Saturday, August 31, 2013

Thoughts on a Run

When I pray for other people,
God changes
                    my heart.

A friend loves at all times...

                   Proverbs 17.17

(And prayer is one way I can love them more)

Friday, August 30, 2013

Mirror image

I attended the meeting of a local writing group a couple of evenings ago.  From the very front step, the house where we met seemed "put together," that illusive appearance I can never seem to pull off.  We all have gifts and talents, but that is not one of mine.  There was a cozy nook in the kitchen with two buffalo-print chairs, perfect for reading or chatting with a friend or child.  The artwork on the walls, even the furniture arrangement, looked welcoming.

It turns out that before my friend who lives there became a full-time fiction writer, she was an interior designer for twenty-five years.  She gave us a few decorating tips.  One way of gaining perspective on a room, she said, is to look at it through a mirror.  The reflection helps in determining "what works" and what doesn't belong.  We have only one set of eyes, but the mirror gives us another way of looking at the same thing.

The Bible talks about mirrors as a way of understanding the mysteries we live with, the things of God we don't comprehend.

For now we see in a mirror dimly,
but then face to face.
Now I know in part;
then I shall understand fully,
even as I have been fully understood.

                      1 Corinthians 13.12

Someday we will see things from a different perspective, what God already knows that we don't have yet the capacity to grasp, not just spare events that never quite fit, but God's seamless weaving of His purposes in dimensions we don't know even exist.

Someday that which has always been
   will suddenly make all the sense in the world.
And we will not just gasp,
        "Oh, that's why it happened,"
but "Oh, thank you, LORD, that it did."

Even now, LORD,
help me to see this situation differently.
Help me look through the mirror
             and see You.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Best Stories of All

It was on this most ordinary afternoon that a young troubled man walked into the room...

This is not the first line of a story, but the middle of an ordinary life that quite suddenly made sense.

Our lives are not strung together with a series of unrelated events, but the unfolding of stories.  It is how -- from the beginning of time -- that God wraps up truth in a way we can understand.  The Bible is a book of stories, not from the imagination of man, but the chronicles of real people, their triumphs, utter failures, trip-ups, despair, messy situations, and the grace that underlies it all.

God is creating in each of us a powerful story, as real as scraped-up knees and as glorious as His redeeming grace.  The precious story God has given you is how we connect with each other.  And how we learn more about Him.

There are always huge turns in our life stories we never expect to happen.  And while we can't understand at the time, those heartbreaking scenes are dripping in purpose.  

A middle-aged bookkeeper just the other day saw that kind of value in her own story -- desperation over the death of her husband, caring for her multi-handicapped child, making ends meet, and keeping her eyes on the LORD through it all.  She was sitting at a desk in an elementary school office in Atlanta, substituting for the secretary who had just left for lunch.  Quite suddenly, a young troubled man walked into the office, pointing a gun in her face.  Carrying 500 rounds of ammunition, he had prepared  to die then and there and take the lives of as many people as he could, including the young children who attended school there.

She wasn't even supposed to be there, but divinely appointed.  She began to talk to the young man in a gentle voice, despite his rage.  He was ready to kill.  "I am not kidding.  This is for real.  You tell them," he directed her to announce on the school's audio system.  She followed his directions.  And then, she started to tell him her stories, how hard things had been, and how it all worked out.  "It's going to be ok," she repeated over and over to him.  She asked him some questions and listened compassionately to him.  She shared her stories, her real life hard stuff, even as he loaded up his guns and stuffed ammunition in his pockets.

After almost two hours, she talked him into putting his guns on the table and to lay down on the floor.  "I will tell the police that you didn't harm me," she said.  "It's going to be ok."  (To view the video of her story, click here).

It made me think about my own grandmother who hobbled around for so many years with rheumatoid arthritis.  Other than working in the yard and going to church on Sunday, I don't remember her being anywhere much but home.  And it always amazed me at the number of young people who came to our house and sat and talked with her.  It was a troubled time in our country-- sit-ins, riots, civil rights turmoil, and the nightmares of Vietnam.  "Nobody is listening to the young people," she said.  But she listened to them. And she told her own stories, not to compete with their hardships, but to connect with them.  And I can imagine her saying the same, "It's going to be ok."   Because that is what she had always told me, "God will take care of you. "  She lived that before me.  Even in her chronic pain.

The best stories of all are not the ones we read, but the ones we live.  They are the narratives that reveal to us and to others the story of God's faithfulness that we may know Him more.  We are part of God's bigger story of grace and redemption.

You have a story.  And God will use it for His greater purposes.  You have only to live it out.

I will open my mouth in a parable;
I will utter dark sayings from of old,
things that we have heard and known,
that our fathers have told us.
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 which He has wrought.
...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. 2-4, 6-7

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

If it does that to the countertop, just think what it does to your insides

When my husband was a little boy, his grandmother used to shake her head at the evils of Kool-aid.  One red drop left a stain whatever it touched.  "If it does that to the countertop," I can still hear her saying, "just think what it does to your insides."

Everything we do, changes us.  More than we realize.

It has now been documented in the laboratory  how exercise actually changes fat and muscle cells.  So when I run, I am not just getting stronger or healthier in an abstract sense, the activity impacts my genes, the reality of how my cells function.  I am physically different because I exercised.

Even pretending can change us.  A Wall Street Journal article on  power poses reveals that how I present myself actually changes my hormones.  So how I look actually changes how I am.  Researchers found, for instance, that folding your arms actually makes you more defensive.  Standing up during a presentation with your hands secure on the table doesn't just make a person look more assertive, it makes her more assertive.

And it has been documented that those internal changes linger long after the specific activity.  It creates a change not in just how others see you or how you see yourself, but results in lasting change, whether in performance at work or how your body resists chronic disease.

If exercise and performing power poses, changes you physically,
       how consistent time in God's Word
changes your mind,
            your vision,
                   your heart.
No research studies have been conducted in the laboratory.
That is not needed. 
There is something far more conclusive.
           God changes your life.
And that proof
        is documented every day.

Therefore, if any one is in Christ,
he is a new creation;
the old has passed away,
behold the new has come.

                  2 Corinthians 5.17

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

America's Got Talent, and God's Got Glory

I don't do this often, but I couldn't help but pass this one along to you today.  You are about to be blessed by this video clip from America's Got Talent. (Just click this link.  And have a tissue ready.)

These young men sang a prayer in Latin.  The English translation is:

"Pious Lord Jesus, give them rest.
Pious Lord Jesus, give them everlasting rest.
Pious Jesus, who takes away the sins of the world,
      give them rest.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world,
      give them everlasting rest."

In all that you do today,
give God the glory,
         by what you do,
         and how you do it
    and for Whom.

These guys were not singing for a panel of judges.
     They were singing for an Audience of One.

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Grass is Always Greener

Abundant rains this spring brought about a lushness to our yards.  So when in early summer my husband began watering our grass every other day, well, I really didn't think it was necessary.  Ten minutes in the early morning, every other day.  I actually thought it was a waste.  We really didn't need it.  After all, the grass was greener than it had been for many summers.

Well, and then summer came, and the heat and lack of rain slowly bleached the color out of the world.  Before the end of July, the grass all around us had faded into tones of brown, the grass itself crunchy and matted down.  I now see lawn sprinklers almost every day, their waves of droplets in the air, desperately attempting damage control.  At this point, sprinkling will not bring the lawn back to life, but may only keep it from dying completely.

When I speak to others about reading God's Word, I actually get the same looks as I gave my husband about watering.  "Is it really necessary?"  "I mean like I'm doing pretty well right now."  Or the ever popular,  "You don't understand -- nobody's got time for that."

And then the drought comes, and we don't know what hit us.

Start with ten minutes a day, reading God's Word.  Any time during the day.  Just make it daily.  Read with a pen to mark down verses how God is speaking to you. 

And see what God will do in you. 

The grass withers,
     the flower fades,
but the word of our God
               will stand for ever.

                   Isaiah 40.8

He is like a tree,
      planted by streams of water,
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does,
              he prospers.

                   Psalm 1. 3

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Getting It All Over Everything

I love the reckless abandon of our two-year-old grandson who is energized by the very joy of being alive.  It doesn't matter if he is running in the park, riding his scooter down the driveway, or emptying the toy chest with the speed of light, he lives all out.  And whether he is drawing with markers or eating ketchup on literally every kind of food, his actions are often accompanied by the parental warning, "Careful!  You're going to get it all over everything."

 Because that is just what he does.

And it is hard to get upset with this messer, because he charms your socks off.

A few days ago on NightlyTea, I mentioned how my friend took cookies to her neighbor who is a recent widower.  I didn't even have to mention who she was, because that kindness has her name written all over it.  She texted me this morning with the outcome of her visit.  As she left her neighbor's front porch, he called out to her, "Ok, see you next week!"  She sought to bless him.  And the blessing came right back at her. 

Just like my little messer, blessings can't help but get kindness, compassion, and raw love all over everything and everyone.  God meant it that way.  Grace is contagious.

Even one blessing -- one intentional kindness -- takes on a life of its own and lasts a long, long time.  And God uses it for great good. 

Because that is just what He does.

And God is able to provide you
with every blessing in abundance,
so that
you may always
      have enough of everything
and may provide in abundance
                            for every good work.

                     2 Corinthians 9.8

Saturday, August 24, 2013

From a different corner of the room

We have been praying so long, LORD.
I find myself without any more words.
What more can I pray?
What more can I say?
Not to give up praying,
        but to learn yet another way.
Show me, LORD,
          how else to pray.
Position my heart
    in a different corner of the room.
Help me to see this pressing need
     with new eyes,
              with Your eyes.
It is not, as so many say,
     that we are waiting for You to show up.
O LORD, You must laugh at that.
You who control eternity
          are waiting on us,
to follow fully,
complete our training course,
get our shoes on,
             and double-knotted,
ready for Your answer
       and to hit the road
                   already running,
willing to see the answer differently,
     perhaps even to recognize it at all,
strengthened by You
               and to accept something better
                       far more significant
           than the world can comprehend,
                  or we can grasp.
And perhaps,
      the waiting on our part
is to know fully the answer
               in whatever form it may take
      is from You alone.
And that the answer is not necessarily something,
                               but YOU.
Your perfect timing.
Your intricate design.
Your victory,
         not just in the situation
                            but in me.

And now, LORD,
      for what do I wait?
  My hope is in You.

                       Psalm 39.7

God is doing an incredible work
   for His glory
in you
         and everywhere around.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Someone in the Middle

I laugh when people say to me, "Oh, I could never do a marathon!"  I laugh, because for much of my life, the very thought of doing anything athletic was not even on my radar.  Oh, I saw runners frequently as I drove.  But to do the same? Well, it never even crossed my mind until I was really too old to consider such a crazy idea.

I also laugh, because the actual running of the marathon is the easy part.  There are cheering crowds, volunteers handing out Gatorade to you every mile or so, and the victory music from the movie Rocky blaring at the end of the race.

The hardest part of a marathon is the middle of training for it.  Getting started with training and crossing the finish line are celebrated and decked-out with encouragement.  But it is in the lonely middle where the desire is so strong to give up entirely, no crowds to witness your defeat, actually no one there at all.  It is the lonely middle that consumes huge chunks of weekend hours on a dusty path with broken water fountains.

Last weekend marked just past the half-way point in my marathon training.  And while the schedule called for 19 miles, my legs acted like sleep-deprived teenagers, sluggish and reluctant, "Really?  Does it have to be now?"  It was hot.  The dusty path had not seen rain for more than a month.  It would have been easy to have claimed some kind of injury and found another hobby.  And available at my age, I can always pull the "You are too old for this anyway" card.

But I ran.  An hour into my run, my gracious husband spun up on his bike, offering me an unexpected bottle of cool water and a couple oatmeal cookies.  It was just the encouragement I needed to keep going.  He was on his way to watch a criterium, a bike race staged on a one mile loop of residential streets.   And so several miles further up my trail, I would see him again for a little added support, a few encouraging words, and a couple more cookies.  Just knowing he would be there a few miles hence gave me a boost of energy.

Someone around you is in the middle, ready to quit something, heavy laden and ready to lay down in the dust.  Everybody may be waiting at the finish line, but you may be the one person who can help get them through those dark and weary middle miles of their situation.  Being a blessing to someone may be the most significant work you ever do.

A friend of mine has a neighbor whose wife passed away several  months ago.  By now, the greeting cards and phone calls have ceased, no longer hearing the polite offers of  "let me know if I can do something."  But there was my friend yesterday on his doorstep with a dozen homemade cookies and a few minutes of conversation.  He will get through this tough time.  It wasn't necessary that she did that.  But it was like she brought this discouraged man a plate of hope.

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

do not be weary in well-doing.

                            2 Thessalonians 3.13

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Tuesday Nights at Ruth's

We were a ragtag group of four, navigating that strange time right out of college when new paths strung out in all directions and every decision threatened to unmoor us.  Our entry level jobs were not quite what we had in mind, but they were moving us toward our dreams.  We were all single, living alone, and clueless about what was next.

It was so many years ago.  I don't know how God arranged it, how God made it happen, perhaps a divine running into each other, perhaps now as I realize it, the initiative of a godly woman who sought what God wanted her to do now.  "What's next?"  As an empty nester, it was a new season for her as well.  Perhaps she had dreams of huge ministry opportunities.  But God gave her us.  "Really?" she must have asked Him.  "That is what you want me to do?"  It was not perhaps what she had in mind.  But here we were, and God placed us on her doorstep.

We met every Tuesday evening in her home for a two year pocket of time, before moving, marriage, jobs and grad school made it impossible for us to get together anymore.  It was not until many years later that I realized how much she sacrificed for it to happen.

And I will always be grateful.

Faithfulness to God mattered more to her than anything.  She quietly modeled that for each of us by how she lived, what she did, even in how she prayed and for what she prayed.  She did not follow some fantastic curriculum, but powerfully encouraged us in God's Word and listened to our small triumphs and the huge dilemmas of our young hearts.  Her love for the Bible was contagious.  Her love for us was one of the ways she lived it out.

She has no idea the impact those evenings had on us, no grasp of how God used her so mightily.  But He did.  She didn't have to spend that precious time with us.  But she did, faithfully.  And that made a lifelong impact on me.

Her next "assignment" was a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.  Nurses in that hospital clamored around her on those long days when she came for treatment.  She lay on that gurney, bombarded with radiation, chemicals and pain, and sang.  Old hymns of the faith left blessing in those hallways.  "I've never seen anything like it," one nurse friend told me, so many years ago.  "She was such an encouragement to me in that ward.  She blessed us."

Mark the blameless man,
and behold the upright.

                    Psalm 37.37

Pursue people like that.  Study them.  Watch what they do, how they live out their faith, and how God  lives out in them.

 "Which are the people who have influenced us most?  Not the ones who thought they did, but those who had not the remotest notion that they were influencing us," wrote speaker and author Oswald Chambers (1874-1917).

Who has God put on your path today?
An encouraging word,
a sacrificial action,
an intentional kindness
              will never be forgotten.
God may very well use it
           to change a life.
Maybe even yours.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

And yet to stand

In the first stirrings of dawn light,
the trees gather
        against the sun-parched sky,
just where they are planted,
a separate calling,
              by appointment.
Nothing random in this
          but choreographed 
to strategically offer shade,
bear fruit,
hold the soil in place,
provide a home
      for the innocent,
and sometimes commissioned in a barren place
just to stand
      like a promise
                       even in this
          for others to gasp at glory.
Each one transcends the ordinary
           by competing in praise
like children laughing
   whose hands are raised the highest.
The fellowship is wrought together
across the horizon of a new day
whose sole desire is to bless
for no agenda
no higher purpose
     than to love hilariously
even when standing
   in what appears to be alone in a field.
I face my day ahead
       with all the things I need to do,
how to approach it,
how to carry through,
        and I see the trees.

Make love your aim.
              1 Corinthians 14.1

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Pest Control

This summer, all was quiet on the eastern front of our yard.  Or so it seemed.  I naively thought we had emerged triumphant in our perennial war with chipmunks. Complacency reigned.

Last summer, after catching 23 furry little brown creatures, I stopped counting.  I even stopped baiting the trap.  And still they came, sometimes three or four a day.  Once, two even jumped in the trap at the same time.

Every last one of them won a free all-expenses-paid vacation to the forest preserve about three miles away, across a four lane busy road and across a river.  Rarely did I run an errand that the occupied trap wasn't  along for the ride, waiting to drop off my traveling companion in a convenient wooded area, far from our home, hoping that it was distant enough to outwit a chipmunk's internal GPS.

And still they thrived, burrowing under our patio, undermining its foundation, the stones wobbly and sinking fast.

This summer, there was no sign of foul play nor the woodland critters, until last weekend.  One sprinted boldly across our patio.  We baited the trap, and within the past three days, well, make that seven lucky winners as of 6.30 this morning.

"But they are so CUTE," said my five year old niece who was staying with us.

But cute rodents are still rodents.  And it is their innocent looks that allows them to move so freely among us, causing damage and instability to our foundations.  Cute little beasts are not so cute anymore after facing the  reality of their labors, wreaking underground havoc.

The same goes for the foundations of our hearts.  Beware of  feeling victorious over your foes, whatever they may be.  If there is one foe, there is a clan.  Beware of thinking that justifiable feelings and malicious musings cause no damage.  You know them,  rodents with names like Jealousy, Despair, Fear, Complaining, well-fed Worry, and the all-popular Self family headed by Pity and Pride who can always justify their family history with you.  And beware of the smooth-talking Temptation cousins.  Just when you think temptations are gone, yet another Oreo cookie (in some form) crosses your path.

Know your pests.  Do not let them dig their tunnels into your thoughts and dwell there. No good will come of it, no matter how innocent and cute.  Relocate them FAR away and watch diligently for the rest of their kin. "You are not welcome here."  For every relocation, replace that furry creature with an intentional thought and action of kindness, goodness, faithfulness, integrity, and compassion to fill up their holes.  Claim a Bible verse for each one.  Ready and waiting.  When that old anxiety creeps back in, whack it with prayer and replace with a praise.  Do not surrender to the paralyzing panic of  "What am I going to do???" but replace it with "LORD, my eyes are on You.  Show me how to navigate this." 

Let God USE the chipmunks in your life to bring you closer to Him.
And let Him do something stronger in you.

Rebuke the beasts
that dwell among the reeds.

               Psalm 68.30

Monday, August 19, 2013

Words to another song

At some point last week, strapped in the dental chair, I became aware of the background music in the office, a layer of noise largely masked by the sound of the jack hammer in my mouth.  "Oh, I remember that song from high school," I thought.  After a while, I realized that one song after another came from the same era, alerting me to the fact that if it falls into the "Oldies" category, so do I.

It shocked me how easily I remembered not just the tunes, but the words to these largely ridiculous songs, some of which I haven't heard in decades.  I recalled my brothers and I naively telling our  mom, "oh, we don't listen to the words," not realizing how ingrained these songs were becoming in our brains.  What did she know?  Well now, I realize A LOT.  After all, she was a professional musician.  She knew the power of music and the strong patterning that creates memory.

Over and over.  Day after day.

When I run, I pray.  The other day, I was running and praying through a particular situation, listening to Pandora music streaming through my earphones. "LORD, how do I navigate this situation?"  And I suddenly remembered and repeated the words of a different "song."   A Bible verse memorized many years ago, came word for word into my thoughts, giving me direction and focusing my heart.

Did I think reading and  memorizing that particular scripture passage was only a temporary exercise?  Did I not realize that God was embedding His Word to strengthen me, not just for today but the rest of my life?  Those are the Words to which I am running in life.   I can't afford not to intentionally put them in my heart.

And that is how we learn God's Word, over and over, day after day, verse by verse.   His Word does not just take up residence on the back shelf of our memories like an old love song, but it permeates and dwells in our hearts.  Not just reading it daily, knowing, responding, and doing it, but living it out.

Dwelling in scripture
       will change your life
and impact
everyone around you.

A huge disappointment faced a dear friend of mine last week.  "If the same thing had happened a year ago, I would have stomped off.  But I know now God is in this," she said.  "It's ok."

God does not just alter your mindset
or adjust your vision,
        He changes your heart.

But the word is very near you;
it is in your mouth
        and in your heart,
so that you can do it.

                 Deuteronomy 30.14

Sunday, August 18, 2013

New discovery!

Image: Smithsonian scientists announce the discovery of a new species of carnivore- the olinguito

Scientists stood amazed at the discovery of a new species of mammal this week,  the first such discovery in 35 years.  What an incredible creature, they declared, as if they had anything to do with its existence.

The astonishment should not be focused on
             "look what WE have discovered,"
      "look what else God created."

We have only scratched the surface.

In the beginning,
God created the heavens
         and the earth.

                      Genesis 1.1

Saturday, August 17, 2013

His Trademark

While praying for God's supernatural intervention
in a certain situation,
even before the words were out of my mouth,
God reminded me,
     that is the ONLY way He works.

how majestic is Your name
      in all the earth.

                      Psalm 8.1

Friday, August 16, 2013

Got you!

When our two-year-old grandson comes for a visit, he approaches our neighborhood park with reckless abandon.  He delights in the adrenaline rush he experiences on the playground equipment.  It appears that there "ain't no mountain high enough."  And falling down just seems part of his fun.  Without a whimper, he jumps up and leaps right back into the thrills and spills of the swings and slides.  Once, after riding his scooter to the park, he didn't want to take off his helmet to play on the equipment.  I gladly relented. Full body armor would not be out of order, if I had it available.

His three-year-old big sister, on the other hand, already appears to possess a graduate degree in Risk Management.  She observes the environment, evaluates the options, and weighs in the fear factor.  Even after she eases herself onto the playground equipment, she has been known to freeze mid-air, paralyzed suddenly when she realizes what she is doing.  "I can't do this!!!" she cries out.  The least effective reply is, "Oh, sure you can,"  leaving her hanging above the abyss of her fear.

The easiest way to rescue her is to just come alongside and calmly reassure her, "I've got you."  On the precipice between fear and courage, that is often all she needs not just to hang on but to carry on.

Whether on the scary places of the neighborhood playground, or the high terrifying tightropes of life, all it takes is knowing God's got you.  His presence makes all the difference in getting to the other side of real-life dilemmas of nightmarish proportions.  As a matter of fact, God specializes in impossible situations.  That is when we realize more of who He is -- God.

And I have come to grasp after all, it is not that I have God,
but He's got me.

Fear not,
for I have redeemed you;
I have called you
                       by name,
   you are Mine.
When you pass through the waters
             I will be with you,
and through the rivers,
       they shall not overwhelm you,
when you walk through fire
       you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the LORD your God,
the Holy One of Israel,
                         your Savior.

                  Isaiah 43. 1-3



Thursday, August 15, 2013

Sometimes, a grace

Sometimes the big stuff is not as bad as we expect.
But sometimes it is a grace that we don't know what's coming.

Yesterday was one of those days.

I ran a marathon that wasn't on my schedule.

We think that we want to know everything on our path.
But I am glad I did not.
My little adventure at the dentist became more of an endurance test than anyone anticipated, the trouble in my molar far deeper than the scans revealed.  Bless his heart, the dentist worked for three and a half hours. I closed my eyes.  And I prayed for everyone God brought to mind.

No amount of worry would have made it easier.
Any amount of worry, and I would have fled.
It is not that I should go around ignorant and vulnerable,
but to go and know 
            that God is my strength and shield.
Even in this.

I once asked one of our daughters what she thought about when running up hills.  "It's not how steep the hill is," she replied,  "but what you are thinking about as you run it. The more you dwell on it, the steeper it becomes.  Think about something else."

God's deliverance is not always being plucked miraculously out of a flood, but swimming miraculously through it with a strength that is not my own.  As the hours built up yesterday, I thought, "Don't dwell on what the dentist is doing."  And God implanted others in my thoughts to pray for, like people standing in line to greet me.

Learn to seek God's strength even in the "little stuff."
Because there is nothing inconsequential in His eyes.

God does not just get me through
                                      the impossible.
But He always has extraordinary purposes in mind.

The eternal God is your dwelling place,
and underneath are the everlasting arms.

                             Deuteronomy 33.27

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Strapped in the chair of torture

In less than a half-hour, I will leave for a dental appointment.  The dentist will use his implements and jack-hammer to do battle against the decay that has taken up residence in one of my molars.

I would rather do just about anything else this afternoon than to submit to this procedure.  But I know that with dental decay, ignoring the truth only gets me into deeper trouble.  The friendly dentist will fill my mouth with the entire contents of his tool box, and then proceed to hold a largely one-sided conversation, asking me questions when it is impossible for me to respond.  He will use any device available to remove the decay and patch the tooth back together.

When it comes to deeply-rooted sin in my life, when I finally admit and submit to His healing hand, God does not just remove the decay and patch it up.  He does not even just make "all things new."  He does not even just restore that part of my life.

He redeems it.

He uses that former place of decay and nastiness for great good.  He cashes it in.  Why?  Because my life and yours are THAT valuable to Him.  Nothing is wasted.  Every part is precious.  And so, He redeems.  When I give Him my life, God uses it all.  Yes, even that, in ways beyond my wildest imagination.

...Who forgives all your iniquity,
Who heals all your diseases,
Who redeems your life from the Pit,
Who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy...

                            Psalm 103.3-4

Objects in mirror are closer than they appear

Godliness is not about what I do,
but a reflection in me
                 of who God is.
The more I know Him,
    -- not just about Him--
the more I learn
                   who I am.

Train yourself in godliness,
for while bodily training is of some value,
godliness is of value in every way,
as it holds promise for the present life
and also for the life to come.

                                 1 Timothy 4.7-8

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

A Barren Place

A barren place
             in the center of His will
    is not a place of nothingness,
a hole of desperation,
an empty silence,
an unresolved mystery
but where
   there is room for God's glory
                         to be manifest.
All that precious stuff of our lives
is moved aside
that there would be space
           for His great designs
and elbow room
           for God to work.
We desire to fill.
God desires to fulfill
                        with purpose.

The LORD will fulfill
      His purpose for me.

                 Psalm 138.8

Monday, August 12, 2013

And this is what it looks like

While I was making oatmeal cookies this morning, I opened a new Costco-size package of raisins.  There was not a zip-lok on the top of the plastic bag to seal it, but a small tape attached to the side.  On the tape itself, it gave instructions on how to use it.  I vaguely understood the general idea, but then I saw the tiny sketch.  Oh, I understand now.  That is how to do it.  The words told me.  The picture showed me.


The Bible does not just provide basic instructions about life, as if to say, "Here is a list of what you need to know.  See you later."   The Bible is not full of impersonal advice from a departed and detached God, nor just another religious book, nor a mere compilation of printed words.  The Bible is the Word of God.   In His Word,  God tells us what we need to know.  And then in the stories of real people, He shows us "this is what it looks like."

That is why the Bible consists of biographies of actual individuals, heroes that mess up, great leaders who are scared to death, and ordinary stubborn people in everyday dilemmas, no air-brushing out the mistakes and flaws.  That is part of what authenticates Scripture for me.  It is not the intimate chronicle of these people's stellar performance, but God's incredible redemption in their lives.

And while the entire Old Testament tells about God's grace and steadfast love, the New Testament reveals "this is what it looks like."  God sent His Son.  God's Word tells us about grace and unconditional love.  Jesus shows us.

God never designed faith to be
mere words printed on an adhesive name tag,
      "Hi, I'm a Christ-follower,"
but His story lived out in me,
in the muddy places,
on the tight ropes,
and in the everydays.
"This is what grace looks like."

In this the love of God
was made manifest among us,
that God sent His only Son into the world,
so that we might live through Him.

                       1 John 4.9

Sunday, August 11, 2013

A Fresh Supply

When I speak to Adrian, our youngest grand baby,
 his eyes search for the source,
seeking the audible
          in what is visible.
And then he locks his eyes on mine.
He recognizes my voice.

In a season of blessedness,
       or just a moment of delight,
absorb the goodness through your very pores,
     and soaking in the blessings.

And so,
        when times are hard,
a fresh supply of joy is on hand
like a familiar chorus long remembered.
Difficulties will arise,
but you already know
       how to sing sweet words of praise
and how to recognize the substance
        that God's goodness knows no season.

Praise is not an avoidance of what really is
but an acknowledgement of it,
         the reality that God is good.

Praise is our best defense
        against despair.

And like little Adrian,
train your eyes
          to seek God's voice.
No matter how things may appear,
    His goodness thrives
          and multiplies
                 one layer over another.

"Where did you learn
          that sweet little song, Maggie?"
"Oh, I just made it up," she replied.

There is no sweeter sound to the LORD
                 than a song of praise to Him
in no one's words
                but our own.

and sing for joy, O inhabitants of Zion,
for great in your midst
            is the Holy One of Israel.

                          Isaiah 12.6

(Photo courtesy of
grandma Rhonda Gregory)

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Beyond Grace Street

I am not a runner.
It is not who I am.
It is just something I do.

I have certain routes I run, depending on snow, rain, and how far I need or want to go, these pathways sometimes taking me on a rambling run, and admittedly, sometimes a dreaded trudge.   As the long runs of marathon training become longer and longer, it can definitely feel like a weekend chore.  But after about two months, around the midpoint of the training schedule, my mindset changes when my long runs take me past Grace Street.

I chuckle when I run this particular route.  For a long time, I avoided it, fearing the isolation of the path and the great unknown -- where will it take me?  The section of the trail initially appeared to me as a stark canyon, bordered by monstrous freight trains and a mass of lonely trees.  For a few months, I dared not run it, not knowing what kind of wilderness appeared  on the other side.

One spring Saturday, the trail seemed populated enough to give it a try.  I ran through the canyon, emerged into a deep green sanctuary of ancient oaks, and then sprinted across a breezy bridge over the Interstate.  I laughed on the other side of the bridge.  For there, attached to a wooden pole, was a sign welcoming me to "the city of lilacs," a friendly little town with the sweet aroma of lilacs embracing me on the other side of my fear.

The path, which I have come to know well, then extends for mile after mile through sleepy villages, past schools, bordering backyards, and cutting through parks.  One of my turnaround points became the path's intersection with Grace Street.  And then, as the training miles build on each other, I have to go past Grace to a place where my strength is no longer mine.

It is up to that point in marathon training that the question "What were you thinking?" replays in a continual loop through my thoughts.  But when my routine consistently takes me beyond Grace, I begin thinking differently.  It is no longer a trudging, but a training. My"suffering" becomes a strengthening.  The dusty distances are the same, my legs still ache afterwards, but my mindset changes.   I am not just getting out there and slugging out an arbitrary schedule of  miles, but seeing them as equipping me for what is ahead.  I begin thinking more like a runner.

But what REALLY matters to me is thinking more like a believer in Christ, understanding and acting out what grace really means, the reality that has transformed me, that which Christ is doing in my life, taking me beyond, and letting God equip me for what is ahead, even that which I cannot possibly comprehend.

When the mind and heart of Christ reverberate from the core of my being, it is not just a change in mindset.  It does not just make life look different. Everything is changed.   My life becomes something entirely new.

I am a Christ-follower.
It is not what I do.
It is who I am.

Friday, August 9, 2013

30 Million Word Gap

In the 1990s, a study was conducted to determine the single greatest influence on a child's achievement in school.  The result has nothing to do with Baby Einstein videos or teaching a child Mandarin Chinese in the crib.  

The answer may take you by surprise.  The most significant element is the number of words that a child hears by the age of three.  Talking to your kids and verbally interacting with them as infants and toddlers vitally impacts their success in school and beyond.

Initially, the researchers observed the interaction of parents with their children.  The research team actually counted the number of words spoken to babies up to the age of three.  Children in higher income families heard an average of 2516 words per hour, children in working class families heard about 1251 words per hour, and children in welfare families heard approximately 616 words per hour.  Over the course of the first three years of life, that means a difference of 30 million words, a documented gap that directly correlates with school performance.

In addition, the type of words was observed.  Children from higher income families heard 6 encouragements for every discouragement, children from working class families heard 2 encouragements for every discouragement, and children in welfare families heard 2 discouragements for every encouragements.  Added up, that results in a tragic and unnecessary gap of 560,000 encouragements in just the first three years of a child's life, further impacting school performance.

We don't need millions of dollars of educational aid.  We need millions of words. 

Talk to those babies. Most people have no idea the impact it makes.  There is no need to pass on this kind of educational handicap.  Talking to children is not limited by socio-economic factors, but simply the intention to do so.  It has been documented that the average adult watches 28 hours of television per week.  That is 28 hours of reduced adult/child interaction.  Add to that the effect of cell phones, internet and other devices.  Talk to those babies.

To help erase that unnecessary gap in school performance and teach parents how to interact, the University of Chicago has initiated a 30 million word project. (Click this link for further information)

But this subject is nothing new. The Bible speaks about a very similar Word gap.  Talk to those babies, it says in Scripture:

And these words which I command you this day
shall be upon your heart,
and you shall teach them diligently to your children,
and talk of them
when you sit in your house,
and when you walk by the way,
and when you lie down,
and when you rise...

                   Deuteronomy 6. 6-7

Talk to your children about the LORD when you are driving in your car, when you are walking through the park, when you are shopping at Wal-mart, and while you are cooking supper.  Conversations about God are not restricted to church but should naturally permeate every aspect of our lives together -- because that is what God intended.   In the home, children hear and see those words -- God's Word -- memorized, manifested, and modeled in how to live.

And it will change the course of their lives...and ours.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Invisible doors and worn-out running shoes

I was walking down the sidewalk past a series of shops the other day, when suddenly what appeared to be a wall of glass just slid open beside me.  Until then, I was not even aware that it was an entrance.

And sometimes that is how God directs our steps.

Whoa, suddenly an open door,
often at a time or in a place
          I would never expect.

Ten years ago this week,
            I literally ran through one of those doors.
A few days before,
     I ran eight miles with my sister-in-law Amy's group,
     the longest distance I had ever gone.
I had also just turned 50 years old.
If you are going to do it, you better do it now,
      I convinced myself with a rather false bravado.
Despite internal protests of  "you are too old for this,"
I signed up for my first marathon,
    not having any idea what I was getting into,
    not having any intention of doing it again,
    and not ever dreaming that ten years later,
                        I would still be running at all.

God provided an incredible portal
     to a deeper understanding of Him
and new dimensions of knowing His grace
       to share in words and worn-out shoes.

Sometimes the biggest doors
          don't even look like doors.

It is only God who can open those mysterious portals.
Trusting Him is what puts us in the right place
to turn our heads and hearts
                              at just the exact moment
                to change direction
                               or stay on course.
  He grants us the courage
                 to follow Him
                 and seek Him through it.
God opens the gates.
God creates doorways
       even where they don't exist.

The gateway may not be the point at all,
     but just the opportunity
           to know Him more.                                                            

Trusting Him also protects
from the distraction of panic
and keeps dismay from dwelling
        where it doesn't belong.

Trusting God does not open the realm of possibility.
It just acknowledges the reality of His presence.

Send me where You want me to go.
Keep me where I need to be.

Keep walking faithfully,
             and a door of opportunity
    sometimes a hidden entrance,
           an unexpected gateway,
           an incredible and invisible doorway
will just open,
    likely on the most ordinary of days.
A few words are spoken.
An opportunity emerges to serve.
Every barrier is removed.
Even doors which seem impossible
                     suddenly open
that all the world may know
         He is God.

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

                    2 Chronicles 20.12

Commit your way to the LORD,
trust in Him,
and He will act.

                     Psalm 37.5

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Always and in all ways

I received a text from a sweet friend early this morning:  "Doing SO well.  God is good!!!!!  ALL the time!!!!!!"
I smiled when I read it, this young mom with five small children who literally talks in exclamation points.

It so happens that the last few days, I have been contemplating the scope of what "all" means.  In church on Sunday, we sang a worship chorus by Kristian Stanfill, his song Always.  The songs of a Sunday service typically follow me through the week like an embedded soundtrack.  But even while we were still singing, I kept looking at the word "always," and seeing it also as "all ways."  God is my refuge and strength always and in all ways.

As one who plays with words everyday, I stand amazed at the depth of meaning even in the simplest of words that we take for granted.  And so, I looked up in the dictionary the word "always." The definition expanded my appreciation of who God is -- at all times, constantly, ever, continually, of going on without interruption.  The definition for "all" brought even more -- the whole quantity, as much as possible, nothing but, wholly, entirely, completely, and my favorite "all in."

In the Bible, there are twelve different Hebrew or Greek words for "always."  Read them slowly and think about what God means by "always:"  pre-eminence, perpetuity, for an indefinite time, continually, all the days, through all time, ever, each time, in every season, in every way, in all time, always.

God.  Always.  And in all ways.

His faithfulness.
His love.
His grace.

(You can listen to the song by clicking on the Always link in the second paragraph.)

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The voice on the other end of the line

This summer was one of great comings and goings, many visitors, overnight guests, and short and sweet road trips to visit family.  And in the process, my credit card bill gathered dust, somehow neglected on my desk, until I received an email notification marked,  "Did you forget something?"

Ooops.  My inattention to detail and lack of organization teamed up as partners in crime.  And to make matters worse, the late fees and interest charges amounted to more than the bill.  A big ooops.

I ate my big slice of humble pie, paid what I owed, and then yesterday, I called the company to beg for grace.  I knew I was in the wrong, but I was hoping for some kind of credit for good behavior.  The automated voice instructed me to enter my account information and wait for the next available "relationship manager."

Not an operator, not an account technician, but a person whose responsibility is managing relationships.  I loved that job description.  I was no longer a number, a faceless overdue account, but treated in a different light.  Heather, the woman who answered my call, started by giving me her name, as if we were meeting for coffee.  She was courteous and gracious.  And I wondered how significantly her job title changed how she saw herself, and consequently, how she approached her work and how she viewed me -- as a negligent individual, a complainer, or a real person with a name who is seeking help.

How do I approach those whom God has put on my path today?   Every task and every person is not a random interaction, but a divine appointment.

How I view my relationship with God and how I see myself impacts everyone around me.

I am crucified with Christ.
It is no longer I who live,
but Christ who lives in me.
And the life I now live in the flesh
I live by faith in the Son of God,
who loved me
and gave Himself for me.

                      Galatians 2.20

Monday, August 5, 2013

No Exceptions

My husband and I were shopping earlier this summer in a store that boasted 25 percent off everything.  As the cashier began ringing up our purchases, some of the items received the discount, and others did not.  "Oh, the promotion doesn't apply to sale items," she explained.  She then handed us the flyer which in HUGE type declared the percentage off, visible twenty feet away.  But in a font-size too small for the naked eye, the text elaborated the exceptions - certain styles, specific racks, and any items already marked down.

As I ran this morning, I thought about this truth about God:

For the LORD is good,
His steadfast love endures forever,
and His faithfulness to all generations.

                           Psalm 100.5

No exceptions. 

May I keep His words before me,
          no matter where,
          no matter what,
                    even in this.
His strength.
His love.
His truth.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

What I did on my summer vacation

I did not wear a watch this week.
I left my cell phone behind.
And when we finally got home last night,
    I found 691 unread and neglected emails
           still waiting to be opened,
           jostling in line like unruly children.
What did I miss?
Nothing at all.
     I relished in the freedom of being untethered.

I cannot remember when I have had this much fun.

My cup overflowed this week.
With the exception of one day last summer,
we had not been all together as a family
               in almost four years.
This mama's heart was so full,
   it is incredible I could even
   zip my suitcase closed.
Even watching our two-year-old
         grandson eating his breakfast cereal
  -- each bite surrounded by questions,
          why?  what dat called? --
     oh, so precious,
      and etched in my memories forever.

I breathed in the grace
of being with our four grown daughters 
      talking and walking
      and making meals
               all crowded in the kitchen
                       at the same time.
I watched our sons-in-law
      as daddies loving well their children
      and as husbands loving well our girls.

We laughed outloud.
We ate ice cream almost every night.
I watched Howie jump with two-year-old excitement
         and my heart did the same.
At almost six months,
       baby Adrian will remember none of this
       but know through the years
             how much he is loved.
At the supper table one night,
         in the middle of a meal,
    our three-year-old granddaughter Maggie
 leaned over
               and asked,
    "Even when I am grown up,
        will you still be my gramma?"
Oh, sweetie.  Indeed.
Always and forever.

We took family pictures --
            the best souvenir of all --
     just an image captured
             to remember this
         for the rest of our lives,
                  a precious and rare gift.
I lay in bed at night,
     unable to sleep
      just for the sheer joy
                 knowing everyone was here.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Reflection in the Deepest Part

I was playing with our youngest grandson, a little one who will stare fully into my eyes, searching deeply and speaking volumes without words.  In the light of the room, I could see myself in his eyes,  And in turn, he is reflected in mine.

I thought about that interaction when I read this verse:

Keep me as the apple of Your eye,
hide me in the shadow of Your wings...

                       Psalm 17.8

The original Hebrew phrase "apple of His eye" literally translates "little man of the eye."  It refers to the tiny reflection of yourself in another's pupil, the center and deepest part of the eye.  The term refers to one who is a greatly cherished person, or that which is most precious and protected.

When I look at you, I can see myself in your eyes, and you can see yourself in mine.  Cherished, precious and protected.

That is how God loves you.  You are reflected in His eyes.  And He is reflected in yours.  There is no more intimate relationship.

He found him in a desert land,
and in the howling waste of the wilderness,
He encircled him, He cared for him,
He kept him as the apple of His eye.

                       Deuteronomy 32.10

Thursday, August 1, 2013

1/10th of a mile short of obedience

One day last week when my training schedule called for a day of rest, the weather was too glorious to waste.  When I got up at six, the temperature was a delightful 59 degrees.  I stood on the screen porch and breathed in the deep crisp air like drinking a glass of ice water.  After several weeks of heavy, hot and humid air, this was like winning the weather lottery.  I rushed through my early morning responsibilities, laced up my shoes, grabbed my hat, and I was gone.

It felt like running through air conditioning.  I needed to do eight miles in preparation for my long run that Friday.  When I hit Main Street, my watch registered 3.9 miles. Time to turn around.  It is not worth the effort to cross the intersection just for 1/10 of a mile.  No need, I thought initially.  I found myself justifying the gap.

A tenth of a mile is not a big deal, typically measuring about the length of a city block.  On this particular trail, I could even SEE  the four mile mark, the big oak tree where to turn around.  Would it make that much difference if I didn't finish it off?  But what if it did?  What if that teeny little tenth of a mile made the difference in completing this marathon or not?  Would that motivate me to go that extra block?

I decided to finish it fully.  As I crossed the street, I thought about my reading this summer in the Old Testament about the kings of Judah.  Even most of the good kings, Scripture says, "did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, but the high places were not taken away."

"But" is the one-tenth mile short of full obedience.  The people worshiped the LORD, but they also served the idols.

What does God's Word say about fully following Him?  I don't see the words "kinda" or "sort of" listed in Scripture.  When we tell ourselves, "it doesn't matter," God basically says, "What part of obedience don't you understand?"  It is not about adhering to rules, but knowing God has a reason for it.

"And if you obey the voice of the LORD your God, being careful to do all the commandments which I command you this day...And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the LORD your God..."  Deuteronomy 28. 1-2

We are all in favor of full blessings overtaking us.  But what comes first?  Obedience.  Not kinda, sort of, but "love the LORD your God with ALL of your heart, and ALL of your soul, and ALL of your mind, and ALL of your strength."  Follow Me fully.  Take it out that last tenth of a mile.

What if the kings of Judah had followed fully?  What if, I do?

I may never see what difference it makes.  But God promises, it does.

I don't want any regrets at mile 17 of the marathon with 9.2 miles to go.  Nor any regrets as our grandchildren grow up. I want them to know what following fully looks like.

Take obedience out fully that last tenth of a mile.  And watch what God does with it.

...that you may be filled
with all the fulness of God.

               Ephesians 3.19

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

                           1 Samuel 15. 22