Monday, June 29, 2015

Not all who wander are lost

I went for a little run this morning, taking advantage of a cool breeze and a surprising lack of humidity.  On the tail of a longer run yesterday, I just wanted a short jog through the woods. I chose a new trail, basing my route on seeing a couple of runners ahead of me and a woman with an enormous dog. I would not be alone. It was a shaded crushed gravel pathway that traveled past the back of a high school, grazed along a greenbelt area, and headed toward the local nature center. 

Where the trail went after that landmark, I was not quite sure, but I was not planning on going any further than that. 

I didn't have a map, but I knew the general direction.  No big deal.  I had observed runners on this stretch many times as I drove past on my way to Kroger.

As I headed out, I pushed my pace a bit as I was already running a little bit late in my morning schedule.  I jogged past the landmarks and fell into a comfortable stride.  It was a beautiful morning.  Wildflowers decorated both sides of the path.  A small brook meandered alongside the trail.  A man and his dog were running a little bit ahead of me.  I followed them toward an intersection, where I had decided to turn around.

But on the other side of that intersection, a path through an open field beckoned me.  A driver stopped to let me cross the road.  I felt obligated.  "Just a little bit further," I decided.  I should know by now that those are words of trouble.

I passed two separate groups of cross country runners on the ground stretching after their practice.  I followed the trail around a bend and saw a paved pedestrian road up ahead.  It appeared to be traveling back to where the runners were stretching.

As I started up that road, a verse came to the surface of my thoughts, "There is a way that seems right to a man..." (Proverbs 14.12)  And I knew where that verse was headed.  Never a good ending.  But I kept running. "I know where I am going," I lied to myself.  About a hundred feet ahead, that road in "the right direction" suddenly veered a sharp left, heading into unknown territory, definitely not where I wanted to be.

I remembered my friend Maria saying that she once hiked twelve miles before she found her way out of the maze of trails in this park.

I took the next available path to the right and hoped that it would come out in a familiar place.  I looked for indications of those who had gone before me, a groomed trail, a path worn in the grass, and today, the sound of cross country girls laughing up ahead.

Several detours later, a couple of other trails diverging, a signpost that made no sense at all, and I found my way back to my car.

In the Fellowship of the Ring, author J.R.R. Tolkien notes, "Not all who wander are lost."

But today, I was.  No doubt about it.

In my life, I have found myself many times in uncharted lands, in places of wilderness, and on paths that didn't quite turn out as I had thought.  But one thing I know, God goes with me, guiding my way, even into places I may never quite understand.

It is not that God calls me to a certain place,
        or to do a specific task,
but to be faithful.

I just need to follow God into His good purposes and into a closer fellowship with Him.

...that He may teach us His ways
     and we may walk in His paths.

                             Micah 4.2

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Who let the dogs out?

Somehow when I was growing up, our house became a refuge for orphaned dogs.  One by one, we seemed to accumulate beloved pets who were conveniently left behind, mostly by my brothers.  Temporary guests gradually evolved into permanent residents.  At one point, there were three dogs living at our house, who were like fun-loving fraternity brothers.

I vowed I would never have a dog.  But that is another story in itself.

Our fenced yard was viewed by those dogs not as a place of freedom to enjoy and frolic, but more like the walled yard of a penitentiary.  I was convinced that it was their mission in life to escape by any means possible.  Every time they were let out, they would literally browse the perimeters of the yard, pushing up against every picket to see if one was loose.  And then again, there was the gate, often inadvertently left open by one of my brothers mowing the yard or playing ball, always intending to come back, but somehow seldom remembering to return and close it.

And so, it became an unwritten rule in our house that whoever let the dogs out should first check the gate to make sure it was closed and fastened.  The consequences of an open gate impacted us and everyone around us. Three dogs on the loose defined the word "mayhem."  They scattered and ran away as fast as possible, scouring the neighborhood and looking for trouble. It was extreme havoc, multiplied by three.

This week, I had a proverbial pack of dogs of my own, waiting to get out by any means possible.  There was a huge opportunity -- a very open gate -- to speak ungraciously about someone.  And God reminded me about the consequences of letting those unruly dogs out.

Set a guard over my mouth, O LORD,
keep watch over the door of my lips.

                              Psalm 141. 3

As I entered the situation, as I opened the door, I was very conscious of making sure that gate was closed and secure, aware of unkind words, barking and straining at the leash.  I chose not to say anything.  And even before the situation was over, God had not just changed my words, He changed my heart.

Before a volatile situation, or even into the most ordinary day, secure that gate.  There is never a need to let out those misbehaving dogs and make a mess of everything.

Give me, O LORD,
words of kindness and grace,
              even in this.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Name that tune

When my mom was in her sixties, she followed God's leading into a new venture.  As a violinist, she had played before big audiences and small, both seeking and seizing every opportunity to engage in music. What appeared as her vocation was her calling.  It was all ministry to her.  It was how she translated God into languages others could understand.

She had been teaching violin students in our living room for more years than I care to remember.  My brothers and I woke every dawn to the screeching of beginning violinists.  And with each note, she loved on these kids.  Because we lived across from the high school, many came for more than violin instruction.  They hung out at our house, ate meals with us, and often I found in the morning, someone sleeping on the living room couch.

Mom's new venture began with a single invitation to play her violin at a retirement home.  And quite suddenly, she had a new stage and a new audience.  She began to play for women's luncheons, garden clubs, and once, as a strolling violinist at a wedding reception.  But her delight was playing for the elderly in nursing homes and retirement villages, those on the margins, largely lonely and forgotten.

Before each of these occasions, she carefully crafted her program for the event, thinking about the people, the place, their season in life, for a means of connecting with these individuals.  Melodies of romance were crafted for a Valentine's Day luncheon.  Tunes from the Big Band era were arranged for an evening with the elderly.  Patriotic songs were designated for the Veterans's Home.  Nurses in these places often noticed unresponsive patients tapping their feet in time with the music.

How shall we sing the LORD'S song
           in a foreign land?
                           Psalm 137. 4

Every which way I can.

God places each of us strategically
in exact time and place
to do that specifically
     through everything we do today,
songs of joy and hope and strength
            in a barren place.

Someone is always listening
      to what song you are singing,
      by what melody you are living,
to know if God is real.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Hallmark Dad

There were many things that my father was.  There were many things he was not.

And in my annual frustrating search for the perfect Father's Day card for him, I never found one that really fit.  He was not handy with tools.  He did not fish.  He tried golf, but that didn't last but a few weeks.

And I was so often overwhelmed by what he was not.

But on Father's Day, God continues to remind me:

Finally, brethren,
whatever is true,
whatever is honorable,
whatever is just,
whatever is pure,
whatever is lovely,
whatever is gracious,
if there is any excellence,
if there is anything
            worthy of praise,
think about these things.
What you have learned and received
and heard and seen in me,
and the God of peace
         will be with you.

                        Philippians 4. 8-9

Think about it,
anything and whatever.

My dad was not the perfect parent.
The reality is
              neither am I.

He has been gone now four and a half years.

And all along,
I just wanted a card that said,
                  "I love you."

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Rocks and other hard things

As I drove over to my daughter's house this morning to take care of two of our grand babies, I had no idea of what I would face today.  But as I wove along the country roads, I thought about one of the passages I read earlier this morning, and part of a verse that really stood out to me.

...and with the stones
    he built an altar
          in the name of the LORD.

                                     1 Kings 18. 32

No matter what I am appointed this day
           I can worship the LORD in it.

It is not significant what I do
with the big rocks
and the broken pieces.of life
               but how God uses them.

Two guarantees I can offer:
     1. There will be hard stuff,
            sometimes really really hard stuff.
     2. And God is both faithful and creative.

What can He do with this?

Even in what appears irrelevant,
     and doesn't fit by any sense of my imagination,
                                God redeems.
Propped against the back splash by my daughter's kitchen sink is a small wooden plaque
inscribed with Psalm 118. 1:


Not because things are going well,
or life is easy and comfortable,
not just when the dishes are done,
the house is clean
      and the children behave,
not just on the "good days,"
           but because
                          He is good.

Give thanks to the LORD
                      even in this mess,
                  even through this pain.
God enlarges our vision to see past what is hard
         to fulfill His purposes.

Don't just lay the difficulties before the LORD,
       make an altar out of them
                    to worship God.

Worship with those big rocks in every shape and form
     and give thanks to the LORD
     because praise is the glue
               that holds those stones together.