Saturday, June 26, 2010

What Are You Training For?

This winter, I took it easy.  I had just finished a marathon in December, and I was not training for anything in particular, just running.  If it was cold, well, that was a good day to take off.  If it was raining, the same.  If I was busy, well, there just wasn’t time.  I ran, but not with any purpose in mind.


And then suddenly in early April, a running event arrived unexpectedly on my radar.  There was a scheduled last minute  race through Cades Cove, a loop that weaves its way through God’s splendor in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  The road was being repaved for the first time in thirty years and not scheduled to open until the end of May.  When the contractors found that they were going to finish a month early, the National Park was allowing a one-time running race to be held on the loop, never again.  Now or never.  Cades Cove is my favorite running route ever.  And suddenly, I had the opportunity to race there in its sanctuary of trees.  I basically had less than three weeks to prepare.  I now regretted that I had lost my focus over the winter.  I really didn’t feel ready.


Too often, opportunity is thrust unexpectedly into our hands, and we are still in our pajamas, so to speak.


There are other times when we work hard at a task before us, and find out that we have been preparing for something entirely unintended.  But because we have done our homework, even without a specific goal in mind, we are ready and equipped.


Stay in God’s Word, pray without ceasing, work out your faith daily.  We don’t think of those things as training, per se.  But through those daily encounters, God will build your strength in Him for a time when you need it most, perhaps for a tough time that you just didn’t see coming down the pike… or an opportunity of a lifetime.   And you will already have your running shoes on, ready and waiting. 

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Parenting “Game Over?”

A couple of weeks ago, our youngest daughter Hannah turned 21 years old. 


When our four girls were young and we were in the midst of training wheels and diapers and absurd elementary school projects made with popsicle sticks, I thought that when our youngest turned 21, my job would be over.  Like, whoa, you finished the race, sit back and have an iced coffee.  How can I describe how it feels?  It is not the idyllic floating on the Lazy River ride at the amusement park, but more like an harrowing roller coaster, the meanest, steepest, fastest of them all, your seatbelt no longer works and you cannot hold on.  There are precious times indeed, rich and delightful, but also times when I cannot but fall on my knees.  And through the years, as each of the girls passed this milestone, I have realized that being MamaBear is not over, just changed from one likeness into another.


In many ways, it was a lot easier when the cries in the night were just down the hallway and monsters under the bed were vanquished instantly by turning on the light.  Now in their 20s, more than any other time in their lives, the stakes are really high.  The decisions get bigger than “should I make a turkey sandwich or peanut butter and jelly?”  The consequences are harder to deal with than being sent to the principal’s office or grounded “for the rest of your life.”    The foes are no longer the bullies at school who go back to their own houses at the end of the day.  And Mama can’t do it for you anymore.   At this point, parenting is not “game over,” it is “congratulations, you just graduated to a more challenging level.”


I have been reluctantly working myself out of a job for a long time.  I have LOVED being a mom, not the master and commander type but the supporting actress (“what can I do for you?”)  I will always be their mom, I know that. It just feels like I am no longer needed.  And in a way, a very healthy way, I am not.  I just am learning how to be a different kind of mom.  I can’t do the same things for them, or attempt to correct the injustices in their lives, but I can pray.  Once it was a daughter locked out and unable to find the keys to her apartment,  it was 10 o’clock at night,  and I was 553 miles away.   A daughter in the jungles of Ecuador and another in Brooklyn.  A new job, glasses misplaced, a placement test, and the perennial “I can’t take this job another day.”  Or facing decisions that will profoundly impact the next four years …or a lifetime.   I can pray.  And I pray every day that they will stand in the middle of the Red Sea on dry ground, that God would be at the very core of who they are, their covering, their delight, and the focus of their worship.  And that they, O LORD, will be wiser than me. 


I can’t be there anymore, even though I want to.  But God is.  They need to know that.  And so do I.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Greeting Card Dad

Yep, Father’s Day was yesterday.  And as always, I had my annual stress-out in finding a perfect Father’s Day Card.  Hallmark never seems to hit the spot.  My Dad was different.  He did not fish.  He did not golf.  He was not funny.  He had no hobbies.  He worked a lot.  He started his own company when I was in high school, and then worked even more.  He was a man of few words.  Very few.  And like us all, he was a little rough around the edges.


How do you find a card for a man like that?


He was not who I wanted him to be.  And it has taken me a long, long time to break out of that greeting card mentality to appreciate him for who he is.  He is my dad.  He loves me even though it took him about forty years of my life to verbalize it.   He will be 89 years old this month.  He lives alone in a retirement village in Florida.  And I call him just about every day.


Now, as a grandma, I look at him through different eyes.  I can extend grace to him because I realize my own shortcomings.  I am not perfect either.  He did the best he could at the time.  And I feel like sometimes I didn’t even get that far.  And why do we seek the perfect parent?  Because God has wired Himself in us to draw us to Him.


This is how writer Jill Carattini said it in the e-newsletter “A Slice of Infinity” yesterday:   “Such is the startling, radical message of Christ.  There is a Father who knows you by name, in whose house you are invited to be who you are—to live and work and play as He created you.  "In my Father's house are many rooms," said Jesus, "if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you" (John 14:20).  What if there is indeed a Father who waits, who longs to gather his children together and take them into his arms?  Some will be transformed, some will be broken, some will not be gathered in this life.  But God offers us a place, positioned within the greater offer of adoption.  He is our Father whose name is hallowed and whose kingdom we seek, whom we know through the Son and worship as children.  He is called Abba.”

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Eleventh Hour

In Bible times, laborers did not receive benefits or a salary, no negotiations for health insurance or vacation time.  Being hired for the day meant very simply that they could eat that night.  Literally, those who did not work did not eat.  So those who were hired at dawn rejoiced at their good fortune and worked a steady 12 hour day.  A denarius was considered at that time a day’s wages for a laborer.  It was the going rate.  No questions asked. 

In the parable of the householder (Matthew 20. 1-16), the householder hired laborers starting at 6 a.m. to work, and he promised each of them a denarius for the day’s work.  But again at 9 a.m., the householder hired another group of laborers to help in the vineyards, and again at noon, again at 3 p.m., and at the “eleventh hour,” at 5 p.m. laborers were hired for the last hour of the day to finish up the job.  When the day was done, wages were distributed.  Those hired at 5 p.m. were paid first.  They received a denarius as did the rest of the workers.  There is a cry of protest from those who were hired earlier in the day, much grumbling, and shouts of “That’s not fair.”  The 5 p.m. workers didn’t deserve a full day’s wages.  They didn’t do a day’s work.  They don’t DESERVE getting as much as me.  But what’s “not fair” is something far different in God’s economy. 


The first workers felt that they deserved more.  But the last-hired fell to their knees, having spent all day knowing that their families would not eat that day.  They knew they did not deserve their wages, but they knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that grace had been extended.


When it comes down to it, we ALL are undeserving.  Yea, yea, we say, but I should have gotten more.  I may be undeserving, but I am better than you.  That is probably how you would feel if you were among the first hired.   But how would you feel if you were the last?


Chuck Colson says that the one place on earth where grace is never questioned is not in the church, but in prison.  The inmates know they have messed up.   A volunteer for Prison Fellowship was escorting a pastor in a prison one day.  The pastor was visibly nervous.  The volunteer said to him, “Oh, you don’t have to be worried.  They are just like us -- only they got caught.”  Grace shows that our salvation is not based on what we’ve done. If we could have worked our way to salvation, Christ would not have had to die.   The lie from the Garden is “I don’t need God.”  The truth from the Garden is we need a savior, not for what we deserve, but for what we don’t.


I don’t deserve it.  That is the beginning of grace.

Thursday, June 17, 2010


Last week, Bill and I had an adventure with our computer that involved a strange virus and the installation of firewalls.  It is a long story which engulfed two evenings and an afternoon, but we overcame the online disease, thanks to one of our computer-savvy daughters.  The security system is now in place.


Back in the 1760s when the word was first coined, firewalls were designed to prevent one small fire from spreading without control and wiping out entire neighborhoods.  The firewalls could not prevent a fire from starting, but they could keep it contained until it could be extinguished.  Nowadays with computers, we think of firewalls as fortresses to keep out a deadly foe, when in actuality, it is an internal mechanism to rout out what is unwanted .  It does not defend as much as it controls and rejects.


As far as parenting goes, it is all too tempting to build battalions around our kids, “protecting” them from innumerable foes around them, when indeed, they need not so much the barbed wire on the outside as they need the scaffolding within.  You never know what is truly dangerous to them.   As a result, your kids need  internal equipment and awareness.  They need firewalls to help them know how to engage and disarm what will take them down--  socially, emotionally, and spiritually.   Talk about Biblical worldview, so that they can see for themselves a different perspective.  Let them articulate their observations, listen to their concerns, help them to think through the real questions, not just adopt your words or memorize a script of sorts.  Let them actually use the firewalls while they are under your roof.  You will not always be around to protect them, but God is.  They need to experience that.  The firewalls may help them avoid trouble, but when difficulties invade (and they will), your kids will know what to do about them – and not just embrace it or run away.  They can engage the culture, ask the right questions, and defend the Truth.


Just another tool for their toolbox.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Praise Him, Praise Him, All Ye Little Children

A friend recently told me about how she reads Bible stories to her children in the evening before bedtime.  “They are so little,” she said. “I wonder if they will even remember anything at all.”  My response to her was to keep it up.  “You never know what will stick.”


I thought about this conversation last week when I was re-reading one of my favorite books, Evidence Not Seen, by Darlene Deibler Rose.  It is the true account of a young missionary in Papua New Guinea who spent four years as a war prisoner in Japanese concentration camps during World War II.  At one point, she was confined for months in solitary confinement in a tiny windowless cell.  The only human contact she had was when she was initially interrogated by the prison administrators who were determined that she was a spy.  Months passed.  What kept her grounded and from literally losing her mind?  She was amazed at how she remembered Scripture and songs that she had learned as a young child…songs, she said, that she didn’t even know that she had memorized.  They came back in a flood as a comfort to her.  In her words:

p. 143 As a child and young person, I had had a driving compulsion to memorize the written Word. In the cell I was grateful now for those days in Vacation Bible School, when I had memorized many single verses, complete chapters, and Psalms, as well as whole books of the Bible. In the years that followed, I reviewed the Scriptures often. The Lord fed me with the Living Bread that had been stored against the day when fresh supply was cut off by the loss of my Bible. He brought daily comfort and encouragement – yes, and joy – to my heart through the knowledge of the Word.


So, dear mothers and grandmothers, keep singing those songs, keep them memorizing those verses, keep reading Bible stories as well as stories of the heroes of the faith.  They are listening.  They are learning and absorbing and bonding to the Father.  And God is putting yet another tool in their toolbox for the years to come when they may need it most.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Into The Woods

The pathway of my morning run is a familiar one by design.  I have run it enough that I know-- without nary a thought --when to turn, when to switch to the sidewalk, where is the best place to cross the train tracks, and when is the point of “heading back home.”   Of course, this comes in handy in my early morning mental fog, running before my morning cup of coffee kicks in.  It also comes in handy when I am deep in thought, praying through the day or for friends who are struggling, or simply writing in my head.  It is like an organic internal GPS.  A voice does not tell me where to turn – I just follow the path before me.


One place on my daily trek is an old railway line that was converted back in the 1960s into a running/walking/cycling path.  On the weekends, the trail is crowded with adults and kids on bicycles, moms and dads with jogging strollers, old friends conversing, and runners training singly or in pairs.  Weekday mornings, there are commuters walking toward the train station and cyclists hurrying to work, but for the most part, it is just a quiet sanctuary of trees to run through.  This morning, fog was added to the mix, and it looked a bit mysterious as if out of a Jane Austen novel.  One section is particularly shaded, great on a hot summer’s day, but sometimes a bit creepy on a foggy morning.  I was running on this section this morning, looking for where the next street crosses at the train station.  What if I enter this path someday and the train station is not at the end?  What if I come out somewhere else…..or five years later in my life?  How will things be different?  How will I be different?


We are all traveling on paths designed by God for His Kingdom and for our good.  We cannot know what turns the paths will take or if indeed the expected train station will be at the end, but we can be assured of a few things:  God is with us to provide strength for the journey, wisdom to handle what we encounter on the way, grace to deal with those we meet, and His purposes manifest in our lives.  It will all make sense someday.  Take your tool belt with you…and make prayer the first thing you reach for.  Five years from now—or today – may not be what you planned, but it is firmly lodged in His plans.  We have only to run with Him through it.  And perhaps, be surprised at the next intersection where He has brought you.  You may have come further than you thought, or landed at a destination not even on your radar.