Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Not Just One Way

There is not just one way to read the Bible every day.  But beware.

It will change your mind.

It will change your heart.

It will change how you see.

It will change what you see.

     And how you respond.

It will change what you do

           and how you do it

           with excellence before the King

     whether cleaning toilets or wiping noses

                  or making multi-million dollar corporate decisions.

It will strengthen.

It will fill you with salt and light

        with grace in irritating situations

        with joy even in dark places

        with a radically different way to live.

I read passages in the Bible every day.

          Sometimes before the dawn.

          At times with morning coffee.

          A pocket of time – sometime in the day --

                a priority slipped in

                           between a rock and a hard place,

     or as an old refined Southern woman once told me,

             “Make it first.  Before you read anything else.”

   I still remember her quaking words spoken now 28 years ago,

                  even now when I sort through my email

                  or sit to read a manuscript.

                           “Have you read your Bible yet?”

And when I spend precious days and nights with the grandkids

           who run several marathons

                      every day,

        I read before I get in bed or as I sip some nightly tea

                                                     in the sudden silence of babies sleeping.

              Like setting out my clothes for the next day,

                God prepares the strength and grace I will need,

                                              ready and locked in place,

                    and brings sweetly to a close in the late evening

                                       what may have been hectic, precious and wild.

It is not a rule or a routine or a ritual

              but because God changes me through His Word.

It is my strength and shield,

            my hiding place and my refuge,

   the place where God reorients my day

              and changes my life.

It is not just another book about spiritual things,

         but the very Words of God.


Your Word is a lamp to my feet

       and a light to my path.

                        Psalm 119.105

Monday, May 28, 2012

When The Going Gets Tough…

I love to write, and so, to study journalism at Northwestern seemed like a good fit.  That is, until I started graduate school.  Because suddenly I realized that being a journalist had very little to do with writing.  I was expected to be an aggressive investigative reporter, breaking down locked doors, making illusive contacts, and interviewing reluctant sources.  Not what I signed up for.  For one of my first assignments as a grad student, I was supposed to approach and interview people attending a local Fourth of July parade.  Total strangers?  I was paralyzed.

When I landed my first job at a magazine, I can remember staring at the phone, straightening my desk, trying to drum up the courage to call and interview builders for an assignment.  I was still the shy student on the street corner.

As a mom, I can remember long days and sleepless nights when I didn’t know how to adequately mother three daughters, three and under, one of whom thought that sleep was a waste of time.  And then came the fourth.  I was running on empty.

And at those times when I wondered how in the world I was going to handle the task before me, God assured me that He had me just where He wanted me.  “But I can’t do this!” I would cry.

“Exactly,” He would respond. 

And I would not suddenly just drum up the courage or strength or confidence.  I would lean hard on my God.  He would give me the strength.  His deliverance led me through the midst of impossible situations.  And I knew I had nothing to do with it.  The strength was His.

In her book Kisses from Katie, author Katie Davis tells about her life as a 20 year old in Uganda, raising 14 adopted street children and running an organization that supports 400 more.  She lives an impossible situation in the midst of abject poverty.  I love what she says about being overwhelmed.  Many try to support her by saying, “Remember, God will never give you more than you can handle.” 

But Katie responds,  “It is meant to be a source of encouragement, and it would be if I believed it were true.  But I don’t.  I believe that God totally, absolutely, intentionally gives us more than we can handle. Because this is when we surrender to Him and He takes over, proving Himself by doing the impossible in our lives.”

She continues in her journal, “…Because in these times, God shows Himself victorious. He reminds me that all of this life requires more of Him and less of me. God does give us more than we can handle. Not maliciously, but intentionally, in love, that His glory may be displayed, that we may have no doubt of who is in control, that people may see His grace and faithfulness shining through our lives.”

Exactly where He wants us to be.  Leaning hard on Him.


Be strong and of good courage.

Do not be afraid or dismayed before the king of Assyria

    and all the horde that is with him,

for there is one greater with us than with him.

With him is an arm of flesh,

but with us is the LORD our God,

to help us

and to fight our battles.

                        2 Chronicles 32. 7-8

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Get to Run

Today I ran.  I followed not a training plan nor a schedule of miles, but a meandering path through a sanctuary of trees.  I didn’t measure the distance or even maintain a designated pace.  I ran.  And I rejoiced under a dense canopy of interlaced branches and a thousand shades of green bathed in sunlight. The grandest Gothic cathedral could not compare.  Three gobbling wild turkeys stared as I went past, looking up as if I had invaded their privacy.  And in the middle of a meadow, two deer shyly poked up their heads, almost invisible in the waist-high grass.

After my last marathon, I was barraged by urgent pleas to sign up for another.  Whereas just a few years ago, a runner could sign up on race day or even submit online the night before, today’s races sell out within days or hours, some of them ridiculously more than a half year ahead of the event.  Hurry, hurry, you will miss your ONLY chance!  So, an October race like Chicago, sold out this year in four days.  Boston, for which one must qualify, sold out in less than 8 hours.

Within a day or two of finishing my marathon, people asked me with the same urgency, “So, what’s next?”   Most look at me amazed when I say “Nothing on my radar yet.  Just running.”  WHAT????  as if to say “Can you do that?”   Needless to say, I am still running.  I haven’t given up on it yet.  And I am enjoying this season of NOT being enslaved to a training schedule.  Many days I head out, not even knowing how far I will go or even my route.  I just run.  Sometimes I feel like slipping in a three-miler and end up with seven.  Other times, I take a slow jog around the large retention pond that my village calls a “lake.”  I bask in the shade of ancient trees, along crushed gravel paths, and pray, sing, and think.  Sometimes my brain just shifts into neutral. 

I don’t have to run.  I get to.  There is great freedom and joy in that.

So much in our lives has become regimented, and even those things and relationships we love, are impacted, the very joy crushed out.  Routine and ritual can rob us of delight, and those things in which we should bask leave a dryness in our thoughts.  We go to church, we pray, we take communion, and we forget we are worshipping the Maker of heaven and earth, we are pouring out the cries of our hearts before the God who cares so much that He saves our tears in a bottle, we rush through communion before the Savior who died for OUR wrongdoing.  Our relationship with God becomes a “have-to,” the dry motions of religion instead of a love relationship.

But we don’t have to.  We get to.  God doesn’t work under a paradigm of performance, but of grace.

And there is great freedom and joy in that.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

White Noise

What is that noise in the background?  That low dull sound hums on, like muddled voices in the next room with indistinguishable words.  It is not a joyful sound, but that of grumbling, an irritating noise that infects everything in our lives.  It is the mindset of whining, complaining, and discontent, a continual sound-loop in our thoughts.  And this virulent form of murmuring keeps us knee-deep in the miry bog, draining our strength, rendering us incapable of doing what we ought, focusing our eyes on the mud, imprisoning our thoughts in the quagmire, everything is dismal, and we are doomed, FOREVER, it seems.  God appears to be silent, while all along we have our hands over our ears, mumbling as loud as we can.  “I can’t hear You!”  perhaps, because we just don’t want to.

The Old Testament is FULL of the murmurings of God’s people, even in the midst of His deliverance.  In plain sight of incredible miracles, God’s people complained and grumbled, finding fault and basking in discontent.  No matter what God did, it just wasn’t good enough.  What was God thinking?

The problem with grumbling is that it completely hinders the capacity to experience joy.  It is a type of white noise, designed to create an artificial selfish cocoon devoid of any outside influence.  It is the sound of not trusting God with what He is doing.

Grumbling seems now to have become a recreational sport in our lives, an addiction that refuses to just go away on its own.  But it can be challenged, replaced and defeated.  Several weeks ago, I suggested to a friend who was going through a difficult experience to get a notebook and start writing down the things that she was thankful for in the midst of her hard situation.  I just received an email from her, telling me that her list has taken on a life of its own.  It has made a tremendous difference in her life, recognizing God’s goodness and acknowledging what He is doing, in things both seen and unseen.  “God has been flooding me with evidences of His faithfulness here (past and present)” she wrote, “and it has produced such joy in my heart to write them down.”  Her situation has not changed, but her heart is being transformed.

A similar experience happened to one of our girls who was going through a low valley of discouragement in high school, experiencing the cloudy and dismal days of adolescence when even getting dressed in the morning seems overwhelming and so monumental.  “Look for the joy,” I suggested.  “When you get home from school this afternoon, tell me ONE good thing that happens today.”  It was like giving her a new pair of lenses – she saw her world differently, not in a Pollyanna artificial sweetener kind of way, but the reality of what is really there – the reality of God’s goodness staring her in the face. 

Recently I was looking through a digital gallery of pictures taken by a photographer during my last marathon, when it was raining so hard that our shirts were plastered to our skin and our feet squished along the muddy trail.  In picture after picture, I saw a beautiful meadow nestled in front of mountains rising out of the mist, a rustic wooden fence meandered along the rise and delicate trees decorated with spring green.  “Where was that?” I asked myself.  “I missed that part.”  And then, suddenly in one of the pictures, there I was, floundering along in the foreground, the magnificence behind me like a backdrop right out of National Geographic.  This part of the trail – on which I traveled twice - was on the edge of what I had termed the “valley of despair,” where the bridge had washed out.  I missed an awesome sight, because I was SO preoccupied with my grumbling.

Today – no matter what you are facing – look for the joy.

And write it down.  Thank God for what you are going through.

Yes, even that

And even what you can’t yet understand.

Because below the shallow surface,

there is great goodness.

You can trust Him in all things,

         and He will guide you to higher ground.


O give thanks to the LORD,

          for He is good.

                      Psalm 118.1

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

It all fits!


I spent last week putting together puzzles with my two year old granddaughter, over and over again.  The pieces were odd-shaped and as they lay on the floor, staring at us, they didn’t make any sense at all, a foot here, part of a nose there, a hand stretched out.  I watched as Maggie fit together the chunky wooden shapes.  As an adult, I would have formed the edge first to establish the borders and work my way into the center, but she focused on the picture first, adding the details as she went along, trying each notch, turning the pieces slowly to see if it would click into place.  At times, she had the right location, but there needed to be another piece added before it fit.  “Try another one first,” I would suggest. 

Quite suddenly, I saw myself when in the middle of life’s confusing experiences, looking at God and saying, “I don’t get it.”  And like those puzzle pieces, sometimes parts of life come together, quickly and without effort, and then sometimes, a hole where nothing seems to fit at all, or an experience I’ve tried to jam every which way to find purpose and meaning in it. 

In the end, the picture that is completed

      one piece at a time

      so slowly

  may not become as I expect

or even what I thought it should to look like.

And it might not be until the very end,

           that all those odd ill-fitting pieces

    surprise me all together --

           “oh, so that is why it happened that way.”

Last week it was Mickey Mouse and the Lion King.  This week, things much deeper.  And I realize I NEED to break out these pre-school puzzles from time to time to be re-assured  and to know, just as Maggie shouts out to me, “it all fits, gramma!”  Life does make sense after all, even the hard parts, even the experiences we cannot comprehend. 

We are stewards of the mysteries of God (1 Corinthians 4.1)

and while I may not understand yet

          the eternal things that are happening all around me,

I can be confident

that there are no missing pieces,

no mistakes,

but only that which is redeemed,


                         and perfectly placed.

And someday

             I will stand amazed

   at what God has done.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Endurance Sports

All last week on the corner of my desk, a 3 x 5 index card stared at me with words I heard a preacher say several years ago: 

      “Your circumstances may not change,

        you may not conquer some things,

        but just need to endure.”

The more I thought about those words, the quote became like a wrinkle in my sock during a marathon.  Something was not right.  And as the week progressed, in those words I could begin to hear the voice of Eeyore, the gloomy donkey in Winnie the Pooh books, plodding along, head down, enduring.

Indeed, our situations may remain extremely hard with no end in sight, we may not win the first place ribbon and the accolades of a crowd, but in the Bible, we are called to more than endure through a bleak landscape.  For from that wilderness can emerge an experience of tremendous growth in our relationship with God, a time when all things so paper-thin and anemic fall apart and we can realize His hand, His provision, and His presence.  Enduring means “to continue, to remain in the same state, without yielding, without giving in.” All good.   But growing moves us to a deeper place, “to spring up and develop in maturity, to increase and expand, to become.”   The aim of endurance sports – the marathon, the Ironman triathlon, the ultra – is not just to plod through, but to stretch, strengthen, and go beyond the ordinary. 

In life, God calls us not just to hang in there, but to sow love generously,

                bear fruit even in that we may never see,

       pray expectantly

trust Him in all things,

        and live with outrageous joy even when…


Jesus said,

“I have come that they may have life,

                and have it abundantly.”

                         John 10.10

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Happy Mothers Day!

This year, I do not want to salute mothers.

I want to celebrate happy mothers --

moms who are thankful and encouraging

           even in times of incredible difficulty,

moms who keep the porch light burning

           with grace,

moms who wear their knees out


moms who hug

          no matter what,

moms who want to quit

          but still come out of their rooms

          loving their kids through the miry bog,

moms who have the courage to

              “be the mom,”

            velvet over steel,

moms who rejoice

                     and sing loud in their cars,

moms who pursue goodness,

moms who laugh with their kids

          and play Candy Land one thousand times

          in a row

          and know that time is special and unrepeatable,

moms who seek the LORD every morning,

             and confess every evening,

      and know that God is working a mighty work

                                 even when…

moms who are happy

                 and of whom it is said,

           The joy of the LORD is your strength.

                                   Nehemiah 8.10

Happy Mothers Day!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Playing By Ear

Mom did the best that she knew how.  Like playing a song without the music in front of her, she improvised as she went along, launching forth into motherhood without domestic knowledge or skills, hoping no one would notice the gaping holes hidden behind her pretended show of confidence and bright red lipstick.  Throughout her life, she survived a lot of tough situations thinking that if she didn’t acknowledge the flaws, disappointments, and glaring problems, well, no one else would either.

She wanted so much for me, her only daughter among three rough-and-tumble boys, to have beautiful curly hair and be a violin prodigy like her.  I had unruly locks, and while she started me on the violin at age three, she could not understand why I didn’t love it too.  In the 1960s when other people were playing Beatles and Beach Boys in their homes, she commandeered the stereo and we were held captive to the oldies of Mozart, Bach and Stravinsky.   And even though she thought I was not listening, somehow that continual soundtrack of classical music engraved deep furrows in my brain.  Handel’s Messiah still plunges me into a swift current of emotion, and sometimes when I overhear even a few phrases on the radio, my eyes close and I can hardly breathe.   

I wanted a different mother, one like the mythical television matriarch June Cleaver who performed housework in pearls and high heels, not the wild and imperfect mom depicted in “I Love Lucy.”  I know now that music was all Mom knew how to give.  That’s how she related to other people.   And that’s how she loved us.   We drank powdered milk, and our shoes were purchased from the clearance rack at K Mart, but somehow there was always a way to pay for more music lessons.

Teamed up with her passion for music was her compassion to love people outrageously.  We used to say that she would have cut off her right arm for anyone she met on the street.   Her total immersion in music made her like a small child, loving without restraint.  She engaged motel maids in conversation, she once stopped traffic to give her sunhat to a road construction worker, and she played her violin at an old acquaintance’s funeral because no one else was coming.  We would wake up in the morning, and more often than not, there were some of her high school violin students sleeping on couches in our living room and rummaging through the fridge. 

So in this therapeutic culture where so many problems are blamed on moms, I have grown to appreciate mine even more.  Each year since her passing, memories seem to emerge from deep inside like forgotten perennials bursting forth.   She did the best she could, and somehow she always thought music would smooth out the wrinkles.  And often it did.

As moms, we all stand imperfect, unable to rewind our mistakes, and as author Ann Voskamp says, “Grace stands in the gaps.”  Amen to that.

If you still have the opportunity, it’s never too late to whisper, “I love you, Mom.”  You can’t say it enough.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Where The Wild Things Are

When Maurice Sendak was a young boy, he went every week with his mother to Sunday dinner at a relative’s house.   He remembered being both reluctant and terrified to go.  Just thinking he was being ornery, his mother impatiently dragged her young son to the weekly meal.  Sendak says that in that old Victorian house, the living room was dark and foreboding with thick velvet curtains that blocked out the light, and heavy omnious-looking wood paneling covered the walls like a dungeon.  As he stood in the middle of the room, a collection of his elderly aunts and uncles surrounded him, perched in chairs around the perimeter, their canes leaning on the armrests.   As he was required to go from one ancient relative to another to greet each one, their seemingly distorted and wrinkled faces with enormous noses loomed close to him.  And as they pinched his cheek, they whispered in his ear, “I could just eat you up.”  And indeed, the young Sendak was quite convinced that they could.

You NEVER know what a child is afraid of, Sendak emphasized once in an interview I read.  It may make no sense to you at all.

And so, his unusual tales, based on his own childhood experiences, worked out those fears and truths, perhaps in bizarre ways, to help children conquer their own everyday monsters in the real world.

Stories are vital in developing a child’s moral imagination.  A child can hear your admonitions – do this, don’t do that, this is good, this is bad.  But unless they see and experience those truths in stories, a child is left on his own to struggle through the real world.  Stories build the imagination, helping children work things out and discover truth about the world in a place that is safe and secure, often in your lap on the reading chair.  Indeed, even Jesus used stories to drive home the truth.

“Fairy tales and fantasy stories transport the reader into other worlds that are fresh with wonder, surprise, and danger.  They challenge the reader to make sense out of those other worlds, to navigate his way through them, and to imagine himself in the place of the heroes and heroines who populate those worlds,” says author Vigen Guroian, author of Tending the Heart of Virtue: How Classic Stories Awaken A Child’s Moral Imagination

If Sendak’s mother had understood what he was frightened of, waggled her finger at him, demanding, “Don’t be afraid,” it may have even made him more wary.  But a story could have made him laugh at his fears. 

And that is why he wrote.

Children’s author Maurice Sendak died today at the age of 83.  His creative mind taught generations of children through monsters in disguise.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Who You Gonna Call?

While I was getting ready yesterday morning, I was jolted awake by the very loud SCREECH of the smoke detector in the hallway, reminding me every two minutes that the battery was low.  It was so loud there was no refuge in our house where it could not be heard.   Since I also work at home, it appeared that it was going to be a very long and very loud day.   When confronted with anything technical, I am completely pathetic.  My first default is always to seek out a family member who can fix things that aren’t working.  But yesterday, there was no one to help.  It was up to me. 

I stood wobbling on a chair, hoping to reach the ceiling-mounted device, and twisted off the cover.  The unit dropped down, hanging from a rainbow of wires.  “And now, what?”  I thought.  After several minutes of confusion, I spotted a tiny tab which finally popped open the battery cover.  Feeling rather triumphant, I replaced the battery with a new one, reinstalled the cover, and put away the chair.  As I walked away, it SCREECHED again, even louder, as if mocking me.  I popped the cover off and the battery in and out three more times before silence reigned, and my humility was once again snapped back into place.

And through this incident, God reminded me that in all tasks, there is learning, especially when it is outside our experience or skill set.  There will always be struggles, but even in that, there is purpose in what He does…and in what He gives me to do.   That is how we grow in character and ability, and that is how we grow in Him.  We have no idea what God can do in us and through us.  When I am overwhelmed by the turmoil at hand, crying out “I can’t do that,” His power is manifest in me.  God is my source of strength.  Take a look at all the passages of His strength and power in the Bible.  There is reason for that.  He never promised that life would be easy, but He has promised that He will see us through.

…but He said to me,

“My grace is sufficient for you,

for My power is made perfect in weakness.”

                              2 Corinthians 12.9

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

What Lurks Beneath

Two anniversaries ago, my husband and I took a fly-fishing lesson.  That morning, we stood in the side-yard of a tackle shop and practiced casting a fake lure into the grass.  Later that day, we waded knee-deep in a mountain stream to try the real thing.  I lost about a half-dozen lures, snagged in branches and on rocks.  As the afternoon progressed, I felt more and more like I did in high school gym class when the tennis ball kept flying past me, and no matter how hard my arm was swinging away, the ball remained unhit.  My interest in fly fishing was sinking faster than my lures.  But Bill was caught. 

That Christmas, I purchased him a fly-fishing rod.  He was excited to try it out, but the occasion eluded him until about a month ago.  He went to the store and bought a few lures, and we were off.  It was perfect timing.  As I had just completed a marathon, I was looking forward to sitting by the stream to catch up on some reading while he fished.  We drove to an area where a lively stream tumbled down for miles alongside a narrow road.  He would drive a bit, pull over, look over the stream, and then drive on.  “Too much sun,” he commented.  “The water is running too fast,” he added, after another stop.  “Too many trees around,” he said, later yet.   At one bend, he actually got out of the truck, walked down to the stream and watched it for a while.  “This is it,” I thought.  Four minutes later, he was back in the truck.  “I don’t see any fish,” he concluded.  I turned my head to look out the window so that he would not see that I was rolling my eyes.

Finally, he pulled onto a gravel shoulder and went down to the stream with his rod and lures.  I settled into my book, my feet propped up, the sun warming my skin, a soft breeze rustled the spring green of the trees.  And then in the quiet, I heard a shout, “I caught one!”  I jumped up and ran down the bank.  Sure enough, hanging from his line was a tiny rainbow trout, too small to keep but not too small to give him hope.  I took a picture to commemorate the occasion, and he let it go.  He did not just catch a fish; he netted the encouragement he needed to continue.

Cabin- March 2012


How often do I find myself timid and unsure, dancing around a new opportunity instead of wading in, one foot following another?   Am I paralyzed into inaction just waiting for something,  a neon sign from God, perhaps, or complete assurance of victory before I take a single step?   I am reluctant, and yet I know full well that like Bill’s effort in fishing there will be no results at all unless I throw my line into the water.  

I just need to try. 


Jesus said to them,

“Children, have you any fish?”

They answered Him, “No.”

He said to them,

“Cast the net on the right side of the boat,

and you will find some.”

So they cast it,

and now they were not able to haul it in,

for the quantity of fish.

                                  John 21. 5-6