Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Tent Camping with Jesus

Do not fear.

Oh, I know - those words are a whole lot easier to write than to live.

But God didn't say, "Do not fear when your problems are small." He didn't qualify His instructions; they are the same, no matter the size of the obstacle we're facing. Whether your difficulty is the size of a molehill, a mountain, or an exploding volcano, His directions are the same: Do. Not. Fear.

He didn't say it would be easy. Unfortunately, fear is usually my first response to a scary problem. My stomach tightens, my body shakes... I'm often literally worried sick. But I'm working on that, because I know that fear is a choice. Jesus wouldn't tell us not to do something if we didn't have a say in the matter.

So how do we make the faith choice and keep the terrifying thoughts away? Maybe it helps to remember the choice that He made... to live in our world with us... to "pitch his tent in our neighborhood" (Max Lucado), so to speak. It helps me to picture Jesus just next door... when in reality, He is even closer than that; He lives within our hearts. 

Whatever issue you're dealing with then, He is facing the same... and He's not worried. He knows He can't be beat.

"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)

Monday, June 19, 2023

Esmee's Eyes

Her eyes are always on me.  

Seriously… her eyes are ALWAYS on me!

Esmee is my little white dog, a four-year-old bichon frise puppy mill rescue I came home with one Saturday morning shortly after my aged golden retriever had died. As I picked her out of her crate and held her at the adoption event, trying to determine if we would be a good fit, she just huddled in my arms, unresponsive… perhaps wondering what life held for her next. She was just so scared, the foster mom asserted, promising me that in no time she would be my new best friend.

I had my doubts. Because she was a purebred, the adoption fee was high. And she was a little rough looking, any grooming having been postponed until after the more immediate need of having her spayed. Her white fur was shaggy and dirty, and there were dark tear stains underneath her eyes. But my cat and I needed a new friend to fill the hole in our hearts and our home, and since Esmee needed the latter, I decided to give her a go.

I couldn’t be more glad. Now two months since that morning, my little white buddy has blossomed. She greets me every morning standing on her hind feet in her crate, then bouncing around my legs before we head outside and she races to find a spot to do her business. For the rest of the day until she returns to her crate at night, she is by my side or watching me from the couch, the rug at my feet, or any spot in which she settles that gives her a clear view of me. She still has moments of panic when something startles her or a new situation comes into her world, but they are occurring less and less as she learns that I am her place of safety. And so every waking moment of her day, she is looking my way .She never lets me out of her sight.

What a lesson there is in that for me! I, too, am a “rescue”, you see… a life that was likewise a bit of a mess with no clear direction… until the morning my boyfriend introduced me to a Man Who was willing to pay the price of His life for mine… to take me as His own, love me, care for me, and eventually take me Home. I gradually came to trust that all my needs would be met in Him, as long as I kept Him cotinually in my sight.

And so now I strive to have “Esmee Eyes”… constantly following His movements in my life, dogging His footsteps, and rejoicing in every moment we spend together.

“You can change her name if you like – she doesn’t recognize it,” said the lady from the adoption agency. But when I found out that it means “esteemed” or “beloved”, I knew I wouldn’t. Daily she is coming to recognize that she is exactly that… and teaching me new ways to see that I am, too.

“Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from beginning to end…”

(Hebrews 12:1-2 GNT)


Monday, May 29, 2023

Focused on Freedom

Ceremony complete, caps flung, grads hugged, photos taken… it was time to find the car and head to celebratory ice cream with the family back home…. only to find that we couldn’t get there! The bar across the parking garage exit was down and wouldn’t go up! No attendant in the booth at the gate,  no answer on the phone when the number for assistance was called… no choice but to wait. Never our strong suit, drivers in the back of the line started honking their horns in frustration, having no idea what was causing the delay. We all just wanted to be on our way. 

Finally we saw a man striding purposefully to the front of the garage… and then thankfully the cars started to move. As we got closer we could see that he was simply standing there, holding the gate up himself and letting all the cars pass through! Surely he wanted to get out as badly as the rest and had family celebrations to get to, too. But he put his plans on hold so the rest of us could get on with ours. 

“Tell him thanks,” came the whisper from the passenger seat to our driver as we got closer… but his eyes were on the taillights of the car ahead, frustrated like the rest of us and focused on freedom. Next came a nudge in the ribs, and an urgent, “Tell him thanks!!” …but we followed the guy in line ahead of us and just zoomed out past the hero into the night. 

“You should have told him thank you!” she said one more time as we made our way to the family waiting and now calling, wondering where we were. None of us took the time. 

And so that is what this day is about. Today we uniformly TAKE the time to thank those who put uniforms on and their own plans on hold… who didn’t just sacrifice their own family time but their very lives…so that we can continue to enjoy ours in the freedom they provided.

Let’s all be the one who remembers to say thanks. 

Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

‭‭(John‬ ‭15‬:‭13‬ ‭KJV‬‬)

Monday, May 15, 2023

Get a Grip... on Your Phone AND Your Faith!

When your phone is the only such device in the house, it matters where you place it. Setting it down carelessly can lead to trouble, as there is no one else about the place to call your number and let the ring or vibration buzz alert you to its location. All you have to assist you are your own two eyes… and sometimes finding a phone in the mass of objects in your house can be as difficult as spotting Waldo’s red-and-white striped likeness on a page of the famous children’s puzzle books. Retracing your steps and rethinking where you were headed last become the only recourses available to you, and when they are not enough, you are in trouble indeed.

Nothing induces panic in my chest like the thought of losing my phone, as it is simply my lifeline to the outside world. All my contacts, my sources of help… in fact, all the numbers and letters that in combination unlock the details of my life are contained inside of that flat, rectangular wonder. No wonder I freak out when it can’t be found! I don’t know how I’d function without it anymore!

Sometimes the same happens on a spiritual level. We set our Source of help and hope carelessly aside as we go about our days… and then when we suddenly need it, it’s nowhere to be found. And the consequences of that loss are so much harder to recover from than merely purchasing a replacement item at a local electronics store, however inconvenient the restoration process may be.

A life without hope is miserable indeed. Trying to live without something to look forward to, a purpose to pursue, a future event to strive for is like setting a plant in a dark place where it can’t receive the sunlight and water it needs to live, let alone thrive. It eventually leads to the plant’s death. Sadly, a loss of hope can lead to an untimely end to a human life in the same way.

There’s a difference, however. While I’m keenly aware that I live alone, and if I lose my phone, finding it is up to me, the truth of the matter is that we are never truly alone; God is always present, whether we acknowledge His existence or not. He is like the air we breathe, invisible yet indispensable. And just the mere mention of His Name, even an inaudible cry from the heart, summons His ability and resources to whatever need is prompting the call.

I remind myself often when looking for something that nothing is ever truly lost; it is only temporarily misplaced. The same is true with my relationship with God. Even if I’ve set it aside somewhere along my life’s journey, my faith is voice activated; I call and God answers. Always! It’s a promise in the Word. And it works.

Of course, the best course of action is not to lose it in the first place. The older I get the more I realize that I have to live my life consciously rather than on auto-pilot.  I have to think about what I’m doing… where I place things, what I’m looking for, what I need to do next. And the same is true of my spiritual life. I have to stay conscious of God and His Presence within me, His ways, His words, His directions. And when I do that, I never lose track of that which I hold most dear… my relationship with Him.

Perhaps author Ann Voskamp has said it best: “Maybe the most important question to ask your soul every day is simply where will you set your hope today so you don’t lose it?

Here’s your answer: “So now wrap your heart tightly around the hope that lives within us, knowing that God always keeps His promises!” (Hebrews 10:23 TPT)

Friday, February 17, 2023

It's a Switchback, Not a Setback

She’d been battling late-stage breast cancer for a couple of years when my friend was finally told that there was just one little spot left on her lung and that things were looking good. She went off with friends on a jaunt to the Bahamas, only to come home and hear that the latest scan showed the one spot was growing and there was now cancer in new areas of her body. She was forced to take more time off work to battle this new wave of the disease, and I can only assume that her usually upbeat attitude was now plummeting towards depression and discouragement.

Perhaps you’ve likewise hit a detour on your journey to total healing and restoration in some area of your life, and you need to read these three words: Don’t lose heart.


I came across a quote that stuck with me this morning:

“Trust in the slow work of God.” (-Teilhard de Chardin)


Waiting is not our strong suit, and yet we are forced to do it again and again. I’m reminded that in my struggle with dieting I have to wait to see weight loss… and as a writer, I have to wait for words to come. As a mother, I’ve had to wait for turnaround in the heart of an angry son. Come to think of it, I had to wait (four years!) for my husband to consider producing those sons! We have to wait for vacations to get here, wait for that check in the mail, wait for food to cook… and in the dark moments of our personal struggles, we have to wait for the Son to rise and bring the Light we’ve been longing for. Hope rises with the dawn, but sometimes the night seems very, very long.


I graduated from college with a degree in forestry and worked for a private timber company in the late 1970’s and early 80’s. I remember that in my days as a field forester in the woods I was often overwhelmed by the physical challenges of the job. I worked in steep and hilly terrain, and many were the times I stood in a streambed and looked up at a landing at the top of the hill that I had to climb and thought, “There is just no way.” Looking up, all I could see was how steep the ground was, the rocky outcroppings in the way, and the slippery nature of the rocky soil to be traversed. The only way I could make it was to go sideways up the hill in a series of switchbacks, first to the right, then to the left… back and forth till I reached the top. It seemed to take forever, but I always eventually got to the top. And so will you.


The dictionary app on my phone defines switchbacks as a zigzag track arrangement for climbing a steep grade… a “roller coaster” (ain’t that the truth?!)… and as a highway, as in a mountainous area, having many hairpin curves.


Maybe you feel like you’ve been thrown a curve with the latest news from your doctor, therapist or financial advisor. But perhaps there’s another way to look at it. You’re still on your way up, you’re just making a turn and heading in the opposite direction for a bit till you take the next turn… and then the next… back and forth until you reach the top.


You’ll get there. Keep climbing,


“Therefore we do not lose heart...” (2 Corinthians 4:16 NIV)


Tuesday, February 7, 2023

The Evil Intent of Envy

I entered the little shop, welcomed by the bells that banged on the door even before the cheery greetings of the people inside reached my ears. It was the first meeting of a new knitting group that was to come together weekly for a couple of hours to knit winter wear for homeless kids. Eager to join in a worthy cause as well as enjoy the company of people with a similar passion, I was excited to begin.


The first step was to select a pattern from the pile of samples on the table and then pick a yarn to knit with. And that’s where the trouble began.


I don’t make decisions easily. Ask my kids, and they will laugh and say, I don’t make decisions, period. I leave that task to an app on my phone, the Random Number Generator. I list the options to be decided between alphabetically in my mind, and then make the selection based on which numbered item on the list was the app’s choice. My rule is that if I ask the app to make the decision for me, then there is no second guessing the outcome. the decision is final.


The rule doesn’t say anything about second wishing, however. I do that all the time. Maybe even every time.


You see, I never travel anywhere alone. Everywhere I go, an uninvited guest accompanies me. His name is Envy, and for the most part, he is a silent companion. His eyes are his most distinguishing feature, not for their beauty but rather for their roving. They are never focused on what’s in front of me, but instead on that which is in front of my neighbor, whether it be at a table in a restaurant, in the bag of a friend on a shopping excursion, or in the hands of the knitter beside me. He never speaks until I have committed to a choice. And then he simply points at that which is in front of another, nudges me, and whispers, “Don’t you wish you had picked that?” Smiling, his duty now done, he leaves me alone and now dissatisfied, discontent having eroded my earlier joy.


Such was the situation I found myself in yesterday. Amazingly I had been able to pick a pattern from the stack in front of me. I chose a pair of fingerless mitts with an interesting stitch pattern worked into the body of the work. I would need to pick a solid color of yarn so the design would be visible in the knitted garment, and picked a bright shade of teal, one of my favorites. I eagerly bought a new circular needle I’d been advised to try and began casting on the required number of stitches, full of happy expectation.


Until the nudge that caused me to look at the two ladies seated next to me… and then I gasped in dismay. They had each chosen a simple ribbed hat pattern and were working with variegated yarns of the most beautiful rainbow colors. I felt the nudge of Envy and heard his whisper in my ear, Why hadn’t I chosen to do that?! Suddenly the joy in my current project vanished, and all I could think of was hurrying up and finishing it so I could work on what they were doing instead.


Thankfully I was able to eventually shake it off, and I did enjoy a couple of hours knitting new friendships with my heart rather than what I held in my hands, the form, fashion and color of which I eventually realized mattered not at all. The end result of the day was satisfaction with having spent those hours well, regardless of what project I would eventually finish and dump into the donation bin at the end of our time together.


My eyes were suddenly open to the purpose behind Envy’s, which is to distract me from what’s really important in whatever activity I’m engaged in by trying to focus my attention on insignificant details associated with the event. The realization that that what I’m doing with my heart is ever so much more important than what I’m doing with my hands at any given time sandbags my joy against the flood of discontent that Envy hopes to send my way.


 "Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have..."

(Hebrews 13:5 NKJV)

Saturday, January 28, 2023

The Ticktock of the Retirement Clock

The clock is still ticking.


I didn’t expect that. I was pretty sure that when I clocked out for the last time on my last day of work that my fight for time was over. Days stretched out endlessly before me, free of schedules, obligations, and claims upon the twenty-four hours I was granted each day. And truly I rejoiced in that, especially in the first weeks after the holiday celebrations were over and it was time to start a new year, a new kind of life… a new way of living.


I had been preparing for these moments from the start of the previous year. Having finally made the decision to retire, I wanted to make sure that I didn’t waste the freedom I would so soon attain by letting the days go by unscheduled. I knew from experience that free time without pre-planning can fly by in no time and turn into lost time …leaving only feelings of regret instead of joy or accomplishment. So to avert that tragedy, I started making a list of ways to occupy my time, once I had time to spare. And I found that the more I pondered the subject, the more projects I came up with. Not by accident, I’m sure, people came alongside me occasionally who would unknowingly feed my enthusiasm for an idea or steer me in a direction I’m sure God intended for me to head. As the list lengthened, so did my excitement for the ideas it contained. Some were simple, even silly suggestions that just struck my fancy, while others had a more meaningful purpose behind them, meant to benefit me or others in a particular way.


Three weeks have now passed, and I’m feeling a little retrospective. It’s early times yet, but I’m proud of having jumped in and pushed myself to start on the first  of the goals that I wanted to focus on in the first month of the year. It is a constant battle, I’m beginning to realize, to keep moving forward, aware as I am that there are forces working against me, much as gravity slows and eventually stops a rolling stone. I want to keep the momentum going.  So I’m praying that the wind of the Spirit blows continuously to fill my sails and propel me forward.


I did think that once free of the forty-hour work week, I’d have plenty of time for whatever took my fancy. And yet, surprisingly, I’m still feeling time pressure. The time clock is no longer my master, but Father Time is still controlling my life. The scheduling of the hours allotted to me is now mine to choose, but the length of time I have in which to accomplish it all has a finite end. And I feel a bit like I’m racing the clock to fit all that I want to do in the time that I have left. The urgency I feel thus tends to rob each day and its activities of their joy, which was the pursuit of the projects in the first place. 


One of the items on my list was to get back to playing the piano for pleasure. Anxious to keep my mind busy with learning new things, I ordered a book of sheet music for simple melodies written by a pianist I discovered online. I vowed to learn new selections from the book on a regular basis, even as I played again pieces I’d learned and loved in my younger years. Anxious to get the timing right while practicing, I downloaded a metronome app to my phone to issue a steady beat that I would play along to. But because I couldn’t figure out how to use the app properly, the beat never changed, no matter how I tried to change the speed in the settings. All that it did was set the dogs in the house to barking furiously, and if that wasn’t enough, the steady tick-tick-tick soon started to drive me a little crazy, as well. Scrambling to fit all the notes between the ticks of each measure  turned my practice period into a chore rather than a joy. The beauty of the song was lost in the process of trying to play it too perfectly. Plus, the app was expensive in terms of cell phone battery life. I was soon done with it and deleted it off my phone.


And so today I’m doing the same with the way I’ve been hitting my lists… deleting the need to cram everything in the measure of days I have left before I reach the end of my song. I’m in danger of losing the beautiful melody retirement was supposed to be by controlling it too rigidly. Instead, I plan to take life just one measure at a time, seek the Lord’s direction for it, and simply play it well, to the best of my ability, rejoicing in the music that comes out of each day.


 “Lord, make me to know my end, and what is the measure of my days…” (Psalm 39:4 KJV)

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