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 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)

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Seeing Eye to Eye

Helix Nebula, dubbed "The Eye of God"
“Are you open?” she asked.

Her question frustrated me. I checked to make sure the light was on above my checkout lane; it was. The belt lay invitingly empty, if not already moving toward me. I was turned in her direction, looking for my next customer. What could possibly make her hesitant to enter?

I wonder if God doesn't feel the same when we approach Him in similar fashion.

Just that morning, I had risen early and sat in my chair at the kitchen table, the coffee steaming in the mug at my right hand, my journal open to a fresh page, a pen laid in readiness across the blank sheet... waiting for the idea that would surely come from God's heart to mine, a thought that would make it's mark on the empty lines in front of me and the whole day ahead of me. As the minutes ticked by and nothing but silence enveloped me, doubt began to rise up inside of me, whispering that perhaps God wasn't open for business to me that day. Maybe I should just put my books away and get the day underway.

Thankfully I knew better than that. If nothing else, the Word promises that there is something to be said for rising each morning to look God in the eye. But there's always something else. :) And suddenly, just like that, there it was.

Grocery store cashiers are told to make eye contact when greeting a customer at the start of an order. A smile is welcoming, a greeting of some sort is obligatory, but it's that momentary connection, eye to eye, that says, “I see you, I hear you; I am aware of your presence before me.” The customer feels acknowledged and validated, and the order is off to a good start.

Many times I have stepped away from my register for just a moment, to put a basket in the stack by the door, perhaps...and have come back to see a customer peering cautiously up my checkout aisle, looking for eyes issuing the invitation to enter before placing their items on the belt. Don't we sometimes approach God the same way? We come tentatively, hesitantly... and if we don't get an immediate response to our initial greeting, an awareness of His presence, we give up and walk away.

We forget that prayer was God's idea, not our own invention or intention. He invites us to come into His presence, to spread our problems before him, to chat, to listen to His advice, to hear what he might have to say. His light is always on, there is never a “closed” sign blocking our entrance... He is waiting, willing, and longing to hear whatever is on our heart each day.

So why does it seem sometimes that we show up and He doesn't? That simply is never the case. He is always there first. Sometimes it just takes a while to make that eye connection. We come harried or hurried and He is always at peace. Our hearts are in two completely different spots. When our focus is on the problems weighing on our minds and lives, He can't get through to us. And so He waits for us to finally search His face. When our eyes lock in to His, it's then we find the grace we need, the space to speak, the answers we seek.

Haven't we all seen a child come crying to his dad, eyes streaming tears, complaints pouring out of a mouth that's demanding an immediate response? The father takes him by the shoulders and says (sometimes repeatedly), “Look at me!”, in a voice that demands to be heard. He knows he has to get the son's attention before he will hear and heed anything said to him. God simply does the same with us. And once He gets us to the point where we see Him... I mean really see Him... it's then that He can deal with the problems at hand. Sometimes just the sight of Him in all His magnificence is enough to mute our lips and remind our souls that He has all things under His control.

Rather than our hesitancy, perhaps God prefers the audacity of those customers who sometimes mistakenly (and other times, deliberately?) go to a closed checkout lane, place their items on the belt and simply wait to be served! Eventually an employee has no choice but to come to the register and run the order through. The Bible is full of stories of persistent people who eventually got what they needed because they showed up and refused to give up till they got what they needed.

So don't be shy. God wants us to take the time to come before Him, look Him in the eye... and get what we need from Him in reply.

Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
(Hebrews 4:16 NKJV)

Thursday, March 16, 2017

A Need to Knit

There it is in the photo to the left – the reason I picked up my knitting needles again after laying them down forty years or so ago. Do you see it?

It's not the multitude of beautiful yarn available, the abundance of fun patterns to work up, or even the joy of passing on a beloved hobby to a new generation of needleworkers...wonderful though all those things are.'s the phone lying face down on the table, ignored for the moment in the midst of colorful skeins of wool, attention focused on something other than Facebook, fingers and thumbs busy with with actions other than tapping, texting, scrolling and sending for a minute or two.

Don't get me wrong; I love my phone. It's my constant companion, the answer to my many questions, my entertainment when I'm bored... my connection to the rest of the world. But it was becoming my world, and I didn't like the way I reached for it every time I sat down, woke up, or a commercial break interrupted the program I was watching on TV. I needed to make a change.

And suddenly I got the urge to knit. I remembered the comfort of relaxing with the latest project, the satisfaction in seeing the work grow underneath the clicking needles...the freedom to let my mind wander while my hands remained happily employed with knit and purl stitch counts. Now I problem solve, I dream; my mind is free to set its own agenda instead of constantly searching other people's posts for something new to think about.

But what to knit? Pairing purpose with the pleasure I found in creating items added excitement to this venture; couldn't I make things other people could use? The ideas started flooding in. Of course, there were the obvious; little gifts for Christmas, seasonal items to decorate the home, baby items to give as shower gifts or donate to needy mothers. My sister mentioned a group of knitters in her area of the country who were making scarves, mittens, and hats to hang on park fences for homeless people to find and use; soon I found a local group I could contribute to who were doing the same. Now I find I can't knit fast enough to finish all the things I want to make before one season ends and another arrives with a whole slew of new ideas of its own.

It turned out I had it partially right. There was a human purpose to pursuing a passion...but what if there was a divine connection, as well? For no apparent reason I selected a snuggie as my first project, one of those little baby sacks or “cocoons” in which to cuddle a newborn, and did it up in blue, even though nobody I knew at that moment had a pregnancy nearing its due date. As my knitting grew, so did a friendship with a coworker who was new in town and who soon found out she was pregnant...with a little boy. It eventually became obvious to me who the snuggie was to be given to, especially when the project on my needles and the baby in her belly were “done” at the same time. But it was as I was writing a note to go with the gift that I felt a nudge from God to write a few words from His heart, as well as my own. It wasn't anything mystical or deep, just a few lines of light and love spoken into the life of a young woman at a special time in her life. And suddenly it hit me that that was why I had picked up my my hobby again after such a long period of deliver that very message at this particular time. The pleasure I found in the action was beside the point.

A light bulb turned on in my head. What I thought was my need to knit again was actually God's need for me to do so, that He might deliver a message of love to a daughter I “happened” to be connected with. What if God had me learn to knit forty years ago just so that He could call that skill into play decades later and use it to bless a girl who wasn't even born at the time I began? Could it be that many of the details of our lives that we thought originated from our own thoughts and desires are really planted inside of us by God to bud and bear fruit in the time of His choosing, in ways we couldn't have imagined originally?

Looking back, I realize now how many other passions in my life have come and then seemingly gone, only to be resurrected and given new life at a later point in time. How good of God to replace the sadness when a particular season ends with an eager hope that it may roll back around again on down the road! And, oh, how the joy we find in them is multiplied when those interests are used for God's purposes rather than just our own!

And my social media addiction? I still use my electronic devices mostly to find patterns on Pinterest or check in on the picture posts of my knitting buddies' current projects. The internet lists a host of physical and emotional benefits that come from picking up a pair of knitting needles; for me the best was the spiritual blessing that came with the excuse to put the phone down.

...make it your ambition to live quietly and peacefully, and to mind your own affairs and work with your hands...”
(1 Thessalonians 4:11 NIV)

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Pillow People

I could almost see her start to sweat.

The lady customer had written a check for twenty dollars or so over the amount of her grocery bill, but my attempt to process it only produced an error message of some sort, necessitating a call for help in overriding it. As she glanced nervously behind her I realized she wasn't worried about having enough funds in her account so much as she feared the reactions of the people behind her in line over the unexpected delay. Noting her action, I, too, took a look to see who was next. I smiled as I recognized him, turned to her and said, “No worries. You have the nicest man ever behind you. He won't mind waiting a moment or two.” Sure enough, he smiled at her as well and assured her he was in no hurry. She sighed in relief. And then suddenly the supervisor arrived, the check went through, and the shopper hurried on with her day.

Later I was reading a book on marriage restoration and came across a chapter on how each partner in the relationship should strive to “cushion” the other against the stresses of life. I like that word, cushion. It means to lessen or soften the effects of one thing on another. In the story above, the man directly in line behind the worried shopper cushioned her against the angry glares and stares of any less patient people in the queue.

An obvious picture of the concept is the heart-shaped pillow carried about by people recovering from open-heart surgery. It is important that such patients clear the vapor that settles in the lungs as a result of the procedure, but the required coughing action puts stress on their weakened sternum. Holding a pillow against the chest offers the needed support and lessens the pain of such episodes during the healing process.

You may never have undergone cardiac surgery, but who among us hasn't had their heart hurt in other ways? Many around us are nursing sore spots somewhere in their lives, be it in a relationship, a job situation, a financial difficulty, an extended illness, or the loss of someone dear. There are tender places in their makeup that need to be protected while they heal. And God stands true to His “I will never leave you nor forsake you” promise by cushioning those sensitive areas with people He places in their lives at just the right moments to shield them from things that would otherwise cause them pain.

The thought boggled my mind. You and I are the heart-shaped “cushions” held close in positions of support in difficult hours and days! We're pillows, people! Who knew?! Our purpose in life then is to buffer life's blows, to be hugged close, prop up in place, soak up tears, or tenderly cradle the weight of someone's mental burdens so they can sleep in peace.

If you've been to WalMart lately to buy a new pillow, you know that picking one out is no longer an easy task. They come in all shapes and sizes, some longer or shorter, fatter or flatter, filled with fiber or foam. Similarly, God has a multitude of people to choose from to meet a need, but because He has created them all he knows exactly which one of us has just the right combination of gifts, love, life experiences, compassion and humor to conform to each particular situation. He is the Master Chess Player who perfectly positions His pieces according to the special abilities of each to keep the enemy in check at all times. We are hand-picked and placed on purpose in other people's lives.

God battles any feelings of inadequacy on our parts by reminding us that pillows themselves don't actually do anything; their value lies in their availability. All that they need to supply has already been placed inside of them by the Manufacturer; they simply need to be. So do we.

Praise be to...the Father of compassion and 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)

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Love Dare Square

Surprisingly, the bright day darkened suddenly when we ran into an old friend, the laughter and levity of a beautiful fall day spent at a small-town festival suddenly buried under the weight of the news he shared.

We had been celebrating all things black walnut - the nuts flavoring fudge, homemade caramels, and our favorite, the ice cream. We stopped to shop at one little booth after another as we strolled down the crowded street, looking for vendors we had visited in the past, chatting with people we knew along the way, and making our own “best of show” selections from the multitude of classic cars filling the streets and parking lots beyond the main drag. For once the weather had cooperated beautifully with the event planners; the day held all the colors of fall in the pleasant warmth of a summer day.

We were headed to pick up some lunch when we saw him; a man pushing a double-wide stroller that held his toddlers safely inside. He didn't look overly pleased to see us, which was strange from a guy we had been close to when we attended church together a few years ago. His wife was also a friend; when we looked for her nearby, he stopped us with the words, “We're not together anymore.”

Stunned, we looked at him blankly. It was as if the words wouldn't register in our brains. This was a happily-ever-after family, walking side-by-side as they served the Lord, raised their kids and busily made a life with one another. I had been in their wedding, for Pete's sake! I'd prayed with them, played with them, and later followed them on Facebook when our lives went in separate directions. Recent posts had been full of new jobs and vacation joys...I was simply blind-sided by the news. He didn't offer many details; apparently the situation was new and still-evolving, which gave me hope that perhaps they were just in the midst of a difficult stretch that they would soon work themselves past.

The more I thought about the situation, the madder I got that love and laughter was being stolen away from these two, leaving anger and fighting in its wake. Suddenly my spirit reached the breaking point and I vowed I would not be an inactive witness to the wreck of yet another marriage.

But what could I do? I turned the question over to God, who reminded me that this couple had been married for four years now, and we had been friends with them longer than that. He asked if I loved them enough to give them forty days. Seemingly a strange question, those last two words caught my ears and I understood what He was suggesting. I might not be able to halt the divorce proceedings, but my spirit wanted to give it a shot.

It was time to enter the fray. I dug out my copy of The Love Dare and began to pray. Featured in the movie Fireproof, The Love Dare is a forty-day action plan to turn a struggling marriage around. I used it as a prayer workbook of sorts, speaking the qualities of a loving relationship in their embattled union, one by one, day by day. I asked that their hearts be softened toward each other, that they find the strength to let negative thoughts and actions go and replace them with a willingness to work towards restoration, one issue at a time.

Perhaps it's just the season of life I'm in, but engagements and weddings abound in the circle of friends surrounding our family these days. And all the above has caused me to look at the save-the-date postcards that are arriving in our mailbox a little differently now.

What if a wedding invitation meant you were invited to participate in the marriage as well as the ceremony and reception afterwards, if the acceptance to attend involved more than just feasting, drinking heavily and dancing the night away? Could it be that those in the wedding party itself are party to something much bigger than just carrying rings in one's pocket, holding flowers, or straitening the train? What if everybody who responded affirmatively to an RSVP agreed to carrying the couple in thought and prayer, standing beside them long after the wedding date itself, holding them close, and helping to straighten out thinking that has gotten twisted somehow? Maybe we are supposed to “fight for the fairy-tale” of the couples around us, as well as our own.

It was at about this time that in my newly-rekindled passion for knitting I discovered the pattern for a glorious afghan made up of individual blocks in fabulous colors with a giant heart knit in the middle of each. In my excitement to make it I ordered the first batch of yarn and eagerly awaited its arrival so I could start. But by the time it arrived I had calculated how much this project was going to cost and the time it was going to take to complete it; I was ready to give up on the idea before I had even begun.

And so it is with any prayer project we undertake. We sign on eagerly at first, full of purpose and persistence. However, as the days wear on, our enthusiasm wears out, and we are tempted to abandon the action midstream. But marriages are near and dear to God's heart and He isn't about to give up on any; He wasn't going to let me do so, either. He simply linked my prayer project to my knitting project and dared me to take it one block and one couple at a time. Amazingly, the pattern had forty-some rows; one row for each of the prayer points in the book. And He reminded me that if we want to knit commitment into the lives of couples we love, we have to first find it within ourselves.

I have rarely been able to resist a challenge from God. A side benefit of this one is that I can hardly pray for other people's marriages without seeing opportunities for growth in my own. What I ask God to do in other unions He will also accomplish in mine.

I still check the Facebook pages of the couple mentioned in the opening paragraph, ever hopeful that picture posts and status updates might indicate the tide has turned in their relationship and they are together once more. And as the save-the-date announcements multiply under the magnets on my fridge, I am grateful that I get to set each couple up for marital success, one prayer square at a time.

...for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
(Revelation 7:17 NKJV)

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Death or Departure...Your Choice

It was a strange dream, to say the least. In it my husband found himself in a room full of babies in incubators; born too soon, the infants were getting the extra help they needed to sustain their fragile hold on life. Odder yet was the fact that he knew the exact number of them; there were twenty-nine such apparatuses in the room. Such specificity surely indicated a message; he diligently began looking for the meaning of the dream.

What he found was that the Biblical meaning of the number twenty-nine is departure. The 29th mention of Noah's name came as he and his family were exiting the ark after the flood. Abram was leaving Sodom and Gomorrah at the 29th occurrence of his name. Jacob was moving away from his parents when his name came up for the 29th time.

So... twenty-nine babies in incubators? Premature departure.

It was hours later in the day when Jim received a call telling him that after failing suddenly over the weekend, his older sibling, Nancy, had succumbed after a long battle with Early-onset Alzheimer's Disease, a form of Alzheimer's diagnosed in patients who are still in their fifties or early sixties. The particularly cruel nature of Early-onset AD is that it strikes a person when they still have so much life yet to live. Nancy's passing was a premature departure.

And so the family gathered to grieve and say goodbye. What struck me in this instance was a reluctance on our parts to use the word death. Death speaks of an end of something...a dream, a hope, ...a life. Departure, on the other hand, indicates merely a change of state and space, a move of some sort, from one existence into another. The cessation of Nancy's bodily function here on earth to us was merely a transference of her life from confusion, pain and sickness into restored clarity, health and wholeness...albeit in another realm. Having that assurance brought peace that surpassed our grief when the moment arrived.

Such assurance is available to all. The amazing thing about the death versus departure discussion is that each of us gets to choose which word will apply to our own passing. The Bible tells us that all of us will eventually come to the end of our days here on earth. But we get to choose what happens after that. The important thing to note however is that the decision has to be made before the moment arrives. If we don't accept the offer of redemption freely extended to us by Christ, we can then expect to suffer the eternal consequences of the sin nature we were all born into.

Anyone who's boarded an airplane has heard the pilot's instruction to “prepare for departure” ahead of the moment the flight leaves the ground. And everyone born into this world has heard God's repeated instruction of the same. Don't let a premature departure preempt your decision to obey.

This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live...”
(Deuteronomy 30:19 NIV)
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