Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Missile Attacks on the Mind

It started about a week ago. A barrage of calls from numbers my phone didn't recognize started coming in at various hours of the day. Grateful for caller ID, I continued my habit of letting my voicemail take any messages that might be important and tried to simply ignore the constant communication. Thankfully I quickly learned to keep the device muted, but even the frequent vibrations of the phone in my pocket was an annoyance. The long and short of it was that my peace was continually disturbed.

Suddenly it seemed that my service provider had gotten wind of the problem and was stepping in to help. The stream of random phone numbers I didn't recognize when a call came in were now replaced by the words Alert: Telemarketer, Spam Risk, and Fraud Risk. While the calls still kept coming in, it helped to know that somebody was on to the caller's game and working to stop it. 

And then just as suddenly as the episode started, it ended. The dozens of unwanted calls I was getting a day dwindled back down to the usual two or three.

I know hackers are everywhere these days, and that with the wonders of easy communication and advanced technology come risks that we may never have had to deal with before. It is encouraging to know that security systems are likewise stepping up their efforts to thwart the actions of those intent on harm. The battle is ongoing, but it helps to know we don't fight alone.

I liken this recent situation with my smartphone to what has happened spiritually to me recently with my mind. Like everyone else, I have life issues to deal with, and I am used to fending off the occasional attempts of the enemy to speak doubt and distress into situations that I know in my heart are covered by the Blood and the love of the Lord. But sometimes it seems that the enemy is able to hack in to my thinking, sending a barrage of messages that speak darkness into corners of my life that were once filled with light, overwhelming my defense mechanisms by their sheer numbers and spiraling me downward into hopelessness and despair over the outcome. The Bible says that without revelation and a vision of the future, the people perish. Clearly the devil has read this passage, too, and is working to achieve it.

Thankfully we don't fight alone. The Holy Spirit inside of us rises to our defense, and starts sending messages of His own to our control center in the brain. He starts identifying the source of the incoming calls, directing us in how to respond to each thought that comes in, wanting to take up residence. Suddenly we hear, “Don't answer that.” “That's the enemy speaking and it's a lie. God's Word says this on that...” “Hang up the phone.” ...and my personal favorite: “Why do you believe that?” With God as our Guide, suddenly the security breach to our thought processes is closed and we return our thoughts to whatsoever things are true, noble, just, pure, lovely and of a good report, as the Bible directs. And amazingly, when resisted in such a manner, the enemy flees to fight another day in another way. How comforting to know that no matter what tactic he comes up with, the Holy Spirit within us is ready for the attack and to arm us accordingly. In times of war, the peace of God is our weapon of choice.

These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”
John 16:33 NKJV)

Thursday, May 30, 2019

The Fence of Faith

As springtime edged towards summer, resuming my early morning walks was something I was eagerly looking forward to. Finally a dry, sunshiny day coincided with my scheduled day off, and soon I was off, rejoicing in the beauty of my surroundings, the warmth of the weather, and the quiet surrounding me. I headed towards the grove of trees to my west, moving steadily because even though I didn't have to go to work, I was still under time pressure. I had put a coffeecake in to bake before heading out the door, confident that I could reach the treeline and get back just in time to pull our breakfast out of the oven.

Exhilarated to be out and exercising once more, I reached the trees and started to turn, as planned. But something stopped me, and I gazed at the little stretch of woods with longing, feeling a pull to step a little farther along the road to where I could see into the grove and enjoy its beauty for just a few seconds more.

And so I did, and just as I got to where I could peer into the tree stand a little deeper, I suddenly gasped and stopped in surprise. There, just feet away from me, stood a beautiful doe and her tiny fawn, likewise enjoying a beautiful day and breakfast out. They lifted their heads and we stared at each other for the longest time; I slowly moved my phone up to where I could snap a photo and the deer began to ease out of the picture at just the same speed. Finally the doe bounded away, her baby at her heels, and I stood for a moment more, awestruck, before I remembered that I had a reason to hurry off, as well.

As it happened, that evening my husband suggested we continue to enjoy the beautiful day by again going on a walk, this time together. We headed down the road in the opposite direction from my morning hike, again enjoying a quiet holiday weekend stroll and commenting on the sights in our neighbors' yards as we passed by. When my husband asked how far I wanted to go, I pointed to the stump of what used to be a huge walnut tree a good ways off in the distance, my usual turnaround point when I walked this way. But as we got closer, we were once again stopped in out tracks, this time by the sight of two very large dogs sitting unrestrained in any way in a yard just up ahead. No fence, no chains, nothing to keep them from defending their property from possible invasion, even by innocent passers-by. We could see a row of little white flags along the border of the property, and my husband suggested that perhaps they marked the presence of an invisible fence. Did we want to trust that such a fence truly did exist, and that the dogs were sufficiently trained to remain within its confines, even at the sight of approaching strangers? As yet the dogs had not noticed us; they were facing a different direction. In silent agreement we turned and headed back towards home.

In our Christian walk, we similarly sometimes have a goal in mind... a level of faith we want to achieve, an answer to prayer we are waiting on, or perhaps just a deepening of our relationship with Him. And so we proceed, but sometimes the cares of this life stop us just short of where God wants to take us. We yield to the pressure and turn around right when we were on the brink of discovery, and so miss a beautiful moment that God had prearranged, just for us. If we would only listen to and respond to the pull of our hearts, to venture just a little bit further, perhaps we would see a whole lot more and be simply awestruck by what He had in mind to show us. How easily we can miss moments of glory, just by turning around a moment too soon.

Or perhaps we are moving steadily towards our breakthrough, our turnaround point... that answer to prayer we have been waiting on. Just as it comes into sight, however, we likewise catch sight of the enemy lurking nearby, intent on keeping us from walking on ground that is rightfully ours, purchased for us by our Savior with His Blood on the cross. We quail at the size and imagined ferociousness of our foe, held back only by the fence of our faith. Perhaps to this point that faith has never been tested, and we are unsure if it is strong enough to keep the enemy at bay. Rather than risk a fight we might lose, we turn tail, and the turnaround in our situation must wait for another day.

Are you at that point today? Has your walk with God taken you to a point where you must decide whether to let Him take you further into uncharted territory, or retreat into the safety of what you already know? It took the Israelites 40 years to enter their Promised Land, simply because they balked at so many of the challenges they encountered, longing at times to return to the life they knew, even as slaves under a tyrannical master. Some of us simply don't have that long to wait! Yet God is longing that we would see these situations as the stepping-stones they are to the answers we so desperately seek. A change in our perspective might lead to a change in our actions...and likewise to the outcome of the situation. Count it all joy!

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.”
(James 1:2-4 NKJV)

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Fight With a Four-Letter Word

I woke up with a four-letter word on my mind.

Intrigued, soon the first sip of morning coffee found me typing it into the Dictionary app on my phone to find the definition.
The word “stet” followed by a row of dots means “let it stand”, and it is written as a corrective direction on a manuscript or written material of some sort to keep a portion of the same that had earlier been marked for deletion.

I love that! ...maybe because I know the pain of submitting a written work to an editor and receiving it back covered in red ink. There are passages deleted, words changed and sentences rearranged, all in the hope of making the message more concise and to the point. No matter how pure the editor's intent, however, there is something inside of me that rises up in rebellion and makes me want to fight at the sight of all that red!

Maybe that's not a bad thing, but a God-planted defense mechanism for those times when we're under attack. The Bible tells us that God has plans for our lives, story-lines for each of us, written before we were even born. Those plans and thoughts are for our prosperity and well being, filled with hope and a bright future. But the devil also has a plan ...of attack! ...and the Word says that he comes to kill, steal and destroy all that which God meant for our good.

So the manuscripts of our lives can suddenly be handed back to us one day with large passages of the same marked out in red ink. Things we thought were in our future, plans we cherished, joys we were anticipating... all can seem suddenly to have been removed from our story by the one who robs our joy.

In our affliction, we appeal to a Higher Authority. And how does God respond? He writes “stet...” beside those passages the devil wanted to delete. “Let it stand” He writes beside the joys and life experiences the enemy meant to steal away.

And what makes the red-letter promises of God in the Bible more powerful than the red-ink editions of the devil? God's are written in the Blood of His Son.

So you shall serve the Lord your God, and He will bless your bread and your water. And I will take sickness away from the midst of you...I will fulfill the number of your days.”
(Exodus 23:25-26 NKJV)

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

The Divine at Your Doorstep

We've never had a doorbell.

Our attention has been eventually drawn to visitors on our front step either by their frustrated pounding on the front door or the loud and incessant barking of the two dogs on our side of it.

Until now.

Because we were so intrigued by ads for the same we'd seen on TV, a Ring video doorbell found itself wrapped and waiting for installation under the Christmas tree this past holiday season. Now in place, our eyes have literally been opened to what used to be just a matter of conjecture on the amount of traffic occurring outside our home.

Purchased primarily for protection purposes, the Ring has met all our expectations. Being able to see and speak from a distance to whoever might be on the property, whether they wish to be seen or not, has added greatly to our peace of mind when we're away from the house as well as just in a distant room in the back of it.

Not that there haven't been a few scary moments, such as when alerts have lit up the cell phone in the middle of the night. But a pounding heart quickly calms when a check of the video shows nothing but a passing possum, a leaf blown by in the wind, or even nothing at all but pitch darkness rather than an intruder bent on entry.

Far more wonderful have been the unexpected joys of seeing a package you've been waiting for delivered, a family member arrive safely home... or the latest, our neighbor plowing out our driveway after the most recent round of snow! Talk about joy! We would have discovered these blessings eventually upon our return home, but our days were made immeasurable happier by being made aware of them while they were happening.

Too often as believers our vision is limited by what we can see with our physical eyes. Yet the gift of the Holy Spirit is waiting to be opened up and activated, a portal into a whole other realm of activity going on around us that we would otherwise be unaware of. It not only alerts us to the dangers of fear, negative thinking, and the restrictions of conventional wisdom... but it brings into view the provision that is available and waiting for us, and gives us the ability to access it and appropriate it into our lives right now. The wisdom, healing, direction...every form of heavenly help we need... is suddenly at our fingertips, waiting for us to pick up and use. How wonderful that we don't need to wait till we get to our heavenly Home to realize these joys, but that God's intent is that we see and enjoy and use them for His Glory while we need them here on earth. And how sad if we pass through this life leaving the help we longed for sitting at our front door...simply because we didn't know it was there.

But the Helper (Comforter, Advocate, Intercessor – Counselor, Strengthener, Standby), the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name... He will teach you all things. And He will help you remember everything that I have told you.”
John 14:26 AMP

Thursday, January 24, 2019

"Post"-Thanksgiving Thanks

A postcard a day; that's what He wanted. On one side of an index card, a sketch of the moment I was most thankful for from the day before, and on the other, a short explanation of what the moment meant to me.

It didn't matter to Him that even stick-figure people are beyond my artistic skills; He would look beyond what my hands had drawn and recognize the moment that had mattered to me from what He read in my heart. And then, I could picture Him, proud Parent that he is, posting my card on the front of His fridge; His heart delighted repeatedly by the daily connection with mine.

I've long had a thing about postcards. Sending, receiving, even buying them on trips just to post on my fridge to remind me where I've been – it's all about sharing a happy time with someone I love. Those in my immediate family are the usual recipients...but I keep a half-century-old connection fresh with my best friend from high school through the give and take of postcards from our travels. Short on other forms of communication, we say “Hi! I'm sill alive...and thinking of you!” with a short note on a picture postcard in the mail.

A bit of a jealous sort, God simply wanted the same... a word of thanks and love about a moment from the day before, sent to my Best Friend. It wasn't any artistic expertise He was looking for... more the fact that I took a moment to share one with Him. It's the “thinking of You” thought that counts.

And so I began. The drawings were crude but it was fun to make the attempt; more difficult was limiting my thoughts on the subject to the small square of space on the index card back. I addressed them by what I was feeling about Him each day. Sometimes it was “My Father in Heaven” (with a Hallowed by Thy Name! written underneath). Other times it was a simple “Dad”... or “My Healer”...even one to “The Cookie Captain” when I was especially enjoying a pre-breakfast bakery snack as I drew! And I made sure to draw a “love” stamp in the top right corner of every card...simply in recognition that each and every day is stamped with His love.

I thought the whole idea was just supposed to be a fun spiritual activity for the month of November, the month when our hearts and thoughts turn to giving thanks. More than an obligation, it became something I found occupying my thoughts in spare moments, and my morning art attempt something I increasingly looked forward to each day. But Thanksgiving passed and I kept drawing my cards...in part because there were still so many blank ones left in the stack. I thought maybe I should keep at it until I'd used them all up.

And bingo! That's when the lights flashed, bells clanged, and I finally got the point. If each card represented a day, shouldn't all my days be filled with thanks and love expressed in some way? I don't know how many are left in my “stack”...but surely I don't want to leave any blank! And who's to say that God doesn't slip a few extra “card days” in my life expectancy in response to my expressions o f love, simply because He loves to receive them so? Maybe we shouldn't end the giving of thanks when the turkey carcass is thrown in the trash.

My kids were all home for the holiday just past. At various times I caught them staring at my fridge, looking for their faces in the usual pictures posted there and likewise finding their places in my heart. Together we rejoiced over happy times spent together, remembering the laughter and love we've shared as we look forward to future joy.

How good to know that one day I'll simply go Home and do the same.

Draw near to God and He will draw near to you...”
(James 4:9 NKJV, emphasis mine)

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


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)
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