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.

Nope...it'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 time...to 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 plenty...now 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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