Sunday, June 30, 2013

Dog-Eared Pages

One by one, He pulled Scripture passages out of the storehouse of my memory, to remind me that they had been hidden there for just such a time as this.

                          Evidence Not Seen
                          Darlene Deibler Rose
                          page 173

(This quote is from one of my favorite books.
I am encouraged each time I read this memoir
of God's faithfulness.)

Friday, June 28, 2013

One From Column A, One from Column B

We have four daughters -- and that seems to be where the similarity ends, as they approach life and solutions from four very different perspectives.  One of our daughters thinks in designs, one connects the clues, and one like me, thinks in stories.  But our third daughter thinks in systems.  She has been organized since the day she was born.  "Schedule?  Why wouldn't there be?"  That was pre-wired into her.  I could set my watch by her routines and totally depend on her methods.   I have always admired that in her.

When we moved into this house, my portion of the closet looked like a crime scene.  Laura offered to help me get organized.  EVERYTHING came out of the closet.  First, we sorted, piece by piece.  What fit, what didn't, outfits "that-went-out-of-style-in-the-90s," and one or two tops she asked to borrow (I was flattered.).  I even discarded my favorite denim shirt, unworn for fifteen years and taking up space.

When she returned the surviving items back into the closet, she arranged the sweaters on one side from dark to light, and my shirts on the other side, again by color.  Slacks were hung on the left side of the pole, and dresses on the right.  "When you take something out," she advised me, "leave the hanger there so you know where to put it back."

It was incredible.  One from Column A, one from Column B.  When I got dressed in the morning, no longer did I stand there, gazing at what I didn't know I had.    I remarked about it to my husband, and he just stared back at me.  In our more than thirty years of marriage, he had utilized the same system, unbeknownst to me. 

Yesterday as I pondered what to wear, I thought about my day, what I was doing, where I was going, what would be appropriate for the weather, and who I would be seeing.   I was reminded how Scripture talks about what not to wear and what is fitting.

"Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved,
compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience,
forbearing one another,
and if one has a complaint against another,
                  forgiving one another;
as the LORD has forgiven you,
          so you also must forgive.
And above all these put on love,
which binds everything together
          in perfect harmony."
                             Colossians 3. 12-14

I don't think of consciously putting away conflicting elements and donning my new nature, and yet, it makes a significant difference in every encounter and relationship.  Calming colors, creating a peaceful atmosphere?  A cheery scarf of encouragement?  A warm sweater of compassion?  We have all fallen into ruts, as if what we "wear" doesn't matter.  And we don't even realize how different our work situations, our home life, and relationships can be.

What do I need to wear today?  Some patience and forgiveness would be perfect for this appointment.  And love, well, it pulls it all together, don't you think?

Don't just leave it hanging in the closet.  "Put it on."

Thursday, June 27, 2013

What is THAT under the couch? And other such clues

There was not a blogposting yesterday, simply because there were only twenty-four hours in the day.  I did not read, I did not write, and the only running I have done in the past week has been running after grandkids and running out of time.

About 10 a.m. yesterday, my husband Bill called to ask how I was.  At that moment in time, I had put the two-year-old down for a nap,  I had the three-year-old in the bathtub since she had thrown up all night, the four-month-old in my arms had just loaded up his diaper, and the third load of wash was ready for the dryer.  "Can I help you with anything?" I asked.   He just chuckled.

Everyone left this morning -- one family by car, and the other with a 4 a.m. run to the airport.  The house is silent except for a humming from the laundry room.  But there are many clues to prove that the grandkids were here.  I spotted what I thought was a matchbox car under the couch.  As I knelt down to retrieve the toy, it turned out to be part of Howie's banana from yesterday's breakfast.  Ewww!

I also discovered a very ripe diaper in the bathroom wastebasket (that would be baby Adrian), a very neat stack of picture books in one of the bedrooms (that would be Maggie), and an old red Barbie car occupied by two Ken dolls (I can still hear Howie saying, "No girls allowed!")

On a daily basis, I will be uncovering evidence from their visit, little items hidden, forgotten, and stored away as only toddlers can do.  I just found the bouncy ball behind the living room chair and out on the screen porch, just one of my shoes.  From the look of things, there is no doubt of their presence this week.

God also provides proof of His presence in the vastness of the universe and in the tiniest details of our lives.  In the classic book The Reason for God:  Belief in an Age of Skepticism, author Timothy Keller challenges each of us not to "prove" God's existence, but to "find the clues to his reality that he has written into the universe, including into us." 

It is not that we are waiting for God to show up, but for us to finally notice the evidence of His Presence embracing us on a daily basis.  He has been here all along, visible, unmistakable, evident and "... made manifest among us..." (1 John 4.9)   

Draw near to Me, hear this:
     from the beginning I have not spoken in secret,
     from the time it came to be
                            I have been there.

                          Isaiah 48.16


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

If I knew grandkids were so fun, I would have had them first

Early mornings, late evenings, even up in the middle of the nights.  I have decided that sleep is overrated.  This week, I am seeing this world of wonder through little eyes -- all the things I take for granted just because they are there, God's faithfulness in the dawning of each new day, the contagious smile of a sweet baby, and tiny wild strawberries found growing on the side of the driveway.

I have tried to write six times today to no avail, not hindered by interruptions but continual adventures, actually no hindrances at all.  We just returned from a walk to the neighborhood park.  Just getting there, oh so slowly, with a stroller, a scooter, and a little pink bike with training wheels, my four-year-old granddaughter declared with glee, "We are having so much FUN!!"

It took us twenty minutes just to get there.  After conquering the twirly slide, the climbing ladder ("ME do it!!!!"), and three face-plants in the mud, it was time to start the long slow march home.  And as I expected, I ended up carrying the scooter, holding the hand of a curious two-year-old, stopping every few feet, and pushing the stroller.  We were sweaty and covered in dirt, and thank you, we had a very nice time.

One thing was very evident to me.  I haven't said the word "hurry" even once.  I have been focused on relationship rather than some arbitrary list of "need to's," and realizing fun is a significant part of training up a child in the way he should go.

It is not that our grandchildren are more fun, but perhaps, just me.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Chicken Nuggets, No More Diapers, and Where is the Baby's Pacifier?

If you have heard peals of laughter and cries of despair the past few days, it is coming from our house.  All three grandchildren are staying the week -- ages three years, two years, and four months.  One is potty training this week and reveling that he gets to wear Thomas the Train "unn-ears."  (translation:  underwears) One is "playing" the piano with great gusto.  And we are enjoying the peace of a baby taking a nap. 

On Saturday, we were talking with them about animals and the sounds they make.  "What does the cow say, Howie?"  "EAT MORE CHICKEN!" he says with glee.  You can tell what is his favorite restaurant.

We also asked this two-year-old last evening if he would like to say the blessing.  "No, thank you," he said politely.  "I'm fine."

And at another meal he wanted to say the blessing.  He bowed his curly head and held his little hands together.  "Dear Jesus," he said.  "Gramma, Papa, Target.  AMEN."  It shows what he is thankful for.

I love spending time with these little ones.  Indeed, "Grandchildren are the crown of the aged," (Proverbs 17.6)  And very much my delight.   I also am very aware as a gramma that my responsibilities far exceed baking cookies, telling stories, and marching around and around the living room pretending we are in a parade playing horns.  In the Bible, God calls for us to pass on a spiritual legacy, to talk God that this next generation will know the LORD.

I make sure that every day that goes by, I tell them something about God.  If we are taking a walk or staring at the clouds, we talk about how God is the creator of the world.  We read Bible stories.  We recite Scripture verses they are learning.  We talk about how God is so good.   Jesus says, "Let the little children come unto me."  These are just baby steps in building a firm foundation.

And it is something they will never forget.

We will not hide them from their children,
but tell to the coming generation
the glorious deeds of the LORD,
     and His might,
and the wonders He has wrought. teach to their children
that the next generation might know them,
        the children yet unborn,
and arise and tell them to their children,
so that they should set their hope in God...

                                 Psalm 78, 4, 6-7 

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Ability Benefits

The question is not
     "Can God?"

The reality is that
      "God can."

He is able.

His goodness and faithfulness
are not dependent
on my way
          and my timing,
but His.

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

                       Ephesians 3.20

Saturday, June 22, 2013

In Some Way Or Another

It is only at this point
when there is nowhere else to turn,
nothing left that we ourselves can do,
no step more that can be taken,
a bleak horizon,
a scorched landscape,
that God can do His greatest work,
and we know
    that it is from Him alone,
lest any man should boast.
In some way or another,
      the LORD will provide.

Friday, June 21, 2013

And This Is One Of Them

I am not an early bird, but God has used early mornings to order my days through the reading of His Word, a mug of hot coffee in one hand to revive me and a pen in the other to write down what I learn.  As I soak up Scripture, He prepares me for the day ahead and guides my heart to seek Him even more in it.  And in this way, God is not just part of my day --ok, done with that, check it off -- He covers it all.  

I see my day from a totally different perspective because I have spent time with Him.  That is the difference between God being prominent and God being pre-imminent.  He is before all things, and  in Him all things hold together (Colossians 1.17)

Trust me.  It will change your life.

When I was a sleep-deprived young mom with three daughters ages 3 1/2  and younger, an ancient woman in my church told me, "Read God's Word first --  not the mail, not flipping through a catalog, not another book."  As crazy as my life was at that time, I learned to seek out that pocket of time in my day to read Scripture.  Sometimes early, sometimes late, or somewhere in-between.  God will give it to you.  Just make God's Word the first thing you read.

I had coffee this week with a good friend who is mom to three small children.  She is still in that season of diapers, naps, and two-year-olds screaming in the carseat.  She confessed that she had probably not read a book in ten years.  But she reads God's Word every day.  And she can run circles around anyone I know when it comes to memorizing verses.  When she can't read it, she can recite it.

One of the passages I read this morning was Psalm 139 which should be subtitled "Precious in His Sight."  God loves you.  He has always loved you.  As I was reading these familiar and wonderful words, even in its familiarity, God drew my eyes to another dimension of the passage.

"Your eyes beheld my unformed substance;
in Your book were written,
         every one of them,
    the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them."
                               Psalm 139.16

This day is one of them.

I am precious in His sight.  But so is this day.  It is a gift from God.  He is not just in control.  He has already gone before me, preparing my day, preparing my way, that I may follow Him into it.

This day was formed for me
when as yet there was none of them.

May I not just fill it
           but let Him fulfill it.
May I see it as it is,
     precious in His sight.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Navigationally Challenged

My inner pride always tells me that I don't need to look up directions.  "You know where you are going," my stubbornness announces in a loud voice.  "Don't waste your valuable time looking it up.  You'll get there just fine."

How many hundreds of times I have listened to that lie?  Let me count the ways.  Like the time I ended up in Birmingham instead of Atlanta?  Like the time I was taking my then-14-year-old daughter to a friend's house in Mississippi?  We wandered around in circles on farm roads for 45 minutes until we saw an ancient gas station straight out of the 1940s.  We pulled up and an old man wearing overalls emerged from the station and asked us, "You girls lookin' for the casino?"

A few minutes of my time seeking directions doesn't rob me of time, it saves time, frustration, and getting totally lost.

I am always amazed at what I read in my Bible in the morning, somehow always works its way into my day.  I have an early morning meeting today, so I slid out of bed a little bit earlier.  The verse I jotted down for the day was 1 Kings 22.5:

"And Jehoshaphat said to the king of Israel,
     "Inquire first for the word of the LORD."

And through it, God reminded me not just to mapquest directions to my morning appointment, but to inquire of Him about my day ahead.  Not to shove God into the gaps of my day, but to inquire His day for me and follow Him into it.

When I do that, there are no interruptions or detours, but only His path and the people, places and purposes that He has placed before me.

I've never regretted spending time with the LORD in His Word and prayer.  There are many times that I have regretted not doing it.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

What Do I See, What Does God See

Last Sunday, we attended our daughter and son-in-law's church in Nashville for the dedication of their first-born son Adrian.  As they stood in the front of the church, the people in the sanctuary smiled at the sight of this four-month-old little boy looking around with amazement as if comprehending the vastness of God.

But while it appeared a small helpless baby was being dedicated to the LORD, I sensed something different.  In our eyes, a baby was being dedicated.  In the LORD'S eyes, a man of God was being dedicated.

How does that change how I view this child?  How will I treat him differently as a man of God?  How will I pray for him with that kind of eternal perspective in mind?  What will I model before him in the dailiness of life? 

I have an advertisement for a retail store sitting on a shelf in my closet, a woman modeling an outfit, so perfect, every hair in place, coordinated, and confident.  I keep that picture there not to measure my appearance or others against it, but to remind me that God sees us differently and treats us accordingly.

Do I treat others by how God sees them?  Precious in His sight?  A man or woman of God in the making?

In the course of the church service, the pastor invited those who needed prayer to walk forward.  As we were sitting in the second row, I witnessed a homeless man sobbing before one of the pastors.  He too is precious in the sight of the LORD.  God sees him not as a homeless man, but a life redeemed.

I love the passage in 1 Samuel when Jesse's seven sons all passed before the prophet Samuel who was to designate one of them to be king.   Each one of the brothers was qualified, I am sure, in their own right to gain the crown.  But God always looks beyond.  God chose not the obvious, but the youngest.  The others saw David and treated him as the runt of the litter so to speak, a lowly shepherd without a future.  But God saw royalty. 

For the LORD sees not as man sees;
man looks on the outward appearance,
but the LORD looks on the heart.

                          1 Samuel 16. 7

What do I see in those around me?
What does God see?

Open my eyes, LORD,
and make me faithful.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Push Back

A dear sweet friend of mine once went through a dark wilderness.  Very wisely, knowing that she was grappling with something heavier than she could manage, she sought counseling.  She was advised to be pro-active when she felt the darkness closing in.  To keep heart panic from gaining control, she was told, push back against it.

Call someone,  do something kind for someone in need, to turn her eyes away from self, first to God (who should I call, how can I serve, what should I do), and then turn her eyes towards others, equipped to encourage them in word and deed.

Be a blessing to others, and through it, realize God's strength in it.

I have been the recipient of some of those calls --  not for help, but calls to help.  Instead of dwelling on "no one ever calls," ask God, "Who can I encourage today?"

I hope that she realizes how much she has blessed me in those calls, emails, and sometimes short little text messages that break through my own stupor.  They remind me that even in my wilderness I am loved.  "Thinking about you."  "Praying for you."  "Love you friend."  We rise above the clouds and realize God is not limited at all.

And somehow in that breaking through and reaching out, I realize that silence is not a bleak empty void, but a gift.

In my reading this morning, sitting on yet another delayed plane, I read Psalm 136 which responds with a chorus to the huge things in life and His daily provision:  "for His steadfast love endures for ever."  The refrain is repeated 26 times in 26 verses, as if to emphasize: "and don't ever forget it."

Even in this.  Even in that.  His love never fails.

I can endure almost anything knowing that solid truth -- the steadfastness of His love and the reality of His Presence.  I am not in this alone.  I read God's Word this morning like a text message, reminding me and breaking through my cloudy thoughts to grasp His Truth.

As I go through my day -- delays, appointments, and the daily glitches -- the psalmist says "repeat after me:"
"His steadfast love endures for ever."

May my life,
    what I say and do today,
share His truth with others:
     "You are loved."

Monday, June 17, 2013

A Certain Strength

When our oldest daughter was a sophomore in high school, she went through a period of time when life appeared to drain the joy out of her.  There was no particular cause she could put her finger on.  But at that age, it doesn't take much for one's world to crumble, a disappointing grade on a paper, the everyday fluctuations of tentative friendships, or a word or two taken out of context.  One evening, she burst into tears.  "What's the matter, sweetie?" I asked her.

"I don't know," she sobbed.

Sometimes life is like that.

To combat those feelings of woe, I challenged her to "look for the joy" the next day.  "There isn't any," she replied with a gloomy voice.   But the next evening when she returned from school, she walked into the kitchen with a list of small delights.

This exercise of pursuing joy is not an artificially-sweetened "look on the bright side," nor ignoring what is swirling around, but grasping the reality of God's Presence.  It is not looking for "God to show up," as indeed He is the one who is waiting on us -- we who are tardy in recognizing His hand.

It is a change in mindset, a refocusing to see beyond the obvious to know that He is there, looking for that point of joy, searching diligently for a path through the miry bog.  That path is manifest sometimes by one steppingstone at a time. a single point of praise.  LORD, show me how to navigate this day.

Praise the LORD!
Praise the name of the LORD,
    give praise,
        O servants of the LORD.

                             Psalm 135.1

When things seem so  overwhelming, I am reminded of Saint Paul, confined in a squalid prison, who wrote a letter of joy to the Philippians.  He trained himself in joy in the midst of hardship.  He recognized a divergence in the path -- to be overwhelmed by dismay or practice the presence of God. Two paths, choose one.

Finally brethren. whatever is true,
whatever is honorable,
whatever is just,
whatever is pure,
whatever is commendable,
if there is any excellence,
if there is anything worthy of praise,
        think about these things.
What you have learned and received
and heard and seen in me --
   practice these things,
and the God of peace will be with you.

                          Philippians 4.8-9

Think about these things,
practice these things,
and see how God transforms you.
Your situation may not change
         but you will.
In praise there is a certain strength
    that comes from God  alone

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Dog-eared Pages

...that is the way it is with dreams.
      with being faithful.
      giving one's best every day.
it is not:
"Jesus, I will be deeply committed to You if You'll
  heal my brother...or increase my salary...or give
  me that new house...or make me famous."
it is, rather:
"Jesus, i will follow You to the end.
   no guarantees asked.
   no special rewards except that You will be at the end
   of the road to meet me when i get there...
and i will know that i have lived my life out
   in truth.
   whatever is along the road...during the race...
    'yes' to it.  to anything You bring into my life."

                               Ann Kiemel
                               I'm Running To Win  (1980)
                               pages 9-10

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Turn Over!

We traveled long and late to Nashville last night.  Our flight was delayed ultimately more than three hours after a series of glitches.  At one point all the passengers were loaded on and off the plane twice.  When we finally arrived at our destination, we could have flown overseas to Europe in less time.  Rarely we fly -- the odometer on our car will testify -- but we flew for this short weekend trip.  Our grand baby will be dedicated to the LORD this Sunday, and we will attend a graduation dinner for our daughter who is finishing her medical residency, a long seven year adventure of medical school and residency training

Our four-month-old grandson Adrian was playing early this morning on his play mat, reaching for toys and taking in all the world around him.  Suddenly, he pulled up his chubby legs, tucked in his arms like an Olympic diver, and turned over.  He looked startled, as if to say, "Whoa, everything looks so different."   His world suddenly became much larger.

Nothing had changed except his perspective.  The mat was the same, the toys had not moved, but Adrian saw it all differently.

And then as quickly as he turned over once, he rolled again from his stomach to his back, off the mat and into new territory all together.

God has the power not just to deliver me from a heavy situation or a narrow squeak, but He transforms my perspective to see all things new -- to see life from His eyes.   I just need to be willing to roll with Him.  It is not just that I see my surroundings differently, but a whole new path through it.

   how can I see this thing differently
           with fresh eyes
           a gracious heart,
           a wisdom that is not my own.

This situation.
This relationship.
This place.
This "impossibility."
This desperation.

For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are My ways higher than your ways
and My thoughts than your thoughts.

                           Isaiah 55.9

Turn over.
Let Him surprise you.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Even In This

What happens when life doesn't look so good,
the team loses in the last three seconds,
the car is leaking oil,
his bike is stolen,
the baby cries all night
        and doesn't nap,
dinner is late
    or not at all,
          dead ends,
     and what in the world am I doing here,
after a long uphill battle
       there is yet another hill,
I lose my temper,
    my phone,
         my mind,
     not necessarily in that order,
the kids all move away,
good friends are rare,
the job
  or relationship
     or contract
         don't work out,
a big test is failed,
opportunity doesn't knock,
I am dead last,
and it rains

What then?
When all the women are weary,
the men are not lookin' so good,
and the children are not above average?

... then we shall know
        that the LORD is God.

He is there.
He is real.
He still works mightily.

Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
   and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
   and there be no herd in the stalls,
   I will rejoice in the LORD,
I will joy in the God of my salvation.
God, the LORD, is my strength;
He makes my feet like the deer's';
He makes me tread on my high places.

                      Habakkuk 3. 17-19

O LORD, do something.
"I am.
You just can't see it yet."

No matter the circumstances,
       God is still in control.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Cleaning toilets and a view of success

I spent yesterday on my knees, not in prayer, but cleaning toilets and scrubbing the floors.  It was not as gruelling as it sounds, but at the same time, I was pondering a quote I read about what matters in life. Was I wasting my time?

A friend signs her emails with a quote from Francis Chan's book Crazy Love:  Overwhelmed By A Relentless God:  "Our greatest fear should not be of failure but of succeeding at things in life that don't really matter."

I was scrubbing shower floors.  What could matter in that for eternity?

And all through the day, God reminded me that it is not mine to know how He will use me, or this situation, or when, or for whom. Everything matters.  It is not a judgement of failure or success -- neither which I can determine, neither of which matters to God -- but of faithfulness in following Him into it and in doing all things with excellence.  That which is done well glorifies God.

The Reformation, sparked in 1517 by Martin Luther's nailing of a document on the Wittenberg door, tore down the wall between what at the time was considered sacred and secular.  There is no divide.  God never intended there to be.  One's work --committed to God-- can glorify the LORD, no matter what it may be.  Church work is no more spiritual or sacred than that of the merchant or the streetsweeper.  And the result of the Reformation unleashed a tremendous era of music and art, scientific discoveries, exploration, mathematics, and architecture that the world has ever known.  It all matters.

Indeed, Johan Sebastian Bach even signed his magnificent compositions "Soli Deo Gloria," glory to God alone.

A man known as  Brother Lawrence also grasped that divine mandate. At the age of 24 in the year 1638, he joined a monastery in Paris with the intention of doing great things for God.  He was assigned instead to wash dishes in the kitchen which he did faithfully and cheerfully for more than three decades, and in his last years, repairing the sandals of the other monks.  No job was too lowly or seemingly obscure.  His spiritual insight and encouragement to others was compiled after his death in a book The Practice of the Presence of God, still read widely almost 400 years later, still pointing others to God.

It appears that our culture has once again fallen into a mindset that only what bears a "spiritual" label is sacred in the eyes of God and only in what we deem successful.  And we are poorer for it.

All that we do is sacred;  nothing is beyond what God can redeem.  We would stand amazed at how God can use us in every dimension of daily life and culture.   Even in that.

"God does not call us to be successful.  He calls us to be faithful.". --Mother Teresa.

Use us this day, LORD,
       for Your Kingdom,
whatever form that may take.

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

                                            Psalm 90.17


Wednesday, June 12, 2013


With the threat of an impending thunderstorm at midday, I headed out early this morning to run before the expected deluge.  I didn't mind at all.  A particular freedom is unleashed in those early hours, accompanied by a chorus of birds, quiet streets, and  fresh hope.  Running early also provides me with free-range praying before the concerns of the day lock me into a litany of requests. 

As I was rounding the last half-mile this day, rushing ahead of the darkening thunderheads, I saw a speed limit sign on a pole at the side of the road.

I had been praying for friends and family.  O LORD, their struggles and disappointments, heavy backpacks and immovable boulders, hopes and fears about sharp curves and sheer cliffs. 

And I thought about how I post such signs before God,
dictating how fast for Him to move,
       or how slow He should go,
 telling Him to turn here NOW,
 what direction
 and a much better destination,
    how I would do it,
when to speed up,
even what I expect along the way
          and who should be traveling at all.

What would happen if I replaced
those ridiculous restrictions
              with trusting Him?
Those finite limits
         only trip me up
      and ruin the view.
And what if,
I followed
    the limitless God into it instead?

Life would be so different.

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

                           Ephesians 3.20

...His greatness is unsearchable.

                       Psalm 145.3


Tuesday, June 11, 2013

And Sometimes You Just Run

On Saturday, I ran a 5k -- my first race in about a year and a half, since my marathon in the continuous downpour.  I was amazed -- first, that I even signed up -- but then, in my performance.  I pushed myself to keep up an even pace and surprised myself by coming in third place in my age group. 

The next afternoon, feeling encouraged after the race, I went for my first long run of the season.  And I struggled the whole way.  It was a long slow sluggish run, if you could even call it that.  I am sure that it appeared  I was running in place.  But I ran.  I walked a bit on a shady part of the trail, and then again as I trudged up the last big hill.  And I finished.  Glad to have that one behind me.  What happened?

Sometimes you just run.  The reality is that there are rarely crowds to cheer me on,  no breezes blowing through my hair, and no inspirational Chariots of Fire music playing in the background.  Sometimes you just run.  I always thought running on a beach looked glamorous until I actually tried it.

I had a bad day.  That doesn't mean I will never run well again.  It is not the end.  It is just the view from the middle of something.  Perseverance is an honorable term, but it weighs more than it appears.  "Everyone has bad runs," a seasoned coach once told me. "Experienced runners just let them go and move on."

Victorious days of running fuel my spirit, and on those days, I feel like I could run forever.  But it is actually those hard tough runs that train me the most.  A good run gives me a glimmer of hope.  But those grueling days, well, they are what keep me going.  They are what make me stronger.

I can remember standing at the starting line with a friend who was running her first marathon.  We had trained for eighteen weeks, both separately and together, experiencing the loneliness of the long distance runner, slugging it out in hot humid weather, dragging ourselves out on rainy Saturday mornings, carrying our water with us, chased by irate Dobermans, and avoiding getting hit by crazy Memphis drivers. 

The actual marathon?  "This is the fun part,"  I said.

In life, well, we all have our hard days.

And sometimes you just run.

He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might
       He increases strength.
Even youths shall faint and be weary,
  and young men shall fall exhausted,
but they who wait for the LORD
      shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.

                       Isaiah 40. 29-31 

Monday, June 10, 2013

Yes, It Matters

My personal life may be crowded
          with small petty incidents,
altogether unnoticeable and mean,
but if I obey Jesus Christ
           in the haphazard circumstances,
they become pinholes
   through which I see the face of God,
and when I stand face to face with God
   I will discover
            that through my obedience
   thousands were blessed.

                           -- Oswald Chambers
                               My Utmost for His Highest

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Dog-eared pages

On the writing of good stories:

"You might say that these are details that,
while having their essential place in the literal level of the story,
operate in depth as well as on the surface,
              increasing the story in every direction.
I think the way to read a book is always to see what happens,
but in a good novel,
more always happens than we are able to take in at once,
         more happens than meets the eye."

                                   --Flannery O'Connor
                                      Mystery and Manners
                                      page 71

(And I would add,
God redeems our own life stories,
those strange details deeper
     and more significant than we can know
from where we stand now.)

Saturday, June 8, 2013

A different race, a deeper grace

I ran a 5k race this morning, an impulsive decision made late yesterday afternoon.  I love to run, but races are few and far between for me.   I was running for a group of physically and mentally challenged children and adults in a local church ministry, a good cause, I thought.

The race wove through shaded residential streets with small pockets of people cheering from the curb.  I thought I was keeping up a good pace until I was humbled by four jogging strollers swiftly passing and a young man running barefoot.

After one final turn, the finish line loomed ahead, pulling me, encouraging me to finish well.  I thought of a story I read this week of a woman swimming the English Channel, who quit after swimming for fifteen hours, not realizing that she was but a half-mile from finishing. Keep going, keep going.  I crossed the line.

With runners still finishing, I noticed another assemblage of runners lined up at the start for a 50 yard dash.  The starting gun sounded, and a large group of physically challenged young people ran joyously up the street to their own finish line, some holding hands, some pushing their walkers, one young woman physically held up by a caregiver on each side of her, all of them smiling widely.

My eyes teared up, my throat was tight.  This was why we were here after all, not to run our own race, to beat the clock, to achieve some kind of personal best, but to cheer and applaud those who live       everyday on grace.

And as they passed by, I thought a lot about performance and grace.  Performance says "be the best." Grace provides the freedom to "do your best."  Performance says "I can run better than you."  Grace says, "hey man, we all struggle with something," some more visibly than others.  We all stand in need of grace on the course we face, running faithfully with a strength that is not our own.

...let us run with perseverance
the race that is set before us,
               looking to Jesus...

                        Hebrews 12.1

As I entered the race area full of those who were able and disabled, I realized that we were not just running for a cause, we were running with people who run a proverbial marathon every day.  Performance looks at causes and statistics, grace knows names and faces.

At one point before the race, I overheard one man  introducing his wife to another couple, "This is my wife Precious."  And as I looked around, I realized that is how God sees us, each one, precious in His sight.   And performance has nothing to do with it.

Because you are precious in My eyes,
and honored,
      and I love you.

                         Isaiah 43.4

Friday, June 7, 2013

Surrounded by the Impossible

If I hadn't been looking, I would have missed it.

I stood by the back door before six this morning, taking in the early morning cool, and waiting to put down the garage door for my bike-commuting husband.  As I waited for him to emerge, I looked over the backyard.  In last year's drought, our small yard looked bleak and wilted, the trees and bushes suffering and stressed from the lack of water.  Thanks to plentiful spring rains this year, lush green has become the color of the season.

As I looked at the beauty before me, my eyes were distracted by the telephone cables and poles along our back property line.  Indeed, that is often the first thing that I see when I look out there. But I have learned to look past it to the beauty all around.

When I was a very little girl, my eyes had a problem focusing, one eye doing most of the work and the other going along for the ride.  I am forever grateful to my mom for realizing that this problem wasn't going away on its own.  The doctor recognized that if this now-small malfunction was not addressed, it would follow me into adulthood and grow into an even bigger problem.  It was not a matter of surgery, but of training.

The doctor gave my mother a list of eye exercises and outfitted me in a pair of tiny blue eyeglasses with a patch over the good eye.  There are no pictures of me at that age with my glasses on.  I don't believe that it was because my mom was embarrassed by how I looked, or necessarily what others would say or think.  But I believe it was her form of protection.  She did not want me to be limited by my handicaps and by how I saw myself.  She wanted me to view this as just a season, not what defined me.

Doing those eye exercises is one of my very first memories, sitting on a small padded bench in my parents' room and following a small pen flashlight only with my eyes.  My mother would move the flashlight in the shape of a large rectangle, which forced my eyes to move together to the right and left, up and down, to the very corners.   ":Look here," she would say to this very wiggly and distracted four year old.  "Follow my hand.  Follow my light."  Over and over again, day by day, my eyes were strengthened.  I didn't realize it at the time, but I could now see from a much larger perspective and in greater detail.  My eyes were trained that way.

And this morning I thought of how much beauty I miss in this world, how many of God's blessings are hidden because I have not trained my eyes to see them. They are there, but I let so many distractions -- like the phone wires --rob me of what is good and nourishing.  My eyes are like a camera lens moving the focus back and forth from the wires to the dense green trees, and back again.

Just then, a red fox darted out of the bushes into our back yard, as if emerging from a different dimension.  A rare sighting, the sleek beautiful animal with mischief in his eyes hesitated for only a moment, and just as quickly disappeared into the vacant lot next door.  It made me wonder about what rare and delightfully impossible things surround us that we never see.

If I hadn't been looking, I would have missed it.

On what am I focusing in my life?  The wires that distract and trip me up?  Or to train my eyes to see the reality of His Presence? 

"Look here.  Follow My hand.  Follow My light."

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From whence does my help come?
My help comes from the LORD,
       who made heaven and earth.

                  Psalm 121.1-2

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Sweet Home Alabama

Every recipe has a story.  And some come with a flood of memories. 

One of our favorite culinary delights of the summer has a long history in my husband's family. It was passed down from his grandmother Miss Mabel who lived to the ripe old age of 97, living in a patched-together cottage on the edge of a peanut field in southeast Alabama.  It was originally built way out on rural route 3, the road just dirt and gravel until it was paved sometime in the late 1950s.  No address was needed.  Everyone knew her name.

I vividly remember visiting for the first time.  It was July, the air thick and still.  As a northern girl, I had no idea the reality of the words "hot and humid," until that visit.  The temperature didn't change if you stood in the sun or shade. My skin was covered in a continuous glaze of sweat, and clouds of gnats gathered around as thick as the churchyard on Sunday morning.   It appeared the only breeze was generated by the motion of the rocking chairs on her tiny front porch and watching an occasional pick-up whiz by on that country road.  We pulled our car up onto her property, right into the yard next to her car, no driveway, no garage, not even a carport.  Our tires imprinted the sandy soil which was carpeted by the needles of southern pines that towered overhead, lending no shade at all.

The main part of her little house -- a small living room and single bedroom-- were air-conditioned by a solitary window unit which rumbled continuously, trying frantically to keep up.  The kitchen was separated by a door that was always kept closed "to keep the cool inside."  The kitchen was ventilated by a small window and a back porch which held her gardening tools, a clothesline, and other necessary implements including an old wire fly-swatter and mousetraps for her all-too-frequent uninvited guests.  The entire house was spit-polished clean, including the porch, but the structure was so old, every crack was stuffed with steel wool to discourage tiny intruders.

The second bedroom was stuck on the back like an afterthought, no heat, no cooling but for an ancient oscillating fan that tried to stir the hot air like a slow run-down Kitchenaid mixer on life-support.  My husband remembers visiting as a boy in the wintertime, smothered under a pile of old quilts with his brothers, drumming up the courage to run barefoot across the porch in the frigid dawn air to the kitchen heated only by the oven.  Using Colonial white bread, Miss Mabel would make toast in the oven, and smear it with her own home-made pear honey or plum jelly, made with fruit growing in her yard.  She would pour him a cup of milk with a little coffee in it and then sit at the linoleum table with that little boy and talk about life way back when.  She moved into the house in 1935.

As a widow for more than forty years, she lived alone and made the most of what she had, scrubbing a living from peanut farming. She kept a garden, not as a hobby, but as a necessary means of surviving through the year. The government chipped in with a block of American cheese once a month.  She could have written a cookbook on her creative uses of it.   Nothing was wasted.  She even rinsed out paper towels and dried them on the line to use again.  She froze her garden vegetables in old plastic bread bags.  Her grandchildren imagined a wooly mammoth preserved somewhere in the back of that old freezer.

I cherished that determined woman.  She loved God and loved people, many of whom stood on the outskirts of that southern culture.  There were many who learned to read on her back porch and then moved on to a better life.  The word "impossible" was not part of her vocabulary.  She would pray and find a way.  She appeared as fragile as a twig that could be snapped in two, when indeed, she was tougher than a drill sergeant in the Marines.

I never dared complain about anything within her hearing.  Nothing could measure against what she had experienced.  She did not just endure, but learned to both survive and thrive in conditions more severe than the sandy lifeless soil her little house stood on.  I imagine her responding, "You're going to let that stop you?"  If I ran a marathon, she would acknowledge it and then ask what else I had done that day.

A couple of nights ago, I made her famous squash casserole which has been passed down through the generations.  I may have been the first person to write down the recipe.  Everyone else learned by just watching her do it.  The recipe, I imagine, was cobbled together one hot summer afternoon when she looked at what little she had -- a few squash from the garden, a half sleeve of saltines, a few slices of stale bread, and the government cheese-- and saw the possibilities.

Indeed, the sweetness of a recipe is not measured by how much sugar but the stories that go with it.  

It is one of our favorite summertime sides.   I don't ever make it without hearing her voice in that hot Alabama kitchen with the crickets whirring outside in the yard. We don't ever eat it without our conversation laden with deep sweet memories of her life.

Summer Squash Casserole

4 yellow summer squash, sliced into coins
1 onion, chopped
2 eggs, whisked
1 cup milk
20 saltine crackers (about a half sleeve), crumbled
1 1/2 cups shredded cheese (I use cheddar)
2-3 slices bread, crumbled in a food processor
1-2 tablespoon butter or margarine, melted

Place sliced squash and chopped onion in a large sauce pan and cover with water.  Boil until squash is tender.  Drain in a colander.   Spread the cooked squash and onion in a 8-9 inch square baking dish.   Add eggs, milk, crackers and shredded cheese to the squash and onion mixture.  Stir it all together.  Combine bread crumbs and butter in a separate bowl or food processor, and sprinkle over the top of the squash mixture.  Bake uncovered about 45 minutes in a 350 degree oven.

Serve with a sliced tomato still warmed by the sun and a tall glass of sweet tea.  All you need to complement the meal is a little Alabama humidity and a ceiling fan.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Four ways to respond when I want to run away

It was a conversation that somehow suddenly turned down a proverbial dark alley.  What began as a pleasant exchange left me feeling like I had suddenly been attacked by a mob and left to bleed alone.

We said our good-byes.  I put down the phone and began to fold laundry.  I needed to DO something.  My heart hurt.  And I cried out to the LORD, "how do I navigate this relationship?"

And even before I started down a path of negative feelings, God turned my thoughts around.  I remembered a little game we used to play with our girls when they were young.  We called it "you can't make me mad." The gist of the activity was to encourage them to rise above the turmoil when someone is intentionally trying to push their buttons.

It was an exercise in responding, not reacting.  A response is a return in words or deeds which is intentionally thought through and practiced.  In contrast, a reaction lashes out, leaving all too often destruction and regrets in its wake. It is a choice to make which directly impacts the outcome in a volatile relationship or situation.

And so, instead of dwelling on guilt, fear, and dismay, I thought 4-3-2-1.

4 good memories from the past
3 things I love about her
2 ways I can pray for her
1 specific means of encouraging her

And I couldn't believe how God changed my mindset, approaching this relationship with healing and connection, not ignoring the rough places but majoring in grace.

It enabled me to stand for a moment in her shoes -- to grasp what she is seeing and experiencing right now in her life. And to realize what desperation she might be carrying in her heart.

And it drew my heart tenderly toward her.

In so many of the mechanical devices that surround me, a default is the established way of operating.   The same holds true in my relationships.

Time to change the default.  4-3-2-1

Let us then
   pursue what makes for peace
and for mutual upbuilding.

                        Romans 14.19

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Things that come suddenly

Somehow we have come to believe that the things most extraordinary in our lives come suddenly, when indeed, God's power is revealed incredibly in the everydayness of our lives.  We tend to wait for the cataclysmic events or changes -- the fireworks -- all the while missing out on what God is doing here and now.

For most of our married life, my husband worked for a huge corporation which transferred our family to different locations every few years.  Even before we moved in, even as we were buying a house, we often were thinking of  "where next."  After each Christmas celebration, I would carefully wrap the ornaments, not knowing where they might be unpacked on the next holiday.

Trust me, there were many times when I thought, "What are we doing here?"   You may find yourself living in that same mystery, and even perhaps arguing with God about greener pastures.

Indeed, it would have been easy to let "what's next?" drive our lives. But in each of these locations -- often not where we would have chosen to live -- God focused our lives on "what today."  He guided us to get involved with those around us - in community and schools and church - not waiting for the "next thing" or something big.  That has taken many forms over the years for me including coordinating a supplemental reading program in the public elementary school where our girls attended, supporting the high school girls cross country team with pasta and a million Rice Krispie  treats, and as I have written about before, how God led an introvert like me to teach Bible study with neighbors.

It is not just in the huge events of our lives that we see His hand, but in the daily details.  "Give me eyes to see, O LORD."  And in His light, there is not necessarily a path ahead of me, but a single next step.   "Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path."  Psalm 119.105  He revealed opportunities of which I was not aware, glaring needs all around me, and purposes for being here of which I can only trust Him.

My calling is to do all things with excellence, whatever is on my plate today, in the high places and in the ditches of unrecognized labors - maybe especially in those low places.  Because all work is eternally significant in God's eyes - whether lovingly changing a baby's diaper or leading a major corporation.  There is no separation.  All is sacred when done with His glory in mind.

The tiniest details of His creation are what makes everything work together.  And that is how God uses us as well.  Nothing is ordinary. Sometimes we see all those jig-saw puzzle pieces come together, and sometimes it is for another person to put in the last piece and see the picture that appears to come suddenly.  My grandmother used to say, "no effort is for nought."  And as it says in the book of Zechariah in the Bible, "for the day of small things is not to be despised."

Live fully in it.  "What today," O LORD?

But seek the welfare of the city
where I have sent you into exile,
and pray to the LORD on its behalf,
for in its welfare
   you will find your welfare.

                          Jeremiah 29.7

Monday, June 3, 2013

Preparing for the week ahead

Yesterday morning as I entered church, a music video greeted the congregation.  Printed at the bottom of the screen were the words, "Use this video to prepare your hearts for worship."  Indeed, the music set the tone for the morning church service.  When the actual service started, we were ready to worship.

During the service, I was reminded how often the worship music becomes the background music for my week.  Frequently,  I find myself humming the hymns and praise songs, or singing the words as I go about my days.  It amazes me how often these songs are based on words from Scripture.   The teaching from the pulpit also accompanies me in succeeding days as I think about the sermon or contemplate the verses of Scripture read out loud.  This morning, I saw a man worshiping, his arms cast high and wide as if standing before the grandeur of all God has created.  That image of worship inscribed itself in my thoughts as I left the sanctuary and now as I walk into my week.

I left church with a bulging bag of carryouts -- not leftovers, mind you, but nourishment that carries me through the week.  Verses, songs, food for thought, and new strength for tomorrow.

And as I start my week, I discover that "Prepare your hearts for worship" is not really about going to church at all, but preparing my heart to worship God throughout the week-- wherever I go, in whatever I do, with whomever God places on my path, whenever, and however I can.

Indeed... "work, worship, and service are inextricably linked and intricately connected," says Dr. Tom Nelson in his book Work Matters .

Worship emanates from all I do.  Worship changes my view about what I do and how I do it with all intention and excellence.  I am not worshiping my work, but worshiping God through it.

Prepare to worship.

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

                 Colossians 3.23

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Drool marks

As I was unpacking from my week of taking care of our three-month-old grandbaby, it was obvious from the condition of my clothes what I had been doing.  I sorted what needed to be laundered.  And there was the evidence of babycare:  little marks on the shoulders of my shirts where the baby had been gnawing impatiently while I heated up his bottle. ("Hurry, Gramma!")  There were also various drools on the front of my shirts - marks of which I consider badges of honor.

The marks showed how I had been spending my time.

Just the same, our lives are marked distinctly by spending time with God -- reading the Bible, prayer, and worshiping Him through all we do.  God transforms our lives by changing our hearts.  Indeed, as he "came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God."  (Exodus 34.29)

The time each one of us spends with Him leaves evidence throughout our days, showing with great distinction a changed heart, so deep that it transforms one's countenance and alters every encounter.

Abide in Him.  It will be revealed in everything you do and how you love -- obvious to everyone around you and in ways that you may never fully know. 

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Did I leave something?

My suitcase is packed.  The sheets and towels are washed, dried, and put back into place for the next visitor.  The baby has been up, fed, his diaper changed three times, gone for a walk, had a short nap, and it is still only 8.30 on a Saturday morning.

As I leave today to drive long hours back home, I have walked through the apartment, looking carefully to make sure I don't accidentally leave something behind, something misplaced, left on a nightstand or in the kitchen.

I walked around the quiet early morning, so thankful for my days here this week.  Under the guise of taking care of our youngest grandson, I had great fun.  I was able to get to know him more, his cute little personality grabbing my heart with both chubby hands.  And as I attempted to get him to nap in the afternoons, I relearned that he is his mother's child, and just doesn't require the same amount of sleep as others his age.  I learned to make the most of that time instead, playing with him, talking, singing, and going for walks to gaze at the trees waving overhead.

I will miss him as I return home, but I know full-well not to lament my time away, but instead to maximize our time when we are together and dwell on that.

What did I leave behind?  I hope a lot of memories and love.  I am certainly taking a heart full home with me.