Thursday, April 26, 2012

Dead End? Think Again!


My friends Pam and Pete recently navigated down the whitewater current of househunting, not too different from hanging onto a flimsy raft through alligator-infested rapids.  They scoured the internet for weeks and drove through neighborhoods, spotting for-sale signs, tromping through the living rooms of strangers, and discovering that what looks good  in a photograph can be entirely deceiving.  Finally, they found a property that fit into their price range and met at least a few of their desired features, knowing full-well that no dwelling will be perfect, and homeownership is often patched together with compromises and a few gallons of paint.

Realizing that a short-sale is typically anything but short, they hunkered down and waited for the bank to act.  They waited and waited and waited.  And prayed a lot.  “Hey, God, we’re still here.  Remember us?”  Four months later, the bank finally contacted them, raising the price significantly and, after all this time, demanding that my friends make an immediate decision.  Red flags seemed to appear, waving warning signals on every aspect of the sale.  With much dismay, they backed out on the deal.  “This means we are going to have to start ALL OVER,” Pam lamented.

It appeared to be a dead end, and for many, that can become the point of giving up.  But in God’s perspective, a dead end is neither dead nor an end.  It is not the cessation of a path, but a change in direction.  You just can’t get there from here.  It leads to a different place, not the end of hope.

In the dictionary, “dead” means “to cease to be,” as does “end,” so dead end is really a double-nailed coffin.  But the Christian believer lives in light of eternity – this life is not all there is – and there is a God who cares and creates passages of which we cannot comprehend.  When God apparently closes a door, or the pavement stops, or it is time to start from scratch, there is another path elsewhere to be found, one that may not have even appeared on your radar.  God creates something new, leading to extraordinary possibilities beyond what we can ever realize.  We are just too closed-minded, too short, and too nearsighted to even conceive what He is up to.  And if you are willing to follow, He won’t just leave you at the end of a truncated road.  It is not the end of the world, but realization of trusting Him.  It may mean the abandonment of YOUR plans and timing, and wow, being surprised by what God designed all along.  It may take a little longer than we would like…and at times, the full picture may never be revealed to us, as there is something much deeper going on than our time here can tell.

How do we respond to dead ends?   Do we say to God, “WHAT?!?!?!”  or do we respond, “What?”  That is the difference between frustration and following God down another road.  Trust is the monumental effort it takes to move you from mere probability to the realm of endless possibility.  Biblical worldview provides a different way of looking at things, not limited by this place and time, but unbounded by an eternal perspective.  God cares.  God is good.  And you can stake your life on that.

Within just a couple of days, Pam called back.  Just so happens, a different property had just come back on the market, one that they had not seen yet, nor even considered because it was not yet available.  Pam and Pete had just returned from viewing the home, immediately placing an offer.  She was astonished.  “It met every item on my wish list,” she said.  Through all that time, all the delays, the slow-moving bank processes, and the change in contract, God was holding them back --  to give them something even better.  They just didn’t realize it.  Not a dead end, after all.

Now to Him,

Who by the power at work within us

is able to do far more abundantly

than all we ask or imagine…

                                Ephesians 4.20

Monday, April 23, 2012

Are You Sure This Is The Right Way? Re-routed Off The Highway Into the Wilderness


I drove three and a half hours to a writing conference last week, checked into a motel and woke up the next morning in pain.  Only those who have suffered a tooth ache can understand the pain I am talking about.  That morning, the pain was tolerable.  After all, I had driven 211 miles in great anticipation of this meeting.  I could handle it.  And as a runner and four-time mom, I am no stranger to pain.  I mean, like, how bad can a little bitty tooth be?  The pain was noticeable, but at this point, no big deal.  I took a couple of extra-strength Tylenol and plowed ahead.  I would just make an appointment to see the dentist after the weekend.  By that same afternoon, it was a big deal.  After a sleepless night, I realized I was going to have to go home.  There was no way I could wait until Monday – three excruciating days away -- to get help.  I called.  My dentist, who doesn’t work on Fridays, was working on Friday.  The specialist who I needed to see had a last minute cancellation.  I will spare you the gruesome details, but God clearly had made all the arrangements.  I drove home with a throbbing beat pounding in my head, not unlike the boom, boom, boom of loud music in a teenager’s car. 

When I was visiting my granddaughter last month, we read and re-read a book about Dora the Explorer that was based on questions to the reader:  Where are we going?  What will we need to get there?  What is the best way?  And what will we find at the end of the road?

In real life, sometimes you just don’t know.  Sometimes God reroutes us from the well-paved highway of our own plans and send us, well, to a place of His own choosing off the map, full of purpose we cannot see, goodness beyond our recognition, a gravel road not yet taken, to a place where He dwells.  There are no detours in God’s global positioning system, no glitches in His plans, and incredible meaning even in that which we don’t understand.

I may never know why I had to leave the conference so early.  It may have seemed to me an inconvenient time for a tooth infection, but it didn’t take God by surprise.  It never does.  God redeems.  And as I have learned over and over again:  I have seen too much to question God in this.


Behold I am doing a new thing;

now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?

I will make a way in the wilderness

and rivers in the desert.

                                         Isaiah 43.19

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Well done!


Chuck, a friend of ours, died yesterday, on a Saturday afternoon, slipping away when most of the world would not notice his passing.  That was just the way he was.  He ran all the way to the finish line.  Even at 80, there was no time to rest or retire --too much yet to do.

This was not the race Chuck intended as a young ambitious man.  He was destined for the halls of power and achieved it as a young lawyer.  He was energized by intimidating others and threatened at one point that if he had to, he would run over his own grandmother if she stood in his way.  He was known as a hatchet man, a conniver, one who worshipped at the altar of political corruption.  He stooped at nothing, and appealed to and fanned the flames of his boss’s dark side…that is, until all was revealed and President Richard Nixon’s tower of deceit collapsed under the weight of the Watergate scandal.  His special counsel, Chuck Colson, was convicted and endured seven months in federal prison.

But something happened along the way and Chuck returned a different man, he claimed, “born again,” a label for which he was scoffed by the media and the church alike.  “You’re kidding,” the world declared, waiting for his true motivation to emerge.  Those he knew, and even the media, recognized that something was different, but they just couldn’t comprehend what happened, accusing him of deceit and greed, unable to realize the effects of grace or that there could possibly be an alternative to the depravity of man.

And Chuck responded with a transformed life, letting redemption speak for itself.  Upon his return from prison, turning aside lucrative offers from top law firms, Chuck started a ministry to the outcasts of our culture, an outreach to prisoners and their families, all over the world, advocating for justice and even distributing Christmas gifts to their children.  He did not just run a ministry.  His hands got dirty, loving people into God’s kingdom.

That was the Chuck Colson that my husband and I knew.  In 2006, we studied Christian worldview for a year with Chuck, seeing before our eyes a life redeemed, the outcome of what happens when Christ changes a person at the very core of their being.  He possessed the most brilliant mind I have ever encountered.  But it was his change of heart that produced such a warm and compassionate man, serving and loving others with dignity and fervor, no matter a murderer on death row or a king in a palace.  He was a man of great vision and a prophet in our midst.

He slipped away, leaving behind him a huge wake of broken people now redeemed and restored, who have come to realize – as Chuck had – what Good News really means.

I stand in awe of a man who dared to live out faithfulness to the end of his days, to love others unconditionally, and to defend the truth.  He would dare me to do the same.


Love the LORD your God

with all your heart

and with all your soul

and with all your strength

and with all your mind;

and your neighbor as yourself.

                   Luke 10.27

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Gatorade, Sticky Shoes and Intentional Acts of Kindness

On long training runs, I am at the mercy of operable drinking fountains in libraries and parks and how many Snickers I can shove in the teeny pocket of my running shorts.  But at the actual marathon, volunteers stand at strategically-positioned aid stations throughout the course.  Arms extended, they call out “water” or “Gatorade,” depending on what fluid they hold in those little Dixie cups.  Runners swiftly pass by, silently grabbing this sustenance as they run, the liquid often sloshing onto volunteers’ hands and shoes.  For a few blocks, the pavement will be sticky and covered with discarded cups.  In large marathons, garden rakes are necessary to clear the streets of litter. 

These volunteers are thankless heroes.  They set up, most often in the early morning dark, pour thousands of cups of liquid, and never stand on the awards platform.  But we couldn’t run very far without them. 

In my most recent soggy marathon in March, the volunteers – mostly runners themselves – stood in the pouring rain and chilly temperatures for six hours or more, faithfully handing out Gatorade, Fig Newtons, and words of encouragement.  The folding tables were placed about two and a half miles apart, including one perched like a Civil War hospital tent at the infamous “valley of despair,” where the bridge was blown out on the course.  At times in the race, I could not wrap my mind around how much farther to the finish line, but I knew I could make it to the next water stop for a few sips and a friendly face, sometimes all I needed to spur me on. 

God also strategically places “aid stations” when I need them most in the everydays of life.  There are seasons when all of us are slugging down roads too long, days too short, and loads that we were never meant to carry alone.  And when I most need and least expect it, there is often and quite suddenly an encouraging note, a brilliant sunset, a surprise email from a distant friend, or someone coming alongside to run a few minutes of life with me.  Thank you for being there for me.  You may not have even realized the difference that you made.  “Who are the people who have influenced us most? Certainly not the ones who thought they did, but those who did not have even the slightest idea that they were influencing us,”  says Oswald Chambers in his book My Utmost for His Highest.

But there is another side of the equation-- my responsibility to those God has placed on my path.  The basis for the word “opportunity” is a “timely harbor,” a favorable opening which may never happen again.  It is an occasion that invites immediate action, not done out of duty but from love.  Some needs are more obvious than others, the means to fill them both visible and invisible.  Even a hidden act of kindness always and eventually bears fruit.   And so, God provides those opportunities when I need to be that aid station in someone’s life, a port in a storm to extend a kindness to another, perhaps not offering Gatorade, but a good word, a needful action, and grace.  Our influence is never neutral.  Even when it may not make sense from where I am standing in eternity, that smallest kindness may be the most profound of all.  A cup of cold water can change the world.

God is changing my eyes.  God is changing my heart.


Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due,

when it is in your power to do it.

                                       Proverbs 3.27

Monday, April 16, 2012

Adventures in Parenting: O Lord, I Have No Idea What I Am Doing

scan0001 (3)

Today we celebrate the 30th birthday of our oldest daughter Beth.  Even when she was a tiny baby, someone observed that Beth had the “gift of a joyful spirit,” which has been evident her whole life.  She is still a dynamic energy source in our family, finding fun in everything, and possessing an uncanny ability to make friends anywhere and everywhere.   As a teenager, Beth could make two phone calls and end up with forty kids in the basement.  She played the piano as a child for the sheer joy of making music.  Her creativity and artwork continue to astonish everyone. And to our other three girls, she remains the beloved big sister.   All that giftedness is now manifest in new dimensions as a great wife and mother of two young children.  She loves the Lord, and it shows everyday.  Happy birthday, sweetie.
Today is also a celebration of another sort --my 30th anniversary of becoming a mom.  At the time Beth was born, I was filled with great joy, but as soon as we came home from the hospital, whoa, I had NO idea how to care for a newborn.  I felt like an unskilled intern in the school of improvisation.  I learned to juggle, invent, and pray a lot.  “O Lord, I have no idea what I am doing.”  God is so faithful.  I ask forgiveness for the millions of mistakes and mishaps made along the way in raising four daughters, and I am thankful that love and God’s grace cover a multitude of blunders and naivety.   But when all is said and done, it was great fun and all good, even those times we cannot understand, even those parts we cannot comprehend.  I feel so blessed.
On this special day, I thank God for you Beth and for the great 30 year adventure that began with you.  I have loved being your mom.  

Children are a gift from the LORD.
                                  Psalm 127.3

Sunday, April 15, 2012

My Life as a Professional Worrier

“Fear not, for I am with you” are the most familiar words in the Bible.  I have not counted, but I once heard that those words (or a variation of the same) are stated in the Bible 365 times, conveniently once for every day of the year.  That is how much we need to have it drummed into us that we are not alone in this life.

Fear and anxiety snuck into the world in the garden of Eden.  It was not the bite of the apple that did it, but a fraction of a second beforehand when, for the first time in the history of the world, Eve doubted the goodness of God.  Satan promised her something more.  And Eve, not knowing anything other than good, fell for that greatest of deceptions.  She just didn’t realize what “more” entailed – fear, anxiety, feeling overwhelmed, greed, jealousy, and well, we all know the whole lurid list.

Last Sunday was Easter, and the church we attended served communion.  As we bowed our heads to confess our selfish ways, I began through my usual litany of pride, stubbornness, and the like.  As I prayed, I felt like God was saying to me, “yea, yea, but what are you REALLY struggling with?”  I immediately recalled the headlock feeling that I have been wrestling with for several years, that feeling of being overwhelmed and dismayed, those phantoms of fear and anxiety that send me into panic over the tiniest details.  THAT is a sin?!???   Really??  Fear and anxiety are SIN?  “Well, what are they but doubting MY goodness and My love for you?” 

I realized that when faced by a challenge, or the unknown, or even totally irrational fears (“you are afraid of that???”), anxiety had become my default.  And that needed to change.  So I admitted that anxiety was a sin.  That was a huge step.  I confessed that I rashly engaged in it.  And I repented.  My pastor says that repentance is not just saying “sorry” but getting off that train and going in the opposite direction.  It is not a matter of being forgiven – that has already been taken care of on the Cross – it is already paid for.  I needed to name that sin, hand it over, and let Him throw it into the deepest sea.

God is replacing that fear with trust in Him --  a gracious provision on His part, a conscious decision on mine, everytime I hear anxiety rapping at the door.  Ann Voskamp in her book One Thousand Gifts says “Thanks is what builds trust.”  So instead of letting panic seep in, I have begun thanking God.  “It’s impossible to give thanks and simultaneously feel fear,” she says.  Giving thanks counteracts anxiety not with sappy sweet sentiment but with the reality of the goodness of God.  Thank Him in everything, because God is good.  As we used to sing in the South, “God is good all the time, All the time God is good.”  View everything through that lens and it will change your life.

I told anxiety that I didn’t want to be her friend anymore.  I turned my back, walked away and left her behind.  And I was shocked at what happened next, so quickly, so profoundly.  For years I have woken up late at night, sometimes for hours at a time just laying there, fighting off fears, both real and imagined.  Since my confession, amazingly, for the past week, I have slept through the night.  Every night, the deep, I-don’t-think-I-moved-all-night kind of sleep.  As one of my favorite hymns says, “sin’s curse has lost its grip on me.”  Trust is becoming my new default, His Presence my reality. 

Fear not, for I am with you;

be not dismayed, for I am your God;

I will strengthen you,

I will help you,

I will uphold you

with My victorious right hand.

                      Isaiah 41.10

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Day After

It’s the day after Easter, but because of what happened yesterday, it is not just another Monday.  Easter changes everything.
Easter is about hope, not wishful thinking or positive energy as the world sees it, but hope in the Bible which means that on which you can stake your life.  We rejoiced yesterday in that hope.   One of our daughters shared that in her church’s service, the people spontaneously rose up and CHEERED after the songs of Resurrection, including the Hallelujah Chorus.  That is the way it ought to be.  Easter is not just another Sunday.  And the day after, well, we are confronted with the reality that Jesus is alive.  He is risen.  “INDEED!” replies our two-year-old granddaughter. 
Easter is not over.  Because of the Resurrection, nothing will ever be the same. 
This day after Easter, I wanted to share this short video about a young man whose life is based on that hope.  Please watch and listen to his words.  I guarantee that it will change your day.   
Never give up, Nick says. 

Seek the LORD and His strength,
seek His presence continually.
                            Psalm 105.4

Sunday, April 1, 2012

One Run To Rule Them All



Every runner, I suppose, has a favorite route – a “rave run,” as Runner’s World magazine describes it – a trail, a path, even a network of streets – that is a joy to tackle, or sometimes a comfort when feeling overwhelmed.   Yesterday, I had the sheer delight to run an 11-mile loop in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a familiar and absolute-favorite route of mine that even thinking about energizes me.  The loop meanders through an historic area called Cades Cove, the remains of an early settlement in the mountains comprised of 200-year-old log cabins, a mill along a creek, and dirt paths which were once their only connection to civilization.  The valley is sprinkled with scenic wooden churches that look like they were painted into the landscape, places of worship which were once the center of community life.  The graveyards beside them relate the largely untold stories of gracious men, brave women, and small children lost to sickness, the legends and graves tragically portraying the reality of how hard life was in that idyllic setting. 

I love to run “the cove,” as Kat and I call it.  Its rolling terrain is the center aisle through a majestic sanctuary of trees, rivaling the most elaborate Gothic cathedrals and whose branches are lifted in utter praise to their Creator.  Sunlight cuts through the dense green and reminds me that no one in the deepest darkness is beyond the love of God.

I am most often running by myself, and yet never alone.  The valley and hills are bursting with wildlife – families of deer totally oblivious to being watched, wild turkeys gathered together like church ladies for a potluck in a field, and almost always a mama bear and her cubs, sniffing out acorns and berries, and in the fall, scampering in the branches of ancient cherry trees like young boys who have been released from the confines of school.  People in bumper-stickered minivans, SUV’s packed with gawking city folk,  and the beds of small trucks overflowing with t-shirted adolescents creep along this ribbon of road, occasionally tying up traffic for a “did you see that?” but more often, missing what lingers shyly through the trees, that which only can be seen on foot.  I often see the large brown eyes of deer following me as I pass, sometimes accompanied by their tiny, wobbly newly-born youngsters.  And on special occasions, a large magnificent buck standing, like he had just won an Academy Award, his antlers covered in soft velvet.

I run in awe of what rises up around me on this loop.  There is one long winding hill where every time  I reach the top I gasp, not because I am out of breath, but for the profound beauty of the valley below me.  Yesterday, it occurred to me as I ran, that this beautiful place is only a shadowy glimpse of what is to come when the world is restored to what God intended all along.  We live in a fallen world, and as it tells us in the Bible, all of creation is affected by man’s turning away from God, indeed it groans for what was meant to be, longing for redemption.   

God grants to us the amazing ability to grasp the beauty of His creation, a gentle reminder of Who He is.  I see people all the time trying to capture on film what makes their hearts stand in awe.

In the aftermath of last week’s marathon, a friend asked me why I run.   This is it – one run explains it all.


For you shall go out in joy,

and be led forth in peace;

the mountains and hills before you

shall break forth into singing,

and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.

                            Isaiah 55.12