Is our world spinning out?

Vehement criticism has become the national pastime in the United States. The gulf is growing between people of opposing views, values, races, religions, sects . . . (if there is a difference between people, it can go here). From talk shows to political debates, Facebook comments to news ‘discussions’ the degree of acrimony is chilling. No longer about discussing differences, it is all inflicting pain. Wiping out the opponent. Never listening, pausing only long enough to refuel and continue the attack.

As a peace-at-any-price soul, even on a visceral level this grieves me. And as one who believes the words of the Prince of Peace, “Love your enemies, and do good to those who hurt you,” I find it harder and harder to turn on the TV or read the news. I feel like completely disengaging from the current elections, and for the first time, not even voting.

It seems that compassion, without which our society cannot long survive, is in short supply, meted out only for “chosen” babies, endangered species and victims.

But the definition of a victim loops us right back to the top. My compassion for who, or what, I perceive as a victim might be the very action that ignites another to shut me down, reject me, or worse.

Dystopian novels and movies about a world that has been almost destroyed by aggression and warfare don’t seem like sci-fi anymore. They might be predicting our future, as 1984 did when it was written.

Dry bones, Fernandina, Galapagos property of Jack H Thompson, JR
Dry bones, Fernandina, Galapagos


How much hope is there when our youngest generations are growing up with an instantaneous connection to a world of terrorism and violent hatred, video games, TV, and movies loaded with violence? With ever-prevalent pornography increasing sexual dysfunction, and condoning objectification of and violence toward women?

Our world is spinning out of civility.

I can’t help being glad I’m in the last era of my life. But I grieve for the younger ones. My children are wonderfully intentional about building strong, loving homes. But can they insulate against this culture of selfishness, “It’s all about me” and hatred?

Furnace near Otavalo, Ecuador property of Jack H Thompson, Jr
Furnace near Otavalo, Ecuador
Wailing seal © Jack H Thompson
Wailing Galapagos seal © Jack H Thompson

I pause and watch the afternoon clouds building up. (Here in Florida, at times missing the mountains I watch the clouds billow up from the Gulf of Mexico and picture them rolling off mountaintops.)

Clouds all rights reserved Jack H Thompson, Jr
Clouds rising over Gulf of Mexico by Jack H Thompson, Jr

Words of the Psalmist come to mind.

I breathe.

I relax.

I look up to the mountains;
does my strength come from mountains?
No, my strength comes from God,
who made heaven, and earth, and mountains.
He won’t let you stumble,
your Guardian God won’t fall asleep.
Not on your life! Israel’s
Guardian will never doze or sleep.
God’s your Guardian,
right at your side to protect you—
Shielding you from sunstroke,
sheltering you from moonstroke.
God guards you from every evil,
he guards your very life.
He guards you when you leave and when you return,
he guards you now, he guards you always.

Psalm 121 MSG

Assured, once again, that my strength doesn’t come from my world being orderly, life going as it should, or from peaceful surroundings, I know I can go on.

Taking my life from His hand, one day at a time.

One step at a time. 

So, how do you handle it when you feel overwhelmed?



Not a happy Valentine’s Day?

Facebook is filled with snapshots of happy Valentine’s breakfasts, dozens of roses, sweet cards and smiling faces. And everywhere, hearts. What if your valentine has passed away, leaving a huge heart-shaped hole in your chest? Or have you recently discovered your significant other has been cheating on you? Or the one who should be kind and caring wounds you with looks or words, or worse? Or your physical condition, or of one you love, through disease, injury or pain, prohibits fully entering into any celebration? Or are you are simply alone?duct tape rose
What if you feel you have more in common with the original Valentine, whose ending was pretty gruesome, than the pink-red-chocolate day so celebrated now?

A pity party seems more in order than a Valentine’s Party.

The truth is, even people who are doing their best cannot love us enough to live out the language of all those cards

Can’t fill the love-need we all experience, and on holidays like these, in greater intensity.

hearts and love drawing

At a low point during my college years I discovered T.S. Elliot, and sobbed over these lines at the beginning of his poem “Ash Wednesday”

Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn
Desiring this man’s gift and that man’s scope
I no longer strive to strive towards such things
(Why should the aged eagle stretch its wings?)
Why should I mourn
The vanished power of the usual reign?

In junior high I wrote a poem full of young angst, concluding with:
“Teach me how to love, and yet not care.
Teach me how to love, and yet beware.”

When I reached the final page of “Ash Wednesday,” I came unglued (causing quite a disturbance in the library).

Although I do not hope to turn again
Although I do not hope
Although I do not hope to turn
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks.

(Emphasis mine)

T.S. Eliot’s poetry began my journey to peace. It started with learning contentment among the rocks.

That’s pretty bleak, I’ll admit, but that is where I was.

Maui rocks

It took many years of whisperings of Love for the Spirit to heal me to the point where I dared leave the rocks. Launch into the water. Swim with gusto.

Jane body surfing in Bahamas, JHT
Jane body surfing in Bahamas

There are still days when my desires don’t sync with my life, and I ask for peace to sit among the rocks.

I have it on good word that request is not useless.

I’ve picked you. I haven’t dropped you.’
Don’t panic. I’m with you.
There’s no need to fear for I’m your God.
I’ll give you strength. I’ll help you.
I’ll hold you steady, keep a firm grip on you.

Isaiah 41:9-10 MSG

The good news about our circumstances causing pain is we find out what our hearts are trusting.

When we are left chasing the wind, empty-handed, we’ve found an idol we are best rid of. Not necessarily rid of that person, but we recognize we have made an idol, one we’d hoped to be the source of our heart needs.

There really is no greater blessing than knowing the only true Source of deep, complete love.

after glow

I’ve never quit loving you and never will.
Expect love, love, and more love!

Jeremiah 31:3 MSG

And that love never fails.
I remember it all—oh, how well I remember—
the feeling of hitting the bottom.
But there’s one other thing I remember,
and remembering, I keep a grip on hope:
God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out,
his merciful love couldn’t have dried up.
They’re created new every morning.

How great your faithfulness!
I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over).
He’s all I’ve got left.
God proves to be good to the man who passionately waits,
to the woman who diligently seeks.
It’s a good thing to quietly hope,
quietly hope for help from God.

It’s a good thing when you’re young
to stick it out through the hard times.
When life is heavy and hard to take,
go off by yourself. Enter the silence.
Bow in prayer. Don’t ask questions:
Wait for hope to appear.
Don’t run from trouble. Take it full-face.
The “worst” is never the worst.
Why? Because the Master won’t ever
walk out and fail to return.
If he works severely, he also works tenderly.
His stockpiles of loyal love are immense.

(Emphasis mine)

Lamentations 3:20-32 MSG

Maui waves, JHT
Maui waves

How do you feel about Valentine’s Day?

What do you do with a troubled heart?

Why do I wake in the morning and expect this day to go as planned, “normal?” I suppose for sanity we have to assume some things will go on, the sun will rise, my heart will beat, my family will live and thrive. To think otherwise every morning would lead to madness, or at least extreme anxiety. When something abruptly changes the rhythm of things, especially when a life is ended, we are brought up short by the small part we play in making this world go around, for the day to proceed, for the breath we take. And our hearts churn.

This week I ran across a text I sent last year, confirming activities in August so I could plan my mother’s 93rd birthday celebration. I had no way of knowing that only days later she would begin her journey home, and instead, celebrate that day in eternity. As the dates approached, I entered into the memories of last year, my mother’s fall and treatment in the E.R., her admission to the hospital, then the transfer the next day to hospice, and the vigil that followed until she died the following Monday.

Mom lived a rich, complex life, much of it blessed. She was long past ready to go to Jesus, and she left behind a rich legacy and memories that I will never finish replaying. Still, her absence in my world is a black hole, sucking my energy with a jab of emotion whenever something triggers a scene or her voice. But my sadness is limited now.

And it is balanced by my awareness of the pain of others. How can I take up residence in my own emotions when so many others need prayer, love and support?

A few days ago, I stopped to talk with my next store neighbor as he entered his driveway after walking his dogs. Only the location and dogs identified the scarecrow who was a hefty and active man only months ago. Cancer and something unknown is sipping away his life.

A good friend comes to church alone, the husband she anticipated growing old with in glory, instead lying in darkness in his bed, resisting her efforts to socialize.

An exhausted daughter tries desperately to calm her mother, terrorized by drugs and dementia, and learns her brother has died.

A child is torn from his mother, brutally sent to Jesus too soon. Her grief is set to destroy her.

My heart aches for these and others I know, or am asked to pray for, as well as for those I read about in the paper and hear on the news, lives abruptly changed by violence or accident or disease.

And yet, the Jesus who wept at his friend’s grave says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”

I’ve tumbled that over in my mind all weekend, my heart so troubled that sometimes I could barely walk. Lifting the ones whose burdens weighed on me to the only one who has the power to change anything, I interceded through out the day. Even during the night I woke and prayed.

Still, my heart ached.

This morning I read from my favorite prophet, Isaiah. “I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song.”

The pieces slipped into place. Like so many others, the command from Jesus not to let my heart be troubled is one I can’t obey on my own. I need his strength. And for me, his strength comes in song, whether singing out loud, or responding to every little thing in my life as a gift, in a song of internal thanksgiving.

Once I began turning my heart toward Jesus, thanking him for the cardinals and finches playing out front, the dishwasher humming again after DH fixed it, the softness of my pillow, all the events in the lives of my children and grandchildren . . . once I started, the naming of thanks went on unassisted.

And though I am still praying for those in pain, my heart is no longer troubled.

Are you burdened, “heavy laden” as the old text reads?

Or are you the burden-bearer, bending under the weight of it?

Unforced rhythms of grace