Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Even Before

One evening last week, my husband was going over his slides for a presentation for work.   When I asked him a question about it, I realized that while he did have a speech to deliver the next day, he was one step ahead, actually polishing up yet a different presentation for this week.  I know him better than to think he would wait until the last minute to prepare.

I thought about that incident today as I was praying for someone.  I was praying that even now God was working out the details and preparing her heart...and then I stopped mid-sentence.  Even now?  Even before!  I know Him better than to think that He is only now putting the intricate pieces into place and working the outcome.  It is done.  He is only unfolding what He has designed all along.

It is in prayer that I lay my life before Him and realize that He is way ahead of me.

For I know the plans I have for you,
says the LORD,
plans for welfare and not for evil,
to give you a future and a hope.

                       Jeremiah 29. 11

My times are in Your hand.
                        Psalm 31.15

Monday, April 29, 2013

Cholesterol and Other Measurable Outcomes

Several years ago, an envelope arrived with the results of my blood test, a record which I typically just file away.  But circled in a big red marker was my cholesterol score, now over 200.  At the bottom of the sheet, my doctor inscribed, “Time to do something about this.  Let’s try diet first.“  

The first thing that came to mind was oatmeal.  “Oh, not that,” I thought.  “I hate oatmeal.”  But it was worth a try.  I give it one year,” I said to myself, one year, and see if it really makes a difference. 

And so, I started, one bowl at a time, one day at a time.  I found that if I made it with skim milk, it made the texture more tolerable to me and provided the added bonus of more calcium in my diet.  I could not bear the tasteless paste of “instant oatmeal” in little packets, so I purchased Quaker Old-Fashioned oatmeal (the least expensive breakfast cereal out there), and to reduce time and clean-up, I made it in the microwave.  One-half cup oatmeal, one cup of milk (or water), two minutes on high, stir, 30 seconds more.  Quick, easy, no pot to clean, and so much better than instant.

I gave it one year, every morning.  Variation came from how I dressed it with whatever I had on hand, a leftover apple cut up, a few berries, a dollop of vanilla Greek yogurt, or some dried fruit or nuts.  I found out too that a bowl of oatmeal got me through the morning without flagging energy or craving a snack.

One year later, my cholesterol dropped by 10 percent.  That was about five years ago.  I am still consuming oatmeal almost every morning.  I have acquired a taste for it.  And the numbers continue to improve.   I could not see the difference in everyday increments, but there was a measurable outcome over the course of a year, a distinctive difference in my health.

A couple of years before my oatmeal experiment, an eight-year-old boy at our church challenged me to read through the Bible in a year.  He showed me the reading plan he was using (www.oneyearbibleonline.com) which provided an option of reading straight through or a little bit of Old and New Testaments, a psalm, and a couple of verses in Proverbs each day.  I chose the variety plan and completed the Bible in a year, amazed at the scope and the scarlet thread of grace that runs from beginning to end.  The day after I finished Revelation, I jumped in again.  That was seven years ago.

And from that daily serving too, I have experienced measurable outcomes.  Reading God’s Word on a daily basis has unquestionably changed me.  I am a different person than seven years ago.  I see God differently, I see myself and others differently.  I learn something new in His Word almost on a daily basis, words, phrases, and applications that I never grasped before. 

I find that immediate reactions have been replaced by first responses.  God has whittled away the strongholds of my fear and replaced it with trusting Him.  And when anxiety wakes me in the middle of the night, I am reminded not to let worry get its stranglehold, but pray instead.   I pray my way back to His peace, often reciting a promise I have read in God’s Word. 

And many times, God places someone on my heart who may desperately need a little bit of prayer, right then in the middle of the night, sometimes people I don’t even know, someone I have read about in the news, a niece or nephew or a friend of our girls whose name comes suddenly on my radar.  I love more.  A lot more.  So much so, that it surprises me. 

Measurable outcomes are built on daily consumption.  As Chuck Colson once said, “If there is no change, there is no transformation.” 

If I want my life to be different, today is a good time to start.

Your Word is a lamp to my feet
and a light to my path.   
                     Psalm 119.105

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Dog-eared Pages

Fallacies do not cease to be fallacies
because they become fashions.

                         -- G. K. Chesterton
                              The Everlasting Man

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Swimming in the Deeps

When I was a little girl, I grew up in a house where music was a permanent resident from dawn until darkness.  There was always music playing.  My mother practiced her violin every spare moment, and she taught violin in our living room before and after school.  Recordings filled in the gaps.  Solitude in our house was not the absence of noise, but finding a place to reside within it.

Music flowed so deep at times, we swam in the sound, as if having the entire Chicago Symphony Orchestra performing in a rather cramped living room, sound so deep it could be felt.  Often, Mom's music was so loud, it carried me along in the currents of a river, pulling me under thick layers of melodies, releasing me suddenly to gasp for air.   My mom did not even think I was listening.   And all along, I was breathing it in.

I  ran today through a chorus of trees,
       a sanctuary embracing a country road.
I could hear the trees with my eyes,
       and feel their music by the color itself.
The trees were dressed in their Sunday finest,
     worshiping loud and wild as only a forest can,
 a symphony of a thousand shades of green,
         intricate parts rehearsed all winter.
And the trees rejoiced like an ancient choir,
              swaying together, eyes closed, arms raised,
touching for a moment
                  the fringe of His glory.

Then all the trees of the wood sing for joy
      before the LORD,
for He comes...
                           Psalm 98.12

    how majestic is Your Name
 in all the earth.

                             Psalm 8.1

Thursday, April 25, 2013

A Reminder of Spring

We traveled yesterday, leaving our home where spring has not yet come, where the trees are just beginning to shake off winter, and the forecast still promised a slight chance of flurries.  I wore my sunglasses, not for the blaze of light but for the glare of leaded grey skies.

We drove into the night, at one point, spotting a storm front so thick that it appeared to be a range of mountains on the horizon.  Traffic was scarce.  There was no need to stop but for filling up with gas.  Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, packed ahead of time, were a welcome alternative to the fast food at every exit.

It was late when we arrived at our daughter's apartment, pulling our car under the large craggy tree that leans over the parking lot like an arthritic old man.  We took inside just what we needed for the night and dropped like weary travelers into bed.

This morning as we said good-bye, we walked outside, shocked and breathless by the sight of that old tree covered in fresh green against a sky as blue as hope.  It was like we had walked into a different dimension, brimming with life.

This, I thought, is what redemption looks like, that which we cannot imagine.  And that is what Christ can do, loving so deep, He resuscitates my very countenance.

Holy, holy is He.

The heavens are telling the glory of God,
and the firmament proclaims His handiwork.

                                    Psalm 19.1

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A Mother's Guilt

Did I do enough?
Did I do too much?
Did I really do my best?
What was I thinking?

God will redeem.

I can worry too much,
      but I can pray all I want.
Get on my knees
and let go
of the fears and worries
 I was never meant to carry.

In prayer, I do not leave my cares behind,
but trust them to the One who loves me.

And to know that
my relationship with God is based not on my performance,
but on His grace.

There is often nothing I can do,
              but pray
                    and know
that He is able to redeem in ways
I cannot comprehend.
Good and gracious is He.

God will redeem.

Their Redeemer is strong;
the LORD of hosts is His name.

                   Jeremiah 50.34

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

A Little Tweak Was All I Needed

Last week, I thought I was going to have to hang up my running shoes for good.  I was afraid that my window of opportunity to run had been closed and locked, and that age and a family history of bad knees had caught up with me.

Gradually over the winter, a few twinges caught my attention, nothing more than that, nothing to worry about.  My left knee did not hurt, it just didn't feel quite right.  One morning last week, it felt a little inflamed inside, and all I could think about was how my grandmother's arthritic knees looked like cauliflowers.  She hobbled around until she was 81, a perfect candidate for knee replacement surgery, which was not even invented yet. 

My knee didn't hurt.  It just felt odd.  Was my time up?  Should I cease running while I am still able to walk without a limp?

And then a few days ago, I realized that I had been running for ten years with virtually no injuries.  What was I doing differently?  What changed? 

I looked down.  I had purchased some new running shoes over the winter.   They were cool and blue.  Could it be something as simple as that?  The wrong shoes for me?

I pulled out a pair of my old shoes that still had some life in them and went for a run.  And again, the same old shoes yesterday.  No feeling of inflammation, no discomfort.  Back in the saddle again.  I flew out the door this morning, thankful that it was nothing more than that.  I ran for my grandmother today.

I wasn't ready to give up running.  I didn't have to.  I just needed a little tweak.  It was not age, nor arthritis, but the wrong shoes.  A very simple fix.

And it made me wonder what other things in my life could use a little tweak, and the dramatic difference it could make-- in how I treat people around me, in my prayer life, in organizing my day, in how I do my work?  In loving God and loving others?  Change starts with just a baby step in the right direction, thinking through what I need to do differently.

For it is precept upon precept,
precept upon precept,
line upon line,
line upon line,
here a little, there a little.

                  Isaiah 28.10

That is how we change, how we learn, and how we grow in Him.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Dog-eared Pages

Since God is,
He is to be found
in the questions as well as the answers.

                        -- Elie Wiesel
                            Open Heart
                            page 69

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Tell me a story of when you were a little girl

Last week, we were delightfully invaded by our oldest daughter and her family which includes our two oldest grandchildren, two year old Howard and three year old Maggie.  Their visit was marked by the usual treks to the zoo, the city, and the little diner in our village where the food is delivered not by a waitress, but by a model train that runs a circuit through the restaurant.  Chicken nuggets never tasted so good.

One pre-dawn morning when Maggie woke up early, she had breakfast with me and waved goodbye as her dad and grandfather left for work.  We made a loaf of bread together, baked some oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, and talked with her aunt and baby cousin in Nashville. I looked at the clock.  It was 7.30.  Our day had only begun.

One of Maggie's favorite things is hearing stories about the olden days when I was young. Bedtime is ALWAYS marked by "Gramma, tell me a story about when you were a little girl."  Her mom and dad can spot a delay tactic a mile away, but I see an opportunity.

There are many stories I can (and have) told her about our lost dogs and my adventure at the circus.  But there is also the treasure trove of stories of God's faithfulness to me through all these many years, stories of how God pulled me through some narrow squeaks, stories of His Presence, stories that show this little girl that God is true and God is real.

It is my responsibility to tell her so that she too will set her hope in God.  It is my delight.  I know that at any age there are many things a child will forget.  But of all the things she remembers, let the stories of His faithfulness be engraved in her heart.

I will sing of Your steadfast love,
   O LORD, for ever;
with my mouth I will proclaim
          Your faithfulness
  to all generations.

                              Psalm 89.1

Saturday, April 20, 2013

A Scared Little Kid

Yesterday as the manhunt was on for the second of the Boston marathon suspects, I kept seeing not the face of an armed and dangerous criminal, but a boy.

When his hiding place was finally revealed, it appeared that every law enforcement officer, swat team, and FBI agent in the country was on the scene, closing in on the suspect who had taken refuge in a boat.   Huddled under that tarp,  I kept thinking, was a very scared boy, one who had been deceived, one who never expected it to come to this.  A helicopter hovered overhead.  A battalion aimed their guns at his refuge.  It didn't look hopeful he would come out of this alive.  And then, a negotiator arrived on the scene.

And when he was captured, there emerged from the boat, not a monster, but a young frail-looking injured boy.  I have been heartsick all week for what happened on Monday.  I was heartsick last night by the sight of a young life so clearly deceived, so incredibly gone astray, someone's baby boy, and what could have been.

Image: An ATF agent leans over Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev after he was taken into custody in Watertown, Mass., on April 19, 2013.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Toxic Parenting

I thought I had a mean mom.  When I was about six or seven years old, I can vividly remember when I needed some information about a book. She handed me the library's phone number.  What??? I have to make the call?  I sat by the phone for probably a half hour before I drummed up the courage to pick up the receiver.  I can remember putting my finger in the rotary dial, pulling and letting go, each of the seven numbers.  I hung up the first time before anyone could answer.  But I eventually made the call.  There was no great sense of victory.  I don't think I spoke for the rest of the afternoon.  But I knew that I could do it. And I wouldn't die.

My mom recognized two realities.  She was not always going to be around when I needed help.  And if I was going to live in the real world, she was going to have to loosen shackles of my shyness, one baby step at a time.

Earlier this week, I read Toxic Charity by Robert Lupton, a book that analyzes why charity work sometimes undermines the good it strives to achieve.  I was a few chapters into the book when I realized its proximity to parenting.

Lupton's premise is that well-meaning people want to help the poor and needy by doing for rather than doing with, producing a toxic situation of long-term dependence, entitlement, and a sense of humiliation.  The same holds with toxic parenting.

The consequences?  To paraphrase Proverbs 22.6:
Do everything for your child,
and when he is old,
he will still be living in your basement.

I repeatedly hear moms questioning the abilities of their teenagers (and grown children),  "Oh, you can't do that," about perfectly legitimate age-appropriate activities.  Or the all-too-demeaning, "Let me do that for you."  Mom should instead be cheering them on, "I have every confidence that you will do a good job, and God will help you."  

Sincerely wanting to help and to be needed is a powerful force in a mom, believe me, I know all too well.  But I also know that the best way to help your children is to equip them and work your way out of a job, allowing your child to leave home not just with "tools in his toolbox," but the experience and skills to use them.

Practice "doing with" instead of "doing for."  It is all the difference between empowering and enabling, the difference between a whiny "Mommy do it" and a confident "Wow, look mom, I did it!!"

There are two absolutes about your kids:   They will mess up. And yes, they will make mistakes.  Pray that it happens.   Pray that your children learn their way through crises while they are still under your roof.  Let them figure out the solutions, lending guidance as needed, but let them work it through.  Even Jesus taught His disciples by asking, "What do you think?"

Just the other day alone in the house, I was faced with the dilemma of getting some boxes on the top shelf in the closet.  I needed a hand.  I chuckled because I heard my mother's voice saying to me as a child, "Now, what would you do if I wasn't here to help you?"  And I figured it out. 

The perceived inability of a child is often not a lack of skills, but a mother's desperate desire to be needed.   That sentiment should raise a huge red flag in your mind.  It establishes pathological patterns of behavior, which results either in a child's total dependency or utter rebellion.

In Toxic Charity, Lupton shows how that toxicity plays out: 
"Relationships built on need do not reduce need.  Rather, they require more and more need to continue.  The ways that victim and rescuer relate become familiar communication paths.  The victim brings the dilemma;  the rescuer finds the solution.  When one problem is solved, another must be presented in order for the relationship to continue.  If the victim no longer needs a solution, the rescuer is no longer needed.  And the relationship ends or must dramatically change."

Being loved by our grown daughters is not contingent on needing me to do things for them.  Sometimes they can use my help, they ask, and I am happy to assist.  I can express my love for them in a billion different ways that lets them be the adults that they are, encouraging them, praying for them, cheering them on, and rejoicing in what God is doing in their lives.

I am still mom.  I am still loved.  And it took me a while to grasp that.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Broken Lives, Gaping Wounds, and Cries of the Heart

The news reported three dead and 176 injured in the Boston marathon bombing.  But it also left behind broken lives, gaping wounds, and a lot of unanswered questions.  We were all affected in one way or another.

What did we see on Monday?   This action was wrong, very wrong, and we all knew it.  "This is evil," acknowledged our President.  Evil may come in a lot of disguises, but we all recognize it for what it is.

We cried out for the loss of human life and for those who suffered. Why?  Every life is precious, valuable and sacred, because we are not random at all.  We are created.  Our lives have meaning.  And that is why we all asked the same question:  "How could someone do such a thing to innocent people?"  Why, why, why?

And yes,we saw that moral behavior does matter after all.  That is why we are indignant at injustice, shocked by corruption, abhorred by arrogance, grieved over abuse, and horrified by selfishness taken to its logical conclusion, as we saw on Monday.  Ethics are simply principles of right conduct, doing what is good and right just because it is good and right.  Ethical behavior is ingrained on the human heart.  Morals do not limit, but protect us from ourselves, and hold back the forces of depravity.

"A man without ethics is a wild beast loosed upon the world," wrote philosopher Albert Camus.

We have lived for decades now in a world that says there is no right and wrong, there is no good and evil, ethics and morals are considered outmoded, and life has no meaning.   But worldviews are not stagnant, continually flowing from proclaimed belief to resulting behaviors.   From any mindset, there are logical outcomes.

Take away the moral foundation, and there is not freedom, but fury.  All is relative?  There is nothing relative about the evil we have seen with our own eyes.

When people have been fed deceit for so long -- there is no meaning, you are a mistake, there is no hope, life is absurd, nothing matters -- there is something within all of us that has to fight back, because we cannot live with that dissonance.  Without God at the core satisfying who he is, man has to seek meaning, hope, purpose, love and acceptance any way he can.  Desperate people do desperate things.   Hopelessness descends into despair, and violence is the logical path.  Without God at the core, there is only self to be worshiped, and a reckless struggle for power and significance.  Nothing else matters, and no one else can stand in the way. We have seen it throughout history;  we see it almost daily in our news.  A worldview not based on truth does not just lead to another worldview, but to the unspeakable.

The truth is that life is sacred and precious.  You have been created and are greatly loved, not random at all.

The truth is we all recognize there is something wrong with the world.  Our own selfishness promises everything and leaves only emptiness.

The truth is there is hope.   That is why Jesus came, to show us that it doesn't have to be this way.

The truth is that something has been done about hopelessness and despair.  Jesus came to not to judge, but to love the world.  Because He died, deceit and selfishness have lost its grip on me.   I see life through new eyes, I see myself differently, I see others differently.  I am able to love God and love others.  This truth makes all the difference, moving from belief to behavior.

We cannot deny the existence of evil, but we can defy it.  The very first thing that happened after the blasts on Monday were incredible selfless acts of courage, kindness and compassion as virtual strangers chose not to flee, but to help and assist those who were horrendously injured.  "Oh God, help us."  They saw evil.  They responded with good.

God is light
and in Him is no darkness at all.
                   1 John 1.5

Do not be overcome by evil,
but overcome evil with good.
                   Romans 12.21

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

And Now This

What happened yesterday in Boston hit me hard.  I tried to register for that race.

For most runners, Boston is the marathon of marathons, an elusive holy grail. Unlike other marathons, one must qualify for the Boston marathon with a specified finishing time in another marathon.  Some runners spend every effort in achieving a Boston time.  To run Boston is not so much a marathon as it is a celebration, reaching a lifetime goal.   Up until this year, just about anyone who qualified could run it.  Last fall, registration for yesterday's race sold out in a matter of hours.

"Running Boston" will never be the same.  One of our daughters has encouraged me for years to do it with her.  After what happened yesterday, it is no longer even on my radar.

Who would target people just out for a run?

Word came through yesterday, first in a trickle, a quick call from my big brother, as it hit the media, and then a flood of dismay.  I received frantic texts, phone calls, and emails from friends and family all over the country, "Please tell me that you are all right."

Yesterday, as the tragedy was unfolding, I was busy helping my daughter and her family get their car packed for their long ride home to Cleveland.  After a week of dashing after two preschoolers, crawling, climbing, and carrying them up and down the stairs, I had planned to go for a late afternoon run.  But after they left, it was raining hard and furious as if the world were sobbing.

Columbine. Aurora.  Newtown.  And now this.  I wanted to shout:   If you really have a need to make headlines, do something good.

I needed to run today because of what happened...  and for what could be.  For goodness' sake.

Depart from evil,
     and do good,
seek peace,
     and pursue it.

               Psalm 34.14  

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Dog-eared Pages

Kindness is not an emotion.
It's a conscious decision.
It's a choice.

               -- Robert Wolgemuth
                   The Most Important Place on Earth
                   page 69

Friday, April 12, 2013

Fresh Eyes

Two of our grandkids are visiting for a long weekend.  There is nothing like having two and three year olds in the house to put laughter in the hallways.

Early this morning, I was holding our two year old grandson.  We were looking out the back door, standing watch over the backyard, on the look out for squirrels, rabbits, and birds.

After several minutes, I declared, "There's nothing out there."

And Howie looked outward and waved his arm, "SKY!!!"  he exclaimed.

Oh, the blessings of God we miss, the biggest ones of all, because we are not even looking for them.

how majestic is Your name in all the earth!
You whose glory above the heavens
is chanted by the mouths of babes and infants.

                                Psalm 8.1

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Part Two: Misadventures in Teaching

Yesterday morning I awoke in the murkiness of predawn, immediately aware that in the next few hours, I would be teaching my friend's  Bible study (see yesterday's posting You Want Me To Do What??).   Even though it was a bit earlier than usual, I slipped out of bed, turned on the coffee, and plunged into my morning Bible reading.  Of all days, I did not want to face this day without a covering of God's Word snapped into place.

I follow a reading schedule that takes me through the Bible in a year.  The Old Testament passage for the day made me smile, no random link to my plans, but spot on as if God knew exactly what I needed to read.   I finished up the last chapter of Deuteronomy and slid into the first chapter of Joshua.  This is what I read:

Have I not commanded you?
Be strong and of good courage,
be not frightened,
neither be dismayed,
for the LORD your God is with you
wherever you go.
                       Joshua 1.9

What a great verse for this morning, I thought, but I felt neither nervous nor dismayed.  This is going to be a piece of cake.  I can do this thing.  I headed out, lesson prepared and applications written in the margins.

I felt surprisingly calm in the teacher's meeting that preceded the Bible study.  I took a break in the restroom on my way to class.  Turning the corner, I was aware of a little unraveling around the edges, knowing in the next few minutes what I would face.  "Please LORD, don't let my discomfort be a distraction," I whispered as I washed my hands.  Glancing in the mirror, I realized my eyes looked not confident but wild.  Bad move. And my hair, well, not a strand was behaving at all.  Not a good visual to have in mind.

I walked into the classroom and suddenly saw not the women of the study sitting around the table, but every fear imaginable prancing around the room, as if I had been tricked into a parlor of doom.  I felt like a shy preschooler who had wandered into the wrong classroom.

"I am with you wherever you go."  I remembered that verse, clear and sure.  It was like a shield around me.  I walked in, holding Jesus's hand.  I was not alone.

Fears from years ago had planned a reunion, including all the usual suspects from reciting poems in front of the class in seventh grade to my college class in foreign relations where 80 percent of the grade was jousting with cut-throat pre-law students.  A lifetime of fears had converged, coming out from the miry bog.  And God reminded me to "Rebuke the beasts that dwell among the reeds."  Psalm 68.30  They are only phantoms.

"Go away," I almost said out loud.  "You are not welcome here."

I closed the classroom door, and with that, I started the lesson, digging through God's Word with fifteen other women for the next hour.  There were a few awkward moments of silence and probably eighty percent of what I was going to say remained scribbled in the margins, but there was a sweet bonding as woman after woman shared how God's Word was charging them and changing them.  We all left a little different.

And as God's truth emerged from those pages of Scripture, I realized that I was not the Teacher at all.
Just a child, learning another dimension of the reality of His Presence.  Even in this.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

You Want Me To Do What???

One October long ago, I was dropping off our three year old daughter at her Wednesday evening church class, when a young man, the overall director of the children's ministry, greeted me warmly.  I thought it odd, as he had never even said hi before.  I should have RUN in the opposite direction.

"We need a helper in your daughter's class," he said.
"I am not a teacher," I said, excusing myself.
 "Oh, we just need a helper." he emphasized, "you know, to hand out paper and crayons."  He continued to pursue me down the hallway.  "Just for a few weeks," he bargained.   "Just until we can get someone more permanent in there," he pleaded.

I did not realize the implications of my "OK."  

Those "few" weeks turned into months.  And then, after the Christmas holidays, the teacher did not return at all.  Now, I was the teacher.  The director assured me he was talking to someone to take over the class.  "Just give it a few more weeks."

Needless to say, I was alone in a room the entire semester with 10 three-year-olds, including the choir director's "energetic" son who knew no boundaries.  Winter turned into spring.  "As soon as school is out," I told the director, "my teaching career is over."

Over the summer, my next-door neighbor told me she wanted to listen to some tapes on family issues when we came back from vacation. Sure, no problem, I replied.

On our road trip, I remarked to my husband, "I wonder how I will get involved this fall.  It.won't be teaching, that is for sure.". We both laughed.  "I wonder how God will lead me."  Within a few minutes of pulling in our driveway, yet another neighbor said, "Oh, I heard you were going to start a neighborhood Bible study."

Where did THAT come from?  "I wonder what God wants you to do," Bill chuckled.

I taught Friday morning Bible study for a few years until we moved, so uncomfortable in that role that I was nauseous every Thursday night.  I even pleaded with God for school snow days, so that I wouldn't have to teach the next morning.  This is definitely not my area of giftedness, I affirmed each week.  But over the course of the next two decades, one neighborhood teaching opportunity led to another, despite moves to five different cities.  And through those years, I did not grow to love teaching, but I grew to love digging into God's Word with those around me.

Today I will teach a Bible study for the first time in three and a half years, subbing for a friend who is out of town.  When she asked me last week, I did not hesitate.

What is different now?   There is the reality of God staring me in the face, rooted not only in what I believe but what has proven to be true over and over again in my life.  God's purposes are deeper than I can know, His strength when I have none, His mercies new every morning.  I can't help but tell of Whom I know.

If I say, "I will not mention Him,
or speak any more in His name,"
there is in my heart as it were a burning fire
shut up in my bones,
and I am weary with holding it in,
and I cannot.
                          Jeremiah 20.9


Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Don't Mess With Granny

Eighty-nine year old Marie Miller didn't have much of an agenda for that day, except to go have her hair fixed.  But a man, who had broken into her home, surprised her when she came back from the beauty parlor. "I thought he was going to get me," she told a reporter later, "so I thought I'd give it everything I've got."

Several years prior to the incident, she took a self-defense class with her daughter.  "In an instant, everything I learned came back to me," she said.  "Kick him, scratch him, scream, and pop him in the nose."  Needless to say, the intruder fled the scene.  Marie was more than he bargained for.

I can't tell you how many times in a personal crisis or in helping someone with theirs, a Bible verse that I memorized decades ago or even a passage of Scripture that I read that morning, comes to mind, word by word, to strengthen, to encourage, to guide me through the rough waters of my day with grace and wisdom, or to help someone else do the same.

Daily time in His Word equips me and changes me.  Major crisis or daily encounters, none of us knows when we will need it most, sustain us through a valley, or deal with the unexpected like Marie.

Your Word is a lamp to my feet,
and a light unto my path.

                    Psalm 119.105

Monday, April 8, 2013

And A Side of Fries With That

I have worked since I was twelve in one way or another, all the way through high school and college, mostly mindless work that paid small change.  Babysitting jobs cashed in at fifty cents an hour, and minimum wage was two bucks.  My dad was unemployed for part of that time, and my mom taught violin lessons in the living room.  So when I landed my first real job, I was overjoyed, even though it was at the bottom rung of a business magazine.   All my creative energies were put to the test by writing blurbs about exciting new building products from nail guns to sump pumps.  At the very least, it was my challenge and job to make them sound that way.   My "office" was a small cubicle, situated between a secretary who smoked all day and the copy editor who spent most of her day chatting on the phone. I had an old steel desk, a manual typewriter and a black dial telephone.

The offices were located in an old building in downtown Chicago with an antiquated elevator system.  Each car was occupied by a uniformed operator who opened and shut the cage-type doors at each requested floor.  It didn't really matter which car you entered, one was not faster than another, but the other editors and I would always hurry to get on George's.  He laughed.  He told stories.  He had the best jokes, a great way to start and end the day.  And he knew all our names.  His good attitude affected us all.

Anyone can do a job;   it is what you bring with it that makes the difference.

On the third floor of the building was an old-fashioned delicatessen.  The sandwiches were good and filling, but the fries that came with it were world class.  I brought my lunch in a brown paper bag on most days to save money, but about every two weeks, I would splurge and purchase a sandwich on the third floor.  Sometimes I just ordered a side of fries.  They were that good.

We are called to do our work with all excellence.  But God also calls us to do whatever our task with a good attitude.  A side of fries, so to speak.  Recently a subcontractor completed some repair work on our house.  He did a good job, but his grumbling and complaining marred what he did.  His work came with a side of sour grapes.   When God calls for excellence in what we do, it includes all the sides.

A good attitude always imparts goodness to others in infinite dimensions.

Author and pastor Chuck Swindoll once spoke on how attitude infects all that we do: 
“The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, the education, the money, than circumstances, than failure, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company... a church... a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice everyday regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past... we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it."

A good attitude tells everything about you -- how you see yourself, how you see others, and how you view God.  It impacts everything...and everyone.

Do a great job... and put a side of joy with that.

Whatever your task,
work heartily,
as serving the LORD and not men...

                            Colossians 3.2

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Dog-eared Pages

“We are all faced with a series of great opportunities brilliantly disguised as impossible situations.”

                                -- Chuck Swindoll
                                    Author, pastor, teacher

Friday, April 5, 2013

Chain-Saw Chronicles

We were warned.   The utility company was sending out arborists to trim trees near the overhead electric lines up and down the streets of our town.  The word "arborist" had a gentle and nurturing ring to it, and I imagined tree lovers gently clipping off dead branches which threaten the lines in occasional windstorms.

We traveled out of town for a few days. In our absence, it appeared that the landscaping version of the Texas Chain-Saw Massacre had been filmed.  The impact of this so-called pruning left behind dismembered trees, awkward and absurd.  Our backyard neighbor's trees which helped disguise the unsightly utility poles -- and whose foliage actually protected those lines from strong winds -- were viciously hacked away.  What survived now appears to be Dr. Seuss trees on life-support.

Any tree, limb or twig within at least ten feet of the wires was brutally amputated.  From what remained, it would have been more merciful to have removed the trees entirely. Yesterday, I observed some of the men working.  Nothing was sacred.

The converted railway path where I run looks as if a tornado has spent out its rage, maiming every tree in its path with brute force.  Even last week, a variety of trees had bent their limbs lovingly over the trail, like black lace embellishing the sky.   No more.  The trees overhead have been ruthlessly scalped.  No longer a welcoming retreat, the path appears once again as just a rough strand of dirt and gravel, an unsightly abandoned right of way alongside the railroad tracks.

And I thought with sadness as I ran, there is no need to be so harsh.

With trees.  And children.  And spouses. And everyone else around us.

Yes, there are times of teaching and training, times of truth and change of direction, even times of correcting injustice. But we go at it like bulls in a china shop, leaving behind destruction and harsh words still razor sharp decades later. Years ago, I heard a young parent's paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 13.1:  "If I have perfectly obedient children, but have not love, I am only a tyrant."

Do I approach relationships and stressful situations with healing in mind?  "There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing."  Proverbs 12.17

Harshness never gets the point across, but leaves a painful blight too huge to be ignored, and the "lesson" is somehow lost in the fray.  As I run, the wounded trees remind me of what harshness can do, the ugliness that remains, and words that I regret.

I often think about two of our girls' teachers years ago who employed what I called "velvet over steel."  One taught first-graders, the other directed 400 junior high choir students.  These rare women achieved great order in their classrooms without raised voices, or crushed spirits, or empty threats.  Kindness prevailed.  And indeed, the children obeyed willingly and felt greatly loved.  Firm but loving.

Do my words leave behind encouragement or devastation?  Isn't there a more gracious way to say that?
And no reason at all to be so harsh.
Let your gentleness be evident to all.

                               Philipians 4. 5

But You, O LORD, are a God merciful and gracious,
slow to anger
and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.

                                       Psalm 86.15

Thursday, April 4, 2013

It's Not About The Grout

More than twenty years ago in a house where we lived, it appeared the builder found a great bargain on white floor tile, and he paved an expanse that led from the front door, down a hallway and back into the kitchen.  It was nice-looking when it was clean.  But we had four small children in that season of life, need I say more.

I was down on my knees one day, not praying, but griping, while I scrubbed the vast stretches of dirty white grout in the heavily trafficked hallway.   Friends were coming to visit the next day.

I resented my work, knowing full well that NO ONE would even know what I had spent so much time doing.  This is such a waste of time.  There are so many other important things I could be doing this afternoon.

This is about the LAST thing I want to do.  This is not my gift.  This is not my degree or my training.  This is not even what I am good at.

And somehow in my grumbling, God inserted, "Would you do it for Me if I was coming?"

"Of course, LORD, gladly."

I set down the scrub brush for a minute, up to my elbows in humble pie.

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

                   Matthew 25.40

We all have dirty grout in our lives, those things through which God equips us, hard things that God uses for great good in the lives of others.  It's not about the grout, but scrubbing through layers of built-up pride.  And perhaps, spending too little time on my knees before Him.  There is nothing that Christ cannot redeem.

What I do may never be noticed, what I do can be undone in ten minutes, but what God does through me --and in me --impacts in ways I am not old enough to understand.  I have only to be faithful to Him.   A blessing never bears a singular purpose.

It is not so much the task at hand, but the radical alteration of my heart He desires.

...it seemed to me a wearisome task,
until I went
        into the sanctuary of God...

                        Psalm 73. 16-17


Wednesday, April 3, 2013

In Whom There is Nothing Ordinary At All

Every day,
God transforms ordinary moments
     into something quite eternal.
Indeed, in Him,
        nothing is ordinary at all.
He redeems all things.
And each day  
                drips with significance.

Despise not the day of small things.

                      Zechariah 4.10

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

It is not just that spring will come, but God will bring it.

When we moved into our house in Memphis in the dead heat of an August summer, it was so hot and humid, the only visible movement came from ceiling fans.  The yard had been neglected for some time, and we knew from the onset there was a lot of outside work to do.  The backyard was dominated by an enormous overgrown bush of unknown origin, planted oddly enough, front and center, as if not to be ignored.  It was big, green, and ugly, and, well, someday, it was going to have to go.  As in any move, urgent changes must take a number and stand in line. The bush would have to wait.

Little did we know.

At the end of February, green shoots began emerging from the ground.  The trees budded.  And then, as in a spectacular theatrical event, the curtain went up, and overnight, spring arrived.  No place on earth does spring like Memphis, Tennessee.  There are no words invented in all the world to describe its beauty.

And that ugly bush in the backyard?  We witnessed before our eyes a spiritual transformation.  For weeks every year, it was covered with thousands of hot pink blossoms, as if dressing up in Easter finery.  We gained a new appreciation for azaleas, the homecoming queen of the South.  That which we could not fathom took us by surprise.

Where we live now in the northland, it is already the second day of April, and the grass is still brown, the trees still bare, and little patches of tired snow cling to corners of the driveway and patio. There is an abandoned sled, forlorn and homeless in the field next door.  We wait.  It is that time, a little late by our desires.  But the season is about to change.  And despite appearances, the trees and ground are more alive than ever, standing on the starting line, ready to burst forth into a full-color display, a thousand shades of newness that, every year, takes my breath away.

But it doesn't just happen.

God created seasons, so reliable, that we mark these times of annual change on our calendars and revolve our schedules around what He does every year.  And even those who don't believe in Him expect the seasons to change, each one distinguished from the others, one emerging from the next.  That what we take for granted is an event of the greatest complexity and divine design.  That we would know Him more.

It is not just that spring will come, but God will bring it. 

You have fixed all the bounds of the earth;
You have made summer and winter.

                           Psalm 74.17