Thursday, November 8, 2018

Stinking Thinking

They were simply everywhere.

Truly it was an invasion of sorts, a reverse of what happened in the springtime, when a multitude of the stinkbugs suddenly appeared. Unnoticed before, the little brown bugs could now be spotted on walls, tables, and buzzing around lampshades when the lights were turned on. Thankfully not harmful, they were yet creepy, their one protection mechanism being to emit a horrid, lingering smell when disturbed or crushed, prompting warnings to release them outdoors unharmed or dispose of anything that touched them likewise outside. A quick internet search revealed that having enjoyed the warmth of our winter home, these once-invisible house-guests were now just anxious to get back outside and find something to eat. We were only too happy to let them go.

But now on a beautiful October day, they were back, trying to take the house by storm. Thousands of the brown shield-shaped bodies swarmed over windows, screens, glass doors and awnings, an onslaught of an armor-clad insect army seemingly intent on making its way back indoors. Alarmed, I texted pictures of our bug-covered windows to my husband, whose terse four-word response became the battle cry of the day: “DON'T LET THEM INSIDE!” Obligingly I took the dogs in and out to do their business through the garage door, keeping a closed line of defense between us and the bugs at all times.

Because it was October and I had the day off, I started knitting a leaf-shaped coaster to sit under my coffee cup as a celebration of fall. I found some yarn and sat at the kitchen table, keeping my needles moving and a wary eye on the attempted invasion going on outside. It helped to know I was not doing so alone. Facebook posts warned fellow homeowners likewise under attack to pull any window air-conditioners that might give the bugs access and to maintain a tight ship while the invasion was ongoing.

And then, just as quickly as it started, it was over. A day or two later there wasn't a bug to be seen. Where had they gone? Had they made it into my attic? Or had they retreated to attack again in another place on another day? Just glad to see them go, I pushed all thought of them away and went on with my days.

There was plenty of other stuff to think about; my mind of late had been bombarded with anxious thoughts. Health concerns, family issues, friends battling life-threatening illnesses...on and on the enemy lobbed worry grenades on a mind that was for some reason left open to attack. Normally good at pushing worrisome thoughts aside, I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of mental bombs exploding around me and had totally lost the pervading peace that guards my soul as a result. Pinned down and cowering in a mental foxhole, I hollered for help in this battle for my mind.

And He came. He showed up in picture form, using the same photos I had sent to my husband days earlier of the insect invasion. Each worry that was plaguing me was in reality just a harmless little bug, an attempt to inject the stink of worldly thinking into a mindset that prefers the fragrance of the presence of God. Lulled by the earlier period of mental peace, I was unprepared for the sudden onslaught of anxiety and had temporarily lost my spiritual focus. And that is the enemy's battle plan in a nutshell. He wants us to be so overwhelmed by what he is doing that we spend all our time consumed with him instead of being about the Father's business.

God doesn't want us sitting around wringing our hands and watching the enemy; the devil is a defeated foe. Instead, we should be filling our minds so full of the Kingdom of God and His plans and purposes for our lives that we simply don't have time to waste on worry. To borrow from Star Trek vernacular, He has equipped us with mental deflector shields to protect us from enemy attack. We just need to use them.

Our prayers activate those shields; the Bible promises peace in response to the requests we make of Him. More than just a pleasant word, peace is an active verb that fights on our behalf, guarding our hearts and minds from the onslaught of the troubles and trials of the world. Who knew that a word that falls so softly on the ear could be such a mighty weapon of war? Prayer and peace do battle together...and we are the grateful recipients of the victory they provide.

I had to laugh when I looked at the little coaster I had just completed. Looking more like a stinkbug than the leaf I intended, perhaps it was God's intention for me to set my coffee cup down on it each day and hear His voice say, “Shields up!” as I prepared to then “boldly go” on my way.

Do not let yourself be overcome by evil, but overcome (master) evil with good.”
(Romans 12:21 AMP, emphasis mine)

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Disguised to Surprise

Having just completed his first day of school, five-year-old Jackson pushed open the door to McDonald's, ready to celebrate the event with a milkshake with his parents.

“Find us a table over there,” his mother said, steering him towards a line of seating along the windows while she supposedly got ready to order the shakes. Obediently, Jack trudged in that direction, looking for an empty spot. He noticed an older couple already seated at a table, smiling hugely at him. Suddenly he recognized them as his beloved grandma and grandpa who had driven the thirteen hours from their home to celebrate with him! He stared at them for a minute, trying to process, and when he realized they had come to share in his special day he jumped up and down for joy and then leapt into their arms where he was enveloped in their hugs, kisses and love. It is hard to watch the video of the event on social media without laughing and crying along with them, it is such a picture of love.

Maybe the moment moved me so because it is such a perfect picture of how God wants to share in all our special moments, whether they be happy or sad. He sits in the corners of our lives, smiling in anticipation, waiting for us to notice Him so that He can rejoice with us or comfort us. And he traveled so much farther than a mere thirteen hours to do so!

I live for such “unexpected encounters” that occur when I'm going along on an ordinary day until something causes me to suddenly see God in the moment! It could be a sentence spoken out loud that triggers a forgotten idea, a picture, a memory...the words of a song. Whatever the source, it causes me to pause and process the thought for a minute...and then rejoice as waves of recognition and revelation wash over me and I feel His love and presence once more. Nothing compares!

Not realizing his grandparents' object was to surprise him, Jackson thought he had simply forgotten they were coming. Don't we tend to do the same? God told us that He would send the Comforter to us...and He didn't mean it to be just a one-time event on the Day of Pentecost! No, the Holy Spirit is here to stay, to fill our days with His Presence and our hearts with joy. Perhaps the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus is in the Bible just for the purpose of reminding us that God still walks beside us on a daily basis, listening to our list of woes, comforting our hearts and explaining what's going on in our lives...perhaps disguised just for the surprise that awaits when we recognize Him in the end!

Those disciples remembered how their hearts were burning within them while they were walking with Jesus (Luke 24:32). Couldn't you stand to have your heart warmed today? Look around; He's there.

Wait and hope for and expect the Lord; be brave and of good courage and let your heart be stout and enduring. Yes, wait for and hope for and expect the Lord.”
(Psalm 27:14 AMP)

Friday, August 24, 2018

Knock, Knock, Knockin'

Just six stitches from the end when disaster struck; so close!

It was the last line of the pattern, the last row in the project... just six stitches away from success. And then a needle slipped, the stitches dropped , and the piece unraveled before my eyes.

Some of you know what that's like. You were six days days away from closing on the deal when the loan fell through. Maybe you were reaching the end of six months of chemotherapy when a bad lap report suddenly scheduled you for six more. Or perhaps you were just six weeks away from retirement when the wife you were supposed to enjoy the rest of your life with suddenly passed away.

Your faith slips, your hope drops, and your life starts to unravel before your watching eyes. Discouragement, depression, and despair want to settle in now that joy seems to have moved out. You wonder whether you can go on from here.

My issue began when a sign in the window of a still-closed yarn store drew me in for a closer look. We are a Knitted Knockers Collection Point, it read.

“What on earth are knitted knockers?” I wondered. I returned to the store a couple of hours later to find out. I discovered that they are breast prostheses for breast cancer survivors, hand-knit by volunteers and donated to a collection sight where they are distributed for free to women who request them. Made from especially soft yarn so as not to irritate sensitive skin, they are slipped inside a bra cup and are a lightweight, comfortable alternative to other expensive prosthetics that are currently on the market.

I'd heard of knitting hats, scarves and gloves for cold weather donations, even baby caps for newborns in hospitals... but this was a whole new ballgame for me. With the month of October just a few weeks away, and the annual breast cancer awareness campaign soon to be in full swing, I had suddenly found a way to participate, combining my knitting passion with purpose! Into the store I went to collect the free pattern and select some yarn off of the approved list.

Eagerly I began to knit. The pattern was easy, the progress was swift, and before I knew it I found myself just rows from finishing my first knocker. But that's when things quite literally went rapidly downhill. I was on the last round with just six stitches spread out on three needles when one of the double-pointed needles slipped out! The two little stitches that seconds earlier had been happily on board were suddenly lost at sea and sinking fast into the depths of the knitted inches below them! I immediately embarked on a rescue mission, but the small size of the stitches and the silky slipperiness of the yarn made it easy for them to drop farther and farther down into the body of the piece below. My efforts to catch and knit them back up to where I'd been left the piece an ugly mess. In disgust and discouragement I grabbed the working yarn and yanked it hard until I had unraveled the entire work. I rolled the yarn into a ball, tossed it back in the bag and told myself that I was DONE with that project for a month at least.

God gave me 24 hours to cool off...and then He brought a woman through my line at the grocery store to cause me to rethink my attitude. Chemo-bald, she was making the best of things by tying a scarf around her hairless head and shopping for her hungry family. Was it her first fight against this disease, or had she been down this road before? There was no way to know, but she was clearly fighting on. Somehow her bravery inspired me in my little bout with my ball of yarn. Shamed that I was so easily dissuaded from what little I could do to help, I went home, pulled the bag out of the closet and started to knit my knockers again.

Again in the incredible timing of God I came across some advice in a knitting book. The idea suggested that before starting on a difficult part of a pattern, one should run a long string of contrasting colored yarn through the stitches that were still on the needles, providing a lifeline of sorts should the going get rough in the rows ahead. Any disaster could be unwound only to the point of the row with the off-color yarn running through it, those stitches held in place with that supporting thread.

What a picture that presented to me! We and the people in our circle of family, friends and acquaintances are simply a bunch of stitches on a needle, our lives entwined, woven together. We bear a responsibility to those around us, looping our arms around each other as we work together to form a cohesive unit of help and hope and love. But sometimes those of us with even the best of intentions don’t notice the struggle of the ones next to us till they have slipped away and dropped off the radar of our mutual care and concern. Christ longs to be common thread Who lives in all of us...a Lifeline of support, care and prayer that catches us when we fall so that we go only so far and no farther and our lives don't become completely unraveled when trouble hits or mistakes are made. 

The comfort of knowing there's a safety net below you sets you free to scale otherwise unimaginable heights of fear or sickness or difficulty, knocking on Heaven's door for help in the fight until He's made all things right in your world once more.

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.”
(Matthew 7:7-8 NKJV)

Saturday, August 4, 2018

A Pocketful of Hope to Pass Along

I didn't want to be known forever as The Girl With a Hole in Her Honker.

I hesitate to share this episode because there are people out there with such larger life and medical issues that it seems ridiculous to spend time and typing effort on such a minor one. But little issues teach us solutions to big problems we or others may later deal with, giving weight to our willingness to consider them.

And so I share that too much sunshine and not enough sunscreen in my early years has caught up with me; I have had numerous small spots of skin cancer removed at various times. Varying in levels of severity, most were basal cell carcinomas, the least worrisome of the bunch; easily removed by outpatient surgery and just as quickly healed. My most recent bout was with one of the same. But because of its location on the side of my nose with no spare skin to stitch the site closed, the hole that resulted from its removal had to be left as an open wound to fill in on its own.

Or so we hoped. I I had my doubts when I first removed the bandages later that day. The hole looked cavernous to me. Should it ever fill in, it was clearly going to take some time (the internet suggested 6-12 weeks!), a seeming eternity when you work in the public eye and would have to face 200 customers a day in that time period with a bandage on your nose. But the alternative was worse; if left open and exposed to air, the wound would dry, the filling-in action would stop, and I'd be left with a permanent “indentation”. Horrified at the thought, I had no choice but to get over myself, use the ointment I'd been given and cover the spot with the most inconspicuous band-aids I could find..

Most people were too polite to mention it. Only close friends asked about it, and babies sitting in the front of shopping carts who pulled binkies out of their mouths long enough to point at my nose and say, “Boo boo?” Their cuteness made me laugh, something I needed as much as the quick healing I longed for.

Initial return visits to the doctor were not encouraging. “It's coming along,” was all she would say. “See you in another two weeks.” I had hoped for more, or at least a more enthusiastic tone of voice. Back home to the band-aids I went.

It was at that moment of intense discouragement and ongoing worry that a customer-who-had-become-a-friend walked through the doors of the store and passed me on his way to do his shopping.

“Bar fight?” he asked with a smile, pointing to my face. I laughed and explained the situation, and suddenly serious, he stopped and really listened. Pointing to a spot on his deeply tanned skin, likewise on his nose, was a small scar. “I've been there,” he said. When I expressed my alarm at how unexpectedly deep a wound the surgery had left, he nodded, and said, “I was left with a hole so deep you could fish in it!” Amazed and thrilled to see that his spot had healed so completely, I listened intently as he told me that what worked for him was to cover the area repeatedly with vitamin E cream. He raved about the product, telling me he uses it on other spots on his skin, rubs it through his hair, even just dabs some on somewhere whenever he's simply having a bad day! Telling me our store probably carried the product and temporarily forgetting his own shopping list, he ran off to check. Minutes later he was back, empty-handed.

“What time do you leave today?” he asked. I told him, and he said, “Ill be right back.” Shaking off my protestations at what I knew he was about to do, he headed out the door. Soon he was back with a multi-pack of vitamin E cream he had purchased for me across the street. Touched by such a demonstration of kindness, I promised to pay him back as he waved me off and went off to get his groceries.

To my intense delight and relief, my wound did eventually fill in completely. I am left with a small scar that is becoming less visible all the time as I dutifully dab the cream he gave me on it. Looking back, the turning point in the healing process came when my friend shared his own positive outcome with me. Here was a man who had been in the exact same situation as I was, experienced the same doubt and fear, and now stood before me totally healed. The cream he bought for me is just the physical evidence of the real vitamin E he offered me: Encouragement. It filled my heart with hope. I suddenly believed I could experience the same result. Once my eyes were open to the possibility, I was suddenly able to see and hear other signs from God along the same lines. And the Bible tells us that what our hearts believe, our eyes can see. It worked for me.

You may not have a hole in your nose, but perhaps there's one in your heart. You may have experienced something that's left a wound so huge you can't see your way past it. Healing seems impossible; despite the old adage, this wound seems too large for time to ever heal.

Yet you have a Friend whose sudden appearance can likewise change the situation for you completely. Jesus listens to your fears, isn't offended by your tears, and understands what you're going through because He's been where you are. He's faced sickness and death and loss and hunger and homelessness and a host of other issues and yet never tasted defeat. And He has a solution for your hopelessness that he paid for Himself and now offers to you for free. I guarantee that once you are past the current difficulty, no matter how long it takes, it won't be the final healing you are grateful for so much as the fact that He came alongside you in the midst of your distress and helped you climb your way out of the hole the devil dug for you.

For weeks I carried the money I owed my friend in my pocket until I finally saw him again. Yet I am sure he wasn't interested in reimbursement. What he really gave me was an example. Let's not let our own survival stories stay with us, but share them with those who are in similar situations to offer them the same encouragement and hope that we ourselves have received.

Praise be to the...God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”
(2 Corinthians 1:3-4 NIV)

Friday, May 11, 2018

David and His Dornicks

“Dornick”.

Maybe like me you haven't a clue what that word means.

I was looking up another definition on my phone's dictionary app, when “dornick” popped up as The Word of the Day for that particular date. Intrigued, I clicked the button and found out that it means a small stone that is easy to throw. And then I smiled, because what Bible-reading Christian hears that definition and doesn't immediately think of David, who picked up a pocketful of the same to sling Goliath's way? It's an old word and a long-ago story that together can have a powerful impact on the enemies we face today.

Thankfully we don't deal with 9-foot giants on a daily basis...or do we? The problems we face loom as large in our sight as that mountain of a man did when he stood before David, and their taunts are eerily the same. “Who are you to think that you can battle this successfully with your own weak resources?” “You have no chance of overcoming a challenge as large as this!” Morning, noon and night our problems rise and roar at us, and we cower and run like the Israelite army did at the sight of Goliath. Only David stood before him unafraid.

He knew he was just a boy, untrained in the ways of warfare. But he wasn't relying on his own abilities when he volunteered for the job; he was relying on God's. For that reason he shunned the offer of King Saul's armor, that the people would know that it was the size of his God rather than the size of his sword that would bring the victory. And he had a history of successes in fighting enemies with God on his side.

Don't we, as well? Oh, how powerful our testimonies are in the battles we face! They remind us of the goodness of God, the power of God...the faithfulness of our Father. From them we gain faith and courage and hope for the current struggle. And just as David had his dornicks, we have weapons of warfare, as well...five smooth stones known as faith, prayer, authority, power and grace. It is essential that we perceive, pick up and pocket those pebbles before entering the fray...and then have the wisdom to know which to use on any particular day.

We know the One we serve and the love He has for those He has made. We all have been given a measure of faith, but there were times in the Bible when a person approached Jesus with such extraordinary belief in Him when faced with a particular problem that it moved Jesus to action. His words, “Your faith has healed you” indicate which stone the individual had hurled at his disability and that it had hit its mark.

God longs to intervene in all our situations, large or small, and so He invites us to ask for what we need...to approach Him in prayer with our requests (accompanied by thanks-in-advance!). And He promises that those who ask, receive an answer...those who seek, find what they are looking for...those who knock on the door of His heart find it opened to them in response. The action to take in anxious times is simply to ask God for His help.

Sometimes we ask God for help that He has already placed in our hands! He reminds us of the authority He has given us over all the power of the enemy. We just need to recognize it, pick it up and put it into play.

What about those times when we don't know what we need or to ask for; we simply know that He does? It is for these that He has given us the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit to sling a stone on our behalf for what we do not even know how to ask...and the Holy Spirit simply never misses.

And finally, there are times when He floods us with His anointing to accomplish a particular task, to do what we otherwise could not do without the grace He bestows upon us for that particular need.

I pocketed a whole lot more than just a new word in that “dornick” dictionary lookup; I found I carry extraordinary power in my pouch! My part in my battles is simply to select the right ammunition, run toward the enemy and sling it his way! The power in the stone is in the Rock who has already defeated the one who wants to rock our world.

He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.”
(Deuteronomy 32:4 NIV)

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Dilly Dilly Daffadilly

Huddled as deeply into my coat as I could get, I was headed up the driveway to grab the newspaper when I saw them...the daffodils in bloom I was so excited about just days ago were now bent over with a covering of freshly-fallen snow. I stopped and stared at them in dismay for a minute or two before grabbing what I came for and heading back to the house, but the picture of those frozen flowers lingered in my mind.

Maybe it's because the recent months have seemed like the winter-without-end. Just as we get a day of sunshine, a ray of hope for warmer days, the weatherman seems to delight in delivering the news of another snowfall headed our way.

Some of you know what that's like. You've worked to catch up on your finances...pinched and saved and focused on paying off a mountain of debt...and just when the summit is in sight, the car breaks down, a medical emergency arises, or the roof starts leaking and household repairs demand immediate attention. Maybe a relationship you've devoted a lot of time and attention to takes a chilling turn for the worse. Or just when you thought your health was on the rise, a doctor dumps dismal test results all over your hope in that regard. Whatever the situation, just when you were about to burst into springtime glory, an April snow leaves you bent over and weighed down with worry once more.

The good news about springtime snow is that it doesn't last. It's wet and weighty, but it melts quickly in the warmth of the rising sun. In fact, there's a particular beauty to the event; the flakes accumulate on trees and fences, and yes, even flowers...but can't seem to linger on driveways and roadways that have retained heat from warmer days of recent history. We simply marvel at the beauty surrounding us while traveling on to our destinations unimpeded. Often by the time the sun reaches its zenith in the sky, the snow is gone.

The same is true of the situations mentioned above. Perhaps you were trusting God, following His advice and believing you were about to be delivered from whatever it is you were working together to overcome. And just when you thought the end was in sight, a setback of some sort sends you reeling. The devil tries to dump doubt and disbelief all over your faith, bending you over and attempting to break your fragile hope. But the lingering warmth of the Son in your relationship with Him keeps the problems from stopping your travel through your days; in fact, if you look around you can find beauty in unexpected places as you pass through the challenges surrounding you. We are simply a work in progress; by the time God is done and the season passes, the current snow will be nothing but a distant memory.

Daffodils are a springtime flower for a reason; they are resilient. They were made to handle the sudden weather changes, to seemingly shake off a sudden snow and go on to broadcast His glory as they were created to do.

So will you.

being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ”
(Philippians 1:6 NKJV)

Sunday, April 8, 2018

A String of Stickers

Carefully coached by her mother, the little girl stammered out the words.

“Can I...please... have...some stickers?”

Having blurted out her request, she hid her head in the sleeve of her mom's coat, overcome by shyness.

“Sure!” I answered, tearing off an especially long string of smiley faces to reward her for her bravery, and handed them out to her. Her face emerged again, beaming, as she reached for them and immediately started peeling the first off the waxy backing.

“What do you say?” her mom reminded her.

“Thank you!” came her quick response, her smile soon hidden behind paper versions of the same which she plastered all over her face, laughing in delight. Those of us nearby found it impossible not to join in her joy.

It was amazing how such a simple request, so easily fulfilled, could bring such overflowing happiness. Perhaps we need the reminder that the weighty burdens of our hearts are as easily handled by a mighty God as the simple sticker tape requests of a small child. Maybe that's why God tells us to look to the little children to know how to enter the Kingdom of God...and how to live on earth, till we get there!

Most moms coming through my line insist that the child ask for the stickers themselves, rather than making the request for them. For some, like the little girl above, it's a very difficult task. And so it is sometimes when we want something from God. I wonder why it is that we struggle so with articulating our requests...and why it seems to be such a requirement in the process of receiving from God. Yet over and over in the Bible, Jesus' first words to someone who confronts Him with a need is, “What would you have me to do for you?”

It's not that He doesn't already know what the problem is. The stating of the same must therefore be a necessary and important step for us. Perhaps it's just that a specific request is more readily identified when it is answered than the wildly general “bless me” coverall prayer we resort to when we don't want to go to the time and effort of listing the details. It shows that the issue is important enough to us to merit some thought ahead of time. I've seen enough shopping carts push past the candy display in the checkout lane to know that not all requests children make of their parents are answered. God is a loving Father who knows what requests are serious subjects to us and which are passing fancies triggered by something in our sights. Perhaps it's important that we learn to identify the same.

But maybe it's also to remind us that we can. So often we run to others to petition God for us. While the Bible encourages us to call for the elders of the church and to gather together to pray over an issue, it's important to know that we can also “come boldly before the throne" ourselves to make our requests known to God. I think it brings special delight to His heart as we evidence our faith in Him and His goodness with that effort. How He must smile as He waits for us to push the words out there...knowing that in the end He is going to bless us above what we ask, perhaps, because we had the heart to address Him directly.

Maybe the most important moment in this interaction came at its end; the reminder to vocalize our thanks. It's woven into the instructions in Scripture that urge us to bring our requests to God...with thanksgiving... and told repeatedly in the stories in the pages of His Book. Those who praised the Lord and thanked Him for His goodness while yet in the midst of their struggle touched the heart of God in a special way and prompted an immediate response. Perhaps the two most important words in any vocalized request are the “thank you” we include in its midst.

It's God's joy to answer our requests; perhaps that's why He used smiley stickers to illustrate His point...that the smile He puts on my face with His response is just a reflection of the one that beams from His.

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.”
(Matthew 7:7-8 NKJV)

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Stumped by a Bump in the Road

As usual, I was rushing through my morning clean-up routine, hoping to get to work on time. Hair brushed, teeth brushed...and I was just reaching for a makeup brush when I saw it... a tiny ladybug, trundling along on hair-thin legs that miraculously supported the weight of the orange bubble on its back.

“How does it do that?” I queried...and just like that, my hustle was halted by the wonder of watching that little bug in progress along the bathroom sink. Having reached a glass that it decided to climb, a mason jar covered in twine netting, it decided the smooth surface was too slick, took hold of the first string it touched instead, and headed up.

The trouble with netting, however, is that there are knots that have to be traversed. The little bug made it past the first two or three without any problem, but soon came to an intersection of three lengths of roping and seemed stumped. It wasn't getting over the hump that was the issue, as it had traversed the others easily. The problem had to be the question of which way to go. To the right? The left? Or straight ahead? The decision seemed to be too much for the mind encased inside that tiny head, so it sat where it was and waited for inspiration...while I remembered I had a destination myself, and got on the road.

Obviously, I'm easily distracted. But that bug-in-progress got my attention because we are more alike than I sometimes like to think. We are tiny specks in a great big universe, making our way through each day as best we can. Our progress is slowed by the decisions that have to be made all along that road. One after another the questions arise, the answers to which sometimes decide the course of the rest of the day. Most of the decisions we make automatically, without even realizing we are doing so...the result of learned behaviors and habits. Others we make more deliberately in an effort to avoid repeating past mistakes, a type of brain-training in progress as we intentionally shape our attitudes and actions along more positive lines. And then there are those that require real study... a research of options, the counsel of collective thought. We stop at that spot and try to determine the best course of action. Sometimes the questions are too big for the brain inside the cranium...and so what do we do then?

A bug is left to make its decisions on its own and suffer the consequences. Thankfully, we can avoid a similar fate. We can ask the One In The Know which way to go.

God is not just watching our daily walk, idly listening to our conversation, or laughing at our mistakes. He is longing to get involved and direct our steps to higher ground. But He is waiting to be invited in...not just into our hearts and our daily lives, but into every decision that needs to be made. The Bible is full of verses that beg us to ask for answers, to seek His direction, to knock on the door of His heart for help.

It is likewise full of promises that He will hear our cries for assistance and respond! That is why I was floored by a conversation on a daytime talk show recently that mocked a high-ranking politician for saying that he receives direction from God. Apparently the host who was speaking thought it was one thing to talk to Jesus, but another thing to hear Him talk back. She said that hearing voices was a sign of mental illness. Isn't it interesting that the Jews back in Bible times likewise thought Jesus was a lunatic because He said He received direction from His heavenly Father? Surely it's a sign of the spiritual illness of our country that we have so distanced ourselves from the Source of our hope and our help that we no longer believe we can hear His voice.

The talk show host has since apologized for her comments, but maybe we needed the reminder that God does speak to us in a myriad of ways, even audibly to some. Most of us, however, hear a silent whisper in our minds, experience a knowing in our hearts in answer to our questions, or find direction in seemingly miraculous ways when we look in His Book, the Bible. A portion of a pastor's sermon may speak exactly to what we're going through, or a line in a song may bring sudden inspiration. Maybe the counsel of the close friends God has surrounded us with will guide us in a difficult time. Sunrises, sunbeams, rainbows...all the wonders of creation are likewise at God's beck and call to calm our anxious minds, fill our hearts with hope and point us in His direction when we are crying in confusion, cringing in fear...or simply crawling over the bumps in our road and wondering which way to go.

Some believe that it is only those who are already in regular contact with God who can expect to receive heavenly help when needed. But Jesus made it clear in the Parable of the Lost Sheep that all of us are children of God; some of us just haven't found our way Home yet. And as the Good Shepherd, Jesus would readily leave those sheep already established in the kingdom to go find the one that is still lost and alone and in need of help. I believe it's the bleats and cries of the lost and lonely that reach His ears, touch His heart and move his hand in their direction to rescue, restore, or simply redirect.

Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, 'This is the way, walk in it,' whenever you turn to the right hand or whenever you turn to the left.”
(Isaiah 30:21)

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Looking For the Lost Key(s)

I was stuck in a rut, and God brought me out of it with a case of beer.

That thought just makes me smile.

It wasn't my beer, and I didn't even get to drink any of it. And I'm still smiling despite those facts.

A middle-aged man was waiting in my line at the grocery store to buy it, when the younger customer in line ahead of him saw it on the belt and made a comment about it. A few jokes were exchanged, a laugh or two...and just like that, the two men were deep into a conversation that moved from alcohol consumption to work histories to job opportunities in record time (maybe because they were in the “express” lane? LOL). I rang up their orders, ran their credit card payments through and handed them their receipts without interjecting a word. So engrossed were they still in what they were saying that they walked out to the lobby, leaving the case of beer that started it all sitting on the belt at the end of the register! Hailed by the hollers of those nearby, the man retrieved his beer with a shake of his head and then returned to the conversation that continued for several more minutes. Finally there was a handshake, an exchange of phone numbers, and both men exited the store and went on about their business.

A few minutes later, the beer-buying man was back.

“I must've left my keys here,” he said to me. “I can't find them.”

I hadn't seen them and told him so, but I stopped scanning groceries for a minute as we both looked around the register and down on the floor where they might have dropped. I told him to check at the customer service desk in case they'd been turned in and he went off to do so. Minutes later her was back again, and by now he had a couple of customers interested in the situation and involved in the search. Shaking off their suggestions as to where he might have left them, he said, “I know I had them at the register, because I dropped them and made a comment about it when I picked them up. I was sure I put them in my pocket, but they're not there.” Since there was no sign of them anywhere in the store, he went back outside to look some more and ponder his options.

When he came up to me a third time, I wasn't expecting to hear good news. But he was smiling, and pointing to a large lump at the base of his pant-leg, just above his boot.

“I found my keys!” he beamed. Apparently a hole in the pocket of his flannel-lined jeans had allowed them to slide all the way down his pant leg inside the lining to the very bottom. While he was relieved to know where they were, he still needed to find a way to get to them. Was there a place where he could take off his pants and shake the keys back down the other way?! I directed him to the men's restroom, and after a LONG time he exited the store a final time, smiling big and waving his keys at me as he held them high over his head.

Maybe the story mattered to me only because when you scan groceries for a living, the real-life dramas of the people standing before you are much more interesting than the items coming in a steady stream down the belt. But in this case I think it was something more.

I hadn't written a word in months. At first it was the rush and crush of the holiday season that kept my hands busy and away from the computer keyboard for weeks at a time. Then the new year brought with it new hours at work that stole away my morning typing time and forced me to find a new time slot in my day in which to schedule it in. But even once I had adjusted to that, I realized that the problem wasn't so much “no time to write” as much as it was “nothing to say”. And that was an issue I couldn't seem to do anything about. Missing the stories that seemed to pop up so steadily around me with messages attached, I didn't want to believe the voice in my head that said that part of my life was over. Desperately I clung to an entry I'd made in a journal a few years ago: “I have a story to write. I just don't know what it is yet.”

What if the episode with the keys was to tell me that what I thought I'd lost was really still with me; I just needed to get to a place where I could shake it loose? Suddenly hope filled my heart...and whoosh! Just like that, the dam broke, the words flowed, and my writing garden was watered once more.

Maybe you have lost something infinitely more precious to you than a mere set of keys. It could be the health you took for granted... a love you treasured... your financial security, perhaps. Try as you might, you have been unable to get your life back on track in that regard. Fearing that what you had is lost to you forever, you are now on the verge of despair. Could it be that we are really all looking for the exact same thing? ...the key to moving God's hand, unlocking the door, and giving us the answers we seek? Maybe God wants you to know that what you are missing has been with you the whole time; it is just momentarily inaccessible. Give the situation some time and space and patiently wait for Him to place it in your waiting hands. It may take a while and there may still be a lot of work involved, but it will come.

God responds to our pleas for help with what we need instead... an outpouring of hope...and suddenly anything is possible...the answer is probable... and what we've seemingly lost is patiently waiting to be reclaimed.

But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk and not faint.”
(Isaiah 40:31 KJV)

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Walk This Way

Footsteps pounded the ground, racing up behind me. Jumping high, I whirled around to face my attacker. But far from the fearsome figure I was expecting, it was two horses, freshly freed from a night in the barn and feeling frisky in the morning sun that had spotted me walking by and galloped to the fence-line to greet me. If horses can laugh, they were clearly grinning at my sudden fright.

Horses! Seriously? C'mon, man.

It happened twice more the same week. Not horses again, but dogs, appearing out of nowhere and suddenly running up behind me to sniff my ankles. One was a friendly sort, who bounded along happily beside me most of the way home. The other was a ghost-like animal, gray and wary, who vanished again as quickly as he had come. But after a full summer of disturbance-free walks, I was unprepared for canine company of any sort, be it friend or foe.

In years gone by, there were many more dogs in this rural neighborhood than there are now, watchdogs trained to discourage unwanted visitors from entering private property with loud and aggressive barking and the sight of their sharp teeth, boldly displayed. Unfortunately, they routinely escaped from the fencing intended to keep them contained, and could be encountered roaming the road at large. At times I would fill my pockets with doggie biscuits before setting out in the hope I could bribe my way into their favor, but I would also pick up a large rock at the top of my driveway to hurl at any animal that looked to eat me instead of my treats. And many was the day I simply canceled a walk rather than take a chance. Believing Shakespeare's words, “Discretion is the better part of valor. Caution is preferable to rash bravery”, I opted to simply stay home.

All because I was listening to the wrong words.

Maybe it's because it's the Halloween season that I'm so easily spooked. Or it could be that so many recent attacks on unsuspecting civilians have all of us looking over our shoulders a bit more, rethinking where we go and what we do. Due to circumstances beyond our control, our happiness is hindered by the thought in the back of our minds that something horrible could happen at any moment.
The devil is dogging our footsteps and laughing every step of the way. And God wonders why we let that happen.

Despite our best efforts at prevention and preparation, we cannot stop tragedy from occurring. The Bible warns us that in this world we will have tribulation. From natural disasters to man-made chaos to just the struggles of day-to-day living, we sometimes feel like life is pummeling us from the moment we get up to the second we lie down to try to get some fitful sleep. Fear and Dread have become our traveling companions, when God intended Goodness and Mercy to follow us instead.

Thankfully there is something we can do about it. We have weapons at our disposal; we just have to choose the right ones. Instead of filling my pockets and hands with bribes and missiles, I should instead have filled my mind and my mouth with the Word of God. One of the most potent weapons I possess is my voice. When I speak out loud what the Bible says about Who God is, who I am in Him, and what He promises to those who believe in Him, my ears hear what my heart has to say. Faith rises to replace the fear that filled my soul before.

There is only one road that passes in front of my house; I can't simply choose a less dog-inhabited neighborhood. Similarly in life we sometimes have no choice but to walk the path that lies before us; where it leads and the circumstances that govern it are often beyond our control. But we can choose how we proceed, whether cringing in cowardice or boldly stepping out in courage and confidence.

As witnessed this week, dogs still sneak up behind me. The last time it happened, I turned and stood my ground, commanding the animal in a loud voice to simply go home. He turned off the road and slunk away. Similarly, when the devil is nipping at my heels in life nowadays, impacting my decisions, I boldly face my tormentor rather than running away, telling him to take off instead! Then I walk dauntlessly on...down my road...through my daily difficulties... and into the distant future that awaits.

Tell worry and fear to take a hike, then go on and enjoy yours.

...Do not let your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. [Stop allowing yourselves to be agitated and disturbed; and do not permit yourselves to be fearful and intimidated and cowardly and unsettled.]”
(John 14:27 AMP, emphasis mine)

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Decide to be Deciduous

I've never been a fan of leafless trees. The bare skeletons reaching to the sky after proudly dropping their vibrant covering in a final burst of color is depressing to me, speaking only of death and decay and the dreariness of winter ahead, while spring is just a distant hope on the horizon.

I come from the part of the country where conifers are king, and “evergreen” trees are exactly that, holding their needles close, all year long. There are few more beautiful sights than fir boughs cradling freshly fallen snow in the winter, or the lime green “fingertips” of new growth shooting out the ends of darker hued branches everywhere come spring. The forest backdrop of a sea of green brings beauty to every mountain scene and peace to my anxious soul. I love the constancy and stability of an evergreen tree in a world where change is the name of the game.

And then I moved to the Midwest...that part of the country where radical temperature change is a reality, and the resultant transformation of physical surroundings is eagerly acknowledged, anticipated, and embraced as one season after another rolls in to steal our short-lived attention and affection. I had to learn a whole new way to live. And I discovered that there is a reason Fall is the most beautiful season of them all.

The word deciduous was added to my vocabulary and my life experience. It means the shedding of something at a particular time of year or stage of growth, and refers to that which is not permanent, but transitory. Perhaps it is most often used to describe the type of tree that loses its leaves in the autumn months when the chlorophyll that gives the leaves their green color is pulled back towards the stem, and foliage everywhere flames in a dazzling display of red, orange and yellow hues before dropping to the ground to be kicked around, raked up, jumped in and burned.

I've always thought the beauty of the season was in that brief but glorious visual display. Yet I think God actually prefers the bare stems that are left behind, which I have always so scorned. And here's why...

What if we picture the leaves as worries in our lives, concerns that bud innocently enough in the springtime of each developing situation? These leafy agitations grow as they are fed by the time and attention we devote to them as the days pass, until the sheer number and size of them about our lives is so great that when we look up, they obscure our view of the Son and we live in the shadow of their control.

God never intended us to be weighed down with worry and distress. And the good news is that we don't have to wait for a certain time of year to change our thinking and be done with all that. He took the mental and physical burden of all our problems and literally “lashed” them on His own back, that they wouldn’t trouble us any longer. Now we are as free to let them fly away as a tree unleashes a free-fall of spent foliage in a good gust of wind.

That's what can make the “autumn season” in our spiritual experience so achingly beautiful. All it takes is that initial moment of realization to begin a deliberate pulling back of the fuel that feeds the worry process. We finally see our problems for what they really are, addictive distractions that grab our attention but block us from the love of God flowing towards us and the life of victory He has planned for us. When they no longer have the mind control over us they crave, they fall off our lives and hinder us no more. God desires us to be so lighthearted about our lives that we jump into piles of our dried up worries and toss them up in the air around us, now toys instead of trials.

One look at my basement will expose me as a truly “evergreen” girl, born with a tendency to hold on to physical possessions forever and ever and ever, amen. What is true in the natural world is often true in the spiritual one, as well, so I'm trying to get better about shedding the things that are taking up too much room, not only in my basement, but in my life experience, my thought processes...and especially my heart.

Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”
(John 14:27 NKJV)

Thursday, October 5, 2017

The Bridal Bruise

It appeared unexpectedly, its presence unwelcome, untimely...unfortunate.

I vaguely remembered the injury that caused it – a bump into a bag rack at work, a momentary ouch, quickly forgotten, until days later an ugly bruise manifested on an arm that needed to be wedding-perfect for the sleeveless mother-of-the-groom dress I would be wearing in just a week's time.

I had been working hard on my arms in the months before the big day, trying to slim them down, tone them up, and erase any evidence of the farmer's tan I'm prone to. All that work seemed to be null and void when a blotch the size and color of a penny suddenly made its appearance on the afflicted limb.

Did I say penny-sized? That thing was as big as the state of Texas, and just as anxious to draw attention to itself amid the sprinkling of freckles around it! I was horrified.

“Maybe it will go away by the big day,” I muttered to myself hopefully, a wish that withered as the days ticked by and the color and intensity of the mark on my arm remained the same, despite last-minute heat pack treatments applied multiple times a day in an already overcrowded wedding-week time schedule.

“We can cover it with makeup,” the bride suggested hopefully...until the attempt on already pale skin drew as much attention to the spot as the color it was attempting to hide. In the end there was nothing to do but shrug it off and give it no more notice than I would a birthmark I'd lived with all my life. I went on to enjoy the day.

I know. There are people out there with real problems who wish they could struggle with something as minuscule as a bruise on their skin that will simply go away in time. But since we have no choice but to deal with the issues we have at hand, wouldn't a change in perspective help? What if we considered the situations we contend with to be nothing more than blemishes we incur as a result of our birth into a fallen race, proof of our humanity? We all are wounded repeatedly in our journey through life by incidents that leave a mark, not just on our skin but on our psyche, as well, inflicted on us by people, life experiences, physical contact...hurtful words. Unseen initially, the evidence usually become visible later, if not on our skin, then in our outlook on life, outbursts in relationships, or out of control behavior. Unable to make them go away on our own, we spend too much of our focus and time in covering them up, trying to project a perfect image to a watching world.

The truth is that our eyes are in the wrong place. Instead of looking at our spots we should be looking at the Savior who let Himself be bruised on our behalf, that the problems that plague us wouldn't keep us from the joy He intended us to experience on a daily basis. He took the beating, the bruising, the eventual death that was our lot in life and changed our current fortunes and our futures forever. While the physical evidence of what we are going through may linger, our minds, hearts, and souls are released from its power, leaving us free to live and love and laugh once more, despite its presence.

A couple of days after the wedding, the photographer gave us a “sneak peek” of her work, releasing a few photos of the event in unedited form, teasing us with anticipation for what was to come. One shot in particular caught my eye. It captured the moment my son and I came through the golden drapery that separated the wedding party from the waiting guests as he walked me to my seat in the front row of the groom's side of the aisle. There on my arm the ugly bruise was still visible, but much more so was the huge smile on my face, radiating the joy of the moment and the happiness in my heart.

Could it be that God intended that shot to be a glimpse into our own futures, that moment in time when we push through the curtain separating this world from the next to find the seats reserved for us in another wedding ceremony, escorted in by the Son Himself?! Perhaps He is reminding us that the joy of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb and the delights of eternity to follow will so overshadow whatever is currently leaving a mark on our minds, body, or hearts that we should only give those situations a passing thought (as in, “this, too, shall pass”), and focus all our attention on the joy of the days ahead.

The ugliness of that bruise on my arm was simply a reminder of all the hurts God took on His, outstretched in love for me and nailed in place in a forever embrace.

But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed.”
(Isaiah 53:5 NKJV)

Thursday, September 21, 2017

A Ticket to Ride

We were in the mood to play.

It was such a beautiful day that we headed to Cincinnati early to walk along the riverfront for a bit before heading into the ballpark for the Reds game that evening. Our spirits as high as the sun in the sky, we hit Smale Park and I gasped when I suddenly saw the carousel in front of us.

Gripping my husband's hand excitedly, I asked, “How much would you pay to ride that thing?”, knowing that doing so was not on an item as high on his to-do list as it was on mine.

“Two bucks,” he grunted.

“Let's go see,” I said as we pushed our way through the door and made our way to the ticket table in the corner.

“How much for a ride?” Jim asked.

“Two dollars,” came the reply.

“YES!” I fist-pumped, then said, “I'll even buy!” Fishing the bills out of my wallet I handed them to the clerk and then fairly ran around the ropes to find a seat. The beautifully carved red cardinal claimed my heart, as anyone who knows me will understand, while my husband settled himself into the silver-blue Corvette nearby, likewise a predictable choice. The bells rang, the carousel moved, and my smile fairly split my face from the sheer joy of it all.

At first we were busy snapping pictures of each other on our separate seats, until I finally had to remind myself to stop and simply enjoy the ride, for surely it would be over all too soon. Savor the moment, I told myself...the up and down, the round and round regularity of it. Bliss.

There was a baby on the seat next to me, supported by her mother standing alongside. After a while, she started to cry; she'd had enough. The mother plucked her off and held her for a moment, then moved her nearer her toddler-aged friend riding alongside, who held her hand for comfort for a moment or two. Inevitably, soon the carousel slowed, then stopped as the bells signaled it was time to get off. We headed back outside, but I laughed at a glimpse of the sign that's posted on the door when the attraction is closed, stating that the carousel animals are sleeping now, and to please come back at another time.

Everything around me was smile-worthy, it seemed, so happy was my soul. We jumped on the foot piano “keys” at the Playscape like the biggest of kids, trying to make the overhead bells chime, and then tried to walk along the River Trail, but our progress was slow, stopped at regular intervals by my insistence that we halt and take a picture of just about everything I saw.

“Are you a tourist today?” Jim asked, understandably a little frustrated by my desire to photograph landmarks that we see on a regular basis...the Roebling Bridge, the Great American Insurance building (majestic in a blue sky dotted with white clouds, flowers framing the view!), Great American Ballpark...the list ran on. I only put my phone away when we spied the bench swings overlooking the river, and rushed alongside of them till we found an open seat. How relaxing to simply sit and swing, watching a tugboat push a barge along on the water in front of us, a riverboat ferry docking at river's edge to deliver a load of Reds fan to the ballpark, a gentle breeze cooling our faces that were turned towards the sun. It was simply an unbelievably beautiful day, and our hearts refused to do anything but rejoice.

How wonderful that that is exactly the future God has in store for us!

Don't you know, this life is but a carousel ride. We eagerly embark, looking for our niche, that place in life that matches the skills and desires that God has placed inside of us. At times we get so caught up in the details of the ride that we have to be reminded to savor the journey, the ups and downs, the round and round regularity of our routines and every beautiful moment in-between. No joke, life can get pretty scary at times and we may beg to get off, but when we cry, our Father holds us in a comforting embrace or moves us a little closer to a fellow traveler nearby who holds our hand and lifts our spirits for a little bit till we're brave enough to move on. For surely we have only a limited number of spins around the sun before life slows and a bell chimes to let us know our time has come to an end. Reluctantly we leave, only to push through another door and realize that while our bodies may sleep, our spirits are more awake and alive than ever before, and everything before us is brand-new and beautiful, waiting for us to explore and enjoy, our Savior by our side.

“I would never have guessed you wanted to ride that Carousel,” my husband said later that day. It was a wish I had never vocalized, perhaps because it wasn't that important, one I never fully understood myself when I stashed it away after watching TV coverage one day of the carousel's assembly process. But God knew, just as He knows the secret desires of all our hearts, and the Bible promises that He'll make them happen...if not in this world, then surely in the next. Oh, what joy He has in store...!!!

But as it is written: 'Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.'”
(1 Corinthians 2:9 NKJV)

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Daylight to Darkness

Photo credit: Chloe Garrett
Perhaps for you the solar eclipse didn't happen on August 21, 2017.

No, for you it was that day in the doctor's office that a shadow passed in front of the sun and the brightness of your life suddenly disappeared. Maybe it was the morning that you woke only to find that a loved one did not, that your world plunged into unexpected night. Or it could have been when your college-bound kid traveled clear across the country, leaving a path shadowed in darkness across your heart in his or her wake. For you, it was anything but a joyous event. Whatever the cause, like people everywhere on that August day, you looked to the Son to try and figure out what on earth was happening. And you risked being blinded by His Glory as a result.

Do those words tickle a memory? Sometimes it's comforting to know that what we're going through has happened before. Moses was likewise given an assignment that he knew to be impossible in his own strength alone. When God promised that His Presence would go with him, Moses asked God to show him His glory. He wanted to see God's face. Answering that nobody could see His face and live, God placed Moses in a cleft in a rock and covered him with His hand while His glory passed by.

Could it be that we are looking at things from the wrong perspective? God's Word tells us that in this life we will have tribulation; none of us will make it through life unscathed. But He tells us ahead of time that He has overcome the world so that we can have peace, even in the midst of the trial. His Presence will be with us, just as it was with Moses... and with the disciples in that storm-tossed sea, the Hebrew men thrown into the fiery furnace, Daniel in the lion's den...and in so many other rough times in biblical history. What if we looked in the hard places in our own lives for the cleft that is surely there, that space of safety and protection in which God shelters us, shadowing us with His hand while His Glory passes through our difficult days, working all the things we don't understand to our good, and giving us glimpses of His Presence as He passes by?

After the solar eclipse was all over, I was fascinated by the news coverage of the event in various cities across The Path of Totality, that swath across the United States in which the moon completely blocked out the sun for a few moments of time. Several things stood out to me as important in dealing with an event of such magnitude.

The first was that you had to be prepared. In the weeks before the actual eclipse, special glasses for viewing the event without damaging one's eyes appeared in stores everywhere. Just an item of interest at first, no one “visualized” that those stores would soon sell out of the same, and that people everywhere would be scrambling to locate a pair, paying exorbitant prices at times and waiting in long lines when word came that a new shipment had arrived somewhere. Many simply couldn't locate a pair in time and were left with only television coverage of the event. It reminded me of the biblical story of the bridesmaids who ran out of oil for their lamps at the critical time of the bridegroom's arrival and missed the party as a result.

It wasn't like they hadn't been warned ahead of time. And so it is with us. While we (mercifully!) never know exactly when disaster will strike, God has warned us to be prepared for it, not so we live our lives in fear of its arrival, but to expel fear and replace it with courage and confidence in His ability to handle anything that life throws at us through the security of our relationship with Him. Friendships don't develop overnight, however; they require time and attention to develop to their full potential. And so it is with a relationship with God. The time to foster it is while the sun is still shining brightly above and “eclipse” is just an entry on a sixth-grade spelling bee word list.

There was such a sense of community about the solar event. People everywhere put their lives on hold for at least a few minutes that day to look up in amazement together. A troubled nation had finally found something they could agree on and celebrate together. Total strangers became fellow campers under a unified sky, sharing glasses with each other and marveling together, telling their stories of travel and being inspired by the lives of others on the same road.

Isn't that what God intended the church to be? A place of community and discovery, shared interest, compassion and help? Divisions disappear as we focus on something so much greater than ourselves. Perhaps that's why God urges us to pause on the Sabbath and remember that we are fellow travelers who need to look up together for answers in difficult times. “Humbling” was a word used repeatedly to describe the eclipse experience. Trouble likewise has a way of reminding us that we are not in control. How like God to provide a safety net for us, a place where we can be surrounded and supported by people on a similar pilgrimage.

Finally, what struck me the most was the joy people found when the eclipse was complete. Day had suddenly turned to dark, yet people cheered and jumped, cried and celebrated, taking off their glasses and marveling at the sudden nighttime that had fallen upon them. I laughed and cried along with them, just watching the replay on the news.

Could it be a picture of that difficult verse in the Bible...the one that urges us to “count it all joy” when we fall into various trials? What if we looked at those difficulties through a different set of glasses, ones that allowed us to view this event as a once in a lifetime opportunity to see things in a different light, discover unexpected joy in even the darkest of night, giving us a story to tell when the difficulty is past and the sun is shining brightly over our lives once more?

News broadcasts ended their coverage with a reminder of when the next solar eclipse to cross our country would take place, knowing that people everywhere are already looking forward to the event, marking their calendars and making plans to head to the best viewing areas (and taking note to buy their viewing glasses in advance!). And surely that is the attitude God wants to see in us as we come out of whatever hard circumstances we are currently in: exhilarated, excited, confident in His ability to see us through whatever difficulty is just around the bend. When we know that He is near, the motto we speak over our hearts and lives can be “No Fear Here.” How pleasant are those words of faith to His listening ears!

Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don't try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.”
(James 1:2-4 MSG)

Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Worry Wart

The drop of Compound W at the end of the applicator brush grew slowly bigger, bulkier, finally bulging at the end of the applicator brush held over the finger that was so patiently waiting underneath. One drop would cover the spot, but that drop was taking a lifetime, it seemed, to gather its strength and release its load of salicylic acid on the troublesome wart below. My bad, of course. I had noticed the medicine seemed to be getting thicker as the days went on. Apparently I was allowed to thin the solution and shake thoroughly before application; a detail I'd missed. I waited instead.

It seemed like I'd waited long enough to even start the removal process, when first one and then a second wart appeared on the affected finger. I ignored them until I found that their presence was attracting the constant attention of the nearby thumb, which ran itself over the bumpy skin repeatedly throughout the course of the day. The warts had become a silent worry I needed to dispose of. Compound W came to the rescue.

I know I am not alone. Not everybody has warts on their skin, but we all have bumpy spots on our souls, problem areas that need to be corrected before they demand any more of our time and attention and hinder us from fully devoting ourselves to the work we were put here to do. We tend to ignore those difficult areas in our relationship with God until we realize that they are not going to go away on their own; action of some type is required.

Perhaps it's not any one particularly sinful action we are dealing with; none of the Ten Commandments has been broken, we love God and (most of!) those with whom we share the earth. Some of us are just prone to worry about things over which we have no control or what what the future might hold. But worry is itself a spiritual wart...an indication that our trust and confidence in our Creator's love for us is not where it needs to be. The numerous times the words, “do not worry”, “do not fear”, and “do not be afraid” appear in the Bible are an indication of how important this issue is to God, and yet they are commands we break with astonishing regularity.

How funny that the solution for the problem is likewise “Compound W”...multiple applications of the Word of God. Soaking ourselves repeatedly, consistently several times a day in what God has to say peels back the layers of wrong thinking and justifications with which we've covered our actions until the root of the problem can be uncovered and corrected.

I have wanted to interfere several times in the wart removal process. Impatient to get on with my day, I've raised the finger to meet the brush, painting the medicine on instead of waiting for the drip. And I've tried to hurry the peeling action of the drug by picking at the area. Instead of moving things along I only delayed the process, as I then had to wait for the irritated skin to heal before beginning the application process once more.

When spiritual change doesn't happen fast enough to suit us, we tend to take matters in our own hands, as well. We want a quick fix, a one-time prayer, a laying-on of hands, a single church sermon that will set us straight. And sometimes God works in lightning-bolt fashion as He did with Saul-turned-Paul on the Damascus road. But more often He leads us down a path of daily application of time in His Presence, reading His Book, developing a relationship with Him that eventually kills the sin virus working within us, removed the dead evidence of our old lives and makes us fresh and new once more.

Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”
(2 Corinthians 5:17 KJV)

Sunday, May 14, 2017

A Hurrah for Hero-Mothers Everywhere

That face in the tree belongs to my nominee for Mother-of-the-Year this year.

I saw her in action a day or two ago in a driving rainstorm, the kind that had water pounding our outside deck and left me pondering an unpleasant drive to work. As I filled my travel coffee mug before leaving the house, I heard an unusual chiiirrping noise coming from outside. Unable to identify it, I assumed it had to be a squirrel scolding the storm clouds that were bringing the bad weather. Peeking out the window to see if I could spot it, I saw instead a sight that kept my eyes locked on the activity outside and made me almost late to hit the time clock at work.

A raccoon had been snoozing in a hole in the tree that grows through our deck for days, much to the annoyance of our beagle, who circled below it in endless tight circles, howling for all he was worth and biting at the bark of the tree in frustration that he couldn't get his teeth on the animal safe up above. Certain the constant commotion would soon move it along, we'd watch it wander away each dusk only to spot it once again sleeping the morning away come break of day. My husband even considered boarding up the hole to hasten its search for other living quarters. We were getting a little desperate for the return of the peaceful days and quiet nights we had once enjoyed.

All that changed in the torrential rain the other morning. Instead of the squirrel I was expecting when I looked out the window, I saw the raccoon, not sleeping this time but climbing up to the hole in the pouring rain with a furry bundle of baby in her mouth! She reached the hole, chucked it in, and then turned around to come back down! Wondering what on earth she was doing, I looked farther down the tree and saw yet another tiny form trying to work its way up! Raccoon babies! Somehow they must have fallen out of that hollow in the tree, hollered for help, and brought their mother running to the rescue!

The second mission was not a smooth operation. The baby's tiny claws were gripping the tree for all it was worth, forcing the mother to rip them loose with a quick yank of her head once she had a hold on him, one she almost lost a time or two in her struggle to reach the hole with her mouthful of wriggling fur. Once both babies were safely deposited inside, I went on to my shift at work, replaying the action in my mind for the rest of the day.

Just as dusk was turning into dark at the end of the day, the dogs were out and had again spotted Mama Coon at the mouth of the hole. I, too, looked up and saw her blocking the entrance, a few bundles of fur moving around behind her, one inquisitive face peeking over her shoulder. The babies were getting active and soon would be ready to get out and explore on their own. Behind that mother's black mask lay a hero's heart, but I think she knew her time as guardian of her own particular galaxy was coming to an end.

May is a tough month for mothers, weather conditions aside. Upcoming graduations signal a season of young who are ready to leave the nest. The celebration of motherhood early on in the month comes at a price much higher than the cost of the flowers and gifts received. Somehow the moms among us are expected to let their offspring leave to make their own way in the world, knowing better than they the dangers that lurk beyond the safety of the home they've made, and the enemies waiting outside for a misstep on untested ground. A fall could be fatal.

Some of you know what that's like. You've seen your children leave only to be called upon to retrieve them from one disaster after another, ripping them loose from the false security they cling to and hauling them back up to safer ground, carrying them physically for a time, perhaps, because you do so forever in your heart. The month of May may end, but your motherhood mask never comes off, so how do you deal with the weight of the worry that comes with the task?

What a relief it is to realize we can pray!

In an effort to protect those furry babies in the tree, we started putting a leash on our beagle when we let him outside. Knowing him to be a slippery little hound, hard to catch when he's hot on a scent, if he ever got too close to Mama Raccoon or her babies we could just step on the end of the leash to corral him and haul him back inside. In similar fashion our prayers put the devil on a leash! He can go only so far and no farther; spiritually we can rein him in. God's gift is the peace you receive when you transfer your treasures from your hands to His...trusting Him to do all that you cannot, to safeguard and heal and restore as needed.

Oh, you may still be asked to do your part occasionally. My husband was working in the kitchen the other day and heard a “plop” on the wood planks of the deck outside. Looking out he saw that a baby raccoon had fallen out of the nest once more. The dogs barked furiously at the mother's subsequent rescue mission, but they were kept at bay by the window glass that separated them from her. And that's the best Mother's Day gift of all...the security in knowing that God has put a barrier between the ones you love and those who threaten them, a bulwark those enemies can't breach; your babies are safe from their reach.

If you ever doubt that He can do so, remember that God Himself climbed a tree years ago to get all His kids safely Home.

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”
(John 3:17 NKJV)
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