Thursday, May 14, 2015

Conversation Connector

“Remind me to do that,” my husband requests.

“No problem!” is my standard reply. “I've got an app for that.” And then I add his request to the multi-page list, grateful that my phone's memory is so much better than mine. We use that app for everything in our lives these days, from telling us where we need to go and when, to what to bring, to even what we wanted to say to each other along the way!

If my phone is my memory in the physical realm, it's the Holy Spirit's job in the spiritual world to bring back to my remembrance all the things I tend to forget. Some items on the list are indeed things God wants me to do, places He wants me to go, and words He wants me to speak. But mostly the Holy Spirit's job is to remind me of what God has already done. Psalm 103:2 tells us to “forget not all His benefits.” And then it lists just a few of them...forgiveness, healing, redemption, compassion, provision, justice...in a list even longer than the one on my phone.

The list of what God has done for mankind as a whole is enough to inspire an outpouring of praise. But it's the things He's done for me personally that pull at my heart and draw me into a closer embrace with my Creator. Answers to prayers that only His ears have heard, desires of my heart still unspoken yet granted, jokes we've shared, and experiences we've been through together...these are the moments that make up a loving relationship with God. And yet it seems that they are unintentionally dismissed from our memory almost as quickly as they happen. We need that Holy Spirit nudge to suddenly see God's face turned our way, His eyes meeting ours as He says, “I remember the conversation we had about that – do you?”

We tend to forget that there is another Kingdom in operation in our lives. So much of God's goodness and His many answers to our prayers – the evidence of His care - we attribute to mere coincidence, and in doing so we lose more than just an opportunity to give God the glory and praise He deserves. We steal from that moment its power to transform our lives with the acute awareness of God's love.

Recently I saw a video of two little kids who apparently had long begged their parents for a dog. One day as they worked together on their homework at the kitchen table, their father walked through the room, setting a box down on the floor beside the table in passing. The kids continued talking and working without noticing that a puppy was peeking up at them over the edge of the box. Suddenly the little girl caught a glimpse of it. She froze and stared at the dog for the longest time as she tried to process what she was seeing. Then she turned to her father and said, “Is that for us? You bought us a dog? It's really for us?” Surprisingly, she then covered her face with her hands and broke out in tears. She didn't initially go near the dog, instead she simply stood there crying, repeatedly lifting her face from her hands to choke out the words, “Thank you! Thank you so much!” Even when she was seated on the floor with her brother, the puppy between them, as she reached out to touch it for the first time, she stopped and was overwhelmed again, her heart and eyes overflowing with grateful tears. Clearly the moment wasn't about a puppy at that point; she was simply overwhelmed by her father's love.

I want to be that girl. And so I look to the Holy Spirit for help in transforming me from my thoughtless and greedy self into the thankful and grateful girl I long to be. “Remind me!,” I plead, and He does so, over and over again through the course of the day, that God is thinking about me, loving me, and blessing me in more ways than I ever thought possible.

The girl in the video had yet to even pet the answer to her prayers when her dad came over and enveloped her in a loving hug, so touched was he by her response to his gift. Maybe God has the Holy Spirit connect the gifts He gives us with our past conversations, not so much because that remembrance brings us joy...but because of the joy those connections bring to Him.

But these things I have told you, that when the time comes, you may remember that I told you of them...”
(John 16:4 NKJV)

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Let Him Clip the Chip

For eight weeks I held my broken elbow close to my heart. I held it in front of my chest for the first few hours after my late-night injury, waiting for the snow to stop and the morning to start so I could get to the emergency room and have it examined. For weeks after my resultant surgery it was first a cloth sling and then a metal brace locked in one position that me no choice but to hold my arm in similar fashion. And yet it wasn't the physical restrictions that kept me from using my arm so much as it was the words I heard whispered in my ear repeatedly during that time, telling me that my ability to do the things I most enjoyed had been stolen away by one misstep on an icy parking lot.

I didn't just listen to those words; I believed them.

My mindset became one of inactivity in the physical realm. Repeatedly when my husband asked my to do even simple tasks my first reaction was to express my inability because of my injury. But God was having none of it. Before I could get the whole sentence out He would stop me in the middle of the second word. Thus my “I can'ts were trimmed to the “I can” response God knew to be true. Still disbelieving, I reluctantly gave each task a try and was usually surprised at the result...all because God didn't allow me to voice the lie that was waiting on my lips to defeat me.

How often have we likewise allowed an emotional injury of some kind prevent us from working in God's house? There are those who have suffered incredible blows in their walk through life, the magnitude of which has simply taken their spiritual breath away. But others of us have taken even little irritations and petty aggravations to heart and listened to the enemy's lies about lost love and purpose in the spiritual realm. We have allowed a chip on our shoulder to put us on the shelf, spiritually speaking, when God has the power to turn our situation around for our greater good and the good of the Kingdom, if given the chance. His ability is limited only by our belief in His desire to do so and His power inside of us.

Even once freed from external medical hardware, my arm remained bent in a frozen and locked position. When weeks of physical therapy failed to release it, it seemed to me to be time to be getting back to work, despite the fact that my arm remained locked in a ninety-degree angle. Surely I could just make do. But my doctor refused to sign off on that. He said there was no way I could function in my post with such a limited range of mobility. When additional x-rays revealed that a small piece of bone had grown up behind the elbow joint, he scheduled further surgery to clip the bone chip that was preventing the full extension of my arm.

The Great Physcician says the same thing when we are tempted to cut short our spiritual recovery times and simply get back to work in the Kingdom. He knows when there's further work to be done, however anxious we may be to avoid going deeper into issues that are painful. He writes His prescription in His Word: “let endurance and steadfastness and patience have full play and do a thorough work, so that you may be [people] perfectly and fully developed [with no defects], lacking in nothing” (James 1:4 AMP). God simply doesn't want us to come up short in any area of our existence. He wants us to be all that He knows we can be.

But there is more to it than that. I had already been feeling strain in my shoulder as it struggled to take up the slack for my limited reach. And likewise the church struggles as a whole when some parts of the body have to function outside their skill sets to cover for those who are currently unwilling or unable to function in the gifts they were given. Every piece of the puzzle is necessary, every member of the body has a place and a part to play if the church is to minister effectively. Simply put, you have a job to do, and nobody else was given the exact tools to accomplish it but you. The Kingdom of God needs you to be fully operational in the tasks you were assigned.

And so God works with our words, as He did with mine. A huge part of our problem is simply unbelief in His ability to overcome our obstacles. He stops us short in our “I can't”s by replacing them with His “But I can!” And when our I-won't-believe-it-till-I-see-it attitude gets in the way of our own recovery, He offers us the Cross as His ultimate proof.

We're not the first to struggle with issues of unbelief. Perhaps Jesus had doubting Thomas touch His scars so we too would believe He has the power to work through ours.

I can do all things through Christ who strengthen me.”
(Philippians 4:13 NKJV)

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Raise Your Praise

Maybe it's because I've raised a family of poker enthusiasts that references to the game have come up a lot in my conversations with God of late. While not a gambler in any sense of the word, I'm willing to bet it hasn't happened by chance.

On a recent morning I was driving to town, and spread before me was a scene of magnificent beauty in the skies. The dark clouds on the horizon were pierced with shafts of light that spilled sunshine through the gray curtain that still hid the sun from view. A huge fan of sunbeams, I delighted in the sight, and knew that God was waiting in the wings of His stage in the heavenlies to see if I noticed the gift He had placed in my way.

I wonder if my response surprised Him as much as it did me. I said, “I see You, God, and I raise You five.” Then I lifted my left hand off the steering wheel, raised my hand high in praise and waved my five fingers before Him in worship.

What?! We both laughed. It was simply a wonderful way to start the day. Since then it's become a catch phrase between us, a way to tell God that I have seen and received a particular grace or gift from His hand, a personalized way to simply say thanks.

Saying “I'll see you and raise you” in response to a poker hand means that you accept the bet that is on the table and are raising it a stated amount. Outside of the game, the phrase is used when attempting to one-up a statement made by someone with a response of one's own.

Surely there is no way to match what God lays on the table before us each day, let alone improve on it in any way. All we can do is respond to what we see around us by calling it out specifically before Him and responding with praise and thanksgiving for the offering. Of course, it's easy to see God's hand in moments of beauty as described above; much more difficult when the goodness of God is hidden by difficulty or trouble of some kind.

In sending a card to a friend recently, I wrote that our hopes for the early Spring now seemed buried in a succession of February snowstorms, as surely as the crocuses she said were blooming in her backyard were now covered in a blanket of winter white. And likewise sometimes our hopes for seeing God come through in the serious life situations we are dealing with get buried in a barrage of in circumstances beyond our control. Hope, faith and belief in the goodness of God are lost to sight in the snowdrifts of doubt the devil loves to dump on us. We spend all our time trying to dig our way out, when our hearts should be looking for the Son to rise in their midst and simply melt them all away.

The answers we need come easy to an almighty God. It's the believing Him for them that is hard. Holding on to our faith in the goodness of God when there is no physical evidence in of the same in the circumstances surrounding us is immensely difficult. How awesome it would be for God to see me raise my hand in praise on a day when I didn't see the sky lit up with shafts of lights...when the dark clouds around me were instead just gray and heavy and menacing. What if I picked the moment when trouble is pressing in to say, “I'm raising my praise and my level in faith in You, because I know my troubles are no match for Your power”? Faith like that shoots light through the darkness and causes God to see and raise His hand in action, blessing us beyond our wildest imaginings. ..to the point that we don't even care about the situation at hand anymore, so taken are with by the new level of relationship we've found through it with Him.

As I slipped the card I was writing in the envelope, my eye caught sight of the the word “Spring” in the embossed DaySpring logo likewise just barely visible in the surrounding white paper. May the springtime my heart is longing for likewise be ever visible to the eyes of my spirit, despite the white of the current snow, causing my lips to say, “I see You, God, and I raise my praise.”

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
(Hebrews 11:1 KJV)

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Those Moses Moments

I laughed the minute I realized it: I was setting about to touch up my hair color on the very day my filmmaker son was beginning work on a new movie called...Showing Roots! Because we have had such discussions before I knew what he would say if I told him what made me smile: “Wow, what a coincidence!”

For my part, I've quit using that “C” word. I've lost faith in it, no longer believe in it, and don't want any part of it.

The dictionary defines coincidence as a striking occurrence of two or more events at one time, apparently by mere chance. Because I believe that nothing happens by chance, I don't need a word in my vocabulary that suggests otherwise. In my book, labeling an occurrence as a coincidence is simply an excuse for not looking more deeply into it to find out what God might be trying to say.

For surely God is speaking to us all the time, wooing us, warning us, offering words of wisdom to help us get through our days. But our senses are so tied to the natural word in which we live that our attention is assailed by all the visible details surrounding us that demand our notice. God's voice is lost in the cacophony that surrounds us on a daily basis. But the very world that distracts us away from Him is at His beck and call, and so He uses it to call our attention back to Him.

What jumps out at me in the definition above is the word striking. God has to arrange something out of the ordinary to get us to notice one detail above the rest. The most famous example in the Bible, perhaps, is the bush He set on fire in the desert to catch Moses' attention, a bush that surprisingly wasn't eventually consumed by the flames engulfing it. It was when Moses stepped near to investigate this strange occurrence that God spoke into His life and directed his future.

He simply does the same with us. When I look back at some of the events I have labeled as coincidence in the past I see situations at least as amazing as flaming tumbleweed! And while they worked to catch my attention, too often I shrugged them off after a moment or two of amazed reflection as just one of those things that happen from time to time. Yet it wasn't enough that Moses saw the burning bush...it was his further investigation of the incident that changed the event from a seemingly chance happening to a moment of great significance in his life.

Could it be that the same thing would happen in ours? And why does it matter?

Seated in the back seat of the car one morning recently on the way to church was a man who has the unusual name of “Chance.” My attention was drawn to his name when I mistakenly called him “Chase” and he was quick to set me straight. “It's Chance,” he said.

Since then I've wondered how he came by that name. Was it short for Chancellor, perhaps? Or was it maybe a nickname? Finally I had to ask. He told me that when his mother was pregnant with him she was just learning how to play the game of poker. A friend was explaining to her that when it was her turn she would have the chance to match the previous bet on the table, raise it, or fold the hand. The word so intrigued her that she left the table that evening at the very least with a name for her unborn child. The fact that chance can be synonymous with opportunity is what makes it important in our lives, as well.

Those “Moses Moments” that God uses to get our attention likewise seat us at an imaginary poker table. He has dealt the cards, and the bet is on the table. Now He's waiting to see how we'll play the hand. Will we simply call the situation a coincidence and walk away, or gamely enter into the fray, invest ourselves somehow and turn the next card to see how the situation plays out?

Some are content to go about their days without giving God a second thought. But it mattered greatly to the children of Israel that Moses didn't just walk on by. And similarly there are people in our lives who could be favorably impacted by a decision on our part to delve a little deeper into the seemingly random occurrences that get our notice. I am surrounded on a daily basis by people bound by addictions and lifestyles that they are powerless to escape from on their own. Perhaps God is wanting me to get more involved in somebody else's battle. Like He did with the children of Israel, He will simply do whatever it takes to set His people free. Sometimes those actions begin with ordinary people like you and me. We can shrug off the offer or respond with a willingness to see what God has to say. It's our choice...but also a chance to make a world of difference in somebody else's life.

Maybe that moment is worth another look.

...Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight - why the bush does not burn up.” When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush...”
(Exodus 3:2-4 NIV)

Friday, January 30, 2015

For the Love of Lefty

It happened as quickly as the briefest space between words. One minute I was chatting amiably with my coworker, John, as he walked me out to my car, and the next I was flat on my back on the parking lot, wondering how on earth I managed to slip on snow that yet barely covered the ground.

We'd been thinking about the weather all evening, my friend Tracy and I, both of us having landed late-night shifts that day. The storm was supposed to start just before we'd be clocking out, and we wondered what the roads would be like by the time we were ready to leave. Since neither of us are very good at bad-weather driving, we encouraged each other as best we could, pushing aside the negative vibes from customers who told us the snowflakes were already starting to fly. “We're going to be fine,” I told Tracy repeatedly, and she nodded her head in agreement each time.

Later we laughed at the fact that getting home hadn't been the problem at all; for me at least the issue was just getting to my car. After John had helped me up, brushed me off and safely deposited me and my grocery bags at my vehicle, a quick evaluation revealed that my right elbow was not functioning properly, yet somehow I drove one-handed through the increasing storm on snow-covered roads with no problem.

And so began an adventure into left-handedness, a journey I never imagined I'd take, but one that has surprised me with unexpected blessings. My left-handed husband was almost gleeful as he told me in the emergency room a few hours later that I was finally going to learn to see things from his point of view. The registration clerk smiled in agreement as she wrote notes on a pad, likewise with her left hand.

My own left extremity has gamely entered into the fray, accepting the challenge and excelling in its execution. It has conquered a variety of tasks, accepting help from other body parts as needed. From flip-top cans to tightly screwed-on lids to spreading butter on bread to cutting food into bite-sized pieces to safely depositing them into my mouth instead of on my shirt-front...one by one it has accomplished them all. Finding itself responsible for personal hygiene tasks it once sat idly through, it can now squeeze toothpaste onto an unsteady toothbrush, then brush teeth, comb hair, and wash and dress the body like it had been doing so for years. The dogs are still fed, the cat's litter box is clean, sheets are changed, and floors are vacuumed, just as before. As we come to the end of the second week after my injury, I look at my left hand with new-found pride and appreciation.

Funny, I've been looking at my husband the same way. He, too, has stepped into roles he hasn't had to play in the extent of our 34-year marriage, but he has done so with willingness and grace, despite an already busy schedule and full plate. He has sat in emergency rooms, by hospital bedsides and in doctor's offices, despite a distaste for medical procedures of any kind. He canceled meetings, worked on his laptop from home and made up work hours on weekends that used to be spent on his to-do lists, rather than mine. In recent days he's become my chauffeur, personal chef, and fashion advisor, even digging through his own closet for old pajama tops and button-up shirts that could be altered to accommodate a bulky cast. The kicker came when he volunteered to help me curl my hair...not because my looks bothered him, but because the inability to do it myself bothered me. For two weeks straight he has barely given a thought to himself in his efforts to make sure I am safe and supplied with everything I need. Because he has had to step into roles he's never had to play, I've seen sides of him I hadn't ever seen before, and have simply found new things to love about my left-handed man as a result.

Perhaps that is the silver lining to all the difficulties we face; the change in perspective they offer us. We go through our lives on auto-pilot much of the time until something happens that suddenly changes life as we know it and forces us to re-examine that which we formerly took for granted. The blessing of unexpected difficulty is the opportunity it provides to see life in a new way and grow somehow as a result. I've heard it preached many times that if our first instinct is to ask God what we can learn from the situation when trouble strikes, what was a challenge becomes instead a chance to improve ourselves. Suddenly we are faced with a choice as to how we are going to look at the days to come. We can either just survive the situation and strive to get back to where we were, or we can instead use it as a stepping stone to a life of greater victory and happiness on down the road. Every need in our life simply gives us a new view of God as He responds to it and another reason to love Him more. The wisdom behind the Bible's admonition to give thanks in every situation lies in the fact that blessings surround every difficult happenstance if we just have eyes to see them and avail ourselves of the opportunities they present.

Initially I was going to wait till the fast-approaching Valentine holiday to tell my husband how much I love him and have appreciated his care and help in recent days. But that's yet a few weeks away. By then my right arm will be quickly taking on its old tasks and resuming its former dominance, and I don't want to forget the lessons I'm learning along the way. The proper response to any challenge is to first give thanks for its hidden blessings... today.

God loves to crown difficulty with blessing. He works everything out for good. Our part is to abide in the beauty and power of His love and remain firmly on purpose.”
- Graham Cooke

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Labeling Christmas Love

On the day after Christmas I arose at my pre-holiday wake-up time of six a.m. The family all gone, my seasonal duties done for another year, I was eager to get back into my regular writing routine, a pleasure I'd set aside out of necessity during the hurry and fuss of the holiday season. I signed onto my blog ready to finish the story I'd written and lived out during the holiday season but had been too busy to publish. Quickly I copied the text into the blank space waiting for the words, typed in a title, and selected the appropriate picture to go along with the post. Last on the list was the selection of a couple of labels, words that encapsulate what the message was all about so that others searching for stories by subject can easily find those that fit the bill. I limit the number of labels I use to three, both as an exercise in summarization and to reduce the length of the list of the same that scrolls along the right side of my blog. Done, I hit the button that would publish the work and then viewed my blog to see the finished result.

For some reason, the labels list caught my interest that morning. It takes some perseverance to find it, as it appears last on the blog screen, buried under the snippets from other blogs I follow. It's interesting that the labels are listed in a font size relative to the number of posts pertaining to that subject, making it easy to see at a glance what subjects are the passions of my heart. I laughed as I looked at the list; the words Christmas and love jumped out at me as having been the most popular themes in my writing.

Christmas and love. How fitting, I thought, that those two should appear together and be foremost in my thoughts regularly, but particularly on this morning just days after the holiday had ended. We make Christmas about so many other things. I reflected on what I had been busy with in the preceding thirty days, a list that included the words cookies, parties, presents, decorations, shopping, money, time, and traditions...entries that seemed empty and lifeless without the love that wound through them, binding them all into one glorious whole of treasured time spent with family and friends.

Days later we were giving a friend a ride to church after having not seen him in a couple of weeks. When asked how his Christmas was, his soft-spoken reply was at first difficult to understand. “It wasn't,” he said. Noting our confused silence, he said, “I don't have family to spend it with anymore. I have one son, but I'm not involved in his life in any way. So I just try to sleep through the holiday.” The short discussion seemed to emphasize the point that Christmas and love were inextricably linked. If he didn't have the latter, the former was meaningless to him as well.

But perhaps we're looking at it from the wrong perspective. Maybe the point is that if we truly understand the meaning of Christmas, we will always have love, whether we have friends and family around to celebrate with or not. Christmas is a celebration of the fact that God loved us so much that he refused to leave us to live apart from Him any longer and so sent His Son to pay for our sin in our place. Suddenly we have the incredible love of a heavenly Father to celebrate, and our joy overflows into words like cookies and parties and gifts, when earlier they were just the empty trappings of a hollow holiday without the birth of Christ to give them meaning and life.

It seems odd to still be writing about Christmas when we're now past New Year's and making a sizable dent into January. But somehow that, too, is fitting, because the birth of Christ in a heart and life isn't solely a December event. It can happen on any day of the year when some lost and lonely soul opens the door of their heart to the Love that is longing to come in. The “Christmas in July” (or May or September) slogan suddenly has a whole new meaning! Let the celebrations begin!

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
(John 3:16 KJV)

Friday, December 26, 2014

Patched, Not Perfect

For some, it's the lighted Christmas tree in the living room that says the Christmas season is underway. Others feel it when they first hear carols coming out of the stereo, see lighted displays on the nighttime drive home from work, or smell gingerbread baking in the oven. But nothing puts the holiday happiness in my heart like seeing my Christmas decorations on top of my kitchen cabinets once more. Twinkling colored lights twisted through a lengthy garland edge a display of stuffed Christmas characters interspersed with decorated shopping bags and holiday-themed plates. In the course of the nearly thirty years we have lived in this house, certain items have laid claim to their own positions in the display. Stuffed versions of Rudolph and Clarice insist on being placed directly over the oven, their noses almost touching as if kissing under invisible mistletoe, while the Abominable Snowman roars menacingly from a nearby corner. A lamb sleeps in a lion's arms at the other end of the cabinetry, representing the peace of the season, while penguins, snowmen and gingerbread people wave merrily at any who happen to look in their direction. As much as I love each of the individual elements of the display, it's the lights that make it special to me.

Nothing speaks hope in a darkened world like a string of brightly twinkling lights. That's why I was devastated to look up one day early in the season and see that a section of the garland in the center of the display had gone dark. Everything else about the display was still in place; the reindeer still posed, the snowmen still waved, and the Christmas bags still displayed their messages of goodwill. But it seemed meaningless and joyless somehow without the lights winding through it all.

Some of you know exactly what I mean. The light has gone out of your Christmas this year and you find yourself just going through the motions without the joy that makes the holiday season so bright. It could be a break in a relationship with a loved one that has dimmed your delight; a death in the family, an absent face and an empty place at the dinner table. Maybe the loss of a job or your health or your home has robbed you of the means to celebrate as you have done in years gone by. Whatever the cause, you have lost your hope of a happy holiday season this year.

Some of us deal with these difficulties by just opting out. We decide to just skip Christmas this year. We vow to celebrate as usual again next year when we feel more in the spirit of things. And in doing so we miss the chance to have the most precious holiday season of any that's gone before...because never have we needed it more. Christmas is fun when things are going well in life. But it's true meaning is discovered when things are not going as planned...when life is interrupted by some unexpected darkness.

The message of Christmas is that God is with us in the midst of our trouble. Even when we feel most alone, He is aware of our situation, collecting our tears, and counting the days till the culmination arrives. Surely God was with Mary long before the actual birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. She physically carried the Answer to her prayers during the days of her humiliating pregnancy...on that long jolting ride on the back of a donkey...in those painful hours of delivery in the hay of a stable floor. It was at the height of her distress that Hope was born, and she was suddenly able to see and hold the baby whose very name spoke the Christmas message: Emmanuel, “God is with us.”

And so it can be for you. The wonder of a difficult Christmas is the opportunity to learn anew that though your circumstances might be challenging, you are not alone in them. Hope is longing to be born anew in their midst. As you travel the difficult road to your own personal Bethlehem, know that there is help available to those who are struggling to find their way. What a lesson there is for us in that even the wise men searching for Jesus had to stop and ask for direction, not once but multiple times. There is an often overlooked Christmas gift tucked into the paragraphs of the Bible describing the event. Hidden in the story are the words, “And receiving an answer to their asking, they were divinely instructed...” (Matthew 9:12 AMP, emphasis mine). They asked what to do, and received an answer. We can do the same.

My kitchen garland is shining brightly again now. My husband had bought extra short strings of lights at the end of the season last year, and offered one to me. I was able to weave the new strand in with the old to get me through this year until I can buy a new garland at a later date. And so it is with the more serious aspects of this holiday season. If you're struggling in any way, ask for help, especially of God, and receive with joy and thanksgiving the assistance that comes in a wide variety of forms. Your Christmas may be patched rather than perfect, but it can be perfectly wonderful, just the same.

Direct my footsteps according to your word...”
(Psalm 119:133 NIV)

Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Timing of Thanksgiving

It's the nature of the film industry that employment on any one job is of limited duration. A movie is budgeted, the crew gathers together for a few weeks or months of active shooting, and then scatters once more to wherever the next project takes them. While boredom is rarely an issue, neither is there any such thing as job security, as plans can be canceled on short notice when financing falls through or there is a relationship fallout between some of the key people involved. As contacts are made and reputations are built, the job offers come more readily, but the pursuit of a paycheck can be a constant struggle for those just starting out.

As a worry-prone mother of an electrician/lighting technician in the industry, I long ago committed my son's employment and financial status to God. My job is simply to thank Him in advance for taking care of the issue and for building in my son the skills set and personal character needed to be successful. Therefore, I was delighted with the news that his November bills would be covered by a three-week stint on a short film in at the start of a traditionally slow season of the year. Additionally, there was the hope that he might jump onto another movie after Thanksgiving. When telling a family member that we were keeping our fingers crossed that this would happen, it suddenly occurred to me that I didn't need to cross fingers on hands already clasped in prayer.

Two words in the situation I was relaying suddenly caught my attention: the job he wanted would start after Thanksgiving. More than a suggested start date, the combination refers to the timing of any expected answer to prayer. Truly the key to unleashing God's bounty in any situation is to thank Him for releasing His answers and gifts before they are received. The traditional celebration of the Thanksgiving holiday is to look back on the year just past and give thanks for the good things that have occurred in the preceding three hundred and sixty-five days. But if that's all we do, we stop short of receiving the full blessing that God has packed into that twelve-letter word.

I'm approaching the Thanksgiving holiday a little differently this year as a result. As usual, when our family gathers around the dinner table and looks at the platters of steaming family favorites set before us, we'll go one by one around the room and tell what we're especially thankful for this year. When my turn comes I will certainly thank God for His faithfulness in the year just past. But this time I will also thank Him for the same in the year to come, thanking Him in advance for His answers to the specific situations I've laid at His feet.

Too often we pray with the attitude of a quarterback who throws a pass deep and just hopes that a team member will catch it downfield. It's a last ditch effort to save a situation that we deem hopeless in the extreme. Yet God wants us to realize that He is on the receiving end of our prayers and He never drops a one. He honors hands raised in praise, those signaling victory before the end zone has actually been reached. In my son's situation it is that praise and thanks in advance that will turn the possibility of a job offer into a check deposited in the bank. The job may start after the holiday, but not before the thanksgiving – I've made sure of that!

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God;”
(Philippians 4:6 NKJV, emphasis mine)

Friday, November 21, 2014

Promise Keeper

(2 Corinthians 1:20)
“But you promised...!”

Few three-word combinations express more heartbreak, despair, and betrayal than those above. We've said them as kids to a parent who didn't come through on some promised treat. Some of us have said them to spouses who've walked away from the vows expressed on a wedding day. They've come out of our mouths in all manner of situations when we've felt wrongfully let down or betrayed. Some of us have even said them to God.

We likewise hate being on the receiving end of such an accusation. The words speak failure...even when that wasn't our intent. Most of us mean well when promising actions of one type or another. Sometimes, however, we find that we are unable to come through as expected for any number of reasons. Perhaps the words were spoken in haste or when under extreme duress. Life circumstances sometimes intervene and physically prevent us from accomplishing what we said we would do. And surely we are fallible human beings who sometimes lie, fall to temptation or otherwise fail to live up to the expectations placed on us by ourselves or others.

But God is infallible. So how does He feel when we accuse Him of failure? Surprisingly, He wants us to come to Him when the circumstances of life don't line up with what the Bible says is ours through Christ, and the three-word combo above are words He loves to hear! What makes all the difference in the outcome of things, however, is the tone in which we speak them. Do we say them in an accusatory fashion that suggests we tried things God's way and are in trouble as a result? Or do we say them as a declaration of faith in the One who keeps His promises, no matter what the situation looks like in the flesh? It's the latter that turns the promises of God into actuality in our lives.

It's okay to be honest with God about the way things stand in whatever issue we're dealing with. As our loving Father He wants us to come to Him and truthfully communicate our feelings and concerns about what we're going through. But what changes the discussion from a pitiful recitation of problems to productive prayer is when we end it with the only words that make a difference, and the ones that God is waiting to hear: “But You promised...”, followed by the words He has given us concerning the situation spoken back to Him in faith, despite how things may look in the natural.

Of course, this only works when you have a promise to declare! As believers we have a Book-ful of them, as all the promises the Bible contains are ours to claim as a result of Jesus' death on the cross. But there is nothing more wonderful than to have gone to God with a problem and to have received a specific word on the situation directly from His heart to your own. It could be a Scripture verse that jumps off the page at you, a word of prophecy specifically spoken about your future, or perhaps a line from your pastor's sermon that you simply can't forget. That then is a rhema word from God, a promise from His heart that is yours to believe, recite, and claim as your very own. God is simply waiting to hear you voice your belief in what He has to say, no matter what things look like in the flesh.

Nothing expresses to God your belief that He will come through as promised like thanking Him in advance for doing so. Giving thanks before you see the answer you seek changes its progression from the need for a miracle...to the seed of one in the making...to finally just a matter of time.

Abraham...didn't tiptoe around God's promise asking cautiously skeptical questions. He plunged into the promise and came up strong, ready for God, sure that God would make good on what he had said...”
(Romans 4:19-25 MSG)

Friday, October 31, 2014

Midnight-hour Miracles

My sports loyalties have always been determined by factors other than the skill of the players on the team. The color of the uniform, the city in which they play, even the font of the numbers on the jerseys have all been known to sway my affections one way or another. Having decided on this particular evening to watch the one-game baseball division playoff between Kansas City and Oakland, it was a selfie my son posted on Instagram of himself in a hometown t-shirt that suddenly had me bleeding Royal blue.

I followed the game for awhile, but when the score was lopsided in favor of the Oakland Athletics after the sixth inning, I willingly followed my husband to bed. As I plugged in my phone and set my alarm, I said to him, “Wouldn't it be great, though, to wake up in the morning and see that the Royals had come back and won?” We smiled at the thought as we let sleep overtake us.

And it was morning - even if just the wee hours – when our phones started buzzing and lighting up like crazy. Positioned together near the head of the bed, the tandem twitter notifications alerted us to the fact that one of our sons was still very much awake and excited about something. Normally we roll over and catch up on the news in the morning. But mother instincts die hard, and knowing that another one of my boys was driving home from a distant state that night, I picked up my phone and gave it a look, just to make sure all was okay.

To my surprise, I discovered that Kansas City had indeed come back and had tied the game up with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning! Their desperate do-or-die efforts had excited loyal Royal fans everywhere, all of whom it seemed were tweeting the news like crazy as the game moved into extra innings. Delighted myself, I mentally wished them well and set the phone down to go back to sleep.

That turned out to be an impossible task. The excitement proved to be contagious, and my mind simply refused to let go of the game. So I picked up the phone again, clicked on the SportsCenter app, and started following the action again, pitch by pitch. Trying to keep my growing exhilaration as well as the glow from my phone from disturbing my husband's repose, my belief in the possibility of a comeback win grew with each passing moment. When the seemingly impossible happened and the Royals took the game in the bottom of the twelfth inning, I was screaming in my spirit, if not out loud, rejoicing with Kansas City fans everywhere, just as if I hadn't turned the game off and given up hope for a victory a couple of hours earlier.

How many times have I done that before...not in baseball season, necessarily, but in any difficult season, when the odds of victory in a situation were stacked against me? How often have I put my hopes to bed and resigned my expectations of victory to nothing more than just a delightful dream, and nothing more? Sadly, I've done it more times than I care to count.

The next morning I told my son how his excited tweets had awakened me in the night and led me to tune in to the end of the game. He immediately apologized for disturbing me, but I told him how thankful I was that I hadn't missed that moment, but was alerted instead to the fact that something exciting was happening, and how thrilled I was to feel a part of the joy that abounded in his hometown, when the game was over.

Don't we need that? Don't we need to be disturbed in the middle of our spiritual slumber to the fact that God is awake and moving and doing incredible things on behalf of those who believe? I want to be notified while there's still time to be a part of the rejoicing when God wins, as surely He will, despite how it looks in the dark of night. As a child of the King, I long to be a loyal royal...to believe in the One who determines the outcome despite the circumstances surrounding me. I want to hold on to my belief in victory even when defeat seems certain. I want to expect late-inning comebacks and midnight-hour miracles. Change me, Lord, from a fair-weather fan to a full-fledged believer, that I might be done with doubt forever.

You make my heart sing
You lift me on eagles wings
Just when I thought that my heart it would faint
You take the darkest night and turn it to shining light
Just when I thought that the night had won...”
(Laura Hackett “You Satisfy My Soul”)

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Photographic Faithfulness

They promised to post a picture a day.

Heading out on a two-week long road trip to destinations west, my two youngest sons, Mark and Kevin, acquiesced to my request that they keep in touch by social media while away from their respective homes. I explained my need to hear from them with a favorite quote from Elizabeth Stone: “Making the decision to have a child – it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” They agreed to take good care of their respective pieces of my heart and to bring them safely home. Yet little did I expect that they would photograph its journey so accurately all along the way.

True to their word, they sent pictures of themselves in various spots, as well as specific shots of incredible beauty or special interest to the family and friends they knew were following their adventure online. But I found that there was more than just their daily photos for me to see. Their hearts were on display in the captions they put with their postings. Even more than the visual delights, it was these heartbeats I saw that so touched my own.

In the early stages of the trip, the pictures that most intrigued me were photographs of patience. With the pressure of a short time frame and a lengthy must-see-and-do list weighing heavy upon him, my older son's postings were yet of his younger brother stopping (repeatedly!) by the side of the road to photograph mountains in the distance or kneeling in the dirt to capture the lengthy shadows cast by a rock, revealing his willingness to indulge his younger brother's photographic passion.

A picture taken at a local restaurant likewise had little to do with the eatery of choice or the food on the table. Instead it showed that while they bypassed the chance to visit with lots of relatives in the interest of keeping to their destination schedule, they made the stop to chat with their grandparents a priority because they knew how much it would mean to their dad as well as to his folks.

And similarly the caption posted with the picture of some dusty bottles on a shelf revealed that the photographer saw the treasure in the man who proudly displayed them rather than in the collection itself. Over and over again, the entries in my sons' photographic journals reflected the heart of the photographers more than the subject the camera was aimed at. It was as if the lens on their cameras had been permanently reversed and they went about taking selfies of their souls.

Unintentionally, we are doing the same.

We, too, are on a journey to a distant land, excited about the road ahead and the adventures to be had. The words that come out of our mouths and the actions that fill our days are likewise posts to a watching Father, reflecting the state of our hearts at each stage of our lives. He was the first to decide to place His own heart within His children, and now He looks to see if we will use or refuse the treasure He's placed within us. May He see us exhibiting love and patience with those around us, keeping His desires a priority in our choices, and appreciating the treasures He has placed all around us until we all make it safely Home.

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.”
II Corinthians 4:7 NKJV

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Blood Brothers

The postcard arrived in a stack of mail and brought immediate smiles to the faces of my husband and I. Pictured on the front were our four sons, the three born to us and one “adopted” into the clan when they all happened to be home together on a recent holiday.

My three birth boys, Brian, Mark, and Kevin, have always been close. While still in the womb I prayed that they'd have a special connection as siblings, and God has answered that prayer through circumstances that left them little choice but to get along. Born roughly two years apart, they were raised in a rural setting where neighbors were few, and none had sons the ages of mine. And so my boys shared everything, from toys to clothes to bedrooms...to the friends they made in our church and the private school they attended. Mostly they shared experiences with these brothers of flesh and friendship, and as they grew, so did the list of escapades they lived through together...shenanigans that were added to the lore of the Bridge Brothers en masse.

Grown now and gone from our home, the bond between them has held tight despite the physical distance that separates them, strengthened by the use of cell phones and social media that has kept them in close contact with each other. Regular visits home and vacations they take with one another have reinforced the ties that bind them together, as well as add to the ever-growing list of adventures survived and shared. New friends each of my sons have made on their own have only been pulled into the group of communal buddies rather than separating them from their friends of the past. A friend of one becomes a friend of the rest, brothers all.

It was Kevin, who met and became friends with Adam while they were in college together in Florida. Soon Adam had met Brian and Mark and the joke began about him joining the clan and becoming an official “Bridge Brother”. It surfaced so many times that it eventually became a reality. The last time my boys were all home together, Adam happened to be at a family reunion in nearby Cleveland and decided to drive down for a day, girlfriend in tow. An induction ceremony of sorts took place, hilarious in all aspects, and recorded for posterity on girlfriend Jenna's cell phone. Since then several “official” family photos have surfaced of the four “brothers” together, one of them on the front of the postcard that was sent by our newest family member as a thank you for the time we spent together. Addressed to “Mom and Dad” and signed Adam Bridge, it now hangs on our fridge, a token of joy remembered and treasured.

Adam's name brings to mind the long string of identically named sons who likewise longed to be adopted into God's family, a desire that was similarly satisfied through a relationship with His Son. Adam was added to our family in a ceremony involving barbecue sauce. root beer, and a whole lot of laughter; Christ added us to His with His blood, sweat and tears, suffering in silence on the cross. Yet with the action He bought for us the right to bear His Name, with all the rights and privileges that accompany it. Having secured for us an open access to Heaven we can communicate regularly now with our Heavenly Father, our prayers the postcards that He receives, treasures, and delights to respond to in His great love for us.

My youngest two sons recently got similar tattoos, the outline of the state of Ohio with the word “home” written inside of it in bold lettering. It has become so popular that many in their group of friends are thinking of getting the exact same one. In fact, Adam had his girlfriend draw it freehand on his arm with a black Sharpie while he was here, a sign that he was now one with the rest. The Bible says that our names are tattooed on the palm of Christ's hands in the nails he took on our behalf...that thoughts of Home may be tattooed not just on our arms, but imprinted forever on our hearts.

For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers...”
(Hebrews 2:11 ESV)

Friday, August 1, 2014

Burning Bush Theology

Flagmen on road construction crews live a life of danger because of people like me.

It's not that I don't see the orange work zone signs when driving. I even take note of the one informing me of a flagman ahead. But between the time I see the sign and the flagman actually appears, my mind has moved on to a million other things, and I forget to look for a man standing beside a stop sign where one normally doesn't appear.

I sent one such workman flying into a ditch one day as a result. With no line of cars patiently waiting to warn me as the construction zone neared, I simply kept on driving, despite the flagman's increasingly frantic motions on the side of the road. Consumed with my thoughts, I simply didn't see him. The son in the front seat suddenly realized I wasn't slowing and said, “Aren't you going to STOP??!!!!” At the last second I saw the sign and came to a screeching halt. As the flagman emerged from the ditch into which he had jumped, I saw with dismay that he was a county sheriff in full uniform, working the road detail on that particular day. Only then did I notice the patrol car with the flashing lights in the work zone. Surprisingly, I didn't get arrested; the cop was too furious to speak and simply stood glaring at me for what seemed like an eternity, my teenager slumped low in the seat next to me in total mortification, Slowly he retrieved the flag from where he'd thrown it as he jumped, and still scowling, waved me on my way.

Since that day, God has taken a proactive role in my life to prevent a recurrence. When we pass an orange sign while driving now He whispers into my ear, “Oh, look! A work zone.”

“I see it, Lord,” I reply.

“Are we going to kill the flagman today, or let him live?”

“I think we should let him live.”

“Good choice.” On and on He talks to me, making me laugh and keeping my attention focused on the situation at hand until we are safely through the construction area and another life has been spared.

Yesterday, however, I didn't need the Holy Spirit's conversation to get me to notice the flagman; the worker in question simply gave me no choice.

I had only just passed the orange construction signs when I spotted the neon-yellow-clad figure standing next to a stop sign and waving his hands repeatedly over the top of his head. Clearly he was taking his life in his hands by standing in the exact middle of my lane rather than at the side, making it an impossibly long jump to the nearby ditch should I not have stopped. But obediently I slowed, so far in advance of where he stood that he actually motioned me forward and then raised his hand to stop me when I reached the exact spot he had in mind. Intrigued by how precise and intentional he was in all his movements, I watched to see what he would do next. He was all attention, counting the cars as they lined up behind me, looking ahead for the oncoming traffic to arrive, and motioning errant cars over if they strayed a little wide in the lane as they passed. When the one lane open finally cleared, he didn't just wave me casually on, like so many bored construction crew members have done before him. Very carefully he turned the sign, and then pointed to the word “SLOW” that was written on the other side. As if he knew that wasn't enough, he turned his hands over so the palms were facing the asphalt and pushed them repeatedly towards the ground, clearly telling me to take it easy on the gas pedal. Only then did he deliberately point to now-open lane ahead of me and wave me onward.


I've driven through hundreds of construction zones in my lifetime, and, as I've detailed above, I've barely given the flagmen at each end more than a passing glance, despite the fact that their devotion to duty has life and death consequences for me in those moments that I entrust my life to their direction. This man's excellence in even such a simple task caught and held my attention long enough for him to get his point across. I found that I was obeying his instructions and driving much more slowly through the site than I normally would, ignoring the pressure from the line of cars behind me to make up the time we'd lost in waiting.

Heading in to work myself that morning I couldn't help but compare my usual job performance in relation to his. No matter what our line of work, over time it's easy to let the level of performance we strive for slide from the-very-best-we-can-be to just-enough-to-get-by. And yet for us as Christians there is a reason beyond the desire for a great performance review to increase our attention to detail. God likewise has a message of life and death consequence to deliver through us to the people who pass us by each day. Yet it's easy for His voice in us to get lost in the daily barrage of opinions and attitudes our fellow travelers are hit with as they journey through life; we tend to blend in like so much passing scenery. His presence within us, however, should cause to us to approach everything we do with such passion and excellence that we stand out, causing people to pause in their passing and take note of what He wants to say through us that they might otherwise have missed.

God has a passion for saving people; sometimes He just needs a little help in getting their attention. That's where we come in. Simply be at your best and let God do the rest.

Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might...”
(Ecclesiastes 9:10 NKJV)

Thursday, June 26, 2014

From Grief to Gratitude

Up and down the aisles of the craft store I wandered, looking for the items I needed to make a watering station for my backyard birds, my mind filled with thoughts of a dear friend who excelled in the making of crafts of all kinds. Surely this must be her favorite store, I thought, with the abundance of materials to work with as well as the the spiritual connection that was evident in the music playing softly in the background and the theme of many of the items for sale on the shelves; two passions satisfied in one shopping trip!

With Father's Day approaching, I realized that the day would be a difficult one for her, having just recently lost her dad and with her loss still so fresh. My heart went out to her, knowing how much she must be missing him. But God didn't let a melancholy mood settle down on me, reminding me instead that all of us who have lost our dads and are thinking of them on that summer Sunday can turn our thoughts from grief to gratitude by gaining new purpose in our lives from the loss we've been through.

I never had the privilege of meeting my friend's dad, but I feel like I know him somewhat from what I've seen in the lives of his family members and heard from their lips as they've spoken of him. I know that he was a good, honest man with a passion for God, a zest for living and a joy that spilled out of his heart and overflowed onto all those around him. I can see him in his granddaughter, who is so full of love for her family...in the younger grandson who is actively in pursuit of his dreams, and in the older one who joins his mom in being simply two of the happiest people I've ever known. As a group they refuse to blame God for taking this amazing man away from them but instead thank Him for giving him to them in the first place, and they celebrate his life by the way they live their own.

When Jesus' disciples asked Him to show them the Father, Jesus replied, “...He who has seen Me has seen the Father...” (John 14:9). He had made His Father visible by the things He did and said, and now He passes that purpose on to us. Just as people can catch a glimpse of what our earthly fathers might be like by watching us, even more can they catch a vision of our heavenly Father in their associations with us, in listening to the words we speak and watching the way we live and relate to one another.

Obviously, one way we can make God known is to simply talk Him up. The evening I spent answering my youngest son's questions about my own father brought my dad alive in my heart once more. I was thankful all over again for the time we had together, and found not sadness but incredible joy in sharing details of what he was like and the lessons he had taught me, even in our difficult moments. In the same way, those who have a passion for God find that their thanksgiving for who He is to them overflows in renewed joy that is evident in the testimonies they share. All of us who know Christ have a story to tell that will help some hungry soul understand God's heart toward humanity a little better.

Our actions speak louder than words, however. When people see the characteristics which define God in action in our lives, they get a visible picture of what He must be like. Especially on those days when the death of someone dear to us consumes us, He encourages us to shift our focus from lamenting our loss to giving thanks for all we have gained in the time we were together, and then to take that love we still have to give and spend it lavishly on the lives around us. To the extent that we give love away, He will refill our hearts with more of the same.

We have a good example to follow. When Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus, His first action was to look to Heaven and give thanks. His words and actions that followed brought life, love and joy to all who were near. Ours will do the same.

We are born to one dad, and born again to Another. Look around at your spiritual siblings and realize that you can be your father's son or daughter in more ways than one. You don't have to wait till June to honor your Dad. When you make it your mission to make Him known, every day is Father's Day, and celebration the inevitable end result.

You have turned for me my mourning into dancing, You have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness”.
(Psalm 30:11)

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Do Nots and Donuts

It was still early in the day when the elderly man came through my line at the grocery store with a mixed assortment of items he wanted to buy, the last of which was three glazed donuts tucked inside a bakery bag, it's top carefully rolled closed. He was in the process of paying me when his wife suddenly showed up beside him, having stopped at the store unexpectedly and spotted him there. They smiled and chatted briefly...until she caught a glimpse of the bakery bag and rightly discerned its carefully concealed contents. Her demeanor changed instantly.

“You bought donuts?” she asked incredulously. “You knew we were going to have breakfast...”

“I know,” he stammered, “but I just wanted to get these.” It was obvious to me that for some reason, whether for health concerns or because they had made other breakfast plans, donuts were on a forbidden food list, and with the purchase he had clearly crossed an invisible line. Noting the look on her face, he turned back to me and said, “You don't do marriage counseling, do you? I think I'm going to need it...!”

On my next break I told the tale to my husband via text message, and his finger-tapped response to me was, “Wise counseling would have been to confiscate the donuts and bring them home to me for further study.”

I laughed as I read his reply and then shook my head, thinking to myself, “Men and their donuts. What are you going to do?” But the truth of the matter is that both men and women find themselves tempted with forbidden sweet treats, not just inside the grocery store, but within the boundaries of the marriage relationship as well. Taking the person standing beside you as your lawfully wedded spouse also entails promising not to engage in behavior that would in any way damage the relationship you have legally, emotionally and physically given yourself to. With every “I do” spoken at the altar comes an unspoken but equally binding “I do not” list that ensures the sanctity of the verbal commitment.

No two such lists are exactly alike. While there are some basic entries common to all; each couple's list is as unique as the individuals in the union, and it evolves over time. As the years go by, each marriage partner learns what upsets their spouse, and that item is then added to the list of actions and attitudes they have learned to avoid. Common sense counseling advises both couples to stay away from the items on the list if they do not want to upset their beloved.

We feed whatever we give our attention to, however, and if we are constantly focused on what we can't have or shouldn't do, soon that's all we think about. Those thoughts grow until they eventually become actions that can destroy in an instant the trust and compatibility in a marriage that took years of effort to build. A better way to marital happiness is to concentrate on developing the sweetness of the relationship itself so that you are not tempted to look elsewhere for the joys you have at home. Develop an “I do” list of actions that delight your wife or husband, and you will find that as the list grows, your happiness together does as well.

A day or two after the donut episode described above, I saw another man who regularly does the weekly shopping duties for his wife because she doesn't enjoy the trip to the store. Doing the chore for her is a simple way to make her happy. His visits always end the same way. As I slide each item across the scanner he says, “That one's for her...that one's for her...that one's for her...”, until we come to the last item, which is likewise always a couple of donuts in a wax paper bag. As I reach for those he always says, “And those are for me, my treat for doing her shopping!”

As he walked away, I realized that that man has found more than donuts in his bakery bag; he's learned that doing whatever he can to make the one he loves happy brings it's own reward.

It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don't use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love...”
(Galatians 5:13-15 MSG)

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Destiny in the Details

The story began when I was put on firewood detail in the first week of a summer-long forestry camp, an in-the-field training session to back the book learning of the final two years of college classes in my pursuit of a degree in forestry. Somebody put a chainsaw in my hands and the afternoon yielded not only a stack of wood but a nickname that stuck.

“Chainsaw” became my identity, due largely to the efforts of a very determined fellow forester and friend. Because he called me that so persistently, soon everybody else did, too, including classmates, professors, even the dean of the College of Natural Resources who handed out the diplomas on graduation day. For two years I went by little else.

The years passed and we all went our separate ways, to wherever the jobs were available. One by one I lost touch with the people I'd gone to school with. The nickname was packed away in the trunk along with other treasures from those years, followed eventually by my hard hat, cruiser's vest, and corked boots, when I left the field of forestry for the fun of raising a family as a stay-at-home mom.

Decades passed. And then a Sunday morning found me visiting a church in a nearby town with my family. A long relationship with another church body had ended when my husband's office moved to a neighboring town and we began looking for a new place of worship closer to home. Spiritually I was feeling lost and discouraged, cut off from ministry activities of the past and wondering if God still had a use for me in the years ahead.

Everything about the church that morning was great, from the coffee in the foyer to the friendliness of the congregation, and the worship service was alive and vibrant. When it was time for the pastor to speak, he came up to the platform bearing a bulky case of some kind, and as he welcomed the congregation he said that God woke him at four in the morning and told him to illustrate his message with a tool he had in his garage.

He sat on the top step of the platform and began telling a story as he unfastened the locks on the case. He owned a piece of property on which he wished to build a house, but the acreage needed a lot of work in preparation. It was overgrown with trees and shrubs, and he had a long day of cutting and clearing ahead of him.

I didn't think anything of it at first when he then pulled a chainsaw out of the case, held it in his hands, and continued with his tale. It wasn't until he began speaking to it directly that I suddenly didn't hear a man talking to his tool any longer, but God speaking directly to me. Chainsaw, he said, “I know the plans I have for you...plans for good and not for evil...you're going to build me a house. I knew I was going to need you...”

My eyes popped; my heart pounded. I listened carefully to every word He said, scribbling them down in my notebook and later pasting them into my journal where I could find them the next time I was attacked by the demons of doubt and disbelief.

God called me by a name that only He and I remembered, speaking the hope, encouragement and purpose I so desperately needed to hear into my future using an identity from my long-ago past. I left the building excited and encouraged, filled with new hope. Ironically, the message that morning was on the fourth dimension, how even the smallest details of our days are deliberately put in place by God for use in some distant time when He will call them into play. The events of our days are carefully orchestrated by a loving Father who has good plans for us and destinies we have the opportunity to fulfill.

As if to emphasize the point, I happened to read a story about a family that lost a pet tortoise during a renovation of their home. They assumed it got out during the chaos of builders coming and going and leaving doors and gates open in their wake. When the patriarch of the family died some thirty years later, the children gathered to clean out the upper storage room that was packed with old furniture and junk the old man had pulled from the surrounding neighborhood and saved. There they discovered the long lost family pet, still alive and thriving, having survived perhaps on termites found in all the old wood.

We never know what treasure we have deliberately or unconsciously packed away in life experiences we thought were over and done. Every detail of our lives is important to God, and nothing is forgotten. When we least expect it He might pull a long lost pet name or similar detail from our past and use it to direct our future. He has a work yet for each of us to do to help Him build his house; inside of us are the tools He'll use to benefit somebody else. He calls them forth using words our hearts respond to, hoping our feet will likewise move in His direction. A fantastic future can be just a footstep of faith away.

We are assured and know that [God being a partner in their labor] all things work together and are [fitting into a plan] for good to and for those who love God and are called according to [His] design and purpose.”
(Romans 8:28 AMP)

Monday, April 21, 2014

Where the Rubber Meets the...Wrist

Purple ribbons glued onto our name tags, plastic bracelets encircling our arms, bluejeans worn in the workplace on weekends...all evidence of donations made to the American Cancer Society in support of a coworker's wife who is battling the disease. More fundraisers are planned, ideas that flowed out of a think tank of sorts as fellow employees look for concrete ways to help a friend in a time of great need.

It's the donations that are important of course, money to fund the search for a cure. But the emblems that indicate our participation serve a purpose, as well. A lot of us don't have much contact with the coworker in question. As the store manager, he is a man we see from a distance mostly, walking the aisles with his cell phone frequently to his ear, his eyes scanning the store he passes through while his mind concentrates on the voice he hears. But he sees us, and we want him to wade through a sea of purple support everywhere he goes, these images of hope a reminder that he has a team of believers by his side. Trouble is easier to bear when shared.

I look at the bracelet on my arm and turn it around so the white lettering is facing me and read the reminder: Kathy's Believers. If the purple color of the plastic is to catch the manager's eye, this lettering is surely supposed to catch mine and remind me of the third and most important layer of support I can offer...my prayers.

There are many, I suppose, who are acquainted with Kathy personally and believe in her personal strength, courage, and ability to beat this disease. I know nothing about the woman aside from her name. But I know God. And I believe in a God who can heal...a God who can help...a God who can hold us when our hearts are breaking...a God who let His own heart be broken that He might offer us the hope of Heaven when we die. And because I believe, I have the privilege of lifting her name up in prayer, inviting God to intervene in her situation, trusting that whatever the outcome He will work all things out to the good. I look at the bracelet and am reminded that as one of Kathy's believers I can speak to God on her behalf.

Yet there is more expected of us than mere speech. Our actions profess our beliefs more than any words we confess. And we want God to be encouraged as He moves among us, that He might see His Spirit at work within those who call themselves by His Name and witness the love, joy, peace, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and self control that define Him. Prayer is so much more than mere words spoken to God. It is a hug to a coworker in tears, a nod of understanding and a listening ear to the most difficult customer, a smile at all times. It is showing up on time and obeying direction and giving one's all, all day long.

Make no mistake: God answers prayer because He is good, not because we are. But as His believers we have the privilege of moving His Hand and His heart by laying our requests before Him. Love is simply the language spoken in the Kingdom, and we have a responsibility to the “Kathys” around us to become fluent in it, however foreign and difficult it sometimes seems to be.

Now each time that rubber circle slips over my hand I remember that Jesus took a nail through His so that we might have the right to speak to God on others' behalf. May it be our actions rather than our armbands that attract His attention, and the love we walk in rather than words on a wristband that determine the true believers among us.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails...”
(1 Corinthians 13:4-8 NIV)

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Raynaud's Restrictions

Self diagnosis is said to be dangerous. So for weeks when my fingertips would go white and numb in random combinations and at odd times, I resisted the urge to visit WebMD or consult the book of symptoms sitting on the bookshelf. I would simply shake my hands in the hope of getting the blood flowing through them properly again and likewise shake off the concern that there was something seriously wrong. I prayed that the annoying habit would simply go away, and vowed to consult a doctor if it didn't.

But one morning as I felt the tell-tale tingling start up and watched as the tip of my middle finger turn white, I found I was more curious than worried, and took to the internet to find some answers. I came away with two problems solved, instead of just the one.

I discovered that Raynaud's Phenomenon is a condition in which the digits of the hand and or feet experience a restriction of blood flow due to blood vessel spasms, usually as a result of exposure to heat or cold. A progression of skin color from white to blue to red is characteristic as the blood flow is first restricted, the tissue experiences oxygen deprivation, and then the spasm ends and normal blood flow is once again restored. The most basic treatment is simply to protect the affected area from exposure to the temperatures that triggered it.

I was fascinated by the information, especially as it applied to a similar problem I was having in my spiritual life. I'd likewise experienced a restriction in Blood flow of sorts, especially to my fingertips as they hovered above the computer keyboard, waiting for words to type. No inspiration moved them to connect letters into words that expressed faith, hope, or encouragement of any kind. Pages that once easily filled up with print were left white and waiting for direction from a brain that felt numb and devoid of spiritual direction of any kind. Apparently there was some restriction in my spirit, the evidence of which was my increasingly blue emotional state.

Restrictions in our ability to see and hear from God on a regular basis can have many causes. Sin can sometimes separate us from our Source as we pull back from God out of guilt and a reluctance to submit to His authority. Sometimes God goes quiet to cause us to pursue Him more passionately, as once having had a taste of His Presence in our lives, we become hungry for more. And sometimes He is simply waiting for us to complete His last direction before He's ready to move on with the next step of our spiritual journey.

The latter was the case in my situation. God had been speaking to me about returning to an area of ministry that once filled my thought life as well as my days, but in recent years had been moved to the sidelines as I pursued other spiritual interests. He wanted me to become active in that initial activity once more, and gave me guidelines as to how to go about it. I accepted His direction and dabbled in doing as He asked, but clearly didn't jump into it as wholeheartedly as He desired.

He got my attention by seemingly withholding His; He simply went silent. And suddenly, so did my keyboard. I had nothing to say if I couldn't hear His voice. I tried to shake things loose on my own, and when those attempts were unsuccessful, I got serious in looking to Him for answers. He simply told me there was something He had asked of me that had been left undone.

It didn't take me long to figure out what it was. I took up His request with new resolve, and amazingly, experienced relief on two levels. Just as my fingertips experienced a “flushing” of blood once the blood vessel spasms ceased, so my spirit experienced the same, and ideas and words rushed to fill the void. God's message to me was clear: Remove the restriction and the Blood flows freely once more.

I've likewise learned from my web search that I can prevent future occurrences of Raynaud's Phenomena by protecting vulnerable areas from exposure to the cold. And surely I can do the same with my spirit. I cover my hands now when filling my birdfeeders on chilly mornings, perhaps for more reasons than one. I need the reminder to handle God's directions with kid gloves, making sure I follow them explicitly and finish them completely, so that His Blood can flow to the farthest reaches of my soul.

And Samuel said, 'Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.'”
(1 Samuel 15:22 ESV)
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