but what I want to look at in context to this blogpost is the “Gift Idea” pages in the back.

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What a perfect way to look at being the salt this time of year, a gift list. As you can guess, these aren’t things that are for yourself, but instead, it is ideas to give of yourself. With my love of all things list related, it seems conceivable to me that I could tuck a few of her ideas into my own to-do list. They are acts of every size, and depending on how shy you may or may not be, some that sound small may be very big, like number sixteen:

16. Choose the ministry of smiling at everyone today. It’s contagious!

Meanwhile, number forty-four makes it easier to live on the border while staying more anonymous:

44. Make a donation of any amount to a group or cause of your choosing.

Shy or not, routine oriented or not, I pray that these are some ways to kickstart your calling to be the salt and light in this world.

Matthew 5:13 ““You are the salt of the earth…”

 

Just a Pinch of Salt

How many recipes do we look at that say “Add a pinch of salt” or “Season to taste with salt”? Other recipes are far more direct, a half a teaspoon here a fourth there. Salt is definitely a staple in the kitchen.

Lately I have heard it more than once out of that context. I’ve heard the verse and I have heard many people say how as christians we are to be the salt in the world, but I was reading a page or two from a book titled “The Mercy Prayer” by Robert Gelinas that really gave an urgency to the need to be salt in this world. He actually brought it up after speaking about the ten men who lived on the outskirts of town because of their leprosy.

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The author takes note on how Luke recorded the path that Jesus was taking to Jerusalem, the border between Samaria and Galilee. It is here that the ten cry out for pity, or eleison and as the author points out, it is translated mercy. The challenge is then given to the reader, are we aware of those in need of mercy? With so much bad in the world, there are many outlets where we can reach out, but do we? This is where Robert Gelinas makes the poignant point that salt slows down decay only when in contact with the meat. Salt is useless unless it is in contact with the meat.

I had just read those words when my sister in law suggested a podcast to me, Family Talk. Eager to switch up my routine while driving of just music, I enjoy a good podcast, so I downloaded a few random episodes of Family Talk. One of them titled “Fight for Freedom in a Godless Society” had the great speaker Dr Robert Jeffress on it, and wouldn’t you know it, he brought up that same idea of being the salt in this world. Honestly, some of the facts he gave about our country were just so disheartening, and I know we are familiar with them, but the idea that we as the salt can help slow down the decay of our decrepit world was encouraging.

Honestly, sometimes messages like the one on that particular episode by Dr Robert Jeffress can make things seem hopeless. It makes it easier to ignore the big issues if we settle for that hopelessness too. He said something to the affect of the only reason we are pushing back against the evil is to give our world a little bit longer to hear the truth and be saved, which makes me take it back to the image of the salt, we slow the decay. He ended with this great quote though, “If you think it is too dark out there to do it, remember this, the light shines brightest in the darkness… Ladies and gentleman, if your goal in life, like so many christians, is peace, prosperity-the absence of any kind of pain, then these are truly terrifying, depressing days in which we’re living. But if your goal, like the apostle Paul, is to share Jesus Christ with as many people as possible, there has never been a better time to be alive than right now! Because the darker and darker this world becomes, the brighter the hope of the gospel shines.”

I think that when we hear something repeated, in various contexts, that it is God whispering to us. This time of the year, it is easier to be the salt as we naturally enter a season of giving. I pray that this was an encouragement to you to be aware of moments where you can live on the border like Jesus Christ, be the salt, and have a goal like Paul.

Clarion River Float

Last weekend was filled with waterfalls and small hikes, and this weekend was spent floating down the Clarion River. Our starting point was Ridgeway, Pennsylvania, and we pulled out at the Halton bridge. It is a two day trip in which we always camp overnight at Pine Tree Island. Shane and I were two of a handful of adults on a youth groups trip.

I have been going on this same trip since I was a small child, nestled in the middle of my parents canoe munching on trail mix. Then I got to enjoy the trip with friends as a member of my childhood churches youthgroup. Through college I still wet along as a sort of leader because we never had an abundance of female leaders on the float. I still go as that female leader, and Shane, this year and last, joined us.

I love the Clarion River float with the youth group. I still live for capture the flag in the dark and don’t mind running full speed in the dark woods. I love sitting around the campfire enjoying everyone’s company. I’m blessed that I can still be a part of this long tradition, and love that Shane can come and enjoy and help out too.

Sunday morning, one of the church’s interns gave a brief message about God creating the beauty around us, and how even when we are right in the thick of it, sometimes we miss the general splendor. We forget how wonderfully creative our God is, and we don’t always make the connection that this creative all-powerful, most powerful being loves us. It really is a breathtaking thought.

God, the creator of the universe, whose creativity surrounds us, loves me and loves you.

It made me think deeper into this idea of God’s presence and the idea of kavanah. Kavanah means “intention” or “direction of the heart”. Each time we pray, we should have this intention or direction of the heart, because as rabbis put it, “A prayer without kavanah is like a body with out a soul.” I read that Abraham Heschel described it as an “attentiveness to God” or the ability to “sense the preciousness of being able to pray”.

That idea of kavanah just so matched the awh that the intern was speaking of. Every morning we get up, not always acknowledging that everything around us was made possible by God, and we are blessed to speak with him. That time we share in prayer is precious, is beautiful, and should be a time we are attentive to him too and not just assume it is me time.

We floated the last day in the pouring rain. Rain on the river creates a different kind of silence than any other. One where your imagination can run wild, but also one where there seems to be a buffer between you and the worlds distractions. The outlook for this week appears to be many more days of rain, and I don’t know if that is how the weather looks in your area, but if it is, and if you can, crack open a window, let the breeze flow in, and let that sense of kavanah fill you.

Luke 19:40 “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”

Look at the Birds of the Air

There are just things I could not live with out. Bird chirps and tweets waking me up, bright yellow coltsfoot sprouting up from the gravel filled burms, horses tails gently tossing about in the breeze. It has been a blessing to have these things fill my spring days. I have to look at each thing sometimes and deliberately say, “That is a blessing.”

Spring just is an especially hard season for myself, despite all the promise every new start represents. From crisp green blades of grass growing, to birds carrying twigs to their nests, sometimes it can seem like the world is moving on, and it can feel like I am not. Or sometimes worse, I feel like, if I move on like the little birds building a new nest, that I am leaving behind a part of me, and I don’t want to.

I lost my son in the spring time, and most recently, Shane and I lost our dear friend. Here we are, in a most promising part of the year, visuals of new beginnings all around, but the gash left by loss is so painful. Part of me doesn’t desire moving on, fearing the distance that will surely come, the days that will stack up between the time of knowing the ones I loved and have lost and the present. I don’t want it to be almost four weeks, then five, then six, then a year since Scott was here.

But we cannot live in winter for forever. Spring must come. With it comes beautiful things, and even though those beautiful things can be hard to look at, they are a blessing. They are a reminder that beauty can come from the dirt and mud and once frozen soil.

Revelation 21:5 “And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new” and He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.”

So I have been watching the birds. It has been a delight. We live in a place surrounded by water and woods, so to our feeder comes a fun variety of winged creatures. I am most excited by our little Eastern Wood Pewee couple I was able to identify, though they look like other flycatchers, their song set them apart. The little couple decided to build a nest on our home, and Shane was going to knock it down thinking it was just some sort of swallow, but I convinced him otherwise since Mr and Mrs Pewee are in the flycatcher family.

A cardinal couple has been flitting around our porch very often as well. They sit on our cars and chirp as they bounce from side mirror to ground and back again. I knew their nest had to be nearby, and after observing Mrs Red, I found her nest indeed was close. Right in the bush by our stairs to our porch. She has recently started sitting on her three little speckled eggs.

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Matthew 6:26  “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”

Of course, it may seem overly cliche to bring up Jesus talking about the birds, or to put a few lines from the classic hymn “His Eye is On the Sparrow”, but how beautifully true it all is. Here we are, my husband and I and those who loved Scott, in the midst of grief, and God is not overlooking it. If he can supply little Mr and Mrs Pewee and Mr and Mrs Red a spot for their nests, then how much more will he supply for us if we just trust.

Just like he can turn around and make new things from the frozen, colorless mud winter left, he can make our colorless, sad days new. The days will come, we can’t stop that, but what we can do is trust the God of the universe to take care of our days. We can keep our eyes open for blessings and reasons to be thankful for each new day. He knows our pain and sorrows, He knows our relief and joys. Here it is, if His eye is on the sparrow, then you’ve got to know, His eye is on you!

Repetition

Repetition. We cast, we reel, we repeat. We cast into the water over and over, even in the same spot, hoping, waiting, reeling, and casting again. Then, by some miracle, we catch something. That thing we knew was beneath the ripples, we pull in, we hold, we take pictures of, we sometimes release, we sometimes hang on to.

Repetition. We pray, we say amen, we repeat. We pray to the heavens over and over, even over the same exact thing, hoping, waiting, saying amen, and praying again. If we listen, if we truly live with open palms, we can catch whispers of blessings, answers, guidance sometimes trickling down from heaven, other times rushing like a great flood. We soak it in, we hold onto it, sometimes journaling about it, other times telling others about it.

Repetition is seen in the bible in many places, such as Psalms 136. Right there, repeated, is the same phrase over and over. Other places we are told to give thanks constantly, that is a type of repetition if every prayer we give is peppered with thanks.

Vain repetition is the thing to be avoided. Mindless, numb repetition, casting with out even checking your line to see if your fly or bait are still attached, with out even checking where you are at, you will surely come up empty handed. It takes effort, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot, but with effort, you can see results.

Vain repetition, mindless, numb prayers said with out even thinking about what you are praying for and who you are praying will come up as fruitful as casting with out bait. God is asking for effort from our side, our hearts, so he can give us all the wonderful things He is, a God full of love, merciful, compassionate, and the Prince of Peace. This doesn’t mean put on a show, it doesn’t mean you have to even be wordy. The intention should be to have relation and to share your heart with the God of the universe.

Matthew 6:5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standingin the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

And isn’t it amazing we can have such a relationship with our creator? He craves relation with us, to hear from us, even if it is the same thing over and over again.

Keep casting with intention.

First Dayers

Opening day of trout went off splendidly! My first cast, I reeled back in a lovely, little rainbow. I can honestly say that was the first time that has ever happened to me. This, I think, got everyone keyed up to get their own; in our early morning fishing party there was my husband, my dad, and my cousin Leah. Leah has never been fishing, this was something Scott promised to do with her, and they never got the chance. So out on Parker Dam we went to be “first dayers” as my husband calls them.

He and Scott were never “first dayers”, in fact, they often were annoyed by all the people who stand shoulder to shoulder on our shoresides that one day a year. Though my dad took me to places Like Moose Creek in Clearfield, Pennsylvania and out on streams in South Dakota’s Custer National Park, my father and I, for sake of tradition, often were Shane’s loathed “first dayers.” He teased about bringing his sleeping bag and camping chair to Parker Dam so that he could stay warm as he napped with his bobber and Power Bait in the water.

Then cast, bizzzz, plunk, and “I got one!” happened, and Shane perked up, Leah and my dad too. My dad was the next one to pull a flipping-flopping trout to shore. I think it was impressive to Leah to see fish getting caught so quickly, and I am sure it gave her the wrong idea. It took her until the afternoon before she finally got her own slippery, wiggly trout, and it was a good moment.

For our Easter dinner I cooked up five of the trout for people to try. It by no means was the staple protein at the table, but I was excited to share our bounty. Mainly the men munched on the fish, but others did give a small bite a try. All last year I had been wanting to cook up this recipe for Shane, and for what ever reason, mainly for lack of trout, I never got to. Finally, he got to see why I enjoy keeping the trout I catch.

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While we all enjoyed the fuss and excitement of the first day of trout, Monday was a less adrenaline filled day. Leah and I went to the gym, then out for lunch in this area I am now calling home. Conversation focused around Scott as we talked about things that made him so great, plans they had had, and things they had done. It was a good and needed day that ended with something he was truly passionate about, fly fishing.

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Leah put on hip-waders for the first time and her lesson began with Shane in the waters of Lake Arthur. I myself am still learning, so I didn’t have any input on the lesson and was practicing my own motion of the fly rod. The only thing I encouraged was to come out further because we could see striper action on the water. She did catch a bluegill before we went in and discovered that for the last half of it, she was with out a fly due to the whipping she was doing instead of casting. I was lucky enough to catch a bluegill and a striper, and I lost count of how many fish Shane caught.

When we were packing up Leah commented on how this was fun, but not a hobby she would probably get into alone, right away. Shane reassured her that he was by no means an expert even though he had been doing it since he was a kid and that there are always things to learn with it. I guess that is one reason out of many our guys got so into fly fishing, there is always new things to learn, to catch, to try, and during it all, you are in the beauty of God’s creation.

When Scott said that he felt closest to God out in His creation, it is like he really got what C.S. Lewis was saying in his quote, “God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.” If we hear the red wing black bird’s song as the water laps at our hip-waders and our rod goes whooshing through the air and don’t acknowledge that God created and gave us those things, finding peace while fishing Monday night may have been nearly impossible. Fortunately for us, that moment was a part of God’s peace painted out before us to partake in.

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All three of us out there on the water have experienced a loss of someone who we loved. Believe me, at times it feels really unfair, and we are still wading through waves of emotions. But at the end of the day, we can have peace. Fly fishing on Monday was a moment of peace that energized our souls, enjoying God’s handiwork, from bright pink sunset, to scaly stripers. I honestly went back to Jonah a few times this weekend and remembered that God is a God of mercy and keeps his promises, even ones to give us peace.

Numbers 6:25-26 “the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.”

Jonah and Fishing Season

Wouldn’t you know it, Shane and I’s first opening day of trout as husband and wife falls on Easter weekend. This creates for us a very jam-packed weekend because traditionally Shane takes part of a “Good Friday Shoot” with his dad and friends, and now my dad and brother join him, then Easter is the big holiday at his dad’s house. Now add in a day of fishing in between those days, and suddenly our weekend is very booked up. I have recipes I want to cook for all the gathering that will be done, but I won’t lie, I cannot wait to get outside and fish, and wouldn’t mind doing that till sundown.

It is funny that as opening day of trout rolled up, my devotionals brought up Jonah. You know the guy, the one that gets swallowed by a fish. Now, most of the time, I am completely distracted by that aspect of the story. It brings to mind pictures from childhood of a dejected looking man sitting in a big, hallow, whale belly contemplating what to do. As I got older, I began to understand more the ramifications of it all, this guy running away from a direct request from God and ending up in the belly of a fish.

This most recent time in studying it though, I was in awe over a different aspect: God’s mercy. I have read “The Daniel Prayer” by Anne Graham Lotz, and in it, she talked about God warning his people to repent, they didn’t, and they ended up as captives, Daniel being one of them. After seventy years, they were set free to return home. They had warnings before the captivity happened, and they didn’t heed it, and captivity was the result of their disobedience.

Now it was the Ninevites turn to repent in the book of Jonah, given the chance to repent, they, by contrast to the Israelites, repented pretty quickly. God withheld judgement just like he said he would. Forget getting hung up on “How did Jonah breath while in the fish?” or “Was it a fish or a whale?” or “Did the people who threw him over board see the fish get him?”, how wonderful is it that God kept his promise and gave the Ninevites his full mercy?

What is so astounding to me is Jonah’s reaction, he said he ran away and didn’t want to proclaim to those people that they should repent because he knew if they did, God was a God of love and compassion and would spare them. Basically he was saying, “I knew you would hold true to what you promised. How dare you be so good!”

In the midst of this crazy world, isn’t it a comforting thought that God can be so good, that he does show mercy, that he isn’t up there holding a lightening bolt over our heads just waiting for the next big mistake? Instead, he is waiting with his arms open promising us chance after chance. This should be a huge relief for us.

But, so many times we live with closed fists, not willing to accept God’s mercy. We don’t even give God the chance to fulfill promises before we shake our fists at him yelling, “You don’t do anything for me!”

How heartbreaking it must be for our father to hear his children say that to him.

I’m about to grab my pole to do some bluegill fishing on the lake, this weekend I am hoping for a big trout, and looking forward to introducing Leah to trout fishing. As I hold the little slippery, gilled creations that I find so much joy in catching, I know I will be thinking about Jonah this weekend. This story made new, not because of some weird fish fact I found, but because of the thought of God’s mercy for us, for me.