Traffic and cold, bless the Lord

Traffic and cold, bless the Lord

Yesterday, the exit ramp I took on my way home was overflowing with traffic. The lane that veered off the interstate was filled nearly to the point of backing into the lanes of traffic that were continuing north. I was listening to some lovely music, pondering my day, and waiting for my turn. Despite the traffic, it was a peaceful moment.

Looking toward the west, I took in the beauty of the setting sun. Puffy cotton ball clouds blanketed the sky and slowly turned tropical shades despite the freezing temperatures outside. It was a delight to just gaze at the beauty I saw splashed generously across the sky. I couldn’t help but think that if it wasn’t for the obnoxious traffic, I wouldn’t have had the time to just ponder the sky. Closest to the horizon the sky was a fiery orange tinged with pink and further away the clouds took on a more somber hue.

It was cold outside. The sun’s setting seemed far too early. It had been a long day. There was still so much of the week to go. But, Lord, thank You for this moment of beauty, this moment of peace.

It made me think of something I had seen on Facebook one time regarding the snow. The post said, “If you choose not to find joy in the snow, you will have less joy in your life but the same amount of snow.” It is simple and yet a needed reminder that gratitude is the appropriate way to approach life. The traffic situation seemed to apply as well. If I choose to not find joy in traffic, I still have the traffic but not joy. So I looked up and saw something to be grateful for as I waited. God was casually displaying beautiful art during the evening commute. And I sought to soak it up this time instead of sink into my own world.

Continue reading “Traffic and cold, bless the Lord”

The Wal-Mart Heart Change

I could feel it increasing in my heart.  My fingers tapped on the shopping cart as the impatience within escalated.

Standing in the speedy checkout line at Wal-Mart, I was feeling pressed for time.  I hadn’t wanted to stop at Wal-Mart, but I needed glitter.  Never in my life have I purchased glitter, so it took a bit of meandering before I found what I needed.  A few other items found their way into my hands and then I was at the checkout.  Waiting.

The sense of urgency was palpable in Wal-Mart.  I could feel it because I had places to be, things to do, and the rush of shoppers waiting at the checkout lines declared that they had similar situations.  The clerk tending the cash register was taking care of one customer and it seemed to take a while.  His credit card wasn’t accepted and he was on the phone.

Minutes passed.  I kept eyeing other lines, watching them line up and pass through while I waited.  Finally, the woman ahead of me moved forward in line.  Change needed to be dispensed into the tray and we watched her unroll two packs of quarters.  Then the cashier counted the gifts bags.

1…2…3…4…5…6…7…8…9…10

10 gifts bags.  Then she swiped one.  And repeated the act seven more times.  She stopped and began to count the number of bags on the screen.  But she must have lost track of which line she was on so she took a piece of paper, holding it up to guide herself line by line.  The customer told her that she had only scanned eight but there were ten.  The cashier finished counting, swiped another, and then keyed in another.

I’m feeling impatient, inwardly reminding myself that it is Advent, the season of waiting.  But for some reason, my time feels more important.  Perhaps it is part of the human condition.  We are quick to hurry others, almost insulted that they should waste our precious time.

I will my heart to stop pounding with impatience.  Almost like hushing a baby, I remind my heart that there is enough time for what is necessary.  Slow down, slow down.  Do what you tell your students to do: practice patience, seek holiness in the simple, ordinary things in life.  Be faithful in small matters.

And my heart slows.  When I approach the cashier, I am greeting her as though I never waited.  I am striving to not make myself the most important person in the situation.  The anxious tapping of impatience is brushed away for a moment, and I try to hang onto this as I navigate the parking lot and the line of cars waiting to exit.

Later, I will lose this patience and peace.  I will rush about, attempting to do in a couple hours what should have been done in days.  And I will miss the joy of the present moment and seek to tend to things rather than to people.  But for all the missteps that will later follow, I am reminded of that moment in the checkout line.  That moment when my agitated heart encountered the peace that it was always meant to have.

Say to the fainthearted, “Take courage and fear not. Behold, our God will come and will save us.” -Isaiah 35:4

There He is: saving me from myself in the Wal-Mart checkout line.

The Grace of the Present

I’m not opposed to making memories.  As an introvert, I spend a decent amount of time inside my own head, thinking over what has or will transpire.  However, the other day I was scrolling through Facebook and I was seeing pictures and albums that were presented as “making memories.”  Do we prefer to make memories rather than live in the present moment?

Is something off if we spend a large amount of our time documenting for the future moments of the past?  Could it be that the present is not actually as great as we will remember it to be once it is firmly grounded in the past?

I’m sporadically reading One Thousand Gifts and the other day I read about how Ann Voskamp, the author, was struggling to encounter God’s face in the moments where she is stressed and angry.  Seeing God’s face in the brilliance of the morning sunrise or the contented cooing of a newborn is easy.  Yet it stretches us to see God’s face in a belligerent student or a quarrel with a friend.  As I read, I thought of how just that day I had been annoyed with my students not listening to my directions.  It never even crossed my mind to stop and consider, “How are they revealing God’s face to me right now?”

The present moment is the place where we encounter God.

We are making strides when we are able to go back to a difficult situation and see how God was present in that moment.  Yet it is supremely better to be able to, in that very moment, see the face of God present.  If only I could look at my students, complaining and upset about their work, and see Christ in them.  It would take re-training my mind and my heart.

In One Thousand Gifts, Ann Voskamp reveals an experience she had with her son that changed them both.  At one point in the conversation, she tells her son that the only way to combat feelings is to have other feelings.  The central feeling we can use to combat unwelcome feelings, she presents, is gratitude.  In the midst of frustration, fatigue, anger, sadness, or annoyance, what a difference it would make if we would begin to be thankful.  Not gratitude for something of the past or the future, but gratitude for that present moment.  What would it be like if in our most trying moments we saw the face of God in His perennial presence?  Surely it would change things.

If we spend our lives trying to simply “make memories,” I fear that the best moments of life will not be what we actually experience, but always events of the past.  I run the risk of sabotaging my present for the glorification of a past that never really existed.

When I look at my semester that I spent studying abroad, I don’t initially recall the tiredness, the inevitable frustrations of group planning, or the desire for American comforts.  Yet those were very real aspects of my semester.  I cannot expect my present moment to measure up to my idealized past experiences.

God is present in the here and now.  In this moment, despite the commonness.  In my quiet study hall on a random Wednesday.  In the lukewarm coffee I’m still enjoying from this morning.  In the satisfaction of checking another item off my to-do list.

This present moment is a moment of grace.  Because grace is only offered in the present.

I desire to teach myself to accept each moment as the grace-filled, soul-transforming, heart-deepening, wound-healing, saint-making, God-given moment that it is.  This present moment is where we encounter God.  Let us not overlook His presence in the now in an effort to live in the past.

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