Friday, May 31, 2013

Eat, Sleep, PLAY

I have been on grand baby duty this week again, developing a deeper relationship with my new grandson. And there isn't any workout better than that.  My legs have been strengthened from the countless runs up and down the stairs, my arms stronger from lifting a very cute 15 pound weight up and down and all around, and my heart...well, fonder by the day.

It is the time that we spend that increases the size of our hearts and bonds us inextricably with one another.  I am very aware that Adrian will not remember our walks on the greenway, playing "how big," and singing made-up songs and old favorites. But there will be a relationship there, never forgotten.

When I was a young mom and had to return way too early to my job, my mom took care of our first daughter day by day for several months.  Mom was totally out of her league, but she did her best, even by solving an afternoon nap dilemma by parking the baby in her car seat in front of the Cub's game on television. Mom loved Beth more than I could know, sang to her, talked to her face to face, and I am sure, played her violin for the baby. And when Beth was upset, Mom held her close, knowing well her cries for "I'm hungry," "I'm tired," and "Please change my diaper."  And sometimes, "just hold me."  The bond between them was evident through the years in their love for each other. Beth does not remember Mom's individual actions and her early days with Mom, but Beth knew a deeper love.

Because we live several hundred miles from all three of our grand kids, it would be easy to fall discouraged and lament the distance.  Or I can make a choice to make the most of my time with them, developing my relationship with them whenever and however I can.  We call frequently, exchange photos on email, and thank You, LORD, for skype and facetime. 

The same goes for my relationship with God, as I intentionally build on His love for me by spending time in His Word, praying, loving and serving Him, and through loving others, whenever and however I can.  The LORD knows my cries of desperation.  He holds me in His everlasting arms.

I relish my time with Adrian, his little gurgling noises, and his incredible smile.  He knows he is loved.   And so do I.

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

                                        Psalm 8. 1-2

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Dog-eared pages

page  100.    If I had to summarize New Testament ethics in one sentence, here's how I would put it:  be who you are.  That may sound strange, almost heretical, given our culture's emphasis on being true to yourself.  But like so many of the worst errors in the world, this one represents a truth powerfully perverted.  When people say, "Relax, you were born that way," or "Quit trying to be something you're not and just be the real you," they are stumbling upon something very biblical.  God does want you to be the real you.  He does want you to be true to yourself.  But the "you" he's talking about is the "you" that you are by grace, not by nature.  You may want to read through that last sentence again because the difference between living in sin and living in righteousness depends on getting that sentence right.  God doesn't say, "Relax, you were born that way."  But he does say, "Good news, you were reborn another way."
     As a believer, you belong to Christ.  More than that, you are joined to Christ.  By faith through the Holy Spirit, we have union with him.  Christ lives in you and you in him.  You see one with Christ, so live like Christ.  Be who you are.  That's the consistent message of the New Testament.

The Hole in Our Holiness 
by Kevin De Young
(Crossway Books 2012)

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

From the Bare Remains

Over the weekend, I ran on trails and roads in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, beneath hundred year old trees clamoring for attention, alongside streams dancing over rocks, and passing over dirt pathways cut into the wilderness by those who have gone before. These paths weave back and forth like the drowsiness of a summer's afternoon nap, in and out, deeper, further into the woods.

One morning after such a run, I read in a brochure that a hundred years ago, this place of beauty, this place that restores my soul, was a place of utter devastation, gouged out and ravaged by the greed of many men. The loggers hacked down sanctuaries of old growth trees, obliterating the forest, leaving nothing behind.  They even built a railway so that they could move faster and deeper into the remote wooded area, doing the same, no end in sight.

When all was said and done, they gladly sold off the splintered remains to those who had a bigger vision -- to build a park.

And so, 79 years ago, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was established to become a place of refuge, refreshment, and renewal.  Who would come to this cobbled together land stripped of foliage? Well, more than 9 million people a year.  I see them picnicking with their families, hiking the trails, and looking wide-eyed at this magnificent display of God's creation.  Once while standing in a crowd observing a bear from a distance, a little red-headed four year old girl turned to me and said with great astonishment, "They're REAL!!!"

Indeed, the forest has returned.  Over the years, it grew back thick and lush.  The devastation became the raw material of God's redemption. He restores the land in ways that could not be imagined. And redeems our lives as well.

He always does.

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

And He who sat upon the throne said,
          I make all things new."

                           Revelation 21.5

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Don't pray without something to carry it in

The mountains were calling this past weekend, and we answered their call.  One of my husband's latest hobbies is the challenge of fly fishing. We drove to a wooded area and found a rushing creek with a series of placid pools, hopefully filled with a bounty of trout.  We pulled the car on the side of a dirt road, ready for adventure.

Bill retrieved his pole and fishing stuff from the back of the car, assembled the pole, and tied a fly on the line.   As the supportive wife that I am, I tied on my shoes, kissed him good-bye and started running up the dirt road that bordered the creek.  The trees were so densely packed together, the very sky was green.  I ran in this paradise, up to a trailhead, and then back down the road, literally up one way and down the other.

I was on my way back to the car, relishing the views handmade by God, when I realized that while Bill had all his fishing stuff, what if he actually caught one?  He was fishing without expectations.  We had not so much as a plastic grocery bag to carry home a fish or two.  As I ran, I imagined sitting in the passenger seat, holding a fish in my lap.

And I thought about how many times we pray, how many times we lay our cares and needs and troubles before the LORD, and don't really think He will answer.  We pray without expectations -- with not so much as a Target bag to carry home His answers.

When I was in college so many years ago, my friend Linda really wanted to attend the Valentine sweetheart banquet the following weekend.  "Please pray that I can go," she asked me.

I prayed, but I also made other plans to take Linda and some other friends out for pizza and a movie, a consolation prize, as it were.  There was no way she was going to be asked at this point, I surmised.  Whoever was going to be asked, had already received an invitation.

Meanwhile, Linda prepared for the banquet, hemming a dress that she borrowed from a friend and even buying a new pair of shoes.  Oh, she is in for a big disappointment, I thought.

I was sitting in a history lecture on Thursday afternoon, two days before the event.   The professor droned on and on, quite mesmerized by his own grasp of the subject.  The guy in front of me had begun bobbing his head, moments from sound sleep.   It had begun to snow, and I was watching the snowflakes dancing through the window.

Suddenly, I was aware of a figure jumping up and down outside in the hallway, visible through a long narrow window in the closed door.  It was Linda, bursting with joy.  Two minutes later, the bell rang.  Linda darted in the room.  A guy she knew from a class had called and asked her to the banquet.

"Thank you for praying," she giggled with excitement.

I was so embarrassed.  I prayed, but without any confidence in what God could do.

Fish with expectations.  And pray like you mean it.

Pray expectantly.

I am the LORD, your God,
the one who brought you
out of the land of Egypt.
Open your mouth wide
    and I will fill it.

                 Psalm 81.10 

Monday, May 27, 2013

"To do" List

God doesn't want me to do things for Him.
He wants me to know Him more.
If I know Him more,
     I will know better what to do.

                           --my husband Bill

Sunday, May 26, 2013

I attacked a closet today, and I don't know who won

In just two weeks, two college-age women are joining us for the summer, living in two spare rooms at the front of our house.  They are interning at World Relief, a ministry which assists the large number of under-served immigrants in our county.

One of the bedrooms was occupied this past year by our son-in-law's brother who was doing his student teaching for a semester at a local high school.  That room is ready to roll.

But the other bedroom has become the residence of "things without a home," items without a defined future, things we have used in the past, a few mementos of childhood, stacks of photographs without albums, old prom dresses left behind, and books I have saved for our tech-savvy grand kids when they come to visit. Stacked against the back of the closet were framed pictures leftover from previous residences that never seemed to find a wall in this house. My excuse has been a holdover from my childhood, "but we might need it someday."

I have no one to blame, but myself.  As each of our girls left home, so did the boxes of their things.  It is incredible how much stuff they want to save when it is in your attic or basement, and how little the sentimental value when it takes up space in their own closets.  Over the years, I have discovered that the longer things dwell with you, the harder it is to cast them away, as if they have grown attached and been given family names. 

There is nothing empty about being an empty-nester.

I have always kept an ongoing box or bag of "giveaways," because it is easier to purge one item at a time than a whole closet in an afternoon. 

But in my sentimental reluctance, the contents had expanded to overcome the space. And now, I needed an empty closet for our guest.   It was time to go, either donated to charity or squeeze onto a spare shelf in another closet.  I sifted through baby clothes that no one will ever wear.  They seemed cute at the time, but not so much now.  I made a stack of the prom dresses to donate, remembering the trauma and drama that drenched those occasions.  Those dresses were worn multiple times by our girls and their friends, hanging in the closet, heavy with memories.  Time to share them again, departing our home to delight young women whom we do not know.

I had held onto these things, thinking that perhaps they would be useful again.  But I came to the realization that these things are not the anchors of our girls' childhood.  Once these things are gone, strong memories will still be there, deeper perhaps, because they are not attached to a hanger or stuffed in a box.

As I discard, I remind myself that I am not throwing anything away, but just making sure that our lives are open to another chapter, unhindered by clutter.  Some things will stay, but have now become more valuable because they are not lost among those things that are not.

The relationships are what is significant, not the stuff.
And what is precious never fades.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Can't carry a tune in a bucket and other such gifts

Yesterday on a long drive, I sang along with music from the radio, realizing that my voice was thin and wobbly, compared to those in the recording.  Oh, to be able to sing like that, I thought.  But as the hours rolled on, I realized it is not for me to lament what I cannot do, but to be faithful in what I can.

God reminded me that to each of us He has given a "voice," some more obvious than others.  My mother, a violinist with such perfect pitch, worshipped God with great skill in music, with all her strength.  My dad, a research scientist, in contrast, couldn't carry a tune in a bucket.  We used to say even his out of tune was out of tune.  But he worshipped God with all his mind, relishing and delighting in the laws of physics which reveal the awesomeness of God.

We once knew a 20 year old man with Down's Syndrome who sang his heart out in church to the top of his lungs.  Every time I heard him, I thought about how sweet his voice was to God's ears.

It is not perfection that God desires, but faithfulness in all He has placed before me, in all I do and say, with all my heart.

What "voice" has He given me today for His glory?

Every day, a new song.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Dog-eared Pages

Edmond Dantes:  "I don't believe in God,"
Abbe Faria:  "It doesn't matter.
                     He believes in you.”

                         --Alexandre Dumas
                            The Count of Monte Cristo
                            (2002 movie)

If you have not seen this movie,
you have missed a classic.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

How a Boy on a Bike Won the Nobel Prize

Desmond and the Very Mean Word

The weather is warming up, and so are tempers in the city.  Over last weekend in Chicago alone, eighteen people were shot.  It is remarkable that could happen in a single weekend, and far more remarkable that it didn't even make the national news.

Every time I open up the news, I cringe.  Violence,shootings and bombings are no longer something rare, but where today

I am weary and distressed about the daily violence, the taking of human life.  Even Jesus said, that is enough.  When one of His disciples struck off the ear of the high priest, Jesus said, "No more of this!"  And He touched his ear and healed him.

If we want things to change, we need to do something different.  It doesn't have to be that way.  There are better responses to resolving conflict than shooting people.  We just need to teach it, engrave it on our hearts, and do it. 

I was overjoyed this week to read Desmond and the Very Mean Word, a children's story based on a childhood incident from the author, Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

The short tale introduces children to a different language in the face of confrontation, not that of violence but of forgiveness. The story increases a child's moral imagination -- how different things can be.

In the story, Desmond is stirred to revenge in the midst of an on-going confrontation with a gang of boys.  The priest in the book advises young Desmond, "When you forgive someone, you free yourself from what they have said or done." Desmond had a hard choice to make.

And in that freedom, the situation changes, because we see it through different eyes. 

I have observed young children repeat the exact words they hear in stories.  I have seen kids copy behavior from what they see in movies and tv shows.  This story shows how real life can look different.

The newly-released book is not just a made-up story, ending with a nice artificially-sweetened platitude.  The actual incident changed the course of the author's life.  And as a result, for working toward equality, justice and peace in his native South Africa, Desmond was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984.

Our children need role models for good, and new ideas in how to live responsibly.  Tell your kids, "Make the headlines for goodness sake."  This story is a good place to start.  And the beginning of a great conversation with them.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Not the way it ought to be

I was standing in a store yesterday, women chatting around me, going about their day.  And on the far wall was a television, pictures of the Oklahoma tornado scrolling across the screen, the devastation as far as the horizon and reporters interviewing survivors.  The sound was turned on, but the voices were drowned out by the dailyness of what was going on around me. Please, I wanted to say, I want to hear this.

This morning, I awoke to the sound of pounding rain, feeling the heaviness of a new day for those who did not sleep in their own beds last night, for those whose homes have been swept away, and for those who have lost even more, a father who lost his little girl and who only last year lost his wife to illness.  My heart aches for them.

"Please, LORD, let survivors yet be found today," I prayed.  "Grant the crews success in finding them."

We live in a great mystery of how a tornado can suddenly appear on a clear blue day and of how some are spared and others not.  We cannot comprehend.  But still...

Even in this, we can know the reality of God - in distress, in trouble, and when we are over our head.  He is with us, even in these mysteries we cannot possibly comprehend.  When all is said and done, in some form or another, we all come to a point when there is nothing left to hold onto but God Himself.  It is why Scripture repeats over and over again, The LORD is my refuge and my strength.  We need Him.  We cannot live this life alone.  He never intended us to.

Where was God when that tornado hit?  He was right there, hunkering down with desperate people in those bathtubs and in the storm shelters, covering them with His angels, some even in the form of teachers.   

And some, God carried Home that day.

Our help is in the name of the LORD,
      who made heaven and earth.

                              Psalm 124.8

The landscape of this Oklahoma town has been altered.   Lives have been changed forever.  And these strong pioneering people will pick up the pieces of their lives in incredible ways.

And through the hardship, God will redeem.  I have often thought that in the wake of such tragedy, God responds and uses it for tremendous good... in ways deeper than we can understand.

I continue to hear reporters talk about incredible tales of survival that are emerging from the wreckage.  This is not the end of the story, but only the beginning.

God will redeem.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Another Set of Eyes

I grew up in a stubborn German home where the theme song appeared to be, "You Can't Tell Me What To Do," a tune that all too often sent the six of us right into a proverbial ditch.  My father was so stubborn that no one could give him any advice at all.  Indeed, he would typically do the opposite, just to prove them wrong.  It's too bad.  Yes, he made his way on his own, but he could have avoided a lot of cliffs and severe detours.

The apple doesn't fall too far from the tree.

As an undergraduate, I shied away from what I saw as criticism in my work.  By graduate school and quite a few crater-sized potholes later, I realized that it never hurt to have another set of eyes take a look at my writing, before I turned it in.  More often than not, there were inevitably enormous blunders I never saw, crevasses in my logic so big you could drive a car through, and paper-thin ideas that had no support at all.  A feeling of pride is always the first big red warning flag that something is amiss.

The blunders are still there.  Even now in my writing, even after I have gone over it carefully, I often run my writing past another set of eyes to catch the not-so-obvious mistakes and to enlarge my view.  

 Ask me questions.  Ask me a lot of questions.  That is how I learn.  

I have come to know the hard way that counsel is not criticism, nor commands, but a very helpful means to   "Have you considered this...?"   The wisest people know that they don't know it all.  They seek, listen and weigh

And thank you very much for alerting me to the train I didn't see.

If I mention a person in an article, speech or blogposting, whether named or nameless, I always let them read the piece, first to get their permission and to make sure I told their story right.  I am grateful for those who point out a typo in the second paragraph, or advise me that there is a big hole where the picture was supposed to appear.

And for a more complex piece of writing, I will check with more than one set of eyes.  If two out of three say that they don't get it, I know that the third person is just trying to be kind, and it is time to reconsider.  Editing is not a weakness at all, and reproof just makes me stronger. 

Seek, listen, weigh.  In work, in relationships, in decisions.  There may be, just may be, someone who knows or observes something you don't.  It may save you a huge mistake, or it just might someday, change the course of your life.

Without counsel,
     plans go wrong,
but with many advisers,
     they succeed.

                Proverbs 15.22

Monday, May 20, 2013

Never Trust A Dandelion

Remember that beautiful field of yellow flowers, last week?  Well, that idyllic vista transformed itself overnight into a barbaric army of white puffballs, already staking claim to our yard with covetous eyes.  It looks like the vacant lot is covered in snow.

For the past week, I have spent hours taking back what is ours, pulling weeds in our small yard and flower beds, clearing out the arrogant dandelions which have already set up summer camp.  A crowd is clustered along the curb like gossiping junior high girls.  Another congregation has gathered in the flower bed on the edge of the yard, as if setting up for a revival.  And dandelion spies have infiltrated and entangled themselves in the irises still struggling out of the ground.

Our yard directly borders this field, white unto harvest.  And the invasion has begun.  We have mowed a border of demarcation, the width of the lawn mower, between our lot and the field, a rather weak line of defense.  The towering dandelions are ready to engage with great defiance, preparing their catapults.

As we were walking the other evening, our new neighbor came out of her house, aghast at the condition of her own lawn.  "Where did these come from?" she asked with great surprise in her voice, pointing out a crop of unsightly weeds, scattered throughout her yard like children on a crowded playground.  We just looked to the field beyond her house, no need to waste words.  "I don't want to use chemicals," she explained, rather organically, "but even more so, I don't want to pick them out one by one.  That would take forever."

"What do you do?" she asked my husband.  Without waiting for an answer, she accused him,  "You use chemicals, don't you?"

Bill just nodded,  He had spread the protective granules, weeks ago.  She told us she had looked into organic alternatives that, apparently, do not discriminate.  They get rid of the weeds, but also kill the rest of the lawn as well.  She had talked to some lawn services, and now had finally concluded that she may just rip up her lawn and sod it.  "That would take care of it, once for all," she decided.

The neighbor on the other side approaches the invasion the old fashioned way.  Every morning before work, he scrutinizes his yard and physically removes any weeds that crept into his yard like an enemy occupation under the cover of nightfall.  They don't even stand a chance to send down roots.

Our house, even closer to the vacant lot than theirs, appears to float like an island of green in a sea of fluffy white.  For the past week, we have observed a visible blizzard of seedlings blowing past our front window like the scene of a winter storm, gathering in little drifts on the edges of our driveway, spreading weeds uncontrollably.

But we need not lay down our defenses.

I consider, as in life, how acts of righteousness change the scope of the landscape.  No matter how bleak, there is something that can be done.  An intentional kindness, an encouraging word, integrity even when no one notices, a sacrifice for the good of others, recognized or not -- these things are unstoppable, and God uses them for great good, germinating what is just and true and loving.

When weeding, I noticed that in areas that are occupied by legitimate ground cover and healthy perennials, dandelions were rare, no place left to take root.  The good has left no room at the inn.  Plant what is noble and teach our children to do the same, cultivate beauty, nurture grace, and emulate those who love beyond themselves.  Cover and protect the very ground with lovingkindness, joy, and good works, bearing fruit for seasons to come.

I need not succumb, but be willing and ready for what God puts in front of me to do this day -- to be faithful and sow righteousness, in whatever form that may take.  He will do the rest.

I planted,
Apollos watered,
but God gave the growth.

                 1 Corinthians 3.6

For every despair,
     God overcomes.
Sometimes He uses us
    to do it.

Give me eyes to see, O LORD,
ears to hear,
and Your heart
   that I may know how to respond,
trusting You
            for the outcome.

God makes the difference.

Sunday, May 19, 2013


I woke early yesterday morning to the chorus of birds outside my open window, and the sun streaming through the blinds as if to announce the grand opening of a new day.  The sky was deepest blue, the air fragrant and rich, and the morning was offered like an incredible gift.  We had jumped suddenly into summer.

And I couldn't wait to lace on my running shoes to take advantage of it.

I headed into a park about a mile from our house, a trailhead of sorts, from which I can take any number of routes.  As I ran through a congregation of trees, I passed an older gentleman who was walking casually on the narrow asphalt path. He nodded his head and said "Good morning," a social protocol that bonds walkers and runners in their outdoor delight.

I responded with, "Beautiful day," acknowledging the immense beauty surrounding us.

"Absolutely!" he exclaimed with great enthusiasm.

I immediately thought of the verse:

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens.
Let Your glory be over all the earth!

                               Psalm 108.5

His glory had covered and saturated this place beyond measure.

I cannot so much make a cupcake that it is obviously the intentional work of a baker.  And believer or not, passing through this park alone, not one of us could help but stand in awe of the greater work of the Creator Himself.

The intense beauty of this world
      is one of the ways God has revealed Himself to us,
His power throughout the universe displayed.

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

                                  Psalm 19.1


Saturday, May 18, 2013

Just Because

Our grown daughters know that unless I am out for a run or taking a shower, my cell phone is typically within arm's reach.  They know when they call, I usually answer right away.  My cell phone is not a leash attached to them, nor a tether, but a lifeline when they need it.

Sometimes there is an emergency call, as years ago now, when our oldest was locked out of her apartment five hundred miles away.  "Please pray, Mom."

Sometimes there is a checking in, as when one of our girls was working at a remote camp in Colorado one summer.  This was in pre-cell phone days, although in the wilderness where she was, a cell phone would have been virtually useless.  She called "collect" about every two weeks when she was able to get to a pay phone at the laundromat in town.  Our conversations were riddled with the noise of huge trucks which rattled the building as they sped by.  She called often after midnight my time, as she was living out West in a different time zone.  She knew no matter the hour, I would answer the phone.

Sometimes there is a  joyful announcement, as in an engagement or the birth of a child.

Sometimes there is a rare call for help at 2 am, "I need you to come."

But my favorite calls of all -- sometimes only a few minutes in duration -- are those when they call to say "hi, how are you," just to talk, to chat, to touch base, or as my husband's grandmother used to say, "So good just to hear your voice."   No reason needed at all.  Just because.

These things came to mind earlier this week when I read this verse: "...the prayer of the upright is His delight."  (Proverbs 15.8)  Our "calls" give God great joy. 

He always listens and responds to our cries and pleas for help,
 but how often do I pray
       just because of our relationship,
 not because I need something,
 or want to complain,
 or I've fallen in a proverbial ditch of life.

But just because.

Does "I don't have time to pray" really translate into "I really don't need You right now.   I'm not in any desperate straits.  Call You later?"

God doesn't answer our calls with "What do you want now?"
but, "Oh, so glad you called."

How precious are those prayers?  God treasures and keeps them forever.

"...with golden bowls full of incense,
which are the prayers of the saints..."
                          Revelation 5.8

Just because
     He loves us that much.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Did Something Die in the Fridge?

When I opened the fridge this morning, a nasty odor assaulted my senses.  I grabbed the bag of coffee grounds and the milk, and quickly closed the door, as if to contain the rottenness.   I desperately needed a mug of caffeine before I could even muster up the courage to investigate.  As Miss Clavel says in the children's book Madeleine, "Something is not right!"  I just didn't know if I was up to a death in the fridge, so early in the morning.

From past experience, I know that the obvious culprit is not always the most likely suspect.  The olfactory offender is typically something lurking in the back, something untouched, an item unnoticed that has been residing all too long, out of sight, out of mind, but now, in its inedible state, screaming for attention.  The forgotten makes its presence known, no longer able to be ignored.  Phew.

As I worked my way through the shelves and drawers, examining the little plastic containers embracing leftovers, I thought about those uneasy feelings when I know in my own heart, "something is not right."  I can choose to ignore a stinky situation, or choose to work my way through attitudes gone bad, bitter roots that have taken on a life of their own, a half-eaten container of rebellious thoughts, rotten behaviors hiding behind lame excuses, and the stench of selfishness which permeates everything. Oh, and don't forget the critical words I should never have uttered, a juicy bit of gossip, and a large portion of nagging, which is easy to nibble on.  In the mix, of course, are good things too, but now tainted by a ferocious smell.

The biggest culprit is usually something in my life that is not manifesting the love of God, nor His grace.  And I have no one to blame but myself, hoarding that which has long-passed its expiration date, holding onto pride which only grows rancid by the minute, refusing to forgive, or pushing aside opportunities to heal relationships.  Do I look at wrongdoing as that which is putrid, impacting everything else in my life?

One thing I know, the nastiness doesn't go away on its own.

What do I need to make it right again?

--Keep short accounts.  Don't store resentment, hurt feelings, or gather up ammunition for future conflicts.
--Hold only onto what is good.  Bitterness does not become better over time.  Forgive before it really becomes a stinky problem.
--Live above reproach.  Nothing hidden in recycled butter tubs is truly forgotten, and harboring wrongdoings doesn't make them go away.  Glass containers reveal their contents. provide a sense of accountability, and don't let me ignore what is really going on. 
--Identify the source of the stench, and accept your responsibility. It is not just someone else's problem.
--Repent.  "I'm sorry."  Clear it out before God and those offended.  And make it right.
--God forgives our iniquities "as far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our transgressions from us." (Psalm 103.12)   Leave them there.
--God makes all things new.  Know it.  Live it.  Let Him redeem it. "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold the new has come." (2 Corinthians 5.17)

For we are the aroma of Christ...

                      2 Corinthians 2.15

(that which is good, gracious, loving
  and kind)

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Dog-Eared Pages

"To be a witness does not consist in engaging in propaganda, nor even in stirring people up, but in being a living mystery.  It means to live in such a way that one's life would not make sense if God did not exist."

              from Priests Among Men
              by Cardinal Emmanuel Celestin Suhard
              (archbishop of Paris 1940-1949,
              a time which included the German occupation
              of France)

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Shopping Holiday -- Click, Click, Click

A shopping holiday sounds like something you would win on a game show.  Buy, buy, buy.  But my holiday is not what you think.

For the past six weeks, when I have checked my email, I have gone down the row of boxes -- click, click, click.  But instead of diving into "exclusive offers for you,"  "last chance," "only hours left," and enormous percentages off, I am choosing to delete, delete, delete.

My husband calls it a shopping "fast."  But in this period of time, I have noticed not what I am giving up, but what I have gained.  Two minutes lingering here and there, a link that leads to another link, I wonder if it comes in beige, and before I know it, a half hour or more has evaporated from my day.

Now, these are all good things, I am sure.  But "wants" are highly skilled at disguising themselves as "needs," doing nothing more than cluttering up my life.  These desires offer a fulfillment that only fills my life with less -- less time, space, and sanity -- and pushing that which is so much better out the back door.

With this internet holiday of mine, I have taken back the margins of my day and my budget.  And I have learned the value of asking even more carefully, "do I really need that?"  And even more, "do I really want to waste fifteen minutes of my life, grazing through that website that promises what it cannot give?"

It is not what I have lost,
     but I have redeemed --
          immeasurable hours of my life.

And that is the best bargain of all.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

A Person's A Person, No Matter How Small

Recently one of our daughters was working on a film production team, creating a series of commercials for some high-profile clients.  She worked hard, her days starting earlier and continuing well-past those higher up on the food chain.  In her role, she was seemingly invisible, working behind the scenes while others basked in the limelight, praise, and recognition.

It makes me think about a quote from the classic 1954 children's book Horton Hears A Who!  by Dr. Seuss:  "...even though you can’t see or hear them at all, a person’s a person, no matter how small." The overall success of  any project -- whether a huge event or a small production -- teeters on how well everyone does their work.

After one particularly grueling day, she commented to me how rarely she hears anyone say, "thank you" to her.  I thought that was a particularly noteworthy remark as it was the same day I was spending time with our two-year-old grandson.  I had just offered for him to play with a little stuffed dog.  "No, thank you," he remarked without prompting.  At what age or at what level of self-importance, do people feel exempt from saying a simple "thank you?"

You want to make someone's day?   Acknowledge someone's work, recognize another person's contribution to your well-being or the welfare of others, and let them know.  "Thank you for your hard work.  I appreciate it."

Gratitude reveals not just manners, but your worldview -- how you see yourself and how you see others. And perhaps whether you see them at all.

...outdo one another
        in showing honor.

                   Romans 12.10

Monday, May 13, 2013

Ultimate Networking

We just returned from two weeks of business trips and family responsibilities.  When we left, the landscape was muddied in shades of dull brown and grey.  And when we came home, we emerged into The Wizard of Oz when the film is transformed from black and white into a burst of color (which was an incredible use of technology in 1939).  What appeared dead and dying has been resurrected before our eyes.  The trees stand green against a sky-blue ocean of sky, bushes and small trees have blossomed into a seasonal wardrobe of pastels, and our grass is jumping out of the ground.

And in the vacant lot next door, I discovered an idyllic field of yellow flowers as if Monet had captured its beauty on an enormous canvas.

The pastoral vista was awesome to behold...until reality kicked in.  These are not innocent daffodils, welcoming springtime.  A closer inspection reveals a barbaric invasion in the making.  These innocent bursts of color are dandelions -- literally in the French "teeth of the lion."  Each and every bloom is about to explode with thousands of seeds on tiny parachutes, destined for our yard.  And once established, its long tap root grips the dirt like the jaws of a wild beast.  You might be able to pull off what is visible, but the root remains deep and grows even more resilient.

I admire the tenacity of the dandelion.  Where the seeds land, plants emerge, even in the most impossible situations.  The smallest crack in solid concrete is enough.  And from that seed, a whole new community arises.

Dandelions do not spread secretly under the ground, but impact their sphere of influence by casting seedlings forth all around them.   Extroverted in their inherent design, they don't seek to reproduce one plant at a time, but throw a party.

"Take root downward
  and bear fruit upward."

                Isaiah 37.31
                2 Kings 19.30

Wherever those seedlings go, they fulfill their ministry by doing the same without fanfare, spreading, bearing, and sending down immovable roots.

These are weeds.  And what if this growth was for good?

Every act of love, grace and kindness, every expression of beauty, truth and restoration spreads to a hundred generations and sends down the roots of God's kingdom, reveals His Presence, and builds community.  It is always a delight to me, wherever God has moved us, wherever He has placed us, where we least expected or even desired to go, we have discovered God's network, tenacious and loving people planted before us, sometimes invisibly until spring.

And I am reminded that it is not what I bear, but what God bears through me.  His Word takes root and spreads out in ways I will never realize until the other side of life.  It is only for me to be faithful in whatever impossible place I may be.

The seed is the word of God.
                      Luke 8.11

(the foundation of all we are
     and of our vision)

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mother's Day Is Not About Being A Mom

Mother's Day is not about being a mom.
It is about having a mom.
And that involves everyone of us.

It is a holiday to love and honor our moms.  And for some of us, that is hard.  For some, there is no Hallmark card that quite fits.

But God calls us to "Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land which the LORD your God gives you."  Exodus 20.12.  It is one of the Ten Commandments, a commandment with a promise for you.  Because God knows that if you can love and honor your mom --yes, even her -- it will change the course of your life.  After all, the Ten Commandments are not about adhering to a set of rules, but how to love --love God and love others.  It is not about performance, but of grace.

In some ways, this day is not about our moms after all --good, bad or indifferent -- but recognizing in them our own need of grace.  The truth is that no mom is perfect, and no mom has ever been.  And no relationship with a mom is perfect.

And when we realize that truth, we see our moms differently, and we see ourselves differently.  That was a huge release for me.  That was an enormous relief.  Mom was not perfect -- and oh, I struggled with how different she was.  I needed her to be perfect, because I was not.  And perhaps, it was in her imperfections, and my own, I learned my need for a Savior.  I learned my need for grace.  And in my adult years, God filled me with compassion and love for her.  I was much more gracious with her, because of how God's grace transformed me.  I just wish that it had been sooner.  It would have changed our relationship immeasurably.

And now, I don't just respect her differences, I applaud them.  They are what make her so precious to me.

May we offer terms do peace to those who did their best and fell short, even for those who intentionally wounded, buffeted about by strong currents we may not know and never understand, and for all those moms who felt the pressures to be someone they were not.

Mother's Day is a time to recognize that God gave each of us a mom.  And because we live in a broken world, He gave us grace.  Grace  is never tied up neatly with a ribbon.  Grace goes deep to the sore spots, healing one forgiveness at a time.  Forgiveness is not saying it is ok.  Forgiveness is letting go of the bitterness, and filling the gaps with love and grace that none of us deserve.

My mom has been gone for eight years now.

If you still can, call your mom.  Keep calling.  It will change her life.  It will change yours.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Investment Strategies

I am not babysitting.
I am developing a relationship with my grandson.

Friday, May 10, 2013

A Gift of Encouragement

Our second daughter -- the one who thought sleep was a waste of time and wore short-sleeved shirts in the dead of winter -- never seemed to get sick.  But because she had three sisters close in age who did, she spent a lot of time in the pediatrician's office with us.  It appeared for a time that we had a permanent weekly appointment there for the three other girls, one sick or another.  Kate would watch what Dr. Hoppers did and ask him questions.  He would often let her go with him down the hall to deliver cultures to the lab.

When she was three, she announced to us that she wanted to be a doctor.  When she was in fourth grade, that interest was fired up by her reading of Gifted Hands, the incredible story of Dr. Ben Carson who went from his life as a troubled urban youth to becoming a renowned neuro surgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital.  They have never personally met, but this man encouraged and influenced her life profoundly.

Yesterday Kate -- now a doctor herself -- scurried out the door for a 12 hour shift in the hospital emergency room.  As I walked back into the living room, my eyes caught the title of a book on her table (see above).  There it was, the little paperback that cast vision in her life so radically.  From that time on, she pursued that passion through her schoolwork, internships and medical mission trips.

When I was a young teenager, a youth director caught me one day writing in my journal and asked if he could read what I was working on.  A couple of days later, he returned my notebook.  I was so afraid that he would make a patronizing remark like, "Good for you!!" as if I had finally learned how to draw inside the lines. Instead, he said, "I hope that you didn't mind that I copied down some of your poems."  His words planted hope in my heart and the seeds to become a writer.

A couple of years ago, I met a young man at a conference in New York.  He was a magician, quite a good one at that, his childhood hobby having developed into an incredible vocation.  He loved his job.  I asked him, "So how did you get started in this line of work?"  He looked at me with enthusiasm in his eyes, "My grandmother gave me a magic set for my birthday when I was seven," he said. "I started by performing for my family, and I haven't looked back."  God is using this creative individual in powerful ways.  And I salute his grandmother for enlarging his world.

Encouragement reverberates in ways we cannot know, and even beyond our lifetimes. It is a gift that invests in the lives of all those around us.  We all need a good word or two.

I told Kate about seeing the book and that I had written about it.  She said, as a matter of fact, that just the other day in her clinic, she had told a young boy about the book to encourage him.  She wrote down the title and author and said that the school librarian could help him find it. 

Who has God placed on your path to encourage, challenge and cast vision?

The LORD GOD has given me
   the tongue of those who are taught,
that I may know
   how to sustain with a word
him that is weary.

                     Isaiah 50. 4

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Dog-eared Pages

People will forget what you said.
People will forget what you did.
But people will never forget
          how you made them feel.

                   -- author Maya Angelou

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Ten Minute Pockets

Quick.  The baby just fell asleep.

I am helping my daughter again this week while she is working a crazy schedule at the hospital.  And along with changing diapers and heating up bottles, I found that I can still maximize a ten minute pocket of time.  There was a chapter in my life when I could have achieved a PhD in making the most of ten minutes to spare.  

The key is to keep a running list and watch for those unexpected pockets of time.   I keep a mental and sometimes written list of what needs to be done, so when the opportunity raises its hand,  I am all over it, jump in quick, and get as much done as possible in those precious minutes.  Ready to go.  Think of it like a game with the timer running.

It is incredible what can be done in ten minute intervals:
--get the bills paid
--pull together the ingredients for supper 
--fold a basket of clothes
--write a letter, blog, or novel, a paragraph at a time
--read a letter, blog, or novel, a paragraph at a time
--call your mom, sweet and quick
--actually hold a conversation with a spouse or child
--clean out the fridge
--read through the Bible in a year

What could you accomplish with ten minutes?

When I was growing up, my mom would lie down on the living room floor in the middle of the afternoon and sleep for just ten minutes, then get up, and go about her day.  I didn't understand it until I had four kids.  That ten minute power nap kept her from getting overwhelmed.

In pre-internet days, a good friend of mine with seven children kept a briefcase of sorts in her car and took advantage of little pockets of time waiting in the carpool line or the dentist waiting room.  When I realized the vast number of books she read in a year, I too began keeping books in my car and purse for a chapter or two, here and there.

It is easy to think that "someday I will have time."  Huge spans of available time will never happen.  Trust me, our grown daughters' baby books are still waiting.  But a ten minute pocket of time?   I can usually find that.  I am amazed at what can be done.  Sometimes I may not be able to complete a task, but I can diminish it in intentional chunks.

I have a patchwork quilt sewn by my grandmother, a precious piece of artwork in my eyes.  It was constructed of tiny leftover pieces of material, small squares stitched together with her arthritic hands, one square attached to the next, over a long period of time.  It is an heirloom she left behind.

I like to think of ten minute squares of time, creating something just as productive and endearing.  It is how I love others and a way of worshiping God...who invented time after all.

Need to go.  The baby is waking up.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

What I Learned About Grace From Our Very Dead Tree

Yesterday, I wrote about our massive oak tree and the mess that was left behind.   Yes, I was a bit annoyed that the tree guy did not return to clean up.

After posting the blog entry, I found out the back story.  And I ate humble pie for lunch.

Little did I know, little did I realize, that there was a good reason for his delay.  He was indeed still planning to come back to finish the work, but he had a few other unanticipated crises land on his plate in the meantime.   We found out that once our tree was down, he had to deal with two unruly employees, investigate the incident, and let them go.  Right after that,  he and his wife were called out of town unexpectedly, a family emergency I surmise.  When they returned, his truck had been stolen.  He had been busy, working with the police, tracking down his work vehicle and apprehending another now-former worker.  He was blessed with other jobs already scheduled but he was drastically short on labor, trying to keep his business afloat and working long hours, now by himself.

And I was annoyed over some sticks?

I was sorry that I had hastily harbored a bad opinion of him.  The incident served as a reminder to me to be gracious with others and know that there is always a back story when things don't go as planned.  More than an excuse, more than a reason, but because we are dealing with people, a story.

Long ago, my immensely-wise mother-in-law advised me to respond rather than react to our young children.  Great advice for parenting, great advice for marriage, and great advice in all my encounters.   Listening first to the back story nurtures understanding and grace.  There is certainly not enough of that in this world.  It enables me to navigate difficult situations and create a solution  without harshness.  Handle with gentleness, not a swat team.

Let every man be quick to hear,
      slow to speak,
            slow to anger,
for the anger of man
does not work the righteousness of God.

                             James 1.19

Monday, May 6, 2013

Sweet Revenge

An enormous oak tree in our yard was dead and had to be taken down to avoid branches falling on the car in the driveway or the entire tree on our dwelling.  It was more than we could handle on our own, so we hired a tree guy to do the job, while we were absent.  We understood that he would lower the dead tree from the top down in segments.  But instead, he just dropped the whole tree across the yard, and in its stead, left a sheath of destruction where the huge tree fell. 

He cut up and removed the carcass of the tree, no doubt to sell the wood.  But he left a mess behind, bulky dead branches littering the yard, smaller trees broken by the impact, and a massive rhododendron bush smashed beyond recognition.

Needless to say, after several weeks, it became apparent that he was not coming back to clean up the aftereffects.  Yesterday, we began the clean-up ourselves, hauling dead broken branches and debris into a pile in order to restore the yard.  
The rhododendron had suffered the greatest loss, for sure.  But deep within its inherent design, this large beautiful bush is resilient beyond belief.  No matter if branches are broken off, no matter if it is torn apart by a violent storm, no matter if it is ground into the earth, a rhododendron sets down new roots where it falls.  And yet another bush is born.  That is how it spreads its beauty in the forest, evergreen throughout the seasons, bearing an awesome display in early summer with huge pink or white blooms as if a wedding were taking place.  One smashed or broken branch propagates into even more rhododendron seedlings, as if sweet revenge. 

Its strength lies in its resiliency.  As does ours.  God can redeem that crushing blow into great good beyond us and beyond our imagination.

With what should stop us in our tracks, God roots and plants a forest of flowering trees that will bear fruit for generations to come.  It is not so much what happens to us, but what we let God do with it.  God redeems.

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