Archive for the ‘reflections’ Category

Waiting   Leave a comment

Did you ever consider how much of life is spent waiting?

I don’t mean in the drive thru, in the check out line, after the child’s activity for him to get his belongings together.

I’m talking the other waiting.

There’s waiting for something to change, or waiting while you’re working on a project, in school, waiting to reach your goal.  Waiting for a reason that you can’t control.  Waiting for someone to get better, or for you to get better, or for someone you love to change.

Waiting for COVID-19 to die and for us to get out of our masks and into each others’ arms.

Waiting is an art form, and I haven’t mastered it.  Today more than ever one wants to know how to wait well.

Living in the present, alive to the current moment, is ideally balanced with waiting.

We wish.  We hope.  But sometimes not.

Posted July 24, 2020 by swanatbagend in reflections, waiting

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Presence   Leave a comment

When walking life’s path on a hard stretch, there is nothing I would like more than to experience God’s presence so that I know I am not alone.  From my earliest years, one of my biggest fears has been being alone.  So always, but especially when circumstances are hard or I am facing a challenge, I want to know that I’m not alone.

So, I often find myself praying that I might experience God’s presence. People pray for that; I’ve heard them do so, and I’ve seen it written in encouraging emails or texts or notes.

I pray for this myself for friends who are struggling, and especially these days for myself.

But, what does it mean to experience God’s presence?

Most of the time what comes to mind is a sense of peace, of relief, of love or joy in, over and around us.

But what if that isn’t happening for me?  What if I pray in faith, calling out to God, and I don’t have a feeling of his presence?


If all I mean by experiencing God’s presence is that I feel peaceful, by definition I have turned God’s presence into a feeling.

There’s no way.  God’s presence may give me a feeling, but it is in no way a feeling.  God is not so small as to be created or destroyed by my emotions.

So, no matter what I feel, I believe that God is present with me.

No matter what I think, I believe that God is present with me.

No matter what I experience, I believe that God is present with me.

No matter what I feel, don’t feel, walk through, I know God is present, because he has promised to be.

Posted July 15, 2020 by swanatbagend in faith, reflections

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Confession   Leave a comment

If I had had a different life, that was simpler, or better, or easier, I wouldn’t believe what I believe now.

If I had been able to achieve the goals and dreams I had as a teenager and young woman, I wouldn’t believe what I believe now.  I wouldn’t be who I am now.  Let’s face it, if I had gotten everything I wanted in this life, I would still look upon faith as a sideshow.  I wouldn’t need God.  I would only need myself, and I would continue to be proud of myself and my accomplishments, as if all of those things were something I deserved by simply existing.

However, life has been for me what it has been for most people.  It’s what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.

I had plans that I was going to accomplish on my own.  I had ideas of what life should be like, based on what I had read and been told, and what I had observed.  I knew what I thought should happen, and how things would play out, if I just made good plans and worked hard.

But what I have learned is that despite my best efforts, what I had to give, I could not live up to my own standards, much less to God’s standards.  I have ideas about something good or helpful I could do, and the next thing I know, I don’t really want to do it.  I lose patience with the people who cross my path.  I have ideas of how I ought to be, but I can’t do it.

The good news is the gospel.

I needed someone to stand in my place and do what I could not do, and live the life I could not live.  I needed Jesus.  I need Jesus day to day walking beside me, a companion through each moment I live.  It’s a practical relationship–I need his guidance and direction and his love.  I need Jesus for eternity as well, and he’s saved me from the results of my sins and my pride.  His love is good and he is kind.  Nothing can separate me from him, because of what he’s done for me.

Posted July 1, 2020 by swanatbagend in faith, reflections

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How Small Am I   Leave a comment

I’ve always liked bugs, and especially ants.  They are amazing workers.  Their nests and highways fascinate me.  Here it is, a whole little world peopled by tiny creatures who work together on their projects.  Not to mention how cute I think they are.  All those legs sprinting around and little antennae waving at others.  They come in all sizes and they are all interesting.

Bees, of course, are social insects whose way of life and communicating is no less fascinating.  And they’re adorable as well.  Big eyes, drooping antennae, and golden yellow fuzz.  I always enjoy seeing bees.

When I look at these insects, I find myself wondering what they make of me.  They inhabit a world that is a miniature civilization, so to speak, and I am much larger than they are.  They could see me as a threat, for sure, but they can’t really comprehend what I am, what I can do or what I know.

In the same way, I am smaller than God and I can’t know what he knows.  In some ways, that’s a disturbing thought, but in many other ways, a comfort to me, to know that he is watching over me with knowledge and power far behind my ability to comprehend.  Of course this analogy is far from perfect, since I can’t create the ants or help them in any practical way, so that’s not where I’m going with this.

It’s just that despite how small I am, God takes an interest in me, and far more than that.  I don’t have to comprehend him, either, for his love and compassion to be for me.  I don’t have to believe, I don’t have to know.  He is real regardless of my ability to understand.  When my thoughts don’t include him, he’s still there, working.  When my feelings are all I know, he’s still there, working.  Who am I that he would care and understand?

It’s beyond my understanding.


Posted May 25, 2020 by swanatbagend in reflections

Be Strong   Leave a comment

I don’t know about you, but I would never choose to be someone with weaknesses.  Like most people, I have spent a great deal of effort to do things well.  I always assumed that I would be able to do all the things I planned when I was twenty years old.  I thought that strength was something that the blessed always had.

But what I have found is something quite different.  Despite my best efforts to be strong, I have found myself to be weak.

I don’t have the energy and ability to do all the things I thought I would do.  I have had to learn to approach each new thing from a place of weakness.

Something I learned recently has been helpful.  “Be strong” doesn’t mean that you just are strong.  It doesn’t mean you’ve made yourself be strong.  And it doesn’t mean that you have to work hard to somehow get to that fever pitch of strongness that will see you through whatever your challenge is.  Apparently when this phrase is used in the New Testament, the meaning is, “because you are being made strong.”  This truth makes a verse that I have always tried–and failed–to live up to, make a lot more sense.

What I am living now is the reality that “be strong” means I’m being made strong.  That by definition means that I’m starting out the opposite.  I am starting from a place of being unable to live strong.  I’m starting from a place of weakness, a place in which despite my best efforts, I cannot do the things I need to do on my own.  Everything that I do in a given day is because I’m being given the strength to do it.  There is no way on my own I could summon up what I need.  It does take courage to keep doing the next thing when it seems too hard to do.  However, I suspect that courage is also a gift.

I can’t help but wish that I would experience the opposite situation, where I hope to be able to just live my life without thinking about where my strength comes from.

On the other hand, it’s not a bad thing to know where your strength actually comes from.

Posted April 2, 2020 by swanatbagend in reflections

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Pie in the Sky or a Great Hope?   Leave a comment

There’s a general feeling among many thoughtful believers that there’s been far too much time and effort put into trying to make people feel better on earth by telling them about the world to come, when there are problems that need fixing.  Throughout history, the church and other established authorities have used theological statements in order to control the destinies of the masses, instead of dismantling power systems that cause cruelty.

Utilizing your power to tell people that they will get what they need, finally, in the “glorious land above the sky,” while simultaneously treating them as objects and destroying them through slave labor, abuse or injustice is despicable.  Ignoring practical problems and suffering isn’t much better.

It barely needs to be stated that if assuming eternal life means that nothing done on earth matters, another error has been fallen into.  Of course it matters what we do here.  Of course it matters how we treat other people and our world.  It’s our job to take care of the people and the world, as hard as we can, in whatever way God leads us.

A valid concern that humankind respond to injustice now and live useful lives now has unfortunately led to the idea that there’s nothing to live for eternally.

I think there is something worth looking forward to.  The promise of God in Jesus and the reality of that promise existed before his church ever existed.  It says you’re not forgotten and you’re never alone.  And when you suffer, you’re still not alone.  Furthermore, you have the promise that it will get better.  There will be an end.  There is a place for you.  And there will be more glory than you can imagine.

I think of a friend who lives with Parkinson’s.  I think of two friends who have children with severe disabilities.  Neither of the children can communicate in speech, although they are no longer small.  These people can know, and can tell their children, “You are loved and you are not forgotten.”  These dear people can be sustained by the reality that this is not all there is.

And what of you?

You too can know that there is more to come.  You will be released.  The burdens will fall away, gone forever.

They will drop away from our bodies, hearts and minds, as we are finally able to run freely straight toward the prize, the joy and the glory ahead.











Posted February 12, 2020 by swanatbagend in justice, reality, reflections, the church

Beauty   Leave a comment

Humans instinctively pursue beauty.  We recognize it from our earliest days.  We want what is lovely and attractive.  It’s an innate desire in every person.  What exactly we find most beautiful and worthy of our attention varies from person to person, but there is always something lovely that we want.  And everyone respects the artistry of athletes, artists, dancers, musicians, painters, sculptors, architects.  We respond to the amazing artistry of nature.  It’s just plain beautiful.

But what do we do when we can’t get there?

For example, only a certain number of girls who study ballet will dance Clara in any given year. There will be several others to complete with in any dance studio at the minimum, perhaps many more in large cities where there are hundreds auditioning for the role.  But only one person in any city can dance Clara.  You have to work really, really hard.  You have to be pretty much perfect.  And you have to be attractive.  And when you dance Clara, hundreds of girls littler than you are drinking your perfect beauty in.  The poses, the moves, the dress, the way your face and hair reflect perfect beauty.

But most of us can’t get there.

Seeing and seeking beauty lead to demanding perfection of ourselves.  It’s as if we think that if we can be beautiful, if we can get there to that place of lovely perfection, we will have what we need.  Advertising is just one long presentation of beauty, attractive people, places and activities.  When it succeeds, we think we will possess what we long for when we possess what the ad sold us.

We long to reach beauty because we instinctively believe that it is good.  We want to be that beauty.

But, if you are less than beautiful, where do you fit in?  What is the value of your life in a world that longs for beauty, and so overlooks you?

We don’t see beauty as God sees it.

God has given each of us who we are and what we are to do while we’re here.  There’s beauty in that no matter how we appear to others.


Posted January 15, 2020 by swanatbagend in reflections

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The Gap Between Faith and Practice   1 comment

In the gap between my faith and my practice is–what?  In the past, the answer has been, try harder.

Today what stands in the gap between my faith and my practice is repentance.

I will turn away from my sins and failures and turn toward Jesus, who provides the power to be different.  No matter how many times I’ve vowed to do better, it hasn’t worked.  I’m sure there are people for whom self help books do it, and there are those who are good at pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps.

If you haven’t found those paths to be successful, perhaps a turning will suffice?

I’m to turn from my sins, which are as follows: impatience, pride, greed, being a controller, selfishness, self absorption, envy and busyness for its own sake.

Instead of attempting to find a way to be good enough to overcome these on my own, I can deal with my gap now by giving them up.  I can step away from my idol–the illusion of power that I think will fix my problems.

Instead of attempting to put sin away by sheer force of will, I will turn to Jesus Christ and receive his power, love and mercy.  He’s the one who stands in the gap for me.



Posted September 18, 2019 by swanatbagend in reflections

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How Normal People Are   Leave a comment

As I waltzed through a three and a half week period of feeling really great during my healing from depression process, I was so happy.  I was just so thankful to finally (I thought) be through with the pit of despair, any change was welcome and this was a truly wonderful change.

I had the energy to do projects I hadn’t had energy for.  I had the get up and go to clean the Florida room and sell and give away items nobody was using.  I did a lot.

And mentally, I enjoyed it.  Life was purposeful and I felt hopeful about various potential future plans.  I wasn’t overthinking the future either; it was just there and I thought about it occasionally and it seemed like a good thing.

It only occurred to me later that it’s possible that what I experienced for those three and a half weeks is what other people live all the time.

I don’t mean every person, all the time, because obviously some people have more issues than I do, some have fewer.   Some people’s lives are filled with material and spiritual difficulties so far beyond what I experience that clearly they aren’t living the dream.  Life is rarely that simple for anyone.

I just mean that feeling good, having lots of energy, having hope for the future might be other people’s normal.

My normal has usually been more subdued and less optimistic than that.  And I thought that was normal.  Maybe there’s a way to be in hopefulness and make it more of a stay than an occasional vacation.  It can’t be the goal of my life to get there, because I don’t have the power to guarantee that outcome.

But what that knowledge does is show me my variables: I regularly have to overcome them.  If I have to get myself to the front edge of motivation every day, that’s an obstacle.  If I have to sweep together enough energy for the to-do list every day, that’s an obstacle.  Those are real challenges.  This knowledge dispenses mercy, mercy on me and on every other person who doesn’t have a full load of energy, motivation and hope.

He came not for those who are well, but for those who know they are sick.  So if you need the physician–take heart.  He is for you.

Posted August 27, 2019 by swanatbagend in mental health, reflections

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Why Candles?   Leave a comment

I recently thanked a friend again for a lovely scented candle she had given me, vanilla nutmeg cardamom (I have no idea where she found such a unique scent).  She said, “You know, you like candles more than anyone else I know.”

This is why I really like candles and enjoy having them on my mantelpiece or on top of my desk.

1. I love the bright or soft colors of the wax.

2. I love the scent of a good quality candle–floral, foresty, fruity–but it does have to be good quality.  What I don’t like are candles that smell like cheap fabric softener.

3. I like the glow and flicker of the flame.

Put those three factors together, and I don’t know why everyone doesn’t love candles.

A candle flame is bright, warm, cheerful, and it lights up a room.  At the same time it is frail, feeble and small.  It flickers.  It moves in a magical way.  The color, the scent and the flame unify to speak to my heart about eternity.  The candle flame is both fragile and ethereal, and strong.  I can focus on a candle and think clearly.  The candle flame brings me to the center and calms me down.

A candle is my statement of faith.

That’s why the candle my friend gave me is almost gone.

Posted May 14, 2019 by swanatbagend in reflections

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