Monday, December 30, 2013

Brown Eyes and Other Non-Returnable Gifts

Just two years after the end of the Civil War in America, a little dark-haired, brown-eyed baby girl was born.  When she was a child, she prayed, she BEGGED God Almighty to give her blue eyes just like her little brother.  It appeared that God was silent, able but not willing to change her eyes from brown to blue.  In the meantime, God answered her prayer in a different way by changing her heart.  When she was twenty years old, God placed on her heart the calling to go as a missionary to China.  She put aside her blue-eyed prayers, and God led brown-eyed Amy Carmichael to India instead.

She served in India for the next 55 years, opening an orphanage and establishing a mission there, rescuing young girls from forced temple prostitution.  And in the process, God showed her the answer to her childhood prayer.  Dressed in native Indian dress, Amy was able to move freely among the people there, rescuing these enslaved girls, because she had brown eyes.  God's plans were revealed.  Her brown eyes were a gift after all.

And what is this gift that God has given me?
That which doesn't look like a gift at all,
this pain,
this wilderness,
this seemingly irrelevant ability?
I have no idea what this is,
     and why it has been given to me.
But what God reveals over time
                 are His divine purposes,
a multi-tool ready to solve problems,
a blessing in the process,
a glue that binds unrelated things together,
and perhaps this gift is not something for me at all
         but used in the lives of others,
all for the glory of His name.

Part of the gift is trusting Him in it.

His glory comes in all shapes and sizes
     whether I understand it or not.

Now we have received not the spirit of the world,
but the Spirit which is from God,
that we might understand
the gifts bestowed on us by God.

                          1 Corinthians 2.12

Let us not seek the "why"
            or even seek the gift itself,
but seek Him in it
and learn well how to use it
     that God would fulfill His purposes.

I will never fully know the extent of His gift
      until the other side.

And I am sure that
    He who began a good work in you
will bring it to completion
in the day of Jesus Christ.

                             Philippians 1.6

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Other Side of the "Christmas Spirit"

It happened twice this week.  I was exchanging some slippers for the right size when a man's voice rose above the background noise of ordinary transactions.  The young man who was working at the service counter had cheerfully commented to the customer next to me, "Oh, I see that you are exchanging shoes for different shoes and hats for different hats."  The customer snarled back at him, "Isn't that obvious?" His words reverberated through the air like they were blasted from a huge speaker, loud and harsh.  A brief silent moment followed those echoing words, accompanied by a shocked expression on the young man's face, as if he had just been punched.  And then he graciously continued the transaction.

A few minutes later the young woman who was helping me remarked, "It has been like that here for two days."  Merry Christmas, everyone, just give me the receipt so I can get what I really want and make that snappy..

When did gifts cease to be gifts?  That which is given in love, that which is graciously received.

And then again yesterday, I was purchasing a pair of corduroy pants on the clearance rack.  "You all must have been so busy these past few days," I commented to the woman who served me at the cash register.

"I have been working in retail for thirteen years," she said.  "I've never seen it as bad as this."  She was literally surrounded by mounds and mounds of clothing on the counter, returns, returns, returns.  "And even before Christmas," she continued as she checked out my purchase, "people were so angry that we ran out of men's large and extra large.  Don't they understand I have no control over that?" In the weeks before Christmas,the lines backed up through the store, and tempers mounted.  That is not the kind of Advent God had in mind.  In these weeks after Christmas, nothing much has changed.  That is not the kind of "peace on earth, good will toward men" that God intends.

And since when do those who serve cease to become real people?  They are not clerks, cashiers, or stockers, but men and women with names and hurting feet and feelings, people who are precious in His sight.

Jesus came to earth
      not just to give us a holiday
but to show us what love means
by saving us not just from our sins
               but from ourselves.

Love God.
Love others.

Be kind to one another,
forgiving one another,
as God in Christ forgave you.

                 Ephesians 4.32

With what shall I come before the LORD,
and bow myself before God on high?
...He has showed you, O man,
             what is good;
and what does the LORD require of you
but to do justice,
     and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

                    Micah 6. 6,8

What does it look like to love kindness
in my work,
           in my family life,
among friends,
     and in the checkout line?

Saturday, December 28, 2013

What is hanging on my tree?

The tree appears awkward now, no longer adorning the room but taking up space.  Christmas has come and gone for another year.  This evergreen weeps needles from its dry and lifeless branches.  In just a few days, we will take down the ornaments, most of which have a story behind them, decorations that our daughters made years ago and ornaments chosen to remember familiar things, a bear with a fishing pole, a bike racer, and a gilded stack of Papa's famous Saturday morning pancakes. 

As in years past, I will carefully wrap up the decorations, place them in large Rubbermaid bins, and store them in the attic above the garage for another year. 

The ornaments decorate the Christmas tree.  But what hangs on my tree?  What is evident in my life year round? 

God calls us not to decorate our lives
      with accomplishments and accolades,
      performances and distractions,
but to bear fruit,
    that which only He can do in us.

Do I bear love, joy, peace, patience,
kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
gentleness, and self control?
All of which have stories attached,
His purposes woven,
            His glory revealed,
     and the seeds of Life.

Fruit is the mark of His abiding grace,
not an ornament of our own doing
       but that which pleases Him,
   nurtures others
   and lasts forever.

Abide in Me, and I in you.
As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself,
unless it abides in the vine,
neither can you,
            unless you abide in Me.
I am the vine,
            you are the branches.
Whoever abides in me and I in him,
he it is that bears much fruit,
for apart from Me
             you can do nothing.

                         John 15. 4-5

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Secret Life That Is Not So Secret

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

An ordinary day, an ordinary guy doing ordinary everyday things.  That is the basis for the new movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, based on a classic short story just a few pages long, written by James Thurber in 1939.

The compelling story is not the ordinariness of his life, but how the extraordinary emerges from it, bursts forth and changes the course not only of Walter's life, but all those around him.  Walter "zones out" into daydreams that quite suddenly help him to see ordinary things -- even conflict -- with different eyes.  He actually visualizes a different outcome.

And when we focus on God,
         how different life can be.
God can transform
      the most ordinary situation,
    the most volatile relationships,
       the mundane or the scary
into what is extraordinary,
into what only He can do.

How can I think differently about this situation,
      this relationship,
      that person?
Only by laying it before the LORD,
             wrapped in His Word,
              and marinated in prayer.
How can I pray differently?
What other words can I use?
What else can I do?
What Scriptures apply to this?
How can I trust Him more
                even in this?
Not to get my way,
         but follow fully His way..

This is the secret life that cannot remain secret ,
but manifests itself to all.
God makes all things new,
           and it starts with me.

It impacts everything on my radar,
      it empowers me to
                 see beyond even that
   to what is not ordinary at all.
It is all significant in God's eyes.
Nothing for naught,
       as my sweet grandmother would say.

So I am not just "dealing" with a tough job,
or "handling" a squabble,
or even walking into an ordinary day,
but God changes my myopic vision to know
How can I practice grace in this?

Walter Mitty zoned out of reality
          to find the extraordinary,
but God breaks us out of our own imaginings
     and opens our eyes
            not just to possibilities,
     but to what is really real.

It is not that He makes all things new,
         but He makes us new.
And that changes everything.

Remember not the former things,
nor consider the things of old.
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. 18-19

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Full Price

The most significant presents
       are not boxed and wrapped with a gift receipt
                              under the Christmas tree,
but those that are lived out
           --"gived" out as it were--
in the every days,
in unexpected moments,
in mostly inconvenient situations,
         and not what I had in mind at all.
Opportunities show up on the front porch,
         waiting in the check out line at Target,
     the nudge to speak to someone,
           to give them my place,
           to give them my time.
Full price.
No discounts.
No returns.
The times of loose change in my pocket,
          a cup of cold water,
        a kindness in my words,
 appear as insignificant small things
              but look a lot like love,
    precious and profound.
Every day is not a holiday,
       but every day is a holy day
when love and grace are given.

Do not withhold good
     from those to whom it is due,
when it is in your power to do it.

                          Proverbs 3.27


Monday, December 23, 2013

Manual controls and the art of His redeeming

When I was a young mom, our daughters would often look to me to fix a difficult situation or circumstances gone awry.  Sometimes I could help, but sometimes there was nothing I could do.  And I would say,  "There are some things I can control, and this isn't one of them."  But we could pray.

Many times even now, I awake at night anxious about troubled waters, and I realize in reality there is nothing I can do, but pray.  I am not in control, but He is.

There is nothing that God cannot redeem.

I just need to follow Him into it.

Show me, LORD,
what to do
     and say
and think
     and pray.
Show me, LORD,
    Your way in this
               and the power of Your redeeming.

Not by might,
nor by power,
but by My Spirit,
           says the LORD of hosts.
What are you, O great mountain?
Before Zerubbabel
              you shall become a plain.

                            Zechariah 4. 6-7

There is no mountain too high
                  for God to handle.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Note to Self

Yesterday, my to-do list was longer than the time allotted.  As I moved from one task to another, I would think of yet something else that needed to be done.

When our girls were young, we had a family saying, "Delayed obedience is the same as disobedience."  

The same principle applies to me even now.  When God puts something on my radar, I have learned to take some kind of action right away.  Go ahead and put that library book in the car, take the chicken out of the freezer, dial that number and make that appointment.  Sometimes it just involves jotting a note to myself on a post-it note and sticking it to the back door.  Last week while I was waiting for water to boil, I made two lists on my phone notepad, what errands I needed to run today and a list of items I needed to bring to a Christmas get-together.  If I hadn't written down the Gouda cheese in the refrigerator drawer, well, we would be unable to make our family favorite "smoky Gouda grits."  Just one ingredient would be missing.  And that would be all that it took to keep it from happening.

Do something about it right away.  Take some kind of action...or it will be forgotten forever, or added to my list of regrets, those items too late to do something about them.

I have learned as well that when God brings to my mind a person or a situation to stop, drop and pray right away.  Not just think about that person, but take action and pray right away as I go about my day.  God has placed them in my thoughts for a reason, not just to occupy a spot in my thoughts.

Sometimes it is even someone I have not heard from or seen in a while, like an old friend or a niece or nephew who lives in another location.  Pray.  Sometimes a close friend or one of our daughters.  Pray.  Sometimes a person I don't even know who has crossed my path.  Pray now.

Do it right away.  I have never regretted it.

Moreover as for me,
far be it from me
that I should sin against the LORD
by ceasing to pray for you.

                               1 Samuel 12.23

Friday, December 20, 2013

Scanners and What I Need To Leave Behind

Every passenger must line up and pass through airport security before they enter the terminal.  There are certain items that are allowable, and those that are not must be discarded.  Everything is scanned, right down to every pair of shoes.

As we pack up to attend events with friends and family, think about passing through a grace detector before you enter their front door. Have I brought along any volatile items?  Are my words laced with ammunition or with patience?  Did I wrap my gifts to others in steadfast love?  Have I prayed about this get-together?  Have I already thought through my attitudes and words and actions?  Not to finally win that perennial holiday argument, or be the hero, or prove anything at all? Am I prepared to be swift in my kindness?

What passes through the grace detector?
That which brings glory to God.

And the people around you may never remember
                the gift that you gave,
       but they will always remember
                                 how you loved them.
  Grace is engraved forever in their hearts.

Through Him we have
     access to this grace
                  in which we stand,
and we rejoice in our hope
of sharing the glory of God.

                          Romans 5.2

Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Chain of Grace

Our oldest daughter was caught in the middle of grace today as she scurried about with last minute errands.  She pulled up to the drive-through lane at Starbucks and placed her order for a hot drink.  When she arrived at the window, the server handed her the steaming cup and said, "There is no charge.  The person in front of you just paid for you."

When Beth asked if that happened often, the woman just smiled.  And Beth paid for the person behind her, extending that unexpected grace to yet another.

It cost our daughter no more than she would have paid anyway, but she pulled out with a smile on her face.  And knowing a little more about what grace looks like.

We are in the season when people look every which way to outdo each other in giving gifts.  What if we changed our mindset and heart-set to outdo one another in giving grace?

May we be known by His grace
              in the most unlikely places of all
as God did
              in a stable long ago.

Love one another with brotherly affection.
Outdo one another in showing honor.
                                 Romans 12.10

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A Cloud With My Name On It

A dense wintry-grey cloud cover colored the sky this morning, that which was heavy and dull like the old woolen army blanket that we keep in the back of the truck.

In the Bible, God used a cloud by day to guide His people through the wilderness.  What did they do when the skies were as murky as these?  Was there but a single cloud in the sky to designate their direction?

How is a gloomy sky supposed to navigate me through my day and the forks in the road ahead?  Where do I go from here, surrounded by such a mystifying haze?

I contemplated these questions as I began my tasks for the day.

Follow Me.
Trust Me.

And when I looked up, streaks of impossible pink were painted all over the sky.

The sky reveals not where,
nor what,
nor when.
       But God alone.
"I am with you."

God does not hand out highway maps
        or print out His directions,
   each turn in the road,
   every ramp,
   the rest areas,
            the flat tires ahead.
He never intends for us to see
                         too far ahead,
so that the destination doesn't become our focus,
so that the road itself does not become too difficult,
            nor dismay cause a detour.
How will I ever endure that?
How can I ever keep holding on?

Because He goes before us.

The journey itself is a strengthening.
And along the way,
           trusting God transforms me into a different person
     than who I am now.
He changes me.

His ways are not determined by the prevailing winds
               or even by the visible light at the moment.
I don't have to pack fear in my lunch,
but lace up my shoes
and just take the next step,
    trusting God
    whether the sky is brilliant
                        or overcast.
There is a reason for it.

And along the way,
everyday is written as another story of God's faithfulness,
            not just when we get where we're going.

FEAR NOT should be written in capital letters
                       in my Bible.
"I am with you," He promises me.
What part of that do I not understand?

There is not a cloud with my name on it,
     but an entire universe with His.

Dismay is looking all around me
             and not to the One who holds me
             in the palm of His hand.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own insight.
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
      and He will make straight your paths.

                             Proverbs 3. 5-6

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

And the LORD went before them
by day in a pillar of cloud
     to lead them along the way,
and by night in a pillar of fire
     to give them light,
that they might travel by day and by night...

                              Exodus 13.21

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

What happens at practice doesn't stay at practice

In basketball, there is an element of natural talent.  There are the principles of good coaching.  There is the necessity of teamwork.  But it all comes down to practice.

What wins the game is the daily practice, be it basketball, or music, or a gracious heart.

As the halftime buzzer sounded last night, a young man from the opposing team lobbed the ball from the other side of the court.  It slid right through the net.  The crowd was astonished.  How did he do that?

It wasn't pure luck.

My guess is that he has done it a thousand times in an empty gym after practice, in arenas when no one was around, at the local park where the hoops have no nets, and on his family's driveway after everybody else has gone home.

If you want to shoot three-pointers, you have to practice three-pointers.  When an unexpected opportunity comes up in a game or life, what I have been working on is revealed.

What happens at practice doesn't stay at practice, but works itself out in life.

Kindness and grace are the half-court shots of life.  In the heat of the moment and in the midst of crisis, knowing the right thing to do is great, but what really matters is how much I have practiced doing it in the every days.

Aim at love and grace.  Pick up the ball and shoot again.  That is why practice is called "practice."  It is the repeated and regular exercise of an activity or skill so as to acquire proficiency in it.  Give grace to that irate driver.  Love that impossible kid.  Be kind when it is not expected.  Extend generosity to a stranger or that not-so-favorite uncle.  Bear gentleness in the face of hostility.  Seek out the good.  Have a pocket full of mercy.  Over and over and over again.

How should  I have said that?  What would have been kind?
What should I have done?  What would grace look like in that situation?

Practicing those things changes the game entirely.

God's Word abides in us and works its way out in immeasurable ways.
Practice shot after another.
Grace is not often noticed.
      And more often, it is not recognized at all.
   But it always 
          changes life in significant ways.

So also good works are conspicuous,
and even those that are not
cannot remain hidden.

                         1 Timothy 5.25

Monday, December 16, 2013

What kind of filter is that?

A good friend of mine recently moved from the frozen tundra of Chicago to a house on a hill overlooking the Cumberland Plateau, just outside of Nashville.

Early one morning last week, she glanced out from the front porch and was greeted by this glorious sunrise.

It matters not your worldview.
It matters not how you process what you experience
                 or even what filter you use.
There is something incredible
                 in a sight like this,
a "stop what you are doing and drink it in"
                                    kind of awesome.

And how do you explain it?
I don't mean the measure of atmospheric particles,
         the refraction of the sun's light,
         the precise rotation of the earth,
         visible wavelengths,
         and water droplets that make up the clouds.

But where does the awe come from?

Not an explanation,
           but the exclamation that
God is,
      and He has spoken.

For thus says the LORD,
who created the heavens
(He is God!),
who formed the earth and made it
(He established it;
He did not create it a chaos,
He formed it to be inhabited!):
"I am the LORD,
           and there is no other.
I did not speak in secret,
           in a land of darkenss;
I did not say to the offspring of Jacob,
           'Seek Me in chaos.'
I the LORD speak the truth,
           I declare what is right."

                            Isaiah 45.18-19

Sunday, December 15, 2013

That kind of joy

Never mind that the angel arrived by plane, and that the wise men and a camel were lined up like they were going through airport security.  Even Rudolph is overlooking the birth of a King.

Something special is going on here, that much is evident, even to our youngest grandson Adrian.

This is more than the birth of another baby.

This is Jesus.

Jesus did not just come to bring us Christmas,
                as if we need another holiday.
He came to save the world.
          that a new life proclaims
                 new life for all.

Yes, it does matter that Jesus came.
He changes everything
        ...far as the curse is found.

Emmanuel.  God with us.

"We tend to focus our attention at Christmas
                    on the infancy of Christ.
The greater truth of the holiday
                                   is His deity."*

For He has come.

For unto you is born this day
     in the city of David
a Savior,
          who is Christ the Lord.

                       Luke 2.11

*John F. MacArthur, Jr.,
God With Us:  The Miracle of Christmas,
p. 16, 1989.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

No sweeter words

Do I approach prayer
          as a cry in the night,
     a last resort in the midst of calamity,
a desperation only when I can do no more,
a compulsory repeating of words
                   that reach no higher than the ceiling,
    or that which don't really matter at all?
Or do I see prayer as it really is,
                     a form of worship,
       His listening ear
                  and my responsive heart,
the blessing of being together,
the deepening of relationship,
the sharing of life together,
the richness of conversation
                    with Almighty God,
   that which changes the world
              and transforms me?

...with golden bowls of incense
        which are the prayers of the saints.

                                   Revelation 5.8

God does not just hear our prayers to Him,
                 He treasures them
as words from His beloved
so precious
    that He keeps these cherished words
in golden bowls,
a sweet aroma that becomes even sweeter
                          and ever more adored.


Friday, December 13, 2013

Strands of barbed wire

Back in the 1870s, a farmer in DeKalb Illinois, developed a type of wire fence designed to manage his herds of cattle.  It consisted of double strands of wire with a barb embedded in it to keep the cows from trampling the boundaries set for them.  That is what it was designed to do, a protective shield, a holding back.

I used to have infrequent dreams when, in a time to flee, my ankles were bound with barbed wire and I could not run.  That is not how it was designed to be used.

But it is only I
           who binds my ankles
with every anxious thought,
           around and around again.
Anxiety enslaves.
That is what it does best.

Anxiety will only trip me up,
drain me dry,
sap my strength,
leave me defenseless,
and take over like a tyrant.

Anxiety is what enters over a welcome mat,
               through a front door
                        that I have opened wide,
                and takes me captive,
when I don't trust God.
Every anxious thought wraps me
                  in a stranglehold,
but trusting in God
                        sets me free.

Anxiety is never neutral,
                 but that which is designed
                 to pull me down
                        into a pit of flagrant lies.
Don't even venture
                      into that virulent quick sand.
May I pour my energies instead
                        in trusting Him.

Trust unties the knots of anxiety.
God calls me to tie my shoes
                     to do His Will,
   not bind up my emotions.

In God We Trust is written on our coins.
May it be instead
           written on our hearts.

Do not be anxious about anything,
         but in everything by prayer
 and supplication
                        with thanksgiving
let your requests be made known to God.
And the peace of God,
            which surpasses all understanding,
      will guard your hearts and your minds
                            in Christ Jesus.

                                Philippians 4. 6-7

The fear of man lays a snare
but he who trusts the LORD is safe.

                                 Proverbs 29. 25

Thursday, December 12, 2013

"What dis called?"

Two year old Howie pulled a small toy out of the bottom kitchen drawer where this Gramma keeps "distractions" for when I am trying to prepare supper.

"What dis called?" he asked.

"Well, Howie, that's a puzzle," I explained.  "And to know what it is, you have to keep moving the pieces around until they make sense.  The picture is just mixed up.  What do you think it will be?"

"Fish," he said emphatically.  "It's a fish."

"Let's move the pieces around until we find the solution,"  I said.  One piece slid over to the left, another down, one up.  At times, it seemed impossible, as if all these puzzle pieces were unrelated and random.  Quite frankly, I had no idea what I was doing. But over time as we continued working on it, moving the pieces around, suddenly it did make sense.  Despite initial appearances and the time it took, there was purpose in it after all.

"A bird!" Howie exclaimed.  It was not what he expected the pieces to form, but a design and a delight, nonetheless.

Sometimes, well, the pieces of life seem scattered and random, and literally I am asking God, "what dis called, LORD?"  At times, we all live in mystery.  What am I doing here? What is Your purpose in this? Where should I go? Or even, what is this strange mixed up relationship/situation/complication doing in my life?

What am I supposed to do, LORD?  This is a mystery to me.

"Keep moving the pieces around,
                  and follow Me into it."

The result,
the destination,
the purpose,
the solution,
His design in it all
   encompasses more dimensions
than I can ever imagine.

We are called to be stewards
            of the mysteries of God.*
Sometimes there is a sudden revealing,
at times a long enduring,
significant pieces may not yet be on the table,
and perhaps,
      the whole picture will be only revealed
on the Other Side of life.

But God is good.
You can stake your life on that.

We do not know what to do,
but our eyes are upon You.

                       2 Chronicles 20.12

* servants of Christ
and stewards of the mysteries of God.
                       1 Corinthians 4.1

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Every which way you can

Advent is not to be confused with advertisement.  But in the retail rush, the 70 percent off sales before Christmas sales, the decorations and weight gain, somehow baby Jesus gets lost in the shuffle.

Teach your children the story of Christmas every which way you can.  Learning of any kind is secured through use of many dimensions.  Read it, sing it, recite it, act it out, cook it, talk about it when you sit in the family room, stand in the kitchen, and walk through the grocery.

We are surrounded by conversation starters.  Every Christmas light proclaims the Star, and the evergreen trees reveal the life He brings. This week, our grandchildren found a box of candy canes in our pantry.  And on the back of the package was written about the significance of the shepherd's crook, representing those who witnessed the glory of the angels over the grandest birth of all.

More than thirty years ago one December, we were invited to a friend's house for dinner.  And what welcomed every guest to their home was a nativity set, just inside the front door.  "Always, front and center," my friend indicated.

I have always remembered that.  My friend's nativity display was not a decoration, but an intentional focus.

Yesterday, when looking for another activity for our visiting grandchildren, I pulled out the Fisher Price nativity set purchased last year.  Maggie and Howie immediately started playing with it.  "Jofus!" two year old Howie squealed as he recognized the Joseph figure.  And of course, baby Jesus was placed lovingly front and center.

Our own girls totally messed up our unfinished basement one year, putting on their own Christmas pageant, complete with bathrobes, the Little Tykes plastic playhouse serving as the Inn, and a blanket-covered tricycle playing the part of the donkey carrying Mary.  They knew the story.  And they knew that the story was real.

Earlier this week, I posted a picture of a "gingerbread" log cabin, constructed of pretzel rods and corn chex.  Yesterday, the roof collapsed.  And as I was viewing it today, it occurred to me that the imploded structure looked a bit like a stable.

Next year, a gingerbread nativity is in the offing.

We have a basket of books that illustrate the Christmas story in a variety of ways.  But nothing beats the account in Luke 2, appropriate for reading, reciting and memorizing.  It is not just a story.  It is the real thing.

And as for our two and four year olds who are visiting for the week?  Along with their mom and dad, they have memorized Isaiah 9.6, word for word.  Jesus did not just happen.  Jesus was promised.  He is not just another baby, but Savior of the World.

And believe me, there is nothing sweeter than hearing a two and a half year old reciting,

For to us a child is born,
for to us a son is given,
and the government will be upon his shoulders,
and his name will be called
"Wonderful Counselor,
Mighty God,
Everlasting Father,
Prince of Peace."

                    Isaiah 9.6

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Wearing and Bearing

What am I wearing to the office Christmas party this year?
      The family get-together?   
    Or for that group event of intimidating strangers? 
Have I thought about what is appropriate?
Same thing as last year with a different sweater?
Who will be there?
And what gifts will I bear?
A chip on my shoulder?
The same grudge I always bring?
A perennial bad attitude?
A wristwatch so I can skip out early?
A tote bulging with excuses?

Am I going with a mindset of
        what am I going to get?
Do I dress to impress?
Or do I come prepared with
          a plateful of appetizing words.
          an eye that seeks out
                 that person standing alone,
          a humble heart that remembers
                 to ask about someone's elderly mom
                 or a child's achievement,
                 or even a pet recovering?
    Do I bear an impossible peace,
              quick ears,
              a slow mouth,
                    and gracious questions?
Do I talk about me
                       or ask about you?
Needs loom huge and unrecognized,
        decorating the room
   with gaping wounds
             and shrapnel of innumerable battles.
Have I thought about how to personalize
              not a gift
                          but a conversation?
Have I really considered how to love someone
                 chatting at a party?
Or embrace a divine appointment with a stranger?
Oversize items
    and problems
                typically take longer to deliver
and sometimes require special handling.
                                        So does love.
An advertisement today said,
        "Find that unexpected gift
         for the person who already
         has everything."
And that would be grace,
            unexpected, undeserved
                        and appropriate for any occasion.

A word fitly spoken
       is like apples of gold
 in a setting of silver.

                         Proverbs 25.11

What am I wearing?
What am I bearing?

Come prepared.
Come bearing gifts.
A fruit basket is always in great demand,
             never out of style.

But the fruit of the Spirit is
              Galatians 5. 22-23

Monday, December 9, 2013

Book Warning

Warning to all grandma's!

This chilly December afternoon during rest time, my granddaughter selected a few books for us to read while we snuggled under the covers.  There was a story about the animals in the stable on Christmas Eve.  There was the tale of Marvin K. Mooney, quick and funny.  And then, she pulled out Love You Forever.

Oh, I thought.  I remember that one from when our girls were little.  But as I read, it was apparent that I didn't remember it well enough.

I was ok through the first few pages, but then, as the child grew and the mama got older, my throat began to tighten and my voice became a little weaker each time on the chorus:

I'll love you forever,
I'll like you for always,
As long as I'm living
my baby you'll be.

Four-year-old Maggie thought I was leaving off the last couple of lines for her to finish for me.  By then, she wasn't looking at the book, but at me.  Tears were dripping down my cheeks. "Are you ok, gramma?" she asked.

I just nodded.

And she gave me a hug.

So even to old age and gray hairs,
O God, do not forsake me,
until I proclaim Your might
            to another generation,
Your power to all those to come.

                         Proverbs 71.18

Sunday, December 8, 2013

What pretzels and corn chex built

From all appearances, my granddaughter and I were building a log cabin out of pretzels and corn chex, while her little brother was taking a nap the other day.  I don't get to spend time often with our grandchildren as they live two states away.  And so, when the opportunity presents itself, I delight in every moment.

But what was really being built in that kitchen was my relationship with Maggie, not that I learned to love her more, but learning new ways to love her.

The "log" cabin will not last forever.  And at her age, it is likely that Maggie will not even remember this fun afternoon.  But I will never forget.

And I have come to know
God delights in us
           even more.

Even these may forget,
yet I will not forget you.
     I have graven you
     on the palms of my hands...

                      Isaiah 49. 15-16

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Dress in layers

It is six skinny little degrees outside this morning.  How can one survive in such temperatures?  In such a hostile climate, it is all in what you wear.

Dress in layers.

God directs us to do the same as we navigate through difficult situations, graceless environments and among those with whom we live.  Because in real life, what I wear and Whose name I bear not only affects me but impacts everyone around me.

Layer by layer by layer, not for an impervious shield, not for protection from the elements, but equipped to live and relate His love to others wherever God strategically places His own.  It is not for survival, but to thrive as He reveals your heart, even in a cold "climate."  God's love radiates through you.

Put on then,
as God's chosen ones,
               holy and beloved,
and patience,
forbearing one another and,
if one has a complaint,
      forgiving each other...
And above all these
                     put on love,
which binds everything together
in perfect harmony.

                         Colossians 3.12-14

Friday, December 6, 2013

Worldview, mindset, and heart beat

It has been three months since the onset of the tendonitis in my foot.  It has been two full months since the marathon.  I am still limping.

At first I assumed that after a couple weeks of rest, I would be good to go.  I rested, I iced, and I wore sturdy tie shoes.  No change.  After a month, I went to the doctor.  He told me to immobilize it with a boot.  I clomped around for two weeks.  No change.

And now, physical therapy has been prescribed.  And my therapist defied all previous advice.  Rest has only caused the tendons and ligaments to tighten up even more.  Move, move, move, she said.

One of her prescriptions is walking on the treadmill.  The treadmill was stored and ignored in a corner of the basement.   It has been months since it was even turned on.

As per her advice, walking on the treadmill warms up my muscles and strengthens my legs and foot for the day ahead.  Its effects go before me long after I finish and move on into my day.  

But there was another strengthening for my day, impacting my vision, my mindset, and my heart beat.  For above the buttons, a row of verses stood in line, ready to sink into my mind and heart and prepare me for the day.  I had been memorizing those scripture verses one by one.  The little cards were marked:

His Peace
His Spirit
His Faithfulness
His Strength

His Word strengthens me, enlarges my vision, tenderizes my heart, and fills me with His peace that passes understanding.

It is the best way to start my day.
It is the best way to live His day for me.
It is the best way to live.

His Word changes me.
His Word works in my heart.
His Word invades and impacts
              everything around me.

Its effects go before me long after 
I finish reading and memorizing
                                     and move on into my day.  

The Bible is not just words on the page,
         but the very words of God.

The physical therapist told me that
walking on the treadmill will strengthen me
               and heal my wounded foot.
But walking in His Word strengthens me even more
               and heals all my broken places.

Strengthen me
              according to Your Word.

                                Psalm 119.28

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Beyond the realm of possibility

Praying for God's mighty work in the life of  a dear friend,
"O God that You would intervene supernaturally
            in her desperate situation."
I stopped mid-sentence,
       realizing that supernaturally is the only way God works.
       That's what He does.
And so my prayer changed from
       "O God that You would...,"
into a prayer that began with
       "Thank You, God, that You are working."
Do we believe,
       really believe what God can do?
Do we go about our days without His intervention
           as even a consideration
      like a house closed up and locked?
Or do we leave the back door key under the mat
      for the mere possibility
      that God might sneak in
      like an embarrassed schoolchild
                  with a third-grade project?
Is the front door unlocked
              in anticipation?
Or is it wide open
              to indicate someone is home?
Or am I standing on the front porch,
waiting with eyes scanning the horizon,
listening for a rustle of leaves
                or Your still small voice,
living room ready, my heart prepared,
       not to entertain Your Presence
       but abide in You?
You intervene supernaturally in all things.
Am I ready for it?
Am I even asking You?

Now to Him
who by the power at work within us
is able to do
          far more abundantly
than all we ask or think...

                     Ephesians 3.20


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Dog-eared Pages

The only thing harder than waiting on God
                   is wishing that you did.

                 --Crawford Loritts
                      pastor, author, speaker

Monday, December 2, 2013

True love, evil villains, and dreaded rodents of unusual size

Fire Swamp

In the 1987 classic film The Princess Bride, Westley and Buttercup are forced to flee into the horrid Fire Swamp to escape the venomous Prince Humperdinck.  Their means of deliverance was to trek through that fearful place, marked by flame spurts, lightning sand, and dreaded rodents of unusual size.

"We'll never survive," Buttercup laments.
"Nonsense," Westley replies. "You're only saying that because no one ever has."

Sometimes life feels like that.

But it doesn't have to remain that way.
God empowers us to see those hard things differently, fear not a dismal position,
           but grasping an opportunity to rely on Him, initiate not a walking away,
           but walking with Him,
                              freely in the midst of it, see not a God-forsaken place,
           but trusting God far beyond my own strength
                              for what only He can do, realize that it is not a time to quit,
           but allowing Him to deepen me
    even through a fearful place.

     show me how to navigate
this tumultuous relationship,
this impossible work situation,
this Fire Swamp
       with rodents of unusual size.
And to know
               that I do not travel alone.
      You are with me.

The difficulty of the task
       reveals not Your absence,
but my need for You.

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the LORD,
          who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved,
          He who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, He who keeps Israel
          will neither slumber nor sleep.
The LORD is your keeper;
          the LORD is your shade on your right hand.
The sun shall not smite you by day,
          nor the moon by night.
The LORD will keep you from all evil;
          He will keep your life.
The LORD will keep
          your going out
                        and your coming in
    from this time forth
                        and for evermore.

                            Psalm 121

May we go forth abiding in the LORD.
       wasting not our focus or strength
       on phantoms of  fear and anxiety,
but instead,
living impossible lives
                  thick with His grace
                  and dripping with redemption.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Construction zones and uncertain roads

What is that in the middle of the road?

I was zipping down the street for a quick trip to the library.  My way was blocked about a hundred feet ahead.  It appeared to be a kind of large scaffolding, sitting point-blank in the right lane.  I began to veer to the left, when quite suddenly, I saw the construction worker with the sign, "STOP."  Oooops!  I was so busy trying to figure out the what and why of this object, that I almost missed my necessary obedience. I did not have to know all that was going on.  I just needed to stop my car and wait.

Sometimes on my path of life,
              there are what appear to be dead ends.
Other times, those nasty speed bumps.
No one ever expects a detour.

I don't always understand what is going on.
             But I still need to obey.
And when the road or my plans
           take an unexpected turn,
          is this just a re-routing,
                the going around an obstacle?
      Or a whole new direction?

Construction ahead.
God at work.

There may not be a trail,
but that does not mean
           that He is not guiding me.

May I not be so locked into my own measured route,
   based on my own myopic vision,
but quick to listen,
ready to turn,
willing to stay,
prepared to sprint,
                 or stop.

There may be something different going on here.
            There probably is.

Am I set on where I am going?
           Or where God is leading me?

We expect the unveiling of God's intentions to be sudden
                         in a BIG box,
        with all the components,
                instructions I can decipher,
     or even better,
                            pre-assembled at my front door.

But more often,
God provides me with clues to a mystery
 piece by piece,
               step by step,
   that as I seek Him through it,
    I will know Him more.

We anxiously inquire of God,
        "What about tomorrow?
                 Next week?
                    A year from now?"

And God asks,
         "What about today?"

A short obedience
           for a long enduring.

No obedience is ever too small.

Has the LORD as great delight
     in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
as in obeying the voice of the LORD?
      to obey is better than sacrifice,
  and to listen than the fat of rams.

                      1  Samuel 15.22

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Filed away

"But she hurt my feelings."  "She owes me."  "He let me down."  We seem to keep an active file of others' imperfections and transgressions against us, organized, alphabetized, and never forgiven.  That file cabinet is too heavy to lift and takes up an awful lot of room in our hearts.

But biggest file of all, the toughest stain, may be my own lack of forgiveness, a nastiness that I just don't want to let go, harboring, and filed away for so long that sometimes even the actual crime has been forgotten, but not the resentment.

But it doesn't have to be that way.  One incident of unforgiveness leads to another.  But one act of grace changes the world in incredible ways.

May we not just sing about peace on earth this year, but leave behind the debts, offenses, scripts of judgment written and re-written, and even those "punishments" envisioned for that imperfect person.  You are not hurting them back, but allowing your own wounds to fester. Instead, let it go. And as my father's 1931 dictionary states, "restore him to an unresentful place in your affections." That is what forgiveness does.

And as Jesus would say, "What debt?"  

Then Peter came up and said to Him,
"Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me,
          and I forgive him?
     As many as seven times?"
Jesus said to him,
"I do not say to you seven times,
but seventy times seven."

                           Matthew 18. 21-22

God is not counting.
Neither should we.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Don't forget to have fun out there!

The pictures sit on the shelves, the mantle, and the desk as visual reminders of times we have had together as a family, the kindness of a stranger to take a shot, a slice of our lives printed on paper.  Some of the most endearing images are those taken on a whim, a chronicle of life unposed.

But I remember all too often in the midst of those times being a Martha, so occupied by the dailyness of what needed to be done as if that was more important than the relationships.   God calls us to train up our children, but first and foremost to see them as the blessings from Him that they are -- to enjoy them.

Singer and songwriter Gloria Gaither once told a story about doing dishes after a family supper together, stewing inside that she was stuck with the task.  Her youngest son ran in the back door and called out to her, "Come, Mom.  Come quick.  You are going to miss it."

She had no idea what "it" was, but to a young boy what was urgent could be just about anything.  She was sure it could wait until she finished her work.  "I can't," she replied.  "You can see I have a lot to do."

"Mom, you are going to miss it!" he repeated as he dashed out the door in a little boy kind of way.

Gloria humphed, and put down the dishcloth.  She stepped out onto the back deck, her little boy's eyes glistening with excitement that she had come out to share this with him.  For just ready to dip below the horizon was the most magnificent sunset she had ever seen.  She stood there, drinking it in, side by side, holding close her little boy, realizing humbly that just a few moments more and she would have missed, not just this golden sunset but an unforgettable experience with her son.

We can't go back, rewind and relive those times together with the family.   But God has given us today.

Go out there and have some fun.  This time is precious and so are they.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Essential ingredients

The store yesterday was packed with harried shoppers gathering ingredients for their Thanksgiving dinner, carefully examining the produce, weighing each item, and crossing off items on their shopping lists, one by one with great intention.  A sense of purpose and a bit of urgency pervaded the aisles.  My shopping cart was pushed aside several times as I tried to navigate the shopping turmoil while reading my own list, a task almost as dangerous as texting while driving.

The recipe called for one-quarter cup safflower oil.  No big deal.  With such a small amount, I decided to skip that item.  I have oil at home.  "It is not going to make a difference," I determined.

One of our daughters is "chef" this year.  Yesterday, I was the lowly concierge, purchasing the ingredients that she had designated.  She is an incredible cook.  I have tremendous respect for her efforts and the amazing results she produces.  I can follow the same recipe, and it doesn't look or even taste the same.

The difference lies in the details and in the very careful following of the recipe.  There is a reason for every ingredient, even if it doesn't make sense to me and even if I don't think it makes a difference.  Exhibit #1:  my cooking versus hers.

This week I was reading in the book of Ezekiel the careful dimensions of the altar, precisely measured.  It is always easy to skip over those allotments, measurements and restrictions.  Did it really matter then?  Does it matter to me now?

But in Scripture, there is always a reason for details.  In the margin of Ezekiel 48, I had written years ago:

In each of our lives, there are lines and boundaries, not to restrict or limit us, but that we may focus on and maximize what we have been given.  And yet, in our natures, it always seems greener elsewhere.

I may think that I know better than Julia Child or James Beard, but I don't know better than God.  Following Him, obeying what He says, makes a significant difference in my life and in the lives of everyone God places on my path.

Needless to say, rather ashamed by my arrogance, I am running to the store to get that little bottle of oil today.    Consider it submission, obedience, or just following the instructions. But in our lives, somehow even in the willingness to follow, God makes a difference in us.

You shall walk in all the way
which the LORD your God has commanded you,
that you may live,
and that it may go well with you,
and that you may live long in the land
which you shall possess.
                           Deuteronomy 5.33

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Tough skin, Norman Rockwell, and a big serving of poisonous darts

Little do these happy people realize, but that turkey is about to explode.

Feelings are about to get hurt.  A well-meaning remark is ready to be taken the wrong way.  An entire bottle of vintage bitterness just got knocked over.  Watch out, someone is already reaching for caustic words that he has prepared since the last time you were together.  And don't forget the side dishes of petty jealousies (mom always gave you the biggest cookie), resentments from birth, and zingers designed to maim.

What's packed in your suitcase or stuffed in your pockets for when -- not if -- the opportunity arises this holiday season?

Ironically, it is the one with the tough skin who is typically most sensitive to carefully-crafted poisonous darts, aimed for the jugular.  But a tender heart is the one whose feelings are not easily hurt.  A tender heart comes prepared with grace and healing, not insensitive to stress but gracious in it.  A tender heart initiates a conversation instead of a confrontation.  A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. (Proverbs 15.1)

As most siblings growing up, our daughters knew what their sisters' hot buttons were.  On many occasions, particularly on road trips, I would pull aside one of the girls and say, "Let's play,  You can't make me mad."  For the next hour without the "attacker" knowing, the object of the "game" was to rise above the fray, divert the fiery darts, respond graciously, try to distract, and sometimes flat out ignore actions which were designed to create an uprising.  With this response, it doesn't take long for the attacker to tire, feel rather ridiculous, and move on to another recreational sport.

Family competition?  Outdo one another in showing honor.(Romans 12.10)  Try "playing" that one.

Your clearest presentation of the Gospel
       is not a memorized script,
but sitting where no one else wants to sit,
listening compassionately to that old grumpy uncle,
and doing what needs to be done
                    without being asked
                    without recognition
       diapers, dishes, and other nasty stuff
          that no one wants to do.

Don't just say grace at the table,
                               live it.
Don't just ask His blessing,
                               be it.
That is why God has you there.

Jesus does not make me love others.
He empowers me not just to love,
                            but to love more,
   beyond what I can do myself,
   beyond what
         would even occur to me to do.

Sometimes it just takes one word to set ablaze
           a family gathering.
But often it just takes
                     one act of grace
       to diffuse the flame.

Above all
     hold unfailing your love for one another,
since love covers a multitude of sins.
                               1 Peter 4.8

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Get back on the bike

The course was muddy, full of dips, holes, rocks, and steep ascents that reduced many racers almost to a crawl. Tough conditions?  No, perfect for cyclocross, a sport that could have been invented by Tide detergent.  The muddier the course, the better the race.

Two weeks ago, my husband was right in the thick of it, living out his motto, "Never act your age."

He went down three times, once in a gully where he cracked his helmet, and twice falling as he was going UP a muddy knoll.  Having raced on roads for thirty years, this was his first cyclocross race.   He was discouraged just long enough to realize that everybody falls down, the novices for sure and even the pro's. 

But it is what you do THEN that makes the difference.

The first time he went down, it was in a gravel-strewn gully about a half-mile into the race without spectators around. When he fell, he cracked his helmet. The other cyclists zipped past him, relegating him from middle of the pack to almost dead last.  He scrambled up, pushed his helmet back together, and got back on his bike.

The biggest crowds had gathered on the muddiest hill, watching the cyclists navigate the slippery slope.  Bill made it about halfway up when, along with a few other riders, his wheel slipped in a muddy rut, and down he went.  The crowd did not scorn these fallen riders-- they cheered them on.  "Go, Bill!" I heard several spectators shout out encouragements to him.  And yea, there were hecklers -- there are always hecklers -- but then again, they are not the ones out there racing.  Covered in mud, Bill got back on his bike.

The second time he ascended the hill, he went down again.

The third time, he jumped off his bike and ran, carrying it up the hill, and then hopping back on at the top.

He did not dwell in the mire.  He got back on his bike. Bill learned something from it, how to navigate, how to hang in there.  And he finished the race, muddy and smiling.

Jesus approached a lame man who had been sitting for decades by a healing pool.  Jesus did not commiserate with him, but held out to him extreme compassion, a compassion so deep that He said to the man, "Do you want to be healed?"

And in spite of the man's litany of excuses, 
Jesus said to him,
take up your pallet,
           and walk."
                              John 5.8

We all fall down, sometimes in the deepest mire. Everyone struggles with something, dealing with scars and wounds and imperfections.  But it is what we do then that makes the difference.  Are we willing to let God redeem those things?  Just as He empowered the man who had grown comfortable in his crippling circumstances, Jesus says, "Get up."

Jesus heals and redeems in the most extraordinary ways.

Redeem it, O LORD,
    turn it inside out
            and make it a strength
 to bring glory to You.

We all fall.
We all get muddy.
Let it go
         and get back on your bike.
For in our weakness,
            His strength is revealed.

...though he fall,
        he shall not be cast headlong,
for the LORD is the stay of his hand.
                                Psalm 37.24

The LORD lifts up the downtrodden...
                               Psalm 147.6

 ...for a righteous man falls seven times,
                  and rises again...
                               Proverbs 24.16

But He said to me,
"My grace is sufficient for you,
for My power is made perfect in weakness."
                                2 Corinthians 12. 9

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Dirty diapers, graham crackers, and what I missed

Vacation Bible School had been planned for months.  The curriculum had been purchased, crafts ready to assemble, snacks arranged, music rehearsed, and teachers assigned.  In other churches, I had found a place to serve by taking pictures of the children for a slideshow in  the final program at end of the week.  The children's director gave me the thumbs up, and I prepared my camera and purchased several rolls of slide film.  I was excited to be able to serve this way.

When I arrived early that first morning and began to get set up, the director came up to me, "I need you to..." he began.  I awaited instructions, perhaps, on which classes to focus.  "I really need you to...," he started again, " for just a few minutes with the toddlers until the teacher can get here."

It was not what I had in mind, nor my area of giftedness, but sure, no problem.  I entered the small windowless room already crowded with 12 to 18 month olds crawling, climbing, and chewing on each other's pacifiers. There was just one woman in the room supervising, who immediately handed me her very snotty-nosed baby and DASHED out of the room.  "Ahhhh," I began to say, "sick children are not allowed to stay."

"I have to get to my class," she replied.  "I am a teacher," she said with authority.  "It's just allergies," she called down the hall as she disappeared out of sight.

I turned around and closed the door, goop running out of this baby's nose and the now closed-in space growing incredibly claustrophobic.  The number of children increased in the next few minutes from four to six to eight.  Just a few minutes more, I convinced myself.  The teacher will arrive any time now.

But she didn't.

She didn't show up for the whole week.

I was totally out of my element.  What am I doing here?  I wiped noses and bottoms and handed out graham crackers.  I carried around crying babies, two at a time, waiting as the time crawled by, literally minute by minute.  This was not what I had in mind.  I was not at all excited to serve in that capacity.

I survived.  But what needed changing more than diapers was my attitude.  I knew there was a reason for this alteration of plans, but somehow I had ranked what service was more significant than another.  I was so caught up in the "why am I doing this?" that I totally missed out on "what, LORD?"  My eyes were so focused on my grumbling that I was the one who missed out.  It is only when we trust God in the act of obedience that God can enlarge our hearts to His purposes.  Sometimes those will be revealed.  And sometimes that is when faith kicks in and that is enough.

Was I filling in for someone who reneged her own responsibility? Doesn't matter.  God will use it.  Was someone taking advantage of me?  Doesn't matter.  God will use it.  My own grumbling blocked out any glimmer of His vision, visible or invisible.

Why do I feel like I have to understand God's purposes for there to be a reason for it?

And if I knew the eternal implications, wouldn't I leap at the opportunity before me -- whatever that may be?  Wouldn't I do it just for Him? Just because He asked?  And in the process I learned it is not a matter of "doing for God," but an act of worship.

And what if, that week, now more than fifteen years ago, what if  that young mom with the snotty-nosed kid (who then passed on to me a summer-long cold), what if she had led a child to know Jesus that week? What if?  Would I see then what is sacred a little differently?

I did not miss an opportunity to take pictures that week, but to worship a little deeper the purposes of God.

Truly, I say to you,
as you did it
to one of the least of these my brethren,
you did it to Me.

                        Matthew 25.40