Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A New Chapter

It is official. The hard drive on my computer is dead, beyond repair, resurrection, and even data retrieval. And with it went almost a year of writing, pictures of family, a dozen or so blog postings not yet published, notes from books I read this year, articles written for various publications, quotations from newspapers and magazines, and research on a book I have been working on for about sixteen months. Just like that. Gone. And sometimes we have to live with mystery, indeed letting God carry us through those barren places that don't make sense, and if we look closely enough, finding grace in the wilderness. So for the next couple of weeks, until I can get my computer fixed, I am back to pen and paper, back to where I started as a young girl, just like old times, writing in spiral notebooks, on the back of envelopes, index cards, grocery lists, old receipts, and this morning, letting words wander down the margin of a Bible study lesson. I lost a lot of words this week, but more will emerge to take their place. Last week when the great crash happened, as I was putting my journal away in the evening, I saw that hours before the computer's final breath, I had written at the top of the page "not an unknown to Him." God is still sovereign, even in this. God is in control, even in this. God will use this situation for tremendous good, even in this, and what appears tragic may be turned inside out for something deeper yet. He is my Redeemer. All things, even in this. My hard work just vanished. But it is only something that I have done; it is not who I am. It is a huge reminder -- yes, to back up more often -- and that He is enough. Let God use what happened for His glory. Perhaps a change of direction is in store, a new chapter I never expected, a deepening. He is LORD even in this, beyond what I can comprehend, His goodness too good to even grasp. It is not that I trust God that He knows what He is doing, but that I know enough to stake my life on it. I know there is always a reason why. Must I know that reason in order to trust Him into it? In order to know He is using it? That He is using this for a higher purpose than what appears? Was the work really lost or was it used to make me grow? It may have already fulfilled His intentions. And when my path is barren and I have sand in my shoes, He may just be leading me across the Red Sea on dry ground. I can trust Him. Even in this. For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, says the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts. Isaiah 55.8-9 The LORD will fulfill His purpose for me. Psalm 138.8

Monday, October 29, 2012

Please Stay Tuned

This blog posting was SUPPOSED to be about my backpacking adventure with my husband last week.  Indeed, that post is already written and documented with pictures.  And then, just as I was ready to post about it a few days ago and share my adventure in the wild, the hard drive on my computer crashed.  And with it, my writing, research and pictures GONE.
Please bear with me as I try to work through this miry bog of technical issues.

In the meantime, be faithful to what God has placed before you to do today, those tasks that may be wearisome, those people who may be even more wearisome and difficult, impossible situations that only God can lead you through.  One of my favorite books is The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom, a quiet unassuming single Dutch woman whom God used in mighty ways...and whom God is still using.  When this tender hearted woman was struggling deeply to hide Jews in her home in Nazi occupied Holland, and then, as a result, trying to be obedient to God in the midst of a German concentration camp, she would have no idea that 70 years later, people would still speak of  how she was used by God and His faithfulness to her.
Leave that kind of legacy behind you today, even in the little things of life.  Because in God's kingdom, nothing is little, nothing too small to be used in mighty ways.  We never know how God will bear fruit through it, sometimes not what we expect, sometimes much deeper than we can possibly comprehend.

Let the favor of the LORD our God
       be upon us,
and establish the work of our hands upon us,
yea, establish the work of our hands.
                              Psalm 90.17

                           Psalm 90.17

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Thoughts On A Run

Why is a lie

      more believable than the truth?

Because a lie always comes

     with promises not tied to reality,

promises it cannot keep.

No matter how good it looks,

        deceit is still deceit.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

A Particular Grace

IMAG0421

The commuters were dressed in what appeared to be uniforms of winter grey and brown, reflecting their demeanor as if they were catching the early train to nowhere instead of the city. They gathered on the platform, eyes blind to those standing next to them, minds already bogged down by the day ahead.  Scattered walkers in the park, dressed in sweats or hoping their huge coats disguised the fact that they were still wearing mismatched pajamas, hurried their dogs along in the chilly morning air.  I felt like I was flying through the October crispness, a run smuggled in before the rush of the day.  I was oblivious to the first mile and a half of my route, fast-forwarding through what I needed to get done.  The crunch of the dusty gravel path and the sight of a vicious looking black dog brought me back to reality.  I took a slight detour through the dewy grass to avoid a confrontation with the huge canine pulling at his master’s leash.  Out of danger, something quite suddenly caught my eye on the other side of the pond.  In the midst of a rather mundane landscape of tired trees, stood a single tree distinguished and radiant, as if reflecting the glory of God.  The other trees appeared muted and reluctant, going through the motions of the season, but this one, there was something different there.

THAT is what grace looks like,

             a transformed life thriving amidst mediocrity,

      the touch of God’s Presence in the face of unbelief,

   the reality of a heart renewed,

bringing light and inexplicable passion

             to a hazy world starved for hope.

Live like that.

…walk as children of light…

                      Ephesians 5.8

Thursday, October 18, 2012

A Fresh Coat of Paint

We have needed to paint the interior walls of our house for some time now, an activity that somehow had been demoted from the active “to do” list to the passive “need to do” list.  Those things are relegated to the somedays that never seem to arrive. 

Late last June when we were staying at the home of one of Bill’s brothers and his wife, I admired the calming atmosphere of their bedroom.  Asking for the name of the paint color, I realized that the shade of subtle grey was exactly the one I had chosen a few months before for our own room at home.  It could look like this?    Over the summer, we purchased the paint, and the two cans have waited patiently throughout the summer drought for the perfect opportunity, a rainy Saturday in autumn.

Last Saturday, it rained.  Bill began painting as I ran to the grocery.  With only one short wall completed, I was astonished at the difference it made in the look and feel of the room.  “It’s beautiful,” I remarked.  “Not yet,” Bill replied.  “It’s not finished.”  

We talked while he painted, and I watched a fresh coat of paint transform the space.  The room was the same.  But there is now something new and refreshing about it.  If a fresh coat of paint can do that to a room, how different would a relationship look with forgiveness?  Or a kind word instead of a critical one?  Or a new attitude about an old difficulty?  A splash of patience?  Gentleness with a  tired child?

I think I would be surprised.  It could look like this? 

It can be as simple as Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5. 15-18, “See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all.  Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances…”    Easy for him to say, I thought, until I realized that Paul was probably writing this letter from prison.  LORD, color my responses.  It CAN look like this.

Sometimes what we need is not a new situation, but a new nature – a fresh coat of grace.

 

…we too might walk

          in newness of life.

                           Romans 6.4

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

A Little Token of My Love for You

IMAG0427

As I was running early this morning, just before the path wraps around the pond, a potted red chrysanthemum sat on this wooden bench, an intended surprise for someone, a yellow bow tied tightly around its red foil wrapping.  Ah, I mused, a reminder of how precious that person is, an unexpected gift of autumn flowers on a bench.  What a creative way to say “I love you.”   Someone deliberately went to a lot of work and detail to transform an ordinary walk into a special occasion.  It didn’t just happen. Love compels a person to do such things.

And then I rounded the bend.  The trees above me radiated with sunlight, standing brilliant and bold against the bluest of skies.  I bathed in the visible display of light, color and the textures of majestic trees planted long before I was even born, exploding in a prism of beauty right on schedule.  It was no longer an ordinary Tuesday jog, but a breathless realization of wonder.   It didn’t just happen.  Love compels God to do such things.  There is a wildness in God’s mercy.

IMAG0423

For you shall go out in joy,

and be led forth in peace;

the mountains and the hills before you

       shall break forth into singing,

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

                                        Isaiah 55.12

Monday, October 15, 2012

A Different Take on “Have a Nice Day”

The church we attend has an active ministry for those who are challenged by special needs.  The ministry encompasses a wide scope of support, including Friday night activities, Sunday school classes, a bell choir, respite for families, and even residential assisted living for special needs adults.  To help fund this ministry, the church operates a resale shop which benefits the community and provides employment for some of these adults.

Today as I was dropping off a couple of bags of clothing to donate, one of the young men was standing by the door, waiting for his ride.  A woman, who walked in with me at the same time, obviously knew him and greeted him by name.  “Well, are you finished working for the day?”  she asked. “Hope that you had a good day.”

He gave her a hug.  “Always.”  he said.  “I always have a good day.”

Here is a young man with more struggles than I can imagine who abides unquestioningly in God’s love and faithfulness.  Our own lives would look very different if we lived that reality as well.  God always works from a position of goodness.  No matter if we understand what is happening around us or not, we can stake our lives on Him. 

“God is good, all the time.  All the time, God is good.”  We used to sing that chorus when we lived in Memphis.  The song reflects not a denial of reality, but rather an affirmation of it.

And in the middle of my busy day, rushing about with work and errands, this young man reminded me of the most profound truth in the universe, the goodness of God, because he lives it.  And it made me smile.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Quick, What Were You Doing 32 Years Ago?

 scan0001 (2)

I was saying “I do.”

And while I promised to love and cherish,

for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer,

in sickness and in health,

how little did I know the fine print

that said, “also includes:”

eight major moves,

puking my way through four pregnancies,

cheering at bike races

    and rainy cold marathons,

hot dogs on the grill

    and homemade coq au vin,

late night school projects

    and the prom angst of four teenage girls,

sheer joy,

     disasters,

     and utter delight,

the valley of despair

          sometimes for no reason at all,

needing degrees in nursing, teaching,

      rocket science, hairdressing,

      a chauffeurs license,

      chef certification,

      and the ability to run a small country,

dark early mornings,

     sleepless babies,

     exhausted teens,

some-mores on long glorious camping trips,

music blasting in the car,

pushed to the limit

    but never quite over the edge,

seeking answers and finding God,

living in His wildest mercies,

praying through narrow squeaks

        and long dark tunnels,

rejoicing aloud,

together,

always together.

I didn’t know what was coming

         but I can’t thank God enough.

I had no idea

        how I would

        love this man

even more

year by year by year.

 

The adventure continues!

gregory0233 - Copy

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Thoughts on a Run

God’s shield does not limit us,

but enlarges what we can do.

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Other Side of the Marathon

I had the honor and privilege yesterday of standing on the sidelines and watching 45,000 runners participate in the Chicago marathon.   Our third daughter was running her first marathon.  Yes, it was the same marathon that derailed me last year (see Oct 2011 blog entry “Woman Hit By Train.”)   But this year, I stood along the road, cheering on the runners, all of them strangers to me.  Some of the runners had their names written on their shirts in dark thick letters of a permanent marker.  We cheerfully called them out by name, “Go Luis!” “Good job, Gabby.”  And as they passed, just hearing their name called out by a total stranger was enough to bring out a smile and fill them with another mile of strength.  At mile 20, I jumped in and ran with our daughter for a few miles, coming alongside, to encourage with words and just being there for her.  She was awesome, finishing strong a long hard race.

And while cheering on the roadside and observing others who cheered while I was running with her, I was reminded of the verse,

       Therefore, since we are surrounded

       by so great a cloud of witnesses,

       let us also lay aside every weight,

       and sin which clings so closely,

                    and let us run with perseverance

             the race that is set before us…”

                           Hebrews 12. 1

Both sides of the road were jammed with cheering spectators, at times three deep, “a great cloud of witnesses,” a great crowd of witnesses, calling out to “take courage”  to those who were tired, hurting and faint-hearted.  And I imagined angels lining my own path when I am going through a tough 26.2 miles of life, urging me to keep going and stay the course, even that which I may not understand.  Our course map in life is rarely what we expect.  The audible voices of the angel cheerleaders come in many dimensions.  Sometimes in verses of Scripture that we carry with us, the very Word of God memorized and tucked in our hearts and minds. 

And sometimes, those audible voices of angels come through us.  As I was running that last hard stretch with my daughter, I was convicted about encouraging those around me who are going through a tough and tearful stretch in life.  I pray that there will be those who are faithfully coming alongside and cheering my family in the barren landscapes.  And that I would do the same for those around me.

I was also compelled to encourage those I know who are faithful and pouring out themselves in good works and ministry to others.  Because works that are good take resolve and energy and resources down to the very last drop.  When was the last time I called or sent an email to thank someone for their faithfulness in God’s kingdom?  All faithful work is sacred, no matter what, no matter where.   And they too need to hear their name called out on the course, “Thank you for what you do.  Keep up the good work.”

I have seen the other side of marathoning.  And for that we ALL need to participate.

 

…that I may know

        how to sustain with a word

  him who is weary.

                  Isaiah 50.4

Friday, October 5, 2012

From The Land of Captivity

 IMAG0412

The little chipmunk sat on the back porch for a long time the other morning, like a dog waiting to come inside.  He looked so forlorn, overlooking the trap that had captured so many of his extended family.  “He’s the last one!” said our youngest daughter when I emailed her the adorable picture.  Those who have been following this blog know of our adventures in trying to keep our patio from caving in entirely because of a chipmunk condo development dug out beneath the paving stones.  Last year, I stopped counting at 38.  This year, I did not keep track at all, and I didn’t even bait the trap.  Set the trap and they will come.  And they hurried on into the trap, like bargain hunters at a sale, sometimes as many as three a day.

I imagined the chipmunk saying to himself as he sat on the porch, “Where did they all go?  I want to go too.”   My husband reset the trap, and within two minutes, there he was, ready to go on a field trip to the forest preserve with the others.

IMAG0414(1)

 

I  thought of capturing chipmunks today, one at a time.  And I also mused about capturing rogue thoughts, one by one, as they wander through my mind, little destructive critters like criticism, fear, a cynical mindset, bad attitudes, jealousy, discontent, grumbling, anxiety, and pride.  They scramble about and dig around the foundations of my soul, distracting me from what I should really focus on like joy and kindness, thankfulness, concern for others, love, truth and grace.  I have learned this summer to nab those destructive thoughts before they take up residence and intentionally replace them with their opposite, one by one.  Trap a complaint and replace it with a praise.  Capture envy and replace it with a prayer for that person.  And as I capture those rascals one by one, God has enabled me to see others through different eyes, deeply healing some relationships, not necessarily changing my situation but how I respond to it, giving me peace where anxiety used to reign supreme.  Set the trap and be ready to “take every thought captive” (2 Corinthians 10.5)   Daily intentional choices, one by one. 

I am a work in progress and so I am very aware that I will not ever entirely rid my mind of misbehaving thoughts, but I know that God can provide me the discernment to recognize them for what they are and the strength to keep them from taking over and running rampant.  They don’t have to dominate my life anymore.

Let me be different on what I dwell.

 

Create in me a clean heart, O God,

and renew a right spirit within me.

                            Psalm 51.10

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Another Adventure With The Armchair Physician

When teaching any group of children, beware of taking notice of a scrape on a single knee, because EVERY child in the class will then want to show you their very own “boo-boo,” creating a deeply competitive situation of “my scraped knee is bigger than yours.”  Even among adults, stories emerge about gruesome accidents, huge scars from surgeries, and of course, among moms, the horrific accounts of childbirth.

For the past month and a half, I have struggled with itchy, red, watery eyes.  And, it seems, everyone had a diagnosis and a cure for me.  Many advised me of their own battles with ongoing allergies, infections of various types were pointed out, and one person even suggested  a possible fungus (ugh!)  I tried everything from over-the-counter ointments and antihistamines (“that’s ragweed, for sure,” one pharmacist insisted, “it’s really bad this year,” as she sold me a $15 bottle of tablets).  I tried buying some new eye makeup in case the old stuff was contaminated, occasionally ceasing to wear makeup at all, using a different cleanser and moisturizer for my face, and purchasing non-allergenic laundry detergent.  All to no avail.  My eyelids continued to grow worse.  Last Sunday I could no longer wear my contacts.  I had tried everything.

I sat in church, wearing glasses with an obsolete prescription, trying to look natural while I could not decipher the words of the hymns and  trying to focus on the platform.  Oh, LORD, what can I do about my eyes?  I prayed. 

Almost immediately, I felt God impressing upon my heart, “Did you ask Me to heal them?”  I had heard the well-meaning advice of others, I had researched rare eye diseases on the internet, but I had not done what would seem obvious.  I had not laid this situation before the LORD.

And so, I did.  I prayed that God would heal my eyes.  Needless to say, there was not a lightning bolt from the ceiling nor a sudden choir of angels in the aisle visible only to me, but on the way home, my husband said out of the blue, “did you try changing to a different contact solution?”  It seemed a simple and obvious fix, but one we had not even thought of before.  That’s it, I thought, the answer to my prayer.

But the next morning I woke up, thinking that my eyes felt so much better …until I caught a glimpse of them in the mirror.  “Who are you kidding?” I said out loud to no one but myself.  I humbly called the eye clinic and within two hours I had seen the doctor and had a prescription in hand.  As I was leaving the clinic, holding open the door for an elderly woman, a banner in the foyer caught my eye.  I had to read it twice, before I realized that the words were woven together in an effort to make sure it was taken as a complete single thought. 

                                      The

                                     GOD

                                  Physician

                                    HEALS

                                    Works

The Physician Works, God Heals.  I prayed and God nudged me to see a doctor who could help me.  I just should have prayed about it weeks ago.  Within hours, my eyes found relief.  Just a couple of days later, no problem at all.  Going to God should always be my first response, not my last resort.

We just need to cry out to Him, lay our difficulties – physical and otherwise - before Him, and be sensitive to His leading.   He cares more than we can know. He heals sore eyes and broken hearts.  He restores in ways we cannot fathom.

 

For I will restore health to you,

and your wounds I will heal,

               says the LORD.

                   Jeremiah 30.17

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

No Longer A Spectator

Few people even noticed her, so small and quiet.  She was dressed in a toddler-sized Northwestern University cheerleading outfit, a long-sleeved white t-shirt underneath, fuzzy white cotton tights sagging at the knees, and a pair of grey and hot pink velcro sneakers that looked like an afterthought.  Her dark brown hair was loosely pulled back in an attempted limp ponytail, a purple ribbon holding on for dear life.  She sat between two large hulks of men, one of whom was her dad.  Her name was Mattie, a tiny waif of a girl, no more than four years old.  When I first noticed her, her dad was eating a disgusting foot-long hotdog and she was huddled over a small box of chicken strips, eating them quickly and deliberately as if in her short life she had already fended off an older brother or two.  The other man, who appeared to be her dad’s friend, was awkwardly trying to make the little girl laugh by occasionally putting her shiny purple pompoms on his head.  She looked at him quizzically as if she knew she was supposed to laugh to be polite, her eyes big and smile forced. 

With nary a word, she quietly watched the pageantry of the game, the bands moving in sync, the football players scrimmaging, and the real cheerleaders flitting cluelessly around.  But when the crowd rose to their feet to cheer the hometeam through a narrow squeak, she moved into action, grasping those pompoms tightly in her hands, her cherubic face now fierce and intense.  She was no longer a spectator but the most valuable player, part of the team, furiously pumping the pompoms as hard as she could, as if the entire outcome of the game was dependent on how hard she could shake them.

Pray like that.  Pray like you mean it. 

 

The prayer of the righteous

has great power in its effects.

                         James 5.17

Monday, October 1, 2012

A Different Kind of Fast

As a runner, I have two different speeds:  slow and slower.  I love to run, but I was not particularly blessed with the gift of a gazelle, the ability to move swiftly.  I love watching the elite runners who dash along without seemingly breaking a sweat.  God-given DNA is part of their swiftness, but I have yet to see or read about a world-class runner who does not also train hard and fulltime for those events, urgent and deliberate.  “However fast you are running, run faster,” yells Joe Newton, the old coach in the classic running movie The Long Green Line.  Being fast takes effort. 

But the Bible refers to a different kind of fast that takes effort on our part, one of which most people like to avoid.  Most Christians see fasting as going hungry for a period of time to somehow signal God’s attention.  It is a giving up of something good, a type of sacrifice that somehow makes them more holy and gets God to act.   I feel awkward even writing those words.  Getting God to act?  The LORD God, Creator of all, who set the universe in motion with a word?  THAT God?  Not what He had in mind at all.

Early on Saturday morning, a friend called with a dilemma.  She had heard Eric Metaxes last week in a Breakpoint commentary challenge Americans to a 40-day pre-election fast, not for particular candidates, but for the direction of our country.  My friend asked me, “How can I fast, what can I fast, that will be more meaningful than giving up something mundane like chocolate?”

I was astonished.  Moments before her call, I had just finished reading Isaiah 58.6:

      Is not this the fast that I choose:

      to loose the bonds of wickedness,

      to undo the thongs of the yoke,

      to let the oppressed go free,

      and to break every yoke?

It is a fast of righteousness and justice, a time not of turning within but in reaching outward, a sacrifice of doing what is good and right even when you are standing alone in it, going out of your way to be kind to a stranger or a neighbor, providing for others on your path particularly when undeserved, not grumbling or complaining, deliberately loving someone who is invisible or irritating, giving sacrificially, healing strained relationships, swallowing your pride in pursuing peace and reconciliation, seeking out need in all its forms and doing something about it. 

It is not a giving up something, but a time of giving of yourself.  It is not a time of saying “no,” but a time of saying “yes.”  It is about time we DID something with the sole purpose of pleasing God, not to gain His favor, but to pray earnestly and humble ourselves before Him.  It is far too easy to point fingers at others for what is happening in our world.  It is something again to lay before Him our own repentance.  God knows that when our hearts are right with Him, we can’t help but do.  That is what this kind of fast is all about. 

Being fast takes effort.  Be that kind of fast -- urgent and deliberate. 

Would you join me?  I would love to hear how God leads you in this.