Thursday, April 8, 2021

He Knows You By Name


The woman stood in front of the self-scan booth unsteadily, eyes closed, and body swaying slightly as if it was trying to remain upright. She held a pie in her hand that she apparently was attempting to ring out.


“Can I help you?” I asked as I came up beside her.


“Oh.” Her eyes opened again, and she said, “I'm just trying to get my head together. I've got it.” Yet she stood there, rocking forward and back, pie still in hand, as if unable to process what to do next.


An older lady came up behind her with a loaded cart. Apparently they were shopping together; I assumed she was the first lady's mother. Together we helped the younger woman scan the pie, navigate her payment and bag the item. Then they turned to scan the cart full of groceries. It soon became apparent that the daughter was physically unable to proceed. She whispered something in her mother's ear, and headed out the door. Left alone, the older lady labored through the task of ringing up her groceries. Hooked to a tank that fed oxygen through her nose, which was also covered with the mandatory face mask, she struggled along until she finally pulled the latter down and gasped, “I can't. I just can't do this. She was supposed to help me, but she's been drinking. I thought I could do it myself, but I can't breathe. Could you please just cash out what I've done so far, and I'll go through a check-out lane for the rest?”


It was Easter weekend, and the checkout lines in the store were horrific; I assumed that was what prompted her to go through self-check in the first place. Sending her to go stand and wait in her oxygen-deprived state was unthinkable.


“I'll finish it for you,” I said, praying that none of the people at the other five booths I was responsible for would need assistance for the next few minutes. Quickly I worked through her remaining items, then put the bags back in the cart while she paid the bill.


“Thank you,” she said, and headed out to join her daughter. Relieved that we had made it through the episode unscathed, I put it out of my mind and went back to helping other patrons.


But moments later, she was back, still struggling while pushing the cart loaded with the bagged items. “I can't find my daughter. She was going to go sit in the van, but the van isn't where we parked it. People are telling me to call the police, but I don't want to call the police on her. I have to go look for her, but I can't push this cart while doing so. Can I just leave it here till I find her?”


“Of course!,” I said. “Tell me your name, and I'll mark it as paid so they don't do anything with it.”


“My name's Elaine,” she answered.


That stopped me short. My eyes bugged out a little as I showed her my name tag and said, “Mine, too!” With worries on her heart she had little time for seeming coincidences and hurried out the door. But I stood there a minute longer, knowing instantly that the seemingly random exchange was more than just that. Mine is not a common name. I knew it was spoken deliberately because it was meant to catch my attention. But duty called, and soon I was summoned by somebody else who needed help. I was likewise engaged with another customer when she came back in sometime later and retrieved her cart. I desperately wanted to know the end of the story, but apparently I had heard all I needed to hear. I pushed it aside and went back to work.


Sometime later I put the pieces together. My daughter-in-law works in an assisted living facility and had recently asked me if I had any stories I could let her use for an Easter devotional with her residents. “And if you don't have any, could you please write one for me?” she'd asked. I laughed at the last question, as I know from experience that I can't produce a story on my own. Inspiration has to come from above, and, to be honest, had been in short supply of late... a combination of earlier work hours that had taken away my usual writing time and the drifting of my mind in other directions as a result. Thankfully I was able to find a devotion written by somebody else to send her.


And then God gave me a story anyway... about how He sees us in our struggles with sin and sickness, and life issues...even just our own indifference to spiritual things, knowing that we are simply unable to get through life on our own. So He stands by, anxiously waiting for the fight to break us down till we finally speak the words He needs to hear before He can step in and act... simply, “I can't.” When we finally admit that we need more help than we can muster on our own, He steps in and offers what only He can do. He says 'I'll finish it for you...”... and He did so with His last breath on the cross. And now that gift of salvation is paid for and waiting for you to come and claim... because He carries your name across His heart.


But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

(Romans 5:8 NKJV)


Friday, March 12, 2021

The Lenten Loosening


I stepped on the scale in the predawn hours of the day, looked down at the result, and sighed.


“I may have to give up Extra-toasty Cheez-Its for Lent.”


I smiled at the memory of my days as a practicing Catholic and the annual practice of giving up something for the 40 days before Easter as a reminder of the suffering of Christ on the Cross and His sacrifice on our behalf. Its purpose was to loosen one's hold on the things of this world and focus attention instead on its Savior. Clearly the scale was telling me I needed to loosen my hold on my box of crackers, and I always need more of Jesus in my sights. Lent is meant to be a serious and reflective season rather than a particularly happy one, but the “Fish on Friday” result of abstaining from eating meat on that day of the week during the Lenten season was always my favorite Catholic tradition and are three words I have lived by with delight to this day. Looking forward to a fish sandwich of baked cod in a toasted bun for dinner that night made it easy to push thoughts of cheesy crackers aside. Eagerly I signed on and hoped that on Easter morning when I again stepped on the scale I would see positive physical results as well as spiritual ones.


Somewhere in the multiple decades of my life my pursuit of God changed from following a list of rules to forming a real relationship with the Creator of the world Himself. Now my life is governed by my love for Him that grew out of the realization of His love for me, and my actions are guided and motivated by that love. One result of our ever-growing friendship is that He leads me along the path I am to follow with challenges that are fun and motivational, rather than difficult or restrictive. He was fine with my “giving up” something that was cluttering my life and expanding my waistline, but suggested I put my focus on “giving out” every day of the period as well. I was to try to find ways to show His love every day in some way.


Perhaps it was not by accident that I was reading Max Lucado's book Begin Again at this same time, and that I came across his assertion that “the works of mercy are simple deeds.” God wasn't looking for me to pull off some grand feat of bravery or large monetary expense to prove my devotion so much as to simply put others before myself in some way as an offering of love. It's a devotion to small acts or kindness that are heroic in God's eyes and garner His attention.


In the hours that followed that day He gave me some examples. I was manning the self-scan booths at my grocery store when a lady signaled to me that she was ninety-three cents short on her bill and was going to run to her car to gather up some loose change. The man who was putting cash in the machine next to hers simply pulled a dollar bill out of his already open wallet and handed it to her with a smile. Another time later in the day I noticed that movement out the front door was slow because people were inviting others to exit ahead of them with a smile and a wave of the arm instead of shoving their way through in the usual hurry to get out and on with the day. There were others who stopped to help pick up items dropped by somebody else, unload a cart, or simply wait patiently with a smile when somebody in the line ahead of them required a little bit of extra time; all simple examples of actions that God sees and takes note of.


In his book, Max asserts that eventually each one of those actions will be recounted, remembered, and rewarded. So he encourages us to make a list while on earth that will take some time to get through in Heaven. No worries; you've got all eternity with Him to review what you did with the life and breath and love He gave you.


I like my Cheez-Its extra-toasty. But I love that God can use even the description on a box of crackers to challenge me to give a little extra to a world that needs the Love I tend to hold all to myself. How great to stand in heaven with empty hands because my heart was full and I gave all His Love away.


And the King will answer and say to them, 'Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.'”

(Matthew 25:40 NKJV)

 

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Hands-on Help for the Hurting


My fingers were all just so sore.


That was my thought as I lay down in bed the other night. Usually I have one of two troublesome digits at a time during the winter months; to have both hands so achy was unusual and a little overwhelming. I could work around a couple of sore spots with ease, but to have the fingers that were supposed to pick up the slack also in bad shape was a bit of a problem. Resolutely I grabbed the little pot of cream on my bedside table, took off the lid and sent the top of both hands inside for a dive. Then slowly and methodically the tips of those ten fingers worked that salve into each other's broken places... the finger cracks by the nails from the cold weather, the dry skin from pulling moisture-sucking grocery bags open all day at work, the burns from my carelessness with the wood stove. Up and down, in and around, rubbing and soothing till all the excess was gone. I got tickled to realize that as each finger worked cream into its neighbors' wounds, its buddies beside it were doing the same to its own lesions. It was a mutually beneficial action that would soon bring positive results. I flipped off the light and let the healing balm do its work during the sleep-filled hours of the night.


When I woke I realized that my fingers' actions the night before were a picture of the church.


“Church” has been on my mind of late, as my pastor has been preaching a sermon series exploring the reasons why we as believers attend. Of course, church attendance has changed in form during this last year of dealing with a pandemic; our options have expanded from merely walking through an open door to watching a service online to small-group Zoom meetings in the comfort of our homes, to name a few. But a weekly gathering of believers in some form is still a ritual we cling to. My pastor's opening question of why we do so troubled me more than I liked to admit. Was it just a matter of habit? One of those things I've done for so long that the action is no longer questioned? Or perhaps obedience? I went originally because my parents said so; now I go because God says the same? Or is it merely a social activity with people who have become my friends? The question lingered in my subconscious and surfaced repeatedly during the last couple of weeks to tease my mind.


In the process of delivering last week's sermon, almost as a side note, our preacher issued an invitation to his congregation. The ongoing construction of a new sanctuary on the church grounds is nearing completion, and church members were invited to come in socially-distanced times and ways to cover the bare floor with hand-written Scriptures and prayers before the carpeting was laid down in the coming week.


I smiled at a memory the words conjured up; a similar invitation issued many years ago when the church I was then attending had built a new platform for its growing worship team, and we likewise covered the bare wooden boards with the words and promises of God. It was a powerful and prophetic action that united us in purpose and praise for what God was allowing to be a part of in the lives of the people in that area. I was eager to participate again.


I had driven by that old church in recent weeks, and was saddened by the sight of the chain that now blocks the driveway, the building slowly falling into disrepair behind it after property disputes among former tenants forced it to close while lengthy legal battles sorted the mess out. To a casual observer it looks like the church is shut down, its days of serving the community now over. But those of us who used to attend there know differently. The building may be closed, but the church itself is alive and well, the flame of the Spirit that used to dwell there burning brightly still in the hearts of the believers who are now spread out into different houses of worship, setting dry spirits aflame with new hope wherever they go.


And suddenly I understood. The church gathering is just the pot of cream we dip our hearts into each week, a source of healing balm that we then use in our interactions with each other, rubbing it into our sore spots and open wounds...it is help for the hurting that we apply as we go and which heals our own hurts in the process. We come together for a joint encounter with God, Who promises that where two or three are gathered together in His Name, He is there in their midst. The worship releases and increases our love for Him, the preaching instructs and inspires us, and the social interactions give us an outlet for the gifts we've been given... so that we leave armed and ready to be a blessing in some way to those who will cross our paths. Just as I have three kinds of lotion or ointment on my nightstand that I choose between on any given night to give my fingers some relief, so do we have multiple options of church services to choose between depending on our personal preferences and needs. The important thing is that we find a source of help.


Perhaps when God warns us not to forsake “the assembling of ourselves together” (Hebrews 10:25), it's not because He wants to add another item to our over-loaded to-do lists, or to make us feel guilty for our failure in that area, nor because He is an overbearing father just giving commands because He is the Boss. He simply knows that none of us can make it through this life on our own... that we need each other to sooth the hurts and walk us through the broken places in our lives in this journey through a wounded and weary world. As always, He has a source of Help and Hope ready for our every need if we just make the effort to avail ourselves of it.


Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there?

Why then is there no healing for the wound of my people?”

(Jeremiah 8:22 NIV)

 

Monday, December 28, 2020

Morning Milking


Not many girls I knew were lucky enough to grow up in the shadow of a big city and yet have a working dairy farm situated at the end of their road. I never really paid much attention to it until the day I spotted a cow giving birth in a pasture while my family was driving by. Thinking such a momentous event should not be happening unattended, I made my mom stop at the house, raced to and pounded on the door, telling the farmer who answered what I'd seen in breathless gasps that he was surely lucky to understand. He smiled kindly, nodded his head and thanked me, and said he'd take care of it. Then he closed the door and we were done! His response was a little underwhelming, to say the least, but thus began a friendship that lasted for several years.


Apparently I was just one of a number of local children he humored with trips about his farm, letting us tag along as he did his chores, scattering grain for the chickens, feeding the big bull in the barn, and to my great delight, hand-feeding the calves out of giant baby bottles that they sucked at so greedily they threatened to pull them out of my hands.


And always I visited the milking barn, passing the cows in the corral, patiently lined up and waiting their turn to be milked. While most were milked by machines attached to their udders while they fed on hay in the bin, there were some Mr. Peak milked by hand for some reason, sitting on the little three-legged stool and working the udders to produce a steady stream of milk in the waiting bucket below. He gave me a shot at it a couple of times and I remember the softness of the udder, the process of working the teat and my amazement when my efforts were successful. It was magical to a city girl, and I spent countless hours there on lazy summer afternoons.


The farm is long gone now. A Silicon Valley millionaire bought the property and built a mansion on that land of milk and memories. But I was suddenly transported back there recently in a conversation with my sister in which we discussed the importance of “milking joy” out of every moment this holiday season, especially in a year dominated by the worries and struggles produced by a global pandemic. Suddenly I was back on that milking stool, squeezing the nipple, delighting in the milk my actions produced.


God wants us to know we can have that joy in everything we experience, not just during the holidays, but every day in every circumstance we face, if we just take the time to work our situation to produce the blessing it contains. Time stops and joy deepens when we stop long enough to squeeze out all the magic of the moment, appreciating it fully and giving thanks for the wonder of it before releasing it, only to grab the next and repeat the process, again and again as we go through our days. Even the hard times have hidden blessings that are found only when we make the concerted effort to pull up a stool and release them.


Too often these days in our increasing rush to meet holiday deadlines, our joy is produced through artificial means, pumped out of the season in the familiarity of carols, heartwarming movies, eye-popping decorations and wallet-emptying purchases for ourselves or others. We get our spiritual sustenance in the same way, bottled and delivered by any number of outside means. One benefit of milking machines is the incredible amount of time they save on days when multi-tasking is by necessity the name of the game. But there is something special about setting aside some time every day to milk joy the old-fashioned way, spending the time to bond with the One who gives us all good things and finding our peace in the meditative process of seeking Him out.


Our day starts every morning like a cow standing before us with a full udder, ready to release it's joy. Don't let your bucket run dry.


Through the Lord's mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. 'The Lord is my portion,' says my soul, 'Therefore I hope in Him!' The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him.”

(Lamentations 3: 22-25 NKJV)

 

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Kudos to Christmas Carols


Photo credit: Sonny Hurd

“The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.” 

 

Elf movie devotees will recognize that quote instantly. Who among us doesn't need a whole lot of Christmas cheer at the end of a pandemic-affected year?! All of us need all the happiness we can muster up. Perhaps that's why some people started listening to Christmas music while the Halloween ghosts and goblins were still running around gathering socially distanced- placed treats!


Not this girl, however. I sortof need a Christmas tree in my sights before my vocal chords loosen up and let fly with the holiday vibes. But the tree is now in place and working its magic. I find myself drawn to the piano in the corner behind it, pulling out the bench and squeezing between ornament-dangled branches for a quick songburst before heading to bed and letting visions of sugarplums fill my head.


I smile to realize I was raised that way.


Every night during the holiday season when I was a little girl, our family of five sat around the Christmas tree and the kids took turns banging out a carol on the piano while the rest of the family sang along. I think it was my mom's way of wrangling a few extra minutes of piano practice out of reluctant kids before the approaching Christmas recital at our teacher's house. Whatever the reason, we gathered and played and sang five songs, multiple verses, every... single... night.


How on earth did we manage it? It's all we can do to gather our families around the dinner table now, let alone around a Christmas tree at night. Of course this was long before the distractions of cell phones, video games and binge-watching favorite shows on Netflix. But haven't all generations simply had too much to do in December to make time for activities like this?! I know that in raising my own kids, December was a mad dash to get everything done by the 25th day of the month...the shopping, baking, decorating, cards, wrapping... and it was only my husband's insistence that we adhere to certain traditions that kept the holy in the holiday even as we decked the halls.

 

I guess my parents knew it was important. It kept our hearts focused on the Reason of the season, even while allowing us the joy of gazing at the pretty lights and beautifully wrapped packages in front of us. And it worked. Surely it must have, for me to remember the wonder of it some six decades later, and to be drawn back to that piano bench once more. 

 

Our houses may be a little emptier by necessity this year than in days gone by, but our hearts don't have to be. If you're feeling a little down, fill your own cup of cheer by singing loudly for Jesus to hear. You don't even need a piano. He's all ears and eager for your nightly lullaby. Give it a try.


O come, Thou Dayspring, from on high,

And cheer us by Thy drawing nigh;

Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,

And death's dark shadows put to flight.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel

Shall come to thee, O Israel.”

 

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Slow the Flow

 


“So, Elaine, are you ready for Thanksgiving?” my coworker asked as we scanned and bagged a grocery order.

 

Thanksgiving? It's mid-October! Listen, buddy, I'm old! Each day is a treasure! I can't be throwing them carelessly away!”

 

My friend looked a little startled at my vehement protestation. And I understand where he's coming from. He's young, less than half my age, and eagerly counting the days till his upcoming vacation and birthday celebration Thanksgiving week in the mountains of Tennessee. Who could blame him for mentally tossing away calendar pages as fast as he turns them over?

 

It's a matter of perspective, one gained over time. His lifetime hourglass is still very full; the hours seem to stream endlessly before him with no end in sight. I, on the other hand, am keenly aware that there are more grains of sand in the bottom half of mine than are waiting to drop from the top, so I am increasingly careful with what I do with each one. I don't have any to waste!

 

And really, why would we want to, no matter what stage of life we are currently in? Each day is a gift, a one-time-use twenty-four-hour offer of joy from God, available for pickup each morning and expiring come nightfall, never to return in exactly the same way ever again. Why would we pass that up?

 

Yet some of us do. We stumble through our daily routines just trying to make it through each one till we can fall exhausted in our beds at night for a few hours of rest before rising to do it all again. We count on holidays and weekends away to be bright spots of joy in increasingly pressure-packed schedules that vary little from season to season in intensity, but only in the activities we pursue. Meanwhile, the days of our lives are slipping through our fingers and there seems to be no way to slow the flow.


But that's not so.


Favorite author Ann Voskamp suggests that we can actually do so with gratitude. We hold a moment captive when we see the wonder it contains, fully experience its joy and express our thanks for the same before letting it pass away. Gratitude simply adds length to our days... and perhaps days to the length of our lives. Count me in!


And so I approach my days a little differently now. I rise in the morning to meet up with God, Who hands me the gift of the day before me, and then eagerly watches as I go through the hours that follow, gently unwrapping the tissue-packed minutes that are meant to surprise and delight me. His smile grows at my joy over each new discovery of His goodness, every token of His care, and every new revelation of His love for me. His ears rejoice as I voice my thanks. And at the end of the day I slip the wrappings away in a bedtime thank-you conversation with Him about the hours just past, a gift in return. Sleep then comes peacefully sweet till I rise to do it all over again the next day. Who would want to give any such days away?


So am I ready for thanks-giving? You bet! And I hope you are, too.


This is the day the Lord has made; We will rejoice and be glad in it.”

(Psalm 118:24 NKJV)

Sunday, June 7, 2020

I Said "YES"

My marriage didn't make it to the 40-year mark. Cancer stole Jim away 281 days short of that impressive milestone. It may have taken the future we had ahead of us, but it couldn't touch the past; the memories made, the love shared, the laughter that filled those years. I still feel married to him; his ring remains on my finger. And so I decided to celebrate the day anyway, even to the point of buying myself a gift.

Traditionally, the 40th anniversary is celebrated with the purchase of a ruby in some form. In recent weeks I have thought about buying a simple heart-shaped necklace with the red gemstone set inside. I did some online searches but didn't find anything that stole my breath away, so I put the idea aside to look into more on another day.

The last months of Jim's life were difficult ones for both of us in many ways. Of course there were the physical symptoms as the disease progressed and impacted Jim's body in more and more ways. But equally difficult was the spiritual battle we faced, as we tried to hold on to the hope that God would intervene in our situation with the healing we so desperately sought.

Our battle began months earlier when the results of the biopsy came back. Suddenly our enemy had a name, and Jim's doctor wanted to start an aggressive attack against it, one that carried risks Jim found he couldn't accept. He wanted to seek other treatment options; change his diet to minimize the growth of the tumor while pursuing healing in the spiritual realm. A choice unpopular with the world, he told only those who absolutely needed to know so that his faith in God would be supported rather than undermined with negative pronouncements. Together we agreed to leave no stone unturned in this spiritual journey; to that end we traveled to healing rooms and prayer rooms in distant locales, had our house anointed with oil, studied and began the daily practice of taking Communion, read books on healing, and filled our minds and our hearts with stories of miracles others had received that could be ours, as well. Firmly believing that healing was purchased for us on the Cross of Calvary, we believed it, claimed it, spoke it, prayed it.

The only thing we couldn't do was manifest it in our lives. As the summer months progressed, so did the disease, and soon it became obvious to me that God wasn't going to answer us in the way we were expecting. While still holding out hope for a midnight-hour miracle, I was losing my grip on my spiritual lifeline. I didn't understand why the truths I so firmly believed seemed to work for others, but not for me... why it felt like God didn't hear me... why for some reason He refused to intervene. While never losing my belief in the ultimate love and goodness of God, there was an increasing distance between Him and me, a growing loss of intimacy because of my confusion over what we were experiencing.

Jim's faith didn't waver. He held on to the belief that healing was his whether he could experience it in this life or not. At the very end, he said only that if he wasn't going to receive his miracle on this side of Heaven, then he was ready to go on Home. And so he did.

My faith crisis in those days didn't affect God's faithfulness to me. He showed up and carried me in the last week of Jim's life and in the weeks and months that followed in ways that were nothing short of miraculous, leading me to realize that my prayers for a miracle had been heard and answered, just not in the way I expected. My gratitude towards Him overflowed as He helped me do all that was necessary to carry on with life in Jim's absence.

Yet the distance between us remained, and it was agony for me. I couldn't bear to lose the love of my life and the Lover of my soul at the same time! But as in any love relationship, it's hard to get back to the intimacy you once experienced when you feel that the trust between you has been broken. I didn't know how to bridge that gap.

Some say we should have chosen the medical options in conjunction with the spiritual ones, regardless of the risk, rather than putting God to the test of producing a miracle at our request. The list of “what ifs” is long and leads only to regret and recrimination. I was ready to move forward if I could just find again some stable footing on which to place my feet.

In the end, it came down to a simple choice. God took me back to a time decades ago when our relationship was in this exact spot. While the stakes were much smaller in the earlier situation, the spiritual consequences were just as huge. I had believed God for something and it hadn't happened; as a new believer I was devastated and questioned whether I could carry on with a God who didn't seem to keep His promises. My confusion and pain made me miserable. I remember exactly where I was when God suddenly asked me if I could simply trust Him, even if I didn't understand the way He had handled the circumstances I was going through.

There is no way to convey how huge that moment was for me. I felt the weight of it; I knew I had come to a crossroads in my spiritual walk, even in its early stages, and that the course of my life would be very different depending on the choice I made. I could continue to walk with God, even without completely understanding everything that happened to me, or I could turn and journey on alone.

Could I trust Him? I said yes. And when the question came up again in these last few months, I ended up giving the same reply. Yes, I will believe in You. Yes, I will trust You. Yes, I will absolutely love You, no matter what happens, “for better or for worse, in sickness and in health...” I smile now at the familiarity of those words.

I did buy myself a necklace to celebrate my anniversary (www.theyesnecklace.com), and like the day I'm celebrating, it looks very different from what I thought it would.... still a "precious gem", just in a different form. Saying “yes” to Jim on this day gave me 40 years of love and joy; saying “yes” to God guarantees me an eternity of the same.

Preserve me, O God, for in You I have put my trust...I have set the Lord always before me; Because He is at my right hand I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices; My flesh also will rest in hope...You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
(Psalm 16:1,8-9,11 NKJV)

If you want the peace that surpasses uderstandingyou have to give up your right to understand.”
  • Bill Johnson

Monday, November 11, 2019

When a Sketch is a Stretch

I'll admit it; I'm a Halloween party-pooper.

Dressing up in a costume to me is more torture than fun; best leave that to those who are young...in heart, if not in age. Because I spend the majority of the year trying to eliminate fear, I don't go looking for goblins and ghouls in haunted houses, nor watch movies that are sure to haunt my dreams and mess up a good night's sleep. I'm even too lazy to carve a face on a pumpkin. The only part of the holiday I really participate in is candy consumption... but that I do with a vengeance!

This year I tried to limit the caloric intake of the holiday and so reduced my actual holiday candy allotment to a single bag of candy corn. One bag containing two servings, that would be it. Dutifully I split the contents of the bag into two piles, eating one immediately, and somehow managing to put the other in a little container to eat as a treat at work the next day... except that I inexplicably forgot that I had the candy with me on the morrow and returned home with it still in my lunchbag.

I was sitting at the kitchen table the next morning, jump-starting my devotional time as usual with some thankful thoughts... at least three of them, one of which had to be illustrated in a little sketch in pencil in my journal. Originally my directive was to draw the moment which meant the most to me from the day before... but since my artistic skills are severely limited, some things for which I was profoundly grateful were eliminated from the selection process because I knew I could never sketch the moment in question. I'd have to be grateful for something a little easier to draw! Soon the purpose of giving thanks was lost in the ordeal I'd made of the activity, and I was coming close to abandoning it completely when I suddenly remembered that little container of candy corn.

Delighted, I grabbed it out of the bag on the counter and was ready to pop the small handful in my mouth, regardless of the early hour, when God halted me with a sudden “Not so fast!” that I heard in my spirit, if not in my ears. “One piece of candy corn for every grateful thought...no cheating!...and GO!”


I love it when God plays games with me, and so eagerly began. The thoughts came quickly at first, fueled by the little bits of sugary sweetness I gobbled after each one. I thanked Him for the re-connection with a friend I had seen the night before...traveling mercies in rush-hour freeway traffic I navigated to get to the event...the power nap I somehow had time for before leaving home that afternoon. After the first wave of gratitude there was still corn on the table, and my thoughts turned to things I normally wouldn't have mentioned... the sight of an owl flying through the trees in the yard just before dawn... watching a squirrel rebuild a nest with a mouthful of leaves it had collected from the ground below...a red-bellied woodpecker come to eat breakfast at the birdfeeder on the deck. Little moments I would have thought unworthy of my journal were gifts from God's hand whether I could illustrate them or not, and the acknowledgment of each brought delight first to His heart and then to my tongue.

Soon the pile of candy was gone but in its place was an understanding that God wants me to see His goodness in all things, and that walking in constant gratitude brings a sweetness to life that a little bit of candy can't begin to match. I've learned lately that even the scariest of seasons can be traversed with His constant love as my companion, and my steps sweetened with gratitude for bite after bite of the goodness of God.

Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good; Blessed is the man who trusts in Him!”
(Psalms 34:8 NKJV)


Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Missile Attacks on the Mind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 30, 2019

The Fence of Faith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Fight With a Four-Letter Word

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

The Divine at Your Doorstep

We've never had a doorbell.

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

Until now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, January 24, 2019

"Post"-Thanksgiving Thanks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Stinking Thinking

They were simply everywhere.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Disguised to Surprise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 24, 2018

Knock, Knock, Knockin'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 4, 2018

A Pocketful of Hope to Pass Along

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 11, 2018

David and His Dornicks

“Dornick”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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