Missing Pieces

My husband and I run a shop. He sells new and used amateur radios and supplies; I sell antiques, collectibles, and resale items. The nature of our business means that we often get merchandise that is “incomplete.” We have used radios– occasionally, there is a knob missing, or a component that needs to be replaced or repaired. We have used games and jigsaw puzzles, packs of playing cards, sets of dominoes, old silverware and buttons and dishes–mismatched, incomplete, and sometimes damaged or chipped. I spend many of my days surrounded by items that some would consider “junk.”

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But what some would consider junk, others consider treasure. Collectors come in looking for specific items– old tobacco tins, embroidery samplers, antique kitchen tools, wooden toys, fishing rods, or costume jewelry. Crafters come in looking for old buttons, clothespins, linens, or keys. Some people come in to browse, and end up finding an old book, or a doll that catches their eye. And most items create conversations, spark memories, or inspire curiosity.

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Ours is not a busy shop. We don’t sell convenience foods or new shoes or cell phones. We don’t offer fancy coffees or tea “bombs,” or expensive hand lotion. We don’t sell sporting goods (other than really old skis or the occasional tennis racket). We sell a few new batteries and antennas, and we offer a few local packaged food items (honey and maple syrup, craft sodas, etc.). We don’t make a lot of money at our shop–but we’ve made some friendships, and we’ve had the joy of seeing our customers find unique and useful items. We’re part of something bigger than just making a sale: like so many others with small businesses, we’re making a difference.

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God created each of us to interact– to be part of something bigger than ourselves. Each of us has a need to find “missing pieces”– friendships, experiences, conversations, ideas, even old chipped dishes– that help us discover where we “fit” into a larger picture. As we interact, we make a difference, for better or for worse. We smile or we scream, we create unity or division, we spread hope or we spread hatred, we destroy or we build up. And we search for meaning and fulfillment. Ultimately, we are searching for God, who has promised to make all things new and bring wholeness, completion, and life to our “used” world. There will be no “junk;” no missing pieces or chipped plates or broken antennas in God’s perfect plan. Each of us is treasured by our creator. Even if others see us as filthy, broken, rusted, or worn out, God can says we are priceless and worth redemption. He has a place for us.

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10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!

(Romans 5:10 via biblestudytools.com)
Colossians 1:20-22 NIV

If Only I Had Known…

I would have taken the scenic route
Stopped to smell the new-mown grass,
Or the languid marshy odors
Drifting through the open window of my car.

I might have stopped off to see my old friend
Whose house I have passed a hundred times
On my way from somewhere to somewhere else–
Stayed awhile, relived memories or made new ones.

I would have let the others speak
Drinking in their words, tasting them, weighing their wisdom
And nodding, or not, let them take the spotlight a little longer
While I held my own cleverness in check.

I would have prayed with more reflection, and
Less impatience.  I would have used fewer words,
And chosen them with more care.  I would have shown
More gratitude and less “attitude.”
I would have cried more and sighed less.

I would have risked speaking up in those awkward moments:
“I didn’t mean that.”  “I’m glad to know you.”
“I’m so sorry.”  “I love you.”  “Please know that I love you.”
“You have an amazing smile.” “You are important.”
“God loves you with an everlasting, unshakable love!”

I would have watched more sunsets and fewer TV shows.
I would have written more stories and read fewer magazines.
I would have danced like no one was watching.
I would have sung like no one was listening.
I would have invited others to join me.

If I had known that I have five more years;
Or five more months, or five more decades…
Would I live differently?  Pray differently?
Love differently?  I hope so.  I just don’t know.

 

Pass It On

The county fair is on this week– seven days of community-wide activities, including, but not limited to:

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  • Carnival rides
  • Games
  • Concerts
  • Exhibits of home arts, fine arts, craft items, and locally grown produce
  • Carnival food booths– pulled pork, corn dogs, elephant ears, ice cream, sno-cones, cotton candy, caramel corn, sausages on sticks, fried cheese curds, fried veggies (with ranch dip), cinnamon buns, fruit slushes and “shake-ups”, pizza, steak wraps, fried rice, tamales and burritos, craft root beer, funnel cakes, popcorn, caramel apples, and so much more to choose from!

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  • Farm animals on display everywhere– pigs, chickens, cows, horses, ducks, geese, turkeys, goats, sheep, rabbits, pigeons, cats, a burro, an emu, and probably more that I missed–perhaps a mule or an alpaca!
  • Youth competitions for animal showmanship, arts and crafts, etc.
  • A quilting competition
  • Commercial and community booths featuring local businesses, churches, political groups, schools, and services
  • Tractor pulls, horse pulls, Motocross, a Demolition Derby, and a Monster Truck show
  • Free live entertainment venues
  • Antique and new tractors on display
  • People– lots of people…some of them who live in the area, and some who visit from neighboring counties and states.

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What does the County Fair have to do with prayer?  I suppose for some, there is no connection.  For me, there are two ways prayer goes hand in hand with the County Fair:

  • The local Fair is a long-standing tradition, tying the community together and celebrating its heritage and hope for the future.  All around the fairgrounds, there are banners and plaques honoring people who have given of their time and talent to this community– farmers, teachers, civic leaders, doctors, police officers, pastors, donors, veterinarians, business owners, parents, coaches, and helpers.  In each generation, people pass on their knowledge, enthusiasm, passion, and excellence to those who will use it, expand on it, modify it, and pass it along to others.  In the same way, prayer warriors of the past have inspired and led people to the knowledge and love of Christ– many of the names at the fair represent people who poured love into, and prayed for my generation.  They discipled, taught, cared for, and inspired me and so many others.   We don’t worship them as idols or honor them in place of God, but we honor the way God used their lives as examples for us to follow.  Even those who were not Christ-followers had talents and wisdom that they shared, and God used, to help others.  This is a tradition worth celebrating, remembering, and continuing.

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  • The County Fair is a great place to see people I know but don’t always get to talk to
    • Classmates from school I haven’t seen in ages.
    • “Children” (now grown with children of their own) I used to babysit.
    • Former students, from when I was a schoolteacher.
    • Former neighbors, friends of my family, and people I knew from the church I attended as a child.
    •  Family and extended family who still live in various parts of the county or surrounding counties.
    • People for whom I have been praying– because I have heard of their needs or seen an e-mail or FB post or talked to a concerned family member.
    • What an honor and a privilege to spend time (even a short minute or two) to catch up, encourage and be encouraged, or even share a smile or a memory!  I might meet up with someone who needs a hug, a simple assurance, or even an “on the spot” prayer.  I might also have the opportunity to reconnect, restore a relationship, or even meet a new friend.  In addition, I see exhibits with names of people I know– people I can be praying for with joy and gratitude for all that they mean or have meant in my life.

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I hope, for anyone reading this, that you can think of times or opportunities when you can connect, reconnect, or form connections with others in your community.  Think of ways others have challenged, inspired, or encouraged you.  Take a minute to lift them up in prayer, and, if you have the chance, to pass on (or back) some of what they have given you along the way.  Imagine what even the smallest connection can do to spread God’s love to others.

 

 

Ask, Seek, Knock

God knows our innermost thoughts, wishes, and needs.  So why do we pray?  We’re not telling God something he doesn’t already know.  He asks us to seek him, though he is omnipresent.  He tells us to knock, and the door will be opened, yet he also says he stands and the door and knocks.  Is this another Bible mystery?  An oxymoronic enigma?

I don’t think so– I think it is a case of God laying out some ground rules of relationships– his with us, us with him, and even us with each other.  God is spirit, but he ask us to build dwelling places where he can meet with us– temples, tabernacles, churches.  He wants to abide, to live in relationship and companionship.  Ultimately, he offers to dwell in each of us.  But he has created each of us as a unique being. And just like a unique building, we have walls and windows and doors.  When we reach our eternal dwelling place, this will still be so.  We will be changed, purified, sanctified, and glorified, but our souls will not be subsumed or merged into a single temple or a single “soul.”   Heaven is not like Nirvana.  God is eternally God and we are eternally his creation.  Living in communion is not the same as merging or evolving into something not ourselves.  We remain uniquely individual, and as such, we need to learn to take initiative to open our doors and windows– to interact, to serve, and to honor each other.

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Have you ever been blindsided by someone who expected you to read their mind?  You know they are hurt and angry, but you find out later (sometimes much later!) that they wanted you to comment on their new hairstyle, or they expected you to ask them out for coffee.  Maybe you know the pain of being on the other end– wishing someone would notice your weight loss or ask about your day.  God wants us to learn to reach out, to ask, seek, and knock, instead of isolating ourselves behind locked doors.  We are to be active, not passive, about noticing others, sharing with and including others, and serving others.  But we are to do it in love and humility– with grace and mercy and love, not with bullhorns, fists, or combat boots.

God is the Almighty one– yet he stands at the door and knocks.  He could barge through our stubbornness and rebellion, and drag us kicking and screaming to the altar.  He could tear down the walls of isolation and storm crush our pretentious justifications and excuses.  But he stands, waiting for us to open the door, and seek his face.  The one who spoke the universe into being waits for us to begin the conversation!

 

Solitary Prayer?

So often when I pray, I do so in isolation, and I think of it as a solitary activity.  I am communicating with God– often silently–it is a private conversation.  Or is it?

At any given moment on any given day, millions of prayers are ascending to Heaven.  Consider the arithmetic of prayer– millions of prayers, millions of pray-ers, and God is part of each one–twice the number of participants.  But God is triune– so now there are four participants in every “personal” prayer, and four participants for every one in a group prayer!  It’s mind-blowing to think of all the spiritual investment that is happening through prayer at this very instant around the world.  And in heaven?  Our prayers ascend; God likens our prayers to incense– a pleasing aroma.  If I light a scented candle, or burn incense, the aroma is not personal– it permeates the air, penetrates my clothing, clings to my hair, lingers and touches on all who are nearby.  This doesn’t diminish the intimacy of prayer, but transcends it, and transforms it.  God is relational– from the intimacy of private prayer to the glory of his kingdom– he wants us to belong, to share, and to love.  Love doesn’t happen in a vacuum.  It is not a solitary activity, nor one in which anyone is “just a number.”

I think we are often deceived and intimidated by numbers and statistics.  We sometimes feel very small and powerless and alone.  We measure our prayers by their duration or the number of our words, or how small our perceived influence.  We pray alone or in a tiny group, or seem to get swallowed in a crowd, and we think our prayers travel a linear path to God’s ears and they are ended.  May our eyes be opened to the reality that we are never alone, never helpless, and never unimportant to God–that our prayers, like incense, linger, radiate, and echo as they ascend.

God uses the small and humble things in life to confound those who think they are wise and powerful and important.  He is the God who changes our suffering into sufficiency, and our abiding into abundance.  He multiplies our faith, and increases our joy; he divides our sorrows and cancels out our sin.  He hears our every sigh.  He dries our every tear.  He knows our every thought.  He inhabits the praises of his people– let that sink in as we pray today.

 

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